Jul 292012

evil Apple As a multinational corporation Apple is many things – a firm that designs and sells consumer electronics, software, personal computers and it’s the largest distributor of digital music. They are also a growing force in eBook sales though a recent action to ban a book due to its mention of Amazon reveals a astonishing degree of unprofessional behavior. It resulted in Doctorow pulling his own works from the iBookstore and for a content distributor their behavior is simply unfathomable .

It’s worth reading Doctorow’s full explanation in boingboing:

Author Holly Lisle has a series of online writing guides that she sells. One volume of this, “How To Think Sideways Lesson 6: How To Discover (Or Create) Your Story’s Market” was rejected by Apple’s iBooks store. At first, Apple told Lisle that she wasn’t allowed to have “live links” to Amazon in her books. So she removed the links and resubmitted the book, and then Apple rejected it again, telling her that they wouldn’t sell her book because it mentioned Amazon, a competitor of its iBooks store.

But I also will not deal with this sort of head-up-ass behavior from a distributor. You don’t tell someone “The problem is the live links,” and then, when that person has complied with your change request and removed the live links, turn around and say, “No, no. The problem is the CONTENT. You can’t mention Amazon in your lesson.

This is not professional behavior from a professional market.

And cold moment of truth here—you cannot write a writing course that includes information on publishing and self-publishing and NOT mention Amazon. It’s the place where your writers are going to make about 90% of their money.

So I’m pulling ALL my work from the iBookstore today. I apologize to iBookstore fans. I tried. Hard.

But I’m done. 


Jun 122012

Guy Laramee - Browns BibleSince the book has fallen from grace, having become a target of the digital era, artists have been turning them into art pieces, particularly sculpture. Granted, the medium is a bit limited – how many ways can you carve a rectangular block of tightly packed sheets of bound paper? – but this work by Guy Laramee stands out above the rest.

Of course, there will always be a place for printed books – we just haven’t figured out where. The horse and buggy are still around, plodding through Central Park and making good on the tourist trade. One suspects the book has a brighter future than as curiosities for those in the future with a need to experience of an historical artifact, but where that place is has yet to be determined. It depends in large part on how eBooks develop and if we can address DRM issues.

But for now, we have the digital version, the printed book, and a few that artists have remade into objects of art.  You can see more of Laramee’s work at the artist’s site. Via Kottke.

May 302012

Momentum BooksA welcome bit of good news on the DRM (digital right management) front from Momentum Books,  Pan Macmillan’s digital-only imprint in Australia. All Momentum titles will be DRM-free by the end of the summer. According to Momentum Books’s blog, the imprint was setup to experiment and try out innovation delivery solutions. And as everyone who has read an eBook knows, DRM gets in the way of legitimate uses of digital texts despite the reality of piracy.

Momentum is connected to Tor in the United States and the United Kingdom, the latter company having made the same move. From Momentum’s press release:

John Birmingham, who will be publishing a series of novellas with Momentum in late 2012 said, ‘Every book I’ve ever published in electronic format has been pirated. Every single one. And they all had DRM. It didn’t protect me from piracy and it won’t protect publishing in general. The best protection is to make your work as easily accessible as possible, everywhere, all at once, at the same, reasonable price. Is it possible? Nobody really knows, but we’re gonna give it a hell of a shake to find out.’

Nathan Farrugia, whose bestselling novel The Chimera Vector was released by Momentum in May, said, ‘One of the main reasons I signed with Momentum was their willingness to ditch DRM – something that very few other publishers would do. But I think if pirates are better at distributing your ebooks than you are, then you’re doing it wrong. The best way for publishers to fight piracy is with convenience. I’m excited to see Momentum HULK SMASH DRM. 

Part of that quote is worth repeating  - indeed, it should become a mantra for those in the publishing industry:

. . . if pirates are better at distributing your ebooks than you are, then you’re doing it wrong. 

I’m not sure what the ultimate solution will be but I do know that the current arrangement does little to stop piracy and a lot to limit the use of eBooks. This is a breath of fresh air in an industry that too often seem incapable of innovation. One can only hope the experiment works.

