Kindle de-coupled from book sales? No.

The New York Times reports on allegedly revelatory statements by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos at a Wired conference in New York today.

In the future, Amazon.com’s Kindle e-book reader will display more book formats beyond its own. And you should also expect to see Kindle books on a lot more devices.

Amazon has, of course, acquired several of the developers of leading e-book formats, most recently Lexcycle, maker of the Stanza Reader that dominates the iPhone platform, or did before Amazon released Kindle for iPhone. It is not surprising that the company will support non-Amazon formats since it already does, including Adobe’s PDF format in the Kindle DX (though without support for internal or external linking and standard navigational features of the PDF), amongst other non-DRM formats, but it is sheer speculation to say that ePub support (which Amazon should support) is coming soon.

What of the question of Kindle hardware’s independence from the Kindle bookstore, which The New York Times says is a startling disclosure? The two groups have long operated separately, but Bezo’s comments today to the effect that he wants to see many different titles in many formats on the Kindle at the $9.99 price point contradicts the significance attributed to his remarks. If a book format Continue reading

Noted News & Opinion, June 15, 2004

Shortcovers eBook Reader launches for Blackberry this week. The company already offers iPhone/iPod and Android apps. Once installed, the Shortcovers application provides on-demand access to titesl from a variety of major publishers as well as self-published works. It appears to require a live connection to the Internet to support its My Library, bookmarking and other features. Shortcovers is operated by Indigo Books & Music Inc. It offers two “monetizing models:” one involving works displayed on a blog, where Indigo will place ads and share 70% of revenue with authors or; a revenue split, also 70% to the author, for books sold at an author-specified list price (see the Publisher Program overview). Books are compatible only with Shortcovers Javascript-based readers, which are accessible after logging in to the site on a PC or via the mobile readers.

Barron’s says the Kindle DS “is a joy to read” and the author, Jay Palmer, now says the DX a “larger and better” option than the Kindle 2. (Paid access only.)

MobileRead features an early review of the DX, which finds the device pleasing, though not without drawbacks. People clearly want to like this device. Generally, reviews are mixed, says Book Business.

I much prefer this idea: Use Kindle DX for sheet music, because it makes tremendous sense without conforming to the notion that everything on an ereader should be a “book.” Also from Paul Biba at Teleread.org: Palm has an embeddable e-autographing technology, but you need a Palm device and compatible reader to see the handwritten author’s signature.

Fujitsu announced the “world’s first e-book reader with a colour display.” Based  on the picture in the article, this 13.5 ounce, 7.87-inch screen-equipped device provides a graphic experience somewhere between the One Laptop Per Child PC and an early gaming system. The picture features a very small model, which makes the Fujitsu device, called “FLEPia,” look huge. But for $1,000 it does include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and storage for “the equivalent of 5,000 conventional books.” Here’s the thing, a dedicated book reader isn’t a viable device when it comes into competition with a multi-purpose device like the iPhone or the SmartQ web tablet (reviewed at Teleread on Friday), notwithstanding what Amazon’s Jeff Bezos said in January. Convergence, a much-overused word (and, yet, I am not afraid to use it, fool that I am), still applies with regard to the future of reading. One device that does two things well is better than two devices that perform different tasks marginally better—and all distinctions in technology are marginal in the eye of the buyer, who decides based on price as much as performance.

Australia’s WAtoday.com.au reports on the convergence-caused conflict between Kindle distribution and authors’ spoken work rights. What happens when a digital text can be read by a synthetic reader? Are the author’s right to control audio reproduction violated by Kindle’s read-aloud feature? I say, “no,” having recorded my fair share of audio programs in my day, because the tone and inflection of a human reader is very different than the synthetic voice of Kindle. It’s acceptable sounding, but it isn’t a reading in the real sense, just a reproduction of the text. It’s a bad idea to cut off the read-aloud feature in your books, since this also is a necessary feature for the blind and disabled who cannot conveniently control a Kindle. The issue is how to use the read-aloud feature to sell the idea of hearing from the author or a professional reader — perhaps the real answer is to include a preview of a real reading before starting the read-aloud version. But don’t tell your readers what they can do with a legally obtained copy of your text.

