Library Book-Loaded iPods
It’s all about the platform, and Kurt Goszyk is betting his life’s savings that Apple’s iPod will become the runaway leader not only in music, but also in all sorts of text applications. He left a job as chief technical officer of Franklin Publishing in January to start iPREPpress, a Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, company that began selling content for the iPod in May.
"I left because I saw the future in iPod," he says. "It is so ubiquitous. It could serve more than music." He notes that Apple just announced another "blow-away" quarter for iPod sales – 6.2 million sold, with no slowdown in sight. He thinks that written content is a natural for the portable music player, but quickly adds, "not E-books."
E-books, he notes, "were a big rage five years ago." The expectation was the everyone would be toting Stephen King and William Shakespeare along in their laptops, to be read during train commutes or in hotel rooms during business trips. "It didn’t meet expectations," he says. "They were too bulky." Other issues included the short battery life of laptops and stand-alone E-book readers and the fact that publishers never provided enough content.
He is going a different route and providing only abridged materials. Products that are now for sale, or that will be soon, include study guides, travel guides, game rules, language translators, and sports stats. His website, www.ipreppress.com, even offers free content, including the Declaration of Independence.
iPREPpress’s materials combine text and audio. In a study guide for a novel, for example, context and character exposition would typically be in audio form, while a detailed chapter summary and analysis would be in text form. "In leisure mode, you listen," says Goszyk. "In study mode, you read."
He has teamed up with SparkNotes, a Barnes & Noble company, to offer the literature study guides. SparkNotes provides the content and iPREPpress provides the iPod formatting, which, says Goszyk, an electrial engineer with 30 years worth of computer experience, is tricky.
Apple has been giving digital book publishers fits over licensing, but Goszyk says that Apple embraced his idea right away. "I spoke with Apple early on," he says. "I have a letter saying my business model is in line with what they want." His digital rights management (DRM) policies are also aligned with those Apple enforces.
DRM is a huge issue in electronic content. Any company selling books or music needs to strike a balance between protecting copyrights and allowing customers reasonable access to the products they buy. Apple, for example, allows its music customers to transfer a song to up to five computers. iPREPpress customers download from the company’s website to their computers, and from there to their iPods. Could a user make multiple copies and give them away? "Yes," says Goszyk, "but it’s hard to do a direct copy. We provide just enough DRM to give the publisher some protection, but not so much as to frustrate the user."
Study guides sell for $4.95, and are available now, just in time to spare Johnny from actually reading "To Kill a Mockingbird," or, God forbid, "The Odyssey." The list of literature study guides is still short, but Goszyk says that dozens more titles are on the way, as are SAT prep guides.
Other products, including sports stats, will be sold by subscription. He knows that the competition is cell phones, which have offered some content, including sports scores, weather, driving directions, and movie times, for several years, and is pricing accordingly. "Cell phones charge $4.95 a month for sports stats," he says. "I’m planning to charge $4.95 a year." That will give him a big price advantage, and he says that the iPod format also gives him other advantages.
"The storage capacity of an iPod is huge," he points out. He is planning to offer baseball statistics – every team, every player – going from 1890 to the present, and says an iPod can easily handle the load. All of the iPods except for the Shuffle also have screens, which, he says, starting now are going to be manufactured only as color screens. The picture is crisp and clear, the device’s ease of navigation has be extravagently lauded by critics since it debuted, and it comes with "a nice browser."
His target audience for sports stats subscriptions is fantasy players, who build teams and compete, often for money, by putting together winning teams. But his audience for the study guides and travel guides is the youth market. "Twelve to 24," he says. "iPod’s predominent usage goes from 12 to 44, but that’s the sweet spot." Hedging his bets, however, he is offering the complete rules of bridge.
Edging toward the bridge demographic himself, Goszyk is a graduate of the University of Michigan (Class of 1974). Throughout his entire career he has been "introducing computers into different types of products." He first worked for the Ford Motor Company, where, as a design engineer for advanced automotive research, he put the first computers in cars. He then worked for NCR as a design engineer and manager, before signing on with Exide Electronics to figure out how to computerize power generators. In the early 1980s he worked at Franklin designing Apple and IBM computer clones.
Then he founded and ran a series of companies, including Productive Computing, a consulting company, Control Logic, an optical dimensional measurement company that became an international company and was sold in 1996, and Cyberscan Technologies. Cyberscan was a company that, says Goszyk, "put a widget in the chalkboard. Anything written would be captured on a computer." That venture fell apart when he "ran out of time and money." It was an interesting idea, though. Will he try to resurrect it? "I think about it all the time," he says.
