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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.

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April 06 2012

Publishing News: A magazine platform, ala Netflix

Before we dip into the news that caught my eye this week, here's a thought-provoking excerpt from a new interview with Clay Shirky over at the blog:

"Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word 'publishing' means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That's not a job anymore. That's a button. There's a button that says 'publish,' and when you press it, it's done ... Institutions will try to preserve the problem for which they are the solution. Now publishers are in the business not of overcoming scarcity but of manufacturing demand. And that means that almost all innovation in creation, consumption, distribution and use of text is coming from outside the traditional publishing industry." (Read the entire interview here.)

Now, here are a few stories that got my attention in the publishing space this week.

All-you-can-eat magazines

Ken Doctor over at Nieman Lab took a look at Next Issue, a newly launched Netflix-like magazine platform. He describes the venture:

"It offers single-priced, all-you-can-eat access to top-shelf magazines, including Time Inc's People, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, and Time; Conde Nast's Vanity Fair, Allure, and Conde Nast Traveler; Hearst's Esquire and Popular Mechanics; and Meredith's Better Homes and Gardens and Fitness. Thirty-two magazines in total, at launch."

Though there is some comparison to be found between magazine and newspaper revenue losses in the digital era, as both so far have failed to fully embrace the web for profit, this platform appears to be disruptive in a big-picture fashion. As Doctor points out in the post, the big difference here with newspapers — and I might add book publishing houses — is the five big magazine companies that together own Next Issue (Time Inc., Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, and News Corp.) pooled their efforts to create the platform.

Doctor describes the pricing tiers and offers a nice analysis of how this endeavor might play out — it's well worth the read.

Also in magazine-related news, Zite is expanding its offerings, with the blessing and support of eight publishers (nine if you include its parent company CNN), with its new Publisher Program.

Tom Krazit at GigaOm took a look at the program and explains that though no money is changing hands, publishers will be allowed to place house ads at the bottoms of their sections linking readers back to their websites or apps. And though Zite initially had issues with publishers, the tension is waning. Krazit reports:

"... publishers are starting to realize that they can attract new readers through apps like Zite and build their brands, [said Mark Johnson, CEO of Zite] ... he said that content publishers have the same discoverability problem that small mobile developers have to confront, and that apps like Zite can drive traffic to those publishers that they wouldn't otherwise enjoy."

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Google's multifaceted ebook approach loses a facet

Google jostled indie booksellers again this week with an announcement that it will discontinue its ebook reseller program come January 2013. Scott Dougall, Google's director of product management for digital publishing, explains the situation in a blog post:

With the launch of Google eBooks in 2010, we introduced a multifaceted approach to selling ebooks: online, on devices, through affiliates and through resellers. One part of that effort — the reseller program — has not gained the traction that we hoped it would, so we have made the difficult decision to discontinue it by the end of January next year.

It's important to note that the separate affiliate program will not be affected. Jeannie Hornung, a spokesperson for Google, told Good E-Reader: "... booksellers will still be highlighted in the 'Buy this book' section of Google Book search, supported with our affiliate program and have access to free Books APIs."

Indies may not be left selling solo, however. American Booksellers Association (ABA) president Oren J. Teicher told The Next Web:

"... we have every confidence that, long before Google's reseller program is discontinued, ABA will be able to offer IndieCommerce users a new alternative e-book product, or choice of products, that will not only replace Google eBooks as it currently works on IndieCommerce sites, but that will be in many ways a better product."

The original letter the ABA sent to booksellers can be found here, and (hat tip to ShelfAwareness) the ABA is offering an FAQ about the situation.

People who e-read buy books

The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project released a new study report on ereading this week. The report findings show a marked increase in the number of people ereading:

"... some 43% of Americans age 16 and older say they have either read an e-book in the past year or have read other long-form content such as magazines, journals, and news articles in digital format on an e-book reader, tablet computer, regular computer, or cell phone."


Findings also show that by February 2012, 21% of adults in the U.S. had read an ebook in the past year — up from 17% in mid-December 2011.

And those numbers are likely to continue to rise in a steep incline. A post on the study over at Reuters notes that "Forrester, a consultancy, has forecast that nearly a quarter of Americans will own an e-book reader by 2016." The post notes Amazon's marketshare as well: "Online retailer Inc has about 65 percent of the e-book market, according to Cowen & Co estimates."

The Pew study, which was funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, generally focused on reading behavior, both print and digital. And the news for publishers looks very positive on one front: According to the study, readers — especially ereaders — prefer to buy books:

  • A majority of print readers (54%) and readers of e-books (61%) prefer to purchase their own copies of these books.


And some stats for publishers afraid of losing sales via library card holders: 14% of readers reportedly borrowed the last book they read from a library — however, 12% of those who purchased their last read started their search at the library. You can find a nice selection of the study's library statistic highlights at INFOdocket.

One of the more surprising areas of the study looks at the devices on which people are reading. I found the percentages for computers and, in the U.S., for cell phones notable:

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

You can view the report in full here. Lee Rainie, the head of the Pew Internet Project, also will be the featured guest on today's Follow the Reader discussion on Twitter at 4 p.m. EST. You can join in at #followreader.


March 23 2012

Top Stories: March 19-23, 2012

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

Why StreetEasy rolled its own maps
Google's decision to start charging for its Maps API is leading some companies to mull other options. StreetEasy's Sebastian Delmont explains why and how his team made a change.

What is Dart?
Dart is a new structured web programming platform designed to enable complex, high-performance apps for the modern web. Kathy Walrath and Seth Ladd, members of Google's developer relations team, explain Dart's purpose and its applications.

My Paleo Media Diet
Jim Stogdill is tired of running on the info treadmill, so he's changing his media habits. His new approach: "Where I can, adapt to my surroundings; where I can't, adapt my surroundings to me."

The unreasonable necessity of subject experts
We can't forget that data is ultimately about insight, and insight is inextricably tied to the stories we build from the data. Subject experts are the ones who find the stories data wants to tell.

Direct sales uncover hidden trends for publishers
A recent O'Reilly customer survey revealed unusual results (e.g. laptops/desktops remain popular ereading devices). These sorts of insights are made possible by O'Reilly's direct sales channel.

