Brett Sandusky, Director of Product Innovation for Kaplan Publishing, shares his experience of moving his publishing house from print to digital.
The Abrams booth at Book Expo America ’10.
I’ll give them an “A” for creativity, but really, what the heck is that thing? Wikipedia calls it a Typewriter. I mean, I know what a laptop looks like, and I still have a PC keyboard laying around someplace, but what is that big black thing with the paper sticking out of the top? What do you do with it?
What message does this send? A visual like this says one thing – we’re out of touch. Again, I can’t fault them for trying to stand out, but stand out they do, with a big piece of hardware that most people haven’t seen or used in decades. It’s fitting.
Well, according to the rumors, yes.
Amazon.com Inc. on Wednesday plans to unveil a new version of its Kindle e-book reader with a larger screen and other features designed to appeal to periodical and academic textbook publishers, according to people familiar with the matter.
Beginning this fall, some students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland will be given large-screen Kindles with textbooks for chemistry, computer science and a freshman seminar already installed, said Lev Gonick, the school’s chief information officer. The university plans to compare the experiences of students who get the Kindles and those who use traditional textbooks, he said.
Amazon has worked out a deal with several textbook publishers to make their materials available for the device, Mr. Gonick added. The new device will also feature a more fully functional Web browser, he said. The Kindle’s current model, which debuted in February, includes a Web browser that is classified as “experimental.” (WSJ)
Are the text book publishers that are working with Amazon thinking clearly?
Amazon has already put the fear of God into trade book publishers with their heavily discounted NYT Best Seller titles for the Kindle. Who’s to say that Amazon won’t also do something similar with text books?
I can see it now. Hello student! You know that text book your professor says you have to buy? Yeah, the one in the book store that costs $150? Well, look no further. Get your Kindle edition for $39.95.
What student wouldn’t immediately jump on a deal like that? Sure, the discount isn’t likely to be that deep (is it?), but the fact that the book will be discounted is enough for the student to happily slap down dad’s credit card.
Text book publishers need a digital strategy, to be sure. Most STM publishers have been digital for years now, so models exist. If text book publishers are hoping Amazon makes their digital market, they’ll won’t be happy at the end of the day. They’ll watch their print sales drop along with the revenue they depend upon. Amazon can be a great channel partner, but no one should give them control of that channel.
MORE: Engadget has a video and details of the new Kindle DX hardware.
Lexcycle, the company who created the Stanza book reading software for the iPhone, has been acquired by Amazon.com.
Stanza allows users to browse a library of around 100,000 books and periodicals for the iPhone, many of them in the ePub format — a widely accepted standard for e-books that Amazon has yet to support with its proprietary Kindle platform.
In its blog post, Lexcycle said, “We are not planning any changes in the Stanza application or user experience as a result of the acquisition. Customers will still be able to browse, buy, and read ebooks from our many content partners.”
It is not clear how much Amazon is paying for the year-old company with offices in Austin and Portland. But the move indicates Amazon wants to consolidate its position on mobile devices, particularly within Apple’s ecosystem, which may include a tablet computer later this year. The Lexcycle team should also help Amazon stake out ground on Google’s Android phones, the Palm Pre and Windows Mobile devices — and perhaps eventually turn to more open e-reading formats.
“It’s very early days for e-books, and we believe there is a lot of innovation ahead of us,” said Cinthia Portugal, a spokeswoman for Amazon.com. “Lexcycle is a smart, innovative company. and we look forward to working with them to innovate on behalf of readers.” (NYT)
eBook sales last year were about 1.5% of all sales, so there’s lots of room to grow. Amazon has a huge stake in the business with its Kindle eBook reader and sales of Kindle compatible eBooks. The question now is, will Stanza continue as a product or will Amazon throw it away and steer Stanza users towards its iPhone Kindle app? Amazon needs customer names, they don’t need a second iPhone app.
Congrats to the guys at Lexcycle. Just last week I listened to Neelan Choksi at the London Book Fair. No wonder he had a perma-smile on his face! 🙂
I’m heading to London on Friday for my annual trek to the London Book Fair. Besides the normal business meeting schedule, I’ve got plans to attend the following seminars:
- Strategies for digital publishing in a time of uncertainty (4/19 – Cromwell Room)
- Getting the best out of your digital deal: Commercial and legal issues (4/20 – Thames Room)
- Introducing the dedicated digital reading device to the UK consumer (4/20 – Cromwell Room)
- “Where’s the Money” Digital Keynote (4/21 – Cromwell Room)
LBF is a more managable event than, say, the monster Frankfurt Book Fair. Rather than being spread across 8 buildings, LBF fits comfortably inside Earl’s Court. This years fair runs from 4/20 through 4/22.
Book publishers have had a tough go of it lately. Not only is the economic downturn hitting them especially hard, they must contend with a growing consumer desire for digital content. But what do you do when you’re only known for publishing words on paper? You partner with technology companies who can help you promote your content. A group of major publishers recently announced a partnership with a company called Scribd, best known as a document sharing website where content is offered by download at no cost. As in, free. More on that in a moment.
So, if promotion is what publishers need in order to show that they too can play the digital game, why not just use Google Book Search and Amazon? Well, publishers need additional help in promotion if they have any hope at success with digital books. And while Amazon and Google provide plenty of eyeballs, they don’t allow easy sharing of content, something Scribd does with their iPaper technology. Using iPaper, bloggers can share and embed content into their posts. The end result is the book publisher garners the muscle of a cadre of promoters at virtually no cost. Bloggers can help promote both the digital book and the print edition too, and they can do that by sharing much more than just their opinion. Using iPaper, they can embed excerpts, or they can allow for an entire book to be distributed free of charge.
But there’s still that pesky issue of making money. If you’re giving your digital content away in the hopes that someone will buy a print copy, what happens when you want to charge money for the digital copy? Kind of hard to put that jeannie back in the bottle. Many technology consultant types hold to a position that says you gotta give away stuff in order to get people to pay for stuff. I think the jury is still out on that. If I were to give advice to a book publisher, I’d encourage them to give away a free print copy of a book in exchange for buying the digital edition. This way, they begin to build a community of customers who want to purchase pure digital books, and they can go back to them for future digital offerings. Publishers will need to begin to build a direct customer channel and this is one way to do it. Why give customer ownership to other partners? And if they charge for the digital content, they won’t have to face the argument of “you gave me digital books for free before, so why do I have to pay now?” Publishers can still stay focused on their print book partners (see Google and Amazon). Worst case, they’d still sell the same amount of print copies.
Unfortunately, book publishers are being bombarded with the notion that you have to be digital today (that’s true), and as a result, they make hasty decisions. We’ll see if working with Scribd is just another one of these.