14 December 2009

The rise and rise of Amazon: prepare for the battle

In the past few days several US publishers have announced they will be delaying the release of e-book versions of major releases. So what does Amazon do? Well, instead of selling for the already loss-leading price of US$9.99, let's take it even lower to $7.99!!! Let's show the publishers exactly who is in charge of this ebook market. Let's offer Under the Dome by Stephen King and Going Rogue by Sarah Palin for $7.99. The hardcover for the latter is listed on Amazon as US$28.99 slashed 50% to US$14.50. Slash it by half again if you want the ebook. Bestsellers are being slashed - Stephenie Meyer's first two Twilight books for US$4.25, Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire at US$7.99. Slash Slash and Slash again.

What happens next? Well surprise surprise, Barnes and Noble cut their ebook prices to match. I'm now waiting to see what Sony does. They've already admitted the US$9.99 price is NOT PROFITABLE. You can read the full article here. Yet I'm taking bets as to when they'll slash their prices! Any takers?

But back to the giant that is Amazon. I know some publishers are trying to wrestle control away from them so they can control their own ebook destinies. Can't everyone see these price points are DEVALUING the product and the whole reading experience? And what about profitability folks? It's already fragile in the bookselling and publishing industry.

It's no use discussing what percentage Amazon, Sony, Scribd etc take on ebook sales. We already know Amazon is using their pricing strategies to make the Kindle the ereader of choice, to build market share and customer loyalty. Sony has pretty much admited the same. They invest in the technology, they need people to buy it.

While publishers benefit from the lower ebook prices in the short term (through higher sales), according to Mike Shatzkin they "don't trust Amazon to keep things that way. From their perspective, Amazon is building a consumer expectation of an under-$10 price point while they are building up their audience of captive Kindle consumers. How long can it be, publishers figure, before Amazon says 'sorry, now you have to sell me these for under ten dollars?'" Mike also shared his thoughts on the possible war over the issue, including publishers not supplying or selling e-books through Amazon, Amazon suppressing the sale of their printed books, and more.

So when and where will the battle lines be drawn? It's a'comin, folks. Wait and see...

10 December 2009

The Apple iTablet: should we believe the media?

It's been coming for years (apparently!) but according to today's Sydney Morning Herald, Apple is preparing to launch a tablet personal computer in late March or April 2010. It will be their launch into the digital book market which is controlled by Amazon's Kindle at present. The article said "Apple declined to comment". Is anyone surprised by that? Has anyone from Apple ever confirmed there is a tablet coming?! I'd have to dig around the web to find out the answer to that one....

, according to the "analyst" the tablet will have a 10.1-inch multi-touch LCD screen similar to that of Apple's iPhone. The books will sold on a non-exclusive basis and it seems they've requested only a 30% discount from the publishers as opposed to Amazon's 50% (which is pretty much the ballpark for the ebook vendors).

Interestingly, the SMH article didn't mention price. It was the cnet news that mentioned the $1000 price tag. (I'm assuming US dollars) OK, if it does lots of whizz bang things, including a fabulous experience with ebooks, would we be happy carrying around a device at that price tag day in, day out....?

Also, there is a big take-up of ebooks using the iPhone now. The head of one of the largest ebook vendors said to me recently that he reads everything now on the iPhone through the Stanza app. Absolutely addicted! I don't have an iPhone and while the screen is clean and it's easy to use, having the look and the feel of the traditional book is my preference. The larger screen works better for me. But he loved sharing his experience with me and I'm always open to everyone's reading experience whether it's e or p.

As I've said time and time again, consumers will read whatever way they want. Print, an e-reader, on their laptop, on their iPhone. And I still believe e and p can live in harmony. There will be a percentage of cannibilisation but I think it won't be anywhere near as high as 50%. And I still feel ebooks and ereaders will bring new readers into the book loving community. Anything that encourages people to read is surely a good thing?

But back to Apple, is it coming or isn't it? I can't help but think of those supply chain gurus at Frankfurt and the line they left us all with "It will be Apple, it will be cool, and everyone will want it". I wait for further news...

03 December 2009

Read Without Paper

Yes folks, DA has finally launched their ebook website - www.readwithoutpaper.com - partnering with OverDrive in the US. I was already aware OverDrive had approached Australian publishers for content but there's only a handful who are in a position to provide at present - but it's a-changing world as we know.

I've gone into the Read Without Paper site to assess their offer and structure. Lots of foreign language, PDFs and audio downloads. I just want to see the EPUB titles available. (PDFs are crap to read on the Sony e-reader.) And I really don't want to see all the foreign language materials. There should be a view you select up front so you can see the titles that are relevant to you.

In many ways I'm disappointed this isn't a uniquely Australian venture and wonder how local publishers feel about overseas original publications being sold now as ebooks. Yes that might sound hypocritical as I've been getting my ebook content elsewhere but I genuinely want to see a truly local offer - even if it is through someone like DA! :)

Some major publishers here have told me they don't believe there is an ebook market. Some of these discussions have taken place in the last six months so I'm not talking about two or three years ago. We are talking major trade houses here and while the e-readers aren't yet taking off in this market, the day will come where people want more choice and read on whatever device takes their fancy. Many people are waiting for that rumoured iTablet from Apple. That's if they aren't already reading on their iPhone or some other device.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all for the book. The old fashioned one that is. But I read on an e-reader as well. All fiction titles. I pick them up cheaply or free from Gutenberg. I'm more than happy to pay US 9.99 through Sony for a latest release in certain genres but I'm still buying most books in the traditional format. I like to collect and I like to share. There's something personal about the book and flicking through the pages, dog-eared and all.

But back to the Australian ebook market where rumours and confusion reign supreme. Start-up companies are approaching publishers left right and centre. All after the ebook dollar. I feel a little sorry for the local publishers that are only now looking at their digital strategies, having left them to US and UK head offices.

Read Without Paper is a start but I wish it was a truly Australian venture. Will I order ebooks through them? So far, they haven't got anything that I want but I will keep you posted on anything I order through them and how the process goes.

29 November 2009

A day in the life of an ebook reader

I've just finished an ebook (purchased locally surprise surprise) of The Book Thief. What a remarkable book. Will go down as one of the best I've ever read.

