The big gorilla is firing up

The Kindle Fire.

Amazon looks set to give the Australian book market a mighty shake-up.

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Amazon is seeking warehouse space in Australia.

The Australian’s IT section has this week run a piece outlining rumours that the Kindle Fire’s arrival in Australia is imminent.

It seems the greatest of all the ebook industry gorillas (so-named by Scribe founder Henry Rosenbloom during a speech he gave at an Australian Publishers Association conference last November) is finally setting up shop in Australia.

The SMH says Amazon.com.au changed its name to Amazon Corporate Services last year, and “has appointed two vice presidents of the American parent – Michael Deal, associate general counsel, and Jason Bristow, the online retailer’s treasurer – to the local company’s board”.

It also reports that several marketing staff have been hired here.

If it’s true that Amazon is about to make a big push into this market, what will this mean for us readers and for the rest of the industry?

In my view, it will be very bad news for any ebook retailer that has not already established a niche for itself here – I’m thinking about the Copia-powered Australian Publishers Association/Bowker Titlepage Plus solution here, but also any of the independent booksellers yet to implement an ebook strategy, and those who will have to rethink existing strategies in coming months, like Booktopia and Dymocks, who learnt just before Easter that their supplier Google was pulling out of reselling.

Kobo’s Malcolm Neil reflected at a Copyright Agency Limited event earlier this year that while Kobo still has strong market share, this had fallen as new players including Apple and Google set up shop here. Kobo was a pioneer in the Australian market, selling local ebook titles via its own site and partner retailer RedGroup for some time (starting in May 2010) before entrants like Booku, Booki.sh, ReadCloud, Apple and Google joined the fray.

Amazon’s Australian ebook stocks were limited when Kobo launched, but they had the advantage of offering the Kindle device, locked into the Kindle store, to this market for seven months before the Kobo and iPad arrived.

With a dedicated, local marketing presence and the prospect of local multimedia content (music and video in particular) becoming available via the affordable and portable 7inch Kindle Fire colour tablet here, Amazon would have the power to shake up not just the book industry, but the television, film, music and gadget market too.

Given the outcome of international legal action on book pricing has gone in Amazon’s favour, a local push will likely see further drops in ebook prices here. This will benefit consumers in the short term but will hit publishers’ bottom lines hard and is unsustainable. The greatest risk it brings is that consumers’ expectations on price will be locked in at these unsustainable levels, impacting on the future viability of many of our beloved book publishers and booksellers.

Me? I’m anti-Amazon because of this pricing strategy, and because I like to be able to choose to buy my ebooks from whichever retailer I like, be that a gorilla, Kobo or (and this is always my first preference) a local indie like Booku and those who have partnered with Booki.sh and ReadCloud.

But I have to say I’m tempted by the Kindle Fire. After nearly two years of lugging my iPad around in my handbag, I have finally given up. It stays home. My Sony Reader comes out to play. A device that has been designed for reading and offers many of the benefits of the iPad in a smaller form has definite appeal – not as much allure as the mythical iPad mini (of which there are rumours again), but a little more than the Kobo Vox, which had plenty of pluses but didn’t quite nail it for me. The rumoured Google Nexus tablet would be worth a look too.

Meanwhile, Bookseller + Publisher has a couple of big ebookish stories this week.

The first wraps up the ongoing legal stoushes in the US and Europe over the agency pricing model used by Apple and major book publishers. B+P points readers to this piece in The Bookseller.

B+P also reports that Kobo is expanding into new international markets and is set to launch its global self-publishing program within months.

Non-Stop News November: Part II

Gleebooks’s ebooks site.

Google has announced that it will power ebook offerings from national retail chains The Co-op Bookshop (which sells primarily academic and trade books on-campus) and QBD The Bookshop (a clearing house and discount specialist) soon (in addition to those of launch partners Dymocks and Booktopia, whose Google eBooks-fed sites went live three weeks ago).

Like Amazon, Google has an affiliate program whereby booksellers, publishers, web site operators and bloggers can sign up to take a commission on books sold when they refer their users to Google eBooks.

It sounds tempting to a blogger like me until you consider the fact that you’re sending your readers’ money offshore, rather than supporting a local business like Booku or your local bricks and mortar indie, an thus potentially encouraging the contraction of the market. One of the main reasons I still buy the odd printed book is to make sure my local indie, and its equivalents in various holiday destinations, stay in business.

Hopefully the indies are looking at options for offering a similar set-up to like-minded bloggers and publishers.

Speaking of indies, other adventurous bricks and mortar bookshops (in addition to those working with ReadCloud as mentioned in the previous post here) that will face the search engine results challenge from Google are those in partnership with another cloud-based ereading start-up, Melbourne’s Booki.sh.

Booki.sh, which is based on a web browser rather than downloadable file model, partnered with Victorian indie chain Readings to launch a pilot store in January this year. In November, they helped Sydney favourite Gleebooks, Tasmania’s Fullers, Queensland’s Mary Ryan’s (also in Byron Bay), Melbourne’s Books for Cooks and Brisbane’s community minded Avid Reader to enter the ebook market.

All of the indies battle existing giants The Book Depository and its new owner Amazon as well as Apple and Kobo (which powers Collins Booksellers’ ebook offerings here as well as the now Pearson-owned Borders/Angus & Robertson online store and the standalone Kobo online store).

Speaking of giants, Pearson is the parent company of Penguin Books, and speaking of a big month in the book industry, Canadian-founded Kobo was bought out (for $US315 million) a few weeks back by Japanese ecommerce company Rakuten in a move expected to encourage its growth.

On Kobo, did you know that like Dymocks, it has recently followed in Amazon’s footsteps and announced plans to publish books as well as being a seller of them?

