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,

EMI versus MP3tunes: A Question of Safe Habour

We have often raised a question of whether the “safe harbour” provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) work. Our point is that it is a reactive process and depends on the party whose copyright has been infringed raising the appropriate notice and by the time the material is taken down the cat is probably out the bag and had many kittens. However, the recent Viacom versus YouTube found that the site was not liable for illegal content uploads, because it didn’t encourage them and quickly removed them.

Now we have a New York federal court deciding on another case between EMI and cloud based music service MP3tunes. MP3tunes enables users to store their music and access it from computers and mobile devices and also operates Sideload, a music search engine which allows users to discover music tracks and then copy them to their own space. They claim that their service only enables users to store their music online so they can listen to it anywhere and that it can’t held responsible for copyright infringement and are shielded from liability by the “safe harbour” provisions of the DMCA.

EMI claim that MP3tunes and Sideload represent a two-step mechanism for the discovery and acquisition of copyright music. EMI claim that MP3Tunes ‘does not own the music it exploits; nor does MP3tunes have any legal right or authority to use or exploit that music.’

The legal debate is also about whether someone who bought an EMI CD, ripped it to their computer and uploaded it to MP3Tunes for their own use and so they can listen to it anywhere, is in breach of copyright. It is further clouded by EMI initially claiming they did not place free downloads on the internet and that MP3tunes should have know that any their music on the internet was copyrighted. This was exposed when it was accepted that EMI had given away free copies of songs to the likes of Walmart, Amazon.com, MySpace, Facebook, Google, hoping the songs would go viral. The problem was that they went viral in a way the had not bargained for and made their somewhat righteous stance appear somewhat hypocritical when they had no way of distinguishing many of the music tracks they had leaked online with the tracks they accused MP3tunes of infringing.

Last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), filed an amicus brief along with others asking the court to protect the “safe harbour” provisions of the DMCA. DMCA defendants fear that the case could go beyond online music storage and impact e-mail, photo and video storage applications.

We don’t like DMCA and safe habour but until we can find a better way its what we have today. Closing down DMCA through this action could have serious implications on social network services and digital restictions on both legitimate as well as infringing material. Many say we should learn from music industry and yet again they are in showing us what not to do.

The Daily: Exclusive iPad News

Imagine a digital newspaper created specifically for the tablet world and published by News Corp and Apple. No print version, no online just a newspaper delivered direct to your tablet for that Apple preferred price point of 99 cents a week.

Rupert Murdoch, is determined to find the digital solution to newsprint that pays. Murdoch's Times recently claimed 100,000 paying customers for its web edition and the Wall Street Journal claims over 2 million readers, but will he now create a new competitor that will effectively compete with these? The US media claims that ‘The Daily’ will be launched at the end of this month and has been under development in the New York News Corp’s office on their 26th floor and has some 100 journalists onboard today.

The difference is that the Daily is solely focused to be a tablet paper and specifically today an iPad one. Murdoch is aligning with Steve Jobs and is gambling that people will be prepared to pay for what is openly free elsewhere online and that a tablet paper beats a newspaper app designed for the iPad and his own alternative newspapers. With no print and no online the paper is targeted at that Apple price point of 99 cents a week and the will obviously include Apple’s share and any taxes! Finally, the biggest gamble is that they can create a new brand.

The move is brave but with Apple backing could generate the adoption by many iPad fans seeking to be different and read the ‘Apple Daily.’

Meanwhile taking a more traditional route The Economist has launched its iPhone and iPad apps. It will be available every Thursday with all articles being cached for offline reading and also includes an audio edition.Existing print subscribers will get the new rendition free with the digital only edition being charged at $110 a year in the US. Dome content will be free and single issues can be purchased within the new app.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Do You Enjoy Social Coupons?

Yahoo must be kicking themselves for not buying Facebook but in the hairy hit and miss online market you win some and you loose some. Google bought YouTube which may have been a bumpy ride but is holding itself well whilst News Corp bought MySpace and it subsequently lost its way.

The next group of companies which are attracting attention are the online social coupon sites. In the US Groupon ,one year from launch are experiencing stellar growth are profitable and have some 270 employees.

Groupon features a daily deal with a huge discounts on a wide range of products and services which are focused on tens of U.S. cities targeting ‘members’ through email or via social networking and uses collective buying power to get low prices and push customers to local businesses. Groupon sells coupons to the consumers and collects a lead generation fee for the sale from the businesses it sends customers to.

