e-text

Ebooks, heating up? People disagree!

Eoin Purcell

Seriously mixed up day for me on the ebook front, reading wise that is! I still find it hard to deal with the fact that there can be such differing opinions on ebooks as you’ll read here. On the one hand I read this considered post by Trevor Dolby on the Bookbrunch blog:

The simple truth is that at present these devices are not changing the way we read. No matter how much vested interests bellow at me in an attempt to change my mind, they are not going to persuade me that my cat is a dog.

No one can dispute that mp3 players revolutionized the way we listen to music. They did so because the technology was a clear advance. But books are uniquely suited to paper. All these devices do is mimic electronically what the humble ink on paper does. The only USPs are rather minor. You can have 100 books with you at any one time – how many books can you read over a week? And you can get new ones quicker. (I’ll save the price issue for another time.) I don’t think I’m unique in the use of my e-reader. It’s continually running out of battery power, it’s slow, and, crucially, I cannot advertise how clever and interesting I am to young ladies on the Tube, since there’s no cover.

I will go along with him on the basics there, perhaps the devices are not that nice looking or that clever and maybe, as he says in the final notes of the piece:

It is the convergent devices that will take over the market. The unannounced but pretty much certain iTablet and its equivalents will be the devices that we all read books on. OK, you say, so what about e-Ink – isn’t that supposed to be the major distinguishing feature? Well you are not going to tell me that Steve Jobs hasn’t made a call to a small team of boffins in Cupertino and said, Right fellas, I want a program that mimics e-Ink: stable and energy-efficient and looks like “the real thing”.

In five years the Kindle and Sony e-book will no longer exist. On our wafer-thin computers, like large iPods, we will be reading a book while listening to music. The phone will ring or mail will ping, the machine will ask if you want to answer, you will chat, then the machine will ask if you want to continue reading. As for battery life, these devices will recharge continually via wi-fi.

Then I read this piece in Publishers Weekly:

Of e-book downloads through July, 40% were made to computers, down from 48% at the end of the first quarter. Quickly gaining in market share over the summer were downloads to the Kindle. This was especially true in July, when downloads to computers plunged, while downloads to the Kindle soared. As a result, in July, for the first time in PubTrack’s monthly survey of consumers, Kindle downloads topped computers, accounting for 45% of all e-book downloads in the month. Also enjoying a spike in July were downloads to the iPhone, likely due to the release of the new 3G iPhone and accompanying e-book apps. That July spurt in iPhone downloads came after a lull in the spring and brought the iPhone’s market share at the end of July close to where it was in the first quarter. And while Sony created a lot of buzz last week with the announcement of its new wireless device (see p. 6), it has lots of ground to cover before it catches the Kindle, holding only a 6% market share at the end of July.

And as you can see that certainly suggests that we need to keep an eye on the Kindle and Sony and the convergent devices may not be as great as Trevor might wish. Finally I read this piece on the Thomas RIggs % Co. blog, An eBook Reality Check:

According to Bowker, in 2008 ebooks represented only 0.6 percent of all books sold in the United States. The majority of buyers were men, and more than half were between the ages of 18 and 34. This year ebook sales will still be less than 2 percent of the U.S. book market.

Here’s something else to ponder.

Most people prefer paper. According to a recent survey, only 37 percent of Americans are interested in buying an ereader. Here in France I’m often at the beach and see one person after another stetched out in the sun reading a paperback. Not an ereader in sight.

Now to me that Thomas Riggs post is the outlier of the pack. You only need to look at the industry stats on the IDPF website to see that although those 2008 stats are interesting, the Q2 2009 figures are almost 3 Times the Q2 figures. So where do these divergent views come from? How can people in the same industry on the one hand think a) ebooks are that big and b) ebooks are big, c) that the Kindle and Sony Reader are growing and d) that the Kindle and Sony Reader are dead.

Still thinking about digital.
Eoin

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Publishers, Survival is not a right!

