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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.

Related:

August 26 2011

Publishing News: Publishing startups bet on curation and apps

Here's what caught my eye this week in publishing news. (Note: Some of these stories were previously published on Radar.)

A look at three publishing startups: BookRiff, MagAppZine, and LiquidText

TOC Sneak Peek series: BookRiff, MagAppZine, LiquidTextThe second round of TOC Sneak Peeks highlighted three new publishing startups. Their market areas included content curation, app creation for non-geeks, and multitouch content control.

BookRiff: Ever want to compile your own cookbook, travel guide or textbook? Has your publisher edited out sections of your book you'd like to share with interested readers? Publishing startup BookRiff aims to solve these problems by creating new ways to access and compile content. In an interview, company CEO Rochelle Grayson (@RochelleGrayson) talked about how BookRiff works and how it can benefit publishers and consumers. She said her company is based on an open market concept, allowing publishers to sell the content they want at prices they set and consumers to buy and customize that content as they see fit.

Read the BookRiff interview here.

MagAppZine: This startup is a platform that allows publishers to create custom apps without a lot of overhead. In an interview, company founder Paul Canetti (@paulcanetti), who worked at Apple during the birth of the iPhone and the subsequent app revolution, talks about how MagAppZine works and the benefits he sees for publishers.

Read the MagAppZine interview here.

LiquidText: In an interview, company founder and CEO Craig Tashman (@CraigTashman) said his annotation and document manipulation software began as an academic project, but commercial applications quickly became clear. The software allows users to annotate, highlight and manipulate PDF content with multitouch gestures. LiquidText may be the next major step toward making etextbooks more practical for students — and it's another nail in the coffin for the "death of marginalia" debate.

Read the LiquidText interview here.

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

Jim Romenesko's semi-retirement

Romenesko.pngAfter spending the past 12 years at Poynter blogging and aggregating news (which he started doing before anyone even knew what those words meant), Jim Romenesko announced his retirement this week. Well, semi-retirement. Julie Moos, director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications, explained in an announcement that Romenesko will continue posting part-time at Poynter. The Romenesko blog will live on, but under its new name, "Romenesko+" — the "+" designates an expanded staff that will include Romenesko and co-posters Julie Moos, Steve Myers and Jeff Sonderman.

Romenesko also will launch a new personal blog. In an interview with the New York Times, he explained he was ready to go back to his roots and start reporting again. His new blog "would still cover media but would also touch on other topics he's interested in, like food, finance and real estate."

So, though an end of an era might have been reached with Romensko's semi-retirement, being Romenesko'd might still be in the cards.

New York Times data artist Jer Thorp on the intersection of data, art, science and publishing

This segment was written by Audrey Watters

Jer Thorp (@blprnt), data artist in residence at The New York Times, was tasked a few years ago with designing an algorithm for the placement of the names on the 9/11 memorial. If an algorithm sounds unnecessarily complex for what seems like a basic bit of organization, consider this: Designer Michael Arad envisioned names being arranged according to "meaningful adjacencies," rather than by age or alphabetical order.

The project, says Thorp, is a reminder that data is connected to people, to real lives, and to the real world. I recently spoke with Thorp about the challenges that come with this type of work and the relationship between data, art and science. Thorp will expand on many of these ideas in his session at next month's Strata Conference in New York City.

Our interview follows.

How do aesthetics change our understanding of data?

Jer ThorpJer Thorp: I'm certainly interested in the aesthetic of data, but I rarely think when I start a project "let's make something beautiful." What we see as beauty in a data visualization is typically pattern and symmetry — something that often emerges when you find the "right" way, or one of the right ways, to represent a particular dataset. I don't really set out for beauty, but if the result is beautiful, I've probably done something right.

My work ranges from practical to conceptual. In the utilitarian projects I try not to add aesthetic elements unless they are necessary for communication. In the more conceptual projects, I'll often push the acceptable limits of complexity and disorder to make the piece more effective. Of course, often these more abstract pieces get mistaken for infographics, and I've had my fair share Internet comment bashing as a result. Which I kind of like, in some sort of masochistic way.

What's it like working as a data artist at the New York Times? What are the biggest challenges you face?

