Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

August 07 2012

Where are the apps for ereaders?

I read on my GlowLight NOOK much more frequently than I read on my Asus Transformer tablet. I’d say there’s at least a 10:1 differential, so for every hour I read on my tablet I read at least 10 hours on my Glowlight Nook. I’ll bet I’m not alone and people who own both an E Ink device and a tablet probably do much more reading on the former. So why is the apps ecosystem limited to tablets? Why are there no add-on apps for E Ink devices in general?

In a recent TOC newsletter we asked readers “What do you wish your ereader could do?” We received quite a few replies, but one of the more interesting ones came from a person who said they’d like to have apps like Flipboard, Zite and Pulse on their E Ink device. I found that interesting because those are the apps (along with News360) I use almost every day on my tablet. If there were Nook E Ink versions, that 10:1 ratio noted earlier would probably become 50:1 as there would be less reason for me to switch to my tablet for reading.

So why aren’t there apps like this on E Ink devices? One reason is tied to E Ink’s capabilities. Apps like Flipboard, Zite, et al, offer nice graphics and even a bit of animation. E Ink is limited to grayscale and no animation, of course. So why not create those apps without the animation and just show the images in black and white? That leads to reason No. 2: Amazon, B&N and the other E Ink device vendors aren’t encouraging third-party app development. That’s probably because they want those devices to have the highest walled gardens of all, which is a shame and a loss for consumers.

Is it too late for these vendors to reconsider and encourage third-party app development? Maybe. After all, the momentum has already swung toward tablets and away from E Ink readers. Nevertheless, as long as tablets weigh more than E Ink readers, their displays aren’t as easy on the eyes and they don’t offer significantly longer battery life, I’ll remain a two-device reading consumer. I suspect I’m not alone, so I hope an E Ink app ecosystem takes root at some point.

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“Why Are Apps Only on Tablets?“). This version has been lightly edited.

Related:

August 06 2012

The agency model’s impact on ebook pricing

The agency model has played a key role in ebook pricing models, and the DOJ’s recent ruling has generated a large number of responses from the community. One of the more interesting ones was from Simon Lipskar, President of the Writers House literary agency. I invited Lipskar to participate in a TOC podcast interview so he could talk further about his letter to the DOJ as well as where he sees the ebook market heading.

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

  • Agency model and ebook prices — Simon objects to the discount restrictions in the DOJ settlement terms, but he also believes the DOJ has “clearly misread the landscape of ebook pricing.” [Discussed at the 2:15 mark.]
  • Did agency drive prices up? — Yes and no. Yes, prices increased for the small list of titles the DOJ cited, but no, prices did not go up across the board. Further, many other factors are forcing ebook prices lower, despite the presence of the agency model. [Discussed at 1:34.]
  • Another small snapshot shows lower prices — Although arguably no more scientific than the DOJ’s approach, Simon compared ebook prices on the Amazon best-seller list to pre-agency levels and arrived at a different conclusion. [Discussed at 5:10.]
  • The role of “market power” — In reality, the “big six” publishers don’t have the same market power in the ebook world that they have enjoyed in the print world. [Discussed at 10:28.]
  • Competition is driving prices down — The “explosion” of ebooks is having more of an impact on pricing than the agency model. [Discussed at 15:40.]
  • Is price-setting by publishers a good thing? — It’s unusual in the physical product world, but that aspect of the agency model makes plenty of sense in the digital world. [Discussed at 22:55.]
  • “Distributed sales” is the future — Simon believes the underlying assumptions we have about how ebooks are sold will be changed as we move away from destination sites dedicated to ebooks. [Discussed at 33:03.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.


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

Related:

Four short links: 6 August 2012

  1. Deepflight Kickstarter — built like an aircraft, this submersible flies underwater. Saw footage of it at scifoo, looked mind-bogglingly fun. They’re kickstarting the aero(hydro?)batics test of maneuverability and reward levels include trips in it.
  2. WeHi.tvexplains the discoveries of scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute through 3D animation. The beautiful work of Drew Berry, who also did animation for Bjork’s Biophilia music app.
  3. A Communications Primer — Ray and Charles Eave (“Powers of Ten”) lay out the work of Claude Shannon and Norbert Weiner and others for Mr and Ms Ordinary. (via Linda Doyle)
  4. Scientific Communication as Sequential Art (Bret Victor) — gloriously comprehensible rewrite (using interactive diagrams instead of math) of a classic social graph paper (Watts and Strogatz).

August 03 2012

Publishing News: Consequences and questions from the Twitter kerfuffle

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.

20-20 hindsight

On Sunday, Twitter suspended British journalist Guy Adams’ account after he tweeted NBC executive Gary Zenkel’s email address. Much kerfuffle ensued, Adams wrote a letter to Twitter, Twitter’s general counsel Alex MacGillivray apologized for the way the situation was handled, and Adams’ account was reinstated.

Reviews in the aftermath were interesting. The account suspension ultimately had the opposite of the intended effect, pointing a spotlight at Adams’ tweet and garnering it far more attention than it likely would have had otherwise. Meghan Garber at The Atlantic put together a Topsy chart of the response to Adams’ tweet, which showed the response began as pretty much nothing and then exploded upon his account suspension.

Kashmir Hill at Forbes also reviewed the situation and the surrounding drama, and concluded that the biggest loser was the complainant, NBC: “Beyond having their exec’s email spread far and wide over the Internet, it’s reflected poorly on their stance on free speech and garnered much more negative press for them than they could have imagined when they first complained.”

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm took a look at the bigger picture and identified a serious issue raised by Twitter’s actions:

“… as it expands its media ambitions and does more curation and manual filtering of the kind it has been doing for NBC, Twitter is gradually transforming itself from a distributor of real-time information into a publisher of editorial content, and that could have serious legal ramifications.”

Ingram points out that Twitter isn’t interested in being a publisher or being seen as one, but notes the company is walking a fine line: “If the company is filtering and selecting messages, however, and possibly letting certain parties know when a legally questionable one shows up, that is much more like what publishers do …” Ingram’s post is this week’s recommended read — you can find it here.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

The key to digital may lie in consumers, not products

Amy Chozick at the New York Times took a look this week at Laura Lang, the former chief executive of Digitas and Time Inc.’s new chief executive. Chozick’s interview with Lang and a few of her staff members offered a bit of insight into how Lang will help transform Time Inc.’s magazines for the digital era, insights that extend beyond magazine publishing.

A few key takeaways:

  • “Although her plans for Time Inc. are not yet completed, she said has homed in on the transition to mobile devices and the customizing of ads for marketers based on the vast amount of consumer data Time Inc. collects on readers. Her theory: if users’ personal information is a treasure trove for Silicon Valley businesses, it should be equally valuable to traditional media. … Marketers hoping to reach new mothers, for instance, can incorporate messaging into an issue of People magazine (and its various app and online editions) with Jessica Simpson’s baby photos or Sandra Bullock’s announcement that she has adopted a child.”
  • “Ms. Lang said the word ‘consumer’ more than 25 times in a roughly 90-minute interview.”
  • “‘We used to put magazines at the center and all the other ways consumers connect were extensions of the magazines,’ said Mr. Caine, the chief revenue officer. ‘[Lang] didn’t come in with a magazine plan; she came in with a consumer plan.’”

You can read more from Lang’s interview and about how she’s tackling the challenges at Time Inc., here.

