Sunday, May 31, 2009

3 Screens In One could Kill Single Screen eReaders

Imagine a screen that operates in different modes; full colour, bright and conventional LCD; a very low-power, sunlight-readable, reflective e-paper mode; and a low-power, basic colour transflective mode. If successful, the displays could effectively bridge the high-speed, full-color benefits of traditional LCDs and the low-power, reader-friendly qualities of electronic ink displays. They could drive netbook sales and deliver new readers free from the current eink reader straightjacket.

Having designed the One Laptop Per Child’s (OLPC) reflective screen, Pixel Qi founder and CTO, Mary Lou Jepsen has good credentials and has posted the first pictures of the new 10.1” 3Qi display on her blog and plans to show engineering samples at Computex Taipei 2009.

The screens are initially expected to be available in 10.5-inch and 7.5-inch screen sizes and Jepson predicts will be available in the second half of the year in netbooks and e-book readers. A lot depends on the price of the 3Qi and if Jepsen can deliver close to regular LCD netbook panels, standalone LCD and e-ink panels might have a hard time justifying their existence.

E-reader makers have reason to fear such innovation because people will be able to buy devices with more functions for about the same price.

picture gizmodo

Connections From Ibiza

The last few days we spent time with a good friend David Currey in his and his partner Gary Hodge’s wonderful villa on the lively island of Ibiza. Hence the lack of recent posts!

What stuck us was how a villa half way up an island in the middle of the Mediterranean was better connected than we are in London and how global telecommunications are.

For instance we spoke about the success of the BBC iPlayer and then watched last week’s Apprentice that we missed. How can you connect to iPlayer outside the UK? The mobile reception was patchy but we then made a call back to the UK to a friend over his land line at UK rates using a UK number. All day Dave was receiving UK calls ordering Gary’s paintings and the other parties thought they were ringing a UK number. We could watch TV from around the world and Hulu from the US, even though its restricted to the US today! Of course he now is converted to Spotify. For business and personal reasons they also have multi currency accounts so can even pay many ways and the list goes on.

So before people tell you that territorial restrictions can be enforced we can reliably tell you how easy it is to break them.

Thanks for a great break Dave and if you want to see Gary’s wildlife and award winning art

Brave New World's 1,000th Article!

When we started this blog at the end of 2006 we had just finished the Brave New World report and set out to continue to inform the publishing community of digital media events, trends, opinion, insights and whatever we thought may be of interest. We never expected to write 1,000 articles and never anticipated to be still enjoying it today as much as the very first day.

It’s interesting that much of what we wrote in the report has happened, is happening, or is still likely to happen. Many of the threats risks and issues we envisaged have materialised. The omnivores we described have lived up to their billing and today we are faced with Google, Adobe, Sony, Amazon, Apple. These new entrants clearly talk about the legacy, the book, but do not share the same business drivers and models. Will they reshape the book as we know it today, almost certainly, but will it be once again driven and shaped by the format, or become format neutral and no long jacket bound?

It isn’t a surprise that Google followed by Apple and Amazon dominate the Brave New World index, with the Google Book Settlement being the most blogged about subject and the iPhone the most indexed device.

The report was written in the spirit of collaboration and promoted a vision of players working together to make it happen and support each other. However we have seen the increasing use of ‘exclusive’ digital deals. These can often have a marginalising effect and be counter productive in growing the market. Collaboration is a word much used and like interoperability is often little practiced. Many follow the new entrants and look to go direct to the consumer and in doing so adopt an ‘I am alright jack’ approach. The resultant duplication of effort may sort the real opportunities from the also rans, but it can also lead to much consumer confusion, duplication of industry effort and of course, waste. It is hardly surprising but understandable that today, as an industry, we still lack a point of digital reference, terms, table of comparisons and somewhere independent of ‘agendas’ for all to share and use. It is not surprising that many have exploited the lack of consensus, built their digital fortresses and land-grabbed orphan works.

There is still a lack of real digital leadership from within publishing and the big issues remain; DRM and its restrictive nature, territorial rights within a global economy, pricing and the $9.99 price point, the royalty model and author reward and the fact that digital is often an afterthought and produced on the back of analogue and linear production processes.

However, we see the digital shift starting to gain momentum and many opportunities ahead for authors and consumers. The big question is who will remain between these two in years to come? Who will be seen by both parties to add value and who will be disintermediated in the digital Brave New World?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nokia launch Ovi App Store

Nokia the number one mobile player has finally launched its Ovi Store. The service will rival BlackBerry, Android and of course Apple’s app stores and will be available to 50 million Nokia users worldwide, allowing them to install software and games directly on to their handsets. Nokia intend to follow others by retaining 30% of apps sales revenues onsite.

Apple’s iTunes App Store has lead the field, with customers downloading more than a billion apps in the nine months since the service launched. It is expected that Microsoft will also launch its own mobile app store with the release of its new Windows Phone operating system later this year.

The list of Ovi compatible handsets is limited to 50 although Nokia's supports 125 mobiles . Interestingly operator billing is supported in the, which may result in micropayment, try before you buy apps and free minimum model opportunities.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Google Attempts to Placate Its Library Community

Sometimes you read news and can go straight to the core point and understand it other its like treading through treacle and you have top think hard what they are trying to say. So when the University of Michigan announced an amended deal with Google over its scanning programme we were perplexed on many fronts.

Some would say that Google is now bringing the libaries into the agreement albeit once more by their favoured back door. Others that its Google’s attempts to placate criticism, potential justice department eyes and win over the confused masses still trying to understand the settlement deal. Whichever the driver is we then have the agreement.

Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder and its president of technology is widely reported claiming opposition to the settlement is “pretty short- sighted and contradictory…There was no option prior to this to get these sorts of books online.”

The new agreement, which Google hopes other libraries will endorse, lets the University of Michigan and any of the other 21 US institutions that lend books to Google for scanning object if it thinks the prices Google charges libraries are too high. Any pricing dispute would be resolved through arbitration.

The new agreement also gives the university, and any library that signs a similar agreement, a discount on its subscription proportional to the number of books it contributes to Google’s mass digitization project. To rub the point home, Michigan will receive Google’s service free for 25 years and is hardly ever going to complain about anything. Some may see it as saying ‘I scan your books you get them cheap I don’t you pay my rates and can’t object.’

The new agreement does not cover the issue of orphan works and privacy of readers of Google’s digital library. Importantly it starts to raise the question of whose the library are we

iPhone Appworld

Gartner report that the apps are clearly driving the smartphone market which has grow by some 3% and is now 13.53% of the total number of phones sold. Apple has seen a rise of 128% and with nearly 4 million units in the first quarter of 2009, they have doubled their share of the smartphone market to close on 11%.

So what is happening in the app world re ereaders?

Last week Apple censored the Eucalyptus ereader iPhone app because it carried ‘offensive content’ in the form of a download the Kama Sutra from Project Gutenberg. There were no pictures just text, but they say that reading is about imagination. The dispute is now over and Eucalyptus has received its publicity and the app is live on the app store at $5.99 with 20,000 public domain works from Project Gutenberg.

Is Eucalyptus any better or worse than the other ereader apps? It has some pluses and some minuses but despite the 20,000 titles you can’t help think where does it want to be when it grows up? Does it want to be an iPhone front end to project Gutenberg - a laudable mission but hardly one that is going to go places. Does it want to fill the possible space that may be now left by Stanza – again understandable, but is it as good or just placing itself on the shelf to be bought? We see a nice reader but little else today.

A few weeks after its purchase of Stanza Amazon just announced an upgrade to its Kindle for iPhone app. Is this following and mimicking the features developed by Stanza? The new release allows consumers to read in the landscape mode, pinch-zoom and scale-up images, use a tap or a flick to turn pages and you can now change backgrounds from black on white to white on black or even a sepia background for easier reading.

