Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Come on Down the Price is Right

The ebook reader price war is hotting up with the big four Amazon (Kindle), Barnes and Noble (Nook), Borders (Kobo), Sony (lost over in Europe) all trying to out manoeuvre each other. Prices have started to tumble and others who live on the fringe also have to respond to stay in the races.

The $99 ticket has already been reached by Aluratek, but the impact of a sub $100 ticket will not matter until one of the majors is brave enough to take that step. There are plenty of lemmings about to jump over the cliff and one of the vast array of offers from ‘lookie likies’ and that much plugged but yet to deliver new Copia range is bound have one under the $100, (that is we notice).

The question is who has the bottle and can they shift the volume and content sales to compensate. We all know who has the ability to do it but maybe a crowded market where they still get the majority of the content sales is better than going head to head with Apple today.

India: Control versus Commerce, Terror versus Traffic

It makes us wonder if India really wants to be a digital powerhouse. First the bring back tax on IT which could add a hefty 25% on all that is digital, then it turned its focus on Blackberry and now is demanding "access to everything". They want "any company with a telecoms network should be accessible". It could be Google or Skype next and you can’t rule out government access to any virtual private networks.

Increased fears of terrorism is one thing, but chopping the legs from under the industry that make its growth today, is another.

Blackberry has been given 60 days to come up with a way to open up its data to Indian law enforcement authorities and is reported to be setting up a server in India as part of the solution. Some cynics would suggest the 60 delay is so not to upset the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October in a country that has 1.1 million customers.

Its goingto be interesting to see who follows the Indian lead and whether the new measures and tax issues simply move the business further offshore.

The Digital Rights of Man

No one can confidently predict what the market will look like 10 years, let alone 20 years from now. We may debate many issues such as pricing, channels, formats devices but these are only part of the publishing revolution that is taking place today. Publishing is now digital publishing and with it everything from the author to the reader is being challenged. At the core of all this publishing change is an intellectual property business based on trading of rights.

Rights have long fallen into three areas; Primary rights which are associated with the work in a printed or primary form, Secondary rights such as translation, foreign, audio, print on demand, permissions, etc. which are extensions of the primary right traded and Usage and access rights which tended to be uniform and unimportant until we went digital. Some have suggested that a publishing rule was to acquire as much rights as possible and used as needed.

It is interesting to look back at prosperous 18th century booksellers such as Robert Dodsley were all large copyright owners we quote from, The Life of Robert Dodsley, “… for the real money lay in ownership of copyrights, not in the retailing… booksellers were the entrepreneurs who purchased rights from authors, and, binding to others, merchandised and finished the product through advertisement and trade distribution.”

In today’s digital world we are now starting to question what and how rights are acquired, managed and traded.

Some would argue that ebook are not different to physical books and are a primary right. They see content and ignore rights. Others would point out that the rights traded to the consumer, channels and terms are significantly different and that the consumer experiences a clear reduction in rights with an ebook and therefore ebooks are different. Some would suggest that print on demand is just another primary right, but again the economic model and supply is different and the rights implications are significantly different. Some suggest that there are no rights reversals in the digital and print on demand worlds and as a result, the authors becomes tethered to a publisher for life plus 70 years.

The Google Book Settlement was a rights ‘land grab’ for the orphan works and their unfair exploitation. The recent Random House / Wylie spat over ebook rights may have been quietly been sorted behind closed doors but we see this as just the tip of the iceberg. The issues are not just about primary versus secondary rights and orphans but also about access and usage and importantly converting rights to fair royalties and reward for all.

A logical way forward would be to make rights contracted on a fixed term licence and that term is only extended by mutual consent. Some would suggest that to tether an author into a fixed relationship for life, based on the availability of a print on demand copy or an ebook is well outside of the spirit that many contracts were entered into and may be seen as a clear restriction of future trade.

However, we face a marketplace where there are no standard contracts and way forward and where some would suggest that there is in fact as many contract variances as authors, publishers and even works. Moving forward it maybe possible to adopt a fairer term contract, but we still have the issue of what is primary and secondary and whether the two can be separated. Looking back we have a challenge with interpretation of contracts and potential legal challenges. We believe it is still amazing that in the 21st century we still do not have a rights clearing house, standard contract template, or authoritative source of rights information.

The big question is who will step forward and lead the way and defend the rights of the digital man?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

eTextbooks Are Only Part of the eLearning

Textbooks are clearly becoming a digital battleground and it is understandable that the pressure to go digital is being driven and is effecting everyone from the creator to learner.

The learner now wants the convenience of digital and search, annotate, print, bookmark, copy and link to what they need and at a price they believe is right to them. They don’t necessarily want to buy a tome which is dead once they finish or an ebook they can’t sell or pass on after the course is finished. The teacher now wants to create customised content that is relevant to their students. They want aligned teachers notes and access to additional materials to help on certain courses. They want to be able to inspect and adopt appropriate titles that provide current information. The institutions want to ensure value for all and to join the dots across their life-cycle to ensure all get the appropriate material at the appropriate time and price. The bookstore wants to integrate the physical and digital student’s needs into a single market offer.

We could go onto the librarian, the examination board and assessors, the buying authorities, publishers, the author and etc

So how do we create the appropriate ecosystem to satisfy these needs and is it one or a number of environments that are transparently linked?



At the University of Notre Dame they are taking digital learning one step further and doing a study of eReaders. The working group of students are from a broad array of colleges and departments and are evaluating the ‘creation, distribution, consumption and usefulness of electronic course materials in an academic setting’.

Alternatively, Matt MacInnis, whoo an ex Apple man, has started his Inkling venture and taking individual titles and sexing them up to fully exploit the iPad features. So students have to buy an iPad, a laptop, a smartphone and then fork out $70 a book or $3 a chapter. Somehow it is hardly education for the masses today.

One the other hand we still have today's textbook and the likes of Follet, Campusbookrentals.com Barnes and Noble and others believe that they can reduce the cost to students by some 50% through a rental programme. They allow the student to do all those things they want to do, highlight, annotate, bookmark as long as they bring the book back in reasonable shape that's the end of the transaction. Barnes & Noble who offer their rental service to about 300 colleges and universities across the US are now including eTextbooks which can be read through free e-Reader programs.

Nice idea but students can also buy it today and sell it at the end of the year themselves. There are now many variations on this rental model. However it has to compete with the used textbooks marketplace which has always been a strong and a way in which students can cut the cost of their learning.

There are others who wish to cut out the middleman and sell direct such as Coursemart, a JV consortia of the five higher-education publishers with has some 14,000 college e-textbooks on its iPad platform. Then there is print on demand (POD) and the use of the campus stores as POD hub. Finally,there is Amazon, who believe that they already have a large slice of the new and used and ebook, student market.

The challenge would appear to be not etextbooks but to meet the demand for an holistic model that is inclusive and not exclusive and that joins the dots and connect of teaching, learning, research, engagement, service and personal activities. Today however, digital and physical need to coexist and are not mutually exclusive.

