Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Too much information!

When does the provision of additional information go into information overload?

When reading a book we may often wonder where in the world we are. What are all the places referred too in the book?

Those ‘smart’ kids at Google now want to offer maps in books. Imagine you are reading ‘Jack the Ripper’ and at a click can see the very street the dastardly crime took place, or in ‘War and Peace’ and you can see the location of the battlefield. Google has announced that it has begun integrating its mapping service with Google’s Book Search service to let users find references to places they find in books. The article in ‘Digit’ 29th January, reports that Google's Book Search now includes a feature called "Places mentioned in this book," offering maps from Google Maps with pins indicating places included in the text. Some book titles included are Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days", Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace" and Charles Sanford Terry's "Bach: A Biography".

"When our automatic techniques determine that there are a good number of quality locations from a book to show you, you'll find a map on the 'About this book' page," wrote David Petrou, a Google software engineer, in the official Book Search blog, on Thursday. "We hope this feature helps you plan your next trip, research an area for academic purposes, or visualize the haunts of your favorite fictional characters.”

Can you imagine looking at historic novel only to find the link points you to a satellite picture of today? There are appropriate maps, as found in some novels, guides etc and there is information for the sake of it. When does being smart go too far?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What do they want to be when they grow up?

Having received the following email from Lightning Source I would ask where they are going? Digital bibliographic Agent, Digital Distributor, Wholesaler OR Library Supplier, Digital Converter or all the above plus POD? We need a digital clearance house, but are they the best placed to fill this space?

Recently Lightning Source launched a new programme to make it easy and cost effective, to build your library of digital titles - Lightning List Builder. To date, over 150 Lightning Source publisher partners have taken advantage of this programme and have set up thousands of titles! Lightning List Builder is an easy and cost effective way to increase the visibility of your titles and generates more sales of your books.

When you participate in Lightning List Builder, your set up cost for each qualifying title is limited to a Digital Catalog Fee (£7.00 per year per ISBN) for Wholesale Distribution and a reduced proof cost (£8.00) on those titles that require a proof. Title set up, including metadata and materials for each title must be submitted to Lightning Source on or before 31 March 2007.

Lightning Source List Builder - put more books into distribution, build visibility and generate revenue through a world-class network of partners. Please let us know if you have questions or need details about how the Lightning List Builder programme can work with your publishing programme. We look forward to speaking with you!

One More Cup of Coffee Before I Go

A couple of years ago Bibliophile brought back into print “The Night side 0f London” a fascinating about two journalist journey from the West end to East end of London at the turn of the nineteenth century. What struck me when I read it, was the sheer number of coffee houses and street stands that existed then. I had assumed wrongly that it would be tea shops and gin houses and although gin was there, coffee dominated.

So I read last week’s Guardian article on the "cafefication” of the UK with some interest. The fact that it traced the café culture only back to the fifties is not surprising. But as we often find and the extracts from “The truth behind Bookselling” proved, “what goes around comes around”. History teaches us much about the future.

Shopping fulfills a social as well individual need. Its fun to be among the masses on the High Street, chatting to the assistant in the shop, or meeting friends in cafes and bars. So it is no surprise that the café has been successful in the retail outlet. I personally remember the first Barnes and Noble superstore I went into in the mid 90’s and the extra dimension the coffee shop gave them. Indeed in the report “Brave New World”, we touched on the need to embrace this culture and go further and wi-fi stores to encourage people into the store. What a logical place to offer access to online catalogues and kiosks and also promote an internet presence.

But there is also the other side of the coin and the potential of the coffee house to compete. They could sell other product and reading material. Reading material is a natural compliment to a frothy cappuccino or hot chocolate and is less invasive than music and games. You may think that “Costa StarNerobuck” would not carry inventory and maybe that’s right. But they could carry a limited merchandised range. POD potentially now offers a unique opportunity for short stories, serialized copy, and with the aptly named espresso POD printer who knows! Podcasts and audio downloads also carry no inventory, minimal footage and little risk.

