Ads in e-books: the marketing world invades the last sacred frontier

It was bound to happen: advertisements in books. Sure, the pulp-y fictions of old had their wares to sell, and mass market volumes often contain ads for, well, other mass market volumes. But thus far we haven’t been inundated with advertising in our reading material. With e-books, that may change.

Marketers are exploring a variety of formats, including sponsorships that give readers free books. Videos, graphics or text with an advertiser’s message that appear when a person first starts a book or along the border of the digital pages are also in the works. Ads can be targeted based on the book’s content and the demographic and profile information of the reader.
Would the random ad or two at the beginning of an e-book be so objectionable, really, especially if it would help lower or erase the cost of that book to the reader? Maybe not, but it’s a slippery slope between accompanying ads and product placement.

Imagine an ad for a sports drink that says “Is your day feeling like the worst of times?” that appears in “A Tale of Two Cities” next to the line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” or ads for condoms interspersed through “The Scarlet Letter,” says Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey.

Read more at WSJ.

Great Holiday Expectations for E-Readers

I’m far from the only person who thinks e-readers are going to be the go-to- gift item this holiday season.

Published: November 14, 2010
Not many book buyers have an e-reader, but publishers and booksellers expect this holiday season to change that.
The big question I have, though, is how much of a price drop can we expect? Most retail analysts consider $99 the “magic number” which will bring an item down to the average American shopper’s general consideration, but most e-readers price at $139 or $179. Will they go any lower, or will the new-found frenzy for e-readers keep the prices where they are? What about supply? In some previous years, e-readers were difficult to get your hands on in time to wrap for under the tree. Lets hope the major players have their ducks in a better row this year.

Are textbooks a thing of the past? Maybe paper ones are.

Kindles, Nooks and the iPad (perhaps especially the iPad): while e-reading is the hot new thing this year, it’s the textbook industry that most are predicting will see the biggest impact from e-book technology.

Compared with traditional textbooks, the iPad and other devices for reading digital books have the potential to save on textbook costs in the long term, to provide students with more and better information faster, and — no small matter — to lighten the typical college student’s backpack. (USA Today) At the same time, a robust online marketplace of used books and recent inroads by textbook rental programs give students more options than ever. The prospect of digital books and slow-but-steady growth in free online “open” content loom as developments that could upend the textbook landscape and alleviate the perennial problem of rising prices.

Back in August, Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, LLC (a wholly owned subsidiary of Barnes & Noble, Inc.) announced an expanded textbook rental program; at the same time, the company offers thousands of eTextbooks and the NOOKstudy program.

Some say it’s the iPad that’s making all the difference. A shift to e-books within the textbook industry has been expected for some time, but it’s the arrival of the iPad that seems to have jump-started momentum in that direction. In a recent piece on NPR (The E-Textbook Experiment Turns a Page), Matt MacInnis of Inkling talks about why iPads surpass their paper counterparts: “We give guided tours through complex concepts,” he says. “So rather than seeing a picture of a cell dividing and then having a big, long caption, you can now tap … through all the different phases of cell division and see those things unfurl in front of you.” At Reed College, students tested Kindles last year (the results were lackluster and mostly unsuccessful; students reported understanding the course material less with Kindles than with paper textbooks) and are testing iPads this year. Most express positive feedback with the iPads, though they often cite the cost of purchasing one as prohibitive. Still, as MacInnis points out, when a printed textbook can cost hundreds of dollars alone, students may be swayed to purchase hardware that will allow them to download a chapter from that same textbook for $2.99.

MacInnis says he’ll be aiming straight for the students. He says, “I can absolutely guarantee you that the guy with the book version is looking over the shoulder — with envy — at the guy with the iPad version.” (NPR)

eBook piracy on the rise?

From CNET:

Last January a company called Attributor conducted its first e-book piracy study. And back in May, I mentioned that study in piece called “Is Pad supercharging e-book piracy?” Well, Attributor has conducted a second study more recently and come up with some interesting data.

The company says its key findings are:

  • 50 percent increase in online searches for pirated downloads throughout the past year
  • 1.5-3 million daily Google queries for pirated e-books
  • 20 percent increase in demand for pirated downloads since the iPad became widely available in mid-May 2010
  • 54 percent increase in pirated e-book demand since August 2009
  • Proliferation of smaller sites that host and supply pirated e-books–a shift from larger sites like Rapidshare dominating the syndication market
  • “Breaking Dawn” by Stephanie Meyer registered the most pirated copy searches throughout the study
  • Widespread international demand, with the largest number of searches during the study originating in the United States (11 percent), India (11 percent) and Mexico (5 percent)

Read more:

Libraries a bigger source of DVDs than Netflix

From the LA Times:

According to a survey by the Online Computer Library Center, more people get DVDs from libraries than from Netflix, and more than Blockbuster and Redbox combined…. These days, borrowing movies from the library is a smart way to save money.

