Friday, May 27, 2011

Bloomsbury Reader Is Digitally Refreshing

The easiest way to deal with orphan works is to adopt them digitally, but do so legitimately. This should not be achieved via the back door and by ‘snatching’ them off the street, but by establishing the owner, or agent and working with them to give them a second digital life. Forget what the pro Google Book Settlement advocates have long claimed, there is life in many of these works and there are lots of them out there worth adopting and that’s why Google wanted them so badly..

We have seen literary agents start to consider their back list and make bold steps to publish them. We have seen academic publishers, such as CUP and Taylor and Francis, build a significant business by keeping titles in print using on demand services. We have seen previously published authors dust down long overlooked titles and self publish them. We have seen the likes of Barnes and Noble launch Pubit and Amazon open its doors wide to publishing. We have seen Jane Friedman secure additional funding for her growing ‘Open Road‘ venture.

Now publishers are starting to waken up and realise that there is a wealth of material out there waiting to be rediscovered and adopted.

Bloomsbury has now joined forces with the Rights House to establish a new venture ‘Bloomsbury Reader’ that will publish digital versions of out-of-print titles and the service will not be exclusive but open to other literary services. Initially some 500 out-of-print titles from authors such as, Alan Clark , Roy Jenkins, Bernice Rubens, Edith Sitwell, Monica Dickens, VS Pritchett will be made available as ebooks and on print on demand.

Bloomsbury Reader is clearly aimed at addressing both that huge treasure trove of forgotten works that have long been forgotten in the trade’s obsession with its ‘grail’ quest to find that new bestseller and focus on cluster bombing front list titles onto the market. Bloomsbury have taken a logical step to work with those people who know what they have, what has been forgotten and what sold, the literary agent.

Ask any publisher what rights they are merely sitting on and are locked away in a cupboard and why these aren’t digital today and the answer will probably be somewhat muffled and the eyes adverted. We have long believed that these works should be made available and this initiative is tackling reverted rights works and those where the ownership is well established. We hope others will follow and trade publishers will unlock those rights that they are merely sitting on and give them a fresh digital start. However, publishing is not just about throwing books out into the market it is about refreshing them and promoting and distributing and the Bloomsbury Reader initiative has recognised this and built these steps into their programme. No doubt the titles will now also be built into the growing Bloomsbury Library Online service and be available to millions of library patrons.

It’s ironic that at a time when the Google Book Settlement looks thankfully lost, the trade is now starting to look hard at the orphan works and by adopting these forgotten heroes they are in fact addressing some of the issues that legislation and the Google settlement failed to come close to resolving.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Taschen's View On The Book Future

Benedict Taschen video from CBS News which is well worth a view and shows that publishing has many roads and how Taschen thinks as a vertical. We think the LA 'house' is something special.

Friday, May 20, 2011

eBook Opportunities Are Unlocked At The Sharpe End

‘Anything you can do I can do better!’ This was an old schoolyard jibe we have all witnessed.

We now have the publisher riposte to the actions of agents and literary estate taking the digital publishing route and becoming publishers. The Bookseller's FutureeBook blog report that Random House, who earlier had ‘lost’ Catherine Cookson to the digital initiative of her agent Sonia Land, have done a direct deal with author Tom Sharpe for his backlist e-book rights without recourse to his agent, who happens to be Sonia Land. Some may say a small skirmish, others ‘tit for tat’, and others refer to that old schoolyard jibe.

Forget the games, we now have been presented with a great opportunity to move the digital agenda forward. By responding this way some would suggest that Random House have effectively now admitted that digital is different and that volume rights etc don’t count and that the wording within the contract would appear to say ‘if digital is not specified its up for grabs’. It would tend to blow the ‘non compete’ clause out of the water or at least restrict it to the rights specified within the contract. If this is the case, then Random House may well regret the action, as it could leave them exposed to many digital exoduses.

This unlocking of the filing cabinet can only be good for authors and their estates and of course readers. We now have on one hand the publisher who has to act to digitise and potentially promote back list and on the other the agent is also freer to act themselves. A competitive market position which should be good for digital, authors and readers.

The Times Are a Changin' for Bookselling

Today we have three stories all of which demonstrate the changes that are reshaping bookselling. Each is a story in its own right and has its own implication, but when viewed collectively, they start to piece together a picture of significant change, potential threat and opportunity.