The big difference between Amazon and Eucalyptus is content. Eucalyptus has 20,000 public domain works, the Kindle’s has 275,000 titles. Amazon’s may be for sale but they are more relevant and its no good having the best reader if you can’t read the books you want to read on it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Borders Enter A Brave New World

Borders Uk in going live with its new e-book service in the UK has taken a significant step into the Brave New World we reported on some two and half years ago. Some would say it is merely just another ebookstore and after all Waterstones has been selling ebooks for some 8 months and US retailers a lot longer. However, there is a difference and a significant one, for all the UK retailers who wish to sell digital books - it is powered by Gardners Books Digital Warehouse.

Gardners Books were the first to adopt an ‘inclusive’ technology that enables them to distribute not only the titles in its warehouse but titles in others digital warehouses and the resellers aren’t Gardners but any retailer with a connection. The same technology also underpins major digital publishers such as Taylor and Francis and the Danish library system

No more does the publisher have to give even reseller, or even an aggregator their digital files. Everyone just agrees the messages to be exchanged and the files are held once, wherever and are only supplied direct to consumer when sold. Importantly it enables resellers to sell digital alongside physical books and have the books drop shipped direct to the consumer. No more is the customer handed over to another when they want an ebook. The retailer retains the transaction and the customer. This enables any retailer to sell ebooks on the internet, over the phone even in store and importantly continue to own the consumer relationship and their transaction.

Well done Borders for adopting an ‘inclusive’ not the ‘exclusive’ digital model of others.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pirate Bay Judges Walk the Plank

The founders of The Pirate Bay were recently found guilty of breaking copyright laws and sentenced to one year in prison. The men were ordered to pay £2.5 million in damages to entertainment companies including Warner Bros, Sony Music Entertainment, EMI and Columbia Pictures. That ruling was appealed because the judge who sent them down - Tomas Norström - was a member of the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Swedish Copyright Association.

The possibility of personal bias raised its head and Norström was replaced by Ulrika Ihrfelt, who has now been stood down because she's a member of the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Swedish Copyright Association. A final decision on whether the case will return to court could still be many weeks away, but the chances of an appeal must certainly be increasing and unfortunately the law is once again is making an ass of itself.

So is $9.99 the eBook Price Point?

BooksOnBoard, the online eBook and Audio Book shop, has announced a massive discount on current New York Times Bestsellers, slashing prices from around $20-$30 to the price point of $9.99 and below. The price reduction is scheduled to last until Wednesday, May 27. So we see short term promotional price discounting similar to that done by Fictionwise, who some may say had one every weekend to celebrate everything and nothing. So what is the big deal?

Firstly $9.99 happens to be the price point chosen by Amazon for its ebooks and irrespective of whether they held it or not the perception sticks. So just like Apple did with the iTunes price point we now see others following with the $9.99 ebook price point.

Digital pricing may now no longer be established by the publisher or even the retailer but by the market. Once you have a recognised price point it is hard to drive consumers away from it. Look at the recent reaction when many raised concerns that they perceived Amazon was trying to raise the price from $9.99.

The question is not whether $9.99 is right or wrong but what is that impact on both the value chain and the author, publisher, aggregator, reseller etc? What is the knock on impact on the physical book model? Is the price point sustainable or merely a promotional price and how is that managed?

We have seen many readjustments in the ebook model such as the initial author rewards split being pegged back, with some advocating that they should now only receive a flat fee on digital.

Whenever we look at pricing there is that classic cause and effect implications that have to be thought through but in a market which has tens of thousands of authors, thousands of publishers, thousands of titles the point of aggregation often makes the decision and often based on their needs and their margins.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Readers Only Need One Place?

ReadersPlace aims to be the social networking site for book clubs, offering global interaction, debate and thoughts about their favourite books. They can web chat with authors live, get reading guides to more than 200 titles including author details and interviews, plot summaries, starting points for discussions and suggested further reading. Of course their will be promotional and discount deal offered at

West Midlands Library Authorities have been part of the pilot helping to develop the site and comes on the back of many innovative new services from Random House.

We welcome this more social engagement with readers and linking authors to their readers in every way possible. Our only comment is that its Random House and what a difference it would be if it embraced more publishers both large and small and all books. At a time when Richard and Judy are being put to rest and a simple twitter from Jonathan Ross can generate a twitter storm and best seller, one questions why its so hard for publishers and retailers to collaborative and embrace an inclusive model and approach? Some would say that its every man for himself and publishers are all after the same sale, but some would suggest the bigger prize is being lost and there are now some big gorillas sitting in the back yard who also don’t understand collaboration.

We believe that if say the major six UK distributors, all of which are owned by the major publishers, actually collaborated to create a joint social network it would probably cover 75% of the UK market and more importantly provide a real incentive for everyone to participate from the authors to th readers and that sales would flow to the deserving but the buzz would be significant. There again we are only dreamers.

Who Needs Esperanto

Esperanto was a ‘quango language’ developed in some vain attempt create a generic language we could all use. It failed.

For some time Google has offer it translate function under its search and we have often dropped whole chunks of text in it in order that we can understand text written in a foreign language. It may not get the grammar right but in a few seconds it does a great job of translation.

Following hot on the heels of its native PDF support, Google have now announced that it will embedded the feature into its email service GMAIL. A simply enables "Message Translation" from the Labs tab under Settings, and when you receive an email in a language other than your own, in one click Gmail will help you translate it into a language you can understand.

The question is whether it will be enough to get people to move to GMAIL, or whether users will simply cut and paste into the existing Google translation service.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hulu To Step Into Kangeroo Void

Its ironic that the day that news broke that Orange has decided not to acquire the technology that was developed for Project Kangaroo, Hulu announced it was coming to the UK in September.

Kangaroo was the UK video on demand venture service proposed jointly by the UK broadcasters BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4, to position themselves in a global market and fully online. The service and some may say naively squashed by the government when it decided it wasn’t part of their Digital Britain plans and raised competition concerns. It emerged that Orange was considering making a purchase of Kangaroo's underlying IPTV technology for its Orange TV services in France and elsewhere in Europe, but now that is no more.

Hulu, the free online video-on-demand service backed by News Corp, NBC Universal and Disney, doesn’t face the same governmental controls and is set to launch in Britain in September 2009, with 3,000 hours of American content and ITV and Channel 4 as content partners. Hulu is also understood to be in talks with the BBC.

So rather than have a strong UK service we now all fall in with a very strong US one. It beggars belief what the legacy of this UK government will finally be but good decision making will not be high on many peoples lists.

It is rumoured that negotiations have paused due to Hulu wishing to retain control over Channel 4’s and ITV’s advertising sales on the platform. Who will give in and what ad model will prevail is unclear but it’s a shame that a UK solution was scuppered in the first place.

Its Good To Talk

What may you ask is the mobile termination rate and what does it mean and cost UK mobile users?

UK telecomms regulator Ofcom has announced a public consultation into the issue but public awareness may also help push the agenda forward and just as with roaming charges the EU may have a role to play in bringing about change.

The charge is a payment to mobile networks for receiving calls outside their network. Its set by the receiver and although it has dropped over the years it is now seen by many as counter productive and a money spinner. There are many devices are now exclusive to a network and the predominant user model is fixed term usage. This leads to users get tied into networks and the majority of calls received almost certainly being from fixed line and other networks.

The charge is currently 4.4 per minute for Vodafone and O2, 4.5p for Orange and T-Mobile and 5.4p for 3. The charge ultimately costs fixed line operators around £750m a year generates 14% per cent of mobile-to-mobile revenue. The USA, the model is effectively reversed and incoming minutes count as part of your bundle.
Ofcom also agrees that terminating networks have a monopoly position on the charge and is considering a number of options. So it appears we may soon be paying a lot less to talk.

