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June 21 2012

Depth and immersion give static print images new digital life

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


Today's ebook landscape is mostly filled with nothing more than quick-and-dirty conversions of print to digital. There's not a lot of imagination, and we're certainly not taking full advantage of all the capabilities of our digital devices. This includes not only the text and how it's presented, but also the images that accompany the text. We have an incredible opportunity to take those static images from print and bring them to life in digital format.

Laura Maaske, a medical illustrator I met earlier this year at TOC NY, is someone who understands this opportunity and is creating digital imagery like you've never seen before. I recently reconnected with her to discuss the move from print to digital and how publishers need to adjust their thinking.

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

  • Imagery begins with a metaphor — Laura has used layering techniques so that users can easily explore the depths of the object, in this case, a human hand. It's the first step toward a 3D rendering that lends itself to even more immersion. [Discussed at 1:58.]
  • It's not just about medical imaging — Look at all the static images in your own products and consider the option of adding depth or immersion to them. The possibilities are endless and can be applied to pretty much any topic. [Discussed at 3:38.]
  • Is "digital first" the best approach? — Perhaps, but publishers should also consider how they might utilize their vast libraries of existing images that weren't originally created with layering in mind. "Before" and "after" images are excellent candidates, for example. [Discussed at 4:32.]
  • New skills are required ... including programming — The core illustration skills are critical, of course, but digital imaging professionals need to go further. Knowledge of HTML and even a good foundation in scripting or programming is very important as well. [Discussed at 7:12.]
  • Choose your tools wisely — Laura carefully chooses her tools by avoiding proprietary software and using license-free options. [Discussed at 8:10.]


You can view the entire interview in the following video.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.


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  • June 08 2012

    Publishing News: Wattpad raises $17.3 million in series B funding

    Here are a few stories that caught my eye this week in the publishing space.

    Wattpad raises $17.3 for its storytelling community

    Wattpad LogoBookExpo America (BEA) took place this week in New York City. One of the big announcements made at the show was Wattpad's newly raised $17.3 million in financing in a series B funding round led by Khosla Ventures. Wattpad is a social ereading and storytelling platform that connects writers with readers, and according to a story at GigaOm, the company vision is to establish the platform as the YouTube of writing. Andrew Chung, a partner at Khosla Ventures and a new board member at Wattpad, told GigaOm in an interview:

    "You're able to upload a story chapter by chapter, folks are able to comment on that chapter, and they can provide encouragement to the writer and actually signal where they'd like the story to go, which creates a type of engagement that's impossible in an offline context. There’s a very strong parallel to the way that YouTube was able to do that for amateur or user-generated video content."

    Liz Gannes at All Things Digital took a look at Wattpad's explosive growth, reporting that the platform now hosts five million stories and has about 500,000 added each month. Gannes also highlights the popularity of the site with readers, noting that "a book by teen author Jordan Lynde (a.k.a. XxSkater2Girl16xX on Wattpad) about a relationship between a teacher and a student, has been read nearly 20 million times."

    The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
    Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.


    Publishers are reducing themselves to book packagers

    The BEA show this week also inspired insight. Brett Sandusky took a look at the notions swirling about digital publishing. He argues that publishers have been fooling themselves with the idea that "digital is free and easy," that you can take your existing content, simply change the format and rake in the money. He writes:

    "While our processes have arguably improved and modernized, the fact remains: viable digital business models require more than afterthought. Simply converting content and making it available for sale is a recipe for disaster. This prevailing free and easy digital model is actually harmful to our businesses."

    Sandusky says the real money in digital is in distribution. He called for a curated distribution experience and emphasized the importance of owning the customer experience:

    "Right now, we take so much time to polish our content and our products, and then we just throw them away. All this content curation we're doing (or at the very least talking about) makes no sense at all if we simply hand over the UX ownership to retailers and their locked devices. In fact, not owning the whole customer experience with regards to digital has basically reduced us to little more than book packagers for our retail partners. And, we're not even getting paid for it."

    The real take-away from BEA, he says, is that it's time to start focusing on the customer, to "[pay] attention to every touch point, every interaction, every experience and make sure we own it." His post is a must-read this week.

    A look at the state we are in

    Jeremy Greenfield over at the Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch put together a sort of State of the Publishing Industry post this week, looking at how ebooks are effecting change. He offers a nice roundup of the DOJ lawsuit, the B&N venture with Microsoft, trends in venture capital and important startup entrants to the publishing space, and a look at how children are responding to ebooks (PDF). Greenfield also talks about Pottermore and how J.K. Rowling's moves to set up her own store and sell the Harry Potter ebooks directly to consumers — without DRM — is affecting the industry. He highlights two important points:

    1. "In the first month, she sold $5 million worth of e-books through her own store, Pottermore. ... Pottermore's success has renewed speculation that it's possible for publishers to develop direct-sales channels."
    2. "When Pottermore opened, it sold its e-books without digital rights management (DRM) software that is meant to prevent piracy. This move ran counter to what most book publishers currently do. ... When Pottermore launched, piracy initially spiked, said [Pottermore Chief Executive Charlie Redmayne]. But a backlash from anti-DRM advocates as well as appreciative fans resulted in an overall 25% drop in piracy of Harry Potter e-books."

