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May 04 2012

Publishing News: Nook gets Microsoft, and soon NFC

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my eye this week.

Microsoft enters the battle of the publishing tech giants

NookLogo.pngAfter hinting in January that something might be in the works for the Nook, a deal between Microsoft and Barnes & Noble was announced this week. Reuters reports:

"Microsoft Corp will invest $300 million in Barnes & Noble Inc's digital and college businesses ... Microsoft will get a 17.6 percent stake in the new unit, while Barnes & Noble will own about 82.4 percent ... The business, whose name has not yet been decided, will have an ongoing relationship with Barnes & Noble's retail stores."

Much discussion is flurrying about.

Felix Salmon has an interesting analysis at Wired, writing that "the news does mean that Barnes & Noble won't need to constantly find enormous amounts of money to keep up in the arms race with Amazon. That's largely Microsoft's job, now." He also points out that the real winners here are readers: "... we finally have a real three-way fight on our hands in the e-book space, between three giants of tech: Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. And that can only be good for consumers."

Publisher Thad McIlroy offers an initial analysis of the deal, likening the "marriage" to "two losers stumbling to the altar without bridesmaids or witnesses," and a subsequent in-depth look at just what the $300 million exchange means to both sides:

"I know that Microsoft gained in part because the press release states that the two companies 'settled their patent litigation.' To merely settle patent litigation gives you no idea of who the winner is; the settlement can take myriad forms.

However, the sentence in the press release continues, 'moving forward, Barnes & Noble and Newco will have a royalty-bearing license under Microsoft's patents.' That means Barnes & Noble has agreed to pay Microsoft for some or all of its previously disputed patents via this new company (currently called 'Newco'). And that means Microsoft managed to gain the upper hand in these negotiations." [Link added.]

Microsoft analyst Mary Jo Foley over at ZDNet took a look at what the partnership could mean for future devices: a Windows-powered e-reader, perhaps? She reports that during a press/analyst call, "[Microsoft President Andy Lees] mentioned a few times that Microsoft is positioning Windows as key to the future of reading."

O'Reilly GM and publisher Joe Wikert argues this isn't about ebooks at all, suggesting that "Microsoft should instead use this as an opportunity to create an end-to-end consumer experience that rivals Apple's and has the advertising income potential to make Google jealous." He also wonders if Microsoft might influence B&N to deeply discount Nook prices with a two-year content purchase requirement, similar to what the company just did with the Xbox.

In any case, it looks like Wikert's wish for an end-to-end UX might already be in the works. In an interview about the Microsoft deal at CNN Fortune, Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch says plans are underway to improve offline-online integration to bring a richer experience to customers:

"We're going to start embedding NFC chips into our Nooks. We can work with the publishers so they would ship a copy of each hardcover with an NFC chip embedded with all the editorial reviews they can get on BN.com. And if you had your Nook, you can walk up to any of our pictures, any our aisles, any of our bestseller lists, and just touch the book, and get information on that physical book on your Nook and have some frictionless purchase experience. That's coming, and we could lead in that area."

In response to whether NFC functionality will roll out this year, Lynch said, "Maybe ..."

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Amazon loses shelf space

Target decided this week that it would cease carrying the Kindle and its accessories. The Verge reports that "the company is going to stop carrying the line of products due to a 'conflict of interest'" and that "[c]ertain accessories will remain in stock, but shipments of Kindles themselves will cease as of May 13th." Exactly why this decision was made remains a bit unclear, though speculations are being bandied about.

The LA Times quotes a Target spokeswoman with the official benign company line: "Target continually evaluates its product assortment to deliver the best quality and prices for our guests," but then points to a New York Times story with a much more telling tidbit:

"'What we aren't willing to do is let online-only retailers use our brick-and-mortar stores as a showroom for their products and undercut our prices,' Target executives wrote in a letter to vendors, asking them to think of new pricing and inventory strategies, according to a note that Deborah Weinswig, a Citi analyst, sent to clients."

