Sunday, July 29, 2007

TV is about to change forever

Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom are not new to this blog and no doubt they will appear again. But whereas their previous ventures are known to nearly all they remain relatively unknown. When you mention Kazza to music downloader’s, there is an instant recognition of a the pioneer of peer to peer file sharing. When you mention Sykpe, the fact that there are some people who are still not connected to this phenomenon of free internet telephony is a mystery. But today Janus and Niklas have moved onto Joost and a free broadband TV service.

Joost aspires to be a global TV network, free to enjoy and sponsored by advertising. No longer restricted to the small video window, or short YouTube clip, but full screen, higher quality with entire TV programmes and the ability to share with friends.

The trick is harder here as they have to get users watching, get content owners to supply and keep the advertisers involved. They have already signed up 800,000 in an invitation only phase. So success beckons or does it?

In many countries it looks likely to happen but the UK’s terrestrial companies have ganged up to for Project Kangaroo, which is trying to do for broadband what Freeview has done for digital TV. Interesting time with the Beebs iPlayer due out and the other channels all make their offerings. Somehow I think this duo will still achieve much and are the ones to watch.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Welcome to Barbie World

Barbie is being reborn — she’s got outfits galore — but the doll also has some unusual features as this Barbie, who is smaller, also functions as an MP3 music player. Barbie on a memory stick which when her feet are plugged into PC docking station comes alive. She comes with, pages and games, virtual shops and online chatting functions on the Web site. Within 2 months 3 million have signed up and Mattel is apparently adding new users at the rate of 50,000 a day. And this is still just in its Beta version. has been pitched by Mattel as the world's first global online community designed exclusively for girls. When a girl registers on the site, she can create a personalized virtual character, design her own room, shop with B Bucks (virtual money) that she earns, play games, watch videos and have real-time chats with other girls. Girls can create and choose their own virtual characters, fashions, accessories, faces, expressions and hairstyles. This also extends to each girl's room, colours, floors, backgrounds and furniture. With children’s leisure-time habits shifting online, toy companies are responding with new products that can be fun both online and offline. This represents a change not only in the design and function of toys, but also in how toy makers use their Web properties.

Next is Zizzle, the company that makes Pirates of the Caribbean toys. The concept behind Web-connected toys is not new and was experimented in the late 1990s but stalled in a large part because Internet connections were too slow. The Walt Disney Company, last year, it introduced a digital camera that lets people download images of Disney characters from its Web site to their photos.

Merchadising is part of the total rights package and publishers have the content. Transferring this and fully leveraging it into the merchandising world is often a bridge too far, but publisher now have are in a perfect position to leverage the IP in many potentially different ways.

Nevermind the Quality, Understand the Width

Charles Aurthur’s report in the Guardian is very interesting in both what it says but also some of the messages it coveys. He talks about the fact that the latest Harry Potter book is available via bittorrent over the net but that it only provides ‘blurry’ PDF page images and that to print these off, would cost as much as buying the book itself. However, people download it because they can and it didn’t effect sales. He concludes that he believes that books are one section of the media resistant to file-sharing.

The same argument could have been written in the early days of Naspter or Kazza when the quality of files was poor or inconsistent. Remember those early Amazon search inside images and those that weren’t even straight! Look at YouTube and the quality of some of the videos available but more importantly the impact the hand held video is now having in the professional arena. It’s not about file sharing, which is just the commercial or non commercial relationship. It is about online, versus physical and the delivery format, its about free to view versus pay to view. A book can be represented perfectly online and at relatively little cost and with much more functionality than in the physical world. Alternatively we can all find badly scanned PDFs of fax copies that are hard to read and in a font that is not appropriate for online reading.

Let’s get real, the internet is the best thing for all media. It offers new interest, diversity, rich information, easy access and is a great vehicle promotion and publicity. It even let you to touch people you never knew and who never knew you.

Today it is about marketing, publicity and promotion of the richest form of information – the book. It is also about engaging with the audience and linking the author and the reader in a virtual environment. We should drop our hang-ups about physical versus digital and embrace digital for what it can deliver today – more interest and more business.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Think about the reader

Facebook continues to grow and the Telegraph reported that some 150,000 people in the UK are joining each day! In 3 years the site has grow to support 30 million worldwide and 3.2 million UK users. It is claimed that the average Briton spends some 15.8 hours a week online and that half the all broadband users spend on average 3 hours a week on these new social sites such as Facebook.

