Friday, December 21, 2007

Some Good Things Predicted for 2008

  1. Apple's multi-touch interface will spread from the iPhone and enrich the way we use personal computers (Microsoft will introduce something similar).
  2. The Google phones (Android) will show, once and for all, that we do not need dedicated eBook readers, and Exact Editions' magazines will be as easily read on Android devices as on iPhones.
  3. Safari and some other browsers will offer resolution independent imaging, so that photos or digital editions can be easily resized to fit the viewing environment.
  4. Google will not tell us how many books are searchable through Google Book Search. But best estimates will conclude that there are over 4 million titles in GBS by the end of 2008.
  5. A much improved Kindle II will appear in the summer from Amazon. But it will still lack colour, and it will not be easy to get hold of one (insufficient E ink). Do not count on them reaching the UK.
  6. One of the UK's big magazine publishers will finally enter the digital magazine age and offer digital subscriptions to (nearly) all their magazines. The big 6, in our view, comprise: IPC, EMAP (we may by then have learned to call it Bauer), BBC Magazines, NatMags, Future and Conde Nast. The big American magazine companies will not be leading the way -- Hachette in France have already done that in 2007.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Growing Functionality in 2007

The Exact Editions system added some important functionality this year.

  1. In July we added The Clipper to the toolbar (its a publisher/opt-out tool, so some accounts will not have it). This allows users to make limited clippings from their magazine subscriptions, for example to include a clipping and citation in a blog. One of the heaviest users of the clipping tool is a Finnish blog about running.
  2. In September with advice and help from Le Monde Diplomatique we introduced a French Language version of our interface (tool tips in French!), and LMD was the first French language periodical on the platform.
  3. At the same time we introduced a French Shop. This may seem like a small thing, but the shop is now a 'versionable' layer of code, so there can be a shop for any service which needs to deploy the Exact Editions content engine. For different currencies and languages or specific groups of publications. There will be many shops federated within the Exact Editions platform in the coming year.
  4. For the first 18 months Exact Editions was only able to provide single user password controlled accounts. From October 2007, institutional access was introduced (another publisher-dependent option).
  5. Also in October Berkshire Publishing became the first book publisher to use the platform for promoting its reference titles.
  6. In December ISBNs became a standardly clickable feature in the Exact Editions platform. Clicking on an ISBN takes you to a page like this.
If there is a common theme to these developments it is that a web service needs to extend its capapbilities so that it can serve more users (Francophone web users or institutions), and in a more pervasive and interactive way (Clipping/citations and interactive ISBNs).

Another common feature of these enhancements is that the development cycle was quite short, no more than a few months, and in some cases a few days. A web service can build its functionality gradually and cummulatively, but it can do so much more quickly than the traditional software package. Where innovation is needed, audiences are much preferable to installed bases.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Prospects for Magazines

David Hepworth, whose day job is at Development Hell, writes a well-informed but sometimes rather jaundiced column on the magazine business for the Guardian. This week's column is typically bleak on the industry's prospects for 2008 and it includes this comment:

The chief executive of one big publisher of women's weeklies told me that he had given up pretending with investors and was prepared to confess that he could not see a way that his company would ever make money out of the internet. History will either see this as a hopeless lack of vision or admirable good sense, depending on how things work out.

The subtitle to Hepworth's column has the heading: "It is not that people have fallen out of love with mags - they just don't want to pay for them". Well that is plain wrong. Perhaps Hepworth's views are conditioned by the woes of the music industry, which has a serious format/service problem. CDs are a product that consumers no longer want to pay for, but magazines remain very popular as a format. Magazines are still attracting subscriptions from consumers, and the good news is that digital subscriptions are working.

What about advertising? One of the big challenges for Exact Editions in the next year will be to help magazine publishers to show that advertisements in digital magazines adds significantly to the value of the magazine proposition for advertisers. Magazine publishers tend to attract significant and highly targetted niche markets. These collections of consumers remain very valuable and yes -- hopeless lack of vision is more of a problem.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Are Knols the Google Kindle?

Yesterday Google announced (see Udi Manber on the Googleblog) that it was developing and supporting a Wikipedia-like network of Knols which will provide us all with authoritative, collaboratively-authored, information resources. Here are some enthusiastic responses from John Batelle and Peter Suber.

