Tag Archives: digital

Are ‘phablets’ a rival for e-reading devices?

The above video is a shocking yet accurate depiction of the growing smartphone-obsessed culture which is becoming apparent within society. The New York Times posted this intriguing article a couple of weeks ago, ‘More Connected, Yet More Alone‘, and talks of Charlene deGuzman’s reasons behind making the video. Nick Bilton, the person who wrote the article, speculates whether smartphones are having their ‘TV-in-the-kitchen-moment’?

From the video, I can definitely see how it relates to today’s society. Particularly with social media playing a prominent role in people’s day-to-day lives, and the recent developments in mobile phone technology over the years, it is so much more easier to connect virtually than it ever has been; so much so that I believe that people are becoming obsessed with it. The day after the New York Times posted this article, The Guardian published an article stating that phablets are big in Asia-Pacific, equalling tablets and laptops combined.

The Guardian reported that 25.2 million phablets – ‘large-screened phones with screen sizes of between 5in and 7in diagonally’ – are shipped in the Asia-Pacific (excl. Japan), roughly the same amount of devices shipped as tablets (12.6 million) and laptops (12.7 million) combined (figures from research company, IDC). It is believed that it is Samsung’s Galaxy Note, inspired by Dell’s Streak phone in 2010, which has truly sparked the surge in phablet technology.

Looking at the evidence, it made me wonder how it will affect publishing in the future…

I wrote about this earlier in the year with my blog post: ‘Adaptive Web Technology and Publishing‘ and even the figures mentioned there stated that by 2016, 2.1 billion mobile browsers will use HTML5 browsers, therefore adding to the current 17% of the world’s population which has a mobile subscription.

As it can be seen from the articles in the NYT and The Guardian, more phablets than laptops and tablets combined are being shipped in Eastern parts of the world – imagine what the figures would be should Western parts of the world be included, too. For me, it poses the question as to whether e-reading devices such as the Kindle could soon become old news, especially if technology is moving towards a smartphone future…

Publishers are already recognising that ensuring their content is available through smartphones is adamant. For example, academic publisher, Cambridge University Press’s ‘Cambridge Journals Online’ platform has launched a Mobile version. In addition, publishers such as Penguin have launched various Apps to use on mobiles and tablet devices, Kindle has an App which is available to use on devices other than Kindles, and with social media sites such as Twitter, publishers are able to interact with the end-consumer on a regular basis.

What’s to say, that we ourselves, aren’t publishers? For those who use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets, every post, tweet, and status is published for the world to see. Phablets make this easy and with the growing obsession of ‘connecting’ with one another, it appears that we are increasingly moving into a world where access to content is constantly in demand.

Personally, I do not believe that phablets are a serious threat to e-reading devices… yet. The article from The Guardian only takes into account the figures for Asia-Pacific, and it is already common knowledge that the technological market is by far greater and more advanced than other parts of the world. E-reading devices such as the Kindle will continue to develop, and while the ‘I Forgot My Phone’ video shows people using their smartphones, not Kindles/iPads etc., I believe that the majority of people may not necessarily make the link of reading books on their smartphones just yet. Saying that, I do feel that the concept of publishing on a wide scale is pretty much there when it comes to smartphone technology.


The Library of the Future: “All about books. All about learning.”

Birmingham has introduced a brand new £189m library in Centenary Square and been deemed ‘a people’s palace’ by its architects. Gone are the days of the old creaking floors and slightly dusty shelves of an old, traditional library, it seems.

Picture by Charlie Bibby

Picture by Charlie Bibby

The new eco-friendly design has been built in a way to depict Birmingham’s industrial revolution of earlier years, whilst also keeping to a futurist and modern theme.

The BBC has posted a video tour of the new building on their website. Brian Gambles, Director of the library, emphasised the fact that the new library is a “fusion of digital and physical is essential to the vision of the library”. The interactive technology, including more than 200 public access computers where the public can interact with the various collections, and 20 large-scale multimedia walls means that the public can “engage with new collections in new and different ways”.

Certainly the theme of interaction is also enhanced with the library’s ‘Discovery Pavillion’, which includes 18 week programmes of ‘creative residencies’ where new library users can experience creative practices such as bookbinding and animation. In addition to this are specific pieces in the library which are part of the Pavillion where certain collections and spaces are highlighted to the public.

