Ebook/Ereader Growth

Children’s fuels 2014 growth in US

29 October 2014

From The Bookseller:

YA/children’s books are fuelling growth, including e-book growth, in the US, according to new figures from the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

New figures released by the group covering January to July 2014, show that the e-book revenue grew 7.5% compared to the same period in 2013. This was driven largely by a huge growth of e-book revenue in the children’s and YA category, with a 59.5% growth compared to the same period last year. Another growth area is religious e-books, which has climbed 25.7%

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

From Papyrus to Pixels

28 October 2014

From The Economist:

Fingers stroke vellum; the calfskin pages are smooth, like paper, but richer, almost oily. The black print is crisp, and every Latin sentence starts with a lush red letter. One of the book’s early owners has drawn a hand and index finger which points, like an arrow, to passages worth remembering.

In 44BC Cicero, the Roman Republic’s great orator, wrote a book for his son Marcus called de Officiis (“On Duties”). It told him how to live a moral life, how to balance virtue with self-interest, how to have an impact. Not all his words were new. De Officiis draws on the views of various Greek philosophers whose works Cicero could consult in his library, most of which have since been lost. Cicero’s, though, remain. De Officiis was read and studied throughout the rise of the Roman Empire and survived the subsequent fall. It shaped the thought of Renaissance thinkers like Erasmus; centuries later still it inspired Voltaire. “No one will ever write anything more wise,” he said.

The book’s words have not changed; their vessel, though, has gone through relentless reincarnation and metamorphosis. Cicero probably dictated de Officiisto his freed slave, Tiro, who copied it down on a papyrus scroll from which other copies were made in turn. Within a few centuries some versions were transferred from scrolls into bound books, or codices. A thousand years later monks meticulously made copies by hand, averaging only a few pages a day. Then, in the 15th century, de Officiis was copied by a machine. The lush edition in your correspondent’s hands—delightfully, and surprisingly, no gloves are needed to handle it—is one of the very first such copies. It was printed in Mainz, Germany, on a printing press owned by Johann Fust, an early partner of Johannes Gutenberg, the pioneer of European printing. It is dated 1466.

. . . .

Although this copy of de Officiis may be sequestered, the book itself is freer than ever. In its printed forms it has been a hardback and, more recently, a paperback, published in all sorts of editions—as a one off, a component of uniform library editions, a classic pitched at an affordable price, a scholarly, annotated text that only universities buy. And now it is available in all sorts of non-printed forms, too. You can read it free online or download it as an e-book in English, Latin and any number of other tongues.

Many are worried about what such technology means for books, with big bookshops closing, new devices spreading, novice authors flooding the market and an online behemoth known as Amazon growing ever more powerful. Their anxieties cannot simply be written off as predictable technophobia. The digital transition may well change the way books are written, sold and read more than any development in their history, and that will not be to everyone’s advantage. Veterans and revolutionaries alike may go bust; Gutenberg died almost penniless, having lost control of his press to Fust and other creditors.

But to see technology purely as a threat to books risks missing a key point. Books are not just “tree flakes encased in dead cow”, as a scholar once wryly put it. They are a technology in their own right, one developed and used for the refinement and advancement of thought. And this technology is a powerful, long-lived and adaptable one.

. . . .

Books read in electronic form will boast the same power and some new ones to boot. The printed book is an excellent means of channelling information from writer to reader; the e-book can send information back as well. Teachers will be able to learn of a pupil’s progress and questions; publishers will be able to see which books are gulped down, which sipped slowly. Already readers can see what other readers have thought worthy of note, and seek out like-minded people for further discussion of what they have read. The private joys of the book will remain; new public pleasures are there to be added.

What is the future of the book? It is much brighter than people think.

. . . .

Historically books were a luxury item. Having become cheap enough for the masses in the 20th century, in the 21st century digital technology and global markets have made them more accessible still. In 2013 around 1.4m International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) were issued, according to Bowker, a research firm, up from around 8,100 in 1960. Those figures do not capture the many e-books that are being self-published without an ISBN.

