Print to Digital

My 2009 Publishing Heroes

Everyone is off writing prediction posts for 2010 (follow them on George’s wonderful tracker), I thought I might take a brief minute or two to consider the heroes of 2009. At least my heroes. I tried to keep it to a small list (5) and I chose them for personal reasons, they may grate with some (and yes I kinda broke my own limit with one of them).

Dominique Raccah – The Innovator
When I saw Dominique speak at TOC Frankfurt I was blown away. She was the breath of fresh air that I had been waiting for in the industry, she is passionate, articulate and insanely clever. She grasped the challenge of publishing in the present age brilliantly and has responded in kind. Her discussion of the publishing continuum has revolutionised my thinking on digital offerings and content and her passion for her company and its future is manifest and heartening. She is at the core of the discussion about how to respond to the challenge of digital content from the publishers perspective and I think she has the answers. She is a hero for 2010, and I suspect for many years to come too.

Mike Cane – The Writer’s Advocate and Alarm Bell
Cane provides solid analysis (caked as it can sometimes be in vitriolic hyperbole). His vision is not even remotely tainted by the fact that it comes solidly from a writers perspective, in fact in many ways that is his strength. Too much for some, he is never shy with his opinion but willing to respond when challenged and corrected.

The Quartet – The Try-ers
They briefly excited the online e-vangelist echo chamber with their hopes and ambitions for a digital only press. They failed. Trying something big and scary and failing publicly can be disheartening, dispiriting and depressing. But the Quartet have dusted themselves off and moved on with a speed and alacrity that is impressive.

James Bridle – The Inventor
James continues to amaze with the work he produces and the ideas he brings to fruition. I heartily recommend following him if only for the sense of wonder you have when you read about his latest project or the awe you feel when looking at the pictures he produces of them.

Jose Afonso Furtado – The Source
A seeming unstinting dedication to reading and linking out to the best stories online in the media, publishing and book sphere, is Jose’ great strength. If you follow his twitter deed you will be connected and in the loop on just about all the trends you might need to monitor.

It’s not a long list, but I think it’s a good one!
Eoin

Bookshops Are Dead: And I Killed Them


2009 was a weak year for me in book reading terms. I read perhaps 26 or so (with some extra I’m fairly sure I have forgotten):

    1) Europe Between The Oceans
    2) A Fire Upon The Deep
    3) The Ascent of Money
    4) Blood of the Mantis
    5) The Training Ground
    6) Dragonfly Falling
    7) The Blade itself
    8) Millennium
    9) Before They Are Hanged
    10) Ireland in 2050
    11) Gutenberg Revolution
    12) Empire in Black & Gold
    13) Empire of the Sea
    14) Edward I: A Great & Terrible Kind
    15) The Last Argument of Kings
    16) The Steel Remains
    17) The Dreaming Void
    18) The Adamantine Palace
    19) Defying Empire
    20) The Darkness That Comes Before
    21) A Shadow in Summer
    22) A Betrayal in Winter
    23) An Autumn War
    24) Young Miles
    25) The Stars My Destination
    26) Earthman, Come Home

On the other hand I bought quite a few more than that, perhaps something like 50 or 60 books. I’m hoping to push the read figure up towards 45 or so and if I’m really lucky, I might even average one a week.

Serious thoughts
I was thinking while calculating this poor reading effort of the changes that Seth Godin pointed to in a recent post:

iTunes and file sharing killed Tower Records. The key symptom: the best customers switched. Of course people who were buying 200 records a year would switch. They had the most incentive. The alternatives were cheaper and faster mostly for the heavy users.

He drew a comparison with books and Amazon’s recent somewhat questionable Kindle news, that they sold more books via Kindle than in paper on Christmas day:

Amazon and the Kindle have killed the bookstore. Why? Because people who buy 100 or 300 books a year are gone forever. The typical American buys just one book a year for pleasure. Those people are meaningless to a bookstore. It’s the heavy users that matter, and now officially, as 2009 ends, they have abandoned the bookstore. It’s over.

I think Seth is right and yet wrong. He is right, bookstores as we’ve known them are dead. But Amazon killed them long before they released the Kindle. Cheap books delivered through the mail are the way forward for those of is who buy in large numbers (I’m probably a medium rank buyer of books).

