Friday, December 31, 2010

2020 Vision: A Look Back At 2010 and Thoughts on 2011 Part 2

At the end of 2009 we made 10 predictions for 2010 and today we quickly review the last 5 of these. The objective is to understand the shifts that actually happened and the pace and direction of change

6. Authors In Control

'On one hand publishers will demand comprehensive rights on the other authors will want to hold back and retain digital rights or separate them...aspiring authors will increasingly look to digital and see potential that even print on demand didn’t offer... Back list and out of print has only one way to go – digital...'

Every month we read of an increasing number of authors who see self publishing as the way forward. However, just like the Rosetta early digital challenge, the Wylie one this year was settled behind closed doors. Although the issues remain unresolved, the days of claiming digital as volume rights must be numbered and authors will increasingly vote with their feet and take more control. New developments such as Amazon’s Digital Text Platform, Barnes and Noble’s Pubit and the agency model only fuel the migration.

2011 Update: there are many different types of authors and not all will follow the same digital path. Agents, in managing the economic interests of the top authors, will see the logic of self publishing and in doing so start to further encourage authors to proactively bypass publishers and work directly with the new ebook platforms. Some will use digital alternatives as a mere lever to increase their reward from publishers, others will just do it. However, the challenge is with those contracts that are already digital inclusive and may have poor reversal clauses and rewards based more on yesterday’s physical model.

We envisage some publishers will assume digital rights and will heavily trawl their back lists for ‘low hanging digital and POD fruit’. However, all authors will be increasingly reluctant to part with digital rights, will revert rights and self-publish all of their back list of these reverted rights.

Royalties on ebooks will have to rise but advances are likely to continue to fall. The interesting area is unpublished authors who will continue the trend of self publishing first and by pass the previous slush pile model. Publishers will still manufacture and introduce new talent but increasingly may not be the first to publish them.


'Digital will not save them (the chains) but will increase the pressure on them…Amazon…is becoming a publisher, channel and bookseller…It is hard to see others offering the same empathy with the two people who count in the book market – authors and consumers… Independents have great opportunities but must learn that sale or return and merchandising their shelves with front list is not the answer…Independents must specialise to survive.'

The world of bookselling on the High Street continues to be full of doom and gloom. Consumers are increasingly clicking to buy and supermarkets and other volume outlets are now stocking an increasing range of titles at keen low cost prices and competing head on with all. Amazon continued to expand their offer and appeal and are clearly the iTunes of physical and digital books.

Independents who have so much to offer still cling to the sale or return model, are wedded to the front list and in the main don’t do what it says on the tin - ‘sell books’ (used, new, remainder, bargain etc ) and by doing so be ‘independent’.

2011 Update: More independents will disappear and those remaining will be under increasing pressure on all fronts. The chains who once ruled will be squeezed hard and increasingly find themselves stuck in a physical model that sets them at an economic disadvantage. 2011 is a wake up call for booksellers and a year when many will have to take long overdue steps just to survive.


'…the likes of Amazon, Google, Apple don’t need the hassle of publishing just the control of the margin and channel…The potential for small publishers to thrive has never been greater… This next decade may prove that publisher operational size doesn’t matter in a digital age!'

Publishing has never had it so good. We read about it in papers, see on the news, and it is as if the internet and now digital is breathing additional and fresh air into the system and everyone is taking about books. However the economics of publishing are changing and size and scope are on the wane and flexibility and creativity are on the rise. Size is only relative to those now in the market. Amazon will continue to redefine reselling, distribution and publishing.

2011 Update: We have always said that publishing is not one but a number of industry sectors joined together by a common format -the book. Divergence is increasingly apparent as digitisation demands different directions and speed of change. This divergence will only accelerate in the coming year as different genre start to explore opportunities to do things differently, offer vertical materials and align with new channels.

9. Breaking the Spine

'We forget too quickly the Charles Dickens approach to writing, at a time when it could be most appropriate… Many will continue to experiment with digital forms and material but we don’t see a major change until the market is more mature and predictable… eInk devices are clearly inhibiting digital writing and maybe when we start to move online then we all will seen the huge potential to do things differently.'

We still see physical books being created and then converted into digital renditions. Publishers in the main remain locked into a model where digital remains an adjunct to the physical and they have not embraced the fact that ‘digital publishing is publishing’.

2011 Update: We have long predicted full end to end digital publishing as some start to diverge it makes sense to address the last bastion of the analogue world and digitise the front office of publishing. Some such as professional and STM have already learnt the lesson and gained the benefits and we envisage that this approach will now start to be adopted more widely across all sectors.

We also envisage as we have already stated that content will increasingly be used to provide context and support search and discovery. These opportunities demand changes in how content is developed, managed and distributed.

10. Rights

'…Google, Rosetta, Blio and the Kindle audio feature, have all shown us that tomorrow is going to be very different from to today. This next decade will determine rights in the digital age. Governments have once again started to show interest, but often on a bi partisan basis and the sprit of the Berne convention appears to be struggling… The one certainty about rights in the next decade is that it will make some lawyers very rich.'

Adobe has continued to grow the adoption of DRM platform (ACS4) and now has both mobile offers from TxTr and Bluefire as well as the Google ebookstore. Amazon has also extended it own protection across multiple platforms and to include loans.
The lack of a ruling in the Google Book Settlement reflect the complex challenges the industry faces on orphans and rights ownership.

2011 Update: The book world is global and as the ebook market explodes, publishers have to rethink territory rights. This shift should enable independent authors and small publishers to flourish and benefit at the expense of those ,often too big to adapt quickly and weighed down with yesterday’s limitations.

Permission rights will increasingly become a challenge as content gets fragmented and snippets become more accessible in a digital world. Licensing models that exist in other media doesn’t exist in the book market today.

Digital Rights Management will continue to be demanded by publishers who will be wary of piracy. We don’t envisage much change in the short term but as the market develops the restrictions of the current three offers (Adobe ACS4, Amazon and Apple) will be become frustrating and the ability to break these more widely known and available. The shift to online and cloud based on-demand platforms will also start to negate the need for DRM and downloads.

Copyright contracts should move to fixed term contracts. This is a major shift of power and commercial terms where a licence may be granted for a fixed period of time and then automatically revert if not renewed. This could itself offer a different reward structure and one which is based more on performance by all parties.

Finally, we may still see a Google Book Settlement and Rights registry. We would prefer an independent rights registry that is capable of serving the whole market, open to all and is fit for the 21st century. It begs the question how a rights industry can expect to continue into a digital world without the basic cornerstone of a rights registry.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2020 Vision: Review of 2010 and 2011 Predictions Part 1

At the end of 2009 we made 10 predictions for 2010 and today we quickly review the first 5 of these. The objective is to understand the shifts that actually happened and the pace and direction of change

1. Google Will Change All

‘Whichever way the court decides, the final outcome will influence publishing for many years...’

The court still sits like the 'three monkeys' and continues to see, hear and speak no evil. In the void Google continues to move forward and gain acceptance within the industry. The issue of the orphan works remain swept under the carpet, but the issue remains. As Google flips its Editions into ebookstore the only outstanding question is whether the orphans will just get ‘published and be dammed’.

2011 Update: We see Google now changing our approach to delivery through the cloud platform and also as it refines its search, introducing a step change in how readers find books.Orphans will remain the prize sought and an issue unresolved.

2. Libraryworld

The library is under threat from all quarters as it faces the digital age and tries to seek its own mission within it... the real conflict between the High Street and the Library on the conflicting business models, culture and management ... libraries do need to be given some clarity of digital direction that aligns to the resources they have...'

The issue has finally come out into the open, but the statements made by the UK PA this year continue to beg the question whether some are living in the real world, or are trying desperately in denial to support yesterday’s model. We all support libraries but we fail to find solutions past our own vested interests. The UK is not alone in the issue and the solution remains elusive to all.

