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Month: February 2011 (Page 1 of 2)

Barnes & Noble’s Conquest of Space

The growing popularity of eBooks, the success of online bookseller Amazon, and the implosion of Borders would seem to argue that large bookstores are more liability than asset. But Barnes & Noble is seeking to refute that logic by hosting in-store events to promote PubIt authors. PubIt is the eBook self-publishing platform Barnes & Noble launched back in October of last year. Michael at Good eReader writes,

Barnes and Noble is taking advantage of their tangible retail spaces and large book stores, that are a great place to showcase their own authors and build their brand internally. Meanwhile Amazon has a virtual website only and cannot put its own authors in the forefront, while their Digital Text Platform continues to be THE most popular self authoring program on the internet.

Marketing eBooks has been a concern of mine from the very beginning of the Learncrest venture. The online avenues are apparent and easily available, but how does an eBook author cross over into 3D space to promote his/her digital works? Now it looks like B & N is providing just that bridge and going somewhere that Amazon cannot easily follow.

In another current promotion, Barnes & Noble is offering a free cup of coffee to anyone who comes into their stores and tries out a Nook Color eBook reader. Again, this isn’t something Amazon could easily match to promote the Kindle. But I think it may also reveal that B & N’s underlying strategy is not very different from that of a movie cineplex. As high as movie ticket prices may be, that’s not really where a cinema makes its money. Movie theatres make most of their money from concessions sales. The profit margins on soda and popcorn are very high, and I suspect that the same can be said for the sales of eBooks relative to paper ones.

People spend a lot of time on the internet, but we are still physical beings living in 3D space. Free Wi-Fi and in-store promotions that encourage customers to bring their Nooks to the store with them, coupled with events to promote eBook authors is a powerful one two punch to promote your most profitable products. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt to have good old fashioned books on the shelves to be purchased in either physical or digital form.

How well this strategy plays out against Amazon remains to be seen. But with Barnes & Noble’s eBook market share having risen to 25% and strong sales of the Nook Color, they must be doing something right.

Are Physical Books Really Dead Yet?

A new Amazon Kindle ad has Crave writer David Carnoy speculating that Amazon has pronounced the physical book dead. Long live the physical book! He writes,

By saying that the physical book “lives on,” Amazon is implying that it died at some point. That’s not exactly true, of course, but the messaging seems pretty clear, and expect to see more of it going forward.

It seems rather obvious that physical books continue to be printed and sold to millions of readers. But you know what? I think Amazon is on to something here. As an avid book lover, my heart has been torn by my growing love of eBooks and the accelerating disappearance of bookstores most recently due to the Borders bankruptcy.

As I sort through the remains of the store closing sale of my neighborhood Borders, I am filled with the same ambivalence about physical books as I’m sure was in part responsible for the store’s demise. I love the printed book, but these days I prefer eBooks whenever they are available, and in many cases, I am more than willing to wait for an eBook version to come out. As a result, the only printed books I buy now are graphic novels and manga because they are still mostly unavailable in eBook form, at least legally that is.

So maybe Amazon is right. Somewhere along the way physical books died, at least in my heart, but the soul of the book lives on. It lives on in Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and anything that can display the printed word. If that’s not going to heaven, I don’t know what is!

What About Borders? Let There Be Libraries!

A quick Googling of “Borders” will turn up a lot of stories about how difficult it will be to fill the building vacancies that the store closings are going to bring. Many of these buildings are two stories and on the order of 20,000 square feet. I thought some about the closing Borders in my own neighborhood, then I thought about the deficiencies of our local public library and it struck me. Why not turn these closed bookstores into public libraries!

The buildings are already made to hold books. They are also already important social hubs in many areas. Turning them into libraries would not require large construction costs and I suspect the land owners would be willing to deal on the rent rather than be stuck with something no other retailer would likely want in a down economy.

While it is hard to imagine local governments wanting to spend the money and effort to convert these bookstores to libraries right now, the cost not to may be greater. Because they are social hubs, generally located near other retail establishments, these bookstores brought a lot of business to other stores that they now stand to lose. Converting the vacant bookstores into libraries could maintain, and perhaps even increase this traffic saving jobs and creating new ones.

