What do we talk about when we talk about digital reading?

We have been comparing digital reading to reading in print for a very long time. However, in many discussions, I noticed that people did not tend to differentiate what kind of digital reading was being compared. Digital reading has become an umbrella term that could refer to online reading, reading with ebooks or even listening to audiobooks. I believe it is time to look closer at digital reading and differentiate one type of digital reading from another.


1. Online reading: reading on websites with either computers, laptops, tablets or mobile phones

Personally, I read on websites only for news or articles. I have never finished an entire book with my web browser although I know some people may have done that. For example, I was quite shocked when I found my roommate could finish a very long novel that was published on a fanfiction website.

For me, I found it was very difficult to stay focused when I read on websites. I tend to skim read a lot and become very easy to be distracted by anything going on the websites. Sometimes it could a pop-up ad, sometimes it could be the hyperlinks embedded in the article, sometimes I just automatically start to check my Facebook without even being aware of it. For this reason, I really want to name this type of reading “the open reading” because my mind is still open to all sorts of notifications and distractions in this reading environment.

I am not the only one. A survey found that, on Slate, a daily magazine on the web publishing about politics, business, technology, and culture, most readers scroll to about 50 percent of the article (shown by the graph below).  Well, I did have to admit, I was also one of them.


Cognitive neuroscientists had worried that our online reading habit may have negatively influenced our ability to read in print. That is, when we read in print, we would be less able to process long and complex sentences because we had become so used to read shorter sentences online.

This alerted scientists but some of them believed that there are advantages to both ways of reading and there is potential for a bi-literate brain as long as educators start to train students to read both on screen and in print properly.

I agreed and I think deep reading on screen may be achieved by extra tools such as Hypothes.is. It helped me to slow down and to go back and forth between the paragraphs to figure out the logic connections. Also, with Hypothesis turning on, I would feel like I’m seriously learning so I would consciously control my self from checking Facebook.

Overall, for the purpose of learning, I will rate reading on websites 3 out of 5 but I believe that it could be improved to 4 with training and extra tools.


2. Reading with an ebook reader or a specific app designed for reading

Another popular digital reading is to read with an ebook reader or with a specific app on your phone (such as the Kindle app). Personally, I often use ebook readers or an app to read an entire book. In my opinion, reading with a specific app is similar to reading with an ebook reader. They both require you to take an extra step (to buy an ebook reader or to download an app) to read! Because of this extra step, I will be more serious when I read with an ebook reader or an app.

Most ebook readers had been trying to resemble print books with its display and page-turning function. Comparing to reading on websites, there are generally fewer ads going on but if you are reading with a phone, you are still very likely to be distracted by notifications.

Another feature I like about reading this way is that I can highlight sentences I think are interesting and I will be able to go back to these notes later.

Overall, I would like to rate this type of digital reading 4 out of 5 for its convenience and its capability to hold numerous books at the same time. Despite that, I am still not a keen ebook reader because I had spent way too much time on the screen every day for my school work (and sometimes for Netflix), I am eager to do something without looking at the screen when I want to relax. Therefore, I’m going to tell you about my new hobby–listening to an audiobook!


3. “Reading” audiobooks

Thanks to Moorea and Avvai who highly recommended me to “read” audiobooks, I now had finished 4 audiobooks! They are mostly fictions and mostly fun read for entertainment.

Audiobooks are the best when you want to multitask. Usually, I will listen to an audiobook when I was commuting, doing chores or sometimes designing for Mauve’s class (don’t tell her!). That is, when I do anything that is not text-related, I would be able to listen to an audiobook at the same time.

After listening to several audiobooks, I realized that it could be a good way for ESL students to learn English. For me, I always found it really hard to learn about all of the slangs and informal way to speak because when we learn English in school, it is always based on textbooks with an academic objective (TOFEL, IELTS, SAT, etc). Those exams will never teach you how to talk casually when you just want to chat with your coworkers or friends.

