Wednesday, December 22, 2010

E-Book Boom Changes Book Selling And Publishing

The popularity of e-books and e-readers has soared since the release of the Amazon Kindle three years ago. Now the digital devices continue to drive readers to electronic books. It's changing how books are read, sold and published.

Listen to the full piece on NPR: Talk of the Nation

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How will you win at ebook retailing?

Blog entry by Mike Shatzkin

I read all my books on my iPhone and my idiosyncracy is to have different books open in various ebook readers at the same time. This is a drastic change from my lifetime habit of reading one book at a time. I never knew I’d enjoy reading this way because the physical limitations of carrying paper around never encouraged me to consider it.

At the moment, I’m reading “Joe Cronin” by Mark Armour and “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore on Google Books; “Washington” by Ron Chernow on the Nook reader (which I see now has lost my place and is forcing me to figure out where the hell I was, which is not a good thing); “Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive” by John Nordell in Kobo; and “The Autobiography of Mark Twain” in Kindle. I have the iBooks reader on the phone but I never shop there because I never saw any particular advantage to the reader and they have distinctly fewer titles to choose from than everybody else.

Full post

Kids' Books Make The Leap Off The Page And Online

 In an effort to keep up with a generation of young, tech-savvy readers, children's book publishers are creating plots that straddle multiple platforms. In Scholastic's popular series 39 Clues, only pieces of the puzzle can be solved by reading the books — to solve the mystery in full, readers must take their quest online.

Full piece at NPR

Glad Tidings for E-Books

As recently as late 2007, the purchase of this book would have involved a trip to a bookstore, the distinct possibility that, given its rarified subject, it would be out of stock or, if ordered from Amazon, would not arrive for a week unless I was willing to pay the high cost of expedited shipping. The odds are that those prospective obstacles would have led me to do something else, and I would never have gotten around to reading Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter. That would have been too bad, but hardly a big deal. By now, the notion has embedded in my mind that I can choose on a whim to read a book and obtain it instantly, a fundamental change in the psychology of book buying. You don't really possess the book in the sense that it lands on your shelf as a lifetime fixture, but the notion that the book is available and affordable is a significant incentive to make the purchase.

Full article in The Atlantic

Monday, December 13, 2010

How much an ebook holds may not be the right question

I posted a timeline that Microsoft created in 2000 that made predictions about the growth of ebooks over the next 20 years. The prediction for 2010 was: Popular eBook devices weigh eight ounces, run for more than 24 hours, offer beautiful non-backlit displays, are available in flexible/foldable form factors, and hold more books and magazines than most university libraries. They cost less than $100 and are often given away free with the purchase of several books or a magazine subscription.

At they posted a link to my blog post about the Microsoft timeline. In the comments section on Teleread there was this comment: They’re in the ballpark if you use weight and battery life as yardstick. Storage capacity is a horse of a different stripe – boy, were they ever *way* off on that one !

The prediction by Microsoft was that by 2010 ebooks would hold more books and magazines than most university libraries.