I've been laughing at myself lately because I either forget to charge the Sony ereader, or I don't turn it off properly, and then of course there are the problems with the device when I use the backlight (which chews up the battery). Trust me, I made sure I kept the battery strong for this book as I didn't want to get to a critical point and have a battery warning! There's nothing worse than wanting to read and not having the battery charge to do so...

It made me think about school students. I've heard many stories about (mainly private) schools wanting to have content on ereaders for their students but being rejected by publishers who either don't have the content digitised, don't want to participate, or just don't want to provide it for other reasons (piracy? who knows...). Anyway, I don't know about you, but my experience with teenagers in particular suggests they will lose their ereader, misplace it, forget to charge it etc. I can just imagine the teacher saying everyone turn to page 10 and some people have it on large font, some on small, so the page number is irrelevant. Then hearing cries from several students "miss, my battery is dead, I can't read it". Hysterical!

Of course they could always lose the print copy but you don't have battery issues with the traditional format. You don't risk damaging the whole device if you spill liquid on it. You can take it in the bath. You can read it throughout the flight (there's no "switching off all electronic devices" for the takeoff and landing period). The beauty of an ereader is storage and taking choice with you wherever you go.

Oh and further to my previous post, I had the ereader out and about with me yesterday - in a cafe and in a hairdresser. Only men asked me whether it was a Kindle. All older men - as previously identified - and all had lots of questions about it. Most women glance at it and it really does challenge their opinions. I think there's been half for and half against todate. Most add "I really hope the printed book doesn't die though". Me too folks, me too.

11 November 2009

A Supply Chain Perspective on ebooks

For the last five years or so, I've attended the International Supply Chain Meeting at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation from Peter Kilborn (BIC: Book Industry Communication) on "The Limits of Technology".

Here's just some of the highlights:

"E-book readers will be introduced in the UK later this year, and have already proved popular with American users. From the Barnes & Noble web site, user comments include: ‘I don’t know how I got along without it’, ‘I will never go back to paper again; the future has arrived and it’s great.’"
(The Bookseller, June 2000)

"Simon & Schuster US has unveiled its first ebooks list. It is the latest in a tide of publishers to enter the US e-book market, which is believed to be on the point of explosion"
(The Bookseller, December 2000)

Yes those dates are not a misprint. He was speaking about how slow the industry is to react and how we respond to change overall. We all know e-books are getting A LOT of coverage, but let's try and keep a few things in perspective.

Kelly Gallagher from Bowker also did an interesting presentation on e-book sales. I'm assuming his figures were for the US but in 2008 e-books accounted for 1.5% of all book sales. In the first half of 2009, this went up to 2.2%. Another interesting stat was that for buyers over 50 years of age, e-books are growing at 183%. Sony e-book readers have an average age of 49.8, Kindle 48.9, PDAs 28.0 and the iPhone 37.9. Device presentation was also interesting - 40% were pure downloads to computer. 26.8% were via the Kindle, 13% from iPhone, 6.4% from the Sony e-reader. So beyond computer downloads, Kindle has the market share.

Thought the feedback from the meeting would enhance this blog and will continue to monitor industry alerts for interesting stats and quotes about this growing - and fascinating - market segment.

02 November 2009

Roadtesting the Sony ereader

As many of you know, I took the Sony ereader to Frankfurt this year for the Book Fair. It was an interesting experiment, particularly as it was the longest trip to date and I must admit I was a little anxious as I love to read on longer flights and train rides. My luggage to previous international Book Fairs has included at least 3 books and I must admit, I did take a paperback as insurance!

The Sony ereader was fully charged when I left Sydney airport and there were 45 ebooks on the device including the new one from Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry. I purposely didn't take the charger on board and regretted this half way when the battery started dying in Singapore! As I've flagged previously on this blog, when the back light is used on the Sony, the battery dies quickly. Knowing this flaw, I use it sparingly but needed to because the light in the business lounge at Singapore airport was not good. I continued reading while I waited for my connecting flight and realised the battery was depleting right in front of my eyes! I wasn't happy about it and ended up putting the reader away.

It might interest you to know that most of the marketing material previously stated the battery lasted around 7000 page turns. If that's the case, I should be getting through 4-5 ebooks with no problem. This is not happening and I must admit, it cheeses me off somewhat.

Apart from the battery, the other problem was not being able to use an electronic device for take off and landing. Of course, on an international flight that can mean the last 30 minutes is without reading material. I was grateful for the paperback I threw into my handbag at the last minute, even if it meant my reading was somewhat interrupted.

Oh and I may have flagged this previously when discussing pros and cons of ereaders, but I enjoy soaking in a tub at the end of a long day and getting stuck into a good book while I bathe. Not having a bath at home, I always look forward to one when I travel. I managed to enjoy the experience only once during the whole Book Fair - on my last night. Of course, it's not wise to take the ereader in the bath (!) and again glad to have the paperback on hand.

But back to the story: The reader charged without difficulty once in Frankfurt, and again when I travelled to Regensburg for some personal time. The time off was particularly interesting as I had to field multiple questions about the ereader, all from German locals. Whether it was someone politely interrupting me on the train "Was IST das?!" to people in cafes or restaurants wanting to know more about it, I was fielding questions left, right and centre. Most of the time I handed over the device and let people use the touchscreen to navigate. It was met with a lot of approval, a lot of nods, a lot of sighs, and A LOT of interest overall.

The demographic was interesting - all enquiries were from men! Several were older, one I would hazard a guess would have been retired, and only a couple were from late teens to university students. I've been talking ebooks for years professionally (mainly for libraries) and having to do show and tell at a more personal level has been a lot of fun too.

On the way home, the ereader was fully charged yet again and I did NOT use the backlight at any stage of the journey. The trip home was longer as I had a 4 hour layover in Singapore. By the time we were preparing to land in Sydney, I had one battery cell left on the ereader. I had read two new books, re-read/scanned through another four, and answered about a dozen questions on the ereader from the general (German) public.