The state of ereaders and ereading

Alan Jacobs took a look at the state of ereaders this week in a post at The Atlantic. Writing from the perspective that ereaders have been around long enough to be considered part of the “reading landscape,” Jacobs looks at ereading technology progress and lack thereof. On the progress side, he highlights backlighting and improved contrast in e-ink screens; on the improvement-needed side, he points out that screen glare continues to be an issue and typeface options are still too limited, but those are the least of the technology gaps. Jacobs argues:

“… it seems to me that the most serious deficiencies of e-readers involve readers’ interactions with books. In this respect we may be losing ground rather than gaining it. … newer versions of the Kindle software are making it harder to annotate … [and] even to highlight … for engaged, responsive reading, [ereaders] seem to be generally stagnating, or perhaps even moving backward. These are technologies that need a kick in the pants.”

O’Reilly publisher and GM Joe Wikert also recently took a look at ereader technology and areas that leave him wanting. Wikert argues that ereaders need an econtent manager that allows users to create a reading schedule, a sample content manager that reminds users they have samples waiting to be read, and the ability to connect with Instapaper accounts.

These technology gaps may be having an effect on readers’ reading habits. The Book Industry Study Group released the latest report from its ongoing Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading study, and according to the press release, the survey results show “that the percentage of e-book consumers who exclusively or mostly purchase book content in e-book format has decreased from nearly 70% in August 2011 to 60% in May 2012.” The study also found an increase in the percentage of readers (25% to 34%) who either have no preference in book format or who buy both ebook and print formats, depending on genre. You can read more about the latest study here.

Tip us off

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

Related:

July 31 2012

On email privacy, Twitter’s ToS and owning your own platform

The existential challenge for the Internet and society remains is that the technology platforms constitute what many people regard as the new public square are owned by private companies. If you missed the news, Guy Adams, a journalist at the Independent newspaper in England, was suspended by Twitter after he tweeted the corporate email address of a NBC executive, Gary Zenkel. Zenkel is in charge of NBC’s Olympics coverage.

Like many other observers, I assumed that NBC had seen the tweet and filed an objection with Twitter about the email address being tweeted. The email address, after all, was shared with the exhortation to Adams’ followers to write to Zenkel about frustrations with NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, a number of which Jim Stogdill memorably expressed here at Radar and Heidi Moore compared to Wall Street’s hubris.

Today, Guy Adams published two more columns. The first shared his correspondence with Twitter, including a copy of a written statement from an NBC spokesman called Christopher McCloskey that indicated that NBC’s social media department was alerted to Adams’ tweet by Twittersecond column, which followed the @GuyAdams account being reinstated, indicated that NBC had withdrawn their original complaint. Adams tweeted the statement: “we have just received an update from the complainant retracting their original request. Therefore your account has been unsuspended.”

Since the account is back up, is the case over? A tempest in a Twitter teapot? Well, not so much. I see at least three different important issues here related to electronic privacy, Twitter’s terms of service, censorship and how many people think about social media and the Web.

Is a corporate email address private?

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple is at a loss to explain how tweeting this corporate email address qualifies public rises to the level of disclosing private information.

Can a corporate email address based upon a known nomenclature used by tens of thousands of people “private?” A 2010 Supreme Court ruling on privacy established that electronic messages sent on a corporate server are not private, at least from the employer. But a corporate email address itself? Hmm. Yes, the corporate email address Adams tweeted was available online prior to the tweet if you knew how to find it in a Web search. Danny Sullivan, however, made a strong case that the email address wasn’t widely available in Google, although Adams said he was able to find it in under a minute. There’s also an argument that because an address can be guessed, it is public. Jeff Jarvis and other journalists are saying it isn’t, using the logic that because NBC’s email nomenclature is standardized, it can be easily deduced. I “co-signed” Reuters’ Jack Shafer’s tweet making that assertion.

The question to ask privacy experts, then, is whether a corporate email address is “private” or not.

Fred Cate, a law professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, however, commented via email that “a corporate email address can be private, in the sense that a company protects it and has a legitimate interest in it not being disclosed.” Can it lost its private character due to unauthorized disclosure online? “The answer is probably and regrettably ‘it depends,’” he wrote. “It depends on the breadth of the unauthorized dissemination and the sensitivity of the information and the likely harm if more widely disclosed. An email address that has been disclosed in public blogs would seem fairly widely available, the information is hardly sensitive, and any harm can be avoided by changing the address, so the argument for privacy seems pretty weak to me.”

Danielle Citron, professor of law at the University of Maryland, argues that because Zenkel did not publish his corporate email address on NBC’s site, there’s an argument, though a weak one, that its corporate email addresses are private information only disclosed to a select audience.

“Under privacy tort common law, an unpublished home address has been deemed by courts to be private for purposes of public disclosure of private fact tort if the publication appeared online, even though many people know the address offline,” wrote Citon in an email. “This arose in a cyber harassment case involving privacy torts. Privacy is not a binary concept, that is, one can have privacy in public, at least according to Nader v. GM, the NY [Court of Appeals] found that GM’s zealous surveillance of Ralph Nader, including looking over his shoulder while he took out money from the bank, constituted intrusion of his seclusion, even though he was in public. Now, the court did not find surveillance itself a privacy violation. It was the fact that the surveillance yielded information Nader would have thought no one could see, that is, how much he took out of the bank machine.”

Email is, however, a different case that home addresses, as Citron allowed. “Far less people know one’s home address — neighbors and friends — if a home address is unlisted whereas email addresses are shared with countless people and there is no analogous means to keep it unpublished like home and phone addresses,” Citron wrote. “These qualities may indeed make it a tough sell to suggest that the email address is private.”

Perhaps ironically, the NBC executive’s email address has now been published by many major media outlets and blogs, making it one of the most public email addresses on the planet. Hello, Streisand effect.

Did Twitter break its own Terms of Service?

Specifically, was tweeting someone’s publicly available *work* email address (available online) a a violation of the Twitter’s rules. To a large extent, this hinges upon the answer to the first issue, of privacy.

If a given email address is already public — and it’s been available online for over a year, one line of thinking goes that it can’t be private. Twitter’s position is that it considers a corporate email address to be private and that sharing it therefore breaks the ToS. Alex McGillivray, Twitter’s general counsel, clarified the company’s approach to trust and safety in a post on Twitter’s blog:

We’ve seen a lot of commentary about whether we should have considered a corporate email address to be private information. There are many individuals who may use their work email address for a variety of personal reasons — and they may not. Our Trust and Safety team does not have insight into the use of every user’s email address, and we need a policy that we can implement across all of our users in every instance.

“I do not think privacy can be defined for third parties by terms of service,” wrote Cate, via email. “If Twitter wants to say that the company will treat its users’ email addresses as private it’s fine, but I don’t think it can convincingly say that  other email addresses available in public are suddenly private.”

“If the corporate email was published online previously by the company or by himself, it likely would not amount to public disclosure of private fact under tort law and likely would not meet the strict terms of the TOS, which says nonpublic. Twitter’s policy about email address stems from its judgment that people should not use its service to publicize non-public email addresses, even though such an address is not a secret and countless people in communication with the person know it,” wrote Citon. “Unless Twitter says explicitly, ‘we are adopting this rule for privacy reasons,’ there are reasons that have nothing to do with privacy that might animate that decision, such as preventing fraud.”

The bottom line is that Twitter is a private company with a Terms of Service. It’s not a public utility, as Dave Winer highlighted yesterday, following up today with another argument for a distributed, open system for microblogging. Simply put, there *are* principles for use of Twitter’s platform. They’re in the Rules, Terms of Service and strictures around its API, the evolution of which was recently walked through over at the real-time report.

Ultimately, private companies are bound by the regulations of the FTC or FCC or other relevant regulatory bodies, along with their own rules, not the wishes of users. If Twitter’s users don’t like them or lose trust, their option is to stop using the service or complain loudly. I certainly agree with Jillian C. York, who argues at the EFF that the Guy Adams case demonstrates that Twitter needs a more robust appeals process.

