Thursday, January 31, 2008

Amazon Acquire the Audio-book Market?

Today we read about the biggest digital news to hit the news for many months. Surprisingly it wasn’t top to the industry news but its implications will be huge for many. Amazon has bought Audible for $300 million. We must also remember that Amazon last May acquired Michigan audiobook publisher Brilliance who had a catalogue of over 1,000 audio titles and releases 20 to 40 new titles a month.

Amazon's subsidiary CustomFlix supports both standard CD and mp3-CD audiobook formats in its "disc on demand" service which produces audio titles on CD on demand. The question it raises is when this model will flip into audio downloads. We questioned last May whether Brilliance bought for it content and list? Does this now make Amazon a publisher and fill in the last space in the value chain?

We also questioned whether Amazon wanted to continue referring audio customers to Audible.

The fact that Audible invested so heavily in developing its DRM technology and getting it accepted in so many platforms and that it has an exclusive agreement with iTunes until 2010 must have been a ‘no brainer’ for Amazon. The fact is digital audiobooks are Audible. Some may say that they have restricted the growth of audio, that there business model based on the old book club approach is wrong, but come what may, they are the digital audio download market today.

So were does this marriage leave the market? It certainly now belongs to Amazon. The relationship with iTunes is very interesting for Mr Jobs and Mr Bezos. What will happen next – the Kindle be an audio player too? Where does Amazon’s stand on MP3 and DRM music sit alongside Audible’s propietory DRM strength?

Only time will tell but Amazon are unlikely to walk away from the DRM strength of Audible and their marketing and buying audiobook clout has just increased ten fold.

The audio industry has to either fold under the Amazon umbrella, or adopt a different approach to DRM. It could be bold and follow music, it could adopt watermarks or it could face the realities of the marriage and hand over audiobooks to Amazon to run on their terms. We hope bold is the answer.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Prepare for the Future Today

We read today about the potential future of mobiles from two different and diverse sources our good friend and futurist Ray Hammond and the NY Times.

Imagine a hands free phone where you talk through speech recognition , see images through special contact lenses and project images from the phone onto screens. Is this fantasy or reality, available today or technology that has to be adapted for use?

A voice recognition service from Vlingo in the US now people talk naturally, rather than making them use a limited number of set phrases. The system is being tested at AT&T and Sprint and consumers with certain mobiles from those companies can now download the application.

A rival application is being tested from , Yap Inc and Nuance started its Nuance Voice Control system last year and is in use at Sprint and Rodgers and can be downloaded today to 66 mobile models. Thanks to its acquisition of TellMe Networks last year Microsoft is also in the voice recognition service space. With obvious applications such as GPS and in car ‘hands free’ the voice recognition world can only grow.

We then look to the future and read about engineers at the University of Washington who manufactured microscopic scales to combine a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights.

Imagine reading a book through your lenses? Now there is the ultimate ebook reader a virtual display screen that only you would be able to see.

Imagine your mobile phone having a built in projector that could throw an image up to 50 inches wide.

The PicoP projector is here today and uses tiny lasers to project low definition images in a sharp 800x 600 SVGA at a 60 HZ refresh rate. The PicoP is ‘green’ and conserves energy by only turning on the lasers when it needs them and will turn off the Red and Blue lasers. Microvision said consumers could see PicoP-enabled phones as early as 2008.

OK so you take your phone to bed and project your ebook onto the wall.
All the above demonstrate that technology is being developed and adapted that will change how we work, communicated and do things. The key to all publishers in all media is having the digital content and context to be able to respond to the future.

Fighting Scientific Plagiarism

Southwestern Medical Centre researchers have developed a text-searching tool developed that compares multiple documents in a database for similarities, not only providing an efficient means of performing literature searches, but also offering a tool to combat plagiarism.

The eTBLAST program can identify duplication of key words and also compares word proximity and order, among other variables. It is helps researchers analyze an unpublished abstract or idea in order to find previous publications on the topic or in order to identify possible collaborators working in the same field.

In an article published last month in Bioinformatics, researchers used eTBLAST to analyze over 62,000 Medline abstracts from the past 12 years. They only found that 0.04% of papers representing potential plagiarism, but if extrapolated to the 17 million scientific papers currently cited in the database, the number of potential plagiarism cases would be around 7,000. They also found that 1.35% of papers with shared authors were sufficiently similar to be considered duplicate publications of the same data. In a further phase outlined in Nature an analysis of more than seven million Medline abstracts turned up nearly 70,000 highly similar papers.

