07 September 2011

Another ebook partnership for ANZ libraries....

....now that we've gotten over the e-ISBN issue!

Today the company I manage publisher relationships for - James Bennett - announced a partnership with ebrary.  James Bennett has worked with EBL for seven years and they are a major supplier to the business.  And an important one.  This new ebrary partnership does not change that.  It adds to the James Bennett offer to Australasian libraries.  In future, Baker & Taylor's Blio should also be integrated with James Bennett Online (JBO) so libraries can choose their preferred ebook platform.  James Bennett also has publisher's own platforms and other digital offerings in there but there's one problem that we're waiting to see how the broader trade copes with - you know, those selling ebooks to consumers, and that is the e-ISBN issue.

We learnt the hard way about the e-ISBN issue.  Nine years ago we started working on eTitle, which was launched in January 2003.  We asked our publishing partner at the time to create individual - i.e. unique -  ISBN for each title on the eTitle platform.  They did it for the first 100 or so books they offered us but then it became one of those issues that just got bigger as we started working with digital reference and other ebook providers.  Our legacy system, which is highly customised to meet the needs of ANZ libraries, used the ISBN as the PRIMARY IDENTIFIER for the book.  As more and more ebooks started coming our way, the system started to fall down as each ISBN was linked to a vendor.  But each e-ISBN could appear in multiple platforms.  And don't start me on the publishers that used the print ISBN as the reference in their electronic databases.  To them, they didn't want to create an e-ISBN as the electronic resources were managed on separate systems within their company.  BTW I'm not talking about a small company here.  I'm talking about one that had revenues of nearly $3 BILLION last year.  But I digress.

James Bennett has taken several years to work through all the system issues associated with the e-ISBN issue.  We know publishers didn't want to create multiple ISBNs for an ebook.  Some did it by format (PDF, epub etc) but many just created one e-ISBN because they receive REPORTS from their ebook vendors and partners and it's a revenue stream in a separate way.  They can search revenue by one e-ISBN and it makes sense from their point of view - but for us - a NIGHTMARE.

Our IT guys have worked on the best way to incorporate e-ISBNs into our system, particularly JBO and our wonderful JBS profiling & selection system, that then shows the right platform depending on the customer.  There's nothing worse than sending a publisher an order for an ebook (because they sent us the e-ISBN on a data file first) and then realising it was actually meant for an ebook vendor (the publisher's data meant the ebook vendor's data failed, the record having already been on file, and linked to a publisher).  But now, we've managed to set things up so libraries can see the right e-ISBNs for their platform.

Now all we have to work on is short-term loan pricing, rentals, different pricing policies that publisher's insist on for different market segments (academic vs public libraries for example), special pricing, and normal pricing.  But that's something for another time and place. And another layer of complexity of course.... But I ramble (afterall, this is called Rachael's Ramble!).

Today it's about the e-ISBN and beating it at it's game.  We've gotten around the bibliographic data issues and the library workflows for customers.  We've integrated ebrary into our systems.  And we're ready to roll with the next cab off the rank - which hopefully should be Baker & Taylor (our parent company) Axis 360 powered by Blio.  Great product.  We love it because it's a different experience to our current ebook vendors.  At the end of the day, we're just glad we can bring multiple vendors to the Australasian library marketplace and give customers the workflows they need - and expect - from their library vendor of choice.

To read the full media release about ebrary and James Bennett please go to The Bennett Blog

15 August 2011

A short essay about what I know about ebooks

One of my daily work routines is to review the RSS feeds, Google alerts, industry emails and newsletters for news about ebooks.  I've done this for years and can't believe some of the articles about ebooks that are now appearing all over the world.  Somedays I laugh because many of them have been covered in this blog over the past couple of years, let alone all the established bloggers and writers around the world who are much better at this than me!

Actually if you look at all the articles I've collected or distributed over the eight years we've been working with ebooks some of the information does not change. The stories are essentially the same.  An industry update here and there.  A new ebook vendor.  Different technology.  But often it's the same old commentary. Only the date has changed.

And don't start me on the prediction the book is dead.  It's not dead.  It's just the consumer has a choice of format these days.  And publishers, booksellers, library suppliers are all adapting to the digital world.  I'm over the naysayers.  Preach somewhere else because I'm not listening. 

Anyway, I thought today I'd do a thought dump about what I've learned about ebooks.  Feel free to comment and tell me what I've missed or what you think I've got horribly wrong.

