Archive for December, 2008|Monthly archive page

It Feels like a New Year’s Eve…

Just back from ten days away, doing not very much – swimming, shouting at the kids and reading (e) books. More on which later. I didn’t even check my email for the duration 🙂  But it seems that there’s been a flurry of stuff happening whilst I’ve been away. And a Christmas Eve piece from the New York Times seems an appropriate link – seeing as it summarises things pretty well – as seen from all the quotes below:

For a decade, consumers mostly ignored electronic book devices, which were often hard to use and offered few popular items to read. But this year, in part because of the popularity of Amazon.com’s wireless Kindle device, the e-book has started to take hold.

Of course, we’re still not really sure about the *actual* number of Kindles in the wild. But even if it’s not the hundreds of thousands that some pundits suggest, the Kindle has, if nothing else, forced the world (well, Americans anyway) to take e-books seriously. And publishers are beginning to notice. Some quotes from the piece:

Amazon’s Kindle version of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski, a best seller recommended by Ms. Winfrey’s book club, now represents 20 percent of total Amazon sales of the book, according to Brian Murray, chief executive of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide…

“E-books will become the go-to-first format for an ever-expanding group of readers who are newly discovering how much they enjoy reading books on a screen,” said Markus Dohle, chief executive of Random House, the world’s largest publisher of consumer books…

At Harlequin Enterprises, the Toronto-based publisher of bodice-ripping romances, Malle Vallik, director for digital content and interactivity, said she expected sales of digital versions of the company’s books someday to match or potentially outstrip sales in print…

In other parts of the world, we’re not so lucky. In Oz (the country, not the movie), Kindle and Sony Readers aren’t sold, and the e-book range of trade titles is less than extensive. So it’s no surprise that the iphone is the device of choice and Stanza and eReader software the reading tools for the rest of us. The number of downloads of ebook reading software seems significant, and the offerings are beginning to spread beyond Project Gutenberg. From the NYTimes article:

Perhaps the most overlooked boost to e-books this year — and a challenge to some of the standard thinking about them — came from Apple’s do-it-all gadget, the iPhone

Publishers say these iPhone applications are already starting to generate nearly as many digital book sales as the Sony Reader, though they still trail sales of books in the Kindle format.

So it feels like there’s a change a coming. The devices are still far from perfect, the range of titles is still far from extensive. But (thanks perhaps to Oprah and her endorsement of the Kindle) 2008 seems like the year that e-books have reached the cusp of widespread acceptance:

Many book lovers are quite happy with today’s devices. MaryAnn van Hengel, 51, a graphic designer in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., once railed against e-readers at a meeting of her book club. But she embraced the Kindle her husband gave her this fall shortly after Ms. Winfrey endorsed it.

Ms. Van Hengel now has several books on the device, including a Nora Roberts novel andDoris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals.” She said the Kindle had spurred her to buy more books than she normally would in print.

Of course, we’re a long way from the itunes of the ebook world. But it’s getting easier to imagine such a thing becoming a reality – even for the most diehard lovers of print.

Indeed, a new day may be dawning – so kick back, have a sip of champagne and enjoy the fireworks to come. Happy New Year!!

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Some interesting iphone apps for interesting times

We all know about stanza, ereader and classics for the iphone. But there are some interesting happenings outside of the normal text reading realm. I’ve stumbled across a few cool examples (I’m sure there’s more) in my late night app store shopping trips (window shopping of course!). 

The first is a choose your own adventure title that mimics the books I read when I was a kid. You know, the ones which end the page with ‘turn to page 25 if you want to battle the tiger.’ It was only a few bucks so I picked it up for the seven year old – I’ll let you know if she likes it, but it seems to almost exactly mimic what I remember of the genre.

The second is a manga version of The Wizard of Oz, which is simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. Chapter 1 is a free download, and then the following chapters are a buck or so each. A bit spooky for the kid, but very nicely done. One of many interesting graphic novel-related happenings for the iphone.

And finally, foodies amongst you might know of the classic Silver Spoon cookbook. Well, the iphone version has just been released for twelve dollars (in the Oz store). It looks the goods and includes a shopping list generator and timing aids for the actual cooking process. I don’t have a copy of the printed book, but a friend does and a quick look suggested that the 250 recipes in the iphone version pale in comparison to the number of recipes in the hardback. But then, I guess it *is* a lot cheaper.

Interesting Times

The old Chinese curse continues as the broader mediascape faces times of uncertainty. We all know the problems facing newspapers and broadcast media and a short note from Max Uechtritz on The Content Makers blog sums it up:

Who knows how it will all end. But certainly everyone has to sytop [sic] thinking in yterms [sic] of TV, online , radio or proint [sic]. It’s all just programming that follows you around.

