Saturday, June 30, 2007

On The Hudson

It is not everyday that you see an outrigger canoe race in New York City. No idea who won but it is worth noting that I think these were crewed by girls.
I started humming the theme song from Hawaii 5-o and Mrs PND wondered what the hell I was doing.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Houghton in The Caymans

It used to be that opening a bank account in the Caymans was a rite of passage for the exceedingly wealthy but now even struggling multi-national publishing companies like Riverdeep are establishing accounts there to manage their treasury function. Oh, and to avoid 'onerous reporting' requirements in their home countries. According to the Irish Independent, Riverdeep is establishing a corporate presence in the Cayman Islands:

HMR, formed from Riverdeep's reverse takeover of Houghton Mifflin last year to create a $5bn (€3.7bn) group, is asking shareholders to approve the setting up of a holding company called Education Media and Publishing Group at an extraordinary general meeting to be held on July 9.

With more and more companies looking to establish a corporate structure in foreign lands - Bermuda (Stanley) and Dubai (Haliburton) and more companies considering going private because of current financial reporting requirements (SOX), Riverdeep is just another example of the trend.

The Independent has seen documentation regarding the scheme that will enable HMR to achieve more flexibility in dividend payments and also greater confidentiallity regarding corporate accounting.

"Irish law largely restricts companies to make such distributions out of realised profit less realised losses. The definition of profit available in the Cayman Islands is much broader and so allows for greater flexibility in making distributions out of share capital subject to limited restrictions," comments Barry O' Callaghan the group's executive chairman.

Net income seems to be more concept than precept down in the Caymans. According to the article, the company needs 75% of shareholder and High court approval. Currently they have exceeded the shareholder level (with O'Callaghan owning 48%) so it will be up to the High Court to approve. Doesn't seem in much doubt.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Apple ebook reader for iPod - What a Cool Idea

I found this link to a 'design proposal' that would combine an IPOD with a tablet like e-book reader. It is a pretty cool concept. Apple has been rumoured to be considering an ebook reader but nothing has materialized.

Publishers Fight Back - 2

I don't seem to hear too much about the Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP), which is being developed by a group of content producers under the aegis of the World Association of Newspapers but they released a press release about the progress of the initiative. To refresh, the ACAP is new standard to allow on-line content providers to automatically communicate information to search engine operators and others on how their content can be used. From the press release:
  • ACAP is building on existing technology including Robots Exclusion Protocol and is using established methods for defining standard permissions semantics.
  • Collaboration and support for the project has been overwhelming: the list of 28 organisations continues to grow and represents a worldwide interest in the project (partners are listed below).
  • Work is now underway to prepare ACAP for the post-pilot stage -- to hand over a long-term sustainable model to a pre-existing governance organisation or to set up its own ACAP governance organisation.
Effectively, the group is establishing a standard way to lock (or make available) the content on content providers web sites. This tool will allow publishers to select the content that they want crawled and thereby better control the access to their content. The tool is being developed so that when in place, a webcrawler will be able to read the permissions information and act accordingly. No human intervention required other than for the publisher to set the initial parameters.

“What we seek to do together is create the foundations for what is surely the highest aspiration that publishers, aggregators, search engines and politicians could have for the content industry - namely an increasingly healthy, profitable and vibrant sector which drives knowledge and diverse thinking throughout the internet and the world and which creates new opportunities for everyone," said Gavin O’Reilly, President of the World Association of Newspapers.

One hopes it is all not a bit late....

Prior Post

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pearson Education Announce Student Advisory Board

Speaking to your customers is always a good idea and Pearson have determined consulting with a divergent group of college students will give them some insight into electronic texts, e-learning and other new educational methodology. I suspect they will also be able to discuss issues around pricing and pricing methodology that have caused the educational market such angst over the past few years. From the press release:
"We believe an advisory board of college students will be an important catalyst in providing Pearson with a fresh, informed perspective about our educational content, technology, services and future learning models," said Will Ethridge, President and CEO, Pearson Higher Education, International and Professional Publishing.
The board consists of 12 students from across the country and each sits for one year. The group held its first meeting in Boston last week and furthermore, each student will work on particular initiatives and will be paired with a Pearson executive as a mentor.
Sandi Kirshner, chief marketing officer, Pearson Higher Education, International and Professional Publishing. "We have high expectations for the student board members and we are anxious to gain insights from their college experience."

