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July 20 2012

Publishing News: B&N embraces the web

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

B&N launches Nook for Web

Just last week, Valobox co-founder Anna Lewis (@anna_cn) wrote a post about the strengths of the web and lamented that ebook publishers have “remained oblivious” to the advantages — her post was part of last week’s Publishing WIR. This week, Barnes & Noble stepped up to the webby plate and announced Nook for Web.

Chris Davies at SlashGear reports that “the new service runs in Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer, with instant access — registration free — to ebook samples, and then the same purchase options as on a Nook Tablet or similar device. … There’s also synchronization with any other Nook device or app you may be using, so you can stop reading on the web and pick up where you left off on your tablet.”

B&N also is giving away six bestseller titles as a promotion until July 26, but as Matt Elliott at CNET discovered, “before you can add one to your library, Barnes & Noble forces you to sign up for an account, which entails providing a credit card number, billing address, e-mail, and phone number.” So, anything beyond reading a sample will require registration.

The company also hasn’t completely embraced the advantages of the web — as Davies points out in his post, readers still can’t annotate on the platform, and on a browser-based system, “it would be easy enough for B&N to add such a feature.”

The other thing you can’t do with this new platform is view it on your iPad or iPhone, as Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch. As counterintuitive as this seemed on first blush (B&N’s website says iPad support is “coming soon”), I recalled statistics from a recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (which I wrote about here):

  • 42% of readers of e-books in the past 12 months said they consume their books on a computer.
  • 41% of readers of e-books consume their books on an e-book reader like original Kindles or Nooks.
  • 29% of readers of e-books consume their books on their cell phones.
  • 23% of readers of e-books consume their books on a tablet computer.
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Ebook landscape is dominated by “madness”

Baldur Bjarnason wrote a blog this week following an interview he participated in, during which he came upon a realization: He writes, “I discovered just how bloody annoyed I am about the farce that is today’s ebook landscape. Much to my own surprise, I found that I’m more than a little bit angry about the madness that dominates ebooks.”

Overall, the post is a transcript of the interview — questions addressed DRM (Bjarnason says, “Once you require DRM you impose a set of conditions on every level of the publishing industry. The requirement puts limits not just on what everybody can do, but also on how they do it.”); format standardization (“Standardisation should mean a reasonably standard rendering across all platforms … Standardisation is not what we’ve got.”); and the interaction of EPUB3 and DRM (“Adobe’s system isn’t likely to support EPUB3 for a long while, which means that EPUB3 support is on hold for most players on EPUB side of the ebook world.”).

Bjarnason added a tangential aside to the interview as well, addressing fixed layout ebooks. He writes:

“Whoever at Apple had the bright idea of taking HTML+CSS, discard its strengths (adaptability, multi-device support, etc.) and focus on its weaknesses (limited and complex layout systems) should have their computer privileges revoked. … What Apple could have — should have — done is to introduce responsive layout ebooks. By default they would have adapted to whatever rendering space they were in but would have had the option of setting a fixed dimension.”

Bjarnason’s post is this week’s recommended read — you can find it here.

The newspaper and music industries wish they had it so good

The annual BookStats Survey was released this week, and the overall news for the book industry, all things considered, is fairly positive. Peter Kafka at All Things Digital summarizes the sales stats:

“[The survey] finds that Amazon and other digital distributors are taking an increasing chunk of the market, and that sales of ‘trade’ e-books — basically, everything except educational and professional texts — doubled in the last year. That helped keep the publishing business more or less flat in 2011, even as print sales dropped off. Net publisher revenue for trade books increased 0.5 percent, to $13.97 billion, with e-books accounting for $2.1 billion of that. Meanwhile, overall net revenue dropped 2.5 percent, to $27.2 billion.”

That the overall drop in industry sales was only 2.5% speaks volumes. Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah told Julie Bosman at the New York Times (NYT): “I would never dare to call an industry healthy, but it certainly seems to be robust.”

In that vein, Kafka points out in his post at AllThingsD, “[t]hat’s the kind of year executives in the newspaper and music business would have loved to have over the last decade.”

Bosman also notes in her NYT piece the relatively good news from the survey for physical stores: “Despite the closing of hundreds of Borders stores, brick-and-mortar stores remained the largest sales channel for books, the survey found.”

Tip us off

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

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June 29 2012

Publishing News: NewCo's global spread

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

NewCo needs to focus beyond the Nook

Nook LogoJim Milliot at Publishers Weekly reported this week that Barnes & Noble is looking to open Nook digital bookstores across the globe. He writes that according to Barnes & Noble's 10-K filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, "B&N says that through NewCo it plans to launch the Nook digital bookstore in 10 countries within 12 months." [Link added.]

