Topical items and views on the impact of digitisation on publishing and its content and the issues that make the news. This blog follows the report 'Brave New World',
(http://www.ewidgetsonline.com/vcil/bravenewworld.html ), published by the Booksellers Association of the UK and Ireland and authored by Martyn Daniels. The views and comments expressed are those of the author.
In stark contrast to the new £188 million Library of
Birmingham, we read of yet more cuts of some 20% to library service budgets in
Anglesey, of potential closures to local libraries in Southend and across
Lincolnshire and many other areas. Over 200 libraries have closed over the last
year and Library campaigners are predicting some 400 closures in the next three
years. Southend however are not just closing libraries but are spending 27
million on The Forum, a state-of-the-art library being delivered by the
Council, the University of Essex and South Essex College.
So are we seeing a
shift towards a centralised civic library and away from the local community
one? Is this a wise move and are there other potential options?
If we forget the emotional rhetoric of the need to save our
heritage, versus the cold blooded reality of having to cuts costs, do we have a
potential to redeploy spending and potential meet the needs of all?
Many councils are looking to somewhat blatantly to breathe
life into their library services and these ideas include library relocations,
using volunteers, and increasing income. But is this merely sticking a plaster
over a heavily bleeding patient? Some may suggest that it is a pity it took
many until public spending cuts had to be made, to galvanise their thinking and
responses. This sudden reaction has itself created opposition and polarisation
of positions, which may have been avoided if the authorities had acted
progressively and proactively over the years.
But we are where we are today.
Birmingham’s new library covers some 31,000 square metres
over 10 levels and houses over 400,000 works which all be readily available to
the public. This is twice the number of works which were available in the
previous central library. It is also seen as an iconic landmark building and
Birmingham’s answer to the many new landmarks such as London’s Shard. Some
would suggest that this prestigious civic statement is reminiscent of the
Victorian era when buildings like libraries were seen a civic statement of
wealth and prosperity.
In contrast, the Lincolnshire authority is looking to reduce
the number of libraries under its control from 47 to 15, in a bid to save £2
million and is hoping that many local communities will step in to take over the
running of some libraries in rural locations. In an interesting twist the
Lincolnshire Co-operative has offered to join forces with the council to keep
six of the libraries open and also some 21 communities have expressed an
interested in becoming involved in running local library services.
We have written about this subject and we often forget the
relative short history of the public library in the UK.
With more public private partnerships such as the
Lincolnshire Co-operative, we may now also be seeing a return to the
subscription and circulating libraries?
We have to recognise that change is happening all around us.
As a result of; technology, networks and mobile connectivity, we are changing
how we communicate, discover, research, consume media and the media itself is
changing. We are not advocating a ‘digital only’, monolithic database that is
only accessible over the net. Far from it. Southend however are spending
27 million on The Forum, state-of-the-art library being delivered by the
Council, the University of Essex and South Essex College. But neither are we
advocating the status quo, where in many cases books lie dormant on shelves in
local buildings, because they have done so for the last hundred years.
The publishing industry is often the first to jump on
the barricades to defend the libraries, but its track record to date in
enabling digital lending has been somewhat questionable and some would suggest
self-centred. In a world, where for many the community is both local and
virtual, maybe it’s the redefinition of the community library hub we are trying
to grapple with. Libraries are often seen as book depositories and although many
have tried to change this image, to many it sticks. But today we have libraries
such as Amazon with every book available in both print and digitally, Google
with its search engine and the online encyclopaedia that is
Wikipedia. Merely replicating these is not what a civic library is best
equipped or resourced to do. As the book evolves and media extends some past
the spine, we have to also ask how we incorporate the book into a widening
remit, whilst protecting the library as a centre of knowledge and expression.
Some other past Brave New World articles on the subject:
When someone of the status of Kevin Spacey does a keynote speak
at the Edinburgh International Television Festival about media and content we
have to listen. The speech centred on the lessons he had learned from his successful
remake of the ‘House of Cards’ series.
His first point was that in making the series they refused
to be drawn into the US TV pilot route forced on the market by the networks. He
cites that some 113 pilots were made last year of which only 35 made it to full
adoption and that of these only 13 were renewed. This year there are some 146
pilots and 35 take ups. The process is costing the industry some $300 to $400
million a year.
Spacey, who was also executive producer on the show which
was nominated for no less than nine Emmy Award, said that "labels"
were becoming meaningless and they risked being "left behind". Netflix
bought into their production, believed their figures and backed it without a
pilot and success followed.