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March 02 2012

Publishing News: It's time to break the stick

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

We're approaching the proverbial fork in the road

Silo.pngMathew Ingram at GigaOm took a look at the ebook landscape this week and welcomed everyone to "the platform-dependent bookstore of the future." Ingram reviewed a situation that occurred between author Seth Godin and Apple regarding hyperlinks in his new book, "Stop Stealing Dreams," that linked to books sold at Amazon (Godin also has a blog post about the situation here). Ingram argued:

"[Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble] have far more control over whose ebooks see the light of day because they also own the major ereading platforms, and they are making decisions based not on what they think consumers want to read but on their own competitive interests."

Ingram also pointed out that blame for the oligopoly marketplace in the U.S. doesn't fall solely on the chain store giants:

Publishers are partly to blame for the walled-garden status of the market as well, since they handed Amazon and Apple the stick of digital-rights management, which the two companies are now using to beat them.

Ingram's post is a must-read and a clear warning of what the future will hold if something doesn't change: "Welcome to the mutually incompatible, silo-based, platform-dependent and user-unfriendly future of books."

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What to do about Amazon

AmazonAnother publisher broke up with Amazon this week in response to the IPG-Amazon situation. A post at Publishers Weekly reported that "Educational Development Corporation (EDC), publisher of Usborne and Kane Miller books in the U.S., has announced that "the company will no longer sell any of its books on Amazon or to any entities that resell to Amazon."

Randall White, president of EDC, stated in the report that the decision was based on Amazon's moves to "gain control of publishing and other industries by making it impossible for other retailers to compete effectively."

Last week, author Jim Hanas made a stand against Amazon as well, removing the Amazon "buy" button from the website for his book "Why They Cried." This week, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America also removed the Amazon links on its website.

But, in the end, are moves from mid-level publishers and distribution houses and individual authors going to dent Amazon's hefty armor (read: boat loads of cash and rapidly expanding market share)? Probably not much. But as I (and others) have written before, the Big Six have an ace in the hole: DRM. In a post at Dear Author, Jane Litte touched on the DRM solution and highlighted the toll this situation is taking on the consumer:

"IPG is asking readers to make a moral decision with their wallets without providing a plausible alternative. Why not go DRM free and offer Mobi books to Kindle owners? This really strikes at the heart of Amazon ... Amazon isn't making money off device sales ... We [consumers] recognize that Amazon as the exclusive vendor of books would be bad for us, but what are publishers doing about it? Why is it the reader, the only party who does not make money in this equation, have to be the one to take the financial hit in the fight against Amazon? Why aren't publishers making it easier for readers to move away from Amazon? Why aren't they trying to appeal to our wallets instead of our morality?"

In a post at Publishers Weekly, Peter Brantley noted the lack of customer service amongst the large publishers and how the subsequent alienation of readers is actually driving publishing customers to Amazon:

"... through the combination of usurious pricing strategies and their undeclared war on libraries, the largest publishers have unerringly drawn their customers — readers with whom they've never cared to have a direct relationship — closer into the arms of the retailer whose market power and influence they most fear — Amazon. So much for a strategy of self-interest ... And, because publishers are not working in alignment with my interests, their marketplace goals have moved into conflict with mine."

Javier Celaya proposed a solution over at Publishing Perspectives: Publishers should band together and create a joint platform. He compared the publishing industry's situation with Amazon to the situation the aerospace industry had with Boeing: "The aeronautical industry, which was once dominated by Boeing, managed to develop the Airbus consortium. The publishing industry can also aspire to create its own 'cultural Airbus'."

Celaya offers several key factors for publishers and international online retailers to consider. His post is well worth the read.

Power buyers indicate the digital tipping point is nigh

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) released the first installment in Volume Three of the ongoing "Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" survey this week. According to the report release, digital may be at the tipping point with readers, particularly among "power buyers," or consumers who "acquire ebooks at least weekly" and who function as "predictors of where the market is moving."

The release noted::

"... more than half of ebook readers increased their use of apps to purchase books and more than one-third increased their use of general retail websites such as The gains for these digital vendors come at the expense of brick and mortar bookstores, even independents. More than a third of ebook buyers decreased their spending at national chains and 29% said they are buying less from their local indie.

This installment of the study also showed that though ereading devices remain dominant, "multi-function tablet devices and smartphones are gaining in popularity" — 17% (compared to 13% in November) said they most often used tablets for reading ebooks.

For more on this BISG study, check out the presentation slides and transcript from the "Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" session at TOC 2012.

Top Photo: Silo by eirikref, on Flickr


February 10 2012

Publishing News: B&N boycott becomes booksellers' cold war against Amazon

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

The booksellers' cold war rages on

NoEntry3.pngTwo weeks ago, Amazon made a move that might have landed it access to B&N brick-and-mortar stores. Last week, B&N slammed its brick-and-mortar doors in Amazon's face. This week, B&N was joined by Canada's Indigo Books and Music and Books-a-Million, and also (in effect) by the American Book Association (ABA) — in what the Guardian dubbed the "cold war between North American booksellers and Amazon."

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Janet Eger, vice president at Indigo, explained the company's position: "In our view Amazon's actions are not in the long-term interests of the reading public or the publishing and book retailing industry, globally."

The ABA denied the initial reports by Publisher's Weekly (which has since edited its original post) that it joined the "boycott," but it did remove Amazon titles from its IndieCommerce database this week and made an overall change in its policies. As PW reported:

"Not only has IndieCommerce decided not to list these titles, but it has created a new policy that states 'only publishers' titles that are made available to retailers for sale in all available formats will be included in the IndieCommerce inventory database'."

Individual stores, however, can opt to add Amazon books as custom products to their own websites if they so choose.

Amazon didn't appear to be phased by the news. In fact, the company appears to be focused elsewhere: Rumors of Amazon's plans to open its own brick-and-mortar store heated up this week when GoodEReader reported on a proposed location in Seattle.

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DRM is publishers' ace in the hole against Amazon

Ace2.pngBattle techniques for the Big Six to use in this cold war against Amazon were proposed this week as well. Paul Biba at TeleRead suggested that the Big Six have greater control and influence than they realize — they just need to wield it:

"There is no reason why the Big Six can't offer exclusive deals to Kobo and B&N. Give them a three-month exclusive selling period for expected ebook best-sellers and do away with the agency pricing during that period. After three months, make the ebooks available to everyone and reinstate agency pricing. This would boost competition and play against Amazon's exclusivity program."

