Thursday, October 29, 2009

100,000 Apple Apps and The Pretenders

Apple claim that it now has approved over 101,887 applications with some 93,118 being available today in its App Store. That’s some ten times more than its competitors and all since July 2008, less than 18 months! Is it like a banquet offering as much as you can eat at one price as sometimes a la carte offers quality over quantity? Apparently only some 20K are free and the average price is $2.55, or $3.25 if you exclude the free apps.

When we look at some of the app pretenders we see Nokia's Ovi Store, Windows Mobile Marketplace and Palm's App Catalog have less than a thousand between them and the likes of the BlackBerry App World has only some 3000. Welcome to the void!

The challenge comes potentially from Google's Android platform with some even predicting it will overtake Apple in the future. Manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and HTC are introducing a plethora of Android devices and Dell is using it for its entry into the mobile market. The versions of the system read like a US bakery; cupcake, donut éclair and demonstrate how quickly the platform is developing.

The challenge is for Android to attract the next wave of developers and the successful iPhone ones that want a second home.

But returning to the iPhone Amazon’s Mobile App, is now available as a free download in the UK some 10 months after its US launch.

'Help! I'm stuck in a Sony factory'

While we were in India managing all things digital we got sent this highly amusing photo. It was taken on Saturday in Waterstones Canary Wharf and begs the question if someone else has distribution challenges...

Google Eyes Up Education

Google’s empire spreads faster than the British, Roman, Ottoman and other empires. Its reach into the social fabric of life is faster than any before it and the range and depth of it knitted offer is quite amazing for one so young! Mobile operating systems, search, advertising, office systems, maps, libraries, bookstores and publishing, voice communications, nothing appears immune to its spreading tentacles. We are not saying it’s right or it’s wrong but just questioning the reach and influence.

Now co-founder dude and high school dropout Sergey Brin has ideas on how improve the educational system should be improved. Brin is reported in the LA Times promoting the digitization of all school content and the teaching of technology to senior citizens and middle school students. He was speaking at a conference on Google's campus, Breakthrough Learning in the Digital Age and understandably the focus was not so much on education, education and education but on technology, technology and technology.

Like most entrepreneurs Google has not missed out on capturing and influencing them young, giving schools the premium version of its applications that are used to run schools. Cristin Frodella, product marketing manager for the Google Apps, Education Edition is quoted , "If they like Google Apps now, they'll ask for it by name. There is a value there."

The LA Times article gives some interesting insights to Brin’s thinking and education and clearly their next target audience.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Publishing in 2010: Part 3

Yesterday we look at some of the changes that are impacting publishing and posted our thoughts: Publishing in 2010: Part 2

Today we look at the two issues of, ‘Publication Date’ and ‘Digital Marketing’

3. Publication Date

Can consumers actually spot the difference between margarine and butter? Can they spot the difference between front list ‘new’ titles and older ones? Do the majority care about the publication date? Is new better than old? Do books have a ‘sell by date’?

The answer from the majority of consumers and readers is that the publication date is irrelevant, but the answer from the majority of publishers and resellers is that it is. This divide could once be managed by the control of the channel and the ‘sale or return’ practices that support front list promotion. However, the Internet and digital world throws this in the air and now millions of titles are available at a click. These can be digital titles, physical, print on demand, ebooks, whatever.

We once questioned the increasing volume of new titles published each year. The reality is that it will probably double within the next few years. It will not be just new works but include; old ones being revived by print on demand, digital works, a mass of public domain that were never previously ISBNed and an explosion of self published material. Let’s face it the virtual shelf is here.

Let’s also be honest, unless you are an ardent follower of an author, no one really cares about that date. The acid test is to go to any bookstore and watch the consumers when confronted with a range of Grisham, Connelly, King, whoever, I guarantee few turn to that front matter to read the publication date. If you are ever in New York go to my favourite bookstore, The Strand. Fred Bass sells used, new, remaindered, classics, rare and even reviewer copies, his offer reflects most peoples reading habits - eclectic.

We have seen Faber introduce its classics and many others such as Penguin, trawl the public domains, orphan works and their back lists in order to rediscover gems and yesterday’s winners. Good books are good books and the publication date means just that - the date of publication.

My father in law most famous work was turned into a film, which even on its second TV showing drew a 13 million audience. It won an EMMY, a BAFTA, a Peabody and was voted one of the all time Women’s Hour favourite books. It now sits out of print ‘reprint under consideration’. The logic being that it’s had it day, but some would suggest that it’s the publisher in that case that has had its day.

Why is this important today? The answer is simple, many publishers can now bring back previous works, dust down the jacket and take a low risk and cost option. Publishers will increasingly need to look backwards, sideward as well as forwards to find their revenue. Similarly resellers can break free of the merchandised shelves and offer a more eclectic proposition based on quality of selection not sale or return. Some will say that Google, Amazon and others see books they don’t always just see new books which now challenges many right across the publishing value chain.

4. Digital Marketing

Yesterday the AI sheet was thrown out like confetti at a wedding. Each publisher often had their own house style and the fax machines were often jammed with what some would call spam. Bibliographic records were so inaccurate that they spawned the ‘book in hand’ processes in all major wholesalers. Then Amazon promoted the jacket JPEG, which was followed by email distribution and a step change was incurred.

We were once told by a leading trade publisher that the majority of their marketing spend was to resellers and much was spent on those glossy adverts in the trade press. Some referred to it being akin to self abuse and playing to the gallery, but if the book wasn’t on the shelf it couldn’t be sold. The objective was to secure shelf space.

However, this has clearly started to change. The shelf is no longer just physical and the consumer can search and discover for themselves and choose where they buy separately. The challenge now is to be seen everywhere. Some may say that the digital haystack has just got bigger and being found as that ‘needle’ even harder.

We first had the digital ‘widget’, which came in all flavours sizes and rendered differently. Often the pages were not perfect and rigid rules applied, which often resulted in black pages being displayed as sample pages! We appeared to have lost our way and instead of focusing on the channel, publishers became overly obsessed with selling direct and to new yet to be established channels. The secondary publishers who provided the base metadata (bibliographic feeds) were floundering and often unable to respond and resellers found themselves once again with confetti...

The book is and always will be the best advert for itself so using it in a digital form to sell both physical and digital renditions makes sense. Google recognised this, Amazon recognised this, but all too often the publishers didn’t have it and when they did, it was only after the book had hit the streets. Again Amazon recognised this, but unfortunately the digital file had to wait for the printer and yesterday’s process to catch up.

When we talk about marketing, promotional and sales support materials we should be looking at the same source and the best basic source is not a marketing system, but the content system itself. This challenges and changes the process in which we develop content and is part of a greater debate. However, we need to think samples, viral marketing, review copies, inspection copies, gratis copies, catalogues, AI sheets and even the physical materials and recognise these should be driven from the same source, which is held digitally once and rendered many times and ways. It also needs to recognise marketing happened before, during and after production. If done correctly every click and also unturned page will be auditable.

Finally, digital marketing budgets have often been spread across publishing departments and not always tracked at title level. This certainly can change in this new digital world.

We will continue with Part 4 looking at Editorial and Production.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Comparing eBook Readers

A great comparison chart on all the various ebook readers out there from Mobileread

Publishing in 2010: Part 2

Yesterday we started looking at the changes that are impacting publishing and posted our thoughts: Publishing in 2010: Part 1

Today we look at the two issue of, ‘Content on Demand’ and ‘Consolidation’

3. Content On Demand.

We are moving rapidly from a culture of ‘buy and wait’ to one of ‘click and get it’. This first started with the near instant gratification from the likes of Amazon, who re wrote customer service online and which has now been adopted by the use of mobiles and streaming of music and video.

