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June 29 2012

Publishing News: NewCo's global spread

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

NewCo needs to focus beyond the Nook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ereading data leads to new content forms

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

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

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

Books as great datasets for the web

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

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

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

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

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


June 22 2012

Publishing News: Penguin goes back to the library

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

Penguin tests digital library waters

Penguin LogoPenguin Group and ebook distributor 3M announced a pilot program this week to distribute Penguin books in The New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library. The program is scheduled to begin in August, and if successful, could be rolled out to libraries nationwide. There are a couple conditions, as noted in the announcement: Ebooks for lending will be windowed — or held back — for six months after publication, and the books will expire (and need to be repurchased) after one year.

Tim McCall, vice president of online sales and marketing at Penguin, told the Wall Street Journal "the six-month delay is intended to prevent library e-books from undercutting other sales" and "the renewable one-year expiration date on e-books, meanwhile, is designed to mimic the natural shelf life of print books."

Over at Publishers Weekly, Peter Brantley wrote a nice commentary on Penguin's return to the library and its included conditions. He says Penguin has it all wrong in terms of protecting sales:

"Most recent studies of library patron's borrowing and purchasing habits indicate that the most active library users are also the most active purchasers ... These surveys suggest that windowing will indeed have an impact on sales: it will reduce them, by eliminating their exposure among patrons who would otherwise be among their most fervent marketers."

A Pew Internet study, "Libraries, patrons, and e-books," released this week states: "Among those who read e-books, 41% of those who borrow e-books from libraries purchased their most recent e-book." Statistics from the report also highlight another important point about awareness:

  • 58% of all library card holders say they do not know if their library provides e-book lending services.
  • 53% of all tablet computer owners say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  • 48% of all owners of e-book reading devices such as original Kindles and NOOKs say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  • 47% of all those who read an e-book in the past year say they do not know if their library lends e-books.

Brantley says this is an area of untapped opportunity: "[B]oth publishers and libraries should be particularly trying to build relationships with the large portion of the population that is 'e-unaware' — prospective readers who have not been introduced to e-books, or find their adoption too difficult because of digital illiteracy. Libraries can bridge these divides and increase the number of readers that no bookstore or online retailer would be able to reach." Brantley's post is a must-read this week.

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Ebook accounting

Philip Elmer-Dewitt at CNNMoney highlighted an excerpt from a piece by Ken Auletta at the New Yorker (subscription/purchase required) this week that debunks claims and perceptions that ebooks cost almost nothing to produce. In the New Yorker piece, Auletta concedes that ebooks are about 20% cheaper to produce than print books, as they don't require paper, printing, shipping and warehouse, and there are none of the costs associated with book returns. But Auletta points out other cost considerations:

"... [T]hey create additional costs: maintaining computer servers, monitoring piracy, digitizing old books. And publishers have to pay authors and editors, as well as rent and administrative overhead, not to mention the costs of printing, distributing, and warehousing bound books, which continue to account for the large majority of their sales."

Elmer-Dewitt also submits that "[t]he accounting gets even more complicated when you consider that most books cost publishers more than they earn." To this end, Kevin Murphy over at Melville House shared a New York Times graphic that approximates publisher costs and profits for hardcover books and ebooks. According to the graphic, for a $9.99 ebook, a publisher will profit $3.51 to $4.26 — this is profit before overhead costs, such as staff salaries, building rent and utilities.

Tracking news that resonates

The first round of 2012 Knight News Challenge winners were announced this week. The theme for this round of awards was networks. Mathew Ingram at GigaOm has a nice roundup of all the winners, as does The Nieman Journalism Lab, but one startup stood out in its practical approach to solving a problem newsrooms are experiencing across the board: shrinking resources. Using an editorial analytics approach, looks to help editors decide which stories warrant resources. From the Nieman Lab post:

" aims to help, by tracking social engagement with the news — scanning social network activity to provide real-time information on what's resonating with readers. Editors are able to track their own — and competitors' — stories. will sort not just headlines but news topics — to spot trends and spikes in interest."

You can read full descriptions of the six winners here and here.


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    June 15 2012

    Publishing News: Google's win may be Amazon's loss

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

    Google's "win-win solution" in France may leave Amazon the odd man out

    GoogleLogo.pngBoth the French Publishers Association and the French Author's Association withdrew their book-scanning lawsuits against Google this week, ending six years of litigation. In an announcement, Philippe Colombet, strategic partner development manager of Google Books France, described the agreement as a "win-win solution" and explained that "publishers and authors [will] retain control over the commercial use of their books."

    The "win" for Google might warrant a capital "W," however. In a post at PaidContent, Jeff John Roberts writes that the deal not only could help advance the digital publishing industry in Europe, but it also could "shape which companies gain control of the continent's fledgling e-book market." Roberts elaborates:

    "According to reports in Le Figaro and publishing site ActuaLitté, the agreement does not allow the publishers to distribute the digital books through Google’s direct competitors — read: Amazon.

    "What this means in practice is that Amazon may be excluded from a significant volume of content at a time when it is expanding its push into Europe with the Kindle and app store ... If the Google e-books take off, Amazon will be the odd one out as the e-books can be read directly on devices made by Sony or Barnes & Noble or through the Google Play app on Apple devices."

    Roberts also has more on the details of the agreement in a separate post here.

    The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
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    Espresso Book Machine offers solutions for retailers, authors

    Stacy A. Anderson of the Associated Press took a look this week at On Demand's Espresso Book Machine. Her post not only points toward a bright future for print-on-demand (POD) publishing, but also highlights the benefits for brick-and-mortar bookstores and self-publishing authors. On Demand's chief technology officer Thor Sigvaldason commented for the story:

    "[The Espresso Book Machine] can, potentially, give [book retailers] a huge virtual inventory so they can have as many books as Amazon, all in a little bookstore. It turns independent bookstores into places to get books published. It's a new thing for the bookstore to do: not just sell books, but actually create books."

    Anderson notes that the Northshire Bookstore in Vermont produces about 5,500 books per year on the machine, and the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington has produced nearly 5,000 since installing the machine last November. Self-publishing accounted for about 85% of books produced at Northshire Bookstore and about 90% at Politics and Prose. Also notable, Debbi Wrage, the Espresso Book Machine coordinator at Northsire Bookstore, told Anderson that "the book machine accounted for nearly 4% of the bookstore's 2011 revenue."

    PricewaterhouseCoopers releases ebook data and predictions

    Laura Hazard Owen got an inside look this week at new data released by PricewaterhouseCoopers. She reports that data from the company's Global Entertainment and Media Outlook predicts by 2016, the U.S. trade book market will be 50% ebooks. Owen also dug through the global data to uncover some interesting predictions and to chart ebook spending by region. According to Owen's charts, ebook spending faces the biggest obstacles in the Central/Eastern Europe, Middle East/Africa, and Latin America regions.

    You can view Owen's findings and charts here. The full report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, including segments on books, consumer magazines, and newspapers, as well as the music, Internet and TV industries, can be found (and subscribed to) here.


