17 March 2010

Where do you think Apple will go with the iPad?

Is it just me or is most of what is being discussed in the digital media world with regards to ebooks purely centred around the iPad? Is there any other device in recent times that has attracted such attention, focus, debate or interest?

Today I read on ChangeWave all the stats from a survey of over 3,000 consumers that shows a huge wave of demand for the iPad. I'm sure we didn't need a survey to know that - I've mentioned the quote from last year's Frankfurt Book Fair's Supply Chain Meeting again and again on this blog ("it will be Apple, it will be cool, and everyone will want one").

It's not surprising to read Amazon, Sony, Barnes & Noble will all take a hit when Apple launches. That's because they went for a device that was predominantly an e-reader with wi-fi (or without for some of the Sony's on the market). The bells and whistles options haven't been great - music for some, notes for others, nothing that really stands out. Which is what Apple has done. They've created something more. Apple has the convergence of technology we've been waiting for. Of course there will be many lookielikies in the coming months. Everyone will want a piece of the ebook pie.

According to the survey, the belief is the iPad will capture an astonishing 40% of the e-reader market in the first 90 days after its launch. The survey further showed demand will continue to strengthen (it will be cool remember!) and once iBook is launched it will further enhance the offering, however from what I can gather Apple will be using the publishers epub files. That means if you receive epub files from your ebook vendor (or directly from the publisher) you don't need to buy from the iBook store. So in my mind iBook has to offer something more. The full multimedia offering.

The other concern relates to cost - if you can buy your $9.99 epub ebooks from Sony (who matched Amazon's pricing strategy for their lead titles), why would you buy from iBook at a higher price? The Apple agency model has been commented on by industry leaders and insiders for some time. With a 30% cut (assuming the information is correct), Apple might not be able to compete on price unless of course they go the loss-leader route like everyone else.

I'm not privy to digital rights or pricing information but I imagine the last thing Apple will want is readers buying books from other ebook vendors and reading them on the iPad. It defeats the purpose of the iBook.

Then again, I buy all of my digital music from iTunes because it's there and it's at the right price point - I don't need the whole album, I choose the songs I want, and I try out ones I don't really know but has been recommended to me based on a purchase or the Genius app. I listen to music all the time and wish the iPod I got for my birthday a few years back had a lot more memory (it only holds 1600 songs and I have thousands more that aren't coming across to the device). Music and reading are very different pursuits and take up different amounts of time. I go via iTunes because it's what I've done from the start. I didn't know any better and I've been a loyal customer from the beginning. Of course everyone wondered why I was buying music solely from iTunes ("buying" is the verb I'd like to emphasise here. One colleague wondered if I was the only person they knew that actually paid for music but that's a different discussion altogether!). So I linked into iTunes, I love the iPod, and I continue to search the site for new experiences. But with an iPad I already know the ebook vendors, I've purchased from several of them, I know their offering. Would I be loyal to iBook from the beginning if they don't match on price? We have the US$9.99 mentality. It will be interesting to see where Apple goes with their pricing and their digital rights strategies.

And of course Australian publishers won't want to go down that path at all. Their pricing policies have strongly centred around the cheapest print edition. But the consumer expectations for ebooks does centre around price. What will Apple do in this marketplace to meet consumer expectations set by their competitors? And how will publishers respond?

On another matter altogether, I loved reading today on Teleread about Apple iPad accessories and a wishlist. Apparently Jeff Bezos of Amazon reads his Kindle in the bath by sealing the device inside a special Ziplock bag. I've mentioned previously that I love reading in the bath but I'm not going to read an electronic device near water (I have enough problems getting the printed version wet!). If there was an accessory that I knew was safe and secure, would I try it? Will be interesting to see whether Apple comes up with something that can be used around water or food. Some sort of protective device sounds great. Then again, would I still use it in the bath? Hmmm, that's a question that I don't know the answer for.

15 March 2010

Struggling with ebook reading

Battery life on the Sony PRS-700 – particularly when the back light is used – has been flagged as being problematic on this blog before. Together with not being able to read in the bath or reading long enough on domestic flights, it’s one of the Top 3 reasons why NOT to read an ebook. It really is one of the downsides of this whole e-reading experience.

