Tag Archives: PBS

MediaShift Plans Series of E-Books

MediaShift and PBS are getting into the e-book business. The first line of e-books will focus on topics within the MediaShift realm.

The books are Your Guide to Cutting the Cord to Cable TV and How to Self-Publish Your Book.

Both books provide a ‘how-to’ on the respective topics with the ‘Cutting the Cord’ book also including essays on the topic.

MediaShift says it plans to roll out more books in the coming months.

These two topics seem like safe choices in first releases. However, these topics (especially self-publishing) have been covered so much with dozens and dozens of books on the marketplace.

The more intriguing of the two seems to be the book on getting rid of cable television. Studies have shown more and more households are doing this (I haven’t had cable or satellite for at least four years). This will show users options such as Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV and Amazon.

Currently, the e-books are only available in the Amazon and Apple stores. Print-on-demand is on the way.

DRM turns e-book experience into confusing maze of incompatibility and missing features

PBS’s MediaShift is running a series on e-books this week, and not all the articles are as lame as the one I talked about earlier asking whether Amazon was short-changing authors. MediaShift’s business columnist Dorian Benkoil wrote a lengthy column complaining about the annoying maze of incompatibility and missing features that purchasers of DRM-locked mass-market e-books have to face.

When given a book he wanted to read, Benkoil went looking for an e-book version that he could both read and have read to him, and thought that Google, which is pretty open, would have the best version—but was disappointed to find the Google Books version used Adobe Digital Editions DRM that wouldn’t allow it to be read aloud. The iBooks version would read aloud, but not let him take notes he could access from multiple devices (or, indeed, any non-iOS devices at all) the way Kindle could. And so on.

Benkoil then goes into a long list of drawbacks engendered by DRM and device incompatibility, such as text-to-speech issues, lack of availability in specific formats, inability to lend, inability to buy e-books directly through the iOS Kindle app, and so on. It is not a short list by any means, and even if every one of them is familiar to TeleRead regulars it’s worth something seeing them acknowledged in print by a reasonably major media outlet.

There are workarounds. Someone with the right skills and motivation can, for example, strip DRM from a book, convert it to an unprotected PDF, and then access the book on many more devices.

To get media onto a Kindle I have removed the device’s back panel, taken out its memory card, and attached the card to my computer via a converter to transfer the file, then put the card back in. But who wants to suffer that hassle repeatedly?

He lauds the example of O’Reilly, which doesn’t use DRM so as not to hamstring customers, and suggests that publishers and e-book vendors could benefit from giving consumers fewer headaches and more functionality. I certainly sympathize…but doubt that this is likely to happen very soon.

Is Amazon short-changing authors? Who knows?

PBS’s MediaShift blog looks at whether Amazon’s self-publishing operations might be short-changing authors, but doesn’t really seem to do a whole lot by way of saying yes or no apart from simply posing the question. The article discusses Amazon’s direct publishing pricing practices, and takes a look at a couple of authors who publish through Amazon, but doesn’t really seem to draw any conclusions.

Though it doesn’t really come right out and say it explicitly, the article seems to be taking the tone that Amazon is bigger than everyone else, therefore it must be evil. Some of its examples leave a bit to be desired, such as the author whose books didn’t sell well at $9.99, so she went straight to 99 cents and sold 3,000 copies a month. There are a whole lot of price points in between the two, after all.

And then there’s the bit toward the end where author Liz Funk complains that Amazon is simply too darned big: "in similar ethical dilemmas, you can say, ‘Oh, I don’t shop at Wal-Mart,’ but especially for indie authors, you can’t say that you won’t make your titles available on Amazon because it’s essentially cutting off your nose to spite your face when no one has come up with a way to sell lots of books without Amazon."

Say what? You’re comparing apples and oranges, Liz. Perhaps you should be comparing instead the plight of the manufacturers who supply Wal-Mart, given that they face pretty much the same dilemma: meet Wal-Mart’s demands (which are, I gather, considerably more burdensome than those Amazon imposes on self-publishing authors) or lose a huge marketplace of their own.

Or perhaps you should be comparing not shopping at Amazon. There are plenty of people out there who do that, too, for similar ethical reasons, and I gather they find it just as easy to do as they would not to shop at Wal-Mart.

And finally the article flaunts the tired old bogeyman of self-publishing as slushpile.

Anyone can contribute to the site, making separating the good from the bad difficult. Bloggers have recently complained that spam is popping up in the Kindle marketplace — making it unclear what is a book and what is a flashy cover containing no content.

And, gosh, Amazon has created its own publishing imprints, which could (gasp) price e-books lower than traditional publishers! Horrors! Amazon might end up displacing traditional publishers as some kind of e-book gatekeeper.

I mean, seriously. Amazon does plenty of obnoxious things, but this article doesn’t really deal in specific things. Instead it traffics in speculation and opinion. It’s like they think Amazon is evil only because it’s successful.