Well, that’s true enough. But the LA Times is a little behind the times if they’re just noticing this trend now. My librarian friends in public libraries, and especially the library clerks I know, working in the trenches, will tell you that DVDs have been their biggest business for years. The demand for DVDs in libraries skyrocketed and it keeps every library staff on the run, trying to keep up.

On the one hand, it’s almost not worth commentary. Libraries have long collected more than just books — audiobooks, VHS tapes, readalong books for kids, LPs, cassettes, CDs. So now it’s DVDs, and they’re more popular than the others put together, but it’s still just format.

On the other hand, there’s piracy. I’m sorry, but when a library patron comes in, rents a dozen DVDs, and then returns them the next day and promptly takes out a dozen more — we all know they’re not watching them, back to back, for the ensuing 24 hours straight. They’re copying them, plain and simple. Possibly just for their own personal use, which is still illegal, but less unethical than the other possibility, which is that they’re selling copies of these movies somewhere. No way to say for sure which it is, of course.

Regardless, the next time you’re in the library, try to give the ladies and gentlemen behind the audiovisual/DVD counter (or just your librarian or library clerk, if you’re at a smaller place) a sympathetic smile. They didn’t plan to take over from Blockbuster, and they probably aren’t entirely jazzed about having to do so, but they’re just trying to give the public what they want and need. Which is all libraries ever try to do, no matter how unappreciated they might sometimes be.

Take the iPad, leave the cannoli


WILLIAMSBURG — City Manager Jack Tuttle made an appearance on national television today because of a City Council decision to nix paper agendas in favor of Apple iPads as a money-saving venture.

The city launched itself into the 21st century in July when the council voted unanimously to forgo printing thousands of pages of agendas and other documents distributed to council members each year. Instead, each of the five council members was issued an iPad at a cost of about $600 apiece.

The measure should save a minimum $2,000 per year on council agendas alone. At today’s City Council meeting, Tuttle said the city saved $471 in printing costs by using the iPads to deliver the meeting’s agenda packets rather than printing them.

I’m on the periphery of record management, believe me; I’m an archivist and a curator, so my work is far more subjective. But I do know that municipalities are drowning in paper, churning out more and more every day, and needing to retain all of it… and the space required, and the practical considerations, are daunting. That printing cost savings may not sound like a bundle, but it adds up… and so does the clutter.

My town used to not only print but *bind* the Town Board minutes, and then have a separate set printed for each and every councilmember and department head. Which added up to a dozen or so of these things, and there are about 50 volumes. Sigh. I am the Lorax, and I speak for the trees that wee slaughtered to make all those ugly tomes.

Thankfully the town stopped producing the things. And no one wants their old copies now, of course, but they’re all scanned in and digitized and let’s be honest, finding anything in the printed copies was like looking for a needle in a haystack anyhow. Now, of COURSE I have a set, at the town museum, and of course I’m keeping it. But how many copies of the 1943 volume do you think I need? One? Or twelve?

Documenting the business of history is important, but I think it’s high time more municipalities tried something like Williamsburg is doing.

Amazon’s new Kindles — $189 and $139 each

The new Amazon Kindle Wi-Fi, above, will sell for $139 but connect to the Web only by Wi-Fi. A new model to replace the Kindle 2 will sell for $189 and connect to the Internet through a cellphone network.

Amazon is stepping up its game, releasing new models of the already-popular Kindle and dropping the price in a big way. Are they poised to dominate this holiday season, or can Barnes & Noble, or the iPad, or even the Sony Reader, give them a run for their money?, the maker of the Kindle e-reader, is introducing two new smaller, lighter versions with high-contrast screens and crisper text. The new Kindles will ship August 27th.
With Amazon’s latest announcement, it is again waging a price war. Barnes & Noble offers a Wi-Fi version of the Nook for $149 and Sony offers the Reader Pocket Edition, which does not have Wi-Fi, for $150.
I bought an iPad because I wanted a tablet device that was more than just an e-reader. But I’m intrigued by the Kindle. I’ve spent a little time playing around with a Nook, in Barnes & Noble, and to be frank I was very much less than impressed. The jury’s still out on the Kindle for me, and I wonder if this new model is an improvement — the price tag certainly is.

Reading on the iPad

So last month I was Ms. Spammy Spamerson with iPad posts (“It’s coming!” “It’s here!” “Here’s what it’s like!”) and I promised I’d talk more about the iPad as an e-reader in an upcoming post. Reading isn’t the only reason I bought an iPad, though it was a contributing factor. While I mostly use it for accessing the web, carrying my photo library around with me and for watching video, I do like the idea of being able to store & access books on it as well. I was curious. In other words, I was interested enough about e-reading to want to be able to give it a try.

