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August 07 2012

Where are the apps for ereaders?

I read on my GlowLight NOOK much more frequently than I read on my Asus Transformer tablet. I’d say there’s at least a 10:1 differential, so for every hour I read on my tablet I read at least 10 hours on my Glowlight Nook. I’ll bet I’m not alone and people who own both an E Ink device and a tablet probably do much more reading on the former. So why is the apps ecosystem limited to tablets? Why are there no add-on apps for E Ink devices in general?

In a recent TOC newsletter we asked readers “What do you wish your ereader could do?” We received quite a few replies, but one of the more interesting ones came from a person who said they’d like to have apps like Flipboard, Zite and Pulse on their E Ink device. I found that interesting because those are the apps (along with News360) I use almost every day on my tablet. If there were Nook E Ink versions, that 10:1 ratio noted earlier would probably become 50:1 as there would be less reason for me to switch to my tablet for reading.

So why aren’t there apps like this on E Ink devices? One reason is tied to E Ink’s capabilities. Apps like Flipboard, Zite, et al, offer nice graphics and even a bit of animation. E Ink is limited to grayscale and no animation, of course. So why not create those apps without the animation and just show the images in black and white? That leads to reason No. 2: Amazon, B&N and the other E Ink device vendors aren’t encouraging third-party app development. That’s probably because they want those devices to have the highest walled gardens of all, which is a shame and a loss for consumers.

Is it too late for these vendors to reconsider and encourage third-party app development? Maybe. After all, the momentum has already swung toward tablets and away from E Ink readers. Nevertheless, as long as tablets weigh more than E Ink readers, their displays aren’t as easy on the eyes and they don’t offer significantly longer battery life, I’ll remain a two-device reading consumer. I suspect I’m not alone, so I hope an E Ink app ecosystem takes root at some point.

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“Why Are Apps Only on Tablets?“). This version has been lightly edited.

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

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July 31 2012

New life for used ebooks

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“The Used Ebook Opportunity“). This version has been lightly edited.

Used Books by -Tripp-, on FlickrUsed Books by -Tripp-, on Flickr

I’ve got quite a few ebooks in two different accounts that I’ve read and will never read again. I’ll bet you do, too. In the print world, we’d pass those along to friends, resell them or donate them to the local library. Good luck doing any of those things with an ebook.

Once you buy an ebook, you’re pretty much stuck with it. That’s yet another reason why consumers want low ebook prices. Ebooks are lacking some of the basic features of a print book, so of course they should be lower-priced. I realize that’s not the only reason consumers want low ebook prices, but it’s definitely a contributing factor. I’d be willing to pay more for an ebook if I knew I could pass it along to someone else when I’m finished with it.

The opportunity in the used ebook market isn’t about higher prices, though. It’s about expanding the ebook ecosystem.

The used print book market helps with discovery and affordability. The publisher and author already got their share on the initial sale of that book. Although they may feel they’re losing the next sale, I’d argue that the content is reaching an audience that probably wouldn’t have paid for the original work anyway, even if the used book market didn’t exist.

Rather than looking at the used book world as an annoyance, it’s time for publishers to think about the opportunities it could present for ebooks. I’ve written and spoken before about how used ebooks could have more functionality than the original edition. You could take this in the other direction as well and have the original ebook with more rich content than the version the customer is able to either resell or pass along to a friend; if the used ebook recipient wants to add the rich content back in they could come back to the publisher and buy it.

As long as we look at the used market through the lens of print products, we’ll never realize all the options it has to offer in the econtent world. That’s why we should be willing to experiment. In fact, I’m certain one or more creative individuals will come up with new ways to think about (and distribute) used ebooks that we’ve never even considered.

Publishers Weekly recently featured an article about ReDigi, a startup that “lets you store, stream, buy and sell pre-owned digital music.” As the article points out, ebooks are next on ReDigi’s priority list. Capitol Records is suing to shut down ReDigi; I suspect the publishing industry will react the same way. Regardless of whether ReDigi is operating within copyright law, I think there’s quite a bit we can learn from their efforts. That’s why I plan to reach out to them this week to see if we can include them in an upcoming TOC event.

