Publishing News: Tech industry history could inform bookstores’ road to recovery

Co-opetition and the future of bookstores, Amazon gets kid-friendly, and the EFF's 2012 e-reader privacy report is out.

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

Bookstore lessons and opportunities from the tech industry

Brick-and-mortar bookstores arguably have taken the biggest hit thus far as the publishing industry struggles through its digital transformation. Industry consultant Martin Taylor took a look at the publishing landscape in the recent issue of the the Australian Booksellers Association’s journal News on Bookselling and argued that a few lessons from the tech industry’s history might save them from extinction.

Taylor looks first at the struggles of the personal computer market as computers moved from singular machines to networked systems. He writes that, initially, individual vendors fought to gain control over the market. The consequent result is strikingly similar to the situation the ebook market is facing. Taylor writes:

“The problem in this pre-Internet era was that every vendor had its own, incompatible system for networking. Initially, each vendor tried to use this problem to its advantage, forcing customers to use their solutions alone to guarantee that everything would work together. But the customers rebelled: they wanted to be able to mix and match and to buy from whom they pleased. This forced competing suppliers to cooperate so that their systems would talk to each other. In the early 1990s, networking pioneer Ray Noorda coined the term ‘co-opetition’ to describe the strategy in which it was in each supplier’s self-interest to help competitors reach its customers.”

This ‘co-opetition’ continued to support tech innovation, from blogging to the advent of online traditional media to the rise of e-commerce sites, Taylor writes. It’s this mind-set, he argues, that could pull bookstores through, and he points to the recent news regarding U.K. bookseller Waterstones partnering with Amazon to sell and promote the Kindle. Through this co-opetition, Waterstones stands to benefit more than simply making a few bucks commission off Kindle and ebook sales, Taylor argues. He says that focusing on making its customers lives easier will increase its print market share and could include other benefits, such as cross-promotions or bundling deals with Amazon. Taylor also argues that the benefits could extend to other verticals as well, and that the industry as a whole should take note:

“Waterstones might enjoy other benefits, too, if publishers and authors see how its influence in selling books extends well beyond just those sold through its stores. For the wider bookselling industry, there’s a lesson and an opportunity. The lesson from co-opetition is that when barriers come down and markets open up, your best strategy might be to work with competitors in ways that make your customers’ lives easier.”

Taylor concludes “that influence — amplified through partnerships, online media and other channels — rather than location, price or convenience might be the currency of the leading bookstores of the future.” His piece is this week’s recommended read — you can find it here.

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Amazon’s ecosystem gets kid-friendly

Amazon launched its Kindle FreeTime Unlimited this week, a service aimed at drawing children into its ecosystem through kids’ content subscriptions. According to the press release, Amazon Prime members can have unlimited access to a range of kids’ content — from ebooks to educational apps to movies to TV shows — for $2.99 per month per child or $6.99 per month per family; without a Prime membership, subscriptions cost $4.99 and $9.99, respectively.

The program, aimed at parents with children 3 to 8 years old, may also be a move to sell more Kindle Fire devices. David Carnoy at CNET notes the program is available on Kindle Fire (2012), Kindle Fire HD, and Kindle Fire Fire HD 8.9 — not on the original Kindle Fire (2011), though he reports Peter Larsen, vice president of Amazon Kindle, didn’t rule out the possibility the service would extend to that device sometime in the future.

Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent says competitors should be worried about Amazon’s entry into this market. In its typical good-customer-service fashion, Amazon is gearing its service toward its customer — the children — rather than at the parents, says Owen, noting competitors Bookboard and Ruckus focus on reporting back to parents on children’s reading skills and time spent reading.

In related news, PaidContent’s Robert Andrews took a look at a recent survey looking at the viability of ebook subscription platforms. Andrews reports that the survey, conducted by U.K. media strategy agency Oliver & Ohlbaum, shows there is an interest in such programs and that they might even increase consumer spending on ebooks:

“Right now, UK ebook buyers spend an average £33 ($53) per year on ebooks, according to BML Bowker and Publishers Association data crunched by O&O. For a ‘Spotify for books’, most consumers say they would like to pay only up to £5 ($8) per month. But consumers will naturally always aim low when asked — and the high end of even that margin (£5 per month) would double UK ebook buyers’ annual ebook spending to £60 per year ($96). But there is also willingness to pay more, up to £10 per month. That would raise ebook spending to £120 ($193) per year — the same rate Spotify charges for unlimited music.”

You can read more from Andrews’ report on the survey results here.

Is your e-reader tracking you?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) annual report on ebook platform privacy policies came out this week. Cindy Cohn and Parker Higgins report that this year’s examination included “the policies of Google Books, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, Sony, Overdrive, Indiebound, Internet Archive, and Adobe Content Server.” The questions addressed included whether platforms could keep track of searches for books; whether or not the platform could monitor what you’re reading and how you’re reading it post-purchase; how they share the data they gather about you; and the extent to which customers can access, correct, or delete their information.

The query results are presented in chart format. Here are the results from the first question, “Can they keep track of searches for books?”

E-Reader Privacy ChartClick here for the full-size chart.

You can find the complete 2012 E-Reader Privacy Chart here.

Photo: Borders closing in the Bullring by markhillary, on Flickr

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