Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Wigets Multiply Overnight

Predicting some things is easy. Only one day after HarperCollins announced their ‘Browse inside’ facility, Random House announced their ‘Insight’ one. Both service have adopted the same approach which enables others to add sample material from a title to their own website by use of that new word we will heart much of – the widget.

What becomes less predictable is who will be next? Also again how the bibliographic agencies will react and how those omnivore search engines will step on the digitisation accelerator re the smaller publishers.

What is clear is that we are now entering a new phase of bibliographic development far greater than that we saw ten years ago when suddenly jacket images became a must. This one is about using the content itself to promote the book in physical, digital, audio etc. Digital publishing is publishing and using digital content at the centre to provide a single authoritative source of context and rights metatdata is logical and one we have long spoken about. Building complex systems alongside this may be a duplication of effort and not the logical approach. Today the greatest driver for publisher’s to digitise their content, is not the ebook, but the support of their marketing, sales, publicity and promotion activities. I would be as bold as to suggest that those who follow this route will see a double digit return and this today is likely to be at the expense of others who have not responded to this exciting challenge.

iPods in the Classroom

Last week we spoke about some of the wide range of uses the ubiquitous iPod is being put to.

In 2004, Duke University in the US gave all students iPods as part of a program to determine how iPods could help students learn. This program was successful and gave way to the Duke Digital Initiative, in which faculty encourage students to use hand-held technology such as iPods, tablet PCs and video cameras to collaborate on projects and in other coursework. As a result student are now creating multi media papers and podcasts. This is turn is influencing they way subjects are being taught and learnt.

This year, Stanford University launched Stanford on iTunes, which provides Stanford-specific audio content, including lectures, campus events, book readings, and even podcasts of Cardinal football games. Students at the University of Washington can download lectures and this trend is spreading to others such as the University of Michigan. Mansfield University uses the iPod as a recruitment tool to promote the campus.

As universities and schools start to embrace the iPod and developing technology the question comes back to the provision of the digital content. Importantly this increasingly must fit within a VLE environment that delivers the right material to the meet the right need at the right time.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Kazza, Skype and now Joost

There are two people who more than most helped shape the Internet ‘free’ world we live in today. It was definitely not Jobs and Gates or those Google guys Page and Brin nor Napster’s Parker and Fanning but Niklas Zennstrom (pictured)and Janus Friis. This Scandinavian team not only gave us Kazza and arguably the second generation of P2P music but went on to create Skype and redefine how we all communicated. Now they have appeared again with their latest venture ‘Joost’.

But this time they are not pushing the legal boundaries but doing everything by the book. Revenue-sharing agreements have been signed and licenses have been granted.

Today Friis and Zennstrom work out of Skype’s offices in London. Although they sold Skype for $2.6billion to eBay in 2005, they remain active in the company.
Joost has struck a major deal with Viacom which gives Viacom a degree of control over its programming that it has not enjoyed from the likes of YouTube and also a platform they claim is piracy-proof. Only this month , Viacom demanded that YouTube, remove more than 100,000 clips of its programming due to the lack of licensing and revenue sharing agreements.

Joost replicates channel swapping television, streaming full-length programs in full-screen format and allowing users to flip through channels that offer everything from documentary news programs to videos.

Technology convergence between the various video, TV and visual platforms is certainly coming fast but because is built with this in mind it could present the ‘tipping point’ that changes how consumers watch TV and videos on the Web in the same way the Skype redefined voice over internet.

Certainly one to watch!

Guardian and Bebo promote Nanotales

Guardian Unlimited and have joined forces to launch a new literary competition that will encourages users to write their own "nanotales", which can cover any subject, but in less than 1,000 words. Entries will be judged by the public and a panel and the winning authors will be announced on the opening day of the London Book Fair. The stories will be published in a new anthology next year.

The competition was launched alongside Bebo Authors, the website's new feature that gives authors a platform to upload video clips, writing tips and chapter extracts.

Short stories are an obvious genre for the digital word. They are easy to download and read on portable devices and could help convert readers to ebooks and longer and more demanding digital content.

Searching Just got Smarter

As a result of the emergence of video-sharing, user-generated video, free digital storage, mobile videos and broadband, the volume of videos on social networks like YouTube and MySpace, as well as on news and entertainment sites has exploded. According to a New York Times article, CacheLogic, a company in Cambridge, England claims that the proliferation of large video files, video accounts for more than 60 percent of the traffic on the Internet and alarmingly they prerdict that within two years this could be 98 percent! What is unquestionable is that the Internet is now awash in digital video, but all too often finding the right videos is proving difficult.