Monday, August 23, 2010

UK Going Mobile OnDemand

Figures released by UK industry watchdog Ofcom reveal in its report, Communications Market 2010, that a staggering 23% of the UK perform their online activities from a mobile device. They also claim that social networking is the most popular online activity and is increasingly going mobile in its use.

So as browsers in smartphones improve and tablets start to be accepted as the new device we now enter into a new phase of technology where we are continually connected 24x7 not just via the phone and email but socially and have whatever media on demand.

The question is how we balance our working needs and our private needs and whether social chat overtakes email and much more. Books may appear sexy today as ebooks but they are increasingly going to have to compete with much more media on the move. We assume that a book is a good read whilst commuting on a train but can it compete with video, TV, gaming and music on demand on the move?

Finally, how long before we ditch the mobile and get chipped? Where it takes the time to download to ‘read ‘ the book, where we interact in true real time with no keyboard or touch screen but move to the world of Pranav Mistry?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Its Raining More eReaders

Just when you though it was safe to go out and the number of ebook readers was reducing we face a new bombardment by an array of new devises all hoping to catch the eye and sales.

Pocketbook

Pocketbook International announce not one but five new eReaders manufactured by Foxconn. The new pretenders are; PocketBook Pro 602, Pro 902, Pro 603, Pro 903 and the IQ. They already have a 301, 302 and 360 models! The devices will be released at IFA in September in Berlin.

The Pro 602 is a 6” screen, the Pro 902 a 10” screen with the Pro 603 and Pro 903 being premium versions with touchscreen, 3G connectivity and run Linux. The PocketBook IQ has a TFT colour 7” touchscreen display and is aimed at multimedia consumption with wifi and Bluetooth and runs on Android 2.0.

Pandigital

Pandigital’s has a new Android eReader with a 7-inch TFT LCD touch screen, a display resolution of 800 x 600 pixels, ARM processor, 2GB memory with SD slot, built-in Wi-Fi, web browser, a mini-USB port and has a stylus and virtual keyboard. The eReader supports PDF & EPUB e-book formats and is integrated Barnes & Noble eBookstore, but has a $175 high ticket.

Qualcomm

The new Mirasol display is being widely shown at the trade shows but now has to be adopted by the manufacturers and step up in volume production. The interesting aspect is that Qualcomm could offer the display, the app processor, and connectivity on one chip. Certainly one to watch.

Aluratek



News that Aluratek Libre eBook Reader Pro has dropped in price below the magic $100 shows that these 'lookie likie' eink readers are in for a tough time as they go to commodity pricing.The 5"reader which is widely available in the US dropped in price from its previous $169 to $99 at the Newegg retail store. This one looks clunky and needs to be priced even lower to attract any attention.

India Has its Own eBook Reader



EC Media has launched "Wink", which they claim as "India's first e-book reader".

We have to recognise Indian is not only the powerhouse of digital publishing today and itself is starting to embrace its output. We may think of India as third world but in many ways it is now casting that aside and generating wealth which EC Media is trying to capture through the Wink which can be picked up from a local Croma, a major Indian electronics retail chain. They claim over 200,000 titles as well as newspapers, magazines and journals. The Wink is specially designed for the Indians as it can support content in more than 15 Indian languages and They claim that they will soon support all Indian languages on the Wink. Books will generally sell for 50 to 75% of the cost of a paperback.

The Wink XTS model will have a 6” eInk screen, 2GB memory and has an SD expansion card slot, a miniUSB port lie, has a QWERTY keyboard and supports MP3. The XTS model on display supports Wi-Fi and will cost some $230, while the X3G model supports Wi-Fi and 3G and will cost some $320.

The point is that both China, where most ebooks are made and India where the west does its digitisation, have the ability to do it themselves. Maybe we should look at the history other electronics and manufacturing industries, such as cars and where the power now lies. Books may not be different.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

eReader From The Drugstore

This week we were asked why the bookstores were being effectively bypassed digitally and what we thought about slumbering giants like Sony. One of our answers was that we thought that ebook readers need to be sold in electrical stores, supermarkets and be available through stores in general. If they remain for sale over the Internet and through chains and a few stores then the result is obvious and is clearly happening today.



Step up US drugstore CVS who is getting its very own $100 smartbook and $180 e-reader. The devices aren’t the best of technology but are available from what is your neighbourhood drugstore. The Sylvania netbook runs on Windows CE and the LookBook e-reader has a 7”, 512MB of storage space, a full keyboard and will have access to Kobo's e-book store, but doesn’t have eInk but a colour LCD screen. It is pre loaded with the usual 150 free ebooks. So CVS may be tempted to throw one in their basket along with the toiletries and medicine.

We think this particular offer is not realistically priced to walk off the shelf just yet.

Jisui: Digital Book DIY



Who has not copied music and films for personal use? We can all remember taping radio music, cutting cassettes off vinyl, copying CDs and downloading files from the likes of Kazaa. We all tape TV or now simply watch it on demand. We have all updated our media libraries as we migrate to new technology. So what is different about taking a book and scanning it to create your own digital file?

"Jisui," ("cooking one's own meals"), is a new digital book community in Japan which is creating its own digital copies of books. The process is no different to what many publishers do with their back list titles and involves scanning pages of a book through a scanner. The technology has been around for years, so what has changed and why would you break a book to just create a digital copy?

In June, Internet research company Macromill Inc. surveyed 300 iPad owners in Japan and found that 20% had digitized their own books and a further 30% were interested in doing so. The reasons given by the respondents were that, digital versions of the books were not available and that it was easier to read the digital versions of books than paper books whose pages had faded. The numbers surveyed may appear small but we still have to ask what has changed and why do these people feel the urge to perform digital DIY?

First they now have an ereader they like in the iPad and we must remember that the survey was focused on iPad owners. Secondly if there is a dearth of digital content people will always create it themselves. Thirdly the scanning technology has improved and has become cheaper. Forth creating an image file such as PDF from a scan is simple.

The combination of these factors has resulted in an increase in sales of related products. PFU, which is part of the Fujitsu Group, said its June sales of duplex scanners were double that of May. It is claimed that Amazon also saw orders of scanners and paper cutters double from April to June. The interest has even resulted in major electronics retailer Yodobashi Camera setting up an in-store demonstration area to show customers how to digitise books. Another company Jissen, even offers a service to cut books into loose pages for 110 yen per copy and claim to now cut between 1,000 and 1,500 books a day.

Digitization of books by the purchaser for "personal use" is permitted under Japanese copyright law as long as the individual does the reproduction themselves.

Some would suggest that copyright law is out of step with current times. Others that the practise is OK but only if it is ‘for personal use’ The professional pirate has had the capability to do this for years and can even convert captured text into any format and re typeset it for print. Until now digitisation was presumed too expensive for individuals and they didn’t have devices that made digitisation worth the effort. It is not the professional pirate that is the new threat but the individual.