  1. Ebooks are convenient and immediate.  The click of a button and you have something to read.  Great for Award Winners, highly publicised books, events and current affairs.  Let's not forget the savvy consumer of today who wants something to read and they want it now!  And as we've all realised by now, an ereader is great for holidays, no lugging heavy books.  Load up the device before you go away.  Depending on how you purchase your books, you can buy more ebooks if you run out.  We took the laptop to Venice last year when we lived there for a month and even though we know the bookshops, their English selection is extremely limited (and I've read all the books set in Venice already!). Having access to ebooks was great, convenient and easy.  A real no-brainer when you're travelling. The downside?  Well for one, this is not iTunes.  Every click is committing time to read the book.  And two, credit cards can easily get a good workout if you're on a roll.  Automatic debit can be a killer!   And lastly, just how many of your downloads are you now going to read.  Think about that when you're clicking away because we're tracking your purchasing choices whether you like it or not. 
  2. Simultaneous release anyone? Timing of releases has improved over the years with more publishers doing simultaneous release.  Some still use "windows" and while I can understand this some days, on others it is simply a case of not giving the consumer, the reader, the user what they want.  "e" is another format.  There will still be hardback (perhaps in greatly reduced numbers), paperback, large print, audio, multimedia, apps etc.  "e" is another format and over the years publishers will get to know how their content is being used by consumers and make better commercial decisions based on the market, historical data and access to information
  3. Publication dates are not to be trusted.  As more publishers digitise their backlist, they put their products into the marketplace with a new publication date.  New in "e" is not the same as a new release.  Publishers need to spell out this in the descriptions because consumers are being cheated.  My blog post from April 2010 discusses this dilemma. 
  4. Pricing is a mess.  Publishers you let Amazon determine the $9.99 price point and in many ways it's a killer.  But it's also worked in the US market.  Look at the downloads at that price versus other formats.  What does it tell you about your readers and what they are willing to pay?  Publishers play with pricing but do the maths and make the appropriate decisions for your content, for your author and the sales channels.   As a reader, I've realised my threshold is less than $20.00 so those Australian publishers that are charging the same price for the "e" as the "p" aren't getting my ebook sale.  There are so many arguments for pricing - higher, lower, distribution costs, production costs, royalties, margins - and I can listen to these for my "day job" but as a reader, I make very clear distinction about a) what I like to read in "e" and b) what I'm prepared to pay for it.
  5. What you read it on can be irrelevant.  You don't need a specific e-reading device.  Got a laptop?  Got a mobile?  Technologies are converging.  Devices perform multiple functions.  Loyal to your iPad, great.  But if you want to use a specific device and have acquired your Kindle, good for you (the brand name is still the most recognisable to your average consumer).  Sony? Kobo? Whatever floats your boat.  Cloud technology is here and now.  Use whatever works best for you.  Just do your research and remember not all ebooks can be transported from one device to another. 
  6. Technology can still be problematic: for me, it's using an old e-reader!  Battery life has improved since the Sony PRS700 and there are multiple devices available today that have a much longer run.  But I will still list forgetting to charge a reader as a downfall.  Having your battery die in the middle of a good read because you have no opportunity to recharge it is simply awful.  There is nothing worse than a device shutting down on you and you have no replacement reading.  Think long-haul flight.  That's where it's done most damage to me over the years!  And don't start me on the turning off the e-reader for take-off and landing.  I'm not a good flyer so I like to distract myself.  Reading has always been a way to do it, particularly with landing.  More and more articles about ebooks reference this, but it's not new.  We are reading using technology and our aircraft crew will always ask us to shut it down.  And while there are some Kindle and Apple devotees who use plastic covers on their devices while taking a bath, I'm not with you sorry.  I don't want to take my e-reader in the bath.  I don't want to accidentally drop it - whether in water or on a hard surface.  It just does not work for me in this situation no matter what you say. 
  7. Rights: one of the biggest issues with ebooks, the reluctance by publishers to give up territorial rights for their ebooks.  I can see ebooks going "world rights" and placed with all the vendors.  Why not revenue share with your print distributors in each territory to recognise the work they do promoting the author, the content and more.  Distributors and publishing partners have a key role with "e".  This should be recognised and not have them shut out.  Before you know it, there won't be a Frankfurt rights fair.  No one will want to engage if there isn't something in it for them. 
  8. Formats and layouts are still problematic: Format extensions are confusing for those readers who don't know any better.  Readers want to read an ebook but don't know what they are looking for when they move away from one of the more established ebook vendors they've been using and go direct.  The download process can be confusing for them.  I had a friend trying to purchase some books from a US publisher's site and had no idea whether or not her iPad could read any of the device formats listed. And as for layouts, well I still have ebooks with "dodgy" layouts.  This was covered very well in an Open Letter to publishers on the Teleread site a few months ago. While I've adapted to reading that way over the past few years, it still annoys the hell out of me.  I don't want text to drop away or a handful of words justified across the page unreasonably.  Some of the hypens are poorly done and some text goes a little funny at times.  Don't get me wrong.  It's improved over the years. But it still needs work.
