Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Amazon Continue On Their 'Mission'

Remember those early Amazon days when people said they wouldn’t make profit and that they could continue to run at a loss. Amazon stuck to their task and came through and those of us who believed and the understood what positive cash flow meant, customer service and virtual inventory, the power of global branding and what a golden egg was knew they would. They then moved into ebooks and Kindle and once again the doubters surfaced. Even we hated the Kindle device but could see past its limitations to what Amazon was doing. It was if every step that Bezos makes there is an army of publishing cynics trying to pull him down.

So it was interesting to read the interview with Jeff Bezos in Fortune this week.

Bezos quite rightly says that he ‘thinks there are going to be a bunch of tablet-like devices. It's really a different product category. The Kindle is for readers and his strategy is one of 'buy once, read everywhere.' Bezos says , ‘ We think of it as a mission. I strongly believe that missionaries make better products. They care more. For a missionary, it's not just about the business. There has to be a business, and the business has to make sense, but that's not why you do it. You do it because you have something meaningful that motivates you.’

This is a very sensible strategy and clearly sets Amazon apart from the real contenders Google and Apple.

However the interesting points Bezos makes are with respect to pricing where he understands the market is diverse and there are ‘as many opinions about what the right thing to do is as there are publishers.’ He believe that proactive low pricing will prevail and those with low pricing will win share over those who elect to keep the prices high through the agency model. He claims it’s already happening and it no surprise that Amazon wins. Then there is his self publishing offer and compelling case to the authors locked into a royalty model based on preserving the status quo.
The status quo is somewhere Amazon doesn’t live. This week they announced e-books that come embedded with audio and video and a free Kindle application for Google Android phones. Now it continues it news by announcing “Kindle Previewer for HTML 5″ that will allow readers to view samples of books directly from within a Web browser via a “Preview” button on a books Amazon Web page. When the button is clicked a window will open enabling customers to read the sample chapter of a book. They then have the option to purchase the full book for a Kindle device or platform.

Amazon claim that the pages will offer “complex layouts and graphic design, embedded audio and video where useful, and enhanced user interactivity.”

We wait to hear their next move but are certain that they are not going to be rolled over easily by Google or Apple.

Public Libraries, The Internet Archive and Double Standards?

As libraries become a battleground for ebooks, who will win the digital library business?

A heated debate appears to be looming as the Internet Archive announces it is integrating the lending of books within its Open Library with Overdrive to participating libraries in the U.S. and elsewhere. The objective is to increase the number of books that are available for people to borrow digitally. Overdrive already claims some 70,000 titles that are being provided through 11,000 libraries worldwide. Now many more books that are not commercially available will be made available and can be borrowed from participating libraries using the same digital technology

A user can visit to search or browse for books with the "only ebook" check box checked to find books they can borrow and read online. If the book is a commercially available, then the user is directed to where they can borrow it from their local library using their library card. If the book is not commercially available and no one else has checked out the book, then the user can borrow it for a 2 week period via The Boston Public and Marine Biological Laboratory are among a number of libraries that have contributed titles for digital borrowing.

The Internet Archive appear to be treading on the very thin ice. Yes they are the same people that fought The Google Book Settlement! They claim that one person at a time will be allowed to check out a digital copy of an in-copyright book for two weeks and that due to copyright restrictions, the physical copy of the book won't be loaned during that same period. The interpretation of Fair Use may appear fair to The Internet Archive but not to authors and publishers who own these copyrights who may not have granted permissions. It also appears to be a different Land grab of Orphan Works which they fought to protect.

Mr. Kahle of the Internet Archive is quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying "We're just trying to do what libraries have always done." To add insult to injury Mr. Blake, of the Boston Library claims,. "If you own a physical copy of something, you should be able to loan it out. We don't think we're going to be disturbing the market value of these items." Some would seriously question the interpretations being used here and again ask why the Internet Archive appear to not practice what they preached against Google? Are publishers and authors happy with libraries scanning and passing around copyrighted works without permission and on the basis they own a copy?

Despite the current budget cuts, or because of them, the library world is being eyed up by many.

Sony have announced a new US Reader Library Programme which aims to help public libraries adopt eBooks and grow their collection. The programme will offer to enlighten library staff via a one-time web-based session covers digital reading formats, an overview of sources for digital materials, and training on Sony's Reader digital reading devices. Not surprisingly Sony will push Sony and provide digital reading devices for library staff and bi-annual updates on developments in eReading technology.

The Library program reaffirms Sony's commitment to work with local libraries throughout the US, "Libraries play an important role in our civic and cultural life, and Sony believes that it's important to support public library systems as they expand their services and digital offerings, particularly eBooks," said Phil Lubell, vice president for Sony's Reader business. "Our program is a new initiative that will provide librarians with additional resources, enabling them to inform and demonstrate to patrons how to benefit from their growing eBook collections."

Let's face it Sony want to sell ereaders and promote they lacklustre bookstore and must be feeling the heat on the streets today.

We will no doubt hear more on the Internet Archive interpretation of fair use or what some would suggest are double standards. It however clearly shows that irrespective of the financial constraints they face, libraries also face serious questions over its role, fair use and the clear conflict between its digital model and that of the commercial world.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Place Your Bets: Amazon, Apple or Google?

The battle between Amazon, Apple and Google is heating up and each are clearly adopting different strategies and book market positions.

