Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Keep it Simple

Take a simple teenage problem, ‘how do I share my music with my friends without getting tangled up in cables or blastling everyone with the same music?’ Now take one smart and persistent kid in California and technical savvy dad and we have ‘NoeStringsAttached'.

What it does is enable devices to share music transmitted using FM radio waves from a portable music player to any other specially equipped player within 15 feet. Each one plugs into the standard headphone jack found on most MP3, CD, and tape players. A user selects one of five radio frequencies and then opts to transmit or receive music by flicking a switch. The five frequencies were specially selected because they are not often used by traditional broadcasters, but in theory, the device could pick up FM radio stations.

Listeners don't even need a music player if they just want to tune in to someone else's music. All they need is a pair of headphones plugged into a NoeStringsAttached unit.

Kristyn Heath says that she and her dad decided to take a ‘low-tech approach’ and utilise FM radio to keep costs down and avoided other more expensive wireless options, such as Wi-Fi. The target audience is 15 to 20 years olds who don’t have money but want to share music.

A bit like those tin cans and a piece of string we uall played with as kids.

The World just got Smaller and Faster

IBM researchers have demonstrated a prototype optical transceiver chipset that will potentially open up all content to be downloaded. The technology is claimed to be eight times faster than current and uses light pulses instead of electrons. They also claim it could be embedded within applications by 2010.

IBM will build the new chipset by combining standard CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) technology, and optical components made from materials such as indium phosphide and gallium arsenide. The resulting package is just small enough to be integrated onto a printed circuit board.

They claim that it could reduce the download time of a typical high-definition feature-length movie from 30 minutes to one second. This demand for bandwidth has also others. In September, Intel and the University of California at Santa Barbara said they had discovered how to build low-cost ‘laser chips’ that move data faster than copper wire.

The full name of the new chipset is the "160Gb/s, 16-channel, full-duplex, single-chip CMOS optical transceiver" and it will presented at the Optical Fibre Conference later this month in California.

What is clear is that computing power is getting, faster, more efficient and smaller.

When is a Contenext Link not a Context Link?

Have you ever tried to set up an associate site or sell via marketplace? Just when you thought you had it cracked along came their ‘widget’ or as they call it ‘Context link’.

“Context Links are a quick and convenient way to add links to your website and monetize your content. Context Links automatically identify and link relevant phrases within your page content to Amazon products, unlocking new ad inventory and saving you the time from having to manually create links. You can add the links to your pages in minutes, and we provide a wealth of options to customize how they are displayed…”

They are aimed at bloggers and others to generate extra referral incomes. It enables them to embed one simple piece of code into their pages and “link contextually relevant phrases within your content to Amazon products. If you enable the preview functionality your site visitors will see a preview of an Amazon product relevant to the phrase we selected. Clicking on the link will send your site visitors to the product detail page on Amazon, and you will earn referral fees just as you would with any link you hand-picked.”

Well that was straight forward and plain language!

Ok I have a bad cold and it may be my brain isn’t receptive, so you can try it out yourself today. Use this link supplied by Amazon and click on the links embedded in the text. If it works for you, then it must be my cold as I didn’t get why I would want some of the links provided.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Apples are good for you?

Has the iPhone positioned Apple as the must have product provider even before it has hit the streets? They now have Apple TV, iTunes, the iPod and those funky Macs PCs that every artist must have. The Macs even now can run under ‘dual boot’ facility and together with its Intel processor can either Windows or native.

What does this all mean? Well integration, portability and most important inter-operability. In other words a one stop shop were compatibility is a given.

Maybe we will see more of those funky screens in the office and the impact of the iPhone is yet to be fully seen but its going to be hard to resist and makes those tired old fashioned and clunky Blackberrys look so unhip

Friday, March 23, 2007

CRAZE-Y Publishing

Some commentators in Victorian England thought that the craze for bicycling would spell the end for books and reading. Then others thought the same about cinema, television and the internet.

Now ‘The Rough Guide to the iPhone’ demonstrates once again that whenever a new technology comes along, someone will see the need to publish a book about it.

Sydney Davies
Head of Trade & Industry, Booksellers Association of the UK & Ireland

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

i am not OLD!!!!

What does the aged, or the infirm, or the visually impaired want form a mobile phone? The new Life phone believe that it is the answer. It has been designed with those people in mind and strips down the extras we now all expect.

