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June 29 2012

Publishing News: NewCo's global spread

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

NewCo needs to focus beyond the Nook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ereading data leads to new content forms

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

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

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

Books as great datasets for the web

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

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

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

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

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

Related:

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

B&N and Microsoft: The potential beyond digital

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("B&N and Microsoft: Why It's Not About Ebooks"). This version has been lightly edited.

NookMicrosoft's $300 million investment in Barnes & Noble's digital business is about more than ebooks. Much more. Or at least I hope so. Success in this venture will not be measured by sales of ebooks. 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. But how will that happen by investing in the distant No. 2 player in the ereader space?

Microsoft has spent billions over the years as it repositions itself from the maker of Windows and Office into a much broader brand. They've done a good job, as Microsoft is one of the most recognized brands on the planet. But is it really considered a consumer brand like Coke or (wait for it) Apple? Even though they've built an amazing customer base with Xbox and the innovative Kinect accessory, I'd say the answer to that question is "no."

Barnes & Noble isn't exactly up there with Coke or Apple, but the B&N brand conjures up other images Microsoft could benefit from: trusted in-person retailer, growing digital content retailer and even a place where you can get answers to your questions about Nooks and books. The initial investment with B&N is about the dot-com world, but who says the larger relationship has to be online only?

Think about the Nook areas in today's B&N superstore and consider what they could become with a broader Microsoft alliance. I'll bet you didn't know that there are almost 20 Microsoft Store locations in the U.S. That sounds a lot like Apple's strategy, right? It remains to be seen whether Microsoft can create the same sort of buzz or return on investment in their stores that Apple has managed to achieve, but why go to the trouble and expense of creating a larger standalone presence when a store-within-a-store might be even more effective? What if B&N stores added mini Microsoft Stores in each of their locations? The foot traffic is already there, and what a great place to showcase and sell that new Windows 8-based Nook they'll undoubtedly create.

This isn't just about selling Windows-based Nooks in brick-and-mortar stores, though. This new alliance needs to sell devices, ebooks, music, video, apps and more. The Nook platform is almost exclusively about ebooks. Compare that to Apple's platform, where ebooks are probably a rounding error for iTunes. B&N desperately needs to diversify their business beyond ebooks and Microsoft has the cash to help make it happen.

Let's also not forget about how the Xbox could fit into all of this. Xbox is one of the brightest stars in the Microsoft product portfolio, and Microsoft needs to get some mojo in the mobile/tablet space. Given the ongoing decline of print book sales, it might make a lot of sense for B&N to reduce its superstore title count inventory and make even more room for that Microsoft section I described above.

The brick-and-mortar presence is something Amazon doesn't have, at least not yet. This is a great opportunity for B&N to use that to its advantage, assuming the deal goes further than the digital investment.

All of this might never happen, of course. As a publisher and a consumer, I'm still intrigued by the possibilities, even if it only means B&N is now funded to be a more serious ebook retailing competitor for Amazon.

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.


Related:


May 03 2012

Commerce Weekly: Mobile payments and the consumer experience

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

Don't forget the mobile payment UX

PayPalSquareLogo.jpgCompetition in the mobile payment space is heating up, as Square's payment pace closes in on PayPal's, according to a report at Bloomberg. The report highlights a recent move by Square to lure in merchants: "The San Francisco company is making cash from sales before 5 p.m. on any day available in merchants' accounts on the next business day, compared with as many as five days out for other processors."

The real endgame, though, will be adoption by consumers, and Lauren Goode over at All Things Digital addressed the battle to control digital wallets from a UX perspective. Goode reports on her experience shopping around San Francisco and New York, paying either with Pay with Square or PayPal's mobile app. She says both apps are easy to use and that the biggest issue for both was the lack of merchants accepting payments of this type. Another issue she mentions caught my eye, however — the execution inconsistencies:

"Square has been touting the idea that this app actually allows for 'hands-free' payments ... One shop I bought coffee at didn't see my name right away, even though I had turned on the tab in the iPhone version of the app. I tried to buy another item using the app on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus Android phone, and my name didn't appear at all on the list of customers in the store.

