Previous month:
July 2012
Next month:
September 2012

4 posts from August 2012

Why a Used Ebook Ecosystem Makes Sense

In an earlier post I mentioned my plans to speak with ReDigi, the company making waves by helping consumers resell their digital music. One day consumers will also be able to resell their ebooks via ReDigi and that has some publishers concerned. What's a "used ebook" anyway and should consumers be allowed to resell them? I felt the answer to the last part of that question was "yes" before I spoke with ReDigi founder John Ossenmacher but our conversation convinced me even more that reselling ebooks will be a good thing for everyone.

I should first mention that at O'Reilly we already allow you to resell the ebooks you buy directly from us. Here's a link to the terms on our website.

If you're not a fan of consumers reselling their ebooks I ask you to consider two key points John made in our conversation: authentication and revenue. One of the first steps you take after joining ReDigi is to let the service scan your music collection so they can determine what's legit and what's not. That's right, ReDigi is able to analyze your music collection to determine which songs you bought from services like iTunes vs. the songs you illegally downloaded from a torrent site. RedDigi only lets you resell songs they've identified as legitimate purchases. John tells me their ebook service will have the same forensic capabilities. That means pirated books cannot be resold through ReDigi. Better yet, the ReDigi service also puts a little "make me legal" reminder next to every illegal file it finds in a customer's collection. Click on that reminder and you'll be able to pay for each of those pirated files to make them legit. How cool is that?

Still not convinced it's a viable service? What if I told you the IP owner also gets a cut of the resale transaction? It's true. When ReDigi launches their ebook reselling platform publishers (and therefore authors) will get part of the resulting revenue stream. Good luck making that happen at a used print book shop!

Seeing what ReDigi is up to makes me even more excited about the future of reselling digital content. I also wonder if consumers will tolerate higher ebook prices if they know they can resell them just like they can resell a print book.

What do you think? Is ReDigi on to something here? Could a service like this help the industry avoid the race to zero pricing?

In-book Purchases

We're all familiar with the in-app purchase model. It's a way to convert a free app into a revenue stream. In the gaming world it's an opportunity to sell more levels even if the base product wasn't free. Each of the popular ereader apps allow you to purchase books within them, of course, but why does it end there? What if you could make additional purchases within that ebook?

Here's an example: I'm almost finished reading Walter Isaacson's terrific biography of Steve Jobs. I paid $14.99 for the Nook version and as I've read it I've been tempted to go out to YouTube and relive some of the interviews and product launches Jobs did over the years. I didn't do that though, mostly because it would have required me to close the ebook and search for the relevant video.

I would have paid an extra $5 for an enhanced version of the book with all the YouTube videos embedded (or linked to). Sell me the base edition for $15 and let me decide to upgrade to the richer version for an additional price. Even though everyone won't necessarily upgrade why not make the option available to those who might?

My example is pretty simplistic but the lesson here is to think about how a single product can be re-deployed as multiple products. Think basic, enhanced and premium editions, each at different price points and upgradable to the next level. The most successful approach here is likely one where the basic edition is as inexpensive as possible and readers are given a compelling reason to upgrade to the enhanced and premium editions.

What do you think? Is this a viable model and can it be implemented in today's walled gardens or will it have to wait till more ebooks are being sold direct to consumers by the publisher?

Amazon Prime Time

Like most technology products, each new version of Amazon's Kindle eInk reader is lower-priced than the last one. There's been speculation that the price will eventually go to zero, perhaps taking a page out of the cell phone model where the consumer commits to a long-term plan. There's no monthly service plan for a Kindle so I always figured Amazon would require consumers to purchase a minimum number of ebooks over a 1- or 2-year period instead.

That makes sense, but there's a bigger play Amazon probably has in mind and I'll bet it will eventually feature their tablet, the Kindle Fire.


Why Are Apps Only on Tablets?

I read on my Glowlight Nook much more frequently than I read on my Asus Transformer tablet. I'd say there's at least a 10 to 1 differential, so for every hour I read on my tablet I read at least 10 hours on my Glowlight Nook. I'll bet I'm not alone and people who own both an eInk device and a tablet probably do much more reading on the former. So why is the apps ecosystem limited to tablets? Why are there no add-on apps for eInk devices in general?

In a recent TOC newsletter we asked readers "what do you wish your ereader could do?" (Btw, if you're not already receiving our free newsletter you need to sign up right now. I'm confident you'll enjoy each and every issue.) We received quite a few replies from readers but one of the more interesting ones said they'd like to have apps like Flipboard, Zite and Pulse on their eInk device. I found that interesting because those are the apps (along with News360) I use almost every day on my tablet. If there were Nook eInk versions that 10:1 ratio noted earlier would probably become 50:1 as there would be less reason for me to switch to my tablet for reading.

So why aren't there apps like this on eInk devices? One reason is tied to eInk's capabilities. Apps like Flipboard, Zite, et al, offer nice graphics and even a bit of animation. eInk is limited to grayscale and no animation, of course. So why not create those apps without the animation and just show the images in black-and-white? That leads to reason #2: Amazon, B&N and the other eInk device vendors aren't encouraging third-party app development. That's probably because they want those devices to have the highest walled gardens of all, which is a shame and a loss for consumers.

Is it too late for these vendors to reconsider and encourage third-party app development? Maybe. After all, the momentum has already swung towards tablets and away from eInk readers. Nevertheless, as long as tablets weigh more than eInk readers, their displays aren't as easy on the eyes and they don't offer significantly longer battery life I'll remain a two-device reading consumer. I suspect I'm not alone, so I hope an eInk app ecosystem takes root at some point.