Today’s search engines were developed to resolve text-based content and not to searching this rising sea of video. They don’t search the videos themselves, but rather the “metadata” (keywords or the semantic tags that describe different content, video-file suffixes (like .mpeg or .avi), or captions or subtitles).None of these methods are very satisfactory as many Internet videos have little or obscure text, and often have no or misleading metadata. Modern video players do not reveal video-file suffixes, and captions and subtitles imperfectly capture the spoken words in a video.
Enter Suranga Chandratillake, a co-founder of, a San Francisco start-up Blinkx. Blinkx supplements existing video search methods, by transcribing and indexing the words uttered in a video. Their complex speech-recognition technology creates unique added value context.
How good is blinkx search? When you visit, the first thing you see is the “video wall,” 25 small, shimmering tiles, each displaying a popular video clip, indexed that hour. (The wall provides a powerful sense of the collective mind of our popular culture.)
To experiment, I typed in the phrase “Chronic — WHAT — cles of Narnia,” the shout-out in the “Saturday Night Live” digital short called “Lazy Sunday,” a rap parody of two New York slackers. I wanted a phrase that a Web surfer would know more readily than the real title of a video. I also knew that “Lazy Sunday,” for all its cultish fame, would be hard to find: NBC Universal had freely released the rap parody on the Internet after broadcasting it in December 2005, but last month the company insisted that YouTube pull it.

In an experiment the NYT journalist created a phrase search for a rap parody “Lazy Sunday”. Blinkx found eight instances and Google Video found none. On the other hand they found that typing “Lazy Sunday” into Google’s produced hundreds of results –lots of commentary noise but not the substance sought.

Blinkx, now has more than 80 partners, including the likes of Microsoft, MTV, Playboy, Reuters and ITN.

The field is not clear and what is certain, is that those who find themselves disadvantaged today, have deep pockets and can develop effective video search capabilities. Others such as IBM’s ‘Marvel’ project are working on the next frontier, that of image searching. What is clear is that video is here and search and discovery is where the real value is, it just got a whole lot smarter.

Pirates and Hollywood Join Forces!

BitTorrent, the file sharing tool we discussed last week is used by many to illegally share files on the Internet has just come in from the cold. The digital media store will now offer around 3,000 new and classic movies and thousands more television shows, as well as a thousand PC games and music videos each, all legally available for purchase through its new BitTorrent Entertainment Network, an online store selling movies, TV shows and music videos for download. The network can also be utilized as a distribution platform for independent content creators. Although it still faces stiff competition with established players like Apple's iTunes Store and YouTube their new content providers , include Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount, Warner Brothers and new partner, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The New York Times reported Doug Lee, executive vice president of MGM’s new-media division, "Somebody once said you have to embrace your enemy.” The Motion Picture Association of America claim that a million movies are illegally acquired every day using BitTorrent technology. The software is open source, so versions of it, as well as Web sites offering pirated movies, are maintained by companies not affiliated with BitTorrent.

The BitTorrent store will sell digital copies of TV shows but only rent movies. Once the films are on the PC, they expire within 30 days of their purchase or 24 hours after the buyer begins to watch them. New releases will cost $3.99, while classics will cost $2.99.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Short, Back and Insides- Bibliographic just got richer

The world of bibliographic just went up a notch with the announcement from HarperCollins that it has enabled its Browse Inside feature so it can be used on personal websites, blogs and MySpace pages. On the HarperCollins website, users can simply find the book they want to feature and copy and paste a simple code onto their own websites, blogs and MySpace pages. The Browse Inside feature will show the same pages that can be found on HarperCollins' website, including the cover, front matter, back matter and first three pages of the first and second chapters. This is a significant step towards rich bibliographic metadata and provides HarperCollins to market their books through a host of viral sites as well as through more traditional channels.

It is only a matter of time before others will follow and the drive to digitise content starts to be driven not by the potential to sell ebooks, but the opportunity to promote both physical books by the use of rich metadata.

We envisage this move in our ‘Brave New World’ report. The question now is how others will follow? Some believe that the major houses will go head to head to give their rich bibliographic away to all. Others, that one or more of the majors will give the software away to other publishers in order to protect their investment and de-risk the challenge from others. What now is equally uncertain is how, if , and when the bibliographic services will wake up and smell the coffee.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Who owns MP3 Intellectual Property?

