Thursday, December 31, 2009

2020 Vision: Digital Predictions for 2010 Part 1

So Christmas and another year are over and the New Year beckons. We are now at the end of a decade that has given us the iPhone, Facebook, MySpace, Celebrity everything, instant ‘x factor’ stars, Harry Potter, Dan Brown and Twitter. Will we be equally moved in the next ten years and will we recognise the booktrade in ten years time?

We can’t predict the next decade but we are confident of what we see in the year ahead.

1. Google Will Change All

Whichever way the court decides, the final outcome will influence publishing for many years.

If the settlement is pushed through, overnight we will see the emergence of the biggest digital bookseller, library and aggregator. The covers will certainly come off the scanners and anything that moves will become fair game. Others will follow and it will be interesting to see the reaction of the BRR (Books Rights Registry), APA and Authors Guild and whether they turn to litigation or just switch on the meter? What is certain is that there will be much litigation. If the BRR have attempted due diligence to trace the rights owner then some will say it safe for others to also adopt orphans. Will publishers assume rights or do their own diligence and check those old contracts?

If the settlement is rejected many will see it as a huge digital step backwards. We would see the rejection as a step forward and a call for all to engage in the process of redefining copyright in the 21st century as opposed to sleepwalking backwards to afraid to stand up to the behemoth. Maybe the rejection will allow those such as the; UK, Canada, Australia, who were dragged naively into supporting it, the opportunity to walk away from the pressure from their bigger brothers.

2. Libraryworld

The library is under threat from all quarters as it faces the digital age and tries to seek its own mission within it. We have written much about the real conflict between the High Street and the Library on the conflicting business models, culture and management but in the Uk now face the greatest threat of all in the naive ramblings and ideology of a Minister who is clearly ill advised and not fit for office. Margaret Hodge has thrown down her vision of the library like a drunk spewing up excess liquor after a night on the tiles. She wants 24 x 7 library services and sees them competing with Amazon. We think she has paid too much to get ill advice and hope that she gets her comeuppance at the forthcoming election.

However, the libraries do need to be given some clarity of digital direction that aligns to the resources they have. You can no longer make a librarian into a bookseller than a publisher into one. You may hit the odd success but will fail in the main as the skill set is different and there application very incomparable.

We see lots of soul searching in UK libraryworld in 2010 and many standing on the side ready to dump digital content and services into the mix.

3. Promoting, Marketing and Book Information

The use of the digital content to support, market and sell all books is going to grown significantly.

Direct marketing of review and inspection copies will gain ground not only in those sectors who have adoption processes but across all. Sharing annotations and reviews offers significant value and adds a digital opportunity to the process.

Catalogues today are often inefficient but a necessary evil. The carry a high cost and little intelligent feedback but these can now be addressed by ecalaogues. The question is whether the ecatalogue is a mere replication of the physical glossy or a dynamic piece of direct marketing whose usage can be fully monitored and analysed. As a result Marketing spends will increasingly become more focus and direct.

Finally we are approaching a step change in bibliographic data similar to that we experienced in the late 90s when jackets first exploded onto the market. The change is not so much about defining the information but about how it is communicated between trading entities and packaged.

4. Sales Information

We have as an industry focused our standards efforts on ONIX to the front end and in describing bibliographic and metadata, but have spent little effort looking at the rear end and sales information and reconciliation in a digital environment.
We see the standards bodies finally waking up to this omission and recognising the efforts needed to reconcile digital sales in this new digital age.

Tomorrow we will conclude our 2020 predictions.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Light Up Everything With OLED

We have reported several times on OLED (organic light emitting diodes) technology and how it could outperform eInk. So it was very interesting to read today about OLED being used to create "light emitting wallpaper" that could replace traditional light bulbs in a few years!

LOMOX, a Welsh company has been developing the technology and has been awarded a £454,000 grant from the Carbon Trust to get it into use in homes, business and on even on the roads.

The technology has wide usages such as televisions, computers and mobile phone displays but can also be coated onto a thin flexible film to cover walls like wallpaper. It needs a very low operating voltage and can be powered by solar panels or batteries. It is expected that outdoor applications could be the first to appear and remove the need for signs to be powered by the mains.

Lomox has developed chemicals which they believe can allow low-energy devices to be developed at economic rates which should replace existing technology. They claim that you can paint it on a wall or wallpaper and enable it to glow with light. It could make the phrase ceiling lighting real!

With close to 20% of all the UK's electricity being used for lighting and with OLEDs offering significant efficient over standard energy-saving lightbulbs the real potential is significant.

Kurzweil Rethinks eBooks with Blio

It is interesting that someone has realized that digital books are not so much about the device but about the reading platform. The other difference in thinking that they also realize that the book has got to break free of its current straight-jacket and not just be another straight rendition copy.

We have been bombarded all year with ‘lookie likie’ after ‘lookie likie’ eInk readers and some devices have even been upgraded, but at the end of the day they remain just black and white single application devices that have a predictable short life expectancy. Amazon have cleverly created a kindle offer that covers PCs, kindles and iPhones but just got stick from the market for not joining the epub party.

Now Ray Kurzweil, a prolific inventor who has worked extensively in areas such as optical character recognition, speech recognition and text-to-speech synthesis, has now announced new e-reader software, called Blio. The new software is set to debut this month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and will be free and available to run on PCs, iPod Touch and iPhone. Kurzweil Technologies has a joint venture with the US National Federation of the Blind aimed at creating reading products such as Blio for people with disabilities.

Blio supports full colour, lays out the “pages” as on paper, supports video and animation, enables text-to-speech and can synchronize bookmarks, highlights and last page read across platforms.

“We can take a PDF and an audio book and merge the two to get a combination such that you can hear the audio book and see the words highlighted on the PDF at the same time,” says Peter Chapman, an executive at Kurzweil Technologies.

The big challenge for Blio is fighting the epub and tin makers of the eInk devices who have a momentum. However if tablets arrive and meet the current hype and streaming service start to change the model then Blio could start to make headway.

Blio creators believe they can work with major publishers to convert Adobe text searchable PDF format to the Blio format for free and also that they can partner with Google to make its library available in Blio.

An interesting chart from Blio and published in Wired, shows how they believe they match up to their rivals. The question now is whether they can create sufficient consumer awareness and demand, actually line up some powerful partnerships and finally introduce another format beit free or not.

Monday, December 28, 2009

iSlate, iTablet iWant

Will they ,won’t they, is the question on everyone’s lips with respect to Apple and its tablet? After much talk it appears that it is now less of if and more a case of when. The latest predictions claim that Apple will bring the tablet to the market spotlight on 26th January in San Fransisco. The event would be at the same time as many would be at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which Apple does not attend.

Apple always refuses to comment on speculation so we must wait and see.

The rumours continue; will it be named iSlate, a name Apple have grabbed some time ago? Will it have a 10in, or a 7in screen?

Will users would be able to download applications produced by third-party developers onto the device just as they can for the iPhone.

