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 All in all, the Hanlin reads ok as a basic device, the functionality is no frills, very simple and outdated in many respects.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.