Jer Thorp: I work in the R&D Group at the New York Times, which is tasked to think about what media production and consumption will look like in the next three years or so. So we're kind of a near-futurist department. I've spent the last year working on Project Cascade, which is a really novel system for visualizing large-scale sharing systems in real time. We're using it to analyze how New York Times content gets shared through Twitter, but it could be used to look at any sharing system — meme dispersal, STD spread, etc. The system runs live on a five-screen video wall outside the lab, and it gives us a dynamic, exploratory look at the vast conversation that is occurring at any time around New York Times articles, blog posts, etc.

It's frankly amazing to be able to work in a group where we're encouraged to take the novel path. Too many "R&D" departments, particularly in advertising agencies, are really production departments that happen to do work with augmented reality, or big data, or whatever else is trendy at the moment. There's an "R" in R&D for a reason, and I'm lucky to be in a place where we're given a lot of room to roam. Most of the credit for this goes to Michael Zimbalist, who is a great thinker and has an uncanny sense of the future. Add to that a soundly brilliant design and development team and you get a perfect creative storm.

This story continues here.



Related:


  • Why blogging still matters
  • When judging visualizations, intent matters
  • Data science is a pipeline between academic disciplines
  • More Publishing Week in Review coverage

  • August 17 2011

    Multitouch and the quest to make ereaders more flexible than paper

    LiquidTextLogo.jpgLiquidText founder and CEO Craig Tashman (@CraigTashman) says his annotation and document manipulation software began as an academic project, but commercial applications quickly became clear as students participating in the research started asking for copies. The software allows users to annotate, highlight and manipulate PDF content with multitouch gestures. It may be the next major step toward making etextbooks more practical for students — and it's another nail in the coffin for the "death of marginalia" debate.

    I reached out to Tashman to find out more about his research-cum-business project. Our interview follows.

    LiquidText will also be featured in the next TOC Sneak Peek webcast on August 25.

    What's the story behind LiquidText?

    craig_tashmen.jpgCraig Tashman: LiquidText actually began with an observation about multitouch technology — being able to detect several fingers at once on a touch screen. We could see that it had this amazing potential for letting people interact with computers in much more expressive ways. Instead of the single input point on a mouse, you now have 10 inputs — fingers — that can coordinate with one another, or work in patterns.

    At the time, multitouch was largely being used in attractive demos with little practical application. So we thought about how it might be applied to real-world activities, such as reading and writing, and how those tasks could be improved by giving people a much richer way to interact. The answer we found was that, to really take advantage of this technology, we couldn't just paste stretching and pinching on top of traditional ereader software. Instead, we had to reconceive the reading experience itself in the context of multitouch, envisioning anew how people would want to work with documents.

    Initially, this was just an academic research project, but participants in our studies got to try out our earlier prototypes and they asked for copies. So we started exploring commercialization, and the rest is history.

    How does LiquidText work? Does it work with any kind of content?

    Craig Tashman: LiquidText helps people read and make sense of long, complex documents — it lets people annotate, visualize, and navigate text documents in highly flexible ways using a collection of powerful, natural multitouch gestures.

    As people read, they often take margin notes, compare different sections of a text, make outlines, highlight, and so forth. But a lot of research, including our own, has shown that people often struggle with this very "active" form of reading. LiquidText facilitates this kind of reading by giving people multitouch interactions that offer more flexible control of how content is visualized, annotated, and navigated.

    For example, one can pinch together parts of a document to bring disparate areas into proximity to compare them, or one can touch two text selections at once to create a link between them. Cumulatively, these functions together with those addressing annotation, note taking and other parts of the reading process let LiquidText bring to the world of ereaders even greater flexibility than paper.

    Our first shipping product will be an iPad app, expected to be released later this year. This app will let people import standard, unprotected PDF documents and manipulate them using most of the same LiquidText interactions seen in the prototype version we use in our demos.

    Which audiences do you imagine will benefit most from this technology?

    Craig Tashman: LiquidText seems to provide the most benefit for reading documents that are complex as well as long — situations where a person's memory is strained keeping track of both the past content and one's own thoughts and reflections.

    This audience includes tens of millions of knowledge workers and students, but our studies point to a few groups in particular. College students, for example, are especially well suited to the features of LiquidText, as they gradually read things like textbooks where they have to build and maintain an understanding of a text over the course of months. I also think LiquidText would be quite appropriate for legal and analytic work, where identifying relationships and inconsistencies within a text can be critical.

