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July 31 2012

New life for used ebooks

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“The Used Ebook Opportunity“). This version has been lightly edited.

Used Books by -Tripp-, on FlickrUsed Books by -Tripp-, on Flickr

I’ve got quite a few ebooks in two different accounts that I’ve read and will never read again. I’ll bet you do, too. In the print world, we’d pass those along to friends, resell them or donate them to the local library. Good luck doing any of those things with an ebook.

Once you buy an ebook, you’re pretty much stuck with it. That’s yet another reason why consumers want low ebook prices. Ebooks are lacking some of the basic features of a print book, so of course they should be lower-priced. I realize that’s not the only reason consumers want low ebook prices, but it’s definitely a contributing factor. I’d be willing to pay more for an ebook if I knew I could pass it along to someone else when I’m finished with it.

The opportunity in the used ebook market isn’t about higher prices, though. It’s about expanding the ebook ecosystem.

The used print book market helps with discovery and affordability. The publisher and author already got their share on the initial sale of that book. Although they may feel they’re losing the next sale, I’d argue that the content is reaching an audience that probably wouldn’t have paid for the original work anyway, even if the used book market didn’t exist.

Rather than looking at the used book world as an annoyance, it’s time for publishers to think about the opportunities it could present for ebooks. I’ve written and spoken before about how used ebooks could have more functionality than the original edition. You could take this in the other direction as well and have the original ebook with more rich content than the version the customer is able to either resell or pass along to a friend; if the used ebook recipient wants to add the rich content back in they could come back to the publisher and buy it.

As long as we look at the used market through the lens of print products, we’ll never realize all the options it has to offer in the econtent world. That’s why we should be willing to experiment. In fact, I’m certain one or more creative individuals will come up with new ways to think about (and distribute) used ebooks that we’ve never even considered.

Publishers Weekly recently featured an article about ReDigi, a startup that “lets you store, stream, buy and sell pre-owned digital music.” As the article points out, ebooks are next on ReDigi’s priority list. Capitol Records is suing to shut down ReDigi; I suspect the publishing industry will react the same way. Regardless of whether ReDigi is operating within copyright law, I think there’s quite a bit we can learn from their efforts. That’s why I plan to reach out to them this week to see if we can include them in an upcoming TOC event.

By the way, even if ReDigi disappears, you can bet this topic won’t. Amazon makes loads of money in the used book market and Jeff Bezos is a smart man. If there’s an opportunity in the used ebook space, you can bet he’ll be working on it to further reinforce Amazon’s dominant position.

Photo: Used Books by -Tripp-, on Flickr

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May 29 2012

Amazon, ebooks and advertising

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("Why Advertising Could Become Amazon's Knockout Punch"). This version has been lightly edited.

Your Ad Here by KarenLizzie, on FlickrIt all started harmlessly enough with Amazon's Kindle with Special Offers. That's the cheaper Kindle that displays ads when the device is in sleep mode or at the bottom of the screen when paging through the owner's catalog of books. It is very unobtrusive and, since it lowered the price of the device, has made that Kindle an extremely popular device.

Now there are rumors that Amazon is selling ad space on the Kindle Fire's welcome screen. That sounds pretty reasonable, too, as it's a simple way for Amazon to drive a bit of additional income that's pure profit for them.

Given that Amazon's goal is to offer customers the lowest prices on everything, what's the next logical step? How about even lower prices on ebooks where Amazon starts making money on in-book ads? Think Google AdWords, built right into the book. Of course, Amazon won't want to use Google's platform. They'll use their own so they keep 100% of the revenue.

The changes the DOJ is requiring for the agency model means a retailer can't sell ebooks at a loss, but they can still sell them for no profit, or break even. In other words, the 30% the retailer would keep on an agency ebook sale can be passed along to the customer as a 30% discount on the list price, but that's as deep a discount as that retailer can offer.

The rules are different with the wholesale model. Amazon already loses money on sales of many wholesale-model ebooks. Let's talk about a hypothetical wholesale model title with a digital list price of $25. Amazon is required to pay the publisher roughly half that price, or about $12.50 for every copy sold, but that ebook might be one of the many that are listed at $9.99 for the Kindle. So every time Amazon sells a copy, they lose $2.51 ($12.50 minus $9.99). Amazon has deep enough pockets to continue doing this, though, so they're quite comfortable losing money and building market share.

So, what's preventing Amazon from taking an even bigger loss and selling that ebook for $4.99 or $0.99 instead? In the wholesale model world, the answer to that question is: "nothing is preventing them from doing that." And if selling ebooks at a loss for $9.99 makes sense, especially when it comes to building market share, why doesn't it also make sense to sell them at $4.99, $0.99 or even free for some period of time? It probably depends on how much pain Amazon wants to inflict on other retailers and how much attention they're willing to call to themselves for predatory pricing.

Make no mistake about the fact that Amazon would love to see ebook pricing approach zero. That's right. Zero. That might seem outlandish, but isn't that exactly what they're doing with their Kindle Owner's Lending Library program? Now you can read ebooks for free as part of your Prime membership. The cost of Prime didn't go up, so they've essentially made the consumer price of those ebooks zero.

Why wouldn't they take the same approach with in-book advertising?

At some point in the not-too-distant future, I believe we'll see ebooks on Amazon at fire-sale prices. I'm not just talking about self-published titles or books nobody wants. I'll bet this happens with some bestsellers and midlist titles. Amazon will make a big deal out of it and note how these cheaper prices are only available through Amazon's in-book advertising program. Maybe they'll still offer the ad-free editions at the higher prices, but you can bet they'll make the ad-subsidized editions irresistible.

Remember that they can only do this for books in the wholesale model. But quite a few publishers use the wholesale model, so the list opportunities are enormous. And as Amazon builds momentum with this, they'll also build a very strong advertising platform. One that could conceivably compete with Google AdWords outside of ebooks, too.

Publishers and authors won't suffer as long as Amazon still has to pay the full wholesale discount price. Other ebook retailers will, though. Imagine B&N trying to compete if a large portion of Amazon's ebook list drops from $9.99 to $4.99 or less. Even with Microsoft's cash injection, B&N simply doesn't have deep enough pockets to compete on losses like this, at least not for very long.

At the same time, Amazon will likely tell publishers the only way they can compete is by significantly lowering their ebook list prices. They'll have the data to show how sales went up dramatically when consumer prices dropped to $4.99 or less. I wouldn't be surprised if Amazon would give preferential treatment to publishers who agree to lower their list prices (e.g., more promotions, better visibility, etc.).

By the time all that happens, Amazon will probably have more than 90% of the ebook market and a nice chunk of their ebook list that no longer has to be sold at a loss. And oh, let's not forget about the wonderful in-book advertising platform they'll have built buy then. That's an advertising revenue stream that Amazon would not have to share with publishers or authors. That might be the most important point of all.

What do you think? Why wouldn't Amazon follow this strategy, especially since it helps eliminate competitors, leads to market dominance and fixes the loss-leader problem they currently have with many ebook sales?

Photo: Your Ad Here by KarenLizzie, on Flickr

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May 10 2012

The reinvention of the bookseller

This post originally appeared on Publishers Weekly.

Books Etc Victoria by markhillary, on FlickrIf you're a brick-and-mortar bookseller, does your blood pressure rise when you think about e-retailers and their deep discounts? Do you look at ebooks as a threat or an opportunity? Depending on how you answered those questions, you might need to ask yourself another one: What business are you really in?

If you're simply in the business of "selling books," I believe you're thinking too narrowly. Think of the story of the successful tools salesman who explained why he was able to sell so many drills: "My competitors sell the drill while I focus on selling the hole." In other words, he emphasizes the benefits while others are busy trying to sell a bunch of meaningless features.

What are the benefits you've successfully provided in the past? When I think of my local bookstore, some of the key benefits I see are personalized service and community. If I want to know more about a book I'm considering, I'd rather talk with a real person than simply trust a bunch of reviews on a website, especially if some of those reviews might be planted by the author or publisher. The main advantage a physical bookstore has over an online one is the in-person advice and support the former can offer.

