Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Amazon Stanza: This Changes Nothing

There is a lot of consternation in TwitterLand regarding the news that Amazon will buy LexCycle the producer of the Stanza iPhone book application. This is the community whose collective pulse has only just returned to normal after the 'adult' content categorization issue so it might be time to get the paddles out. How the publishers will react (if at all) is less clear, but one thing is clear: As e-Books become progressively more important to publisher futures, their collective power with respect to Amazon diminishes. And while these are early days in the future of eBooks, it precisely the point that eBooks are of only minor importance to publishers that perhaps gives them the opportunity to define their future landscape.

Amazon's acquisition does warrant concern regarding concentration of retail options for e-Books: How publishers deal with that issue is unlikely to be effective, however. Here are some ideas:
  1. E-Pub - whether e-pub is the correct standard is less important than everyone adopting a common standard. It is also crucial that they adopt the common standard without bastardizing it and creating 'their version' of e-pub. At LBF last week, there were many asides such as 'they have their own version' of e-pub. Publishers need to force this issue collectively and aggressively (and this is not a collusion issue) so that the e-Book supply chain can run as smooth as possible. The industry is wimpy in its policing of a standard for e-Book content and it needs to get stronger. The gyrations publishers are going through to prepare and deliver a variety of formats is stupid and has to stop.
  2. Interoperability - An e-book purchaser has to be able to take all of this or her purchased content from one e-reader to another with no degradation in experience and no added expense. If I buy a book to read on the Kindle, I must be able to read the same book on a Sony or IRex. That is the minimum a reader should expect. In "bookland" we view our marketplace as the center of the universe; however, there is a much larger related issue around Amazon's data services that impacts a much wider segment of business. Earlier this month in The Economist, the newspaper reported on the "Open Cloud Manifesto" which attempts to set common standards for interoperability across the various cloud computing market offerings. Guess who is refusing to play: Amazon and Microsoft. This means that if I decide to use Amazon for the first three years and then strike a deal with another provider (for lower cost or better service) I am going to have a very difficult time making the switch. Publishers need to require that all retailers enable interoperability across e-readers.
  3. Archiving - As a reader, I do not want to run the risk of losing access to my e-Books because the vendor stops selling the hardware or sells the division to a competitor. There has to be a mechanism to effectively escrow my content so that I can always get to it. Is it too much to expect a replication of the practice of placing a p-book on my shelf for 50 yrs? Maybe, but why limit my expectations? This also applies when I go overseas: It is unfathomable that I would lose access to something I purchased legally.
  4. Collaboration - Trade publishers should give serious consideration to collective activity in building a trade version of CourseSmart which is a JV combining many of the top educational publishers in an effort to leverage e-content. CourseSmart is not anti-competitive, rather, it seeks to provide a level playing field for the delivery of all e-content into the educational marketplace. In the p-world, publishers combined their sales, fulfillment and distribution with other publishers (less so in the US but it is a common practice in the UK and Australia) so why not have a similar program for e-Books? If so, it can and should be done in combination with the other ideas above.
  5. Fight - Hold back e-Content from retailers that refuse to play by the rules. "Fat chance" you say? Well, think about how hard this one will be to consider as an option in 5 or 10 years. If not now then never, and it really is the only credible option. Getting a Coursesmart offering off the ground or actively helping B&N (strange bed-fellows) with their expected e-Book store could be critical here.
Admittedly, I am naive in assuming that publishers collectively could force commonality on any of these issues but this early stage in the e-Books history offers a once in a lifetime opportunity. Once e-Books become important, then the retailer holds the cards and doing it their way will have a long-term deleterious impact on the industry. Added costs, less efficiency, lessened user experience. The purchase of Lexcycle just proves that Amazon acts completely in their self-interest to protect their marketplace (and maybe they should), but it also tells me they are unafraid of any meaningful reaction from the publishing community to counter-balance their unilateral tendencies.

There are possibly more points upon which the publishing community should be more forceful, especially as they relate to Amazon; however, rather than lament the further consolidation of e-Book power around the Kindle/Amazon (which will get nowhere,) think about forcing adoption of standards, processes and terms of service that make for a more efficient market. Those are not necessarily in Amazon's interests, but they should be in the publishers'.
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Monday, April 27, 2009

London Days of Futures Past

The question from the back of the room momentarily perplexed the panel of publishing executives: “What will we be reading these things on in five years?” It was a question so lacking in substance that it seemed designed only to become the lead for the writer article. But at the same time, it hit me: This question sums up the trade publishing industry. We anxiously await the next technical innovation that will both confuse and galvanize us but, in the process neglect to make our own plans. There is a little bit of the victim in us: We remain focused on the machine rather than the content and stand to become victims of change rather than masters of it. No publisher knows the answer to the machine question but, at the same time, they don’t appear interested in influencing the direction of technology that will guide their industry.

The writer in this case was looking for some new type of reader he could wrap his article around. What he (and the audience) should have been asking is what will we be reading (perhaps “interacting with” would be more accurate) in five years. And there lies the issue. If you asked most of the attendees at this week’s London Bookfair, they might have answered, ”an electronic version of that” while blithely pointing to something on the shelf. A more sophisticated respondent may have noted that e-book sales are only 1% of total revenues and therefore not enough to induce any radical change.

