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Major news websites such as Engadget, Gizmodo and Business Insider have been losing their reader base due to a series of articles on Audible piracy. They both gave instructional guides on how you could commit fraud and get access to 25 free audiobooks. Many readers have proclaimed that these types of stories are not indicative to true journalism and boil down to tutorials about how to steal.

A user by the name of GG agreed with me, by stating “It’s likely that Audible has to pay royalties to the authors each time a customer downloads a book, so by publishing this article, you’re literally taking money out of Audible’s pockets (and Audible is, in my experience, a useful company that I’d like to see stay in business). It’s a crummy thing to do, and it certainly makes me think less of both Lifehacker and Gawker.”

Meanwhile Jeff Lamoureaux commented I lost even more respect for Engadget with this “article” and finally CubeJockey lamented “I am sure that all authors are happy that BI perpetuated the fraud by explaining this step-by-step guide to its 17 readers how to exploit this “loophole.” (And since when is lying considered a loophole?)”

I think leveraging a well known news website to get clicks by instructing people how to engage in credit card fraud in order to get free audiobooks is insidious. Buzzfeed may get a bad rep for click bait type articles, but what these sites are encouraging users to do borderline illegal.

Categories : Audiobooks, Commentary
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The Blackberry 10 operating system was a labor of love for the Waterloo based company and they spent untold millions developing it. It is their flagship OS that has been used in their entire line of smartphones over the last few years. Their market share is woeful, and according to a new report represents less than 1% in the US. One avenue that Blackberry could take is to freely distribute their OS to headset makers and allow phone and tablet companies to use the OS.

BlackBerry 10 is a proprietary mobile operating system developed by BlackBerry modern line of smartphone.Devices running BlackBerry 10 are the Z30, Z10, Z3, Q10, Q5, P’9982, P’9983, the BlackBerry Passport and the upcoming BlackBerry Classic smartphones. BlackBerry 10 is based on the QNX operating system, which is popular in industrial computers and used in many car computers, which was acquired by BlackBerry in April 2010.

There are a few compelling aspects of the Blackberry 10 OS that would be appealing to manufactures and smartphone companies. My favorite is the gesture based technology that allows people to swipe the bezel to view and close active applications. Users can also swipe from the top edge, to bring down a quick setting shade on the home screen, or an option shade on other supported apps. Also, while using any application, the upside down J-hook (starting from the bottom of the bezel and moving upward and right) allows users to peek at any notifications or messages on the BlackBerry Hub. Finally, swiping left to right scroll through the available screens.

If Blackberry were to take the Android route, it would provide some obvious benefits. One of them is their enterprise software BES and BIS that allows clients to be able to setup a secure solution to handle data and email. Likely, the more the Blackberry OS takes off, the more international governments and corporations would be likely to adopt it, which would increase revenues.

Many mainstream phone vendors are concerned about the growing power of Android. Samsung has been working on the TIZEN OS on their new line of smartwatches and are considering using it in some upcoming phones and tablets. Samsung currently accounts for 75% of all Android devices right now, so the fact they are looking at something new is telling. Think of what Samsung or HTC could do with a super high end phone with great audio, octacore processor lots of RAM, running Blackberry?

Security concerns aside, do you think it is viable to license out the Blackberry 10 OS?

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Sony has abandoned making new e-readers and fully closed down their online bookstore in North America, Europe and Australia. Sony always employed high build quality in their complete line of electronic readers, users still cling to their old models, as if they were a precious metal.

e-Reader technology does not enjoy the same robust innovation that we see in smartphones, tablets and smart watches. Apple, Google, Intel, Nvidia Samsung, LG and a host of others pour millions into new technologies that make products like the iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Watch or the Pebble possible. If you see someone with a four year flip phone, they tend to draw negative looks. e-Reader owners are a different breed, and tend not to be social outcasts if they rock a device from the same time period.

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Icarus, Pocketbook, and Onyx tend not to lead the charge in e-reader innovation. This is mostly because its companies like e-Ink, Neonode, Sony, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments that develop all of the tech that goes inside the readers. They design everything from the processors to the e-paper or touchscreen technologies. All of the major players in the e-reader sector tend not to pour the type of money in new technologies, because not enough units are manufactured or have true mass market appeal like tablets or smartphones. The slow incremental update cycle for e-readers does not really give people a reason to upgrade.

Why are readers so enamored with a company that have completely abandoned the consumer sector? A number of users have weighed in from all four corners of the internet.