The second point was on the film industry’s continued obsession
with the staggered release. They continue to refuse to release via multiple
channels simultaneously because cinema companies have insisted on exclusivity
periods. There have been incidents where cinema companies have threatened
dropping films if they were given simultaneous DVD or online releases.
Spacey claims that in releasing ‘House of Cards’ into
multiple channels they dispelled the argument that multiple channel release
would not work and that in providing the customer with choice they in fact bucked
the lure of the pirate copy and gave the customer what they wanted – choice. He
says that film companies should now follow the example and not cower to the cinema
‘Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form
they want it in, at a reasonable price and they’ll more likely pay for it
rather than steal it.’ Spacey also says about why the ‘Game of Thrones’ is the most
pirated show in the history of TV, is, ‘because people can’t get it fast
He said: 'If you watch a TV show on your iPad is it no
longer a TV show? The device and length are irrelevant ... For kids growing up
now there's no difference watching ‘Avatar’ on an iPad or watching YouTube on a
TV and watching ‘Game of Thrones’ on their computer. It's all content. It's all
If we look at the book trade we hear many calling for
staggered releases to be extended to cover digital, whilst others want digital
first and some just want simultaneous multi form release. What Spacey argues is
both logical and in giving customers choice and also lowers the attraction to share
or buy pirate copies. Those who would cite the hardback to paperback, or the
international staggered release as best practice, should note that we are now
in the 21st century and that 20th century and that old models
don’t always work in our global and networked world.
To see an abridged video of Spacey’s speech click here
To read the Telegraph article on the speech click
Sometimes we miss news, or items, which at the time didn't
make our radar.
Today we come across one such story, which at a time when
many bookshops are struggling to see the way ahead, may well offer some food for thought.
Driven by the realism of the book market for independent
bookshops, Otto Penzler woke in the middle of the night and had an idea. Otto
thought that if he asked some of his author friends to write a profile of their
series characters, he could then print them and give them away with a book purchase as a special souvenir.
Otto is the owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York,
which specialises in crime, mysteries and thrillers. This idea wasn’t his first
and he had previously commissioned an original story from one of his author friends
each Christmas. The story had to be set during Christmas, have an element of
mystery and be part set at the Mysterious
Bookshop. He would then print the story and give it as thanks to his
customers at Christmas.
He produced the new profiles in collector sets of 100, all
signed by the author and as they say, the rest is history.
The initiative helped sustain the business and years after
its initiation it still worked. He went on to publish the profiles as a
collection, with Little Brown in US and Quercus in the UK. ‘The Lineup’, featured character profiles from
authors such as; Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Colin Dexter, Ian Rankin,
Alexander McCall Smith.
Even if this is old news, it is still relevant news and gives
us all food for thought.
Many talk about creating a ‘Spotify for eBooks’, but all too
often they fail to grasp the differences between the media, marketplace and
cultures and once again see all as the same. There is no reason to doubt that a
subscription service will work for some book sectors, but there is plenty to
question whether it could prevail across all sectors.
Academic, professional and educational sectors have a
captive audience and market and often also have ‘must have’ content. This makes
subscription services potentially viable in these sectors. There are questions
about who can aggregate the offer and whether the subscriber is the user or a
secondary intermediary service, but the content is often mandatory either way.
The challenge is establishing that one stop shop and recognising that multiple
‘must have’ offers don’t always work in the eyes of the buyer.
Music, newsprint, magazines, film, TV along with services
such as broadband and mobile service provision are ideal for subscription. The nature
of these services also can lead to collaborative offers which can exploit
additional memberships and add additional value. Importantly with regards to
the content it is less about individual files and more about access to
databases and collections.
Trade ebooks however have several challenges. The market and
consumer reading is still very mixed between ebooks and pbooks, The readers are
likely to only read a mere handful of books a year and often in an inconsistent
and unpredictable time manner. Heavy readers tend to be eclectic in their habit
and therefore do not want to be restricted to one genre and whereas ‘Twigging’
works best in a ‘must have’ market it is often far less important in a trade
market where depth and range can be easily provided and search and discovery
become more important.
The emergence of MOOCs such as edX and Coursera have started
to radically change the content and business model in academic and education sectors.