The capabilities of today’s ebook readers and applications surpass the requirements of today’s content and I don’t think that’s a good thing. In the wider world of publishing, there is a lack of ambition when it comes to how content could be presented or even how the novel could be made over. As a case in point, a panel presentation on the publishing future of 2020 offered nothing to the inventive publisher looking for guidance or direction for the future - just a lot of mild blather about workplace diversification (an important topic, certainly, but not in this context), platitudes, generalities and a presentation about workforce training in which the presenter held (in the air!) his ‘props’ (which was charmingly retro but, to my mind, underlined the lack of collective imagination).

This session was followed by the annual ‘state of British publishing’ presented by numerous heads of house in which platitudes were plentiful and expectations were dulled. Guttenberg has been dead a long time but the eBook has cryogenically resuscitated him while, at the same time, causing us to collectively lose our ability to think strategically about the impact of movable type. I mean, if we’re going to continue to bring him up let’s at least document the path from illuminated manscripts to today’s self-publishing. Mention Guttenberg and we get a free pass: I won’t have to think hard about the significance of the migration to e-text, e-delivery, e-commerce, e-interaction, etc., etc., because Guttenberg is the God of publishing change and everyone will get the significance. These publishers stand to be the victims of change rather than its master: The millennial-Monk forced out of a job.

Earlier this year, publishers were as much in the dark about the capabilities of the new Kindle reader as the rest of us. What we should really be considering is how can we can re-think our current products and involve ourselves in the technical development of e-readers and apps that take advantage of our new ideas. Force developers to adapt the technology or incorporate new applications that enable the delivery of our uniquely developed concepts. Press developers to work for us (not surprise us) and haul back some of the product development initiative. Perhaps then consumers will find themselves less in love with the ‘Kindle’ (machine) and more enamored of the content.
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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Media Week 16: OCLC, Television, NYTimes

OCLC gather bibliographic experts to discuss metadata needs and practices for publishers and libraries. From their summary press release:
This report is a high level summary of proceedings, outcomes and proposed next steps. Participant biographies, agenda, presentations, related reading and upcoming events can also be accessed from this Symposium website.

Purpose of the Symposium: Explore current models for creation, distribution and maintenance of publisher supply chain and library metadata: Are they sustainable? What are the common needs? Are they subject to duplication of effort across communities? To what extent are they shared and interoperable?
Explore new paradigms for metadata creation, distribution and maintenance that: Are more easily shared and interoperable, start upstream and allow metadata to evolve over time, engage multiple communities in the metadata lifecycle
Also, OCLC has updated the interface for worldcat.org and it looks pretty spiffy. Here is a link to an entry for The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford and one of my favorite books.

OCLC also took an important step in creating a set of network services dedicated to the library community. Long in the making, OCLC has put some definition around how it sees its revised role in the library world. (This move by them requires a much longer post).
OCLC's vision is similar to Software as a Service (SaaS) but is distinguished by the cooperative "network effect" of all libraries using the same, shared hardware, services and data, rather than the alternative model of hosting hardware and software on behalf of individual libraries. Libraries would subscribe to Web-scale management services that include modular management functionality. Moreover, libraries would benefit from the network-level integration of numerous services that are not currently part traditional integrated library systems, e.g., Knowledge Base Integration, WorldCat Collection Analysis, WorldCat Selection, WorldCat Local, etc..
NYTimes (via GigaOm) points out the likely long term failure of international rights in the age of eBooks. (Well not really but that's at the core of this issue). NYT
So we see that Fictionwise is not the only retailer affected by these outdated licensing practices, and that’s exactly what is at play here. Publishers like Fictionwise and Amazon do not own the content they sell, they simply license it for sale just like you and I license it when we buy e-books. The archaic licensing system means that publishers have to make separate license deals for each country in which they want to sell e-books. This is something that is very difficult to do, even for the bigger houses like Fictionwise and Amazon.
BTW - Those DVD's that President Obama give to Gordon Brown a week ago don't work in the UK. (Guardian)

In Newsweek, read about changes in Television that could presage changes in publishing.
For decades network TV has been about reach. Programmers traditionally chose shows with broad appeal, the better to get millions of viewers and, in turn, persuade national advertisers to buy those eyeballs. That era is essentially over and the networks are scrambling to adapt to a fragmented landscape where even popular shows are lucky to pull in 10 million viewers. "They have to rethink what they put on the air, how many hours they'll do it, everything in their playbook," says a former top executive who now produces TV shows.
LATimes festival of books and discussing the future of books. The always quotable Richard Nash: (LAT)
Nash noted that poetry micropresses are flourishing in this new, hectic publishing environment. With what may be the quote of the festival, he added, "Poetry, like porn, is a harbinger of culture."
Private Equity investment firm has taken a bath on NYTimes shares and maybe looking to off load them. Who would buy? Reuters

Interest has grown as Harbinger, which bought the shares as part of a campaign against the Times to change its business, reels from losses in its funds, the Journal reported.

Harbinger bought the Times stake over a period of weeks in 2007 and 2008, eventually pouring more than $500 million into the publisher. Since then, Times shares have fallen along with other newspapers, which are fighting for their lives as advertising revenue slumps.

