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April 13 2012

The sorry state of ebook samples, and four ways to improve them

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("Rethinking Samples"). This version has been lightly edited.

I'm bored with ebook samples. I feel like I'm collecting a bunch and then forgetting about most of them. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone, and I'm even more certain this adds up to a ton of missed sales opportunities. Although this would be impossible to prove, my gut tells me the revenue missed by not converting samples into sales is a much larger figure than the revenue lost to piracy. And yet, the publishing industry spends a small fortune every year in DRM, but treats samples as an afterthought.

Think about it. Someone who pulls down a sample is already interested in your product. They're asking you to win them over with the material you provide. Far too often, though, that material is nothing more than the front matter and a few pages of the first chapter. Some of the samples I've downloaded don't even go past the front matter. I'm looking for something more.

Let's start with the index. Would it really be that hard to add the index to ebook samples? No. And yet, I've never seen a sample with the index included. Sure, many of these books have indexes that can be viewed separately on the ebook's catalog page, but why not include them in the sample? Give me a sense of what amount of coverage I can expect on every topic right there in the sample.

How about taking it up a notch? Give me the first X pages of the full content, include the entire index at the end, and in between include the rest of the book but have every other word or two X'd out? That way I can flip through the entire book and get a better sense of how extensively each topic is covered. By the way, if the entire book is included like this, then the index can include links back to the pages they reference.

Next up, why do I have to search and retrieve samples? Why can't they be configured to automatically come to me? After a while a retailer should be able to figure out a customer's interests. So why not let that customer opt in to auto sample delivery of ebooks that match their interests? I love baseball. Send me the samples of every new baseball book that comes out. I've got plenty of memory available in my ereader, and I can delete any samples I don't want. Also, I've mentioned this before, but it's worth saying again: How about letting me subscribe to samples from specific authors? Again, it would be an opt-in program, but I wonder how many interesting books I've missed because I didn't discover the sample.

Finally, this problem doesn't appear until after the sample is converted into a sale, but why can't the newly downloaded ebook open up to where I left off in the sample? Seriously, this has got to be one of the easiest annoyances to fix, so why hasn't anyone taken the time to do so?

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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April 10 2012

Four short links: 9 April 2012

  1. E-Reading/E-Books Data (Luke Wroblewski) -- This past January, paperbacks outsold e-books by less than 6 million units; if e-book market growth continues, it will have far outpaced paperbacks to become the number-one category for U.S. publishers. Combine that with only 21% of American adults having read a ebook, the signs are there that readers of ebooks buy many more books.
  2. Web 2.0 Ends with Data Monopolies (Bryce Roberts) -- in the context of Google Googles: So you’re able to track every website someone sees, every conversation they have, every Ukulele book they purchase and you’re not thinking about business models, eh? Bryce is looking at online businesses as increasingly about exclusive access to data. This is all to feed the advertising behemoth.
  3. Building and Implementing Single Sign On -- nice run-through of the system changes and APIs they built for single-sign on.
  4. How Big are Porn Site (ExtremeTech) -- porn sites cope with astronomical amounts of data. The only sites that really come close in term of raw bandwidth are YouTube or Hulu, but even then YouPorn is something like six times larger than Hulu.

April 06 2012

Four short links: 6 April 2012

  1. FBI Uses Agile (Information Week) -- The FBI awarded the original contract for the case management system to Lockheed Martin in 2006, but an impatient Fulgham, who was hired in 2008 to get the project on track, decided to bring it in house in September 2010. Since then, the agency has been using agile development to push the frequently delayed project across the finish line. The FBI's agile team creates a software build every two weeks, and the pre-launch system is now running Build 33. The agency is working on Build 36, comprised mainly of features that weren't part of the original RFP. Fulgham says the software is essentially done.
  2. Lucky Meat (Matt Webb) -- the man is a mad genius. If you believe "mad" and "genius" are opposite ends of a single dimension, then I will let you choose where to place this post on that continuum. Then when you choose your tea (or coffee), the liquid is shot as if through the barrel of a gun BANG directly at your face. We use facial recognition computer chips or something for this. It blasts, and splashes, as hard and fierce as possible. And then the tea (or coffee) is runs down the inside slope of the "V" and is channeled in and falls eventually into a cup at the bottom apex where it finally drips in. Then you have your drink. (But you don't need it, because you're already awake.)
  3. Quietly Awesome -- how are your hiring processes biased towards extroverts? See also I don't hire unlucky people.
  4. How We Will Read (Clive Thompson) -- Clive is my hero. I feel like we see all these articles that say, “This is what the e-book is,” and my response is always, “We have no idea what the e-book is like!” All these design things have yet to be solved and even thought about, and we have history of being really really good at figuring this out. If you think about the origins of the codex — first we started reading on scrolls. Scrolls just pile up, though. You can’t really organize them. Codexes made it easier to line them up on a shelf. But it also meant there were pages. It didn’t occur to them for some time to have page numbers, because the whole idea was that you only read a small number of books and you were going to read them over and over and over again. Once there were so many books that you were going to read a book once and maybe never again, it actually became important to consult the book and be able to find something inside it. So page numbers and indices became important. We look at books and we’re like, “They’re so well designed,” but it took centuries for them to become well-designed. So you look at e-books, and yeah, they’re alright, but they’re clearly horrible compared to what they’re going to be. I find it amazing that I can get this much pleasure out of them already. AMEN!