In the past, I tried to watch a lot of TV shows to learn about the slangs but it was exhausting to my eyes. However, with audiobooks, it would be much more comfortable. I think anyone who wants to learn another language should try to listen to the audiobooks in that language.

However, for me, listening to an audiobook is not the best way for deep thinking. For example, if it is for Hannah’s history class, I would definitely not listen to the textbook. For that scenario, I would prefer a print book.

Overall, I would rate audiobook 4.5 out of 5. This is my favourite way of digital reading so far.


In conclusion, I think they are all reading. I would choose the way for reading according to the circumstances or my purpose. If I am jogging, audiobook! If I want to learn about the update on technology-related news, read something online with Medium! If I need to prepare for a test, probably a print book for me. There is definitely no “pure” form of reading. Let’s just READ!

Works cited

Rosenwald, Michael. 2014, April 6. Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say. Washington Post.

Manjoo. Farhad. 2013, June 6. You Won’t Finish This Article: Why people online don’t read to the end. Slate.

 

The German Ebook Market and the Success of the Skoobe app

According to an interview last year with the managing director of the German Booksellers and Publisher’s Association, Alexander Skipis, “Germany is a nation of readers. As the second largest book industry in the world, the German market functions as a role model for both quality and diversity, and market performance is generally stable. We are eager to maintain and expand this state of affairs.” (Sussman, 2015). While this is coming from someone promoting their own segment of the book market and therefore might be taken with a grain of salt, it is undeniable that Germany is a huge player in the world of books, acquiring a turnover of 9.32 billion Euros last year.

One of the things that really stands out in the German book market is the strength of their print and brick and mortar retail sales. In 2014, physical bookstores still outperformed online retailers in Germany (Sussman). To go hand-in-hand with this, ebook sales have not taken off at all in this part of the world. This essay will explore why Germany has this stagnant ebook market and how one subscription based ebook app took off despite this.

As in North America, ebook sales in Germany have been rising. However, unlike in the US and Canada, they have risen at a very slow and almost reluctant pace. As you can see in the following graph, in 2014 the numbers reached 4.3% of the overall German book market (Sussman, 2015).

German graph

Looking at the overall picture since 2010, one can see that growth was never particularly huge, but has slowed down even more in the past three years. If you compare this to the North American ebook sales numbers, there is a dramatic difference. The graph below illustrates US ebook sales and shows a rise to 20% of the book market by 2014 – in huge contrast to 4% in Germany (Statista).

US graph

A Bloomsberg business article from a number of years ago, when this trend of slow sales in Germany was just manifesting itself, noted a few potential reasons for this (Winter). This article suggested that Germany is set up to support print books but not ebooks and that certain economics play into the slow adoption pattern (Winter). For example, print books are exempt from the full 19% VAT tax, with only 7% being added on to the price set by publishers. For ebooks, this tax is still applied in full (Matting). There have been some moves on the part of cultural ministers in France, Germany, Italy, and Poland to lower this tax, but is hasn’t met much success yet (Adamowski).

Another key factor cited in the Bloomsberg article and elsewhere, is the long held pride in print books that Germany has (Winter). Since the time of Gutenberg, German book printing and publishing has been a thing of high regard and print book sales have reflected this throughout their history. Elements of the current economy such as the VAT tax reflect this value.

Despite how small the ebook segment of the market is, a particular subscription based ebook app has taken off with relative success. At a time when subscription models in North America are under debate, this case study can provide us with some insight into what it would take to have a successful subscription model.

Skoobe 01
This German app is called Skoobe – if you are particularly adept you might notice the name spells “ebooks” backwards. Bertelsmann and Holtzbrinck, two publishing media conglomerates, launched the app in 2012. On its website Bertelsmann describes itself as “a media, services, and education company that operates in about 50 countries around the world” (Bertelsmann). Among many other organizations, they own Penguin Random House and the magazine publisher Gruner + Jahr which publishes magazines all over the globe. In 2015, it generated more than 17 billion Euros in revenue and currently employs 117,000 employees (Bertelsmann).

