Here are some highlights of what grabbed my attention in publishing news this week. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)
I posed an open question about the complexity of ereaders
In a recent post for Gear Diary, Douglas Moran bemoaned the direction technological “advancements” are taking ereader apps and devices. As examples, he compared the original Barnes & Noble eReader (which he liked) to its replacement, the Nook app (which “kinda stinks”).
On a personal level, functionality is an ereader obstacle that turns me into an ebook curmudgeon. I recently was gifted a Kindle and I nearly threw it across the room trying to read “War and Peace” (as part of a year-long book club; I’m way behind).
Moran and others noted the simplicity of the Kindle and how its fewer features might make for a more straightforward reading experience. But perhaps the Kindle isn’t quite simple enough. In the end, I bought the print version of “War and Peace” and gave up on the device. Trying to toggle around links to read book notes was so clunky as to make that feature completely useless. Why not put the notes at the bottom of the page? Having links is great if 1. they’re easy and quick to access, and 2. you can return to your place in the book in some obvious, speedy fashion. Otherwise, just give me the content.
All this led me to questions regarding functionality and user experience in ereading:
- Are ereader developers focusing too much on technological possibilities and losing sight of reader behavior?
- For those of you who embrace ereading: What features on your reader(s) are extraneous or obtrusive to your reading experience?
- For developers: When working on a new app or an update, how do you incorporate the end-user into development?
Please share your thoughts in this comment area here.
Pricing vs. value — Todd Sattersten broke it down
Much discussion (and some dismay) surrounds the current upheaval in the ebook pricing model. As $0.99 ebooks sit “shelved” next to $19.99 ebooks (whose print counterparts might be discounted to $11.99), one of the larger issues surrounding the pricing problem is the perception of value from customers.
Every reader has a different price they are willing and able to pay for a book. I believe that price represents the value a reader places on a book at the time of purchase. However, value can vary over the course of time from when the reader first becomes aware of the book to after the book is read, increasing and decreasing based on different variables. When readers speak about price, they are talking about the amount that they are willing and able to pay at the particular time that they are expressing the opinion about price. Willingness includes the measurement of time.
I asked Todd Sattersten, author and owner of BizBookLab, to chime in on the pricing issue. In an email interview, he argued that print book pricing actually is the larger contributing problem to the perceived value of ebooks (mainly, ala Amazon) and suggested that serialization might be the right model for ebooks.
How are customer perceptions of ebook value influenced?
Todd Sattersten: There is only one factor that matters right now — what print books cost. Customers compare ebooks to their paper-based ancestors, and they long ago concluded they should be cheaper because everything else in their digital lives is cheaper than their physical lives.
Publishers don’t want this to be true and, with the power to control ebook pricing through the agency arrangements, are pricing the vast majority of ebooks like they are print books. I co-wrote a book two years ago called “The 100 Best Business Books of All Time.” The hardcover retail price is $25.95. On Amazon, you can buy that version for $16.61 or a remaindered edition for $10.38, while the Kindle edition is $18.99. That creates a short circuit in customers’ brains. You don’t pay more for things that are more convenient. You pay less.
What’s interesting is that Amazon is actively discounting books in the 40% to 50% range, and in many cases putting the price of the print book very close to the price of the ebook. There can’t be any margin left at those prices. Amazon, having lost the ability to control ebook pricing, is saying to customers “ebooks and print books are the same.” This drives more people to ebooks (who doesn’t want to download their book now?), sells more Kindles, and further cements their place in publishing’s future — both provider of new and destroyer of old (what bookstore can compete with 49% off?). Also, notice how Amazon is redefining short writings with their Singles program. Fewer words, lower prices and, most importantly, a new (not very good) term to attach to the new value proposition.
See the rest of the interview here.
Marcin Wichary explained what HTML5 can do for publishers
As technology makes the publishing space more and more geek-oriented, understanding how particular technologies can apply and how existing products or content can be adapted might seem to require a computer science degree.
In a recent interview, Google senior user experience designer Marcin Wichary brought one of those technologies — HTML5 — into perspective, explaining how it applies to publishers.
In design and layout, there’s a lot of things that HTML5 now does natively, without you having to hold its hand. Things like multimedia are native to HTML5 — you don’t need extensions or plug-ins; they’re integrated really well.
We have new devices like the iPad that require new input methods like multitouch or shaking the device. All of this is or will soon be supported by HTML5. So you can imagine delivering an experience through your application or your website or your publication that rivals that of a native application on any of the platforms you want to put it on.
On top of that, it’s the web. Al of the things that have been available on the web you also have as well. All the social networking, all the APIs, all the integration with other surfaces — you can just plug it in the way you want.
Wichary also explained how publishers can monetize the opportunities HTML5 brings to the table, and how it might even save money in the long run.
It’s very important to recognize that HTML5 fits all the devices you can think of, from the iPhone in your pocket to Google TV to the tablets to small screens and big screens. It’s very easy to take the content you already have and through the “magic” of HTML5, refine it so it works very well within a given context. You don’t have to do your work over and over again. Of course, all of these different means come with different monetization opportunities, like ads on the web or on mobile devices.
In the interview, Wichary also addressed how publishing workflows might be affected by HTML5 implementation and he outlined specific advantages HTML5 can bring to digital reading. The full interview is available in the following video:
Suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to send along your news scoops and ideas.
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