Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Libraries Are Doing It For Themselves

It has always been a mystery why some who were always to be regarded as being too small to compete digitally by themselves did not take the consortia and collaboration route to self determination. Instead they were often happy to sit on the edge and watch as others ate their lunch or entered into deals were they effectively gave away their customers, or even their transactions for what appears to be chump change in commission. Publishers, retailers and libraries often forgot what they did best and rolled over digitally, even Waterstones rolled over, admitted their were bereft of digital competency and welcomed Amazon in through the back door

Now we are starting to see some smart publishing initiatives which can make a difference. Faber’s Factory offers small to medium publishers the benefits of a digital consortia, Bloombury online offers other publisher the ability to share their digital shelves but libraries and retailer who would appear to be those that are most a threat have often failed to grasp the digital nettle.

It seems an age since Overdrive took to the road in the US to show off their digital capabilities and enlist the libraries into their universe. The model was easy for libraries to adopt and merely involved them handing over their digital lending to Overdrive. Where once they owned their books they now simply white labelled them on demand. However some library organisations in the US are now making bold but logical and long overdue strides to take control of their ebook environment.  The Douglas County Libraries in Colorado are being followed by the San Mateo-based Califa Group, which is the largest library network in California and Kansas State Library. The objective is to create their own library and striking a deal with Smashwords for outright ownership of its top-selling titles and with  Boopsie to provide mobile apps for the platform. The Califa deal with Smashwords will enable them to purchase some 10,000 of the their top titles for around $3 a title and host these on their own Adobe Content Server. There is no reason why the server could not host compliant files from any other source and in doing so build their own digital facility which could easily expand even be linked with others. Publishers who today are sticking their heads into the sand on digital lending or inventing that infamous ‘26 loans and re-buy’ rules should be wary that this model could soon snowball and leave them with a bad PR nightmare. In contrast, it is being claimed that some small publishers sensing an opportunity to be seen are even prepared to give the book free to the library as a show of support, whilst others said that they would sell to the library at a price below retail.

The interesting twist that Smashwords offers is the ability for the libraries to offer self publishing facilities to their patrons. This is an interesting added value which could provide the community with a two way hub and also reverse feed Smashwords would could then in turn feed its retail Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Sony etc.

So at a time when the public library is under threat some are showing that they have the vision to move forward and even raise funding in difficult times to start to redefine the library in the digital arena. Libraries have a great potential future but are not going to achieve it by standing still and trying to defend yesterday. By staking out a place and acting collectively they may not only redefine their future, strike up meaningful partnerships that are two way and importantly present the community with a new focus. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Long Walk to DRM Freedom