Yesterday Microsoft was ordered by the Federal District Court in San Diego jury to pay $1.52 billion in a patent dispute over the MP3 format. The format is the technology at the heart of the boom in digital music and if upheld on appeal, the verdict would be the largest patent judgment on record. The ruling, in, was a victory for Alcatel-Lucent, whose acquisitions include Bell Laboratories, which was involved in the development of MP3 almost two decades ago.

MP3 was developed by a consortium which included the Fraunhofer Institute, a large German research organization, the French electronics company Thomson and Bell Labs. Microsoft and others have licensed MP3 from the consortium. The current case turns on two patents that Alcatel claims were developed by Bell Labs before it joined with Fraunhofer to develop MP3.

At issue is the way the Windows Media Player software from Microsoft plays audio files using MP3, the most common method of distributing music on the Internet. If the ruling stands, and hundreds of other companies that make products that play MP3 files, including Apple, portable players, computers and software, could also face demands to pay royalties to Alcatel.

Other patent trials are pending for technology related to speech recognition, user interfaces and video processing and the world of patents just got a lot messier. The previous largest award for a patent infringement case was in 1990, when Kodak was ordered to pay $909 million to Polaroid for violating patents related to instant cameras. That case also forced Kodak to exit the instant photography market and recall its cameras.

The MP3 appeals process is likely to take years to resolve and in the meantime it is not expected that the courts will force Microsoft to remove the MP3 functions from Windows.

An Interesting Insight to City Thinking

It was very interesting to read the speculative report this week that made a case for combining Barnes and Noble and Borders. In this world of consolidation and big is beautiful, it was intriguing insight into a city analyst’s thinking.
The speculation is based on the fact that Pershing Square Capital Management recently revealed in their currently stake holdings in both Borders and Barnes and Noble. The hedge fund is known for its activisim and recently successfully forced Wendy's into their restructuring plan that and also spined-off of Tim Horton's,

The report recognises that Barnes and Nobles and Borders Group are the number 1 and 2 US book stores and there would be obviously considerable cost savings in merging the two companies. Interestingly it also recognised that each company's online presence is still not competitive and that an combined unit may be stronger in this growing channel and present a much stronger competitive proposition to the likes of Amazon.

If we recognise and accept the potential growth of online physical bookselling and also the opportunity to supplement this with digital content then there must be logic in the combination. However if we address how the current channel could potentially offer a virtual one stop shop that incorporated all then we may find an alternative option. The hardest thing is getting competitors to collaborate and share a bigger pie.

Come Fly With Me

That iPod we only talked about this week has now found its way into the cockpit of small planes and is about to become a flight data recorder (FDR), more commonly known as "black box."

The Journal ‘Flight’ reports that light aircraft maker LoPresti Speed Merchants is adding the ability to use an iPod as a flight data recorder to its Fury piston aircraft.

The airplane will include an iPod dock connector, and will be able to send data to the iPod for storage. What this systems typically collect includes system monitoring information and data for post-flight analysis. LoPresti describes its iPod FDR as "the first truly portable, personal flight recorder with a huge recording capacity."

No doubt it will be playing Frank Sinatra’s classic as it soars into the clouds..

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

iPods enter the danger zones

The iPod now is being used to help communication in the war zone that is Iraq, whilst at the same time some are declaring war on the use of iPods on the streets of New York.

U.S. soldiers in Iraq often face a significant language hurdle when trying to communicate with the local population. A software program called VCOM Mobile may provide some relief with a new iPod-ready program that pronounces Arabic phrases and animates appropriate hand gestures. The program comes preloaded with 20 military situations, ranging from vehicle search to patrol, meet and greet and medical triage. Users scroll through those missions and select the appropriate one for access to numerous phrases. The technology is intended as a language assistant, to not only act as an interpreter for troops on the ground but also as a trainer.

Whilst on the streets of New York if you are wearing and listening to an iPod you should still look when crossing the road. Most headphones used with iPods and other portable music players allow the listener to hear what's going on around them. That is unless the music is turned up too loud.

To most New Yorkers the smoking ban was right but an iPod ban? But New York state Senator Carl Kruger, a Democrat from Brooklyn, has proposed a US$100 fine for anyone caught crossing a major city's street on foot or bicycle while listening to an iPod, talking on a cell phone, playing a video game or sending a text message.
Like them or hate them they certainly are everywhere!