  9. Get the metadata right: Publishers can't get their print metadata right so how on earth do we expect them to get the ebook metadata perfect?  (Of course they will argue this with me but booksellers and bibliographic agencies around the world will back me up on this one) In a world where we need to search and discover our content, we need to have the correct path laid by publishers so we can find it in a click or two.  And as for one e-ISBN across multiple platforms.  One word - nightmare.  If you want to sell ebooks across vendors and you've used the ISBN as your primary identifier in your database, you need to find another solution.  And it will cost you.  Booksellers and online sites - get ready.  It's not pretty.
  10. Profiling & Selection of ebook releases: I'm signed up a few ebook vendors and they send regular newsletters about what's new in "e".  I don't want simply what's new in "e".  I want to see my favourite authors, my favourite subjects.  I don't want to see a new ebook about Donald Rumsfield or travel guides to places I don't have on my wish list.  Ebook vendors need to profile my interests.  They can see what I download.  Now make some recommendations based on that.  Ah, you've got my attention at last.
  11. Ebooks are established in academic libraries.  Search and discover content through your academic library.  Electronic journals lead the way, ebooks followed.  Information is at your fingertips.  Patron driven demand is exciting.  Scholarly and reference works are best served in a digital world.  Updates can be better managed electronically.  Access, availability, wonderful for research.  It all makes sense.
  12. Etextbooks?   I'm not yet convinced.  Enhanced ebooks for students, now that excites me.  Just check out a Wiley textbook demo on Blio if you need convincing.  Questions, answers, rich media content.  It's all there for the taking.  Publishers need to hop on board.  It will be an exciting ride for the students of tomorrow.
  13. Consumer choice is important.  As I mentioned above, there are some things I like to read in "e" and there's others I enjoy in "p". I can loan the "p".  I can show off the "p".  The "p" has cover-art, often beautiful at times.  My friends know what I'm reading when I'm reading the "p".  I will use bookmarks and I will turn pages.  And I will enjoy doing that.   I will always be loyal to the "p".  In fact, after a few years reading ebooks, it's my preference now.  But I also get books cheaper through my workplace - sometimes half the price.  If I wasn't paying staff rates for my books, I wonder whether I'd have a different point of view.  I'm guessing I would but that would be on price, not on format.  I want my historical fiction, autobiographies, biographies and history books in print.  I want them on my bookshelf.  I want to turn the pages and look at the images.  I want to share.  But I will try new authors in "e" and occasionally, very occasionally, I will treat myself to both formats. 
  14. Consider the booksellers - both online and bricks & mortar.  These guys have been with you for years and many of your authors would not be where they are today without booksellers promoting their products, having events in-store, and more. There is so much I could write on this point alone.  Pros and cons.  Politics and issues. Consumer buyer behaviour.  Pricing, supply, industry matters and more. For now, I will simply say consider the bookseller.
  15. Consider the libraries, the librarians, the library suppliers.  I could get really rough on this one.  As you know, I work for the leading library supplier in the Australasian marketplace.  We've heard it all before from our publishers and ebook vendors.  Librarians want to play in the digital sphere.  They are playing.  Many have been doing ebooks for a long time.  But publishers don't like having something available free through a library at the best of times.  Ask Harper Collins about ebooks, libraries and boycotts due to changes in ebook policies and access.  There are ways to work through these issues and it seems single use is the way most publishers are comfortable with.  But tell the reader they can't borrow an ebook because it's already on loan.  It's digital for crying out loud.  There are models that can deal with this.  Ask EBL.  Just don't shut out this part of the market.  They are important, they have one hell of a role with reader recommendations, access and information.  
  16. And consider the role of the publisher.  As a publisher, you will know what I'm saying.  There's a lot of articles about this already.  What do you bring to the table in a digital world?  Authors and agents can deal directly with ebook vendors.  They can choose to sell the books direct.  They can set the price.  They can do the work. And they can make more margin. It's a reality check for all of us.  Publishers need to be looking at their strengths and weaknesses too.  
     When it comes to the digital world, there are still hurdles to face, difficulties to encounter, issues than may remain unresolvable, but we've got one hell of a publishing industry.  Whether you are an ebook reader, an author, a publisher, a library, or a reseller, we need to keep engaging, working together and finding a model that's right for us.  Those in the industry have a role to play and there may be some that don't want to be involved in the "e" world.  We keep saying they have to in order to survive in the digital age, but is that right?  It's what we want to believe...