Following last week’s pricing gauntlet from Amazon they have now announced 'Kindle for the Android' and clearly see the 'Kindle' as a cross platform brand no longer tied to a device. There approach is simple and covers all the bases Apple, PC, eInk,Blackberry, Android where the common entity is the store and the service and the reader becomes agnostic with respect to the platform. Obviously the devices and platforms today have to be Amazon controlled with respect to buying and reading. This is AmazonWorld, an immersive closed world managed and served up by Amazon. Forget the price drop we would probably go further and make it a no brainer and set a price that would burn off virtually all ‘lookie likies’. However, that may not be in Amazon’s best interest, as these could continue to support a eInk world and avoid a straight Apple Amazon technology dog fight. Amazon handled the adoption of the agency model with great skill and what looked like a climb down to some became a quiet victory. They also avoided the contractual price fixing clause adopted by others and could pass on tax issues to those who wanted to control prices. They continue to quietly burying themselves deep into the publishing market and clearly have much to offer everyone from the author to the reader.

Apple makes devices and develops software. As designers their capabilities are second to none, but as media people they are second division. Their media credentials are mainly born out of iTunes and although very groundbreaking it was not YouTube nor could it defend itself against the inevitable MP3 market which forced it to open up and change. Apple is like a self contained bubble and is great until you want something outside of the bubble. Primarily its role in life is to sell devices and associated software. Its strategy is to tie devices (they have to be prefixed with an ‘I’ ), with software tools which have to be ‘approved’ by Apple, with applications and services that they control and finally with iAd advertising that they will collect revenues on. The weakness is that they can’t control the Internet so have to acknowledge others exist outside their own ecosystem and some would suggest that is hard for their leader’s ego.

Anyone who believes Apple love books should remember Steve Job’s 2008 comments on the Kindle, "It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore... The whole concept is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore.” Also worth noting was the speed that they introduced self publishing options after wooing the publishers.

Google continues to quietly move forward into the book market. Gone are the brash days of beating the chest and ignoring the market. They have learnt that they can’t always expect to steamroller the market into their way. The Google Book Settlement may still be stuck in the courts not going anywhere fast and remain unsettled, but it has apparently taught its perpetrator much about exclusive strategies and changing the law through the back door. Google scan on regardless and continue to build their repository in the cloud. They have the biggest repository of books and cleverly don't see a real difference between rare, public domain, orphan or new front list books. Their audacious ‘land grab’ of the orphans may have been halted, but you can guarantee is not over and those who think there is little money there will we suspect eat their words.

They now are on a mission to capture the device and platform world but not through hardware, but their software and Chrome and Android systems. They continue with their Editions platform now swooning the very people who objected to the settlement, the booksellers. Their mission to control information is still on track and their ability to leverage advertising revenues to drive their business remains mostly unchallenged. They pose the most likely winner in that the are truly pervasive and everyone uses Google even if they don’t use Amazon or Apple. Denying Google is like denying technology and the Internet itself and that is why they will in the long term have the greatest impact on all. With books they will have the geatest repository of digital material and have indexed the route to the rest. They clearly have the best opportunity to create a open marketplace which is based on them collecting ad revenue.

The question who will dominate is not down to the depth of their resources, these guys don’t have the same finacial constraints as B&N, Kobo, and the rest. They will woo the author, the publisher, the bookseller but will cut out any middle men at a stroke. All will dictate their terms and their rules. All have huge plusses as to why they are where they are today and why they should succeed in the book world. But three may be one two many and if so, who is the passenger and most likely to move onto ‘other things’? Who is the Weakest Link?

Monday, June 28, 2010

YouTube is a Safe Harbour

Safe harbour is one of those relatively new concepts which syas that in principle a Internet service can’t be held responsible for what others do on their service. Some would word it differently but in essence it’s a reactive approach to copyright infringement as opposed to a proactive one that attempts to check first.

In 2007 Viacom filed a lawsuit claiming that Google’s YouTube was based on copyright infringement and that it profited from knowing that the site was full of unauthorised copyrighted material. The US District Court for the Southern District of New York has ruled that YouTube is only liable for infringement once it has been told of specific videos that infringe specific copyrights and fails to act to remove them from its site.
The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) allows online service providers to avoid liability for their users' law-breaking actions and absolves them of any burden to monitor their service for infringements of the law. It gives them a safe habour in which to operate Under DNCA companies who are informed of law-breaking, must act quickly to disable, remove or block the content or become they become liable.

The Court said that Viacom can have no quibble with how YouTube's current system operates and that when Viacom sent a mass take-down notice on February 2, 2007, by the next business day YouTube had removed virtually all of them by the next working day. The Court also said that previous cases made it clear that the responsibility to find and identity infringing material was the copyright holder's, not the online service provider's.

What does this mean to other safe habour operators? It clearly differentiates those who file share knowing that material is violating copyright from those who provide a platform and are ignorant of any abuse until notified. It also clearly enforces the owners responsibility to catch the offence and offender. So maybe we do now need an industry police force or maybe everyone should follow Macmillan’s lead and have a Digital Piracy Director.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Project Canvas Steps Forward

The BBC has been given the go-ahead for Project Canvas which could be a major step in the evolution of full internet TV and is likely to be called YouView, a hybrid of YouTube and Freeview. A partnership between the BBC, ITV, BT, Five, Channel 4 and TalkTalk is to develop standards and will see a range of set-top boxes available to access on-demand TV services such as iPlayer and ITVplayer. Users with a broadband connection will be able to access a wide range of on-demand content including BBC iPlayer, free of charge, through their TV sets. However as always there are a number of conditions the BBC trust has imposed such as ensuing all viewers are able to watch BBC programmes without a subscription and allowing other broadcasters and content providers to have have access to the platform.

