Easons Will NOT Be Building A Platform For Ebooks Anytime Soon

Waterstones decided to team up with Amazon and one of most compelling reasons for that was the sheer cost of developing an ereader and a fully fledged ebook platform (just look at B&N’s capital expenditure and increased costs and their need for cash to support their successful Nook business, hence their deal with Microsoft). Which is why reading the paragraphs below make so little sense:

Ireland’s largest book retailer, Easons, revealed plans yesterday to enter the market as well. “We are not getting into bed with Amazon, that is for certain,” a spokesman said.

“But as part of a €20m plan to modernise our entire chain, we will be providing live wi-fi in our stores from this summer and dedicated e-book areas which will permit customers to download e-books from our website. The next phase of this process is to launch our own Easons branded e-reader.”

Rival

This means that the Irish market leader will follow in the steps of the US market leader, Barnes and Noble, which has already developed its own digital reading device to rival the Amazon one.

via Hodges Figgis and Easons to sell rival e-books – Irish, Business – Independent.ie.

If B&N struggled to build a platform and needed $300 million and a Microsoft partnership, and Waterstones joined forces with Amazon, some portion of a €20 million modernisation fund simply wont be enough to do it for Easons, even given a smaller market.

Unless
That is unless the spokesperson simply meant that Easons would use a white label ebook reader with an Eason logo on the outside. That wouldn’t be the worst idea ever, but it certainly does not mean Easons will be following in B&N’s steps!

As Philip Jones, deputy editor of The Bookseller, commented on Twitter:

A nice, nice day here in Dublin,
Eoin 

On THE Platform And What That Means

When you look at this ebook game from a distance it seems to make a little sense:

1) Microsoft & NewCo. = Content, Device, Apps + possible future Mobile play via Nokia & Windows 8

2) Apple = Content+ Device, Apps + Mobile play

3) Amazon = Content, Device, Apps + Whispersync making Mobile already a significant play in my book but an actual partnership not yet to hand

4) Google = Content (-ish), Apps + Mobile (with Motorola) and a Device neutral stance

Leaving Sony and Kobo somewhat on the sidelines missing some element of the game. Of course those two, like the previous four also have a crucial component in the forthcoming game, lots of cash. And, seeing as folks seem to be tooling up for a platform war, I reckon they are gonna need that.

Of course we know already that all the players in the top league have some fashion of a flaw.

For Amazon the very success of the company’s ebook strategy has created a huge problem in that they are now the team to beat. Apple has a locked down and locked in strategy as closed as the rest of its walled gardens and there’s little chance of it opening voluntarily. B&N and Nook well they as yet have little international footprint (what does this move mean for Waterstones digital strategy?) Google, well where to start with Google? Its execution in the ebook space has been poor and right now does not inspire confidence, though it does have what I think is the better long-term concept.

The biggest problem for everyone though is that a platform war is pretty pointless in anything longer than a medium term horizon (by which I mean 5-10 years). Just as Google is failing to maintain its grip on attention and Facebook is growing stronger every day, someone will rise to take Facebook’s place and then another will rise to take theirs. This impermanence of pre-dominance is, for me, a defining characteristic of the web, and it is driven by the incredibly low to non-existent barriers to entry online because the WEB IS THE PLATFORM, which fosters competition, innovation and experimentation.

That is not to say that those who succeed will inevitably meet a doom, Google is doing quite handsomely thank you, and no doubt Facebook will do well for some time too. Which means that in the medium term a successful ebook platform will milk the system just as Amazon appears to be doing right now. I just believe that their platform has no long-term, sustainable foundation. Moving against Amazon is mostly pointless, rather the focus should be on finding a way around Amazon using the web as a platform and not relying on another closed platform.

Where does that put publishers? In a familiar spot I would argue. I wrote a piece two years ago about ebooks and how it was important that publishers focus on:

developing an expertise in how to sell content in many different forms and at many different prices to different audiences. Publishers should be platform agnostic, selling wherever readers are willing to buy and not focusing on if it is an e-book, an app, online access, segments, chapters, quotes, mash-ups, readings, conferences, or anything else (a point made Friday on Publishing Perspectives by Clive Rich).

