Thursday, April 26, 2007

Amazon is becoming a Gorilla

For the last ten years everyone has been putting Amazon down, at first they would be wiped out, then could service their debt, then they weren’t profitable, then were going into areas they didn’t understand.

The reality is that they were the goose that laid the golden egg and many acted as accountants who could not see the golden egg so only saw a goose. Well the goose is starting to lay eggs!

Amazon’s Q1 earnings report from Amazon was better than expected by the market. It raised sales 32% to $3.02 billion, and improved earnings 38% to $145 million, from a year ago. International "media" sales rose 31% to $1 billion and showed a trend that even surpassed their US media sales which rose 21% to $990 million. They are what we have known for ten years – a global brand.

Profits improved and they now envisage fiscal sales of between $13.4 billion and $14 billion.

We must remember that they now straddle the total publishing value chain and the only thing they don’t do today is originate content and publish it.

Karaoke on the move?

Song lyrics will some be available for all for free.

Yahoo has announced a service which will include the lyrics to 400,000 songs by 9,000 artists, ranging from the Beatles and Bob Dylan to ABBA and Kylie. Nearly 100 music publishers, including BMG Music Publishing, EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group, and Warner/Chappell Music, have signed up to the deal

Music lyric searches are a popular on the internet so the service hopes to cash in on the demand by charging for any advertising accompanying the lyrics. It has been estimated that within 10 years the revenue from licensing lyrics this way would reach $100m a year, boosting the current worldwide music publishing revenues, estimated at $4bn annually.

The logical next step is the guitar cords, and music sheets which have also be long sort out by every aspiring musician. What is interesting is that if book publishers were to do the same with poetry there would be an uproar. Where does relaxation of DRM and free advert models such as these go. They certainly change the rigts , royalty relationship. Perhaps we are moving towards a You Tube world where being seen and heard are the more important first base and payment is far more like achieving a home run and these are hard.

Other sites, such as Google and iTunes, Are expected to follow suit.

We are all getting connected

I am sitting in our Value Chain office in Bangalore and I am greeted by today’s headlines in ‘The Economic Times’ of India – ‘Broadband to go free in 2 years’. The Indian government proposes to offer all citizens free, high speed broadband by 2009 through their state owned service providers. It follows a Telecom paper reported by Rightcom yesterday that gives the latest figures on estimated penetration of broadband in the published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on their countries. Subscriptions have increased by 26% to 197m in December 2006 from 157m a year earlier and report also states that broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants grew to 16.9 from 13.5 during the same period a year ago. The report lists Denmark as the most switched on country with 31.9 broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, followed by the Netherlands with 31.8, Iceland with 29.7, Korea with 29.1 and Switzerland with 28.5.

The impact is obvious- lots more people sitting in-front of screens surfing the net. But the real impact is whole communities and populations being empowered and a potential further power shift in the digital world.

However its not just those homes that are getting wired to play. The Heathrow Express that runs between London Paddington and Heathrow airport is now offering wireless internet access to passengers. The city of London has just announced a large WiFi area and the spread of WiFi is only just starting. In the US many cities are now adopting wireless broadband free services to residents. The Heathrow trackside mobile wireless network was installed by UK-based Nomad Digital and delivered by T-Mobile. The will deliver a broadband connection speed of 2Mbps throughout the 30 minute journey and cost 75p for 10 minutes or £5 for an hour's connection. Besides the Heathrow Express, the connection card can be used at more than 400 T-Mobile HotSpot locations within London.

This pervasive spread of high bandwidth connectivity will impact what content can be delivered, how its used and makes one wonder whether you will ever be able to switch off? Importantly the economics of access are shifting and the famous ‘rip off’ Britain tag will have to go if we are to compete on the global stage

Communities and aggregation is the name of the digital game

Since 2005, all NHS staff and students in Greater Manchester have been able to access 30,000 books and reports in 28 NHS libraries and are not just limited to their local library. Irrespective of job and location staff can now see what books, audiovisual resources and ebooks are available. This ensures all these staff and students access the evidence base and information services that they need at a convenient location.

The library is being hosted by OCLC PICA, the European library co-operative.
In January more than 70 higher education institutions backed the Ethosnet project, which aims to digitise past doctorate theses in preparation for the Electronic Theses Online Service (ETHOS) planned for 2009. In two years the rarely visited library stacks of these could be fully online and available to all.

JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) and (CURL) Consortium of Research Libraries have developed the prototype and the service will be run by The British Library. There are the usual issues around copyright and intellectual property especially third-party rights and commercially sensitive content.

Both these show that the geography restrictions around physical inventory have gone and bodies are starting to look at communities, aggregation and potentially workflow. This digital evolution is significant and will start to reshape our definition of content and it use.

Now you see it, then you don’t

So you want to see the parts that other maps don’t show you? The Ordinance Survey may have omitted 16,000 square kilometres of military warehouses, buildings and other installations which add up to over 1,00o contaminated sites and a further 3,000 sites but they are now available for all to see.

So who broke the secrets? Why and how are they now available?

The answer is straight out of a John Le Carre novel – well almost. Landmark’s MD Richard Pawley, whose company now publish these hidden sites says, “There were 100,000 paper maps in a railway carriage in a siding in Estonia when the communist regime collapsed.”

Were they left behind deliberately, merely forgotten in the haste to disappear or part of some cold war plot? No one knows the answer expect perhaps Smiley’s Russian counterpart.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Amazon to download….

No sooner has Steve Jobs left stage left having announced the deal to sell digital downloads without DRM protection, than Jeff Bezos enters right stage and announces he can do it too.

Amazon has approached all the music majors in the past fortnight and said that it wanted to sell unprotected MP3 songs in May. Will they meet their deadlines? Can they break the stranglehold iTunes have on the download market?

Forget Google and Microsoft the issue is between Bezos versus Jobs. These two individuals want the consumer business for both music and books. Will Jobs next announce ebooks on iPhones? Will Bezos announces a ‘secretative’ deal with major publishers and Google to create middleware and a new ebook playing field?

What is clear that Jobs has the style the lateral thinking and the fashion tag, whilst Bezos has the determination, single focus and importantly all the bases covered.

Bring on the giants!

Latte and a Book to Go

When we talk about the demise of the independent bookstore we see many reasons. As we stated yesterday change happens and with every opportunity there is always a threat.

Costa coffee shops has announced that it will now do author tours, why queue in a booksops when you can get a free muffin and coffee in a coffee shop and sit and read the book at lesuire? We see Starbucks now selling books in 450 store and although this is a very limited offer it is a great and obvious way forward for them and publishers.

So where does this take us? Have bookshops welcomed coffee stores into their premises like the Trojan’s welcomed a certain wooden horse?
The reality is that this interest by coffee shops to add an extra offer into their highly competitive mix is good for business. Just as garden stores and other specialist stores sell books there is no difference. What would be different is if a coffee shop and a bookstore were to blur into one where one finishes and the other starts becomes unclear.

The interesting scenario was if Starbucks started to have a local print on demand facility after all it often takes some time to make that cappuccino and wouldn’t it be nice to have a book as well sir – freshly made too. This is not science fiction but just a case of establishing the right proposition and economics. What if they had a book vending machine in the corner, limited offer but service with no labour? What if some bright publisher forgot the tome and started selling in short stories, brand wrapped and ready to go! We also must recognise that these retailers are already wifi-ing their outlets so we can see the digital download offer could be one click away. The point is that to these retailers this is added consumer value and new money and importantly if if takes little overhead it’s a no-brainer.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Independent Bookshops 'must …'

Advice to independent bookstores is offered by everyone.
There is the collective approach offered by Stephen Poulter, owner of Books@Hoddesdon who warned at LBF that independent retail is at risk unless shop owners unite to publicise their stores. Last April, he launched a "Love Your Local Bookshop" campaign and loyalty card scheme, now supported by wholesalers. But is the issue visibility? Does the local bookshop need visibility outside its catchments? How does being seen as part of a larger federation improve local visibility? There is merit here but it is not the silver bullet.

A number publishers are backing independents with various ‘support independents’ campaigns. Some offer better discounts, others semi exclusive stock, others a better interface but the question is whether these are merely fudging the discounts and muddling the available stock.

Others such as Michael Holdsworth offering some thought provoking words in his “High Noon on the High Street” article in the Bookseller’s LBF daily. It was a sobering wake up call and a gloomy picture of the potential impact of digitisation from someone who is well versed in digital matters as many academic and campus bookstore will tell you. Michael makes a very valid point when he states that certain genre will move quicker than others into digital and travel, religion, reference are clear areas where the consumer may want more than the tome.