However, rivals BSkyB and Virgin Media still question whether the BBC should be involved in such a commercial service and there could still be a challenge to its status under competition law and other legislation. They claim that Project Canvas will restrict competition and innovation and ultimately this will harm consumers and also that the BBC's involvement is an unnecessary use of public funds.

We welcome the move forward on Canvas and see the need to create a common platform and architecture to support the online on demand TV of tomorrow. Can we have 3D thrown in too!

Library Budget Cuts And Challenges Are Global

In the US library budgets are being slashed. New York Gov. David Paterson has proposed a budget reduction in state aid to libraries of $2.5 million, or 2.9%, cut from exiting levels. This would represent an $18 million, or 17.6% reduction in the past three years and the fifth time state spending for public libraries has been cut in that time. Queens and Brooklyn library systems have informed some 620 employees that their jobs are in jeopardy, Hemet City, California closing the $14 million library building. Newton County Library, Atlanta will be closed on Mondays effective with the library budget already slashed by $280K, and facing further cuts of $100K in the next year. The Seattle Public Library system have taken a different closure strategy and plan to save some $650K by closing down from August 30th through to September 6th . This is just one of the measures the Library is implementing to achieve $3 million in cuts for 2010. Dallas central library plans to cut its hours from 44 to 24 per week, closing Monday through Wednesday. These cuts would eliminate the equivalent of 96 full time positions. Branch library hours could also be cut from 40 to 20 hours per week, eliminating a further 88 full time positions. Dallas City library system budget last year was $28 million, is currently $22 million and could go to as low as $13 million next year.

In the UK austerity demands cuts and it was inevitable that the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport would have to suffer. It was also a given that the ‘Hotch Potch’ of vision created at the 11th hour by Margaret Hodge's Public Library Modernisation Review would be high on the list of soft targets. Free internet access in all libraries and the promotion of library membership as an entitlement from birth has been abandoned. The extension of the Public Lending Right to non-print format books has been suspended and there is also the question of the cut back of the fund itself.

Libraries are a cornerstone of our society and learning but are often the first to feel the axe as funding becomes tough. The question must be not just about their funding but about there role moving forward. If they are to go digital what is their relationship with the retail market and how do we square free to loan versus buy to own? If they have access to digital files is that through a third party service ,where they actually don’t own them, but merely serve them up on demand? You need local branches in an internet world?

The debate rages around the globe and in every form of library but is the thinking fresh? Are the same old comities trying to find the answers that suit them? Who is really tackling the challenge of conflict that the digital models and services present?

Plastic Logic to become an Urban Myth?

We all waited and waited and waited. Everyone said it would change the face of eInk and take it into the corporate space and bring newsprint to the net. We started to doubt it and some said that it had a longer reticulation period than an elephant. Now we hear that our favourite urban myth Plastic Logic’s Que-e reader isn’t shipping yet again with an official rating of a “delay.” They have gone as far as to cancel all pre-orders and new ones and that they are no longer offering a date for its launch.

Plastic Logic’s email to customers simply said, “We need to let you know that since your unit will not ship on June 24 as planned, our automated ordering system has automatically cancelled your order,”

The iPad has effectively wiped the Que off the market and although it claimed to be able to do much more in handling Microsoft Word files, Microsoft Outlook, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets, digital books, PDFs, magazines and newspapers, the price was high and it was still the same black and white tv.

Plastic Logic have made the fatal mistake of promising too much and taking too long to deliver in a rapidly changing world. They would have been far wiser to get out there a year ago with some shortfalls and get it right on version two than strive for perfection and never deliver or arrive to the party as all the guests are leaving.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bibliophile Offers Thousands Of Collection Points

Sometimes something so simple is created one wonders why it hadn’t happened before.

Today a 30 year old UK mail order and online bookseller/retailer has joined forces with the recently launched Collect+ to announce a new service to their tens of thousands of their internet customers.

Delivery options can be a deal-breaker for online retailers. Free delivery offers are quite common, yet until now, none offer delivery to specified convenient collection points. This new service will mean no more waiting in all day for that parcel to arrive, or that slip that says you weren’t in and can you come and collect that parcel of books. The new service offers deliver of parcels to local shops and could be a compelling prospect for customers who may have work commitments, cannot accept deliveries at the workplace, live in multi-occupancy buildings or find it risky to leave a parcel with a neighbour or outside their home.

Now parcels can be delivered to any one of thousands of local convenience stores which offer the Collect+ service and pick them up at a time that suits them.

Customers will be able to merely enter their postcode online to find their local Collect+ store and have up to 10 days from the date the parcel arrives at the Collect+ location to pick it up. Stores are open at least 9 hours a day 7 days a week. Customers who provide a mobile phone number or email address when placing their order and will be advised by text or email when the parcel has reached the local store they have nominated for collection. The parcel will be delivered to the store through Yodel (trading name for Home Delivery Network Limited) with whom Bibliophile have had an 8 year relationship.

The new Collect+ joint venture between Yodel and PayPoint PLCgives access to 3,500 selected outlets from the UK PayPoint network to ensure that over 90% of the UK population are within 2 miles of a participating store in urban areas. In terms of Bibliophile’s environmental policy, they celebrate that this service will result in far fewer wasted delivery journeys to their tens of thousands of customers throughout the UK.