To read more The Register

So What Do You Between The Sheets?

We used to curl up in bed with a good book and if we were cold a hot water bottle but today perhaps the computer gives us both and some radiation to boot!

According to figures released today by data security specialists Credant technologies, 57% of people in the UK who their work in bed “do so for between 2 and 6 hours every week.” Yes the survey did say work, not watching movies, catching up on iPlayer or playing games, but work. They also said their partners found it "a very annoying habit". 8% also confessed to spending more time on their mobile devices during the evening than talking to their partners and 4% said checking email was the last thing they did before going to sleep. So, if you’re turning down your better half’s sexual advances in favour of some hot newsfeed or email thoughts from a colleague, then perhaps you have a problem.

Obviously people are now so mobile and technology fixed they will work anywhere – even in bed." There again, these were city workers!

So just how dependant on your technology fix are you?

Used Games Kiosks

Ars Technica gave us a fascinating insight into used games with a report ‘The facts behind the game-trade kiosks’. It tells of a new kiosk being deployed ePlay in 77 Wal-Mart NorthEast US stores and 200 other locations.

The gamer wanting to sell his game can get it valued on line or take it to the kiosk and scan it in. If the trade in price is ok the disc is inserted and the kiosk identifies its condition and authenticity and the seller’s id and the empty jewel case is inserted into the trade bin beside the kiosk. If the disc is not genuine or poor condition the kiosk spits it out and says it’s unacceptable.

If the disk is unidentifiable or does not match what the user stated, there will be a screen that advises the user that the disk did not match and the disk will be returned credit will be withheld. Recovered disc are then sent to their refurbishing and distribution centre.

These kiosks also enables the user to purchase or rent games. We can’t see it in the Book business where even the kiosk dispenser has failed to catch on.

Can You Live Even a Week Without Technology?

The BBC have a video of some teenagers in Los Angeles who took part in an experiment to find how they would cope without their electronic gadgets for a week. It worth watching and is an interesting insight into our dependency on both technology and electronic communication.

Perhaps, its time we had a technology rest day just to remind us of what these kids experienced.

Looking at the World Through a Lens

The New York Times has launched a large-format photo blog to showcase photojournalism projects. The blog is aptly called Lens, draws on the prestige of the paper. The blog has no dedicated staff and no budget for photography. It will showcase work shot for the Times’ print edition, personal projects by Times photographers, wire service photographs, and work provided for publication at no cost.

The Times promises to also highlight "the best work of other newspapers, magazines and news and picture agencies." According to the site, images from the Times pictorial archives, said to number in the millions of images dating back to the early 20th century, will also be shown.

You can expect us to ask you for your photos on some topical subject or theme," notes Times blogger David W. Dunlap.

Lens has an Adobe Flash interface that lets viewers view images using arrow keys and allows them to display photographs full-screen without the clutter of menu bars. You can view all today's images and makes reviewing the news through a lens very interesting. Well done for something very different

How Thin Is Your TV?

How thin can TVs go? Apparently by changing the underlying technology LG has created what it claims is the world’s thinnest LCD TV panel which is 5.9mm thick or thinner than the average pencil! The screens are only available in 42in and 47in screen sizes and weigh only 6.1kg for the 42in and 7.3kg for the 47in which is claimed to be 50% lighter than similar sized LCDs lit by cold cathode elements.

Instead of placing LEDs behind the screen to light the display the technology uses LEDs placed around the edges of the screen. The technology is not new or unique with Samsung introducing a 32-55in range of edge-lit screens earlier this year.

So TVs may becoming like pictures anyone can hang on the wall and maybe without extra strong fixtures!

Cybook Opus Takes Ebook Readers Smaller

So as the eink readers go after the textbook and newprint world and get larger one has decided to go pocket size and compete with other mobile devices. Bokeen has announced the Cybook Opus E-Reader a small 5.3 ounces device has a 5-inch e-ink screen, with a 600-by-800-pixel resolution, and can display text in 12 different font sizes. It's also designed to be operated with one hand, with shoulder page-changer buttons and a central joystick-like control; has a motion sensor to rotate the display for landscape orientation, and 1GB of on-board storage. It supports ePub and PDF formats

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Palm and Apple Will Contest June

June looks to be the ‘mobile month’ with the much awaited launch of the Palm Pre in the US on the 6th June and whatever Apple are going to announce two days later on the 8th.

We can only speculate on the Apple moves but we can clearly state the Palm Pre ones. The device announced as the ‘iPhone killer’ finally arrives albeit in the US only and also only on the Sprint network. No launch date has bee announced for the UK. The much-anticipated handset will cost $199.99 (£129), after a rebate, and buyers must take out a two-year contract when signing.

One of the most appealing features of the Pre is webOS, the operating system that combines a variety of online services into a finger-friendly user interface. The phone automatically recognises when owners connect to social or e-mail services and builds up a global list of contacts and login details as it is used. Unlike many other phones, the handset also allows owners to have several different applications running at the same time.

The large touch screen, Wi-Fi, 3G, GPS, 8 GB of storage, and Bluetooth, all stack up well against rivals like the iPhone 3G, BlackBerry Storm, and the T-Mobile (Android) G1.

Palm will also be launching the Touchstone charging kit June 6. This puck-sized device can charge the handset wirelessly. The Touchstone charging kit will be sold for $69.99. Palm is also investing in an iPhone-style software development kit for third-party developers to create applications for WebOS called theMojo SDK.

The Pre's release date could be a gamble coming two days before Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference and theBlackberry Storm, was also billed as the iPhone killer.

On Demand Overtakes the Rest

We now have more US on demand and short run titles coming to market than those produced by traditional production methods. However, what does that mean and if the trend were to continue, what are the likely implications? Bowker report today that whilst traditional title production fell by 3% to 275,232, in 2008, the on demand titles rose 132%, to 285,394 and the number of titles rose 38%, to 560,626 titles. The rise in on demand follows the record increase of 462% in 2007 and since 2002, has risen 774% in comparison to a 126% increase in traditional titles.

Today on demand is not just about self publishing or keeping that back list alive and is gaining a wider publishing take up. Yesterday was very much print just in case and accepting that ‘extra special print run-on’ to reduce the unit cost. Today is more print in time, producing short print runs with the ability to quickly respond to demand if required. The long tail is getting longer, with more publishers looking at their back list, or to keep titles in print by flipping them to POD and so avoiding rights reversals. The investment is low and has long attracted self publishing authors wanting to see themselves in print. It has also worked well for high priced mongraphs whose sales are low and reasonably predictable. Some such as Cambridge University Press have proved themselves ver adept in using POD to increase revenues.

However, POD has not only helped built the Ingram Lightning Source but also help kick start the Ingram Digital Ventures. The flip from POD to ebook is but a small step and as PDF based Adobe eBooks are still the dominate format, the relationship between POD and eBook will surely grow ever stronger in many ways.

We now see new POD entrants and the production of service neutral files linked to automated formatting and distribution makes much sense moving forward.

Finally will the self publishing model now move online or ebook and away from POD, or will the lure of a printed book still seduce these authors? Whatever the direction the file once created can potentially serve both.

Giving eink a Bad Name?

So you roll over in the early hours of the morning and look at your watch and can instaly see the time , no more squinting and trying to read the luminous dials in the dark. However is that really the ultimate use of eink technology or vanity gone mad?

Phosphor are introducing a line of e-ink watches which look a liitle less Bond and a bit more Thunderbirds without the FAB. The retro-future style is probably clunky to most but will appeal to some and the oversized fit the oversized price ticket of around $200.

The Digital Hour model has two different views, one with huge numerals and another with a circular hour dial. The Phosphor Calendar, tells you the time and a month’s calendar, with day-of-the-week indicator.

