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Welcome to Wylie World: An Agent's Bold Move Makes Sense

In Entertainment, Media, Technology, Uncategorized on July 27, 2010 at 2:50 pm
Image representing Amazon Kindle as depicted i...

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When I originally heard about Andrew Wylie’s announcement last week that he was partnering with Amazon to create “Odyssey Editions” — 20 special e-book versions of modern classics by writers whom he represents that will only be available for Kindle and devices that support Kindle software such as the iPad, I thought:

This is bad news.

After all, at its face it seems to be exclusive deal with one retail outlet.

Here’s the thing, though.

As I like to point out, Kindle’s not just a device, it’s software that works on many devices.

What Wylie has done is take 20 great books that have not been available electronically and made them available to a pretty large audience.

Sure there are some people who are upset.

For instance, I suspect Wylie won’t be getting any holiday cards from Random House this year. And there’s a book store in Mississippi that’s making a big deal of this.

The only ones who seem to be taking a balanced, sensical approach to the whole kerfuffle is The Author’s Guild.

Is there any real difference between what Wylie has done and say, special editions for The Franklin Library or the Library of America?

Well, yes.

Wylie has created a series of affordable editions for a very wide audience.

Good for him.

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Amazon Says Print is Dead, Long Live the Kindle (Not so fast…)

In Entertainment, Media, Technology, Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 at 9:27 am
IMG_0096.JPG

Image by Yoshimasa Niwa via Flickr

So, earlier this week Amazon put out a press release singing the glories of the Kindle.

It has been a tough few weeks for the Kindle as things have looked up for the iPad while they’ve been caught in a bit of an e-reader price war.

So, you really can’t blame Amazon for putting out a release that trumpets their device.

“Kindle Device Unit Accelerate Each Month in Second Quarter; New $189 Price Results in Tipping Point for Growth” says the release’s headline.

Well, geez. Wow. That’s great, huh? They must be selling gazillions of Kindles by now. How many? Well, let’s look at the release again. Hmm. It’s not there.

How about in The New York Times story about Amazon’s announcement?

Wait. It’s not there either though the Times does repeat Amazon’s claim that “the growth rate of Kindle sales tripled after Amazon lowered the price of the device in late June.”

The problem is that unlike Apple — which regularly touts how many iPads it’s selling — Amazon has never released exact sales figures for the device. paidContent.org has quoted Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saying they may never release those figures.

So, when they say that growth has tripled… from one to three? Seven to 21? One million to three million? Who knows?

Now, let’s look at the rest of the release: “Amazon.com Now Selling More Kindle Books Than Hardcover Books.”

Again, wow. The previously mentioned New York Times story refers to this news “as a day for the history books — if those will even exit in the future.”

And reading the release, you can’t blame them.

Amazon claims that “over the past three months, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 143 Kindle books. Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books.”

Again, wow.

But…

Since they don’t give us actual sales figures (other than the fact that James Patterson has sold 867,881 Kindle books, one of five writers to sell more than 500,000 KIndle books; the others being: Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephanie Meyer and Nora Roberts), we really don’t know what that means.

Yes, it’s a lot — based on those five writers alone — but how much? And what does it really mean?

Is it that — as Bezos claims — “the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format.”

Is it that e-readers, whether they be Kindles or iPads, are the way things are going?

The second is more likely.

At the same time, as great as the devices are, as I’ve pointed out, e-readers will only really be the future when we figure out how to get them to everyone. Otherwise we need to keep helping libraries and schools make sure they have regular, old, printed books for kids.

Print may not be quite as robust as it used to be but it’s far from dead.

The New York Times, The Washington Post and Irony

In Media, Politics, Technology, Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 at 8:56 am

Where would we be without Mondays?

Today’s life lesson in irony comes from The New York Times and The Washington Post. Actually it’s from Politico but it’s thanks to a New York Times story.

(maybe you should buckle up)

The New York Times had a story yesterday, In a World of Online News, Burnout Starts Younger.

The focus is websites like the hyperactive political website Politico and gossip site Gawker and the conclusion:

“Such is the state of the media business these days: frantic and fatigued. Young journalists who once dreamed of trotting the globe in pursuit of a story are instead shackled to their computers, where they try to eke out a fresh thought or be first to report even the smallest nugget of news — anything that will impress Google algorithms and draw readers their way.”

