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January 27 2012

ValoBox wants to reward content creators and consumers

Earlier this year, I chatted with Anna Lewis (@anna_cn) and Oliver Brooks (@cn_oli) about their new startup, ValoBox — a platform that allows readers to consume books by the page, chunk, or as a whole. The duo has been hard at work through the summer and fall, and ValoBox has launched. I got in touch with Brooks to see how the platform and development have progressed. Our interview follows.

How has ValoBox evolved since our interview in May?

OliverBrooks.pngOliver Brooks: The product has stayed laser focused on keeping things light and simple. It has gone through a lot of tweaks to the user interface and system, to boil it down as much as possible.

ValoBox is really comprised of two applications, the publishing system and the ValoBox reader.

The changes to the publishing system have focused on ease of integration use and quality of output. The system can now create a ValoBox book automatically from an ONIX and EPUB file feed. A lot of effort has gone into making sure the content is presented perfectly, even when split into small, purchasable sections. We've also built a system similar to Google Analytics for books, which provides the publisher with information for each book, such as where on the web is best for selling books (Twitter feeds, blogs, etc.) and details about how each book is used.

In our earlier interview you discussed a "premium layer for the web." Is that still guiding your efforts?

Oliver Brooks: Absolutely. We believe books are just the start of our game — we see ValoBox as suitable for premium articles, audio, video, and even web pages. We think premium content should integrate with the web rather than be a separate ecosystem.

The existing book reader interface will be one of many portals into premium content. We have designs for interfaces that don't intrude on the design of a website at all. When you want to buy something, you will see ValoBox branding and have an easy way to purchase the content. As almost everyone is always signed into a system of some kind — be it Twitter, Facebook or Google — our vision is that you can always access premium content with just a click.

How does ValoBox work?

Oliver Brooks: It's an HTML5 application that runs inside any modern web browser. This means you can access it from any website, on any device wherever you are. Content is stored in the cloud and streamed securely from our servers on demand. A future enhancement will mean you won't even have to be online to read books you have read before; they'll automatically be stored on your device for later.

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

How does ValoBox help readers?

Oliver Brooks: The core benefit is accessibility to premium content. ValoBox lets you access an entire catalog, and you can choose which pages you want and buy them for cents at a time.

So, you might see a book reviewed on your favorite blog or hear about an interesting topic from a Twitter feed. A couple of clicks and cents later, you can be reading what they are talking about. We think it's ridiculous that books are locked behind lengthy and expensive checkout and download processes, and then require special applications to read when videos and audio are available with a click.

Another huge bonus is our social retail system. If you like what you read and think you know someone else who would like it, you can share it with an embed or a link. Anything that is bought from your share will earn you a 25% cut.

How does it help authors and publishers?

Oliver Brooks: Authors will have an awesome tool for promoting their books. Books can be integrated with their websites and social media promotions, providing the tip of the pyramid leading to many other shares and embeds. All the activity is tracked in real time to give an unparalleled level of knowledge about where books perform best. Don't forget that if an author sells the books, they will not only get their royalty but also the 25% ValoBox social retail cut.

As for publishers, they get a great way to empower their readership to create new and sustainable sales channels. Imagine thousands of innovative readers finding the right places for books inside their personal and professional networks. No traditional retailer could dream of going into places such as a university e-learning environment or a team management wiki, or of garnering sales from inside a full-scale social network. Just like authors, publishers have real-time, detailed analytics of how each book is being bought. They also have a view of how all of their books are read across the entire web.

I like to think of ValoBox as a way to realize the value of creating a symbiotic relationship between the content creation and consumption communities, rewarding each one for their efforts appropriately.

This interview was edited and condensed.


January 26 2012

Transforming data into narrative content

One of the largest by-products of the digital revolution is data, and entrepreneurs are finding new ways to harness and make use of the increasing variety of data. In the following interview, Kristian Hammond, CTO of Narrative Science, talks about how his company generates narrative stories from gathered data — a function that could play out very well in content organizations such as newspapers, allowing them to scale content without having to hire more staff.

Hammond says stories grounded in data work best — think sports stories, to start — and that the increasing amounts and kinds of data being produced create new opportunities for the kinds of stories that can be generated — think pharmaceutical testing reports. He will expand on the ideas and concepts behind using data to generate content in the Scaling Content Development Through Automation session at the upcoming Tools of Change for Publishing conference.

What does Narrative Science do and how are you applying the technology to journalism?

KristianHammondMug.pngKristian Hammond: Narrative Science is a Chicago-based company that is focused on the automatic generation of stories from data. Spun out of the schools of Engineering and Journalism at Northwestern University, we are currently working with customers (in both media and business), generating content from public and proprietary data sources.

