eBooks Compared to Cost of Print Publishing

Nook Color ereader

Nook Color ebook ereader now supports Android Apps

As the print industry continues on an inexorable path to extinction, an analysis by the Wall Street Journal reinforces what many of us already knew. Specifically, ebooks are just less expensive to publish.

First off, I’m not a book hater. Actually, quite the opposite. I’ve had a lifelong love affair with print. I spent many years in print publishing. Now that I’ve started writing books, I’m hoping that print sticks around just a bit longer.

Unfortunately, that’s just not going to happen.

The Internet has has led to fewer people buying and reading books. That much we know.

Yet it took the combined impact of the Amazon Kindle, the Nook, and the iPad to make ebooks truly viable. These are devices that offer the features ebook readers want at the right price. Continue reading

BN vs Amazon for What’s Left of Books

As Borders closes, their discounts on books increase.

Books are dying. Actually, if you believe the pundits, almost all of print is dying.

As someone who used to work in print publishing, I see many friends looking for new jobs. So, yeah, I tend to agree with the pundits on this one. Books are dying, and I am not happy about it.

As Borders closes the book on their business as booksellers, you can’t help but wonder what’s next for the entire publishing business. As an author of four books (and a fifth one coming!), I am more than just a little concerned about the untimely but not entirely surprising demise of this significant retailer. Continue reading

Nook Upgraded & the 5 P’s of Marketing

Nook Color ereader

Nook Color ebook ereader now supports Android Apps

And just like that, the Nook matters again. Yes, in the war to win the hearts and eyeballs of readers continues to rage on, and Barnes & Nobles has just proved that it’s not out of the fight.

In 30 seconds or less, the Nook was upgraded from being a humble ebook reader with an attractive color screen, a market where Amazon dominates. A software patch pushed the Nook into the crowded space of tablets, where Apple dominates.

Soon the Nook will have full access to the Android Marketplace, which includes the kinds of games and apps that makes the iPad so popular.

Here are five reasons why this matters to you as it relates to the Five P’s of Marketing (loosely interpreted, of course):

  • Product
  • Price
  • Place (distribution)
  • Promotion
  • People

1.PRICE: Nook competes on price and features. Everyone from the media to the average buyer is enamored with tablets. The venerable iPad 2 is one of the most coveted gadgets on the marketplace, but with prices starting at $499, it’s not exactly within reach of all buyers. For a while, the Amazon Kindle was the device to beat, but it’s still a black and white technology in a color world. At $250, the Nook offers a sharp, full color display. It may not be as full featured or sensitive as the iPad, but it suddenly feels light years ahead of the Kindle, but with a very attractive price point. Continue reading

Free Kindle? A Matter of Time

Free Kindle OfferWow, that was fast. Just a few short years ago, the Amazon Kindle ereader was a red-hot gadget that claimed a premium price. At launch in 2007, the Kindle was priced at $399. And, get this, the original Kindle sold out within just 5.5 hours. (Don’t worry, they made more.)

Soon after, the Kindle 2 released. Somehow, through the magic of Moore’s Law, the price dropped to $299. Still not cheap, but dramatically less expensive than the original. As of this writing, you can get a brand new Kindle for just $139.

But wait, there’s more. I’ll be a panelist at the upcoming DTC National Conference in Boston. And I noticed that there’s a crazy promo. Register for the DTC event, and they give you the conference materials on a Kindle. And you get to keep the Kindle.

From $399 to free.

Amazon’s sales of ebooks are skyrocketing. According to Amazon, ebooks already outsell paperback books. No surprise there. So it makes sense to keep dropping the price on the Kindle. Heck, Amazon can give the ereader away for free and (probably) still profit on the ebook sales.

How long before this pushes down the prices of competing ereaders? Something tells me that the Barnes & Noble Nook will probably be considering a price cut. The Apple iPad? Probably not just yet.

Last year, I predicted “5 Reasons You’ll Be Using an EReader in 2 Years.” Um, I’d like to revise that now to “1.5 years.”

Additional posts:

B&N & Traditional Publishing Strike Back

As the Amazon juggernaut continues to steamroll over the retail world, it’s hard to imagine how traditional brick and mortar stores can compete. It’s especially dire in the print world where traditional bookstores are closing constantly.

The Kindle and iPad ereaders have become amazingly efficient resources for consuming media.

While things may seem dark, there’s still a glimmer of hope out there. Barnes & Nobles seems to be getting smarter and competing harder. I like this, I really do. (Although I must admit, I am a little underwhelmed by the Nook.)

B&N in Paramus, NJ

Tonight at the Barnes & Nobles in Paramus, NJ, they were hosting a celebrity signing event featuring Alton Brown, who was promoting his book Good Eats 2: The Middle Years. The parking lot was mobbed, as people were trying to get into the store. Just for reference, today is a Tuesday in October. It’s not a day typically associated with crazed shoppers.

