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?