Customers Won’t Pay as Much for Digital Goods, Redux

3 January 2018

From The Digital Reader:

Back before Christmas the Harvard Business Review published an article on recent research that showed that people valued physical objects for the act of possession more than for the use of said object.

 Participants valued a physical copy of The Empire Strikes Back more than a digital copy, for instance, only if they considered the Star Wars series to be films with which they strongly identified. Participants who weren’t Star Wars fans valued physical and digital copies similarly.

This is essentially a nonfunctional element of ownership – valuing something just for having it rather than what you can do with it.

Aside from price, that is the only thing keeping people buying print books over ebooks, which makes it all the more amazing when digital copies supplant physical copies in the marketplace as consumers choose to make the switch.

. . . .

This in part explains why the collectibles market has waves where old toys suddenly become desirable and valuable, only to lose much of that value a decade later; it’s because the buyers for any particular wave are all of an age group that wants to recapture a memory from their childhood, so they all suddenly want to buy the same toy.

. . . .

There’s also something this research doesn’t quite get at but is worth mentioning here, and that is the impact on print book sales versus digital.

All the industry trade press is trying to convince us that ebook sales have plateaued, and that the market is stable. This research, on the other hand. shows that there is little keeping people buying print books other than the artificially inflated price of ebooks from legacy publishers.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

For books he plans to read, PG values the ebook more than the printed book. The ebook is lighter, easier to tote (especially for the large books PG tends to read) and always opens to the last page PG read, among other things.

Part of PG’s preference is because, despite having donated many trunkloads of books to the library, the basement at Casa PG is still jammed with bookshelves that are six feet tall and three feet wide that are jammed with books. At this point, PG is leaning towards just passing this heavy burden on to the next generation for a bookish estate sale.

In Publishers Weekly and similar publications, PG is always surprised that publishing insiders are touting the news that ebook sales have plateaued. Surely publishers are familiar with what happens to sales when they lower prices on their own ebooks.

If publishers would talk to authors who have gone indie, switching away from traditional publishing, they would quickly learn that in unit sales, most of those authors are selling substantially more books than the publisher did.

PG did a quick Google search and discovered trade articles announcing that ebook sales had plateaued in each of the following years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

On the other hand, Penguin Random House issued a News for Authors article way back in 2013 titled “Who Reads Ebooks?” Here are a couple of excerpts from that article:

Over a fifth of American adults have read an eBook. EBook consumers are likely to be book enthusiasts who read across digital and print formats. Most eBook consumers are women, are younger than forty-five, have college degrees or have had some college education, and have upscale incomes. EBook consumers are over 20 percent more likely to have household incomes over $100,000 per year than non-eBook consumers. Preferred genres include mystery/suspense/detective fiction, general fiction, and romance.

EBook consumers stand out in a number of ways from non-eBook consumers. EBook consumers are 2.5 times more likely to own a tablet than non-eBook consumers. They also tend to be more accessible than non-eBook consumers across online touch points, and more sensitive to word-of-mouth recommendations. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, Internet-savvy owners of eReading devices, when compared to the general population, are more likely to get recommendations from online bookstores or other websites (56 percent versus 34 percent for the general reading population). When compared to all Americans ages sixteen and up, they tend to rely more heavily on word-of-mouth (81 percent versus 64 percent for all Americans ages 16+) and bookstore staff (31 percent versus 23 percent for Americans ages 16+) for book recommendations.

Link to the rest at Penguin Random House


Additionally, if Amazon is the biggest bookstore in the world and if Amazon announced that its ebook unit sales exceeded its print book unit sales in January, 2011, what might that tell you about plateaus?

And what about the statistics that demonstrate only 35% of school librarians indicated they were acquiring digital content in 2010—but by 2015, that number had increased to 69%.

Of course, Author Earnings is the only reliable outside look at ebook sales by all types of pubishers, including indie authors, on Amazon. AE’s studies show:

  1. there is growth in ebook sales and
  2. a large part of that growth is from sales by indie authors, which sales aren’t tracked by any of the data sources in the traditional book business.

