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March 10 2011

Flipboard and the end of "sourciness"

Today's Flipboard update sports increased speed, an improved design layout, a partnership with Instagram, and the ability for users to search across several social platforms, including Flickr, Twitter and Facebook.

The shiny new features are drawing plenty of attention, but the really cool thing here — and what likely will fuel Flipboard's success — is the platform's ability to seamlessly present the newly integrated social content without overly focusing on the original source or platform.

In a recent interview, Craig Mod, designer and publisher at Flipboard, stressed the importance of putting the content first. By making content the focus of the presentation, users can experience a seamless stream of information rather than jumping from platform to platform:

I think the thing that Flipboard is doing particularly well is that the integrations become seamless. One of the main goals at Flipboard that we really try to drive home is that [users] plug in these [integration] sources and we remove the "sourciness" from it.

When I'm reading stuff in Flipboard, it's not like I'm engaging Twitter or engaging Facebook. I'm just aware of the great content that's being micro-curated by my social groups. There's an obfuscation of that social network layer — what we're building is a comfortable consumption layer, as fed by human curation.

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In the interview, Mod also discusses the most important elements of app design and how Flipboard is, at this point, a great big experiment. The full interview is available in the following video:



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March 03 2011

Digital authors need a whole new set of skills

Trademark-symbol.pngAs the publishing industry wrestles its way into the digital age, a lot of conversation has centered around digital platforms, distribution woes, technological enhancement possibilities and how publishers and readers are adapting and adjusting to the new landscape. But where do authors fit into this mix?

In a recent interview, Dana Newman, a transactional and intellectual property attorney, talked about what authors need to do to protect themselves and their brands, in addition to their books:

Rather than think in terms of "I want to sell my book," think about "I want to license all of my intellectual property rights." Realize that it's not just your book, per say. It may be electronic rights, it may be multimedia rights — it may be all these other areas that your book may be exploited.

Before you enter into an agreement, make sure you understand it. Make sure you understand how you're granting those rights, and if you're granting all of your rights to one particular publisher, [ask yourself] do they have the ability and the plan to role out those other platforms for you?

Also, don't forget about trademarks. Authors are being told now they have to get out there, they have to market themselves. They are their brand. Don't forget to register your trademark — your name ...

During the interview, Newman also discussed the future of territory rights, embracing the "e-pocalypse," and why the film industry's experience with the digital transition contains lessons for the book world. The full interview is available in the following video:



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February 22 2011

The future of the book

FutureDuring lunch at TOC last Wednesday, we had a roundtable discussion that centered on the future of the book. The conversation touched on many different areas, as you would expect. From distribution and inventory, to pricing and formats, to audience ownership and engagement. It was an interesting discussion but challenging because there is not one solution that will fit all publishers. We all have unique brands, focus, and particular ways of publishing, so finding a silver bullet will be virtually impossible.

It occurred to me, that as an industry, we should try to build a list of important concepts, features, and ideas that will help us all work towards building The Book of the Future. So I will start the list here, and invite everyone reading to contribute to the list through the comments below. Pass this post onto your colleagues and start a discussion. Let's change the The Book of the Future before we have to.

These items are in no particular order.

Easy-to-use authoring tools that enable content creation and distribution

Most publishers realized the inherent benefits of getting content into XML/DocBook. Yet most authoring tools that are easy to use, are horrible at getting usable XML out of the authoring environment. I know, many purport to offer XML conversion, but it is still an arduous process to clean up those conversions, and what a waste of time and resources. The existing XML tools on the other hand, are typically for the more geeky authors who write in mark up naturally. They are not intended for significant works with lots of art, cross references, interesting layout. XMLMind, ASCIIDoc and Oxygen are the three that we recommend for creating easy to generate and use XML. There proprietary tool chains that work for some publishers relatively well but they are not shared with the industry. There are other significant problems with XML — it's based on the idea that content and appearance can be separated, so, as I already mentioned, it's not particularly suited for books with significant art, or any type of book where the layout is part of the content. So I think one component of The Book of the Future needs to center on making the upfront writing and creative work easy, intuitive, and productive for authors. Better enabling our authors will benefit everyone, including the cheese sandwich makers.

Readily available in all formats

Today we kind of know what formats people want to read their book in. Print, APK, DAISY, ePub, Mobi, and PDF are the most notable formats today. But what will be the most favored format three years from now? You might pick one format from the previous list, but what if some wiz-bang new device comes out and makes reading an amazing experience anywhere you are without effort, and knows when your eyes have stopped focusing so it tells you to take a break. The point is, we'll need to be able to get our content onto devices and formats that are not yet available. So how do we get authoring tools to make it easy to get into all these different formats without a resource investment that kills a reasonable P&L? And how do you have print inventory right-sized to a changing market, yet stock is on hand? Can publishing do Just in Time much like Amazon does for retailing? The Book of the Future will need to be in all formats and all channels on its pub-date.

Continuous Updates (more tech-oriented and some non-fiction)

For many categories in publishing, the content that is published has a very short shelf-life. There is a need to keep content updated and relevant. But how do you make changes without taking back inventory or having two similar, but not exactly similar products on the market? Is the solution similar to what happens when you purchase an App in an App Store? In other words, will publishers start pushing out updates, new chapters, and errata fixes, to registered users for all their content in the future? Will there be "in-app" purchases similar to what we see in app now? In essence, if someone purchases content, should they get lifetime updates, enhancements, revisions, fixes and the like? Is this something that The Book of the Future needs to provide?

Rich media integration

We all know about, or have seen examples of integrated media. Will combining several of the various elements become the expected minimum viable product? Will publishing be hiring more producers with TV production in their background for creating great learning experiences? Will the early rich-products look like the early web-pages with a feature-overloaded look and feel? Are we going to see Media Designers become the highly-paid and coveted jobs in publishing? Will The Book of the Future really be a media-container for more than a book?

Socially and personally connects readers to publisher/author/community

Wow, this was a long time coming. Audience has always been a key focus of authors and publishers, but now days, we are getting closer to our beloved followers. Connecting readers to authors, and authors to readers, and readers to like minded readers, and readers to publishers, and publishers to communities is getting easier with the abundance of social media options. Will connecting social media as an in-App experience will take publishing to a new level? Will making content passages easier to share help sell more books? Will publishers need to abandon DRM to make this social connections work on a large scale? Will books be judged based on how many followers, friends, posts, tweets, status updates, etc. there are related to the book? Will The Book of the Future be a social event rather than a static view of content?

Engages the distracted and partial attention society

We've all heard about how our attention is being overloaded by too many media and information options. How are we going to create learning experiences that are tailored to individual attention spans. Some people may be able to focus for 20 minutes while others may last several hours before needing a break. How do we win the the competition for our readers minds? Is the solution to create many smaller loosely joined components that work at bursty intervals? Does this let the reader learn, read, and enjoy at their pace? Will the social anthropologists, cognitive scientists, and watching the digital natives provide us with the insights to build The Book of the Future.