Laura Hazard Owen at GigaOm covers a couple possible reasons for Kindle eviction. Given the note quoted in the New York Times, the most likely seems to be that Amazon tried to negotiate new terms that Target just couldn't accept, or vice versa. Owen notes a couple of other important points to consider: Target will continue carrying other brands of ereaders and accessories, including the Nook, and that Apple is set to begin a mini-store test program with Target.

Also notable: Thus far, I haven't seen Amazon comment on the situation.

Is the end of ereaders and ebooks nigh?

The battle for King of the Ereaders may soon come to an end — not because one of tech giants wins the war, but because ebook formats lose out to the web and HTML5. So argues Jani Patokallio, publishing platform architect at Lonely Planet, in a blog post.

He says it all boils down to publishing rights and publishers opting "to circle wagons, stick their fingers in their ears and pretend digital is print." He argues that "in the print publishing industry, publishing rights for different countries and languages are both standard practice and a big deal," but these same agreements don't make sense for digital publishing. They are, in fact, hindering the customers' ability to purchase and read books:

"Customers today are expected to buy into a format that locks down their content into a silo, limits their purchasing choices based on where their credit card happens to have been registered, is designed to work best on devices that are rapidly becoming obsolete, and support only a tiny subset of the functionality available on any modern website. Nonetheless, publishers are seeing their e-book sales skyrocket and congratulating themselves on a job well done."

Patokallio says that "[o]n the Web, the very idea that the right to read a website would vary from country to country seems patently absurd," and that ebooks have an obvious replacement:

"The same medium that already killed off the encyclopedia, the telephone directory and the atlas: the Web. For your regular linear fiction novel, or even readable tomes of non-fiction, a no-frills PDF does the job just fine and Lonely Planet has been selling its travel guidebooks and phrasebooks a chapter at a time, no DRM or other silliness, as PDFs for years now. For more complicated, interactive, Web-like stuff, throw away the artificial shackles of ePub and embrace the full scope of HTML5, already supported by all major browsers and usable right now by several billion people."

Patokallio's post is a must-read, and there were a couple indications this week that he might be on to something. First, "[t]he Financial Times is preparing to kill off its iPad and iPhone app for good, signalling its final conversion from executable-app to web-app publishing." Second, in a post at Wired regarding the Microsoft deal with B&N, Felix Salmon says: "... over the long term, we're not going to be buying Kindles or Nooks to read books. Just as people stopped buying cameras because they're now just part of their phones, eventually people will just read books on their mobile device, whether it's running Windows or iOS or something else."

Related:


May 03 2012

Commerce Weekly: Mobile payments and the consumer experience

Here are a few stories from the commerce space that caught my eye this week.

Don't forget the mobile payment UX

PayPalSquareLogo.jpgCompetition in the mobile payment space is heating up, as Square's payment pace closes in on PayPal's, according to a report at Bloomberg. The report highlights a recent move by Square to lure in merchants: "The San Francisco company is making cash from sales before 5 p.m. on any day available in merchants' accounts on the next business day, compared with as many as five days out for other processors."

The real endgame, though, will be adoption by consumers, and Lauren Goode over at All Things Digital addressed the battle to control digital wallets from a UX perspective. Goode reports on her experience shopping around San Francisco and New York, paying either with Pay with Square or PayPal's mobile app. She says both apps are easy to use and that the biggest issue for both was the lack of merchants accepting payments of this type. Another issue she mentions caught my eye, however — the execution inconsistencies:

"Square has been touting the idea that this app actually allows for 'hands-free' payments ... One shop I bought coffee at didn't see my name right away, even though I had turned on the tab in the iPhone version of the app. I tried to buy another item using the app on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus Android phone, and my name didn't appear at all on the list of customers in the store.

But at another downtown coffee shop I was able to walk in, place my order and say, 'Charge it to Lauren Goode' — without taking my phone out of my pocket — and the transaction was completed in seconds."