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.

April 03 2012

March 28 2012

Context matters: Search can't replace a high-quality index

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


I've never consulted an index in an ebook. From a digital content point of view, indexes seem to be an unnecessary relic of the print world. The problem with my logic is that I'm thinking of simply dropping a print index into an ebook, and that's as shortsighted as thinking the future of ebooks in general is nothing more than quick-and-dirty conversions of print books. In this TOC podcast interview, Kevin Broccoli, CEO of BIM Publishing Services, talks about how indexes can and should evolve in the digital world.

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

  • Why bother with e-indexes? — Searching for raw text strings completely removes context, which is one of the most valuable attributes of a good index. [Discussed at the 1:05 mark.]
  • Index mashups are part of the future — In the digital world you should be able to combine indexes from books on common topics in your library. That's exactly what IndexMasher sets out to do. [Discussed at 3:37.]
  • Indexes with links — It seems simple but almost nobody is doing it. And as Kevin notes, wouldn't it be nice for ebook retailers to offer something like this as part of the browsing experience? [Discussed at 6:24.]
  • Index as cross-selling tool — The index mashup could be designed to show live links to content you own but also include entries without links to content in ebooks you don't own. Those entries could offer a way to quickly buy the other books, right from within the index. [Discussed at 7:28.]
  • Making indexes more dynamic — The entry for "Anderson, Chris" in the "Poke The Box" index on IndexMasher shows a simple step in this direction by integrating a Google and Amazon search into the index. [Discussed at 9:42.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

Mini TOC Chicago — Being held April 9, Mini TOC Chicago is a one-day event focusing on Chicago's thriving publishing, tech, and bookish-arts community.

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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.

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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March 16 2012

Top Stories: March 12-16, 2012

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

Understanding place and space in a digital Babel
Computational linguist Robert Munro says the subtleties of spatial distinctions are growing in importance as more of the world's digital information takes the form of non-English, unstructured text.

When game development met Kickstarter
Several game developers have decided that game funding and Kickstarter are two great tastes that taste great together.

The state of ebook pricing
Joe Wikert looks at the agency model, efficiencies, fixed pricing and other major trends that will drive ebook pricing in the months ahead.

Foxconn and Ford, Emerson and Jobs
Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay on "Compensation" was a source of inspiration for Henry Ford. It also affirms some of the cosmic truths Steve Jobs held dear.

Three of our best data interviews from Strata CA 12
Featuring: Hadoop creator Doug Cutting on the similarities between Linux and the big data world, Max Gadney from After the Flood explains the benefits of video data graphics, and Kaggle's Jeremy Howard looks at the difference between big data and analytics.


Where Conference 2012 is where the people working on and using location technologies explore emerging trends in software development, tools, business strategies and marketing. Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20.

March 14 2012

The state of ebook pricing

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("iBooks Author: Appreciating Apple's Intent"). It's republished with permission.

With all the buzz about the agency model, the Justice Department, allegations of collusion, etc., I figure the time is right for a post about ebook pricing. Here are some quick thoughts as both a consumer and a publisher:

Eliminating waste is always a good thing — Walmart has mastered this for years. They squeeze every bit of waste out of the supply chain and generally end up with the lowest prices. I'm a frequent Walmart customer, and I greatly appreciate this. In fact, the only people who don't like this are (a) other retailers who can't match those prices and (b) ecosystem players who are part of the waste that's being eliminated, including suppliers.

Loss leaders are a great retail model — Selling some products at or below cost is a great way to bring customers in the door, regardless of whether that door is physical or virtual. I'm sure I've bought many cartons of milk at a loss for the retailer who made it up by selling me other items at a nice profit. It's a model that works, but have you ever seen a store that sells most of their products at a loss, every day?