A similar app can be found on the iPhone. Vouchure cloud is now starting to gain traction in the UK and digital vouchers are certainly looking a winner for both consumers and businesses.

Has Christmas Come Too Early For eBooks?

The money appears to be on the ebook, ebook readers and tablets being the Xmas gift this year, so we thought it timely to cast a quick view on what is on offer.

Amazon have announced that you can now give a Kindle ebook to anyone as a gift and neither you nor the receiver of your gift needs to have a Kindle, just an Amazon account for you and an email address for the recipient. The ebooks can be read from Kindle apps on iPhones, iPads, Android and Blackberry phones and both Macs and PCs. You now just select the ebook you want to gift click "Give as a Gift". You will enter the recipient’s email address and optionally, their name and a message and place your order. Amazon will also enable unwanted ebooks to be exchange it for an Amazon.com gift card.

Kobo is releasing also enabling customers to buy e-Readers, eBooks, and accessories and gift them to friends and family. These too are sent via a personalized Kobo Holiday email and delivered on the date they select . You can also to load up a giftcard with a particular numerical value and deliver it electronically.

Waterstones sells ebooks but gifting them appears beyond their capabilities. They do however have a deal on getting the VAT back on a Sony reader. As those in the UK will be aware VAT will increase on January 1st from 17.5% to 20% in the UK so the deal looks attractive until you read the reclaim process which isn’t exactly instant!

Perhaps someone at Barnes and Noble can clarify, but we were unable to easily find how to send an ebook as a gift and stopped at the credit card check, so presume it is not possible today. Their Christmas gifts section fully covered every physical gift but ebooks appears to be outside Santa’s sack. Borders were very similar with ‘gifts for ebook lovers’ restricted to readers and gift cards. Surely an ebook lover will already have a reader and why can’t we give them an ebook? WHSmiths didn’t even mention the word ebooks in their ‘gift, games and toys’ section.

We thought we should look at the publishers who are now wishing to open up a new direct to consumer market. Penguin UK state on their FAQ No 13; ‘At this time, eBooks cannot be sent as gifts. eBook orders can only be sent to the email address on your penguin.co.uk customer account.’ We gave up on Penguin’s US site which some would suggest certainly wasn’t consumer centric. We tried Rbooks Random House UK’s bookstore and instantly realised what the difference is between retail sites and publisher ones.

There are many other offers in the market place, but it is clear that although the market is starting to respond to ebooks, many ebook resellers have some way to go to get into the gifting into the spirit.

Managing Digital Sales Data

When we gave physical inventory it was easy to count the books out and count them back in, but in the digital world there is only one going out and none coming back in.

As a publisher today just how many aggregators and resellers would you give your digital files to? Once you have given them how do you effectively monitor the sales and reconcile and potentially audit these? If someone goes out of business how do you effectively retrieve your assets and what is the service implication on licences issued? Obviously everyone has the answers and new models such as agency don’t impact these questions, or do they?

Today sales are reported many ways, on many different schedules and consolidation is not always straightforward. Services, such as those provided by RoyaltyShare, manage eBook transactions and complex digital revenue data from dozens of eBook, downloadable audio book, and print-on-demand retailers. Today these systems have to supports feeds from tens of digital e-retailers and distributors worldwide and also support both the agency and wholesale models. We already provide such client services and respect that reconciling sales today is not easy. However what is the number of resellers they will need to support tomorrow? Will the industry choose to stick with a small number of big reseller and aggregators or cut out the middle man and enable anyone to sell their titles?

Long overdue standards are coming which should make the reconciliation of sales data easier for all to handle, but does the data challenges stop there?

Do these new outsourced collection companies such as Royalty Share also become the effective auditors of digital sales? Do they have the licence to consolidate the information across publishers and offer sales charts? Can they be used to offer direct royalty payments to authors? Does sales reconciliation and associated activities ever reach a point were it has to come back inside the organisation?

We are seeing the emergence of new service offers that are geared to join the new digital dots, but each needs to be paid for and each extra outsourced operation can impact the bottom-line. It is somewhat surprising that industry bodies and groups of publishers have not collaborated to specify and provide these essential services and are happy to pay individually to address them. Alternatively, why isn’t the obvious industry data collectors such as Neilson’s and Bowker’s stepping up to address this obvious market need.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Things Your Mobile Camera Will Not Do

We recently previewed the Bluetooth mobile camera that fits on the earpiece of the mobile and now we have discovered two further camera developments.