Personally we still await the LG wrist phone which has style, functionaly and unfortunately a high price ticket.

Digital Textbooks Are Only Part of The Solution

We read today in the Bookseller that ‘Amazon prepares for 'textbook e-reader wars'’. The story emulates from Evan Schnittman, vice-president global business development at Oxford University Press who claims that amazon had revealed the device early so it could stake out its territory before the academic market becomes home to the "textbook e-reader wars".

The reality is that there will be a battleground in all levels of education for what is a very lucrative prize, that of the device of choice for students of all ages and the sale of content to them. Will the solution be the same? It’s a hard call, but what is clear is that the device by itself will not be the answer. The device plus ebooks, in whatever format, is even not the answer. To everyone but the textbook publisher these are merely part of the answer.

Students require connectivity, reference, to be able to capture notes, bookmark, diaries, collate files, create documents, will probably not be restricted to text, or even greyscale. Therefore ask yourself as a student with limited disposable income, would you rather invest in a Kindle DX at $489 (£325) or more suitable devices that are not tied to content and a single business model and that can’t connect to all resources and can do more than download and store mere documents.

Ask these three basic questions to the students:
Do you own a iphone?
Do you own a kindle?
Do you own a laptop / netbook?
Next ask them if they don’t have all the above would they expect to buy one in the next 12months?

The King or Kindle may have new clothes but it’s the same underneath.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Scribd today iTunes Tomorrow?

Last December Social publishing firm Scribd announced that it has raised $9 million and had hired George Consagra, former chief operating officer of Bebo, as its president. Since then the news has been ‘mixed’, it now claims 60 million visitors a month, has got some support from some publishers uploading their content and on the downside a significant amount of bad press over their hosting of copyright infringed materials. Inherently it is a document sharing site – a YouTube for documents, letting anyone upload sample chapters of books, research reports, homework, recipes and the like. Users can read documents on the site, embed them in other sites and share links over social networks and e-mail. It claims to have amassed 35 billion words in a mix of books, PowerPoint presentations, legal briefs, and other documents.

Today Scribd has moved up a gear announcing it will be an ecommerce site enabling publishers, authors and owners to charge for their materials so moving from YouTube to eBay, or as they hope iTunes. A logical step and one that should result in a deluge of previously self published materials, publisher experiments and without doubt some more questionable pirate works. The new store will enable users to set their own price for their work and keep 80% of the revenue. They can also decide whether to encode their documents with DRM security software that will prevent their texts from being downloaded or freely copied.

Scribd has also announced plans for an application for the iPhone next month and that it is also building a database of copyrighted works in an attempt to help filter out pirate works and negate publisher’s fears and frustrations. Scribd may hope that by enabling publisher to make money it can mollify its critics but may be hard for publishers to back a venture that is at the same time seen to be undermining them.

The interesting aspect will be not the mainstream publishing works which will no doubt be poured in by many eager to see if they can make extra revenue at no cost but with self published works. Will it change the vanity market from print on demand to online? Will it bring more short stories or serialised stories to the market? Will it undermine the position of the publisher who will now clearly site alongside every budding author on what may be a level playing field? Will it provide the market tested slushpile of the future? Will the database of copyright be seen to perform or undermine its adoption?

We now await the market reaction and obvious response from others such as Wattpad.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Would you pay to read this blog? The answer would probably a resounding no. We may get upset but the reality it isn’t what you pay for and there are plenty more where this came from.

However, Amazon's latest experiment may start people to think about the value of the things they read as they try to persuade consumers to pay for online content such as blogs. By paying a nominal price for a subscription, users can have automatic access to their favorite blogs. Well we couldn’t ignore the opportunity to experiment with them so as of a day soon (it has to be moderated first) those of you in the US with a Kindle will be able to read this blog. Obviously any colour, animations will be missing but it will be interesting to watch and we never cease to be amazed at what happens in this new world.

It will be interesting to see what the subscription price will be set at and if there are any takers.

You Are Never Too Old

Who said that the technology and digital revolution was only for the young? When Ivy Bean heard that a 97 year ago French woman was the oldest member of Facebook she decided to join. She soon attracted 5,000 friends and has 17,775 people waiting to be her friend. Unless you know someone older, Ivy from Bradford is now the oldest Facebook member at 103 years old and has now joined Twitter and already has 9500 followers!

Her daughter Sandra Logan, 61, said: "It has given her a new lease of life and she has met some marvellous people all over the world. She speaks to a woman in Norway who has named a cow after her."

Her latest twitters read :
‘hello im going to spend my morning reading papers ‘, ‘i have now reached 5,000 followers so im saying goodnight for today be back tomorrow thank you everybody ‘, ‘had a loverly afternoon with my friends here at hillside just had tea just having a chat with the staff.’

The PC may have past many of the older generation by and been seen by them as a mere expensive toy, the mobile may be viewed by many as a complex phone and only used as a phone, email may dominate our lives but unless you have others to email its not essential. Now thanks to new high-speed broadband connection in public libraries, thousands of pensioners are now able to only to join Ivy and learn new ways to communicate. This older group may now have found the way to start to be engaged in the digital world and influence its direction.

They may not have the disposable income but they have the time, a wealth of knowledge and experience and are historically heavy readers. Many may want to capture their own history and experiences, not necessarily for money but as a legacy, others to just find new friends. It is relatively easy to see many social communities develop that were not possible a few years ago.

Is it possible that we may start to see a shift, not only the source of content for the self publishing market, but also to break away from the current vanity publishing business models that may be seen to exploit vanity, more than encourage writing. We don’t need long works and these new tools demand shorter more focused content. Maybe it’s the older generation that will lead us to rethink the book in a digital form.

Well done Ivy and long may you enjoy twittering

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Making Your Mind Up or Not?

Apparently by some divine intervention, or stab in the dark, The New York Times will decide by the end of June how to charge content and what content it will charge for. So what are the options that they are considering and what will it mean to their readers the news and the future of the paper?

But in the same week it announced its charging review it also announced that is changing the way it delivers online news to its readers, in rolling out its new Times Reader 2.0 desktop application. The app is built on the Adobe AIR platform, offering a desktop readers news by categories in easy-to-read columns. The important difference will be that the days news is downloaded at the start of the connection , obviating the need to be online to read it. Each section of the paper is represented in the Times Reader 2.0 and appears on the same day it would appear in print. It also provides the user with the opportunity to browser the paper and happen on stories they way they would with the physical paper. It also supports video and crosswords.
The Times Reader 2.0 will be included in the cost of a print subscription. Otherwise, interested readers can download the Adobe AIR application and read the news for a subscription rate of $3.45 per week.

So what about these other options and why the mixed stories. The New York Observer claims that in its report that Executive editor Bill Keller told a staff meeting last week that one includes a "meter system." The user roam freely on the Web site until hitting a predetermined limit of word-count or pageviews, after which after the meter starts and the reader is charged for every movement thereafter. This is obviously fraught with negatives; the user may be prepared to read under the limit then switch off, alternatively set the meter too high and the reader will never pay. The second proposal is a membership to the community. “You write a check, you get a gift and access and join the club. Again how do you plan on such a club having the right appeal for the right numbers to join? It is reported that Kerr said that once the decision is made it may take some time to implement that a pay model may be applied to The Times' mobile Web site first before the Web site as a whole.

So either we have contradicting stories in circulation or NYT is tapping the keyboards whilst Rome burns.

Hearst's Views on Digital Magazines

The Telegraph covers an interesting interview and article with Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines Cathie Black president of Hearst Magazines and the First Lady of glamorous glossies

Talking about the range of titles under her control she says "You have Cosmopolitan magazine with a cute picture on the front. Then there's the internet, the mobile site, the e-reader, the books, the television programme, the radio show. Only then do you have a 360 degree brand."