By the way, even if ReDigi disappears, you can bet this topic won’t. Amazon makes loads of money in the used book market and Jeff Bezos is a smart man. If there’s an opportunity in the used ebook space, you can bet he’ll be working on it to further reinforce Amazon’s dominant position.

Photo: Used Books by -Tripp-, on Flickr

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May 18 2012

Why I haven't caught ereader fever

iPad 2 illustrationO'Reilly GM and publisher Joe Wikert (@jwikert) wrote recently about how he can't shake his ereader. I read his story with interest, as I can't seem to justify buying one. I was gifted a second-generation Kindle a while back, and it lived down to all my low expectations. The limitations were primarily the clumsy navigation and single-purpose functionality. I loaned it to a friend; she fell in love, so my Kindle found a new home.

At this point, I do all my ereading on my iPad 2: books, textbooks, magazines, news, short form, long form ... all of it. I will admit, I found the new Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight that Wikert acquired somewhat tempting. The technology is much improved over the second generation Kindle, and though I haven't yet played with one in the store, I bet the execution is much more enjoyable. Still, my original hang-ups prevail.

First, I don't want to be locked in to one retailer. On my iPad, I have apps that allow me to read books bought from anywhere I choose. I can buy books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and other smaller retailers, and they will all work on my iPad. True, this spreads my library around in a less-than-ideal organization, but the ability to buy books from anywhere is more important to me.

Also, I'm not so sure ebooks and ereaders will have a place down the road, making the value proposition of the investment that much less appealing. Much like the music journey from records to MP3s, digital reading technology is advancing, and perhaps at a much faster pace than its music counterpart. Jani Patokallio, publishing platform architect at Lonely Planet, recently predicted the obsolescence of ebooks and ereaders within five years, suggesting the web and HTML5 will become the global format for content delivery and consumption. And publications such as the Financial Times and MIT's Technology Review already are dropping their iOS and Android apps in favor of the web and HTML5.

I doubt my iPad will become obsolete any time soon. I look forward to the day books are URLs (or something similar) and we can read them anywhere on any device — and that day may not be too far off. I think I'm so attached to the iPad experience because it simulates this freedom to the best of its ability.

Ereader shortcomings also are likely to present a rich content hindrance, even before a shift to a web/HTML5 format gets underway. In a separate blog post, Wikert talked about a baseball book that missed its opportunity by not curating video links. He wrote: "The video links I'm talking about would have been useless on either device [his Kindle or Nook], but if they were integrated with the ebook I would have gladly read it with the Kindle app on my tablet." As publishers start realizing content opportunities afforded by digital, I think my iPad will serve me better than a single-purpose ereader.

Another hang-up I have, and this is likely to do with my general aversion to change, is the form factor. Most ereaders are somewhere around mass-market-paperback size, and the Nook Simple Touch and Simple Touch with GlowLight are nearly square. I prefer hardcover or trade paperback size — about the size and shape of my iPad. I might be able to get past this particular issue, but given the others I've mentioned, I just can't justify trying.

I will have to surrender to Wikert on the battery life and weight points — the one thing I really liked about the Kindle was its feather-light weight and the fact that during its short stay with me, I never had to charge the battery. I expect the surrender to be temporary, however. I have faith in our engineering friends — two years ago, a research team at MIT was using carbon nanotubes to improve the battery-power-to-weight ratio ... I can't imagine it will be too much longer before life catches up to research. In the meantime, I expect to remain happily connected at the hip to my iPad.

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.

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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 ..."

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.

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."

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Join us in celebrating International Day Against DRM

Day Against DRMOne of our core beliefs at O'Reilly is that digital rights management (DRM) is a bad idea. We have a very simple theory: Trust your customers to do the right thing and you'll earn their business. That's why when you buy ebooks from oreilly.com, or through one of our retail partners, you'll never be handcuffed by the restrictions of DRM.

This isn't anything new at O'Reilly. It's how we've sold our ebooks from day one. Plenty of publishers were skeptical of our approach but we're thrilled to see more and more of them adopting it. In just the past few weeks Macmillan subsidiary Tor as well as independent publisher Sourcebooks announced new DRM-free product plans.

We agree with Charlie Stross' point that publishers who insist on using DRM have handed "Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder." That's why we're excited to help celebrate International Day Against DRM with a special discount on all our ebooks and videos. For today only (5/4/12), use the code DRMFREE to save 50% on our entire catalog.

