Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Strand Hit Record Sales in the Forest of Words

The Strand Bookstore in New York announces record sales over the Christmas period with the Monday before Christmas registering the biggest sales in its 86 year history.

The Strand is The New York Bookstore and is run by the legendary and good friend Fred Bass and his daughter Nancy. They sell books; used, new, remaindered, high ticket and antiquarian and low priced bargains. It is an emporium of bookselling which has often featured in films, TV and been cited by many.

Today with the well reported troubles of its neighbours at Barnes and Nobles and the often desperate noises from High Street bookstores around the world you would be forgiven to thinking that the physical book is dead and the bookshop is past its sell by date. However booksellers like Fred Bass will continue to make the book appealing to buyers and the experience rewarding.

The news got the octogenarian bookseller on Channels 5 Fox and CBS are rumoured to be starting a Fred-a-Thon (watch this space).

The picture is of Fred Bass and my wife and owner of Bibliophile
. Fred and Annie go back some 30 years and he used to own a share in Bibliophile.

related coverage: New York Daily

Friday, December 20, 2013

Drones, Cheap Tablets, The Cloud, Robots and Publishing!

This month we have read of the $38 tablet, Amazon’s statements on the potential use of Drone technology to delivery local parcels and the growth of stuff that is now and predicted to be connected to the Internet. Some would suggest that these are interesting but don’t apply to their world, others would suggest that they are part of the relentless march of technology which is now promising so much, whilst threatening so much at the same time.

Drones have started to revolutionise warfare in the same way that communications did before them. The move from open warfare, to insurgent terrorism, may now start to be redressed once again. Armies who once were exposed by the hidden insurgent and suicide bomber, now have their own crewless spy and attack tool. Like space exploration before it, drone technology will provide us all with new opportunities to do things smarter.

I remember seeing the film ‘Enemy of the State’ when it was released I the late 90s and marvelling at the spy and satellite technology it predicted. Over a year ago a friend in Bath showed us his $100 drone he acquired when he was working in Silicon Valley. It came complete with GPS, camera, video and internet connection to his smartphone. The control, speed, pictures and range where frightening to observe and the privacy issues it raised, frightening to consider. Now that same technology has the potential to go to not only observe, but collate what it sees.

The embedded YOU TUBE video is only a simulation, but makes you think. For more in-depth insights on Drones click here

When Amazon throws down a statement saying that in the future drones could deliver goods, it may be foolish to mock. We always considered individuals having their own personal flying machines to transport them, maybe it’s not people, but goods that get flown around in the near future?

Matternet, A Silicon Valley start-up, Matternet reports that is building a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles or drones) system that will transport crucial goods in areas where roads aren’t always accessible. They offer a fast, energy efficient opportunity to deliver medicines and emergency relief and remove heavy infrastructural costs. It is claimed that some billion people around the world live in such areas or would greatly benefit.

What we view today as a gimmick, a toy, something for the geek in us, may after all soon be offering us something lifesaving that was developed in a life taking world.

The $38 tablet
It’s not the potential price that matters, but the opportunities that such low price, ubiquitous technology can deliver.

The UbiSlate 7Ci will be priced for the US market at just $37.99. It will not have the sophistication of the more expensive tablets, nor the brand ticket price of others, but it could start to significantly change our storage, processing and network processes in ways the others only talk about. It will have sufficient internally to, send emails, browse the internet, check Facebook, and play simple games. Others will follow which may be a tad more sophisticated, have a higher spec, but all will now compete on a low ticket, commodity price point.

These tablets can enable one tablet per child, one tablet per worker, one tablet for all. This not only offers so much to developing countries, but also to the developed ones too. It could change culture from a local file ownership and manipulation to explode cloud computing to all. The potential benefits to education, community services and the workplace are obvious and huge and it is not hard to see the knock on impact on all mobile technology.

The growth of connected stuff

I am grateful to my good friend a futurist, Ray Hammond, for pointing out that research group, Gartner claim that the Internet of Things (IoT), which excludes PCs, tablets and smartphones and is the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment, will grow to 26 billion units installed in 2020 . This will represent nearly a 30-fold increase from 0.9 billion in 2009.

Gartner also claim that this will generate revenues exceeding $300 billion in 2020 and $1.9 trillion in global economic value-add through sales into diverse end markets.


We were all shocked by the BBC documentary on the working performance target driven picking within Amazon warehouses in the UK. For those with a logistics background it was less ‘pick by light’ and more ‘pick in the dark’.
But thanks again to Ray Hammond, we learn that Amazon has quietly deployed 1,400 robots in its US warehouse distribution system. The technology comes from a Kiva Systems Inc., a company it bought last year. They claim that the technology could reduce fulfilment costs by some 20% to 40%,  which not only raises the bar for others, but also demonstrates that it may not just be down to offering the range and service, but also operating to exploit the economics of scale.

Google has just aquired Boston Dynamics a military robotics company.

So what does all this mean to publishing?

