For those of you who missed the “Stay Ahead of the Shift” speech at BEA, we posted a link to the slides, but over this coming weekend we’ll do even better. From Friday morning, June 12 until Monday morning, June 15, we will post a link to a video of the entire speech! It is available now on PublishersMarketplace to subscribers only; we are able to offer this link through the generosity of Michael Cader to allow non-subscribers to Marketplace to see the speech. If you weren’t there, I hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity.
Although there is more mystery than information about ScrollMotion’s new “million book title” offering through Apple’s App store (what are these titles? where are they coming from?), two things are clear.
1. By offering a catalog that sits in the ebooks they’re selling you, they are making shopping considerably easier than any other ebook vendor besides Amazon, and maybe even easier than Amazon does for Kindle.
2. Their prices are going to be high, not attempting anything like the deep discounting of Amazon that others are striving to match but, instead, often pricing the ebook higher than the print version.
I don’t take too seriously one oft-raised objection to ScrollMotion. Because each book carries the application, each book you buy for your iPhone will appear as an icon on your screen and take up a bit more of your capacity than the other books (Kindle, Stanza) that have a resident application and only deliver the content itself each time you acquire a new title. Most people will have no problem with the idea that after they read a book, they should delete it from their screen to avoid visual and digital clutter.
What has not been mentioned in the press I’ve seen following this week’s announcement is that Scroll Motion also has some significant advantages in presentation and functionality. They have a split screen capability to enable illustration or graphics on the top while text continues to appear in the bottom. They can synchronize it so that the pictures change in synch with the text movement. So they can do illustrated books better than anybody else. And they have copy-and-paste, notes and extracts, and emailing ability straight from the app.
These capabilities open up the world of textbooks to Scrollmotion, which may be part of the secret to getting such a huge cache of titles. If they actually get anywhere near a million titles (and the first question I was asked by an executive at a competing ebook platform is “what’s the trick behind that claim?”), they will have the most robust offering in ebooks. That’s huge and it is a big component of what propelled Kindle to the front of the ebook parade when it came out. But Kindle also had two other strong gales at their back: a huge book-buying audience at Amazon and very enticing pricing.
What actually concerns me most about Scroll Motion is margin, and I think the pricing reflects the challenges to margin. With Apple taking a 30% brokerage fee off the top of all sales, the publishers have to split the remaining 70% with Scroll Motion. I don’t know what the deal is, but let’s assume it is “50-50”: Scroll Motion and the publisher split the post-Apple swag in half. That would leave the publisher working on 35% of the actual selling price.
Readers of this blog know that I have been advocating that publishers seize control and move things in precisely the opposite direction by reducing the “discount off retail” they offer to virtual intermediaries. Doing that is a critical if publishers are going to offer the public attractive (and, increasingly, expected) ebook pricing and maintain some semblance of adequate margin going forward.
If I’m right about that, then publishers may be taking a huge step in the wrong direction with Scroll Motion, advertising to other intermediaries that they can afford to live on a miniscule percentage of the consumer’s ebook dollar.
Many of the digerati I know would predict that Scroll Motion’s offering will fall on its face. The app thing is not digitally elegant and the prices are insane. I am not so sure they won’t succeed because I’ve always thought choice of titles, quality of merchandising, and ease of purchase were the most important components of an ebook offering and they are promising to be stellar on all those fronts.
Another book and ebook merchandising topic I’ve been discussing lately on a listserv is whether the retailers are missing a bet not enabling “affiliate” fees to be paid for email referrals in addition to web clicks. We did some research here and of the many online booksellers we check found that only Abe Books (owned by Amazon) overtlyt extends an offer of this kind: if you put one of their widgets in an email, they’ll capture the clickthrus and pay a 7% commission on sales. (Perhaps that can be done with some other widget at some other retailer, but nobody else we checked suggests it.)
It seemed like a slam dunk to us that a retailer offering to spiff customers for an email recommendation that results in a sale would be a winner. It would produce incremental sales and increase customer loyalty. I was, frankly, surprised by pushback on a listserv that suggested that it would result in too much unwanted spam. I am holding fast to my opinion that this is a good idea (nothing can be proven without somebody with reach and scale trying it, of course) but I’m also interested in yours.