There’s also the question about how the ToS is applied to celebrities on Twitter, who are an attraction for millions of users. In the past, Justin Bieber tweeted someone else’s personal phone number. Spike Lee tweeted a home address, causing someone to receive death threats in Florida. Neither was suspended. Neither the celebrities nor offenders referenced, according to personal accounts, were suspended. In one case, @QueenOfSpain had to get a court order to see any action taken on death threats on Twitter. Twitter’s Safety team has absolutely taken actions in some cases but it certainly might look like there’s a different standard here. The question to ask is whether tickets were filed for Lee or Bieber by the person who was personally affected. Without a ticket, there would be no suspension. Twitter has not commented on that count, under their policy of not commenting about individual users.

Own your own platform

In the wake of this move, there should be some careful consideration by journalists who use Twitter about where and how they do it. McGillivray did explain where Twitter went awry, confirming that someone on the media partnership side of the house flagged a tweet to NBC and reaffirming the principle that Twitter does not remove content on demand:

…we want to apologize for the part of this story that we did mess up. The team working closely with NBC around our Olympics partnership did proactively identify a Tweet that was in violation of the Twitter Rules and encouraged them to file a support ticket with our Trust and Safety team to report the violation, as has now been reported publicly.

Our Trust and Safety team did not know that part of the story and acted on the report as they would any other.

As I stated earlier, we do not proactively report or remove content on behalf of other users no matter who they are. This behavior is not acceptable and undermines the trust our users have in us. We should not and cannot be in the business of proactively monitoring and flagging content, no matter who the user is — whether a business partner, celebrity or friend. As of earlier today, the account has been unsuspended, and we will actively work to ensure this does not happen again.

As I’ve written elsewhere, looking at Twitter, censorship and Internet freedom, my sense is that, of all of the major social media players, Twitter has been one of the leaders in the technology community for sticking up for its users. It’s taken some notable stands, particularly with respect to the matter of fighting to make Twitter subpoena from the U.S. Justice Department regarding user data public.

“Twitter is so hands off, only stepping in to ban people in really narrow circumstances like impersonation and tweeting personal information like non-public email addresses. It also bans impersonation and harassment understood VERY NARROWLY, as credible threats of imminent physical harm,” wrote Citron.  ”That is Twitter’s choice. By my lights, and from conversations with their safety folks, they are very deferential to speech. Indeed, their whole policy is a “we are a speech platform,” implying that what transpires there is public speech and hence subject to great latitude.” 

Much of the good will Twitter had built up, however, may have evaporated after this week. My perspective is that this episode absolutely drives home (again) the need to own your own platform online, particularly for media entities and government. While there is clearly enormous utility in “going where the people are” online to participate in conversations, share news and listen to learn what’s happening, that activity doesn’t come without strings or terms of service.

To be clear, I don’t plan on leaving Twitter any time soon. I do think that McGillivray’s explanation highlights the need for the company to get its internal house in order, in terms of a church and state relationship between its policy and safety team, which makes suspension decisions, and its media partnerships team, which works with parties that might be aggrieved by what Twitter users are tweeting. If Twitter becomes a media company, a future that this NBC Olympics deal suggests, such distinctions could be just as important for it as the “church and state” relationship between traditional newspaper companies or broadcasters.

While that does mean that a media organization could be censored by a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack (a tactic used in Russia) and that it must get a domain name, set up Web hosting and a content management system, the barrier to entry on all three counts has radically fallen.

The open Internet and World Wide Web, fragile and insecure as they may seem at times, remain the surest way to publish what you want and have it remain online, accessible to the networked world. When you own your own platform online, it’s much harder for a third party company nervous about the reaction of advertisers or media partners to take your voice away.

Publishing times, they are a-changin’

The NYC Publishing Innovators Meetup group held its inaugural roundtable in its quarterly speaker series in July. Panelists, led by Kat Meyer as moderator, included: Ned Lomigora, co-founder of Zeeen.com; Diane Gedymin, executive editor at Turner Publishing; Peter Balis, director of online sales, John Wiley & Sons; Linda Holliday, CEO of Semi-Linear; Jesse Potash, founder, PubSlush, and; Michelle Toth, founder, 617Books. The thesis was: “What role can publishers play in supporting a direct relationship between readers and authors?” The discussion was energetic, but everyone agreed on one thing: the times, they are a-changin’.

Key points from the full discussion include:

  • Where there’s a will, there’s a way — Utilizing technology, authors with the time and will to publish and market their books can bypass traditional publishers. Technology “is the great enabler and democratizer.” [Begins at the 13:20 mark.]
  • Is it good? — Quality content matters; curation is a valuable role for professionals, from freelancers to traditional publishers, but a panelist postulates that an alternate path can be found in the tools available to authors who self-publish, including community. [Begins at 24:05.]
  • Should publishers worry about losing big authors to self-publishing? — If traditional publishers are going to continue to add marketing value, they need to master the new technology toolset and grow it. Publishers lag behind other industry leaders as to what they do online. [Begins at 34:19.]
  • The distance between readers and writers is shrinking — Whoever owns the sale owns the relationship with readers, and effective marketing is key to establishing that relationship. [Begins at 38:05.]
  • What is distribution in today’s world? — A spirited discussion begins with the declaration that you can’t distribute a book “with the push of a button.” Publishers create books in multiple formats sent to multiple vendors for sale via multiple channels, with metadata included for discovery purposes. [Begins at 47:02.]
  • Transparency in e-publishing — Peter Balis talks about the complex process of publishing in various formats, information that should be shared with aspiring authors who want to self-publish and self-distribute. [Begins at 56:00 with insightful follow-up comments starting at 1:05:40.]
  • Our understanding of what a publisher is is changing — Jesse Potash addresses changing roles and perceptions, and how experts can potentially replace certain roles publishers currently fill. [Begins at 1:00:25.]
  • Branding — A great discussion about the role branding is playing in today’s world starts with a question from the audience. [Begins at 1:25:21.]

You can view the entire roundtable in the following video:

Related:

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

Related:

July 27 2012

Publishing News: Self-publishing to be the option of first resort?

Here are a few stories that caught my attention this week in the publishing space.

Self-publishing disruption

Suw Charman-Anderson at Forbes began running an interview series with Smashwords’ founder Mark Coker this week. The first in the series addressed the disruption of self-publishing in the traditional publishing world. Coker says the traditional publishing model is going to be turned upsidedown, that “self-publishing is going from the option of last resort to the option of first resort.” He notes that self-publishing often has had an associated stigma while traditional publishing has not, but says “over next few years we’re going to see that reverse.”

Coker also argues the disruption to traditional publishing isn’t only going to come from outside the traditional ecosystem:

“We’re also going to see a mass defection of some of the best traditionally published authors. This has already started to happen among primarily mid-list authors, who do reasonably well and then their books go out of print. A lot of those authors are republishing their back catalogues as self-published ebooks, and they are earning more money, enjoying more creative freedom, and having more fun than they did working under the thumb of traditional publishers.”

The disruption is becoming apparent in the sales of indie books, Coker says. He points out that “if you look at the top sellers on Barnes & Noble or Amazon, indie authors are appearing more frequently in their bestseller lists. They’re starting to dominate and take significant sales away from traditional publishers.”

In the second part of the interview series, Charman-Anderson talks with Coker about marketing. He says that “marketing is not as important as people think it is” and that writing a high-quality book is “the best marketing an author can do.” He notes that marketing is important for building a platform, but argues that investment in quality trumps investment in promotion:

“If you’re getting ready to release your book and you have $3,000 burning a hole in your pocket, and you can either invest that in a marketing campaign or editing, I’d say invest it in editing. It’s all about writing a book that sells itself.”

