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March 13 2012

Everyone has a stake in the digital reading experience

In a recent interview with O'Reilly online managing editor Mac Slocum, Louis Rosenfeld (@louisrosenfeld), publisher at Rosenfeld Media, LLC, said there's a collective responsibility for a good user experience:

"There are three or four parties that should be sharing ownership of user experience — the author, the community of readers, the publisher, and the device makers. I think the lines are going to necessarily be blurry; I'm not sure they're ever really going to stabilize. The bigger issue is people — all four of those groups — basically acknowledging they have some ownership ... but also acknowledging that their role is going to be shifting." [Discussed at 1:13.]

Rosenfeld also said, a bit surprisingly given all the focus on digital these days, that his preferred reading "device" is still print [discussed at 3:22].

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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February 29 2012

Customized self-publishing is the future of textbooks

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


The textbook publishing market is ripe for reinvention. Everyone complains about the high prices and low resale values. The conversion to digital should change all that, right? In this interview, I talk with John Conley, vice president of publishing and commercial print at Xerox. Conley has worked extensively in the textbook sector and shares his thoughts on where we are today and what's likely to change in the future.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Textbooks taking on less of a role in higher-ed — They may not completely disappear but textbooks will lose their spot as the primary teaching element in many courses. [Discussed at the 3:04 mark.]
  • The K-12 shift will take longer — Budgets, regulatory issues, etc., mean the transition from print to digital won't happen anytime soon. [Discussed at 3:30.]
  • "Customized self-publishing" is the future — It's all about instructors having access to a large repository of content that they can build their own custom solutions around. [Discussed at 4:43.]
  • Is $14.99 the e-textbook price of the future? — Apple took a page out of Amazon's playbook by introducing the first wave of iBooks Author-created textbooks at $14.99. Even the initial $9.99 price for most Kindle titles has crept up, thanks to the agency model, and $14.99 isn't likely to become the standard e-textbook price. [Discussed at 8:12.]
  • Native app vs. HTML5 or EPUB 3 — It's not so much about the platform architecture as it is about the content and how cost-effective that platform is. [Discussed at 17:10.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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October 03 2011

The agile upside of XML

In a recent interview, Anna von Veh, a consultant at Say Books, and Mike McNamara, managing director at Araman Consulting Ltd & Outsell-Gilbane UK Affiliate, talked about the role of XML, the state of ebook design, and the tech-driven future of the publishing industry.

McNamara and von Veh will expand on these ideas in their presentation at TOC Frankfurt next week.

Our interview follows.

Why should publishers adopt XML?

mikemcnamara.jpgMike McNamara: There are many benefits to be gained from implementing XML in a production workflow. However, it really depends on what the publisher wants to do. For example, journal publishers probably want to reuse their content in a number of different ways for differing products and specific target markets. XML can deliver this flexibility and reusability.

A UK Legal publisher I worked with wanted to enrich its online content deliverables to its clients. The publisher added more metadata to its XML content, allowing its new search environment to deliver more accurate and focused results to clients. A fiction book publisher, on the other hand, might want to produce simple ebooks from original Microsoft Word source files and might not see any real business or technical benefit to using XML (however, I do think this will change in the future). A simple XHTML-to-ebook process might be a better option for this type of publisher.

Anna_von_Veh.jpgAnna von Veh: The very term "XML" can cause many people to run for the hills, so it's sometimes helpful to look at it differently. Do publishers want to ensure that their content is searchable and reusable for a variety of formats, in a variety of ways, for a variety of devices and even for devices that haven't yet been invented? Do they want to be able to deliver customized content to customers? If so, XML — and I include XHTML in this — is the way.

There are a number of issues. One is the value of putting legacy content into XML to make it more usable, discoverable and valuable to the publisher. The second is incorporating XML into the workflow for the front list. And then, of course, there is the question of when to incorporate XML into the workflow — at the authoring stage, editing, typesetting, post-final, etc.

