Go Read This | Apple should be breaking new ground – not the law | Books | The Observer

That James Bridle is such a smart fellow:

The literature industry’s fear of technology is what really sits at the centre of this debate. There have always been two complementary and effective ways of countering Amazon’s dominance, and neither has been taken up in the (English-speaking) publishing world: these are investing in building national ebook stores, as has been done in France, Germany, Scandinavia and elsewhere; and relaxing the ferocious demands of Digital Rights Management, which make purchasing an ebook from anyone but “verticals” like Amazon and Kobo a virtual misery.

via Apple should be breaking new ground – not the law | Books | The Observer.

In Search Of The Number

There is a number I’d like to know, if I knew it, I think it would help me explain some things that currently seem inexplicable to some and unclear to me.

I know the number exists because I can phrase questions to which the number is the answer (maybe numbers is more accurate, but it’s got less impact). Those questions can be expressed two ways:

– the first; at what £/$/€ spend does a primarily print book reader become a primarily ebook reader?

– the second; at what number of books read does a primarily print book reader become a primarily ebook reader?

It has a follow on question:

– Which indicator is more reliable, ie: is a reader more likely to shift formats because they become comfortable reading ebooks or because they have managed to spend a certain amount of money on ebooks?

I strongly suspect that the answer to the follow on question is that a reader shifts when they become comfortable reading which happens after X (where X is the number) ebooks read. That point obviously changes for different types of readers and is probably very individual. However, there’ll be an average number of books, an average I guarantee that Amazon knows, that B&N certainly knows and that Kobo, Apple, Google and Sony know (or suspect).

If I’m right, and it is about making a print reader comfortable with ebook reading, then conversion is a case of making the offer compelling enough until the formerly print dedicated reader has shifted format without really realizing it.

When you think like that, and you think about 20p ebooks, which seems to have confounded and angered so much of the industry (though to me, just lacked a clear logic that I was aware of, it HAD to have a logic, even if the logic was wrong) they start to make an awful lot of sense. Once you’ve converted the print reader to ebooks (and especially if you shift them to your ecosystem) there’ll be loads of time to drive up the revenue you earn from that consumer. The lost revenue before they convert is simply customer acquisition cost.

See why the number is important to know?
Eoin

The Rewards & Costs Of Inaction

Eason LeafI’ve often written of the value of inaction in the face of an uncertain future. Today, I want to write about both the rewards and the costs of inaction in a specific case, Ireland and the ebook retail business.

Eason, by far the largest bookstore chain in Ireland, is set to launch an ereader onto the Irish market in December. It’s called the Eason Leaf. To be fair to Eason, it has a natty offering, a 6-inch, touch-screen eInk device with weeks of battery life and storage for 4,000 titles. All for less than €100. It could plausibly become the best-selling dedicated ereading device in Ireland after the Kindle and create a mass market for ebooks sold via the Eason ebookstore.

You could say that the company’s move is a great example of collecting the rewards of inaction. Having followed a sensible and cautious strategy in a period marked by uncertainty and using the intelligence it gained during that period, Eason acted decisively.

It bought in a device from an OEM, branded it and is selling content directly to readers via its own ebookstore. In this way Eason can build a closed circle for its customers with itself at the centre and all the while build a digital retail position to rival its physical one.

No doubt Eason has seen the work Barnes & Noble was able to do in the US, converting heavy book readers to Nook users through in-store selling efforts and hopes to replicate it.

Even if you see the move as more defensive, ie a way to capture a limited audience of ereading book people, while ensuring the majority stay devoted to print, the strategy has the benefit of being low cost. I don’t often have praise for Eason, but in this instance I think the company has played a good hand. Given the choices available to Eason I think it has taken by far the best option it has.

The costs of inaction of which I wrote at the beginning then are being paid by the other ereading/ebook retail players (Kindle aside) whose inaction has meant their ereader presence here is not backed by a convincing consumer message, and certainly not by a retail store presence. They have not scaled rapidly enough in order to stifle competition,

Kobo seems to be making the most of its distribution via chains like PC World (distribution which includes even the keenly priced Vox table at only €139 which packs a fair punch relative to the Leaf) but name recognition is low and no BOOKSELLERS seem to be on board except WH Smiths whose High Street retail presence in Ireland consists of one concession in Arnotts. Without a convincing way to reach the readers how will Kobo convert them from print to digital?

Nook‘s plans are mystifying though the company does seem to be offering to ship tablets and ereaders to Ireland from its UK Nook site. If Kobo has a name recognition problem I wager Nook’s is far, far worse in Ireland. Nook then faces a huge challenge in establishing a name, a brand and a conversion strategy in Ireland.

Apple is the only competitor with some chance of making gains in 2012, with the iPad mini, but in truth I suspect that device will not be a book readers choice. I’ll wait to see.

The truth is though that all these companies could have acted more forcefully in Ireland at any time, it’s a small, English language territory with pretty friendly tax arrangements. It was inaction when the time called for action that led them to where they are now.