There’s talk of high turnover rates and frantic obsession with page views and that we live “in a media environment crowded with virtual content farms where no detail is too small to report as long as it was reported there first.”

What isn’t there is a lot of talk of long-term projects and in-depth reporting. Not to say that there isn’t in-depth online reporting, it’s just that the emphasis is fast fast fast. It’s as if suddenly everybody’s a wire service reporter.

Except Dana Priest of The Washington Post.

Bless her and her ability to report the hell out of a story.

In the past five years, Priest has won two Pulitzers — for her exposure of the CIA’s secret prisons and for her series on the lousy treatment Americans veterans were receiving at Walter Reed.

Now she’s back with a hell of a story running in installments in her paper.

Top Secret America is the result of more than two years of reporting, breathtaking in its scope and an amazing example of not only why newspapers are important but how effective they can be when embracing changes in technology.

At its heart, the series explores how “the government has built a national security and intelligence system so big, so complex and so hard to manage, no one really knows if it’s fulfilling its most important purpose: keeping its citizens safe.”

Priest, her colleague William Arkin and nearly a dozen other Post staffers have put together what appears to be an astoundingly well-reported, well-written series. And not only have they written some great articles (part two is live today), they’ve created an interactive website with a searchable database, a Facebook page, a Twitter account. There’s going to be a special on Frontline (won’t be airing until the fall, watch the seven-minute teaser video here).

So, on a day that The New York Times reports on how the world of online journalism is leading to burnout, The Washington Post comes out with a great series that reminds people of why newspapers are important — essential — and shows the potential of in-depth reporting on the web.

Brilliant.

If it's Good Enough for Oprah…

In Entertainment, Media, Technology on July 15, 2010 at 4:06 pm
According to Keirsey, Oprah Winfrey may be a T...

Image via Wikipedia

So, now that Oprah’s given every member of her magazine’s staff an iPad, publisher Hearst is going to make sure they can read their work on the device.

AdAge reports that Hearst is readying iPad app versions of O, Esquire, Food Network Magazine and its other popular titles, following in the footsteps of its Popular Mechanics app, which has sold more than 12,000 downloads.

“Capitalizing on Oprah Winfrey’s huge role recommending books to her fans, the iPad edition of O, The Oprah Magazine, that’s expected in the fourth quarter will let users buy e-books and read them within the app itself,” the magazine reports. “The app preserve the basic magazine experience but include visual tags that let users know they can see a video message from Ms. Winfrey or interact in some other way. A module on articles will let users make comments and see other readers’ remarks.”

And they’re far from alone.

Peter Kaplan, the former editor of The New York Observer who has just been hired as editorial director of Fairchild Fashion Group (publishers of Women’s Wear Daily, among other publications) tells his old colleagues: “There’s a new generation of readers coming up and they’ll be readingWomen’s Wear and these other publications, and they want a first-rate web site, and they’re gonna want something for the iPad. They want apps!”

And who can blame them?

Sports Illustrated has truly capitalized on the new technology.

When word of the death of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner broke earlier this week, Sports Illustrated quickly swapped out the cover on the iPad version of their magazine from LeBron James to Steinbrenner.

Apparently, take that antiquated print and hello new technology (though, of course, i write this on a table strewn with newspapers and magazines, the way it should be)>

But, like I said yesterday, the writing does appear to be on the tablet.

iPads vs. E-Readers: Things Looking Good for Apple

In Entertainment, Media, Technology on July 14, 2010 at 12:22 pm
Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

It’s not a new theme — in fact, earlier this month, I touched upon it — but the evidence seems to be building that e-readers face a tough road ahead.

According to Mashable, a new report by Resolve Media seems to indicate that anyone selling e-readers better do whatever it takes to keep iPads out of the hands of consumers.

The report states that after buying an iPad, 49 percent of people said they would not be buying another e-reader.

There’s also bad news for other devices — 38 percent said they wouldn’t buy a portable gaming device, 32 percent said they wouldn’t buy a netbook or laptop — but it paints a very stark picture for the e-reader industry.