There is no camera, no music player and in there place there is a loud speaker tuned for those who are either partially sighted or use a hearing aid, a big screen and buttons. The phone can also hold up to five emergency numbers which can be activated by pressing a big red button. The screen has an orange backlight to help those with failing sight and the loudspeaker and extra strong vibrator can be set to help those who are hard at hearing.

Is it right? Well the only thing we can guarantee we will see lots of it in those mail order inserts, Sunday newspaper adverts featuring well know aged actors and of course direct mail from Saga.

MySpace or MurdochSpace

MySpace, which is owned by the News Corporation and is the Internet’s largest social network, has been introducing limits on the software tools that its users can embed in their pages. The end game is to monopolise the commercial capitalisation of its 90 monthly visits and stop others delivering advertising or enabling transactions.
Some would argue, this then becomes MurdochSpace and is no longer MySpace.

MySpace says that it will block all third-party software — also called widgets — when they lend themselves to violations of its terms of service, like the spread of pornography or copyrighted material. But it also now objects to software that enables users to sell or advertise without authorization, or without entering into a direct partnership with M******Space.

The corporates that bought up these highly active new social space didn’t do it to spread love, peace and social understanding they did it to generate money. Google will pay MySpace at least $900 million over the next three years to serve ads to the site’s users. Others have lined up for a slice of the lucrative audience.

In the past, MySpace failed to block companies like YouTube that began successful businesses from MySpace’s pages. The question of whether YouTube would have made it without MySpace is immaterial now but as the doors close and M******Space is spawned it is clear that new social spaces will have to fight for their own space and audience.

More import is the realisation that previous attempts others have made to try to dictate people’s Internet experience has ended failing. Today the fickle are only one click away from the next destination.

Digital Publishing is Publishing

We hear of the latest salvo in the battle of the omnivores versus publishers in today’s Telegraph. The report states that publishers are converting thousands of titles in order that they mitigate the threat of the likes of Google stealing them or capturing the ebook market when it finally takes off.

If we step back and remove the emotion of digitisation, we can clearly see it's not about ebooks. Neither is it about which ebook technology will prevail. It is also not about the consolidation of digital content onto the mobile phone and MP3. It's about the wake up call to publishers.

Digital publishing is publishing – its not just delivering digital stuff but developing it, producing it, marketing it and selling it.

Digital Content is lost without digital context and digital rights – so it's about using digital content to market, sell and enrich marketing and publicity of both physical and digital product.

Digital distribution needs to live alongside physical distribution – the vast majority of books will be stay in the printed form and the existing channels will dominate for many years.

Publishers need to forget the hype, stop looking at the green eyed monster onmnivores and the large publishers who claim to be digital today. The driver is not fear, nor the elusive digital sales and consumer demand, but getting the product into digital form, the context digitally rich and being in a position, unlike the music industry, to react at take off.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Open-Source Wiki-Search

Can we ever envisage anyone threatening Google’s position and dominance of the search engine market? It is like asking if anyone can seriously threaten Microsoft’s Office or operating system dominance. The reality is that things change and usually the change is driven by a different business model and approach.

So we read with great interest that Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder, is planning to launch an open-source search engine. He plans to provide the tools and technology to allow programmers across the Internet to collaborate on the development and testing of a search engine and make the results freely available. The project is still in the planning stages and the first test version is due later this year and will help programmers de bug the code.It is already attracting interest not only from the ‘wikiphobes’ and open source followers but also from those tier two search engines that are being squeezed out by the big boys.

Just as Wikipedia was built on collaboration and an open approach, then so this new venture. It will provide a level playing field where lots of people can contribute. Wales aims to give away all the technology, all the data. Release everything under a free license and follow the success story as Wikipedia.

Accuracy and relevance are key to search engines. Today the search algorithm is the most closely guarded secret of companies like Google because it determines how high a particular site is ranked. If the algorithm is public then it would mean site owners could abuse the rankings and attract the attention of spammers. Wales hopes that the community approach that ‘polices’ the Wiki world will transfer to the new search environment and keep the results clean.

BBC Jam is taken off the table

The BBC Trust is to pull its £150m online educational service BBC Jam from 20th March. This is not down to cost, nor it being acceptable to users. It is down to complaints from commercial educational software suppliers that it is damaging their interests and follows extensive dialogue with government and the European Commission (EC) over how to address these allegations. Complaints are based on the corporation not following its remit to be "distinctive and complementary" to the offerings from the commercial sector and the suspension comes after continued resistance from the British Educational Suppliers Association.

