Monthly Archives: June 2011

E-Reader Wars

It’s amazing how intense the battle has become between the various companies slinging their latest devices for reading e-books. I remember the exact moment when I first heard about the Amazon Kindle. In fact, I said, “Really? That would never sell.”

… yeah, don’t put me in charge of business predictions, folks.

As you know, the Kindle is the leading e-reader among buyers. In 2010, the Kindle sold about 22 million units. Meanwhile, major-minor players like Barnes & Noble and Borders tried to play catch-up with their own respective launches. Then Apple’s iPad hit, and while iBooks makes it seem like a major player in the game, the fact that it’s more tablet than e-reader places it within an entirely different arena.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like the Nook and Kobo – in fact, I own a NookColor and love it to pieces. I never liked the Kindle for aesthetic reasons; I don’t like black text on a gray background, the Kindle does look like a huge calculator, and while eInk is really neat, I’m not crazy about it.  I know a lot of my preferences stem from the fact that I’m a cartoonist and love the world of color too much – hence my current e-reader of choice.

For whatever reason, though, the Kindle has become insanely popular and continues to have a strong hold on the e-reader market. I see people reading all the time on their Kindles while riding the T – as a native Miamian residing in Boston, it is a lovely thing to witness on public transportation.

But what about the Kobo?

Honestly, I don’t know much about it. I thought Barnes & Noble had a lot of work to do to compete with the Kindle, but the Kobo is in an even worse spot. The company is doing good things, though: as a result of its “Read On Revolution,” Kobo donated 100 of its devices to a high school, as well as $3,000 worth of e-books.

Additionally, according to The Toronto Star,

In the U.S., Amazon.com’s Kindle is the market leader with a 41 per cent share, followed by Barnes & Noble at 27 per cent. Kobo ranks third somewhere “in the double digits.”

What are “double digits”? At least 10 percent, I guess. But Kobo needs to step up its game in order to really compete with Nook and Kindle. I have a pretty extensive selection of e-books through B&N, as well as magazines. Oh, and apps, including one of the angry bird variety.

What does the Kobo bring to the table?

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Harry Potter and The DRM Dragon

I honestly haven’t had much of a chance to think about Pottermore since the announcement, but once I learned the Harry Potter ebooks would be DRM-free, I was subsequently intrigued, but even more perplexed.

As a reader, I’m perfectly happy sans DRM, of course – but I wonder what Bloomsbury is thinking when it comes to piracy. There are a number of avenues for individuals to download books illegally (which I will not list here!), so it will be a lot easier for users to share the digital versions of the HP installments without DRM within the files. I’m sure the publishers/appropriate parties can estimate how much they can expect to lose in illegal downloads.

After some quick Google-fu, I’ve just learned about digital watermarking. Very interesting… a lot more flexibility, and – gasp! – trust?

Why do we still have DRM again?

Regardless, I’m sure the “true fans” will legitimately purchase the books via Pottermore for their devices, and – this is an assumption – I bet the majority of folks with e-readers do not pirate materials. Money will come in, and as long as the content is not locked to a specific device, Rowling, Bloomsbury and Co. will have a fantastic opportunity to reach the largest audience possible.

Cha-ching.

PS: What the heck. Female 30-somethings pirate ebooks? (Courtesy of RWW.)

On Pottermore, Or: I should have expected that

As a fan of the Harry Potter series, when I first heard of the Pottermore website, my immediate thought was: “Hm. She’s doing more Potter stuff? Why? She doesn’t need the cash…” I was skeptical of the site, but I had no idea as to what it could possibly entail. I had caught a leak about Pottermore being some kind of MMO, which kinda-sorta piqued my interest, but nothing worth getting excited over.

Then, it happened:

NY Times – ‘Harry Potter’ Series to Be Sold as E-Books
Publisher’s Weekly – Pottermore Web Site to Sell E-Books in October
The Bookseller –  Confirmed: J K Rowling to sell Harry Potter e-books exclusively from Pottermore website

Of course. Of courseHarry Potter e-books. The thought of that is absolutely, positively, fantastically magical to me.

While some likely fictional people are unimpressed with the overall idea – this online network/community of new content for readers – the bigger, more important facet of this announcement warrants a lot of attention. E-books, guys! Harry Potter is coming to your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and – dare I say it – iPad! It’s a landmark that’s long overdue. Whether J.K. Rowling or her publisher is to blame, I don’t know. Nor do I care. But I know several thousand (at the very least) did.

What does this mean to publishers? What does this mean to readers?

