Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Expresso on the High Street?

The Espresso Book Machine, has been coming to publishing for some time and in the last year we have continued our updates on the machine’s progress. To-date it has been deployed in five installations and now On Demand Books announces that it is ‘in advanced talks with a well known London-based bookseller to bring one to the UK on early 2008’.

Is this the way it will work, as an additional facility within an existing bookstore? Will the machine drive sufficient traffic and volume within a bookstore? Will demand such that the machine is idle 80% of the time and very busy during the 20% when the store is also busy? On demand implies ‘just in time’ not ‘can you come back later’ and if it where drop shipped then why do it locally?

The library opportunities to offer much potential in terms of width of offer, economics of digital over inventory, a more consistent foot flow and the potential for titles to be ‘always available’.

Stores such as Foyles would appear to be the perfect fit, offering both footfall and destination pull. However, what will they sell on demand and will these sales compliment or cannibalise existing sales? Will the facility generate new footfall and incremental revenue? Will the machine be at front of store or hidden away in a corner where few tread?
It certainly is an interesting venture and one we certainly wish the ‘London based bookseller’ well with.
We return to Starbucks or Starbooks and what would appear at first a better fit. However, who will do the serving, selling and take the money and what will come first the latte, the POD book? Importantly when they have paid for the machine, supplies, space and the titles will there be sufficient margin to make it profitable and more than a loss leader. The mini ‘expresso’ may be more viable when and if it arrives.
Kelko, Rymans, Prontoprint all offer a clearer offer, after all their business is paper and copying. However, will they know anything about the works and be able to select and sell and would a book buyer expect to go there to get a book?

Supermarkets are an interesting option. They are often open 24 x 6 and always need new product lines and could even accommodate a venture on a franchise basis. Imagine your local Waterstones on demand within your local Tesco. The footfall certainly would not be a problem and they often have cafes and sell commodity. However can they afford the square footage and would it deliver the required return?

The list of potential players is only restricted by the service package and their commitment. We have already written about the likes of BookGG, one of many in China using similar technology and new business models to bring ‘just in time’ production to their customers on the High Street. Localised POD offers much in negating book miles, reducing stocked units and offering other formats such as large print.

The challenge is finding a way in which communities and existing channels can effectively participate and that is exactly where the Brave New World report came in.

Serialised Publishing Returns

Hats off to Solaris Books in planning to serialise Chris Roberson’s next fantasy novel on its website for free.

‘Three Unbroken’ will be published at a rate of two chapters per week and the text made available for download at www.solarisbooks.com. The project will start in November with the book not being published until 2009.

So the Dickens model returns and interestingly in a genre that probably will work well. Many are staringto think about books differently and outside of the spine that has for so long restricted them.The interesting aspect is how and if the seralisation approach will change how the work is written and the role of the editor in shaping it. After all you can’t go back and rewrite a chapter once it has been ‘published’.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Democratisation of Ads

Today we read about a young student Nick Haley, at the University of Leeds, England. He created a commercial for the iTouch, posted in on YouTube, which was viewed by thousand and got discovered by Apple marketing execs, and was commissioned by Apple’s ad agency to collaborate on a “professional” version of the ad. Watch the original ad by usingthe link below or clicking on the icon in the screen.One its impressive,two Wow!, three we want an iPhone.


What is relevant is that people are finding ways to express themselves via community sites and also are offering ideas to those who would not normally see them. Is this the new way to promote content and creative ideas? – Yes. Will there be some hidden gems? – Yes. What is important is the ownership of those ideas and ensuring that IP is rewarded and not abused.

We have already commented on Lego, Chris Anderson and what we call the democratisation of literature, now here is the democratisation of advertising.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Library Dumps Books

Wiltshire County Council, which encourages people to recycle, has been attacked by environmental campaigners and charity workers. This is not over twice monthly, or roadside collections, but their decision to send hundreds of library books to be dumped in a landfill site, ‘because it is not viable to recycle them’. Last week fiction and children's books deemed surplus to requirements, were openly dumped in a skip outside Chippenham Library.

Derek Quinn, Director for the Wiltshire Wood Recycling group, is reported as saying. "When I went to look in the skip it was full of books and some were brand new. I took some home with me because they were in great condition. It is not only books going into the landfill - it's my council tax as well."

Shelia Veech, of Friends of the Earth, said: "I am horrified that they would throw these books out - surely someone must want them.”

The council's stock manager David Green said they had no choice but to dump the consignment because at the moment they had too many books to recycle. He claims that the council only had one contractor to deal with this sort of recycling and at present it isn't a viable solution.