2011 Update: We see the potential for Google to move into the public library space especially and with others such as OCLC offering new search and discovery for books. Amazon, B&N are now only one step from offering full rental and loans and this will pose interesting challenges and opportunities.

2. Promoting, Marketing and Book Information

The use of the digital content to support, market and sell all books is going to grown significantly... Direct marketing of review and inspection copies will gain ground not only in those sectors who have adoption processes but across all. Sharing annotations and reviews offers significant value and adds a digital opportunity to the process… Marketing spends will increasingly become more focused and direct... The change is not so much about defining the information (bibliographic), but about how it is communicated between trading entities and is packaged.’

Direct marketing has certainly started to gain pace, but the trade environment remains somewhat un-coordinated and focused. Its is if the publishers want to remain ‘as was’ with their existing physical channels and experiment with their direct to consumer with digital. The rise in social collaboration and feedback has yet to sink in, but Kobo’s offer and the continued growth of Facebook show clear direction with others such as Copia merely offering a short distraction.

2011 Update: This year will see a change in how we promote content. No longer are we straight-jacketed to a transactional view of metadata and bibliographic records. Content will be fully used to search and discover, promote and define content, in ways that yesterday’s records could never do. Yesterday, retailers’ systems held the key to extending metadata, tomorrow we will simply bypass these old road blocks to change.

Yesterday, publishers also‘made’ best sellers happen, but we now see a shift to readers deciding which books become best sellers. Social reader communication will tip the balance and continue to redirect publisher spend from marketing to the next guy down the chain, to marketing direct to the only one that matters – the consumer.

Ester Dyson once said that being able to find a needle in a digital haystack was key and perhaps Google’s big opportunity is to start to change search and discovery as Amazon did over ten years ago when it started to demand digital jackets.

4. Sales Information

‘We have as an industry focused our standards efforts on ONIX to the front end and in sales information and reconciliation in a digital environment... We see the standards bodies finally waking up to this omission and recognising the efforts needed to reconcile digital sales in this new digital age.’

Things moved, but such was the lack of industry leadership, services started to appear which offered to reconcile sales and royalties.

2011 Update: Why do we not properly address this glaring hole in our digital solution? As more digital sales are achieved reconciling these and being able to audit them across multiple vendors becomes an obvious target. Forget monthly reports and royalties why not in real time? We envisage movement as the pain of reconciliation becomes real. We also envisage that someone will offer digital audit facilities.

5. Digital Platforms, Channels and Consumers

‘This year will start to redefine ownership and see the entry of the streamed ‘read on demand’ model... Bookstores need to be included into the digital channel... The Mobile technology will free the ereader from its tethered PC... Price will continue to be a major issue. In a price war there is only one winner – the consumer. There is a need to separate digital from physical pricing and until some sanity is achieved the market will be unstable...’

This more than any other area was where the action was in 2010. The events speak for themselves and although we didn’t agree with all the results, such as the agency model, the emergence of the ebookstore and ibookstore certainly started redefine digital channels.

2011 Update: The Kindle and Kobo platforms have started to redefine ereading and free them from being tethered to single device dimension. The introduction of Bluefire and TXTR mobile readers and Adobe's ACS4 expanding solution continue this move towards interoperability and now Google have introduced the cloud. We envisage that we will now shift from devices, to reading and selling platforms which will be bad news for many device manufacturers, as readers become commodities.

We will see an explosion of tablets and although windows and others Operating Systems may make a brief appearance, the fight will be Apple versus Android and in retail will be between Google versus Amazon.

Agency will continue to be a big 5 issue but the rest will adopt a more sensible route. Ebook prices will fall and agency will not hold the line without some serious arm wrestling behind closed doors. Small independent publishers and authors can compete at price points the agency model will find hard to swallow. The question is how long the heads remain in the sand before the reality check boots in?

Finally, Apple will be seen as a hardware/platform driver and maybe not the iTunes/iBookstore many believed it would be.

Tomorrow we will look at the remaining 5 of our 2010 predictions

Can We Secure Our Privacy?

Hot on the tail of this year's Facebook issues over privacy and the question of Google's Street mapping program collecting extra data on wifi security, a class action lawsuit has been taken against Apple claiming personal data is being passed around on iPad and iPhone users without owners them being notified or compensated. They are also considering a similar action against Google over personal data on Android applications.

The Wall Street Journal report that the claimant, Jonathan Lalo of LA, said Apple and a group of mobile application developers were selling personal data, including his age, gender and location to ad networks. The suit states that Lalo "did not expect, receive notice of, or consent to Defendants' tracking of his iPhone app use and did not want Defendants to engage in such activity’.

The case papers allege that many applications collect too much personal data and enable users to be individually identified. They claim that many firms and advertisers are able monitor and identify individuals via Apple’s unique device ID which they feel is not adequately restricted by Apple. This claim is supported by researchers from Bucknell University who recently proved that individuals can be identified this way. Apple’s stated policy only allows data to be shared with third parties if an app genuinely requires the information operationally.

The question remains as to how much of a privacy issue exists and the full implications of any tightening of the rules. However, it once again raises the question about privacy and protection of personal information today.

Meanwhile Mozilla ,the developers of the Firefox browser, have accidently exposed the passwords of 44,000 inactive accounts left on a Mozilla public server. Mozilla's director of infrastructure security Chris Lyon wrote in a posting on the Mozilla Security Blog late Monday night notes that all the passwords were for inactive accounts that have now been deleted and disabled. Mozilla has informed all affected users of the breach by email.

OLPC: Needed for the UK?

The recent Minimum Income Standard report in the UK proposed that computers with internet were ‘ essential for households with working-age adults’ but not for pensioners. Now we read in a report from the e-Learning Foundation, which based on data from the latest Government Family Spending Survey, claims that more than a million school children in the UK do not have any access to a computer at home and approximately a further 2 million do not have internet access. . It also concludes that children in the lowest income households were two and a half times more likely to be without an internet connection than the wealthiest.

Valerie Thompson, CEO of the e-Learning Foundation said, ‘Without the use of a computer and the ability to go online at home the attainment gap that characterises children from low-income families is simply going to get worse.’

We now face a situation were computer and internet access is seen not just a must for the classroom but the home as well. We also find an increasing drive both by government and companies in services, such as banking, phones and utilities to move adults online. But when is a computer an access essential and when does it determine one’s wealth?

We believe in the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project and its educational aspirations in the developing world but wonder if it now needs to be realigned to all. Should we provide computers to schools or computers to students. When we see OLPC programme it begs the question why education authoristies still expect parents to pay for what they now deem as essential kit and then in effect spend twice by supplying the schools as well. Why not adopt a cheap cheerful and practical OLPC and stop this emotional blackmail to parent’s who may not be in a position to respond.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nook Gives Christmas a Miss

Barnes and Noble has received many admirers for its latest Nook coloured reader. Imagine giving a brand new Nook to someone special for Christmas and then finding that they can’t use it!

The B&N server was down for the second Christmas in a row and the comments on twitter were not all very understanding.

The question of what the new Nook wants to be when it grows up remains? This new Android Nook e-reader looks more positioned to compete with the iPad than the Amazon’s Kindle e-reader and lands somewhat stranded in the middle not quite an iPad and neither a dedicated reader or supported by a reading platform such as the Kindle.

Barnes and Noble are clearly ahead of many of the other book chains in their digital journey but some may feel that they have a track record of digital gaffs which demonstrate just how far behind many bricks and mortar resellers are today.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Can Authors Now Do It Digitally Themselves?

Is this is the long-awaited dawn of creative writing, where digital not only redefines the book, how it is created, developed, promoted, distributed and rewarded, but also stimulates writing and creativity itself? We have seen the generation shift from watching film and listening to music to making them, so are we going to see an equally significant shift in writing? Some will say it has happened and everyone now can express themselves and communicate with others without paper and the need of a publisher. Others will say that there is still the need to be ‘published’. Relationships are already starting to change and the disintermediation that many predicted is now starting to take some interesting twists and turns.