In the print world we started with printing ‘just in case’ and that resulted in over production and waste and then moved in many areas to print on demand, or as it is often called ‘just in time’. This may not have been true ‘just in time’ but did reduce print runs for back lists, reduced the unpredictable reprints and to kept titles effectively in print. Some took bold steps to move the printing locally to the consumer and in doing so move from a ‘print and distribute’ to a ‘distribute and print’, but the reality today is that the price to do this is still to high and the model still unproven.

We now see digital offering digital downloads of video, audio and ebooks on demand and TV is also being streamed. YouTube has changed our taste and brought video to all. Importantly digital now offers the opportunity to store digital inventory once at source and deliver it locally direct to the consumer on requested. No more tying the transaction, information, customer relationship to the content, but effectively separating these and creating truly virtual and distributed inventories. In the case of publishing there is no reason why the content should ever leave the publisher’s warehouse until it is sold. He instantly knows what is sold. This shift changes relationships and often the publisher believes it offers a direct channel to the consumer. The reality is that it strengthens not weakens the existing channel and provides the opportunity for anyone to sell their titles. We often ask publishers how many trading partners they give their digital files to today and how many they think they will give them to tomorrow. Often we still see many continuing to hang on to the old ways and we still hear ‘my repository is bigger than yours’ schoolyard naïve bragging.

However, the greatest challenge and opportunity that content on demand offers, is the potential shift from outright ownership of a physical book or digital copy, to the licence to access a digital copy. If we look at music and the new digital streaming services, we see a rebalancing between the track to access and the tracks to own models. Consumers will still want to own, but may now want to own less and rent more.

We therefore need to watch the likes of the emerging Google models where their library and Editions models use the same content. We must watch the streaming services like Spotify and Google music who stream music today but could stream anything digital tomorrow.

Finally we need to recognise that the public libraries have real growth opportunities tomorrow. There are no longer restricted to the shelf space but to an unlimited virtual shelf consisting of everything ever published. However, this then raises the conflict between their rent for free model and the reseller’s purchase model.

Content on Demand is not just about delivery it’s about the total customer interaction, storage and service. Google have adopted a store once serve many ways approach and others a store anywhere and serve anywhere technology. What is clear is that the consumer now wants ‘click and get’ and that this impacts both physical and digital content.

4. Consolidation

Many predicted that the market would consolidate around the few and the others would be slowly suffocated out of the market. It could be resellers, wholesalers, publishers whoever, we have been brought up to believe big is good and big is the only way. This logic is not wrong and will continue to work. The economies of scale and scope will always rule but rather than killing the rest they are now facilitating ‘small is beautiful’ and ‘small works’.

Digital provides a level playing field. This however doesn’t mean that this is open to all, nor that all can succeed. What is clear is that those in the middle are most at risk. They can’t compete with the big, but have their profile. They also can’t compete with small, as they often have too much baggage and aren’t able to move and adapt swiftly to change. The other challenges is that we often assume big is as we knew it yesterday, it isn’t and often now about the size of new entrants. The new big is Google, Adobe, Sony, Apple. In accepting this we must also accept that the new small and the new middle will also change.

We have yet to see full vertical consolidation. The problem is that organisations often find it difficult to collaborate and work a vertical all too often we see many trying to compete with those they should be partnering with and partnering with those who they should be competing with. The vertical world is not always content centric and may consist of a number of content providers, who together make the vertical offer.

Horizontal consolidation has been happening for some time. We look at our high streets and see fewer general chains. We look at music and see virtually none. The challenge here is that these were the stores that often shifted a wide range of volume and once gone are often replaced with ones that shift a narrow range of volume. The independent bookstore can survive but not as a multi publisher franchise that is supported by sale or return.

Consolidation is impacting the channel, the range, the print run, the rights acquired and developed and everything from the author to the reader. This genie is out of the bottle and not going back so we must adapt and change to survive.

Next we will look at the mystical publication date and the marketing focus.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Publishing in 2010: Part 1

When we look around the book industry today we see constant and accelerating change, which is often in conflict with previous changes, or the current practices. It could be viewed by some as the Wild West as we see retailer fighting retailer, publisher fighting publisher and new entrants fighting to dominate all not with content, but price, exclusive deals and even loss leading strategies. We find ourselves asking what the industry will look like in 3, 5, 10 years.

This current battleground may appear to be digital against physical, it may appear to be a grab for market share and it may appear all to be focused at the consumer end today, but the reality it is about and effects the total value chain from author to reader and the life cycle not just about front list but books and content in many forms and dating back forever.

The first thing we all must recognise that we have long advocated is that Digital Publishing is Publishing. Publishing may become Digital Publishing but isn’t today.
So what are the changes we need to watch and why? What may appear a single issue has the potential to change and challenge what we know and do today?

1. Pricing.

In another time and another industry we worked within one of the major retail operations and did so during a time of a price war. At the start there were six competitors all with different consumer propositions. At the end there were just two. What you quickly learnt was that price sensitivity only effected a small fraction of the 50,000 lines and that broad discounting effectively loss margin and was counterproductive. We had to move from discounting wars to everyday low prices and that is and was a challenge. The other thing we learnt was that the only winners were those with deep pockets and consumers who were not really that price sensitive in the first place!

The book industry does not have deep pockets. The consumer does not know the price of a particular book in a particular format and there are no real price points yet.
Pricing effects the margin up the chain and if pricing sensibility is not practiced then there will be many casualties. It isn’t just about independent bookstores, it threatens distributors, wholesalers, printers, publishers, agents and authors. Discount pricing in a many to many supply chain where the channel consists of thousands of publishers feeding thousands of resellers is a recipe for casualties in all areas, full stop. It will also lead to more not less waste as sales become more volatile and print runs smaller and more volatile.

2. Blockbuster and celebrity.

The booktrade has always worked on the 80/20 principle, if not the 90/10 one. Here the majority of the volume in terms of units and sales is made by the few. It is a fine balance that in fact allows for a broad and deep range which is effectively subsidised by the winners.

However, if you change that balance and do so too quickly you can screw it for all. Selling volume at lower margin works but works best if higher margin is achieved on the others and a greater volume of sales is made across the total range. We know the book market is effectively flat so the overall impact challenges the validity of those that once made it broad and deep.

We also have seen the recent backlash to the dumbing down, or the Katie Price manufactured hit. Books aren’t Baked Beans.

In part 2 we aim to look at the issues of content on demand and consolidation.

Mobile Week

One of the smartphones we eagerly await is the Nokia N900 and although you can already be pre-ordered directly from but still has no availability date. Although some 300 preproduction units have been loaned to open source developers to get more feedback from this important community the feedback is yet to be published. The N900 is a smartphone and some would suggest, including Nokia, also a Tablet PC. It runs under the open source Linux Maemo OS which Nokia hope will enable them to compete with Android and iPhone mobiles.

We also liked the Dolce&Gabbana designer treatment the new Sony Jalou has been given.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

eInk and Chips

Today the cost of eInk devices is still high and although it is falling the drop is not sufficient to engage mass adoption. The devices are gaining consumer visibility, however when we look hard at them they clearly lack that iPod , Walkman iconic moment a point not lost on the consumer. The true tipping point toward eInk and the myriad of ‘lookie likie’ devices is becoming less likely as we see hybrid devices that combine two screens, the emergence of the Google online model and the emergence of better screen quality and applications on mobiles. This is nothing to do with ebooks it is to do with the devices or how we expect consumers to read them.

This week E Ink Corp., the prime developer of the greyscale "electronic paper" technology used in the majority of the current eBooks and Freescale Semiconductor, the Austin-Texas-based provider of eBook processors and have announced that they are collaborating. The objective is to develop a chip solution which integrates Freescale's i.MX processor technology with E Ink's Vizplex display controller.

