Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Macmillan v Amazon in eBook price wars

It appears that Amazon has pulled MacMillan titles from the kindle store in a ruckus over pricing. From the New York Times:

I’ve talked to a person in the industry with knowledge of the dispute who says the disappearance is the result of a disagreement between Amazon.com and book publishers that has been brewing for the last year. Macmillan, like other publishers, has asked Amazon to raise the price of electronic books from $9.99 to around $15. Amazon is expressing its strong disagreement by temporarily removing Macmillan books, said this person, who did not want to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the matter.

On the surface it seems that MacMillan has negotiated terms with Apple for its iBooks store and offered those same terms to Amazon – who don’t appear to be too happy about it 🙂

On the bright side, at least in the ebook world, pulling titles from the virtual shelves is a helluva lot easier than trying to remove them from real shelves. Same goes for putting them back, so this kind of brinkmanship shouldn’t be surprising!!

(Disclaimer: I’m currently under contract with Pan MacMillan for a forthcoming title in progress)

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iBooks = iPad + ePub

Finally got around to watching the video of this morning’s Apple event. E-Book stuff begins at the 52 minute mark for about 5 minutes. And yes, eBook format is ePub…

Apple iPad early questions

So the iPad it is. Lots of coverage all over the internet, so I won’t go into details here. I just want to ask a few e-book centric questions that will no doubt be answered in the next little while.

  • What format does iBooks use? (my guess is something like Apple’s extended LP format to allow for ‘interactivity’)
  • Is there DRM on those eBooks? (probably, with similar restrictions to Apps)
  • Does this mean an iBooks store for every country? (probably)
  • Will there be an iBooks for Macintosh? (I guess)
  • Will there be an iBook developer tool? (probably already is, see iTunes LP)
  • Will there be a kindle App for iPad? (if so, then the iPad becomes the only e-reading device you need for all your bought content)
  • Will there be Stanza for iPad? (see previous question, for epubs)

It’s clear though that the iphone was a trojan to get us comfortable with touch interfaces. Whilst the iPad is *only* a big ipod touch/iphone, we shouldn’t forget that the ipod touch is actually a small computer. Which makes the iPad a slighter bigger small computer – with a touch interface that has been adopted by tens of millions of people. And this time, Apple has put books as a highlight of its ecosystem.

    99 years ago…

    Technologizer links to a 1911 prediction from Thomas Edison that saw books having way more pages than paper would allow:

    What it was: Among the numerous brainstorms and predictions that Thomas Alva Edison shared with Cosmopolitan readers in an exclusive interview was his vision of 40,000-page books that would be two inches thick and weigh a pound–because their pages would be made of metal, not paper:

    “Even the pages of books may be made of steel, though Edison regards nickel as a better substitute for paper…”Why not?” asks Edison. “Nickel will absorb printer’s ink. A sheet of nickel one twenty-thousandth of an inch thick is cheaper, tougher, and more flexible than an ordinary sheet of book-paper…”

    Not quite a kindle but even then the limitations of paper were apparent to some 🙂

    The invisible e-book

    I’ve been putting off a post about the rumoured apple tablet because there’s so much noise already out there. Even in the book space. And I reckon I’ve resisted pretty well, until now. Some background: When I was writing the book, it was a different world. The Sony reader had only just been released after a couple of years in Japan as the libre. Publishers were still recovering from the first generation of ebook readers. Gemstar, rocket ebook etc anyone? In the other corner were the PDA readers with dedicated fans of a plethora of formats and stores catering to a readership of a few dozen. Back then, then was no kindle and the second wave of ereaders was something that I expected to happen, but hadn’t yet.

    But even then, at my first meeting with my publisher, she said “you’ve got to think that when ebooks take off, apple will be there.” She knew that I’d agree and I did. After all I was and still am a dedicated apple watcher. But we were basing our observation on the success of the iTunes store and the iPod. Remember the iPhone and the app store only existed in secret labs in Cupertino at that stage. So it was partly an expectation and partly a hope. The iPhone took us one step closer to fulfilling both the expectation and the hope.

    The rumoured tablet is the next step, but its importance is not the technology itself. That’s something that apple naysayers don’t get. The iPod and the iPhone were both dismissed by geek experts as not being as feature-rich as they should have been. But that’s missing the point totally. What iPod and iPhone managed to trigger was cultural change. The first tapped into a way to buy and listen to music that literally revolutionised an industry. The second changed the way that ordinary people used used their phones. In both cases, what begins as a new toy becomes an indispensable part of one’s everyday life.

    But why did ipod and iphone change everything when diamond rio and nokia n9000 didn’t? In both cases the actual hardware was only a small part of the picture. What was more important was that both ipod and iphone represented significant steps in making (in this case small) computers invisible. Ipod users don’t need manuals. The scroll wheel removed the barriers between people and their music.

