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September 16 2011

Publishing News: Goodreads chases the recommendation Holy Grail

Here's what caught my eye in publishing news this week.

Has Goodreads nabbed the book recommendation Holy Grail?

GoodreadsGoodreads purchased Discovereads about six months ago. This week, Goodreads finally put its acquired machine learning algorithms to use and launched a new book recommendation engine. As ReadWriteWeb explained:

The site's new reading recommendations are generated using a set of propriety algorithms which look at over 20 billion different data points. Perhaps most importantly, it takes into account the stated preferences of of its nearly six million users, for whom rating books is already a key component of using the site.

This giant dataset is what gives the engine its edge. Goodreads CEO and founder Otis Chandler gave an example in the press release, pointing out that Goodreads has "more than 174,000 ratings of the best-selling 'The Help' while Amazon only has around 4,400." But the algorithm doesn't stop at popularity — it digs deeper into readers' psyches, as pointed out on Mashable:

The algorithm ... is largely based on what's on a reader's bookshelf and what other readers with similar bookshelves have enjoyed reading. It also takes into account why you liked a book. When a reader categorizes "The Help" as "historical fiction," the algorithm will react differently than when he or she classifies it as "racism."

Goodreads' algorithm and dataset allows it to not only provide recommendations of similar books (ala BookLamp, Amazon, et al), but also suggestions that teeter closer to the Holy Grail of recommendation: serendipity and discovery.

Hearst goes multi-platform with HTML5 web design

Good HousekeepingHearst took the digital publishing bull by the horns and launched a redesign of its GoodHousekeeping.com website — using HTML5. It also indicated it would pursue the same path for most of its other sites.

One of the major benefits of designing with HTML5, of course, is the cross-platform utility it allows (see comparison screenshots over at ReadWriteWeb). Another advantage is the interactivity, which Hearst is embracing fully. In an interview at Folio, Eric Gullin, Hearst's group director, called out the the rotating promotional player on the home page at Goodhousekeeping.com:

This slide show or rotator is touch enabled, depending on the device you're using, and that's one of the things that's wonderful with HTML5. We can use HTML5 to have it work the way we would like it to work depending on the device the reader has.

But that wasn't all of the exciting HTML5 news this week ...

BostonGlobe.com delivers news in HTML5

Boston GlobeYes, another newspaper launched a website that will be behind a paywall (I'll get to that part in a minute), but the intriguing thing about the launch of BostonGlobe.com was pointed out on page two of a paidContent.org post:

...the site is based on HTML5 "responsive design," an app-like offering that reflexively re-sizes depending on the device and screen. Everything from the front page to the photo galleries to the HTML5 crossword puzzle ... is designed to work via browser. That includes a "MySaved" feature that allows users to save stories via the browser on one PC or device and not only open them in another, but quickly save them for offline reading on a new device. It even works in the experimental browser on a Kindle ...

I'm impressed, and I'm not the only one excited about the HTML5 design. Nieman Lab was quick to point out this design might just allow the newspaper to bypass the 30% cut Apple takes from subscriptions. I'm certain other news organizations are bandying that tidbit about their conference tables.

As for the paywall part of the site ... the plan is to continue running Boston.com, the original free site, but move about three-fourths of the newsy content to the new BostonGlobe.com and ask people to pay $3.99 per month (print subscribers get free access). The fact that they're going to offer breaking news, 20 new blogs, and some news content on the free site, as mentioned in the paidContent post, might work against them. There's also a fun three-step process posted at The Evolving Newsroom to estimate how well it will all turn out (hint: that HTML5 crossword puzzle and the photo galleries mentioned above might factor in heavily).

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June 10 2011

June 03 2011

Publishing News: Rebooting online news presentation

Here are some of this week's highlights from the publishing world. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

I can has better news presentation?

MobyDick.pngBen Huh (@benhuh), CEO of the Cheezburger, Inc., loves his Cheezburger project, but he's also ready to have a fling with news. In a recent blog post, Huh addressed the stagnant state of news presentation and consumption, which he's hoping to address with his new project Moby Dick.

In the post he described how news sites are not embracing new technology or exploring new ways to report and present the news:

The limited amount of space on news homepages and their outmoded method of presentation poses big problems for the distribution of news as well as consumption by the public. Even though it's been more than 15 years since the Internet became a news destination, journalists and editors are still trapped in the print and TV world of message delivery.

The traditional methods of news-writing, such as the reverse pyramid, and the various "editions" of news, pose big limitations on how news is reported and consumed. Unfortunately, Internet-based changes such as reverse-chronological blogging of news, inability to archive yesterday's news, poor commenting quality, live-blogging, and others have made news consumption an even more frustrating experience.

Because it's easy to find news outlets that are doing it wrong, I reached out to Huh via email for his thoughts on news organizations that are headed in the right direction. Our short interview follows.

If one of journalism's problems is digital presentation, who is doing it right?

Ben Huh: I love that MSNBC is trying out new ideas and new formats. Not everything works, but it's the trial and error that will help come up with answers. The Huffington Post's Big News pages are interesting, but are still limited to the old blog format. I do love Techmeme, and they do a wonderful job of curation.

  • This story continues here

Inside the Library of Congress' Twitter archive

Library of Congress Reading Room 1 by maveric2003, on FlickrIn April 2010, Twitter announced it was donating its entire archive of public tweets to the Library of Congress. Every tweet since Twitter's inception in 2006 would be preserved. The donation of the archive to the Library of Congress may have been in part a symbolic act, a recognition of the cultural significance of Twitter. Although several important historical moments had already been captured on Twitter when the announcement was made last year (the first tweet from space, for example, Barack Obama's first tweet as President, or news of Michael Jackson's death), since then our awareness of the significance of the communication channel has certainly grown.

That's led to a flood of inquiries to the Library of Congress about how and when researchers will be able to gain access to the Twitter archive. These research requests were perhaps heightened by some of the changes that Twitter has made to its API and firehose access.

