Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Questia's Social Network

As social network sites go its hard to judge Questia’s new Research Wizard. In principle it make sense to link researchers into a community application that enables them to share thoughts but is it enough and is Questia the right centre? It has aligned the Research Wizard with Facebook which obviously adds an attraction to many and provides potential new subscribers.

Questia is a major online library, with over 67,000 full-text books, 1.5 million articles, and an entire reference set complete with a dictionary, encyclopaedia, and thesaurus. It provides materials in some 14 major disciplines and its new social site has further fragmented these into what they claim are 6,000 plus research categories.

Looking at the initial dialogue it appears far from a research site and more of a touch point with some weird and wonderful research subjects which will obviously appeal to the earnest researcher but is maybe too granular in its construct.
On first reaction the principle looks good but unless the traffic occurs across the many categories many may not find the experience sticky enough and a good idea may be lost through its execution.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The New Research Order is Zotero?

The world of academia, STM and professional publishing used to be so simple. Paper ruled the way and with it huge corporate created additional metadata services which often locked the institutions into an extended business model. The more scarce the resource the higher the ticket; citations, referential linking, summarised notes etc where often the glue that bound this world or these worlds together.

Then came online which initially re enforced the needs, enriched the services and made them even more valuable. Even the initial open access salvos failed to really deflect the model. What could ever go wrong?

Firstly the technology changed and was democratised making it easier for anyone to do what was difficult before and importantly reducing the scarcity of some of these added value services. Then came a culture shift which questioned commercial service models especially when applied in publicly funded institutions.

This last few days I have read much about a service called Zetero established by Zotero Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. It is funded by the United States Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and its aim is to replace the traditional reference built to manage offline research.

Zotero is a free, open source extension , that enables researchers to collect research citations and manage bibliographies and references when writing essays and articles. On many major research websites it can detects when a resource is viewed and can save the full reference information. Users can add notes, tags, and even their own metadata.

Look for yourself by clicking to view the impressive tutorial.

Why have we been reading all about it? Thomson Reuters claim that Zotero's developers reverse-engineered Endnote and that Zotero hosts citation style language files that were converted from Endnote’s proprietary style format, in violation of the EndNote licence and are sueing the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Whatever the outcome it has certainly raised the awareness of many to the open source tools that are now being developed aimed at changing the old order and bringing in the next generation of research tools.

Wal Mart Call Time on DRM

Everyone ones worst nightmare, is to find that the bought betamax or eight track collections when the world went VHS and CDRom respectively. We have already reported in May about Microsoft’s ‘Play for Sure’ service making files not transferable to unregistered devices. So when the PC dies this month and you buy a new one your music dies with the old one. We also pointed the same finger at Virgin Digital Music and Sony Connect Music who have done the same. So we weren’t we surprised to hear today that Wal-Mart had informed its customers, by email, that it will be shutting down its DRM servers this October.

Again, many customer may be left with useless music files. Reportedly, any WMA DRM files that were purchased before February 2008 are locked files to the device they were bought on. WalMart “recommends that you back up your songs by burning them to a recordable audio CD” and that such a backup will make sure that the music files can be accessed. If not backed by October 9, they cannot be transferred to another PC and thereafter cannot be recovered in the case of a system crash of a new installation of the PC. They will still play on the originally authorized computer - that is until it dies!

The point of all this is not that we don’t expect it to happen, but that it continues to happen. In these day of technology change it is essential that interoperability is the goal and that exclusive systems are seen as high risk consumer buys.

Do we think it could happen with ebooks or audio downloads – yes. Many jump on the ePub bandwagon and claim it’s the saviour but today its only available via one DRM service and to one player and they had to change the standard to make that fit. Will it be different to mobiles or other devices we don’t know, but before we focus on tomorrow there are plenty of other formats which are tied to closed DRM services today.

DRM is inherently wrong, because by its sheer nature, it has to be closed. However the alternative DRM free world is also unacceptable to the rights creators and owners. So we have the classic impasse, which ironically, is were music came in.

EU News

The European Parliament is one of those governmental bodies who you either love or hate and often at the same time!
Last week appears to be a good one for them in that they firstly voted to prevent EU member states from imposing a "three strikes" rule on unauthorised file sharers. This is the second time around and although the majority was reduced common sense prevailed and the law to compel ISPs to disconnect file sharers who are caught sharing or downloading copyrighted material online three times was again defeated. However the French government has already implemented its own three strikes law – nothing new there then!

In response to the rapid growth of broadband has led the European Commission to bring forward a review of Europeans telecoms services. Currently around 36% of EU households have high-speed net access and although this is growing annually at a rate of 20%, the Commission want broadband availability to be a basic right for all EU citizens by 2010.

The big issue is the disparity between states with nations such as Denmark, Luxembourg and Belgium, offering 100% broadband availability against only 60% availability in Romania. Even in Germany and Italy, around 12% of the population is not covered by high-speed access.

The Commission is now inviting submissions from telecoms firms and, governments with the aim of producing a directive in 2009 and potentially legislation in 2010.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Nokia Tube October 2nd?

So Nokia is about to launch its iPhone answer. The Tube will follow the likes of LG, Google and Samsung and be Nokia’s answer to the touch screen. Already YouTube has videos claiming to be demos of the new phone. There is a wealth of information hitting the net on the device.

The interesting point is that Nokia has a strong record of getting the experience right and not necessarily being first. So the phone wars move up a notch and we look forward to seeing what will certainly be a strong contender.

Who owns what?

The world of content would be lost without the world of context, which helps qualify it and enable the consumers to select it. In the early days the bibliographic agencies supplied lists of basic information which said little about the book, we then went through the jacket image production in the mid to late 90s and today we have podcasts, widgets, videos and digital marketing explosion.

So in a week when there has been much debate about Google’s sample pages in their book search programme, Amazon’s search inside offer, Thomas Nelson’s free book for a review and now Simon & Schuster setting up an in-house digital production studio. Where are we and what are are the issues we need to consider?

We must ensure that the current perceived demand does not create a two tiered environment with those who are big enough doing it themselves, their way and with others having to use 3rd party services and potentially give away their assets. It is important that the industry recognise that we need to provide consistency of information and presentation and yet not stifle innovation. The bibliographic agencies appear to have drawn a line in the sand on the richness of their records, the distributors and wholesalers continue to add extra value, some are making a land grab and some are merely experimenting. However, who is asking what does the consumer wants?

Next is the question of ownership. ‘He who creates owns’ is the rule with digital content. However, with context information, who owns what? What moral rights if any exist? Who decides the line between content and context and also free and for sale?
Finally, where do find what is available and what can or can’t be reused? Is a marketing promotion video free to copy and repurpose in a YouTube manner or is it like all content subject to permissions?

When we look at some of the scanned pages available, it’s often easy to see which were produced for free and which have been paid for, developed and are viewed as assets.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Is Winter upon us?

We are constantly reminded by every headline and news broadcast that we are in a credit crunch or as we used to refer to it a recession. This makes everyone think twice about that extra purchase, that non necessity that gadget. Against this background we are all trying to move the digital agenda forward.