The tablet PC offers everyone something and would appear to be perfect convergence platform and kill the emerging netbook, offer more than any eInk reader, offer a true screen for games and video and importantly offer style and economy. Will the iSlate be an iPhone plus, or replace the iTouch, or start to redefine the Mac Air, or even become the new mobile TV platform? The OLPC OX3 we wrote about last week clearly shows the desire for such a platform and they are not alone as many major names start to line up to offer tablets.

Apple has the music content in iTunes, they also have been in discussions with book publishers for content and are rumoured to be trying to do a deal with American TV companies Disney and CBS. Apple understand content and unlike players such as Sony know how to deliver a well rounded offer. The challenge is matching the cost, the service, the design and the expectation.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Quiz Answers: People in Digital 2009

The answers to our last Christmas quiz on People in digital 2009

1. Margaret Hodge
2. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
3. Steve Jobs
4. Chris Anderson
5. Sir Tim Berners-Lee
6. Stephen Wolfram
7. Ivy Bean
8. Moshi
9. Kurt Vonnegut
10. Paul Henry Smith

Review of 2009 and Our Predictions

At the end of 2008 we made 7 predictions for 2009. Many predictions made have now been conveniently forgotten but we stand by our thinking at the time and believe it appropriate we openly review these individually and see what we think happened and assess them appropriately.

Today we review 2009.

1. Content

The volume of digital titles will continue to grow but in tens of thousands not hundreds of thousands and the dominant format will remain PDF and Adobe eBook. The industry ePub format will grow in popularity for those who choose the detailed XML route but for many it will remain a cost too much.

It’s fair to say that this prediction was spot on with epub being the tip of most tongues.

2. Context

In a tight market, marketing is going to have to be on top form. That little extra effort could make the difference between an also ran and a hit. We must remember digital context sells both digital and more importantly physical books.
We envisage widgets will become smarter and offer a lot more that just the plain look inside the book. Digital renditions will be increasingly given away to promote physical sales. Authors should come to the front with podcasts, videos, blogs and web sites to promote them and their titles and the interesting question is whether they will do it themselves, be aided by their agents, leave it to the publisher, or look to others?

Finally the academic market will see the emergence of the digital inspection copy being used to sell adoptions and maybe create an academic social network environment. The trade on the other hand will miss the opportunity to digitise their review copies, or at best do it as an afterthought and believe that physical review copies are still a cheap run on option.

Again it was relatively easy call and marketing clearly started to use digital copy to promote new titles with even the emergence of the Vook. Digital inspection copies and reviews are clearly wanted by many publishers but are still slow in the uptake.

3. Rights

The introduction of the ‘Google’ Rights registry in the US is certainly going to focus the thinking. We believe that it will raise many of the challenges that have long been bubbling under the surface and many question are likely to be raised on the specification and scope of the work. Why the bibliographic agencies or the authors bodies stand up and do this is another question.

The whole spectrum of rights will continue to be questioned as POD is used to grab more orphans and retain rights in perpetuity. Permission rights will start to become more visible and an issue as ‘chunking’ will become more common together with the sale of digital fragments.

Those who didn’t understand the Google Settlement probably still don’t but it clearly got the attention over the year and two rights issues dominated the debate; the orphans and also the international rights that were at least omitted from the revised settlement deal.

4. Digital Platforms

We stand by our vision of the mobile and the notebook still being the real platforms. There will be more ereader devices based on eink and expect a price battle but we still can’t see them becoming a must have device. We also see a shift towards online and rentals and away from download purchases. We believe that if Flash 10 makes it successfully put onto the mobile chip then mobiles devices will move forward and start to dominate the market.

Again we believe that the year was much as predicted. There were probably even more ‘lookie likie’ eink ereaders than we would have predicted. Mobile is definitely gaining acceptance and the purchase of Stanza showed that even the likes of Amazon recognised this trend. Flash continues to be frustrated by Apple but is now likely to make an impact in 2010.

5. Market Sectors

The educational, professional and academic sectors will continue to lead the way in digital both in publisher commitment and sales. One to watch in 2009 – religion. Trade will be more hype than substance but with a clear emphasis on digital marketing. The other sector we expect to raise its digital head is the public library market where the interesting question of its conflicting business model with trade (free to rent versus pay to buy) will remain unsolved.

Apart from religion the predictions were accurate. The trade sector became under pricing pressure and decided to ‘pick up the bat and ball’ and stomp off and delay ebooks. The library sector issues remain and today we even have government ministers advocating libraries compete with Amazon.

6. Omnivores and New Entrants

The three main players will continue to steal the show, Amazon with its comprehensive covering of all bases, Google with the help it got buying the trade for ‘chump change’ and Adobe quietly plugging away on many fronts in the background.

Amazon has covered all digital bases and also gone international. Google continues to hood wink the good and mighty and even when their settlement was rejected they came back with what some would argue is even a better one now dragging in UK, Canada, Australia into the deal. Google also revealed its Google Editions as their build their digital family. Adobe were out of the limelight but continued to build their grip with Indesign in the editorial and production space, their ACS4 remains the only viable epub DRM and quietly also protects Adobe ebooks (PDF) and also still has a hold over the open PDF.

Apple started to get traction with the iPhone dominating the smartphone market and applications but everyone waiting for the tablet and thri book offer.

7. Editorial / Production Content Development

We envisage that more and more publishers will review their antiquated development process and realise the opportunity benefits to be taken from digitising this. The key to success will be down to the implementation approach and managing the change programme. The old adage, ‘if a customer service clerk doesn’t like the system, you sack the clerk, but if and editor doesn’t like the system you sack the system,’ will still apply. Another important opportunity will be to pull the publishing business (content, context and rights) under one single digital process.

This major area of productivity still remains elusive to technology. Academic and Educational publishers start to use XML workflow but others are still happy to produce the physical book and then ‘convert’ it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hacking DRM Is Real

When is a DRM secure and unhackable? When can anyone say that a device is unbreakable? History is littered with stories of people who broke the code, un encrypted it and ulocked the secured.

This week we read of hackers in Isreal who claim to have broken the protection built in to Amazon's Kindle for PC. They did it not to access or share the files but as part of a competition and challenge. We can all buy ‘broken’ iPhones and services to unlock mobiles. We remember well the instructions on how to break Adobe’s ACS4 DRM that were openly available to those who were prepared to search for them. Apple iTunes DRM restrictions were openly broken it effectively forced them to think again and drop them.

A hacker blog posts include hacks for: Adobe ADEPT DRM for PDF, Adobe ADEPT for epub, Barnes & Noble’s own-flavour DRM for epub, and Amazon Kindle’s DRM, plus revision for how to crack the ensuing Mobipocket file and transformation into epub.

The Kindle for PC uses a separate session key to encrypt and decrypt each book. However once the hack software is installed, proprietary Amazon ebooks can be converted into the open Mobi format which are fully open and available to copy, transfer and enjoy for free. The code is downloadable and ironically called ‘unswindle V5-rci’ and is used in conjunction ‘darkreverser's mobidedrm’. It appears that unswindle’s creator is determined ti update and fight Amazon blow by blow into the future.