There can be some debate about the amount of books in "most university libraries" but from the initial numbers that I have seen university libraries have from 500,000 to a million books. Larger university collections have 2-3 million books. Because we are looking at "most" university libraries we will use the 500,000 number for this discussion. If you go to Amazon they show 557,158 nonfiction ebooks and 241,067 fiction ebooks. The sum of fiction and nonfiction is 798,225 ebooks. One of the first nonfiction books that is displayed on Amazon was a word game for the Kindle. The 798,225 number is going to be high because of Amazon games for the Kindle and duplicate titles and other issues that winnow down the actual count. Trying to be conservative let us assume that the count is off by 200,000. That leaves us with 598,225 ebooks that are available for download to a Kindle. If you have a 3G Kindle you effectively have access within minutes to any of these 598,000 ebooks. In that regard the Microsoft prediction was correct.
I wanted to discuss the comment about what ebooks could hold to get to a larger issue. I think the larger issue is whether people can afford to get to those 598,000 books. Who cares how much your ebook can store if you cannot afford to buy enough ebooks to fill it? The current Kindle will hold around 1500 ebooks in internal memory.  To fill that memory you are going to have to spend around $15,000. 
One of the dangers of ebooks is that people fall for the myth that they are carrying a library when they are carrying an ebook reader. The danger of this is that when people feel they have their own library they no longer feel it is necessary to support their local library. When city and state budgets get tight they say "I have a library in my Kindle. I don't want to pay anymore taxes so lets get rid of the library." The problem is whether the person really has access to as much as they did when they had a physical library to go to? 
I don't bring up this point to demonize ebooks. I bring this up to remind people to honestly assess how much information they actually have access to with an ebook reader. They have as much access as they can afford to purchase. (Granted I am excluding books in the public domain. But many times you need to purchase those also. See: Why Get It Free on Gutenberg When You Can Buy It on Kindle?)
The technology is in place to allow us to have a national digital library. We really need a robust national digital library. If not national maybe we need robust state digital libraries. Underlying idea is that if people want to read and learn the limits should be on how much time they have to read and how much they want to learn not by how much money is in their pocket. I realize this is somewhat pollyannish utopian socialist talk but there are times when we have to reach for big ideas.
Here are two recent articles about that topic. One of them is by David Rothman who founded Teleread.
Why We Can't Afford Not to Create a Well-Stocked National Digital Library System
Can We Create a National Digital Library?

This ebook sponsored by...

There was a recent piece in the WSJ about advertisements in ebooks.

There are mentions of ads on the margins of ebooks and ads at the beginning, middle, and end. Clearly some of these ideas could be disruptive to an immersive reading experience.

There is an idea for advertisements in ebooks that I wish would take off because I would like cheaper ebooks. That idea is sponsorship for ebooks. Take a company that would like to advertise. The Acme Widget Company for example. You go on Amazon to buy an ebook and you see two choices for the ebook. One version is the standard Kindle version and it cost $9.99. There is also an Acme Widget Company version for $5.99. You purchase the Acme version of the book. On your ereader the cover page of the ebook says that it is the Acme Widget version of the book and after the cover there are a few pages explaining some Acme Widget products.

If readers would get a direct price reduction when purchasing an ebook with advertising I don't think many people would object. And if someone does object they can always buy the $9.99 version that has no advertising. The strongest thing about this idea is the goodwill that a company would earn by saving someone money on a book they wanted. I think that some companies would go with the tact of only mentioning their sponsorship on the cover. The act of saving book buyers several dollars at the time of purchase would give many people a positive outlook on the company that just provided the discount for the book they wanted.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Feel Free to Read This Later, on Your Phone

Apps like Instapaper and Flipboard encourage people browsing the Web to save long articles to read later.

Full article in the NYT

Kraft is not spreading joy

Spread a Little Joy is a cookbook by Kraft that is available as a Kindle ebook for $9.99. The cookbook is designed to promote Philadelphia cream cheese. I don't think there will be that many people that will pay to get a marketing piece from Kraft. Actually I can see one reason why Kraft would think this is a good idea. If someone pays $9.99 for the cookbook that they are very likely to go buy some Philly because they just spent good money on the cookbook and as such would likely use some of the recipes. I would think a price like $2.99 might be better because more people would buy the book if the price is cheaper.

Article about the ebook. Excerpt from article: Kraft is launching an eBook to back its Philadelphia cream cheese, another initiative that would have consumers paying for digital marketing material.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Microsoft predictions for ebooks in 2010

In 2000 Microsoft put out a timeline predicting what would happen the next 20 years with ebooks.

The prediction for 2010 was: Popular eBook devices weigh eight ounces, run for more than 24 hours, offer beautiful non-backlit displays, are available in flexible/foldable form factors, and hold more books and magazines than most university libraries. They cost less than $100 and are often given away free with the purchase of several books or a magazine subscription.

The Kindle weighs 8.5 ounces and cost $139 for the cheapest model. Microsoft was in the ballpark of being correct.

Here is the full list of predictions:


2000- Microsoft's Reader software for PCs and laptops ships. Customers buy more than one million eBook titles the first year it is available. 

