Archive for April, 2009|Monthly archive page

Amazon buys Stanza

Hot off the e-press. The NYT has details on Amazon’s purchase of lexcycle, the year-old company that makes stanza, arguably the best of the iphone e-reading applications:

…the move indicates Amazon wants to consolidate its position on mobile devices, particularly within Apple’s ecosystem, which may include a tablet computer later this year. The Lexcycle team should also help Amazon stake out ground on Google’s Android phones, the Palm Pre and Windows Mobile devices — and perhaps eventually turn to more open e-reading formats.

Is this a tacit acknowledgement that book reading on convergent devices is more likely to happen than on stand-alone ones? Or is Amazon just killing the competition by buying it whilst it’s still (relatively) cheap. At the moment, the stanza app is way better than kindle for the iphone, so let’s hope that this doesn’t kill innovation…


(thanks Mark)

This week’s kindle sales speculation

Amazon released its quarterly results today, and along with Apple, seem to be surviving the GFC. For me though, the most interesting tidbit is this:

While the online retailer doesn’t share sales figures for its Kindle e-book reader, in a statement, CEO Jeff Bezos said they “exceeded our most optimistic expectations.”

Whatever that means 🙂

Steven Johnson’s “aha” moment

Steven Johnson writes a nice summary piece about ebooks in the Wall Street journal and suggests that every successful new technology has an ‘aha’ moment. For Johnson, the moment came as a lone diner:

A few weeks after I bought the device, I was sitting alone in a restaurant in Austin, Texas, dutifully working my way through an e-book about business and technology, when I was hit with a sudden desire to read a novel. After a few taps on the Kindle, I was browsing the Amazon store, and within a minute or two I’d bought and downloaded Zadie Smith’s novel “On Beauty.” By the time the check arrived, I’d finished the first chapter. Aha.

Interesting that Johnson’s aha moment is not about the ebook device itself, but about its surrounding ecosystem. In that vein, the aha moment is not about the ipod, but the itunes store; not about the mac (or pc) but the web. Maybe the tipping point will come once readers have experienced the sheer audacity of getting an ebook 24/7 irrespective of their location. Iphone users– with the app store– already know how addictive the process of portable purchase actually is; don’t ask me why but it’s more satisfying buying an app on the phone, than on your computer and transferring it. We’re a weird mob 🙂

Blurring the Blook Boundaries

In my book, I call them anti-books, the print objects thrown together by publishers to make a quick buck on some theme-du-jour. According to the New York Times, blogs are increasingly a source for those. It recounts the story of  Pets Who Want to Kill themselves, a gimmick blog:

The blogosphere noticed — and so did the publishing world. Within a week, he was contacted by editors and literary agents. By the second month, he said, he had sold a book based on the photos to Three Rivers Press

But that’s not all – in a crossover with that other web 2.0 theme of user-generated content, it appears that publishers are all-a-twitter (get it?) over mere ideas that have spawned content from its users:

At least eight books created from user-generated content are due out this year, including “Love, Mom,” a just-published collection of embarrassing or funny electronic exchanges between mothers and their children.

I’ve always said I have no problem with anti-books, except when publishers devote attention to their creation at the expense of other, more worthwhile projects; books that make some contribution to the human conversation beyond filling the coffers. After all, this content *already exists* and in wider distribution than a printed book would allow. Is it really worth killing trees for?

More new e-paper tech

This time from Bridgestone, a 13 inch colour screen that Engadget suggests “has the future written all over it.” This morning, I downloaded the New York Times app for my iphone after dragging in my soaking wet and almost unreadable Sunday paper.  I can image using a screen this size for newspaper browsing  over breakfast…

The Dark Side of the Cloud

Whilst not strictly ‘in the cloud’, services like Amazon’s kindle apparently have the ability to reach across the ether and meddle with items that consumers thought that they owned. A Techdirt story today on how Amazon cancelled a customer’s account (apparently because he returned to many faulty purchases). Which is all well and good, but when the account was cancelled, access to already purchased kindle titles was zapped. And his kindle turned into an expensive door stopper (well if it was a kindle mark 1,  it is the right shape).

Not how I’d choose to promote electronic reading – and another reason why some people are suspicious of all this digital malarky. The lunatic is on the grass…

Reading the future?