But creating a Twitter archive is a major undertaking for the Library of Congress, and the process isn't as simple as merely cracking open a file for researchers to peruse. I spoke with Martha Anderson, the head of the library's National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIP), and Leslie Johnston, the manager of the NDIIP's Technical Architecture Initiatives, about the challenges and opportunities of archiving digital data of this kind.

  • This story continues here

Would you fund your favorite author's next book?

questionmarkPublishers can start preparing for some new competition — from readers. A new crowdfunded service called Unbound launched at this year's Hay Festival. The platform, which sounds similar to Kickstarter, allows readers to fund the books they want to read. A post at the Guardian describes how it works:

The Unbound.co.uk publishing platform ... allows writers to pitch ideas online directly to readers who, if they are interested, pledge financial support. Once enough money has been raised, the author will write the book, with supporters receiving anything from an ebook to a limited first edition and lunch with the author, depending on their level of investment.

And Unbound didn't launch with unknown self-publishing authors — Terry Jones is on board, as are Tibor Fischer and Gavin Pretor-Pinney.

This raises the question: Would you fund your favorite author?

  • Share your thoughts and check out the conversation in this story's comments

Got news?

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

Photo: Library of Congress Reading Room 1 by maveric2003, on Flickr

Webcast: Digital Bookmaking Tools Roundup — Pete Meyers looks at the growing number of digital book tools: what's best, what's easiest to use, and what's worth putting in your book-building toolkit.

Join us on Thursday, June 30, 2011, at 10 am PT
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May 27 2011

Publishing News: Curation for the Kindle

Here are some of this week's highlights from the publishing world. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

Web content curation welcomed a new platform — your Kindle

DelivereadsA new project called Delivereads curates interesting content from around the web and delivers it to your Kindle, via your Kindle email address. At the time of this writing, Delivereads was sending out selections like GQ's "Out on the Ice," The Atlantic's "The Lazarus File," Washington Monthly's "The Information Sage," and Time's "Zach Galifianakis Hates to Be Loved."

In an email interview, Delivereads founder Dave Pell (@davepell) talked about the project's origin:

Everyone who worked on the product, including designer Brian Moco and developer Alex King of Crowd Favorite, did so for free because they were excited about the idea and are subscribing to it themselves.

  • This story continues here.

Pete Meyers on how "Welcome to Pine Point" creates a truly digital reading experience not mired in nor based on print

I've been writing about and helping create digital books for about 15 years now and I don't think I've seen anything as innovative, as well executed, and as plain lovely to look at as "Welcome to Pine Point." No disrespect to the great work done by teams at Push Pop (Our Choice), Touch Press (The Elements), or Potion (NYPL Biblion), but all those projects take the print page as the starting point and ask: how can we best recreate that reading experience onscreen?

"Pine Point," instead, is an example of something that couldn't exist in any other medium. Its creators describe it as "part book, part film, part website," which sounds about right; it mixes audio, video, still photos, prose, and movable images to tell the story of a Canadian town that was abandoned, and then demolished, in the late 1980s. But as most people reading this blog know: that multimedia stew's been cooked before.

PinePoint
Title page for Welcome to Pine Point. Click to enlarge.

So why is "Pine Point" such a success?

Quality, for starters. The team behind this project — Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons, aka The Goggles — have sweated the details on how to integrate all those various media elements in a viewer-friendly way, one that immerses the audience in the story. A story that, not incidentally, touches on themes (abandonment, aging, environmentalism) moving enough to reward the time it takes — about 30 minutes — to watch it.

  • This story continues here.



George Oates on how a minimum viable record could improve library catalogs and information systems


MVRAt first blush, bibliographic data seems like it would be a fairly straightforward thing: author, title, publisher, publication date. But that's really just the beginning of the sorts of data tracked in library catalogs. There's also a variety of metadata standards and information classification systems that need to be addressed.

The Open Library has run into these complexities and challenges as it seeks to create "one web page for every book ever published."

George Oates, Open Library lead, recently gave a presentation in which she surveyed audience members, asking them to list the five fields they thought necessary to adequately describe a book. In other words, what constitutes a "minimum viable record"? Akin to the idea of the "minimum viable product" for getting a web project coded and deployed quickly, the minimum viable record (MVR) could be a way to facilitate an easier exchange of information between library catalogs and information systems.

In the interview below, Oates explains the issues and opportunities attached to categorization and MVRs.

What are some of the challenges that libraries and archives face when compiling and comparing records?

George Oates: I think the challenges for compilation and comparison of records rest in different styles, and the innate human need to collect, organize, and describe the things around us. As Barbara Tillett noted in a 2004 paper: "Once you have a collection of over say 2,000 items, a human being can no longer remember every item and needs a system to help find things."

I was struck by an article I saw on a site called Apartment Therapy, about "10 Tiny Gardens," where the author surveyed extremely different decorations and outputs within remarkable constraints. That same concept can be dropped into cataloging, where even in the old days, when librarians described books within the boundaries of a physical index card, great variation still occurred. Trying to describe a book on a 3x5 card is oddly reductionist.

It's precisely this practice that's produced this "diabolical rationality" of library metadata that Karen Coyle describes [slide No. 38]. We're not designed to be rational like this, all marching to the same descriptive drum, even though these mythical levels of control and uniformity are still claimed. It seems to be a human imperative to stretch ontological boundaries and strive for greater levels of detail.

Some specific categorization challenges are found in the way people's names are cataloged. There's the very simple difference between "Lastname, Firstname" and "Firstname Lastname" or the myriad "disambiguators" that can help tell two authors with the same name apart — like a middle initial, a birthdate, title, common name, etc.

There are also challenges attached to the normal evolution of language, and a particular classification's ability to keep up. An example is the recent introduction of the word "cooking" as an official Library of Congress Subject Heading. "Cooking" supersedes "Cookery," so now you have to make sure all the records you have in your catalog that previously referred to "Cookery" now know about this newfangled "Cooking" word. This process is something of a ouroboros, although it's certainly made easier now that mass updates are possible with software.

