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.