Check out what David Sedaris wrote on Kindle he was asked to autograph. (Via dj42 and Gizmodo)

The problem is the publishers. Eric Stoffle says the problems of e-publishing are over-stated by publishers, who are more concerned with their margins than winning market share: “Publishers like to emphasize the cost of making books prohibits them from discounting electronic books because of all the overhead. The problem is that neither the author nor the consumer is a large part of the equation.” As I wrote recently, the coming e-book wars are going to cost everyone, particularly early adopters, the most loyal readers in this market. Publishers, however, are the only parties who could destroy their business, as authors will continue to work regardless of who pays them.

Lunching with Kindle People. A video report from Kevin Lim featuring a series of user reviews and discussion among Kindle and Kindle for iPhone users at the University of Buffalo (SUNY):

Circa 1994: The Audio Book Buyer

This is a second sidebar to the Making Book On PDAs story published below, in the August 8, 1994 edition of Digital Media: A Seybold Report. An examination of the CD- and tape-based audiobook market, it predicted a transition to digital a year-and-a-half before I became an advisor to Audible Inc., the company that invented downloadable audio players and that now dominates the audiobook market.

Forebear of the handheld E-Book consumer?

She’s a typical audio book buyer: Forty-four years old, has some college in her background, makes a little less than $45,o00 a year and listens to audio books in her care or while working on a report or at dinner. For her, books speak. Reading has been transformed by the introduction of analog tape technology.

The $1.2 billion market for books on tape has skyrocketed in the past five years, growing 40.3 percent in 1993 alone, according to the Audio Publishers Association. Random House, which publishes about 150 books-on-tape titles, saw sales climb 81 percent from the first quarter of 1992 to the same period in 1993.

If selling CD-ROM titles has been difficult, getting titles for handheld devices such as WinPad and Newton into the retail channel looks next to impossible. Audio books are proof that a new media can make headway in bookstores, and even lead to the establishment of an independent channel. According to investment bankers Veronis, Suhler & Associates, approximately 125 audio bookstores, carrying an average Continue reading

Circa 1994: Making Book On PDAs

Another historical perspective on e-books, this from the August 8, 1994 edition of Digital Media: A Seybold Report. I’d published my first interactive book, in Voyager’s Expanded Book format, about a year earlier.

A market in hand for electronic publishers?

With so many industries focused on getting the interactivity into televisions and PCs, there’s not much interest anymore in delivering digitized information to handheld computers. Excitement has shifted from John Sculley’s prognostications about a $3 trillion market portended by the introduction of Newton to the similarly warm, fuzzy fantasies of the information superhighway. Nevertheless, there’s a world’s history worth of data that could find a very lucrative marketing on handheld devices—at bargain prices compared to the cost of interactive television programming.

Sooner or later, the bad feelings engendered by the poor reception for handheld computers, especially in the press, will pass. As handheld devices take off, someone’s going to cash in on the publishing opportunity in carry-along digital data. It’s tough to take a digital book along on the commuter train or into the park. A desktop PC or Mac’s got about five feet of leeway before it loses its connection to a power outlet, and portables don’t make good company during a quiet moment, or even a noisy one when a single bit of information is needed.

Unfulfilled promise

From the start, personal digital assistants (PDAs) have delivered more promise than palpable benefits. But the potential locked up in the Newton, General Magic’s Magic Cap and Microsoft’s upcoming WinPad operating system is immense. They tear off a large part of the functionality in a computer and fold it into the pocket. If used intelligently by publishers, handheld formats can enhance the experience of information.

Everyone’s familiar with the trail of tears traveled during the past two years by Apple’s Newton, AT&T’s foster child, the EO Personal Communicator, and the Tandy/Casio Zoomer. PDAs were pummeled by Time, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal, with negative adjectives piling up faster than sales receipts.