And regarding a beef jerky purchase using PayPal's app:

"Since data service on my phone happened to be particularly bad in that area, I initially had trouble dropping the digital pin within the app that's supposed to let the merchant know I was there. The merchant also had to reboot his phone once to process the payment on his end. But once I switched over to Wi-Fi, I had four options for paying him ..."

Goode also reports on location-based features and the importance of merchant-provided content — her entire account is well worth the read.

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E-gifting and mobile commerce get social

Social gifting is gearing up to be one of the next big mobile commerce booms, according to a report at Reuters. The post focuses on the launch of Wrapp, a Swedish-based app startup, and highlights the blurring lines of online and brick-and-mortar commerce worlds. It describes the app:

"It allows Facebook friends to buy each other gift cards from participating retailers either individually or by teaming up, which they can store on their mobile devices and redeem either online or inside physical stores. Retailers like it because there is little marketing cost and because customers often end up buying more once they are inside the store."

Wrapp's CEO Hjalmar Winbladh told Reuters, "Brick-and-mortar retailers are all looking for new, more efficient ways to drive sales into stores without diluting their brands ... we wanted to really see how retailers can leverage the megatrends of smartphones and social networks."

TheFind also launched a social commerce app this week. It's called Glimpse, and it's a Facebook app that, according to the press release, "uses Facebook Like data from across the web to instantly personalize and curate a stream of fashion and design items that are trending, tailored to the tastes and preferences of an individual and their community of Facebook friends."

Ryan Kim at GigaOm calls the shopping discovery app a Pinterest rival and reports: "TheFind's CEO Siva Kumar told me TheFind has been working with Facebook for some time to bridge the two data sets, mapping a user's likes to products, their taxonomy and a user's profile. Now, when a Glimpse user likes a page, the service can determine what product the URL is referring to, can pull up the most recent availability and pricing data and also fit it into different styles and trends."


Move over smartphones, NFC to unlock experiences for Nook users

In an interview at CNN Fortune, Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch talked about the future of the Nook and the recently announced partnership with Microsoft. In talking about opportunities in offline-online integration, Lynch offered an example of how B&N will improve customers' experiences:

"We're going to start embedding NFC [near-field communications] chips into our Nooks. We can work with the publishers so they would ship a copy of each hardcover with an NFC chip embedded with all the editorial reviews they can get on BN.com. And if you had your Nook, you can walk up to any of our pictures, any our aisles, any of our bestseller lists, and just touch the book, and get information on that physical book on your Nook and have some frictionless purchase experience. That's coming, and we could lead in that area."

Lynch told Fortune the NFC experience could appear as early as this year.

Related:

February 08 2012

Tip for B&N: Don't just follow Amazon

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


I follow dozens of publishing blogs and tweet streams, but there's one that always rises above the rest for me. Any time I see something from Joseph Esposito (@JosephJEsposito), president of Portable CEO consulting, I make sure I read it. He's a frequent contributor to the Scholarly Kitchen blog, and one of his recent articles there got me thinking about the need for better competition in the publishing industry. I sat down with Joe to discuss Amazon's dominance, what B&N should do to improve its position and much more.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • "B&N needs an 'MCI solution'" — Amazon is the clear market leader and, as #2, B&N must avoid just following Amazon's lead and come up with a completely new and different product and content model. What B&N is doing with in-store Nook merchandising is great, but they've got to go much further. [Discussed at the 1:00 mark.]
  • Can B&N do anything to disrupt Amazon Prime? — Amazon and anyone else creating a Prime-like service will start to run into the same challenges Netflix has encountered. [Discussed at 4:07.]
  • Broad content repositories vs. narrow, vertical ones — Specific genres lend themselves more to this sort of offering, and each one could have a different pricing model. Safari Books Online is a great example. [Discussed at 5:52.]
  • Pay-for-performance is the only option — Amazon has publicly stated that the Kindle Owner's Lending Library program pays most publishers a flat fee. I strongly believe that's the wrong model, and Joe talks about why the flat fee probably won't be a viable long-term option. [Discussed at 6:45.]
  • Apps vs. HTML5/EPUB — Publishers are starting to figure out that platform-specific investments often aren't wise. Development costs for a single platform, even if that's iOS, are still high, so the future leads to more open, portable solutions. [Discussed at 8:26.]
  • DRM — Joe makes an excellent point when he notes that, "the pro-DRM stance that many publishers have is not really getting them anywhere." [Discussed at 11:05.]
  • Discoverability & recommendations — Discoverability will continue to get worse before it improves, but better integration with the social graph can provide a way forward. [Discussed at 15:06.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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February 03 2012

