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Borders and BookBrewer to Launch eBook Publisher

Posted on : 18-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : ebooks, Literature, Publishing, Technology

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Last week, Amazon announced its Singles program, a service that will digitally publish works ranging from 10,000-30,000 words, catering to independent authors. Today, Borders announced it is teaming with BookBrewer to launch Borders – Get Published, a service that will publish works of indeterminate length. This service will be available to any author or blogger, as it features a method to publish content via feed, directly from a writer’s blog.

Borders promises to make the works available across several devices and readers, including “iPhone, iPad, Android-powered tablets, eReader, Aluratek Libre Pro, and Velocity, Micro Cruz Reader.”

The pricing for the service has also been announced:

BORDERS – GET PUBLISHED(TM) Powered by BookBrewer gives authors a choice of two publishing packages: the $89.99 basic package and the $199.99 advanced publishing package. Under the basic package, BookBrewer will assign the book an ISBN (a $125 value), and will make it available to all major eBook stores at a price set by the writer. Royalties will be based on sales and will vary with each retailer. Authors who choose the advanced package will receive a full version of their ePub file, which they will own and may share with friends, family or submit on their own to eBook stores.

You may have noted that the Kindle (and other devices) are conspicuously missing from the list preceding the press release. However the advanced package offers an ePub version of the text, meaning that work can be transfered between online retailers pretty much seamlessly.

While writers can feasibly put together similar packages for themselves and make them available to any of the online retailers, the pricing and the feature that allows writers the ability to essentially blog their way to a book and edit afterward has a certain appeal. There are already several ongoing blog and wiki based projects like Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear’s Mongoliad.

Certainly, Get Published offers another option for writers without agents or publishers.

The question is whether this is a good thing or a bad one. One of the grand failures of Web 2.0 is that user-generated content produces much more questionable or just plain bad content than it does good. We have to endure hours of the “bad” to find those few second of the “good stuff.” And a novel is a different animal than a two minute song or a video. There’s a real time commitment involved in every single published work. Will these services produce income for the companies like Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble, only to produce stagnant markets? They will certainly (at least initially) be filled with many of the novels that have been shopped at the big publishers and rejected several times.

If the service sounds too close to a vanity press to garner a second look, consider that they offer distribution, and unlike most vanity presses they can and will deliver. And with the initial fees paid, the author is free to take his or her work to whichever retailer he or she desires, at whatever price. Most important, authors claim the vast majority of the profits from those retailers. At amazon, that’s 70% of the profits, far more than any of the big print publishers offer. The pricing model offers legitimate incentive for established writers to publish electronically. It’s a good bet that we will see established authors publishing in these markets.

Another factor to consider, from both a consumer and production standpoint, is that these services have the potential to put the digital rights in the hands of the artists and writers. Decisions about DRM will no longer be made by publishers under this monetization platform. They will be made by the person who should make them: the writer.

Kindle Singles Announced

Posted on : 17-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : ebooks, Publishing, Technology

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Heart of Darkness, Daisy Miller, Turn of the Screw, War of the Worlds, Animal Farm, The Metamorphosis, The Old Man and the Sea, The Awakening. All of these works have at least one thing in common. They were written in that nebulous word count space that publishers rarely risk investing in, at least in fiction: the novella. Henry James called it the “blessed form,” but it’s a form that, despite its wonderful potential, has remained an anomaly in the modern print publishing model–too short for the major houses and too long for the journal market.

However, there’s promise that this form may emerge in new ways. This Tuesday, Amazon made the following announcement:

Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch “Kindle Singles”–Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today’s announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.

Most people agree that the book, in its traditional print form, isn’t going anywhere soon. Sales may be flat and in general decline (last year Bloomberg reported a 1.8% overall decline while ebooks tripled), but enough readers seem to prefer print to keep the industry going for some time.

But the amazon announcement shows that there may niche markets where the digital book can thrive alongside the print one. It seems a perfect fit. The cheaper production cost makes publication viable, and the short length fits the reading pattern of most web/digital readers. There may even be opportunities for new publishers that specialize in forms that perform well in the digital market. The success or failure of ventures like “Singles” will sort that out.

On the other end of the keyboard, “Singles” will provide an amazing opportunity for writers, both beginning and established, to explore the form with access to new published models.