I think this serves as a signal. With a series as popular and as permanent as Harry Potter turning to digital means in such a profound and personal way, publishers need to re-evaluate what that digital experience means to them in regard to their readers (and e-readers).

This could be the PR magic working on me, but I don’t think the digital medium, whether it be the web or the e-reader, can solely be a medium. It needs to present something else, something that goes beyond print – not just in form, but in content. We get that with many of our books, and I think even children’s books capture it best: an isolated space where content lives and thrives because of the interactivity it offers to young readers.

Yet I look at the stuff on my Nook and merely think “text on screen.” It’s my book, but it’s digital. It’s only another way of presenting the information I want to read. And I know a big part of it has to do with what the material is – obviously a personal reading experience lends itself more to an adventure series than a medical textbook – but are publishers doing what they can to go beyond bringing titles to a screen than just for convenience’ sake, or the chance to go “look at us, we’re digital now”?

That’s why e-readers (both the devices and the human counterpart, like myself) receive so much flack from those traditional foils: “I could never leave my [printed] book. I keep books for the experience of reading.” We haven’t figured out how to genuinely tap into and capture that experience within our devices.

Maybe Harry can help.

Two giants; one mighty, one fallen

Some news courtesy of Publisher’s Lunch: Barnes & Noble’s made about $7 billion this year, thanks to BN.com and their line of Nooks. Meanwhile, at the other end of the pool, Borders lost $35 million. Ow.

I hope Borders can slowly bounce back from their bankruptcy. (Wow, that’s more alliteration than I can usually handle!) I learned the Borders at Downtown Crossing was closing soon, which really saddened me. What the heck is going to go there instead? It’s huge! And while I’m looking forward to a somewhat decent sale, I don’t know where I’m going to put those books. Not a clue.

Job hunting ahoy

As Miranda has recently discussed, job hunting within publishing is tricky business. Daily visiting Indeed.com and the Bookbuilders of Boston postings for new leads, while easy in itself, can become discouraging after rejection e-mails or worse – no replies. Since moving to Boston I’ve applied to over 20 jobs in publishing (a small number, I’ll admit), none of which have come to fruition. Which, I think I can say, is a blessing in disguise – as a result, I’ve been able to focus on my graduate coursework and focus on what I want to pursue professionally (i.e. e-books and the like).

But as my time in school draws closer to the finish, the idea of getting an actual job within the field both puzzles and terrifies me, because I end up wondering whether I would fit the bill in general. Going into a profession within publishing is a relatively new thought for me; the idea of working within the realm of books, in any aspect, didn’t hit me until a few months before I earned my bachelor’s degree, just as I was about to decide on pursuing that dreaded M.A. in English literature.

The practicality of the path (oh, hey, I can do other things besides teach?) appealed to me greatly. But I did not realize (perhaps a little too late) how competitive the field was – or better yet, how competitive it has become.

Of course, I’ve been given a lot of pep talks about it*. Kinda in the same vein of that “it’s not you, it’s me” business.

It’s the economy. It’s the fact that publishing, as a whole, has taken a hit. What’s more interesting though, and more concrete reasoning to me, is that right now it’s near the end of the fiscal year, and publishers are trying to stay lean and mean before they can look to spend money on possible hires.

I would hope Wiley & Sons is at a place where they can offer positions after posting significant gains. But it’s this little piece news that’s interested me the most, from CEO Stephen Smith:

The shift to digital continues to enhance all of our businesses, resulting in new revenue models, new opportunities in emerging markets, and margin and working capital improvements. (emphasis added)

And also, according to Publisher’s Weekly,

E-book sales alone rose to $23 million, including a 145% increase in the fourth quarter to $9 million, 8% of group sales.

E-books are booming, e-books are the future, everyone’s buying e-books and e-readers – that seems to be all I read these days. Publishers are turning to e-publishing with incredible enthusiasm (for the most part), and yet the related jobs are still hidden like easter eggs. (If you disagree, by all means, show me the way!) As someone who is determined to enter electronic publishing, these bursts of good news and optimism have to be a good sign for me.

Right?

* Pep talks courtesy of one John Rodzvilla, electronic publisher-in-residence at Emerson College, who can be found at Gutter Type.

New Pal: Olympia De Luxe

My dear friend Miranda, newly hired by MIT Press(!), runs a fantastic blog about editing and her adventures within the field of publishing. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her at Emerson College, her (and my soon-to-be) alma mater; when I did I discovered someone very passionate about writing and editing, and have enjoyed reading her thoughts on the industry and the job hunt very much. Check her blog out – it’s fantastic! (And it features some artwork by yours truly, in case you needed more motivation.)