An earlier judicial review was previously sought by educational software companies. This was based on the basis that the use of state money to fund the BBC's plans would be illegal under European law. An out-of-court settlement was reached in early 2003.

The BBC currently has around 200 staff and 25 external production partners working on BBC Jam. They have so far rolled out approximately 10% of the service at a cost of £76m. The impact on staff and independents is not known today.

Acting chairman of the BBC Chitra Bharucha is reported as saying: "The Trust's view is that whilst it is paramount that BBC Jam complies with the conditions of its consent, two consecutive regulatory reviews would be unnecessarily bureaucratic and complex, with serious implications for delivery of the service to licence fee payers."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Selective History

We automatically assume that the digital vacuum cleaners will hoover all archives before them and we will capture history in its entirety. This may be the case with certain collections but unfortunately not the case with many. We found a recent New York Times article very thought provoking and timely. It covers the question of selection and whether by only digitalising what is the minority of archives, the future loses out on the richness of the contextual picture that exists in the physical form today. True, the physical archives aren’t going to suddenly disappear, but their richness may be lost as we see the past selectively in the future.

The Library of Congress can afford to digitise everything or in some cases all of a particular collection. Often the things that are hardest to digitise will be left behind. In the case of John Steinbeck, the National Steinbeck Centre in California are only planning to digitise a fraction of film clippings, letters, photos that give a rounded picture of the man and his writings. Only 10% of the Library of Congress’s 132 million items are planned to be digitised. The link below demonstrates some of the digital dilemmas archivists face.
Although we now seem to wish to store every email, picture and event that happens today and often in triplicate, capturing yesterday’s costs money and time. Much of yesterday’s content has already been lost and even large media organisations, such as the BBC, have ‘lost for ever’ priceless footage. Who is responsible for archiving and ensuring that the digital archives are able to be read into the future ? Will we in the future look back at history based on what we find in wikipedia and Google?
In the age of the ‘long tail’ how many publishers have access to all their material (developed rights) and can promote these and make them available on demand? Selective digitisation sadly impacts everyone and we clearly still live in the world of forgotten back lists, back orders and selective reprints?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Books can be an Investment

We hear so much about the death of the book in paper but today we read about the rare book sale of all sales. The prices achieved at Duke’s in Dorchester were somewhat amazing:
Jane Austin’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’, first edition £26,000
A 1897 edition of ‘The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer’ £90,000
Sir Isaac Newton’s ‘Principia Mathematica’ £90,000
Charles Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’ £50,000
A first edition from 1482 about the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid £74,000

Most of the books came from Sir Henry Newton and former university librarian Jean Preston’s libraries and we doubt if ABE or Alibris could have ever realised these values and an auction on eBay would have probably missed the reserve.

It’s ironic that in the latest ‘The Quarterly’ Christiaan Jonkers writes about collecting first editions. He claims Conan Doyle’s first Holmes novel published in 1887 would fetch £100,000 and even if it were rejacketed £30,000. Obviously it has to do with the volume printed, the demand for the title and the price someone is willing to pay. Even recent first editions of titles such as the Fleming Bond novels or Hornby’s ‘Fever Pitch’ have appreciated in value. Best of all is his number one tip ‘always buy the best copy of a book that you can within your budget’.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Life’s a Pitch – Is this a Typo?

Today we read from New Media Age about ‘Life’s a Pitch’ a new business book published by Random House. The news is that the first chapter of the book is being offered to consumers to read free on a mobile via SMS. Consumers are also sent details on how to claim a 40% discount from shops on the book itself.

So we took a quick look at Random House. No mention of the book here but a long list of first chapters available to read online and plenty of other stuff to catch the eye including ecards of book jackets and comedy podcasts. Not perturbed, after all Random has a huge list we searched for the title and there it was. It said that it was not on the Random House site but their sister site at Transworld. The Random House extract and associated icons were not working and there was no mention of the SMS download - so onto the Transworld’s site. There it was on the home page with all the others. There was a link to a Radio 4 interview and mention that the book was a prize in their March competition - but no mention of the SMS download. The individual page was very detailed both about the book and the authors but we could only find a ‘buy now’ icon which took us to … Amazon.