So why isn't everyone on Skype?

When eBay bought Skype for $2.6 billion in 2005, many thought it a wise move. But how would they make money from free VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) services?

Today we read two pieces of news which start to join the dots. First a new service to link Sykpe to landlines for free in the UK and several other EU countries, including France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Skype Pro offers anyone who signs up discounts on Skype-certified phones and free Skype Voicemail, as well as free calls to landlines. Skype Pro users will also be able to make video calls to other Skype users.

A five month package will cost about £7 and you will receive about £3 free credit from Skype. When the five months is up, customers will be charged around £1.20 a month for the service. With over 170 million registered users, the world is certainly changing. Personally I now have an ‘X Series’ phone from 3, which gives me free skype calls and access on the move 24 x 7. I obviously also have the service on my PC for when iam in the office. With daily confernce calls to India, Australia and the US, my collegues and I in Value Chain use VOIP and Skype all the time.

So who needsa land line?

The second news is from the San Jose headquarters of eBay. The comapny is not only changing how their employees communiicate, but also how they work in this new world. Their latest move, ‘the cubicle swap’, is intended to bring together the engineers and the businesspeople who work on specific projects, while migrating employees off their landline telephones and getting them to use their Internet calling service Skype.Why is it taking so long for business to grasp this opportunity?

One issue with mobiles has always been finding other people on services where there are no directories. Skype enables users to synchromies their contact database with the service and select matches. It is easy to see the day when we pay one service charge and get as much as we can eat for free. This is in turn will change how we use the network and confirm the mobile as the key device to technology convergence.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Is Open ID safe?

Imagine not having to remeber different passwords for the numerous services you access over the Internet. Is it safe to use the same password every time? If the password is comprimised once is your life open to attack?

OpenID, unlike many older identification systems, such as Microsoft's Passport, is a decentralised identification system. It lets individuals use a single password for any site that supports it and its specifications are created by an online community and are freely available for software makers to build into their applications.. AOL has now joined Microsoft in their support of OpenID and in doing have given the free identification scheme 63 million new users.

Instead of a username and password stored in a central location, OpenID treats a web address like a username. Applications that use OpenID check user details against the ones at the provided address.

Though OpenID does provide some security benefits it is not inherently more secure. The standard does not specify how an OpenID server checks that a user is who they claim to be. Even if backed by the big service providers it doesn’t mean it safe. Personally i would rather continue to write copious notes with secrative passwords which i hope i can remeber.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Piracy on the Digital Highway

When Steve Jobs threw down the gauntlet to the music producers and suggested removing prohibitive and unfriendly DRM, he was certainly opening the DRM debate. Last week, not surprisingly he got support from Yahoo, but more surprisingly, his timing coincided with debates in publishing on the emotive issue of ‘open access’ and a new access debate in the film industry. All media seems under siege by the pirates in the digital arena.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that executives at Hollywood studios now believe that it is only a matter of time before the debate over removing copyright protections spreads to the movie industry. Until now, the studios have asserted their copyright in the use of DRM. The debate now centres on the needs of the home entertainment channel and their continued and growing battle with the pirates, whose copies of movies are circulate freely online without any restrictions on how they are traded or copied. Many now fear the situation will get worse in the near future.

Today we have Pirate Bay, a multi media version of the original file sharing Napser. The site is as big as USA Today and its 1.5 million visitors and growing. It uses file sharing BitTorrent software and Envisional, a UK company that tracks illegal downloading for Hollywood studios estimates that 4 million surfers in North America and Europe use Bit Torrent on a daily basis. The technology is so efficient that the BBC has adopted it for distributing its programme archive.

Hollywood starts from a different position from the music companies. Unlike most compact discs, DVDs come with tight restrictions aimed at preventing consumers from easily copying movies. Although they are much harder to break, even the next-generation discs known as Blu-ray and HD DVD have been found to have flaws in their copyright protection.

The Wall Street Journal article stated that many movie executives agree that physical DVDs still need copy protection, but that some are starting to discuss whether the heavy-duty digital rights management, now on electronic copies, is the right route. While movies sold on Apple's iTunes can be played on as many as five computers and an unlimited number of iPods, most online movie stores offer far less flexibility.

