E-readers flourished in the early days of ebooks, providing readers with a single reading platform in an era of the widely disparate interfaces provided by publishers and vendors. Over time, many have vanished. In December 2014, Irex Technologies dissolved. It had been one of the early e-reader manufacturers and an innovator of many screen technology advances.
Russell Glass, head of products for marketing solutions at LinkedIn, predicts that 50% of marketing content will be consumed using smartphones and tablets in 2015, a trend that can be seen throughout all sectors of our information economy. Coupled with corporate focus on “user experience,” which is even impacting Google results in mobile searches, we are seeing major efforts to combine and focus on integration in the mobile environment.
In an anticipated spin-off of its NOOK product line, Barnes & Noble (B&N) bought back both Microsoft’s and Pearson’s shares in NOOK Media. In its December 2014 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing concerning the sale, B&N wrote that this action would “further simplify the corporate structure by giving the Company ownership (through its subsidiaries) of 100% of NOOK Media.” The Wall Street Journal reports, “Barnes & Noble has struggled on the digital front, marked by Nook losses. Although its own tablets won critical praise, the retailer didn’t have the marketing muscle to compete with Amazon.com Inc. or the manufacturing prowess to hold off Apple Inc.” The New York Times reports that B&N “is planning to split into [two] companies, one with Nook and its college bookstores and another consisting of the retail stores and website, by the end of August.”
Amazon Continues Its Attempts to Dominate the Book World
This year, Amazon was able to add the .book domain to its war chest. Although most web users now search by company name, trademark, or topic, “owning” the .book domain is certainly well-worth the reported $10 million the company paid for the moniker. “The ‘.book’ domain should not be owned by a for-profit company,” argues Authors Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger, “that is in a position to use it for its competitive advantage … much less by Amazon, which we believe is already a monopolistic force in the publishing marketplace.”
Amazon’s dominance in online retailing continues, as the company now experiments with drone and same-day delivery and continually seeks to mine data on its customers. At the company’s annual shareholder meeting in May 2014, CEO Jeff Bezos reported his customer base at 244 million. At this point, even Alibaba would be hard-pressed to effectively challenge the retail giant—at least in Western markets.
Today, the e-reader market is controlled by three companies in the Americas and Western Europe: Kobo, Amazon, and B&N. “Amazon currently controls 75% of all eBook sales in these markets and the worldwide industry totals $14.5 billion,” notes Good E-Reader’s Michael Kozlowski.
“The three major companies involved in the e-reader sector all sell ebooks that tell them everything about you and your reading habits,” continues Kozlowski. “They can tell how long it took you to complete a book and what time of day you are more likely to read. They can monitor your reading progression to see if you gave up on a book a few chapters in or never even opened it up to begin with. These companies have a heavy investment in your personal life in order to email you other product offerings or use your data as a bargaining chip in establishing relationships with international bookstores and distributors.”
With this huge customer base for metrics, ebook vendors are able to process detailed data on their ebook customers. In December 2014, Kobo released data showing that only 44.4% of British readers made it to the end of its ebook version of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch. The company speculates that the book “likely proved daunting for some due to the length of the novel.” Now even our reading habits are being captured, maintained, and used for marketing purposes.
Although mathematician Jordan Ellenberg cautions that his formula is for entertainment purposes only, his July 2014 Wall Street Journal article suggests an index in which Amazon’s Popular Highlights feature could be used to determine how much of a given book is actually being read:
Every book’s Kindle page lists the five passages most highlighted by readers. If every reader is getting to the end, those highlights could be scattered throughout the length of the book. If nobody has made it past the introduction, the popular highlights will be clustered at the beginning. Thus, the Hawking Index (HI): Take the page numbers of a book’s five top highlights, average them, and divide by the number of pages in the whole book. The higher the number, the more of the book we’re guessing most people are likely to have read.
The Amazon-Hachette Saga Ended With Ominous Predictions for the Future
Believing that “Amazon’s tactics have caused us profound anguish and outrage,” a virtual who’s who of contemporary authors (with books from various publishing houses) formed a support group and penned a letter of protest to Amazon’s board of directors during Amazon’s and Hachette Book Group’s contract dispute, which says, “Russell Grandinetti of Amazon has stated that the company was ‘forced to [retaliate against authors] because Hachette refused to come to the table.’ He has also claimed that ‘authors are the only leverage we have.’ As one of the world’s largest corporations, Amazon was not ‘forced’ to do anything. This is an obvious fact. We all have choices. Amazon chose to involve 2,500 Hachette authors and their books. … Amazon is undermining the ability of authors to support their families, pay their mortgages, and provide for their kids’ college educations.” Amazon’s public actions—removing preorder options and delaying shipping for books by popular authors—led to outrage for many in the industry.
Even though publicly both Hachette and Amazon claimed to be satisfied by the multiyear deal they struck in mid-November 2014, most in the industry foresee more difficult times ahead in dealing with Amazon.
(Click here for Part 2.)