Quick link to a piece in Saturday’s Australian speculating about ebooks from an Australian angle. Seems to leave out more than it includes, and gestures towards a kind of media specificity argument which suggests that the novel will have to change just because the technology of delivery does as well. It quotes Sven Birkerts:

According to Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, what we need to consider goes far beyond convenient gadgets. If we replace print with screen-based text, “we will not simply have replaced one delivery system with another”, Birkerts wrote recently in US magazine The Atlantic. “We will also have modified our imagination of history, our understanding of the causal and associative relationships of ideas and their creators.”

Gotta disagree. My position is that there will be new forms but they will displace not replace existing ones – just as we watch movies on the big screen as well as on our ipods, so we will read novels in different ways.


The Street has a rumour that Barnes and Noble is looking at launching their own e-book device to compete with Kindle et al:

Barnes & Noble , the nation’s No. 1 bookstore chain, is working with a device maker and Sprint  on a Kindle-like device, according to one wireless industry insider. The news comes a week after the CTIA wireless show, where sources say there was heavy speculation surrounding Barnes & Noble’s plan to give eBooks another try.

Of course, Barnes and Noble purchased fictionwise recently, so their move to ebooks is no surprise. Indeed, the street reminds us that:

Barnes & Noble has been through this before. In 2003, the company ended a three-year eBook partnership with Microsoft  and Adobe  the electronic publishing shop, after suffering disappointing demand for the tablet device.

I find it a bit weird that *booksellers* are making the moves in this space. Amazon in the US, and Dymocks in Australia. It’s probably a bit of a defensive move in an environment where publishers have greater possibilities to bypass the traditional retail channels. And hey, publishers aren’t exactly pushing the bleeding edge (apart from maybe that Murdoch fellow!), so I guess someone has to!!


Via techcrunch

Open v Closed

Interesting post from Tim O’Reilly comparing the early days of kindle to the pre-Mosaic era of the world wide web. Essentially arguing for the adoption of open e-book standards over Amazon’s closed kindle approach, he suggests that an open approach is far more likely to drive innovation (in devices, business models etc) and uptake than a proprietary one, and suggests epub as a possible solution:

We’ve thrown our support behind epub and other open e-book standards, providing our books as “e-book bundles” that give the reader the choice of pdf, epub, and mobi…

… we can already see the momentum on the open e-book platform. Stanza, the epub-based e-book reader for the iPhone and other Web-capable phones, may well be playing Mosaic to bookworm’s Viola

Whilst parallels to the early days of the web may or may not totally play out, O’Reilly offers at least one data point to suggest that an open approach might work:

But at O’Reilly, we already have a proof point of the power of the new Stanza/epub platform. We released one of our books, David Pogue’s iPhone: The Missing Manual as an application bundle with Stanza through the iPhone store. In the six weeks since it was released, it has outsold its print counterpart even though that paper-based version has been the best-selling computer book in the market, and is outselling its closest competitor by a ratio of 3:1

I’ve noted that the Pogue title is a very specific example that cannot possibly be generalised, but the wider point, I think, is pretty well made:

Open allows experimentation. Open encourages competition. Open wins. Amazon needs to get with the program. Or, like AOL and MSN, Amazon will wind up another online pioneer who ends up a belated guest at the party it planned to host.

Check your calendar

From today’s Guardian:

Consolidating its position at the cutting edge of new media technology,the Guardian today announces that it will become the first newspaper in the world to be published exclusively via Twitter, the sensationally popular social networking service that has transformed online communication.

The move, described as “epochal” by media commentators, will see all Guardian content tailored to fit the format of Twitter’s brief text messages, known as “tweets”, which are limited to 140 characters each. 

“[Celebrated Guardian editor] CP Scott would have warmly endorsed this – his well-known observation ‘Comment is free but facts are sacred’ is only 36 characters long,” a spokesman said in a tweet that was itself only 135 characters long.

A mammoth project is also under way to rewrite the whole of the newspaper’s archive, stretching back to 1821, in the form of tweets. Major stories already completed include “1832 Reform Act gives voting rights to one in five adult males yay!!!”; “OMG Hitler invades Poland, allies declare war see for more”; and “JFK assassin8d @ Dallas, def. heard second gunshot from grassy knoll WTF?”