    At the end of the day, people have different experiences of reading, loaning and sharing books.  There are Luddites and there are those that are already committed to e-reading.  Does one format have to win over the other?  Consumer choice is important, pricing and availability is important.  And whatever you do, publishers need to get their product information and metadata sorted.  In an online world, anything sloppy and incorrect will cost you.

    The above points are a combination of the professional and the consumer ebook world.  I can extend on some points, some are a political minefield, and I've probably missed others.  But it's the Ramble for today.  And I'm exhausted!

    06 May 2011

    Opinions, experts, formats, ebooks, books and trying not to yawn

    I know I haven't put up a post for ages.  That's because why read me when every man and his dog is now an expert on ebooks?!  Opinions about ebooks are everywhere - on the online news sites, industry web sites, e-newsletter services.  The twitterworld is full of ebook profiles and there are tweets-a-million about all things digital.  Whether it's on social networking or media sites, comments about ebooks are everywhere you look.  There is no other news in the publishing world anymore.  We've lost sight of so many things and I'm seriously wondering if we've forgotten what to say.  What else is happening out there?  Take away ebooks and digital strategies, there's a long pause.  Occasionally someone reverts back to metadata and bibliographic workflows.  Perhaps physical distribution.  Outsourcing maybe?  But where are news stories about service, responsiveness, account management, promotions, content, the people that make this industry (other than the usual suspects).  No, it's all ebooks, ebooks, ebooks.

    You listen to a podcast or an interview with an author, and it's almost the headline after the story.  "Oh, and it's also available as an ebook."  Yippee!  Congratulations to you, dear author, and wow dear publisher, I'm so impressed!  Did you say it like that in the past - oh, and it's also available in trade paperback | audiobook | hardcover.  No, you didn't really focus on the format.  It was in the marketing blurb and in bibliographic databases.  But ebooks are so hip and happening now.  But to me, ebook is another format.  It's something to respond to consumer demand - give readers the "p" or the "e" - and encourage them to read.  Sales patterns will change over time and your business will refocus accordingly.   But let's make sure there's lots and bells and whistles now around it.  Let's put out media releases and in sales kits to our customers - also available as "e".  Yes people rejoice with me.  Just remember the story of the publisher who did that, proudly announced ebooks in their promotion and then struggled with all the library calls - having totally forgotten the library market, library ebook vendors, and library suppliers.  Ah yes, what works in the consumer space doesn't always work in the library space.  Does it Harper Collins?

    Yes, you've read this far and I congratulate you.  I'm a jaded woman.  After eight years speaking digital and fluent "e" for the library market, I'm totally bored by all the stories and tidbits that I see about ebooks.  I almost yawn now.  Ebooks are finally in the consumer mindset but at the same time it's become boring for me.  All industry articles focus on either "e" or POD.  Yes, they've fascinated me for years but I'm over it.  I'm over ereading devices.  Every second person I know has a Kindle.  A freakin' Kindle of all things.  Another sale to the giant that is Amazon.  Why Kindle? I ask.  It's the only name they knew. And it's another gadget - one that they'll use a lot, download a heap of books for the device, but in two years time will they still be reading from it? 

    Maybe that's the thing.  I've encouraged, supported and promoted all things "e" for the library market.  Great for reference products and scholarly books.  Having digital content in an academic library is a no-brainer.  And I've helped with content acquisition for our ebook partners in other channels.  Naturally I'm eagerly awaiting the Blio product from Baker & Taylor for the library market - and have been involved with Australian publishers on that too.  I think it's just the consumer space that's finally caught up.  But it didn't just catch up.  It's flooded the market.  It's all anyone in the industry wants to speak about.  There are publishers left, right and centre trying to be digital gurus and show leadership in the industry.  There's digital directors on board with the trade houses now but goodness sake, do these people know the ins and outs of all sales channels in the market.  Do they truly understand everything from bibliographic workflows through to selling a book.  Yes, there are a couple in the ANZ market that do - and they know who they are.  As to the rest of you, seriously....?  You've hopped on the ebook bandwagon and you are probably really good sales & marketing people but do you have detailed knowledge about what goes on in all the markets in which you operate.  Having worked with you all, I don't think you do.  YOU think you do.  But not all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.  We both know it.  So don't try and bluff me.

