OPLIN 4cast #380: The decline of the ebook?

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

printing pressAfter we wrote a post about the woes of the e-reader industry a couple of weeks ago, we saw an article in the British press this past week (first link below) about the predicted decline of the ebook itself. Are ebooks in trouble, too? Could this be true? Is this just something that’s happening in Britain? No, it turns out that this is kind of old news, based on sales figures from the end of last year. And as is the case with many predictions, this one is a point of debate.

  • Waterstones founder: e-book revolution will soon go into decline (The Telegraph/Hannah Furness)  “‘I think you read and hear more garbage about the strength of the e-book revolution than anything else I’ve known,’ Mr Waterstone [founder of the Waterstone’s bookstore chain] told the audience in Oxford. ‘The e-books have developed a share of the market, of course they have, but every indication – certainly from America – shows the share is already in decline. The indications are that it will do exactly the same in the UK.’”
  • A mixed blessing in slowing e-book sales (Publishers Weekly/Jim Milliot)  “The slowdown, of course, didn’t come as a surprise, for as HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray told PW, ‘Nothing grows by triple digits for too long.’ The positive side of slowing e-book sales is that the decline of print books has slowed, prompting many of those interviewed to hope that the industry is entering a more stable and predictable period, one that will lead to a wide number of distribution channels to facilitate book sales regardless of format.”
  • Paper vs digital reading is an exhausted debate (The Guardian/Nick Harkaway)  “Digital will continue to grow for a while at least, and continue to exist, because it is becoming part of the world we inhabit at a level below our notice, no more remarkable than roads or supermarkets. Ebooks are here to stay because digital is, and quite shortly we’ll stop having this debate about paper vs ebooks because it will no longer make a lot of sense.”
  • How are declining ebook sales a ‘mixed blessing’? (Liquid State/Dee Caffrey)  “Just because one format is seeing a slight decline of sales (after the skyrocketing figures that ebooks have produced in the last 5 years), does not mean that the people no longer buying ebooks are now inexplicably turning to print books. That just doesn’t make sense. Nor are new consumers suddenly opening ereaders or print books, because this industry is already a fairly mature one – chances are, people who weren’t previously interested in books are not going to spontaneously flock to ebooks just because the format has changed. People who love books are most likely already in their format of choice, and no amount of new ereader technology will change that.”

Hunger fact:
The various organizations that track ebook publishing statistics almost all point to the fact that strong sales of The Hunger Games in 2012 skewed the numbers so much that 2013 looked bad in comparison.

OPLIN 4Cast #287: News from the open access struggle

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

At the end of 2010, the 4cast took a look at open access to scholarly information. While news on this topic may not be as frequent as news about ebooks, for example, or other more popular topics, there have been some significant, if gradual, developments in this area over the last year and a half. The whole discussion of open access may seem simply academic wishful thinking to some people, but the fact that the latest news all seems to concern practical things like money and politics might indicate that open access to research finally is approaching reality.

  • Open access victory in successful Access2Research petition (Electronic Frontier Foundation/Parker Higgins)  “Earlier this year, we saw the resounding defeat of the misguided Research Works Act, which would have severely restricted the amount of research that could be released under open access conditions. A group of researchers launched the ‘Cost of Knowledge’ campaign responding to the proposal, and allowed other academics to publicly boycott the bill’s primary supporter, the publishing behemoth Elsevier. In response to that boycott and other pressure, Elsevier withdrew its support for the Research Works Act in February, effectively killing the bill.”
  • MLA shift on copyright (Inside Higher Education/Scott Jaschik)  “Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the MLA [Modern Language Association], said that the association’s new policy ‘was not responding at all’ to the legislation and regulations. Rather, she said, ‘we see that publishing needs are changing, and our members are telling us that they want to place their scholarship in repositories, and to disseminate work on blogs.’ Professors want to produce articles that ‘circulate freely,’ she said, and that reach as many people as possible.”
  • Open access to research is inevitable, says Nature editor-in-chief (Guardian/Alok Jha)  “Philip Campbell said that the experience for readers and researchers of having research freely available is ‘very compelling’. But other academic publishers said that any large-scale transition to making research freely available had to take into account the value and investments they added to the scientific process.”
  • Pay (less) to publish: ambitious journal aims to disrupt scholarly publishing (Ars Technica/John Timmer)  “Publishers that offer open access options need to recoup their costs without subscription fees, however, and had researchers pay for their publications with charges that are generally over $1,000. Now, a new open access journal is being launched that aims to turn the finances on their head. Researchers will only have to pay a one-time fee of $259 to gain lifetime publishing privileges in the journal, which will focus on biology research.”

