ENTRIES TAGGED "Nook"

Publishing News: B&N improves its ecosystem

B&N Nook HD tablets launch, with Nook Video on deck; Bjarnason argues against web-based ebook formatting; and taxes won't save journalism.

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

B&N pursues the “low-end tablet throne”

Barnes & Noble’s new HD tablet launch was the headline news this week. Reuters reports B&N introduced a 7-inch Nook HD tablet for $199 and a 9-inch Nook HD+ tablet for $269 — a price point B&N CEO William Lynch called a “wow price point.” Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps told Reuters the devices were a big improvement over earlier iterations and that they even “one-up Amazon in some areas.”

Laura Hazard Owen took an in-depth look at the tablets over at GigaOm and outlines a few of the improved areas. First, B&N is looking to improve discoverability with the new devices and bring the tablet shopping experience a bit closer to the in-store experience. Owen reports that readers can browse the store from inside ebooks to discover additional titles by that book’s author and similar titles in the genre. B&N also is launching Nook Channels to help readers discover books that are similar to other books they’ve liked. Owen reports the channels are curated collections of books with 40 to 50 titles — many of which are curated by B&N’s in-store booksellers. There also will be a new “Your Nook Today” button on the Nook home screens, which most notably will provide book recommendations based on the device’s content.

B&N also announced plans to launch a Nook-branded video store this fall, called Nook Video. Lauren Goode at All Things Digital has the need-to-know info on the service. Goode writes that it won’t be video subscription service, but will offer rentals and download purchases for streaming, and all content will be stored in the Nook Cloud. Goode also highlighted an interesting feature regarding owned physical DVDs:

“Nook Video will also create and store digital copies of the DVDs that you normally play on UltraViolet and Blu-ray players. So if you purchase a Blu-ray or UV DVD and sync your console with your Nook Video account, it will create a digital copy in your Nook Cloud. You could then, theoretically, watch it on another gadget, via the Nook app.”

Kind of like iTunes Match for DVDs. Joe Arico at Mobiledia argues that the Nook Video announcement takes the new Nook HD tablets to the next level and fills a crucial gap in the B&N ecosystem, making B&N “much more of a legitimate contender for the mid and low-end tablet throne.”

Read more…

Comment: 1 |

HTML5, EPUB 3, and ebooks vs. web apps

Two experts help us navigate the ebook format jungle

One of the benefits of working on TOC is that I get to see some of the behind-the-scenes industry debates that take place via email. Since it’s “formats” month here in TOC-land I thought it would be fun to share a thread about HTML5 vs. EPUB 3 featuring O’Reilly’s Sanders Kleinfeld and the IDPF’s Bill McCoy. They’ve both agreed to share this thread with the TOC community since it helps clarify the state of both EPUB 3 and HTML5.

It all started with an HTML5 interview I did with Sanders earlier this month. Bill reached out to Sanders as follows:

Your mileage may vary, especially on the Nook

Bill: Your interview with Joe for TOC was interesting. As you know from prior discussion I totally agree with you that the current situation is sub-optimal. It’s disappointing that nearly a year after EPUB 3 is out, B&N’s flagship tablet device doesn’t support EPUB 3 yet, even though it ships with a reasonably modern browser that does support HTML5. This is due to delays by their current vendor for eBook rendering software (Adobe) rather than a lack of desire on B&N’s part, but it’s still a problem. I also agree with you that where EPUB 3 is supported like Apple iBooks and Kobo the consistency in terms of being able to safely use leading-edge JavaScript libraries and other browser-stack features in disparate reading systems is not where it needs to be. While it’s true that EPUB 3 needs to be able to be supported on limited capability devices I think we didn’t help by making so many things optional and being silent on reading system support for various APIs that are de facto part of the browser stack but not officially part of the HTML5 spec normatively referenced by EPUB 3 spec (e.g. geolocation, local storage, XMLHttpRequest).

I also agree with you that Web-technologies-based apps are the future for experience delivery, both in browser and increasingly for native-class apps that are liberated from the browser (whether wrapped in PhoneGap or CEF, W8 Metro apps or the new Chrome Packaged App model Google rolled out this summer at I/O).

Sanders: Yes, I think what I find so frustrating is that we’ve got tablets on the market like the Nook, which use two different engines to render Web content–one for the Web browser and one for the ereader–and the ereader is lagging so far behind the browser in HTML5 support. The ereader is being treated like a second-class citizen, even though it’s ostensibly the primary feature of the tablet (or at least the primary feature by which the tablet is being marketed; I concede that there are many people buying the Nook who just want a low-cost Android tablet, and have no intention of reading ebooks on it).

One of the things I appreciate most about iBooks is that it uses the same Webkit engine as Mobile Safari, and if you test the same HTML5 content in Safari and in iBooks, you usually get the same results.

Distinguishing apps from ebooks

Bill: But… despite all this violent agreement… I’m having a hard time with your contention in the interview that “a lot less is going to fall in the eBook side than it does now for enhanced text and graphics… anything that’s more enhanced is going to drift over to the app side… we’ll have  our standard EPUBs for fiction/nonfiction and then biology textbooks will be on the other side”. That’s what I want to probe on in this email.

Sanders: I’ve thought about this quite a bit after my initial conversation with Joe, and I think the debate of “ebook” vs. “app” can be pretty facile if you’re not careful about how you define those somewhat loaded terms. And I think I failed to do a good job of that in my interview. So let me step back and try to do better now.

If you define “ebook” as “something that can be represented in EPUB 2/3 or Mobi format and rendered in an ereader app”, and you define “web app” as “something that can be rendered in a Web browser and/or sold in an app store”, then you’re really just arguing about packaging, not the underlying content, because an EPUB 3 file is composed of HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript, just like a web app. In the quote you cite above, I wasn’t really trying to make an argument about packaging, as much as about the kinds of electronic media that publishers are creating right now, and will be creating in the future.