Ctop said “I started with the T1, got a T2 after that broke and just bought a T3 as a backup device. But in fact the T3 is so nice, that I will keep the T2 as backup instead. Over the years I have spend many hours with my Sony Reader and certainly don’t want to leave home without it. Especially with the T3 that is easily possible because it is such a small and light device. Although I also have an iPad, I much prefer the Sony for longer reading.”

katenepveu weighed in “when my Sony ereader died I went on eBay and bought the exact same one. (Someday I’ll have to get used to a new eInk-style reader”

Ripplinger has a panache for the older models “I still love my Sony 350s and it’s still the reader I judge all others by (nothing comes close). The design of the hardware is beautiful (especially since I managed to get my hands on 2 blue ones!), the software is rock solid (I don’t think I’ve had to do a reset more than 2x in over 4 years, and that was due to a badly formatted epub), and when you add PRS+ to the x50 line of readers it can’t be beat.”

Carolyn gushed “I have only had Sony ereaders and while I’m sure kindle is fantastic..I just love my Sony for it’s versatility – I am just an ereader only person, don’t need the gadgets…but want to read all electronic publications with ease and can do that with Sony. epub, pdf….etc. It takes many formats and is a pleasure to use. I can read old .pdf’s etc that someone gives me and usually, it works fairly well. I buy my share of books from SONY regardless… and I note how many more books I read since I have had an ereader. I hope these never go away! ”

Wrap Up

Sony e-readers are still being sold through merchants that still have not run out. There is also a vibrant reselling market via eBay and Amazon for users looking to buy a backup model or two.

Good e-Reader has reviewed over 119 e-readers over the years. When I first got into the review game, it was well before Barnes and Noble or Kobo hit the market. Suddenly, CES 2010 was the tipping point, where suddenly there were hundreds of companies getting into the market. Some are still around, but others just capitalize on crazes, like phones, tablets, and now wearable tech. A few of the players still around just outsource everything to China and slap their own label on it.

Sony has always led the charge in e-reader innovation. They were the first ones with a front-lit display, the first ones to adopt a touchscreen and the only e-reader to integrate Overdrive, for easy library book lending. Their hardware has always been a shining beacon of hope in the dirge of cheap and crappy devices. It is no small wonder why users still love their Sony e-readers, even if Sony has given up on the users.

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The Kobo H20 is shipping this October and is the first time the Canadian based company has marketed a waterproof device. Many people are asking the question, is this all they have coming out in 2014, and should I wait until 2015 to buy a new e-reader?

Kobo has confirmed that the H20 is the only device they have to be released in 2014. In an interview CEO Michael Tamblyn, he said that their tablet lineup is still very competitive with everything else available on the market, there was no need to give it a refresh.

Most hardware companies who are heavily invested in selling eBooks have mostly all unveiled their lineup for 2014. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook was the sole hardware upgrade this year from Barnes and Noble and is actually a very solid device. Kobo has their H20 and Amazon is the only X factor. My sources at Lab126, the R&D division responsible all Amazon hardware have said that two new e-readers and three tablets are all ready to go. The tablets will have more synergy with the Fire TV and the Fire Phone, and give people a reason to go all Amazon, like people go all-in with Apple.

What does Kobo have planned for 2015? They rarely tell media people in advance because it gives a competitive edge to Onyx, Pocketbook, Ectaco, and Icarus.  I do have a bit of insider information that points to what they are planning though.

Kobo outsources all of their hardware design and manufacturing to Nettronix Inc. They are based in Taiwan and have involved in the e-reader space since the very beginning. Last month they demoed a new e-reader that used the same shell and internal components of the Kobo Aura HD.  The main difference is that it was utilizing technology from Wacom, which made it compatible with an official stylus.  This allows you to have the ability to take notes, make highlights and annotations with pinpoint precision.  Will the next iteration of the 6.8 inch Aura finally be a viable note taking e-reader?

Sony made note taking fashionable with all of their e-readers in the past four years. A large segment of readers found a stylus to be a bit more intuitive, instead of relying exclusively with the touchscreen. Sony recently abandoned making consumer e-readers and closed down their Reader Store all over the world.   This leaves a void in the marketplace for a company to market an affordable e-reader that comes with a stylus and has modern internal components.

