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January 16 2012

The art of marrying content with mobile apps

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


Publishers are often approached by mobile app developers looking to help them distribute their content in new ways. Most of those developers aren't all that familiar with the publishing industry and treat the results as just another app. KiwiTech is different. As founder and CTO Gurvinder Batra explains in this interview, KiwiTech uses its management team's extensive publishing industry experience to craft a better solution.

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

  • The KiwiTech founders are well versed in the publishing space — This is the same team that founded Aptara. That translates into them having a much better sense of the challenges of marrying content with mobile apps. [Discussed at the 00:33 mark.]
  • What's the future of iOS versus Android? — The phones are a good predictor of the tablet's future. So, while Android is overtaking iOS on phone market share, the large number of different handsets and configurations makes it particularly challenging for developers. Expect the same problem to arise with tablets. [Discussed at 6:22.]
  • Porting from iOS to Android is harder than it sounds — Many publishers think development costs for the second platform (e.g., Android) should cost about half of the development costs of the original one (e.g., iOS), but that logic is wrong. [Discussed at 7:45.]
  • Why choose native apps over EPUB? — While it's tempting to go with a platform-independent solution like EPUB, you lose the ability to tap into many of the device's core capabilities, such as sensors, for example. [Discussed at 15:43.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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

Register to attend TOC 2012

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December 27 2011

Open Question: Is it realistic for publishers to cut Amazon out of the equation?


Kindle79DRM is a hotly controversial topic, but most publishers continue to insist on employing it to protect content from piracy. In a recent blog post, author Charlie Stross argued that "the strategy of demanding DRM everywhere is going to boomerang, inflicting horrible damage on the very companies who want it." Stross said Amazon is publishing's next biggest threat after piracy, and employing DRM is like handing Amazon a big stick.

Until 2008, ebooks were a tiny market segment, under 1% and easily overlooked; but in 2009 ebook sales began to rise exponentially, and ebooks now account for over 20% of all fiction sales. In some areas ebooks are up to 40% of the market and rising rapidly. (I am not making that last figure up: I'm speaking from my own sales figures.) And Amazon have got 80% of the ebook retail market ... the Big Six's pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder. DRM on ebooks gives Amazon a great tool for locking ebook customers into the Kindle platform.

But what's a publisher to do?

A back-channel discussion started brewing around Stross' post, and suggestions of cutting Amazon out of the equation cropped up as a possible solution to its growing hold on the market. Kassia Krozser, owner of Booksquare.com, made a salient point (included here with permission):

Many in the industry see Amazon as a threat (rightly so, in some regards). However, trying to cut Amazon out of the ebook equation means cutting a large readership out of the equation.

One thing we know with absolute certainty about the ebook market is that we do not have a clue how large it is. If you only factor major US publishers into the mix, you get one set of data points. If you factor the entire ebook publishing spectrum into the mix, the numbers relating to market share will look very different — perhaps a bit broader than we'd expect, despite the fact that Amazon would still dominate.

I pay close attention to authors who discuss their digital sales, and while they give mad props to various retailers, they consistently cite Amazon as their largest, most consistent source of sales. Leaving Amazon "out" means leaving a large and growing number of readers out (based on recent press releases from Amazon — sans real numbers, of course ... but nobody gives up real numbers). Put another way, it means leaving a large percentage of sales on the table. I'm fairly certain this is not the goal of authors and publishers.

Stross' point that Amazon is doing very well at locking readers into its platform can't be denied, but its distribution reach also can't be denied. This begs a couple of questions: Could publishers quit Amazon — all of it — cold turkey? If not, how can publishers take advantage of Amazon's platforms without being undermined by them?

I invited Krozser to open the discussion with her response.

Kassia Krozser: Last week's rather confusing co-op story — in which Amazon is apparently demanding higher amounts for (digital) co-op and publisher-generated media — highlighted a fundamental truth: all is not fair in love and business. Like its bricks and mortar relatives before it, Amazon will squeeze vendors as much as possible.

But that is pretty much beside the point. Amazon's consumer base is too large for publishers to play serious hardball — readers have too many options for publishers to lock themselves out of the Amazon readership. And, frankly, it is the policies of many publishers that have led us to what I like to call retailer lock-in.

As a Kindle owner (happy, happy Kindle owner, I will note), it is near impossible for me to patronize other retailers because publishers insist on DRM. Amazon chose its own DRM flavor. As do other major retailers. Cross-compatibility is a fantasy for readers. I love publishers who eschew DRM (and I'd love a serious study that compares pirating of DRM-only versus DRM-free publishers ... something tells me those numbers are very interesting). Without DRM, I can buy from non-Amazon retailers. With DRM, I am stuck.

So, how not to be undermined by Amazon? Give consumers options. Policies that lock readers into a retailer don't help create a diverse marketplace. This is in the control of publishers.