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia reflects on his own experience, ‘I was taking
an advanced calculus class and my instructor was reputed to be a fabulous
researcher, but he barely spoke English. He was a very boring and bad teacher
and I was absolutely lost and in despair.’
‘So I went to the campus tutoring centre and they had
Betamax tapes of a professor who had won teaching awards. Basically I sat with
those tapes and took classes there. But I still had to go to the other one and
sat there and wanted to kill myself.’
We now have TED Ed, MOOCs, Khan etc all built around
offering the best teachers, content to all irrespective of location. The
emergence of the virtual and universal course is forcing institutions to
rethink their models and here access to quality can be best achieved by a
Even the software industry is ditching its perpetual licence
model and starting to move to a subscription based one. This drive is being led
by the likes of Microsoft with their Office 365 which is now offering
subscribers full office mobile on the smartphone.
Streaming services and faster mobile bandwidth are changing
media markets such as music, film, TV sports. We are now seeing a clear shift
from download and buy, to own to subscribe to access on demand as much as you
want. Large subscription based services such as Sky, Vodaphone, EE, BT are all
now also having to offer complimentary and added value services to maintain
their member bases and avoid churn. Vodaphone are offering new 4G contracts
with either Sky mobile sports or Spotify bundled in the UK. In other words you
can now subscribe to one umbrella service and get the others at discount or
even free. It’s about community and lock-in based on a single subscription.
So what about books?
Today we have a number of attempted subscription based
services; Nuvem de Livros in Brazil and Argentina, 24Symbols in Spain, Oyster
in US. We have the potential return of the subscribing library and offers such
as Amazon’s lending library. However these have to compete with a market which
is still in a heavy discount war and undergoing fundamental relationship and
value chain changes. The subscription offers that have emerged are not doing
anything new and it could be argued are appealing to students and so tapping
into the ‘must have’ segment not the trade.
We also have the potential of our Read Petite venture and
subscription model and we would argue that this is different content to trade
ebooks and a different new marketplace.
Subscription models are appropriate where there is a high
reliance on the access and ’must have’ content, the captive audience and the
alignment with mobile and online streamed services. We would suggest trade
ebooks are not there today and are unlikely to make that transition anytime soon.
Earlier this year we wrote an article, ‘Does Publishing Have Ketchup On Its Hands?’, which was about the promotion of free books with fast
food from McDonalds. Some said ‘so what?’, one commented that ‘McDonalds are
engaging in a wholly legal promotion, one which also encourages literacy among
children and supports the waning fortunes of a primarily bricks-and-mortar
bookseller'. Some of the personal emails we received also suppored of a position of, ‘books at any cost’.
Today we read in eBookPortugal that a
promotion is being launched in Portugal that is offering digital books for free
with a Happy Meal from McDonalds. The programme from Happy Studio has some 12 titles including
"The Major Cities of the World" and "The Wonders of Nature." So parents can bring in their kids knowing that they can get fat and learn at the same time!
Last night we watched another episode of 'Family Guy', where the evil tobacco company took over the Toy factory where Peter worked and
promoted the least competent, (Peter) to President. Their motive was to
introduce kids to smoking through toys and have someone who knew no better at the top. Thanks to Stewie the plan unraveled and even
Peter saw the light.
Some 20 years ago the board of B&Q employed an Environment Controller.
A move unheard of at the time and one aimed at ensuring we had an ethical
approach to sustainable resources, supplies and also that our suppliers in the Far
East and elsewhere adhered to acceptable standards of safety and employment.
Today such policies are standard across the majority of business.
So the question we once again ask is, why are we allowing books to
be used to promote fast food and to children? We recognise that diet is only one part of the children
obesity problem, but it is a major contributor. It is claimed that some 25% of
boys and 33% of girls in the UK that are aged between two and 19 years are overweight or
I remember in the late 90s siting in a strategy board
meeting, where one director predicted that Bertlesmann would ‘crush ‘ Amazon
and that the company would not last at the level of losses is was making. I tried
to explain global branding, customer service, and how retail operations can
work on positive cash flow, but I only got a glazed look in return. The outcome
is now history.
It is hardly surprising to find that the media that Amazon started
with, books, is one that they cover so well. It is the width and depth of
Amazon’s book vision and commitment that makes it different. They proved
themselves adept in understanding the market’s weaknesses and seizing on
opportunities. As a result Amazon is truly vertical.
