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January 23 2012

Responsive design works for websites, why not for digital comic books?

In a keynote speech at the Books in Browsers conference, Pablo Defendini (@pablod), the interactive producer at Open Road Media, discussed responsive comics and the opportunities digital tools afford comic book design. In print, Defendini says, the page is the canvas for comics, but instead of being optimized for online consumption, digital editions are often merely static adaptations of print comics. How much richer could the reading experience be if they were designed with more responsive techniques?

Defendini says it's important for writers and artists to consider the various digital formats and take full advantage of the possibilities. Highlights from his keynote (below) include:

  • Screen resolution is an issue for comics, and current mechanisms used to compensate can be detrimental to the story. [Discussed at the 2:05 mark.]
  • Web designers experience similar presentation issues on different devices of varying screen sizes and employ responsive design techniques as a solution. What if we did that with comics? [Discussed at 3:54.]
  • Defendini shows examples of a comic designed with HTML and CSS — "just a website by another name" — displayed on smartphone and tablet screens, and in iBooks as a fixed layout book. [Starting at about 5:00.]
  • Starting at about 10:34, Defendini addresses questions about designing the speech balloons in CSS, motion comics, and solutions for multi-language comics.

View the keynote in full below.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

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November 30 2011

Web-first workflows let publishers focus on the stuff that really matters

Book production workflows are on the minds of most publishers today, as the balance in producing books in both print and digital formats continues to be elusive. At the recent Books in Browsers conference, Hugh McGuire (@hughmcguire), founder of PressBooks (which officially launched last week), addressed workflow issues in his keynote address, "The Beauty of Web-first Workflows." McGuire said two separate workflows shouldn't be necessary and that "the beauty of a web-first book production flow is that we can spend a lot more time on the stuff that really matters and less time on the mechanics of getting a book out the door."

Highlights from the keynote video (below) include:

  • "Ebooks are just a special kind of website, designed to be read in a special kind of browser." [Discussed at the 1:30 mark.]
  • The browser wars have been dealt with in terms of websites pretty well, but we're not there yet with books. [Discussed at 2:30.]
  • Paper now is becoming a bigger problem than digital. "Is paper the IE6 of bookmaking in 2011?" Two separate workflows for print and digital shouldn't be necessary. [Discussed at 8:30.]
  • In a world where anyone can design a beautiful template-based website (ala Wordpress, et al.), anyone should be able to produce an ebook or a paper book as easily. This is where book production needs to go, and HTML may be the key. [Discussed at 9:50.]

You can view the entire keynote in the following video.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

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November 04 2011

Publishing News: Early response to the Kindle Lending Library

Big personal publishing news: I started reading books on my iPad this week (staunch holdout on the ereader no more, I suppose) — it seemed the most honorable way to read Steve Jobs' biography.

On to a few of the bigger publishing stories that caught my eye ...

Amazon extends its Prime tentacles into lending

KindleLending.pngAmazon launched its Kindle Lending Library this week, with, according to the Wall Street Journal, a relatively small list of 5,000 titles to start. Amazon's release claims more than 100 NYT bestsellers are included, but the WSJ article notes that "none of the six largest publishers in the U.S. is participating." Mathew Ingram has a nice analysis of this particular Big Six point over at GigaOM: "Much like newspapers are doing with paywalls, book publishers seem to be trying desperately to maintain the control they used to have so they can prop up their traditional business model."

The publishers who are participating are being compensated under a couple different payment models. From the WSJ article:

Russell Grandinetti, vice president for Kindle content, said "the vast majority" of participating publishers were receiving a flat fee for their titles, while a more limited group is being paid the wholesale price for each title that is borrowed. "For those publishers, we're treating each book borrowed as a sale," he said.

Some publishers are looking at the lending program as an exposure opportunity. Arthur Klebanoff, chief executive of RosettaBooks LLC, said to the WSJ: "I'm attracted to the incremental promotion/visibility for participating titles ... All site promotion, especially of backlist titles, drives sales in the Kindle Store."

Other publishers see issues with the program. O'Reilly's Joe Wikert posted a piece here on Radar that questions the flat rate associated with the Kindle Lending Library:

So no matter how popular (or unpopular) the publisher's titles are, they get one flat fee for participation in the library. I strongly believe this type of program needs to compensate publishers and authors on a usage level, not a flat fee. The more a title is borrowed, the higher the fee to the publisher and author. Period.