    March 30 2012

    Publishing News: There's no such thing as degrees of DRM

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

    Social DRM is as bad an idea as traditional DRM

    HarryPotter.pngThe most talked-about news this week was the release of the Harry Potter ebooks. The release was interesting on a couple of fronts. First, Amazon and B&N were strong-armed into allowing a portal to a third-party sale on an outside website — and into allowing a third-party download onto their proprietary devices. As a post at The Bookseller notes, "It is believed to be the first time Amazon and Barnes & Noble have allowed an e-book sold on a third-party retail site to be downloaded onto a Kindle or Nook device."

    Second, the Potter books are being sold DRM free. Well, that's not entirely accurate — Laura Hazard Owen describes the copyright situation:

    "Is there DRM? No, the e-books do not have DRM. Instead, they're watermarked (or, as Pottermore kindly describes it, 'personalized'): 'The Pottermore Shop personalises eBooks with a combination of watermarking techniques that relate to the book, to the purchaser and the purchase time. This allows us to track and respond to possible copyright misuse.'

    I reached out to O'Reilly GM and publisher Joe Wikert, who recently called for an end to DRM, to get his thoughts. He says the Harry Potter watermark move is like being "sort of pregnant":

    "My first thought is that this form of social DRM provides a similar false sense of security as traditional DRM. Anyone who wants to put this content on the torrent sites is just going to strip the watermarking out, the same as they'd do with the regular DRM. And I find it ironic that so many publishers say they're not concerned about torrents as much as they're trying to prevent customers from sharing the books with friends. Well, watermarking is going to make that much easier (than regular DRM), and I doubt many customers will feel guilty about doing it. They'll probably simply tell their friend, 'it's OK for you to read this too, but please don't pass it along to anyone else since it has my name embedded in it,' for example.

    As far as I'm concerned, there aren't degrees of DRM. You either have it or you don't. It's just like being pregnant. You're not 'sort of pregnant.' And social DRM is as bad an idea as traditional DRM. I'd like to think that this Harry Potter situation will cause other publishers to feel they can ease up on their need for DRM, but I'm not sure that will happen."

    Mathew Ingram at GigaOm has a nice post on some of the major takeaways from Rowling's diversion from the traditional path, which also includes the agreement with libraries: "... the Potter books can be loaned an unlimited number of times, and the lending license lasts for five years."

    Survey says ...

    PaywallArt.pngGoogle rolled out a new product this week aimed at helping struggling digital publishers with their revenue streams. A post at Adweek says the new Google Customer Surveys "is being billed as an alternative revenue model for publishers weighing whether to erect paywalls on their sites." The post explains how the surveys work:

    "When users visit the Web sites of partners like the New York Daily News and the Texas Tribune, they'll find some articles partially blocked. If they want to continuing reading, they'll have to answer a question, or microsurvey, courtesy of Google.

    The multiple-choice questions will be on market research, along the lines of 'Which of these types of candies do you usually buy for your household?' The choices for that question include 'None, Hard candies, Jellies, Licorice, Toffees.' Another question: 'Have you had personal experience with filing lawsuits? Please check all that apply.' ... Advertisers pay Google to run the surveys, and Google pays sites 5 cents per response."

    In a post at PaidContent,Laura Hazard Owen explains the advertiser side of the survey:

    "The customers create surveys and select the audience who will see the questions. Questions seen by a broad audience representing the general U.S. population are $0.10 per response (with a minimum total cost of $100). If companies want to drill down by demographic or select a custom audience with a screening question, the cost is $0.50 per response."

    Owen also highlights a potential issue (and the reason both of us couldn't get a survey to pop up at partner site Lima News): The surveys can be blocked by AdBlock and by pop-up blocking options in browsers.

    Personally, I'm willing to pay to avoid my content being interrupted, whether that content is news, books, movies, etc., but as Rob Grimshaw, managing director of, points out in a post at Wired: "Old models may be broken and the industry's initial approach to the web may have misfired, but where there's demand, there's a business. News publishers should have faith that they still perform a valuable service and go out looking for the right model to support it."

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    Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at

    The nature of virtual goods, TBD

    Tim Carmody took an in-depth look at the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation into agency pricing this week. He argues that the investigation goes much deeper than issues of price fixing:

    "... the DoJ's investigation and a related civil lawsuit touch on issues bigger than rising e-book prices or even collusion between publishers. The cases are also about who has the right to sue e-book publishers, the nature of publishers' bilateral interactions with Apple and other retailers, and whether it's even possible for a true agency model to exist for virtual goods like e-books."

    That last point regarding virtual goods is particularly interesting — it looks like the courts will be facing a landmark decision regarding the nature of virtual commodities. Carmody explains:

    "There are two legal models that could apply to the publishers' sale of e-books. One is agency; the other is retail price maintenance. In a genuine agency model, the agent doesn't own or bear legal responsibility for the stock; the seller does. Price maintenance simply allows the original seller to set a floor for final customer prices that retailers have to observe as part of their agreement.

    According to [Donald Knebel, an IP and antitrust attorney affiliated with the Center for Intellectual Property Research], the usual legal tests for whether a retailer is acting as a publishers' agent hinge on issues of liability that don't apply to virtual goods. There is no physical possession of the stock, there are no storefronts catching fire. Knebel says this issue has never been adequately determined in court, even with software in a virtual app store, let alone e-books in a virtual bookstore.

    Carmody's piece is a must-read for this week.

    Photo: Beyond the wall by Giuseppe Bognanni, on Flickr


    March 23 2012

    Publishing News: Ereading on a landing plane

    Though I wasted a good deal of time this week mesmerized by the Daily Dispatches from the Internet's Worst Reviewers website (hat tip to Joe Wikert and Kat Meyer), there were a few publishing stories that still caught my eye.

    Tray tables must be upright, but (hopefully soon) you can leave your iPads on

    ereaders.jpgIn December, the FAA approved iPad use for pilots in cockpits during takeoff and landing, but not for passengers. According to a post by Nick Bilton at the New York Times, the FAA decided this week that it may be time to bring passengers into the 21st century as well. Bilton reported the last time the FAA tested gadgets for approval was 2006 — and that testing requires a much greater time and expense investment than one might think:

    "Abby Lunardini, vice president of corporate communications at Virgin America, explained that the current guidelines require that an airline must test each version of a single device before it can be approved by the FAA. For example, if the airline wanted to get approval for the iPad, it would have to test the first iPad, iPad 2 and the new iPad, each on a separate flight, with no passengers on the plane.

    "It would have to do the same for every version of the Kindle. It would have to do it for every different model of plane in its fleet. And American, JetBlue, United, Air Wisconsin, etc., would have to do the same thing."

    Bilton offered a reasonable solution to the time/cost problem: Each airline could offer up one plane, one day per month throughout testing and the bill would be sent to the device manufacturers that want devices approved — if you don't pony up, your device doesn't get tested. In any case, I look forward to not being scolded next time I forget the book I'm engrossed in needs to be shut off.

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    If you're not selling direct, you're not getting all the data

    Joe Wikert (@jwikert), GM and publisher at O'Reilly, took a look at the availability of publishing data this week. He argued that direct sales channels are worth the investment for publishers because when you sell directly to consumers, you have access to the entire data stream.

