Joho the Blog » e-books

July 30, 2012

E-book licensing by libraries: an overview

The Berkman Center’s David O’Brien, Urs Gasser, and John Palfrey have just posted a 29-page “briefing paper” on the various models and licenses by which libraries are providing access to e-books.

It’s not just facts ‘n’ stats by any means, but here are some anyway:

“According to the 2011 Library Journal E-Book Survey, 82% of libraries currently offer access to e-books, which reflects an increase of 10 percentage points from 2010. … Libraries maintain an average of 4,350 e-book copies in a collection.”

“[T]he publisher-to-library market across all formats and all libraries (e.g., private, public, governmental, academic, research, etc.) is approximately $1.9B; of this, the market for public libraries is approximately $850M”

92% of libraries use OverDrive as their e-book dealer

Of the major publishers, only Random House allows unrestricted lending of e-books.

I found the section on business models to be particularly clarifying.

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March 30, 2011

What’s wrong with this picture?

A screen capture of an Amazon page:

Kindle pricing highest of all versions

Yeah, this happens a lot. It shouldn’t.

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March 28, 2011

ePublishing business models

I’m at an education conference put on by CET in Tel Aviv. This is the second day of the conference. The opening session is on business models for supporting the webification of the educational system.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Eli Hurvitz (former deputy director of the Rothschild Foundation, the funder of CET) is the moderator. The speakers are Michael Jon Jensen (Dir of Strategic Web Communications, National Academies Press), Eric Frank (co-founder of Flat World Knowledge) and Sheizaf Rafaelli (Dir. of the Sagy Center for Internet Research at Haifa Univ.)

Michael Jensen says he began with computers in 1980, thinking that books would be online within 5 yrs. He spent three yearsat Project Muse (1995-8), but left because they were spending half their money on keeping people away from their content. He went to the National Academies Press (part of the National Academy of Science). The National Academies does about 200 reports a year, the result of studies by about 20 experts focused on some question. While there are many wonderful things about crowd-sourcing, he says, “I’m in favor of expertise. Facts and opinions on the Web are cheap…but expertise, expert perspective and sound analysis are costly.” E.g., that humans are responsible for climate change is not in doubt, should not be presented as if it were in doubt, and should not be crowd-sourced, he says.

The National Academy has 4,800 books online, all available to be read on line for free. (This includes an algorithmic skimmer that extacts the most important two-sentence chunk from every page.) [Now that should be crowd-sourced!] Since 2005, 65% are free for download in PDF. They get 1.4M visitors/month, each reading 7 page on average. But only 0.2% buy anything.

The National Academy Press’ goal is access and sustainability. In 2001, they did an experiment: When people were buying a book, they were offered a download of a PDF for 80% of the price, then 60%, then 40%, then for free. 42% took the free PDF. But it would have been too expensive to make all PDF’s free. The 65% that are now free PDFs are the “long tail” of books. “We are going to be in transition for the next 20 yrs.” Book sales have gone from 450,00/yr in 2002 to 175,000 in 2010. But, as they have given away more, they are disseminating about 850,000 units per year. “That means we’re fulfilling our publishing mission.” 260,000 people have opted in for getting notified of new books.

Michael goes through the available business options. NAP’s offerings are too broad for subscriptions. They will continue selling products. Authors fund some of the dissemination. And booksellers provide some revenue. There are different models for long-form content vs. articles vs. news vs. databases. Further, NAP has to provide multiple and new forms of content.

General lessons: Understand your mission. Make sure your strategy supports your mission. But digital strategies are a series of tactics. Design fot the future. and “The highest resolution is never enough…Never dumb down.” “The print-based mindset will work for the next few years, but is a long-term dead end.” “‘Free’ of some kind is required.” Understand your readers, and develop relationships with them. Go where the audiences are. “Continue experimenting.” There is no single best model. “We are living in content hyperabundance, and must compete with everything else in the world.”

 


Eric Frank of Flat World Knowledge (“the largest commercial publisher of” open source textbooks) says that old business models are holding us back from achieving what’s possible with the Net. He points to a “value gap” in the marketplace. Many college textbooks are $200. The pain is not evenly distributed. Half of college students are in 2 yr colleges, where the cost of textbooks can be close to their tuition costs. The Net is disrupting the text book market already, e.g.,through the online sale of used books, or text book rental models, or “piracy.” So, publishers are selling fewer units per year, and are raising pricves to protect their revenues. There’s a “vicious downward spiral,” making everyone more and more unhappy.