First, we must recognise that the age of the cloud is here and its impact on all things digital is only going to grow. With cheap tablets that are basically cloud based you have to have cloud based services that are streaming and on demand and maybe subscription based, and less of the old download and licenced model.

Second, closed communities with cloud access for all, such as education, will need online solutions and platforms. The device doesn’t matter anymore, it’s what is at the end of the connection that does.

Third, the content has to be re-thought and merely pouring physical content into digital containers is not a wise way forward.

Four, the economics of scale and scope will radically change if Amazon successfully deploys robotics for physical goods and few will be able to match those new economics. They also may not be happy to subsidise the rest of the market.

Tomorrow’s winners might just be those with the right investment in technology, robots and of course the delivery drones. 

Sunday, December 01, 2013

eBooks and the Law, the Taxman, the EU and the French

Taxation and the law are often used to steer communities into a certain culture and direction. Sometimes they respond to changing values and aspirations, in other the aim to act as a catalyst to change and in some it is to pursue blind dogma.

We have seen aggressive tax efficiency programmes by many large corporations exploit the low tax rates of some EU member states to the clear detriment of others. We have seen huge subsidies being lavished on the likes of Amazon by UK authorities in order to build warehouse in areas of high unemployment, or to stimulate local communities. These are nothing short of today’s ransom notes forcing the public purse that they shun from contributing to, to be spent on them.

But the question remains; how should legislation and taxation respond to change or stimulate it?

We then have the potential EU harmonisation of VAT on ebooks which is planned for January 2015 along with the change of taxation from the point of dispatch to the point of consumption. Both are is long overdue, but whereas the allocation of VAT at consumption may be easy the harmonisation of the rate is dependent on all agreeing to act as one – a real challenge when some want the current situation to continue as is and others are already defying the rules and going their own way. Irrespective, we must first define an ebook and establish when an online service on subscription is an online service or an ebook service. Also as more embrace epub3 and move towards multimedia dno ebooks still remain an ebook irrespective of their content being potentially also audio, music, video, games and information streamed services?

The French are infamous for their proactive approaches on such matters. The government of President Fran├žois Hollande has introduced a 70% tax band for high earners which may have gone down well on the left bank, but has also gone down well in neighbouring states and cities such as London, where property prices have been increasing, due in part to the invasion of French high earners wishing to avoid the new levy. Perhaps it was the French government’s way of reintroducing the revolution, but this time, minus the guillotine?

The French have also responded to Luxembourg’s low VAT rate on ebooks by cutting theirs at a time when they were told it was against EU rules, which as a leading EU player, they continue to break today.

French deputy Isabelle Attard came up with the weirdest of proposals to introduce a higher the rate of VAT on ebooks that have DRM. The logic was that it would stimulate an open market but the reality it was clearly aimed at penalising those ‘walled gardens’ of Amazon, Apple, Kobo etc.

Some would suggest that It was a stupid and ill thought out proposal. As we have written before encrypted DRM is not the answer, but also leaping to a DRM free market without due consideration is an ill thought out recipe for disaster. Whoever the consultants, advisors and lobbyists were that influenced the thinking they lack the common sense to see past the next step. Rather than opening up a legitimate second hand market they destroy the potential to resell and to create a soft authoritative ownership watermark. Did the removal of DRM in music destroy iTunes, or really change the market domination of the handful of players who share the same market, albeit minus DRM today?

We now read that the amendment to raise the DRM restricted ebooks to 19.5% VAT has thankfully been defeated.

However, the French have passed French lawmakers voted last week to pass a law that prohibits online booksellers from offering free delivery to customers on top of the maximum 5% discount on books. It would be great if the French Booksellers were to respond to all this central help, but they have hidden behind fixed pricing and done little to respond to change. It’s rather sad that the French lawmakers remain somewhat adrift of today’s market reality not knowing who they serve best; the author, publisher, bookshop consumer or from some points of view, none of them.

The problem is that we all want change and the digital marketplace to evolve locally and to enable future opportunities to be able to be exploited. The question is who makes that happen in a global and complex marketlace?


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book Don't Work

An interesting post from our very good friend and Futurist Ray Hammond

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Deric Longden Swanwick Memorial Prize

The Writers Summer School in Swannwick, Derbyshire has played host to many writers. Past speakers have included; Iain Banks, Ruth Rendell, PD James, Norman Wisdom, Terry Pratchett, Colin Dexter and Deric Longden. Deric was from Derby and met his second wife, author Aileen Armitage at the annual writing event. He had been sent to interview her for Radio Derby and became a regular speaker himself and together with Aileen, helped guide many budding writers.

Now the Swanwick Writers’ School together with the ME Association are creating the Deric Longden Memorial Prize. The 500 word short story completion will be awarded to the writer/carer who, like Deric, has a witty way with words and is fulfilling the role of carer to a friend or family member for love rather than financial reward.