That's Krozser's take. What's yours? 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

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December 22 2011

HTML5: The platform-agnostic key to the future of publishing

This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


Is HTML5 one of the keys to publishing's future? Brian Fling (@fling), founder of PinchZoom, thinks so. His company's new publishing platform is called PinchZoom Press, and it's built atop HTML5. In this interview, Brian tells us about what PinchZoom Press can do and why it's an important new entrant in the epublishing space.

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

  • The platform consists of three different pieces of technology — A native app for iOS devices, a layout tool and a content management system. [Discussed at the 1:50 mark.]
  • Why choose HTML5 rather than EPUB 3? — As flexible and powerful as EPUB is, it's still not as platform agnostic as HTML5. Plus, every device comes with a web browser but not necessarily an EPUB reader. [Discussed at 2:56.]
  • But it's really "not about EPUB or HTML" — Don't focus on the end client. It's about understanding how your content is managed and how you think about how your content is presented in a mixed platform world. [Discussed at 5:07.]
  • Portability introduces some limitations — HTML5 is wonderful for portability and knowing that your product will render well on all platforms, but it also means you might not have access to sensors, cameras and other potentially important device features. [Discussed at 7:20.]
  • Native apps are here to stay — Yes, that means we'll have to invest in apps across at least two platforms. The simple truth is the native app will probably always offer the best user experience for that platform. [Discussed at 10:40.]


  • Pricing is still being finalized — PinchZoom is leaning toward only charging for the content management system, and that's likely to be a monthly fee. [Discussed at 19:45.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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

Register to attend TOC 2012

Related:

November 14 2011

Not a self-publisher, far from a traditional publisher

This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


Pubslush Press has been described as "a Kickstarter for books." That's a fair comparison to some extent, but as the company's founder Jesse Potash (@PUBSLUSH) points out, there already is a Kickstarter out there, and they already offer some book projects. Pubslush isn't simply some new self-publishing option — they're approaching the model differently and are taking some bold steps to help eradicate global illiteracy. Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Crowd-funding versus non-profit publishing: In the Kickstarter model, the funding can be used at the author's discretion, but with Pubslush, the funding is primarily used in "the first stage" of the publishing process. [Discussed at the 1:00 mark.]
  • Traditional editors are welcome: Pubslush not only allows editors to come in and extend offers to Pubslush authors, they actually encourage it. [Discussed at 2:19.]
  • Authors are never charged a dime ... ever: They're not really a self-publisher, and they're far from a traditional publisher — Pubslush simply falls somewhere in between the two. [Discussed at 3:10.]
  • Pubslush is all about discovery: Despite the large number of titles published every year, Pubslush can help solve the discoverability problem. [Discussed at 3:47.]
  • Community reviews are one of the features that make Pubslush special: The role is to "review, share and fund." [Discussed at 6:10.]
  • Linking publishing with literacy: For every book they sell, they donate another one to a child in need. How awesome is that? [Discussed at 11:30.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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

Register to attend TOC 2012

Related:

October 26 2011

We're in the midst of a restructuring of the publishing universe (don't panic)

A new book released this week called "Book: A Futurist's Manifesto," by Hugh McGuire (@hughmcguire) and Brian O'Leary (@brianoleary), examines the future of book publishing from an advanced perspective. Beyond pricing and delivery mechanisms, beyond taking print and displaying it on a screen, the authors look at the digital transformation as more than a change in format — as stated in the book's introduction:

The move to digital is not just a format shift, but a fundamental restructuring of the universe of publishing. This restructuring will touch every part of a publishing enterprise — or at least most publishing enterprises. Shifting to digital formats is 'part one' of this changing universe; 'part two' is what happens once everything is digital. This is the big, exciting unknown.

I reached out to the book's co-author Hugh McGuire to examine some of the elements at play in the future of publishing and in the "exciting unknown" of doing things with books that have never before been possible. Our interview follows.

What's the story behind "Book: A Futurist's Manifesto"?

HughMcGuire.jpgHugh McGuire: I'd been working on building PressBooks.com — a digital book production tool designed for publishers — and I wanted to get a real sense of how it worked, hands on. How better than to manage a real publishing project, working with a real publisher, from beginning to end, using PressBooks?

Of course, it made sense to make it a book about the future of books and publishing. So much ink is spilled about that topic, but we wanted to get away from the abstract and right down to the nitty-gritty. We wanted to produce something that would be a handbook you could give to someone starting a publishing house today.

I talked to my friend Brian O'Leary about co-editing with me, and he was on board. With that, I pitched it to Joe Wikert at O'Reilly — he loved the idea, and off we went.

It's been a bit of a challenge, producing a book while simultaneously building the book production tool on which the book is produced, but we've managed ... if a month or two late.

This is a broad question, but what are the major ways digital is changing publishing?