Eoin Purcell

Craning for a book (From Flickr user: gaspi)

Craning for a book (From Flickr user: gaspi)

Noble thoughts, but misplaced
I read an interesting blog post the other day about the demise of print publishing. It was written by Indie Publisher, Barbara Philips of Bridge Works Books on the Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency blog. The ideas were worthy and valid (if pervaded by a sense that publishers have a RIGHT to exist) and in fact will work for a while, but overall the post was totally misguided.

For the record the suggestions were:

1) change immediately the pernicious practice of Returns. Speaking of buggy whips, bookseller and wholesaler returns of unsold books to the publisher for full refunds is an anachronism that should be stopped immediately and all publishers, large and small, should rally against it and set a date, say January 2012, after which no returns will be countenanced.
2) Make life easier for the beleaguered publisher. I’ve often observed there seem to be more writers out there than readers. If an author wants her book to be published by a legitimate publisher, with professional editing, distribution and publicity, she might consider becoming a partner with the publisher who signs her up, either by giving up advances on royalties or royalties altogether and taking a cut of the profits. This would be especially good for first-time authors.
3) Continue to expand other venues for book selling, and find new ones, for instance, publishing simultaneously in offset print and digitally. Right now, as we wrangle, a few large publishers are trying this method out.

Dealing with them one by one
Killing Returns is a double edged sword. Yes it will save publishers from the practice of retailers and wholesalers paying for new books by returning old unsold ones, but equally it will force publishers to cut print runs (reducing margin) and find better ways to sell books than stacking them high and hoping display does the trick (as it often does). I’m not saying this is a bad thing, in fact both these things would be good for publishers, it’s about time we printed the right amount of books rather too many and connecting with the audience properly is well worthwhile in the medium to long term.

Changing the publishing deal. This is eminently sensible. HarperStudio seem to be making some waves by following this strategy (Combined with Killing Returns). The problem, as I see it is that this remains a short termist strategy.

As the cost and difficulty of becoming your own publisher crashes (the last barriers remain access to bricks and mortar bookshops and distribution) more authors will take their self created platforms and followings and become their own publisher avoiding entirely the traditional distribution channels and selling online.

Being against Selling in more ways is like being against Apple Tart (Pie) or (Cotton) Candy-floss. Sure everyone wants to sell the same content in as many possible formats as we can, but what if consumers don’t want to pay anything like the were willing to pay for the print version?

The Traditional Publishing Model

The Traditional Publishing Model

These are not strategies, they are tactics
None of these moves are actions that will change the fundamental reality of book publishing for Indie or Major publishers. There are real strategies that might work (no-one knows though). You can delve into a niche like Osprey, Tor or Adams media. You can try and be the best marketer of general books as I believe HarperStudio is. Even better you can buy the best assets (Seth Godin‘s Purple Cow(s)) there are and use them as the foundation of your publishing business like Bloomsbury is doing. But the rest is just window dressing on a collapsing superstructure that cannot hold.

What The Digital World Enables

What The Digital World Enables

If you don’t trust my judgement on this, read Seth Godin’s recent post on competing with the single minded, read Mike Shtazkin on vertical niches, read Tim O’Reilly’s archive on publishing.

The world has changed. Publishers should certainly try and embrace a new way of business, but it needs to be entirely more radical than just killing returns, changing contracts, selling through more channels and sharing profits with authors. The industry needs to embrace the reality that power has shifted away from publishers and get on with figuring out if we can survive this shift the impact of which is only gradually being felt. Eventually everyone will realise that it has happened (Amazon and Google have certainly figured it out and so have Apple) and when they do, the change will become much more rapid. YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO SURVIVAL.

I am the proud owner of Season Two of Mad Men in DVD, sadly Season Three is already started, I am destined to be behind the curve in that show!
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 02/05/2009

Eoin Purcell

Some fascinating data about iPhone app downloads and how they flow.
Story on Techcrunch & Original Source

The Digital Market is worth £80million in the UK according to this piece in the Bookseller.

A pretty interesting build-your-own-textbook offering from Norton is the US. The story is here and the actual etextbook website here.