So as we move forward we have to look both at soft and hard DRM options. The hard DRM is down to players such as Adobe and may only be applied to highly commercial files, whilst soft DRM is applied to the others. Soft DRM on epub is harder as these files are mere containers and watermarks can be removed with ease. So as we look soft DRM watermarks we have us use both visible and invisible watermarks that are unique to the rendition, dynamically allocated and are based on an algorithm that will be hard to break. But we must realise that all codes can be broken.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Le Guin Resigns From Authors Guild Over Google Settlement

An interesting letter from letter of resignation from Ursula K. Le Guin to the Authors Guild: 18 December 2009. Le Guin has received 5 Hugo awards and 6 Nebula awards, and was awarded the Gandalf Grand Master award in 1979 and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master Award in 2003. She has received nineteen Locus Awards for her fiction, more than any other author. Her novel The Farthest Shore won the National Book Award for Children's Books in 1973.

To Whom it may concern at the Authors Guild:

I have been a member of the Authors Guild since 1972.

At no time during those thirty-seven years was I able to attend the functions, parties, and so forth offered by the Guild to members who happen to live on the other side of the continent. I have naturally resented this geographical discrimination, reflected also in the officership of the Guild, always almost all Easterners. But it was a petty gripe when I compared it to my gratitude to the Guild for the work you were doing in defending writers’ rights. I went on paying top dues and thought it worth it.

And now you have sold us down the river.

I am not going to rehearse any arguments pro and anti the “Google settlement.” You decided to deal with the devil, as it were, and have presented your arguments for doing so. I wish I could accept them. I can’t. There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle.

So, after being a loyal if invisible member for so long, I am resigning from the Guild. I am, however, retaining membership in the National Writers Union and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, both of which opposed the “Google settlement.” They don’t have your clout, but their judgment, I think, is sounder, and their courage greater.

Yours truly,

Ursula K. Le Guin

OLPC Show How To Deliver Cheap Tablets

The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) group has slowly gathered support but more importantly started to question what people really need in a laptop. Their $100 laptop may still cost $200 but has started to connect some 1.4 million children and education in the developing world and has been adopted in around 34 countries.

They have now announced the XO-3, a slim touchscreen tablet PC and claimed it will be available in 2012 at a price well below $100. This not only starts to change computing as we know it in the third world but also could have a significant impact across all markets.

The concept new machine has touchscreen, a camera, induction charger, and a carrying ring on one of its corners.

Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of the group, has said that he hoped that industry would now copy the design for the XO-3. Well it certainly offers a real potential to all educational markets and potentially knocks the socks of devices such as ereaders.

The big question is whether the major manufacturers will compete and adopt cheaper and greener technology or continue to over engineer their offers and produce them to be obsolete in a couple of years?

Christmas Games: People in the 2009 Digital News?

The answers to yesterday Quiz were:

1. Friday 13th
2. Larry Lessing
3. Jeff Bezos
4. Germany , their authors and publishers
5. Orphans
6. Richard Sarnoff, Random House
7. Books Rights Registry
8. Michael Healy
9. Judge Denny Chin
10. US Justice Department

Today's Questions are about People in digital 2009

1. Which UK Minister proposed setting up libraries to compete with Amazon?
2. Which US Governor proposed to turn textbooks digital?
3. Who came back to the helm of Apple after illness?
4. Who proclaimed the freecomomy to follow his long tail?
5. Who celebrated the 20th anniversary of his World Wide Web?
6. Who created a new search engine named after him ?
7. Who at 103 had a massive twitter following?
8. Who wrote the very successful keitai novel ‘ Deep Love’ was turned into a book, which sold 2.7 million copies?
9. Whose estate announced that 14 of his unpublished short stories were to be published as individual ebooks and then secondly as a printed collection?
10.Who conducts the two computer digital Fauxharmonic Orchestra?

Answers tomorrow along with more fun

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Which Browser Do You Use?

We were brought up during the Netscape Microsoft browser wars and we thought that we seen the end of the browser battles. However it’s certainly getting warm again with Safari, Opera, Firefox and Chrome all cashing Internet Explorer.

In the UK you can’t help but notice those striking Chrome adverts on the billboards as Google build brand awareness.

Now we read news we can hardly believe that Firefox 3.5 is now the world's most popular web browser. Yes even bigger than Internet Explorer 7! According to analysts StatCounter, Mozilla's now has 21.93% of the global market. But then we have Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 also competing in the races and the combined the Microsoft's browser has a whopping 55.44% ( IE 8 20.33% , IE 7 21.2% and even IE 6 retains 13.89%).Chrome is now the third most popular browser.

Now the first mobile phone version of Firefox is about to be launched. Codenamed ‘Fennec’, it will initially be available for the Nokia's N900 phone, followed by other handsets.The organisation is also developing versions for Microsoft's Windows mobile and Google's Android operating system. This could enable apps to be ported easier between platforms and offer a standard representation on any device.

Apple's Safari for mobile, which comes bundled with the iPhone, is the second most popular, whilst Nokia's own browser is third.

Christmas Games: What Do You Know About the Google Settlement?

The answers to yesterday Quiz were:

1. Book
2. DRM
3. Eight
4. World
5. Textbooks
6. Rs
7. Sorry
8. Right
9. iPhone Apps

1. Which superstitious date in November became an in important one for the settlement?
2. Who described Google as a tiger cub which may look like a kitten but would grow up to be very different?
3. Who said, "That settlement needs to be revisited, and is being revisited....It doesn't seem right that you can get a prize for violating a large set of copyrights."?
4. Who lodged the Heidelberg Appeal?
5. What was works was the settlement about and got adopted without any say?
6. Who was a chief architect behind the settlement and was awarded ‘Publisher of the Year’ by PW?
7. What is the BRR ?
8. Who will run the BRR?
9. Who is the Judge?
10. Whose objection forced the settlement to be revisited?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Games: Missing Words

Complete the Brave New World Headlines From 2009 By Inserting the Missing Words

  1. The Great xxxx Bank Robbery 0
  2. Hard and Soft xxx
  3. Pieces of xxxxx
  4. The Flat xxxxx Expand 0
  5. Cutting the Cosy of xxxxxxxxx
  6. The Three xx
  7. Bezos Says xxxxx
  8. The Price Is xxxxx
  9. Adult Only xxxxxx xxxx
  10. Pinning The Tail On The xxxxxx

We will give you the answers tomorrow plus another game

Just What I Don't Want This Christmas!

Another unwanted Christmas present comes in the form of a new eBook reader that looks remarkably old and clunky and reminds us of…

The Aigo EB6301 is a 6-inch eInk ‘Lookie likie’ doesn’t have WIFI, support ePub and comes at an announced high price of 2499 yuan ( $366 USD).

Certainly one we would want to return if given this Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Who Is the most Powerful Digital Technology Company in Publishing Today?