Many of those self-published books are ones in which traditional publishers would have had no interest, but which almost-free distribution makes worthwhile: do you feel like checking out some Amish fiction? The size of the text, as well as the size of the niche, becomes less of an issue, too; short stories and novellas are making a comeback. “Before there used to be too-big-to-carry and too-short-to-print,” says Michael Tamblyn, the boss of Kobo, an e-reading company. “Now all those barriers are gone.”

. . . .

[A]s Russell Grandinetti, who oversees Amazon’s Kindle business, puts it, the print book is “a really competitive technology”: it is portable, hard to break, has high-resolution pages and a “long battery life”. Technology companies that are used to consumers flocking to snazzy features and updates have found it surprisingly challenging to compete with a format of such simplicity, and consumers are uninterested in their attempts to do so. All most want is the ability to change font size, which is attractive to older eyes. Experiments with reinventing the presentation of books—by embedding sound and video inside e-books, for example—have fallen flat. Sales of e-readers, the most popular of which is the Kindle, are in decline. “In a few years’ time,” a recent report by Enders Analysis, a research firm, predicts, “we will look back at e-readers and remember them as one of the shortest-lived of all consumer media devices.”

You do not need a dedicated e-reader to read an electronic book. The multipurpose tablet devices which are replacing e-readers let you read books and—crucially—buy them whenever you like. Some forms of book benefit a lot. Heavy readers of genre fiction—romance, thrillers and science fiction—were early converts to the cheaper, more portable alternative. Other sorts of book have remained more stubbornly in print form, for various reasons. Physical books make better gifts; many people still want bookshelves in their homes. Parents who feel that their children are spending too much time with screens go for printed books as an alternative, which means a new generation is growing up in contact with print.

. . . .

“A bookstore is defending a very specific lifestyle, where you want to take time out of your day and write or think or read,” says Sarah McNally, owner of a bustling independent bookshop in Manhattan.

. . . .

Before the 19th century it was common for writers to publish themselves, a practice that carried no particular stigma, but imposed a significant burden of inconvenience on seller and buyer alike. One author in Paris had to direct buyers to his home on “Mazarine Street…above the Café de Montpellier, on the second floor using the staircase on the right, at the far end of the alley”. As publishing became a mass-market business in subsequent centuries, the self-published came to be seen as kooks or egotists, and treated as marginal in either case. Readers went to bookshops, bookshops bought from publishers and that was the way it was. Bookshops mostly refused to stock them.

Today self publishing has made a comeback. The internet enables people to sell their e-books and print books without the hassle of directing people to their homes or trying to get bookstores to display them. It also offers them success on a scale never before possible.

. . . .

Last year Amazon’s sales of self-published books were around $450m, according to one estimate; a former Amazon executive thinks the number is higher. In America about a quarter of the books that got an ISBN in 2012 were self-published, according to Bowker—almost 400,000 titles. In 2013 self-published books accounted for one out of every five e-books purchased in Britain, according to Nielsen.

. . . .

But the advantages of being “properly published”—editors, promotion, and the like—should not be oversold. “We have to be careful not to compare the reality of self publishing with the ideal of legacy publishing,” says Barry Eisler, a thriller writer. In 2011 he walked away from a publisher’s advance of $500,000 in favour of the self-publishing route; he says the decision paid off well. Susan Orlean, an author and a staff writer at the New Yorker, considered something similar for a recent book. “In a million years I would have never thought of that before,” she says. She thinks the day will come when publishers may have to start unbundling their services. “The mere fact that publishers make hardcover books won’t be a powerful enough argument. They will have to reimagine their role.” Publishers could start offering “light” versions of their services, such as print-only distribution, or editing, and not taking a cut of the whole pie.

. . . .

In 1471 [Niccoló Perotti] the humanist scholar complained to a friend, “Now that anyone is free to print whatever they wish, they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment, what would be best forgotten, or better still, be erased from all books.” His worries were echoed for centuries. “If everyone writes, who will read?” asked Christoph Martin Wieland, an 18th-century German writer.