An Iraqi-American performance artist and New York University assistant professor Wafaa Bilal is to have a thumb-sized camera implanted in the back of his head so he can stream live images to a museum in Qatar.

The camera will be beam photos every minute to the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and the work will be aptly named "The 3rd I." Some of the professor's students and colleagues have objected to the encroachment on their privacy and Bilal has agreed to cover the camera with a black lens cap while he's on campus. So one can literally now have eyes in the back of your head!

We also read at the BBC about a camera developed by US scientists at MIT that can take picture around corners. Instead of seeing through walls they look around them!

The camera uses a femtosecond laser, a high-intensity light source which can fire ultra-short bursts of laser light that last just one quadrillionth of a second (0.000000000000001 seconds).The light particles scatter and reflect off all surfaces including the walls and the floor and the camera captures the result with the light being effectively reflected around any obstacle. The light bounces around reflecting off objects, or people and effectively round the bend.The experimental camera shutter opens once the first reflected light has passed and also captures the arrival time of the light particles at each pixel.

To build a picture of a scene, the set up must repeat the process of firing the laser and collecting the reflections several times.

The uses are obvious and many but the picture may not be what you expect.

Amazon is Becoming the True Publishing Vertical Business

So you think you know what Amazon is but think again as the global brand makes more media moves which although small show just how savvy the organisations.

The first announcement that Amazon.com is launching Amazon Studios.

The new Amazon Studio website lets users upload scripts and sample movies and then use community tools to evaluate and edit each others' work. Its like a film slush pile which will then enable works to judged by a panel of experts and Amazon executives. The best will be then taken to Warner Bros, who Amazon has signed a first-look deal with. If they succeed there then could be feature films under the Amazon Studios production label.

In making this move Amazon start to address that often broken link between the studios and the creators and its certainly a move that would appeal to many would be script writer and budding directors and technicians. The deal would give Amazon an 18 months exclusive "option" on the work and although filmmakers and screenwriters may not like the idea of now cash for their options it is bound to appeal to those aspiring ones who want to make that first rung of the ladder. However, the highest rated material will get monthly and yearly cash prizes which to the end of 2011, the prizes will total $2.7 million. Amazon take options to Warner Bros. and if they pass to other studios. Successful writers and directors whose option is turned into a theatrically released film by a studio would get paid $200,000 by Amazon.

Amazon claim that Amazon Studios is not a vanity publishing or a project to get low budget movies made to support Amazon’s businesses.

The second is Amazon's acquisition of small literary publisher ‘The Toby Press’.

Amazon in acquiring The Toby Press to secure publication rights of some 120 works of 61 authors. These will be republished as print editions under Amazon's own publishing imprints, AmazonEncore and AmazonCrossing and also publish Kindle editions for Kindle devices and Kindle apps.

So is the Toby Press a purchase to establish the issues involved in running a publishing operation so that they learn small with low risk. If so will their next move be more consolidation of smaller presses or to bite off a far bigger house with what will be chump change? Some would suggest the the move is more to do with posturing and showing the market that it is capable of moving swiftly and vertically very fast. Some suggest that it is genuine move to pick up small and attractive publishers such that they can offer exclusive content, after all you can’t see Apple or Google lining up to buy publishers.

It is interesting to look back at prosperous 18th century London booksellers such as Robert Dodsley who were all large copyright owners we quote from, The Life of Robert Dodsley, “… for the real money lay in ownership of copyrights, not in the retailing… booksellers were the entrepreneurs who purchased rights from authors, and, binding to others, merchandised and finished the product through advertisement and trade distribution.”

Amazon is certainly turning into a vertical force in publishing and one that is clearly capable of using its brand to do the same across 'media'.

To read the press release on the acquisition of Toby Press http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1498303&highlight=

To read about Amazon Studio from LA Times http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/entertainmentnewsbuzz/2010/11/amazoncom-going-into-movie-producing-with-new-website-first-look-deal-with-warner-bros.html

Saturday, November 13, 2010

So What Is Social Reading?

We read a lot today about social reading which itself is somewhat of a challenge to understand and some would suggest nonsensical because of the multiple interpretations that can be applied. However it appears to be 'the' digital buzz phrase and so will probably take time to get a common understanding.

