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August 03 2012

Publishing News: Consequences and questions from the Twitter kerfuffle

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

20-20 hindsight

On Sunday, Twitter suspended British journalist Guy Adams’ account after he tweeted NBC executive Gary Zenkel’s email address. Much kerfuffle ensued, Adams wrote a letter to Twitter, Twitter’s general counsel Alex MacGillivray apologized for the way the situation was handled, and Adams’ account was reinstated.

Reviews in the aftermath were interesting. The account suspension ultimately had the opposite of the intended effect, pointing a spotlight at Adams’ tweet and garnering it far more attention than it likely would have had otherwise. Meghan Garber at The Atlantic put together a Topsy chart of the response to Adams’ tweet, which showed the response began as pretty much nothing and then exploded upon his account suspension.

Kashmir Hill at Forbes also reviewed the situation and the surrounding drama, and concluded that the biggest loser was the complainant, NBC: “Beyond having their exec’s email spread far and wide over the Internet, it’s reflected poorly on their stance on free speech and garnered much more negative press for them than they could have imagined when they first complained.”

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm took a look at the bigger picture and identified a serious issue raised by Twitter’s actions:

“… as it expands its media ambitions and does more curation and manual filtering of the kind it has been doing for NBC, Twitter is gradually transforming itself from a distributor of real-time information into a publisher of editorial content, and that could have serious legal ramifications.”

Ingram points out that Twitter isn’t interested in being a publisher or being seen as one, but notes the company is walking a fine line: “If the company is filtering and selecting messages, however, and possibly letting certain parties know when a legally questionable one shows up, that is much more like what publishers do …” Ingram’s post is this week’s recommended read — you can find it here.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

The key to digital may lie in consumers, not products

Amy Chozick at the New York Times took a look this week at Laura Lang, the former chief executive of Digitas and Time Inc.’s new chief executive. Chozick’s interview with Lang and a few of her staff members offered a bit of insight into how Lang will help transform Time Inc.’s magazines for the digital era, insights that extend beyond magazine publishing.

A few key takeaways:

  • “Although her plans for Time Inc. are not yet completed, she said has homed in on the transition to mobile devices and the customizing of ads for marketers based on the vast amount of consumer data Time Inc. collects on readers. Her theory: if users’ personal information is a treasure trove for Silicon Valley businesses, it should be equally valuable to traditional media. … Marketers hoping to reach new mothers, for instance, can incorporate messaging into an issue of People magazine (and its various app and online editions) with Jessica Simpson’s baby photos or Sandra Bullock’s announcement that she has adopted a child.”
  • “Ms. Lang said the word ‘consumer’ more than 25 times in a roughly 90-minute interview.”
  • “‘We used to put magazines at the center and all the other ways consumers connect were extensions of the magazines,’ said Mr. Caine, the chief revenue officer. ‘[Lang] didn’t come in with a magazine plan; she came in with a consumer plan.’”

You can read more from Lang’s interview and about how she’s tackling the challenges at Time Inc., here.

The state of ereaders and ereading

Alan Jacobs took a look at the state of ereaders this week in a post at The Atlantic. Writing from the perspective that ereaders have been around long enough to be considered part of the “reading landscape,” Jacobs looks at ereading technology progress and lack thereof. On the progress side, he highlights backlighting and improved contrast in e-ink screens; on the improvement-needed side, he points out that screen glare continues to be an issue and typeface options are still too limited, but those are the least of the technology gaps. Jacobs argues:

“… it seems to me that the most serious deficiencies of e-readers involve readers’ interactions with books. In this respect we may be losing ground rather than gaining it. … newer versions of the Kindle software are making it harder to annotate … [and] even to highlight … for engaged, responsive reading, [ereaders] seem to be generally stagnating, or perhaps even moving backward. These are technologies that need a kick in the pants.”

O’Reilly publisher and GM Joe Wikert also recently took a look at ereader technology and areas that leave him wanting. Wikert argues that ereaders need an econtent manager that allows users to create a reading schedule, a sample content manager that reminds users they have samples waiting to be read, and the ability to connect with Instapaper accounts.