Sales of Newton, which started out briskly, have slowed in recent months. Despite that, the average consumer electronics company would jump for joy over Newton’s numbers. About 100,000 units have sold through dealers. Tens of thousands more Newtons have been shipped direct from Apple to corporate buyers. EO took the big dirt nap after wracking up sales of only 9,000 units in a year. The Zoomer, which runs the GeoWorks operating system that will be shipped in several new handhelds in coming months, has earned about 40,000 users, according to the most optimistic reports.

Developing titles for this market is an unattractive prospect in almost anyone’s book. It’s tiny and fragmented. All told, there’s less than 2000,000 handheld devices out there using four incompatible operating systems. But that is today.

We expect a small but significant explosion in handheld sales Continue reading

Noted News & Opinion, June 14, 2004

Here’s take-one of a daily reading notebook….

The Hulu of publishing has arrived, J.W. Coffey writes for the Examiner.com. Any time someone refers to Simon & Schuster as a “legendary publisher,” I have to wonder if they’ve been keeping up with the times. S&S is a very different beast under Rupert Murdoch and any superlative is a way to make a story sound more important than it is. However, the news that S&S is going to distribute e-books through Scribd.com is big. “Publishing has finally caught up with the digital age and the possibilities are endless,” Coffey writes. Not quite, but it is progress.

It turns out editors still flock to New York, writes The New York Times‘ Leslie Berlin: “Advances in technology “were supposed to make place unimportant, but in fact, the opposite has happened,” said Richard Florida, author of ‘Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life (Hardcover and Kindle editions available).’” The premise is that places contribute to innovation, of course, because they provide large concentrations of people with similar interests. Guess what? That’s true. It doesn’t mean that the places matter more than the people. Just because editors still flock to New York at this early stage of the digital era doesn’t mean it will remain the center of the publishing industry as virtuality erodes the importance of the workplace. This looks like an article with absolute conclusions that will be regretted someday.

Dark Summer, a new e-book from Joanne Olivieri is out. A Lulu.com published effort in paper, the e-book is also available for $2.50 here.

The Crow and the Unicorn, a new short story by Trish Lamoree, is available in Kindle format from Amazon. The author published directly through Amazon Digital Services.

Killer Machine, an e-book by Todd Ewing, is available for Kindle (for $6.36), Fictionwise and eReader readers for $7.95. Nice to see that e-versions precede a planned paperback rather than the other way round. Nazis manipulate time and destiny, a review says. From TheEbookSale Publishing.

Circa 1994: Electronic Books—Eight Years and Going Strong?

This is a sidebar I published in Digital Media: A Seybold Report in August 1994 about where the electronic publishing market had come in its short life and where it might be going. You’ll see we’ve come a long way and, in many ways, hardly progressed at all since the mid-Nineties. — M.R.

More than six million “copies” of Franklin Electronic Publishers Inc.’s electronic books have move through the consumer channels. Franklin issued its first title, a dictionary, as an embedded document in a small inexpensive handheld  device in 1986. Franklin’s books have never come in the prettiest covers, they are made to fit a niche at the lowest possible price.

“If you look at what has transpired ofer the last three years,” same Michael Strange, executive vice president of Franklin, “we were the only company that focused on the content, not the technology.” Indeed, Franklin has positioned itself as a publisher rather than a computer company. Despite the fact that it has introduced several significant storage capabilities to the mass market, Franklin has found it’s better to talk about what in its high-capacity memory modules—from Bibles to extensive dictionaries of foreign phrases—than the modules themselves.

The company’s handhelds have followed a pedestrian design philosophy that combines a keyboard with a low-resolution one-, three- and 10-line LCD screen that displays only text. In the past couple of years, Franklin has added audio and communications capabilities to its devices. For example, it’s now possible to download data from a PC to a Franklin electronic book device or make a Franklin dictionary speak in Stephen Hawking’s digital voice.

More than 50 Franklin titles are available today. The company’s content includes several versions of The Bible, the Concise Columbia Dictionary, a series of “Language Master” translators, and, a complete statistical record of Major League Baseball pitching and hitting. Prices range from about $40 for spelling assistants to $350 for translators with speech synthesis features.