Having just upgraded to a new laptop and Windows Vista, I share some of the frustrations of trying to deal with transferring files in an overtly restrictive DRM world. Although some studios favour finding a way to let consumers move their previously purchased movie from device to device, others sadly believe each upgrade represents a new sales opportunity for the same content that was on the older device.

This week we read the latest digital copying scandal. It comes not from the pop music market but the conservative world of classic music. It involves English pianist Joyce Hatto’s highly acclaimed works, which now appear not to be virtuoso pieces played by her but mere copies or remixed renditions of others performances. Over 100 discs released on her husband’s record label, said to be recorded with full orchestra, in a studio near their home in Hertfordshire. We understand, or at least are familiar with the pop music world of ‘sampling’, mixing other’s works into a new form. The fact is that digitisation is making copying easier.

Many in book publishing are only just entering these murky digital high seas. Should they stop and wait for calm waters or sail forward? It is far easier to copy and reproduce books and printed material than any other media. A good scanner and OCR facilities can get anyone into the market so it is imperative that the book industry makes it easy for the customers to browse, buy and enjoy digital books.

The Sunday Times, in an article on piracy stated that recent Treasury report on Intellectual Property concluded that DRM constraints and over protection actually encourages innovation and the next big thing that consumers seek. So we find ourselves again trying to protect on one hand yet give the consumer what they want on the other. Maybe just as with the pop pirates of the 1960’s the digital pirates of today will force a significant change in the market.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Open Access - Who Pays?

The thorny issue of ‘open access’ was raised again in an article today in the Guardian. This is not an issue that is going away, nor is it going to be resolved quickly.

Today researched give their research papers to publishers who get them peer reviewed, edited, marketed, published and distributed through their branded journals. The practice seems very laudable in that the publisher acts as the arbitrator of quality, ensuring their value and the appropriate indexing, referencing, citations etc are correct and that the paper is brought to the attention of the academic community.

However the European Research Council has argued that the high price of scientific journals was "impeding scientific progress" and last year the European commission published an independent report stating that the price of scientific journals has risen 200%-300% beyond inflation between 1975 and 1995. The market, the study said, was worth up to $11bn (£5.6bn) a year.

So on one hand, we have commercial parties who are trying to assist researchers and institutions publish and access a rich body of work, and on the other hand, we have researchers trying to publish and institutions trying to access a rich body of work. The key therefore lies in the value that the publisher brings to the table and whether that equates to the value perceived by the creator and the reader.

Yesterday paper dictated the workflow of submission, peer review, editorial, production and distribution. Today digital communications potentially turns much of this on its head. Yesterday journals were often ‘twigged’ to maximize the specialization and some would suggest their price. Today online search and discovery and referencing should change this. Yesterday publication and subscritions were scheduled to align with issues within academic years. Today articles should be managed in real time and not bound by issues which become increasingly irrelevant.

There is no easy answer to the digital relationships that needs to exist between publishers, creators and channels. This problem is not unique to journals but also has implications across the total social publishing environment. Perhaps there is logic in looking back to a time before publisher’s became the dominant player? What is clear is that the answer will not be found in the recent printed journal model and there is a need for all parties to recognize and respect the value each brings to the table in the digital world.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Music Wars

Has Apple and its iTunes an unsustainable position with their 70% market share? Many would suggest that they are so far ahead of the pack it is difficult to be caught but perhaps there are some real competitors now appearing and the fashion bubble is about to burst.

We reported in 'Brave New World' about Spiral Frog and their huge potential to turn the tables upside down with their ‘free download paid for advertising model’. We said December and it is still ‘coming’. But they haven’t been sleeping but signing more labels and also hiring some more impressive players to their team. This certainly looks like a service to hit the road running, make significant traction and then sell out for lots of money.

This week we hear of another potential player Omniphone. The UK-based technology company has launched MusicStation, a cheap subscription-based music service for mobile phone users in Europe. It will allow subscribers to download an unlimited number of tracks to their mobiles, from its one million strong catalogue, for a monthly fee of £1.99. For an extra £1 they can listen to tracks via their PC. There are questions on whether the subscriber owns the tracks or merely has unlimited access as long as they continue to pay their monthly fee. However, with around 75% of mobile phones able to download and play music and a price so cheap, its attractive and will the consumer care?

What is clear is that whether the Sprial Frog model, or the Music Station one, steals share, the alternatives are starting to surface. Apple has had it good too long and we can expect some serious tune wars at the end of the year. No wonder Steve Jobs is offering to drop his DRM barrier.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Apples are good for you?

