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3 posts from June 2012

We Should Open an eBookstore

Crazy idea, right? And by "we" I mean, "publishers." Big Six. Little guys. Everyone in between. What if we all got together and created an ebookstore? Assuming the DoJ wouldn't rule it out as another misguided case of collusion, I think this would be a terrific idea.

The thinking here was partially inspired by this interesting post from Valobox's Oli Brooks. Oli talks about creating an API where customer purchase data is shared. The goal is for someone to buy once, read anywhere. I love the concept but I question whether a retailer like Amazon would ever support it by exposing their customer purchase information. Ha! That's a funny one. OK, I don't just question it...I know Amazon would never support this.

But what if publishers launched their own uber-ebookstore and owned it outright? We could all switch over to the agency distribution model, receive 70% of sales and the remaining 30% would cover all the infrastructure costs to run the business. Using the agency model means we could also limit the impact any deep-pocketed retailers would have on selling everything at a loss with an eye on killing the competition.

Retailers are becoming publishers. And in the print days it would have been ridiculous to suggest publishers could join forces and create a 1,000+ outlet chain to compete with the superstores. That's not the case in the online retailing world though. We're just talking about one central website.

Now let's make things interesting. Let's force Amazon and the others to keep using DRM while we abandon it for our own store. Can we do that? Maybe not. If we all agree to a DRM-free approach in our own store how could Amazon refuse to do the same with theirs? And when they do, the "stick" that Charlie Stross says Amazon is beating us with goes away. Meanwhile, if we can go DRM-free in our store while other retailers insist on keeping DRM, let's take advantage of tools like Amazon's Send to Kindle so our customers can quickly and easily sideload their purchases on their Amazon device.

Yes, it's silly of me to think we could get all the publishers to buy into this. And then there's the need to go DRM-free; good luck getting everyone on board with that too. But boy, wouldn't it be fun to see this happen? It could really alter the ebookstore landscape.

P.S. -- Our uber-ebookstore could start with a foundation like Goodreads. It's a great review and recommendation service but it's not an ebook retailer. As a result, I never use it for title discovery since I don't want to get sent to another site for my ultimate purchase. I wonder if we could convince Otis Chandler to convert his business into this vision...

Reading Reinvented

CitiaI realize that's a pretty bold headline. How many times has someone proclaimed that reading has been reinvented by product X or platform Y? Too many to count, I'm sure.

So what makes things different this time? That's up to you to decide, of course, but I believe the approach Semi-Linear is taking with their Citia iPad app is game-changing.

In the past I've tried to articulate a vision for what I called "layered content" (see here and here, for example). An important attribute of layered content is that the reader can quickly dip in and out of it, only drilling down as deep as they want. Even though they'd both be utilizing the same content base, two different people with two different needs could easily accomplish their reading objectives by only accessing the depths they prefer. Speed is another critical aspect of layered content. If the material is properly structured it should enable a reader to consume it much faster than they could consume a traditional book's content.

I believe Citia is delivering on this vision...and then some.

Their first product is a reconstitution of Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants. It's initially available only as an iOS app but my fingers are crossed the Semi-Linear team will quickly get this on the Android platform. I'll warn you that the initial release has been a bit buggy for me. I suspect a quick point release is in the works though and I'd like to think it will address the issues I've run into. If you'd prefer to wait on that, let me mention a few quotes from the product as well as Semi-Linear CEO Linda Holliday that capture the essence of the problems Citia is aiming to solve:

"...we have dozens, maybe hundreds of books waiting to be read." -- Yes! Not only do I have way too many ebooks queued up, waiting for me to get to, I've got five times as many samples of ebooks I've downloaded and would like to read.

"...we believe some of the world’s best ideas are overlooked because we’re too busy to find them." -- Ah, the discoverability problem. It's only going to get worse, folks. Citia has a terrific sharing feature that's unlike anything you've seen before. You can quickly and easily share the most granular piece of a product via email, Twitter or Facebook. 

"...ebooks are like putting radio on television." -- This is similar to what I've been saying about how the current state of ebooks is like early TV, where most shows were nothing more than radio programs in front of a camera. The point is that 99.99% of ebooks today are nothing more than quick-and-dirty ports of print to ebook. We've got to go digital-first in our product development if we're going to break free of the shackles of print.

"...ebooks should be able to adjust for prior knowledge." -- I love this point. IOW, as I read, my reading app learns to customize my future reading experience. Don't force me to read the same thing over and over if I've already consumed it. This will be an important feature of dynamic ebooks in the future.

"I have new media habits but old media tastes." -- This was a great quote by Linda in the AllThingsD video embedded below. I'm in the same boat. I've bought into the gadgets and platforms of today but I still like reading longer-form content from yesterday. Citia lets you bring these two worlds together.

If a picture is worth a thousand words a video must be worth a million. Rather than me trying to describe what Citia is and what it can do, I encourage you to watch the video below where Linda demonstrates it for the AllThingsD team.

Social Reading is Coming. Deal with It.

The skeptics tell me “reading is a solitary activity” and “my reading will never be social.” That’s fine. When social features are fully built into our e-reading devices and apps I’m sure they’ll include a disable option for unsocial readers. The rest of us, however, will enjoy a level of engagement and discoverability that was never possible in the print world.

Don’t confuse today’s lame highlights-sharing functionality with tomorrow’s fully social feature set. Our industry is only in the very early stages of implementing social features and the major players are also the biggest laggards. It's remarkable that Amazon and B&N don't see how powerful social functionality can be to enhancing the e-reading experience as well as selling more content.

My optimism here stems from looking closer at a couple of terrific startups: ReadSocial and BookShout. I've been fortunate to spend time with founders from both of these companies and I think they're on to something. They each take different approaches but their early products are compelling.

BookShout currently offers a religious vertical with plenty of great titles. It's a terrific way for a church small group to read an ebook together. Watch their short video and you'll undoubtedly see the opportunity for more topic verticals within the BookShout platform.

While BookShout leverages your social graph ReadSocial accepts the fact that your Facebook friends might not be your reading friends. They leverage the hashtag we're all familiar with from Twitter but they use it in a new way to create reading groups around common interests. The ReadSocial platform is also one giant API so it's extremely flexible. You'll find more ReadSocial details in this interview I recently did with BookShout co-founder Travis Alber:

P.S. -- I'm at BEA this week. Things kick off Monday with the IDPF's Digital Book 2012 event. I'll be there Monday and from Tuesday thru Thursday you'll likely find me at the TOC booth, DZ2309. If you're at BEA be sure to stop by and say hello.