Everyone involved in the e-reader sector is paying close attention to the ravenous demand for the Sony Digital Paper (DPT-S1). This is a device aimed at the business crowd and has a hefty pricetag of $1,100. Netronix is hoping to convince Kobo that a more affordable 6.8 version would sell to your average customer.

Kobo has always invested heavily in their consumer division with selling eBooks and making low cost e-readers. A Wacom enabled e-reader could potentially expand their base further into the education market and into making it a viable business tool.

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Blackberry used to be the definitive smartphone for business users until the iPhone and Android really took off. The Waterloo based company released Blackberry 10 a few years ago and changed the way they fundamentally ran their backend services. Now things are different, they are outsourcing all phone development to Foxconn and has signed an agreement with Amazon to offer apps to their users. Has Blackberry lost their way?

Business users and government were all enamoured with Blackberry because of their safe and secure environment. All emails, text messages and core services used to be routed through Blackberries own internet servers. This appealed towards people who travelled, because it would automatically compress pictures and attachments. The process resulted in less roaming fees for data consumption and telco companies actually sold Blackberry data plans as a separate entity.

Blackberry 10 changed the way data on the phones works by abandoning their internet service and now all information is delivered by the phone company. Not only does this result in higher costs for roaming and data but everything is less secure. BBM is the only facet of the modern day operating system that actually is still done through Blackberry, but it is a small compromise.

Most government and businesses have mostly abandoned Blackberry, you would be hard pressed to go a few weeks without another agency not renewing their contracts and going with Apple or Google. There simply isn’t any compelling reasons to stick with the company, when it involves a hefty cost of infrastructure and a less secure experience via Amazon.

I am not sure if most Blackberry customers are aware of the privacy ramifications of having Amazon services loaded on all Blackberry 10 smartphones. This will result in many peoples personal information being shared in order to serve you apps, books, magazines and videos easier.

Blackberry has lost its charm. I had every single phone since the original Pearl and stuck it out until the Q10 and Z10. Blackberry World is a ghost town and the company is letting go most of their development relations team. This will result in less apps being added in a native format, after all, 48,000 apps on World is done by a single developer. There is no BIS services anymore, which prevents me from saving money on roaming and traveling. Now the phone quality is diminishing with everything being outsourced to China.

I will stick with my iPhone 5 from now on, since the build quality is assured and I don’t have to worry about where my next app is being downloaded from or have to sideload in content just to get Instagram working.

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Barnes and Noble and Kobo have been running their self-publishing programs for a number of years. The two companies do very little to promote their services via the standard PR channels and most authors are blissfully unaware they even exist.  Should they continue to develop their indie author business or should they abandon them in attempt to refocus their efforts on their core business model?

B&N originally launched their first generation self-publishing program, PUBIT! in October 2010. The intention was to offer American authors the ability to self-publish their work for free and have it available on the main Barnes and Noble eBookstore.  I was told by Theresa Horner, who is the spearhead of self-publishing  that PUBIT never received any big updates and did not get enhanced in over three years. Last year the second generation platform Nook Press launched and allows authors to submit their titles to the US, UK, and most of Europe.

Kobo Writing Life was launched in late 2012, and was a fully developed system that allowed authors to sell their books all over the world. There are advanced tools to set the prices in different markets and even run promotions. The company made a splash promoting it at Book Expo America and had poster children Bella Andre and Kevin J Anderson.

Amazon is the runaway market leader in digital book sales, with many in agreement that they control 75% of the Canadian, US and United Kingdom markets. The Kindle Direct Publishing system nets authors more revenue than Kobo and Barnes and Noble combined. Authors frequently mention they get 100 sales on Amazon and less than 10 on the other platforms.

It is impossible to compete with Amazon with their Kindle Singles, Createspace, Kindle Worlds and their foray into established publishing imprints to get the books in real bookstores.

Many industry experts at the American Library Association Annual 2014 conference in Las Vegas think B&N and Kobo are playing right into Amazons hands. They train authors to self-publish, but do not give them any exclusive benefits to stick with them. It is quite easy to take your ePub, convert it to MOBI or PRC and distribute it to Amazon. Kindle Select gives authors an incentive to stick with Amazon by paying authors when their books are borrowed via the Kindle Lending Library or higher commissions.

Barnes and Noble has lost over one billion dollars on their entire eBook and e-reader business since first entering the market. Things have got so bad, that they have sacked most of their executive team, hired a new CEO, got investment from Microsoft and Pearson and intend on shedding the weight of Nook and spinning it off into another company.