Today we read in Ars Technica that the winner of the HD DVD war is experiencing a dip. According to the latest data from Nielsen VideoScan Blu-ray's market share fell to 8% during the week ending on September 14, whilst the regular old DVD enjoyed 92%. A drop of 13.39% from the previous week, whilst DVD numbers marginally rose by0.15%. This poor performance falls well short of the 50% market share expected by Sony for the end of this year and is despite the unit price falling below $200.

These unexpected shifts in the economy and consumer confidence are hard to predict and require strong nerves. If we think of the ebook market it can’t be good for the current ereaders. Even though actual sales are still not published and many sales and early adopters are from within publishing and the news it makes the Christmas rush look very unlikely.

The good news is that the UK government have announced a programme aimed at connecting all children to the Internet via subsidy for the poor. In principle it looks good but as always the devil is in the detail and words have to be translated into action. However, what this effect will have on the debate on downloads versus online will be interesting. If publishers, retailers and even authors can reach their audience online will consumers still want the ereader in hard times?

The other news yesterday saw the European Commission declare that the mobile operators had to reduce their cross border tariffs on text, voice and data. Again this has a knock on effect of the service operators’ revenues and although the subscription model has enabled high device churn rates this may also start to slow down and could impact the purification of new devices being released in the market.

Perhaps its time to curl up with a good old book!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nothing New Here!

It is often interesting how we all join up dots differently and that we know what we know but all too often don’t know what we don know. Today we were alerted to a recent piece in the Los Angeles Times ‘Reprints are King in Parts of the Book World.’

The report questioned, ‘whether the increasing number of reprints is because of reader dissatisfaction with contemporary literature or the flowering of an archivist, curatorial instinct, they are certainly part of the decentralization of literary culture.’ And also reported that, ‘Reprints may be how new novels that surely deserve larger audiences may finally find the readership they should have had the first time around..’

The lack of understanding of reprints, repackaging, classics, public domain works was clear.

There are those publishers that specialise in bringing back books into print that for whatever reason deserve to be available. Some may be literary classics, other erotica, or mystery, or romance, or war and military. The majority are public domain but others are published under licence and some are publishing orphans that are adopted. This is nothing new its been around as long as many can remember it has merely become easier to do.

Recent articles in the Bookseller have referenced a new Erotica list of Victorian titles, goulish tales both by Penguin and Wordsworth and Faber’s modern classics on demand and specialist lists by the likes of Persephone. Penguin’s value added digital extras also present a new twist and others have re-jacketed the Austin classics to look like chit lit! The list of publishers is significant and includes; Everyman, OUP, Penguin, Wordsworth, B&N, CRW, Studio, and many many more. But reprinting is not new neither is it a adverse reaction to modern literature. It is however interesting to see the variance in list price for what is often the same free text.

The new digital world makes it easier to find titles, digitally capture them and bring them back both digitally and imprint. The primary skill lies in the selection and understanding the potential winners. The next is to understand what needs to be done to represent and repackage them. The largest risk it that some may make a land grab and adopt orphans that are still in copyright because they can.

The consumer rarely picks up a book and looks at the copyright page and says, ‘I can’t read this its not new!’

Sandisk and Music

On the 20th of August we wrote about SanDisk:

‘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.’

Today we read the Wall Street Journal reports that the flash memory chip and portable music device manufacturer and the four major producers, Universal, EMI, Warner and Sony BMG, are to introduce in October this year, SlotMusic, music plus on a stick.
This further opens up mobile phones, PCs and some portable MP3 devices. The disc is aimed at retail outlets such as Walmart and Best Buy.

Despite entering into other deals which adopt a different model which makes the music free at consumtion these discs albums will be priced at $15 each. Perhaps the right hand will tell the left hand what it is doing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Business Can Pay?

As expected the new iRex Digital Reader landed today. Geared towards the business user and to compete with the Plastic Logic unit, it has a 10.2-inch screen, is Ion battery-powered, is of course black and white only e-ink device. Prices start at a hefty $649 for the Digital Reader 1000, and if you want a stylus $749 on the 1000S and then if you need those essential pieces WiFi, Bluetooth and that 3G data connectivity the 1000SW costs $849.

Market Pricing is obviously not a strength at iRex.

Any News is Good News (200 words please)

We often read Michael Hyatt’s, President and CEO of Christian publisher Thomas Nelson’s blog of his insights and thoughts on the world of publishing and life.

Last week TN published ‘Through the Storm’ and insight to parenthood by Lynne Spears, mother of Britney and Jamie and normally that would be that. However our eyes were drawn to an interesting paragraph, which may be perfectly normal and common.

‘Note: If you are a blogger and want a copy of this book to review, please send an email to Lindsey Nobles, our Director of Corporate Communications. She will send you a free copy of the book in exchange for your promise to blog about it. We don’t care if your review is positive, negative, or somewhere in between, so long as you write at least a 200-word review of the book. Then we expect you to post it on your own blog and on the Amazon detail page for the book by October 15. This offer is limited to the first 200 bloggers who respond.’

The question is if we all did this, what would be the impact and is this merely buying cheap reviews, creating reference significant viral links and falsely feeding the pages, correct?

After all many would say, any news is good news!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Worder or Wordia

Wordia.com is an experience which given the appeal of sites such as Wikipedia is bound to be a success and at the same time also derided by most of the literary establishment. It was launched ironically on the 299th birthday of the lexicographer Samuel Johnson and is being funded by social network Bebo, founder Michael Birch.

Wordia allows anybody to make a video of themselves defining a word. The video is uploaded along with the dictionary definition and the result is a weird personal rendition of a word. At first it may sound unnecessary to add this extra dimension but having seen several videos it starts to become quirky and adds something interesting and novel that escapes that dry written dictionary.

Try ‘tantamount’ featuring Jon Holmes, no dictionary would have described the word this way which is what is so compelling. They seemed to have got many submissions from people at the recent Edinburgh festival. These include words such as; ginger, bottom feeder, banana, marshmallow. Also check out alopecia, nascent, crustacean.

The project depends on people adding words and bringing something to the dictionary.

However, not everyone is a supporter, as evidenced by Philip Howard's in the Times. ‘This notion of compiling a 'democratic' dictionary is batty. The meaning of words is not a game of Big Brother Scrabble for Beginners on Multimedia Online. To allow celebrities, sports stars, comedians and entertainers—every Tom, Dick and Mary—to define the language is to invite the idiots into the library carrels.’

But Wordia may just be fun and help us all extend our language!!

Get Smart?

An Apple patent application, filed in March of 2007 and published last week, describes a ‘Smart Garment’ that would allow a device to authenticated to a specific garment. When the garment is authenticated, however, unapproved garments would be blocked from being able to use the device. Sounds all sci-fi to us!

Apple however is clearly trying to enforce a DRM like pairing of clothing with technology. The company specifically cites the Nike+iPod system as an example of a system that works with a specially-made shoe, the Nike+ shoe. These have a little crevice cut out under the sole that allows the user to place a transmitter inside the shoe, which wirelessly sends data to your iPod about your walk or run. James Bond’s ‘M’ would be impressed!

Nike+iPod Sports Kit was launched in 2006. Apple argues that the system is more about preventing thieves from taking the device and attempting to use it with unauthorized garments. Some would argue that such secure for a relatively cheap device is a little excessive.