Its amazing that in this day where library funding is constantly under question and recycling is such a hot subject that books are thrown into the skip and buried in landfill. What also is interesting is that these sales are outside the returns and publisher’s pulping programmes. We note that what was probably common practice yesterday, is fast becoming socially unacceptable to many today.

Phoney Wars

The long awaited entry of the iPhone into the UK market is now only days away. On 9th of November the fashion icon that has started to redefine mobile phones enters the UK via an exclusive O2 service. Beware, they will be seen everywhere and O2 is bound to be inundated with service transfer enquires. More than 1.4 million units have been sold in the US since it was introduction on 29th June this year.

In an move to stop its resale in the US, Apple has now announced that it will no longer accepts cash for iPhone purchases and it is reducing the unit limit per person, from five units, down to two. The new policy will ensure that there are enough iPhones for people who are shopping for themselves or buying a gift and discourage unauthorized resellers.

Apple’s other issue is that it estimates that 250K of the iPhones sold to date are to people with multiple iPhones and include those looking to modify, or unlock, the phones so they work on networks other than Apple’s US partner, AT&T. Apple’s attempts to prevent that unlocking activity, include a software update that blocks hacker’s workarounds.

Elsewhere the businessman’s favcourite toy continues to reinvent itself and add more common mobile technology. Blackberry have announced a deal with Omnifone UK to supply BlackBerry users with an unlimited number of music downloads from Omnifone’s MusicStation service. Omnifone’s MusicStation service claims to be able to supply some 10 million songs across 30 countries and a library of tracks from the major producers, such as EMI, Warner Music Group, Sony BMG and Universal Music Group.

They are not stopping there and have also launched Facebook software designed especially for its smartphones. This will enable users to browse Facebook, receive notifications and messages automatically and scroll through them quickly just as they do today with their email. Users can also read and compose Facebook messages.

Google Take Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

Google like all major brands spreads its services at an alarming rate.
Today we hear about ‘Google 411’ a free business telephone directory enquiry service in the US. Google 411 uses voice-recognition software, completely eliminating the need for human operators.

Users access the service by calling 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411), and stating the desired state and city, or zip code. The system then asks the user to state the business being sought, and offers a list of results which can be dialed automatically. Users can also have results sent via SMS, or displayed as a point on Google maps on smartphones.

With respect to its ever controversial Google Book Search it appears that they have retreated from plans to include magazines with an ISSN number within the service. Technical difficulties with digitizing magazines due to poor paper quality, a lack of existing archives were cited and that book information was of a higher value to searchers were cited as the main reasons.

It shared to understand some of the logic as magazines are increasingly digitized and serials certainly have been for some time. The question of archive also appears a bit woolly given the efforts of many the digitize their archives. Perhaps the real clues lie in the fragmented nature of the content but again that’s the Internet also. Its hard to see the logic or perhaps it’s down to control, re-usage and revenue opportunities. You may believe that but we couldn’t possibly comment.

However, as one door closes another opens. Google now plan to dominate advertising on the television as well as on the Internet. It has announced a partnership with the Nielsen Company, the authority in measuring television audiences that aims to give advertisers more accurate figures of how many people are viewing commercials on a second-by-second basis and who those people are.

At a time when digital broadcasting is changing and many are viewing ‘offline’ and even bypassing the ads, advertisers are hungry for any data they can get about who is watching, who is bypassing them and where to invest.

Google has been selling ads on EchoStarCommunication’s 125 national satellite channel netwoprk. Google analyzes the data from set-top boxes to determine exactly which ads were watched or skipped, with a second-by-second breakdown. With Nielsen’s help, Google will be able to overlay sampling-based ratings and add a rich demographic layer to EchoStar’s information.

Google TV Ads and Google AdWords both give advertisers the ability to buy, sell and deliver advertisements across media and to evaluate the reach of each ad adding the demographic information from Nielson can then tell them who is watching it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

If the Omnivore Cap Fits...

Well we couldn’t believe our eyes on reading of the giant who we called an omnivore has actually adopted the name for its new blog site! In Brave New World we alikened some of the activities of the search engines and Amazon to omnivores – they devour all before them and Amazon must have thought the cap fitted. Their new book blog new home is www.omnivoracious.com.

Why did they choose Omnivoracious? They say that their editors are ‘always foraging hungrily for that next great book, wherever it comes from, whatever it's about’. They take after their parent and wake up hungry every day! They also admit that ‘before long, we expect, in the spirit of our name, to expand our appetite to the newest movies and music too.’