    Do you envision LiquidText changing reading behavior?

    Craig Tashman: On a broad scale, I think LiquidText can enable a wider shift to electronic books, especially in higher education where ebooks tend to underperform in comparison to their paper counterparts. On a finer scale, we have already seen a shift in how people read and take notes using LiquidText. For example, rather than only annotating the document itself, people are much more likely to create elaborate note spaces with comments and excerpts using our technology. Effectively, they seem more likely to create intermediate documents that reorganize the content of the original and integrate it with their own thoughts.

    Can you share your launch schedule? What platforms are you targeting?

    Craig Tashman: We are not setting a date in stone for LiquidText for the iPad since we want to ensure the app is well tested and has solid PDF compatibility before releasing it, but we are planning to have the beta out later this year.

    LiquidText for the iPad is being targeted very broadly, but we have also been exploring partnering with higher education publishers to develop a version of the software for reading etextbooks.

    As for platforms, right now we're focused on small, portable devices like the iPad. But internally, we have explored using LiquidText on touch screens ranging up to 30 inches in size, and we think that certain applications, such as intelligence analysis, would really benefit from that type of hardware.

    Webcast: TOC Sneak Peek at BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine — Sneak Peeks are a TOC webcast series featuring a behind-the-scenes look at publishing start-ups and their products. Our next episode will feature presentations from BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine.

    Join us on Thursday, August 25, 2011, at 10 am PT
    Register for this free webcast

    This interview was edited and condensed.



    Related:


  • Marginalia is still alive in the digital world
  • Open question: Are ereaders too complex?
  • Sometimes the questions are as enlightening as the answers
  • Notes that don't break the reading flow

  • July 20 2011

    Support vs Access: Why Highlighter picked Seattle

    HighlighterLogo.PNGAnnotation and marginalia issues in digital publishing have been much discussed here on Radar and elsewhere. Solutions are being brought to the table, the latest and perhaps most in-depth of which is Highlighter, an application that allows readers to interact with words, sentences or paragraphs of content on any content management system. (Audrey Watters has a nice breakdown of Highlighter's capabilities on ReadWriteWeb.)

    For more on the company — including its location outside the publishing and tech epicenters of New York and Silicon Valley — I turned to Highlighter co-founder and CEO Josh Mullineaux (@JoshMullineaux). Mullineaux will also be speaking at next week's miniTOC Portland in Portland, Ore.

    Do you consider Highlighter to be a tech company or a publishing company

    Josh_Mullineaux.pngJosh Mullineaux: I see Highlighter as more of a tech company. The reason being that we are a very software-heavy company with plans to produce more software. We are a publishing company, too, because our goal is to bring publishers and readers together, via our software.

    Why did you choose not to locate in Silicon Valley or New York City?

    Josh Mullineaux: We are all from Seattle, our families are here, most of our investors are here, and Seattle is a fantastic place to start a software/technology company. There is a large talent pool here with Amazon and Microsoft, and now Facebook and Zynga as well. Seattle is a close-knit community, so networking and getting to know others in both the technology and publishing industries is fairly easy to do. The people of Seattle also are committed to making this a great place to start a company and to nurturing our community.

    miniTOC Portland — Being held on Wednesday, July 27, 2011, miniTOC Portland will bring together art, business, craft and technology leaders for a day of collaboration in Portland, Ore.

    Register to attend

    Do you have concerns about not being in one of the tech or publishing epicenters?

    Josh Mullineaux: I attended Book Expo America in New York this year for the first time, and I must say that I was immediately impressed with the concentration of people in the publishing industry based in New York City. If there's a drawback to our location, it would be that. Seattle simply doesn't have the number of publishing companies and people in the publishing industry that New York has. That said, I'm sure I'll be spending more time in New York connecting with people and companies.

    What are your short- and long-term goals for Highlighter?

    Josh Mullineaux: When we launched our first WordPress plugin about eight months ago, we learned a lot about how people wanted to use Highlighter and the sorts of features that were going to be most useful for our customers. Now with the public launch of Highlighter, the product is completely based off of user requests and where we see Highlighter as being most effective. Our short-term goal is to really refine the product to something that authors, bloggers, and educators absolutely love.