Amazon announced that it was putting SimpleDB its enterprise-scale cloud-based database into private beta. Here are some enthusiastic responses from Nitin Borwankar and Erick Schonfeld.

Google and Amazon are two terrific companies. These both look like important announcements. But we wonder if they will both appear to be significant in 12 months time? My money would go on the SimpleDB service (though I am not competent to judge its technical plausibility). A cloud-based generic database, relational/object oriented, with scaleable and low metred access charges? Sounds like the way to go.

Google becoming a content publisher with a service to rival or complement Wikipedia? Hmm......I doubt that Google is the right environment in which to grow that project. For sure Google will be more concerned about the Amazon announcement than Amazon will be by the Google announcement. Google's knol universe looks a bit like the mis-step to accompany Amazon's Kindle. Some innovations simply do not work, even when they are launched by innovative companies.

On the basis of recent developments, one should be properly sceptical with any new product or service which begins with a 'k'. Apple's smart new touchscreen laptop/tablet will appear in January and it will not be called the Klamshell or the Kaboose. I will lay you long odds on that.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Optimal Term of Copyright

Rufus Pollock, a researcher at Cambridge University, has produced a rather brilliant but difficult, because formal and mathematical proof (whilst yet embodying many empirical propositions), that the term of copyright should be much lower than it is now, and that it should in general become shorter as technology advances. He suggests that the optimum term of copyright should be about 15 years from creation. The argument is complex, but he provides some neat informal guidance vis:

........consider the situation with respect to books, music, or film. Today, a man could spend a lifetime simply reading the greats of the nineteenth century, watching the classic movies of Hollywood’s (and Europe’s) golden age or listening to music recorded before 1965. This does not mean new work isn’t valuable but it surely means it is less valuable from a welfare point of view than it was when these media had first sprung into existence. Furthermore, if we increase protection we not only restrict access to works of the future but also to those of the past.
As a result the optimal level of protection must be lower than it was initially in fact it must fall gradually over time as our store of the creative work of past generations gradually accumulates to its long-term level. Forever Minus a Day?...

Pollock does not consider the related question: how will the efficient and optimal pricing of information services respond to changes in technology which reduce barriers to access? As more information becomes available how should a commercial information supplier i.e. a publisher, price his subscription services? How much should be given away and what to charge for that which is sold?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Clickable ISBN's

The Exact Editions system now makes ISBNs clickable and the first examples (for subscribers only, as the issue is behind the subs pay-wall) are in the current issue of Opera magazine.

This is the example that I tried first:

Which today takes you to this page. ISBNs have recently gone to 13 digits (that allows for a lot of books and publishers) but Amazon is currently using a look-up table for the 13 digit numbers, which is why you land on a results page. Currently we target the Amazon UK pages by default, but this should become a configurable option.

Clickable phone numbers and clickable ISBNs......more good things for the iPhone.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

EMAP consumer titles sold to Bauer

EMAP has sold its consumer magazines to the German media company Bauer, but was not able to realise a satisfactory price for the B2B businesses. When the company was put on the block the commentators thought that it would be the consumer magazines that would be hard to sell. Perhaps Bauer know something that the industry pundits and the EMAP management did not understand. Consumer magazines could yet become a growth business. EMAPs consumer business has been rudderless in the last few years -- certainly without a discernible digital strategy -- so perhaps all that is needed to turn them round is some pruning, some investment and some loving attention. Getting a digital strategy that boosts advertising and circulation has to be a part of the new direction for consumer magazines.

ACAP and OpenID

A year ago there was a flurry of legal action between Google and European newspaper publishers. A group of publishers (newspapers, book publishers and others) have since supported the development of a new and more complicated protocol which is intended to supplement and, to an extent, to replace the 'robots.txt' protocol that regulates the behaviour of spiders and search engines. ACAP (Autormated Content Access Protocol) is the result. This proposed standard has received sceptical notices from O'Reilly Radar and Lauren Weinstein. And a damning and derisive review from Martin Belam.