Both series installments are well worth the read and can be found here and here. Charman-Anderson writes that the next interview in the series with Coker will address book pricing and length.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

DOJ’s response a bit “snippy”

The DOJ filed a 66-page response (PDF) to the 868 comments it received in regard to its antitrust lawsuit against Apple and five major publishers and the proposed settlement for Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly reports that “the Department of Justice has determined that the proposed ‘final judgment’ provides ‘an appropriate and effective remedy’ for the antitrust violations alleged in its complaint ‘and therefore is in the public interest.’” Milliot says the response addressed arguments that the lawsuit is feeding into an Amazon monopoly, calling them “highly speculative at best.”

John Mutter at ShelfAwareness took an in-depth look at the response as well and noted:

“The Justice Department also implied that its suit has already resulted in positive changes in the industry, saying that since the proposed settlement was announced, ‘more companies are investing to enter or expand in the market and compete against Amazon, Apple, and other e-book retailers.’ It cited Microsoft’s investment in Barnes & Noble and tablet computers that will be launched by Microsoft and Google.”

Philip Elmer-DeWitt at CNNMoney called the response “overheated” and “snippy,” offering several examples, including:

“It uses highly charged language — ‘seismic shift,’ ‘hobbling retailers,’ ‘unfettered competition’ — yet insists that Apple’s arguments be ‘stripped of [their] rhetoric’ before it declares the company wrong, wrong, wrong on every point — as near as I can tell — of antitrust law.”

Elmer-DeWitt writes that in all fairness, he’d be defensive, too, “if public comments were running at better than 10 to 1 against me and I’d been just excoriated on the Wall Street Journal’s Op-Ed page in the middle of an election year by one of the President’s most powerful allies in the Senate.” You can read more from his insights here.

Why didn’t I think of that?

There were a couple of stories for the impressive ingenuity file this week. Writer and media inventor Robin Sloan wrote a book review of Ellen Ullman’s 1997 memoir Close to the Machine as part of his Summer Reading series. In and of itself, a smart review from Robin Sloan isn’t surprising, but the book is a programmer’s memoir, so Sloan wrote it in JavaScript — the review is an interactive program. You can participate in the book review in his blog post.

NFC technology made an appearance in publishing news this week as well. NFC already is spilling into publishing technology, with B&N preparing to include it in the Nook, and this week, German design studio Razorfish demonstrated its application to ebook distribution — through a gumball machine. Matthew Humphries reports at Geek.com:

“The modified machine uses a Galaxy Tab as a display, two Arduino microcontrollers, and an NFC reader embedded in the front to allow delivery of the paid-for digital content. The user simply selects the content they want using the touchscreen (be it an app, movie, ebook, or music track), inserts a coin, turns the handle, and holds their device up to the NFC reader to have the content transferred.”

The NFC Gumball Machine is demonstrated in the following video:

Tip us off

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

Related:

July 25 2012

The value of free

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


We’ve been talking about pricing in July, and how could the conversation be complete without coverage of the free content model? Wattpad is a fairly new company that’s built completely upon free content. In the following interview, I talk with Wattpad CEO and co-founder Allen Lau about how they’re leveraging free content and how you might be able to as well.

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

  • Sharing and discovery — The numbers are impressive, as Wattpad serves almost 10 million unique visitors every month who post their own content as well as read submissions from other community members. [Discussed at the 0:48 mark.]
  • Connecting readers and writers — Publishers need to establish a direct relationship with their customers, and this is something Wattpad excels at. [Discussed at 1:34.]
  • Paid content is not on the horizon — Allen doesn’t want to rule anything out, but at this point, Wattpad is more focused on creating reader/writer connections, not charging for content. [Discussed at 2:10.]
  • How can “free” benefit authors? Visibility and discoverability on Wattpad lead to a number of other benefits, including monetization elsewhere. [Discussed at 2:58.]
  • How can a sustainable company be built on “free”? — Allen is a bit coy with his answer to this one, but it’s clear Wattpad’s goal is to build an enormous content platform first and the revenue will follow. [Discussed at 6:43.]
  • The Margaret Atwood deal — Ms. Atwood clearly understands the rules of publishing are changing, and she appreciates the community benefits Wattpad has to offer. [Discussed at 8:30.]
  • Wattpad’s customer base is evolving — Like many new online services, Wattpad has its roots in the teen market, but that is rapidly changing. [Discussed at 10:12.]
  • Don’t fear “free” — Wattpad isn’t some outlier the publishing industry can ignore. There are plenty of opportunities for any publisher to experiment with free and freemium content. Don’t forget that we’re competing for people’s time, and much of that time is currently spent reading free content. [Discussed at 11:19.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

Related:

July 23 2012

The dark side of data

Map of France in Google Earth by Steven La Roux

A few weeks ago, Tom Slee published “Seeing Like a Geek,” a thoughtful article on the dark side of open data. He starts with the story of a Dalit community in India, whose land was transferred to a group of higher cast Mudaliars through bureaucratic manipulation under the guise of standardizing and digitizing property records. While this sounds like a good idea, it gave a wealthier, more powerful group a chance to erase older, traditional records that hadn’t been properly codified. One effect of passing laws requiring standardized, digital data is to marginalize all data that can’t be standardized or digitized, and to marginalize the people who don’t control the process of standardization.

That’s a serious problem. It’s sad to see oppression and property theft riding in under the guise of transparency and openness. But the issue isn’t open data, but how data is used.

Jesus said “the poor are with you always” not because the poor aren’t a legitimate area of concern (only an American fundamentalist would say that), but because they’re an intractable problem that won’t go away. The poor are going to be the victims of any changes in technology; it isn’t surprisingly that the wealthy in India used data to marginalize the land holdings of the poor. In a similar vein, when Europeans came to North America, I imagine they told the natives “So, you got a deed to all this land?,” a narrative that’s still being played out with indigenous people around the world.

The issue is how data is used. If the wealthy can manipulate legislators to wipe out generations of records and folk knowledge as “inaccurate,” then there’s a problem. A group like DataKind could go in and figure out a way to codify that older generation of knowledge. Then at least, if that isn’t acceptable to the government, it would be clear that the problem lies in political manipulation, not in the data itself. And note that a government could wipe out generations of “inaccurate records” without any requirement that the new records be open. In years past the monied classes would have just taken what they wanted, with the government’s support. The availability of open data gives a plausible pretext, but it’s certainly not a prerequisite (nor should it be blamed) for manipulation by the 0.1%.

One can see the opposite happening, too: the recent legislation in North Carolina that you can’t use data that shows sea level rise. Open data may be the only possible resource against forces that are interested in suppressing science. What we’re seeing here is a full-scale retreat from data and what it can teach us: an attempt to push the furniture against the door to prevent the data from getting in and changing the way we act.

The digital publishing landscape

Slee is on shakier ground when he claims that the digitization of books has allowed Amazon to undermine publishers and booksellers. Yes, there’s technological upheaval, and that necessarily drives changes in business models. Business models change; if they didn’t, we’d still have the Pony Express and stagecoaches. O’Reilly Media is thriving, in part because we have a viable digital publishing strategy; publishers without a viable digital strategy are failing.

But what about booksellers? The demise of the local bookstore has, in my observation, as much to do with Barnes & Noble superstores (and the now-defunct Borders), as with Amazon, and it played out long before the rise of ebooks.

