Category Archives: iPad

The Mongoliad iPad and iPhone apps are now available

The Mongoliad apps for iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch are now available in the iTunes store. (For more information about The Mongoliad, the collaborative storytelling project headed by Neal Stephenson, see my earlier post or go to The Mongoliad website.)

The apps are free, but to read the serialized novel and view the extras you’ll have to buy a subscription ($5.99 for six months or $9.99 for one year). If you’ve already subscribed through the website, you should be able to log in to the app using your existing account.

Chapters 1 through 9 of the novel have been released, and new chapters appear every Wednesday.


The Mongoliad begins…

The Mongoliad launched this morning. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, see my earlier post, “The Mongoliad, a “sekrit project” from Neal Stephenson and friends,” or these articles from Fast Company or VentureBeat.

You can explore The Mongoliad website and read the free preview content, but you’ll need a subscription to read the novel, which will be published in serialized weekly chapters over the course of a year. (The first chapter of the story was released today.) Subscription rates start at $5.99 for six months or $9.99 for one year. Subscribers will also have access to the Forum and other goodies (art, video, music, etc.) as they are released.

If you’d prefer to read The Mongoliad on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, the apps will be available soon (once they receive the Apple stamp of approval). Apps for other devices will follow in time.

And yes, Matt and I are minor members of The Cabal, but you won’t get any spoilers out of us.

Update: New chapters of the serialized novel will be posted every Wednesday. (The first chapter was posted on September 1st, and the second chapter will be posted on September 8th.)

New Update, 10/31/10: The Mongoliad apps for iPad and iPhone are now available. See my new post for more information.

The Mongoliad, a “sekrit project” from Neal Stephenson and friends

Here’s a preview of The Mongoliad, a new collaborative storytelling project headed by Neal Stephenson:

The Mongoliad is a rip-roaring adventure tale set in 1241, a pivotal year in history, when Europe thought that the Mongol Horde was about to completely destroy their world. The Mongoliad is also the beginning of an experiment in storytelling, technology, and community-driven creativity.

Our story begins with a serial novel of sorts, which we will release over the course of about a year. Neal Stephenson created the world in which The Mongoliad is set, and presides benevolently over it. Our first set of stories is being written by Neal, Greg Bear, Nicole Galland, Mark Teppo, and a number of other authors; we’re also working closely with artists, fight choreographers & other martial artists, programmers, film-makers, game designers, and a bunch of other folks to produce an ongoing stream of nontextual, para-narrative, and extra-narrative stuff which we think brings the story to life in ways that are pleasingly unique, and which can’t be done in any single medium.

Very shortly, once The Mongoliad has developed some mass and momentum, we will be asking fans to join us in creating the rest of the world and telling new stories in it. That’s where the real experiment part comes in. We are building some pretty cool tech to make that easy and fun, and we hope lots of you will use it.

People will be able to get The Mongoliad over the web and via custom clients for mobile devices – we’re going to start out with iPad, iPhone, Android, and Kindle apps, and will probably do more in the not too distant future.

Stay tuned. Fun stuff coming!

On May 25th there will be a sneak peak of the alpha version at the SF App Show. Here are links to The Mongoliad’s website and Facebook page, and you can sign up for e-mail updates here.

Update, 9/1/10: The Mongoliad has launched. See my new post for more information.

Amazon threatens publishers again

This morning brings news (from an article in the New York Times and a blog post in MobyLives) that Amazon “has threatened to stop directly selling the books of some publishers online unless they agree to a detailed list of concessions regarding the sale of electronic books” (NYT).

Amazon is trying to prevent publishers from making deals with Apple to sell their ebooks on the iPad using the agency model. Amazon is apparently refusing to negotiate an agency model with any publishers other than the five majors who’ve already made deals with Apple. According to the MobyLives post, independent publishers are being told that “if they switched to an agency model for ebooks, Amazon would stop selling their entire list, in print and digital form.”

Amazon and Apple are each requiring publishers to agree to restrictive terms, which may in effect force publishers to choose between Amazon and Apple. From the Times article:

Five of the country’s six largest publishers — Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins and Penguin — have already reached deals with Apple to sell their books through its iBookstore, which will be featured on the iPad. (The holdout is Random House.)

Under those agreements, the publishers will set consumer prices for each book, and Apple will serve as an agent and take a 30 percent commission. E-book editions of most newly released adult general fiction and nonfiction will cost $12.99 to $14.99.

Amazon has agreed in principle that the major publishers would be able to set prices in its Kindle store as well. But it is also demanding that they lock into three-year contracts and guarantee that no other competitor will get lower prices or better terms.

Apple, for its part, is requiring that publishers not permit other retailers to sell any e-books for less than what is listed in the iBookstore. So the publishers have sought to renegotiate agreements they have with Amazon under which they sold books to it at wholesale, allowing Amazon to set the consumer price….