Written and translated simultaneously

This has been long overdue and needs to be done soon. The simplified process for writing a book is 1) author writes, 2) publisher edits, 3) author/publisher approve changes, 4) book is printed and distributed in various channels, including digital. In the majority of cases, why are we waiting to throw the project over the fence to the international rights groups to begin translation, after the fact. In today's world, with all the amazing technology, why do we wait for translations to happen? We have tools like Subversion, and Git that can make this straightforward, so why not write a chapter and have a translater work on a forked version. Translators would see any changes to the original and could alter their version. Will The Book of the Future be published in several languages simultaneously?

Gamification features

There is plenty of evidence showing that people react to Gamification principles in a compelling manner, and in some cases an addictive manner. So why is the publishing industry waiting to build this into our products? Are we waiting to make sure it 'sticks' before we invest resources? Some people say Gamification will be to this decade what Social was to the previous decade. Can you imagine that people will earn things for reading, learning and engaging with your content? Shouldn't students get more immediate feedback and fun from their textbook? Would it be great to leave one device you are reading on, continue your journey, game, assignment and login to a different device and pick up where you left off (some devices have this in nascent for now)? Will Gamification be a big part of The Book of the Future for your organization?

Access from the source

Will your future products put your customers more in touch with you, the publisher, rather than the retailer, professor, bookstore, or some other intermediary. Will in-book purchases (like in-App purchases) put you closer to your audience? Will your direct sales of The Book of the Future make up for any declines you see in your existing channels and will you create new channels?

Culture, staffing, and innovation

As the landscape in publishing changes due to technology, disruption in market distribution, and a new generation of readers, will your company undergo a change in culture, staffing and leadership? When you compare the publishing industry to others, it looks as though we have moved quite slowly. Is Google the same company it was 10 years ago? Microsoft? Yet many in publishing have done very little to innovate and ignite this industry. As an industry, need to give Amazon a boatload of credit for forcing us all to be more innovative. Does our culture of building great, noble and scholarly works need to change to a more 'fail forward fast' mentality where we are meeting market demands in a "just in time" manner. Much more like a software company that releases early, often and continuous. I have heard over the years, that the publishing industry is like running with the slow kid on the block, so are going keep dragging our feet, or look for talent to bring in from other industries to help us create The Book of the Future.

Open source

A natural reaction in a declining market, from most corporate entities, is to hoard their assets and keep them safely guarded with DRM and the like. This is a closed and proprietary view of doing business. There are enough case studies showing how Open Sourcing your products actually creates a larger eco-system and a more vibrant market. We need to think about the industry and not individual company success. How do you make money if you're giving the content away? What is the cost of free? Most publishers won't consider Open Source / Creative Commons licenses for some reason, yet those of us that do, are growing and thriving. What does open source do to the publishing ecosystem, make it larger and stronger? Margaret Atwood's brilliant depiction of a part of the ecosystem, cautions publishing to neither accidentally or intentionally eliminate the author (part of the ecosystem). When the industry defines and deploys the The Book of the Future, we need to make sure the industry is healthy by making the ideas, technology and models Open Source in spirit. Obviously there are components that will help companies remain unique, but let's get our industry moving in a healthy direction, together!

Priced fairly

Creating more value than you capture is an essential ingredient for successful publishing in the future. Tim O'Reilly has instilled this sort of thinking in all of us at O'Reilly. If you use this train of thought to guide your pricing decisions, you'll do well. There is something going on in our industry that needs to self correct. Average prices are going up, and average units sold is going down. I understand this pricing strategy helps a publisher not lose money (fewer units at a higher price can actually drive a bottom line profit). We need to think carefully about our pricing decisions when we figure how to price The Book of the Future. I wonder which rocket-scientist decided to price a digital edition so much lower the the print analog. I find the digital edition more useful, portable, and convenient. Yet somehow digital is valued less in our industry's pricing strategy. Could it be that some large retailers have artificially set the price low and don't care about the ecosystem so they can sell less-than-adequate devices instead of valuing the most important asset — the content. I don't think we have to wait for a market correction, we are squarely in the middle of it now. Self-publishing, direct sales strategies, the rise of small publishers, new open devices, piracy and broken DRM are all indications that our pricing strategies as an industry are off-kilter. Create more value than you capture, think about your readers first, your ecosystem second, and your P&L third.

Kevin Kelly on how to sell free

KevinKelly.jpgThe question of whether access or ownership is more important was directly addressed — and answered — by Kevin Kelly, senior maverick at Wired magazine, during his keynote speech at TOC 2011. In no uncertain terms he said access was the future:

There's this huge shift we see in the entire environment where people get more value out of having access to something rather than owning it. With Netflix, you don't own the movies, you just have access to them — Spotify, Pandora, and Last FM are music streams that go by; you don't actually own the music, you just access it ... Why own them if you can have instant, all-the-time access?

What's more, he suggested our current models of selling items — books, music, etc. — will change. Instead of selling "things," producers and publishers will be selling the parts that cannot be copied:

In a world where everything is moving to the free, we have to have a different attitude ... the only things that become valuable are the things that cannot be copied. Let me give you one example: immediacy. So, you're not paying for the copy, you're paying for immediacy — you can eventually get anything you want for free if you wait long enough, but if you want it as soon as the creator has created it, the artist has made it, you're willing to pay for the immediacy of it.

So, the monetization comes from the speed of delivery, personalized experiences and individual attention. The products themselves will be free, or nearly so.

Eyetracking

Kelly also pointed out that visualization will go both ways — as we look at the content on a screen, it will look back at us. Showing an image of a tablet screen (pictured above) he explained:

This is a heat map generated by software in a camera inside a tablet looking at the ways eyes spend time tracking on a web page — the more orange it is, the more attention it's given. So, it's very easy to imagine our books looking back at us ... they become adaptive in some ways ... [the books are] aware of where [they're] being read and aware of us.

Kelly's keynote is embedded below. We also had the opportunity to interview him one-on-one — that clip is available in O'Reilly's YouTube channel.



Related:


February 17 2011

Margaret Atwood on solar flares and author needs

Margaret Atwood's keynote speech was one of the highlights of the 2011 Tools of Change for Publishing conference. Atwood noted that publishers moving into the digital age must not forget — or accidentally eliminate — the author. To illustrate her point, she created the following drawings:

Using a touch of deadpan humor, Atwood addressed the largely tech-filled audience with a perspective from the author's point of view. She warned that the transformation to digital publishing may have unforeseen consequences:

Technology is just a tool, and every tool has three sides: the sharp (or up side), the dull side (or down side), and the stupid side, which is the side you didn't anticipate and has consequences you did not intend.

One of those unintended consequences could even be a blast from space:

The stupid side of electronic information includes: one big solar flare and it's gone. If there's something you really, really want to save and you think there's going to be a solar flare or an electromagnetic pulse of any kind, get yourself a lead-lined safe and put it in there. Also, if the tech changes, you can't read it anymore — how many have had the floppy disc experience?