In a nutshell: reading itself on the iPad is great. I recommend it to anyone who has the same level of interest in it as an e-reader as I do. Where there are problems, though, has to do with the managing of content, but that’s not idiosyncratic to Apple’s iPad, it’s a problem for all e-readers — and the iPad just might handle it best. At the same time, you’re still getting an extremely high-quality machine from Apple. As with the latest Iphone 4, the company doesn’t mess around when it comes to the accessibility of their technology.

iBooks is certainly pretty.

So, to start off with, there’s iBooks. It’s lovely, visually. The nice bookshelf with your covers so prettily displayed. Internally as well, reading the text itself, I found aesthetically pleasing. Holding the iPad in landscape format, you get the two-page format of a book, so it heightens the experience. You can turn pages by tapping or by swiping — with swiping the page “turns” with animation, like a real paper page does. Apple’s very proud of that. It’s cute, but in actuality, I mostly tap. It’s faster.

Everyone asks me if it’s hard to read on the iPad because of the backlighting, and when I say no, they express disbelief and tell me that I’m wrong, everyone says it’s more difficult. I don’t know what to tell them. It doesn’t bother me. I’ve read almost all of Freakonomics without thinking about it either way. Some people say it’s a strain on their eyes. Some don’t. YMMV. Practically everything I do all day is a strain on my eyes, and my eyesight is so bad I’m practically blind as a bat. For what it’s worth, I didn’t find reading on the iPad to be uncomfortable at all.

No, the main problem with iBooks is content. The good news is that you can import your own EPUB books, if you happen to have them (perhaps you’ve got some short stories in Word doc form: you can transform these into an EPUB using a program like Calibre, for example). The other good news is that you can download tons of free classics from Project Gutenberg, right from the iBookstore. This is great. Sure, Google Books has lots of free books too, but they’re shoddily scanned and horribly OCRd (that’s Optical Character Recognition, or how a computer understands that the black marks in the picture it just read are letters). Full of typos, misreads and formatting glitches, reading a Google Book is more pain than pleasure, imho. I love Google in many of its forms, but when it comes to Google Books, I think their attitude of “get as much done as fast as possible” stinks. Project Gutenberg texts, on the other hand, are nicely proofed scans, with almost all the typos eliminated, neat and precise. I’m glad Apple made a point of offering PG books in the iBookstore.

But for paid content, it’s highly disappointing. Apple made deals with some publishers, but not all, and therefore there are big gaping holes in the iBookstore’s offerings. There’s still no agreement on the table with Random House, for example, and that’s a biggie. No Random House means no Knopf. No Crown. No Del-Rey. No Doubleday. No Vintage. No Ballantine. No Pantheon. No DC Comics. No Bantam. And a whole lot more. Go look at your bookshelf and see how many of your books are from those publishers. None of those would be in the iBookstore. Now, hopefully Apple and Random House will strike a deal soon & that’ll change

However, there’s another problem. As Laura Miller pointed out in her blog over on, “I love reading on my iPad, but that doesn’t blind me to the abject inadequacy of the iBooks store. By contrast, Amazon, which has 15 years of online bookselling experience under its belt, has largely figured out the key to helping people find the books they want. It’s a little thing called metadata.” Don’t think you know what metadata is? Yes, you do. To the layperson, simply put, it’s tagging. Tagged posts, tagged objects, tagged images. Amazon uses metadata, including user-added tags, which make it easier for customers to find things they  might like. Look up your favorite book on Amazon, and scroll down a bit. You’ll see a section titled “Tags Customers Associate With This Product”. Click on a few. You might find something else you like. But the iBookstore doesn’t have tagging, or any metadata at all, really, other than author search, and genre distinctions of their own divising.

The first book I downloaded was my personal favorite, The Mists of Avalon -- not available in iBooks, but through Kindle for iPad.

Luckily, there’s Kindle for iPad. The app makes your iPad function just like a Kindle, as far as software goes: you can buy books right from Amazon on the iPad, or from your desktop and they’ll be synced to the iPad the next time you open the app. Easy. And there’s a veritable plethora of content to choose from. Amazon’s ahead of the game there.

A new arrival on the e-reader scene is Kobo, available June 17, a product partnered with Borders bookstores. Lower priced ($149) but lacking wireless capability for download, I can’t say if the reader itself will make a splash, but whether it does or not, there’s a Kobo for iPad app out already. As with the Kindle app, having this allows you to enjoy any Kobo books you might happen to purchase, and read them on your iPad.

Barnes and Noble has the Nook, and an iPhone app for their e-reader. They still haven’t come out with their app for the iPad, though they keep saying it’s in the works. My advice? Move it along a little faster there, B&N, and not just the app. I know you’ve been king of the bookselling heap for awhile now, but as Ferris Bueller once said, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. In your case, B&N, you might miss the train. I love B&N but if they want to stay relevant, they should be the stars of the e-book revolution — and they’re not. The Nook is pretty darn clunky, imho, and their e-book promotion and selling is lackluster at best. Sorry, a little digression from me and I doubt B&N is listening, but I wish they were, for their sakes.

