HarperCollins Donkey Punches Librarians!

Please be Gentle

A considerate lover is always a good thing, whether in bed or everyday life.  Roses, sweet nothings whispered in a paramour’s ear, generally being attentive, all these things contribute to a great relationship.

So why is HarperCollins playing so rough with librarians?

 In an on-line article earlier this week for Library Journal, Josh Hadro chronicles the recent decision by HarperCollins to restrict the number of circulations of ebook titles by libraries to a strangely arbitrary number of 26.  Yep, libraries can distribute their ebooks 26 times and then they have to pay for a new license.

Why 26 times?

“Josh Marwell, President, Sales for HarperCollins, told LJ that the 26 circulation limit was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies.” (from the article)

Reaaaaallllly?  So what’s next Mr. Marwell?  Will you be sending out notices to librarians across the nation that once a book has been loaned out 26 times, it’s time to rip the cover off, return it, and buy a new copy?

Granted, even with this decision, HarperCollins is still more graceful than a couple of its competitors. 

“While HarperCollins is the first major publisher to amend the terms of loan for its titles, two other members of the publishing “big six”—Macmillan and Simon & Schuster—still do not allow ebooks to be circulated in libraries…”.

Look, it’s understandable that ebook piracy is hitting publishers traditionally small profit margin and that the bread and butter of both publishers and authors is sales and the accompanying residuals.  The rise of ebooks has also cut into these margins, although one would think it has radically reduced publication costs.

(after all, there’s no physical book to print, bind or distribute)

What’s not to be understood (or tolerated) is this ridiculous attempt to squeeze a little more out of a social service itself falling on hard times.

Libraries have never been the go-to service when relegating public funds, so increasing their cost of operating really isn’t a smart idea.  They’re also a great marketing tool, showcasing authors, sponsoring book clubs, generally doing a portion of the marketing department’s work for them.

Furthermore, they’ve also already paid for the product.  It’s their property to do with as they will, isn’t it?

Show a little tenderness HC (and company), be a considerate lover, not a brute!

Ion Audio’s Book Saver: Digitize Your Library!

So, what’s to be done with all those books cluttering up your apartment/house? 

You ditched your C.D. collection years ago, converting everything to digital and loading up your iPod, but those pesky books,  they’re everywhere!  From the bedroom to the living room, you’re using them as coasters, as an end table, maybe to even out an off kilter table.  Hell, there’s even a couple sitting on the back of the toilet tank!

What can you do? 

Well, lucky for you, there’s no need to go to such extremes.  The good folks at Ion Audio have the answer to your problem.  Scan it!

Debuting at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, the Ion Audio Book Saver promises to do for the world of books what the home P.C. did for your C.D. collection. Simply put, it’s a super fast photo scanner, optimized to scan print and store it on an SD card in digital form.  From there, it’s a virtual hop, skip and a jump, and there you go, the book is now a pdf file on the computer available to be uploaded to your eReader of choice.  Ion Audio claims their scanner can scan 2 pages per second (they claim similar products can only scan one page every seven seconds) using two cameras and a flash while the book sits comfortably in an angled cradle.  The only thing that slows down the process is the operator; pages do have to be flipped by hand after all.

Promoted as a quick way to convert your books, comics or magazines to a digital format, the Book Saver is projected to cost about $150 U.S. (and I would imagine slightly higher in Cdn funds).  It is also projected to cost the textbook publishing industry much more than that.  Vito Pilieci’s  January 13 article in The National Post outlines some of the copyright issues the advent of the Book Saver might have. 

Just like the music industry was ravaged by digital piracy, there are fears that the publishing industry might undergo the same trials.  After all, in the case of textbooks, why would everyone in the class pay full price for a textbook when they can pay their entrepreneurial friend (who has a Book Saver) a discounted price? 

However, this leads to the next question: what if the book is out of print?  Does the publisher really have a legal right to intellectual property that they’re not willing or able to disseminate?  I suspect the lawyers will be busy for years with questions of copyright and who owns what.

My point of view: I bought the book.  I own the book.  I’m going to convert the book and save myself some space around the house.


 (For a neat demonstration video of the Book Saver, check out this video on youtube)


Brother can you spare a dime (novel)?

“Hey guy, can I borrow your copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?”

“Um, no.  I bought it for the Kindle.”

“How about…”

“Nope. Kindle.”

“Well then, what about…?”


“Alright, I’ll be at the Library talking to that cute girl.”

I’ve had a Kindle for about eight months now.  I love it, it’s handy, and certainly saves a lot of space around the home office.  However, something has always annoyed me about their product.  You see, I love reading, talking about what I’ve read, and loaning out my favourite books to friends so they can enjoy them too.  Hard to do with a Kindle though.  At least ’til now.

Amazon has finally jumped on the bandwagon and relaxed their proprietary rules (somewhat).  Was it pressure from Google books?  Are they feeling the heat from Sony’s eReader?  Honestly, who cares?  It’s just nice to know that Kindle readers can now share content with their friends. As an aside, it’s also a great marketing tool for Amazon!