Link to the rest at The Economist and thanks to Tina for the tip.

Are There Too Many Books?

20 October 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

At the 66th Frankfurt Book Fair last week, self-publishing and the self-published authors were in the eye of the storm, at the crest of the tsunami wave of the published books worldwide.

The total number of books in print hit 28 million worldwide in 2013 , as calculated by all the titles that acquired ISBNs. In the United States, some 390,000 ISBNs were taken by the self-published authors, while approximately 300,000 were solicited by the traditional trade publishers.

. . . .

A panel featured as part of the International Self-publishing Program, asked the question “Are there too many books?” And the answer, may surprise you.

“No, there are not too many books,” said Jonas Lennermo, CCO of Sweden’s Publit, but with reservations. He noted  that the very idea of the long-tail economy never intended to imply that those books that sell in small quantities — those towards the end of the tail — would be simply sell because of their very existence, of their own accord. The sheer number of books means that the long tail gets too fat, is all but impossible to move. “We need a new idea about how to market the long-tail,” he said.

Joanna Penn, a successful author and entrepreneur, founder of The Creative Penn, was much more direct: “You don’t say to a child to stop painting a picture just because there are too many paintings already in the world.” She finds the explosion of creativity wonderful and rewarding, to both authors and readers. “The publishing is no longer dominated by old white men. We can see new, exciting developments happening, and the diversity we never have had. Today, authors can reach readers beyond any of the traditional industry’s paths. There are niches and micro-niches emerging everywhere: either on the creative or on the receptive side of publishing.”

. . . .

Although the book market is changing with light speed, passion for writing and reading in the publishing industry remains the same. Should Gabriel Zaid have sat among the debaters he would surely have supported the new developments and the varied choice we are enjoying thanks also to brave entrepreneurial authors like Joanna Penn. Shall we have the time to read all 28 million books in our lifetime? Maybe this is not really so important. Or, in Zaid’s words: “The truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

E-books fans reading more

16 October 2014

From The Bookseller:

E-book fans are upping their reading habit because e-books are cheaper than print copies, according to new research from Mintel.

The consumer research firm’s latest study, Books and e-Books UK 2014, shows that 26% of consumers who have bought an e-book in the last year are reading more than they used to because e-books cost less than paperbacks, a figure that rises to 38% of 16 to 24-year-olds.

Altogether, 31% of e-book buyers say they would prefer to read print books, but choose to buy e-books because they cost less. While 23% of book buyers said they felt that print books cost too much, only 16% of people felt the same about e-books. 36% of book buyers buy both e-books and print books, with 42% of those saying they always buy the cheapest version available.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

No, You Can’t Track the Growth of Self-Pub by Counting ISBNs

10 October 2014

From Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader

The most accurate statement I can make about the growth rate of the indie/author segment of the publishing industry is that it is nebulous at best. This part of the industry is so fuzzy that it can’t be counted, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from trying.

Digital Book World, for example, summarized a press release yesterday which assumed that ISBNs were an accurate measure of growth. The pr was from Bowker, and under the title “Self-Publishing Maturing, Up 17% Last Year in the U.S. “, DBW wrote:

The self-publishing market is entering a new stage of maturity after an initial boom several years ago, according to Bowker’s latest analysis of ISBN registrations in the U.S. from 2008 through 2013.

. . .

Bowker researchers conclude that the self-publishing market is “stabilizing as the trend of self-publisher as business-owner, rather than writer only, continues.”

I will freely admit that I don’t have a clue how to measure the growth of the indie author, but one thing I can tell you is that ISBNs aren’t a valid measure.  ISBNs have about as much relation to measuring the growth of the publishing industry as standardized test scores have to measuring academic progress – in other words, very little.

. . .

To put it simply, no one knows the complete state of the publishing industry, and anyone who claims to do so is selling you something. (In the case of Bowker, they’re giving it away;the report is free.)