Apple's patent describes using the sensor within the garment itself in order to provide more data to the user, such as the rate of wear of a running shoe. “In this way, by providing a notification that one or both of the running shoes should be replaced, the runner may be better able to avoid injuries related to outworn equipment," writes Apple. With GPS the system could also track location and elevation data providing even more detailed statistics, or it on-the-spot information to where to stop and have a latte!

Some may think this sort of product tie up is cool, we personally think the kids have taken control of the chocolate factory!! Would you embed it in a garment with an ebook reader or would you embed it in duvets and easy chairs?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Another Day and Another Big eReader

Septemberfest is well on us now and another digital reader announcement is in the making. Not to be undone by Plastic Logic’s reader we now see that iRex is currently running a teaser on its site for a new product to launch on 22 September. The event is called "seeing is believing". It not unlike the campaign, which we reported on early this week that is currently being run by Sony.

Forbes, report that the company is to launch an "evolved" e-book reader dubbed the iRex Reader 1000 with a 10.2 inch diagonal E-Ink display with a touchscreen plus stylus version available as an upgrade screen and aimed clearly at the business user. The reader will have 80 hours battery life, support a wide range of document formats and some models will also have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3G connectivity.

This raises the bar further against new entrants such as Plastic Logic and the rumoured bigger Kindle. The question is whether the business sector approach has more legs than the ebook consumer one? With pricing for a basic non-touch model rumoured to be $650 the business approach seems sensible. The Blackberry, like the laptop before it, has shown that the business market can drive volume and stimulate the consumer market. In addition as business becomes more communications dependant being able to read documents and other material on a reasonable sized tablet could have appeal. In many cases it’s down to whether the IT heads want to push it or restrict users to laptops and notebooks. Remember eink still doesn’t support video or even colour.

The IT guys are the business world gatekeepers and a friend told me last week that he could have a Blackberry, or a 3G dongle, but not both. It appears that life in IT is Binary all the way through!

Is It Right.com?

This week we had a long discussion with a friend who is a literary agent and as usual we ended putting the book world right. The topics were broad and the discussion stimulating loosened by a couple of glasses of fine wine.

One area discussed was with respect to rights and rights contracts. We posed the question as to why rights contracts are written once and although addendums happen as new opportunities arise, in the main the contract is the contract until it reverts.

We talked about a major commercial lease we had just been involved in and the fact that leases have both term times and break clauses. Break clauses aren’t the same as reversal clauses but offer both parties the opportunity to recognise that the contract is working and continue or that it is not and gives either party the opportunity to break. Some break clauses can be one sided others apply to both parties but when the term of the let is say 15 years they recognise that things change and that its in both parties interest to be able to respond if necessary.

The question we posed was whether it would be wise to work rights contracts the same way? After all we see front list titles now being remaindered in after often shortening lifetimes. We see publishers wishing to change rights to perpetual models based on moving them to digital and print on demand. We clearly do not have a rights clearing centre or authoritative information service. It is ironic that this industry is about rights and content.

We firmly believe in rights reversals and that both parties are currently tied to contracts that were designed for yesterday, not today and because we don’t know what we don’t know, not tomorrow.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

MySpaceMusic Team a Formidable One

We have seen the music industry turn itself upside down and inside out since Napster first undermined their business model. Now we have the latest twist as MySpace prepares to launch MySpaceMusic, a joint venture with the unlikely grouping of News Corp., Warner Sony BMG and Universal Music Group. They have opted for the increasingly popular advertising model plus selling digital downloads of music through a partnership with Amazon.com. An interesting group, that of the major record producers, only misses EMI. However, the smell of money has attracted the likes of Sony Pictures, McDonalds, State Farm and Toyota will be among the first sponsors of the site.

The Music companies hope that the service will weaken Apple’s market dominance and although it would appear everyone is backing it they are also backing everything else!

So what will be different? It will not be the only service to have a significant catalogue of millions of songs. It won’t be the only service to enable users to create their own playlists. Perhaps it is the only one which enables users to post one of those playlists, with 10 songs, to their public MySpace profiles, where their friends can listen and save those songs to their own pages. But is that enough? To transfer music to another computer or a mobile device users have to buy songs on the site through Amazon’s digital music store. Mobile ring tones will have to be bought News Coproration’s Jamster. So is it enough and why not go direct Amazon or Jamster?

Where it may gain traction is in the fact that it is estimated that around five million artists use MySpace to interact with fans. MySpace Music will enable them to post their entire catalogues and share in the resulting advertising and download revenue. MySpace is reported as saying that it may allow artists to sell merchandise and concert tickets from their pages and keep a share in the profit.

So What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

So What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? is the question adults often ask young children but one we find ourselves increasingly asking new ventures. It is important that people know their aspirations and although these may change on route , they understand the logic behind them and the actions needed to make things happen.

We read today in the Bookseller that HarperCollins are to launch any other web social network site next week called ‘BookArmy’. It comes hot on the heels of their slush pile offering Authonomy.com.

Some may suggest that the new venture looks like a giant book dating agency where book lovers can share reviews, recommendations and generally wax lyrically about any book. That sounds very plausible and a great idea and also a bit like the ill conceived BookRabbit or more successful Shelfari site. It is to cover not just HarperCollins titles but all books with an ISBN.

So the first question must be, ‘Where’s the money?’ quickly followed by our strap line question. The answer is obviously known to News Corp otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it. Some may say it’s about collecting and managing a list that can be cross fertilised and used by News Corp companies to sell stuff. Some may say it’s about collecting reviews and demographics that will be owned by News Corp and repurposed and may be sold on accordingly. Some will wait to see where any buy now buttons lead to and wonder if its an attempt to create a different sort of retail space that can be linked to MySpace.

Finally the name ‘Book Army’ conjures up some interesting images but again we must wait and see what branding marches forth.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Textbooks for Free?

First we read about Bloomsbury Academic’s announcement that they will begin publishing monographs in the areas of Humanities and Social Sciences. What is different is that they intend to build a lists that will be available on the Web free of charge under Creative Commons (CC) licences. Creative Commons is a non for profit service that provides free tools to let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. Authors can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved."

Simultaneously Bloomsbury Academic will produce physical books on a print on demand basis for sale around the world. Bloomsbury is the first major publishing company to open up an entirely new imprint to be accessed under CC on the Internet. This interesting development, is risky and works if the demand for print copies can be achieved efficiently within the POD model.

Then we read in the New York Times about the high prices for academic textbooks and the back lash from one Professor R. Preston McAfee, an economics professor at Cal Tech. McAfee in protest of what he believes are high priced textbooks and the dumbing down of their content, has put his introductory economics textbook online free. He claims the book could have earned him a a $100,000 advance. Professor McAfee however allows anyone to download a file of his book, and also has permits print on demand sales via Lulu and Flat World Knowledge. Lulu charges $11 and Flat World between $19.95 and $59.95, significantly lower than the probable list price of around $200 .

In another venture, Richard G. Baraniuk, an engineering professor at Rice University has received $6 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to publish free textbooks under a program called Connexions. Connexions uses CC license allowing students and teachers to rewrite and edit material as long as the originator is credited. Connexions is strongest in statistics and electrical engineering attracting around 850,000 unique users a month, with more than 50 % of the traffic originating from outside the United States.

