Thursday, May 30, 2013

HTML5 To Be Put Under DRM?

Many see the emerging HTML5 web standard as the way forward to address many of today’s challenges. Irrespective of device, as long as you have access to the web HTML5 and a browser you are connected. But then we have the vested interest of Hollywood and others who are fixated on control and locking up access.

Today the body responsible for developing HTML5 standards, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is locked in an ideological battle with bodies such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Should we care –Yes. Will the outcome impact us – Yes.

The EFF have stated publicly their case online, ‘Why the HTML5 Standard Fight Matters’

The battle is over the proposed Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) to HTML5, which may sound little but threaten to lock up media content under all browsers and effectively port the cumbersome and consumer un-centric world of DRM onto the World Wide Web, or as we all know it, the Internet. The EFF are far from alone in the battle and some 27 rights groups and others have written directly to Sir Berners-Lee stating their opposition.

Some have argued that far from an open interoperable web we could have images and pages that cannot be saved or searched, a situation where ads cannot be blocked, browsers become restricted and much of we enjoy today is effectively controlled under the big content companies. It would be like have DRM applied by many over all the internet.

In response, W3C chief executive Jeffrey Jaffe writing on the subject clearly recognises that  EME is contentious but says that the proposed EME specification ‘only defines Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that would provide access to content decryption modules (CDMs), part of Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems.’ In other words they are merely creating the hooks into HTML5 and not the CDM /DRM technology that could be used by others to create their ‘walled gardens.’

It is clearly a battle between those who value interoperability, access and the principles under which the W3C have worked and the vested and of the major media companies who want to lock up access to material within the Internet.

We may not be able to influence the outcome but ultimately it is the consumer who will either enjoy the interoperable and openly available fruits of HTML5, or find they are inaccessible, or hidden, behind many walled gardens.

Aberdeen Schools: One Smartphone Per Child

So what technology will prevail in schools? Will the schools invest in tablets, laptops, smartphones or teacher technology such as white boards?

It’s often interesting to read how one district, school or even country decides to place all their bets on one platform and we see mass buying. The converse is as often true with many authorities unsure of what will prevail and opting to spread their bets across all platforms. At the end of day it’s often down to cost and budget and who happened to make the best offer.

The Telegraph reports on Aberdeen's school authority which is planning on lifting its ban of pupil’s smartphones in some 62 primary and secondary schools. The authority have not only lifted the ban but propose to actively encourage smartphones as a learning tool in schools which will effect some 24,000 pupils.

The authority is also taking the bold step of addressing the digital divide between the ‘have’s and have not’s’ by investing some £860,000
 to provide access to a smartphone or tablet for all pupils.  
They state that access the internet in class unsupervised will be prohibited and filtered and that pupils would also not be allowed to make phone calls.

An investment of some £35 a head would appear small but could also have significant implications moving forward. Is the investment a one off and if so, how long before the technology bought requires replacement? If the investment is based on a rental model is it then an annual charge on the budget and does it then compete with other learning resources? Should parents buy their children the best device or align it to the schools, or just let the schools buy them full stop?

We are in favour of schools being technology enabled and all pupils being given access but find ourselves asking that old question of which came first the technology chicken or the content egg? 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pick-Up a Penguin

Penguin Truck on tour

At first glance it reminds you of those quick food vans selling coffee and burgers, but this one is stuffed with books not buns.
Penguin have launched a mobile bookstore division aimed at connecting their authors directly with their readers. The tour starts this week at Book Expo America in New York before it moves onto the Mark Twain House in Hartford and Chicago at the end of June for the American Library Association Conference. The tour will take in Sallisaw, OK; Oklahoma City, OK; Canyon, TX; Albuquerque, NM; Flagstaff, AZ; Bakersfield, CA.
It’s kind of quirky and novel and certainly projects the brand. It’s a pity that the white stripe is missing from the van and you could introduce branded deckchairs for folk to sit on under the awnings. Does it play a tune as it approaches, like the ice cream vans do in the UK to tell the children they are here?
It begs the question whether it is the begging of Penguin Random House setting up their own stores in the US, or just a PR and marketing promotion? Whatever it certainly brings some fun and a smile back into bookselling.
Watch the video and more:
Penguin Truck - Penguin Group (USA)

Shifting Technology Boundaries

Technology offers and can quickly deliver social, cultural, medical benefits and opportunities that are often beyond our imagination, but at the same time, it can introduce new threats and risks to our personal information and lives. Balancing the evolution of technology to ensure we can manage these conflicts is probably our greatest challenge.