So please, somebody, let there be libraries!

Pump Up The Manga On The Nook!

After reading this excellent review of Sundome on the UK Anime Network site, I popped over to Barnes & Noble’s web store to see if it was available on the Nook. It was no big surprise to me that it was not available as an eBook. But I was surprised and happy to see that there was a “Tell the publisher you want this in Nookbook format” link. Amazon has had a similar link for requesting a Kindle version for years now, so I am happy that Barnes & Noble is now providing the same to its customers.

Sundome Vol 1 Image

Barnes & Noble now has "Tell the publisher you want this in NOOKbook format" links

I don’t know just how effective clicking that link is, but I would like to encourage anyone who wants more manga on the Nook and the Kindle to click those links like your lives depended on it! Right now, I don’t know of any better way to demonstrate demand for manga eBooks. And, of course, buy manga eBooks when possible!

Rise of the Manga Entrepreneur?

Now that Borders has filed for bankruptcy and the local Borders is closing, maybe its time to dust off those plans to open a manga cafe in the neighborhood! My wife suggested this, perhaps only half seriously, in response to yesterday’s post.

We started talking about the idea a few years ago. The idea was to open a little shop specializing in East Asian popular culture. This would include graphic novels, such as manga, along with Chinese martial arts novels. Video games, including hard to find imports, would also be part of the mix. And to keep things fresh and interesting, we’d also have a cosplay component. Staff would cosplay according to some weekly theme and we might even offer discounts or other incentives to customers who visited the store in costume.

Books are not a high margin business, so the shop would make most of its money selling beverages and pre-packaged baked goods. Sitting around reading manga would be encouraged as long as you bought something to drink or eat. A paid membership program would offer additional perks. Monthly open mike karaoke nights would round out the shop’s offerings.

In planning this, I felt that a key element to success would be keeping abreast of the latest trends and nimbly adjusting to take advantage of them. Obviously this entails a lot of work, but I do a lot of this already, so it would really just be monetizing my favorite hobbies. Now that the Borders down the street is closing, maybe this shop will finally see the light of day!

Borders Bankruptcy For The Manga Reader

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Borders is in the final preparations for declaring bankruptcy. When this happens, a lot of Borders bookstores are going to close. Borders currently operates about 650 bookstores and various reports estimate that they will likely close 150 of these. I think, for no reason other than things often being worse than they appear in these situations, that Borders is going to close a lot more stores than that by the time it’s all over.

But what does this mean for the manga reader? Personally, I’ve already made the switch to eBooks whenever a title I want is available in digital format. But many manga title are not currently available in any digital format, at least not legally. So I’ve depended on Borders for much of my print manga for years now because they always had the best and largest selection of titles, including mature ones.

After reading a bit of speculation on what the surviving Borders would look like on Japanator, I think the prospects for print sales of manga are rather bleak indeed. Between a smaller Borders chain only offering the most popular manga titles and Barnes & Noble maintaining its quick return policies and a ban on mature titles, that seemingly leaves Amazon as the winner in all of this. Or does it?

Manga publishers in Japan and their U.S. licensees have been fighting a seemingly losing battle against illegal manga scans, scanlations, on the web. Initially, many, if not most, of the illegal scans consisted of series that had little hope of being distributed in the U.S.. But the growth of the internet soon saw even those popular titles licensed in the U.S. easily available on a number of web sites for all to download for free.

Some of the highest profile scanlation sites have been closed down, but many remain and are relatively easy to find for the most popular manga titles. There are even scans of manga showing up as YouTube videos! By contrast, there are still few popular manga titles available in eBook format for eReaders like the Kindle or Nook. The number of popular titles is growing on the iPad, but few of the largest part of the manga buying demographic, teens and college students, own iPads. A growing number of popular manga are also readable on publisher web sites in a web browser where they must compete head to head with the often easier to read (i.e. no Flash or DRM required) illegal scanlations.