Ask yourself who is the most powerful technical company in publishing today?

Is it Amazon, Google, Sony, eInk Corp, Apple? We would suggest that the answer is none of the above but a company that sits conveniently in the background. The company is Adobe and the hold over publishing is both tight and across the life cycle.

If we look at the Editorial and production environment we see the dominance of Indesign and PDF. If we look at the distribution world we see Adobe ebooks, PDF and epub. Some may ask what Adobe has to do with epub and the answer is simple –they offer the only DRM to protect on multiple platforms and devices. So when you use a Sony , Cooler, Irex, or any of the eInk ‘lookie likies’ is is almost certain Adobe is licensing and protecting those files.

So its hardly surprising to find Adobe taking shots at Amazon's Kindle rouge e-book reader which has less to do with formats and more to do with Amazon not using Adobe’s ACS4 DRM system than them not using epub.

So we have a very dominant force both in the development and the distribution of digital and physical works. PDF and epub are open standards, but the only DRM protection on offer is Adobe’s ACS4 . So what is open, what is interoperable and what is proprietary?

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Man from Sony Say…

Sony has a history of getting things both right and wrong. They got the walkman right, they got the betamax technology right, but then they positioned it woefully wrong and it was beaten by inferior technology - VHS. Today they are making a big play to be ‘the player’ in the ebook space. They claim to show the greatest emapthy with the market ,but to-date have got much more wrong than right.

However, when you are Sony you probably believe you can walk on water.

Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading business division, thinks Jeff Bezos and co. have made some critical mistakes, but is he right, or is he just playing to his audience of Amazon bashers?

Speaking this week in New York, Haber entered the debate on ebook pricing, "The $9.99 price point is not a money-maker. Certain bestsellers are sold at that price for retail, competitive reasons. But you need to have a range. You could go from $10 to $20 even to $100 for an e-book. There's no sweet spot and it's certainly not $9.99."
On what does he base these words of wisdom? Some may suggest that his 21 years in consumer electronics is hardly a qualification to lecture publishing, but there again this is SonyWorld. Some would argue that the price of the reader is his issue and the price of the content is beyond his remit and control. ebooks and their pricing is just a sideline and Sony makes money is on the sale of tin (reader) not the content.

Sony is unlikely to offer the next iTunes (Sony missed that one too) and buyers who stumble across the Sony bookstore are unlikely to be impressed either by their offer or its pricing.

So are they retailers or just tin manufacturers?

Sony believe they have demonstrated leadership on the emotive question of DRM and standards. After all they were the first to back epub and Adobe and when they launched demanded and got a DRM exclusive and still fail to recognise Adobe ebooks as being on a par with epub. Their initial proprietary stance clearly says much about their views. Today they clearly believe epub and DRM gives them the edge over Amazon but they fail to recognise that with epub and Adobe DRM being available from everyone there is little to distinguish them from the pack of ‘lookie likie’ eink readers.

They are a single offer platform in a multi platform world. Won would have thought that they would have offered a constant offer across their mobile, games , PC and even TV platforms but that’s big corporate divisions for you. Haber continues to believe DRM is the key, "You need an orderly process to sell books and DRM makes that possible, mainly because it allows content creators and distributors to make money from that content." Again one will question whether they understand the market or are merely making sound bites to today’s publisher audience.

Amazon are a bookseller, sell on multiple platforms and love them or hate them they at least understand and live in the book market.

Sony view Google as a fellow Amazon basher and ally. Haber says that Google’s platform is "super open and it ties in very well to the reader experience we’re looking for." However does Google have the same empathy and love of Sony and is it a marriage built on respect and long life, or is it just an affair of convenience? Haber says that, "As long as they stay an open platform, we’re happy to work with them. If that ever changes, we’ll have to make a different decision." So how will he feel once they have their own phone, netbook and maybe reader?

We however would agree with Haber when he suggests that publishers could promote piracy by delaying the release of books in digital formats and that their businesses will prosper if they embrace ebooks. But there again ebooks sell tin and he needs to sell tin.

Guilté as Charged: The Great Book Bank Robbery

Google has at last been found guilty of what we all knew they had done - infringed copyright. Instead of running to settle and pick up the coins offered, the French stood firm and resolute. All too often leadership buckles and accepts a settlement, which leaves the case undecided and the guilty to escape unpunished.

A Paris court has found Google guilty of copyright infringement and ordered it to pay 300,000 euros (£266,000) in damages and interest also ordered them to pay 10,000 euros a day until it removes extracts of the books from its database.

French publisher La Martiniere was one of many that also included the French Publishers' Association and authors' group SGDL that took Google to court for digitising its books without explicit permission and launched this court case three years ago.

iPhone Now in Second Place In US

So as we deliberate our next mobile we read in Computerworld that the US iPhone user base is now bigger than Windows Mobile-based models and now only second to Research In Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry. It was therefore also interesting to note that yesterday RIM suffered a serious cross network outage that effected all consumer BlackBerry users in the US. Interestingly corporate users appear not to have been affected and the outage was apparently caused by some "routine" RIM maintenance work that occurred at around 2:00 a.m. US Central time on Thursday. This is not the first serious outage, in April 2007 had a 12-hour email outage and they also suffered again in February of last year.

However Apple continues to grow unchecked and it is now claimed that around 9 million Americans now use the iPhone as primary phone. It still is way behind RIM’s 15 million but with each glitch and the emergence of more apps the writing could be on the wall for that device which was built on email.

According to comScore, some 36 million Americans own a smartphone, while around 196 million rely on a traditional cell phone. So the market has significant potential and the capacity for five times more growth in the US alone.

The interesting challenger is the Android pack with devives such as the Motorola Droid and the Google aPhone. We don’t envisage Palm as a contender and Nokia are spreading their bets but are in danger of losing the plot.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

So Which Mobile would You Choose Today?

So as we deliberate our next mobile we find ourselves torn between today and tomorrow. We have to double guess what will be the situation of operating systems, applications, market adoption and much more. The mobile market is changing fast, the life of devices reduces fast and double predicting the winners getting harder.

Today Android-focused website, Androlib say that the number of applications in the Google Android Marketplace has jumped to over 20,000. Nearly a third of the applications are paid for and recently there was a spike when more than 350 applications and games were published on a single day. The Android app store may still be only 20% that of the iPhone, but the App store has doubled in size in five months it is expected that the app store will reach 50,000 apps before the end of the first quarter 2010.

With more Android phones coming from all directions it would appear that it may be a serious iPhone threat. Now we read that Google plans to release its own handset in 2010. Until now, the company has concentrated on launching its Android operating system on mobile devices made by a number of companies, such as Motorola, Sony Ericsson, HTC and LG.

The device is called the ‘Nexus One’, a reference to the line of 'replicants' in the influential sci-fi film Bladerunner, and an echo of the ‘Android’ brand. The OLED touch-screen device, made by the Taiwanese handset manufacturer HTC, supports quad-band GSM/Edge and UMTS/HSDPA networks, as well as tri-band 850/1700/1900 networks and is based on the Snapdragon chip developed by Qualcomm,. The device could be sold unlocked in the US directly through its site or via a carrier.