A really interesting piece by Tim O’Reilly on books and reinventing them for the web.

A great post by Michael Hyatt on building a platform for authors!

Enjoy the bank holiday if you have one!
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 06/04/2009

Eoin Purcell

There is a boycott going on of Amazon Kindle books that are priced over $9.99. Kassia has a good analysis.
Here

if:book and the Arts Council of England have an interesting but ultimately (in my mind) useless project to publish an illuminated book for the digital age. I wish I could like this but I can’t, I see no value added by making this type of website pretend to be a book. Who benefits, why go to the extra effort, are we using the new medium to its best, I suspect not. All told I think this is like putting book readings on TV, pointless and not very exciting.
Here

Consolidation in the universe of self publishing (a weak gag I’ll admit).
Here

Official notice that Mike Shatzkin of Idea Logical Company has a blog, I’ve yet to not like a post! While you are reading his blog you should also check out his fascinating and I think useful enterprise, FiledbyAuthor.
Here

Book Depository & Google Preview – I like it

Eoin Purcell

Happy Accident
I stumbled across the fact that Book Depository is using google’s preview function (I assume as part of Google Book’s recent API release: read the blog post and visit the API homepage).

It sits just under the front cover picture and jumps the reader down to the lower portion of the page when clicked. It is a nifty UI though I was a bit puzzled about how I could return to the top at first, and given that you would be hoping to make a sale and the buy button is at the top, this might be an issue!

Wider thoughts?
All told it is a very nice feature. As if I needed a new reason to add books to either my to be read or to be bought piles. The best example I’ve stumbed on so far is this one for Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalization.

On a reader/buyer level this is a sweet use of Google’s systems and data. Looking at it from a broader perspective I’d also find little to worry me. On the one hand no one else is really in a position to supply this kind of feature, expect maybe Amazon (who seem unlikely to do so lest they damage the competitive advantage that their Search inside feature offers them).

On the other hand, it seems like a cop out as a publisher to say that it’s okay for Google to be the only one in a position to do this! We must be letting ourselves down somewhere when we admit that!

Still, nice feature and executed well too.

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 17/07/2008

Eoin Purcell

The I missed a lot in the last few days edition

Publishing News is closing shop on its print and online news operations. These seems sad and a little depressing to me. I like The Bookseller and I have enjoyed the way their website has grown more functional and useful over the last year or so, but a bit of competition never goes astray.
Here

Speaking of The Bookseller, Penguin CEO John Makinson has a nice little piece online there about the forbiding nature of the Publishing industry to outsiders.
Here

Amazon have an HaperCollins implant working with them. Intriguing>
Here

Alan Sutton, my former boss @ Nonsuch Ireland, comes back from the ashes again with a new firm. He never stays down that man. it’s pretty impressive. You’ll note too that the comment thread has had to be policed and clamped down for the night!
Here

AND THE BIG NEWS
iTunes Apps Store turns out to be a bloody good way of selling e-books or at the very least of hosting them for sales. More on this next week when i think it through properly.
Here, Here, Here, Here, Here and Here

Paperless Proofs: the way forward?

Eoin Purcell

I was in Edinburgh on Wednesday
At the Scottish Publishing Centre for a training course in proofing. I really enjoyed the course as I needed the direction. The tutor was Barbara Horn who was incredibly friendly, very good at what she did and very efficient too. I really learned a hell of a lot.

The reason I bring it up is because, during our lunch break, Barbara showed us an very very exciting new program called Paperless Proofs.

The basic idea is to take the paper out of the proofing process and make the entire editorial workflow, digital. I like what it has to offer and I thought it worth posting about.

My only concern is that if one is going to proof online, why not cut out the unnecessary stages altogether and proof in Indesign or Quark and actually make the change. Using Paperless Proofs, at least record is created though and can be filed for tracking, even if in doing so you institute a whole extra level of process.

Still, it struck me as an interesting move forward.

Ahh the weekend,
Eoin