Well, that’s great for a band . . .

Anyone who reads Techdirt regularly will recognize many of the themes here, particularly those dealing with making money in an industry where it doesn’t make sense to charge for your content.  And every time they post about another band succeeding with a new business model, I try and imagine how that model could be applied to writers and books with any degree of consistency.

So far I’ve been frustrated.  Certianly there are opportunities for authors as we move into an age of reading digital books instead of paper ones, but I have yet to see or hear or imagine any model where authors will be compensated for their work at a level that will allow them to live while giving away electronic versions of all their work.  That is not to say that it can’t happen, or won’t, but it means that there is more work to be done, and it means that there is tremendous opportunity for someone who can solve the problem.

There is no question that people will continue to write if they aren’t being paid.  Thousands of fan-fiction sites, Nanowrimo, and any number of other groups, online and off, demonstrate that people like to write for themselves, or just for the sake of writing.

But if we can’t figure out how to pay writers enough to do it full-time, the quality of the writing will go down.  Sure, Nanowrimo has shown that one can write a substantial piece of fiction in a short time.  But to get something equal in quality to your average published novel takes more than a month.  And books like that will be hard to come by if no one can quit their day job and write full-time.

So readers and writers alike are in this boat together, in need of a new plan to compensate writers when people finally realize that it doesn’t make sense to pay for something you can copy instantly and perfectly, as many times as you want.

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Two minus two is not five, either

The new offline Follett Digital Reader will become available for downloading and installation on customers’ computers on February 9. Users will be alerted and directed to the Follett eBook Web site, www.follettebooks.com/readersupport for the installation. The new Follett Digital Reader will replace the Adobe technology customers currently use to download and read a Follett eBook.

Instead of using PDF format, which is proprietary but ubiquitous, Follett Digital Resources will force customers to use software that only works on Windows and Mac.  And this comes at a time when Linux is becoming more and more user-friendly, and when schools  are realizing that they can save a lot of money by skipping expensive operating systems and using free ones.

So in response, to “protect publisher content”, Follett is forcing a new proprietary format, even for books that schools thought they had already purchased.  As of March 2nd, your collection will be “transitioned” to the new format, like it or not.

The company claims that this “increas[es] the value of the Follett eBooks in a library’s collection”.  This is strange math.  They’ve taken something that can be used on virtually any platform and made it only available on recent versions of OSX and Windows.  It is difficult to see how this increases the value to the customer.

It clearly increases the value to the publisher, who can now collect money for every usage of the content, and certainly they have the right to do that.  But it would be nice if they could come out and say that rather than pretending that this change is intended to better serve the customers.

Article:  Follett Digital Resources Introduces ”Education-Friendly” eBook Reader.

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How much should you charge for an ebook?

The proper price for an ebook in relation to a printed book is an increasingly common debate.  It’s very difficult to put a price on something that you can give away as many times as you want without losing anything.

Publisher Walt Shiel offered these thoughts: “. . .We publish all our e-books with a coupon for a discount (equal to the e-book purchase price) applicable to the purchase price of the print edition.”

It’s nice to see publishers realizing that ebooks can be used as promotion for print editions.  But even this is not a sustainable business model.  The day will come when printed books are merely collectors items, something to keep behind glass.  What will ebooks be used to sell then?  Some authors might give away ebooks to promote speaking tours, seminars, or some other sort of access to the author. Some could use them to promote limited print editions, such as signed copies.

And for some, this will be enough.  But there’s a limit to the number of collector editions anyone can sell, and many authors aren’t interested in public speaking or teaching.  It’s different for musicians, in the same boat in terms of distributing digital content, but much more likely to do live performances, and therefore able to give away content to promote concerts.

The search for an effective business model for ebooks and the next generation of readers will continue.  The music industry may be a good guide, but the solution may come from an entirely unexpected source.

Article:  Ongoing Reader Debate: Why Are E-Books So Expensive? – mediabistro.com: GalleyCat.