It is fitting that Deric is being remembered in this way having started writing by entering a short story competition himself. Through wining the competition, not once but twice, he becoming part of the BBC Radio Derby broadcasting and journalist team. He then went on to become a bestselling author, speaker, screenplay writer and win an International Emmy for his screen adaptation of his book ‘Lost For Words’ and Dame Thora Hird a Bafta for her portrayal of Deric’s Mum. It is also fitting that the ME Association are sponsoring the award in recognition for the profile Deric’s first book ‘Diana’s Story’ had in raising the awareness of ME. Diana’s Story’ was about Deric’s first wife’s severe ME and the story was turned into the BAFTA nominated TV drama ‘Wide-Eyed and Legless’. Deric’s reading of it was voted by Radio Four’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ listeners as the most popular serial in 50 years.

I once asked Deric how he started writing and his answer below reflects his witty view of life?

I always wanted to write but never did anything about it other than little bits and pieces for my own pleasure. Then in 1974 BBC Radio Derby ran a five hundred word short story competition. Each entry had to be submitted under a pen name and so I called myself ‘Biro’, which I thought was a pretty good pen name.

My story was about a hundred year old man who put his great age down to the fact that he had always lived in a house without an outside lavvy. It kept you on your toes, he said. There was no easy trot upstairs like when you have one inside.

You never quite knew when the urge would come over you and you’d have to gather together your packet of twenty Capstan full strength and your box of matches. Grab the Daily Mirror from under the dog, slip the lavvy key off the hook and then vault the old wooden gate as you sprinted some thirty five yards up the garden path in the pouring rain. You could never relax for a moment.

Somehow I won and the following year I entered again, this time under the pen name ‘Papermate’. I wrote a story about a shepherd who only had two sheep and rather than leave them out on the lonely moors at night, he would take them home with him.

Most shepherds dip their sheep only once a year, but he was able to do it once a week because fortunately he had a double draining sink unit. Afterwards he would pop them into the tumble drier – for forty five minutes on woollens.

I won again and the following year went for the hat trick. A week after I had posted my entry the producer rang me.

‘Are you by chance Parker 51’?

I said that I was and he told me that I looked like winning again and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

‘If you withdraw we’ll give you a regular weekly slot’.

Two and half thousand broadcasts later I wince slightly when I look at the stories now, although if I’m honest with myself, I smile as I wince.

Bibliophile has already digitally published a collection of Deric’s cat short ‘Tailpieces’ as well as republishing his books in digital form. We are now working on two more digital collections, which will cover his anecdotal and witty Radio Derby scripts which cover over 20 years of broadcasting. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Authors Need eReward

We read that the EU is now considering harmonising VAT on ebooks across the community and that the likely solution is that they will become zero rated. This would also negate the need for tax to be levied at point of consumption in 2015 and remove one aspect of the Luxembourg magnet for digital distributors and retailers. We also are all aware that a further ratchet twist of UK ebook pricing is taking place between Sainsbury’s and Amazon, with front list ebook titles dropping to 99p. We also read about the emergence of ebook subscription models and services which would generate new revenue streams and services.

Some view the moves as being good for publishing, publishers and readers. However, does this mean that they are good for those key players, the authors?

Let’s look at the 99p best seller. Today any title distributed in the UK incurs a 20% VAT charge. If distributed from Luxemberg it incurs a 3% charge and the distributor effectively buys VAT inclusive at 20% and sells VAT inclusive at 3% and the 17% goes to…. The retailer takes say a 30% levy for the transaction and the rest goes to the publisher. The publisher then pays the agent say between 15 and 25% of their receipts. The agent takes off their say 15 to 20% fee and the author gets what is left. Not bad you may say when the starting figure was around £6 but not a lot when it plummets to 99p.

However, the price war is just temporary you may say, prices will revert upwards and not all ebooks are at 99p. Well we have seen the rapid reduction in prices over a relatively short period and it is fair to assume that when retailers start to create price points- they stick.

Recent figures demonstrated that consumers liked free, 0.99 and 2.99 but were unsure about 1.99 and their interest tailed off as prices rose. We are now seeing price point consumer perception and this will be hard to change. These are licence more than outright ownership sales and the price has to reflect this.

The move towards zero harmonisation is welcome by all, but will the money flow back to the; consumer in lower prices, the retailer through tighter margin negotiation, the publisher in retaining the RRP at zero rate, or flow back to the agent and author? We can’t assume anything other than many of the above will lay claim to it.

Finally, we have the emergence of the ebook subscription model.

Why would consumers commit to a subscription model when the pricing of ebooks is dropping and pricing is unstable? If prices were high and stable then a subscription model based on low consumption may have an appeal, but in the current climate and with relatively inconstant and low consumption rates, it makes little sense for ebooks unless the offer is coupled to other media or service subscriptions. It would make sense for someone like Sainsbury’s to tie subscriptions to other services and cross subsidise and offer a value added consumer proposition. But ebook subscriptions to remain by themselves.