A useful contrast to all this is the way tagging on Flickr was never controlled (even though several Flickr members crusaded for various patterns). Now, even from this chaos, order emerges. On Flickr it's now possible to find photos of red graffiti on walls in Brooklyn, all through tags. Using metadata "native" to a digital photograph, like the date it was taken, and various camera details, you can focus even deeper, to find photos taken with a Nikon in the winter of 2008. Even though that's awesome, I'm sure it rankles professionals since Flickr also has a bunch of photos that have no tags at all.

  • This story continues here.
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Join us on Tuesday, May 31, 2011, at 10 am PT
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May 13 2011

Publishing News: How to improve ebook marginalia

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

Pete Meyers on ways to improve ebook note-taking tools

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

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

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

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

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

  • This story continues here.

Ask for data and you'll get it

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

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

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

American Booksellers Association partners with On Demand Books

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

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

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

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

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

Got news?

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


Photo: Marginalia by Cat Sidh, on Flickr


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




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May 06 2011

Publishing News: Week in Review

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

Does electronic text disrupt learning techniques?

Kindle DX Pilot Project montage.jpgEreaders are changing the face of reading across the board, and experiments in creating more economic-friendly textbooks for students are increasing. The results, however, are not all positive.

As students attempt to incorporate electronic text into their studies, issues with e-textbooks are starting to emerge — and the problems go beyond poor annotation and sharing tools.

A study at the University of Washington and six other universities in the US involving the use of the larger-format Kindle DX indicated a disconnect between digital text and the way students learn. In a post for Fast Company, Ariel Schwartz cited from the study results:

The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues such as the location on the page and the position in the book to go back and find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.



  • This story continues here. Be sure to check out the interesting discussion in the comments.

Pete Meyers on issues and solutions for browsing digital content

The iPad and other touchscreen devices seem perfect for replicating the page flip. After all, one of the first gestures users "get" is the swipe: it's intuitive, it's quick, it's fun. And despite the power packed into today's tablets, virtual page flipping isn't as useful as its print counterpart. For starters, paging speed is noticeably slower than what you get with a wet pointer finger and the latest issue of, say, People.

A bigger problem lies with a common digital publishing culprit: trying to faithfully replicate all the "features" of print. A regular magazine has pages, the thinking goes, so by golly we're gonna reproduce pages in the digital edition. Lotsa problems with that approach, but for this post let's tackle the "filmstrip"-style page-browser found in many e-magazines. Consider Fortune's, for example:

Fortune
The "Page Viewer" icons are too small to deliver useful info.

What the average eye can easily decipher in each of these thumbnails is close to, approximately, zero. And once you decide you don't want to read, say, the article about Twitter, why the heck do you have to page through each of the article's other unhelpful icons? The system, in other words, replicates the act of browsing without delivering its essential benefit. You get none of the come-hither signals that are easy to spot on a print page: headlines, pull quotes, pictures, sidebars, and so on.

App designers, my suggestion: don't throw the browser out with the bath water. Instead, a little redesign can satisfy the reader's desire to skim quickly and dive in when something looks worthwhile.

  • This story continues here.



Publishers, it's time to realize Amazon is a competitor


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

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

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

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

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

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

  • This story continues here.

Photo: From the University of Washington Kindle DX pilot website.



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.

April 29 2011

Publishing News: Week in Review

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

Publishing reinvented through data

USNewsRankings.pngData is traditionally used by publishers for source references and fodder for graphic visualizations — it's a framework to weave a story around. U.S. News & World Report doesn't have much use for that traditional view.

In a Forbes post this week, Simon Owens, director of PR for JESS3, wrote about how U.S. News & World Report has used its rankings and data to move away from traditional national advertising, a revenue source that has been on the decline for sometime. Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News, commented for the story:

A national news weekly had one basic advertising category that it's drawing from: national advertisers. National advertising across the board has been leaving every print product. The news weeklies got hit harder because of the nature of the product, and that particular base was one of the first to leave print almost entirely. People thought [national print advertising] was coming back and we thought it wasn't coming back, so we just decided to move on.

Owens pointed out that expanding its rankings to be a main source of content has given U.S. News an edge over the competition: it has a store of exclusive hard data. He explained how this edge is turned into revenue:

By becoming more consumer focused, U.S. News gained a key advantage: its target readers were people specifically looking to buy stuff. A person Googling his way to the auto rankings is more often than not going there because he's interested in buying a car, and this fact has allowed U.S. News to diversify its revenue. Not only does it aim to sell niche display advertising across these channels, but it also makes money from lead generation. [Kelly said,] "You go on the site looking at a Honda Civic, and it says, 'Here's all of the data,' and then it says, 'Are you interested on a price on a Honda Civic?' When you click on that button, you're on a different channel, you're on a dealership channel, and you're putting in a request. We get paid for that click way more than you would get paid for a banner ad."

The data itself is also used as a revenue stream — readers can pay for access to deeper data specific to their needs. With all the talk of the decline of print media and loss of ad revenues today, it's refreshing to read a success story in which a company used the same downturn that's slowly destroying much of its competition to reinvent its business model.

Simply converting print to digital isn't what the iPad's about

As more magazines take advantage of the iPad's popularity, one thing thus far has been clear: most publishers are simply reproducing their print products on the digital screen.

In a recent interview, Matthew Carlson, principal of experience strategy and design at Hot Studio Inc., said established magazines are thus far missing the boat by producing iPad editions weighed down by bloated files, slow downloads and locked content:

Magazines have traditionally thought of themselves as kind of a locked book, of a complete, discreet object. Ideally, something that is going to be really interactive or live out on the web needs to be more like an open book — like if you took the cover of the magazine and turned it outside in so that people could discover and access the stories more effectively.

Flipboard screenshot
A screenshot from the Flipboard iPad app.

The story, along with the complete video interview, continues here.

TOC2012 heats up with Sneak Peek webcasts

Note: this story was published here on Radar this week by Joe Wikert.

TOCLogo Every week I come across countless interesting articles and press releases about new econtent products and services. Many sound promising, but who has the time to research them all or even figure out which are worthy of further consideration?

We're about to launch a new TOC webcast series to help solve this problem. Each "Sneak Peek" webcast will feature 3-4 of the most interesting startups in the publishing tools, platforms and technologies space. All of these startups will still be at the pre-release stage, so the webcasts will give you a unique opportunity to learn what makes them special before their products go live.