I think Phase 1 of ebook creation for publishers was basically, “Let’s take all our print books and digitize them so they can be read on a Kindle or iPad”, without much in the way of innovation in terms of interactivity, customized rendering for a reflowable context, or even hyperlinking.

I think we’ve now graduated to Phase 2, where publishers are thinking, “How can we make customized digital content for tablet devices, instead of plain-old text-and-graphics ebooks? Do I make an ‘app’ or do I make an ‘enhanced ebook?’” I think publishers are generally taking two approaches to this:

Approach #1: Hire on software developers to make full-fledged native apps they can sell in the app stores for iPad/iPhone/iPad and Android (lots of these are children’s titles, e.g. “Finding Nemo: My Puzzle Book“)

Approach #2: Make an “enhanced ebook”, which takes the standard Phase 1 text-and-graphics context, and then grafts on some multimedia features, like audio and video clips (here I’m thinking of the Steven Tyler memoir “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You (Enhanced Edition)“, which was featured prominently in Ana Maria Allessi’s talk at Editech)

I’m rather against Approach #2, because I don’t think it’s especially innovative, and I don’t think it’s what customers really want out of next-generation e-content. I feel like the whole notion of “enhanced ebooks” is somewhat of a transitional concept, as publishers start making baby steps in rethinking how they produce content for a Digital First world. In the long term (next 5 years or so), I think a large part of the “enhanced-ebook” middle ground is going to go away, and ebook content is going to fall more neatly into one of two categories:

Category 1: The standard text-and-graphic content that you can read on even the lowest-end eInk ereader (because I don’t think all-text fiction/nonfiction is ever going to go out of favor)

Category 2: Everything else, which will be more and more app-like in the sense that it will be highly interactive, to-some-degree social (commenting, linked to Facebook/Twitter, etc.), and conceived from the start for a Web context (densely hyperlinked, with sophisticated mechanisms to search content and navigate it in a nonlinear fashion)

So, that’s what I was getting at above; I just wish I had articulated it better in my interview.

That’s just part one, folks. Stay tuned later this week for excerpts from the rest of the thread where Bill and Sanders talk further about the subtleties of EPUB 3, HTML5 and web apps.

(Update: Part two can be found here and part three here.)

Comments: 14 |

Neutralizing Amazon

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

Comments: 8 |

Kindle Remorse: Will consumers ever regret ebook platform lock-in?

Every ebook purchased today makes it harder to switch platforms tomorrow

If Barnes & Noble doesn’t already have a sense of urgency, especially after last week’s developments, this quote from a thoughtful piece by Joe Arico should help fire them up:

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.

I can’t decide whether that reminds me more of Hotel California or the Roach Motel. Neither option sounds very appealing though.

What do you think? Consumers may not have buyer’s remorse today but is this platform lock-in something they’ll eventually regret?

Comments: 32 |

Barnes and Noble, what’s the game plan?

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.

Comments: 5 |

Publishing News: Consumers say the future of storytelling is all about interaction

How audiences want to experience stories, B&N's price of admission, and ebook bumping.

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

Audiences want to be part of the story

Martin Bryant at The Next Web took a look this week at the first phase of research company Latitude’s new project, The Future of Storytelling. The group interviewed 158 pioneers in the media space to find out just how audiences want to experience stories in the future. Bryant reports that respondents’ “key demands are summarized in Latitude’s report as ‘The 4 I’s’: Immersion, Interactivity, Integration and Impact.”

(Click here for the full image)

Significant data from the study includes consumer desire to have an effect on story direction (think soap operas or serial TV dramas and deciding what happens to a character, for instance); to have stories told on multiple platforms and to cross over platforms; and to actually participate in the story in the real world. One respondent is quoted in the study report (PDF):

Read more…

Comment: 1 |

Graceful eBook Degradation

New approaches and tools are required to develop and present the highest fidelity content across devices

Remember the old days when print was the only format a publisher had to worry about? Now the minimum output requirements include PDF, mobi and EPUB. But what about the devices used to read those formats? You’ve got to consider eInk displays, mobile phones, tablets and computers.

We’re in the very early innings of the ebook game and our focus is mostly still on quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversions. That means the ebook pretty much renders the same way as the print book. Reading devices offer so much horsepower and presentation capabilities yet the vast majority of our content is nothing more than the printed page on a screen. Why?

Read more…

Comments: 3 |

Announcing the B&N Nook Membership Program*

*A purely fictional club that exists solely in Joe's imagination

If you saw our earnings announcement yesterday you realize we need to get creative in a hurry. Flat Nook performance in a rapidly growing ebook world just isn’t going to cut it. That’s why we brought our brightest minds together and created the exciting new Nook Membership program.

Read more…

Comments: 4 |

B&N’s Results Point to Larger Industry Concerns

What's next if device sales from the two market leaders have plateaued?

I was disappointed to read that B&N’s Nook business was basically flat year-over-year. How could that be in such a red hot market? Ebook sales are skyrocketing and everyone seems to be buying new devices.

The more I think about it though the more I realize that B&N’s results are consistent with other data points we’ve seen this year and part of a broader industry trend.

Read more…

Comments: 8 |
Publishing News: NewCo's global spread

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.

B&N plans to open Nook stores worldwide; Joe Wikert says their store focus need a technology turn. Elsewhere, WSJ reporter Alexandra Alter looks at data generated by ereading, and Hugh McGuire argues ebooks belong on the web at TEDxMontreal.

Comment: 1 |