Strangely I don’t think I would change a word of that paragraph today. Nor would I shy away from the other recommendation I made:

publishers need to focus on two long-term objectives: audience development and content curation. Neither of these are specific to digital activities, meaning that they will only serve to bolster the print side of the business as well, whether it declines rapidly or gradually.

I just wish I could recall them when I make my day-to-day decisions!
Eoin

___________
PS: Worth reading all these pieces:

1) The Window Is Closing

2) Why Ebooks Will Soon be Obsolete

3) Microsoft Looking To be Third Time Luck In Its Bid For Ebooks

Author, Niche & Power Shifts: What Pottermore MIGHT Point To

Mike Shatzkin has a fine post about the implications of the Pottermore move in terms of publishers and DRM:

Without DRM, as Berlucchi explained, anybody can sell ebooks that can be read on a Kindle. Once Pottermore decided they could live without DRM, they faced Amazon with a very difficult choice. The ebooks were going to go on Kindle devices whether Amazon wanted them there or not. Either they could ignore them or they could play along. I am sure the “play along” deal includes compensation to Amazon for the sales they refer (as it does B&N and, according to a quote from Redmayne, other distribution relations and affiliations will be enabled going forward.)

In other words, in a refreshing change from recent history, the content owner was able to present Amazon with a “take it or leave it” proposition. They decided to “take it”. They were wise. The game was changing either way.

I’ve long felt that the power balance between authors and publishers has shifted and will shift further as digital change drives home a point I made most clearly in my essay No New Normal: The Value Web (and reiterated here on Futurebook):

All of this will happen despite, or perhaps because of the fact that, the actual slice of value captured by each player changes in size and shape. Publishers will be forced to cede more revenue to authors, the idea that 25% Net is a defensible long-term ebook royalty rate is a farce best forgotten about quickly.

And even earlier (2006) when I wrote about Authors Driving Change:

E-books will push this change even more. There is no reason why authors’ royalties should be the same on e-books as they are for paper books and in many ways there is no reason why the authors cannot sell e-books themselves rather than through a publisher. Why should you sell a paper publisher your digital rights when there is no need?

I think Mike is right to say that Pottermore marks a decisive point of change. It is the point at which owning the brand becomes essential, the point at which the 25% slice for the author stops being enough and the changed power balance between author and publisher begins to bite really hard.

If publishers hope to use author brand and scale to attract readers direct then they need to persuade the authors to work with them. That’s gonna take money and a whole new approach to working with the author. I expect we’ll see more of that.

The other change I believe it will drive even further is that of Niche or community driven content publishing. If selling without DRM enables big  publishers to flourish as retailers (or for that matter niche publishers with scale in a single niche), then there is even more incentive for them to pull readers together in communities of interest (or rather to build stores that appeal to those existing communities of interest) and sell content to them directly rather than spending all their marketing on pulling them to a mass appeal site that only offers them content that works for that reader by chance event or a well placed cookie!

So I see Niche coming back with a vengeance, and community at its side, perhaps even a third horseman in the shape of an industry newly engaged in open standards, weak DRM and a willingness to innovate. That’s rather exciting if you ask me.

Go Read This | Exclusive: Amazon Has Sold Over Two Million Kindle Singles | paidContent

See what I mean when I say gold? I’ve long felt that by far the biggest weapon in Amazon’s arsenal (after the platform itself) is the self publishing/publishing abilities of the platform which is a while new kind of threat for publishers and one that is becoming much more real and present a danger than just the shift to digital:

Amazon says that in the 14 months the program has been running, it has sold over two million Kindle Singles. Seventy percent of each sale goes to the author or publisher, and Amazon keeps 30 percent. Amazon wouldn’t disclose its total revenues from those two million singles, but the minimum price of a Single is $0.99 and most are $1.99 (the author or publisher sets the price). So with an average price of $1.87 multiplied by two million, a rough estimate of Amazon’s 30-percent cut is $1.12 million. (How much are some authors making? See our post later this morning.)

via Exclusive: Amazon Has Sold Over Two Million Kindle Singles | paidContent.

