Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Digital Future: Copying Files Made Simple

Remember some 15 months ago we told you about Pranav Mistry of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his quest to make our interface with technology more intuitive? The video is still amazing to watch but is now becoming reality.

Our good friend a furturist Ray Hammond has now alerted us to Mistry's latest step along this exciting path where you can transfer images or text from one screen and device to another with just your fingertips? A new program called Sparsh lets you do just that and its no surprise to find Mistry behind it.

SPARSH (स्पर्श) lets you conceptually transfer media from one digital device to your body and pass it to the other digital device by simple touch gestures

The trick is the data is actually transferred via the cloud, but your finger becomes the 'cursor' and to the user the body becomes to conduit.

Pearson Adds Schoolnet Its Platform Offer

Pearson, has acquired US digital education service Schoolnet for $230 million.

Schoolnet was founded in 1998 and helps teachers in student assessment and teaching in schools serving K12 students. It is a data-driven education database that matches individual student needs to the appropriate content and uses social networking, user-generated ratings/rankings, tagging, user-generated content to achieve this. The deal is subject to regulatory approval and will dovetail with Pearson’s existing digital learning products, such as PowerSchool and AIMSweb and offer schools a significant digital platform to support schools, teachers, parents and students.

Whereever you look you find the publishing education sector is dominated by a handful of companies and it is often no longer good enough to provide just the textbook. Like others, Pearson has long recognised this and are now building a significant business platform to support their educational offer to schools, which is not only relevant in the US, but globally and has moved them from a schools content business, to a full digital education service provider. It effectively is creating a compelling platform offer to meet all the educational needs through a one stop shop and the approach is very relevant given that the content itself is often commoditised by curriculum demands by the various educational authorities.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Nook Stops Short

Is the Barnes and Noble Nook Color, an ereader eink killer, or an iPad tablet competitor?

Barnes & Noble’s updated e-reader Nook Color certainly sits price wise smack of the ereader tablet divide, but is that good enough? The operating system is Android OS 2.2/Froyo and although it supports Adobe Flash Player, full featured email, it is not Android 3.0 and flash and email isn’t enough to differentiate it from the either of the ereaders or tablets.

Nook users can already access 2 million digital titles, but these numbers aren’t that impressive any more. The new Nook will render enhanced media titles, but given their numbers today and in the near future, this isn’t a clear differentiator and even Nook Newsstand and its 150 full-colour newspapers and magazines doesn’t excite us.

The problem is that someone looking for a tablet or iPad 2, will probably be happy to part with the extra cash and those wanting a good ereader, will probably bank the cash and choose a dedicated reader and platform such as Kobo and Kindle. Is a colour TFT LCD screen good enough to make a difference? If you want to play video there are better devices and if you want to just read there are better devices.

The big problem is the Barnes and Noble and Nook brand and its reach. To those in the US this is not a problem, but outside of the US Barnes and Noble is not a recognised brand and the Nook, not a recognised reader. Barnes and Noble may be happy to play just in the US and we accept that the market is huge, but unlike baseball and American football the technology market is global. It's a true world series and they aren’t in it today.

Anyone trying to put up ebooks onto their service, use their Pubit, or do anything Nookie from outside the US will know very well that the service is very very very xenophobic.

They could address this by striking deals with and working with the likes of Waterstones in the UK and other retailers around the world, but they and the others appear unable to join those dots and would rather plough their own furrows.

See You In Court

Are the only real beneficiaries of the new technology age the lawyers?

We have seen the music industry take legal actions on copyright infringement sometimes at the sharing of a file. We read last week of the UK Publishers Association’s drive to go after the pirates and the inevitable legal bills. We have technology companies all apparently filing cases and counter claims against each other over patent infringements. We have seen no result but plenty of lawyers earn out of the Google Book Settlement.

Now as if to add fuel to the legal fires a judgement by a Texas jury against Google has found them guilty of infringing a patent related to the Linux kernel and fined them $5m. The money may be chump change for Google but the implications could be far reaching for open source devotes and Google’s server platforms and Android mobile platform.

