Archive for August, 2008|Monthly archive page

The Times they are a changin’

A piece in today’s Times looks at the changing face of ebooks, in anticipation of the UK release of Sony’s Reader:

It can take decades for technology to go mainstream. NTT introduced the first commercial mobile-phone service in 1978, people first started talking about the “internet” in 1974, and even electric bulbs took time to spread their light.

Now another technology that has been around for 20 years may finally go mainstream — the e-book.

Overall a nice summative piece – nothing new to see here folks, but in my conversations I’m always surprised by how few people have even heard of e-books. And it’s not just us old folk, I had one twenty-something student who was absolutely shocked that there was such a thing as an e-book. So much for inevitable widespread generational change!!

And I did like the article’s throwaway aside to the convergent v specialised device debate:

In Japan and Korea mobile phones now dominate sections of publishing. Harlequin, the world’s largest romance novel publisher, sells all its books in Japan directly to mobile.

More on that later…

(via teleread)

Books 2.0?

Quick link to a Business Week piece suggesting that publishers embrace web 2.0 ideas. In it, Sarah Lacy suggests that publishers need to (1) make it Social; (2) Take book tours out of the stores; (3) Create stars—don’t just exploit existing ones; (4) Go electronic from the get-go and (5) Make e-commerce even easier…

(4) and (5) are no-brainers and speak to production processes that *should* be part and parcel of all modern media businesses. The other ideas make sense as well – and all demand the sort of cultural shift that is the hardest part of any change in practice. What’s interesting is that Lacy is a published author and her publisher actually embraced some of her ideas. Mind you, she’s coming from a place that many authors (and publishers) don’t understand!!

The e-Booker?

A Report from The Guardian outlining the baby steps The Booker prize is taking towards going digital:

With a fair degree of inevitability, the Booker prize is going digital. It has just been announced that extracts from this year’s shortlistwill be available over your mobile phone immediately the nominees are announced on September 9. You’ll be able to get the extracts as either audio or text (though, hopefully, not text-speak).

The emphasis appears to be on audio-books rather than e-books; probably out of recognition that most current cellphones have crap screens. 

(via teleread)

Those Damn Kindle Numbers…

Following earlier speculation about higher than expected kindle sales, Alley Insider points to a Seattle PI blog post which cites an analyst as saying (love these Chinese whispers): 

Amazon officials gave McAdams Wright Ragen analysts the impression that high-end estimates on Kindle sales reported by TechCrunch and a Citigroup analyst are not reasonable.

Amazon managers “told us that the Kindle is definitely selling very well, but they also said the analysts and reporters giving out these extremely high estimates ‘did not run them by company,'” Bueneman wrote.

More in the comments including a link to this marketwatch piece which dishes out the anecdotal evidence:

One Silicon Valley software developer who asked not to be named said he viewed the Kindle as a “blip,” adding, “It’s on no one’s radar.”
A quick poll among my colleagues in the MarketWatch office in San Francisco could not find a single Kindle owner, although three people had each seen a fellow commuter on the bus with one, garnering interest from passengers who were also intrigued by the white boxy tablet, which weighs slightly more than 10 ounces and is about the size of a paperback book. Another colleague had a family member visiting from Utah who brought a Kindle.

And throw in this post from View from the Publishing Trenches which suggests that not only are the numbers being touted too high, but kindle sales nay have already peaked:

I have been tracking the sales of Kindle editions of our books against sales of the printed versions for the past almost eight months. Kindle sales have declined noticeably over the past few weeks, while printeditions continue to sell at a steady pace.
I am beginning to think that Amazon has hit a marketing wall…

Of course, a simple press release from Amazon could clear the air, but then we wouldn’t be having all this fun speculating, would we 🙂

Out of India

We tend to be English-language centric around here, and this post doesn’t change that – but an opinion piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald suggests that the other emerging giant (not the one with the Olympics) suffers the same fate book-wise as its English-speaking peers. From India, Amrit Dhillon looks at the book scene and explores some ideas for making books more attractive to the Indian public. But not before lamenting the state of things:

Bill Bryson once wrote: “We used to build civilisations. Now we build shopping malls.” In a country where hundreds of shopping malls are popping up as fast as a jack-in-the-box, only a few have bookshops. Why flog something no one wants? So weak is the reading habit among the Indian middle-class that publishers exult hysterically if a book sells 5000 copies, hailing it a “bestseller”.

Sound familiar?

Digital Textbooks Ahoy!!

A piece in the LA Times takes a look at the US textbook market and highlights R. Preston McAfee, a Caltech economics professor who is happy giving away his textbook for free (in pdf or in ‘source code’ as a word file):

McAfee is a leader in his academic field, a featured speaker at the Yahoo Big Thinkers India conference in March. Tall and genial, he dresses in khakis, a polo shirt and geeky river sandals. A coauthor of the best-selling book “Freakonomics,” Steven D. Levitt, has described him as brilliant. What McAfee is not is anti-capitalist.

“I’m a right-wing economist, so they can’t call me a communist,” McAfee said.

There’s some pretty US-centric stuff in the piece but the tensions it identifies are real. Worth a read.There are, of course, many aspects that need dissecting. The digital stuff (of course), the cost and what you might call the embedded textbook culture that seems pretty resistant to wholesale change. I know that here at Macquarie, the library has increased its ebook collection enormously in just a couple of years (from 0 -100,000 odd) and I’m seeing more and more laptop toting students who are happy to read on screen. So maybe change is in the air.

 (via Techdirt)

Happy Birthday CD

August 17th 1982 was a red-letter day – we’ve just passed the 26th birthday of the humble CD. As the key example of a media form shifting from analog to digital, the CD has been the standard-bearer for zeros and ones for more than half my life! But the last five years has seen idea of a physical object become anathema to many; in this post-materialist world, owning things seems so quaint and wasteful. Of course, the CD still dominates and digital downloads have a ways to go in music (let alone in video formats, or dare we hope books) – there’s still reason to wish the CD Happy Birthday. And Wired’s Listening Post does just that with a piece entitled: “Happy Birthday Compact Disc. Now Go Away” which includes the following relevant quip (talking about packaging):

We have digital downloads available, with no material waste at all. Get with it. Of course, if you like something you can hold in your hands, paper is probably the lesser of two evils. But it’s still evil.

Amen 🙂

Quick Stanza for Iphone Review

Today’s short Sunday post is a link to Wired’s quick review of stanza, a free ebook reader for iphone (with firmware 2.0 and above). I’ve had a quick play on a mate’s ipod touch and it’s OK, but does funny things to pdfs and is still a bit flaky. But it’s another step in the right direction. Wired likes it though:

With around six million iPhone owners out there already, plus an unknown number of iPod Touch users, the potential market for e-books is huge. This really could be the tipping point when electronic books go mainstream.

Kindle or Kindling

And on wired, yet another piece querying the wisdom of the kindle approach. I do like the final sentence though:

The bottom line? Designing the game-changing e-reader, it seems, is more like designing the game-changing harpsichord than the iPod.

(Not that there’s anything wrong with harpsichords!!)

Perfect Storm?

An AdAge column from Steve Rubel suggesting a perfect storm of problems for newspaper publishers:

Newspaper publishers are facing a perfect storm thanks to three megatrends: rising inflation, America’s growing green conscience and disruptive technology. To succeed in this era of great change, they need to think about how to make lemonade out of these perceived lemons

Replace newspaper with books and the same arguments apply…