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Old 04-17-2007, 06:43 PM   #1
6charlong
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what is Sony thinking?

So here’s my thinking: It’s an accepted notion that if people know that you’ve made a better product then they will choose it.

SONY engineers made a very good product in the SONY Portable Reader System so it should sell very well. But if Sony Readers aren’t selling very well indeed, then that fact should serve as a warning to SONY (and presumably the other manufacturers of eBook readers) that they are doing something wrong.

PROPOSITION: An eBook reader is better than going to the library to get a paper book to the extent that it makes a library of books far more accessible to the public.

PROPOSED: That for the SONY Reader or any other eBook system to succeed there must be a good supply of books: enough to create a useful library.

Modern publishing houses receive manuscripts in digital form and they print books using digitally formatted text. If SONY expects publishing houses to publish their books for the Reader, they must have distributed automated converter tools to enable publishers to transform digital files into BBeB files. This must exist because if Sony failed to provide the conversion tools there simply would not be many BBeB books available, and those that are published would have to be expensed to cover the labor cost of manual conversion. That would make Sony eBooks as expensive as paper books, thus ending the chances for the SONY Reader to reach its potential.

The principle gateway to any advanced civilization is its written record; literature, poetry, history, mathematics and all of the sciences are preserved in written form. Although most of the modern record is copyrighted, the foundational record, I mean the old classics of World Civilization are not.

Isn’t it logical to think that SONY would do all they can to encourage volunteers to put the collection of classic works in BBeB form and encourage the free and wide distribution of the library of classics? Surely Sony must want the Reader to succeed or they wouldn’t have created it, so why haven’t they made their conversion tools available to volunteers to get started converting those thousands of classic books?

There is so much left to do. We need to put a large volume of reader enabled classics in the Public Libraries as well as on-line. Magazine publishers need to start publishing via email to book readers rather than just using the Postal Service. Volunteer translators are needed to translate classics in one civilization into a language accessible to people who speak a different language in order to help knit a true world civilization together. Internet sites are needed to index and describe the importance of the works. Given the place of search tools, all of these efforts need to move forward before Sony and others create some wifi enabled version of the PRS with real search capability. However it seems to me that time is running short for them to get started if Sony wants into the market soon enough to stay in.

So why haven't they put the conversion tools in the public domain?
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Old 04-17-2007, 07:28 PM   #2
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Welcome to MobileRead, 6charlong! Nice first post!

I can't speak for Sony, obviously, and I haven't the slightest idea what they're thinking is in regard to not releasing their conversion tools (what you're saying makes sense to me, 6charlong), but I can take a guess at one thing, the bit about a supply of books.

They're aware that Project Gutenberg exists (if I recall correctly from when I talked with them at the Blogger's Day and the Texas Book Festival), and they're further aware that ManyBooks does a Sony LRF format of PG texts (in fact, encouraged them to point out the existence of those sites on their packaging!). So I think it's a safe guess that they would consider those as an available pool of books, especially as the Reader takes RTF files.

Additionally, they do have their own store: the Connect Store may still be relatively small in content, and the Connect Software still has ... lots of room for improvement, shall we say? But they are actively working on a pool of new material.

If they did release their conversion tools, which I'd personally love and applaud, then all that would really do is allow the hoards of users to effectively replicate PG in LRF format ... which is already happening over at ManyBooks.net on an automated basis.

Then again, there's the (strong) possibility that the tools they use might be way on the "not" side of "user-friendly" (as such internal tools often tend to be) and as such their release would be less help than hindrance. However, they could release a full set of the specs (they have already released a goodly portion of them) so that those making their own homebrew (and very full-featured) conversion tools could jump through all the hoops that much more efficiently.
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Old 04-17-2007, 07:32 PM   #3
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Welcome to MobileRead 6charlong.

Sony offers through their own CONNECT bookstore some of the current best sellers and a thin array of publisher's back catalog materials. Project Gutenberg has made classics available for many years in electronic form and the list grows larger every month. ManyBooks.net offers most of the PG books already formatted in LRF for the Sony Reader. FeedBooks.com offers a growing selection of books available in PDF files formatted for the Sony Reader. Blackhawk and Silk Pagoda offer DVDs of over 10,000 books formatted in either PDF or LRF for the Sony Reader. Add to that the many other sources of free eBooks like the Baen Free Library or the download section here at MobileRead and you have the ability to fill the Reader many times over with the best literature available for almost nothing.

