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October 10 2011

TOC Frankfurt launches with a global ebook market survey

The Global eBook Market: Current Conditions & Future ProjectionsTools of Change (TOC) and O'Reilly Media have released a new white paper, "The Global eBook Market: Current Conditions & Future Projections." Using the United States and United Kingdom as benchmarks, the study, commissioned through Rüdiger Wischenbart Content and Consulting, provides a broad survey of emerging ebook markets across Europe, Brazil and China.

Using actual data rather than forecasts, the study examines how the main drivers of digital change in the publishing industry impact those markets, taking into account local factors and the unique defining traits of each market — from market sizes to tax and pricing regimes to cultural choices.

Highlights from the study results include:

Ebook pricing — In most of Europe, ebook pricing is fixed. "Publishers usually set the retail price, and competition in books is not driven by pricing." Taking a look at average pricing shows a clear discrepancy between the US/UK and France/Germany:

Ebook Pricing Table
Average prices, in euros, for the top 10 fiction bestsellers in the US, first week of September 2011. (Sources: Publishers Weekly, The Bookseller/Nielsen, Livres Hebdo/Ipsos, and Der Spiegel/buchreport.)

The study says pressure on average pricing is bound to increase "as books are currently migrating beyond the traditional book trade to general retail channels, for example, those rooted in electronics and entertainment, like Redcoon, and as nontraditional business models arise, like subscription models or Amazon's alleged rental model."

Perceptions of digital — Google's efforts to scan and digitize copyrighted works "has resulted in the identification of the digitization of books, most broadly, as an assault on book culture and on fair compensation for intellectual property." Moreover, "'Digital' has been broadly identified with 'illegal' or at least 'unfair' use of the cultural stock, first in Germany and France, and then over time in many parts of continental Europe. In the context of an ever broader concern about digital information technologies, surveillance, and the loss of privacy, ebooks hit continental Europe at a moment when 'digital' or 'e' reading is considered to be a threat to citizens' freedom and Europe's difficult stand in a globalizing world."

Products versus license — Legal issues and regulations factor strongly in ebook market conditions. The value-added tax (VAT) in Europe is a good example. "In several European countries, book prices are regulated and are subject to reduced VAT, yet these regulations do not automatically apply to ebooks ... The problem with the VAT is that, according to the European Commission, books are considered to be products, but in the case of ebooks, the consumer is acquiring a license. This difference results in significant surcharges for ebooks and discrimination of ebooks versus printed books."

Expected growth versus perceived impact — "In 2015 in Germany, ebook penetration of between 10 and 15% of the book market is conceivable; this number is considerably lower — around 8 to 10% — for Italy or Spain ... Interestingly, when asked [in a questionnaire] if ebooks will have a relevant impact on retailers and publishers by 2015, a much broader consensus is expressed that this is most likely; hence, this anticipation is seen independent from the actual market share of ebooks."

Download "The Global eBook Market" report for free here.

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October 07 2011

Mindset over matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR

How will cloud technology affect digital publishing going forward?

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

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

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

Will we eventually see an end to territorial rights?

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

This interview was edited and condensed.

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


October 05 2011

Giving kids access to almost any book in the world

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that one in five adults worldwide is still not literate. In this interview, Elizabeth Wood (@lizzywood), director of digital publishing for Worldreader and a speaker at TOC Frankfurt, talks about the social and infrastructure issues affecting literacy and how Worldreader is making a difference. She says Worldreader's goal is to reach 1 million children by 2015.

Our interview follows.

What is

Elizabeth-Wood.jpgElizabeth Wood: Worldreader is an innovative non-profit organization that uses ereaders, like the Kindle, to cultivate a culture of reading in the developing world. Since printed materials and books are nearly impossible to come by in many areas, Worldreader uses the GSM network to give kids and teachers access to a library of electronic books.

What countries are involved at this point, and how is the project organized?

Elizabeth Wood: We have projects up and running in Ghana and Kenya, and have plans to expand soon into other African countries. Through our partnerships with technology companies, publishers, and public and private organizations, we're able to deliver thousands of local and international ebooks to students and teachers. Our key funding partners include a mix of governmental support (USAID), private investors (Jeffrey Bezos and John McCall MacBain), and foundations (The Spotlight Foundation and Social Endeavors). From publishing, we're working with big players such as Random House and Penguin, and local African publishers like EPP in Ghana and Longhorn in Kenya. On the technology side, we've teamed up with Amazon, which has provided us with discounted pricing for the Kindle 3G device and delivery support for the ebooks.

To date, we have delivered more than 56,000 ebooks to kids and teachers participating in our programs.

Once kids have the hardware and the connectivity, what needs to happen next?

Elizabeth Wood: Given that the developing world has leapfrogged the Western world in mobile phone technology, from a tech perspective, using ereaders with built-in 3G connectivity makes more sense than relying on the Internet, which is sporadic at best in places like Africa. Prior to delivering the ereaders to the kids, Worldreader registers the Kindles to our internal account database and uploads — or "pushes" — a starter collection of books into the ereader.