May 222012

Waterstone's bookseller Cuts Innovative Deal with AmazonThere’s been no letup in the pressure on bookstores with the continued growth of eBooks, but Waterstone’s, the largest bookseller in the UK is taking a different approach. Cutting a deal with Amazon, Waterstone’s will refurbish stores, create dedicated areas for digital books, add cafes and free wireless access and - sell Amazon Kindles.

You might wonder if this is a last gasp of a dying business/delivery model, or if Waterstone’s is pursuing an innovative approach that acknowledges the future omnipresence of eBooks in a highly digital environment. According to BBC News:

As well as selling the Kindle device, Waterstones will allow Kindle users to digitally browse books and take advantage of Waterstones’ special offers.

In a statement, James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said: “The best digital readers, the Kindle family, will be married to the singular pleasures of browsing a curated bookshop.”

Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder and chief executive, said: “Waterstones is the premier High Street bookseller and is passionate about books and readers – a dedication that we share deeply.”

Analysts say that Waterstones has little choice but to ally itself with Amazon.

“If readers are increasingly downloading books, then it is better for Waterstones to embrace that behaviour than to try and work round it,” said Douglas McCabe from Enders Analysis, told the BBC.

“Kindle has a massive market share of digital book reading in the UK, and Waterstones will start to take a cut of it.

“However, for all its success, Amazon does not have a solution for ‘discovery’ in physical or digital [books] that even comes close to the merchandising skills inside a branch of Waterstones,” Mr McCabe added. 

No choice or a creative move? To me, the most striking part of this project is not the word “eBook” but the phrase: “the singular pleasures of browsing a curated bookshop.”  The idea that the selection offered within the physical spaces of Waterstones is “curated” is important – we don’t often hear that term used in the context of a bookseller.

Like traditional print media, bookstores need to rethink what they do well and what they can offer in a highly digital environment. What is the value of the physical space? What might you sell that the eBook reader cannot deliver within its current technology?  Perhaps you might sell eBooks, coffee, space for conversation, and a unique selection of physical books. Don’t sell – curate.

Of course, once you head down the path of innovation, you also need to rethink what your employees should be doing. For a bookseller, you want a well-read staff with people skills because you’re now hiring curators. And maybe they should get something more than minimum wage. And do something other than stand behind the cash register. Waterstone’s may have taken an initial innovative step, but they probably should take a stroll over to an Apple store and look at their self-checkout process. Break the mold if you want to survive.

Apr 112012

eBooks - possible lawsuit against AppleUPDATE (04/11/2012): Bloomberg News is reporting that the Justice Department has filed suit against Apple and the five book publishers in New York District Court today.

The Justice Department investigation into price-fixing by Apple and major book publishers may break on Wednesday, with settlements for book publishers and a lawsuit against Apple. No details available late Tuesday night, but the situation is moving rapidly.

From Reuters:

The Justice Department is investigating whether deals Apple cut two years ago with the quintet of major publishers – when the consumer electronics maker launched its iPad tablet computer – were done with the intent of propping up prices for digital books, sources have said.

As part of those agreements, publishers shifted to a model that allowed them to set the price of e-Books and give Apple a 30 percent cut of sales, the sources have said.

Talks between the Justice Department and some publishers had been proceeding, with settlements expected as soon as this week, one of the two sources familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity, because the discussions were not public.

The question of price-fixing is a complicated issue with Apple and others arguing their current arrangement has enhanced competition by breaking the lock that Amazon had on the eBook market. Most physical books have a wholesale price set by the publisher and retailers can charge whatever they want. Under Steve Jobs, Apple persuaded publishers to adopt an “agency model” where they set the price and Apple or other retailers take 30% of the total.

Price-fixing happens everywhere, but it’s largely behind the scenes – “gentlemen’s agreements” if you will. But Apple and the major publishers may have taken this just a step too far. The original deal surely helped get the iPad off the ground, but now that the device is in the stratosphere, what started out as a boost for a fledgling market now looks more like corporate control in a maturing one.

Apple will have a difficult time navigating this one as they don’t want to undermine their revenue stream. They also want to protect their “most-favored-nation” status that requires publishers to offer Apple the lowest price they would give to any other retailer. It’s possible that a judge may rule in a way that would not mean the end of the agency model, but it is quite likely that a ruling would require that Apple rewrite its contracts and accept the fact that another retailer could undersell them. The current market regulations were designed for another era and we are clearly moving into uncharted territory here. One thing is very clear – eBook prices are way to high.


