Thursday, August 27, 2009

BPN 1366 e-Books: still crazy after 15 years …

On August 26, 2009 the Dutch book world, publishers as well as physical and internet bookshops, launched e-Books in a gross manner. Sony had forged an alliance with And the Dutch central book logistics operator started the eBook home EBoekhuis, storing 3000 Dutch language books and linking to 200.000 English language books. After 15 years the break through has finally taken place.

Sony’s eBook/eReader story goes back to 1986, when the CEO of Sony held up a minidisk for the international publishers congregated in a large stadium in Mexico and spoke the famous words: This will be your new book. It took till 1991 when Sony had developed the full concept of e-Book and e-Reader, calling it the Datadiscman, modelling it after the music Discman and launched it in Japan. It took two more years for the product to be launched in the States. And in 1993 the first steps were set in the Netherlands.

When the launch in Japan took place the Japanese publishing world had organised an e-Book committee with Sony. The same strategy was followed in the USA and in Europe; so also in The Netherlands. In May I was asked to head up the Dutch committee with publishers, software developers and packagers. By March 1994 the launch of the EBG Electronic Book was ready. A series of Dutch language titles had been prepared and a number of English language titles bought. There was publicity for the new phenomenon in the press, but this news was written by the editors of the economy section and not by non-fiction or literature editors. Some 1200 units of e-readers were pushed into the distribution channels, but only a few got sold. And in 1995 the agreements for Dutch language e-Book development was cancelled by Sony due to the economic recession. In the end some 15 Dutch language titles had been developed.

Titles produced for the Sony EBG e-Book during 1993-1995

Winkler Prins Medisch Vademecum/Bonaventura/Elsevier
Winkler Prins Poly Marketing Vademecum/Bonaventura/Elsevier
Winkler Pins Culinair Vademecum/Argus/Elsevier
PBNA Technisch Zakwoordenboekje/PBNA/Elsevier
Hotels en Restaurants in Nederland/Elektroson
Elektronisch Handwoordenboek Engels/Van Dale Lexicografie
Verschueren Groot Woordenboek - Het Juiste Woord/Standaard Uitgeverij
Het Groene Boekje/Sdu
Reisgids Ierland/ANWB

Source: Electronic Media Reporting, 1996

The next e-Book wave started in 1997 when internet was discovered as an electronic distribution channel for e-Books. US e-Readers such as Rocketbooks were imported in the Netherlands in small quantities. However it was not enough to convince publishers to try e-Books. However one of the results was that an e-Book packager started business. It turned out to be the precursor of, the first e-bookshop in The Netherlands.

The Rocket book generation rumbled on till 2006. In that year the Philips spin-off iRex Technologies presented the first reader with digital paper of E-Ink technology. One of the latest successes for the company was the co-operation with NRC-Handelsblad, the national quality newspaper of The Netherlands. But a real impact in The Netherlands, iRex has been unable to make due to the high pricing of the e-Reader iLiad and others models. Other e-Reader manufacturers such as Bookeen Cybook, Hanlin and lately Bebook, a Dutch developer, made use of the playing area left to them and offered e-Reader against lower prices. Now Sony has seized the occasion and forged a partnership with the internet Bookshop

Is The Netherlands ready for e-Books and e-readers? It should be as all conditions of the iPOD/iTunes model have been fulfilled. There is an acceptable e-Reader with a very acceptable screen, which can be read even in sunlight. There is a portfolio of 3000 Dutch language e-Books. This is not very impressive. But given the short time in which the number has been built up, it is sure that publishers will be convinced to convert there manuscripts so that the portfolio will be extended in rapid pace. The download service for the Dutch language e-Books and English language e-Books has been organised well. Another condition is the price, which is lower than the fixed price for the print edition; however the VAT is not 6 percent but 19 percent.

e-Books: I am still crazy about them after all these years.