Kobo has abandoned the US market and their Canadian interests are waning with the sacking of close 50 people at their Toronto headquarters and high level executives leaving the company to found their own startups. The Canadian government is investigating Kobo for the agency model and is forcing them to renegotiate their contracts with all the major publishers and abide by the wholesale model. It was this model that killed Sony and likely will kill Kobo in Canada if the court has its way.

Millions of dollars are poured into Nook Press and Writing Life and most people don’t realize how much executives, staff, development, promotion and maintaining the platform really costs. These companies would be better suited to shutter their programs and start sourcing books from LULU, Smashwords, Author Solutions and other established self-publishing communities.

B&N and Kobo are no longer focusing on their core business  model. They have their hands in too many cookie jars and cannot be effective in the things that make them money, selling books. Instead of focusing on selling, they are spending millions of dollars trying to compete with KDP.  The two sides simply are too egotistical to let Amazon control self-publishing completely and are willing to go broke fighting it out.

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An article appeared this past week in the New York Times that finally shows a bookseller and book industry professional doing something about Amazon. Instead of blog posts about the retail giant’s underhanded ways or entire three-day conferences devoted to how publishers can bring down the largest online retailer their industry faces, one book shop is going about the competition a little differently, namely by offering the titles that consumers currently can’t buy from Amazon.

According to the article by James B. Stewart, Third Place Books’ Robert Sindelar decided to take the high ground and offer certain Hachette titles at a significant discount, and even went so far as to hand deliver an eagerly anticipated bestseller’s follow-up to customers who pre-ordered it, something those same customers cannot currently do on Amazon. This extra effort may have seemed like it was more trouble than it was worth, but Stewart stated sales of the title were around twelve times higher than they would have been without these steps.

While Amazon and Hachette battle it out over the terms of their contract, retailers like Sindelar stand to gain by turning consumers’ attention to the benefits of shopping locally for their books. The extra effort might have only resulted in a small pay out right now, but these are the kinds of customer service steps that booksellers and publishers are going to have to envision if they want to get serious about the rising power of Amazon.

Unfortunately, one comment in Stewart’s article is as misguided as it is explanatory of the reason that nothing has been done about Amazon’s stronghold yet. Sindelar remarked that Amazon’s withholding of Hachette titles and refusal to allow pre-orders “violates our ethics as retailers.” There’s a code of ethics that business people are supposed to follow? Did someone forget to tell Amazon? For that matter, did someone forget to tell the publishers, who needed the Department of Justice to remind them of their so-called ethics?

A lot of the anger directed at Amazon in this instance comes from the notion that somehow books are more sacred than other objects that are for sale. And in many ways, books are more special than oil filters or diapers, not that Amazon doesn’t sell those objects as well. Possibly the fact that Amazon does sell those objects is what has made the bookselling side of their business into just another commodity, but it is the public who’s in the wrong for thinking that Amazon has some noble duty to be better than that, to rise above the sheer desire to make a profit. When the rest of the industry understands that Amazon is first and foremost a for-profit business, then perhaps they will start to interact with the retailer as though they are a business. The downfall right now is in pretending that Amazon has any goal in mind other than profit, and once publishers finally treat the retailer like its profit margin is its ultimate goal, then they can start to see new ways of doing business–with or without Amazon.

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We’ve been hearing the question for some time now: What do we have to do to bring down Amazon?

Some companies have even tried it, which led to a pretty ugly Department of Justice investigation and resulting lawsuit, one whose damages are reportedly going to be well into the one billion dollar mark before it’s over. Of course, even within the bounds of the law publishers have been trying to find ways to cut their dependence on Amazon by launching direct-to-consumer initiatives and consumer campaigns like the “I Didn’t Buy It on Amazon” stickers that readers can proudly affix to the front of their books.

But all of that may be unnecessary, as the perfect foil for Amazon is happening as we speak. George Will, outspokenly moronic columnist for The Washington Post, may have finally published one piece too far, this time claiming that women basically like to be raped because it gives them certain privileges. Yes, he called sexual assault survivorship a “coveted status” that comes with little perks in a scathing piece that blames women on college campuses for their own harm. In an interesting aside, the paper has already published an arguing viewpoint that (of course) doesn’t finger point at George Will, but attempts to sooth the hurt feelings of women across the country.

We could argue the merits or the baseless jerkhood of Will’s article at length, and believe me, the social media sphere is doing just that. What I’d really like to know is where Will’s new employer stands on the issue.