Barnes and Noble is again being openly chased by a suitor. Liberty Media has offered $17 per share in cash to acquire control of the company and this is contingent on the participation of founding chairman Leonard Riggio, both in terms of his continuing equity ownership and his continuing role in management. Shares have reacted positively rising some 20% and its clear the market believes this is probably just the opening salvo of bidding for the bookseller and higher offers are likely.

Barnes & Noble has a new ereader announcement planned for the 24th and has established a respectable position and digital market share and has the potential to cross the digital divide that haunts so many booksellers today. However it has to deal with the shrinking physical side of the business at the same time as investing in the digital and has lots of mouths to feed.

UK bookchain Waterstones is finally being sold by HMV to Alexander Mamut's A&NN Group for £53m. No surprises there. The move will see Dominic Myers stay with HMV Group and independent chain Daunt Books MD, James Daunt, become MD of Waterstones. Daunt Books itself will remain as now and run by its existing shop management. Mamut is reported in The Bookseller saying he aims to ‘reposition Waterstone’s as a regional and local community-orientated bookseller’.

The challenges Waterstones face are significant. Plans are one thing but execution is another and recently some would suggest that Waterstones have had plans but little or poor execution. It will be interesting to watch the direction they now take as the current one appears to be going nowhere. Will they downsize both in terms of stores and size and even loose the megastores? Will they adopt a more feminine concept and drop the heavy male and library feel? Will they embrace all books and be a bookseller? Will they be able to retain staff and develop them? Will they make up their mind about digital? A daunting task for Mr Daunt.

Sainsbury's has just been awarded the accolade as being the "Martina Cole general or chain bookselling company of the year award" by The Bookseller. The award recognises that the supermarket for "reinvigorating book zones, increasing book sales by more than 33% and attracting new book buyers to the market".

We have seen the rise in books within the UK supermarket channel with Asda, Tescos and Sainsburys all giving increased shelf space to books and of course also discounting deeply. Supermarkets will always cherry pick titles that will sell and bestsellers, thrillers, crime, romance, celebrities, children’s and cook books will always be found on their selves at low prices. We have reported on Asda selling books cheaper than greeting cards and probably merchandising them the same way.

The impact of all this on the local independent bookstore is inevitable, with many suffering the same demise to that the off-licence, grocer and butcher did previously. The added twist is that supermarkets also have excellent online stores, which can hold a huge inventory, offer even better pricing and so compete on all fronts.

Sam Jordison writing on the Guardian blog likened the award going to Sainsburys, to awarding awarding a peace prize to Tony Blair.

So have read these the observations on print bookselling and the trade today it begs the question – where next?

It is clear that traditional chains need new direction, but is their model merely broken by their inability to move to everyday low pricing and avoid insane discounting? In expanding the supermarket and niche channels has the trade effectively served notice on its chains?

We believe that booksellers finally have to wake and read what it says over their door and do it. ‘Bookselling’ is about selling books, not just front list on ‘safe’ sale or return terms but all books. Amazon log ago saw this and acquired companies and skills and extended their offer to sell used, rare, audio, etc. They understood that they were selling BOOKS.

Amazon now understands that they can go further up the chain and publish. The likes of Barnes and Noble have long had their own publishing and realised that the definition of bookselling is and should be always open to dispute. As agents, booksellers and self publishing grows then the trade will have to adjust and accommodate. Books after all are books.

It’s ironic that in Gower Street Waterstones already has part of the answer in its fight against supermarkets. However it appears to have not understood it. Merely refurbishing a shop and changing the layout is no longer good enough. Now is the time to return to basics.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

‘Livres Modernes’ and ‘Livres Anciens’ in Lille

Having spent some 72 hours in Lille, the northern capital of France and Flanders we reflect not on the shopping, opera, marathon, Palais de la Beaux Arts, Wazemmes market, or even the fact that Saturday erupted as Lille beat PSG in the French football Cup Final but on books, bookshops and a different perspective on all things bookish.

First we had to visit Le Furet du Nord in Place du General de Gaulle. Billed as Europe’s largest bookshop it was like a Tardis and opened up into a cavernous space built cleverly around its central staircase with mezzanine floors, variable floor levels and all opening up into more and more ‘hidden’ rooms. Not since South Korea have we seen so many people enjoying a store. It was clearly more than just a bookshop with games, PCs, DVD, Music departments all attracting a young demographic. The books themselves were not overstocked and many enjoyed being faced out.

