Sunday, February 28, 2010

Making the case for iPad book prices - From the NY Times

Another great read..a nice primer on the economics of printed vs e-books from Motoko Rich at the NYTimes.

"All of which raises the question: Just how much does it actually cost to produce a printed book versus a digital one?"

Spring reading from; “Libraries were never warehouses of books ... They have always been and always will be centres of learning"

This week's blog post is just a link to a nice essay from the Financial Times of London on the future of book.  If you love books it's a great read.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Image permanence for HP Indigo digital presses

As photo consumers move more and more toward alternatives to silver halide (photographic) output like digital photo albums from folks like Apple and Shutterfly and photo-intensive books like those provided by Blurb and A&I, many have questioned the longevity of these new printing options.  After all, most of us have had the box of photos or old stick-in photo books from our youth that we stumble across every few years.  Or maybe a Carousel or two (or 10 or 50) of slides, the old school prosumer and creative pro weapon of choice.  So it makes sense to ask the question that in addition to the naturally unstable nature of the new digital photo environment (so, how long since you have backed up your iPhoto library?), what will those books I'm making today look like in 20 or more years?

To that end, we received some very good news this week.  Henry Wilhelm  co-founder, president and director of research at Wilhelm Imaging Research, who I worked with in my Corbis days after we acquired the Bettmann Archive and the Sygma Collection when we needed to quickly resolve the issue of decaying historical photographic films, released a report last week that is sure to make HP happy but also let those of us who are photo enthusiasts sleep a bit easier.

According to Wilhelm, HP Indigo printing actually exceeds the image permanence of the best-rated silver halide product, Fuji's Crystal Archive.  Wilhelm rated Indigo output on Kromekote paper at 45 years, more than twice as long as the rating for Kodak photo paper.  In addition, the dark storage rating, which is more appropriate for photo book applications, is greater than 100 years.

“The permanence ratings from WIR provide an important validation for the use of HP Indigo in consumer and professional photographic markets as well as in the fine art world,” said Wilhelm. “Good display permanence combined with excellent long-term stability, as well as freedom from yellowing for images that are in albums or are stored in other dark locations, are essential to preserving the value of historical photographs, art works and photo books.”

So your photo books aren't a replacement for backing up your digital photo archive.  But it does mean that when you come across your "Burning Man 2009" book in 30 years, you'll still recognize yourself and your possibly questionable choices in wardrobe and friends.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sign of the times--digital vendors overtake offset at Ipex 2010

The folks at Ipex 2010 rolled out their Media Summit last week in London with presentations from Canon  Europe, CP Bourg, Domino Printing Services, Fujifilm Europe, Oce, Pitney Bowes, Red Tie,  Ricoh, and Xerox.  You can get the gist of what they are planning to show here, but the real news was in some of the comments about the show from Trevor Crawford, event director for Ipex.

If you've been to Ipex or Drupa in the past, you know that these shows are defined by the huge presence of folks like Heidelberg and MAN Roland.  This year's biggest exhibitor?  HP, with a stand over one-third bigger than they had at Ipex 2006 at 32,000 square feet.  Not an offset press to be found there.

Digital vendors will occupy 38% of the show floor this year compared with 26% for offset--exactly reversing the numbers from four years ago.  Heidelberg alone is downsizing by half its presence on the show floor.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Apple and the agency model for books

The big news of the last couple of weeks is not really the much ballyhooed iPad (my personal jury is still out on if I see it fitting in my bag of electronic tricks) but it's really the new model Apple is launching for selling eBooks.  It's an agency model, which is defined as projects funded as a fee-for-service by clients, who either use or re-sell the content, is the model currently used by Apple's iTunes App Store, where Apple takes a 30% cut on all sales made.  This, of course, allows the publisher--either of an app or a book--to set their price and Apple abides by this and just takes their pound of flesh.

I've always thought that Amazon's Kindle eBook model was just the old wholesale model in disguise.  But rather than having to share a significant portion of of book revenue with others in the supply chain, Amazon just took all that was left after the publisher and the author's cut, which left them a 50% share.  When Amazon was the only game it town they got to write the rules.  Amazing how having a new player in the market can change things.

While I hardly blame Amazon for getting maximum return for eBooks on the Kindle for as long as they could, I do think they were a bit short-sighted to think that embracing an old wholesale model could last.  Now they have publishers like Macmillan very ready to call the bluff and Amazon blinked last week, and appear to be ready to let Macmillan set their own price for eBooks.

When I first got into the publishing marketplace, I was quite surprised by a model that allowed retailers to buy and then return books that don't sell for full credit.  It's not only a hard model to sustain, it's also environmentally flawed, allowing for large percentage of books to be warehoused and, eventually, repulped instead of sold.  But buying lots of copies in large, single runs, is the way to keep costs low and that's why it's the right model for best selling authors.  But in a new world of publishing those are the only folks who will be getting the volume benefit, with the rest of industry going POD more and more often with companies like Blurb, Author Solutions, and Lulu.

When Blurb launched our Set Your Price program, we recognized this shift in thinking.  We allow authors to keep 100% of the markup on the production price of the book, allowing authors to set their price at whatever the market will bear.  But the model is not perfect in a world that rich content, color books still cost too much to create.  As Michael Norris, Senior Editor and Analyst for Simba Information's Trade Books group told Publishing Business, people still think ink-on-paper books cost too much in general.  And that's one of our big goals at Blurb--to continue to influence the supply chain to enable more and more fledgling authors to get their works in the hands of an eager public.

We take this idea of "democratizing publishing" very seriously.  We live it every day.  And moving the industry to more of an agency model is what will keep the industry healthy for years and years to come.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Technology for technology's sake...why I dislike transpromo and personalization

I joined a little company in 1993 called Continuum Productions, which became Corbis Corporation.  We were scanning a lot of materials, primarily photos, assuming we would find a market for them as the world was going increasingly digital.  Our first real product was an award-winning CD called "A Passion for Art", which was a virtual tour of the Barnes Foundation collection.  For the mid 90's, believe me, this was a pretty cool little project.  Why haven't you likely heard about it?  Because while it was engaging as a new technology it wasn't really the best way to experience art and the museum experience. We had content looking for an audience, a medium looking for a reason to exist.

That's kind of how I feel about transpromo stuff I get in the mail.  Just because you can put my name into some selected fields does not mean it's a good marketing experience for me.  And I don't know exactly why I hate it so much, but I think it's because it feels lazy to me.  As if a software program can actually "know" me.  If you are a company that wants to get my attention, figure out a compelling reason for me to consider your product, don't just fill my name in the blanks.