"Jisui" may be confined in the main to Japan today, but it easy to see communities created to follow its example and the obvious outcome will be the sharing of files.

Fighting file sharing on a service is one thing but is often struggling under the reactive take down notices and first finding the content. Fighting copying and sharing content at the local community and friend level is completely different. As the publishing world locks up its digital files behind DRM encryption it be could merely encouraging the individual to bypass that source and go the original book and scan it. After all that is what happening with music until sense prevailed and MP3 was widely accepted.

We may think this is small and insignificant and that we should to focus on locking up the digital files whilst we also continue to fight low prices and make it expensive in the mind of the consumer. We perhaps need to be careful what we wish for and instead consider making ebooks really cheap, available and DRM free. Soft DRM, digital watermarking, makes far more sense than the current clunky hard DRM. But we appear to be hell bent on encouraging consumers to consider a DIY future.

A group of students only need a scanner and one textbook.

source http://mainichi.jp/universalon/clipping/news/20100820dde001040002000c.html

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Digital is not a Binary Decsion

This month we have had mass market US romance publisher Dorchester Publishing turning its back on traditional print publishing and refocusing on a pure e-book/print-on-demand model. Now we read that Rice University will close its high-profile experiment in digital university-press publishing in the same month.

We respect that these are different publishing sectors and the genre and consumer is very different but as we witness one taking bold digital only steps we see the other shut up its digital only press. What does this tell us about the all or nothing digital route? Will it work or is it doomed to fail? Do consumers see content in terms of black and white decisions? Will some sectors succeed where other fail? Is thi a brave time to make binary decisions which may appear safer in the coming years?

Rice University Press closed it physical doors in 1996 and was reborn as digital only in 2006. They now claim that the digital has proven too expensive to sustain. It was hoped that the press might sustain itself largely on revenues from print-on-demand book sales. The press strategy was supported heavily by Connexions, the university's online, open-source environment for creating and publishing scholarly content, as its e-publishing platform. Readers will continue to be able to purchase published bound books through the press's print-on-demand partner.

Both Rice and Dorchester are relatively small operations so some would say the Rice’s failure doesn't condemn digitally based university-press publishing merely that it didn’t work for Rice. Dorchester success or failure likewise doesn’t say that the digital only path is righ ot wrong merely offers lessons to others.

On reflection we would suggest that digital isn’t a binary decision and that publishers across all sectors and sixes need to take baby steps, measure, review and realign. Bold steps may work but the logic is that the consumer today is eclectic in what the read and how the read it. Today is not the time to place the business bet of a single horse to win.

Intel Buy McFee


A good friend was recently sitting down in California with the guys at Intel advising them on the future. He watched with interest how they communicated openly on their iPhones within the room. He was asked what he thought about the future of Intel. He simply asked them what chip was in their mobiles and the penny sank in that they were missing the mobile market.

We are not saying he influenced today’s news that Intel, the world's biggest chip maker, has agreed to buy the security technology firm, McAfee for $7.68bn cash, but it is interesting to note.

McAfee, are a leading security technology firm and would enable Intel to build security features into its microprocessors which go into products such as laptops and phones. This in turn could differentiate them in the market. As the internet becomes even more pervasive the associated security risk grow. Intel also probably recognises that the laptop and desktop market is migrating to mobile devices and with it the security risk increase and get more complex.

Not bad if you have a spare $7.68bn in cash.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Newspapers and Paywalls

We wrote only this week about the poor figure The Times had since their paywall went up and now sister papers, the Sun and The News of The World, appear to be moving towards implementing their own paywall policy in October. Some would say why not and better to get the cash in the door than give it away free. Others would point to the poor figures from the Times paywall and ask, is it wise.com?

The material in the Sun and The News of The World isn’t highbrow or necessarily intellectually stimulating and therefore it could be said that advertising would be a better route to get revenues. However, if readership numbers online tumble, the adveristing will surely follow in the same direction.

Some believe that the video and celeb trash stories will still generate readership and after all the Sun and The News of The World have lived on the back of this for ever.

It appears the Murdoch is determined to erect his paywall.

Meanwhile the New York Times still is to implement its promised paywall but it apparently testing a paywall on the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, MA. The paper hides certain local content behind the paywall and gives the rest away. The theory obviously is that local content is valuable. Interesting thought in today's internet world.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Times Readership Drops With Paywall

Rupert Muroch made a big statement and said that The Times, had to move to a paid-content online subscription system and made the transition. We now read the figure for July from ComScore which shows a 1.2 million user drop for May’s 2.79 million-strong readership, to 1.61 million. More disturbing is the drop in the visitors' average time on the site from 7.6 minutes in May to 4 minutes in July.

News Corp head Rupert Murdoch is quoted "With our paywall around the Times, we have had an encouraging number of people subscribing at a good price,"

However, trends in July impacted the free Telegraph and Guardian who both recording losses of online readership whilst The Mail Online and The Independent, strengthened to 9 million and 3.54 million unique visitors, respectively.

So who is right and who is wrong and who cares? The one thing that is certain is the Murdoch will not admit he was wrong easily . It’s said that obne swallow doesn’t make a summer and it will take more then one readership drop to herald Winter.

Peeling an Apple iPod Touch

So you have an iPod Touch and wish it was an iPhone? Now you can with a new device called the Apple Peel 520.



The Peel is a shell that fits around the iPod Touch and contains a battery, dock connector and SIM card that allows voice calls. Users will have to ‘break’ the iPod software to install special software to enable a text messaging function, and to allow the device to properly work with the iPod Touch.

The device doesn’t come from Apple but from Yosion Technology in China and was invented by a student who says he did it, "because I love the iPhone, but it's too expensive in China." The iPhone in China costs between $588 - $740, the iPod Touch some $,235 and the Apple Peel sells for $57.



The Chinese market has problems already with cheaper and greater functional iPhones being smuggled in from Hong Kong and the West. Now these are being sold Taobao.com, a popular Chinese e-commerce site.

So we now can peel an Apple

Blackberry and that Blackhole


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the first country to propose a block on the Blackberry device and they were followed by Lebanon, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Last month it was Saudi Arabia that held the gun to RIM’s (Blackberry) head and the service was first cut and then was brought back again. Now India has given RIM a deadline of 31 August to give the government access to all of its services or face being shut down.

"RIM maintains, ‘a consistent global standard for lawful access requirements that does not include special deals for specific countries.’ They believe that their devices and network is being unfairly singled out by foreign governments out to score political points. However the row is not going away and is the latest in a long running dispute between RIM and international governments.

With over one million Blackberry users in India and its position as an emerging economic powerhouse, this may be one fight RIM would want to avoid. What is clear is that in the current climate of global terrorist threats, many governments may now jump on the bandwagon. The issue is whether RIM can be seen to be placating these government demands whilst still continuing to hold to its promise of confidentiality to its customers.