Where most of the discussion centers now is on that group of books that are too new to be in the public domain; but, not new enough to be thought of as a big seller by the publishers. These are the ones that many are calling for the publishers and authors to either make available in ebook format or to release into the public domain. (Or at least to allow Project Gutenberg or ManyBooks to make available.)

As for the conversion tools from Sony, I find the books converted by BookDesigner to be superior to those offered by Sony through the CONNECT store.
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Old 04-18-2007, 02:42 PM   #4
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6charlong, I think you propose exactly the opposite business model from the Sony business model. In your model, Sony makes money for every person who reads books on their reader. The "reading books" marketplace is saturated, anyone can get any book they want, consider all the bookstores that have closed since Amazon.Com opened. In order to maximize sales, they can't charge much of a premium per reader since they are attacking a saturated market. If the publishers make and distribute books using open source tools, then Sony makes nothing per book. The earnings from your model are:

Earnings = small * number_readers + 0 * number_books_read

Sony is informed by their Playstation product, since playing games is a hobby like reading books. In this model you make little to nothing on the game player, producing a demand for accessories and game content. Then you tightly control these products to maximize profits. The earnings in the Sony model are:

Earnings = 0 * number_readers + medium * number_books_read

That's why you can't sell or give away eBooks you've read, they know number_books_read is > number_books. They've moved out of a saturated marketplace with small margins (books or handheld electronics, whichever you think the reader is) and into a marketplace with limited supply, one provider, and hopefully higher margins. If they could get this approach to work, like Apple did with iPod, then the Reader will be a business success. If we all decide to run BD on Baen/Gutenberg/... book sources and read those instead they will have the worst case scenario earnings:

Earnings = 0 * number_readers + medium * 0.05 * number_books_read

That will be the death of the Sony Reader, IMHO.
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Old 04-18-2007, 04:13 PM   #5
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I'd love to know how much revenue the Connect store brings in. As in, is it working how Sony planned? I used my $50 credit and that was it. Maybe if they were all under $4-$5 I'd be interested, but not full retail.
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Old 04-18-2007, 04:59 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RSaunders
If the publishers make and distribute books using open source tools, then Sony makes nothing per book... They've moved out of a saturated marketplace with small margins (books or handheld electronics, whichever you think the reader is) and into a marketplace with limited supply, one provider, and hopefully higher margins. If they could get this approach to work, like Apple did with iPod, then the Reader will be a business success. If we all decide to run BD on Baen/Gutenberg/... book sources and read those instead they will have the worst case scenario earnings...
Good point. But with the iPod, you can easily import MP3 files from sources other than iTunes, and this doesn't make for a losing earnings scenario for Apple. Even without iTunes, they've taken the MP3 player market hands-down.

Sony should be able to sell a reader successfully, even if they don't control the content. How? Make a reader everyone wants, and no one can refuse... the iPod of readers. Connect is just icing on the cake. Sony can't assume they can control the content market (I'm 2 steps away from releasing my own novels in LRF format!), so they should concentrate on making the best damned reader possible, at a price point no one can refuse.
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Old 04-18-2007, 05:29 PM   #7
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We need to be willing to buy content.

I believe that in order for the EReader of any variety to be access we the user community need to be willing to pay for content. I do not believe that ereaders will be a success if we as a community only look to “free” books for content. I am a very avid reader but I must admit there are only some many titles at PG that I want to read. I want newer content. That means paying for it.

I am willing to pay “book store” prices for a paper back, so why not an ebook. Yes I think that they should be cheaper than paper books because of less printing, transport, inventory costs, etc. but I am still willing to pay for my content. This is the only way that there will be enough current content from the best most marketable authors ever available. With content will come a better “Business Case” for people to buy a reader.

No $$ paid for new current content = no market for new readers.

I am a new Ebook user, has not actual arrived yet, and I am disappointed in the number of people in this forum who are looking only for free content.