The Book Depository sucks up a good 60% of my book buying at the moment and accounts for almost all my new book purchases with 10% or less spent in chain stores or supermarkets. The rest is spread very unevenly as follows: 25% in second-hand and car-boot sale locations (Ravenbooks features here and I suspect in 2010 will feature even more) which is made up almost exclusively of out of print and pre-2000 books, the last 5% or so gets spent fairly randomly everywhere from good independents, to local shops with self published titles and random online direct purchases and ebooks (I’m still primary print and suspect I will always be so, despite a belief and passion for digital text).

He is wrong, however, when he says that the top rank of book buyers are gone for ever from print, because many of those buying books on Kindle will buy some, get some free and eventually return to print books, many more of the top buyers will simply ignore digital books in favour of print because they like it.

This is not a defence of print against digital (like this op-ed from Jonathan Galassi president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux) as, ultimately, I believe the bulk of books will be read digitally before the end of the teens, but it is not as simple a case as music when whether or not you had a cd or an mp3 makes little difference to the listener, the quality was just the same and the process of using it fairly similar too. Books on the other hand are usable on their own without input from a device of any kind and with the proviso that there is light. Those readers who, like me, still enjoy the experience of reading in print will still buy in print even as the price of print books rises.

So there will be demand for print books but at a much reduced level (because many others will shift to digital as will casual readers and new readers) and the economics of bookshops will become completely skewed favouring the online Emporia. Booksellers can react by hand-selling to customers and making themselves relevant as Ravenbooks has (I am increasingly sure of finding a pile of relevant books there every time I walk in) and no doubt this will mean concentrating on older books, out-of-print books and second-hand books, books that appeal directly to the customer, and print-on-demand books printed directly on site (though I am less convinced of the economic case for this).

Whatever way you look at it though, by not buying in chain stores, and rarely enough in independents, I killed the chain bookshop and I got away with it!

More to come today!
Eoin

Nintendo DSi & FLIPS: A Review

Just before Christmas this year (2009), I was sent a Nintendo DSi and three FLIPS digital books free of charge and no strings attached (well with a view to reviewing them string attached) by O’Leary PR.

First, a word on reviews and sending me products. I’m not normally into that kind of thing. After all, I’m not here for freebies and they really won’t sway my opinion one way or the other. O’Leary responded to a post I wrote about the impact of digital change on Children’s books and the product they sent was very appropriate to my work so I felt it was a good deal on both sides. In other words, it was a rare event and one I’d suggest is unlikely to occur too often.

To business
The DSi is a very pretty piece of engineering and computing. It reminds me almost immediately of my old GameBoy and that can’t be a bad thing, after all that was glued to my hand for about two straight years. But when you start playing with it you realise that a GameBoy doesn’t even come close. It’s not just that the DSi has a camera, wi-fi connectivity, two screens and notably colour (which I never even imagined was a possibility) but it’s also the touch screen interface (admittedly with a stylus which seems very early noughties now) the screen shifting capability and the download-able content that make this a special piece of kit. it won’t ever replace my wonderful iPod touch but I did find myself thinking that for certain purposes, especially complex games like Settlers and Civilization, the DSi would have lots of advantages over the touch.

The meat
Electronic Arts announced its first FLIPS products in October 2008. They went on sale in December. So what are they? Essentially digital book packages.

I spent most of my time using the Artemis Fowl FLIPS, if only because that was the one that appealed most to me and not because the author, Eoin Colfer, is Irish. You get quite a lot for the money you pay. At a retail price of just £24.99 you get 7 books and a bundle of extras. The best thing about the FLIPS is that they are not just books made to work on a device, the books have embedded features like links to information that might be useful or helpful to a new reader, collectible pieces of code that build into a readable text as well as illustrations displayed on a double screen in what seemed to me a most book-like manner.

I’ve enjoyed reading on the DSi, the page turning is much easier to deal with than some e-reading devices, the refresh is quicker and the enhancements bring a new dimension to the experience. I also like the reward structure, that might just encourage some reluctant readers to engage, but then again, given the choice of a game over a book package, I suspect most people will skip the book and buy the game.

One thing I really like about the FLIP though is the fact that it is a bundle of books. I can see this being an attractive way to package books for children and adults. But there again that leads me to my problems with the product which are twofold.

