Staying in the Game

New Venture to Offer Small Publishers Digital Technology

Hundreds of small, independent publishers will have easier access to digital book technology under a new service offered by Perseus Books Group, the result of agreements between it and more than a half-dozen technology companies, Perseus is expected to announce on Thursday.

The new service, called Constellation, will allow independent publishers to make use of electronic readers, digital book search, print-on-demand and other digital formats at rates negotiated by Perseus on their behalf. Unlike large publishers, small ones typically lack the resources to use digital technology and as a result often bypass it altogether.

David Steinberger, the president and chief executive of Perseus, said that by using Constellation independent publishers could make their books quickly available in several digital formats, allowing them to compete on the same technological level and with the same speed and flexibility as larger companies. Many publishing analysts see digital technology as one of the few major growth areas in the book industry.

I Have A Virtual Birthday Coming Up

While the national switch-over to digital broadcast television happens on my birthday next year, the transition is getting a tryout in Wilmington, NC next week: Wilmington, N.C., ready for switch to digital TV (pdf)

The future of broadcast television is set to premiere in this quaint seaside city next week. And the federal government is working hard — too hard, some say — to make sure it’s a hit here.

At noon on Monday, Wilmington’s five commercial broadcast stations are scheduled to become the nation’s first to permanently switch to all-digital signals, serving as a test of the government-mandated transition that other stations across the country will make in February.

“It’s like landing on the moon,” said Constance Henley Knox, general manager of CBS affiliate WILM. “We’re making history.”

Fighting Over Cupcakes

Sprinkles is frosted over cupcake newcomer Sprinkled Pink (pdf)

Beverly Hills-based Sprinkles — pioneer of the cupcake-only shop and purveyor of miniature morsels beloved by celebrities — is turning up the heat on competitors allegedly treading on its trademarked name and dot motif.

prinkles most recently set its sugary sights on Sprinkled Pink Cupcake Couture in Montecito. Last week, just one day after Wendy Jones opened her shop, she received a letter from Sprinkles demanding that she change the name of her bakery, which she registered when she got her business license in 2003.

“They’re going too far,” said Jones, who hasn’t decided how to respond to the letter. “I’m sure they’re protecting themselves, but there’s a whole big United States out there. There’s room for other cupcake shops. They shouldn’t be bullying around or picking on little people like us. . . . I really honestly don’t think they invented the cupcake.”

NebuAd Pullback

NebuAd Halts Plans For Web Tracking (pdf)

Tech firm NebuAd has put on hold plans to widely deploy an online advertising technology that tracks consumers every Web click while Congress reviews privacy concerns associated with the technique.

The Silicon Valley company announced this week that founder and chief executive Bob Dykes was resigning. His departure comes as a number of Internet companies have suspended or canceled trials of NebuAds controversial tracking technique, known as deep-packet inspection, marketed to companies seeking to target ads to Web users.

Related: Candidates’ Web Sites Get to Know the Voters (pdf)

How did the campaign know which readers to send ads to? Although both the Obama and John McCain campaigns are reluctant to discuss details, the ability to identify sympathetic voters based on their Internet habits, and then to target them with ads as they move across the Web, is one of the defining aspects of the 2008 presidential campaign.

The WWW Giveth, and the WWW Taketh Away

Well, with a little help, of course…. Pastors’ Web Electioneering Attracts U.S. Reviews of Tax Exemptions

Even as the increasing Web fluency of religious organizations has flung their doors wide to a new world of potential followers, it has also opened the gates for all to see what may have been intended only for the faithful in the pews. Now, I.R.S. investigators, as well as groups that monitor churches’ political activity, can do much of their work with a simple Google search, or a surfing of YouTube posts.

This year, several cases of possible electioneering by clerics have come to the federal government’s attention because of Webcasting. […]

[…] Ms. Mathis, the agency’s spokeswoman, declined to discuss its investigative techniques, but said that cases springing from Web sites had raised new issues. If a cleric appears on his or her church’s Web page endorsing or attacking a candidate, she said, that is clearly no different from a sermon in the pulpit.