As recently as October 30, Google had denied that it was "making hardware" or that it would "compete with its customers" by offering its own phone. Google has not described the handset in detail, however, and it has not confirmed that it plans to sell the device.

So watch this space as we decide on our next mobile and carrier.

Teletext RIP

Technology changes and moves at a pace and what we all knew and used only a few years ago can now seem old fashioned, inappropriate and die. We all once scrolled our TV screens to search for information on the Teletext information service. Today some limited services such as holidays, racing and bookmaking and the subtitles on analogue channels will remain along with chat and dating TV channels on Freeview but this month the service will effectively close across the UK. The writing is clearly on the wall and no longer on the screen.

What has effected the service and numbered its days is the drain of advertising revenues. The migration of commercial advertising revenue means that the business model is no longer viable.

The subtitles will not be affected by the withdrawal of the public information service as it is provided by a different setup.

The World Is Not Publisher Centric

The news Rosetta Books has announced a deal to a one-year exclusive with Amazon for the digital rights of author Stephen Covey should come as no big surprise. Hot on the footsteps of Random House’s attempt to land grab digital rights it recognises two things; authors are the creators of wealth and are often taken for granted and digital and physical aren’t the same no matter how much Random say they are.

Rosetta have, like they did in 2001, stepped into the breech and gone for what everyone knows is often fair game and available. Covey have said that they intend to continue to publish books with their traditional publisher Simon & Schuster, but publish digitally with Rosetta. Rosetta are widely reported to have more titles under negotiations.

Amazon says that Covey is their "13th bestselling author of all time."

So at a time when major trade houses are stalling on the release of digital titles, Random is claiming divine rights over all, others are voting with their feet.
So who owns the rights to the titles claimed by many under the Google Book Settlement?

The backlist, out of print titles and orphans all hold significant potential. The problem often is that they are left to fend for themselves and find there own way in a market still obsessed with the front list and those launch windows. Well maybe we are starting to see these often forgotten and under invested titles starting to fight back and authors come back from the dead.

Interesting times.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Random Rosetta Returns With a Twist

We all remember the last attempt that Random House made to stake out their claim that all the rights they had included digital. It blew up in a case between them and Rosetta in 2001 and they failed in court to prove their case and it was eventually settled out of court with Rosetta being granted a licence to publish. The control e-rights to books was left undefined but with a federal judge in Manhattan in 2002 , ruling that “in book form” did not automatically include e-books.

Now some 9 years later and in a healthier digital market, Random appear to be revisiting the same ground. Random CEO Markus Dohle has, according to agent Richard Curtis's blog, communicated to that they are "precluded from granting publishing rights to third parties that would compromise the rights for which Random House has bargained."

Dohle continues and starts to redefine the book and remove and differences between digital and physical renditions, "The vast majority of our backlist contracts, grant us the exclusive right to publish books in electronic formats. At the same time, we are aware there have been some misunderstandings concerning ebook rights in older backlist titles. Our older agreements often give the exclusive rights to publish 'in book form' or 'in any and all editions'. Many of those contracts also include enhanced language that references other forms of copying or displaying the text that might be developed in the future or other more relevant language that more specifically reflects the already expansive scope of rights. Such grants are usually not limited to any specific format, and indeed the "form" of a book has evolved over the years to include variations of hardcover, paperback and other written word formats, all of which have understood to be included in the grant of book publishing rights. Indeed, ebook retailers market, sell and merchandise ebooks as an alternate book format, alongside the hardcover, trade paperback and mass market versions of a given title. Whether physical or digital, the product is used and experienced in the same manner, serves the same function, and satisfies the same fundamental urge to discovery stories, ideas and information through the process of reading. Accordingly, Random House considers contracts that grant the exclusive right to publish 'in book form' or 'in any and all editions' to include the exclusive right to publish in electronic book publishing formats. Our agreements also contain broad non-competition provisions, so that the author is precluded from granting publishing rights to third parties that would compromise the rights for which Random House has bargained."

So once again we have the digital world being staked out and Random flexing their weight.

So who owns digital rights and can they be assumed by the publisher? The issue isn’t about current works which are almost certainly covered under contract but older works which may well have been written before the Internet was even invented. As we know rights are acquired by publishers and these are usually very specific and cover both primary and secondary rights. If a work was acquired prior to digital rights being identified, some would argue that it is it safe to assume that they are secondary rights and not the primary ones. In which case, it fair to deduct that if not specified the publisher doesn’t own them.

The dispute impacts all authors, agents, estates of older works and it would make sense for publishers to revisit their contracts and strike deals with those potentially impacted. However, we now live in the world of the ‘land grab’ and ‘scan first ask later’. Publishers are uncertain of the digital future and don’t want to miss out on any party. We have all seen Google effectively get away with robbery, so its only safe to assume others can do it to. In the case of the Google Book Settlement, some would question whether old contracts are being checked re digital and reversals before claims are staked.

So should authors be tethered for life to a publisher for something that never existed when they entered into a contract, or should they be allowed to cut their own deal or revise terms? Should digital royalties be calculated on the physical book sales or separately and if separately then surely they are distinct

Playboy App Comes to the iPhone

For those lost what to buy the man that has everything and has an iPhone. Why not buy him a little stocking filler and let him join Mr Hefner and the centrefold girls of Playboy on your iPhone. Apple have approved the playboy app which is now to download on the iTunes App Store for £1.19 in the UK and $1.99 in the US. The app is rated 17 plus but does apparently contain "fully nude content".

Can I Return This eReader If I Get One For Christmas?

So what is different with this new ebook reader?

The Libre, from Alutrack, has not adopted eInk but has a monochrome 5-inch reflective light LCD screen. So it’s a 'lookie likie' that truly looks like the rest, but isn't. It just offers a cheap price of $179, but with neither LCD colour nor eInk quality. A Cheap man's eReader that doesn't compete with the eReaders and mobiles out there today or the tablet devices of tomorrow.

It may support all the formats and Adobe ACS4 DRM but somehow we think you would be somewhat disappointed if you found this in your stocking this Christams alongside those other tasteless gifts relatives often give you.

So What's Wrong With $9.99?

When you are uncertain you often decide to hold back and watch what is happening around you. When you feel comfortable, you then step up to the plate and commit. The strategy makes sense in uncertain times and now appears to be one being adopted by the larger publishing houses towards the release of their e-book versions. However this raises many questions. Is this is the right time to hold back? What damage does it do to consumer confidence? What exactly are publisher uncertain about? How will they recognize when the time is right?

Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins have all declared their concerns about the ebook becoming a cheap channel and the emergence of the ‘Amazonian’ $9.99 eprice point. They have all declared a slowdown in the ebook programs and adopted a cautious approach to the launching of new titles onto the market. Other publishers are not declaring their hand, but also adopting a cautious approach.