We are generating stories in the arenas of sports, finance, real estate, and politics. We are also working with companies to transform business data into client reports, franchise statements, and customer communication. In effect, we are giving a voice to the insights that can be found in the growing world of big data.

Our aim is to provide content and insight in those areas where it is either financially or logistically impossible for organizations to generate it themselves using traditional methods.

How does data affect the structure of a story?

Kristian Hammond: Our stories are driven by data, but they are not simple recitations of that data. In doing an earning story, for example, having (or not having) historical data will change the scope of the story. In the former case, we will have year-to-year comparisons; in the latter we won't. In sports, seasonal data will allow us to give a voice to trends and rankings, and rivalry data will allow us to describe a game in terms of the impact of the game beyond the score and stats. In all of these cases, the greater the pool of data we have, the more powerful the story will be.

What kinds of stories lend themselves well to this type of system and why?

Kristian Hammond: The technology is designed around transforming data into stories. Stories that are themselves grounded in data are the perfect match for us. As more and more of the data that defines our world comes online, we see more and more opportunities to create new stories in new domains.

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.

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What kinds of stories just won't work — what are the boundaries or limitations?

Kristian Hammond: Often, stories are the products of long-term observations, conversations and ongoing inquiries. A story in Vanity Fair that is the product of 30 conversations, for instance, is not something we would ever try to do. Also, stories that are more opinion based are outside our realm. But again, as more information is transformed into machine-readable data, there are more opportunities for us to use that data to expand our realm of possibility.

In what ways can publishers benefit from Narrative Science?

Kristian Hammond: Publishers who are resource bound or who want to expand the scope of their reporting are perfect clients for us. If a financial publisher is producing earning previews for 30 companies, for example, they can use this technology to generate exactly the same kind of story with the same tone and language for 1,000 companies. If a publisher wants to track real-time events and there is data around them, they can use us to generate everything from stock alerts to in-game quarterly summaries. Wherever there are problems of scope in terms of volume or the constraints of time, publishers can use us to create the stories they simply do not have the resources to write.

In what other industries are you finding applications for Narrative Science?

Kristian Hammond: While Narrative Science began its life providing content for media companies, it has expanded its reach to cover reporting for all types of organizations that have data describing their businesses and operations. We currently provide reporting for client services, tracking franchise operations, and performance reviews for a variety of companies. We are also looking at how our platform could be used to transform the huge data repositories captured in pharmaceutical clinical trials into clear and concise reports that provide overviews of and insights into their results.

In effect, anywhere there is data and a story to be told from it, our analytics and narrative generation platform can leverage that data into insight.

This interview was edited and condensed.


January 20 2012

When you commit to "release early and often" you have to actually do it

SatterstenBookCover.gifLast July, I talked with Todd Sattersten (@toddsattersten), founder of BizBookLab, about his book, "Every Book Is a Startup," for which he's applying agile development methods to his publishing model.

Sattersten is getting ready to release chapters five and six — "The Pitch" and "Minimum Viable Publishing," respectively — and it seemed a good time to check in on how the model is working and get a sneak peek on the ideas and concepts from the upcoming release.

Our interview follows.

You're applying tech startup techniques to publishing on this project. What has worked well thus far? What lessons have you learned?

ToddSattersten.jpgTodd Sattersten: I like the "release often" mantra that we have followed with this project. You hear from software developers that just making new releases generates new interest and more sales. We have seen that with "Every Book Is a Startup."

The "release often" strategy also has its limitations, though. For instance, we can only sell through because retailers don't yet support sending updates to customers — and I completely understand the difficulties now. If our readers download a new version of the electronic file, they lose all of their notes and comments because it is a new file. Somehow, as the publishing industry has moved forward with the transition to digital, we didn't think about add/change/delete functionality. So, that is a little frustrating and has forced us to cut back on the number of releases.

The big lesson is that when you commit to release early and often is that you have to do it. Readers expect to see new material frequently, and I could be doing a better job sticking to the writing.

How are book pitches like startup pitches?

Todd Sattersten: Customers need to know precisely what the value proposition is for any product they might buy. When you pitch them, they want to know if you can solve their problem and what is so great about your solution. I say there are three primary questions — What? So what? Now what? — and we want the information in that order. What are you selling? Why should I care? What do you want me to do now? All entrepreneurs, whether developers of books or developers of software, need to be crystal clear with their prospects.

What kinds of mistakes do authors make when framing a book? And why is framing so important?