Then today we read Michael Gove in The Times who believes the supermarkets are to blame. The lack of joined up thinking here makes one worry that the man is an MP. He is a serious used and rare book man and loves both stores and ABE but blames the dismiss of the independent on the supermarket? Clearly he doesn’t speak to the shop owners who did embrace ABE found a big market and although they also are held to ransom on commission and payment often find it cheaper to fulfil books out of the garage than a high maintenance store.

So who is right and who is wrong?

Generalists will continue to be picked off by the efficiencies and economies of scale of the likes of Amazon. Best sellers will always be cheaper at Tesco, Asda etc. Rare book dealers now sell more but their prices are in the open and falling as a result. Continuing to let publishers wallpaper shelves with their ‘best sellers’, ‘celebrity dross’ and the perennial ‘chick lit’ is a clear abdication of buying. Alan Giles has a point in his recent article on remainders but puts it across so badly and condescendingly, it dilutes any real message. Mail order is viable, as is the internet as are remainders, as is selling other stock such as stationary but these require different skills and aren’t just a simple offers.

Retailers need to recognise that the consumer seeks all books not just front list or new. What is clear is that innovative, hard working, open minded retailers such as the Countrybookshop will succeed and adapt. They and others have taken the bold steps to create experience, build loyalty and importantly sell books of all shapes, sizes and sources. Many can learn from what they are doing I building local community and visibility. It will not be right for all but they are certainly approaching the challenge with the same vigour they showed when establishing their successful internet store.

The independent bookstore is not dead but hopefully adapting to a changing and more demanding world.

The BBC plans to show repeats on demand

When you flick the channel hopper and find those hidden shows of yesterday you often realise many were not as good as you fondly remembered.

But there is about to be even more of them made available as the BBC opens up its archive in an on demand trail to some 20,000 homes in the UK. The pilot is part of the BBC's plans to eventually offer more than a million hours of TV and radio from its archive.

The corporation's ambition is to ‘enabling any viewer to access any BBC programme ever broadcast’. Broadcasters around the world are grappling with the shift to on-demand media. Channel 4 has launched its on-demand service via the net and cable services, while networks in the US are shifting content to platforms such as iTunes and the web.

At the recent media event in Cannes the BBC announced an iPlayer service, offering catch-up TV via the web and cable TV, re-engineered to work with Apple Macs and eventually rolled out to digital terrestrial TV (DTT) and set-top boxes. In addition they aim to trail hybrid set-top boxes which are connected to the net and can record TV to access BBC archive material.

The BBC iPlayer is expected to be launched later this year but is still subject to approval from the BBC Trust. If launched, it is designed to offer a seven-day catch-up service for viewers who can download content onto their computers.
This interesting as it comes at a time when it is reported that overtook Sky as the main way of watching TV in the UK homes ad now is in more than 11 homes. It will be very interesting to see the impact of the PC reception as more and more PC s are now sold with integrated TV Freeview reception.

Where were you when the Blackberries Stopped?

There will be conversations all over the US about the nights the lights went. No not the New York black out but the service outage suffered by Blackberry. On Tuesday night, five million BlackBerry users in the United States were logged off their cherished service. It took 10 long hours before the service was fully resumed. What was the implications of this on the service, its users and the rest of civilisation? After all it was outside normal working hours and resolved before the next working day.

The dependence we all have to email and the blackberry users have to their cherished machines is now clearly beyond working hours. BlackBerry services, shed little light yesterday on what went wrong, releasing a statement that said the “root cause is currently under review.” But it is thought that part of the problem, though, could be the service’s rapid growth: R.I.M. says it has added three million subscribers in the last 12 months, for a total of eight million, in part because of the popularity of its superslim BlackBerry Pearl.

We are left to wonder whether there will be a baby boom in 9 months.

Mobiles continue to offer Digital Content

That ubiquitous mobile continues to attract different publishers as they experiment with digital delivery. Hundreds of travel books and maps on European cities are to be preloaded onto Motorola phones. The books from Rough Guides are complimented by maps from ViaMichelin and packed as Rough Guides Mobile by Creative Software Ltd.

Swedish mobile users will now be able to enjoy over 100 HarperCollins English language audiobooks via service provider BOKiLUR. Users will get 2 minutes of free sample and then purchase a title for around 15 euros. The download is streamed to the phone and thereby obviates downloading to a pC. The system if successful will be rolled out to a number of other European Countries in the next 12 months.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Patent Office Rebrands

The Patent office is about to become the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK-IPO) and in doing so will harmonise the policing of IP infringement.