Black strongly believes that the e-reader, hand-held devices will be the next big medium for magazines and have the potential to exploit the stylish layout of a consumer magazine. She is reported saying, "The company has a big investment in a product called Firstpaper," but concedes two hold ups, "Most readers don't do full colour yet and there's no way it can handle advertising at this point. But there will be advertising. That has to be that part of the model."

She doesn’t think that paid for subscriptions for magazines, “because they are not informational like a financial newspaper…We have to think of magazines and newspapers as two very separate entities – not disassociating ourselves exactly, but we do need to keep our distance."

We have already reported on the Hearst marketing initiative in fitting microchips that showed a scrolling, eye-catching advertisement for a cable television channel to the February edition of Esquire and Black is certainly keen to continue to experiment.

"Maybe now there's too much choice in the digital world," she finnishes, "How funny if we all ended up back with our print copies."

Spotify Plans and US Entry?

Our favourite music streaming service, Spotify, which has more than a million UK users and provides a legal alternative to unlicensed file-sharing services and enables artists, record labels and music publishers to receive royalties, has announced it plans. They are working on an iPhone application, but also wants to make the service available on other handsets. The mobile service will be only available to paying subscribers.

They also aim to improve sound quality, enabling new releases before they hit shops, more social networking features, exclusive tracks, behind-the-scenes material from big-name artists and merchandising such as T-shirts, concert tickets and vinyl will be sold to fans as they are listening to their favourite band. Spotify are working on a deal with to provide song recommendations and making it easier for fans to find acts they like.

Spotify is currently available in the UK, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France and Spain, but now plan to take the service to the US.

A Cheap Kindle?

A Kindle for under $100 on Ebay!

Be careful with the splinters in the finger!

Asus has launched the Eee PC Seashell slimline netbook in London. The 10” LED screen, has a power-efficient Atom N280 processor, 1GB of memory, 160GB hard drive, multi-touch trackpad, Windows XP Home and Microsoft Works. It weighs a mere 1.1kg, and is claimed to run for up to 6 hours. Asus are primed to also launch a number of other EEE related products in the next few weeks.

The 1008HA Seashell is clearly one of a number of Macbook Air and MSI has also announced its ultra-thin X340 and X320 notebooks will be released in the UK at the end of May. These weigh-in at 1.3Kg and measure 330mm x 224mm x 19.8mm. The X340 and X320 both offer widescreen 13.4The disappointment is the price with the X340 predicted to cost around £850 and the X320 and around £650.

No More A Roaming We Will Go?

Vodafone has become the first mobile phone operator to abolish roaming charges, meaning its customers will pay the same price abroad as they do at home. From June 1, Vodafone’s 18 million UK passport customers will be able to call and text phones in Britain from 35 European countries for the same price that they would be charged in Britain. This is initially on offer until the end of August. It is this move could be followed by other mobile operators as caps on roaming fees are due to come into force on July 1.

Viviane Reding, the EU Telecoms Commissioner has targeted the charges a “roaming rip-off”, with a two-year plan to cut charges by an average of 60%.The price of a roaming for a British customer in Europe could be cut from an average 25p to a maximum of 10p and the cost of downloading a megabyte of information will cost no more than 92p if consumers pay standard rates. The current cap of 41p per minute for a call made to Britain from another EU country will drop to 31p by July 2011.

Vodafone has also announced plans to launch a mobile application store for their 290 million worldwide customers, following similar announcements from others such as RIM, Nokia, and Microsoft. Software developers will be able to use to store as a single point of access to Vodafone’s global customer base. Developers will be able to use Vodafone’s billing system to charge for apps with a share of their profit going directly to Vodafone.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sony Reader to Carry Adverts

New Media Age reported that Sony is likely to soon include third-party advertising opportunities on its Sony Reader as more publishers come on board. The devices is claimed to have sold over 300,000 units globally and today is seen by many as the opponent to Kindle and outside the US its often viewed as the only offer and certainly the only device that can render DRM epub today. However, as other devices adopt the Adobe ACS4 toolkit it position as the only epub device will soon be negated.

So why adverts and how will they appear? Will Sony discount the device in line with the ad revenues expected or publishers use it as a sampler similar to the Kindle? Can we get an ad free device at a premium? Are ads coming to accomadate newspapers, magazines and a larger reader – afterall Kindle has 3 models and Sony only has two. Are ads part of a larger programme to be wireless and therefore offer the ability to not only connect without the Adobe Editions mothership but also transact direct from the Sony reader?
Steve Haber, president of Sony Electronics’ digital reading business division, is reported “Advertising is not part of the business model at the moment but I would imagine that when it comes to periodicals, newspapers and magazines, those businesses are built around the advertising model so I would imagine it going in that direction.”

So what does the ereader want to be when it grows up?

Perhaps it can take on some of the business that Craiglist is now turning away. The US classified ads website says it will remove its erotic services category. Apparently, it promotes prostitution and prostitutes and clients use the site for illegal sexual encounters.

Several law enforcement agencies across the US have threatened the management of Craigslist with prosecution and last November Craigslist announced a deal with 40 state attorneys general that said it would charge for erotic services ads and require advertisers to use a credit card for payment.

In place will be a new closely monitored adult services section.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Encore une fois

Amazon has announced a new program called AmazonEncore in which they will license and republish previously-published books that they believe have been overlooked and also by authors that they believe show potential for greater sales. The announcement notes that in addition to offering titles through Amazon, the Kindle store and Audible, they will make Encore books available to the trade. Amazon intend to publish the English-language edition of encore books in all countries where they have a web site.
The first book chosen is by 16-year-old Cayla Kluver and is her self-published fantasy romance novel LEGACY, which Encore will republish in hardcover in August. Amazon acquired world English rights from the original publisher Forsooth (created by Kluver's mother to publish the book).

It is not clear today whether all Encore’s books will be from previously self published titles and whether Amazon is trying to make serious inroads into attracting self published authors into their stable, or whether Amazon is taking steps to redefine itself as an end to end player. There is no reason why the same model can’t be applied to orphan works, previously mainstream published works under a new licence and whether they will also now buy into reprint runs. Amazon has the clout and focus to make any descent book a bestseller, even if that is within there own fortress. Some may say that this will further strengthens their control of the market and their bottom-line.

The driver for the new venture will be based on, "information such as customer reviews on Amazon websites." Amazon has long captured feedback and if added to its sales data and also that from its other services such as ABE it makes a solid base on which to select its titles. ‘Brought back by popular demand’ is also a very customer centric approach which will resonate with many who may today see shelf space being bought and what some may also call manufactured winners.

French Three Strikes Makes the Statute

The media world has been quietly watching the French attempts to implement a ‘three strikes and you are out’ law for punishing people who download music and films illegally by cutting off their Internet connections. First it was happening then no one turned up and it didn’t get passed now the first government agency to punish online pirates has been created in France.

The vote has cleared both chambers and is to be French law, or is it?

Critics say the law misses the point, targeting traditional downloads at a time when online streaming is taking off and others claim that users using public WiFi hotspots or using masked IP addresses might make them impossible to trace.

Last week the European Parliament prohibited any EU governments from cutting off a user's Internet connection without first passing through a court of law. This still needs ratification by the European Council but would impact the new French law before the ink has even dried.

Critics say the law misses the point, targeting traditional downloads at a time when online streaming is taking off and others claim that users using public WiFi hotspots or using masked IP addresses might make them impossible to trace.

Brave New World Revisited Part 1: Are we all Participating

There have been some interesting debates in the blogshere and over emails about what appears to be the threat of the new entrants and the overall balance of the publishing marketplace. These are not new and were well documented in our Brave New World report close to 3 years ago. What is now new is that the reality is starting to happen, changes are starting to be seen and the industry is now starting to wake up and smell the coffee.