While the format-centered model that most publishers are familiar with produces beautiful products, it is not one that is likely to flourish in the new world of digital publishing. Digital requires a much more rapid, flexible and agile response. Using XML, though, doesn't mean that design or creativity is dead. The hope is that it will help automate work that is being done manually over and over again, and allow publishers the freedom to focus on great ideas and creative use of their content.

What is the best way to integrate XML into an existing workflow?

Mike McNamara: I don't believe there is one "best" way. Again, it's down to what is the best way that suits that particular publisher. "XML first," "XML last" and "XML in the middle" all have their own costs, implementation requirements and benefits. I tend to favor the XML-first option, as I believe it delivers more benefits for the publisher. Though it would probably introduce more change for an organization than the other options (XML last and XML in the middle).

Anna von Veh: If you're a large publishing company with a bigger budget and lots of legacy content, then you might want to move to a full content management system (CMS) with an XML-first workflow. But a smaller publisher may want to focus on a digital-friendly Word and InDesign workflow that makes "XML last" easier. However, incorporating XML early into the workflow certainly has benefits. The challenges revolve around changing how you think about producing, editing and designing content and managing the change process.

How future-proof is XML? Will it be supplanted at some point by something like JSON?

Mike McNamara: XML is a very future-proof method for ensuring long-term protection of content. It is the format chosen by many digital archives and national libraries. True, JSON has become very popular of late, but it is mainly used today for API development, financial transactions, and messaging — and by web developers. I think JSON has a long way to go before it supplants XML — as we know and use it today — as a structured content format for use in publishing.

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

Is ebook design in a rut?

Mike McNamara: No, it's still developing. More thought needs to be put into adding value to the content before it gets to the ebook. Take travel guides, for example. If I want a travel book to use in the field, say on a hiking holiday, I don't want to have to carry the print product. I want the same content reconfigured as an ebook with a GPS/Wi-Fi environment added to use on my smartphone, with everything referenced from the same map that I saw in the print version.

Publishers need to get smarter with the data they have, and then deliver it in the different ways that users need.

Anna von Veh: Many current ebooks are conversions from printed books, either scanned from the printed copy or converted from PDFs. These ebooks weren't designed or planned as ebooks, and in addition, quality control was lacking after they'd been made into ebooks — and these are very bad advertisements for ebook design. Many new ebooks (i.e. those in the front list) are much better designed. However, most are still based on the idea of the print book.

A key thing is to focus on is the fact that a screen is not contained in the same way that a printed book is, and that it is an entirely different format (see Peter Meyers' great A New Kind of Book blog, and upcoming "Breaking the Page" book). I think of ebook design as being much more akin to website design, which is why I advocate hiring web designers. I like the idea of starting with the web and going to print from there. It seems right for the digital age. Also, I think anyone working in book production today — both editors and designers — should learn some web skills. Hand coding simple EPUBs is a good way to practice, and it is relevant, too.

How will digital publishing change over the next five years? Are we headed toward a world where books are URLs?

Mike McNamara: More and more content will continue to be published online. Many reference publishers are already looking to add more value to content through metadata. This would allow clients to find the right content for their immediate context via sophisticated search engines. Some publishers already allow clients to build their own licensed versions of publications from the publishers' content repositories, with automatic updates being applied as and when needed.

Consequently, publishers will continue to move toward having even smaller, more focused chunks of XML data, allowing easy assembly into virtual publications. These will all be available to download and read on multiple devices, focusing on smartphones and tablets.

The combination of smarter XML (with multimedia information), smarter search engines and smarter reading devices will define how content is created and delivered over the coming years.

Anna von Veh: In answer to the first part of the question, it depends on what we understand "digital publishing" to mean. I like to think of it as the process of publishing — i.e. the workflow itself rather than the format. In terms of the process, yes, I think the web will have a big role to play (see PressBooks), but once again, it depends on how open publishers are to change.

Much will depend, too, on exactly who the publishers are in the next five years. I think it is highly likely that tech startups will make up a large piece of the publishing pie, though they may be bought up by larger publishers and tech companies. Some of the big vendors that hold much of the current knowledge of digital publishing (and therefore, perhaps, power) may move into publishing. There are also the smaller indie and self publishers that aren't hampered so much by legacy issues. On the other hand, big publishers have financial muscle and experience in content creation, design and editorial. It's an exciting time.