But he is way too busy now. "I’m putting all of my energy into iPREPpress," he says, "working 120 hours a week." Really 120 hours? "Well," he laughs, "80 hours. But my wife would say 120 hours."
His wife, Janet, teaches family living, at Neshamminy Maple Point school. His daughter, Kerry, teaches biology in the same school district. His son, Kyle, who helped him get his new company off the ground, is a sophomore at the University of Michigan. While it certainly is possible that Kyle will join his father’s venture at some point, Goszyk says that he wouldn’t want him to do so anytime soon. "I’ve advised him to go into industry," he says, "so he can really understand corporate America."
Loving the entrepreneurial life himself – all 80 to 120 hours a week of it – Goszyk funded iPREPpress from money he saved at his second stint at Franklin, from 2002 to 2005. He plans to grow the company for a year and then to seek outside funding to take it to the next level. Break-even is tricky to predict, but he is hoping to achieve it within a year.
Goszyk has a head start in any race to deliver content via iPod. "Somebody is doing comics for the photo iPod," he says. As far as he knows, that is the only text content now being marketed for the handsome devices. Frustrated by their inability to get Apple to invite them onto the iPod bandwagon, some publishers of digital content, forced to deliver their goods over rival, far less popular, MP3 players, are predicting that the iPod is just another fad.
Time will tell, but meanwhile, Goszyk is busy visiting area beaches to pass out "Bone Up for Back to School" t-shirts advertising iPREPpress’ study guides. "It’s got the cool factor," he says of the sleek iPod. His research indicates that young people want to carry just two things – a cell phone and an iPod. He is banking on a future in which those iPods will hold "Macbeth" right next to the latest from the Black-Eyed Peas.
iPREPpress, 17 Lookout Lane, Washington Crossing PA. 215-321-0447. Www.ipreppress.com.
Ten Books in Every Pocket
It is now possible for anyone who holds a Princeton Public Library card to carry 10 books at a time – in a shirt pocket. At no cost whatsoever. Other area residents will soon be able to copy the feat, and some will even get the free use of a book-loaded iPod.
This is so because the Princeton Public Library has just purchased a subscription to NetLibrary/Recorded Book’s Internet based digital book service. The Mercer County Library System, says a spokesperson, will be offering a similar service "very soon." As for South Brunswick, senior librarian Jeff Papier says that it expects to be fully stocked with cyber books by January 1. Plainsboro is taking a slightly different tack, says director Jinny Baeckler, and is planning to offer fewer digital books, but to load them onto an iPod Shuffle.
Brian Downing, vice president of NetLibrary/Recorded Books speaks on "Listening to the Future: MP3 and Audiobooks" on Tuesday, September 6, at 6:30 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library. For more information on the free talk, call 609-924-9529.
Digital audio books are simply books that are downloaded from the Internet to a computer or portable device, most commonly an MP3 player, but also a laptop computer, a Palm Pilot or similar PDA, or even a cellphone. It has been possible for some time for all consumers to download books from sources such as Audible.com, which is compatible with the wildly popular iPod MP3 players, and from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, whose books on audio are compatible with Microsoft Reader. Once again, there are two competing formats, and consumers have to choose between them – or buy two devices.
This incompatibility was just one of the issues Barbara Silberstein, media librarian at the Princeton Public Library, took into account in choosing to sign on with Recorded Books, whose service requires a Microsoft Reader MP3, and cannot be used with an iPod. Silberstein is aware that iPod is the most popular MP3 player, and is working to accommodate iPod owners, but says that there were compelling reasons to go with Recorded Books.
"It’s very competitive," says Silberstein of the race for libraries’ business by Internet book companies. "Another company, Overdrive, is neck-and-neck with Recorded Books. They’re the two main companies that service libraries. Audible.com is more customer -based. It never caught on with libraries."
The Princeton library has long bought recorded books on tape and on CD from Recorded Books, and Silberstein, who holds an MLS from Drexel and who has been with the library for 20 years, has been consistently impressed with their quality.
"They’re the Cadillac of audio book people," she says. "They have quality and excellent titles. It’s the narrators they choose. They’re often stars, and have won many awards. It’s the way they record. They really track pronunciation. No question about it, they take care with quality."
So, the nod went to Recorded Books, and the library purchased a subscription, at a price Silberstein will not divulge. The company now has 896 digital book titles and is adding 30 a month. All of that bounty – everything from "War and Peace" to language instruction to the latest James Patterson thriller – is available to Princeton library card holders right now.
