Sunday, August 31, 2008

It’s Good to Recycle

A friend recently asked why their best selling title of only a couple of years had been remaindered. Why they hadn’t been offered stock and why, when they were being constantly asked for copies had the decision been taken? The story in different forms will resonate with many authors and agents and it’s true that for every great experience, there will always by others not so good.

The ironic side to this particular story is that the thousands of units were grabbed by a wholesaler and were snaffled up just as quickly by their clients. After all, it’s good to have a recent best seller at a bargain price for Christmas. This is probably true recycling and preferable to the and hole drilling or landfill.
However, it also can demonstrate the continued front list focus of some and the disconnection that can occur so easily between the creator and the producer.

Many believe that books don’t have a second life and that once ejected by a publisher, they are destined for obscurity. We all make mistakes. We may not recognise the true potential of certain titles, fail to market them appropriately, find that they conflict and compete with others for resource and eyeballs etc. This is why rights reversals MUST remain, the terms may change but the principle must not.

Store Once, Render Many?

It’s interesting to look at the economics of publishing with respect to the digital opportunities we now face. Today a book is sold and the publisher and author are rewarded. Is that the end of the book’s life? No, it could be seen as the start of its journey which may see it shared with friends, sitting unread on a shelf, sold to a used book dealer and read more than once by the same person. Yet the publisher and the author get paid once at its birth.

The emergence of online services that can act as rare and second hand clearing houses that join millions of books from thousands of vendors to millions of buyers has revolutionised the used and rare book marketplace. They have given the consumer not only access and global reach but also price transparency. Many books which would have died now have a second, third, fourth life.

The digital environment now potentially changes the life of a book. We go to a library to borrow a book and we return it once read for another person to borrow. After a while the book starts to lose its looks – it happens to us all. After a while a book may not have the same attraction and demand – again it happens to us all. The book then ends up being disposed of and if still in a reasonable condition may end up starting another life listed on ABE books or another such service.

A book’s content and style may age, but a pure digital copy never loses its looks. So why not offer a rental or lease as a market option on all titles? The book is effectively always on the shelf available to be borrowed. The digital copy need never leave the publisher’s repository and is effectively created once and rendered many times but on demand. In the same way that drop ship logistics separated the transaction and customer facing activity from the pick, pack and dispatch, then digital drop ship can add the dimension of separating the digital marketing and bibliographic from the content.

The question of whether the consumer buys a downloadable copy or merely rents access to a copy is an interesting one and given the permanently connected world in which we live a question that can’t be answered today. However it makes more sense to consume online than offline as it immediately deals with the majority of the DRM issues, gives the consumer instant portability between devices and a single consumer interface can be fed transparently and consistently from literally thousands of sources.

Is this a dream? No. Leading digital exponents such as Taylor and Francis are already working with such a model today. It’s not new, just different.
So what could such a model offer authors and could the potential new business models offer reward across the life of a book as opposed to its birth? Could it offer publishers the control of their assets that they want? Could it offer the consumer interoperability? It may not suit all but there are no silver bullets in digital publishing.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Today’s Word Is - Apomediation

Many years ago we worked for a Supply Chain Director in a major retail operation who started his departmental meetings collecting words. Each team member opened with a new word and he tried to guess its meaning. The routine took only a few minutes but often was enlightening or just fun.

Yesterday Joe Esposito pointed out a new word from The Scholarly Kitchen blog on "apomediation," an alternative to mediation and disintermediation.Apomediation came from a paper by Gunther Eysenbach in the Journal of Internet Medical Research.

We are familiar with intermediation, mediation between one person and another, or between one person or entity and a resource. Intermediaries often exist because there is a scarcity model at work.

Apomediation is created by introducing the Latin term for “separate, detached, away from.” It is the mediation experienced when you read user reviews, or when people who have no stake in the ultimate decision or access to the service, resource, or information can influence your action.
As access to more resource and information grows does this new form of mediation start to replace intermediation as we knew it or are we merely wordsmithing?

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Kindleless Christmas?

The rumours about a new Kindle reader have been circulating and fuelled the ‘Septemberfeast’ vision of pre Frankfurt rivalry between Sony, Amazon and mobiles for the expected ebook explosion. The New York Times today carried a quote from Craig Berman, Amazon’s chief spokesman, “There’s a lot of rumour and speculation about the Kindle. One thing I can tell you for sure is that there will be no new version of the Kindle this year. A new version is possible sometime next year at the earliest.”

So it’s official and it can be struck off the Christmas wish lists. As an aside two different instances of Kindles locking have been recalled to us over this week. On referral to Amazon they immediately shipped out replacements. So do they have technical issues even with the current model? Maybe two incidents is so small and coincidental to be meaningless but it does raise a quality and resilience eyebrow.

Does the delay of the Kindle V2 mean that they will introduce the current version in the European market this year, or that everything is on hold until version 2?

The interesting questions to us are neither about the gadget, nor the rivals but what content will be available and why so little is available today. Amazon claim around 135K titles, Overdrive 150K titles and others vary widely in their claims. Some are US exclusive, others worldwide, but whatever number it is, is it enough to generate the consumer demand and why is there not more digital content? Many point to the music, film and other media industries and how digital has taken off. But in these industries the content was digital to start with and merely distributed and sold through physical formats. The book publishing industry are still clearly analogue and physical and unless this changes then what appeal will consumers have to invest in expensive gadgets that only can supply a small fraction of the books that are available in print?

The Smartphone and iTunes simply locked into vast musical catalogues of millions of tracks and enabled them to be downloaded, stored and played. It was a case of being at the right place at the right time. But do the ebookreaders have the same opportunity or is it a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? It's not a case of focusing on the devices, but a case of focusing on the digital content, and its availability.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

WorldCat Copyright Evidence Registry Steps up toStarts to Fill the Void

Our thoughts on rights ownership in both the current market and future digital one are well documented. For an industry that is all about rights and content it is amazing that there is no authoritative rights database and clearing centre where anyone can establish who owns what. AS we go further into the digital opportunities this issue becomes more complex and the opportunities for abuse increase. Today the issue is both about the ‘grey area’ between public domain and ‘in print’ where the ownership can be best described as ‘difficult to establish’ and in the ‘in print area’ where new opportunities to sell rights are not always reflected in the current rights contracts and royalty arrangements.

