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February 09 2012

O'Reilly ebooks now optimized for Kindle Fire

Earlier this week, we at O'Reilly regenerated all of our ebook-bundle Mobi files, upgrading them to meet the specifications for Amazon's latest ebook format, KF8.

These files are now available for download in your account on If your ebook bundle includes a Mobi file (and more than 90% of bundles do), you can download the updated, KF8-compliant file now. (Note: All O'Reilly Media files are now available in KF8. Partner publishers will come soon.)

As always, our ebook bundles are DRM-free. See this page for instructions on loading O'Reilly Mobi files to your Kindle.

We've optimized our Mobi files for Kindle Fire by taking advantage of KF8's support of @media queries. While @media queries have been commonplace on the web for some time, they are just now making their way to ebook ecosystems. KF8's support of @media queries allows you to create an ebook that looks and potentially behaves differently based on your reading device.

For an example of @media queries in action, see the image below, which shows how the same Mobi file appears on a traditional Kindle (left) versus the new Kindle Fire (right):

Comparison of a Mobi file on a traditional Kindle and the Kindle fire
Click to enlarge.

Amazon's support for @media queries makes this possible, and O'Reilly is among the first publishers to employ this feature across all of its Kindle content. Here are some of the new features that you can expect to see on your Kindle Fire (enhancements vary by book):

  • Color images
  • Syntax-highlighted code
  • Improved layout and design with CSS3
  • Embedded code font for better legibility and glyph support

Here are some screenshots from our newly optimized Mobis:

Optimized Mobi file from Make Electronics
Click to enlarge.

Optimized Mobi file from JavaScript: The Definitive Guide
Click to enlarge.

Starting this week, our books will begin to be available in KF8 format through Amazon's Kindle Store. However, an unfortunate limitation of buying from Amazon is that they don't normally provide customers with publisher updates. By contrast, buying direct from O'Reilly gives you access to lifetime, DRM-free updates in all standard ebook formats.


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


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December 02 2011

Publishing News: One publishing experiment ends, another begins

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

An experiment in publishing comes to an end

The final book in The Domino Project, Sarah Kay's poem "B," was published this week — roughly one year after the project began. Seth Godin, the author and founder of the project, put together a list of lessons learned.

The entire list is well worth the read, but here are a couple of highlights:

1. Permission is still the most important and valuable asset of the web (and of publishing). The core group of 50,000 subscribers to the Domino blog made all the difference in getting the word out and turning each of our books into a bestseller. It still amazes me how few online merchants and traditional publishers (and even authors) have done the hard work necessary to create this asset. If you're an author in search of success and you don't pursue this with single-minded passion, you're making a serious error ...

2. The ebook is a change agent like none the book business has ever seen. It cuts the publishing time cycle by 90%, lowers costs, lowers revenue and creates both a long tail and an impulse-buying opportunity. This is the most disruptive thing to happen to books in four hundred years. It's hard for me to see significant ways traditional book publishers can add the value they're used to adding when it comes to marketing ebooks, unless they get busy with #1 ...

7. The ebook marketing platform is in its technical infancy. There are so many components that need to be built ... Ebooks are way too hard to give as gifts and to share. Too hard to integrate into social media. And the ebook reader is a lousy platform for discovery and promotion of new titles (what a missed chance). All that will happen, the road map is there, but it's going to take commitment from Apple, B&N and Amazon ...

Godin also put together a project wrap-up over at Squidoo, and here's Godin explaining his motivations for The Domino Project:

A journalist blazes a new trail

As the news media continues to struggle with all things digital and keeping the books in the black, journalists are finding work harder and harder to come by. Marc Herman, a freelance journalist (notably for The Atlantic), decided to try carving out his own niche. Leaving behind the beleaguered middlemen, Herman turned a long-form story into a Kindle Singles ebook, "The Shores of Tripoli," and put it up for sale. He talks about the experience in a recent post on his blog:

The Kindle Single was my agent's idea. Amazon provided an experienced editor who offered notes and a copy editor who checked the grammar and usage, and hired a designer to make the cover. This proved, in my case, a workable middle option. It was a way to tell the story in a way that reminded me of magazine journalism, but avoided the intense competition for the attention of a handful of editors in the traditional press who still buy this sort of work. And it's providing the possibility of ultimately funding the work — we sell it, very inexpensively, for consumption on Kindle readers, and smartphones, tablets and PCs with a Kindle app.

