Friday, July 30, 2010

Kindle 3 and other Publishing News!

So Amazon has released a new version of their kindle and escalated the so-called "E-Reader Wars." The Kindle 3  has a larger storage capacity, increased battery life, better contrast, and has 3G available in over a hundred countries (whereas the Barnes and Noble Nook only offers 3G service in the U.S.). Additionally Amazon is now offering a WiFi only version device that retails for 139.
I naturally think this is a smart move by Amazon. As soon as they began selling Kindle 2's at Target it was clear that they were unloading back stock in preparation for for a new release. With a WiFi model I definitely think that competition between Barnes and Noble and Amazon will definitely heat up but I certainly don't think it knocks the Nook out of contention (Although I think this deals another blow to the poor Kobo).

While Amazon is definitely doing great - the New York Times recently reported that ebooks are currently outselling hardcovers - I think Barnes and Nobel's stores give them access to customers that Amazon may never be able to reach. Moreover, there is still the selling point that the Nook's android operating system updates automatically every month or so. The very existence of a Kindle 3 underscores the differences between the two products. Amazon keeps coming out with new devices, whereas the Nook keeps coming out with free firmware updates that everyone gets.
Barnes and Nobel certainly doesn't appear to be giving up without a fight regardless. The superstores are planning on increasing the size and staff of their dedicated nook stations to bring greater emphasis on the store's digital future.
While of subject of bookstores, Publisher's Weekly had an article about Border's hiring new tech specialists to help push their various e-reader devices. I can only imagine that they read my post about my visit to their store last week and decided to fix the problem. :P

In others news:
Narrative Magazine has launched an application for Ipad and Iphone users that allows access to their entire database of stories.
The Huffington Post has an interesting breakdown of the e-reader/book market here.
- The New York Times has an article describing videos, hyperlinks, and other additions ebook publishers are adding to their releases.
- The Daily Beast has a great piece reporting on Skip Prichard, CEO of the Ingram Book Company, and his optimistic view of the book business in the wake of the digital revolution.

Coming soon: The second installment of my Comic Con Recap on Digital comics and a review of the Pandigital Novel by a guest blogger, my mom!


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Comic Con Recap 1

While at Comic Con this year I attended three panels on the impact of digital comics on the medium and the industry. There were multiple panels this year on the subject that I wanted to go to, but as anyone who has even been to San Diego when the geeks descend knows you never have time to do half and what you intend.

The first panel was called Digital Comics and You. It was moderated by a journalist from iFanboy, and included comic book creator Ben Templesmith, Micah Balwin from, talent agent Scott Agostoni, and James Sime, owner of  Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge. The overall discussion focussed on the potential benefits of digital comics for creators and fans. Templesmith noted that his digital motion comic prequel to the game Dead Space received over a million downloads, and that the new mediums offer a great place to find new readers for his back catalog as it gets digitized. Baldwin discussed the opportunity for creative liberation where creators can do whatever they want instead of being anchored by a particular company's format. He stated that the emphasis should be on creating a stable platform, not worrying about a standardized formula. Sime, whose comic book store is noted for its laid back atmosphere, thinks that digital comics allow companies to access new readers which then become new customers for the brick and mortar stores. The panel as a whole agreed that the industry needed to change its emphasis on monthly single issue comics, and adapt to the new digital reality. They also referred to the term "Transmedia," as a meaningless jargon word that didn't really mean anything.

Thoughts on this panel: Overall I thought it was very interesting. The people offered an exciting look on the potential digital comics have to attract new customers, and allow for greater creative innovation for writers and artists. However, a few things did raise some concerns for me and I would have asked a question had there been enough time. First, I felt that Sime's opinion that digital comics weren't going to hurt brick and mortar stores was a slightly inaccurate view in the long run. He used Warren Ellis' Freak Angels as an example. He stated that after reading the online comic he had customers come into his store and ask if he had any Ellis books. So he was able to sell several trades to a customer that would never have known who the creator was had it not been for a digital comic. While I think his comment is true in the short-term, I think in the long run it stops being beneficial. What happens when Ellis' back catalog finally gets digitized? Once the industry really starts seeing some money from this sources, they are going to rush to digitize their inventory. And since changes to the book publishing market suggest that people aren't clinging to traditional printed material for love of paper the way some thought they would, what happens to the comic book store when all titles are available online and people no longer desire a printed copy, but are content with a digital alternative?