Why this is important is that it starts to shift the economics of much of the technology into mass production and creates a standard base that can both lower cost of units and facilitate further innovation re tablet, laptop notebook PCs. However, the question is still whether eInk is a long term solution or a short term fix. Will technologies such as OLED overtake it? Will it ever produce acceptable levels of colour? Will the current crop of eReaders be sitting in landfill sites in 5 years time?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Litopia New Site

Now and again a fresh perspective on publishing comes along and engages with the audience on the matters that count to them. Peter Cox has worked hard with a small team of enthusiasts to create such a community - Litopia.

Litopia is about writing, writers, creation and of course publishing and not only has a very active site and user community but has long pioneered the podcast with its publishing and writers 'Litopia After Dark' on Friday nights.

They have now launched their new site and also we have been asked and are pleased to continue our association with this great adventure not only still participating frequently in their podcast show but now contributing as a columnist on the sight.

Kindle on the PC (not Mac)

Obviously not a great thing in itself but means that all the bases are covered in Kindleworld. This may present a better option for those who don't want the device and use notebooks and laptops such as students. It could also open up an alternative to Google's online world and offer rental options.

At at time when a new ereader appears to be hitting the streets every week or even day, this may signal a return to some realism on digital content and access to it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pricing Winners and Channel Losers

The US digital edition of Stephen King's "Under the Dome," a new 1,088 page novel, will be released 1 month after the hardback and carry a hefty elist price of US$35. How the likes of Amazon respond with their $9.99 ebook best selling price point will be interesting to watch but it shows once again that some publishers do not see ebooks as different and view them as part of a scheduled release strategy.Today Amazon have the hardback on sale at $9 offering a staggering 74% discount or $26 off list. So why not release the ebook at the same time?

The real shame is that King is the one of the leading ebook exponents and pioneers and now finds himself back in the box. The other reality we have is a clear hardback price war in the US with the supermarkets lining up against each other and Amazon and all trying to create a low price perception ironically centred around the $10 mark. The clear losers on these new frontlist bestselling hardbacks and ebooks are all the retailers who can’t bear the cost of the fight and have to stand by and watch it from the side as each blow gets swung.

The publisher is able to put any price on the jacket but this becomes more and more meaningless in this discounted market and the emerging price points set the consumer trend. The publisher is ok as they can factor the discount, the consumer is great as they win a better deal, the author is fine unless they are on net receipts and these flow through special sales clauses and the channel potentially just gets rolled over in the battle.

The only way the existing channel can respond is to become booksellers and stop being merchandised. Many already have started, but many continue to sell ‘consignment stock’ at uncompetitive prices and expect to survive in what is clearly going to be a painful cull.

Does Two In One Offer A New eReader eDGe?

So we have the Nook which finally combines the two worlds of greyscale eInk and full colour display.We hear much talk and speculation of an Apple table, a Microsoft tablet dual screen technology and much more.

We now have the enTourage eDGe™ which they claim is the world’s first ‘dualbook’ and offers both the functions and eInk feel of an e-reader, with the more convention colour display and functionally of netbook, notepad, and audio/video recorder and player in one. It’s a logical step and clearly offers the best of both worlds in a single package but is it the solution or merely two devices joined at the hip?

The dualbook offers a e-reader offers 9.7” e-Ink screens display that reads both PDF and ePub formats and enables the usual text and drawing notes and lets you save these to the eDGe, to a server, or email them to others. On the other side the eDGe offers a 1024 x 600 pixels, or 10.1” colour touch screen with an audio recorder, video camera, running under Google Android OS and offering the usual web browsing, audio/video record and playback, applications and features plus a library function to manage your books and files. It communicates TWiFi, plus optional 3G capability using an EVDO or HSDPA mobile modem and a BlueTooth capability to add an external keyboard.
The enTourage eDGe™ weighs only 2.5 pounds, and is approximately 8” by 10” by 1” when closed. However two in one will cost and the price today is $490 and will be available in February next year in four colours.

A smart move, but it is a hybrid, which clearly is ‘edging its bets’ on playing to all albeit at a price. The big question is whether the world will change in the 4 months before it hits the streets?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Google Spreads Its Reach

So what does Google want to be when it grows up, or should that be what doesn’t it want to be when it grows up?

Last week we had the announcement of Google Editions at Frankfurt which made Google ebook wholesaler and retailer. We already have them as a potential book orphan works custodian and of course librarian to all. We now read that they want to be the digital music service prodiver and maybe return to the much expected gmobile provider. It’s sometimes hard tracking a company that is spreading its net so fast in so many directions but what is clear, irrespective of what materialises, the Google we know today will not be the Google we will see tomorrow.

TechCrunch website was first to raise the potential and imminent news of the launch of a new "Google Music" or "Google Audio" service. They even has screen shots which may or may not be accurate and it was unclear whether Google saw themselves as a universal Spotify streaming service or a iTunes wholesare and retailer of music downloads, or both. Of course as you would expect of any company in its position Google’s response when approached was, "We don't comment on rumour and speculation." Cnet claim Google are woring towards a ‘one box’ service that on searches will provide a thumbnail with the picture of the artist, some background information and listings of the music that can be previewed and also claims that all four major record companies are on board. The speculation is also linked to the ‘one box’ concept used by Google for other services such as video, financial information and weather search results. Techcrunch also claim in a later article ‘Google Music Service the Screenshots’, that Google is partnering its music offer with the LaLa and iLike services. We can only wait until next week when it is claimed they will officiually announcement the service at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles.

Google versus iTunes makes sense for smartphones and Chrome OS based notebooks and importantly will tether users to Google and its vision of keeping everything in their cloud.

Amid the Andriod announcements on its new version 2 release on Sony Eriksonn, the bundling of Spotify on HTC Hero by 3 Mobile, Spring Design’s Alex ereader and B&N’s Nook and the imminent Dell Android phone we read in The Street that Google is claimed to be working with HTC to produce a Google-branded phone or phones available to sell in their thousands through retailers. It would obviously remove the carrier influence and give Google tight controls over the features and applications on phones even offering user configurable phones. More interestingly it starts to position Google head to head with Apple as a provider of integrated hardware and software offerings, similar to Apple's iPhone and iTunes Music Store.

So we return to the question we started with and wonder what Google will be in the next few months and years.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fancy an eRoll-up or a bit of Nookie?

Lately it feels like you turn your back for a minute and up pops another ebook reader and today is no exception.

AUO have announced a 6” flexible e-paper display which is claimed to be unbreakable and uses Sipix Microcup technology to enable the screen to be bent like real paper and display 16 levels of grayscale with 33% reflectance and a 9:1 contrast ration. Some impressive facts if you wish to bend it as you read it!

They have also announce the first 20” EDP (Electrophoretic Display ) panel, the largest ready for mass production and clearly aimed at the public display market. It too supports 16 levels of greyscale, and only requires less than 2W of power.

Also today more noise hits the streets on B&N’s ereader and no doubt by the time our flight reaches India and we connect the Nook will be fully disclosed. So we have the Vook, the Nook and the Book, but only one does what it says on the cover. Sometimes you wonder if the marketing guys ever think about the names they give devices. Can we can expect the French Connection ebook reader to be named ***K?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Spring Design Show That Two is Better Than One E-Reader

Spring Design has announced an e-reader called Alex, which some believe may be the long awaited Barnes & Noble device. Alex has a 6″ e-ink display and a 3.5″ color touch screen – yes two screens in one device and runs Android OS with full-blown Web browsing. So it combines the internet and multimedia with the grayscale world of eInk.
This could prove the ideal compromise for many in sectors such as professional, educational, children’s books and entertainment where eInk isn’t good enough. It also could make books jump out of the constraints of the current jacket and become multimedia. Alex even offers Link Notes™, which enables the user to make their own multimedia links.

Are we at last starting to see the end of the beginning of ebook readers and the start of the real dawn of digital?

