Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bibliophile Celebrates its 300th

At a time when many predict the death of the physical book and the bookshop and even the public library is under constant threat of closure, Bibliophile Books continues to prosper and go about its business as the UK booklover’s greatest secret. In 2011 it was granted a Royal Warrant by the Duke of Edinburgh in recognition of its quality, service, and excellence. It has been selling to the palace for some 20 years. This year on March 25th, some 34 years after it published its first mail order catalogue, it will achieve a significant milestone and celebrate the publication of its 300th catalogue.

In today’s crazy discount wars Bibliophile is about ‘everyday low pricing’ and reader value. Most titles including well-received biographies are under a fiver, making reading an affordable adventure and a lifeline service to the disabled and housebound and those who miss browsing in their local bookshop which may have closed down in recent years. However, certain titles are rare and collectable and will never be printed again like the magnificent Splendours of Iran (slipcased) published £350 at £200 and JOHN JAMES AUDUBON PORTFOLIO $1400 now £275 containing 48 loose leaf prints and book in giant slipcase.

Today Bibliophile is not just a mail order catalogue. It has just launched its second generation website, has digital newsletters, integrated email communications with customers, an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, Kindle and has created over 200 YouTube unique video book reviews which have attracted over 70,000 hits and really do show what what the book looks like inside the jacket!. They have even published books and now ebooks and plan much more.

Over half a million Bibliophile catalogues a year are distributed to tens of thousands of members all over the UK and as far away as New Zealand. Cheap and cheerful, the founders chose a newsprint tabloid format, pithy quotes humorous anecdotes and succinct in house book reviews to tempt book addicts worldwide to sample the best selection culled from publisher's front and backlists, remainder dealers, plus overstocks from a variety of sources.

Each 40 page catalogue is printed on environmentally sourced 100% recycled paper and
contains some 300 brand new books and over 1,000 titles. Every book review is written in house, reflects the Bibliophile’s unique style and is aimed at reflecting why Bibliophile selected each book and is selling it. The books cover some 30 subject categories and were published in the UK, US and Canada and include war, history, biographies, art, crime, Britain, crafts, literature, fiction, children’s, CDs etc.

300 catalogues has enabled Bibliophile to built a unique digital archive of over 60,000 book reviews which are being added to at the rate of some 3,500 a year. As vast majority of titles are no longer in-print, the Bibliophile review may be now be the only independent blurb available and of course Bibliophile knows the sales of every one.

Bibliophile is very conscious of the environment and this was a further factor in it being granted a Royal Warrant. It minimises waste by ensuring that the fewest possible catalogues are printed the mailing list is routinely pruned and controlled to ensure non-buyers, deceased and gone away addresses are not mailed. The catalogues are then despatched on a 4-7 day service in bulk, never priority as this has an inherent additional environmental impact.

Bibliophile isn't the model for the independent bookshop but does three things very well and which all can learn from; it does what it says on the door 'sells books', it knows its customers and it was built on 'everyday low pricing'.

Visit the web site
View the latest catalogue:
Visit their YourTube channel Bibliophilebooks
Previous catalogues

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What is an App and what is an eBook?

What do apps and ebooks have in common and what do they have that makes them different? When is a book an app and an app a book?

At first the answer appears simple and straightforward. An app is a program that you download onto your smartphone or tablet that is interactive, informative and is cheap. Many apps soon start to become essential real time essential information feeds to navigate, inform and entertain us they are like real time applications. An app is a self contained unit it may go elswher to get its content and information but everything is rendered within the app. An ebook is a digital book and for the vast majority are no different to the physical book and even contain the same black pages. The ebook is a lower level container of content that can hold multi media but goes elsewhere to render it on a digital device.

They are very similar, or can be very slimilair and may be viewed as different digital containers.

As we wrote earlier this month the rights issues are also very similar and can also create new challenges.

Enter Apple who not only introduced the app but also would like to own the term exclusively. We have seen them build their walled app garden, first demanding 30% on all revenues , then dictating the development tools to be accepted, then launching their Apple only authoring tool, and now find them attempting to redefining the ebook.

Apple are trying to define the difference between an app and an ebook. They have informed some creators that their enhanced ebooks are in fact apps because they contain moving animation and images and have been enhanced!

If this is a misunderstanding from Apple then we move on. However, if they have really started to separate ebooks, enhanced ebooks and apps then we could be in for some ambiguous times. We have to also be aware of the price point differences between apps and ebooks and therefore some would suggest that enhanced ebooks should cost more than ebooks and certainly more than apps.

It’s somewhat ironic that a company who has such a long and loyal media and creative following is apparently trying to now convert them into serfdom and shackle them to their iWare. Apps and ebooks have to be platform agnostic and media enhancement does not make an ebook an app.

Source article: Apple's iBooks And App Store Price Out Creativity

Does The Kindle Touch Pass the So What Test?

Amazon is launching its Kindle touchscreen e-reader in the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy on 27th April but there is still no news on its Fire tablet.

The Kindle Touch will not be discounted with adverts and users will still not be able to lend ebooks as in the US. So for some £20 more you can touch but no lending, so is it worth it when the existing Kindle does the basics well and we all know Fire will arrive soon?

