DBW Weekly Roundup, 5/11/11

DBW Weekly RoundupDigital Book World presents a weekly roundup of some of the most interesting news, commentary and tweets related to publishing that you may have missed, from all over the digital book world.

Bookish: A Better Way to Buy Books?

Social reading community, recommendation engine, and e-commerce platform all rolled into one, Bookish has been making waves all over the blogosphere, from Time magazine’s Techland blog to the Bookseller Association blogger Martyn Daniels to Professor Peter Fader at the Wharton School of Management Knowledge Today blog.

From the Publishers Weekly announcement:

Three major publishers are backing a new online effort aimed at engaging and informing readers about authors and books. With the financial backing of Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Group, Bookish is being headed by Paulo Lemgruber who previously ran the digital businesses at Comcast and Reed Elsevier and who told PW he was recruited about a year ago to start Bookish….

Lemgruber said the main goal of Bookish is to make recommendations about books that will appeal to a reader’s particular taste. He compared the site to things like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes that mix information about movies with reviews and news. Editorial will include breaking news, author interviews, excerpts, reviews and other marketing materials that publishers feel will help readers pick a book, Lemgruber said. Although backed by Penguin, S&S and Hachette, Lemgruber stressed that Bookish will be editorially independent, covering books from all publishers (excluding vanity presses).

But, the initial reactions to the venture are decidedly mixed: former DBW Director Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, for example, tweeted “Bookish effectively occupies no man’s land b/w Amazon and Goodreads, commerce vs. community” and examined Bookish’s prospects in the context of other reader communities. Laura E. Kelly over at Huffpo identified 5 ways to screw up Bookish, while Mike Shatzkin put Bookish into the context of “the old publishing value chain“:

It really is impossible to speculate intelligently about Bookish’s potential for success. What they’re suggesting they’ll do is reminiscent of Copia and Goodreads and Library Thing, and none of them have yet replaced the marketing power of the brick store, a fact which is front and center in the minds of the trade publishers who depend on that merchandising.

But it will certainly accomplish one thing: giving the big publishers a direct path to the consumer. The hunch here is that if any one of these three big publishers had gone aggressively into direct sales, they would have risked serious retaliation from both of their two biggest customers: Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But it will be hard for them to retaliate against three publishers who, among them, deliver about half the biggest commercial books in the marketplace.

How Much Would You Pay for the Library of Babel?

While we’re on the subject of e-commerce, a pretty lively discussion broke out over at Kottke.org, when Tim Carmody, a contributor to Nieman Lab and The Atlantic, posed this question on Twitter:

What would you pay for digital access to any book published, as much as you want, on any device you want? $100/month would be a no-brainer.

Looking over the comments, it’s pretty fascinating how readers from Europe, perhaps more accustomed to higher book prices, balked less at the $100 per month price tag, while North American readers viewed that price point as being too high.

Of course, this is all in the context of ongoing debates over ebook pricing and potential subscription models, both within the industry and outside of it, such as this perspective from software developer Fraser Speirs. From within the industry, Mike Shatzkin over at The Idea Logical Company has a great summary of the discussion, adding his own proposed model:

The retailer creates a pool of content that will be offered through the subscription service. The proposition to the consumer will be that for a price (let’s say: $50 a month), they can read all they want from the content pool. In turn, the retailer divides 70% of that money (or 75% or 80%) among the publishers in proportion to how many “pages” (a somewhat arbitrary but internally consistent measure) of their material have been read. Of course, all available public domain content will be in the pool.

I am guessing that a very high proportion of the owners of self-published and small press books will find the proposition attractive from the beginning. How the big publishers would react is less certain. My belief is that the smart ones will try it: put in some titles, perhaps from their deep backlist, to get some visibility as to how the program would work

What Can Dull the Pain of Borders’ Bankruptcy?

Since Borders filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February, the retail chain has been reporting continued losses even as hundreds of stores are liquidated, and it seems that no brick-and-mortar retailer is immune from the market disruptions caused by the rise of ebooks. AnnArbor.com conducted an interview with Borders CEO Mike Edwards about the future:

The executive who is steering Ann Arbor-based Borders Group Inc. through bankruptcy said in an exclusive interview with AnnArbor.com that he is confident the bookstore chain can emerge from court protection as a viable company.

But he also acknowledged that the company’s future is dependent on the willingness of publishers to agree to new terms under which they would continue to ship books to the company’s remaining stores.

“All I can tell you is that we are here fighting to the end,” Borders Inc. CEO Mike Edwards said in a rare interview. “We know we have a business plan that works, but it requires a lot of support to get it there, and our publishers are going to make or break our ability to transform this company at the end of the day.”

What’s the Buzz at the World e-Reading Congress?

Turning to industry events, the World e-Reading Congress in London just closed, and the speaker list included a full complement of publishers, including Random House, Harper Collins, and Penguin. As Random House UK moves to agency pricing, what is the publisher’s outlook? Philip Jones over at The Bookseller reports:

E-book sales could exceed 8% of trade publishers’ sales in 2011, and could reach 15% next year, Random House UK’s deputy chairman Ian Hudson told delegates at the World e-Reading Congress this morning (10th May).

Hudson also rejected headlines about the death of the app or enhanced e-book, arguing publishers needed to explore “the opportunities [rather] than sit back only to be flattened by the changes sweeping the industry.”

… Hudson said there had never been a better time to be a publisher, with an opportunity to play a central role in bringing authors and readers together. He said: “We play cupid, we’re good at playing cupid: helping readers find and fall in love with books in what is an increasingly reader-centric marketplace.”

Continuing the romantic theme, Publishing Perspectives’ Roger Tagholm advises, “Date, Don’t Marry Technology” in a general summary of the event:

In addition to knowing and respecting consumers, an attitude of openness and a willingness to experiment was also stressed by [Chief Strategy Officer of Elastic Path Software Cliff] Conneighton. As he put it, in another of the day’s memorable phrases: “Now is the time to date, not to get married.” He added: “Seek technology that is open and flexible, giving you control of innovation.” Google’s Director of Print Content Partnerships, Santiago De La Mora, agreed: “Don’t make directional bets. Yes, the iPad has seen huge growth, but other devices are coming. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

That’s just a taste of what you may have missed this week. To stay on top of the most interesting news, commentary and tweets related to publishing, keep in touch via our RSS feed, follow us on Twitter, join your publishing colleagues in our LinkedIn group, and connect with the broader DBW Network.

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