Archive for Commentary
A number of analysts have been proclaiming that within a few years digital eBooks will overtake print. PricewaterhouseCoopers is one of the most notorious, who recently said this will occur in 2018. Is this possible?
In the United States and Britain, sales of eBooks represent between a quarter and a third of the consumer book market. According to a recent survey by Nielsen Books, eBook sales made up 23% of unit sales for the first six months of 2014, while hardcover’s accounted for 25% and paperbacks 42%.
Ever since the Kindle was released in 2007 digital sales have consistently increased by double digit figures. In 2013, sales growth for eBooks slowed to single digits, and the new numbers from Nielsen suggest the leveling off was no anomaly.
Can we ever get to the point where eBook sales will outsell print, whether its in 2018, as PWC expects, or beyond? I think its possible, but a number of things have to occur for the general public to really embrace it.
One of the big drawbacks in North America and the UK is the fact digital books are merely licensed and not truly owned. When you buy an eBook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Kobo you don’t actually own it, you are basically just buying a temporary license. The lack of ownership can create a host of problems that end up being mainstream news. In 2013 Amazon remotely deleted purchased copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from customers’ Kindles after providing them a refund for the purchased products. This was primarily due to a rift with the original publisher and rights issues. Additionally, a Norwegian women tried to purchase a Kindle book from the UK bookstore. Under Amazon’s rules, this type of action is barred, as the publisher seeks to control what content is read in which territory of the world. Her account was promptly deleted and all content lost.
Another big reason why eBooks likely won’t overtake print anytime soon is chiefly due to Adobe DRM. Digital Rights Management is a form of encryption that prevents unauthorized access or distribution of eBooks you purchase. This is primarily why if you borrow a digital title from the library or buy an eBook online, you need to use Adobe Digital Editions to load it on your e-reader. Unlike real books, you can’t loan out purchased content out to friends, unless you give out your account information to a friend, which is against the terms of service. Some publishers have opted into a program for the sharing of a title for up to two weeks, one time on the Kindle and Nook ecosystem. But these companies do little to promote it and the actual process is a bit complicated.
I think what the eBook industry needs to do is gravitate away from using Adobe Digital Editions as the default standard to protect publishers content. Instead, they need to start embracing Social DRM or Digital Watermarks. In the last few weeks I have conducted interviews with Digimarc and Booxtream, which have been eye opening. They basically outlined their technology in such a way that I thought “why isn’t everyone doing this?”
Right now digital watermarking is big in Europe and is considered the de’facto standard in the publishing arena, but now North Americans are slowly starting to realize the potential. The watermark is imperceptible to the average book reader because the underlying technology is invisible to the naked eye. The way it handles data can take two distinctive forms: personal information about the user who purchased the eBook (such as an email address) or an ID number that the distributor can use to look up the user or transaction in a database. This technology basically allows users to easily loan an eBook to a friend or load it on their smartphone, tablet, or e-reader without the need to use any 3rd party programs. Its as simple as using Windows Explorer when your gadget is plugged into your computer and copy/paste.
Finally, the worldwide market has failed to embrace eBooks in a meaningful way, as readers in North America have. Last year, digital books made up 8% of the consumer book market in France, less than 4% in Germany and Italy, and 1% in Sweden and Norway. In Asia, Japan led the eBook markets with 15% of the country’s total consumer book revenues; China and India, meanwhile, lagged far behind at 3%. Part of the reason why the adoption is so low is the actual cost of eBooks. If you look at the top 10 bestseller list, the average title is around $12.00 in the US, but in France its $24.99, $20.00 in Germany and 19.02 in Sweden.
So to sum everything up. In order for eBooks to have a shot at overtaking print there has to be a clear defined path of ownership. There also has to be a stabilization of pricing and it has to be very intuitive to loan a book to a friend or load it on as many devices as you desire.
In 2013 the traditional book selling industry in the US produced 304,912 print titles that were distributed to bookstores such as Barnes and Noble or Books-a-Million. Fiction and Juvenile genres continued to dominate the market, accounting for over 27% of new titles.
Self-publishing on the other hand saw 458,564 titles that were produced that actually had ISBN numbers. Companies such as Amazon do not require ISBN numbers for authors to submit their eBooks into Kindle Direct Publishing. Amazon currently has 2.5 million eBooks for sale and 400,000 of them are courtesy of indie authors who opted into the program. In addition, over 300,000 titles were submitted by Smashwords to B&N and Kobo.
Barnes and Noble on the other hand has 2.5 million paid eBooks available and another 2 million free public domain editions for download. Self-published titles continue to grow on the Nook Platform and the company said they represent about 25% of all eBook sales on Nook devices and sales are growing roughly 20% each quarter.