Ok imagine that you are sitting on top of the market, selling 70% of the legal music downloads, some 2 million songs since launching in 2003 and also selling millions of iPod players and have the iPhone just about to get connected, why would you want to talk about dropping DRM? After all, some would argue your proprietary DRM inhibits the market and has helped catapult your business forward and restrict your competitive threat.

This week Steve Jobs, the boss of Apple, urged the world's largest record companies to begin selling songs online without security software. Although the industry had already started to think about this, the statement was somewhat a ‘bolt out of the blue’.

Many now believe that the only way to compete with the pirates is to take them on. Consumer rights groups in several European countries have also lodged complaints with Apple over the incompatibility of iTunes with other music players.

Mr Jobs stated that if DRM safeguards were dropped, Apple would be in a position to create a download system which would work with other devices, including Microsoft's Zune music player. The abolition of DRM would enable all MP3 users to access music from any online music store, including iTunes.

True the relaxation of DRM is a hard ball game and one where the result could go many ways, but what is becoming clear, is that the more you tie the music up in DRM, the more the consumer and pirates fight it and find ways round it.

Ok what does it mean for publishing? Well it could revolutionize the audio book market and really make that happen. It would certainly cause Audible to sit up and question their DRM position. The physical book can easily be copied today and although piracy is rife in some markets such as Asia does DRM actually make much difference other than often restricting the consumer from doing what they want to do?

This is not an easy situation nor is the outcome clear, nor the timescales but what is clear people are starting to think the previously unthinkable with respect DRM.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

This book can get excited!

Polymer Vision, a Phillips spin-off appears to be making fast work of bring its new screen technology to market this year. We have already reported (see day at the races 22n December)on this new and exciting OLED (Organic Light- Emitting Diodes) foldable display technology and its significant potential to revolutionize the eBook market and reading. The company now looks set to officially unveil the first product to use the would-be paper killer technology at next week's 3GSM conference in Spain. Watch the newspaper coverage as it impacts them too!

The "Cellular-Book," will initially be offered by Telecom Italia for its cellular market. The main attraction is a roll-able, foldable display, which can extend to a full five inches yet still wrap up into a device "smaller than the typical mobile phone." There will be no doubt loads of jokes about its ability to grow! The cellular part of the equation comes in the form of a combination of EDGE, UMTS, and DVB-H capabilities, which will give you access to an array of different services viewable in 16 levels of gray, including e-mail. RSS feeds and, of course, e-books, which will be available through Telecom Italia.

All the usual gadgets will be there on the device with the ability download to the device music and podcasts and with 4GB of storage provided it should satisfy most media appetites.

So the iphone will have a competitor and new screen technology is almost here. What is more relevant is the continued march towards convergence and the ubiquitous mobile. Manufactures know that the volume is in the mobile market and it makes little sense to develop single application devices to satisfy a relatively small market. So we now have music, podcasts, audio, video, photos, maps, internet access, text, email, VOIP, games and telephone calls all in one. We have the online services to feed them stuff and they are growing in their storage capacity. I think the inevitable is obvious and we shall soon see a number of old ebook readers for sale on eBay.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Print

Those opportunities to make a change are rare and often few and far between. Imagine Stephen King’s ‘Riding the bullet’ today, would it make a difference in the digital market? Those whose memories are short or are genuinely unaware Mr. King serialized his novel, releasing it digitally on installment. ‘Riding the Bullet’ was too early to make that sea change then, but what about now?

We read today that Neil Blair, a lawyer from Rowling's literary agency, told Associated Press reporters last Sunday that there will be no Harry Potter digital editions of the new book or of any works in the series, for the foreseeable future. They fear piracy and cite the most recent book to be published in the series was illegally posted online in an E-Book format within twelve hours of its hardcover release. Rowling and her legal team are reticent to take steps that could enable or encourage further piracy.

However also cited was Rowling's personal preference for printed volumes over electronic publications. Rowling has publicly stated her partiality for writing and reading works on paper.

We also read today about Ian Rankin being the latest author to have new fiction picked up for serialisation in the New York Times. Serialisation is proving popular with newspapers and also cited in the article were Alexander McCall Smith in the Scotsman, Ronan Bennett in the Observer and previous fiction serialisations in the New York Times including Patricia Cornwell, Michael Connelly and Michael Chabon.
What is surprising is that we appear to have missed the opportunity to join the dots digitally. Imagine the demand that a chapter by chapter of Harry Potter would raise. Piracy of a the total book is easy but doing and selling it chapter by chapter is a lot harder for the pirates.