Who else has a significant if not major share of:
Physical books -
Sales over the internet now includes The Book Depository and ABE acquisitions. Amazon
remain one of a few who openly sell new books alongside, bargain, second hand
and rare. They understand that to a consumer, a book is a book and that
bookselling is about selling all books, not just front list.
Ebooks - Amazon
not only rekick started the ebook market, but drove the consumer adoption of
eink readers and later platforms. Although they still own Mobi, it is somewhat languishing
in the background and we are not sure what happened to that other acquisition, Lexcycle’s
Stanza reader. They have however created a market leading and global Kindle
brand, which now transcends the device itself.
POD – Amazon acquired
Booksurge. Although POD never fulfilled its potential to change the model from
print and distribute, to distribute and print, Amazon still acquire content
through this channel and it has also established their appeal to many authors.
Amazon has this base covered with market leading and aptly named Audible.
Amazon’s service pulls in retailers, wholesalers and publishers and creates a
place where Amazon may not be the cheapest but they still gets a healthy slice
of the takings from each sale. A very clever move to create a service which everyone
has to be in.
Singles - Amazon
Singles may still be a bit lost but could easily find a home in their new
Washington Post offer.
Digital Library –
The Amazon owner lending library creates a new lending model which offers the
consumer a new service and the author additional new income.
This is all without KDP
and its successful self-publishing
arm and also Amazon’s now serious and potentially disruptive moves into being a
publisher. Did we forget that Kindle brand? Did we forget that
umbrella subscription service, Prime?
To achieve the above in less than 20 years and do so across
the globe is significant. Together it shows a clinical understanding of the
value chain, book sectors and its supply chain that has to be admired. Amazon
is truly a category killer.
Now add LoveFilm video streaming and DVD rentals, a very
healthy CD Rom music retail offer and music downloads, the Washington Post,
Amazon’s new Art offer and we see a media conglomerate that has subtly moved in
and picked the industry’s ‘low hanging fruit’.
We must not forget all the other Amazon businesses. The range
of goods it now sells is diverse and generates significant revenues. Here it services
the same consumers through a single marketplace portal, offering a true one
stop shop, or ‘Walmart on the internet’.
Then we have the technology that underpins all their
services and like their cloud and web services are now being retailed in its own right.
Amazon is here and is here to stay.
As long as they continue
to provide that comprehensive cover, service and one stop shop, they will not
be dislodged. Some may want to be number two or three, but it’s like chasing rabbits
and their future will be determined more by Amazon’s actions and their ability
to merely track them. We now need to learn to survive in an Amazon world. To do
so we must innovate and do things differently and smarter and in doing so recognise
that only the agile survive a category killer.
Many see DRM as a glass half empty and also a barrier to
interoperability, others see it as a means of restricting abuse, copyright infringement
and piracy. The solution may not be as black and white as many believe.
Only a few years ago we would have advocated the wholesale dropping
of DRM and a position similar to that adopted by MP3 music. Today however, there
is potential for a softer approach to DRM to offer great opportunities for the
First we must accept that the current prevailing ‘unsocial’ or
encrypted DRM serves few and in fact in many cases can be broken fairly easily.
The major retail channels have walked away from a common standard and have created
their own DRM ‘walled gardens’. There is little point in pointing a finger at
Amazon, as Apple, Kobo, Nook all have their own DRM flavours and Adobe’s ACS4 is
still locked into 2006 and apparently going nowhere fast. There are even some
who are now actively pursuing the establishment of DRM on HTML5.
There is watermarking, which through the provision of a sort
of an ‘ex libris’ stamp, offers a softer and more social form of DRM. Some
would argue that watermarking can be removed, or abused, as easily as it can be
applied. However, watermarking offers visible authentication and ownership. If
it were coupled to a virtual registration database then removal, or alteration,
would quickly identify the file as a rogue. So in principle we have the
opportunity to establish an ownership model, but what is in it for the consumer
and the author and how does such a stamp offer a market opportunity?
Today it is not possible to resell a used ebook. This
applies loosely to all digital files and although this is being tested by the
likes of ReDigi in both the music and book markets, we remain tethered to the first
sale doctrine. However, why would we not want to resell ebooks? Some would
suggest a used ebook market could kill off the front list market, others that
the author would see no revenues for the supplemental sales.
would suggest that a vibrant used ebook market could actually stimulate the
market and that offer revenues against not just the second but third, forth,
fifth, etc sale of the ebook. If coupled with an authentication and audit trail,
watermarking could create additional revenue for all, social information and
marketing opportunities and mirror the rights on physical books. Importantly it
could act as a significant barrier to pirates who would have to establish a
different value proposition.
