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Posts Tagged ‘publisher’

Competition is healthy. Up to now, Amazon and their Kindle have dominated the E-Book market. Barnes & Noble made two exciting announcements on Monday that will pump new life and energy into the E-Book market. Barnes & Noble Makes a Big Splash Into E-books (Melissa J. Perenson, PC World, Jul 20, 2009 4:40 pm).

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B&N opened their eBookstore on Monday, July 20. All new releases and bestsellers will be priced at $9.99. The virtual shelves add the half-million free public domain ebooks available from Google to B&N’s own stock of 200,000 titles. That’s a lot of books. Not as many as Amazon’s 300,000 Kindle titles, but B&N expects their inventory to top one million titles within the next year.

Todd Weiss, in his PC World article, hopes B&N will get it right and learn from what he calls “Kindle mistakes.” Barnes & Noble: Please Avoid These Kindle Mistakes, (Todd R. Weiss, PC World, Jul 21, 2009 10:11 am).

When you buy an E-book from B&N, it’s yours. You won’t be held hostage to a device. All their books will be in the ePub format and yes they will be DRM protected, but once you purchase a book from them, it’s yours. If you need another copy, all you need do is log in and download. I’ve had a fictionwise account (B&N acquired fictionwise earlier this year) for years and it works well. Content from B&N won’t be tied to their e-reader like Amazon locks people into the Kindle and that’s a good thing.

The ereader coming from B&N is next generation and has me excited. B&N is partnering with Plastic Logic and the device will be available early next year. The new reader uses plastic transistors! It’s thin, it’s light, it will hold thousands of books and it’s 8 1/2 x 11. Plastic Logic says their reader is primarily intended for business users and that’s great because you’ll be able to load the reader with PDF, excel, Word, and other common file formats.

Push buttons to navigate the reader? Nope, it’s touchscreen all the way and has a built in file management system to make life easy for the user. The Kindle is just a reader and proprietary at that. The Plastic Logic reader is a document management system, an electronic storage and reading device and it’s next generation. Sorry Todd, but no backlight. Then again, how many printed books are backlit?

Plastic Logic Demos E-Book Reader With WiFi , 3G
(Ian Paul, PC World, May 28, 2009 8:40 am). I want one. No price announced as yet, but B&N will have to compete with the Kindle on price. They win on features. War or healthy competition? We’ll all benefit from B&N’s move into the E-Book marketplace. The market should expand (I bet it explodes over the next few years) and that’s a good thing for readers and writers alike. Plastic Logic is hard at work on a color version. This is exciting indeed.

Update. Zack Urlocker of Infoworld, thinks Barnes & Noble’s new eBookstore lacks significance. Can Barnes & Noble — or Anyone — Dislodge Kindle? B&N and Plastic Logic are doing more than getting out there and creating noise Zack. This is anything but a me too strategy.

The Kindle is only good for reading Amazon’s proprietary ebook format. OK, you can read PDF files too but you have to jump through hoops to install a PDF. What else does the Kindle do? I wouldn’t drop one, the glass might break.

Plastic Logic’s device is next generation and will store common business formats. The owner is in charge of their own reader, not the vendor. All of Barnes & Noble’s titles are being issued in the ePub format and can be read on just about every electronic device with a screen. You buy an E-Book from B&N and you own it. They won’t snatch it back in the middle of the night either.

Me too? Nope. Amazon wants to control the market. B&N and Plastic Logic are betting on people, an open market and real innovation. The Kindle in it’s present form is a dead end.

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Can you see the irony? Amazon removed Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Animal Farm” from customer Kindles this week. Amazon sends Orwell to ‘memory hole’ (AFP) July 18, 2009. Sucked into a black hole and gone without a trace. An Amazon spokesman said the books were removed because the publisher didn’t have reproduction rights. Whoops.

BlackHole

Black Hole -- NASA concept drawing

Amazon Removes E-Books From Kindle Store, Revokes Ownership, by Melissa J. Perenson, PC World, Jul 17, 2009 8:08 pm, compares physical and digital purchases, copy protection and wonders if we are truly purchasing digital content.