07 October 2009

And here comes The Kindle

Amazon has finally announced its Kindle ereader is available to customers outside the US including Australia. For US$279 you can order your Kindle and they'll ship it to you from 19 October. I imagine there won't be a lot of Australian content available for us, as local publishers have been relatively slow to get behind ebooks. Allen & Unwin and Pan Macmillan are two notable exceptions thanks to Elizabeth Weiss and Victoria Nash respectively. These two publishing leaders continue to promote the digital agenda and I don't know what the local industry would do without them!

Mind you, I had to laugh when I read that Don Grover, CEO of Dymocks, spoke about the take-up of devices being driven by content. They were the first retailer to get on the ebook bandwagon (we library suppliers having gotten on it some years back...). But now the ebook kiosk at Dymocks tells a sad, sorry tale. Dismantled and hidden away at the back of the store, it failed to attract a wider audience. Of course it would! If you want to buy an ebook you don't need to go into a bricks and mortar bookshop. That's the beauty of it! Hop online and a few clicks of the button later you have your content. Also, apparently Dymocks sold thousands of Iliads. Ahem. Thousands? A contact at the distributor advised the real figure was much less but don't let us stop you upselling the demand and promoting the uptake of ereaders! We all know it's the future so get your e-reader today folks. Of course you can't get much content but hey, here's a device that you'll enjoy carrying around with you!

And then, of course, there was this beauty from Don: ‘We're finding consumers like the wide screen of a laptop computer instead', he said. No kidding! Didn't we see that all along? Ereaders are great but at the end of the day readers will read on whatever device they use the most - their phone, their laptop, their ereader. Dymocks started the ball rolling but I really do hate to see them drop it.

And for those who have been following this blog: for the record, I'm still reading printed books! However I've got plenty of content (mainly US sourced) on the Sony e-reader. This is the first year I will be taking the device with me to the Frankfurt Book Fair and I must say I'm excited and nervous at the same time. Excited because there's around 46 books currently on the reader, including Audrey Niffenegger's new one Her Fearful Symmetry and nervous in case I have trouble charging the bugger and find I have nothing to read but German magazines I'll pick up while I'm there. My German's good, but not that good!

Oh, and before I sign off this post - perhaps in the months ahead people will stop asking me "oh is that a Kindle" every time I take out the e-reader. No it's bloody not a Kindle. It's a SONY!

05 August 2009

Sony Sony Sony

Well, it's in cyberspace. Sony has two new e-readers ready to launch in the US market. The PRS 300 ebook reader will sell for $199. That undercuts Amazon by $100. The larger PRS 600 will have the touchscreen and will sell for $299. I still think it's hysterical that documents relating to the manufacturing of the e-readers were available on the internet prior to the announcement! It was a terrible secret really. Unfortunately the forthcoming e-readers still don't have wireless capability, so Amazon's Kindle still has that key selling point.

From what I can gather, the PRS 300"pocket" version has a five-inch (12.7cm) screen which is smaller than Kindle and other competitors. This smaller version won't play mp3 files, there is no slot for a memory card. I believe it's designed to hold 350 books.

The PRS-700 will be replaced by the PRS-600. The 600 will have the same six-inch screen as but not the built-in light. As you know from my previous review of the PRS-700, the light chews up battery. Steve Haber, president of Sony's Digital Reading Business Division, has confirmed that removing the light will also correct some screen clarity problems it has caused.

The second bit of news was the repricing of their ebook content to $9.99 to match Amazon. Personally, I didn't care about the $11.99 price point - or even dearer - because if I want the content I will pay for it. (The only thing I have to consider is the price conversion to Australian dollars!) I don't have a Kindle, I rarely use Amazon (afterall I have access to an extensive book database day in and day out with my job), and I'm interested in what is available in ebook format through the Sony ebook site. To me, the difference of $2.00 was irrelevant. And I definitely don't give a rat's arse about 4cents, which I believe is the difference between Amazon's Kindle books and Barnes & Nobles new ebooks. Everyone is trying to outdo everyone else!

On the local front I keep hearing mixed messages from Sony re releasing them here. A Marketing Director for a major trade publisher advised they were planning to launch them in September, albeit a soft launch due to the lack of content available in ebook format from local trade publishers at present. I'd assume they'd be looking at the new e-readers? Who knows...

My own enquiries to Sony have received somewhat automoted and impersonal responses. When I responded to the initial correspondence, I received "We have not been updated on any future release dates. This is why we cannot supply you with any particular information. To be honest, we are unsure as to whether the e-book reader will be released in Australia, simply because our head office has not informed us of this." Ah customer service vs customer demand.

It will be interesting to see whether Sony makes any waves in Australia. There are quite a number of ebook readers available now. We hear about a new device every other day and of course everyone always mentions iTunes and the Stanza application as being the focus. Alternatively I hear publishers discuss smart laptops and the Apple iTablet. Who knows where this market will go? It's a moving target in many ways and that also makes it exciting.

23 July 2009

The long-awaited Hanlin Review

The poor Hanlin e-reader hasn't been used much in recent times. Once the Sony PRS-700 arrived, it was dropped like a hot potato! I'm finding the Hanlin very difficult to pick up again after the touchscreen experience of the Sony - I keep hitting the screen only to remember I have to ENTER the number of the book I want! Having to enter a number to either bring up a book or even perform a function is a little out-dated I must say. In addition, the menu structure needed work. The ebooks menu, for example, would take you to another menu that appeared by format of the book. I don't recall whether a book is in mobipocket, EPUB or pdf format so I found this functionality useless. Once connected to the laptop, I reworked all the files so it came down to two basic structures - audio and ebook - and I filed everything in alphabetical order. That way when I wanted to read Bram Stoker's Dracula (yes I loaded the file on this device as well) I didn't have to remember what menu it was in. Drove me nuts one day trying to find an ebook I was reading because I didn't know what the original format was nor what menu it was hiding in! In addition, the User Manual on the device and the one that was in the box were poorly written. The translation to English really hasn't worked and you are often left to figure it out for yourself! Some of the other problems with the Hanlin include the blank pages between page changes - they are more obvious/longer than the Sony, the Go to Page function is very poor, as is searching across an ebook. God forbid you lose your page! If it doesn't open at the page you left it at, trying to find your position is a nightmare. You can't scan across like the Sony or do a text search. It doesn't have a keyboard to search on! On a positive note, one of the features I like is the ability to actually change the font. On other devices you can change the size, but the Hanlin lets you choose most times between an Arial or a Times face. The crispness of the text on the screen is better than the Sony. It's stronger. Both of the devices have a long battery life - except the Sony if you use the backlight. Don't use it folks! It drains really fast. The Hanlin doesn't have one, and that's probably a good thing. All in all, the Hanlin reads ok as a basic device, the functionality is no frills, very simple and outdated in many respects. I link it to the Mobipocket ebook portal and I think that works well when reading on the computer as well. It has a lot more functionality than the Sony portal. If only the content was better I'd be a little happier. To compare content go to mobipocket (and check out the Best of on the RHS) and then go to Sony - do you see what I mean???!!!!