Matt Lee, campaign manager at Defective by Design and one of the organizers of Day Against DRM, explains why DRM is detrimental to ebooks:

"DRM is a growing problem in the area of ebooks, where people have had their books restricted so they can't freely loan, re-sell or donate them, read them without being tracked, or move them to a new device without re-purchasing all of them. They've even had their ebooks deleted by companies without their permission."

We appreciate your help in making Day Against DRM a success. If you agree with our DRM-free philosophy we hope you'll take the time to tell other publishers and retailers to abandon DRM as well. A DRM-free world is one where retailers will find it much harder to create a monopolistic position that locks you into their device or format. We long for the day when the book publishing industry takes the same important step the music world did by abandoning DRM.

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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.

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.

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

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The sorry state of ebook samples, and four ways to improve them

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("Rethinking Samples"). This version has been lightly edited.

I'm bored with ebook samples. I feel like I'm collecting a bunch and then forgetting about most of them. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone, and I'm even more certain this adds up to a ton of missed sales opportunities. Although this would be impossible to prove, my gut tells me the revenue missed by not converting samples into sales is a much larger figure than the revenue lost to piracy. And yet, the publishing industry spends a small fortune every year in DRM, but treats samples as an afterthought.

Think about it. Someone who pulls down a sample is already interested in your product. They're asking you to win them over with the material you provide. Far too often, though, that material is nothing more than the front matter and a few pages of the first chapter. Some of the samples I've downloaded don't even go past the front matter. I'm looking for something more.

Let's start with the index. Would it really be that hard to add the index to ebook samples? No. And yet, I've never seen a sample with the index included. Sure, many of these books have indexes that can be viewed separately on the ebook's catalog page, but why not include them in the sample? Give me a sense of what amount of coverage I can expect on every topic right there in the sample.

How about taking it up a notch? Give me the first X pages of the full content, include the entire index at the end, and in between include the rest of the book but have every other word or two X'd out? That way I can flip through the entire book and get a better sense of how extensively each topic is covered. By the way, if the entire book is included like this, then the index can include links back to the pages they reference.

Next up, why do I have to search and retrieve samples? Why can't they be configured to automatically come to me? After a while a retailer should be able to figure out a customer's interests. So why not let that customer opt in to auto sample delivery of ebooks that match their interests? I love baseball. Send me the samples of every new baseball book that comes out. I've got plenty of memory available in my ereader, and I can delete any samples I don't want. Also, I've mentioned this before, but it's worth saying again: How about letting me subscribe to samples from specific authors? Again, it would be an opt-in program, but I wonder how many interesting books I've missed because I didn't discover the sample.

Finally, this problem doesn't appear until after the sample is converted into a sale, but why can't the newly downloaded ebook open up to where I left off in the sample? Seriously, this has got to be one of the easiest annoyances to fix, so why hasn't anyone taken the time to do so?

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.


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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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March 22 2012

Direct sales uncover hidden trends for publishers

O'Reilly direct sales channelOne of the most important reasons publishers should invest in a direct channel is because of all the data it provides. Retailers are only going to share a certain amount of customer information with you, but when you make the sale yourself, you have full access to the resulting data stream.

As you may already know, when you buy an ebook from oreilly.com, you end up with access to multiple formats of that product. Unlike Amazon, where you only get a Mobi file, or Apple, where you only get an EPUB file, oreilly.com provides both (as well as PDF and oftentimes a couple of others). This gives the customer the freedom of format choice, but it also gives us insight into what our customers prefer. We often look at download trends to see whether PDF is still the most popular format (it is) and whether Mobi or EPUB are gaining momentum (they are). But what we hadn't done was ask our customers a few simple questions to help us better understand their e-reading habits. We addressed those habits in a recent survey. Here are the questions we asked:

  • If you purchase an ebook from oreilly.com, which of the following is the primary device you will read it on? [Choices included laptop, desktop, iOS devices, Android devices, various Kindle models, and other ereaders/tablets.]
  • On which other devices do you plan to view your ebook?
  • If you purchase an ebook from oreilly.com, which of the following is the primary format in which you plan to read the book? [Choices included PDF, EPUB, Mobi, APK and Daisy formats.]
  • What other ebook formats, if any, do you plan to use?