Atwood's full keynote is embedded below. We also had the opportunity to interview her one-on-one — that clip is available in O'Reilly's YouTube channel.


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February 16 2011

Book^2 Camp opens the lines of communication

About 150 people attended the Book^2 Camp event Sunday in New York. The un-conference broke out into several sessions throughout the afternoon, and included discussions about creating blogger buzz, the state of academic publishing, how authors can make use of websites for their books, enhanced ebook workflows, and understanding piracy. There also were tech sessions that discussed book design, APIs and programming.

During the afternoon, camp goers documented the sessions on Twitter. Some highlights include:

Picture 2.png

Bookcamp tweet

The entire Book^2 Camp tweet stream can be viewed here or by searching Twitter for #book2.

BloggerBuzz.jpgThe book blogger buzz session had a large audience (pictured right). Author and poet Margaret Atwood had this to say after the session:

The biggest thing I took away from this session is that people [book bloggers] still do not quite know the effect of what they're doing — they don't have a way of really tracking the effect. In a way, I think they kind of don't care because they're not publishers. The bloggers do it out of love, one can only suppose, because they're not making any money out of it. That was one thing that interested me; the other thing was the sheer variety of all of these different kinds of blogs.

You can see more of Atwood's insights on Book^2 Camp here.

Attendees tended to agree that the cross pollination of the event — to use Ann Kingman's description — was particularly important. Here's how Brett Sandusky, director of product innovation at Kaplan Publishing, summed it up:

Overall, I think Book Camp is incredibly useful and important for us because in the publishing world we are often challenged with talking amongst each other and sharing experiences, data and lessons learned. Most companies tend to prefer to be proprietary about the things they are learning, and on an ideological level I think it's really important that we share those things so that as a collective we understand really what's going in the transition we're in and also what the future holds for us. These open forums allow us to talk about these larger issues in a way that we don't on a day-to-day basis.

For more on Book^2Camp, see Kevin Shockey's post here.

February 15 2011

Accessibility and HTML5 highlight TOC day 1

Monday's TOC 2011 lineup focused on workshops, including designing iPad apps, the changing landscape of publishing standards, HTML5, metadata, rights, and partnering with offshore vendors. It was hard to choose just a couple highlights from the day.

Meghan MacDonald, project coordinator at BookNet Canada, thought the publishing standards session was particularly interesting:

I loved that we focused on accessibility. That's a point publishers often overlook. There's a huge part of the market that has accessibility issues, whether it's readers who are blind or have hearing impairments, or even readers who are learning English and want translations for titles. You can actually make all your titles accessible to them with proper tagging of the text of your books.

Afternoon buzz about the HTML5 session, hosted by Marcin Wichary, a senior user experience designer at Google, also was good — one attendee was overheard saying that the session was worth the trip from the UK. I had an opportunity to sit down for a few moments with Wichary in this video interview:

Additional TOC coverage is available through O'Reilly's YouTube channel and the free keynote livestream.



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February 02 2011

Aggregation apps respond to consumer personalization demands

Companies are finally starting to see that consumers of news crave a platform that will bring them what they want to read, anytime they want to read it, and exactly how they want to read it (we're a demanding lot). To that end, there recently has been something of an influx of news-aggregating apps. Flipboard, of course, was the iPad app of the year in 2010. It gathers news by aggregating links from a user's social media platforms — Twitter, Google Reader, Facebook — and redisplays the content in one place, all nice and pretty.

Flipboard and Instapaper

AOL has announced a competing app, AOL Editions, that will work similarly to Flipboard, but will gather the news based on a user's interests through category rankings (like a hyper-personalized Newser?). Sobees launched yet another product, NewsMix, that aggregates the same way as Flipboard. These are just a few, and all are for the iPad. I'm not sure I want my Facebook friends' comments alongside my daily nosh of news, but that's where we're headed.

There's some argument that these types of aggregators come very close to stepping on the toes of publishers' intellectual property rights. This may be especially true when they team up with ad stripping software — like the platform just announced by Readability and Instapaper. This platform tries to make things equitable by giving publishers a percentage of monthly fees. But will publishers think that's enough?

TOC: 2011, being held Feb. 14-16, 2011 in New York City, will explore "publishing without boundaries" through a variety of workshops, keynotes and panel sessions.

Save 15% off registration with the code TOC11RAD

January 28 2011

Publishing News: Week in Review

Here's what caught my attention in this week's publishing news. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

What is DRM for, exactly?

questionmarkLast week in an interview with Brian O'Leary about the current state of piracy in the book industry, the subject of digital rights management (DRM) and its relationship to piracy came up. Brian said:

I'm pretty adamant on DRM: It has no impact whatsoever on piracy. Any good pirate can strip DRM in a matter of seconds to minutes ... DRM is really only useful for keeping people who otherwise might have shared a copy of a book from doing so.

To be clear, Brian wasn't saying he's against DRM — he actually didn't state his opinion about it at all, other than to note that DRM is a useless tool against piracy.

Mike Shatzkin responded to Brian's interview, agreeing that DRM isn't an effective tool to prevent piracy, but that it is important because it prevents casual sharing. He wrote:

I do think DRM prevents "casual sharing" (it sure stops me; and I think most people are more like me than they are like my friends who break DRM for sport) and I believe — based on faith, not on data — that enabling casual sharing would do real damage to ebook sales with the greatest damage to the biggest books.

A piece from Wired further muddied the DRM waters by showing how almost anyone can strip book DRM in a few short steps.

All of this leads me to a couple questions:

  • What fears, concerns, and issues do publishers hope DRM can address? Piracy? Sharing? Something else?
  • Is DRM is a long-term solution?
  • If you work for a publisher, how is your organization using DRM?

To chime in, share your thoughts in the comments area of this post.


TOC: 2011, being held Feb. 14-16, 2011 in New York City, will explore "publishing without boundaries" through a variety of workshops, keynotes and panel sessions.



Save 15% off registration with the code TOC11RAD



Access rights versus ownership: Are URL-based books the future?


bookish.jpgThe idea of access versus ownership is coming to the forefront quickly in the book publishing world. Inventive Labs recently launched the beta site for their HTML5 Book.ish ereader. All you need to use Book.ish is a web browser — you sign in and read your books. There's no software or files to download, just complete no-muss no-fuss access to your books. You don't own your books in the traditional sense — you own the rights to access them.

Australian indie bookstore Readings is in full experiment mode with the cloud-based pay-for-access concept. On Monday, they launched their ebook store, Readings Ebooks, which works together with Book.ish.

This cloud model will allow for lending, and it opens the possibility of resale for ebooks. In a recent post, Joseph Pearson (@josephpearson), one of the minds behind Book.ish, argued that cloud access is a better ownership model:

...if you "own" the ebook file, locked up with DRM — that's actually the most anemic definition of "ownership" I can think of. I don't see how — short of hacking it — that file is any insurance of your continued access to the book if you've purchased it from any of the major ebook platforms.