Today’s technology can accumulate random data from multiple sources to analyse; who we know, who we don’t know, how many steps away from individuals we are, when we last ‘chattered’ and what we communicated. They are capturing the various intertwining circles of social influence and relationships we all have. It can accumulate data on our behaviour; our views, our habits, when and what we buy and what we don’t buy and from where and what we looked at but passed on. It is in fact able to map our taste and probably predict our action and reaction to certain propositions and actions. It knows private information that can identify and authenticate us as individuals and going now even further than mere passwords and ids, to capture information on our very personal identifiers and distinguishing features. Every time we stamp a facial recognition on a photo we are in fact  ‘date and time stamping’ more personal information and aiding facial and feature recognition.

The emerging technology is not only mobile and constantly switched on, but is becoming increasingly intuitive and closer to our senses. Glasses with screens and cameras and driven by voice instructions, are capable of capturing our every movement. We shall be able to identify those in our vision through face recognition and be fed all the facts about them whilst they stand in front of us. Through tracking we shall be able to know who is just around the corner and even out of sight! We can now scroll information with our retina movement of our eyes without even a verbal instruction and in doing s, capture more information on how we navigate, not to sit in a historical repository, but to help our future activity.

The world of the ‘sixth sense’ is upon us.

The boundaries between different services we use are often blurring and what once were standalone social network such as Facebook or Linkedin are is now cross fertilising with email, skype, twitter, blogs, photo and music libraries etc.

So where are we going in the world some refer to as the new contextual dimension? Who will hold the information cards and who and how will information be used? Yesterday it was about content, products and access to all things material. Tomorrow it’s about the social and behavioural extension of information about us.

Marketing becomes mass marketing on a direct marketing basis. Upselling now is becoming about feeding known habits and true likes and dislikes and not merely trying to guess buying habits based on what individual’s bought. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Digital Platforms Are Strategically Changing

This last week we have seen three pieces of news which were all worthy of note but when taken together offer us an interesting insight into the strategies players need to adopt moving forward. Today is no longer a case of simply having one compelling offer or thinking that you own a slice of the market. Tomorrow will be won by those with broad appeal and that add real value.
First there is the launch of BT’s digital sports television service. We already have a saturated market in the UK with players such as Sky dominating. Taking on Sky with a straight head to head offer would have been yesterday’s approach, would have probably resulted in a bloody price war and could have been an expensive failure. So BT bid a won some significant rights to live sports including some 30 Premier soccer matches but how would they use these to build their consumer base?
The answer is now out, they will effectively give it away on the back of their broadband service. Those that subscribe to their broadband now get free access to live soccer over the internet. This not only captures the heart and minds of soccer fans who up to now have to buy it as a secondary added service but introduces that magic consumer word ‘free’. Consumers can pay an extra subscription to BT and get it delivered onto their TV through a set top box in HD but many will happily watch on their tablets, laptops and even smartphones.
BT has not only slapped Sky across the face but it has put pressure on those broadband providers that have been eating away at their business. The move reinforces BT broadband services and is a smart move.
Second we have the news / rumours that Microsoft (MS) are about to splash out $1billion to fully acquire Barnes and Noble’s Nook digital world. The hardware is already being phased out and discounted and the partnership / joint venture that offered so much is now being taken over by the Seattle giant.
This would bring MS into the media battles again. Remember Zune that music competitor to the iPod, or their latest damp squib Surface, the tablet that choose the wrong operating system – again. Microsoft has a track record of getting things wrong and playing catch-up. However when they do acquire a readymade solution such as SKYPE they can screw up over engineering something that didn’t need the attention. Try accessing Skype today on Windows 8, through a browser or on an Android smartphone and you would think you were connecting with three different applications.
So what will Microsoft do with Nook? Maybe they will focus on education, but exactly what will it give them? Perhaps they believe that they can take on Amazon but do they really understand media or just bits and bytes? It’s a great financial exit for Barnes and Noble but what’s in it for the consumer?
Thirdly we have the rumours that Amazon is planning to launch its own smartphone.
We often ask what is amazon. Is it a media retailer, a publisher, a one stop shop, a marketplace, a technology company? The answer is probably all the above but primarily it’s a community hub that attracts many through not one but many offers and its quality service.
So why a smartphone? Well it’s an obvious extension of its hardware offer and remember when Apple went into the phone business we asked the same of that move. Unlike Apple it doesn’t need to plough its own furrow and can piggy back on a wealth of technology already out there. Maybe like BT it sees a way of being able to offer primary services with added value additional service that effectively lock in consumers.
Tomorrow is not about the best device, the best product offer, the cheapest price, the widest range, the fastest connection. It is about the best holistic offer that adds real value and is built around a primary driver.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Shrinking Discretionary Spending