Silicon Valley Won’t Save Books

30 December 2017

From The New Republic:

The Kindle might be the most important publishing object since the printing press, but its ten year anniversary passed with little fanfare two months ago. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who in 2008 mused that the e-reader could be the key to rebuilding our shrinking attention spans, marked the event with a tweet noting the device’s modest design change, rather than its cultural impact.

. . . .

But last week brought the first real consideration of the Kindle’s legacy. “The Kindle Changed the Publishing Industry. Can It Change Books?” asked Wired’s David Pierce. As he noted, the introduction of e-books transformed the publishing industry in a matter of only a few years, solidifying Amazon’s dominance over publishers. Technologically speaking, the initially clunky device was rapidly perfected, mimicking and sometimes improving an analog experience that had existed for centuries. Having achieved these goals, though, the Kindle has stopped evolving in substantial ways.

. . . .

“The next phase for the digital book seems likely to not resemble print at all,” he wrote. “Instead, the next step is for authors, publishers, and readers to take advantage of all the tools now at their disposal and figure out how to reinvent longform reading.” It’s high time, Pierce argued, for a new kind of book to emerge, one that accurately embodies the complex audio and visual possibilities technology offers. That’s an exciting possibility: the book, after hundreds of years, is finally on the verge of entering the twenty-first century. But it’s not going to happen.

Pierce’s argument should be familiar to anyone who has talked to someone who works on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley about book publishing, or who has had a conversation about the future of books with an uncle at Thanksgiving. “As platforms change, books haven’t,” Pierce argues.

. . . .

Electronic books, meanwhile, still look more or less the same as they did in 2007 because books are fundamentally out of step with the digital era.

. . . .

Writing two years after the first Kindle was produced, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg shrugged at the possibility that e-books could destroy the publishing industry, arguing that “reading without paper might make literature more urgent and accessible than it was before the technological revolution, just like [printing press inventor Johann] Gutenberg did.” Author Steven Johnson argued that the Kindle would make books populist again: “Expect ideas to proliferate—and innovation to bloom—just as it did in the centuries after Gutenberg.”

Publishers, authors, and agents, were similarly obsessed, but took on a more millenarian spirit. The rapid rise of e-book sales after the Kindle’s introduction caused panic in America’s most anxious, hidebound industry.

. . . .

Others have tried to push the book into the twenty-first century. Pierce proposed that readers be able to “participate in the book by texting with characters, going to important locations, and even helping write the narrative.” Sony’s Wonderbook“turned a hardback book into an augmented-reality surface,” while Google’s Visual Editions has explored the possibility of “unprintable books.” But only Amazon, with its practically unlimited resources and deep experience in publishing—it is both the largest retailer and, if you count its gigantic self-publishing operation, the largest publisher in the country—can accomplish the goal. By focusing its energies on experimenting with literary production, Pierce wrote, Amazon can inaugurate a new literary era. “Only Amazon has the clout to really drive what could and should come next,” Pierce concludes. “Not by making pixels just like paper, but by embracing the difference.”

The problem with this analysis, which Pierce never really seems to consider, is that this book of the future—a participatory, augmented-reality experience that blends a number of different kinds of media—is not a book.

Link to the rest at The New Republic

Random responsive thoughts bubbled up through the primordial ooze that is PG’s mind this morning, but the ooze seems incapable of turning them into any cohesive narrative regarding the OP, so here are some oozy bits and pieces.

Hidebound is a lovely word PG hadn’t  thought about for awhile and it is the perfect adjective to describe traditional publishing.

The original meaning was based upon having skin so tight it was incapable of extension. It applied to animals, e.g. an emaciated cow with hide stretched tight over the animal’s bones, implying inflexibility, the opposite of young supple skin.