For me, there’s one big advantage to the iPad over the Kindle or the Nook, even aside from versatility: the touchscreen. Laptop touch pads have been frustrating me for years; both devices feature their version of a touchpad, and I fear I would have been stymied again. Another factor is my growing dislike for one-purpose mobile devices. I don’t want to carry around a bunch of somethings that only do one thing.

One caveat: I haven’t been able to spend as much time with either the Kindle or the Nook as I’d like, to be able to give either an in-depth review, because I don’t own them. Unfortunately, my little blog budget does not extend to endless gadget purchases. If I had access to either, or the Sony Reader or the Kobo, I’d be happy to give any of them a fair shake.

Back to the iPad, I should also mention that for comic books, there’s the app from Marvel Comics. Comic books and graphic novels obviously lend themselves ably to the iPad’s full-color screen. Marvel’s free app is a comic reader; you pay for content in-app, something that’s growing common on the iStore. I was always a DC girl, so I know less about what I’m looking at with Marvel but — it looked pretty amazing. I’m just not sure, though, that you’ll ever pry paper comics out of their collectors’ hot hands.

The Toy Story Read-Along app includes music, coloring pages and games.

There are a couple other options for reading various files on the iPad. Good Reader is an app you can use to transfer files from your desktop to the iPad (by syncing, within iTunes, or wirelessly, but that can be messier). PDFs, TXTs, DOCs, and so forth. I uploaded a doc file and a PDF, and you can read them just fine in Good Reader. It’s not as smooth or pleasant a reading experience, but it works.

Lastly, there are also standalone book apps. Some app designers are selling their books this way, one app per book, and those books are either in the public domain, or original works licensed to them. Some of these are unremarkable, but a few showcase just what the iPad could do with creative content. Disney is right in the ballgame from the start with their Digital Books site, and now their Read-Along apps for iPad. Toy Story is a free download in the App Store; Toy Story 2 costs $8.99. They’re also offering The Princess and the Frog, with Beauty and the Beast to be added soon and, coming in June, a 3D app for Toy Story 3. Other childrens’ books on the iPad as standalone apps include The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss’s ABC, How to Train Your Dragon, Miss Spider’s Tea Party, and The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg. A hugely popular app is the Alice for the iPad, with a Lite version available for free. Wonderful illustrations, graphics and interactivity:

Clearly, there are a ton of options for e-reading right now; all these companies competing with each other for our business with their hardware e-readers, their software e-books, their apps. Competition used benefits the consumer, but the one problem in this instance is that it makes file management very messy for us order-loving types. What I really want, after all, is all of my e-book files in one place, the way all of my music is in one place. In my house, my books are neatly arranged on my bookshelf, while yours might be strewn around the room. Either way, they’re not separated by which store I bought them from. I suspect Apple would prefer that I bought all my e-books from them, and therefore they would be all nicely organized in iBooks. But I suspect Amazon would like me to do the same in my Kindle app, and Borders would prefer I only use Kobo. That’s not going to happen, though, because the great thing about the iPad — and this is the crux of my review, and why my ultimate word on the issue is a hearty recommendation for it as an e-reader — is choice. I can shop at Apple, or Amazon, or Borders, or an independent company, and read all of it on my device. With a Kindle, or a Nook, or a Kobo, I’m restricted. Yes, all those devices can read DRM-free files you might have lying around. But the stores aren’t selling you DRM-free files. Why would they? They want you to use their product, their device, be their customer. Not someone else’s.

Lest I give the wrong impression, I’m not going to stop reading printed books. They’re still my preference. E-books are just another format to me, like audiobooks, and I wanted something to be able to access them with, like I have a CD player in my car or an iPhone jack so I can listen to podcasts while I drive. The iPad lets me read pretty much any e-book I might come across, and that’s why I like it. I use my iPad for so many other things, but it’s a big plus that it gives me the freedom to read what I want on it — and comfortably and pleasantly and enjoyably — as well.

iPad launch day

I’m not even going to try to pretend I’m doing anything today other than messing around with my iPad. 🙂 I’ll post something more of a review tomorrow, but suffice to say, I warn you, it’s going to be quite positive.

I didn’t intend to wait in line and figured I’d just cruise by the store around noon and pick up my reserved iPad. Ha. As if I’d really just wait around until then. I showed up at the Apple Store at 9 am (which is when the doors opened) and found a big ol huge line. Awesomely, though, it was the fastest line I ever stood in, for this kind of thing. 45 minutes later I was back in my car, headed home.

More tomorrow.