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2 posts from December 2009

All Things "E": Google, Kindle, Apple, Nook & More

Flat ereaderA trio of articles caught my eye this weekend, so I thought I'd offer links and my two cents on each:

Google Books on the Kindle.  I first reported on Google Editions back in October after attending our TOC Frankfurt event.  As I noted then, the Google spokesperson made it very clear the Kindle platform wouldn't be included in the Editions program.  The link at the beginning of this paragraph takes you to a short related article from Douglas McIntyre of DailyFinance.  McIntyre talks about the possibility of Google and Amazon working together to offer all Google Editions content on the Kindle.  I agree with him that this scenario is highly unlikely, at least the way things look today. 

But why does Google feel the need to make their content available in Amazon's Kindle store?  Why not just sell the Kindle-formatted .mobi files directly to customers and cut out the middleman (Amazon)?  The main reason comes down, once again, to the evil issue known as DRM.  Amazon had to deal with loads of FUD when they enlisted all the publishers currently participating in the Kindle platform.  Most are still scared to death of econtent in a world without DRM.  That's too bad.  At O'Reilly we sell all our ebooks without DRM and that part of the business continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  Even if Google can't convince publishers to completely abandon DRM they're a technology company who has more than enough talent to create a social DRM model as a middle-ground solution.  A couple of years of problem-free social DRM distribution might just be what publishers need to abandon DRM completely.

Apple Tablet Pricing.  Regular readers of this blog know I'm an Apple convert.  Rumors continue swirling about the Apple tablet device, also referred to as the iPad and iTablet.  The link at the beginning of this paragraph takes you to a PC World blog post by Jeff Bertolucci.  I've heard this device could cost as much as $1,200 but Bertolucci's article says $1,000.  Both of those numbers are too high for me, I'm afraid.  And yes, I realize new technologies generally come with high price tags but I'll sit on the sidelines till the second generation arrives if the first one is north of a few hundred dollars.

Immediate availability of 100K+ apps is great but the market for a $1,000+ device is pretty limited right now, particularly in the midst of a global economic crisis.  Perhaps Apple will strike a deal with a cell carrier like we're seeing some of the netbook manufacturers do.  Apple could offer an iPhone-like plan where tablet buyers commit to a 2-year wireless deal to reduce the up-front cost of the device.  If this becomes a reality I hope they go with multiple carriers, or someone other than AT&T.  Even though the blame was shifted to Apple in this recent NY Times article it didn't make me feel any better about AT&T.

CNET's Nook Review.  Finally, here's a very thorough review of B&N's new Nook device, courtesy of CNET.  I've embedded CNET's video review of the Nook below, so if you don't have the time to read their write-up be sure to watch the 3-4 minute video.

I had higher expectations from B&N on this.  The video below highlights the sluggishness of the interface; this was also clear in David Pogue's recent Nook review in the NY Times.  I can't believe B&N would distribute the Nook before fixing this glaring problem.  On the plus side, I hope they take advantage of the Nook's Android OS and create an app store model like Apple has done for the iPhone (and Amazon hasn't for the Kindle).

P.S. -- Speaking of e-devices, the tablet demo from Time/SI featured in this blog post by Michael Hyatt is the most exciting thing I've seen in a long time.  Sure, it's just a video but boy, if they can produce this in 2010 and it doesn't cost an arm and a leg it could be an enormous hit.

Making eBooks "The Next Big Thing"

Old booksOver the past year or so I've been seeing a few more Kindles in airports and elsewhere.  That's great, but ebooks and e-readers are far from a mass market phenomenon.  This article by Michael Honig on TG Daily reminded me that the vast majority of potential customers not only don't own a dedicated e-reader but probably haven't even seen one in person.  Here are a few excerpts and my thoughts about them:

You can make a great many arguments in favor of eBooks: They’re ‘green’ (few trees die in their creation or packaging, zero paper and ink means virtually zero environmental pollution, and much energy is saved in their transport), they’re convenient (a thousand books can fit into an electronic device small enough to fit into your pocket) and they’re cheap. Oh. Strike that last part…

Ah, the price factor.  Yep, couldn't agree more.  We're still in the early stages of this so there's plenty of room for improvement.  I still think we're looking at it all wrong though, which is why I wrote this earlier post about a different financial model and this one where I suggest a cheap reader with a smartphone tethering option.

For authors and publishers, the concern is copyright protection and preventing illegal copying. This is perfectly reasonable on their part, but conflicts with book buyers’ two strongest tendencies: one, the desire to back up a computer file, and two, the occasional wish to loan a book to a friend. Most eBook formats don’t permit you to do either. One exception permits a one-time, two-week loan within the life of your ownership. This suggests that you either better not buy eBooks you like very much, or you better not have many close friends. Also, since many formats are incompatible with each other, read “life of your ownership” as, “until your eBook reader breaks and/or you replace it.”

I'm starting to feel the ownership issue is going to be even bigger than the pricing issue at some point.  I already feel the pain today.  When I got a Kindle I promised myself I wouldn't buy any more print books unless a Kindle edition wasn't available.  I'm starting to question the logic of that approach.  Why should I lock myself in with one vendor when that vendor has such a closed DRM model with limited support for industry standards (e.g., PDF (some) and EPUB (none))?

I feel like the poor sucker in the '70's who converted his entire library to 8-tracks, only to see cassettes take over!  Sure, Amazon's got the Kindle iPhone app as well as the Windows and soon-to-be-released Mac apps, but it just doesn't feel right. I guess I'd be much more confident buying my next Kindle edition if I felt it could also be read on the Sony Reader, for example.  At some point, will all the early Kindle owners have invested so much money in Kindle editions that they'll find it too painful to change platforms?  That's obviously what Amazon hopes.  A better option might be to build an e-content library with a vendor who's not trying to force you into their hardware model.  That sounds an awful lot like the promise of Google Editions, assuming it ever comes to fruition.

Btw, someone's gotta come up with a better ebook sharing and reselling model than what we have today, which is pretty much non-existent, at least when it comes to DRM-protected books.  Even the Nook's model feels lame compared to the freedoms you have with a physical book.  Can't the genius developers on these platform teams come up with a way to integrate reselling into the service?  If I can resell a physical book on why can't I do the same with an ebook there?

Now let’s contemplate this: The publishers send out books that require no ink, no paper, no printing presses, no typesetters, no warehouses, no cartons, no trucking or shipping, no shelf-stocking, no returns or write-offs … No material purchases or handling of any consequence, and dramatically less financial risk to publish a book … and all they can come up with is maybe a 10% discount?? I’m still paying about $8 to $10 for a book?

Isn't it interesting how we publishers value the intellectual property but consumers (like Michael Honig) always seem to focus on the cost of goods, or lack thereof?  Perception is reality though and although Amazon generally offers significantly more than 10% off the print cover price, plenty of publishers don't want to cheapen the IP and wind up pricing the ebook at or very close to the print edition.  Btw, the current rule of thumb where I work is to price the DRM-free ebook bundle (including epub, mobi and PDF formats) at 80% of the print price.  Is that the "right" price?  Who knows, but we also experiment with even deeper discounts from time to time and it based on the results we still default to the 20%-off model.

That said, publishers everywhere often bellyache about the Kindle's $9.99 model, saying it sets a dangerous precedent for consumer expectations.  I say as long as these products are nothing more than quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions, how can we really justify a higher price?  Btw, that's the subject of my talk at O'Reilly's TOC conference early next year.  I'm not going to steal my own thunder here, so you'll just have to attend the conference if you want to hear the details...