Sometimes things happen in threes; at least that is the superstition. Yesterday was literary triplicate. In three unrelated announcements, the book publishing world saw an acquisition, a product introduction and a website makeover.
On the merger front, in the niche of author driven self-publishing services, Author House acquired rival iUniverse for undisclosed terms. Both companies, which compete against Amazon (via its Book Surge Division), Lulu and smaller services like Blurb, provide a range of services for handling book design, layout, printing and post-print marketing.
In the remodeling realm, Google (which along with Amazon and Microsoft has been racing to scan and archive books for some time now) introduced a revamped version of Google Book Search. The new design allows viewers to create their own personal libraries and brings better search utilities for the books scanned into their database. Google will also reportedly begin charging customers for some copies of books in their catalog. Publishers will set a price and Google will manage the transaction and share revenue.
With products, and taking the prize for the surprise news of the day, it was revealed that retail giant Amazon’s much speculated entry into the consumer electronics sector will come in October. Kindle, a digital book eReader gadget will compete against Sony’s Reader. It is based on a proprietary ebook format that will be sold only through Amazon. Kindle will sell for $400 to $500. Owners will be able to connect wireless to an Amazon digital bookstore to buy books. The will also be able to use the WiFi enabled device as a web browser.
eBooks generally haven’t been a big hit with consumers. They’ve been awkward, difficult on the eyes, and not terribly user friendly. Since early efforts the technology has improved dramatically. Sony’s Reader uses an advanced display technology from E Ink that has less glare than a normal screen; even mimicking the appearance of paper. Amazon’s Kindle will use a similar screen, also from E Ink.
The biggest question facing Kindle (besides whether eBooks will now find a market in the $35b a year book industry) is whether Amazon’s choice to force adoption/acceptance of their proprietary standard will encourage or hinder sales. It’s a debate eerily parallel to DRM discussions in the music industry; battles about whether open standards or closed ones are best.