Ebooks anytime, anywhere

Shortcovers, Indigo Books & Music tells Internet Retailer, is a new division of the company with its own e-commerce infrastructure. Shortcovers in February will launch its web site and a mobile application for the iPhone.

Shortcovers seems to have the right idea.  They’re looking to support the iPhone first, then expand to other smartphones – Blackberry, and phones running Google Android or Symbian.

Michael Serbinis, executive vice president and chief information officer at Indigo Books & Music, says, “Shortcovers is a service for anyone who wants instant access to content with the convenience of having that access from the device they already own.

A software approach is certainly more adaptable to changing markets.  It won’t be long before everyone has some sort of device with them all the time that could be used for reading ebooks and other digital content.  Just because readers using E-Ink are popular now doesn’t mean it will continue.  As mobile phones become more and more like full computers, with larger screens and more powerful processors, and more and more people find that a data plan is just as vital as a voice plan, those same people will realize that any reading they might have done before on paper or on a computer screen can be done on the mobile screen, as well.  The companies that are positioned to take advantage of that before it becomes mainstream will be ahead of the competition.

What isn’t so clear is what exactly they mean by “shortcovers”.  They offer previews – first chapters and things like that – with the focus on mobile devices.  But it’s difficult to see what will set them apart from simply using Amazon.com on a mobile browser.

Article: InternetRetailer.com – Daily News for Tuesday, January 20, 2009.

A failure of the market

So how does it differ from the flock? Well, if you can’t find anything to carry around and read then the web service lets you make your own ebooks. A file converter service allows a user to convert text files, documents, RSS feeds and even web pages into eBook format.

The fact that we need a service to take text documents and create ebooks from them to read on the device of your choosing is a failure of the ebook reader market.  If you make a reader that can’t render a particular file format, it’s your responsibility to make sure you handle the conversion.

Article: Make Your Own eBooks With eBook Hood | MakeUseOf.com.

Un-leveraged synergies

Motley Fool | Where’s Your Kindle Now, Oprah?.

However, according to The Register, less than half of her monthly book club recommendations are presently available for the e-book reader. Winfrey magazines O and O at Home also aren’t available for the Kindle.

It seems that either Amazon wasn’t expecting the endorsement, or Oprah’s marketing people didn’t really take full advantage of the possibilities.  Her magazines aren’t available on the Kindle.  Most of the books on her book club aren’t available (Although that’s likely due in part to Amazon’s insistence on controlling the flow of books to its device).

The biggest winners here may be resellers on Ebay, who probably make a bigger profit on sales of the Kindle than Amazon does.

And the strangest part is that, despite the obvious demand for similar devices, no one has brought anything to market that really competes.  Even in this economy, there seems to be a lot of money left on the table that people would be willing to put towards ebooks and ebook readers, and no compelling (and avialable) products to meet the demand.

Using digital goods to sell your other content

When the time comes to sell infinitely copyable goods, like MP3s or ebooks, some try to legislate away anything that hurts the business.  Others, like iLearningGlobal, take advantage of manufacturing costs that go to nothing and work to sell scarce things.

Sales people and sales managers can learn how to sell, stay motivated and focused when they listen to MP3 and videos from legends in the sales industry, including Brian Tracy, Harv Eker, Scott Siebold and Mark Victor Hansen. New videos, ebooks, MP3s and articles are added each week. Each member can view as much material as they like, for one low, fixed price of only $79.95 per month.

They allow unlimited downloads of the things already created, where the production costs are already sunk.  Then they use that to encourage future payments for non-scarce goods, like custom training help and materials.  $80 a month seems pretty high, but this is the business world, where these costs are tax-deductible.

“If companies cannot find the time or resources to train their personnel, iLearningGlobal can step in to help,” Snow said. “Now there is no excuse for not training your sales people so companies can beat the recession.”

Neither the press release nor the website mention the costs for the custom training, but you can be sure it will be more than $80 a month.