If we ditch that bad idea, new and perhaps better models of ownership can begin to supplant it. If a book is a URL, it is fantastically easy for you to lend a book to a friend: you simply give up access to the URL while they have it. That seems to me like a vital aspect of ownership, and an incredibly problematic aspect with files. More significantly, the right to re-sell your ebook emerges as a possibility — because you can transfer your right of access to another individual.

It will be interesting to watch the response not only from consumers, but publishers as well.



Worldreader.org uses ereader technology to educate students in developing nations, and unwanted Kindles find a new home in Oregon


KindleIf you're an extreme curmudgeon who deems the Kindle to be a "soulless faux-literary technology," the Microcosm Publishing Book and Zine Store in Portland, Ore., has a solution should you somehow come into possession of the device. Trade your Kindle — dollar for dollar — for old-school paper books.

I spoke with Matt Gauck, a bookseller at the store, on the phone Wednesday night. He said the plan is to add the Kindles to the store's collection of outdated technology. So far, storage limitations haven't been an issue because they've had just two participants in the exchange program. If the trade-in catches on, however, they'll need a plan B.

One potential solution: Consider a tax-deductible donation to Worldreader.org. The nonprofit organization provides access to digital books in developing countries. In November, they launched a project in partnership with Amazon called the iREAD Pilot Study. Kindles were distributed to more than 500 children at six schools in Ghana, providing them with books and textbooks to which they wouldn't otherwise have access. The preliminary progress report is worth a read and quite inspirational.

Anytime technology can be used to make the world a better place, it's a success in my book.

Got news?

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


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


January 26 2011

What if a book is just a URL?

bookish.jpgThe idea of access versus ownership is coming to the forefront quickly in the book publishing world. Inventive Labs recently launched the beta site for their HTML5 Book.ish ereader. All you need to use Book.ish is a web browser — you sign in and read your books. There's no software or files to download, just complete no-muss no-fuss access to your books. You don't own your books in the traditional sense — you own the rights to access them.

Australian indie bookstore Readings is in full experiment mode with the cloud-based pay-for-access concept. On Monday, they launched their ebook store, Readings Ebooks, which works together with Book.ish.

This cloud model will allow for lending, and it opens the possibility of resale for ebooks. In a recent post, Joseph Pearson (@josephpearson), one of the minds behind Book.ish, argued that cloud access is a better ownership model:

...if you "own" the ebook file, locked up with DRM — that's actually the most anemic definition of "ownership" I can think of. I don't see how — short of hacking it — that file is any insurance of your continued access to the book if you've purchased it from any of the major ebook platforms.

If we ditch that bad idea, new and perhaps better models of ownership can begin to supplant it. If a book is a URL, it is fantastically easy for you to lend a book to a friend: you simply give up access to the URL while they have it. That seems to me like a vital aspect of ownership, and an incredibly problematic aspect with files. More significantly, the right to re-sell your ebook emerges as a possibility — because you can transfer your right of access to another individual.

It will be interesting to watch the response not only from consumers, but publishers as well.

TOC: 2011, being held Feb. 14-16, 2011 in New York City, will explore "publishing without boundaries" through a variety of workshops, keynotes and panel sessions.

Save 15% off registration with the code TOC11RAD

January 25 2011

Open question: How is your publishing organization addressing DRM?

questionmarkLast week in an interview with Brian O'Leary about the current state of piracy in the book industry, the subject of digital rights management (DRM) and its relationship to piracy came up. Brian said:

I'm pretty adamant on DRM: It has no impact whatsoever on piracy. Any good pirate can strip DRM in a matter of seconds to minutes ... DRM is really only useful for keeping people who otherwise might have shared a copy of a book from doing so.

To be clear, Brian wasn't saying he's against DRM — he actually didn't state his opinion about it at all, other than to note that DRM is a useless tool against piracy.

Mike Shatzkin responded to Brian's interview, agreeing that DRM isn't an effective tool to prevent piracy, but that it is important because it prevents casual sharing. He wrote:

I do think DRM prevents "casual sharing" (it sure stops me; and I think most people are more like me than they are like my friends who break DRM for sport) and I believe — based on faith, not on data — that enabling casual sharing would do real damage to ebook sales with the greatest damage to the biggest books.

A piece from Wired further muddied the DRM waters by showing how almost anyone can strip book DRM in a few short steps.

All of this leads me to a couple questions:

  • What fears, concerns, and issues do publishers hope DRM can address? Piracy? Sharing? Something else?
  • Is DRM is a long-term solution?
  • If you work for a publisher, how is your organization using DRM?

Please share your thoughts in the comments area.

TOC: 2011, being held Feb. 14-16, 2011 in New York City, will explore "publishing without boundaries" through a variety of workshops, keynotes and panel sessions.

Save 15% on registration with the code TOC11RAD

January 24 2011

January 21 2011

Publishing News: Week in Review

Here's what caught my attention in this week's publishing news. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

Stripping DRM 101

Last week, Brian O'Leary, founder of Magellan Media, pointed out that: "Any good pirate can strip DRM in a matter of seconds to minutes." Now, Wired magazine proves it with a brief how-to on stripping DRM from Kindle books, borrowed from Apprentice Alf.

Calibre screenshot
A screenshot of the Calibre ebook management system. Plug-ins can be added to the system to remove various forms of DRM.

Remember DVD Jon? He set the DVD free and created Double Twist to strip DRM from music with a single click. He's still around, and his company does much more today. And that's just one organization championing the open source format. My mom still won't be stripping DRM from her ebooks, but it certainly looks like easy-to-use tools are on the horizon.

TOC: 2011, being held Feb. 14-16, 2011 in New York City, will explore "publishing without boundaries" through a variety of workshops, keynotes and panel sessions.

Save 15% on registration with the code TOC11RAD

VCs funding entertainment, cloud technology, and social media

Startups dreams can come true. Ben Huh and his team at Cheezburger Network have raised $30 million in venture capital. The money reportedly will be used to hire people — perhaps including a sales person, as they (impressively) don't have one.

And no, a business doesn't have to involve cats to secure venture capital. Sonian, a company that archives cloud-based data, secured an additional $9 million when corporate giant Amazon jumped onboard, bringing their venture capital total to about $15 million. Social publishing site Scribd and Perfect Market, a company that helps Web publishers monetize content, also have landed solid capital investments of $13 million and $9 million, respectively.

Huh will talk more about his company's success — and its venture into book publishing — in a keynote address at TOC. As a teaser, Huh discusses the limitations of blog-to-book publishing in the following short interview:


The Book Industry Study Group began the process to establish an ebook ISBN ISO

ISBN.jpgThe ISBN — originally based on nine digits, then 10, and now 13 — might be getting shiny, new ISO standards. The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) is looking into the issue and has reviewed an ebook ISBN study conducted by Michael Cairns (@Personanondata) of Information Media Partners.