I live in a town in southern Connecticut, roughly a half-hour’s drive from the two nearest B&N outlets. Guilford and Madison, the town immediately to the east, both have thriving independent bookstores. One has a coffeeshop, stages many, many author events (roughly one a day), and runs many other innovative programs (birthday parties, book-of-the-month services, even ebook sales). The other is just a small local bookstore with a good collection and knowledgeable staff. The town to the west lost its bookstore several years ago, possibly before Amazon even existed. Long before the Internet became a factor, it had reduced itself to cheap gift items and soft porn magazines. So: data may threaten middlemen, though it’s
not at all clear to me that middlemen can’t respond competitively. Or that they are really threatened by “data”, as opposed to large centralized competitors.

There are also countervailing benefits. With ebooks, access is democratized. Anyone, anywhere has access to what used to be available only in limited, mostly privileged locations. At O’Reilly, we now sell ebooks in countries we were never able to reach in print. Our print sales overseas never exceeded 30% of our sales; for ebooks, overseas represents more than half the total, with customers as far away as Azerbaijan.

Slee also points to the music labels as an industry that has been marginalized by open data.  I really refuse to listen whining about all the money that the music labels are losing. We’ve had too many years of crap product generated by marketing people who only care about finding the next Justin Bieber to take the “creative industry” and its sycophants seriously.

Privacy by design

Data inevitably brings privacy issues into play. As Slee points out,(and as Jeff Jonas has before him), apparently insignificant pieces of data can be put together to form a surprisingly accurate picture of who you are, a picture that can be sold. It’s useless to pretend that there won’t be increased surveillance in any forseeable future, or that there won’t be an increase in targeted advertising (which is, technically, much the same thing).

We can bemoan that shift, celebrate it, or try to subvert it, but we can’t pretend that it isn’t happening. We shouldn’t even pretend that it’s new, or that it has anything to do with openness. What is a credit bureau if not an organization that buys and sells data about your financial history, with no pretense of openness?

Jonas’s concept of “privacy by design” is an important attempt to address privacy
issues in big data. Jonas envisions a day when “I have more privacy features than you” is a marketing advantage. It’s certainly a claim I’d like to see Facebook make.

Absent a solution like Jonas’, data is going to be collected, bought, sold, and used for marketing and other purposes, whether it is “open” or not. I do not think we can get to Jonas’s world, where privacy is something consumers demand, without going through a stage where data is open and public. It’s too easy to live with the illusion of privacy that thrives in a closed world.

I agree that the notion that “open data” is an unalloyed public good is mistaken, and Tom Slee has done a good job of pointing that out. It underscores the importance of of a still-nascent ethical consensus about how to use data, along with the importance of data watchdogs, DataKind, and other organizations devoted to the public good. (I don’t understand why he argues that Apple and Amazon “undermine community activism”; that seems wrong, particularly in the light of Apple’s re-joining the EPEAT green certification system for their products after a net-driven consumer protest.) Data collection is going to happen whether we like it or not, and whether it’s open or not. I am convinced that private data is a public bad, and I’m less afraid of data that’s open. That doesn’t make it necessarily a good; that depends on how the data is used, and the people who are using it.

Image Credit: Steven La Roux

Reposted bydatenwolf datenwolf

July 20 2012

Publishing News: B&N embraces the web

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.

B&N launches Nook for Web

Just last week, Valobox co-founder Anna Lewis (@anna_cn) wrote a post about the strengths of the web and lamented that ebook publishers have “remained oblivious” to the advantages — her post was part of last week’s Publishing WIR. This week, Barnes & Noble stepped up to the webby plate and announced Nook for Web.

Chris Davies at SlashGear reports that “the new service runs in Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer, with instant access — registration free — to ebook samples, and then the same purchase options as on a Nook Tablet or similar device. … There’s also synchronization with any other Nook device or app you may be using, so you can stop reading on the web and pick up where you left off on your tablet.”

B&N also is giving away six bestseller titles as a promotion until July 26, but as Matt Elliott at CNET discovered, “before you can add one to your library, Barnes & Noble forces you to sign up for an account, which entails providing a credit card number, billing address, e-mail, and phone number.” So, anything beyond reading a sample will require registration.

The company also hasn’t completely embraced the advantages of the web — as Davies points out in his post, readers still can’t annotate on the platform, and on a browser-based system, “it would be easy enough for B&N to add such a feature.”

The other thing you can’t do with this new platform is view it on your iPad or iPhone, as Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch. As counterintuitive as this seemed on first blush (B&N’s website says iPad support is “coming soon”), I recalled statistics from a recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (which I wrote about here):

  • 42% of readers of e-books in the past 12 months said they consume their books on a computer.
  • 41% of readers of e-books consume their books on an e-book reader like original Kindles or Nooks.
  • 29% of readers of e-books consume their books on their cell phones.
  • 23% of readers of e-books consume their books on a tablet computer.
The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

Ebook landscape is dominated by “madness”

Baldur Bjarnason wrote a blog this week following an interview he participated in, during which he came upon a realization: He writes, “I discovered just how bloody annoyed I am about the farce that is today’s ebook landscape. Much to my own surprise, I found that I’m more than a little bit angry about the madness that dominates ebooks.”

Overall, the post is a transcript of the interview — questions addressed DRM (Bjarnason says, “Once you require DRM you impose a set of conditions on every level of the publishing industry. The requirement puts limits not just on what everybody can do, but also on how they do it.”); format standardization (“Standardisation should mean a reasonably standard rendering across all platforms … Standardisation is not what we’ve got.”); and the interaction of EPUB3 and DRM (“Adobe’s system isn’t likely to support EPUB3 for a long while, which means that EPUB3 support is on hold for most players on EPUB side of the ebook world.”).

Bjarnason added a tangential aside to the interview as well, addressing fixed layout ebooks. He writes:

“Whoever at Apple had the bright idea of taking HTML+CSS, discard its strengths (adaptability, multi-device support, etc.) and focus on its weaknesses (limited and complex layout systems) should have their computer privileges revoked. … What Apple could have — should have — done is to introduce responsive layout ebooks. By default they would have adapted to whatever rendering space they were in but would have had the option of setting a fixed dimension.”

Bjarnason’s post is this week’s recommended read — you can find it here.

The newspaper and music industries wish they had it so good

The annual BookStats Survey was released this week, and the overall news for the book industry, all things considered, is fairly positive. Peter Kafka at All Things Digital summarizes the sales stats:

“[The survey] finds that Amazon and other digital distributors are taking an increasing chunk of the market, and that sales of ‘trade’ e-books — basically, everything except educational and professional texts — doubled in the last year. That helped keep the publishing business more or less flat in 2011, even as print sales dropped off. Net publisher revenue for trade books increased 0.5 percent, to $13.97 billion, with e-books accounting for $2.1 billion of that. Meanwhile, overall net revenue dropped 2.5 percent, to $27.2 billion.”

That the overall drop in industry sales was only 2.5% speaks volumes. Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah told Julie Bosman at the New York Times (NYT): “I would never dare to call an industry healthy, but it certainly seems to be robust.”

In that vein, Kafka points out in his post at AllThingsD, “[t]hat’s the kind of year executives in the newspaper and music business would have loved to have over the last decade.”

Bosman also notes in her NYT piece the relatively good news from the survey for physical stores: “Despite the closing of hundreds of Borders stores, brick-and-mortar stores remained the largest sales channel for books, the survey found.”

Tip us off

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

Related:

June 29 2012

Publishing News: NewCo's global spread

Here are a few items that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.