E-book Sales

Posted on : 14-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : ebooks, Publishing

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From Publishers Weekly:

While sales in the print trade segments shrank in August, e-book sales had another strong month, jumping 172.4%, to $39 million, according to the 14 publishers that report sales to the AAP’s monthly sales estimates. For the year-to-date, e-book sales were up 192.9%, to $263 million. AAP said that of the approximately 19 publishers that report trade sales, revenue in the January to August period was $2.91 billion, making the $263 million e-book sales 9.0% of trade sales. At the end of 2009, e-book sales comprised 3.3% of trade sales. The mass market segment, where sales were down 14.3% in the first eight months of 2009, represented 15.1% of trade sales through August.

Amazon & Macmillan: Dumb & Dumber

Posted on : 03-02-2010 | By : Dean | In : Gadgets, Publishing, Rants, Tech and Teaching

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The other day, I decided to buy a copy of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, a novel that received praise  from Publishers Weekly and several other sources. I logged into my amazon account, hoping that I could pick up a digital copy, something I normally buy first, and then if I like the book, I buy the print version.

And like most readers trying to buy Macmillan books on Amazon that day, I found myself in an annoying click-loop that didn’t get me to the checkout. I had not yet read about the little war with Macmillan and Amazon.

The outcome of this war could be just plain bad, or it could potentially be a reader’s worst nightmare.

First, let me say that the kind of electronic editions of books that can be bought on Amazon aren’t really books that you own. The DRM on them basically means that you are paying for the right to read them, not own them. They can be removed from your device, and they cannot be moved from that device. It’s analogous to building a room in your house that can hold 3500 books, and after you have paid to build it, the people who built the room and sold you the books to put in it start putting conditions on reading the books you thought you owned. Pretty bizarre.

Really, the only thing that would entice a savvy consumer to buy into such a raw DRM deal would be other nifty things that Amazon could offer. And they did that. They gave us cheap pricing, a nice base of books transmitted on a free 3G network, built-in dictionaries, text-to-speech functionality (well, for a while it was nice), and customer reviews, all easily accessible. They had a good thing going with the market share that gave them.

But then Macmillan decided that an e-book should cost exactly what a discounted print hardcover book costs. You know the ones I am talking about. They’re in the windows and in neat piles on the tables at Barnes & Noble. The ones that cost money to print, use ink, paper, have fancy color images. And oh, yeah. You own them after you pay. You can give them to whomever you want. You can read them without the person who sold them to you coming to your house and taking them back (thanks, amazon for deleting my copy of 1984!).

See, there’s a difference. And the same people who argue about books going digital say the reading experience and our relationship with print books is fundamentally different, too. The publishing industry has argued that a book is a special artifact, something that is physical and touchable and that reading in print is something that we will always want to do. There is a certain mystique associated with the experience, they argue, that is ancient and quite human somehow. I tend to disagree with this notion. While I am a one of those readers that loves to read a real book, fewer and fewer younger people feel the same way I do. In fact, the success of e-readers (not just the Kindle) are the cause of Macmillan’s repricing and Amazon’s dispute with them as much as their fear that amazon is moving into their territory. The proof is in the balance sheets, and Macmillan’s decision to raise pricing can be read as an admission, of sorts, that the e-market is growing at an alarming rate, or at least one that will eat into their traditional print revenue stream.

This isn’t a unique phenomenon. The music industry has been fighting the same digital content fight for years, and they’re losing for the same reasons that Amazon’s approach will. Macmillan has actually done consumers a favor by spotlighting it.

I know a few musicians who pay the bills making music. They are quick to point out that their record sales are dwindling. Most of their money is made on concert ticket sales, promotional material, bags, shirts, ring tones, you name it. And the ironic thing is that the corporations who produce these records do very little to manage those alternative revenue streams. These are the same companies who have made the same arguments that the book industry is now making. They once claimed that there was “something about a record” that people liked. It was something that you could hold, something tangible–which is exactly why there are hundreds of millions of Americans maintaining their phonographs! Or not.

DRM has been and is currently destroying the music industry. We recorded albums on vinyl and gave them to our friends to listen to, then we recorded tapes and did the same thing. Miraculously, people still made music and record labels still made money. That’s because the average person likes to pay freely for things that they find valuable and (this is important and what the industry doesn’t get) that they own.

It’s obtuse for the publishing industry to try the same failed approach. And it’s worse with print books. Talk to any writer with any of the big publishers. Ask him or her about how book tours and promotions work these days. Writers are free to do them, pretty much at their own expense, except maybe the top one or two percent. Why don’t these companies get that their services in the future won’t be merely (or maybe even primarily) the production of books any more than, say the music industry produces records? or more aptly, in the case of companies more suited to adapt to the shift in content delivery, the movie industry is solely is in the business of producing DVD’s.