Harbinger's stake is worth less than $160 million now.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Overview of Open Access Book Projects

Writing in the UM Journal of Electronic Publishing Peter Suber provides a complete run down of open access initiatives. This article mainly covers journals however he does pay significant attention to open access initiatives concerning books. (LINK)

Here is a sample:
2008 wasn’t the first year that academic book publishers published OA monographs or discovered the synergy of OA and POD (print on demand). But in 2008 the OA-POD model moved from the periphery to the mainstream and became a serious alternative more often than an experiment. We saw OA monographs or OA imprints from Amsterdam UP, Athabasca UP, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Caltech, Columbia UP, Hamburg UP, Potsdam UP, the Universidad Católica Argentina, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Forum for Public Health in South Eastern Europe, the Institut français du Proche-Orient, and the Society of Biblical Literature.
He goes on to name many more programs. He also discusses the Google scanning project:
The settlement could mean that fair use will never be a workable rationale for large-scale book scanning projects, even if Google’s original fair-use claim was strong (as I believe it was). Future scanners may have to pay for permission, in part because Google paid and in part because the new commercial opportunities arising from the settlement itself will weigh against fair-use claims. At the same time, it means that users will have vastly improved online access to books under copyright but out of print (20% previews rather than short snippets), free full-text searching for a much larger number of books, free full-text access from selected terminals in libraries, free text-mining of full texts for some institutional users, and easier priced access to full-text digital editions.
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Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Google Settlements Vast Supply of Content

For most public and academic institutions, amassing a collection of seven million volumes would be a pipe dream of extraordinary proportion and, while there are many legitimate concerns and arguments regarding the imminent resolution of the case between Google, The Authors Guild and the AAP, the benefit to the public (via libraries) is hard to ignore. Take an average cost of $10 per book purchased and add to that cost the costs of making it shelf ready, of checking it in and out and the capital expense of storing it, and there is simply no way libraries could afford to acquire a collection as comprehensive.

We don't know what the pricing will be to libraries (and Mike Shatzkin and I are attempting to make some estimates) but the methodology for pricing is unlikely to differ substantially from the way existing databases are offered to public and academic libraries. Allowance will be made for institution budgets, school enrollment, population served, etc. and both Google and the Book Rights Registry (AG & AAP) will be interested in maximizing penetration so that their revenues are optimized. There may be built in protection against extortionate pricing since both Google and the BBR want to maximize views which argues for pricing that achieves the widest potential audience for the database. Library penetration will not be 100% but it will be high since libraries - particularly academics and large publics - will feel compelled to purchase access to this content to support their patrons. In fact, not having it will cause more consternation and deliberation.

Many libraries will see licensing this content as an opportunity to put their research capabilities on par with the top order of academic libraries. After all, this content comes from a who's who of top flight public and academic institutions. A small agricultural college in west Texas may never have had the resources to purchase a deep repository of content supporting their core curriculum but here they have the opportunity to do just that.

Opposition to this agreement is building in advance of the early May decision and, while I personally support adoption of this agreement, I am troubled that the fact of the scanning of this material is now treated as a fait accompli and has thus become a starting point for establishing agreement. Resolution should have addressed the core issue of fair use and copyright but that has not been the case and, because those issues have not been addressed, it leaves Google with a certain (some may say excessive) market power and leaves non-participants to this agreement/resolution open to possible future copyright violation.

As has been pointed out (and openly supported by Google), Orphan works legislation is not precluded or superseded by the agreement between AG, AAP and Google. What strikes me as odd however is the lack of attention any member of Congress has paid to this particular issue. To my knowledge no Congressional representative has come out either in support of the Google settlement or become newly interested in Orphan works legislation. Given the intensity of the attention paid to this issue in the publishing and library community it would seem that if Congress is still not interested in addressing Orphan works legislation then they never will. That's the situation we effectively had before the parties agreed to the settlement (and for many years past). I hope Congress does take up Orphan works legislation but in the meantime I also hope a lot of students and researchers make extensive use of this vast supply of content.
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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Media Week 15: Kindle, McClatchy, Dawson, Springer

More remedial analysis and needless hype over sales numbers for the Amazon Kindle. What is somewhat irritating about this post by Michael Arrington at Techcrunch is the fawning responses from some of the commentators.

Mahaney’s most recent estimates are for more than 1 million Kindle 2s to sell this year, and the current sales numbers absolutely support that, based on how the economy goes. Amazon could easily increase production to satisfy a surge in demand.

Our sources on Kindle sales have proven extremely reliable in the past. Last August we nailed the number of Kindle 1 devices sold at that time. And we first broke the news of the Kindle 2 and the new large screen Kindle.

In actuality there is no reliability to his sources because nothing has been said publicly. Also, if these are the numbers now what will the numbers look like when (if) eBooks really take off and they constitute more than 5% of revenue?

Publishing Technology (nee Vista & Ingenta) have announced trials with several publishers that enable e-Book sales directly off the publishers web site (Telegraph):

Publishing Technology is creating a new service which will allow publishers to sell their 'e-books' directly though their own websites.

The company has already been running trials with Random House, Harper Collins and Penguin in a move which could cut out the need for the big internet intermediaries.

Chris Andersen's Booktour company which is identifies when and where authors have events has received $350K in seed money.

Dawson holdings which distributes into the newsagent marketplace in the UK continues to loose clients and it's becoming clear they will have to exit this market (Telegraph):

Dawson Holdings, which distributes magazine and newspaper titles to newsagents, retailers and airlines, said in a trading update today that it expected Telegraph Media Group to "terminate" its deal in the autumn.

Last month Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail, and Comag, the joint venture between Condé Naste and the National Magazine Company, announced they would not be renewing contracts with Dawson when they expire in 2010. The two deals accounted for £139m in revenue for Dawson last year.

Dawson also has a library supply business that to-date appears unaffected.