The case was brought by Bedrock Computer Technologies who have also sued Yahoo, MySpace, Amazon, PayPal, and AOL. It could create a wave of patent toll booths and raises question on just how ‘open’ open systems and source code are?
Google states that it will continue to defend against such claims on the open source community. More lawyers fees and money into the legal world to defending old and questionable patent claims.

It has been estimated that in the last 14 months there have been 41 patent infringement suits levied at Google's Android platform and its rapidly growing developer ecosystem.

Just this week Apple said it was suing Samsung Electronics for allegedly copying the design of its iPad and iPhone. Samsung has in turn countersued Apple claiming the Iphone and Ipad infringe 10 of its patents.Microsoft have lodged a suit against the Nook e-reader and Nook Colour tablet. Oracle have claimed that Google's Android technology infringes on its Java patents.

Sony Network and New Tablets Collide

Some have been known to release bad news when there is lots of other bad news, but not good news on the back of bad news. However, Sony has done just that.

A Hacking attack on Sony has resulted in its PlayStation Network being taken offline and being still unavailable after five days! The PlayStation Network is used by 70 million registered account holders and owners of PS3 and PlayStation Portable machines and is used to download games, films and music, as well as to play online with friends.

Sony has thanked its users for their patience and assured them that it was working "around the clock" to strengthen the network infrastructure. However in its blog statement they did not reference any potential issues relating to stored personal information or credit card details.

The hacking group, Anonymous, deny that they were behind the attack but do that some members may have acted on their own without the group's knowledge. Anonymous has criticised Sony over its treatment of George Hotz, an American hacker who unlocked the PS3's closed operating system to allow pirated games to be played on the machine.
The timing of this could not be worse for Sony as it clashes with the Easter holidays and their first foray into the tablet PC market.

Sony has announced two tablets which will hit the market later this year and will both use Google's Android operating system. Sony has stated its intent to become the second largest tablet player within one year.

Sony Tablet S1 will have a 9.4” display and is wedge shaped with a thicker upper portion which Sony claim makes it easier to hold. The S2 is a folding device equipped with dual 5.5-inch screens. It has a rounded design and is small enough to fit in the inside pocket of a jacket. Both devices come with Android 3.0, WiFi and 3G and utilise Sony's premium network services, which include the currently stricken PlayStation Network for gaming and also the Qriocity media service.

Users will also be able to browse and buy electronic books which obviously raise the question over Sony’s poorly performing eInk readers and whether these will be dropped for the new S1 and S2. By combining tablets, ebooks, games and lifestyle interfaces the S1 and S2 start to become interesting tablet options.

However announcing a common platform when their flagship PSN service is on its back is not the best of timing.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Are You Mac or PC?

In November 2009 Hunch asked its user base ‘Mac or PC’ and got over 76,000 responses, today it has nearly 400,000 responses. Since Their original report Apple has released iPhone4, iPad2 and updated its Mac models.

So the question is whether the computer you used defines you as a person and leads to you being stereotyped?

Some 50% of respondents’ are PC users, 24% Mac and 23% straddle the fence either refusing to be typecast or unable to see wetter the case has a Apple logo on it.

However many of the respondents use both technologies today, with the majority having an iPod and 48% either have an iPhone or are considering getting one. So it begs the question is it all relivant?

To see the diagram created by

To read the Hutch article and comments

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Amazon Overdrive Potentially Lock Up Libraries

It’s ironic the day after we wrote about Amazon joining the dots they take another stride and connect some more.

Today Amazon has announced Kindle Library Lending, that will allow Kindle customers to borrow Kindle books from over 11,000 libraries in the US. Kindle Library Lending will be available for all Kindle devices and free Kindle reading apps. To achieve this monumental step Amazon has aligned itself with Overdrive who have successfully built a business opening up the public libraries to ebooks and now have gone past the US and into Europe.

Today we only know what is in press releases and therefore there is potentially huge opportunity to speculate wrongly on what might be. The one thing that is certain it is a huge wake up call for all bookstores, libraries, publisher and authors. Amazon has once again invented the surprise.

