Wednesday, July 22, 2009

BPN 1361 eReader war coming up in the USA

So far was dominating the US eReader and eBook market, overruling Sony who was the first player on the US market. But now it gets competition from Barnes & Noble. And in the wings Hearst is still waiting. Only Sony is present in the European market.

The book chain Barnes & Nobles (B&N) returns to eBooks. From 2001 till 2003 it was offering eBooks, but it stopped trading them due to a lack lustre market. The book chain will now return with a vengeance. The eBook shop will serve the whole eBook market. It has a portfolio with 700.000 eBooks, of which half a million public domain titles. However it promises 1,25 million eBooks titles by next year. It will keep the books down to 9,99 US dollar. B&N will serve the whole spectre of eBook readers. Barnes and Nobles will have its own exclusive ultra thin 8.5 x 11 inch wireless eReader, to be produced by Plastic Logic, exclusively for B&N. The book chain will also exclusively deliver books to Plastic Logic. And it has already eReader software for the iPhone, iPOD, Blackberry’s and smart phones. Also PCs and Mac computers can download the B&N books. The books will be delivered in the ePUB format, setting it aside of Amazon and Sony; the books can not be printed. The eBook portfolio includes DRM-free books from Fictionwise’s catalogue. Designed with the book reader in mind, B&N eReader client software provides an easy-to- use interface to access the B&N Bookstore and to manage their personal eBook libraries. It features powerful tools to optimize the reading experience, including the ability to modify type size and font and annotate and bookmark text, as well as an innovative auto-scroll feature enabling users hands free reading. In addition, users can shift from reading their eBook from a smartphone while commuting to a notebook PC or eReader device at bedtime.

The B&N re-entry will be a shock to Amazon. The company has been a long reseller of eBooks. Since 2007 it has launched the Kindle and sold 500.000 units of the Kindle eReader. This eReader has now three versions, which can hold 1.500 eBooks. Amazon has 275,000 titles are available in the Kindle format. Recently, Amazon’s CEO Bezos claimed that for every three print copies it also sells one Kindle e-book. The total sales of Amazon of eBooks, eReaders and devices will reach 1.2 billion US dollar by 2010.

The re-entry of B&N is not a surprise. In March 2009 B&N acquired eBook seller Fictionwise for $15.7 million in cash. Fictionwise, which runs a trio of sites, Fictionwise, eReader and eBookwise, operates as a standalone business unit under founders Scott and Steve Pendergrast. First-time users of the eReader will have the opportunity to download free eBooks, including titles such as Merriam-Webster’s Pocket Dictionary, Sense and Sensibility, Little Women, Last of the Mohicans, Pride and Prejudice, and Dracula.

The re-entry of B&N will have an impact on the US eBook scene. B&N is a big print book player in the US and the UK and its contact with publishers is more symbiotic than that of Amazon and Sony. B&N promises a larger portfolio of eBooks than Amazon en Sony; despite the half a million public domain titles from Google, it will have 750.000 titles by next year. And as B&N will officially start its bookshop in September of this year, it will be ahead of the publisher Hearst, which is supposed to launch a large display eReader in the fall. There will be a real competition in the US market by the Christmas season.

So far B&N has announced to limit its eBook market to the US, leaving Europe aside like Amazon and most likely Hearst. So far only Sony is active in the UK and some larger European countries. A host of eReaders from several European countries are trying to gain local market. A fight is said to be brewing in Germany between Vodafone and T-Telecom as well as txtr. Also in France some eReader designers are fighting for a piece of the market. In the Netherlands BeBook is fighting Irex eReaders.

Blog Posting Number: 1361

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Friday, July 17, 2009

BPN 1360 Silence, please; history in the making

It feels like a monastery at home. Silence all over the place. No telephones ringing. Discipline in working hours. I am working on my book, a project of almost 10 years. It is a book (mind you) on the history of new media (what a contradiction in terminis) in The Netherlands. It has been a project ever since 2000. In that year the Dutch new media industry had been commercial for 20 years. In the newsletter Telecombrief (now extinct due to the publishers’ negligence) I published a series with 24 instalments: four introductory instalments and for every one. I did not produce a small book of it, as the instalments were only 400 words long; not exactly the space to describe developments. Over the years I stayed with the idea for the jubilee year 2005, produced a series of postings 25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments and worked on a book, spanning 25 years. Due to other business in the company this idea was never realised. And I am glad.

