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April 12 2012

Ebook formats and the allure of customer lock-in

Sanders Kleinfeld (@sandersk), author of "HTML5 for Publishers" and publishing technologies specialist at O'Reilly, recently sat down with me to talk about ebook formats, challenges publishers face accommodating the formats and how HTML5 might change the game. With all the various ebook formats and platforms requiring multiple publishing outputs becoming something of a hindrance to workflows, I asked if he thought we'd ever see a universal format. He said he worries that vendors won't be willing to give up customer lock-in:

"I'm really optimistic, and I really hope so. I think that's what they're striving for with the EPUB3 standard, which is based around all these open technologies — HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript ... What's disappointing right now is that Amazon is very set on their Mobi format for their Kindle device, Apple has made strides away from EPUB 3 with their latest iBooks 2.0 and iBooks Author ... I think vendors that make these devices are interested in maintaining that lock-in for customers. That's a challenge the industry faces — trying to push things back toward open standards, which I think is best for everyone." (Discussed at 2:43.)

He also said a lot of what's behind DRM is about achieving customer lock-in and that vendors might be obstacles in that regard as well. (Discussed at 4:21.)

You can view our entire interview in the following video:

TOC Latin America — Being held April 20, TOC Latin America will focus on standards, global digital publishing trends, case studies of innovative publishers in Latin America, consumer habits, and much more.

Register to attend TOC Latin America


April 05 2012

Four short links: 5 April 2012

  1. Who Else Uses Masonry Style? (Quora) -- list of sites using the multi-columns effect as provided by the jQuery plugin.
  2. Will Hatchette Be First Big 6 Publisher To Drop DRM? (Paid Content) -- DRM “doesn’t stop anyone from pirating,” Hachette SVP digital Thomas said in a publishing panel at Copyright Clearance Center’s OnCopyright 2012. “It just makes it more difficult, and anyone who wants a free copy of any of our books can go online now and get one." (via Tim O'Reilly)
  3. Javascript Mental Models (Alex Russell) -- What we’re witnessing here isn’t “right” or “wrong”-ness. It’s entirely conflicting world views that wind up in tension.
  4. Mojito (Github) -- BSD-licensed Mojito is the JavaScript library implementing Cocktails, a JavaScript-based on-line/off-line, multi-device, hosted application platform. This is Javascript on server and/or on client.

March 30 2012

Publishing News: There's no such thing as degrees of DRM

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

Social DRM is as bad an idea as traditional DRM

HarryPotter.pngThe most talked-about news this week was the release of the Harry Potter ebooks. The release was interesting on a couple of fronts. First, Amazon and B&N were strong-armed into allowing a portal to a third-party sale on an outside website — and into allowing a third-party download onto their proprietary devices. As a post at The Bookseller notes, "It is believed to be the first time Amazon and Barnes & Noble have allowed an e-book sold on a third-party retail site to be downloaded onto a Kindle or Nook device."

Second, the Potter books are being sold DRM free. Well, that's not entirely accurate — Laura Hazard Owen describes the copyright situation:

"Is there DRM? No, the e-books do not have DRM. Instead, they're watermarked (or, as Pottermore kindly describes it, 'personalized'): 'The Pottermore Shop personalises eBooks with a combination of watermarking techniques that relate to the book, to the purchaser and the purchase time. This allows us to track and respond to possible copyright misuse.'

I reached out to O'Reilly GM and publisher Joe Wikert, who recently called for an end to DRM, to get his thoughts. He says the Harry Potter watermark move is like being "sort of pregnant":

"My first thought is that this form of social DRM provides a similar false sense of security as traditional DRM. Anyone who wants to put this content on the torrent sites is just going to strip the watermarking out, the same as they'd do with the regular DRM. And I find it ironic that so many publishers say they're not concerned about torrents as much as they're trying to prevent customers from sharing the books with friends. Well, watermarking is going to make that much easier (than regular DRM), and I doubt many customers will feel guilty about doing it. They'll probably simply tell their friend, 'it's OK for you to read this too, but please don't pass it along to anyone else since it has my name embedded in it,' for example.

As far as I'm concerned, there aren't degrees of DRM. You either have it or you don't. It's just like being pregnant. You're not 'sort of pregnant.' And social DRM is as bad an idea as traditional DRM. I'd like to think that this Harry Potter situation will cause other publishers to feel they can ease up on their need for DRM, but I'm not sure that will happen."

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm has a nice post on some of the major takeaways from Rowling's diversion from the traditional path, which also includes the agreement with libraries: "... the Potter books can be loaned an unlimited number of times, and the lending license lasts for five years."

Survey says ...

PaywallArt.pngGoogle rolled out a new product this week aimed at helping struggling digital publishers with their revenue streams. A post at Adweek says the new Google Customer Surveys "is being billed as an alternative revenue model for publishers weighing whether to erect paywalls on their sites." The post explains how the surveys work:

"When users visit the Web sites of partners like the New York Daily News and the Texas Tribune, they'll find some articles partially blocked. If they want to continuing reading, they'll have to answer a question, or microsurvey, courtesy of Google.

The multiple-choice questions will be on market research, along the lines of 'Which of these types of candies do you usually buy for your household?' The choices for that question include 'None, Hard candies, Jellies, Licorice, Toffees.' Another question: 'Have you had personal experience with filing lawsuits? Please check all that apply.' ... Advertisers pay Google to run the surveys, and Google pays sites 5 cents per response."

In a post at PaidContent,Laura Hazard Owen explains the advertiser side of the survey:

"The customers create surveys and select the audience who will see the questions. Questions seen by a broad audience representing the general U.S. population are $0.10 per response (with a minimum total cost of $100). If companies want to drill down by demographic or select a custom audience with a screening question, the cost is $0.50 per response."

Owen also highlights a potential issue (and the reason both of us couldn't get a survey to pop up at partner site Lima News): The surveys can be blocked by AdBlock and by pop-up blocking options in browsers.

Personally, I'm willing to pay to avoid my content being interrupted, whether that content is news, books, movies, etc., but as Rob Grimshaw, managing director of, points out in a post at Wired: "Old models may be broken and the industry's initial approach to the web may have misfired, but where there's demand, there's a business. News publishers should have faith that they still perform a valuable service and go out looking for the right model to support it."

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The nature of virtual goods, TBD

Tim Carmody took an in-depth look at the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation into agency pricing this week. He argues that the investigation goes much deeper than issues of price fixing:

"... the DoJ's investigation and a related civil lawsuit touch on issues bigger than rising e-book prices or even collusion between publishers. The cases are also about who has the right to sue e-book publishers, the nature of publishers' bilateral interactions with Apple and other retailers, and whether it's even possible for a true agency model to exist for virtual goods like e-books."

