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November 17 2011

Why we needed EPUB 3

The following is an excerpt from the TOC report "What is EPUB 3?." Download the full report for free here.

What is EPUB 3?If evolution is the cornerstone of life, that's certainly no less true in the electronic world. If you can't adapt — or fail to adapt in time — you're destined to join the ranks of the Netscape Navigators, OS/2 operating systems, and WordPerfect office suites of the world, as a warning to future technology developers that nothing lasts forever, and never in its original form. In this light, EPUB 3 is more than just bug fixes and tweaks from the last version; it represents a major change in what an ebook can be. It's a whole new beast, you might say.

The ebook market has been going through its own kind of hyper-evolution in the mere four years since EPUB2 was released, and a flurry of new devices and document formats have come and gone in that time. E Ink technology was all the rage in 2007 when Adobe, Amazon, Sony, and others were entering the market, however, and EPUB2 arrived to meet the new needs of these portable reading devices, with improved presentation capabilities, better navigation, support for DAISY accessibility features, and some advances in global language support. But EPUB2, like its predecessor and contemporaries, remained a static format, in that its core only allowed for the reading of basic text and image documents.

EPUB2 was an advance, and for a time it served the needs of the market well. It might even have had a longer run had dedicated E Ink devices remained the predominant choice for reading. But just as readers were abandoning their paper books, tablet computers came storming onto the reading scene, not only adding visual and aural dimensions lacking from E Ink's shades of gray, but also including the appeal of merging many capabilities into a single device — reading, browsing, gaming, and music, to name just a few. Dedicated E Ink readers suddenly didn't seem so cool anymore, nor did bland content that looked just like a printed page.

Although the primary effect of this new progression in the way content is read was to expose the multimedia shortcomings of current formats, ebook content had been under assault for a variety of other reasons, too. The ebook community had been clamoring for the ability to make interactive content, for improved global language support, and for better accessibility features, as well as a whole host of other changes to the status quo.

The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) would have been foolish to sit tight on the EPUB2 specification in the face of its own constituents' needs, so a revision was inevitable. Unlike Amazon's Mobi format for its Kindle devices, which is able to rest on its progressively aging technology because both the content and rendering are tightly controlled by a single company, EPUB requires the IDPF to take a much broader perspective with its development because of its diverse community. But this requirement has also kept the format at the leading edge of ebook technologies throughout its history. While EPUB2 was, to use a common euphemism, good for its time, that time, dominated by the initial thrust of reproducing the static print page in electronic form, has passed.

[Note: Amazon's Kindle Format 8 will reportedly include some amount of HTML5 support.]

EPUB2 didn't suffer only from the lack of new features that HTML5 now offers; not every problem a format faces can be solved by new technology alone. Accessibility is one obvious example in EPUB2. In retrospect, the way that features of the DAISY standard got bolted onto the specification led to aspects never being fully or properly implemented by publishers or developers (the DTBook grammar for content) and others being misunderstood or conflicting with general-purpose needs (the NCX navigation file being used for reduced tables of contents, undermining its use by the target audience). The EPUB 3 revision also presented a chance to revisit issues like these that had appeared or been left open since the previous revision, to see if new and better solutions were now possible.

The EPUB 3 working group began the revision of the specification in the summer of 2010 and had a one-year timeline to overhaul the format, in order to address all these issues and more. The result is that the revision has seen major improvements in virtually all the key functional areas: integrated audio and video support (as we've mentioned), accessibility features are much more tightly entwined in the specification now, global language support mechanisms are more numerous and also more integrated, publication-level metadata allows much richer expressions, and so on down through the original charter.

This isn't to suggest that the EPUB 3 revision got everything perfect. The metadata world is in flux, and many had hoped that a more standards-oriented solution would be forthcoming. Video content support is divided between the H.264 and WebM codecs, leaving the specification without a single video type that all reading system developers could agree to support. The comic and manga communities still are looking for more improvements in supported formats and rendering. In other words, the evolution of EPUB doesn't end with the current revision, and thought is already going into improvements.

That said, if you want an open, community-driven, standards-compliant specification that sits at the forefront of what an ebook can offer, however, there is no other solution but EPUB 3.

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

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February 10 2011

What investors are looking for in publishing companies

As the publishing industry undergoes fundamental changes, new processes and ways of doing business emerge. Companies are now "mobilizing" content, building multimedia, and incorporating social media — concepts that would have seemed utterly foreign just 10 years ago.

In the following interview, Catalyst Investors co-founder Ryan McNally reveals the publishing trends that are catching investors' attention and he explains how a full embrace of new technology will help the industry evolve.

What are the biggest growth areas related to publishing?

Ryan McNally: Publishing is playing catch-up to the capabilities of new technology, and that makes this an exciting time. Digital publishing and new platforms for consumer engagement — tablets — will be the biggest drivers of growth for the foreseeable future. Ebooks and e-magazines will be the immediate product opportunities.

More broadly, the evolution of what we think of as "publishing" will continue. Incorporation of video, multimedia, and social interaction will foster innovation. In the short term, I think this will mean that publishers will look to the past for their future — using archived content in new ways.