You can look at the traditional book selling industry as employing Artificial Scarcity where they selectively choose books that will sell in the current market climate and investing in authors who have an extensive track history of generating perennial bestsellers. Few books slip through the cracks that would be considered elevated literary fiction, the type that wins the National Novel Award or the Man Booker Prize. Self-publishing on the other hand employs Organic Abundance with indie titles being generated at almost a 3:1 ratio vs print.
Print books have a fairly low shelf life, the average title is sitting inside of a bookstore for about three months before its cycled away for the next batch. Major publishers have embraced digital the last four years and they reap the lions share of revenue from all book sales on Amazon, B&N or Kobo. Self-publishers are seeing success on those platforms, as they are regularly in the top 100 bestselling books every week.
There are more eBooks being produced on a yearly basis from publishers and indie authors then at any point in human history. There simply is too much digital content that does not get cycled out, does not disappear, but remains perpetually available forever. Traditionally published and self-published books are stacked right next to each other, and there is no way to filter one or the other out. In the next few years millions of additional books will be published and submitted to Amazon, who despite themselves will make a ton of money, but at the further expense of book discovery and the quality of product.
I am hereby abandoning reading eBooks from this point forward. Something is fundamentally flawed with the entire online book discovery experience. There simply is too much content being generated for search engine algorithms to cope or to browse by subject matter. Instead, I am exclusively going to be visiting my local Chapters on a weekly basis and picking up a few good reads. At least the traditional book selling industry understands product placement, the psychology of color and makes finding a new book a social experience, rather than a solitary one.
Apple is currently dominating eBook sales on iOS and has now bundled their iBookstore on all devices that run iOS 8. The Capturino company has relegated Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo to being ineffective players on the global stage, and its by design.
July 2011 was a dark day for readers, as Amazon, Nook and Kobo eBook sales were suspended on iOS. The companies all updated their apps to remove the ability to purchase books, comics, newspapers and magazines. The booksellers all did this because Apple had implemented a policy for all in-app purchases to be done through them and not 3rd parties. This would not be so bad, but Apple also was taking a 30% commission out of every purchase. All of the major eBook players realized that they were losing critical user data and giving Apple a cut of millions of dollars worth of sales did not make financial sense.
Online booksellers have to pay a percentage to the publisher whenever a book is sold and most companies like Amazon rely on razor thin margins. It was impossible to give Apple a 30% cut of every sale, they would likely lose money.
Today, customers cannot install the Kindle or Nook app and buy books. They apps themselves have all turned into glorified e-reading apps. This Apple policy has also damaged comic book sellers, such as Comixology. They removed in-app purchases back in April 2014, a few weeks after it was acquired by Amazon. Comic lovers lambasted the company saying they removed the discovery and impulse purchase aspect of the app, thereby ruinning the experience. Honestly, who wants to visit a website to browse, buy and sync over new content to the app. Wouldn’t it be way easier just to deal with a company that had in-app purchases? This is how Apple is winning the eBook war on iOS.
Apple has sold more than 550 million iPhones and more than 237 million iPads, and its impact on the eBook market is set to grow significantly. The new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, both have larger screens than their predecessors. This makes e-reading more enjoyable, and comics and graphic novels shine a bit more.
Apple is now ramping up their efforts to reach casual readers with new discovery features in iBooks. The app now includes a solid selection of free eBooks and additional categories to help consumers find the books they want. The titles offered in the “Great Free Books” section represent a variety of genres and reading tastes. Among them are Private by James Patterson, Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez and Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee.
One of the big new initiatives on the iBooks app is curation and editorial content. There is now more seasonal and topical lists that abide by cool themes. Oh, and one of the biggest cleanups was removing Breakout Books, which was sourced by Smashwords. Indie authors have been booted off from the platform, in order to help readers find more quality content. In the future, you will soon be able to get book recommendations before and after purchases with technology leveraged by Booklamp, a company Apple bought a few months ago.
Apple is borrowing a page out of Barnes and Nobles playbook by advertising their online bookstore in the retail environment. There is a new promotion campaigns to advertise the social aspect of the store and to make it clear how easy it is to buy and read. Recently, Apple orchestrated a Meet the Author events at the SoHo store in Manhattan. It featured bestselling YA novelist John Green, comics artist Jim Lee, Batman writer Scott Snyder, and actress and author Gillian Anderson.
There simply isn’t any major competition left on iOS that Apple has to compete with anymore. All newspaper, magazine, newspaper and audiobook sales are all sourced from the Newsstand or iTunes directly, so Apple gets a cut out of everything.
Day Z Standalone is not simply a video game that millions of people enjoy to play, but it is single handily responsible for increasing literary in youth. How have they done it? Well this title has spawned over twenty five million guides, tutorials and walk-through’s. These are not being penned by professional writers, but the very kids that are playing them.