The problem with this strategy is the same problem that would arise if publishers cut out Amazon altogether — consumers would be alienated and sales would suffer (let's face it, Amazon's got the biggest piece of the market share pie at this point).

Publishers do, however, have an ace in the hole — they just need the courage to play it. O'Reilly publisher and general manager Joe Wikert pointed this out in very clear terms in a post at Publishers Weekly:

"In a terrific blog post entitled "Cutting Their Own Throats," author Charlie Stross argues that publishers' fear has enabled a big ebook player like Amazon to further reinforce its market position, often at the expense of publishers and authors — an unintended consequence of DRM. Given all these issues, why not eliminate DRM, since even the music industry has seen the light and moved on from DRM."

Transferability and cognitive friction improve the reading experience

Alan Jacobs at the Atlantic made a couple of thought-provoking observations about reading this week. In one post, he compared Nick Carr's affinity for the "fixities of the printed book" and Kevin Kelly's for the "fluidities of the ebook." He argued that both Carr and Kelly's observations, though they make good points, are too narrowly focused on the book as an object, rather than as "a tool for use." Jacobs shared a story about losing his Kindle, but not losing any of his content and annotations as a consequence, and observed:

"So what we have here is best described not as fixity or fluidity, but as transferability — a reassuring kind of consistency across platforms and formats. You might say that this is fixity enabled by fluidity: the reproducibility of pixels combined with the stability of Amazon's enormous database amount to insurance against the fragility of any particular designed object. (And by downloading my books and annotations to two or three 'designed objects' I also insure myself against the failure of Amazon's databases.)"

In another post, Jacobs took a look at the cognitive experience of reading and suggested that retention is improved by increased "cognitive friction" — the effort required to read, annotate, highlight and otherwise process digital content. Both posts (here and here) are well worth the read.

Photo (top): NO ENTRY by markhillary, on Flickr

Photo (bottom): battle 002 by Paul J Everett, on Flickr


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


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.

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.

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.

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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January 03 2012

Social is an integral part of tomorrow's reading experience

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.

Book reading has always been considered a solitary activity, but maybe that's just because of the limitations of print. Social reading platforms are sprouting up all around us, and mobNotate is one of the more interesting ones. This TOC podcast features insight from mobNotate's founder, Ricky Wong (@kinwong), as well as their technical advisor, Sean Gerrish. They talk about where they are with the mobNotate platform, why social is an important part of tomorrow's reading experience and what it will look like.

(Listen to this interview via the embedded player or download the MP3 file.)

Key points from the full interview include :

  • Machine learning makes it happen — Related conversations are already happening on the web, but mobNotate ties them back to the text so you don't have to hunt them down. [Discussed at the 0:45 mark.]
  • Social reading is not an oxymoron — If social reading is implemented correctly it will feel like an on-topic conversation with a lot of really interesting people. If it's done poorly, of course, it's nothing more than a distraction. [Discussed at 1:38.]
  • Reader apps & devices don't lend themselves to content creation — And that's where a tool like mobNotate comes in, which makes it extremely easy to add your thoughts to the conversation. Think "tapping and swiping" rather than "typing" as well as "curation" rather than "creation." [Discussed at 6:41.]
  • Social isn't just for certain genres of content — There are different (and better ways) to implement social features on different types of content. [Discussed at 9:35.]
  • Community is an important part of the value proposition — Social features can help add to the value of your product and therefore help justify a higher price. [Discussed at 11:35.]

  • Social features can still result in a clean & simple reading environment — Sean's example here of Google "then and now" is a terrific analogy. Social reading functionality needs to be as important to the user experience as images and videos have become to search results. [Discussed at 15:00.]
  • The 80/20 rule applies here as well — A small percentage of users will likely create and curate the content that's used by the larger audience. [Discussed at 15:46.]

You can listen to the entire interview here.

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


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 " 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."


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.

Register to attend TOC 2012


  • 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?
  • December 14 2011

    Research and restraint: Two more things to add to your digital publishing toolkit

    Since 2009, author and digital book producer Peter Meyers (@petermeyers) has been researching and documenting the digital publishing revolution in his project "Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience." His investigation into digital books has uncovered a host of tools and use cases. The project has also shown that when it comes to digital book enhancements, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

    A free preview edition of Meyers' project is now available — in ebook format, of course — and he'll discuss "Breaking the Page" in depth at his TOC New York 2012 session, "Breaking The Page: Content Design For An Infinite Canvas."

    In the following interview, Meyers talks about how and why the project got started and what's surprised him thus far. He also reveals the unfortunate connection between today's enhanced ebooks and the font-filled newsletters of the mid-1980s.

    What is "Breaking the Page"? What was the inspiration?

    Peter MeyersPeter Meyers: I was an early adopter of everything that was happening around the world of the Kindle and ebooks. It struck me that it was still the very beginning of the digital publishing revolution, and all that was really happening in the world of Kindle was that publishers were taking these digital snapshots of print books and stuffing them onto the Kindle. As much as I love my Kindle and I love reading Kindle books on platforms like the iPhone, I felt like we weren't yet seeing authors and publishers deliver new kinds of reading experiences.

    So, back in 2009 or so when it became clear that the industry overall was undergoing these significant changes and when it also became clear that some kind of tablet device was on the horizon from Apple, I felt that we were on the cusp of a sea change. Publishers and authors and readers alike weren't yet getting their heads around how books were going to change, and I wanted to take a systematic look at what these new kinds of books were going to look like. How are they going to change the things that authors create? How are they going to change the reading experience? What parts of the reading experience can and should stay the same? And I wanted to do so in a way that put the needs of the reader up front. "Breaking the Page," for me, was a way of taking a considered look at all of the innovation that was going on but trying to think through some of the best practices.

    How are ebooks missing the point?

    Peter Meyers: I'm not sure that I would say plain EPUB ebooks are missing the point. In fact, the sales figures show they're doing an incredibly good job of satisfying maybe everyone except for the bean counters at the big publishing firms, who, at this point, are understandably afraid of how things are looking for the future. But from a reader's perspective, I think traditional plain-vanilla ebooks are doing a great job — you get mystery readers and romance readers and serious literary fans, and they just can't get enough and they're buying more books. If I'm any sort of measure to judge by, I'm buying many more books on all my digital devices.

    I think where things were less successful was in that first wave of enhancements, where the entire industry kind of decided collectively, "Hey, we need enhancements. We need enhanced ebooks." And I will raise my hand and say, "Guilty." I was complicit, and I participated in a number of enhancement projects.

    The collective reaction on the part of readers was pretty much a big giant yawn of disinterest. Publishers spent a fair amount of money experimenting on that front. Now they're starting to conclude that the time and resources required to create these enhanced books are probably not worth the effort. In some cases, enhancements are a quick way to turn off people who are interested in reading books in the first place.

    Which publishers and platforms are "breaking the page" well?

    Peter Meyers: I certainly see a lot of experimenting happening out there. At the risk of sounding like a total company shill, I will say that O'Reilly does an admirable job in terms of not thinking of itself as a company that is in the business of selling print books, but staying true to its motto of changing the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators. There are places in which a company, be it O'Reilly or any other publisher, is so centered on books as the unit of delivery that it's hard to respond to a disruption like StackOverflow, for example, where people pose and field questions having to do with technical challenges. StackOverflow is a great and constant reminder that the competitive threats to publishers often don't come from other publishers, but from different approaches.

    In the world of textbook publishing, there's a firm called Inkling that specializes in textbooks for the iPad. A lot of what Inkling has done has been successful because rather than taking a PDF replica of a traditional print textbook and cramming it onto the iPad, Inkling has "XML-ified" everything — it's ditched, more or less, the print page. Inkling has a nice little trick in there for teachers who have classrooms that are split between students who have the print version and those who have the iPad version, and the company has really rethought how to design content and reading experiences for the iPad.

    Screenshot from Inkling promotional video
    Inkling integrates a music textbook and the scores that go along with it. Students can listen to what the music sounds like and follow along as the music is progressing.

    What are the most important digital publishing tools?

    Peter Meyers: It's funny. On the one hand, the list is pretty easy — it goes something like: Objective-C, HTML5, XML, and anything that will help your development team use those tools in conjunction with an author to create compelling stories or informative teaching material. But on the other hand, this has nothing at all to do with tools. And as crazy as this might sound, I think market research should be part of everyone's toolkit. The reason I say market research is because in this digital publishing world, a lot of times what publishers and authors must do is think through the consumer's need for their products.

    For example, if you're a publisher and you've got an amazing coffee table book about great travel destinations for coffee lovers, the market research question might be, "Does that print book do the best job of satisfying people's need to learn about coffee-centric vacations, or will an app do a better job?" In many cases, the answer is going to be, "Print actually does an amazing job when it comes to coffee table books that have to do with travel." So, researching the market before we embark on these digital publishing initiatives is a way of determining where a product fits into the landscape.

    Has there been something in your work thus far that has surprised you?

    Peter Meyers: The biggest surprise was when I got started, roughly around the time of the arrival of the iPad. I had this hypothesis that storytelling and narrative nonfiction were going to be changed significantly as we entered the world of touchscreen publishing. I've more or less come 180-degrees around on that and come to the conclusion that the bound codex, be it a digital collection of pages or a printed collection of pages, is actually the perfect form for telling a story of about 100,000 words — and it probably just needs words, especially in the hands of the right author.

    As so often happens when new technologies arrive on the scene, the new technologies don't eliminate the old technologies. Rather, they add to the kinds of stories that can be told. My revelation was that plain prose stories didn't go away and probably won't go away. They certainly will occupy a smaller portion of most people's media consumption in the years and the decades ahead, but they do a wonderful job in telling a 100,000-word love story or biography or what have you.

    The other thing I have found extremely surprising and kind of eye-opening is the way that books, in an age and a time of information overload, provide a source of refuge for people. At the risk of getting too touchy-feely, we're assaulted by so many micro bits of content from status updates and Twitter and Facebook and RSS feeds that books of the 200- to 400-page variety give people a reason to focus and to follow a story. The books actually acquire an even greater value in a digital world because they give people continuity and a thread to follow while the rest of their days are fractured by so many different kinds of information sources.

    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

    What will the publishing landscape look like in 10 years?

    Peter Meyers: I do spend time thinking about that — ten years from now, is it going to be Steve Jobs' youngest daughter taking over Apple and announcing the iHolograph while graciously ushering out Tim Cook? Who knows, that may be a possibility. What I am a little bit more confident about predicting is that the tools authors and publishers will have at their disposal will be a lot better and a lot easier to use. I really think that we're at a point in time that's analogous to web publishing in the mid-'90s, where most of the good stuff that you could do required hand coding and a certain amount of expertise.

    Just looking at the companies I'm following in the world of authoring software and authoring solutions, there's so much activity on that front that's targeted at designing tools that let creative people tell their stories without having to master Objective-C or JavaScript. It's uncommon, I think, to find people who have creative dispositions who are also skilled in these kinds of programming-style tools.

    The other thing I see happening in the next decade is more authors emerging who are multi-mode threats. My favorite example these days is David Pogue. He's a great speaker, he's a great writer, and he's also very nimble in the world of putting together fun and entertaining iMovie productions. As the next generation of authors grows up — hopefully somewhat capable in the world of writing — they'll also be adept in other media forums, like audio and video. [Disclosure: David Pogue is the creator of the Missing Manual series.]

    Also, the urge to binge on multimedia will subside. It'll be less of a thrill to put every single thing that you can do as an author into your latest production. It's similar to how we all learned in the mid-1980s that putting 28 different fonts in the church newsletter just made it look awful. The instinct to put video and audio in an ebook — and, yeah, we can have a bird fly down as the cover opens — it's just too much. As authors get more skilled with these tools, they'll develop a restraint and a respect for the audience. Authors will know that not everything needs to be included.

    This interview was edited and condensed.