The touch device does have a new web browser, which works with wi-fi and lets users to find related passages in a book as well as more detailed information from Wikipedia and Shelfari. It also allows books to be read in both portrait and landscape mode.

So maybe it’s a buy for those who desperately need an ereader and can’t wait for Fire, haven’t heard of Barnes and Noble and its Nook, can’t work out what WHS is selling amongst the ‘stack ‘em high’ shelves, don’t believe Waterstones can or will effectively deliver digital and don’t want the often redundant luxury of the iPad.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Game Over!

As we watch another media High Street outlet chain stumble and fall we have to ask if there is a retail future for digital media on the High Street? This may sound a very stark viewpoint but digital has changed and challenged many brick and motor stores and there are far more losers than winners and the street is becoming littered with fatalities in music, video, books and games.

Does the public want to search in-store when it can search online and get instant gratification? Do the staff in-store really want to sell something that many perceive to be eating their lunch? We have seen some bad examples of retailing of ebooks and devices in-store, but perhaps the point we have missed is that online shopping is becoming social and brick and motor is often now the opposite an interesting could be seen as anti social. This may be hard to understand as we often go shopping with others, but we don’t go shopping with potentially everyone we know in our trusted communities.

Today video games specialist Game has officially entered administration and this is expected to result in heavy job losses and the closure of up to half the it's 609 UK stores. Last year it had sales of £1.6bn but many factors have caused the demise of Game. It has not been helped by a slow down in new games from major suppliers such as Electronic Arts and Nintendo. It has also had challenging cashflow and profit issues whilst it tried to clear high rents, wages, suppler and tax bills.

So as Waterstones readies itself to launch its ereader and step up to the digital challenge we would question how it will fair. Barnes and Noble have shown that digital can work if viewed as somewhat separated from stores. Indigo happily let KOBO plough its own furrow. However looking at the retail digital in-store offers in the likes of WHS makes us beg the question of whether clicks and motoer works in this new social world.

So What Do Think Social Networks Can Offer?

Nobody today can compete with the likes of Amazon. They have the economies of both scale and scope and the market share that makes them effective category killers. We may not like it, but that is reality and trying to take them on with a price offer, isn’t going anywhere.

So how do you compete, how do you differentiate in ways that make it hard for them to compete?

You may decide to withhold your books and given that there is only one source of any work, this could look logical. However, the consumer tends to be fickle and with more books on the virtual shelf it may be easy to choose a substitution work. The question is whether you can you afford to turn your back on those sales and so cut off your nose to spite your face. We suggest that Amazon is the prime channel of choice for many consumers, so it is a case of working that to your advantage and not turning your back on it in some false delusion of power and influence.

Amazon is good at service, pricing and relating customer viewing and offering options based on buying habits. It is the online WalMart and Tesco and has resource and reserves to fight any price war. Unlike Apple and Google this is its business and one it knows very well. What it is surprisingly bad at, is social networking. It wasn’t built for social networking it was built to sell, upsell, give great service and value.

Imagine for a second that they owned Twitter or Facebook. They would then know not just what you were looking and bought but also all your interests what your friends were interested in. They could build a profile of your interests which was not just based on specific product form or offer but on all your widest interests. Does Amazon know what I saw at the cinema last night, or what concert I went to, or what programme attracted my attention or that I have a real interest in a subject that goes beyond books? Does Amazon know who my friends are and what my circles of interests are?

Imagine being able to trawling social information and link real interest to product. Now imagine being able to do that within the social ecosystem itself and without having to leave it. Now imagine creating value added offers that were only available through that same social ecosystem and at high ticket added value prices. Leave the commodity stuff where it is today and focus on the high value add tick and community lock in. This is not about exclusive works but exclusive offers. Secondary rights may lead to richer pickings when primary rights become commodity priced. In the late sixties, George Martin claimed that the album was the menu and the concert was the meal.

Many do not have the resources to even start this approach let alone execute it but maybe that much maligned word – collaboration is the key. Social networks are a lot more than building chattering communities of noise. Today many advocate social networking as the next best marketing tool but often fail to see the bigger opportunities just the eyeballs and chatter.

Spotify Continues to Grow

We have tracked the rise of music on demand service Spotify not just because of its impact on the music industry but also because we believe that media on demand services are relevant to all publishing sectors and the model makes sense.

Last year Spotify took their service to the US and also tied its service in with Facebook. The results are significant not just in terms of subscribers but in the company’s rise in valuation. When it entered the US market it was valued at $1.1bn today the market is estimating its value at some $4bnoiis seeking to raise money from private investors in a deal that would put a valuation of as much as $4bn. It is put into perspective when you realise that Warner Music was sold for $3.3bn only last year!

The Spotify model is still to win over the traditionalists and the industry remains divided on whether subscription streaming services can overtake outright sales but for an increasing number of consumers the writing is clearly on the wall.

Spotify still faces huge challenges with licensing getting harder and more costly, profit still in the future and an industry that is nervous about the change in models.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What Did Amazon Ever Do For Us?