For their part, Amazon has made lending an book very similar to the library experience.  The lender can send an eBook to a friend for a period of two weeks, after which the recipient can no longer access the book.  Also, the lender of an eBook cannot access that book on their Kindle during the same time frame, just as if you were to physically loan out a book to a friend.

How does the recipient access their friend’s book?  Just download the Kindle app to your digital product of choice, whether iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry or PC/Mac.  The lender goes through a relatively simple process on their Kindle, and voila, they’ve loaned a book.

There are a couple of caveats:

  • Not all books are eligible to be loaned.  Amazon has left it up to the individual publishers to decide whether their material can be lent.
  • To read a loaned book, you must have the Kindle app.  (However, since it’s free, it shouldn’t be a big deal to download to whatever device you choose).
  • As of right now (January 2011), the lending option is only available in the United States. 

 Apparently the rest of the World will have to wait a bit longer.  Hmmph!

Harper Collins has Stickybits!

Okay, it’s not what you think.

First, a little background.  stickybits is another in a long line of social media apps such as twitter (Everyone’s thoughts! All the time!) and foursquare (Hey people, look where I am!) that actually has  potential to be the next big thing in marketing. 

With stickybits, the user can scan the barcode of a product (whether it be a can of pop, an article of clothing, or even one’s own business card) and attach a personalized message, link to a video, enter a contest related to the product, or link to one’s resume or social profile on a website like  LinkedIn.  The possible uses of stickybits are endless both for consumers and producers.  Call it a more versatile version of Sprouter, Twitter’s entrepreneurial big brother.

So, what does this mean for the world of publishing?

Well, as of last month, Harper Collins Canada has made a foray into the world of social media marketing in the form of an interactive contest using stickybits technology.  They’ve asked consumers to discuss and comment on four of their titles using the stickybits app with the carrot being a variety of prizes for participation. (See this article in Quill and Quire for more detail on the contests)  Call it a pilot project of sorts.

However, as I see it, this could offer huge potential for authors and readers alike, notwithstanding the free advertising for publishers.  Imagine being able to scan a barcode in a store and instantly have access to consumer book reviews, author Q & A’s, and maybe even video book trailers on your Ipod, Iphone or Android.


(For a great explanation of Stickybits and how it works, try “The Secret Lives of Objects: Stickybits turns Barcodes into Personal Message Boards” by Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch)


Google challenges Amazon for ebook supremacy

Uh, oh.

Google’s on the move again.  Not content with being the foremost search engine on the web, nor the foremost video provider (Hello?  Youtube?), nor a young schoolboy’s best way to spy on that cute girl next door, nor dominating the email market…now they’ve decided to challenge Amazon’s dominance in the market of ebooks.

As of Monday December 6, 2010, Google has announced their plans to become the foremost provider of digital books in direct competition with Amazon.com.  With access to over 3 million current and out of copyright titles, they’re set to make them available (for a price) in a customer’s personal e-library (much like Amazon) and easily read on any internet ready device, whether it be phone, computer or ipod.  Surprisingly (?), while their titles will be compatible with most ereaders…the Amazon Kindle is not one of them.

So, what does this mean for your average eReader?  More access to out of print books? More variety in how they view these tomes?  More savings when choosing your next ebook?

Yes!  Yes! and um…maybe?

Amazon is not taking this lying down however, trying to block Google’s access to millions of out of print titles.  Should be interesting to see what happens. 

But seriously, if you want to take a look at the new Google bookstore, here’s your chance.

For further reading and an in depth story on developing Google/Amazon rivalry, Jefferson Graham’s article in USA Today is a must.

Chapters/Indigo gets serious about e-reader competition

Way back in July of 2010, Kobo Inc., a subsidiary of Indigo Books and Music, introduced the Kobo eReader as an inexpensive alternative to pricier eReaders such as Amazon’s Kindle.  Their thought process: that people would embrace a low-cost eReader even if it meant fewer features like WiFi.

Three months ago that must have seemed like a great idea.  What would happen though, if say, Kindle prices dropped to an equivalent level or they created a bare bones version that still contained WiFi?  Oh wait, they did.  Awkward.

So, after what must have been a panicked boardroom meeting, Kobo is releasing a wireless version of their eReader on November 1st, retailing at $149 Cdn.  However, big brother’s new Kindle retails for $139 Cdn.  Also awkward.

(note: Marketing Magazine’s article on the Kobo lists the retail price as $139 Cdn. but the Kobo website lists it at $149 as of this writing)

Oxford Dictionary (Print edition) just became a collectable.

Now what am I going to showcase on my coffee table?!

As of the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the Oxford Press will no longer be making print copies available of the complete edition of their venerable dictionary, preferring to go digital and have it only available (in the full version) on-line.  Apparently it’s not commercially viable for the printer to actually “print” copies of the full dictionary…and the numbers bear that out.  Each copy of the Oxford English dictionary costs the buyer £750 (roughly $1200/Cdn) and has never been sold in numbers that make the Press a profit.  In fact, it’s always been subsidized by sales of the Oxford’s other publications. However, an online subscription costs £240/year (roughly $385/Cdn) and garners viewership of 2 million per month (granted, that’s not to say they have 2 million subscriptions!).