That last point regarding virtual goods is particularly interesting — it looks like the courts will be facing a landmark decision regarding the nature of virtual commodities. Carmody explains:

"There are two legal models that could apply to the publishers' sale of e-books. One is agency; the other is retail price maintenance. In a genuine agency model, the agent doesn't own or bear legal responsibility for the stock; the seller does. Price maintenance simply allows the original seller to set a floor for final customer prices that retailers have to observe as part of their agreement.

According to [Donald Knebel, an IP and antitrust attorney affiliated with the Center for Intellectual Property Research], the usual legal tests for whether a retailer is acting as a publishers' agent hinge on issues of liability that don't apply to virtual goods. There is no physical possession of the stock, there are no storefronts catching fire. Knebel says this issue has never been adequately determined in court, even with software in a virtual app store, let alone e-books in a virtual bookstore.

Carmody's piece is a must-read for this week.

Photo: Beyond the wall by Giuseppe Bognanni, on Flickr


March 11 2012

Niggemeier im Spiegel zur Debatte um das Urheberrecht

“Raubkopie – Das ganze Elend der Urheberrechts-Diskussion steckt in diesem einen Wort”, so lauten Überschrift und Untertitel des Beitrages von Stefan Niggemeier, der in der heutigen Ausgabe des Print-Spiegel erschienen ist. Niggemeier bilanziert die Widersinnigkeit von Begrifflichkeiten, die Interessen der Beteiligten und analysiert das Verhältnis zwischen Kunden und Anbietern. Ein lesenswerter Beitrag und deswegen eine Kaufempfehlung für den heutigen Spiegel.

Zum Begriff “Raubkopie” führt Niggemeier aus:

Das Bild von der Raubkopie ist falsch. Ein Raub ist im Grundsatz das gewaltsame Wegnehmen fremder Sachen. Es lässt sich schon darüber streiten, ob beim ungenehmigten Kopieren jemandem tatsächlich eine Sache weggenommen wird. Ganz sicher aber lässt sich feststellen, dass ihm dabei keine Gewalt angetan wird. Wenn wir von Raubkopierern sprechen, machen wir aus Menschen, die einen Inhalt ungenehmigt nutzen, Gewalttäter.

Erst durch die Verwendung dieses Begriffes sieht der Autor eine gefühlt geschaffene Legitimation für drastische Sanktionen gegen die, die man so bezeichnet. Das Ziel, mit Hilfe der Sprache zu diskreditieren und Sanktionsmaßnahmen mehrheitsfähig zu machen, sei aber vollends gescheitert, denn, vielen Menchen sei durch Kampagnen wie “Raubkopierer sind Verbrecher” bewusst geworden, dass:

Jemand der so offensichtlich unlauter argumentiert, konnte nicht im Recht sein.

Dies sei einer der Gründe dafür, dass der Graben zwischen den Rechteverwertern auf der einen, und dem Publikum auf der anderen Seite so tief sei. Niggemeier kritisiert die Rechteindustrie dafür, dass sie davon ausgehe, ein “gottgebenes Recht” zu haben, den Umgang mit ihren Werken vollständig zu kontrollieren. Sie tue so, “als seien Schwarzkopien verantwortlich für ihren Niedergang”.

Weiter kritisiert der Autor dass die Nutzer als Kunden in der Debatte “an den Rand gewischt werden”. Die Unterhaltungsindustrie habe den alten Leitsatz “Der Kunde ist König” ignoriert, denn:

Sie haben ihre Angebote künstlich verknappt oder das, was der Kunde wollte, nur im Paket mit dem angeboten, was der Kunde nicht wollte. Nicht der Kunde war König, sondern der eigene Profit. Dann kam das Internet.

Nun war der Kunde plötzlich machtvoller Mitentscheider über das was er haben wollte und was nicht. Angebote die dem nicht entsprachen wurden unattraktiv. Niggemeier fasst zusammen:

Es ist nicht so, dass die Menschen im Internet alles kostenlos wollen. Aber sie wollen alles, und zwar sofort. Sie wollen nicht mehr warten bis ihre amerikanische Lieblingsserie mit Monaten Verspätung in Deutschland als DVD oder zum Download angeboten wird. Und wenn sie nicht legal zu bekommen sind, nehmen viele sie auch illegal.

Schärfere Sanktionen als Reaktion seien der falsche Weg, vielmehr müsse aus der Nachfrage der Kunden ein Markt geschaffen werden. Dies zeige nicht zuletzt der Erfolg von Apples iTunes beim Download von Musik. Dies gehe mit einem kontrollierten Kontrollverlust einher. Wie problematisch die Frage der Kontrolle in Zukunft sein wird, deutet Niggemeier mit dem Hinweis auf die “Verwirklichung der kühnsten Kontrollträume der Produzenten und Veranstalter” an. Kontrollverlust um den Markt zu befeuern auf der einen, maximale Kontrolle und Verwertungsmöglichkeiten durch den Einsatz von ausgeklügelten Mechanismen des Digitalen-Rechte-Managements (DRM) auf der anderen Seite, werden in der Zukunft eine der zentralen Fragen der Verteilung und Verwertung von digitalen Gütern sein. Hierzu wären weitere Ausführungen von Niggemeier wünschenswert gewesen, vielleicht ja in einem der nächsten Artikel.

Niggemeier widmet sich auch der sprachlichen Bedeutung und Verwendung des Begriffes ‘Eigentum’ bzw. des ‘geistigen Eigentums’ und betont nochmals den Unterschied des analogen Eigentums durch die Art der Verwendungsmöglichkeit im Unterschied zu den Verwendungsmöglichkeiten von erworbenen Waren des ‘geistigen Eigentums’. Letzterer sei eine “interessensgesteuerte Metapher”.

Am Ende seines Beitrages geht Niggemeier auf die aktuelle Diskussion zur geplanten Einführung eines Leistungsschutzrechtes für Presseverlage ein. Er schreibt:

Ein Grund warum die Debatten um das Urheberrecht so furchtbar und fruchtlos sind, liegt darin, dass es missbraucht wird. Das geplante Leistungsschutzrecht zeigt es. Mit größter Verbissenheit haben die Verlage dafür gekämpft, als wären Angebote wie Google News für die Probleme der Verlage verantwortlich. Sie sind es nicht, und ein Leistungsschutzrecht wird die Probleme nicht lösen.

Er macht dabei zudem deutlich, dass die “Rechteverwerter keine glaubwürdigen Vertreter der Interessen der Urheber” seien. Dies zeige sich beispielsweise daran, dass die Zeitungs- und Zeitschriftenverlage “den Urhebern Verträge zu ihrem Nachteil diktieren wollen, die von Gerichten als gesetzeswidrig kassiert wurden.

Niggemeier schließt mit der Feststellung, dass es nicht Sorge der Industrie sei, dass in Zukunft keine kreativen Werke mehr entstehen, die Sorge sei vielmehr die, dass mit diesen Produkten nicht mehr so viel Geld wie bisher zu verdienen sei: “Sie kämpfen nicht für das Urheberrecht, sondern für ein Profitschutzrecht”.

