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.

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