This week OCLC, the library service to 60,000 libraries in 112 countries, announced that it is piloting a new service, The WorldCat Copyright Evidence Registry that will enable librarians to discover and share information about the copyright status of books. The service is aimed at extending WorldCat, which contains more than 100 million bibliographic records describing items held in thousands of libraries worldwide.

The goal of the Copyright Evidence Registry is to encourage a cooperative environment to discover, create and share copyright evidence using the WorldCat model. It was launched as a pilot in July and enables users to search, find information about a book, see what others have said about its copyright status, and share what they know. Unfortunately it is librarian and library based and these are not the rights owners nor party the rights acquired or available for sale they can only record the status of the rights as they know them. OCLC even state, ‘The rules will help libraries analyze the information available in the Copyright Evidence Registry and form their own conclusions about copyright status.’

Would it not make sense for the service to be open to all rights owners to register, be they publishers, other 3rd parties, agents or authors and thereby create a rights registry that starts to remove the uncertainty and people ‘forming their own conclusions about copyright status.’

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mobiles for the Deaf

Mobile phones enable people to communicate almost regardless of where they are located. However, since mobiles work on voice communication those who are deaf, hard of hearing or dumb need to use some alternate form of communication or send texts. Now engineers at the University of Washington have developed MobileASL, which allows people to communicate using American Sign Language (ASL) over cell phones.

The team at Washington, quickly found that the video quality not good enough to carry on a meaningful ASL conversation. ASL is not just about hands but also facial expressions and the ability to point to various locations.

The researchers found a process which used multiple steps to encode the video in real time using the x264 encoding standard. The software first identifies the important regions of the video using a skin detection algorithm, then by computing motion vectors determines how small the various macroblock levels must be to capture the areas of high motion in detail. Sounds very clever and complex for a mobile phone but it works and enables everyone to communicate, even on 2G networks. This is the first time two-way real-time video communication has been demonstrated over US mobiles.
Already their video on YouTube has had an impact with deaf people around the US enquiring about the service on a daily basis. The prototype is still in the lab but wider trails are now being in Seattle.

DRM Free Music Continues

It seems every month another nail goes firmly into the Music DRM coffin.

This turn it Sony Ericsson who according to PC World relaunched its PlayNow mobile content store this week renaming it PlayNow Arena. The new store will distribute around 1 million DRM free tracks, which expected to soon increase to 5 million and joins iTunes and Amazon, among many others, now offering DRM free music.

The store also offers downloads of ring tones, games, themes, but unlike music, the games are still locked to the platform and can’t be transferred to another phone.

Interoperability problems between the various phones are sited as the drawback to the movement of games.

Amazon Buys Shelfari

We got back from a short break in Slovakia to the usual pile of email. In among them was an interesting publishing string about Amazon and their market position, digitisation and whether all this was healthy for publishers. Anyone who has read this blog over time will be able to predict our response.

Then today we open up another email to read from the Seattle Post Intelligencer that Amazon has now added its small Seattle neighbour Shelfari to its list of acquisitions.

Amazon has now bought a number of publishing related companies. These include the likes of Booksurge, Brilliance, Audible, Mobibook, ABE and now Shelfari. Couple these with its global market dominance in Internet bookselling and you have a very interesting mix which covers all but front list publishing!

Some may consider that the shrewdest move is the pincher action that they appear to have taken in covering at one end the out of print content with ABE and the self publishing end with Shelfari. When you couple this with their underpinning technology, commerce and distribution platforms you start to see a different animal and one that can certainly change publishing as we know it.

Obviously you have to add the Kindle into the mix and also appreciate their growing and significant internet marketshare and some would say you potentially have a mix to die for.

Shelfari, is the Seattle social networking start-up for book lovers whose main rival is part owned by ABE. Shelfari is a social network that allows groups of people to create virtual bookshelves and share titles with friends. So will Amazon dispose of their stake in LibraryThing or consolidate it further with their new acquisition?

As publishers dabble with social networking and self publishing, Amazon has clearly moved. When the market dithered on audio downloads to Audible and DRM free, Amazon merely swallowed up the company. As self publishing continues to grow, Amazon now gives it a shop window. As inventory and distribution costs continue to climb Amazon takes a clear POD position offering both an alternative to Ingram, but also means for them to acquire digital content and distribution channel for self publishers. As publishers focus on front and experiment with reclaiming out of print, Amazon acquires the main player and information base.

We watch Amazon with both admiration and fear and once again are reminded of that old saying ‘be careful what you wish for.’

Friday, August 22, 2008

Catch them Young

'Catch them young’ could be the cry from Apple as the iPhone goes into US education. Today’s New York Times reports on the iPhone moves into US universities.

Students already have cellphones and laptops and campuses are wireless, but imagine as a student that when you enrol on the first day you get given an state of the art, design icon iPhone! Abilene Christian University in Texas, has bought more than 600 iPhones and 300 iPods for this year’s new students and others such as the University of Maryland, Oklahoma Christian University and Freed Hardeman in Tennessee, appear to be following their lead. Others such as Stanford question whether they need to issue iPhones as 700 were registered by their students last year. However they are still pressing ahead with plans to develop mobile applications for their students. MIT question the suitability of the AT&T network but are reported to be watching developments closely.

The students who choose to get an iPhone, pay for their mobile phone service, but get unlimited data usage and both the iPhones and the iPod Touch can connect to the Internet through the campus wireless networks. So the student now doesn’t have to lug around their laptop and can pose clutching their new iPhone. Throug the phone students can be alerted about cancelled classes, area transport, campus issues, conduct student polls and much more.

So the focus moves away from the device and back to the content. An article in Ars Technica notes that the 2004 study by the California Public Interest Group estimated that students spend $900 a year on textbooks and it was coupled with the US Government Accountabilities Office statement that prices of academic textbooks rose by almost 300 percent from 1986 to 2004. Pick any year and a you will find similar statements on cost of books and increasing prices. The difference now is that alternatives are becoming available.