In the 'Life of Brian' there is a scene where the Jordanian Liberation Front ask the question, 'what ever did the Romans do for us?' We found ourselves asking the same about Amazon and answering with the same overwhelming reality - a lot. There are clearly lessons to be learnt.

Yesterday we were alerted by an email from iBookstore, to the new Jo Nesbo thriller 'Phantom'. We immediately went to Amazon to check availability and pricing for the ebook. We thought we would look at the competitive offer in the UK. The following screen shots from Waterstones, WHSmith, Amazon and the Book Depository. They clearly informed us where to buy the ebook and within seconds its was downloaded.

We don't aim to list the errors or poor presentation issues we saw but clearly there is a huge gap the approach to selling and the perception of what the consumer may want to know. Amazon were the only ones to list all the renditions (ebook,hardback etc) on the same page and link to these individual options. They were the only ones to give us a sample of the book and even a promotional video. They, as you would expect won on price, but also clearly stated the RRP, saving and sale price. There was even disparity between the various offers as to what the ebook RRP actually is, which in the eyes of a consumer may be very confusing. Within seconds we had it downloaded our copy.

The screen shots are below so judge for yourself and ask what would the consumer make of this?

Waterstones seperate offers: Note the higher ebook price and the ebook RRP.

WHSmiths again can't relate to deferent renditions of the same title and discount the ebook but forget to tell us by how much!

The Book Depository don't have ebooks? However there appears to be a problem with their metadata on pricing

Amazon has clear pricing comparison, understands that there are several different renditions and even collects pre sale orders of the paperback! Also they have Search Inside and a promotional video which must be available to all. The consumer still gets confused as to what the ebook RRP actually is!

Finally, if you are still unconvinced have a quick look at the screen shot for the Nesbo title 'Headhunters' at Waterstones and ask which rendition you would buy?

Government Incentives to Culture?

Does the state take the lead and define our culture and social attitude through law and taxation, or do we use the ‘free market’ to shape it and the state is merely there to protect it? We now face many challengers as we cross the many uncharted digital waters, but who should take the initiative and when is it time to act and when is it time to go with the flow?

We have seen the ill conceived Google Book Settlement unravel before us. Conceived behind closed doors by the few, for the perceived good of the many, it failed the ‘people test’ and the law. We are seeing a similar situation with the ‘agency model’. We still have copyright laws built for yesterday that are incapable of dealing with today’s digital demands. We often still see digital in its many forms; text, moving image, still image and audio and don’t see these as mere stuff within new digital containers.
Today the French have taken bold steps to change or some would suggest, ‘nationalise’, the copyright of 20th century works. It is a brave move, but one that is fraught with many of the issues that brought down the Google Settlement. Grand public policy is one thing, detail is often another.

We have taxation rules that are inconsistent across countries and states not just in what is taxed but also the level of tax applied. We have tax revenues being spent inconsistently and some would suggest we often find ‘culture figureheads who are little more than financial gatekeepers’.

The French government under the leadership of its Minister for Culture, Frederic Mitterand, has drawn up list of 13 publishing industry related proposals aimed at controlling the direction of the market. Some would welcome this initiative and applaud the proactive stance. Others would question whether the children have now taken over the chocolate factory.

The first proposal is to tax ‘large’ booksellers in order to help French independent bookstores. This ‘Robin Hood’ tax would apparently be applied not only to books sold online, but also those sold in larger physical stores, with the proceeds then going into a fund for smaller booksellers. There is nothing wrong with taxing the ‘rich’ to help the ‘poor’, but does this ‘richman’s tax’ make sense, or is it ideology over logic. Would it not be wiser to give some tax breaks to the independent group across the marketplace and so reduce their levels of tax and state interference than impose penalties for success? Everywhere has a slimilair situation but Tax revenues are created by promoting success and generating trade not by stifling it. The more tax generated from all the more you can do to relieve those who are being disproportionally taxed today. The acid test is whether the tax is in the consumer interests or whether it is just playing to the lobby.

The French proposals are also believed to include greater monitoring and control over how books are priced when sold by the bigger companies. The French government has also raised the issue of taxing ISPs, mobile operators and large internet companies. These policies raise the question of whether they are protecting culture or merely looking for soft ‘rich’ tax targets.

This week we saw the lobbing of the UK government to lower or abolish the tax on ebooks. The logic is sound and a tax of zero against one form and one of 20% for the same content begs the question of consistency. However, the same inconsistency applies right across Europe. This questions whether the taxes are in fact holding back the digital market or merely a legacy from earlier digital media taxation on music, video etc? Would ebook prices drop by 20% overnight if the tax was removed? Is the back lash driven by the consumer or by the industry? We believe that the needs to be tax consistency, but that more thought needs to be given as to how it is lobbied for and how consumer empathy and support is created. As we start to mix more digital media into the ebook and app containers does all media become tax free?

We feel a greater challenge is one where Apple and Amazon can set up their stall in Luxemburg, not just to benefit from low digital taxes, but wider corporate tax benefits. States often create their own rules and incentives and we have the recent debates over New Jersey’s sales tax incentive for Amazon to set up a distribution hub in the state in order to get tax benefits. These corporate tax incentives are difficult to compete against and only usually apply to the large corporate.