The big debate today is still about DRM and whether it is necessary to prevent piracy . Some would argue that it is more of a sledgehammer to crack a virtual nut and mechanism that is actually failing to connect with its intended target? It is now becoming more widely accepted that it doesn’t deter professional piracy and anyone who wishes to crack it can do so with scripts which are available today on the internet. So the only people who DRM actually restricts and works against are the everyday consumers. The debate is taking a similar path as it did in the music industry, before they had that cathartic moment and went MP3. Some would suggest that it’s somewhat interesting that one of the major agents of change in the MP3 music e move at the end was Amazon and one of those that stood firm was Apple.  
DRM is about restricting, enforcing or controlling rights. In the physical book world it is basically about informing the person with the book, who owns the intellectual property and that it can’t be reproduced with permission. Obviously, the book owner can do anything they wish with the book and it was impossible for the rights owner do anything more than exert one’s rights. In the digital world nothing has changed but it is now easier to copy, reproduce, change a digital file and commercially reproduce or exploit it and therefore DRM is seen as a necessary a deterrent.
It is worth noting that without DRM we may have experienced widespread abuse as people started to use digital files. Therefore one could say it has worked and that it has given us time to adapt, understand and make the community aware of the issues. However, there comes a point when restrictions once thought as productive become counter productive. Some suggest that we have reached that point and it now time to switch off DRM, but have we considered the associated issues, or are we merely lurching into a move?
Is the removal of DRM a simple issue of switching it off, or are there associated issues that need to be considered at the same time? Will the change be a bottom up movement or will it be driven from the top down? Who will make that final move that will break the DRM shackles? Will it be the retailers , the publishers. The authors, the consumers, technology or a combination of events? The one thing that is becoming apparent is that the genie is out or coming out of the lamp. Getting it back in may be a public relations act too far.
At the heart of the issue remains the fear of the unknown, which often makes getting consensus across the industry more difficult and some would say impossible. The fear is about loss of revenues to all concerned. That lost revenue opportunity to make more money or reward for effort and creation. However, the fact is that no matter what figures are calculated, it is impossible to determine what is lost or effect would be and whether , those who take a different approach could have had the same result if they had remained within the confides of the rules. Some would suggest the It all guess work and often massaging figures to fit the argument.
As we move towards more online and towards on-demand services, then the need to download and ‘own’ actual files decreases and the protection, auditing and management required also change.  Some who are advocating a DRM free world are doing so knowing that in an online service will render DRM as we know it today irrelevant. Content truly can become agnostic when read through browser based readers. The file should actually never leave the server and when it does it is only cached locally. We have to seriously ask ourselves if we really want our library on a device or local server when we can get it 24x7 online on demand and read it literally on any device at any time and anywhere. Some would suggest  that those who say this is not the real world today may be the same people who never thought the internet would make it passed the dirt track and become the super highway we have today.
What is certain is that we will not all move and switch off DRM at the same hour on the same day and some will take time to see the light and act with great caution. So what do we need to think about as we move away from DRM?
Ownership – do we own, rent individually or subscribe to a service? This change itself demands the control of access rights and windows. Today we do not allow the first sale doctrine to digital, but in a rental world this becomes irrelevant it only remains if we sell the file to the consumer. Some would suggest that the way we have distributed digital files to all, is itself questionable and if we can’t work on a cloud based distribution ourselves how would we expect consumers to do it?
The library lending model  is perfectly suited to the online on-demand model. The commercial rental model still requires to be addressed but DRM becomes a none issue as demonstrated by services such as Bloomsbury Online and many institutional academic services.
Permission and usage rights still need to be documented and available to be viewed. A rights registry which covers permissions and sub rights would make sense but unfortunately is unlikely to happen.
Removing DRM is not about finding ways to reduce the market clout of some. This is naïve as the benefits would apply equally to them and iTunes still dominates music in an MP3 world.
So rather than debating the removal of DRM should we be now discussing how we will operate in a DRM free world and what we need to consider today to de-risk the fear that is holding us back from moving forward.   

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sweating the Physical Book Warehouse

In today’s world of constant digital bombardment I often forget the physical world and the need to constantly recalibrate its logistics capacity and resource, to react to the growing influence of digital content and new technology.

It was good to hear David Smith’s views on the state of physical logistics and fulfilment in today book supply chain. David is the Distribution Director at Macmillan (MDL) and someone I have long held in high regard.

As I expected the sector is under increased pressure on compliance, standards, service efficiency and international trade demands and volume and David duly explained these and the constant need to react to the ever raising bar. It was with great pride, as the architect that I saw some of those PubEasy screens that I had first visualised in what seems an age ago and a different lifetime!

However, the eye opener was with respect to warehousing and management of that warehouse itself. One would expect that space would be shrinking and heavy investment would be seriously capped whilst the digital market stabilised. Wrong. Not only are MDL expanding their square footage they are also considering significant robotic investment.

Is this wise I ask?

David explained the expansion footage at Swansea and their new High Bay units. MDL is not alone in investing in the automated high bay environment, where the books come to the picker and handling is minimised. But they are now considering radical robotic systems.

The KIVA system is such a system and works on a traditional aisle layout but with the pick face being transported via defined runs to the picker and then finding its new pick dynamically allocated location. Is this better than a high bay and does it provide the slot density and is it suited to books? I then find out that Amazon has recently bought not just the system but also the company that was founded in 2003 for just $775 million! So they obviously like it.

He then talked about the Auotstore system from Swisslock. This did away with the traditional aisles, pallet bays and layout and instead creates a cube of tote boxes each containing unique stock and again works on a dynamic pick slot basis. When the stock is required the cube opens up and releases the appropriate box, feeds it to the picker and then returns to an empty slot in the cube. Space optimisation is obviously maximised and the faces are constantly being replenished and picked and handling is again minimised.   Asda are going live on this system using 70,000 bins and 160 robots!