We are increasingly moving toward a subscription lifestyle which bodes well for some and could give others a few sleepless nights as consumers’ discretionary spending effectively shrinks.
Only last week we were discussing subscription models with a financial industry expert, who informed us that it is being predicted that some 10% of spending could be subscription based in the near future. That may sound a small percentage but when we remove the must buys on rent, utilities, food, clothing etc. it leaves little discretionary spending and that 10% suddenly becomes a much larger threat and leaves far less in the pocket.
So what does this mean to a media sector and who could be the winners and losers?
Film has increasingly embraced the subscription model with cinema clubs and mega download stores such as Netflix and Television has also moved from its previous dependence on ad revenues to build significant subscription layered services which are aimed at reducing churn and locking members into a bigger package which invariably now includes broadband, phone and much more.
Software was once traded on a one off fee and a perpetual licence, but this makes little sense for the developers who have to maintain a growing and changing environment. We now have Microsoft Office 365 on an annual subscription and Adobe products such as their Creative Suite, Dreamweaver Illustrator and Photoshop going onto a monthly on demand fee model. Interestingly Adobe will still sell standalone versions but these will not be upgraded and today may date very quickly. Abobe are to offer the whole creative suite for a 12 month contract based on fees of £47 a month (£564 pa as opposed to today’s £1800). Software providers see this move as freeing them from the traditional 18 to 24-month upgrade cycle and enable them to release updates as they became available.
Music is still in flux but the likes of Spotify and Pandora have both established significant user bases based on a simple on demand subscription model.
Newspapers have all fallen in and out of love with paywalls for accessing their digital versions. The challenge is often the wealth of material outside of the service and often news is news and unless a specific source adds real value paywalls will continue to have mixed success.
STM, professional and academic publishing has generally been a subscription based environment.
So what about the book trade?
Some have introduced digital subscription models but unless there is a base of heavy readers and wealth of materials it often fails to hit the consumer button. The old book clubs had the opportunity to migrate their offer to digital but often failed to visualise the potential and execute the change. There are obvious potential opportunities for the likes of Amazon. They already have subscription based offers such as Audible, Lovefilm, Free time and that Trojan horse Prime. Being able to mix and match these with on demand offers would give them a substantial offer that very few would be able to match.
If you are able to get all you want, at the right price do you want to shop around? Does the subscription model enhance the consumer / provider relationship and effectively lock out others? We all would like to market and sell direct but for many this will not be practical and being inside the subscription tent may prove more rewarding than being outside it. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The History That Gives us Read Petite

The digital era allows us to revisit what once worked but became inefficient and uneconomical in the physical world. It is not a case of repeating the old ways but understanding how digital technology and network connectivity can redefine the process and make what once work , work again.

We are working on a new venture Read Petite which reintroduces and redefines short form for today’s time poor readers.

Humans love short-form reading.  The recorded history of the short story goes back to the likes of Homer and collections such as Aesop’s Fables. Much later came Chaucer, Boccaccio and the early translation of collections such as The Arabian Nights. Then came Sir Walter Scott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Brothers Grimm and Edgar Allen Poe whose definition of the form still stands: a narrative that can be read at one sitting.

The age of mass literacy ushered in even more opportunities for short-form reading.   The widespread popularity of periodicals created a vast appetite for short-form reading of all types, creating opportunities for the likes of Dickens, Hardy, Kipling, Wells and Conan Doyle in the UK and Melville, Washington and Henry James in the US. Russian writers such as Tolstoy and Turgenev rose to fame on the back of the short story, and their fellow compatriot Chekov is widely credited as defining its structure for others to follow.

Today's publishers would be envious of the commercial successes of many of these pioneers of the form.  For example, in 1837, Dickens was selling some 50,000 copies of his Pickwick periodicals at a shilling a time.  By the time that Great Expectations was published in installments in 1861, he was selling 100,000 units a week.   Interestingly, installment-publishing didn’t cannibalise sales of the complete single-volume book - in fact, serialisation fuelled interest in the full-length work.