A lesson from Apple

Despite the sluggish economy of the last few years, some brick-and-mortar retailers have found ways to grow their businesses. Apple is a terrific example. Regardless of whether you're an Apple fan, there's always something new and interesting to discover in an Apple store. I can't tell you the last time I felt that way about a bookstore. I'm not talking about eye candy or glitzy merchandising; when you enter an Apple store you know you're in for a treat.

Wouldn't it be awesome if customers entering your bookstore had that same feeling? I realize Apple can invest a lot in its store experience because it's selling higher-priced items, but maybe that means you need to look beyond simply selling $20 or $30 books. I'm not talking about adding stationery and toys, like some bookstores have done over the years. It's time to think much bigger.

These days most bookstores have some sort of coffee shop or snack bar. Years ago it was a brilliant move to add that dimension, as it helped turn bookstores into a hangout rather than just an in-and-out retail destination. If in-store coffee shops were the game-changing idea of the '90s, what's the new one for the current decade? Here's one possibility: an in-store self-publishing resource. Self-publishing is red-hot and still gaining momentum. But what's sorely lacking in the self-publishing world is a reliable place to go to ask all the questions. How do I get started? What's the best platform? How do I create a marketing campaign? Self-publishing enthusiasts are left with a slew of questionable online options and a few in-person events. Why not create an in-person self-publishing resource within your store?

Take a page out of Apple's playbook and create a Genius Bar service for customers interested in self-publishing. Establish your location as the place to go for help in navigating the self-publishing waters. Remember, too, that most of the income earned in self-publishing is tied to services, e.g., editing, cover design, proofreading, and not necessarily sales of the finished product. Consider partnering with an established expert in these areas or build your own network of providers. The critical point is to evolve your business into something more than just selling books.

This doesn't mean you need to invest in self-publishing equipment to enter the field, but it's interesting to hear from someone who has. I spoke about this with Chris Morrow, co-owner of Northshire Bookstore in Vermont, which has had an Espresso Book Machine for a number of years. According to Morrow:

"The Espresso machine has allowed us to create a self-publishing business and more. It has changed how customers view the bookstore. The self-publishing business is a complementary business that takes advantage of technological developments while being true to our mission."

If my self-publishing suggestion isn't the best option for your store, don't simply give up and assume you'll always have a future selling print books. It's clear to me that the number of brick-and-mortar bookstores will continue to decline; more specifically, the number of brick-and-mortar bookstores that mostly rely on selling print books will continue to decline. Bookstores have always been a source of inspiration and an important community resource for their customers. Think about your own store's unique attributes and how they could be extended as print sales decline. If you go about it the right way, the digital reading revolution won't be a threat but rather a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reconceive your business.

Photo: "Books Etc Victoria" by markhillary, on Flickr

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May 08 2012

Think of it like a political campaign: Baratunde Thurston's book marketing

Since its release in late January, Baratunde Thurston's book, "How To Be Black," has sold more than 15,000 copies, hitting the New York Time bestseller list out of the gate. Thurston, The Onion's former director of digital, and Craig Cannon, his campaign manager, have employed a slew of creative tactics for selling the book. In a recent interview, Thurston talked with me about what's worked, what hasn't, and the secret sauce for their campaign.

Before you dive in, I'll note that Thurston — in addition to having written a terrific book — has a gift for making people feel like they want to be part of his world. Although I'd read excerpts of the book early on, as he included them in his email newsletter, and although I was given both an electronic and a print copy of the book, I still bought it, just to support him. How can you make that magic happen for your book? Read on.

Any sales numbers we can share for context?

Baratunde ThurstonBaratunde Thurston: We went into this with a goal of significant pre-sales to hit the New York Times bestseller list. How many does it take to do that? Anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 in sales, and it depends on what else has come out that week. The pre-sales all accrue to one week, so you can stack the deck. We had 20,000 pre-sales as a goal. That was insane. We wound up with several hundred pre-sales, which was helpful, but not a juggernaut. We hit the list at No. 21. Mostly, that was useful because The Times had me do a joint interview with Charles Murray that ran in print and online during Black History Month. And that drew some attention.

What we learned from this is that people do not buy books. They like to talk about books. They like to talk about buying them. But they do not buy them.

Also for context, how important are book sales for you?

Baratunde Thurston: Sales are important. I want people to read the book. I want them to spend money. This wasn't a vanity publishing project, but it wasn't a get-rich scheme, either. It was a way for me as a creative person to point to something solid. I speak, I tweet; it's gone. I publish in very forgettable platforms. A book has some staying power. It's a cultural object, a physical object on which you can focus some attention.

What elements of the campaign worked?

Baratunde Thurston: We decided to treat this like a political campaign — more about the issues than the politician. We asked ourselves: Can we create a sense of movement that has other people seeing themselves in a book about me?

There was a process to arrive at the plan, and it equaled me coming up with the marketing. I knew I had to get on it when I was on a trip somewhere, and I got an email from Harper [Collins Publishers]: "Do you think you'll tweet about the book?"

There was a big research phase, talking to people I know or was introduced to, like Gary Vaynerchuk, Deanna Zandt, Eric Ries, Amber Rae at the Domino Project, and Tim Ferris. There were a lot of conversations had and articles read. There's no excuse to make things up completely or rely on hope.

We went with a content-oriented promotion strategy — check out this video or tweet or interview. So, for example, we wound up with 50 short videos that we could build into the book and the campaign.

The book's website was the heart. We posted a daily question every day in February, seeding it with the video I had already shot.

For speaking gigs I'd already booked, we asked if we could add book sales.

We had field ops — the Street Team. They were the ideal beta group: 115 people, half active and half of those really dedicated. We thought each street team member would equate to sales, but it's turned out to be more important as a group that lets us test ideas.

We also identified the high-value donors — people who are going to deliver a bunch of votes or cash. I went through all my contacts manually, about 4,500 people, and scrubbed that down to about 1,800 real people. I tagged them lightly, looking at them in terms of relevance. And then I started reaching out to them one by one.

"Fresh Air" with Terry Gross worked. MSNBC appearances worked.

How did the Street Team work out?

Baratunde Thurston: We tried to build a very loyal, very intense community. People had to apply. We asked them to participate in web video chats. It was like they made it through basic training. And that was kind of the goal: to have a group of advocates you can deploy in different ways. At launch parties across the country, they help out. Craig crashes on their sofas. They provide a support network; they're the volunteer fire department.

They also became an early-warning system for how the public would interpret the book. They weren't biased the way the other people close to me were. For instance, during Street Team video chats, they asked questions the public would ask. So I'd go to launch parties and interviews really prepared with answers.

Michael Phelps parody photoThis notion of showing the book cover in the hands of people as an image of value — they helped create that. Somebody Photoshopped Michael Phelps holding it, and that was one of first we saw. We seeded that idea with the Street Team, and they ran with it. The Photoshopping became redundant because actual people were holding the book and people were taking their pictures. It turned into a photomeme as people began to post them [to Twitter and the "How To Be Black" website].

We had a roadmap of things we had to do, and one thing we didn't miss was the Amazon reviews. We wanted to get them up within hours of the book's availability to set the trend for five-star reviews. We had a video chat with the Street Team right before the Amazon release. Within hours, we had 10 five-star reviews. That signaled to the Amazon buying market that it was a worthwhile book, and the Street Team provided the initial traction. And it's not just the number of five-star reviews, it's also how many reviews were helpful or not. We basically created our own Amazon Vine program.

What didn't work the way you expected?

Baratunde Thurston: The goal of 20,000 pre-sales didn't work. Every weekday in February, I should have been doing something for Black History Month. That didn't quite work, because the lead time for booking events is six months to a year, and we weren't on top of it early enough. As I mentioned, having the Street Team directly account for a certain number of units distributed didn't quite work.

What role did Craig Cannon play?

Baratunde Thurston: I knew Craig loosely at the Onion [where he was graphics editor]. He invited me to lunch to talk about something he was working on, a project with Skillshare. About five or six months before the book launched, we did a class on how to be black. That was a good test for our relationship.

