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Nick CaveVia Booksquare, Scottish publisher Canongate has announced it will digitise its entire back catalogue and make 450 titles available as e-book downloads by the end of this year. One of their more interesting digital projects is a simultaneous physical and e-book release of Nick Cave’s first novel in 20 years, with added extras such as a soundtrack and unabridged audio book narration by Cave.

Canongate has gone from strength to strength since Jamie Byng rescued it from near-bankruptcy in the mid-90s. It has acquired some big titles in the last few years, including UK and Commonwealth rigths to the Obama memoirs.

But for me, this Nick Cave project is the most exciting recent news. It perfectly exploits Cave’s multiple talents and reaches out to several audiences simultaneously, with the possibility of introducing new consumers from each to Cave’s various music recordings and novels, not to mention his poetry and films.

In many ways, Nick Cave is the perfect example of an artist in a position to commercialise digital content for modern audiences, a Renaissance man for the 21st century. He produces content across a range of media and artforms, he has an established and loyal fan base, he can derive additional revenus streams from touring and merchandise opportunities and he can cross-pollinate audiences from books to music to film.

Kudos to Jamie Byng and Canongate for a well-considered digital product.

“We’re doing some really cool stuff that will turn some heads and break ground in the area of e-books,” said Jamie Byng, the managing director. “We are using the medium, not just replicating content. That’s where the real opportunities lie.” Jamie Byng quoted in Sunday Herald article

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Another reason for publishers to stop getting tunnel vision about the Kindle.

ReadWriteWeb reports on data from AdMob showing that Apple has a 48% market share of the mobile web in the US market. Interestingly, the iPod Touch has contributed as much to this growth as the iPhone. As RWW rightly points out, this demonstrates that Apple’s interface (largely the same for the iPhone as the Touch) makes for a happy web browsing experience for mobile users.

Given this data, it’s obviously not a coincidence that the most common search query that leads visitors to this blog is actually “ebooks ipod Touch”.

Publishers considering market channels for ebooks should note these stats and look for ways to connect their content with mobile users. At 48% of the market (or for that matter, more than one half of the population of the world) there are a hell of a lot more potential book buyers with a phone than there are owners of an ebook reader.

Sorry I’ve been away from the blog for a few weeks. More travel and even, selfishly, some carefully hoarded time away for my own writing, joy! I’ve got some meatier blog posts brewing but here are some links to some fantastic articles to keep you going until then.

From Print to E, Some Items to Consider – Booksquare
Kassia Krozser has some fantastic suggestions for publishers who want to get e-books right. I particularly support her ideas regarding royalties and rights. Authors are wary of e-boook business models because the profitability for publishers (whether some or none) is so opaque. Open it up, show you’re about collaboration and sharing, and authors will follow.

Target, Serve and Adapt: A Simple Model for Audience Development – Tools of Change for Publishing
Living as we are in an attention economy, it’s useful for publishers to think about how they can target niches. This article from TOC looks at two examples of publishers – Politico and myballard.com – who are getting big by thinking small.

Bookkake; Or, putting my money where my mouth is – booktwo.org
James Bridle of booktwo has launched an admirable new project called Bookkake, a print on demand publishing service of classic literature. The new website is fantastic – simple, elegant with excerpts, introductions and multiple e-book editions available for free download. You can order p-book editions on the site which will be printed and shipped directly to you. Fingers crossed for this one! This is exactly the kind of model that the Literature Board of the Australia Council could adopt to return classic Australian literature to readers, instead of whinging that publishers don’t support unsustainable traditional print runs of it.

Author Questions: Distribution – Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog
Joe Wikert has a neato series going about questions authors should ask their publishers. Joe says,”Far too frequently it seems like the critical discussions between author and editor focus on things like writing schedules and compensation packages.  While those are certainly important subjects there are plenty of others that need to be covered as well”. The first topic he deals with is distribution.

