Monday, May 25, 2009

Media Guardian catches up with Sony

Today the printed Media Guardian is more or less sensible in looking at devices for reading. Mostly about the Amazon Kindle but the difference seems to be that Sony has sponsored aspects of the Hay Festival, a literary event with celebs such as Clive James.

If the use of such devices was accepted as normal there could be a new meaning for "reading", something young people no longer do according to some critics of the bloggers and twitterers etc. etc. I am trying to be constructive here and look for some common ground.

Publishing executives are watching developments carefully - sales of ebooks are growing fast, albeit from a small base. "I don't think we are approaching a tipping point quite yet," says Gail Rebuck, the chairman and chief executive of Random House. "If you look at ebook sales, they're less than 1% of turnover." There is, however, long-term potential: "Can I conceive of a world where digital reading takes up 20% or 25% of people's available reading time? Yes I can. Could it be as much as 50%? I don't know."

So let us imagine a time, a future Hay perhaps, when the legitimate publishing execs think of digital as 10% of business as usual. They would be reasonably polite about this presumably, not like Preston and Porter on a Sunday. My guess is that screen reading is already significant. Serious books and literary fiction (SBLF) have already lost display space in UK bookshops to what the Bookseller calls R&J (Richard and Judy promoted on TV). The 1% or turnover would not include the stuff found on the web for free.

By the way, USA publishers seem a bit ahead on adjusting to digital. Random House is in the UK but also in New York. Not sure where to find quotes from London publishers that make as much sense.

The Guardian story makes no mention of the EPUB format, a central feature of the Sony Reader. EPUB is based on open standards such as XHTML so in theory most web content could be packaged as EPUB. So far the promotion in Waterstones has featured some free classics as a bargain bundle but not really promoted the amount of free stuff. Feedbooks for example can deliver EPUB from a blog RSS or news feed such as the BBC or New York Times.

Also there is no mention of Stanza, recently bought by Amazon, capable of displaying EPUB on iPhone etc. Numbers are uncertain but it seems likely that software downloads are about two or three times the number for devices. Thinking about it, free is more likely than spending on another thing to carry.

No mention either for Scribd option to charge. This has an interest for writers, but maybe not for publishers who like blockbuster titles or newspapers who like one editorial printed several million times.

But this is only Monday. Thursday could bring some detail on file formats, how to load up a memory card and place in a Sony Reader. If the details of the EPUB format are a problem, text and PDF do work but maybe not with all the menu functions.

The actual big debate is not until Friday, as reported in the Bookseller

A panel discussion hosted by Sony entitled "Brave New World—Rights and Wrongs in the Digital Future" will take place on 29th May as part of the collaboration. The debate will focus on the power and management of online content and digital reading devices.

Those taking part include Steve Haber, president of digital reading business division of Sony electronics, Jamie Byng, m.d. of Canongate and PFD agent Caroline Michel. Jessica Powell of Google and Tom Berwick of Creative & Cultural Skills are also taking part.

Sony is also sponsoring a venue, the "Sony Screen", which will host events.

Gail Rebuck, chair and c.e.o. of Random House UK said: "I am terrifically excited about the impact of digital advances on the future landscape of publishing and I am already a convert to reading all our manuscripts on my Sony Reader."

You know what? This is sounding more exciting already. This imagined future where digital is part of the landscape may be closer than we think.

No comments: