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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."

TOC Latin America — Being held April 20, TOC Latin America will focus on standards, global digital publishing trends, case studies of innovative publishers in Latin America, consumer habits, and much more.

Register to attend TOC Latin America. Save 20% through 4/12/12 with code TOCLAfbTOC

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.


July 28 2011

Books as a service: How and why it works

Justo Hildago (@justohidalgo), co-founder of 24Symbols — a kind of Netflix for ebooks — says books as a service not only benefits readers, but publishers as well. Hildago outlines his company's business model and explains the benefits it offers in the following interview.

Hidalgo will also expand on these ideas at TOC Frankfurt 2011 in October.

How does 24Symbols' business model work?

Justo HidalgoJusto Hidalgo: 24symbols is a subscription service that lets users read in the cloud, and it includes social capabilities. This means that the user does not need to download the ebook. The book goes wherever you go — read it on your laptop, iPad, smartphone, and so forth.

We have a freemium business model. Users can subscribe for free in order to read ad-supported books online. Or they can pay a monthly, quarterly or yearly fee to access a bigger catalog with no ads, and with additional capabilities, such as reading offline — on the plane, on the subway, or in any place where Internet connectivity is not available.

What we're offering is quite different compared to what the big players are doing. We're offering an alternative approach — a new channel where publishers can provide additional value to the readers, and where readers can take advantage of what the Internet is offering.

How does your model benefit publishers?

Justo Hidalgo: There are three main benefits for publishers:

  • Piracy — Though not as high yet as in music or movies, piracy in books is clearly increasing. Publishers can either wait until the numbers get so high that nothing can be done, or they can act accordingly. The examples of Netflix and Spotify show that if you give users a compelling way to consume paid content, they will pay for it.
  • Cannibalization — We don't believe books are dead, but rather that they will co-exist with their digital counterparts. 24symbols helps in that coexistence as a way to easily re-direct traffic to retailers — if you love a book on 24symbols, give it as a gift; if you read for a while but still prefer the printed version, buy it.
  • Books as a service — The trend toward consuming content from the cloud is clear and inevitable. Publishers must start positioning themselves in an area that is already profitable in many businesses and clearly will be soon in the book industry. The benefits it brings to publishers — statistics and data gathering, close revenue control, and the ability to experiment — override the current concerns.

Additionally, we share revenue with publishers. The way to do this is by having a common revenue pool where we include all book-related ad revenue and the paid subscriptions. For a specific time range, such as a month, this revenue plus the number of pages that have been accessed throughout that period gives us the "price per page." Then we just count the number of pages per publisher and pay each publisher accordingly.

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.

Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR

How are publishers responding?

Justo Hidalgo: We're finding lots of interest from publishers. Most of them understand how our model can help them and since we're quite flexible regarding how to start, it's easy for them to begin by publishing some content in order to experiment. We're adding new books to our catalog every week, and we're finishing some deals with big publishers that will provide a "seal of quality" to our project.

Is piracy a concern for you?

Justo Hidalgo: The project itself was born with piracy in mind. As I mentioned before, piracy is increasing in the ebook market. This doesn't help the industry, as it didn't help other cultural and entertainment industries, but it clearly shows a shift in how content is accessed and consumed. We offer a solution that's based on a proven premise: if you provide readers with a convenient, unified and affordable way to access content, people will use it. Once that's achieved, piracy doesn't matter that much.

This interview was edited and condensed.

For more on how 24Symbols works, check out the video below:


  • Data markets aren't coming. They're already here
  • For publishing, sales info is the tip of the data iceberg
  • Book piracy: Less DRM, more data
  • Ebooks and the threat from "internal constituencies"

  • July 22 2011

    Publishing News: Scribd flirting with ebook subscriptions?

    Here's a few highlights from this week's publishing news.

    Scribd takes baby steps toward ebook subscriptions

    FloatLogo2.jpgScribd's new long-form reading and reformatting platform Float was in the news this week. On the surface it seems to be very much like other content aggregator-reformatting platforms — such as Instapaper and Flipboard — that let users read and share content from the web in easy-to-read formats.

    The major difference between Float and its competitors is Scribd's agreement with 150 publishers to reformat their content. This is what will make Scribd's plan to become the "Netflix of reading" a reality. Liz Gannes talked to Trip Adler, Scribd's CEO, for a post for All Things Digital. Adler said the ultimate goal is to "be a Netflix for written content, where users can sign up for subscriptions to get access to a broad swath of premium articles."

    Premium articles? You mean articles from behind paywalls? Sure sounds like it, and if so, this is where those 150 established relationships will come in handy (just ask Netflix). In a post for Wired, Steven Levy said a subscription fee hasn't been established, but he touches on an idea that would make Float the holder of the Holy Grail of digital distribution — ebook subscriptions:

    Scribd hasn't decided what the monthly fee for that should be, but Adler says that the $8 to $10 range of services like Netflix and Spotify sounds about right. If the service included books — a concept that certainly has crossed Adler's mind — the fees might be higher.

    Now, that is a service I'd pay for, and it just might make me buy an ereading device.

    TapIn Bay Area app empowers citizen journalists

    The mobile photojournalism company behind the Tackable app teamed up with the Bay Area Newspaper Group to launch TapIn Bay Area, a location-aware news app for the Bay Area. The app allows journalists at the San Jose Mercury News to make use of citizen journalism in a very direct way. In a post for GigaOm, Mathew Ingram described how it works:

    The "citizen journalism" portion of the app is based around what are called "gigs," which are requests for information about specific topics or news events. Journalists from the newspapers working with TapIn or Tackable (which offers a similar system in its app) can post these requests if they need photos or other info about something, but other users can also create and post a "gig" through the service.


    Citizen journalism isn't new, but this mobile platform makes it a bit more slick, integrating Google Maps to create a friendly user experience. From a business standpoint, though, this isn't the most important part of this app. As Ingram points out, it's bringing a much needed digital revenue source to newspapers:

    ... it also allows the newspaper to offer readers Groupon-style "daily deals" based on their location as well ... An app like TapIn, if it can manage to get enough traction with users, could give the San Jose Mercury News and other Media News outlets a bit of a leg up (the media company says it plans to roll TapIn out in other cities where it owns newspapers).

    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.

    Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR

    Amazon gets into e-textbook rentals

    This week Amazon launched an e-textbook rental program on the Kindle. Broke college students might not be rejoicing just yet, however. Several companies, including CourseSmart and BookRenter, already have delved into the e-textbook rental market without overwhelming success.


    A study recently conducted at the University of Washington suggests ereading devices themselves might be the problem. In a release, first author and doctoral student Alex Theyer said:

    There is no e-reader that supports what we found these students doing. It remains to be seen how to design one. It's a great space to get into, there's a lot of opportunity.

    In the case of Amazon, selection also might be a barrier to success, as one report found the search results "discouraging." E-textbooks, rental or otherwise, are not quite there, but increased experimentation and advancements in digital device capabilities may hold promise for those strapped college students.


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