For example, the lecturer now has a greater choice between traditional textbooks or more open source content. The lecturer also now has the technology that can start to deliver the content to the student in chunks and tailored to the learning. Then there is the second-hand used text book complete with previous owners notes and bookmarks.

So the technology is slotting into place and the campus administrators realise that they can impact its adoption by endorsement or subsidy. We can assume that students will want content in a book, on their laptops, digestible chunks and reference on the mobiles, access to print on the nearest printer maybe a customised print on demand copy from their campus store. The question we would ask is whether we are all joining these dots together into a framework of interoperable solution options or viewing some options as replacement technology?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

So What's In Your Pocket?

Mobile technology moves at a pace that changes daily and make you realise that it still has note even scratched the surface of its true potential and with its high churn rate we live in exciting times.

Today we read in mobilecrunch about the plans to deploy the wallet phone globally. By means of an embedded Sony FeliCa chip the wallet phone enables communications and payment. The phones have already been heavily deployed in Japan where the user merely waves his phone at the checkout and the purchase is complete!

Whilst the Bookseller today reports that UK mobile provider ICUE is to start to offer chapter downloads. This as we have long argued makes more sense than the current full book approach and can be used to support both as sales and promotional activities. They now offer a free chapter download of the, Ugenia Lavender and the Lovely Illness by Geri Halliwell to all UK retailer, Claire's Accessories customers.
Interestingly ICUE MD Jane Tappuni is quoted as saying "We found that the English-speaking market was not ready to read books on mobile phones and that the mobile phone technology also needs to develop, so we have put book downloads on ice for now."

Meanwhile moconews reports that US TV broadcasters have formed an industry alliance the Open Mobile Video Coalition to develop mobile TV. They have their own wireless standard (ATSC-M/H) which when completed will enable broadcasters to use regular TV frequencies to reach mobile gadgets.

Finally, Reuters today reports on Palm’s new Treo Smartphone which is based on Microsoft software and will be sold by Vodafone and 02 in Europe in September, and by Telstra in Australia. The Treo Pro is Palm's has all the usual technology consumers now expect and demand, including WiFi broadband and hopes that the use of Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6.1 software will help it compete with RIM's BlackBerry Bold and the IPhone. However it comes with a heavy price ticket of $599.

With WiFi and wide coverage networks are becoming a commodity. 3G features such as email and GPS are de facto and everyone has a camera. Anyone can change their plan, provider and phone within a short period of time so the device becomes less important. The battle now shifts to the applications, the browser and the user interface. Apple has laid down the gauntlet and the pack is now following. It hard to imagine, anything but a fully functional, ’laptop in the palm of our hands’. In the near future we will be permanently connected. This will change how we ingest news, read, watch video and TV, listen to music, radio and audiobooks and whether we consume on demand or buy, store and play as we do today.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Books on Sticks?

We have seen the Barbie on a stick, we have seen the podcast on a stick so why not an ebook on a stick? Why not go one better and have a browser reader embedded on the stick which would give you device independence and also consistency of presentation? So you buy a stick with content and it becomes the ebook you share between devices, friends whatever and what you can and can’t do is dictated by a program that effectively lives of the stick. You could even be allowed to override the book with another.

How many books could you store on a stick? You could even have personalised or branded sticks. They could be sold online or through existing channels?
So before all the technocrats blast my logic the 64 dollar question is whether it would it have an appeal to the consumer?

Our digital friend Bill McCoy at Adobe pointed out an interesting piece from SanDisk the makers of SD memory cards we all use in our digital cameras, are to offer pre-loaded micro SD cards for mobiles.

Obviously one thinks about pre loaded MP3 music that could potentially play on any music enabled phone. But why not apply the same logic to other media? You simply slot the tiny card into the little slot on the side of your phone and you have potentially a huge mobile library that is device and network independent. It is reported that 770 million phones were shipped this year with micro SD slots and an additional 900 million are planned for next year. SD an 8 gigabyte micro SD card, and a 16 gigabyte card is coming.

As the old saying says, ‘there are many ways to skin a rabbit’. Sorry we didn’t mean the Nabaztag Rabbit.

Size Does Matter!

This week we read that Hewlett Packard are to release two new laptops that are lighter, thinner and have extended battery life. The EliteBook 2530p, weighs just over 3 pounds and the EliteBook 2730p is an ultra-thin computer that converts to a touch-screen pen-based tablet computer with a twist of its screen and weighs 3.7 pounds. They recognise that travellers demand true portability not lug-ability. We have already written about the iPhone applications and the ebook reader developed by Fictionwise and today read that Lonely Planet is to make its content available via Nokia mobiles.

Not only is the world shrinking through technology but the technology is also shrinking and converging. So what about the content itself? Today we joined a email discussion group supported by Peter Brantley the force behind the

The points we made were:
If we all agree that the short story or serialised novel or reference work is the ideal form for mobile and e content and I would venture that only a few and the brave would venture to read war and peace digitally, we have several fundamental challenges to face.

1. The economics of publishing today is skewed toward a print economic model best described as a ‘strightjacket’ binding 250 pages and x thousand words. This is economic to develop, print, market and shift. Why on earth do we simply see this shifting like a hardback to a paperback and to digital. Even the video guys saw merit in additional material! The audio guys realised that unabridged didn’t always make sense! So why not like the Keitai novels, Dickens, S King think again and also think of the consumer experience not merely replicating formats?

2. Payment models are not an issue. There are many examples of models that work on wallets, subscription, micropayments. The issues that may be more relevant are tax and price points. Consumers don’t want to know about tax so inclusive pricing helps. Price points are very interesting given iTunes and the track revolution in music – 99c a short read?

3. Marketing is not an issue as it is more about selling collections, series, brands than individual stories. Again think music and tracks, think Dickens and King and serials.

The main and difficult challenge is to generate content that is worthy and a demand for it that generates sales. Do authors write the book and then serialise it into chunks or write it in chunks? Is writing a short story the same skill set as the long novel and do we have the short story brands. Can you imagine if Harry Potter had been written and released in digital chunks first then as a book second? We would not be here today discussing the obvious! Some may ask why do publishers insist on digital experiments with first timers and unknown authors and not the block busters?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fictionwise Make a Wise Move

We have written many times about Smartphones and the convergence of technology and applications to this platform. The recent iPhone application program demonstrated that there were both developers queuing to bring applications to the phone and users ready to use them.