Taking loss leadership to a new level — Remember when Amazon first launched the Kindle and pretty much every ebook was $9.99? It's no secret that Amazon was losing money on the majority of those sales. In fact, they still are. Prior to the agency model, Amazon was free to set whatever customer price they wanted for ebooks, even if it meant they were selling every single one of them at a loss. That brings up the razor/blades model, where it's not unusual for the razor to be sold at a loss, but the profit is made on the sale of the blades. So, if ebooks are the razors, what are the blades? The ereader device? According to iSuppli, the Kindle Fire's manufacturing cost is slightly higher than its retail price. How long can a retailer stay in business when they're losing money on both the razors and the blades? Presumably, they're making some money on other products they're selling (e.g., shoes, electronics, etc.). Perhaps. Then again, if they have deep enough pockets they can continue selling all their products at a loss until the cash dries up. In the meantime, competitors will find it difficult, if not impossible, to compete, so they'll disappear. What happens after that? Do prices remain low as products are still sold at a loss? Not if that company wants to stay in business.

The agency model prevents brand erosion — Think of the premium products you've bought or admired. Oftentimes, their prices are higher than most of the competition's. What would happen if those prices were suddenly significantly reduced? Would those products retain the full value of their premium brand? Highly unlikely. And shouldn't the owner of that brand have a say in what price is associated with it? Again, it's OK for a short-term loss-leader model, but I'm talking about selling something at or below cost for years and years, not just for a day or two. Over time, the value of that brand is affected. That's why I think publishers should definitely have the option to go with the agency model so they can manage retail prices and not let their brand lose value. By the way, consumers will ultimately vote with their wallets. If they feel the publisher's prices are too high, they'll stop buying and that publisher will either need to make adjustments or go out of business.

Fixed prices vs. price-fixing — In the U.S., we're so used to competitive retailer discounts that we're surprised to hear of the fixed price models used in other countries. For example, in Germany the price you pay for a book doesn't change from one retailer to the next. They're all required to sell them at the same price. Obviously, there's a huge difference between Germany's fixed price law and the price fixing the Justice Department is alleging. Germany's model doesn't lend itself to squeezing out waste like the U.S. model, but I'll bet it prevents one deep-pocketed retailer from putting its competitors out of business.

I don't work at a big six publisher, but I believe publishers should have the option to choose between the agency and wholesale models. The key issue though is that the Justice Department has suggested that Apple and a number of publishers colluded to keep prices high. I think this article by Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal sums it up quite nicely, particularly in the closing two paragraphs. Read that piece and ask yourself if the Justice Department's efforts will actually fix or merely add to an existing problem.

What's your opinion of the pricing questions and allegations currently facing the book publishing industry?

TOC Bologna — Being held March 18, TOC Bologna will feature sessions, demos, workshops and keynotes covering the art and business of storytelling in the digital age.

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March 12 2012

Four short links: 12 March 2012

  1. Web-Scale User Modeling for Targeting (Yahoo! Research, PDF) -- research paper that shows how online advertisers build profiles of us and what matters (e.g., ads we buy from are more important than those we simply click on). Our recent surfing patterns are more relevant than historical ones, which is another indication that value of data analytics increases the closer to real-time it happens. (via Greg Linden)
  2. Information Technology and Economic Change -- research showing that cities which adopted the printing press no prior growth advantage, but subsequently grew far faster than similar cities without printing presses. [...] The second factor behind the localisation of spillovers is intriguing given contemporary questions about the impact of information technology. The printing press made it cheaper to transmit ideas over distance, but it also fostered important face-to-face interactions. The printer’s workshop brought scholars, merchants, craftsmen, and mechanics together for the first time in a commercial environment, eroding a pre-existing “town and gown” divide.
  3. They Just Don't Get It (Cameron Neylon) -- curating access to a digital collection does not scale.
  4. Should Libraries Get Out of the Ebook Business? -- provocative thought: the ebook industry is nascent, a small number of patrons have ereaders, the technical pain of DRM and incompatible formats makes for disproportionate support costs, and there are already plenty of worthy things libraries should be doing. I only wonder how quickly the dynamics change: a minority may have dedicated ereaders but a large number have smartphones and are reading on them already.

March 07 2012

Four short links: 7 March 2012

  1. Government Agencies and Colleges Demand Applicants' Facebook Passwords (MSN) -- "Schools are in the business of educating, not spying," he added. "We don't hire private investigators to follow students wherever they go. If students say stupid things online, they should educate them ... not engage in prior restraint." Hear, hear. Reminded me of danah boyd on teen password sharing.
  2. Changing Teaching Techniques (Alison Campbell) -- higher ed is a classic failure of gamification. The degree is an extrinsic reward, so students are disengaged and treat classes like gold farming in an MMORPG: the dull slog you have to get through so you can do something fun later. Alison, by showing them a "why" that isn't "6 credits towards a degree", is helping students identify intrinsic rewards. Genius!
  3. GlueJar -- interesting pre-launch startup, basically Kickstarter to buy out authors and publishers and make books "free". We in the software world know "free" is both loaded and imprecise. Are we talking CC-BY-NC-ND, which is largely useless because any sustainable distribution will generally be a commercial activity? I look forward to watching how this develops.
  4. There Is No Simple Solution for Local Storage (Mozilla) -- excellent dissection of localStorage's inadequacies.