The big question with robotics is the obvious significant investment needed and the return it would generate and whether this can be justified within a publishing distribution business.  Automation isn’t just about single, cartoon picks or bulk movement it’s about all these demands in an environment that is also being impacted by constant changes in the market. The investment challenge for the physical book chain is the forecasting the impact that digital and the realignment of physical retail and distribution will cause.  What is certain is that further consolidation is needed and some will still say that there are too many players out there today and too many not able to make the investment needed. Further consolidation is almost demanded if the physical supply chain is to maximise its   economies of scale and scope to work deliver greater efficiency.

I always remember visiting a large publisher’s distribution facility only some 15 years ago. I watched  with amazement as it was just closing down on early Friday afternoon and wondering if they Ire seriously in the business of logistics or merely playing at it. It’s great that the likes of MDL clearly understand logistics and distribution and how to sweat the asset.

BIC 2012: Rethinking The Future

This is a presentation i gave to the BIC New Trends Seminar 2012 on 20th June in London.

The one thing that is certain about tomorrow is that it will be different to today and anyone who says that they have a clear and defined long term digital strategy is someone to be avoided and treated with healthy scepticism. We can all spend too long looking backwards to spot trends, But the future is not a linear journey. Trends merely tell us where we have been, not our destination. However, history teaches us that much is cyclic and what comes around goes around albeit differently. Change as we have all witnessed, can and will be, very disruptive and there will be many digital ‘black swans’ moving forward.

Richard Charkin recently said that publishers need to now think and act as start-ups, which is a hairy prospect for many and will not suit all.

I believe that the future is often born out of understanding the past, recognising what is different and identifying the enablers that make change happen and for us to do things smarter.

Today, I want to share 3 stories that help present just one perspective of the future. These are merely three stories which weave together to present just one argument. Just one piece in tomorrow’s digital jigsaw.

The first story is about finding needles in haystacks

A couple of years ago I found myself in Ludlow market looking at a pile of old books. I bought three, two by the same author and one featuring an artist I admired. The first two were cloth bound and published in the late 1930s by Country Life and the author went on to be; an author, artist, environmentalist, TV personality and wildlife campaigner. I wanted to share with others; the art, the wildlife, the environmental perspectives, and their insight into life in a bygone age and of course the man himself. 

I started to think about reprinting them. I established the direct market potential, the audience and was confident it was viable as a quality two volume collector’s slipcase edition and so I started to research the rights to the works. However, tracking the rights to 80 year old works quickly became a challenge. Eventually with the help of friend, who is somewhat of an expert in orphan and public rights, we tracked down the estate’s owner and there the issue sits today. The exercise proved that even with a well know author and clear publication history, tracking down rights, be they orphans or just old works, can be a testing exercise.

Imagine tracking down a less notorious author’s work from even 50, 40, or even 30 years ago? 

I was one of the first to stand up against the audious Google Book Settlement. My opposition was and remains primarily over the proposed ‘land grab’ or adoption of orphan works. Does my quest to adopt an orphan damper my opposition, or push me towards the ‘nationalisation’ of orphans or mass digitisation some propose today? The answer remains no.

Thinking about a rights business reminds me that some ten years ago I was invited by the BBC to attend a special conference on their future. It was to be attended by all senior figures from the Director General down.

On the day I found myself joined by a group of what appeared to be students and teenagers complete with street clothing and undaunted by their surroundings. I felt somewhat out of place and wondering what on earth was happening. We were ushered into a room and ask to sit on tables with senior BBC executives. After a couple of speeches the most illuminating dialogue started around each table. It was all about technology, software, games, gadgets, viral events and the latest things, some of which I had never heard of. It was about how the BBC should engage and what they should do next. The BBC learnt a lot from that exercise. Interestingly the BBC was starting to recognise that they weren’t so much in the broadcasting business as in the content and rights business.

That fundamental realisation has helped them shape their BBC Worldwide commercial arm and changed much of what and how they work today.  