HTC Hero, 3 Mobile and Spotify

Mobile phone operator 3 has been somewhat lagging behind the iPhone party in the UK but today has announced that like its pioneering of Skype it is to be the first to bundle Spotify’s premium music streaming service. The premium service usually costs £9.99 per month and is the only version that works on phones, allows downloads and offers higher quality sound. Although Spotify is available on an iPhone today you have to pay so this offer starts to rewrite the music market in the same way as they did with Skype and begs the question as to whether others will follow or expect their customers to pay for these premium services directly.

3 will bundle the Spotify service on their first Android phone, the HTC Hero , when it launches next month. The HTC Hero has a 3.2-inch HVGA display, AGPS, digital compass, gravity-sensor, 3.5mm stereo headset jack, a five mega-pixel autofocus camera and a MicroSD memory slot. The Hero also includes a dedicated search button that enables you to search through Twitter, locate people in your contact list, find emails in your inbox or generally find stuff on the handset.

eBook Devices Are Multiplying

Walking around the Frankfurt Fair and especially in Hall 4 one was impressed with the number of ereader devices on show. The booths weren’t heaving but the devices were there and no matter if they all resembled each other what was impressive was the number of players who are banking on a return in this developing market.

Cheap and Cheerful

We have the entry of the cheap reader that achieves today’s critical price point of $149, which almost qualifies it as a cheap present for Christmas. The Ectaco JetBook dispenses with eInk and gives us a 5” reflective TFT and instead of the usual batteries we find a slot for four AA batteries and don’t bank on huge memory as it just squeezes in 100MB. Thanks to Lesenpunknet we even have a video below.

The Long Wait

Only an elephant has a longer gestation period than the Plastic Logic reader. We can only hope that when it finally lands that it lives up to its promise and doesn’t fail due to the time it has taken to bring it to market. Extra thin, lightweight and wireless-enabled, QUE is the size of an 8.5 x 11 inch pad of paper, less than a 1/3 inch thick, weighs less than many periodicals and has a touch screen interface.

The Hybrid

Egadget brings us news of Pixel Qi’s 3Qi display, which first wrote about in May this year 3-screens-in-one-could-kill-single' and is a transflective display contains both e-ink and LCD properties. At a flick of a switch one can toggling between the two displays which is good for battery life and good for the eyes. Its like having a black and white TV that plays colour, or a colour TV that is HD. Its still to arrive but is coming to a netbook or tablet near you.

More of the Same

The array of eInk ‘lookie likies’ grows by the day. Are they different, or due they create a must have proposition? We think we will look back in a couple of years and wonder why we got so fixated on these devices as they are today. A bit like looking at those early mobile phones that resembled carrying a brick around or the first IBM PC that was so portable it needed a trolley.

Friday, October 16, 2009

So where Do Read An eBook?

So we think we have to compete with the usual suspects for leisure and entertainment time? However it is clear that people’s habits young and old are changing. When there was nothing on TV they may have picked up a book but now not only is there an explosion of channels, music and radio on demand but tv is no longer restricted to a schedule.

The UK’s media regulator Ofcom claim some 29% of UK adults on the internet now watch or download TV programmes or films on demand and the majority of the usage is via the highly successful catch-up services of traditional broadcasters such as BBC iPlayer.
They also claim digital TV takeup among UK adults now stands at 89%, 73% have access to the internet and 91% own a mobile phone.

It was interesting to compare these significant numbers with those disclosed at TOC Frankfurt by Lexcycle COO and founder Neelan Choksi who claimed that 32% of ebooks where read in bed and a further 27% whilst commuting. This clearly shows that reading could be being squeezed hard by our apparent continued love of the TV and growing connection to the internet.

Zennstrom and Friis Enter the Music Streaming World

We have written much lately about the digital music streaming services spearheaded by the likes of Spotify and now those serial digitaria Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis have entered the race. These were the two behind Kazaa and Skype and the failed TV service Joost. The service will obviously mimic others and pick up the libraries of the major players and create a subscription streaming service that’s between desktop and mobile. It is expected to be initially rolled out in the US.

So we now have a crowed space with Pandora, Napster, Nokia, Last FM, Sky and others all trying to capture the streaming market.

From the book world it is interesting to note that this emerging market is only possible because the labels retained their digital content and didn’t rely on others to digitise and own the content.

However the music streaming world isn't all plane sailing and news today of Nokia's 'Comes With Music' service is not good with the service struggling to make any impact. Music Ally claim that only some 107,000 users have signed up for the service worldwide, with 32,000 of these being in the UK. The service which was launched in December 2007 allows subscribers to legally download more than six million tracks and keep them forever, has failed to take off whilst the likes of Spotify have exploded. It may be a lesson to those who assume that their brand and wallet guarantee success.

One Laptop Per Child Scores Heavily In Uraguay

We have not read much about the ambitious one laptop per child initiative lately but far from doing nothing it has been busy and now Uruguay has just become the first country to provide a laptop for every child attending state primary school.

"Plan Ceibal" enables not just children but also many Uruguayan families access the internet for the first time. Over 70% of the laptops went to homes without a computer and in doing so a nation has been switched on. The cost may be higher that originally expected by its founder Nicholas Negroponte but the idea has been achieved and not only the children but their parents and teachers all benefit. President Tabaré Vázquez presented the final XO model laptops to pupils at a school in Montevideo this week and this means that over the last two years some 362,000 pupils and 18,000 teachers have got their own laptop.

There are now plans to extend the scheme to secondary schools and pre-school children next year.

So Uruguay may have lost to Argentina in the soccer World Cup and will not be going to the finals but have scored heavily in their commitment to wiring up their population. It will be interesting to watch if others follow.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tools of Change Lands At Frankfurt

So Frankfurt started with a full house at the inaugural Tools of Change conference at Frankfurt. All the right people were there and the expectation was high. The conference certainly was different to the usual pre fair ones and was focused squarely on the digital agenda and publishing. It was a long day crammed with much thought provoking presentations and dialogue. We thought that three conference/ meetings on the same day would be overkill but it worked.

One of the breakout sessions, with standing room only, was on the forthcoming Google Editions, which is an extension of their partner program. However the question on our lips, was what Google really wants to be when it grows up?

Not content with being the global library they want to be the global, search source, marketplace, bookseller, wholesaler and left only publisher and author undisturbed. Editions will fully embrace publishers, resellers and consumers with all content being supplied by Google on the online and cache model proposed under the book settlement. The potential conflict with the settlement service drew a ‘no comment’, but was on many lips.

There were many questions raised and we found pondering how territorial rights be effectively expressed and managed, on how Google checkout will deal with the various taxation issues and the list pricing supplied by publishers, how the single eISBN advocated will work. What is clear is that Google will own the digitised work.

The service will be advertising free, so the only revenue will be from book sales and all three business models presented will give Google a sizable chunk of the value share and in one case pit them squarely against aggregators and wholesalers and in others, against retailers. However when you are the source of all content then that isn’t a problem but an opportunity.

Sara Lloyd in her keynote speech said that there were three big players in the market. Google obviously think that is one is enough.

Interesting times and we must be careful what we wish for…

Monday, October 12, 2009

Is Book Retailing Predicable?

So as we have been thinking a lot about music and the retail impact of digitization, we now wonder what will happen to bookstores in the future. Many accept that big is good, or inevitable, but then scream when they see that could mean just Amazon and Google. The Booksellers Association where right to object to Margret Hodge’s library dream factory and its thoughts on libraries competing head on with retail in selling books, but it will not go away without action. Some believe that the independent bookstore is dead, but then many have thought that for many years so what has changed.

What we see first is that universal consolidation that has decimated the music retail world with many big and small going to the wall. A hardcore of music stores remain and will always do so for these are real music stores, respected by their consumers and offering value added service. However those who were mere franchises for the labels, opening their doors and allowing the reps to merchandise their shelves have mainly gone. The same will happen with books and a continued belief in ‘sale or return’ will start sort to out the bookstores from the hobbyists.