    I think I'll just sit back and watch all those downloads, all those zillion articles, all that restructuring, repositioning for the digital world ahead, the names Amazon, Apple, Overdrive, Kobo and others mentioned to the point of adnauseum, and pop on the lounge with a trusty book to escape the same articles that are churned out every day.  Did I mention the format I'm reading these days?  After two years of my e-reader at a personal level (as opposed to professional) it's more than likely to = shock, horror = be a physical book.  The ereader gets a workout for holidays but the rest of the time it's rather dull, lifeless and boring.  Yes folks the great novelty has worn off.  (After costing me a small fortune in downloads and still dozens and dozens of unread books on the device) I'm now cuddled up with the old-fashioned thing.  Remember it?  The book.  No "e" in front. Ah, those were the days my friends, those were the days.

    11 March 2011

    The full text of my Bookseller & Publisher article on the e-textbook forum

    Bookseller & Publisher kindly asked me to write an article on the e-textbook forum we held at Darling Harbour prior to ALIA Online Conference.  Here's the full text version.  More information, pictures and contact details are available on the James Bennett blog.
    The e-textbook dilemma

    Ebooks and libraries.  Throw publishers into the mix and it’s a fascinating relationship, particularly when you are on the library supplier side!  The rest of the book industry may not be aware that many  academic libraries have moved to “e-preferred” or “e-only” over the years and library suppliers like James Bennett have had to rise to the many challenges of supplying ebooks with regards to acquisitions workflows and profiling & selection services. James Bennett partners with EBL for their ebook platform and has done so for the last seven years.  As part of the overall product mix available, we’ve often discussed e-textbooks with academic publishers and their resistance to providing them to libraries.  Six or seven years ago the answer to our request for e-texts was a resounding “no way” but in this digital age it’s become a case of saying “I hear you, but…”,   “when it happens, not if it happens” and more recently “how are we going to make this work?”.   As you can appreciate, there are many issues:  from the role everyone plays in the traditional book supply chain to multiple user access models in libraries, print sales cannibalisation, piracy, DRM, and most of all pricing models. 

    With that in mind, we held our e-textbook forum at Darling Harbour prior to the ALIA Information Online Conference.  Around 100 representatives from the publishing and library communities attended. 

    Our first speaker was Pam Freeland, Manager: Humanities, Creative Arts and Social Sciences at UNSW Library who did an overview of previous e-textbook studies.  UNSW has an “e-preferred” policy and they currently have approximately 100,000 ebooks.  Some of the drivers for them have been physical – the space required for books.  Others include improved access for remote users.  The question asked by Pam was “E-book vs. E-textbook: is there a distinction between the two and is that distinction the same for all disciplines?  She spoke about the Quloc Study, LaTrobe University Study, JISC (which was referenced multiples times during the two hour meeting), the Horizon Report, and more.  (If you haven’t already read it, we would encourage you to review the JISC findings and recommendations at http://www.jiscebooksproject.org)  Some of the studies suggested students want access to both print and electronic versions but found DRM confusing.  At the user level, there were difficulties accessing the content they need and their overall experience with “e” needed to be improved.

    The next speaker was Sue Dowling from Murdoch University Library.  Sue’s presentation got everyone thinking, particularly of what academic libraries want – and don’t want - for their ebook collection.  Simultaneous print and ebook release was high on the list.  In fact, she suggested e first.  She spoke about metadata, DOI to chapter level, search and discovery, ebook portability across a range of devices, built-in thesauri and dictionaries, unlimited usage without paying the earth, read-aloud options for those with disabilities, the ability to copy chapters for other libraries, usage stats/COUNTER compliance, perpetual access so the content was preserved, social network links.  On the “don’t want” list was of course “plug-ins” and the biggie - DRM.  She made the comment that DRM “was an invitation for those who like a challenge but what we really needed was a system that made it inconvenient to pirate but not inconvenient to use”.  That was echoed by many around the room.  Sue suggested textbooks in “e” is not the overwhelming preference at present so what could make e-textbooks attractive to students?  And of course, acquiring these was not solely a library responsibility.  The whole institution needs to be involved with all the stakeholders.   Who pays for textbooks was a theme throughout the afternoon particularly as some libraries have a strategic alliance with their campus bookshop.

    Jinny Jones from the University of Melbourne library then spoke about space constraints and occupational health & safety issues at the Reserve desk.  She spoke about contacting EBL to see if 19 economic and commerce titles were available in e-format (for the record, they weren’t).  For these 19 titles, some 247 physical copies were being constantly re-shelved.  What’s more, they had an incredible 13,000 loans during their lifetime.  The physical demands on staff as well as the lack of space were an ongoing concern.  It was a plea for someone on the frontline to digitise – there is simply not enough space to keep handling and re-shelving.