NewCo needs to focus beyond the Nook

Nook LogoJim Milliot at Publishers Weekly reported this week that Barnes & Noble is looking to open Nook digital bookstores across the globe. He writes that according to Barnes & Noble's 10-K filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, "B&N says that through NewCo it plans to launch the Nook digital bookstore in 10 countries within 12 months." [Link added.]

Joe Wikert (@jwikert), GM and publisher at O'Reilly Media, has written much this year about B&N business strategies and where the company needs to go. I reached out to find out what he thinks of this latest move. He says the important factor is what they're going to do with the stores — opening B&N stores overseas similar to stores in the U.S. would be "silly," he says, and that B&N and NewCo really should focus on opening technology-oriented stores that focus on more than just the Nook.

His entire (lightly edited) response is reprinted here with permission:

"I definitely think B&N needs to reinvent itself. It's still very much stuck in the traditional brick-and-mortar mold. I was excited when Microsoft announced its investment and likely joint creation of NewCo with B&N, but, of course, we haven't heard much since that original announcement.

"The latest news that B&N is looking to expand overseas isn't earth shattering, and what I'd really love to know more about is how they intend to branch out. Let's face it. Bookstores in pretty much every other country are feeling much the same pain stores in the U.S. are dealing with. So, it would be silly for B&N to simply think they could open up a bunch of stores overseas that look like the ones they have here. In my opinion, what they really need to do is reimagine the in-person experience they can offer, both here in the U.S. and everywhere else on the planet. That's where Microsoft could come in.

"I'd love to see B&N's stores evolve into more technology and solutions outlets. They've undoubtedly had some success by adding the Nook kiosks into their existing stores. Let's see if they can take that a step further and create technology stores within the stores, featuring much more than just the Nook. For example, what about Xbox? Or Kinect? Those areas in Best Buy seem to be the last ones that are getting much foot traffic these days. Microsoft has their own small chain of stores, 16 or so, I believe. Rather than building that chain out any further, why not work with B&N to have a Microsoft consumer technology area within the B&N stores? And not just here in the U.S. This could be done around the globe.

"Everything about NewCo up to now seems to indicate it's only about digital and online, not the brick-and-mortar stores that are the very foundation of B&N. I hope that changes over time. The opportunity for NewCo isn't just with Nooks and ebooks. It's also about a much broader technology play that can help both companies compete with the likes of Amazon."

Ereading data leads to new content forms

Alexandra Alter posted an interesting piece this week at The Wall Street Journal on how ereading not only is changing reading behavior and the reading experience, but how ebooks are putting valuable never-before-seen data into publishers' hands. She notes that traditionally, publishers measured reader satisfaction via reviews and sales data, but that such limited metrics are a thing of the past as the publishing industry begins to embrace big data "and more tech companies turn their sights on publishing." Focusing on Barnes & Noble as an example, Alter reports:

"Barnes & Noble ... has recently started studying customers' digital reading behavior. Data collected from Nooks reveals, for example, how far readers get in particular books, how quickly they read and how readers of particular genres engage with books. Jim Hilt, the company's vice president of e-books, says the company is starting to share their insights with publishers to help them create books that better hold people's attention. ... Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books.

Hilt told Alter that the data has already affected B&N's offerings on the Nook. For example, data showing readers often abandon long nonfiction works led to Nook Snaps.

Books as great datasets for the web

Hugh McGuire (@hughmcguire), founder of PressBooks, recently spoke at TEDxMontreal about the blurring lines between books and the Internet, and the value the web can bring to books. Here are a few short snippets from his talk:

"It turns out that ebooks are just made of HTML, which is the programming language or the markup language that drives the Internet ... So, it makes sense since we've been making these kinds of structured collections of text available as websites for many many years that we would use the same kinds of technologies to make ebooks. But, of course, there's a terror here — and a catch. That's that publishers are deathly afraid of the Internet. And, in a way, they have very good reason to be afraid of the Internet because the Internet is famous for gobbling up business models and spitting out total chaos.

"But it hasn't been so bad yet because ebooks look pretty similar to books, in terms of the structure of the business and what we can do with them. That, really, I think is a problem. It's a problem because in order to get this similarity with the past, we've ended up constraining ebooks and making them look a lot more like print books and a lot less like the Internet.

"There are all sorts of things you can do with a website or information that's on a website that you can't do with ebooks. You can't link to a canonical version of an ebook. You can't link to a specific chapter or a specific page ... So, this poses a question to all of you, as readers. The question is this: Would you have more value if books were available in print and ebooks and a web version, or if you just had print and ebooks?"

McGuire talks about what we can do with books on the Internet, the value web versions can add to books, and thinking about books as great datasets that could be explored in new ways once they're opened up on the web. You can watch his full TEDxTalk below:

Related:

June 27 2012

Direct sales should be a publisher priority

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


We're focusing on retailing topics this month at TOC, and when it comes to digital sales, one of a publisher's highest priorities should be building a strong direct channel. The shift from print to digital means publishers can be less reliant on retailers. Retailers are still an important partner, of course, but the direct channel brings many additional benefits. For example, establishing a direct sales channel is the best way to learn what your customers really want, and Logos Bible Software has done a terrific job on that front. I recently spoke with Logos president & CEO Bob Pritchett (@BobPritchett) about his company's strategy of placing so much emphasis on their direct channel.

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

  • Direct doesn't just mean "online" — In addition to their highly successful e-commerce site Logos direct channel includes in-person sales at conferences as well as via a good old-fashioned phone sales team. [Discussed at 00:50.]
  • Selling the network, not the book — This is an innovative approach Logos has pioneered where they take a more holistic approach to their sales efforts and help customers understand the benefit of the entire Logos library, not just an individual title. [Discussed at 1:55.]
  • Customer engagement is the key — Don't assume that if you simply put up an e-commerce site customers will start buying from you. Logos has made significant investments to establish customer dialog and build community. Direct sales are great but sometimes just getting insightful customer feedback is even more valuable. [Discussed at 4:30.]
  • Logos made the shift from retailers to direct — And so can you! Retail represented about 80% of Logos sales initially but Bob realized the changing landscape meant he needed to focus more on the direct channel. As physical bookstores diversify their product mix with gifts and other goods it's time for publishers to diversify their channel mix as well. [Discussed at 5:50.]
  • Can anyone beat Amazon now? — Bob says "absolutely", and he's an Amazon Prime member. He points out the advantage of the in-person experience and focusing on more specialty merchandising. He also notes the Ancestry example, where their content is offered as an online service rather than a book through a retailer. [Discussed at 6:52.]
  • Downward pricing pressure — In many ways, publishers are their own worst enemy when it comes to the race to zero. One answer is to look at selling in different ways. [Discussed at 9:17.]
  • Subscription models — Monthly access to a broad library of digital content is likely to be a much more attractive for many publishers and consumers going forward. The sampling and discovery options with this approach are enticing. The cable TV model, where you get basic channels and pay more for certain packages, is also one we can learn from. [Discussed at 15:09.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

Related:


"Lightweight" DRM isn't the answer

To: Bill McCoy, IDPF Executive Director
From: Joe Wikert, GM & Publisher, O'Reilly Media, Inc.
Subject: "Lightweight" DRM Isn't the Answer

The world doesn't need another DRM platform, regardless of whether it's called "lightweight." DRM is annoying for customers and provides a false sense of security for publishers. As author Charlie Stross wisely stated, publishing's "pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder."

I realize your proposed solution is intended to become an industry standard and prevent the type of lock-in Stross describes. Let's face facts though. Amazon doesn't use the EPUB format and their current market dominance means they're the least likely player to advocate an open, interoperable solution like this. And since Amazon owns approximately 60-70% of the ebook market, your proposed standard would only apply to the remaining 30-40%.