Dec 312011


Nicholas Carr wraps up the year with a beautiful mediation on electronic books, exploring both the positive and the negative aspects. The benefits of course are obvious: eBooks can be updated at will, and the “endless malleability” of the text means that it is no long a prisoner of time, locked to its publication date. New research can be incorporated, guidebooks are never out of date, and in the end, the book will be more responsive to readers (as publishers can push out revisions based on the initial reaction).

From the digital perspective there would seem to be no downside to the eBook and electronic publishing in general, but Carr points out some of the challenges of no longer having a fixed text and the ways it might be abused politically and otherwise:

The ability to alter the contents of a book will be easy to abuse. School boards may come to exert even greater influence over what students read. They’ll be able to edit textbooks that don’t fit with local biases. Authoritarian governments will be able to tweak books to suit their political interests. 

Genius that Gutenberg was, it is – as it always has been with innovations – the unintended consequences that leave their real mark on society. He gave us fixity and the possibility of a “reliable record” in science and history (though the writing of the latter has always been more complex than its superficial stability would have us conclude). The man who helped bring about the end of the Middle Ages with movable type uncorked a genie in a bottle that did much more than grant the immediate wish at hand.

When Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type a half-millennium ago, he also gave us immovable text. Before Gutenberg, books were handwritten by scribes, and no two copies were exactly the same. Scribes weren’t machines; they made mistakes. With the arrival of the letterpress, thousands of identical copies could enter the marketplace simultaneously. The publication of a book, once a nebulous process, became an event. . . .

Beyond giving writers a spur to eloquence, what the historian Elizabeth Eisenstein calls “typographical fixity” served as a cultural preservative. It helped to protect original documents from corruption, providing a more solid foundation for the writing of history. It established a reliable record of knowledge, aiding the spread of science. It accelerated the standardization of everything from language to law. The preservative qualities of printed books, Ms. Eisenstein argues, may be the most important legacy of Gutenberg’s invention. 


And so now we enter a new world, a world perpetual editing, of texts that are endlessly fluid, never fixed in time. It’s a fascinating development, a bit retro in that we are returning to the problems faced by a pre-Gutenberg world, a world where individual scribes constituted the “publication” industry and no two works were identical:

 As electronic books push paper ones aside, movable type seems fated to be replaced by movable text. 

Much is gained just as something is lost. And if I may add to Carr’s own conclusions, we will learn to adjust, but doing so will require something not addressed in his essay – the skills of the reader. If the mode of delivery will affect the nature of text itself, so too will the skills of readers need to be different. We are still teaching in a way that is largely premised on the fixity of texts, using an educational system designed for an entirely different era. Entering a world of movable text, we will need, if you will, “movable readers”, nimble, flexible readers who understand text as a fluid process, and learn to interpret and draw conclusions through the fluidity itself and not through a deceptive fixity. It’s not the changing nature of the book that scares me; but the unchanging nature of the reader – or rather our unchanging ways of educating readers.

As slowly as they seem to evolve, eBooks and electronic publishing are moving much more rapidly than our own digital literacy skills are progressing.

Nov 302011

At long last – “Fahrenheit 451″ will be digital.

Ray Bradbury, “one of the last bastions against the digital age,” has finally caved in according to the Guardian and agreed to digital publication of his classic work, “Fahrenheit 451″, authorizing an eBook edition.

Up to now, Bradbury had erected his own Chinese Wall against everything digital, saying to the New York Times back in 2009 that ebooks “smell like burnt fuel” and that when Yahoo had approached him about a digital version, he responded:

They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the internet. It’s distracting . . . . It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.

Sounds like a couple of curmudgeon old faculty that I worked with not that long ago.

Well, that thing “in the air” has won out, no doubt helped by the fact that publisher Simon & Schuster offered a seven figure book deal. With the digital editions projected to make 20% of the sales, the deal would have fallen through without it.

Ray BradburyFahrenheit 451″ is one of a kind, having sold over 10 million copies since it was first published in 1953. It has deeply influenced so many of us and stands as a classic statement of freedom and the value of the written word.