In response the biggest five sector publishers have created a service called CourseSmart. It provides a service where students can subscribe to currently over 4,000 textbooks, read them online and have the option to highlight and print portions of a book at a time. CourseSmart is a publisher solution that some may say makes the big publishers bigger whilst marginalising the smaller ones. What CourseSmart wants to be when it grows up is questionable. Another issues is whether a co-operative of publishers can retain and grow a collaborative business and whether that will remain exclusive or open itself up to include others and if so , on what terms?

What model will prevail is uncertain but what is clear is that the current model and pricing isn’t working and is being attacked from multiple angles. It is not just about pricing but the relationships with the creators and the readers or users of the material. What also comes into play is the buying process which often involves inspection and adoption where between 10 and 20 % of an initial print run could be ‘given away’ in order to get adoptions. Digitisation offers much, but like many publishing processes today, it is less about tweaking at the parts but understanding the total process and maximising the opportunity.

The Future is Not Binary - Part 1

Publishing is a diverse and complex industry. Some would argue that it is many industries that have merely been brought together by a common format the book. These industries are diverging as a result of opportunities such as print on demand (POD) and digitisation (ebooks). Some would say that this heralds the end of the generalist publisher and retailer and promotes specialists both in terms of the development of content and rights and their sale to the channel and end consumer. Some may box the different publishing models and predict which will fail and which will succeed in the future. Publishing is and will remain diverse and complex and the one thing that is certain going forward is that there are no silver bullets and that its future is not binary.

If we look at POD, we have to understand that it is about manufacturing, inventory and distribution. We all know that it is not suitable for all, but that it is suitable for many. Its suitability is not always at title level and may even only be at a certain stage in the life cycle of a title. Some have long understood this and have successfully used POD to manage their production, inventory and distribution of their back list, retaining titles that would have been uneconomic to do so in the old model. Some have been able to do this because their rights model enabled them to effectively exploit the sunk cost and move fee based titles across. Many publishers who work on a royalty based model may find that their contract prohibit this approach.

POD is all things to all people. For many today, it represents short cycle print runs and enables them to reduce inventory. To others it is print on demand, sell one make one. To some retailers it offers localised printing and just in time not just in case stock control and responsive customer service. But by itself it is just digital production.

One of the most successful POD publishers is Cambridge University Press, who through their vision have built up a significant POD inventory of some 10,000 plus titles. Has this been economically successful? Yes. Has it been operationally successful? Yes. Is their model applicable to all even within their sector – probably not? I remember sitting down with three major publishers and two industry bodies at the advent of POD. The objective was to look at the systems and process implications of POD and establish the common way forward. The publishers could not even agree then of the definition, let alone the business model and processes.

Wise Words

Kevin Kelly, executive editor of Wired in “Rethinking the Future” wrote:

“The most important thing is not to optimise what you do, but to find out and decide what you should be doing...

Find out where you should really be and to make sure that you are climbing the tallest peak, not just a false summit...

If you get stuck on a small mountain, you get to the top and look around and you find you’re on the wrong mountain. A mile away is a mountain that’s twice as tall...

Learn how to search the landscape very widely, and to make sure we find the tallest mountain to climb – that we find the right thing to do. And having done that, if we find ourselves on top of a false summit... In other words we’ve got to get down the mountain, and cross that desert, and come up on the tallest peak. And that’s called letting go...killing a product at its peak.”

Monday, September 15, 2008

Common download standards?

The FT reports the news that a consortium of media and technology companies is planning a common set of downloading standards. The objective is to remove consumer digital rights management (DRM) confusion, inconsistency and user frustrations and make it easy to download with a single uniform experience whether its movies, music, whatever. It will make it easier for consumers to understand what they were buying and also allow them consumers to access paid for content, via a "rights locker", that will enable users to share content to enabled devices. Devices and web sites compatible with the set of agreed standards will bear a new logo.

The new body, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), has the likes of; Sony, Microsoft, Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers Entertainment, Alcatel-Lucent, HP, Cisco, Intel and Toshiba, Fox Entertainment Group, Lionsgate and Verisign, the internet security group, inside as members and Apple, the biggest seller of online music and video content and Walt Disney, still outside and not signed up.

The book industry needs to ensure that its fully plugged into this development and not sit outside and merely watch. Today’s ebook experiences are inconsistent and ebook DRM often involves non friendly activities and restrictions that need to be addressed. The question who will stand up and will they represent, the device manufacturer, the service provider, the DRM owner, the publisher, the retailer or the consumer.

Wired For Tommorrow?

Ars Technica gave us two interesting broadband articles last week. First, we had the research findings from the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford and the University of Oviedo's Department of Applied Economics. The research looked at 42 countries and their ability to exploit and benefit from next-generation web applications and services.

They found that over 50% of the 42 countries delivered a consistent service to support common web applications that were available today. However they stated that only Japan was "future-ready" for what is expected within the next 3 to 5 years. So it’s interesting to note what services these researchers envisage, these include; visual networking, HD video streaming, "consumer telepresence," and large file-sharing. They estimate that these will require a download speeds of around 11.25Mbps and an upload of 5Mbps. Countries that don't even qualify for today's needs include the UK, Spain, Canada, and Australia, with Mexico, China, and India at the very bottom of the list.

Saïd Business School researcher Alastair Nicholson is quoted as, "average download speeds are adequate for web browsing, e-mail and basic video downloading and streaming, but we are seeing more interactive applications, more user-generated content being uploaded and shared, and an increasing amount of high-quality video services becoming available."

The second article related to a UK government commissioned a study of the status and future of next-generation broadband technology in Britain, and was lead authored by Francesco Caio. The report found no need for significant government intervention to ensure access to higher speed broadband connections and proposes a monitoring of progress against targets. The report notes that over 99 % of local telephone exchanges are now wired for DSL, 80% of those households that have a PC also have broadband and time spent online high, and online advertising revenues as a percentage of total ads are significantly higher than in others, including the US.

Importantly, the report believes if upgraded, the existing infrastructure can support the increased broadband usage for the next 10 years. However the report notes that Virgin Media and BT are already investing in DOCSIS 3.0 and fibre rollouts and says that these next-generation technologies will be critical if the UK's Internet economy is to be sustained.

It’s interesting to ask who is responsible for the infrastructure and is it just down to investment and service provider, or is there a government role? Caio believes government should set minimal standards of access and service, such as: ensuring any wiring is open to all on a 'must carry, must connect' rule, ensure that traffic reduction management measures are visible to users, so that they can evaluate the true level of service they are receiving, coordinate the wiring efforts with other infrastructure work that involves digging up roads in order to lower the cost and release radio spectrum to foster growth.

So we have two reports two different views on where we are today but one shared view that investment is required. The interesting observation is what the role we expect everyone to play is and the openness of the resulting investment. If we accept that governments have a role to play, should that be at a local level, federal, state or inter state level?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Open All Hours

As we all look forward to the ‘always connected’ world we have a number of issues to address. One of the most frustrating ones occurs when your laptop runs out of juice. The network is still there, you are still there but there is no power and the battery has forced the machine into hibernation.