Surely, this new library stands at the  forefront of the future for libraries? It will be interesting to see what happens to our libraries following this change. However, there is speculation from The Library Campaign that by 2016, 1000 libraries will be closed. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy has stated that 349 libraries have closed down since 2009. With the proposed local government budget cuts in 2015/16, it is therefore thought that an additional 340 libraries will close (Figures taken from The Guardian). While the new opening is great for the public in and around Birmingham, what about the rest of the country? It can be assumed that the majority of major cities and towns across the UK will have access to a good library facility, however, it is the smaller communities across the country which may suffer if their local library is closed.

Although the new library emphasises its connection with digital – encouraging users to discover and interact on a new scale – it is clear that the printed book is still at the heart of its development. 350,000 books are available to the public, 43,000 of which are situated in the Shakespeare Memorial Room. The room, originally built in 1882, was taken apart from the old building and rebuilt piece-by-piece into the new development. I like the thought that physical books are still the focus of developments like this. It shows that even though the book industry is undergoing momentous change, the familiar and the traditional is not forgotten; almost as if the industry is keen to hold on to its origins (something which I highly agree with).

Although, at its core, the library is fundamentally grounded in enhancing the printed book, the building’s modern appearance and facilities has deemed it a ‘super library‘, joining international libraries across the globe, including the Seattle Central Library (USA), Biblioteca Vasconcelos (Mexico), Kanazawa Umimirai (Japan) and, Spijkenisse Book Mountain (Netherlands).

From what I gather, the reaction to Birmingham’s new ‘super library’ has been positive. It bodes well for the future of books across all aspects of the industry. I feel that as long as the industry as a whole continues to grow almost as a hybrid model (embracing digital, yet not forgetting its physical roots), then the industry will continue to flourish.


A ‘digital-first’ future for publishing?

Whilst carrying out my regular scouring of the internet for anything publishing related, I came across the term digital-first. On looking more into the term, it appears that many publishers are looking to release new titles in digital format only, in order to predict as to whether the book can sell well in print format. Some of the first publishers to trial this new concept are HarperCollins and Harlequin.

The former announced earlier this year that mystery line, Witness Impulse, would be one of the first lines which the publisher would release digital-first. The first ten titles shall be released in October under the imprint, William Morrow.

Dan Mallory, the man behind the line noted that digital-first publishing was the most effective way to market unknown books and authors. He also highlighted that the launch involved libraries as they aim to deliver titles through ebook loans. Shawn Nicholls, marketing director for Impulse (an imprint of Morrow), mentioned that digital-first is ‘part of a larger branding campaign to build sales for midlist authors overall and to help readers discover’.

As  my previous blog entry suggests, discovering books through digital formats, i.e. the internet in particular, will become easier with apps such as BookVibe. Integration with digital is increasingly becoming a part of everybody’s daily life. Should ‘digital-first’ be embraced by more publishers in the future, it can be suggested that browsing for books online will become easier. (Now don’t even get me started on what this will mean for bricks-and-mortar booksellers!)


Creating a ‘vibe’ is the new way to ‘discover’ books

In and amongst the depths of the internet, I’ve read blogs and articles which state that browsing for books in a bookshop is the most effective way to ‘discover’ new books. I even popped into the independent bookshop in Aldeburgh, Suffolk (I strongly recommend you go and have a gander if you’re ever around that area) a few weeks ago and got chatting to one of the owners who specified that customers don’t necessarily know what they’re looking for when they come in and come into the store to discover.

Saying this, it appears that all may not be lost in terms of internet book browsing. Lloyd Page wrote a blog entry via The Bookseller speculating about a new way to ‘get your book to the front of the queue’. BookVibe.

BookVibe logo

BookVibe is a book discovery tool which aims to aggregate information by feeding into your Twitter feeds.