Again the author will only get a slice of revenues generated for the material read. As we have pointed out earlier this week reading habits will could also hinder reads being recorded and paid out on.  

We can only speculate on the outcome of these three options, but we must remember that there are two critical people in the value chain, the reader and the author and that any pricing and model for must work at not just one, but both ends of the spectrum. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

YouTube: Dire Straights Or Huge Opportunity?

We know that YouTube has become the channel of choice for many kids to listen and watch their music. After all why have a one dimensional experience when you and get two for free. The video archive continues to grow and some would suggest that it’s easier to find some obscure footage and music via YouTube than via the pure music routes.
To think it all started with MTV or to quote Dire Straights' 'Money For Nothing.'.
Now that ain't workin' that's the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain't workin' that's the way you do it
Money for nothin' and your chicks for free
Billboard now report that they believe that YouTube is planning to introduce a subscription music service in weeks, which if correct could blow many traditional players off the scene. The assumption is that they will be offering a free service plus a premium one and Billboard believe that the premium service will also be tied to unlimited access to the full catalogue and the ability to cache for offline listening and removal of ads.
Video will clearly set YouTube apart from not only Google’s own Play service but also Spotify, Pandora, Apple’s iTunes Radio and others.
YouTube has committed to trailing offline video, giving creators the option of offering offline viewing to their videos. Google Play Music All Access licences also appears to give them the ability to launch the service obviating the need to go back to the table. Now the Premium service will generate both ad and subscription revenues and of course may feature high on many search requests.
We all think that we understand the landscape and that things don’t change. However, this is a classic sea change opportunity that if introduced as described and price attractively could change the music market. It starts from a place others aren’t at and can’t quickly catch up with and feeds on a growing two dimensional consumer trend. Finally, it also is fed by consumers own videos and bootlegs which up to now have been seen as interesting but…

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Providing Rich Reading For Time Poor Readers

How do we get people reading again or introduce them to reading?
We have to accept that reading is different in that it stimulates thinking and imagery that is often served up on a plate with other media. After all, you don’t have to imagine what someone looks like when they are stood as large as life in front of you on a screen.
We have seen many charity and government-backed initiatives and ones driven by the industry itself but the bottom line is that at best they are treading water and at worst losing the battle. We may all cheer from the battlements when books are donated and given away free to folk but if this is not succeeding we have to ask whether the focus and process is correct and what we have to do to really engage and make a difference.
The YouTube age is impacting not just the young but the older generations. We are becoming more and more visual and increasingly time poor. Giving someone a book is not addressing the problem and merely compounding it. We have to create the thirst and feed the habit not just give someone War and Peace and expect a convert. The studies don’t lie. The latest from the National Literacy Trust study of 34,910 young people, claimed nearly a third of children between eight and 16 say they read no text-based media at all in their daily leisure time and that the number of children who read outside school has fallen by 25% since 2005.
Many thought that children's reading was migrating from print to digital, but in reality their consumption of information is moving away from reading or writing text. Their attitude to reading have also become more negative over time. This was reflected in 21.5% of young people agreeing with the statement, "I would be embarrassed if my friends saw me read," up from 16.6% on the 2010 study.
In the US, The National Endowment for the Arts claim that only 46.9% of Americans interacted with art and literature in 2012 and that again reading is in decline. That’s down from 2008 (50.2%) and it’s down considerably from the 1992 survey (54.2%) and the 1982 survey (56.4%).
So let’s skip past the doom and gloom and look at ways to stimulate reading. Giving books away is probably not going to be the answer.
Should we focus on the children, the young adults or the older generations? Who are the social influencers and who are the responders? Do parents teach and influence their children or is it visa-versa? Can reading be combined with other activity such that it is less solitary in an increasingly virtual social world? Can the movement towards self-expression be harnessed to create a virtual circle of reading and writing?
There is no silver bullet or quick fix but we must understand what used to work and see if it can be reapplied to today.
We would point to that reading revolution and creative writing explosion of the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century. What captivated the masses many of whom had just learnt to read?
When we look at our daily lives many will relate to the time spent commuting to and from home. For many the newspaper is a vent to boredom, others it’s scrolling down the email and Facebook alerts that are fed to our smartphones and tablets. For others it’s being plugged in and switched on to their music. Then there are the gamers who apply fast dexterity over the keys of their smartphones whilst some animated character dives and ducks to save themselves from being zapped. The point is that commuters want to do something more than stare at the person opposite whilst contemplating some fantasy liaison with the good looking person two seats away. Giving them something that can’t be consumed in the journey is like offering them a five star gourmet meal and suggesting that what they can’t finish they can have cold tomorrow or can be put in a doggy bag for later. Time poor people will demand speedy service.
Poems on the London Underground was launched in 1986 and was the idea of American writer, Judith Chernaik, who wanted to bring poetry to a wider audience. Some 3,000 advertising spaces in train carriages displayed a diverse range of poetry including classical, contemporary, international and work by new poets, has been a great success. The service was geared to the audience. It is like a gentle thought for the day, a quiet moment of reflection, a digestible read for a brief journey. Some would say that poetry doesn’t engage but others would suggest when served alongside music, it works, and on the Tube it works especially well. Perhaps the way we bundle and package literature is the problem.
Then we have to look at the huge success of the short form writing competition today. Some will say that they just promote more slush and a feed a writing habit that goes nowhere. It’s true, printed short stories are not often top of the publisher’s agenda or the charts but that doesn’t mean they don’t work or there isn’t a latent demand for them. It just means that trade publishers still tend to publish 256 page volumes and short stories and poems have to be shoe-horned into collections.
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was the brilliant short story master, Alice Munro.