Publishers will attempt to innovate by bringing social media into the mix to utilize the capabilities of tablets and other digital devices — look at Vook, for example. There will be opportunities to meld video, text, images, and social media into ebooks and e-magazines. As this kind of content becomes widespread, consumers will expect more than just a digital presentation of their analog content. Some of the more interesting start-up opportunities will involve services or technologies that help publishers create this kind of material.

TOC: 2011 -- Tyler Newton, partner and research director at Catalyst Investors, will host the first ever TOC Publishing Startup Showcase at next week's Tools of Change for Publishing conference.

Save 15% on registration with the code TOC11RAD

When reviewing a company, what are the most important aspects an investor should consider?

Ryan McNally: We are growth investors rather than start-up investors, which means we provide capital for companies that have already proven their technology and business model but need capital to expand. Nonetheless, the things that we look for are very similar to classic venture investors.

Broadly speaking, we look at such things as potential market size and how it is growing. A growing market can forgive a lot of mistakes that earlier-stage companies are likely to make along the way and reassure investors that there will be multiple options to exit. We also look at novelty or uniqueness of the idea or technology or content. Scalability of the business model and its level of profitability at scale are other important considerations. People are important, too. For instance, we look at the ability of the team to execute against the challenges the company will face in its growth. We also look at who is the most likely buyer of the business.

On the other side, what should an entrepreneur consider when starting a new company in the publishing industry?

Ryan McNally: All of the issues I just mentioned are important in deciding whether to start a business. They're not just applicable to investors. After all, the entrepreneur is the first investor and has the most at stake.

There are other issues that apply just to entrepreneurs, though. You have to ask yourself, can you lead an organization? Do you have the vision, motivation, discipline and creativity to deal with the ups and downs that come with starting a company? You also have to ask: Do you have the skills to run the business or will you be learning on the job? And can you devote the time and make the family sacrifices required to put in the sometimes grueling hours to build a business?

Money is a big question, too. If you're going to start a business, you should anticipate that you'll need 6 or more months of working capital without revenue.

The unasked question that runs through all of these other questions is, do you have the passion? If you can satisfy yourself on that one — and assuming your idea is good — you can sort out the others.

This interview was edited and condensed.


July 31 2010

Nicaragua: 2.0 Meeting of Blogs and New Media in Managua

By Rodrigo Penalba · Translated by Silvia Viñas · View original post [es]

Flyer for Event 2.0 Meeting of Blogs and New Media

Experts in digital communities will come together for the 2.0 Meeting of Blogs and New Media (in Spanish, ”2.0 Encuentro de Blogs & Nuevos Medios”) which will take place on August 12 and 13 at the Central American University (UCA) in Managua, Nicaragua. The activity is a practical assessment of web tendencies and the power these alternative ways of communication have to influence public and private spheres.

The gathering [es] will include the participation of experts from Central America, Colombia and Venezuela, who will give lectures, workshops and more. The main subjects will be: New Media and Cultural Diversity and Development; Citizen Participation and Advocacy; Content Production for New Media; New Scenarios: mobile applications, new uses and methods, perspectives on the future.

“It is a culturally enriching experience, but it also involves a proposal to emphasize that web activity is not only a novelty, but also a learning method that generates real debate that may influence public opinion,” comments David Ruíz López-Prisuelos, Coordinator at Spain Cultural Center in Nicaragua (Centro Cultural de España en Nicaragua, CCEN).

To help visualize the lectures, the event will begin with a panel discussion about the use of these tools. The panel includes La Carpio Online Project (”Proyecto La Carpio en Línea”) [es]” from Costa Rica, Everything for the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua (”Todo por la Costa Caribe de Nicaragua”) [es] from Facebook and Another World is possible (”Otro mundo es posible”) [es]: Organization and action of Nicaraguan social movements on the web. An interesting element will be the use of an open microphone for bloggers to share their experiences.

“It is an activity to discuss the current state of mass media and the tendencies toward other formats that range from micro-blogging to podcasting, and how the media is adapting to various uses and needs that range from basic social organizing to its use in large companies,” says Rodrigo Peñalba [es], an author for Global Voices, a specialist in cultural production in new media and CCEN's special guest to help organize the event.

During the second day, journalist Cristian Cambronero [es] from Costa Rica, Global Voices author Renata Ávila from Guatemala and Yuliana Isabel Paniagua [es] from Global Voices' project “Hiperbarrio” in Colombia will present on experiences in citizen participation on the web. There will also be a teleconference from the BBC in London, workshops on content creation and a conversation with Nicaraguan bloggers Emila Persola [es]Freddy Quezada [es]Space for Alternative Communication and Sexual Diversity (Espacio de Comunicación Alternativa por la Diversidad Sexual [es]), and Fabio Buitrago [es], who will talk about video-blogging as a channel for environmental education and action.

The lecture series will conclude with a presentation about new tendencies on the increasingly common use of blogs and new media by business corporations,  and with case studies on the management of social networks in the world of advertising. The event will be open to the public until full capacity is reached, giving priority to those who register on the official blog where news and updates will be posted.  For more information visit El encuentro de blogs [es], and also the program [es] and list of Confirmed Presenters [es].

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