Writing a history book is not easy. Finding an editorial formula for it is difficult, as it easily becomes a compilation of events (and then, and then). Besides there are no real examples to which I can compare. I guess it was in 2008, when I met Sindy de Vries, a script writer for Dutch TV; we got to talk about the book and without knowing the full story she recommended to look for drama. This took some time to sink in. How the hell could you dramatise the history of new media in The Netherlands? But it changed my scope. I started to see the Dutch fight between CD-ROM and CD-I; the rest of the world against Philips and Sony. It brought confused the Dutch general publishers and even the Dutch government officials, who offered grants for CD-I learning projects and not for CD-ROM multimedia projects. And there were more situations coming up.

The real discovery for me was the discovery of the break of 1997. On January 1, 1997 the Netherlands went fully internet. Consumer internet had been introduced since 1994 and business internet started in the Netherlands in 1992. So in less than five to three years the first phase of new media industry disappeared, almost over night. Why? This is the quest of the book. So now the book spand the time between 1967 and 1997, covering the first phase of new media in the Netherlands or the rise and the fall of the first phase of new media.

So after the introduction, I first dive into the stone age of online. This feels fantastic, reading about the database retrieval companies like Dialog, SDC, BRS and NewsNet. Especially the real pioneers of the online industry Dialog and SDC with resp. Roger Summit (ill. left) and Carlos Cuadra (ill. right). I have met them both in person at Online Conferences in London and New York; while I got my introduction to online from Carlos Cuadra himself, when he was invited by a VNU company. I also trace the Stone Age in the Netherlands. From that point onwards I go chapter by chapter through the developments of various technologies the Netherlands has been through from ASCII to teletext and videotext, e-mail and BBS to CD media. And I have collected economic data on the industry.

Now I am writing chapter by chapter. The manuscript should be ready September 1, 2009. Of course, the manuscript is not enough for a book. I will have to do also picture research. I hope that it will not take as long as writing the book itself. Of course the manuscript has to be indexed, a literature list composed and a timeline set up. One artefact is ready: the cover, made by my Italian friend Chiara Boeri. She produced it last year and probably thought that it would never be used.

The book, written in Dutch (sorry), should be on the market in 2010. And no, the book will not be translated as it only concerns the Dutch situation. You have to live in the country to understand the situation. But I promise to write a summary of the book in English, when I am done.

And now I go back to writing. I first play The Dissection and Reconstruction of Music from the Past as Performed by the Inmates of Lalo Schifrin's Demented Ensemble as a Tribute to the Memory of the Marquis de Sade (what a title!); it is an old time favourite since 1969. And yes, I will go back to the sacred silence after that great music.

BTW If you have Dutch new media artefacts or photographs from the period 1967 till 1997 please let me know. For the time being I only need photographs.

Blog Posting Number: 1360


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

BPN 1359 Elsevier Launches BrainNavigator

The science publisher Elsevier has launched the official version of BrainNavigator, a neuroscience research tool developed in collaboration with the Allen Institute for Brain Science and under the editorship of Professor George Paxinos and Charles Watson, Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, Sydney. At the Society for Neuroscience's Neuroscience 2008 tradeshow last November, the prototype version of the rodent brain version was unveiled. In a press release the publisher names the BrainNavigator the new GPS system for the brain, helping to visualise brain structures. This version includes complete information for the rat brain and the mouse brain, and ongoing releases of other species are planned.

BrainNavigator is an online, interactive, 3D software tool that maps brain images and anatomy, helping researchers, especially neuroscientists, save time and improve the quality of their daily research. BrainNavigator helps locate the position of structures within the brain, similar to a GPS system, making visualization and understanding of the brain easier.

The BrainNavigator is a typical example of publishers innovating resources and marketing methods. Traditionally, researchers used print atlases to help them identify structures, for example when viewing brain tissue under a microscope. Now, with BrainNavigator, which combines atlas maps in one easy-to-navigate web-based system, researchers can view detailed images of each brain section. Brain images are no longer only shown as flat maps but also as objects with depth. A particular advance is the facility to create virtual sections from the 3D brain model at very high detail and quality to mimic the real situation in the biological tissue in the laboratory.