This Scares Me >> Amazon plans to launch 2 tablet PCs in 2H12

It’s a slightly unsettling and sinking feeling I get whenever I hear discussion about booksellers and others moving away from E-Ink based ereaders towards tablets. It’s not a hatred of backlit screens and the like, in fact I like them quite a bit.

Rather it’s that such a move is an implicit acceptance that the stand-alone ereader device is moving from a top priority to a secondary one. The concern for me is that as apps, movies, tv shows, music and games become bigger and better businesses for these players, books become less and less important. With such a shift, books become simply PART of a larger media mix as opposed to being the MAJOR element.

This is not a spurious concern either. B&N indicated that their Tablet device was proving a more successful product for them than their E-Ink device was. Especially because it opened up more opportunities and markets. I’ve written a bit about this previously, particularly around the launch of the Kindle Fire:

There is only so much audience attention to go around and as mobile gaming, tv and film watching and web browsing become possible for everyone, it is just possible that digital books will lose out*. Of course maybe the audience that moves digital will be big enough for this to not be an issue, but even so book publishers and authors will need to compete with movies, games and music much more directly and immediately than they have in the past.

The possibility then that the Kindle Fire presents is one where the dedicated device that has done so much to build the digital book market is, however distantly, headed for a quiet retirement and the publishers who think they have it all so sorted now are going to faced a changed game yet again.

So perhaps you understand why the brace of DigiTimes reports on the topic read this morning left me cold:
ONE

Amazon shipped 3.98 million Kindle Fire tablet PCs in the fourth quarter of 2011, taking up a 14% share of the global tablet PC market as well as the second position in the vendor rankings, according to market data.

Due to strong sales of Kindle Fire, Amazon has shifted its focus from e-book readers to tablet PCs, and so plans to launch a 10-inch model in the second half, instead of an 8.9-inch model projected previously, the sources revealed.

via Amazon plans to launch 2 tablet PCs in 2H12, say sources.

TWO

Global shipments of e-book readers are expected to reach only two million units in the first quarter of 2012, down from nine million shipped the fourth quarter of 2011, according to Digitimes Research.

Via Digitimes Research: Global shipments of e-book readers to slip to 2 million units in 1Q12

Go Read This | How publishers gave Amazon a stick to beat them with — Tech News and Analysis

Easy to say, harder to actually act on. Publishers’ room for manoeuvre is limited by numerous factors and they are far from unaware of the dangers posed by Amazon and other would be monopolists:

As some authors have pointed out, even if you take advantage of Amazon’s self-publishing options to avoid having to get a traditional publishing deal, you’ve really just exchanged one corporate overlord for another. For most writers, the ideal would be an industry with multiple players — but unfortunately, their own publishers have helped make that even less of a possibility. And Amazon is the major beneficiary.

via How publishers gave Amazon a stick to beat them with — Tech News and Analysis.

Ebooks In Europe: The Game Really IS Afoot

Kindle has just launched officially in France at €99 and a decent seeming catalogue of French titles to go with the English language books already available. Of course Amazon has also opened the French market to self-publishers and independent publishers through their Kindle Direct Platform.

Yesterday Google brought its UK ebook store online. Last week, iBooks launched in over two dozen countries around Europe. And this only six months since Amazon launched Kindle in Germany.

It is clear now that the pace of adoption of ebooks will rise in Europe if only because availability of ereaders AND ebooks is increasing rapidly here.

What’s more the price for the new Kindle, at JUST sub-€100 is very attractive. I can see many Kindle boxes under the tree this Christmas.

That means the luxury of waiting is no longer an option for booksellers. Waterstone’s may not have time to wait for the perfect ereader. To my mind it NEEDS to launch one pre-Christmas.

In short, the game is afoot and who wins is by no means clear!
Eoin