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February 28 2012

February 03 2012

Publishing News: B&N closes doors on Amazon Publishing

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

Barnes & Noble puts its foot down on Amazon

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

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

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

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Breaking up is hard to do

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Franzen waxes absurd on ebooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 24 2011

The more you engage, the better the advice

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.


Discoverability is one of the key issues that plagues the book and econtent world. The bad news is the situation is only going to get worse, particularly when you consider all the new publishing and self-publishing platforms that are vying for our attention. The good news is we're starting to see platforms like Goodreads helping you discover new titles that match your interests. Patrick Brown, community manager at Goodreads, tells us all about their new recommendation engine and some of the complexities of the algorithm behind it. Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Recommendation engines are complex: The Goodreads engine has been in development for six years. (In fact, the Goodreads algorithm benefited from the competition Netflix had to improve their own algorithm.) [Discussed at the 2:50 mark.]
  • The more you use it, the better the advice: Goodreads obviously wants us all to engage with their service as much as possible. One benefit to doing so is that the recommendations served up will be more fine-tuned to your interests. [Discussed at 5:24.]
  • Serendipity can be found further down the long tail: Part of what makes the Goodreads recommendation engine so valuable is that they're not just recommending the latest bestseller on the topic. [Discussed at 6:40.]
  • Categories are broad today, but... : This initial release of the Goodreads recommendation engine uses large buckets (e.g., History, but not narrowed down to, say, WWII). Over time, the granularity, and therefore, the value of this aspect of the service will improve. [Discussed at 13:45.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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September 16 2011

Publishing News: Goodreads chases the recommendation Holy Grail

Here's what caught my eye in publishing news this week.

Has Goodreads nabbed the book recommendation Holy Grail?

GoodreadsGoodreads purchased Discovereads about six months ago. This week, Goodreads finally put its acquired machine learning algorithms to use and launched a new book recommendation engine. As ReadWriteWeb explained:

The site's new reading recommendations are generated using a set of propriety algorithms which look at over 20 billion different data points. Perhaps most importantly, it takes into account the stated preferences of of its nearly six million users, for whom rating books is already a key component of using the site.

This giant dataset is what gives the engine its edge. Goodreads CEO and founder Otis Chandler gave an example in the press release, pointing out that Goodreads has "more than 174,000 ratings of the best-selling 'The Help' while Amazon only has around 4,400." But the algorithm doesn't stop at popularity — it digs deeper into readers' psyches, as pointed out on Mashable:

The algorithm ... is largely based on what's on a reader's bookshelf and what other readers with similar bookshelves have enjoyed reading. It also takes into account why you liked a book. When a reader categorizes "The Help" as "historical fiction," the algorithm will react differently than when he or she classifies it as "racism."

Goodreads' algorithm and dataset allows it to not only provide recommendations of similar books (ala BookLamp, Amazon, et al), but also suggestions that teeter closer to the Holy Grail of recommendation: serendipity and discovery.

Hearst goes multi-platform with HTML5 web design

Good HousekeepingHearst took the digital publishing bull by the horns and launched a redesign of its GoodHousekeeping.com website — using HTML5. It also indicated it would pursue the same path for most of its other sites.

One of the major benefits of designing with HTML5, of course, is the cross-platform utility it allows (see comparison screenshots over at ReadWriteWeb). Another advantage is the interactivity, which Hearst is embracing fully. In an interview at Folio, Eric Gullin, Hearst's group director, called out the the rotating promotional player on the home page at Goodhousekeeping.com:

This slide show or rotator is touch enabled, depending on the device you're using, and that's one of the things that's wonderful with HTML5. We can use HTML5 to have it work the way we would like it to work depending on the device the reader has.

But that wasn't all of the exciting HTML5 news this week ...

BostonGlobe.com delivers news in HTML5

Boston GlobeYes, another newspaper launched a website that will be behind a paywall (I'll get to that part in a minute), but the intriguing thing about the launch of BostonGlobe.com was pointed out on page two of a paidContent.org post:

...the site is based on HTML5 "responsive design," an app-like offering that reflexively re-sizes depending on the device and screen. Everything from the front page to the photo galleries to the HTML5 crossword puzzle ... is designed to work via browser. That includes a "MySaved" feature that allows users to save stories via the browser on one PC or device and not only open them in another, but quickly save them for offline reading on a new device. It even works in the experimental browser on a Kindle ...

I'm impressed, and I'm not the only one excited about the HTML5 design. Nieman Lab was quick to point out this design might just allow the newspaper to bypass the 30% cut Apple takes from subscriptions. I'm certain other news organizations are bandying that tidbit about their conference tables.

As for the paywall part of the site ... the plan is to continue running Boston.com, the original free site, but move about three-fourths of the newsy content to the new BostonGlobe.com and ask people to pay $3.99 per month (print subscribers get free access). The fact that they're going to offer breaking news, 20 new blogs, and some news content on the free site, as mentioned in the paidContent post, might work against them. There's also a fun three-step process posted at The Evolving Newsroom to estimate how well it will all turn out (hint: that HTML5 crossword puzzle and the photo galleries mentioned above might factor in heavily).

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