Essentially a phone app, users will be able to tap in 24/7 and see what their friends, followers and following are reading there and then. The integration with social media site Twitter (and soon to join the ‘vibe’, Facebook), is a savvy way for publishers to see into the reading habits of millions of people. Could such an app take on recommendation site gaints such as Goodreads? It would certainly boost ‘word-of-mouth’ marketing which undoubtedly has the power to make a book into a bestseller. Lloyd writes that Parakweet, the company who thought of BookVibe, have plans to introduce extra features, such as book alerts for new releases. I think this would be a good idea, particularly so readers can keep up to date with their favourite authors. I think a great feature of the app which Page mentioned was the fact that you could ‘thank the author within the app with a tweet that uses a template text message (promoting BookVibe…)’. This creates interaction with authors on a brand new level. In addition, it also allows publishers to see what authors (and book genres) are currently favourites amongst the general public. Another way which the app could be used to enhance author-reader interaction, is if the app alerted the user of upcoming book talks or events in their local area which the author (or other authors equivalent to the user’s favourite) would be at present at.

I guess one of BookVibe appthe most important things to consider is how user-friendly the app will be. The BookVibe website currently shows an image of what the user can expect if he/she signs up to receive weekly emails of book recommendations from friends.

The use of the ‘Buzz’ rating also links well with the new ‘vibe’ feel which the app is no doubt hoping to create.

Of course, Page does speculate on possible flaws of the app: ‘The claim is that the tool can surf through 500m tweets a day, drill down into those which mention books and decipher if the vibe is positive or negative’. The BookVibe website also states that it has ‘analysed over 100 billion tweets to detect book discussions’. Page further wonders as to whether the app will have the capacity to distinguish the differences between books, should two books share the same/similar titles for example.

Only time will tell whether BookVibe will be successful or not and whether it will create the desired ‘buzz’-effect around new and upcoming books and authors. Anything which promotes reading can only be a good thing…


Print textbooks more popular than digital

I noted an interesting tweet from @DigiBookWorld the other day:

Only 3% of students used a digital textbook as the “core” course material last semester, down from 4% in the fall

The tweet included a link to the article by Jeremy Greenfield on the Digital Book World website, which noted that the e-textbook revolution was still waiting to happen. Whilst sales for fiction ebooks appear to be soaring, it seems that the e-revolution for academic textbooks isn’t quite meeting expectations. According to a survey of over 1,500 undergraduate students, digital is still critical; however, the majority of students favour print textbooks. The reasons for the result were split 50-50: some students prefer the look and feel of a print book, whilst others pointed out that they would not be able to re-sell a digital textbook.

The research was made by Bowker Market Research. The Director behind the survey, Carl Kulo, stated that students feel that print textbooks are better value for learning and for money.

Despite this result, digital textbooks are still proving popular amongst some students who favour them for being easy to carry and for the text being easier to search. Results show that students trying digital textbooks is actually up 31% from 28% in the past two years, proving that digital textbooks do still have a hold on a considerable amount of the marketplace. Although growth is slow now, Kulo believes that the market will begin to pick up in the next two-to-five years. Digital is only set to soar in growth as more and more students use some form of digital in their studies, particularly with emerging learning management systems and integrated learning platforms. Even publishers use these types of platforms to present training materials for editors, and also to help customers in their day-to-day lives. A good example is online learning platform, Cambridge English Teacher, which Cambridge University Press has made available on their website. The aim is to help teachers (current and aspiring) to enhance their own knowledge of grammar, for example, to help develop their teaching techniques.

The article makes me doubt whether universities shall stop spending as much money on textbooks, journals and monographs. I wrote an entry not too long ago, ‘Open Access: in, £50 breeze blocks: out’, which explored a prediction from the vice-chancellor of Durham University, who stated that as digital and Open Access becomes more popular, universities will cut their spending on print materials. He also made a point that students could not afford to buy ‘£50 breeze blocks’. It seems that these students, however, are very much for print textbooks…

In my opinion, I am with the majority of students who believe that print is better monetary value and value for learning. Whilst I do still use digital textbooks and articles which I access through my University Library’s website (mostly if the print version is not available), I feel that textbooks are easier for studying. Not only are they good value for money, you can annotate it and easily access it next to you, as opposed to clicking between computer windows. They may be a pain to lug to-and-from the library, but I feel that their presence is still, and will continue to be, a very solid feature on every student’s bookshelf.


Adaptive Web Technology and Publishing

I’ve just found an interesting report on Adaptive Web Technology which was promoted by Netbiscuits on Twitter.

The report stated the urgent need for business leaders to ‘evaluate mobile web strategies’ to accommodate for the fast paced rate of web evolution. It is thought that there are currently 1.2 billion mobile subscriptions in the world (17% of the global population).

It is predicted that mobile internet usage will soon take over desktop internet usage, with web connection being made available through watches, cars, glasses (Google Glass, anyone?), household appliances and not to mention the transforming models for televisions and gaming consoles.

Of course, with every new piece of technology, there are multiple issues to consider. Some of the issues mentioned in the report include:

  • Browser windows on mobiles are not resizable like those on a laptop, for example.
  • Varying input methods: computers/laptops require a mouse and clicking, whereas on a mobile, you are most likely using ‘multi-finger gestures’ when navigating through pages.
  • Differing contextual usage: smartphones and tablets = on the go vs. desktops = serious working time.

The report states that by 2016, 2.1 billion mobile browsers will have adopted HTML5 browsers, therefore there will be increasing pressure for mobile developers.

So, what does this mean in the publishing world?

Ebook technology is already available on mobile devices through apps, and of course the Kindle and other tablets such as iPad accommodate for ebooks. I believe that as ebooks evolve, the interaction which they will be able to provide will be enhanced by mobile technology. Particularly for academic ebooks and journals, links to external web pages and videos will be emphasised by this evolving web technology. I think fiction books could evolve with this kind of technology, too. Think Pottermore but on a larger scale. Can you image published ebooks which are also accommodated with a virtual world? Of course I can immediately think of a multitude of additional disadvantages to the idea (for a start it would take away the reader’s perception of the story) however, I do feel that small additional snippets to accommodate the story could work.

I also wrote an entry a while back detailing a talk I attended which was given by Stephen Bourne about Imagineering the Book Trade in 2050 and how he stated that books in small chucks would be available on mobile devices and accessed via mobile web technology. Should his prediction prove right, then certainly the publishing industry could thrive. Perhaps publishers could develop their own apps in the future where readers can buy these bite-size stories (perhaps charging per chunk?) or could give the opportunity of buying and downloading ebooks like you would to a Kindle.

Certainly the opportunities which can be offered through mobile web technology are extraordinary and I feel that the publishing world could really benefit from the new technologies if they are applied effectively.


Publishing metaphors

The Bookseller alongside its FutureBook blog recently posted about the Digital Minds conference which took place earlier today, starting this year’s London Book Fair.

Philip Jones reported that numerous metaphors were used to describe the current status of the publishing industry during the conference with the digital transformation of the industry being compared to climate change. Pan Macmillan’s digital director, Sara Lloyd, stated that while digital will pose a threat to certain parts of the business, others will survive and thrive.

I think my favourite was Neil Gaiman voicing that people within the book business need to be like dandelions, ‘spreading seeds and accepting that some will fall on stony ground’. He further reiterated that publishers need to try everything and accept that some things will fail and ‘fail better’. Keeping an open mind in this day and age is key and Gaiman stated that for the ‘dinosaurs’ in the industry, digital could end up making them extinct if they don’t adapt to survive. One of the positives that Gaiman highlighted was the fact that whatever was made would most likely be right, as publishers can make or break rules which are yet to be thought of.

Will Atkinson added that the digital age had slowed down in recent months stating ‘we are in the changing rooms at half time’. The recent articles in The Bookseller reporting the vast rise in print sales, shows that indeed the digital age is slowing down. I feel that the hype of Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD release at Christmas has died down somewhat. Whilst digital is still very active, I do not feel that ebooks are mentioned as much as they were a few months ago. I feel that it has reached a stage in its growth where most publishers have acknowledged what is happening in the industry and are adapting accordingly. Sara Lloyd also observed that particularly for self-publishers, they have adapted to the changes, and also voiced three Rs: Recognition of change in the industry, respect for one another and recycling of skills/resources as the world evolved. Certainly I believe that publishers have more respect for one another as they are ‘all in the same boat’. There has been an influx of mergers over the past few months as many publishers/other related companies are joining forces to get through this ‘climate change’ in order to stay afloat.

I also feel that publishing houses across the Trade and Academic sphere have definitely recognised that they need to change. In addition, booksellers have also embraced the change, with obvious examples of Amazon’s Kindle creation and the fact that Waterstones are also selling its competitors’ devices in their stores.

The publishing sector is definitely an interesting place to be at the moment. Who knows what else 2013 could bring…

Mixed Metaphors – FutureBook, digital blog from The Bookseller

Digital Minds: Industry must try more, fail betterThe Bookseller