    November 11 2011

    Publishing News: The standards of aggregation

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

    Jim Romenesko and the standards of aggregation

    Quote.pngIn a bizarre turn of events, Jim Romenesko, the renowned blogger at Poynter who was on the brink of retirement, quit his post after Poynter ran a story about attribution inconsistencies in his writing — 12 years into his blog.

    The Poynter post states:

    Though information sources have always been displayed prominently in Jim's posts and are always linked at least once (often multiple times), too many of those posts also included the original author's verbatim language without containing his or her words in quotation marks, as they should have.

    Calling Romenesko out raised eyebrows and ire. No one ever thought Romenesko was trying to take credit for others' work, but then again, some argue that aggregation should be held to journalistic standards. This is a much larger question than it may appear on the surface. Felix Salmon over at Reuters has a nice analysis on the issue and points out, "[Poynter's Julie] Moos is using the standards of original journalism, here, to judge a blogger who was never about original journalism." (He's referring to Moos' original post about the offending attribution errors and Poynter's guidelines.)

    So, does aggregation require a new set of rules and standards, or should the traditional journalism guidelines apply? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

    Kobo gets new owners — and perhaps a larger playing field

    Kobo.pngProbably the biggest industry news this week was the sale of Kobo to Japanese e-retailer Rakuten. The deal was summed up nicely in an All Things Digital headline: "The Amazon of Japan Buys the Kindle of Canada."

    For Indigo, the majority shareholder in Kobo, the sale was about refocusing its core business. Brand strategist Anthony Campbell told the Globe and Mail:

    Taking on Apple and Amazon and Google isn't just a distraction, it puts Indigo in a position where the brand would completely lose focus. By maintaining its focus, Indigo's better prepared to take on the likes of Target and other retailers who are trying to corner the lifestyle space.

    For Kobo and Rakuten, the acquisition means expansion — for Kobo, geographic expansion; for Rakuten, market expansion. Michael Serbinis, Kobo's CEO, told the Wall Street Journal: "This is not a one-country game. Two-thirds of the book market is outside North America. We're going into countries where we will be No. 1." And according to All Things Digital, "[Rakuten] said the acquisition of Kobo will assist the company in its move to provide downloadable media to consumers, starting with e-books." Perhaps it won't be long before the "Japanese Amazon" is making a major play against the U.S. Amazon.

    For more on the situation, there's a nice Q&A over at Canadian Business with Serbinis and Indigo CEO Heather Reisman about the sale and what comes next for both companies.

    BISG study highlights the growth of ereading

    BISGStudyCover.jpgThe Book Industry Study Group (BISG) is getting ready to release results from a new study that show the rapid growth of ereading. Highlights from the final survey in volume two of the "Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" report include:

    • "... 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."
    • " continues to be the preferred source for ebook acquisition (holding steady at 70%) and ebook information (44%). Barnes & Noble comes in second at 26%, with Apple in third."
    • "... although the cost of e-reading devices remains a reported concern, the single most popular answer to the question of what hinders respondents from reading more e-books was "nothing" at 33% (up from 17.6% a year ago)"

    The full report is available for pre-order now. It will be published on November 21.

    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 28 2011

    Publishing News: Amazon's Kindle Format 8 dashes hopes for EPUB3 compatibility

    The Books in Browsers conference continues today — and it's being livestreamed. Speakers today include Wired's Kevin Kelly, BookOven's Hugh McGuire (@hughmcguire), Kassia Krozser (@booksquare) of Booksquare and Brian O'Leary (@brianoleary) from Magellan Media Partners.

    Now, onto a few highlights from this week's publishing news.

    Amazon thumbs its nose at EPUB3, releases Kindle Format 8

    AmazonIDPFart.jpgOn the heels of EPUB3 being signed off on, any hopes that Amazon might participate in an EPUB3-united publishing format were dashed when it announced its new Kindle Format 8 — or to keep with the acronym standard, KF8 — ebook format. Martin Taylor has a nice analysis of the format battle over at eReport. Much like EPUB3, the new Kindle format is fancy and shiny, accommodating all the latest web standards (including HML5 and CSS3), but as Taylor points out, the continued incompatible formats keeps things complicated:

    But for publishers, it [KF8] could add challenges as the new features these formats offer mean ebook production requirements and costs will scale up. And for the newly-minted EPUB3, it poses a challenge to stay relevant as Amazon';s importance as the number one sales channel might tempt some publishers to bypass it.

    This is to say nothing of device and app support issues for continued incompatible formats — and how the confusion might ultimately affect (nay, I say annoy) consumers.

    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

    The Guardian, rising above the fray ... again

    n0tice from The GuardianAs newspapers continue to struggle to find their way and experiment with out-of-the box ideas, one newspaper continually rises above the fray: The Guardian. With its Open Platform and strong commitment to data journalism, I guess it should be no surprise the newspaper would stride ahead of the pack in crowdsourcing and reader engagement as well.

    Along those lines, this week The Guardian launched n0tice, a new social news gathering platform, and @GuardianTagBot, a Twitter-based bot that will search The Guardian's tags to find the information a user needs.

    Megan Garber over at Nieman Lab was all over both stories and provides great analysis — her piece on n0tice is here and her examination of @GuardianTagBot is here.

    The new social platform, n0tice, goes way beyond engaging readers with comments or links to send in news tips. It offers readers an entirely separate section of their own. From Garber's post:

    'It's a place where you can share news, post details about forthcoming events or let people know you have something to sell or share,' the project's FAQ puts it. Just like IRL message boards, 'everyone else in your locality will be able to see what you've posted and also take part."

    This gives readers yet another entry point into the newspaper and another reason to interact with its brand in a much more personal, communal setting than simple comment areas or reader blog setups — not to mention giving The Guardian an additional line into hyperlocal news coverage.

    The Twitter bot achieves a similar goal, and then some. Many newspapers signed up for Twitter and/or Facebook accounts and called it a day, but creating the search bot was a stroke of ingenuity: It allows readers to interact with the brand in real time, and the newspaper is using the search results to make improvements to its tagging system.

    With both products The Guardian is not only extending its brand to engage readers, but using that engagement to also enhance its brand. Struggling newspapers, take note.