For all that they can do (and they can do a LOT), Amazon really can’t match this kind of retail-location event hoopla. Think of it. People got up, left their desktop computers, and trekked over to a store. That’s motivation and calls to action. That’s real action, not just clicking a link.

There are other bookstores, including the Bookends store in Ridgewood, NJ that has been surviving on celebrity appearances. Recent book celebs have included Vince Neil of Motley Crue, Marlo Thomas, Lance Armstrong, Ozzy, and Al Gore to name a few. You’ll notice in both stores the big marquee names are celebrities and other famous people. That’s okay because those kinds of books have always fueled the book industry. Both stores also include “real” authors, at least how mainstream fiction readers would define a real author. It’s a nice marketing mix that sells product.

I don’t want to see retail whither and die. There’s still something nice about being able to go to a real, physical store and discovering something new and interesting. It’s useful to be able to make an actual purchase and not wait for delivery. And if you go to a bookstore, you can meet the author and get your book signed. Take that, Kindle!

And because I am a published author, I like the idea of real bookstores selling real books. It’s good for the book ecosystem and for my royalty checks. Speaking of, my royalty checks have gotten smaller. Would it kill you to buy one of my books?

Another eReader Convert

Another day, another ereader convert.

Yup, another co-worker came to the office today to show off his Kindle. He admitted that my relentless raving for the Kindle pushed him over the edge. That, and he ran the numbers, and realized that he’s actually going to spend less on his reading materials. He’s a heavy reader of new non-fiction books, so the cost of shipping alone from Amazon and BN.com was apparently adding up.

He loves the Kindle and was showing it around the room. His favorite feature? His back no longer aches from lugging around books. Nice.

The falling cost of ebook readers is increasing the amount of content that you can get electronically. The improved capabilities coming from the Nook, Kindle, and the Apple iPad are inspiring content creators and even marketers to look at new ways to distribute content electronically. It’s a beautiful circle of ever-increasing growth for electronic publishing. It’s a lot like the early incarnations of websites in the 1990s, except on an accelerated timeline.

Like the early Internet — heck, like anything early in the development stage — the ebook and ereader market is going to experience explosive growth in many different directions. Some of them will be logical, especially in hindsight. Some directions will be surprising, and perhaps even illogical. Other directions will fizzle and be left to Net history and Wikipedia entries.

People jump on new technology like it’s supposed to be fully de-bugged and realized in the first or even second release. It’s never been that way. Consider the first cars or telephones or televisions or even the first computers. These devices evolved naturally, as engineers and users determined was features were valuable and which were unnecessary. It’ll be the same way with ereaders and ebooks. You can wait it out or you can jump in and be part of the virtual team that de-bugs and priortizes our future technology.

Today, one of my co-workers joined the revolution. One day, we’ll laugh about how primitive the Kindle is compared to our more advanced devices.

Nook – Now for Games

Nook with Chess

With all the buzz on the Apple iPad (for good reason) and the inevitable comparisons to Amazon’s Kindle, it’s easy to overlook the poor Nook.

Barnes & Nobles released the Nook amongst much fanfare, but failed to deliver enough units for the holiday season. It was a shame, really, when you consider that the Nook would have made an awesome last-minute gift.

Amazon may have won the hearts and wallets of online shoppers, but there are still lots of folks who like the traditional shopping experience. That’s the advantage that Barnes & Nobles will need to exploit more aggressively to differentiate themselves from the Kindle.

Just today, BN.com announced that the Nook now allows you to play some basic games like chess and Sudoku. Not to pick on the poor Nook because it is a dandy device. But chess and Sudoku in glorious black and white? Seriously? Is that your response to the iPad? What’s next? Pong?

Barnes & Nobles seems strangely intent on battling Apple on their turf (cool games) and Amazon on their turf (download ebooks). I’m no expert on bookselling, but I would imagine that they should be pounding the competition in places where they dominate — brick and mortar stores.

Barnes & Nobles is winning the real estate war. They claim to have 775 retail locations in the US and 636 bookstore locations. Sure, Apple has a handful of stores, but you’ll find that there are far more B&N locations. Amazon is strictly online.

Since it’s one of my favorite stores, I hope that Barnes and Nobles gets serious about making the next version of the Nook a serious mobile ereader with all the appropriate and logical features. And to do that, they need to exploit their unique value and killer app…their stores.

5 Reasons You’ll Be Using an EReader in 2 Years

sony-reader-prs505-b

Sony Reader PRS-505

Do you look at ereaders and ebooks and wonder “what’s the big deal?” Then you’re probably like a lot of people who understand the technology, but figure that printed books, laptops, and iPhones are good enough.