    For example, O'Reilly recently conducted an ereader survey through its direct sales channel, and Wikert shared the results:

    "So, what's the primary ereading device used by these early adopters and techno-enthusiasts? Their iPads. That's not shocking, but what's interesting is how only 25% of respondents said the iPad is their primary device. A whopping 46% said their laptop or desktop computer was their primary ereading device."

    He also noted that among O'Reilly customers, the popular EPUB and Mobi formats were topped by PDF as the primary ereading format. This sort of information, Wikert argued, isn't likely to be transparent when you're relying on a third-party intermediary with an agenda. You can read his post here. And if you want more stats from the survey, Wikert tweeted them with the #ORMeStat hashtag.

    One word for news: "Mobile"

    The State of the News Media 2012, the annual report on American journalism from the Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, was released this week.

    Overall trends uncovered in the study include a lack of social media influence — "the notion that large percentages of Americans now get their news mainly from recommendations from friends does not hold up" — and highlight the fact that privacy concerns are becoming a major issue for news revenues:

    "To survive, news must find a way to make its digital advertising more effective — and more lucrative — and the gathering of consumer data is probably the key. Yet news organizations also must worry about violating the trust of their audiences."

    Trends showed mobile is proving to be very important for news:

    "... mobile news consumers are even more likely to turn to news organizations directly, through apps and home pages, rather than search or recommendations — strengthening the bond with traditional brands."

    Technology may be more foe than friend, however. Though the study found that mobile technology is giving news consumption a boost (27% of Americans now get news on mobile devices), a study of the money shows that tech companies may be edging out traditional news channels:

    "In 2011, five technology giants generated 68% of all digital ad revenue, according to the market research firm eMarketer — and that does not include Amazon and Apple, which make their money from devices and downloads. By 2015, roughly one out of every five display ad dollars is expected to go to Facebook, according to the same source ... 'Our analysis suggests that news is becoming a more important and pervasive part of people's lives,' PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel said. 'But it remains unclear who will benefit economically from this growing appetite for news.'"

    Full study results can be found here.

    Got news?

    Suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to send along your news scoops and ideas.

    Photo: Evolution of Readers by jblyberg, on Flickr


    March 16 2012

    Publishing News: Britannica isn't dead, it's digital

    Here are the publishing stories that caught my eye this week.

    Information doesn't need to weigh 129 pounds

    EB.jpgThe Encyclopaedia Britannica announced its final print run this week. Looking at the description of the closing print product, it's clear that its day has passed. As the New York Times reports:

    "The last print version is the 32-volume 2010 edition, which weighs 129 pounds and includes new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project." [Emphasis added.]

    Some argue that Wikipedia, with its open, free, crowdsourced content, "did in" the EB. Tim Carmody over at Wired purports that Windows, not Wikipedia, caused EB's demise:

    "Britannica went bankrupt in 1996, long before Wikipedia was a crowdsourced gleam in Jimmy Wales' open-access eye. In 1990, the company had $650 million in revenue. In 1996, it was being sold off in toto for $135 million. What happened in between was Encarta."

    I prefer to approach the situation from a more positive angle: A group of publishing executives sitting around a boardroom table finally had an "ah-ha!" moment and realized the path to future success was of a digital nature. With print put out to pasture, EB will focus on its online and digital offerings. As described in the Washington Post:

    "Online versions of the encyclopedia now serve more than 100 million people around the world, the company said, and are available on mobile devices. The encyclopedia has become increasingly social as well, [Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. president Jorge Cauz] said, because users can send comments to editors. 'A printed encyclopedia is obsolete the minute that you print it,' Cauz said. 'Whereas our online edition is updated continuously.'"

    The EB offers access to its content through a subscription model online ($69.95 annually) and through its app ($1.99 monthly). Merriam-Webster also is a subsidiary of EB — I've had my own an annual subscription to the online unabridged version of that product for a couple years now.

    "But, how will EB compete with Wikipedia?" you might ask. EB president Jorge Cauz addresses this point in an interview at NPR:

    "We will probably never be as large as Wikipedia because we need to concentrate on fewer topics where we can allocate scholarly knowledge. You know, we have a different assortment of contributors that really know their subject areas. We obviously put editorial processes in place so that we can actually deliver on a source of content that is factually correct and created by the experts. That, actually, is a very different value proposition than Wikipedia."

    So, perhaps we shouldn't mourn the end of an era or the death of a print product, but instead celebrate a publisher that is embracing the digital age.

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    Issues of fair use, from a U.S. federal court to Bizzaroland

    Copyright was in the spotlight a few times this week. First up, a federal court in Nevada made a fair use ruling late last Friday. A post by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) summarizes:

    "The judgment — part of the nuisance lawsuit avalanche started by copyright troll Righthaven — found that Democratic Underground did not infringe the copyright in a Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper article when a user of the online political forum posted a five-sentence excerpt, with a link back to the newspaper's website.

    "Judge Roger Hunt's judgment confirms that an online forum is not liable for its users' posts, even if it was not protected by the safe harbors of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's notice and takedown provisions. The decision also clarifies that a common practice on the Internet — excerpting a few sentences and linking to interesting articles elsewhere — is a fair use, not an infringement of copyright."

    The EFF post dives deep into the background of the case — and the copyright troll — and is well worth the read.

    In other copyright news, aggregators and search engines are being called to the carpet in Germany to pay publishers for "reproducing even short snippets of articles" — the same practice the Nevada court just deemed fair use. PC World reports that proponents of the new copyright law, being written by the German ministry of justice, argue that search engines like Google make a lot of money from digital content and those revenues should be shared. Proponents also point out that such a law will "hopefully also make publishers better equipped when they need to take on sites that abuse their content, which is a problem at the moment."

    Those against the law argue that publishers are shooting themselves in the foot. The PC World post reports:

    "It is just a comically stupid policy, according to Joe McNamee, advocacy coordinator at European Digital Rights (EDRi). The reason publishers put their content on the Internet is so that people can access it, and punishing companies for helping people to find content is nothing short of absurd, he said via email.

    "Also, if the publishers' inability to evolve in the digital environment leads to policies that allow them not to evolve, then this will ultimately be bad for them, according to McNamee."

    Officials told PC World that the law could be published by April, but likely wouldn't go into effect until next year.

    And in downright weird copyright news, the Belgian copyright society SABAM wants to start charging libraries fees for having volunteers read books to children. Robin Wauters at The Next Web reports:

    "Twice a month, the library in Dilbeek welcomes about 10 children to introduce them to the magical world of books ... SABAM got in touch with the library to let them know that it thinks this is unacceptable, however, and that they should start coughing up cash for the audacity to read stories from copyrighted books out loud. The library rep calculates that it could cost them roughly 250 euros (which is about $328) per year to pay SABAM for the right to — again — READ BOOKS TO KIDS."

    Cory Doctorow describes the situation poignantly: "The technical term for this is 'eating your seed corn' (a less technical term might be 'acting like a titanic asshole')."

    PayPal comes to its senses

    Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_Viatour.jpgIn a follow-up to recent PayPal news, in which PayPal attempted to establish itself as the content police, the company has decided to rescind its censorship demands. PayPal's new-new terms are described in a post at TechDirt:

    "Under the new policy, only books with graphic images that fall under the US-based Miller test will be affected. Going forward, PayPal will also be taking a more targeted approach to enforcement. Instead of focusing on entire classes of fiction, it will work on a book by book basis. This specific change should allow for a better process in which the affected authors can appeal the decision to remove their works while getting the individual focus such decisions deserve."