Whatever happens there will always be two key entities – the authors who create and the readers who consume and pays. The gap between them is now narrowing.

Music, film, TV, newsprint have all see intermediaries hang on, but in all the landscape has changed around them and the reality is that they have had to adapt to the fact that their world’s no longer revolve around them. In the late sixties, George Martin claimed that the album was the menu and the concert was the meal. How little he probably realised that he was predicting the music industry 50 years into the future. There will always be those artists who need a support system and are happy to just be artists, but there is now a growing band of artists who want to control their own brand and make their own decisions. Evolution is happening.

Digital technology and network communications start to create a level playing field and one which many authors can do more, control more, earn more and importantly get closer to their readers. It may not be for all but it will be for an increasing number of authors of all levels.

In the world of print, few authors could afford the money, time and effort to support the publishing process. Publishers were manufacturers offering editing, cover design, marketing support, accounting and reward in the form of royalties. However, they often outsourced much of the back end distribution to others, merely retaining the ‘creative’, sales and marketing control and also the rights management.

Physical books still dominate and authors still find they needed the publisher’s clout and resellers and fulfilment agent’s infrastructure in this channel. Self publishing has to date been in the hands of aspiring authors and has been looked down on by many as the great unwanted slush pile. However, digital has the potential to turn publishing on its head. The charts will still matter to those whose model demands high volume but will matter less to those who seek different goals and have a different model. Tomorrow’s self publishing could become tomorrow’s reading list.

We have seen authors such J.A. Konrath and Seth Godin and estates such as Ian Fleming and even agents of lucrative back lists start to take control of their rights, self publish or control their own publishing and sign up with better economic models that offer them more reward. Why shouldn’t an author start to collect 70% of the sale price, compared with the current model’s offer of figures often less than 80% of that? Once an author takes control of their back list, what stops them doing it to their front list? The publisher’s fixation on new titles may well become their Achilles’ heel.

We have seen creative authors such as Kate Pullinger and Michael c Milligan, who change how and what they create and develop their novels and even use a collaborative creation approach. If publisher’s eat took control of such creative processes would we face new and complex questions as to exactly what rights belong to whom?

Amazon's Digital Text Platform and Barnes & Noble’s PubIt are examples of platforms that now let authors sell their works through major digital bookstores. The author can receive anywhere between 50 and 70% of the sale price.

Digital books are still only a small fraction of the market but by positioning themselves now authors may find a freedom that will not be available under a tethered contract in which the publisher demands both physical and digital rights.

Neil De Young, executive director of Hachette Book Group's digital division is quoted in the LA Times, Book publishers see their role as gatekeepers shrink,‘We continue to be the venture capitalist for authors, helping them to distribute their works as widely as possible. Now we do that digitally as well as physically.’ Some businesses need venture capital, some don’t and many want to only use it for a specific period and not for life. Authors are no different and publishers may wish to reappraise how they see their relationships if they want their books not to be viewed as commodities and themselves as mere gamblers.

Social networking has only just started to influence the book world but if it were to replace what some see as the manufactured bestsellers that often exists today and create social demand and connection with titles this could remove yet another layer of support provided today.

The Internet is opening up new ways for writers to connect with readers and potentially redefine the relationships that exist today. The big question is who will add the value to stay as an intermediary, or will the authors simply bypass them all and connect direct with their readers?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Acer Tablet Cometh

Tablets are to become the device of 2011 and the choice will be wide but they will all be chasing the iPad. Among the Android followers is Acer's 10” which is rumoured to be powered by Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 platform. A number of leaked videos start to show some of the things in store such as the tablet's gyroscope to allow touch-free page turns and for zooming in and out of photographs without using fingers allowing the user to flip through pages merely by tilting the tablet from side to side.

These may not be great videos but they show some of the many crude demos we are going to get from CES next month!

Branson's iPad Project

Sir Richard Branson, is the UK media magnate, industrialist, airline operator has built a wide range of businesses on his Virgin brand. Virgin has become one of the widest brand used today, endorsing financial products, telecoms services, railways, airlines, holidays and has even branded some racy book publishing and all with that splash of red and iconic logo. Branson has never been afraid to take on giants and now is breaking into magazine publishing, not in pint, but with an iPad only title called ‘Project.’

Virgin aim to be as ever different, they have already created a contest to design the front cover of their upcoming crowd-sourced issue of Project which is due out "early next year." One of the launch issue’s articles gets readers to use their finger to wipe away ‘dirt’ on the screen to reveal the headline "Eat My Dirt," and a feature about a Danish chef. It’s not just the articles that are interactive with adverts too leading the reader into new depths of engagement.

Project launched a month ago with great fanfare and a cost of $2.99 for issue one. Now, courtesy of Virgin America, Virgin Blue and Virgin Mobile Canada, the first issue of Project will be now be free to download between 23rd & 29th December. Branson and his Virgin Digital Publishing venture is primed to not just enter the market , but take on that old fox Murdoch and his iPad only publication ‘The Daily’ which is due out early in the new year.

But launching a new magazine has risk and the obvious question is whether the limited free offer is an ‘extra’ gimmick or a ‘needs must’? When Project first launched Apple did not have the ability to support recurring application subscriptions and this important functionality is now expected to be introduced alongside the launch of ‘The Daily’ in January. However the questions remain, can Virgin break into the magazine market, can they do it behind a pay wall and can they do it on an iPad only platform?

To get your free issue of Project 1 now, go ahead and grab the free Project app from the App Store and choose the free Project 1 edition from the built-in newsstand.

Friday, December 24, 2010

IBM Look Into The Big Blue Skies

Remember that once technology giant IBM? There was a saying once, ‘you never get the sack for buying IBM,’ but those heady days of mainframe and mid range computing have long gone and IBM is now more into services than computing technology.

Today they have gazed into their crystal ball surveyed its 3,000 researchers and come up with their predictions of what will take hold in the next 5 years.

1. Holographic conversations, projected from mobile phones. We question not the prediction but the application.

2. Air- breathing batteries, which will ditch the current lithium-ion technology and could rely on energy-dense metals that only need to interact with the air to recharge. Alternatively some electronic devices may simple adopt kinetic energy. We believe that it would be great to dump the current environmental unfriendly but unless driven by a strong environmental lobby and statute this may take time to gain adoption.

3. Computer programs that will use algorithms and real-time traffic information to predict which roads will have jams, and inform you how to avoid getting stuck. We believe that this would be every drivers dream but question whether it will merely shift the problem or spread the throughput.

4. Environmental information generated by sensors in cars and phones. This probably has legs as we move into the crowd-sourcing world.

5. Cities powered by the heat thrown off by computer servers. Initially this seems very half-baked but it is based on the fact that some 50% of the power consumed by data centres is expended in keeping the computers cool. It’s a pity IBM don’t start to tackle it themselves but the question remains, what will cool the machines not how with we use the expended hot air.

IBM is currently investing some $5.8 billion, or 6% of it revenue, into research and development and although their track record on previous predictions is not encouraging, its always good to hear their thinking.

eBible Delivered on a Digital Tablet

First there was the tablets of stone that came down from the mountain, there was of course the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Guttenberg Bible and throughout all ages Bibles and religious publications have dominated publishing. Now a little over a month after releasing an online rendition of the new NIV Bible, Zondervan has now launched a eBible rendition.

The new NIV eBible features crisp fonts, quicker page turns, and a navigation system that allows users to easily jump between footnotes and text.

Zondervan will also partner with Biblica for a Christmas promotion aimed at donating up to 30,000 Bibles to India. In a Christmas ’Buy one, Give One’ campaign, Zondervan will donate a New Testament of a Hindi translation based on the new NIV for every digital eBible sold. Zondervan also plans to release more digital products based on the new NIV, including more eBooks and apps during the next year.