Details are still being finalized for the first Sneak Peek webcast, but I can tell you that it will take place in the next couple of months. Two of the slots have already been spoken for but we expect to finalize the entire lineup in the next week. All of the Sneak Peek webcasts will be free. Stay tuned to Radar for more details on the inaugural event.

Also, if you're part of a publishing startup at the pre-release stage and you'd like to be considered for a Sneak Peek, we'd love to hear from you. Email me the details and a member of the TOC team will get back with you.

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.

April 08 2011

Publishing News: Week in Review

Here are a few publishing highlights that caught my attention this week. (Note: Some of these stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

A public "bookcasting" system

gluejarglue.jpgIn a recent blog post, Eric Hellman, announced the launch of a new publishing model with his company Gluejar, Inc. The system, he said, would work a bit like a public-supported radio station, wherein some listeners contribute money and others don't (and he's quick to point out that the ones who don't contribute aren't considered pirates or thieves). He argues that though print books are laden with costly material and distribution expenses, ebooks are much more like radio programs:

EBOOKS ARE NOT BOOKS. They're just bits, and typically not so many, compared to a radio show. The cost of making a copy is negligible. It needn't cost anything to distribute the ebook. eBook distribution is even cheaper than radio, because you don't have to pay for transmitter power, and you don't have to own a frequency license. It's the monetization machinery that costs money: the ecommerce systems and the DRM. If the producers of ebooks had some way of covering their fixed costs (with profit to make it worth their while), ebooks could work just like free radio. Three million people contributing a dime would do quite nicely. 30,000 contributing $10 would work, too.

The books would be available to everyone and paid for by those who want to support them. And, clearly, there will be no DRM:

The business will bring together people to pay for the fixed costs of producing ebooks, reward the best producers with profits, and to make these ebooks public, free to read, free to copy, to everyone, everywhere in the world, using Creative Commons Licensing.

This is an interesting, truly innovative idea. The concept will require enough author buy-in to create the quality of inventory necessary to engage readers to the point of being willing to pay. If that's achieved, I see no reason why I wouldn't contribute just like I do to NPR. This is definitely an out-of-the box model to keep an eye on.

Author uses BitTorrent to promote new book

CaptiveCover.png Amazon has the ebook version of Megan Lisa Jones' new book "Captive" listed for $9.99, but Jones has decided to use BitTorrent's vast audience to give away the book for free for two weeks. Jones commented for a post on ZeroPaid:

The message belongs to the street, not the elite. I'm very excited to be partnering with BitTorrent to reach an audience that's both active and engaged with content creators and publishers. Hopefully we can demonstrate a new media model that benefits all.

I'm not totally convinced you can stop a promotion in a "pirate" environment after two weeks, but regardless, the exposure to BitTorrent's more than 100 million users is tough to beat on a publicity level. In a brief email exchange, novelist Paulo Coelho supported Jones' strategy: "That's quite a good idea to promote it there! In fact, I use 'piracy' to promote my books myself." Discussions on Coelho's techniques can be found here and here.

Using book trailers to seduce new readers

In a recent post on Mashable, author Rye Barcott talked about the experience of making a trailer for his book "It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine's Path to Peace." Though literary curmudgeons may cry "sacrilege!" at video promotions for books, Barcott said a book trailer can act as a bridge to new readers:

We live in an age where fewer people are reading, and more people are watching. That reality has driven the rise of book trailers. My skeptical friends argue that these trailers simply contribute to our increasingly short attention spans. Having just gone through the process, I have a different view. My hope is that book trailers like ours help bridge the divide and draw more people to the beauty, substance, and transformative power of books.

You can view Barcott's book trailer here.

For a more detailed look into the business behind the book trailer, I turned to Brett Cohen, vice president of Quirk Books. This is the company behind "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and a publisher that's produced a fair number of book trailers.

Our interview follows.

What is the target market of book trailers?

Brett Cohen: It varies depending on the book's audience. Certainly, it appeals to an online demographic. And, the viral nature of a YouTube video is working at its best when others share it with their friends via Facebook or Twitter, or post it on their blogs. Some of our viewers watch the trailers embedded onto other sites, like the Huffington Post, Techland and io9. That type of syndication expands the audience for the trailer and the book. Our most-viewed trailers have definitely appealed to a younger, pop-culture-driven audience.

What makes for a good book trailer?

Brett Cohen: For us, a good book trailer speaks "the language" of our target audience. Our Quirk Classics book trailers mimic the production value of big-budget movies, with exceptional special effects. We've created other trailers for humor books that are more irreverent. For non-fiction titles, we've taken a more author-driven, information-based approach. Overall, we feel that it's very important to be true to the book so that it can translate into sales.

For the rest of the interview and a look at Quirk Books' new trailer for "Jane Austen Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After," click here.

Got news?

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


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April 01 2011

March 25 2011

Publishing News: Week in Review

Here are some highlights of what grabbed my attention in publishing news this week. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

I posed an open question about the complexity of ereaders

War and Peace on the Kindle app
Screenshot of "War and Peace" from the Kindle iPad app
In a recent post for Gear Diary, Douglas Moran bemoaned the direction technological "advancements" are taking ereader apps and devices. As examples, he compared the original Barnes & Noble eReader (which he liked) to its replacement, the Nook app (which "kinda stinks").

On a personal level, functionality is an ereader obstacle that turns me into an ebook curmudgeon. I recently was gifted a Kindle and I nearly threw it across the room trying to read "War and Peace" (as part of a year-long book club; I'm way behind).

Moran and others noted the simplicity of the Kindle and how its fewer features might make for a more straightforward reading experience. But perhaps the Kindle isn't quite simple enough. In the end, I bought the print version of "War and Peace" and gave up on the device. Trying to toggle around links to read book notes was so clunky as to make that feature completely useless. Why not put the notes at the bottom of the page? Having links is great if 1. they're easy and quick to access, and 2. you can return to your place in the book in some obvious, speedy fashion. Otherwise, just give me the content.

