Bloomsbury’s Online Library

Eoin Purcell

Bloomsbury’s launched a new e-lending service
The details are interesting:

How will it work?
• The Bloomsbury Library Online will be sold on subscription – libraries will subscribe to a bookshelf for a year at a time and will pay according to the size of population served.
• New titles will be added on a continuous basis – free of charge within the subscription year.
• Users will click through from the Library terminals or through an online portal accessible via any web browser (including those found on iPhone and Blackberry) anytime, anywhere in the UK.
• Text accessible through screen readers and therefore available to blind and partially-sighted users.

The system is being run in association with the wonderful exact editions. Bloomsbury claim that it will:

transform the relationship between publishers and libraries, and between libraries and readers

PaidContent have pointed out one possible problem:

If there’s a problem, it’s that the ebook platform market is fragmented – Bloomsbury’s library includes only Bloomsbury’s titles while Exact Editions rival Overdrive carries Penguin, Random House, Hachette Livre and HarperCollins – and, though text can be printed, the experience of reading a book in a web browser is pretty unsatisfying if it’s a novel you’re reading.

I’m not sure that the fragmentation matters all that much. What does matter is that Bloomsbury are there first with a clever system that works well and is based on a tried and tested platform.

In fact
I think the existing notes miss three angles on this launch. One, if Bloomsbury can lock in a good number of libraries to their platform, they will have an advantage over their competitor publishers, how many e-platforms will libraries want to use after all?

Two, the installed base of libraries will help Bloomsbury research how readers use e-platforms, the quirks of reading online.

Three, given that Richard Charkin has had extensive experience of building e-platforms or at least of overseeing divisions of a publisher that were building them (I thinking of Nature specifically here but he was a strong proponent of blogging aswell!) I’d bet on this succeeding. It also fits well into the strategy I’ve considered for Bloomsbury previously

Google Books & The Orphan Works Problem

Eoin Purcell

Some People Who Are Smarter Than Me
Have been doing a great deal of thinking about the Orphan Works part of the Google Book Search Settlement.

Mike Shatzkin has a few posts on the issue. A slightly different take on the Google settlement hits onto the idea that exploiting the few titles (in percentage terms but still quite large group of titles) that could warrant a full scale print run would be very lucrative:

My hunch is that the biggest revenue generator across the entire load of copyrights that the settlement will liberate for at least the next ten years will be books printed in press-run quantities. Who ever thought that the biggest beneficiaries of the Google settlement in the medium term could be agents and packagers? If somebody has previously mentioned the possibility, I hadn’t noticed. It only occurred to me day before yesterday.

Cairns reminds me that our friend (and fellow Michael) Cader thinks that the chances of any real “gems” being found in this orphan pile are remote. Of course, things that are remote possibilities happen from time to time over enough occurrences, and there will be a lot of books liberated. Surely there are many, in the categories mentioned above and others, that will warrant a first printing of 3,000 or 5,000 or 10,000, or with the right packaging and promotion, even more than that. Even in these troubled times, there might be some additions to staff at packagers or publishers to sift through these opportunities. Assuming these deals are to be made by the Book Rights Registry, let’s hope they have an agent on the staff along with the database sales manager.

But then in his second post, More on the Google settlement, he realised he was in error:

Why was that element left out of the settlement? Did the negotiating parties even contemplate it? And exactly how useful is the “orphan” relief if this huge portion of the potential revenue (and public value) is omitted? Were the parties so fixated on electronic exploitation that they just didn’t notice this?

It looks like the need for Congress to act is about as urgent as it was before. The Copyright Office has long noted the need for Orphan Works legislation in a host of contexts and has been unable to goad our legislators to take the necessary steps. It had been my hope that the Google settlement cut the Gordian knot, but it would appear that the problem of true public access is a long way from being solved.

There’s more of course
It’s quite a pickle this settlement. Adam Hodgkins recently offered his thoughts on where he saw the ebook/digital book market and they are certainly worth reading. Most importantly he points to Apple’s role:

The position that Apple have announced for themselves is stylish, decisive and agnostic. Apple doesn’t mind whether books are based in the cloud as web resources, or shipped around the internet as book-specific file formats. Web-based books, digital editions and ebook file formats can all run easily on the iPhone if that is what is needed: “Open house, come over here and play”. That is the message from Cupertino. But Apple is also saying that if you want to trade these new booky gizmos on the Apple platform and sell them through the Apple e-commerce system, you will be expected to pay 30% of the gross to Apple. While you are at it you might as well call them Apps. In consideration for this courteous invitation, Apple will handle the transaction and any strictly necessary hosting fees.

Adam has also made some interesting points about which platform will won out pne where you use a device to download an ebook or one where you use and online service like GBS (Or Exact Editions).

In many ways though his post, Google Book Search and the Tragedy of the Anti-Commons, hit on what Mike stumbled on too though he didn’t quite raise it explicitly, discussing instead the foreign territory issue, which is for me and mst people outside of the US a bit issue:

There is a good chance that the Google Books Settlement is going to show us all how this tragedy of the anti-commons works out in the world of books. The Google project, which is backed by the American publishers and American Authors’s representatives should be (in my view will be) a wonderful resource for American universities, schools, public libraries and through them for American consumers. By 2011, if the Settlement is approved, at least 5 million out of print but not yet out of copyright [OOPnotYOOC] titles will be available to readers in the US market. This resource will have little opportunity to work so well for authors, readers and consumers in the rest of the world. The books will by and large not be available in the rest of the world (perhaps in American embassies?).

Where does all this leave us?
I suspect that there will be quite a lot of activity around the out of print but not yet out of copyright books that Mike Identified as the most lucrative. For one thing, there is money to be made and a good chance that no backflow will result. It would be wonderful if an agreement could be reached to cover what would happen if a rights holder cam out of the wood work many years later or even after a reasonable period of research was undertaken in an attempt to secure permission.