    Our goal for authors is to make their online content more social, help them drive more traffic to their content, help them write content that their readers love, and in the end, help them sell more books.

    For educators, we want to make their online content even better. We have partnered with professors at the University of Colorado, University of Washington, and Northwestern University, and we are making their online content for courses more engaging. This means allowing students and professors to interact over specific sentences, paragraphs, and images and also making it easier for students to save important notes and snippets of texts or images to their Highlighter account. The education market is something we're excited about.

    Long term, we want to be an indispensable part of education and to authors. We want to make sure we're helping authors sell more books and helping education become more effective.

    This interview was edited and condensed.

    For more on how Highlighter works, check out the following video:



    Related:


  • Reports of marginalia's demise have been exaggerated
  • 3 ways to improve ebook note taking
  • Ebook annotations, links and notes: Must-haves or distractions?
  • Notes that don't break the reading flow

  • July 14 2011

    Notes that don't break the reading flow

    This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers' project "Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader: A Buyer & Builder's Guide to Digital Books." 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.)


    Footnotes have got to be one of the more frustrating aspects of ebooks today. For starters, woe to the fat fingered among us who read on a touchscreen device. Even simply tapping the asterisk takes a couple jabs. Once you hit the tiny target, off you go to Footnote Land, the return from which depends on how well you understand your e-reader's "Back" button system.

    Even in print, getting readers to shift their attention from body text to note is a tough sell. Schlepping to the bottom of the page — or worse, the end of the book — takes time, disrupts focus, and offers rewards that appeal mainly to the PhD set.

    Now, of course, dedicated readers are perfectly capable of taking these kinds of excursions and preserving their attention. Heck, nursing mothers plow through War and Peace amidst interruptions. But the point is: in an age of ever increasing distractions and info temptations, we need to minimize obstacles to good reading flow — especially those that occur within the document itself.

    The flexibility of the digital page offers promise.

    The Shakespeare Pro iPad app offers one nice approach:

    Embedded glossary in the Shakespeare Pro iPad app
    Click to enlarge


    The dotted underlines signal which words have available definitions. It's noticeable but unobtrusive; nice. (The same couldn't be said if instead we saw the classic blue web page link; the implicit message there is "I am a path to another document"). Having a touchscreen device is, of course, a key part of this design's success. Assistance is provided, at a tap, at the point of need. Clearing the note requires as little conscious thought as blinking; tap anywhere outside the box and it goes away. And a one-touch icon (the slightly open paged book in the upper-right corner) lets readers toggle the links on and off.

    I might quibble with the decision (a business one?) to cite Shakespeare's Words in each pop-up box. Reasonable people might also differ on the positioning of the box (why not scooch it over into the empty margin? Perhaps, but move too far and you risk replicating the print page's attention zagging layout). All in all, though, it's very reader friendly.

    Some notes are too long to fit easily in a pop-up window. More than a quick translation, these are brief extras in which an author or editor wants to provide background or commentary. In print, these items have traditionally been relegated to foot- or endnote status. The dynamic nature of a digital page — its ability to temporarily change what appears on its canvas — offers a chance to innovate.

    Take a look, for example, at how the University of Virginia Press handles the transcripts of Lyndon Johnson's secretly recorded White House phone calls. (The material is password-protected, but you can sign up for a free trial.) The text of each conversation appears, when you first load the page, just as it might in print:

    LBJ transcript, embedded notes not showing
    Click to enlarge


    Each time the editors wish to add a bit of extra background info — who George Reedy was or why the Gulf of Tonkin was important — they stuff that material into a now-you-see-it, now-you-don't part of the page canvas. The signal that extra info awaits is the universally recognizable plus sign, which morphs into the minus sign when the note text is onscreen.

    LBJ transcript, embedded notes showing
    Click to enlarge


    It's an elegant, efficient, and unobtrusive way to offer this kind of background matter. What's the difference, you might ask, between this presentation method and the more common approach to linking to extra content at the bottom of the page? They both require the same number of clicks or taps: two. But the UVA Press's system offers a number of benefits.