It’s no wonder we are working on bringing Read Petite to market!  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Understanding The Subscription eBook Offer

Subscription services are today’s alternative solution to owning what may fast become yesterday’s technology.
Imagine buying eight track cassettes, cassettes, vinyl, betamax, VHS, mini discs etc, today. Yes, some still do but for the majority of us, these are yesterday’s technology both in terms of devices and media. During the last ten years we have achieved many things in the ebook arena and many old formats and devices have come and gone. Do we expect tomorrow to be any different? Do we expect to still be able to read and enjoy that ebook download in say 10 or 20 years? Do we even want to read the book again?
Subscription services coupled with deep and board repositories and on demand technology start to change consumer behaviour and values. Technology devices are becoming media agnostic, or should that be the other way around? Media is no longer confided to what your device can hold or a location but is now dependant on the network, or initially at least.
However as subscription serves and fail to grasp that ebooks are different to journals, film, music and even short form works.
So we have the question of ebook subscription and whether it can follow other media and be successful in the on demand world? The answer is yes and no.
First the yes would appear to be logical. A sort of return to the old book club but not restricted to a limited number of physical stocked titles but open to all titles. A club that cater for the eclectic tastes of readers. A place where readers can discover new authors, experiment with new genre and do so often within an ‘as much as you can read’ contract. A place where authors can show their wares and potentially engage with their readers. In addition it could offer a service where your library is virtual and the shelves never swag under the weight of old book s.
However, the reader has to get value for effectively licenced access as opposed to outright ownership. The challenge is that there is not an average rate of reads per month, per week or per year. To the person who reads a book a week or even more than this the offer may sound like ‘manna from heaven’, but to the person who struggles to read one book a month or is somewhat erratic in their habit, they offer may have little appeal. The point is that we are trying to get more people reading and not just appeal to the minority who are already hooked. This is a serious issue and one of the main reasons for the demise of the old book clubs who found themselves trying to feed a habit which was on the wane as their members became increasingly time poor.
The STM journal market has been built on subscription model but is very different in its creation and consumption model. The authors give their material for free, the articles are often peer reviewed for free and the journals are ‘sold’ back to the institutions on a title not firm commitment basis. In other words there is no guarantee that a said member of issues or articles will be published and there is no refund at the end of the year. The material itself is a ‘must have‘ for the institutions and the publishers offer review and authentication within their value proposition. This is far removed from the trade sector and today’s ebooks that it is somewhat irrelevant.
We must remember that there are two critical people in the value chain, the reader and the author and that any subscription model for any media must also work at both ends of the spectrum.
We have all read about the difference of opinion that has been aired over the royalties being received by artists from Pandora, Spotify and others. This itself does not mean that subscriptions are wrong or not rewarding for artists but says that the contracts and commercial arrangements made were not always in the interests of all parties. We must also remember that the music business entered into such contracts on a different basis than would publishers and the volumes involved are significantly larger.
The LoveFilm and Netflix market is also very different in and although it offers some interesting insights it is very different from the ebook trade and marketplace.
We have the practical or impractical sides of measuring a ‘read’. Irrespective of whether the overall model is based on ‘as much as you can eat’ or not, the royalty payments have to be based on discovery, access reading or some element that constitutes a ‘hit’. It is only right that the books which are read should be paid a royalty. After all we don’t have to pay to enter a bookshop or library and it is the selection that should trigger payment. However, what constitutes a read? If I select a book open it ead the first page and put it down does that count? If I get half way through it and tire and again put it down, does that constitute a read? If I select a book one month but don’t read it for six months or even over six months, when is the royalty due? These and many more interesting options have to be clear to all parties. Also there has to be measures that obviate counting abuse and provide transparent audit by interested parties.
Finally, there is that often thorny issue of whether the existing author’s contracts permit digital subscriptions, or whether it an assumed right? The transparency also needs t flow to the author’s royalty statement and not be buried in ‘net receipts.’
When we engage with a new business model, or channel, we have to assume that it may be a major source of income in the future and therefore ensure that unlike some other sectors the terms are sustainable and equitable  both today and potentially as the service grows.
So subscription services look attractive to many and should be rewarding for all, but they should be entered into with eyes wide open and not half shut. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

McReading to a Healthier Future?