Just the new bees thoughts on the subject.
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Old 04-18-2007, 05:36 PM   #8
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But with the iPod, you can easily import MP3 files from sources other than iTunes, and this doesn't make for a losing earnings scenario for Apple. Even without iTunes, they've taken the MP3 player market hands-down.
I find myself wondering if some of that effect might not be psychological.

What I mean is, folks might react negatively to a music player that only plays one format, and/or is locked into a single source of music, and resist buying any such device. (we see a lot of that sort of attitude on e-readers too)

But what Apple did was say, "okay, here's a really cool music player that'll play whatever music you have electronically -- oh, and by the way, we've got a service that sells music too, but that music can only play on our players." (that's changing now, of course)

My theory is that by doing that, they may have avoided (most of) the reflexive resistance to a 'locked' device, by offering an 'unlocked' device and a 'locked' content service (said locked service was needful in getting the content providers to buy into the idea). And then, once folks have the devices, they decide that maybe that really easy iTunes Store with the huge selection of music, isn't so bad and scary after all, and why not just buy their new stuff there after they're done ripping all their existing CDs?

Of course, that's also what Sony's trying to do by allowing more 'standard' file formats, and offering the ConnStore (though it's got a ways to go before it gets easy or big). True, in this case the approach suffers some from a lack of an existing, widely held, large pool of digital content already in the users' hands, but there you go.

I have noticed that folks tend to react negatively to the idea of the ConnStore, until they hear about RTF support (when I mention them in that order), and that they don't seem to be disturbed by the ConnStore if I tell them about the RTF support first.

Just my random thoughts, there, and they're fairly fresh, so salt to taste.
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Old 04-18-2007, 05:46 PM   #9
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Welcome to MobileRead, BruceW!
Quote:
Originally Posted by BruceW
No $$ paid for new current content = no market for new readers.

I am a new Ebook user, has not actual arrived yet, and I am disappointed in the number of people in this forum who are looking only for free content.

Just the new bees thoughts on the subject.
And it's an excellent thought. I think most of us are, indeed willing to pay for content, I personally love Baen's Webscriptions service, and patronize it as much as I can, as do a number of others that I'm aware of.

However, if there are books in the Public Domain that are available for free, then I'm certainly not morally opposed to free. At the same time, I think that donations to the efforts that produce and distribute them are are the responsible thing to do.

There is, of course, a segment of society that will never pay for anything if they can get it for free, however dubious the getting might be, but I don't think they're the majority here at MR. Frankly, there are a number of us that patronize Sony's Connect Store, even though we'd really rather not have the DRM that comes with it, specifically to encourage Sony's efforts ... and in hopes that the book DRM will continue on the path that music DRM seems to be taking, and render the whole point moot.
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Old 04-18-2007, 06:17 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NatCh

However, if there are books in the Public Domain that are available for free, then I'm certainly not morally opposed to free. At the same time, I think that donations to the efforts that produce and distribute them are are the responsible thing to do.
Also I think that many of us in this forum enjoy the work we do to modify the books to a more useful format. This can only be done for 1) ourselves with books we've bought or 2) public domain books where we can share the fruites of our labors.
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Old 04-18-2007, 06:19 PM   #11
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I think you're right, slayda, I certainly do so.
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Old 04-18-2007, 08:44 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NatCh
My theory is that by doing that, they may have avoided (most of) the reflexive resistance to a 'locked' device, by offering an 'unlocked' device and a 'locked' content service (said locked service was needful in getting the content providers to buy into the idea). And then, once folks have the devices, they decide that maybe that really easy iTunes Store with the huge selection of music, isn't so bad and scary after all, and why not just buy their new stuff there after they're done ripping all their existing CDs?
Well, iPods were out before there was iTunes... but iPods still sold like gandbusters, because of their cool look, their ease of use, and their ability to play unlocked content. When iTunes came along later, the devices were already everywhere and popular, so this was a way to add to iPod's already-established value... which I think overrided the public's resistance to a "locked" device.