So the bible will now be delivered once again on tablets but this time digital ones.

We identified in our original Brave New World report some 4 years ago that religious publishing had a great opportunity in the digital world not just in the type of material and being able to enhance the reading experience but also in being able to spread the word. Devices such as the new breed of Tablets now also enable illuminated manuscripts and rare texts to be shared and enjoyed by a wider audience.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Slimline LG Please

The upcoming CES (Consumer Electronics Show) at the beginning of next year is going to once again excite and stir the market with new innovation in technology.

LG are rumoured to be about to announce and Android smartphone which could be even slimmer than the iPhone 4. It’s claimed by Phandriod to be named the ‘B’.

It’s apparent, that like cat walk models, size does matter and the slimmer you are the greater the potential to gain acceptance. Clearly the days of the brick mobile phone have long gone and now size is not about small and chunky but slim and sleek.
It’s also claimed that the ‘B’s screen is brighter with much greater luminosity than either the iPhone 4 or the Samsung Galaxy S smartphones. This could make a big difference as we increasingly move to the world of permanent mobile connectivity and increased functionality through apps.

LG is not just fighting Apple and RIM but is also fighting a hoard of Andriod players such as Samsung and HTC, both of whom probably have a stronger offer and also Samsung has more sales today.

The one thing that is certain is that the smartphones we see today will not be those that we will be using in just a few years time and the way we use them is also bound to drastically change. The CES shows are going to be even more innovative going forward as they have been in the past.

Libboo: Crowdsourcing a Novel

It may not be as focused, or well constructed as Michael C Milligan‘s livewriting project, but Libboo aims to achieve a similar result – a novel written by the masses for the masses.

The man behind Libboo is Harvard teacher Chris Howard and his approach is to use 'crowdsourcing' to write a book which will have no single author but a multitude of them. The first chapter will be supplied by Grub Street and will set the scene and act as the inspiration for the rest of the book.

He is hoping that the first experiment which is a romance disaster called ‘Flight of the Burning Stallion’ will attract some 1,000 active writing participants. The contributors will be able to literally write the next chapter which can then be shared between the crowd. The pen can then be taken up by someone else who writes the next chapter and so on. However they will be not one but many different chapters and story line threads, with each effectively twigging off to form a new branch and each branch offering a different and new storyline.

What is determined to be the best storyline and end up being published, will be determined by technology that discreetly tracks the most successful or popular storylines. An Editorial team will be used to ensure consistency through the various threads.

All revenues raised by the project will go to the Literacy Trust.

So like many other ‘live’ experiments we are starting to see the shoots of social writing. Whether it proves successful or falls by the wayside is immaterial, as it is about trying to hardness the creative juices of many to create new works and to judge the best story by the level of activity it generates. It raises many questions about the rewards of writing and also the moral rights of contributors and like many of the experiments taking place today is certainly worth watching.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mobile eReaders Just Got Smarter

Ebook reading has moved from being restricted to one device, to being interoperable and enjoyable across multiple devices. We now have to acknowledge, not just the emergence of the cloud, but a new breed of mobile app readers which are emerging and quietly slipping into the market.

First there is TXTR which is focused at the iOS and Android devices. The app can play on iPhones, iPads the Samsung Galaxy tablet and Android smartphones. Txtr has teamed up with Holland’s largest ereatiler,, to sell into the Dutch eBook market. The app allows readers to buy new titles and ‘side load’ existing ePub titles protected by Adobe’s DRM. The key is the capability to support Adobe’s ACS4 DRM which means that files bought on many sites can now be securely read on many mobile devices.

Another ACS4 mobile reader has been developed in the US by Bluefire Productions and has been adopted by one of the US’s largest book retailers, Books-A-Million. The app was released only at the end of November and is already turning heads. It allows users to easily customise their reading experience by choosing the background colour, font size, and either portrait or landscape format,is free and again importantly is fully compatible with ACS4 encrypted titles.

These new generation of DRM enabled mobile readers could prove very popular and have the potential to free users from single application readers and further stimulate the demand for iPad and Android tablets next year. They also offer resellers the opportunity to create branded mobile offers and engage fully with the market, sell ebooks through platforms such as Google ebookstore and do so without having to have a dedicated reader.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lillian Teaches Us New Social Tricks

In the past we have written about Ivy Bean who died at 104 earlier this year. She wass a very active user of twitter with tens of thousands of friends who shared her every thought. Now we read about another centenarian, who it is claimed, is the oldest Faceboook user.

Lillian Lowe, uses Facebook to communicate with a few dozen friends but since she was dubbed Facebook’s oldest user she has been inundated with friendship requests from around the world. Lillian, a retired hotelier and businesswoman from Tenby, is only 103 and uses the service twice a week to keep up to date with family. She said she has heard of Twitter but does not know what it is.

The social world of twitter and Facebook may be seen by many as belonging to the young generation but it is clear that they offer new opportunities for the older generation to communicate with people they can’t get to see. It is certainly something that social groups should note and is a clear way of helping people to keep their brains active, friendships alive and create new communities.

Well done Lillian.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Now Who's Bottom Of The Class?

First it was a slide ruler, then a ready reckoner, then a calculator, now a US state exam board in Oregon is to allow students not only online testing and digital writing exams, but to let them to click the spell check button while taking their state-wide writing tests!

They claim that the intention is to catch typing errors and not to compensate for poor spelling skills.

The state is only offering automatic spell check to students in grades five and above, saying that children in the fourth grade and below are still learning the basics. All students will be able to use paper and electronic dictionaries.

We wonder if they will be able access Wikipedia, Google and other references just in case they get stuck. Maybe they can tweet a friend for help!

Today DRM Tomorrow?

Amazon’s TV kindle advert is both a powerful and compelling one which ticks most of the consumer buttons. It says to the consumer that they may buy any ebook and play it on any platform, Bookmark on one platform and pick up where you left it on another. It is a simple and clean message that resonates with many consumers who fear being locked into a limited life device.

Google , Kobo and the rest have not made the UK TV screens yet and Apple adverts are more about promoting the Apple brand than any reading message. UK retail is apparently bereft of a ebook message and are totally reliant on others to sell the digital dream.

The core of Google’s eBookstore is a claim that its e-book platform was not tied to any device and that its books can be read on many smart phones, e-ink readers, tablets and PCs. Now, Amazon has also announced that they too will have a Web-based application "in the coming months." We are clearly moving towards a cloud based approach that is able to be read ebooks anywhere and on any device.

So what is the difference between these two giants and where do others sit?

The file formats may be different but inherently they are very similar and are based on epub. Some would say that Google, Apple, Kobo, Barnes and Noble have all opted for epub whilst Amazon has opted for its own proprietary standard. We would suggest that that this doesn’t really matter as the files submitted by the publisher can be epub in all cases and Amazon merely modifies these behind closed doors. There is not one interpretation of epub but a number which are all valid but may effect the rendition on some devices.

The clear differentiator is still that thorny DRM. We have three distinct DRM camps; Adobe ACS4 which supports Google, Sony, Kobo, B&N and many if not all eInk devices capable of DRM, Amazon who has its own DRM and Apple who again do their own thing. Forget the rest as they are mere also ran’s.

So as we move closer to the cloud approach and towards on demand streaming will DRM still matter or will all files be readable via a browser on any device and the security be effectively dealt with by the centre? This brings us back to the question of ownership of digital titles and whether ownership means perpetual access or physical local storage. The questions of; library versus retail, ownership versus on-demand and outright purchase versus rental remain, but is DRM now at its peak of influence and about to decline as things go cloudy?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Japanese publishers accuse Apple of copyright infringement

Apple stand accused by a consortium of Japanese book publishers of copyright infringement in that they a selling pirate titles through their App Store. The group claiming the infringement are the Japan Book Publishers Association, the Japan Magazine Publishers Association, the Electronic Book Publishers Association of Japan and the Digital Comic Association. The claimants state that some of the titles have been deleted in response to requests from authors and publishers but a majority of them remain and are open to abuse. Although Apple support the need to act promptly on complaints about copyright violation the consortium have asked Apple to set up a section to handle deletion requests and piracy.