Today we also read of Amazon.com's international significant sales rise of 40% in the third-quarter. The company's UK, German, Japanese, French and Chinese sites saw turnover rise 33% to $1.5bn with its operating profit almost doubling over the period, from $50m to $98m. The parent Amazon net sales increased 41% to $3.26bn in the same quarter, compared with $2.31bn in third quarter 2006 with net sales growth of 38% compared with third quarter 2006.

Sales for 2007 are expected to be between $14.3bn and $14.6bn, 33% and 36% comparative growth on 2006 with operating income expected to be between $605m and $675m, or 56% and 74% comparative growth.

Amazon is now much more than books or even entertainment and in just over a decade has built a sustainable business, a global brand and a turnover far beyond anyone’s expectations. In publishing they cover all the based across the value chain from author to reader and have changed consumer attitudes. It is interesting to see the size of the overall publishing market compared to Amazon and to realise that it is now not just a publishing omnivore but a big retail gorilla too.

NewsSpace Democratisation

HarperCollins and MySpace are both part of the Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire. It therefore not surprising to read, that MySpace is getting into the book business and HarperCollins into the social community space. HarperCollins has a MySpace presence for some time has recently announced its Authonomy.com aspiring author community space.

MySpace, are now to collaborate with a children's imprint of HarperCollins on an environmental handbook planned for April 22, Earth Day. "MySpace/Our Planet: Change is Possible," will be written by freelance journalist Jeca Taudte and is rumoured to be about 160 pages and cost about $12.95 with a planned first printing of 200,000.The book will feature ideas from MySpace users, who can post environmental tips on http://www.myspace.com/ourplanet. Following the trend towards the democratisation of literature that we have featured heavily on in recent blogs, MySpace contributors who end up in the book will not be paid, but will be credited by their usernames and geographic locations.

The combination sounds a real winner, social community, environmental issues, children’s focus, two major promotion channels and free contributions from motivated individuals. Now who will do a deal with Facebook or Bebo?

We are not Alone

The driving forces that we see changing publishing may appear to be different but are very similar to those being experienced by others.

In a new book that is to be published next year by Oxford University Press, Richard Susskind argues that lawyers and the legal profession face extinction, or are “on the brink of fundamental transformation”. He sees a future, where “conventional legal advisers will be much less prominent in society than today, and, in some walks of life, will have no visibility at all”.

The driving forces are: information technology and what Susskind calls ‘the market pull towards commoditization – carving up a lawyer’s job into identifiable and discreet pieces that can be outsourced and done more cheaply by others.’

When we step back and think about the roles across our value chain we can see similar forces, the question is which roles survive, which are commoditized and which become extinct through technology?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


One of the genre we envisaged diverging at speed under digitisation was religion. Today we read about www.GodTube.com a $2.5 million Christian video site with some 1.7 million unique visitors in August. Visitors at the site stay on average 7.7 minutes and view over 1.5 million hours of video a month.

GodTube isn’t a church and is very much a ‘for-profit’ organisation. Its model includes selling both religious and secular advertising, charging subscription fees to ministries that want to broadcast and selling anonymous demographic data. What you get over the Internet also includes matters like in-depth theological discussion, prayer support, opportunities for confession and the like.

Religion on the Internet is nothing new -- churches have been using e-mail and bulletin board services for more than a decade, and sacred texts have long been accessible via online databases. A decade ago we knew of one major Christian publisher who was providing sermons on demand via email.

GodTube offers a new live video function called GodCaster. This allows churches and ministers to stream live events such as services, concerts, debates and other programming, to anyone in the world. Now worshipers can pick a congregation based more on personal or religious preference than their physical location, and they can participate in Bible studies and social groups without ever leaving their PC.

The site takes extra efforts to ensure that its content is appropriate and every single video must be approved by an administrator before it goes live. Currently, that is 300 to 500 videos a day and growing. In addition , only pre-approved pastors and ministries will be trusted live video providers.

The religious market is not exclusive to Christians and similar sites are emerging to cater for other major faiths. Christian publishers are responding to GodTube and its new and expanding audience with leading Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson being one of its 50 Major partners.

Direct from Manufacturer?

So printers now aim to go after the drop ship market space and offer the Publisher’s a direct market and full margin. Its an interesting proposal but begs many questions.
CPI are launching, www.cpibookdelivery.com a site which will have its titles listed on Google search. When a consumer finds a title CPI will take the money and dispatch the book. They will then pay the publisher the full cover price and in doing so pay on a settlement basis so living off whatever interest can be raised and maximising bottom line profit for the publisher. The aim is to help publishers sell direct to the consumer from point of manufacture and so effectively cut out distributors, wholesalers, ecommerce sites and retailers.

