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Publishing News: Amazon AutoRip — where’s the book version?

No AutoRip for books, for now; McGraw-Hill launches SmartBook; and Hilary Mason brings the fun of randomness to book discovery.

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention this week.

Why book lovers can’t have nice things

AutoRipAmazon announced a new service this week called Amazon AutoRip. According to the press release, consumers who buy AutoRip CDs will automatically — and instantly — also receive the MP3 version. The service is retroactive, too: the press release states that “customers who have purchased AutoRip CDs at any time since Amazon first opened its Music Store in 1998 will find MP3 versions of those albums in their Cloud Player libraries — also automatically and for free.”

Technology writer Dan Frommer jumped on the question that surely popped into every book lover’s mind: how about an Amazon AutoRip for books? He notes that he often now buys a physical copy, then turns around and re-buys the book in ebook format and that it “always feels like a backwards, bullshit requirement.”

Frommer says the biggest obstacle blocking such a service for books is that no one has incentive to do it — publishers and retailers are likely more than happy to have the rare consumer make double dip purchases and Amazon doesn’t have enough competition in the book arena to spur them into action. He also tinkers with the idea that publishers could do it themselves, but says “that might even be worse than UltraViolet.”

Mike Masnick at TechDirt concurs that “publishers have no interest at all in doing this (yet).” He suggests, however, that once publishers emerge from the denial phase that the recording industry has already gone through, they’ll come around — he gives it “at least a year.”

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Smarter textbooks for smarter students

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week, McGraw-Hill debuted its new SmartBook textbook platform that adapts content to suit individual students. The Wall Street Journal’s Shalini Ramachandran describes how the book platform will work:

“All readers essentially see the same textbook as they read for the first five minutes. But as a reader answers review questions placed throughout the chapter, different passages become highlighted to point the reader to where he or she should focus attention.”

Ramachandran notes that there may be some privacy concerns, as the system is capable of sharing reader data with instructors in order to further personalize teaching strategies.

SmartBook will initially work on iOS and Android tablets as well as on desktop computers, Ramachandran reports, but no price has yet been set. She says the company plans to have about 90 courses ready for the SmartBook by late spring. You can learn more about the new product in the company’s announcement video:

The joy of random book discovery

Bitly chief scientist Hilary Mason has put together a very fun book discovery tool called bookbookgoose that allows users to randomly browse Amazon’s book catalog.

Mason explains her inspiration in a blog post — “I like to read. I love bookstores, I like to wander, and to find things that I didn’t know existed.” Current discovery and recommendation systems, however, tend to steer you toward reading fodder that’s very similar to what you’ve already read and are not at all good at leading you to find something completely new. “There must be a better way to explore books,” she writes. “A random way to explore books would be a good way to start.”

You can explore with bookbookgoose here — but fair warning: it’s highly addictive.

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