One of the larger problems highlighted in the study seemed to be a lack of acceptance for a "standard," with participants calling the ISBN policies "recommendations" or "best practices." And looking forward to the future of digital publishing and the possibilities of aggregating custom content by consumers has made some publishers wonder if the ISBN will even be needed. And if the ISBN does still have a place, how will it work in this new environment? Lots of work needs to be done before an ISO can be established and ratified, but this study looks like a step in the right direction.

From the report's executive summary:

Achieving [an ISBN ebook standard] will require closer and more active communication among all concerned parties and potential changes in ISBN policies and procedures. Enforcement of any eventual agreed policy will require commitment from all parties; otherwise, no solution will be effective and, to that end, it would be practical to gain this commitment in advance of defining solutions.

The full ebook ISBN report will be released by BISG in a few weeks.



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January 19 2011

Digital publishing should put design above file conversion

Digital publishing formats and processes seem to change daily, and keeping up with the times can be a logistical nightmare for publishers and ebook staffs. What are the best design tools? Which formats should be used? How do you meet current digital demand while building for the future?

Joshua Tallent (@ebookarchitects), owner of eBook Architects and a speaker at TOC 2011, makes sense of the confusion and frustration surrounding digital publishing.

Our interview follows.


How do you see digital book conversion changing in the near future?

Joshua TallentJoshua Tallent: To me, the big deal is that the conversion process is going to morph from conversion to design. We've been stuck on this idea that we have to get books developed and out in the market right now. We're trying to get thousands of backlist titles produced, and the quality has suffered.

What's happening, at least on a small level, is that conversion companies and publishers are starting to see that it's not the conversion that matters, it's the design. Ebook design requires the same quality and care that you see in print book design. I hope that's the direction we're headed.

How will a focus on ebook development affect different types of publishers?

Joshua Tallent: I see the cost of development, and even some of the requirements for development, going up. That's something that a larger publisher could probably absorb better than a smaller company.

When it comes to independent authors, many think they can take a Word document and turn it into an ebook. That's fine if you want a very basic book, and you can probably do it yourself. But things are getting more intense, and we have more functionality. If you want to include audio and video, you have to get into the code and know what you're doing. That creates a higher barrier to entry. As that barrier goes up, self-published authors will have a harder time competing with the big publishers.

Across the board, we're going to need more qualified developers. That's where the big questions emerge: Who do you hire? Do you convert your book design staff into ebook developers? Do you find web developers who can be trained to create ebooks?

TOC: 2011, being held Feb. 14-16, 2011 in New York City, will explore "publishing without boundaries" through a variety of workshops, keynotes and panel sessions.

Save 15% on registration with the code TOC11RAD

Do you see the use of proprietary file formats increasing or decreasing?

Joshua Tallent: I see it becoming more solidified. Businesses look out for themselves before looking out for the community.

Let's take a backwards view and ask what would have happened if Sony, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo and all of the other major retailers — except for Amazon — had worked out a single and usable system for DRM, for formatting, and for ebook layout. If they had done that, Amazon would be number three or four in the industry right now.

I firmly believe that a consistent EPUB system would be beneficial to consumers, and consumers would see that. The problem is publishers and booksellers haven't done that. Barnes & Noble has their own flavor of the Adobe DRM. Adobe has updated the DRM and said anybody can use it, but Sony didn't do that. The Sony version of the DRM doesn't interoperate correctly with the Nook. So, you can now buy an EPUB file from the Barnes & Noble store and not necessarily be able to read that on your Sony device. These companies aren't going to let that go. They don't want Adobe getting their hands into the mix and taking $0.20 per book download or something along those lines. They want to control that DRM themselves.

I would be surprised if more than a couple of big retailers are actually working on an interoperable business plan. Google has done that a little bit with Google eBookstore. They say you can take all of their books and put them on any of these different devices, including the Nook and the Sony Reader — and that's good. But, then again, I'm not convinced that Google is going to be as successful in the ebook retailing world as some people project. I think customers are more likely to go to Amazon.

Is there a "best" software choice for developing digital book files?

Joshua Tallent: It really depends on your workflow. If you're using Quark and your goal is to outsource to a third-party company and have them do the work, send them a PDF, and keep using Quark. If it's going to take a lot of extra money and training for you to get your people switched over to InDesign, and you don't intend to create your own EPUB files in-house, then there's no real value in going to InDesign. However, if your plan in the next year is to produce your own EPUBs with an XML-based workflow, then you should make the switch to InDesign.

As far as developing a foundational EPUB file, InDesign is a better tool. Quark doesn't seem to be moving toward an EPUB output. But even InDesign is not that good when it comes to EPUB: the InDesign EPUB export is really just the Dreamweaver HTML export packaged up as an EPUB file. It's got some glaring issues.

Specifically, I would love to see InDesign's EPUB export rewritten from the ground up so that the InDesign Markup Language (IDML) would convert to the XHTML used in EPUB, instead of relying on their current HTML output system.

What are the biggest conversion frustrations publishers currently face?

Joshua Tallent: Quality is the biggest issue I've seen. A lot of publishers are starting to see that the mass conversion route isn't the best approach. In response, publishers are hiring people who can proof their ebooks, look through the converted files, make change lists, and then send those back to the conversion houses for corrections. That's a good step for publishers who are using outside resources.

A constantly changing and morphing market is another frustration for publishers. Companies that have been doing things consistently for 100 years are suddenly forced to deal with digital development and design components that change every month. Now, they have to set up workflows that work both in the present and down the road. That's a whole different model than what they're used to.

This interview was edited and condensed.



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January 18 2011

With tools like these, DRM won't stop pirates or anyone else

Calibre screenshot
A screenshot of the Calibre ebook management system. Plug-ins can be added to the system to remove various forms of DRM.


Last week, Brian O'Leary, founder of Magellan Media, spoke out against DRM: "Any good pirate can strip DRM in a matter of seconds to minutes." Now, Wired magazine proves it with a brief how-to on stripping DRM from Kindle books, borrowed from Apprentice Alf.

Remember DVD Jon? He set the DVD free and created Double Twist to strip DRM from music with a single click. He's still around, and his company does much more today. And that's just one organization championing the open source format. My mom still won't be stripping DRM from her ebooks, but it certainly looks like easy-to-use tools are on the horizon.

TOC: 2011, being held Feb. 14-16, 2011 in New York City, will explore "publishing without boundaries" through a variety of workshops, keynotes and panel sessions.

Save 15% off registration with the code TOC11RAD


January 12 2011

What to expect in EPUB3

Just as publishers are wrapping their heads — and workflows — around the current version of EPUB, a new release is scheduled for May. The EPUB3 draft is set to publish for comment later this month, giving publishers and developers their first blush at what the release will mean to them.