Today’s DRM is restrictive, segmented and frankly a mess but
that doesn’t mean that we need to flip and go DRM free which equally may be counterproductive
as it would be difficult to put the horse back in the stable once it has bolted.
Alternately, we lack any watermarking standards today and this itself could inhibit
the adoption of the technology.
The question is, who is seriously looking and discussing
this issue today? Stumbling blindly forward with unsocial DRM is not the answer,
nether is a mass exodus to no DRM.
Our dependency on electronic devices has grown over the last
decade. We now appear to be entering yet another cycle of the technology escalation
and it resulting cultural change. It will like those before it change how we
consume media and how we communicate with others.
The ‘I’ era was one of the Pod, Phone and Pad. It enabled
mobility and communication but also created the ‘I’ society who often resembled
zombies, switch on, tuned out and transfixed through those white earpieces.
What it finally gave us was the platform environment which enabled media to be
enjoyed across multiple devices. This platform broke the single device was
previously tied to single media. No more Walkmen, MP3 only, eink readers, the
smartphone and tablet became the do it all devices for all.
Having created the platform we now appear primed to create
sensory devices that themselves will enable a more intuitive interface and also
delegate the platform to the cloud. Everything will be available online on-demand
and will negate the need to have a local copy or download. This change will be
significant as it truly starts to change culture from one of ownership to one
of rental and subscription.
So we will have the likes of Google’s Glasses, Apple’s watch
and many more sensory aligned devices. Speech recognition will become the norm
and retina tracking will negate the need to pitch and squeeze and scroll. Mass robotics
are still to fully happen and a device is whatever you wish it to be.
What will come first the sensory device, or the cloud on
demand media? Some will suggest the technology is here today and they would be
right, but they have yet to be mass adopted and in doing so change the culture.
The media industries now need to gear up for a significant
change in business models which itself will create new opportunities for new
and well as old media. It’s hard to find a music store on the high street today
but when you do look at what they are now selling and recognise their business
in now online. Add to that the new services that took up the mantle of Spiral
Frog and are delivering on-demand media by subscription and we have a culture
change that isn’t going back in the box.
In ten years sensory devices may have gone even further than
we think possible today and the speed of bandwidth and universal connectivity will
make the cloud reality.
Technology and communications are changing not only our culture
but also our relationships with others. It is not just about how and what we
communicate but also about the transparency and openness of the communication. Where
once we could not see, we now can and this can start to question and even
undermine the trust and inter-dependency in relationships we once took for
We can all now see our financial transactions and business is
now viewable in real time 24x7. Even our location, what we are doing, what we
like and dislike can be tracked and visible to many. There is often no hiding
place unless you are switched off. As recently witnesses in the news, even governments
are exposed and they need to maintain their trusted relationships within an
increasingly hostile environment.
When we look at the book business and it value and supply
chains, this increased openness and transparency is opening up both new
opportunities and also starting to question relationships and process we once
took as given. Increasingly, we are all
questioning the value that others add and are now looking to technology and
information to support these. These changes are changing relationships and what
we expect from them and potentially exposing that thorny issue of trust.
We can no longer deny the rise in self-publishing. What was once
seen as the slush pie and vanity publishing is fast becoming respectable and a
vibrant publishing market in its own right. As this door widens it could impact
on the traditional publishing chain and question what rights are traded, the
terms and even the commercial relationships themselves. The process between
rights and royalties may have been to many authors something that just
happened, but as the likes of Amazon’s KDP and Kobo’s publishing and other services
start to show live sales being accrued along with earnings, what once was a
mystery to many authors is starting to become transparent. This shift is
significant as it starts to force new rules on all and merely sticking to the
old ways may in fact end up driving more to the new ones.
We have long argued that physical and digital rights should
be separated. We accept that the two go hand in hand and that they are
different to other rights such as Film and subsidiary rights. However, the
terms under which they are licenced should be separated. Right reversals have a
defined physical trigger in most contracts and this works today. However in a
digital content world this can easily become perpetual licence as the inventory
never goes out of print. If the two are joined under the same revert clause
then the physical work can be locked in perpetuity irrespective of its
performance. Term time licencing of digital would make sense, but these leads
us to consider the information needed by the author on which to base their
relationship and trust. We now have to accept a greater transparency, openness,
availability of detailed information and timeliness of payments.