    In an email sent to authors and publishers, Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords, a company directly affected by PayPal's policy changes, sums it up:

    "This is a big, bold move by PayPal. It represents a watershed decision that protects the rights of writers to write, publish and distribute legal fiction. It also protects the rights of readers to purchase and enjoy all fiction in the privacy of their own imagination. It clarifies and rationalizes the role of financial services providers and pulls them out of the business of censoring legal fiction."

    Got news?

    Suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to send along your news scoops and ideas.

    Photo (top): UBN Encyclopaedia Britannica by Ziko, on Wikimedia Commons

    Photo (bottom): Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour, on Wikimedia Commons


    March 09 2012

    Publishing News: The threat of censorship, from a non-government entity

    Here are the publishing-related stories that caught my attention this week.

    Censorship disguised as a business decision

    Censored.pngThe PayPal-as-content-police saga continues this week. Publishers Weekly reports that PayPal is backing off Smashwords a bit: "As it stands now, PayPal has contacted Smashwords about the possibility of relaxing the enforcement and has assured the distributor that their account will not be in immediate risk of limitation pending ongoing discussions." The post outlines the background on the situation:

    "The issue began February 18, when [Smashwords founder Mark] Coker received an e-mail from PayPal notifying him that Smashwords had until February 24 to correct titles with the controversial topics or else the Smashwords account would be limited. PayPal told Coker: 'Our banking partners and credit card associations have taken a very strict stance on this subject matter. Our relationships with the banking partners are absolutely critical in order to provide the online and mobile services we do to our customers. Therefore, we have to remain in compliance with their rules, which prohibit content involving rape, bestiality or incest.'"

    Several anti-censorship and privacy rights organizations, including the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the Internet Archive, have signed a letter to PayPal in support of Smashwords. The letter concludes by noting exactly how dangerous PayPal's intended actions are:

    "The Internet has become an international public commons, like an enormous town square, where ideas can be freely aired, exchanged, and criticized. That will change if private companies, which are under no legal obligation to respect free speech rights, are able to use their economic clout to dictate what people should read, write, and think."

    Magellan Media founder Brian O'Leary also highlighted a bit of the bigger picture:

    As the tools of creation and production have become increasingly democratized, efforts to control supply have shifted to the platforms that support this more open process. After all, it's a lot easier to shut down Smashwords than it is to get its thousands of authors to stop writing.

    The PW post includes comments that claim PayPal's demands are not censorship, just a business decision (... a decision that just happens to prevent people from being able to buy or read something). You didn't like SOPA? Meet the bankers.

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    This kind of consumer demand should make you drool

    Inspired by the Oatmeal cartoon detailing futile attempts at legally watching the "Game of Thrones" TV show (and several subsequent responses to it), David Sleight over at Stuntbox takes a look at the current state of piracy and makes a compelling argument to corporate America that pirate consumers are an opportunity:

    "The audience is telling you, in no uncertain terms, they want your stuff. And they are telling you precisely what stuff. The people you're calling 'thieves' are telling you where you need to be. They are jumping through hoops only slightly less complicated than the ones you set out for them via official channels, displaying the sort of pent-up demand that should make you drool. This is what's commonly referred to in business circles as an opportunity."

    Sleight points out that behind private, closed doors, corporate America acknowledges this but can't get seem to migrate the mindset into the boardroom. He offers several proposals to help them get a move-on. A few teasers include: "Start projects by picturing what the user wants to have in their hands and build up from that." And, "... the future is about frictionless access ..." And, "Stop thumping the table with these [bogus] stats." Sleight's piece is well worth the read.

    And publishers might take a page from the TED playbook: Joshua Gans at the Harvard Business Review profiles the TED publishing platform, noting not only the openness of the TED talks themselves (the videos are freely available), but also the TED name (adhering to a few rules, anyone can hold a TEDx event). Gans concludes: "TED could have done the traditional publishing thing — put up walls and sold exclusivity. Instead, it has chosen to embrace the notion that information has the most value when it is shared widely. Perhaps traditional publishers of other forms of media should take note."

    And in case you missed it, here's author Neal Gaiman on the opportunities of piracy:

    What we have here is a failure to visualize

    A new study from The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism shows that newspapers' digital efforts are falling short in making up for losses in print revenues and that "most newspapers continue to contract with alarming speed." Fear of rapid failure seems to be fueling the slow, steady decline. One newspaper executive told the study group, "There's no doubt we're going out of business right now." The report continues:

    "The problem, he [the newspaper executive] explained, is the dilemma that faces many trying to innovate inside older industries. If you changed your company and did not succeed, that could hasten the end of the enterprise. 'There might be a 90% chance you'll accelerate the decline if you gamble and a 10% chance you might find the new model,' he said. 'No one is willing to take that chance'."

    PewStudyNewsRevenues.pngThe study investigates the decline in the industry from many angles — digital advertising to mobile to cultural obstacles. The study also asked newspaper executives to look five years down the road; the results were grim and highlighted the industry's lack of vision. Response highlights include:

    • The most common scenario was that the newspaper would be printed and delivered to people's homes less frequently, perhaps as little as two to three days a week-or even just on Sunday. This has already occurred in some markets, such as Detroit.
    • One foresaw a looming era of significantly downsized newsrooms. Another suggested the papers would inevitably get "thinner and weaker."
    • One thought it would be possible for papers to "limp along," but that another recession could be catastrophic to the industry.

    The study report points out what is "probably the strongest underlying finding of this study: The people who run the newspaper industry are unsure of where it is heading or what it will look like."

    Got news?

    Suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to send along your news scoops and ideas.

    Photo (top): Vitruvian by Mr.Enjoy, on Flickr


    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 24 2012

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

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

    IPG stands up to Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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    The battle to democratize the ereader continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    You can view the entire segment in the following video.


    February 17 2012

    Publishing News: Let's remember why we got into this business

    TOC 2012In this special edition of the Publishing Week in Review, I'm taking a look at highlights from the 2012 Tools of Change for Publishing Conference held in New York City earlier this week.

    Publishing isn't about print vs digital or incompatible ereading formats — it's about storytelling

    As far as inspiration goes, it doesn't get much better than LeVar Burton's TOC keynote address. Burton first talked about how he came to literature and publishing. Going back to his childhood, he reminisced that you were either reading a book or getting hit by one — his mother didn't care how, but "in her house, you were going to have an encounter with the written word."

    His experiences with storytelling became more profound when he landed a major role on the miniseries "Roots," which taught him about the transformative nature of literature when combined with a visual medium. That experience was so profound for Burton that he left his priesthood studies, deciding storytelling was more effective at reaching people. This decision also later led to 25 years of "Reading Rainbow," the series that used TV to get kids interested in books.

    Burton said that "stories are bridges to real-world experiences" and that he's a "firm believer between that which we imagine and that which we create."

    "The stories that we tell each other and have told each other throughout the history of the development of civilization are integrally important, are inextricably linked, to how we continue to invent the world in which we live."