The question we would have today are:
  1. Is the Overdrive/ Amazon deal exclusive and what are the terms of any exclusivity as that could others from merely following the party?
  2. Is there an intent from Amazon to acquire Overdrive, circumvent it later, or keep it as a partner. It would make a great deal of sense to use Overdrive as sales force into libraries?
  3. What will this mean to sales as both Overdrive and Amazon as both straddle the buy and lend markets and Amazon clients now have a clear added value of choice and an opportunity to lend first?
  4. Library esupply will become harder for the competitors and Kindle is a massive plus for libraries so what can competitors seriously do?
  5. Does this new blurring of lend and buy now offer the libraries the opportunity to become resellers and cash in on this through an affiliate back door?

Some ask how it could work? We see the answer as being fairly simple. The libraries and Overdrive already have the system interfaces to manage membership authorisation and communicate loans etc. All Overdrive has to be able to do is present the titles available via Amazon. When it receives a loan request, it merely fires this off to Amazon to pack and dispatch in real time and conform successful receipt. They may do it differently, but it looks simple to us and probably a no brainer to them!

So we may not like eink, but Amazon have extended this to a platform offer and now are stepping up their consumer awareness. Look in the newspapers and watch TV, they are building a brand and brand awareness and now offer library lending.

The only uncertainty today may be Google, but what’s new

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

24Symbols: The Start of Books on Demand

Way back in January 2010 we wrote the following as part of our 2020 predictions:

‘This year will start to redefine ownership and see the entry of the streamed ‘read on demand’ model similar to what we have been raving about with the likes of Spotify. It will take the music model to open up consumers to its potential. The challenge will be the publishers and their obsession in supporting existing models that they understand and their reluctance to think outside the box on rights and royalties.’

Unlike others we have long seen digital as different, as a licence and not an outright purchase.

We believe that viewing digital as a mere substitution rendition is a dangerous route. This not only straightjackets creativity into yesterday’s economic models, it also ties royalties and rights to an inappropriate business model and further subjects the reader to ‘albums when they may find individual tracks more appropriate’.

Amazon are clearly lining themselves up to change the way we write, read and purchase material. What looks from the outside, as often disjointed steps, can be clearly seen as well thought through strides towards a new platform of writing and reading, that today others are struggling to comprehend.

We have recently seen the lending of ebooks enter the market, albeit under a social sharing umbrella. We have seen Amazon’s cloud offer continue to be developed. We have now seen Amazon start to advertise on the Kindle. Hello, can we add two and two and make four? Amazon is potentially one step away from a digital on demand service based on ads plus subscription. We could see it as a new global library, a new ‘book club’, a new way for ebooks to be read and if coupled with social networking, viral marketing, author buy in and also the wealth of tools Amazon has built, maybe a category killer that will be hard to emulate and compete against.

Yesterday we read that ‘24symbols’, a Spanish startup is planning to launch a subscription service with the aim to become the "Spotify for e-books." They will offer an ad-supported and a subscription-based access around 10€ per month for ebooks and the books will be streamed and cloud based. The challenges they face are the same as Spotify and others before them – grappling with a rights and royalty infrastructure not built for pricing not on demand licensing let alone ad supported revenues. They also have to accept that Amazon is about to set up in Spain.

Is it realistic to think that a new entrant can break the mould, or are we looking at the start of a process where the real winner has yet to enter the race. Remember Amazon wasn’t the first internet bookshop but the 14th and the first to get service right.

Book rental on demand certainly is the obvious opportunity for the industry. However, unlike music, and to a degree film, books do not have a consolidated source and supply and is highly fragmented so negotiating contracts could become a nightmare for anyone without true market clout and presence. Secondly, we have the current bookshop versus library mess, which would tend to indicate just how difficult it will be for the rights gatekeepers to see anything that is to them left field. Thirdly, we can’t even price ebooks today, let alone formulate a commercial rental model that is mutually rewarding, so moving to a lower pricing model based on term time licensing and reward could still prove a challenge. Finally, we still have to move to the cloud culture and on demand lifestyle. This may seem a natural evolution but challenges the very basics of a library and ownership that we have know for centuries.