The God Subject

The Guardian Newspaper in the UK has a short article on the success of books questioning the existance of (any) God. The article is specific to Christopher Hitchens book God is Not Great but also mentioned the sucecss of The God Delusion. I contributed to both authors royalty payment and finished The God Delusion but I haven't started the Hitchens book. I am currently reading Buddha or Bust and someone I had dinner with last night jokingly suggested I was in the midst of some mid-life crisis. Meaning aside, I will have beaten this theme to death by the time I have finished all three.

NYTimes: Hardly the Mike Wallace Treatment

Apparently, I am not the only one that feels that the New York Times' 'expose' on News Corp lacked any depth or provided new information on the manner in which Murdoch runs his business. (Paidcontent) You really have to consider the NYT's motives in this given they are themselves a family run operation similar to Dow Jones that has been left behind by the media revolution and they ran an editorial two weeks ago supporting the family's (supposed) wish to stay independent. It was more than disingenuous and perhaps in the interests of full disclosure they should have mentioned their own dual equity arrangement that keeps the Ochs/Sulzberger fully in control and the public shareholders out in the cold.

(As I may have mentioned, I retain some deep seated resentment towards Rupert Murdoch because as a 14 year old newspaper seller in Melbourne Australia they raised the price of the Herald from 8cents to 10cents and in the process did me out of a virtually guaranteed 2cents on every sale. That added a lot to my daily take and I soon realized that selling newspapers on a street corner was no kind of future).

Murdoch should get Dow Jones if for no other reason that he is willing to rebuild the franchise to compete in a new media, connected and multi-channel world. The Brancrofts aren't and I think that most people would like to see the Wall Street Journal retain and perhaps increase its influence and standing not just in the US but internationally. Murdoch has proven News Corp can manage and grow substantial media properties and Dow Jones will be no different. It is stupid to assume that any proprietorial media property is without bias or doesn't reflect some level of influence from the owner; but, customers (and staff) either support it or not and Murdoch (or the NYT) are not going to undercut the credibility of their properties to spite their revenue.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Everyone Needs A Dad

There was a good deal of joking about the acronym DAD at last weeks Klopotek sponsored conference on Digital Asset Distribution for publishers, but that did not take away from the content which showcased a number of providers in this space.

The conference was one part of a two part conference that presented a white paper Digital Asset Distribution for Book Publishers written by Mike Shatzkin (The Idea Logical Company) and Mark Bide (Rightscom Limited). The second part of the conference, which will deliver largely the same content, will be delivered in London next month at which time the presentations from both meetings will be made available. The White paper establishes the context for digital asset distribution:
But now, and rather suddenly, every book publisher is finding it has the need to manage the digital distribution of their content. The same set of content is needed by different people, in different forms, in different places and at different times, over and over again.

The white paper poses a number of questions which they later answer based on an extensive set of interviews with the key players in the industry. The pair interviewed companies in the US and Europe and publishers and a set of the predominate DADs. Among the questions they pose:

  • When is it sensible for publishers to buy or build their own technical infrastructure?
  • What are the risks of outsourcing Digital Asset Distribution?
  • What functions currently managed by publishers might be rendered obsolete by a DAD?
  • What is the relationship between Digital Asset Management (DAM) and Digital Asset Distribution?
  • How much does a publisher need to know in order even to make use of a DAD?
  • How does on line access to publisher’s content change both processes and accountability?
  • To what extent have the leading edge professional and academic publishers been disadvantaged by their early entry into digital distribution?
  • How many DADs do we need?