Ebook readers: it’s a war story – Times Online
Mark Harris finds that DRM, price and limited range of titles all undermine the eReader hype in the UK, but mostly DRM.

Small Book Publishers Offered New Technology – The NY Times
Getting together with your friends to buy as a group can make some things cheaper,  like wine, books and, of course, digital publishing services! Perseus unveils Constellation. This is fantastic for indie publishers. [via Booksquare]

How to find love, literally – The Independent
Search for a good book… find a date! Penguin plays match maker. Oh boy!

Bloomsbury unveils academic imprint – The Bookseller
A goal kicked for Creative Commons. Bloomsbury is launching a new “on demand” academic imprint that will make titles available online for free under non-commercial CC licences. Looks like Richard Charkin is making his presence felt at his new home.

Buy to Own versus Rent to Read – Brave New World
Wot he said. (Although written from the perspective of someone in the UK with flexible data/broadband plans. If only it were so in Australia! *sigh*)

The second thought is really a looking-at-it-backwards inversion of one Martyn’s comments in his blog post Create Digital First:

…we are the start of a digital consumer offer but it is…based on yesterday’s physical cost model, processes and perceptions. Merely taking the finished book and generating a digital rendition that mirrors the physical one is what music did with CDs. Is it logical to merely replicate the book and create just another rendition? We don’t envisage the same demand change as music experienced in selling just fragments (tracks), but it is possible to see the selling of instalments or part works, where all the complete ‘book’ may not be bought.

Or looking at this another way, couldn’t the book be the fragment? I wrote a little while ago about the idea of extensibility, that books could be surrounded by, in William Gibson’s words, a ‘quasi-spectral hypertext’ that extends the frame of the text beyond the information contained only on the page. This is the kind of thing Harlequin are beginning to explore with their Enriched Editions.

So if consumers are open to new pricing models and new ways of configuring book content, especially fragments and parts of works, doesn’t it also stand to reason that the basic text of a book could be the fragment, and consumers pay a premium for enriched versions that have value-adds? This would bring it more into line with the DVD retail model of included special extras in limited editions. It would also help publishers to differentiate between general retail audiences and niche fan audiences.

Whoa, lots of thoughts and ideas prompted by Martyn Daniels’ blog post Create Digital First.

Martyn Daniels

Martyn Daniels

It’s the consumer perception that really counts; after all they pay at the end of the day. Do we know or understand their perceptions on digital pricing, or do we assume we know their views? The UK’s Book Marketing company, have stared to extend their highly respected services to cover digital consumer trends, but is it enough, and are we all contributing, listening and responding to any findings?

First thought is that if an Australian digital publishing taskforce is looking for project to take on this would be one of them. It was pretty clear from our first meeting that publishers are a competitive lot (as they should be) and keep their projects and intel under tight wraps until they’re ready to go public. But market research about consumer perceptions and expectations is data from which we can all benefit. It would be an expensive burden on any one company but might go better as a shared resource.

One of my first posts on this blog was an assertion that e-books are about benefits not technology. Despite widespread Kindle adoration and mounting anticipation of the UK release of the Sony Reader, I still believe that ultimately consumers will not take up e-reader devices in game-changing numbers. Certainly, I don’t think device sales will be large enough to deliver an “iPod moment” to e-books. Why? Because e-readers offer limited benefits. Despite their many nifty features, they are ultimately only single function devices. They allow consumers to read books.

On the other hand, as of sometime in May this year, half the world’s population owns a mobile phone. The ongoing spread of 3G handsets and the versions that will come after them offer multi-function devices and hence multiple benefits.

The single versus multi-function debate has been discussed this week through coverage of Nancy Herther’s article in Searcher magazine, The Ebook Reader is Not the Future of Ebooks, at DearAuthor and Teleread among other places. From most reports, the Kindle is a joy to use but despite Amazon’s dominant online retail position I think it will struggle to lock in Kindle customers to Amazon content. And here in Australia I’m still unable to purchase one or buy Kindle books online and all the while the iPhone is increasing market penetration daily. I’m an ebook enthusiastand even I will need convincing that it’s worth my money (and the DRM headaches) to channel my book-buying budget into a Kindle instead of flexible apps and files I can use anywhere with a 3G phone.