The application can only highlight potential plagiarised articles it is still down to human reviewers to determining legitimacy. It is hoped that the knowledge of the existence of tools such as TBLAST will see the numbers of potentially unethical duplications reduce

Should Authors be Paid by National Archives?

Whilst the omnivores hoover up library’s works and national digital archives are created in the name of digitisation and preservation, there are questions about permissions and payment.If we remove the public domain works from the equation, should 'in copyright' works be digitised for free and who would receive any royalty paid?

We read about the authors who are refusing to let their works be scanned for an online archive at the National Library of Wales. A year ago the archive project received a £1 million grant to digitise modern Welsh writing. The library aims to gain the permission from authors to digitise the contents of 90 journals, published since 1900. Some 600,000 pages of Welsh literary works, including poetry, translations and reviews, and make these available online for free.

The library is asking for permission but we are all aware how difficult a task it can be in tracing rights owners. The library has also offered to take down from its site material by writers who discover they have been digitised and object.

‘The big issue that is going to face writers everywhere is that certain corporations want to digitise works that are in copyright without paying the authors,’ says the former national poet Gwyneth Lewis. She continued, "If a writer's work is going to be put on a different platform, rights need to be negotiated with the writer for that extension, and that hasn't happened, therefore they can't have the work."

Other writers are happy for their works to be digitised without a payment and believe that the cultural heritage is important or that they may have be ‘lost’ without this exercise.

National library librarian Andrew Green is reported as saying ‘Since the scope of the project runs back to 1900, much of this research is essentially a historical exercise; the majority of authors involved are dead.’ He goes on to further justify the action, ‘Our experience has been that 99% of copyright holders are happy to grant consent; the proportion of copyright holders who have not been contacted and would refuse is therefore very small.’

This incident,we believe, is one of principle and important in the issue of digitisation. Public domain works are not in question but works still in copyright are. Who will control the permissions to the works work online? If made available for free will the archive undermine the writers value or enhance it? What restrictions will be applied to ensure 'fair uasge'? If a royalty fee were to be paid, would this be direct to the author, via bodies such as ALCS or PLR, or to the publishers and agents as royalties?

We have rules with respect to copyright and they should be applicable to all and not to some.

The author is the creator of the works and its value and should be rewarded and not taken for granted in the greater scheme of digital projects. We have previously covered the issue of the adoption of ‘orphans’ and the US Orphan Act. We need to be aware that the majority of works sit is an area between public domain and 'in print' and that death does not negate rights. The older the works then often the more difficult to trace rights in this ‘grey’ area becomes.

If its ok for the library why not for others who may not be so open?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Browse the Internet on the Move

Mobile browsers have to date been consumer unfriendly. It was if the web could only be accessed via the laptop or on a limited service via the mobile. It was frustrating to try an navigate browsers which looked and acted old and clunky.
Now with only 2% share of the smartphones worldwide market, the iPhone’s Google feature outperformed all other operators over the Christmas period. Although it later fell back behind Nokia’s Symbian system, which has some 63% market share, according to data from Google reported in the New York Times, it still remained ahead of the rest of the pack.

Yahoo said that iPhone traffic also accounted for a disproportionate amount of its mobile traffic during this period and AdMob, who promote billions of ads on mobile Web sites every month, said it saw traffic from iPhones surge drastically around Christmas.

What this clearly indicates is that the iPhone is different, is being used different and will lead potentially to a revolution on what we use mobile phones for. Apple has raises the internet browser bar and consumers will demand that others follow.
So what does this mean to publishers? It is clear that the ergonomic and user acceptable mobile browser is close to mass adoption and that the iPhone is proving the tipping point. This extends the reach of marketing and promotion into new areas and past the jacket model that prevails today. As for content it’s almost inevitable that the digital renditions will be online with downloads to mobile devices. It is highly unlikely that the personal library will be on the mobile device and that it will follow the music model and dedicated device will not be for the mass market. So do you really want a sledgehammer reading device to crack this digital ebook nut?

Thursday, January 17, 2008


A new word has reached us ‘Webisodes’ which appear notto be chunks of a work so much as marketing extracts and new supplemental materials. Puffin is trialing "webisodes" on its,, teen site with the aim of engaging potential readers to a forthcoming title. Melvin Burgess' new title Sara's Face, will be the first webispode and go live on 21st January with new material being added at three day intervals. Some of the clips have been adapted from extracts from the book, while others feature new material from Melvin.