There's no question about the significant effect the Kindle has had on ereading and e-lending — the WSJ post points out that "[a]t the Seattle public-library system, e-book borrowing rose 32% in the month after Kindle books became available." The bigger picture here, though, speaks to Amazon's unrelenting journey to create an all-encompassing platform — the lending library only is available to owners of Kindle devices (driving device sales) and to members of Amazon Prime, a program Amazon has been increasingly pushing into all sectors of its business. As my editor points out, "[Amazon Prime] is not a 'pivot'; it's more like a tornado that's sucking up everything in its path." Indeed, I think Prime may be a key part of the support structure for Amazon's growing ecosystem.

For more on the lending library and how it works, there's a nice overview at PCWorld.


TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb 13-15, 2012 in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.



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Publishing gets litigious on piracy

This week, the publishing industry joined an elite club that, according to TorrentFreak, had previously only included independent and adult film studios as members. Global academic publishing company John Wiley and Sons has filed suit against 27 BitTorrent users who allegedly downloaded illegal copies of several "For Dummies" titles on October 18 and 19 of this year. TorrentFreak quoted an attorney for the plaintiff:

"Defendants are contributing to a problem that threatens the profitability of Wiley. Although Wiley cannot determine at this time the precise amount of revenue that it has lost as a result of peer-to-peer file sharing of its copyrighted works though BitTorrent software, the amount of revenue that is lost is enormous," Wiley's attorney writes.

"Photoshop for Dummies" appears to be the central title. The suit states the book has been downloaded 74,000 times since the summer of 2010. Copyright expert Susan Kohlmann told PaidContent: "The problem affects book publishers as it affects all content owners, and with the growing popularity of ebooks, various strategies to address illegal file-sharing, including litigation, will necessarily grow as well." The piracy issue is controversial at best — and some say ill-informed — but how this case proceeds and whether it achieves its desired effect (or any effect) will make this an interesting test.

Let's put our heads together

The Books in Browsers conference wrapped up last Friday, and this week, the keynote videos started rolling out — you can peruse the playlist here. Brian O'Leary (@brianoleary) had a particularly inspirational talk that topped off the conference. He talked about content abundance and how it affects the publishing industry as a whole. O'Leary said he's increasingly come to think that "we all have to hang together, or, surely, we will hang separately."

O'Leary's presentation is available in the following video:

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October 27 2011

Publishing's tech and edit worlds converge

BooksInBrowsersThe Books in Browsers conference got underway this morning. For those who aren't able to attend, the event is being livestreamed. A couple of highlights from this morning's opening speakers include:

  • Bill McCoy (@billmccoy), executive director of the International Digital Publishing Forum, talked about some fundamental business issues of EPUB3. He said there's no intrinsic value to standards — their only purpose is to improve the efficiency of the solutions that use them; they're a way to make things faster, cheaper, better — the value lies in the application of the standards. McCoy highlighted several ways that EPUB3 addresses these efficiencies and solutions and how the EPUB3 publishing standard is a strategic weapon for publishers.
  • Freelance programmer Blaine Cook (@blaine) and author Maureen Evans (@maureen) talked about projects on the leading edge of the digital change. Evans' book Eat Tweet, for instance, started as a twitter stream: @cookbook. Cook talked about the fluid process and the dynamic publishing environment of Newspaper Club and said the people who are building the cool new things in publishing are actually web developers. He talked about writing collaboratively with GIT and used the SXSW fieldguide he developed as a forkable guidebook on GIT Hub as an example how coding books in HTML is a much more open, accessible format.

This afternoon's lineup includes sessions by author Peter Meyers (@petermeyers), Flipboard designer and publisher Craig Mod (@craigmod), and Threepress's Liza Daly (@liza). The conference — and livestreaming — continues tomorrow and opens at 11:30 a.m. EDT with Wired's Kevin Kelly speaking about networked books and networked reading.

Watch live streaming video from oreillyconfs at livestream.com


TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb 13-15, 2012 in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.



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October 18 2011

Six ways to think about an "infinite canvas"

masterpiece by 416style, on FlickrThis is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers' project "Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience." We'll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It's republished with permission.)