We had a huge Google doc with everything laid out. Craig set up the Tumblr, the Facebook page, a private group for the Street Team, the tour support, the admin support. He's running the merchandise business. The black card — he just went off and built it.

I would have been able to do a lot of that worse. Even the two of us are only hitting 60% capacity. We should have had merch ready at launch. At some of our book events, we didn't have books.

For people who don't have a Craig, the most important thing is the personal one-on-one outreach. Look at the market of people interested in your topic, interested in you. Start with your inner circle. I had an epiphany with Gary Vaynerchuk. I asked: "Did I ever ask you to buy my book?" He said, "Yeah, I bought it yesterday." I talked about his book, but cash on the table — it didn't happen. He wished he had identified everyone he knows, sending a personal note explaining: "A) buy the book; B) this means a lot to me. You owe me or I will owe you. Here's some things you can do to help: If you have speaking opportunities, let me know. For instance, I would love to speak at schools." Make it easy for people who want to help you. Everything else is bonus. If you haven't already converted the inner circle, you've skipped a critical step.

What specific marketing technique would you recommend to other authors?

Baratunde Thurston: You can make everything easier by figuring out what value to attach your book to. We've been working under the over-arching theme of identity. If you blog every week about why your book is so awesome, nobody cares. If you're producing relevant, interesting content, they get attached to you in context. That leads to sales. It's a good model.

Once you've actually articulated what that value is, make everything else consistent with that. For us, it was comfort with yourself and your identity — everybody has an outsider identity. That provides a roadmap for interviews and events. It establishes the brand and reinforces it. This approach requires time and consideration, but not cash. It's not just reactive. For instance, this book is about DIY culture that makes the world a better place. With that approach, somebody like my friend Nora Abousteit can get involved, even though race, per se, isn't her issue.

Anything else you want to add?

Baratunde Thurston: There was a very important tactical layer, the secret sauce: Knod.es [Note: this is launching to the public soon]. Ron Williams, Knod.es founder, has been an essential shadow. The types of services Knod.es provides — pre-qualified leads — are going to be important for everything. We were sending targeted blasts around and used Knod.es to augment that. The results have been incredible.

For example, we wanted people to submit more content to the How To Be Black Tumblr. After launch, it had faded. We recruited 18 people [some from the Street Team] to push a message through Facebook and email. We had a 50% conversion rate on those messages, and got in nine stories without trying that hard. In the same way you approach your network of friends, you can do the same with social networks where you don't know them as well but they still want to help. You still have to make it easy for people to help you, but finding the value in your existing relationships — that's incredibly valuable. "The Today Show" isn't available to everyone.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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May 04 2012

Join us in celebrating International Day Against DRM

Day Against DRMOne of our core beliefs at O'Reilly is that digital rights management (DRM) is a bad idea. We have a very simple theory: Trust your customers to do the right thing and you'll earn their business. That's why when you buy ebooks from oreilly.com, or through one of our retail partners, you'll never be handcuffed by the restrictions of DRM.

This isn't anything new at O'Reilly. It's how we've sold our ebooks from day one. Plenty of publishers were skeptical of our approach but we're thrilled to see more and more of them adopting it. In just the past few weeks Macmillan subsidiary Tor as well as independent publisher Sourcebooks announced new DRM-free product plans.

We agree with Charlie Stross' point that publishers who insist on using DRM have handed "Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder." That's why we're excited to help celebrate International Day Against DRM with a special discount on all our ebooks and videos. For today only (5/4/12), use the code DRMFREE to save 50% on our entire catalog.

Matt Lee, campaign manager at Defective by Design and one of the organizers of Day Against DRM, explains why DRM is detrimental to ebooks:

"DRM is a growing problem in the area of ebooks, where people have had their books restricted so they can't freely loan, re-sell or donate them, read them without being tracked, or move them to a new device without re-purchasing all of them. They've even had their ebooks deleted by companies without their permission."

We appreciate your help in making Day Against DRM a success. If you agree with our DRM-free philosophy we hope you'll take the time to tell other publishers and retailers to abandon DRM as well. A DRM-free world is one where retailers will find it much harder to create a monopolistic position that locks you into their device or format. We long for the day when the book publishing industry takes the same important step the music world did by abandoning DRM.

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April 04 2012

State of the Computer Book Market, part 3: The Publishers

In this third installment, (see Post 1 and Post 2; Posts 4 and 5 to come soon), we will look at how publishers fared in 2011, as compared to 2010. The chart below shows our dashboard view of the large publishers' results for 2011. The most notable piece of information is that Wiley continues to hold the leading spot as the largest publisher (with 32% market share of units sold), while Pearson and O'Reilly both lost 1%, which is picked up by Cengage and McGraw Hill. (We'll look at revenue share later in the analysis.)

[...]

// oAnth - via RSS not usefully presented - please go to the linked article.




Next up, Post 4 will contain more analysis of programming languages. Post 5 will look at digital sales.


March 30 2012

Top Stories: March 26-30, 2012

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

Designing great data products
Data scientists need a systematic design process to build increasingly sophisticated products. That's where the Drivetrain Approach comes in. (This report is also available as a free ebook.)


Five tough lessons I had to learn about health care
Despite the disappointments Andy Oram has experienced while learning about health care, he expects the system to change for the better.


A huge competitive advantage awaits bold publishers
"The Lean Startup" author Eric Ries talks about his experiences working with traditional publishing structures and how they can benefit from lean startup principles.

The Reading Glove engages senses and objects to tell a story
What if you mashed up a non-linear narrative, a tangible computing environment and a hint of a haunted house experience? You might get the Reading Glove, a novel way to experience a story.


Passwords and interviews
A candidate that forks over a social media password during an interview could become an employee that gives out a password in other situations. Employers aren't making that connection.


Fluent Conference: JavaScript & Beyond — Explore the changing worlds of JavaScript & HTML5 at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference, May 29 - 31 in San Francisco. Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20.

Ambulance photo: Ambulance by plong, on Flickr

March 22 2012

Direct sales uncover hidden trends for publishers

O'Reilly direct sales channelOne of the most important reasons publishers should invest in a direct channel is because of all the data it provides. Retailers are only going to share a certain amount of customer information with you, but when you make the sale yourself, you have full access to the resulting data stream.

As you may already know, when you buy an ebook from oreilly.com, you end up with access to multiple formats of that product. Unlike Amazon, where you only get a Mobi file, or Apple, where you only get an EPUB file, oreilly.com provides both (as well as PDF and oftentimes a couple of others). This gives the customer the freedom of format choice, but it also gives us insight into what our customers prefer. We often look at download trends to see whether PDF is still the most popular format (it is) and whether Mobi or EPUB are gaining momentum (they are). But what we hadn't done was ask our customers a few simple questions to help us better understand their e-reading habits. We addressed those habits in a recent survey. Here are the questions we asked:

  • If you purchase an ebook from oreilly.com, which of the following is the primary device you will read it on? [Choices included laptop, desktop, iOS devices, Android devices, various Kindle models, and other ereaders/tablets.]
  • On which other devices do you plan to view your ebook?
  • If you purchase an ebook from oreilly.com, which of the following is the primary format in which you plan to read the book? [Choices included PDF, EPUB, Mobi, APK and Daisy formats.]
  • What other ebook formats, if any, do you plan to use?

We ran the survey for about a month and the answers might surprise you. Bear in mind that we realize our audience is unique. O'Reilly caters to technology professionals and enthusiasts. Our customers are also often among the earliest of early adopters.

So, what's the primary ereading device used by these early adopters and techno-enthusiasts? Their iPads. That's not shocking, but what's interesting is how only 25% of respondents said the iPad is their primary device. A whopping 46% said their laptop or desktop computer was their primary ereading device.

Despite all the fanfare about Kindles, iPads, tablets and E Ink devices, the bulk of our customers are still reading their ebooks on an old-fashioned laptop or desktop computer. It's also important to note that the most popular format isn't EPUB or Mobi. Approximately half the respondents said PDF is their primary format. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Again, our audience is largely IT practitioners, coding or solving other problems in front of their laptops/desktops, so they like having the content on that same screen. And just about everyone has Adobe Acrobat on their computer, so the PDF format is immediately readable on most of the laptops/desktops our customers touch.

