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January 10 2012

Three reasons why we're in a golden age of publishing entrepreneurship

We are entering a golden age for entrepreneurship in the publishing industry. The Books in Browsers conference last October and the London-based Futurebook conference in December showed a rich array of startups from all around the world. Profile Books' Michael Bhaskar has compiled a list of publishing-related startups that he intends to add to as it grows.

There are three reasons why this growth is happening.

Books are digital

Or, I should say, books can be digitally managed. Standards such as EPUB or ONIX enable both the content and the metadata of the books to be digitally available. And this means that new capabilities and services can be built around the content. You can think of e-bookstores, of course, but startups try to look beyond the obvious: What about recommendations based on the book's DNA á la Pandora, like BookLamp? Or relating places, songs, or others books, as does SmallDemons? And what about some remixing, like BookRiff?

Processes are digital

Internet technologies have simplified some of publishing's processes. For a few years now, digital publishers and self-publishing platforms have experimented with new ways of approaching the market, the authors, and, most importantly, the readers. Self-publishing initiatives like Smashwords or Lulu are pretty well known, but new ventures are also popping up, like the commoditization of EPUB processing proposed by Pressbooks or BiblioCrunch. Startups that focus on offering new back-end tools and services to boost efficiency in the publishing lifecycle will be, as Don Linn hailed them, 'heroes, even if largely unrecognized, this year."

Readers are digital

Most importantly, readers are becoming more digital. I have been reading almost exclusively in digital format for more than a year. When, a week ago, I started "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" in print format, I fully understood how significant the digital leap is. I found myself thinking: "I don't understand this word — where is the dictionary?" "I loved this passage, how do I share it?" I truly felt that I was going backwards. And this is where all the startups focused on social reading like GoodReads, Anobii, or Flatleaf will be competing.

Entrepreneurs from the IT and publishing industries will find many opportunities now. And they must, because startups play at least one critical role in any industry: they challenge assumptions. One of the innovation myths is that people like change, but that's not really true. So, when an industry reaches some type of stability, and when competition starts to look like an oligopoly, then someone else needs to think differently. And startups typically do a great job there. Many of them will be wrong or will execute poorly, of course, but even if they fail, these challenges will be good for the industry. As Steve Blank states, a startup is an organization where the main goal is to find a repeatable and scalable business model. And if a specific startup is unable to achieve it, others should try.

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

Register to attend TOC 2012


June 23 2011

9 digital book-making tools

This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers' project "Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader: A Buyer & Builder's Guide to Digital Books." We'll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It's republished with permission.)

Demibooks ComposerI'm looking forward to the free webcast I'm giving next Thursday on digital book-making tools (June 30th; sign-up info here) . There's quite a land grab happening right now, as software manufacturers — new and old — try to become the tool of choice for authors, small publishers, and illustrators. I still haven't finalized exactly which software I'll be talking about, but now seemed like a good time to share a selection of my research notes.

Demibooks Composer

iPad-based app gives authors a touchscreen-based development tool from which they can create an iPad app. You can do things like move objects to indicate motion paths. Ideal for kids' books with lots of illustrations. In private beta, planned release later this summer.

My Story Book for the iPad

Like Composer, this app lets you create kids books on the iPad itself — though with fewer interactive and motion capabilities. Includes basic tools for adding and manipulating text atop photos and illustrations. Beta launching this summer.


Plug-in tool lets you add interactive and multimedia enhancements to InDesign or Quark layouts. Good for complex layouts featuring a mix of text and images. In limited pre-release.

Active Reader

Plug-in for Unity (high-powered game development program). Flowchart-like user interface lets you program interactivity and motion; especially useful for highly illustrated books like graphic novels.

Atavist's Periodic Technology

Authoring tool lets you add "Inline Extras" (e.g. pop-up character summaries, timelines, maps) to long-form articles that The Atavist specializes in (longer than an article, shorter than a book, they say). Export options include iOS app and stripped down Kindle files. Tool currently in private beta.


Desktop app (Mac or Win) for creating interactive iOS and Android ebooks, especially illustration-rich kids books. Open beta starting in July according to their Twitter account.


Desktop app (Mac or Win) lets kids book authors create iOS interactive ebooks.

App Press

Web-based tool for creating iOS apps. Early uses include photo histories and cookbooks. Web-based preview tool lets you share in-progress designs. Developer provides InDesign and Photoshop templates for preparing assets before importing into the App Press tool.


Lets you use pretty much any blogging tool to publish an ebook. System accepts RSS feeds, HTML, or Markdown and outputs ePub 2.1, Mobi and PDF. Built-in e-commerce system takes care of sales for author and offers very generous royalty rates (usually about 90%).

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I've looked at, easily, a couple dozen entrants and the ones listed above are mainly there because my notes on them are ready for sharing. My goal for the webcast is to give attendees a guided tour of the main kinds of tools out there, with a look at what feels to me like the most promising tools in each category. Hope you can join in!