McClatchy newspapers reported that they expect to make $225mm in digital revenue this year which translates to 15% of total revenues. (Reuters)

At McClatchy, 15% of our advertising revenue today comes from online. McClatchy, a company founded before the advent of electric lights, will generate nearly $200 million dollars in digital revenue this year at a higher profit margin than our print business.

What significance is this?

  • Fifteen percent is above the average newspaper publisher’s take from digital
  • $200 million would be almost enough to run The New York Times’s newsroom operations for a year. Not bad.

Higher profit margins than print? We know Gary is a big fan of pop music to highlight his industry presentations, and that he likes the Rolling Stones in particular. Maybe “Time Is on My Side” would be a decent choice for those kinds of numbers.

Qualification from Springer & Candover that the investors are looking for a $500mm partial sale not a sale of the business. Take that with a grain of salt when viewed in the context of the fact that their entire portfolio is under review. (Hedgeweek)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

CCC Holds Online Google Settlement Seminar: Recording

I mentioned several weeks ago that CCC were to hold an online webinar to explain some of the details of the Google Settlement agreement. The webinar was last Tuesday but they have made the archive of the seminar available here.

Google Windfall

Mike Shatzkin and I have been thinking hard about the commercial aspects of the Google Book search settlement (IdeaLog Blog):

Here is a sample of Mike's post:
We believe it is unfortunate that the attention has been focused there because there are some very real commercial questions that we think need answers to fully appreciate the practical implications of the settlement. We’ve been doing our best to build a model of what revenue will be and where it will go. Trying to do that makes it very clear how much important detail has been omitted from the debate we’ve heard so far (and we’ve both heard a lot of it.) Here’s a starter list of questions that need answers to forecast this business which we hope that people more familiar with the terms of the settlement than we are might be able to answer for us.

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Bloomsbury Launch Library Online

Adam Hodgkin has a post about a new and interesting initiative by Bloomsbury (UK) to tackle the library market.
Bloomsbury have held steady to their target of developing a service for libraries, initially primarily in the UK. It has turned out to be pretty much the project that they explained to us before Christmas. A shelf for libraries of some of the best books, from contemporary authors, which will grow and which will also serve to promote sales of the print books and public awareness of the authors selected. I suppose that there is, in this chosen vehicle, an element of quasi-political support for public libraries - a resource which publishers rightly hold to be key to the flourishing of a literary culture. Nevertheless it is interesting that one of London's leading Trade publishers should set such a priority on the support of public libraries, and that they should fashion such a service for a market which must be a tiny fraction of the market for their print publications.
Here is the Bloomsbury release:

Bloomsbury is set to transform the relationship between publishers and libraries, and between libraries and readers, with an innovative development in public lending: The Bloomsbury Library Online.

At a time when the British library system is under pressure to reach larger audiences with tighter budgets, and when the reading public is feeling the pinch, Bloomsbury is launching a unique, affordable and user-friendly online initiative.

In association with www.exacteditions.com and using existing technology in libraries across the country, Bloomsbury is rolling out a groundbreaking e-lending strategy which will allow readers toread collections of bestselling books at local library terminals or with the use of a library card on home computers and internet enabled devices.

The Bloomsbury Library Online will consist of a number of themed shelves: children’s books, sports titles, international fiction, Shakespeare plays, reference books and more. They will launch with a shelf of Book Group titles including Galaxy Book of the Year, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, by Kate Summerscale, Orange Prize longlisted Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie, word-of-mouth phenomenon The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer, and international bestseller The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri. Embracing the advantages of the online format, users will be able to read the book, search the text, access author interviews, reviews, press features, and links to specially commissioned reading group guides.

How will it work?
• The Bloomsbury Library Online will be sold on subscription – libraries will subscribe to a bookshelf for a year at a time and will pay according to the size of population served.
• New titles will be added on a continuous basis – free of charge within the subscription year.
• Users will click through from the Library terminals or through an online portal accessible via any web browser (including those found on iPhone and Blackberry) anytime, anywhere in the UK.
• Text accessible through screen readers and therefore available to blind and partially-sighted users.

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Macrovision Buys Muze

Muze, a company that supplies data information products supporting entertainment products such as music, video, books and games has been acquired by Macrovision for $16.5mm (all cash). Macrovision has been acquiring data companies (notibly TVGuide) and building its data products portfolio to support its business of "connected middleware, media recognition, interactive programming guides, copy protection and rich media, data and metadata on music, games, movies and television programming." From the press release:

Consumers' options are increasing as entertainment becomes digital. They can now enjoy their movies, music or other digital content in more ways, including numerous options online and on portable devices. All of these choices lead to an increased need for enhanced search and discovery capabilities to help consumers find entertainment content that matches their personal preferences. This process is powered by entertainment metadata.

"Macrovision believes that professional entertainment metadata is required for our customers to provide best in class consumer facing products," said Fred Amoroso, President and CEO of Macrovision. "The addition of the Muze assets will complement Macrovision's data solutions. It represents continued execution on our vision of delivering solutions that power a uniquely simple home entertainment experience."

Muze, which has been around since 1991 and is headquartered in NYC, has had a troubled history and was purchased in 2005 by a a private equity company that sought to establish more strategic focus, better cost containment and more professional management. In the years since 2005, Muze has acquired or allied with several companies and purchased the the assets of Loudeye for $11mm in cash in 2006.

In 2005, there was some excitement around the financial prospects for companies like Muze and AMG (another data supplier) and the multiples asked in sales prospectus' were relatively high. While terms were not disclosed on the 2005 Muze sale, some in the industry put the number at north of $30mm.
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

London Calling (and a Theft.)