2002- PCs and eBook devices offer screens that are as sharp as paper, with 200 dpi physical resolution, and an effective resolution of about 500 dpi with ClearType. 

2003- eBook devices weigh less than a pound and run for eight hours on a charge. Costs run from $99 for a simple black and white device to about $899 for the most powerful, color magazine-sized machine. 

2004- The Tablet PC becomes a mainstream option for computing. It is a pad-sized device that supports writing as well as eBook reading, and runs powerful computer applications in a slate form factor. More than half of all eReading is done on PCs and laptops, but dedicated eBooks, handheld machines and now Tablets account for the other half. 

2005- eBook title and ePeriodical sales top $1 billion. Many serial publications are given away free with advertising support that now also totals more than $1 billion. An estimated 250 million people regularly read books and newspapers on their PCs, laptops, and palm machines. 

2006- eNewstands (kiosks) proliferate on street corners, airports, etc. As usual, airlines offer customers old magazines on the flight, but the magazines are now downloaded to eBook devices. 

2008- eBook titles begin to outsell conventional volumes in most countries. The price of a new bestseller title is about $8-$10, but unit sales are much larger than average paper sales for similar titles a decade ago. 

2009- Several top authors now publish directly to their audiences, many of whom subscribe to their favorite authors rather than buy book-by-book. Some authors join genre cooperatives, in which they hold an ownership stake, to cover the costs of marketing, handle group advertising sales and sell "ancillary" (that is, non-electronic) rights, including "paper rights." Major publishing houses survive and prosper by offering authors editing and marketing services, rather than arranging for book printing. Printing firms diversify into eBook preparation and converting old paper titles to electronic formats. 

2010- Popular eBook devices weigh eight ounces, run for more than 24 hours, offer beautiful non-backlit displays, are available in flexible/foldable form factors, and hold more books and magazines than most university libraries. They cost less than $100 and are often given away free with the purchase of several books or a magazine subscription. 

2011- Advances in non-volatile chip storage, including Hitachi's Single Electron terabit chip, allow eBooks to store 4 million books - more than many university libraries - or every newspaper ever printed in America. 

2012- The pulp industry mounts its pro-paper "Real Books" ad campaign, featuring a friendly logger who urges consumers to "Buy the real thing - real books printed on real paper." 

2018- In common parlance, eBook titles are simply called "books." The old kinds are increasingly called "paper books." 

2020- Ninety percent of all titles are now sold in electronic rather than paper form. Webster alters its First Definition of "book" to mean, "a substantial piece of writing commonly displayed on a computer or other personal viewing device.".


Blog post at

We keep asking Do Amazon Reviews Count? and the evidence is mounting that they not only count, but authors and publishers will resort to all kinds of subterfuges to win those quotable five-star reviews – or confer horrendous one-star ones on their competitors.

As to the latter… 

Public Libraries: Back to the Future

Blog post at Brave New World

So we return to today, where we see public spending being increasingly squeezed and public libraries often under funded and under resourced. They are clearly struggling to get to grips with the digital challenges they now face in their, infrastructure, content, lending model, community presence and funding. We may not approve of the Google scanning programme in its commercial objectives, but support it in its social ones. With the return of philanthropy and social conscience, perhaps we should rethink the role and funding of public libraries within a more open public / private mix. Why should we regard borrowing as free? We can all learn from history and although we all often only see but a fraction of the actual facts, there are clear opportunities offered which may help create new; reading rooms, book exchanges and virtual libraries, all free from the public purse, or which at least ease the current burden upon it.

Read full blog post

Local Bookstores, Social Hubs, and Mutualization

Blog post by Clay Shirky

Last month, the American Booksellers Association published an open letter to the Justice Department, asking Justice to investigate Wal-Mart, Target, and Amazon after they lowered prices of best-selling books to under $10. The threat, the ABA says, is dire: “If left unchecked, these predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our collective ability to maintain a society where the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public, and will allow the few remaining mega booksellers to raise prices to consumers unchecked.”