These technology gaps may be having an effect on readers’ reading habits. The Book Industry Study Group released the latest report from its ongoing Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading study, and according to the press release, the survey results show “that the percentage of e-book consumers who exclusively or mostly purchase book content in e-book format has decreased from nearly 70% in August 2011 to 60% in May 2012.” The study also found an increase in the percentage of readers (25% to 34%) who either have no preference in book format or who buy both ebook and print formats, depending on genre. You can read more about the latest study here.

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February 29 2012

The ebook evolution

At TOC, you're as likely to run into media professionals, entrepreneurs and innovators as you are publishers, booksellers and others working in traditional publishing. This, in turn, makes the underlying themes as varying and diverse as the attendees. This is the final piece in a series taking a look at five themes that permeated interviews, sessions and/or keynotes at this year's show. The complete series will be posted here.


Discussions about the future of digital and how ebooks and ereading may evolve permeated nearly every aspect of this year's show. From data on how readers are acquiring and consuming ebooks to genres that are working well — and those that aren't — to platform and format trends and predictions, the evolution of ebooks and ereading was probably the most pervasive of the major themes at TOC 2012.

Len Vlahos, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, and Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publishing services at RR Bowker, led the "Data for Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" session. They presented data on how consumers are adopting and consuming ebooks.

An interesting slide provided a visualization of the technology adoption curve in the U.S. between 1910 and 1999:

BISGslide1

The text may not be readable, but the message is clear — as explained in the presentation:

"The X axis is time, the Y axis is percent penetration of U.S. households. The squiggly blue line all the way to the left is the telephone. The two red lines in the middle are television and color television. You can see in the case of almost every technology, a slow ramp up, followed by explosive growth leading to almost total penetration. When utility surpasses earlier technologies and when production capacity increases and cost decreases to a sufficient point, the line curves up."

They then compared this to what is happening with ebooks. Some genres followed the exploding path while others flattened out. Fiction clearly is leading the ebook evolution at this point:

BISGSlide2

The ebook questions in 2012, they said, will include how much more growth in fiction is possible, when will the other genres get moving and what kind of role is technology actually playing in adoption. The presentation also included data about ebook power buyers, the patterns of buying in general and the roles children and youths might play in the future of ebooks.

The slides, along with a transcript of the presentation, can be found here.

Michael Tamblyn, executive vice president of content, sales and merchandising at Kobo, Inc., specifically addressed digital non-fiction — or the lack thereof — in the "Cracking the Non-fiction Code" session. Tamblyn noted that the split in fiction/non-fiction print is about 55/45, respectively, but that in digital, even after several years in, the fiction/nonfiction divide is "abysmal":

TamblynSlide1

Tamblyn talked about the reasons behind the discrepancy and looked at the percent to which digital over or under indexes print consumption:

TamblynSlide2

Looking at the reasons behind the inequalities, Tamblyn said there are some commonsense reasons — the gift economy around children's books, for example, skews toward physical, print books, as do juvenile categories in libraries — but that there are other reasons why genres such as travel, reference and cooking are indexing more toward print than digital. These publishing areas, for instance, have the added component of free online competitors, such as TripAdvisor.com and AllRecipes.com.

He highlighted the non-fiction pricing versus unit sales, which indicates that, so far, "digital non-fiction is a backlist business, to a degree far greater than what we see on the fiction side":

TamblynSlide3

Tamblyn said he's been encouraging publishers "to start digging into that backlist non-fiction catalog, get more of those title made more quickly ... get those rights cleared and get those books out — they have a longer life than you may think."

He also said there are great opportunities around the gift economy in children's books — that the gifts are shifting from physical books to reading devices, indicating digital opportunities going forward and explaining a spike in ebook sales after the holidays. He suggested developing a reading device specifically for children to optimize the reading experience for that level may help push adoption forward.

Tamblyn's session slides can be found here, and more from Tamblyn on what ereader customers want can be viewed in this TOC webcast.

The ebook evolution discussion took a turn toward the technical side in a video interview with Peter Meyers, author of “Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience” and "Kindle Fire: The Missing Manual." He tackled a question about ebooks versus book apps and whether the forms would merge or one would become dominant:

"I think a lot of people in the industry get hung up on this question of what's the term we're going to use going forward. If we look at the music industry, the terms 'record' and 'album' have stuck around, even as the physical format has largely disappeared. I think the word 'book' is here to stay ... I think the other term likely to emerge is 'app' ... We'll start saying, 'Hey, have you seen the new Stephen King app?' That app might include book-like elements, but it will also be able to accommodate things like interactive features ... I would guess we'll see books and apps coexist side by side, and they'll do different things."

