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March 21 2012

No more book app sifting: PlayTales designed its bookstore within an app

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

A quick look at the bestsellers on the iPad indicates that kids books are a hot area. PlayTales is one of the leaders in this space, and I recently got to speak with their marketing and PR manager, Anna Abraham. If you're not familiar with PlayTales, you'll want to check out their free bookstore iPad app in iTunes. In this interview, Abraham talks about what makes PlayTales unique and describes how they've embraced the opportunities in children's ebook publishing.

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

  • It all starts with discoverability — PlayTales is a store within an app. It's a one-stop option for parents, which helps them avoid the frustration of sifting through the app store. [Discussed at the 1:00 mark.]
  • Going beyond a single platform — Most publishers in this space are focused on iOS and little else. While the iPad is the dominant tablet platform (for now, at least), PlayTales is wisely investing in other platforms as well. [Discussed at 2:01.]
  • Most of their content is digital-first — Repurposing is tempting, but as PlayTales has found, a digital end-product is often best started from scratch. This approach also helps avoid some of the licensing and rights pitfalls that can come from reuse, especially when that existing content was contracted in the pre-digital era. [Discussed at 2:54.]
  • Exclusive vs. non-exclusive — You might be surprised to hear that PlayTales contracts with their authors on a non-exclusive basis. They believe they can earn an author's loyalty by being a great publishing partner. What a concept! [Discussed at 3:35.]
  • Impressive stats — With approximately 1.5 million book reads per month and 3-5K new downloads per day, PlayTales is already reaching a sizable audience. More importantly, approximately 19% of the people who download the free app become paying customers as well. [Discussed at 4:20.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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February 09 2011

Four short links: 9 February 2011

  1. isotope -- dazzling Javascript library.
  2. Designs, Lessons, and Advice from Building Large Distributed Systems (Slideshare) -- in the words of Matt Webb, through whom I found it, There's a lovely collection of numbers from Jeff Dean at Google, about how long common computer processor and network operations take. [...] What makes this more human is this comparison, which reveals a little bit about computer time: your equivalent to a computer looking up data from a chip is remembering a fact from your own brain. Your equivalent to a computer looking up data from a disk is fetching that fact from Pluto. Computers live in a world of commonplace interactions not the size of a house, like us, but the Solar System. On their own terms, they are long, long lived, and vast.. (via Matt Webb)
  3. Amazon Selling More Kindle Books Than Paperbacks (New Scientist) -- Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the Company has sold 115 Kindle books. Additionally, during this same time period the company has sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books. (via Brad DeLong)
  4. The AOL Way -- the leaked business plan for AOL's content farms. I was fascinated by how big companies plan, but this is yet more sausage best made unseen. Most sausagey for me was Slide 33 showing the fantasy: a story suggested by high searches and advertising possibilities, with heavily "SEO optimized" text. (via Chris Heathcote on Delicious)

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January 31 2011

Four short links: 31 January 2011

  1. BBC Web Cuts Show Wider Disconnect (The Guardian) -- I forget that most people still think of the web as a secondary add-on to the traditional way of doing things rather than as the new way. Interesting article which brings home the point in the context of the BBC, but you can tell the same story in almost any business.
  2. 40p Off a Latte (Chris Heathcote) -- One of the bits I enjoyed the most was unpacking the old ubiquitous computing cliche of your phone vibrating with a coupon off a latte when walking past a Starbucks. This whole presentation is brilliant. I'm still zinging off how data can displace actions in time and space: what you buy today on Amazon will trigger a recommendation later for someone else.
  3. Long-Form Reporting Finds Commercial Hope in E-Books -- ProPublica and New York Times have launched long-form reporting in Kindle Singles, Amazon's format for 5k-30k word pieces. On Thursday, he told me his job involved asking the question, “How do you monetize the content when it is not news anymore?” Repackaging and updating the paper’s coverage of specific topics is a common answer.
  4. Why You Should Never Search for Free Wordpress Themes in Google or Anywhere Else -- short answer: free themes are full of SEO rubbish or worse. Every hit on your site boosts someone else's penis pills site, and runs the risk that search engines will decide your site is itself spam.