Publishing, be it; music, film, games, books, is about content and rights. It is a rights business from acquisition, development to trading. Yet it is somewhat ironic that we remain wedded to rights terms which would appear to be inappropriate to the digital world, stuck in the print world. We find ourselves now moving in that digital environment without a rights registry.

It’s like going into combat today with First World War technology – it’s plain just dumb.

The one thing Google would have at least given us was a registry and without one some would suggest that we are flying blind in the eye of a digital storm.

The second story is about that extraordinary man Charles Dickens

A couple of months ago I visited the Dickens exhibition at the London Museum. What is interesting is that Dickens lived through the great literacy revolution where the masses were able to read and his penny fiction was a way of feeding their new habit in a digestible form. Dickens was many things not just a writer of great novels. Dickens was a performer, a journalist, a letter writer, a pamphleteer, a theatre producer and a self publicist extraordinaire.

He not only wrote many works by the chapter, he also delivered them as ongoing works. He used the ‘penny press’ to presale the stories by instalment. In 1837 he was selling some 50,000 copies of his Pickwick periodicals at a shilling a time. These contained one chapter sandwiched between pages of adverts. Many of these adverts had little to do with books or even the subject matter of the story. In fact the adverts demonstrate the diversity of the audience. The journals appeared either weekly or monthly and given the number of chapters and volume of sales, plus the advertising revenues, should have earned him a good return. It is claimed that when Great Expectations was published in weekly instalment in 1861 it had weekly sales of some 100,000 units a week. Interestingly they didn’t diminish his book appeal but fuelled interest in the finally work.

The Victorian engineering, transport and communications revolution of Dickens’ time was, on reflection, as great as that we have today with our technology and communications revolution. The new railways, telegraph and postal services enabled him to travel extensively and communicate to a wide audience and between 1858 and 1870 he gave some 472 readings of his works in the UK and US.

In Victorian times the novel was often also enhanced by illustrations. Dicken’s ‘Sketches by Boz’ was illustrated by George Cruikshank and as with many Dickens tales the reader was able to picture both in words and in imagery the story as it unfolded. Today, we have often lost the imagery of yesterday, but does the new ebook now enable us to once again enhance and illustrate the book?

It is not hard to see the relevance of Dickens to today and why it is somewhat ironic that 2012 is the 200th celebration of his birth.

Some have adopted the short story and instalment model and Keita digital novels continue to be a huge success in Japan. In the West Stephen King and others have also ventured down the digital short story and instalment route. But why hasn’t a publisher grabbed this digital opportunity by the throat? Are we stuck in the economic 75,000 words, 256 page format of the print rendition?

When we have done digital short stories, we have even bound them into digital collections. It’s as if we missed the iTunes moment when singles were reborn. We continue to ignore the shortening attention span and channel hopping culture in which we live.

Has the publishing and editorial process got in the way of the instalment and short story? 

Short stories and instalments may also unlock further the democratisation of writing. Some would suggest that they may have greater potential for consumer engagement than the enhancing today’s somewhat stretched physical content model with digital media for media’s sake.

If we want more people to read then give them something exciting that they can quickly appreciate and value.

The third story is about the creation and development itself - the publishing front office.

In the late 90s as part of the research programme ‘publishing in the 21st Century’ , Mark Bide, Mike Shatzkin , John  Wicker and myself went to HarperCollins in Manhattan. We were doing research into the digitisation of the publishing front office and the objective was to look at an Editorial system that they were using.  The system looked impressive and acted as we would expect but I felt there was something not right about it. A few questions later and what appeared to be a good system was turning into a dog.

To cut a long story short it was built like a transactional system and not as a content one. It lacked that intuitive feel needed by creative people. What workflow that did exist was ridged. Editors were being asked to enter other people’s information for little perceived benefit to them. The final blow was that a number of Editors had refused to use the system.

I remember saying, ‘if the customer service clerk refused to use the system you sack them, if the editor refuses to use the system you sack the system.’

Have we moved on in the last decade?

Well the answer is yes and no. Systems have been adopted but the divide between content and context and transactional information still exists. People still see production systems as often financial and transactional and somewhat divorced from the content. Marketing, promotional and bibliographic information is still often in parallel silos and not drawn directly from the content itself. There is still a gulf between content and transactional information.