When I think about the downsides there’s more: not being able to promote the book you are reading to strangers (I’m always fascinated with what people are reading and always check out the covers!), you can’t loan an ebook to someone the way you can a physical book (unless you loan the device with it!), and the gift book market really doesn’t offer anything to an e-book reader (here’s a beautiful photographic book on Paris that I’d love to give you to show off on your coffee table, oops, sorry, it’s in electronic form only! Still want it?). You can’t handle the content the same way and it can be pretty bland in black and white. Of course that’s going to change with the plethora of e-reading devices and tablets hitting the market, particularly the iPad, but for now your main e-readers are not offering colour and so you usually use the device to read fiction and suitable non-fiction (like biographies etc).

Of course there is another downside that ebook readers will ‘get’ straight away! I’ve mentioned it before but it’s really problematic purchasing books online – not the process, it’s the ease of which we push the “buy now” button! It’s like being let loose in a candy shop. We are conditioned these days to search and discover what we’d like to buy using the web. A little typing and a few clicks here and there. Shopping experiences vary. The content that we are offered to assist with our purchasing decision varies greatly. We can find what we want from an online vendor - if we don't it’s a couple of clicks of the mouse elsewhere. You are at a competitor in an instant.

We aren’t carrying anything heavy. We don’t have a shopping bag filled with physical books. The file is electronic. It doesn't weigh anything. It’s easy. And we click that button again and again when we find books we want to read. And then when we find them. God help us. Particularly if the magic US$9.99 price is offered. It’s only $11 Australian dollars to read this and that. Better buy now. Good price. Cheaper than physical book. Click click click and the device starts to fill.

When you work for a library supplier you pretty much see most books come through the front door. Trolleys in our Operations area are laden with books – trade books, academic, reference, commercial products and non-commercial (independent publishers, organisations and self-published authors). They move in and out of our building, day in and day out. Masses of books. You see the physical item and you think oh Wolf Hall, that’s one hell of a tome. Will take me a month to read. If you are like me, you purchase it anyway. (Yet again, that involves going into our site and clicking on the order now button – simple, effective, and what’s more the purchase comes straight out of the pay-packet….DEADLY!).

You start to collect unread books. Last count there were 30 books sitting on shelves on my floor to ceiling bookshelf at home (which is magnificent to look at by the way!). However on the e-reader (not so good to look at!) there’s something like 46 books waiting for me to read them. They aren’t in colour. They are just files.

Granted a good number of those were freely available classics from Gutenberg, but they are ones I want to read….one day. I’m starting to collect more and more books and as I’ve mentioned before it’s not like being on iTunes and downloading a song. A song is a few minutes of enjoyment. A book can be days, weeks, months. I’m beginning to struggle with time management and balancing my reading list with the time I actually have to read.

And still I can’t stop myself. My e-book newsletters and new product alerts continue to come through on a regular basis. New books in e-book format, old books now available electronically. A few clicks and that book can be on my device.

I’ve sent a help message through to Mastercard previously via this blog. But as more and more publishers get their digital strategies moving, it will only get worse.

Somebody…..help….me…..soon. I'm....DROWNING!!!!!!!

11 March 2010

Is there anything sadder when you want to read?

One of the problems I'm continually facing with ebook reading activities concerns battery life. When you want to read, there's nothing worse than having a Low Battery! message come up on your device. It's actually quite a design flaw on the Sony PRS-700, particularly if you need to use the backlight. The screen has poor reflection due to the touch screen and lighting element so there are times you need to turn on the lighting to read the content without strain. As soon as you do, the battery reduces quickly. Too quickly! Unlike laptops that indicate how much time you have left, or cars that tell you how many kilometres (or miles for those reading elsewhere!) you have left before you need to refill, the Sony e-reader just shows a battery bar. When the battery bar goes to the last quarter there is no warning, no time message, that instructs you to recharge. You have no idea how much time you have left. You can guess, particularly if you aren't using the light, but when you use the light your number is pretty much up. Sorry folks, I appreciate you can't read particularly well with this lighting, here's a light that helps but did I mention it will prevent you from reading? No? Sorry.