Only yesterday were we looking at a new service which created virtual entities that could be given personalities and fed background information so that they could become an automated 24 hour virtual person with whom anyone could chat and interact with. Soon we may be loging on to ask the likes of Sara about the book, her loves, dislikes and what she has been doing.

It is clear that with social sites and tools such as Second Life and others and technologies such as AI (artificial intelligence) we are potentially extending the interest and marketing pull from beyond the binding of the book.

Jobs says No to an iBook

Steve Jobs the man who gave us iTunes, iPod and iPhone is reported as commenting on the Kindle, "It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore... The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."
The reality is that his current platforms are converging fast and he is unlikely to make a dedicated anything and the ebook is only one step away from his iWorld. His statements are more about his probable reluctance to produce a dedicated ereader which frankly we would both understand and support.

He also remarked on Google and their reported gPhone ‘Android’, "Having created a phone, it's a lot harder than it looks. We'll see how good their software is and we'll see how consumers like it and how quickly it is adopted. I actually think Google has achieved their goal without Android, and I now think Android hurts them more than it helps them. It's just going to divide them and people who want to be their partners."

What Apple and Google partners!!

Also this week Apple has unveiled their latest ultra thin utra light laptop 'Macbook Air'. It is 1.94cm thin, weighs 1.36kgs a 13.3" screen and incorporates the touch pad technology ofthe iPhone. Would we buy one of those and a iPhone full stop? Probably is the answer and the rest of the hardware becomes mere noise.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Who says you can't take technology to bed?

We often hear the comment ‘who wants to curl upo in bed with a screen when you can have a book.’ Maybe we are looking at the beds we know and love but not the Starry Night Sleep Technology Bed from Leggett and Platt in the US.

This bed has it all WiFi connectivity that hooks you up with a 1.5TB media server with four gigs of RAM, a 2500 watt surround sound speaker system with four 8-inch subwoofers, an LCD projector, dual temperature controls and DVR capability and it also features a built-in iPod dock. It boasts a detection system that can monitor your movement and breathing patterns, and even reportedly detecting heavy snoring and automatically raising the bed 7 degrees until the snoring stops! In addition its temperature control can cool you down to 68° or alternatively heat you to 117° on the other side, immediately ending temperature disputes.

Who says beds are for sleeping and sex. Its easy to see some folk paying the $50K price ticket and never wanting to get up. All that appears to be missing is the Goblin Teasmaid !

Monday, January 14, 2008

Predictive Text

Why do we believe that the future is bad? Why do we look backwards believing that the world we knew before served us better and that books as we knew them then were the best they could ever be?

Today we read in the Independent, Century’s Mark Booth’s thoughts on reading, digitisation and the revolution that is quietly happening around us. Having read his faultless grammar, prose and references to days lost, we somehow felt we disagreed. Rarely do we read something several times to make sure we have read it right, but we just had to this time.

The ‘glass certainly was half empty’ in fact we doubt it was even that full!

There are many points we could make about the article. For every negative expressed we could find many positives and it’s sad that such an article received the column inches it got in a broadsheet.

We would make three observations:
The argument that booksellers, in whatever form, are to blame for the celebrity writings and the current best sellers, is a bit like ‘Buster’Edwards and Ronnie Biggs pleading innocence on the grounds that they were mere reluctant bystanders to the Great Train Robbery. For Mr. Booth to blame the supermarkets, ‘This is because in the 1990s it was Waterstone's that set the tone for the trade. Now the supermarkets do’ – is a bit rum. The rise of celebrity writing certainly puts a new twist to ‘pulp fiction’, but the decision on what to publish is in the hands of the producer. Booksellers do not determine what is published, but publishers do and it is they that pay the high advances, determine the market and market the books and finally seek a financial return.

We agree novels and creative text will change, but it always has. From Biblical days, through to the troubadours, the subscription letters and writings of the early Robert Dodsley era, the instalment works, by the likes of Dickens, to today’s novels; a good story has always survived. The thing that often dictated the format, was in fact the format. We now have digitisation which is in fact exploding the book spine and breaking us out of the bound format that defined the story for so long. We see the emergence of the mobile novels in Japan. We can predict, that novels will be broken into digestible chunks, maybe even delivered in chapters a la Stephen King, or merely packaged thus. Is this bad? Well maybe for the printer or the publisher, who want only to work in complete books. However, it can create a whole new reading dimension that may be interactive and participative, or may just deliver branded fiction in a more sustainable way. The glass is certainly not half empty but half full!