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
Register for this free webcast


June 03 2011

10 innovative digital books you should know about

This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers' project "Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader: A Buyer & Builder's Guide to Digital Books." We'll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It's republished with permission.)

A year ago I was knee-deep in iPad apps, sifting for gold among sludge as I combed for Best iPad Apps-worthy entries. My next book has me back in waders, this time looking for innovative, user-friendly digital books. Seems like a shame to wait for the pub date to share my findings.

What follows, then, is an early snapshot of some of the best of what I've seen. You'll no doubt notice a heavy bias towards iPad apps. Partly that's because of my previous research, partly it's because of where developer dollars are flowing. Still, not everyone has the same taste in fruit. Please, please dear reader: help me make this a less Apple-centric list by sending me your suggestions (my contact info is at the end of this post). PR overtures are welcome but, hey, channel the spirit of Twitter: keep the pitches brief and send them in English-major-friendly English, okay?

Cathy's Book

An iPhone app implementation of a print book that, impressively, does loads that can't be done in print: animated renderings of the narrator's sketchbook drawings; voicemail phone clues that contribute to the story; and audio/text mashups that are more than simply a recorded version of what you can read onscreen. The designers have even done a great job of moving between regular text and brief animations. That one's tough to pull off in a way that maintains the "reading line": the storytelling momentum that pulls a reader along from start to finish.

Cathy's Book

Operation Ajax

A "motion comics" version of the CIA's involvement in the 1950s Iranian revolution. Much more than a digital replica of a graphic novel; the action moves within and between panels. Plus, research dossiers are available for all key characters (rotate the iPad from portrait to landscape to see these) for when you want to learn more about the main players.

Operation Ajax iPad book app

Music: An Appreciation (an Inkling textbook)

Some very cool annotated musical scores here let students read captions, listen to the recording, and see what parts of the score are being commented on as the music plays.

Music: An Appreciation (an Inkling textbook)

iBirdPro HD

A digital version of the traditional field guide. Great search feature lets you select one of a half dozen characteristics you're interested in (Size, Habitat, Color, etc.) and then input particular values (big, Hawaii, red, etc.). Very neat way to search through 1,000 or so bird profiles and winnow down the list to match the ones that meet your criteria. Another to-be-expected but quite well done feature: recordings of all the various birds.

The Civil War Today

A history of the Civil War presented as a collection of "you are there" archives (diary entries, newspaper articles, photos). Each day over a 500ish day timeframe, a new day's worth of archival material is released. Your relationship to the book therefore plays out across the same time span as the war itself did. Layout is also innovative: the whole thing is done up as a 19th century style newspaper rather than a book's traditional table of contents.

The Civil War Today

NYPL Biblion

Interesting effort from the NY Public Library to present a collection of everything they've got on the 1939 World's Fair. At heart it's simply browsable articles, photos, and other source material from the library's archives. But there's a couple of innovative (and, for my money, slightly overdone) navigation and presentation features. For example, rather than a text-only table of contents they've identified a half dozen or so themes and constructed a 3D-ish wall of icons you can browse through to explore each of these groups.

NYPL Biblion

Glo Bible

Bible reading app with some nifty features, including a zoomable book view that lets you go from a high-level view of all the books in the Old/New testament, down one magnification level to a view of one book (say, Exodus) and all its chapters, and, finally, down to page-view level. In other words: it's a great way to switch quickly from birdseye- to page-view level.

Glo Bible iPad app


Another Bible reading app. Filled with some powerful reader aids: lots of links within the text between different books; pop-up definitions of archaic terms; text comparisons (so you can see how the text varies between different translations); cross-reference previews (brief glimpse of the referenced text so you can see what the link is pointing towards before clicking it); and a dual-pane reading view so you can have multiple texts onscreen at the same time (e.g. the Bible and some commentary).

Logos Bible Software iPad app

Virtual History ROMA

A collection of historical essays, photos, and illustrations that offer a multimedia history of Rome. Particularly innovative features include: Overlays (move a slider and watch how a marsh in Rome changed from, say, 10 A.D. to the Colosseum in 72 A.D.) and virtual reality views (called "Bubble" views) that you can explore by moving your iPad around to pan across the scene.

Virtual History ROMA iPad app

Welcome to Pine Point

Okay, here's proof that the best action isn't happening only on the iPad. A digital book released earlier this spring, this one's web-based (and Flash-based, to boot). It combines video, text, and audio to tell the story of what happened to a town abandoned by the Canadian government. All in all, it's a really powerful tale and incredibly thoughtful integration of all the different media elements.

Welcome to Pine Point

What's crossed your radar? I'd love to hear; email me at peter dot meyers at gmail dot com.

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
Register for this free webcast


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