Sorry No Case for The NBA

We read many blogs and articles, which like ourselves see only part of the picture. We also read the feedback and comments made sometimes by those who know more. The one thing that we can be certain of is how little we know and much we don’t know about the digital environment in which we now live. When we layer on that the different publishing perspectives across the life cycle and then the different geographic nuances and finally the different publishing sectors, its hardly surprising that is sometimes appears that its like the blind leading the blind.

Today we read an article posted in the Guardian by Sam Jordison and advocating a return to the Net Book Agreement (NBA). He looks back to the restrictive practices court examination of the NBA in 1962, which declared that, it was in the public interest to allow publishers to subsidise works of authors. He accepts that this was some 48 years ago and much has changed since then. He then comments of the role Dillons played in breaking the NBA, as he claims aided and abetted by publishers in ‘the lure of quick profit’. He claims that the lone anti NBA voice of John Calder was ignored and how Maher was to blame for not seeing the consequences of what Jordinson deems was a wrong decision and concludes that it is better ‘to have a thriving independent book sector and broad range of titles than a few cheap bestsellers?’

This to us appears to be like Stalin rewriting Russian History to fit case. It is alarming that the Guardian should give it column inches and that we even feel it deserves a response.

The reality was that the NDA stifled creativity as much as it supported it and history often comes with rose coloured glasses especially to those who never really knew it. Publishing today continues to have a fixation on front list and publishers continue to wallpaper shelves in bookstores on sale or return basis. During the time of the NBA we had a supply chain disjoin that not only was wasteful, l but created waste itself. The National Book Sale was well past its sell by date and insufficiently geared to deal with the volumes. The domestic market wasn’t expanding but the number of books was.

If the role of the NBA was to support and subsides the work of authors, did that truly hold water then. Today we have more books being published and self publishing thriving is growing. So is the case being made about the demise of the bookstore and uncontrollable discounts? Are these directly attributable to the demise of the NBA or would they have happened anyway? Would the emergence if the internet and global commerce not done the same? Hiding behind NBA dreams is as bad as not facing up to the fact that the world has changed and longing for the ‘good old days’.

What happened post NDA was apparent on day one. Anyone who has run a retail operation through a price war will tell you that it’s easy to create one, but almost impossible to stop one. The winner is usually the one with the deepest pockets, or the one with the strongest nerves. Did the book retailers really understand discounting – no. They had been mothballed from reality by the NBA. Some 4 years earlier B&Q had brought the UK to a traffic log jam when they did their then famous 20% discount weekend, a discount figure that was unheard of at the time. Their war was with Texas Homecare who was offering 15% one day discounts. The war lasted some few weeks and when the phone call was received by Kingfisher from Texas, normality returned and they moved to develop ‘everyday low pricing’.

In contrast the book market didn’t know common sense and the discounts got deeper, to the point where it was difficult to differentiate between the bargain trade and the front list stores. ‘Three for Two’ and every sort of marketing discount was introduced. Retail cooperative marketing deals increased. The publishers merely controlled the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) and some would suggest jacked up the RRP to compensate for the discount to be given away. Returns and the sale or return practices were not addressed. We moved from bulk weekly orders to low quantity and quick turnaround daily response and supply. It’s a pity that the sales didn’t increase in proportion to the waste being created and the increase in books that were swishing around the system. Bookstores suffered by being controlled by the RRP margin games and short sighted volume sales. Some would suggest that the bargain market never had it so good as waste increased and more books needed special sale help. Publishers started to pulp to cut back on the books in circulation, but more landfill was as much the wrong answer as Jordinson’s naive plea for a return to the restrictive practices of the NBA.

The one challenge that has occurred is the agency model, which ironically may kick start even more authors to go digital by themselves. The NBA is not bookselling nor is it retail, it is a false economy that hurts the one person who puts real money into the mix – the consumer. We believe that the agency model is flawed just as the NBA was. Digital renditions are over priced and the real control is with the aggregators, new entrants, technology providers not any publisher.

The truth is that we are were we are and before we embark on any knee jerk reaction and dream of the past we should take a cold hard look at how we got to where we are and face facts not rewrite history falsely.

Wanted Digital Piracy Director

We have seen an increased effort by publishers to track down piracy and now Macmillan U.S. operations whose imprints include Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, Henry Holt, Picador, St. Martin’s Press, Tor, Audio Renaissance and Bedford Freeman & Worth Publishers are advertising for a Director, Digital Piracy. The position will help coordinate and manage Macmillan’s anti-piracy initiatives.

For the job interview do you wear a suit, a pirate’s outfit or dress as King Canute? Do you put down Pirate Bay as a reference? Do you name yourself ‘Jonny Depp’?

The major responsibilities are some weird as the first mentioned are not active but passive act as a representative on piracy committees, co-ordinating company responses, tracking litigation and legislation , reviewing changes developing an internal educational program and processes to eliminate abuse. Then secondly comes the tale down notices, action plans for ‘attacking piracy issues’, recommending new anti-piracy initiatives, following-up on ‘tips of pirated works world-wide’ and investigating pirate websites.

Does the job demonstrate how serious publishers are about stopping abuse or merely deal with the need to be seen to service it? It as if the role has got its priorities wrong in listing attendance on committees as being more important than stopping abuse, or maybe it has them right and recognise the genie is out of the bottle and its better to be alongside others than fighting a lone war.