Read the full article at The Digital Reader

—-

Bowker’s free report seems to this PG minion as being worth slightly less that what you’ll pay for it.

Piling-up-the-pixels-for-PG vacation guest post by Bridget McKenna

The Story Thus Far – It’s All About 2010

6 October 2014

Amazon today has a commanding lead in the ebook world, in both hardware and content sales. How it got there involves a lot of things they did, and continue to do, right. It also involves two things they showed no interest in doing until forced to it by their enemies.

The end of 2009 found Amazon the first mover in the new but growing business of ebook readers, facing the inevitable influx of challengers looking for a piece of the pie. As usually happens in new product categories, a gold rush was coming.

Consider this report from CES 2010:

In November 2007, Amazon released the Kindle eBook Reader, largely credited with bringing eReaders to the masses. They offered an entire solution – hardware, eBooks, and even more importantly, a community. Since then, the worldwide network of Kindle users, websites and forums has continued to grow.

Fast forward to 2010, and a number of other companies have thrown their hats in the ring. Consumer electronics companies like Sony and Samsung, traditional media companies like Hearst and Conde Nast, and startups like Plastic Logic and Entourage Systems are getting involved with readers that not only display books, but offer users a growing number of advanced features.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, these companies and others have offered us a plethora of choices in this developing market. Aimed at students, business users, and reading enthusiasts, these readers are poised to make sweeping changes in everyday life.

I offer you my overview of the huge selection of eReaders publicized at the show, separated into two general categories. Advanced readers offer users a wide variety of features above and beyond reading books. With features like built-in calendars, web browsing and netbook capabilities, touch and pen input, and multimedia recording and playback, these devices take aim at students and business users alike. Basic readers are just that – devices for reading books.

The gold rush never materialized.
Dark, nefarious forces banded together to sidetrack the natural evolution of the ebook/ereader markets.
Their target? Market leader Amazon.
The actual victims? Everybody except Amazon.
The damage? Extensive and irreversible. No matter what happens from now on, the ebook market will forever have to live with the fallout of 2010.

IT’S ALL ABOUT 2010

2010 actually started in November 2009 with the arrival of the first true rival to the Kindle ecosystem: Barnes&Nobel’s NOOK ereader. Closely coupled ebookstore? Check. Built-in wireless? Check. PC-free operation? Proprietary DRM? Check. If Kindle had it, Nook had it. Or promised it.

Nook even had a botched launch, similar to Kindle’s.
But, in a preview of things to come, Nook’s failing was in the form of half-baked firmware. Where Kindle lost 5 months worth of sales due to lack of product, Nook lost sales (and earned a lot of returns) over four months, due to buggy software and missing features. It wasn’t until march 2010 that the product was able to begin meeting its promises.

Tech guru Walt Mossberg spared no punches:

Both devices offer downloads of most best-sellers, but in a random, unscientific test I performed using print books from around my house, I found Amazon’s commercial e-book catalog superior. Barnes & Noble lacked digital versions of two recent historical biographies I own, and had no digital editions of the works of one of my favorite contemporary mystery writers, Donna Leon. Amazon had all these books in Kindle editions. Barnes & Noble says titles like these are being added.

During my tests, I found the Nook slower, more cumbersome to use and less polished than the Kindle. I ran into various crashes and bugs. And, while the Kindle’s navigation system isn’t exactly world class, it ran circles around the Nook’s, despite the great possibilities offered by the latter’s use of the touch screen.

The Nook may be wonderful one day, but, as of today, it’s no match for the Kindle, despite advantages such as lending, because it’s more annoying to use.

Nonetheless, the Nook sold out on the strength of the Barnes&Noble brand and heavy promotion in B&M stores. Plus, it had a cool color touchscreen.