Metaphorically applied to people, hidebound describes inflexibility, rigidity, parochialism, obstinacy, lack of imagination, pigheadedness, narrow mindedness, intransigence, obduracy.

PG could go on, but he won’t right now. However, keep a watch for future appearances of hidebound.

– Big thinkers always want to add video, sound, music, interactivity, etc., to improve ebooks and bring them into “the modern era”. (Note: “The modern era” always sounds like the 1950’s to PG.)

The OP argues this blend of media is not a book. PG agrees.

It is not a book because it is a video game. While PG does not play, he is occasionally interested by what he reads about video games. One of the latest interesting developments in videogames is professional e-sports.

In e-sports, skilled participants in online videogames are recognized as athletes and spectators will pay money to watch teams of e-sports stars compete against each other on a screen, ranging from small to theater-sized (but mostly the bigger, the better).

Appropriate sound effects, music, etc., will accompany the action to keep the audience riveted to the screen. (Commercial e-sports theaters will include gangs of the largest sub-woofers on the planet and cause lights to dim in the neighborhood during competitions.)

E-sports athletes and teams and leagues and theaters will make lots of money.

In PG’s mind, any sort of interactive max-action super ebook does not seem likely to arise from a hidebound industry like traditional publishing.

Obduracy is not your friend in the e-sports world.



European Booksellers Cheer as Digital Market Talks on Ebooks and Geo-Blocking

25 November 2017

From Publishing Perspectives:

“We trust that the European Commission will take the specific nature of the (ebook) sector into account,” says the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels’ Jessica Sänger as the EIBF celebrates ebooks’ proposed exemption from geo-blocking.

. . . .

When Publishing Perspectives readers last were updated on the “geo-blocking” controversy for publishers and booksellers in Europe’s Digital Single Market developments and the draft law under discussion, the European & International Booksellers Federation (EIBF) had raised the alarm.

. . . .

Dr. Jessica Sänger, legal counsel and director of European and international affairs with the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, Germany’s Publishers and Booksellers Association, geo-blocking is not about “portability” of ebooks and other digital products which customers have purchased, and the EIBF and its member booksellers aren’t against selling ebooks across borders.

Instead, the concern was that the proposed legislation in play over the summer could force booksellers to sell ebooks to users in all EU countries, and that requirement to service the union’s wide range of member nations’ varying taxation levels, fixed prices, and other constraints, would be too costly for many booksellers to bear.

. . . .

EIBF’s administration says that it  “notes with great satisfaction that the negotiations held between the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council (trilogue) about the geo-blocking regulation were positive. The proposal agreed yesterday [November 20], and tabled by the Estonian presidency leaves copyright-protected material, including ebooks, out of the scope of the regulation and proposes a review clause of two years”–and in actuality, the organization notes, this will put the review near the end of 2020 or early in 2021.

. . . .

“It’s very important to us that a proper impact assessment is to be undertaken before traders are potentially compelled to make their Web shops capable of selling ebooks to every member State” in the European Union.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens

13 November 2017

Note: PG mentioned this article when it first appeared in 2013, but thought it worthy for a revisit.

From Scientific American:

In a viral YouTube video from October 2011 a one-year-old girl sweeps her fingers across an iPad’s touchscreen, shuffling groups of icons. In the following scenes she appears to pinch, swipe and prod the pages of paper magazines as though they too were screens. When nothing happens, she pushes against her leg, confirming that her finger works just fine—or so a title card would have us believe.

The girl’s father, Jean-Louis Constanza, presents “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work” as naturalistic observation—a Jane Goodall among the chimps moment—that reveals a generational transition. “Technology codes our minds,” he writes in the video’s description. “Magazines are now useless and impossible to understand, for digital natives”—that is, for people who have been interacting with digital technologies from a very early age.

. . . .