We then went back to the original article and found a link to as you would expect everything here is here, the biography, the blurb, the Radio 4 interview and details on how to text and receive the book and claim the discount. Well in for a penny – and the chapter duly arrive on the mobile via a download link to ICUE Shop with the message ‘buy this book for £0.00’ . Then just as we waited for the actual download came the next message, ‘Sorry, but we don’t have any books for your make of mobile phone. Don’t worry though, we can see that you wanted a book and we’ll try and get one for you as soon as we can!’ There we were thinking we had a up to the minute mobile with skype, internet access and every function know to man!
The phone number given on the life’s a pitch web site was to customer service at TBS, so we felt it only proper to update them it was not available and priced ambiguously. They took our details and make of phone…………

'Life's A Pitch' by Roger Mavity and Stephen Bayley was published by Bantam Press.

The questions raised show the complexity of promotions and why life at the cutting edge can be a *itch!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

eBay Changes

The following is an extract reproduced with permission from an excellent newsletter ‘Shephard’s Confidential’ and appeared in their latest newsletter.

As booksellers will no doubt be aware eBay have recently announced changes to their fees for listings in the Books, Comics & Magazines category 'designed to promote a greater volume of trade'. Sounds good, but the reality is that this means huge increases in fees for books selling for more than £10. In fact from 1 March the fees for selling a book for £100 with a starting price of £9.99 will nearly double!

Unhappy, I e-mailed eBay:

"As a seller of collectable books on eBay I was initially delighted to received your e-mail of 29 January 2007 in which you advised eBay sellers in the books, comics & magazines category of the changes in the fee structure 'designed to promote a greater volume of trade'. I naively assumed that this meant reductions in your fees but this is not so. In a typical week in January 2007 I sold 10 collectable books for a total of £349. All of these had been offered for the first time. I started my auctions at sensible prices as, whilst this meant I incurred higher initial fees, it also meant that my downside risk was, to a certain extent, protected. Under the current fee structure the initial fees for these 10 books were £5.90, the gallery fees £1.50 and the final value fees £16.54, a total of £23.94. Under the new fee structure the listing fees would have been £1.00, the gallery fees £1.50 and the final value fees £31.41, a total of £33.91. This represents a 41.5% increase. If I had started my auctions at lower prices the percentage increase would have been significantly higher. The 'auction example' on your Fee Changes page only shows reductions in total fees or very small increases. Of course, what you have cleverly done is to stop the auction example at a sale price of £10 as over this amount the small increases rapidly become large increases. I think this is very misleading.

I thought eBay was trying to move away from its 'car boot' image but clearly this is not the case - your new fee structure will encourage yet more low value items that have to be offered a number of times before they sell. I for one am not in this market and I think it highly likely that I will now go elsewhere to sell my books - the auction risk coupled with the high selling charges (I have calculated that for my typical week my selling fees including Paypal fees would be a whopping 13.7% under the new fee structure) are driving me away I'm afraid. I look forward to hearing from you."

And here is their bland, standard, disinterested non-reply:

"Thank you for contacting us regarding the price change. I'm happy to assist you with this.
I realize your concern in this situation. As custodians of the eBay marketplace we are always looking for ways to promote greater volumes of trade and a healthy supply and demand balance. It is our belief that the present changes will benefit the majority of eBay buyers and sellers. Our primary goal is to promote a vibrant and balanced marketplace. We hope that the present changes will do just that. And eBay obviously makes money when our sellers do! I hope this information answers your question.
Thank you for using eBay."

I'm seriously considering setting up an auction site dedicated to collectable books with reasonable charges. I think I'll call it Freebay. Any takers?

Gerald Baker

Microsoft Versus Google - Let Battle Begin

Copyright is no becoming the battleground on which the omnivores will do battle. In the blue corner we have MSN who true to their colour are reportedly representing the moral ground and protection of all things right. In the red corner are Google who have long had the tag ‘scan first ask later’. This battle of these giants is not restricted to text –it encompasses all content. There will be no clear winner and its going to get a lot messier before it gets better!

Yesterday’s FT covered the latest spate, a seething broad shot from MSN’s Associate General Counsel, accusing Google of taking a ‘cavalier’ approach to copyright
Google has annoyed many by its approach in this area. The Authors Guild and a group of publishers backed by the Association of American Publishers have taken legal action against Google for making digital copies of copyrighted books from libraries without permission. Viacom, the US media group, have instructed Google’s YouTube, to remove 100,000 clips of copyright material.