The reality is that the power in the digital channel is clearly shifting away from the publisher and moving upstream to the author and downstream to the consumer. Retailers have always had power on aspects such as pricing and they should, as it is they who are closest to the consumer and understand the market.

So does this new caution make sense today? Will starving the market wrestle control back to the publishers, or will it further erode their position, drive sales elsewhere and hasten the wider adoption of a digital price point?

Today consumers being expected to spend a considerable amount of money of devices that offer little by themselves, are black and white in a coloured world, are heavily restricted by DRM (Digital Rights Management) and most importantly have a limited life expectancy. Why on earth should they pay more than the cost of a cheap paperback for a digital title? Why should they pay more for a copy that has more restricted rights than the book? Why should they pay a high ticket for the same exact content in a digital rendition? Consumers aren’t thick and treating them as such can backfire.

Remember the introduction of CD music in the UK and how many perceived the labels were milking the market with their high pricing? That fiasco contributed to the wide adoption of P2P and the emerging freeconomy. Remember that iTunes moment wasn't about just the service it was about changing the model to a fixed price per track.

Today all media sectors are having to face the reality of cheaper, if not free content. Consumers know that it costs less to produce, distribute and manage, so not passing those savings to them isn’t going to wash.

The genie isn’t going back into this bottle. If we look at Google Editions, the emerging Apple model and importantly the streaming and advertising subsidized model being adopted in other sectors, we recognise that business models will change.

Readers who buy the hardback, buy it because they want it now and they probably value the hardback. To buy the ebook they must first buy a device and secondly, they must want that title digitally. Assuming ebooks sold cheap are going to kill off more expensive physical renditions isn’t a reason not to release them, but a reason to make them different.

How will publishers promote the delayed ebook release? Will they spend serious money on it, or merely slip it out the back door and expect it to sell by itself? We are in a start-up market where holding your nerve and foot on the accelerator are important. Picking up the sticks, bat and ball and saying that you aren’t playing because it isn’t fair may appear a bit naïve to some.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Kirkus – The Value of Book Reviews in a Digital World?

The book trade sees yet another change, this time in the closure of the Kirkus Review. Many have not ever seen it, let alone read it and it is true to say that over time, its relevance and importance has diminished. Established in 1933 by Virginia Kirkus, the Review aimed to give the trade independent reviews and it produced some 5,000 reviews a year. These were subscribed to and read by book buyers and libraries and help them form a judgment on the suitability of new a title. Nielson Business Media , who own the Review, have announced the sale of its stable of titles and the death of Kirkus and its sister titles.

The world has moved on in many ways. We now have online access to new old and lost books in all shapes and sizes. We can view the jacket, read the marketing produced blurb, read more about the author or related titles, see a video about the book, hear the author on a podcast, read a sample of the book and also read readers views and recommendations and do all this at a click. We have newspaper reviews, which may be mere advertising dressed up as editorial but are freely available. We have sales charts dissecting every genre, price band and minutia of data. We have Google book search, Google Editions and the rest of Google world. The world now no longer craves the pithy, independent review but now seek instant, sound bite ad editorial and can get it online and for free. We had Oprah and Richard and Judy’s own celebrity review spin on a book club and TV couch reviews. We have the spawning of social book reading groups.

The problem was at the time Kirkus had a real asset, they didn’t understand its relevance to tomorrow and how the vast arsenal of information could be leveraged.

Unlike others, such as Muze in the music sector, they didn’t understand the changes that were happening, the impact of the Internet and the power of search, discovery and review. After all their management group have not a great track record of innovation, vision and often have been behind the curve playing catch up with others in the market.

The big question remains – what is the value of the review business? Is context a tangible asset in its own right or just a ‘door opener’ to content? My wife has a library of some 75,000 reviews which she has created to sell the thousands of titles she has stocked and sold in depth. The trick in her case is she knows her membership, she knows why the book will work and why she selected it and also she can communicate this succinctly within a review. She then importantly knows what worked and what didn’t and can continually hone the blurbs. Someone asked this week why she didn’t just download them from the publisher or the internet. Her answer was that she wanted words that sold books and that also reflected their content to the reader and that the books she was selling were often the ones that the publisher had failed get right in the first place. Given the miserly price once offered by Nielson for her review library, it’s hardly surprising they lost the plot.

The interesting question now is who will buy the Kirkus collection of reviews. Maybe a publisher could publish a collection of which reviews worked and which failed to spot a winner and slated a best seller. Maybe Google will just pick them up for chump change and add them to their book search. After all, if they and others are going to exploit those orphans and lost works there are probably many hidden pointers in the Review’s library. There is real value in these reviews but it’s not about historic record and archive. We are sure that someone will pick up the reviews at a bargain price and understand that the value in the right hands is neither about the brand, nor the legacy but often about being the only independent reference in town.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Moral Music Tales

One would suggest that the moral that ‘those who live in glass houses should not throw stones’ is both a sensible one and one to follow. Another would be 'to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'

Perhaps the members of the Canadian Recording Industry Association, which include Warner Music Canada, Sony BMG Music Canada, EMI Music Canada, and Universal Music Canada missed the moral or just choose to ignore it. According to an article in Ars Technica they , now face potentail damages of up to $6 billion for infringing their own artists copyright!

Michael Geist, University of Ottawa law professor claims that a change to the law in the 1980s created the "pending list." This essentially enables record companies to add tracks to a compilation album without waiting for permissions or making payment. The track simply was added to a list pending authorization and payment. The list got longer and now a ‘pending’ lawsuit has over 300,000 defendants who claim the record companies have been selling the music without permission payment.

The plaintiffs also claim the companies have shown "reckless, high-handed and arrogant conduct aggravated by their clandestine disregard for the copyright interests of the class members in contrast to their strict compliance enforcement policy and unremitting approach to consumers in the protection of their corporate copyright interests."

A clear glass house and moral dilemma. The recording companies acknowledge that the pending list reflects unpaid royalties "in excess of $50 million" and if the same penalties applied to file sharers were to be applied to this case, the damages could be as high as $6 billion.

The Deal Is Not Sealed and We are Handing Out Accolades?

It a sad day when those who have sharply divided the community and tried to brow beat all into a solution that was clearly wanting and then returned with amendment that shifted little is rewarded by the media before the deal is approved. Bertelsmann's Richard Sarnoff, one of the key architects behind the Google Book Settlement has been recognized as Publisher’s Weekly’s ‘Publishing Person of the Year for 2009’ specifically for his work in splitting and confusing the global publishing community.

So now not only does the fox get to control the chicken hut, but the guard gets recognized for letting him in. What a weird world we live in. What happens if the deal is not approved, does he have to hand it back? We think it a bit premature to make awards based on a race that is still not complete.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Hart to Hart on eBooks

Michael Hart is a man with both a mission and a proven ability to digitise literature. He is of course better know as the man behind, or in front of Project Guttenberg. In his latest article ‘Some Things I Like the Best and the Least About eBooks’ he not only states his values but much of those behind his project.