The paper book will not disappear but the current economic publishing model and value chain will change. The only certainty is that there will still be authors and there still will be readers but everything in between is up for grabs. Will still be producing the volume of new titles at the current rate – no? Will we be reviving and becoming aware of past treasures and the long tail - yes? Will some books go fully digital- yes? Will some books remain in paper – yes and for many years these will be the majority of the market. The challenge is finding the balance and being able to respond to changing demand.

However, before we all herald in the new ebook age, we have to recognise that at best guesses there are less than 200,000 titles digitally available today. Forget the ereaders and the consumer where is the content? Why are publishers dragging their heels? We are still analyzing a market in a vacuum.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ok where is the catch?

How often do we see something and ask why didn’t I know about it? If I didn’t know about it is there something wrong with it? Does anyone know about it or is it the ‘best kept secret’?

Well we received an email from PSik Solutions pointing us to their 1Book Print on Demand system. Our first reaction was that it looked small and neatly compact and the size of a big photocopier so what’s wrong with it?

It prints black and white, perfect bound books and a full colour cover and can produce a 300 page book in 6 to 8 minutes. It works unattended with the book merely dropping out of the front. In fact the selection and payment can be performed making it more like an on demand kiosk. So where is the catch?

The books are held as PDFs on an offline on a trusted DRM server which not only downloads the files but keeps track of transactions re royalty payments. The production costs is around $3 – 3.5 a 300 page book, printing at 600 and 1200 dpi and handling a maximum of 700 page and minimum 100 page books. It can produce books to a maximum size of 200mm x 280mm and minimum of 115mm x 180mm. We are still waiting for the catch.

They even have a video of it action on their web site using a HP9050dn printer or a Xerox WorkCentre 275 but it can also use a Kyocera FS-9520dn. It is not new and has been around for a couple of years!

Ok we give up unless it costs a bomb, is unreliable or is short of something we missed what’s wrong with it? If it does the business we could at last see true demand printing based on distribute and print as opposed to today’s pseudo short print run print and distribute model.

A Good Week for Digital Music and a bad one for DRM

This week Sony BMG, which represents artists such as Bruce Springsteen, the Foo Fighters, Santana and Justin Timberlake, effectively put the final nail in DRM as we knew it in music and positioned Amazon’s digital music store as the rival to the market leader, the iTunes.

Sony are the last major label to release their catalogue to be available in MP3 format and DRM free. It is a great day for music, artists and potentially a bad day for pirates. It effectively kills off those cumbersome and consumer unfriendly DRM systems which drove many to the pirates. Although music still has the problem of ‘music for free’ one of the major issues is now disappearing fast.

The move also heralds the industry’s moves to create an effective rival to iTunes. It is almost inevitable the audiobook publishers will wake up smell the coffee and do the same both as DRM in this media does is not consumer friendly and also to create an effective alternative to Audible.
If we are asked why audiobooks have failed to really take off as predicted the answers are tied to DRM, Audible’s dominance and propriatry stands and book club model. True there are other issues such as price points but if the audio book publishers accept MP3 and no DRM then they may enjoy a larger slice, from a larger cake. Currently Random House are leading the way with their 3music trials and although Penguin got jittery and pulled out, logic will prevail.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

There is Gold at the End of this Rainbow

Radiohead ‘Rainbows’ was the first to be offered as an ‘honesty box’ buy with fans paying what they thought it was worth to download it. The exercise was a huge success attracting new as well as established fans and generating a wide range of payments. Many in the press knocked it as a failure and predicted no or little sales of the album when it was released.

The album was released on plastic CDs and vinyl LPs on Jan. 1, with the CD priced at $13.98, though it could be found for as little as $7.99True the sales have not matched those of previous albums but it still sold 122,000 copies in the United States in its first week. It also reached number one in the UK weekly music chart. Demand for the album was such that some record shops put it on sale before the label’s planned “street date,” resulting in sales of about 9,000 copies the previous week.

The iTunes service, sold about 28,000 copies had not carried any of the band’s previous albums, owing in part to Radiohead’s demand that its recordings be sold only as complete works.
The sales suggested that the band’s name-your-price offering, and fans’ subsequent free sharing of files, had clearly reduced their sales but had gained them massive exposure, more fans and probably as demonstrated by Prince earlier this year guaranteed a bigger cash prize on the band’s tour of 20 North American cities this year.