Maybe it’s a case of dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Oracle Challenges Google's Android

Last week Oracle launched a legal suit against Google in the federal court in San Francisco, which accuses Google of patent and copyright infringement over the inclusion of parts of Oracle’s Java software in its Android smartphone operating system. Android, is available free of charge, has been adopted by many mobile handset makers such as Motorola, Samsung and HTC and is seen by many as the real threat to Appleworld.

In a press statement, Oracle spokeswoman Karen Tillman said: "In developing Android, Google knowingly, directly and repeatedly infringed Oracle's Java-related intellectual property."This lawsuit seeks appropriate remedies for their infringement."

Part of Oracle's complaint focuses on a piece of software included within the Android operating system called Dalvik. It is a virtual machine which is used to run some applications on Android devices. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt previously led the team that developed Java at Sun Microsystems as their chief technology officer.

The more interesting aspect of the whole show is that many regarded Java as open software and what is clear is that Oracle may not entirely share that view.

So will it end up in a licensing agreement and Android having to be charged for or will the case just drag on for ever?

Google's Android faces other challenges with Apple having filed a suit against the phone maker HTC in March. It claims that HTC violated 20 Apple patents related to touch and gesture features, including finger-swipe unlocking mechanisms, power conservation, touch-screen scrolling, and accelerometer capabilities.

What will be the impact on manufacturuers and will they jump ship and look for a safer ride with Windows?

New Sony Reader and other EInk Runners

Sony
It appears to be the worst kept secret that Sony is about to launch next month a new ereader, some say two. We have seen the signs coming with they lowering of the price of their existing readers through ‘special deals’ and the fact that their current offer looks as exciting as an old desktop PC in the tablet mobile world.

So what do we expect and will it make a difference and reverse what is clearly an also ran offer? Lighter, improved page turns and contrast, increase memory and maybe free 3G! We think its too early to see what their Android position is following their recent recruitment campaign.

The challenge for Sony is breaking into the big league and getting wide adoption as a viable alternative to Amazon, Apple and Google. BBeb is certainly past its sell by date and the Sony store is bereft of content and looks unappealing. Price could be a trump card given they have the corporate backing but tin alone isn’t the answer and they have failed so far to build a real content base and attraction. The devices as they stand aren’t going to hack it in the educational market. Some would suggest that Sony’s biggest problem is that it has an inbuilt corporate aversion to risk.

Expect it next month.

Notion Ink
On the other hand we wait with some interest for Notion Ink’s Adam tablet with its dual eInk-and-LCD display. The latest news is not good on the price which is reported to be $498 but its dual-mode display, with Wi-Fi, GPS, optional 3G, a camera that rotates 185 degrees, and its own app store sound interesting. It is expected to ship later this year, but will that be too late, or just right and will it have the mass appeal to make its mark in a crowded market.

Qualcomm
There is still much interest in the technology promised by mirsol which uses display technology that provides colour e-ink outside the WINK Corporation. The technology is called interferometric modulator display and similar to LCD uses RGB subpixels to generate colours. However it requires far less energy and is reflective, allowing for superior sunlight visibility whilst giving long availability and with refresh rates that are fast enough for video.

Kogan
Meanwhile down under Kogan Technologies has launched a 6-inch eBook ‘lookie likie’ reader into the Australian market at a price of just AUD$189. It has all the usual eInk features and wedge of give away public domain books that sit on the virtual unread shelf and is compatible with Adobe ACS4 DRM. We struggled to remember which reader it looked like but that hardly surprising with logos transferring faster than premiership footballers swop shirts and clubs!

Huawei
China looks to the West with the release of its first eReader, the Huawei T62W. Yet another lookie like eInk reader with a 6″ touch screen, WiFi, 3G connectivity, Bluetooth, and a microSDHC slot.

So Why Did You Buy That iPad?


Research in the UK by Cooper Murphy Webb, on 1,000 consumers who own an iPad, claims that some 41% said the device was their ‘preferred method of reading books’ and playing games. However, as with all claims, one has to note that some 36% still preferred paper.

Interestingly, 5% those questioned, ‘always’ left home with their iPads, whereas 35 per cent said that they ‘rarely’ took the device out with them. The laptop beat the iPad as the ‘primary entertainment device’ 33% to 24% and for browsing 55% still preferred the laptop to the iPad 38%.

Remember these were people who had bought an iPad. So is the iPad a status gadget and a toy, or a real cultural changer?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Message to Apple - iTV is iTV is iTV


Today we see many battles over brands.

Apple the company whose brand has transformed mobile with their iRange yet was born out of a confision over Apple and the Beatles brand now appear to be sleepwalking into iTV and a clear passing confusion with the UK broadcaster ITV (Independent TV).

As Apple sets its sights on replaying its effort, with plans to upgrade and relaunch its Apple TV box set-top device which will be "iTV". If it happens and the brand is ‘iTV’ then it will clearly demonstrate its total disregard for anything other than its own ego. "iTV has a very strong brand, and a highly valued IP," Mike Large, acting Communications Director told Pocket-Lint. He went on to say that licensing the name, another option for the company if Apple decides to change the Apple TV's name to iTV, wouldn't be acceptable because it could "muddy the waters."

Apple TV replay depends heavily its commitment to build an ecosystem around it. Steve Jobs has referred to the company's work on Apple TV as "a hobby." Apple envisions iTV now becoming a cheap alternative to existing set-top boxes and video game consoles which is connected to the TV. The device will stream video content from the iTunes store and importantly run on the same operating system as the iPad and iPhone. This will obviously open up the opportunity for some of the applications to be ported to the set-top box.

Perhaps Jobs walks on water and has an ego but we hope that at least he respects brands and undertstands what ‘passing off’ laws are about.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sony Asks: Do You Know the Way To San Jose?


We thought a recruitment ad placed by Sony on LinkedIn last month raises a few questions as to where the sleeping giant is going next.

Senior Staff Engineer (Android) – Digital Reader Business Division at Sony Electronics based in San Jose

It clearly would indicate Sony is looking at Android with the new job having responsibility for, ‘developing application software for digital reading and other consumer electronic devices.’ So is Sony thinking Android tablet, mobiles, eink readers, multi platform and will this engineer make the difference?

If anyone what’s to apply you should note that apart from the usual technical requirements to both understand technical jargon and program in it, the applicant will find that a ‘linguistic skill in Japanese is a definite plus.’

Anata wa dono y┼Źna hon ga wakarimasu ka?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Borders, Bookchains and Hard Times


Describe the state of US and UK bookchains today and you have to wonder where they are going to be tomorrow? Many think that these are institutions and that as institutions they just keep going but they aren’t and they don’t have a divine right to trade.

We have seen the demise of some and read many analysts column inches on the challenges facing others. Will Barnes and Noble be privatised and will its sale change anything? Will Waterstones become all things to all people and end up with HMV over the door and a cinema inside? Whatever the issues the greatest challenge is sustaining a physical presence in an increasingly digital world. It not about ebooks its about the Internet and consumer trends away from the High Street. It’s about competing with virtual inventories and stores who do not have the brick and motor cost overheads and are open all hours for self service. Its about competing with libraries fighting for digital virtual business and could change the model to one of lending for free. Finally, they now have to compete also with the likes of WalMart and Target in the US and Asda and Tesco in the UK.

