Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Letter From America 1

Richard Charkin's blog used to give us those fasinating insights into his travels as he wrote about publishing change. We don't have his same talent, nor is this hotel room in chicago at some jet lagged hour, the same insights, but were spurred into reviewing the news and writing this piece.

Monday’s piece in PC Pro should be a wake up call for those in charge. It cites author Nick Hornby’s stinging attack on eBook readers. He rightly ridicules the cost of the readers, their functionality, the excessive storage, lack of ebooks and the fact that the current readers are as trendy as those early mobile phones that resembled bricks.

We don’t think that he says anything new and any reader to these pages will be aware that it is what we have been long saying. So why do we still pump up the volume and appear to be walking blindfold into the Kindle versus Sony versus Iliad debate and that every nearing September ebookfest?

We have to understand that digitisation is not about ebooks, audio downloads, online, podcasts, blogs, widgets etc. these are merely the delivery and marketing formats. It is about the creation, development and distribution of content, the development and distribution of the contextual information that supports and helps qualify content and rights that are acquired, developed, produced, marketed, sold and read. It is also about the changing roles and relationships right across the life cycle from Author to Reader.

Unlike music a book is already the content, the format and a reader. Books will be the major format for many years and represent the major sales revenue for all. However there are two issues.

Firstly, the book has joined together a number of different sectors into one. As we digitize then these differences will become more distinct and the various sectors will diverge often in different directions and at different speeds.

Secondly, we all love and are comfortable with books. Authors love to write them, editors love to edit them and readers love to read them. We have been educated with them and have grown up with them.

So where’s the money and why do authors, publishers, retailers, libraries and consumers need to engage? Digitization now creates the opportunity to explode the spine of what we have known for the last few centuries and present content differently. Will it replace the book? No. Will it help redefine it and how we develop and sell it – most definitely? Will the digital book be the same as the physical one? I hope not otherwise we will have fallen into the same trap as we did between the hardback and the paperback.

Our point is that unless we start to look at the digital opportunities as a whole and right across the life cycle, we will continue to restrict yourselves to merely converting finished books to digital renditions and wonder why consumers still want books. Digitisation offers the bold the ability to focus on content and rights and be flexible in order to adapt and maximise the revenues from them. When the rights remain and content is locked in yesterday then the opportunities also remain locked. This is fine as long as someone doesn’t do something different.

We recently spoke with the head of one of the ebook reader developers who said that he wanted to seize the huge opportunities in education and academia. We asked him if his device was capable of annotations, bookmarks, holding applications and data, was wireless and met the needs of the student? Some ebook reader developers will be pleased with those questions but they will have their own challenges. Some would say that most have technology solutions looking for a problem. Nothing new there then! All today have the price challenge.

When we focus on one aspect of the overall picture we often get blindsided, or end up asking what happened when the likes of Microsoft close Live Book Search. This fuelling of the ebook reader as the solution the silver bullet and the ultimate consumer need is naive and leaves the market open to rebuffs from such as Nick Hornby and begs the question on what we learnt from the heady CDRom days?

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