    Burton said reading and storytelling go far beyond discussions of print versus digital or which digital format should prevail:

    "We are going to be absolutely fine, so long as we do not fail ourselves in the one fundamental aspect of who it is we are and what we bring to the table. Remember, human beings are manifesting machines. We are just like that child watching the episodes of 'Star Trek,' seeing those images, using our imaginations, coming up with a piece of technology that actually serves humanity going forward.

    "Our imaginations always have been, always will be, our continuing link into ourselves in order to make contact with ourselves so that then we might share the beauty of ourselves through culture with the rest of the world ... I encourage you to remember the nature of what it is you signed on for. You've come here to make a difference. You've come here to use your imaginations in the service of storytelling. Doing the same things we have done for years with a new opportunity, with new tools, a few more bells and whistles — it's still, and always will be, about storytelling."

    Burton's full keynote is available in the following video:

    The Publishing Panic of 2015 is coming. Can we stop it?

    Joe Karaganis, vice president of The American Assembly at Columbia University, addressed issues of piracy and enforcement in a keynote address. Using his work with the Media Piracy in Emerging Economies project as a backdrop, Karaganis said the opposition to SOPA/PIPA and ACTA has moved the conversation beyond online piracy to the convergence of citizenship, democratic accountability and different rights.

    The main ingredients of piracy, Karaganis said, are "high prices, low incomes and cheap digital technologies" and that "enforcement has been irrelevant — it's what happens around the edges of these underlying economic drivers." He argued that the current system doesn't scale well and that prosecution rarely occurs:

    "When you look at how enforcement works in middle- and low-income countries, you find a pretty simple, consistent pattern: You find raid-based enforcement, characterized by the ramping up of police actions and little to no follow through. There's little likelihood that these cases will make it to trial, and in fact, little expectation that they will."

    There's a simple explanation for the discrepancy: "It's cheaper to buy cops than lawyers — raids are cheap, but due process is expensive and slow." He argued that the new enforcement measures (SOPA/PIPA/ACTA) realize this futility and so they instead focus on abridging due process: "The only way to scale up enforcement is to take it out of the courts, to make it an administrative function, and whenever possible, and automated one."

    Karaganis said his research showed there's a lot of casual infringement, but very little large-scale or hard-core infringement — 1-3% are hard-core pirates, according to his data.

    Bringing the discussion around to publishing, specifically the education market, Karaganis asked, "What happens when the access problem is solved without any corresponding solution to the crisis of the library or the commercial markets — there will be access; the question is, who will make it convenient and affordable?" Using open-education research as an example, he said the problem is that they're not competing with the commercial market, they're competing with the pirate market:

    "They're competing with a 'copy culture' that hasn't waited for approved institutional solutions to emerge. As digital readers get very, very cheap in the next few years, that copy culture is going to grow exponentially and produce a huge democratization in educational opportunity and access to knowledge. That will be a hugely disruptive challenge to all parties involved and produce its own cause for enforcement and control."

    Karaganis referred to this impending phenomenon as "The Publishing Panic of 2015," and to address it we'll need more than just opposition to legislation like SOPA and PIPA:

    "It's not enough to simply say SOPA is bad or enforcement doesn't work, even among people who agree. We need to develop a positive set of proposals for what we want, collectively, for what the public interest is in and around intellectual property. 'What's the positive agenda?' is a very fair question."

    More background on Karaganis' research can be found at The American Assembly website. The "Media Piracy in Emerging Economies" report can be downloaded here.

    Karaganis' full keynote can be viewed in the following video:

    Bookstores: It's about monetizing relationships and experiences, not about selling books

    The "Kepler's 2020: Building the Community Bookstore of the 21st Century" session created quite a buzz at the show. For a bit of background, The Kepler's 2020 Project release described it:

    "The project aims to create an innovative hybrid business model that includes a for-profit, community-owned-and-operated bookstore, and a nonprofit organization that will feature on-stage author interviews, lectures by leading intellectuals, educational workshops and other literary and cultural events."

    Thad McIlroy, owner of, opened the conference session with thoughts on reinventing "the notion of the bookstore in the midst of this crazy time of change." McIlroy said that the Kepler's 2020 project, being led by literary entrepreneur Praveen Madan, is blazing a trail.

    Madan's subsequent presentation focused on debunking industry myths. Specifically, printed books are not going to survive and we don't need bookstores in the age of instantly downloadable ebooks.

    Madan shared a survey finding that revealed overwhelming support (95%) for using bookstores as "a place for browsing and discovering new ideas" and (72%) as "a place to buy books." He pointed out that more than half of the responders had ereading devices.

    Madan also offered two trends that explain why bookstores need to be reinvented and why they still have a future:

    1. Technology is having an isolating impact — "People are more and more disconnected from each other." We are working from home, shopping from home, and community gathering places (churches, schools, community centers) aren't as effective. So, what places are going to bring people together? "We think that can be bookstores," Madan said. "Bookstores need to be re-imagined as those places."
    2. Browsing — We still need showrooms for books. "The reality is that 18 years after Amazon started tweaking its algorithms for recommending books, a well-curated, physical, in-store experience is still better at helping readers discover books," Madan said.

    "What we really need is for someone in the technology world to step up and say, "I think there is an opportunity here," he said. Madan also insisted it needs to be open: "We'll pay for the services and we'll pay for the development, but the platform needs to be open source."

    The buzz was heightened at the end of the Q&A session when Madan said he was looking to partner with Amazon to sell ebooks through his store:

    "[Ebooks are] something we want to provide; we want to be part of the overall experience. But the solution and the technology has to come from somebody else. I'm very serious about looking at [partnering with] Amazon and just giving away Kindles and telling people it's okay — you have our permission. Walk into the bookstore, browse the books and download the books on your Kindle."

    When people ask Madan how he'll make money, he answers that that isn't the point — he doesn't need to make money on every downloaded book; he'll make money on the relationships in other ways.

    You can learn more about The Kepler's 2020 Project in the following short video:

    If you couldn't make it to TOC, or you missed a session you wanted to see, sign up for the TOC 2012 Complete Video Compilation and check out our archive of free keynotes and interviews.


    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.

    Leader in eBook conversion in the US and in Europe, and Apple-Authorized ePublishing Services Provider, Jouve is helping to transform the way the publishing industry designs, produces, and distributes content. Our services span the entire value chain for print and digital products, enabling publishers to build multi-channel production strategies and systems. Learn more

    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 27 2012

    Publishing News: Ereader ownership doubles, again

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

    Two surveys indicate a bright future for digital publishing

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

    Ereader ownership chart

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

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

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

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

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    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt strikes a deal with Amazon

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

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

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

    A call to arms for libraries

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

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

    Here's the presentation in full:

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


    January 20 2012

    January 13 2012

    Publishing News: Stats from Amazon's KDP Select program might require a decoder ring

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

    Amazon's KDP Select stats raise more questions than they answer

    AmazonLogo.pngAmazon released statistics from its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select program this week, but deciphering what the numbers mean is tricky — the program may or may not be lucrative for authors. Reuters explained the program:

    KDP Select is an off-shoot of Kindle Direct Publishing, a system developed by Amazon that lets authors publish their books themselves online. If authors make a title exclusive to Amazon's Kindle e-book store for at least 90 days, the book is eligible to be included in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library and authors can earn a share of a $6 million annual pot of money based on how frequently the book is borrowed.