Of course some may say the wheel isn’t broken so it doesn’t
need fixing, others may say they have a contract and that is that, but it is
not about today but tomorrow and maybe it’s time for a change and one that
reinforces the relationships and trust and negates the need to go for a more transparent
and open deal.
What we can’t deny is that the world around us is changing
and with it our approach to what we expect out of those we do business with and
there is no reason to believe that should be any different for authors.
When my wife’s Bibliophile book business started its YouTube
video reviews some two years ago, we all questioned whether the effort would be
worth the reward. Some 500 videos later, we know the answer and like its library
of over 100K unique and individual book reviews, the effort was worth the
Imagine being show an expensive art book by the person who
bought the stock, not on ‘sale or return’, but firm and hearing them enthuse
about what turned their head. The bonus is that you don’t get a head shot of a
person, but get to see inside the book at the pages and the look and feel of
the book itself. The real bonus comes with the price!
Many of the 3,500 books Bibliophile stocks are out of print,
remaindered, or are on offer at a great price, but the information about them
elsewhere is often poor, hard to find and that is probably why Bibliophile can
offer them. Bibliophile unlock these gems and ensure their customers can see both
inside the covers and understands their value.
So why do we still have the dry jacket and blurb from publishers?
Why is the poor source of information, duly copied and offered on to consumers by
many online retailers today? In some genres it may work but in many it’s just
not good enough today and we have to find new ways to show off the book,
describe it and sell it. It is about engagement with customers not throwing
scraps over the wall and crossing one’s fingers.
Today music is being increasingly discovered, sampled and enjoyed
via YouTube and in due course is becoming two dimensional. So why do we still
have the same dour book promotion?
Some publishers are spending more to create promotional videos
and glossy advertising of their ‘best sellers’, but surely in the age of the
YouTube and the DIY video, it makes more sense to do it for all titles and
create ‘more for less’ than merely pamper and spend on the few that would be
‘Digital publishing is publishing’ and the news this week from
Bowker that online sales have reached 44% of total sales should not come as a
shock to anyone. The question is what are we doing to exploit this, the rise in
digital titles and sales and other cultural changes? We hear lots of talk about
who is the retailer, publishers going direct and of course digital, but how are
we planning up to service this? Finding and valuing anything on an every
increasing virtual shelf is becoming harder, when in fact it should be easier?
Search and discovery in a digital era is very different to
that we experienced in the physical only world and yet many appear to be trying
to serve up the same basic information and to be crossing their fingers that
one shoe will fit all – it won’t. Look at music and how services such as
Shazam, Spotify, YouTube, digital online radio and social networks are
redefining how we find, sample and enjoy music.
The Onix XML standard was a milestone for common description
of metadata and its construct and promotion was long overdue, but although it
was built on some great work done in the music industry by the likes of Muze,
it was built primarily on the back of the EDI market and XML standards which
were aimed at a physical product market and servicing established B2B supply
chain channels. As with many industry standards some would suggest that it often
played to the lowest common denominator and rather than expanding the vision
and usage of contextual material it confined it to the established B2B service
model. It continues to service the online retailers but does it do enough or
just enough? Does it really work in a world of self-service where the consumer
wants to define their own discovery approach? Does it work when the content is
digital and itself can become the metadata to describe itself?
We would suggest three observations towards a different way
to view Context and in doing so service Content better.
Book in hand
Years ago the major wholesalers created their ‘book in hand’
processes which captured and validated the information about the book as the
first copies were handled in the warehouse. The key to this was the fact that the book itself was the best authoritative
source of the information. They still needed basic information on which to
pre order the title prior to publication, but as many know, the title, jacket
and other detail was often subject to change.
We have seen various ‘search inside’, or online samples of
the book which are in the main driven by the distributor/wholesalers and online
retailers. With the exception of certain sectors it was driven at the
discretion of the publisher by the retailer and digital distributors.
Search Inside could be the new book in hand environment,
which now can not only service the intermediary, but can also now service the
consumer. All that is required is a digital file – the digital rendition itself,
the rest is down to technology. So we all can have a book in hand and this can change
how we create, develop, control, market, promote and offers a new and different
Contextual rights may be a term we have just created and
some would say they already exist today as rights, but it makes sense to
recognise them. The could create a leveller playing field and rules in which
both intermediaries and consumers are able to fully exploit the digital content
for digital content purposes within a standard framework.