Should they employ a pirate who may know best and who has lived on the other side? Why doesn’t the industry recognise that there are a lot of lost sheep out there and create and fund a central agency that can be used by all large and small?

click to apply

Thursday, June 17, 2010

2000 Years of Art but Apple Knows Best - Update

Perhaps sense does prevail in Appleworld after all. We wrote previously about Apple censorship of comic nudity in a new rendition of James Joyce's Ulysses and pointed out that Apple’s obsessive control of content could mean that art as we have known it over the centuries would be banned from the iPad. It was ironic that last night we watch a programme on the Italian Renaissance and the works of the likes of Michelangelo and wondered what those censors would make of these paintings, or for that matter the horrors of other works such as Goya.

Today marks the worldwide celebration of all things Joyce and Ulysses and as if on queue, AppleWorld censors have decided to allow the nude pictures in Throwaway Horse's graphic novel version of the book. The Apple folk had obviously seen the day in the diaries and realised it was a good day to turn a PR nightmare into a quick or quiet win.

The publisher is widely quoted that they have been told by Apple "that they made a mistake in establishing guidelines that were too rigid to allow for artistic growth". "We made a mistake," Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller told the Washington Post, adding that when the comic's art was brought to Apple's attention, it "called the developers and offered them the opportunity to resubmit". "[Ulysses is] now in the store with the original panel drawings," she said.

The Ulysses chapter may now be closed but the questions still remain as to what the censor accepts as acceptable and fit for iPad consumption. The rigid control by geeks reading scripted rules begs the question of how many more times Apple’s rules will be tested before common sense prevails and the effort is redirected to more productive activity.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Do Pixels Per Inch Matter?

How many Androids equal an iPhone? Some would say that the iPhone is better than them all but the reality is that the healthy competition that is now in the market can only benefit one group – the consumer.

Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, Dell are all spreading their bets with Windows 7 and MeeGo and Symbian 3 but the reality is that Android is getting the traffic and is a must make for all with multiple model offers. Motorola is clearly one that is pumping up the gigahertz looking at the devices that are coming as competitors for the notebook and of course the iPad. They are already rumoured to be relasing a phone to incorporate the Nvidia Tegra 1GHz apps processor, an iPhone-style gyroscope, Android 2.2 and of course, full Flash 10.1 hardware acceleration.

But the battle is not just about the operating system, how much GHz umph you can get into a phone but also about the display technology.

The new iPhone 4 was has Retina Display which is ultra-high resolution. The system still uses an a backlit LCD display but with advanced In-Plane Switch (IPS) technology to increase resolution, brightness, support a wider viewing angle and increase colour quality. Apple use smaller pixels, more than doubling the number to that in the iPhone 3GS screen. The LCD/IPS combination was first used on the iPad. It is claimed around 300 pixels per inch is the limit of the human retina to differentiate the pixels when a display is viewed some 10 to 12 inches away from your eyes. So at 326 pixels per inch Apple have created a pixel-less world! It could be said they have the closest to print on a small screen.

There are doubters and some who claim 477 is the perfect number but there again its down to the vision of the beholder and someone with 20/20 vision would see it different to someone with less perfect eyesight.

By contrast, top end LG and HTC models and the Sansung Galaxy S will be using an AMOLED display which achieves its effects by using sub-pixel rendering and other advantages are greater range of colours, faster response time, thinner displays, reduced power and no need for backlighting. Samsung claim only a marginally less sharp image than the iPhone 4 and will be only 3 to 5 %. They claim a 30% power advantage which will give the Galaxy S some 576 hours of 3G standby over the iPhone 4’s 300 hours.

Whatever the outcome smartphones are getting smarter and the technology battles rage on many fronts. It is clear that what we will be using shortly in the future will make today’s models look very clunky.

News Corp Buys Skiff

News Corporation continues on its somewhat unclear digital strategy and the company has announced the acquisition of the digital Skiff platform from Hearst. Skiff delivers digital newspaper and magazine content to tablets and e-readers, with the capability to deliver high-resolution graphics, rich typography and dynamic updates. News Corp has also taken a stake in Journalism Online which is designed to help online press establish pricing and payment structures and set up the “metered mode” to enable a certain amount of content to be given away free.

So what is Skiff? When Hearst first showed it off it was certainly a big format eInk reader but with the emergence of the iPad and the queue of ‘wantabes’ its hardly a smart reader anymore. Like the Plastic Logic reader it simply took too long to get off the launch pad and by the time it got close it was in danger of looking tired and old. A black and white TV, in a HDTV Technicolour world.

It’s unclear whether News Corp. will develop Skiff as a mere platform or continue to develop it as a device. However it is clear that they are serious about making content pay.

News Corp has struggled with its digital strategy, most notably their acquisition of MySpace and their ability to tie together the disparate parts of their digital empire. The other aspect that is interesting is News Corps ability to go in what appears the opposite direction to the market and their competitors.

Selling Your House Via Google Maps

So you select an area you would like to live in on Google maps. You can look at street level, review where all the local schools, doctors, shops, restaurants are. You can take an ariel view and look at the landscape from the sky. Now you can even look at what properties are available in the area and probably zoom in to take an even closer view. When you find what you want you click to the agent and see the details and maybe even have a virtual tour. You may also like to see local planning consents and email the details to your partner. All this and more can now be achieved without to leave your laptop or mobile app, or even making a phone call!