How exactly does the technology we use to read change the way we read? How reading on screens differs from reading on paper is relevant not just to the youngest among us, but to just about everyone who reads—to anyone who routinely switches between working long hours in front of a computer at the office and leisurely reading paper magazines and books at home; to people who have embraced e-readers for their convenience and portability, but admit that for some reason they still prefer reading on paper; and to those who have already vowed to forgo tree pulp entirely. As digital texts and technologies become more prevalent, we gain new and more mobile ways of reading—but are we still reading as attentively and thoroughly? How do our brains respond differently to onscreen text than to words on paper? Should we be worried about dividing our attention between pixels and ink or is the validity of such concerns paper-thin?

. . . .

Before 1992 most studies concluded that people read slower, less accurately and less comprehensively on screens than on paper. Studies published since the early 1990s, however, have produced more inconsistent results: a slight majority has confirmed earlier conclusions, but almost as many have found few significant differences in reading speed or comprehension between paper and screens. And recent surveys suggest that although most people still prefer paper—especially when reading intensively—attitudes are changing as tablets and e-reading technology improve and reading digital books for facts and fun becomes more common. In the U.S., e-books currently make up between 15 and 20 percent of all trade book sales.

Even so, evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done. A parallel line of research focuses on people’s attitudes toward different kinds of media. Whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper.

“There is physicality in reading,” says developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, “maybe even more than we want to think about as we lurch into digital reading—as we move forward perhaps with too little reflection. I would like to preserve the absolute best of older forms, but know when to use the new.”

Link to the rest at Scientific American

Speaking of lurching into digital reading and preserving the “absolute best of older forms,” if you were to enter TPV Central, you would see a great deal of paper (assuming Mrs. PG didn’t demand a preparatory cleanup).

Despite Mrs. PG’s contentions, PG has a mental map of the various stacks and bits of paper, USB cords, dead mice (of the computer variety), backup hard drives, rechargeable batteries, etc., that cover his rather large corner desk. While PG admits to certain areas of terra incognita, generally speaking, he can lay a hand on what he is seeking with a surprising degree of accuracy.

That said, he conducts the vast majority of his reading via computer screens (three on his desk plus tablets, Kindles, iPhones, etc.). If PG read the equivalent amount of material on paper, his lair would be filled with file cabinets (if Mrs. PG had her way), Casa PG would require multiple weekly visits from one or more garbage trucks and Washington/Oregon would be devoid of forests.

While PG doesn’t have a mental map of his digital reading, he does have a search function on each of his devices. While mental maps of long-form paper publications can be useful, how many of such maps can a person retain in their memories for any length of time?

Casa PG still contains quite a number of bookshelves filled with paper books. While PG (mostly) recognizes titles he has read, his mental maps of the contents of those titles have disappeared into the mists of time.

PG is reminded of an old lawyer from a long time ago. (He was a real lawyer, not a player in a parable.) This lawyer was well-known for the huge piles of paper on his desk, on the floor of his office, etc., and also for his astounding ability to reach into the correct pile and the correct location in each pile to retrieve a needed document. While PG never witnessed the lawyer performing this feat, those who had pronounced themselves highly impressed by the lawyer’s organizational abilities.

A few years after this old lawyer met his reward, PG was talking with one of the lawyer’s partners. For some reason, the conversation turned to the old lawyer’s desk and his supernatural ability to remember where everything was.

The lawyer’s partner spoke of the arduous job of clearing the old lawyer’s desk. In the process, the partners discovered many thousands of dollars in uncashed client checks, some years old, that the lawyer had placed into his desktop filing system and forgotten about. If properly deposited, those checks would have substantially increased the firm’s income.

PG suggests that, like many other things residing in the human mind, mental maps have their drawbacks as information retrieval systems.

The Physical Landscape of Words

13 November 2017

From Medium:

I have always felt bothered by e-books. As an engineer and a technologist, as someone who owns a Google Home and studies computer science and knows how to solder, I should love e-books. But as a writer and a poet I kind of hate them.

I like the idea of e-books. I like the idea of not lugging around a huge novel. I like the idea of sharing a virtual library with my father, who does love e-books. I like the idea of having the definition of a word at the touch of my fingertip. I like the idea of minimizing my physical footprint.

