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Archive for January, 2010

Did the iPad start a publishing revolution yesterday or not? Wait and see

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

For Apple and Steve Jobs, yesterday might have been a game-changing day for Apple and -by extension- the entire media world.  I’m not sure the world shook in the way that he had hoped, but its possible that in the future we may look back on yesterday as a bigger day than how we view it was today.  Such is often the nature of revolutions.

Since very few people have had an iPad in their hands yet, the talk of its pros and cons seems to me premature.  As with previous devices, it will be more and also less than the hype of its first debut.  As people begin to use it, as developers push the boundries of its capabilities, it will mature and improve.  It was wholly unrealistic to presume that Apple (or any other company launching a new product) would make the technological or political leaps necessary to create the “supreme device” that will replace all existing technology.

A lot of people have made points about the iPad missing this or that technology.  Apple will almost certainly release an iPad 2.0 sometime in early 2011, dropping its price points and adding functionality — both as the underlying (interestingly not OLED display, which has been falsely reported) display technology becomes cheaper and based on, in some small ways, customer demand for functionality.  In this regards, think of copy & paste on the iPhone. As for some software gaps, such as lack of Adobe Flash support, while some have made the point that this is because of the iPhone OS,  I think these are driven by a desire to lock people into apps and inhibit browser-based free, or possibly paid, web-based services. It is in Apple’s interest to lock people into proprietary software/apps, which are written specifically for their device.

From a standards perspective, the iPad could be both a good or bad thing.  Again it is too soon to tell, but very initial reactions are worrying.  That the iPad will support .epub as a file format is good on its face.  However, it is very likely that the iPad will contain Apple-specific DRM, since there isn’t at the moment an industry standard.  Getting content into (and out of, for those who want to move away from the iPad) that DRM will be the crucial question.  As far as I am aware, Apple has been publicly silent on that question.  I expect that some of the publishes who agreed to content deals likely discussed this in detail, but those conversatins were likely limited to a very small group of executives all bound by harsh NDAs.  (I note that McGraw Hill was allegedly dropped from the announcement because of comments made by its CEO Tuesday on MSNBC.)

Also on the standards front, there was an excellent interview last night on the NPR news show Marketplace, during which author Josh Bernoff, also of Forrester Research, made the point that the internet was splintering into a variety of device specific applications.  The move toward applications in the past two years might reasonably be cause for concern.  It definitely adds to cost for content producers to create multiple contents for multiple platforms. I can’t say that I completely agree with his assessment, however.  The fact that there are open platforms available in the market place and that competition is forcing developers to open up their systems, notably the Google Android phone OS as well as the introduction of the Amazon Kindle Development Kit last week.

What is most interesting about this new product is its potential.  No one could have predicted three years ago the breadth and depth of the applications that have been developed for the iPhone.  Unleashing that creativity on the space of ebooks will very likely prove to be a boon for our community.  Specifically, this could provide publishers with an opportunity to expand the functionality of the ebook.

Often, new technology is at first used to replicate the functionality of the old technology.  In the case of books, I’m referring to the technology of paper. We are only now beginning to see people begin to take advantage of the new digital technology’s possibilities.    Perhaps the launch of Amazon’s new development kit and the technology platform of the iPad will spur innovative thinking about how to use ebooks and enhancing the functionality of digital content’s ability to also be an interactive medium.  The one element of the presentation yesterday that really caught my eye in this regard is the new user interface for reading the New York Times. This seemed the most innovative application of the iPad.  Hopefully in the coming months and years we will see a lot more of that experimentation, user interface design and multi-media intergration.

If that takes place than yesterday might have been a big day in the development of ebooks and information distribution.  If not, the jokes about the name will be all that we’ll recall about this new reader.

The free Ebook “bestsellers”

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

There is an interesting trend in the mass market for e-books, which is new on this scale: The free book.

Certainly free book distribution has taken place as a marketing tactic for decasdes, if not centuries.  However, since the release of the Kindle, this new distribution mode seems to have really taken off.

An article in the New York Times this past weekend described the growing trend.  As the Times reports, more than half of the “best-selling” e-books on the Kindle, Amazon.com’s e-reader, are available at no charge.

On Saturday afternoon, I double-checked this and of the books in Amazon Kindle’s top ebook “Bestsellers” list -

Top 5 – 4 free and one at $0.25 about the Kindle

Top 10 – 8 of top 10 – another at $8.55 (but on $0.95 off hardcover list)

Top 15 – 11 of top 15 – two more at $4.39 one at $7.50

Top 20 – 14 of top 20 – one at $5.50 and the first at $9.99

Top 25 – 17 of top 25 – two more at $9.99 including Dan Brown’s book

Ten more were not free in 25-50, so 18 of 50 or only 36% of top 50 book are paid.

11 more were for-fee books in the next 50-75

11 more in 75-100 –

In total 60 of top 100 “selling titles” for Kindle are free or public domain books.  Now Amazon changes this every hour, so a review of your own would probably not come up with the same results.  However, it seems that at least half and as many as two-thirds of the list are not “sellers” at all, but only downloads.

However in that article, the author noted theoretically “lost” 28K sales.  An old friend of mine knows one of the authors in that story and she told me that the referenced author actually made about $10,000 in royalties on her backlist during the free period, which is incredible.

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine and author of the Long Tail, described how free works at the dawn the internet age in his book “Free”.  I should note that I was one who took advantage of Anderson’s business model and read “Free” at no cost on my Kindle.  What publishers are doing is a perfect example of Anderson’s thesis: That people can use the medium of digital distribution and it’s *nearly* free distribution to get consumers to be interested in other non-free products.  You can download the first book of a series for free, but if you want volumes 2-12 of the “Twilight” series, you will have to pay. NOTE – that Twilight or Harry Potter didn’t employ this model.  However, 10 years from now is there a kids book series that kids are eagerly awaiting the movies of, that began as a series with the first book free?  I don’t think this process will change how people discover and share books, but it certainly will accelerate the process.

BISG Appoints a new Executive Director

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

The Book Industry Study Group has just announced that Scott Lubeck has been appointed the new Executive Director at BISG.  Lubeck, most recently Vice President of Technology for Wolters Kluwer Health, Professional and Education, has more than thirty years of publishing industry experience and has been heavily involved in technology and in dealing with the design and implementation of digital initiatives. Lubeck has also held executive positions with Harvard Business School Publishing and Newsstand, Inc., as well as with Perseus Books Group and National Academy Press.

Michael Healy, the previous Director of BISG, left in May to lead the forthcoming Book Rights Registry, which will form after (if?) the Google Books Settlement is approved by the courts.

BISG and NISO frequently partner on industry events and initiatives.  We look forward to continuing to serve the community together and to working with Scott and wish him the best of luck throughout his transition and in his new role.

Best wishes for a prosperous 2010 from NISO

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Happy New Year!  I’d like to take this time, on behalf of the NISO staff and the Board of Directors, to thank you for your involvement and interest in NISO over the past year and to wish you and your organization a prosperous and successful 2010.  The past year at NISO has seen some challenges, but more importantly many, many successes.

Everything that we undertake is only possible through the volunteer contributions of members of the NISO community and the financial support of our members.  While everyone producing, sharing, using and preserving information relies on the work that NISO undertakes, few understand the effort and time that go into standards development.  Those of you who participate in the process–either directly on a working group, or on the ballot review groups, or by supporting adoption through education and outreach–understand how challenging and rewarding consensus work can be.

The coming year will see a great deal of important activity on several different fronts.  We look forward to serving the needs of community and to making information flow easier, more rapid and more reliable.  All the best to each of you!