Herman is looking into working with a team of people to produce more complex stories involving video and other media — see his "Meanwhile, in Egypt" blog post for more on that.

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

The changing roles of authors requires more personalization

This week the Wall Street Journal looked at how bookstores are changing author presentations. Rather than offering the old straight-up book readings, stores are asking authors for personal presentations that better connect with attendees.

For the story, Vivien Jennings, owner of Rainy Day Books, described author visits at her shop, explaining that "the shop would sponsor only author events that featured a conversation or a mini-lecture, a PowerPoint presentation or perhaps a slide show, all followed by a question-and-answer session and — at most — the recitation of a paragraph or two from the book to illustrate a point."

The personal approach is becoming more common, especially as bookstore owners, authors and readers embrace social networking platforms. In a recent post for Radar, Sarah Milstein wrote about how Celia Sack, owner of Omnivore Books in San Francisco, is benefiting from personal connections with readers and authors alike. Milstein described one of Sack's first Twitter successes:

Although Twitter was Sack's "only technological milieu," it didn't take her long to figure out that she could use it to connect with other people. Food writer David Lebovitz (@davidlebovitz) was an early inspiration. "I wrote him [an @Message] and said, 'I know you don't have a book now, but if you're ever in SF, I'd love to have you come give a talk." He responded enthusiastically, and the proverbial light bulb went off for Sack.

If anyone is still wondering if an author can really connect through social platforms, check out Neil Gaiman's Twitter ecosystem, or consider the power of a Mindy Kaling tweet:

Harvard Book Store tweet to Mindy Kaling


November 23 2011

Why publishers should build direct sales channels

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.

Building a direct sales channel is still one of the most significant opportunities many publishers still have in front of them. Some have resisted up to now, fearful of rocking the boat with their retailer partners. O'Reilly has done a terrific job building a direct channel. In this TOC video podcast, we hear from the head of O'Reilly's online and marketing groups, Allen Noren (@allennoren). He shares his opinions on deep discount campaigns, membership programs and how to compete globally, especially in fixed-pricing countries like Germany.

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

  • What drives direct ebook sales success? — In addition to having a great brand and knowing your audience, the ecosystem you build and your relationship with your customers are both critical. [Discussed at the 0:48 mark.]
  • Don't just think that if you build it, they'll come — Why would a customer buy from you rather than, say, from Amazon? You have to offer much, much more than just a set of catalog pages. [Discussed at 3:15.]
  • The reality is, "we live in a Walmart world" — We can wish deep discount models would go away but it's even more important to embrace those models and see what can be learned from them. [Discussed at 4:16.]
  • Are we training our customers to expect these deep discounts? — Deep discount deals need to go one-off purchases. It's just another mechanism to bring customers in and the expectation is they'll discover other products as well. [Discussed at 7:15.]
  • Converting a one-off sale into something more — Allen talks about how "verticals" are the key. [Discussed at 10:08.]
  • What can we learn from the fixed-price territories? — Plenty! You're forced to come up with other ways of getting the sale when price is no longer an advantage. [Discussed at 13:45.]

  • Membership has more value than one-off, deep discounts — Allen talks about the different types of membership programs. Which one is best for your company? [Discussed at 17:10.]
  • What's the solution to the discoverability problem? — Learning paths are one solution, particularly when your customers see the value they offer for their personal growth and careers. [Discussed at 20:06.]
  • Where does Allen look for insight and innovation? — One of the keys here, he says, is to focus outside our industry. [Discussed at 26:34.]

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


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