February 29 2012

The ebook evolution

At TOC, you're as likely to run into media professionals, entrepreneurs and innovators as you are publishers, booksellers and others working in traditional publishing. This, in turn, makes the underlying themes as varying and diverse as the attendees. This is the final piece in a series taking a look at five themes that permeated interviews, sessions and/or keynotes at this year's show. The complete series will be posted here.


Discussions about the future of digital and how ebooks and ereading may evolve permeated nearly every aspect of this year's show. From data on how readers are acquiring and consuming ebooks to genres that are working well — and those that aren't — to platform and format trends and predictions, the evolution of ebooks and ereading was probably the most pervasive of the major themes at TOC 2012.

Len Vlahos, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, and Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publishing services at RR Bowker, led the "Data for Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" session. They presented data on how consumers are adopting and consuming ebooks.

An interesting slide provided a visualization of the technology adoption curve in the U.S. between 1910 and 1999:

BISGslide1

The text may not be readable, but the message is clear — as explained in the presentation:

"The X axis is time, the Y axis is percent penetration of U.S. households. The squiggly blue line all the way to the left is the telephone. The two red lines in the middle are television and color television. You can see in the case of almost every technology, a slow ramp up, followed by explosive growth leading to almost total penetration. When utility surpasses earlier technologies and when production capacity increases and cost decreases to a sufficient point, the line curves up."

They then compared this to what is happening with ebooks. Some genres followed the exploding path while others flattened out. Fiction clearly is leading the ebook evolution at this point:

BISGSlide2

The ebook questions in 2012, they said, will include how much more growth in fiction is possible, when will the other genres get moving and what kind of role is technology actually playing in adoption. The presentation also included data about ebook power buyers, the patterns of buying in general and the roles children and youths might play in the future of ebooks.

The slides, along with a transcript of the presentation, can be found here.

Michael Tamblyn, executive vice president of content, sales and merchandising at Kobo, Inc., specifically addressed digital non-fiction — or the lack thereof — in the "Cracking the Non-fiction Code" session. Tamblyn noted that the split in fiction/non-fiction print is about 55/45, respectively, but that in digital, even after several years in, the fiction/nonfiction divide is "abysmal":

TamblynSlide1

Tamblyn talked about the reasons behind the discrepancy and looked at the percent to which digital over or under indexes print consumption:

TamblynSlide2

Looking at the reasons behind the inequalities, Tamblyn said there are some commonsense reasons — the gift economy around children's books, for example, skews toward physical, print books, as do juvenile categories in libraries — but that there are other reasons why genres such as travel, reference and cooking are indexing more toward print than digital. These publishing areas, for instance, have the added component of free online competitors, such as TripAdvisor.com and AllRecipes.com.

He highlighted the non-fiction pricing versus unit sales, which indicates that, so far, "digital non-fiction is a backlist business, to a degree far greater than what we see on the fiction side":

TamblynSlide3

Tamblyn said he's been encouraging publishers "to start digging into that backlist non-fiction catalog, get more of those title made more quickly ... get those rights cleared and get those books out — they have a longer life than you may think."

He also said there are great opportunities around the gift economy in children's books — that the gifts are shifting from physical books to reading devices, indicating digital opportunities going forward and explaining a spike in ebook sales after the holidays. He suggested developing a reading device specifically for children to optimize the reading experience for that level may help push adoption forward.

Tamblyn's session slides can be found here, and more from Tamblyn on what ereader customers want can be viewed in this TOC webcast.

The ebook evolution discussion took a turn toward the technical side in a video interview with Peter Meyers, author of “Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience” and "Kindle Fire: The Missing Manual." He tackled a question about ebooks versus book apps and whether the forms would merge or one would become dominant:

"I think a lot of people in the industry get hung up on this question of what's the term we're going to use going forward. If we look at the music industry, the terms 'record' and 'album' have stuck around, even as the physical format has largely disappeared. I think the word 'book' is here to stay ... I think the other term likely to emerge is 'app' ... We'll start saying, 'Hey, have you seen the new Stephen King app?' That app might include book-like elements, but it will also be able to accommodate things like interactive features ... I would guess we'll see books and apps coexist side by side, and they'll do different things."