Next week, I'm speaking at the Books in Browsers conference on "the infinite canvas." When I started chewing on this topic, my thoughts centered on a very literal vision: a super-ginormous sheet for authors to compose on. And while I think there's some great creative territory to explore in this notion of space spanning endlessly up, down, left, and right, I also think there are a bunch of other ways to define what an infinite canvas is. Not simply a huge piece of virtual paper, but instead, an elastic space that does things no print surface could do, no matter how big it is. So, herewith, a quick stab at some non-literal takes on the topic. My version, if you will, of six different ways of thinking about the infinite canvas.

Continuously changeable

The idea here is simple: refreshable rather than static content. The actual dimensions of the page aren't what's elastic; instead, it's what's being presented that's continuously changing. In some ways, the home page of a newspaper's website serves as a good example here. Visit The Boston Globe half a dozen times over the course of a week and each time you'll see a new serving of news. (Haven't seen that paper's recent online makeover yet? Definitely worth checking out, and make sure to do so using a few different screen sizes — laptop, big monitor, mobile phone ... each showcases a different version of its morphing, on-the-fly design.)

Deep zooms

Ever seen that great short video, "The Power of Ten"? It's where the shot begins just above two picnickers on a blanket and then proceeds to zoom out so that you see the same picnic blanket, but now from 100 feet up, and then 1,000 feet, and on and on until you've got a view from outer space. (After the zoom out, the process reverses, and you end up getting increasingly microscopic glimpses of the blanket, its fabric, the individual strands of cotton, and so on.) Here's a presentational canvas that adds new levels of meaning at different magnifications. So, the viewer doesn't simply move closer or further away, as you might in a room when looking at, say, a person. As you get closer, you see progressively deeper into the body. Microsoft calls this "semantic zooming" (as part of its forthcoming touchscreen-friendly Metro interface). Bible software maker Glo offers some interesting content zooming tools that implement this feature for readers looking to flip between birds-eye and page views.

Alternate geometries

A printed page is a 2-D rectangle of fixed dimensions. On the infinite canvas, the possibilities vary widely, deeply, and as Will Ferrell's character in "Old School" might say, "in ways we've never even heard of." Some possible shapes here: a 3-D cube with content on each side, or pyramid-shaped ebooks (Robert Darnton wrote about those in The New Age of the Book, where he proposes a multi-layered structure for academics with excess material that would bust the bindings of a printed book).

Canvases that give readers room to contemplate and respond


I just got a wonderful print book the other day called "Finish This Book." It contains a collection of fill-in-the-blank and finish-this-thought creative exercises. It reminded me that one thing digital books haven't yet explored much is leaving space for readers to compose their reactions. Sure, every ebook reader today lets you take notes, but as I've written before, these systems are pale replicas of the rich, reader-friendly note taking experiences we get in print books. Job No. 1 is solving those shortcomings, but then imagine the possibilities if digital books are designed to allow readers to compose extensive thoughts and reactions.

Delight

Print book lovers (I'm one of 'em) wax on about their beloved format's special talents: the smell, the feel, its nap-friendly weight. But touchscreen fans can play that game, too. Recall, for starters, the first time you tapped an iPhone or similarly modern touchscreen. Admit it: the way it felt to pinch, swipe, flick, and spread ... those gestures introduce a whole new pleasure palette. Reading and books have heretofore primarily been a visual medium: you look and ponder what's inside. Now, as we enter the age of touchscreen documents, content becomes a feast for our fingers as much as our eyes. Authors, publishers, and designers are just beginning to appreciate this opportunity, making good examples hard to point to. I do think that Erik Loyer is among the most interesting innovators with his Strange Rain app, a kind of mashup between short fiction and those particle visualizers like Uzu. It's not civilian-friendly yet, I don't think, but it points the way for artists interested in incorporating touch into their creations.

Jumbo content

A movable viewport lets your audience pan across massive content panoramas. Some of the possibilities here are photographic (Photosynth, Virtual History ROMA). Others have begun to explore massively wide content landscapes, such as timelines (History of Jazz). One new example I just learned about yesterday: London Unfurled for iPad, a hand-illustrated pair of 37-foot long drawings of every building on the River Thames between Hammersmith Bridge and Millennium Dome, complete with tappable backstories on most of the architecture that's on display.