Books are no different. They will  become part of that ‘programming’ that follows us around – albeit probably on smaller screens than other media formats. The challenge is to ensure that the essence of books (like for example, the things that only long-form narrative texts can do) remain as we sweep away the old.

Holiday Plans

OK. So we’re about to embark on the annual road trip to the sunshine state (Queensland for non-Australians). Two adults, two kids, a golden retriever and a thousand kilometres or so of blacktop, bad food and listening to the kids movies. Maybe I’ll give them headphones this year!

Anyhow, the pertinent question is what books to bring. The missus has got a box of Christmas presents for her extended family (all print on paper) but we’re simply loading up the e-readers. We’ve got 2 iphones, a Sony Reader and a Dell Mini 9 that I picked up last month (and hacked for OSX so that I could stand using it). I’m thinking of getting the choose your own adventure title for the iphone for the kids – and the seven year old has become an Anne of Green Gables fan so that’s a start. A couple of Great Gatsby references in the press have made me download that for a re-read. And there’s always those free Random House titles to read. I guess the next couple of days before we go will be spent browsing the virtual bookstores. Beats finding parking at the local Borders the week before Christmas!

Look forward to a smackdown of Dell v Sony v iphone in the not too distant future 🙂

The GFC Hits

Quick Sunday link to a Sydney Morning Herald post – apparently book publishers aren’t immune to the current financial woes:

The US book industry couldn’t escape the economic downturn. Gloomy reports include cuts of 240 jobs at Borders bookstores, 115 at Thomas Nelson publishers (20 per cent of staff), 110 at Scholastic and a 2 per cent cut at Simon & Schuster; pay freezes at HarperCollins and Pearson (owner of Penguin); a halt to new book acquisitions at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, with talk of enormous debt, and a possible sale of the adult trade division.

Kindle Christmas Weirdness

I still can’t figure out Amazon’s kindle sales strategy. According to the company, it’s so popular that it’s sold out until after christmas. From AlleyInsider:

Amazon says its Kindle will take “11 to 13 weeks” to ship and that it will arrive “after December 24.” We assume that means the Kindle 1.0 is totally sold out — Amazon (AMZN) will introduce new Kindles early next year.

To me, that’s just weird. I know there’s a global financial crisis, but you’d still expect the holiday season to be the source of a huge number of sales. It seems that Amazon got their sales forecasts all wrong and ran out of kindles before they could ramp up more production. Some are suggesting that they’re just waiting for kindle 2 to be ready. Whatever the reason, it’s not the way you’d expect a consumer electronics company to organise their sales and distribution approach.

Free Random House books

More Stanza tidbits. Not content with all their recent developments, Lexcycle have announced that a small number of Random House titles will be made available for Stanza for free. Details here. Not a substantial list by any means, but an acknowledgement of the growing iphone ebook market – even if it’s in the form of an enticement to eventually buy a print book from amazon.

Another stanza note

On another stanza note, I got an advance copy of Interpreting News, by my colleague Graham Meikle and after giving him some grief, persuaded some electronic files off him. (That way I’ll read it, I said). Anyhow, I mucked around in bbedit inserting chapter breaks etc and ‘shared’ it to stanza on my iphone. Fiddling with the settings, I noticed there was an option to get the cover artwork from the web. So I tried. Lo and behold, down it came, looking just like the cover of the physical object I had in my hands. From amazon no doubt. More impressive given that it doesn’t ship from there for another few days 🙂

Stanza – the little app that could

Following the recent Pan Macmillan announcement, word that Stanza – that iphone reading app – can down utilise licensed titles from ereader. Given that there is already a native ereader app for the iphone, the advantages of this move are a little lost on me. Obviously Lexcycle wants Stanza to become the one stop shop for ebooks on the iphone – which is probably a good idea. And I’ll probably come around to that way of thinking one day. For the moment though, I’m not too fussed about accessing different online stores through different reading apps. After all, they *are* on the same device and it’s kindlike browsing in different bookshops. Only much easier…

What She Said…

Quick link to a nice post over at Readerville about the iphone book experience:

I climbed into bed, careful not to disturb my sleeping husband, as I always am, and as I tapped the screen to turn the pages, I became aware that I was making no sound. Then it occurred to me I didn’t even need the lamp, so off it went. There I was, like a kid, reading in the dark well after I should have been asleep. And there were no distractions—just the words before me. I hadn’t been so engaged in a text in ages; I not only read faster, but I never once went back to reread a paragraph. I was an instant convert.