My concern isn’t so much what Amazon did, but that they can. Amazon said the system would be changed so “books would not be erased in fututre.” So they say, but they still can. Amazon’s control of copy protected Kindle e-books reaches right into the homes of Kindle owners. They can visit silently in the dead of night and wirelessly remove anything they want. They did it because they could.

Will Amazon do it again? Do purchasers really own their Kindles? Do they own the e-books they purchase? What else can Amazon do with your their Kindle?

When you buy a physical book, you own it. You can read it, write in the margins, lend it to a friend, lose it…  You paid for the book. It’s yours.

What kind of signals will Amazon’s actions send to their customers? How about prospective customers? You’d have to think twice before forking over $299 for a device that you have little or no control over and content that might disappear into thin air.

Some e-books are more equal than others? When someone buys an e-book, they should have all the rights of ownership. They don’t when e-books are crippled with DRM copy protection. What are publishers afraid of? Why do they treat paying customers as potential thieves?

I’m glad this happened. Events like this show the true colors of copy protection and closed system reading devices. I trust people to be honest. My forthcoming e-book will have ZERO copy protection. Most people will do the right thing. They don’t need to be insulted and hamstrung. They buy the e-book, they own it. How hard is that?

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Publishers carry on about Amazon and E-Book pricing. They worry about E-Books cannibalizing sales of their printed hardcover editions. Amazon drops the price of the Kindle to below $300 for the first time. Publishers, who have always controlled the market, are losing their publishing and distribution monopoly. Amazon wants to take their place and dictate E-Book pricing and make the Kindle the dominant ereader.

"Gustave Doré's illustrations to Dante's Inferno, Plate LXV: Canto XXXI: The titans and giants. "This proud one wished to make experiment / Of his own power against the Supreme Jove" (Longfellow)" is the image of the day (July 15, 2009) on Wikimedia Commons.

"Gustave Doré's illustrations to Dante's Inferno, Plate LXV: Canto XXXI: The titans and giants. "This proud one wished to make experiment / Of his own power against the Supreme Jove" (Longfellow)" is the image of the day (July 15, 2009) on Wikimedia Commons.

The true titans and giants of the written word are authors, readers and the Internet marketplace. Publishers owned the presses and controlled the distribution of their printed books. They chose the writers who would be published and set the prices readers would have to pay. Amazon is trying to do the same thing with their aggressive pricing and kindle monopoly.

It can’t work long term. Writers have all the tools they need to publish their works without the need for publishers. Readers won’t be herded into accepting still another proprietary electronic device just to read books crippled with ridiculous copy protection schemes.

Innovative display technologies are in the pipeline now. Remember the floppy disk? Who buys CRT monitors these days? How long will the Kindle remain on the cutting edge? Not as long as Amazon hopes.

Once writers and readers realize that their chains have fallen away
and their prison doors are open, they will come together without the intervention of the middlemen. The greatest market we’ve ever seen, the Internet, driven by The Long Tail, will decide who will be read and how much they will earn for their efforts. And that’s a good thing for writers and readers — the true titans and giants of the written word.

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“How to Create & Publish Your E-Book Using Free Tools” is coming along nicely. Chapter four is nearly finished. I’m pulling myself up with my own bootstraps, so the book itself becomes a showcase for what you can do with the tools I use and recommend. I’m plowing discoveries and research back into the book as I go for a truly iterative process.

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Here’s a graphic of the cover I plan on using. I designed it myself using the same tools I’ll be describing in my book. Once I complete Chapter four, I’m going to up-load the draft as a PDF on a special page on The Aware Writer blog and invite my readers to download their own copy with the understanding that they will be getting an incomplete first draft. There’s a lot of meat in the first chapters, enough to get you started in self-publishing.

I’ve been doing a lot of research into E-books, ereaders, DRM (Digital Rights Management aka copy protection), copyright, what it means to “own” a book and more. Copy protection is dumber than dirt and it pisses me off. I’ll be using unprotected PDF files so people won’t need to buy a special reader to view the book and they won’t be restricted in any way.

