Things You Missed Last Week (№41): The Ever-Changing Retail World [UPDATED]

Before we get into anything ‘newsy’, let’s have a look at what’s been consuming me nearly steady for a couple of weeks or more on the main site: “platform compatibility”.

There were a few things I didn’t like about the main site, but didn’t much feel like trying to hard-​​code the HTML and so on. There are ways to do just about anything on a site, but unless you want to have nested tables galore, complicated style-​​sheets with floating location specifics, and a shed-​​load of other things I can’t even spell, it wasn’t easy. Possible, yes; but not easy.

Then an old friend of mine said “you know, I think we should re-​​do my site again”. So, I poked around a bit trying to find some way to do what I knew had to be easier now that HTML standards have actually become more… well, standardised. Heavens be praised, things have gotten far easier and more compliant across various browsers. No longer do Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari make things look so different you wonder if you’re looking at the same site sometimes!

The new headache: multiple viewing devices with screens anywhere from a mobile handset all the way up to a Cinema Display. Something that looks great on your 28″ wide-​​screen monitor isn’t going to look great on a 3 1/​2″ phone. Plus, even if it does look decent, there’s a hell of a lot of scrolling to be done on that tiny screen to find the bit on the page you want.

So… after a steep learning curve shoving the knowledge of multi-​​media aware style sheets into my tiny brain, he’s got his site, and I’ve got the same sort of stuff going on here as well. Hooray!

All of that sounds quite geeky, but what it comes down to is that, no matter how you’re looking at the main part of the site (as opposed to this blog; I’ve still got to sort this part out), it’ll adjust to the screen you’re looking at it with, and the site will look pretty as well as be practical.

Here’s how things looked on the three major screen dimensions originally (using a post from a week ago as an example; click for embiggenization):

Full-Size View of Page
Full-​​Size View of Page
Tablet View of Page
Tablet View of Page
Smartphone View of Page
Smartphone View of Page

Basically, what you have is an increasingly smaller section of the top left corner.

Here’s how it looks on the three major dimensions now (again, click for embiggenization)!

NEW Full-Size View of Page
NEW Full-​​Size View of Page
NEW Tablet View of Page
NEW Tablet View of Page
NEW Smartphone View of Page
NEW Smartphone View of Page

Quite an improvement! Now the navigation buttons adjust where they are as the screen narrows in, plus the header graphic changes to take-​​up less space. When you get small enough for the smartphone, everything turns into a long, single column arrangement, no longer requiring things to work much wider than a single picture (because that’s all the width we’ve got really).

With 16% of traffic to the site identifying itself as a tablet (to say nothing of monitors using resolutions near tablet-​​dimensions), it’s important for any site to have these things in mind, but especially when you’re selling eBooks which some people want to read on their tablets, iPods, or smartphones.

In theory, it should be so easy to use now you shouldn’t notice any change has happened until it’s pointed out to you. However, I hope you find the site easier to use as a result.


Electronic Sales v. Retail Sales v. On-Line Retail Electronic Sales

Apparently, WH Smith and Kobo have teamed up to provide equipment for the people to read their eBooks on. Kobo supplies the back-​​end to the WH Smith site, plus possibly arranges for re-​​branding their wi-​​fi touch-​​screen readers (which will be the first in the UK) with the high-​​street shop’s logo. It’s the second time Kobo has scored a European deal, as they announced a deal in France just the week prior to the UK deal with WH Smith, and only a few days after the announcement of the Kindle France Store opening.

The move is a smart one for both the UK and French firms, apparently. According to Bloomsbury executive director Richard Charkin speaking to delegates at Frankfurt Book Fair as part of a Google panel about e-​​books, if retailers are to compete with Amazon, they have to create their own devices to sell to people, presumably to keep the customer inside their particular garden. It’s worked quite well for both Apple and Amazon, as both companies have found ways to not only sell equipment to people, but the content to go on that equipment as well. “One stop shopping”, if you will. Add to that houses such as Hyperion as well as Macmillan Bellow and others finally realizing they can make people happy by re-​​releasing their back catalogues and actually have people buy the stuff that’s been out of print and un-​​available for years (and it’s about bloody time, say I), the sooner the shops get wise to the ways of the Big Companies Who Are Beating Them At Their Own Game, the better.

It’s a bit of a losing proposition, though, as the UK has been seen as the worst nation to protect the chains. Some might see that as a damned good thing. Maybe there’s a point there, too. However, the independents flourish by being able to point at the major shops and say “we deliver something they can’t: speciality in selection”. Thus, if all the big stores up and disappear, then the independents will suddenly have to make a go of it without the large stores to do their constant barrage of advertising which serves to remind everyone that “books is good”. It seems a bit odd, suggesting that the little guys are served well by the big guys plastering their 3-​​for-​​2 sales everywhere, but there is a give-​​and-​​take relationship where both sides benefit from each other more than is apparent initially. Certainly it’s a more balanced relationship than the competition between high street shops and the Sainsbury’s of the world (and there’ll be a digital edge to that one soon), and one which John Lecarré now admits he was part of the push that opened to the door to.

Granted, if the big publishers and the large distribution corps keep slapping DRM all over everything, the more electronic reading devices there are out there, the faster and more frustrating the arrival at “but I can’t read my book now” will be. If you buy a book through Amazon, then try to read it on your iPad using Amazon’s app, you might find that book’s digital lock isn’t iOS 5 compliant. Or, possibly, the book you bought at Penguin’s site might not be something your Sony Reader wants to open for you. Why not? Well, it’s the Digital Rights Management that prevents you “trying to do something that’s not allowed”: basically, anything they hadn’t thought about two years ago. Even if your eBook file opens on your Samsung tablet today, who’s to say the next Android operating system up-​​grade won’t do something ever-​​so-​​slightly differently than it used to, the file’s pre-​​programmed settings have a look at things, don’t recognize the way things are done as “correct”, and then shut the door and refuse to open it again.

This is why Atomic Fez sells all its eBooks clean of DRM. You should be able to read that eBook file on whatever equipment you’ve got today, tomorrow, and in the next decade. People basically are honest. You’re not going to try to sell CDs of the books on a street corner next week. Publishers have more trouble getting people to buy any books these days, and really ought to stop worrying about people buying books “the right way”.

Price eBooks fairly, skip the DRM rubbish, drag out the books that have been out-​​of-​​print for a couple of decades and do the same, and everyone’s happy.

Seems simple, doesn’t it?

UPDATE: Over on FutureBook (part of “The BookSeller”), there’s a post explaining how Kobo’s recent in-​​roads in Europe actually demonstrate how it’s better at market penetration than both Apple and Kindle. Mostly, it’s because of the minimum of DRM-​​control and lack of “you buy from us, yo0u read with us, you are owned by us” approach to things, thus completely contrary to the other two big players.


“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

One thought on “Things You Missed Last Week (№41): The Ever-Changing Retail World [UPDATED]

  1. And any firm not understanding the logic of that deserves to lose whatever customers it has. It is the beta vs (whatever we ended up with) again and it will probably settle down in much the same way, but it will take a little time. The winners will be whoever made their product readable on the largest % of devices.

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