Today Borders has laid off more employees at its Ann Arbor headquarters. Mary Davis, a spokeswoman for Borders, declined to specify the number of "job eliminations" at the company's headquarters, which had 650 workers before the cuts. As recent as January, Borders laid off 88 staff in Ann Arbor. Borders have also reported a net loss of $64.1 million in the fiscal quarter ended May 1 and although this was down from the $86.0 million in the first quarter in 2009, the company's total revenue has dropped from $650.2 million to $547.2 million.

Borders is heavily backing its digital strategy and is selling an e-reader developed by Kobo, which also created an e-book store for Borders. Although Borders claim that they hope to secure 17% of the e-books market within a year, this would seem to some highly ambitious. Kobo is not Borders and their reliance on a third party could be seen by some as being similar to when Barnes and Noble thought Amazon would be its internet store!.

Large chains are public companies and have large investment holders who demand a return and set performance targets and these are often not easy to achieve in the current climate, let alone in a market subjected to a high volume of digital ‘noise’ and radical change.

Some would suggest that one of the biggest problems the chains have is that they have forgotten how to be booksellers and have become glorified shop windows for publishers. Nothing wrong with that as long as the market is buoyant but when it isn’t and times are difficult they may find themselves exposed and with only one hand to play. Amazon taught everyone that bookselling is about selling new, used, old, rare, remainders, self publishing – BOOKS. It not about letting publishers ‘wallpaper’ or effectively merchandise bookshelves with low risk sale or return front list.

Plastic Logic Admit Que is Dead

It now official that the only ereader to have a longer gesticulation period than an elephant is dead! The Que ProReader has been officially cancelled by Plastic Logic, which says it will focus its efforts on a second-generation product.

"This was a hard decision, but is the best one for our company, our investors and our customers," said Plastic Logic CEO Richard Archuleta. "We plan to take the necessary time needed to re-enter the market as we refocus, redesign and retool for our next generation ProReader product. We continue to perfect our core plastic electronic technology and manufacturing processes that are central to our product's unique value proposition."

The problems it now faces are that it has a credibility issue in the market with those who once believed being sceptical second time, the market moving at a pace which is hard for ‘outsiders’ to get market traction, the price point has shifted considerably and will only go one way and at the top end it now faces tablets and increased functionality it may not be geared to match. Its original appeal was to business and to newspapers which have had to vote with their feet. It hasn’t the conent or market position or brand to compete effectively in the ebook market and it lowered its sights it will still find it hard to compete against Amazon, Kobo, B&N Google Editions and even Sony.

The real losers are the investors who backed a slow horse and rather than focus on the second generation ,perhaps given their speed to market, they should think about the third generation instead.

Monday, August 09, 2010

YouTravel Publishing?


Imagine you have a very strong publishing brand and your market is well defined in terms of content, style and even demographic of your readers. You can even bring out new revised editions every year and consumers will buy them because they need current information. Sounds too good to be true, but then along comes the Internet, mobiles and digital.

Travel guide publishing has been enjoyed by many and has some strong brands, each with their own distinctive house style and readership demographic. As tourism exploded and flights became cheaper, peoples’ travel tastes became both more exotic and new city breaks were created. As a result the number of guides increased. The Rough Guide reader was different to the Cadogan reader and the Dorling Kindersley different to Blue Guides or Lonely Planet. You only have to look on any bookshelf and you will see many of the same or similar brands. But what happens in the digital world and do we still require that guide that passport to hidden away treasures and to take us of the beaten track to some exquisite restaurant or boutique hotel.

The Internet introduced online flight, hotel and car booking services from such as Trip Advisor, Expedia , Netflights and many more. They offered local information and virtual tours of the hotels. Google created the online map, enabling anyone to see where they were and find any location on a map, zoom into a location from a satellite view and even manoeuvre around at streets level. Tie in directions and locations of interest and also advertisers and suddenly maps went mobile. The phone allows the user to now be at the 'centre of the map' and makes tangible all the various places to visit around them.

The internet also expanded and information became easier to search and discover. Then can the app, which made everything possible on a phone!

These publishing brands are established, but are substitution. If you can’t find the one you want, there will be another which will do. The acquisition of Lonely Planet by BBC Worldwide, was itself a wake up call, but rather than understand the motive and logic the travel publishers focused on fighting it. Lonely Planet may not have lived up to the brand purchase the BBC worldwide believe possible, but it showed that media needed content and brands as much as publishers, need big brothers. Google, Microsoft and many big global players want the travel dollar in either bookings, advertising or just social networking, the content is the easy part.

The trick for guide book publishers is to grapple with the fact that their product as they knew and loved it yesterday is sadly a dying form. Many will believe that they tread the digital path by themselves and survive but many will loose their way.

The saviour for many today is the fact that international mobile roaming charges are prohibitively expensive and so they still need the book. Tomorrow that position will change as roaming charges drop and travel mobile usage will be the norm. The other aspect that is sorely ignored by many is that travellers themselves want to contribute, correct reviews and create content from their own experience. The democratisation of content and creation of YouTravel is often a bitter pill for an editorial centric process to absorb. Travellers will want to post it today and send it friends in realtime.

Ask yourself what you will be using to prepare your trip next year. Will it be from a single source or many. Will you pay for the information or will it be free. Will you write and tell friends about the experience and share snaps and the treasures you discovered and will that be on a postcard or on Facebook.

Apple Have their iPhone 4 Scapegoat?

The Apple executive who oversaw development of the troubled iPhone 4 is leaving the company. Mark Papermaster joined Apple as Head of iPhone and iPod hardware engineering department from IBM in 2009 and all seemed to be going well until the recent problems with the antenna on the iPhone 4. Apple would not comment on whether he resigned or was sacked.

Despite many owners reporting the new iPhone dropped calls, the problems were initially played down by the company. The problem was traced to the iPhone's use of its metal casing to house its antennas and small gap between the two antennas. When the gap was bridged on the lower left-hand side of the case the signal strength was drained. This was further compounded by a influential US Consumer Reports organisation declaring that it could not recommend the product. The result was that Apple had to offer free cases to all iPhone 4 owners as these stop the gap being bridged.

The problem may have been an engineering fault, but given the promotion and innovation plaudits at the launch and the far from effective communications programme on the problems post launch, it would appear to be a bit harsh to part company with Mr Papermaster. After all, the design is innovative and the iPhone 4 is leading the market despite its hitch. Perhaps Apple’s Marketing and Public Relations Heads need to take a hard look in the mirror today.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Are eBooks Different?