    The Amazon press release said author Carolyn McCray "earned $8,250 from the KDP Select fund in December," and quoted her as saying that "[p]articipating in KDP Select has quadrupled [her] royalties." The release cites increases for Rachel Yu and Amber Scott as well, and says that "[t]he top ten KDP Select authors earned over $70,000 in the month of December from their participation in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, a 30% increase on top of the royalties they earned from their paid sales on the same titles in the same period. In total (paid sales plus their share of the loan fund), these authors saw their royalties grow an astonishing 449% month-over-month from November to December."

    But don't drop your publisher and jump on board the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select train just yet. As with most statistics Amazon releases, there are nearly as many questions raised as stats provided. Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent laid it all out on the table, presenting Amazon's press release statement with stats and then listing a variety of questions those stats sparked. A couple important questions she raised include:

    • "How much money did the average participating author make? The top ten are doing well, but what about the rest? How many authors made $0 from their participation (or actually lost money because, in order to participate, they had to remove their e-books from all other etailers?)"

  • "Also, how does the top ten break down? What did the #1 KDP Select author make from his or her participation, and what did the #10 author make?"

  • Owen's breakdown of the situation is thorough and well worth the read.

    And in a nice rounding out to the issue, Forbes called out Amazon on the data — or lack thereof — it provides to self-publishers:

    "If we are to approach self-publishing as a business proposition, we need to understand not just the market for ebooks but also the performance of our own works within that market. Just as a web publisher needs to understand traffic stats, so ebook publishers need to understand ebook stats. Except Amazon's Kindle store gives ebook publishers only the barest minimum of information."

    SPi Global partners with publishers and information providers to maximize the value of their content online and offline. With escalating costs of production and printing, changing customer preferences, and the need to adapt, SPi Global enables organizations to exploit and invest in new media technology. With a complete suite of digital and publishing services, we help companies gain a competitive advantage through our unique and innovative solutions. For more information, please visit

    Books in the digital age are an entrepreneurial exercise

    Regardless of where and how you self-publish, the process isn't as easy as it might seem on first blush. Author Daniel Markham put together a nice list of lessons learned and details to keep track of after publishing his first ebook, "ScrumMaster." He said: "The content is the least of it ... If my marketing and sales pipeline don't work? Hang it up. It was a waste of time."

    Along that same vein, a post at The Atlantic took a look at publishing in the digital age. Referring to the most recent issue of Nieman Reports, The Atlantic piece says:

    "... books are an entrepreneurial exercise, combining the selection of a subject, the self-confidence to stay with it through the reporting and writing ordeal, and a commitment to marketing the results, which for many authors is an especially unfamiliar process."

    The Guardian also put together a panel of self-publishing experts who came up with 20 tips for self-publishing. Those particular tips mainly are directed at academic publishing, but many could apply to any genre, and some of the linked resources were genre neutral as well.

    The digital rights quagmire continues

    The topic of rights reared its murky ahead again this week. Jane Friedman tackled the topic in a post inspired by a question posed to her by author Dr. Liz Alexander: (in short) in a traditional publishing situation, who holds the ebook rights, author or publisher? Friedman says it's "a very slippery issue" and lists several reasons why:

    • "Contract language may be ambiguous as to who holds rights, and the language may be interpreted differently (there is little legal precedent to refer to in these situations)."

  • "Who retains ebook rights — author or publisher — is a controversial issue."
  • "Who holds rights to the text versus images may be different."
  • "Who holds e-book rights based on territory can be even more confusing."

  • Friedman's post addresses each issue in-depth and provides a nice summary of the rights controversy thus far.

    Digital rights issues, however, aren't purely theoretical for Friedman — the Wall Street Journal took a look this week at the lawsuit HarperCollins recently filed against Open Road Integrated Media, which is run by Friedman, in regard to Open Road's plan to release the ebook edition of "Julie of the Wolves." Open Road's COO Chris Davis responded to the suit:

    "It appears to us that HarperCollins is trying to intimidate authors, overturn established law and grab rights that were not in existence when the contracts were signed many years ago. We are confident that we will successfully defend authors' rights and we look forward to filing our response in court."

    Here's transactional and intellectual property attorney Dana Newman talking about digital rights issues at last year's Tools of Change for Publishers conference:


    January 06 2012

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

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

    B&N looks at spinning off its Nook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Newspapers look to capitalize on aggregators

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

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

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

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

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

    Apple rumors fire up: Will iBooks support EPUB 3?

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

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


    December 23 2011

    Publishing News: The 99-cent problem

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

    The concern of 99 cents

    Penny.jpgAuthor Melissa Foster took a look this week at the 99-cent price debate, highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly. The bad and the ugly mostly focused on how the price point affects independent authors:

    If an author is self-published through Amazon KDP, he or she earns 34 cents per 99-cent book sold ... If you add up the average cover cost of $350, average editing job of $1,400, then divide by 34 cents, the author would have to sell 5,134 books just to break even, and that's nearly impossible without an additional amount for advertising.

    Foster follows this by pointing out that most independent authors don't sell more than 100 copies of a book — that's a whopping $34 — and says independent authors who publish through small presses generally only pocket 12 cents per 99-cent book sold.

    Employing this price point doesn't bode well for authors looking to sign with a traditional publisher, either. Foster quoted agent Jenny Bent: "... publishers are increasingly skeptical about how success at 99 cents will translate into success using their very different business model."

    Author M.J. Rose also is quoted in the post, arguing that this sort of focus on price is wrong:

    Readers may buy you once for 99 cents, but if they are disappointed they will never buy you again or even download you for free. On the other hand a reader will pay $4.99, $5.99 even up to $12 for an ebook of a writer whose work speaks to her. I'm seeing way too much conversation about what to charge for the book instead of how to write the book ... Quality matters more than ever.

    Foster's analysis also highlighted some positive aspects of the price point, including using it as a promotional or marketing tool. An author could set the first book in a series at 99 cents, for instance, to help suck in readers — the old "the first one's (almost) free, but you'll be back" routine.

    There's a lot more discussion on this debate over in the comment section of Kevin Kelly's blog post on this topic (from earlier this year). But really, the bottom line is this: the 99-cent price point is only financially viable for authors who are able to sell a boatload of books.

    SPi Global partners with publishers and information providers to maximize the value of their content online and offline. With escalating costs of production and printing, changing customer preferences, and the need to adapt, SPi Global enables organizations to exploit and invest in new media technology. With a complete suite of digital and publishing services, we help companies gain a competitive advantage through our unique and innovative solutions. For more information, please visit

    SOPA, meet DeSopa

    The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) hearing was delayed, possibly until next year, but anti-SOPA geeks aren't waiting to see what's going to happen. Andy Greenberg reported over at Forbes that "the Internet's communities of coders and free speech advocates" are hard at work building tools to circumvent SOPA's copyright protection measures:

    ... a developer named Tamer Rizk has been busy building an add-on for Firefox called DeSopa, which aims to give any Firefox user access to sites that SOPA's copyright protection measures have blocked. 'This program is a proof of concept that SOPA will not help prevent piracy,' reads a note included on DeSopa's download page. 'If SOPA is implemented, thousands of similar and more innovative programs and services will sprout up to provide access to the websites that people frequent. SOPA is a mistake. It does not even technically help solve the underlying problem, as this software illustrates.'