So which came first the chicken or the egg? Who should lead our digital cultural revolution and shape its usage, taxation, copyright protection, price? What should the balance be between private and public and how do you control a global private sector in a local public and government environment?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

So who Owns the eBook and App Rights?

We think that we know everything about the rights that we own, or licence. We attempt to control their usage and licensing and yet find ourselves constantly looking over our shoulders and wary of increased infringement and outright piracy. Has the emergence of the multi platform app and maturing ebook market now made this even more complex?

An app and an ebook are not themselves content, but mere digital content containers into which we can now pour and mix digital stuff. These mixes can contain text, audio, moving image, still image and interactive content and present the subject in brave new ways. They not only start to reshape the content itself, but also how we interact and access it.

Until these new containers arrived the various forms of content usually stood by themselves within their own containers and ecosystems:

• Text lived within books, journal, magazines, newsprint etc.
• Audio lived within CDs, vinyl, MP3 files etc.
• Moving image lived within DVDs, Video, TV, film etc.
• Still image lived within galleries, books, etc
• Interactive lived in application software, education solutions, games, assessments etc.

The second opportunity that these new containers gave us was to democratise creation in a way not previously possible. Not only can anyone now create a new work and distribute it by several different digital channels to literally anybody, but anyone can also remix, sample and produce new content in ways not previously possible. We now have a level playing field which may nbot be apparent to many but is very real to the new entrants both large and small.

We have seen the explosion of blogs and social networks, full of snippets of content and that some would suggest can stretch the usage of ‘fair use’ to its limits. We are all now familiar with the music sampling culture that is ingrained into some music genres and culture. We have seen the emergence of multi media works which extend sampling and mix it with original content to create a new work. We have started to see living works which redefine the term ‘finished’ and even ‘edition’. Content is changing and is exploding.

These new digital containers are not just a vehicle for the established ‘publisher’ content but now can become a vehicle for all and start to redefine distribution, sharing and the digital content itself. So what happens to the rights associated with the source content and how does it relate to the new work within the container?

Rights are about usage, licence, geography, commerce and permissions. Does the usage of snippets fall under permissions or fair use? How do you find out what is fair and what is infringement? How do you establish ownership and licence? How do you reward creativity when it is part of the new digital work which may well be sold at a price lower that the digital content itself? When these containers are global how do you establish restrictions let alone enforce them?

Today we have various DRM positions being adopted in the various sectors with some being DRM free, whilst others are becoming DRM restricted. Will this mixed approach now inhibit the use of some materials, or promote some to further question DRM and to break it?

What is clear is that rights are getting a whole lot more complex..

Saturday, March 17, 2012

When is it Sale and When is it a Licence?

All publishing and media sectors are constantly looking over their shoulders at not just the dynamically changing technology, but also the impact of digitisation on other sectors.

The music sector’s contract and reward system is once again being tested by artists who believe that they have not been correctly rewarded in the iTunes digital world. Twenty years ago, lawyers could not have imagined innovations such as the iTunes Music Store, and in certain contracts, it's now unclear which royalty rates apply. The issue is about the definition and associated reward of ‘sales’ versus ‘licences’. The norm is for digital sales to attract between 10 and 20% payment, whereas licence sales can attract higher payments up to 50%.

So the question is what is a sale and what is a licence?

Steve Jobs, once published a piece titled "Thoughts on Music," in which he principally talks about the move to DRM free (worth a read in itself). In the piece he says, ‘Since Apple does not own or control any music itself, it must license the rights to distribute music from others, primarily the 'big four' music companies; Universal, Sony BMG, Warner, and EMI.’ These words are now coming back to be used today against the music companies.

The first legal test case was brought by Eminem’s management FBT Productions who claimed that they were due not the 12% royalty revenue from digital sales paid by Universal Music, but 50%. FBT argued digital sales are not "records sold" but constitute a licensing of master recordings which entitling them to 50% of net receipts. The claim was upheld then rejected by the courts in March 2009, but now has now been overruled on appeal. The court found that the contracts were "unambiguous". The case is now opening up a stream of slimilair claims and legal actions and the FBT's case against Universal alone is worth $17-20 million in disputed royalties and could cost the label twice that over the next decade.

Thousands of artists signed their deals before iTunes. The Allman Brothers and Cheap Trick also filed a lawsuit against Sony BMG which was settled out of court. Pink Floyd's recent lawsuit against EMI also included the issue of the royalty rate of downloads and was settled behind closed doors. Now the Temptations are among a growing number of artists suing Universal Music. The Temptations class action is not just aimed at iTunes revenues but that from others including, Napster, Rhapsody and ringtone providers by such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.

As we move increasingly into the digital world and from outright sale to a digital licence we have to ensure that there is a common understanding of both the associated rights and rewards. In this new world of ‘net receipts’, ‘walled digital gardens’ and often ‘honesty box’ trading, it may not be enough to assume a common understanding exists and like Universal and others, surprises can prove very expensive.