How far am I willing to take sharing? I’ll probably put the final version of my book up for sale at a nominal price on another website, but I’m going to make the book freely available here on The Aware Writer for all of my loyal readers.

When will the draft be available? Well, I’ll try to get the file uploaded within the next week. I’ll keep you posted.

I’ve written a lot about publishers and content aggregators and how they take advantage of writers. I’m convinced we can bypass the gatekeepers and reach our readers without their help. Self-publishing our own E-books is one way to do this. Want to join me in this adventure?

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Publishers justify the high cost of E-books and rub their hands in glee at E-book complexity. I ran across these two articles yesterday:  Why e-books aren’t cheaper (C-Net news May 27, 2009) and Ebook complexity: good news for publishers (The Idea Logical Blog June 3, 2009).  I don’t think either one of these guys “gets it.” What were they thinking?

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The first article is a lengthy justification for the high cost of E-books. Gordon Haff uses pre-production, printing, marketing (including  book tour, NYT Book Review ad, printing and shipping galleys to journalists), the wholesaler, and finally author royalties to justify the high costs of E-books.

He seems to think the costs of getting an E-book into the hands of readers would have the same costs that are typical of printed books. He uses a $4.19 royalty paid on a $27.95 hardcover to a best selling author as an example. Huh?

Publishers operate on the star system. They pick and choose books based on potential hits. The $4.19 is a 15% royalty paid to a best selling popular author. How about the rest of us? The average book published in the US sells a meager 500 copies. Hardly best seller status. Unknown authors are lucky to get 5-10% royalties. How palatable is the prospect of a couple dollars per book sold when you might sell 500?

Mike Shatzkin ends his article, Ebook complexity: good news for publishers, with this sentence: “If publishers (and the consultants they depend on) are getting a headache trying to keep all the new stuff straight, imagine how bewildering it is to the wannabe self-published author!”

I’m not confused,  I’m not bewildered and I don’t like being patronized. Amazon, B&N and all the other online book sellers are jumping in with their own proprietary ereaders and ebook formats. I think they are the ones who are confused. Wait until netbooks equipped with e-ink technology hit the streets. I like pdf files myself and readers don’t need the aggravation of copy protection either.

Then again, they are doing this for the same reason publishers go for the big hit bestseller books — Profits! They all want to corner the market for their own benefit. Somehow I don’t think they have the best interests of either the writers or the readers in mind.

How about the people who provide the content for the the books they sell? How about readers who are expected to pay through the nose for electronic books that have far lower production and distribution costs?

The only people who need the publishers and the copy protected E-books are the best selling authors. Do you think the average author will be going on book tours, be featured in the NY Times book reviews?

Clearly, these guys don’t understand the potential of the Internet for the average writer. It’s not difficult to publish a professionally formatted E-book yourself. Stay tuned for my book on this subject. The time has come for authors to take matters into their own hands.

Publishers wouldn’t have anything to publish without our writing. Amazon and B&N don’t write their own books — we do. Why should we stand at the back of the line, grateful for (if we’re lucky) 10% royalties? The publishing world is upside down. E-books are our opportunity as writers to finally get our due.

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Tacoma_Narrows_Bridge_Falling

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Falling

E-book pricing looks like it’s in free fall. Amazon started it when they introduced their Kindle ereader. Now, in this July 2nd article, Barnes & Noble Follows the Leader (Amazon) With $9.95 E-book Pricing.

And it’s about time. It’s always bothered me that E-books have been nearly as expensive as “real” books. I wonder who has been taking the huge cost savings to the bank? Writers? I doubt it. The only difference in the publishing model has been the elimination of the production and distribution costs.

In this month’s cover story, Amazon Taps it’s inner apple, FastCompany tells an interesting tale and speculates about the future of books and publishing.

Who do you think will get soaked? I think it will be the traditional publishers. After all, in an electronic world where we don’t need their presses and distribution, why do we need publishers at all?