We now read in Publishers Weekly that ebook retailer Fictionwise not only jumped the queue when it released the first version of a free ebook reader for the iPhone devices but that it has been installed on 130,000 devices and generated 35,000 bought downloads.

The eReader has already been upgraded to a version 1.1 and now enables users to download books from any site that sells or offers e-books in the eReader PDB (Palm Database) format. The new features include ‘ reverse-video’ or white text on black background, along with lock screen orientation both aimed at helping readers at night lying on their sides in bed! Watch at

They now plan another upgrade this month with yet more features. We can soon expect them enable users to purchase eBooks from or right from their iPhone or iPod touch device.

This sort of enterprise move is what is great about the digital revolution. It is not down to the Gorillas to squash and own the market but smaller and more nimble companies to capture the imagination.

Have You Time to Read This?

So how do people spend their leisure time? Have we turned away from the TV and being couch potatoes and become gizmo and Internet geeks?

A report from Ofcom, the UK telecommunications regulator gives us some insights as to the current position and potential trends. It estimates that in the last five years mobile phone usage in the UK has doubled whilst the use of PCs and laptops has quadrupled.

The average person spends some 8 hours asleep in bed but now spends nearly the same amount of time watching TV, on the phone, online or using other communications services. That leaves just 8 hours to work, shop, eat and do everything else! No wonder online shopping is becoming so popular!

One of the driving forces is the falling cost of communications and growth in broadband connectivity which itself was significantly boosted by the introduction of the mobile laptop ‘dongle’. Some 2 million people are now estimated to be connected via these wireless ‘dongles’. The report claims that 58% of UK homes now have broadband connectivity. Some 40% of broadband services are now bought as a bundled package which itself help fuel further convergence both in services and products and also consumer perceptions.

Even though some 87% of UK homes now have digital television with a wide choice of channels 57% of viewing remains with the five main channels.

It is also interesting to note that some 44% of adults use text and 36% access the Internet everyday. We would love to se the same analysis of children’s usage and would expect this to be significantly higher on both counts. Mobile phone usage has grow by some 21% but land line calls have remained static which obviously shows that the old BT advert worked and we are finding that ‘it’s good to talk’.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Rabbit, Rabbit , Rabbit

Rabbits are cute little fluffy animals that we all love. They often bury away underground and unseen and then you see fields of them. So it was interesting to read about rabbit that had obviously been hidden from ourselves, the Nabaztag Rabbit, which was covered in an article this week in the Bookseller bulletin.

Violet, are the French creators of the WiFi Nabaztag techie Rabbit first launched it in 2005. You simply plug it into the mains, connect it to your wireless hub and give it a name and its alive. Through its internet connection it can, relay alerts, news, podcasts, radio, messages and even read SMS and email. It takes orders and can give them too! Friends can even email the rabbit! Its ears rotate and ‘practice Tai chi and it speaks 5 and can read 16 different languages. It retails from many outlets at around £80 and appears to be a very clever little bunny!

The Nabaztag can also identify and react to tags via its "Ztamp" system. This enables Ladybird to bury a Ztamp in the jacket of a childrens book which when placed in fron t of the Rabbit will enable him to retrieve the story from the Violet server and reads it out loud. Users can even navigate through the chapters of the story by moving the Rabbit's ears! From September, the Rabbit will be bundled with three traditional Ladybird Tales for £115. Alternatively the stories can be bought separately online.

Now if it’s a toss up between this little ‘toy’ and the kindle we know what we want for Christmas and we can get it from Amazon with different coloured ears!

Rabbits are fun and ironically this week my wife gave me a box of postcards ‘Bunnies in a Box’ by Andy Riley which she had reviewed for her business. This was dark humour at its best with a collection of hilarious and outrageous cartoons of images of fluffy bunnies finding new ways to commit suicide. But somehow we don’t see the Nabaztag Rabbit committing suicide any of the ways depicted.

Audible launches IndieFirst

Yesterday’e Bookseller Bulletin covered a interesting piece on Audible’s launch of a new imprint service ‘IndieFirst’ which aims to publish the work from independent publishers one month ahead of their print release.

This raises several opportunities as it becomes the first release of the title and could be used to promote the print release with more than just a ‘Search Inside’ as well as sell the audiobook. It clearly moves Audible into the publishing stage and would due to their current proprietary format and DRM give them exclusive material to sell and promote on iTunes and The programme will also "introduce book lovers to new and emerging writers".

The venture is in collaboration with the Centre for Independent Publishing to publish work from independent publishers and the first title is Joe Meno's Demons in the Spring, an unabridged 8 hour collection of 20 stories narrated by Victor Bevine, which will be published in print by New York-based Akashic Books in September. Three other titles are listed for realese.

This is a very logical and interesting move by the Amazon owned company and should both further strengthen their hold on the audio market and ties with independent publishers, provide fresh content and potentially introduce new marketing material to promote the physical and audio books.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


So Amazon's Kindle e-book reader is tipped by CitiGroup analysts to sell more than 380,000 units in 2008. They also predict that it will be the ‘must have item’ for Christmas and that it will have the same impact as the iPod did in its first year and finally by 2010 its annual contribution to Amazon will be around $1billion some 4% of total revenues.

Lets forget all the other noise and coverage on Adobe, Sony, iLiad and the many readers. Lets forget potential mobile and more importantly online opportunities. What would such a shift as predicted mean to the industry if it were to happen?

If any device is to become a must have, by its nature it is a category killer and others fall by the wayside. So if the Kindle achieves this status what does that mean? We must remember here that the Kindle is an exclusive device in that it is sold by Amazon, communicates with Amazon, gets its content from Amazon and renders only Amazon fed content. We may be wrong and if we are then we apologise, but as we see it today that is pretty much an Amazoniancentric digital world we then have.