After all if serialization was good enough for the likes of Dickens then surely the digital serialization is good enough for Master Potter.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Can you hear me, Mother?

We argued in “Brave New World” that the audio book would lead the digital revolution. The consumer experience was the same, MP3 technology was available and being used by all and the experience was complimentary and not substitution to reading. There are real obstacles; Audible’s proprietary DRM, their book club commercial model, their exclusive iTunes relationship, the lack of effective standardized DRM, etc. It is also clear, that market demand can’t be created in a vacuum and today there is certainly a vacuum of digital audio content.

So it was disheartening to hear news that, at the Association of Authors’ Agents recent AGM, there was disquiet raised at the perceived low levels of royalties being offered by publishers for digital downloads of audiobooks. The question should not be one of increasing individual percentages, but one of how we all maximize the opportunity and grow the pot for all. The adversarial stance on percentage points does nothing to getting more titles into the market, changing the stranglehold of some on the channel or sorting out the question of DRM.

Why does everyone want more out of the digital pie before it has even been established? The publisher is often seen as wanting to sell and distribute direct, cut others out and enjoy greater margin. The retailers wants to do it, but don’t have the infrastructure or Internet visibility to deliver. The author wants a greater slice before the pie is even mixed, let alone baked.

Why can’t everyone work together to establish the market based on today’s model and channels?

After all, it is better to have the same share of a bigger pie than a bigger share of a smaller one. Volume is the key and in a market segment where prices are perceived as high, volume must be the way forward.

Pick up a Penguin

I recently watched TV programme which showed a colony of penguins ritually landing on an obscure Antarctica bay. They were driven ashore in hostile waters bouncing against the rocks and then finally scrambling on land before they waddled upwards to the safety of their breeding grounds. Could they not find an easier route with less danger?

This week Penguin launched their “million penguins” collaborative novel. An experiment aimed at enabling anyone to contribute to the writing of a new novel on the Internet. This collaborative effort is based on the successful “wiki” technology that spawned the co-operative wikipedia which we covered in “Brave New World”. The experiment, which Penguin says is the first "wiki novel" to be started from scratch by a major publishing house, will be online for at least six weeks.

"This is an experiment. It may end up like reading a bowl of alphabet spaghetti," Jeremy Ettinghausen, head of digital publishing at Penguin UK said, adding there were no plans as yet to publish the completed work. "We are not making any predictions. It would be utterly fantastic if we could at the end create a print remix."

Penguin states the work is not a talent search.

The “wiki” format works well when the subject matter is factual and the entries are short and their number is many but will it work when there is one story, input is open to all and the subject is pure fiction? Logic says it will fail and editors and authors will be rubbing their hands as their value becomes even more obvious. What is certain is the real winner will be Penguin. They will get publicity whether it fails or succeeds and will get input even if the contributors are not recognized.

Personally, my mind goes back to visualizing those millions of penguins in Antarctica and asking why they put themselves through significant peril just to come ashore in this one place?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Hi Ho Silver Lining

The silver surfers have arrived. In our report “Brave New World” we recognised the potential of this group, pensioners with time, potentially income but importantly a high affinity to books and reading. Others will talk at length about youth and their switched on lifestyle but ignore the silver surfers.

Insurance group AXA has conducted research that has found some interesting insight as to how pensioners spend their time. Browsing the Internet has overtaken both gardening and DIY and is now the UK pensioner’s favourite pastime. This encompasses email, researching information, booking holidays and shopping. They are embracing technology often encouraged by younger members of their family but are discovering the pleasure of home shopping and a less stressful life. 41% of retired Britons named the Internet as their favourite pastime, followed by 39% for gardening and DIY, 36% hobbies and 28% travel and walking. Four in ten retired people said that they were regular internet shoppers. Email captures 84 % of online closely followed by searching for information.

The level of time spent in Internet surfing places the UK among the top five in the eleven surveyed. The US is top with nine hours followed by Australia and Canada with seven hours per weekend.

The silver surfer is the obvious publishing target; they love books, reading and have time. Migrating the silver surfer onto audio downloads and digital content may be a lot easier than many have thought.

