Friday, December 22, 2006

A Day at the ebook Races

Another ebook reader STARbook is to be launched in Taiwan by China-based eRead, a Chinese language electronic book distributor. The portable reader features a 6-inch e-paper screen and is only 0.8cm thick and weights 176 grams with a battery life of more than 8,000 continuous page turns, uses Prime View International's (PVI's) electronic-paper (e-paper) display and is already available in China.

By next February, eRead aims to ship 5,000 units with a global projection of 60,000 units in 2007. Sony’s rival e-book reader, which was launched in October in the US market also uses PVI technology, is currently believed to be shipping around 10,000 units per month. PVI have also recently announced that they will be upgrading their e-ink display manufacturing to around an annual production of 720,000 units.

This uplift obviously indicates a growing confidence in ebooks and the role that e- ink display based e-readers could have in the market. However as we indicated in our previous article ‘Brand new screens for ebooks’ on 4th December, will this technology be displaced by the new OLED (Organic Light- Emitting Diodes) technology?

Alternatively imagine rolling up your electronic reader and sticking it in your coat pocket with a customized news feeds stream into it. The US newspaper company Hearst Interactive Media Group President Ken Bronfin envisions a prototype will be about the size of letter size paper starting next year. “It’s somewhere in between a Web and a newspaper. The device brings the best of both worlds with portability and up-to-date and personalized news. It’s not the Web.”

The Hearst reader could serve as the repository for documents and books in addition to newspaper content. It offers the newpaper sector potential significant cost savings and once in volume production, the electronic ink reader will be around $200, says Bronfin. “Newspapers would subsidize the cost of the readers the way cellular companies subsidize the handsets.”

The underlying technology of Hearst’s reader is E Ink Corp.’s electronic ink, they are one of two American newspapers companies that invested in E Ink. It has been suggested in the media that the Hearst reader will come from UK based flexible display pioneers Plastic Logic.

What is clear is that screen technologies are moving and device usage is converging fast. There is a growing number of players entering the market and a growing awareness in the consumer market.

The Glass is Half Full

King Canute tried to order the waves back and failed to win his battle against the tide. We all know that story but more importantly we now understand through science why he got wet.

I was saddened to read the article from the Peterborough Telegraph of the 21st December. It was highlighted by The Bookseller and reported on author George Walker’s lone stand against Amazon on behalf of independent bookshops and the backing he was getting from the Forum of Private Business (FPB) on this issue. He is quoted as saying, “Far from its stated aim of making all books available for ‘research‘, what it is actually doing is getting the independents do the market research; when a book gets a certain amount of attention, Amazon will attempt to stock it and cut the independents out. Not with my book!” He is now demanding they withdraw his latest novel from sale. The FPB’s chief executive, Nick Goulding said: “Amazon’s unfair trading practices are making it impossible for smaller retailers to compete, it needs to realise that its size does not entitle it to special treatment, it must play by the rules.”

The article itself is poorly constructed, clearly fails to grasp or explore the economics and commercial processes of the book trade. It even goes on to lambaste Amazon’s offshore VAT loophole practice which it says is costing the UK economy £80 million a year. It is sad to think that people often believe what they read!

Like them, or not, we must respect that without the likes of the Internet and on line retailers the book market would not have the exposure it is currently enjoying, the market itself would be in decline and we would not be enjoying the benefits of long tail economics and would only have “smash hits, the charts and celebrity spins”. The internet has not only rejuvenated the market it has brought addition sales, greater exposure and generated significant interest in books.

I strongly believe that independents will survive but in doing so they need to recognize what they do best, where they add customer value and how they build on the relationships they have.

I am afraid Mr Walker is standing on some beach and watching the tide coming in and instead of accepting it, understanding it and potentially harnessing it, is blindly ordering it to stop.

This Christmas the Queen’s speech will be available to download as a podcast and the text will be also available online. It is important that we all see the glass as half full and not empty and we look at ways to adapt and adopt technology and the services that use it.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Google Maps All Faster

Google has bought European Internet mapping company Endoxon. This further strengthens its position in the battle of maps. Just like hundreds of years ago when famous explorers and sailors captured for the first time the world in charts today there is a race to capture the world in minutia and make it available online to all today. , characterizing the move as part of its effort to improve Google Maps and Google Earth in European markets.