Today’s Guardian reports that Google UK has launched a new feature of Google Maps with new house-hunting services. Today they have decided to work with real estate agents Countrywide, Zoopla and Trinity Mirror. This new service will allow both buyers and renters to search location and further qualify by specifics such as price, type and numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms. It is an obvious extension for Google services and one that must be a no-brainer for every agent and everyone wanting to sell or let a house.

Google will today make money from running ads above and below search results with estate agents and online property companies not being charged to be partners. However, the interesting question is whether in this new world the agent becomes stronger, or Google effectively cuts them out, or takes a further cut. Remember when Google said it wasn’t going to be a bookseller?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

When Is Tablet and eBook?

We all know that there are a number of players focusing on the textbook market and Apple is about to join them. So it was refreshing to see a new Californian start-up called Kno that is aiming to make a splash with a new tablet aimed at the same textbook, academic reference and educational space. The tablet is a clamshell style tablet and folds together just like a book and the device has also been specifically developed for the educational market. The question is whether it can it compete with Apple, Amazon and the rest or will fade like others before them into oblivion?

The Kno has dual touch screen 14-inch LCD displays which are obviously larger than the competitors screens and which are joined convienantly at the hip. It will support Flash, HD video, audio recording and playback along with HTML5, and users can multitask between email, text the Internet and offers a stylus for handwriting recognition, and up to 8 hours of battery life. The tablet will be powered by an Nvidia Tegra processor and has either 16 GB or 32 GB of storage The device can also fold in on itself to turn into a one screen tablet.

Kno was founded by Chegg founding CEO Osman Rashid and Dr. Habib, a Semiconductor physics recognized authority in electrical engineering and the design of integrated circuits. They already claim to have entered into early partnerships with McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Wiley, and Cengage Learning
The tablet which is scheduled for release at the end of this year is no lightweight weighing in at 5.5 lbs and is expected to be ‘well under $1,000’.

The trick is to get the content and then get the devices seen as a must have. One maybe relatively easy, but the other a lot harder.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Kindle Goes Waterproof

There will always be cool accessories for gadgets. Some will be useful and beg the question why they weren’t done in the first place, others mere bling for those who have everything. Summer is now upon us and those ‘summer must haves’ that we buy and use for a couple of weeks and forget are clearly here.

M-Edge have launched The Guardian, a water-proof case for Amazon's Kindle ereader. It even comes in different colours. It’s not for sports divers to read under water, nor is it positioned to protect the device when reading in the bath. It is however marketed at all those pool owners who want to read and lazy by their pools. No more paperbacks with water curled pages and water stains. You can now float on our lilo in the pool and read all the best sellers.

The Guardian is a transparent polycarbonate casing that is designed to fit the Amazon’s Kindle ereader and is waterproof to a depth of one meter but if you drop it don’t worry as its also designed to float on the surface. There is a big question whether it only floats on still water and then there is the bigger question of what is the definition of ‘still’. However it does float - albeit only in certain conditions. This floating feature enables you to read hands-free, but again would you seriously let go of the device if the next minute it could be dive bombed and its ‘still water’ capabilities tested? There is also an anti-reflective film to cut back on sun glare and to protect the screen, which we thought was the benefit of eInk. Finally, just in case you fall asleep, there is a lanyard ring for securing the Kindle.

No mention of the sea, which is probably not 'still', sand which we all know get everywhere nor and whether the Guardian can ‘cook the books' in the sun.

Irrespective of what we think it will appeal to some and provide a certain cache at the poolside. The M-Edge Guardian case is available in black, red, and blue for $79.99.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Irex The First of Many eReader Casualties?

IREX Technologies BV developed the first eInk way back in 2004 and spun itself from Royal Philips Electronics a year later. It has championed eInk ereaders and ebooks but over the last three years has been overshadowed and out manoeuvred by all the new ‘lookie likies’. The biggest issue was that they made even eInk look dull and their pricing was always at the top end of the market. We now read of their demise into administration in the Netherlands. It never ceases to amaze us what the folk at Philips invent and fail to deliver themselves.

We predicted that there would be eInk casualties as the market was saturated, with too many identical or near identical readers and supply clearly greater than the demand. The price was clearly too high and when colour arrived it wasn’t eInk but Apple that supplied the obvious.

Meanwhile Seth Godin predicts a “paperback” e-reader, a cheap Kindle which would could make e-books affordable for all. Godin suggest $50 is the right price, or as any retailer will tell you $49,99. At that price we would agree Amazon would be on a winner and if the can subsidise it correctly provide a price point that many of its competitors could not live with. We even may buy one! It is a position we believe that eInk readers have to adopt to survive. Unfortunately many are just manufacturers and only supply the reader, they don’t get ebook sales revenues, are not locked as value added suppliers into sectors such as education. So once the device is sold that’s it no more money!

Perhaps this cheap Kindle reader is the position Amazon aims to adopt to fight Apple. It certainly makes more sense than trying to compete with eInk colour in a battle that will not be won on poor substitute technology.

As for iRex and the iliad readers they will not be alone for long.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

2000 Years of Art but Apple Knows Best

Steve Jobs is getting a track record for hypocrisy. In 2008, on commenting on the Kindle he said, "It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore... The whole concept is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore.” Yesterday he claimed that Apple lives at the intersection of Technology and the Liberal Arts.