So is the intent to go after the total distribution and wholesale market and deliver both bulk and single shipments from point of manufacture or to just deal with internet drop ship? Are they going to hold significant title inventory or manufacture to order (POD). The issues about operating single shipment operations alongside bulk have been discussed many times and are as we have said an art.

Printers are increasingly under pressures as manufacturing is always shifting to the cheapest location and POD is becoming more economic and moving closer to the channel. So where do CPI want to be? Are they merely trying to plug what they see is a opportunity or are they trying to align themselves as the publisher’s direct fulfilment option for all formats? The cpibookdelivery site is obviously in its early stages and doesn’t give a lot away.

How Many Users Saw Your Ad?

If you were placing an advert you would want to monitor the number of people who saw it and if possible the resultant conversion rate and frequency of spend is achieved. In a direct marketing environment its about conversion and frequency rate and ensuring that the money is spent well, in the advertising mass market it is about ensuring the audience target has been reached and monitoring that the message has been received. So one would think that on the internet life becomes a whole lot easier and precise figures can be collated for each view and where appropriate each conversion.

Anyone who has placed adverts on the web will know that auditing ‘hits’, conversion, individuals and returns can often be as difficult as herding cats. We often find two camps page views versus pay-per-click. The later is basically payment based not on merely viewing the page but on clicking on the ad. This still doesn’t mean the user actually converted just that he clicked through. However, in the advertising world which is expected to more than double the $9.6 billion it represented as recently as 2004 and generate some $20 billion in revenue this year, its more about views than action.

So how many visitors did you receive today? Your web analyst will say one figure but the advertising measurement services such as ComScore and Nielson/Net Ratings a much lower one. Who is right and who is wrong? In the world of advertising the figures mean money! There are a myriad of reasons for the differences. Then there are issues regarding the number of times that advertisements appear on the web site and we have seen the recent purchase by Microsoft and Google of companies such as Atlas and DoubleClick who specialise in tracking this. There are also issues about tracking individuals who may masked behind a corporate or institutional gateway.

The wider adoption of Web analytics, as a discipline, may hold the answers in the web 2.0 world. This technology has evolved and the latest ‘page tagging’, is aimed at capturing business metrics such as the unique user, the visit, and the page view. However, until everyone counts the same way the true potential of Internet advertising may not be fully realised.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Cat will not be put back in this Bag

Audio books appear to be in a digital tug of war.

On one side stands the music industry who are rapidly changing business models, are digital and desperately trying to make money with artists, consumers and the market shifting the ground from under their feet. The Radiohead ‘honesty box’ and recent giveaway CDs are now competing with DRM free music. It’s inevitable that watermarking will prevail over DRM and that its days are clearly numbered. On the other side sits an uneasy book industry claiming, with some justification, that ‘books are different’ but at the same time watching the audiobook increasingly being digitally aligned with music.

It is not surprising to read today that Penguin has withdrawn its 150 titles from its audiobook experiment with eMusic’s unprotected MP3 file initiative. Publisher Dick Heffernan is reported in the NYT, "At this moment we're not going to have our titles on eMusic or with anyone else who sells non-DRM until the landscape shakes out and we feel very comfortable and confident that our titles will not be pirated." Interestingly he added that, "We wanted to take a chance and see how it would work out, and our very senior management at this moment decided that we didn’t want to do that."

On the other hand eMusic stated that they are achieving 500 audiobook sales a day under the DRM free initiative which is double the projections. Random House Audio have reported that they are monitoring their participation but have found no piracy to date and that sales were "really encouraging."

So what will prevail? Naxos and Silksoundbooks are available DRM free today for download in the UK. Naxos have signed up to Gardners Digital Services so will have an additional channel to market. Silksoundbooks have placed a price point of £7.99 a download which certainly raise further questions.

Some may sit on the sidelines and wait, but the market and the channels are starting to appear and with it those cracks in the audiobook world, that has so long been restrained by Audible and restrictive DRM.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Scanning The Library World

Whose library is best and which collection offers the richest content when digitised? We have seen the giant hover that is Google making a land grab for any library that will play and now we see the national and international divides.

The Library of Congress has announced its plans to expand its World Digital Library Program and has signed an agreement with UNESCO. The project is a joint venture with other national libraries and is modelled on the Library of Congress’s vast American Memory project. The digital library will hold digital versions of rare and specialised materials such as manuscripts, maps, books, films, sound recordings and photographs, will be free to access over the Internet and is currently available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese languages.