I've spoken with a number of publishers who rely almost exclusively on Amazon data and trends to figure out what their customers want. What a huge mistake. Even though your audience might be considerably different than O'Reilly's, how do you truly know what they want and need if you're relying on an intermediary (with an agenda) to tell you? Your hidden trend might not have anything to do with devices or formats but rather reader/app features or content delivery. If you don't take the time to build a direct channel, you may never know the answers. In fact, without a direct channel, you might not even know the questions that need to be asked.

Joe Wikert (@joewikert) tweeted select stats and findings from O'Reilly's ereader survey.

Associated photo on home and category pages: Straight as an Arrow by Jeremy Vandel, on Flickr

Mini TOC Chicago — Being held April 9, Mini TOC Chicago is a one-day event focusing on Chicago's thriving publishing, tech, and bookish-arts community.

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February 09 2012

It's time for a unified ebook format and the end of DRM

This post originally appeared on Publishers Weekly.

EreadersImagine buying a car that locks you into one brand of fuel. A new BMW, for example, that only runs on BMW gas. There are plenty of BMW gas stations around, even a few in your neighborhood, so convenience isn't an issue. But if one of those other gas stations offers a discount, a membership program, or some other attractive marketing campaign, you can't participate. You're locked in with the BMW gas stations.

This could never happen, right? Consumers are too smart to buy into something like this. Or are they? After all, isn't that exactly what's happening in the ebook world? You buy a dedicated ebook reader like a Kindle or a NOOK and you're locked in to that company's content. Part of this problem has to do with ebook formats (e.g., EPUB or Mobipocket) while another part of it stems from publisher insistence on the use of digital rights management (DRM). Let's look at these issues individually.

Platform lock-in

I've often referred to it as Amazon's not-so-secret formula: Every time I buy another ebook for my Kindle, I'm building a library that makes me that much more loyal to Amazon's platform. If I've invested thousands or even hundreds of dollars in Kindle-formatted content, how could I possibly afford to switch to another reading platform?

It would be too inconvenient to have part of my library in Amazon's Mobipocket format and the rest in EPUB. Even though I could read both on a tablet (e.g., the iPad), I'd be forced to switch between two different apps. The user interface between any two reading apps is similar but not identical, and searching across your entire library becomes a two-step process since there's no way to access all of your content within one app.

This situation isn't unique to Amazon. The same issue exists for all the other dedicated ereader hardware platforms (e.g., Kobo, NOOK, etc.). Google Books initially seemed like a solution to this problem, but it still doesn't offer mobi formats for the Kindle, so it's selling content for every format under the sun — except the one with the largest market share.

EPUB would seem to be the answer. It's a popular format based on web standards, and it's developed and maintained by an organization that's focused on openness and broad industry adoption. It also happens to be the format used by seemingly every ebook vendor except the largest one: Amazon.

Even if we could get Amazon to adopt EPUB, though, we'd still have that other pesky issue to deal with: DRM.

The myth of DRM

I often blame Napster for the typical book publisher's fear of piracy. Publishers saw what happened in the music industry and figured the only way they'd make their book content available digitally was to tightly wrap it with DRM. The irony of this is that some of the most highly pirated books were never released as ebooks. Thanks to the magic of high-speed scanner technology, any print book can easily be converted to an ebook and distributed illegally.

Some publishers don't want to hear this, but the truth is that DRM can be hacked. It does not eliminate piracy. It not only fails as a piracy deterrent, but it also introduces restrictions that make ebooks less attractive than print books. We've all read a print book and passed it along to a friend. Good luck doing that with a DRM'd ebook! What publishers don't seem to understand is that DRM implies a lack of trust. All customers are considered thieves and must be treated accordingly.

The evil of DRM doesn't end there, though. Author Charlie Stross recently wrote a terrific blog post entitled "Cutting Their Own Throats." It's all about how publisher fear has enabled a big ebook player like Amazon to further reinforce its market position, often at the expense of publishers and authors. It's an unintended consequence of DRM that's impacting our entire industry.

Given all these issues, why not eliminate DRM and trust your customers? Even the music industry, the original casualty of the Napster phenomenon, has seen the light and moved on from DRM.

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.

Register to attend TOC 2012

Lessons from the music industry

Several years ago, Steve Jobs posted a letter to the music industry pleading for them to abandon DRM. The letter no longer appears on Apple's website, but community commentary about it lives on. My favorite part of that letter is where Jobs asks why the music industry would allow DRM to go away. The answer is that, "DRMs haven't worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy." In fact, a study last year by Rice University and Duke University contends that removing DRM can actually decrease piracy. Yes, you read that right.

I recently had an experience with my digital music collection that drove this point home for me. I had just switched from an iPhone to an Android phone and wanted to get my music from the old device onto the new one. All I had to do was drag and drop the folder containing my music in iTunes to the SD card in my new phone. It worked perfectly because the music file formats are universal and there was no DRM involved.

Imagine trying to do that with your ebook collection. Try dragging your Kindle ebooks onto your new NOOK, for example. Incompatible file formats and DRM prevent that from happening ... today. At some point in the not-too-distant future, though, I'm optimistic the book publishing industry will get to the same stage as the music industry and offer a universal, DRM-free format for all ebooks. Then customers will be free to use whatever e-reader they prefer without fear of lock-in and incompatibilities.

The music industry made the transition, why can't we?


Related:


January 27 2012

Top stories: January 23-27, 2012

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

On pirates and piracy
Mike Loukides: "I'm not willing to have the next Bach, Beethoven, or Shakespeare post their work online, only to have it taken down because they haven't paid off a bunch of executives who think they own creativity."

Microsoft's plan for Hadoop and big data
Strata conference chair Edd Dumbill takes a look at Microsoft's plans for big data. By embracing Hadoop, the company aims to keep Windows and Azure as a standards-friendly option for data developers.

Coming soon to a location near you: The Amazon Store?
Jason Calacanis says an Amazon retail presence isn't out of the question and that AmazonBasics is a preview of what's to come.

Survey results: How businesses are adopting and dealing with data
Feedback from a recent Strata Online Conference suggests there's a large demand for clear information on what big data is and how it will change business.

Why the fuss about iBooks Author?
Apple doesn't have an objective to move the publishing industry forward. With iBooks Author, the company sees an opportunity to reinvent this industry within its own closed ecosystem.


Strata 2012, Feb. 28-March 1 in Santa Clara, Calif., will offer three full days of hands-on data training and information-rich sessions. Strata brings together the people, tools, and technologies you need to make data work. Save 20% on Strata registration with the code RADAR20.

January 26 2012

Why the fuss about iBooks Author?

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("iBooks Author: Appreciating Apple's Intent"). It's republished with permission.

iBooks AuthorApple's recent announcement and release of its iBooks Author tool was met with plenty of controversy. This HuffPost article pretty well sums things up.

My question is simply this: Why all the fuss? Apple's intent has never been to improve the book publishing industry. Just like Amazon and any other ebook vendor, Apple's goal is to capture share of this rapidly growing segment. In Apple's case, it simply decided to offer an authoring tool that's capable of creating some pretty darned cool products. If Amazon were to do the same thing and create a terrific authoring tool for mobi or KF8 format, would the industry be as upset? I don't think so.

How is this any different from the App Store model itself? Developers are creating apps for the App Store, and they know they'll only run on an iOS device. They also realize they'll have to go through Apple's approval process before getting into the App Store.

Prior to the release of iBooks Author, the content creation and distribution model looked like this:

  1. Author writes material in favorite word processor.
  2. Author/publisher edit and convert that content into mobi format for distribution on Amazon, EPUB format for distribution through iBookstore and others, etc.