Day Z comes with minimal instructions on how the play the game. There is no tutorials or newbie guides that transpire, before you are thrust into the online world. You simply start in a random location on the map and are expected to learn by doing. How do you open a door or pickup a weapon or say hello to a fellow player? You have no idea unless you browse the command list or Google the question.
Countless communities have risen to the challenge of educating the players on the various game play elements. Internet wide, there is currently over 323,000,000 articles written by youth. Many of them are reading above their current age level. Constance Steinkuehler, a games researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, asked middle and high school students who were struggling readers to choose a game topic they were interested in, and then she picked texts from game sites for them to read—some as difficult as first-year-college language. The kids devoured them with no help and nearly perfect accuracy.
According to a recent article in Wired Magazine, Hannah Gerber, a literacy researcher at Sam Houston State University monitored several 10th-grade students at school and at home and saw that they read only 10 minutes a day in English class—but an astonishing 70 minutes at home as they boned up on games.
School libraries are starting to realize that game guides written by major publishers are being devoured at record levels. Scholastic recently released three new Minecraft illustrated books that librarians report they can’t keep on the shelves.
The books, aimed at kids in Grades 3 through 7, have already sold more than 6 million copies combined since their release in November. Librarians noticed that kids were again were reading far above their level. The books not only appeal and fascinate children, they encourage kids to become better readers so they can learn more tricks to get ahead in Minecraft.
Currently, DayZ encourages nothing; it’s absolute freedom, absolutely. Two million active players are currently participating in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, so you could speculate there is some sort of allure. In the end, more kids are reading because of games like this and reading above their age level. That certainly is a good thing.
E-Readers such as the Kindle, Nook and Kobo have all been popular models to read eBooks since 2007. International expansion into hundreds of markets has fueled device sales, but they have been on the wane in the last two years. The main problem with dedicated e-ink readers is they are only good for one thing, reading books. This simple fact has prompted the rise of tablets running Android. How can e-Readers make a comeback?
The trend away from dedicated e-readers stems, in part, from their more-limited capabilities, which often include greyscale screens that make for great battery life, but lack compared to tablets. They also have rudimentary Web surfing, due to the refresh issues with e-Ink. Tablet computers, such as Apple iPad, Amazon’s Kindle Fire and other devices using the Android operating system, have color displays, full Web browsing.
The price gap for many tablets has also narrowed, making them even more attractive to consumers. Google, for instance, sells a version of its Nexus 7 tablet for just $299, and Amazon now offers a $159 model of its Fire device, which is $20 less than the most expensive Kindle e-reader and $40 more than the priciest Nook.The iPad Mini recently brought the entry price of Apple tablets to $329, down from $499 at the original iPad size. The new Kindle Voyage is $199, which makes it around the same price as a solid mid-range tablet.
The main problems with e-readers is that they were designed for one thing, reading books. Sometimes companies like Amazon would issue an SDK for developers to make Kindle Games. In other cases companies like Kobo would sign an agreement with Pocket, to bring a custom read it later app over. What about alternative reading apps, or social media networks? Sadly, none of the large reader companies have made any moves.
Europe is a different story when it comes to the evolution of e-reader software. Companies such as Icarus and Onyx have released a series of dedicated e-ink readers that run a modern version of Android. This allows customers to not be locked into dealing with a specific ecosystem, but the freedom to deal with who they want. This has fueled a mini boom period with hardcore digital readers, who have seen this trend and become enamored with the ideal that they can install any Android app they want. Most have upgraded their e-reader for the first time in years, to make the move.
Being able to craft your own e-reading experience on a 6 and 9.7 inch e-reader with the option to install whatever e-Reading, manga magazine, comic or read it later app is strangely compelling. After having a full open version of Android, why don’t companies like Amazon, Kobo, Nook or Sony Japan develop a mini app market?
A very small curated app market with apps that don’t compete with your core business would be the right move for the big 4. It could give customers the ability to borrow eBooks from the library via Overdrive, 3M or Axis 360. There are thousands of apps out there such as Twitter, Facebook, or Snapchat that would be really suitable for e-ink.
e-Reader owners are notorious for hardly ever upgrading their hardware. There simply aren’t huge leaps in innovation to give you a reason to spend a few hundred dollars for the latest and greatest. The ability to access a small app store might BE the reason to upgrade. Amazon and Barnes and Noble already own their own app market, so porting over the best apps that work on e-ink would be simple. Amazon doesn’t even have a SD card, so they could likely lock it down to prevent sideloading.
The future of e-readers is not a tool for nobility, to carry thousands of books in your pocket, while the masses play Angry Birds on their tablets. The future is freedom, the future is Android, the future is apps.
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.
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?
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! ”
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.
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.
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.