Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Never Mind the Ethics - Get Children Reading

Today we are alarmed at the report in The Bookseller that Kobo and Fast food chain McDonald’s are teaming with, Hodder Children’s Books and National Literacy Trust (NLT) to give away ebooks to children when they buy a Happy Meal Box at the fast food chain.

Every Happy Meal box will come with an e-book voucher, which will allow customers to download a Famous Five book by Enid Blyton from Hodder Children’s Books. This new promotion is in addition to the existing one, where boxes contain one of six of Blyton’s Secret Seven stories and a £1 voucher that is redeemable to buy a Secret Seven or Famous Five book at WHSmith or Eason.

The World Health Organization (WHO) regards childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century. The latest UK National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) figures, for 2012/13, show that 18.9% of children in Year 6 (aged 10-11) were obese and a further 14.4% were overweight. Of children in Reception (aged 4-5), 9.3% were obese and another 13.0% were overweight. This means almost a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds were overweight or obese. Results from the Health Survey for England (HSE), claim that some 28% of children aged 2 to 15 were classed as either overweight or obese. However, it should be noted that imbalanced diet is only one cause of the steep rise in childhood obesity

Early this week we wrote 'Do we continue to have Ketchup on our hands today?' referred to the article on the content of McDonald’s Hamburgers 'Hamburger Chef Jamie Oliver Proves McDonald’s Burgers “Unfit for human consumption”' and questioned the industry’s continual support of promotional the ‘free book’ programmes via McDonalds.

Kobo is probably getting used to controversy.

On a separate ethical note, last month, we raised in our article 'Does Rakuten Deal In Blood eCommerce?' the exposure by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), of Japanese retail giant Rakuten, who own the likes of and ebook operator Kobo. Their report claims that Rakuten is the world’s biggest online marketplace for elephant ivory and whale meat products. 

On a further separate ethical note, last year Kobo, WHSmith's eBooks partner also had to quickly respond to complaints that pornographic e-book material appeared alongside children’s literature on the W H Smith website. Kobo said this was as a result of “a select group of publishers and authors violating the self-publishing policies of our platform". John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee at the time, said it was “it is unacceptable that anyone could access this material within a click of a mouse.”

Some may suggest that the apparent lack of an ethical code by some would lead others to question the true price being adopting in getting people reading.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

HELLO! Books Are Digitally Different

So what will be the next technology must have and what will drive its adoption? Will media come second and merely follow new technology?

In the last decade we have seen the transition from fixed location desktop PCs, through luggable laptops, the life and death of the notepad, the ‘air’ laptops and the explosion of the tablet. We have seen single functional devices such as the eink ereaders come and almost go, the transition from games only consoles to games anywhere, the death of the music only iPod and Zune and those video movie players. Home entertainment devices and interoperability has been redefined. The app, the cloud and streamed media services have arrived. Today the smartphone, or computer in your pocket, has taken over all our lives.

It has been a decade of significant technological and culture change and is unlikely to stop or even slow down as the technology shrinks, gets more powerful and anytime, anywhere and at high speed continue to drive our thirst to be connected. Our interface with technology is becoming more intuitive and although we may still be some distance from Pranev Mistry’s sixth sense world, it’s coming.

So how are the media and creative industries responding? What can we expect to see soon and what is still stuck some way off?

If we just look at film, music and books we see that although technology has increasingly impacted the development of the stuff, the output is the same. Films are still 90 to 120 mins long and apart from some 3D and computer aided technology the majority remain as they were. Music still retains the same length of tracks and although the technology has dumbed down the quality of content, a song is still a song. Books remain books with the vast majority of ebooks being straight digital renditions of the physical book.

However, there is a significant difference between books and the other two media. Film does not exist in a native technology free form, Unless you count the theatre and live music performances, both Film and music are very different cultural experiences and consumer purchases and not something you can put on the shelf and replay at will. Music has evolved through a series of disruptive technology changes, from vinyl, cassettes, 8track, CDrom, to today’s streamed MP3 on demand. Vinyl may be enjoying a small and limited renaissance and success in clubs, but for the average consumer it’s only like discovering a pile of old 78s and then looking for the device to play them on. The gramophone players, Walkman, ghetto blasters have gone and today we have the personalised earpiece connected to the smartphone and the cloud.

Books are different. Books remain and ebooks are a competing new rendition like the paperback was to the hardback. This difference challenges the ebooks ability to be a disruptive rendition and to kill off its previous forms. Book technology and the reader goes back hundreds of years and isn’t broken, nor is it made obsolete by the new form or its evolving technology. Therefore eBooks over pBooks is not a straight binary decision choice.

When we first grappled with the ebook in the 90s we often tried to enhance and exploit the content with the technology. Many fingers got burnt and so when it returned under the eink revolution, many kept it simple and also found that the eink technology didn’t exactly encourage content enhancement. However as tablets, mobile and smartphone technology become ubiquitous some may now return to enhance the content. Others may choose a different route and abridge it, or even play to the strengths of the technology and embrace the obvious – the short form.

Whatever the route taken the stupid thing would be to continue to merely pour the same content into a digital container. This logic is flawed as it not only creates competition where competition is not needed and can be counter-productive, but it fails to understand the technology, the cultural changes that are happening and the opportunities that are available for the two that matter - the author and the reader.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Buy, Read and Then Return Your German eBook?