Why would anyone want to develop yet another DRM option for, at best, 30-40% of the market?

More importantly, why do you want to give the publishing industry another distraction and reinforce that false sense of security when we're finally seeing movement towards a DRM-free world?

We've been very open about the success of our DRM-free approach at O'Reilly Media. One simple guiding principle led us to being DRM-free: We trust our customers. We get plenty of compliments from those customers throughout the year and it's clear our trust has created goodwill with them. After spending years touting the benefits of being DRM-free it's encouraging to see others adopting the same approach, including Tor, a Big Six imprint. O'Reilly has long maintained that the costs of DRM — even lightweight DRM — far outweigh any potential benefits. Our position has not changed since Tim wrote "Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution" back in 2002.

If the IDPF really wants to make an impact on this issue I suggest you forget about creating another form of DRM and instead spend time educating publishers and retailers on the virtues of going DRM-free. Besides the obvious benefits to customers this could also lead to the end of Amazon's big stick that Charlie Stross says we're all getting hit with.

Once we've completely eradicated DRM perhaps the IDPF could offer their own mobi-to-EPUB conversion and sideloading tools for consumers to further level the ebook playing field. That would be a much better use of IDPF resources than any DRM project could ever be.

Related:

June 22 2012

Publishing News: Penguin goes back to the library

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.

Penguin tests digital library waters

Penguin LogoPenguin Group and ebook distributor 3M announced a pilot program this week to distribute Penguin books in The New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library. The program is scheduled to begin in August, and if successful, could be rolled out to libraries nationwide. There are a couple conditions, as noted in the announcement: Ebooks for lending will be windowed — or held back — for six months after publication, and the books will expire (and need to be repurchased) after one year.

Tim McCall, vice president of online sales and marketing at Penguin, told the Wall Street Journal "the six-month delay is intended to prevent library e-books from undercutting other sales" and "the renewable one-year expiration date on e-books, meanwhile, is designed to mimic the natural shelf life of print books."

Over at Publishers Weekly, Peter Brantley wrote a nice commentary on Penguin's return to the library and its included conditions. He says Penguin has it all wrong in terms of protecting sales:

"Most recent studies of library patron's borrowing and purchasing habits indicate that the most active library users are also the most active purchasers ... These surveys suggest that windowing will indeed have an impact on sales: it will reduce them, by eliminating their exposure among patrons who would otherwise be among their most fervent marketers."

A Pew Internet study, "Libraries, patrons, and e-books," released this week states: "Among those who read e-books, 41% of those who borrow e-books from libraries purchased their most recent e-book." Statistics from the report also highlight another important point about awareness:

  • 58% of all library card holders say they do not know if their library provides e-book lending services.
  • 53% of all tablet computer owners say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  • 48% of all owners of e-book reading devices such as original Kindles and NOOKs say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  • 47% of all those who read an e-book in the past year say they do not know if their library lends e-books.

Brantley says this is an area of untapped opportunity: "[B]oth publishers and libraries should be particularly trying to build relationships with the large portion of the population that is 'e-unaware' — prospective readers who have not been introduced to e-books, or find their adoption too difficult because of digital illiteracy. Libraries can bridge these divides and increase the number of readers that no bookstore or online retailer would be able to reach." Brantley's post is a must-read this week.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

Ebook accounting

Philip Elmer-Dewitt at CNNMoney highlighted an excerpt from a piece by Ken Auletta at the New Yorker (subscription/purchase required) this week that debunks claims and perceptions that ebooks cost almost nothing to produce. In the New Yorker piece, Auletta concedes that ebooks are about 20% cheaper to produce than print books, as they don't require paper, printing, shipping and warehouse, and there are none of the costs associated with book returns. But Auletta points out other cost considerations:

"... [T]hey create additional costs: maintaining computer servers, monitoring piracy, digitizing old books. And publishers have to pay authors and editors, as well as rent and administrative overhead, not to mention the costs of printing, distributing, and warehousing bound books, which continue to account for the large majority of their sales."

Elmer-Dewitt also submits that "[t]he accounting gets even more complicated when you consider that most books cost publishers more than they earn." To this end, Kevin Murphy over at Melville House shared a New York Times graphic that approximates publisher costs and profits for hardcover books and ebooks. According to the graphic, for a $9.99 ebook, a publisher will profit $3.51 to $4.26 — this is profit before overhead costs, such as staff salaries, building rent and utilities.

Tracking news that resonates

The first round of 2012 Knight News Challenge winners were announced this week. The theme for this round of awards was networks. Mathew Ingram at GigaOm has a nice roundup of all the winners, as does The Nieman Journalism Lab, but one startup stood out in its practical approach to solving a problem newsrooms are experiencing across the board: shrinking resources. Using an editorial analytics approach, Signalnoi.se looks to help editors decide which stories warrant resources. From the Nieman Lab post:

"Signalnoi.se aims to help, by tracking social engagement with the news — scanning social network activity to provide real-time information on what's resonating with readers. Editors are able to track their own — and competitors' — stories. Signalnoi.se will sort not just headlines but news topics — to spot trends and spikes in interest."

You can read full descriptions of the six winners here and here.


Related:


  • The anchor on ebook prices is gone. Now we'll see where they float
  • Open question: Do libraries help or hurt publishing?
  • Dominant form of journalism foretold by Reynolds Journalism Institute
  • More Publishing Week in Review coverage

  • June 21 2012

    Depth and immersion give static print images new digital life

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


    Today's ebook landscape is mostly filled with nothing more than quick-and-dirty conversions of print to digital. There's not a lot of imagination, and we're certainly not taking full advantage of all the capabilities of our digital devices. This includes not only the text and how it's presented, but also the images that accompany the text. We have an incredible opportunity to take those static images from print and bring them to life in digital format.

    Laura Maaske, a medical illustrator I met earlier this year at TOC NY, is someone who understands this opportunity and is creating digital imagery like you've never seen before. I recently reconnected with her to discuss the move from print to digital and how publishers need to adjust their thinking.

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

    • Imagery begins with a metaphor — Laura has used layering techniques so that users can easily explore the depths of the object, in this case, a human hand. It's the first step toward a 3D rendering that lends itself to even more immersion. [Discussed at 1:58.]
    • It's not just about medical imaging — Look at all the static images in your own products and consider the option of adding depth or immersion to them. The possibilities are endless and can be applied to pretty much any topic. [Discussed at 3:38.]
    • Is "digital first" the best approach? — Perhaps, but publishers should also consider how they might utilize their vast libraries of existing images that weren't originally created with layering in mind. "Before" and "after" images are excellent candidates, for example. [Discussed at 4:32.]
    • New skills are required ... including programming — The core illustration skills are critical, of course, but digital imaging professionals need to go further. Knowledge of HTML and even a good foundation in scripting or programming is very important as well. [Discussed at 7:12.]
    • Choose your tools wisely — Laura carefully chooses her tools by avoiding proprietary software and using license-free options. [Discussed at 8:10.]


    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
    Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.