If that Amazoncenric were to happen, what alternatives would consumers have? Would they want any? Would retailers be confined to selling second tier products and bad economies of scale? Would all the sing song about epub be mere hot air as the Kindle is not epub today and given its sister company is Mobi why would it want to be (Amazon accept epub files and then convert these to Mobi)?

We have heard the rumours that the Kindle is going to be pushed into the education and academic sectors were it would have to compete with the online world. If this were to happen what would this mean to those sectors and the current channels to market and business model?

Interestingly Amazon has played the US market and not moved to others such as the UK and Europe. They initially did the same years ago with physical books. However what would this unlevel playing field mean to the development of digital content and would it strengthen the US digital offer over UK and Europe and further raise the territorial stakes even within global publishers?

If Amazon has around 20% online market share today then would that increase with the digital sales or would these cannibalise the existing sales? We would assume that the majority would be additional and if anything be at the expense of traditional channels. So we have a gorilla with potentially approaching 25% global market share. What does that mean and what impact does that have on relationships, margin and can it start to ignite their growth re the economies of scale and scope it would enable?

Forget whose technology is better, who has the most content, who even has the best price, wars are often won by the best strategy and consumer offer and sometimes we must be careful what we wish for.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Short Stories Are Needed

We read much this week about short stories, its apparent demise within the UK and how the US in contrast is now growing the genre and has writers producing works exclusively in it.

The length of a story has been something we have often been amused by. It’s like comedy, there is simple one liner and there are the long monologues. Both can work equally on the audience and some comedians are better suited to one form than the other. Economics have often dictated the length of a book which is often expressed not in pages but number of words. Someone once remarked, the first novel is tightly controlled and shaped by the editor and delivers the requested volume. The second novel is a bit more relaxed re its control but again delivers around the required volume. The third and subsequent works are often very loose and the volume can vary widely often growing in size. They suggested looking at the Harry Potter series. We couldn’t possibly comment.

In a world of shortening attention span and available quality time, the short story has huge potential. Not only can it provide that quality quick read, but it also can be a lever to introduce the readers into longer reads. The progression is not a given, nor are they two mutually exclusive and therefore short stories must stand on their own two feet. We fondly remember the short stories that lay within many households between the covers of Reader Digest, Women’s Own, People’s Friend and many others. These have not gone away, but many have been replaced by Hello, OK and the sound bite celebrity photo shoot. This has both reduced the creative pool and also the audience.

Japan has demonstrated through its Keitai novels and the rise of Mieko Kawkami’s writings, that today’s technology is suited to the short story, or serialisation of the longer one. As technology shrinks it is appropriate that content shrinks to fit. Technology is very well suited to the short read but is very questionable when it comes to 250 pages. That is unless you have regular eye check ups and a good optician.

So the short story has a real opportunity to both assist the adoption of digital works and importantly to entertain. Its now up to many to recognise that size may not matter so much and simply shoehorning an existing work into the new technology may not be the answer.

Zuned Out

A few years ago a New York publishers told us that 'last year we had a title that sold 2 million and was a failure.' 'How?' was our immediate reply. 'We printed 3 million.'

We now read about a device selling 2 million units and still be considered a flop? The answer is different but equally simple, its competitor reportedly averages 3,5 million units sales a month and the 2 million is over 18 months!

This latest story is about Microsoft’s attempt to capture the iPod space with its Zune. The Zune looked good, did much of the same as the iPod, but was last to the party, didn’t have the iconic design status and failed to capture the consumer ticket. Hands up how many consumers have even heard of it?

Should Microsoft just bury it and move on? Can Microsoft afford to back another loser? It may be down to how you define failure. If failure is not getting number one slot then its failed. If failure is not selling substaiul numbers, it may well be a success. The reality is that for some its top slot or nothing as top slot can dictate the direction and pace.

Some have suggested that the Zune become the ZunePhone, but lets be honest that would be like betting when the dice are stacked against you. Some now suggest that the Zune goes after Hollywood and bypasses the TV content for the richer and more lucrative Hollywood prize. If it acquired exclusive content it could become a must have, or at least a recognised brand. Others suggest that Zune Social will make the difference. Some even believe that Zune could rise from the ashes and become the new Xbox.

The reality is that Zune is not an iPod, nor is the brand sexy, iconic or going to win with today’s hand. We bet that Zune will just slip silently away to that grand mortuary in the sky where all technology failures end up.

What has this to do with book publishing? The answers is very little, other than it proves that like Microsoft did, it is easy to believe ones own rhetoric. The real test is on the streets. Some would argue that the ebook and the current batch of wannabee readers are providing just the initial skirmish and its hard to see these current offers being the decisive blow and its more likely that the winner is not even here yet.

The question is whether selling 240,000 units is a success, a failure and who's judging?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Blackberry Boldly Moves Forward

Anyone who ever doubted that mobile convergence was upon us take note of the latest offer from BlackBerry who are set to release their ‘Bold’ version of its e-mailing mobile phone this month. The new phone, will allow users to talk while sending e-mails and accessing the internet. This feature rich model has built in WiFi high speed transfer, on board GPS receiver, a 2-megapixel camera, a 3.5mm headphone input to plug in your favourite headphones and to all this add the good keyboard , long battery life and the Brackberry folk will be very happy.

The model itself is still a heavyweight, but as most still come as ‘office furniture’ that the boss pays for, who going to complain?

A Conflict of Interest

We have written before about Nicholas Negroponte’s , One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) mission to develop and deploy a laptop for under $100 that could be distributed to millions in the developing world bringing them education, enlightenment and information. The laptop has been with us now for a short while and has morphed into the XO. The technology deployed is ground breaking not only in its cost but its innovation. So why have only hundreds of thousands and not millions been ordered and used?

Yesterday’s Sunday Times article, ‘Why Microsoft and Intel tried to kill the XO $100 laptop’ tells the story of how the big technology companies effectively set out to undermine and squash the project. Why - To protect their own economic models and self interest.

The lesson we should note is that self interest often works at odds with others and when something radical appears that could potentially threaten the instinct is often to squash it. Publishing today has many Gorillas in its mist. We need to ensure that their objects and goals are understood and that they do not unduly conflict with those of the market and industry.