    First off: better continuity. Consider the jarring effect of being whisked to a different part of the page or a new page entirely. Whether it's print or digital, when you move away from the passage you're currently reading you lose your connection in a very literal way to the text. The state of immersion we all strive for as readers is both powerful and tenuous. No matter how strong its force field, it can be punctured easily: the phone rings, the baby cries, you realize you just missed your exit (kidding!).

    A thoughtfully designed document does everything it can to maximize the reader's focus. Links that whisk people to different parts of a page or some other spot entirely disrupt the reader's focus. This effect is exacerbated when the reader gets dumped onto a new screen containing not just the note she tapped, but also the note's neighbors:

    Page packed with lots of endnotes
    Click to enlarge

    Even if you don't read those other notes, their mere presence distracts. UVA Press' expandable page layout avoids such problems. You stay directly on the page, in the same location. It's even better than a print book's footnote, which requires you to shift your attention from the body text down to the bottom margin and you have to squint in most cases to read the extra info.

    It's sweating the little stuff like this that's gonna turn ebook readers into ebook lovers.

    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:


    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.



    Related:


    May 13 2011

    Publishing News: How to improve ebook marginalia

    Here are a few highlights from the publishing world. (Note: Some of these stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

    Pete Meyers on ways to improve ebook note-taking tools

    Marginalia by Cat Sidh, on FlickrIs anyone happy with today's ebook note-taking tools? I'm talking about what you get with Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and so on. You can highlight passages and add notes, but that's pretty much where things start and stop.

    Think about how limited that is, compared to what you can do in a print book:

    • Jot notes anywhere you like (e.g. blank pages in the back) to keep track of your overall reaction to the book.
    • Highlight non-contiguous phrases on a page, editing out all the boring bits and spotlighting the author's best points.
    • Draw arrows, circles, and all manner of geometric curlicues, reminding you of how this section here relates to that point over there.
    • Construct simple diagrams (e.g. tree-like structures), if you're the type who likes to think about ideas in terms of hierarchies.
    • Easily review all this stuff by flipping through the pages of a book.

    None of that's possible on any mainstream ebook reading system today.

    So here are some suggestions, which, incidentally, I think would be perfect for an eager-to-experiment underdog (Kobo, are you listening?). Add a beefed up note-taking system similar to what I describe below and soon, I bet, you'll get more business from serious readers.

    • This story continues here.

    Ask for data and you'll get it

    New Yorker appIt turns out all the publisher hand-wringing of late about Apple not sharing consumer data was largely for naught. In a post on Forbes, Jeff Bercovici pointed out that publisher concerns that consumers wouldn't share their data if given the choice were off base:

    As things stand, if you buy a subscription to The New Yorker or Popular Science in the iTunes store, you will get a little dialogue box asking if it's all right if Apple shares some of your personal information with the publisher. Initially, publishers were worried, reasonably enough, that users would overwhelmingly say no. But they don't. In fact, about 50 percent opt in.

    And that opt-in statistic isn't the only good news — some magazines also are showing impressive growth in new readers. And it looks like newspapers might be finding common ground as well.

    American Booksellers Association partners with On Demand Books

    The American Booksellers Association (ABA) announced this week that it would team up with On Demand Books to market On Demand's Espresso Book Machine (EBM) to ABA member bookstores. An announcement post described the machine:

    Essentially an ATM for books, the patented EBM and its EspressNet software system links to a vast network of content, enabling the instant distribution of books, on demand, at point of sale. With the push of a button, the technology prints, binds, and trims a bookstore-quality, perfect-bound paperback book, in any language, with a full-color cover, in minutes. It is an environmentally friendly technology since it eliminates shipping, returns, and the pulping of unwanted books.

    Big news, but as Mercy Pilkington pointed out in a post for Good eReader, it doesn't come cheap:

    The licensing of the software per store is in the neighborhood of $25,000, and although the ten percent discount to ABA member stores will mean a massive savings, it just might not be enough to compete with the other so-called future of publishing, the digital e-reader.

    To see exactly how the EBM works, check out this demo video:

    Got news?

    Suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to send along your news scoops and ideas.


    Photo: Marginalia by Cat Sidh, on Flickr


    Keep up with Radar's latest publishing news and interviews with our publishing RSS feed.




    Related:


    May 12 2011

    3 ways to improve ebook note taking

    This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers' project "Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader: A Buyer & Builder's Guide to Digital Books." 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.)