We ran the survey for about a month and the answers might surprise you. Bear in mind that we realize our audience is unique. O'Reilly caters to technology professionals and enthusiasts. Our customers are also often among the earliest of early adopters.

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.

Despite all the fanfare about Kindles, iPads, tablets and E Ink devices, the bulk of our customers are still reading their ebooks on an old-fashioned laptop or desktop computer. It's also important to note that the most popular format isn't EPUB or Mobi. Approximately half the respondents said PDF is their primary format. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Again, our audience is largely IT practitioners, coding or solving other problems in front of their laptops/desktops, so they like having the content on that same screen. And just about everyone has Adobe Acrobat on their computer, so the PDF format is immediately readable on most of the laptops/desktops our customers touch.

I've spoken with a number of publishers who rely almost exclusively on Amazon data and trends to figure out what their customers want. What a huge mistake. Even though your audience might be considerably different than O'Reilly's, how do you truly know what they want and need if you're relying on an intermediary (with an agenda) to tell you? Your hidden trend might not have anything to do with devices or formats but rather reader/app features or content delivery. If you don't take the time to build a direct channel, you may never know the answers. In fact, without a direct channel, you might not even know the questions that need to be asked.

Joe Wikert (@joewikert) tweeted select stats and findings from O'Reilly's ereader survey.

Associated photo on home and category pages: Straight as an Arrow by Jeremy Vandel, on Flickr

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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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February 24 2012

Publishing News: IPG says "no" to Amazon's new terms

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

IPG stands up to Amazon

IPGlogo.pngThe Big Six aren't the only ones concerned about Amazon's growing hold on the publishing industry. This week, the Independent Publishers Group (IPG), the second largest independent book distributor for small, indie, and mid-size press titles, started pushing back. On Tuesday, IPG president Mark Suchomel sent a note to the company's distribution clients announcing that Amazon failed to renew IPG's agreement to sell Kindle titles of its books. As Suchomel explained in the memo (which can be found in full at PaidContent):

"As of today, the Amazon.com website no longer offers for sale any electronic titles from any of IPG's client publishers ... As has been publicly reported, Amazon.com is putting pressure on publishers and distributors to change their terms for electronic and print books to be more favorable toward Amazon. Our electronic book agreement recently came up for renewal, and Amazon took the opportunity to propose new terms for electronic and print purchases that would have substantially changed your revenue from the sale of both. It's obvious that publishers can't continue to agree to terms that increasingly reduce already narrow margins. I have spoken directly with many of our clients and every one of them agrees that we need to hold firm with the terms we now offer."

Melville House reported Wednesday that Amazon pulled the "Buy" buttons for all IPG Kindle titles — 4,443 according to the New York Times, as the post noted — "because IPG could not accept Amazon's new demands." The Melville post has a nice roundup of the story coverage and noted one of the larger underlying issues:

"These are the kinds of companies that don't have the resources to absorb something like this so easily. They will be more damaged, more deeply endangered, than a Big Sixer could have imagined. There's every likelihood that some of those little publishers sell most of their books on Amazon. This could put them out of business."

This could put them out of business, or force the small publishers to work directly with Amazon. The Melville post also suggests the situation may be an instance of Amazon sending a message to the Big Six and that things may be coming to a head: "There is in any event no question that this is a critical moment between the big houses and the monopolistic retailer."

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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.

The battle to democratize the ereader continues

NookLogoOn the heels of an increase in sales, Barnes & Noble turned up the heat in the ereader battle, launching an 8GB Nook tablet for $199 and lowering the price of the Nook Color to $169. In a press release, William Lynch, chief executive officer of B&N, stated, "In the third quarter, our traffic and sales in stores were the highest we've seen in five years." According to the release:

"The consolidated NOOK business across all of the company's segments, including sales of digital content, device hardware and related accessories, increased 38% during the third quarter to $542 million, on a comparable sales basis. NOOK unit sales, including NOOK Simple Touch™, NOOK Color™ and the new NOOK Tablet, increased 64% during the third quarter as compared to the same period last year. Digital content sales increased 85% on a comparable basis."