Jeff Bezos, recent owner of The Washington Post, doesn’t mind making a little money off the women who write and publish what is arguably one of the most profitable genres out there, romance. So, apparently sex is a good thing when it’s selling books, but it’s pretty much a non-issue when it’s being forced on women?

Of course, Amazon did take a stand against erotica that was marketed to children in its Kindle store, so the company obviously does have some kind of conscience towards inappropriate or suggestive material when it’s aimed at the wrong audience. And while it’s unlikely that Bezos sat down with Will and crafted this ridiculous opinion piece over a couple of drinks, rubbing their hands maniacally and laughing their evil villain laughs, Bezos does have a corporate responsibility for what gets printed in his company’s newspaper.

Which is it, Amazon? Are we little sluts who deserve what we get, or are we a major source of income for your company? Perhaps you’d do well to avoid a boycott from the authors who helped put you where you are. You can argue that Amazon can withstand a lot of things, but you won’t survive a walkout of the most prolific and fan-centric writers you sell on a daily basis. It’s time to ditch the dead weight before George Will brings down an empire, because there are a lot of people rooting for your demise.

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A 2012 study found that 55% of all Young Adult fiction was purchased by adults and many journalists lately have been writing either for or against if adults should be consuming childrens and YA Fiction at the levels they are. The deeper question is why our culture encourages us to perpetually relive our teenage years.

One of the reasons why YA Fiction is so popular is due to our culture encouraging an unnatural and prolonged adolescence. Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.

Instead of going to school and getting a degree, getting married and having kids men for the most part are tuning in to cable channels like Comedy Central, the Cartoon Network and Spike, whose shows reflected the adolescent male preferences of its targeted male audiences. They watch movies with overgrown boy actors like Steve Carell, Luke and Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Will Farrell and Seth Rogen, cheering their awesome car crashes, fart jokes, breast and crotch shots, beer pong competitions and other frat-boy pranks. Our culture actually encourages men to live and relive their teenage years perpetually by playing video games, smoking pot and reading the same fantasy, science-fiction or cyberpunk books they grew up with.

Women’s prime symptom of prolonged adolescence is glimpsed in their friendships with other young women. Perhaps in their search for faithful, committed relationships, young women are using their female friends as replacement “spouses.” In their fear of losing another relationship, young women are clutching on to their female friends as tightly as a little child holds a plastic trinket. In their determination to not let go, they simultaneously are unable to open their hands to receive new friendships. When these new friendships include the possibility of a romantic relationship with a young man, the result is often Mr. Committed walking away wondering why the girl he pursued won’t open to receive his gift of self.

There is also a fear of vulnerability in most women these days. Rather than expose a desire for love, women take what they have and hoard, hold and suffocate in a frenzied panic not to lose what they have. Rather than open themselves to the possibility of hurt, disappointment or rejection, young women create a sense of commitment, possession and independence that unsuspectingly can counter their desires for love. This is the main reason why 59% of Romance and Erotica books are published by indie authors, the vast majority who are women. Romances and fairytales have given us a thoroughly impractical perception of love and relationships. Women continue to devour Veronica Roth, EL James, Suzanne Collins romantic interludes because it cuddles them like their favorite warm blanket.

I think reading YA Fiction exclusively is degrading the quality of literature that gets published on a monthly or yearly basis. Major publishers out of New York tend to put out books that they know will sell and a number of great titles are likely never going to get the greenlight to be produced. Instead new books are being billed as the Next Hunger Games or the next Divergent.

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There is no denying that the Romance and Erotica genres are hot right now and the industry is mainly written by female indie authors. If you look at the iBooks the current top 100 authors is 64% written by women, Amazon has 56% and the Publishers Weekly top 25 has been dominated by women almost 100% for the last six months. Why is the vast majority of fiction and nonfiction writers women?

The primary reason the vast majority of women are bestselling authors or aspiring writers trying to get their big break is because they rely on their husbands to generate the household income why they explore “their passion.” Many women authors have been quite vocal about how they are able to do what they love and rely on someone else to manage their life and keep the lights on.

One author recently mentioned “Health issues forced me from the work place even before the economic downturn. Now my hobby is looking like it will support me as well as a ‘real job’ would have, all within the next few years. Can I say hooray?” Another author said “I had pretty much quit my day job to get a Master’s Degree, but knew I’d have to go back to work as soon as I was done with classes. So, I began planning for it and while in the middle of writing papers – wrote my first two books. We can’t live without my husband’s salary / insurance yet.”

