The Reading World

Shared annotations in e-books debate heats up

I’m pleased to see people talking about the pressing need for shared annotation standards in e-books. This is the keystone of a new reading experience and new models for compensation of authors, publishers and, even, critics of books. I wrote at length about this on ZD before launching this blog. The question I think remains unasked is how do we control access to our annotations? We don’t necessarily want to share all our notes about a book. In fact, we want to be selective when shaping a response to the ideas we read. The solution is more than annotation, but access control (not DRM, but using the same kinds of cryptographic technologies that make DRM work, albeit badly). Here’s what I had to say: Books Entering the Age of Glosses.

Author & Publisher Strategies

Reviews are still king

As long as you don’t handle negative reviews the way Alice Hoffman did, they remain the most effective way to reach and engage potential buyers, eclipsing Twitter and Facebook, according to Ad Age‘s Abbey Klaasen. Reviews offer fully explained reactions to products purchased by real customers in contast to the fragmentary telegraphic conclusions posted to Twitter and other social messaging sites.

The challenge for companies is finding a way to listen effectively to buyers when they write reviews on blogs and at commerce sites. Here are the four “right ways to user reviews,” from the article:

  • Embrace the feedback — find a way to actually listen and digest the customer’s ideas inside your company.
  • Tout your customers’ favorites — they can tell other customers better than you can.
  • Incorporate customer service (yes, use reviews to identify problems and solve them for customers).
  • Don’t stop there — let reviews grow into communities.

All of these ideas are critical to publishing success, as well.

Author & Publisher Strategies

Talenthouse: Collaboration and exhibition venue

TalenthouseA new creative community,, launched this morning with video and images from hundreds of recognizable artists, says it will “eliminate the age-old artistic struggle for recognition and instead focus on creative excellence,” according to founder and CEO Roman Scharf, who also founded JAJAH, a voice over IP developer.

The Mountain View, Calif.-company offers an elegant alternative to MySpace and suggests it will help artists collaborate. Artists can join and propose collaborations through the site. The main functionality, however, is the ability to upload and display works. It is primarily a platform for being seen and finding fans.

Talenthouse pledges to foster “seasoned and up-and-coming talent and proactively facilitating interaction between them and established icons and industry players.” The language takes art and places it squarely in the marketing speak of corporate development. I am not sure this is the correct way to put it in order to win artists to the site. Yet, sites of this kind are going to be notable hubs of activity in the careers of working artists and performers.

Supporters of artists are encouraged to share their fandom with automated tools for posting to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networks. It looks like a viable marketing platform, but I find its statement that it is the “only purpose-built online platform for all artists and creatives” over-reaching, as there are many such services vying to support and, in return, gain the support of artists. The site has 25,000 members after its alpha testing phase and aims for a million within a year.

Talenthouse is currently aimed at visual and performing artists as well as fashion entrepreneurs.

Book and Reading News

The Economist hits Kindle store

EconomistDamn it, why didn’t I wait another month to renew? There is one magazine that I will not stop reading, even if it wasn’t in the Kindle, so I’d recently extended my paper subscription to The Economist. Now The Economist is available in the Kindle Store. Paul Biba at TeleRead reports the paper and e-version are priced the same, so it looks like I’m going to stick to paper for another two years.

Still and all, after Foreign Affairs went Kindle earlier this month, I have managed to migrate to digital versions of all the magazines I read, except this one. Oh well, timing was never my gift.

Book and Reading News

Borders UK introduces a £189 e-reader

Borders UK today introduced a lower-priced e-book reader, the Elonex, which it will offer alongside the £400 ($665) iRex Iliad e-book reader. The £189 ($314) Elonex, manufactured by the British PC maker of the same name for Borders UK, is a basic e-Ink screen e-reader with no wireless or other network connectivity. It supports the ePub and Adobe PDF formats and comes pre-loaded with 100 books (presumably out of copyright classics) and an SD memory slot. (A brief, not very informative review is here.)

Borders offers a catalog of 45,000 e-books, which can be displayed on the Elonex or iRex Iliad. Borders executives had previously told the Bookseller they did not consider the iRex, which includes annotation and handwriting recognition technology, “sustainable” at £400.

The dichotomy between the basic e-reader, which does little more than display pages, and a multi-purpose e-reader, like the iRex, is evolving to be the simple distinction made in this market. Amazon’s Kindle 2, however, splits the difference, doing more than a basic reader (notably with the WhisperNet delivery service, but also an increasing range of applications), at a price that, at this point, is so close to the “basic” models, it is poised to crush competitors that try to compete from the low-end. Now, if only Kindle supported ePub documents.

Book and Reading News

Asking the wrong question about Kindle

The Salt Lake Tribune, with a Denver Post article by John Wenzel, asks the wrong question about Amazon’s Kindle (or any e-book reader device, including software readers): “Is Kindle the right device to put books behind us?” It’s the kind of provocative headline that gets readers, but it gets readers thinking the wrong way about the subject, which is a deeper problem than the question of replacing books with e-books. Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, relies on this kind of bellicose statement to make headlines, too, but I expect better of newspaper editors.