In the following interview, Bob Kasher, business development manager for integrated solutions at Book Masters and a member of the International Digital Publishing Forum EPUB Working Group, highlights some of the changes the new version will bring to the publishing industry. Kasher is scheduled to speak in depth on EPUB3 at February's Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York.


What are some of the major changes EPUB3 will bring to digital publishing?

Bob KasherBob Kasher: There are three key areas EPUB3 is focused around: language support, greater accessibility, and increased multimedia support. Language support will allow EPUB3 to save and search non-Roman scripts — such as Japanese, Chinese and Arabic — as font characters rather than JPEGs, as in current EPUB support. This will make a much broader range of literature available to current and future reading devices from base EPUB files. It will truly internationalize EPUB.

EPUB3 will also be better at integrating the current DAISY accessibility standards, to help make reading devices of greater usefulness to visually impaired readers.

EPUB3 will be much more adept at supporting multimedia capabilities for both HTML5-based devices and the coming generation of tablets supporting both Flash and HTML5. It is hoped that in doing so, EPUB3 will help develop an enhanced ebook standard that can be used across a variety of media and content.

Other developments include enhanced metadata support for discoverability, better facilitation support for touchscreen devices, and support for MathML, which we hope will open up greater opportunities for textbook publishers. EPUB3 will be a quantum leap forward in capabilities for future device support, but still backward compatible with current devices on the market.

TOC: 2011, being held Feb. 14-16, 2011 in New York City, will explore "publishing without boundaries" through a variety of workshops, keynotes and panel sessions.

Save 15% on registration with the code TOC11RAD



Will EPUB3 bring any digital rights management changes?


Bob Kasher: DRM is still optional, and DRM formatting will still be flexible as far as being wrapped with EPUB. There will be no changes in that area.



How will EPUB3 change ereaders and apps?


Bob Kasher: That depends on where content creators take it. As EPUB3 will be backward compatible, it will be usable on current devices, so there won't be any immediate need for change. However, as new devices open up greater opportunities for readers to access elements not readily available on devices like the Kindle or Kobo or Nook, it will propel accessibility to these attributes in the next generation of ereaders.

With an estimated 80+ new tablet products coming to market this year, I foresee an increasing consumer interest for app-like products that can be accessed through general distribution sites rather than as individual apps.

When will EPUB3 be released? Is the publishing world ready?

Bob Kasher: The draft is being readied for comment and release this month, and we hope to have the final version publicly proclaimed by Book Expo America in May. I think the world will be ready — there is already a lot of testing and development around the product. I fully expect publishers will embrace the re-write quickly and effectively, and we hope it will be one more element fueling the digital transformation of our industry.

This interview was edited and condensed.



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January 10 2011

Book piracy: Less DRM, more data

As digital book publishing continues to expand at a rapid pace to meet reader demands, piracy rears its head at the forefront of many a discussion in publisher circles. Many publishers respond to the perceived threat with strict digital rights management (DRM) software. But is this the best solution? And does it even provide protection from piracy?

In the following interview, Magellan Media founder and TOC 2011 speaker Brian O'Leary (@brianoleary) discusses the current state of book piracy, how measurement data isn't sufficient to determine its impact, and why DRM is a poor anti-piracy tool.



What's the current impact of piracy on the book publishing industry?

Brian O'LearyBrian O'Leary: We don't know. Some people will tell you that it's the biggest problem facing publishing or that ebook piracy will kill publishing. None of those perspectives are informed by solid data.

We undertook research two-and-a-half-years ago with O'Reilly, and we've been studying Thomas Nelson as well, to measure the impact of piracy on paid content sales. We approached it as if it were cooperative marketing. We would look at the impact of what sales looked like before there was piracy, say for four to eight weeks, and then we'd look at the impact of piracy afterward. Essentially, if the net impact of piracy is negative, then you would see sales fall off more quickly after piracy; if it were positive, the opposite.

Data that we collected for the titles O'Reilly put out showed a net lift in sales for books that had been pirated. So, it actually spurred, not hurt, sales. But we were only looking at O'Reilly and Thomas Nelson. The results are not emblematic of publishing overall. It could be more conservative, it could be less conservative. We just don't have enough data. I've tried to get other publishers to join in, but it really hasn't been a successful mission. Even at a low- or no-cost offer, publishers seem reluctant to collect the data required to reveal the true impact of book piracy.

TOC: 2011, being held Feb. 14-16, 2011 in New York City, will explore "publishing without boundaries" through a variety of workshops, keynotes and panel sessions.

Save 15% on registration with the code TOC11RAD

Can content tracking tools, such as those from Attributor, curb piracy?

BO: Companies like Attributor gather data that specifies how many files were uploaded or downloaded from pirate sites. Their methodology, to me, is a little problematic, but that's not really the big problem. The most significant challenge is we don't know what the impact is on paid sales. Common methodologies count the number of times that something appears on a site and assumes every one of those is a lost sale.

I would offer two counter points: First, the method for counting downloads of pirated books is clunky at best. Second, you can't say that every download is equivalent to a lost sale. Some are, but there's at least some likelihood that the pirated titles either spurred sales or represented a download that never would have resulted in a sale anyway.

The other thing, too, is you've got to look at where the downloads occur. If it's a North American title and the downloads occurred in Romania, I'm not that worried about it if I'm a publisher. It actually, if anything, says to me I should be moving my English language rights and my translation rights faster.

It's not that piracy is not a problem, it's just that it's not demonstratively a problem until you know what's actually happening.

I think content-tracking tools are good if you're using them as a starting point for a conversation. No one can sample all of the torrent sites and know exactly what's going on. The sampling is limited in how broadly you can draw conclusions, particularly about things like trade publishing versus academic publishing. Companies like Attributor tell you when piracy is occurring. What they can't do, and what publishers need to generate the data to do, is understand the impact of piracy.

What tactics are publishers using to thwart piracy?

BO: Most publishers focus on variations of enforcement. They find out that piracy occurs, they issue a takedown order, and they escalate it if they so choose. The jury's out on whether that actually works. I think in general for offshore torrent sites, it's probably not that effective. All you need to do is look at WikiLeaks and you'll see a whole host of examples of how hard it is in a global Internet environment to get something truly taken down.

Some companies are focused on applying fairly strict DRM software to their digital books. I'm pretty adamant on DRM: It has no impact whatsoever on piracy. Any good pirate can strip DRM in a matter of seconds to minutes. A pirate can scan a print copy easily as well. DRM is really only useful for keeping people who otherwise might have shared a copy of a book from doing so.

Is piracy really a threat to the book industry?

BO: I don't have enough data to say unequivocally "yes" or "no" to the extent of the piracy threat. I think what leads to rampant piracy is not meeting emergent demands. The publishing industry should be working as hard as we can to develop new and innovative business models that meet the needs of readers. And what those look like could be community-driven. I think of Baen Books, for example, which doesn't put any DRM restrictions on its content but is one of the least pirated book publishers.