Not far away was what could only be described as the French equivalent to the UK bargain store ‘The Works’. In fact if we blinked we would have sworn it was the Works and it even had the blue signage. However, it was just books and very tidy. The shop itself was labelled ‘Le Discounteur De Livres Neuf’ but the books were still expensive compared to their UK equivalents.

Across from the Opera and our hotel was The Vieille Bourse, built in1653 as the old stock exchange, the central courtyard now operates as a rare, antiquarian and used book open market. A great location, stunning architecture, but still very expensive books.

Then there was the Euralille massive 90,000 square metre shopping complex between the two main train stations which housed a Carrefour hypermarket. Unlike US and UK free markets even the supermarkets can’t deep discount books in France. Undeterred, they still had a large section dedicated to books and all but thye best sellers were offered at 5% discount. So not being able to offer discounts didn’t deter Carrefour who probably still made sufficient turn on their footage and a healthy margin. If price maintenance were not in place these stores would obviously be more than capable of wiping out French booksellers.

Shopping in Lille is very European, closed on Sunday, often only open between 1400 and 1900 and even closed on Monday! Booksellers are no different!

Digital books didn’t appear to have reached Flanders and even Le Furet de Nord only had a small section, no bigger than the miserable space allotted by Waterstones. The selection of readers was almost identical and the attention given by staff also very similar. Interestingly, we saw no ereaders being used in Lille or on the Eurostar.

Finally, as if to remind us that we are in the 21st century there was the old bookshop of Emile Raoust & Co with the great signage above the door, ‘Livres Modernes’ and ‘Livres Anciens’, but inside the store now was a mobile retailer and the shop window no longer housed books but a big ad for an iPad2.

Europe is different and its culture is different and although change will happen but at its pace and within its cultural boundaries.

Next stop Oslo.

EIink resolution to Increase

Just as we write about the narrowing of the ereader device choices we have E Ink and Epson announcing a new 300 dpi high-resolution electronic paper device. They plan to increase screens from today’s 160dpi displays to 300dpi in displays, which measure 9.6” and will have a resolution of 2,400 by 1,650 pixels. Like existing eInk displays they will feature ultra-low power consumption and Epson will manufacturer and support a high-speed controller platform for the displays, using some of the high-speed image processing technology the company has developed for its photo-quality printers. As a result they claim that users will be able to turn pages on the new displays faster than existing ereaders.

The question is very much about whether eInk will expand past the ebook market? Although Amazon, B&N and Kobo have successfully used eInk technology as the cornerstone of their platforms it is questionable whether ebooks are now dependant on eInk or are becoming more widely accepted on other devices and especially tablets? If Amazon as rumoured were to introduce a Kindle Tablet what would that do to eInk readers?

Back Up Your eBook Files

Sound advice to all ebook user has been posted on the iFlow website:

‘We suggest that you download all of your books to your devices and then do a backup with iTunes. This should allow you to restore them if you change devices. We also strongly recommend that you go to our website and download all of your books to your computer which will let you access them with Adobe Digital Editions or any other ebook application that is compatible with Adobe DRM protected epubs.’

The reason behind the advice was that BeamItDown Software and the iFlow Reader will cease operations as of May 31. In an open statement they lay the blame squarely on Apple and say that their change of rules and absolute control of the iOS platform obviates them making any reasonable return. Apple is now requiring them, to give Apple 30% of the selling price of any ebook that they sell from their iOS app. Their gross margin on ebooks after paying the wholesaler is less than 30% under the “agency model”, which means that they would effectively make a loss on all ebooks sold.

They make the point that existing iFlow installations may not work in future releases of iOS:

  • You will no longer be able to access it import books or download your books to your devices or examine any of your bookmarks.
  • You will not be able to download library books.
  • You will not be able to Sync between devices, and user defined bookmarks will not appear on other devices, only the one where they were created.
  • We will no longer be offering any apps in the iTunes App Store.

Will we see other ereaders and ebook services go to the wall and it is vital that users are educated to back up their files especially those licensed via Adobe’s SACS4 DRM service.