The whole ACAP initiative and the publisher gripeing about Google is misplaced. Rather than figuring out how to control and micro-manage the existing search engines, publishers need to be prepared to be as open as possible, whilst still selling what they determine they can sell by way of subscriptions. While ACAP isnt as goofy as file-based DRM, it could only be developed by a publisher mindset that is looking in the wrong direction. The evolving standard that we should really be concerned about is OpenID. This standard will be important and useful to subscription-serving publishers because there is a great case for providing subscription services which inter-operate and recognise their varying membership policies. Publishers need to spend more time on enabling communities of readers and less time devising protocols for micro-managing copyrights. See the Radar post on OpenID. See also WhatIsOpenID.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tabs in the Kiosk

You probably noticed that we recently inserted some tabs on the home page.

Its one of the great advantages of the way the web works, hierarchical (page oriented -- but forking), that makes it possible for such a tabbed system to accommodate 100's of magazines. We will need something else when we have 1,000s of titles. I guess the 'kiosk' will feel more like a library at that point.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Magazine Subscriptions as Christmas Presents

Exact Editions now has a very straightforward process through which you can give a subscription to a digital magazine for Christmas (or as a present on any other occasion). I can think of two people who will be getting Opera from me this year and one who should receive Le Monde Diplomatique. We should give this present-giving feature more publicity, and two possible angles of interest spring to mind.

  1. We could emphasize the ecological benefits of giving a digital magazine subscription. The digital edition must have a very small carbon footprint in comparison to the carbon costs associated with conventional print magazines. But it is not an easy matter to say how much less the carbon footprint of the digital offering is than the print magazine. Some back of the envelope calculations suggest that a digital magazine must be at least 90% lower in its carbon footprint than the printed equivalent. It would be good if someone could confirm or qualify this guesstimate.
  2. But the second angle of attack -- through which we might spark interest in the digital gift idea is the very convenience attached to giving a digital subscription. You only need to know the email address of the recipient (which is a slight problem for me since I know the email addresses of only about half of my nephews and nieces -- the ideal target for quick and troublefree Christmas shopping). But once you have the email address you can even leave the selection and ordering of the present to the very last minute. In fact we will surely get some Christmas presents ordered on the 25th for delivery on the 25th -- can you think of a better way of covering the embarassing fact that you spilt/broke/lost/forgot Brother-in-law's present and only realised this late on 24th when all the shops are shut. Digital magazines are perfectly convenient in this regard, and so should appeal to a wide audience of late and/or forgetful givers.
Any ideas for how we can develop some viral marketing along these lines will be received with gratitude and the best third-party suggestion submitted to or in comments to this posting will be rewarded with a free digital subscription.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Digital Books in 2008?

The London-based Bookseller's Association has just released a report, Embracing the Digital Age, on the coming tide of digital books. It is short, non-technical, pithy, well-researched and free. It is possibly too sanguine about the potential for traditional bookseller involvement in the developing digital market. But the text points towards challenging opportunities for booksellers who can re-invent and re-position their business. The main authors (Francis Bennett and Michael Holdsworth, both experienced publishers rather than booksellers) clearly believe that the book trade is entering a transforming phase. Right now. But they acknowledge that it is not easy to produce firm evidence for the immediacy of change and opportunity:

We have been asked on a number of occasions to define the size of the digital market. How large will it be in two or five years’ time? Without such a figure, we know that some larger organisations may find it difficult to justify investment in digital processes. We have asked this question of experts in the UK and the USA, and no one has come up with a satisfactory answer. We are not surprised by this. (Embracing the Digital Age p 11.)

Another recent report, MarketIntelNow's: ANWO eBooks survey suggests that the coming change may be closer and more radical than most publishers or booksellers suppose. This report costs $995, so I will probably not read it, but we can glean some of its findings from the excellent interview with Marie Campbell at the TeleRead blog. She thinks that the publishing market will boom with digital. The right environment will materialise soon, like almost now (her interview was just before the Kindle release). Demand is highly elastic, publishers will soon find this out and then prices will rapidly drop. (Digital prices) "may start around $10.00 each, but come down in the 2008-09 timeframe and approach $5.00." As she puts it the publishing industry is "blessed with ELASTICITY". She reckons that the $5.00 price is approaching the point of pain for publishers and at that stage advertising and sponsored books will take over. They will be big, but the gains in advertising will accrue to the biggest players -- because only the biggest networks can monetise the clickstream (the free, but copyright, digital book market is where Google, Apple and Amazon will have the big literary fight -- my guess).

If Marie Campbell has got her reasearch and her analysis right, the Christmas book market in 2009 will be disrupted by digital books. Digital books will be really happening then. So what do we do in 2008?