As to sales, Paulo Coelho is a good example. He mines the piracy data to see if there's a burgeoning interest for his books in a particular country or market. If so, he either works to get his book out in print or translate it in that market.

I think piracy has become more acute with ebooks, not because ebooks are easily pirated but because ebooks are easily visible. So, for example, if I'm living in South Africa and I speak English, but I want to read Nora Roberts, and Nora Roberts is only published in North America, I might have to wait through a four-year cycle to get her latest book. That lead time made sense when it was about ink on paper. But if it's an ebook, as a reader, I want to read it today — I love Nora Roberts, and I'd pay for her latest book, but I can't get it here because there's no service that will sell me an ebook in South Africa. That's when piracy starts to occur. Readers say: "I would have paid for it, but they wouldn't give it to me. They frustrated my demand."

Will publishers — and content producers in general — get past the "lost revenue" mindset attached to digital piracy?

BO: I think they already are. Not globally and not entirely, but I think that people are beginning to say, "Maybe this isn't as big a deal as we thought it was." When you see companies like O'Reilly moving a lot of their sales from print to digital, you'd think they would be more prone to piracy. And yet, we didn't see that in our research. Publishers have seen other things occur that suggest that being widely available in digital formats that are not DRM restricted has helped with predictable sales. Baen Books, again, is a good example.

I think there are plenty of people paying Attributor and other companies to monitor and issue takedown notices. I'm just not sure that it makes a difference. The really interesting things are happening around innovation in how we deliver content to people. That's what's fun, and those innovators will find ways to make money. I just hope the folks who find interesting ways to make money are not all technology providers and platform companies, but publishers as well.



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January 05 2011

Accessible publishing is good business

Accessible publishing has historically been a logistical challenge. Getting books printed in Braille or developing alternate formats to make books accessible to readers with disabilities were efforts that often fell to charitable organizations. Budget contraints and the sheer volume of work left a wide gap in the availability of titles.

Ideally, all books would be available in a variety of formats to accommodate the needs of any reader — a scenario that benefits publishers as much as it does readers. In the following interview, Dave Gunn (@AccessGeek), technical manager at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and a speaker at TOC 2011, talks about how far accessible publishing has come and how technological advancements are making accessible publishing easier.


How has accessible publishing evolved?

RNIB, DAISY, ePuBDave Gunn: RNIB's work on accessible publishing standards began with our foundation in 1868 when we were known as the "British and Foreign Society for Improving Embossed Literature for the Blind." Focused primarily on the provision of materials in Braille and other tactile formats, we were involved in leading work on the development of standards and production technologies.

At the end of World War I, many soldiers had lost their sight in action and returned home to a society ill-prepared for their needs. RNIB was involved in pioneering work to record audio versions of books, developing prototype technology called long-play recordings — a recording standard that was eventually adopted by the music industry. The technology at the time was a big leap forward, even if it wasn't that practical, as a single "Talking Book" was typically played back over 10 double-sided 12-inch long-play records.

Standards and technology have moved on significantly, allowing us to offer a much more flexible and practical service to many more people. Over the years, there have also been considerable developments in technology for Braille and large-print production, for both hard-copy and electronic consumption, with electronic Braille displays offering a practical alternative to embossed pages for some users.

However, the current developments in ebook technologies present an opportunity for the most significant change to accessible publishing in decades. In fact, ebooks could benefit all users, irrespective of their preferred reading format.


Dave Gunn will explore the technologies and opportunities of accessible publishing at the Tools of Change for Publishing Conference (Feb. 14-16, 2011).

Save 15% on registration with the code TOC11RAD

What's the current state of accessibility standards?

DG: The DAISY standard was developed by an international consortium to improve the availability and quality of mainstream publications to people with print disabilities. For the last 14 years, the DAISY standard has provided a common way for disability organizations, like RNIB, to convert print documents and create flexible resources to meet the needs of their client groups.

The vision of the DAISY Consortium, is "a world where people with print disabilities have equal access to information and knowledge, without delay or additional expense." Developments in ebook formats and readers/players mean that this vision has come a big step closer to being realized.

The EPUB format has historically shared technology employed in the DAISY format, and starting this year, DAISY will adopt the EPUB 3.0 specification for delivery of the text-only configuration of DAISY. This is part of a scheduled path of harmonization between DAISY and EPUB formats. It is intended to enable publishers to produce publications that are accessible to people who have historically not had access to text, with little or no additional effort for either the publisher or end user.



The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires governments to provide accessible information. Are there current processes that publishers can adopt so they don't reinvent the wheel?


DG: As each signing country has ratified the UN Convention, they have been implementing solutions based on the accessible formats and standards in use in that country. For example, standards for the coding of Braille varies from country to country, and there are some country-specific differences in implementation of DAISY.

Standards for accessible electronic documents, outside of web accessibility, are still very much in their infancy. In many respects the publishing industry is on — or near — the cutting edge, especially when considering emerging ebook technologies.

How will accessible publishing change in the near term?

DG: The convergence of DAISY and EPUB is just one of many positive steps for accessible publishing. Most of the major ebook formats have at least some mechanisms to support accessibility, and many of the popular reading devices and software have built-in features, such as text size adjustments, color variation, or synthetic speech, all of which provide essential access to people with disabilities. At RNIB we would like to see these features become standard.

Historically, there have been few opportunities for people with print disabilities to access their books of choice, until now. This presents an opportunity for publishers. Many people with print disabilities are hungry for books, having previously received limited access to just a small pool of best-sellers and classics.

The future of accessible publishing no longer needs to rest solely on the shoulders of charitable organizations, nor should it be driven by a moral obligation, corporate social responsibility, or legal drivers. People with disabilities are consumers who just want to be able to buy and read books at the same time as everyone else. For the first time, the technology is available to enable people to pay to read books in a choice of formats — all from a standard ebook. Now it is up to publishing and related industries to take up the opportunity, so they can see the benefits from making ebooks accessible to all.

This interview was edited and condensed.



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January 03 2011

Offshore book production is a relationship, not a transaction

Saving money and cutting costs are staple items on most publishing meeting agendas. Some publishers have shied away from cost-saving offshore production options, however, because they're afraid quality will suffer, or they fear the transition will cause too much upheaval in current production processes.

Rebecca Goldthwaite, vice president of strategic partner management at Cengage Learning, and Jack Mitchell, senior vice president for the higher education division of PreMediaGlobal, are heading up a workshop on this very topic at the upcoming Tools of Change for Publishing conference. In the following interview, they discuss the offshore production model and how publishers can establish strong, profitable relationships with offshore vendors without sacrificing quality or reinventing their businesses.



What does offshore production entail? Which areas of publishing are most suited for this business model?

Rebecca Goldthwaite and Jack MitchellJack Mitchell: An offshore production model generally entails almost all services that would have been provided by a traditional onshore production and editorial vendor. These services include project management, composition, art rendering, and proofreading, for example.