For another the technology to allow one off one copy printing will be spread much more widely over the next few years and that will put pressure on digital warehouses to serve these titles, especially if discovery of these titles gets easier.

So, all in all I think there are many questions to be answered here and no-one to really answer them. One thing is becoming clear though, Google are winning whatever happens, despite the settlement!

Watch this space, I don’t think the fat lady has begun to sing just yet!

PS: And, if you are Irish, The Irish Times has a decent summary of what the deal will mean for Irish Authors.

Google Book Search Deal – The impact, initial thoughts

Eoin Purcell

So here are my initial thoughts & a poll

1) What about the rest of the world?
In the short term this just reinforces the impression that Europe is way behind America in making digital trade publishing a reality.

It not just that Amazon isn’t even bothering to launch Kindle in the UK in 2008 or that despite some decent sales, Sony’s Reader is making only ripples, but by being outside of this deal and being split into dozens of separate territories, Europe will be waiting for years until it is covered by a deal as comprehensive as thus! Just as it is taking years for sales of TV shows to shuffle onto our iTunes accounts.

As a consumer that is a frustration, as a small publisher it means more waiting, more second guessing myself and much much more wondering what the hell IS going to happen. The truth is, Google has the capacity to act to create an open market, just as Amazon has the capacity to create a closed market (as it is with Kindle).

Sub Note: The Proposed notice from Google & it soppents does contains ome details for the publishers of non-us books. Not sure how far it takes us but in any case here it is:

STATES: If you are a rightsholder who is a national of, or is otherwise located in, a country other than the United States, you are likely to own a U.S. copyright interest if (a) your Book was published in the United States, or (b) your Book was not published in the United States, but your country has copyright relations with the United States because it is a member of the Berne Convention, or (c) your country had copyright relations with the United States at the time of the Book’s publication. You should assume that you own a U.S. copyright interest in your Book, unless you are certain that your Book was published in, and that you reside and are located in, one of the few countries that have not had or do not now have copyright relations with the United States.
For a list of countries with which the United States has copyright relations, please visit or request it from the Settlement Administrator. If you own a copyright in a Book or Insert published in a country outside the United States, you are advised to seek advice from an attorney or a Reproduction Rights Organization to determine whether your interests would be better served by participating in this Settlement or opting out of the Settlement.
You may also contact the appropriate telephone numbers on the list attached to this Notice for further advice.

2) Finally a Soundly Based Orphan Rights Agency
The amount of money that will go to pay for the “Registry” seems to me to be a great outcome. Even a fancy Registry will take some time spending the money assigned:

US $34.5 million paid by Google to establish and maintain a Book Rights Registry (“Registry”) to collect revenues from Google and distribute those revenues to copyright owners.

Especially if as envisaged, it generates a revenue stream! Hopefully a similar model will be rolled out across the world! HOPEFULLY INDEED!

3) Revenue streams
If there is one thing likely to make publishers sit up and take notice, it is revenue streams. Money makes the world goes around after all. Google’s deal creates both the method of charging and a method for paying out any money generated.

For every publisher this is enticing, it makes working with google pretty attractive. And the beauty of it all is that Google does the back breaking work for you! Seems like a fools game! Which means there is a downside.

4) The Downside
Google wouldn’t be doing this if it didn’t help them achieve their goal, which aside from the urge to no “be evil”, is to make money and organise the world’s information.

Even if this works for the current crop of publishers, it surely brings us closer to the day when Google controls the entire publishing value change except the author.

If there is truly to be a digital trade publishing market, then Google controls all the access to that. they won’t need publishers to provide content, just authors (and maybe editors). Authors of course would no doubt be happy to get a bigger slice of the value if Google offers it!

Think it through and it is a little freaky for publishers. Of course it might be a ways off and the (and maybe editors) piece is of interest. Filters as we have discussed here previously are important. Perhaps Google’s core strength in search will enable it do automate the function of editors and allow readers preferences to filter the content of the masses.

Certainly, that is how they have succeeded on the web!

I’ll write some more when these thoughts develop.

Some calmer thoughts on the future

Eoin Purcell

There has been a lot of comment on Barry Eisler’s recent series written for MJ Rose on Buzz, Balls & Hype (my original thoughts).

Adam Hodgkin asks me why I am so alarmed and rightly so saying:

It seems to me that everything is going the publisher’s way. Agents cant do what publishers do. Booksellers cant do the other bit either. So the value chain is up for grabs by the publisher. Mind you they will need to pay higher royalties — especially to Thom Yorke and Madonna when they next do books.

And writing a fine blog post that really is reassuring:

Publishers will sell digital editions direct because that is going to be the most efficient way to do it. Further they will do it because this is going to be a very profitable development for most book publishers, especially those that cater to niches (and most book publishers DO cater to niches). They will outsource the tricky parts (eg customer service or technological innovation), to operations like Exact Editions, but they will be better placed than the record labels to provide this kind of service to the creators.

Over at PersonaNonData the response is detailed and split in three too:

Lastly, admittedly we haven’t seen a huge amount of dynamism from mainstream publishers but I do think you treat them as too static relative to the change going on around them. I do believe publishers will react faster and in (perhaps) revolutionary ways but I can understand your skepticism

Much to think about in both, and in this third piece on if:book:

Rather than heralding a new age of self-determination by artists, the Madonnas and Stephen Kings are the exceptions that prove the rule that, while distribution may have been radically flattened by the net, attention and audience are as hard (if not harder) to come by as ever. How the vast majority of writers will make a living, and how they might have to adapt their craft to do so, is far less clear

Damn fine stuff all round and worth reading

Still thinking

PS: Berlin is great and one of the highlights was this place.