22 July 2009

Getting inspiration from an industry man I admire

I was happy to pick up this comment from Mike Shatzkin on the Idea Logical blog. He was referring to an article in the Wall Street Journal regarding Sourcebooks and delaying ebook releases:

"My quote, by the way, was to the effect that ebook readers and print book readers are increasingly separate markets, which I believe to be true but cannot prove. A C-level friend at a large house disagrees with me, as I’m sure many others do, and my evidence on this is highly anecdotal (including myself: I have read one printed book of the 50 or so I’ve read in the past 18 months.) But my friend would have no more evidence than I to support his contrary position, so publishers will have to make decisions without really knowing, for now, whether they can push a Kindle or Shortcovers or Ereader consumer back to paper by denying or delaying a book."

Mike is a man I admire. I've heard him speak several times and he makes unbelievable sense! The more I read and breathe ebooks, the more I believe they will be separate markets for publishers. Some readers will definitely migrate to a new way of reading and storing content, whether it be on the iPhone, the laptop, an e-reader - the format is for the consumer to decide. And by opening up technology, a new generation is likely to appear. Whether it's the print or the electronic, there are limitations with all formats. The reading experiences will vary. I believe many people true to the printed book will stay that way. And I think the e-reader invites a new reader onboard.

Personally I see the ebook reader as being a wonderful companion when travelling - airports, planes, hotel rooms. Lots of choice at my finger tips (and hopefully the ability to recharge the battery when I need to!) However I don't see it as a wonderful companion when I'm soaking in the tub after a long day travelling and the thought of having the battery run out along the way would be awful. It's my mobile phone and digital camera nightmares all over again!

For the rest of the world, I'm excited for students, for busy professionals, the publishing industry. In many ways e-readers present solutions. But for others, they may be just another gadget that gets used in the early days and put aside later. Who knows? Maybe it will come full circle...

18 July 2009

A ramble on the EPUB format

As you know from my recent post regarding Random House Australia and their free Wil Anderson ebook offer, I'm a fan of standards for ebooks. Having sat in Supply Chain meetings at Frankfurt and London Book Fairs for the past few years, I'm all for reducing confusion in the marketplace, working to industry standards, and keeping costs of conversions down for publishers. The EPUB format is the one preferred by industry representatives, as it's a natural progression from the PDF - already core to the publishing process. Adobe Digital Editions, the home of EPUB files, is also Sony friendly. Or so I thought....

On the Adobe Digital Editions site, they also offer a few free ebooks to download. Now a few of you may laugh after my recent Twilight ramblings, but I thought I'd return to the classics and Bram Stoker's Dracula was there for the taking. I had already picked it up on the free Mobipocket portal as it is one of the classics readily available through Project Gutenberg. Unfortunately Mobipocket isn't Sony friendly - I can read books stored there on the Hanlin, but not on my preferred Sony e-reader.

Getting Dracula into Adobe Digital Editions was easy peasy (click click) and once I'd hooked up the e-reader to the computer, getting it downloaded to the reader itself was a piece of cake (drop drag). So far so good, but then the read commenced and once again the format distorted on the e-reader. I understand that is one of the challenges of ebooks so I simply tried to change font size and view. In the end I went back to my standard view. The reading experience has been okay to date but every couple of page turns, the text disappears and I have to skip through a blank page. Alternatively half way down the page the text distorts. You get used to it. But it really isn't ideal. It makes you understand why the proprietary formats exist and that unfortunately one size does not fit all.

16 July 2009

What's wrong with ebook readers

Where do I begin? Yes, I'm a newcomer to this area and this blog is all about sharing my opinion on ebooks and the like, but there's something wrong when you have to RESET an e-reader so you can continue the reading experience. There's also the slight problem of RECHARGING the e-reader and when you are busy, you don't really notice that battery button going down. I haven't received any WARNINGS that I've got 10 minutes left or something and don't start me on the POWER the Sony PRS-700 consumes if you use the backlight! The REFLECTION can be problematic and the FILE FORMATS distort. I had a business e-book on project management. Picked it up free somewhere on the net. The format was in PDF and was so incredibly small that when I enlarged the font size on the Sony, the entire thing became UNREADABLE. Then there's ebooks I've purchased in proprietary formats like mobipocket that are NOT TRANSFERABLE. The ebook portals are still in their infancy and NEED BETTER SEARCH FUNCTIONALITY. The content can be LIMITED or DELAYED so as a consumer I don't have the choice I would like to have. Very frustrating people!!!!

That's the ramble for today but keep in mind, I'm READING on an e-reader and on the computer. I'm discovering new works and old ones, and LOVING IT! I'll do what's right with ebook readers another day. :-)

12 July 2009

The ipod moment is already here

Ebook articles often refer to the iPod moment. Is it just around the corner? There is much debate on the subject and the comparison is inevitable.

Ebook readers aren't mainstream here in Australia. They are still way too expensive and a luxury item (The Iliad sells for $1299 with the 'cheaper' version at $1099 and prices generally start from $500). Sourcing content can be problematic, particularly for new releases and don't even start me on the various ebook formats out there! It's bloody confusing.