    Multitouch does the same for everything else. For most iPhone users, the interface is second nature, it’s invisible. That’s why apple’s tablet, should it actually appear on the 27th is important. Kindle does the job in a workmanlike manner, but e-ink is not responsive enough so the interface just gets in the way. Remember, printed books are a technology too. It’s just that over several centuries they became second nature and invisible. Whatever replaces print needs to easily gain those same attributes.

    In the last decade or so, apple seems to have understood that cultural change is hard. And that one way to get people to change the habits of a lifetime is to make the new way appear totally natural – as if it’s the way things should always have been done. When technology becomes invisible, cultural change can happen.

    Roll on the 27th

    Some of us are buying more books

    Supporting the anecdotal stories I get from those who have e-book readers (particularly kindles) comes a LEK survey that suggests that people with e-book readers not only read more, but buy more books. GigaOm reports:

    The study by L.E.K. Consulting shows that while e-reader owners are still a relatively small proportion of the population, almost half of them say they are reading more books. And a large number of those books are new books — in other words, books they would not otherwise have bought or read.

    I know my partner can’t stop herself buying kindle books because it’s so convenient (and relatively cheap) even though she doesn’t have a kindle – she uses the kindle app on her iphone.

    Fact is stranger than fiction…

    Or something. From techdirt, a nice piece of post-somethingism that signals the death of something. Just not sure what. There’s a show on commercial television, on Sunday nights here in Sydney called Castle. A lightweight cop genre action/comedy whose central tenet is that a crime author character (Richard Castle) is helping out the real cops on real cases whilst not sleeping with the real cop character. Got that? Anyhow, it turns out that a real book (print on paper) written by the fictitious Richard Castle has hit the (real) New York Times bestseller list. Published by Hyperion, “Heat Wave” was number 14 in December. From Techdirt:

    Now, it’s not entirely clear who wrote the book (when asked, the producers of the show insist that it was the character in the program), but the book has gotten decent reviews and ABC is pitching the book on its website (including free chapter downloads).

    So the way to be a successful book author is to first be a fictitious character on a successful television show. Go figure 🙂

    Long live the reader…

    Update to previous post. I plugged the Sony into my Mac at around 10 this morning. Nothing seemed to be happening, although the indicator light next to the power switch alternated between red and flashing orange. At 8pm – a full 10 hours later, the screen comes to life, with a message the the firmware update is in progress. Which it isn’t. So I swap it to the PC , which I’d left with the firmware updater running. The PC sees the Reader, I click update and now we’re good to go.

    In the course of all of this, I actually read the manual (not a habit of mine) and discovered that it’s considered normal for this model of Sony Reader to be unresponsive for forty minutes or so when plugged into a USB port, if the battery is low. Notwithstanding the fact that mine was unresponsive for fifteen times that long, and the battery indicator was indicating full charge when it all went pear-shaped, I’m gobsmacked. I have no idea what kind of last millenium battery charging technology Sony utilises, but the fact that they think that a product in this state is good enough to ship absolutely boggles the mind. If they (and others) can’t get this simple stuff right, the print book ain’t going nowhere…

    The Reader is Dead…

    So I bricked my Sony Reader. After a couple of weeks away when I used my iphone far more than the Sony, I realised that it was partly because most os the things I was reading were in epub. Time to do the long-delayed firmware update to let the Sony display that format. So yesterday I commandeer the spouse’s work laptop (the only Windows box in the house) and begin the process. Of course I screw it up by not installing the library software first. And that, in combination with my impatience (the dialogue box said it would take about two minutes, and sat there for the best part of an hour) led me to do a couple of things that in insight probably weren’t the best idea. But in the end, the thing said ‘update finished’ and showed me the boot screen. Then went blank. And has stayed blank ever since. Won’t turn on, won’t reset and refuses to mount on any computer.

    The intertubes suggest a few things so I’m leaving it plugged into my Mac for the day to see if it sorts itself out with a trickle charge.

    Cynics will say that this would never happen with a printed book, and they’d be right… but I could respond that I’ve been updating firmware on a bunch of computers, smartphones, PDAs, ipods, iphones etc for more than a decade now, and this is the first time I appear to have totally bricked the device. I think it says more about Sony than e-books 🙂

    The Year of the e-reader?

    Not my line. (I thought it was last year :-)) But the Sydney Morning Herald’s tech writer, Asher Moses:

    A torrent of portable devices for reading e-books, newspapers and magazines was unleashed this week, with some models adding colour screens and even computers running Windows 7 and Google’s Android software.

    The hype surrounding e-book reader devices at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was deafening

    Before we get too excited, this is the tech pages of the online version of the Herald. When the book review section has e-book prices in its reviews, then we might be there…