Perhaps there is another way of looking at digital opportunities and social acceptance? If the bookshop can become the café, can the café become the bookshop?

Monday, January 22, 2007

What can Jade teach us?

The Sunday Papers this week gave us the bullies, in one corner Jade a simple lass whose ignorance catapulted her into all the wrong places and in the other corner Google, whose simple approach leads to their apparent ignorance of intellectual property. Both enjoy the company of enthusiastic hangers on and can crush the fortunes of other sensitive types.

Google’s stated mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Google are now working on their book programme with the aim of providing not just search and discovery, but to “make it universally accessible” through the ability to effectively download the whole book onto a mobile reader and in doing so control where it is bought.

Some publishers see this as the perfect opportunity to cut out their middle man sell direct and increase margin. Others argue the scheme infringes their copyright and Google should seek permission from them before scanning works. The publishing world appears divided with Google currently being sued by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over its deal with major libraries to scan their collections.

What is clear is that these omnivores have huge funds, resource and little in their way. Google are launching their assault of the libraries hovering up and digesting all before them, whilst their competitors MSN, quietly are at work in others. Google has now scanned 1m books.

Perhaps its time for the playground antics of these bullies to face the public vote.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Digitisation Debate Moves Forward

I was pleased be with many leading industry figures this week. Booksellers, wholesalers and publishers gathered to debate the issues raised in the 'Brave New World' report and how the industry can move forward together. The discussion will be disclosed shortly by the BA, along with the resultant actions and I hope that these prove to be decisive and bold steps. The key is obviously action and quick wins and also helping all participate on a level playing field.

The ironic fact was we gathered in Godalming, the 1894 birthplace of the writer Aldous Huxley, who wrote his groundbreaking ‘Brave New World’ in 1932.

In a week when the wholesale world consolidated and Pearson announced their digital content repository strategy, what was clear was that change is happening.

The ABA (American Booksellers Association) has also announced a new Digital Task Force (DTF) who met for the first time on 10th January in New York. The DTF is composed of 10 booksellers and industry professionals and five ABA staff members, and it is charged advising the ABA on developing its digital strategies. Oren Teicher, ABA COO, briefed the team on the Booksellers Association’s ‘Brave New World: Digitisation of Content’ of which the ABA had requested a number of copies for all team members!

By the end of the year 1300 copies of the Brave New world report have been downloaded from the BA site. The report had many contributors and reviewers and was born out of co-operation and has now hopefully provided the springboard for all to move forward together.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Truth about Bookselling

I have been reading a fascinating insight into the UK Book trade from a book lent to me by my wife, “if you want to learn about today, then you need to understand yesterday.” The book was published in 1964 by Pitman is called ‘The Truth about Bookselling’ and was written by Thomas Joy, past President of the Booksellers Association.

On the economics of bookselling he says, “Still many booksellers, like Oliver Twist, 'ask for more,’ and the main reason is that booksellers are faced with ever increasing overheads rents, rates, light and heat, wages, etc. Of course publishers, too, have this problem but the publishers fix the published prices of their books, which must cover their own overheads, and it is argued that they could also take into consideration the need of the bookseller to meet his overheads and price their books to enable them to give better terms to booksellers. The result would be substantially increased published prices. Shopkeepers live in difficult times, particularly small shopkeepers, and it will be increasingly difficult for them to remain in the main streets, with the enormous rents required. “

40 years on and the words could be written today. Even more interesting was his writing on the reasons for the Introduction of the Net Book System and his references to statements from The Society of Authors, Publishers Association, Publishers’ Weekly all in 1897 – exactly 100 years ago.