I will be in London for the Bookfair next week and if you are also there please let me know and we can get together. For those interested I can expand on what we are doing at Mywire.com.

For now a little LBF story.

Several fairs ago, I was returning to our booth, which was on the upstairs balcony at Olympia from a meeting and I noticed two individuals walking behind the row of publisher stands. This immediately struck me as odd and I even said to the person I was with. "I wonder what those guys are doing". Ordinarily our booth was closed at the back however, one of our senior executives (we'll call him CH) had been horsing around and had pushed one of the panels out of the back wall of the stand. As a result, our storage area was completely open.

As I continued towards the stand, I saw one of the guys come from behind our booth with a shopping bag which he had not had with him before. Smelling a fish, I moved towards him and started following him down the long stairway that joined the balcony with the main floor. The gent was now alone as his friend had gone off in another direction. As I came up next to him I looked in the bag he was carrying and there was a handbag. So I said to him, "that's a lovely handbag is it yours? I don't think he understood English but he did realize he needed to make a run for it. So he took off down the stairs with me in pursuit through the main floor of the fair towards the back. He dropped the shopping bag mid-way which I grabbed and continued to follow him. I was of two minds about stopping him; I was very worried he had a knife (and I have some experience in that area) so I let him escape out the back door.

As I was running through Olympia in pursuit, people politely stepped out of our way which I thought was quite gracious. But no one offered to help nor did anyone ask me what the fuss was about. When I got back to the stand, our staff were in some agitation. Apparently, someone had lost their handbag with their wallet, passport, house keys and probably some make-up, so I calmly returned the bag to an eternally grateful Canadian.
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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Making Information Pay 2009

BISG has announced the speaker line-up for next months Making Information Pay conference. Here is the link to the registration page. It should be another full house.

Speakers and topics include:

The first part of the conference will feature the latest data from multiple industry sources. Confirmed speakers and session topics include:
  • Leigh Watson Healy, Chief Analyst, Outsell
    A Time of Great Change: Insights from Top Publishing Executives on the Future of our Business

  • Mike Shatzkin, Founder & CEO , The Idea Logical Company
    The Publishing Climate 2009: Publishers Wrestling with Change

  • Jim King, SVP & General Manager, BookScan US
    The Retail Perspective: What’s Up? What’s Down?

  • Kelly Gallagher, General Manager, Business Intelligence, R.R. Bowker
    The Customer’s Always Right: Who Is Today’s Book Consumer?
The second half of the conference will feature leading publishers discussing their strategies for current and future success. Confirmed speakers and session topics include:

  • Dominique Raccah, Publisher & CEO, Sourcebooks, Inc.
    Business Unusual: Rethinking the Publishing Enterprise in Response to Changing Times

  • Marcus Leaver, President, Sterling Publishing
    The New Marketing Budget: Breaking Traditional Marketing Allocations to Build a More Effective Model

  • Josh Marwell, President of Sales, HarperCollins
    The 21st Century Catalog: A Look at HarperCollins’ Initiative to Shift from Print to Digital Catalogs
Dave Thompson, VP, Sales Analysis, Random House
Squeezing the Most Sales from Non-Book Accounts: Tactics for Working with Inexperienced Buyers in Mass Merchant and Other Non-Book Accounts

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Snooth and Book Selling

I have now been to several NY Tech Meetup meetings where the audience gets to hear (in five minutes) all about five or six new tech start ups. This is a large, appreciative and young audience and I have found myself nodding surreptitiously so some other gray beard across the aisle as we both realize the average age of the audience and the presenters are less than my shoe size. That doesn't stop the excitment however, and most of these presentations are really interesting having been vetted before hand.

This week a presentation from an online wine merchant was particularly interesting. The company Snooth is based in Brooklyn and has created a front door to wine sellers around the world. On top of that they have incorporated and organized content (formal and social) that provides a user with a wide degree of latitude in search. The interface is clean and the functionality is both well designed and obviously well tested.

Wine isn't really publishing or book related but what struck me relevant about this webstore were the similarities between the bookselling environment and wine. The founders speak about a disorganized and insular business that confused vintners and consumers alike. Applies to publishing - check. Yet wine is also complex in a similar manner to books. Wine is matched to taste and occasion and so are books. Wine is produced in many locations by many vintners - read subjects, authors or publishers. Wine is dominated by large brand merchandisers - read publishers. Wine is sold by many unconnected retailers - read book selling.

Snooth has aggrated content to support a consumers' choice and also aggregated supply so that consumers can locate and order from a local supplier (and one they know has the wine in stock). Snooth collects inventory data from a global network of 11,000 merchants and they recently announced their 100,000th registered user. And true to my heart, they are building a data analytics program that will support value-added revenue opportunites.

Michael Tamblyn suggested thinking about a new paradigm for on-line bookselling and Snooth could be an example. Check it out.

Someone's Blinded

Did you hear the one about the blind person that shelled out $350 to buy a Kindle just so they could listen to a book rather than buy a braille version? Assuming they could find the book in a braille version. Deciding the approach is far more convenient for them despite the tinny voice-over, they decide to spend their book dollars on Kindle eBooks rather than Braille books and as luck would have it, they spend more on books now that they have more choice and a far more convenient option. So every one wins: the consumer, the publisher, retailer and author - right? Apparently not.