Read more:

Playboy Get a Hard Drive

Stuck for a Christmas present for that male boss, pal or partner?

Bondi Digital Publishing, is offering a very special gift for those looking for something special for that man in your life - every single copy ever published of Playboy magazine one bunny-logo bearing 250GB hard-drive. The issues go back 56 years, has 650 issues and over a 100,000 pages of mature reading going back to December 1953. You certainly would not need to buy another one and with stars such as Marilyn Monroe with and without staples who would want to?

The 2.5-inch USB-powered drive is slim enough to discreetly slip into your pocket, with only the bunny to give it away as something special.

It someone objects to the drive being 56 years of bunny loaded soft porn, tell them you are simply buying a piece of media history and some hard drive space as the magazines only take up 20% of the drive so the remaining 200MG is free to be used for other materials.
Price $299.95

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kobo Goes Social

Kobo Introduces Reading Life from Kobo on Vimeo.

Social reading is about creating an engaging experience that we as readers what to share and engage with. It is not just about social it has to be linked to buying and provide added value that people want. Many have tried to brand themselves as a social site and then sell books or devices bit that isn’t the way it works and is why those have struggled.

Amazon were one of the first to engage with readers and let them add their reviews and they were one of the first to understand selling books was about selling books; old, new, used whatever. They built a community based first on service and have continuously pushed that envelope.

Now Kobo, one of the real contenders in the market, have upped the stakes with their "Reading Life" app, which extends ‘social’. It includes sharing, a personal "book cover," statistics, social network check-ins and much more. Users can monitor reading habits and track the number of books and pages read, even down to pages per minute and the frequently of the reading. There is quirky achievements such as the "Once Upon a Time" achievement for opening the first book, 'The Twain' for daily reading and 'The Witching Hour' for night readers. Importantly they use services such as Facebook and don’t compete but compliment the community and share highlighted text via Facebook or Twitter.

Can it be copied –yes, but they have hammered a stake in the marketplace which will change it going forward. This may appear a bold statement, but just like when Amazon pushed the jacket and changed bibliographic, or when they stared their Search Inside programme and changed sampling books, or started to sell used books, or started reviews and changed internet buying, Kobo have made a significant social move.

Music Lessons?

During a Christmas shopping expedition we went into HMV and discovered that the format has radically changed. CD Music was now at rock bottom prices, with the most expensive new hits being only around £8 and most music being available on a ‘2 for £10’ offer. The music merchandising was questionable, with narrow isles and back list on the lower gondolas ‘spine out’, whilst the eye level was devoted to a reduced ‘face out’ offer. Games, videos and accessories clearly now have the majority of floor space and music looks a very poor relative. The point was that it was hard to browse and the range was radically reduced. Ok this was just one store but it was in a major shopping mall at Canary Wharf.

The days of music stores on every High Street are long gone and now HMV carry the flag with a much reduced presence. Our music buying habits have also changed with online shopping capturing the vast majority of sales of CDs and obviously music downloads.

We now read that research by MyVouchureCodes claims, 56 % of people they surveyed believe that all music will be purchased in digital formats by 2014 and 21% believe the hardware to play CDs will no longer be available by 2015! Some 42% claim not to have purchased a CD in the past six months and 12% claim they'll never buy a CD again. This is supported somewhat by 66% claiming that they'd bought a digital music download in the last six months. In an aside, 33% believe the DVD will be obsolete by 2020, with 67% expecting all films to be downloaded or streamed over the web by the start of the next decade.

So are we seeing the demise not just of the CD but of the death of all physical music formats. Gone are Vinyl, cassettes, 8 track, mini disc and potentially now the CD.

The research interestingly conflicts with that reported earlier in the year by HP, who claimed that 64% of those surveyed prefer music on physical media and 73% said they could never see a time when they would have only digital media. This research also claimed 68% prefer photo prints to digital images and 75% would rather have a DVD than a movie stored on their PC. The significant result then was that 95% of those surveyed preferred books to ebooks.

Changes are obviously happening even within this year, but the perception of the speed of change can vary significantly.

The future of CD music looks doomed, with a clear contraction of the channel and the online instant download now competing head to head with a dispatched product. Device attention has clearly shifted from disc to MP3 and one only has to look at the myriad of docking players to see that playing device change is happening at speed. A good old friend Trev Huxley once said that music trends were dictated by car rental companies, who when they shifted their specification from Cassette to CD, killed the cassette. Recently we were offered a rental car with inbuilt iPod/Phone docking and no CD player!

As the physical music format disappears, will we want to buy a virtual collection of downloads, or simply copy and share them with friends? Streaming services are the next big thing both in film and music and online gaming is growing at a phenomenal pace. It is therefore obvious that these demand services, such as Pandora and Spotify, are going to, challenge today’s prices further, potentially question the whole current purchase model and change our ‘ownership’ culture.

We must remember that Book publishing still does not have a credible strategy or solution between the renting an ebook for free from the library and buying it from a reseller. As we have already suggested in our article last month, ‘Public Libraries: Back to the Future’ there appears one simple solution to this problem.

As ebooks become more widely adopted, will the market economics fuel further digital shift as it has in music, or do we believe that books are different?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Digital Lessons: Magazine Brands

We may assume that magazines will be an obvious digital winner and that the physical format has a very limited life, but perhaps we need to think again.

Magazines are built on tight brands. They focus on their community and combine editorial, articles and advertising in a brand focused way which is complimentary for all parties. Name any of the major magazine brands and we can all identify their space, community, demographic and what adverts to expect within them.

To some readers magazines are a ‘treat’, to others they are an authoritative must have. Some believe that the tactile charm and visual indulgence of the print magazine is something that will continue to resonate irrespective of the digital offer. To others the print is living on borrowed time. But is there a middle ground that recognises that print is print and digital is digital and both are part of a brand communication programme and in fact are complimentary.

The magazine world has moved from chasing the scoop to one where news becomes more of a commodity. It’s becoming more about understanding and presenting the commentary, the in depth angle in a manner that is informative and resonates with its audience. They must assume that they will not have it first in print and therefore writing an in-depth analysis and understanding must bring something extra. Magazine journalists now have to also think which platform is best for each angle of the story. A monthly print magazine may be complimented by a website which is updated every day, by a mobile app and also by events. It’s about brand management, building a format neutral brand that transcends media and not fixed to one format only. It is also about aligning the right advertising that compliments the content and focus of the reader. It is about a totally wired brand.
It isn’t about the latest technology. As long as brands deliver reliable, entertaining and well edited information it doesn't matter what delivers it. Magazine with high-quality editorial and production values and appropriate and quality photography and illustrations and the right advertising will always deliver consumer value.

Print advertising is an essential ingredient of the brand offer. Readers, buy titles because they want adverts that relate to the focus of the brand. If you advertise your cars in a car magazine you can be certain that one of the reasons people will buy the magazine is because they want to find, or are receptive to having a new car. The brand will be focused on cars. The advertiser are buying into the trust between magazine and reader. The best magazines know what their brands stand for and deliver the readers.

Print, often is viewed by many as a competitor to digital platforms but in media such as magazines it can be more often complementary.

Looking at other media sectors demonstrates that there is often not one shoe that fits all. Even within the book publishing market there is not one but several distinct sectors that face different digital challenges, may move at different speeds and even in different directions. We can look at others but must understand the differences in order to learn the appropriate lessons.