His likes about digital books is being able to use them as digital files, correcting errors, searching and retrieving text and being able to give them away free to others with little effort. It makes him sound like a pirate but we should remember he isn’t. He certainly believes in sharing but only those books which are free to share. He believes that the mobile world we are rapidly converging to offers much to those that share his views.

His dislikes may appear different to that expected. His most telling statement is that he provides content and cares little about the world of formats and form. He argues that the content is what matters not the format and that 99% is content and should not be dictated to by the 1%. We think it is an interesting point when one thinks about the format and DRM contraints of today.

Let’s face it, but when even the plainest of plain text eBooks is created, 99% of the work of re-creating it into another format is already done, all YOU have to do is change 1% and you can have it any other way you want it. On top of this, there are many format conversion programs out there that will do most of this for you.

We have to obviously put it into the perspective of Project Guttenberg and the fantastic often unsung work they have undertaken and achieved. They don’t have the deep pockets of the likes of Google but neither do they have the commercial and corporate vales. It’s interesting that at a time when Google vies to capture all in its settlement net for chump change and news and governments express fears of piracy, that Michael can bring such simple and focused values to the table and probably still get ignored by many.

Hard and Soft DRM: Part 2

Soft DRM

What we have in the physical world today is ‘Soft DRM’. We print a page in the front matter of the book which informs all of the copyright licence and who owns it etc. Whether it is a traditional notice or a creative commons licence, the statement is made and the rendition is clearly covered by it. It is ‘soft’ in that it is not enforced by technology, only law.

In a digital book we can also state the licence, but we also recognise the ease of the opportunity to copy, distribute and break the licence. So is there any options that can aid a softer approach to digital copyright enforcement that may reduce the risk of copyright infringement but be better than no DRM at all?

The obvious technology is one watermarking. Watermarking has already proved its worth in the audio and media markets which when used has not resulted mass infringement.

If we look at the two most popular digital ebook format we have different issues, opportunities and challenges. The Adobe ebook pdf format can be visibly watermarked on each page and also this can be protected from open removal. Each page can be uniquely stamped with a watermark which could identify the unique licence, transaction, and source. This can easily be achieved dynamically at point of download and although not unbreakable is a clear deterrent.

However, the epub format is not so secure as it is a mere container which can easily be opened and the watermark removed. This doesn’t mean that the use of unique visible watermarks will not work just that they are very easy to remove. We can however add an additional invisible watermark which is harder to detect and remove and may prove equally as effective. The benefit of a watermark is that it clearly can relate back to a pacific manifestation.

Soft DRM isn’t about creating a foolproof, pirate proof solution but about stating copyright ownership and the licence position. We believe that they will deter all but those hell bent on infringement and it is questionable what will deter these pirates.

An interesting twist is that we are increasingly being asked by European publishers for soft DRM and by UK and US publishers for hard DRM. We started to wonder why? Many Europeans stated that it was probably because they were behind the US and UK markets and lacked the sophistication and issues faced by other markets. However we believe that Europeans were less interested in the eink readers and more aware of online and mobile opportunities. They appear to be more focused on digitising their own indigenous market than merely opening the flood gates to a US invasion. The US and UK markets on the other hand are blindly obsessed with the eink gadgetry and chasing digital rabbits.

So the question of DRM is more about why, than technology for technology sake and blindly playing ‘follow my leader’. Music and audio have clearly moved but books appear transfixed in the headlights and glare of DRM and piracy.

Herding Cats can be Impossible

Hearst has announced ‘Skiff’ and now finds itself either at worst, working against the news consortium being led by Time Inc’s John Squires which we covered last month, or at best , imposing the adoption of Skiff on the new news consortium. It shows yet again, that sometimes working in cross industry collaberation can be like herding cats. The consortium includes Time Inc., Conde Nast and Meredith.

Skiff, will deliver digital magazine and newspaper content to a number of platforms using Sprint's 3G network and claims to preserve newspaper and magazine layouts via its "high‐resolution graphics, rich typography and dynamic updates." The Skiff platform is not just about technology but also a total ecommerce shop window, ad revenue generator and a one stop shop solution.

Skiff is claimed to be also working with the semiconductor company Marvell to create a "system on a chip" for e-reading. This would then be available to be integrated into a range of devices. Marvell's Armada 166e chip will power the EnTourage Systems Edge reader/netbook, be in the dual-screen Spring Design Alex e-reader, and also the long overdue Plastic Logic device.

Hearst was an early investor in E-Ink and now hopes to establish a uniform platform that will appeal to other publishers for digital delivery to all other devices such as mobiles, netbooks, PCs etc. Skiff has spared no expense in collecting an impressive set of executives which include vets from Sony’s Digital Reader launch, Intel, Microsoft and Apple. There again SpiralFrog had a great board but didn’t deliver.

Apple and Friends Enter Into The Christmas Spirit

On the twelfth day of Christmas Apple could have given you, no a single partridge, pear tree, leaping lord or gold ring but twelve tracks for free. One, for each and every day of Christmas.

We should not mock and deride Apple for showing their generosity and Christmas spirit. So for just your email address, you can now sign up to receive 12 free downloads over Christmas. The deal will run from December 26th, till January 6th (or the ‘12 days of Christmas’). Exactly what you get each day is up to Apple. It just like Christmas, you have little say in what you receive , but that’s the point isn’t it? Instead of an unwanted jumper, or a pair of woolly socks, you could get that band you hate most, or Lily Allen. However, the company claims that the list will be populated by “some of the biggest star performers on iTunes”, so Lily may not make the cut but there again The Ting Tings may!

Daily updates will be posted on the iTunes (UK) Facebook page and each download will be available for just 24 hours. The ‘friends ‘ who are sponsoring the event are; The Times, Capital FM, Heart Radio, Ticketmaster and O2.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hard and Soft DRM: Part 1

Hard DRM

Digital Rights Management (DRM) was created to protect the copyright licence from being abused. It was perceived that it was easier to copy a digital rendition than a physical one and therefore effectively locking it from being digitally copied made sense. So Hard DRM was born.

In reality,music is easy to rip and books can now be easily scanned and once digital both are easy to distribute.

Hard denotes that the rights are rigidity enforced by encryption. Hard DRM restricts physical access and usage of the file by either software or firmware and it is invisible and inaccessible to all but the licenser.

We have to ask is whether it has worked? It clearly will never stop the pirates who will revert to physical source, or merely break the code. It is effective at often restricting ordinary uses from making copies and distributing them to their friends, but in doing so, it may inadvertently restrict them in their own use and also limit the life expectancy of their purchase. There is nothing more frustrating than finding the file can’t be copied, or be read on the device you want to use it on, or that you have exceeded the number of copies deemed fair, or the people you bought it from no longer exist and the licence is in fact now void.