Meyers also talked about how digital is changing publishing over all, that with the infinite canvas of digital publishing, what publishers really are selling is 10, 15, 20 hours of entertainment or assistance in cooking or playing golf. His entire interview can be viewed here.

Sameer Shariff, founder and CEO of Impelsys, agreed in a video interview that ebooks and book apps would both continue as separate products. He also addressed a question about platforms and how the need for conversion will evolve:

"What we're seeing is [that the need for conversion] is not going to dissipate ... [publishers] can't do it themselves ... Now the big thing is EPUB3, and with the Apple iBookstore, there's a new format there. It's not going to be completely automated — there is going to be some element of manual intervention."

Shariff's entire interview can be viewed here.

Along that same line, Sanders Kleinfeld, publishing technologies specialist at O'Reilly, tackled the question of whether or not the industry will see a universal format emerge:

"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. I'm hopeful that ereaders will follow suit with what's been happening on the web, where you can build an HTML5 website and there's pretty good compatibility across the board, whether you're looking at it in Google Chrome or Safari or Firefox. I'm really optimistic that EPUB3, or the next generation — maybe EPUB4, will be the open standard that re-flowable ebooks will coalesce around using open technologies and that that will be supported by the various ereaders."

You can view Kleinfeld's entire interview in the following video, and you can see slides from his session "HTML5 for Publishers" here:

For more on the ebook evolution discussion, sessions with published slides and/or video can be browsed here.


If you couldn't make it to TOC, or you missed a session you wanted to see, sign up for the TOC 2012 Complete Video Compilation and check out our archive of free keynotes and interviews.


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February 23 2012

Four short links: 23 February 2012

  1. Why Mobile Matters (Luke Wroblewski) -- great demonstration of the changes in desktop and mobile, the new power of Android, and the waning influence of old manufacturers.
  2. It's Called iBooks Author Not iMathTextbooks Author, And The Trouble That Results (Dan Meyer) -- It's curious that even though students own their iBooks forever (ie. they can't resell them or give them away), they can't write in them except in the most cursory ways. Even curiouser, these iBooks could all be wired to the Internet and wired to a classroom through iTunes U, but they'd still be invisible to each other. Your work on your iPad cannot benefit me on mine. At our school, we look for "software with holes in it"--software into which kids put their own answers, photos, stories.
  3. DepthCam -- It’s a live-streaming 3D point-cloud, carried over a binary WebSocket. It responds to movement in the scene by panning the (virtual) camera, and you can also pan and zoom around with the mouse. Very impressive hack with a Kinect! (via Pete Warden)
  4. Starting an Online Store is Not Easy in Greece -- At the health department, they were told that all the shareholders of the company would have to provide chest X-rays, and, in the most surreal demand of all, stool samples. Note to Greece: this is not how you check whether a business plan is full of shit. (via Hacker News)

February 17 2012

Publishing News: Let's remember why we got into this business

TOC 2012In this special edition of the Publishing Week in Review, I'm taking a look at highlights from the 2012 Tools of Change for Publishing Conference held in New York City earlier this week.

Publishing isn't about print vs digital or incompatible ereading formats — it's about storytelling

As far as inspiration goes, it doesn't get much better than LeVar Burton's TOC keynote address. Burton first talked about how he came to literature and publishing. Going back to his childhood, he reminisced that you were either reading a book or getting hit by one — his mother didn't care how, but "in her house, you were going to have an encounter with the written word."

His experiences with storytelling became more profound when he landed a major role on the miniseries "Roots," which taught him about the transformative nature of literature when combined with a visual medium. That experience was so profound for Burton that he left his priesthood studies, deciding storytelling was more effective at reaching people. This decision also later led to 25 years of "Reading Rainbow," the series that used TV to get kids interested in books.

Burton said that "stories are bridges to real-world experiences" and that he's a "firm believer between that which we imagine and that which we create."

"The stories that we tell each other and have told each other throughout the history of the development of civilization are integrally important, are inextricably linked, to how we continue to invent the world in which we live."

Burton said reading and storytelling go far beyond discussions of print versus digital or which digital format should prevail:

"We are going to be absolutely fine, so long as we do not fail ourselves in the one fundamental aspect of who it is we are and what we bring to the table. Remember, human beings are manifesting machines. We are just like that child watching the episodes of 'Star Trek,' seeing those images, using our imaginations, coming up with a piece of technology that actually serves humanity going forward.

"Our imaginations always have been, always will be, our continuing link into ourselves in order to make contact with ourselves so that then we might share the beauty of ourselves through culture with the rest of the world ... I encourage you to remember the nature of what it is you signed on for. You've come here to make a difference. You've come here to use your imaginations in the service of storytelling. Doing the same things we have done for years with a new opportunity, with new tools, a few more bells and whistles — it's still, and always will be, about storytelling."

