16 April 2010

A new e-book isn’t always new

As a library supplier, we have faced this issue since we started selling ebooks years ago. Libraries wanted to know about all new ebooks. But many publishers are digitising the backlist first then releasing as “new” in e-format. It has tricked many of us particularly when the pub date is a current one but the original book was published in 1989. There are a small percentage of publishers that publish e and p simultaneously. They know their market and the preference for libraries to purchase in the format of their choosing. But when we work off publication dates and publisher metadata, when it comes to e - what exactly is a new title?

It’s something that I’ve discussed professionally (a “new release” in ebook format is separate to new in e) but privately I experienced it for the first time recently. I usually scan ebook sites for “new” titles. On the Sony site I sort by date and then pick something that will suit my ebook reading nature. By that I mean, something I can read, hopefully enjoy, satisfied I will only want a digital file (not a “keeper” or an author that I would like to collect their physical works on our wonderful floor to ceiling book case at home) and something that I’m unlikely to want to share with friends – afterall you can’t lend the ebook to someone!

Separate to the explanations to customers over the years as a consumer I must say I felt absolutely ripped off when the new book I purchased on the Sony ebook portal A Favorite of the Queen: The Story of Lord Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I published on 1st March 2010 was most definitely NOT published this year in it’s physical form. The book was originally published under the title Gay Lord Robert (not surprising they changed that title as the word “gay” took on a different meaning over the years!) and the imprint page on the ebook clearly showed the book was published in 1971. That explains the poor editing and uninspiring writing!

Where did it say in any of the metadata, “originally published in X”, “reissued in ebook format”, “introducing this work to today’s e-reading generation”. Something that gave me an indication the book was old. And not one or two years old, but 40 friggin years. Forgive me for never having read Jean Plaidy before but surely publishers and ebook vendors need to take some responsibility here. Perhaps there should be two dates available to ereaders – originally published in and released in ebook format in …

I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I am. Reissues are not new releases, new in e is not a new title. At least when trade houses release ebooks three months later (for those that believe that is a suitable time frame – I’m most definitely not one of them) the book is still in our minds. It is still the same year. None of this 40 year time span.

Of course my preference would be simultaneous. If I want to collect, share and treasure I will buy the print over e. But for other books I want to read the ebook.

Publishers, ebook vendors, everyone who is interested in the digital world, please note as as a consumer I'M NOT HAPPY – publisher metadata and the blurb itself should have given something away. A trigger point as such. For the record this is what is listed:

Torn between her heart's passion and duty to her kingdom, a young queen makes a dark choice...

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was the most powerful man in England during the reign of Elizabeth I. Handsome and clever, he drew the interest of many women--but it was Elizabeth herself that loved him best of all. Their relationship could have culminated in marriage but for the existence of Amy Robsart, Robert's tragic young wife, who stood between them and refused to be swept away to satisfy a monarch's desire for a man that was not rightfully her own. But when Amy suddenly dies, under circumstances that many deem to be mysterious at best, the Queen and her lover are placed under a dark cloud of suspicion, and Elizabeth is forced to make a choice that will define her legacy.

The metadata shows:

• Published by: Three Rivers Press
• Publish Date: March 01, 2010
• Print ISBN: 0307346234
• Filesize: 2.60 MB

And the author info (on a separate tab)

JEAN PLAIDY is the pen name of the prolific English author Eleanor Hibbert, also known as Victoria Holt. More than 14 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide. Visit www.CrownHistorical.com to learn about the other Jean Plaidy titles available from Three Rivers Press.

When it comes to Tudor history I’m loyal to Alison Weir, Alison Plowden, Antonia Fraser, Margaret George, Philippa Gregory and if pressed I might just throw David Starkey into the mix. I shouldn't have tried something new. Sorry old. New only in a format. Anyway, I clicked away because I thought it was new, the publisher got the sale. But live and learn folks, live and learn....

14 April 2010

The ebook reading experience, Apple, Kindle et al

I must say I'm enjoying reading all the reviews of the iPad since its U.S. debut on April 3rd. One of the reviews I liked the most was from the LA Times where they spoke about differences between the Kindle (being the market leader) and the Apple ipad (the choice of the next generation) in terms of the book reading experience.

While it might not be on the top of the lists for some people, personally I was really glad to hear about the traditional page designation, that you could view two pages across the screen (if it was your preference), and that Apple has a grasp on what it's like to turn a page. The process of selecting a book, reading it and turning to the next page is part of the established reading experience. At least those of us of a certain age! As those of you who have followed this blog since the early days - particularly my friends and industry colleagues on Facebook (where I have it linked) - you may remember I wasn't a fan of the delay between pages on e-readers, the screen going black or the words fading out and then replaced by new ones. You were conscious you were reading something electronic, something that was processing data, something different…

E-readers also display the number of pages left – which of course vary depending on what font size you were reading with in the first place! The Sony PRS 700 displays the data as your current page number of the total page count. Amazon's Kindle does a percentage bar. To the reviewer in the LA Times, this was “data” but I don’t necessarily agree. You want to know how you are going whether it’s number of pages or percentage read.