Flat World Knowledge has two business models. First, it puts textbooks through an editorial process, and publishes them under open licenses. They vet their authors, and peer review the books. They publish their books under a Creative Commons license (attribution, non-commercial, share-alike); they retain the copyright, but allow users to reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute them. They provide a customization platform that looks quite slick: re-order the table of content, add content, edit the content. It then generates multiple formats, including html, pdf, ePub, .mobi, digital Braille, .mp3. Students can choose the format that works best for them. The Web-based and versions for students with disabilities are free. They sell softwcover books ($35 fofr b&w, $70 for color) and the other formats. They also sell study guides, online quizzes, and flashcards. 44% read for free online. 66% purchase something: 33% print, 3% audiobooks, 17% print it yourself, 3% ebooks.

Second business model: They license all of their intellectual property to an institution that buys a site license at $20/student, who then get access to the material in every format. Paper publishers’ unit sales tend to zero out over just a few semesters as students turn to other ways of getting the book. Free World Knowledge’s unit sales tend to be steady. They pay authors 20% royalty (as opposed to a standard 13%), which results in higher cumulative revenues for the authors.

They currently have 112 authors (they launched in 2007 and published their first book in Spring 2009). 36 titles published; 42 in pipeline. Their costs are about a third of the industry and declining. Their time to market is about half of the traditionals (18 months vs. 40 months). 1,600 faculty have formally adopted their books, in 44 countries. Sales are growing at 320%. Their conversion rate of free to paid is currently at 61% and growing. They’ve raised $30M in venture capital. Bertelsmann has put in $15M. Random House today invested.

He ends by citing Kevin Kelly: The Net is a giant copy machine. When copies are super-abundant, and worthless. So, you need to seel stuff that can’t be copied. Kevin lists 8 things that can’t be copied: immediacy, personalization, interpretation (study aids), authenticity (what the prof wants you to read), accessibility, embodiment (print copy), patronage (people want to pay creators), findability. Future for FWK: p2p tutoring, user-generated marketplace, self-assessment embedded within the books, data sales. “Knowledge is the black gold of the 21st century.”

[Sheizaf Rafaelli's talk was excellent — primarily about what happens when books lose bindings — but he spoke very quickly, and the talk itself did not lend itself to livebloggery, in part because I was hearing it in translation, which required more listening and less typing. Sorry. His slides are here. ]

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July 5, 2010

[2b2k] The golden age of marginalia

Ian Frazier has a well-done-as-usual piece in the New Yorker, reporting on a visit to the Berg Collection in the NY Public Library, where the librarian Ann Garner showed him some literary marginalia — Mark Twain, Nabokov, Ted Hughes, Kerouac on Thoreau, and more.

It begins with a paean to the physicality of books, leading to:

In the soft lamplight, the open pages of the books she had chosen glowed like a physical and visible representation of the sublime.

All part of our culture’s long goodbye to the Era of the Book. Books will be with us forever, but functionally and iconically they’re being replaced by networks that don’t glow nearly as sublimely in soft lamplight.

The irony is that the digitizing of books should bring us into the Golden Age of Marginalia, in which not only is it easier than ever to highlight and annotate passages, but we can benefit from the marginalia of others, especially as reading becomes social. We will lose the thrill of knowing that Kerouac’s hand scratched that line of ink into this book, but we will gain the ability to learn from the digital traces left by all of today’s Kerouacs, Kerouac scholars, and Kerouac readers.

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July 28, 2009

Annals of openness in peril

1. The court has rejected Charlie Nesson’s basic defense of Joel Tenenbaum’s sharing of music files. The case is going to jury which may levy the same sort of insanely excessive fines as in the Jammie Thomas-Rassert trial. I hope Charlie’s team can convince the jury that the fines and the entire process are so onerous and disproportionate that the RIAA has been abusing the court system. Of course, IANAL, and IANAOTJ (I am not on the jury).


2. Barnes and Noble has launched its e-book software. It runs on iPhones as well as on PC’s and Mac’s. I’m having trouble finding which formats it supports, but judging from its Open dialogue, not PDF, .doc, .html, .mobi, or text. It does support .PBD books.

After a very very quick session playing with it, it seems quite competitive with the Kindle, and because I’m running it on my Mac and not on the little piece of crippled hardware I bought from Amazon — the Kindle is just barely adequate as a reader, and is still overpriced by more than 100% in terms of its value, imo — having the use of a keyboard and a mouse is a big step up. And, unlike the Kindle, you can use whatever fonts you have on your machine. Still, it’s only incrementally better than the Kindle’s software (again, on a quick look), not a great leap forward for readers.

One of B&N’s big advantages is that it’s hooked into Google Books, enabling you to download public domain books that Google has scanned in. You do this by searching for a book on the B&N site and noticing the “free from Google Books” label. Be sure to sort by price; otherwise B&N lists the for-pay versions first. If B&N wants to be aggressive in this space (= succeed), it should create an easy-to-find section that lets you browse Google’s free books. Get us using the ereader and then sell us the copyrighted books. (If B&N has such a section, I couldn’t find it quickly enough.)