. . . .

But I don’t like my inability to flip through the pages. The percentage-done indicator stresses me out, but when I turn it off I wonder how far along I am. I once bought Mark Strand’s Collected Poems to read on my Kindle while traveling and it was a terrible, empty experience.

. . . .

As writing was invented, we co-opted processes and places already in the brain to deal with these new and intricate symbols that, tied together, could create great and varied meaning. Our brains improvised: we used regions of the brain dedicated to spoken language, motor coordination, and visual object identification to read words on a page. The brain learned to treat words not as strings of symbols but as physical objects in space.

This explains why I can remember exactly where on a page I read something, even if I don’t remember what exactly I read.

Link to the rest at Medium

Amazon’s Kindle turns 10: have ebooks clicked with you yet?

13 November 2017

From The Guardian:

George W Bush was in the White House, Chris Brown was topping the Billboard chart and Jeff Bezos … well, on 19 November 2007, Jeff Bezos was doing “the most important thing we’ve ever done” and launching the Amazon Kindle.

The first Kindles were chunky things about the same size as a paperback, weighing a smidgeon less than 300g. They had wonky little keyboards and a little wheel for scrolling up and down a grey and black screen. But Bezos was never aiming for a flashy design. Speaking at the launch in New York, he said that all he wanted was a device that could “disappear”.

“All of us readers know that flow state when we read,” Bezos explained. “We don’t think about the glue, the paper, the stitching – all of that goes away. All that remains is the author’s world, and we flow right into that.”

. . . .

“Instead of shopping on your PC,” Bezos explained, “you shop on the device … And guess what? [Books] are all $9.99. And guess what? They all get delivered wirelessly in less than minute.”

. . . .

But the Kindle was never only a portable bookshop, it was also a publishing house. Strip away the expensive business of jackets, paper and physical distribution, and the words of a Booker winner or a Nobel laureate appear much like those of anyone else.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

A Story About Piracy

31 October 2017

From author Maggie Stiefvater:

I’ve decided to tell you guys a story about piracy.

I didn’t think I had much to add to the piracy commentary I made yesterday, but after seeing some of the replies to it, I decided it’s time for this story.

Here are a few things we should get clear before I go on:

1) This is a U.S. centered discussion. Not because I value my non U.S. readers any less, but because I am published with a U.S. publisher first, who then sells my rights elsewhere. This means that the fate of my books, good or bad, is largely decided on U.S. turf, through U.S. sales to readers and libraries.

2) This is not a conversation about whether or not artists deserve to get money for art, or whether or not you think I in particular, as a flawed human, deserve money. It is only about how piracy affects a book’s fate at the publishing house.

3) It is also not a conversation about book prices, or publishing costs, or what is a fair price for art, though it is worthwhile to remember that every copy of a blockbuster sold means that the publishing house can publish new and niche voices. Publishing can’t afford to publish the new and midlist voices without the James Pattersons selling well.

It is only about two statements that I saw go by:

1) piracy doesn’t hurt publishing.

2) someone who pirates the book was never going to buy it anyway, so it’s not a lost sale.

Now, with those statements in mind, here’s the story.

. . . .

It’s the story of a novel called The Raven King, the fourth installment in a planned four book series. All three of its predecessors hit the bestseller list. Book three, however, faltered in strange ways. The print copies sold just as well as before, landing it on the list, but the e-copies dropped precipitously.

. . . .

I expected to see a sales drop in book three, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, but as my readers are historically evenly split across the formats, I expected it to see the cut balanced across both formats. This was absolutely not true. Where were all the e-readers going? Articles online had headlines like PEOPLE NO LONGER ENJOY READING EBOOKS IT SEEMS.