Library subscription fact:
A May report commissioned by The Publishers Association and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers found that, if open access became mandatory, 46% of libraries would cut back their subscriptions to scientific journals and 65% would drop subscriptions to humanities journals.

OPLIN 4Cast #272: Finding the next (e)book

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

We know ebooks are very popular right now, and it’s also proving to be pretty easy for authors to self-publish in ebook format (and even sometimes encouraged). The logical conclusion is that the vast selection of ebooks available to readers is only going to get bigger as time goes on. With such a huge body of work to choose from, how will readers find the ebooks they want to read? Probably in the same ways they currently find any book, with only slight variations.

  • Discoverability in the digital age (Digital Book World/Matt Mullin)  “According to a recent survey, presented at the Digital Book World conference in New York last week [January 19], nearly half of readers discover new books through the recommendations of family and friends, and nearly a third discover them at bookstores.”
  • How do books get discovered? (Goodreads Blog/Patrick Brown)  “One of the biggest things we learned—or should we say confirmed—is the power of word of mouth. Searching for titles on Goodreads is the top way people find books for their to-read shelves. That means they first heard of it elsewhere—likely from friends or the media.”
  • How do people discover new books and authors? (Chocolate and Vodka/Suw Charman-Anderson)  “Both my graph and the Verso Digital figures show that self-published authors should focus on encouraging people to make personal recommendations for their work, as that is still the most important way that people find new authors and books. Simply telling your friends that you recently read a book and loved it appears to be the single most important thing you can do to help an author along.”
  • How ebook buyers discover books (Smashwords/Mark Coker)  “I was surprised only 3% of respondents looked first to the bestseller lists, which scored just as poorly as print media reviews. Possibly it’s a flaw in how I structured the survey. I was also surprised that retailer recommendations, such as the ‘people who bought this bought that,’ scored only 5%.”

Ebook sales (non-)fact:
Although there are reports that ebook sales figures showed slower growth in 2011 than in previous years, it’s difficult to know for sure because Amazon US did not report 2011 ebook sales (although Amazon UK reported a large increase).

OPLIN 4Cast #266: When is an ebook not a book?

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

One of the nifty things about ebooks is their ability to transcend plain text. Illustrations and graphic design have always been recognized as an important component of print books, especially children’s books, but digital publishing opens up the possibility of doing much more with a book. “Enhanced” ebooks can manipulate and present content in ways and formats that are impossible in print books. At what point does the e“book” become something other than a book? And what will that mean for the ebook business?

  • Coliloquy launches interactive e-books that let readers choose the story (ReadWriteWeb/Jon Mitchell)  “Authors can adjust their future offerings based on what they learn about their audience from the choices they make. It’s in-story analytics. And the readers get the satisfaction of influencing the outcome not just of one story but of a whole series.”
  • NBC News is launching a Publishing arm to bring video into the e-book format (The Next Web/Anna Heim)  “Many e-books will be based on NBC News’ own material, including its coverage of current events and trends, but also biographies and documentaries. […] For NBC News, this represents an innovative way to monetize its content on e-readers.”
  • The e-reader, as we know it, is doomed (The Loop/Matt Alexander)  “They are cheap, lightweight, have long battery life, and operate well in direct sunlight, but they do little more than present traditional literature in an electronic package. And while that might be enough for some, it is clear that e-ink is progressing towards a colorful, responsive, video-capable future, and that is certainly not what constitutes an e-reading device. That is a tablet.”
  • How the long tail cripples bonus content/multimedia (paidContent/Seth Godin)  “Sure, there will be experiments at the cutting edge, but no, they’re not going to pay off regularly enough for it to become an industry. The quality is going to remain in the writing and in the bravery of ideas, not in teams of people making expensive digital books.”

Predictions fact:
Being the beginning of a new year, there is no shortage of predictions about ebooks in 2012. As for enhanced ebooks, pundits think they will either be “the next big thing” or won’t create enough profit to be viable.