Is social reading about one reading out load to a group or individual and if so what new about that? Perhaps in a digital world the text is dynamically converted to speech and read out aloud but again what’s new about that?

It appears that social reading nothing to do with reading and more to do with commentary. It is described by some, as the ability to share, thoughts, insights and opinions on a work and to do this interactively with others. We may have got that wrong and expect some digital thinker to correct us.

So is social reading about having an interactive reading group, who share their thoughts in flight over whilst reading the work over the internet? You get to see others comments and links at a paragraph level and have grammatical commentary offered on the fly. Perhaps it’s like students sharing a textbook online with suitable annotations, links, bookmarks and highlighted excerpts, but would this really work outside of reference works and textbooks?

Perhaps social reading is like the readers comments or substitute blurbs one finds against works on Amazon. Blubs used to be referred to as publisher’s puffs and it would be brave of anybody in today’s politically correct world to refer to these new readers comments as 'reader’s puffs'!

Shelfari offers 'social reading' but looking at the comments it seriously begs the question exactly how much it is taken seriously. However its mission is to, 'enhance the experience of reading by connecting readers in meaningful conversations about the published word'. It was started in 2006 and surprise surprise was acquired by Amazon in 2008. Last month is was integrated within Kindle as “Book Extras”.

'Book Extras are curated factoids by the Shelfari community that provide readers with helpful information while they’re reading or deciding if they should read a book. These Extras include character descriptions, important places, popular quotations, themes, book-specific glossaries and more.'

It is interesting that when one reads a novel you are already being drawn into a plot created by the author and seen through someone else’s eyes. This immersive experience is what make a lot of reading special. Recommendations are always very useful and drive many sales but these are often from friends whose taste is know or reviewers whose authority is respected. Would you read a book just because an unknown person gave it a rave review?

People may be happy to comment in their closed network with the option to a move these to a public and open space. Comments made within a closed group may be more provocative, less accurate and even extremely negative, where they may be more watered down in public.

Finally we must respect the ‘fire mail rule’, which suggests that you think twice and count to ten before you send an email which may feel good at the time but that looks bad and inappropriate later. Academics are understandably cautious about commenting reactively on others, as they often earn from their own writing and their comments unless sound, may come back to threaten their own reputation and livelihood.

So is social reading a real possibility or just a fad dreamt up to try and extend the reading community, create a social network and to connect to the digital world?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Colour or Black and White Madam?

E Ink are launching ebook readers with colour screens. The eInk Triton is a 9.7” screen that can displaying over 4,000 colours.It consists of a standard E ink display, as used in the Kindle, Sony Reader and Nook, with a colour filter over it. The makers claim that the electrophoretic display is up to 20% faster to refresh than the monochrome version, can display images with 4 bits of depth and offers 4,096 colours in addition to the current 16 shades of grey.

The first colour E Ink ebook reader is from Hanvon will be available in China in March 2011. It will have a 9.68” touchscreen, 2 GB of Flash storage, 128 MB memory, and a 800-MHz Freescale ARM Cortex A8 processor. The e-reader will run Microsoft's WinCE 6.0 operating system and include a USB 2.0 port and a slot for a MicroSD card for up to 32 GB of external storage and is expected to sell for about $440 in China.

However, the Hanvon e-reader can only display 4,096 colours compared to an LCD’s 6 million, will only be some $100 cheaper than an iPad and will not support video. Amazon has said it's going to stick with the black-and-white eInk display and remain a dedicated reading device, whilst Barnes & Noble has already released a colour Nook using a LCD screen.

It is very likely that the black and white eInk screen will continue to dominate the eInk world but that increasingly colour will be the domain of the tablet world. Those trying to cover both camps are likely to suffer the biggest disappointment offering neither one nor the other.

Tablet Divisions

A lot of the debate between the Galaxy Android tablet is to do with whether you are a Apple fan, or sceptic looking for options and alternative deals. Steve Jobs has a knack of creating iconic devices, but at the same time an equally annoying knack of alienating many with his moral high ground approach. Some sits on the other side of the fence to Apple and suggest that Jobs lacks the ability to compromise, but then others love him for the same reason.

The Galaxy Tab is smaller and lighter than the iPad, has two cameras, runs Flash, offers multitasking and is cheaper. Apple are likely to address the camera issue in their next model and what new benefits the Galaxy has today may be short lived. Apple are expected to enable multitasking under iOS 4.2 and are dismissive, in the way they only can, of the smaller screen form and of course of Flash.However, there's a lot of Flash content out there today and anyone who thinks differently, should browse the Web with an iPad and see just how much there is!