Joe Wikert (@jwikert), GM and publisher at O'Reilly Media, has written much this year about B&N business strategies and where the company needs to go. I reached out to find out what he thinks of this latest move. He says the important factor is what they're going to do with the stores — opening B&N stores overseas similar to stores in the U.S. would be "silly," he says, and that B&N and NewCo really should focus on opening technology-oriented stores that focus on more than just the Nook.

His entire (lightly edited) response is reprinted here with permission:

"I definitely think B&N needs to reinvent itself. It's still very much stuck in the traditional brick-and-mortar mold. I was excited when Microsoft announced its investment and likely joint creation of NewCo with B&N, but, of course, we haven't heard much since that original announcement.

"The latest news that B&N is looking to expand overseas isn't earth shattering, and what I'd really love to know more about is how they intend to branch out. Let's face it. Bookstores in pretty much every other country are feeling much the same pain stores in the U.S. are dealing with. So, it would be silly for B&N to simply think they could open up a bunch of stores overseas that look like the ones they have here. In my opinion, what they really need to do is reimagine the in-person experience they can offer, both here in the U.S. and everywhere else on the planet. That's where Microsoft could come in.

"I'd love to see B&N's stores evolve into more technology and solutions outlets. They've undoubtedly had some success by adding the Nook kiosks into their existing stores. Let's see if they can take that a step further and create technology stores within the stores, featuring much more than just the Nook. For example, what about Xbox? Or Kinect? Those areas in Best Buy seem to be the last ones that are getting much foot traffic these days. Microsoft has their own small chain of stores, 16 or so, I believe. Rather than building that chain out any further, why not work with B&N to have a Microsoft consumer technology area within the B&N stores? And not just here in the U.S. This could be done around the globe.

"Everything about NewCo up to now seems to indicate it's only about digital and online, not the brick-and-mortar stores that are the very foundation of B&N. I hope that changes over time. The opportunity for NewCo isn't just with Nooks and ebooks. It's also about a much broader technology play that can help both companies compete with the likes of Amazon."

Ereading data leads to new content forms

Alexandra Alter posted an interesting piece this week at The Wall Street Journal on how ereading not only is changing reading behavior and the reading experience, but how ebooks are putting valuable never-before-seen data into publishers' hands. She notes that traditionally, publishers measured reader satisfaction via reviews and sales data, but that such limited metrics are a thing of the past as the publishing industry begins to embrace big data "and more tech companies turn their sights on publishing." Focusing on Barnes & Noble as an example, Alter reports:

"Barnes & Noble ... has recently started studying customers' digital reading behavior. Data collected from Nooks reveals, for example, how far readers get in particular books, how quickly they read and how readers of particular genres engage with books. Jim Hilt, the company's vice president of e-books, says the company is starting to share their insights with publishers to help them create books that better hold people's attention. ... Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books.

Hilt told Alter that the data has already affected B&N's offerings on the Nook. For example, data showing readers often abandon long nonfiction works led to Nook Snaps.

Books as great datasets for the web

Hugh McGuire (@hughmcguire), founder of PressBooks, recently spoke at TEDxMontreal about the blurring lines between books and the Internet, and the value the web can bring to books. Here are a few short snippets from his talk:

"It turns out that ebooks are just made of HTML, which is the programming language or the markup language that drives the Internet ... So, it makes sense since we've been making these kinds of structured collections of text available as websites for many many years that we would use the same kinds of technologies to make ebooks. But, of course, there's a terror here — and a catch. That's that publishers are deathly afraid of the Internet. And, in a way, they have very good reason to be afraid of the Internet because the Internet is famous for gobbling up business models and spitting out total chaos.

"But it hasn't been so bad yet because ebooks look pretty similar to books, in terms of the structure of the business and what we can do with them. That, really, I think is a problem. It's a problem because in order to get this similarity with the past, we've ended up constraining ebooks and making them look a lot more like print books and a lot less like the Internet.

"There are all sorts of things you can do with a website or information that's on a website that you can't do with ebooks. You can't link to a canonical version of an ebook. You can't link to a specific chapter or a specific page ... So, this poses a question to all of you, as readers. The question is this: Would you have more value if books were available in print and ebooks and a web version, or if you just had print and ebooks?"

McGuire talks about what we can do with books on the Internet, the value web versions can add to books, and thinking about books as great datasets that could be explored in new ways once they're opened up on the web. You can watch his full TEDxTalk below:

Related:

April 13 2012

Publishing News: DoJ lawsuit is great news for Amazon

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

Amazon does a little Snoopy dance

DoJSeal.pngThe biggest story this week was the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) filing a lawsuit against Apple and publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster and Penguin, accusing them of colluding over ebook prices. If you unplugged or dropped off-grid for the past several days, solid roundups and analyses can be found with Tim Carmody at Wired and Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent, and you can read the complaint itself here (PDF).