We also have to be aware of the huge potential the XO has to bring digital content to all and even change what we think about ebooks and ereaders.

Peter Gabriel: A Digital Music Poineer

Often we find articles which are just too good to condense and encapsulate what we would want to say. Today The New York Times has an article, ‘An Old Rocker Gets Digital’, which is on Peter Gabriel, the musician, entrepreneur and digital force. We would urge all to read it as it not only charts his digital evolution but clearly shows the direction music is going.

The article covers his latest venture, We7 , which enables users to choose between buying recordings and downloading a free version with a 10-second advert. Interestingly the ad expires after one month and Gabriel is the first to admit that the idea of advertising with a track would have been sacrilegious twenty years ago but, ‘Today, I have a different view: it’s a way to hold onto income for creators.’

Gabriel is also quoted, ‘With downloading, the artistic change hasn’t really hit yet. But it’s turned the economic model on its head. The major record companies have some smart people looking at digital models. But the question is, will the people at the top be willing to turn the business upside down?’

The final quote is a gem which is a wake up call for all who believe that there are at the centre of the value chain, ‘I don’t believe in the death of the major record companies, but as an artist, I’d love to see them reinvented as service companies.”

Friday, August 08, 2008

Trojan Horses

Ars Technica covered an interesting subject that we all know is stalking around every corner - that of PC viral attack. NGSSoftware have developed an attack that is truly a Trojan Horse and will present its details on this at the Black Hat security conference next week.

What do we trust? What do we pass around and exchange today believing they are relatively safe? The answer is often images, JPEGs and GIFs but these are surely just images?

NGSSoftware claim to have found a way to embed a Java applet within a GIF. The GIF is seen by two different programs very differently. The web server sees it as a GIF file, and serves it accordingly, but when the "image" reaches the client, it can be opened as a an executable Java applet. Simply viewing a GIF won't infect a system that requires the user to be linked to the infection from an attacker web site. It now appears that this not only applies to GIF files but can apply to JPEGs and DOCs.

Ok is it now time to start to feel worried and pull the sheets up over our heads?
To obviate immediate exploitation the research team will leave some details out of their presentation and Sun intends to issue a patch that will serve as a short-term correction to the issue.

It is a pity is that this now has been raised in terms of a threat and not an opportunity as we are aware of one patented technology that can store files within images. These can be dynamically activated by the user via icons overlaid on the image. In a trade that is littered with jacket images the opportunities are obvious but the threat danger may now close these down.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

eBooks For Free

We have raised the question of the role of the library within the ebook world. We have written about Overdrive’s Digital Tour and libraries giving registered members free access to digital from anywhere at any time. Just think you can download books whilst the librarian is asleep in bed and the library all locked up. Yet the debate as to how libraries and retailers will digitally co-exist remains largely unvoiced.

Today we read an article in Reuters which gives us some more insights. It reports that in Phoenix a group of library branches, or should the collective noun be a shelf-full, have created a library of some 50,000 titles of ebooks, audiobooks, music tracks and videos that can be checked out from anywhere for free. The community apparently love it.

Just like books the member selects the titles and checks them out and three weeks later, poof, they disappear.

OverDrive with an estimated inventory of some 100,000 titles and working with 7,500 libraries is a major force behind this quiet revolution. Although the files are downloaded to a PC they can then be transfers to many devices dependant on the library and the file format etc.

What is the position of a library versus a retail outlet? When the books were physical people had to consciously attend the library and find the book, but today they merely search an online inventory and download for free, at anytime, for anywhere.
The question we all need to ask is, why would you expect the consumer to pay for it?

A Brave New World?

You would expect even competitors to realise that in an un-established and immature market that a certain amount of collaboration is healthy to create consumer confidence? Maybe first past the post is what it is all about.

Take one digital option –totally closed from one source and clearly not ‘open’. The content can only be served up one way and although the consumer may be happy with the service, the content providers must question what sort of power monster they are creating. Everyone wants to recreate iTunes!

Take another option – totally ‘open’ standards but maybe not. Today you can only use one DRM wrapper and can only download it to one device. Not only that but to top it all this is only initially available exclusively through one retailer.

Hello – spot the difference?

Ignoring that this may only be a temporary situation and that others should soon be able to join in, what is the message that these approaches is sending out both within the trade and out with it? Imagine a new Harry Potter being given an exclusive release to one supermarket? Would other retailers be happy and not plot their revenge? Would other publishers seek similar deals? Would the consumer wonder what is happening?

The PA and BA have stood up and backed open digital standards. Ian Hudson’s BA conference speech reiterated our own words on the importance of interoperability. Many want a level playing field that enables all to play, supports the existing channel and delivers the messages from the Brave New World report.

So why are some acting so short term? Why aren’t publishers objecting to the narrowing of the field before the race has begun? What is this obsession with global domination before a shot has been fired?

Instead of World ebook day, some would say that we heading towards many exclusive ebook days and a future divided?

WOWIO is Back!

Platinum Studios, Inc. who own an library of more than 5,600 comic book characters have globally relaunched the digital ebook distributor WOWIO. Wowio gives readers free access to a library of ebooks and now includes new features such as a free browser based viewing capability which allows readers around the world to view the ebooks on their computer and mobile device screens, ability to browse without registering, a simplified registration process allowing consumers to store, share and gift downloadable ebooks, and as you would expect on a free service the ability to download as many ebooks as wanted.

Prior to the relaunch, WOWIO had over 2 million downloads in just over a year.

WOWIO publishing partners include Rosetta Books, Arcturus Publishing, the UK-based publisher of the best-selling 3D Thriller series; Taylor & Francis Group, Soft Skull Press, Dakuwaka Productions, and Arcana Studios, Canada’s largest comic book publisher.

This new accessibility to an international audience positions WOWIO to become a leading global destination for ebook distribution.

The is probably the first serious free content at consumption paid by advertising model for books and although it has many issues to face it is following the steps being taken in the music business and challenging the current book trade business model. WOWIO's founding mission is to increase free access to books worldwide.