There was another new phenomenon with Blue Lily, Lily Blue, too — one that started before it was published. Like many novels, it was available to early reviewers and booksellers in advanced form (ARCs: advanced reader copies). Traditionally these have been cheaply printed paperback versions of the book. Recently, e-ARCs have become common, available on locked sites from publishers.

BLLB’s e-arc escaped the site, made it to the internet, and began circulating busily among fans long before the book had even hit shelves. Piracy is a thing authors have been told to live with, it’s not hurting you, it’s like the mites in your pillow, and so I didn’t think too hard about it until I got that royalty statement with BLLB’s e-sales cut in half.

. . . .

Floating about in the forums and on Tumblr as a creator, it was not difficult to see fans sharing the pdfs of the books back and forth. For awhile, I paid for a service that went through piracy sites and took down illegal pdfs, but it was pointless. There were too many. And as long as even one was left up, that was all that was needed for sharing.

I asked my publisher to make sure there were no e-ARCs available of book four, the Raven King, explaining that I felt piracy was a real issue with this series in a way it hadn’t been for any of my others. They replied with the old adage that piracy didn’t really do anything, but yes, they’d make sure there was no e-ARCs if that made me happy.

Then they told me that they were cutting the print run of The Raven King to less than half of the print run for Blue Lily, Lily Blue. No hard feelings, understand, they told me, it’s just that the sales for Blue Lily didn’t justify printing any more copies.

. . . .

I was intent on proving that piracy had affected the Raven Cycle, and so I began to work with one of my brothers on a plan. It was impossible to take down every illegal pdf; I’d already seen that. So we were going to do the opposite. We created a pdf of the Raven King. It was the same length as the real book, but it was just the first four chapters over and over again. At the end, my brother wrote a small note about the ways piracy hurt your favorite books. I knew we wouldn’t be able to hold the fort for long — real versions would slowly get passed around by hand through forum messaging — but I told my brother: I want to hold the fort for one week. Enough to prove that a point. Enough to show everyone that this is no longer 2004. This is the smart phone generation, and a pirated book sometimes is a lost sale.

Then, on midnight of my book release, my brother put it up everywhere on every pirate site. He uploaded dozens and dozens and dozens of these pdfs of The Raven King. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting one of his pdfs. We sailed those epub seas with our own flag shredding the sky.

The effects were instant. The forums and sites exploded with bewildered activity. Fans asked if anyone had managed to find a link to a legit pdf. Dozens of posts appeared saying that since they hadn’t been able to find a pdf, they’d been forced to hit up Amazon and buy the book.

And we sold out of the first printing in two days.

Link to the rest at Maggie Stiefvater and thanks to Barb and others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Maggie Stiefvater’s books (hopefully all legit). If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

PG loved Maggie’s strategy. Since she’s the owner of the copyright in her books, she can put up legal versions of the first four chapters of her book.

Depending on the wording of her publishing contract, it’s probably not a violation of the contract. If it is a technical violation, PG doubts any publisher would complain about her use of a portion of the book for anti-piracy purposes, particularly since it proved to be an excellent sales promotion strategy.

PG wonders if there’s an anti-piracy/sales promotion business to be created out of this strategy. The basis for the business would be to flood fan forums with incomplete copies of a book in the manner described in the OP in order to boost legitimate sales. If a pirate uploaded a complete copy, the anti-piracy business could respond by posting warnings on the forum that the pirate copy was another defective one.

PG hasn’t thought through the legal implications of polluting the pools where pirates swim, but he’s in a mood today. As Maggie clearly demonstrates in the OP, piracy does steal ebook sales from from legitimate online stores and definitely harms authors.

PG doesn’t advise escalating the strategy further by implanting a harmless virus in an incomplete pdf copy of a book and uploading that to forums where illegal copies are circulated, however. However, a flurry of antivirus program warnings that were triggered when a pirated copy was downloaded might further discourage the use of illegal copies.

Or, perhaps, simply posting messages on the pirate forums warning that some illegal pdf copies on the forum contained a virus might serve the same purpose.