The Public Broadcasting model for ebooks, by Eric Hellman

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Imagine if Radiolab (my favorite radio show) were a book. It would be a best-seller, probably the kind you might buy at Target. It would sound good on your coffee table, and you’d have a shelf full of your favorite episodes. You’d also be able to get it for free at the library. Now that radio is becoming digital, you might even be able to buy it instantly at Amazon.com, or download it to your iPad from the iBookStore.

It’s expensive to create fantastic programs like Radiolab. New York Public Radio, which produces Radiolab, produces other award winning programs and operates three of America top public radio stations, all on an annual budget of  just under 48 million dollars. That works out to $130,854 per day. If you spread that expense over the 19 million potential listeners in the New Yourk Metropolitan area, it works out to 0.69 pennies per day per person.

But it doesn’t even cost that much to listen to WNYC or WQXR. Most people pay even less, zero pennies, to be exact. What’s more, you can listen to the shows for free on the internet. On your iPad, even. And you don’t even have to go to the library.

A relatively small number of us send money to become “members” of the station. The $120 my family contributed turned into a deduction on the tax return I completed yesterday. Most people who listen don’t contribute, but they’re never referred to as “pirates” or “thieves”.

The reason this works anyway is that radio has large fixed costs and infinitesimal marginal costs. If the listenership doubles, the costs stay exactly the same. It’s not like book publishing, which spends a lot of money pumping paper through a complex supply chain.

A book can cost a lot to produce, too. An author might devote a whole year to the writing of a book. Let’s be generous and say the author deserves $200,000. There’s an editor, a graphic designer, maybe an illustrator who also work on the book. Add some management overhead, tax accountants, lawyers, and it’s easy to get over $300,000 in fixed costs, and we haven’t even started promoting, printing and shipping the book. Many books, of course are produced for much less money. Some authors don’t get paid a cent.

But EBOOKS ARE NOT BOOKS. They’re just bits, and typically not so many, compared to a radio show. The cost of making a copy is negligible. It needn’t cost anything to distribute the ebook. eBook distribution is even cheaper than radio, because you don’t have to pay for transmitter power, and you don’t have to own a frequency license. It’s the monetization machinery that costs money: the ecommerce systems and the DRM. If the producers of ebooks had some way of covering their fixed costs (with profit to make it worth their while), ebooks could work just like free radio. Three million people contributing a dime would do quite nicely. 30,000 contributing $10 would work, too.

A public “bookcasting” system would work somewhat differently from public radio. Audiences and patrons would be assembled around individual books and authors, which would be much more numerous than radio stations. People would be motivated to help make the books they love public by the virtuous cycle of receiving books supported by other public book patrons.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, this business model is what I’ve begun working on as Gluejar, Inc..  The Internet presents an incredible capability for assembling audiences around a common purpose. The business will bring together people to pay for the fixed costs of producing ebooks, reward the best producers with profits, and to make these ebooks public, free to read, free to copy, to everyone, everywhere in the world, using Creative Commons Licensing.

This can work. I can see it now. The pledge drive will take up pages 40-50.

Via Eric Hellman’s Go to Hellman blog

How digital technologies affected magazines in 2010

On PBS’s MediaShift, Susan Currie Sivek has a great article summing up the effect that the iPad and other digital technologies had on magazines in 2010.

She starts by looking at magazine apps for the iPad: Zinio, Wired (which sold 105,000 copies in June, but was down to 32,000 by the month of September), and more. A number of these magazines are only showing 1 to 2 percent of newsstand sales for their apps.

Users have been by and large unimpressed by iPad selections, calling the reading experience only “somewhat better or about the same” than print or computer editions, and balking at higher prices.

Users of iPad magazines have also criticized what they see as a lack of creativity and technological savvy in designing usable, intriguing magazine apps for the iPad. Today’s magazine apps tend to be dull, clunky replicas of print magazine pages that don’t let readers share content via social media or even email. Despite being designed only for the iPad, even Project, the much-anticipated iPad-only magazine from Richard Branson’s Virgin Digital Publishing, was disliked by some readers for its awkward interface and its insistence on re-creating the print page experience.

Civek also brings up the lack of subscriptions as a major drawback, and mention the efforts of major publishers to develop their own digital newsstands in competition to Apple.

But the iPad is not the only digital issue affecting magazines. The article also brings up the Cooks Source incident, which we covered in several pieces here, and a similar, less-reported incident in which another small magazine used blogger content without permission. Another issue affecting magazine credibility is the use of paid sponsor blogs along with regular magazine content, potentially confusing advertising and content.

And finally, the piece covers the rise of “magazine-like” digital content, such as social network reading app Flipboard. In addition to presenting social network content in a magazine-like way, it also now includes some traditional print magazines via Flipboard Pages.

For 2011, Civek expects to see more independent, targeted-interest magazines, made with the same tools that are making self-publishing attractive to individual writers—print-on-demand, the web, etc.