By the spring, Cnet’s review was mostly positive:

The Good Large library with tens of thousands of e-books, as well as newspapers and magazines; built-in Wi-Fi connectivity (no PC needed); separate capacitive color touch-screen pad for navigation, and a virtual keyboard for notes and annotations; 2GB of internal memory (capable of storing 1,500 electronic books) as well as a microSD expansion slot for additional memory; font style and size are adjustable; displays image files and plays MP3 music files; compatible with Windows and Mac machines; battery is removable and user-replaceable; allows free browsing of full-text books while within Barnes & Noble stores; you can lend certain e-books for up to 14 days free of charge; EPUB format compatibility lets you read free Google Books and loaner e-books from your local library; page turn speeds are faster with firmware upgrade.

The Bad No protective carrying case included; color LCD has an impact on battery life; in-store reading and loaning capabilities come with notable limits and caveats; no support for Word or text files; no ability to download books when outside the U.S.

The Bottom Line The Nook Wi-Fi doesn’t quite measure up to the Kindle in terms .of design and overall performance, but it’s a worthy alternative if you’re looking for a more open e-reader that supports the EPUB format.

Nook was not the only new challenger.
In January, at the Consumer Electronics show, a lineup of 42 ereaders was unveiled, from dozens of companies ranging from giant consumer electronics companies like Samsung and Acer, to tiny startups hoping to sell a few thousand units to ramp up their entry into the new market. An ereader bubble was in the making. Most were from hardware only vendors jumping on to the generic epub bandwagon, following Sony’s lead.

Things looked good for the interoperable epub camp, especially the ebook retailers. Dozens of booksellers started looking into setting up epub bookstores. Specialty shops targetting Christian Literature, LGT books, genre-specific audiences were all in the making. 2009 had been all Kindle all the time but 2010 would begin an all-out war of ecosystems. Or so it seemed.

It was not to be: the fix was in.

On January 27, Apple announced their ebookstore, built around a variant epub, proprietary DRM, and a price-fixing conspiracy on BPH titles. Two days later MacMillan delivered an ultimatum to Amazon to go to no-discount agency at higher prices or lose all MacMillan ebooks. Amazon pulled all MacMillan titles from sale, including print. The rest of the conspirators then let it be known they were onboard with the new, Apple-determined pricing. By February 2nd, Amazon “caved” and media companies were chortling that Amazon was taught a lesson.

The truth was slightly different: Amazon had been alerted by Random House of the conspiracy months earlier (mid-october 2009: remember the odd pricing moves on the GSM Kindle2?) and the whole drama had been orchestrated to publicly establish in everybody’s mind that they were opposed to the price hikes and that the Publishers were acting in concert to coerce them. Then they proceeded to warn all other publishers that they would not be getting agency contracts under any conditions and to flag the conspirators’ titles as “price set by publisher”, a practice that spread industry-wide.

One consequence of the conspiracy was that all ebookstores had to negotiate new contracts. Apple walked in with pre-negotiated deals and the bigger stores were allowed to sell while new contracts were negotiated. The generic epub stores were not deemed a high priority and many went months without BPH titles to sell. Some never got them back. B&N, eager to shift Fictionwise customers to Nook, didn’t even bother negotiating.

Though announced in January, the agency regime was not fully in place with signed contracts until June. When reporting their pre-agency sales, B&N bragged that Nook controlled 25% of the US ebook market. It never got higher than 26%. Kindle had dropped to 54% at that point. There is no indication it ever got lower and by the time agency ended they had gained share back, in a much larger market, to 60% and more.

B&N was apparently feeling confident and, probably thinking of the coming flood of generic hardware announced at CES (and the Borders-affiliated Kobo) and the expected bounty of agency-margin ebook sales, they decided to cut the price of the Nook to $199 and pre-announce a WiFi-only model at $149. They made the announcement in the morning of June 21st. Four hours later, Amazon countered: $189 for new Kindles, $149 for refurbs.