Once the ereaders are in kids' hands, we continue to push new content on a weekly basis. Additionally, kids and teachers can choose from more than 28,000 free books in the Kindle store and download as many as they like. They also have access to free samples (the first chapter of almost any book in the world) and some periodical subscriptions. Getting a new book is as easy as receiving a text message.

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

Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR

Can you put the global literacy situation into perspective?

Elizabeth Wood: According to UNESCO, some 793 million adults lack minimum literacy skills. That means that about one in five adults is still not literate. Additionally, 67.4 million children do not attend school, and many more attend irregularly or drop out.

In many parts of Africa and other emerging countries, there simply is no access to any sort of books or printed materials. There are no libraries, school book shelves are completely bare, and paper books that do occasionally arrive there (via expensive shipping methods) often inadequately meet the current educational needs. For many kids, Worldreader provides the only opportunity they may have in accessing any kind of book.

Worldreader believes improved reading skills empower people to change their personal economic and social situations. Over time, increased literacy helps individuals rise above poverty and creates new opportunities for families and communities.

It's early, but are ereaders making a difference at this point?

Elizabeth Wood: We are just beginning to understand the effects ereaders can have on reading, but early signs are very positive. Primary students in Ghana are showing improvements of up to 13% on reading comprehension in just five months. Anecdotally, a majority of students expressed that they never became bored of the ereader, and teachers have said they noticed increased student enthusiasm toward reading.

For additional information and stats, check out the "E-readers inspire future writers" post on the Worldreader blog and the videos on our YouTube channel, such as this video:

How is the program going so far and what's next?

Elizabeth Wood: Our iRead 1 pilot will move into its second year, really allowing us to understand the deeper effects of ereaders on literacy rates. We will be expanding to more children with the launch of iRead 2, which will affect more than 1,000 students. Worldreader will move into more markets soon, and our goal is to reach 1 million children by 2015.

This interview was edited and condensed.


October 04 2011

October 03 2011

The agile upside of XML

In a recent interview, Anna von Veh, a consultant at Say Books, and Mike McNamara, managing director at Araman Consulting Ltd & Outsell-Gilbane UK Affiliate, talked about the role of XML, the state of ebook design, and the tech-driven future of the publishing industry.

McNamara and von Veh will expand on these ideas in their presentation at TOC Frankfurt next week.

Our interview follows.

Why should publishers adopt XML?

mikemcnamara.jpgMike McNamara: There are many benefits to be gained from implementing XML in a production workflow. However, it really depends on what the publisher wants to do. For example, journal publishers probably want to reuse their content in a number of different ways for differing products and specific target markets. XML can deliver this flexibility and reusability.

A UK Legal publisher I worked with wanted to enrich its online content deliverables to its clients. The publisher added more metadata to its XML content, allowing its new search environment to deliver more accurate and focused results to clients. A fiction book publisher, on the other hand, might want to produce simple ebooks from original Microsoft Word source files and might not see any real business or technical benefit to using XML (however, I do think this will change in the future). A simple XHTML-to-ebook process might be a better option for this type of publisher.

Anna_von_Veh.jpgAnna von Veh: The very term "XML" can cause many people to run for the hills, so it's sometimes helpful to look at it differently. Do publishers want to ensure that their content is searchable and reusable for a variety of formats, in a variety of ways, for a variety of devices and even for devices that haven't yet been invented? Do they want to be able to deliver customized content to customers? If so, XML — and I include XHTML in this — is the way.

There are a number of issues. One is the value of putting legacy content into XML to make it more usable, discoverable and valuable to the publisher. The second is incorporating XML into the workflow for the front list. And then, of course, there is the question of when to incorporate XML into the workflow — at the authoring stage, editing, typesetting, post-final, etc.

While the format-centered model that most publishers are familiar with produces beautiful products, it is not one that is likely to flourish in the new world of digital publishing. Digital requires a much more rapid, flexible and agile response. Using XML, though, doesn't mean that design or creativity is dead. The hope is that it will help automate work that is being done manually over and over again, and allow publishers the freedom to focus on great ideas and creative use of their content.

What is the best way to integrate XML into an existing workflow?

Mike McNamara: I don't believe there is one "best" way. Again, it's down to what is the best way that suits that particular publisher. "XML first," "XML last" and "XML in the middle" all have their own costs, implementation requirements and benefits. I tend to favor the XML-first option, as I believe it delivers more benefits for the publisher. Though it would probably introduce more change for an organization than the other options (XML last and XML in the middle).

Anna von Veh: If you're a large publishing company with a bigger budget and lots of legacy content, then you might want to move to a full content management system (CMS) with an XML-first workflow. But a smaller publisher may want to focus on a digital-friendly Word and InDesign workflow that makes "XML last" easier. However, incorporating XML early into the workflow certainly has benefits. The challenges revolve around changing how you think about producing, editing and designing content and managing the change process.

How future-proof is XML? Will it be supplanted at some point by something like JSON?