B&N includes apps, newsstand and book sales in its digital content category. Reuters reported that "the Nook business is expected to generate $1.5 billion in the fiscal year ending in April."

The Nook line acquired a new sales outlet this week as well, as Office Depot announced Thursday that it would sell the devices, joining the likes of Target, Walmart and Staples.

Brick & mortar has come full-cycle: We're back to the indies

Novelist Ann Patchett appeared on "The Colbert Report" this week. She was introduced by Colbert as "an author who is working to save independent bookstores," at which point Colbert quipped, "Independent bookstores! I should buy one of those on Amazon." The five-and-a-half-minute segment was funny, of course, but Patchett recently opened Parnassus Books, a brick-and-mortar bookstore in her hometown of Nashville, and had a few interesting comments as to why she did this and why she thinks brick-and-mortar has a future:

"We had two huge bookstores [in Nashville], both over 30,000 square feet, one an independent, one a Borders — they both closed. Suddenly, I'm living in a town with no bookstore ... both of those stores were profitable every month they were open; they closed at corporate levels, so they had larger issues ... We've had the cycle: Little bookstore does well; it gets bigger. Crushed by the superstore — Barnes & Noble, Borders chains. They were then crushed by Amazon, and now we've cycled all the way back. Suddenly, people are saying, 'I want to have a place to take my kids for story hour on Saturday; I want to have a place to go to a book club or see an author read'."

Colbert also addressed the issues of discovery and of opting to shop at a bookstore versus the convenience of buying on the Internet.

You can view the entire segment in the following video.

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January 27 2012

Publishing News: Ereader ownership doubles, again

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

Two surveys indicate a bright future for digital publishing

Back in June, a survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed ereader ownership in the U.S. had doubled in six months. As impressive as those statistics were, the latest survey released by the company this week showed that both tablet and ereader ownership in the U.S. nearly doubled again, but in a much shorter time frame between mid-December and early January (the holiday season, of course).

Ereader ownership chart

The survey also indicated that "[t]he number of Americans owning at least one of these digital reading devices jumped from 18% in December to 29% in January." And ownership wasn't gender biased in terms of tablets: The survey showed that the same percentage — 19% — of both males and females own a tablet. Ownership of ereaders, however, skewed female: 21% of women in the U.S. own ereaders but just 16% of the men do.

Pew attributed the dramatic growth not only to holiday shopping, but to the timely release of devices priced in the double digits by Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Another survey released this week by RBC Capital indicated that Amazon may be making more bank per Kindle Fire device than initially thought — meaning it may not be losing money on each sale in the long term. Eric Savitz at Forbes quoted analyst Ross Sandler:

"Our assumption is that AMZN could sell 3-4 million Kindle Fire units in Q4, and that those units are accretive to company-average operating margin within the first six months of ownership. Our analysis assigns a cumulative lifetime operating income per unit of $136, with a cumulative operating margin of over 20%."

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt strikes a deal with Amazon

AmazonLogo.jpgHoughton Mifflin Harcourt and Amazon Publishing East Coast announced a deal this week in which HMH will publish the print editions of Amazon's East Coast titles and, as Laura Hazard Owen pointed out, "will distribute them everywhere in North America outside of Amazon.com."

Owen astutely observed that this agreement may pave the way for Amazon to get its books in the hands of Barnes & Noble brick-and-mortar shoppers, a feat Amazon has yet to accomplish.

Also this week, Bloomberg Businessweek ran a feature piece on Larry Kirshbaum, the man behind Amazon Publishing East Coast's success thus far — or "Amazon's hit man," as Businessweek dubbed him. The feature also dipped into the history of Amazon Publishing and its relationship to traditional publishing and the Big Six. It's well worth the read.

A call to arms for libraries

Much of the current discourse around libraries centers around ebook availability. But the importance of the future existence of libraries goes way beyond whether or not the digital version of James Patterson's latest bestseller can be had with a library card. A Slideshare post by Ned Potter this week elevated the discussion to a higher plane. Some highlights from the presentation include:

  • "The top 10 jobs of 2010 didn't exist in 2004 — who can provide relevant up-to-date information in areas in which none of us are educated? Libraries can."
  • "There are three billion Google searches per day — libraries can provide access to the Internet and help people use it safely."
  • "Librarians are information professionals — they can help sort, assess, collate and present information in our age of information overload."