The exact same model still exists today, even with the introduction of iBooks Author. That's right. Apple's EULA doesn't really lock you into its distribution channel for your content. That restriction only applies to a "book or other work you generate using [the iBooks Author] software." All Apple's really trying to do is prevent you from tweaking the output of its tool to create content for other distribution channels. OK, that's kind of annoying, but far from the lock-in nightmare so many people are describing it as. Based on my interpretation, you're able to use the same content as input to the iBooks Author tool as you'd use for a mobi-formatted product you want to sell on Amazon.

(I should also point out that I'm far from an Apple fanboy. Anyone who knows me realizes I dumped my iPhone last year for an Android-based Samsung Galaxy S II (and yes, I love it). I also tried to dump my iPad for a Kindle Fire but found the Fire user experience to be very disappointing. I'll probably make the jump to another Android tablet later this year, once key apps like Zite are available. In the meantime though, I want to make it clear I'm not here to shill for Apple. If anything, I'm currently in a stage where I'd prefer to buy devices that aren't made by the content providers. Samsung is high on my list, for example.)

Apple doesn't have an objective to move the publishing industry forward. It sees an opportunity to reinvent this industry, and it feels it can do so within its own, closed ecosystem. It's as simple as that, and it's consistent with everything it has done in the App Store up to now.

Let's also not forget that the iBooks Author tool is free. It's not like we paid Apple $50, $100 or more for some authoring tool that we thought could work for all content formats and distribution channels. If the tool's feature set is compelling enough, I'd like to think the other ebook vendors (e.g., Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, etc.) will have to come up with something at least as powerful for their own platforms. If not, they get left in the dust and Apple gains share. Seems pretty fair to me.

In the meantime, I plan to do some hands-on testing with iBooks Author. At first, I was discouraged because you can't download iBooks Author unless you're running Lion. I'm still on Snow Leopard, but an O'Reilly colleague sent me this link that shows you how to tweak a couple of settings so you can download and run iBooks Author on a Snow Leopard system. I just tried it, and it works fine. (You just have to carefully read and interpret the steps since it's a translation from French to English.)

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.

Register to attend TOC 2012

Related:

December 20 2011

O'Reilly Radar Script & Links: December 20, 2011

Below you'll find the script and associated links from the December 20, 2011 edition of O'Reilly Radar. An archive of past shows is available through O'Reilly Media's YouTube channel. You can find scripts and links for other episodes here.


In this episode of O’Reilly Radar, find out why Joe Wikert thinks Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library is a bad deal for publishers.

We’ll also take a look at top stories published recently across O’Reilly’s platforms.

And LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman discusses technology’s role in job creation.

Now we’ll get to all that in just a moment, but up first we’re going to take a look at some of the news that’s on our radar.


Radar news & analysis

Many of us rely on mapping services like Google Maps to get from point A to point B. But the utility of these tools abruptly cuts off when we reach the front doors of our destinations.

Indoor navigation has, until recently, been defined by posted signs and the kindness of strangers.

But what if you could pull out your mobile device and easily navigate unfamiliar indoor locations?

Meridian, Nokia and other companies have been working to make indoor navigation useful. Now, Google is jumping into the indoor fray as well.

A new release of Google Maps for Android includes floor plans for a number of airports, malls and retailers in the U.S. and Japan.

Google’s indoor maps can guide you from spot to spot, and they even know which floor you're on.

For now, Google's indoor navigation is available in a limited roll-out. The feature is only compatible with Android devices and the list of participating outlets is pretty slim.

Nonetheless, this is one of those “we’ve always needed this” sorts of tools. So watch for indoor nav from the likes of Google and others to quickly transition from novelty to an established -- and expected -- part of future mapping apps.

We’ll be keeping an eye on the evolution of these geo tools and nav applications through continuing coverage on O’Reilly Radar, and at O’Reilly’s upcoming Where Conference.

The Radar interview: Joe Wikert

Coming up next I find out why O’Reilly’s Joe Wikert thinks Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library is a bad deal for publishers. Joe also weighs in on Amazon Prime, and he reveals some of the trends he’s spotting as he preps for February’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference.


Radar posts of note

Here’s a look at some of the top stories recently published across O’Reilly’s platforms.

Clay Johnson, author of the forthcoming book “The Information Diet,” has a problem with the term “information overload.” Johnson believes that information consumption is what really needs to be addressed. Read the post.

In a short and informative case study, discover how Omnivore Books, a small cookbook store in San Francisco, uses Twitter to solidify relationships with customers and break through the publisher blockade. The store has distilled its Twitter process into a dead simple rule: be ⅓ personal and ⅔ professional. Read the post.

Finally, what happens when everyone has access to your Starbucks card? Author Jonathan Stark found out this past summer when he conducted a unique social experiment. He shares what he learned in this interview. Read the post.

You can find links to these posts and other resources mentioned during this episode at radar.oreilly.com/show.

Radar video spotlight

In this episode’s Video Spotlight, we’re featuring Alex Howard’s recent interview with LinedIn founder Reid Hoffman.

Hoffman explains how technology, often perceived as a threat to jobs, can actually help create them.


Just a reminder that you can always catch episodes of O’Reilly Radar at youtube.com/oreillymedia. And links mentioned in each episode are posted at radar.oreilly.com/show.

That’s all we have for this episode. Thanks for joining us and we’ll see you again soon.

Quid pro quo will define the author-publisher relationship

In a recent interview, author and digital book producer Peter Meyers talked about what we can expect as publishing comes into its own in the digital era. He said customized book apps will largely go by the wayside, and HTML5 as a format will be a bit of a hard-sell to consumers. And using his own experience as a basis, Meyers said publishers aren't in danger of becoming irrelevant.

Highlights from the interview (below) include:

  • Different kinds of books gravitate toward different kinds of formats — Meyers said the majority of books in the future won't be customized apps. The ones that will be apps will be the ones that require interactivity. [Discussed at the 0:19 mark.]
  • HTML5 is still a wild card — Meyers said HTML5's core question is transactional: Are people willing to pay for web-based content? Consumers have been reluctant thus far, but as HTML5 gets fully supported, we'll see more experimentation. [Discussed at 1:40.]
  • Amazon's Fire tablet will be a problem for B&N — Even though both tablets are similar in a lot ways, Meyers pointed toward Amazon's ecosystem and said B&N just doesn't match up to Amazon's content and service offerings. [Discussed at 4:54.]
  • Will publishers become irrelevant? — Meyers said no. Using his own experience as an example, he highlighted the fact that his publisher (O'Reilly) provides a platform to publicize his work and technological support to produce works in particular formats. What he doesn't get — and said few authors do — is hand-holding, individual attention, detailed line editing, cheerleading and so forth. Meyers said authors need to go in with the expectation that they'll have to do as much for their publishers and their books as the publishers do for them. [Discussed at 5:26.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

Meyers' new book, "Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience," will be released in the next couple weeks — you can nab a free preview copy now — and he'll host a workshop at TOC 2012.

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.

Register to attend TOC 2012

Related:

December 09 2011

Top Stories: December 5-9, 2011

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

The end of social
Mike Loukides: "If you want to tell me what you listen to, I care. But if sharing is nothing more than a social application feed that's constantly updated without your volition, then it's just another form of spam."

Why cloud services are a tempting target for attackers
Jeffrey Carr says before organizations embrace the efficiencies and cost savings of cloud services, they should also closely consider the security repercussions and liabilities attached to the cloud.


White House to open source Data.gov as open government data platform
The new "Data.gov in a box" could empower countries to build their own platforms. With this step forward, the prospects are brighter for stimulating economic activity, civic utility and accountability under a global open-government partnership.

Stickers as sensors
Put a GreenGoose sticker on an object, and just like that, you'll have an Internet-connected sensor. In this interview, GreenGoose founder Brian Krejcarek discusses stickers as sensors and the data that can be gathered from everyday activities.

What publishers can learn from Netflix's problems
Wired.com writer Tim Carmody examines the recent missteps of Netflix and takes a broad look at how technology shapes the reading experience.


Tools of Change for Publishing, being held February 13-15 in New York, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Register to attend TOC 2012.