“E-readers should be worried,” Mashable writes. “Even before the Kindle and Nook price cuts, we were already seeing some movement with lower-priced e-readers. We think that reading-only devices will ultimately find a new market at the sub $100 price point. Even at $200, the value proposition for an e-reader versus an iPad is tough to overcome.”

So, while Amazon is shipping its newest iteration of the Kindle and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos keeps talking about how the iPad and Kindle aren’t really competitors, it seems the more people discover the iPad, the more hurt is in store for the Kindle and similar devices.

Fortunately for Amazon, the Kindle isn’t just a device, it’s a software platform, an app that works on the iPad and, I have to say, on the iPad, it’s wonderful, well-built software that makes reading on the iPad a really nice experience.

And the same’s true for Barnes and Noble. They have the Nook but they also have software that works on the iPad.

I’m the thinking that for e-reader companies, the writing’s on the wall, er, tablet.

Amazon's New Kindle: Still Too Close to the iPad?

In Entertainment, Technology on July 1, 2010 at 1:11 pm
Kindle DX and Kindle 2

Image via Wikipedia

Starting today Amazon is taking orders for its new Kindle DX and while I have no doubt that people will buy it, I really have to wonder just how many.

First off, the device — which ships July 7 — is priced at $379, which is really too expensive to be considered an impulse buy.

And it’s only $120 away from an iPad and it seems to me that’s a little too close.

What makes it a little more confusing is that just last week, Amazon seemed to recognize the importance of lowering the price, which they did with their slightly smaller version.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has frequently claimed that the iPad and the Kindle aren’t really competitors; they’re different devices intended for different people. The Kindle, he says, is for readers unlike tablets, which are for, I guess, everyone else. He said it again just the other day.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of great things about the Kindle particularly, as cnet points out, that the thing is incredibly readable in sunlight, unlike the iPad.

Still, the thing is if you have a choice between the $189 Kindle and the $379 Kindle, why get the more expensive one? I guess if you really want a device that is really just a reader, it is your answer. But if you’re going to spend the money, why not just bump it up a little and get a device that does so much more?

I think Amazon’s great but I sort of sense this is a stumble for them.

On the plus side, one bit of really good news is that Amazon has finally released Kindle for Android devices.

As I’ve pointed out, Kindle isn’t just a device — it’s software that runs on many devices. I use Kindle on my iPad on a regular basis — and Android has pretty much been the final frontier for them.

Kindle’s great software. The device — at $189 — is great. At $379 — overpriced, I suspect.

Apple and Amazon Likely Winners in Price Wars

In Entertainment, Media, Technology on June 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm
Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

As I wrote yesterday, Barnes and Noble introduced a new Wi-Fi only Nook and dropped the price on its 3G Nook, undercutting Amazon’s Kindle. As a result, Amazon then dropped the price of the Kindle, undercutting the Nook, if only by $10.

It’s a price war kind of started by Apple when it introduced its iPad.

The iPad, which is not cheap — priced between $499 and $699, started the war because suddenly everyone started questioning why they should be paying hundreds of dollars for devices that are pretty much just e-readers when for a bit more they can have something that does so much more.

By lowering the price of the Nook and the Kindle, Amazon and Barnes and Noble are conceding that point, admitting that while there are people who want to be able to carry large amounts of books with them and really focused on just reading, it’s probably not the majority.

Lowering the price brings the Kindle and Nook much closer to being a legitimate impulse buy.

But is it too little too late?

Barnes and Noble (and Borders, which is about to introduce its Kobo) is a great, old-fashioned, brick and mortar retailer. They’re not a technology company. So, while the Nook with its color screen and ability to lend books is a pretty good device, I can’t imagine they’re making a fortune from it or that they even think they’re going to make a fortune from it.

It seems that the world is moving more toward tablets that do more than just allow you to carry around the complete works of Stephen King, Larry McMurtry, John Updike and a dozen others.I think when it all shakes out, we’re going to see Apple and Amazon at the top of the pile.

Why? I’m not saying Nook and Kobo and the Sony Reader and these other devices won’t be around. I’m just thinking they won’t be playing at the same level as Amazon and Apple.

First, you have Amazon, which everyone already associates with online retailing, especially books. I mean, they weren’t the first but I bet if you ask most people they would guess Amazon was. Second, as I’ve pointed out before, Kindle isn’t just a device, it’s a software platform that operates on several devices.