Blog Posting Number: 1366

Tags: ,

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

BPN 1365 D(utch)-day for e-books

In the past week Dutch bookstores could not keep the news under their hat about e-Books. Today the big news broke: the Dutch central book logistics operator opened a database with 2000 Dutch language e-Books and together with Sony launched their cooperation to conquer the market. So far three benefits have come from it. Firstly, E-book is taken serious from now on. Secondly, Sony has forced EPUB to be the standard in the Netherlands. Thirdly, the fixed book price for printed book is not maintained with e-Books.

A professional launch of e-Books has taken fifteen years since the launch of the first Sony EB book in The Netherlands in 1994. The e-Book in a minidisk did not take off at that time. But now e-Book has a better chance. The e-Book readers give a better reading experience with digital paper. The price is falling dramatically and at last a serious e-Book portfolio with Dutch language literature is building up. Besides the infrastructure and competition for the distribution of e-Books is there now.

There has been a build-up towards taking e-Books and e-Readers seriously since 2006. In that year the Philips spin-off iRex Technologies presented the first reader with digital paper of E-Ink technology. One of the latest successes for the company was the co-operation with NRC-Handelsblad, the national quality newspaper of The Netherlands. But a real impact in The Netherlands, iRex has been unable to make due to the high pricing of the e-Reader iLiad and others. Other e-Reader manufacturers such as Cybook, Hanlin and lately Bebook, a Dutch developer, made use of the playing area left to them and offered e-Reader against lower prices.

Estimating the market ready for a launch, Sony prepared an offer together with the internet bookshop Sony introduced two models of e-Readers against the price of respectively 199 euro and 299 euro; the models are not the latest ones launched in the USA today, but Sony PRS 300 and Sony Reader Touch Edition. At the same day the Dutch central book logistics operator Centraal Boekhuis launched a database with all Dutch language e-Books, said to 3.000 titles; also 200.000 English language e-Books will be distributed. Besides the sales by the internet bookshop, also physical bookshops such as,,, en will sell e-Books and e-Readers.

The impressive move of Sony has made impact on the Dutch publishers as far as the format. So far Mobipocket Reader and some private formats were used for e-Book distribution, but by changing from its proprietary format to the EPUB format and managing it in cooperation with Adobe, Sony has made a very wise move. Besides setting an industrial standard, Sony and Adobe set the mores of copying: the buyer is allowed to copy the book maximally four time to other platforms and for friends.

In The Netherlands there is a fixed book price for printed books with a 6 percent VAT. The e-Books will not have a fixed price. In fact today there were even various e-Book prices to be found. But sadly enough the VAT is not 6 but 19 percent.

On September 2, 2009 Sony will start delivering the e-Readers through Today 1505 Dutch language e-Books can be found at

Blog Posting Number: 1365

Tags: ,

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

BPN 1364 Netherlands smart grids – at crucial crossroads

From the desk of Paul Budde

With the structural separation of the electricity industry now in place the Netherlands is facing the very critical issue of building smart grids.

The €18 billion fetched by those local and provincial governments who have sold off their generation plants sounds a lot, but the question is whether it will be enough to upgrade the distribution networks that remain under their responsibility.

Looking at the explosive growth in the demand for electricity, especially if we begin taking e-cars into account, it is easy to see why the new German and Swedish owners of the generators and other production facilities were so keen to buy those assets. At the same time the costs to facilitate this explosive growth throughout the distribution networks needs to be paid for by the various levels of government, and by the end-users through inevitable price increases.

As we have seen from the recent announcement of Enexis (former network operation of Essent) it makes sense to join forces with others in, for instance, building a national e-car battery-charging network. They have also indicated that first upgrading their network to a smart grid is a more efficient way to move forward. They say that one of the key reasons smart grids are needed is to facilitate the feed-in of renewable energy, in particular from the expected large input that will come from the tens of thousands of solar panels and windmills that will be installed by the end-users themselves.