Against this backdrop, it isn’t clear that Amazon will be the clear winner as retail bookstore availability of manga decreases. It seems likely that at least some frustrated manga readers will turn to the grey market for their manga fix unless publishers and booksellers give them an easy way to get manga legally. For now, I’ll probably buy from Amazon because there are no longer any nearby bookstores that carry the titles I want and the selection available at anime conventions is haphazard at best. My hope is that in 6 months I’ll be writing about how all of the major manga publishers have released their titles in all of the popular eBook formats.

Selling eBooks: Some Thoughts

A tweet this morning from WriterDonna lead me to The Quest for eBook Sales on Green Ink. In answer to the perennial question of how to get more eBook sales, the author had this to say.

The good news is that indie authors can get sales on a very limited monetary budget; the bad news is that this method has an unseen cost: your time. Happenstance customers usually lay down good money to purchase an unheard-of indie writer’s book because of all the rather unrelated posts said author has taken the time to research and write, along with a host of complimentary articles, columns, reviews, short stories and other Freebie Flags staked along the heavily-trodden beaches of eSales Island.

I must admit, that when I started writing eBooks, I half hoped that readers searching for books in subject areas of their interest would just naturally find my books using the search functions on the bookstore site. But the other half of me knew that selling eBooks is much like selling anything else. It takes a concerted and continuous marketing effort to build and maintain brand awareness. Even the most successful writers have to market their new books.

Marketing is nothing new to me. When I started college, the Science Fiction Club, which I had just joined, had fallen to maybe 4 or 5 members. Things weren’t looking too good for the future, so rather than waiting for it to die or looking for another club to join, I started putting up signs all over campus promoting the club. The signs were fairly whimsical and illustrated with a science fiction theme that often parodied some current campus event. During one prospective students weekend, the theme was “Prospie Women from Outer Space!”

I had fun making the signs and traveling across the University of Chicago campus to put them up. I always made sure to put the signs up outside the dining halls because I knew a lot of people would be standing in line there every night. My efforts were quickly rewarded and the club more than doubled in size and continued to grow during my 4 years as the official unofficial Minister of Propaganda.

Those same marketing principles apply to the selling of eBooks. Using the online people hang-outs of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and forums in a natural way can be an effective method of driving sales. By natural, I mean becoming a good citizen of those communities rather than a drive-by spammer. I won’t join any forum that I don’t have a natural interest in.

As for Learncrest, I needed a site to promote my eBooks. But no one is going to just happen by an unknown site for no reason, there has to be some compelling content. So I started writing, and writing, and writing. Most of what readers will find on this site is related to eBooks and is personally interesting. It’s hard to write about things one has no interest in. So I scour the news for stories of interest and things that inspire the imagination. I write, then I tell my friends about it. Traffic was very slow at first, not even spammers had taken notice, but slowly as search sites index more posts, traffic has increased (and so did spam). And eBook sales have continued at a steady pace which indicates buyers beyond just my personal friends, the Holy Grail!

It also doesn’t hurt to promote eBooks in the real world. A few weeks ago, I printed up postcard fliers for Anime Aftershocks and distributed them at Ohayocon, an anime convention in Columbus Ohio. I cannot tell whether the flyering was effective or not, but it’s a common practice at conventions like Ohayocon that see tens of thousands of attendees each year. The cost of the fliers was minimal and I was planning to attend the convention anyway, so any sales would be a bonus.

Content is king! Having just purchased a block of 10 ISBN numbers, I have more than enough incentive to write more eBooks to use them. I currently have 3 or 4 books in various stages in the pipeline that will be released in the coming months. What better way than a well developed library of works to gain an audience and drive sales?

There has never been a better time in the history of humankind to be a writer. With some time, effort, and imagination we can surely reach more readers than would ever have been possible in print alone. Writing the book is just the beginning!

All In The Family for eBook Lending

If the publisher allows it, eBooks for the Nook or the Kindle can be loaned out to another person to read on their eReader for a limited time. We’re all familiar with lending and borrowing the books of friends and this is often the way we discover new authors. Reading, while in itself, a solitary activity, has always been an intensely social pursuit. How does this translate to the eBook experience?