A hit title generates sales of 100,000 to several hundred thousand units, according to Strange. “We are truly following more of a paradigm of a publisher with a back list and a main list,” he said. This allows Franklin to sustain less popular titles, which sell between 40,000 and 60,000 copies.

By and large, Franklin’s success was built on two markets: Business and Continue reading

Media transformation is inevitable—just maybe

<p>
<a href=”http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2004/12/02/rect_glsr.html” target = “new”>Jay Rosen notes a growing willingness</a> to join a new journalism movement. <a href=”http://susanmernit.blogspot.com/2004/12/mark-glaser-media-company-i-want-to.html”>Susan Mernit points</a> to the way the industrial journalism industry has created the conditions for its own destruction: “Like dragons sitting on piles of treasure, publishers have built up client relationships and sub lists that fuel their businesses and keep margins high. Like the polar ice floes, that all seems to be melting away, and at a similarly alarming rate.” Oh, and <a href = “http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/04_50/b3912115_mz016.htm” target = “new”>BusinessWeek misspelled my name</a>.
</p>
<p>
<a href=”http://www.nickdenton.org/002078.html” target = “new”>Nick Denton says it’s time for a committee</a> to enforce ethics. <a href=”http://calacanis.weblogsinc.com/entry/8816914257178893/” target = “new”>Jason Calacanis is leading the charge</a> to launch a blog ethics watchdog. This smacks of the preliminary professionalization of the medium by those in the position to claim they have the capital necessary to enforce ethical standards, a sure sign that the well-funded see things about to take off. That doesn’t make Nick and Jason bad guys, just shrewd businessmen who see a growing challenge to their business model, which is centralized (around an ad sales infrastructure) and cost-intensive.
</p>
<p>
<img src = “http://www.ratcliffeblog.com/speer-honor.jpg” width=”300″ height=”218″ border=”1″ align=”right”>Yet what we know about blogging is that it is highly decentralized and while parts of the network will certainly be organized by Nick and Jason’s companies many projects have to take root for a richly varied media to thrive. Their ethics are important examples, but they must not be the rule.
</p>
<p>
The economics of a blog-based media—though I don’t advocate a blogs-only approach at all, but for sake of the argument will use the phrase here—are susceptible to lightweight infrastructures, as well. For example, <a href=”http://www.siliconbeat.com/entries/2004/11/29/snap_the_future_of_transparency.html” target = “new”>Bill Gross has introduced</a> what, to today’s media giants, is surely a frightening level of transparency in his startup search engine company. He shows how much revenue is collected daily. A collective effort to produce <a href=”http://www.correspondences.org/” target = “new”>civic</a> <a href=”http://demo.wikinews.org/wiki/Main_Page” target = “new”>journalism</a> can operate in the open and everyone involved can see the economic progress they are making. If you can show individual contributors, such as editors, writers, photographers and videographers that they are helping to create something big, they will work for very little in exchange for a small share of ownership—Wired proved this, without providing any accountability whatsoever, in the mid-90s—and a significantly increased level of editorial control.
</p>
<p>
<img src = “http://www.greatbuildings.com/gbc/images/cid_2343022.150.jpg” width=”150″ height=”150″ border=”1″ align=”left”>I’ve been reading Christopher Alexander’s four-volume <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0972652914/ratcliffecom-20/102-4701855-9772918?creative=327641&camp=14573&link_code=as1″ target = “new”>The Nature of Order</a>, which is about creating a living architecture (buildings, not information technology). There’s so much to his work that it would be impossible to summarize (though it is <a href=”http://www.natureoforder.com/overview.htm”>by his publisher here</a>), but the richness of the living designs he uses as examples throughout the book are the result of real craftspeople working over long periods of time to produce structures that engage people, enhance their lives and enable their work, spirituality and pleasure through its interaction with them. As I think about the journalistic structure awaiting catalysis, it seems that the thing will begin simply and become incredibly deep or complex, even when they are simple, because they are full of life. Fractal would be the pop cultural way of describing it, but that discounts the importance of managing—architecting—what will be built.
</p>
<p>