Prior to the acquisition and folding into Google Maps and Google Earth, the Lucerne, Switzerland-based Endoxon provided Internet mapping solutions, mobile services, data processing, cartography and direct marketing products. This acquisition The agreement only covers Endoxon's Internet, mapping and data processing business units but in doing so recognizes Endoxon as a pioneer in Ajax mapping technologies. Ajax is behind the most popular local search products on the market today and reduces the need for page loads resulting in faster search and user ‘stickiness’.

Google who began selling local business advertisement for Google Maps earlier this year potentially sees this acquisition as an opportunity to broaden its business advertising reach in Europe past UK, France, Italy, Germany and Spain.

It is clear that Google, in their quest to sell advertising space, have a huge war chest and are clearly set on acquiring not just content but the technologies that support it. But it is advertising that drives there business not content, which is only a means to an end.

Ingram's Digital Venture Moves Forward

Ingrams announced take over of Coutts is further demonstration of their digital intent. It comes on the back of Kent Freeman’s impressive presentation at Frankfurt Book Fair’s ‘Supply Chain Specialists’ meeting where he outlined their digital architecture and the thinking behind Ingram Digital Ventures. It also follows on the footsteps of their acquisition of Vital Source Technologies and their ‘Bookshelf’ platform and also their announcement of the tie with Booksense to supply ebooks.

Why are these moves important and why are they investing heavily in a market that is still yet to be established?

One can think back to when they started Lightning Source and their Print on Demand service. Everyone knew about POD everyone saw its potential but no one moved. It was if the industry stuck its head in the sand and acknowledged there was a better way of dealing with back orders, short print runs and the long tail but all wanted someone to deal with it. Ingram stood up and moved. They may not have been the first, they certainly weren’t the last but they were the first to capture the potential and boldly move forward.

Today one can think of ebooks the same way. We all appreciate the potential of ebooks but are waiting for the market to appear to justify the investment. What Ingram are clearly showing is their intent to position itself to be a wholesaler and digital distributor of digital content, be it ebooks, POD or whatever. They also are seizing the imitative in not just their trade market but now recognising the strength of players such as Coutts and stretching their services across the total market. In Coutts they are acquiring a global player who operates in 100 countries and with first class credentials to service academic and professional libraries throughout North America. Their MyiLibrary e-book hosting platform offers access to the world's leading digital content collections. It is used by academics, researchers and professionals as a reference tool for all businesses and institutions looking to provide their users with access to the most current digital content available today. Librarians use MyiLibrary to build multi-publisher collections of titles in the same way they have done with print publications.

Importantly those of us who heard Kent Freeman speak in Frankfurt understand the route Ingram are taking and the strategic position they are building to be at the centre of the digital fulfillment.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Face Value

In early 2004 Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook at Harvard University. The objective was to replace those traditional printed face books, which have photos and short bios of incoming students. The site was an instant hit, and within a few months it expands to other schools in the area and by the end of the year Zuckerberg had dropped out of Harvard and opened an office in Palo Alto, California. With a staff of eight and they already had over 1 million users. Within another year, most US universities had a Facebook network, the service had expanded to include high school students and it had mushroomed to over 11million users, and included with universities in Britain, Canada, and Australia. Today it has opened up its registration to all Internet users and now has over 12million users. It's not growing at the same pace it did - but only because almost every student in the US is on it.

We have seen the emergence and sale of Friends Reunited, My Space and You Tube and now Facebook’s major challenge will be its sale. Many expect to happen in the next six to 12 months with an envisaged price of $1 billion. The questions are, who will buy it and why? And how will they make money from it?

These community sites all offer data-mining and marketing opportunities with information on demographics, interests, and the social networks of millions - a dream for data lovers from advertisers to government agencies. Interesting, they often lack traditional content and provide a platform for the promotion of new alternative content.