Related posts: March 2009 'Should music contracts reflect Today's Digital World'

April 2007 'Eminems music publisher sues Apple'

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Encyclopaedia Britannica Stop The Presses

Encyclopaedia Britannica have announced what we all thought had already happened and that it will cease production of its printed 32-volume Encyclopaedia. Encyclopaedia Britannica remains the oldest English-language encyclopaedia being first published in Edinburgh 244 years ago, between 1768 and 1771. The original three volume set grew in size and reputation and became the first encyclopaedia to adopt "continuous revision", where every article updated on a schedule.

The migration from print to digital was an obvious early route for heavy reference works such as encyclopaedias. After all users wanted up to the minute information not material that was often out of date the minute it went to press. The writing was on the wall after the successes of Compton's Multimedia Encyclopaedia in 1989 and The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopaedia in 1992 both being quickly followed by Microsoft’s Encarta in 1993. Microsoft cut corners by purchasing non-exclusive rights to the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopaedia and incorporating the material into its first edition. Encarta changed encyclopaedias and by 2008, the, Encarta Premium, consisted of more than 62,000 articles, numerous photos and illustrations, music clips, videos, interactive contents, timelines, maps and atlas, and homework tools, and was available by yearly subscription or by purchase on DVD or multiple CDs. In March 2009, Microsoft announced it was discontinuing the Encarta disc and online versions. The MSN Encarta site closed on December 31, 2009.Microsoft continued to operate the Encarta online dictionary at until 2011.

Wikipedia changed the market again when it was launched in January 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger by creating a free, collaborative, multilingual Internet encyclopedia supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. It now has 21 million articles, written collaboratively by 100,000 regularly active contributors the world and edited by anyone with access. It is now the largest and most popular general reference work on the Internet and has an estimated 365 million readers worldwide with some2.7 billion monthly pageviews from the United States alone.
Then there was Google the definitive and de facto search engine.

Britannica today only derives some 1% of it revenues from the printed encyclopaedia rendition and its online version, which was first published in 1994, represents only 15% of Britannica's revenue. Britannica now generates some 84% of sales from education materials and is planning to relaunch it encyclopaedia site to add more social connections and interactivity.

So in a period of less than two decades the face of reference publishing has changed dramatically not just with respect to the finished, or living form, but how it is managed, edited, developed, marketed and the price paid for it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

PayPal Redefines PayPorn - Again

Having initially fervently defended their position the online payment service owned by eBay Inc., has no changed its policy on not processing sales of e-books containing themes of rape, bestiality or incest.PayPal, has actually learned the hard way what many already knew – that no entity today can impose censorship outside the law and if they do they will find potentially mountains of bad press in the social network space.

They have now stated another new policy that will only ban individual titles of e-books that contain potentially illegal images and text only ebooks containing child pornography themes. To many this is still a half baked position and one that could leave PayPal and its owner eBay in danger of further embarrassment and definitions are still open to interpretation and not necessarily supported by the law.

The reversal is in part due to the pressure applied not just to PayPal but to the main credit card companies who had obviously found themselves in a world of double standards and hypocrisy..

Doug Michelman, global head of corporate relations for Visa Inc., has stated that "Visa would take no action regarding lawful material that seeks to explore erotica in a fictional or educational manner." A MasterCard spokesman stated that it "would not take action regarding the use of its cards and systems for the sale of lawful materials that seek to explore erotica content of this nature."

Our original post:
PayPal Bans Porn

Can TED ED Capture and Share the Best?

TED has enabled many great speakers, their vision and thoughts to be shared across the globe. Many would have never known about the likes of Pranav Mistry’s Sixth Sense without TED Talks. The eloquent education evangelist, Sir Ken Robinson has reached millions through TED and has been viewed over 11 million times and continues to be watched by more than 10,000 people every day. TED has changed the way we can hear the best speakers, scientists and business leaders.

Now the service is extending itself into the educational space with a TED-Ed YouTube service. Its approach may well recreate those magical Faraday Lectures that engaged so many students in the past and ensured the best and most gifted teachers engaged with the widest audience to create life long learners. Together with Salman “Sal” Khan’s Khan Academy, they start to question the way we use technology to engage and educate and remove those physical constraints that have often restricted learning. The Khan Academy is now backed by the Gates Foundation and Google, and is starting to find an audience.

TED-Ed has taken a few wise steps in this new programme. It has created; a submission process that can be vetted, a capturing facility enabling the best teachers to be caught on the internet, a short form lecture that is focused on 10 minutes and an opportunity for the best graphic artists and animators to plug in and help augment the basic content into an absorbing lesson. TED is committing to producing hundreds of videos a year but unlike others, sees it self as ‘helping teachers’ and not claiming to replace or transform education into a video and digital streamed world.

So is TED-Ed becoming an educational publisher? What is different to what they do to what the likes of Pearson and others do? Is it in fact now competing head to head with TV educators such as the BBC? Will other teachers use the material to compliment their own or view it as a gimmick, a 10 minute sound bite and nothing more? Will sufficient material be posted to offer real depth and will there be sufficient range of material to cover all subjects? Will the graphics match the words and engage?