So what are we talking about? Today we look briefly at the independents’ digital opportunities

First, there is contrary to many beliefs a real place for the independent bookseller in the digital marketplace but they need to want to participate and be allowed to participate. There are no free lunches and natural extensions of the physical world. Equally those who believe that the independents can’t participate or wish to steal their market better wake up and think about how they bridge the revenue gap – if you take out your existing channel you take out your existing revenues. You may not like who you have to do business with tomorrow.

Second, unless the digital divide between those who can and those who aren’t allowed is closed then the digital divide could come home to bite all. Publishing has long been said by some to be like spread betting you place many bets and hope that the overall receipts will outweigh the bets placed. When you narrow the market then spread bets become harder and mistakes a lot more painful. By retaining and supporting the existing channel we can ensure options are not closed down. The digital age gives us the ability to create a level playing field but all too often we choose the technology to narrow and close down the field.

Third, Digital is good and can live alongside physical. They are only mutually exclusive if we want them to be. Yes, digital may reduce the effectiveness of a general offer but it can also reduce the effectiveness of a vertical one. Those who advocate either or, do not respect that the world is not binary today, nor tomorrow. Digital offers booksellers and librarians the real opportunity to engage, add value and develop their communities but if all is achieved is a ‘white label’ web site they have failed miserably. That doesn’t preclude them from selling white label stock, that’s a given, but giving away their customers or treating them as mere distant buyers is not a wise course to pursue.

Fourth, price matters. Of course consumers will always be drawn to price but this tends to be for know items not browsing. So the key is to capture the browser, the impulse buy and keep hold of him and use the bookselling skills to sell to him irrespective of price but built on trusted relationship.

The Brave New World report has so far failed to deliver its promise. Some may say it couldn’t work and the cards were stacked against it, others will point to the infamous BA conference walk-out and the bad positioning of some of the follow-up process, others to the power of the new entrants, some would suggest the folly of exclusive and marginalised deals etc. We believe that only today with the imminent roll out of inclusive and not exclusive services such as Gardners Digital Warehouse in the UK, do we see a opportunity for all to participate. However, even as we write some may suggest that there are rules set for some that are not being allowed for others.

BBC iPlayer Under The Sheets?

We have written before about the hugely successful BBC iPlayer but were amazed that it now claims to stream 12GB of data every second, and seven petabytes (PB) of data every month.

BBC iPlayer boss Anthony Rose, who was previously CTO at that famous music file sharing service Kazaa, disclosed much about its future in an exclusive interview with CNET UK, 'BBC iPlayer Numbers Revealed'.

Interestingly they clearly back the streaming route over downloads and according to Rose, its clearly what everyone wants today. He intimates that there could be a personal service feature sending alerts, enabling pre booking and updating your online library. The usage must reflect lifestyle and peaks about 10pm, about one hour later than TV , but the iPlayer on the iPhone peaks at about midnight with a further peak on Saturday and Sunday morning at about 8-10am. So users obvious now curl up with their iPhone to catch up on their favourite TV.

Dell Deliver the Mini10 Netbook

Dell has announced the arrival of its Mini 10v netbook which is now available on it website. So the netbook market is starting to hot up and we remind ourselves that these aren’t a replacement for the laptop today but will provide that portable device that is capable of much more than a mobile, significantly more than a greyscale ereader or any dedicated device and weigh little and have a small footprint. The quest is to get the price right and ensure that the accessories are bigger than the device itself!

Dell have launched the Mini series in a variety of colours, (Ice Blue, Cherry Red, Jade Green etc), with hard-drive space from 160GB and 1GB memory as standard, built-in webcam, new internal 802.11b/g WiFi connection , Bluetooth connectivity and a choice of Linux Ubuntu or XP operating systems. The screen is 10.1”, a 16.9 ratio and can be connected to a larger screen or TV and is around the size of a large ereader but with colour and much more! The keyboard is 92% the size of a normal keyboard and is ‘spill resistant’! The weight is under 3 pounds and it claims extended battery life. The price starts at £199 which for a new product is fair but is now likely to drop as more come onboard.

Interestingly Dell have also announced the Inspiron 15 a laptop with 15.6-inch HD display, a 'large' hard drive and DVD burner and are priced from £299.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Another Day Another eBook Reader

We read today in Tech radar of yet another ebook reader set to launch in the UK later this month. At first glance it looks the same as the rest only in a snazzy colour jacket. So why does its designer and self styled "entrepreneur, author, avid reader and world traveller" Neil Jones, believe it offers the "iPod moment" for e-readers?

It is apparently lighter weighing only five ounces, its batteries are claimed to last for weeks, it’s thinner at one-third of an inch thick and it comes in 8 languages and in 8 colours, but does it pass the so what test? Finally, it will be available from along with a library offer of over a million eBooks for download from the end of the month. Its owners, Interead from Reading, claim to have the iTunes moment but somehow we believe they have just more noise. The pictures look very similar to a rebadged reader already in the market. Their claim of a million titles is certainly interesting, as it would give it the biggest library on the planet after Google and even Sony’s half a million public domain works would look small, but where would they get a million titles and are they what the consumer wants or mere fillers?

We wait but fear hype, albeit coloured hype.

Book Piracy: A Case of Whack-A-Mole

Last month we wrote about the issue of digital book piracy and along with others such as Peter Cox at Litopia, raised the bar on the public awareness of the issue. Today the New York Times wrote an article ‘Print Books Are Target of Pirates on the Web’, which again raises the agenda further.

One quote from the article which can best describe the problem was made by Russell Davis, an author and president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a trade association that helps authors pursue digital pirates who said “It’s a game of Whac-a-Mole, you knock one down and five more spring up.”

When Litopia raised the issue of Scribd, some said it was unfair and the site shouldn’t be targeted, as it tried and was responsive when take down notices were sent. Others said the same about Wattpad. Our defence would be to browse Scribd and see the volume of taken downs that have been actioned and where they state the file has been removed. There isn’t a takedown without an infringement!

Some say that piracy is small and only the same as shrinkage and theft in physical stores, but is that a real excuse, or merely a case of apathy?

Plead all they can, the sites simply allow any material to be posted and only if it is a know infringement, or they get a take down notice, do they respond. They may claim that taking proactive action could land them with the liability so to take no proactive action is safer. The problem is that the mechanism of the DMCA (digital millennium copyright act) is inherently flawed, as it is retrospective action and is like trying to put the cat back in the bag – its too late its out its out and having kittens!

The efforts being expended by publishers in tracking infringements is growing, with many large house having to have dedicated staff continuingly trawling, tracking and issuing take down notices. This may work for the large corporate, but is it realistic across the thousands of medium or small publishers? Some may say that it’s like giving each a shovel and asking them to all to ‘wack-a-mole’?

Today we are only talking about whole works and not even attempting to cover part works or content of sufficient size to warrant permissions. Rather than build infringement databases that just generate take down notices, why not address the problem. We are trying to manage a rights business with no rights management.

This has been raised over and over and the proposed BRR registry isn’t the answer but only part of the answer. We have bibliographic agencies who catalogue all titles. We know that you can’t resell a digital file and each rendition and manifestation is unique. We have identifiers which identify genuine booksellers, publishers, libraries. Yet we can’t join the dots up and create a proactive environment. Some may say that we let businesses hide behind ineffective DCMA.

If leadership is not taken, then we may all find that ‘Whack-a-Mole’ becomes an increasing part of the publishing business.

Bring Your Own iPhone to College

It may have been the case once that you could go to school without a pencil or a textbook but the Missouri School of Journalism have taken it to new heights insisting that students who wish to be budding journalists have to bring their own iPhone or iTouch if they wish to attend. According to their web site they have insisted in students having their own wireless laptop since 2005 and obviously have strong ties with Apple and they recommend that too.