The Problems
Firstly that in some ways, FLIPS just highlights the core challenge of books and reading in a digital connected world, as the possible uses of free time explode the danger for books is that time that might be spent reading can as easily be spent, surfing the web, playing games, watching video, listening to streamed music or doing any of the variety of digitally enabled forms of entertainment what ever handheld device you happen to be carrying allows.

Secondly that the FLIPS feels all the time like a tame version of the web. Why bother with these little cartridges is what I wonder, enable the text on a website with the links embedded, make the enhancements available online too and charge for access to the bundle, update it when new books are released and cross sell products if you want but crucially make it available to anyone willing to pay on any device anywhere that’s connected to the web.

Who wins when book publishers package books like this? Device makers I reckon.

Enjoying the last day of 2009!
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 11/12/2009

Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews to close. Frankly I find this a little strange. Even spinning them off might have been better, though survival on their own would have been pretty unlikely without serious reorganization and a fundamental rethinking of the business models.
Here

Canongate is profiled in the Wall Street Journal, that Jamie Byng has an eye for a book that can be packaged. It’d almost make ya jealous.
Here

Frankly, I don’t buy this Apple Tablet nonsense much. Apple cannot single-handedly change the industry, though they may try. In any case when Steve Jobs announces this on a stage somewhere, I’m sure I’ll want it, but until then, I shall waste no energy waiting or wanting.
Here

On the other hand, both Mike Shatzkin and Michael Hyatt have articles about new display systems for content that they claim will change the book world as we know it. I think both are right that change is coming but I have more sympathy with the Sports Illustrated demo video on Michael Hyatt’s post. After all that looks like a faster webpage with some extra features rather than something new. Webpages are the answer and so putting the web in every hand you can is the way forward for publishers and makes more sense than creating new, confusing and unnecessary formats. The trick is to make the customer pay for access to your content, not find a fancy way to display it.

Children’s books & digital

I have to say, when I read this news from EA Games last month I was not TOO blown away:

Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: ERTS) today announces the development of FLIPS, an innovative new book range created for the Nintendo DS. FLIPS has been designed to give children of all ages a fun new way to read their favorite books. EA has worked with some of the UK`s leading publishers of children’s books and magazines, including Egmont and Penguin Publishing, to bring modern classic titles from critically acclaimed authors such as Cathy Cassidy, Eoin Colfer, Enid Blyton, and the various writers from the popular boys series, `Too Ghoul for School` to the DS. Each FLIPS title features multiple books and the first four titles will be released exclusively on Nintendo DS in the UK on 4th December 2009.

But then I saw one (the Artemis Fowl-Eoin Colfer collection) in action at the CBI Digital Developments Seminar on Saturday 28 November in Tallaght Library. I’m still not blown away but I am more impressed than I thought I would be. The device is the same as any DS but the program is actually fairly clever and offers a range of extras that kids might just find enjoyable, though to a certain extent it remains in essence a book on screen. I don’t think this will be converting non-readers into readers. Still, interesting move.

One of the discussions that I tumbled into on Saturday was whether digital products opens a new market for books and will deliver new readers. I’m not sure that it will in any real sense. It may make it easier for people who have always read to read digitally, or enable people who have wanted to read but couldn’t to read with great ease, but NEW readers, people who simply didn’t read out of choice deciding to read on screen, seems unlikely, especially not book length pieces.

Still, one interesting development I spotted [in Publishers Weekly] today is that ScrollMotion are launching a series of releases for their Iceberg ereader which will be heavily child focused with:

animations, audio content, interactivity. Picture books in the Iceberg Kids format are more than books—they’re activities. The app has a sleek and entertaining aesthetic and navigational system (though all e-books will be sold as separate apps for the moment, they all share the same design and navigation system), featuring five buttons—”Read,” “Bookmark,” “Index,” “Record,” Settings,” “Help”—that make musical sounds when tapped.

To accommodate full-page illustrations in the iPhone’s small format, the application automatically pans around the illustration while the child or parent advances through the text on that page. By pinching the screen, one can move around the entire illustration at will. The text can be made larger or smaller, and automatically moves to accommodate the art.

I remain unconvinced by the need for these type of applications when they could be as easily hosted on a decent website, that had a mobile access mode, but still, it is good to see development on the area one way or the other.
Eoin