All this led me to questions regarding functionality and user experience in ereading:

  • Are ereader developers focusing too much on technological possibilities and losing sight of reader behavior?
  • For those of you who embrace ereading: What features on your reader(s) are extraneous or obtrusive to your reading experience?
  • For developers: When working on a new app or an update, how do you incorporate the end-user into development?

Please share your thoughts in this comment area here.

Pricing vs. value — Todd Sattersten broke it down

Much discussion (and some dismay) surrounds the current upheaval in the ebook pricing model. As $0.99 ebooks sit "shelved" next to $19.99 ebooks (whose print counterparts might be discounted to $11.99), one of the larger issues surrounding the pricing problem is the perception of value from customers.

EbookPricing.png

Jane Litte at Dear Author argued in a recent post that value is based on the reader's "willingness and ability to pay":

Every reader has a different price they are willing and able to pay for a book. I believe that price represents the value a reader places on a book at the time of purchase. However, value can vary over the course of time from when the reader first becomes aware of the book to after the book is read, increasing and decreasing based on different variables. When readers speak about price, they are talking about the amount that they are willing and able to pay at the particular time that they are expressing the opinion about price. Willingness includes the measurement of time.

I asked Todd Sattersten, author and owner of BizBookLab, to chime in on the pricing issue. In an email interview, he argued that print book pricing actually is the larger contributing problem to the perceived value of ebooks (mainly, ala Amazon) and suggested that serialization might be the right model for ebooks.

How are customer perceptions of ebook value influenced?

Todd Sattersten: There is only one factor that matters right now — what print books cost. Customers compare ebooks to their paper-based ancestors, and they long ago concluded they should be cheaper because everything else in their digital lives is cheaper than their physical lives.

Publishers don't want this to be true and, with the power to control ebook pricing through the agency arrangements, are pricing the vast majority of ebooks like they are print books. I co-wrote a book two years ago called "The 100 Best Business Books of All Time." The hardcover retail price is $25.95. On Amazon, you can buy that version for $16.61 or a remaindered edition for $10.38, while the Kindle edition is $18.99. That creates a short circuit in customers' brains. You don't pay more for things that are more convenient. You pay less.

What's interesting is that Amazon is actively discounting books in the 40% to 50% range, and in many cases putting the price of the print book very close to the price of the ebook. There can't be any margin left at those prices. Amazon, having lost the ability to control ebook pricing, is saying to customers "ebooks and print books are the same." This drives more people to ebooks (who doesn't want to download their book now?), sells more Kindles, and further cements their place in publishing's future — both provider of new and destroyer of old (what bookstore can compete with 49% off?). Also, notice how Amazon is redefining short writings with their Singles program. Fewer words, lower prices and, most importantly, a new (not very good) term to attach to the new value proposition.

See the rest of the interview here.

Marcin Wichary explained what HTML5 can do for publishers

As technology makes the publishing space more and more geek-oriented, understanding how particular technologies can apply and how existing products or content can be adapted might seem to require a computer science degree.

In a recent interview, Google senior user experience designer Marcin Wichary brought one of those technologies — HTML5 — into perspective, explaining how it applies to publishers.

In design and layout, there's a lot of things that HTML5 now does natively, without you having to hold its hand. Things like multimedia are native to HTML5 — you don't need extensions or plug-ins; they're integrated really well.

We have new devices like the iPad that require new input methods like multitouch or shaking the device. All of this is or will soon be supported by HTML5. So you can imagine delivering an experience through your application or your website or your publication that rivals that of a native application on any of the platforms you want to put it on.

On top of that, it's the web. Al of the things that have been available on the web you also have as well. All the social networking, all the APIs, all the integration with other surfaces — you can just plug it in the way you want.

Wichary also explained how publishers can monetize the opportunities HTML5 brings to the table, and how it might even save money in the long run.

It's very important to recognize that HTML5 fits all the devices you can think of, from the iPhone in your pocket to Google TV to the tablets to small screens and big screens. It's very easy to take the content you already have and through the "magic" of HTML5, refine it so it works very well within a given context. You don't have to do your work over and over again. Of course, all of these different means come with different monetization opportunities, like ads on the web or on mobile devices.

In the interview, Wichary also addressed how publishing workflows might be affected by HTML5 implementation and he outlined specific advantages HTML5 can bring to digital reading. The full interview is available in the following video:

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March 18 2011

Publishing News: Week in Review

Here are some highlights of what grabbed my attention in publishing news this week. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

Margaret Atwood said "No!" to merchandising

As traditional publishing revenue is diluted by digital content sales, new revenue models are being bandied about. One example: merchandising. Authors and publishers can use online tools like Zazzle and CafePress to quickly create promotional merchandise to accompany book releases. These items (theoretically) could help authors own their brands, connect with fans, and bring in much-needed money.

slide2Deadauthor.jpg
Click to see full Dead Author slide

One author, Margaret Atwood, has already employed the merchandising model — not in connection to a book release, but in connection to a keynote speech she gave at TOC 2011. Her vivid imagery involved the "Dead Author" (pictured above) and the danger of solar flares.

So what does Atwood think of this merchandise model? Is it a boon to authors? Does it hint at a bright future for publishing?

Don't get your hopes up.

"No, I don't think it's a good model!" she said via email.

This story continues here.

Does the Facebook comment plugin increase the quality or just reduce the number of comments?

Alistair Croll and Sean Power recently reviewed how embedded Facebook comments affect the number of comments on posts. They used TechCrunch as a test case, comparing comment totals, Facebook likes, Google Buzz and Twitter activity one week before and one week after TechCrunch implemented the FB comment plugin.

FBPlugin.png

On first blush, the numbers might be surprising, and even a bit disconcerting. Croll and Power's analysis showed:

  • For all posts, implementing FB Comments caused a 42% reduction in the total amount of comments, and a 38% reduction in comments per post.
  • For the average post, implementing FB Comments caused a 58% reduction in the total amount of comments and a 56% reduction in the average amount of comments per post.

The story continues here.