I'm working on an essay for right now that examines this issue. I'm hoping to get some perspective from some other retailers.

Over the next couple of days I'll be posting the notes I took from the other panels.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Comic Con

Just got home from comic con. As always it was awesome but exhausting. I'm typing up some notes on the panels I attended on the digital future of comics and will have them shortly.

Monday, July 19, 2010


I'm currently working on two essays that I will be posting soon. One is on E-Ink versus the tablet, and the other is on the impact of digital technology on comic books. As a comic fan, and a former manager of a comic book store manager, I am very interested on the future of comic book stores in a world where you can download digital versions of comics and read them from your phone, computer, or gaming system. I'm going to San Deigo Con this week and plan to attend four panels on the subject of digital comics. Will send updates!

I'm also doing some research on the Pandigital Novel, a new e-reader device that appears to be a combination of the nook and the Ipad. A family member recently purchased one from Bed, Bath, and Beyond so I'll be hearing about it in full detail shortly. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thoughts on The Kobo and Borders

So I went to Borders yesterday and decided to check out the Kobo. My initial impression is that it is a well-designed device but sadly lacking in the features that would make it truly competitive against the Nook, Kindle, or iPad. Aesthically I think it is probably more appealing then Amazon or Barnes and Nobles e-readers; it is surprisingly light weight and the quilted texture on the back is a nice touch. It appears sleeker then it's competitors, but I didn't get the specs so I can't compare the dimensions versus the others. It also comes with a 100 free e-books which is a nice touch but the other readers' access to the Google Book Project makes that feature a little underwhelming. While it has no WiFi or 3G connection, you can connect it via Bluetooth so that you can access and transfer you books from either a computer or Blackberry.

My impression of the Borders and it's customer service however was far more revealing of the devices potential success then the device itself. Before I continue I must preface two things: First, my experience at this Borders was naturally a singular event and consequently may not be representative of the whole company by any means. Secondly, I currently work part-time at Barnes and Noble as a bookseller who works at their Nook station. As an adjunct instructor I needed to get a summer job until school started again and so I got hired at the nearby B&N. I had worked for the company previously and was a cash lead at a store in Norcal. I mention this just to avoid any questions about my credibility or biases on the subject. I work at Barnes and Noble but have no vested interest in demeaning Borders of their e-reader because of this. I assure you of my objectivity...

With that being said the experience I had seemed to emblematic of the deficiencies of both the device and the companies marketing strategy for it. For starters, there didn't appear to be any signs or displays showcasing the Kobo that I could see. There was a kiosk with the two older Sony e-readers, but nothing readily apparent on the device that some were hoping was going to breathe new life into the wanning superstore chain.

I asked a bookseller where the display was and they said they didn't have one yet but that they had a sample model I could check out behind the counter. As mentioned, the device itself is very cool looking and well-designed. I asked the lady I was talking to how it worked and it was clear that she wasn't well-informed on the subject. Furthermore, when I asked about how it compared to the Kindle or the Nook she said she wasn't sure. Note: I wasn't asking questions I already knew the answer so that I could subsequently critique the performance of the bookseller I was talking to. She was very friendly and polite. I was more interested in the way Borders had prepared their employees for these questions. At B&N they have a whole list of talking points with the comparative of advantages of the products clearly listed and I was wondering if Borders had something similar.

One thing that I did think was interesting was the person I was speaking to quickly diverted the conversation to the Sony E-readers that they had on display in the store, and began explaining how the Kobo was much better then these older devices. I don't know if it was intentional, but I think that is a strong selling point. Since, as has been mentioned in a previous post, the recently lowered prices of the Kindle and the Nook has reduced the primary competitive advantage that the Kobo enjoyed, its tough for even the most creative salesperson to explain why the Kobo is a better investment then its competitors. However, if the person downplays this question and then redirects the discussion to the Kobo's advantage versus the Sony e-readers, it might increase their chances of closing the sale. I naturally can't say for certain that that is what the bookseller was doing, but I think its an effective strategy.