Some believe that apps are the clear difference between Apple and the Android offers. However all the major apps are available in multiple platforms and one has to question just how many of the more niche ones actually matter. It is also interesting that iPad buyers don't appear to buy many apps as opposed to the number they buy on the iPhone. There is new rumour that Apple now are about to change their app policy again and restrict applications that are mere content ‘wrappers’. This could be an issue for publishers who have started to create single title apps. The issue maybe that there may be a danger of there being just too many apps! The question if this were to happen is how apps for 'enriched' titles will be treated. Those who believe that it would not impact them should note Apple's latest stand on moving music unilaterally to 90 second samples on iTunes, irrespective of what anyone said.

So as we await the next new tablet the world looks to be polarising and reminds us of those early PC versus Mac, OS2 versus Windows days when you either liked the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.

Monday, November 08, 2010

EMI: Another One Bites The Dust?

How often do we hear the cry to learn from the digital mistakes of others? The finger often rightly points to the catalogue of mistakes that the music producers have made and the mess they have created in their wake. But it appears that it’s not just digital moves that some have got wrong and a close look at EMI today should certainly send out many warning shots to those who think they can walk on water.

EMI has struggled with the decline in record sales, reading digitisation trends and repositioning itself and also a general slump in the music industry. EMI owners Terra Firma had sued Citigroup for its advice during his acquisition of EMI in 2007, but admitted in court that EMI was only worth half the £4.2m he paid for it. The court ruling now brings into question whether it can meet the £2.6bn of debt repayments to Citigroup and whether it has to be sold or broken up.

On top of the loss of their high profile legal battle of last week with Citigroup has come the news that the British band Queen have parted with EMI after 40 years and signed to Universal Music Group. A label is only as good as its artists and since the EMI group was taken over by private equity firm Terra Firma in 2007, it has lost the likes The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Radiohead. EMI Music still is home to artists such as Pink Floyd and Coldplay and the back catalogues of artists like The Beatles, Beach Boys, and Frank Sinatra, but is that enough? Queen's Universal deal covers the world outside North America, but they will loose a the wealth of re release opportunities of the group's global hits like "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," and "We Are The Champions."

The usual suspects are lined up waiting to pounce on EMI. Warner Music Group and BMG Rights are thought to be hovering awaiting the potential pickings from what will be a fire sale. If this happens the music business will have shrunk even further.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Queen Goes Social

Facebook now boasts more than 500m users but can now boast royal patronage and the Queen to its list of subscribers.

The Queen is launching British Monarchy Facebook page and this follows her Flickr account earlier this year, joining Twitter last year, the establishment of a Royal Channel on YouTube in 2007 and the Queen has reportedly fully embraced the web and sends e-mails.

Buckingham Palace says that its Facebook page is not a personal profile page and users will not be able to add The Queen as a "friend", but are abler to "like" the service and receive updates on their news feed. The page will also feature the Court Circular, recording the previous day's official engagements and information about royal events and ceremonies, all searchable on a UK map.

We wonder if Stephan Fry will be upset at now being only second in line on the technology front?.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Microsoft Out To Spoil The Rise of Android

Microsoft has reportedly come up with a new way to compete with Google and that is to charge royalty fees to prevent the likes of Acer from adopting Android and Chrome OS in their netbook and tablet offerings. Interestingly, Microsoft has chosen to charge the manufacturers and avoid a direct fight with Google.

Microsoft plans to impose royalties of US$10 to $15 per handset "for using its patents in e-mail, multimedia and other functions." HTC is apparently paying the fees and some suggest that is because it was cheaper than a lawsuit and that could retrieve the money from Windows Phone 7 licensing deals.

So why is the open source market so upset by this latest move by Microsoft? The answer is that the royalty is claimed against patent usage not the software used as the software is open source and has not licence fees!

Today everyone is patenting the future, and then suing when everyone makes it to the obvious next step. Microsoft has already been found guilty of predatory practices in violation of anti-trust law and some would suggest it's patents could become unenforceable if they are found to be abusing them. Some suggest Microsoft is aiming to head off what seems a tide of manufacturers adopting Linux OS on mobiles, netbook and tablet devices. If Microsoft loses this new market it will be severely restricted to the PC segment and their operating system monopoly.