Holtzbrinck is also a huge media group that focuses almost exclusively on publishers. They have brought four well-known publishers with long histories together: Macmillan Publishers, Nature, Springer, and S. Fischer. They describe themselves as “As a media group dedicated to science, education and the wider cause of reading the Holtzbrinck Group aspires to provide first class service to our authors, researchers, academics, educators, librarians and readers” (Holtzbrinck website).

In the publishing industry we often hear people ask why publishers have not taken up the reigns on digital publishing enterprises such as Kobo or Goodreads or something new we cannot even imagine. Skoobe is unique in that it stemmed from the owners of some of the largest publishers in the world. These two media corporations together have a lot of money and experience in the publishing and media world and were able to put that towards their new venture.

 

Skoobe app

They launched Skoobe as a German-language-only service providing subscribers a large library of books for 9.99 Euros per month. You could have five books out at a time and register your app on three devices (Hoffelder). Another key highlight was that you could stream your books online or read offline across multiple devices.

Today, four years later, they have over 150,000 high quality books available, with hundreds of new ones coming online everyday (Skoobe). Last year, Skoobe expanded into Spain and they now have books in German, English, Portuguese, and Spanish (Hoffelder, 2014). In a Buchreport article from 2014, Skoobe reported that its app had already been downloaded over a million times since its launch two years before (“Ins Ursprungsland der Flatrates”). So despite the low rate of ebook sales in the overall German market, Skoobe is claiming good success with its subscription model.

And this is in the midst of intense debate in North America around whether or not the subscription ebook model is sustainable (Klosowski). In our part of the world, subscription services like Kindle Unlimited, Oyster, Scribd, and Bookmate have opened, but with varying success. Oyster and Kindle Unlimited are US only services, Bookmate is focusing its services in Russian, the Ukraine, and Turkey, and all of them work on different platforms and different devices with little consistency.

Last September, Oyster fell and its staff moved over to another company and in July, Scribd reduced the romance titles they were hosting, “due to the high volume at which subscribers presumably read those titles” (Duffer). In other words, this model has been struggling to find it’s footing in North America and causing many people in the publishing world to question its viability. As Ellen Duffer put it in a recent article on subscription models, “This recent movement [Oyster and Scribd] has sparked an increase in doomsday analyses of the subscription ebook model” (2015).

So how is it that Skoobe is finding such success in Europe despite the fact that the German ebook market is far smaller than the one in North America? And what is it that we can learn from Skoobe’s success?

A key downside that is often cited for the North American services, is that they all work on different devices. In other words, there is a need for one service that works across all iOS, android and other e-reader devices. This is what Skoobe provides. There are now even a number of e-reading dedicated devices such as Icarus Illumina that comes with the Skoobe app installed on them. This ease of use across multiple platforms, including Kindle Fire, provides users with an easy-to-use service that is far more accessible than equivalents that only work on one platform.

Furthermore, there is no denying that having a close connection to some of the world’s largest trade publishers through its founders was key. One of the things criticized in North American is that US providers of subscription services do not offer access to the bestsellers and instead have large volumes of books that nobody wants to read (Illian). Additionally, Jason Illian from the Entrepreneur notes how many of the world’s top publishers who produce these bestsellers are just not on board with the subscription services out there, and therefore, services like Oyster and Scribd just cannot get the books people want to read (Illian).

This doesn’t seem to have happened to the same extent in Germany, and the reason for this is that media and publishing companies started Skoobe and they already had a stake in the publishing industry (Duffer). With publishers like Penguin Radom House and the two largest German publishers Bertelsmann SE & CO and George von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group under your wing, you can rather quickly start to bring under contract other presses (Duffer). Skoobe currently hosts titles from more than 1,600 publishers including almost all of the German bestselling titles.