Remember that the build cost of the Kindle2 was $185? Well, the Nook had comparable components PLUS the fancy color touchscreen. Nook had priced their readers at cost. And since Nooks sold through third party B&M retailers, at least some Nooks were selling below cost. This strategy is not unheard of: video game consoles are often sold below cost when introduced, to ramp up the platform, counting on game sales to provide the revenue needed to break even. Nook was trying the same strategy: selling the reader at cost to make money off ebook sales. By matching price cuts, Amazon was moving to the same model.

The coming ereader gold rush was killed before it started.
The flood of ereaders at CES had been intended to compete in a market of $200-plus Kindles and Sonys. None had integrated ebookstores. Most looked at their production costs and quietly stayed out of the US market. The few that did show up got little traction and were gone within a year or so.

And then the other shoe dropped.
After their experiences with shortages, Amazon had taken steps to ensure a steady supply of readers. One of them was to work closer with the component suppliers, especially the source of the screens. Now, by mid 2010 Amazon was selling over half of all eink readers on the planet. Which meant they had a massive economies-of-scale advantage on Nook and everybody else. More important, they had leverage with component suppliers so, (rumor has it that) when eInk needed to expand their facilities to add a new-generation display, Amazon helped finance the facilities. And got dibs on the new screens. No rumor there.

By August 2010 Amazon was selling the new Kindle 3 WiFi at $139.
With the new tech “Pearl” screens. The Pearl screens had notably better contrast and faster refresh than the older tech. And Amazon had a near-exclusive for almost a year. (Sony also had access to the Pearl screens but a smaller quantity and they ran out of the US supply before the holiday season.)
Kindle was cheaper, lighter, and had a better screen.
And while BPH ebooks were the same everywhere, Amazon could and did discount all other ebooks. With price competition on BPH titles off the table and clearly superior hardware on its side, Kindle became the safe choice. Many buyers didn’t even bother to compare.
Kindles sold like hotcakes. Numbers are hard to come by, but eInk did brag publicly that 2010 screen deliveries were triple the 2009 volume. Amazon’s share of that grew to 59% so it is safe to say that Amazon at least tripled their 2009 sales. By the end of 2010 Amazon had sold about 10 million Kindles in three years. By July 2014, B&N reported lifetime sales of all Nooks, readers and tablets, of… 10 million.

Nook’s pricing strategy proved very good… for Amazon.

Instead of having to compete against a deep variety of hardware, some from deep pocketed tech giants, Amazon faced off against leftover old-tech Sonys and Nooks and even older-tech Kobos, plus a handful of hobbyist-focused models. Right as the US market experienced an explosion of adoption spurred by the artificially-low hardware prices.

To add insult to injury, when Amazon turned to advertising support as a revenue enhancer for the Kindle readers in 2011, they found that a lot of buyers LIKED the ads and offers and the advertising unit Amazon developed to provide the ads has become a billion dollar a year business in its own right.

Agency killed most of the generic epub bookstores, preventing the emergence of a significant multi-vendor ecosystem in the US. This guaranteed that only walled garden, hardware-backed ecosystems could achieve measurable traction. Where, in 2010, the market was small enough that a single player could take significant share away from Amazon over a few months, the post-conspiracy market is now so big it could take years to peel off even a point or two of share. It will take deep pockets and a lot of patience to achieve even that much. (For example, with a Kindle reader installed base somewhere in the 30-50M range, it could take as much as half a million customers walking away to take 1% market share from Amazon.) The reality, as of 2014 is that Kindle share is slowly but steadily creeping up. Some players like Apple and Google seem to be growing their ebook sales but their growth isn’t coming at Kindle’s expense.

On the hardware side, near-cost pricing foreclosed the US market to generic epub hardware, completing the work the conspiracy started. With the increased adoption of tablets and smartphones leading to reduced ereader sales it is not inconceivable that Kindle might be the only high volume dedicated reader left on the market within a couple of years.

All because of 2010 and two totally unnecessary moves aimed at “killing” Amazon.