TED-Ed aims high and there is no reason why it will not attract the best teachers and give them the unique opportunity to educate not just the few but the masses, not just in one school, city or country but across the glob enabling them to engage, inspire and open students reception to learning. It however steers away from creating entire curricula on video choosing instead to compliment curricular with those engaging moments that leave the student engaged and wanting to learn more.
TED-Ed has posted a small number of lessons aimed at engaging the teachers so they can participate and create hundreds more. The videos are based on using the teacher’s words and giving them that extra dimension through the overlay of the best animation.

TED was an opportunity missed by traditional publishers who often saw it as a speaker conference forum and not as a education and enlightenment platform. They didn’t grasp the model and its potential we wonder if they same will apply to Ted-Ed and whether in a few years we will all be experiencing the rebirth of the Faraday lecture via 21st century soundbites.

Watch some TED-Ed videos and make your own mind:
How Pandemics Spread
The cockroach beatbox
How containerization shaped the modern world
David Gallo on Deep Oceans
The Power of Simple Words

US Libraries to Take Ownership of Digital?

We have to respect that there are only so many hands that can access the till before it becomes uneconomic. One of the challenges faced by public libraries and bookstores is that they are totally dependant on the digital aggregators and service providers for the supply of content and a digital platform. Instead of investing in growing their own infrastructure they opted to leave it to others and then are surprised when those same players threaten to sidestep them or end up having the real relationship with the consumers.

Why did the Bookseller’s and Library bodies not build their own service, to both host digital files and service them to their members? Why did they effectively role over and leave it to others to grab the space? It was potentially on the agenda, but often dismissed as not being ‘their’ businesses. Was this a wise move?
Last year the Douglas County Libraries in Colorado started to take control of their own content and this has attracted much attention and is being watch by other libraries and publishers in the US. Douglas County have started to purchase ebook files directly from publishers and host these on their own Adobe ACS4 Content Server and serve them up directly to their communities. The Califa Group, which claims to be the largest library network in California, has now decided to follow the same route.

Once a member has been authenticated they will be able to borrow ebooks in the EPUB format that will work on a variety of devices. There may also be links provided to buy ebooks.

The libraries are also working on the legal framework that was produced with, which is not a formal contract but based on documents that spell out terms of engagement with publishers and avoids costly and time-consuming contracts with each publisher.

A “Statement for Common Understanding for Purchasing Econtent,” asserts the library’s rights under the first sale doctrine of the Copyright Act:
The Library may lend a copy to a library user under First Sale 17 U.S.C. Sect. 109. The Library may make incidental copies as necessary to perform the lending function. The lending copy is an ‘evanescent’ copy that disappears after a set period such as two weeks. During that time, the copy is not available to any other party. Incidental exercises of other lawful rights constitute non-infringing ‘fair use.

It also affirms the library’s obligation to safeguard the intellectual content of a copyright owner:
The Library may not make multiple unauthorized copies to sell or lend. The Library may lend one copy to one user at a time. For example, if the Library buys four copies of a work, it may lend four copies simultaneously. It may not make derivative works, such as translations or movies. These are exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner 17 U.S.C. Sect. 106.

The framework also describes the library’s need to own (not lease) files, the library’s digital rights management system and the case for traditional library discounts to be applied.

The library market’s ability to act in a consortia manner may add another dimension as they are able to share contract deals with publishers, code, interfaces and much more re experience and for smaller publishers this may prove a real opportunity. Although it sounds straight forward and logical this is still just a small initiative which still faces interesting challenges and many potential push back.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

So How Do You Reward The Author?

At one end of the value chain we have ebook pricing, which today is in need of a sustainable model that is in the consumer interest. After all, they are the final arbitrator and the only one who actually puts real revenue into the chain. At the other end, we also find a similar need for a sustainable reward model, which is in the long term interest of the author. After all they are the ones who actually create the work and its value.

We have long stated our views on agency and its flawed position. Some have claimed that without agency, the future is bleak, prices will fall and the rewards for authors will be impacted. Whatever position you think is right, the future of agency will be addressed by the Department of Justice and EU investigations and filed class actions. Irrespective of the outcome, the question of author reward should be debated and is not just tied to any one model.

We have seen the drop in advances and the pressure on established authors to grant ebook on their back list. We have also seen the ebook self publishing model change, with the likes of Amazon, Barnes and Noble and others offering large incentives to authors to publish, both backlist and new titles with their services. The percentage of reward offered by publishers on ebooks has also gone up and down like a YoYo.

So what should an author earn on ebooks? Does an ebook have to be tied to its pbook or abook renditions? Where are the added value steps between the author and the consumer on ebooks?

Last week we also listened to a good friend, who is an published author and who told us about an aspiring author‘s manuscript that they had been given to read. They said the work was very good and a well constructed 'page turner', but that they were lost as to what to say to the writer. Five years ago they would have lined them up with an agent introduction and pushed them towards the traditional publishing route. Today, they feel that the rewards have changed dramatically and although the model still works for many, the odds on new authors making it are increasing and they believe, ‘its growing impossible for authors to make a living out of writing alone.’