To further make the point Entourage Canada has announced that they will be discontinuing manufacturing and distribution worldwide of the Entourage Pocket Edge e-reader. It is a small dual book device with one screen featuring a 6” eink touch screen and the other a 7” full color resistive touch screen and is an Android device. Some say that It bridged the gap between an e-reader and an Android Tablet, others that it was neither one nor the other and was bound to slip down the gap. The major issue today is the fact that it still runs under the outdated Google Android 1.6.

According to a Goldman Sachs report from February, Amazon has 58% and the leading share of ebook sales, Barnes & Noble are second with 27%, then Apple has 9% and forth is Kobo with 7%. This seriously says what little penetration the myriad of other eInk readers and tablets have made in the ebook market. It also should send out huge alarm bells to Barnes and Noble that they have little brand awareness outside of the US and could find themselves increasingly squeezed as ebooks go global. Kobo has recognised the global issue but have to address this from a low position today. We have yet to see if there is to be a Google effect but if as likely they do make strong figures then it may be down to three global brands versus the rest.

Did Your Phone Ring For You Yesterday?

Did you miss that important business call or appointment yesterday? We all rely so much on mobile connectivity it can be a real issue, or alternatively a joy, when its not available.

Yesterday millions of calls where 'lost', people looked at their phones and were unable to make calls as O2 customers across the South-east of England and east London were unable to make calls or send text messages for most of the day. The problem was due to network equipment owned by O2 having been stolen in the early hours of the morning.O2 users in Kent, West Sussex, North and east London were without service for up to 17 hours.

O2 said it would not be issuing compensation but they will be obviously taking a bit more care of their equipment in the future.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Amazon's ACX Attempts to Kick Start Audio

Amazon’s Audible arm has launched ACX, Audiobook Creation Exchange. It’s a sort of rights marketplace for audiobooks that connects actors and rights holders and publishers and provides a distribution and marketplace for the finished works on Audible's system. ACX is a kind of one stop shop which handles contracts, tracks and distributes works and pays royalties - a self publishing exchange. Audio rightsholders can post the availability of works whose audiobook rights are unused and producers, publishers, narrators and actors can bid on these.

Rights holders can sell the audio rights for a flat fee or split royalties equally, with royalty rates varying based on sales and whether the rights holder chooses Audible as the audiobook’s exclusive distributor. In addition, there is an additional revenue stream of $25 earned every time a audiobook is one of the first three titles purchased by an AudibleListener member.

Random House, Harper, Wiley and Pearson Education, as well as Writers House are early participants. With the vast majority of books audio rights sitting locked away and not being exercised, it begs the question of how big the market is and whether there is a sufficient pent up latent demand for audio books or whether they remain relatively niche market? The biggest issue has always been production and with it the associated cost. If Audible are going to facilitate making production easier and by means of an exchange driving costs down that may help, but what once was thought to be an early digital opportunity is still searching to make it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Blurring of BookWorld Boundaries

How many agents and authors does it take to demonstrate that digital is different?

Jane Friedman’s Open Road clearly identified the opportunity and agents and authors are now latching onto the opportunity and Ian Fleming’s estate and Sonia Land’s recent Catherine Cookson's e-book deal show that the momentum is gaining ground.

Today we read in the Bookseller that one of the Uk’s most significant and respect agents, Ed Victor Literary Agency, has launched Bedford Square Books. Which will initially focus of putting back into the market reverted rights for authors whose books are out of print and forgotten by the trade. Bedford Square Books plans to release to some six titles this year and a further six at the beginging of next year. Interestingly they intend to also launch Bedford Square Stories, based on original or reverted short stories.

There are many great titles that are looked away in cupboards that could be brought back into the digital arena. Some may be simply flagged as ‘reprint under consideration’, others reverted and then there are the prized orphans. Everyone wants to see books being made available and digital can offer the opportunity to do this at a relatively low risk and cost. It looks like publishers who simply sit on rights that are out of print will be challenged to make them digital.

Of course we must be wary of those who simply revert to print on demand to circumvent reverting rights and to perpetually retain rights. Reversion clauses that were built for print and not for POD can’t just be assumed nor can volume rights be claimed and increasingly authors need to be vigilant to this.

The bookworld boundaries continue to become blurred as retailers go past buying into print run punts and packaging deals and become publishers and publishers push to go direct and be retailers. This blurring is good for all as the author has more opportunities and potentially greater control of the works, the publisher has think back, mid and front list and digital and the retailer sells ‘books’ not just front list.