Although I was unable to find any information on the payment system that Skoobe works out with their publishers, Skoobe puts themselves forward as a company in close relationship with publishers and their collaboration with so many across the industry indicates that these partnerships are going well. This kind of collaboration is what is needed in North America.

Chrisitan Damke, the founder of Skoobe was quoted as saying, “Skoobe aims to enlarge the market for major publishers by offering easy ebook access to price-sensitive readers who don’t necessarily want to own the books” (Kozlowski). Skoobe argues that by providing a subscription service, they allow publishers to reach readers who might not normally spend money on a given book, but will read it for free if it is part of a flatrate service. This expands the reach of the book. According to data provided by the company, three-quarters of the books that users read – and enjoy with high satisfaction rates – within Skoobe are ones the readers claim they would not have been likely to purchase as an individual book before reading them on the app (Albanese).

Skoobe has also established themselves as a service that provides high quality books, as the current CEO Constance Landsberg said in a recent interview at the Frankfurt Book Fair, “Publishers are growing their title base constantly [on Skoobe] and are establishing strategies on how best to use the potential of subscription services. Skoobe is proving to be a great opportunity to market titles, especially from the backlist, and new authors alongside bestsellers and new releases” (Albanese).

She went on to say that 80% of their customers rate their books as “very good” after reading them and this is something they take great pride in (Albanese).

Thus they have been able to avoid the fear that many authors have regarding the subscription model: that their books will be undervalued in an environment that is full of bad quality books that could come from anywhere – something that is sometimes the case with North American versions of this same kind of service where many self-published books drown out the books the service can get from publishers (Weinberg). Instead, Skoobe not only provides new readers for certain authors, but also 25% of the readers on Skoobe buy print versions of books they discovered there (Albanese).

Thus, the North American publishing industry should look to the success of Skoobe and see that subscriptions can be done. This case study has shown that it is okay for ebooks to not hold a large part of the book market, and owners of publishing companies can still be in the subscription ebook business and make a success out of it. CEO Constance Landsberg acknowledges that it is essential to keep all parties involved benefiting from your business model – customers, authors, and publishers. With this in mind, Skoobe has been able to provide an accessible service across multiple platforms that offers high quality books, all in a very small ebook market. If they can do it, so can we.

Resources:

 

Adamowski, Jaroslaw. “France, Germany, Italy and Poland Call for Lowering VAT on Ebooks” Publishing Perspectives. April 2015. http://publishingperspectives.com/2015/04/france-germany-italy-poland-call-for-lowering-vat-on-ebooks/#.VvGzZxIrKRs
Albanese, Andrew Richards. “Frankfurt Book Fair 2015: Skoobe – Subscription Ebooks are Succeeding in Germany” Publishers Weekly. October 2015. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/Frankfurt-Book-Fair/article/68326-frankfurt-book-fair-2015-skoobe-subscription-e-books-are-succeeding-in-germany.html
Bertelsmann. Accessed March 24th, 2015. http://www.bertelsmann.com/company/company-profile/

dpa. “Deutscher Buchmarkt weiter im Umbruch” Zeit. October 12, 2015.

http://www.zeit.de/news/2015-10/12/literatur-deutscher-buchmarkt-weiter-im-umbruch-12121402
Duffer, Ellen. “Subscription E-Book Service ‘A Success’ In Germany.” Forbes. Oct. 31 2015. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ellenduffer/2015/10/13/subscription-e-book-service-a-success-in-germany/#1891ec8f2a15

German Book Association, ebooks:

http://www.boersenverein.de/de/portal/Presse/158382?presse_id=1100374

G., Nelly. “Meine Erfahrung mit Skoobe – der Ebook Flatrate.” Nelly’s Lesseecke blog. June 19th, 2015. http://nellysleseecke.blogspot.ca/2015/06/meine-erfahrung-mit-skoobe-der-ebook.html
Hoffelder, Nate. “Streaming ebook Service Skoobe Gains support from the Illumina eReader.” The Digital Reader. July 22nd, 2015.