The ebook itself is potentially changing the relationship between the author and the others who sit between them and the consumer. Yesterday the rights were often traded on a ‘performance related’ model. If the work wasn’t shifting, the rights could revert. Yesterday, there were often separate rewards for unit sales, special ‘book club’ deals, and the royalty statement could be tied to production, inventory and sales. Today, we increasingly see ‘net receipts’ and in the digital world, ‘honesty box’ sales and receipts. We do not doubt the sales reported but it would be interesting to see who has fully audited their digital sales and established that the money paid relates to the sales achieved?

We also have the question of rights being reverted. Contracts may still tie the pbook break clause to performance, but does this extend to ebooks whose inventory is now virtual and now exists within a ‘long tail’ marketplace? Are ebook rights becoming perpetual deals? Why aren’t ebook’s rights term based and fixed and renewable on say a five year basis? This would not only remove perpetual deals for the life of the copyright but it would make sense in a marketplace which is rapidly evolving and where it is often difficult to predict next year, let alone twenty or thirty years out. Today, an author can not only be tied to an agent’s deal for life but increasingly, the publisher too. Let’s hope that they don’t ever fall out!

Permission rights will become increasingly important in the digital market, but how are these rewarded and itemised on that royalty statement, let alone calculated and recorded?

We also have the question of payment schedules. It was understandable that royalty payments on pbooks took time. But in today’s real time payment transaction world where all ebook sales should be firm, does to same ‘banking’ delays and reconciliation make sense? It is interesting that the agency model agreed the commission split upfront, but irrespective of that simplification of the division of revenue, the money flow remained slow to the author.

Marketing and promotion can be one of the greatest value added services provided by a publisher. In the physical mass market world this was relatively easy to define and could even be written into the contract, but does this still work in today’s mixed market and how will it work in tomorrow’s digital direct market? As publishers move to a more direct marketing position will the exposure and spending gap between the ‘celebrity author’ and the rest widen? Does the publisher see the author, the work, or themselves as the brand tomorrow and how is that reflected in the marketing spend?

We now have the emergence of the rental model, which as in music and other media, often has a consumer appeal. Not only can this be at title level, but also incur a subscription across collections. How will this be reconciled moving forward?

Advertising revenue driven models are now starting to take hold within other sectors but how will they be reconciled to reward authors?

There are beacons of light for authors and we applaud the Simon and Schuster new author service and believe that transparency of marketing, sales, and reward is the only way forward.

Finally, we have the question of what should the author be paid on their digital sales. Some suggest a bit more than the physical sales, some stick around the 25% mark, some go higher and then we have the self publishing levels where the majority of revenues flows to the author. These are mere numbers and meaningless unless tied to performance as it is better to earn on a lower percentage and sell volume than earn on higher percentage and sell few.

So how do you relate performance and reward in digital rights contracts moving forward?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

PayPal Bans PayPorn!

Tomorrow what we can read, watch and the art we observe may not be decided by ourselves or governments and laws but by a new breed of censors. These censors may have no qualification or experience, just the ability to switch off those who they deem unfit. It’s like a McCarthy witch hut without the senate hearings, flag beating and just a darkened room and anonymous censor.

The latest technology censor has deemed erotica and pornography the evil and corrupting element that must not pass their doors. PayPal doesn’t even host any content it merely facilitates online payments. Yes, a financial service operator is now deciding what is appropriate to read and what isn’t. It can achieve this level of moral censorship by having a virtual monopoly over the business of controlling cash transfers made via the internet and also having a dominant market share over the online self-publishing channel.

Last week, without warning, PayPal merely wrote to every major self-publishing website and announced that it would refuse to process payments for clients that sell books which contain what it regards as "obscene" content. Paypal will aggressively prohibit erotic literature which contains scenes of bestiality, rape, incest and under-age sex. Ebook websites that sell such works will have their PayPal accounts deactivated. PayPal claim that they are acting under pressure from credit card companies (the likes of Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc). This alone begs the question of hypocrisy and double standards as these companies are happy to take money from all sorts of services that are far more corrupting than erotic literature. PayPal is also owned by EBay who happily sell erotica and therefore its one rule for them and another for its customers.

It doesn’t matter how many books are effected it is the stupidity of a censorship based on subjective and unqualified self judgement in an area that they are ill qualified to judge. Will their ban apply to physical books, art , movies, music and will they come down heavy handed on all publishers or merely the self publishing market. More ridiculous is the question of how PayPal believes it is going to enforce its moral high ground. Will they ban any site from selling Nabacov, DH Lawrence, Stig Larson, Shakespeare, Suskind, Belle de Jour, Cleland, Harris, Neret, Zola, Joyce, Nin, Miller, Reage, Swinburne, Boccaccio Etc. Many artists and photographers,such as Mapplethgorpe, Newton and many more, would fall foul of these rules. After all it is ridiculous to effective ban one form of expression, literature without impacting other forms such as art, film, photography etc.

So PayPal and others have draw the line on their own definition of obscene adult content that it believes is extreme or potentially illegal. What comes next, political expression?