Meyers also talked about how digital is changing publishing over all, that with the infinite canvas of digital publishing, what publishers really are selling is 10, 15, 20 hours of entertainment or assistance in cooking or playing golf. His entire interview can be viewed here.

Sameer Shariff, founder and CEO of Impelsys, agreed in a video interview that ebooks and book apps would both continue as separate products. He also addressed a question about platforms and how the need for conversion will evolve:

"What we're seeing is [that the need for conversion] is not going to dissipate ... [publishers] can't do it themselves ... Now the big thing is EPUB3, and with the Apple iBookstore, there's a new format there. It's not going to be completely automated — there is going to be some element of manual intervention."

Shariff's entire interview can be viewed here.

Along that same line, Sanders Kleinfeld, publishing technologies specialist at O'Reilly, tackled the question of whether or not the industry will see a universal format emerge:

"I'm really optimistic, and I really hope so. I think that's what they're striving for with the EPUB3 standard, which is based around all these open technologies — HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript. I'm hopeful that ereaders will follow suit with what's been happening on the web, where you can build an HTML5 website and there's pretty good compatibility across the board, whether you're looking at it in Google Chrome or Safari or Firefox. I'm really optimistic that EPUB3, or the next generation — maybe EPUB4, will be the open standard that re-flowable ebooks will coalesce around using open technologies and that that will be supported by the various ereaders."

You can view Kleinfeld's entire interview in the following video, and you can see slides from his session "HTML5 for Publishers" here:

For more on the ebook evolution discussion, sessions with published slides and/or video can be browsed here.


If you couldn't make it to TOC, or you missed a session you wanted to see, sign up for the TOC 2012 Complete Video Compilation and check out our archive of free keynotes and interviews.


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January 13 2012

A study confirms what we've all sensed: Readers are embracing ereading

The recently released Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading study by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) showed impressive growth in ereading. From October 2010 to August 2011, the ebook market share more than tripled. Also notable, readers are committing to the technology, with almost 50% of ereading consumers saying they would wait up to three months to read a new ebook from a favorite author rather than reading the same book immediately in print.

In the following interview, BISG's deputy executive director Angela Bole reviews some of the study's data and addresses growing trends in ereading.

Bole will further examine the study's results — including data from the new third volume — at the "Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" session at the upcoming Tools of Change for Publishing conference.

Are readers embracing ereading?

AngelaBole.jpgAngela Bole: When the first survey in volume two of BISG's "Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" was fielded in October 2010, the market share for ebooks was less than 5%. In the latest fielding, conducted in August 2011, the market share was almost 16%. Clearly, readers are embracing ereading. The greatest interest today seems to lie in narrative fiction and nonfiction, with interest in more interactive nonfiction and education taking longer to develop.

How are most readers consuming e-books?

Angela Bole: In the October 2010 and January 2011 survey fieldings, there were two distinct categories of ereaders — tablets like the iPad and dedicated devices like the Kindle — with a wide functionality difference between them. During the May 2011 and August 2011 fieldings, the NOOK Color and many new Android-based tablets were released, and distinctions between device categories began to blur. Even so, dedicated ereaders remain the favorite ebook reading device for book lovers, especially for reading fiction and narrative nonfiction. The Kindle, in particular, remains strong.

DeviceGraph.jpg
A graph illustrating responses to the study question, "What device do you now use most frequently to read e-books?"

What are the most popular genres for ebooks?

Angela Bole: This depends to a degree on whether you're a "tablet person" or a "dedicated ereader person." Data from the Consumer Attitudes survey shows that the Kindle and NOOK are the preferred devices of survey respondents in all fiction categories, while tablets like the iPad hold the edge in nonfiction categories. In these reports, the data have suggested that dedicated ereaders may be better optimized for narrative reading, while the richer media capabilities of tablets may be more appropriate for nonfiction, education, and scientific and professional titles.

GenreGraph.jpg
A graph illustrating responses to the study question, "What genre(s) do you like to read, overall (in any format)?"

