DBW Weekly Roundup: BookExpo America Special Supplement

It seemed like everyone was at BookExpo America last week, and while reading the real-time reporting and early analysis starting to emerge, it can be easy to get lost navigating the important issues that have come out of BEA.

So, here is a quick rundown of BookExpo America press coverage, to help you get caught up to speed on what happened last week, a special supplement to our regular weekly roundup, which includes contextualized coverage about major announcements from Amazon.

And the Device Wars Rage On?

Two e-reader devices made big announcements at BookExpo America, suggesting quite strongly that the battle for device supremacy is far from over, despite the overwhelming attention generally afforded to either Amazon’s Kindle or Apple’s iPad2.

Barnes & Noble announced the new NOOK: Simple Touch Reader, which should begin shipping June 10. From the press release:

At only 7.48 ounces (212 grams), the artfully designed All-New NOOK is lightweight and thin – 35 percent lighter and 15 percent thinner than NOOK Wi-Fi 1st Edition™. Lighter than a paperback, NOOK’s sleek but durable, compact design (6.5 inches high by 5 inches wide by 0.47 inches deep) makes it easy to fit in a jacket, pocket, purse or backpack, holding up to 1,000 digital books and more personal content using the expandable memory slot.

Kobo also announced a new device early in the week at BEA: the Kobo eReader Touch Edition. Available on preorder for $129.99, the Kobo Touch features E-Ink technology combined with an infrared touchscreen function (which, unlike, the touchscreen used by Apple products, reacts to inanimate objects like a stylus).

Speaking to the LA Times’ technology blog, Kobo’s Chief Executive Michael Serbinis had this to say:

“We’re gunning for Amazon,” Serbinis said. “We now have just under 4 million users in over 100 countries. We’re No. 1 in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And we’ve essentially pioneered the affordable eReader. That brings us to touch technology. We think this is a compelling experience — not really matched on the market right now.”

Kobo also launched a reading challenge called Read On, using the Kobo’s native Reading Life application to track reader progress. Calling on Kobo users to read for 1 trillion minutes, the Canadian-based company, which continues to expand into the European and worldwide e-reading markets, has pledged to donate $10 million for every 10 million minutes read through the program (up to 1 trillion). At the time of this writing, Kobo users have already registered 6.5 million minutes.

That’s not the end of news from the upstart Kobo, as the company begins a partnership next month with ailing retailer Borders. Under this agreement, the Borders eBook Store, as well as the Borders eReading app, will be Kobo-branded, and Kobo even previewed the Kobo Touch at the Columbus Circle Borders last week.

Is Google Walking Away from Its Ebookstore?

Just looking over Google’s overall presence in the BEA program is rather telling, as is this comprehensive article about Google at BEA from Publishers Weekly. Reporting from Tuesday’s session, “Three R’s of Google eBooks: Reading, Regions, and Retailing,” Laura Hazard Owen over at paidContent.org relays some of the numbers revealed by Google Books Director of Product Management Scott Dougall:

  • Google eBooks is currently partnered with 7,000 active U.S. publishers and over 250 retailers (mainly independent bookstores) selling Google eBooks from their stores and websites.
  • Google Books apps, which are available for Android, iOS, Nook, Sony (NYSE: SNE), and the web, have been installed over 2.5 million times.
  • Google Books has found that over 25 percent of its users do most of their reading online. 25 percent read on their phones, 20 percent read on e-readers, and the remaining roughly 30 percent read on tablets (iPads and others).

Dougall was noncommittal over rumors that Google eBooks was planning to roll out a subscription service along the lines of Netflix; however, in comparison to other ebook retailers, Google is “not yet a major player in the e-book market.”

Unlike Amazon, however, Google does not seem intent on becoming a publisher, even though the Internet giant did publish one title recently, Winning the Zero Moment of Truth by Google’s Managing Director of US Sales Jim Lecinski, as reported by Laurie Sullivan over at MediaPost:

Lecinski and a Google spokesperson declined to confirm my assumption that Google plans to support an ebook publishing arm featuring ebooks written by Googlers. In fact, when asked about the company’s intentions related to publishing other ebooks, a Google spokesman couldn’t say whether the company has plans to expand past publishing this one book.

Not launching a publishing ebook arm would create a major missed opportunity for the search engine to share the insights and expertise of Googlers, as well as link to search ads, Google properties, and promote Google search engine marketing and remarketing tools. Consumers could not only read ebooks on tablets, but smartphones and Google TVs.