Following that logic, Sony should have introduced a way-cool device that could read popular formats, get them into everybody's hands, then introduce the Connect store to add to the reader's value. Releasing the device and service together took away the chance to establish the reader as way-cool device on its own... it's public perception becomes tied to Connect, and Connect's success will impact on the reader's success to an extent. But further down the line, new reader features could serve to distinguish it beyond Connect.
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Old 04-18-2007, 10:08 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RSaunders
6charlong, I think you propose exactly the opposite business model from the Sony business model. In your model, Sony makes money for every person who reads books on their reader. The "reading books" marketplace is saturated, anyone can get any book they want, consider all the bookstores that have closed since Amazon.Com opened. In order to maximize sales, they can't charge much of a premium per reader since they are attacking a saturated market. If the publishers make and distribute books using open source tools, then Sony makes nothing per book. The earnings from your model are:

Earnings = small * number_readers + 0 * number_books_read

Sony is informed by their Playstation product, since playing games is a hobby like reading books. In this model you make little to nothing on the game player, producing a demand for accessories and game content. Then you tightly control these products to maximize profits. The earnings in the Sony model are:

Earnings = 0 * number_readers + medium * number_books_read
I think this is a very wise post. You've certainly nailed the reason for the current state of things. However, there's a third possibility for earnings:

Earnings = small * number_readers + medium * number_books_read

I wouldn't be surprised if this is the model with the Reader, seeing as the hardware *does* cost $350. In fact, I think this would be the wise way to go.

I really hope they're not banking on sales of content to keep the Reader business alive. In one sense it's valuable to them, because a high initial price scares off many potential buyers, and sales of books can offset the loss.

But I really think that any business trying to make a living on content alone (especially when they stand to take a loss if they *don't* sell content) isn't designing their business model around the realities of the 21st century. Content is rapidly being driven downwards in price by ease of sharing owned content and the ease of publishing one's own content. Imagine what the YouTube of eBooks would look like, and which business model would do best in that circumstance.

The only thing that allows the second business model to work with games is a highly controlled game publishing business. It's impossible to make legitimate PlayStation games without Sony's approval, and very hard to make illegitimate ones. The direct opposite is true for books.

So, if they can't make money (or at least, not much money) selling books, and they need to sell the Reader cheap.... What's the solution? Personally, I think they should go the cellphone route and sell cheap Reader hardware bundled with a subscription plan to a bunch of content. Sign up for two years of access to the Connect library, get a cheap Reader. If you don't want the Connect membership, a Reader will cost you full price.
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Old 04-18-2007, 10:09 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RSaunders
If they could get this approach to work, like Apple did with iPod, then the Reader will be a business success.
The above quote is a misuderstanding of the Apple approach. iTunes is a marginal money maker/loser for Apple since most of the song price goes back to the music company. Apple makes its money on the device, the iPod itself.

The proprietary approach for books is never going to work (Gemstar tried it, Sony tried it with the Librie) and if Sony reader or any other device is marketed on the make money on content approach, that device will fail sooner or later and deservedly so. The game analogue is flawed since you cannot play games any other way, while you can read books with your eyes and no device.

Make a good reader and charge enough to make a decent profit on it...

As I mentioned I never am going to buy an e-book that I cannot read on any reader that I want, and I am not going to spend on an e-book more than 6-7$ unless I get something extra of value to me (like the Baen 15-20 or so e-arcs that I spent 15$ happily to read 4-5 months prepublication, or JBU/GG where I bought e-arc subscriptions for 50$ year each). I am willing to pay for content but I am not willing to be ripped off.
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Old 04-18-2007, 10:14 PM   #15
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Okay, so my sequence of events was a bit off (thanks, Steve), and that knocks my theory a bit of kilter.

But in the case of e-Readers, you could make a case that there wasn't all that big a pool of books available to begin with (you could also make a case that there's still not ) since most folks (even now) don't know about PG, et. al., so they couldn't really follow the iPod/iTunes path too faithfully anyway.

But what you've said makes me think even more that they should make a point of playing up the texts available elsewhere, to avoid tying the Reader too closely to the ConnStore in people's minds.

Getting folks used to the idea of e-reading is what will get them buying books, and a good way to do that is to point out that they can already do so without DRM, and a lot of good stuff is available free, and oh, by the way, there's this Sony store too.
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