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March 23 2012

Publishing News: Ereading on a landing plane

Though I wasted a good deal of time this week mesmerized by the Daily Dispatches from the Internet's Worst Reviewers website (hat tip to Joe Wikert and Kat Meyer), there were a few publishing stories that still caught my eye.

Tray tables must be upright, but (hopefully soon) you can leave your iPads on

ereaders.jpgIn December, the FAA approved iPad use for pilots in cockpits during takeoff and landing, but not for passengers. According to a post by Nick Bilton at the New York Times, the FAA decided this week that it may be time to bring passengers into the 21st century as well. Bilton reported the last time the FAA tested gadgets for approval was 2006 — and that testing requires a much greater time and expense investment than one might think:

"Abby Lunardini, vice president of corporate communications at Virgin America, explained that the current guidelines require that an airline must test each version of a single device before it can be approved by the FAA. For example, if the airline wanted to get approval for the iPad, it would have to test the first iPad, iPad 2 and the new iPad, each on a separate flight, with no passengers on the plane.

"It would have to do the same for every version of the Kindle. It would have to do it for every different model of plane in its fleet. And American, JetBlue, United, Air Wisconsin, etc., would have to do the same thing."

Bilton offered a reasonable solution to the time/cost problem: Each airline could offer up one plane, one day per month throughout testing and the bill would be sent to the device manufacturers that want devices approved — if you don't pony up, your device doesn't get tested. In any case, I look forward to not being scolded next time I forget the book I'm engrossed in needs to be shut off.

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If you're not selling direct, you're not getting all the data

Joe Wikert (@jwikert), GM and publisher at O'Reilly, took a look at the availability of publishing data this week. He argued that direct sales channels are worth the investment for publishers because when you sell directly to consumers, you have access to the entire data stream.

For example, O'Reilly recently conducted an ereader survey through its direct sales channel, and Wikert shared the results:

"So, what's the primary ereading device used by these early adopters and techno-enthusiasts? Their iPads. That's not shocking, but what's interesting is how only 25% of respondents said the iPad is their primary device. A whopping 46% said their laptop or desktop computer was their primary ereading device."

He also noted that among O'Reilly customers, the popular EPUB and Mobi formats were topped by PDF as the primary ereading format. This sort of information, Wikert argued, isn't likely to be transparent when you're relying on a third-party intermediary with an agenda. You can read his post here. And if you want more stats from the survey, Wikert tweeted them with the #ORMeStat hashtag.

One word for news: "Mobile"

The State of the News Media 2012, the annual report on American journalism from the Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, was released this week.

Overall trends uncovered in the study include a lack of social media influence — "the notion that large percentages of Americans now get their news mainly from recommendations from friends does not hold up" — and highlight the fact that privacy concerns are becoming a major issue for news revenues:

"To survive, news must find a way to make its digital advertising more effective — and more lucrative — and the gathering of consumer data is probably the key. Yet news organizations also must worry about violating the trust of their audiences."

Trends showed mobile is proving to be very important for news:

"... mobile news consumers are even more likely to turn to news organizations directly, through apps and home pages, rather than search or recommendations — strengthening the bond with traditional brands."

Technology may be more foe than friend, however. Though the study found that mobile technology is giving news consumption a boost (27% of Americans now get news on mobile devices), a study of the money shows that tech companies may be edging out traditional news channels:

"In 2011, five technology giants generated 68% of all digital ad revenue, according to the market research firm eMarketer — and that does not include Amazon and Apple, which make their money from devices and downloads. By 2015, roughly one out of every five display ad dollars is expected to go to Facebook, according to the same source ... 'Our analysis suggests that news is becoming a more important and pervasive part of people's lives,' PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel said. 'But it remains unclear who will benefit economically from this growing appetite for news.'"

Full study results can be found here.

Got news?

Suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to send along your news scoops and ideas.

Photo: Evolution of Readers by jblyberg, on Flickr

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June 29 2011

Two lessons from Pottermore: Direct sales and no DRM

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("Harry Potter and the Direct, DRM-Free Sale"). It's republished with permission.


PottermoreIt took her a while, but J.K. Rowling now apparently believes in the future of ebooks. Last week's Pottermore announcement featured two important publishing elements: a direct sales model and a lack of DRM.

Harry Potter is one of those unique brands that dwarfs everything associated with it. Most Potter fans can name the author but few could tell you the publisher without looking at the book's spine. Although that's often true with other novels, Harry Potter is much more than a series of books or movies. It's an experience, or so I'm told. (I'm not a fan, have never read any of the books or seen any of the movies, but my house is filled with plenty of diehards who have told me everything I need to know.)

Rowling realizes the strength of her brand and knows she can use it to establish direct relationships with her fans. And so via Pottermore, the author doesn't need any of the big names in ebook retailing. Why settle for a 20% royalty or a 70% cut of the top-line sale when you can keep 100% of it? And why only offer one format when some portion of your audience wants MOBI for the Kindle, others want EPUB for their Apple/Sony devices, and maybe a few more would prefer a simple PDF?


It's not surprising that J.K. Rowing is forging ahead with a well thought-out direct sales plan. What blows my mind is that more publishers aren't doing the same. Sure, you'll find publisher websites selling PDFs. Some even offer other formats. But rarely do you find a publisher's website with all the popular ebook formats. Regardless of what type of device you have, it sounds like you'll be able to purchase a Harry Potter ebook for it on Pottermore. I hope they take the extra step and include all the formats in one transaction like we do on oreilly.com.

The other smart move by Rowling is the exclusion of DRM from Pottermore ebooks. Here's an important question for authors and publishers everywhere: If Harry Potter doesn't need DRM, why does your book?! If you ditch DRM you'll be able to offer all the formats. You'll show your customers you trust them and you'll also make it far easier for them to actually use your content.


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