The BrainNavigator is not the first resource for brain representation, published by Elsevier Science. In 1993 Elsevier started a CD-I and CD-ROM series under the name of Interactive Anatomy, produced by Tom Zoutewelle Media Productions. The first instalment was part of the Neck and Skull and specifically on Paranasal Sinuses & Anterior Skull Base. The resource contained a series of computer tomographic images. I remember the slice images of the anterior brain. In order to see them again I would have to go to my disc museum. I remember that the disk was originally produced as a CD-I disk. But as the CD-I was hardly sold elsewhere in the world, the producer pressed a CD-ROM disk in order not to disappoint scientists outside the Netherlands. Since we have left the era of Frozen Bandwidth, the online BrainNavigator is a more appropriate medium.

Elsevier is also putting new marketing methods to the resource. Offering both free and subscription-based content, all users will be able to browse images and structures. Paid subscribers will enjoy using high resolution images, adjustable virtual slicing and having the ability to annotate and save their work and share it with their colleagues globally, among other features. Details regarding BrainNavigator's functionality can be found at

Blog Post Number: 1359


Friday, July 10, 2009

BPN 1358 Dead media publishers want assistance

A number of European publishers of newspapers and magazines have requested the European Commission for stricter copyright laws in order to develop an online earning model. The publishers say that re-use of material by websites and news aggregators undermines a business model for internet. And as advertisements are decreasing, publishers look for methods to earn on content. the 'Hamburg Declaration' was introduced on 8 June and has so far been adopted by 149 German publishers.

In Germany it has been suggested to have neighbouring rights for textual content, like for the re-use of songs. The publishers want to have a stricter regime on copyright legislation. They work on the technical system ACAP (Automated Content Access Protocol) with which they want to force news aggregators to use this protocol.

This is just one of the signals that European publishers are having problems to survive. With an annually decreasing number of subscribers and the revenue decrease of ads in this economic recession, the revenues of the publishers are getting lower year by year. In the meantime they do not compensate the decrease with income from internet.

The problem is of course not limited to Europe only. Also in the States newspapers and magazines publishers feel the decrease and have no compensation from internet. As I recently wrote, only newspapers in India seem to be able to expand as more people start reading and are offered newspapers in more local languages.

In the meantime publishers complain and look for subsidies, grants and extra charges, saying that the newspaper scene should remain pluriform. This is strange by asking subsidies and grants, they become dependent of the government and not free to comment.

Recently a former Dutch minister, mr Brinkman, presented a report on the Dutch newspaper market. The report contains a series of obligatory phrases about the freedom of journalism and then constitutes that the revenues of the newspaper publishers are going down in such a fast way that they need to be assisted financially. Like in a magic show the commission chairman conjures up a white bunny: every internet user should pay a surcharge for the newspaper industry.

You can imagine the reactions to this proposal: an internet levy for dead media. At once the whole report, which was well documented and provided with sharp analyses, was forgotten. Intellectuals turned up their nose, while others started to express curses and abuse. And of course, the Dutch publishers have the same global problems and their own problems. They have never invested in innovation, except for the metal of their presses. When internet came around the publishers did not really experiment with for example an own national aggregator service; they left it to others. They increasingly started to depend on news wire services, having for 60 percent the same news items as other print papers and internet services. Regional newspapers have become less local and have not concentrated on social networks. Glossy weekly magazines were set up for 10 million euro in a time that the money should have used as internet green shoot. Internet services for ad acquisition were set up by new players like Google. And when the editorial and advertisement staffs set up experiments and networks, they were called back by board members, saying that internet was like teletext and not a serious medium. They spilled a lot of money by partnering hedge funds and buying rights to movie libraries. And now people that use internet should be paying a surcharge for lack of initiative on the part of publishers.

Should a surcharge be set on the use of internet. Of course not; that is really ridiculous. Should publishers get assistance in order to turn around their business. Not really. They should only get funds matching their own project money and only after that projects have been evaluated for innovation by internet and content experts. There are enough ideas to be incorporated by newspapers companies: cross media, social networks, not customised , but personal mobile services and crime maps, for example. Oh, and recommending eReaders as an innovation will not save the forests and newspaper world. Publishers should start seriously confront themselves with the digital future and phase out their print products over the next five years: the year 2015 should be the year print went out of fashion for newspapers.

Blog Posting Number: 1358


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

BPN 1357 Germany heats up for eReader battle

The German magazine Wirtschafts Woche brings the item that Vodafone is developing an eBook reader. The article does not have any hard facts about the developer and the type of eBook reader, except that it is a large screen (DIN-A4) for newspapers. Vodafone is presently in the test phase.