Charlie Powell, campaigns director of the Children's Food Campaign - an alliance of 150 education bodies, health groups and children's charities says it's hard for parents to stand up to the barrage of junk food advertising. ‘There are huge hurdles they have to surmount to keep their children healthy. It's stuff that wasn't around in years gone by and food manufacturers are very sophisticated in the techniques they use to appeal to children.’
Once again we have to ask why the trade is continuing to tie the promotion of reading with Fast Food and openly supporting McDonalds advertising and promotion to children. Earlier this year McDonalds announced a two-year children’s books campaign in the UK, committing to "hand out more than 15 million books by the end of 2014” through a £1 book offer on its Happy Meal boxes. This has the backing of the UK’s National Literacy Trust, enabling customers to buy books for £1, with a token redeemable on selected books at W H Smith. Since we first reported th eUK campaign 'Does Publishing Have Ketchup On Its Hands?', we have reported on a similar campaign in Portugal, 'More Ketchup with Books on the Side' and now one has been announced in the US.
American Heart Association state that about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963. They claim that childhood obesity is now the No. 1 health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking. FRAC (the US Food research and action centre) claim that about a quarter of 2-5 year olds and one-third of school-age children (including adolescents) are overweight or obese in the U.S. (Ogden et al., 2012). The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention claim that Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Also, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.

They also state that a ‘healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases and that the dietary and physical activity behaviour of children and adolescents are influenced by many sectors of society.'

Against this background the UK McDonald's vice-president of marketing Alistair Macrow said: ‘We're excited to leverage our scale, our partnerships and our presence in communities across the country to help millions of mums, dads and children find the fun in reading. Our restaurants are designed to be colourful, exciting places that children and their parents come to for a treat and we're looking forward to books becoming a part of that family experience.’

Also the UK National Literacy Trust director Jonathan Douglas said the organisation was backing the campaign. "We are delighted that McDonald's is extending its commitment to giving families access to quality, affordable books.’

November is National Literacy Month in the US, and McDonald’s stores right across the US will give away 20 million books, which will feature McDonald’s characters. They are partnering with RIF (Reading is Fundamental), the largest children’s literacy non-profit in the U.S., which will be giving away 100,000 copies of the books to children who do not have easy access to books.

Ubong Ituen, vice president of marketing for McDonald’s USA says, ‘This is the latest step in our ongoing efforts to enrich the lives of families, and part of a broader book strategy that will combine the fun of the Happy Meal, new partners and technology to inspire more family reading time.’

It’s somewhat ironic that one of the interactive ebooks featured, which were developed by DK Publishing, include an interactive digital version of McDonald’s children’s meal print book, ‘The Goat Who Ate Everything.’

Some would ask whether some organisations have potentially got ‘ketchup on their hands’, in the blind pursuit of reading, at what would appear to be the cost of the health of their readers? 

Are Tablets Becoming Cheap Ticket Commodity Items?

We are starting to see a real convergence in the mobile device market. Tablets are shrinking with 7 inch now becoming a norm and smartphones are growing with 5.5 inch being just the starting point. We are also seeing tablets starting to become real throwaway commodities with prices now falling to under £100 and the big retailers starting to own brand and go after the market.

The challenge for many tablets is how they can now maintain a high price ticket yet offer little extra value over their cheap and cheerful counterparts? They have the same operating system, same apps and let’s face it aren’t that different. There will always be the ‘tag hags’ who buy the label to be seen with, but today more and more people want value, or a price that is a throw-away. The major UK retailers are developing their strategies to compete not with each other as much as with Amazon. Expect to see more compelling tablet ‘own label’ devices as we approach Christmas.

Interestingly, smartphones still retain a relatively high ticket. This may be down to many people being on fixed tariff contracts, or that the real choices are covered by but a few and that this scarcity of real offer maintains the high price.

So is it about ‘tin’, apps, context (search and discovery), or content? Some will say that it is now about brand and market share and that these other elements are merely sub-brands that support the major brand.
The technology cycle goes something like; idea, prototype, adapt, adopt, commodity, review, reinvent or move on. Perhaps some tablet technology is fast approaching commodity whilst eink is clearly at the ‘move on’ stage

The moves in the UK by Tesco and Argos have certainly made a clear statement re the price of tablets and it will be interesting to watch how those who live on greater margins but far narrower range react. Certain market segments, such as education, can now face a welcomed challenge, or an opportunity, where they can buy bulk and cheap and move forward, as opposed to buying expensive labels and fighting budget cuts. The entrance of cheap tablets may deliver that one laptop/tablet per child to UK schools, which in itself may change the digital journey for all of us.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

eBook Censorship In A Global Multi-Cultural World?