“In the latter half of the nineteenth century, and increasingly in its last twenty years, the trade in new books was so seriously affected by the uncontrolled competition in discounts given to the public from the published price of books that it could not be carried on at a profit and often entailed loss, the financial return being insufficient to cover working expenses. As a result the number of booksellers keeping stocks of high class new books steadily diminished, and men of ability, who otherwise would have followed the family tradition and a love of literature by becoming booksellers, were diverted to other lines of business. This result was detrimental not only to authors, publishers and booksellers, but also to the general public, including schools, libraries and institutions, who could not find adequate facilities for seeing and purchasing books.”

The world has moved on and there is no going back. However, it gives an interesting insight as to how little has changed over the years. It will be good for someone to dig up the Brave New World report in 40 years and see what the impact digitization had made. I believe it will be significant over that period and the reader then will not be able to relate that world to today.

Monday, January 15, 2007

News, News Corp and Newstand

HarperCollins have made an interesting investment into Newstand, a company that digitizes and distributes books online and who are already working with them on their digitization programme. The press release report by Reuters states that together with NewsStand’s unit LibreDigital , HarperCollins intend to license the technology to book publishers that will allow them to typeset, produce, warehouse, distribute and market their books online. The level of investment is not know but it is sufficient for HarperCollins Group President Brian Murray to join the NewsStand board and put himself forward to speak at several events in this next quarter. This is the latest positioning by the major publishers and follows on the heels of Macmillan’s Bookstore, Random House’s and Simon and Schuster’s Content repository announcements and the purchase of Coutts by Ingram Digital Ventures. The digital arena certainly just got muddier.

It is now clear that the major’s see no difference between digital and physical distribution. They want both and they want to be the third party supplier of both digital and physical services to all and thereby offset some of their costs but more importantly minimize their risk. The statement that HarperCollins intend to license the technology to publishers is the furthest indication that their plans go past distribution and potentially upstream into production and editorial. It may seem far fetched to some but is perfectly logical to many.

The question of a publisher opening up their development to a potential competitor is always a risk, but is no different to that in the physical world today. However, the potential risks of putting all one’s eggs in one basket could be very high. It doesn’t guarantee a publisher can transfer to another easily and at a time when they are literally ‘cutting their teeth’ and the market is immature, the risk is even higher.

The ‘Brave New World’ report was about establishing consensus and commitment to the support of the existing channel and the support of booksellers in the digital world. It is ironic that in this week when publishers and booksellers sit down together to discuss this and try to establish the next steps, some are now proposing to become digital aggregators. Campaigns are already in play to get Publishers signed up but the question remains whether they will go direct or service the existing channel?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Apple iPhone sets out to redefines mobiles

This week has seen the long-awaited announcement of the Apple iPhone. Is it different to the wide array of devises available today? Will it change consumer behavior as its bother iPod did before it? Will it remain to be called iPhoone, which appears to be a trademark owned by Cisco systems?

Does it do anything more than other phones? It certainly allows users to listen to music, send text messages and emails, surf the web, has a 2-megapixel digital camera , a slot for headphones and a SIM card, enables users to upload photos, synchs e-mail content, Web bookmarks and nearly any type of digital content stored on your computer and also makes and receives calls. Not a lot different to many leading phones on the market today.

The iPhone however is a design breakthrough. Apple has once again defined style and in doing so, just as they did with the PC and the iPod before it, started to define usability and set trends. As a result, it is hard to envisage it failing to appeal to tag-hag fashion followers. The iPhone uses a patented touch-screen technology that Apple is calling ''multitouch”, is as one would expect different in its appearance, is instantly tactical and importantly automatically switches from mobile network to wi-fi if it detects a signal.

Unfortunately UK and Asia users will have to wait until later this year, The device will start shipping in the US in June 2007, with a 4GB model priced at $499 and an 8GB model priced at $599. Again not cheap but fashion icons aren’t.

I am currently looking to change phones. I can't wait nor wish to. What is driving my need is Skype and the ability to be able to expoit VOIP (voice over interent technology). I spent significant hours in networked meetings and conference calls with India, America, Australia as well as the UK. These are predominantly done through Skype for free, but tie me to my laptop. Today I want to do it from anywhere and be conactable via Skype anywhere. Three’s 'X services' fit my needs and clearly show the powered of layered technology. In 18 months the world will have moved on and i can change again.