BTW, I presume (and thus may be wrong) that Google did a special deal with B&N to enable this. If so, I find it worrisome. If Google is going to be granted a special right to scan in books without fear of copyright reprisals, it will be the de facto national e-library, discouraging others from undertaking similarly scaled scanning projects, and thus should be making its public domain books equally and maximally freely available. IMO.

2a. [Later that evening:] B&N stores are now providing free Wifi. Yay!


3. Apple is not permitting the Google telephone service into the Apple App store, thus simultaneously and inadvertently making the case for Zittrainian generativity.


4. [Later that day]: On the happy front, Google has open-sourced an implementation of Wave.

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June 7, 2009

My kid’s novel is now an e-book

My $100 Million Dollar Secret, my novel for young adults, is now available for free on your Kindle. In fact, it’s available in multiple e-book formats, thanks to ManyBooks. It’s available there because it went through ManyBooks’ rigorous vetting process, which consisted of me filling in a form that basically required me to say “Wanna list my book?” I submitted it in html format, and ManyBooks converted it to a dozen other formats. Thank you, ManyBooks! And, yes, at ManyBooks you’ll find many books worth reading.

You can also read it for free online, or download it in .Doc or .PDF formats free at its own site. You can also get a paper copy (and pay me a couple of bucks) at Lulu, where it has sold well into the low dozens of copies.

The book is about a kid who wins $100,000,000 in the state lottery, through a contrivance because his parents are philosophically against the idea of lotteries. Because he’s a good kid and gets along well with his parents, he decides he will not lie about having won it. But he doesn’t want to acknowledge that he (more or less inadvertently) bought a ticket. So, he has to hide the fact that he now is rich. The book is about him figuring out how to spend the money, and more importantly, what good money can do.

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June 2, 2009

Why did E Ink sell?

E Ink has sold itself to Prime View International, a large Taiwanese display manufacturer, and I don’t understand why.

Now, it’s not surprising I don’t understand why. I have no info about E Ink’s financial state other than this article by Robert Weisman in the Boston Globe, and in any case I’m not a great financial guy (and I have the bank statements to prove it). So, my surprise may well be due to nothing but ignorance. Nevertheless, here’s why I was taken aback by the announcement.
E Ink is on a roll in a market that is about to explode (in the good sense). After ten years of work developing a low-power, highly legible display, it’s got something that works. Thanks to Kindle, it’s proven itself in the mass market and it’s in lots of people’s hands. And the market is about to take off now that we have digital delivery systems, a new generation of hardware, and a huge disruption in the traditional publishing market. So, why would E Ink sell itself?

The price — $215M — seems relatively low for such a hot product. If they need the money to fund R&D or to build manufacturing facilities, surely (= it’s not at all sure) there were other possibilities. Apparently the market crisis made an IPO implausible, although, to tell the truth, I — with my weak financial grasp — am not convinced. Investors are looking for places to invest, and E Ink looks like it’s exactly the sort of company they’d love to back: a proven leader in a market that’s obviously on the verge of explosive growth. It’d be like getting in on the early stage of iPods, only potentially bigger, since everyone who reads eventually will have an e-reader. But, if an IPO was out, why wouldn’t E Ink have preferred other forms of investment, including giving a partnership and equity stake to Prime View?

The most likely explanation by far is that I don’t understand what I’m talking about. Another explanation is that the company and its investors simply wanted to cash in by cashing out; the Globe article suggests this. But, that again raises the question of why they’d want to exit a company with a product in a market that’s about to take off. Perhaps they have reason to think the market is not going to take off , but that seems wrong; note that Google yesterday announced it’s going to enter the online book sales business. Or maybe they have doubts about E Ink technology. Maybe they worry the cost won’t drop fast enough for a commoditized market. Maybe color isn’t on its way fast enough. Maybe they’re worried about the inability (or so I’m presuming) of their tech ever to handle video, since the winning e-reader will eventually be multimedia. Maybe they know about ebooks on the way — Apple iPad or whatever the presumed product will be called — that will make static, black-on-gray pages seem obsolete.

So, I don’t know. But it smells fishy to me…although, as I may have mentioned, my financial sniffer has never been very reliable, and I’ll be happy to be set straight about this.

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May 23, 2009

Degenerative computing

Here’s a future I fear:

Apple comes out with the iBook, a netbook that’s also perfectly designed as an e-book. It’s a Kindle-killer because it’s an actual computer, as well as being way cool in the way of things Apple.

Apple extends its App Store approach to this seemingly semi-special purpose device: The only apps you can get have to come through Apple.

The Apple iBook becomes a huge success. It is the future of reading the way the iPod is the future (well, the present) of listening.

The iBook replaces many laptops. It becomes the primary computer for many people.

Thus we go from generativity to locked down computers.

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