Right off the bat, three publishers — Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster — settled, and Macmillan and Penguin stood their ground. Amazon responded to the situation almost immediately as well:

"This is a big win for Kindle owners, and we look forward to being allowed to lower prices on more Kindle books."

Book publishing analyst Michael Norris told the New York Times: "Amazon must be unbelievably happy today. Had they been puppeteering this whole play, it could not have worked out better for them."

Apple finally responded yesterday. As reported by Peter Kafka at All Things Digital, Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said:

"The DOJ's accusation of collusion against Apple is simply not true. The launch of the iBookstore in 2010 fostered innovation and competition, breaking Amazon's monopolistic grip on the publishing industry. Since then customers have benefited from eBooks that are more interactive and engaging. Just as we've allowed developers to set prices on the App Store, publishers set prices on the iBookstore."

Much discussion and analysis has ensued in the aftermath — and I'm sure it will continue in the coming days and weeks.

Some are purporting that even if the collusion between the publishers proves to be true, Apple might walk away squeaky clean. A report at CNET noted why this may be the case:

"One reason lies in the Justice Department's 36-page complaint, which recounts how publishers met over breakfast in a London hotel and dinners at Manhattan's posh Picholine restaurant, which boasts a "Best of Award of Excellence" from Wine Spectator magazine. The key point is that Apple wasn't present."

Bryan Chaffin at the Mac Observer argued that yes, collusion most probably occurred but that it will be a mistake to undo it: "Doing so will clear the way for Amazon to dump books below price, taking ever more share (and power) in the book industry — that is the greater anticompetitive threat."

On the flipside, Mike Cane argued on his xBlog that the suit didn't go far enough and that the DoJ needs to sue Apple again. In a letter sent to all of the Department of Justice attorneys listed in the antitrust suit papers filed, he said:

"The advantage iPhone and iPad owners have in using the iBooks app is that they can browse and purchase eBooks from within that app. It's a seamless customer experience.

By contrast, all eBook apps from competing eBook stores — such as those from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and others — cannot offer an identical shopping experience. They are disallowed by Apple. Apple has demanded from each of its iBookstore competitors a 30% cut of any purchases made using Apple APIs for what is called 'in-app purchasing.'

To me, this is every bit as much restraint of trade as the collusive price-fixing that made the Department bring Apple and its co-conspirators before the court for remedy."

Individual U.S. states have thrown in as well: 16 State Attorneys have filed suit, alleging that agency pricing cost consumers $100 million.

Earlier this week before any suits were filed, at least two of the Big Six publishers refused to sign new contracts with Amazon. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out and whether or not publishers are spurred into action to do more to prevent Amazon from totally monopolizing the market, such as dropping DRM.

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Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

This chapter brought to you by ...

Just about a year ago, Amazon introduced an ad-supported Kindle at a reduced cost in exchange for the consumer enduring ads on the home and screen saver pages. Now, Yahoo has filed patent applications that indicate a plan to bring those ads directly into ebook content. A report at the BBC explained:

"The filings suggest that users could be offered titles at a variety of prices depending on the ads' prominence. They add that the products shown could be determined by the type of book being read, or even the contents of a specific chapter, phrase or word ... It suggests users could be offered ads as hyperlinks based within the book's text, in-laid text or even 'dynamic content' such as video. Another idea suggests boxes at the bottom of a page could trail later chapters or quotes saying 'brought to you by Company A.'"

From a revenue perspective, ads in ebook content makes all kinds of sense. From a reader perspective, I just hope there's always a price point for those of us who prefer to do our reading sans corporate sponsorship.

B&N one-ups Amazon

A close friend recently told me a story highlighting an issue with his Kindle: While reading in the car on a road trip, he had to give up his Kindle and resort to the Kindle app on his iPad to keep reading when it got dark. Maybe he should have waited and bought a Nook.

B&N introduced the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight this week — the first e-ink device to employ light. Alexandra Chang described the device in a post for Wired:

"The GlowLight resembles B&N's flagship Nook Simple Touch — same 6-inch touchscreen display, same size and includes the same internal parts. The Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, however, is slightly lighter at just 6.95 ounces, compared to the Nook Simple Touch's 7.48 ounces ... The GlowLight technology consists of LED lights located at the top of the Nook's screen and an anti-glare screen protector. The light is evenly scattered across the screen and is adjustable via the menu."