    You can read Greenfield's entire roundup here.

    Related:


    June 07 2012

    Commerce Weekly: Identifying real-time consumer intent

    Here's what caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

    Responding to real-time consumer intent

    LocalResponse LogoA new survey by behavioral commerce company SteelHouse shows that mobile commerce is getting more social. Mediabistro shared an infographic produced by SteelHouse that highlights a few important points for mobile commerce:

    "... one-third of customers state browsing for items as the number one reason why they use a retailer's apps, ahead of looking for discounts and deals (26 percent) and making purchases (22 percent). Overall, however, 66 percent of consumers prefer purchasing from a retailer's website than via their app."

    Though the national survey was small — just 309 consumers across the U.S. were surveyed — the numbers confirm that social media is changing the way we shop.

    Mashable took a look this week at four startups that are revolutionizing social ecommerce. Of the four, LocalResponse's platform seemed to make the most of mobile. The post describes the product as "a social advertising platform that aggregates public posts and 'check-ins' across multiple platforms to help brands and businesses identify intent and respond to it." The important note about this company is the way it's making use of real-time data. Mashable reports:

    "Targeting data, such as behavioral, demographic or contextual, is usually approximated. LocalResponse's platform is able to identify where someone is, when they are there, and what they are saying about it. Marketers act on the consumer's real-time intent by converting people with exclusive offers or coupons via mobile at point-of-sale."

    According to a post at Mobile Commerce Daily, making use of consumer data to discern consumer shopping behavior on an individual and geolocational level not only will ensure a future for mobile check-in platforms, but also will be the key for brands to better connect with consumers.

    X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

    Another centuries-old business goes all-in on digital

    Move over Encyclopaedia Britannica. A 350-year-old post office would like to join the club of centuries-old businesses stepping up to embrace the digital age. A post at Fast Company reports that the British Post Office, established in 1660, is launching an NFC-based payment system in each of its 11,500 locations, making it the "biggest adopter of contactless payments in Europe," according to the post. Consumers will be able to ship packages and buy stamps using NFC-enabled debit and credit cards — and they won't even need to sign or enter a PIN for purchases less than £20.

    The Fast Company post also takes a look at other mobile payment activity in the U.K., including the launch of the PayPal in-Store App, new NFC-enabled phones, and NFC ticketing.

    A new problem for banks: Staying "top of wallet"

    The digital disruption unsettling the retail and publishing industries' brick-and-mortar stores may have found an additional target: brick-and-mortar banks. A study (PDF) released this week by Carlisle and Gallagher shows that mobile wallets pose a threat to traditional banking. Carlisle and Gallagher's Peter Olynick discussed the results in a press release:

    "People have already slowed their use of cash and checks in favor of credit and debit cards. Within five years, half of today's smart phone users will be using their phones and mobile wallets as their preferred method for payments. These customers will be using better tools to help them optimize transaction choices. Banks need to proactively consider how their products will stay 'top of wallet' in the new mobile wallet world."

    In light of the study, financial analyst Peter Wannemacher told PCWorld that "[f]inancial institutions risk ending up as back-end funding sources for mobile wallets and payment products owned by other brands, who operate the front-end, consumer-facing aspects of the interaction and transactions." He says that traditional banks will need to offset the convenience of mobile wallets and mobile banking by offering compelling services.

    Tip us off

    News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

    Related:

    May 25 2012

    Publishing News: Kindle Fire and "your ad here"

    Here's what caught my attention this week in the publishing space:

    Kindle Fire home screen may be for sale

    Kindle FireRumors flew this week saying Amazon plans to launch an ad campaign in which it will sell ads on its Kindle Fire home screen. Jason Del Rey at AdAge reports:

    "Amazon is pitching ads on the device's welcome screen, according to an executive at an agency that Amazon has pitched. The company has been telling ad agency execs that they must spend about $600,000 for any package that includes such an ad.

    "The ad campaigns would run for two months and also include inventory from Amazon's 'Special Offers' product. For $1 million, advertisers would get more ad inventory and be included in Amazon's public-relations push, according to this executive and an exec at another ad agency.'"

    Del Rey says that "[b]oth agency executives have so far declined to participate, citing several concerns. For one, Amazon isn't guaranteeing the number of devices that the welcome-screen ads will reach, telling agencies that it hasn't decided whether the ads will start popping up on devices that have already been purchased or just on new devices."