Got that? Lower prices will lead to higher prices, and cheap books threaten to reduce the range of ideas in circulation. And don’t just take the ABA’s word for it. They also quote John Grisham’s agent and the owner of a book store, who both agree that cheap books are a horrible no-good very bad thing. So bad, in fact, that the Department of Justice must get involved, to shield the public from the scourge of affordable reading. (Just for the record, the ABA is also foursquare against ebooks being sold more cheaply than paper books, and thinks maybe Justice should look into that too.)

There may have been some Golden Age of Lobbying, where this kind of hysteria would have had led to public alarm. By now, though, the form is so debauched there’s probably a Word macro for describing competition as a Looming Threat To The Republic. (or The Children, or Civilization Itself. Depends on your audience.)

It’s not surprising that the ABA would write stuff like this — it’s their job to make self-interested claims. What is surprising is that there are members of the urban cognoscenti who still believe these arguments, arguments that made some sense twenty years ago, but have long since stopped doing so.

Full blog post

Friday, December 10, 2010

‘The Master Switch’

Tim Wu’s ambitious history of modern communications posits that information technologies move through a cycle from open to closed systems.

Article in NYT about book

Book: The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Borzoi Books)

City Frowns Upon Use of 'Library' in Chocolate Library Name

Topping the list of surreal news this week, the Times reports that the owner of the newly opened The Chocolate Library—a chocolate store in the East Village—can no longer keel the word "Library" in its name, because the City deems it "misleading."

Full article

Amazon Movers and Shakers

The big mover and shaker for today is: Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words

The book was featured in a story on NPR: Indie Booksellers Pick 2010 Favorites
Sales rank up: 9,186%
Sales rank yesterday was 24,000 and today it was 267.

Google Ebookstore Offers Librarians Limited Use

With this week's launch of Google's online bookstore, school and public libraries now have another way patrons can view children's ebooks—but it's not without some serious limitations.

While the software offers an online catalog that lets users read across multiple devices such as an iPad, Nook, or any computer with Internet connection, it's really geared toward individuals.

Full article at School Library Journal

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Questioning Longitude

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Timeis a book that was first published in the mid-90's.

I read the book and really enjoyed it. Recently I was reading the current reviews for the book on Amazon and there was a review that was very critical of the book. In the critical review there was a cite to an article in the Journal of Navigation (The Royal Institute of Navigation) that questioned the Sobel book. The article is titled: The Age of Sail: A Time when the Fortunes of Nations and Lives of Seamen Literally Turned with the Winds Their Ships Encountered at Sea. You can read the full text of the article here.

Here is the abstract for the article: This paper examines the evidence to support the view that the inability of seamen to determine accurate longitude at sea in sailing ships was a major factor in the loss of ships and crews that was effectively solved by the introduction of the marine chronometer. It concludes that this was not the case and that a more compelling factor for the safety of ships was the introduction of mechanical propulsion systems.

The keywords attached to the record of the article at the Cambridge Journals website are Longitude; Dava Sobel; John Harrison; Sailing Ships. These keywords indicate that the article is specifically questioning the Sobel book. From a library standpoint this got me to thinking about how libraries can best make readers aware of books and articles that question other books and articles. Should this be built into the catalog or is this best left to another tool or system? There are systems to do citation analysis but many of these are coming from the angle of quantifying faculty work for tenure and promotion. See: How Best to Judge Impact in the Digital Age – A View from the Cited Reference Trenches

One problem in this particular case is that this particular article came out almost 15 years after the book was published so even if libraries were making connections between these type of articles and books they could not have connected this article to the book until 2010.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Judge in GSU E-Reserves Case Limits Scope of Trial

A Federal Court in Atlanta has ruled that the contentious copyright case involving e-reserve practices at Georgia State University will go forward, but only on one narrowly drawn claim of contributory infringement. On October 1, Judge Orinda Evans denied all three of the publishers' motions for summary judgment, while granting two of three GSU motions, effectively ending the defendants' exposure for direct and vicarious infringement. The court gave the parties 20 days to come up with a schedule for proceeding to or, perhaps, to settle.

Full story at Publisher's Weekly