    Is anyone happy with today's ebook note-taking tools? I'm talking about what you get with Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and so on. You can highlight passages and add notes, but that's pretty much where things start and stop.

    Think about how limited that is, compared to what you can do in a print book:

    • Jot notes anywhere you like (e.g. blank pages in the back) to keep track of your overall reaction to the book.
    • Highlight non-contiguous phrases on a page, editing out all the boring bits and spotlighting the author's best points.
    • Draw arrows, circles, and all manner of geometric curlicues, reminding you of how this section here relates to that point over there.
    • Construct simple diagrams (e.g. tree-like structures), if you're the type who likes to think about ideas in terms of hierarchies.
    • Easily review all this stuff by flipping through the pages of a book.

    None of that's possible on any mainstream ebook reading system today.

    So here are some suggestions, which, incidentally, I think would be perfect for an eager-to-experiment underdog (Kobo, are you listening?). Add a beefed up note-taking system similar to what I describe below and soon, I bet, you'll get more business from serious readers.

    Offer pen-like and other rich media markup tools

    You'd be able, for example, to draw a big bracket around a chunk of text and then an arrow from there to another spot. (Bonus points if you could write directly on the arrow, as many of us do when scrawling notes by hand.) Highlighting non-contiguous passages would, finally, be possible. Heck, why not let readers also record audio- or video notes? We improve memory and interpretation the more we annotate material in personalized ways. Talk about interactive books.

    Offer a way to attach a note at either the chapter- or book-level

    This one's a no-brainer. Plus, it's dead-simple to implement and would help note-taking nerds do what they love: keep track of thoughts that relate to large chunks of text (as opposed to the current systems, which limit notes to whatever sentence or passage has been highlighted).

    Provide a passage-quoting bulletin board

    Think of this as a personalized mash-up tool, one that lets you grab bits as you read, add notes to them, and then assemble the whole shebang on a kind of virtual corkboard. This idea directly addresses why serious note-takers mark up their text: to add personalized commentary in order to make the original text more meaningful, and more memorable to them. That's where the real value in, say, a business book lies: not simply what Malcolm Gladwell has to say, but what he makes you think about your own business and how you might implement his takeaways.

    As with so many digital tools, this feature could deliver plenty more value than its analog equivalent. Specifically, this tool would let a reader quickly "grab" chunks (think: something like a header or sub-header within a chapter) and then post them on this virtual notepad. Each of these idea snapshots could be circled, repositioned, enlarged (great for emphasizing relative importance), annotated ... really, whatever you might do to encode these reminders with the sort of personalized info we drum up when taking notes. Here's a quick-and-dirty sketch that gives you the gist of what one of these guys might look like:

    Marginalia diagram

    Each of these headers (written by the reader, auto-generated by one of those text-summarizing utilities, or pulled from a passage's nearby headers) would, on tap, expand to reveal the full text "beneath" the blurb, as well as any notes you'd made.

    What kinds of note-taking tools would you like to see added to your digital books?

    Associated photo on home and category pages: Marginalia by Cat Sidh, on Flickr

    Related:

    February 23 2011

    Reports of marginalia's demise have been exaggerated

    marginalia.jpgAs with most things, it's easier to lament a loss than come up with a solution. Joe Wikert took The New York Times article mourning the death of marginalia in digital books head-on, choosing the more difficult path of coming up with a solution.

    He argued that there is no reason there can't be digital margin notes, and what's more, there wouldn't need to be just one copy of the margin notes:

    Rather than there just being one copy of that famous person's notes, why not offer them for sale to anyone else who buys the ebook? ... The idea is for thought leaders, celebrities, etc., to make handwritten notes in ebooks they read, and sell them as an add-on.

    A win-win-win for publishers, authors and readers. And as Bob Stein, founder and co-director of The Institute for the Future of the Book, pointed out in an e-mail interview, people are already experimenting:

    Marginalia is alive and well in the digital era. Check out the complex discussion conducted by seven women over the course of six weeks in the margin of Doris Lessing's "The Golden Notebook."

    There are experiments in academia as well. It's only a matter of time before marginalia processes develop into a form suitable for mainstream digital books.

    Photo: Marginalia by Cat Sidh, on Flickr



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