Patrice Fitzgerald recently commented “I practiced law for 15 years but gave that up to write nearly 20 years ago now, getting close several times to the brass ring of a traditional deal and even a TV movie option, but never closing. Finally jumped into self-publishing in 2011, and now make a steady income from my own ebooks as well as a couple of other authors I publish. My husband works, and my income stream wouldn’t allow us to live the way we want to, but I’m going in the right direction so that he’ll be able to retire in about two years and I’ll support us both. I’m looking forward to the day I make more than the six figures I did as a lawyer way back when…”

Author k Baylor recently mentioned “I decided to quit my stressful day job at the end of January. I convinced my husband to allow me to pursue my dream of writing full time for a few months. I paid a few bills in advance to keep immediate pressure at bay and set out to do what I loved. For the first two months I worked primarily on my successful blog that helps other writers get information on publishing trends. After a bit of research I decided to start making writing my career. I write primarily in the erotica genre and published my first story on April 26th this year. So far I have five books live on Amazon as of today, many of those five titles were added at the end of this month (May) with over seven more in my pipeline. I have sold over 40 copies within my first month so I’m hopeful that it will increase with the amount of books I have for sale. I generally write under a pen name and have decided to write series under the romance genre as well.”

Aspiring author G.S Jensen is happy about her situation “I politely “fired” all my editorial and programming clients on May 1st in order to write full-time. I am blessed with a wonderful husband who has a well-paying job; as such, the amount I need to contribute to our budget is relatively small. Even so, we waited until I had earned enough to cover that amount for twelve months before deciding I could take the leap.”

When women authors do have a supportive husband that is willing to let them indulge in playing writer, sometimes it is still not enough. In a letter to a dear author segment on Salon, one woman lamented “Where was my husband in this? Uncomfortable. He doesn’t read fiction. We have a lot in common, we are active volunteers for community and political organizations, but he doesn’t understand my need to write. He asked me once if I’d ever make any money from it; I told him that was unlikely. He rarely reads anything I write, even the newsletter I do for one of our organizations, and if he does read it, he never has anything to say, unless he notices a typo. I don’t have anyone to read my work.”

There are hundreds of different women authors who rely on their husbands in order to pursue a career in writing. The vast majority fail and their only sales stem from family members and get lost in the slush pile. The few with a keen entrepreneurial spirit, savvy social media marketing and read editorials by Hugh Howey or JA Konrath stand the best chance at making it.

There is no denying that the vast majority of self-published bestsellers on Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Smashwords are by women. Romance and Erotica have been some of the top selling worldwide titles over the last five years. According to Author Earnings 59% of all Romance books are published by women, is there a reason for this? They simply are in better positions to be able to write and not worry about having to work a job. It is no small wonder that Sylvia Day and Stephenie Meyer managed to make a tremendously successful career from writing.

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As a long time software entrepreneur and executive, my first “lesson” in how the publishing industry works occurred over a decade ago. As a founder of CreateSpace (now an Amazon.com company), we had developed a print-on-demand (POD) infrastructure that provided global inventory-free fulfillment of low velocity books. It had been adopted by tens of thousands independent authors and small publishers. Early on, we proposed our POD solution to a major publisher, with a clear value proposition: give us your out-of-print backlist, and for no effort earn incremental sales. The sales pitch could not have gone better. Lots of smiles, nods, agreement. But when we went for the close, the response from the large publisher was essentially, “it all sounds fantastic … but we are never the first to do anything.” We solved a major publisher problem, yet the status quo prevailed.

In our latest BiblioBoard venture, we identified a problem that seems even larger in scope and threatens the long-term role and viability of libraries in the digital age. The problem revolves around existing library eBook lending platforms and can be summed up as follows:

– Patron usage of eBooks remains very low (6% or less), particularly compared to popular consumer products from Amazon and Apple (back in 2011, Amazon announced that eBook adoption had passed 50%).

– Libraries are operating in fear of success, as higher patron usage (under the existing eBook circulation business rules) leads to increased wait lists, budget crises, or both. If they succeed, they create more problems.

So we find ourselves again up against the wall of the status quo.