Even though it could be legitimately argued that enabling the speech to text functionality on the Kindle could actually increase revenues (reasons above), the Author's Guild has 'persuaded' Amazon (who uncharacteristically folded like a deck chair) to disable the tool. AG believes they are protecting the economic rights of their authors. Yes, this is a real and legitimate function of the AG: View their work protecting authors in the Google book scanning suit, but no sooner had the shine on that agreement begun to dull that they stepped into this mess of their own making.

This is not about the Blind but they are now the unwitting victims of this misguided action by the AG. And realistically, who could believe the AG would ever want to take on Blind people? I'm confident there are even some blind member authors of AG. (I wonder how they feel). On the other hand, it is about the AG attempting to maintain an authors right to royalties from audio versions of their books. Yet, I must be missing something. If I buy a book for the Kindle how many times am I going to also buy the audio version? Never, is the answer. Just like if I buy an audio book for my drive commute I am unlikely (never) going to also buy the print version.

Now I am sure some will say "Oh, I did do that once," and on a few occasions I have found my self in the middle of a hardcover book and not wanting to tote it on a trip have bought the paperback at the airport. But rarely; that is, effectively never.

My point is I don't see where the author is out any royalty. It is hard to believe there is any appreciable overlap in formats purchased of the same title that makes this concern of AG's even remotely valid. On the other hand, maybe more people would buy more books if they had more options available in the manner in which they consumed them. Blind people included. Everybody wins.

For the record, if you want to read this aloud to someone -even yourself - go right ahead.

Another Embargo Undone?

The Bookseller is reporting that A&C Black is very concerned that the embargo keeping the latest Wisden Cricket Almanac off the shelves until April 6th was broken. According to Nielsen Bookscan, 816 copies of the book have been sold before the embargoed date. That's a lot of copies but could this be a case of mistaken identity or bad data? Why didn't anyone notice until the numbers were reported? We shall see.

Shared Book to provide annotation publishing tool to ourenergypolicy.org

Shared Book announces a new partnership today with web company ourenergypolicy.org that empowers OEP users with the ability to add and include comments to source documents without changing the original document. Implementation of this tool allows the user to determine which comments and mark-up is most useful to them and include or attach that material to the document. The user can then decide when to publish the material rather than having to wait for the publisher's publication date.

From the press release:
SharedBook’s annotation platform allows approved experts on OurEnergyPolicy.org to contextually add initial and responsive comments to an energy document through online footnoting, while not allowing the original content to be changed, creating a digital platform for a discussion of energy policy. The platform also has a compilation and print capability, allowing books to be created from the content with any combination of the annotations, which appear in the book as footnotes.

“Integrating our revolutionary annotation technology with OurEnergyPolicy.org is an excellent showcase for the capabilities of the patented platform,” said Caroline Vanderlip, Chief Executive Officer of SharedBook. “By allowing authorized experts to contribute thoughtful comments on the specific energy policies and positions being discussed, our annotation platform allows discussion on the site to evolve in a thoughtful, controlled way. It also gives users the option of creating books, PDFs or other printed output with a specified combination of the annotations, for use in government hearings, outreach efforts, and elsewhere.”
More on SharedBook

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Media Week 13: OCLC, Amazon, Dawson, Curation, Bookfairs

Things are really bad in newspaper land when you can't get a copy at your local library any more. On top of this they will be charging for internet access. (BBC)

"Savings of around £10,000 will be made by ending the provision of national newspapers in a handful of libraries," a spokesman said. "National newspaper websites already publish full editorial content." The council also plans to charge people £1.30 to use computers with internet access after the first 30 minutes.

Newsagent distributor Dawson has suffered another deflection (Telegraph):

Dawson Holdings, which distributes magazine and newspaper titles to newsagents, retailers and airlines, said in a trading update today that it expected Telegraph Media Group to "terminate" its deal in the autumn.

Last month Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail, and Comag, the joint venture between Condé Naste and the National Magazine Company, announced they would not be renewing contracts with Dawson when they expire in 2010. The two deals accounted for £139m in revenue for Dawson last year.

Dawson also has a library supply business in the UK.

WorldCat (OCLC) has partnered with book/reading social networking site WeRead (Info2Day)

It is the latest organization to join the list of more than 25 OCLC World partners. With one of the largest and most popular social book discovery applications on Facebook, MySpace, bebo, Hi5, and Orkut, weRead is a natural fit to partner with OCLC to enhance the social networking and user-discovery aspects of WorldCat.

Cindy Cunningham, director of partner programs for OCLC says, "The mission of weRead-the social discovery of books-extends and further enhances the WorldCat.org goal to connect users with their local libraries. With weRead being a Lulu company and the corresponding support for self-publishing, OCLC can offer its users access to an entirely new reading experience."

Can Curation save the media industry? (SiliconAlley)

So, what are both Maheu and Schrier in agreement about? Curation. It's a word that gained a lot of traction in the past 12 months as the overarching trends of ubiquitous distribution and mass content creation have emerged as the two headed dragon that may slay media as we know it.

The old model was "one to many" (NBC -> viewers). The new model is "one to a few" (YOU -> your friends and followers). That means there is an overwhelming explosion of content being created (Twitter feeds, blog posts, Flickr photos, Facebook updates) and most of it is interesting to a very small number of people. But, mixed in with this cacophony of consumer content, there is contextually relevant material that needs to be discovered, sorted, and made "brand safe" for advertisers. Curation is the new role of media professionals.