http://the-digital-reader.com/2015/07/22/streaming-ebook-service-skoobe-gains-support-for-the-illumina-ereader/

Hoffelder, Nate. “Skoobe Launches in Germany.” Digital Reader. March 2012. http://the-digital-reader.com/2012/03/01/skoobe-launches-in-germany-publishers-do-like-ebook-rentals/

Hoffelder, Nate. “Skoobe Expands into Spain.” Digital Reader. October 2014. http://the-digital-reader.com/2014/10/28/skoobe-expands-spain/

Holtzbrinck. Accessed March 24th, 2015. https://www.holtzbrinck.com/

Illian, Jason. “Why the Subscription Model for Ebooks Doesn’t Work (at Least Not Yet)” Entrepreneur. June 26th, 2015. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/247762

“Ins Ursprungsland der Flatrates” Buchreport. October 2014. http://www.buchreport.de/nachrichten/nachrichten_detail/datum/2014/10/28/ins-ursprungsland-der-flatrates.htm?no_cache=1

Klosowski, Thorin. “Are Ebook Subscription Services Worth it?” Lifehacker. January 31, 2014. http://lifehacker.com/are-ebook-subscription-services-worth-it-1513205735
Kozlowski, Michael. “Macmillan Buys Into the Ebook Subscription Model Via Skoobe” http://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/macmillan-buys-into-the-ebook-subscription-model-via-skoobe

 

Lischka, Konrad. “App-Test Skoobe: Das taugt Ebook flatrate” Spiegel Online. 2012. http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/e-books-flatrate-skoobe-a-821881.html

 

Matting, Matthias. “VAT on Books and Ebooks in German Speaking Countries” How to Publish in Germany. September 2015. http://www.how-to-publish-in-germany.com/vat-on-books-and-e-books-in-german-speaking-countries/

 

Shaw, Hollie. “Ebook sales are flattening, but does that mean the technology is dying as consumers unplug?” Financial Post. July 15, 2015. http://business.financialpost.com/news/retail-marketing/e-book-sales-are-flattening-but-does-that-mean-the-technology-is-dying-as-consumers-unplug

 

Skoobe website. https://www.skoobe.de/

 

Statista. “E-book share of total consumer book sales in the United States from 2009-2015.” Accessed March 23rd, 2016.  http://www.statista.com/statistics/190847/ebook-share-of-total-consumer-book-sales-in-the-us-till-2015/

 

Statista. “Statistiken und Umfragen zu E-Books.” Accessed March 20th 2015.
http://de.statista.com/themen/596/e-books/

 

Süssman, Ingrid. “German Ebook Sales Reaches 4.3 of Overall Book Market” Publishing Perspectives.  June 24th, 2015.  http://publishingperspectives.com/2015/06/german-ebook-sales-reaches-4-3-of-overall-book-market/#.VuoTlJMrKRs

 

Süssman, Ingrid. “German Book Market 2014: Nonfiction Up, Overall Sales Down.” Publishing Perspectives. June 16th, 2015.
http://publishingperspectives.com/2015/06/german-book-market-2014-nonfiction-up-overall-sales-down/#.VuoAGJMrKRs

 

Weinberg, Dana Beth. “Which Authors Do Subscription Service Benefit?” Digital Publishing. April 2015. http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2015/which-authors-do-subscription-services-benefit/?et_mid=745706&rid=240986630

 

Winter, Caroline. “The Story Behind Germany’s Scant E-Book Sales.” Bloomberg. April 19, 2012. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-04-19/the-story-behind-germanys-scant-e-book-sales

Reading Response: Which Kind of Innovation?