However, The Times report that one in five companies in the UK have logged on to these social sites. Is it to gauge the social web 2.0 demographic, or to advertise their product, or promote their brand? The Times gave us the interesting insight that it was in fact to vet potential employees!

Think about it, people often express their deepest thoughts on many subjects thinking that it is just them being able to freely express their feelings and share these with others. If we all did it then the head-hunter’s job would be very easy. They could quickly find out more about us than we would ever dream of disclosing in an interview or on a cv.

Puts a different slant on Big Brother.

The Dark Continent

In places where hunger, AIDS and poverty are rampant, and electricity is often not guaranteed, is the internet really a priority? Last month I spoke in Cape Town about digitisation at the IBF conference. It is clear that the third world is far behind the developed world in technology infrastructure and connectivity, but where as Asia and Southern America are making ground, the lights are clearly switched off in Africa. The issue is not about entertainment and leisure reading but about communications and importantly education.

Attempts to bring affordable high-speed Internet service to the masses have made little headway on this continent. Less than 4 percent of Africa’s population is connected to the Web and most subscribers are in countries that have strong western connections and relative stability such as South Africa and North Africa.
The lack of infrastructure is the biggest problem. In many countries, civil conflict has destroyed what existed and continuing political instability deters new investment. Africa’s only connection to the Internet’s backbone is still the 2002 cable running from Portugal down the west coast of Africa.

Ironically, E-mail messages and phone calls sent from some African countries have to be routed through Britain, or even the United States and about 75 percent of African Internet traffic is routed this same way at a significant costs. Many national telecommunications companies link to the sea cable and often maintain an access monopoly which further restricts usage. East Africa is heavily dependant on 20 year old and aging satellite technology for Internet service which offers slower and reduced bandwidth.

The result is that Africa remains the least connected region in the world. It is hoped that the ‘one laptop per child’ programme will start to make a difference, but we are seeing a gulf between not just the haves and have not’s, but the connected and unconnected widen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Potter goes Pirate Viral

Last week it was the complete transcript of Mr Campbell’s Blair Years that were being emailed around the internet for many to read, search and digest for free. One Journalist in the Telegraph had great fun counting word repetitions. This week we now hear that the secret is out and Harry Potter’s final and highly embargoed book is circulating on the Web ahead of its magic launch.

The New York Times states that the pictures can be downloaded through sites like the Pirate Bay and MediaFire and that despite the amateur scanning that the highly protected ending was definitely legible. According to BigChampagne, a research firm that tracks file-sharing, tens of thousands of people downloaded the files yesterday.
However the best and most insightful comment comes from Steve Riggio, CEO of Barnes & Noble, “If in fact the book is posted online or the ending is revealed prior to midnight on Friday, it will not result in us selling a single less copy of the book.” As far as Mr. Riggio is concerned, the press coverage and noise just increases more advance orders. Spot on and it shows the power of the viral market even if its in the control of others.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Riverdeep get deeper into education

The FT gives us another twist in the story of the giants and changing hands that dominate global education publishing. Eight months Riverdeep in a reverse takeover of Houghton Mifflin rose from a school software company into a $5bn educational publishing giant. Now is poised to complete on a $4bn (£1.97bn) bid for Reed Elservier’s remaining education assets.

HM Riverdeep will pay $3.7bn in cash and Reed will take $300m in stock for an 11.8 per cent equity stake. The sale comes after Pearson, bought Harcourt’s assessment and international education divisions for $950m in April, bringing gross proceeds to 20.8 times the division’s adjusted operating profit.

Private equity groups have been snapping up educational publishing assets, attracted by their strong and transparent cash flows. In May, Apax Partners and Omers Capital Partners paid $7.7bn to acquire Thomson Learning, while in March, Bridgepoint Capital paid £750m to take control of the education division of Wolters Kluwer, the Amsterdam-listed publishing group.

Education looks good for some and the stellar rise of Riverdeep shows that many believe that this sector promises much.

Different Cheap PCs

A pay as you go PC will hit the US market this summer. The model is from Zonbu, is Linux-based, will be priced at $99 with a $12.95 monthly subscription charge and can save $10 a month in electricity compared with a standard 200-watt PC. The computer is the size of a cigar box and uses a low-power Intel compatible microprocessor, comes with four gigabytes of flash memory instead of a disk drive, and saves energy with no drive or fan. The system will lack a keyboard, mouse and monitor, which the company will sell as options.

The Zonbu PC is targeted at the second PC in the home, cheap cheerful and practical. Will it take off? Personally we think its expensive for the limitations is has, but shows that many people are chasing the cheap PC.