While he doesn’t claim to be a programmer, PG suspects writing a simple program to at least partially automate this anti-piracy strategy would not be terribly difficult.

For clarification, this is not the lawyer’s side of PG’s brain producing these thoughts. PG has an anarchist section of his brain that he keeps carefully separated from the attorney section.

The lawyer side of PG’s brain does say that filing suit against the operators of forums devoted to ebook piracy is another possible approach. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides some protection to owners of such forums, but PG suspects an inventive attorney could find some ways to make the lives of the organizers and hosts of such forums uncomfortable.

So, for a final warning, PG is not making recommendations here, only speculating about possible anti-piracy strategies and giving his anarchic self a bit of morning air. He’ll stop listening to the voices in his head for the rest of the day.

Amazon Kindle deserves some praise on its 10th birthday

30 October 2017

From The National:

The iPhone has received a good deal of hype this year as it celebrates its 10th anniversary, but another important device is just about to reach that same milestone.

The Kindle is set to turn 10 on November 19, and while not as revolutionary as Apple’s flagship product, Amazon’s e-book reader is responsible for its own share of change.

And, just like the iPhone, it has also been emblematic of Amazon’s approach to both innovation and customers. It’s a good example of why the two companies are currently positioned so differently in consumers’ minds.

Just as Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, the Kindle wasn’t the first electronic book reader. Amazon improved on predecessors such as the Sony Librie and the long forgotten Rocket eBook with a lightweight and portable device that used an innovative “electronic ink” display to take the pain out of reading books on a screen.

More importantly, it was affordable.

. . . .

If the iPhone unleashed the app economy, then the Kindle sparked a self-publishing revolution that changed how the long-form printed word is created, distributed and sold.

Kindle Direct Publishing, which launched in conjunction with the e-reader in 2007, allowed writers to skip publishers and sell their works straight to consumers. E-books could be sold for as low as 99 cents, with Amazon keeping just a small cut rather than the lion’s share, as publishers generally do.

. . . .

Amazon has never disclosed how many e-readers it has sold, but estimates have pegged the number in the multi-millions. E-books, meanwhile, have gobbled up as much as a quarter of the overall book market in a number of countries.

. . . .

Amazon and Apple’s biggest clash was over e-books. Publishers, fearing Amazon’s growing power, conspired with Apple to counter that influence by fixing e-book prices. In 2014, Apple settled with U.S. anti-trust authorities, giving Amazon customers credits for the over-payments they were forced to endure.

Link to the rest at The National and thanks to Dave for a second tip today.

Cash for Kindle ebooks – Amazon goes local down in Acapulco

29 October 2017

From The New Publishing Standard:

It’s been more than four years since Amazon launched in Mexico in 2013 with its spearhead Kindle ebook store, branching out into physical goods in 2015.

This week Amazon finally bowed to the inevitable next stage of glocalisation and started accepting cash payments to try hold its own against rival Walmex, as WalMart’s Mexico arm is known, and to try compete with the market leader, the Latin America e-commerce giant Mercado Libre,  which hails from Argentina.

. . . .

Mercado Libre has long understood that in Latin America cash is king, with few people owning a credit card and even fewer willing to risk using them online for fear of fraud. Mercado Libre accepts cash payments at convenience stores across the country which are credited to a Mercado Libre account so Mexicans can buy online. Now Amazon has finally followed suit.

While not especially aimed at the ebook buyer, the move will hopefully boost the sales of ebooks, too. Reliable data on ebook sales in Mexico is hard to come by, but anecdotal evidence suggests there are no clear front-runners, with Amazon, Apple, Kobo and Google Play all seeing steady but not exceptional sales.

The problem for all of them, aside from payment options, is localised content.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard and thanks to Paul for the tip.

iBooks Author Conference Highlights Worries about iBooks Ecosystem

26 October 2017

From Tidbits:

There has been a lot of talk lately about how dedicated Apple is to its professional users, the ones who use Apple hardware and software to make their livings.

