Pottermore and the digital publishing extravaganza

ebook publishing is taking off in more way than one. Back in April the Association of American Publishers reported triple-digit growth in ebook sales. Earlier this week Louise Voss and Mark Edwards became the first “indie authors” to top the UK ebooks chart.

Finally to top it all off, JK Rowling, author of the iconic “Harry Potter” series announced yesterday that she is launching the digital version of her work on her own site and leaving her publisher in the cold.

All these interesting developments that are currently happening in the digital publishing industry, where should I start?

  1. Sign up to the digital transformation or lose out – Established publishers like Random House and Penguin are in the process of becoming a digital content provider (as opposed to just a supplier of physical or digital books).
  2. There is more to come though – Publishers are slowly starting to make content available on multiple media, in multiple formats on multiple platforms (think apps, audio, video and games).
  3. Self publishing – The recent success of authors like John Locke, Mark Edwards and Louise Voss clearly shows that authors do not need a big publisher (and its marketing budget) to be successful.
  4. Cut out the middleman – J.K. Rowling is taking self-publishing to the next level by creating her own “Pottermore” online bookstore. Even though Bloomsbury, her publisher, is said to get a set percentage, online ebook retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Nobles are likely to miss out on all the action.
  5. New tools and players galore! – Tools like Kindle Direct Publishing make it easy to publish and sell your own books. Crickey, even ebook signs can now be done online! If you still need assistance, for instance to create your interactive promotional site or to convert your book into an interactive game, agencies like Smashing Ideas and Think are more than happy to help out.

Main learning point: I learned that the face of traditional book publishing is changing rapidly. Publishers can either adapt and fully embrace this change or ‘undergo’ things halfheartedly and view it all as necessary evil. As for the latter option, the record industry made that mistake and are now paying for it dearly. I say: “bring on exclusive John Grisham content through his own interactive site, EA launching “The Last Juror” game and him throwing “The Innocent Man” videos on YouTube!”

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Early days but wallet-less payments are the future

Using your mobile to pay for everyday things is definitely something we are going to hear more about over the months and years to come. A few months ago I wrote about the Mobile Money Network which aims to make shopping easier and now I’ve learned about businesses like Google, Orange and Verizon entering this arena.

The whole idea of ‘wallet-less’ paying is quite an appealing one. In simple terms, it comes down to cashless transactions via your mobile, without even having to get your wallet or credit card out to enter your payment details.

The underlying technology is based on the concept of Near Field Technology (NFC) which allows a device, usually a mobile phone, to collect data from another device or NFC tag at close range. Users are thus able to use their phones as a touch-payment system. To give an example, the soon to be launched Google Wallet is likely to work as follows:

  1. Link Google Wallet to your Google account – When you first launch the Google Wallet app on your smartphone, you will be asked to attach your Google account to your app.
  2. Enter your credit card information – You enter the details of your debit or credit card into the app.
  3. Back-end verification – Your bank will be involved in a back-end process to verify your card data.
  4. All clear – Assuming that the verification does not throw any surprises, the bank will give the “OK” for your mobile payment.

Main learning point: I learned that even though it’s early days, mobile payments are definitely the next big thing in terms of mobile technology. The ease and simplicity with which users will be able to pay by just tapping their smartphone screens could be a real winner. However, I do feel there will be a lot of ground to cover before this becomes a reality and a mainstream success. I can imagine that security and privacy are consumer concerns that need to be addressed for wallet-less payments to be adopted by the masses.

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iCloud: what’s all the hype about?

This week saw Apple launching its iCloud music streaming and online data storage service. It will enable users to instantly access any song purchased on iTunes on any device. Anything downloaded from the iTunes Store will be made available on all your Apple devices for free.

In addition, for $25 a year, iTunes Match will take every song from your iTunes library – including those songs ripped from your CD collection or downloaded ‘elsewhere’ – and store them on Apple servers in the cloud.

Users will thus be able to download any of their (up to 20,000) tracks stored in the cloud onto their iPad/iPhone/Mac/PC without spending hours transferring the music across.

Since the official introduction of iCloud at the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) earlier this week there has been a quite of hype about it. But what is it all about, what makes iCloud different from any of the other cloud based services?

  1. It’s Apple! – By default, every WWDC is looked at with much anticipation, by developers and users alike. However, Apple cynics see iCloud as yet another way to tie customers further into the Apple eco-system.
  2. It includes non-iTunes purchased songs – iTunes Match will enable users to store any songs ripped from their CDs or downloaded/purchased elsewhere.
  3. It has two advantages over its main competitors – Unlike iCloud’s competition – Amazon’s Cloud Drive and Google’s Music Beta – Apple seems to have agreements in place with most of the major music labels and publishers. More importantly, Apple has the complimentary hardware that the likes of Amazon, Google or Dropbox don’t have. If you already own a Mac or an iPhone it does make a lot of sense to use iCloud and to sign up for iTunes Match.

Main learning point: I now have a better understanding of what all the hype has been about. Apple has launched a free cloud-based storage service that promises user friendliness and the end of worrying about licensing and digital rights. However, for iCloud to fullfil its promise I believe it all comes down to uptake and web access: “will users buy (into) iTunes Match?” and “will iCloud eventually become accessible via the web (and not just via Apple devices)?” It will be interesting to see whether (a) Apple customers are willing to move their music libraries to the cloud as well as pay for iTunes Match and (b) whether Apple will launch iCloud web apps in the near future.

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Alpha.gov.uk: UK Government goes Agile

It was interesting to find out more the other day about alpha.gov.uk a new site by the UK Government. At first I was confused; “wasn’t there already a central online hub for the UK Government’s services in the form of Directgov?” Directgov was only established a few years ago and enables users to search and complete a range of tasks, for example pay Council Tax or find childcare. So how is alpha.gov.uk different?

  1. It’s all about creating a single web domain – Similar to BBC.co.uk the site aims to host a range of tools addressing the most popular user needs.
  2. It’s a prototype! Rather than spending years (and a lot of public money) on creating a full-fledged site, alpha.gov.uk is just a prototype to gather feedback from users at a very early development stage.
  3. ‘Real feedback from real users’ – The beauty of releasing a site as a prototype is that you can generate real-time feedback from actual users who come to the site for a real reason (and not because of user testing purposes).
  4. It’s all about how it was built – Creating a change in the way gov.uk sites are developed was an important goal behind alpha.gov.uk. The site was developed in an agile way, using cheaper, open source software technologies and concentrating predominantly on meeting as many user needs as possible.

In the space of about 10 weeks, Tom Loosemore and his team have done something which probably would have taken any UK government body ages to achieve: the creation of a single platform which integrates a whole host of apps, APIs and bits of content. Even though alpha.gov.uk is only at the prototype stage, it shows the promise of a platform that can be extended rapidly and easily.

Main learning point: even though alpha.gov.uk is by no means the finished article it does show a lot of promise. It’s very candid in what it is not but it gives the user a good flavour of what a single government website could look like. The fact that alpha.gov.uk is a single platform which can be built upon relatively quickly and cheaply is a massive achievement in itself. I guess what I like most about the site is that it was created using an iterative approach, with a healthy dose of pragmatism and user focus.

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