According to three people briefed on the discussions, publishers are reluctant to sign three-year contracts because the digital book world is changing so rapidly and they want room to adjust as it takes shape.

Amazon has also begun talking with smaller publishers that have not yet signed contracts with Apple. In those conversations, according to one person briefed on the discussions, Amazon has said it prefers to retain its wholesale pricing model, as opposed to Apple’s so-called agency model.

But some of these smaller publishers have begun talking with Apple, which has effectively said that any publisher that wishes to sell its books on the iPad must offer the same terms to all booksellers. In other words, to do business with Apple, publishers must export Apple’s business model to all retailers. Amazon, by contrast, has not promised to adopt the agency approach for any but the largest publishers.

Amazon appears to be responding to the Apple threat by waging a publisher-by-publisher battle, trying to keep as many books as possible out of Apple’s hands, while preserving as much flexibility as it can to set its own prices.

But if Amazon tries to enforce its demands by removing “buy” buttons from some pages again, some believe it could harm its reputation in the eyes of customers and the publishing industry….

Amazon may have more leverage with smaller publishers, which typically sell their books in fewer outlets and thus tend to rely more on Amazon for sales. Amazon may believe that if it can keep those publishers from moving to an agency model, Apple will choose not to sell their e-books, and Amazon will be seen as having a broader selection.

For those of you who want a reminder of the Amazon/Macmillan boycott battle and the ebook agency vs. wholesale sales model controversy, here are links to a two of my blog posts about it from late January and early February:

Day 5 of Amazon’s boycott of Macmillan books (and authors)

This is day 5 of Amazon’s boycott of Macmillan print books and ebooks. (See my two previous blog posts if you are still catching up.) There has been no statement from Amazon other than Sunday’s unsigned post on the Kindle forum, and the “Buy” buttons have still not been restored.

John Scalzi’s new post, “A Call for Author Support,” highlights the damage this is doing to authors and notes that the best way to support authors is to buy their books. You have lots of choices as to how/where to do this.

Dennis Johnson at MobyLives has a good roundup of the latest reactions to the ebook war.

Kassia Kroszer at Booksquare continues to post new links of interest.

K Tempest Bradford has a post about “ebooks, eReaders, and why you need to keep up with the tech.”

And be sure to read Laura Miller’s excellent Salon piece on some of the less-understood elements of all this.

Update 1: The New York Times “Bits” blog has a new post titled “Macmillan Books Still Mostly Absent from Amazon.com,” which notes that “the battle is still raging… ‘We are talking,’ said John Sargent, chief executive of Macmillan, of discussions with Amazon. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment. Amazon is most likely withholding the books to maintain its leverage in negotiations, trying to get the best possible terms under the new agency model. Stay tuned.”

Update 2: Nicola Griffith has commented below that “Amazon wins, no matter what,” and she has linked to an interesting paidContent.org article by James McQuivey titled “In Amazon vs. Macmillan, Amazon is the Winner.

Agent Nathan Bransford’s new post, “What Should an E-Book Cost?“, discusses in detail the costs of producing ebooks and print books and various pricing issues.

Update 3: Tech writer Glenn Fleishman’s article, “Is the iPad a Kindle Killer?“, directly compares the Kindle and the iPad. Here’s his take on the Amazon/Macmillan ebook war:

For major publishers, Amazon pays 50 percent of the list price of the current cheapest print format book. If a book is only in hardcover – a new release like a Dan Brown blockbuster – the cover price might be $30 and Amazon pays $15. When that book goes into paperback format and sells for $12, Amazon pays just $6.

However, Amazon wants ebooks to be cheap, and thus charges $10 for books still available only in hardcover. It subsidizes the price of these books to set the overall price low, and reaps its profit margins from cheaper books for which it makes its full 100-percent markup – or even more. Since Amazon is the dominant ebook seller, it may be marking up books higher that are cheaper for it to license…

As I write this, Amazon is fighting a public battle with Macmillan… Macmillan wants to set a higher list price for newly published books as they appear in electronic form (that $13 to $15 mentioned earlier) and give Amazon 30 percent of that list price. If Amazon doesn’t want the new terms, Macmillan would offer a far smaller catalog than it currently provides when it starts its new ebook pricing system in March 2010…

Macmillan is in part trying to prevent the erosion of revenue from the big push for new big books in hardcover. If Amazon can sell such titles for $10, even at a loss, even if Macmillan makes $15 from Amazon selling at that price, it sets the wrong expectation, and overturns some of the economics for both blockbusters and mid-range books. (The blockbusters’ margins make possible more interesting books that sell vastly fewer copies.)