Well so far, much gets lost in the translation. First, not all publishers allow lending of their eBooks. Second, the lending period is only 14 days. So if your buddy loans you an eBook edition of War and Peace, then you’ve just got yourself a new job for 2 weeks. Finally, you are only allowed to loan a book out exactly one time and one time only! I’d say this is a pretty lousy translation at this point.

I understand what the publishers are trying to do with these restrictions, but if they expect a family or group of students living together to buy a separate copy of a book for each person, then they are going to be disappointed. the absurdity of the restrictions will only increase the attractiveness of getting eBooks through less than legitimate channels.

Publishers would do well to adopt a model similar to the one iTunes uses. In iTunes a limited number of computers can be authorized to play music in the user’s library. This works reasonably well for the typical family with computers on a home network. Why not allow readers to authorize a limited number of eReaders to read the books they have bought? Eliminate the one time only lending limit and the 14 day loan period. I’d also get rid of the restriction that you cannot read a book you have currently loaned out. Why shouldn’t a family be able to read a book together simultaneously? This capability could even be a selling point for eBooks versus physical ones.

A good portion of computer software piracy is the casual sort where a family copies software onto multiple computers at home rather than buying a full priced copy for each machine. Major software publishers, such as Microsoft, Apple, and Symantec finally got a clue and began to offer multi-license family packs. For much less than the cost of individual licenses, the typical pack allows the user to legally install the software on up to 3 computers in their home.

As eBooks continue to rise in popularity, publishers would be wise to adopt more liberal restrictions before the grey, 100% discount, market becomes the preferred way for people to fill their eReaders.

BTW, you can get War and Peace for free at Project Gutenberg right here!

Borders Cuts Kobo To $99.99 Permanently

Borders has cut the price of the Kobo eBook reader to $99.99 permanently. This may mean that the earlier promotional cuts spiked sales of the readers and eBooks enough to significantly help the bottom line of the embattled bookseller.

So anyone who’s been on the fence about eBook readers due to price should definitely take a look at the Kobo. If Borders can survive, this cut may have a ripple effect pushing the Kindle and the Nook to the magic sub $100 promised land as well.

Courting Failure: Xoom Tablet May Be Overpriced

Ars Technica reports that the upcoming Motorola Xoom will launch at $799.99 and will require a data plan from Verizon to enable WiFi networking. That’s right, there’s no escaping a data plan, WiFi will be crippled unless users sign up with Verizon for at least one month.

I’d been watching the Android Honeycomb powered tablet since CES in the hopes that it would offer the iPad some real competition and be a viable option for reading eBooks. But launching at a higher price than the base model iPad makes this unlikely. It also raises a lot of questions about just how much it costs to manufacture the Xoom and the role Verizon plays in all of this.

Some estimate that it costs about $230 to manufacture an iPad. So even the $500 entry model nets a nice profit for Apple in the hardware alone. It seems reasonable to expect similar manufacturing costs for the Xoom. If not, then that would be the first part of Motorola’s problem. It is understandable for Motorola to pitch their new tablet as better than the iPad with a price to match that perception. But given the newness of the tablet market and the huge head start Apple has in both sales and mindshare, a high launch price and onerous data plan seems guaranteed to turn off potential buyers. More casual users will simply opt for the iPad their friends already have. While more sophisticated, tech savvy users will likely be incensed by both the high price and Verizon’s heavy handed tactic of disabling even WiFi unless a data plan is purchased.

One can only hope that the leaked Best Buy ad is inaccurate or perhaps a trial balloon, and the Xoom will launch with a more sane price point and data plan structure.

Update:

Ars reports that the WiFi only Xoom will be released for $600 and will not require a data contract to enable the networking. So it seems that Motorola is playing to win after all, which is good news for us all!

Update II:

The Xoom gets a pretty good hands on review. But honestly, I still think it’s a bit overpriced. Right now $500 gets you a contract free iPad and a ton of apps available in the Apple App Store versus $800 for the Xoom. While the hardware for the Xoom specs a little higher than the entry level iPad, the apps available tip the balance. And on top of everything else, Adobe Flash Player is not ready for Android 3.0 yet. So I think iPad wins this round.

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