    O'Reilly GM and publisher Joe Wikert assessed the situation on his Publishing 2020 blog. He says this is just the beginning and that other ebook retailers are going to suffer:

    "Given that Amazon's goal is to offer customers the lowest prices on everything, what's the next logical step? How about even lower prices on ebooks where Amazon starts making money on in-book ads? Think Google AdWords, built right into the book ... At some point in the not too distant future I believe we'll see ebooks on Amazon at fire sale prices. I'm not just talking about self-published titles or books nobody wants. I'll bet this happens with some bestsellers and midlist titles too. Amazon will make a big deal out of it and note how these cheaper prices are only available thru Amazon's in-book advertising program. ... Imagine B&N trying to compete if a large portion of Amazon's ebook list drops from $9.99 to $4.99 or less. Even with Microsoft's cash injection, B&N simply doesn't have deep enough pockets to compete on losses like this, at least not for very long."

    Wikert concludes by asking: "Why wouldn't Amazon follow this strategy, especially since it helps eliminate competitors, leads to market dominance and fixes the loss leader problem they currently have with many ebook sales?"

    The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
    Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

    Apple calls foul on the DOJ

    Apple this week filed a reply to the Department of Justice's antitrust lawsuit that was filed in April against Apple and five major publishers. PCWorld reports:

    "Apple's reply to the court is in line with a statement issued by Apple in April after the DOJ filed its case, in which it said that 'the launch of the iBookstore in 2010 fostered innovation and competition, breaking Amazon's monopolistic grip on the publishing industry.' The company added: 'Just as we've allowed developers to set prices on the App Store, publishers set prices on the iBookstore.'"

    The filing, entitled "APPLE INC.'S ANSWER," opens:

    The Government's Complaint against Apple is fundamentally flawed as a matter of fact and law. Apple has not 'conspired' with anyone, was not aware of any alleged 'conspiracy' by others, and never 'fixed prices.' ... The Government sides with monopoly, rather than competition, in bringing this case. The Government starts from the false premise that an eBooks 'market' was characterized by 'robust price competition' prior to Apple's entry. This ignores a simple and incontrovertible fact: Before 2010, there was no real competition, there was only Amazon.

    Reuters reports that in the filing, "Apple also denied that the government 'accurately characterized' the comment attributed to [Steve] Jobs." The DOJ's complaint (PDF) states:

    "77. Apple understood that the final Apple Agency Agreements ensured that the Publisher Defendants would raise their retail e-book prices to the ostensible limits set by the Apple price tiers not only in Apple's forthcoming iBookstore, but on Amazon.com and all other consumer sites as well. When asked by a Wall Street Journal reporter at the January 27, 2010 iPad unveiling event, 'Why should she buy a book for ... $14.99 from your device when she could buy one for $9.99 from Amazon on the Kindle or from Barnes & Noble on the Nook?' Apple CEO Steve Jobs responded, 'that won't be the case .... the prices will be the same.'"

    Apple's filing responds:

    Apple denies the allegations of paragraph 77. The Government mischaracterizes on its face the alleged statement of Steve Jobs to the press on January 27, 2010, which simply conveyed that a publisher would not have a particular eBook title priced at $9.99 through one distributor and $14.99 through another. Apple's MFN provision would allow it to require the publisher to lower the price to $9.99 on the iBookstore. Apple had no contractual rights to require a publisher to require that it, or any distributor of its products, charge more for eBooks than it chose in a competitive market." [Reference link added.]

    You can read Apple's reply in its entirety at Scribd.

    It's time to hack digital covers

    Hack the CoverCraig Mod (@craigmod) mused on book covers recently in a piece on his website called "Hack the Cover," which also is available as a Kindle Single. He says the way we search for and discover books has changed:

    "The covers ... on Amazon.com are tiny on the search results page. Minuscule on new books page. And they're all but lost in the datum slush of the individual item pages. Great covers like Mendelsund's design for The Information disappear entirely.

    "Why? Because — What do we now hunt when buying books? Data.

    "The cover image may help quickly ground us, but our eyes are drawn by habit to number and quality of reviews. We’re looking for metrics other than images — real metrics — not artificial marketing signifiers. Blurbs from humans. Perhaps even humans we know! And within the jumble of the Amazon.com interface, the cover feels all but an afterthought."

    Mod argues that since readers can approach a book from any number of entry points, the entire book should be viewed and treated like a "cover":

    "The covers for our digital editions need not yell. Need not sell. Heck, they may very well never been seen. The reality is, entire books need to be treated as covers. Entry points into digital editions aren't strictly defined and they're only getting fuzzier. Internet readers don't casually stumble upon books set atop tables. They're exposed through digital chance: a friend tweeting about a particular passage — and linking, directly, into that chapter ... To treat an entire book as a cover means to fold the typographic and design love usually reserved for covers into everything. Type choices. Illustration styles. Margins and page balance."

    Mod's piece is a must read this week.

    Related:

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