There are several interesting messages to be learned from these innovations. People want to communicate with others and share experiences with what many would regard, complete strangers. This is not new; it was the basis of pen pals, ham radio and chat rooms. However, these services went further and tapped into a common need or interest that worked better over the Internet.

When will there be an older generation community site that promotes their needs? The like of Friends Reuntied has had an older profile, but its focus is very narrow and its new ownership appears to have recently lost its way. We already see that the age profile of My Space has risen and the youth moved on. The success of reading groups begs to move to a wider audience, but perhaps we older generation are more reserved and only wish to share our thoughts to a limited and known audience.

I believe that it will happen but while publishers and bookstores continue to focus on selling and not fully engaging with consumers, it will come from somewhere left field. Meanwhile Facebook will follow in the footsteps of those other successful community sites.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Proof is in the Reading

The Iraq Study Group Report’ was published in the US last Wednesday by Random House’s Vintage Imprint at $10.95. It was an instant best seller clocking up 35,000 copies according to Nielsen BookScan and demanding a second printing.

The book was also released online on the same day, to coincide with the presentation from the committee, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a Republican, and former Indiana representative Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, to President Bush and congressional leaders. The online version is hosted on the U.S. Institute of Peace website and also the James A. Baker Institute.

While the physical sales were an impressive 35,000 the online downloads from the two sites total was some 45 times greater at 1.6 million!

What was the difference? Ease of reading, ease of reference and search, readability. or the fact that the online versions were free. Price obviously is a major factor and now may have set expectations regarding future reports. Why pay when you can have it for free?

Its interesting to note that US government report that hit bookshelves, ‘The 9-11 Commission Report’, sold 134,000 copies in its debut week and since its publication, has sold more than 1,007,000 copies in hardcover and paperback. There are no figures regarding the online version downloads but it shows that many are prepared to pay for the physical copy despite the availability of the online version.

However, 1.6 million people choose to read the download which clearly shows that the demand is there for the right book and at the right price. We are in a Digital Age.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Nevermind the Width feel the Quality

Search, discovery and qualification are key value services in the digital world.

Many automatically assume that the search engine omnivores, will eat all before them and we will all use their services. They are currently ploughing what many would regard as vast sums of money but what they see as ‘chump change’ into their programs and are currently scanning and indexing everything and anything they can get their hands on.

It is therefore very interesting to read about the Intute program, which was launched earlier this year by universities and colleges' UK developer JISC. Some believe that Intute is quickly establishing its reputation and potential to be higher education's answer to Google.

Academics, researchers and students can now search for the obscure and access relevant reference material through this powerful new online tool. Intute can help discover books, journals or research materials from university libraries and collections right across the UK and is available on university virtual learning environments (VLEs) and their virtual research environments (VREs). It is also compatible with popular academic platforms such as Moodle and Blackboard. It is also a free open access service.

Importantly, Intute offers quality and relevance. Its training suite is available in 60 subjects and teaches students how to make judgments on quality as well as introducing them to the key resources they should be using. It is very important that the material is not out of date, has good and proven provenance and is of sufficiently high quality and simply listing results with little academic reliance or qualification is not a service.

In addition, Intute's not only provides access to material but also supports students through its virtual training suite, which is available in over 60 subjects and provides users with the skills they need to be able to make judgments about the quality of resources.

It is not difficult to see other specialist areas and communities where reliance and quality count ,but it is difficult to see where the money is going to come from to make it happen.

Many have thought that Secondary Publishers who provide similar services are under threat in the online world but perhaps Intute teaches us that the value of search discovery and qualification is even greater than we ever thought and that merely aggregating everything and offering limited relevance isn’t good enough.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

BookSense to go Digital the American Booksellers Association Internet bookstore program has signed an agreement with the new Ingram Digital Ventures to enable its participating bookstores to sell ebooks in three formats; Palm, Adobe, and Microsoft. This new feature will begin ‘sometime in 2007’ but must be seen as both a major move by the ABA to engage publishers in selling through the existing channel and a significant coup for Ingram’s Digital Venture division. is reported as being “particularly happy …as this also positions us to participate in the Caravan Project."