Burton's full keynote is available in the following video:

The Publishing Panic of 2015 is coming. Can we stop it?

Joe Karaganis, vice president of The American Assembly at Columbia University, addressed issues of piracy and enforcement in a keynote address. Using his work with the Media Piracy in Emerging Economies project as a backdrop, Karaganis said the opposition to SOPA/PIPA and ACTA has moved the conversation beyond online piracy to the convergence of citizenship, democratic accountability and different rights.

The main ingredients of piracy, Karaganis said, are "high prices, low incomes and cheap digital technologies" and that "enforcement has been irrelevant — it's what happens around the edges of these underlying economic drivers." He argued that the current system doesn't scale well and that prosecution rarely occurs:

"When you look at how enforcement works in middle- and low-income countries, you find a pretty simple, consistent pattern: You find raid-based enforcement, characterized by the ramping up of police actions and little to no follow through. There's little likelihood that these cases will make it to trial, and in fact, little expectation that they will."

There's a simple explanation for the discrepancy: "It's cheaper to buy cops than lawyers — raids are cheap, but due process is expensive and slow." He argued that the new enforcement measures (SOPA/PIPA/ACTA) realize this futility and so they instead focus on abridging due process: "The only way to scale up enforcement is to take it out of the courts, to make it an administrative function, and whenever possible, and automated one."

Karaganis said his research showed there's a lot of casual infringement, but very little large-scale or hard-core infringement — 1-3% are hard-core pirates, according to his data.

Bringing the discussion around to publishing, specifically the education market, Karaganis asked, "What happens when the access problem is solved without any corresponding solution to the crisis of the library or the commercial markets — there will be access; the question is, who will make it convenient and affordable?" Using open-education research as an example, he said the problem is that they're not competing with the commercial market, they're competing with the pirate market:

"They're competing with a 'copy culture' that hasn't waited for approved institutional solutions to emerge. As digital readers get very, very cheap in the next few years, that copy culture is going to grow exponentially and produce a huge democratization in educational opportunity and access to knowledge. That will be a hugely disruptive challenge to all parties involved and produce its own cause for enforcement and control."

Karaganis referred to this impending phenomenon as "The Publishing Panic of 2015," and to address it we'll need more than just opposition to legislation like SOPA and PIPA:

"It's not enough to simply say SOPA is bad or enforcement doesn't work, even among people who agree. We need to develop a positive set of proposals for what we want, collectively, for what the public interest is in and around intellectual property. 'What's the positive agenda?' is a very fair question."

More background on Karaganis' research can be found at The American Assembly website. The "Media Piracy in Emerging Economies" report can be downloaded here.

Karaganis' full keynote can be viewed in the following video:

Bookstores: It's about monetizing relationships and experiences, not about selling books

The "Kepler's 2020: Building the Community Bookstore of the 21st Century" session created quite a buzz at the show. For a bit of background, The Kepler's 2020 Project release described it:

"The project aims to create an innovative hybrid business model that includes a for-profit, community-owned-and-operated bookstore, and a nonprofit organization that will feature on-stage author interviews, lectures by leading intellectuals, educational workshops and other literary and cultural events."

Thad McIlroy, owner of TheFutureofPublishing.com, opened the conference session with thoughts on reinventing "the notion of the bookstore in the midst of this crazy time of change." McIlroy said that the Kepler's 2020 project, being led by literary entrepreneur Praveen Madan, is blazing a trail.

Madan's subsequent presentation focused on debunking industry myths. Specifically, printed books are not going to survive and we don't need bookstores in the age of instantly downloadable ebooks.

Madan shared a survey finding that revealed overwhelming support (95%) for using bookstores as "a place for browsing and discovering new ideas" and (72%) as "a place to buy books." He pointed out that more than half of the responders had ereading devices.

Madan also offered two trends that explain why bookstores need to be reinvented and why they still have a future:

  1. Technology is having an isolating impact — "People are more and more disconnected from each other." We are working from home, shopping from home, and community gathering places (churches, schools, community centers) aren't as effective. So, what places are going to bring people together? "We think that can be bookstores," Madan said. "Bookstores need to be re-imagined as those places."
  2. Browsing — We still need showrooms for books. "The reality is that 18 years after Amazon started tweaking its algorithms for recommending books, a well-curated, physical, in-store experience is still better at helping readers discover books," Madan said.

"What we really need is for someone in the technology world to step up and say, "I think there is an opportunity here," he said. Madan also insisted it needs to be open: "We'll pay for the services and we'll pay for the development, but the platform needs to be open source."