Advocacy groups are considering taking on the PayPal censorship case and some have already written on the subject; Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC).

Perhaps someone at PayPal should enter the word 'erotica' on the parent EBay's own site!

How Do You Price eBooks?

Some would suggest that current ebook pricing resembles the kitchen floor after the baby has had its dinner, with bits of food left all around waiting to be tidied up.

One of the greatest challenges we all face when introducing new offers is on how to price them and the current ebook evolution is no different. The challenge is somewhat easier when the offer is new and there is no real old offer to compare it with, or when the change is a disruptive one and the old offer is withdrawn. However, when the old offer still remains alongside the new, then we have the added comparison and potential confusion in the minds of the buyer.

  • Am I buying the same thing or something different?
  • Is the value of the new offer greater or less than that of the old one and can we attribute a value to it?
  • Am I buying, leasing, renting or a subscribing?
  • Do my ‘ownership rights’ change?
  • What should the new form cost in comparison to the old?

When the CD first replaced Vinyl the price went up. Consumer’s cries of foul play were met with claims about the investment and transition costs and the price remained high despite several consumer body reviews. Now those prices have plummeted. Was the drop was due to the greater economies of scale from a more mature market offer, or was the original prices were just too high?

Is there a price ratio between the old and the new when the new offer is first introduced that changes and does this reduce as the market matures? Some suggest that when the mass market paperback first appeared, the price ratio to the hardback may have been as high as 1:10. Today the paperback to hardback ration is down to around 1:4. The figures are obviously open to challenge but the principle is there for all to see.

If we look at today’s offers we have in simple terms; hardback, paperback and ebook. Tomorrow we may well have enhanced ebooks with lots of added value but today it’s the same content. We may well loose or see a drastic reduction in physical units produced and sold in either form and if so how does that play out across the economics of the work itself? What should the price ratio between the offers today and tomorrow? What is the cross subsidy that takes place as the ebook share increases to that of the pbook? Also as the ebook share increases what is the economic impact on the pbook model, margin, net receipts and author reward structure?

Other factors such as the market sector, channel, geography etc are also worth noting as the perceived buyers value may well change with digital making which could effect the price charged.

Then we have the anti Amazon agency model and the obvious question of whether this is in the best interests of consumers? The US Justice Department and EU are separately investigating the issue. Some agency publishers may appear desperate to hold the pricing line, but what is clear, is that irrespective of the outcome, the mere visibility of the current investigations will impact and potentially further damage consumer perceptions on ebook pricing.

Another area of pricing challenge is the public library market. Unlike the pbook the ebooks doesn’t wear out the more it is loaned out. As a result the library doesn’t need to replace the ebook. HarperCollins approach to this was to create a ‘26 loans and renew’ policy, which basically replicates the pbook and says that the more successful the title the more HarperCollins wants to be paid. Today we read that Random House have adopted a different library pricing model based on a reported upfront 300% price hike on ebooks. Others have proactively walked away from the market and decided to sit on the fence on several ebook issues and play wait and see.

The interesting thing about the library pricing issue is that the issue could have far wider ramifications as we see new ebook on demand rental and lending services.

Other media sectors don’t have the same replacement revenues to protect and it is hard to see how publishers can sustain the current position especially when they are advocating the benefits of the digital book over the physical one but at the same time denying them when faced with a perpetual sale that is a resultant benefit! It is even harder to see the logic of creating potentially bad PR in making the public purse spend and not share technology benefits.

We did a 'ebook pricing' search on our blog posts and were amazed on both the number of articles posted on the issue and the history. Pricing is not easy but getting it wrong can be hard to undue.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

'The Bitch' Has a Message For Publishing

Sometimes the real message is not in the headlines but half hidden in the text.

The news that Jackie Collins, is to digitally self-publish a rewritten version of her bestseller,’ The Bitch’ in the US should not come as a shock. More and more authors will take their backlist and rejuvenate them digitally and pop them out at $2.99.

The interesting thing that caught our eye in the story was the quote, "If it does well, I probably will continue to e-publish, because I have a book of short stories and my publisher says short stories don't sell."

Here we either have a publisher who apparently is wedded to the print world and has failed miserably to understand digital opportunities, or one who doesn’t want to publish Collins. Short stories don’t sell if you remain wedded to the bulking up of them into collections and force them onto physical bookshelves, or you run your business based on what the form book says, ran well and sold last week, month or year. Sometime you have to look forward, not backwards and recognise that you are playing to a potentially different market, certainly a different channel and most definitely a different form factor. Did Steve Jobs make iTunes by selling albums or tracks, by adopting a million different price pints, or by adopting the norm as set out by the producers? Sometimes when you look backwards you have to understand history a bit better than just looking at the form book.

Maybe the publisher is now apprehensive about the apparent moral stance that the likes of Paypal are now taking over erotica and pornography and think that Collins may be see by some to be borderline. Mind you others would suggest even more PR can’t be a bad thing.

It’s as if there is an old guard that can’t see the new world and continues to try to shoehorn tomorrow into yesterday.