Also, her favorite punctuation mark is the em dash. That’s enough of a reason to read her stuff.

The Waste Land for iPad – a waste?

When I got wind of this beautiful, beautiful thing, I knew I was destined to get an iPad. Not anytime soon, of course, but that was what made the deal. Until now, I’ve always sworn off the iPad – much like the Macbook Air – because it didn’t deliver enough power for what I would want (i.e. Adobe Anything). There was also the $500-price tag.

Now I’m second-guessing myself because, my goodness, if you were a huge techie geek person with a love for T.S. Eliot, wouldn’t you want that on your iPad?

I didn’t need to watch the entire demo video to fall in love with this app. The videos, the annotation, the poems read by Ted Hughes and T.S. Eliot himself – what more could a girl want besides being able to load EPUB files on a Kindle?

I shared the above link via Facebook and a friend of mine raised a concern: “It’s silly [such an app/experience] is only available on an iPad.” The interactivity, she said, could be had through a computer. Why isn’t there, pardon the expression, an app for that?

The only way I see such a product packaged for computers and laptops is through a specialized HTML5 site. I don’t think the demand is there for packaged software, unless it’s bundled with a physical book; and even then, would it be worth all those hours of designing and programming to create an experience meant as a mere supplement for the printed text? That doesn’t make sense.

I also said,

I don’t think I would buy this app if it was available for my MacBook. The app’s appeal directly stems from the fact that it’s specifically an iPad experience. And I can see why that would be unfair – only those with an iPad or access to one can experience the text in such a profoundly innovative way. But the medium for the poetry is just as important as the poetry itself, as well as the market [in this case].

So what are you paying for? Certainly not the text, as it’s in the public domain. T.S. Eliot’s voice? No, not that either. Honestly, I see it as a matter of convenience; I won’t need to pull out my hard copy of Eliot’s original manuscript while his booming voice plays in my earbuds – though I could. I always could.

But why would I? For the smell of the paper? To handwrite my notes? I question those tangible aspects of reading and annotating for pleasure.

The answer to that question, for me, would be to save $513.99.

Apple doesn’t fall far from fortune

TechCrunch reports that Apple is worth “roughly $301 billion.”

What does that equal? Well, aside from three hundred and one billion dollars USD, it’s the combined (approximate) values of

Dell ($29.3 billion)
Hewlett Packard ($72.8 billion), and
Microsoft ($200.3 billion)

Jeezus. According to TechCrunch, the difference between Apple and Microsoft – you know, that $100 billion – equals Nokia, Netflix, eBay and Research In Motion.

Again: Jeezus. I wish I could picture all that money somewhere. Like in my closet. Or under my bed. Or as my bed.

Eyeing the Cloud

The New York Review of Books had an interesting piece about Apple’s newly announced iCloud service, which I’m still mildly skeptical about – or trying to be, because at the end of the day, it’s coming from Apple and the glorious palm of Steve Jobs, and I, like many other iUsers, am stricken with fascinated interest. [Full disclosure: I own a Macbook and an iPhone 4.]

While I have used cloud services for most of my life (granted, before I really knew what “cloud computing” even was), the idea of sending all of my data to online servers terrifies me. Despite my extended experience with cloudwork, I now bite my lip whenever I look at my 500 GB LaCie external hard drive. Should I consider such a leap?

As Halpern notes, storage in The Cloud is not a novel idea – after all, Gmail, Netflix, and other services have been around for quite a while. But I wonder if my comfort with these services stems from the fact that they merely fill a particular niche: e-mail, movies, documents. Never macro-tiered storage, so to speak. The possibility of sending all of my data, my work, my life – delivering it into the hands of X company, whether it be Apple or Google or anyone, leaves me rather disconcerted.

So why does cloud reading sound like a better deal for me? Not as an alternative, just another option. 24Symbols looks like a neat bet, but again: solely another niche.

Am I safer because I have separate nooks for my digital life? I certainly feel safer, but the more I think about it, I wonder if I’m being counterintuitive. It’s more difficult to track my digital media circles when they’re in separate places. Putting all my eggs in a single basket does make sense – for Google, it makes sense – but my skepticism for something so fluid and seamless bothers me. Even if the masterminds behind the tech are Google, Apple; geniuses.

The psychology of attachment to the digital as well as an individual’s “digital identity” definitely comes into play here. So perplexing, and in constant flux.