After a week that featured the release of two new low-cost digital e-readers, a book blogging invasion of the Javits Center, and endless debate about future business models for electronic publishing, it's appropriate that BookExpo America week kicked off with IDPF's annual Digital Book 2011 conference.
Speaking at the conference, held on Monday, May 23, the day before BEA opened, Kobo's Michael Tamblyn punctuated his claim that "tablets have not killed e-ink" by announcing a new $130 black and white touchscreen e-ink device. The next day—at a long-scheduled event—Barnes & Noble did the same, announcing a $139 b&w e-ink touchscreen reader, emphasizing that the company was out to combine tablets and dedicated e-ink readers, the two digital reading technologies that have shown explosive growth. (Shouting "me, too!"Amazon announced it had dropped the price of its $189 3G Kindle with special offers to $164, cheaper than the now-discontinued Nook 3G model.)
There were announcements from the Canadian printer/media aggregator Transcontinental, which launched its own international e-book distribution platform. And PW stopped by the booth of Copia, the reading social media and online book retailer, which was promoting its platform by giving out free e-book editions of Clinton Heylin's Revolution in the Air in celebration of Bob Dylan's 70th birthday as well as a free annotated e-book edition of George Rabasa's novel, Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb, Copia's first attempt to distribute original content. The marriage of books, technology, and commerce was the subtext of many BEA presentations, whether on the present or on the future of the book industry.
"It's been a productive show," said Steve Potash, CEO of OverDrive and a former president of IDPF—who received the IDPF's first annual Publishing Ambassador Award at Digital Book 2011—emphasizing the IDPF's theme of the Year of the E-book. "The Digital Zone [a section at Javits devoted to tech] is growing," he said. "The BlogWorld and New Media Convention got the bloggers involved in BEA. The acceleration of the growth of e-book sales has surprised the traditional book industry, and it will continue." Potash said the e-book gains had helped "elevate audiobook sales as well as the education space. We're opening a new school system account almost every day." And Potash spoke of a boom in e-book lending through libraries, citing the deal with Amazon to begin supporting library e-books on the Kindle, and he looked ahead to the American Library Association meeting in June, where he said the ALA is planning to offer new strategies and new business models around library e-book licenses following the HarperCollins's library e-book controversy. "Libraries are concerned about meeting demand and blowing out their budgets," he said.
Situated in the Digital Zone, Baker & Taylor set up the DemoZone, a kiosk showing off its partnership with Blio, the multimedia e-book reading software, set up to run on virtually any device you can think of. While Blio has been released for Windows desktops, the market has been waiting to see support for the full range of devices promised. Bob Nelson, president of B&T digital group, said the distributor's strategy includes agreements with manufacturers to include Blio on new tablets, smartphones, monitors, laptops, and desktops—many of which will not reach the marketplace until summer—as well as agreements with mobile carriers like T-Mobile to offer Blio on selected handsets and tablets. Blio has been released on Dell laptops and desktops; it will be released in the next 30–60 days for Android OS devices as well as for Android 3.0 "Honeycomb," optimized for tablet devices. And Blio for iOS4 for iPhone, iPad, and Mac devices is on the way, said Nelson; it's been submitted to Apple and the company is waiting for approval.
Not far away, e-book retailer Kobo was hyping its new Kobo $130 e-reader as well as sponsoring a contest based around its Reading Life application, which tracks your reading "stats"—e.g., pages read, books read, size of collection—and gives out achievement badges. Kobo is launching its Read On initiative, a project to award cash grants of $1,000 to $20,000 to community institutions to encourage reading. Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis told PW Kobo has four million users and customers in 100 countries around the world. Kobo offers more than two million titles (about 500,000 are for pay). Borders was an early investor in Kobo and sells Kobo devices through its physical and online storefronts, but Serbinis downplayed any problems for Kobo from the Borders bankruptcy, noting that the chain is a "minority" investor, with less than a 10% stake in Kobo. He said the company has raised $50 million in new investment, and "being in a physical store is just part of our strategy."
Also on hand in the Digital Zone was Chinese manufacturer Hanvon, presenting its slate of e-ink devices and looking for distributors and retailers. Hanvon devices included a prototype of a color e-ink device, which even Hanvon admits is not quite ready for prime time—you can't even buy it in China. The manufacturer displayed devices that include 5-in. or 6-in. screens in a variety of colors (projected at about $120 in the U.S.) with handwriting recognition, as well as 6-in. touchscreen devices in the $150–$200 range. "We're looking for partners," said Hanvon representative Hayley Hanafee.