Presenting at the meeting were representative from Harpercollins, Ingram, Newstand, Bibliovault, codeMantra, CPI Publishing, MPS Technologies and Value Chain International. Each presentation was interesting in documenting the direction each company was taking in this arena. The comments by Bibliovault were especially on point for any one thinking about digital asset management:

  1. Make sure you have access to your files at any time – don’t be reliant on the vendor to provide access
  2. Don’t hand off the content and walk away expecting everything will be OK
  3. Get your short term goals met
  4. Be sure you can stockpile: a place to put the content even-though the content may not be released to the public
The full report can be found here and in about a month you will also be able to find the presentations.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

BookExpo America Conference: Podcast

Many of the conference sessions at BookExpo were taped for Podcast as was the session I hosted.

Here is the link.

This session provides an overview of the social networking activities of various publishers and provides a window into their motivations, successes and expectations. It is hosted by Michael Cairns, founder of Information Media Partners. Speakers include Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson, Carrie Kania of Harper Perennial, Jim Behrle of Overlook Press, Karen Christensen of Berkshire Publishing and Malle Vallick of Harlequin.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pearson, GE and Dow Jones

While Pearson has not admitted engaging in any discussions there is much too much noise about this possible deal for nothing to be going on. The Independent has an article this morning which examines how the deal may be done that enables Pearson to retain earnings growth and return rates that they have promised shareholders.
So Pearson has been casting about for a partner, with the latest mooted structure being a joint bid with GE, the outcome of which would be a joint venture where the two own equal shares of 40-45 per cent and the Bancroft family retain a stake of 10-20 per cent. GE would put CNBC into the joint venture, Pearson would put in the FT and possibly some of the other assets from the FT Group, which also owns The Economist and a host of specialist financial magazines and databases. One or both would also have to contribute some cash so that the Bancrofts and Dow Jones' other shareholders could get something close to Mr Murdoch's $60-a-share for their holdings.

The odds are still with NewCorp but it looks like being a far more interesting process than it looked two weeks ago.

UPDATE: Bloomberg

GE and Pearson have dropped their discussions on a potential bid for Dow Jones. The odds are even more in favor of News Corps bid and the market agrees. The stock price for DJ has settled at the offer price.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

News Corp Discusses Combining MySpace and Yahoo

An interesting story in this morning's London Times that suggests that News Corp executives and Yahoo have discussed the combination of MySpace with Yahoo. News Corp would retain approximately 25-30% interest in the combined entity. With the departure of Terry Semel, the discussions could die a quick death but with the massive strategic issue that Google poses to Yahoo the company must be thinking that organic incremental growth is not going to cut it and that they will need to construct more than one major deal to both build momentum and compete aggressively with Google. The combination with MySpace is certainly interesting but if you coupled that deal with a merger with EBAY - which also has its Google problems - and suddenly you have a legitimate antidote to Googleness.

EBSCO Acquire Some ABC-Clio Databases

Ebsco announced yesterday an 'historic' agreement with ABC-Clio to acquire two of ABC-CLIO’s renowned databases, Historical Abstracts (HA) and America: History and Life (AHL), and will distribute eight additional award-winning history databases in addition to ABC-CLIO’s online history eBook collection, History Reference Online. EBSCO continues to add content to their concentrated 'silo' offerings which makes them the number one source of affordable academic reference material.

From the press release:
Tim Collins, President of EBSCO Publishing, said: “We are extremely excited about this partnership. Our relationship with ABC-CLIO will enable expanded access to some truly remarkable resources. As always, we remain committed to adding value for librarians and researchers in the research process.” Collins continued: “As a company that remains committed to growth, and one of the largest licensors and digitizers of content in the world, we are delighted and honored to be able to work with ABC-CLIO to enhance and expand history resources for teachers, students, and scholars.”

Gary Rautenstrauch - New CEO SirsiDynix

Vista Equity Partners appointed Gary Rautenstrauch the new CEO of SirsiDynix as of this weekends ALA conference in Washington DC. Gary was last at AMS and had been hired to sort out that mess which developed into a much larger problem than most people realised. Most people in library land will know him from his time at Baker & Taylor. He replaces Pat Somers who left Sirsi after Vista Equity invested.