Market research is not about assuming you know the answers and then validating it. It is also about finding out what you don’t know and understanding it. The proposed industry digital reseach programme in “Brave New World” recognised the need to establish consumer attitudes and track these. This research shows there is potentially a significant digital market with existing book lovers. The question is how retailers and publishers need to engage with them, understand them and respect and provide what they want, how they want it and at a price that they will pay and perceive value.


My thoughts and best wishes go out to a proud new father and his new born baby. I can see him rushing frantically around the room at those pivotal moments. The birth is meet with a roar before it is drowned by the popping of corks. The baby is Bookstore the father is that charismatic Richard Charkin.

Innovation has always been high on the Macmillan / Holtsbrink agenda and under Richard it is hardly going to change. The MP3 audio is due around LBF and although it probably is not the answer it will certainly be a wake up call for all. While many sit and wait for Audible /iTunes to play, or the murky waters of DRM to become clearer, Macmillan have once again boldly stepped forward.

This week’s launch of Bookstore may again not be the answer. After all there are many alternatives in this space already. But it demonstrates a commitment towards certain principles that are being adopted by many of the leading publishers. It is unclear whether its primary focus is publishers, retailers or consumers. It offers publishers a digital storefront but does not include physical titles or combined baskets and assumes a direct channel and brand recognition. It offers the retailer a white label store but with limited stock aggregation. It has to be found and valued by consumers. However, these are common issues in this space today and MPS’s work within the German marketplace, which we covered in “Brave New World”, certainly shows potential ways forward on some of these issues. Macmillan have also announced a pilot with their own bookstore, Pan Bookshop. It will be very interesting to see how the Chelsea set react and how this can be applied to a wider set of retailers.

The key now is how all the various digital silos will be linked to provide a digital distribution infrastructure similar to that which services the physical book on the Internet. Standardised persistent linkage and ‘drop ship’ business processes are the obvious next steps.

Meanwhile congratulations once again to MPS and I hope Richard gets some restful nights in the weeks to come.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Describing things better may be more important than the thing itself

Everyone is finding out the power of metadata. A photo that has no description is merely a picture and on the web, the picture is literally lost in space. However, a picture that has even a simple description can be found by others and organized. The new social dimension of tagging is becoming a hallmark of the so-called web 2.0 and one that encourages sharing and collaboration.

Tagging or labeling online content is becoming the new search tool of choice among web users and interestingly not everyone recognizes they are doing it. Google for example refers to it as “bookmarking”. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the trend in tagging is growing among US web users and it recently found that over a quarter of online Americans (28%) had tagged content such as a photo, news story or blog. Even this blog is now tagged!

Some may argue that the imprecise and ambiguous nature of the tagging is inhibiting its full use, others that any tagging is better than none. We only need to trawl through the pages of eBay to appreciate the many ways one can describe the same thing. But we still find it and in the wider internet the world this is no different.
What does that mean for publishing? It clearly shows that getting the metadata right and structured is fundamental to searching discovering and qualifying content.

Content without context is lost.

Those who tag well will be found and be appreciated. Those who don’t, may be found, but by a disappointed searcher. In the physical bookstore the placement of the book is determined by the physical shelf and store categories. “The Royal Gardens of Europe” could be in architecture, gardening, history, travel but invariably will be only be found in one. My stepfather’s best selling books could be found in memoirs, humour, autobiography, caring and health and even pets and one wonders where “Paws in the Proceedings” hi s latest book will be found when it is released in June? However on the net, these titles should be tagged against every category that is applicable and thereby found by multiple searches.

Print Just in Case

Years ago, I remember sitting around the office’s of PIRA (Print Industry Research Ass) with a number of major publishers. The objective was to map out the business processes associated with POD with a view to enable the transactions to be standardarised. The major problem then was agreeing the definition of print on demand and even if this were possible, agreeing the business process flows to support it.

Time flees, and some years later, many still view POD basically as a substitute for the short print run. It is still being performed in alternative, but central print facilities. Even though a considerable number of titles has been made available we have yet to see true print on demand let alone distributed POD.

Today comes a Winter 2007 Short Run Discount Promotion from the leading POD printer, Lightning Source. However it is based on orders of 50 or more books. This is hardly print on demand or print just in time more print just in case.

The Expresso Print machine could provide the answer. However, if the POD PDF files are locked into a single vendor offer and one that remains short print run focused will we ever see localized printing and true demand driven production for the long tail?