The project started 2 years ago with a $3million grant from Google and assistance from Apple and they are currently discussing further funding alliances with Nokia and Vodaphone, as well as gathering commitments from countries.

You would think that one project was enough, but European libraries are separately developing their own digital collections and the European Digital Library will release its prototype next year. The French National Library has already developed a test project, Europeana, for the European library and is in the process of digitizing 300,000 books.

Today we also read that several major research libraries including a large consortium in the Boston area, have rejected offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they were put off by restrictions these companies wanted to place on the new digital collections. They are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort to make digital material as widely accessible as possible.

However many libraries including the New York Public, the University of Michigan, Harvard, Stanford and Oxford have accepted the offer. Google expects to scan 15 million books from those collections.

The issue for some is that Libraries that agree to work with Google do so on Google's terms, which involve access to the material only through the Google search engine, as well as restrictions on how much of it can be downloaded.

There are now two library camps; one is shaped by commercial concerns, the other by a commitment to openness, and which one will win is not clear.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Man eBooker Prize

The Man Booker Prize is taking a bold step to reach the widest audience and are in negotiations with the British Council and publishers over digitizing the novels and making them available for all to read online for free. The objective is to engage with readers and non readers worldwide.

The are many questions not least whether the exercise will cannibalize sales or like recent music experiments with honesty boxes, boost sales and interest and engage with a new audience. If the digital copy is only a taster will readers then be induced to buy the book? Will they buy the book irrespective? Will it be only available online or to be downloaded to a reader? Will the files be DRM protected or open?

It strange that they seem to have waited until after the event to announce their intentions. We would have expected the agreements, process and mechanism to have been agreed with all parties before the event. As it stands it looks like a last minute ‘good idea’ that has not been fully thought out first. Think of the impact if it had been announce before the result and was there ready to go, the minute the result was declared.

We predict that others will now follow the idea through and it will be interesting to see where it goes next.

Democratisation or Self Publishing

So where do aspiring new authors go to get published?

They can try a publisher or an agent, but the slush pile gets bigger and the rejections more automated year on year. They can try projecting themselves on MySpace, Facebook and the social network scene, but again that is getting crowded and popularity doesn’t always reflect talent. They can become a celebrity and even get the book it written for them, or they can take what many once thought was the ultimate ego trip and self publish.

Does self publishing provide an easy route to fame and fortune or is it just another slushpile? Are there now new publisher alternatives?

We now read HarperCollins UK is to launch a new community site that is focused at encouraging new writers. Authonomy.com is set to launch in early 2008 in the UK, with the intention of developing it in other countries in the future. The aspiring writer uploads their work onto the site and others can read, make comments on it and also make recommendations. The objective appears to test the popularity of the works and the writers and cherry picking those that rise to the top for consideration for publishing. There are obvious questions about the protection of the authors’ ideas and ownership of the works posted. Will the works be exclusive to HarperCollins or become another source for others to trawl? Will the works be fully protected and how long will they be posted for? Who will be allowed to comment? We wait for the launch and the rules to be announced but given the Spinebreaker site we commented on earlier this week are we seeing the the democratisation of literature?

Its interesting to also read that at a time when publishers are reaching out to create social sites such as Authonomy and Spinebreakers the self publishing world is still not at that tipping point predicted by so many. IUniverse, one of the first digital self publishing ventures, is now being acquired by a competitor Author Solutions. There are many sites and services to self publish which offer a variety of services from editorial and design through to distribution but all have to be paid for by the author and none offer any guarantees. The list is significant; Grosvener House, Lulu, Publish and be Dammed, Trafford, Cafepress, etc. However even with open channels such as Amazon and cheaper POD technology success is hard to find. It’s unlikely that the investment is too much, or the actual process too complex, but more likely that selection, shaping, publicity and marketing are still key attributes to publishing.

Someone recently described publishers as venture capitalists and perhaps it also a case of who takes that risk that really counts.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Zero email Friday

The email has had a significant impact on all our lives and has made communication both a pain and a pleasure. Even with spam and junk email filters the volume is still growing. Research company IDC estimates that 40 billion personal emails, 17 billion alerts and a further 40 billion spam emails are sent each day. We are all return from holiday to a mountain of emails and spend valuable time trawling through them. So is there finally a backlash, a reawakening of how we should work and communicate on the horizon, or are we destined to sit at screens and stare with thumbs ready on our Blackberry and mobile phones.