Baldur Bjarnason’s article “Which Kind of Innovation?” gave a lot of credit to ebooks, in my opinion. But I think he was on the right track when he said that ebooks weren’t disruptive innovations. The problem I find within the publishing industry is that they need to be disruptive to the entirety of the industry if they want to get adopted with any sort of staying power.

Print books have been improved upon for more than 500 years. So in a way, it makes sense for ebooks to be modelled after the print formula. However, how can ebooks compete with paperback books—physical takeaways—when their prices differ by only $0.00 to $5.00? Ebooks must offer something more substantial and satisfying than print books if the industry wants to have them adopted by a wide audience. It is almost comical when Bjarnason comments, “Amazon’s Kindle format remains for all intents and purposes a 1990s technology.” In reality, ebooks are a digital facsimile of a book, for the most part. They are laid out similarly and I would argue that the Kindle format is a 1500s technology. But Bjarnason seems to be on to that as well as he says “[Fixed layout ebooks] contain… no innovative features to speak of, they are merely an accumulation of complex print-like cruft to aid the transition of illustrated or designed print books into digital.”

Projects such as The Pickle Index, where there is a web 2.0 storytelling integration that occurs simultaneously in story-time and in real-time over ten days, “revealing the narrative through the various features of the app: popular vinegar-based recipes, daily news updates, dynamic maps, and Q&A” is a much more interesting way to grab readers to have them read digitally. In fact, it is as this point that I would actually refer to digital reading as an “innovation.” When Bjarnason calls ebooks a “sustaining innovation,” as in the idea that they sustain what already exists in the publishing world, I think he is using an oxymoron. If they are sustaining a status quo, they are not creating innovation at all.

I think a major switch in the thinking around creating ebooks needs to be changed. They cannot just be an afterthought, a digital book. There has to be something altogether different about them, a reason for people to choose them over print books. But when prices are comparable, there is no physical takeaway, and print books are better designed than ebooks, there is no real point to adopt them.

Readk.it to the rescue—throwing publishers an ebook buoy

On November 19, 2007, Jeff Bezos and his behemoth of an online bookstore launched the first generation Amazon Kindle in the United States and ultimately announced the future of electronic readers . Despite the fact that other ebook readers—Rocket eBook Reader, Gemstar, Everybook, SoftBook, Librius Millennium Reader, Sony Reader—had previously flopped (Pogue), the Kindle sold out within hours and remained out of stock for several months. The device’s popularity, success, and criticisms inspired the release of subsequent ereaders—such as the second generation Kindle, the Kindle Deluxe (DX) and the Barnes & Noble Nook—in 2009, and, in 2010, Apple raised the stakes with the introduction of the iPad and its iBooks reading app (“E-book”).

As successful as these ereaders and their respective companies have been, from the first moment of the 2007 Kindle launch until the present, book publishers have been struggling to play a game of ‘catch up’ with these titan tech companies. They have been producing ebooks as quickly as possible—adhering to the technology and guidelines dictated to them—and trying as they might to stay afloat in an unfamiliar ocean, constantly inundated with waves of new ebook formats, ereading devices, and public demands. All of which have made it difficult for publishers to create ebooks that are anything more than just digital copies of their print books, something to fill a gap in the marketplace. But with the launch of Readk.it, a digital reading system that requires no allegiance to one specific ereader or company, publishers might actually have a fighting chance to reclaim ebooks as their own.

Continue reading “Readk.it to the rescue—throwing publishers an ebook buoy”

for the love of bot, end already!

My initial plan was to actually write the whole remix/adaptation/whatever you want to call it implied by the title of James Bridle’s “We Fell in Love in a Coded Space” presentation, with links going out from lyrics to other articles dealing with things like code in semiotics and expanding on the theory of code/space and other like things.

But I didn’t understand it well enough to actually do that, so I decided to just awkwardly reference a bunch of stuff at the beginning of my post and let you wade through them, or not, as you were inclined.

Job done.

Except for the point-making part, I mean. Continue reading “for the love of bot, end already!”