Unlike the music, game and video sectors, the majority of books today don’t exist in a digital form, they exist on paper. The consumer choice is not one of changing or upgrading a device, or moving from tape to CD to MP3, or going from DRM protected music to DRM free music. In other media sectors, the headphones may change, the screen may be now mobile, the games console may become wireless but the basic experience remains the same all that has changed is the delivery. Books are different. Unless we are talking about a pair of glasses, the vast majority of consumers and book readers don’t own a reading device today, they have to buy it. Also today when we buy a book we own it and can, give it to a friend, write all over it, destroy it and even resell it to someone else. The biggest change consumers face is the realising that when they buy a digital book they will not own as yesterday and that may be tethered to specific technology or platform that has not got a lifetime guarantee. These two changes are significant and hold the keys to many of the issues we are all grappling with.

Some believe that digital is just an extension of the physical and as such just another rendition. Arguing that as they own the right to publish the books, this should be on any platform, but authors and agents are instead saying that digital rights, if not specifically covered under a contract, remain with the author. It is reasonable to argue that the digital rights traded to the consumer aren’t the same as the physical traded rights and if not, then the rights acquired and developed must also be different. If this is correct then its perfectly logical for authors and agents to treat them separately and not dance to the publishers tune. There may be are secondary rights acquired to develop or enhance a digital work and these need to be contractually thought through moving forward. However, where the text from the physical book is merely poured into the digital jacket the point that should be considered is the traded rights not whether it is just another rendition. It is read differently and the usage rights and restrictions traded are different and these should be the points that determine whether it is the same or different. .

The issues of digital pricing rages on, with one side saying that the price must be comparable with the physical and the other shouting cheap or no deal. The questions should not be about what the publisher’s believe is fair, but what the consumer expects or is prepared to pay. Also low pricing can stimulate growth and high volume and low margin is often better than low sales and high margin. We should remember that consumers aren’t stupid. The music industry got initial CD pricing woefully wrong and despite the alarm bells keep coming up with the lame excuses for artificial high pricing. The result was that consumers voted with their clicks and created Napster, Kazza and a whole new independent channel. We hear similar explanations about the cost of digital on publishers today and it makes one wonder if some should be working for the Ministry of Disinformation. The message is clear - be careful what you wish for.

One of the major reasons that the economies of digital aren’t always appreciated by the public is that they don’t understand that in the digital age many publishers still live, work and develop content and the marketing collateral in the Dark Ages and simple convert it, post production as an afterthought. Yes distribution and printing may only constitute some 10 to 15% if the cost but that isn’t where the greatest cost saving is offered by digital! The one thing that is clear is that Digital Publishing should be publishing and not an adjunct and afterthought. While publishers still maintain their pre and post production worlds they will fail to grasp the true benefits of digitisation on their business and continue to play ‘pin the tail on the digital donkey’ whilst they are blindfolded in the market.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Publish and Be Dammed?

In September 2006 The Sunday Times giveaway a CD which featured 10 tracks from a live performance by The Jimi Hendrix Experience which were recorded at London's Royal Albert Hall in February 1969 and included classics such as Purple Haze, Sunshine of Your Love and Foxy Lady. Over 1.3m copies of the CD were given away.

Hendrix died aged 27 in London in 1970 but the paper failed to get permissions from his estate and now face damages to be around $250,000 after losing a high court copyright infringement case. The Hendrix estate represented by Experience Hendrix and Last Experience, launched their legal action 3 ago.

The high court was told by lawyers for Times Newspapers that the Times's promotions team said that they where contacted only days before the planned CD giveaway and that it was too late to withdraw the covermount from the newspaper. There only alternative would be withdraw the polybag containing the CD which would obviously create confusion and that it was also to late to cancel planned TV and radio advertising.

A film of the Hendrix's 1969 London concert and the two companies claimed that this had been delayed in part by the Sunday Times's free CD and the negative impact it would have on UK earnings. In his ruling Sir William Blackburne said that the Sunday Times covermount had delayed by a year the receipt of $5.8m in earnings to Experience Hendrix and Last Experience from the Hendrix concert film. He ordered Times Newspapers to pay damages equivalent to one year's interest on that sum.

An intresting case of publish and be dammed.

A further update article on Out-Law.com

Its OK to Use Your Competitors Brands

Many of the Google keywords sponsored by companies in AdWords many be generic, or be their own brand names, but some may be a competitors' brand name and used to merely get attention to their own adverts. French courts have already ruled that the practice infringes trade mark rights, which is a view backed by many companies.

However, the European Court of Justice ruled this month that a trade mark right is only infringed if the advert creates confusion about what company is behind the advert. They said that the ad will breach the trade mark owner's rights if it "does not enable average internet users, or enables them only with difficulty, to ascertain whether the goods or services referred to by the ad originate from the proprietor of the trade mark or from an undertaking economically linked to it".

Today Google will not act on a complaint in around 200 countries which in includes the US, the UK, Ireland but will act in all other EU countries. However, Google have said that this will change and on 14th September they will extend its practice in the US, UK and Ireland to all 25 other EU countries, and to almost all other countries. The countries to be excluded will be Australia, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Macau, New Zealand, North Korea, South Korea, and Taiwan.

"Today, we are announcing an important change to our advertising trademark policy," said Google product manager Dan Stokeley in a blog post. "A company advertising on Google in Europe will now be able to select trademarked terms as keywords. If, for example, a user types in a trademark of a television manufacturer, he could now find relevant and helpful advertisements from resellers, review sites and second hand dealers as well as ads from other manufacturers."

Adwords policy now states, "Advertisers will be able to complain about the selection of their trademark by a third party if they feel that it leads to a specific ad text which confuses users about the origin of the advertised goods and services. Google will then conduct a limited investigation and if we find that the ad text does confuse users as to the origin of the advertised goods and services, we will remove the ad. However, we will not prevent use of trademarks as keywords in the affected regions."

source Out-law.com

Digital Book Prediction

“It’s happening. It not happening in 10 years. It’s happening in 5 years,”

Nicholas Negroponte 6th August 2010 Techonomy Conference, Lake Tahoe .

Send the Light – On Demand

The Christian publishing market is huge and global and STL Distribution North America (STLD) has been core to its supply with its consolidation and distribution service and operations around the world.

Now they have stepped up their service to integrate a full onsite print on demand service involving Dickinson Press and technology firm Snowfall Press. Rom a dedicated STLD facility at its distribution centre Dickinson Press will manage the process with Snowfall Press providing the integration of the system to enable the automated uploading of files through to printing, binding and shipping. The service is planned to go live early 2011 and provide STLD client resellers access to thousands of titles and shipment the same day.

STLD President Glenn Bailey said "The alliance enables us to provide same day turn-around of orders--even for out-of-print books--and will give authors and publishers access to a broader range of distribution channels than were previously available."
Print on demand is not new, nor is it new to the Christian market, but STLD’s global reach and operating units outside the US clearly now start to have the opportunity to participate and the potential to make this offer far wider reaching than just the US.

This would not only reduce global inventory and shipment costs dramatically but obviously increasing availability and service to all globally.

Google Knows Just How Many Books There Are?