January 17 2011

Four short links: 17 January 2011

  1. Remove DRM from EBooks -- it's been done, and the tools are getting easier to use. The Kindle DRM-remover uses gdb to hook into the Kindle for Mac application, watch when a book's decoded and snaffle the key. (via BoingBoing)
  2. AliBaba's Data Possibilities (The Economist) -- Alibaba has a huge and barely exploited asset: the data it has gathered on the spending habits of China’s emerging middle class. The firm is cagey about what, exactly, it will do with these data, and insists that it will not violate anyone’s privacy. Nonetheless, there are ways in which Alibaba could profit from what it knows. One idea might be to use customer data to identify trends and so help companies to anticipate what consumers want. Given the paucity of accurate data in China, this would be extremely valuable.
  3. Agency Pricing -- Under agency pricing, the publisher controls the price and the retailer is not allowed to discount [...] under Agency Pricing and with a reduced sales price of $9.99, the agency publishers are making the same amount of money as its hardcover revenue. (via Hacker News)
  4. Google Translate for Conversations -- Because this technology is still in alpha, factors like regional accents, background noise or rapid speech may make it difficult to understand what you’re saying. As Douglas Adams said, by allowing everyone to understand each other, the babel fish has caused more wars than anything else in the universe.

December 06 2010

TOC hosting publishing startup showcase

This year at TOC, we're hosting our first ever Publishing Startup Showcase. Highlighting the startup ecosystem's creativity and variety, the Showcase will give you a chance to get your company in front of a global community of leaders in the publishing and technology industries -- as well as potential investors.

On Tuesday evening, February 15th, we'll have approximately 20 publishing and publishing-related startups demoing in one large room. If your company is chosen to participate, we'll provide you with a small table and room for two people to demo -- you'll bring a laptop (or two) and a founder (or two).

TOC attendees and a panel of judges from the investor community will have 50 minutes to visit the demos and listen to your pitches. We'll sound a chime every five minutes, letting people know it's time to circulate. As they walk around, attendees will vote on their favorite demos. At the end of the hour, the judges will announce their top picks, along with the audience favorite. These winning startups will then each give a pitch and have an on-stage conversation with the judges.

Here's what we're looking for:

  • Relatively young publishing (and publishing-related) startups that aren't drowning in investment (yet)
  • Companies incorporating new technologies and/or innovative business models in their approach to publishing.

If you're selected:

  • You'll supply your own laptop for the demos (we won't provide power, so we recommend bringing two laptops)
  • Wireless Internet access will be available, so web-based demos are okay.
  • You'll bring a maximum of two people (at least one of whom must be a founder or C-level equivalent)
  • The week prior to the event, you'll supply us with a presentation of 2-4 slides that includes screenshots for your onstage pitch in case you are selected
  • You'll receive a complementary TOC Day Pass that will get you into all of Tuesday's keynotes, sessions, and events.
  • Submit your proposal by Jan. 10, 2011.

    November 19 2010

    Bookish Techy Week in Review

    In bookish-techy news this week:

    Tim Berners-Lee defends the web

    From Scientific American:

    A neutral communications medium is the basis of a fair, competitive market economy, of democracy, and of science. Debate has risen again in the past year about whether government legislation is needed to protect net neutrality. It is. Although the Internet and Web generally thrive on lack of regulation, some basic values have to be legally preserved.

    Amazon continues quest to dominate the world by innovating and making customers happy

    • Amazon Kindle tops Consumer Reports ratings.
    • Amazon acquires Toby Press literary fiction list.
    • Amazon gives the gift of gifting Kindle books.
    • Copyright-challenged Cooks Source calls it a day

      From Techland:

      Whether or not the intentions of the angry Internet mob was to tear down a local publication or not, the Cooks Source Magazine controversy has forced the magazine to fold. In an interview with the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Griggs tells the reporter that the free magazine is done for. The November 2010 issue will be the last publication. "The name is compromised, big time," Griggs said.

      paidContent urges media industries to create their own disruption

      From paidContent:

      It is now clear that the same digitization process will eventually transform all industries, that companies lose control of their customers when new technology enables them to interact with products...You may well have heard it before, but to respond to disruption you really need to become your own disruption. To do this you need to identify the disruption that needs harnessing (like banks did with telephone banking) not just fight it (like the music industry did with file sharing).

      Hachette Livre moves forward with Google

      From The Bookseller:

      Hachette Livre has come to an agreement with Google that will see the giant search engine digitise the publisher's out of print books in France, bringing to an end a long-running dispute stemming from Google's vast book digitisation project. The deal will now be subject to six months 'fine-tuning', and will also be made available to other French publishers.

      Indie press Gaspereau partners with D+M to deliver "The Sentimentalists" to the masses.