The buzz was heightened at the end of the Q&A session when Madan said he was looking to partner with Amazon to sell ebooks through his store:

"[Ebooks are] something we want to provide; we want to be part of the overall experience. But the solution and the technology has to come from somebody else. I'm very serious about looking at [partnering with] Amazon and just giving away Kindles and telling people it's okay — you have our permission. Walk into the bookstore, browse the books and download the books on your Kindle."

When people ask Madan how he'll make money, he answers that that isn't the point — he doesn't need to make money on every downloaded book; he'll make money on the relationships in other ways.

You can learn more about The Kepler's 2020 Project in the following short video:


If you couldn't make it to TOC, or you missed a session you wanted to see, sign up for the TOC 2012 Complete Video Compilation and check out our archive of free keynotes and interviews.


Related:

February 10 2012

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.

February 06 2012

Four short links: 6 February 2012

  1. Jirafe -- open source e-commerce analytics for Magento platform.
  2. iModela -- a $1000 3D milling machine. (via BoingBoing)
  3. It's Too Late to Save The Common Web (Robert Scoble) -- paraphrased: "Four years ago, I told you all that Google and Facebook were evil. You did nothing, which is why I must now use Google and Facebook." His list of reasons that Facebook beats the Open Web gives new shallows to the phrase "vanity metrics". Yes, the open web does not go out of its way to give you an inflated sense of popularity and importance. On the other hand, the things you do put there are in your control and will stay as long as you want them to. But that's obviously not a killer feature compared to a bottle of Astroglide and an autorefreshing page showing your Klout score and the number of Google+ circles you're in.
  4. iBooks Author EULA Clarified (MacObserver) -- important to note that it doesn't say you can't use the content you've written, only that you can't sell .ibook files through anyone but Apple. Less obnoxious than the "we own all your stuff, dude" interpretation, but still a bit crap. I wonder how anticompetitive this will be seen as. Apple's vertical integration is ripe for Justice Department investigation.

February 03 2012

Publishing News: B&N closes doors on Amazon Publishing

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

Barnes & Noble puts its foot down on Amazon

NoEntry.pngLast week, Amazon teamed up with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to print and distribute the Amazon Publishing East Coast's adult titles under a new imprint, New Harvest. Some speculated the move might get Amazon through the brick-and-mortar doors of B&N. This week, B&N made it clear that not only would HMH's New Harvest imprint not make it in the door, but that no Amazon Publishing title would. In a post for the New York Times, Julie Bosman quoted from a statement made by Jaime Carey, B&N's chief merchandising officer:

"Our decision is based on Amazon's continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents and the authors they represent. These exclusives have prohibited us from offering certain e-books to our customers. Their actions have undermined the industry as a whole and have prevented millions of customers from having access to content. It's clear to us that Amazon has proven they would not be a good publishing partner to Barnes & Noble as they continue to pull content off the market for their own self interest."

O'Reilly's general manager and publisher Joe Wikert called on B&N this week to disrupt the industry — maybe this is its first move. Bosman also took a look at B&N's position in the industry and its importance to the publishing ecosystem, especially in the face of a competitor like Amazon. Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic mulled the prospects of Amazon killing publishing and argued: "In a financial arms race, publishers simply can't beat Amazon's arsenal."

codeMantra collectionPoint 3.0 — Compose it; convert it; package it; distribute it; track it; re-price it; control your digital book workflow and metadata from one platform with collectionPoint 3.0, now available


Breaking up is hard to do

Amazon had issues with a social networking partner this week as well. As of Monday, Goodreads no longer displayed book data from the Amazon Product Advertising API, opting instead to move its data partnership to the Ingram Book Company. A Goodread's representative told Laura Hazard Owen that "the [API license agreement] terms now required by Amazon have become so restrictive that it makes better business sense to work with other data sources." Owen outlined some of the specifics on the restrictions:

"Amazon requires sites that use its API to link that content back to the Amazon site exclusively — so a book page on Goodreads would have to link only to its product page on Amazon and not to any other source or retailer ... Amazon also does not allow any content from its API to be used on mobile sites and apps."

Jon Mitchell at ReadWriteWeb took a deeper look into the situation — and explained why Goodreads will survive its breakup with Amazon.

The news caused some readers to worry about their cultivated Goodreads bookshelves. GalleyCat detailed potential data issues and offered up a Goodreads link that allows users to check on the state of their shelves to see if any tidying up is necessary.

