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Month: May 2011

Will Publishers Survive The eBook Revolution?

My youngest son, who’s only 10, wants to publish his Young Authors story as an eBook and sell it for 99 cents. I told him sure, I’ll do it. With the process I’ve built, it’s pretty easy to do and should be a fun project. And who knows, it might even be profitable!

Scenarios like this can only cause great fear and trepidation in the large publishing houses, who like the music industry before them, are faced with a serious threat to their existence as they have known it. Any artist with the technical know-how and inclination can create and sell directly to the public. Authors no longer need publishers to sell their books. Arguments about editing and quality of work aside, those are the brutal facts.

So how can publishers survive? Well first of all, they can last a long time on their enormous back catalogs books that can be converted to eBook formats. It means renegotiating a lot of contracts, but, if they aren’t too greedy, it can be done. Readers don’t just want cheap eBooks, we want quality ones as well. The big publishers have many of the world’s best writers to draw on. If they market and price their products well, people will continue to buy.

The tricky thing for them will be attracting and retaining new talent. The authors of today know that they don’t need publishers to sell their books if they’re willing to publish in purely digital format. Publishers have to offer something more. Money certainly helps, but today’s author is going to be very reluctant to cede much control/ownership of their works to publishers. I think editing and marketing are the places where the big publishing houses offer the most attractive services. They have the resources to promote authors across all major media.

To survive, the major publishers need to identify and sign the next generation of authors. These writers are not waiting around to be discovered. They are writing and publishing eBooks right now and some of them are already having a lot of success doing so. If publishers miss this boat, they really will be sunk.

TokyoPop Manga Licenses Fly Away Home

Anime News Network has reported that TokyoPop’s manga licenses will revert to their owners when the publisher shuts down at the end of May. There is no word on the status of TokyoPop original English language (OEL) works.

TokyoPop LogoThis is rather disappointing. I had held out some hope up until now that perhaps TokyoPop could continue its current licensed series in eBook form, at least until license expiration. But it is very likely that the licenses were specific to printed distribution. Digital distribution usually requires negotiating a new license if not part of the original.

It’s a near certainty that at least some of the most popular titles will be licensed by some other publishers. Still, anyone following any current TokyoPop series is in for some anguished waiting while things get sorted out.

Borders Sale Seen As More Likely

Publishers Weekly has reported that the likely sale of ailing bookstore chain Borders in part or whole may be one outcome of recent actions. The bankrupt company has sought court permission to sell some assets that do not have any current lien against them.

I suppose it’s a good thing that I used up my remaining Borders Bucks this morning. Given that rival Barnes & Noble has shown little public interest in acquiring Borders intact or any of its assets, I think any buyout of Borders will be quickly followed by a total liquidation.

The book business has changed. While Barnes & Noble is in better shape, recent actions intended to reduce its interest payments speak to a continuing struggle to stay afloat. It’s hard to say whether B&N would benefit from the loss of Borders, or if Amazon has already done so.

The end of Borders will accelerate the push towards eBooks because of the very real problem of finding a new book bookstore nearby. Faced with the option of waiting several days for a book to come in the mail, or downloading the same book for a few bucks less instantly, many will opt for the eBook.

eBook readers are rapidly moving into sub-$100 range and free eReader software is ubiquitous. Faced with fewer locations to sell physical books, publishers are being forced to sell more eBooks to survive. In particular, I’m sure that they are working very hard to make as much of their back catalogs available in eBook format as possible. They’d better be quick about it too, or someone else will!

With or without Borders, bookstores will survive. But the age of the large bookstore chain seems to be coming to an end. Many of us are going to need some new places to hang out.

Digital Comics On The iPhone

Even as comic and manga publishers fret over the future of their media as the digital transition takes hold, it’s a great time to be a reader! The last few days I’ve been rediscovering comics in digital form with the help of iPhone readers from Dark Horse, comiXology, and Viz.

Growing up, keeping up with the comics I liked was not an easy task. If I had the money there was the very real problem of getting to the nearest comic shop which for me was at the top of a very steep hill near Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza. Eventually I moved on to other books only revisiting comics latter for the occasional Batman graphic novel release.

My first glimpse of what comics could be on a portable device came when the Digital Comics service debuted on the PSP. The guided, panel to panel mode was the perfect way, for me at least, to read comics on that big beautiful screen! That was back in 2009 and digital books hadn’t really taken hold of my conciousness and the PSP was not something that I carried around with me all the time, so the thought of turning it into a reader and building a library on it was not something I was ready to do.