November 30 2011

The paperless book

Stephen Colbert opened his October 25th, 2011, show with his normal exuberance. He bragged about his special early access to the iPhone, the iPad, and the iV (a product that feeds the Internet directly into your veins; he assured us a short wait of six months before its release). The release of Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" would be no different, as Colbert pulled the 600-page biography from behind his desk. But Colbert immediately became perplexed.

The single finger touchscreen swipe on the cover didn't turn pages. When you turned the book upside down, the picture didn't reorient. Colbert complained there was no place to plug in his headphones so he could listen to it. And then he tried to activate the voice recognition by touching the bottom of the cover, "Tell me about Steve Jobs. Where is the nearest church or camera store?" He ended the segment saying that the device would soon be released with "a revolutionary softcover." The jokes played well to the geekish sensibilities of the studio audience, but I am not sure even the show's writers knew how well the sketch described the confused state of book publishing.

"Steve Jobs" will serve as a prominent road marker on the path from atoms to bits. The decision for Simon & Schuster to hold the digital release of the biography for two weeks to match the physical release even after the death of Jobs is worthy of a Harvard Business School case. And at the same time, even as computers now interface with us in almost every aspect of our lives and Jobs' critical role in that proliferation, the majority of people will read his life story on paper.

Colbert poking fun at the Jobs biography repeats, again, a meme that we in the publishing industry should be gravely concerned about — our customers don't know what a book is anymore.

The consequences of book updates

In July 2011, I launched an experimental project with O'Reilly called "Every Book Is a Startup." The project is meant to poke at the boundaries of traditional publishing. The book was created around the idea that new material will be released over time, culminating in a finished work early in 2012. Readers are encouraged to constantly give feedback about the material. The pricing is dynamic, increasing slowly to match the amount of material released, but once purchased, a customer receives all future updates for free.

We are only using one distribution point at the start of the project, oreilly.com, because the distribution system for electronic books is not designed to allow an ebook to be updated and released again. You might remember one of the side effects of Amazon's 2009 recall of "1984" was that after the book was restored, customers found their bookmarks and notes had disappeared.

We, unfortunately, found the same problem with our release strategy. Wonderful publishing startups like Readmill and SocialBook have created the possibility for readers using EPUB files to highlight important passages and share those with others back through the web, but when a reader of "Every Book Is A Startup" loads a new edition, their digital artifacts suffer the same fate as the readers of "1984" — the loss of their old thoughts as I present them with my new ones.

I have been hesitant to call "Every Book Is A Startup" a book because of the expectations people hold for a book: a finished work, written from a position of singular authority, available in some way in a physical form. What I never expected was how strongly the qualities of a book would be brought forward from the physical to the digital. Digital books have been designed to carry forward the same atomic quality of immutability of physical books. As I reached out to my colleagues working in the world of ebooks, the consensus was that no one had considered a reality where an author, given the ability to distribute directly and virtually cost free, would consider updating their work and the consequences that might have.

Bits and atoms don't behave the same way, but we have built the next step forward in publishing as though they do.

Possibilities arise from a new name

The trouble to this point is that a book is a book. Stacey Madden used precisely those words to title an essay in the inaugural issue of "Toronto Review of Books" that describes this predicament. "I do not mean to argue the advantages of paperbound books over their electronic counterparts," wrote Madden. "The contents of both are, for the most part, the same, and the differences lie mainly in medium. I am simply pointing out a semantic fact. E-books are not 'books' but digitized compositions." She firmly believes the book's 550-year-old meaning that connects both form and format should be maintained. "Before a collection of human thoughts is transformed into what we call a 'book,' it is merely a story, a manuscript, a document, or a text." Madden points to the need for more of us to see the difference between a book and its electronic counterparts.

Now, Madden writes further about the poetic qualities of the book and declares the superiority of the bound volume for its weight, smell, and ability to act as apartment furnishing. This judgment undermines the broader point and shows from another perspective the real trouble we are in.

The people who love books for what they are and what they have been are grabbing for their hardcovers and their paperbacks and saying "This word belongs to us." The digerati paving the way with wireless tablets and social networking recommendation services are trying to say, "You don't understand, we have books and we have made them way better." This is messy and leads to confusion.

We are living through a time in book publishing where words fail us, a situation that we should all find some irony in given the products we sell. We need some new language that describes what happens and, more importantly, what is possible when the words are separated from the paper. Those two things need to be separated so we can build systems and infrastructures that support the new capabilities of the technology.

For several decades, what we know today as a "car" was referred to as a "horseless carriage." It was easier to describe this new invention as what it was not, rather than what it was.

Maybe there are books and there are paperless books. I know it is a little awkward, and you want to ask yourself, "What does that mean?" — but when you remove the paper from a book, it becomes so much easier to see the possibilities.

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.

Register to attend TOC 2012

Photo credit for associated book picture used on home and category pages: Old book (1882) by VanDammeMaarten.be, on Flickr

Related:

November 15 2011

HTML5 for publishers: Drawing on the screen

Most publishers have at least a vague sense that HTML5 is an important content technology, but what does that content actually look like? What can it do? The following excerpt from the free ebook "HTML5 for Publishers" shows how a simple finger painting canvas can be added to an HTML5-based book.


Doing animations on the HTML5 Canvas is cool, but what’s even cooler is letting the user draw on the Canvas herself. With the advent of touchscreen phones, tablets, and ereaders, this becomes even more compelling, as the user can draw directly on the screen with her finger, rather than using a mouse or trackpad. In this section, we’ll look at how to implement a simple “finger painting” app in the Canvas, which would be a nice fit for a children’s ebook—for example, a story that lets kids draw their own illustrations to accompany the text, or a preschool textbook that uses the finger painting to teach colors and shapes.

Here’s the HTML we’ll use to construct the Finger Painting page; the <canvas> tag which will hold the drawing area is highlighted in bold:

<!doctype html>
<html lang="en">
<head>
<title>Finger Painting</title>
<script src="modernizr-1.6.min.js"></script>
<script src="finger_painting.js"></script>
</head>
<body>
<div>
<canvas id="canvas" width="500" height="500">
 Your browser does not support the HTML 5 Canvas. 
</canvas>
</div>
<div>
<h1>Finger Painting</h1>
<p>Click/tap a color below to select a color, and then drag/swipe on the
  canvas above to draw a picture.</p>
<p>Color selected: <span id="color_chosen">Black</span></p>
<p>
<input type="button" id="Red" style="background-color: red; width: 25px; 
height: 25px;"/>
<input type="button" id="Orange" style="background-color: orange; width: 25px; 
height: 25px;"/>
<input type="button" id="Yellow" style="background-color: yellow; width: 25px; 
height: 25px;"/>
<input type="button" id="Green" style="background-color: green; width: 25px; 
height: 25px;"/>
<input type="button" id="Blue" style="background-color: blue; width: 25px; 
height: 25px;"/>
<input type="button" id="Purple" style="background-color: purple; width: 25px; 
height: 25px;"/>
<input type="button" id="Brown" style="background-color: brown; width: 25px; 
height: 25px;"/>
<input type="button" id="Black" style="background-color: black; width: 25px; 
height: 25px;"/>
<input type="button" id="White" style="background-color: white; width: 25px; 
height: 25px;"/>
</p>  
<p><input type="button" id="reset_image" value="Reset Drawing"/></p>
</div>
</body>
</html>

Note that the color palette below the Canvas has been implemented using <input> buttons, which are styled with CSS to be the appropriate color and size. The image below displays the page in Chrome for Mac.

Finger painting interface in Google Chrome
Finger painting interface in Google Chrome (click to enlarge).