So if we look at Music today we see Spotify, iTunes, Napster, Sky, Nokia and many new names entering the streaming and download world and Amazon, Walmart and big boys dominating the physical world. Why should books be any different? So we swap in Amazon, Google, Sony, B&N, throw in some aggregators with a white label offer such as Overdrive, Ingram etc. Then in the physical world there is Amazon, B&N, Waterstones, Book Depository and of course supermarkets and special sales channels such as the Book People. It may be different names but they share a lot of similarities.

So how do bookstores survive what is clearly going to be a hard winter?

We suggest by being bookstores and retailers and stop chasing the best seller rabbits that were never geared for them. Start to understand it’s not just about front and back list but books, old, used, remaindered, whatever. It’s about selection not based on the safety net of no risk returns, but on sale through and risk. It’s all about knowing the audience and where appropriate specializing and even creating vertical product sales. It’s about community reach and all the things that have been written by many and practiced by few.

Why are we so hard on bookstores if we believe that they are an endangered species? The answer is simple – we want them to survive, but to do so they have to think and act differently. Should they do other publishing roles such as run festivals, publish, reprint, package? It will work for some but not many. Should they embrace digital or leave it to the big boys like they left the internet to Amazon?

You can’t tell a retailer how to retail they have it or they don’t.

Take publisher branding which scores very low in the consumer world. Why not put all the penguin books together, all the HarperCollins ones together and forget that they all must be A-Z. The books may look pretty as a collection and appeal even more that the jumbled up different sizes, colours and designs we see on a shelf today. Why do books have to be spine out – if it’s just down to space fine, but stocking more inventory, more densely, doesn’t guarantee more sales – think about it. Shop windows and interior design layout is usually predicable, boring and clearly lacking imagination. Some excel and really make the effort others just put up shelves and fill them.

We can’t prescribe what to do but we can predict the potential future and more of the same isn’t going to change current trends and our following other sectors such as music.

Sky To Enter The Music Streaming Business

So Sky has announced that it is to launch an online music service that will offer customers access to more than four million music tracks for download and streaming. Instead of a single subscription they have chosen two, one at £6.49 a month, which allows the download of one album or 10 individual track and another at £7.99, which increases the track to 15. However the albums appear to be priced differently some at £6.49 and other at £7.99 and dependant to your subscription is what you can download. Without even trying to understand their logic it is madness! All Sky broadband customers who access the site will receive a free downloadable album worth £6.49.
Sky is obviously looking to build yet more subscriptions to their TV ones but there again where’s the bundle offer?

We think that iTunes has built its brand and loyal users and others such as Spotify are clearly giving everyone a run for their money and there is always Napster. Will the subscription model work? Will consumers wake up and realise ownership doesn’t make sense and flip to the streamed model? Will players such as Sky be able to cross brand and cash in on the new models?

What is clear is that streaming is happening and people are warming to it. What is also clear is that anybody can play.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

LG Offer eBook Readers Solar Power

LG has announced that it has developed a solar panel for a Sony e-book reader. The chip is less that 1 mm thick, 10cm wide and 10cm long and weighs 20 grams and will be on show at the International Meeting on Information Display (IMID) in Seoul. The question is whether eInk devices that already have a long battery life need a solar panel. Will it result in obviating the need to ever recharge the battery and to claim the ultimate green credentials. However, we wondered whether it could prove useful for the iPhone that is constantly in need of recharging.

LG claim that 4 to 5 hours exposure to sunlight would be sufficient to run the e-book reader for 24 hours. The prototype is 9.6% efficient and LG expect to increase this to 12% in the next 12 months and then to 14% by 2012 when it is envisaged that it it would be ready for commercialization.

Musicians Want the RIght to Terminate Licences in 2013

Apparently today musicians can’t revert their rights ,so if the sign up to a bad deal they are stuck with it. But this is going to change and follow the lead of the comic book and make use of the termination rights in the Copyright Act. Techdirt brought this interesting situation to our attention in their article, ‘ Musicians Starting To Assert Copyright Termination Rights Against Record Labels.

They claim that a group of musicians are now lining up, or should that be a band of musicians grouping together, to claim their rights from the music production labels. Apparently they have to wait until 2013 which will be the first year musical works are eligible. The impact could be significant on the producers and the labels are trying derail it claiming the music created by musicians on the labels were, in fact, "works for hire." In 1999 the RIAA was got Congress to amend copyright law, to change musical works to "work for hire," which does not have a termination right associated with it. However following much protest Congress quickly backed down.

So as well as the potential challenges in the book world we have musicians rights now on the table. The right to revert rights under contract or after a period should be adopted by all. Today we have many publishers holding onto rights and wishing to flow them into digital and tear up the sprit of the original licence sending the works into a virtual back list and long tail. Some believe print on demand is a licence to create perpetual rights tethered to a contract that was often written for a different era.

Winnie and Tigger Go On A Digital Venture

Children want books that engage them, often with pictures that help them to visualise the story and expand their interest. Do ebook readers do that today – we don’t think so? Anyone who believes that greyscale in no matter how many shades is child friendly is obviously believing their own words and not awake.

We wrote recently about the digitisation of Children’s Books and we also wrote about the Sony PSPGO game console and Nintendo’s flurry into ebooks. Since then there have been a number of releases that have caught the eye.

EA Games in partnership with Penguin and Danish Publisher Egmont, is to create a new line of books that children can access via the Nintendo DS touchscreen and stylus and which combine storytelling with quizzes, links and other interactive features. FLIPS will be marketed in bundles of 6 to 8 books.

Penguin obviously see a massive installed base of Nintendo DS game machines and a captive audience and hope their offer will cross over and introduce interactive books to children on a platform that they are already engaged on.

Winnie the Pooh, Enid Blyton and others are coming to the digital age should re-engage parents to their childhood and enable them to share their love of these books with their 7 to 11 year olds. AA Milne and illustrated by EH ShepardPenguin also intend to open up their vast list of children’s books which include; Thomas the Tank Engine, Mr. Men, Rupert Bear, Wallace and Gromit on its website later this year.

The challenge is to find the platform children and parents will be most comfortable with and also to build digital content that is capable of being sliced and diced to fit various format offers and devices. Children may like games machines but that doesn’t mean that they want to read or interact with ‘stories’ on them. Also if the parent isn’t familiar and equally engaged they will revert to the tried and tested book. The nostalgia play only works when both the parent and the child are engaged. The other challenge is to respect that AA Milne writing was complemented by EH Shepard’s illustrations and now that imagery is engrained into the stories and therefore should be retained.

Egmont are themselves trying to tap into the childhood memory, or trip down memory lane, and are to publish Hanna-Barbera books with characters such as Yogi Bear, Dick Dastardly, The Jetsons and Top Cat.

Children’s books are often bought by parents, relatives and friends of the family and it is wise to tap into their childhood favourites. The challenge is to ensure that the buyer migrates to, or recognises the value of the digital offer and doesn’t just pick the format they once knew and loved.

Friday, October 09, 2009

A Billion Videos A Day

It seems a lifetime since we talked about the superhighway being a ‘dirt track’ and questioned whether the bandwidth would ever happen. We now have broadband widely available and content exploding to use it. We once thought that a full length video streaming service would demand too much bandwidth to work but we now have services such as Hulu. BBC iPlayer and even international football matches over the net.

Some 3 years ago Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion. Today they celebrate stating that they now get well over a billion views a day on the service. Writing on the company blog, Chad Hurley, CEO and Co-founder of YouTube said that " This is great moment in our short history and we owe it all to you". He went on, “As bandwidth has increased, so has our video quality. As we've started to see demand for longer, full-length content, we've brought more shows and movies to the site. There are now more ways than ever to make and consume content, and more of you are looking to turn your hobby into a real business.”

This week The Telegraph also disclosed that YouTube are about to sign up to its first UK full length content deal with Channel 4 and plan to sell advertising around the content.

B&N To Go Colour Screen?