As you know, I've been playing with ebooks for this blog - I have Mobipocket Reader and the Sony ebook portal loaded on the computer. Through Mobipocket you have access to Fictionwise and 13 odd ebook vendors. Sony just links to Sony but they did partner with Google to load 500,000 public domain books for free. You can access that content as well through Project Gutenberg. It's there for the taking.

Anyway, I have to laugh whenever I read about the iPod moment. I've only had an iPod for 15 months and promptly loaded iTunes onto the laptop, copying favourites songs from my extensive CD collection and spending a small fortune on new and old songs (especially those classics in my extensive tape collection!). The good thing about iTunes is you can listen to a song for 20 seconds or so and download it. Click, Click, Click it's all easy and accessible. The Genius application is a killer but at the same time it's introduced me to other music, which I've enjoyed. It's also cost a small fortune over time but as a music lover, it gets used frequently. As does the Mastercard.

Ebook portals offer pretty much the same process, but their preview functionality still needs work. US$11.99 for this book, specials, collections, free books. It's click, click and click and all that content is downloaded. Just like iTunes. Only dearer!

There's another problem. The average song time is 4 minutes. You can download 15 songs and have an hours entertainment. Books take time to read, particularly when you are a busy professional. So I have the dilemma, a few easy clicks, and I have the content (and an ever increasing Mastercard bill!). I already have more than a dozen printed books waiting to be read. I now have the same on the e-reader or in the ebook portals on the laptop (for those that won't transfer to the e-reader). I don't need more content. I need a time management system! NOW!

Oh, and if you can have a word in the ears of the nice people at Mastercard, I'd be most grateful....

10 July 2009

Random House Ebook Promotion

What a great promotion this week from Random House. Nice to see Brett Osmond and the team there moving on the ebook front (even if it's a title published a couple of years ago!) For those of you who don't know, they offered Wil Anderson's book "Survival of the Dumbest" absolutely free - as an ebook, as long as you sign up to the Random House newsletter. (See the Random House Australia website for details)

There are several smart strategies employed here by RH. The first is to have the right author. Wil is a popular comedian and television host and people find him funny. He is also active on Twitter and other online social networks, so that makes him accessible and hip. And while he was known to many viewers as one of the hosts from "The Glass House", I think he raised his public profile further with the success of "The Gruen Transfer" on the ABC. Some people may have recently discovered him and may not be aware of his published work. So what better promotion than to offer it absolutely FREE as an ebook. Just having the word FREE will no doubt have lots of people signing up! We're a funny lot.

However, the strategy I think works best is promoting the EPUB format via Adobe Digital Editions. Publishers would like to see one standard ebook format and various Standards Committees have put forward the EPUB version as their preferred option, rather than having to convert to proprietary formats like the Amazon Kindle, mobipocket etc. I will eagerly be waiting to hear back as to how many people installed Adobe Digital Editions and downloaded the book. Of course, the magic number will be how many people actually READ IT as an ebook. And the Holy Grail, whether RH sees an increase in the print sales as a result of the free ebook offer and/or a better sell-thru for Wil's next book which I believe will be released in November 2009.

Either way, it's a wonderful brand promotion - Wil Anderson himself, Random House, and Adobe Digital Editions. Can't wait to hear more about the results....!

09 July 2009

Ebooks and the green movement

In a recent Forrester Research report, the following timeline was outlined for the e-reader market:

2007-2009 Early adopters
2009-2011 More mainstream consumers buy e-readers as features like animation, content ports to other wireless devices become a reality. The US$199 price point is breached
2011 and beyond: video and colour make their appearance and the much anticipated US$99 price point becomes a reality
2013-2020 The green movement drives e-reader usage.

This last point was an interesting one and when I mentioned it to a colleague, the first word out of his mouth was "bollocks". How much recycling is happening with old computer and other technological devices now? A book left on a street will eventually break down. Books can be pulped. Etc Etc.

The most recent Frankfurt Book Fair newsletter had a special link: how green are e-books really? They noted one catchy slogan being used by a manufacturer is "Easy on the eyes, easy on the environment". The newsletter goes on to say "One thing is obvious: no forests have to be cut down for the production of electronic books and the e-readers to go with them - which is an important factor. The American book industry alone consumes 1.5 million tonnes of paper annually. Around 70 per cent of CO2 emissions caused by the industry come from paper production: the production of one book involves the emission of around four kilos of CO2. This was discovered by a study whose results were issued last year by the Green Press Initiative (GPI) and The Book Industry Study Group (BISG)."

They then go on to advise no official studies have been done to compare the ecobalance between electronic and printed books. "Focusing on the paper problem alone means forgetting that a great deal of energy is also needed for the production of e-book readers - the manufacture of a PC, for example, produces approx. 1,850 kilos of CO2. In addition, dubious materials such as mercury and bromine are also used."

I'll keep my eye out on further environmental studies but I'd be interested in other people's thoughts on this. Will the green movement drive e-reader usage or not?

08 July 2009

Is there any good news out there

Headlines from this week's Bookseller & Publisher:

Among the many stories added to our around the world blog in the past week:

For details on all these stories and more, see www.booksellerandpublisher.com.au/blogentries/

So my question for today: Is there any friggin good news in this industry?

Oh, and don't think I didn't notice the Meyer entry (for those following my ebook past activities). I see Meyer went digital in the UK via the ScrollMotion Iceberg e-reader for the iPhone. Yep, like I'm going to read a book on an iPhone. If anyone IS reading books on an iPhone, please explain it to me. What's the reading pleasure because I don't get it one iota!

07 July 2009

Exactly when should I jump?