Borrowers need to come into the library one time to register, a process that takes not more than two minutes, says Silberstein. There is not a lot of personal information involved, she assures, and the registration is necessary because the library needs to track usage, and is interested in borrowing patterns. Under its agreement with Recorded Books, it pays for a base circulation of digital books and needs to pay more if that number is surpassed.
Once a borrower is registered, he need only go to the library’s website, follow a link to Recorded Books, and he can download up to 10 books at a time onto any approved device, that is one that is Microsoft Reader compliant and is equipped with software that will erase all traces of the downloaded books in exactly three weeks. MP3 players cost as little as $99 and go up to about $500. The borrowed books’ electronic shelf life can be extended for another three weeks through a renewal.
Readers can search for books by keyword, author, title, or even narrator. They can search for the newest books or can scan an alphabetical list of titles. They can make lists of books they would like to download and can put notes about books into electronic folders. It is even possible to bookmark the downloaded books to mark the "page" read before "closing" the book.
"You can read two or more books at one time, I suppose," says Silberstein. She herself would not want to take on this E-juggling act, but says that anyone who is used to shuffling between, say, hardcover copies of mystery and a biography should not have any trouble doing the same thing with a digital book.
One thing readers can’t do is download at the library. The process is relatively fast – about 10 minutes a book with a high-speed connection – but would tie up the library’s computers too much. However, ever mindful of serving all of its patrons, the library will permit downloading in its tech lab, which is open from 1 p.m to 9 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends, when it is not being used. This is largely an accommodation for those who do not have a high-speed connection, or perhaps even a computer, at home.
Recorded Books’ digital books cannot be burned to CD, while E-books from Overdrive, the competing service, can be. This is relevant to the needs of iPod users because, explains Silberstein, it allows a book to be transferred to CD and then, quickly and easily, to be transferred to an iPod. There is a good chance that, because of this feature, the library may purchase a subscription to Overdrive, or to another iPod compatible service, within a few months, says Silberstein.
The Mercer County Library spokesperson, who did not want to be identified, says that that system is looking into Overdrive as its Internet book provider, and that a test period should begin soon. Jeff Papier, the South Brunswick senior librarian, says that his library is "strongly considering" joining InfoLink (www.infolink.org), a consortium of northeast New Jersey libraries, in subscribing to Overdrive. The choice he says, is driven in large part by price. "Overdrive is less expensive," he says. "It offers a good variety of titles for the price."
Baeckler, the director of the Plainsboro library, had entered enthusiastically into a statewide program that provided digital books on computer. The concept was exciting, so much so that there was talk, she says, that it would replace traditional paper books. But, "what human nature will respond to isn’t what you think," she quickly found. She did hang in there, promoting the books on computer for far longer than did other librarians. "Most people gave up pretty quickly," she says.
Now convinced that no one is going to curl up around a computer screen with a nice romance, she is "jumping to the next level." Her plan is to follow her cardholders and adapt to their lifestyle. Therefore, she is ordering up iPods, the MP3 choice of 92 percent of all Americans who own the devices, and is going to pre-load them with popular books she plans to get from Audible.com. Initially there will be 10 to 20 iPods sitting in camera cases and ready to be taken away. If the initiative is popular, there will be more. She expects that commuters will be the most common iPod book borrowers.
Baeckler has been floating her idea around to her library’s patrons and has reeled in positive feedback. "People really like the idea," she says. "You don’t have to be technically included. You just push a button and that’s the end of your worries – hopefully."
Whether on iPod or a competing MP3, or on a CD or tape, or even via a storyteller, a lot of passionate readers just do not like their reading to take on a voice other than the one in their heads. They prefer holding a nice, thick book. Until recently the Princeton Library’s Silberstein fell into that category. Like many people who enjoy reading, she thought that audio books in any form were not for her. Then she listened to a digital recording of "Kite Runner," a popular book about two families, from two entirely different classes, caught up in the turmoil of successive wars in Afghanistan. She is now completely hooked. "The book’s author narrated the audio book, which is unusual," she says. Parts of the book are wrenching even in print, and the effect was heightened as the author read, she says.
"It took me a while to let go," says Silberstein, who listens as she walks to work, "but now I love it." She is on her third MP3 book. "It’s so easy," she says. "There is no changing disks." She hastens to add, however, that the library is not discarding its tape or CD audio books, and is continuing to purchase books on CD.
Still, she has a hard time containing her enthusiasm for the many advantages – to the library as well as to its patrons – that books on MP3 provide. For one thing, when the next "DaVinci Code" comes along, every single patron who wants to know what everyone is talking about can get ahold of a copy immediately. There are no limits to how many people can download a book at the same time. Besides, says Silberstein, "there will never be broken parts or torn pages. There will never be a late fee."