Thursday, April 12. 2012
What an eBook would look like if it was physical. What is missing is the big "Rented" sign on it....
There is a very interesting situation developing developing with eBooks in the USA - Matthew Ingram at GigaOm sums it up well:
As expected, the Department of Justice launched an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and several of the major book publishers on Wednesday, alleging collusion and price-fixing behavior on e-books as a result of the “agency pricing” model. As my colleagues Jeff Roberts and Laura Owen have reported, three of the publishers named in the suit have decided to settle while two have chosen to fight the charges, and the states have jumped into the fray as well. The argument from publishers is that they need to be able to set prices on e-books, because otherwise Amazon will increase its monopoly and decimate the book industry. So who should we be rooting for, the giant electronic retailer or the giant publishing houses?:
This echoes an interesting debate at the FT Digital media Conference a few weeks ago, where a panel discussion was held on just this topic, Tim Hely-Hutchison, the CEO of Hachette made the following points:
So you can see this as anti-trust, or as anti-anti-trust, just as easily (Adam Tinworth liveblogged the panel session over here).
Clearly the book industry is determined to avoid music's fate, and determined not to be screwed by one dominant supply chain. Now I think these disruptive technologies must be left to disrupt in part, but I hope the US DoJ looks at the "anti-anti trust" issues of handing supply to one or two dominant players, and ensures that it doesnt inadvertently tip us from Publisher oligopoly to Amazon/Apple monopoly.
But eBooks still have a bigger strategic problem in my view, around DRM and the restrictions in usage. As one panelist demonstrrted by showing a paper book with a big padlock on it (as in the picture above) and pointing out you don't own the Ebook you buy, you rent it - and you can't read it and can't share it if its owner doesn't want you to. That is going to continue to drive piracy no matter who wins.
Thursday, September 29. 2011
Before the Kindle Fire was launched I was thinking it would be less a rival for the iPad and more a rival for other Android tablets. Now I think it is a really effective rival for the iPad. Amazon have out Apple'd Apple through effective implementation of the "less is more" philosophy and Apple finally have serious competition in the tablet space. The answer to one simple question will worry Apple more than anything else and illustrates why, to my mind at least, Amazon are about to pull off a great success;
"Which is the more techie device ?"
The answer for tablets pre-Fire was never iPad. Now it is.
Amazon have also, for me, illustrated why Apple are right in their complaints about Samsung copying. Here is a company who have come along, analyzed the problem and thought carefully about how they can best leverage their assets to serve the market. It will be a success precisely because they have learned key lessons from Apple and applied them intelligently. Amazon have attacked an internally consistent and coherent portion of the tablet Use Case that also happens to be the most significant Use Case for tablets as a whole; Content consumption. The result is something unique and effective, an always open portable shop for content be it games, books, music, movies or apps. They have recognised, according to the "less is more philosophy," if you look at how tablets are actually used, you better serve the majority of user time by taking "iTunes" or the online store, and expanding it to be not just the centre of the OS but the whole of the OS. They have played to their strengths and asset base made the OS the centre point for loading and consuming content. iOS by contrast fragments the buy and "consume content" use-case across a number of areas of the OS (most noticeably dividing iTunes and iPod). The Fire illustrates iOS has perhaps a little more old school PC centric thinking than even Apple realized. I'm pretty sure Steve Jobs will be highly respectful of what Amazon have unveiled and achieved - something that can't be said of his other tablet rivals.
Tuesday, October 12. 2010
One of the things I have felt, from the inception of online books, is that reading 300+ pages of a novel is too damn hard on them - in my view they are for snack sized media - a good academic paper, a short story or so. Every medium has its "optimal" mode and this - in my view - is the eBook's. Thus it is with some interest I read about Kindle Singles:
Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch "Kindle Singles"--Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today's announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.
"Priced less than an average book" is interesting - in my view full length e-Books should be priced less than an average book, I think the industry is still music c 2000.
Of course, 100+ years ago writers such as Dickens were serialised in much smaller chunks than their full tome novels. For those interested in applying for this newest of New Mediums, you can register interest over here.
Kindle Singles also puts me in mind of the digital version of "dating by cruising the bookstore" - I'm sure one can build (ahem) Yet Another Social Network for this - a sort of literary lovegety
Sunday, December 27. 2009
SAI notes that more Kindle e-Books were sold on Amazon on Xmas day than real books:
On Christmas, the company sold more Kindle books than physical books.
Actually, whats more amazing is that punters will pay those prices for them, but, to paraphrase PT Barnum, there's an early adopter born every minute.... The bit I find amusing though is that the economics of an e-Book are lousy for Amazon - following the above link leads to this analysis:
Amazon accounts for about half of US e-reader sales currently and is losing money selling e-books. Here is how:
Given that, like CD's and Newsprint, a large % of the cost of a paper book is physical production and distribution, its amazing that publishers have managed to keep those prices up.