We believe Books on demand via a cloud based services makes logical sense, but the question is less of if and who, and more when and how they can change book culture as we know it today.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Smartphones Killed The Video Star

Remember when only a short while ago everyone was raving about the cheap Flip digital video camera from Cisco. Well Cisco last week killed its production. So is the standalone video camera coming to the end of its life and to be replaced by smartphone technology which can already capture life in HD

It only two years since Cisco paid Pure Digital US$590 million to buy the maker of the Flip videocam and this month, Cisco announced a new model: the Flip SlideHD videocam and they were planning to release a further model "FlipLive," which was apparently capable of streaming live video directly to the Web via WiFi.

So why has Flip Flopped?

Some will say Cisco killed the video can to focus on networking and it wasn't really a consumer products company. However as smartphones get smarter and more powerful the closure of its Flip business may just be a sign of things to come? Despite this sign og the times the camcorder market continues to grow both in the US and globally with some 22% worldwide growth.

Imagine you are Kodak and having seen the demise of film, servicing and cameras stand wondering if their video cameras on having one last hurrah?

So what do you want on your mobile phone?

16 mega-pixel camera.
Pocket-now have leaked a video which promotes a new HTC smartphone with a 16 mega-pixel camera and dual LED flash. 16 mega-pixel camera would be a new high in a mobile device and the dual flash would help in low light, but It is worth noting out the number of megapixels does not guarantee picture quality. So if you are a keen photographer who doesn't always want to carry your SLR or DSLR around with them maybe help is on the way.

Mobile gaming
The Xperia Play gaming phone keeps your fingers of the screen and according to some that improves the game. The Android phone is being launched with six games, including FIFA 10, Bruce Lee Dragon and Crash Bandicoot.

Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc operates on Android Gingerbread 2.3., has a 4.22” screen, an eight megapixel camera that shoots video in 720p HD and through Sony's Bravia mobile engine can deliver HD video to televisions through the phone's HDMI outlet.

NFC (Near Field Communications)
NFC enables your mobile to read and write information from other devices/objects with NFC chips inside. The main purpose of NFC is to facilitate “wave and pay” mobile payments that in the future will lead to smartphones replacing credit/debit cards. According to Juniper Research, 20% of smartphones , or some 300 million handsets, will carry NFC technology in just three years time.

Dual Processor
Samsung is reportedly planning a high-performance smartphone based on a 2GHz dual core CPU.The 2GHz chip is understood to be under development by Samsung, who has licensing agreement with chip design giant ARM. If dual processors come to smartphones then we will certainly see a significant uplift in processing capability and the phones may well become ‘smart’. It would enhance multi activity and question further which device will dominate the next decade.

Rethinking the Future: The Digital Divide

We would like to offer three observations which we believe are fundamental to the future of ‘the book’ and rethinking the future.

The first observation we offer is that we now live in a YouTube society. One, where self expression and opinion can now be, heard, seen and shared. Yesterday we listened, watched and read media, today we make it and share it. Today is less about quality and more about the width. Self publishing is no longer the grubby slush pile of sad unwanted titles,but a vibrant market which is increasingly engaging more and more people. This is not bad, this is not to be looked down on, but is something exciting, new and to be celebrated. We may not have more readers today but we certainly have more writers!

At the start Youtube looked bad quality with cameras often out of focus and juddering, but YouTube today has changed video and even influenced film. The sheer numbers of viewers have created a new genre of film and participation and created new stars, launched musicians and given us all very funny moments. Publishing must now learn to embrace the author whose English and grammar may not be old school, but who has a story to tell and a new language to tell it in.

The second observation is that digital is different. Many in publishing see it as merely replace the physical jacket with a digital one. Same text, same blurb same stuff. Some want to enrich it by adding more media and make it in effect ‘fatter’, but remains the same story, same stuff.

The challenge is to recognise that digital offers not just more media opportunities but a fundamental change in the amount of content produced, accessible and how it is read. Why do we still continue to produce 300 pages or the print economic model? Why does the work have to be complete? After all the serial story is not that far away? Why do we combine digital and print rights and surely its like combining film and print rights – sometimes relivant but far more the case not.

Why are we trying to shoehorn physical economic foot into a digital shoe? The digital shoe is not constrained in the same way as print and can accommodate many sizes?