The conspiring corporate publishers continue their fight to protect their pbook oligopoly, now belatedly trying direct ebook sales among other equally questionable tactics. The final tally on their conspiracy isn’t set yet–some of their ebookstore victims are still litigating for compensation–but so far it looks to add up to nearly a billion in fines and restitution atop court costs and the revenue lost to competitors.

As for the instigators of the pricing model switch…
Well, over the last four years Nook has sold about $3B worth of ereaders, tablets, and ebooks. And spent $4B to do so.
In 2010 they sold a million Nooks at $259 in six months, today they are hoping to sell 1 million Samsung tablets with Nook software preloaded, at $179, over 15 months. There is some doubt they can do it. Their ebook market share is down to the high single digits.

Their final fate is yet to be determined.

We’ll never know what might have happened if the ereader gold rush had been allowed to play out. Maybe Amazon would still be Top Cat, safely sitting on the fence planning their next move. Or maybe the collective pull of even half of the gold rush readers hitting the market might have given the Adept epub ecosystem the boost it needed but never received once the epub “standard” fractured. Surely things might have bern different if some of Kindle’s 2010 sales had gone to Samsung or Acer or…

The list is too long to post here, but do check out what might have been.

Felix Torres

REFERENCES:

CES 2010 eReader roundup: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephanie-vaughn-hapke/ces-2010-ereader-roundup_b_436470.html

Mossberg on Nook (Dec): http://allthingsd.com/20091209/nook-e-reader-has-potential-but-needs-work/#

CNET on Nook (June): http://www.cnet.com/products/barnes-noble-nook-first-generation/

The Story Thus Far: Amazon’s Storefront

5 October 2014

Today, Amazon is Top Cat in the ebook world, having so far outpaced and outlasted most competition and obstacles raised by their enemies. The heart of their kingdom is their line of Kindle readers, seen as an instant success from their introduction. Except, it wasn’t. Instant, that is.

KINDLE – Amazon’s storefront

Kindle wasn’t Amazon’s first attempt at selling ebooks to the masses. Or its second or even third. Kindle’s “instant” success was simply their latest, most comprehensive attempt, rolling in everything they had learned over 7-plus years.

This was nicely documented at the Digital Reader blog:

Many remember 19 November as the day that Amazon launched the Kindle Store in 2007, but that wasn’t their first attempt to sell ebooks. It was their 4th ebookstore (at least), and the first one was launched on this date in the year 2000.

That first ebookstore sold PDF and Microsoft Reader format ebooks – worldwide. I’m told it stocked thousands of titles, an impressive accomplishment for the time. It offered an FAQ, links to sites where you could download Adobe Reader and the MS Reader app, and other useful info. It looked something like this:
amazon-ebookstore-2001

 

(more…)

The Story Thus Far: The Sony Pivot

4 October 2014

Today Amazon is Top Cat in the ebook world, holding a commanding position in both content and hardware sales. Whatever challengers it once had have either died, given up the fight, or are on the decline. Their future opposition is unsettled, with a trio of would-be challengers hanging around but not making any verifiable dent in Kindle’s world. Yet.

It was not always so. Back in the earliest days of the Kindle, it was Amazon that was the challenger, the scrappy underdog. In the days before Kindle, Sony was king. But Sony’s reign was short and that it ended quickly was purely Sony’s doing. One, perhaps well-intentioned, decision that ultimately doomed them.

The Sony Pivot

When it comes to eink readers Sony is an unquestioned pioneer. They are usually credited with the first commercial eink reader (though Hanlin begs to differ) and they put it at the center of a tightly integrated ebook ecosystem. The promise of the Sony Librie promise was great, mostly because of its then-new display tech:

MobileMag in March 2004 reported:

“While the way people experience entertainment has changed dramatically with the rapid growth of portable entertainment devices like music and movie players, the way people read books, magazines and newspapers has not,” said Jim Veninger, general manager, Emerging Display Technology, Philips Electronics. “The precision of this new high-resolution electronic ink display technology will revolutionize the way consumers read and access textual information.”