    After a short break it was the publishers turn to respond and the dialogue started to get really interesting!   As I joked with Elizabeth Weiss from Allen & Unwin, no ebook industry discussion is complete without her, and today was no exception.  Her first question was "what group of people today are the most highly motivated not to pay for books?" which elicited a few laughs from those present.  The answer is, of course, undergraduate students. The second hand textbook market, piracy, stealing, use of a different textbook rather than the set text, were highlighted as some of the strategies students already use to avoid paying for their often expensive texts. Publishers are concerned that students would also go to great lengths to access e-textbooks through their libraries. She spoke about the growing interest in ebooks and the media reporting "ad nauseam" on e-reading devices and the relatively low uptake of e in the Australian retail market so far as opposed to the US.  The concern for Allen & Unwin with placing e-textbooks in libraries is the potential loss of sales - a few students not purchasing a textbook here and there all add up for a publisher of their size.  In smaller academic disciplines local textbooks might sell 500-700 copies a year.  Take away just 5-10 sales at each of a few universities due to the availability of the book in the library, and it hurts the bottom line.  There's no way around it unless libraries are prepared to pay enough to cover the lost sales.  Furthermore, textbooks are often highly formatted and aren't suitable for delivery in all ebook formats and in a library setting.  Research shows resistance from student textbook users to the "e" experience in this case however there are exciting developments with ebook enhancements - multimedia, for example, can enhance the learning experience.  Where the library fits into the equation remains to be seen - and of course, what are they prepared to pay to compensate publishers for lost sales?

    Maryce Johnstone, Sales Manager for Gale, represented Cengage Learning and spoke about testing e-textbooks in the UK. “A lot of pain, a lot of work, but it was an interesting place to be” The JISC study was invaluable as were developments in the enhanced-ebook market, the “bells and whistles” but much of what was being done was purely experimental.  Maryce spoke the business model for higher education in Australia.  We need to retain the revenue of print and ensure the sustainability of the local publishing industry otherwise the risk is there will only be US content available. 

    Lucy Russell, General Manager for Higher Education at Wiley then summarised the local business models for textbooks, particularly the important role of the academic bookseller.  Wiley Australia employs some 350 people and 60% of their textbooks are locally published.  Development costs for textbooks are high, student motivation to purchase is low, and many resources for the lecturer (and students) to support teaching and learning are given away! People costs are a considerable cost as publishers are required to curate all content, sell it, market it and distribute it.  Lucy shared the financials about adoptions in the ANZ market and pricing of textbooks.  As she said “we know print will move to digital” but the people costs of developing student and teaching resources remain the same, if not increasing with the requirement for more engaging media.  With regards to libraries, publishers were aware of the pressure to provide alternatives to print and they can’t keep their head in the sand - it was time to experiment without risking revenue.  The question for everyone was how do you make e-textbooks available in libraries and stay in business?

    Needless to say healthy discussion between publishers and librarians resulted!   Responses from the forum indicated it was a timely discussion and a good subject to address.  All stakeholders know the main areas of concern but also where there are joint interests.  What we need to work on now is more “discussion, debate, action” among stakeholders – the academic publishers, library suppliers, ebook vendors, and the libraries themselves.

    02 February 2011

    Where ebooks really work

    When I worked for Pearson, one of our largest group of expenses related to complimentary copies for lecturers at universities and TAFEs.  Over the years, "comp" policies were refined and improved in attempt to bring down the cost but they were a necessary evil - you had to give a copy away in order to create the adoption and multiple copy sales.  Apart from the marketing and sales reps costs, you had warehousing and distribution to add to the initial print and all associated development costs.  So it all added up.  It was part of the business model.

    Earlier this week the company I work for held a joint forum with EBL on e-textbooks - librarians in one corner, publishers in the other.  It was a really good discussion with around 100 participants but I'll keep my notes for that reserved for elsewhere.  I only bring it up on my own blog because Wiley spoke about the inspection copy process being an expense but an essential part of the academic publisher's business model.  They spoke about using ebooks as comp copies.  Regardless of the platform being used, ebook comp copies are quick, efficient, cost effective (ultimately) and more importantly they deliver the content directly to the reader without a strain on the environment.  Whether or not ebooks are greener than print I refer to a link from this blog from July 2009 and leave that discussion for those who are more "in the know" about these things than me.

    As some of you who live and breathe ebooks will also know, Springer announced more than 10,000 books for review on their website.  The online book review copy service is designed for journalists, editors and reviewers, who receive temporary reading access.  Ten books are allowed for simultaneous review and access is for 6 months.  Books that have not yet been published can be reserved and reviewers are notified by email when they are available. What I like about this is that the reviewers can then upload their published review and once it's date of appearance has been confirmed, they can order a print copy free.