Yeah, hate to break it to you, but in about two years, you’ll be using an ereader. It won’t look like today’s Kindle or Nook, but it won’t be that different either. Ereaders are an inevitable next-step technology.

The W+P=W Top 5 Reasons You Will Be Using an EReader in Two Years

1. Prices will drop.
Paying $200 for a device like a Sony eReader when you can read a book for free? Crazy, right? Well, not so fast. Is the book you’re reading actually free or did someone pay for it already? That’s right, someone paid for the media, even if it’s in a public library. As for the device, let’s not judge future prices by today’s prices. If that were the case, nobody could afford a plasma or LCD television in their home. Early home entertainment systems are always expensive, until manufacturers can figure out a way to drive down costs.

Today’s ereaders are relatively cheap for new technology. Expect cheaper prices, starting this year. In two years, they’ll be selling them at garage sales. Tech always starts high and comes down.

2. eBook exclusives.
Why read a digitial book when a perfectly good print version is there on the shelf? Well, just wait until the book you really, really want to read is only available in ebook format. Or the book that you have to read for work or school. Yeah, it’s going to happen, and sooner than you want it to. As you may know, I have published comics in the past. Nothing big, but I did enough to realize that more than 50% of my costs were going to printing and shipping. It’s the same for mainstream publishers as well.

Soon, publishers will release certain books only in digital formats. It’s probably going to start with textbooks, since there are 37 million kids in US schools alone. And they don’t get to choose what they read, right?

3. Free channels will fade.
When was the last time you went to a music store to buy new music? Yeah, same here. If you have an iPod, you’ve probably used Apple’s iTunes store. I love the Amazon store for new music. Every other strip mall in America used to have a record shop. Not anymore.

Now, with bookstores fading into the sunset, you’re going to be forced to do some shopping online. But print books, still need to be shipped. If you buy from Amazon, that price is fixed at $3.99 (before free shipping incentives). And the costs of shipping keep going up, up, up. One day, the cost of shipping a book will be prohibitively high. So high, that it will not make sense to buy a print book over the Net. Meanwhile, the delivery cost of an ebook will tend to remain fairly constant at $0.

Oh, and one more thing about “channels.” You know, when I was a young one, nobody could imagine paying for television. People scoffed at the idea of paying for cable TV, especially when you could just pull up the antenna and get reception. And yet, now paying for cable television is just another bill. In the future an ebook reader will be another device that you keep around the house for your basic reading needs.

4. Picture better pictures.
Right now, the graphics on Kindle are perfect for text. Pictures? Nah-so-good. The images are barely passable and sometimes downright unreadable. Lame.

In fact, the ebook reader of tomorrow probably looks a lot like your laptop of today. Except the ereader of the future will almost certainly have a touch display. Better pictures, movie watching, and web browsing will all eventually be included in high-end ereaders. Asus today announced the DR-570, a color ereader. Brilliant color pictures and 122 hours of battery life, at least that’s what they are claiming.

5. Content creators will want ereaders.
You may not pay for content, including pictures, words, and videos. Radio is free. Television is free (even though you pay for the wire into your house). But someone, somewhere is paying for it. Writers and editors and production people all need to get paid.

So the people who actually create content, like publishers, and the people who pay them (the advertisers) are already lining up behind new technology. Content creators will push hard for ereaders, especially since it will give them a new way to aggregate their content. Yes, piracy will run rampant, but enough people are willing to pay for good content that it will drive down the cost of the devices.

More importantly, content creators will gain access to incredibly detailed statistical reports. Old media is saddled with old-style reporting. New media advertisers want details about user behavior. eReaders will bridge that gap and make the medium instantly useful and credible in the eyes of advertisers. They will bring their dollars to this new medium, making it possible for content publishers to pay the people who create the content.

So, yeah, those are my Top 5 reasons why you’ll be reading from an ebook reader in under two years. There are probably more, but I’ve got a hot date with my Kindle and my favorite blogs. (Yes, I read blogs on my Kindle.)

Kindle Sells Big for Holidays

Kindle DXAmazon’s announcement that they sold a lot of Kindle 2 ereaders comes as no surprise. The big news was that, according to Amazon, the Kindle was the best selling item ever on Amazon.com.

Okay, that’s big news for several reasons. For starters, the obvious is that the reading public seems ready for another tech toy, even if it’s kind of expensive and primarily a single-use device. It’s also big news for Barnes & Nobles, which seems to have missed a big opportunity by not being ready with their Nook ereader for this holiday season.

I went to the B&N store near my house and checked out the Nook. It was, as I expected, just like the Kindle. I mean, other than the somewhat minor difference in navigation (that little color strip at the bottom), it looked and felt like my Kindle. Except…well, except I couldn’t buy one on impulse. Ironically, I did leave purchasing a Sudoku book as a Christmas gift. Print, for my analog father.