How do you censor the digital world? Can you censor the digital world? Is it right to even try to censor the digital world?
In the 70s and 80s campaigners such as Mary Whitehouse created movements such as the Student Christian Movement and Moral Re-Armament. She led a crusade to clean-up TV. She founded the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association and was a leading figure in the Nationwide Festival of Light. She did initiate a successful private prosecution against Gay News on the grounds of blasphemous libel, the first such case for more than fifty years. But her often overzealous mission waned, alienated many and public opinion accepted a more liberal approach. Malcolm Muggeridge’s TV attack on ‘The Life of Brian’ Python film and at John Cleese and Michael Palin is another example of the moral posturing of the time.
We now have the question of ebook content and self-publishing and whether a combination of these is promoting and selling pornographic e-books which feature incest, rape and bestiality and the reaction of sites such as Amazon, Kobo, Nook and others?
In a somewhat kneejerk reaction WH Smith took its site down and publicly stated this was with the sole aim of removing all abuse-themed ebooks. WH Smith partners with Kobo in the UK. Kobo meanwhile announced it was, ‘working quickly to review its catalogue and remove the content, authors and publishers in question’. They were also, ‘evaluating new procedures to help ensure that this type of content will not become available... in the future.’
Over the weekend US retailing giant Barnes & Noble said offending titles were in the process of being removed.
The questions are not whether the books are self-published or ‘published’, graphic or textural, but what is acceptable and what is not and how do you police abuse?
Some would suggest that automated programmes can be used to screen offensive titles, metadata and even the content itself, but what is offensive and once you draw a line in the sand how do you later adjust it to match changing public values? What may have been offensive 20 or even 10 years ago may be acceptable today and visa-versa.
Were ‘Lolita’, ‘Lady Chatterley,’ ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ and others acceptable to the moral majority on their release? Is ’50 Shades’ literature or soft porn? When does soft porn become hard? Is the violence portrayed in some video games acceptable or over the top? Are some of the Photographs of the likes of Newton, Mapplethorpe, Akari etc art or pornography? How do you determine whether a picture or video is abusive?
Words are just that and without context in there are meaningless. So do we have contextual search engines that determine what is good and what is evil? Is the answer binary, or are there 50 Shades of pornography? Should all material have a rating? A chiili counter, one chilli denotes with parents guidance and Five chillis, red hot and strictly adults only.
The previous owner of my wife’s business, Bibliophile, was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act for bringing into the UK a reprint of ‘The Amorous Illustrations of Thomas Rowlandson.’ The case was thrown out when it was revealed that the originals of many of the pictures were in the Queen’s private library. ‘If it was good enough for her Majesty, surely it was good enough for her subjects?’ was the killer remark.
Some would point to China with its reported millions of internet state watchers aimed at blocking and censoring unwanted material. Others would suggest that some governments are taking the right steps to block sites promoting abusive materials. But the question remains what is abusive and what is not?
The question of self-publishing is frankly a red herring and after all there are significant examples of similar materials that are ‘published.’

Finally, we must all remember that there is always the ultimate censor - ‘off’ button.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Why We Need To Challenge Today's eBooks

Offered below are just three arguments that force us to question what we publish today and what we should publish tomorrow. Individually, the arguments may not pass the ‘so what?’ test, but taken together they should ring alarm bells in every publishing building.

Firstly, we often assume we will see and understand change and importantly be prepared for it. The reality is very different and change today is not linear, nor is it predictable and in many cases it is disruptive. The industrial giants of yesterday have been overtaken by technology and networking companies who connect stuff. Things that were once impossible to imagine can now be achieved from anywhere, at any time, in a click. Technology is enabling us to reevaluate how we develop, manage and market content and its associated context. As change happens society adopts and adapts and expectations and values we took for granted also change. Technology is now enabling everyone to be a creator of content and to connect to an audience and this democratisation of creativity is further impacting content formats such as books, film, TV, music, games, photography, art.

Secondly, we are a society, which in the main, has an ownership culture. We buy bricks and mortar and called it home, we  then set about filling it with possessions, some transient and throw away and others more assets and collectibles. Our possessions often reflect and describe who we are, or who we aspire to be. Unlike yesterday many rooms may not be filled with shelves of books, music, films, magazines etc. On demand instant access to very large ’libraries’ starts to question the basics need for ownership and opens the market to models such as rental and subscription, which were not attractive in the old analogue world. Netflix, Lovefilm, Prime, Spotify, Pandora are all creating the on demand market in film and music and now the likes of Oyster, Scribd, Amazon and others are following their lead in the ebook market.  
Thirdly, the way we read, what we read and when we read and how we spend our leisure time today is increasingly different from 100 years ago, fifty years ago and even 20 years ago, yet the content itself has altered very little. The vast majority of ebooks today take the content developed for the physical container and merely pour it into a digital one. Is that logical? Are we presuming that’s what consumers want? Imagine we could take the text and create a perfect audiobook at a click, would we really expect that to be good enough or just a lazy quick fix. Today audiobooks are adapted from books and professionally read to fit the medium and consumers’ expectations. It’s true that they no longer are restricted by the digital media but just how long would it take to listen to ‘War and Peace’ with a synthesised voice? Screenplays of books adapt the content to fit the format, consumers’ expectations and budget. We do not have many 5 hour films and most fit within 180 to 240 minutes and may only cover a fraction of the book content. We don’t have many 15 minute music tracks and again these are no longer restricted by the media. 