    (Note: as of publication, the DeSopa add-on had been taken down from Mozilla's site.)

    Greenberg also looked at Reddit users who "have been assembling their own lists of IP addresses for key sites that might be blocked under SOPA, what some of them call the 'Emergency List'." He also has a nice discussion of SOPA's unintended consequences and the collateral damage it could cause. The piece is well worth the read.

    The future of stories is here

    In a post at The Atlantic, senior editor Alexis Madrigal highlighted "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" as the perfect gift for kids whose parents have an iPad. The river of book recommendations is hip deep this time of year, but the last line of Madrigal's post prodded me to check out the app: "It's what the future of stories looks like." (Hat tip to @tcarmody.)

    Screenshot from The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

    Playing with the book/app reminded me of articles predicting that the coffee-table book will make it through the digital transition relatively unscathed. I'm not so sure about that. If the beauty of the art in this book and the way it's integrated into the interactivity are an indication of future stories, print may well be in trouble on the coffee-table front as well. Imagine an iPad coffee-table book that could play music from a foreign country and teach you common phrases in the native tongue; one that could seamlessly integrate video, animation or sound with the content. Print books can't do that.

    The screenshot below shows the interactivity options and more of the beautiful art:

    Screenshot from The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

    I sure hope Madrigal is right — this book app points to a very rich future for stories, and you don't need kids (or to be a kid) to fall in love with it.


    December 16 2011

    Publishing News: Hating Amazon is not a strategy

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

    Amazon's Price Check ignites passions, but perhaps cooler heads will prevail

    Amazon's Price Check promotion caused quite the kerfuffle last week, and the publishing industry arguably made the most noise — which is interesting, as books were not included in the promotion. Author Richard Russo fanned the flames again on Monday with his op-ed piece in the New York Times, in which he noted responses from his fellow writers: "I wondered what my writer friends made of all this, so I dashed off an e-mail to Scott Turow, the president of the Authors Guild, and cc'ed Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, Andre Dubus III, Anita Shreve, Tom Perrotta and Ann Patchett." The response?

    These writers all derive considerable income from Amazon's book sales. But when the responses to my query started coming in it was clear Amazon's program would find no defenders in our ranks ... 'Scorched-earth capitalism' is how Dennis described it ... Andre was outraged by Amazon's attempt to turn its customers into 'Droid-packing' spies ... [Stephen King] saw the new strategy as both 'invasive and unfair' ... it was 'a bridge too far.'

    Russo went on to praise the indie bookstore experience and indicate Amazon is killing the reading culture: "Armed with such experiences, my writer pals and I took personally Amazon's assault on the kinds of stores that hand-sold our books before anybody knew who we were, back before Amazon or the Internet itself existed. As Anita [Shreve] put it, losing independent bookstores would be 'akin to editing ... a critical part of our culture out of American life'."

    Chad W. Post over at Three Percent chimed in with a piece, in part a response to Russo, that is well worth the read (hat tip to Peter Brantley and @calliemiller). Post argued that Amazon is a corporate business acting like a corporate business — just like the Big Six publishers:

    ... it's worth wondering if the Big Six are in this publishing game for the benefit of book culture as a whole, or to make as much money as possible for their shareholders. The correct answer is the latter, and that's reflected in nearly every decision they make. As a result, people like Richard Russo and Stephen King publish their books with Random House and Simon & Schuster so that they can reap the benefits of these corporate practices ... And that's totally well within their rights. And by 'their,' I mean Russo & Co., the Big Six, and Amazon.

    Post goes on to suggest more productive ways to approach the situation with Amazon that are worth a look.

    Ed Cain over at Forbes had another pragmatic approach to the situation:

    This is the future of online retail. Expect price checking apps from lots of other companies in the near future. Brick-and-mortar retailers and booksellers will have to respond by offering something that online stores simply can't offer: an experience.

    At the end of the day, Don Linn had perhaps the most succinct response to the Amazon as Evil Empire situation:


    This kerfuffle isn't likely to die anytime soon, however. Slate fired things up in the opposite direction from Russo et al., Tuesday with its post "Don't Support Your Local Bookseller: Buying books on Amazon is better for authors, better for the economy, and better for you."

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

    Consumer Reports hits digital publishing's sweet spot

    The New York Times reported this week that Consumer Reports "has more than six times as many digital subscribers as The Wall Street Journal, the leader among newspapers ... And in August, Consumer Reports started generating more revenue from digital subscriptions than from print." And on top of that, Consumer Reports isn't losing its print subscriber base.

    Granted, as Bill Grueskin, dean of academic affairs at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and formerly managing editor of pointed out for the post, news organizations can't just rip a page out of the Consumer Reports playbook:

    It isn't much of a leap for people to pay $5.95 a month for access to a database that will help them make a wise purchase of a $500 dishwasher or a $25,000 car. It is much harder to get consumers — particularly those trained for the past 15 years to expect content for free — to pay for coverage of metro news, football games or politics.

    But news organizations certainly can glean some helpful tips. For example, Grueskin noted that Consumer Reports has been consistent with its paywall — it didn't go up, then come down, then go up again.

    In addition to several other takeaways for news organizations — including discussions about crowdsourcing, injecting youthful creativity into business culture and supplying authoritative information — Consumer Reports' policy of not allowing advertising in order to "protect a reputation for clearsighted recommendations" should inspire insight. Obviously, news organizations can't eliminate advertising, but perhaps they can look at the quality of their ad inventories and make adjustments and decisions accordingly.

    The verdict: Kindle Fire goes back in the box

    KindleFireMissingManualCover.pngDavid Streitfeld at the New York Times followed up this week on a piece he recently wrote on consumer dissatisfaction with the Kindle Fire. Streitfeld said he received a "torrential response" that ranged from Fire devotion to Apple conspiracy theories. "The uproar," he said, "underlined yet again how people have deep-seated but contradictory feelings about their devices. In one sense, they demand a lot; in another, they are very forgiving."

    Streitfeld turned to digital book consultant and author Peter Meyers for his professional evaluation of Amazon's tablet device. Meyers, who wrote O'Reilly's upcoming "Kindle Fire: The Missing Manual," was decidedly unbiased in his opinion of the Fire:

    Apple would have never shipped a device like the Fire. It's got way too many rough edges (sluggish touchscreen, magazine apps that don't really fit the smaller screen, an easy-to-hit power button) ... But the Fire's not made for Apple's customers ... It's for the millions of people who: a) don't have $500-plus to spend on an iPad and b) really want to be part of the touchscreen revolution that's changing how we control devices.

    Which device will win Meyers over in the end? He's very clear about what he'll do with his Kindle Fire: "Mine's going back in the box as soon as I'm done [with the manual]," he wrote in an email to Streitfeld. "The iPad 2 is years ahead of it and lets me consume and create with no friction."


    December 09 2011

    Publishing News: Agency pricing, out of the pan and into the fire

    Here's a look at the publishing stories that caught my attention this week.