The timing of the release is interesting, as rumors surfaced last week that Amazon was readying a front-lit display for its Kindle device.

Seal: US-DeptOfJustice-Seal, on Wikimedia Commons

Related:


January 06 2012

Publishing News: Can the Nook be a viable business by itself?

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

B&N looks at spinning off its Nook

NookLogo.png Barnes & Noble made a few ripples in the news this week when it announced the sale of its Sterling Publishing arm. But news that it might also spin off its Nook business caused a bigger stir.

Publisher's Weekly took a look at the Nook's numbers, noting that Nook device sales overall were up 70% year over year during a nine-week holiday period, with the Nook Tablet exceeding expectations and the Nook Touch falling short. The PW post also outlined the planned revenue streams of the proposed Nook business:

The new Nook group would be comprised of four revenue streams: devices; digital content, including e-books, subscriptions, apps, textbooks; accessories; and warranties and extended service plans. While e-books and other digital content sales would be made through BN.com, those sales would become part of the Nook business.

MarketWatch said there's not enough data to determine the profitability of B&N's ebook business on its own. Losses are expected to exceed expectations for 2011:

[Barnes & Noble] said it expects digital content sales to total about $450 million for the fiscal year ending in April — which is about 6% of the total revenues estimated for the company for that period. The total Nook business, including hardware, content and accessories, sold about $448 million in the nine-week holiday period, up 43% from the same period last year. But its investments in the business — along with a shortfall in sales of its E-Ink-based SimpleTouch reader — will crimp the bottom line for the year, bringing in a loss that is deeper than Wall Street had been expecting previously.

In an interview for the MarketWatch post, analyst Scott Tilghman said a Nook spin-off could be good for investors: "My sense is that the brick and mortar booksellers and related valuations are such that a spin of a more highly valued (in the eyes of investors) asset could boost overall shareholder returns."

Others, however, are arguing that the move signals B&N is closer to bankruptcy. In any case, the Publisher's Weekly post pointed out that "B&N said it was not a certainty that it would go ahead with the spin off."

Ingram Content Group Inc. is the world's largest and most trusted distributor of physical and digital content. Thousands of publishers, retailers, and libraries worldwide use our best-of-class digital, audio, print, print-on-demand, inventory management, wholesale and full-service distribution programs to realize the full business potential of books. Learn more at ingramcontent.com.

Newspapers look to capitalize on aggregators

Twenty-nine news organizations, including the Associated Press (AP), The Washington Post Co., and The New York Times Co., banded together this week to launch News Right, a news rights clearinghouse that, according to the AP story, will "measure the unpaid online use of their original reporting and seek to convert unauthorized websites, blogs and other news-gathering services into paying customers." The AP explains how it will identify the use of news:

NewsRight encodes original stories with hidden data that includes the writer's name and when it was published. The encoded stories send back reports to the registry that describe where a story is being used and who is reading it. The technology can even locate stories that have been cut and pasted in whole or in part.

Edmund Lee at Businessweek compared the venture to the way the music industry manages — and polices — rights:

The larger aim for NewsRight is to capitalize on interest among digital enterprises that want to legitimately use content, much the way the music industry manages rights through ASCAP [American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers] , which helps musicians get paid for their songs played in public.

NewsRight isn't just a policing move, however. Newspaper analyst Ken Doctor pointed out in the AP story that the data gathered will be a selling point for advertisers, too, and could help them "measure the audience they want to reach more effectively."

Apple rumors fire up: Will iBooks support EPUB 3?

Apple_Logo.pngStraight out of the gate is as good a time as any to get the Apple rumors milling in 2012. Apple (probably) won't be announcing an iPhone5 (so, I won't be able to put my 3GS to rest just yet) or the anticipated Apple TV, but "sources close to the situation" report that "Apple is planning an important — but not large-scale — event to be held in New York at the end of this month that will focus on a media-related announcement."

Many are presuming the event will center around Apple's publishing arm, including its iBooks platform. Chris Foresman at ArsTechnica highlighted Apple's recent offering of a free ebook version of "The Yellow Submarine" to show off the platform and said, "based on information from our own sources, we believe the announcement could likely involve support for the EPUB 3 standard." That would be welcome news, indeed.