Press Release

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Google Interiors - All too possible

Does Google know no bounds? Maps were one thing, digital pictures of your streetscape another. Can it go even further? Well, Sandra Niehaus thinks it can:
“I’m Dierdre Martin and this is George.” She didn’t fill in George’s last name,
but they both held out their hands and I shook them. I realized with a shock
that George’s hat was a dense cluster of tiny cameras, forming a rounded beehive
of angled, glittering eyes. “We’re from Google Interiors, a new venture
sponsored by Google to make every home interior in the world searchable on the
internet.” She paused and took in my doubtless stunned expression. “You know,
Google, the internet search engine?” she clarified helpfully.

Read the entertaining post here.

(Tip of the hat to Exact Editions).

Monday, June 18, 2007

News on Literary Social Networks

(Via GalleyCat).
I missed the news reported in The Christian Science Monitor that has linked up with Random House to supply books to Librarything users in exchange for reviews.
Random House will send free copies of five new fiction titles to 95 LibraryThing members in exchange for short reviews. They'll ship another batch in July. Come October, LibraryThing anticipates opening its "Early Reviewers" program to other publishing houses. A half-dozen have expressed interest so far.

Goodreads and shelfari are other sites that have been able to generate collective interest in books and the social aspects of reviewing, sharing recommendations and simple inquisitiveness regarding others reading interests. What is apparent is that these sites and the success of others like them will lead to an accelleration in the migration of publishers advertising dollars away from newspapers and trade magazines to sites of book interest. As the article comments:
The potential for websites like Goodreads, LibraryThing,, and, to reach readers across all demographics is certainly promising. LibraryThing has 205,000 members and 14 million books catalogued. (Mr. Spalding likes to say that if it were a bricks-and-mortar library its collection would surpass Yale University's.) Shelfari, which was launched last year and doesn't disclose numbers beyond saying its users are in the tens of thousands, recently received funding from

The sources of influential book reviews from the likes of NYTimes and Publisher's Weekly may become marginalized unless they adopt some of the same types of social and interactive technologies that these innovators have done. Woe that they come up with something a step beyond what some of these small innovators have done.

Google Pushing the Bounds of Privacy?

To many literate web aficionados the presumption of privacy as it refers to ones everyday interaction with the web is an anachronism of another age. Reuters takes a look at what Google is doing with web search and doesn't answer many questions but certainly poses some.
Unified Search offers no information not already available on Google, but by putting it all in one place, it is turning up sometimes disconcerting links between previously unconnected types of data. And Google is testing various forms of personalized Web search, including Web History, a feature that allows individual users to look back at a chronological history of their search activity over several years. Users learn what predictable creatures they are -- what good and bad habits they have -- when their entire Web search record is revealed, stretching back days, months, even years. By offering a digital record of users' daily interests, Google is giving those who choose the service an unprecedented level of insight into their own thinking. Computers have begun to play the confessional role once reserved for the local priest, or psychotherapist.
If I needed a shrink, I am pretty sure he/she would not be my computer.

The article goes on to review the push Google is making to re-write the rules of privacy in a legal sense.
Google has responded by calling for comprehensive legislation to harmonize laws of various governments, all of which want their say over the World Wide Web. Self-regulation by the Internet industry has not worked, the company says. "Patchwork regulation is confusing for consumers because they don't know which privacy regulations should apply in different situations," Google attorney Wong says of U.S. privacy laws.
Of course it is a little disingenuous for Wong to speak-up for us consumers when what they proselytize has a material impact on their business model. Nevertheless there is probably a grain/stone of truth to the comment.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Pearson and Dow Jones

I half jokingly suggested that Pearson would take a look at Dow Jones amid speculation that Pearson was next on News Corps list if the NewsCorp bid for Dow Jones didn't work out. Most competitive bidders for DJ face considerable hurdles matching the current Murdoch bid but Pearson may have a hidden advantage in that the Bancroft family may be willing to take less money from Pearson in exchange for the understanding that the financial icon will be better protected journalistically under Pearson than under NewsCorp.