Piracy manifesto indicates price isn't the only factor

Manifesto.pngLast week, the Social Science Research Council published the results of a three-year study on piracy in the "Media Piracy in Emerging Economies" report. The report concluded that price was the overwhelming issue contributing to piracy around the world. In a post for thinq_ summing up the study results, James Nixon described an example from the report:

They cite the example of Russia, where legal versions of the film "The Dark Knight" sold for $15 — roughly the same price that consumers would pay in the US. But with wages much lower in Russia, that price represents a much higher percentage of consumers' income — the equivalent of a US buyer shelling out something like $75 on the film. Pirate versions, says the report, can be obtained for less than a third of the price.

In February, a group of contributors got together at a workshop and came up with piracy guidelines. Of the five points outlined in the "Don't Make Me Steal" manifesto, only one addresses the price issue.

The story, with comments from Brian O'Leary, continues here.

Lonely Planet threw the print book out the window to make its first all-digital product

LPTour.png In a recent interview, Gus Balbontin, director of transformation at Lonely Planet, talked about some of the the development challenges facing publishers in the digital age:

What we face is breaking down the barriers of a very long-standing way of operating and working. For Lonely Planet, for almost 40 years, we've been creating books, in a particular way, with a particular process and tools and workflows. That's been all thrown up in the air as new mediums and platforms come out. The lucky thing for Lonely Planet is that we've been in the mobile guides business for a long time. Although they were manifested as books, they were still mobile guides.

Balbontin discussed the challenges of content origination as well, suggesting that when developing digital content, it may not always be best to begin with the printed book, as is the tendency in traditional publishing:

The mechanics of getting [mobile digital products] out are very tricky — all the way from where we originate our content, which is originated primarily for a book, which then needs to be repurposed. The things that you create or generate for a book don't apply for an app or an ebook. Stripping those things out or changing or morphing or massaging that content to fit the different mediums is a serious challenge.

Balbontin and the team at Lonely Planet recently addressed this challenge with a completely new product: walking audio tours. The Audio Walking Tours iPhone app is Lonely Planet's first digital-only product with material that did not originate from a print book. The app takes users on city tours, much like the walking tours available in many museums. According to a press release:

The apps provide detailed information to let people explore at their own pace, with an easy to navigate location aware map that allows the user to stop and start their journey or skip ahead to any of the selected stops. The tours also work offline so roaming charges for international users can be avoided.

For more on how the Audio Walking Tours app came about, the importance of handling content in nimble ways, and why authors need to be more flexible as well, check out the entire interview with Balbontin in the following video:

March 11 2011

March 04 2011

Publishing News: Week in Review

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

HarperCollins decided ebooks would wear out after 26 uses

OverDrive CEO Steve Potash sent a notice to libraries about new restrictions and changes in OverDrive's territory policies. The notice, which sparked an outcry from libraries, library patrons and even some authors, announced that a major U.S. publishing house (later identified as HarperCollins) would be placing a 26-time lending cap on its titles.

In a lively #followreader discussion last Friday on Twitter, Peter Brantley, director of the Bookserver Project at the Internet Archive, suggested libraries respond with a touch of aggression to make a point:

PeterBrantley1.png

Ron Hogan, author and host of Beatrice.com responded to Brantley, taking it a bit further:

RonHogan.png

Neil Gaiman, a HarperCollins author, responded to the situation on Twitter as well:

GaimanTweetLibraryHC.png

Gaiman's suggestion of implementing PLR — public lending rights, a process used in the UK — in the U.S. was discussed in the #followreader session. You can see the entire session here or by searching Twitter for the hashtag #followreader.

Brantley also pointed to a second concerning item in the OverDrive notice:

PeterBrantley2.png

The section of the note he's referring to states (via Librarian by Day):

In addition, our publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower's relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.). I can assure you OverDrive is not interested in managing or having any say in your library policies and issues. Select publisher terms and conditions require us to work toward their comfort that the library eBook lending is in compliance with publisher requirements on these topics.

Brantley responded:

PeterBrantley3.png

Heather McCormack, Book Review Editor at Library Journal, commented on the HarperCollins situation in an e-mail interview. She highlighted the issue of trust:

The most obvious short-term consequence is what appears to be a mass obliteration of trust. Don't get me wrong — there was ample discontent with the ebook loaning model as it stood. DRM and Overdrive's interface have long been pointed to as stumbling blocks in providing easy access to information, and yet the model was largely tolerated. With the announcement of HarperCollins' loaning cap, however, a sizable contingent of librarians have had it. See "The Ebook User Bill of Rights" issued this week by a set of advocates led by Andy Woodworth and Sarah Houghton-Jan, and the charge to boycott HarperCollins content by librarians Brett Bonfield and Gabriel Farrell.

No trust means little to no communication, of course, and that's what scares me the most. Librarians have long been shut out of conversations about the ebook loaning model, so from where I'm standing, it doesn't make much sense for librarians to formally sever their commercial relationships with HarperCollins. Cap or no cap, they have a responsibility to provide access to information, and in order to fulfill their mission, they need to do the exact opposite of a boycott. They need to join forces on an unprecedented scale to lobby for value for their communities and collections: paging the blogosphere; paging ALA; paging the publishers who do support libraries; paging the sea of patrons who are ultimately affected.

As for long-term effects, I hope HarperCollins' move isn't replicated in its exact terms, but I do hope it will set a precedent of publishers and librarians engaging much more directly about new loaning models. A good, old-fashioned dustup can pave the way for clearer communication and progress.

It's important to note that a couple of the major U.S. publishing houses — Simon & Schuster and MacMillan — don't make their titles available for digital lending at all.

For more on these moves, check out related links posted at Librarian by Day, and commentary by Jane Litte at Dear Author and Martyn Daniels at Brave New World.