But, does this mean that Google has “walked away from the Google eBookstore”? Perhaps so.

Has E Arrived at BEA?

Well, EPUB 3 definitely arrived at BEA, announced at a session of the International Digital Publishing Forum. Much anticipated for the format’s expanded capabilities in rich media rendering and accessibility in the ebook reading experience, the full specification is available at the IDPF website.

As for the business of ebooks, both the IDPF program and Publishers Launch’s eBooks Go Global day had much to offer for publishers navigating the digital wave. Book Business has an overall summary of IDPF programming, while Paul Biba at TeleRead has some quick notes from the Publishers Roundtable, which featured Bloomsbury’s Evan Schnittman, SourceBooks’ Dominique Raccah, and Richard Nash of Cursor/Red Lemonade.

From Good E-Reader’s Mercy Pilkington, wrapping up IDPF:

The real breakthrough of this year’s event was the constant acknowledgment from companies that we have only scratched the surface on the technology behind reading a book. The days of a new technology being touted as the best there ever will be are over; the feelings have shifted towards looking to the future. Even as EPUB3 or the latest e-reader was being introduced for the first time, the discussion would inevitably veer towards how they are already working to improve for the next round. Undoubtedly, the show of support from every corner of the publishing industry at events like this one means the best is yet to come.

Meanwhile, a more international net was cast at Publishers Launch’s first event, the one-day eBooks Go Global. In addition to self-published author Barry Eisler’s announcement that he signed with Amazon’s thriller imprint, the program featured panels on new business models, emerging markets, and international rights.

Some of the key takeaways from the program included:

One global market. Managing rights in an international and digital market was certainly the topic of the day, and even though publishers seem to be looking forward to one global market (facilitated by digital distribution and ebooks) the issues of territoriality are far from resolved. For example, for President and CEO of the Copyright Clearance Center Tracey Armstrong, “digital is borderless” even though licensing arrangements have to navigate a uneven legal landscape. In contrast, some, such as Bloomsbury’s Evan Schnittman speaking at the first session “The Growth of Ebooks in the US,” believe that territoriality is key to price protection and tailoring book prices to specific markets.

Yet the local still applies. In addition to maintaining specific price points for specific (often national) markets and managing rights in differing legal systems, demographics also plays a role in the adoption of digital reading habits. Some interesting insights about the Arabic-language market were shared by Kotobarabia’s Ramy Habeeb, who pointed out the failures of Unicode to handle Arabic and other factors that result in the predominance of PDF for the still-emerging digital reading market in the Middle East.

But, no matter what, metadata is king. Underlying all the discussions about business models and potential international legal pitfalls, the issue of metadata came up in several panels. Director of Digital Strategic Partnerships at John Wiley & Sons Peter Balis spoke of the constant need to add new tags to ONIX data and recasting BISAC codes every day. Schnittman reiterated the importance of metadata as well, even while acknowledging that the level of accuracy needed is “a magnitude greater” in digital books than in print books.

Turning to a more global look at metadata, at another session, Kobo’s Cameron Drew talked about how the ONIX framework, even though in English, isn’t a prohibitive system, while President and CEO of Overdrive Steve Potash brought pricing into the mix as well, stressing the importance of geographic rights to be described through metadata to protect “native pricing.”

So, What Were the “Big Ideas” at BEA?

In terms of the general feel of the conference, there are, of course, both glass-half-full and glass-half-empty observers. On the optimistic side, Carolyn Kellogg of the Los Angeles Times reports back about the upbeat mood at the conference. It seems that publishers are “figuring it out,” as some report increased sales, for example Dominique Raccah of SourceBooks who spoke to Julie Bosman of the New York Times:

“The industry is beginning to figure it out,” Ms. Raccah said. “A lot of the water-cooler conversation here is negative. But the book industry is actually growing. And it looks like the majority of book publishers are experiencing growth in this environment.”

Taking a wider view of BEA, Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader discusses BEA attendance, suggesting that numbers have gone “flat.” Still, there are reports too that publishers “aren’t getting it,” such as this post from Erik Sherman of BNET or this panel report from blogger Edward Champion.

That’s just the nuts and bolts of what happened at BookExpo America. For a more wide-ranging discussion of publishing industry news, including the end of the Oprah era and the future of Amazon as a publisher, continue on to our regular weekly roundup. 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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