Separating the wheat from the chaff, assigning editorial weight, and -- most importantly - giving folks who don't want to spend their lives looking for an editorial needle in a haystack a high-quality collection of content that is contextual and coherent. It's what we always expected from our media, and now they've got the tools to do it better.

Flat World Knowledge gets $8mm for open source textbook venture. (Reuters)

Flat World offers students online books for free and the option of paying for a printed copy, which typically costs less than a comparable textbook from a college store. The textbook "Principles of Microeconomics," for example, costs $30 for a black-and-white copy and $60 for one in color.

"The idea here is the cost of textbooks has gone up dramatically over the last 10 years," says Hooks Johnston, general partner at venture firm Valhalla Partners, the largest investor in the startup. Other VC investors include Greenhill SAVP and High Peaks Venture Partners.

Amazon changes their payment terms to small publishers in the UK (Times)

The online retailer is asking for an extra 2% off the list price of books from suppliers that use its Amazon Advantage system in order for them to be paid by May 15 for sales made in April.

Those that remain on standard terms, which already involve giving Amazon a 40% discount, will not have invoices from sales made in April settled until the end of June.

The new terms, which Advantage customers were informed of last week and take effect from Wednesday, have stirred industry anger.

“How dare they try this on when we are feeling the pinch more than ever?” said one small publisher. “It’s nothing more than an attempt to rip off the small fry.”

Publishers estimate that up to 20% of books sold by Amazon go through its Advantage system.

BookFairs seem to be holding their own: "No child has too many books" (AP)

Book fairs have been around for decades, although the field now is largely controlled by Scholastic. The publisher says its business has grown from around 8,000 annual fairs in the early 1980s, with sales of around $5.5 million, to around 120,000 fairs expected this year.

The field is enticing enough that Barnes & Noble, Inc., has steadily increased its own fairs by double digits over the past few years, to over 10,000 in 2008, according to the superstore chain's vice president of speciality marketing, Kim Brown.

"As the school budgets are tightened up, the parents - the PTA - are looking for different ways to fund-raise," Brown says. "Luckily, people save their discretionary income for their children."

Educators and parents welcome the money, with 25 per cent or more of the take going back to the schools, but, as with the Scholastic book clubs, they worry about what's being sold. Scholastic fairs, like the clubs, often feature books that are tied to TV shows such as "Hannah Montana" or non-book products such as pencils, markers, toy banks and electronic games.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Encarta Dies

Earlier this week Microsoft announced that they were closing the Encarta encyclopedia operation. There is a write up on this news on the NYTimes Bits blog but I thought more interesting that that post was comment by Tom Corddry who worked on the Encarta team from the beginning. His self described 'grave side toast' is as follows:

I ran the team that created Encarta, so I’m standing up to say a few awkward words at its graveside memorial service. Encarta, may it rest in peace, deserves to be remembered more for its quality than you suggest. Your sources repeat several notions that were never true of Encarta-first, that the content from Funk and Wagnall’s was “low quality” compared to Britannica, and second that the value added by Microsoft was primarily “graphics and sound.” The text from Funk and Wagnall’s was far superior to Britannica’s as a starting point for a digital encyclopedia, because it was much more nearly “structured data,” meaning that the architecture of the text was very consistent from one article to the next. This allowed us to add a lot of “contextual” value–to compute the relatedness of every article to every other article, and build what was at the time a uniquely useful set of links and navigational tools across the entire content. Britannica, by contrast, was a bloated mishmash, a consequence of its long tradition of having articles written by many different celebrity authors. (I ghost-wrote one myself, in fact). By the standards of the print encyclopedia world, Microsoft invested heavily in expanding and updating the content of Encarta right from the beginning. We consciously invested in the contextual value just described, in expanding the core content, in creating the world’s first truly global encyclopedia, and in an efficient update cycle. We had enough “multimedia” in the original product to keep the reviewers happy, but focused on the overall usefulness of the whole product much more than on the relative handful of video clips, etc. I’d argue that within its first five years, Encarta became the best encyclopedia in history: it had tremendously consistent quality and usefulness across a very broad range of topics, and added a great deal of value by the relationships it illuminated between topics. All of that has been rendered a bit quaint now, but in it’s day it was an accomplishment worthy of a graveside toast. Encarta had more than “the potential” to unsettle the print encyclopedia business–it pretty much destroyed it. Print encyclopedias were dead, thanks to Encarta, before Wikipedia existed. We expected from the beginning that Encarta would eventually be superceded by online information-seeking. As brilliant as Wikipedia is, I don’t think that Wikipedia by itself killed Encarta. I think the Web as a whole made Encarta obsolete. I hope treasured old copies of Encarta will live on for a while in remote corners of the world, where people have scattered access to computers but little or no connection to the Web–school libraries in Africa, for example. In those places, even out-of-date copies of African Encarta, the only Encyclopedia of Africa ever published, will live on, and Joe Biden will forever be newly-elected. I’ll drink to that.

—Tom Corddry
In answer to several comments in reaction to this statement he has some further comments as well.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Another Cairns on the Offensive

Apparently some other obnoxious basta'd named Michael Cairns is sticking it to the English cricket board. (Guardian)

Lancashire have launched a fresh and withering attack on Giles Clarke's leadership of the England and Wales Cricket Board, and have also criticised their fellow counties for allowing him to survive the Stanford affair.

Michael Cairns, a heavy-hitting businessman who succeeded Jack Simmons as the chairman at Old Trafford last year, claims in his annual report to members that "there is a serious lack of governance, transparency and accountability within the leadership and administration of the board".