And it’s actually a really good bit of software.

The funny thing is that while there’s a lot to be said for Kindle the device, it’s really hard to beat Kindle for the iPad when it comes to a pleasant reading experience (despite what Ray Kurzweil thinks).

I think Amazon’s too entrenched in the minds of people to go anywhere and the fact that their software works on several devices will keep them around for quite a while. At the same time, Apple keeps showing they’re building devices to lead the pack. And with the iPad, they’ve created a device that allows for designers to turn books into apps that are fun, creative, interactive (see Alice in Wonderland).

What about Apple’s online bookstore and software, iBooks? One, it’s good but not quite as good as Kindle and two, for now it only works on Apple devices, which limits its growth.

What could change that is if Apple decides to send iBooks out into the world the way did with iTunes, making it available for Windows devices.

The Great Debate: E-Reader or Tablet?

In Entertainment, Media, Technology on June 21, 2010 at 4:01 pm
Barnes & Noble nook (ebook reader device)

Image via Wikipedia

There’s been a lot of talk — including here — about Kindle vs iPad.

On Monday, in a move guaranteed to make sure they are a more prominent part of that conversation, Barnes and Noble announced a new, cheaper version of its Nook e-reader offering wi-fi but not 3G connectivity.

Priced at $149, it offers all the features of the regular Nook — color touchscreen, E-Ink, the ability to “loan” people books — except, of course, the 3G. In the same release, they announced they are lowering the price on the 3G version to $199 from $249.

Perhaps most importantly to Barnes, it offers them a chance to seriously undercut Amazon, which sells its Kindle for $259.

UPDATE: AMAZON ANNOUNCED AFTER THIS COLUMN WAS WRITTEN THAT THEY’VE DROPPED THE PRICE OF KINDLE BY $70 — TO $189. NOW WE HAVE A PRICE WAR, WHICH I SUSPECT WILL FURTHER WIDEN GULF BETWEEN E-READERS AND TABLETS. MORE TO COME ON THIS.

The Associated Press puts the Barnes and Noble announcement in the context of how can Barnes charge more when there are devices like the iPad out there that do so much more.

And that’s really the crux of the debate: are people going to be satisfied with devices that are just readers or are they going to demand more. This isn’t really a new issue (in fact, I just touched on it a couple of weeks ago).

There’s at least one person who thinks that, for all the competition, iPad, Kindle, Nook…. they’re just amateurs when it comes to presenting material to be read electronically.

Erstwhile inventor Ray Kurzweil told The New York Times last week that he’s developed software that “displays colorful images and varying fonts with formatting similar to what people find in physical texts” and that the software will run on all sorts of devices.

Kurzweil promises that once his Blio E-Reader is widely available it’s going to be bad news for Amazon and Apple an company because “publishers will not give things with complex formats to these e-Reader makers. They destroy the format.”

Maybe Kurzweil’s right, maybe he’s wrong. In the meantime, companies on both sides of the debate keep moving forward.

There’s today’s Barnes and Noble announcement. Apple’s new operating system for the iPad and other devices is available for download, Amazon’s new Kindle should be out later this summer.

And Borders is about to enter the e-reader market, shipping its long-awaited Kobo later this week.

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Happy Bloomsday to You and Isn't it Time to Stop Censoring?

In Entertainment, Technology, Uncategorized on June 16, 2010 at 8:32 am

Still Being Banned

Today is Bloomsday, the day that the fictional Leo Bloom wandered around Dublin until he met Max Bialystock who introduced him to Sarah Jessica Parker and together — along with Buck Mulligan — they stopped NORAD from launching a thermonuclear war because a computer told them to.

Actually, it is the day that James Joyce recounts in his masterpiece, Ulysses, one of the most influential works of literature not just because of the text but because of how it’s been received over the years — being banned in the United States when it was first published before a judge finally ruled it wasn’t obscene.

Which brings us to today’s lesson.

🙂

You see. Almost 80 years after the book was first banned, it’s still encountering closed-mindedness.

This time, though, instead of government opposition, it was Apple deciding that a graphic novel version, Ulysses Seen, of the classic was, well, too graphic.