Will this change make a difference? Well the name may help some focus on ‘intellectual property’ and not just think of inventions and goods. However the issue of fair use still remains. As the Economist John Kay recently noted “If it is legitimate to copy material in terms of the Copyright Act, it should be legitimate to use a digital rights management system to circumvent that exception.”

The issue of treating copyright protection of physical and digital products differently continues not to go away.

JICS Athens and authentication

The joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) has announced that it ceasing it funding of Athens authentication from July 2008. Athens has and continues to allow university users single password access to their institutions resources.
The new access management is based on Shibboleth technology and will extend to schools, the public sector and commercial concerns.

Simplifying the access of thousands of students and institutions will it is hoped free staff to focus less on admin and free to concentrate on the selection and management of resources.

At the same time JISC is looking hard at the world of Web 2.0. Researchers, students, lecturers now also communicate through wikis, blogs, instant messaging, podcasts, RSS and in a world of collaborative working which is changing fast.
Why are these activities important to the rest of us? The answer is that they are dealing with the issues we all will face albeit earlier and with a slight difference in emphasis. These activities are certainly ones to watch.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Gardners announces the creation of a new ‘Digital Warehouse’

Press Release - Thursday 12th April 2007

Gardners Books is pleased to announce the creation of a new ‘Digital Warehouse’ designed to provide a comprehensive range of e-commerce services for booksellers and publishers. The combination of Gardners existing ‘physical’ warehouse services, coupled with the new ‘digital’ services will provide both booksellers and publishers with a unique service for today and tomorrows booktrade.

Gardners Digital Warehouse will supply the capability for Publishers to link their existing digital files, eBooks, Audio Downloads, and extended bibliographic content such as ‘search inside’ to Gardners Books range of Internet and high street retailers. Publishers can also utilise a range of digitisation services designed to enable any size of Publisher to create digital content economically and to use it for publicity and eBook sales with all of Gardners customers.

For Gardners customers our new Digital Warehouse will provide the same ‘single channel solution’ for the supply and fulfilment of digital material including the sale of eBooks as our physical warehouse has done since 1986. The combination of both a physical and digital warehousing facility will enable any high street retailer to provide the most comprehensive range of on line and high street services at a very economical price.

“Our aim is to ensure all our high street retailers can participate in selling eBooks, audio downloads alongside physical books, and utilise the newly developing extended bibliographic information and internet trading experiences which are increasingly available to support more traditional selling opportunities” states Bob Jackson, Commercial Director at Gardners Books.

Christoph Chesher, Group Sales Director, Taylor and Francis Group comments, “Taylor & Francis wholeheartedly welcomes the advent of the Gardners Wholesaler eBook Service which effectively provides the capacity for any traditional bookseller, no matter how large or small, to operate a web based eBook site and to list and sell eBooks from the world’s leading publishers. Further, we are delighted to confirm that we have reached agreement with Gardners for the Wholesaler eBook Service to host and sell our full list of more than 16,500 Routledge and Taylor & Francis titles. “

Further details will be announced at The London Book Fair at Earl’s Court.
Please visit Gardners Books - Stand G150
Contact Details: Bob Jackson - Commercial Director Simon Morley - Buying Director

Monday, April 02, 2007

The DRM cat is out of the Bag!!

EMI announced today that it is taking the software restrictions off some of its digital music songs sold via download sites and selling these as "premium" versions. Apple's iTunes store will start selling the EMI tracks in the "premium" format in May.

Every song in its catalogue will be available in the "premium" format which will be of higher quality than those it offers now. These will be free of digital rights management (DRM) software and will cost $1.29 (99p). Itunes users will also be able to upgrade previously purchased EMI songs and albums for 30 cents (15p) a track.

By contrast albums free of DRM and those with it will be the same price and Mr Jobs stated that he expects that other record companies would soon follow EMI's lead.

What this means is that we are clearly entering a new digital phase were the DRM field will be levelled but the battleground will be a bit more fraught. What is means for other copyright sectors such as publishing is uncertain but if the rules change in music its hard to see them not changing elsewhere.

Apple and EMI to announce...

EMI and Apple are planning a joint press announcement today. Speculation is rife as to what it will be but given their recent debates over a certain label, the band associated with it , the dire position of EMI and of course Mr Jobs recent statements on open copyright...

We ait with open breath