Do people typically buy ebooks on their computers and then transfer them to their devices?

Angela Bole: Until August 2011, our data showed that the computer (desktop or laptop) was the prevailing purchasing platform. Today, however, more and more people are purchasing directly on their dedicated ereaders — 49% of respondents to the August 2011 fielding, up from 36% in May 2011.

Does the research point to digital publishing helping or hurting the publishing industry?

Angela Bole: Consumers who migrate to digital are spending less on physical hardcover and paperback books. The research supports this out quite clearly. That said, respondents to the survey actually report increasing their overall dollar spending as they make the transition to ebooks. Almost 70% of the respondents to the August 2011 fielding reported increasing their ebook expenditures, compared with 49% in the October 2010 fielding. Respondents reported increased spending on books in all formats to a greater degree than they reported decreased spending. Assuming the publishing industry can develop the right business models, this is good news.

This interview was edited and condensed.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

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November 11 2011

Publishing News: The standards of aggregation

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

Jim Romenesko and the standards of aggregation

Quote.pngIn a bizarre turn of events, Jim Romenesko, the renowned blogger at Poynter who was on the brink of retirement, quit his post after Poynter ran a story about attribution inconsistencies in his writing — 12 years into his blog.

The Poynter post states:

Though information sources have always been displayed prominently in Jim's posts and are always linked at least once (often multiple times), too many of those posts also included the original author's verbatim language without containing his or her words in quotation marks, as they should have.

Calling Romenesko out raised eyebrows and ire. No one ever thought Romenesko was trying to take credit for others' work, but then again, some argue that aggregation should be held to journalistic standards. This is a much larger question than it may appear on the surface. Felix Salmon over at Reuters has a nice analysis on the issue and points out, "[Poynter's Julie] Moos is using the standards of original journalism, here, to judge a blogger who was never about original journalism." (He's referring to Moos' original post about the offending attribution errors and Poynter's guidelines.)

So, does aggregation require a new set of rules and standards, or should the traditional journalism guidelines apply? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Kobo gets new owners — and perhaps a larger playing field

Kobo.pngProbably the biggest industry news this week was the sale of Kobo to Japanese e-retailer Rakuten. The deal was summed up nicely in an All Things Digital headline: "The Amazon of Japan Buys the Kindle of Canada."

For Indigo, the majority shareholder in Kobo, the sale was about refocusing its core business. Brand strategist Anthony Campbell told the Globe and Mail:

Taking on Apple and Amazon and Google isn't just a distraction, it puts Indigo in a position where the brand would completely lose focus. By maintaining its focus, Indigo's better prepared to take on the likes of Target and other retailers who are trying to corner the lifestyle space.

For Kobo and Rakuten, the acquisition means expansion — for Kobo, geographic expansion; for Rakuten, market expansion. Michael Serbinis, Kobo's CEO, told the Wall Street Journal: "This is not a one-country game. Two-thirds of the book market is outside North America. We're going into countries where we will be No. 1." And according to All Things Digital, "[Rakuten] said the acquisition of Kobo will assist the company in its move to provide downloadable media to consumers, starting with e-books." Perhaps it won't be long before the "Japanese Amazon" is making a major play against the U.S. Amazon.

For more on the situation, there's a nice Q&A over at Canadian Business with Serbinis and Indigo CEO Heather Reisman about the sale and what comes next for both companies.

BISG study highlights the growth of ereading

BISGStudyCover.jpgThe Book Industry Study Group (BISG) is getting ready to release results from a new study that show the rapid growth of ereading. Highlights from the final survey in volume two of the "Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" report include:

  • "... nearly 50% of print book consumers who have also acquired an e-book in the past 18 months would wait up to three months for the e-version of a book from a favorite author, rather than immediately read it in print."
  • "Amazon.com continues to be the preferred source for ebook acquisition (holding steady at 70%) and ebook information (44%). Barnes & Noble comes in second at 26%, with Apple in third."
  • "... although the cost of e-reading devices remains a reported concern, the single most popular answer to the question of what hinders respondents from reading more e-books was "nothing" at 33% (up from 17.6% a year ago)"

The full report is available for pre-order now. It will be published on November 21.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012 in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

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