It likely hasn’t passed you by that traditional book publishers aren’t having the best of times these days. Indeed, when it comes to reading you could say it is the best of times and the worst of times.
. . . .
Best for the consumption of the written word, given the proliferation of information online — much of it entirely free to read. Worst for traditional book publishers, with their paper-based, price-tag-carrying medium so disrupted.
Book publishers also have the voracious leviathan Amazon and its war on books to contend with. Sure, Amazon may be a huge seller of paper books but shipping dead tree costs Amazon dollar. Dollar Bezos would rather not spend if he can render the book medium back to its informational essence and fire pixels directly into customers’ eyeballs.
Hence the Kindle e-reader, a word delivery device which generally continues to track down in price (especially if you buy an ad-supported version).
. . . .
The long and short of it is that traditional publishers are assailed on all sides. Not least because these hoary old institutions, long accustomed to sitting in the comfortable groves of their own routine page turning, are the easiest targets for disruption.
. . . .
[T]his month U.K. publisher Penguin Books — actually now part of a gigantic publishing entity, after merging with Bertelsmann-owned Random House in April to spawn Penguin Random House — has launched a little digital dabbling of its own, using its resurrected Pelican educational imprint as the medium for the experiment.
What exactly is it doing? It’s making Pelican e-books available to read online in the browser, on any device you fancy. So much like Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader, but trailing in its wake by three years. And only offered a handful of titles. Still, baby steps. (It’s also worth noting that Kindle Cloud Reader does not appear especially beloved by Amazon, and has a relatively basic feature set — so there’s room for others to design and build a better cloud reader.)
Additional features offered by Pelican’s browser-based educational e-book interface include animated diagrams and maps, footnotes that can be summoned quickly by tapping/mousing over them, and a sharing and highlighting study aid-feature. All thoughtful extras, especially for an educational imprint.
. . . .
Still, the initiative appears far more ‘experimental side-project’ than bold new strategy at this point. It was actually dreamt up prior to the Bertelsmann merger — but has evidently not had its wings clipped since the two companies decided to join forces.
The idea apparently came from an internal designer at Penguin, called Matthew Young, rather than out of an executive strategy meeting on combating digital disruption. So it does rather underline that traditional publishers still need to shake a tail feather when it comes to oiling their digital strategies.
“The idea to make these books available to read online didn’t come from a strategic, editorial or marketing position, but was instead born straight out of the Art Department,” Young tells TechCrunch. “I’m a cover designer by profession, and I’m actually a big collector of printed books, but nowadays I do most of my reading on a screen, usually on my phone, on the way to work, whenever I can.
“I love reading ebooks, but as an obsessive, pedantic designer type, I couldn’t help thinking that the actual experience of reading a book on a screen, although good enough, could be so much better. So that’s exactly what I set out to build — the best possible reading experience for these books.”