Reports suggest the likelihood of a bid is low, but if they were to end up with Dow Jones, it would be somewhat of a redemption for Pearson chair Scardino who has steadfastly refused to sell the FT group in the face of baying analysts and some shareholders who believed the group a looser. Combined with Dow Jones they would own three of the top ten news and financial journals in the world all of which (WSJ, FT, Economist) have exceptionally strong branding around the world. The next questions would be what do they do with it if they get it?

New York Post (Murdoch Paper)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Wolters Kluwer: Share Buy Back - Is this all they could think of?

Anyone owning WK shares should be thinking that their investment will increase in value as WK embarks on a $1.obillion share buy back scheme over the next 18mths. (Link) I am sure it is important to shareholders that the company stock price increase but wasn't selling the educational unit a way to get rid of an under performing asset and thus a deflated share price?

In an environment where information assets are going through the roof in terms of value is this the only thing they could come up with that could add long term value for shareholders? Without an aggressive business development strategy - that is acquisitions - is the company not a target themselves with $1.obillion from the education sale and a low share price? WK operate in a rapidly growing health care information market and thus one very appealing to PE or a well placed trade buyer. Why would either wait for the share price to go up?

Bureau Van Dijk: Sale Interest Low

The Private Equity fund Candover placed BVD on the block two months ago amid a highly volatile environment for information and financial database companies. Who could doubt that the time was ripe. However, according to The Financial Times the initial indications of interest have been under whelming thus far. Some of the likely bidders - Reuters, Thomson, Pearson - have not come through with bids and this has disappointed the owners. The company itself appears to be doing well but according to the article some potential buyers are concerned that a lot of the content is not owned by BVD.
These sources also mentioned the fact that Bureau van Dijk does not technically own its own information, as a potential cause for concern for potential bidders. On the other hand, one source noted that it can be seen as a high-quality asset, as reflected in the 9-10x EBITDA multiple being offered in two separate staple finance packages from Goldman Sachs and RBS. Bureau van Dijk’s products include bank, corporate and M&A databases such as BankScope and AMADEUS and ZEPHYR.

Here is the link to my earlier post on BVD.

As the quote above indicates, BVD has strong branded products, in key markets that command high margin revenues. BVD is expected to go for around $1.3billion and given the prices paid for recent information companies it could still surprise.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Book Videos and Simon & Schuster

The New York Times (via Associated Press) has a short article on video promotions for books. It is becoming all the rage now. Here is the McEwen (Chesil Beach) video produced by Powells Books mentioned in the article.

Also mentioned is Susan Wiggins' novel The Shadow Catcher which is one of the new crop of videos launched by Simon & Schuster today. From the article:

Wiggins is one of 40 writers featured on a video site launched Thursday by Simon & Schuster that includes clips of Wiggins, Zane, Jeannette Walls and Sandra Brown. The publisher expects to add videos for books by Vince Flynn, Michael Connelly and Jodi Picoult among others.

Once a novelty, book videos are increasingly common and, publishers say, essential. Hyperion Books, HarperCollins and Penguin Group (USA) are among those using them. Powell's Books, a leading independent store based in Portland, Ore., plans its own series of films, starting with a video for Ian McEwan's new novel, ''On Chesil Beach.''

''I don't know if we're reaching people we wouldn't otherwise be reaching, but we are reaching people who are not necessarily reading book review sections, or always watching a TV show,'' says Sue Fleming, Simon & Schuster's vice president and executive director for online and consumer marketing.
Here is the link to the Wiggins video and here is the link to where you can watch videos of favorite authors (when they do a video) and learn more about the books.

al-Mutanabi Street: Baghdad Diary

I had not had the chance until recently to return to the diary of Dr. Saad Eskande, Director of the Iraq National Library and Archive . It makes pretty horrific reading and this passage from March 5th describes the scene of the car bomb attack on the well known al-Mutanabi Street Book market. The diary is hosted by the British Library and is well worth reading.