The thorny issue remains that of the rights contract. We believe that the digital and print should be separate contracts and under separate terms, one based on inventory and sales the other on fixed short term and renewable terms. We also believe that the ‘non compete’ clause which is prevalent in rights contracts needs to be legally tested to see if it covers all potential media renditions or only specific format.

It is interesting to look back at the 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.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Skype Today, MSSkype Tomorrow?

Luxembourg-based Skype and its 663 million global users has been bought by Microsoft for a rumoured $8.5bn. Some would suggest that’s a high ticket for an eight-year-old company and a very high ticket for one that has yet to make substantial money.
eBay bought Skype in 2006 for what was then a lot of money $2.6bn and then sold it in 2009 for just $2bn. So what has changed and why is Microsoft allegedly paying over 4 times what Skype was sold for only two years ago?

Does Microsoft see Skype as a means of getting into the living room and marrying Xbox Kinect and HD television. Are they thinking about home education, remote learning, remote patient home care? Are they buying it to take on the teleconferencing business market? Do they see it as a way back into the mobile world with an alignment Windows Phone 7?

Whichever is the driving motive it’s a lot of investment that will need to deliver real return. Microsoft investors are certainly going to want answers and will ask how an open platform such as Skype is going to deliver exclusive revenues.

Businesses such as ours depend heavily on Skype today to perform global business communication. If Microsoft were to install a toll both and wrench up the payment side, people will just go elsewhere. So the difficulty maybe, will be the integration of Skype into paid services that can then build the revenue.

The big question is whether you need to spend $8.5bn to achieve that?

Monday, May 09, 2011

LinkedIn to Float

The business and professional social network site LinkedIn is to float on the New York stock exchange valuing the company at over $3bn. LinkedIn, has some 100 million users and achieved a profit of $15.4m on $243m revenues in 2010, is expecting to raise $146m with its flotation.

LinkedIn has a professional demographic which makes it very appealing to advertisers looking for high spenders and decision makers. It now joins a group of highly valued internet sites such as Skype, Groupon, and Zynga, which all aim to raise huge money with their flotations in the next 12 months. LinkedIn also has both a free basic offer to members as well as a premium services aimed at the corporate market. Its revenue is made up from; Job listings and recruitment contributed (41%) of net revenue, Advertising revenue (32%) and paid subscriptions (27%).

LinkedIn clearly has huge potential in the area of search and selection recruitment and this itself can fund subscriptions, the need to belong and be seen and connect.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Bookish It May Be, But Is It Wise Dotcom?

In this new age of social networking we are constantly being reminded that books have always been shared, discussed and can provide a social hook. Because of this social aspect of books we all search to find that social platform and a big opportunity to join the dots and engage authors, readers, booksellers, reviewers, editors and anyone with something to say about books.

Many have tried and todate and it is fair to say none have succeeded. Amazon was first with their reviewer comments, Publisher’s have launched genre and author platforms, author signings have threatened to go virtual, those ‘like it’ thumbs up links now litter sites, in the UK Book Rabbit came up and went back down its hole and we have the social book site Copia, meandered around and wondering what it wants to be, the list goes on.

We now read that ‘Bookish’ is going to be the next big thing and will be where readers go to find their next book. Bookish believes that with the help of AOL and book publishers like Penguin, Simon & Schuster and the Hachette Book Group its going to change the social book network. According to their CEO Peter Lemgruber, ‘Nobody is more intimately familiar with the multitude of elements that make a book appealing than its publisher.’

Ten years ago the endorsement of AOL would have counted, but today AOL stands like Microsoft wondering what happened at their party and why all the guests appear to be leaving. As for publisher being the judge of book appeal, Lemgriber obviously doesn’t appreciate the gambling element of publishing and the fact that publishers publish books and retail sells them.

The mystery as to what will work and what will merely create noise and fail is as complex as the book market that they are trying to engage. Many readers can see through the ‘cluster bombing’ of marketing spend and inventory to make a best seller, celebrities still work but often can’t engage through their text and importantly people’s reading habits are often very eclectic and hard to pigeon hole.

Some say that reading others views really helps. However, this may be like reading comments about a hotel on a travel web site, a video clip on YouTube etc - it all helps qualify but are often not necessarily always trusted, have anything to say, or are authoritative.