As for the format, I wouldn't bet against the web there, either. I'm a fan of the web in general (my favorite ebook reader is the browser-based Ibis Reader). In mainstream publishing, a lot of educational content is migrating to the web and learning management systems (LMS).

Even if books become URLs, what is needed is a cheap and easy print-on-demand (POD) home printer and bookbinder, or print "ATM," like the Espresso Book Machine. There are many situations where printed books are still required, not the least of which are countries in poorer parts of the world where the web is a luxury. Arthur Attwell's startup Paperight is a great POD idea designed for developing countries, and it also provides publishers with income. Mobile phones, too, are gaining ground in developing countries, and they're being used for a variety of innovative businesses. Smartphones could well become the main way to read content all over the world, whether that content is contained in ebooks, website books, or other forms.

But this just looks at the technology side of things. People bond emotionally with books and stories, with the authors who create them, and with other readers who share their interests. Potentially, connections could be built between readers and the editors and designers who shape the books. In this digitally connected but often physically separated world, all these connections are becoming both easier and more important, irrespective of what form the content takes or where it lives.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Photo on home and category pages: XML_logo by Jmh2o, on Wikimedia Commons


Related:


  • The line between book and Internet will disappear

  • Metadata isn't a chore, it's a necessity
  • Here's another reason why metadata matters
  • Sometimes the questions are as enlightening as the answers

  • August 19 2011

    Publishing News: Amazon lands "4-Hour" author Timothy Ferriss

    Here's a few highlights from this week's publishing news. (Note: Some of these stories were previously published on Radar.)

    Timothy Ferriss signs with Amazon Publishing to "redefine what is possible"

    AmazonLarry Kirshbaum is not sitting on his hands. Amazon hired Kirshbaum in May to head its New York operations and this week he signed his first best-selling author, Timothy Ferriss, and acquired rights to Ferriss' new book "The 4-Hour Chef."

    In Amazon's press release, Ferriss made it clear that he feels Amazon, as a publisher, has a better hold on digital publishing than its competitors:

    My decision to collaborate with Amazon Publishing wasn't just a question of which publisher to work with. It was a question of what future of publishing I want to embrace. My readers are migrating irreversibly into digital, and it made perfect sense to work with Amazon to try and redefine what is possible.

    A few feathers were ruffled by the announcement. As noted by The Guardian, Victoria Barnsley, chief executive at HarperCollins UK, voiced concerns over Amazon's aggressive moves into the publishing sector:

    Amazon's foray into book publishing ... is obviously a concern. They have very deep pockets and they are now a very, very powerful global competitor of ours ... They are very, very powerful now — in fact they are getting close to being in a sort of a monopolistic situation. They control over 90% of physical online market in UK and over 70% of the ebook market so that's a very, very powerful position to be in. So yes, it is a concern.

    Amazon will publish "The 4-Hour Chef" in April 2012.

    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

    RR Donnelley's latest acquisitions position it for digital success

    This week, publisher RR Donnelley acquired both LibreDigital and Sequence Personal. With these moves, RR Donnelley is doing something about the digital situation that so many bemoan — it's repositioning to give its customers what they want, how they want it. That's the root of what the publishing business is all about, after all.

    In a post at The Bookseller, novelist Kate Pullinger said, "I think the big publishers have got themselves into a difficult situation with the stranglehold that Amazon, Apple and Google have on bookselling currently." One could argue the situation is more disruptive than difficult. Instead of fighting against the stranglehold, perhaps it's better to focus on the unlimited potential the disruption brings. Embracing change might be more work than staying the course on a sinking ship, but the publishers who do — like RR Donnelley — will be the ones who remain in a position to succeed.

    The roles of advertising and sponsorship in the future of book publishing

    This segment was written by Joe Wikert

    Felix Salmon recently wrote an article talking about how the New York Times paywall is working because it's porous. He contrasts that to other paywalled sites that haven't enjoyed the same success as the Times. As I read Salmon's article I was thinking less about porous vs. rigid paywalls and more about DRM'd vs. DRM-free books.