If I wish I can also watch TV programmes on my mobile from a live signal sent from a sling box on my home TV. I do admit the screen is a bit small and the ball can get lost! However it is predicted that the next thing is miniature projectors which will enable the screen to be projected onto a backdrop. Apple also introduced Apple TV, a set-top box enabling users to send files from their computers to their televisions. Apple TV has an internal hard drive with 40 gigabytes of storage as well as a wireless connection and remote control. Consumers will be able to use the box to buy music, movies and TV shows from iTunes and transfer digital video files, photos and music to their televisions.

The mind boggles at the technolgy and convergence. It is hard to see how some players will adapt and continue to enjoy their current market share. Microsoft is trying hard to plat catch up on so many fronts but as their new 'Zunes' missed the phone, it potentially has missed the boat again. It is hard to see how Blackberry will break out of their corporate place and if they do they are certainly looking 'old and tired'.

Convergence is the name of the game as involves convergence of; technology, networks, utility and media. Expect the iReader all the above plus ibook!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Social Networking comes to Borders and Books

According to a new study from the nonprofit Pew Internet & American Life Project, more than half of American youths between the ages of 12 and 17 use online social networking sites.
These have become the ‘flavour of the month’ and the place to be seen and express yourself. In a weird way it reminds one of the early internet days when there was often more junk than substance but every now and again there was a gem. Then came the search engines and the needle became easier to find. Now we have blogs and self-expression but what is good and what is bad comes down to taste, age and interest.

According to the research older teens, girls in particular, are the most likely to have created online profiles at social networking sites such as MySpace.com and FaceBook.com. The study found that 58% of girls and 51% of boys in the 12 to 17 age group had created an online profile. Among those in the 15- to 17-year-old range, 70% of girls had online profiles compared with 57% of boys.

So what drives them to these sites? The study found 91% usage was to maintaining contact with good friends and 82% with rarely seen friends, 72% for social planning 49% making new friends and surprisingly only 17% say they use such sites to flirt. They are clearly becoming a modern communications medium and with the full integration of everything offer more than a phone will.

The phenomenal growth of social networking sites has caused parents and politicians to worry that posting personal information online exposes teens to online predators. However many of the young users of these sites appear not to currently make these visible online and of those with viewable online profiles, 59% say only their friends have access.

What this tells us is that the phenomena we see as MySpace. Bebo, YouTube, FaceBook etc is deeply routed in youth culture. They are clearly communicating laterally through this network.
Interestingly since MySpace came to the public’s attention last year the have seen a rise in their demographic age profile, which says that it isn’t just down to youth.

At last someone has got the message! Borders may be seen as being late to the Internet party in some respects, but they have learnt much in their journey and today Borders Group, Inc. has announced a joint project with and Gather.com.

What is important is that it enables there clients to ‘engage’ with the superstore and click onto the social network Web site and share their thoughts on books, music and other entertainment.
Everyone talks about books, music and films every day just about everywhere and providing a vehicle to do this that is aligned to a brand associated with selling all these media makes a great deal of common sense.

Under the new program, Borders customers who receive informational e-mails from the chain will be offered links to a Borders.Gather.com chat room that will also feature author interviews and information on author readings. Users of the new site will be able to accumulate points redeemable for Borders gift cards and other products.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Online is Not Just for Christmas

The Christmas battle for the consumer purse has been clearly won by the online retailers. Just like the record charts and the converted ‘Christmas number one’ the battle to win the consumer spend is now becoming an annual ritual. But just as the singles charts have flipped to accommodate all downloads, the emphasis on the actual spend is not as important as the trend to online. What we are focusing on is zero and or declining sales versus clear growth.

IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group) reported that Internet sales peaked for the first time during the start of seasonal discounting last week after surging more than 50 percent in the run up to Christmas, whilst Footfall announced that store visits to the High Street were down 6.8 percent in the week after Christmas.

IMGR believe 25 million people now shop on the Internet and that online Christmas sales are looking to be around half a billion pounds better than already strong industry forecasts, and will top £7.5 billion in the 10 weeks leading up to the holiday. They also stated that unlike in previous years, there was no sign of a post-Christmas fall in online demand. Tesco, the world's fifth largest retailer, which forecast a 'good Christmas,' saw visitors to Tesco.com swell to 1.3 million over the holiday period.

Among those retailers hardest hit are the entertainment retailers who are suffering from a boom in downloads and phenomenal uptake of broadband connectivity. Hitwise stated that music downloads have risen 50% this year. Woolworths and HMV issued profit warnings before Christmas while Music Zone, filed for administration on Wednesday.

So what does this mean for the booktrade?

Amazon clearly is the brand and has the major share of the market. It will be very interesting to see how the new Waterstones web site has faired. Perhaps more interesting is the battle between the publisher direct internet sales versus the smaller independents.

We clearly have more interested parties selling books on the internet than on the High Street, but we must not loose sight that the retail sales will continue to be the dominant sales channel for many years. Growth in digital downloads of ebooks and or abooks is inevitable but will be slow. However we must recognize that even if these were to grow to say 10% of the market over the next 5 years we must then add to them the physical books that will be sold online and expect at least 35% of the market to be online in one shape or another.

The question is whether we are prepared for such a shift and understand its potential impact?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Convergence, Convergence, Convergence

Some may believe that we all would be happy carrying around an MP3 player, a phone, an ebook reader, a game machine, a sat navigator, a PDA etc but reality is that we only have limited pocket space and time to master these digital platforms. Technology convergence is therefore inevitable and today’s reality. Convergence is not just about portable devices it applies in the office, the home and the car.

At last Ford have seen the light and is building a sync system based on Microsoft’s Windows CE operating system. The in-car navigation and infotainment system will be jointly announced at this month’s Detroit Auto and Consumer Electronics Shows.

This is not the first deployment of high-tech gadgets into the car. Last year we reported and even showed pictures, in our ‘Brave New World’ report on Ford, BMW, Volvo, and others when they put input jacks for iPods into certain 2007 models. GPS systems are common in today's age of connected driving and the cell phone hook-up is now ubiquitous.

Sync is designed not just to let drivers navigate better, but also download and listen to music, talk by cell phone, and even get e-mail without using their hands. It will debut in two US Ford models, the Focus and Five Hundred series, in 2007, then expand to all Ford models in the 2008 model year.

The questions are now down to the law and how it limits their use. However, the technology is not going away and having one system may make it easier than juggling many devices. It is also inevitable that voice recognition technology is just around the corner - that is if the kids in the back can keep quiet for long enough! Mind you seeing all those drivers with blue flickering lights emitting from their earpieces is not a pleasant sight.

Another interesting opportunity comes with the concept of the ‘smart car’. No not those ‘design bypass’ cars that look as if the car has been chopped in half on they have lost the back end, but cars that start to use information in real time. Running low on fuel? It will direct you to the cheapest or nearest petrol station and feed maps and traffic alerts on route. Building on voice technology it will read out email, alerts and other messages and automatically pause or silently record other media to be resumed later.

As we have previously pointed out the tipping point in the car industry is when the major car rental companies come onboard and include them in their standard specification.

I suppose the days of the family playing ‘I Spy’ whilst driving down the motorway are now gone. They are being replaced by dad’s iPod and loud humming, mum on the phone to everyone and no one, the two kids watching the video player in the back and the poor dog just pining for attention.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

PLOD (Print Locally on Demand)

A second after the uploading of my last blog and its prediction of POD opportunities in 2007, The Guardian Unlimited published a piece on the 'Espresso’ POD print machine. It restated that it can store 2.5 million books and also print, cut and binds up to 20 books an hour.