Interesting also they have now gone global which for any Internet service is logical and potentially builds not only traffic but brand. The key as always will be content.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

US Education Establishments Forced to Play Copyright Cops

In the US a bill has been passed in the House that will empower the secretary of education to withhold federal financial aid money to schools that do not develop and implement solutions to reduce the amount of illegal downloading. The bill now just needs presidential signature.

Schools and Universities now must inform students that they could face civil or criminal charges if they are found to be illegally downloading copyrighted material. They must also develop a file sharing policy and inform the Education Department on the steps taken to prevent and detect illegal file-sharing.

On one hand the schools point out that this is a non funded exercise that they must find funds to cover and on the other hand the bill is welcomed and fully supported by the Copyright organizations such as the Copyright Alliance, the National Music Publishers' Association and the Motion Picture Association of America.

The MPAA claimed that piracy on university campuses accounted for 44% of the movie industry's annual losses to piracy. A claim later found to be grossly inflated and withdraw. The RIAA published a list of top piracy schools but faced serious court setbacks when it tried to develop a site to handle automated settlements. The MPAA also distributed a software toolkit for detecting file-sharing, but was forced to discontinue its distribution when it was discovered that they themselves had broken copyright by failing to adhere to its General Public License under its distribution.
Currently there are no penalties for failing to comply with the requirements but the structure is now in place to implement them and then schools and universities could be denied funding.

The problem is that this is merely just shifting the problem down the line and not addressing any of the core issues. Threatening to withhold funding against an institution who has to combat any illegal peer sharing at their cost is similar to asking ISPs to be responsible for what everyone does on their service. It’s ironic that the bill reaches this stage at a time when the world is watching China and what it allows and doesn’t on the Internet.

Come Fly With Me

Almost a year ago we wrote about the testing of Internet services in planes by JetBlue Airlines. Last month an American Airlines flight from JFK to Los Angeles started testing high-speed, in-flight Internet access to its flyers. Yesterday Delta Air Lines announced that it will soon start rolling out broadband Wi-Fi access for its entire domestic mainline fleet of more than 330 planes. The Delta access will cost $9.95 on flights of three hours or less and $12.95 on flights of more than three hours and Delta expects Wi-Fi to be available on all its domestic mainline planes by the summer of 2009.

Passengers with wireless devices will be able to access Aircell's ‘air to ground’ broadband network, called GoGo, but voice services will be barred due to federal regulations. In 2006 Aircell won an FCC auction of a thin sliver of spectrum of 3 megahertz split between up and down directions and capable of carrying up to 2 or 3 Mbps. Obviously the bandwidth is not huge and could soon be stretched but it’s a start and literally starts to open up the airways. The service is intended to be continuous handing off connectivity among towers Aircell has equipped across the US.

American has stated that it will not block or filter content while others such as Lufthansa have initially requested it and found it totally impractical as it blocked legitimate as well as targeted web sites.

Smartphone users might have an issue with Gogo as many Smartphone that include both cellular and Wi-Fi radios let the user use these selectively. However, as we previously wrote this week, due to the low life expectancy of the devices, Smartphone manufactures have the ability to quickly adopt to market demands.
As with many mobile technologies the US and Europe go their different ways. In Europe, Air France and RyanAir are testing a different system from OnAir.

The final issue is one that the airlines themselves control – their tiered class system. First class and business will no doubt get the facilities as standard but economy may be restricted to limited seats and this may be very relivant where a power connection is required on a longer flight as no only are these outlets often limited but they require a power adaptor.

We have written about the book being the ideal holiday reader and capable of surviving the riggers of the beach, pool and rays. The next marketing push for the current ebook readers was air travel. Well that looks like it may also be slipping away. Yes you can preload books and read them on a plane but let’s get real and ask how many people seriously read more than one book during a flight? The interesting position is the difference between the Smartphone and Kindle approach and the more traditional ebook services. If you wish to download a book in flight this appears to be both possible and practical in the near future and in the case of a laptop, Smartphone or Kindle it will go direct to the device. However the Sony works through an ‘umbilical cord’ tethered to Adobe Digital Editions and this starts to blow this download model out of the water.

WE take laptops and Smartphones on planes today and would enjoy having full connectivity and access to information and content but would we want to be taking a laptop, a ebook reader and a Smartphone onboard? We don’t think so.
Digital Publishing is not about ebooks and the current readers its about publishing, content and markets.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Another Day, Another eReader

Having failed miserably to master the basics of German at school we must thank the Bookseller for the translation of the German report in The Spiegel on Germany's Deutsche Telekom’s development of a portable e-reader. It appears to be primarily aimed at the newsprint sector with a launch later this year. They also also reported that France Telecom’s Orange is developing a a similar product called “Read&Go”.

We recently visited an ebook specialist company in San Diego and were amazed at the 3rd party devices they were testing that littered their labs. Yesterday we wrote about the potential explosion of Smartphone applications. Chip technology is changing, screen technology is changing, integration and interoperability are becoming key words so what do we really believe is the short term and long term future of readers?

We strongly believe in the ‘one armed bandit’ image which we wrote about earlier this year. It is essential that format, DRM and device are aligned. If we extend this simple approach to Smartphones there are more ‘cherries’ to be aligned but the principle is the same – you have to have all the cherries in a line to win. So we now have the new potential entrants from other sectors; Adobe, Sony, Google, Apple, Nokia being joined by an increasing number of player Deutche Telekom, Orange and many, many more. The market will choose the winner or winners and this will be based not on technology alone but more importantly on a combination of the Right Content, at the Right Price, on the Right Device, at the Right Time.

The next big question is how do publisher control the distribution of the digital content and contextual information to a rapidly expanding market and maximise their sales opportunities whilst retaining control of their asset?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Smartphones Look a Smartbet

The New York Times today reported that in the first 10 days after the new iPhone after launched owners downloaded more than 25 million applications. This new feature has certainly caught the imagination of both consumers and application providers.

This opening up of the airways is not just about iPhones. Carriers are increasingly opening up their services to can create a mobile phone compatible with their networks. Nokia has agreed to share the Symbian operating software with other phone makers and a similar move has been announced by the LiMo Foundation.