For today's blog, I'm going to give you a quick rundown on industry headlines from some of the articles that are currently flooding my desk. All associated with ebooks, e-readers, and the like. In no particular order (and apologies in advance to those I've left off the list):
  • Springer Leaps Ahead in Academic E-book Market (FT) - about how ereaders like Amazon's Kindle are transforming academic publishing much faster than the consumer market
  • Borders kick-starts UK reluctant e-book revolution (Times Online) - BTW the picture of the e-reader looks awful, very basic and unappealing. What were they thinking?
  • Copyright, cost, content - so many barriers between Australians and ebooks (Special report in the Australian Library News)
  • Ebooks: is this their ipod moment? (ALN again)
  • Is Amazon taking over the book business? (Time Online) granted this was more about the Amazon business model but The Kindle featured prominently as did the comment"When it comes to ebooks, Amazon doesn't just sell them; it practically owns the entire medium". Ahem.
  • Amazon vs Google (cut & paste from the web so did not note source) loved the opening line "Amazon's Kindle is not so shiny and new anymore and it was Google that made the biggest ebook splash"
  • Stay Ahead of the Shift: What Publishers Can do to Flourish in a Community-Centric Web World (Online Presentation by Mike Shatzkin, a man I admire for his vision of the publishing industry)
  • The E-book Pricing Conundrum (Publishers Weekly)
  • Kindle DX: Bigger Screen, Higher Price, Many Questions (Publishers Weekly)
  • The Lonely Stand of Print Reference (Publishers Weekly): mentioned purely because the the article has to mention the internet and Google's role in diminishing/changing print reference
  • Commercial eBook Conversion Utilities (post from the web that is in double dutch - how to covert all different files and the software required, I think I'll wait for the Dummies Guide to...)
  • More and More Books Digitally Published (AOL news): this was more about POD (of which I'm a big fan) but it has implications for e, particularly when another article refers to the restructure of Ingram (also a big fan) and the role of content in their future
  • The Random House Group Launches Ebook Reader Apps on Apple App Store (that's nice, anyone using it in Australia? Contact me if you are please!!!!)
  • Reading Mobipocket ebooks on a Blackberry (ditto)
  • Google Books now available through Sony
  • Analyst sees Amazon's Kindle Generating $2B in Sales (Streetinsider.com)
  • Indie Booksellers Debate the E-book Conundrum (Publishers Weekly)
  • Whither interior Book Design: ReadSmart re-creates publishers' book designs on iPhone (Publishers Weekly)
  • So is $9.99 the ebook price point? (Brave New World blog: excellent blog from the UK Bookseller Association)
  • Preparing to sell e-books, Google Takes on Amazon (New York Times): another good opening line "Google appears to be throwing down the gauntlet in the ebook market"
Glancing across my desk it's all e-focused. Is the death of the book finally around the corner? After 20 years in publishing, what do I do next? Exactly when should I jump? The questions start pouring out of me and my heart rate rises. Beyond my desk, I look at the noticeboard in my office where I've been storing these sort of articles for years. I glance for a headline that will restore my confidence in the industry I've chosen to work in all these years and the one I would prefer to stay in. Searching... searching... searching... Yep, there it is one entitled "Why e-book readers don't stand a chance". I breathe again. I start to relax. Then I remember I'm reading e-books onscreen and off a reader. Argh! My eyes focus on another article "How the E-book will Change the Way we Read and Write" a wonderful item from the Wall Street Journal. And I ponder the future silently....

03 July 2009

The curious reader

What an interesting week it’s been. The Sony e-reader has created such curiosity whenever I’ve taken it out of the handbag and started reading. Last Saturday I took the e-reader to the hairdressers. I’m usually there around 2 hours while I have my hair cut and coloured. My hairdresser and colourist are used to me bringing a book and reading while I wait. They usually ask questions about what I’m reading and whether I would recommend it. They both nearly fell over when I showed them the handheld device!

Located in the swish Chatswood Chase complex, the salon had around 30 customers and several began talking to me about the e-reader. A few were noticeably horrified but one lady in particular spoke about The Kindle and the impact it’s made in the U.S. Why didn’t buy that? I explained it wasn’t available in Australia. What made me buy the device I was reading on? I had to explain I work in the book industry and had two e-readers for a project. The Sony e-reader wasn’t available here either but I’ve heard rumours it may be towards the end of the year. A few customers wanted to know what was available and the price of them. I answered all the questions that were fired at me however no one had a burning desire to run out and buy one there and then. But those who were asking the questions were obviously interested – or overly concerned, I couldn’t really tell. Was it because it was a new gadget? Something to admire, to be envious of, to be interested in.. Who knows, but inevitably the conversation would take one of two directions. Either “not sure I like it”, “can’t see me reading from it”, “I’m sorry I just love a book”, “the book is really dead then” OR “it will be great for travelling!” and “that will solve my [book] storage problems!!”

At the beautician a few days later, the young 18 year old behind the counter couldn’t contain her interest and was by my side in two seconds! “Oh MY GOD! Is that an ebook!? Where did you get it? Do you think it will eventually replace the book? AWESOME!” There was a different awe right up until I told her the price of e-readers in Australia. She just sighed.

Then today while waiting at Pattisons in St Ives for a coffee before work (I mention Pattisons purely because if you know it, you’ll know the queue that forms each morning for coffee!) my docket number was 100. They had just called 86. So what does a girl do while she waits? Well she pulls out an e-reader that's what! I could feel eyes looking over my shoulder and while I read Michael J Fox share his thoughts about politics, stem cell research and Parkinsons in his book Always Looking Up, I heard two women next me talk about reading and how kids don’t like to read anymore. They discussed the books they were currently reading. They said loudly how much they love a book. I hid my grin because they were so obvious! I was a traitor. How could I?! I should be shot. What they didn’t know was that I work in the book industry, I’ve worked in it for nearly 20 years, and I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs “hey I love a real book too but give me a chance, I’m trying to understand the appeal of an e-reader and is it really the future?”

I can’t deny there is an appeal but will it cannibalise print sales or bring in new readers? The more I live and breathe ebooks the more I think a percentage of readers will move over to electronic devices – e-readers, mobile phones, whatever takes their fancy – but ebooks will appeal to a new audience, another layer of reader. The critical factor will be what content will actually be available, the price, the release date, and whether it’s in the format you – as the customer – prefers to read from.

29 June 2009

Sony e-reader review

I'm currently trialling the HanLin and the Sony PRS-700 e-reader for an ebook project at work. When I started this blog I thought I'd review the HanLin e-reader first, but it's actually the Sony one that I'm reading more from at present, so it's going to end up reviewed first.