In the early 20th century, periodicals such as The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Scribner’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire and The Bookman in the US and  The Strand, The Sketch, Harper’s and Story-Teller in the UK continued to feed an apparently-insatiable market.  Many of today's "classic" authors were given their first platform and public recognition through short-form writing, including Somerset Maugham, Saki, P.G. Wodehouse, G.K. Chesterton and Agatha Christie. In the US, writers such as F Scott Fitzgerald, Parker, Hemmingway and Faulkner often earned high fees for their short stories.  In the 1920s, the Evening Post was paying Fitzgerald $4,000 for a single story, (the equivalent of $80K today).

The market broadened still further with the rise of mass-market weeklies and monthlies.  For example, in the UK, weekly magazines such as Woman, Woman’s Own and Women’s Weekly started to dominate the short-form market.  "Name" authors gave way to genre fiction, literary to mass-market. 

The Fall and Rise of Short-Form
In the latter half of the 20th century short-form writing took a tumble.  Outlets for short fiction atrophied: for example, IPC Media who dominate the UK woman's magazine market have seen a 22.5% drop in year-on-year sales (2011 compared to 2010).

While readers were as keen as ever on the medium - and writers certainly wanted to write it - book publishers found it increasingly difficult to package it in a profitable way. Physical production costs for a short story are close to that of a full-length work ten times the size - yet consumers clearly would not pay the same price for a 2,500 word piece as they would for a 125,000 word tome.  Distribution costs are identical, too.  To put it simply, the short-form story became largely uneconomic for publishers to sell.

The golden, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity created by the ascent of digital publishing is revolutionising every aspect of the publishing business, but nowhere more than in the realm of short-form publishing.  Physical productions costs have vanished.  Distribution expenses, while not disappearing, are now simply one more minor amortisable cost - and physical distribution costs, such as warehousing have of course vanished completely.

All this makes the rise of short-form reading little short of inevitable and Read Petite both viable and exciting.

All Change At Tools of Change

Often knowing when to stop and move on is harder than continuing to plough the same old furrow.

Last week Tim O’Reilly decide to call it a day on his well respected ‘Tools of Change’ adventure. 

Many applauded him for the work he had done in moving the digital agenda forward, whilst others said he should continue and owed it to his follows to keep up the work. We are not able to say what tipped his thinking to flip his attention elsewhere, but will say that we should never expect any party to go on forever.

Tools of Change arrived at the right time. It fed the appetite of many to understand the emerging digital landscape and listen to those breaking new ground. It certainly pulled together the brightest and reshaped the Book Fair World. We attended one of the conferences and found ourselves wondering what all these folk attending would be doing, or adopting, if they didn’t have this focal point?

Does the shutting up of the Tools of Change mean we are fully conversant with digital and change? We would suggest not and change is all around us. But it does signal the end of the beginning and the question now is as what follows and how will that help shape our thinking. Perhaps it signals the end to the mega conference, which in our opinion is probably well overdue, but again we have thought that for a long time. Perhaps it signals an end to the ‘payola’ conference where money can buy the platinum sponsor a speaking slot, a booth, literature in the delegate pack and even if they have little to say. We refused to be drawn into this sham circuit with its often predictable group of speakers and luvvies.

Perhaps it draws an end to the constant barrage of conferences and pulls them together around major Book Fairs.

Others will step into the void and some are already doing so, but are they merely replicating the formula or adding new ingredients?

We remember Richard Charkin shutting up his blog, which was insightful but often more a mixture of social insights and executive travels than a commendatory on digital advancement. Then Evan Schnittman took off those Black Plastic Glasses and said we are now digital time to put this pen down. Now Tools of Change is moving on.

It’s ironic that this last month we have written nothing. Were we missed? Did the digital world stop spinning? Probably we were the ones most frustrated and itching to write about so many things, but we found ourselves not with writer’s block as much as a desire to get on with something different.

We have just announced our Read Petite venture with ex Chief Editor of the Bookseller, Neill Denny, Agent and broadcaster, Peter Cox and founder of Waterstone’s Tim Waterstone. We found ourselves wanting to write about Read Petite at the expense of all else. That would clearly be wrong but how do we balance the industry commentary with what we feel so passionately about?

After some 2,200 blogs, we have decided it’s not time to move on but it is time to start to rethink what we write and how we communicate it. It’s a bit like when Bibliophile started t do video reviews to supplement the text ones. We saw the power of the visual the passion of the reviewer and realised that text reviews are good but are only they because that was the only way we could effectively express them. Today music is about YouTube more than it’s about iTunes. Conferences are more about TED than packing a room full of delegates and collecting money of the speaker’s companies. Commenting on change is about effecting it and helping it happen than writing about it.