      From Quill and Quire:

      When asked if he is afraid of letting down Gaspereau partisans, who championed the company's right to release the now much in-demand title at their own slow-and-steady pace, Steeves doesn't miss a beat. "We have stuck to our guns," he says. "We've picked partners that fit our philosophy, [who do] creative and original works. The most important principle here is to serve the text and to serve the author, and that's what we've done. [D&M] is going to take good care of Johanna and get a quality edition out there. That's all that matters."

      Agent Ari Emanuel ready to disintermediate publishing

      From paidContent:

      "I definitely don't think i have to go to Knopf. I don't think I have to go to Simon & Schuster for the book business. So I think that's going to be a very contentious conversation," he said. "They might just get hardcover (rights), but I don't know yet."

      Got news?

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

      September 08 2010

      O'Reilly ebook bundles now include DAISY talking book format

      For years we've supplied our digital files to Bookshare, a non-profit that provides accessible reading material to the print disabled. For qualifying readers, our books are made available worldwide, and we've really enjoyed working with Jim Fruchterman and the Bookshare team along the way (I'm also on their Advisory Board).

      Although the DRM-free EPUB files in our ebook bundles are compatible with many reading systems for print disabled customers, many readers prefer the DAISY format that Bookshare provides, and either don't qualify for access via Bookshare, or would prefer to pay for the ebooks. Through a collaboration with Bookshare, today we've started making DAISY files available within our ebook bundles on for more than 800 titles. If you've already bought an ebook, you can find the DAISY files on your account page at or on a mobile device.

      Our mission at O'Reilly is to change the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators, and making our books available in accessible DAISY format helps us accomplish that mission.

      There's more details on the DAISY format from the DAISY Consortium, including a list of software and hardware reading systems.

      August 26 2010

      June 30 2010

      Four short links: 30 June 2010

      1. Publishers Who Don't Know History ... (Cory Ondrejka) -- interesting thoughts on publishing. Friends share, borrow, and recommend books. Currently, publishers are generally being stupid about this.
      2. Regulating Distributed Work -- should Mechanical Turk and so on have specific labour laws? This is the case in favour.
      3. We Are What We Choose -- Jeff Bezos's graduation speech to Princeton's Class of 2010. Well worth reading.
      4. The Velluvial Matrix (New Yorker) -- Atul Gawande's graduation speech to Stanford's School of Medicine. The truth is that the volume and complexity of the knowledge that we need to master has grown exponentially beyond our capacity as individuals. Worse, the fear is that the knowledge has grown beyond our capacity as a society. When we talk about the uncontrollable explosion in the costs of health care in America, for instance—about the reality that we in medicine are gradually bankrupting the country—we’re not talking about a problem rooted in economics. We’re talking about a problem rooted in scientific complexity. (via agpublic on Twitter)

      March 10 2010

      Four short links: 10 March 2010

      1. The Future of Book Publishing Business Models (Stephen Walli) -- some good thoughts about the book publishing industry and ebooks. When does Amazon create the iPhone/Android app and the programme that will allow bookstores to receive a cut of every Kindle edition they sell? I scan the book's in-store barcode with my smartphone, and I get the Kindle edition delivered, and the store gets its cut. Why is this different in concept than Borders on-line store being run on Amazon, or any of the independent book sellers that front through Amazon? It's not the normal book mark-up, but people already browse bookstores and buy on Amazon. This is better than no revenue. (When was the last time you went to a travel agent?)
      2. Google Apps Enterprise Marketplace -- this is sweet. It looks like the play is to become the home page for authenticated apps rather than to make commissions from selling the apps themselves. This may be the Google business model vs the Apple business model in a nutshell. (via Marc Hedlund)
      3. iPad Application Design -- some fantastic notes about the kinds of UI design that iPad encourages. I've avoided covering The Second Coming of The JesusPhone but this is interesting because of the middle ground it stakes out between phone and laptop. The primary warning about designing for the iPad is: more screen space doesn’t mean more UI. You’ll be tempted to violate that principle, and you need to resist the temptation. It’s OK to have UI available to cover your app’s functionality, but a bigger screen doesn’t mean it should all be visible at once. Hide configuration UI until needed. Look like a viewer, and behave like an editor ... There’s been a history of modes getting some bad press on the desktop. The issue is that they trade stability (things always being in exactly the same place in the UI, and not changing) for simplicity (not having too many controls to look through at once). On the iPad, it’s clear where the winning side of the balance is: simplicity. Modes are completely appropriate on this device. (via Marc Hedlund)
      4. The Howtoons Visual Creation Guide -- we teach grammar and spelling in schools but not visual communication. This short booklet is a good start to remedying that. (via BoingBoing)

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