As we were talking, a huge explosion shook the INLA's building around 11.35. We, the three of us, ran to the nearest window, and we saw a big and thick grey smoke rising from the direction of al-Mutanabi Street, which is less than 500 meter away from the INLA. I learnt later that the explosion was a result of a car bomb attack. Tens of thousands of papers were flying high, as if the sky was raining books, tears and blood. The view was surreal. Some of the papers were burning in the sky. Many burning pieces of papers fell on the INLA's building. Al-Mutanabi Street is named after one of the greatest Arab poets, who lived in Iraq in the middle ages. The Street is one of well-known areas of Baghdad and where many publishing houses, printing companies and bookstores have their main offices and storages. Its old cafes are the most favorite place for the impoverished intellectuals, who get their inspirations and ideas form this very old quarter of Baghdad. The Street is also famous for its Friday's book market, where secondhand, new and rear books are sold and purchased. The INLA purchases about 95% of new publications from al-Mutanabi Street. I also buy my own books from the same street. It was extremely sad to learn that a number of the publishers and book sellers, whom we knew very well, were among the dead, including Mr. Adnan, who was supposed to deliver a consignment of new publications to the INLA. According to an early estimation, more than 30 people were killed and 100 more injured. Four brothers were killed in their office.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Never Catalog Another Book!

Imagine never having to catalog another book. A potential reality but not one we are likely to see unless the publishing community can establish consistent technical standards for RFID (radio frequency identification). RFID tags should be bound into a book (or DVD, CD) at the bindery and that tag should represent a standard syntax that all RFID readers can understand. The process of RFID attributes a unique number (in standard syntax) to the tag that then enables readers at any point in the publishing supply chain to read the tag and identify the exact copy (or item).

As the item follows through the supply chain, data elements are be attributed to the tag representing everything from ISBN – to advanced shipping notice (ASN) – to customer membership number. In an ideal, fully implemented world, the physical touches are significantly less (and potentially zero) than in the traditional model where books are counted, sorted and cataloged repeatedly before they are eventually sold. As the example of BGN in the Netherlands shows, even in a limited implementation – that is from distribution to retailer – significant savings can be had.

Naturally a robust data warehouse sits at the center of any RFID implementation where all data elements attributable to the items reside. For example, once the RFID tag is attributed to an ISBN all the data elements describing that ISBN are now ‘readable’ at any point in the supply chain. This is particularly relevant at the end of the supply chain in the bookstore or library. At this point, a book can be found in any location in the store or library whether miss-shelved or not by reading the RFID tag. Searches conducted in the catalog or in-store kiosk will be able to identify the exact spot where the book can be found.

Potentially, implementing RFID on an industry basis would eliminate significant redundancy in the supply chain and probably increase effectiveness of everything from publishing programs to marketing programs and sales.

Clearly there are more than a few hurdles to over come to get to this point not least of which is the standard for RFID. Retail implementation of RFID in the US booktrade is limited, but not so in libraries where vendors have been selling systems into the library market for years. Unfortunately, the vendors sell their own non-compatible platforms which only partially generate the kind of improvements that could be achieved. In addition, the libraries that implement RFID have to retro-convert their collections at considerable cost and cover the costs themselves. The number of different systems in place at libraries also causes problems for suppliers who are required to place tags on items and must accommodate differing standards (obvious oxymoron) and then test the resulting tag with a version of the software in place at the library. A tiresome and inefficient process to say the least.

It doesn’t need to be so. In the Netherlands, an admittedly strong vendor set its own agenda in establishing an RFID standard for its stores. There needs to be a similar effort in the US but one that keeps the solution simple – a syntax for the RFID tag only – that will allow publishers, retailers and libraries to experiment and implement RFID in the supply chain.

Ultimately, RFID will be implemented in the publishing industry and booksellers and libraries will never have to catalog or attribute bibliographic information to a title. The bibliographic database is the other key item that needs to be addressed and there are some interesting trends in this area which I will discuss in my next article.