But links on the same page, to other sites connected directly or indirectly to partisan groups, are a more complicated matter. In one recent I.R.S. memo, the question is addressed with almost Talmudic intensity, urging enforcement agents to explore the issue of “electronic proximity — including the number of ‘clicks’ that separate the objectionable material from the 501(c)(3) organization’s Web site.”

“What is so fascinating here is that the Internet is instantaneous, and the government is slow,” said Frances R. Hill, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law who specializes in nonprofit tax law. “Whether this will speed the government up in the use of its authority remains to be seen. Clearly, what church groups used to spend a lot of time and money doing with voter guides they can now do in a rapid, cost-free way.”

Related: A new feature of Slate‘s political coverage (working with versionista) — Changes They Can Believe In: How the Candidates Edited Their Web Pages Last Week

Broadway, YouTube and Performance Rights

After the Curtain Falls, the Web Gets Into the Act (pdf)

Theater is the ephemeral art — except, that is, when it’s bootlegged on YouTube.

[…] Few shows are as omnipresent online as “Wicked,” but others — musicals, almost exclusively — are out there, even the best-protected among them. Mel Brooks might be the king of premium pricing on Broadway although his “Young Frankenstein” has been on the discount rack for months, but does he know that anyone with an Internet connection can watch Sutton Foster in the Teri Garr part doing “Roll in the Hay” during last years tryout in Seattle?

[…] Should actors be paid for such usage? Should penalties be imposed when such footage mysteriously migrates from official Web sites to less-governed areas of cyberspace? This is the frontier, and the contract negotiated between Equity and the Broadway League this summer (scheduled for ratification this week) specifically allows for more marketing flexibility in the brave new world.

[…] Media corporations are reportedly growing less interested in banning contraband video (shared yuks from TV, for instance) than in milking unplumbed advertising opportunities from whatever arrives online. […]

The Shoe Drops

Comcast to Place a Cap on Internet Downloads

Beginning Oct. 1, Comcast will put a 250 gigabyte-a-month cap on residential users. The limit will not affect most users, at least not in the short-term, but is certain to create tension as some technologies gain traction.

A Comcast spokeswoman, Jennifer Khoury, said 250 gigabytes was about 100 times the typical usage; the average customer uses two to three gigabytes a month. Less than 1 percent of customers exceed the cap, she said.

Many Internet providers reserve the right to cancel the service of the most excessive users. The 250-gigabyte cap is Comcast’s way of specifying a longstanding policy of placing a limit on Internet consumption, and it comes after customer pushed for a definition of excessive use.

But on the Internet, consumer behavior does not stand still. As the technology company Cisco stated in a report last winter, “today’s ‘bandwidth hog’ is tomorrow’s average user.”

Wikipedia and Political Reputation

Don’t Like Palin’s Wikipedia Story? Change It

While ethically suspect, the idea that a politician would try to shape her Wikipedia article shouldn’t come as a surprise. In modern politics, where the struggle is to “define” yourself before your opponent “defines” you, Wikipedia has become an important part of political strategy. When news breaks, and people plug a name into a search engine to find out more, invariably Wikipedia is the first result they click through to; it is where first impressions are made.

Fighting Over “Cloud”

A New Battle Is Beginning in Branding for the Web

In recent years, patents — not trademarks — have been the main focus of intellectual property experts and the courts, especially around the issue of whether patents on software and business methods have become counterproductive, inhibiting innovation.

But some legal experts say trademark issues may take on a higher profile, fueled by the escalating value of brands in general and trademark holders increasingly trying to assert their rights, especially on the Internet.

“Trademark is the sleeping giant of intellectual property,” said Paul Goldstein, a professor at the Stanford law school.

Just ask Disney!