<img src = “http://www.ratcliffeblog.com/roof.jpg” width=”300″ height=”226″ border=”1″ align=”left”>As Jay Rosen has written, <a href=”http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2004/01/07/press_religion.html#morel”>journalism is a kind of religion staffed by believers</a>. What is wrong with a committee to oversee the entire range of blog ethics is that it immediately becomes a rigid infrastructure, a kind of theology instead of the living spiritual process that Alexander describes in living architecture. The current diverse and contentious debate is a source of liveliness that can prevent a new journalism from taking on the stultifying sameness of the mass media. Layers of journalistic experience, ethical decisions and business experiments can add up to something greater, something alive. We ought to accept that mistakes will be made and learn to live with a process that is ever-improve through debate. So, no committee, but a metalogue should be organized and we should begin to record the lessons learned, the ethical lapses and successes. If we can embrace some uncertainty, we might just pull off something extraordinary.</p>
Here’s a December 2, 2004 post about the reinvention of journalism, a discussion with a long history and not a whole lot of success to date.
Jay Rosen notes a growing willingness to join a new journalism movement. Susan Mernit points to the way the industrial journalism industry has created the conditions for its own destruction: “Like dragons sitting on piles of treasure, publishers have built up client relationships and sub lists that fuel their businesses and keep margins high. Like the polar ice floes, that all seems to be melting away, and at a similarly alarming rate.” Oh, and BusinessWeek misspelled my name.
Nick Denton says it’s time for a committee to enforce ethics. Jason Calacanis is leading the charge to launch a blog ethics watchdog. This smacks of the preliminary professionalization of the medium by those in the position to claim they have the capital necessary to enforce ethical standards, a sure sign that the well-funded see things about to take off. That doesn’t make Nick and Jason bad guys, just shrewd businessmen who see a growing challenge to their business model, which is centralized (around an ad sales infrastructure) and cost-intensive.
Yet what we know about blogging is that it is highly decentralized and while parts of the network will certainly be organized by Nick and Jason’s companies many projects have to take root for a richly varied media to thrive. Their ethics are important examples, but they must not be the rule.
The economics of a blog-based media—though I don’t advocate a blogs-only approach at all, but for sake of the argument will use the phrase here—are susceptible to lightweight infrastructures, as well. For example, Bill Gross has introduced what, to today’s media giants, is surely a frightening level of transparency in his startup search engine company. He shows how much revenue is collected daily. A collective effort to produce civic journalism can operate in the open and everyone involved can see the economic progress they are making. If you can show individual contributors, such as editors, writers, photographers and videographers that they are helping to create something big, they will work for very little in exchange for a small share of ownership—Wired proved this, without providing any accountability whatsoever, in the mid-90s—and a significantly increased level of editorial control.
I’ve been reading Christopher Alexander’s four-volume The Nature of Order, which is about creating a living architecture (buildings, not information technology). There’s so much to his work that it would be impossible to summarize (though it is by his publisher here), but the richness of the living designs he uses as examples throughout the book are the result of real craftspeople working over long periods of time to produce structures that engage people, enhance their lives and enable their work, spirituality and pleasure through its interaction with them. As I think about the journalistic structure awaiting catalysis, it seems that the thing will begin simply and become incredibly deep or complex, even when they are simple, because they are full of life. Fractal would be the pop cultural way of describing it, but that discounts the importance of managing—architecting—what will be built.
As Jay Rosen has written, journalism is a kind of religion staffed by believers. What is wrong with a committee to oversee the entire range of blog ethics is that it immediately becomes a rigid infrastructure, a kind of theology instead of the living spiritual process that Alexander describes in living architecture. The current diverse and contentious debate is a source of liveliness that can prevent a new journalism from taking on the stultifying sameness of the mass media. Layers of journalistic experience, ethical decisions and business experiments can add up to something greater, something alive. We ought to accept that mistakes will be made and learn to live with a process that is ever-improve through debate. So, no committee, but a metalogue should be organized and we should begin to record the lessons learned, the ethical lapses and successes. If we can embrace some uncertainty, we might just pull off something extraordinary.