In order for the user to be able to draw on the screen, we’ll need to be able to track his cursor motions and clicks within the Canvas. We can do so by adding event listeners to the <canvas> element as follows:

theCanvas.addEventListener('mousedown', mouse_pressed_down, false);
theCanvas.addEventListener('mousemove', mouse_moved, false);
theCanvas.addEventListener('mouseup', mouse_released, false);

Now when a user presses down on the mouse within the <canvas>, a mousemove event is triggered in the browser, and our event listener calls the mouse_pressed_down function. Similarly, when the mouse is moved within the dimensions of the Canvas, the mouse_moved function is called, and when the mouse button is released, the mouse_released function is called. Let’s take a look at these three functions:

    function mouse_pressed_down (ev) {
    begin_drawing = true;
    context.fillStyle = colorChosen.innerHTML;
}

function mouse_moved (ev) {
var x, y;
// Get the mouse position in the canvas
x = ev.pageX;
y = ev.pageY;

if (begin_drawing) {
context.beginPath();
context.arc(x, y, 7, (Math.PI/180)*0, (Math.PI/180)*360, false);
context.fill();
context.closePath();
}
}

function mouse_released (ev) {
begin_drawing = false;
}

The mouse_pressed_down function serves to “turn
on” a drawing event on the canvas. It sets the variable
begin_drawing to true, and then sets
the fill color to be used to the current color selected from the color
palette.

Then when the mouse_moved function is called
(which occurs any time the mouse is moved somewhere within the Canvas), we
get the cursor’s coordinates using the
pageX/pageY properties. We check if
the begin_drawing variable is set to
true, which means that the user has the mouse button
pressed down, and if so, we draw a circle of the designated color with a
radius of 7 pixels at the cursor location.

As long as the mouse button is held down while the mouse is moved
over the Canvas, the mouse_moved function will be
called every single time the cursor location changes, which means that
circles will continue to be drawn as the mouse moves, resulting in an
effect quite similar to the Paintbrush tool in many image-editing
applications.

When the mouse button is released, the
begin_drawing variable is set back to
false, which “turns off” the drawing event. This
ensures that drawing occurs only when the mouse is held down, and not when
the mouse is moved over the Canvas without the button being
pressed.

The above code works great on desktop and laptop browsers, where a
mouse is used to interface with screen elements, but what about
touchscreen devices like the iPad? In general, touchscreen browsers do not
support
mousedown/mousemove/mouseup
events, as there is no mouse button or mouse cursor that they can track;
all those features are replaced with finger taps and swipes. However,
WebKit-based browsers support
a corresponding set of events for tracking finger motions in the browser:
touchstart/touchend/touchmove.
So we can implement the same drawing functionality as above using a
touchmove event listener:



theCanvas.addEventListener('touchmove', touch_move_gesture, false);

And the following touch_move_gesture
function:



function touch_move_gesture (ev) {
// For touchscreen browsers/readers that support touchmove
var x, y;
context.beginPath();
context.fillStyle = colorChosen.innerHTML;
if(ev.touches.length == 1){
var touch = ev.touches[0];
x = touch.pageX;
y = touch.pageY;
context.arc(x, y, 7, (Math.PI/180)*0, (Math.PI/180)*360, false);
context.fill();
}
}

(Note: The touchmove handling for touchscreen devices is actually much simpler than the mouse-based version, because we don’t even need to track touchstart and touchend events. When dealing with a mouse, we need to keep track of whether the mouse button is pressed or not when it’s being moved on the canvas. In the touch version, we know that if the touchmove event has been triggered, the user has his finger on the screen and is intending to draw.)

And that’s the meat of the finger painting code. All that’s left is the code to initialize the event listeners, track color palette selections, and implement the Reset Drawing button functionality. The example below shows the full JavaScript code for our finger painting application. (The finger painting JavaScript code can be downloaded here.)

window.addEventListener('load', eventWindowLoaded, false);	
function eventWindowLoaded() {
    canvasApp();
}

function canvasSupport () {
return Modernizr.canvas;
}


function canvasApp(){
if (!canvasSupport()) {
return;
}else{
var theCanvas = document.getElementById('canvas');
var context = theCanvas.getContext('2d');
var redButton = document.getElementById("Red");
var orangeButton = document.getElementById("Orange");
var yellowButton = document.getElementById("Yellow");
var greenButton = document.getElementById("Green");
var blueButton = document.getElementById("Blue");
var purpleButton = document.getElementById("Purple");
var brownButton = document.getElementById("Brown");
var blackButton = document.getElementById("Black");
var whiteButton = document.getElementById("White");
var colorChosen = document.getElementById("color_chosen");
var resetButton = document.getElementById("reset_image");
redButton.addEventListener('click', colorPressed, false);
orangeButton.addEventListener('click', colorPressed, false);
yellowButton.addEventListener('click', colorPressed, false);
greenButton.addEventListener('click', colorPressed, false);
blueButton.addEventListener('click', colorPressed, false);
purpleButton.addEventListener('click', colorPressed, false);
brownButton.addEventListener('click', colorPressed, false);
blackButton.addEventListener('click', colorPressed, false);
whiteButton.addEventListener('click', colorPressed, false);
resetButton.addEventListener('click', resetPressed, false);
drawScreen();
}

function drawScreen() {
theCanvas.addEventListener('mousedown', mouse_pressed_down, false);
theCanvas.addEventListener('mousemove', mouse_moved, false);
theCanvas.addEventListener('mouseup', mouse_released, false);
theCanvas.addEventListener('touchmove', touch_move_gesture, false);
context.fillStyle = 'white';
context.fillRect(0, 0, theCanvas.width, theCanvas.height);
context.strokeStyle = '#000000';
context.strokeRect(1, 1, theCanvas.width-2, theCanvas.height-2);
}

// For the mouse_moved event handler.
var begin_drawing = false;

function mouse_pressed_down (ev) {
begin_drawing = true;
context.fillStyle = colorChosen.innerHTML;
}

function mouse_moved (ev) {
var x, y;
// Get the mouse position in the canvas
x = ev.pageX;
y = ev.pageY;

if (begin_drawing) {
context.beginPath();
context.arc(x, y, 7, (Math.PI/180)*0, (Math.PI/180)*360, false);
context.fill();
context.closePath();
}
}

function mouse_released (ev) {
begin_drawing = false;
}

function touch_move_gesture (ev) {
// For touchscreen browsers/readers that support touchmove
var x, y;
context.beginPath();
context.fillStyle = colorChosen.innerHTML;
if(ev.touches.length == 1){
var touch = ev.touches[0];
x = touch.pageX;
y = touch.pageY;
context.arc(x, y, 7, (Math.PI/180)*0, (Math.PI/180)*360, false);
context.fill();
}
}

function colorPressed(e) {
var color_button_selected = e.target;
var color_id = color_button_selected.getAttribute('id');
colorChosen.innerHTML = color_id;
}

function resetPressed(e) {
theCanvas.width = theCanvas.width; // Reset grid
drawScreen();
}
}

You can experiment with the Finger Painting app on examples.oreilly.com. The image below shows a completed drawing in the Finger Painting app in the iBooks reader for iPad.

Author self-portrait in Finger Painting app in iBook
Author self-portrait in Finger Painting app in iBook.

Pretty cool, right? Although maybe not as impressive as what you can do in some other touchscreen finger painting apps.

HTML5 for Publishers — This free ebook provides an overview of some of the most exciting features HTML5 provides to ebook content creators — audio/video, geolocation, and the Canvas — and shows how to put them in action.

Related:

November 04 2011

The problem with Amazon's Kindle Owners' Lending Library

Amazon Kindle logoIt's no secret that I'm a big Amazon fan. In fact, I recently took the Amazon side in a debate about platform superiority. (I won that debate, by the way ...) That's why a lot of people are surprised that I'm such an outspoken critic of Amazon's new Kindle Owners' Lending Library. The program is great for Amazon and maybe even for consumers, assuming they're willing to live with the many restrictions, but it's awful for publishers and authors.

Why? As Amazon stated in its press release, "For the vast majority of titles, Amazon has reached agreement with publishers to include titles for a fixed fee." 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.

Even if a flat fee made sense, how can a publisher try to estimate a fair amount? One key factor is the number of Amazon Prime subscribers. There are a variety of estimates on this figure, but those estimates only apply to this specific point in time. How can you possibly know the number of Prime subscribers Amazon will have in six months? In 12 months? Don't assume you can simply extrapolate this number from historical trends. When the Kindle Fire comes out later this month it will include a 30-day Prime trial, and I expect the Fire's availability and the upcoming holidays to create an enormous surge in Prime subscribers. When will Prime double today's levels? It's impossible to say, which means there's no way to estimate how many times a book might get loaned out. That also means it's impossible to come up with a reasonable estimate on a flat fee for a publisher's list.