This clearly shows that it is essential that the building of smart grids is carried out on the basis of a national plan. Without a proper national blueprint there will be an enormous waste of investments, planning, design and consultancy, as well as looming interoperability and standardisation problems. There is not yet any global or national smart grid standardisation, which makes cooperation even more essential. There are literally dozens of incompatible so-called smart meters, most of them without any of the proper interactivity facilities that are critical if people are to be able to take more control of their energy management.

The more that is charged for energy - and price increases are inevitable - the more need there will be to provide users with interactive communications tools that allow them to manage their network.

Building smart grids is a communications issue, not an electricity issue, and there is very little in-house telecoms expertise within the energy utilities. Traditionally these organisations have looked after their own comms - they have never seriously considered utilising existing telecoms infrastructure. The lack of a national vision could potentially make the utilities an easy target for the ICT industry which, attracted by the enormous amount of money that is now available within councils and provinces for energy investment, will be exploring the opportunities that are arising - but unfortunately more on a divide and conquer basis than on the basis of a well-coordinated national approach.

At the very same time, parallel with smart grids, telcos are building new fast broadband networks. It would be a smart idea to start looking at synergies between those infrastructure projects. Perhaps, rather than buying hardware and overbuilding other comms networks, utilities should also consider using the services of existing telecoms providers.

A trans-sector policy is necessary to maximise these national infrastructure projects. It makes enormous economic sense to look at the multiplier effect of these investments – can the same infrastructure be used for other sectors (telecoms, energy, healthcare, education, etc)?

In order to start building smart communities and smart buildings a national trans-sector policy will need to be developed, supported by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. He is the only one who doesn’t operate within a silo and is therefore in a unique position to lead the other ministries, agencies and NGOs in introducing a trans-sector usage of this new infrastructure. The Minister for Economic Affairs is in an ideal position to implement such a policy as some of the key sectors are part of her portfolio.

There is a serious threat that in the Netherlands, with the €18 billion scattered around the country, there will not be a national approach and that a lot of this money will be squandered because of a lack of trans-sector vision by the government.

In both the USA and Australia industry and the government have come together to address these issues The Australian industry is truly trans-sectoral – energy companies, telcos, meter and network vendors, IT companies, software companies, renewable industry organisations, management consultants, together with universities and government organisations (see: Gridwise and Smart Grid Australia).

In the USA, the Obama government has developed a specific $20 billion economic stimulus package for energy that clearly mandates open networks (smart grids).

In its $100 million smart grid/smart city demo project the Australian government has stipulated that the national broadband network has to be taken into account in building a smart grid.

Because the money is there, now is not the time for a hurried, uncoordinated rollout of smart grids in the Netherlands – it is the time to first develop a national plan on how to move forward with smart grids.

Blog Posting Number: 1364


Saturday, August 08, 2009

BPN 1363 iRex to join US e-reader fray

iRex Technologies has confirmed that it will launch a new e-reader, for the time being only for the US market. A few details have been leaked and confirmed by iRex Technologies. The e-reader is the latest arm in the American e-reader market with Sony’s e-readers, Amazon Kindle I and II and e-readers for Hearst and Barnes & Nobles waiting in the wings. With some 4,5 million e-readers around in the US, according to Forrester, the e-reader war will be fought on more than one front.

Officials have confirmed that the spun-off Philips company iRex Technologies will launch their third edition of an e-reader. Irex was the first company to launch an e-reader, called iLiad, with digital paper (and 16 grey scales) and wireless communication in July 2006. The first edition got a cut-down version minus the wireless facility, the Bookwurm. Then a larger screen edition the IREX Digital ereader (10.2 inch) was launched in three flavours. Although there are only a few details known on the third edition e-reader, it is not a cut-down version of the first two editions.

This is what is known about the forthcoming e-reader: 8.1-inch display; 3G wireless connectivity (no carrier announced); touch screen with stylus navigation; fall 2009 release. From the photograph the page ruler, absent in the IREX Digital ereaders series is also back. The new e-reader will only be offered in the US, but a few very essential details such as preferred online e-book seller, 3G network vendor and price has to be established.