Retail bookselling moved to niche retailers to reach new audiences

ChronicleLogo.png As publishers struggle to adapt to the changing economy and the changing technological landscapes, distribution becomes more and more of a challenge. With large bookstore chains failing and consumers turning to the Internet to buy books, the sales agreements with traditional bookstores are starting to make less sense. Sheila Bounford, deputy managing director of NBN International, described the distribution problem in a recent blog post:

It is well known that when it comes to returns, bricks and mortar booksellers feel that they deserve equal discounts to those enjoyed by the online retailers whilst also maintaining that in order to offer range, they must have the right to return. What this ignores is that although the online retailers theoretically have the right to return, they almost never exercise it. Returns from online resellers run at less than 1% of invoice value. From the high street it is usually well in excess of 10% and often very very much higher. Returns are a drain on publishers' resources. Not just in terms of the cost of the book which is often unsaleable — but in terms of the cost of administration.

Some publishers are addressing distribution and point-of-sale issues with creativity. A recent New York Times piece looked at how publishers are selling books through non-traditional, non-bookstore retailers. These niche outlets expand sales reach, allowing publishers access to consumers who might never step foot in a bookstore. Another plus noted in the Times article: books sold through these channels are generally non-returnable.

One publisher tapping these non-traditional markets is Chronicle Books, which sells titles through Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom, Toys R Us, and Paper Source. In an e-mail interview, Kim Anderson, executive director of sales at Chronicle Books, said this model has worked very well:

Chronicle has long relied on non-traditional book retailers as an important part of our business model and long-term growth. The change in the book retail landscape over the last couple of years has only further highlighted the importance of this channel to our overall success.

Dana Newman on authors and the e-pocalypse

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 25 2011

Publishing News: Week in Review

Here are some highlights that caught my attention in publishing news this week. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

App subscription competition heats up

Google One PassAs Apple's subscription policy not only continues to rile publishers and developers across industries, but also adds new depths to a federal antitrust investigation into the company, competition is emerging.

Hewlett-Packard, which will launch its new tablet later this summer, has forged a subscription agreement with Time Inc., and now Google has announced its Google One Pass. The new system offers a cheaper subscription alternative for publishers — 10 percent compared to Apple's 30 percent — that users can access on any device connected to the internet.

The increasing competition has sparked much discussion as to the fairness of the pricing models. The battle, as always, will likely come down to platform and consumer adoption, and the price will work itself out.

Digital marginalia might just be a revenue solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Marginalia by Cat Sidh, on Flickr

Publishing — including booksellers — is entering a golden age

Brick-and-mortar bookstores may look like they're in trouble, and the Borders bankruptcy certainly doesn't help. But Kassia Krozser, owner of Booksquare.com, says that amidst all this upheaval, we're actually in a golden age of publishing. People are discovering and reading content all the time, and the very definition of "publisher" is expanding.

This golden age extends to brick-and-mortar booksellers as well. During a recent interview, Krozser said traditional retailers that can accept and adapt to digital realities will survive this transition:

Booksellers have to accept that digital publishing exists, because that is what your customers want. They want a digital book in certain instances, they want a print book in certain instances — they want to buy a combination of those books. They want to be able to buy a book in the middle of the night.

Krozser also pointed out that offering digital options isn't enough — booksellers need to learn how all the various technology works so they can pass that information on to their customers.

You can't just sell an ebook. You have know how to download it because that's what your customer is going to ask you. You have to know how it works and what the file formats are. The retailers who actually spend time learning the technology, integrating it and accepting that it's out there are the ones who will succeed.

For more of Krozser's thoughts on the future of booksellers, check out the full interview in the following video:

February 11 2011

Publishing News: Week in Review

Lots of publishing news this week. These are some highlights that caught my eye. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

Highlights from mobile app news this week

ACS.jpgThe Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers recognized the American Chemical Society (ACS) mobile app in two categories: Best New eProduct/Innovation in ePublishing and Best New eProduct in Physical Sciences and Mathematics.

I'm not a scientist, and the news might have filtered into the if-only-I-were-a-math-genius pile, but the ACS mobile app is actually pretty slick. It not only gives scientists and scholars access to archives, databases and current content in all of ACS' journals, but it also offers a live-stream update of new research as it's published. Applications of this type of platform could work across all academic disciplines, of course, but news organizations and other content providers shouldn't dismiss it as a scholastic-only platform.

Also in mobile app news, Conduit announced its move into mobile apps. The new Conduit Mobile Platform will allow publishers and developers to create one app that will work on all major platforms. What's more, the company claims the apps can be created by anyone — not just skilled developers — and it's free. Ina Fried at All Things Digital smartly pointed out the issue of profitably remains unclear. Functionality will be interesting to watch as well. The platform will be launched at the GSMA Mobile World Congress next week in Barcelona.

Bloomsbury's change in vision brought the issue of rights sharply into focus

bloomhome_0301.jpgPublisher's Weekly reported on Monday that UK publisher Bloomsbury is dropping its previous geographic model and going global, setting up worldwide divisions structured around publishing categories. As part of this move, they're looking to gain worldwide rights to titles as well.

In an e-mail interview, Dana Newman, a Los Angeles lawyer and literary agent, said Bloomsbury's move is a sign of the changing times and that there's more to come:

I think the Bloomsbury restructuring reflects the rapid transition underway to a global publishing model over traditional territorial markets, and that we'll see a similar disruption in the way rights are licensed — publishers will be seeking world rights, including digital, whenever possible.

These shifts in how publishers approach rights also need to be noted and analyzed by rights holders. "The issues rights holders face in this environment are ensuring that when they grant such expansive rights the publisher is in a position to fully exploit them, and, as always, arriving at fair licensing terms; royalty rates still vary widely among publishers, especially for foreign digital rights," Newman said.

As digital platforms grow and morph, it's getting harder to understand who owns what rights. In the Publisher's Weekly piece, Bloomsbury's Richard Charkin said "Bloomsbury won't do a deal that doesn't include digital rights." This concept of including digital rights will become even more important as publishers such as Harper Collins start packaging digital rights with audio rights.

Hewlett-Packard got the tablet wars underway

HP TouchPadHewlett-Packard announced the launch of its TouchPad tablet, which is scheduled to hit stores sometime this summer — no pricing information has been released, however.

The announcement was timely, as Apple is in a bit of a battle with publishers over subscription and in-app purchasing policies. HP is taking Apple head-on, even hiring one of Apple's senior directors to help draw developers.