Media succeed one another in importance, but a new medium does not wipe out previous generations of media in a zero-sum game. New media and old find roles that redefine the media environment. Books are so pervasive and serve a unique role with regard to authority in our society that e-books will never replace them entirely. Humans will always memorialize some things in books, just as we still occasionally produce scrolls, calligraphic invitations and diplomas on vellum, or produce music on vinyl records.

Author & Publisher Strategies

Agents, advances and the “long tail” going negative

Mike Shatzkin has an excellent piece today on the evolving role of agents in publishing. His notion of the writer and agent as business partners is important to keep in mind as authors seek the help of an agent. Business tends to be focused on the short term, quarterly results; in publishing, the advance has been the focus on the agent’s efforts, since most books never earn back that advance and it represents the only opportunity for the agent to share in revenue. That needs to change in the midst of a radical realignment of the industry. Long-term partnerships with adequate rewards for everyone involved will have the time and energy needed to solve new publishing challenges.

I’ve never used an agent and am fairly satisfied with the result, because I have not seen much creativity in deal structure in comparison to the agreements I’ve made with publishers. As long as an author is willing to pay attention to the details of a contract, up to date on the current standard for a deal in the market, and uses a lawyer to review the contract, I think the agent can be a wasted expense. However, if an agent can find creative ways to multiply revenue streams and increase the author’s share, they can be invaluable.

The alternative, of course, is to self-publish, about which Shatzkin makes an interesting observation:

But in addition to shrinking, publishing advances are taking on much more of a power law configuration, with concentration at the top and a long tail of books getting less and less (and extended by mushrooming self-publishing where the “advance” is actually negative; it’s a cost!)

The “long tail” of book publishing used to end closer to the base of the X axis of a graph and north of the $0 line (fewer authors made a minimum of positive revenue). Now, it goes on twice as far and dips well below positive revenue, with authors spending their own money to start sales of their books. Too often, when authors follow Chris Anderson’s “long tail” thinking, they envision a positive contribution to their bank accounts no matter where they fall on the power curve. The reality is that nothing is free, as Malcolm Gladwell explains in a devastating critique of Anderson’s new book, “Free,” in the latest issue of The New Yorker. How to exploit “free” transactions to drive real revenue is the problem Anderson misses and Gladwell dismisses.

For many authors today, the “advance” is their investment in the book. If they fail to embrace that investment with the support of marketing and sales efforts it deserves, they are simply throwing their money away.

Book and Reading News

Wattpad debuts on Google Android phones

WattpadlogoWattpad, a venerable ebook sharing community founded in 2006, has introduced its Wattpad e-reader application for smartphones that run on Google’s Android operating system. (The Android download is not currently listed on the company’s download page, here. Mobile phones may download Wattpad here.) It is also available on Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s Blackberry and Nokia’s Symbian OSes.

The company has more than 10,000 new titles published by members each month. The Wattpad application has been downloaded more than 3.1 million times as of June 1, 2009.

The significance of this announcement is somewhat muted by the emphasis on mobile handsets. Android is Google’s fulcrum for dislodging Microsoft Windows across a variety of platforms, including netbooks, laptops and desktop computers. It is also the foundation of an interactive cable/TV initiative, all of which would be open to Wattpad users. Asus, for example, has announced an Android netbook, and many more Google-powered devices are on the way.

Netbooks, tablet PCs and other home- and office-oriented screens will soon be book-reading devices, as well.

Author & Publisher Strategies Book and Reading News

Espresso Book Machine in action at Northshire Bookstore

Following up on a posting of the other day, about the Espresso Book Machine 2.0, this article about the device’s introduction at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., includes video of the machine, which has been nicknamed “Lurch” by store staff, in action. You can see all the machinations with a marketer’s narration (see below).

For those of you new to print terminology, a “perfect binding” does not mean a binding without flaws. Rather, it is a type of paperback binding that uses glue to hold the pages in place within the cover. The article does not discuss questions of how to facilitate browsing for more than one reader at a time, which I examined at length, but it does seem that the primary market has been self-publishers who visited the Northshire Bookstore to have copies of their own books published.

It’s my opinion that we will memorialize many events, even conversations, in printed form once efficient print-on-demand is available. That may be a bigger business than the eternal backlist business publishing envisions for P-o-D systems.

Book and Reading News

Blurb’s templates for a professional looking book

Myriad self-publishing sites and services are competing for authors’ and publishers’ business., a San Francisco company, has introduced an intriguing PDF-to-book service that lets customers use the design and layout application they prefer to create a PDF that may be used to produce the printed book. Moreover, the company offers templates for use in Adobe InDesign, one of the most advanced document design applications available (the one I prefer) and easily followed guidelines for setting up pages, books and cover designs in other applications.

This kind of templated design service is essential to making books that look good, which is one of the keys to selling books, which customers do judge by their covers, the quality of the paper and design.. Blurb can produce books of up to 440 pages using standard paper and 160 pages using premium paper stocks. Pricing is listed here.