Digital Writer's Block

We have always read about writers block and of stories where even the best of authors have found themselves ‘frozen at the typewriter’ and have become literally, lost for words. Writers block could last for days, weeks and even months.

In today’s permanently on line world of web sites, blogs, tweeter, SMS and Facebook the demand for a constant engagement and contribution questions whether writer’s block is now acceptable. Any slow down or lack of contribution no matter small can now often result in the new online readers simply moving elsewhere for their instant fix. Will authors find themselves now under increased pressure not just to write the book, contribute to the web site, answer fan mail, but also tweet and blog?

After writing close on 2000 articles we stopped this week. It wasn’t that there wasn’t news, there was plenty on Google’s ebookstore, Amazon’s cloud, Kobo’s social twist and others. It was a combination of factors which collectively demanded a stop for a breath of fresh air and then again there is Christmas shopping, painting and a party to think about.

Given it was a Saturday we thought it safe to drop our guard and writ e about our current blockage. Of course it doesn’t really matter if we write or not as we do it to understand and galvanise our thinking and share it with others. However we wonder how authors will manage in the world that demands instant and constant feeds and will the Stephen Fry multi threaded model prevail for all?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Sony Say Yes to Japan (Again) But No To Denmark

The news that Sony was going home to Japan to launch its latest devices in Japan this month along with a dedicated virtual library brought back fond memories of our visit to Kyoto this year and the pieces we wrote on the country that rewrites the rules.

Sony left the Japanese market in 2007 after seen a poor response on their initial ebook reader push. Since then the success of the iPad and Kindle has sent electronics makers scrambling to gain a slice of the growing tablet computer and ereader market. Sony will also open a digital bookstore offering some 20,000 titles for download, but does anyone care and will it make an impact second time around?

Sony predicts it will sell 300,000 e-readers in Japan next year and expects to get 50% of the Japanese market share by 2012.

However their move is not an exclusive as Sharp has also confirmed that it will launch its Galapagos e-reader tablet device on the Japanese before the end of the year along with their own online store. The online shop which is to be a partnership with the Culture Convenience Club Co, which operates the Tsutaya book and music chain, will offer 20,000 books and magazines by the spring will be expanded to also include video and music content.

Sony unveiled their latest devices in September and expanded their availability to Australia, China, Italy, and Spain as well as the United States and UK, but some will ask is that enough and why only this small handful of countries?

When Sony first blew its trumpet in the UK, a deal was put in the table to tie the devices to the Danish digital public library service. It was envisaged that the libraries would offer the devices on loan along with the ebook. The offer was turned down as it was unsupportable so the danish just bought them from Waterstones in the UK. Now Sony have stopped the sales and we have discovered that German Cash&Carry giant Metro is now selling Sony readers in its Danish outlets even though the Sony devices are still officiallly unavailable in Denmark.

The situation where some countries are seen as viable and others which border on them aren’t, appears to be a joke in this global world. How can companies such as Sony be expected to be taken seriously when they still only operate is a handful of countries and yet are a global electronics brand and organisation. It clearly shows that to buy local may be an unwise move.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Have We been Googled?

At Frankfurt in 2009 we attended the Google announcement on Google Editions. At the time it was somewhat overshadowed by the debate over the Google Book Settlement. Now some 14 months later the settlement may remains in limbo but Google Editions has finally reappeared ready to go live this month in the US with the UK and others lined up for next year.

Google Editions is about turning the mass of material they collected through their scanning programme, plus the files given by publishers, as well as the less sensitive book search venture, into real money. This is where all the hard work gives a potential return and not only provides ebook sales but potentially much more. Scan the book, index it, store it and serve it up as an ebook or POD file to all the channels globally. You then have a repository and search capability second to none.
You then add advertising revenues and the wealth of user access and usage information and rights information that could trip through a Rights Registry you have a goldmine and potential category killer. Someone once said that the English Channel Tunnel was a pain to build, but once achieved, who needs to build another one?

We will ignore the obvious question on orphan works and presume that these will be excluded at least until Judge Chin’s decision. There may well be many questions raised when the books actually hit the market and interest parties start to search the repository. We also heard a rumour that when a publisher mentioned that certain books were a problem due to inside picture rights, they were merely told not to worry, as these would be blanked out. Again we will have to wait to see the implications.

So what’s different about Google Editions? First, it’s a cloud based service which doesn’t support downloads and merely serves up files via any web browser. This is a very logical route which makes interoperability a reality and starts to undermine the need for DRM. You don’t need DRM when it never actually leaves the warehouse and the user device is merely rendering it through a browser. This also starts to raise the issue about ‘ownership’ If a title is not downloaded then ‘ownership’ is totally dependant on a persistent access to it for many years. This starts to raise questions on the price and value statement and to some begs the question as to whether the model should be rental or subscription based. What the difference is between retail and libraries when ownership is virtual. Finally, in raising the ownership question we must remember that Google aims to service all channels with the same files.

Offline reading will not be restricted to being connected and like others Google aims to address this through cache memory. Who supplies the readers to achieve this is an interesting point, but no doubt partners will fall out of the sky as thick as the snow in the UK today, as everyone clambers to be seen.

The other difference offered by Google Editions is its planned appeal to independent bookstores who will see it as their opportunity to go digital. A bit like many Marketplace offers, Google will allow bookstores to be mere agents and sell ebooks off their own clients, community and brand. Some suggest that systems such as the ABA’s Indie Bound are lined up and that the UK’s BA will follow. This will certainly get bookstores involved in ebooks but has to be watched as all other marketplace deals have tended to raise the cost of doing business once they have cashed in on the clients, community and brands. Independents will line up in a beauty contest alongside all comers and although Google will probably offer some localised shopping service everyone is in there together.

Whether they will integrate voucher services such as their rumoured interest in Groupon remain to be seen but as voucher services and social networking grows it will be interesting as to who Google actually ends up accommodating and like Adwords at what price?

We all have travelled abroad to discover Google knows exactly where you are. So if we buy a book in the US and go to the UK will the book access go with us or be restricted to the countries in which it is read?

Finally some see Google Editions as a means to start to address Amazon’s dominance of the digital market and on paper it ticks all the boxes but the proof of whether we have been Googled will be dependant on their application and how the public react and find it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Rights Business With No Rights Registry

Many see digital as opening up new opportunities one of which is to identify those old best sellers that have gone out of print and get then back on the shelf. Obviously it would be good to get them on the digital shelf as ebooks and with a relatively low investment they can be up and available competing with everyone else again. Once out there, there is little need to do anything except collect whatever sales revenues occur. The other option is to make them available once again in a physical POD (print on demand) rendition. Again once set up, POD is just a case of collecting the money from the sales, on a book that may never go out of print, needs no marketing spend and may never get its rights reverted.

In somewhat a roundabout way this is where Google came in and is what the, still unsettled, book settlement is about. The problem was never those new works under new contracts that allowed them to go digital, nor those that had slipped into public domain and no longer were tethered to anyone. It was always about orphans and many of this were not completely parentless, but just lying dormant and ‘out of print’. To all those wishing to adopt orphans, ‘out of print’ now offers relatively cheap digital pickings.

Many dispute the orphan numbers and debate numbers and not ethics. Some will assume rights and adopt a ‘publish and be dammed‘ approach always willing to admit an error when found out, but too lazy to do the diligence to establish the facts first.
We write this not as a piece of theory, but as a result of establishing books that were sucked into a trade publishing programme improperly. Some will basically trawl their best sellers that are out of print and readopt them without the appropriate diligence.

So again we ask how publishing is to manage rights in a digital world when it has no registry? How do authors and estates protect themselves from digital tethering and how can authors effectively monitor the situation?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tax Can Be So Taxing

When austerity is all around, many fundamental givens start to get reviewed and often what we all took as a universal practice may appear to be a luxury too far.