So why are ebooks so wedded to the 75,000 word or 256 page economic physical book model?

How we should respond to these arguments today and what will we have to consider tomorrow?

We have been fixated on the end form, the finished book and not the creative process itself which for many has changed very little. We have remained locked to the physical book economics and presumed that the chicken will always lay the ebook egg. We have continued to be obsessed with units sold and largely ignored other models which may cause contract friction. We have continued to pour the same content into a similar digital container without thinking. We continue to view the book as the start and not the book as a potential subsidiary. We have many very well subscribed short story competitions which go nowhere. We have failed to grasp or translate the Japanese Keitai opportunity.

There is no silver bullet. No one solution way forward. Expecting that worked yesterday will continue to work tomorrow, is not good enough.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tablet, Phablet or Smartphone?

So how much would you pay for a tablet, or would you rather have a Phablet, or just a good smartphone? Does size matter? Do you have to be been seen with a 10”, 8”, 7” or a 5.5” device?
We find ourselves constantly asking what we want and what is the best fit for us? What is clear is that the only word that matters is ‘convergence’ and tablets may be just a stepping stone and far from the answer.
We have seen the emergence of eink readers and also their decline. Yes they may still sell and yes they may be good reading devices, but you don’t find many calculators around today as the functionality is absorbed into other more functional devices. The eInk readers are long past their sell by date and although the technogy still has legs the ereaders don’t.
We have seen many try to establish a tablet position on the back of the iPad. The reality is that many have failed and for a host of reasons. What is interesting is that the likes of the Kindle Fire and Nook which were aligned to retail brands and services have fared relatively well and driven down the price for many. Samsung and the Google offers have put in a respectable delivery but many more technology driven companies have failed.
Microsoft were determined to recapture the market with the Surface but it so far has lacked that something that it should have clearly had – the same OS and functionality as the laptop. The company is now writing off $1bn after missing sales targets, but isn't giving up and is unveiling two new Surface tablets.
Enter that supermarket Tesco with its Hudl tablet. Will it like the Amazon Fire appeal to Tesco’s customer base and offer a cheap but high quality alternative, or will it die a thousand cuts and have little style or designer appeal in a designer label world? It not just about delivering the cheapest, it’s also about creating something to be seen with. You don’t go to a black tie event clutching an Aldi bag. You may not want to be seen huddling up with a Hudl in public.
Having just upgraded to a Samsung Phablet, the Note 2, we don’t want to be carrying a luggable tablet around that has the same functionality, but is merely bigger. We don’t want to trying to manipulate spreadsheets and word documents on a smartphone that demands thin and nimble fingers and thumbs. The Samsung pen is a clear bonus and is truly amazing, but it’s the fact that Microsoft have given us a free Office app with our Office 365 licence so making all documents truly accessible and editable on the move. All our contacts, social networks, outlook email, gmail accounts, Skype and many more applications are now with us at all times. We can even watch our home security CCTV cameras and be alerted to disturbance and much more.
So it’s not just about, price, size, functionality and design but about lifestyle and that’s what make it easy to see today’s winners and hard to guess tommorrw’s.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

So Who Will Pay The eBook VAT on 1st January 2015?

We are all aware that the EU VAT rules will change at the beginning of 2015 and that this will effectively end the offshore tax loophole operations of the ebook operators. This EU rule change will not impact the corporation tax loophole and so we will not see a mass migration from those countries who offer low corporation tax today, but it demonstrates that the EU as a block has the ability when pushed to change the rules.

The EU official statement is available on their taxation and customs site. http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/taxation/vat/traders/e-commerce/

What it mean is that EU operators have to pay VAT at the point of consumption not at the point of dispatch and operations. They also no longer have to any VAT on consumption outside the EU which may be advantageous, but doesn’t not mean that the non EU country will not charge their own tax on digital services. Those supplying from outside the EU will be charged at point of consumption. A long overdue level playing field even though it is some 15 months away.

All operators will now have to amend their systems to operate and levy tax accordingly, which is not in itself a simple task.

This is going to be an interesting change to watch as those with a large customer base in a high VAT country will have to either pass on the hike in tax, absorb it or negotiate tighter supplier costs. We often automatically expect the cost increase to be passed onto the consumer but with digital ebooks this may not be as simple as that. As prices of ebooks continue to fall, we are clearly seeing the emergence of price points and once these start to be accepted by consumers, merely adding say 20% may not be palatable and it could trigger of a further hike in the price wars. Those with deeper pockets may elect to start to force a visible price difference and hurt the margins of others who don’t have the flexibility to part absorb this drop in profit, or the clout to get tighter cost prices.

Far from damaging Amazon this could damage others and in fact strengthen Amazon’s grip on suppliers and appeal to consumers.