Like CD's and Newsprint, this is not sustainable longer term however, there is a limit to the suck...er, I mean early adopters. Not only that, but publishers already de-risk book sales by the remaindering system (unsold books are not charged for and are sent back at publishers' expense) and Amazon de-risks physical delivery by making the user pay extra.
I suspect in a year or so we will hear the loud wails of book publishers joining the music and news choir's refrain that the Internet is ruining their livelihood, when its clear that a lot of the reasons are self-inflicted. But its not as if they haven't had ample warning, after all music publishing hit this issuel in about 2005.
Friday, December 11. 2009
Kat "Clash City Rocker" Hannaford in Gizmodo has it in for e-Readers - she does a rather good fisk on their well documented major shortcomings, ie overpriced books and DRM worries:
Such shock that a proto punk would defend books - its a mixed up world Anyway, her argument on the death (or at least ongoing zombie status) of th e-Reader is that a combination of poor pricing and good enough other devices will see them off:
So, 3 comments and 2 predictions:
Now, the predictions:
- e-Readers will run alongside books, not replace them. When we did our research on the e-Reader market for Plastic Logic 2 years ago, we came to the conclusion that the major early market would be "road warriors" who would use the e-Reader to ensure they didn't need a second man bag to carry all their papers. It will be some time that they move out of this market and hit mass market price points - and even when this happens, history tells us that new technologies take some of the market away but usually co-exist
(Update - see Moore's Law vs Learning Curve discussion in Chris Edwards' comment and my replay - I used a 75% learning curve to get to 5% of the cost in 10 years)
And Kat shows a stunning lack of sensitivity to all us fusty techies when she says:
You mean I've been storing my Sinclair Spectrum in vain? (I note an interesting trend among teens to start listening to vinyl LP's again, so there's a future in the past)
* Disclosure - we worked on the early day specification of the Plastic Logic e-Reader
Saturday, July 18. 2009
One of the risks of owning digital media is that in many cases the supplier's hidden claw is there long after purchase. This was made obvious when people realised that there was a reproduction limit on the number of times they could move their own (paid for) copy of iTunes songs, and was really brought to the fore when Microsoft and Google turned off DRM on media services, rendering a whole lot of (paid for) collections useless and offering scant recompense (See our coverage here).
The obvious conclusion there was don't buy digital music through any form of proprietary system - if you pirate it, or buy CD's it stays yours.
Next up in the digital media own goal stakes is the Amazon Kindle, which has turned off hundreds of users' (paid for) copies of George Orwell's books. Gloriously ironic, as the EFF notes:
In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the protagonist Winston Smith labors in obscurity to make information appear and disappear at the whims of the Ministry of Truth:
It would appear the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition of Orwell's books, and according to the NYT apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved in.
Lesson for anybody that wants to learn it is don't buy a Kindle, either buy the book in (uncancellable) paper or pull it off the 'Net and put it on your PC/IPod/etc where it stays safe. By the way, the prices of eBooks vs their costs make music prices look positively tame.
Thursday, September 11. 2008
Plastic Logic e-Reader
Its great when you can talk about work you have done, and great companies you have worked with. Too often in cutting edge tech work, the NDA's are pretty constrictive. Anyway, this week Plastic Logic unveiled its next generation e-Reader, using flexible pages. There is a video of it over here from DEMOfall.
As the article we've linked to notes, however:
Other bloggers have overreacted somewhat by predicting that the Plastic Logic reader will kill the Kindle, but that isn't going to happen. There's more to providing a good e-book experience than industrial design. The Kindle is very well supported by Amazon, and it has that unique free-forever wireless-data link. But if Plastic Logic can find a partner with ties to the publishing industry and solve the wireless problem, the result would be a serious challenge to Amazon.
Exactly - the lesson, from the iPod onwards, is that the end device needs to be supported by an end to end supply chain to capture maximum value. I'm sure Plastic Logic is well aware of this. But, having seen the technology in action, all we can say to anyone contemplating buying an e-Reader is check these ones and maybe wait till they come out.
(Update - from Drew Benvie's blog a link to El Reg talking about a toaster that acts like a printer. Seems like a very similar space to our work on e-Readers really. Prompts the thought - will Plastic Logic make plates, shower curtains and the like that one can read? )
Thursday, August 14. 2008
In recent weeks there has been quite a lot of puff about the Amazon Kindle being the "iPod for Books" - this piece by Jack Schofield in the Grauniad punctures that to an extent:
Yes, but perhaps only after it becomes a newspaper reader. One of the drawbacks with today's ebook readers is the price of the hardware, which ranges up to £400. Even after this year's $40 price cut, Amazon's ebook reader, the Kindle, costs $359. Not many people buy enough books to recoup the cost. However, if it could replace a printed newspaper, regular readers could probably recover the hardware cost in a few months - or they might be given one free.
