ENTRIES TAGGED "Kindle"
Newsweek ends print, The Guardian hires a digital strategy director, libraries own Random House ebooks, and Kindles go to school.
Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention this week.
Navigating the print to digital shift
After 79 years of print production, U.S. weekly news magazine Newsweek will be shutting down its printing presses and going all-in on digital by the end of the year. Darrell Etherington reports at TechCrunch that the final print edition will publish on December 31, 2012, and the digital edition of the magazine will be renamed Newsweek Global. Etherington quotes a memo from Newsweek editor Tina Brown explaining the thought process behind the move:
“Currently, 39 percent of Americans say they get their news from an online source, according to a Pew Research Center study released last month. In our judgment, we have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format. This was not the case just two years ago. It will increasingly be the case in the years ahead.”
“Once upon a time, Newsweek was a license to print money; from here on in, it will be a drain and a distraction. Merging it into the Daily Beast never made a huge amount of sense, and now it’s being de-merged: instead, its journalism ‘will be supported by paid subscription and will be available through e-readers for both tablet and the Web.’ … The chances that Newsweek will succeed as a digital-only subscription-based publication are exactly zero. If you had a team of first-rate technologists and start from scratch trying to create such a beast, you’d end up with something pretty much like Huffington — which lasted exactly five issues before bowing to the inevitable and going free. “
In somewhat related digital publishing news, there were rumors recently that The Guardian would be ending its print publication to fully embrace digital. These rumors were solidly squashed, but Guardian News & Media is making a move to put digital front and center: this week, the company appointed its first ever digital strategy director.
According to the press release, Zeit Online chief editor Wolfgang Blau will begin his new postion April 1, 2013, and “will work across GNM’s editorial and commercial teams, helping them to grow global audiences and revenues by developing new digital platforms that deepen reader engagement and provide new opportunities to commercial partners.” A spokesman from GNM told Robert Andrews at PaidContent, “We have never had a single person in charge of digital strategy. Given the scale of our digital audience (30.2 million monthly uniques, according to the last comScore), it’s clearly time.”
This content distribution pipeline will reinforce Amazon's #1 position
Earlier today Amazon announced an interesting and important enhancement to the Kindle platform. It’s called Kindle Whispercast and on the surface it might seem pretty ho-hum. But when you think about the long-term possibilities it’s clear Whispercast could help establish the Kindle platform as the content distribution pipeline for schools and businesses.
Consider the typical business, for example. Today they have content all over the board. Employee handbooks are in print or maybe Microsoft Word format. Sales and marketing docs are in a variety of formats including spreadsheets, slides, PDFs and more. Formats are one thing but distribution capabilities are another. Some docs are emailed, others are on servers awaiting download and still others are just hard-copies sitting on someone’s desk.
How many times has a colleague said “I just read this great book…you should read it too”? In the past that meant you got the title and might follow-up by ordering a copy or stopping by your local bookstore. Now a manager or teacher can arrange to purchase the book and have it delivered to all their employee/student devices. Nice.
The tools to convert all that content into a Kindle-optimized format are spotty at best right now but if Amazon is smart they’ll invest in those conversion tools too. For example, could you imagine a “Save as Kindle file” option in all of your major content creation apps (e.g., Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.)? Follow that up with a “Send to Whispercast group” option and suddenly you’ve gone from content creation to distribution without ever leaving your original app.
At first it sounded as though Amazon was limiting this service to Kindle devices (eInk and Fires) but it looks like they also plan to offer it for all Kindle apps on other devices (e.g., iPad, Android, etc.) That’s a smart move too since it doesn’t force an organization to dump their current hardware and buy a bunch of Kindles. If users like the service well enough they might become Kindle hardware converts anyway. Again, very smart.
The universal ebook shelf comes to life thanks to BookShout's import feature
1. What is BookShout and what makes it unique?
BookShout is a unique type of ereader that allows for sharing and discoverability. In other words, the “social” tools are built into the ereader so that users can either actively or passively share the books with which they are most passionate, increasing unit sales and notoriety. Not only can readers share notes and thoughts to other BookShout users, but they can also share them out to Facebook and Twitter.
BookShout is available on iOS, Android, and the web. We work directly with publishers to make sure all of their books are available and for sale through BooksShout. We are signing new publishers up all the time and most see us a creative new sales channel that gives them options and data not available with other retailers.
2. You announced your new Kindle and Nook book importer feature at TOC Frankfurt earlier this week (see short video below and press release here). How does a consumer use it and what benefit does it offer?
Its really quite simple, which is one reason we think it is so powerful. When a user downloads the iOS or Android mobile app, they are asked if they want to import their current Kindle or Nook books. If they do, they simply enter their username and password, and within a few seconds, their previous purchases are imported to BookShout. We only import books from publishers in which we have a relationship, so if a book isn’t available for import at the current time, we notify the user when it is.
The benefit from a readers perspective is a universal bookshelf, in which all their books are easy to find, share, and read. Users don’t have to worry about where they bought the books–they can read them all in one place, which just makes sense. Users also get the added benefits of sharing notes, interacting with authors, seeing one another’s bookshelves, etc.