When the likes of Amazon started to scan jackets some would have
suggested it wasn’t strictly allowed but years later who would suggest that
today? Using the full content to provide authority and context is plain logical.
A better framework could enhance the discoverability of works and help remove
those embarrassing search inside and often meaningless ‘surprise me’ and blank pages.
Far too often we have retained the physical book process and
merely tipped the end product into a digital container. This approach was
sensible yesterday but could be viewed as very naïve tomorrow.
Word of Mouth
Goodreads and others have demonstrated that many wish to read
what others recommend.
The word of mouth recommendation has prevailed throughout history.
However with the emergence of social networking it has exploded and we now can
see where our ‘friends’ are, what they are reading right now and their views on
it and recommendations. It’s like being given the keys to not only their
lifestyle, movement but also their library. The challenge isn’t the people we
actually know but those who are merely ‘friends by some association’.
Many have long treated the ‘independent review’ with some
scepticism. After all, when the reviewer is actually also offering the book for
sale, it makes one question how independent they are. Newspapers today sell the
books they review and the question must be as to which the driver is and whether
the reviews are the reviews independent or mere adverts. We once did a business
survey on Home Depot and loved those wiring boards that looked like they were
created by the local electrician, but discovered that they were in fact giant
POS boards produced centrally. We also loved those little hand written book recommendation
cards in some chains, but the sceptic questioned whether these were paid for
space, or genuine. We would have loved to see if the same books got the same
reviews, or were reviewed in other stores of the same chain. We are also all aware
of the numerous claims over false reviews made by interested parties on online service.
Reviews and recommendations are often only as good as the
last one and you still need to validate that it is what you actually want.
Looking at the same
house through different windows
Today it can be difficult to determine who needs what
information and we still build system silos to service only one aspect of the
business. Search and discovery has gone beyond the basic bibliographic and
metadata information that serviced the B2B market. The market now needs more
information in order to sell both physical and digital into the channels and to
The virtual bookshelf has given us the challenge of finding
needles in digital haystacks.
Digital content can be viewed many ways by many different
people. The reader may wish to see the first chapter of a novel. The academic
the index and table of contents of a monograph. The teacher or student a selection
of pages. Even the bookstore, school or library may wish to see what they are
buying. It is just marketing material that can be easily drawn from the same
digital content. It’s like looking at a house through different windows and
seeing different aspects of the same house.
This leads us onto the catalogue which is just a collection
of works which have been compiled together for presentation or commercial
offer. There is no difference to the concept of sampling and marketing merely
an extension. The reward for thinking this way is that you can see what
everyone looks at, or ignores, or even if it have been viewed at all! It can
itself drive sales, adoptions and marketing and promotional programmes.
This starts to again beg the question as to whether the same
material can serve both B2B and B2C?
It also starts to suggest that the content itself can become
the richest source of context to help the marketing and promotion of works and
the search and discovery of them not just post publication but across the total
Merely handing over the business to the digitally
enlightened is not the answer, just as pretending digital will not happen was
not the answer. We spend far too much time trying to disintermediate and
disrupt and maybe not enough realising time that the present can have a place in the
Having spent a week last month, preparing and manning the
Bibliophile stand at the Queen’s Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace, I was
encouraged by the power of the physical book. There are only two booksellers
with a perstigious Royal Warrant and being the only one selected to be on show in the
expansive palace gardens, was a great honour for my wife’s 30 year old business
The demographic that flooded in over the four days was
perfect, forty plus, AB and heavy readers. Many of the 60,000 attendees were
drawn to the Bibliophile stand by their love of books, the draw offer for the
Taschen wonderful ‘Majesty’ tome, the author signings from Sandi Toksvig and
Max Arthur and of course the bargain prices!
Many stated that they had Kindles and Tablets, but that although
they may read fiction on them, they still preferred physical books. It’s hard to
envisage digital ebooks, as we know them today, replacing many of the works we
had on offer. From high end art and architecture to history, war and military
and children’s pop up books, the physical book still remains today. It is also hard
to see how digital can replace the joy that so many had in meeting Sandi and
Max and the reciprocal joy they had in engaging with their fans.
There was Freddie, who as a 9 year old, engaged instantly
with the DC Comics and Beano tomes on offer. During the concert break he even
came back with his parents to talk to our comic and film expert, Steve, on the
Green Lantern and other heroes.