To some bloggers the news came as a surprise, but Vodafone has been involved in eReader experiments in Germany as far back as 2004. The project was named Papyrus and involved a project on electronic newspapers and DVB-H. News items were transmitted with DVB-H, the standard for mobile interactive broadcast. In 2004 the first trial was held in Berlin with 200 users. But Vodafone researched also other carriers for DVB-H as carrier for electronic newspapers like an eReader.

Vodafone did not choose for the e-readers like iLiad and STAReBOOK as Les Echos did. It started working together with Benq, a joint venture of Siemens, in developing the electronic tabloid newspaper. But Benq sunk in 2006 and so did that part of the project. In 2007 the consortium, in which Bertelsmann participated, then investigated other digital paper producers like Plastic Logic (which still has not been launched in 2009). More details on the project Papyrus can be gained from a lecture by Mr Geissler in 2007). In 2008 Vodafone Group R&D commissioned the Linz lab-atelier to come up with an interaction concept for their eInk-Newspaper Project Papyrus and demonstrated it at the Ars Electronica.

So the question is now whether Vodafone is still with Siemens or Plastic Logic. But of course Vodafone can also cooperate with developers who have a small display at present. Like Samsung, which has an A5 eReader named Papyrus. Or like the small German developer txtr which will launch an eReader of eInk Vizplex 6" display at 600x800 pixels in the fall of 2009 for the general consumer market. Of course of interest would be to know who will deliver the newspapers and books. Given the early project association with Bertelsmann, it would be striaght forward to make an alliance with that publisher.

It is interesting to see that there is a battle developing in Germany. T-Mobile has indicated last year that it is developing an eReader for newspapers. Now Vodafone is said to launch an eReader in the fall right at the time, when the small German developer will present its eReader with a 6” display.

Even more interesting it is to see that this fight heats up at a time when Amazon leaves a gap in the European ereader market with the absence of a European version of Kindle. Amazon has difficulkties to get in the European market and especially European telecom market as it will have to negotiate in all 27 countries with telecom companies. The European telecom market is one big fragmented industry. With T-Telecom picking up the iPhone and Android gadgets, it would be logical that Amazon woulkd negotiate with T-Telecom. But then the question still is whether T-Telecom is willing to pay the price Amazon asks.

Blog Posting Number: 1357

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Friday, July 03, 2009

BPN 1356 2 mln+ eBooks for summer for free

You do not know what to do with your summer time? Start reading eBooks. From July 4 till August 4 more than 2 million eBooks are available online and for free through World eBook Fair program! This year the fourth edition will be held of the World eBook Fair.

By giving access to a number of eBook collections people linked to internet can download more than 2 million eBooks for free. The collections available come from the Project Gutenberg, the World Public Library, Digital Pulp Publishing, the Internet Archive and another 100 eBook libraries. Besides public domain books, also modern and commercial eBooks are on offer for free. On an office day more than 1.000 eBooks are produced for eBook Libraries.

100,000 eBooks in het Project Gutenberg
500,000 eBooks on de World Public Library
1,385,000 eBooks in het Internet Archive
250,000 eBooks van eBooks About Everything
17,000 eBooks IMSLP's Music eLibrary
2,252,000 total

eReader or mobile phone reader
MichaeL Hart, the pioneer of eBooks since 1970, makes an interesting comment on the World Book Fair site. He observes that : “In addition to presenting twice as many books, we are also trying to reach 10x as much of the population by including a number of programs a person can use to read these eBooks on LIKE phones, MP3 players, PDA's, iPods, etc. Think about it this way: There aren't even a million Kindles or Sony's, but there are now ~4 1/2 billion cell phones-- which means the possibility of reading readers via cell phones is larger than any other media. The cell phone is the wave of the future, not, I repeat, NOT the Kindle or Sony approach, for they are only targeting millions, and I should like very much to reach billions of people.

More eBooks In More Languages
The eBooks on offer are mainly in the English language, but other languages are also served like the Top Six list such as: English, Chinese, German, French, Spanish and Urdu. Worldwide there are 250 languages with over a million speakers. With the collection of 2.5 million eBooks the World eBook Fair is trying to reach readers in over half of these. I checked the number of books available from the World eBook Fair in my mother tongue Dutch; the search on the site delivered 42 eBooks in the Dutch language. When I made a search with the local eBook distributor, I found 790 eBooks in the Dutch language listed.

Blog Posting Number: 1356

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