Hewlett-Packard, has now developed a new generation of laptops with a 24-hour battery life. Its new HP EliteBook 6930p can be configured to deliver "all-day computing". This extended life has been achieved with Intel solid-state hard drives (SSD) that deliver a 7% increased battery life and mercury-free LED displays, which boost battery time by up to 4 hours compared to traditional LCD displays. The new Intel SSD is also claimed to boosts overall performance by up to 57%, and data transfer rates by a factor of 6 over traditional hard drives.

Now Sony Play the Event Game

Your Kids Teacher Just Texted You

Imagine its 10am, you'rein the office enjoying a cup of coffee and the phone text alarm rings. It from your kids school to tell you that they aren't in today.

The BBC reports that in a recent survey of 1,493 parents polled by government education technology agency Becta one in 12 parents would like school reports on their children's performance texted or e-mailed. 68% of parents said they wanted schools to use such technologies to keep them up to date more frequently with 15% wishing to be updated at least once a month, and 85% were updated four times a year. In addition 8 out of 10 wanted more feedback on how their child was doing.

To make the point more relevant nearly 75% said that they monitored their bank balance by phone or online at least once a month. The Internet and mobile is now clearly becoming the communications tool of choice and with it comes the need for it to be used to keep parents informed on a regular basis. This brings into question how schools embrace the technology and create community networks that cover all the relevant stakeholders; administrators, teachers, students and parents. Schools are often the hub of a community and technology offers the ability to knit these together far more effectively.

Interestingly it also offers the publishing community are far more effective community portal than the pure educational one.

Can you imagine all those emails sent from parents to schools to say Paul's not in today as he is feeling sick. But who sent it?

Flipping the Pages Onto a Screen

As digital content starts to evolve, we still have a couple of issues to address – price and value add. We have long argued that for consumers to switch onto ebooks there must be value, merely replicating the physical copy and presenting it digitally offers little. The experience may be different and offer some value, but the content is the same. This is a shame as the format offers so much extra that is currently largely being ignored.

We can add all sorts of marketing materials and extras, such as author interviews, original submissions, character biographies, historical notes etc. Penguin have stated to experiment with such in their renditions of the classics to digital. However, whereas the classics are relatively easy to collate public domain materials on, current works may prove a bit more taxing. First of all, who owns the intellectual property and is it tied to the specific rendition or the work? How do you clear author’s moral rights and if done does that gives them any rights of association going forward? Who gets paid what re royalties, or is the additional materials fee based? Can the additional materials be used in its own right and if associated with several works, can it be the leader and not the follower?
Some may say that we are talking about things that are already fully covered, but are they and do authors fully understand this aspect of the total work? Its interesting, following the highly published JK Rowling case, to perhaps stand back and think about this contextual work in a digital world.

The question of price will roll on forever, that's until, as in music, someone creates that price point and case that flips the market. Pricing ebooks equivalent to physical copies, is as ludicrous as applying VAT to digital copies of the same work. Its interesting that the reported consumer reaction to price in the press appears to indicate that the consumer is unaware the price is a VAT inclusive price.

Is anybody asking the consumer what they want? Do we have a collective view of the needs of the market, the potential barriers, or are we all assuming we know best.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Esquire's Ink goes Electronic

It is a well established fact that our vices tend to drive technology. Some may put it another way and say that gambling and pornography are at the forefront of technology and its early adoption and exploitation. It was therefore interesting to stumble across the ‘top shelf’ Esquire magazine’s October 75th Anniversary issue, to discover that they had published an experimental limited-edition, featuring an electronic ink front cover.

On the cover is a flexible dynamic display used for showing an attention grabbing cover as well as an animated advertisement on the inside. So we now have flexible eink being used alongside, or inside traditional print.

Because the covers were assembled in Mexico they had to be transported by refrigerated trucks to help preserve battery life, which erodes in extreme heat. Once in Mexico, a hundred-thousand-plus covers arewere assembled by hand, with a thin layer of protective foam being used to protect the electronics.The completed covers were then shipped to the company’s printers in Kentucky and using a rig specially created for this issue, machines bounded the hand-assembled covers to the rest of the magazine. The issue was then shipped to newsstands across the U.S.

There are instructions on how to; recycle the edition, what to do if your cover isn’t flashing, (the connotations of which for Esquire buyers is unprintable!), and instructions on who to email if you can find ways to hack the screen, or do other geeky stuff. The technology itself is relatively cheap being reported at $2.00 for the animated cover.

Does this mean that we’ll have another form of digital magazine in the market and one that is 'half and half'? Will this model wrestle those advertising dollars back from online or speed them towards it?

Who pays? Today, we have to shell out loads of cash to get an ebook reader which we all know has a limited life expectancy and where content storage and its retrieval may prove problematic in the future. We have long said that the online model makes most sense in today’s always online world and perhaps this half and half retains that novelty that can keep magazines alive, at no addition cost to the reader and live alongside online?

Does this mean we now all have to watch those top shelves to see what’s happening digitally?

Yesterday Discounts -Today Exclusivity

We read so much now about the magic word ‘exclusive’. It is used as if it is something clever that a Marketing wiz kid has discovered to make the offer more compelling. The reality is that it is often born out of pure self interest and is inherently a bad trading practice. Like discounting it can work well in the right place and for the right reasons but if abused or over used it like others can become destructive.

We have Waterstones having a two week exclusive deal on the Sony reader. These are at a time when the market is starting to develop not restrict consumer digital awareness, choice and confidence. We have long wished that Audible adopted an open approach that enabled their DRM to be used under licence by all and not just by them. There are other deals, such as that between Ingram and the Fictionwise to restrict the usage of their new iPhone application. However, many of these such deals don’t restrict the title only the channel and delivery. Some would argue that they are bad practice, others that it’s market forces etc., others that its mere testosterone!

The joke about the exclusive book deals that Amazon has started to do and that others will surely now follow is that Amazon already has an exclusive. A Kindle tile can only be served up by them, over their exclusive connection, to their exclusive reader. So why does the title also have to be a digital exclusive? When we look at Booksurge and POD, we see similar desire and intent to restrict the channel, but not exclusivity today. If the publisher wishes their title to also be available via LSI or Rowe they merely have to do so. Some may agrue that Amazon has now seen a way to become the exclusive digital publisher of that title in perpetuity? Some may say that this is a cleaver and another cheap back door into acquiring digital rights?

Any publisher who enters into an exclusive distribution and retail agreement on digital content that is tied to an exclusive channel and technology needs to think about what they are trying to achieve and the potential risk versus short term reward. Authors and agents should also think about such ‘special deals’ both in terms of rights ownership and reversals.

As we move forward into this Brave New Digital World we must think not once but twice and avoid stumbling into practices that have long term potential dangers to all that may not have been thought out by those seking shortterm self gain.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Laptops For Free With Wi Fi Broadband

Ok you want to be always online. You may buy into a mobile contract for a new 3G Smartphone, or subscribe a Wi-Fi broadband dongle for you laptop, or why not subscribe to a service that throws in a new laptop / notebook!