Harry Mount laments the death of the Oxford in an interesting article on the history of the Oxford in the Daily Mail (ironically in the on-line edition), decrying the loss of one’s ability to thumb through the dictionary looking for that unexpected gem you might otherwise not come across on-line.  My suggestion…a randomizer button.

The Washington Post also has a nice obit for the Oxford.


However, it’s not as if the Oxford is going to disappear from your local school or library.  There are no plans to stop printing the min-Oxford anytime soon and I’d like to think most schools would have both access to the internet and to this quintessential dictionary.

(Note:  Thanks to the UK Daily Mail for all statistics quoted above)

Stop The Presses!

Print is dead.

…well, maybe not just yet.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ.com) cites sales figures by Amazon.com claiming that in the past quarter (April-June 2010) they sold more e-books than hardbacks  (by hardbacks they mean hardcovers rather than mass market paperbacks). In the month of June, 2010, Amazon sold 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books, leading us to pose several questions:

  • Are people converting to e-readers in significant numbers? 
  • Is this actual growth in the industry (ie. more literature consumed) or simply a dog eat dog world where revenue gained by e-readers is revenue lost by real world publishers with a zero sum total? 
  • Finally, are we witnessing a paradigm shift away from physical books to digital content, much like the C.D. made tapes, records and 8 tracks irrelevant, or is it simply a parallel venue by which the reader can get his or her fix?

Everyone quoted in the article seems to agree that it’s too early in the game and that only time will tell.  While still considered a “niche product”, the growth of e-reader sales has made booksellers take a serious look at this new technology    Heather Reisman,  CEO of Indigo Books and Music Inc. isn’t taking any chances that digital reading might be a flash in the pan. 

Another article (also at WSJ.com) by Geoffrey A. Fowler and Marie C. Baca attempts to analyze the reading habits of people who buy e-readers and what impact they will have on traditional print.

Some statistics cited:

  • By September 2010, 11 million Americans are expected to own at least one digital reading gadget (Forrester Research)
  • U.S. e-book sales grew 183% when comparing the first half of 2010 to the corresponding time period last year and there was a 176% increase in U.S. electronic book sales in 2009.  (Association of American Publishers)
  • 52% of e-books (according to the study) were purchased while 48% of their e-books were free.  (Side note…just got a free copy of Pride and Prejudice downloaded on my Kindle.  The same book in paperback costs $11)
  • 66% of American libraries offer e-book loans; in 2005 it was only 38% (American Library Association)

The article goes on to explore the habits of e-reader readers and their reasons for making the switch or complimenting their regular reading habits with a bit of new technology.  The best answer seems to be portability.  Why carry around ten books when you can carry around a compact device that can hold thousands?

So, back to the questions.

Are people converting to e-readers in significant numbers? 

  • 11 million Americans is certainly a significant number…and growing.

Is this actual growth in the industry?

  •   Too soon to tell, but my opinion is that eventually a balance will be found between digital and physical forms of reading. 

Are we witnessing a paradigm shift away from physical books to digital content? 

  • Maybe?

People are always going to want to hold physical copies of their favourite reads.  Much has been made of e-readers and their effect on hardcover sales, but there will always be that dedicated fan of an author or series who will want to display their works as a point of pride.  However, I would not recommend apprenticing to be a Pressman anytime soon.

Amazon’s Amazing Kindle

The ancient Sumerian civilization wrote by imprinting clay tablets with various symbols and called it Cuneiform.  Later writers made a technological leap forward, switching from those heavy tablets to papyrus, eventually parchment, and of course, today we use paper. 

With the advent of the Internet, a variety of new options have emerged to sate ones need for news and entertainment, more practical and portable than even a pocket novel.  They are known as e-readers, and today, at least in America, there is a spiffy little device known as the Amazon Kindle.

The Kindle, launched in the United States in 2007, is one of the latest versions of e-book readers, devices into which you can import your favourite titles and carry them with you wherever you go.  The original version of the Kindle can hold up to 200 titles, while the Kindle 2 can hold 1500 and has access to over 230 000 titles. 

You can find a shorter review of the Kindle  by C/Net’s David Carnoy, and a more extensive review by Benjamin Higginbotham of Technology Evangelist on YouTube.

The Kindle is quite pricey at $399 (American mind you), a rate which Amazon has decided is the price of portability.  Factored against the price of a good chiropractor (after lugging your book bag around all day), this might seem reasonable, but in these tough economic times, Amazon might want to rethink their price.

Unfortunately, the Kindle is not available in Canada at the moment, so don’t get rid of your backpack just yetamazon-kindle-ebook-reader.

Update–Oct 7, 2009.  According to the Quill and Quire… Still no Kindle in Canada.   

Update #2  According to Reuters, Kindle’s first to market lead may soon evaporate.

Update #3  As of November 17, 2009, Kindle is available in Canada.  Finally!!!!!!!!!  Thanks to the Quill and Quire for the good news.