When we look at the Amazon dashboard we are often confused as why, or how, there can be the odd one ebook return. After all you can see everything you need on the screen, make your mind up and even sample the content before you buy, so why is there a refund. The official Amazon policy on returned eBooks is: 'Books you purchase from the Kindle Store are eligible for return and refund if we receive your request within 7 days of the date of purchase. Once a refund is issued, you will no longer have access to the book. To request a refund and return, visit the Manage Your Kindle page. Click the Actions tab for the title you'd like to return, and select "Return for refund"'

Some would suggest it reflects Amazon’s customer-friendly return policy and others that it’s easier for them to do than other services where the horse has literally bolted out the stable door and isn’t coming back. Some go as far as to suggest that it's like going into a restaurant, buying your meal, eating it and then getting your money back.

Barnes and Noble state that 'Once purchased, eBooks cannot be refunded.' and this also is the policy of Sony who state 'Please confirm all purchases before you complete them as all sales are final. There are no refunds for digital content.' Kobo Books doesn't provide information on their refund policy and consider all sales are final and once the services commences, customers cannot cancel the contract or payment. The iTunes Store Terms of Sale, also state that all purchases made on the iTunes Store are final. This policy matches Apple’s refund policies and provides protection for copyrighted materials.

However, we now read in eBook bout a change to German consumer law that potentially gives everyone a no quibble return window of up to 14 days on digital products. These new regulations come into effect in June this year and will require online retailers to offer refunds for ebooks and other digital downloads under an extended “right of withdrawal”.

So you buy the ebook, quickly read it, then return it within 14 days and you get your money back. The question is how will retailers stop abuse especially with respect to services which don’t synchronise activity post download?

Retailers will have the option of trying to get consumers to waive their right to a refund and no doubt the small print may be about to get even longer and smaller.

We had to look twice to ensure it wasn’t April 1st, or a spoof by the German equivalent to The Onion, but it appeared not, so someone in the German legislature must be just having a laugh.

Do We Continue to Have Ketchup on Your Hands Today?

We first wrote over a year ago and asked, 'Does Publishing have Ketchup on its Hands?' The article was about about the fast food give away of books to children by MacDonald's. We were told by some that it was the parent's choice, the food was not that bad and it was important to reach children.

Well  since then we have all read many reports about how childhood obesity is getting worse and is being part fuelled by the fast food outlets, but last week an equally important and alarming article was published by  the Mind Unleashed organisation entitled 'Hamburger Chef Jamie Oliver Proves McDonald’s Burgers “Unfit for human consumption”'.

We will not say any more except to ask why the publishing industry continues to support promotional programmes which would appear to be at odds with any reasonable corporate ethics and moral policy?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Making Reading Fit Today's Lifestyle

Is it a surprise that men read less in today’s channel hopping, multimedia, time poor environment? Are we really shocked to find that some 63% of men polled in a recent UK survey said that they prefer to spend time on the internet or watch the big screen version of a book? Many claim to blame a lack of time, whilst 20% stated that they find it difficult or don’t enjoy reading.

So what is the industry response and reaction to the news from the study commissioned by the Reading Agency conducted by OnePoll which polled some 2,000 UK men and women?

Some believe that the answer lies in more of the same assisted by that great give-away event, World Book Night. It’s as if they believe that all can be converted to reading by a freebie and that they can somehow like King Canute, control the tide from coming in. The reality is that social culture is changing and is being driven by many competing demands. The internet and mobile technology is having a significant impact on what we all do, how we do it and where we spend or effort, time and money and although books have significantly benefited from the exposure they have been given, they remain wedded to the physical world and yesterday’s culture. Many still believe that it’s just a case of pouring the finished physical book content into the digital container. They have failed to grasp the opportunity or understand the difference between physical and digital consumption. Some also believe that it is a case of adding more to what already exists and by doing so enrich the physical book with multi media. They have often failed, or ignored the lessons of others and from the often disastrous CDRom days of the late 90s.

To get more people reading and enjoying the experience you have to encourage them by giving them something that fits their lifestyle, habits, time windows and technology today. Some will not take up the offer, others may migrate to the physical book and time commitment and some may remain at the entry point. But trying to force feed them with something that they already have rejected and doesn’t fit their culture is very questionable.

So it’s no surprise to many who have read our previous articles that we believe that the digital offer now requires serious and radical overhaul. Merely pouring that physical content into the digital container is na├»ve, as it undermines the physical product and makes it a substitution sale, assumes that the experience and appeal is the same and importantly reduces opportunities for authors to reach new audiences.

If we want to grow reading we have to adapt what we expect people to read. We have to give them something that is digestible. Some would suggest that what we are doing to today is like expecting, in the early age of mass literacy, the Victorian masses, to rush out and read War and Peace as their first book. We may learn from other media sectors but we can also learn a great deal from history too.

Making reading relevant to today's lifestyle is different from making today's lifestyle adjust to reading. Giving away books is relatively easy, getting people to change their habits is a lot harder and without change some would suggest that it is relatively easy to predict the results of next year’s Reading Agency survey.