A far more realistic and focused proposition comes from the One Laptop Per Child Foundation, which developed the XO laptop--a personal computer it plans to put into production in September at a cost of $176 (the device was originally touted as the $100 laptop). The One Laptop Per Child project is the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, the former chief of the MIT Media Lab.

We wrote about this in the Brave New World report and now out of the blue Intel has stated that it will support the project to put computers in the hands of poor children around the world, reversing its long-standing opposition to the proposal.

Current backers include Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices, which makes a microprocessor that runs the XO laptop, along with Web search engine Google, which is providing users e-mail accounts and free backup services. Software maker Red Hat, which developed computer programs for the device, and media giant News Corp. also have board seats. So educationalists now need to consider this new PC and its impact on their programmes

Are Your Files Safe?

Imagine your hard drive crashes or a virus attacks it and you effectively loose all your photos , music and books. What would be the cost of replacement and can you replace? Well today it may not be much, it is estimated to be around £257 on average, but is bound to change as our storage moves from physical to digital.
OK we all back up our files in a disciplined and routine way. We all have external hard drives. We are all covered by insurance both today and tomorrow. So what is the problem?

Which Computing recently found that insurers would not pay to replace tracks and only cover fire theft and flood. Only 22 of the 46 surveyed would offer any kind of insurance cover for digital collections and none covered hardware or mechanical failures. In addition, there is the question of whether laptops, MP3 players and mobiles are fully covered by home insurance when outside the home.

Collections are just that collections and often take time to build and treasured. Remember that it will often not be possible to go back and ask for another copy for free so we need to back things up. This means that the DRM systems need to let us do this as well as recognise that when we restore them they will be often on a different machine and maybe different operating system.

Sign of the Times

On 1st July we wrote about the new Prince album being made free with the mail on Sunday and yesterday it happened. I managed to get the last copy at my supermarket and the album was certainly worth the cost of the paper. It’s a pity I can’t say the same about the paper but it was a great move.

Later in the day friends told me that they could get a copy so not only did the Mail sell more copy but no doubt they also had fewer returns.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Who are You?

Imagine clicking on a search result believing you were going to a Waterstones to find yourself at Borders, or thinking you were going to Wordsworth Editions and found yourself at Penguin Classics. I bet the feathers would soon be flying along with ‘passing off’ legal letters. Passing Off yourself as someone else is a legal offence but like many legal issues on the internet the water can get murky. Remember the days when enterprising folk bought up URLs containing brand names in the hope of selling them on the the brand owner.

Today the Times covers a story about The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), a consumer watchdog who is taking legal action against Google over the way it sells and displays its sponsored links.

In 2005, an Australian classified ads magazine Trading Post, took out sponsored links in the name of two car dealerships from Newcastle, New South Wales. People clicking on the names of the dealerships found themselves on Trading Post’s website. The ACCC dropped a case against Trading Post when the publication said it would stop using its competitors’ names in Google sponsored links. However, the ACCC now claims that Google “engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct” by allowing Trading Post to buy ads in the name of the car dealerships and also that the way Google displays its links is misleading in that it fails to adequately distinguish sponsored links from ‘organic’ search results.

Google Australia described the lawsuit as “an attack on all search engines”
The article quotes that Google has faced a many lawsuits from companies alleging that rivals have bought sponsored links triggered by their trademarked words or phrases. Google has won some cases and lost others. One would dismiss this as maybe a small and insignificant lawsuit until one thinks about the issue a little closer and in the context of initiatives such as Booksearch.

DAPs, DADs and DARs

Around 100 publishing folk gathered in London yesterday to hear the UK rendition of the Klopotek Digital Asset Distributor conference. It was certainly an informative day and all the DAD suppliers lined up in the beauty parade to give their 15 minutes of fame speech, as to why they were different from the pack.

As part of the parade it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the individual messages but the similarity and consistency of message was both scary for some and interesting for many.

What is a DAD? Well it’s a part new definition of the digital publishing life-cycle that encompasses; DAPs Digital Asset Producers – publishers to you and me, DADs Digital Asset Distributors – either publishers again or 3rd parties who distribute content, metadata (marketing and promotional stuff from bibliographic to the latest widget or blog) to DARs Digital asset retailers – anyone who sells stuff. We even had MUMs but that got too much and the meaning was lost on me.