It has been interesting to read a Google books blog by Leonid Taycher ‘Books of the world a stand up and be counted’. In it he asks the age old question ‘Just how many books are out there?’ Some would simply respond, ‘who cares?’ Who but the most anal of creatures, or Google, would want to have the precise figure let alone it to the nearest ten?

What is interesting is that in their quest for their Holy Grail they have stumbled across revelations most knew but ignored. They clearly want to capture all renditions and editions of a work ‘as we would like to distinguish between -- and scan -- books containing, for example, different forewords and commentaries.’ They also appear to like the definition “tome” which appears to merely mean rendition, but they like it.
They have discovered that an ISBN may be assigned to anything from CDs to bookmarks to t-shirts and have been so diligent to even have identified one assigned to a turkey prod and 1,000 to tee shirts.

So what is their final number today? When they have checked all covers, for what they refer to as ‘clusters’, the answer drops, from an initial 600 million, to a figure around 210 million. They then must then exclude those tee shirts, audio, videos, microfilm and that turkey prod! The answer then becomes some 146 million. They then touch on the world of serials which they estimate at 16 million, but cautiously note that the number is likely to rise, ‘ as our disambiguating algorithms become smarter’.

The answer today is 129,864,880! We note they went from rounded millions to the nearest ten!

Well we now know yet another piece of useless information and how Google determines its targets. However, we wonder with this level of diligence, why they still could determine the number of orphan works. No doubt they have an algorithm and some army of people assigned to that too!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Tomorrow's Libraries: Booked In


When we recently visited the Seoul Book Fair and reported on the automated library book dispenser and now we read about the inevitable automation and changes within library world.

First is Stanford's Engineering Library in the US, which has some 80,000 books but plan to cut this dramatically down to just 10,000 titles and move to an "electronic library" in a brand new Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center. The move has enabled them to radically rethink the library and after 3 years of planning the library opens this month. It is around 6,000 square feet compared to the old library’s 16,000 square feet and has an electronic reference desk with four Kindle 2 devices, a self-checkout and book security system and will have 15 ebook readers for patrons to take home like regular books. An online journal search tool will scan 28 online databases, have a grant directory and host more than 12,000 scientific journals. The library includes a digital bulletin board at the entry that will display RSS feeds updating visitors with the latest research.

Librarians will be available, but via email, online chatting and Facebook. The Association of Research Libraries reports that libraries are now spending more of their money on electronic resources and less on books.

Interestingly at the same time as Stanford embraces digital and change we learn that the UK public library in Harrow may introduce supermarket-style automated checkouts as Harrow Council looks for cost savings of around £1m a year. The change will introduce 22 book self service checkouts and force some 40 staff redundancies. A six-week consultation with library staff and unions has been started and a final recommendation is expected later in the year

So as libraries move into the digital age change is inevitable and will be far more reaching than the supply of ebooks. The core of the library, be it public, research, school, academic or corporate is being questioned. If self service prevails then the role of the librarian must change and their interfaces with the patrons change with it. The problem is that there is many cultural, technology and commercial issues and the driver of much change will be cost savings.

We believe that the library is a cornerstone of our society and culture but has lived too long trapped in yesterday’s thinking and practices and irrespective of financial constraints is ripe for change. We have reported the cost cutting across US and UK libraries and in the UK we have written a number of articles on ex Government minister Margret Hodge’s ‘Hodge Potch’ of ideas and the new government’s wary approach to change. However, as we have pointed out previously, there are significant issues not least that of ebook commercials and High Street conflict, author royalties, Inter library lending that must be discussed and resolved. The danger is we merely slip into hundreds of separate initiatives with few joined up dots and which are driven by today’s vested interested parties and not tomorrow’s patrons.

Blackberry Enters a Blackhole?

Research in Motion (RIM) continues to attempt to fight off Apple and Android and retain its position as the must have for all business folk and the alternative for all consumers. Ask those business folk who have two phones, one for private use and the company Blackberry. However the recent shift in power to these two relatively new comers has forced many to start to choose one over two.



As Blackberies continue to be launched, the latest being the BlackBerry Torch 9800 which has a touch screen and slide-out keyboard, as well as a faster Web browser and launches in the U.S. on Aug. 12. Somehow one is reminded of technologies which were great in their day but fundamentally staered from the wrong place for today’s market. Email is so simple on the iPhone or Android it begs the question why a Blackberry counts? According to research firm Gartner, RIM's market share dropped 14% to 41.4% in the first quarter from a year ago. Importantly, BlackBerry only has a fraction of the apps available to the iPhone or Android devices and in today’s Appworld that can be a big negative. RIM are now opening up the platform and providing easrier to use tools for developers but is it too late?

Now comes the real bad news that the European Union Commission have ditched their Blackberrys in favour of devices from Apple and HTC (Android). Saudi Arabia, who have some 700,000 Blackberry users, has also ordered a ban of the services starting Friday and the United Arab Emirates, India and other countries for greater access to the encrypted information sent by BlackBerry devices. The U.A.E. will prohibit most BlackBerry services starting Oct. 11.

The moves are over concerns on RIM's message encryption security which is considered by some governments and agencies as too tight and prohibit them from being able to spy on its users. RIM says it can't give access to encrypted data and doesn't give any one government special treatment. "Any claims that we provide, or have ever provided, something unique to the government of one country that we have not offered to the governments of all countries, are unfounded," However, US law enforcement officials told Reuters that they can "tap into emails and other conversations" conducted through Blackberrys, just as long as they have the appropriate court order.

Foxit eSlick eReader the Latest Exit


Another ebook reader has hit the exit button today. Following the demise of iRex and the Cooler ereader, a lesser known eSlick device from Foxit became the latest casualty of ‘lookie likie’ wars and tough competitive market. Foxit will also shut down is European branch and focus work in its California headquarters and licencing its software.

At $199, the eSlick was once a cheap reader but as price wars developed and everyone headed towards that inevitable $99 price point , they just couldn’t compete.

We believe that more will follow and that by next year only a handful of players will remain and they will all find it increasingly difficult as they get squeezed by price, functionality, tablets and iPad, Android devices, etc. The consolidation will have an impact on Adobe and its ASC4 DRM platform who depended heavily on a wide spread of devices and interoperable market. It will help consumer confidence by reducing the choice and price. It should help consolidate the current epub challenges.

The winners will be those who are aligned with content revenues and can cross subsidise their programmes or those with strong nerves and deep pockets. Will believe that we will still see a big casualty or pull out? Its hard to see the likes of Sony making it without digging deep into their corporate pockets, as they are not dominating the trade market and they clearly miss the education market needs. It is also hard to see News Corporation making it with Skiff and others such as Copia may have expert advice and lots of publishing knowledge behind them but just lacks that magic that makes social networking a pull and its device offer is too spread. Barnes and Noble are a technology company so it easy to see them flipping to any device. Kobo looks toi be in a strong position but is it strong enough to compete with Amazon head to head?

