Publishing News: Another publisher ends its app fling

MIT's Technology Review ditch apps for HTML5, B&N needs to balance sales, and Sara Nelson heads to Amazon.

Here are a few stories that caught my eye this week in the publishing space.

Move over apps, HTML5 is here

HTML5Last week, Jani Patokallio, publishing platform architect at Lonely Planet, explored the possibility that the silo platforms of ereaders and restrictive formats of ebooks would meet their demise at the hand of the web and HTML5. This week, apps are undergoing a similar treatment.

Jason Pontin, editor in chief and publisher of MIT’s Technology Review, reviewed the love affair publishers initially experienced with apps followed by their utter disappointment when app dreams didn’t pan out. Looking at the iOS and Android apps that were developed for Technology Review, Pontin writes: “What went wrong? Everything.” He describes the single-copy sales issues in iTunes, the subscription growing pains, Apple’s “30 percent vigorish” and app development problems in general. But all that aside, he says the real app problem was more profound:

“When people read news and features on electronic media, they expect stories to possess the linky-ness of the Web, but stories in apps didn’t really link. The apps were, in the jargon of information technology, ‘walled gardens,’ and although sometimes beautiful, they were small, stifling gardens. For readers, none of that beauty overcame the weirdness and frustration of reading digital media closed off from other digital media.”

Pontin says all editorial content has been moved from the apps, which will soon be killed off, and that the website is being redesigned and optimized with HTML5, ala Financial Times.

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For B&N, balance is key

Antone Gonsalves at ReadWriteWeb took a look at Barnes & Noble’s situation this week, wondering if the store can survive its brick-and-mortar and online co-existence. He says having three channels — physical stores, an online store and an ereader — is a great advantage, but that balancing the physical and online sales channels will be key to its survival. Gonsalves writes:

“Borders sold e-readers from Sony and Rakuten, maker of the Kobo, and had Amazon run its online store. With no connection to the online customer, Borders didn’t have enough to survive. The bookseller went out of business last year. Barnes & Noble has not made the same mistakes as its one-time rival, and its current strategy actually plays into the habits of book readers.”

Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, noted to Gonsalves that people who own ereaders also buy print books: “They’re not just pure-play e-readers; they are living in the print world, as well.”

Gonsalves says moving into international markets is Barnes & Noble’s next hurdle and that the recently announced Microsoft partnership will help facilitate that:

“Under the deal, Microsoft will develop a Nook application for Windows 8, which is expected to ship this year, Lynch told the financial news agency Bloomberg. The app will take Barnes & Noble’s digital books to consumers in Europe, Asia and Latin America, according to Lynch. Along with selling e-books, Barnes & Noble will also have to sell Nooks, which it hopes to place on the shelves of retailers in other countries.”

Amazon isn’t playing around

Amazon hired another publishing industry heavy hitter this week: Sara Nelson will join Amazon’s team as the editorial director of Books. Publisher’s Weekly reports:

“In her new role, Nelson is expected to give a fresh look and voice to the books home page, which may include writing a column and talking up books both on the site and at public events … ‘I am thrilled to have the opportunity to expand the content on and to bring my voice to this web site visited by millions of passionate readers,’ said Nelson in a statement.”

Some in the industry are accusing Nelson of going to the “dark side,” much like they did when Larry Kirshbaum joined Amazon Publishing. Laura Hazard Owen, who looks into some of Nelson’s past work and publishing contributions over at Paid Content, writes, “If some critics consider Nelson’s move a bargain with the devil, it’s undeniable that her new position will put her in touch with plenty of readers to create and nurture …”


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