So yesterday I attended a meeting in Melbourne of various industry types to discuss the need for/benefits of an Australian industry-led taskforce for digital publishing. It was interesting.

First up, it’s worth noting the breakdown of attendees. The meeting was jointly hosted by the federal government arts agency Australia Council for the Arts (Ozco) and Copyright Agency Limited (CAL), which for our international readers, is the Australian collecting organisation for copyright licence fees. Prior to this meeting they had jointly funded research into Australian publishers’ attitudes and perceived information needs in relation to digital publishing. (Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find this report published online yet, I hope it will be at least included in Ozco’s new online research hub which is being released soon) Of the 17 people who were there, Ozco and CAL were more than 30% of the group.

The next biggest group was publishers, with four publishers plus the head of the Australian Publishers Association. The spread of publishers was really good. There was one large trade publisher, Macmillan, plus three independents – Spinifex, MUP and Sleepers, with Zoe from Sleepers also representing the Small Press Underground Collective (SPUNC). From retail, there was an independent bookseller, a representative of the Australian Campus Booksellers Association and the CEO of the Australian Booksellers Association. Bringing up the rear were authors with just myself and a representative of the Australian Society of Authors. I was not initially invited to this meeting, but requested to be included when I read about it in Weekly Book Newsletter. I found this distribution particularly odd after the Director of the Literature Board of the Australia Council had declared that she sees this as the writing industry not the publishing or book industry, and that everything stems from the writing. One would perhaps have expected to see more writers in the room. Notable absences were libraries and at least one representative of the Australian Literary Agents Association. I’m unsure if that’s because they weren’t invited or were unable to attend.

Okay, so now you’ve met the players in our little drama, here’s how it unfolded. Ross McCall from CAL outlined the background to the meeting, and an Ozco representative gave a summary of the ‘desktop research’ they’d done into the digital publishing scene so far. We then broke into groups to discuss the opportunities, threats and questions of setting up an industry-led taskforce to support and drive knowledge transfer, new digital publishing initiatives and collective efforts to fund innovation.

The discussion was robust and I think there was a healthy level of honesty in the room, but that left me feeling a little depressed also because some of the ‘honesty’ delivered aloud was an observation of the lack of trust and openness in the Australian publishing industry.  Everyone agreed that digital is huge and most publishers seem to be tackling it on their own terms, which I felt kind of missed the point of us all being in a room together. The booksellers seemed a bit down about the prospects for their part of the supply chain. And I sense I made a thorough nuisance of myself by being bolshie on behalf of authors. One of the best points was made when it was noted there is little if any collaboration or discussion between publishing industry organisations and other digital media companies, such as games developers, telcos and mobile content publishers.

Overall, I think we got to a positive endpoint, which was an agreement that there is scope for more cooperation at a national industry level and that the next step is to have a “blue sky” discussion about what’s possible and desirable, before narrowing down to what we’re committed to achieving. There’s a ways to go, but for a first meeting I’m optimistic we could eventually achieve something relevant and meaningful.

Do I have any concerns? Yes. I am a little worried about an entrenched culture of “everyone in their foxholes” undermining the process and I was guilty of this too. I boldly claimed that publishers aren’t talking to authors about what they’re doing with digital, and was roundly disabused of this notion by the publishers in the room. Yet my scepticism remains because, while publishers may be having these discussions on an individual basis with authors, especially when it comes time to negotiate rights and contracts, I don’t believe there is a general awareness among Australian writers about the digital innovations publishers are planning.

