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Publishing News: B&N embraces the web

Nook gets webby, Baldur Bjarnason gets angry, and publishing gets surveyed.

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

B&N launches Nook for Web

Just last week, Valobox co-founder Anna Lewis (@anna_cn) wrote a post about the strengths of the web and lamented that ebook publishers have “remained oblivious” to the advantages — her post was part of last week’s Publishing WIR. This week, Barnes & Noble stepped up to the webby plate and announced Nook for Web.

Chris Davies at SlashGear reports that “the new service runs in Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer, with instant access — registration free — to ebook samples, and then the same purchase options as on a Nook Tablet or similar device. … There’s also synchronization with any other Nook device or app you may be using, so you can stop reading on the web and pick up where you left off on your tablet.”

B&N also is giving away six bestseller titles as a promotion until July 26, but as Matt Elliott at CNET discovered, “before you can add one to your library, Barnes & Noble forces you to sign up for an account, which entails providing a credit card number, billing address, e-mail, and phone number.” So, anything beyond reading a sample will require registration.

The company also hasn’t completely embraced the advantages of the web — as Davies points out in his post, readers still can’t annotate on the platform, and on a browser-based system, “it would be easy enough for B&N to add such a feature.”

The other thing you can’t do with this new platform is view it on your iPad or iPhone, as Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch. As counterintuitive as this seemed on first blush (B&N’s website says iPad support is “coming soon”), I recalled statistics from a recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (which I wrote about here):

  • 42% of readers of e-books in the past 12 months said they consume their books on a computer.
  • 41% of readers of e-books consume their books on an e-book reader like original Kindles or Nooks.
  • 29% of readers of e-books consume their books on their cell phones.
  • 23% of readers of e-books consume their books on a tablet computer.
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Ebook landscape is dominated by “madness”

Baldur Bjarnason wrote a blog this week following an interview he participated in, during which he came upon a realization: He writes, “I discovered just how bloody annoyed I am about the farce that is today’s ebook landscape. Much to my own surprise, I found that I’m more than a little bit angry about the madness that dominates ebooks.”

Overall, the post is a transcript of the interview — questions addressed DRM (Bjarnason says, “Once you require DRM you impose a set of conditions on every level of the publishing industry. The requirement puts limits not just on what everybody can do, but also on how they do it.”); format standardization (“Standardisation should mean a reasonably standard rendering across all platforms … Standardisation is not what we’ve got.”); and the interaction of EPUB3 and DRM (“Adobe’s system isn’t likely to support EPUB3 for a long while, which means that EPUB3 support is on hold for most players on EPUB side of the ebook world.”).

Bjarnason added a tangential aside to the interview as well, addressing fixed layout ebooks. He writes:

“Whoever at Apple had the bright idea of taking HTML+CSS, discard its strengths (adaptability, multi-device support, etc.) and focus on its weaknesses (limited and complex layout systems) should have their computer privileges revoked. … What Apple could have — should have — done is to introduce responsive layout ebooks. By default they would have adapted to whatever rendering space they were in but would have had the option of setting a fixed dimension.”

Bjarnason’s post is this week’s recommended read — you can find it here.

The newspaper and music industries wish they had it so good

The annual BookStats Survey was released this week, and the overall news for the book industry, all things considered, is fairly positive. Peter Kafka at All Things Digital summarizes the sales stats:

“[The survey] finds that Amazon and other digital distributors are taking an increasing chunk of the market, and that sales of ‘trade’ e-books — basically, everything except educational and professional texts — doubled in the last year. That helped keep the publishing business more or less flat in 2011, even as print sales dropped off. Net publisher revenue for trade books increased 0.5 percent, to $13.97 billion, with e-books accounting for $2.1 billion of that. Meanwhile, overall net revenue dropped 2.5 percent, to $27.2 billion.”

That the overall drop in industry sales was only 2.5% speaks volumes. Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah told Julie Bosman at the New York Times (NYT): “I would never dare to call an industry healthy, but it certainly seems to be robust.”

In that vein, Kafka points out in his post at AllThingsD, “[t]hat’s the kind of year executives in the newspaper and music business would have loved to have over the last decade.”

Bosman also notes in her NYT piece the relatively good news from the survey for physical stores: “Despite the closing of hundreds of Borders stores, brick-and-mortar stores remained the largest sales channel for books, the survey found.”

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