We reported on this in our report “Brave New World” and its deployment at the World Bank bookstore in Washington DC. The machine will now be moved to New York City library, where copies of out of copyright books will be available to buy at roughly $3 each. It now appears that the Espresso machine is now being launched to several other US libraries.

The price was originally $60k and was expected to drop to $20K on mass production, but is still reported today at $50K plus a 1p a page to print.Irrespective, it clearly heralds a new era where print can be localized and bookstores must think hard about where they wish to position themselves.

Do the libraries own this space – we think not.
Does Starbucks and the coffee houses own this space – we think not?
Will bookstores consider the investment either as communities or by themselves – we hope so.

To read more on this machine visit http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/PUBLICATION/INFOSHOP1/0,,contentMDK:20884077~pagePK:162350~piPK:165575~theSitePK:225714,00.html
to be bowled over by their video: rtsp://streaming3.worldbank.org/EXT/Infoshop_Printing.rm

A New Digital Publishing Year Beckons

At this time of year every paper is looking both back over the last 12 months and forward over the next. Predictions are made and quickly forgotten.

All we can say about last year is that it was clearly the start of the final push of digital publishing within the trade environment. It was certainly the year when the dye was cast and the investment commitment was started.

By the end of the year:

  • The major publishers had nearly all committed to building digital repositories - Random House, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, HaperCollins.
  • The omnivores continued their relentless scanning programmes with Google declaring their litigation war chest.
  • New ebooks continued to appear all searching for the elusive reader and other content
  • The world of bibliographic got increasingly ‘richer’, with digital content being used to sell all books through podcasts, ‘search inside’ and video trailers.
  • Ingram declared their intent through their Ingram Digital Venture buying Coutts, Vital Source’s ‘Bookshelf’ and landing a deal with Booksense.

Last year was certainly the year of the digital reports and conferences. In October and November they appeared weekly covering every angle but they tended to fuel confusion and offered little leadership and direction. Ten years ago, Joe Sinyor of Dillons wrote his famous article in the Bookseller. The article galvanised the industry into finally starting to address the crippling waste in the supply chain. He wasn’t the first to state the obvious, nor was he the last, but he was certainly the one that defined the initiative and propelled the issue forward. We obviously believe that the BA ‘Brave New World’ report is a defining statement on digitisation in the trade. It doesn’t answer the questions but states where we are and some of the options. If it succeeds it may bring the industry together to focus on servicing the existing channel and avoid the doom mongering of the futurologists who believe the physical shop dead or the publishers who believe that they can service the market direct and cut out the middle man.

So what of the year ahead? It is hard to predict in such a volatile era but what is certain is that change is going to happen and that the changes will be significant.

What do we look forward to:

  • Macmillan’s audio MP3 player. Whether it is a promotional gimmick or the next audio format is immaterial as it will certainly create noise and stir others into action in this obvious format area.
  • 508 compliance which may seem a million miles away to us Brits but signals a new impetus to audio, web site design and will help bodies such as the RNIB in its cause.
  • New technology, in the form of OLED screens, or the Hearst reader.
  • The announcement and initial roll out of a new distribution environment and services to support digital content within the existing channel.
  • The start of real POD services based not on short print runs but distributed printing at affordable prices. Maybe a BOD (bind on demand) model to support customised printing.
  • Richer and richer bibliographic services and the need for every publisher to engage in its provision, even if they don’t sell digital content.
  • Increased importance of Internet sales, emarketing and community engagement and participation. Success will be achieved increasingly by engagement and word of mouth than wallpapering web pages with books and offers.
  • Omnivore fears will stoke more publishers to join their ranks but major publishers will continue to build their repositories and control their digital assets.
  • Booksellers will increasingly sell old, used, new and digital side by side. Currency is only one aspect of selection and selection is what booksellers have always done best.