The third observation is about marketing and promoting works. It’s as if the book industry is still locked into the 20th century time warp and is in denial over the 21st century. We have failed to deliver anything but an ISBN and now use it to identify everything and every part of everything. We failed to understand the need to group renditions of the same or similar works and fragments were unheard of! The International Standard Text Code (ISTC) has long missed its opportunity and one that is not coming back again and lies buried deep in the industry labyrinth of standards. Standards bodies which achieved so much to improve the print supply chain appear to stand transfixed in the digital headlights. This issue also is not so much business to business as business to consumer and this itself presents a challenge to bodies who not focused that way.

Today the line between content and context is blurred. We have gone way past jackets, blurbs, search inside flat pages. As we have already observed we live in a YouTube world of visual real time promotion and social and viral marketing and we find stuff via search engines who often care little about structured metadata and ISBNs.
So what do we draw from these brief observations and is there a way in which we should respond?

The challenge with rapid and fundamental change is that it is disruptive. Anything that takes time to adopt is probably dead before it is born. Development by committees was once needed and consensus was seen as the goal but moving at the pace of the slowest and accommodating all could now be a recipe for disaster today. Collaboration and consensus is always best, but is no longer acceptable if it takes too long.

“The most important thing is not to optimise what you do, but to find out and decide what you should be doing… find out where you should really be and to make sure that you are climbing the tallest peak, not just a false summit…If you get stuck on a small mountain, you get to the top and look around and you find you’re on the wrong mountain. A mile away is a mountain that’s twice as tall…Learn how to search the landscape very widely, and to make sure we find the tallest mountain to climb – that we find the right thing to do. And having done that, if we find ourselves on top of a false summit…In other words we’ve got to get down the mountain, and cross that desert, and come up on the tallest peak. And that’s called letting go, killing a product at its peak.”

These wise words from Kevin Kelly, executive editor of Wired in “Rethinking the Future” may be over 10 years old but still very relevant today.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that the roles and value of those between the author and the reader are increasingly being questioned. There is no divine right to survive and some will not make it across the digital divide.

Autography: Is It Wise Dotcom?

First we had Pen and the distance author signature, now we have Autography which allows authors to insert an autograph or salutation directly into eBooks.

Autography transmits the author’s signature onto the customer's eReader device, along with a personal message. Customers merely request any of the author’s books from the selection menu, with the appropriate autograph appearing once they make their purchase. The autographs can be retrieved and replaced at no extra cost if you happen to lose your eBook.

Fine the author doesn't need to leave their desk and can do it remotely, but is this really the same as fans actually pressing the fresh and meeting the person? The readers may still connect with the author over the internet and be able to sign a book with dedication remotely, but who owns the reader and what does the reader value? Can you imagine an internet booth where the consumer merely selects from a list of authors who are online and pays a premium charge to chat with them? It reminds us of some of those less reputable XXX sites none of us have ever seen.

Then there is the question as to whether an ebook holds that same collection status of its print version? After all the ebook is basically a licensed rendition with no ‘first sale’ rights so a signature has little future value.

Digital and print are different and trying to shoehorn some print practices into a digital shoe would appear to lack joined up thinking. In the words of are Shaman friend Duke Redbird, 'is it wise dotcom?'

Thursday, April 14, 2011

eBook Growth Faster than Print Declines

Books could soon start to follow some of the demand trends experienced by music.
AAP have released data from their 14 reporting US publishers that shows that ebooks sales are continuing to build, but these are not growing as fast as physical sales are falling. It should be noted that this is just 14 publishers and is against the collapse of Borders and loss of its sales contribution.

US sales of ebook are reported to have risen from $69.9 million in January to $90.3 million in February and in doing so moved ebooks from being the second-largest trade segment, behind trade paperbacks, to the largest-selling format in February (trade paperbacks only achieved $81.2 million). Reported Trade print sales across AAP members were some $215.2 million, a drop of 30%.