    There are definitely some similarities here. At O'Reilly we believe in a DRM-free world because we trust our customers and we believe they value our content enough to pay for it rather than steal it. It would be naive of us to think this philosophy totally eliminates the illegal sharing of content though. We just happen to believe those situations shouldn't cause you to penalize all your customers. Shoplifting happens from time to time at your local grocery store but that doesn't mean the store manager should put everything under lock and key.

    But it was only when I read Fred Wilson's follow-up post to Salmon's article that I realized what other connection this has to book publishing: advertising, sponsorship and other revenue streams. As Fred points out, the Times doesn't necessarily have to charge for each online page view since they run ads on every page served.

    I'm not suggesting we can suddenly give away book content and make the exact same amount of revenue with advertisements. But what I am saying is that advertising and its close cousin, sponsorship (e.g., "This book brought to you in part by..."), can and will play a role in the future of book publishing. Every publisher won't necessarily experiment with that model, but many will.

    This story continues here.



    Related:


  • What investors are looking for in publishing companies
  • Books as a service: How and why it works
  • A premium layer for web-based content
  • More Publishing Week in Review coverage

  • July 27 2011

    Ebook empowerment with EPUB3

    Julien Simon, CEO and founder of Walrus Books, and Jérémie Gisserot, creative manager and technical consultant at Walrus Books, have been somewhat limited in what they can do with their enhanced ebooks. They're banking on EPUB3 to change all that.

    In the following interview, Simon and Gisserot discuss the advantages of EPUB3 and what they'd like to see developers do next.

    Which new features in EPUB3 are most useful for your enhanced ebooks?

    JulienSimon2.pngJulien: We are definitely pleased that EPUB3 specs now natively include audio and video — it's a crucial step for enhanced ebooks. Because EPUB2 did not include these features, developers (mostly Android developers) did not integrate them into their reading applications.

    Jérémie: Apple used to have an advantage. Because iBooks was (and still is) using the WebKit graphic engine, Apple was the only one able to offer enhanced reading experiences. Now, with the official launch of EPUB3, we can only hope that developers — especially Android/Windows developers — will go in that direction.

    Julien: EPUB3 is not a revolution for Walrus. It's a step forward. We hope that, thanks to EPUB3 specs, our enhanced ebooks will now be available on different platforms.

    What has HTML5 brought to EPUB3?

    JeremieGisserot.pngJérémie: HTML5 is a major step forward thanks to localStorage. LocalStorage uses iBooks' memory to remember your choices, the pages you read, the answers you gave to questions, the points you earned while reading a gamebook, and the parts of the text you chose to unhide.

    Julien: Basically it gives a memory to your EPUB file — even when you close the book. This new "brain" is crucial for our gamebook development because the reader's choices need to be saved. Publishers should really consider localStorage — for us, it's like stepping on Mars ... the only limit is our imagination.


    An EPUB3 demo video from Walrus Books

    How about CSS3? How do you use it and how well does it work with HTML5 and EPUB3?

    Jérémie: As the WebKit graphic engine is used by iBooks, most of the new features brought by CSS3 are well displayed on iPad/iPhone/iPod. We can now reduce the use of "decorative" pictures in our EPUBs. By "decorative" I mean pictures we were displaying to simulate complex layouts to fit with the printed versions of the books. We can now use boxes with rounded corners, shadows, and blurring directly inside the CSS. It's a way to clean the code and make the book much more flexible. In addition to HTML5 and Javascript, it is a great new tool for us to play with.

    What changes do you see EPUB3 bringing to the publishing industry?

    Julien: The publishing industry now has a great challenge to meet. Jobs are evolving — they require more flexibility and new knowledge. Young publishing teams will adapt, but in some cases a lot of work needs to be done. There are more tools than ever, both for the publisher and the writer. You now have to consider pictures, audio, video, game play, etc., as new ways to tell a story. And considering that buying an HD camera won't turn you into a Scorsese-clone over night, a lot of effort has to be put into training and learning.