If one were to look at the demand curve for a typical publisher catalog, we would find a large head (the “front list”) and a very long tail. Intuitively we understand that most consumer book sales occur in the first year or two after publication. Publishers require that libraries use these artificially constrained eBook circulation rules to protect the value of their front list, perhaps 5% of the overall catalog. But they also applied the same business rules to the other 95%. This has resulted in an amazingly clunky user experience (long wait lists, cumbersome check out processes, limited reading periods, etc.) and, not surprisingly, low patron usage. And these circulation rules address a largely a made up problem, as usage stats illustrate that these rules are simply not necessary for most long-tail (lower demand) books. Ironically, this becomes a self-reinforcing cycle, as usage drives library priorities, budgets and funding. The result is a chasm has now been torn between the publishing and library worlds, an unnecessarily adversarial relationship with an incredibly influential industry.

The reality is that publishers are also afraid. And not without justification, as their traditional business models have been materially impacted by market forces. They fear the negotiating power of Amazon, who has now moved into publishing. They fear the democratization of book distribution brought on by the success of self-publishing, which thanks to companies such as our CreateSpace alma mater, have demonstrated that independent authors have a legitimate place in the world of media bestseller lists.  They fear cannibalization from library distribution. They fear the unknown, and they fear change. Or rather, as Ronald Heifetz once said “What people resist is not change per se, but loss.”

There is another way to bridge the divide. Let me paint a metaphor. Netflix has millions of users and is incredibly intuitive and engaging. Notably, users have no expectation when they subscribe to Netflix that they will get the latest content. Indeed, it is only after movies and shows have exhausted their prime consumer business potential (theaters, DVD, on-demand, etc.) does it become available to subscribers. This does not, in any way, imply that the service is not of high value. Moreover, the service has had little cannibalistic impact on sales, and it actually has many marketing benefits. After Netflix offered the Breaking Bad series, it drove millions of consumers to buy the latest season (myself included :). It also exposed new content and artists to millions of consumers who might not otherwise have discovered their resonance. Best-selling author Hugh Howey gets this, and uses his back list to drive sales of his front list. Library Journal recently found that over 50% of library users go on to purchase books by an author they discovered in the library. So the library has become an effective vehicle for independent authors to get discovered and build a marketing presence. Library Journal’s SELF-e program addresses the fundamental challenge libraries face in this navigating self-published content.

Libraries also have an important role in bridging this divide, where there is an interesting philosophical debate that surrounds the central question of whether it is the role or responsibility of libraries to provide patrons with access to best sellers at the same time as paying consumers. Many view it as a social responsibility to not “restrict access” to books that patrons might not be able to afford. One library received much attention for spending $23,400 for patron access to a single eBook title, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Putting aside the literary merit of this particular book, the question is really whether this is a good use of finite resources, when that money could be used to expose patrons to far larger pools of great literary content. Is the central role of the library to level the economic playing field between the content haves and have nots, or is it broadly promote literacy and education?

Both libraries and publishers have a role to play in this drama. But an important first step is to understand the other’s position and find a better model, because the current one just isn’t working. Libraries can become the biggest advocate for publishers but they can’t as long as they are understandably reluctant to recommend or promote content that their patrons can’t actually easily access, and thus causes them more pain. Our BiblioBoard Library platform also plays a role in addressing these challenges, helping libraries and publishers find common ground. An upcoming Publishers Weekly executive roundtable is focused on bridging this divide. The focus of BiblioBoard is exclusively on enabling an amazing patron experience (the three E’s of software design that I outlined in my recent TEDx Talk: Easy, Elegant and Engaging), providing a shared software service that handles all the technical challenges of our mobile world, and an open platform with the freedom to deliver ANY content they want. And, of course, we continue to work with publishers around our PatronsFirst business model, and today have hundreds of publishers (and over 100,000 books) ready for the brave new world. Status quos are meant to be broken.

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When it comes to self-publishing an eBook there are only a few companies out there that are worth an authors time. Amazon has Kindle Direct Publishing which dominates the marketplace and accounts for 75% of all digital book sales in North America. Barnes and Noble and Kobo are two other companies that offer indies the ability to market their books domestically and internationally. Wattpad is one of the largest to publish in the serialized format and has some authors with over 190 million reads. Needless to say, all of these companies are tremendously profitable and are the only avenues that have a widespread appeal.

Major publishers have all missed the boat on self-publishing when they should have innovated. Companies like Hachette, Penguin/Random House, HarperCollins should have been the ones that developed Wattpad or their own version of Nook Press or Kobo Writing Life. They could have capitalized on rising talent and signed the best ones to book deals. Another tremendous benefit is customer sales data, buying behaviors and other valuable metrics that companies like Amazon and Apple don’t share.