The Caravan Project, which is scheduled to launch in early 2007, is aimed at providing in its initial launch, books from six nonprofit publishers. These titles will be available in traditional hardcover and paperback and also as ebooks and audiobooks. The digital books will be both available for download, in their entirety or in chapters.

The move to make digital impressions available alongside physical ones through the existing channel should be applauded. It is what the BA digital report advocated and will enable the existing channel to participate in this Brave New World. However, the comment on the Caravan project is somewhat confusing as it mixes social and commercial publishing. Does Booksense want to promote the social model and if so, how will it square this with the commercial needs of their participating bookstores?


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Movers and Printers

It is easy to forget paper in a digital world where we all have email, mobile phones, laptops, and are permanently ‘connected’. Yesterday’s paperless visions have still to happen. We all still print documents, either for ease of reading or because we still want something tangible. Most homes now have a printer and many people even convert their favourite digital photos to print.

This week an anthropologist at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center stated that the average office worker prints 1,200 pages per month, of these 44.5% are for daily use, things like assignments, drafts or e-mail, of these 21% percent go into the waste bin on the same day they were produced. The information is stored digitally but printed out when its needed for meetings, editing or reviewing information.

In response, Xerox has now developed reusable paper. The prototype system uses specially coated paper and works without toner and producing a low-resolution document that appears to be printed with purple ink. Within 16 hours the information disappears and the paper can be reused and the individual pieces of paper can been printed upon as many as 50 times. Toshiba have also developed a printer that uses plastic 'paper' that can be re-used hundreds of times.
Is paper ‘different’ or are we witnessing the death of the A4 sheet?

On the other hand, the book industry appears to be taking another step to embrace Print On Demand. Long heralded as the answer to excess print runs, static inventory and ‘just in case’ production. Amazon has just announced its investment with Hewlett-Packard to provide Amazon with industrial-speed colour printers for their Booksurge books-on-demand service.
Hewlett-Packard predicts that digital printing will grow from about $1bn today to $10bn by 2010. This doesn’t mean that we are printing more, just that we are shifting towards a digital model and printing smarter.

POD has long offered fantastic opportunities to move the production down the channel and closer to the consumer. In ‘Brave New World’ we cited the New York Library’s facility to print in the Library. Anyone visiting the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square we see a print facility in their shop, which will produce full colour quality reproductions of various sizes on demand.

So why aren’t bookstores working co-operatively to have community services to print locally? Why doesn’t retailers such as Staples or PC World provide the facilities?

Today publishers still own the production button but as the availability of digital content increases so does the opportunity to do things differently. Why not consider distributed licensing of production closer to the consumer based on local demand?

For an excellent perspective for the academic world click here

Paper is different and physical books are different. Some may be happy with digital text, but today the majority isn’t. Some accountants may welcome Xerox’s ‘disappearing ink but given the way I fold, crease and misuse paper, it may not be fit to reuse. Technology is here today to make things easier and it is therefore logical that we start to consider smarter ways to print locally and not ‘just in case’ but more ‘just in time’.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Omnivore Wars – The First Salvo

With a shot across the bows of its arch rival, Microsoft finally launch its ‘Live’ programme.

From Thursday, anyone wanting to view an obscure tome from the vaults of the British Library will be able to look for it online along with books from the collections of the University of California and the University of Toronto. The company also plans to add books from the New York Public Library, Cornell University and the American Museum of Veterinary Medicine within the next month. In a later release, Microsoft will also be adding copyright works that publishers have given permission to include in the scanning project.

Once ‘Live’ comes out of the beta release in the next six months and is really live, Microsoft plans to incorporate all of the scanned publications into its general Internet search engine. The most relevant results will be from books. They also have a ‘search inside a book’ feature which will allow users to search full text of books.

Google isn’t standing still and its $200 million project is well documented.
This craze to gulp up everything standing is good and bad for the industry. It will waken up publishers to digitize and hopefully take control of their content and its representation and not let these omnivores bully and cajole them into giving it away for a promise of a few dollars. However, the dangers are significant as both these beasts do not intend to stop here. Both intend to sell digital content. Both start with good intent but in a world where the vast majority of works reside in a grey area which is neither in print nor public domain and where rights are to say the least ambiguous, guess what will happen? The US Orphan Act that was passed this year gives them the perfect vehicle.