Today you can go into your local Mobile shop and walk out with brand new notebook, WiFi broadband connection. Orange, 3 Mobile and Vodaphone are all offering packages that could significantly change our habits and usage. Why buy a ebook reader when you could have a notebook and connection? Why buy an expensive laptop if you comes with your deal? There will be issues and it will not appeal to all but at around £30 a month (the same as or even less that many electronic and entertainment subscriptions it offers a lot.

Think about the student who struggles to buy the laptop or the school pupil whose parents have today to buy one, or the pensioners, low paid worker etc. who can’t afford the initial outlay but could afford the subscription. What would it mean to a small company?

Think about what it means to have any of the deals below plus Wi-Fi broadband from www.three.co.uk or more still at www.orange.co.uk

HP 550 Notebook
• 15.4" WXGA display
• Intel® Celeron® M Processor
• 120GB hard drive
• WiFi
• Windows Vista® Home Basic
• Weight – 2.7kg
• Send 150 texts a month direct from laptop
• Worth £329 inc VAT*
• * HP suggested retail price as of 30th June 2008. Actual price may vary.

HP Mini Note PC 2133
• 8.9" WXGA display
• Via C7® -M ULV Processor
• 120GB hard drive
• WiFi
• Windows Vista® Home Basic
• Starting weight of 1.27kg
• Send 200 texts a month direct from laptop
• Worth £399 inc VAT*
• * HP suggested retail price as of 30th June 2008. Actual price may vary.

HP 6910 Pavillion
• 15.4" WXGA display with NVIDA®
• Ge-Force™ Graphics card
• Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor
• 250GB hard drive
• Super Multi DVD Reader/Writer (DVD+RW)
• WiFi
• Integrated webcam
• HP QuickPlay - launch films and music at the touch of a button
• Windows Vista® Home Premium
• Weight – 3.1kg
• Send 250 texts a month direct from laptop
• Worth £599 inc VAT*
• * HP suggested retail price as of 30th June 2008. Actual price may vary.

Or go to www.PCWorld.co.uk www.carphonewarehouse.co.uk to see the wide range of deal available from these retailers.

The business model is changing and although some aspects still fall short the concept is in play and presents an interesting proposition to consumers and also to content providers who now start to see a switched on consumer who doesn’t need to download stuff to access it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mobiles Continue to Announce Moves

The world of mobile continues to push forward with ever increasing announcements:

RIM (Research In Motion) are launching a flip version of its popular BlackBerry Pearl smartphone, loaded with multimedia features such as a video and music player and a 2-megapixel camera with flash, as well as a Web browser and an abridged keyboard.

RIM has more than 16 million subscribers and claim that some 40% are “non-enterprise" customers (small and medium businesses and consumers). This drive to secure the retail consumers places them now in direct competition with Apple, Motorola, Samsung, Sony and Nokia. This announcement comes hot on the heels of their Bold announcement and shows the rate of change taking place in this market.

Meanwhile, Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile is reported to be weeks away from starting to sell a mobile phone based on Google's Android software. The rumour reported by Reuters intimated that Sept 23 was a likely date for the announcement.

Finally, Nokia said it will enable access to Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync e-mail from all 80 million Nokia phones using latest edition of S60 software. Nokia users who use Exchange can now set up Mail for Exchange for free on their devices, without paying additional services or subscription fees.

So as the economy is flat the mobile market appears to remain buoyant. The questions are whether some players face a fall out and whether the rate of change cam be maintained?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Google Hoovers up More News

Libraries, books and newsprint are all targets for Googles endless search to hover up the world’s information.

Google is to digitize dozens of historical newspapers making scanned images of the original papers available online. Google has said in it’s website that it is looking to make old newspapers searchable online by partnering with newspaper publishers to digitize millions of pages of news archives. They have been working two major U.S. newspapers; The New York Times and Washington Post, to index old papers in Google News Archive. These have been joined by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "the first newspaper West of the Alleghenies" (the Allegheny Mountains), to the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, which has continuously published for 244 years, making it North America's oldest lasting paper.

Is It Wise Dot Com?

Imagine carrying a tablet around with you with a screen 2.5 times larger than the Kindle, weighing two ounces more and a third of the Kindle's thickness. It will enable you to read your daily news digitally and is the latest ebook eink device to hit the market. Today many of us get our news feeds free direct to our mobiles and PCs, but that obviously is not seen as the answer for these technology people. Some may say that it is technology for the sake of technology.

The new electronic newspaper, reported in today’s New York Times is a large portable screen that is constantly updated with the latest news. The new device is based on eink technology, produced by Plastic Logic and is to be launched next Monday. The Plastic Logic’s device, which will be shown at an emerging technology trade show in San Diego, can be continually updated via a wireless link, and can store and display hundreds of pages of newspapers, books and documents. Plastic Logic’s gains its weight benefit by using lightweight plastic, rather than glass technology.

The reader will go on sale in the first half of next year but today there is no newspapers announced to be available through the service,nor a price fixed.

E Ink expects that within the next few years it will be able to create technology that allows users to write on the screen, view videos and of course view colour pages. The biggest competitor is not the Kindle or other ebook pretenders, but the web itself and the guys working on the news web sites and offering today full colur, digital copy for free.

Lets again step back and ask the question whether we need another device. Are you seriously going to work with a laptop in bag, mobile in pocket and now a tablet under the arm? Can you remember when muggers targeted iPods? Well they will have little problem spotting these!

It's one thing to provide a screen big enough to support newsprint layout, but its another to ask, why do we have to? Even The Times shrunk in recent years and newspapers constantly have to now reconsider their layout!

A shaman friend once wanted to create a web site for debate, that when confronted by a new idea would ask ‘Is it wise.com?’ We think this one would fail the test and oit makes us question the manufacturer's name - Plastic Logic.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Buy to Own versus Rent to Read

When the book-trade first started its digital journey, the internet wasn’t a super highway, broadband and WiFi were distant dreams. The internet more of a dirt-track than a highway and cloud computing was invented. It made sense to migrate to digital storage devices such as CDs. These were relatively low cost, could be easily distributed along side physical materials and offered new digital features and relatively low cost.

We all know what happened to the CDRom in publishing and the early enthusiasms of the Internet.

We now find ourselves, years later, at the cusp of the second significant step change opportunity, the ebook mark 2. The super highway and broadband has happened and we now can effectively download large digital files to devices that are capable of holding hundreds of books. Amazon has gone one stage further and enable you download files directly from their store, over WiFi, to their Kindle.

So is downloading the right approach the logical business model? Has it the legs to last the course or is it as some believe a transitional step?

As the public is being whipped up into the pre Christmas ebook hype and we finally see content is starting to slowly become available, do we really think that the current slick looking Sony and geeky looking Kindle are the answer. Most of all is the business model right and that consumers should seriously invest in the ereader now?

Let’s take one step back. The world is going WiFi and broadband to boot. All laptops now come Wi-Fi enabled. Dongles are widely available to connect to the laptop from anywhere. The service contracts are now common to enable 3G services to now consume as unlimited much data. Smartphones are common and are connected to 3G services. So we are now moving to a ‘permanently connected’ broadband service. Who switches off their mobile?

So why on earth would you want a download model?