One thing is sure. Irex likes to compete on the size of the screen and the 16 grey scales. The Sony e-readers, Kindle versions and the Barnes&Nobles one. The new Sony e-readers have screens of 5 and 6 inches, The Kindles have resp. a 9.7 and 10.2 screen, while Barnes&Nobles will carry the Plastic Logic e-reader with a screen based on letter format (8,5 x 11 inches) iRex sits in between with the 8.1 inch display.

As for the online e-book seller, iRex has not made up its mind. Question is of course whether they will tam up with a bookseller. So far they have only teamed up exclusively with the newspaper service Press Reader, but not with an online e-book service. The company had aimed at a business community so far and looked for newspapers rather than for books. The lack of an association with an online e-book service has always been seen as a weakness in the iRex marketing policy. Sony has its own shop,. Kindle has Amazon and Barnes&Nobles has its own shop. So, it will be interesting to see whether iRex really looks for an online e-book shop.

The new iRex e-reader will have a 3G facility on board, not a wifi like their first iLiad had. A 3G vendor is not known yet. The Kindles work with Verizon, while the Plastic Logic, and implicitly Barnes&Nobles, has teamed up with AT&T.

What will the price be of the iRex device? iRex products have been expensive from the start. And the products are still top of the bill. Speculation on the new iRex 8.1 inch screen e-reader says that iRex aims at less than 400 US dollars. It might be even around 350 US dollars and be face to face in competition with the Kindle.

It is clear that iRex Technologies tries to get into the US fray, as it takes more effort to sell e-readers in the underdeveloped markets of Europe and Asia. Soon the US market most likely will double its marketing statistics from 4,5 million e-readers. Hopefully iRex has learned the lesson that the real fight starts not with the e-reader and its technology, but with the full package: the e-reader, the portfolio of online e-book and newspaper titles, the online e-book service (open or exclusive) and the 3G service (open or exclusive).

Blog Posting Number: 1363

Tags: ,

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

BPN 1362 Sign of life of the monastery

Silence still reigns and I am ploughing my way through the manuscript on the history of new media in The Netherlands. I started with chapter 5 in the past week. It is on videotext in the period 1980 till 1997. The basic text is there; now it has to be refined. It is interesting to look back at the introduction of videotext. It was the first public commercial information service to be introduced in the Netherlands. No one had ever set up such a service, nor experienced such a service. But what surprised me was the fact that videotext was also a political item. About ASCII database the politicians had never worried, but when the then state telecom company PTT wanted to introduce videotext, two advisory groups were instituted. The consequence of competition, copyright and the print world were looked into.

In order to vary the writing I sometimes start to the picture research. I have sent messages to old friends in the business and have asked them whether they still have pictures from the Stone Age up to 1997. And the responses are surprising. Hardly anyone of the 10 people approached had any pictures from that time. I received a nice one of a group of people looking in awe at a search session. The table was covered with equipment: a telephone, a printer, a modem, a portable PC and a demonstration terminal and a lot of wires. I also received an newspaper advertisement for an insurance company showing a teletext service, which functioned only for a short time. I am also hunting for an advertisement of 1980 published in De Telegraaf and the Financieele Dagblad; I wrote to the companies but they did not answer yet. Most probably the archivists are on holiday.

Of course it is not surprising that there are a few photographs left. It was the pre-digital camera period, as an old friend remarked. Now you shoot as many photographs as you want, select and store a few and delete the rest. Besides you do not have to go through the physics routine of going to the shop to get them printed. So I will have to visit some five photograph collections of museums and institutes (ANP, Museum of Communication, NOS, a foundation of the history of technology, the Press museum) and I am not too optimistic about finding forgotten pictures there. I guess that even video is harder to find and more expensive to put online, but that is a worry for later.

I wonder what this action for photographs spells for concrete artefacts like prints of databases, thermal terminals, PCs, CD-ROMs and CD-Is. I am afraid that not much has been preserved. In the meantime we produce a lot of digitalised heritage, but hardly look after any digital heritage of the recent times.

Blog Posting Number: 1362