Publishing News: B&N closes doors on Amazon Publishing

Here are a few of the stories that caught my attention this week in the publishing space.

Barnes & Noble puts its foot down on Amazon

NoEntry.pngLast week, Amazon teamed up with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to print and distribute the Amazon Publishing East Coast's adult titles under a new imprint, New Harvest. Some speculated the move might get Amazon through the brick-and-mortar doors of B&N. This week, B&N made it clear that not only would HMH's New Harvest imprint not make it in the door, but that no Amazon Publishing title would. In a post for the New York Times, Julie Bosman quoted from a statement made by Jaime Carey, B&N's chief merchandising officer:

"Our decision is based on Amazon's continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents and the authors they represent. These exclusives have prohibited us from offering certain e-books to our customers. Their actions have undermined the industry as a whole and have prevented millions of customers from having access to content. It's clear to us that Amazon has proven they would not be a good publishing partner to Barnes & Noble as they continue to pull content off the market for their own self interest."

O'Reilly's general manager and publisher Joe Wikert called on B&N this week to disrupt the industry — maybe this is its first move. Bosman also took a look at B&N's position in the industry and its importance to the publishing ecosystem, especially in the face of a competitor like Amazon. Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic mulled the prospects of Amazon killing publishing and argued: "In a financial arms race, publishers simply can't beat Amazon's arsenal."

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Breaking up is hard to do

Amazon had issues with a social networking partner this week as well. As of Monday, Goodreads no longer displayed book data from the Amazon Product Advertising API, opting instead to move its data partnership to the Ingram Book Company. A Goodread's representative told Laura Hazard Owen that "the [API license agreement] terms now required by Amazon have become so restrictive that it makes better business sense to work with other data sources." Owen outlined some of the specifics on the restrictions:

"Amazon requires sites that use its API to link that content back to the Amazon site exclusively — so a book page on Goodreads would have to link only to its product page on Amazon and not to any other source or retailer ... Amazon also does not allow any content from its API to be used on mobile sites and apps."

Jon Mitchell at ReadWriteWeb took a deeper look into the situation — and explained why Goodreads will survive its breakup with Amazon.

The news caused some readers to worry about their cultivated Goodreads bookshelves. GalleyCat detailed potential data issues and offered up a Goodreads link that allows users to check on the state of their shelves to see if any tidying up is necessary.

Jonathan Franzen waxes absurd on ebooks

BrokenKindle.pngThere's no shortage of things slated to be destroying society, and this week, author Jonathan Franzen added ebooks to the list. The Telegraph quoted Franzen speaking at a book festival in Cartagena, Colombia:

"I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn't change. Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do fear that it's going to be very hard to make the world work if there's no permanence like that."

Chenda Ngak at CBS's techt@lk took offense at Franzen's remarks, stating: "Even if I agree with him, as a book lover, his statements are too condescending to take seriously." Jonathan Segura at NPR chimed in as well, calling Franzen's comments "absurd" and pleading that we "get past the e-books versus print books thing." Segura's final comment pretty much summed up the overarching sentiment:

"We should worry less about how people get their books and — say it with me now! — just be glad that people are reading."

Photo (top): Kiftsgate Court, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire - No Entry - sign by ell brown, on Flickr

Photo (bottom): Broken Kindle by kodomut, on Flickr

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