Pushing back the Borders On Demand

We read today about Borders move into the on demand in the store offer with Tribeka.

It makes sense to offer the widest inventory and service the long tail through an on demand service. The consumers selects what they want and the assistant is able to produce it there in the store without the retailer holding any inventory. The store is no longer restricted to what it can put on the shelf but to what inventory it can tap into and service it can provide at point of sale.

Music, games, audio and software are all logical sales. After all in some stores you take an empty case to the counter and they retrieve the disc there so hardly any difference there then. The interesting area is whether the human and physical interface is seen by the consumer as added value, whether it migrates to a kiosk or what additional spin offs can be provided by having virtual inventory – that old shrinkage will certainly disappear.

So does this mean we shall see the Espresso book machine in a bookstore near you soon? Well last year’s potential sighting in a major store in Oxford Street didn’t happen and its still doubtful whether the technology is compact and robust enough today or more importantly the service will be viewed as added value. It will be great when it does happen but for today let us watch Borders experiment on demand and wish them well.

So how do we Identify a Chunk?

The trick to any machine to machine communication is identification of the product and clarity as to what to do. The ISBN was a great identifier and has served the industry well and no fits even more comfortably within the EAN structure. The adoption of the ONIX/XML message again was a significant step forward and has positioned the industry well in it e communication.

We read today of the edict that the industry should provide a separate ISBN for each digital rendition of a title. This makes logic sense as is what has to happen. After all who would dream of giving the paperback, hardback, large-print copies of the same title the same ISBN? The long overdue ISTC number, which is to identify and effectively group all impressions of the same title, also makes good sense. It’s just a pity it has taken so long to come through the process to the market.

The challenge however lies with the fragments or what is commonly referred to as chunks. The DOI is a great mechanism for referential linking and provides persistent resolution but is it the right means of identifying chunks? We think it may be a sledgehammer to crack a nut and its structure is not one that would be easy for the trade to adopt for this purpose. It works well in an online world of search and discovery but the trade environment it will be significantly different from the academic or educational ones. The question is about what we need to identify chunks for and what we want to do with them once identified. Even if we want to sell chunks do we have the pricing structure or the permission rights processes to do it and track the money through to royalty. Today the easiest solution to fragments is to issue them ISBNs and to link them to the title via a combination or an ISTC.

This issue will grow as content starts to fragment and break from the jacket which once held it so neatly and is a challenge to us all.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

So You Think You Know People?

What would you expect to be the most searched words on Google? Yes you probably guessed right “sex” which in many countries is number one. However Google China report a slightly different emphasis and the names of three banks; China Merchants Bank, Industrial, Commercial Bank of China and China Construction Bank and the word "stocks" have become the most Googled words in China in the last year.

The most searched questions on the global list were "what is love" and "how to kiss" , but in China they were more interested in "what is a blue chip" and "how to invest in the stock market".

The results show that its not always as easy to predict people in a global world and local culture still prevails or its simply that the Chinese have a fixation on making money!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Libraries Switch On Visitors

We read from Reuters that according to a survey just published by Pew Internet & American Life Project, more than half of Americans visited a library in the past year and that the biggest users were young adults aged 18 to 30!

Books were not the draw as much as computers with Internet users being twice as likely to visit libraries as non-Internet users and more than two-thirds of library visitors in all age groups said they used computers while at the library. 65% of them looked up information on the Internet while 62% used computers to check into the library's resources.

Public libraries now offer virtual homework help, special gaming software programs, and some librarians even have created characters in the Second Life virtual world.

Importantly libraries are seen as a community and neighbourhood centre, a gathering place. It is interesting that when we first saw the entrance of the large B&N stores with their cafes and reading areas we felt they were a threat to the libraries and would become the neighbourhood hub.

In an increasingly digital environment it is easy to envisage the role of the library moving as many have predicted into the information centre. However the really interesting areas are remote borrowings and print on demand. If you live in New York and register you can borrow digital books online and never step inside the library. A number of the larger libraries are stating to explore print on demand using technology such as Espresso.

So why pay for an ebook when you can borrow it online? Why use an internet café when the library has one for free? Inter library lending is simple in the digital world so the title is never not available.

In his 2008 predictions, our good friend and publishing commentator, Mike Shatzkin of the Idea Logical Company states, ‘Sales of books in electronic form to public libraries will continue to grow’. Interesting times for library funding, strategy and for publishers.