    Antitrust investigations focus on Apple and publishers

    ibooks2.jpgOn Tuesday, the European Commission opened an antitrust investigation into pricing deals struck between Apple and five international publishers: Hachette Livre, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Holtzbrinck (the publishing houses were raided back in March). The Bookseller reports:

    The Commission said it would investigate whether publishers and Apple had engaged in illegal agreements or practices that would restrict competition, and would also examine "the character and terms of the agency agreements entered into by the above named five publishers and retailers for the sale of e-books," with "concerns that these practices may breach EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices."

    On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department confirmed it, too, was investigating.

    Reuters provided the background for these investigations:

    Publishers adopted the agency model last year when Apple launched the iPad, allowing publishers to set the price of the sale of e-books. In turn, they would share revenue with the retailer. In the past, publishers would sell ebooks on a wholesale model for 50% of the retail price ... In the traditional "wholesale model," publishers set a recommended retail price, but the seller is free to offer deep discounts.

    Bloomberg reports that "Publishers' deals with retailers are also under scrutiny."

    Publishers need to get a grip on their data and take control of their advertising

    Google_logoDavid Soloff at Advertising Age took a look this week at declining advertising revenues for newspapers and magazines and placed the blame squarely on the publishers. Soloff writes:

    Publishers have not generated much of the almost infinite supply of channel-choking inventory, but they have also done next to nothing to preserve what is good and proprietary and "premium" about their own inventory. In some cases, they have chosen lowest common denominator ad networks, exchanges and supply side platforms to do the hard work of selling.

    He says publishers need to regain control of their advertising inventories and that "big data tools can dig them out of the undifferentiated, over-supplied, machine-driven nightmare of the sell side." His take on how to put the "premium" back in premium content is well worth the read.

    Publishers may want to get a grip on their data and take control of their advertising sooner rather than later. Google's retail push against Amazon may very well have consequences for online ad revenues, particularly in the retail space. Ken Doctor over at the Nieman Lab took a look at Google's plans to enter the retail/ shipping business and its possible implications. He points out that "[r]etailers don't want to advertise; they want to sell stuff," and he says there's no loyalty in advertising:

    Give [retailers] new routes to sell stuff, and deliver it more cheaply than they could before, and they'll migrate their ad/marketing/lead generation dollars. So, if Google can really make it easier to personalize, routinize and make more efficient the selling process, it will place itself between the seller and the buyer. As it does that, it replaces the newspaper as middleman, further reducing much of the revenue that is keeping newsrooms staffed, even if many of them are now half-staffed at best.

    Read it Later identifies the most-read authors on the web

    Read it Later recently passed 4 million users. Earlier this year, the service used data gathered from its users to look at online reading behavior and how it's affected by the "time shifting" content afforded by mobile technologies. This week, the company released a new study identifying the most-read authors on the web. The study looked at data gathered between May and October 2011, which was based on 47 million-plus saves, according to the report.

    Who came out on top? Have a look:

    Read It Later's most-read web authors

    The study also looked at longevity and loyalty — the authors with the best return rates, or those with stories readers returned to in some way. The report points out that "[t]he most interesting thing isn't just that we found different authors for the top 'return rate,' but also different categories of content and types of publishers."

    Author return rate

    The full report can be found here.

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    December 02 2011

    Publishing News: One publishing experiment ends, another begins

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

    An experiment in publishing comes to an end

    The final book in The Domino Project, Sarah Kay's poem "B," was published this week — roughly one year after the project began. Seth Godin, the author and founder of the project, put together a list of lessons learned.

    The entire list is well worth the read, but here are a couple of highlights:

    1. Permission is still the most important and valuable asset of the web (and of publishing). The core group of 50,000 subscribers to the Domino blog made all the difference in getting the word out and turning each of our books into a bestseller. It still amazes me how few online merchants and traditional publishers (and even authors) have done the hard work necessary to create this asset. If you're an author in search of success and you don't pursue this with single-minded passion, you're making a serious error ...

    2. The ebook is a change agent like none the book business has ever seen. It cuts the publishing time cycle by 90%, lowers costs, lowers revenue and creates both a long tail and an impulse-buying opportunity. This is the most disruptive thing to happen to books in four hundred years. It's hard for me to see significant ways traditional book publishers can add the value they're used to adding when it comes to marketing ebooks, unless they get busy with #1 ...

    7. The ebook marketing platform is in its technical infancy. There are so many components that need to be built ... Ebooks are way too hard to give as gifts and to share. Too hard to integrate into social media. And the ebook reader is a lousy platform for discovery and promotion of new titles (what a missed chance). All that will happen, the road map is there, but it's going to take commitment from Apple, B&N and Amazon ...

    Godin also put together a project wrap-up over at Squidoo, and here's Godin explaining his motivations for The Domino Project:

    A journalist blazes a new trail

    As the news media continues to struggle with all things digital and keeping the books in the black, journalists are finding work harder and harder to come by. Marc Herman, a freelance journalist (notably for The Atlantic), decided to try carving out his own niche. Leaving behind the beleaguered middlemen, Herman turned a long-form story into a Kindle Singles ebook, "The Shores of Tripoli," and put it up for sale. He talks about the experience in a recent post on his blog:

    The Kindle Single was my agent's idea. Amazon provided an experienced editor who offered notes and a copy editor who checked the grammar and usage, and hired a designer to make the cover. This proved, in my case, a workable middle option. It was a way to tell the story in a way that reminded me of magazine journalism, but avoided the intense competition for the attention of a handful of editors in the traditional press who still buy this sort of work. And it's providing the possibility of ultimately funding the work — we sell it, very inexpensively, for consumption on Kindle readers, and smartphones, tablets and PCs with a Kindle app.

    Herman is looking into working with a team of people to produce more complex stories involving video and other media — see his "Meanwhile, in Egypt" blog post for more on that.

    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 changing roles of authors requires more personalization

    This week the Wall Street Journal looked at how bookstores are changing author presentations. Rather than offering the old straight-up book readings, stores are asking authors for personal presentations that better connect with attendees.

    For the story, Vivien Jennings, owner of Rainy Day Books, described author visits at her shop, explaining that "the shop would sponsor only author events that featured a conversation or a mini-lecture, a PowerPoint presentation or perhaps a slide show, all followed by a question-and-answer session and — at most — the recitation of a paragraph or two from the book to illustrate a point."

    The personal approach is becoming more common, especially as bookstore owners, authors and readers embrace social networking platforms. In a recent post for Radar, Sarah Milstein wrote about how Celia Sack, owner of Omnivore Books in San Francisco, is benefiting from personal connections with readers and authors alike. Milstein described one of Sack's first Twitter successes:

    Although Twitter was Sack's "only technological milieu," it didn't take her long to figure out that she could use it to connect with other people. Food writer David Lebovitz (@davidlebovitz) was an early inspiration. "I wrote him [an @Message] and said, 'I know you don't have a book now, but if you're ever in SF, I'd love to have you come give a talk." He responded enthusiastically, and the proverbial light bulb went off for Sack.

    If anyone is still wondering if an author can really connect through social platforms, check out Neil Gaiman's Twitter ecosystem, or consider the power of a Mindy Kaling tweet:

    Harvard Book Store tweet to Mindy Kaling


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