Are you keeping up with the nation’s most recent book news? It’s exhausting, isn’t it?

I haven’t even gotten to the Federal Government’s Book Industry Strategy Group, which handed down its final report on November 9 (the same day as the ReadCloud/Pages & Pages event and the day after Google eBooks arrived in Australia), or the planned Australian Publishers Association/Bowker Titlepage-based ebook retail platform (the final piece in the ebook retail puzzle in this country).

My take on those in the next post, Part III, coming soon to uBookish. Read Part I here.

Non-Stop News November: Part I

Click on the image to see the Google advantage in action.
After more than two years of watching their local publishing colleagues get digital, tech giant international competitors eat into their market, and a handful of locals like Booku.com enter the fray, many of Australia’s top independent booksellers are finally, happily, in a position to provide their customers with ebooks … in time for Christmas, too.

It’s great news for the industry and for consumers. The more players there are in the market, the more seriously the publishers will have to be about meeting our demands, by which I mean providing us with the ebooks we want to read, at an appropriate price point, when we want to read them.

The more Australian retail players there are in the ebook market, the more virtual hand-selling of our own authors’ works there will be, and, one would hope as a result, the more Australian authors being published.

The opportunity that indie ebookstores bring to sell Australian – and in specific cases, hyper-local – books to a global market has to be a good for our literary scene too.

Serendipitous meetings with books we’re sure to love are just as much more likely in an online indie as a bricks and mortar in my view. See how long it takes you to find a book you’d like to buy when browsing in Apple’s iBookstore compared to Booku and you’ll see what I mean.

Speaking of multinationals, it intrigues me that while Google had been talking about launching its ebookstore in Australia for more than a year, it chose to go live the day before the first of several independent bricks and mortar Australian booksellers opened their own ebook arms last month.

The search engine behemoth announced the opening of its own ebookstore, and two others in which is partner (with Dymocks – which is separately soon to launch its own publishing arm, D Publishing – and Booktopia), on November 8, several days after the invitations for the November 9 opening of Mosman indie Pages & Pages’ launch (in partnership with Australian social reading tech start-up ReadCloud), had gone out. A coincidence? Perhaps.

Pages & Pages will be followed later this month (or not long after) by fellow ReadCloud partners including Better Read than Dead (of Newtown), Shearer’s (Leichhardt), Abbey’s (Sydney city) and indie chain Berkelouw. ReadCloud says it is working with some 200 bookstores.

Some will sell the previously mentioned Cumulus tablet.

All of them will face a great challenge from Google in that many of their customers will find them via a Google search. Will Google eBooks pop up in those same search results? A quick test suggests yes, it will, though not at the top of the page. Not yet, not on my terminal, anyway. That said, take a look at the image below and see where Google eBooks appears when you search for “eBooks Sydney”.

For more on Google’s plans in Australia and details of the latest Booki.sh-powered indie ebookstore launches, see Part II here.

Cumulus adds colour to the ereader scene

The Cumulus at Pages & Pages.
Started your Christmas shopping yet?

I’ve been wishing my family all had ereaders so that I could give them Booku vouchers, or that I had enough cash stashed away to buy them a Kobo, Sony Reader, Kindle, iPad or the newest kid on the block, the Cumulus.

The Cumulus is a colour tablet based on Google’s Android mobile operating system. It’ll soon be available in a handful of bricks and mortar bookstores, mainly in Sydney. Some of our more cutting-edge outlets, like that of Australian Booksellers Association president Jon Page, Pages & Pages in Mosman, Sydney, have decided to encourage ebook reading rather than hoping the digital revolution will go away.

I had a play around with the Cumulus last week at its very own launch party at Pages & Pages (which coincided with the launch of that retailer’s own ebookstore, powered by Australian social reading start-up ReadCloud).

The Cumulus has some positive selling points: it’s cheap for a colour device at $199, it’s smaller and lighter than the iPad (and not that much heavier than e-ink devices like those from Kindle or Kobo), and given it runs on Android, offers access to plenty of unbookish apps and content as well as ereading. Users can download books from most ebookstores (including Booku.com) and read them on the device, which makes it much more versatile than a locked-in-to-Amazon Kindle. There’s even a camera, though not a very powerful one (1.3 megapixel).

The Cumulus measures 193mm x 115mm x 12.5mm and weighs 380g. The battery lasts for seven hours and takes three hours to fully charge.

But the 7″ capacitive touchscreen frustrated me. No doubt I’ve been spoilt by the super responsive screens Apple’s iGadgets sport.

A year or so ago I reviewed Telstra’s ridiculously named Telstra’s T Touch Tab, or was it Touch T Tab? Not a name that will be remembered as one of the greats.

Cumulus, now there’s a name suited to our cloud tech times.

Anyway, the Telstra tablet was awful. It was heavy, clunky, and featured a strange metal fold out stand and a touchscreen that required extra oomph in each swipe or tap. My mother received a free one with her home broadband bundle a few months later and never even took it out of the box. I read recently that they’ve discontinued the product and was not surprised.

The Cumulus’s screen reminds me a little of that of the T Tab. It was more reactive, but not as sensitive as those of my iPhone or iPad.

I’d always be prepared to pay more for a device with a responsive touchscreen, especially for reading where swiping to turn the page is a fairly regular occurrence.

So as it turns out, I won’t be buying a Cumulus, or a Kindle, for either of my parents this Christmas.

I am still keen to take a look at the Kobo Vox, which is $100 more expensive than the Cumulus but hopefully worth it, and to compare the new e-ink Kobo Touch and latest Sony Reader.

The Vox is due to hit the market here later this month, but the Sony Reader is available now. Sony have lent me one for a week to test. Stay tuned for my review.