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.