As The New Yorker pointed out the issue was some nudity — a statue of a goddess and one of the characters naked as he went to take a bath,

“Honestly I never expected we’d have problems with regard to nudity in this first chapter, and the last thirteen pages (still not up on the Web site) have some frankly naked Buck Mulligan,” co-creator Robert Berry told the magazine. “He’s going in for a bath, after all. I’m not sure we’d be able to make later sections of the novel under these rules Apple has set. It’s really kind of surprising since “Ulysses” won such a landmark case in censorship and public decency way back in 1932. it seems that the more things change some mindsets stay the same.”

Berry added that having to make the changes was “artistically debilitating.”

And while Apple reversed its decision, that they requested the changes at all is just the latest of a disturbing series of episodes with dark implications for the future.

First, at the same time they were censoring Ulysses Seen, Apple was also censoring — and reversing itself — a version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

There was the report late last year that they were keeping apps involving the Dalai Lama from being sold in China.

And, of course, there was the story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who couldn’t get his app sold in Apple’s store.

The short of it is that we live in a somewhat dangerous time where while information is more available than ever before, so is the ability to wall off that information or even censor it.

The American Library Association’s Banned Books Week is sadly still around. You would think, hope, that by now people understood banning books really isn’t a good idea. No such luck.

Apple. Amazon, Barnes and Noble… everyone who is selling digital content… censorship isn’t not going to work and trying it doesn’t really accomplish anything other than building resentment.

I am thankful that companies are developing devices to speed the delivery of information and make it easier for people to obtain not just raw information but books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, billions of chances to experience lives other than their owns.

While I am thankful to those companies, I implore, beg, plead, — however you want to put it — with them not to censor. People aren’t perfect but I really do believe that the more information that we share, the better we are at dismissing the crap. I know it’s a little naive but I really think that if we treat people like adults, they will act that way.

There’s no need to censor. Let people make decisions for themselves and they will be able to separate the crap from quality.

I would like to direct Apple and their corporate brethren to three versions of the same sentiment.

For movie fans (from Spiderman)

With great power comes great responsibility.

For Christians (from Luke)

From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked

and, for government geeks (from a British Parliament debate in 1817)

The possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility.

Newsweek, Newspapers and Magazines: Not Undead (Yet)

In Entertainment, Technology on June 15, 2010 at 1:05 pm

So, on Monday — for people in the know, or at least those who might have been surfing — Newsweek’s website offered an experience that crossed the line from entertainment to metaphor.

Readers who typed a secret code were greeted with a large headline declaring “Zombies Attack!” and a series of stores chronicling an attack of the undead on the East Coast. There was a timeline, speculation about how the attack started and advice on fighting the zombies (aim for the head).

And while Newsweek’s staff posted a note stating “this isn’t some sort of commentary on our current ownerless limbo…” it’s hard not to see it that way.

The Washington Post Company announced last month that the magazine for sale and there’s been a variety of groups looking to take it over. In the meantime, the magazine is losing staff.

The question is are print publications like Newsweek already a bit undead?

A report out Tuesday from PricewaterhouseCoopers states that the Internet is set to overtake newspapers as the second-largest advertising medium, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The report points out that in the past five years, broadband penetration in the US has grown to 64% from 34% while newspaper revenue has declined almost fifty percent during that time.

And with the growing popularity of tablets and smart phones, PricewaterhouseCoopers sees the mobile ad market also growing, expected to quadruple by 2014.

While there are indications that magazines and newspapers will be able to capitalize on this emerging market, getting as much as five times as much for ads in iPads than they do for print — and that digital versions of magazines could help expand distribution, allowing for the delivery of issues in places where it’s actually easier to send a digital file than a print copy — it’s far from certain all of this will be enough to make a difference.

In the meantime, mobile ad giants such as Apple and Google aren’t taking any chances, battling to dominate the market and grab whatever advertising is to be had.

Of course, as with all competition, this is one battle that’s not exactly filled with polite niceties and it’s already attracted the interest of the Feds.

Maybe publishers such as Wired, GQ and The Wall Street Journal will find ways to make it work for them and develop significant revenue streams allowing them to survive.

Or maybe it’s already too late.