Smartphones are fast becoming ubiquitous and the computer in the hand and analysts are already enthusing over the potential for cellphone applications and their drive to get consumers onto higher-priced wireless data plans. So we are seeing the next device step change. First there was the dumb screen, then the desktop PC, then the laptop, then the PDA now the smartphone! Simple shrinking of the computer into the hand and doing this in parallel to the access going from hard wire to wireless.

Just like in the days before there has to be a fall out and some losers. Remember the OS2 versus Windows days? Remember the desktop, browser, and search application wars? We have yet to see the entrance of Google and its Open Handset Alliance and operating system and it’s already mighty crowded.
You have carrier, device, operating system and application and establishing true interoperability may be tricky to start. But we also have to put this against a life expectancy of 12 to 18 months of a smartphone and see that the consumer market is not as constrained and can quickly shift.

We envisage a situation where many of the applications we have today will run on the smartphone and there will be new ones specifically written for the platform. Given this is clearly where the action is what does this mean re publishing and content? Well it is rather an easy and obvious step to conclude that this will be a significant medium for publishers.

Will we read books on smart phones? Probably fragments or short works but today’s 250page tomes – we don’t think so. But the opportunity to develop different content, sell fragments, use smart phones to promote titles and market titles is pretty obvious. The one other obvious thing is that people will not want the umbilical cord to the laptop in order to download stuff so some should question some of ebook models currently being deployed and think consumer and smartread.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

DIY instructions on Hacking the Kindle

OK you own a Kindle and want to know more well visit

The usual suspect are lined up; a Kindle blog and links to other blogs, Digital Text Platform hints and examples, HTML tags and support, and more stuff. All very interesting to someone I am sure but there lurking at the bottom of a menu was ‘Kindle Hacks’!

The link took us to instructions on how to break the root password. Apparently the pre shipped codename for the Kindle is claimed to be ‘Fiona’. They go on to documented shortcuts, features and easter eggs within the machine which included a picture viewer, keyboard shortcuts, global keys, reader keys, diagnostics, text input, a GPS location setting, audio controls, extended search commands and many private commands.

It is a sharp reminder that there are people who will break anything and that little is immune.

Observations From the Sun

Sitting back reading paint, drink and generally unwinding over the last two weeks on in Majorca was bliss but it did bring home a few interesting thoughts. The second week was so relaxing I was clearly blogged out and not blogs were written.

One the book is the reader and although Sony believes that their ‘reader’ can assume the name it can’t. It was interesting to see people of all ages enjoying reading books and it begs the question whether on holiday the only time people read today? My wife devoured six books. However was put down as lacking merit and another (the Sebold was too gruesome to stomach). The stress books go through is plain for all to see – soggy bottoms, damp patches and sand in their cracks!

The really interesting observation was to see the apparent necessity of the family communicator – the laptop. Even in rustic fincas, up mountains and on the coast, all nationalities expected Wi Fi broadband access and had brought their laptops with them. Laptops were not exposed to the elements and were respected sensitive equipment and were being used in reception areas and rooms. The questions we would ask are whether the ebook reader as we know it today can honestly bridge the gap between the laptop and the mobile phone and why would any sane person want use expensive gadgetry by the pool or on the beach where most reading takes place?

The Disipline of Market Leaders

Having worked for market leader organisations in various industries it is easy to distinguish them from the pack. Some believe that size counts and that this determines market leadership, the truth is that size often comes through market leadership but size alone is nothing but a statement at a given point in time.

Market leaders do what it says on the can ‘lead markets’. They are focused, proactive and although they recognise the short term are very much focused on the long term and creating a unique market position and differentiator. Do we have them in the publishing sector – yes but they are not who many would think of as market leaders. An interesting example is Taylor and Francis whose growth and digital strategies have been bold and delivered huge advantage when others have merely followed. The recent article in the Bookseller (25 July, ‘Jolly Rodger’) eludes to the vision and drive Rodger Horton and his team have given this publisher.

At times of fiscal constraint we often find that market leaders remain focused and plough forward, often bucking trends.

It is hard to find many examples of market leadership and easy to see many pretenders but one company clearly stands head and shoulders over the pack for the last decade – Amazon.

An industry ‘expert’ and colleague once told me that Bertelsmann and their would crush Amazon and that their model was nor sustainable. Needless to say he didn’t understand their model, the power of positive cash flow, their relentless drive to capture market share and their global brand proposition. It was ’98 and obvious to many that they were going to dominate, but the manner in which they have set about it continues to demand respect.

They have:
Extended bibliographic record, making the book jacket obligatory on the net, introduced reader reviews. Remember where you first saw ‘Search Inside’?
Recognised that used , rare and front list are all books and that the publication date is not always top of the consumer’s agenda. Combining this and their marketplace offer was both logical and a breath of fresh air.
Captured the audiobook initiative through acquisition of first Brilliance and latterly Audible, they have taken the audio book market by the scruff of the neck. They already had the MP3 and DRM credentials but with Audible they now have both bases fully covered.
Established themselves as a digital player. Through their acquisition of Booksurge and their POD policy they have positioned themselves not only to supply POD but like others they can now also capture the bigger prize of the digital files themselves.
The Kindle may be an ugly duckling but it has many more titles than any of its competitors and more importantly belongs to a brand that is clearly associated with books. Adobe and Sony may all command trade attention today but this is not their market, is a trade only offer. In the case of Sony they can always leave as fast as Betamax or walk away like Microsoft Live Book Search or back the wrong horse as with their original BBeb ebook format.

The list goes on but we now read of Amazon’s payment gateway offer to rival PayPal and more importantly their full acquisition of ABE. This later move is very interesting and starts to potentially tie many strings together. Some thought it good that they would continue run ABE as a separate brand and company. Some would say that there is no need to join them at the customer, but join them at the inventory and sales data. Think about what ABE offer Amazon? There is rich bibliographic on titles that often didn’t have any. There is 15 years of sales data of the long tail, not just of books in print but those gems that have long been lost and forgotten. Only Alibris has similar data and there is little chance of a new entrant today. Combine ABE’s information assets, market position, the Amazon services such as Booksurge and Kindle offer and a clearly focused market leader and you have a potential offer that is both unique, extremely interesting and one to watch.