    Tablet users are reading books — both digital and print

    Fig-24_-Book-Reading-01_1.pngThe Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism released results from a new study this week that took a look at tablet usage in terms of news and book consumption across several categories. Some highlights from the study include:

    • About 4 in 10 people (41%) in the select web-based survey group had read a book on their tablet over the last seven days, but more had read a printed book, 55%. A closer look into these respondents reveals that about half of those who had read books on tablets, 46%, had also read a book in print; while 54% had not.
    • When asked broadly to choose whether they liked print or digital better as a reading platform, 41% said the two were equal.
    • News apps have not become the primary interface for news on tablets — 40% of tablet news users rely primarily on their browser for news. A little less than a third, 31%, say they use both their browser and apps equally, while just 21% rely mainly on apps.
    • When asked specifically about paying for news on their tablets, 14% said they have done so, while 85% have not. Also, 21% said they would be willing to pay $5 and half as many, 10%, said they would pay $10 dollars per month for their favorite source on their tablet if it were the only way to access this content.

    The full report is available here.


    October 11 2011

    When content customization is baked in, ownership trumps access

    The upcoming Books in Browsers conference will focus on books as "networked, distributed sets of interactions," as opposed to content containers. I've asked several of the event's participants to address the larger concepts surrounding books in browsers. We'll be publishing these interviews over the coming weeks.

    In the short interview below, Corey Pressman, founder of Exprima Media, tackles a question on ownership versus access. He says that though access is becoming more and more compelling, ownership is still more important for content that can be personalized and customized, such as for book annotations and marginalia.

    What are the issues with ownership versus access that need to be overcome on the consumer side, and how can publishers and browser developers best address these issues?

    coreypressmanmug.jpgCorey Pressman: Ownership is very important for experiences or content consumption on platforms that can be personalized and customized. This is especially true if the customization gets baked into the content.

    For example, music access versus ownership is very compelling. I could see a possible near future in which "accessible music" (streaming unlimited cloud access) trumps "owned music" (purchased CDs or downloads). In this scenario, customization — creating customized playlists — is external to the media; customization is handled by the conduit, not the content.

    This is also true of many types of reading; it certainly is when it comes to news. I am very curious to see how the new Kindle/OverDrive plan to allow library lending via the Kindle and Kindle app plays out. In many reading use cases, free two-week access to ebooks seems quite compelling. This is especially true for existing ebook converts already untethered from the symbolic "social display" function of a book collection.

    There is a reading behavior for which ownership is important: annotation. The personalized customization of a text with marginalia requires, ideally, some level of ownership in both paper and electronic contexts. Annotating a borrowed paper text is anathema and moot; annotating a borrowed ebook will probably be impossible and moot.

    I suppose there could be some scenario in which one borrows and annotates an etext and somehow keeps the annotations, which will realign with the etext when it is accessed again. Perhaps this is a use case that ereading designers and publishers can work on. Business models will dictate the provider-side benefits of ownership versus access. With the help of user experience experts, providers can help preserve essential reading behaviors as they experiment with content delivery models.

    This interview was edited and condensed.


    October 10 2011

    Addressing the state of econtent

    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.

    Like so many other European countries, Spain still hasn't seen the significant rise in ebook sales like we've experienced in the U.S. But due to the fact that the country has such a high percentage of mobile device owners and the bias toward print seems to be changing, it may not be long before ebooks represent a significant portion of overall sales. Dosdoce Digital Culture's CEO Javier Celaya (@javiercelaya) recently met with me to discuss the state of econtent and what's likely to impact the future. Some of Celaya's more noteworthy points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Ebooks currently represent about 3% of total sales: This is rapidly changing, though, and some publishers are claiming as much as 5% of their sales come from ebooks. Javier sees this climbing all the way to 10% in 2012. [Discussed at the 2:35 mark]
    • Tablets versus dedicated ereading devices: The percentage of heavy readers in Spain is rather low compared to other countries. As a result, single-purpose devices, particularly ones dedicated to reading, aren't likely to be successful. Multi-function tablets are already popular in Spain and likely to be the preferred ereading platform. [Discussed at 7:30]
    • Amazon will have a major advantage, despite the fixed-price restrictions: It all comes down to service, where Amazon has plenty of experience to leverage. [Discussed at 14:00]
    • iPad will remain strong but iBookstore, not so much: Although Apple's devices will be popular for content consumption, most of that content will likely be bought from other retailers, not the iBookstore. [Discussed at 16:45]
    • Support for DRM is shifting: Even some larger publishers are starting to offer portions of their lists without DRM, mostly at the request of their authors. [Discussed at 20:30]
    • The advantages of direct sales go well beyond the obvious income boost: It's also about the customer knowledge you'll gather, and more importantly, what you do with that knowledge. [Discussed at 22:20]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.


    October 07 2011

    Mindset over matter

    The challenges publishers face today trying to transform a centuries-old industry into (arguably) an almost completely new business traverse every sector of the industry. Beyond all the challenges with technology and changing business landscapes, however, lies the root problem with the transition to digital: publishers' mindset, says Timo Boezeman (@boezeman), digital publisher and non-fiction editor for A.W. Bruna Publishers and a speaker at TOC Frankfurt. In the following interview, Boezeman addresses issues of territorial rights, technological opportunities and DRM, but says publishers must first accept that "change is a must."

    What is the largest hurdle publishers must overcome in the transition to digital?

    timo-boezeman.jpgTimo Boezeman: The largest hurdle in the transition is the mindset. Publishing is one of the oldest industries around and now has to deal with a transition from analog to digital at a speed that is at least twice as fast as the music industry faced. What I see around me in the Netherlands — and I don't know if this is or was the same in the US — is that the publishers don't want to learn from the mistakes made by the music industry, and they make every mistake all over again: DRM, high pricing, not enough titles available, technical difficulties due to the different readers and types of ebooks, etc. If they would just see that the world is changing rapidly, that digital will be bigger than analog soon, and that change is a must, it would help us all — including consumers.

    What are some of the global obstacles to digital innovation in regard to DRM?

    Timo Boezeman: This is a difficult question. In the US and the UK, you have closed ecosystems like Amazon, Google, B&N, and iBookstore. In the Netherlands, we don't; none of these players are here yet. Right now, we have one file type: EPUB, which is supported by all the ereaders — including the iPad — available here and by all the ebook retailers. Most publishers use DRM to protect their titles, though this is easy to get around if you want to. The ebook price is generally about 75% of the hardcover price; the price of paper books is set by the publisher over here — by law — and can't be altered by retailers. This results, for now, in ebook retailers not lowering the prices of ebooks, even though it is allowed — the fixed price is only for paper books. It also results in consumers saying ebooks are too expensive.