So my first thoughts about the Sony? Easier to use and more modern than the HanLin. Unfortunately the screen isn't as clear and the reflection from lights is annoying. You can't change the font - only the font size. The touch screen is good, I like it a lot. The main menu has the Continued Reading button, Your books, Your notes, Collections, Audio, Pictures and Settings (see image). I think the picture option is stupid, as the e-reader doesn't come in colour. Why would I want to look at a black & white picture? Not sure what Sony was thinking here! Once a title is selected, it's easy to set up how to turn the page. You can use the buttons or the touch screen. I'm actually using the stylus that came with it and you can set up what direction you'd prefer when turning the page. Once reading you can increase the size of the font to suit your needs and if it's your cup of tea, you can change to landscape. I'm finding the search function works well as does the Go To page. I haven't really used the Notes component but I played around with it, and no issues there. The synching from the Sony ebook portal isn't as good as I would expect and they have a bit more work to do until it has the same functionality as iTunes, for example. My main concern relates to the downloading of ebooks to the reader and for me, it's not as obvious as I would like as to whether the books have successfully loaded onto the e-reader. I need to keep playing with the type of books placed on the reader and moving content on and off the device so I am more familiar with the process. Lastly, the battery life is not as good as I would expect. The website says it lets you turn up to 7,500 continuous pages (or up to 2 weeks reading) on a single charge.. However if you use the built-in light, it chews up the battery very quickly. I would not recommend using it unless absolutely essential.

The Sony e-reader was sourced through our office in Portland Oregon. I believe it cost around $350 U.S. from the Sony website exclusive of shipping and extras like the charger (although you can charge by connecting via USB to your computer). The U.S. website advises the eBook Store is limited to U.S. and Canadian residents so my address is c/o our Head Office and I used my hotmail address so it would not impact on my project. I hear rumours Sony Australia may be launching towards the end of the year but have concerns about what product will be able to be sourced from them. Will they be creating a Sony Australia ebook store? I haven't heard from any publishers about being asked to provide Australian content. I DO know some trade publishers have made the Sony e-reader available to their publishing and senior sales/marketing staff. I can imagine how brilliant it would be when assessing manuscripts - no more paper, just the electronic file downloaded to the reader. Portable, paper-saving, easy access. Makes sense. And it also helps publishing staff become familiar with the device and thinking about the reading experience overall. So far, I've only heard a few publishing contacts mention they may move to reading all their books electronically but most in the publishing industry love the look and feel of a book. I'll continue this train of thought somewhere in future..... that, and a review of the HanLin. The one I thought I'd review first!

15 June 2009

The fourth Twilight Book

I still can't quite believe I read 4 Stephenie Meyer e-books. In the end I read them all within a week, with Breaking Dawn finished late Thursday night the 4th June.

This was an interesting experiment with ebooks. I picked Twilight purely from the bestseller list. As far as I knew, it was a novel for teenage girls. There was very little chance I would read the bugger! Even when I started reading I thought the writing was poor, basic, unimaginative but I kept going. What "got me" was the Bella & Edward story. Yes hidden beneath this tough (cough cough) exterior is a soft mushy romantic. And of course let's pretend for a minute we aren't talking a vampire love story! I'm still trying to come to terms with all of this!! Somehow I just got sucked in (yes, couldn't resist the pun)....and really enjoyed it.

So to sum up my first ebook experience: Interesting choice. Resulted in 3 additional sales (4 if you count the Twilight DVD, 5 if you count the movie soundtrack, 6 if you count the piano score....). Yes, tragic isn't it. Consumerism gone mad.

But back to ebooks. The purchasing process was just like Apple's iTunes portal. You choose your ebook and purchase with a simple click or two. The site uses the credit card details stored from the previous purchase as per your profile. On completion of the sale, an email notification is sent but not an invoice like Apple's iTunes. I would have preferred the formal invoice but that's a personal choice.

Another downside is that you can't view before you purchase on the Sony ebook site. We are all used to sampling music tracks, why not sample ebooks in the same vein? Not having the preview functionality is a shame and I would have thought Sony had enough negotiating power with publishers - plus the technology - to do this effectively. Afterall Mobipocket's ebook site allows a demo to be viewed, stored, downloaded to your portable device - why hasn't Sony offered the same? Browsing is an important part of the ebook purchasing process and I trust they will add that to the portal in the near future.

STOP THE PRESS! I've just gone back into the Sony ebook portal and good news! They have "excerpts" as Coming Soon. They already have 20, 18, and 12 books featured for June, July and August respectively. At this stage they don't appear to be incorporated into the main functionality, but as a side bar. Hopefully the preview button will be part of the purchasing process in the coming months rather than having to navigate separately through the portal...

The last downside was reading on a computer. We spend all day on the blasted contraptions - email, websites, databases, spreadsheets, documents etc. Why on earth would we read a complete ebook as well? Well I have and I will again! I just have to position my body appropriately with better lighting. That may stop the headaches. I haven't had them since I stopped reading from the laptop, so I'm assuming the two are linked.

As to the handheld e-readers, I'm not liking the HanLin but will review that separately. The Sony ebook reader is enroute from our head office in the U.S. and I'm getting very excited about seeing it. (Particularly when my colleagues from the U.S. sent this email:

We have your Sony reader. If you ever want to see it again, place $10,000 in unmarked bills behind a certain convenience market in NW Portland ....!

I will post again once it's arrived and I've successfully downloaded the other ebooks I plan to read on the device. Stay tuned folks.

04 June 2009

The third ebook this week

Let's try and overlook the fact that I'm reading Stephenie Meyer. I can't quite get over it myself. On a positive note I've read my third ebook this week - Eclipse - and I'm onto my fourth and final in the Twilight Series. I expect I will have finished Breaking Dawn by tomorrow.

My Sony e-reader is yet to arrive from the U.S. (and when I say "my" Sony e-reader, it will be a work one that I'm using for research purposes, hence the reason for this blog) so I'm reading using the Sony ebook portal. 2 pages at a time, so the ebooks are like 1300 pages long, but I'm getting through them with a simple page down.

Taking my laptop to lunch has been an interesting experiment this week. Let's say it's causing quite the stir in the lunchroom, particularly since we are in the business of selling books - mainly the tangible product you can hold in your hands, write in, bend, throw around. Shouts of "traitor" have been heard already!