Amazon balked, and not only pulled Macmillan’s ebook titles, but also stopped selling all Macmillan print books temporarily. That’s the biggest hissy fit I’ve ever seen a company pull…

On the face of it, this seems like a bad deal for consumers. Wouldn’t you rather pay $10 than $15 for a book? Absolutely. But in the long run, Amazon would achieve a de facto control over book pricing, which would hurt small and large publishers.

But it’s not that Macmillan wants to sell books for $13 to $15 forever; rather, “Pricing will be dynamic over time.” That is, Macmillan can price books in response to demand, instead of being stuck either in whatever pricing system Amazon wants to impose, or the heavily discounting books off cover price in print.

With more control on the supply side, Macmillan can reduce prices as demand lessens. Those who desperately want a book immediately might pay $15 at its launch; Macmillan would also guarantee print and ebook editions would be issued at the same time. If you can wait, you might pay less and less…

This is good for readers, writers, and publishers, as well as the ebook distributors including Amazon and Apple. More books will be sold this way, and more revenue directed at the creators, not the middlemen….

Amazon declares war on Friday, concedes on Sunday (updated)

Well, this has been an unusually interesting weekend. For those who haven’t been glued to the interwebs, on Friday Amazon stopped selling all print books and ebooks published by Macmillan and their many imprints, including Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Tor, Henry Holt, and St. Martin’s Press.

This is the first shot with real bullets in the war over the future of ebook pricing. It can’t be a coincidence that it happened this week, after Apple announced the iPad and the iBooks app/bookstore and its deal with five of the six major U.S. publishers–of which Macmillan is one. Amazon has gained ebook market domination by selling many new ebooks for its Kindle at a loss. (Under the wholesale model, for new books (print or ebook) big retailers like Amazon pay the publisher 50% of the hardcover list price but can sell it for whatever price they want.) Amazon set the retail price for many ebooks at $9.99 even though it often had to pay the publishers more than that in order to drive sales of its Kindle and the Kindle-only formatted ebooks. Most other ebook retailers can’t afford to take a loss, so their prices are higher than Amazon’s, which convinced more people to buy the Kindle and increased Amazon’s market share. (This is the same thing that happened with print book pricing in the Amazon vs. independent booksellers battle.) But publishers feared that once Amazon completely dominated the ebook market, it would start putting pressure on them to lower their wholesale prices so that they could continue to sell ebooks at $9.99 and make a profit, but push the losses onto the publishers and authors. To try to regain a bit of control, some publishers began to withhold their ebooks from Amazon or delay them until a few months after the release of the hardcover.

Then Apple comes along and makes a deal with the publishers to sell their ebooks on the iPad. Publishers could set their own prices (ebooks would be priced individually, according to a formula tied to the print price, with most new ebooks between $12 and $15 and lower prices for backlist titles) and Apple would take 30% (this is the agency model, to be explained below). To the publishers, this seemed like a much better (more sustainable and profitable) idea, especially since Apple is one of the few companies that could take on Amazon and open up the ebook market to some real competition. If publishers could sell their ebooks profitably through Apple’s ebook store, they could resist Amazon’s push to lower their prices to a level that publishers believe would be disastrous to the industry.

So now that publishers have found an ebook pricing model they can live with, they want Amazon to agree to it as well. It would allow everyone (including Amazon) to make a profit, ebooks will still be priced significantly lower than print books so the ebook market would continue to grow, ebooks would be available simultaneously with the hardcover publication, and the price of ebooks will drop throughout the life-cycle just like print books do. Amazon, however, might lose their market advantage if they can’t significantly undercut everyone else on price. If Amazon chooses to stay with the current wholesale model and set their prices below everyone else to gain market share, publishers can accordingly choose to withhold or delay the release of the Kindle ebooks. As my husband commented this morning, it’s the clash of the monopolists, and he’s strangely unsure who to root for in this fight.

Apparently Amazon has decided to make an example out of the first publisher to try to renegotiate ebook terms. As recounted by John Sargent, the CEO of Macmillan, in a letter released yesterday:

This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on Amazon.com through third parties.

I regret that we have reached this impasse. Amazon has been a valuable customer for a long time, and it is my great hope that they will continue to be in the very near future. They have been a great innovator in our industry, and I suspect they will continue to be for decades to come.

It is those decades that concern me now, as I am sure they concern you. In the ink-on-paper world we sell books to retailers far and wide on a business model that provides a level playing field, and allows all retailers the possibility of selling books profitably. Looking to the future and to a growing digital business, we need to establish the same sort of business model, one that encourages new devices and new stores. One that encourages healthy competition. One that is stable and rational. It also needs to insure that intellectual property can be widely available digitally at a price that is both fair to the consumer and allows those who create it and publish it to be fairly compensated.

Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers. Our retailers will act as our agents and will take a 30% commission (the standard split today for many digital media businesses). The price will be set for each book individually. Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99. At first release, concurrent with a hardcover, most titles will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99. E books will almost always appear day on date with the physical edition. Pricing will be dynamic over time.