Heavy readers probably already have their sources to help them select their next read. Perhaps those who read less often will never feel the urge to invest the time to engage in a ‘bookish’ place until their reading habit grows to need it.

Perhaps the challenge remains to get more people to read and read more.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Your Flexible Friendly Smartphone?

A group of researchers at the Human Media Lab at Queen's University, Canada and Arizona State University's Motivational Environments Research group have created an interesting flexible smartphone prototype made of electronic paper and in doing so have made their five year prophesy . The PaperPhone can do all the things expected from smartphones, make and take calls, send messages, play music or display e-books but also has the ability to triggers functions and features when bent, folded and flexed.

The prototype is millimetres thick and built on e-ink technology bonded to flex sensors and a touchscreen that interprets drawings and text written on it.
The PaperPhone prototype will be displayed at the Computer Human Interaction conference in Vancouver next week alongside a ‘chunkier’ looking device they called the Snaplet which changes its usage according to how it is flexed.

The team says they think flexible displays of this type could replace traditional smartphones within five to ten years.

Roel Vertegaal, the director of the human media Lab at Queen’s and one of the phone's creators, rather boldly claimed: 'This is the future. Everything is going to look and feel like this within five years.’ You hope that they can deliver it, the technology is sound and the market demand is real.

eBook Channels: Something to Keep You Awake at Night?

Today’s digital challenges may be many and varied, but it is clear that we are now entering a race to secure channels and with them, potentially lock in their customers and lock out the competitors. This is no longer about whose repository is biggest as this is mere schoolyard bravado. It is about who can lock in the greatest number of customers and convert them into doing business with them and in doing so build brand awareness and trust on the backs of others. We have seen the move from ereader devices to ereader platforms as content aggregators care less on their specific models of devices and more about providing access to their content via many and if possible, every platform; ereader, tablet, smartphone, android apps, Apple apps, laptops, cloud computing etc. As the emphasis moves onto platforms we will lose some who foolishly built their offer around one access point and device and we will also see a shift from niche and traditional channels to those that offer mass adoption and eyeballs.

The world’s supermarkets are an obvious target offering trusted online shopping that no longer stops at the groceries. Their customers already see them as a ‘one stop shop’, so adding ebooks to their extensive range of offers is logical for all. If the dots are connected correctly, the supermarkets have the potential to sell more ebooks in a day than the traditional channels combined could achieve in months. We have seen these giants negate the local stores and ingest segments such as wine, newpapers, pharmacy, music, videos with ease. Books are no different on limited range and consignment but and ebooks are relatively simple.

So it is with interest that we read that Kobo has now broadened it's relationship with Walmart Canada and now enables customers to gain one-click, direct access from the Walmart site to Kobo's eBook library of ebooks, enewspapers and emagazines. Walmart already carries Kobo's eReader in-store and features it on and now links this seamlessly to Kobo’s content.

Given its origins It is to be expected that Kobo's eReader has become a top selling eReader for Walmart Canada. The challenge now is to promote the Kobo brand to the widest audience globally and secure and exploit channel relationships such as Walmart to achieve this.

This then begs the question about how the traditional book channel are to participate when these major retailers no longer have to carry any real inventory, investment, skilled staff and risk and merely make any etitle available on a virtual self service shelf? How do players such as Barnes and Noble exploit their brand outside of Barnes and Noble? How do publishers create a direct market in what is still potentially a mass market where their control like in music is reducing? Who decides the winners when carpet bombing inventory into the market no longer counts? Who controls the pricing when the smart retailers are involved?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Great Big Book Swap Alternative

Once again the stateofindependents blog, which is written on behalf of Edinburgh independents, has stepped up and offered thoughts on whether the ‘emperor has got new clothes on’, or on World Book Night, they were just plain ‘naked’. The Edinburgh Bookshop were highly critical of this year’s World Book Night venture and although they supported the aim felt the method did little for bookshops and sales across the trade.

They offer an alternative approach which is less about promoting a few titles, or how they put it, ‘carpet-bombing the place with dozens of copies of the same book’ and giving stuff away blindly and instead they have focused on growing community, sharing books and building the business of selling books. Ironically, the scheme would see authors rewarded, publishers paid and potentially bookshops connect deeper and further with their potential customers and communities.