So who loses? The answer is potentially everyone. Authors may sold or stolen, Publishers marginalized, retailers not even on their radar. Consumers get indigestion and selection end up being advertising biased.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Brand New Screens for eBooks?

For many years the major problem was backlight screens, you just could not read them in daylight. We all assumed the answer would be eInk. However today there is potentially a new technology that is being developed that may solve the backlight problem and importantly is one being looked at by other industries. In this rapidly converging world it is hard to see a single application technology prevailing if others can match it offer more and most importantly are being adopted by others.
Today we learn that Korean electronics giant LG has just unveiled a concept ebook device that uses an extremely sharp high resolution full colour OLED (Organic Light- Emitting Diodes) display and an ultra high-tech fuel cell power supply. report that the ebook has just won a "best of the best" Red Dot Award, a German prize for industrial design.
So what is OLED and why is it different? Basically, it's a low-voltage display technology that uses organic films sandwiched between an anode and cathode to produce red, green, and blue light. The difference to plasma display panels and TFT LCD displays is that OLED displays don't require a backlight, consume less power and can result in thinner screens than the liquid-crystal displays, or LCDs. The market appears to be that for small, handheld electronic devices. There are hundreds of millions of these gadgets out there that need bright, color displays with clear contrast, and by coincidence, the smallest OLED screens will be the easiest to manufacture.
Pioneer have announced a project to produce displays made from OLED in the first quarter of next year. The screens, which will start to come out in March, measure 2.4 inches across, come with a resolution of 240 pixels by 320 pixels and will have an active life of more than 10,000 hours. The screens will be capable of projecting 262,000 colors.
So who will by eink and who will buy OLED? My bet would be on the later and by the time the market starts to shake I would bet on convergence over single usage technology.

Wi Fi for free

Today Manchester City Council has unveiled plans for a citywide Wi-Fi network which will cover 90 percent of the Greater Manchester area. The proposal is part of the council's bid for the nationwide Digital Challenge which will award a prize of £7 million (US$13.8 million) to the council which best shows how it's using IT to improve community interaction.
“So what?” you may ask.
The answer is simple and significant in that the service is going to be free. It is proposed that this broadband wireless network will eventually cover an area of up to 400 square miles and give Internet access to 2.2 million people. It follows on similar initiatives in San Francisco and Amsterdam and could offer small businesses and citizens speeds of up to 10Mbps and explode the use of internet telephony and access to online information.
This is a huge step forward and starts to unlock the access to information we all seek. The question now is will publishing be ready to participate? Will people expect the information as well as the network for free? How will local libraries and learning centres exploit the bandwidth and will they be in conflict with commercial organizations?
We are fast moving towards an “information on the move” environment where you can keep in touch and access your world from anywhere at anytime form any device. We are no longer tied to the wires and are information and access is becoming truly portable.