These are just a few of the possibilities that I've spotted. What comes to mind when you think about the infinite canvas?

Webcast: Digital Bookmaking Tools Roundup #2 — Back by popular demand, in a second look at Digital Bookmaking Tools, author and book futurist Pete Meyers explores the existing options for creating digital books.

Join us on Thursday, November 10, 2011, at 10 am PT
Register for this free webcast

Photo: masterpiece by 416style, on Flickr


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October 11 2011

When content customization is baked in, ownership trumps access

The upcoming Books in Browsers conference will focus on books as "networked, distributed sets of interactions," as opposed to content containers. I've asked several of the event's participants to address the larger concepts surrounding books in browsers. We'll be publishing these interviews over the coming weeks.

In the short interview below, Corey Pressman, founder of Exprima Media, tackles a question on ownership versus access. He says that though access is becoming more and more compelling, ownership is still more important for content that can be personalized and customized, such as for book annotations and marginalia.

What are the issues with ownership versus access that need to be overcome on the consumer side, and how can publishers and browser developers best address these issues?

coreypressmanmug.jpgCorey Pressman: Ownership is very important for experiences or content consumption on platforms that can be personalized and customized. This is especially true if the customization gets baked into the content.

For example, music access versus ownership is very compelling. I could see a possible near future in which "accessible music" (streaming unlimited cloud access) trumps "owned music" (purchased CDs or downloads). In this scenario, customization — creating customized playlists — is external to the media; customization is handled by the conduit, not the content.

This is also true of many types of reading; it certainly is when it comes to news. I am very curious to see how the new Kindle/OverDrive plan to allow library lending via the Kindle and Kindle app plays out. In many reading use cases, free two-week access to ebooks seems quite compelling. This is especially true for existing ebook converts already untethered from the symbolic "social display" function of a book collection.

There is a reading behavior for which ownership is important: annotation. The personalized customization of a text with marginalia requires, ideally, some level of ownership in both paper and electronic contexts. Annotating a borrowed paper text is anathema and moot; annotating a borrowed ebook will probably be impossible and moot.

I suppose there could be some scenario in which one borrows and annotates an etext and somehow keeps the annotations, which will realign with the etext when it is accessed again. Perhaps this is a use case that ereading designers and publishers can work on. Business models will dictate the provider-side benefits of ownership versus access. With the help of user experience experts, providers can help preserve essential reading behaviors as they experiment with content delivery models.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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October 05 2011

Content is a social creature

The upcoming Books in Browsers conference will focus on books as "networked, distributed sets of interactions," as opposed to content containers. I've asked several of the event's participants to address the larger concepts surrounding books in browsers. We'll be publishing these interviews over the coming weeks.

In the brief interview below, Bob Stein, founder and co-director of The Institute for the Future of the Book, addresses a three-part question on content and social engagement. The concept isn't new, Stein says, but the best is yet to come — when content is specifically designed for social engagement.

Is reading destined to become a social activity, or has it always been so?

Bob Stein: Reading and writing have always been social. Authors read the work of others and discuss their ideas with colleagues; readers talk to each other about what they've read. But the reification of ideas into mass-printed objects has obscured the social aspect, which doesn't "appear" to be part of the book itself.

How can content be developed to enhance social engagement without detracting from the content itself?

Bob Stein: Perhaps the conversation (social engagement in your parlance) is a key component of the content; it needn't detract — it can add.

Does all content lend itself to social engagement?

Bob Stein: All content doesn't lend equally well to social engagement, but all content can, if handled properly, gain from explicit social engagement. Most interesting in coming decades will be the creation of new content, designed from scratch to make the most of social engagement.

This interview was edited and condensed.

TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

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Photo on home and category pages: Networking People by ZyXEL America, on Flickr

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September 19 2011

At its best, digital design is choreography

The upcoming Books in Browsers conference will focus on books as "networked, distributed sets of interactions," as opposed to content containers. I've asked several of the event's participants to address the larger concepts surrounding books in browsers. We'll be publishing these interviews over the coming weeks.

Below, Liza Daly (@liza), owner of Threepress Consulting and developer of Bookworm, ePub Zen Garden and Ibis Reader, addresses a question about tackling browser display issues.