Borders recently announced that they’d be selling ebooks. It’s sort of sad, though, since the Borders near my house is now going out of business. I’d purchased a lot of books from that store over the years and I’m sad to see them go, but Borders is starting to look like a casualty of a much larger war being waged among bigger, better armed opponents.

And, addressing the 800 pound gorilla in the room, everyone is talking about the eagerly anticipated Apple tablet. The tech press thinks that it will be dubbed the iSlate or iTablet, since Apple seems to own the domain name iTablet.com.

Anyway, if Apple actually enters the tablet PC market — and offers ebook reading software — this could have a significant effect on how we read and consume books. And if you read comics, a color tablet will quickly change how you buy and collect comic books. The aspect ratio of a vertical tablet will complement how current comic books are formatted.

If the iTablet is like a giant iPod Touch or iPhone, as some experts predict, it will be an amazing, game-changing device.

Lots of excitement out there. Sad to see Borders go. Looking forward to the iTablet. Hope the Barnes & Nobles near my house stays in business.

5 Tipping Points for eReader Technology

I’m an early adopter. If you create a new website, I will visit it. Develop a new gadget, I will buy it. That’s what early adopters do. We go in early, check things out, invite you to join us, and then complain that it was better before you got here.

Anyway. I’ve been talking about ebook readers a lot recently, both here online and at work. People are really starting to get excited about ebook readers, especially around the holiday season.

Some people (including myself) are predicting that 2010 will be a big year for ereaders. It may not be the obvious tipping point where ereaders go mainstream, but the tipping will begin to, well, get tipsy.

Here’s what needs to happen before we see ebooks and ereaders become as mainstream as, say, iPods and TiVos. (That is, as mainstream as they will become relative to the people willing to voluntarily buy new and interesting technology.)

1. A profit model. Publishers are dipping their toes in the water, but it’s really hard for book publishers to rally behind a bestseller priced at $9.99 when they are used to selling them for $24.99. Sure, you can tell publishers that they are cutting out printing and distribution costs, but that’s a cost that they’ve already internalized as part of being in publishing. A real profit model will need to be fair not only to publishers and authors, but also to retailers. Right now the retailer (like Amazon) has inordinate power, but that will likely shift. Publishing is a business. Writing, for many authors, is a career. We need professionals to create consistently professional product. And for that, they need to make money. It’s great to buy books for $0.99, but it just doesn’t make economic sense to sell a book for that price. People have become accustomed to getting everything for free on the Internet, but books are going to have to find a way to be profitable in this “free world.”

2. Color screens. This, of all the complaints about ereader, is the one I hear the most. When people check out my Kindle, they are immediately impressed with the eInk technology. It’s a reflective medium, so it’s easier to read then people would expect. But they fall back on, “I’ll get one when they come out in color.” The reality is that people read in black and white, not color. But color capabilities will be a major tipping point for a lot of people. Even though they’ll actually be reading the actual words in black and white, people want color.

3. An Apple solution. Apple knows user experience. If they make something, we trust that even the first version will have a quality user experience. Many of us are willing to pay a premium for that. So the day that Steve Jobs tell us “one more thing” and presents an ereader solution, lots of people will rush out and buy one. Amazon has done such a great job with the Kindle that it actually looks like a product that Apple would create. That, no doubt, has been one of the reasons for the Kindle’s early success. So if and when Apple gets into this space, we’ll see more people take ereaders seriously as must-have devices.

4. Universal micropayments. Right now, payments are still being strangled by credit card fees. If you join PayPal, you get slightly lower fees, but it’s still a pretty expensive system. Closed ecosystems like Amazon and the iTunes store are enabling publishers and retailers to produce content and set very low point-of-purchase prices. But people want to compare prices and shop at their favorite stores. Universal micropayment solutions, like ewallets (remember those), will lower barriers to products that Amazon and iTunes can’t or won’t carry. This is an industry-wide challenge. But whoever solves it, will likely become very, very rich.

5. Brick and mortar retail. I like shopping online as much as the next guy. But not everyone wants to submit their credit cards over the tubes. Barnes & Nobles and Borders are already spinning plans to create physical transactions for virtual books. At Radio Shack, I saw them selling casual games on USB keys. That’s the kind of product someone wants to have in their hands, especially if they are buying a gift product. iTunes is nice for something that you buy and download yourself, but giving someone a gift in person is more satisfying if you can hand them something. The Barnes & Nobles near my house set up a beautiful kiosk to demonstrate the soon-to-be-available Nook. Since you can’t actually touch one until you buy it, the Kindle is a leap of faith, and so are the books that you put on it.

Are there other barriers to ebooks and ebook readers? Sure. Price, habit, and skepticism are among the top contenders. Heck, even having too many devices is an obvious barrier.

The move from printed books to electronic books is inevitable. It’s the tipping point that fascinates me.