That could be a problem for publishers long term in a number of ways. First, it makes it harder for authors to get excited about assigning their digital rights, because they don’t have information about the creative ways publishers may want to commercialise them. I think publishers will have to compete for authors’ digital rights in future, and I would think you’d have a competitive advantage by demonstrating what you know and what you can do, the way Penguin UK has been doing for examaple. Second, it means they could be missing the writers who are producing the most innovative content which will help them succeed, who are very likely not to be book authors. Finally, I think writers are capable of innovating and commercialising on their own and have a lot to offer publishers if there’s a collaborative and sincere way of working together for the profitability of both.

But of course, these are the questions that a taskforce can address. Perhaps it can’t pose definitive answers but it can certainly prod, educate, nurture and moderate. Bring on the next step!

Last year I read Spook Country by William Gibson. It was, as usual, a great pleasure. I remember Gibson saying in an interview at the time that “every text today has a kind of spectral quasi-hypertext surrounding it… all of the Googled information that found its way into the book but which isn’t available to the reader as a literal hypertext unless you’re willing to be the animator of the hypertext process and Google each term that’s distinctive and new.”

“It’s curious. When I published ‘Pattern Recognition’ ” — his previous book, which was also set in the recent past and achieved mainstream success — “within a few months there was someone who started a Web site. People were compiling Googled references to every term and every place in the book. It has photographs of just about every locale in the book — a massive site that was compiled by volunteer effort. But it took a couple of years to come together. With ‘Spook Country,’ the same thing was up on the Web before the book was published.” Somebody got an advance reader copy, and instantly put up a site for his fictional Node magazine.

Blogs and social media are already making this spectral hypertext less quasi and more actual. But as Gibson predicted, other text was destined to follow.

Today, Harlequin US launched Enriched Edition e-books, acknowledging that books are (and always have been) extensible. The text of enriched edtions will be embedded with links to additional information about the content. (As a cute aside, you’ve gotta love Harlequin’s quaint usage of terms like ‘interactive buttons’ and ‘hyperlinks’ in their media release)

The launch title, UNMASKED by Nicola Cornick, a Regency-set historical available from www.eBooks.eHarlequin.com, has been enriched with interactive buttons that hyperlink to Web sites containing photos, historical commentaries, illustrations, sound effects, maps, articles and more, bringing the world of the novel to life without the reader having to leave the computer or the current screen page. The interactive buttons have been designed to be unobtrusive, so if one prefers not to access the bonus material, the reading experience remains uninterrupted. Link

More from HarperCollins, this time some sweet data on the results of their recent experiements with “free”.

Publishers Weekly reported that at recent panels at BEA and the IDPF Digital Book conference HarperCollins shared the results of digital giveaway campaigns they did with books by Neil Gaiman, Erin Hunter and Robin Hobb.

Here’s the skinny:

  • Promotion for: Neil Gaiman’s American Gods
    – Content given away: Full access to the book, through the company’s Browse Inside feature
    – Number of page views generated: 3,827,306
    – Average page views per visit: 46
    – Number of clicks on a buy link: 1,177
    – Result: Promotion bumped weekly sales of the title at bricks-and-mortar locations by 250%.
  • Promotion for: Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things
    – Content given away: DRM-free audio download of Gaiman’s short story “A Study in Emerald” to promote the collection Fragile Things
    Result: Promotion didn’t drive registration and, according to Harper, “readers bypassed our up-sell efforts” because content was “too easy to take and run.”
  • Promotion for: Erin Hunter’s Warriors, Volume 3
    – Content given away: Browse Inside preview of 20% of the book
    – Result: Preorders of the book increased 30%.
  • Promotion for: Robin Hobb’s Shaman’s Crossing
    – Content given away: Full e-book (downloadable with DRM and registration)
    – Result: Same-title and backlist sales of Hobb’s e-books increased.
  • The results are interesting and certainly seem to indicate the value of offering free open-access trials of content to entice people to buy the book. I hope more publishers will be willing to share data for the benefit of the industry.