Everyone knows that James Joyce's Ulysses is a classic novel, one of the most important works of 20th centenary literature. Any rendition of the work will contain explicit language and scenes. These put the book in 1932 in the US dock and it won that famous court case. In 1933 United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled that the book was not pornographic and therefore could not be obscene. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirming the ruling in 1934. However, outside of any court it has fallen foul of those ‘big brother’ censors who control Appleworld and a comic book adaptation of the classic has been rejected by Apple for containing cartoon nudity!

Would these same ‘McCathy’ or Mary Whithouse censors remove great swathes of art from antiquity to today on the same grounds? Would great cartoonists and illustrators such as Rowlinson, Gillray, Crumb would be banned? Would the majority of the photography of the likes of Breton, Newton, Bressai, Sieff, Weston and of course Mapplethrope ever make the cut? How will these consors deal with the many films have nudity in them.

Apple’s strict guidelines and a rating system is geared to prevent ‘adult’ content, but appear to only see black and white and clothed or unclothed and ban nudity irrespective of age!

So as the illustrators pixel over the bits Apple deems to rude to be seen, one questions whether they have gone too far and in whose interest they are acting? Perhaps Disney has a say perhaps not? The stupidity of Appleworld is that you can see the cleansed version in its purist form on the iPad and go to the website to see the uncensored rendition.

Will we black penned out words in the text of books or will a significant volume of written work be rejected? Will we have to those censor bleeps on music tracks?
Rated 17+ by Apple, Ulysses Seen is currently only available behind the censor’s cuts on the U.S. iTunes Store.

Some would say that the real shame is that Apple makes great products and bad moral judgement. Perhaps Applespeak is double entendre for Orwell's 'Doublespeak'.

Source Macworld

Monday, June 07, 2010

The New iPhone 4 and iOS 4

Steve jobs has announced at his Worldwide Developers Conference the iPhone OS 4.0 and iOS 4.

iOS 4 will support; multitasking, folders, improved data protection, device management, wireless app distribution, support for multiple Exchange accounts, a unified Mail inbox, SSL VPN support, Exchange Server 2010 support. iOS 4 will be released this summer for the iPhone and iPod touch, and a little later for the iPad.

So as the war between Google and Apple hots up we see Microsoft split in the middle, Adobe aligning the obvious way and literally tens of wananbee tablets lining up for Christmas. Apple continues to set the design stakes whilst Google is clearly stalking with menace. Google will launch Chrome OS later this year and its going to be interesting if this will strengthen or divide its appeal.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Cambridge University Library Digitise Their Treasures

Cambridge University Library has been a legal deposit library since 1710 and since that date has acquired a copy of each book and journal published in the UK and Ireland. As you can expect this means that the libraries shelves are expanding at a rate of two miles per year and currently house some 8 million books and periodicals and 1 million maps. Cambridge University Library now is embarking on creating a "digital library for the world" by digitising its collection.

The programme follows a pledge of £1.5m from Dr Polonsky, founder of the Polonsky-Coexist Lectureship in Jewish Studies at the University.

The library contains some of the greatest books published, including the papers of Isaac Newton and a number of the oldest and most significant Qur'ans ever to be uncovered, as well an eighth Century copy of Surat al-Anfal, the eighth chapter of the Qur'an.It also holds the Jewish Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection of some 193,000 fragments of manuscripts as significant as the Dead Sea Scrolls and one of the most important Greek New Testament manuscripts.

If successful, further funding will be sought to add the collections of Charles Darwin, James Clerk Maxwell, and Stephen Hawking, along with other major collections in the fields of humanities and social sciences.

So with national libraries all starting to have similar programmes, The British library digitising newsprint and Google hovering up anything that it can, who will have the authoritative new digital equivalent of the library of Alexandria.

Want A True Media Playing Tablet?

We are going to see many tablets to compete with the iPad and many appear to be coming on the Android platform today. So Google is going head to head with Apple on the operation system, bookstore, video codec approach and mobile platform.

The Korean Viliv X10 prototype offers some interesting features and clearly demonstrates the level of competition coming. It will have Android 2.2 at launch, which means Flash support. Its 10” 1366x768 capacitive touch screen offers a higher aspect ratio than the iPad’s 1024 x 768 and this could mean a lot to video and games users. The X10 also has a camera, 16 or 32GB of internal flash memory , ARM processor, which is 1080p HD capable, SD card reader, WiFi, HDMI and USB ports. Battery life is claimed to match the iPad’s 10 hours.

Viliv claim that the X10 will be able to playback 1080p video which is again better than the iPad.Interestingly the Viliv X10 can also run on Windows 7, which gives it a further option and pitches in Microsoft support.

So we don’t know the price yet but the tablet certainly is capable of setting the technical and features benchmark, but can it compete with the Apple marketing machine? The one thing that is certain is that the manufacturers aren’t going to give Apple a free run and there will be some serious contenders who all will chip away at those missing elements on the iPad.

The X10 clearly throws down the media player gauntlet but is it enough?

Saturday, June 05, 2010

litopia After Dark: The Longest Digital Day

litopia After Dark last week ran to one of its longest podcasts and cover book ownership, self publishing and much more certainly worth a listen

click here to go to podcast

Friday, June 04, 2010

Charge Your Mobile On Your Bike!