What kinds of formatting and display issues do browsers need to overcome to handle the various forms of book content — 3D, game-like narratives, immersive texts and the like?

liza_daly_mug.jpgLiza Daly: There is, of course, an art to formatting fixed text beautifully. We call this process "laying out" a design, which brings to mind the pre-digital method of physically laying down type or visual elements in collage to produce a unified final page. The challenge for ebook designers and developers is to think less about "layout" and more about "choreography."

Text can be fluid and responsive — it can reshuffle itself due to display size, orientation, or user interaction. Our job is not to dictate where words on a virtual page must be, but instead to guide them to where they should be. It is not enough to overload a digital page with clickable doo-dads, overlays, and animation: all the elements must move together in concert and, above all, not impair the basic reading experience or enjoyment of the work. This implies a close relationship between an author, a visual artist and a developer — all three must work together to create compelling, adaptive, interactive texts.

This interview was edited and condensed.

TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR


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  • Digital publishing should put design above file conversion
  • If you're a content designer, the web browser will be your canvas
  • What if a book is just a URL?

  • September 12 2011

    If you're a content designer, the web browser will be your canvas

    Blank browser windowThe upcoming Books in Browsers conference will focus on books as "networked, distributed sets of interactions," as opposed to content containers. I've asked several of the event's participants to address the larger concepts surrounding books in browsers. We'll be publishing these interviews over the coming weeks.

    First up is Peter Brantley (@naypinya), director of the BookServer Project at the Internet Archive and co-founder of the Open Book Alliance. Brantley, who also is a co-organizer of the Books in Browsers conference, tackled a question about how content publishers should regard the browser.

    Have browsers already become our default mechanism for content consumption? And if that's the case, do content industries need to think "browser first" rather than "digital first"?

    PeterBrantleyMug.jpgPeter Brantley: I think the browser — or more specifically, the browser rendering engine, e.g., WebKit — has been the dominant rendering mechanism for digital content since the advent of the web. Although computer text interfaces were dominant for several decades, non-browser graphical implementations, such as those available on Xterms, were quickly relegated to niche applications once the HTTP protocol was widely implemented.

    The network offers a low-barrier distribution mechanism, and the browser provides for a relatively coherent set of standards over content presentation and behavior. This set of more or less open standards is growing in sophistication through the addition of support for sensor and geolocational awareness as well as more transparent media inclusion and user feedback. Designing for the browser will be what designing content means.

    There's one new issue that browser-based design propels forward: We are just now beginning to grapple with how we learn from, and use, complex media.

    Text has been a persistently desirable format because it offers a low threshold for cognitive processing and conceptual understanding. Creative arts will have to acquire an understanding of when and how we can mentally take advantage of the technologies that are beginning to emerge: e.g., when should their affordances be made visible — and when transparent — to the user. Even more importantly, we will have to make sure the user can control the experiences that they are increasingly helping to craft, and not be unwilling victims of them.

    How we tell stories to each other will remain a challenge at the nexus of our technology, intuition, and empathy.

    This interview was edited and condensed.

    TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

    Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR


    Related:


    October 29 2010

    Bookish Techy Week in Review

    On occasion, bookish-techy weeks seem to unfold around a theme. This is one of those weeks, and the theme has been “social.” Social reading, social networking, being anti-social - and all in a bookish-techy way. Not to mention, a few Halloween-related items of bookish-techy interest. Read on...

    A Bookish-techy “social" event

    This bookish-techy social week actually got to a start last week at the Internet Archive’s Books in Browsers conference. BiB-related and/or inspired posts of note:

    Social networks for teen readers come and go

    Sharing news from Amazon and Wowio

    New Nook Not News?

    So says CrunchGear
    The last thing the world needs right now is another Android tablet, especially when the focus for e-readers should be on distinguishing them from tablets and not trying to compete with more capable and connected devices. Amazon is already neck-deep in Kindle sales, and this gamble by Barnes & Noble essentially forfeits their portion of this generation of e-readers.

    In honor of a Bookish-Techy Halloween

    • Stephen King on why ebooks aren’t scary
    • Eric Frank, co-founder of Flat World Knowledge on how text book publishing got so scary
    • Mobile Read’s ereader giveaway more treat than trick

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