Defining where one starts and another finishes is often down to consultants, salesmen and technologists. Whether you need three separate silos or just different views into the same silo is down to individual business needs. There is obviously the check it in and check it out editorial pre press development cycle, the archive and retrieval phase, the distribution of content and context and rights and finally the commerce. The question as to whether all DADs can support other areas is interesting and this blurring of boundaries is what makes putting labels on things often very difficult.

There were two interesting presentations from Abobe and Google and Google ‘Crawl’ certainly do what it says on the box!

But the event certainly raised the profile of the digital market offers and some of the issues we all face and congratulations must go to that dynamic duo of Mark Bide and Mike Shatzkin for pulling it together the timely and much needed research and to Klopotek for funding and supporting it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

News or Noise?

Two interesting articles from yesterday’s Daily Telegraph.

Britons now apparently read more than they did 30 years ago. Social scientists from Manchester University claim that women now read more and that the numbers of readers has increased from 13% to 17%. However the fact that women on average read six and men two more minutes a day than they did previously, is hardly earth shattering, or a fact that will change life. The data referenced is between 1975 and 2000 and is not even current. This unfortunately falls into the ‘noise not news ‘category and shows that its obvious nearly August and a time when we have a dearth of news.

Meanwhile another article quotes the latest figures from BPI, the music industry’s trade association. They show that CD sales have fallen significantly. Sales in the first half of the year fell in the UK by 10% and in the US by 20%. When netted against digital download sales, the UK decline is 7.7% and the US 9.3%. This is not the end of the world, or the end of music, but it is clearly the beginning of the model we once knew. This is not noise and a continued wake up can for all IP orientated businesses.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Mine's bigger than yours

The University of Berlin, Budapest University of Technology and Economics and Universita Politecnica delle Marche in Italy, have managed to work out how to store 500GB of data on a regular HD DVD or Blu-ray disc. This is effectively 100 times as much data! They even claim that storage could go to 1TB!This haS allowed for an increase of the storage capacity far beyond the limits of today's red-laser DVDs and next-generation blue-laser discs.

The Microholas project developed a microholographic recording technique, using nanostructures inside the disk rather than on the surface as in conventional optical storage systems.I didn't understand it eiother but the results are significant.

Storage is becoming cheaper and an acapable way of storing much more than ever. In addition it is becoming more designer! Only this last month I got a ICY BOX a 100 MB external hard drive, a polished steel designer small device that was delivered in a leather pocket sized wallett to fit any inside pocket! Forget the memory stick, I bet we will be carry our total hard disk on a chip soon.

Shelfari Releases New Facebook Application

New Shelfari Application Enables Facebook Members to Share Their Reading Lists, Discover New Books and Authors, and Participate in a Growing Community of Book Lovers

Facebook application users can view all their books on a virtual bookshelf, import books already added on, rate and review their books, and share those ratings and reviews automatically through Facebooks personal newsfeeds. They also can view the rich book information and discussions from Shelfari without leaving Facebook.

The Facebook Platform enables people to use their social network to express themselves and new applications like Shelfaris will enable Facebook members to engage with a large community of readers.

It will be interesting to view how people use this new service. We know people often love to tell others about what they like and don't be it films, books and music and Facebook certainly appeals to many of the right demographic.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Digital News or Digital Noise

It is hardly surprising that we find ourselves scratching our heads when we read the news on digital publishing today. Are we reading real news or just hearing digital noise?

Journalists are trying to eke out the real stories, but find themselves bombarded by press releases that are often pure marketing spin with much noise and little substance. One commented on a story from BEA that they had covered with a basic one liner with, “I thought this could be important but didn’t really know why”. Another trade press release was covered by press both in the US and UK as significant development, yet to those who understood it was something that many could do today but just hadn’t bother to write a press release because it was neither new nor news.

It is hard enough for those in the industry to sift the vapourware, hype and spin from the real innovation and news. The Brave New World report and BA initiative was not just about researching the issues but also educating the market on the issues and landscape. It is important that this vital process not only moves forward to engage the market but continues to educate it too.

Saga Silver Surfers

It was interesting to read in the Bookseller this week that publishers are missing out on the Saga Silver Surfers.

As Publisher potentially lurch from one demographic to another it appears that just like with Classics, what goes around comes around and the grey market is the next best thing. Anyone who has read the statistics on internet adoption, broadband connectivity, or visited a bookstore or library will be able to tell you this.

Reaching this audience is getting easier and harder. They may be getting switched on but they are also discerning and probably will not be on Facebook, MySpace and definitely not Bebo. They are also becoming discerning in giving away their email address and responding to direct marketing slush mail. The Brave New World report last year said that the silver surfers were an obvious Book buying audience.