Rebecca Goldthwaite: Most areas of publishing are well suited for this model and can be completely successful with the right approach.

We've found that partnering with vendors works best. You can't just give the vendor the content, walk away, and then wait for the vendor to return with the finished product. That old transactional model doesn't work, and it's painful for everyone involved. A successful offshore approach requires building a framework and relationship for working together.


TOC: 2011, being held Feb. 14-16, 2011 in New York City, will explore "publishing without boundaries" through a variety of workshops, keynotes and panel sessions.

Save 15% off registration with the code TOC11RAD



What do publishers need to do to make sure quality standards are met?


JM: Publishers need to take the same approach they would when starting a new relationship with an onshore vendor. That includes setting clear expectations, maintaining an open dialogue with clear communications, being thorough and consistent with instructions and documentation, and testing projects prior to launching a live product.

RG: This can be particularly important when setting pricing with a new vendor. Without clear expectations or access to sample materials ahead of time, you may be putting your vendor in a situation they can't get out of without cutting corners, and that doesn't benefit anyone.

How can publishers ensure cost savings from an offshore relationship?

JM: A clear understanding of volume, pricing, and schedule will help both parties prepare accordingly. That results in a smoother process and it create areas of efficiency and savings. As a relationship matures, you'll both find ways to be more efficient in working together and identifying new tools that can reduce cost.

RG: You need to do your research up front, set clear expectations, and test things before firm pricing is set. Basically, you both need to know what you're paying for.

How does offshore production affect traditional workflows?

JM: The most obvious change is moving to a paperless and electronic workflow to eliminate shipping costs, which would be substantial when working offshore. This requires training and support for the current publishing staff and, if necessary, the authors they work with. That said, we find most publishers are moving, or have moved, to a paperless workflow regardless of where they're sourcing their production.

This interview was edited and condensed.



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December 28 2010

What lies ahead: Publishing

Tim O'Reilly recently offered his thoughts and predictions for a variety of topics we cover regularly on Radar. I'll be posting highlights from our conversation throughout the week. -- Mac


How will ebooks change publishing?

Tim O'ReillyTim O'Reilly: Andrew Savikas, our VP of digital initiatives at O'Reilly, likes to make a distinction between "formats" and "forms." A hardback, a paperback, an audiobook, and many an ebook simply represent different forms of the same work. New formats, on the other hand, represent deeper changes in how authors develop content and readers consume it. The graphic novel is a recent format innovation in the West (albeit one with deep antecedents), as are the cell phone novels that have become popular in Japan.

People think of ebooks as simply another format, but ebooks actually represent an opportunity for a change in form. For example, you used to buy a printed atlas or a printed map, but now you have a dynamic, perpetually-updated, real-time map that shows you where you are. The old paper maps aren't very useful anymore. Applications from Yelp to Foursquare can be seen as elaborations of the potential of the map in its electronic form.

Or look at Wikipedia. As an encyclopedia, it's actually pretty close in form to what it replaced, but there are important layers of reinvention. A printed encyclopedia doesn't have articles on breaking news; it can't be a real-time encyclopedia in the way that Wikipedia now is. Notions about what an encyclopedia can do have changed.

Changes in form have significantly affected O'Reilly's publishing business by providing new kinds of competition. Our bestsellers are now tutorial books. The old reference-based books have been cannibalized by the web and search. This is why we try to define Safari Books Online as a library of content that people can search across. Reference material now carries an expectation that it will be searchable. And our tutorial books are increasingly challenged by other forms of tutorial, such as screencasts and online video.

O'Reilly may appear to be in the same category as HarperCollins -- we both put ink on paper and sell products through retailers -- but in other ways we're not even in the same business. HarperCollins publishes literary fiction, serious non-fiction, biographies, and other popular literature. We publish technical how-to and reference material. Their competitors include other forms of entertainment and erudition; ours include other forms of teaching and reference.

Does the definition of "publisher" need to expand?

Tim O'Reilly: Publishers think way too narrowly about what kind of business they are in, and as a result, are blind to how the competitive landscape is changing under their feet. If someone has roots in ink-on-paper, they are a publisher, but if they are web- or mobile-native, they are not. But this is wrong-headed! Put another way: Why would you think Zagat is a publisher but Yelp isn't? They both perform similar jobs. Competition should be defined by the jobs publishers do for users.

That being said, curation and aggregation are among the core jobs of publishing, and it's clear to me these jobs still need to be done. There is a real need for someone to winnow out the wheat from the chaff as more content becomes available online. (Of course, Google is also in the curation business, but they do it algorithmically.) Eventually, there will be new ways publishers get paid for doing these jobs, but there are also going to be new ways to do them.

TOC: 2011, being held Feb. 14-16, 2011 in New York City, will explore "publishing without boundaries" through a variety of workshops, keynotes and panel sessions.

Save 15% off registration with the code TOC11RAD

Does a focus on infrastructure block adaptation?

Tim O'Reilly: I gave a Publishing Point talk and someone in the audience asked how new publishing models could pay for "all this," and they pointed around to the lovely room and by reference, the building we were in, the headquarters of a storied publishing company. It was as if maintaining what they already own is the heart of the problem. That's like Digital Equipment Corporation asking, back when the PC era was just beginning, "Will the personal computer pay for all of this?"

HP and IBM figured out how to make the transition to the personal computer era. Digital didn't. Now, Microsoft is struggling with the transition from the PC era to the web era. Could you imagine somebody at a Microsoft conference asking, "But will the web pay for all of this?" You would think that was ridiculous. In technology, we understand the reality of competition and what Schumpeter called the "creative destruction" of capitalism. Why is it when somebody asks that same question in the context of publishing it's treated as a serious query?



How can publishers adapt to digital? What mindsets should they adopt?


Tim O'Reilly: Publishers, including O'Reilly, need to ask themselves: How can we make our content better online? How can we make it better through mobile?

In non-fiction, there are simple improvements to be made in the form of links -- after all, what is a link but a better version of the footnote? There are also ways to add more content, in much the way that DVD publishers add deleted scenes, director commentary, and other extras to the original movie. Other times, "better" will be defined by making something smaller -- at least from the user's point of view. For example, Google has more data than any print atlas, but the user sees less. Consumption is defined by the user's particular request: show me where I am now; show what's around me; show me how to get from where I am to somewhere else. There’s a huge opportunity for books to be reconceived as database-backed applications that show you just what you need to know. Former computer-book publisher Mitch Waite now publishes a fabulous birder’s guide for the iPhone, iBird Pro, demonstrating the power of this model.

Books give people information, entertainment, and education. If publishers focus on how those three elements can be performed better online and through mobile, innovation and business models will follow. If we don't innovate to do those jobs better for our customers, it's only a matter of time before someone else steps in.


Next in this series: What lies ahead in net neutrality
(Coming Dec. 29)





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