    To some extent, the book-reading experience will be more like watching a movie, playing a video game and using the Internet. When working on a book project, not only will a publisher and a writer sit at the publishing meeting table, but they'll be joined by a sound designer, a scriptwriter, a director, etc. The publisher's job will soon look more like a producer's job.

    Why did you opt to produce only for Apple platforms?

    Jérémie: Today it's more of a limitation than a choice. Only iBooks is able to interpret our enhanced EPUBs the right way. We made several attempts on other platforms, but the results were really disappointing — CSS is erased, videos cannot be played, and audio cannot be heard.

    Julien: We can't wait to see developers getting involved with EPUB reading apps and making this technology work with Android, MacOS, Linux and Windows. A lot of work has to be done in that field. Ultimately, however, reading should not be a matter of devices, but of taste.

    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:


  • What is HTML5?
  • Digital publishing should put design above file conversion
  • The line between book and Internet will disappear
  • What publishers can and should learn from "The Elements"


  • May 16 2011

    Marginalia is still alive in the digital world

    Openmargin.png The New York Times recently featured an article bemoaning the death of marginalia at the hand of digital publishing. Referencing a post by Joe Wikert, I wrote about how creating a solution to a problem is usually more effective — and difficult — than simply pointing out an issue or assuming there's no recourse.

    There are, of course, solutions to the digital marginalia obstacle, and a startup in the Netherlands has brought one to the table. The creators of Openmargin are readying an iPad app for review at Apple's App Store that allows readers to add personal notes to digital text in a communal-type setting. So, book groups can make notes together and readers can discover other like-minded readers.

    In an email interview, Joep Kuijper (@joepkuijper), co-founder of Openmargin, talked about their new app and how Openmargin works. Kuijper said they are just finishing up beta testing and expect to submit the app to Apple in the next couple of weeks. Our interview follows, as does a video demo of the application.

    How does Openmargin work?

    Joep Kuijper: People are already using the margin of a book to add personal notes to the original text. With ebooks, it's possible to make this margin into an open margin, an open space where the readers of the same books share their notes with each other. To this end, we developed the Openmargin app for the iPad, with a reading environment where readers can highlight passages. When readers tap on a passage, they enter the open margin, where they can leave a note and explore those of others.

    Through Openmargin, readers also can discover like-minded people. Discovery is based on a thematic match with the specific sentences in the text that have been highlighted. There's also a web platform where all the notes are collected in a profile. Looking through this profile is like looking through another person's bookcase full of marginalia.

    What are the roles of authors and publishers on this platform?

    Joep Kuijper: An author has a special place on the platform — having written the book, he or she has essentially started the dialogue. We think it would be a good thing if the author also acted as a host. This would give ebooks added value because they're not just text anymore, they're also a place where the reader can be in direct contact with the source — the author.

    For this to happen, the tools aren't enough. Authors still need platform and branding support — this is where the publisher comes in. The publisher is also the one with the overview. They might, for example, connect several authors and propose that they annotate each other's books.

    Is there an option to notate only for personal use (i.e. notes for a class)?

    Joep Kuijper: There are no personal groups. All the readers of one book are the group. Or even more specific: the readers around one sentence are a group. This also means you're not in a dialogue with friends, but with peers you've probably never met before. We think this is the interesting thing about Openmargin. It's an implicit network where the relationships are based on the specifics in a text. And your relationships develop and grow along with your reading habits.

    Who owns the marginalia?

    Joep Kuijper: The user is the owner. There will be a creative commons license so we're able to present the notes on our platform.

    Are your long-term plans for Openmargin more platform-oriented or more software-oriented?

    Joep Kuijper: Openmargin will be more platform oriented. We built the iPad app to show the world how this idea works, but we also built an API through which other ereading device developers can plug into our platform. The API can have a big impact because people will be able to share their thoughts and give feedback. That said, we're taking software very seriously at the moment because we want to set the example for the user interface. The software design has to be elegant in order for users to like the platform.


    The Openmargin demo video follows:

    This interview was edited and condensed.



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