(more…)

The Story Thus Far: Generation Zero

3 October 2014

In the modern ebook world there is no question Amazon is Top Cat and is likely to remain at the top for at least a while. After all, they created the first commercially viable ebook ecosystem; the first to actually engage mainstream readers and not just hobbyists and technology aficionados. This has brought about no shortage of angst and concern in certain circles and guilds which raises the question: Could somebody other than Amazon have created a viable ebook market in their stead?

Since PG is not around to stop me, I’ll be identifying some devices and events that brought us to this stage. Names will be named; the guilty will not be protected. And since serials are making a comeback, I’ll be breaking it into pieces until I hit a good endpoint. Or the adults take back the keys.

GENERATION ZERO: The GEMSTAR Saga

Lost in the mists of 20th Century History, in the long gone year of 1998, two very similar companies introduced two electronic devices for commercial ebook distribution. NUVOMEDIA was first, barely, with their Rocket Reader. SOFTBOOK PRESS was right behind with their Softbook Reader.

Nuvomedia was a Palo Alto technology company funded by Barnes and Noble, Cisco, Bertelsmann, and three High Tech Venture Capital funds. The hardware they produced was a very capable device that pretty much set the stage for all that would follow. It was paperback-sized, had a black and white screen, and connected to a PC to sideload ebooks. The software had some issues but it too pointed to the future: highlighting, bookmarks, note taking. There were two models: $199 for the base 4MB model and $269 for the 16MB Pro model. (Yes. Megabytes. It was generous for the time.)

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Publishing in the Future or the Rise of Independent Authors

27 September 2014

From The Huffington Post UK:

Publishing of tomorrow will be different due to the rise of independent authors, who write and publish their books in more formats, for more audiences and through more channels than ever before. We can see this future already in markets which leave the age of printing books fast to switch to electronic and increasingly mobile books – like China, South Korea or Indonesia. Europe will follow and we should be prepared for the changes. As authors, as publishers or as readers.

Since I joined the publishing world in 2005 a democratization of publishing has taken place, with non-traditional forms of publishing competing for the limited reader´s attention, and I find it gratifying to help texts to find new readers. When I worked for Random House as Director Business Development we were embracing new forms of online and social media marketing and worked to get in direct contact with the readers. The advent of better eInk-devices in 2007 in the US allowed the fledgling markets for ebooks to start growing and we focused first to convert our catalogue of great titles into the new format to be ready for the start of the German market. It took a lot of faith to invest so early in this still small market, to convince the authors to trust us with their electronic publication rights and convert the titles into the new formats.

But it was the right decision, in a couple of years ebooks will overtake print, something not many would have predicted only a short while ago. We saw that growing market and decided to help developing it further and in 2010 Skoobe was conceived, a joint venture of two of Germany´s biggest media companies, Bertelsmann and Holtzbrink to offer a book-flatrate similar to the Netflix-model for movies in the US. Skoobe has since garnered more than one million downloads, a very active user base and 7.942 ratings in Google Play and Apple iTunes with an average of 4.5 out of five stars. We predicted the rise of mobile and tablets for longform reading and the readers love a monthly flatrate and read as much as they want.

. . . .

We realized that books do not only compete with other books anymore, but with all other forms of entertainment, especially on mobile devices. Hence it is crucial to make a large selection available so that everybody can find the right books and do not spend their time on Facebook or other new media platforms.

. . . .

We believe, that the electronic books is actually better than any printed edition, because it is inherently more affordable, more portable and can be individualized to be read in the font size and font type the reader suits best.

. . . .

Marketing is changing as well, and to quote Robert Bidinotto: „Social media has been the great equalizer of advertising, promotion and marketing. This is essentially asymmetrical warfare. No customer going to Amazon knows what is traditionally published or independently published – and they don’t care”. The good news is, that the creativity of authors is even enhanced when unleashed from the traditional, slow and expensive publishing process and the readers can expect more great novels than ever before.

Link to the rest at HuffPo UK

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