Today we only really have one effective DRM for books – Adobe’s ACS4, which supports both PDF and epub ebooks. Most of the eInk ereaders now support ACS4, most of the major distributors and retailers use it and it will soon be supported on mobiles. Amazon stands alone with its own proprietary DRM, Google doesn’t need it as they are online and what others exist are not worth chasing. Interoperability is the key and Adobe quickly offered that and gained the high ground. The question is whether this is the real answer or a mere stop gap?

We will have issues over time as the encrypted licence is not generic to all servers but locked to that which issued it. Therefore as retailers change suppliers and suppliers go out of business there will be issues. However some will say that that problem doesn’t exist today, so let’s not worry the consumer, retailer or anyone else and assume that will be fixed tomorrow.

Does DRM deter or promote sales? Do consumers care about DRM, hate it, or are they ambivalent towards it? The answer is varies according to who you talk to and often their position within the food chain.

To be honest we love it as a supplier and hate it as a consumer.

A Story in a Sound Bite

Last night we participated in the most global broadcast of Litpoia After Dark. Its 98th show and one which brought together panellist from Cathy Murphy in Norway, Donna Ballman in Florida, Dave Bartram in the west country of England, Peter Cox in London and ourselves in Pune, India.

There was an interesting discussion prompted by Dave Bartram who on watching this clip of a car being hit by a wrecking ball in the Daily Telegraph, questioned whether we were being de-sensitized and losing our ability to empathize with others. Whether we start to get comfortable with real suffering, pain, and even death as a part of the entertainment spectrum we are beginning to lose some essential part of our humanity.

He questioned whether writing has been going the same way and whether authors are forced to push the same boundaries to find ways to stay ahead of their competitors.

The boundaries have always been pushed by artists, writers, movie makers, musicians. It is part of the evolution of expression. The challenge today is whether we are now living in the 140 character, 2 minute world of the snippet, the sound bite world of politics, the spectre of instant gratification and the power of channel hopping choice? Do we now lack the understanding of the contextual wrap that gives us the background and greater understanding? Do we jump from the narrative to the one liner?

It is interesting that technology is giving the increased capacity to store and retrieve but at the same time the greater power to sample and skip the detail. It’s like a multiple choice world where we know the question and just want to skip to choose ‘a’, ‘b’, or ‘c’.

Will writing shrink back from the economically defined 250 pages to the 10 page short story, or will it go further and live in the 140 character world of tweets. Extremes give us a wake up call and this is certainly one to watch as the YouTube world tries to now accommodate longer film and TV footage. Will their audience change and absorb, or will they click and go for the instant gratification?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Apple on Demand?

Apple the pioneer of the digital music download is reported by Bloomberg to be in talks to acquire online music-streaming service Lala. Why would someone so dominant with their iTunes offer want Lala and does it indicate a potential shift in how music is consumed?

The Lala service has over 8 million tracks and enables you to listen to any track or album for free but only once. After that you can buy the track for a 10 cents and can access it at any time at your convenience. So instead of buying it and owning it you effectively rent it perpetuity. Obviously the 10 cents add up and its easy to see the business model being successful if consumers accept the change of ownership to rental subscription. The model differs to that of others such as Spotify who charge by the month for their premium service and enable you to access any track at any time and build your own playlists.

Both Lala and Spotify also allow you to buy a download.

So is the ‘world’s most popular online media store’ broadening its range of offer and realising that the online streaming on demand model has a broad appeal? Are they merely saving some money by buying the technology and its members and folding them into a broader and deeper iTunes one?

What is clear to us is that the world of the cloud computing and online media on demand service is becoming real. This changes how we store, service and consume media and importantly changes the economic models that the consumer has long been educated to live with. Gone is the physical ownership and my library is on my shelf model and in comes the ‘click and get it’ on demand at anytime in any place one. There are potential pitfalls to ownership – ask anyone with betamax, VHS, 8 track, audio cassettes etc. There are pitfalls to the on demand world which is totally reliant on the economic sustainability of the service. Therefore the hybrid mixed model would appear to offer the best of both worlds today and a platform for radical change tomorrow.

The obvious question is that of books and whether the same changes will appear. The answer is a simple yes and that they are already happening. The impact is both significant and as yet little thought through but the opportunity is clear and players such as Google are clearly seeing it today. The one saviour is that any streaming service could offer up any media. This means that there will be some battles ahead but that there is no reason why the likes of iTunes or Spotify or Google Editions can’t be one stop media on demand services.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Views on Futurebook Pricing

Can you remember when pricing was simple? The jacket stated the price and everyone understood what it was and the margin available. Unfortunately there were no price points so prices varied wildly and the ability of retailers to differentiate was suppressed by the NDA (Net Book Agreement). In our opinion, it was right to abolish the NBA, but unfortunately we believe its demise was badly handled.

When you release latent pressure it often explodes and becomes unpredictable in its outcome. This problem is exasperated when those who are responsible for managing it have little experience on which to draw on. As a result we often find it becomes a learning experience often with some hard lessons. The NDA released a wave of spiralling ‘discount offers’ which again took us overnight from price control to free fall. The opportunity to tie in other reforms such as firm sale and returns was sadly lost and therefore some would say that it was like negotiating the postal workers pay rise without tackling the issues of working practice.

We then had the calls for prices to be removed of jackets as this was seen to enforce the trading terms and disadvantage retailers from selling at any price. Some even thought they could raise the price!

We then had deep discount wars where some said publishers merely raised the price to compensate for the deeper discount given. This was coupled with new format sizes aimed at raising the price. Now we have Alexander Ross at the Bookseller's Futurebook conference stating that the RRP (Recommended Retail Price) is a stick used by retailers to beat publishers and should be abolished.

Some may say that many are merely playing to their audience and that the economics of publishing and the trade are only every discussed in narrow perspectives. The truth is that any change has a consequence and all too often these are not thought out. It is inappropriate and somewhat naïve to align the pricing issues in books to music or other media as these have long had clearer KPPs (known price points) and many different value chain issues that need to be taken into account. To consumers books are often a price guessing game where the only price you can be sure off is the price you pay. The RRP often is viewed with much sceptisim and could be said to be based on cost plus margin plus discount – in other words every way but loose. The discounting is now clearly mixing front, back and bargain to the point where the inbuilt balance and mechanisms start to fail.

Then we have digital pricing and the opportunity waiting to learn some more lessons the hard way. We have already seen the emergence of a potential price point and put your selves in the shoes of the consumer - what do you do when you know ebooks cost $10 and are presented with ones at $20? If we start to seperate digital from physical pricing we need to be very wary of the consequences. Again how does a consumer think when asked to pay $10 for and ebook and $26 for the physical book? Same content, presented the same way as text - only consumed differently.

Pricing has consequences; on relationships within channels and with authors, trading terms, consumer perceptions and much more. We once had a relatively simple structure, but we now have a complex one. There are now many new players who have both deep pockets and significant clout. The power shift is moving downstream from a publisher centric to a consumer centric market. Retail power is a consequence and is real today and can’t be put back on the box by removing RRP.