Reposted bykrekkreturn13kellerabteilurfin

March 02 2012

Publishing News: It's time to break the stick

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

We're approaching the proverbial fork in the road

Silo.pngMathew Ingram at GigaOm took a look at the ebook landscape this week and welcomed everyone to "the platform-dependent bookstore of the future." Ingram reviewed a situation that occurred between author Seth Godin and Apple regarding hyperlinks in his new book, "Stop Stealing Dreams," that linked to books sold at Amazon (Godin also has a blog post about the situation here). Ingram argued:

"[Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble] have far more control over whose ebooks see the light of day because they also own the major ereading platforms, and they are making decisions based not on what they think consumers want to read but on their own competitive interests."

Ingram also pointed out that blame for the oligopoly marketplace in the U.S. doesn't fall solely on the chain store giants:

Publishers are partly to blame for the walled-garden status of the market as well, since they handed Amazon and Apple the stick of digital-rights management, which the two companies are now using to beat them.

Ingram's post is a must-read and a clear warning of what the future will hold if something doesn't change: "Welcome to the mutually incompatible, silo-based, platform-dependent and user-unfriendly future of books."

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

What to do about Amazon

AmazonAnother publisher broke up with Amazon this week in response to the IPG-Amazon situation. A post at Publishers Weekly reported that "Educational Development Corporation (EDC), publisher of Usborne and Kane Miller books in the U.S., has announced that "the company will no longer sell any of its books on Amazon or to any entities that resell to Amazon."

Randall White, president of EDC, stated in the report that the decision was based on Amazon's moves to "gain control of publishing and other industries by making it impossible for other retailers to compete effectively."

Last week, author Jim Hanas made a stand against Amazon as well, removing the Amazon "buy" button from the website for his book "Why They Cried." This week, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America also removed the Amazon links on its website.

But, in the end, are moves from mid-level publishers and distribution houses and individual authors going to dent Amazon's hefty armor (read: boat loads of cash and rapidly expanding market share)? Probably not much. But as I (and others) have written before, the Big Six have an ace in the hole: DRM. In a post at Dear Author, Jane Litte touched on the DRM solution and highlighted the toll this situation is taking on the consumer:

"IPG is asking readers to make a moral decision with their wallets without providing a plausible alternative. Why not go DRM free and offer Mobi books to Kindle owners? This really strikes at the heart of Amazon ... Amazon isn't making money off device sales ... We [consumers] recognize that Amazon as the exclusive vendor of books would be bad for us, but what are publishers doing about it? Why is it the reader, the only party who does not make money in this equation, have to be the one to take the financial hit in the fight against Amazon? Why aren't publishers making it easier for readers to move away from Amazon? Why aren't they trying to appeal to our wallets instead of our morality?"

In a post at Publishers Weekly, Peter Brantley noted the lack of customer service amongst the large publishers and how the subsequent alienation of readers is actually driving publishing customers to Amazon:

"... through the combination of usurious pricing strategies and their undeclared war on libraries, the largest publishers have unerringly drawn their customers — readers with whom they've never cared to have a direct relationship — closer into the arms of the retailer whose market power and influence they most fear — Amazon. So much for a strategy of self-interest ... And, because publishers are not working in alignment with my interests, their marketplace goals have moved into conflict with mine."

Javier Celaya proposed a solution over at Publishing Perspectives: Publishers should band together and create a joint platform. He compared the publishing industry's situation with Amazon to the situation the aerospace industry had with Boeing: "The aeronautical industry, which was once dominated by Boeing, managed to develop the Airbus consortium. The publishing industry can also aspire to create its own 'cultural Airbus'."

Celaya offers several key factors for publishers and international online retailers to consider. His post is well worth the read.

Power buyers indicate the digital tipping point is nigh

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) released the first installment in Volume Three of the ongoing "Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" survey this week. According to the report release, digital may be at the tipping point with readers, particularly among "power buyers," or consumers who "acquire ebooks at least weekly" and who function as "predictors of where the market is moving."

The release noted::

"... more than half of ebook readers increased their use of apps to purchase books and more than one-third increased their use of general retail websites such as The gains for these digital vendors come at the expense of brick and mortar bookstores, even independents. More than a third of ebook buyers decreased their spending at national chains and 29% said they are buying less from their local indie.

This installment of the study also showed that though ereading devices remain dominant, "multi-function tablet devices and smartphones are gaining in popularity" — 17% (compared to 13% in November) said they most often used tablets for reading ebooks.

For more on this BISG study, check out the presentation slides and transcript from the "Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" session at TOC 2012.

Top Photo: Silo by eirikref, on Flickr


February 10 2012

O'Reilly Radar Show 2/10/12: The 5 trends that will shape the data world

Below you'll find the script and associated links from the February 10, 2012 episode of O'Reilly Radar. An archive of past shows is available through O'Reilly Media's YouTube channel and you can subscribe to episodes of O'Reilly Radar via iTunes.


There are five major trends that will shape the data world in the months to come. Strata Conference chair Edd Dumbill reveals them in this episode of O'Reilly Radar. [Starts 12 seconds in.]

Also in this episode: We revisit a conversation with Wired's Kevin Kelly in which he discusses freemium models and why digital rights management will likely persist in some form or another. [Interview begins at 11:04.]

Radar posts of note

[This segment begins at the 10:06 mark.]

For now, legislators have backed off of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, but the friction between media companies and online piracy persists. In his piece "SOPA and PIPA are bad industrial policy," Tim O'Reilly explains why these efforts — and those sure to emerge down the road — hold back innovative business models that grow the overall market.

It's the hot trend in software right now, but what does big data mean, and how can you exploit it? In "What is big data?," Strata chair Edd Dumbill presents an introduction and orientation to the big data landscape.

Finally, books, publishing processes and readers have all made the jump to digital, and that's creating considerable opportunities for publishing startups. Justo Hidalgo explores the digital shift in his piece, "Three reasons why we're in a golden age of publishing entrepreneurship."

As always, links to these stories and other resources mentioned during this episode are available at

Radar video spotlight

At the 2011 Tools of Change for Publishing conference I had a chance to interview Wired's Kevin Kelly about two topics that continue to play big roles in the content world: the freemium model and digital rights management.

As you'll see in the following video, Kelly has a unique, long-view perspective on both of these issues.

[Interview begins at 11:04.]


Just a reminder that you can always catch episodes of O'Reilly Radar at and subscribe to episodes through iTunes.

All of the links and resources mentioned during this episode are posted at

That's all we have for this episode. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you again soon.

Top stories: February 6-10, 2012

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

The NoSQL movement
A relational database is no longer the default choice. Mike Loukides charts the rise of the NoSQL movement and explains how to choose the right database for your application.