And I love the fact that Bradbury has been such a strong supporter of libraries – he never went to college and this particular book was written on a pay typewriter in the basement of the UCLA Library. As he says:

Libraries raised me . . . I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years. 

I love all the technology at my disposal and, yes, I feel helpless when it goes down. And yet he did this book on a pay typewriter. This somewhat eccentric and cranky old man is a reminder of the power of the written word, and that content is still everything.


Fahrenheit 451 Original Cover

Original Cover

Ray, don’t fear. I won’t let anyone light a match to my digital version of “Fahrenheit 451″, and yes, I get the point of the original cover art by Joseph Mugnaini and Joe Pernaciaro – when books are burned it is really ourselves that are torched. But honestly, I think it (and all books) just might be safer in digital form. I know there are preservation and access issues with the latter (some Dickensonian spirit right now is whispering in a low voice SOPA . . . SOPA . . .  SOPA in my ear), but the more forms through which we communicate ideas – physical and digitally – the better.

The forces of secrecy and repression are alive and well in 2011 – just as they were when you wrote this five decades ago. But as the Arab Spring has shown, it’s very hard to suppress an idea when it’s transmitted digitally, when it lives, to lift from your words . . . in the air somewhere.

Oct 102011

Since last April, the Kindle has topped physical books in sales on Amazon and with the Kindle Fire, the ecosystem will continue to expand. More remarkably for a device introduced in 2007, this has taken place while the sales of printed books have continued to expand rapidly for Amazon in the current Recession. But with the new Kindle Fire on the market and older models facing price cuts, expect digital books to far exceed traditional book sales on Amazon (and elsewhere). The eBook market has not resolved all the issues at stake, but the format has finally hit a convenience threshold. And of course, the introduction of the iPad (03 April 2010) has had something to do with this as over 30 million are now in the hands of consumers.

And Microsoft? They announced in August that Microsoft Reader will be discontinued  in August 2012. With the rapid pace of innovation, a program designed for reading on computers and Pocket PC’s as simply left behind

The graphic below from Dan Frommer says it all:

Amazon Kindle Growth Rate

Amazon Kindle Growth Rate

Jun 012011

Now that Book Expo America has wrapped up its 2011 convention at the Javits Center in New York one thing is clear, nearly everything will not be as predicted. The rapidly changing book publishing environment can be highlighted through some of the following points:

  • Apple’s iBookstore was predicted to do much better than it has. And while everyone loves the iPad, the reality is that Apple has only 10% of the eBook market while Amazon has over 60%, or put another way, a 150,000 titles compared to 950,000 for the Kindle Store. What makes this remarkable is that while the iPad has “only” sold around 20 million units, iBookstore is available on over a 160 million devices when you include iPhones and iPods.
  • Amazon is moving into publishing (both paperback and digital) with the recent hiring of the former head of Time Warner Books, Larry Kirshbaum, a veteran of the publishing world. The announcement that they are looking for office space and hiring an editorial team suggests that other publishers may be faced with the paradoxical position of competing with one of their major retailers for author contracts. A piece in the New York Observer nicely sums up the general feeling:

Amazon managed to do what it had done so many times before: give traditional publishing houses an anxiety attack.

  • Others in the publishing world are more worried about Liberty Media’s bid for Barnes and Noble, especially since Liberty’s John Malone seems only interested in the Nook and not the retail stores. Barnes and Noble has been seen as the only player in the industry that has perfected a balance between digital books and physical bookstores (though people forget that the fact that they are on the selling block suggests that the solution is tentative at best).
  • eBooks are now running 15-20% of total book sales, having doubled in the past year. And yet, while there is concern about the Barnes and Noble stores, and everyone knows what has become of Borders, many at the Expo seemed upbeat about the survival of independent bookstores – or perhaps we should say, what is left of them.
  • Finally, the textbook publishers seem to be bringing up the rear of the wagon train, if they are even on the same path. Initiatives are underway at some colleges and universities but what remains a lucrative market with a captive audience (yes, the ideal marketplace from a publisher’s standpoint as buyers are forced to make purchases) brings little incentive for innovation. One small bit of news: the digital publishing company Aptara has signed an agreement with Inkling to create rich media textbooks that include interactive diagrams and runs in multiple formats (iPad, Kindle, ePub, etc.). About time.