Here's the presentation in full:

To stay current with the library discussion, other library experts to follow include Peter Brantley, Andrew Albanese, Justin Hoenke, and Sarah Houghton (to name just a few).

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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.

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December 28 2011

Five things we learned about publishing in 2011

Many of publishing's big developments from 2011 will continue to shape the industry in 2012. So with that in mind, here's a look at five of the most important lessons from last 12 months.

Amazon is, indeed, a disruptive publishing competitor

If it wasn't apparent before, Amazon's publishing intentions became plainly obvious this year. The wave started out small, with a host of expanding self-publishing tools for authors, but it grew to tsunami proportions as Amazon launched imprint after imprint, from romance to science fiction. Amazon also hired industry heavy-hitter Larry Kirshbaum, who "is charged with building something that will look like a general trade publisher.'"

Amazon imprints
Some of Amazon's publishing projects.

Amazon further extended its reach into publishing when it launched the Kindle Owner's Lending Library. The ebook lending waters already were murky and contentious for publishers — HarperCollins instigated a memorable dustup, as did Penguin — but Amazon's move into the space caused a full-fledged uproar among publishers as well as authors, and may have damaged the publisher-library relationship further.

O'Reilly's Joe Wikert highlighted one of the main problems from the publisher perspective:

As Amazon stated in its press release, "For the vast majority of titles, Amazon has reached agreement with publishers to include titles for a fixed fee." So no matter how popular (or unpopular) the publisher's titles are, they get one flat fee for participation in the library. I strongly believe this type of program needs to compensate publishers and authors on a usage level, not a flat fee. The more a title is borrowed, the higher the fee to the publisher and author. Period.

And Amazon may be encroaching on feature magazines like the Atlantic and the New Yorker as well. In a sign of possible things to come, freelance journalist Marc Herman took his long-form story, "The Shores of Tripoli," and expanded it into a $1.99 Kindle Single. According to his blog, he has plans to expand on the model, which would further sideline traditional publishing avenues.

Publishers aren't necessary to publishing

Authors have figured out they don't need publishers to publish books. The self-publishing book market saw quite a boom this year as the publishing format started becoming more mainstream and the services offered by self-publishing companies became more comprehensive — providing authors with platforms, sales, marketing, editing, etc.

Amazon has a role in this boom as well. The Wall Street Journal reported that "Amazon.com Inc. fueled the growth [in self-publishing] by offering self-published writers as much as 70% of revenue on digital books, depending on the retail price. By comparison, traditional publishers typically pay their authors 25% of net digital sales and even less on print books."

Another trend emerged this year to further sideline the publisher's role: the rise of the agent-publisher. This controversial and contentious business model allows agents to step in to provide expanded publishing services to authors. In an interview, Booksquare's Kassia Krozser explained that the new agent-publisher role emerged because of failings on the part of traditional publishers: "Traditional publishers need to not only rethink how they sell their value to authors and agents, but they also need to rethink the economic structure of their deals." Krozser also expressed concerns that the agent-publisher role carries a conflict of interest — see her interview here.

Readers sure do like ebooks

There good news is that people are still reading and they're embracing the digital transformation. The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) released a report in November that showed that readers are solidly committing to digital books. A couple highlights from the report:

  • Power buyers are spending more. More than 46% of those who say they acquire e-books at least weekly ... report that they have increased their dollars spent for books in all formats, compared with 30.4% of all survey respondents.
  • "... 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."

The number of devices sold is telling as well. A Pew report found that "ereader ownership growth in the U.S. doubled in six months, from 6% to 12% of adults owning an ebook reader."

PewReportGraphic.PNG

Though the new Kindle Fire is selling at a loss, Amazon reported that it is selling Kindles at a clip of "well over one million Kindle devices per week" — at least for the three weeks following Black Friday. Amazon hasn't disclosed the total number of devices it has sold, but one analyst estimates the sales to be 8% of total revenues in 2011 and predicts that amount will rise to 9.9% in 2012. So ... a lot of Kindles. Combine those numbers (vague as they might be) with the 40 million iPads sold, and the conclusion is clear: ereading is now mainstream.