Microsoft’s big problem is that they have to support layers of legacy. Today nobody needs to upgrade their OS to the latest Microsoft offer except when they buy a new computer. This breaks their old model and significantly dilutes the opportunity to pull through an Office upgrade sale.

So we now have Windows 7 and importantly Windows Phone 7. Will Microsoft succeed in thwarting the Google movement or are we starting to see the real demise of a technology giant of yesterday?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Lost Book Sales Dot Com

Often what you don’t know is more important than what you do know. Finding out why people don’t do something may be more informative than reaffirming why they do. Every minute of everyday someone wants to buy a book but doesn’t. It may be the price, it may be the book itself, they may not be able to find it in the format they want. The reasons are many but he result is the same – a lost sale.

Yesterday we were alerted to a hidden gem of a site lostbooksales.com which was inspired a comment at the Dear Author site on the topic of geographical rights.

‘If I had the time and computer savvy, I’d set up a lostebooksale.com site where people could submit each book they didn’t buy, and why. After the first three or four hundred stories about “I didn’t buy Book X because it’s not available in my country, so I got a pirate copy”, maybe somebody in publisher with the drive, imagination, and ability could prod the industry into action.’

Jane of Dear Author saw the need, understood the problem and reacted with speed and today we have.’

The information is captured predominantly in a structured form with drop down options and supplemented with free text entry. So against an entry you have details about the originator, their region, the book, the author, the publisher, the reason and even what they did next! The information can obviously be sorted , analysed and individual entries can even can be responded to by authors and publishers. It is independent and a very logical step to engage with readers.

The question is how will those who need this information react? Will they adopt a not invented here approach? Will they view a consumers mistake flippantly and move on ignoring the consumer? Will they look to search their titles and respond to each and every one proactively? Will they look at their competitors lost sales more than their own?

Some would suggest that the site is a little too publisher centric and should be more author and reader centric. After all many of us haven’t a clue who publishes what and who has territorial rights to what where and nor should the consumer be bothered. If successful it could have thousands of entries and being able to search and discovery similar issues may help the originator as well as the other interested parties.

The resource section may be obvious to all, but wasn’t to us.

Our main concern is that the individual appears to have little future protection and if emails are collected there needs to be some clearer statement on privacy protection than exist today.

Just think there could be a whole Lost Sales family of sites; LostSales clothing, LostSales music, LostSales restaurants, LostSales supermarkets.

LostBookSale.com is a great innovation and if widely adopted by the marketplace could help everyone understand those lost sales more objectively.

SkyFire Addresses Flash on Mobile

Sometime someone comes along and demonstrates where the consumer demand really is and show those who ignore it, or think they know better, they have got it wrong. We all know the video platforms of today are dominated by Adobe’s Flash and that some believe that HTML5 is the real answer other that Silverlight will prevail. The real fight started when Steve Jobs declared Flash would not be supported on his iPad, iPhone and even withdrew the built in plug in on Macs. He started a crusade to rid the world of what he saw as proprietary and bad code and like it or not, force HTML down the market’s throat.

When he was forced to back track on one of his other mantras which stated developers could only use Apple tools the door started to open to Flash and wasn’t going to shut close again in a hurry. Not only have Adobe stuck their foot in the door opening but so have others such as Skyfire.

Skyfire have developed a mobile browser that not only enables users to follow links from Facebook,Twitter, iGoogle, but also play the videos shared across social networks. Skyfire success on Android demonstrates that users want all the Internet content to work on their devices and not be dependant on a WiFi connection. When Skyfire launched on Android it added over 500,000 new users in just six weeks and also reached the top 0.7% apps on the Android Market.

It has now become the first Flash playing app to get Apple’s approval. Such was the flood of downloads when it was released in the US that it quickly became the top grossing app and the third highest paid app overall. However their success came at a price in the demand overwhelmed their servers. Skyfire is now officially “sold out”. Robert Oberhofer on their blog said “The user experience was performing well for the first few hours, but as the surge continued, the peak load on our servers and bandwidth caused the video experience to degrade. We are working really hard to increase capacity and will be accepting new purchases from the App Store as soon as we can support it.”

What a nice problem to have!

Skyfire plays Flash video by dynamically coding video files into HTML5 in the cloud and optimizing them for mobile delivery. Skyfire’s cloud technology should make videos play faster and smoother, with less buffering and better battery life of the device. Skyfire’s cloud ensures that each video is adapted to the right bandwidth, as well as the right format.

