Not much news here, but a BBC story suggests that, as part of its digital book initiative, Google may sell e-books sometime in the future. CEO Eric Schmidt – being extra careful in this area it seems – said “that this would depend on permission from copyright holders.” Google already provides links to online booksellers from its book pages, but, as far as I can tell, this would be the first time that Google was selling books directly.
In a recent issue of The New York Times, Tina Brown explained the rationale behind her nascent Book Beast project thusly:
There is a real window of interest when people want to know something. . . . And that window slams shut pretty quickly in the media cycle.
As a diagnosis, this is accurate – there is a real window (or at least a figurative one) – but it begs a number of relevant questions. For instance: Isn’t the erstwhile “Queen of Buzz” part of the problem of dwindling attention spans, rather than part of the solution? (I suppose you can’t unslam a window any more than you can unring a bell, but still…)
Ms. Brown’s remedy is, characteristically, to get books out there even faster, publishing topical e-books and paperbacks “on a much shorter schedule than traditional books.” However, the imminent arrival of Going Rogue – whose gestation period was shorter than a goat’s – would seem to suggest that Beast Books will differ from today’s “traditional books” more in degree than in kind. (On the other hand, from a marketing standpoint, I suppose Ms. Brown was right: six months was long enough for me to realize I’m tired of reading about Sarah Palin. If it had been available in March, I might have bought the sucker.)
Now, at The New Republic, Damon Linker has blogged a pretty succinct summation of Beast Books’ weird commingling of the redundant, the oxymoronic, and the inevitable:
Opining is fun, and so is ideological combat. But a book is, or should be, something different: A chance to slow down. An opportunity to raise one’s sights a little higher. . . . To reflect instead of react. What Beast Books is proposing . . . is (in Truman Capote’s words) the reduction of writing to typing.
Presumably, this is just the sort of “something” that might merit book-length treatment…were the whole subject not so last week.
Bonus link: The Art of Fashionable Lateness
Last week, HarperCollins unveiled its new online strategy, which centers on Amazon-like “Browse Inside” functionality, while also pushing new ways of promoting books and authors online. The New York Times wrote up the new initiative. “Browse Inside” allows visitors to “flip through” books on HarperCollins’ Web site, using an interface similar to the Amazon Online Reader (profiled here) and Google Book Search, though without any notable bells and whistles. With “Browse Inside,” HarperCollins’ goal seems to be to let readers get a real look at its books, while also controlling the environment.This is not, however, an answer to Google Book Search, as HarperCollins implied it would be when it first went down this path at the end of last year. A New York Times article at the time had HarperCollins CEO, Jane Friedman saying, “Rather than give copies of books to search services like Google for those companies to scan as it currently does, HarperCollins would keep the material on its own computers, and users would be pointed there by the search engine.”As I wrote at the time, by going this route, HarperCollins builds its own little island, separate from an aggregator like Google Book Search and it encourages other publishers to do the same. The power of something like Google Book Search is that it puts all book content in one place and enables people to search the world of books. HarperCollins claim that its content would be just as accessible via the main Google search engine, while not being as simple as it sounds, is sort of a moot point. It’s like HarperCollins has decided to scatter its books haphazardly around a Wal-Mart rather than putting them in the local library with rest of the books.It’s laudable that HarperCollins, perhaps prodded by its MySpace-owning parent News Corp, is dipping its toe in the digital waters, and stepping up its efforts to use the Internet to promote and sell books. But Google’s initiative is a separate effort altogether that would neither infringe upon HarperCollins’ strategy nor lead to piracy of any sort.For more, here are a few of my many posts on the topic: The publishers’ big blunder, More Google Book hysteria, and Richard Nash of Soft Skull on Google Print
Amazon has been notoriously vague about sales of Kindle ebooks and of the Kindles themselves, but looking at the Amazon stats at The Millions, we can see that Kindle ebook sales have jumped by an order of magnitude since the launch of the new version.When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the second iteration of the Kindle in February, he confused lots of folks when he said “More than 10% of the units we sell are Kindle book sales.” It was later clarified that he meant that, when looking at the 230,000 titles available for the Kindle, Kindle ebook sales account for 10% of the sales of those titles. Meanwhile, analysts have been trying all along to wrap their heads around what the Kindle means for the still nascent ebook market. To give an example, one analyst last year suggested that Kindle ebook sales could hit $2.5 billion by 2012.Nonetheless, in the wake of all the hoopla surrounding the Kindle launch in February, it was hard to get a clear picture of whether we were seeing a lot of media hype from gadget-obsessed tech writers or a real watershed moment in how people will read. If our numbers (which are, admittedly, a very small sample size) are any indication, the launch of the Kindle in 2007 raised awareness of ebooks, but the launch of the Kindle 2, this past February, brought ebooks to the mass market.In early 2008, with the first Kindle a few months old, we had anecdotal evidence from an ebook publisher saying that the Kindle wasn’t posting impressive sales. More recently, as the Kindle 2 hype was ramping up, a pair of established book bloggers noted that their Amazon stats didn’t show much interest at all in Kindle ebook sales. Michael Orthofer at the Complete Review wrote “only one out every 726 items purchased at Amazon after reaching it from our site in 2008 was a Kindle download.” Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading had similar findings: “While a few readers have purchased Kindle ebooks through my links, the vast majority have been sticking to the print editions.”For The Millions, Kindle ebook sales through late February of this year were similarly underwhelming. To use Orthofer’s metric, Kindle ebooks sales from November 19, 2007, to February 21, 2009, the day before the Kindle 2 started shipping, amounted to one out every 99 items purchased at Amazon after reaching it from The Millions. So, a good deal better than what Orthofer was seeing but still not exactly an impressive number. (Incidentally, pre-Kindle ebook sales – presumably ebooks meant for devices that predate the Kindle – amounted to one out of every 272 from the start of The Millions to November 18, 2007)But what’s interesting is what’s happened since the Kindle 2 started shipping on February 22. From that point until today, even though we still only link to the physical editions of books, Kindle ebooks have accounted for an incredible one out of every six items purchased at Amazon after reaching it from The Millions. Again, I have to stress that the sample size isn’t huge and that this is just one data point, but it certainly seems that with version 2, the Kindle has gone from a novelty to something much closer to the mainstream.
It’s a story likely to make some readers queasy. Several British libraries have begun working with a direct marketing firm to stuff inserts into books at check out. “They’re going to be inserted right next to the panel with the return date on it, which means that everyone will look at them at least once,” said Mark Jackson of direct marketing company Jackson Howse. However, Guy Daines, the director of policy at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, however, is concerned about the “creeping commercialisation of library services.” I’ll second that.
Remember the fear that Google would start a print on demand business and put all the publishers out of business? Well, Google appears to be getting into the bookselling business, but there’s no printing involved, nor are they cutting out publishers. Google’s new service will allow publishers to set their own price for online access to books. Readers won’t be able to save copies of the books on their computers nor will they be able to copy text from the books, and the books will only be viewable within the browser window. This looks like a great opportunity for publishers to provide online access to their books without having to set up their own systems. (via)Update: Some good comments on this at Booksquare.