As you know from prior posts, reading on planes isn't as fun with an electronic device, particularly as you have to turn it off for take off and landing. These are the times I WANT to read but I can't. I have to be content with reading the airline's magazine - which usually takes me all of 5 minutes! We're still on the runway and I'm craving something to read. Having the Low Battery message is a KILLER! Yesterday I had 90 minutes at the airport to fill before my flight. I thought I'd have a drink, something to eat, and then get back into the book I started to read on my flight up. There I was in the lounge, and the message appeared. I have no charger, I'm not even on the plane, and I'm prevented from reading!

The device was fully charged when I left Sydney on Monday morning. The total flight time was 90 minutes but of course you have to deduct about 40 minutes that you can't use the e-reader. I read on the flight - when we'd reached cruising altitude and were allowed to switch on electronic devices - and that was it. I should have had PLENTY of charge to get through the book, and perhaps another one. But no, I had to use the light prior to the return flight, and my reading plans were destroyed.

No matter what the marketing says - yes you'll get through 5000 page turns before you need to recharge, yes you'll have at least 24 hours without having to charge, yes yes yes - the reality is very different and disappointing when you use the backlight on the Sony PRS-700.

05 March 2010

Trying to get a piece of the ebook pie

OK. I've worked in this publishing industry for some 20 years now and the past seven years in library supply, I've worked with thousands if not tens of thousands of publishers and suppliers. We have to have a business relationship with every possible vendor as our library customers expect it. We are here to service our customer's needs and meet all their collection development requirements. From new title alerts to promotional material to books on profile to shelf ready services, we have to provide the full mix. The full kit and caboodle as you can imagine.

As the country's leading supplier to academic and public libraries, we are used to working with publishers and suppliers of all different philosophies, business models, customer service principles, business etiquette, professionalism, organisational efficiency. You name it, we know the ins and outs of our purchasing partners. We know what makes them tick. What they do well, what they don't.

Then along comes ebook vendors. A different model. We've worked out the library workflows and watch the dollars transfer from print to e (as you would know if you saw my presentation at the Digital Symposium recently - see last post for full text of my talk). But library ebooks are one channel. Ebook vendors targeting the direct user - either with (or without) a bookselling partner - seem to be coming out the woodwork. Every day there's a new one "getting into" ebooks. Is it my imagination because are they all starting to look and feel the same?! We have Kobo in one corner (great talk at the Symposium BTW Michael!). We've got Blio in another but of course they're not interested in getting content from Ingram Digital because of fierce competition and will go direct where possible to publishers for ebook content. We've got the mighty Amazon, Sony, and of course Google. There's Overdrive who power various booksellers sites as well as the Australian readwithoutpaper.com There's ebooks.com Now O'Reilly is getting in on the act! And so on and so forth.

Ebook vendors launch with all their marketing spin and "bells and whistles". But put them all together, stir them up a bit, and what do they really offer that's different for the end user? With all the larger players, the interface looks pretty similar, the ordering process is usually a few easy clicks, the content isn't remarkable - if it's in ebook format, it's usually there. How do you stand out? If you are an ebook vendor what attracts your customers to you above everyone else?

If you're Amazon, you got in early and got marketshare. You've got millions of loyal customers. Fiercely loyal. You've got the data, the purchasing history, and the clout. And if you're Apple? You've got something everyone has on their wishlist - the iPad. But how are you going to distinguish yourself with ebooks? How are you going to think and act like a bookseller, like a publisher? Amazon's being doing it for years. Apart from already having millions of customers ready and waiting, what are you going to offer that is different to everyone else?

For example, when I think about ebooks, marketing and distribution, I know what I want from my ebook supplier. As an individual who reads ebooks, I can tell you I want a superior browsing service, I want to be able to find titles of interest quickly, clicks to relevant genres, my favourite authors, click click click. I want to see an image, a good description, recommendations, information about the author, and possibly a preview. Has the book won awards? Does the ebook vendor really know books? Can they get the metadata and the target marketing down to a fine art. They have the technology and the customer demand for the e-reading experience. They won't last if they don't get the customer experience right. But when everything starts looking and feeling the same, will we ever get to know them inside out and back to front? I don't think so.... the game has moved on.