So is Barnes & Noble launching their ebook reader next month or next year?
A 6-inch touchscreen with a virtual keyboard from Plastic Logic but watching the video below, care of, we wonder if Plastic Logic are using OLED, LCD or eInk screen technology.

To read more

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Does Flash Have An iPhone Workaround?

We applauded the announced move to get Flash established across the smartphone world, even if this excluded the iPhone. This is not just about video, games, streaming, YouTube but about changing the current download model to a rent and media on demand and is world that must include books. We realise that the link may not be apparent to all today but it will be very shortly.

So how does Flash break into Appleworld?

It is now claimed that Adobe is planning a public beta release of Flash Professional CS5 that will enable developers to write or export apps built for the Flash runtime, to run on the iPhone as native apps. The new Flash Pro will effectively enable Flash apps on the iPhone without the Flash mobile runtime and uses open source to bury the native compilation element of a language interpreter deep into object code and in doing so conform to the rules in the iPhone developer program.

A number Flash games have already been developed for iPhone and have cleared for distribution this week through Apple's App Store. There are downsides to the approach but it is one step forward until Apple gets its act together.

The Great Book Bank Robbery - Think Again

Judge Denny Chin has set November 9th as the date by which Google and its partners must submit a revised settlement for the court’s preliminary approval and confirmed that the current settlement is no longer on the table.

The question now is what the parties will bring back to the table and whether it will be just enough to carry some of the army of protesters or go a long way to meeting the full needs raised by them. The parties are working flat out to submit an amended document to the court in early November, with a target date of late December or early January for a final hearing and want a notice period to give all parties affected by the settlement time to review the amendments. Given the time it took to delve through the treacle of the first settlement that could be read by some as a return to the ‘we know best’ arrogance that got us into this mess in the first place.

However as if to pour cold water on the hopes of many Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, is reported in the New York Times stating that the changes would be minor. “We would not be able to do it by Nov. 9” if they were more substantial, he said. “The core agreement is going to stay the same. We are amending limited portions of the settlement agreement.”

We can only wait until the 9th November for the next instalment.

UK Mail Mounts As Amazon Votes With Its Feet

Earlier this week we wrote about the challenges that Royal Mail has given Internet commerce and small businesses. Now comes what could be a killer blow in the news that Royal Mail has now lost a crucial contract with its second largest customer, Amazon. Now parcels over 500 grams and will use a rival service, Home Delivery Network (HDN), which also used by other large home delivery services such as Tesco and Argos.

The news of a national strike announcement by the Communication Workers Union is likely to introduce further competition. Local strikes have been spreading with 24-hour stoppages hitting major cities across the country and the service being at best inconsistent and at worst non-existent.

The strikes is not only hitting Amazon others such as eBay whose small business users are now being effectively penalised by negative customer feedback and on their online reliability ratings.

Are We Listening To The Music Industry?

We are often asked to look at other media segments and learn from their experience and one that is often quoted is music. We are also often asked to fear ‘free’ and a change to the business models of today. Some would say the mistake the music industry made was waiting too long to provide a business model to support pay for digital and everyone got accustomed to the idea of free. Other would say that it was their inability to understand demand and react. Napster, Kazaa and others merely did what everyone was doing anyway but did it better.

So it is very interesting to watch music today as it grapples with the new Spotify model which is now one year old. Not only are they going to new places with their free model but they are also treading an interesting path with their premium £10 a month model. A premium user can now store more than 3,000 tracks offline, to listen to as and when you want and these are accessible on the move via an iPhone, iPod Touch or Android phone. The equivalent cost of ownership would amount to some £2,3005 or 20 years subscription on Spotify! An added bonus is that you can switch off spotify payments and when you switch them back again you still enjoy the same level of access.

Now Napster is to offer unlimited streaming for £5 per month plus five DRM-free downloads without charge with extra downloads charged at a modest 59p.

Forgetting the current skirmishes between napster and Spotify what is fundamentally changing is the way we collect and consume music. Why buy when you can rent and pay by the frink, or for many on Spotify, pay nothing to use. Spotify's use of "freemium" where you can use the ad-supported version forever and move to premium on demand makes sense for all. The question now is does this model work in other sectors such as books? Well we do have the public library challenge that is still outstanding and offering a similar opportunity. It is easy to see the appeal of a Spotify for books model – after all its all media. So while the industry continues to demonstrate that it can’t make it mind up on ebook pricing, as always, others have the potential do it for us.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

In Rip Off UK You Could Pay 25% More For a Kindle?

The long overdue event has finally happened and Amazon is shipping Kindleworld outside of the US. Will it raise ebook sales – almost certainly? Will it be bought as a Christmas gift for many – almost certainly? Is it a good buy – the jury is out?
The ‘old Kindle’ will ship at a cost of $279 some $20 over the new US price and be available after October 19th and to many countries large and small with some notable exceptions especially Canada and other more understandable ones such as Iran, Iraq, Afganistan.

When you look at the price it doesn’t appear to be what it says. This was pointed out by industry consultant Eoin Purcell who lives in Ireland and found that the true cost to him was not $279 but $364.48 which included a shipping cost of $20.98 which is standard to all orders and an Import fee deposit of $64.50. What is Import fee deposit you ask and we quote the official explanation:

Each item in your order is sold by Amazon Export Sales, Inc. ("Amazon Export") or the merchant that the item is specified as sold by ("Merchant"). Those items for shipment to countries outside of the U.S. may be subject to taxes, customs duties and fees levied by the destination country ("Import Fees"). The recipient of the shipment is the importer of record in the destination country and is responsible for all Import Fees.

With respect to each item for which Import Fees have been calculated, you authorize Amazon Export or Merchant (as applicable) to designate a carrier ("Designated Carrier") to act as your agent with the relevant customs and tax authorities in the destination country, to clear your merchandise, process and remit your actual Import Fees for such item.

"Import Fees Deposit" represents an estimate of the Import Fees that will be levied on the items in your order for shipment to countries outside of the US. By placing your order, you agree to allow Amazon Export and/or Merchant (as applicable) to collect the Import Fees Deposit for the applicable items in your order. This deposit will be used, on your behalf, to reimburse the Designated Carriers for the import fees that they have paid on your behalf to the appropriate authorities of the destination country.

So we looked at the cost for the UK and found that the Import Feed Deposit in our case was less at $45 so making the UK cost on the doorstep $344.98 some $65 more than advertised. Again we also didn’t qualify for free shipping as it was an International order.

So we have a somewhat cobbled together offer which can only be bought via the US store and isn’t available via and one that clearly cost around 25% more because it is coming from the US. This is without the questions of how US content is managed with respect to the 100 countries and rights issues. The price of an ebook is not clear as the the download outside the US costs $1.99 and it would appear that $9.99 now becomes $11.99. Finally in looking through the site there appears to be a disparity between Amazon pages over the number of etitles available.

Why would we buy an old device at a 25% premium that is limited to one store and whose files are not interoperable with other manufacturers devices? Some would suggest that this is purely to ensure a Kindle is on the floor at Frankfurt more than a serious consumer proposition with joined up dots.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

eBook Pricing Remians 'A Dog's Dinner' - All Over The Floor

Mark Coker the founder of Smashwords wrote a provocative piece in the Hugffington Post this week entitled ‘Why we need $4 Books’. This raised once more the emotive issue of pricing and sent many to the barricades to defend their respective positions.

Mark’s position is that most books are too expensive which puts their future at risk as they compete with cheaper alternative media. He suggests co-operation across the chain should bring down the cost and rejuvenate the market. He says much more in the support of his theory and suggests that the ebook is a low cost format and therefore the ‘white knight’ riding over the hill to save us all from obsolescence.