"The Stanford debacle was a disgrace but regrettably only one example of mismanagement that the ECB have been guilty of over the past year," Cairns continues. "If such a performance was evident in any of the organisations that I have been associated with throughout my business career, the management would take it upon themselves to do the right thing and resign, or face the alternative.

Under Clark, the ECB struck an almost pornographic deal with "Sir" Alan Stanford who of course is apparently a crook. Basic due diligence (as with Madoff) would have made that clear at the outset.

CCC Holds Online Google Settlement Seminar

The Authors Guild, AAP, Google Settlement: What Authors & Publishers Need to Know as May 5th Approaches

Free online informational seminar:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009, at 12:00 p.m. ET / 16:00 GMT - Register Now

On June 11, 2009, a federal court will hold a fairness hearing to review the proposed settlement of lawsuits brought by U.S. authors and publishers against Google for its unauthorized scanning and use of in-copyright books as part of the Google Library Project.

Rightsholders affected by the class-action settlement have until May 5, 2009 to decide whether to participate or opt-out and their decision may have business implications.

Copyright Clearance Center is hosting a free, 1-hour informational online seminar to help publishers, authors and literary agents understand their options as May 5th approaches. The session features nationally renowned publishing copyright expert and attorney, Lois Wasoff. Wasoff is the past Chair of the Copyright Committee of the Association of American Publishers and the former Vice President and Corporate Counsel of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Who should attend? Any author or publisher of a book published on or before January 5, 2009. If that description pertains to you, you may be a member of the Settlement Class under the proposed Settlement Agreement between authors, publishers and Google. Members of the Settlement Class must decide to opt-out or participate by May 5, 2009.

If you would like to learn more about the settlement you can visit a website dedicated to the topic and if you have any questions about this informational seminar, please email education@copyright.com or call +1 978 646 2436.

Register Now - Space is limited

HMH CEO Tony Lucki to Retire

The WSJ is reporting that Tony Lucki will retire on April 15th. In an email to staff he noted he had been involved with Harcourt or Houghton Mifflin for 30yrs and continued,
"Recent steps we have taken put the company in an even stronger position to deliver value to our customers and to build on our market leadership. We are on sound operational and financial footing and have great potential to grow our trusted brands and businesses," he said
The company has appointed 39yr old Barry O'Callahan as CEO who is the current CEO of corporate owner Education Media & Publishing Group. EMPG has approximately $7billion in debt resulting from the acquisition of both Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin. Reports earlier this year indicated that the company was attempting to sell their trade business but there was debate whether the company could achieve fair value (in their view) given the current economic environment.

Meta Data Related Job at HBO

As a gift for all you people out there that like meta data stuff here is what looks like it could be a cool job (if you like meta data and standards and let's face it who doesn't):
The Director, Digital Library & Media Management is responsible for development, administration and evolution of standards and procedures for the management of rich media assets (video, audio, and digital photos) with associated metadata in collaboration with HBO business units. This person will provide direction to a permanent HBO committee comprised of operating groups from all areas of HBO in order to define, implement and evolve metadata standards and related workflow requirements specific to HBO’s business needs. He/she will create direction regarding archival, content management, encoding, cataloguing, transcoding and post production standards
LinkedIn. and Randy Neuringer is the recruiter. I've never met her.

Libraries Are Struggling to Cope

Not a day goes by that I see multiple reports about closings, reduced hours or staff layoffs in public libraries. No telling what is happening with budgets for buying new materials which are probably also being severely cut. In good times, the public library is often an anonymous cornerstone of the community and most people only have a casual relationship with their local public library. Most don't have library cards. But our current economic crisis is doubly challenging for public libraries: They are victims of it on the one hand and have to manage their own challenging budgeting issues but they are also become a primary source of help and aid for a burgeoning class of people facing economic hardship.

The librarians job is becoming part social worker, policeman, home care worker and counselor and all in a context of declining resources and a growing sense of desperation that perhaps effective help for many of these patrons is beyond their capabilities. It is a big ask of these library workers and it is also unfair. As today's article in the Times points out, a typical librarian is faced with patrons that can't read or write needing resume assistance and patrons staring blankly at computer screens with no idea what the internet is. The implications of what these librarians face on a daily basis tells us a lot about the abilities of a wide class of people to succeed in an economy that is increasingly beyond their skill level.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Personanondata in Book Deal

A three book deal.

Word on the street has it that the blog Personanondata has signed a three book deal with Harpercollins which is described as a “pretty awesome” deal by company CEO Brian Murray. With details sparse, the person at PND is expected to rehash much of what he has repeatedly written in at least one of the volumes with a study of the etymology of the brand personanondata slated for a later book. “The subject of the second volume is controversial and sometimes subject to embarrassment,” said the author. “Many people are embarrassed to ask about the genesis of the brand Personanondata and simply smile knowingly as though they are in on the joke. Of course this is impossible as no one really knows anything”.

The last volume – which could be completed first – may become the blue print for all introverted children who, when finding themselves intensely interested in reading end up as adults swimming with the big sharks of publishing if only to get their hands on free books. This deal will be remarked upon by all in the industry as a true rule and model breaker that could also revolutionize the supply chain. In contrast to expected industry practice Personanondata will pay Harpercollins an advance of several hundred thousand dollars, “This is a pretty awesome deal”, said Murray. “At this point we just need the cash.” One of the books is scheduled for release in November 2011.