So yes the content needs to be appropriate by why are we covering something that is so obvious as news?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Digital Erotica goes mainstream

Between the sheets there is some new bedtime listening. Virgin Books has launched an erotic audiobooks joint venture with Audible who will deliver downloadable titles under Virgin's Black Lace, Nexus, Cheek and Erotic Memoir imprints.

In technology, Erotica always leads and others follow. The questions are whether Audible’s model will appeal to erotic buyers and ordinary audio book buyers and also whether this can capture new download sales or merely replaces those in the old formats? Today there are 521 erotic titles available from and 239 at, of which Virgin has just loaded 20. However, Virgin does have a huge list of titles, so it can convert a lot more and could be become a major contributor to this genre in Audible.

A visit to the US site is interesting. Listening to the samples may do it for some, but personally it didn’t work for me! ‘Between the Sheets’ took some two minutes before the steam started to rise and then it cut out. ‘Erotic Short Stories was certainly quick to the point, but the reader was so fast I wondered what the softly spoken lady was talking about! Like a schoolboy I then searched all over the UK site. I couldn’t find the Virgin titles but loads of ‘In Bed with Susie Bright’. In fact 115 titles are hers! She produces audiobooks like a blog, or a podcast, each about 26 minutes long for around £3.99. One can sample as many as you need for 5 mins for free! She sounds just like an American lady, just talking off the cuff and into the mike. The Susie Bright model is however interesting and shows how to viral market, blog and potentially make money. In fact she has her own website, blog, store, entry in wikipedia, generates over 400K hits on Google and produces a weekly podcast which is sold via Audible!

So what have we learnt? Certainly an insight into viral marketing and promotion but is it digital news or just I we suspect, more digital noise?

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Cat is out of the Bag

The cat is out of the music bag and it will be hard to put it back in.
First there was Steve Jobs who announced DRM-free downloads, then Amazon followed suite and now the retailer, HMV has just announced that it is to provide a DRM-free download service from September. HMV’s offer will include, at launch, a 1 million track DRM-free catalogue from EMI, along with other DRM-free tracks from independent record labels.

So the first question we must ask is, why would anyone want to buy DRM restricted tracks? The second is, if DRM-free takes over, who will win, the pirates, or the legal downloads?

The HMV news comes hot on the back of the news that HMV’s full-year pre-tax profits have just dropped form £98.2m to £48.1m. Changing times sometimes call for bold moves, but its rather ironic that HMV is the same company who derided Prince’s free ‘Mail on Sunday’ promotion as ‘devaluing’.

So the movement to DRM free is gaining ground. This may have wider impact on other IP entertainment and information sectors.

The second news is of the pricing spat between Universal, the world’s largest music corporation and Apple, the world’s largest download service. Last week Universal notified Apple that it will not renew its annual contract to sell music through iTunes. Some music executives consider iTunes has a near-monopoly position in the digital sector and wish to wrestle back pricing from the 99 cent track price point which Steve Jobs created. They don’t believe that low pricing fights piracy and want to go back to charge more for popular tracks and wrestle back control of pricing.

If Universal were to remove their business they would be potentially removing one out of three new releases sold in the United States. Conversely, if Apple were walk away from Universal’s recordings, the music company and mainly leading artists could sustain a digital blow.

It is interesting to observe an industry where the giants still haven’t learnt to co-operate and work together and where the artists and the consumers appear to be forgotten voices.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

For a Princely Sum

Do artists need traditional channels to market? Do they even need to play by the traditional rules?

We have already written about Stephen King who broke the rules with “Riding the Bullet’ and is now bringing his latest work out in Esquire. There are others such as Paul McCartney whose latest album is available from Starbucks. Now comes the latest artist to do they own thing, Prince.

Prince has been paid a reputed £500K to let the Mail on Sunday to freely distribute his new album ‘Planet Earth’ with every newspaper! Never before has an artist released their new album as a giveaway. Already HMV CEO Simon Fox has referred to it as ‘absolutely nuts’ and fears the move will further devalue its product.

The result is that the UK arm of Sony BMG’s Columbia records has now withdrawn from its global deal to distribute the 10-track album.

The move is brave, but now artists are not longer restricted by yesterday’s rules. The trick is to work with artists, not deride them and ignore them. After, Napster, Kazza, MySpace etc you expect the music industry to have learnt something by now.