This is not true in some sectors, such as education, where the complexity of the works and digital has demanded better tools. However when you look at others such as the development of some academic monographs, you can see huge opportunities for radical improvement which are not being taken today.

I would ask you to consider that the argument that these three stories give us is that tomorrow will be heavily influenced and shaped just as much by the changes that will happen upstream in we acquire, develop, repurpose, store, curate, and market content and rights as it will be downstream in how the promote, sell, distribute and trade them.  It is about understanding and getting back to the basics, what has worked in the past, what could work tomorrow, adapting and understanding the total environment.

Digital is not just about pouring physical books into digital containers. If we think that is what it is about we have missed the plot.

There are many pieces to the digital jigsaw and there is no one piece that fits all.

To date we have been digitally obsessed with devices, DRM and formats. Thankfully these are now relatively irrelevant and yesterday’s issues

·         Devices are evolving into platforms, content is becoming agnostic, and finally moving to being cloud based on demand

·         DRM is at last past its sell by date. But before we all run out and drop DRM it it is worth thinking about rights and permission, collective commons registration, and the ‘first sale doctrine’ . Some would suggest that not to do so may be as short sighted as when we got rid of the NBA without thinking about returns

We do have some exciting challenges downstream, such as:

·         working out what the difference between ebooks and apps and associated usage rights

·         moving from outright sales models to new models, which most probably will be subscription and rental based

·         redefining and creating tomorrow’s libraries

·         exploiting the rapidly evolving social networking environment and helping readers find a digital needle in a digital haystack, or as it is now called ‘discoverability’

·         working out how we audit the sales ‘honesty box’ environment we have created

Returning to basics.

There are only two people that count in the value chain – the author, creator who puts in the IP and the consumer who puts in the cash. Everyone in between adds cost, but more than ever has to add value. Digital publishing isn’t just about the downstream activity and the consumer it is about the life cycle of content, context and rights from Author to reader.

I believe that the argument I have presented today can present one piece to tomorrow’s jigsaw and new opportunities which themselves could be significant and impact the downstream market, provide long overdue development productivity and rights governance and, may even offer a opportunity that doesn’t just cannibalise existing print but can compliment it.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

MY Map Is Better Than Yours!

The battles between Google, Apple and Microsoft are often complex and are more than just operating systems, they are about a wide range of services many of which we take for granted but that are now starting change.

The latest battlefield appears to be maps and mapping services and Google’s maps are used by some 1 billion users, over 800,000 developers on virtually all mobile platforms. We have seen Google Earth and Streetview and since 2008 our use of the mapping services has exploded along with the driving direction miles supported by the system which have  doubled to some 26 million miles and now cover 187 countries. Interestingly some 20% of all search queries to Google are location related which means the service is a major segment to them and they related revenues.

So is the battle over and the ground surrendered to Google? Apparently not and Apple is rumoured to be primed to decouple Google maps from its devices and replace the service with its own service for smartphones and tablets. With over 600,000 registered users and the support of Microsoft, OpenStreetMap, the free and volunteer-driven crowdsourced atlas, offers another viable alternative and is being adopted by the likes of developers such as Foursquare and by Wikipedia mobile.

Google however are not standing still and the competition is driving them to develop their mapping service. Google yesterday gave a preview in San Francisco of new features such as 3D enhancements to Google Earth, a portable device for taking "street view" panoramic photos and offline access to Google Maps on Android phones. The 3D rendering generates detailed models from 45-degree aerial photos which have been taken from a fleet of aircraft. The result offers a zoomable 3D viw of cities with top as well side level views of buildings, streets and landscaping. They claim it will be, ‘almost as if you are in a personal helicopter hovering over the city.’ The new feature will be available on both Android and iOs devices in weeks and on desktops later this year.

Google claim that by the end of the year, some 300 million people in the US and some international cities will be able to look at their own communities using the technology.

As we move forward there are increasing questions on where we place our technology bets. It is not just down to devices, platforms, operating systems, development tools, office tools, connectivity, app stores, supportable software but basic links to and ability to integrate to services consumers expect. In this complex environment the giants will dictate the pace and direction of change but will they all be equal in their offer and appeal? 