Search and Browse Inside

Since its launch, Amazon’s ‘Search Inside’ function has slowly been adopted within the market and has clearly added value to the buyer experience. The buyer now has the opportunity to further qualify their selection and discover the look and feel of the book inside its jacket.
Remember not so many years ago when Amazon and others started to require jackets? Some questioned whether the retailers had the rights to scan and display jackets in order to sell the book. Today displaying jackets on the internet is the norm and even antiquarian and used books have jackets for all to view. Why were jackets so emotive at the time? The answer is simple – the vast majority of publishers and the bibliographic agencies didn’t have them. So who was going to do it and would they produce the quality desired?
When we now look at search inside what do we find? The answer is similar again, the bibliographic agents do not hold that level of rich information and the majority of publishers don’t have the capability of providing it. Is this a rights or contract issue or one about digital evolution? Some would argue it is to do with rights and contracts and sight the need to protect access and representation. This is very laudable, and poses the questions as to who provides and holds the information how it is protected and importantly how it is presented? Those publishers with digital programs and asset stores can provide the material and ensure they correctly display and represent the title. Those who do not have the digital content in a format that can be effectively repurposed, are at the mercy of others.
Digital content is fast becoming digital context and is the best and richest form of bibliographic information. This doesn’t mean that the total book needs to be made available online, but it does mean that the content needs to be digitized to enable the relevant sections available. By taking control of the digital content and what is made available the publishers ensure that they represent the work as they and the author wishes.
I was walking through Convent garden on Saturday and visited Taschen’s new store. What has this to do with search inside you may ask? Well the answer is simple – Taschen has long taken control of its content and used it to sell physical books. Visit their web site were you can turn the pages and see inside the book. Then go look at the Amazon site and look at the identical pages against the same book. As publishers of high-end art and photographic books this was an obvious step and one which now allows Taschen control what pages are displayed and provides them with a consistency of representation in the market. Importantly it is about selling physical books over the internet and not about selling digital content.
So should Amazon scan the book and load it onto their program or should publishers send to Amazon, Waterstones, WHS, etc the content they want displayed in any ‘inside’ feature? HarperCollins clearly is taking control of their digital content through their ‘Browse inside’ initiative which will give then the same flexibility as Taschen whilst others have chosen to outsource the job to others.
There is no right or wrong answer to what publishers should do but I believe doing it once and controlling its usage and repurposing across the market is better than effectively handing it over to others and doing it several times.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Omnivorous Digital Wars

In the BA report ‘Brave New World’ we raised the question of new market entrants – the omnivores. These beasts are different to all that have gone before and literally do eat all before them. They have huge financial clout and could be said to care little about literature and issues such as rights and more about world domination. Their mission is not based on books and service but on dominating the search and discovery space on the Internet. The reward they seek is not in book sales but is in advertising revenue.

“So what?” you quite rightly ask and I remember discussing Amazon with a leading industry figure in the late nineties. All he could go on about was how Bertelsmann were about to crush Amazon and how they didn’t make profit. I remember well the debate and the sheer lack of understanding he had of global branding, positive cash flow and what we now all now know as ‘Long Tail’ economics. History has shown that he got it all wrong. But Amazon far from being a bad thing has stimulated, and has in general, been good for the book market.

So what about these new omnivores? Google, Yahoo and MSN are all chomping up as much digital content as they can get hold of. Amazon hasn’t gone away but doesn’t have the same clout as these new entrants. These new wars are only just starting. It is not a case of who will win, but how others react and how the landscape will develop.

We read last week about the ongoing legal battles facing Google. A group of publishers and the Authors Guild allege that they failed to get correct approvals to make copies of books. Google have now have subpoenaed Amazon, Yahoo and MSN among others. An act that has been rebuffed by Amazon and Yahoo who refuse to share their strategy and digital actions in the open. Who knows how this battle of the giants will pan out? However, Google appear to have adopted an interesting approach in another market with respect to You Tube and have defiantly set aside a huge legal war chest to fight those battles.

Last week we also read about the launch of Google’s Online Access Platform. Some of the guests appear still appear to be divided as to whether to join the party. What is certain is that many will line up for their pieces of silver.

Which model will Google adopt when it finally moves into selling digital content? Will they rent it, serialise it or sell it outright? How many author contracts cover these positions adequately? How will royalties be accounted for? Who will deal with the thorny issue of orphaned works, or will ‘due diligence’ give them the powers to ‘land grab’ all titles that are currently sitting in the that ‘grey’ area between ‘public domain’ and ‘in print’.

The omnivore issues and challenges are still significant, but will the industry face up to them or capitulate and hand over the digital space to the likes of Google? The search engine is essential in the digital world as it enables people to find, qualify and value content but does it mean that you have to hand over all the digital content over and buy it there too?
I have always believed in collaboration and co-operation, recognising what each party brings to the table and ensuring that the strategy is mutually equitable. If the omnivores stimulate digitisation and the digital market that will be good. Their presence will have an impact on the publishing value chain and may lead to some disintermediation but that is inevitable. However, if in doing so they undermine the very foundation of the market – intellectual property rights - we all will have much to answer for.