BBC US News: More competition for Katie

Admidst the Katie C bashing The BBC has announced that they will launch an hour long US newscast on BBC America and BBC World.

The BBC is betting on a show that fills a niche in TV similar to the one The Economist fills in print. The London-based magazine saw circulation rise on the popularity of its in-depth international and financial reporting.

Personnally, I enjoy the contrast between the US networks approach to news and the BBC's international viewpoint. I wonder if I will enjoy watching US news on BBC and World news on BBC. For the most part I think US news is fairly shallow so if BBC is able to provide the type of coverage of the US that they do for international news their new program may become an interesting alternative. I'll never give up The Daily Show however.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Are We On The Right Frequency?

Rather than wait for an industry to bless a standard for RFID or a data requirement for each chip, the Dutch retailer BGN launched a major strategic initiative to build ‘the book retail store of the future’ using self-designed RFID tools and technology. The resulting implementation has been the talk of the RFID industry and why not since this relatively small retailer operating in a relatively small industry has done what the mighty Walmart has been unable to do. From the outset, success for BGN was more assured because the company embarked on this effort for its own business reasons rather than having to implement it due to some directive from a third party.

The Dutch experience was presented at a panel meeting on Saturday at BookExpo to a disappointingly small group. RFID is in the process of transforming the BGN business and while publishers and retailers from the US have visited their operations to see the implementation in detail there doesn’t appear to be immediate impetus in the US to launch an RFID initiative. The Dutch example is notable for several reasons: Firstly, the company approached the initiative from a complete supply-chain view and they recognized that they needed to involve other parties in the planning and design of the initiative. Secondly, the company was first to implement the solution, and as a result, key software and hardware vendors were more willing to be flexible to support the implementation since it was in their interests to succeed. Thirdly, the company used experiences gained by others-such as Borders’ use of kiosks, Gartner’s research on store design and Metro of Germany’s test store.

The retail (not just publishing) industry suggested it couldn’t be done, arguing that privacy, tag costs and product breadth were issues too difficult to overcome. While BGN understood and addressed these concerns, Matthijs vd Lely, CEO of BGN, commented while on the Panel that, even prior to implementation, some executives remained skeptical.

The results have been more than impressive. At the Donner store location, the company stocks about 240,000 titles on 55,000 sq/ft and receives about 8million units each year. In a ‘traditional’ store, stock takes require the closing of the store for 2days. The new store remains open and the inventory is counted in hours. Theft and shrinkage have been reduced because the company accurately tracks items from receipt through purchase and the RFID tags acts as a theft alarm. (Privacy has been addressed by deactivating the tag on purchase). In a presentation at Frankfurt last year, the company estimated that they save over $250,000/yr just from stock take efficiency alone. Evidence also suggests that average revenue per customer has increased 6-8%, due to better inventory information at store level.

During implementation, the company needed to address minor issues such as metal shelving that interfered with RFID reception, metal or part metal packaging on books, CDs and DVDs; and, in some cases, location of a title was not specific enough – covering two bookshelf bays for example. These issues appear minor and, post-implementation, the store experience for shoppers is considerably enhanced. Employees and customers can identify with certainty an item and its location in the store. More integration with their web site and with store promotions and bundling is planned. The company hopes to have RFID implemented store-wide by the end of 2008, with added improvements (such as RFID enabled shelving) which could eliminate stock taking entirely.

The prospects for success in the US appear muted for two reasons. Firstly, well-intentioned industry volunteers seem to be fixated on defining the data that may or may not ride along on the RFID chip. In the BGN implementation, the chip only contains a unique number. At the point when the RFID chip is applied to the item (by BGN), the chip number and associated meta-data are married up in the BGN product database: Taken at face value, this approach appears more flexible, cheaper and faster. (For example, what happens if data ‘formatted’ on an RFID chip is inaccurate? The same mistake could be rectified once in a database rather than having to recall all RFID chips and rewriting the information). In the US, the initiative may move faster if we just define the syntax for the ‘dumb’ RFID number. Secondly, no one in the industry appears to want to take the first step but, as the BGN example shows, significant advantages could accrue to the company that goes first. In my opinion, this is most likely to be a retailer and, perhaps, should be a retailer, because the business case seems to be more obvious.