This brings us to an interesting switch from ‘buy to own’ to ‘rent to read’. It doesn’t stop the consumer buying perpetual access, or a physical digital bundle, it merely questions why you would buy a download that could be as obsolete at an 8 track in only a short time?

This doesn’t cover the question of whether the current one dimensional readers are the best digital devices, whether they can be read upside down on a sunny beach or backlit in bed. It merely questions how and what consumers should be investing in today and the digital business model we adopt.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Who Needs Central Heating?

My legs are kept nice and warm as I sit here typing away on the laptop balanced across my thighs. Its amazing how much heat these devices throw out.

However we are lucky, we aren’t using a Sony Vaio as this week Sony Corp voluntary recalled 438,000 Vaio portable computers, citing a potential hazard that could cause the machines to overheat or possibly burn a user! The flaw, in Sony's VGN-TZ100, VGN-TZ200, VGN-TZ300 and VGN-TZ2000 series computers, is reportedly related to "irregularly positioned wires near the computer's hinge and/or dislodged screw inside the hinge" that can cause a short circuit and overheat.

I wonder if the Sony Reader could double up as an electric blanket after your bedtime read?

Happy Birthday Google

Larry Page and Sergey Brin meet at Stanford University in 1995 and three years later a small US company was born that was to quickly develop and change all our lives globally. The company was Google and on Sunday September 7th it celebrates its 10th birthday.

In the same way that it’s hard to imagine a world without Amazon, it’s now hard to imagine the Internet without Google. In 1999 it only had 9 employees! Google is now the 4th largest technologies company in term of market valuation, employees some 19,600 staff, which on revenues of $19.6 billion now generate $1million a head! As we reported earlier this week they now dominate the world of search generating in July alone some, 48.7 billion worldwide searches, equivalent to 65 million an hour.

They now are to introduce their Android mobile, they have already launched their office suite, Gmail, Google Talk, News, Maps, acquired Blogger and this week announced their Chrome, their open source browser to rival Internet Explorer. We have seen them hoover up the world’s library material, map the streets of major cities not just from the skies, but also from the ground. In 2006 they acquired the then one year old YouTube. Through their online dominance they now have a significant influence on all advertising. Most scary of all is that they know what you search for , when and what you did next!

They have not had a smooth passage, with many skirmishes with copyright owners and others on the way. They have overturned and out manoeuvred some formidable players such as Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL. They now have an influence on the future of state censorship in countries such as China.

Imagine where they will be in ten years time?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

US Search Charts

12 billion searches in July just in the US alone!

Its often interesting to look at what’s happening in the search engine world. Who is the top dog and what are the trends?

Comscore reported July figures for the US that show that Google continues to dominate with 9.9 billion searches and 61.9% share, next comes Yahoo with 2.5 billion searches and 20.5% share and then Microsoft with 8.9% share. It’s interesting also to see the smaller searches that are tied to services such as social networks and commercial sites. Ebay serviced 435 million searches, Craigslist 342 million, Facebook 173 million and Amazon 166 million.

When you see these figures its easy to understand both the revenue income that the major search engines generate!

So What Do You Want For Christmas?

So Septemberfest has begun with everyone in the UK expressing an opinion on the Sony reader, Kindles, ebooks. Waterstones claim thousands of pre orders for the device but the store has a dearth of content, only some 7,000 titles, and at it current price still looks a buy devoid of logic. Even with a projection of 20,000 titles by the end of the year looks a poor consumer proposition. The trade’s organ The Bookseller’s Graeme Neill called the ebook readers one dimensional and poor value.

Not to be undone Apple is being widely reported to unveil new iPod music players at a media event next Tuesday. Reporters have received an invitation to a September 9 event entitled "Let's Rock," with an image of a man jumping in the air while listening to an iPod, with the words "playing soon."

The nature of the market demands an iPod refresh and their iPod Touch now have a higher starting price $299 than its $199 iPhone, which does not make any sense and needs to be addressed. Analysts however expect Apple to refresh its MacBook notebook PCs soon but not on Tuesday.

What’s betting there will be even more ‘major’ digital announcements as everyone vies for the Christmas number one slot.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

DailyLit Gives Us Our Daily Fix

Sometimes you just stumble upon something and know its right and it was what you were looking for. Often when you do, you have to pinch yourself and ask why something often so simple is not universally known and used?

Today we received an email in a string about Keitai novels, instalment books, micropayment models etc. The email apologised that it was something of an advert as the writer wished to bring to our attention their business DailtLit. We were intrigued and before we could finish our coffee had signed up and received our first instalment.

DailyLit is based out of Mamaroneck, New York they started having seen the New York Times serialized a few classic works in special supplements and realised the model’s potential if combined to email. Today DailyLit sends daily e-mails or RSS feeds of instalments to over 1000 classic and contemporary titles to their readers. Some books are free, some are part free,others are on a Pay-Per-Read basis. You simply pick up your daily fix on your PC, Blackberry, iPhone, whatever and get a 5 minute read. If you want more, you can receive additional instalments immediately on demand.

DailyLit has gone further by creating reading forums around books and authors and a blog where readers can share tips. They even have a gift service where you can send a book to a friend by instalments with a personalised message from you.
This model makes more sense than some of the book social network sites, that we have seen come and go. The issue is content once again and getting all parties to accept a different model and one that is not DRM protected. It isn’t just about instalments of finished books. Charles Dickens wrote in instalments and here is the opportunity to do it again. Also the short story is another form that is perfectly suited to this model.

Hats off to DailyLit and we hope that you succeed and many thanks for giving many of us a surprise.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Simply Audiobooks?

Audio books have the ability to be the first tipping point in book publishing. After all, you only need to plug in the earphones and the experience is the same as with cassettes and CDs. Today digital downloads obviate the numerous tapes and CDs and their packaging and render the files to funky MP3 players, mobiles and the iconic ‘I’ family. The market is growing but why isn’t it exploding?

The Finacial Post gives us an insight into the Canadian firm Simply Audiobooks, headed by Sean Neville. The sign over the door says ‘rent, buy, download, listen’ but Mr Neville is not alone as he finds himself up against Amazon.com.

Simply Audiobooks model is based on rental with customers paying a monthly membership fee to receive a number of CD audiobooks in the mail, which they listen to and then return. This rental stream accounts for 5 of 7 dollars of sales today. So how does Simply Audiobooks increase its download revenues and defend itself against the Amazon / Audible threat and their exclusive deal with iTunes which still ahs two hours to run.
Audible‘s strength has been its proprietary DRM, but if the market were to flip like music towards MP3 and DRM free downloads, it could be Audible’s weakness. All the major publishers including Random House, Penguin Group and Simon & Schuster have stated the intent to go MP3 and have begun making audiobook files available DRM-free but this has proved a slow movement.

DRM is restricting the market, but the issues are complex and often involve rights not being cleared to sell DRM free. So we have what may be best described as a ‘Mexican stand off’. There is demand but the market is being constrained on one hand by a lack of cleared rights and the other by a monopoly. Some would say that the monopoly is good and brings economies of scale, but others that it constrains consumer choice and controls margin for all. If publishers can’t provide DRM files they must accept a growing monopoly.

We wish Simple Audiobooks well and hope that publishers are able to speed their DRM free offers .