A number of US firms have taken the bold step of extending the ‘dress down Friday’ to the ‘zero email Friday’. 150 engineers in Intel turned off their machines for 24 hours and opted to use the phone and as a result Intel will now repeat the initiative for the next month. US Cellular went further fining rebel users $1 for each email sent and had ‘wanted ‘ posters put up on the office walls and even required them to wear nametags with a big scarlet ‘E’ on them.

The ‘talk not type’ movement has also spread to Georgia based mail order company PBD Worldwide, accounts Deloitte & Touche and Pennsylvania State University, where students are pledging to take a day off emails. Students are apparently getting panic attacks from trying to keep up with their email. We all know that feeling.

I remember the first time I met Nigel Newton , CEO of Bloomsbury and the first five minutes were a tirade about the volume of email he received. That was ten years ago! It is claimed that the average US office worker receives about 140 emails a day, reads only half of them and responds to less than a quarter. A new habit is referred to as ‘email twitching’, or reading every email as it arrives. We are all guilty, we all need email and maybe the only escape is to get someone else to read the email for you!

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Democratisation of Penguins (Puffins? -ed)

The man who gave us the ‘long tail’, Chris Anderson, is now giving us the democratization of technology. An approach, which effectively extends the boundaries of innovation, out past to the enterprise and onto the web. Companies such as Lego and Proctor and Gamble are actively using the resources of people who are interested in what they do in order to enhance, develop and create new product. Best of all it can often cost them nothing and certainly less than having R&D staffers!

Anderson, along with his 8-year-old son developed a airborne surveillance device using Lego Mindstorm’s kit as processing and control foundation. They added a gyroscope, infrared vision for stability, GPS capability, a cell phone-based coordinate input scheme to guide the model and a basic imaging system to conduct "reconnaissance" at the destination. The data was then sent back over the same 3G network to the cell phone communications system.

This extension of technology enables organisations to think outside of their box and tap into enthusiast who will take them to a different place. The cost of Anderson’s UVA was only $1,000 compared to the multi million price tag for military UAVs. Lego effectively get the intellectual property for providing the Mindstorm kit.
So we then visited www.spinebreakers.co.uk, a Penguin owned web site which had been reviewed by Booksquare. We opened the site with some trepidation and found it ‘different’. This Penguin site has obviously been designed to appeal to youth and is edited by 13 to 18 year olds. The graphics are certainly hip, grey and lime green colours with clever image shots make an engaging feel, but why go here and not onto Bebo, Myspace, Facebook etc?

Children can become one of the team and to do so need to submit a review or short story and 50 words about why they want to be involved. It certainly offers something for everyone from book reviews to designing jackets.

For once the Penguin branding is discreet and if you blink you may miss it. So why come here and what’s in it for the young aspiring writer? Perhaps Penguin has found a way to democratise literature and harness new creative blood , monitor trends and hopefully not for free.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

LongPen Reaches Across Restricted Borders

It was interesting to read today in the Times of some very insightful words about writing from Margret Atwood. She has recently added a new line to her cv: inventor. This inclusion is as a result of her much reviewed device called the LongPen which enables authors to appear virtually at book signings, through Internet technology which reproduces their writing in real time.

How ironic that we also read the same day that another less loved Canadian is using the same technology to perform his own remote book signings. Conrad Black is not allowed to leave the US while he awaits sentencing for fraud, but has been signing copies of his biography of Richard Nixon for a Toronto bookshop. What next, ‘The Prison Diaries’ from behind bars? What would Mr Archer have done with such an opportunity?

Monday, October 08, 2007

50 50, Ask the Audience, or Call a Friend?

On the eve of the Frankfurt Book Fair comes an interesting survey by them, that were published in today’s Bookseller.com. They surveyed 1,300 publishers, retailers, agents and libraries from around the world and came up with some interesting results. The results like so often lack clarity and relevance. 25% believe High street bookselling will not exist in 50 years, but that means 75% do. 4% believe publishers will be obsolete, but the term ‘publisher’ is very vague and can mean many things to many people. 11% thought the printed book will vanish, which means 89% again didn’t.

However, the most interesting results were over the size of change faced and who the dominant geographic force would be.

55.5%, thought that the industry would continue without any "catastrophic change". This majority obviously have not been watching the music industry’s value chain and previous business models fall apart. We are witnessing unprecedented changes in broadcasting, telephony, music, films, audio, education and all content and rights related industries, but still 55.5% believe books are different! It is not so much about the physical versus the digital book, it is about business model, relationships and in certain genre the opportunity to think outside the jacket in this digital age. Predicting who will thrive and who will survive is difficult and the only certainty is that there will be authors and readers and all between are up for grabs.