Books in Ireland have enjoyed a zero rate of VAT but as part of the country’s recently announced four-year plan this is now under threat. Digital book editions which are already subject to VAT at 21% but could now also face an increase to 23% by 2014. On page 97 of their economic plan they say, ‘The Government will also examine further rebalancing of the VAT system and zero rated VAT items within the context of wider and ongoing EU level consideration of the matter.’

The French Senate has opted to try to amend the 2011 draft budget and reduce VAT on e-books from 19.6% to the reduced rate of 5.5% enjoyed by print. It is envisaged that the lower rate would help develop legal downloads and should be applied to all cultural products sold online. So where does this leave the European Union which has very little unity on VAT rates on e-books?

Looking further afield The South Africa parliament appears ready to force Treasury to scrap VAT on books in a bid to improve levels of education in the country. This move could amend the Value Added Tax Act, removing the current 14% tax on books and result in a drop of R247million in state revenue.

So as that increase to 20% draws ever closer, where does this leave the UK who are also currently fighting sweeping library cuts?

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) led by Sir james Mirrlees has made a number of sweeping suggestions as part of a review of the UK's tax and benefits system. Probably the most sensitive recommendation is that VAT should be extended to food, baby clothes and books. They claim that the zero rate of VAT is "an expensive and highly inefficient" way of helping people on low incomes.

The reviw chair and Nobel laureate, Sir James Mirrlees, said, "Some of the recommended reforms involve tweaks to current policy; others involve radical change and are probably for the longer term. It is undeniable that some of the proposed changes would be politically difficult. But failure to reform imposes enduring costs."

However, we can all breath easy as this is not a government review, nor are many of its other recommendations widely accepted today. In a global economy it is often hard to grapple with local taxation and what is even more harder to understand is the vast range of taxation applied to books, the difference of approach between physical and digital when the content is often identical and how a European Union can have so many different rates and approaches for the book.

More University Presses In The Future?

Some would be surprised to read that the Journal of Electronic Publishing, has issued a report that suggesting that there could more university presses, not fewer, in the future.

Many would suggest that university presses will be made redundant as more academics and researches publish direct or via their host institutions, but the point raised is that if the presses become closer aligned with their institutions and the academics and also view works not in terms of monographs and journals but more in terms of content then they could enjoy a revival and growth.

In 2009 the University of Michigan Press redefined itself as an academic unit of the campus library. To some this might have been seen as the beginning of the end for the press, but reality has been very different with them taking the lead in setting up an innovative university-based publishing system.

Key to the success of this approach on a wider scale will be the presses working closely together to exploit a handful of "platform providers," perhaps run by university consortia. This outsourcing and collaborative approach could handle the production, delivery and digital preservation and importantly offer the economies of both scale and scope to small presses.

It’s as if digital is on one hand offering major players to dominate and on the other a rebirth of the cottage industry with a new collaborative twist which enables presses to focus on more closely aligning themselves with the academic strengths of their host institutions and academics. The question is can this actually grow such that it threatens the smaller STM publishers?

Read the full article in the Journal of Electronic Publishing

Public Libraries: Back to the Future

Three separate incidents in this last week stimulated some interesting thoughts on public libraries. First, UK TV covered a news article last week about a rural village, who on losing their mobile library facility, had taken over a disused old phone box and turned it into a book exchange where the villages could do precisely that, exchange their books at any time. We also wrote about Amazon’s lending function on ebooks which starts to offer a host of potential new opportunities far past the current service. Finally, on sending a card to friends who live in a small village in the peak district, we remembered their address as being a building called ‘The Reading Room.’ In the 19th century,The Reading Room’ served the community as a private library and it’s patron was the local landowner.

Today we look on the public library as a service funded and run by public funds, but that has not always been the case and philanthropy has played a major part of shaping what we now regard as a public service. The early public libraries in the UK often were very local and not freely accessible to the public. The notable exception was the Chetham Library in Manchester which opened in 1653 and claims to be the oldest public library in the English-speaking world.

It wasn’t until the turn of the 18th century that libraries moved from a closed parochial model to lending libraries. Before this time, public libraries frequently chained their books to desks. There was in fact a wide network of library provision on a private or institutional basis and subscription libraries, both private and commercial, proving the middle to upper class with a variety of books for moderate fees.The 18th century commercial subscription libraries were often created by booksellers who rented out extra copies of books. In 1790 it was estimated that there were some six hundred rental and lending libraries in the UK. Circulating libraries owners wanted to lend books as many times as they possibly could and these were often attached to the shops of milliners or drapers and served as a social meeting place as coffee shops do today. Private subscription libraries flourished with restricted membership and Booksellers often acted as librarians and received an honorarium for their pains. The Liverpool Subscription library was a gentlemen only library. In 1798, it was rebuilt with a newsroom and coffeehouseLast week there was a UK TV news article about a rural village who on losing their mobile library facility had taken over a disused old phone box and turned it into a book exchange where the villages could do precisely that exchange their books at any time. We also wrote about Amazon’s lending function on ebooks which starts to offer a host of potential opportunities. Finally, I sending a card to friends who live in a small village in the peak district we remembered their address as being a building called ‘The Reading Room.’ In the 19th century,The Reading Room’ served the community as a private library and it’s patron was the local landowner.
Today we look on the public library as a service funded and run by public funds but that has not always been the case and philanthropy has played a major part of shaping what we now regard as a public service. The early public libraries in the UK often were very local and not freely accessible to the public with the notable exception being the Chetham Library in Manchester opening in 1653 and claiming to be the oldest public library in the English-speaking world.
It wasn’t until the turn of the 18th century that libraries moved from a closed parochial model to lending libraries. Before this time, public libraries frequently chained their books to desks. There was in fact a wide network of library provision on a private or institutional basis and subscription libraries, both private and commercial, provided the middle and middle to upper class with a variety of books for moderate fees.The 18th century commercial subscription libraries were often created by booksellers who rented out extra copies of books and in 1790 it was estimated that there were some six hundred rental and lending libraries in the UK. Circulating libraries owners wanted to lend books as many times as they possibly could and these were often attached to the shops of milliners or drapers serving as a social meeting place as coffee shops do today. Private subscription libraries flourished with restricted membership. Booksellers often acted as librarians and received an honorarium for their pains. The Liverpool Subscription library was a gentlemen only library. In 1798, it was rebuilt with a newsroom and coffee-house and renamed the Athenaeum. It had an entrance fee of one guinea and annual subscription of five shillings.

The Public Libraries Act 1850 was the foundation of the modern public library system in the UK and at the time England had some 274 and Scotland, 266, subscription libraries. Norwich claims to being the first municipality to adopt the new Public Libraries Act. The Act allowed any municipal borough with a population of 100,000 or more, to introduce a halfpenny rate to establish public libraries, but not to buy books.

However, in both the UK and US private philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie, Samuel Tilden and many others provided the seed capital and the push to get many libraries started. Carnegie envisioned that libraries would "bring books and information to all people." It is estimated that he donated over $60 million to the building of over 2,811 free public library buildings in the United States, where they were often known as Carnegie libraries. In many instances collectors also donated vast book collections to these libraries.

As the 20th century evolved and private philanthropy was hit by war and recession. As a result, Public libraries became more independent and publicly funded, lending books and materials freely, but charging fines if materials are returned late or damaged.

So we return to today, where we see public spending being increasingly squeezed and public libraries often under funded and under resourced. They are clearly struggling to get to grips with the digital challenges they now face in their, infrastructure, content, lending model, community presence and funding. We may not approve of the Google scanning programme in its commercial objectives, but support it in its social ones. With the return of philanthropy and social conscience, perhaps we should rethink the role and funding of public libraries within a more open public / private mix. Why should we regard borrowing as free? We can all learn from history and although we all often only see but a fraction of the actual facts, there are clear opportunities offered which may help create new; reading rooms, book exchanges and virtual libraries, all free from the public purse, or which at least ease the current burden upon it.