Jury to Eolas: Nobody owns the interactive web
A Texas jury has struck down a company's claim to ownership of the interactive web. Eolas, which has been suing technology companies for more than a decade, now faces the prospect of losing the patents.

It's time for a unified ebook format and the end of DRM
The music industry has shown that you need to offer consumers a universal format and content without rights restrictions. So when will publishers pay attention?

Business-government ties complicate cyber security
Is an attack on a U.S. business' network an attack on the U.S. itself? "Inside Cyber Warfare" author Jeffrey Carr discusses the intermingling of corporate and government interests in this interview.

Unstructured data is worth the effort when you've got the right tools
Alyona Medelyan and Anna Divoli are inventing tools to help companies contend with vast quantities of fuzzy data. They discuss their work and what lies ahead for big data in this interview.

Strata 2012, Feb. 28-March 1 in Santa Clara, Calif., will offer three full days of hands-on data training and information-rich sessions. Strata brings together the people, tools, and technologies you need to make data work. Save 20% on Strata registration with the code RADAR20.

Photo used with "Unstructured data" story: mess with graphviz.

Publishing News: B&N boycott becomes booksellers' cold war against Amazon

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

The booksellers' cold war rages on

NoEntry3.pngTwo weeks ago, Amazon made a move that might have landed it access to B&N brick-and-mortar stores. Last week, B&N slammed its brick-and-mortar doors in Amazon's face. This week, B&N was joined by Canada's Indigo Books and Music and Books-a-Million, and also (in effect) by the American Book Association (ABA) — in what the Guardian dubbed the "cold war between North American booksellers and Amazon."

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Janet Eger, vice president at Indigo, explained the company's position: "In our view Amazon's actions are not in the long-term interests of the reading public or the publishing and book retailing industry, globally."

The ABA denied the initial reports by Publisher's Weekly (which has since edited its original post) that it joined the "boycott," but it did remove Amazon titles from its IndieCommerce database this week and made an overall change in its policies. As PW reported:

"Not only has IndieCommerce decided not to list these titles, but it has created a new policy that states 'only publishers' titles that are made available to retailers for sale in all available formats will be included in the IndieCommerce inventory database'."

Individual stores, however, can opt to add Amazon books as custom products to their own websites if they so choose.

Amazon didn't appear to be phased by the news. In fact, the company appears to be focused elsewhere: Rumors of Amazon's plans to open its own brick-and-mortar store heated up this week when GoodEReader reported on a proposed location in Seattle.

Leader in eBook conversion in the US and in Europe, and Apple-Authorized ePublishing Services Provider, Jouve is helping to transform the way the publishing industry designs, produces, and distributes content. Our services span the entire value chain for print and digital products, enabling publishers to build multi-channel production strategies and systems. Learn more

DRM is publishers' ace in the hole against Amazon

Ace2.pngBattle techniques for the Big Six to use in this cold war against Amazon were proposed this week as well. Paul Biba at TeleRead suggested that the Big Six have greater control and influence than they realize — they just need to wield it:

"There is no reason why the Big Six can't offer exclusive deals to Kobo and B&N. Give them a three-month exclusive selling period for expected ebook best-sellers and do away with the agency pricing during that period. After three months, make the ebooks available to everyone and reinstate agency pricing. This would boost competition and play against Amazon's exclusivity program."

The problem with this strategy is the same problem that would arise if publishers cut out Amazon altogether — consumers would be alienated and sales would suffer (let's face it, Amazon's got the biggest piece of the market share pie at this point).

Publishers do, however, have an ace in the hole — they just need the courage to play it. O'Reilly publisher and general manager Joe Wikert pointed this out in very clear terms in a post at Publishers Weekly:

"In a terrific blog post entitled "Cutting Their Own Throats," author Charlie Stross argues that publishers' fear has enabled a big ebook player like Amazon to further reinforce its market position, often at the expense of publishers and authors — an unintended consequence of DRM. Given all these issues, why not eliminate DRM, since even the music industry has seen the light and moved on from DRM."

Transferability and cognitive friction improve the reading experience

Alan Jacobs at the Atlantic made a couple of thought-provoking observations about reading this week. In one post, he compared Nick Carr's affinity for the "fixities of the printed book" and Kevin Kelly's for the "fluidities of the ebook." He argued that both Carr and Kelly's observations, though they make good points, are too narrowly focused on the book as an object, rather than as "a tool for use." Jacobs shared a story about losing his Kindle, but not losing any of his content and annotations as a consequence, and observed:

"So what we have here is best described not as fixity or fluidity, but as transferability — a reassuring kind of consistency across platforms and formats. You might say that this is fixity enabled by fluidity: the reproducibility of pixels combined with the stability of Amazon's enormous database amount to insurance against the fragility of any particular designed object. (And by downloading my books and annotations to two or three 'designed objects' I also insure myself against the failure of Amazon's databases.)"

In another post, Jacobs took a look at the cognitive experience of reading and suggested that retention is improved by increased "cognitive friction" — the effort required to read, annotate, highlight and otherwise process digital content. Both posts (here and here) are well worth the read.

Photo (top): NO ENTRY by markhillary, on Flickr

Photo (bottom): battle 002 by Paul J Everett, on Flickr


February 09 2012

It's time for a unified ebook format and the end of DRM

This post originally appeared on Publishers Weekly.

EreadersImagine buying a car that locks you into one brand of fuel. A new BMW, for example, that only runs on BMW gas. There are plenty of BMW gas stations around, even a few in your neighborhood, so convenience isn't an issue. But if one of those other gas stations offers a discount, a membership program, or some other attractive marketing campaign, you can't participate. You're locked in with the BMW gas stations.

This could never happen, right? Consumers are too smart to buy into something like this. Or are they? After all, isn't that exactly what's happening in the ebook world? You buy a dedicated ebook reader like a Kindle or a NOOK and you're locked in to that company's content. Part of this problem has to do with ebook formats (e.g., EPUB or Mobipocket) while another part of it stems from publisher insistence on the use of digital rights management (DRM). Let's look at these issues individually.

Platform lock-in

I've often referred to it as Amazon's not-so-secret formula: Every time I buy another ebook for my Kindle, I'm building a library that makes me that much more loyal to Amazon's platform. If I've invested thousands or even hundreds of dollars in Kindle-formatted content, how could I possibly afford to switch to another reading platform?

It would be too inconvenient to have part of my library in Amazon's Mobipocket format and the rest in EPUB. Even though I could read both on a tablet (e.g., the iPad), I'd be forced to switch between two different apps. The user interface between any two reading apps is similar but not identical, and searching across your entire library becomes a two-step process since there's no way to access all of your content within one app.

This situation isn't unique to Amazon. The same issue exists for all the other dedicated ereader hardware platforms (e.g., Kobo, NOOK, etc.). Google Books initially seemed like a solution to this problem, but it still doesn't offer mobi formats for the Kindle, so it's selling content for every format under the sun — except the one with the largest market share.

