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Publishing News: NewCo's global spread

A call for NewCo to expand its focus, ereading data is influencing content, and Hugh McGuire talks ebooks at TEDxMontreal.

Here are a few items that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.

NewCo needs to focus beyond the Nook

Nook LogoJim Milliot at Publishers Weekly reported this week that Barnes & Noble is looking to open Nook digital bookstores across the globe. He writes that according to Barnes & Noble’s 10-K filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, “B&N says that through NewCo it plans to launch the Nook digital bookstore in 10 countries within 12 months.” [Link added.]

Joe Wikert (@jwikert), GM and publisher at O’Reilly Media, has written much this year about B&N business strategies and where the company needs to go. I reached out to find out what he thinks of this latest move. He says the important factor is what they’re going to do with the stores — opening B&N stores overseas similar to stores in the U.S. would be “silly,” he says, and that B&N and NewCo really should focus on opening technology-oriented stores that focus on more than just the Nook.

His entire (lightly edited) response is reprinted here with permission:

“I definitely think B&N needs to reinvent itself. It’s still very much stuck in the traditional brick-and-mortar mold. I was excited when Microsoft announced its investment and likely joint creation of NewCo with B&N, but, of course, we haven’t heard much since that original announcement.

“The latest news that B&N is looking to expand overseas isn’t earth shattering, and what I’d really love to know more about is how they intend to branch out. Let’s face it. Bookstores in pretty much every other country are feeling much the same pain stores in the U.S. are dealing with. So, it would be silly for B&N to simply think they could open up a bunch of stores overseas that look like the ones they have here. In my opinion, what they really need to do is reimagine the in-person experience they can offer, both here in the U.S. and everywhere else on the planet. That’s where Microsoft could come in.

“I’d love to see B&N’s stores evolve into more technology and solutions outlets. They’ve undoubtedly had some success by adding the Nook kiosks into their existing stores. Let’s see if they can take that a step further and create technology stores within the stores, featuring much more than just the Nook. For example, what about Xbox? Or Kinect? Those areas in Best Buy seem to be the last ones that are getting much foot traffic these days. Microsoft has their own small chain of stores, 16 or so, I believe. Rather than building that chain out any further, why not work with B&N to have a Microsoft consumer technology area within the B&N stores? And not just here in the U.S. This could be done around the globe.

“Everything about NewCo up to now seems to indicate it’s only about digital and online, not the brick-and-mortar stores that are the very foundation of B&N. I hope that changes over time. The opportunity for NewCo isn’t just with Nooks and ebooks. It’s also about a much broader technology play that can help both companies compete with the likes of Amazon.”

Ereading data leads to new content forms

Alexandra Alter posted an interesting piece this week at The Wall Street Journal on how ereading not only is changing reading behavior and the reading experience, but how ebooks are putting valuable never-before-seen data into publishers’ hands. She notes that traditionally, publishers measured reader satisfaction via reviews and sales data, but that such limited metrics are a thing of the past as the publishing industry begins to embrace big data “and more tech companies turn their sights on publishing.” Focusing on Barnes & Noble as an example, Alter reports:

“Barnes & Noble … has recently started studying customers’ digital reading behavior. Data collected from Nooks reveals, for example, how far readers get in particular books, how quickly they read and how readers of particular genres engage with books. Jim Hilt, the company’s vice president of e-books, says the company is starting to share their insights with publishers to help them create books that better hold people’s attention. … Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books.

Hilt told Alter that the data has already affected B&N’s offerings on the Nook. For example, data showing readers often abandon long nonfiction works led to Nook Snaps.

Books as great datasets for the web

Hugh McGuire (@hughmcguire), founder of PressBooks, recently spoke at TEDxMontreal about the blurring lines between books and the Internet, and the value the web can bring to books. Here are a few short snippets from his talk:

“It turns out that ebooks are just made of HTML, which is the programming language or the markup language that drives the Internet … So, it makes sense since we’ve been making these kinds of structured collections of text available as websites for many many years that we would use the same kinds of technologies to make ebooks. But, of course, there’s a terror here — and a catch. That’s that publishers are deathly afraid of the Internet. And, in a way, they have very good reason to be afraid of the Internet because the Internet is famous for gobbling up business models and spitting out total chaos.

“But it hasn’t been so bad yet because ebooks look pretty similar to books, in terms of the structure of the business and what we can do with them. That, really, I think is a problem. It’s a problem because in order to get this similarity with the past, we’ve ended up constraining ebooks and making them look a lot more like print books and a lot less like the Internet.

“There are all sorts of things you can do with a website or information that’s on a website that you can’t do with ebooks. You can’t link to a canonical version of an ebook. You can’t link to a specific chapter or a specific page … So, this poses a question to all of you, as readers. The question is this: Would you have more value if books were available in print and ebooks and a web version, or if you just had print and ebooks?”

McGuire talks about what we can do with books on the Internet, the value web versions can add to books, and thinking about books as great datasets that could be explored in new ways once they’re opened up on the web. You can watch his full TEDxTalk below:

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  • http://ArmitagePlus.com Alice Armitage

    As for B&N stores, how about adding a POD kiosk for books the store doesn’t don’t keep in inventory? If this model were fully implemented, it would turn bookstores into showrooms in which a reader could still browse though physical books. The reader could then decide whether to buy an ebook (through an instore portal that pays the bookstore a percentage do the book’s price) or a printed version (through the POD system or by special order if upgrades were desired- again paying the bookstore a percentage). This would reduce costs because there would be no costs for storing inventory, for returns, or for getting the physical book to the store (and most likely for rent as well as stores wouldn’t have to be as large as they are now).

    This would be a radical rethinking of the current model, but it might allow bookstores to continue to exist as places of community and discoverability, two key components everyone seems to agree are necessary to selling books.