Indexing is politics

<p>
<a href=”http://www.bookswelike.net/”>Books we like</a>, a new collaborative index of book recommendations founded by the Media Venture Collective is being evangelized by <a href=”http://www.mediaventure.org/brad.html”>Brad deGraf</a>. Think <a href=”http://www.workingassets.com/”>Working Assets </a>for book recommendations, as a share of sales generated by the site at Amazon, Google and elsehwere, goes to supporting progressive media organizations.
</p>
<p>
Here’s my feedback: I like the design and the intent; it’s a great way for people to find and share books they like. Question is, how can the recommendations be distributed back out to the rest of the world, an affiliate program? If so, and I have an affiliate program (as I do), is there a sharing program where part of the affiliate fee goes to the progressive organizations? Or, is there a way to record the affiliate fees as a charitable donation and generate the appropriate tax forms at the end of the year?
</p>
<p>
The contribution of value can flow both ways, which I think is the catalyst for wildfire adoption. Better to make it a way of tracking affiliate fees as a charitable contribution mechanism. Everyone can feel good about that.
</p>
<p>
The catalog is already interesting. I found several books that were surprising and well reviewed (in the sense that I really connected with the reviewer’s reasons for liking the book). It demonstrates how information organized from one point of view has some power and value; we may contest the point of view, but the perspective is what adds the value.</p>

Another archival posting on book-related issues, this from December 13, 2004: <p>

Books we like, a new collaborative index of book recommendations founded by the Media Venture Collective is being evangelized by Brad deGraf. Think Working Assets for book recommendations, as a share of sales generated by the site at Amazon, Google and elsehwere, goes to supporting progressive media organizations.

Here’s my feedback: I like the design and the intent; it’s a great way for people to find and share books they like. Question is, how can the recommendations be distributed back out to the rest of the world, an affiliate program? If so, and I have an affiliate program (as I do), is there a sharing program where part of the affiliate fee goes to the progressive organizations? Or, is there a way to record the affiliate fees as a charitable donation and generate the appropriate tax forms at the end of the year?

The contribution of value can flow both ways, which I think is the catalyst for wildfire adoption. Better to make it a way of tracking affiliate fees as a charitable contribution mechanism. Everyone can feel good about that.

The catalog is already interesting. I found several books that were surprising and well reviewed (in the sense that I really connected with the reviewer’s reasons for liking the book). It demonstrates how information organized from one point of view has some power and value; we may contest the point of view, but the perspective is what adds the value.</p>

What is the Net? Marketplace, commons or temporary autonomous zone

This RatcliffeBlog posting from November 18, 2003 discusses the environment in which e-books and new reading experiences will mature. Something from my archives to kick off BooksAhead.com.

Dave Winer has issued a call for candidates to stand up for the protection of the Internet from media conglomerates who would love nothing more than to sanitize this fertile virtual ground with the salts of digital rights management and pabulum served up warm and gooey every day. Doc Searls joins in with a blast from the recent past, Saving the Net, saying, essentially, that we have to treat the Net as a public domain which is a natural habitat for markets.

Dave says there are two simple reasons for his call:

1. First, I’m part of a constituency, like many others, who are looking for a candidate to vote for who supports our primary issue. Nothing unusual about that, easy to understand.

2. But as important, it would signal that the candidate is not beholden to the media companies. I would happily give money to candidates for ads that warn that the media industry is trying to rob us of our future, and explains how important it is to protect the independence of the Internet. Use the media industry channels to undermine their efforts to the control channels they don’t own, yet.

Doc’s take is basically pragmatic, what he refers to as “conservative.” Doc and I are both thought of as liberals, but I know we are both fond of the type of rugged individualist conservatism that our grandparents practiced, sans all the socially retrograde hatred of people who are different than us. That, however, is just an aside.

My take on this issue of making the Net my primary issue is that this would be both counter-productive and destructive to the Net as a thing, since it puts the definition of the Net into the political domain when what is really at stake is a series of procedural decisions about the flow of information. The Net is Continue reading