What is disturbing is that there is a great difference between geographies, sectors and even title to title and by applying a general brush Cocker hits accord with some and is dismissed by others as naive. The process from manuscript to production, costs money and irrespective of the balance of the renditions sold, each in fact share a great deal of cost. Many cross subsidize each rendition and also factor into the cost used, remaindered, white sales and punts. To say that ebooks cost little, so give them away as mass market paperback, may be right for pulp fiction, but is not for all genre or even all fiction.

The argument that low price generates volume is also questionable. Low cost offers volume by taking market share not necessarily growing the market. If the market is growing only marginally today then it’s fair to assume that Amazon’s growth has come more from taking market share than market growth. The argument the low price creates growth is very questionable and it is usually down to other factors such as availability, accessibility, consumer demand. Price is only part of the mix and it isn’t a driver by itself.

So who controls price today? In the markets without regulation RRP (recommended retail price) is set by the publisher and from this discount determines the price bought with the price sold free to be set be the seller. So using this model we have to ask who sets Mark’s ambitious $4 price point. Is it the RRP, the wholesale price or is it down the retailer? Then we have the inconsistency of tax and we soon have a minefield. We also need to ask what the author thinks and what the impact this has on their royalties.

In a nutshell the article continues to reinforce the view that epricing is all over the floor.

Stop Making AdSense?

When they first appeared we tried AdSense and AdWords but found that although it may work in specific markets or genre, it didn’t work across a wide and deep range of book titles. In fact the experience was a likened by our accountant to putting money on the horses - except you knew when you won on the horses – here you know you been at the races, you know you have spent money placing your bets but you are not sure what the odds were and won. He would look at the money being spent ,the reports generated and ask ‘Where’s the money? Show me the sales?’ We pulled out.

We have just tried the latest internet ad route Facebook ads. The experience is even worse than tha of Google and it was clear that it was easy to take our money and generate stats but site activity was somewhat short of expectation and sales almost non-existent. Another one tried but found wanting.

We always have placed ads with marketing codes, we have swopped mail lists, done inserts, bought lists and as always the safest return is always on customer references and when you can achieve it column inches.

The register reports this week on the latest update to AdSense that will be focused on the better browsing capabilities of smartphones and could lead to ads as you go being pushed to mobiles. Google now has introduced a new JavaScript snippet that is optimized for high-end mobiles. No longer restricted to small text and reduced ad images, smartphone mobiles such as; the iPhone, Pre, Blackberry and Androids could be targeted.

All advertising has to be accountable. Some may build brand, others promote a specific offer but at the end of the day they have to deliver value not just empty stats. We would be interested to hear others thoughts on whether some ads do make sense.

Paul Henry Smith and the Fauxharmonic Orchestra

When do you pay for an orchestra and when do deploy a digital one? Paul Henry Smith fronts the Fauxharmonic Orchestra which is comprised of two computers. Through a Nintento Wii controller Smith can with his conductor’s baton, call on a full orchestra and choir. Smith is a classically trained composer and conductor who studied at Oberlin College and Brandeis under Leonard Bernstein and since 2003 has been performing classical works and new compositions using the Fauxharmonic Orchestra. Smith sees a digital orchestra as offering more opportunities for composers to create new works and far from a dying art he also sees it as opening up classical based music to a wider audience.

The digital orchestra has four basic components. There are the sound libraries comprising some 500 gigabytes plus of data and storing each individual note on each instrument and every possible variation in how it can be played. There is the application software that manages the access to that libraries and individual files. There is the interactive control that like all Wii applications senses what the conductor or composer wants and responds accordingly. It may change the speed according to the waving of the arms, or detect the direction of instruction as if there were a real orchestra and raise the volume of that section accordingly. As with any composition the notes are captured and preprogrammed what changes is the accent, instruments, style, speed etc. Finally there are speakers and their ability to spread the sound evenly and create the illusion of an orchestra.

Smith likens the use of a digital orchestra to that of digital design used by architects and engineers in not only reproducing the music but also in helping composing and experimentation. He does not see it as a dumbing down of music playing, but a freeing of musical minds to go further. Already digital orchestras have become common within the film industry, shows such Cirque du Soleil use them and it is clear that others with follow Smith’s pioneer work.

Listen to Paul Henry Smith and his Fauxharmonic Orchestra at

A Bit of Everything Mobile

The Toshiba Biblio handheld reader has been announced. Is it a mobile phone, a reader and mini notebook or a hybrid looking for a home? Maybe they used the name Biblio to appeal to readers.

Toshiba Biblio has a 3.5-inch LCD touchscreen with 960×480 resolutions, Wi-Fi connectivity, 7GB of storage, a 5.1 megapixels camera and a horizontal sliding Qwerty keyboard.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Goods Still Have To Be Delivered

In 2001 UK’s Royal Mail service tried to rebrand itself as Consignia, but soon rebranded itself back as Royal Mail. Having wasted public funds, it must have realized it already had the perfect brand name. However, rebranding was the least of its challenges as it grappled to make itself more commercially viable and deal with many internal inefficient practices and processes.

Today the UK industry and public find themselves once again at the mercy of a workforce and its ability to strike at will. They are pretty good at this and can claim some consistency, both in their timing and frequency. Only yesterday, my wife was looking for a letter to send to her customers to apologize about Royal Mail, only to find the perfect one written only two years old, at the same time of year and on the same subject.

In this digital age of tweets, email, texts and social networks we all still rely heavily on the post. The mail order and ecommerce businesses may now have digital catalogues and be online, but the physical goods still need to be shipped and for many the physical catalogue still needs to be posted. Package companies may now take much of the strain, but for small deliveries still the Royal Mail still works. Only yesterday we received a SIM card replacement that was dispatch first class on the 21st September! Some things come quicker, but the current wave of strikes are heavily disrupting the postal service.

However, it is heartening to see new models starting to appear. One such model is being rolled out by a major mail order organization and is based on delivery to the local store, where parcels will be held for collection. This gives customers a safe place to deliver to when there is no one at home and also provides the opportunity for them to visit the store. It also enables the carrier to consolidate deliveries and in general is a ‘win win’ for many. The one of the first independent retailers to move onto the service is a mail order bookclub who are planning to go live and offer the service to their customers across the UK.

It is interesting that out of adversity pioneering solutions often are born.

The Digital Will Change In A FLASH

We may be at the cusp of a major step change in how we present digital content and context which may go further than many expect and make digital accessible to all in a different and more accessible way.

Due to the processing demands of Flash only a light version of the softeware has been used on smartphones and netbooks but a new version is claimed to change this and Adobe, the maker of Flash, said it should be available on most higher-end handsets by 2010. The new software will be available for Windows Mobile, Palm webOS and desktop operating systems including Windows, Macintosh and Linux later this year with Google Android and Symbian operating systems being expected in early 2010. The only downside is that this will not initially include the iPhone who have postured much but still not made any firm commitment.

Why is Flash so important? Flash is one of the most common pieces of software installed on computers and is installed on some 98% of PCs and renders almost 75% of all online video according to Adobe.

It is obvious in that it will enable rich applications to migrate from the PC to the mobile and could negate some of the mobile operating system and browser wars. A neutral platform that is both rich and can offer streamed services and rental as opposed to the current ‘download’ and DRM mindset.

The new software supports the Open Screen Project, backed by nearly 50 companies including Google, aims to create a device neutral platform for films and games that enable them to run on any device ; set top boxes, PCs, netbooks, mobile phones etc. This means developers need only write their code once and render it to many platforms in a consistent manner.

This is bigger news than coloured eInk screens.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Look, No Power Cables

Ever sat in front of TV and took a long hard look at the myriad of cable at the back? As we sit ay our desk we look underneath and see a sea of spagaetti and hope we will never sort it out! ell Sony has announced that help could be at hand in the form of WiFi a new "highly efficient" wireless power transfer system which it claims will eliminate the use of power cables from electronic products such as PCs and televisions. We want it NOW! Well maybe.

