Category: Publishing

Traditional Publishers Crash (and Burn at) SXSW

I’ve seen a fair number of remarkable events at SXSW over the years, but I’ve never seen anything quite like what unfolded at the New Think for Old Publishers panel yesterday afternoon.

On paper, the panel must have seemed like a great idea. The publishing industry is in transition with the rise of digital reading and devices like the Kindle, iPhone, and applications like Stanza. SXSW has always been about convergence and the evolution of old media in the digital age. Why not bring a group of book publishers together to address the digerati at SXSW about the changing nature of their industry?

As the twitter stream reveals, the panel never quite lived up to its promise. Now that the dust has cleared, I feel compelled to describe what happened at the New Think panel. From a remote distance it wasn’t necessarily clear what prompted the audience uprising.

This wasn’t a case of digital natives waging a mindless war against old media. On the contrary, at the beginning of the session a show of hands revealed a high density of heavy readers in the audience. Throughout the session audience members demonstrated a profound love for books. Combine that with the fact that the panel featured the ever popular Clay Shirky, and the publishers started the session with what might best be described as a sympathetic audience.

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Live From TOC

We’re live from O’Reilly Media’s TOC conference in NYC this week. Lots of talk about some of our favorite subjects – Kindle, iPhone, Google Book Search, DRM, etc.

For full coverage follow @booksquare and @kirkbiglione on twitter.

Imagining an iTunes eBook Store

Update: This post was published on 1/27/09 – exactly one year to the day before Apple announced the iBookstore. For an update on what was announced, see The Day Apple Didn’t Change the World.

Confession time. I was wrong about reading ebooks on the iPhone.

When I evaluated various ereading devices a few months back, I came to the conclusion that the iPhone was not suitable for long form reading. Months later, I’ve now read several books on the iPhone and I have to admit that the experience is growing on me. In fact, I frequently find myself looking at my bookshelf and thinking, “I wish I had that book on my iPhone”.

In most cases those wishes are an impossibility because there’s no (legal) way to get the book in question onto my iPhone — or any other reading device, for that matter. In some cases, where digital editions are available, they aren’t available in a format that would work with any of the current iPhone reader applications.

There’s hope that all of this may be changing soon, as publisher interest in the iPhone/iPod Touch seems to be growing by the day. Publishers are rushing to experiment with all manner of ebook releases targeted at the iPhone.

In part, publishers are turning to the Apple platform as a way to neutralize the momentum building behind Amazon’s proprietary Kindle platform. Ironically, not long ago record labels were headed in the opposite direction, offering up their catalogs to Amazon in hopes that Amazon’s MP3 Store might neutralize some of iTunes’s momentum.

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Watch Publishing Transform at TOC 09

Not so long ago, conventional wisdom was that the publishing industry was somehow immune to many of the developments that have transformed every other form of media over the past few years. Book publishers held a deep and abiding faith in the power of the printed volume to withstand the insurgency of digital media.

That faith has fractured a bit over the past year as publishers have watched the surprising success of the Kindle and the emergence of the iPhone as a viable digital reading device.

Suddenly publishers are racing to come to terms with their digital future. In recent months we’ve seen publishers delivering iPhone apps, experiment with DRM-free content, and offering free downloads.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve seen this exact same transformation take place in nearly every other form of media. From past history we know that once the digital media ball starts rolling, the status quo can change very rapidly. It is, no doubt, an exciting time to watch the publishing industry, but a scary time to actually be part of that industry — unless, of course, you’re open to new business models and a complete reinvention of everything you do.

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The Google Book Search Deal: Winners and Losers

The future of publishing just got a whole lot closer — seemingly overnight. This morning Google announced that it has reached an agreement with authors and publishers to settle various lawsuits over the Google Book Search program.

Google will pay $125 million to settle all claims (small change for a company with over $14 billion in cash). In exchange, Google’s Book Search program will continue and future revenues from that program will be administered by a newly created Book Rights Registry.

At first glance, this appears to be the rare settlement agreement that seemingly benefits all parties. In fact, the only entities that don’t seem to have fared so well are parties who weren’t involved in the suits. (more…)