EPUB would seem to be the answer. It's a popular format based on web standards, and it's developed and maintained by an organization that's focused on openness and broad industry adoption. It also happens to be the format used by seemingly every ebook vendor except the largest one: Amazon.

Even if we could get Amazon to adopt EPUB, though, we'd still have that other pesky issue to deal with: DRM.

The myth of DRM

I often blame Napster for the typical book publisher's fear of piracy. Publishers saw what happened in the music industry and figured the only way they'd make their book content available digitally was to tightly wrap it with DRM. The irony of this is that some of the most highly pirated books were never released as ebooks. Thanks to the magic of high-speed scanner technology, any print book can easily be converted to an ebook and distributed illegally.

Some publishers don't want to hear this, but the truth is that DRM can be hacked. It does not eliminate piracy. It not only fails as a piracy deterrent, but it also introduces restrictions that make ebooks less attractive than print books. We've all read a print book and passed it along to a friend. Good luck doing that with a DRM'd ebook! What publishers don't seem to understand is that DRM implies a lack of trust. All customers are considered thieves and must be treated accordingly.

The evil of DRM doesn't end there, though. Author Charlie Stross recently wrote a terrific blog post entitled "Cutting Their Own Throats." It's all about how publisher fear has enabled a big ebook player like Amazon to further reinforce its market position, often at the expense of publishers and authors. It's an unintended consequence of DRM that's impacting our entire industry.

Given all these issues, why not eliminate DRM and trust your customers? Even the music industry, the original casualty of the Napster phenomenon, has seen the light and moved on from DRM.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York, 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

Lessons from the music industry

Several years ago, Steve Jobs posted a letter to the music industry pleading for them to abandon DRM. The letter no longer appears on Apple's website, but community commentary about it lives on. My favorite part of that letter is where Jobs asks why the music industry would allow DRM to go away. The answer is that, "DRMs haven't worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy." In fact, a study last year by Rice University and Duke University contends that removing DRM can actually decrease piracy. Yes, you read that right.

I recently had an experience with my digital music collection that drove this point home for me. I had just switched from an iPhone to an Android phone and wanted to get my music from the old device onto the new one. All I had to do was drag and drop the folder containing my music in iTunes to the SD card in my new phone. It worked perfectly because the music file formats are universal and there was no DRM involved.

Imagine trying to do that with your ebook collection. Try dragging your Kindle ebooks onto your new NOOK, for example. Incompatible file formats and DRM prevent that from happening ... today. At some point in the not-too-distant future, though, I'm optimistic the book publishing industry will get to the same stage as the music industry and offer a universal, DRM-free format for all ebooks. Then customers will be free to use whatever e-reader they prefer without fear of lock-in and incompatibilities.

The music industry made the transition, why can't we?


January 16 2012

January 05 2012

Traditional vs self-publishing: Neither is the perfect solution

This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) is one of a growing number of authors who have published with both a traditional house as well as self-published. Like many others, he's decided neither is the perfect solution. In this video podcast, Dan talks about the pros and cons of both options. He offers valuable insight not only for authors trying to decide between traditional and self-publishing, but his thoughts are extremely important for everyone in publishing to hear as they think about their roles going forward.

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

  • Creative Commons licensing still trips up publishers — It's disappointing, but true, that some publishers simply refuse to deal with an author who wants to use the Creative Commons license. [Discussed at the 1:08 mark.]
  • Fear of Creative Commons is similar to a fear of being DRM free — Both of these tie back to "control," and far too many publishers feel they lose control when using Creative Commons or abandoning DRM. [Discussed at 4:10.]
  • There's a reason authors like to have publishers — Sometimes the lesson isn't learned until an author self-publishes, but there are tasks and services publishers perform that authors tend to take for granted. [Discussed at 5:58.]
  • Should traditional publishers venture into self-publishing? — Be careful to not open the floodgates completely. There's still a need to have certain guard rails in place. [Discussed at 11:30.]
  • Now is the time for experimentation — And yet, as Dan notes, "the traditional publishing industry is even more risk averse than it used to be." [Discussed at 13:58.]

  • Even a self-published project can be a hybrid — Dan's latest book, Mediactive, was self-published but involved at least one rights deal with a traditional publisher. [Discussed at 15:26.]
  • Errata and other minor updates should be easy to address — But they're not! Despite all our advancements in technology and product distribution, most retailers are still unable to deal with changes to an edition. [Discussed at 23:20.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.


December 28 2011

Five things we learned about publishing in 2011

Many of publishing's big developments from 2011 will continue to shape the industry in 2012. So with that in mind, here's a look at five of the most important lessons from last 12 months.

Amazon is, indeed, a disruptive publishing competitor

If it wasn't apparent before, Amazon's publishing intentions became plainly obvious this year. The wave started out small, with a host of expanding self-publishing tools for authors, but it grew to tsunami proportions as Amazon launched imprint after imprint, from romance to science fiction. Amazon also hired industry heavy-hitter Larry Kirshbaum, who "is charged with building something that will look like a general trade publisher.'"

Amazon imprints
Some of Amazon's publishing projects.

Amazon further extended its reach into publishing when it launched the Kindle Owner's Lending Library. The ebook lending waters already were murky and contentious for publishers — HarperCollins instigated a memorable dustup, as did Penguin — but Amazon's move into the space caused a full-fledged uproar among publishers as well as authors, and may have damaged the publisher-library relationship further.

O'Reilly's Joe Wikert highlighted one of the main problems from the publisher perspective:

As Amazon stated in its press release, "For the vast majority of titles, Amazon has reached agreement with publishers to include titles for a fixed fee." So no matter how popular (or unpopular) the publisher's titles are, they get one flat fee for participation in the library. I strongly believe this type of program needs to compensate publishers and authors on a usage level, not a flat fee. The more a title is borrowed, the higher the fee to the publisher and author. Period.

And Amazon may be encroaching on feature magazines like the Atlantic and the New Yorker as well. In a sign of possible things to come, freelance journalist Marc Herman took his long-form story, "The Shores of Tripoli," and expanded it into a $1.99 Kindle Single. According to his blog, he has plans to expand on the model, which would further sideline traditional publishing avenues.

Publishers aren't necessary to publishing

Authors have figured out they don't need publishers to publish books. The self-publishing book market saw quite a boom this year as the publishing format started becoming more mainstream and the services offered by self-publishing companies became more comprehensive — providing authors with platforms, sales, marketing, editing, etc.

Amazon has a role in this boom as well. The Wall Street Journal reported that " Inc. fueled the growth [in self-publishing] by offering self-published writers as much as 70% of revenue on digital books, depending on the retail price. By comparison, traditional publishers typically pay their authors 25% of net digital sales and even less on print books."