Jonathan Franzen waxes absurd on ebooks

BrokenKindle.pngThere's no shortage of things slated to be destroying society, and this week, author Jonathan Franzen added ebooks to the list. The Telegraph quoted Franzen speaking at a book festival in Cartagena, Colombia:

"I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn't change. Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do fear that it's going to be very hard to make the world work if there's no permanence like that."

Chenda Ngak at CBS's techt@lk took offense at Franzen's remarks, stating: "Even if I agree with him, as a book lover, his statements are too condescending to take seriously." Jonathan Segura at NPR chimed in as well, calling Franzen's comments "absurd" and pleading that we "get past the e-books versus print books thing." Segura's final comment pretty much summed up the overarching sentiment:

"We should worry less about how people get their books and — say it with me now! — just be glad that people are reading."

Photo (top): Kiftsgate Court, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire - No Entry - sign by ell brown, on Flickr

Photo (bottom): Broken Kindle by kodomut, on Flickr

Related:


January 27 2012

Four short links: 27 January 2012

  1. Data Jurisdiction -- information from the NineFold hosting company in Australia. Has some Aussie-specific content, but would be great to see this internationalized. (via Lachlan Hardy)
  2. Anatomy of an Idea (Steven Johnson) -- people who think the Web is killing off serendipity are not using it correctly. Lovely glimpse at how he works, chasing trails of ideas down and using Google and Twitter for research. (via Maria Popova)
  3. Autograph Stickers for Kindle Books (Clay Johnson) -- clever solution to the "but I can't get my Kindle book autographed!".
  4. TextExt.js -- Javascript to extend textboxes with tags, prompting, autocomplete, and more. (via Javascript Weekly)

January 24 2012

The five things you need to pay attention to at TOC 2012

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


The 2012 edition of the Tools of Change for Publishing conference will open its doors on February 13 in New York City.

Since we're in the home stretch, I rounded up TOC chairs Kat Meyer and Joe Wikert to discuss the major publishing trends and developments that are shaping the conference. Below, you'll find the five biggest takeaways from our chat. The associated audio podcast contains the full conversation.

1. Publishing is rife with startups

The publishing world is no longer solely the domain of big old organizations. There's a whole bunch of startups engaged in a variety of publishing experiments. TOC 2012 will feature notable upstarts in the Startup Showcase and throughout the conference program.

2. You've got the data, now what do you do with it?

Digital and data go hand-in-hand, and that means publishers — whether they know it or not — are running data-driven businesses. They need to learn how to gather, mine and use all those datasets to their advantage. The practical application of data will be an important theme at the conference.

3. No more ugly ebooks

Those quick and dirty digital conversions won't cut it anymore. Readers are committing to digital, and now they're rightfully demanding top-notch ebook / app experiences. It's time for publishers to meet that demand.

4. Publishing is bigger than books

Book people have something to learn from media people, and media people can learn from book people. Toss in film and music folks, and you've got a huge digital knowledge base that can be drawn from and adapted. This year at TOC, there's a concerted effort to expand "publishing" beyond its narrow and traditional definition.

5. "Change/Forward/Fast" isn't just a catchy tagline

Agile development began in the software world, but its core attributes of iteration and feedback also apply to publishing. Agile methodologies and applications will be discussed in a variety of TOC sessions.

Again, those are just the takeaways from the interview. The podcast has much more on TOC's major themes and what you can expect to see. It also includes a "bold prediction" from Joe that, if realized, could completely change the way publishers handle mobile apps and ebooks.

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

Related:

January 16 2012

The art of marrying content with mobile apps

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


Publishers are often approached by mobile app developers looking to help them distribute their content in new ways. Most of those developers aren't all that familiar with the publishing industry and treat the results as just another app. KiwiTech is different. As founder and CTO Gurvinder Batra explains in this interview, KiwiTech uses its management team's extensive publishing industry experience to craft a better solution.

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

  • The KiwiTech founders are well versed in the publishing space — This is the same team that founded Aptara. That translates into them having a much better sense of the challenges of marrying content with mobile apps. [Discussed at the 00:33 mark.]
  • What's the future of iOS versus Android? — The phones are a good predictor of the tablet's future. So, while Android is overtaking iOS on phone market share, the large number of different handsets and configurations makes it particularly challenging for developers. Expect the same problem to arise with tablets. [Discussed at 6:22.]
  • Porting from iOS to Android is harder than it sounds — Many publishers think development costs for the second platform (e.g., Android) should cost about half of the development costs of the original one (e.g., iOS), but that logic is wrong. [Discussed at 7:45.]
  • Why choose native apps over EPUB? — While it's tempting to go with a platform-independent solution like EPUB, you lose the ability to tap into many of the device's core capabilities, such as sensors, for example. [Discussed at 15:43.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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

Related:


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