    Related:


  • Keeping images and text in sync
  • Images and text need to get together
  • To page or to scroll?
  • More TOC Podcasts


  • June 19 2012

    Four short links: 19 June 2012

    1. Mobile Maps (Luke Wroblewski) -- In the US, Google gets about 31 million users a month on its Maps app on iOS. On average those users spend more than 75 minutes apiece in the app each month.
    2. The Importance of Public Traffic Data (Anil Dash) -- Bill Gates and Paul Allen's first collaboration was a startup called Traf-O-Data, which recorded and analyzed traffic at intersections in their hometown using custom-built devices along with some smart software. Jack Dorsey's first successful application was a platform for dispatch routing, designed to optimize the flow of cars by optimizing the flow of information. It's easy to see these debates as being about esoteric "open data" battles with governments and big corporations. But it matters because the work we do to build our cities directly drives the work we do to build our communities online.
    3. Mozilla Thimble -- Write and edit HTML and CSS right in your browser. Instantly preview your work. Then host and share your finished pages with a single click.
    4. Design of the Guardian iPad App (Mark Porter) -- thoughtful analysis of the options and ideas behind the new Guardian iPad app. Unlike the iPhone and Android apps, which are built on feeds from the website, this one actually recycles the already-formatted newspaper pages. A script analyses the InDesign files from the printed paper and uses various parameters (page number, physical area and position that a story occupies, headline size, image size etc) to assign a value to the story. The content is then automatically rebuilt according to those values in a new InDesign template for the app. (via Josh Porter)

    June 18 2012

    June 15 2012

    Publishing News: Google's win may be Amazon's loss

    Here are a few stories that caught my attention this week in the publishing space.

    Google's "win-win solution" in France may leave Amazon the odd man out

    GoogleLogo.pngBoth the French Publishers Association and the French Author's Association withdrew their book-scanning lawsuits against Google this week, ending six years of litigation. In an announcement, Philippe Colombet, strategic partner development manager of Google Books France, described the agreement as a "win-win solution" and explained that "publishers and authors [will] retain control over the commercial use of their books."

    The "win" for Google might warrant a capital "W," however. In a post at PaidContent, Jeff John Roberts writes that the deal not only could help advance the digital publishing industry in Europe, but it also could "shape which companies gain control of the continent's fledgling e-book market." Roberts elaborates:

    "According to reports in Le Figaro and publishing site ActuaLitté, the agreement does not allow the publishers to distribute the digital books through Google’s direct competitors — read: Amazon.

    "What this means in practice is that Amazon may be excluded from a significant volume of content at a time when it is expanding its push into Europe with the Kindle and app store ... If the Google e-books take off, Amazon will be the odd one out as the e-books can be read directly on devices made by Sony or Barnes & Noble or through the Google Play app on Apple devices."

    Roberts also has more on the details of the agreement in a separate post here.

    The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
    Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

    Espresso Book Machine offers solutions for retailers, authors

    Stacy A. Anderson of the Associated Press took a look this week at On Demand's Espresso Book Machine. Her post not only points toward a bright future for print-on-demand (POD) publishing, but also highlights the benefits for brick-and-mortar bookstores and self-publishing authors. On Demand's chief technology officer Thor Sigvaldason commented for the story:

    "[The Espresso Book Machine] can, potentially, give [book retailers] a huge virtual inventory so they can have as many books as Amazon, all in a little bookstore. It turns independent bookstores into places to get books published. It's a new thing for the bookstore to do: not just sell books, but actually create books."

    Anderson notes that the Northshire Bookstore in Vermont produces about 5,500 books per year on the machine, and the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington has produced nearly 5,000 since installing the machine last November. Self-publishing accounted for about 85% of books produced at Northshire Bookstore and about 90% at Politics and Prose. Also notable, Debbi Wrage, the Espresso Book Machine coordinator at Northsire Bookstore, told Anderson that "the book machine accounted for nearly 4% of the bookstore's 2011 revenue."

    PricewaterhouseCoopers releases ebook data and predictions

    Laura Hazard Owen got an inside look this week at new data released by PricewaterhouseCoopers. She reports that data from the company's Global Entertainment and Media Outlook predicts by 2016, the U.S. trade book market will be 50% ebooks. Owen also dug through the global data to uncover some interesting predictions and to chart ebook spending by region. According to Owen's charts, ebook spending faces the biggest obstacles in the Central/Eastern Europe, Middle East/Africa, and Latin America regions.

    You can view Owen's findings and charts here. The full report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, including segments on books, consumer magazines, and newspapers, as well as the music, Internet and TV industries, can be found (and subscribed to) here.

    Related:

    June 14 2012

    Stories over spreadsheets

    I didn't realize how much I dislike spreadsheets until I was presented with a vision of the future where their dominance isn't guaranteed.

    That eye-opening was offered by Narrative Science CTO Kris Hammond (@whisperspace) during a recent interview. Hammond's company turns data into stories: They provide sentences and paragraphs instead of rows and columns. To date, much of the attention Narrative Science has received has focused on the media applications. That's a natural starting point. Heck, I asked him about those very same things when I first met Hammond at Strata in New York last fall. But during our most recent chat, Hammond explored the other applications of narrative-driven data analysis.

    "Companies, God bless them, had a great insight: They wanted to make decisions based upon the data that's out there and the evidence in front of them," Hammond said. "So they started gathering that data up. It quickly exploded. And they ended up with huge data repositories they had to manage. A lot of their effort ended up being focused on gathering that data, managing that data, doing analytics across that data, and then the question was: What do we do with it?"

    Hammond sees an opportunity to extract and communicate the insights locked within company data. "We'll be the bridge between the data you have, the insights that are in there, or insights we can gather, and communicating that information to your clients, to your management, and to your different product teams. We'll turn it into something that's intelligible instead of a list of numbers, a spreadsheet, or a graph or two. You get a real narrative; a real story in that data."

    My takeaway: The journalism applications of this are intriguing, but these other use cases are empowering.

    Why? Because most people don't speak fluent "spreadsheet." They see all those neat rows and columns and charts, and they know something important is tucked in there, but what that something is and how to extract it aren't immediately clear. Spreadsheets require effort. That's doubly true if you don't know what you're looking for. And if data analysis is an adjacent part of a person's job, more effort means those spreadsheets will always be pushed to the side. "I'll get to those next week when I've got more time ..."

    We all know how that plays out.

    But what if the spreadsheet wasn't our default output anymore? What if we could take things most of us are hard-wired to understand — stories, sentences, clear guidance — and layer it over all that vital data? Hammond touched on that:

    "For some people, a spreadsheet is a great device. For most people, not so much so. The story. The paragraph. The report. The prediction. The advisory. Those are much more powerful objects in our world, and they're what we're used to."

    He's right. Spreadsheets push us (well, most of us) into a cognitive corner. Open a spreadsheet and you're forced to recalibrate your focus to see the data. Then you have to work even harder to extract meaning. This is the best we can do?

    With that in mind, I asked Hammond if the spreadsheet's days are numbered.

    "There will always be someone who uses a spreadsheet," Hammond said. "But, I think what we're finding is that the story is really going to be the endpoint. If you think about it, the spreadsheet is for somebody who really embraces the data. And usually what that person does is they reduce that data down to something that they're going to use to communicate with someone else."

    A thought on dashboards

    I used to view dashboards as the logical step beyond raw data and spreadsheets. I'm not so sure about that anymore, at least in terms of broad adoption. Dashboards are good tools, and I anticipate we'll have them from now until the end of time, but they're still weighed down by a complexity that makes them inaccessible.

    It's not that people can't master the buttons and custom reports in dashboards; they simply don't have time. These people — and I include myself among them — need something faster and knob-free. Simplicity is the thing that will ultimately democratize data reporting and data insights. That's why the expansion of data analysis requires a refinement beyond our current dashboards. There's a next step that hasn't been addressed.

    Does the answer lie in narrative? Will visualizations lead the way? Will a hybrid format take root? I don't know what the final outputs will look like, but the importance of data reporting means someone will eventually crack the problem.

    Full interview

    You can see the entire discussion with Hammond in the following video.

    Related:

    Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
    Could not load more posts
    Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
    Just a second, loading more posts...
    You've reached the end.

    Don't be the product, buy the product!

    Schweinderl