    So the ongoing costs of inspection copies for lecturers and review copies for the media is effectively handled by their ebook service.  I love this model.  It's quick, the content is fully available, and the print copy is still part of the equation.  I wonder how much this service cost in terms of development and ongoing maintenance and what the ROI would be.  Considering the number of gratis copies that publishers send out, I think this is a brilliant way of working the ebook technology to bring a better result to all involved.  The financials would be fascinating to see, wouldn't you agree?

    06 January 2011

    Ebook vendors still have a lot to learn about their customers

    Overseas media has been reporting on the "millions" of iPads, Kindles and other reading devices sold this Christmas.  I must admit, it was the first time in years of reading ebooks that family and friends started talking to me about getting an e-reader.  At work I'm asked every other day for my opinion on what device someone should buy, but it's such a personal choice.  I still use my old Sony ereader but I bought my partner the new Sony Touch and it's being used quite frequently thanks to the take-up of the device while we were on our extended holiday in Venice.

    At a certain point, the physical books ran out and it was only a few clicks on a website to download some new and recent releases.  The interesting thing, it wasn't an ebook/online vendor that was chosen by my partner - it was the US publisher who sold the content directly from their website.  It didn't take long for the words "bookshops are going to die, aren't they" to be uttered as the transaction took place.  But here's where I disagree - albeit to a point.

    Bookshops and libraries have such an important role to play for book lovers.  They recommend, they have the items on their shelves, you can browse and you are not reliant on metadata to make a purchasing decision.  There's nothing like picking up the book and flipping through it.  As always, the jacket grabs my eye first, the author's name, the title, the picture, and then I read the blurb.  I flip through it.  I've got an idea of whether or not it's my kind of book.

    With ebooks we're reliant on the image and the metadata which can sometimes drive me up the wall.  Released this month often means "it's eight years old but like all publishers active in ebooks, we digitised it and released it as a new edition, technically it's available this month so we can say it's new, grab your attention, and you buy it, yeah lucky us, we get the sale and you get an older book.  Sorry did we say it was new?  Of course we did, it's new in "e"!" Yeah, thanks publishers.  As you know from this post in April 2010 - I don't appreciate this.  Publishers please put it somewhere in your ebook data the book you are saying is "NEW" is in fact new as an ebook and it was originally published in year x.  We don't want dishonesty in our transactions with you and if you want us to engage in reading and support of an author, do the right thing, and put the right information in the metadata. 

    Speaking of which, I'm now officially jaded with the ebook vendors I choose to buy from.  And this is where Amazon could teach them a million lessons.  Just because I buy ebooks, doesn't mean your weekly or monthly "new releases" email should be so general it's almost unappealing.  Haven't you noticed the sorts of books I read?  Build up a profile on me as your customer and start targetting "new" releases better.  Apple does it brilliantly.  I can't begin to tell you how many songs on iTunes I've downloaded because of their recommendation - whether it's on purchasing information from their other customers or it's on the Genius programming.  It's A LOT.  And I've enjoyed being introduced to new bands along the way. Of course the difference is it's a 3-4 minute entertainment experience whereas a book can be weeks, but the point needs to be made.

    Ebook vendors should be noting that I purchase historical fiction.  Let's nut this down a bit more.  I read historical fiction set from the Plantagenets through to the Tudors.  I read authors who write about Venice between the 15th and 19th centuries.  I read most books set in medieval and Renaissance Italy, particularly Tuscany.  I read fictionalised accounts of lives of artists, poets and writers.  And when the mood takes me, I like to escape to Ancient Greece, Rome or Egypt.  So with all the technology you have available, do I want to know about new ebook releases from Jack Higgins and Colm Toibin representing action and mystery?  Hello.  You've lost me.  And no, while there may be romance in the historical fiction I'm reading, that doesn't mean I want every Harlequin release.  And no, putting them in a bundle, won't entice me either. I do not want the traditional romance genre. And yes, when you send a "Focus on New Historical Fiction" ebooks, that was fine.  But did you need to add all the historical romance books too?  Ebook vendors have A LOT TO LEARN about consumer reading behaviour.  A new ebook release is just that.  But for goodness sake, match it to the reader.  It's what booksellers do.