From:  Sales Training Doesn’t Have to Suffer During Rough Times as Affordable Distance Learning Library Features Topics from Leading Sales Trainers.

Competition for the Kindle?

Via Verizon To Support Kindle Rivals – Technology – redOrbit.

“Competitors to the Kindle are out there and ready,” [Verizon head of device certification Tony Lewis] told Reuters. “In 2009 I’d expect them to come to the market.”

A while ago, Verizon announced plans to open their network to third-party devices, and gadget-loving users began to salivate at the thought of a fully open network.  So far, Verizon hasn’t delivered.

But maybe this will be the year.  Amazon has been unable to keep the Kindle in stock.  People have suggested that sales numbers are exaggerated, but it still sells for more than the Amazon purchase price on Ebay, and that is probably a much less biased method to estimate the true demand.  People really seem to want these things, thanks in no small part to Oprah and her endorsement.

So why haven’t the competitors appeared already?  The technology in the Kindle is not groundbreaking.  The idea of a lifetime subscription to the data connection being included in the price hasn’t really been done before, but there’s nothing stopping anyone else from doing it.  Having a huge support system like Amazon certainly makes it easier for the Kindle, but Verizon is hardly a mom-and-pop outfit without any money and resources.

Perhaps it is Verizon and the other mobile carriers’ reluctance to accept a device that they have so little control over.  Verizon sells most of its phones with a proprietary operating system, which makes it easy for the less technically inclined to switch from one Verizon phone to another, but doesn’t foster innovation and growth.

Verizon must see the exclusive deals that its competitors have made on devices like the Kindle and the iPhone, and certainly someone has suggested it do the same.  It remains to be seen whether it will be before or after the next-generation Kindle, and whether or not anyone cares.

iPhone vs. Kindle – Are they both wrong?

via New iPhone e-book application takes aim at Amazon’s Kindle – TechFlash: Seattle’s Technology News Source.

The New York Times today explores the growing visibility of electronic books, with the Kindle leading the way. Amazon doesn’t disclose Kindle sales figures, but the Times says estimates range from 260,000 to a million units sold. The story also notes that iPhone applications gave a boost to electronic books this year and “are already starting to generate nearly as many digital book sales as the Sony Reader, though they still trail sales of books in the Kindle format.”

The iPhone and the Kindle are two very different approaches to the ebook market.  The Kindle is a dedicated gadget for reading ebooks that happens to do other things.  The iPhone is coming from the other direction – a device that everyone wants that now happens to do ebooks.

While both are great for the industry as a whole, neither has yet done for ebooks what the iPod did for digital music.  When it was released, the Kindle might have been that game-changer, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way.  Hope remains for the new version of the Kindle, rumored to be released early this year.

But which is a better approach?  Should you make a device specifically for ebooks?  Or should you take a device that can be adapted to do ebooks, and find a software solution?

The iPhone’s software-based solution is closer to the ideal, but it has a long way to go.  First of all, it can’t just be for the iPhone.  It may be the hottest smartphone out there, but it’s not the only one, and Apple has always been stingy with their software.  And there are more and more screens in our lives, and more and more of the screens are connected to the internet.  Why limit yourself to your phone or your ebook reader?  In a decade, your toaster will have a four-inch LCD.  Maybe you’ll want to read an ebook there.

If we focus on the software solutions, and the problems common to all readers – ease of use, reformatting text for different size screens, etc – then we grow the entire market, and the next time something like the Kindle comes along, it has much bigger shoulders to stand on.

Coming Soon!

Most people aren’t quite ready to replace good, old-fashioned books with ebooks and readers.  But some of us are.  Anyone who loves books or cares about writing, publishing, or selling books has to be thinking about what the future holds, and how to be successful when it arrives.

That’s what I’d like to talk about here.  The new gadgets that will enable the revolution, the new business models that will finance it, and the innovation that will move it along.