Why do we need dedicated ereader devices? Can you imagine having to buy special glasses from the publisher to read one of their books? Buy a Kindle from Amazon, a B&N reader from Barnes & Noble and who else wants to sell me their reader and proprietary book format.

No thanks. I saw an interesting online video that has me convinced. A netbook costs less than a Kindle, is a real computer and can read pdf files. The video showed a guy turning the netbook on it’s side. Makes a perfect ereading device.

Bye-bye Kindle, E-reader Screens Coming for Netbooks — PCWorld, May 29, 2009. I can hardly wait for these guys to hit the stores. I want one. Then again, maybe Apple is ready to launch their iBook? This is exciting.

Inexpensive ereaders and self-published pdf E-books have my interest. You could self-publish an E-book for five bucks and walk away with more than double the royalties from a typical $20 book sale. I’m in.

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Blogs and bloggers are positively Medieval and that’s a good thing. Medieval bards were the first citizen journalists, individuals carrying the latest news from place to place with their tales and ballads. People are curious. We’re communicators, we’re social and we’re nosey. We need to know what the neighbors are doing.

Even before the printing press came along, ballads were handwritten and passed around on broadsides (or broadsheets as they came to be known). If the bards were the first news reporters, then the broadsheets were the first newspapers. Today, the term broadsheet refers to the familiar 4-fold newspaper format of the “serious” newspapers. Unlike the tabloids, they print only “proper” news.

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The NY Times motto is “All The News That’s Fit To Print.”
Then again the Boston Globe masthead says: “The World Is Governed Too Much.” I think they’re right about that one. My favorite is the masthead carried by the Scripps newspapers.

“Give Light And People Will Find Their Own Way.”
Those powerful words were placed on a newspaper masthead in New Mexico back in 1922. Carl Magee refused to back down. He provided the light that helped blow open the Teapot Dome scandal in 1923. He suffered personally and financially because of his stance, but never wavered in his convictions.

The modern newspaper institutionalized the gathering and broad casting the news but it has always been courageous individuals like Carl Magee who pull the curtains of secrecy aside to reveal the truth.

Bloggers are the bards of the Internet, shining their light (mostly) at the speed of light and the people can and do find their own way. The world has come full circle. Every day the Internet dilutes the power of institutions and gives power and freedom back to individuals. We have the freedom to decide for ourselves and that is a good thing. It’s The Long Tail wagging.

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David Coursey, in “Paving the Way for Premium Content,” his  6/11/09 Tech Inciter, PCWorld blog post, leads off with “Paid content is the best hope of saving “the media” as we know it.” I disagree with him on that score because the media as we know it is disappearing faster than an ice cream cone in August and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. The rest of his article is deadly accurate.

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The content aggregators don’t want to hear it, but David’s first point is free and low cost content supported by ad revenue is “absolutely broken.” I’d call it a train wreck in the making. Forget profits, content aggregators like Helium are struggling just to stay alive. Maybe their ad supported model made sense a couple years ago, but they’ve put their train on the wrong track and it’s probably too late to switch.

The quality of content that can be supported by ad revenue simply isnt’ there and the signal to noise ratio of ads to real content drowns out even that content. Coursey says that for premium content to take hold, the free stuff needs to go away. I think it will. When the ad revenue model fails and the content aggregators crash through the wall into the street, free content will disappear for lack of patrons.

Coursey’s second point, that quality costs money, that somebody has to pay for it if they want it puts today’s writers in a much better position. The train wreck is a wide open opportunity for writers who understand what’s going on in the publishing industry. Gordon Crovitz of The Wall Street Journal has seen the writing on the wall and will be offering the WSJ version of a paid subscription in the fall. (see my Newsstand of the Future post for details)

When publishers controlled the presses and distribution, they called the shots. They decided who would write their content and what people would read. The Internet democratizes both. The writers who create content and the readers who want that content are in control now. Self-publishing used to be a “snicker behind the hands” avenue for losers. No more.