. . . .

In a conference room tucked away in a library on the campus of Vanderbilt University, I spent a morning surrounded by professional Apple users who earn their living with one piece of Apple software: iBooks Author.

. . . .

Authors who choose iBooks Author do so because it’s free and it’s flexible, but the other reason I heard repeatedly was that it’s the “best in class.” iBooks Author can do things that no other publishing tool can do, making it easy to create multi-touch, multimedia-intensive experiences. Metrock said he is asked once a week about a Windows equivalent of iBooks Author. “It doesn’t exist,” he says.

Jason LaMar, an Apple Distinguished Educator and author of “Ohio: Pathway to the Presidency” mentioned that Apple hates the name iBooks Author because it undersells what the app can actually do. It’s the closest thing Apple has to a modern-day reincarnation of HyperCard, and it even has a built-in publishing conduit to the iBooks Store and a reading app, iBooks, that’s bundled with hundreds of millions of devices running iOS and macOS.

That might sound like a ticket to publishing fortune, but it’s sadly not the case. Denise Clifton of Tandemvines Publishing, who worked on the investigative reporting book “An Air That Still Kills,” said that the iBooks Author version was the best and most advanced, but sold fewer copies than any other.

Even giving an iBooks Author book away for free isn’t enough. Despite the fact that Jason LaMar’s book was promoted by Ohio’s Secretary of State, was recommended to every school superintendent in the state, and is the top education book in the iBooks Store, only 3000 copies have been downloaded from the iBooks Store.

It’s no secret that Apple doesn’t pay much attention to iBooks Author.

. . . .

iBooks Author was one of Steve Jobs’s final initiatives, and he had ambitions to conquer the textbook market, as detailed in Walter Isaacson’s biography, “Steve Jobs.”

“The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt. But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don’t have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money,” Jobs told Isaacson.

It wasn’t until after Jobs’s death that Apple launched iBooks Author (see “Apple Goes Back to School with iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U,” 19 January 2012), but even so, it was a revelation to publishers, seemingly poised to change the industry. Michael Cohen’s “Why iBooks Author is a Big Deal” (21 January 2012) is a perfect encapsulation of that early optimism. Even initial concerns were optimistic because Michael was afraid Apple was about to take over publishing!

But as we now know, that didn’t happen. So what did?

Metrock and many others cite the 2013 antitrust ruling against Apple as the event that killed Apple’s enthusiasm for publishing. It was both expensive and led to years of cumbersome antitrust monitoring. If you want to understand the legalities there, you won’t find a better explanation than Adam Engst’s “Explaining the Apple Ebook Price Fixing Suit” (10 July 2013).

“Most people think it took Apple’s appetite away for innovating in the digital book space,” Metrock said.

. . . .

Metrock suggests that no one at Apple has the heart to kill it because it’s one of Jobs’s final legacies. “If this weren’t Apple’s, it would have been killed,” Metrock added.

. . . .

Apple seems content to let the entire iBooks Author ecosystem stagnate. Metrock highlighted how Apple remodeled the iOS App Store for iOS 11 while the iBooks Store remains unchanged, with poor discoverability. “If you’re a small or medium-size publisher counting on revenue, the iBooks Store is not for you, unless you can get on the front page, but good luck with that,” Metrock said.

Link to the rest at Tidbits and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG will reiterate his prior opinion from the time of the original antitrust litigation – Apple and its five co-conspirator publishers, the Price-Fix Six, were incredibly stupid in their illegal behavior which, at a minimum, should have raised a forest of red flags for managers and their attorneys.

From an antitrust legal perspective, the verdict of the trial court was pretty much a foregone conclusion. None of the participants were in the least bit intelligent in their actions. Many other price-fixing conspiracies have done a far better job at structuring and concealing activities in a way designed to avoid adverse legal consequences. Some of the intelligent conspiracies have been successful and others have not, but the Apple/Big Publisher conspiracy was doomed from the start.

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