Fast forward two years to the iPhone, a device I usually have on my person which between 3G and Wi-Fi is almost always on the network. And with a display screen nearly as large as the PSP and much more available storage space, using it as a reader only awaited the right apps. Well it looks like the right apps have arrived!

Oz: The Manga

David Hutchison's Re-imagining of Oz in Manga Form

Last Saturday was Free Comic Book Day, so I decided to give reader apps from Dark Horse, comiXology, and Viz, a workout. I started thinking about this originally when Viz released their manga reader for iPhone and iPod touch. Being iPadless, I was curious to see how manga fared on the iPhone’s much smaller screen.

The iPhone version of the Viz reader was a bit of a disappointment. While manga are clear and readable, you have to manually pan and zoom. Not only that, all reading is done in portrait mode. Twilt your iPhone all you want, that picture is not rotating. This would not be all bad except for the fact that I knew of a better way to read graphic novels in that form factor.

Both the Dark Horse and comiXology readers gave a much more enjoyable reading experience. The key to this being their guided panel to panel reading mode. It makes reading a comic somewhere between viewing a slideshow and a movie. Both were easy to use, though I felt that the Dark Horse app performed a little better overall. And both Dark Horse and comiXology allow you to read titles in your library online in a web browser. Right now it doesn’t look like you can read Viz manga from your in app library on a computer. That’s an interesting omission given that Viz does make several of its Shonen Jump manga titles available for online reading.

As a manga reader, it’s a little disappointing that Viz’s reader is not quite up to the standard set by the digital comic readers. But I’m sure we’ll see improvements in later releases. In the meantime, I’m having a lot of fun rediscovering comics such as David Hutchison’s Oz: The Manga, which looks great on my iPhone!

Amazon Pulls Some Yaoi Manga From Kindle

Anime News Network reposts that Amazon has pulled some yaoi manga titles from the US Kindle store. Amazon’s policy prohibits pornographic or “offensive” material on its Kindle eBook platform. However print versions of some of the titles pulled from the Kindle remain on sale from Amazon.

In addition to the usual censorship questions and anti-gay bias, one wonders why digital media is not being given the same leeway and respect as print. Much like the abuse of the DMCA take down provisions on YouTube, I think that because pulling  an eBook is easy and incurs little or no cost to Amazon, other considerations lose out.

It seems likely though, that once digital accounts for the overwhelming majority of revenue and profits, it won’t be so easy for Amazon, Apple, or anyone else to cavalierly censor materials based on the opinions of a vocal minority.

Amazon May Kindle Tablet War

One of this week’s big stories is that Amazon may be getting into the tablet war with its own Android OS powered offering. A large order placed with Taiwan-based notebook maker Quanta may signal Amazon’s plans to enter the tablet market.

If true, I think this says a few things about the tablet market. First at the high end where Apple has successfully fended off any and all competitors for the iPad’s crown, perhaps Amazon sees a threat to its Kindle platform. Kindle books can be read on the iPad, and so far Amazon has been able to avoid giving Apple a cut of the sales because purchases in the Kindle app call Safari to load Amazon’s mobile site. But there’s no telling how long this will remain the case. And as Apple’s own iBookstore develops and matures, Amazon’s share can only decline.

At the lower end, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color, according to B&N at least, has been very successful. While the Nook Color isn’t going to put the Kindle out to pasture anytime soon, it has proven that there is a market for an eBook optimized, backlit, touchscreen, LCD tablet half the price of an iPad.

So it’s not really any surprise that Amazon is trying to close a hole in its eReader offerings now. Besides great reading, the Kindle has always been about tying the reader to Amazon’s bookstore. No 3rd party device will ever do this as well as a Kindle does.

Reports expect the device to be release in the second half of 2011. I would guess it will be ready in time for the Christmas holiday sales season along with a lot of special publisher partner deals to show off the tablet’s new features. It’ll probably be very similar to the Nook Color, also powered by Android OS, and priced the same or less with promotional offers, or putting up with ads.

It’s unlikely that the battle of $250 eReader tablets is going to dethrone the iPad. The main casualties of the coming war are likely going to be those other tablets that so far have failed to gain much traction. It may get a lot harder to sell Xooms and Playbooks once Amazon starts marketing their new color Kindle that reads books and plays Angry Birds for only $250.

Update: Barnes & Noble is preparing to announce a new eReader on May 24. Begun this tablet war has.

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