But at another downtown coffee shop I was able to walk in, place my order and say, 'Charge it to Lauren Goode' — without taking my phone out of my pocket — and the transaction was completed in seconds."

And regarding a beef jerky purchase using PayPal's app:

"Since data service on my phone happened to be particularly bad in that area, I initially had trouble dropping the digital pin within the app that's supposed to let the merchant know I was there. The merchant also had to reboot his phone once to process the payment on his end. But once I switched over to Wi-Fi, I had four options for paying him ..."

Goode also reports on location-based features and the importance of merchant-provided content — her entire account is well worth the read.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.


E-gifting and mobile commerce get social

Social gifting is gearing up to be one of the next big mobile commerce booms, according to a report at Reuters. The post focuses on the launch of Wrapp, a Swedish-based app startup, and highlights the blurring lines of online and brick-and-mortar commerce worlds. It describes the app:

"It allows Facebook friends to buy each other gift cards from participating retailers either individually or by teaming up, which they can store on their mobile devices and redeem either online or inside physical stores. Retailers like it because there is little marketing cost and because customers often end up buying more once they are inside the store."

Wrapp's CEO Hjalmar Winbladh told Reuters, "Brick-and-mortar retailers are all looking for new, more efficient ways to drive sales into stores without diluting their brands ... we wanted to really see how retailers can leverage the megatrends of smartphones and social networks."

TheFind also launched a social commerce app this week. It's called Glimpse, and it's a Facebook app that, according to the press release, "uses Facebook Like data from across the web to instantly personalize and curate a stream of fashion and design items that are trending, tailored to the tastes and preferences of an individual and their community of Facebook friends."

Ryan Kim at GigaOm calls the shopping discovery app a Pinterest rival and reports: "TheFind's CEO Siva Kumar told me TheFind has been working with Facebook for some time to bridge the two data sets, mapping a user's likes to products, their taxonomy and a user's profile. Now, when a Glimpse user likes a page, the service can determine what product the URL is referring to, can pull up the most recent availability and pricing data and also fit it into different styles and trends."


Move over smartphones, NFC to unlock experiences for Nook users

In an interview at CNN Fortune, Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch talked about the future of the Nook and the recently announced partnership with Microsoft. In talking about opportunities in offline-online integration, Lynch offered an example of how B&N will improve customers' experiences:

"We're going to start embedding NFC [near-field communications] 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."

Lynch told Fortune the NFC experience could appear as early as this year.

Related:

January 06 2012

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

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

B&N looks at spinning off its Nook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newspapers look to capitalize on aggregators

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

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

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

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

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

Apple rumors fire up: Will iBooks support EPUB 3?

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

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

Related:

April 26 2011

October 29 2010

Bookish Techy Week in Review

On occasion, bookish-techy weeks seem to unfold around a theme. This is one of those weeks, and the theme has been “social.” Social reading, social networking, being anti-social - and all in a bookish-techy way. Not to mention, a few Halloween-related items of bookish-techy interest. Read on...

A Bookish-techy “social" event

This bookish-techy social week actually got to a start last week at the Internet Archive’s Books in Browsers conference. BiB-related and/or inspired posts of note:

Social networks for teen readers come and go

Sharing news from Amazon and Wowio

New Nook Not News?

So says CrunchGear
The last thing the world needs right now is another Android tablet, especially when the focus for e-readers should be on distinguishing them from tablets and not trying to compete with more capable and connected devices. Amazon is already neck-deep in Kindle sales, and this gamble by Barnes & Noble essentially forfeits their portion of this generation of e-readers.

In honor of a Bookish-Techy Halloween

  • Stephen King on why ebooks aren’t scary
  • Eric Frank, co-founder of Flat World Knowledge on how text book publishing got so scary
  • Mobile Read’s ereader giveaway more treat than trick

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