36% thought Europe would dominate the industry in the next decade whilst 32% said America and 26% China. The question one has to ask is, where was China ten years ago or even five years ago? What is relevant, is not who will dominate, but the impact of the shift towards true globalisation and potentially global ownership. Will China and emerging economies tolerate external ownership, or step up to take ownership themselves? China and India are clearly in the ascendancy. What happens when we also finally accept that territorial rights become unmanageable and global pricing starts to bite. The final interesting point here is one many have long known and that is the recognition that there is a publishing market outside the US.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Turning a Negative into a Positive

The selling of review copies has long been a practiced the world over. A good friend of ours, Fred Bass, the owner of that iconic bookstore The Strand in New York, has a whole basement full of them. Some even still have the letters from the publisher in them, or a stamp that says not for resell. Let’s be honest, these are unsolicited and the equivalent to some of junk mail.

So we read again of the beating of chests and fury, this time by the PMA in the US, at sites such as Abebooks, who are said to be carrying some 200,000 galleys and advanced reading copies for sale.

Digitisation offers an easy solution to this issue, but it is dependant on acceptance of digital files and also digital files being available. Will these be DRM protected and or water marketed? Will they be track able? Will they offer a two way dialogue, or just be scattered like corn seeds as is the practice today? Will the reviewers want to be auditable? Will the reviewer still want a physical copy? Many question and we are aware that these are now been discussed and pursued by some.

Given that some academic publishers accept that the volume of review, inspection, and advance reading copies could be 10% of a print run, it’s is also a question of reducing waste.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Zune Revamp

Microsoft is ramping up its ‘iTunes and Apple competitor’ Zune offer. The question are whether it is merely following in the shadows and whether it has something new and special to offer?

They have unveiled two new Zunes with redesigned ‘Zune Pad’ controllers and styling.They are offering a $250 enhanced version of the old model, with a 80GB hard drive and a smaller, lighter flash memory-based model with 4-GB for $150 or 8-GB for $200. The Zune's wireless networking can sync a Zune wirelessly to a PC, and if you send a song to another Zune owner, the song will not now automatically vanish from the other Zune after three days. The recipient can also send this song on to still other Zune owners,but can still only play it three times.

The Zune Marketplace will now sell DRM-free MP3 files, stock music videos, but will still not have TV shows or movies and a new online-community site called Zune Social will also enable file sharing.

Microsoft claim to have shipped 1.2 million units last year but these have little visibility and are far outnumbered by Apple’s growing iWorld. They even had to roll out Bill to support these announcements.

Instead of fighting the market on an open and multi entertainment platform they have continued their proprietary route, even to the point of being incompatible with their own ‘PlaysForSure’ format for purchased audio and video downloads, and have retained their own ‘Microsoft Points’ payment system.

So what’s special? Not a lot unless you can find another Zune user within sight to share files with and although a great feature not one to build a product around. Zune social doesn’t present that ‘must join’ factor and there are too many competitors who have better offers or stronger communities. Sorry the Zune lacks a USP and we can’t see being high on the Christmas list to Santa this year.

So who still has a Betamax Player?

So one year after all the hype we now find ourselves reading about another reincarnation. The new PRS505 Sony reader models are now available in either silver or blue and come with a 100 credits to be redeemed against classic titles. But lets get real the colour isn’t going to do it and neither are 100 classics.

The Readers have the capability to support text files, RTF, Adobe PDF documents, and allow users to convert Word docs for use on the Reader using software on their PCs. They can hold 160 books in their internal memory—with more storage available via memory cards and offer a battery life equal to about 7,500 page turns. It sells for around $300.

So what is the problem or should that read problems?

It’s a one trick pony. At a time when convergence is the word, Sony want us to buy a single use device. The price is still not attractive enough to make this a worthwhile gamble and who wants to be a the cutting edge when you know its not the answer.

It lacks iconic design and a market ‘want one’ fashion presence. The reader even with a new coloured shell is as appealing as those three wheeled scooters – great if you are a convert but not if you aren’t.

There isn’t the content in their proprietary BBeB DRM format and frankly why should there be. You would have thought they of all people would have learnt this lesson by now.

Who is their audience? The professional who needs lots of documents on a reader? Sorry they have notebooks, PDAs and other mobile devices that do this and more. The student who needs reference materials on hand? They can’t afford the luxury and even if they could their material is increasingly online, tied to applications and not in BBeB format. The young technophile? Sorry this is not a cool device and doesn’t play music, videos or games. The older reader who may actually want 100 classics? They are technology sensitive and aware of transient technology and the price isn’t right here too.