In looking to the future, BGN hopes that tags will be applied at the bindery and supply-chain partners can adopt the technology when they are able. In the US, we don’t seem to have reached that point of mutual desire. In an industry where a half- point gain in operating margin is hard to find, one would think that capital investment supporting RFID implementation at store level would be a no-brainer- especially given the example of BGN.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

RFID Can Save Book Retail

BGN is a Dutch retailer that has launched their own RFID initiative to resounding success. (I used their experience as a basis for my re-think of the Borders business strategy). At this mornings panel discussion, the compelling business case seemed to escape the audience although BGN did say that all major publishers and B&N had visited to see the RFID implementation in action.

In the US it seems we are making our standards discussion more complicated than it needs to be and thusfar the primary players in the supply chain are engaged in an infinite loop-like discussion about who should take the lead on implementation.

As a result, we are in the words of one of the panelists engaged in a "rolling five year" implementation. Which means don't hold your breath - more later.

Friday, June 01, 2007

IPhone: The best IPOD we have ever made

Walt Mosberg interviews Steve Jobs about the Apple business - well worth watching.

"we are in three businesses and a hobby" Apple MAC and iTunes Music business generate $10billion each and the third business they are about to get into is the phone business (he calls it "handsets") and the hobby is Apple TV.

Where is the MAC business? Growth is about 3x the market growth rate and greater if US is stripped out.

Jobs: IPhone is the best IPod we have ever made. Available on the last day in June.

Reason 2 cingular did the deal: Existing Phones are not capabile of taking advantage of 3G phones particularly in how users access the interent. They get the 'baby internet'

Zillions of independents are looking to offer DRM free music: many more by end of year.

Mosberg asks about 'lock-in': Jobs notes that less than 25 songs on average IPOD were purchased via Itunes store. Given average user has hundreds of songs on their IPOD. Clearly not getting the majority of their music from Itunes and not even getting a medium sized minority. Suggestion "we have a lock in is ridiculous." "IPOD wins because it is the best music player".

Mosberg: is the IPhone a wireless Ipod? Jobs: It is three things, the best Ipod ever made, the best (and incredibly good) phone and "the internet in your pocket" If it were any one of the three it would be sucessful.

Itunes software versus number of IPODs: 300mm + copies of Itunes versus 100mm Ipods. Makes Apple one of the largest windows developers. Jobs: "we get cards and letters from people that say we are their favorite app on windows," and "Its like giving a glass of ice water to somebody in hell."

Link via Paid Content.

BookExpo Quotes: Friday

Amazon Digital:
4mm orders in one day - during Christmas season
42mm unique visitors each month
67mm active accounts

1 in 2 Books sold is in the Search Inside the Book Program: "Browsing pages sells more books"

Incremental sales up lift is 6.5%

Amazon allows consumers that "the know have a propensity to buy based on their account details to delve deeper into the content and gain more access to content"

Generally an very interesting presentation of the completeness of Amazon's digital marketing and promotions support for publishers.

Overheard in the isle: "this book is a combination of Catch 22 and Patrick O'Brien"

The Murdochs and the Bancrofts

Looks like there has been a change of heart in the Bancroft family and the sale of the company looks all but inevitable. Reuters

From the article:

The Bancroft family, which controls 64 percent of Dow Jones's voting power, said it would also look at offers from other bidders. Dow Jones in a separate statement said the board would consider News Corp.'s offer and other approaches.

The Bancroft decision is a change from its earlier rejection of Murdoch's $60-a-share bid, and brings the publisher of The Wall Street Journal closer to being sold after more than a century of being independent.

Obviously, assuming Murdoch gets this prize it would be unlikely that he will have a go at Pearson. Clearly the market sees this as a real event and the stock was up sharply on the news to slightly below the Murdoch offer level.