Another trend emerged this year to further sideline the publisher's role: the rise of the agent-publisher. This controversial and contentious business model allows agents to step in to provide expanded publishing services to authors. In an interview, Booksquare's Kassia Krozser explained that the new agent-publisher role emerged because of failings on the part of traditional publishers: "Traditional publishers need to not only rethink how they sell their value to authors and agents, but they also need to rethink the economic structure of their deals." Krozser also expressed concerns that the agent-publisher role carries a conflict of interest — see her interview here.

Readers sure do like ebooks

There good news is that people are still reading and they're embracing the digital transformation. The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) released a report in November that showed that readers are solidly committing to digital books. A couple highlights from the report:

  • Power buyers are spending more. More than 46% of those who say they acquire e-books at least weekly ... report that they have increased their dollars spent for books in all formats, compared with 30.4% of all survey respondents.
  • "... nearly 50% of print book consumers who have also acquired an e-book in the past 18 months would wait up to three months for the e-version of a book from a favorite author, rather than immediately read it in print."

The number of devices sold is telling as well. A Pew report found that "ereader ownership growth in the U.S. doubled in six months, from 6% to 12% of adults owning an ebook reader."


Though the new Kindle Fire is selling at a loss, Amazon reported that it is selling Kindles at a clip of "well over one million Kindle devices per week" — at least for the three weeks following Black Friday. Amazon hasn't disclosed the total number of devices it has sold, but one analyst estimates the sales to be 8% of total revenues in 2011 and predicts that amount will rise to 9.9% in 2012. So ... a lot of Kindles. Combine those numbers (vague as they might be) with the 40 million iPads sold, and the conclusion is clear: ereading is now mainstream.

HTML5 is an important publishing technology

HTML5 entered the publishing space in a big way this year — some calling it the "future of digital publishing." From storage to multimedia to content behavior (think shaking the iPhone or automatically sizing for different screen sizes) to geolocation to a host of other interactive features, HTML5 has squared itself up to become an important player in the industry. Amazon (mostly) embraced it in its Kindle Format 8, and HTML5 is supported in EPUB3.

HTML5 is platform agnostic and may even be able to save — or make — publishers money. In an interview early in the year, Google's Marcin Wichary explained:

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.

You can view Wichary's full interview below.

DRM is full of unintended consequences

It turns out DRM does more than provide publishers with a false sense of security — locking the content of books also locks those books into a platform (ahem, Kindle). This point was highlighted by author Charlie Stross in a November blog post in which he argued that DRM had become a strategic tool for Amazon:

... the big six's pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder. DRM on ebooks gives Amazon a great tool for locking ebook customers into the Kindle platform. If you buy a book that you can only read on the Kindle, you're naturally going to be reluctant to move to other ebook platforms that can't read those locked Kindle ebooks — and even more reluctant to buy ebooks from rival stores that use incompatible DRM ... If the big six began selling ebooks without DRM, readers would at least be able to buy from other retailers and read their ebooks on whatever platform they wanted, thus eroding Amazon's monopoly position.

So, to recap, we've learned that DRM doesn't stop anyone from pirating, nor does it come with the necessary data to support its impact. But it does give publishers one thing: a longer length of rope with which to hang themselves.

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


  • Do agent-publishers carry a conflict of interest?
  • Publishers: What are they good for?
  • Book piracy: Less DRM, more data
  • What if a book is just a URL?
  • December 27 2011

    Open Question: Is it realistic for publishers to cut Amazon out of the equation?

    Kindle79DRM is a hotly controversial topic, but most publishers continue to insist on employing it to protect content from piracy. In a recent blog post, author Charlie Stross argued that "the strategy of demanding DRM everywhere is going to boomerang, inflicting horrible damage on the very companies who want it." Stross said Amazon is publishing's next biggest threat after piracy, and employing DRM is like handing Amazon a big stick.

    Until 2008, ebooks were a tiny market segment, under 1% and easily overlooked; but in 2009 ebook sales began to rise exponentially, and ebooks now account for over 20% of all fiction sales. In some areas ebooks are up to 40% of the market and rising rapidly. (I am not making that last figure up: I'm speaking from my own sales figures.) And Amazon have got 80% of the ebook retail market ... the Big Six's pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder. DRM on ebooks gives Amazon a great tool for locking ebook customers into the Kindle platform.

    But what's a publisher to do?

    A back-channel discussion started brewing around Stross' post, and suggestions of cutting Amazon out of the equation cropped up as a possible solution to its growing hold on the market. Kassia Krozser, owner of, made a salient point (included here with permission):

    Many in the industry see Amazon as a threat (rightly so, in some regards). However, trying to cut Amazon out of the ebook equation means cutting a large readership out of the equation.

    One thing we know with absolute certainty about the ebook market is that we do not have a clue how large it is. If you only factor major US publishers into the mix, you get one set of data points. If you factor the entire ebook publishing spectrum into the mix, the numbers relating to market share will look very different — perhaps a bit broader than we'd expect, despite the fact that Amazon would still dominate.

    I pay close attention to authors who discuss their digital sales, and while they give mad props to various retailers, they consistently cite Amazon as their largest, most consistent source of sales. Leaving Amazon "out" means leaving a large and growing number of readers out (based on recent press releases from Amazon — sans real numbers, of course ... but nobody gives up real numbers). Put another way, it means leaving a large percentage of sales on the table. I'm fairly certain this is not the goal of authors and publishers.

    Stross' point that Amazon is doing very well at locking readers into its platform can't be denied, but its distribution reach also can't be denied. This begs a couple of questions: Could publishers quit Amazon — all of it — cold turkey? If not, how can publishers take advantage of Amazon's platforms without being undermined by them?

    I invited Krozser to open the discussion with her response.

    Kassia Krozser: Last week's rather confusing co-op story — in which Amazon is apparently demanding higher amounts for (digital) co-op and publisher-generated media — highlighted a fundamental truth: all is not fair in love and business. Like its bricks and mortar relatives before it, Amazon will squeeze vendors as much as possible.

    But that is pretty much beside the point. Amazon's consumer base is too large for publishers to play serious hardball — readers have too many options for publishers to lock themselves out of the Amazon readership. And, frankly, it is the policies of many publishers that have led us to what I like to call retailer lock-in.

    As a Kindle owner (happy, happy Kindle owner, I will note), it is near impossible for me to patronize other retailers because publishers insist on DRM. Amazon chose its own DRM flavor. As do other major retailers. Cross-compatibility is a fantasy for readers. I love publishers who eschew DRM (and I'd love a serious study that compares pirating of DRM-only versus DRM-free publishers ... something tells me those numbers are very interesting). Without DRM, I can buy from non-Amazon retailers. With DRM, I am stuck.

    So, how not to be undermined by Amazon? Give consumers options. Policies that lock readers into a retailer don't help create a diverse marketplace. This is in the control of publishers.

    That's Krozser's take. What's yours? Please weigh in through the comments.