There was Marion who was not content with raiding the
shelves once and came back for seconds. She said that it was easy to spent
hundreds of pounds on books at 50% off and with free delivery. When she came
back again for a third time, she had to admit she was a book addict and long may we continue to
feed that lovely and rewarding habit.
Learning that physical and digital can complement each other
and that the often neglected short form can be rejuvenated in the digital age, is what books are about. We have to rebalance the market, the organisations and
relationships with it, the focus of certain genres, the way we do business but
in doing so we must listen and move with the marketplace itself.
Jeff Bezos has thrown down the gauntlet to the newsprint
world and is acquiring the Washington Post for $250million.
The questions as to why and what he intends to do with the
newspaper are speculation today but the news itself is a significant step to
expand Amazon’s reach to all and potentially change the way newsprint operates.
Does this mean Bezos intends to be the new Murdoch and build
a media empire? Probably but we would suggest that unlike Murdoch he will not
need to buy up the individual presses but merely exploit and expand the one he
now has and build a brand that is local, international and importantly
individual and this could also involve classifieds and further complimentary purchases.
Forget the rhetoric that will prevail over the next few days,
the move is a significant one when you view it alongside his portfolio of
offers and his ability to effectively cross subsidise services and offer
bundles of books, films, audio, music, technology, marketplace, community and delivery
services etc on a truly global manner. Amazon was built on a global brand,
vision and offer and that is what differentiated them from many pretenders in
many of their propositions.
It is easy to envisage Amazon Singles now expanding in a logical
and different direction and this was evident with their latest news piece last
week. Their ability to customise the news alongside your tastes and interests
in other things, your location and serve them up over Whispernet and their
cloud services is formidable and not one that others will easily replicate. However
the interesting thing is that Bezos steps in and buys the basics unlike his
main competitors who merely offer a marketplace to all. It is this commitment to
get involved in the core business that truly differentiates him from the
It is going to be an interesting time for newsprint, journalists and classifieds and one
where many will now have to look over their shoulders and watch change as it
Change is demanding and be forced on companies by a declining
or changing marketplace, or may be proactively adopted by others adopting a
change of direction and strategy. What is guaranteed is that markets do not
stand still and the only thing that is certain is change itself.
In the 80s the dramatic reduction of the price of North Sea
Oil forced changes on all operators. The company I worked for shed over 40% of
its staff in just months and the cuts were swift and decisive. The first tranche
was based on the selection of ‘passengers, prisoners and wounded’ and frankly
we knee who they were and we hardly missed them. The second tranche was based
on what they called ‘arms and legs’. It was about identifying the non-core
skills, in some cases non-essential departments and projects which just didn’t
work at the new low market price. The focus allowed the company to remain
focused and deliver.
I introduced the same logical process years later when
working in a major retailer we had to cut waste and cost. In fact all companies
should review their structure, resources, and skills against market changes on
a regular basis.
So we come to a book industry that is experiencing change in
every relationship, process and even the product itself! The area we hear most
of today is bookstores and bookchains. The likes of Barnes and Noble and
Waterstones stand out like giant stone statues in what is a fluid and digital
marketplace. It isn’t just about digital content but digital commerce,
marketing and networked consumers.
Waterstones has recently shed some management and redefined
its organisational model but some would question whether it is moving in the
right direction or merely moving deckchairs on the Titanic.
Is the challenge and opportunity at the store management
level or the shop floor itself? Reinvigorating bookselling and engaging with
customers and driving sales often is not about changing job titles and hoping
that leadership can happen from the top. Perhaps the demographic on the shop floor
itself is wrong and changing that has to be a proactive change. I was part of
the team that made such an initiative deliver in retail.
Both Waterstones and Barnes and Noble still have too much
real estate and resources to change quickly. Both have to rediscover the art of
book-handling, book-selling and engagement which is lacking in many stores
today. It’s not just a case of having the right selection in the right location,
but also having the right engagement and brand perception.
Waterstones may have avoided a digital commitment, or as
some would suggested merely handed over their customers naively to Amazon.
Barnes and Noble may have bitten more digital technology that they could
deliver and taken too long to realise that the Nook market didn’t stop at the
Eastern seaboard. But in both cases it isn’t too late to harness the goodwill
and brands that remain, but it will take hard decisions such as experienced in
the oil industry in the 80s and not just tinkering at the edges. It truly is a
daunting task and not one for the old guard or inexperienced.