    To come back to my comparison with the US: if we had an Amazon — a big retailer with its own ebook format and reader — it would matter less if the system had DRM or not. But in our situation, there are several issues: first, getting an ebook on an ereader; second, reading it — you need to register with Adobe to use the DRM'd ebooks on some readers and tablets; and, lastly, switching between retailers and/or devices.

    TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

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    How will cloud technology affect digital publishing going forward?

    Timo Boezeman: Cloud technology is something I believe in very much, but it is a difficult topic because of the mindset. This technology will support reading because if books are in the cloud, you can also let readers read them by subscription instead of buying them one by one, like Spotify with music or like 24Symbols already is doing with books. And indeed, one step further, you've got the potential for books as browser URLs, which HTML5 will make possible. This offers other advantages — you don't have to program for specific operating systems, for example. The biggest challenge in this, however — just as with music — is the money that can be made. Spotify shows that money can be made, but that it is still a very low profit margin. Should we see this as "better than nothing" because otherwise it would be missed income or illegally downloaded? Or as "the start of something more" — growing revenues, maybe even a change in the mindset of consumers that content is worth paying for, so prices eventually will rise again?

    What do you think is more important, access or ownership?

    Timo Boezeman: Both, because I believe in what I call "tastes." You should provide a different taste for each consumer. There will always, or at least for decades to come, be people who want paper books. Maybe their demands will rise — higher quality, full color, etc. — but paper will be here for some time. Then you have people who read digital books, but they want to own their content. And last, you have people who don't want or have the need to own digital content, but want access to it when they want, how they want and on the device they choose. But if you put everything in perspective, I would say that access is a trend coming to the book industry, which until now has been ruled by ownership.

    Will we eventually see an end to territorial rights?

    Timo Boezeman: In the way they are arranged now, yes. One other thing that has to change in the mindset of the publishing industry is to start thinking of the consumer first — not of the bookstore or retailer you want to sell your books to, but the end user of your product. Do they benefit from territorial rights? No. They only suffer from it — it means that titles are not available everywhere at the same moment. Which, when the interest in a title is high, only encourages piracy. Just look at the film industry for examples. But that doesn't mean those rights have no reason to exist; it means that along with rights, there also must be thought of the consumer. And this is all for the good of the publishing industry because we all want consumers who like our products to pay for them, don't we?

    This interview was edited and condensed.

    Associated photo on home and category pages: Men with printing press, circa 1930s by Seattle Municipal Archives, on Flickr


    August 17 2011

    Multitouch and the quest to make ereaders more flexible than paper

    LiquidTextLogo.jpgLiquidText founder and CEO Craig Tashman (@CraigTashman) says his annotation and document manipulation software began as an academic project, but commercial applications quickly became clear as students participating in the research started asking for copies. The software allows users to annotate, highlight and manipulate PDF content with multitouch gestures. It may be the next major step toward making etextbooks more practical for students — and it's another nail in the coffin for the "death of marginalia" debate.

    I reached out to Tashman to find out more about his research-cum-business project. Our interview follows.

    LiquidText will also be featured in the next TOC Sneak Peek webcast on August 25.

    What's the story behind LiquidText?

    craig_tashmen.jpgCraig Tashman: LiquidText actually began with an observation about multitouch technology — being able to detect several fingers at once on a touch screen. We could see that it had this amazing potential for letting people interact with computers in much more expressive ways. Instead of the single input point on a mouse, you now have 10 inputs — fingers — that can coordinate with one another, or work in patterns.

    At the time, multitouch was largely being used in attractive demos with little practical application. So we thought about how it might be applied to real-world activities, such as reading and writing, and how those tasks could be improved by giving people a much richer way to interact. The answer we found was that, to really take advantage of this technology, we couldn't just paste stretching and pinching on top of traditional ereader software. Instead, we had to reconceive the reading experience itself in the context of multitouch, envisioning anew how people would want to work with documents.

    Initially, this was just an academic research project, but participants in our studies got to try out our earlier prototypes and they asked for copies. So we started exploring commercialization, and the rest is history.

    How does LiquidText work? Does it work with any kind of content?

    Craig Tashman: LiquidText helps people read and make sense of long, complex documents — it lets people annotate, visualize, and navigate text documents in highly flexible ways using a collection of powerful, natural multitouch gestures.

    As people read, they often take margin notes, compare different sections of a text, make outlines, highlight, and so forth. But a lot of research, including our own, has shown that people often struggle with this very "active" form of reading. LiquidText facilitates this kind of reading by giving people multitouch interactions that offer more flexible control of how content is visualized, annotated, and navigated.

    For example, one can pinch together parts of a document to bring disparate areas into proximity to compare them, or one can touch two text selections at once to create a link between them. Cumulatively, these functions together with those addressing annotation, note taking and other parts of the reading process let LiquidText bring to the world of ereaders even greater flexibility than paper.

    Our first shipping product will be an iPad app, expected to be released later this year. This app will let people import standard, unprotected PDF documents and manipulate them using most of the same LiquidText interactions seen in the prototype version we use in our demos.

    Which audiences do you imagine will benefit most from this technology?

    Craig Tashman: LiquidText seems to provide the most benefit for reading documents that are complex as well as long — situations where a person's memory is strained keeping track of both the past content and one's own thoughts and reflections.

    This audience includes tens of millions of knowledge workers and students, but our studies point to a few groups in particular. College students, for example, are especially well suited to the features of LiquidText, as they gradually read things like textbooks where they have to build and maintain an understanding of a text over the course of months. I also think LiquidText would be quite appropriate for legal and analytic work, where identifying relationships and inconsistencies within a text can be critical.

    Do you envision LiquidText changing reading behavior?