Some publishers got into the self-publishing game by acquiring other companies and not developing their own in-house solution. In 2012 Penguin purchased Author Solutions, which is much akin to a Vanity Press. Author Solutions mainly solicits manuscripts from authors, provides editing and marketing services, and publishes the books in print or digital format. The company generally requires writers to pay, though it does offer free services through its Booktango product. Over 150,000 people have published with the company since they unveiled their services back in 2007. In order to do well with this platform, customers are encouraged to pay thousands for top tier packages. Most of Author Solutions employees are marketers who always try and upsell services.

Harlequin invested in digital quite early with their Carina press imprint. Carina Press pays 40% of net digital receipts to books sold on 3rd party retail sites and 50% of net digital receipts to books sold directly on the Carina Press website. The companies contract also lays out royalties for the other rights, such as audio, print and foreign translation. It is a free service and geared mainly towards romance and erotica.

Publishers were in a perfect position five years ago to provide a viable self-publishing program. They missed the boat and Amazon become the unstoppable juggernaut that pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars piggybacking on the indies. The Seattle based company is vilified by everyone in the publishing industry because they developed and executed an idea that the traditional publishers were unable to do.

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Aquafadas Tablet Samples

The Digital Landscape

Seven years after the launch of the iPod touch and the opportunities for interactivity it brought to digital publishers, what have magazine publishers learned? We know that app consumption is continuing to rise and that time spent with mobile apps now exceeds desktop web access. According to Gartner, 800 million tablets will be sold in 2015. It’s not unlikely that emerging countries will go directly to tablets, bypassing desktop computers and even laptops entirely.

Making content available on tablets has become as important as having a website. That need is increasing worldwide. Tablets’ and smartphones’ market share is not the only important factor: technology adoption is a key point, too. Some countries show a widespread use of smartphones but not a lot of app downloads. When choosing the platform they want to distribute on, publishers have to determine where consumers are the most active and if they buy content or only access what is available for free. That’s why Apple represents an important platform: iTunes is one of the first places to distribute digital content. If it’s not necessarily the distribution platform with the most important or largest volume, it is the most profitable one. And for media publishers, this is a key point – but not the only one to take into consideration.

Digital is a fast-changing market, and publishers have to accelerate their process. New versions of tablets and smartphones appear every six months, so publishers need to be up-to-date and ready to evolve to the next important platform. The adoption rate of digital reading is growing so as the benefits from additional platforms such as Android, Kobo and Amazon. That’s why it’s necessary for publishers to go multi-platform. But how can you go digital and multi-platform amongst the challenges many magazine publishers now face, and without increasing costs?

Lessons From Successful Publishers

As a technology provider for digital publishing since the beginning, we, at Aquafadas, have seen successful magazine publishers that are leading the way. They start by analyzing their market as well as the general public. They want to know who their target audience is, when they are connected, what kind of information they are looking for, what level of enrichments they enjoy. Based on that information, they plan a digital strategy, taking into account not only year one, but also year two. That means that they don’t publish one single amazing and super-expensive app – they develop a plan to publish on an industrial scale.

These publishers keep cost recovery in mind; they want to build a wealthy digital market for themselves. Because digital publishing is less expensive than print, this part is not as tricky as it may sound. Some publishers were able to recover their costs simply by offering the digital version for one more dollar to their current print subscribers or by sourcing one single sponsor. Because those publishers want to sell their digital content and therefore benefit from it, they are attentive to the reading experience and to how they can add enrichments and further enhance the app in the future.

The marketing of the app is the other important part of many publishers’ success. Communication around the launch of the app is key. Building a digital community is also a factor of longevity. The most successful publishers make community development a big part of their digital publishing strategy. They leverage digital publishing technology to interact with the community on a regular basis and in a clever way. Features like account creation, push notifications, profiling and more allow them to understand digital readers’habits and form better relationships by delivering the right content when and where they want it.

Whats next?

As technology progresses, we can see boundaries between the various media blur even further; it’s vital that we are ready for these changes. TV, radio, mobile and web will eventually converge, and asset-centric tools will leverage associated metadata (content, video, audio, still image) to create incredible user experiences with no limits. At Aquafadas, we are witnessing an exciting change in our market, and it’s thrilling to be part of it.

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