Yes it can sometimes be discouraging when reading books like “Pillars of the Earth” – some 1,000 pages in its printed form and much more in its electronic! Luckily I was caught up in Ken Follett’s story otherwise I would have groaned at the thought of another 1,000 pages to go. However I must admit there has been the odd book where I’ve noted what page I’m up to, the number of pages in the ebook, and thought “how am I going to make it!?”. Then again that’s no different to the physical book. But I’m more prone to flip the pages of the printed book and glance across the text to see if I want to continue with it. I’m not particularly good at doing that on the e-reader because I have such concerns about losing my page. I’ve done it countless times. While it remembers where you end off each time – starting up exactly on that page when you switch the device back on - when you start going backwards and forwards through the text it starts to get really annoying if you didn't note where you started. I’ve had to search for text to find my original location - otherwise it could be hundreds of page turns to get back to where I was.

Anyway, I’m rambling.Back to the subject at hand.

Another item that is consistently mentioned with e-readers is the glare. Apparently one of the strengths of the Kindle is its non reflective screen. I don't have a Kindle (never liked the look of it myself) and I don't like the "clunkiness" of some e-readers like the ECO/Hanlin. The touch screen of my Sony is fine (was relatively unique at the time of purchase) but the glare from lights is dreadful.

In comparison to the multi-functional iPad, regardless of glare, touch-screen, weight etc all e-readers on the market have now paled in comparison. They are the beta model. They look boring, dull, and grey. I looked at the e-reader yesterday and the shine had gone. It looked like something that was going to end up in the rubbish heap.

Interesting to read Mike Shatzkin's comments on the iPad, particularly the weight of the device and the whole process of search & discoverability within the various ebook portals. iBook has a long way to go with content and with their data management. Finding what you want to read is half the battle and I can perfectly understand where Laura Dawson comes from every time she mentions metadata. Ebook vendors neeed to understand the reading experience and what a reader is looking for. Help us find what we like! I beg you. In the meantime, Mike doesn't believe the iPad won't put all other e-readers out of business. He believes it will help grow the market but "the makers of lighter and cheaper e-ink devices don’t have to leave the field just yet." Will be interesting to see how it all pans out for those readers of ebooks, their chosen device and the reading experience they prefer.

01 April 2010

The impact of the agency model

Much has been said about Apple's agency model and the impact on ebook pricing. Look at what happened with the Macmillan/Amazon clash a few weeks ago. Macmillan wanted to change it's trading terms with it's largest customer and move towards the so called "agency model" for ebooks. The feud between supplier and customer received an amazing amount of publicity in general, trade and business media. I read much for and against each party in the altercation. Both sides had their supporters. There were Amazon loyalists (and by God they are a loyal bunch!) And there was the publishing and bookselling community who was glad to see someone taking back some of the power they shouldn't have given away to their largest customer in the first place. Granted, ebooks wouldn't be where they are today without Amazon firing up the Kindle. And I shouldn't really think of them as a customer. They play so many roles that my head spins with what Amazon controls - afterall, they are the supply chain leader, printer, publisher, ebook influencer, visionary. I could ramble on but today's blog is actually sharing the letter that Sony e-reader customers received today:

Dear Reader Store Customer,

The publishing industry is turning a page and so are we.

Beginning April 1st some major publishers will be instituting a change in the pricing of eBooks, which puts decisions on eBook pricing firmly in their hands. As a result, prices of bestsellers and new releases from these publishers will be changing on the Reader Store, and during the transition time, some titles may be unavailable. Although most of these eBooks will be priced from about $12.99 to 14.99, there will not be a broad pricing change across the Reader Store. In fact, new releases and bestsellers from other publishers will still be priced at $9.99.

Starting a new chapter can be a good thing. With this change, you may see more of your favorite books available in eBook format at the same time they’re released in print. Book lovers like you are driving a revolution in digital reading and the Reader Store is committed to providing you access to the widest selection of digital reading content. Since its inception in September 2006, Sony’s Reader Store has introduced a wide offering of new releases, bestselling eBook titles and newspapers. Today it features access to more than one million titles and links to borrow eBooks from local libraries nationwide.

Must say, loved the reference to "turning a page"!!!

Will be interesting to see if there is a backlash. I don't think there will be one although the $9.99 price point has been a brilliant introduction to ebooks. Now we're reading them, I doubt a few more dollars will make any difference whatsoever. Your thoughts?