Yes they still migrate dynamically to HTML5 but Mr Jobs they recognise the demand out there and also have adopted an innovative way to meeting it. The one clear message is that Flash and demand for Flash aren’t going away today.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

UK Copyright Review Must Listen To All Sides

Nearly a decade ago, I received an invitation to a big BBC lunch to look at the digital world. I turned up to join a group of teenagers and geekie characters in sneakers and hoods, feeling somewhat over aged and out of place. We were all allocated to sit at tables with top executives and over lunch discussed the digital world known then only to my fellow guests. I walked away realising how little I knew and wondering if the BEEB could absorb the wealth of information and advice. To their credit the BBC learnt and applied a lot in some of their subsequent ventures.

Now David Cameron has announced that the UK’s intellectual property laws are to be reviewed over the next six months and this could lead to them being relaxed to allow greater use of copyright material without the owner's permission. He appears influenced by Google’s founders who had apparently told the UK government they could not have started their company in the UK. He certainly is impressed by the US fair use laws and ‘to encourage the sort of creative innovation that exists in America.’

The previous government’s review produced The Digital Economy Bill which was welcomed by some but raised many objections and clearly was a rushed job with many dots not being joined up.

Larry Lessig gave a really interesting and thought provoking TED presentation on copyright. The most salient statement was when he said that the older generation watch TV and listen to music but the that the younger generation now make TV and make music. However, the law often views the sampling and representation of material as wrong and makes criminals out of people for the wrong reasons. We have to find ways to change how we view and respect copyright material. Yesterday’s laws and rules that work in the physical world fail in the digital one.

The challenges for the review are significant with copyright owners on one side wanting to maintain tight control and revenue streams and the public on the other wanting more freedom to share, express themselves and exploit digital opportunities. The interesting question now is, who the review will consult and whether it is brave enough to accomadate those that the BBC learnt so much from? It must listen not just to industry bodies, publishers and technology corporations but also to authors and consumers and those who we may regard as 'pirates' today.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Shaken and Definitely Stirred?

We are starting to see a shift in backlist authors and agents now starting to take control of their digital rights and separate these out from the print ones. Rights reversals are going to be a significant battleground as publishers on one hand try to shoehorn them into their POD and digital programmes and savvy authors demand better terms, or separation.

Today, the Ian Fleming estate acted and declared that they will publish the digital rendition of his 14 James Bond titles under Ian Fleming Publications. The brand is strong enough to make this route sensible and also to ensure that it isn’t exclusive to any one party. The reported response from Penguin in today’s Bookseller was that they would walk away from the print licence renewal in two years and would not renew the relationship without digital rights included. The estate has taken a wise gamble, knowing that there will probably be a number of players hungry enough to acquire the print licence and they may not be the obvious major trade houses.

So a big book brand has declared its intent, but who else has the brand and clout to be so bold? Also who else hasn’t been digitally tied up already?

We read that JK Rowling, the author who once declared a hatred for ebooks could be a contender and that could be a real digital winner and is definitely a brand. Are: Tolkien, Christie, Dahl, Dr Seuss, Blyton, Robbins, Miller, Kerouac, Authur C Clarke, Vonnegut tied up or digitally free today?

The question also is also whether today’s contracts separate out the termination or reversal clauses for digital and physical or lump them together and whether print is local whilst digital is world rights? Some would suggest that a term contract term makes sense for digital whilst inventory, sales or royalty may work better with respect to print and POD.

As we said only yesterday in our article ‘The World is not Flat – it’s Digital’ there is a need to revisit rights in a digital world. It’s now important that everyone can benefit from this new and exciting channel and has the opportunity to revive back list works perhaps to a new audience.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Hello The World Is Not Flat - It's Digital

We will once again state the obvious, ‘Publishing is a Rights Business.’
This has always been the case, but as we move into the new digital age there is a clear need to review the rights that governed the business in the physical world and ask what needs to change.

Digital is different. Imposing the old rules in this new digital world, is like straight-jacketing the business and restricting its growth. It alienates authors and agents, it also alienates the consumer. Over and over we see publishing tectonic plates colliding as the new paradigm crashes into old one. We see many busy plastering up the fault lines and somehow pretending that they don’t exist. They do and pretending digital and physical are the same is madness. The consumer doesn’t care today and probably tomorrow about DRM, territorial rights, permission rights and we should realise that we need to make things simple and less complicated. The rules that exist in the physical book world have been honed and adjusted over many years but they don’t transpose themselves easily, if at all, to the new global and connected digital environment.