The agency model would allow Amazon to make more money selling our books, not less. We would make less money in our dealings with Amazon under the new model. Our disagreement is not about short-term profitability but rather about the long-term viability and stability of the digital book market.

So, Amazon is punishing Macmillan by refusing to sell its ebooks or printed books and is sending a message to the other publishers as well. (Yes, you can buy Macmillan books and ebooks elsewhere, but considering Amazon’s market dominance, this will still hurt the publisher and the authors.) Right now, Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla, so they are acting now before the iPad comes out to try to shut down this publisher rebellion before it gains traction. But if the publishers hold firm and rally together behind this new 30% commission/agency model, Amazon is faced with a problem. Are they really going to banish all of the major publishers from their site? By refusing to sell books their customers want, Amazon’s revenue will suffer and customers will be forced to shop elsewhere. As my grandmother would say, they are cutting off their nose to spite their face. With Apple looming on the horizon, it seems like an act of desperation.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere over ebook pricing, which I won’t rehash here (see the TeleRead blog or the various publishing/book blogs in my sidebar for background). However, I do think a dynamic pricing scheme for ebooks makes sense. In most cases, a book is published first in hardcover at a higher price (usually between $24 and $28, though Amazon and the other big discounters sell them at 30 to 50% off that price). About a year later, the book is published in trade paperback at a lower price (usually between $12 and $16, with fewer/smaller discounts). If you want to read a book when it first comes out, you have to pay a premium for it, as you would when a movie is first released. If you don’t want to pay this premium, you have to wait to buy it at a lower price or borrow it from your local library. As most ebooks are priced below the price of a trade paperback or discounted hardcover, you can see why some publishers don’t want to make them available until after the hardcover has run its course. (It’s the hardcover sales to the public and libraries that allow publishers to recoup much of their costs, and authors receive far more per book from hardcovers than they do from paperbacks.) But in the same way you release the book twice–first in hardcover at a higher price, later in paperback at a lower price–why not release an ebook at the same time as the hardcover at a lower price than the hardcover (for example, the price of a trade paperback, to account for lower production/distribution costs and the fact that unlike a paper book, you don’t really own it because of DRM and can’t resell it)– say $12 to $15– and then lower the price of the ebook to $10 or less when the trade paperback comes out.

With a dynamic pricing model, consumer behavior will eventually set pricing levels. If consumers are willing to pay more for immediate access or are willing to wait in order to pay less (like with print books), then that will become the standard. If consumers demand immediate access to ebooks but will only pay $10 or less, publishers may have to reconsider their entire model–perhaps abandon the hardcover and release new books in trade paperback to keep the prices between print books and ebooks more in line with each other. Consumers would love this, as it would lower book prices, but the publishing industry would have to change significantly, much as the music industry was forced to.

Authors, of course, are the collateral damage in this fight. Here are some blog posts of note, some by authors whose books are no longer for sale on Amazon:

Update 1IndieBound, the collective website of U.S. independent bookstores, has posted a reminder that “Macmillan books available here – and at thousands of independent bookstores across the country!” You can search for your local independent bookstores on the IndieBound website. If you are looking for an online bookstore, check out Powells.com, which sells new, used, and out of print books and ships worldwide.  By the way, Powells and IndieBound also have affiliate programs, in case you are thinking about switching your book links away from Amazon.

Update 1.5: Another option for those looking for online booksellers who have affiliate programs and will ship internationally is The Book Depository, recommended by Cheryl Morgan. The Book Depository (.com for the U.S. or .co.uk for the rest of the world) offers free worldwide shipping.

Update 2: This just in from Nick Mamatas’ blog. The following announcement about Macmillan was posted on Amazon’s Kindle community board at 2:22pm (PST) today, signed by the Amazon Kindle team:

The Amazon Kindle team says:

Dear Customers:

Macmillan, one of the “big six” publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.

Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!

Thank you for being a customer.

I just checked, and Macmillan books are still not available for sale on Amazon. I wonder how long this “temporary” boycott of Macmillan books and ebooks will continue.

The news of the announcement is racing throughout the blogosphere and Twitter. Here’s the New York Times blog post, titled “Amazon Concedes on Electronic Book Prices.”

I’ll give John Scalzi the last word:

Dear Amazon,

Now that you’ve admitted that you’re going to accept Macmillan’s pricing proposal on ebooks, would you mind turning the “Buy Now” button back on for all my Tor books? Pretty please? The longer you wait, the more I’ll have to think you’re just being petulant and foot-stompy about it.

Kthxbye,

JS

P.S.: Come here, have a hug. Let’s never fight again, okay?

No, seriously. Let’s never fight again.

Thanks.