What surprises me is that its even got this far - this generation of e-Readers are still pretty hard to read and are expensive to buy. Also, as Jack says, there is not a body of low cost books to read - book pricing for e-Books still has not nearly discounted the move from physical products. After looking at the plastic ink e-Readers now in development (disclosure - we have done work with the next generation e-Readers), I think I'll pass for now.
Friday, June 6. 2008
Article in the NYT re the inexorable rise of the eBook, Kindle style. Its worth linking to for this quote alone:
Do you remember what it was like back in the old days when we had a New Economy? In the 1990s, jobs were abundant, oil was cheap and information technology was about to change everything.
I suspect we will find that The New Economy 2.0 will have its own share of stars of fraud and flop.
However, I do take issue with some other thoughts in the article. Firstly, this:
In 1994, one of those gurus, Esther Dyson, made a striking prediction: that the ease with which digital content can be copied and disseminated would eventually force businesses to sell the results of creative activity cheaply, or even give it away. Whatever the product — software, books, music, movies — the cost of creation would have to be recouped indirectly: businesses would have to “distribute intellectual property free in order to sell services and relationships.”
Except that it is not a "free" transfer from goods to relationships - as we explained in our articles in FreeConomics Part I and Part II, if your free lunch is usually being paid for by offset funding, and / or by your data being chained up, there is a price to pay. What is often forgotten in the "rush to free" discussion is that by and large, if another piper is paying, they will want to call the tune at some point. That bit of the bargain is too often neglected by the Freeconomists - but not by Ms Dyson, I note .
Also, making money from T shirts as a famous band (with all that Big Label spend gone in already) like the Grateful Dead is one thing - being further down the Long Tail means its a lot tougher, and this has become clearer in the interim as the network power law has just allowed the rich to get richer.
The scary thing is I find myself arguing these economics with the NYT author who is none other than Paul Krugman. Hmmmm. Second thing I'd take issue with is this thought:
According to a report in The Times, the buzz at this year’s BookExpo America was all about electronic books. Now, e-books have been the coming, but somehow not yet arrived, thing for a very long time. (There’s an old Brazilian joke: “Brazil is the country of the future — and always will be.” E-books have been like that.) But we may finally have reached the point at which e-books are about to become a widely used alternative to paper and ink.
Not the bit about eBooks being the perpetual next year's technology (along with the mobile internet), but the bit about the Kindle replacing books. I don't buy it (literally).
We've done a lot of work on e-Readers in the last two years or so, and there are 2 things that they are still struggling with:
(i) The kindle generation is still too small creen and not natural light enough for most people to find reading an easy pleasure. A few road warriors reading papers they'd otherwise have to read on laptops yes, the mass market - unlikely yet according to our analysis. We need to await the next generation of displays
(ii) Price point - not just of the Kindle, but of total (legal) ownership. Despite the price cut, its still $359.00. And the reduction in price of the average books in eBook form is - according to the Amazon Kindle site for say Clay Shirky's "Here Comes Everybody" - a whopping great reduction apparently from S25.95 to $15.42 - except that elsewhere on the Amazon site the actual book is only $17.43 Hardcover. Somehow a $2.00 reduction for a zero dead tree edition does not seem to be that great a deal. I need a lot of those to (c 180 in fact) to justify the $360 outlay!
Unless you were thinking of going to BitTorrent for Clay's book, which we could not condone as that, after all, is Piracy. Or the inevitable future, as Esther Dyson would have it ?
Better get started printing those T Shirts, Clay
Friday, April 4. 2008
e-Book Readers don't stand a chance, sez C:net:
I apologise in advance, but this is making me grumpy because it is so adamant a post, and yet shows a level of disregard of both the economics and the emerging technology that makes me think the author is not that familiar with the latest developments in the field.
We did a piece of work last year on the future of e-Books and e-Readers for Plastic Logic, a manufacturer of state of the art plastic paper, and if you look at the trajectory of that technology you know that its coming over the next few years. The Kindle is 5 year old technology (at least) re-hashed, but the next generation is a different thing entirely.
As for the economics, this is classical, well, classical thinking.
An e-Book doesn't need to be manufactured so will sell for less than a paper book (and let us not mention bitTorrent), and many of the early use cases will be pro-sumers and corporate types where its not a book, but a pad with X'00 papers and magazines to read on business trips etc,
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