    Craig Tashman: On a broad scale, I think LiquidText can enable a wider shift to electronic books, especially in higher education where ebooks tend to underperform in comparison to their paper counterparts. On a finer scale, we have already seen a shift in how people read and take notes using LiquidText. For example, rather than only annotating the document itself, people are much more likely to create elaborate note spaces with comments and excerpts using our technology. Effectively, they seem more likely to create intermediate documents that reorganize the content of the original and integrate it with their own thoughts.

    Can you share your launch schedule? What platforms are you targeting?

    Craig Tashman: We are not setting a date in stone for LiquidText for the iPad since we want to ensure the app is well tested and has solid PDF compatibility before releasing it, but we are planning to have the beta out later this year.

    LiquidText for the iPad is being targeted very broadly, but we have also been exploring partnering with higher education publishers to develop a version of the software for reading etextbooks.

    As for platforms, right now we're focused on small, portable devices like the iPad. But internally, we have explored using LiquidText on touch screens ranging up to 30 inches in size, and we think that certain applications, such as intelligence analysis, would really benefit from that type of hardware.

    Webcast: TOC Sneak Peek at BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine — Sneak Peeks are a TOC webcast series featuring a behind-the-scenes look at publishing start-ups and their products. Our next episode will feature presentations from BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine.

    Join us on Thursday, August 25, 2011, at 10 am PT
    Register for this free webcast

    This interview was edited and condensed.


  • Marginalia is still alive in the digital world
  • Open question: Are ereaders too complex?
  • Sometimes the questions are as enlightening as the answers
  • Notes that don't break the reading flow

  • January 07 2011

    Ereading Update: Record device sales and a look at CES tablets

    According to some sources, the early arrival of winter made the 2010 holiday season the biggest ever for online electronic retailers. With comScore reporting that more than $32 billion was sold during the holiday shopping period, and overall sales were up 12 percent over the previous year. Now I'm confident that this year's numbers would have exceeded those of 2009, even without thousands of people being snow-bound in their homes, but I'm sure Internet retailers aren't complaining.

    As I predicted, it was also a big holiday season for ereaders. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble recently announced that their respective dedicated ereading devices were the best-selling items for each of the companies. Now stop and let that one sink in a moment. According to Amazon, they've sold more Kindles in the U.S. in 2010 then any other single product during that same time. Barnes & Noble also says their latest LCD-based Nookcolor tablet was the company's top-selling gift of the holiday season.

    The holidays weren't that kind to Borders and small bookstores. The diminishment of either outlet will likely accelerate the adoption of ebooks as the primary publishing medium.

    CES 2011

    This week, all gadget lovers were focused on Las Vegas, as the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show kicked off the year with a new round of device announcements. The dominant ereading trend was multiple-use tablets, with ASUS, Lenovo, and Motorola each announcing new tablets (HP was notably absent, though they do have a Feb. 9 WebOS event).

    Here's a look at some of the new tablet offerings.

    ASUS Eee Slate EP121

    ASUS_Eee_Pad_EP101TC-540x389.jpgThe ASUS Eee Slate EP121 is one of the first Windows 7-based tablets to come to market. The tablet features a 12-inch (1280×800) multitouch display and will run a full version of Windows 7 Home Premium. The multitouch display comes with a built-in Wacom digitizer, which means a user can control the tablet with the included stylus or attach a Bluetooth-enabled keyboard. The EP121 is powered by a Core i5-470UM processor, includes 2 to 4GB of RAM, and a 32 or 64GB SSD. Amazon is accepting preorders ($999 for the 32GB model, $1,099 for 64GB).

    ASUS also released three Android devices: the Eee Pad Slider, the Eee Pad Transformer, and the Eee Pad MeMO. The ASUS Eee Pad Slider includes a 10.1-inch IPS touchscreen and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard that will incline the tablet screen vertically. The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer includes a 10.1-inch capacitive touchscreen and optional docking station with full QWERTY keyboard. The ASUS Eee Pad MeMo is a 7.1-inch capacitive touchscreen based on Android 3.0.

    Lenovo IdeaPad and LePad Slate

    Lenovo-Lepad-1.jpgLenovo is the first device maker to bring a hybrid design approach to their tablet strategy. This week they announced the IdeaPad U1 hybrid with LePad slate, a two-in-one device that combines a high-definition slate featuring access to Android applications and a keyboard base that provides a full Windows 7 computing experience.

    The device weighs less than two pounds and is half-an-inch thick. While the tablet currently uses Android 2.2, Lenovo says that when it ships in the U.S. it will run Android 3.0. Other features include a front-facing camera, WCDMA and EVDO connections, a 1280x800 10.1-inch display, a 32 GB HDD, and 1GB RAM.

    Once docked with the IdeaPad U1 Hybrid, the slate converts into a Windows 7-based netbook. A 1.2GHz Intel Core i5-540UM processor will power the IdeaPad, and it will also include 2GB DDR3 RAM, a 320GB SATA hard drive, and 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 networking.

    Motorola XOOM

    11x0105ub234g5.jpgVerizon Wireless teamed with Motorola Mobility to unveil the Motorola XOOM, supposedly the first device on Google's new Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system. It features a dual core processor and a 10.1-inch widescreen HD display. The tablet will launch as a 3G/Wi-Fi-enabled device in Q1 2011 with an upgrade to 4G LTE in Q2. The XOOM will support 1080p HD video and HDMI output to display content on larger HD screens. It also features a front-facing 2-megapixel camera and a rear-facing 5-megapixel camera that captures video in 720p HD.

    Other news

    This week also saw the Wall Street Journal draw their focus onto the growing battle between the planned Google Digital Newsstand and Apple's iPad magazine offerings. The article raises one of the most controversial and unresolved issues in this new era of digital publishing: the relationship between the content producer (author) and his/her readers. Content producers want a more intimate and engaged relationship with their audience and readers want to get closer to their favorite content producers.

    The future of publishing demands a cohesive relationship between producer and audience, which for the most part is currently non-existent. For example, authors that in the past have used traditional publishers have relatively little information about who bought their books. They may know some sparse demographic details, but there is no direct connection between author and reader.

    In my opinion, look for this issue to become one of the biggest challenges for publishers of all types to address. Many top-selling authors are leaving the fold of traditional publishing to free themselves of the layers of intermediaries that separate them from their audience. How existing publishing houses respond to this issue will be a major factor in their long-term relevance.


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