The simplest of solutions are often overlooked or suppressed. There have long been patents that would dramatically reduce our dependency on fossil fuels but many sit under lock and key with those with a vested interest in the status quo. Now imagine a solar powered mobile or a hand cranked mobile charging facility that would obviate those clunky changes we all have to take with us.

The third world often doesn’t have the luxuries of the west and has to think differently to survive. So its no surprise to find a mobile phone charger with a difference coming from Kenya. The bike charger relies on the bottle-dynamowe all grew up with and literally converts your pedal power into power to recharge a phone. The phone is attached to the handlebars with- wait for it - a big rubber-band. In between is a box of circuitry to give a nice smooth current to any device equipped with a 2mm jack.

It has been calculated that pedal power at 6mph for 10 minutes and you’ll get almost 30 minutes of talk time or 37 hours of standby. The charger demands a speed of 4 mph or walking speed to generate the juice for the phone and just think what it could do in Amsterdam or those new civic bikes in London and Paris.

Nokia is bringing the gadget to market so think once , think twice , think bike.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Sony Predicts - A New Writer's Prize

We read in the Telegraph that Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading business division, claims, ‘Within five years there will be more digital content sold than physical content.’ Wow that’s some prediction and far greater than virtually any see elsewhere. So what does he base it on and what’s his and Sony’s track record for predictions?

Well the reality is that it is based purely on the direction of the wind and his finger. To you and I, guess work. Three years ago he said the same point would be reached within ten years and now accepts he was wrong - it's within five. He draws comparison to other media sectors where the media itself was already digital or going fully digital. Sony themselves have a strong track record of getting things both right – the Walkman, and wrong – Betamax. BlueRay is still out with the jury but looking dodgy.

Some would suggest the real reason for the prediction was to get column inches to announce that Sony will sponsor a new category in this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize - the Sony Reader Award for Unpublished Writers. The prize, to be awarded in December, will go to the best book by an unpublished novelist under 30 years old.

Perhaps that news needed a bit of sizzle to get those inches and PR.

Is Publishing Digital Ready?

Pricing is a very emotive subject be it physical, digital, rare , bargain or any book. Who sets the and controls the price is itself centre of many debates with some believing the seller should decide others the supplier and some the consumer themselves. Ultimately its about ensuring thatthere is sufficient return for the author, the publisher and the reseller and the price is right for the consumer.

The agency model is new but fraught with its own challenges. Some would question it re the responsibility for sales tax in countries such as the US, others whether it breaks the pricing laws in the UK and is the return to the NBA (Net Book Agreement) by the back door. The Internet resellers who have long benefited from the affiliate model with retailers such as Amazon, ABE etc now face their own pricing challenges over its new price parity policy.

Apple is facing a few legal challenges over its restrictions on software developers building apps, an antitrust inquiry from the Department of Justice over their online music business and allegations that Apple used its market dominance to ‘persuade’ music labels to refuse to give exclusive access to music about to be released." Now the Texas Attorney General's office has started to investigate its pricing policy and agency model.

Meanwhile Sheppards Newsletter today has a letter issued by the Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA) to Amazon protesting about their parity pricing policy.

It appears that we are increasingly being drawn into legal battles over pricing. The new entrants into the trade have deep pockets, lobbying clout, time and legal teams queued up waiting. On the other hand some would suggest the trade stands often without clear consensus, real legal funding and leadership. The issues that publishing faces moving forward are no longer contained within the boundaries of a country, increasingly impact all from the author to the reader and are often being introduced by new entrants, technology and outside influences. The question we ask is how is the industry positioning itself to be able to challenges become opportunities and not threats?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The $100 Tablet Cometh

Would you buy a tablet if it cost $100 US? What if it was powered by a 1GHz Maxwell Armada 610 application processor that could encode and decode video at resolutions of up to 1080p and speeds of 30 frames per second using the H.264 codec? It supported live video conferencing, had a built-in camera and supported multiple simultaneous viewing screens? Throw in WiFi access supporting up to 8 concurrent users connected via a mobile broadband. Now lets start to wind it up further and have it supporting Flash 10, and Operating platforms such as Android, Ubuntu and Windows Mobile. Finally lets give it Bluetooth FM radio and GPS. Yes the price was $100.

It may not look like the iPad but for under 20% of the cost it delivers more than the iPad is likely to deliver for some time and like most of the real world it can multi task,doesn’t suffer from Flash denial and their are no gatekeepers saying what applications can and can't be used or even written in.

We have long supported the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. What we previously covered as a rumour was announced last week. OLPC has partnered with semiconductor manufacturer Marvell to offer children everywhere a real bargin that will surely make the difference and unlock classrooms and education around the world. 'Classrooms without walls' isn’t exclusive to the third world but applies to all kids everywhere.

OLPC’s next-generation tablets will be based on Marvell's Moby reference design and are focused on developing "a range of new educational tablets" for developing and US markets. The OLPC XO tablet will have a multi-lingual soft keyboard with touch feedback and access to more than 2 million free ebooks.

Many cynics will point to mistakes made by OLPC in the past. It's as if OLPC is fair game to be knocked whilst others just bask in the media glow. Whatever the past, if OLPC and Marvel can deliver the specification at $100 or lower, they will potentially create the biggest step change possible and meet the aspirations of offering children affordable technology and education. The prize is equally as big as the dream but if they succeed, their impact may be even greater than Apple’s and we hope the big educational publishers get behind this great opportunity.

We wish OLPC success in their mission and their XO tablet. There are many children who sorely need it.