Also notable is that HP has signed on Time Inc., allowing the publisher to provide magazine subscriptions under agreeable terms. The European Newspaper Association (ENPA) is likely taking note as its concerns over Apple's subscription policies intensify.

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February 04 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.)

Would reading be where it is today if it weren't for libraries?

questionmarkI might not know who Nancy Drew is if it weren't for libraries. Granted, I ended up buying most of the series — or rather, my parents did — but the library was the discovery zone. It still works like that for me today; I now own three Richard Russo books because of the library.

Libraries have been a part of most of our lives in one way or another, yet they are in a constant struggle for funding. Jerry Brown, the governor of California, is proposing a budget that would pull back all state funding for libraries. Some libraries, such as the Butler Public Library in Indiana, are thinking out of the box to raise funding (see the banner at the top of their site). And the struggle isn't only in the United States.

With libraries around the world in such financial jeopardy, a couple of questions come to mind:

  • What purpose (if any) has a library served for you?
  • If libraries ceased to exist, what would the ramifications be?
  • Do libraries help or hurt publishing?

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



Aggregation app developers are getting Zen with consumers, but what about publishers?


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?

What the heck is Apple doing now?

In the wake of Apple's rejection of the Sony Reader app, speculations abound as to what it all means and what next steps app companies might take. In the case specifically of ereaders, many are waiting for the Amazon app to fall victim to this same policy (a policy that Apple says isn't new).

O'Reilly's Joe Wikert has some advice for Amazon should the shake up head their way: adhere to the in-app purchase rules, but make yourself more attractive than the other guy.

Liza Daly, owner and president of Threepress Consulting, Inc., thinks the whole situation points to the increased importance of an HTML5-based ereader. Granted, her company developed Ibis Reader — an HTML5-based reader. (The system is pretty slick, and with the increased experimentation with books in the cloud, it may just be the next big thing.)

European publishers don't know what to make of Apple's latest move and have scheduled a summit in London on Feb. 17 to discuss the situation. The meeting includes newspaper publishers as well, who are feeling particularly "betrayed" by the in-app purchasing policy, as it will directly affect their iPad subscription platforms, and not in a good way.

Whatever it is that Apple is doing — and no one is quite certain of that yet — everyone seems to agree that it's a game changer. Just what game it's changing remains to be seen.



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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.


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November 12 2010

Bookish Techy Week in Review

In bookish-techy news this week:

Jonathan Safran Foer pubs crazy new book that can't be digitized

Tree of Codes, produced with British publishers Visual Editons is a book that simply can't be digitized because it has a different die cut on every page.

The literary magazine returns

Thanks to the Internet, literary magazines are flourishing.

Jay-Z pulls off an awesome book promotion

From Creativity Online:

The campaign made an opening splash at the Delano in Miami -- a page was fully reproduced on the bottom of the hotel pool, with footnotes imprinted on towels strewn across the surrounding lounge chairs. While the words appear for real on the street, those who don't have access to the locations can find them via a unique application/game that Droga5 developed using Microsoft's Bing. Visitors to the site get daily clues, researchable via a Bing overlay, which will lead them to where the pages are, albeit virtually in Bing Maps.

Still no consensus where e-lending is concerned

From ReadWriteWeb:

... according to some publishers, if libraries start lending e-books, it could serve to "undo the entire market for e-book sales."

What happens when the libraries die?

Jason Perlow considers the creation of digital underclass:

Libraries will need to be replaced with digital equivalents as publishing moves towards eBooks. As a result, will a new "Digital Underclass" be created from the base of technology have-nots?

Richard Nash previews Cursor with "A Red Lemonade Sampler"

From Richard Nash's blog:

In a matter of weeks, links like I'm about to offer will be offered on Red Lemonade, but I didn't want to wait to share these little digital objects with you.



David Pogue really likes the new Galaxy tablet


From the New York Times:

Samsung sweated the details on this thing. The screen is gorgeous. The touch response is immediate and reliable. The whole thing is superfast and a pleasure to use.



Ebooks to Join The New York Times Best-Seller List


Also from the New York Times:

The lists will be compiled from weekly data from publishers, chain bookstores, independent booksellers and online retailers, among other sources.

Got news?

Feel free to send along any news items, blog posts, or things of note from the publishing world.


October 18 2010

Bookish Techy Week in Review

Another bookish-techy week has come and gone, with plenty of news from the future of publishing. Here are some of the highlights:

Good news for ebooks in general

E book sales for January-August 2010 represented $263 million, compared to $89.8 million from January-August 2009, representing an overall increase for the category of 193% over the same period last year.

Great news for Amazon/Kindle

Not such great news for iBookstore

The iBookstore six months after launch: One big failure

HP's POD pilots takes flight

This semester, Hewlett Packard (HP) is conducting print-on-demand pilots at three universities.

Libraries checking out new e-acquisitions model

Patron-Driven Ebook Model Simmers as Ebrary Joins Ranks

Craig Mod suggests only you can prevent bad ereaders

The ereader incompetence checklist (for discerning consumers, editors, publishers and designers)

Dear Author's Jane Litte advises would-be Android readers

Here are some things to look for when determining whether a particular Android tablet would be a good reader for you.

Julietta Leonetti offers an excellent analysis of how the ebook industry is (slowly) taking shape in Argentina

In Argentina, E-books Are Sexy! (But You Can't Find Them Anywhere)


October 01 2010

Bookish Techy Week in Review

This week was super busy in the bookish techy world. Too busy perhaps. While it was not easy to pare down my list of links, I’ve done my best. There should be something here for everyone - from lovers of Snooki to fans of Babylonian poetry -- there’s even a nice passel of posts for those who want a preview of what yours truly has been spending all her time working on of late: TOC Frankfurt. Read on!

Sometimes you just have to laugh…

Surveys and data and research and stuff

From the wonderful world of retailing

Inspirational deep thoughts and actions

If, like me, you’ve grown weary of the endless supply of whiny articles lamenting the death of the printed book and the increasingly hard knock life of the author -- take a break from all that and check out some folks and projects that will make you happy to be a part of these bookish techy times:

TOC Frankfurt - a preview

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