Microsoft argues that Google’s stance, that they only use snippets of material and in fact promote works, is in clear breach of copyright. Microsoft is trying to hard to distance itself from Google by portraying itself as more responsive to copyright holders than Google. It has sent a letter to executives of the big media conglomerates, offering to work with them to eliminate piracy from Soapbox, a new video service on MSN. It has received backing from that copyright champion Patricia Schroeder, the AAP president, who said it had agreed to work with Microsoft and others to develop principles on responsible book search.

What is clear is that Google’s dominance of the search engine world (some 80% share) is making it easier to ride rough shot over others. You cab guarantee that many will support them not out of agreement with their stance but out of their need to sell more content. It’s all too often that the disadvantaged get abused because they are unable to take the moral ground and others chose to ignore it on the basis of a fast buck.

How Much Can We Byte Off?

If you can remember the opening of the original motorways you will probably picture a scene looking down onto a dual carriageway, was broadcast in black and white and showed the odd car. Today’s digital highway started slowly too with many referring its performance to a dirt track. Today’s motorways have more lanes but are full and traffic often grinds to a crawl. In contrast, the superhighway has expanded, increased its performance and now carries an unbelievable volume of traffic.
A new study that estimates the volume of digital traffic has found that for the first time, there's not enough storage space to hold it all.

The report, by technology research firm IDC, sought to measure the image, videos, e-mails, Web pages, instant messages, phone calls and other digital content traffic. The researchers determined that the world generated 161 billion gigabytes -- 161 exabytes -- of digital information last year. According to IDC that's like 12 stacks of books that each reach from the Earth to the Sun, or 3 million times the information in all the books ever written, according to IDC. You'd need more than 2 billion iPods on the market to get 161 exabytes.

The previous best estimate came from researchers at Berkeley, who in 2003 arrived at 5 exabytes, said at the time to be 37,000 Libraries of Congress. However unlike the IDC research, the Berkeley researchers only examined original data, not all the times things got copied.

Interestingly, the IDC research estimates that by 2010, about 70 percent of the world's digital data will be created by individuals. There certainly is a boom in video and community publishing and that the supply of data technically outstrips the supply of places to put it. IDC estimates that the world had 185 exabytes of storage available last year and will have 601 exabytes in 2010. But the amount of stuff generated is expected to jump from 161 exabytes last year to 988 exabytes (closing in on 1 zettabyte) in 2010.

For those who want to learn some new terms:
We are familiar with a gigabyte, as that is what most iPods hold – 250 songs. The next step is 1,000 GB which equals 1 terabyte, 1,000 terabytes equals 1 petabyte, 1,000 petabytes equals 1 exabyte and 1,000 exabytes equals1 zettabyte.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Podcasting DIY

The economies of scale and reach provided within the physical supply chain do not apply in the digital world. We all need to recognise that digitisation will impact the value chain within publishing.

We have seen the emergence of the blog, the social community sites, the music artists who have gained fame and following outside the traditional music. We have heard many predictions about self publishing and authors going direct and to date this threat has largely been ignored and regarded as small and not ‘publishing’.
The New Times tells us about one author, Scott Silger who now has four books that have not experienced many readers but that he has captured many listeners. Sigler took the initiative, applied his enthusiasm and recorded his first novel himself in his home. He signed up to, which was founded in 2005 and now has some 96 titles and over 2,000 episodes and 5,600 members.

He generated 22 podcast episodes of his novel, each approximately 45 minutes long and placed them on Podiobooks. He soon had 5,000 listeners and by the time he released his second novel this had grown to 30,000.

Podcasting audio books make sense. Producing digital works in instalments also make sense.

Whilst the trade market continues to search for the silver bullet the Authors are potentially now doing it themselves. This is obviously only viable if the author has the enthusiasm, ability and technical capability to do it but Silger and Podiobooks are proof it can be done. Social networks, blogs and podcasts are real and here today. That they will they themselves will impact publishing is certain. That publishers will need to experiment with them is reality.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Amazon gets Their Space

Today we hear that Amazon has invested the book social networking website Shelfari. It hardly ironic that Shelfari is based in Seattle, home of its new investor. The site is interesting and enables individuals to promote their own shelves of books, build reading groups, develop book review blogs and generally socially interact around books. Their current model is driven by users promoting books which are then bought at a commission from Amazon, so the Amazon tie- in makes sense to all.

Looking at the site the cynic would envisage lots of spoof reviews and promotions but this doesn’t appear to be the case todate. It will be interesting to see how the service now develops and where the reviews are ‘trusted’ and how close they get to Amazon in their development.