3. You spoke with quite a few members of the publishing industry before launching the importer feature. What has their feedback been?
So far the feedback has been great. Our goal is to work closely with the publishers so that we can provide meaningful data and analytics going forward on book sales, trends and sharing. If users can aggregate all their books on BookShout, the opportunity to arm publishers with new, measurable data is greatly increased. In a sense, it allows publishers and authors to have a direct relationship to the end user, which allows for more powerful and viral campaigns around books.
Jason Illian is the founder and CEO of BookShout.
Bookshout and txtr aim to disrupt the publishing industry
It’s after midnight here in Frankfurt but I’ve got to give a quick shout-out to two of the most innovative announcements at today’s TOC Frankfurt. First up, txtr and their Beagle device. Watching txtr CEO Christophe Maire introduce the Beagle today reminded me of a post I wrote more than two years ago where I suggested that Amazon should offer an extremely inexpensive Kindle with no wifi or 3G and just have it connect to your cellphone to purchase content.
txtr beat them to it with the Beagle. Watch this video and see if you agree that every man, woman, and child should have one of these cute devices. The Beagle isn’t for you or I though. It’s for all those people who have yet to jump onto the ebook bandwagon. But imagine getting one of these free with your next cellphone purchase/contract. You buy ebooks on your phone and move them to your Beagle via Bluetooth. Brilliant!
Then there’s BookShout. I introduced BookShout CEO Jason Illian at TOC today and I told the audience he was about to make a very important announcement. Jason’s company is helping us take the first steps towards tearing down the walled gardens around two of the biggest ebook platforms: Amazon’s Kindle and B&N’s Nook.
As you’ll see in this BookShout press release, you can now import your Kindle and Nook ebook purchases into the BookShout social reader platform. I just moved all my Kindle ebooks into it. What a liberating experience. I was half-tempted to open my hotel window and yell out, “Mr. Bezos, tear down this wall!”
I’ll write a couple of more in-depth pieces about both txtr and Bookshout before the end of the week. In the meantime, let’s raise a glass and toast the industry innovators and disruptors!
Why switch to EPUB when you control the mobi/KF8 spec and user experience?
A couple of weeks ago I interviewed the IDPF’s Bill McCoy about the current state of EPUB. As I mentioned in that conversation, EPUB is the format used by pretty much every device not named “Kindle.” But since the Kindle format is the most popular I wanted to get an update on it as well, so I managed to grab a few minutes with industry expert Joshua Tallent, founder and CEO of eBook Architects.
Key points from the audio interview include:
- Beware of auto-conversions — They tend to lead to the most common problems in Kindle-format books. Some hands-on work is required for just about everything except the most basic content formats.
- Amazon and EPUB — They accept it on the content ingestion side but Joshua feels Amazon benefits so much from their proprietary format that it’s unlikely they’ll ever switch to a more open solution like EPUB.
- HTML5’s role — Yes, HTML5 is already used by KF8 and EPUB, but Joshua feels HTML5 will always require a container to define, manage and control the content and that HTML5 isn’t a viable standalone solution, at least not in the short term.
- Enhancements required — Fixed layout capabilities are at the top of Joshua’s wish list but he also notes a few features of EPUB 3 he’d like to see implemented in Amazon’s format.
Open platforms and services will lead to ebook marketplace disruption
What would you think of a start-up who offers the following?:
- Selling ebooks in a model where one simple transaction gives you access to all formats (e.g., PDF, mobi and EPUB).
- All those ebooks are available in a completely DRM-free manner. There’s no social DRM applied either.
- Every ebook can be quickly and easily side-loaded to the device of your choice. Got a Kindle? No problem. All purchases will be sent right to it. Same goes for Nooks, Kobos, etc. No more awkward installations with USB cables.
- No restrictions on reselling your content or loaning it to someone else. Are you finished with that ebook and have no plans to ever open it again? Why not resell it or pass it along to a friend like you’d do with a print book?
- Enabling and, more importantly, encouraging publishers to have a direct relationship with their customers through this retailing platform.
Sounds too good to be true? I don’t think so. Here’s why…
One of the benefits of working at O’Reilly and being chair of our TOC conference is that I cross paths with countless industry start-ups throughout the year. I’m seeing evidence that many of today’s publishing industry challenges, particularly the closed, proprietary systems that are forming all around us will soon be met with some very cool and disruptive open alternatives.
What would that mean for a platform like the Kindle? Nobody’s knocking Amazon off the mountaintop anytime soon but these open-minded start-ups are going to make things very interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if all the elements of the start-up outlined above are in place before the end of 2013. Then it’s just a question of tying them all together.
P.S. — If you’re attending TOC Frankfurt on October 9 you’ll get a first-hand look at some of this. I can’t share the details just yet but in a few short weeks you’ll see what I’m talking about. If you haven’t registered yet do so now with this code and you’ll save 20%: TOCPartner20TSpeaker
Every ebook purchased today makes it harder to switch platforms tomorrow
In the age of the e-reader and tablet, every person that purchases an Amazon Kindle, Nexus tablet or iPad should be viewed as a customer Barnes & Noble will likely never get the chance to serve again.
