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3 posts from February 2012

Why I'm Breaking the Amazon Habit...And Why You Should Too

Kudos to Mark Suchomel and the stance he's taking with Amazon at IPG. As Don Linn mentions here, this is indeed a gutsy move but I hope Suchomel holds firm. I've written before about Amazon's formula and how it's slowly locking me into their platform. Interestingly enough, if you take a closer look at that formula post you'll see I was Mr. Amazon Advocate in a fun Apple vs. Amazon debate I had with Kassia Krozser.

A lot has changed since that friendly debate last fall. In a few short months I've gone from Amazon fan to Amazon critic. One reason I've become disenchanted has to do with Amazon's Kindle Owners' Lending Library. As Amazon stated in the Lending Library press release, compensation to publishers for "the vast majority of titles" is on a "fixed fee" basis. I strongly feel this should be an uncapped, pay-for-performance model similar to what Safari Books Online and Books24x7 offer. Unless you have a perfect crystal ball anything less than a pay-for-performance model risks underpaying publishers and authors. And yes, it also risks overpaying but I seriously doubt that's happened up to now.

Then there was last December's showrooming debacle. Even though bookstores were excluded, did Amazon really need to take such an over-the-top approach and poke brick-and-mortars in the eye with the price check incentives on December 9th? This, after all the years of having a built-in price advantage over many of those brick-and-mortar stores because of state tax deals and loopholes. I'm glad my home state of Indiana is addressing this issue but I think it's ridiculous it won't take effect till 2014.

And now Amazon is reportedly leaning on IPG for even more favorable terms than they've agreed to in the past. Good for you, Mark Suchomel, I just became a big fan of yours.

Many of you are probably shrugging your shoulders and saying this is all about choice. Publishers can remain out of the Kindle Owners' Lending Library program if they don't like the terms. And customers were showrooming long before Amazon released their app; if I don't like it, I shouldn't do it myself and/or I should buy from other vendors. IPG's choice was to take a stand and now their Kindle editions aren't available on Amazon.

You're right. This is about choice. I've been choosing Amazon for all my ebooks up to now and it's time to put my money where my mouth is.

It's unfortunate that when you buy an eInk reader you're pretty much locked in with that vendor's content library. But that's not the case with a tablet, at least the ones that aren't tied to a single e-bookstore. Now that I have this terrific new Asus Transformer Prime Android tablet I'm beholden to no single ebook retailer. It's time to start buying ebooks from, Kobo, or anyone else with an Android reader app. It's less than optimal to manage an ebook library across retailers but it's also very liberating.

So as of today, Monday, February 27, 2012, I'm officially breaking my Amazon habit. How about you?

Is Color eInk a Game-Changer?

My answer to that question is "no", and here's why...

Approximately 3 years ago I got a tour of eInk's facility in Cambridge, MA. During that tour I got to see a few prototypes of future eInk products. One of them featured a standard greyscale display but a quarter of the surface area was able to show simple animations. (And by "simple" I mean moving stick-men, not videos!) Another one was a color eInk display but it looked very washed out. The colors were there, sort of, but they weren't anywhere near as vibrant as what you see on a backlit display like an iPad or your laptop screen.

Last week's TOC NY event featured a "digital petting zoo" where we showcased almost 40 different devices for attendees to test drive. One of those devices (from Ectaco) featured a color eInk display. I can honestly say that the color display I saw last week looked pretty much the same as the prototype I saw three years ago. It's still quite washed-out.

Is color eInk today better than gresyscale eInk? Absolutely. I'd much rather have some color on the screen than none, even if it's not as crisp and bright as a backlit display offers. But is it worth a premium over greyscale eInk? I don't think so.

Rumors are floating around about Amazon supposedly getting ready to release a color eInk device. My question is simply this: Why? If it's going to replace their existing greyscale eInk devices, like the Kindle Touch, that's great. But if they're planning to have a color eInk device sit between the Touch and the Fire it seems like they're splitting hairs. On the one hand, I'm sure some customers would love to have a color device with the longer battery life eInk offers. On the other hand, don't kid yourself into thinking a color eInk device will replace a tablet. After all, the only animation I've seen on an eInk display was on a prototype that apparently never saw the light of that means color eInk won't support many of the games and other apps that have become so popular on a tablet. It's just a dedicated e-reader with washed-out colors.

It's entirely possible color eInk technology has progressed in the last year or so. If that's the case all bets are off. But if the Ectaco device is any indication I don't think a color eInk device from Amazon will be a game-changer.

Why TOC NY 2012 Will Be Our Best TOC Ever

I've been to several of O'Reilly's Tools of Change (TOC) conferences before but this is my first experience as one of the conference chairs. Now that I've had a first-hand view in preparing for next week's TOC NY 2012 I can tell you that Kat Meyer and the rest of this team are nothing short of amazing. As we put the final touches on pre-conference prep I wanted to point out a few of the reasons why I believe next week's event will be the most inspiring, unique and memorable TOC ever:

Executive Roundtable -- We've partnered with Publishers Weekly to host an executive roundtable on Monday, 2/13. It's separate from TOC itself and is a by-invitation-only gathering of approximately 100 industry CxO's and other influential leaders. We've received more requests than we can accomodate for this initial roundtable but we're planning for this to become a quarterly event. If you're interested in receiving an invitation to future executive roundtables email me with your name, title and company so I can add you to our list.

Top Secret Announcements -- One of the perks of being a conference chair is that you get the inside scoop on announcements some of the speakers are planning to make at TOC. I'd like to share each of them with you now but I'm sure Kat would ban me from the conference. You'll just have to wait till next week to learn the details. If you won't be there, be sure to tune into our Twitter hastag (#toccon) to keep up with all the news.

Digital Petting Zoo -- Don't you love that name?! Kudos to Kat for coming up with the idea and the name, btw. Where else can you go to test drive almost 40 tablets and dedicated ereaders? Nowhere. We've spent a great deal of time and effort gathering a wonderful assortment of devices for all attendees to tinker with, so if you've wanted to take a closer look at the ereading hardware landscape be sure to swing by the petting zoo on Wednesday. It's not just hardware on display either, btw. We've got a few content providers spending the day there to showcase the latest in content development and presentation.

Attendee Diversity --  We always encourage attendees to connect with one another and that's one of the key reasons for the Attendee Directory. If you're registered for the show be sure to get the most out of that directory. And as you look through it, I'll bet you'll discover the same thing I did: We have an incredible array of players from all areas of the content industry. Attending TOC means you have the opportunity to meet and mix with folks from every sector of publishing as well as other media industries. It's sort of like Woodstock's "three days of fun in the mud", but without all the mud.

Startup Showcase -- Back by popular demand, this was one of the most popular aspects of TOC 2011. This year we once again received way too many outstanding startup submissions. It was extremely difficult narrowing down the field but we came up with a list of 11 finalists that I think you'll be impressed with.

Change/Forward/Fast -- In case you missed it, "change/forward/fast" is the theme of TOC 2012. The message it conveys is that our industry is moving forward at an incredible pace and, in order to keep up, you better be experimenting with new forms of content development, delivery and pricing. That's the heart of TOC 2012 and our goal is to provide a platform for those who are leading change and provide an opportunity for the entire community to learn more about what's working and what's not.

Have you signed up to attend TOC NY next week? We're running ahead of last year's attendance levels but we've still got a few slots left. Don't wait till the last minute though. Sign up now and reserve your spot at what undoubtedly will be an outstanding experience!