The Great Big Book Swap may still have some challenges but in its construct offers much and it would be a shame if those wanting to move World Book Night forward didn’t give it some serious attention and hopefully not just dismiss it as ‘not invented here’.

We believe that The Great Big Book Swap offers bookshops much and in principle is well thought through and has even had a trial run and launched a Great Big Book Swap site.

Amazon Takes Another Step to Join the Publishing Pieces

There verticals that deal with niche markets and offer everything to do with that particular market or segment, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. There are other vertical businesses that effectively cover all the bases from creation to consumption. There are the generalists who offer a range of products and specialise in one aspect of the respective supply chain. Finally there are the category killers who monopolise a particular segment by a service feature, product or other unique and compelling offer and stifle the competition.

So what has this to do with publishing? yesterday announced the launch of Montlake Romance. It’s not the first but the fourth and latest imprint from Amazon Publishing. We saw with Harlequin the early adoption of the romance genre in ebooks and with resent research claiming that there are more women ereaders than men, romance looks a safe ebook bet. Montlake Romance takes its name from the Seattle neighbourhood of Montlake, and will publish a range romance sub-genres such as suspense, contemporary, historic, fantasy and paranormal.

Amazon, as we have long predicted, is now morphing into a true vertical that not only offers a comprehensive range of print, audio and ebooks, a digital platform, self publishing, print on demand, exclusive and no exclusive author deals, a global service, a fledgling library / rental / lending facility, a public library tie up with Overdrive and brand, but now also growing publisher services. Have we missed anything? Well there is their technology which now includes cloud facilities, other media activities, huge customer base, affiliate service and market clout.

We ask ourselves as to when do agents start to consider Amazon as a publisher?

Amazon has proved many times that it now understands the book business and is constantly figuring out how to do it smarter. Many still believe that it must follow the traditional route, but Amazon has cherry picked its route and somewhat wisely has avoided the high risk and speculative road. It has invested heavily, but in doing things smarter and avoided the publishing gambles that litter the market. After all, they know they can sell these if they are winners and avoid them if they are losers.

They have instead chosen to focus on building a comprehensive platform from author to reader. The information that they have is significant and their ability to link authors, titles and readers within their own environment can’t be underestimated. As publishers struggle to build a direct market Amazon are building back up the chain to capture content and rights.

In less that a month Amazon have strategically partnered with Overdrive on public libraries and now has taken its next baby step with Montlake. We doubt that those who feared the domination of Amazon in the past as a retailer have seen the reality and potential of a vertical category killer in the future.

Avatar Teachers: Excellent Adventure Dude

Remember ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ when the dudes go back in time to collect a gang of historical figures (Socrates, Abe Lincoln, Joan of Arc, etc) to bring back for their school history presentation?

Well education technology may be now bringing characters alive through Artificial Intelligence and Avatars to clone the best tutors, or even characters, to help teachers engage and teach students and make education more personal.

South Korea and Japan are developing robot tutors and South Korea has even stated its goal of having a robot tutor in every one of its 8,400 kindergartens by the end of 2013. However, these Roberts just follow a script and don’t really engage and interact on a personalised dialogue with the student.

Now Intellitar, an Alabama-based technology company is actively working on creating cloned avatars that will interact. The avatars look like their human counterparts, in both appearance and mannerisms and Intellitar plan to combine curriculum content and an intelligent Avatar.

There is a Benjamin Franklin avatar who blinks and smiles and responds to typed inquiries about early America and the Declaration of Independence. The object being is to engage students by taking on different personas and compliment the teachers and textbooks with a living point of reference. Just like Bill and Ted did in their excellent adventure.

The wife of Intellitar co founder Walter Remus is a Chemistry teacher at Sparkman High in Alabma. Brenda Remus is now developing her avatar and plans to have some 10 lesson topics ready over the summer. She says, “I’m looking forward to working on it this summer for those kids who are out of school because they’re sick, or if they need possible tutoring down the line.”

Whether you are hoping to brush up on the Declaration of Independence or Remus’s chemistry, the use of AI and robotic technology looks like it is coming to the classroom and it will not be long before the ‘flat’ screen avatar is replaced with a hologram image and then we truly would have some potentially excellent adventures!

To experience Benjamin Franklin

To experience Brenda Remus