    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


    December 01 2011

    October 10 2011

    Addressing the state of econtent

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

    Like so many other European countries, Spain still hasn't seen the significant rise in ebook sales like we've experienced in the U.S. But due to the fact that the country has such a high percentage of mobile device owners and the bias toward print seems to be changing, it may not be long before ebooks represent a significant portion of overall sales. Dosdoce Digital Culture's CEO Javier Celaya (@javiercelaya) recently met with me to discuss the state of econtent and what's likely to impact the future. Some of Celaya's more noteworthy points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Ebooks currently represent about 3% of total sales: This is rapidly changing, though, and some publishers are claiming as much as 5% of their sales come from ebooks. Javier sees this climbing all the way to 10% in 2012. [Discussed at the 2:35 mark]
    • Tablets versus dedicated ereading devices: The percentage of heavy readers in Spain is rather low compared to other countries. As a result, single-purpose devices, particularly ones dedicated to reading, aren't likely to be successful. Multi-function tablets are already popular in Spain and likely to be the preferred ereading platform. [Discussed at 7:30]
    • Amazon will have a major advantage, despite the fixed-price restrictions: It all comes down to service, where Amazon has plenty of experience to leverage. [Discussed at 14:00]
    • iPad will remain strong but iBookstore, not so much: Although Apple's devices will be popular for content consumption, most of that content will likely be bought from other retailers, not the iBookstore. [Discussed at 16:45]
    • Support for DRM is shifting: Even some larger publishers are starting to offer portions of their lists without DRM, mostly at the request of their authors. [Discussed at 20:30]
    • The advantages of direct sales go well beyond the obvious income boost: It's also about the customer knowledge you'll gather, and more importantly, what you do with that knowledge. [Discussed at 22:20]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.


    October 07 2011

    Mindset over matter

    The challenges publishers face today trying to transform a centuries-old industry into (arguably) an almost completely new business traverse every sector of the industry. Beyond all the challenges with technology and changing business landscapes, however, lies the root problem with the transition to digital: publishers' mindset, says Timo Boezeman (@boezeman), digital publisher and non-fiction editor for A.W. Bruna Publishers and a speaker at TOC Frankfurt. In the following interview, Boezeman addresses issues of territorial rights, technological opportunities and DRM, but says publishers must first accept that "change is a must."

    What is the largest hurdle publishers must overcome in the transition to digital?

    timo-boezeman.jpgTimo Boezeman: The largest hurdle in the transition is the mindset. Publishing is one of the oldest industries around and now has to deal with a transition from analog to digital at a speed that is at least twice as fast as the music industry faced. What I see around me in the Netherlands — and I don't know if this is or was the same in the US — is that the publishers don't want to learn from the mistakes made by the music industry, and they make every mistake all over again: DRM, high pricing, not enough titles available, technical difficulties due to the different readers and types of ebooks, etc. If they would just see that the world is changing rapidly, that digital will be bigger than analog soon, and that change is a must, it would help us all — including consumers.

    What are some of the global obstacles to digital innovation in regard to DRM?

    Timo Boezeman: This is a difficult question. In the US and the UK, you have closed ecosystems like Amazon, Google, B&N, and iBookstore. In the Netherlands, we don't; none of these players are here yet. Right now, we have one file type: EPUB, which is supported by all the ereaders — including the iPad — available here and by all the ebook retailers. Most publishers use DRM to protect their titles, though this is easy to get around if you want to. The ebook price is generally about 75% of the hardcover price; the price of paper books is set by the publisher over here — by law — and can't be altered by retailers. This results, for now, in ebook retailers not lowering the prices of ebooks, even though it is allowed — the fixed price is only for paper books. It also results in consumers saying ebooks are too expensive.

    To come back to my comparison with the US: if we had an Amazon — a big retailer with its own ebook format and reader — it would matter less if the system had DRM or not. But in our situation, there are several issues: first, getting an ebook on an ereader; second, reading it — you need to register with Adobe to use the DRM'd ebooks on some readers and tablets; and, lastly, switching between retailers and/or devices.

    TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

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    How will cloud technology affect digital publishing going forward?

    Timo Boezeman: Cloud technology is something I believe in very much, but it is a difficult topic because of the mindset. This technology will support reading because if books are in the cloud, you can also let readers read them by subscription instead of buying them one by one, like Spotify with music or like 24Symbols already is doing with books. And indeed, one step further, you've got the potential for books as browser URLs, which HTML5 will make possible. This offers other advantages — you don't have to program for specific operating systems, for example. The biggest challenge in this, however — just as with music — is the money that can be made. Spotify shows that money can be made, but that it is still a very low profit margin. Should we see this as "better than nothing" because otherwise it would be missed income or illegally downloaded? Or as "the start of something more" — growing revenues, maybe even a change in the mindset of consumers that content is worth paying for, so prices eventually will rise again?

    What do you think is more important, access or ownership?

    Timo Boezeman: Both, because I believe in what I call "tastes." You should provide a different taste for each consumer. There will always, or at least for decades to come, be people who want paper books. Maybe their demands will rise — higher quality, full color, etc. — but paper will be here for some time. Then you have people who read digital books, but they want to own their content. And last, you have people who don't want or have the need to own digital content, but want access to it when they want, how they want and on the device they choose. But if you put everything in perspective, I would say that access is a trend coming to the book industry, which until now has been ruled by ownership.

    Will we eventually see an end to territorial rights?

    Timo Boezeman: In the way they are arranged now, yes. One other thing that has to change in the mindset of the publishing industry is to start thinking of the consumer first — not of the bookstore or retailer you want to sell your books to, but the end user of your product. Do they benefit from territorial rights? No. They only suffer from it — it means that titles are not available everywhere at the same moment. Which, when the interest in a title is high, only encourages piracy. Just look at the film industry for examples. But that doesn't mean those rights have no reason to exist; it means that along with rights, there also must be thought of the consumer. And this is all for the good of the publishing industry because we all want consumers who like our products to pay for them, don't we?

    This interview was edited and condensed.

    Associated photo on home and category pages: Men with printing press, circa 1930s by Seattle Municipal Archives, on Flickr


    July 01 2011

    Radar's top stories: June 27-July 1, 2011

    Here's a look at the top stories published on Radar this week.

    Get started with Hadoop
    Focusing on the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) and MapReduce, this in-depth piece offers tips for organizations that are looking to evaluate Hadoop and deploy an initial cluster.
    Clojure: Lisp meets Java, with a side of Erlang
    Stuart Sierra digs into Clojure: what it is, how it works, and why it's attracting Java developers.
    Two lessons from Pottermore: Direct sales and no DRM
    It's not surprising that J.K. Rowing is forging ahead with a well thought-out direct sales plan for Harry Potter ebooks, but it's a shock that publishers aren't doing the same things for their titles.
    What CouchDB can do for HTML5, web apps and mobile
    Bradley Holt talks about what CouchDB offers web developers, how the database works with HTML5, and why CouchApps could catch on.
    How Netflix handles all those devices
    Matt McCarthy explains how WebKit and A/B testing play important roles on Netflix's many apps. Plus: Platform lessons Netflix has learned that apply to other developers and companies.