Missouri School of Journalism state that students will be able to electronically download material to either of the devices from iTunes University, a no-cost component of the iTunes Store. The school’s technology store, claims that 90% of Missouri students have iPods. Students with financial aid packages may include the cost of the iPod touch or iPhone and packages because it is mandatory required.

So we clearly have the technology companies all lining up to get a slice of the college market and now joined by Amazon with their new Kindle DX and lining up with textbook publishers. Amazon are also playing the iPhone field with their reader application designed for the iPhone and iPod touch, which is available through Apple’s App Store and the announcement yesterday of their Safari book store for the iPhone app.

So the old saying about ‘catch them young’ may be coming true as students who become very familiar with a certain device and technology may be hard to ween off it after they have finished their course and therefore we have a double wammy with the technology companies retaining them for many years. Mind some would say that the banks have done the same for years.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Notes from Old Amsterdam

Last week we spent a few days on business in Holland and were struck by the presence of books- Yes physical books in all sizes, old and new. When one visits cities such as Amsterdam, you can’t but be impressed by the number of independent bookshops and used books on sale on what appears to be most streets. It’s also interesting to see locals reading books everywhere.

We have visited many European cities and cultures over the last few years, but have never seen such open reverence and connection with the printed book. This after all is the country that, through the likes of Phillips, has driven so much media innovation and change and boasts such ebook players as iRex, BeBook and Internet stores as

Maybe the king hasn’t quite got new clothes on yet.

The School Laptops Project Continues in Malaysia

We have previously written about the Malaysian state of Kuala Terengganu and their mission to give school children technology


Just to keep you updated, the notebooks / e-books for Year Five pupils in the state will be distributed in stages from the end of the month. The first batch of the 15,000 units arrived from Taiwan last week. And is part of the state government’s project aimed at providing quality education, and also reducing the burden of heavy schoolbags for the children. They still intend distribute the devices free of charge to all pupils and we hope to cover the entire primary level in the next few years.There are some 23,000 pupils in the state who will benefit from the e-book project.

The Gong Badak factory is projected to produce 10,000 units a month while the state has commissioned some 100 graduates in the field of information technology to coach schoolchildren and teachers on using the e-books.

Magazines on Demand

Back in October last year we cover the Magcloud magazines on demand from Hewlett Packard.

Today we share with you a video from The New York Times which shows the construction of the fashion magazine 'Bare' and how vanity publishing may work in the on demand world.

Android Comes to the Netbook

So what is so important about Computerworld reporting the Skytone Alpha 680?
First it’s an ARM-powered netbook that will be available in the next quarter, but more importantly it’s an Android based netbook. Although the price ticket of $250 disappoints some, the move of the Google Android platform onto netbooks could herald a new era both for Linux, the ARM chip and also the netbook.

We do not see the netbook as a laptop replacement but as a replacement for other devices such as ereaders. They offer connectivity and ease of use to ‘my world’ whilst on the move and the convergence of the two would appear inevitable. The key to the Android netbook will be getting the apps developed on the platform and Flash on the ARM chip to enable full video support and for it to be able to compete with the ATOM chip devices.

Below are two You Tube videos we found on Engadget who weren't too enthusiastic on the Skytone Alpha.

News: Thought for today

Nicholas D. Kristof recently wrote in the New York Times, The Daily Me:

“The decline of traditional news media will accelerate the rise of The Daily Me, and we'll be irritated less by what we read and find our wisdom confirmed more often. The danger is that this self-selected 'news' acts as a narcotic, lulling us into a self-confident stupor through which we will perceive in blacks and whites a world that typically unfolds in grays.”

Sunday, May 10, 2009

News is Not Grey

Are those enlarged eInk devices such as the Kindle DX/3, Plastic Logic and other big tablets really going to save the world of the newspapers?

We don’t think so, nor do we believe that replicating a broadsheet on a slab in greyscale is going to turn the masses on. It reminds us once again of Michael Douglas running up the beach with the earlier mobile that resembled a brick or Fred Flinstone reading the daily news from a stone slab. To some size matters but over and over again the consumer tells us convenience, portability, compactness and style score over clunky. Let’s face it the thieves are going to have a birthday with these as they aren’t exactly things one puts in one pocket and they aren’t cheap! Picture a busy tube, bus or train and everyone reading a grey slab.

We think we have already given too much space to the eink slab reader, however we note that eink obviously feel that they are on a winner bring a grey world to the masses. Wired reports that they have released a new line of its broadsheet prototype kits aimed at attracting newspaper developers. The AM-300 kit offers a 9.7-inch display and allows companies to experiment and build their own prototype readers on the larger format. They did something similar in releasing a kit for ebooks last year which was priced at $3000 and was taken up by companies looking to create ebook reader lookie-likies and we’ve see plenty of them!

The new developer kit has a graphical electronic paper display with pen input and also includes a Linux x86 operating environment, E Ink API software for Broadsheet, sample images, open source software drivers and other applications that support MMC cards, Bluetooth and USB. The 9.7-inch AM300 kit will begin shipping on May 27th, priced at $4,000.

We believe that newspapers like all media needs to navigate the stormy waters of digital change, but it has to first decide what it wants to offer, how that offer can be communicated, paid for and value be perceived by consumers. It is a journey of baby steps and experimentation. News isn’t dying, nor is the demand for it, just the way its communicated, consumed and paid for.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Another Day Another Kindle

We have been away on business whilst the Kindle 3 hit the market. The device was as expected and the reaction and pitch has been interesting to catch up on after the event:

Digital Demographics
Bowker, at a BISG's ‘Making Information Pay’ conference revealed demographic information that claimed that older readers are the biggest buyers of ebooks. The statement caused many industry thinkers to start to ponder about the attraction of large print, weight, ease of handling and much more perceptions. The reality is that older buyers are those that buy books full stop; they have more time, disposable income and much more. Is it surprising they are the ones buying ebooks – No? Some would say that it’s obvious that the grey market is the one with the largest opportunity and its somewhat condescending to find it a surprise.

Newsprint and magazines are going to go Kindle.
Newspapers may be going downhill but that doesn’t mean that the wave of large screen eInk devices have the answer. We now have PC news sites, smartphone apps and the ereader device. We know that Murdoch wants one, Hearst wants one and we assume the public want one, but the operative word may be one not three or four.
One important digital newspaper issue is how do readers want the news presented? Do they want it in alerts tuned to their personal preferences? Do they want it to look and feel like a paper, after all it has taken many years to perfect the user experience? Do they want it in summary with detail on request? Do they want ads or ads free? Do they want a fully interactive experience and animated experience or merely a captured textural one splattered with the odd greyscale image? Do they want colour?

Once we have addressed the format then there is the price or subscription issue? Then there is the issue about geography and getting the news delivered locally wherever you are in the world. We could go on...

Making the ereader bigger so it looks like a newspaper may not be the answer.

Textbooks are going to be Kindlebooks
Students are going to embrace the new Kindle. The logic appears to be that textbooks are too expensive so ebooks will take the market. So we expect the students to carry around a laptop or netbook, a Kindle and a smartphone? As we walk around the streets of Amsterdam this weekend we wonder who has smoked the most weed? Students require more than ebooks and they already have laptops and smartphones so why would they spend on a device that will give them nothing they don’t have today? Cheaper books have to be offset against the device cost. Students have to live and study with an open, connected campus world and will that fit with fortress Amazon? Princeton and other campus may adopt the device to drive their paperless dream but why not simply adopt a netbook and offer the student’s real choice. Some may say that its easy to create a news splash but living up to the logic can be hard.

Finally, the Kindle DX is priced at whopping $489, a higher price point than a Netbook.