The distance that they currently achieve don’t seem great some 60 watts transferred over a distance of up to 50cm with 80 per cent efficiency, but most technology is located extremely near to a mains power socket. Distance can be also increased up to 80cm when combined with 'passive extender units'. Sony’s system is based on high-frequency “magnetic resonance” technology, which produces a magnetic field by feeding power into a 40cm-wide square coil of wires. When another coil is brought within the magnetic field, a current is induced in the second coil, feeding power to the TV.

The question is not when it will be reality but whether such an environment is safe? It is probably this factor that is going to delay its deployment as the last thing we all need is another health risk based puely on saving a bit of inconvienance. Others have already moved with alternative technology such as the contact based charging systems as seen with the Palm Pre and Dell Latitude Z . We don’t think that we will see a cordless Sony Bravia soon.

Another Day Another eReader

We start to wonder whether we have seen some of the new ebook readers before? Note only do they have the same ‘lookie likie’ screen technology but they even look the same. The Astak Mentor is a 6" reader, with 512Mb of internal memory and an SD Card reader. It weights in at 175 grams and supports TXT, ePUB, PDF and more text formats and runs Linux 2.6. It also includes a SuDoKu game.

Will we want one for Christmas? We doubt it at $280 and with black and white greyscale. When will we get a decent tablet and put these devices down?

Is 3D TV the next Wave?

Could 3D TV be the next thing after HD TV. Existing 3D camera set-ups use two-camera systems to capture the left and right eye of the viewer, but Sony have demonstrated a new single-lens camera able to capture 3D images. Sony claim that the new camera takes a single image that is split by mirrors and recorded on two sensors, resulting in a "smoother" picture. The camera will enable viewers to watch the 3D images using special polarised glasses.

The technology has been used with three fixed cameras, each covering a third of a football pitch, to record the and create a 3D view. 3D is not new to film but is new to TV and sport coverage may once again be the pioneer.

Sony is leading the TV trail and hopes some of the bigger broadcasters will follow. The BBC are already planning to capture some of the 2012 Games in 3D, Sky has stated that it will would launch "the UK's first 3D channel" by 2010 but only 15% of European broadcasters believe that 3D is really on the horizon with another 20% said they were looking at it as an option.

Personally, we don’t fancy sitting in front of the TV with 3D glasses.

The Evening Standard Gambles On Free

Newspapers can’t seem to decide what to charge or not charge for their content and the impact is not just with digital but physical copy too. Rupert Murdoch had said his websites which include the Sun, the Times and the Wall Street Journal will start charging for digital content. The Financial Times announced it planned to rely less on advertising revenue and more on subscriptions as it charged readers to access much of its web content. However in a move that somewhat took many by surprise the London Evening Standard is to give its physical paper away free after 181 years of people paying for it.

Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev bought a controlling stake in the loss-making London Evening Standard in January for a nominal sum of £1 after almost a year of secret negotiations with Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail & General Trust. The colourful Lebedev is a former KGB agent who developed a love for the Evening Standard when he was based in Britain at the Russian embassy.The Standard, which is 75.1% owned by Lebedev and 24.9% owned by Associated Newspapers, will go free from 12 October. In August the paper sold just 107,680 at the full cover price. A further 8,500 copies were sold at below the basic cover price. The Evening Standard is understood to lose more than £10m a year.

The Standard plan to increase from about 250,000 to 600,000 copies a day and in doing so hopefully double its current readership. The aim is to be more attractive to advertisers and increase its appeal to readers across London. It could certainly mean the end of the existing free evening paper, London Lite, only a few weeks after the other London free evening paper The London Paper withdrew from the streets (perhaps they got wind of the Standard’s plan). The thing that differentiates the Standard from the free papers is its quality and content and its going to be interesting if this can be maintained under the new model.

The Standard is taking a huge gamble and one that has little room for manoeuvre if it fails – they can hardly reverse the policy and say they got it wrong. They also have doubled their costs in their print run and distribution and also upset their distribution channel in small shops and sellers on the street. The Standard are also widely reported to be in advanced discussions with Network Rail, WH Smith and Canary Wharf about distributing the 182-year-old title.

Sharing Content is Easy, Tracking Isn't

A good friend of ours often tells us about the latest challenge they face as a publisher in tracking down copyright infringement. We find ourselves looking at digital copies that are often perfect copies and we hear stories of detective work and sweat that are incurred in tracking down a single infringement. The questions we ask ourselves are what is the extent of the problem and how will every single publisher or rights owner ever manage this tedious, time-consuming and costly exercise?

Wikipedia compares some 20 file sharing services which regard themselves as legitimate, after all when we want to share a large file, be it a large PowerPoint, video, podcast whatever, we simple do so via a file sharing service. These services allow you to upload documents and share these with others via a unique reference or URL. They are not open to all but only those who have the URL. However, a URL can be posted on a blog, twittered, virally emailed and you find a legitimate service could turn into one that is being abused. These file sharing sites exclude the likes of Scribd and Wattpad who also are protected under a ‘safe harbour’ shield and will all act to take down illegal material once notified by the rightful owner. As we have said before, a case of after the horse has bolted!

RapidShare, Megaupload, are the major file sharing services but there are many many more. The New York Times posted a good article written by Randal Stross on the issue ‘Will Books Be Napsterized?’ However what is the solution and is the effort in trying to fight pirates going to reach a tipping point where the effort in enforcement outstrips the reward and when we have to go back and rethink copyright protection?

The IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) has estimated that 95% of music downloads ‘are unauthorized, with no payment to artists and producers.’

There is no point not digitising content as the pirates will do it anyway and have even more incentive if it is being withheld and only available in physical copy. This also makes some of the advocacy on DRM (digital rights management) harder as you may lock up the official digital copy but you can’t lock up the unofficial one.

One of the problems is that we rights business without a rights registry, we only know what we know and not what we don’t know so what chance have others to understand who owns what and what is fair game and what is illegal? We are also in a transition from a mass market physical model to a mass market digital one and what we could control in the physical is merely replicated in the digital. However yesterday’s copying of books was easy and today it is even easier and certainly easier to distribute. So if we couldn’t fix it yesterday why do we expect to fix it today?

We do not have a silver bullet to address this issue? We do believe that the answers should be proactive and not reactive, but to do that there needs to be an identifier, a watermark and reference that says this is an infringement and not sharable. The current practices of digital distribution of ebooks should also be questioned as it will lead to a proliferation of copies based on a physical distribution model and is sustainable long term. DADs (Digital Asset Distribution) sounds good and in the beginning looks good but is a subject in its own right!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Vook: Sounds Like?

When we heard of the release by Simon & Schuster of their Vook we were intrested to see it and understand how it linked multi media. The same night we were on Litopia After Dark and were asked to rebrand the 'book'.

The jury is still out on the Vook as far as the content is concerned but the name is a mess and certainly one to drop. What we can see from the clip above is interested but somehow lacks that cutting edge found in other multi media stories such as 'Inanimate Alice'.

It certainly isn't a video book trailer and all media is contained within the Vook which can also be downloaded directly onto an iPhone and viewed/read there. Today there are four titles available , two fiction and two nonfiction priced at $4.99. These are available a dedicated section of S&S's web site and Vook's site.

We wish them well and respect that they are thinking outside of the jacket.

Friday, October 02, 2009

HBO Cube: A Different Perspective

Sometimes you see something that makes you look differently at things and shows you what is possible in this new digital age. We have talked about the development of the Keitai novels in Japan, the work of multi media writers such as Kate Pullinger, the Photo news journalism of New York Times ‘Lens’ and much more.

Today we were alerted to HBO's Cube experiment by Bob Stein. The innovation is to present a film from four different angles that are under the control of the viewer. We found ourselves replying the films and looking at them from different angles and seeing the same story but from a different perspective. Its well worth a visit and is a fascinating initiative. It may not be the future but it certainly makes you think about it.

We often look at the same house through different windows and fail to realise that its the same house and merely a different window.