Monday, September 01, 2008

500 Not Out!

What do Jim Thome, Mats Sundin, Jeff Burton, Gary Neville, Wasim Akram, Manny Ramirez, Muttiah Muralitharan and Trevor Hoffman have in common? They are sporting heros who in their own sport have a chieved a 500 milestone.

When we finished the Brave New World report in late 2006 and started to write this blog, we never expected to be here some ninety weeks later, still writing. This is the 500th blog and our enthusiasm to capture and report on digital change has not waned or the sources dried.

We have and continue to learn new things every week and we are grateful for all the feeds, friends, everyone who has contributed to my blog, especially Annie my Editor.
At first not all the entries were not keyword indexed but now the most in indexed probably not surprisingly is Amazon, followed by DRM, Google and iPhone /Pod.

With all the changes we have seen we still believe the findings of the Brave New World report and that there is a need for the existing booktrade to be digitally enabled and to fully participate in this Brave New World.

We toyed with writing a follow-up report this time from the authors’ perspective and still feel that this is sorely needed but decided to focus on the blog and express our thinking through this medium.

Many thanks to our hundreds of daily readers and here’s to the next 500 articles!

Create Digital First

If we look once more at the economic model for publishers in the emerging digital age, we have to ask whether the old model is sustainable? If we start to question this, then the next question is often more about margin than models, but are costs tied to current processes?

We have all seen the decimation of pricing in the music industry. Only last week we visited a media mega store in Piccadilly Circus. The thing that struck us was; not the range, it was huge, nor the listening stands waiting for any album to be scanned, but the pricing. Remember when the record companies and retailers successfully defended themselves against the allegations that CD were being allegedly sold at artificially high prices and that territorial pricing was a sham. Last week we saw big £1 dump bins, many collectable albums at £3 and then the vast majority, even in niche genre, priced at £6. Two for £10 or even 3 for £10 offrers where plastered across the cases Those costing more than £10 were rare and restricted to those special and scarce collectables such as ‘Rubber Soul’ by The Beatles. Was the store heaving? No. Were there long queues at the checkouts? No.

The music world has been shaken long and hard. How people buy, what they buy, how they consume and as a result, what they are prepared to pay for it, are all changing.

‘But books are different,’ we all scream and we may well be right, but perception is what counts and reality often has to follow. It’s the consumer perception that really counts; after all they pay at the end of the day. Do we know or understand their perceptions on digital pricing, or do we assume we know their views? The UK’s Book Marketing company, have stared to extend their highly respected services to cover digital consumer trends, but is it enough, and are we all contributing, listening and responding to any findings?

Today we are the start of a digital consumer offer but it is in the main based on yesterday’s physical cost model, processes and perceptions. Merely taking the finished book and generating a digital rendition that mirrors the physical one is what music did with CDs. Is it logical to merely replicate the book and create just another rendition? We don’t envisage the same demand change as music experienced in selling just fragments (tracks), but it is possible to see the selling of instalments or part works, where all the complete ‘book’ may not be bought.

Some would argue that only when publishers fully digitise their pre press processes and create format neutral content will they have the flexibility to change not only their cost structure but also their product offer. The alternative could be consumer demand driving down prices where the only flexible element is the margin.

The current rights debates do not stop publishers digitising their processes they merely stop them being able to realise all the possible opportunities. However, at a time when the digital market is not established, for many, this may be a huge leap into the dark.

Google Wants to be Everything

Today Engadget post some blurred pictures of still awaited Google’s Andriod phone. The phone is built around a large LCD and is clearly is designed to compete with iPhone. The screen slides to unveil a QWERTY keyboard.

Just as we await the phone Google is now planning to launch a web browser called Google Chrome aimed at challenging the Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari alternatives. The Wall Street Journal reported on its website that the browser is likely to be announced soon. Google Chrome is designed to make it easier and faster to browse the Web. The product will be open-sourced and offer enhanced address-bar and other features that they believe are different from the pack.

What next? We now have the big technology companies lining up to fight each other on many levels. This should be god for business and consumers as it should lead to keener pricing and less monopoly but more options can also cause confusion whilst the dust settles. As always the big question is interoperability.

What’s in Your Widget?

We have seen the emergence of the mighty widget - the ‘live’ jacket that with a single click, opens up the book for the buyer to briefly evaluate and qualify for purchase. Whether its called Search Inside, Browse Inside, View Inside, Look Inside, they all work fundamentally the same and offer that enriched customer experience. They bring much of that bookstore ‘touch, smell and feel’ to the online world.

Today’s widgets offer limited pages views, text search, linking, table of contents, customisable ‘buy now’ resolution and the ability to copy and distribute the widget. So is that the end of the story or the beginning of a new one?

Today we can see the availability of more supplemental information that could be used by retailers, librarians, consumers etc. So can the widget be extended from being content into a container that holds content, context and even rights? Imagine clicking on a jacket and having the option to hear the author via a podcast or see them via a video, read authoritative review, link to other titles. The interesting thing again is that widgets may be dispersed to the four corners of the Internet but they are rendered dynamically from a single source. That model enables the publisher to update information as it changes and maintain its currency over its life cycle.

Imagine a world where all we pass between us is a widget, a jacket image, a persistent resolvable URL. It makes you think about the waste, the duplication and the lack of consistency that happens today.

Online versus Offline Digital Content

As publishers are told to go vertical, direct and create a direct dialogue with the consumer you start to see differences of approach. The pages of Facebook, Second Life, My Space, and the myriad of social network wanabees have publishers knocking on their door wanting to piggyback on their audience. Last week Penguin made all the headlines with their online match making alliance.

We have long argued the logic of taking someone such as JK Rowling and publishing the story by instalment online first and The Bookseller today covered the news that Dutton, a Penguin imprint has embarked on a digi-novel with Anthony Zuiker, the creator of the TV CSI series. The three book multimedia series due in 2009 will demand readers to read the book, view clips, and participate online in order to complete the story.

The interesting question this raises is not about ebooks but what publishers may feel is the digital end game. To us it is clear that the current one dimensional ebook readers are mere transient technology and will be replaced by either laptops or mobiles that are permanently connected with unlimited data contracts. Why on earth do you need to download a digital copy that you can do nothing with except store, when you can access it online from anywhere at anytime? Hello, why do you need a library on a reader when you can have a library in a cloud? The only strength of the Kindle is its wireless connection, the weakness was it choose this to merely download content not render it.

When will someone wake up and realise that one of the best digital alliances today is with the service providers? I’ll provide the content you provide the service. You sell lots of unlimited data contracts; I’ll sell the subscriptions or rentals. You have a huge subscriber list, we don’t and haven’t a clue how to grow and maintain one.

Another interesting question is why it will take a year to create the experince? Surely the new novel is not tied to print schedules, publication schedules and by its nature its more fluid in its construct. Maybe the old 13 week publishing window still prevails and we therefore must wait?

The one thing that is certain is change and that says that future will be different. Merely replicating today's models and processes for the sake of it means the journey takes longer and the risks are higher. We already have the Orange book prize, so why not in the words of their slogan - make the future Orange!

We welcome the continued experimentation of the likes of Penguin. We may not always agree with the steps taken but we respect that they are taking them.