Rather than get creative, the publishing houses are taking the low road. They will start by trying to muscle e-books out of existence by not only speaking dreamily about how lovely it is to curl up with a book, but now by trying to make the problem go away by charging the same for the book and the limited license to read the book. The latter is equivalent to producing a booklet of color photos on nice paper, with a nice cover, and then producing a series of jpegs of those photos, and then trying to make the insane claim that they cost the same. Anyone who has made a photocopy and downloaded an image knows that one of those two has no real production cost.

And let me guess. Once the readers react to the pricing on books they don’t own by finding places where they can get the real rights to their texts, the industry will react by trying to legislate p2p e-book transfers out of existence. They might even give the company that they sue a face, maybe one with nice little cat-like Napster ears.

Today, the Author’s Guild and Literary agents lauded the move by Macmillan as one that will be good for the industry. Of course it will. It will nearly double revenue on something that costs zero to reproduce. I am guessing that amazon won’t fight too hard on that score. They have nothing to lose by charging more, really. The readers will pick up the bill.

Google Books Adds Creative Commons

Posted on : 16-08-2009 | By : Dean | In : ebooks

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Google Books logo

Google books has announced that they are going to accept and distribute creative commons books via their library:

Today, we’re launching an initiative to help authors and publishers discover new audiences for books they’ve made available for free under Creative Commons (CC) licenses. Rightsholders who want to distribute their CC-licensed books more widely can choose to allow readers around the world to download, use, and share their work via Google Books.

Creative Commons licenses make it easier for authors and publishers to tell readers whether and how they can use copyrighted books. You can grant your readers the right to share the work or to modify and remix it. You can decide whether commercial use is okay. There’s even an option to dedicate your book to the public domain.

Read the entire announcement at Inside Google Books.

Among the initial list of the uploads that Google noted was Doctorow’s Little Brother, one of the finalists for the Hugo award.

The announcement is great news for writers who want a broader distribution of their work.

Textbooks on Your iPhone?

Posted on : 16-08-2009 | By : Dean | In : Tech and Teaching

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The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

CourseSmart of San Mateo, California, already makes more than 7000 college textbooks from 12 publishers available to its subscribers online via their computers, but now the company has added “eTextbooks for the iPhone,” allowing students to free themselves from even having to lug around their heavy laptop computers.

iphone

Don’t get me wrong. I like my iphone a lot. But I just don’t see using it to do any serious studying. Maybe it’s my old eyes, but I can’t imagine trying to examine the numerous figures, tables and charts that fill textbooks.

And the urge to text is that-many-millimeters closer to you the whole time.

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Open Textbooks, Flexbooks

Posted on : 13-08-2009 | By : Dean | In : Tech and Teaching

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From the office of the Govenator:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the first report of California’s free digital textbook initiative – which outlines how high school math and science textbooks submitted under the first phase of the initiative measure up against the state’s rigorous academic content standards. Of the 16 free digital textbooks for high school math and science reviewed, ten meet at least 90 percent of California’s standards. Four meet 100 percent of standards, including the CK-12 Foundation’s CK-12 Single Variable Calculus, CK-12 Trigonometry, CK-12 Chemistry and Dr. H. Jerome Keisler’s Elementary Calculus: An Infinitesimal Approach.

You can find the whole story here

And CK-12 had the books ready for download at their site, where they call their concept of the openbook learning experience a “flexbook.” Flexbooks are books that can be compiled via the open source content the company has available. It’s an interesting concept, and one that has some serious potential.

I can remember the lawsuits that froze the use of the professor-compiled, spiral-bound anthologies (of such bad quality they often started to come apart after a week of class), only to have them reappear a semester later, after the suits were settled, at prices that could have put even the lawyers that argued the cases in serious debt, let alone poor college students. And that same pricing was applied to compiled e-textbooks at their inception. It’s one of the central reasons why those books have not been adopted.

In fact, I recently spoke to a representative for a major publisher who was baffled by the fact that no one adopts their “resource rich” electronic books. It’s simple. Piling resources onto a book that is already overpriced (because the copyright fees for each of its anthology selections has sent its costs soaring) to a degree that no one can afford it won’t entice broke college students to get their credit cards out. Nor will it encourage professors, most of whom think in part about the cost they are passing on to their students, to adopt these books. To make matters worse, some of these books contain work that is in the public domain (i.e. free).

With all the digital “custom textbooks” and “services” and “course packs” and whatever else is being added, it is nice to see a non-profit providing an open source option for state schools. I haven’t looked closely at the content, but if it’s current and high quality, open source flexbooks should be widely adopted.

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