I haven't warmed to the HanLin yet (the black screen and delay when turning pages is off-putting) but let's get the distraction of Stephenie Meyer out of the way first and I'll then see how the reading experience goes on the e-reader and the other ebook platforms. I have several books lined up waiting to be read on both so I'll look at them over the next few days.

Oh before I forget, I should note the headaches that started earlier this week. Several days in a row. Linked to reading on the computer? Who knows. Anyone care to start taking bets?

31 May 2009

Two ebooks within 24 hours: is this a miracle?!

OK, is this due to Stephenie Meyer and me getting sucked in big time (gotta love the pun) or is it something else? I don't think I've ever read two books in one weekend before (not including holidays...) and yet here we are 48 hours into my ebook experiment, and I've read two friggin books ON THE COMPUTER (hello? what's happening to me???). Granted, not great works by a long shot, but I'm getting through them at a rate of knots. This is a strange experience and at this point I'm not sure what to make of it. Here I am READING..! I'm not watching television, I'm not playing games, wasting time on Facebook or my Flickr site (http://www.flickr.com/photos/rachaelmc/ in case you're interested), I'm reading an ebook. Wonders will never cease.

30 May 2009

My first ebook experience

OMG I don't believe it. I read a whole book on the computer. From start to finish. Started last night and finished up 24 hours later. What's more, that book was Twilight. So here I was thinking a) I'm not the demographic for the book and b) I'm not the demographic for ebooks read on screen. Think again Rachael! I'll be ordering the other Meyer ebooks tomorrow.

Ah somedays I surprise even myself... :)

Part One: The ebook blog begins

Hi. I'm completely new to this. Never thought I'd contemplate a blog. Then again I also said to everyone that would listen that I would NEVER ... EVER purchase a digital camera (I spent a small fortune on my first one, loved it, and spent even more money September last year on a DSLR). And here I am again saying who really reads e-books, particularly on a computer? I spend all friggin day - and most of the evening - on a computer, so why would I want to read a book there.

You see, I work in the book industry and have done so for nearly 20 years. The last six years I've worked on "the dark side" as I call it. When my resignation from publishing was announced to my colleagues, there was a sigh of relief I wasn't going to the competition. I wasn't even going into bookselling. I was going into the depths of library supply. Yes we call ourselves booksellers but what we do, day in and day out, goes beyond that. Those in publishing will never understand library supply. They try. But it's not until you go to "TDS" that you realise it's another world.

Speaking of other worlds, after years of reading articles about ebooks and talking to publishers about digitisation, I've actually made the decision to start exploring the ebook market further on the personal front. Professionally, we have sold ebooks to academic libraries for several years and I am absolutely 100% committed to ebooks for this market: all that content at your fingertips, Search and Discovery, patron driven demand models. Good stuff! But what about fiction. Would you read the latest novel on your computer or a hand-held device?

That's the test and what I'm going to be blogging about. You see, I'm not the demographic for this stuff but I have to understand it. Are ebooks the future? I read dozens of articles every week that say the end of the book is nigh. Good Lord! The end of the book has been coming for years and since the Internet the noise keeps getting louder and louder. Lots of column space. But really people! Think about it. It's about READING. For pleasure, for education, for work. Look at Generation Y and what we are competing with. There are way too many distractions. When I find a teenager who actually LIKES to read, I want to kiss their feet. In fact, as my godson Jack will tell you, I BEG him to read so I will remain in a job until retirement age. (Heartbreak: he HATES reading. I told him that needs to change otherwise I'll write him out of my will, but it doesn't change anything! It's about mobile phones that do 100 things, computer games, sport, anything BUT reading...I still live in hope....sigh)

But back to the ebooks (see this is my first blog, I'm easily distracted LOL) would I read MORE if I utilised ebook portals and mastered the handheld device? Would I LIKE the experience? What will work better for me - content read for work purposes and professional development, or books for pleasure. What about my commitment to the local book industry, to publishers, to booksellers. Will I discover new authors? Will I read things I wouldn't normally do. And exactly how bloody hard will it be for me, here in Sydney, to actually access the books.

Amazon's Kindle is not available here. Nor the Sony e-reader. We have The Iliad sold through DA in Melbourne. A whopping $1299 for an e-reader ($1099 for another version). There are watered down ones like the HanLin (which I have on loan for work purposes at present. An industry colleague there reckons I'll be a convert in no time!) You read the spin about each device every day, OMG stop the press Oprah recommended The Kindle. Yes, it's called marketing and giving one to everyone in her audience (which seems to be the done thing on American chat shows now - so boring!). Great promotion for Amazon. It's the winner. Next day you'll read about another new device and how Sony's e-reader is taking on the world. Then there's the latest product release. The COOL-ER for example. Looks ipod-y. Got my attention I must say but let me guess, it won't be available in Australia? The good ones never are....

So not only do we have the problem with the actual e-readers, I'm sceptical about what content I can get (afterall the Sony ebook website doesn't even RECOGNISE you if you are in Australia!). And as a layperson am I really supposed to know the difference between EPUB files and PDFs on an e-reader? I'm not the most tech savvy person, but I'll press the buttons, I'll read about devices, and in the end I'll figure it out!

So it's Saturday 30th May here in Sydney and it's time for a status update. I've got the Mobipocket and Sony ebooks library installed on my computer (thanks to a U.S. work address) I've got a Sony e-reader about to be ordered and sent to me from a colleague in Oregon and I've got this HanLin to assess for possible reselling opportunities through work. I ordered The Alchemist using Mobipocket to trial and downloaded more than a dozen classic works for free (Austen, Bronte, Byron etc). And I ordered the book (and movie) of the moment, Twilight, using the Sony store.

At this stage I'm not looking at reading on mobiles (yes, I hear you, the Stanza application is soooo popular on the iphone, I get it I get it!, but I'm not going to even attempt reading on a small device like a mobile so consider it as out of scope for this project for now)

So ebooks, reading on a computer, reading on a dedicated e-reader. Hmmmm. Will I convert? Will I enjoy? And will it have it's ipod moment for me. Stay tuned and let's discover this together.