I hope Amazon reconsiders and switches this program to a pay-for-performance model. That's the only way I'll ever support it as a publisher.

What's your take? Please weigh in through the comments.

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.

Register to attend TOC 2012

Related:

September 16 2011

Top Stories: September 12-16, 2011

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

Building data science teams
A data science team needs people with the right skills and perspectives, and it also requires strong tools, processes, and interaction between the team and the rest of the company.

The evolution of data products
The real changes in our lives will come from products that have the richness of data without calling attention to the data.

The work of data journalism: Find, clean, analyze, create ... repeat
Simon Rogers discusses the grunt work and tools behind The Guardian's data stories.

Social data: A better way to track TV
PeopleBrowsr CEO Jodee Rich says social data offers a better way to see what TV audiences watch and what they care about.


When media rebooted, it brought marketing with it
In this TOC podcast, Twist Image president Mitch Joel talks about some of the common challenges facing the music, magazine and book publishing sectors.




Strata Conference New York 2011, being held Sept. 22-23, covers the latest and best tools and technologies for data science — from gathering, cleaning, analyzing, and storing data to communicating data intelligence effectively. Save 30% on registration with the code ORM30.

September 01 2011

Subscription vs catchment

Recently I was filling out an OSCON feedback survey and arrived at a question that stumped me:

Which of the following industry publications and/or blogs do you read on a regular basis?

Following it was a very long checkbox list, starting with ARS Technica and ACM Queue and ending at ZDNet:

OSCON survey

I started going down the list, answering as best I could, but what I really felt was: "The world doesn't work this way anymore!"

As far as subscriptions go, the main thing I subscribe to these days is Google Alerts and other filters for the topics I care about. Things just float through my alerts, or my Twitter feed, or whatever the catchment du jour is. Subscribing would feel like over-commitment to a single source. If the feedback form had asked "Which of these do you find yourself clicking on most often?" that would have been much closer to reality.

I still have an RSS reader, somewhere around here, but the only two items from the survey list actually in my reader are, I think, Slashdot and O'Reilly Radar. Yet, I read articles from the others all the time. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've read more ZDNet articles than Slashdot articles in the last month, even though I'm "subscribed" to Slashdot but not ZDNet.

As I'm usually not in the advance guard of technology trends, I'm pretty sure I can't be the only person who's basically given up on old-fashioned subscriptions [1]. Is the "subscribe to X" model on its last legs?

Active source loyalty may just not be a thing anymore on the Net. Who evaluates sources as sources now? We're looking more at the cloud of endorsements and references around the sources. This gives us subtle clues as to whether we should go the whole way and click through. More and more, this is true even with publications that have a good reputation and that have spent effort to build that reputation. I like Linux Weekly News (LWN), but I'm not actually going to go to their front page. I'm going to wait until the generalized social waves coursing through the Net bring LWN to me.

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Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR

The catchment model means that the urgent task, for those trying to get your attention, is to look enough like what your friends and colleagues endorse to fool your filters. (Of course, one way to do that is to enter into partnerships with the filters, or just be the filters. The rest of this parenthetical aside is left as an exercise for the reader.)

In the past, the sources were a destination all on their own. But as the sources become inputs into a larger filtering system, the filters are the next natural target for those seeking influence — or as we prefer to say in the technology field, the next site of innovation. When people are trawling so many sources, it no longer pays to concentrate on sources at all. It makes much more sense to start studying how the trawlers work and how to become part of the filtering infrastructure.

Perhaps this is all obvious. It just struck me because I've filled out similar evaluation forms for years, and only lately has that question felt like it's based on an obsolete model. And that model doesn't just go away: it gets replaced with something else, something in which broad data collection and pattern discernment matter far more than the reputation and branding of any individual source.

Thanks to Andy Oram for his helpful comments on earlier drafts of this post.


[1] Subscriptions on the Internet, that is. I'll still get my paper copy of The New Yorker until they make it illegal to chop down trees to support East Coast intellectual elitism — a day I hope never comes.

Associated photo on home and category pages: email_subscribe by derrickkwa, on Flickr



Related:



May 05 2011

How many imprints does Amazon run?

AmazonLogo.pngAmazon has launched is fourth imprint, Montlake Romance, to compete in the romance publishing sector. It's Amazon's first foray into genre-specific publishing, and it looks like that might just be the tip of the iceberg. In a post for the Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Trachtenberg interviewed Jeff Belle, vice president of Amazon Publishing, who said "the online retailer will eventually publish books in other genres, including thrillers, mysteries and science fiction."

In a post for the Guardian, Alison Flood noted a growing wariness in the publishing industry:

Publishers, however, will be eying the retailer's [Amazon's] increased publishing presence uneasily. "Publishers will be concerned Amazon is increasingly encroaching on what they see as 'their' business," said [Graeme Neill, editor at The Bookseller].

Taking a look at Amazon's other three imprints makes traditional publishers' unease understandable. Amazon launched its AmazonEncore imprint in May 2009. The press release described it:

AmazonEncore is a new program whereby Amazon will use information such as customer reviews on Amazon.com to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate. Amazon will then partner with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon.com Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.

This is like an indie handselling program on steroids. It gives self-published authors who garner good reviews an opportunity to be represented by a publishing house with millions of customers worldwide.

The AmazonCrossing imprint was launched a year later on May 18, 2010, to take foreign titles and translate them into English. The program uses a similar acquisition and marketing approach as the Encore imprint. From the press release:

AmazonCrossing uses customer feedback and other data from Amazon sites around the world to identify exceptional books deserving of a wider, global audience. AmazonCrossing will acquire the rights and translate the books and then introduce them to the English-speaking market through multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, and national and independent booksellers via third-party wholesalers.

Some of the traditional publishing issues with foreign translation were highlighted by Emily Williams in a post for Publishing Perspectives. She first noted the "unforgiving economic calculations that publishers face in taking a translation to market," but she also touched on what might be the larger issue:

Apart from economics, the often cited reason for the difficulty of placing translations with American publishers is the limited number of US editors who speak a foreign language. This is indeed an obstacle. Rachel Kahan, a senior editor at the Putnam, says, "There doesn't seem to me to be as concerted an effort to bring [foreign language] authors to the US as there is to bring UK authors to the US, but I think a lot of that is just the language barrier."

Williams mentioned several independent presses that translate foreign titles — Open Letter, New Directions, Other Press, Melville House, Europa Editions, Archipelago, and Graywolf — but said their business models generally depend on outside sources for financing. Amazon seems to have overcome these obstacles in a way no one else has yet figured out, establishing itself as the first major player to fill this niche.

Last December, Amazon also teemed up with Seth Godin to launch The Domino Project. The imprint was created to publish a series of manifestos. The press release describes the project:

Godin will serve as the lead writer, creative director and instigator for a series of "Idea Manifestos" under his new imprint, The Domino Project, which will include books by other bestselling authors, entrepreneurs and thought leaders. These books will be made available for sale in print editions via Amazon.com and as audiobooks via Amazon.com and Audible.com, at bookstores nationwide and as e-books exclusively in the Kindle Store.

Steven Pressfield, who recently released a manifesto through The Domino Project interviewed Godin about how the project came about. This particular imprint is published through the Powered by Amazon publishing program (the first in the program, actually), so it's not really Amazon's imprint, but it's a noteworthy step in Amazon's journey to infiltrate the publishing industry in unique ways.

Amazon imprints
Some of Amazon's publishing projects.

In addition to publishing titles in these ventures, Amazon also sells rights to some titles to traditional publishing houses. It recently sold rights to 10 titles from the Encore and Crossing imprints to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Combine the imprints with Amazon's hiring spree (search the "publishing" section here), its partnership with OverDrive, and the launch of its German Kindle store, and perhaps it's time for publishers to stop uneasily eying Amazon and instead get down to competing on what is rapidly becoming a large new playing field.



Related:


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