That makes me wonder what goes through a consumer’s mind when they’re deciding which device to buy. I figure they’re mostly focused on brand, price, feature set, and perhaps what their friends and family recommend. But as Arico goes on to say:
Today, when a person decides which e-reader or tablet they’re going to buy, they’re also committing to the online retailer to supply books and other content.
You could argue that Amazon and B&N are making the decision less painful by offering reader apps on all popular platforms (e.g., Mac, Windows, Android, iOS). So the Kindle ebook you buy from Amazon can be read just about any modern device.
But what if Apple decides they’re tired of Amazon customers buying ebooks outside iOS and reading them on an iOS-powered device? Maybe Apple removes the Kindle app from their platform. (It could happen.) Or what if Amazon has a falling out with Google and the Kindle app disappears from all Android devices? You could replace “Amazon” with “B&N” in either of those examples and have the same problem.
Let’s look at this a bit differently: What if B&N comes out with a killer tablet that has all sorts of terrific features not found on any other device? And what if you’ve spent the past 5 years building your Kindle ebook library but the B&N device doesn’t support the Kindle app? Unless you’re prepared to abandon your library you probably won’t purchase and enjoy that new B&N tablet.
This doesn’t seem to be on many people’s radar right now but every ebook purchased today makes it harder for that customer to switch platforms tomorrow. Or, as Arico says later:
A customer who purchases an e-reader is paying for admission into a store they may never leave.
What do you think? Consumers may not have buyer’s remorse today but is this platform lock-in something they’ll eventually regret?
Kindle Serials and data analytics, new Kindle lineup with forced advertisements, and a look at complementary digital publishing.
Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention this week.
Charles Dickens was on to something
In addition to showcasing the new Kindle lineup (see below), Jeff Bezos introduced Kindle Serials, a new subscription program for serialized books, at the Amazon event this week. Readers will be able to subscribe to books that will be released in “episodes,” with automatic content updates — think Charles Dickens in the age of the Internet. Sarah Kessler at Fast Company took a look at the program and argued that this format could have a profound effect on the way books are written in the digital era.
Kessler reports that each book will have its own discussion board, and “[u]nlike most book discussion boards, [reader discussions] may influence the outcome of the books.” (A recent study project by Latitude showed this to be one of the main demands from consumers in regard to how they want to experience storytelling in the digital age.) Writers, Kessler argues, will be able to put the serialized format to good use, as it will provide them with more data than they’ve ever had before:
“Publishing one segment at a time will enable authors, like app developers, to make decisions based on user activity. Data analytics will push that ability to another level. Do readers have high drop-off rates when a certain character appears? Maybe he should appear less in the next episode. Do they share a certain idea with their social networks? Maybe that idea comes up again.”
Kessler says the rise in book data analytics interest (noting companies like Hiptype) will undoubtedly affect the future of reading and writing experiences, “[b]ut what will change the books themselves are authors. And Amazon’s new serial format, combined with the rise of data analytics for everything, has potential to change their methods.”
Amazon's launch, Judge Cote's decision and an uninspired B&N add up a one-horse race
Do you suppose that trademark grin on the side of every Amazon box will get a little bigger now, maybe even showing some teeth?
The countdown has begun. Two noteworthy things happened yesterday. First, Amazon introduced a slew of new Kindle devices. Nothing revolutionary but some nice new features nonetheless. Second, and more importantly, Judge Cote approved the ebook settlement. I tend to think Amazon is probably more psyched about the latter than the former. After all, this means they can use their deep pockets to sell ebooks at a loss (OK, make one dollar of profit for each imprint) and drive the competition out of business.
It’s a victory for consumers, or so we’re being told. So what’s B&N, the #2 player, going to do now? Can they really match Amazon on pricing for very long? I don’t see how. And what’s the “why-to-buy” for a Nook anyway? I bought my Nook with GlowLight because I wanted to support the underdog. I’m in the minority though and I’m pretty sure yesterday’s developments will make it even harder for B&N to win over more new ebook/device customers.
Since there’s not a lot of innovation happening with these devices and platforms I figure B&N only has one option left. It’s the step some of us thought Amazon would take yesterday but they didn’t: Take a page out of the cell phone business and offer a low-end device for free that comes with a longer-term revenue commitment.
Remember this old line?: “Nobody ever gets fired for buying IBM.” There’s a similar belief that’s rapidly growing in the consumer space: “Nobody ever regrets buying Amazon/Kindle.” After all, you can get plugged into the $79/year Prime membership program and buy just about anything effortlessly, you get access to all those free ebooks, video, etc. Why wouldn’t someone buy a Kindle device?
The bigger question B&N has to answer is: “Why would someone want to buy a Nook over a Kindle?” If B&N doesn’t act quickly and with a really agressive campaign it’s clear their ebook market share will decline.
What do you think? Is the door rapidly closing on B&N’s opportunity to be a leader in the ebook space?
P.S. — Maybe the ideas I suggested in this earlier post aren’t so crazy after all.