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Amazon Acquires Avalon Books

Amazon continues to move forward with purpose and probably understands publishing and the value chain better than any other entity. Its move into covering all the bases continued with the acquisition of Avalon Books, a small publisher with a healthy backlist of mystery, romance and western titles. The move follows their acquisition of the rights to publish a number of James Bond books in the US and the acquisition of children’s titles from Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books.

With its vast resources and experience why would it buy a relatively small publisher?

How will Avalon fit into its strategy?

Avalon was launched some 60 years ago and has a backlist of some 3,000 titles which haven’t been digitised and have been heavily focused and enjoyed a strong library following. So Amazon gain some more titles which it can exploit digitally once they have secured the rights with the help of the founder’s daughter Ellen Bouregy Mickelsen.

We suggest that they will gain some authors who have been forgotten by the mainstream, titles that have not been exposed to the wider market and proven library books. Many think that digital is purely about enhanced ebooks, front list, apps and creating the next digital blockbuster, perhaps its also about those ‘forgotten ‘ books that have a strong sales  and lending history, those authors that have been not discovered by the mainstream, recognising the lending demand and about creating a mix of titles everyone has on offer and some that are 100% owned and exclusive.

The Amazon press release says “these books will continue to be available in print for booksellers and libraries nationwide.”

It will be interesting to watch the development of Amazon’s mix of self publishing, list acquisitions and digital and physical in the coming months and years. They have the funds to swallow up a mid market or even large publisher but the may be too much baggage today and the price also may be a high one but we would not rule anything out and they obviously have a logical and vertical strategy.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Curisoa and Curiosa

We must have blinked and missed the recent poll by into our reading habits.

The survey of some 1,863 UK readers threw up some interesting claims. One third of those surveyed claim that they had read erotic novels on their digital readers, 57% claimed that the ereaders gave them the opportunity to read children’s books in secret, whilst 26% used the devices to hide their secret sci-fi habit. So are we now reading the books we secretly desire without others knowing our true habits? Should we read anything into the claim that 58% claimed that they used the devices to deliberately hide what they were reading?

Then like a bolt out of the blue, we found ourselves bombarded with ’50 Shades of Grey’ chatter and noise. ’50 Shades of Grey’ was not only propelled to the top of the ebook charts, it also became the book everyone was talking about and it was erotica! So is erotica the new romance and what we are all now secretly reading on our ereaders behind those hidden covers? Is the news that ‘50 Shades of Grey’ has become an overnight success down to a mass digital release of real reading desires, or is it down to well planned and orchestrated marketing plan, it being a real page turner, or is it just a social viral happening we can’t explain that has created the latest ‘me too’ must read?  What is certain is that everyone will claim the credit.

We love the true story about the irate woman who rang a mail order company to complain that her husband could not have ordered ‘this book’ and demanding they collect the offending article. On confirming the order and credit card details she had to meekly concede that the order had been placed by her husband!   

Erotica has always sold, but the sales have not always been measured by the traditional channel. Erotica is often sold best by mail order, the internet, or under the counter, as we often do not want everyone to see what we are buying let alone what we are reading. A teenager will hide it under their mattress and maybe we all now hide it in our ebook collections. We saw the early cathartic moment when the trade suddenly realised that there was a latent demand for romance that could be met by digital. Interestingly, the ‘plain cover’ offered by digital may well change our publishing, marketing and reading habits, but the big question is, how do we measure this market’s potential?

A second question is whether traditional channels can rise to the opportunity, or shun it with a ‘holier than thou’ approach to what their customers really want? Apple have already stated as their policy to effectively reject the material to protect us from these ‘unhealthy’ works. Murder, war, crime is ok, but no sex please we are British.

Some 25% of those surveyed claimed that they were so ashamed of their book collection that if they were to lose their devices they would not claim them back.

However, one of the most interesting claims from the survey is that 71% of the books in the respondent’s digital libraries are thrillers and mysteries followed by romance, humour and fantasy,  but these only accounted for 14% of e-books they read. These means that some 86% of what is read is could be erotica!

Mail order booksellers have long known erotica sells. The question now is whether the trade takes erotica seriously or continues to trade it ‘under the counter’.

Welcome to the world of Curiosa.