The costs of inaction for the major Amazon rivals are first and foremost that a local competitor in a small local market looks set to steal a march on them. It seems so very unlikely but it’s really happening (I wonder who will be the first to pondering buying out the Eason operation should it prove successful?).

In an English language market that could easily be technologically serviced from the UK or US (as Amazon does with Kindle) so long as the retailer made a small commitment on the ground marketing and brand building and converting print readers to digital, a small bookseller with great physical footprint and footfall but not much by way of a digital track record might just, strangely, be a leader in this shift from print to digital in Ireland.

We always do things a little differently here!

Eoin

Amazon Steals Everyone’s Thunder Again (But Quietly)

Fascinatingly clever (if predictable in many ways) move from Amazon to extend the reach of its Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) to the UK, Germany and France. By doing so it demonstrates very clearly that it is Amazon who is really driving the pace of development in ebook adoption and ebook retail. What’s more, it is making clear that its rivals are struggling to match its services to authors and readers within their own ecosystems. As the focus of ebook growth moves rapidly beyond the USA (has moved already in truth), Amazon is making the case for giving it exclusivity even more compelling.

Amazon.com, Inc. today announced that the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is coming to the UK, Germany and France later this month, bringing Kindle owners with a Prime membership over 200,000 books to borrow for free as frequently as a book a month, with no due dates. Independent authors and publishers using Kindle Direct Publishing KDP who enroll their books in KDP Select can be included in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library in the UK, Germany and France, as well as the US. With the new lending libraries launching this month, the KDP Select fund has been increased by $100,000 to $700,000 in October, with a larger increase anticipated in November. Authors will earn money every time their book is borrowed from any of the lending libraries – in September, authors earned $2.29 per borrow, which is more than many KDP books earn per sale.

via Amazon Media Room: Press Releases.

What amazes me the most about this move is just how dangerous it is for the ebook retailing rivals who have yet to open their doors to self-published content. In reality only Kobo has a fully functional platform for self publishing authors beyond the USA (Apple does too, but only to the extent that those who have a nice Mac can access their iBookstore, but not everyone has a Mac).

Nook’s platform is US only, though the talk is that this will change soon, the longer B&N & Microsoft exclude non-US citizens from the service, the longer Amazon has to lock in exclusive content for three months at a time. It’s not that the content individually is necessarily compelling, but given the wide field of talent in question, some is sure to be winning material, even if much of it isn’t great. The trick is, of course, that Amazon is armed with the tools to sort, grade and sift through this mass of titles and to promote, suggest and even work with the best (or just the most saleable, let’s not forget that the goal is money-making not literature spreading).

I’ve talked before about how important authors are to the success of an epublishing platform and ecosystem. Sometimes I think the retailers agree with me on this, other times I think they only pay lip service to the idea. Perhaps that’s a lingering snobbery regarding self publishing authors (which is foolish, idiotic and wrong-headed in an age when some of the biggest writers are rapidly moving towards self publishing, are already self publishing or have emerged from the self publishing space). Perhaps it is a desire to avoid dealing with so many small accounts and the headaches of customer service and platform development that entails. Who knows, but the longer these ecosystems remain closed shops to direct author engagement the larger a lead they allow Amazon to build up on them.

Every author Amazon signs up for KOLL is three months of exclusive sales for Amazon, three months lost revenue for their rivals. More importantly it is three months of sales data and analysis for Amazon that no-one else will have. That’s especially important when a title is loaded into KDP & KOLL for the first time, before getting a look in elsewhere. What will happen when one of those sign ups turns out to be the next EL James? What will happen is that Amazon will sign that author up directly, before the KOLL period ends and the game, for that author, is up for the other platforms.

It is not just dangerous to rival retailers though. If Amazon succeeds in convincing enough authors that KDP & KOLL are the way forward and along with them, exclusivity, companies like Smashwords and other aggregators of self published content will be put in the position of having to justify their offering. As long as a vibrant market for content persists of course (and despite this move, we do have a vibrant market for content) everyone has room to move and grow.

So yes, this move is illuminating, it suggests that Amazon is still the pace setter and is capable of moving faster and more aggressively than anyone else (still, after five years). Kobo has started something of a price war for self published authors though, by offering a higher royalty to authors who use their self publishing platform. If this keeps self publishing writers committed to an non-exclusive policy then it will have been a wise move. I’m sure it is a smart response from a smart company, even if it is one that admits to a certain weakness in terms of the capability of their platform, but then competition doesn’t (and indeed shouldn’t) always mean matching your rivals move, but finding clever and novel ways to best them where your strengths lie.

What that in mind, Kobo and other Amazon rivals would do well to pay attention to Baldur Bjarnason‘s piece on FutureBook about how Ebook publishing platforms are a joke, pay attention that is and offer some of the services he mentions to self publishers asap.

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