Overall, the lack of specific product knowledge of the employee and the in-store advertising gave the impression of an overall lack of enthusiasm and reinforced my the feeling that the device is just too little, too late. Although Barnes and Noble didn't receive its Nook stations immediately, prior to the devices release I remember their employees pushing it hard. I no longer worked for the company at this time and was still a happy Kindle owner and I remember talking to booksellers at several stores who were very excited. Now, Barnes and Noble have installed their Nook displays prominently in the front of the store where it gives them access to customers that may not be actively seeking them out, but suddenly decide they want one. I hope Borders follows a similar pattern or ultimately whats the point? I plan to visit other Borders in the are and return to the one I visited yesterday to see if my experience  is replicated or if it was just an aberration.

Anyone with their own experiences to share, or any Borders employees out there want to discuss the strengths of the company's approach, please do so!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

News and Notes

<----- I need to check out this book by Clay Shirky. The author's primary contention is that technology has finally caught up with human cognitive ability and that the two in conjunction will lead to a new era in creativity. This book seems like a hopeful look at the future as opposed to the doom and gloom of some of the other books out there. After I read this one I intend to check out The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr, just to get both sides of the argument. A really insightful interview with Shirky at the Barnes and Noble Review is available here. Also check out the review of the book at Popmatters.

The Washington Post has an article evaluating the benefits of e-readers. It's a interesting breakdown of the the devices versus tablets, but the most important part of the piece is at the beginning when the author discusses a study that shows when tested, people reading the exact same text will typically read slower when reading digital version as opposed to a printed version. It was a small study group but still interesting results.

CNET news reports that the lower prices of the Nook have hurt the sales of the Kobo. The article states that the previously lower price of the Kobo was an important part of the marketing strategy, but with Barnes and Noble offering a WiFi capable version of their device for same price and numerous different features, it might be in trouble.

Daily Tech has an article on a marketing study that shows that the average e-reader owner is an older college educated. I think this an interesting demographic breakdown since it seems that the most vocal opponents of e-publishing seem to be in the same group (I don't have statistics to be back up that claim; its just been my experience). Another more in-depth article on the market trend by the Sydney Morning Herald can be found here.

Brief note: on a previous post on John Updike's essay I had the heading historiography. One of my goals of this blog is to read and comment on important works on the subject of the digital transition. Future posts of this kind will have the historiography heading.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Updated Kindle DX and Kobo Reviews has just released an updated version of its Kindle DX model with a new e-ink contrast rate, different color, and lower price. The DX, which comes with a larger screen then the standard kindle and was designed with text books in mind, is now only $379. I would be very surprised if the Ipad did not have something to do with this price reduction. While the standard size e-readers, like the Kindle, Nook, or Kobo, are cheap enough as to not compete so directly with the Ipad, whose cheapest model is 499, the DX was originally close enough in price, 489, that a serious customer might be hard-pressed to justify buying a DX when Apple's tablet is only 10 dollars more and can do so much. A Washington Post article discussing the price reduction and some new software changes, including the Amazon's new app for the Android, can be found here.
PC World reviews the Kobo here. I've been wanting to check out a Kobo but haven't had the chance yet. I think I'm just going to have to head on over to Borders one of these days and see one in person. My initial reactions to the device make me wonder if it can compete. The primary problem is that it has no WiFi or 3G connections forcing the owner to buy e-books off their computer and then transferring them to the device. Furthermore, as the PC World article notes, with the WiFi only Nook now dropped in price to 149 the Kobo lost its one advantage: its lower price.

I'm currently working on an article on e-ink versus the tablet. It seems to me that a significant battleground between dedicated reading devices like the Kindle and Nook, and do everything devices like the Ipad is the type of display consumers want to read off of. Will post a link when the article is completed.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

John Updike Essay - Historiography

I was recently flipping through a collection of John Updike essays called Due Considerations and I stumbled upon an Op-Ed piece he wrote for the New York Times in 2000 called A Case for Books. The was relatively short and focused on four key things he predicted we will miss if the printed word "joins the papyrus scroll and parchment codex in extinction..." These were: The book as furniture, The Book as sensual pleasure, The Book as souvenir and Book as ballast. While some of the things he remarks upon are not necessarily lost with e-books/readers his overall point is thoughtful and valid. He remarks, "Books externalize our brains, and turn our homes into thinking bodies." I think this is a beautiful line that captures some of the unique power inherent in the printed medium. Moreover, I enjoy the tone of the article. It is reflective but avoids any of the "reading on computers is the death of culture" arguments that some others like to use.
I plan to do a little research in the future and see if Updike's opinions of digital publishing changed at prior to his death -especially since many of his works are available in electronic format.