    Dialogue with bookseller.  So Rachael, how did you like the last Sarah Dunant book?  Didn't really work for you?  That's a shame.  Have you read anything by Marina Fiorato.  She's got a new book out "The Botticelli Secret".  I'm sure it's right up your alley.  In this particular case, I've already got the print book, because yes I do like reading Marina Fiorato and I enjoy having some books in print to share with families and friends who may be interested.  Of course, I could have bought the ebook.  Afterall, it's Allen & Unwin who has published the title here - a publisher I admire and respect because they lead the way, particularly in "e" - and their website links me to their ebook vendors.  If one of the ebook vendors had just thought to alert me to the release of the ebook, I may have considered it.  But no, I'm happy to have the print in this case ... BUT as a consumer I would have liked the choice and with so many books published every month, someone needs to help me navigate that.  Getting on ebook portals and trying to search for something I'd like to read can be a real drain at times.  Their searching abilities are poor.  The metadata average.  They don't understand the consumer. 

    The hard part is, there's a MASSIVE wave of consumers now jumping on the ebook bandwagon here in Australia.  They have their devices but they haven't really thought about acquiring content for them (the new Sony for example didn't even reference the Sony library because it's only in the UK & US!) Yes, consumers know about getting the public domain classics for free and there will be a zillion downloads for these.  For a while they will experiment with ebook portals and click, click, click.  But what are they reading and how can their purchases be influenced?  Amazon and Apple know how to do it.  It's time for the other ebook vendors to lift their game.  And for publishers to support them with accurate metadata that educates the consumer, encourages a purchase, and more importantly another one in the future.

    03 November 2010

    The uproar over ebook prices

    Much has been said about ebook pricing, particularly in recent times as Amazon is forced to move to agency pricing.  And haven't their customers revolted!  Not surprisingly - we've all been getting books at ridiculous prices.  Why would we buy hardcovers or paperbacks when they are several times the price of the ebook.  Fine, if you are like me and you want the printed work as the PREMIUM product, something to share, something to keep, something to treasure - and not a digital file!  But the US 9.99 price point did create demand.  Amazing demand.  Even at 11.99, 12.99, 14.99 the price points are still good.  Where is the balance? 

    I must say ebook pricing is getting ridiculous.  The US Sony Store has Tony Blair's My Journey still available for US 9.99.  What is absolutely ridiculous however is local pricing.  Local site Readwithoutpaper.com has the book for $35.58 - that's what the local distributor has set the price at.  AU $35.58.  On the Random House Australia website the Hardback is $59.95.  The ebook is also $59.95.  Sorry guys, you know I love you but where do you think I ordered the book from?  (Yes I know, I usually order from work at staff rates but when it comes to ebooks it's a different kettle of fish).

    To make matters even more confusing, ebook vendors aren't familiar with how bibliographic data works.  For all of us in the booktrade, we've had to sigh, heave, yell, scream, moan and groan over what the metadata looks like.  We've worked through 100s editions and versions of the Harry Potters and Dan Browns of this world.  It is confusing.  It's awful.  And now you're yet another victim of it.  On today's Sony newsletter I saw a book entitled Cleopatra.  For those of you that know me, I have several grand loves.  Tudor History, War of the Roses, lives of famous poets and painters, and Ancient History - particularly Egyptian.  The first thing I do is link on the title and what happens when I get into the Sony Reader Store - two different prices for the same bloody ebook. It's an EBOOK people - it's not a hardcover or a paperback.  There should be one price UNLESS the book specifically mentions an enhanced edition.  And on old Sony readers, an enhanced edition doesn't do anything.  It's an electronic reader only. 

    This is just going to get worse folks.  It's bad enough having "e" and "p" prices all over the place, locally and internationally.  More mature ebook markets like the US doing crazy things, the UK market having a play, and then us not wanting to cannibilise print in any way.  it's going to happen.  The consumer will decide how they want to read.  We've seen it in the library market for years.  Library budgets for print massively cut back so they can purchase more ebooks, online databases and journals.  We've HAD to work with ebook vendors to survive.  And it does come with a cost.  Economically you operate with different margins - or not at all.

    When will publishers start looking at price points, look at the readers, look at the business models, and find something that helps SELL the work - regardless of format.  Give the reader what they want - at a price suitable for the product offered.  Or lose the sale.

    In industry alerts today there was an upcry when Amazon started listing the publishers ebook prices in the UK.  "Increase in piracy" "people will go elsewhere" "ban the agency publishers".  The peasants are revolting folks.  But publishers, you've only got yourselves to blame.  You got out the content to the market, played with the big boys, let them build up the demand (and where demand had never gone before!) at a price point soo unbelievable it became mainstream, then said sorry and clawed it all back. 

    Personally I think the price points are way too high locally - but that goes for the printed product too.  I've been in this industry a long time and I've seen the picture from all sides.  But price it better and sell more.  Be prepared to play, be prepared to give up margin, but don't lose the sale.  Don't become irrelevant.  Adapt or die.

    Oh, and try not to piss off the customer.  In the digital world, they have more power than you know.