Imagine owning a formula 1 racing car but having no race track to drive it on, or owning a hybrid car which runs on special fuel that is on sold in a handful of garages. Being the only one in town and having very limited capability to use it is not a recipe for mass adoption. You need to trigger the demand and have the infrastructure to support it. Who, apart from a few sad executives tryingto impress, would buy a Sony Reader today?

Forget the technology, forget the inter-galactic sonybookstore - where is the book content, where is the market demand? Buying the Sony reader would be like buying a betamax machine just as the VHS camera is coming out. Sony has a brilliant track record of innovation, but also an unenviable track record of getting it wrong and misunderstanding market forces.

Roll on next year's model.

Monday, October 01, 2007

For What's it Worth

Today we read about that Oasis’ forthcoming single, Lord Don’t Slow Me Down, is to be released as a DRM-free MP3. Yesterday many bought the Travis new single plus 11 tracks with their Sunday Mail.

Now we find that Radiohead have followed that famous ‘honesty box’ ploy used by some restaurants where you pay what you believe the meal is worth. Radiohead are offering their new album ‘In Rainbows’ via an honesty box download which will be available 8 weeks ahead of the physical equivalent. You simply pay what you think it’s worth.

So the music industry finds itself trying to herd cats again. Forget Nasper, Kazza and the pirate P2P days, the artists are now leading the revolt and the industry appears but be like rabbits caught in the headlights. Who would invest in EMI and Universal today?

Radiohead are now seriously questioning their own relationship with their fans and the industry model. If you go to their site and click on the question mark beside the price field for ‘In Rainbows’ and it says, “It’s up to you.” Guess how many will pay more than a few pence? Guess how many will pay the full recommended price? In the restaurant trade the public often paid a fair price and often respected the approach and the fact that they were face to face with the staff. However, in the depersonalized world of the internet, decency may not be applicable and its down to what Radiohead fans think of Radiohead. Its going to be interesting to watch and irrespective of the outcome I would not like to be an executive at EMI, but again I never have.

A New Dawn for Travel

BBC Worldwide has purchased travel Publisher Lonely Planet.
This should not be a shock to anyone and reflects that we are now moving into a true multi media where certain verticals will move in different direction and form different alliances. Travel has long been identified as a sector which has huge digital potential and where there was a need to think outside the jacket. This move clearly takes Lonely Planet outside the jacket and lines it up with one of the best brand leaders in the media and rights business.

One only needs to look at the branding and merchandising opportunities of the likes of Doctor Who to see where travel could benefit. Linking travel programmes, travel documentaries from the likes of Palin and eco-factual works such as ‘Living Planet’ present huge opportunities. The BBC now have a travel platform that covers all media and virtual all angles. We must also recognise that BBC Worldwide is the powerhouse and commercial arm behind much of what is changing in the BEEB.

The real question now is whether the Lonely Planet brand is wide enough to embrace all as it is or whether we will see a brand repositioning which can appeal to a wider audience than Lonely Planet enjoys today. One thing is certain is that we will hear much more about the Lonely Planet brand. The question now is whether others will step in to give it competition or whether we have witnessed a significant step change in Lonely Planet fortunes.

It Just Makes Sense

Hats off to Alison Kennedy at Egmont, who is pioneering the grading of rating the forest sourcing of papers against a set of environmental criteria. The article in Saturday’s Telegraph was a wake up call to many and Alison came across well and could not be accused of ‘cashing in’ and ‘greenwash’. This programme is quietly changing the core product, the book, hitting an empathy with both readers and authors and costs no more than before. A quiet revolution, that should be promoted and adopted by all.
Some may say that the ebook is the ultimate eco friendly option, but manufacturing and disposing of the technology is far from eco-friendly. Some may say print on demand is a great way to reduce the volume and save the planet. However, we only need to have a smattering of science to realise that the printing process and the type of paper used here is a problem we may not wish to talk about.

18 years ago in a previous life, I was on the B&Q executive when we appointed our and the industry’s, first environmental controller. It was a bold step at the time and he had many issues to deal with, especially the sweat shops in Asia that produced many hardware lines. But it was a great step and way ahead of the current movement. It was also not an easy route with many conflicts, but it did start to clean up a lot of sourcing of base materials and lead to promoting water based paints and sustainable forest sourcing.

The interesting question we face is whether we can reduce the waste within our industry, the book miles, all those copies that are merely produced to promote the book, or those that end up making the return journey?