Mike McNamara: XML is a very future-proof method for ensuring long-term protection of content. It is the format chosen by many digital archives and national libraries. True, JSON has become very popular of late, but it is mainly used today for API development, financial transactions, and messaging — and by web developers. I think JSON has a long way to go before it supplants XML — as we know and use it today — as a structured content format for use in publishing.

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

Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR

Is ebook design in a rut?

Mike McNamara: No, it's still developing. More thought needs to be put into adding value to the content before it gets to the ebook. Take travel guides, for example. If I want a travel book to use in the field, say on a hiking holiday, I don't want to have to carry the print product. I want the same content reconfigured as an ebook with a GPS/Wi-Fi environment added to use on my smartphone, with everything referenced from the same map that I saw in the print version.

Publishers need to get smarter with the data they have, and then deliver it in the different ways that users need.

Anna von Veh: Many current ebooks are conversions from printed books, either scanned from the printed copy or converted from PDFs. These ebooks weren't designed or planned as ebooks, and in addition, quality control was lacking after they'd been made into ebooks — and these are very bad advertisements for ebook design. Many new ebooks (i.e. those in the front list) are much better designed. However, most are still based on the idea of the print book.

A key thing is to focus on is the fact that a screen is not contained in the same way that a printed book is, and that it is an entirely different format (see Peter Meyers' great A New Kind of Book blog, and upcoming "Breaking the Page" book). I think of ebook design as being much more akin to website design, which is why I advocate hiring web designers. I like the idea of starting with the web and going to print from there. It seems right for the digital age. Also, I think anyone working in book production today — both editors and designers — should learn some web skills. Hand coding simple EPUBs is a good way to practice, and it is relevant, too.

How will digital publishing change over the next five years? Are we headed toward a world where books are URLs?

Mike McNamara: More and more content will continue to be published online. Many reference publishers are already looking to add more value to content through metadata. This would allow clients to find the right content for their immediate context via sophisticated search engines. Some publishers already allow clients to build their own licensed versions of publications from the publishers' content repositories, with automatic updates being applied as and when needed.

Consequently, publishers will continue to move toward having even smaller, more focused chunks of XML data, allowing easy assembly into virtual publications. These will all be available to download and read on multiple devices, focusing on smartphones and tablets.

The combination of smarter XML (with multimedia information), smarter search engines and smarter reading devices will define how content is created and delivered over the coming years.

Anna von Veh: In answer to the first part of the question, it depends on what we understand "digital publishing" to mean. I like to think of it as the process of publishing — i.e. the workflow itself rather than the format. In terms of the process, yes, I think the web will have a big role to play (see PressBooks), but once again, it depends on how open publishers are to change.

Much will depend, too, on exactly who the publishers are in the next five years. I think it is highly likely that tech startups will make up a large piece of the publishing pie, though they may be bought up by larger publishers and tech companies. Some of the big vendors that hold much of the current knowledge of digital publishing (and therefore, perhaps, power) may move into publishing. There are also the smaller indie and self publishers that aren't hampered so much by legacy issues. On the other hand, big publishers have financial muscle and experience in content creation, design and editorial. It's an exciting time.

As for the format, I wouldn't bet against the web there, either. I'm a fan of the web in general (my favorite ebook reader is the browser-based Ibis Reader). In mainstream publishing, a lot of educational content is migrating to the web and learning management systems (LMS).

Even if books become URLs, what is needed is a cheap and easy print-on-demand (POD) home printer and bookbinder, or print "ATM," like the Espresso Book Machine. There are many situations where printed books are still required, not the least of which are countries in poorer parts of the world where the web is a luxury. Arthur Attwell's startup Paperight is a great POD idea designed for developing countries, and it also provides publishers with income. Mobile phones, too, are gaining ground in developing countries, and they're being used for a variety of innovative businesses. Smartphones could well become the main way to read content all over the world, whether that content is contained in ebooks, website books, or other forms.

But this just looks at the technology side of things. People bond emotionally with books and stories, with the authors who create them, and with other readers who share their interests. Potentially, connections could be built between readers and the editors and designers who shape the books. In this digitally connected but often physically separated world, all these connections are becoming both easier and more important, irrespective of what form the content takes or where it lives.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Photo on home and category pages: XML_logo by Jmh2o, on Wikimedia Commons


  • The line between book and Internet will disappear

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  • Here's another reason why metadata matters
  • Sometimes the questions are as enlightening as the answers

  • October 01 2010

    Bookish Techy Week in Review

    This week was super busy in the bookish techy world. Too busy perhaps. While it was not easy to pare down my list of links, I’ve done my best. There should be something here for everyone - from lovers of Snooki to fans of Babylonian poetry -- there’s even a nice passel of posts for those who want a preview of what yours truly has been spending all her time working on of late: TOC Frankfurt. Read on!

    Sometimes you just have to laugh…

    Surveys and data and research and stuff

    From the wonderful world of retailing

    Inspirational deep thoughts and actions

    If, like me, you’ve grown weary of the endless supply of whiny articles lamenting the death of the printed book and the increasingly hard knock life of the author -- take a break from all that and check out some folks and projects that will make you happy to be a part of these bookish techy times:

    TOC Frankfurt - a preview

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