Music has long found that the growth in downloads has been significant, but not as significant as the decline in physical music sales. If this imbalance were to become a real trend in books, it could have a far greater impact than that in music. Books still have a wide number of sales outlets on the street and are heavier and bulkier to transport than CDs. There comes a point when the supply chain starts to creak, with an under capacity of demand and potentially over capacity of product and logistics fixed costs, all of which is not being offset by a compensating contribution from ebooks. In addition the costs within the physical book supply chain are widely spread and therefore far harder to control, whereas digital books have very consolidated channels and cost exposure and are only ‘moved’ when sold.

Print runs and publishing economics tend not to be short term decisions and as things change some of these commitments could easily unravel introducing more waste, cost and result id dead stock. One rule in logistics is, that every time stuff stands still it costs and every time it moves it costs, the art is to move it once and get it sold.

The challenge is to ensure the contribution from digital sales offsets the inevitable drop from print and that costs are driven out of the physical supply chain in a manner that matches the decline in demand.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The LBF Debate On Relevance Of Publishers

The London Book Fair has once again come and gone and to some we spoke to there was little change to others the future was clearly keeping many awake at night. The Fair is a great place to witness the digital divide with those who are in the know and those who are frozen like rabbits in the digital headlights.

So it was a must to attend the ‘Great Debate’ on Monday on the motion “Authors and readers are all that matter. Publishers will become irrelevant.” For the motion were Cory Doctorow, the science fiction author and co-editor of BoingBoing, and James Bridle, an innovative publisher and writer. Against the motion were , Andrew Franklin of Profile Books and the infamous ex of everywhere and now of Bloomsbury Richard Charkin. The voting on the motion was always to be irrelevant as it was like asking a room full of doctors to vote on a motion that modern medicine is ineffective. However the points raised highlighted to us the digital divide that exists and that some publishers are clearly out of touch with their emerging markets.

Obviously it is impossible to group all the various different publishing sub industries such as academic, professional, education, trade reference, trade fiction etc and apply a generic brush to their different author rewards, economics, market drivers, digital drivers and content demands and so it often sounded that if something justified that a sector had got it right or wrong it applied to all.

The major challenge was to define ‘publishing’ and the value added roles from author to reader. Some would suggest that Bridle clearly made the point that publishers need to get back to basics and recognised that the new world offered many news ways to connect the dots that publishers have apparently forgotten. Franklin however reminded us of all that some regard as arrogant, old world and out of synch with today’s changing market. He lead with one could best describe as publishers know best and all else is drose. He went on to crusade against self publishing as if it was the devil and even made the claim that , ‘Free is too much to pay for the vast majority of self-published books,’ but quickly added as any speaker would having stuck the knife in, that “It’s too much to pay for some of the books that come from publishers.”

Some publishers today will still connect with Franklin’s view that the market is getting bigger, and that publisher profits are rising, and these means all is right and that publishers such as him are doing a good job and are essential. The problem is that parts of the publishing ecosystem are collapsing others are under threat, channels are consolidating, and the user resistance to change is moving faster than the market’s ability to respond.

There were many things missing from the debate such as words like ‘digital rights’, ‘royalties’,'rights registry','orphans' ‘pricing’, ‘catherine cookson’, ‘ian fleming estate’ ‘none compete’ and too much on self publishing. The fact that; YouTube has redefined quality of film and made everyone a director, Twitter has made everyone a 140 character journalist, Flickr has made everyone a photographer, Lulu and Amazon have opened the digital doors to all writers, Facebook has change communication, Spotify and Pandora has redefine music distribution, etc. appears to be lost on some and they expect to remain the guardians of good taste. That may be so today but writing has changed, language has changed and what was once the norm is no longer so.

We appear to be still a front list 13 week obsessed industry incapable of grappling with back list and mid list authors and orphan works.

It reminded us of that all so naïve statement at the time of the first GBS hearing when one major publisher employee stated that it must be right as their CEO knew what he was doing!

Charkin and Doctorow, were somewhat the professional debaters that lacked that cutting passion of Bridle or blind arrogance of Franklin. Yet it was these two that best summed up their side’s position at the end of the debate before the expected result was delivered.

Many thanks to Susan Danziger, Dailylit and Michael Healy, Books Registry and the Publishing Post