Related:

November 18 2011

Publishing News: Tech patent wars spill into the book world

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

Patent wars heat up as B&N's position against Microsoft goes public

Barnes & Noble's presentation and accompanying exhibits outlining its position against Microsoft's patent licensing fees for Android devices were made public this week (see the lawsuit here and some background here). Groklaw summed up the situation succinctly, saying, "In effect, Barnes & Noble says Microsoft is doing what's it's done in the past against Netscape and Java, only now the target is Android and the weapon of choice is patents." A later Groklaw post excerpted one of the letters Barnes & Noble gave to the Justice Department:

Simply put, Microsoft is attempting to monopolize the mobile operating systems market and suppress competition by Android and other open source operating systems by, inter alia, demanding oppressive licensing terms directed to the entirety of Android, asserting this dominant position over Android on the basis of patents covering only trivial design choices and entering into a horizontal offensive patent agreement with Nokia ...

Instead of focusing on innovation and the development of new products for consumers, Microsoft has decided to invest its efforts into driving open source developers from the mobile operating systems market. Through the use of offensive licensing agreements and the demand for unreasonable licensing fees, Microsoft is hindering creativity in the mobile operating systems market ... Through the use of oppressive licensing terms that amount to a veto power over a wide variety of innovative features in Android devices of all kinds, as well as its prohibitively expensive licensing fees, Microsoft is attempting to push open source software developers out of the market altogether.

The summary slide from the presentation highlights B&N's main assertions of Microsoft's anti-competitive offenses:

Slide from Barnes & Noble presentation for the Justice Department

Geekwire posted the entire presentation, and Groklaw has a nice presentation and analysis of the other five exhibits Barnes & Noble presented with the slides.

Anti-SOPA equals pro-pirate?

Congress was busy this week with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) hearing, in which Google boldly stood against, well, pretty much everyone else at the hearing. A post at Ars Technica reported that "Google's lawyer was the only one of the six to object to the bill in a meaningful way," and that "[t]his wasn't a hearing designed to elicit complex thoughts about complex issues of free speech, censorship, and online piracy ... the hearing was designed to shove the legislation forward and to brand companies who object as siding with 'the pirates'."

The controversial act (nicely explained here) looks to establish legislation to punish companies and websites that allow pirated content. Opponents of the act, including Google, Yahoo and Facebook, say it goes too far and would give the government too much power (Ars Technica outlines the major issues here). The Washington Post explains:

SOPA protects artists' intellectual property, enabling them to pursue a profit — which, in the case of record labels and movie companies, cuts off consumers' paths to free downloads and pushes them toward purchasing the work. But the types of content that would be prohibited under SOPA would also include amateur remix works, like YouTube covers of songs or mash-ups of movies. These works would be considered copyright violations, and not only could the creator of the work be legally vulnerable, but also could the host of the content.

The Washington Post also quoted Michael O'Leary, who represents the Motion Picture Association of America (which supports the Act), as saying, "Fundamentally, this is about jobs." In a tongue-in-cheek post, Edward J. Black at HuffPo agreed the Act will create jobs ... for lawyers, judicial employees, cyber security engineers, government, Internet monitors/censors, and pornographers. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) — who, as Ars Technica points out, "helped author the key Internet safe harbors that keep sites like Google, Yahoo, and eBay from being sued into oblivion for the actions of others" had a succinct, level-headed comment on the situation:

We took the opportunity to pass a law that said that neutral parties on the net are not liable for the actions of bad actors. So now, as we again debate web censorship, let's ask ourselves: what next generation of innovations won't be realized if we backtrack on that principal now? Yes, the Internet needs reasonable laws and bad actors need to be pursued, but the freedoms of billions of individual Internet users should not be sacrificed in the interest of easing that pursuit.

Authors now cry foul on Amazon's Kindle Owner's Lending Library

The Kindle Owner's Lending Library took a hit this week from the Authors Guild. When Amazon launched its new lending service a couple weeks ago, publishers — including O'Reilly's GM Joe Wikert — were the first to voice concerns. Now, the Authors Guild is arguing the program is a breach of contract. A post on the Guild's site asks, "Are any of the books in Amazon's new e-book subscription/lending program properly there?" The post purports that the Big Six refused to participate in Amazon's program, but "[n]o matter. Amazon simply disregarded these publishers' wishes, and enrolled many of their titles in the program anyway."

KindleLibrary.PNG

The Authors Guild post also points out that the smaller publishing houses that agreed to participate in the Lending Library program might not have the right to:

While these publishers generally have the right to license e-book uses for many of their authors' titles (just as most trade publishers do), our reading of the standard terms of these contracts is that they do not have the right to do so without the prior approval of the books' authors.

The Guild concludes with instructions on how authors can get their books removed from the program and says:

Under most (perhaps all) publishing contracts, a license to Amazon's Lending Library is outside the bounds of the publisher's licensing authority. This isn't a minor matter — in order to protect the author's interests, all publishers should be asking permission before entering into such a bulk licensing agreement, and most would need to seek a contract amendment to do so.

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