Hugh McGuire: It's more like in what ways isn't digital changing publishing? First, we very quickly dispatched of the pre-Kindle, pre-iPad question of, "Will people read books on screens?" Yes, and the growth curves are spectacular. The publishing world has, in a pretty orderly way, adapted to this change — with digital files now slotting alongside print books in the distribution chain. I think is this just the start, however.

The publishing world has managed the "digital-conversion disruption" pretty well. Publishers make ebooks now as a matter of course, and consumers buy them and read them on a multitude of devices.

What we as an industry haven't managed yet is the "digital-native disruption." What happens when all new books are ebooks, and the majority of books are read on digital devices, most of which are connected to the Internet? This brings with it so many new expectations from consumers, and I think this is where the real disruption in the market will come.

The kinds of disruption there include: speed of the publishing process, reader engagement with content, linking in and out of books, layers of context added to books, and the webification of books. I think the transitions we've seen in the past three years will pale in comparison to what's going to happen to publishing in the next three years.

Book: A Futurist's Manifesto — Through this collection of essays from publishing thought leaders and practitioners, you'll become familiar with a wide range of developments occurring in the wake of the digital book shakeup.

Which digital tools should publishers focus on?

Hugh McGuire: Publishing is such a strange, conservative business, and I think there is a real hesitancy to invest heavily early on until there is real clarity on what the long-term standards will be. But EPUB is based on HTML, and I think whatever happens, HTML will be with us for the long haul.

So, tools I think publishers need to start working with:

These are the keys to having a successful publishing company that is future-proofed as best as it can be.

Why is metadata important to digital publishing?

Hugh McGuire: Physical bookstores provide a range of crucial services beyond being a place where you can buy books. Stores offer selection, curation, and recommendation. The digital book retail world is very different because it offers nearly unlimited selection. While retailers like Amazon spend a fair bit of energy trying to recommend titles to readers, the task of sifting through and finding books is increasingly left to consumers.

So, having good metadata — which really should be renamed "information about a book" so it's less intimidating — means providing information that will: A) ensure that people looking for your book, or for the kind of content in your book, will find it; and B) help potential buyers of your book decide they want to buy it.

On the web, companies spend lots of time making sure their sites are search engine optimized, so that people looking for those websites (or the information on them) will find them. Attaching good metadata to a book is much like search engine optimization — it's the mechanism you use to make sure your book gets found by the people looking for it.

What will the publishing landscape look like in five years?

Hugh McGuire: In five years:

  • Print is a marginal part of the trade business.
  • There's a huge increase in the number of small publishers of all stripes.
  • There's a massive increase in the number of books on the market.
  • The Big Six publishers will consolidate to become the Big Two or Three.
  • Most writers will continue to have a hard time making a living as writers.
  • Good/successful publishers will be those that provide good APIs to their books.
  • All books will be expected to be connected to the web, allowing linking in and out, and contextual layers of commentary, etc. (Will this be driven by publishers or retailers? To date, retailers have lead the way.)
  • The distinction between what you can do with an ebook and what you can do with a website will disappear (and it will seem strange that it ever existed).
  • While books will become more webby, the web will also become more bookish, accommodating more book-like structures in evolving HTML standards.

What's the publishing schedule for "Book: A Futurist's Manifesto"?

Hugh McGuire: The book comes in three parts:

  1. Out now: "Part 1: The Setup" — This addresses what's happening right now in publishing.
  2. Out sometime before Christmas: "Part 2: The Outlook: What Is Next for the Book?" — Given the technology we currently have, what can we expect to see happening with books going forward?
  3. Out in early 2012: "Part 3: The Things We Can Do with Books: Projects from the Bleeding Edge" — Case studies of real publishing projects, technologies, and enterprises working right now at the bleeding edge.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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September 21 2011

Papercut has designs on a new storytelling genre

This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months.


Papercut, a new iPad publishing platform developed by ustwo, is scheduled for release in late September. Jonas Lennermo, head of publishing at ustwo, recently sat down with O'Reilly's Joe Wikert to talk about the new platform. Highlights from their interview include:

  • A Papercut overview — "You could say Papercut is three things: it's a publishing platform; it could work as a storefront; and first and foremost, it's a new genre — it's a storytelling experiment." [Discussed at the 0:53 mark]
  • It's also a multi-sensory experience — "The concept is quite straightforward: you have a small, scrollable reading window, and because of the reading window, we know where the reader is in the story and we can trigger events based on what's happening in the story." Readers can hear doors close, the wind blowing, and visuals can be included as well. [Discussed at 1:33]
  • The issue of development scalability — "I think it's a hard balance because we are really keen on creating a platform so we can create these stories quite cheap and quite fast, but we don't want to be locked in to only do one thing. We still want to experiment, but mainly we want to experiment with storytelling. It's a fine balance between creating a one-off — to explore and do something brand new — but also at the same time be strategic and create a platform that you can reuse." [Discussed at 7:23]

The full discussion is available in the following video. Lennermo will talk more about ustwo and PaperCut at next month's TOC Frankfurt.

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

Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR

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