The Kindle does not handle epub and the standard’s world will continue to argue that this the biggest weakness. We agree that an open standard is the best way but we also recognise the power and openness of Adobe’s other protected format Adobe eBook based on PDF. It may not offer everything that epub offers, but is supported by the same DRM services, ereader devices and is cheaper to produce. Amazon’s propriety format is either their Achilles heel or their trump card and until we see what others do over the summer, we believe that it remains difficult call for the independent.

Finally, we are disappointed that Amazon chooses to change the name as we were looking forward to reaching the K9 version in the future, but more on the DX brand later….

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Fairytale Ends

Richard and Judy tried to move from primetime TV on a major channel, to an obscure new digital channel. It was soon apparent their audiences hadn’t moved with them and unless something exceptional were to happen, the curtains were coming down on their illustrious show. The question the book business had to ask itself was whether their successful Book Club could continue?

Some may say that it was little more than a brand and once the visibility waned the brand would obviously wane with it. Some may say that the backing by the industry made the Book Club and that Richard and Judy were merely the dressing. It is often easier to make a success by backing it , getting mass exposure and spending money. It is difficult to expect it with the average effort and money that is spent on most titles.

A good friend US publishing consultant and thinker James Lichtenberg once related that publishing was similar to two frogs mating. They produce thousands of spawn, which turns into hundreds of tadpoles, who eventually become tens of baby frogs swimming around avoiding their many predators. Finally, a mere handful made it to the bank and came ashore. One is kissed by Oprah and book is turned into a ‘Prince’ and a bestseller. The moral being that you needed the thousands to get to the one best seller and predicting that is often very difficult. Sometimes to get that best seller we may still need an Oprah, but Richard and Judy will no longer be Prince-makers.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Can You Copy A DVD?

The big six film studios take RealDVD to court this week in San Fransico. They claim RealDVD violates copyright an if they win will be questioning whether consumers can make copies as they have done with music, video and audio for many years.

RealDVD, made by RealNetworks, allows DVD owners to make digital copies of their discs onto a computer or laptop hard drive for their own personal use. However online dwnloadable versions can now be purchased and some studios let users make a digital copy of a movie onto a computer by paying extra for an "expanded edition" of a DVD.

As RealDVD effectively bypasses DRM controls, the movie studios, represented by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), claim it is illegal under the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). The movie studios fear a ‘rent, rip and return’ culture where the end copy can get shared and loose revenues.

RealNetworks, claim that the digital version made using RealDVD can only be played on the computer that made the copy. The National Consumers League, a consumer watchdog group, said a survey it conducted in conjunction with RealNetworks showed consumers want choice.

RealDVD is not alone in what it does, but that is no defence. So is the question more about behaviour and education or about control and restrictions? We all know that the more you restrict and control the more the incentive to break it. The next problem is defining the loss. One side says its huge, crippling and could bring the industry to its knees, the other that it may be a likened to shrinkage in a store – it happens.

It’s somewhat ironic that the case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is being heard by Judge Marilyn Patel. She presided over the Napster case and eventually shut down the original peer-to-peer music file-sharing service.

The Behemoth and the Leviathan...

It was a bit surprising to learn today that Google boss Eric Schmidt and former Genentech boss Arthur Levinson sit on the boards of both Apple and Google. However given the disclosure its not surprising that The US Federal Trade Commission is looking into the ties between the two boards.

The New York Times said the inquiry involving Google and Apple centres on a possible breach of anti-trust laws. The Clayton Anti-trust Act of 1941 forbids a person to be on a board of two rival firms at once if it believes competition between them.

Apple and Google both offer competing web browsers (Chrome and Safari), phone systems (Android and the iPhone), then there is services such as YouTube versus iTunes. However, they have apparently work together on Gmail and Google Maps for the iPhone and what would the position be if Apple were to launch the iTouch as a media ‘killer’ player/reader and Google were to win the book settlement and become the bookseller?

Apple Block Out The Sun

We all know that the UK newspaper The Sun is hardly one of the world’s top prints and its fame is down to some tongue in cheek headlines and of course those page 3 girls. The Sun believes that it's a "family" paper.

A mobile app that renders content from the world's top 50 newspapers, was rejected by iTunes because it included the UK's Sun newspaper on the grounds that it violates the iTunes policy on "obscene content". We would have rejected on the grounds of the claim it was one of the world’s top 50 newspapers.

However, they may be allowed back as Apple have announced that the iPhone new OS 3.0 release will also add expanded parental controls for apps. It is widely claimed that Apple told the developers that it “would be appropriate to resubmit your application for review once this feature is available”, allowing consumers to decide for themselves what content they see in their papers.

Does this mean that parental controls will permit more explicit content? If that is the case then the app may soon clear the 2 billion mark and attract much attention.

The border line between titillating and raunchy or explicit is often hard to define and policing may prove hard once the doors open. However, today Apple finds itself trying to be policemen, censor and provider on a service that bridges geographic boundaries and culture. Not a easy task to perform.

Instant Snaps At A Price

Just when you were convinced that the mobile phone was killing the camera for all but the specialist up pops Polaroid and new instant digital camera, the Polaroid Pogo or Two.

On the plus side you simply point click and adjust and print and out of the box in just over half a minute comes a physical print. The camera is 5.0 megapixels so competes with the best of the smartphones the 3” LCD screen certainly shows you what you have taken and a 2x 3 inch print takes us back to the good old Polaroid One. You are able to adjust the digital image and record to a memory stick to transfer them and the battery is good for some 15 prints.

What’s the downside is the price a whopping great £229.95. The price may make it at under a £100 but why buy a snappy camera when you have 90% of that on a decent mobile? Is an instant print that sexy and worth the money – we think not.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Newsprint has Many Challenges and Maybe a Kindle 3

Price Increases

As it tries to grapple with industry-wide a significant drop in advertising revenues and circulation, The New York Times is expected to announce a newsstand price increase in the coming days. The market predicts that the New York Times could increase its price 25% from $1.50 to $2.00 for Monday to Saturday editions and 20% from $5 to $6 on Sundays. A bold move and a bold increase, especially considering it raised its cover price of its Monday to Saturday editions by 20% or 25 cents to $1.50 only last year.

The NYT is not alone in price increases with the Wall Street Journal raising the cover price by 50 cents in each of the last two years and the Financial Times implemented 50 cent increases in US cover prices in 2005, 2007 and 2008. The Boston Globe raised its weekday cover price to 75 cents from 50 cents and is expected to rise to $1 within the city and $1.50 outside Greater Boston. The Sunday Globe will rise to $3.50 in the city and $4 elsewhere.

iPhone Free

Despite charging for its website and print version, The Wall Street Journal has a new iPhone application that is free. The technology platform to enable the app to be charged isn’t live yet and may not be up until the second half of the year! It will be interesting to watch them wean free users onto subscriptions but until then the content remains free on both their Blackberry and iPhone apps and charged elsewhere.

More Closures and Lay Offs

The New York Times is planning to notify federal authorities of its plans to shut down the Boston Globe and the newspaper could cease to exist within weeks. The paper's circulation has dropped 14% in the last six-month period and is expected to lose $85 million this year. If union negotiations fail to deliver additional savings then the axe may fall and its fate follow that of the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Kindle 3?

On the Digital front, Amazon has announced that will hold a press conference on Wednesday morning at a Pace University building New York. What is special about the news conference? First its on the site of the old New York Times offices and secondly its is widely predicted the announcement will launch K3, a Kindle with a larger screen.

Why a bigger screen and why the Pace location? Again it’s widely predicted the K3 is their answer to the newsprint and magazine sector – a larger screen Kindle. Amazon needs to head off Plastic Logic and the rest of the larger readers and try to capture those digital subscriptions today and not wait for others to take them. Are the NYT involved or merely a spectator -we will discover on Wednesday.