HTML5 is an important publishing technology

HTML5 entered the publishing space in a big way this year — some calling it the "future of digital publishing." From storage to multimedia to content behavior (think shaking the iPhone or automatically sizing for different screen sizes) to geolocation to a host of other interactive features, HTML5 has squared itself up to become an important player in the industry. Amazon (mostly) embraced it in its Kindle Format 8, and HTML5 is supported in EPUB3.

HTML5 is platform agnostic and may even be able to save — or make — publishers money. In an interview early in the year, Google's Marcin Wichary explained:

It's very important to recognize that HTML5 fits all the devices you can think of, from the iPhone in your pocket to Google TV to the tablets to small screens and big screens. It's very easy to take the content you already have and through the "magic" of HTML5, refine it so it works very well within a given context. You don't have to do your work over and over again. Of course, all of these different means come with different monetization opportunities, like ads on the web or on mobile devices.

You can view Wichary's full interview below.

DRM is full of unintended consequences

It turns out DRM does more than provide publishers with a false sense of security — locking the content of books also locks those books into a platform (ahem, Kindle). This point was highlighted by author Charlie Stross in a November blog post in which he argued that DRM had become a strategic tool for Amazon:

... the big six's pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder. DRM on ebooks gives Amazon a great tool for locking ebook customers into the Kindle platform. If you buy a book that you can only read on the Kindle, you're naturally going to be reluctant to move to other ebook platforms that can't read those locked Kindle ebooks — and even more reluctant to buy ebooks from rival stores that use incompatible DRM ... If the big six began selling ebooks without DRM, readers would at least be able to buy from other retailers and read their ebooks on whatever platform they wanted, thus eroding Amazon's monopoly position.

So, to recap, we've learned that DRM doesn't stop anyone from pirating, nor does it come with the necessary data to support its impact. But it does give publishers one thing: a longer length of rope with which to hang themselves.

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.

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Related:


  • Do agent-publishers carry a conflict of interest?
  • Publishers: What are they good for?
  • Book piracy: Less DRM, more data
  • What if a book is just a URL?
  • October 17 2011

    Inside the German ebook market

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    In this podcast, Max Franke (@max_franke), head of business development and communications at epubli, talks about the current state of the German ebook market and what the future might hold. In terms of ereading devices, he says Apple and Google thus far have had an edge over Amazon because tablets are more popular in Germany than dedicated ereading devices.

    Highlights from the full video interview (below) include:

    • The state of the German ebook market: Compared to the United States, the market is still very small, says Franke. He discusses some reasons behind this, including lack of content and high prices, but also says he expects it to change with the growing ubiquity of ereaders and tablets. [Discussed at the 1:01 mark.]
    • Tablets are more popular than ereaders in Germany: Though Amazon is the biggest bookseller in the German market, Franke says Apple has edge an edge over Amazon because the tablet generally is preferred over dedicated ereader devices. [Discussed at 3:57]
    • Rigid DRM continues to be the publisher preference: Though epubli uses a social DRM solution, in which ebooks are watermarked for tracking down piracy, the publishing market as a whole still thinks a rigid structure is best. [Discussed at 8:32]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    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

    October 07 2011

    Scrolling, flipping, and clicking

    In this interview, Oliver Reichenstein (@ia), CEO of iA Inc. and a speaker at TOC Frankfurt, talks about user experience — including author user experience — on digital screens and says no devices are cutting the mustard thus far. He also dishes a bit on the problems with news and says the real problem isn't getting readers to pay for online news but rather getting advertisers to pay real money for online ads.

    Our interview follows.

    What are some of the major user experience issues readers face with the digital screen?

    oliver-reichenstein.jpgOliver Reichenstein: There are more open questions and unresolved issues than solutions in that field: Scroll or card? Is flipping pages really the best way to navigate between blocks of text? How do we give the reader a similar orientation of where in the text he is as in a physical object? What do we do with footnotes and annotations? Do we need links, or are they killing the flow? How much do we really want to connect the reading process with other people when you read classics that were conceived as intimate dialogues between writer and reader?

    The shape of music, pictures, film, and all categories of artifacts is very much predefined by the means of production. If you look at the