However, how do we separate the physical and digital paradigms and recognise the need to manage their associated rights both collectively, as well as separately? How do at one end will they relate to and support authors and at the other end serve consumers?

We spoke to an Australian friend in Frankfurt who had just bought an ebook in the US but couldn’t access it in Europe. We all know that this is an exception but highlights the consumer muddle we all create in trying to apply yesterday’s logic. How can ebooks by their nature not be world rights?

We have publishers who didn’t acquire digital ebook rights assuming them as volume rights. We have rights reversals written into contracts based on physical inventory and sales but now living in a print on demand world. We have the ability to fragment works and build multi media renditions but wrap these still in yesterday’s rights. We have orphan works which everyone wants to land grab but nobody knows who owns. We have illustrations and others rights associated in the original work but whose licence is often restricted or unclear. All this is without the issue of social reading and moral rights.

Today a digital sale happens in real time but the reporting and reconciliation and payment to all parties is still living in the physical world. Why can’t an author be rewarded instantly or at least see the digital counter? In a world where there is no physical inventory exchanged who can effectively audit who?

We now need to establish a rights framework fit for the digital world. We need to jettison the baggage from the old world that will not make the transition whilst still protecting the business and physical world. The question is who is going to step up to the challenge, apply fresh thinking and above all build solid consensus?

NBA = Net Book Agency

We don’t welcome back the Net Book Agreement in the UK and especially through any backdoor and have written before of this somewhat valueless move.

We now have three major trade house setting or ‘fixing’ the prices of their ebooks in the UK. Anyone now wishing to sell their books must sell at the price the publisher sets and the commercial terms are on a fixed commission basis. We also now have two major retailers refusing to play and even after publishing an open letter objecting to the practice, Amazon have understandably capitulated. As Amazon's commission is now guaranteed on all ebook sales, some will suggest Amazon is secretly rubbing their hands at the move.

The statement from HarperCollins in yesterday’s Bookseller states, " Experience has shown in the US, where the market is more mature, this is the best way to stimulate competition by offering good value to consumers and maximising the number of channels to market."

However, some would suggest that ‘good value to consumers’ is illogical as value is determined by price. In this case the price goes up and will no doubt go up again with 20% VAT in the New Year. Some would also question just how it maximizes the number of channels to market if two of the UK’s major retailers channels aren’t playing and Amazon was clearly taken there against its will. Finally, the US experience matters little, as it is a very different market,is covered by different laws and different business relationships. Some would suggest that once again the US parents are probably demanding their UK children step in-line.

So why are we not going whole hog and bringing back fixed retail pricing for all books? After all its deep discounting fears that is driving the latest hysteria. We now have a consumer muddle with a wholesaler pricing model for physical books and an agency fixed price model set by publishers for ebooks. A reseller can't offer a discount even if they wanted to. Yes the recent poll in the Bookseller came out in favour of the agency model, but that is hardly consumer based research and some would suggest that is like asking communists party members in China to vote against the state.

When America's book publishers wrested control of e-book prices from Amazon earlier this year and established this new agency model, the results where predictable prices went up. Amazon started to make money on loss leaders and it was hardly consumer orientated, but there again it was hardly done by consumer facing people.

So where is this all leading? If ebook sales are only expected to capture some 15% to 25% of market share over this next 5 years, will authors really benefit from this dual market? Will it favour best selling front list and penalise mid and back list authors? Will mid and back list authors vote with their feet and go for the higher prizes available for going alone and price point at a level that earns them more whilst clearly differentiating themselves for this non value pricing?

If publishers set the price then they become effectively the reseller and in some cases liable for more than just setting the price. Under agency, publishers can experiment with prices as much Amazon did before agency agreements were established but can they react and change prices as effectively across the market? How will they bring prices down or will they simply stay at the original price set. Publishers are once removed from consumers and this is only going to demonstrate how big that gap is.

If agency pricing is aimed at creating a level playing field for all retailers to compete evenly on ebooks, we would suggest that no one wins a beauty contest in an ill fitting one piece standing next to a stunning Amazonian in a cute bikini. Levelling price is not the answer and some would suggest not why we got into this net ebook agreement.