Every writer with a computer and an Internet connection has the tools he or she needs to publish. Every reader with a computer and an Internet connection has access to everything. As Chris Anderson puts it in The Long Tail, there are two imperatives to a thriving Long Tail business: “1) Make everything available, and 2) Help me find it.”

All we need to do then as writers is create premium content and help readers find it. They’ll pay for it.

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The Times Roman font is small for a reason. It was created to fit into the narrow columns of British newspapers, yet people insist on using it as a standard for wide copy where the font is out of place. Why? Helium, the online aggregator, uses a style guide from the print world for online titles: “Helium uses AP style in headlines – first word capped.”

Print guidelines in a digital world? The folks at StomperNet proved, with extensive testing, that the search page (SERP) click through rate on titles where only the first word is capitalized is 9 percent lower than titles using Title Case. You’d think an almost 10 percent increase in click thru would be incentive to change.

People stick with the past out of habit and tradition. It’s what they know. Paragraphs didn’t come along until the Renaissance and the Medieval Scribes didn’t use any punctuation at all (and we argue about misplaced commas!).

DN-0009255, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.

DN-0009255, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.

The Internet is changing the face of our world and a lot of the rules too. Writers and publishers who adapt to the digital world will prosper. As Chris Anderson points out in his book, The Long Tail, the star system where publishers decided what people would read is dead or dying. In a The Long Tail digital world, everything becomes available to anyone who wants it.

Today’s content aggregators try to meet the demands of readers by offering lots of stuff and rely on Google and SEO to bring in visitors and their ad clicks. What happens when (not if) Google changes the rules? What happens when people don’t visit because they’re sick of online ads?

Self-publishing is one answer for writers looking for an audience. I’m writing a book that will show writers how to create a professional e-book using free software. The real issue will be how to bring writers and readers together so both benefit.

I think a subscription service is the best answer. Subscribers would be presented short pieces based on their preferences. Over time, with reader feedback, the offerings would be tailored to each person and their tastes. They would have the opportunity to get to know authors and to purchase and download longer works at reasonable cost.

A good subscription service would build relationships between readers and writers and be fair to both.

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Not even close. No writer can earn a living out of the ad click tip jar. Associated Content (A/C) calls their payout to writers performance pay while Helium uses the term ad revenue share and bills itself as a co-op. A/C tells you up front that you’ll be paid $1.50 to $2.00 per 1,000 page views while Helium keeps their payment model a secret. Helium only tells you that they share ad revenue with “…active members based on their level of activity and value.” Be careful. If you “fail to participate” and don’t provide the free labor needed to fuel the Helium rating engine, you earn zero.

pennyIn plain English, using A/C’s highest performance pay rate
, each page view earns you two tenths of a penny. How many writers would contribute their work to a content aggregator if they understood up front that they would be paid so little each time a visitor views one of their articles? Sure you can earn $20 but you must “sell” your material to 10,000 people first.

To be fair, A/C pays up front for exclusive publishing rights
and somewhat less for non-exclusive rights. Helium pays anywhere from fifty cents to two dollars and fifty cents up front depending on your writing star status. Helium also runs contests with cash prizes and awards other party favors like badges.

No matter how they present themselves, content aggregators are online publishers.
Their main source of revenue, like their print counterparts, comes from advertising. They may not be making a profit now, but the only reason they are in business is to do just that. The real question is will they ever turn a profit and how much of that profit will be shared with the writers who provide all their content?

Online advertising is big business for Google. They earn billions. The sites hosting online ads, and this includes the content aggregators like A/C and Helium earn far less. Helium’s site looks more like the yellow pages with all the ads. And now they’re pushing advertising to the limit with keyword ad links embedded in published articles. The signal to noise ratio of too many ads threatens to drown us out.

Writers depended on publishers when the publishers controlled the printing presses and means of distribution. Publishers have always handed writers the short end of the stick and online content aggregators have taken this to the extreme. But they cannot survive without the content that we as writers provide. We can publish our writing without the middlemen. But can we earn?

The Long Tail provides clues that say we can publish and be paid for our efforts. The Long Tail can free us from the tip jar. I’ll have more to say about this next time.

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