    OSCON Java 2011, being held July 25-27 in Portland, Ore., is focused on open source technologies that make up the Java ecosystem. Save 20% on registration with the code OS11RAD

    June 29 2011

    Two lessons from Pottermore: Direct sales and no DRM

    This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("Harry Potter and the Direct, DRM-Free Sale"). It's republished with permission.

    PottermoreIt took her a while, but J.K. Rowling now apparently believes in the future of ebooks. Last week's Pottermore announcement featured two important publishing elements: a direct sales model and a lack of DRM.

    Harry Potter is one of those unique brands that dwarfs everything associated with it. Most Potter fans can name the author but few could tell you the publisher without looking at the book's spine. Although that's often true with other novels, Harry Potter is much more than a series of books or movies. It's an experience, or so I'm told. (I'm not a fan, have never read any of the books or seen any of the movies, but my house is filled with plenty of diehards who have told me everything I need to know.)

    Rowling realizes the strength of her brand and knows she can use it to establish direct relationships with her fans. And so via Pottermore, the author doesn't need any of the big names in ebook retailing. Why settle for a 20% royalty or a 70% cut of the top-line sale when you can keep 100% of it? And why only offer one format when some portion of your audience wants MOBI for the Kindle, others want EPUB for their Apple/Sony devices, and maybe a few more would prefer a simple PDF?

    It's not surprising that J.K. Rowing is forging ahead with a well thought-out direct sales plan. What blows my mind is that more publishers aren't doing the same. Sure, you'll find publisher websites selling PDFs. Some even offer other formats. But rarely do you find a publisher's website with all the popular ebook formats. Regardless of what type of device you have, it sounds like you'll be able to purchase a Harry Potter ebook for it on Pottermore. I hope they take the extra step and include all the formats in one transaction like we do on

    The other smart move by Rowling is the exclusion of DRM from Pottermore ebooks. Here's an important question for authors and publishers everywhere: If Harry Potter doesn't need DRM, why does your book?! If you ditch DRM you'll be able to offer all the formats. You'll show your customers you trust them and you'll also make it far easier for them to actually use your content.

    TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

    Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR


    May 19 2011

    A premium layer for web-based content

    ValoBoxLogo.pngThe co-founders of CompletelyNovel, Anna Lewis (@anna_cn) and Oliver Brooks (@cn_oli), have a new startup brewing. ValoBox, which is gearing up for private beta, will allow readers to consume books any way they want — they can buy pages, chunks, or entire books. Readers can also earn a 25% cut of sales by sharing and embedding books on blogs or Twitter.

    Lewis and Brooks discuss the inner workings of ValoBox in the following interview.

    (ValoBox will also be featured in the first TOC Sneak Peak webcast on May 31.)

    What are some of the major issues with web-based content?

    Anna LewisAnna Lewis: We're looking at the issues around premium content on the web. By premium content I mean quality media that people are willing to pay for — books feature prominently in this category. It's a bit cheesy, but I would summarize those issues as "hoops, headaches and hangovers."

    A major issue with premium content is the number of hoops we currently have to jump through to get it. It is often tucked away behind a checkout process on a separate e-commerce site or a subscription paywall. This is enough to make casual web users run for the hills.

    If you do stick it out, then you are rewarded with a product that can be a real headache. Best case scenario, you get to a web article or a fairly standard file, such as a PDF. In the worst case, it is an obscure file type restricted by DRM. All the downloads require special software to open, which you might not have.

    After you've bought from a few places, the hangover kicks in. You are juggling different logins, files, licences, and software sprawled across your devices.

    How will ValoBox overcome these sorts of barriers?

    Oliver BrooksOliver Brooks: We think of ValoBox as a premium content layer for the web. Rather than pulling users away to a different platform or website, ValoBox sits comfortably on top of communities of users who want to interact with that content on their own networks.

    To enable integration with the web, ValoBox's content and the delivery system are designed to web standards. ValoBox content can be embedded in any forum, website, or blog, or shared in any Twitter or Facebook feed. To reduce other barriers to access, we have created a pay-as-you-go system. This makes the "shall I buy it?" decision much easier. Anything spent is taken off the cost of purchasing the whole book, so there's very little risk. My favorite thing about this is that premium content can be linked to and accessed easily, so that fluid web browsing experience is not interrupted.

    Once the content is accessible, we can start to do some really cool things with the community surrounding it. ValoBox will reward every member of the content community who shares books with 25% of any sales that occur from those shares. Sharing can be as simple as tweeting a link or embedding in a site, or, for developers, integrating the content with web and phone apps.

    How will ValoBox work? Can readers move something like a Kindle book into the system?

    Anna Lewis: It's probably easiest to throw out an example. Let's say you are a publisher and you load up one of your titles to ValoBox. The ValoBox book is in the form of what I tend to call a super-widget — it's an embeddable reading application that you can place on any website, which will not only let customers start reading without leaving the page, it will let them purchase, too.

    So, a customer, "John," comes along to one of your titles and starts reading. John decides to write a blog post about that title. He can embed the book on his blog and link to specific pages in the book that he identifies as useful for his audience.

    Another reader, "Jane," starts reading John's blog and she jumps straight to the pages that John has blogged about. If she likes what she sees, she can pay for more pages, or the rest of the book. John's opinion is clearly valued, so he will get a 25% cut of any sales to Jane, or anyone else who accesses the book through his blog.

    Oliver Brooks: In terms of moving content between platforms or formats — such as moving a Kindle book into ValoBox — we have the philosophy that once a book is paid for, the customer should be able to get it on any platform they want. We have plans on how we can make this work, but it will depend on the publishers' wishes.

    When will ValoBox launch?

    Oliver Brooks: We will be launching a private beta in June, when we will invite publishers and lead users to test the platform. We will use that opportunity to load more content, polish the interface, and take on board views that will help us get a great user experience. We're planning a full public launch in autumn.

    What inspired ValoBox?

    Anna Lewis: I've been to publishing events where people in the trade have — only half joking — said that they don't care if people read their books, they just care that they buy them. That kind of attitude can't last when there are so many things competing for people's attention. We want to give the best choice to customers and help publishers learn which bits of their books and communities are most valuable.

    Oliver Brooks: ValoBox is a result of us, as web enthusiasts, working in book technology for three years. We've done a lot of thinking and experimenting, and talked to many people working in the publishing and tech industries. We have a strong aversion to the closed, proprietary form that ebooks have taken. However, as we run a book publishing service, we have also seen the requirement for effective monetization. I hope ValoBox will help provide the infrastructure for the content community to innovate, and ensure that premium content producers and their communities are supported.

    This interview was edited and condensed


    May 12 2011

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