Many would go on blindly demanding on the universal right to 'free' and that the funding by public funds must be a given. However, some would now suggest that this needs to be seriously questioned if we are to avoid the questionable digital position adopted by the UK PA over electronic access, the handing over of public assets to Google and the potential challenges of digital subscription/circulation libraries outside of the public control. Could Amazon or Google Editions become the new digital subscription / circulation library?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Livewriting: Community Writing

We have seen innovation and multi media writing from the likes of Kate Pullinger and her Animate Alice living story and Anthony Zuiker, the creator of the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation U.S. television series, multi media ‘digi-novel,‘Level 26: Dark Origins’. We now see another ground breaking approach from Canadian writer Michael C. Milligan. He is literally writing a novel live on the Internet and doing it in 3 days starting November 26th.

What is different about Milligan’s novel is his that he is not doing it by himself but with an army of unpaid followers, who through tools such as; Twitter , gTalk, meebo, Wordpress, are actively contributing to the development of the work. He is even live on video as he writes. For every chapter, the system picks five answers at random, which he needs to integrate into the next part of the story. He openly encourages questions and dialogue and even has a points reward system for contributions which will reward the top three contributors with print copies of the first book in the series ‘Tyhpoon’ and the top contributor, a name character in his next livewritten novel.

The site clearly has been very well thought out and neatly combines all the various elements in a logical and easy to follow manner. It combines advertising, user registration, multi media, merchandising and a living work. There is no other such combination we know of today that has put the author at the centre of his audience in such an accessible way whilst they create their work.

Could this approach be used to galvanise other types of writing such and special interest, live research, or replace the blog as we know it today? It certainly integrates tools into one holistic place which shows off their collective strengths in ways we often miss when used individually.

If we were Google, Amazon, Lulu, we would snap this up in a heartbeat and enlist the team that put this together to offer others a new way of creating writing, reading and social communities. It would not work for many writers, it may only work for fiction, it may not work long run, but the concept and Milligan’s execution has to be applauded as a breath of fresh air.

The best part about this exercise is that it engages and joins the author and the reader in a way that only could be achieved in the 21st century.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Digital Publishing Observations and Conclusions

Today we look at the major underlying changes that are reshaping publishing.

We would like to introduce three observations which help explain the challenges and then explore how these will impact and reshape publishing.

The first observation we would offer is about observation itself.

When you look through a window into a house you see a room. The view will be different, dependant on which window you look through. If several people look at the same house, but through different windows, they will each see something different. It is the same house but each window is rendering a different perspective. It is understandable that they may all form a completely different view of the house based on what that they view thy have observed.

Unless you are an architect, builder or tradesman, we often take for granted the building’s fabric. This holds it offers common services in the various rooms and protects it by a common roof and walls.

We would suggest businesses are no different and often we focus on the individual perspectives and ignore the framework that supports them.
What are the core elements that are the fabric and provide common services through publishing and are these fit for purpose in this new digital world?

The second observation comes through our experience within the oil industry.

The oil industry is ‘vertical’, with at one end, the upstream activity of acquisition and exploration though to production, and at the other the downstream activities of refinery, distribution and retail. There are always specialists operators in all areas but the Mobil, Shell, BP, Total, Elf are vertical operators who have build global and vertical brands that are capable of transcending sectors and providing vertical authority. These companies may be viewed by some as very rigid organisations, but are in fact very flexible and dynamic in their internal structures and operations. Most oil fields are operated by one company, with their competitors and others being joint venture shareholders/investors in the same field. These organisations understand collaborative ventures and that these mitigate risk, in a very high risk business, strengthen each operator’s ability to deliver and shares the spoils often across a number of ventures.

Today the oil giants no longer view themselves as solely in oil but are redefining and repositioning themselves in the energy industry. They are still vertical but the width of their focus just got a whole lot wider.

Are there true publishing verticals that are flexible and who are now expanding their brand to a wider market?

The third observation goes back to that famous 1979 Andy Warhol quote, ‘Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.’

We have seen the dramatic rise in social networking and the new age of communication. The technology has in effect made everyone a journalist, photographer, social commentator a would be musician and author. Youtube, Facebook and Twitter have each started to reshape social interaction and provided the platform for the democratisation of creativity.

Yesterday our generation watched TV, listened to music, played games and read books, but there now is a new generation who, make TV, music, games and books, but do not always share our values with respect to the rights and permissions we observed before. They now often want to often ‘mix’ or repurpose old material to create new works. The new environment is fuelling this and spawning a generation where many can enjoy and attain their 15 minutes of fame.

Conclusions: These observations help us understand some of the challenges publishing is facing today. The question is how it is positioned to now meet them?

Publishing is a rights business.

It is these rights that define its rules, relationships, processes, the reward structure and can shape the content itself. Rights can be seen as the fabric, utilities and services that make it a house.

However imagine you have returned to find that the new occupiers have moved the rooms around, what was the kitchen is now a study and the loft is a new master bedroom with a new view through a new skylight. Alternatively, the rooms may have remained but the furniture and look has been completely redesigned. It’s not enough to understand the rights as they were.

Rights have to adjust to new demands, new owners and merely expecting every occupier of the house to maintain the status quo is naive. Publishing rights must adjust in both use and time and not straight jacket us into the past. We must respect that houses don’t last forever without maintenance. The house now requires new digital services.

Publishing several industries joined by a common format – the book.

Some of these have clear vertical positions and brands and these are visible today in professional, scientific, academic and educational segments. These markets are dominated by a few organisations that have already made great digital inroads and some have repositioned themselves, their market relationships and are capable of widening their offer.

However, when we look at the general trade the opportunity is far harder to envisage.
We may have major publishers and major retailers but we only have Amazon that today is capable of being vertical in a major sense. It has built brand, grown global reach, acquired companies and started ventures right across the publishing life cycle and value chain. Niche players may build vertically but still think horizontally and often believe the world revolves around them, when often its around others and they are merely playing a part.

When it comes to direct sales many publishers are often buffered from the consumer coal face and often haven’t the list and relationship management skill set they think they have. This again is truer in the general trade environment than in the other more vertical ones.

The traditional retailers are having their legs chopped off as supermarkets and other retail giants take the easy mass market volume sales and are likely to compete hard for the emerging digital market. Many believe that Apple and Google are the competitive threats, or opportunities to compete against Amazon, but we also have to throw in WalMart, Tesco, Costco, and even local players such as Sainsburys.

The author is an often overlooked vertical opportunity who has the brand and up until today needed the publishing infrastructure to be heard and sell volume. However, the new world will offer some, the opportunity to follow the Ian Fleming estate and do it themselves

Finally, reading is not a social experience but books are.

Social Networking has opened up our world to wider connected communities. We no longer are restricted in how, what and when we communicate and who we communicate with. We still have the immersive reading experience but now are able to share this with others in ways that we just impossible before.

Academia has long been pushing back these social boundaries and clearly has common interest in doing so at many levels. However, readers are very eclectic in their interests and reading taste and therefore creating a Facebook for reading would appear a questionable route and one far from proven today. Niche interest groups will always flourish, but they will be limited to their area of interest and community. Do we recreate Facebook or use Facebook to create reading groups? We have to recognise that sharing our personal thoughts and recommendations often starts with friends not strangers.

There is no silver social networking bullet but there are lots of experiments, baby steps, community bridges to be built. Anyone serious about doing business tomorrow can’t afford not to be trying many routes. Some will prove useless, some limited and some may open up new opportunities and growth. This is not restricted to publishers but is equally relevant to authors, resellers, today’s reading groups and libraries, in fact everyone.

Today everyone wants to have the potential to be heard and publishing has to understand that this in itself will have a dramatic impact on everyone within today’s value chain and isn’t about selling more books but about connecting people and context with content,