Publishing News: A used ebook market may hold more opportunity than risk

A brighter side to used ebook resale, the Google Reader dustup, and a look behind the Financial Times' digital success.

Opportunities in used ebook resale

With the recent patents filed by Apple and Amazon to create used digital resale platforms and digital resale company ReDigi’s ongoing court case that will weigh in on the legality of reselling used digital goods, many are concerned about how digital resale would affect revenues for publishers and authors. MediaShift’s Jenny Shank checked in on author concerns and talked with John Scalzi and Ayelet Waldman to get their thoughts — both writers expressed deep concerns that if allowed, digital resale would create insurmountable revenue issues for most writers.

“I think all the ways we chip away at the possibility of writers to earn a living ultimately makes it less likely that we’ll have a chance to read a wide variety of works,” Waldman told Shank. Scalzi wrote in a related blog post that he’d rather readers pirate his books than buy them used; he explained to Shank, “If you’ve made the determination that you’re not going to pay me for the book, I don’t see why [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos or anyone else should get paid.” You can read Shank’s full in-depth report at MediaShift.

Brian O’Leary took a look at several assumptions behind Scalzi’s and Waldman’s opposition to reselling ebooks and argued the points. He noted that “when Apple convinced labels to offer DRM-free versions of iTunes songs, the company was able to raise its iTunes prices as much as 30%,” allowing that that wasn’t for content you could resell, but arguing it pointed a way forward — “if people gave an eBook they could resell a higher value, copyright owners and authors would gain.”

O’Leary also addressed the assumption that people will strip DRM so they can resell an ebook without deleting the original files and the assumption that ebooks don’t degrade like printed books — “Try using Stanza, the pioneering eBook reader no longer supported by Amazon, on any iOS device,” O’Leary wrote. You can read his full piece on his company blog.

O’Reilly publisher and GM Joe Wikert addressed the used ebook issue from a publisher perpective and said worries about cannibalization are short-sighted and argued that opportunities in digital resale outweigh the risks. He noted that publishers need to consider “the added-value aspects of a used digital content platform” and not just focus on the low-price versions of used ebooks.

Wikert suggested bundling reader- or author-written summaries to business books, for instance, and reselling at a higher price than the original, noting that if the publisher owned the resale platform, they’d capture 100% of the revenue stream and be able to share a cut with the author. “So let’s stop thinking of the used ebook market as yet another step towards the race to zero content valuation,” Wikert wrote. “This is different from the used print book market and it represents some very interesting opportunities for publishers who are willing to embrace a new model.”

Google Reader Roundup

Headline news this week was the dustup caused by Google’s announcement it would kill off its Google Reader come July 1. As the news circulated, many pleaded with Google to change its mind, some signed a petition begging Google to reconsider, and others suggested the company open source the product. Porter Anderson has a nice roundup of the collective woe on this week’s Writing on the Ether post.

Zachary M. Seward at Quartz noted that there’s a more serious side to the death of Google Reader — “the real tragedy is likely to be felt in countries like Iran, where Google Reader is used to evade government censorship,” he wrote.

Marco Arment pointed out that perhaps we’d become complacent in our comfortable reliance on a single product to manage our RSS clients and that Reader’s death could spur a flurry of innovation as companies vie to be the next great reader. To that end, Digg stepped up and said it would build a replacement.

In the meantime, many outlets came through with alternative suggestions for replacement readers. Looking at Forbes, Gizmodo and Lifehacker — which represent a very small drop in the bucket — it looks like the top choices for free alternatives for the most Google Reader-like replacements can be narrowed down to NewsBlur (which at the time of writing is still struggling with a crushing rise in site traffic), NetVibes, The Old Reader, and Feedly. For Mac users there’s also a paid option called Reeder for Mac ($4.99), iPhone ($2.99) and iPad ($4.99).

Alex Kantrowitz at Forbes noted that the Google Reader shutdown is a “sobering reminder that ‘our’ technology isn’t ours,” so no matter what alternative you choose, you might not want to get too comfortable.

A look at the Financial Times’ data-driven success

Nieman Journalism Lab’s Ken Doctor took a look at the Financial Times and argued that amongst its news publishing peers, the company is “clearest-eyed about its roadmap and its future” and “ahead of the curve in harnessing data on its customers — both readers and advertisers — to optimize revenue.”

Noting that the Financial Times is the first newspaper to see its number of digital subscribers surpass print subscribers, Doctor highlighted several aspects of the Financial Times’ business model that have contributed to its digital success, including building direct business-to-business sales relationships, charging more for digital subscriptions than print subscriptions, and monetizing mobile traffic, to name a few. He also highlighted the company’s data-driven nature:

“The [Financial Times’] data team has about 30 people, organized into three groups: Data Analytics & Campaigns, Data Product Development, and Data Technology. … the FT recently restructured its data capability ‘to remove the distinction between digital/web analytics and everything else we do with data, because we found that the distinction wasn’t valid any longer since everyone has to think about digital data.’ The FT merged its web analytics team and customer analytics group to form a single combined team, covering both print and digital.”

Doctor also pointed out the newspaper has a data science team and a data intelligence team, and that there’s a “strong focus on ‘revenue optimization’ spread across all teams.” You can read his full report at Nieman Journalism Lab.

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