So who will be the next ‘lookie likie’ to fall?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

eBook Races: Thoughts on the Winners and Losers



If ebooks are to be as significant as predicted, who will be the biggest supplier? Will it be publishers supplying direct, social networks, traditional aggregators, the book-chains, device manufacturers, Celebrities, libraries? We have long regarded Amazon, Google as favourites and we can’t ignore the likes of Apple, but will these global brands conquer all, or will the business splinter? What will are some of the factors that will determine the winners and the losers?

Global Brand Recognition

Today Amazon claim that they have between 70% to 80% of the eBook market and that 80% of their sales are to Kindle owners. We have to remember that global brands and consumer awareness shifts more units of anything. No matter how big Barnes and Noble are in the US, or Waterstones are in the UK, the average buyer will only know, or have even heard of one of them. The acid test is to ask 10 people, on any High Street in any country, if they have heard of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, whatever. We can predict the one to score consistently across all respondents in many countries will be Amazon. When consumers are uncertain they will go for safe bets on the known and trusted players.

Everyone is a Potential Retailer

Today, the business model adopted by many is similar to that of the traditional internet market, where someone aggregates all the content and sells it through what we refer to as ‘white label’ stores. The stores act as a shopping window, holding no stock, but branding the store and its stock as theirs. They merely ‘pull down’ stock from a digital aggregator only at the time of sale. This is achieved by separating the customer and transaction from the actual file access and download. Anyone can sell any file, as long as they have a commercial web site and an agreement with and ability to link to the aggregator. The ability to sell ebooks is not restricted to stores, it can be clubs, non traditional retailers, even celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey can sell ebooks alongside physical books and have them all supplied transparently by the likes of Amazon. Even libraries don’t have digital files they simply connect to the likes of Overdrive.

Repository Size doesn’t Matter

How many aggregators are needed to supply the market? As wholesalers and distributors from the physical world move into being digital wholesalers and compete with true digital aggregators, will they all survive, or have the lost the battle even before it has started? It is easy to believe that the biggest aggregator will win – after all those were the rules in the physical world. However in the true digital world, it’s all about networks and transparency of links, not accumulation of files. If you can identify where the file is and can connect to the custodian, all you have to do is send a ‘pick pack and dispatch’ message in real time and collect the money. The more repositories you can connect to, the greater the offer. Why do publishers want to send digital files to tens of aggregators when they could effectively store them within their own digital warehouse and only release then on a sale? There will always be a Amazon who demand the files, but there are only a handful who can justify the risk.

Price Can’t be Fixed Upstream

As predicted, the agency model is now coming under scrutiny with a second US state attorney now questioning it. Price fixing contracts that are 'never undersold' are counter productive in the short term and futile in the long term. Some would argue that the price is too low, others that it is too high, but entering into a model simply to try and control Amazon and discounting is not the answer. It was obvious that the ‘famous five’ agency pioneers would find themselves;open to a US legal challenge, taxation issues and be accused of reintroducing the NBA (price maintenance) in the UK through the back door. The best price control is the free market and the best people to set prices are those closest to the market and not sat behind desks in a distant office.

Is a ‘Book’ an ‘eBook’

We now have at one end, the book morphing into a multi media format and at the other, fragmenting into sub sections. What is clear is that there will be a vatiety of offers which may be genre defined. The book will no longer be straight jacketed and constrained in size or by two pieces of cardboard? This more than anything starts to change the relationship between author and publisher and also has an impact on rights. It starts to change the way we look at bibliographic information and other metadata. If the package becomes far richer it has implications on its promotion and marketing and also who owns what? If the book is fragmented then we also have to be able to tie the associate parts to together. These changes start to redefine and preserve the publisher’s role and remit in a digital world.

Spread Betting

So we return to the winners and losers.

Amazon has clearly played a very strategic game and has placed itself between author and reader, accumulated a sizeable repository and the right to demand files. It has also positioned itself across all digital platforms, channels, in the consciousness of the consumer and as a destination store. It will succeed because it has spread its bets.

Google and Apple are forces, but interestingly have failed to spread their bets to date. Others will come and go, but will be always playing catch up and although there may be an outsider its hard to see one among today’s runners.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Bookselling, Breakers and Runners in Cyprus

2010 appears to be the year for visiting North / South border disputed areas. First, we visited Korea and now Cyprus. Many, especially the displaced, see the North as an illegal state, a province of Turkey. Only some 36 years ago the Turkish army invaded and there followed the truce and the resettlement into Northern Cyprus of some 40,000 Turks. The international community views the North as an illegal state and it is still only recognised by Turkey and Bangladesh. The no man’s land strip divides this beautiful country from East to West and today is still as heavily controlled as ever.


On one day we arranged a trip to cross the military checkpoint border in Nicosia/ Lefkosa to meet friends of Bibliophile, visit the Moufflon Book store and have lunch with the proprietor Ruth Keshishian.



The Moufflon bookstore is a true destination store and reminded us of a small version of New York’s infamous Strand Bookstore. Ruth inherited the business from her father and has continued to maintain a perfect balance of stock and she is a true bookseller. She stocks new, used, rare, bargain books and a wide mix of genre including trade, academic, art etc. There is always something about a real bookstore that you can feel and smell as soon as you enter. The shelves are not merely wallpapered by publishers on the no risk sale of return terms, but individually bought and sold. Ruth also has a book binding and restoration service. In fact, on spotting some Freya Stark works Ruth knew instantly what she paid for them, where she bought them and went on to talk about Freya Stark’s connections with Cyprus. This knowledge wasn’t just restricted to these titles, as she proved many times during the day. She also had a positive thirst for knowledge on digital issues.

Just as Cyprus is divided, everything has two, (or maybe three) names. Maps from the North only show everything with its Turkish name and the south with its Greek or Cypriot name. As a result there is a high demand for maps as anyone travelling between over the divide often needs two to make sense of where they are! Hence they are Ruth’s biggest seller.

While we were there Ruth was collating a significant library of old military, theatrical and other book plates to send to the UK for auction. The Moufflon doesn’t sell plates but Ruth had found herself with some four stacks from rare books which were each piled some 2 foot deep! Apparently ‘breaking’ and selling loose leaf images is, as in many places, is a business in its own right in Cyprus.

The other interesting business in Cyprus is that of ‘runners’ who acquire very old manuscripts and then auctioned them off on EBay over the internet. With very high demand from affluent collectors and the new rich, there apparently is much money to be made in running or selling to order or demand.

The other aspect of Cyprus we discovered was how easy it was to buy counterfeit videos. Often they came in a slither of a wallet and when played slipped in and out of focus, had distorted sound quality and some even flipped occasionally into Turkish, German or even Russian. Occasionally there was a near perfect one! However walk around Kyrenia, (or should that be Girne), and you would see them openly on sale. They say that the North is to become the Las Vegas of the Mediterranean and has huge investment pouring in, but clearly copyright isn’t going to win on these tables.
Finally, Ruth told us about a friend who had brought ten Kindles into Nicosia. They were sold in no time, but the people who bought them merely wanted to be seen with them and not use them to read books!