Todd Sattersten: Framing is about getting into the mind of the customer and seeing the problem from his or her standpoint. I do most of my publishing work in the business book genre, and you can see varying approaches to the same topic all the time. Take the area of time management and consider these three titles:

  1. "Getting Things Done"
  2. "Workarounds That Work"
  3. "The Procrastination Equation"

The first is the well-known book by David Allen that advocated a religious devotion to identifying tasks and flexibly completing them. The title could not be clearer or more universal. Russell Bishop's book on workarounds is selling to someone quite different, someone who believes that temporary fixes and bypasses are the best solution to what they are dealing with. The final book by Piers Steel requires the reader to believe that procrastination is their problem and that this book might finally provide the answer they have been looking for. All of these may provide viable solutions, but they each frame the problem differently and, in turn, attract a different audience.

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

What is a "minimum viable product"? How does it apply to publishing?

Todd Sattersten: The minimum viable product (MVP) is a concept popularized by Eric Ries and built around the idea that products should be released with the minimum necessary set of features as soon as possible. Creating MVPs creates a way for entrepreneurs to quickly see whether there is interest or if there are changes that can be made to better match the needs of the customer. The benefit is keeping risk as low as possible when you start.

In most of book publishing, it is the exact opposite. We require dozens of months to create and release most books. But we do use some of these principles: Pre-orders from readers are, in essence, a proof of demand; many book projects start with minimum viable products such as magazine articles or short stories. Countless books similarly started as serializations — Charles Dickens is well-known for this original format.

What is "controlling scope"?

Todd Sattersten: Too often, we are faced with the famous trilemma of time-cost-quality, and someone enters the discussion saying that we are going to have to give up one to make the project work. On the first pass, this makes complete sense. If you want high quality and you are short on time, you know you are going to have to spend more to get the project done. If costs matter and you want that same high quality, the project is just going to take longer. Most often, though, you need fast and cheap, which means quality is going to suffer.

Ultimately, this is a false construct. What these discussions need is the introduction of a fourth variable: The programmers using agile methodology will tell you to consider scope. The amount of work we choose to undertake is flexible, and controlling scope allows us to maintain an acceptable standard in relation to time, cost, and quality. The unspoken truth is that creators and customers have only a vague sense of what is important early in a project, and by choosing scope as the variable to control, we don't build a bunch of stuff people don't want or won't use.

The Domino Project used that to a certain extent by constraining the length of their books. Seth Godin would say that short books benefit the reader, but I would argue they also reduce the project's risk by getting to market quickly and not having to wait 12 months for the author to write a book no one was interested in.

This interview was edited and condensed.


January 19 2012

Getting the content out there isn't enough anymore

Content is still king, but now it has to share its crown. Justo Hidalgo (@justohidalgo), co-founder of 24symbols and a panelist in the "New Ways to Sell" session at the upcoming Tools of Change for Publishing Conference, believes added value and personalized services are just as important as the content itself. He explains why in the following interview.

In what contexts does content aggregation create the most value?

JustoHidalgoMug.pngJusto Hidalgo: Companies that take content and contribute added value for readers are generally better positioned to succeed. Specifically, I believe content aggregation is useful in the following contexts:

  • Hubs — Why did The Huffington Post gain so much success? Why is Spotify increasing its number of users constantly? And why is Netflix in trouble? There are of course many reasons, but one is particularly clear: Users want hubs where they can find most, if not all, of the content they want. Content aggregation enables just that. While creating silos of information can be valuable in specific niche markets, it does not work in mass markets unless your brand recognition is immensely high.
  • Value addition — Social recommendation is a typical yet good example of value addition to content, as is adding information about a title's author and surrounding context. This meta-information can be manually or automatically added. I believe in the power of machine learning and data mining technologies applied to this area, along with human expertise.
  • Discovery — While having thousands or millions of books complicates a search, it also creates an impressive opportunity: There are more relevant datasets to match recommendations and tastes as well as to facilitate serendipitous discovery.

How about paywalls — is anyone doing this properly? What is the best way to make this model work?

Justo Hidalgo: Paywall models only work if what you offer is extremely exclusive. Maybe the New York Times or the Financial Times can succeed at offering paywall content, but in a digital world absolutely nothing can be prevented from being copied and propagated. So the key is not the content itself, but the value-added service offered on top of it. Only a mixture of high-quality content and a great service will be compelling enough to make users pay.

In general, the content — and the service that contains it — needs to be testable, and models like freemium, whether "free" is forever or for a limited time, are critical in the digital content world. Spotify is creating a massive user base with this model, even now that its free offering is not as compelling as before. The New York Times is also using a freemium approach, letting its users read a few articles per month for free before the paywall kicks in.

The challenge of paywalls in this context is that high quality is not only expected, but required. With so many good free sources of information available, if I am to pay for it, I expect it to be impressive — not only in terms of pure content, but also in terms of the benefits the service provides in a personalized way.

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

24Symbols is based on a subscription model. Since your launch, have you had to change the model to make it work?

Justo Hidalgo: Pivoting is inherent to any startup. We made some changes to our product strategy, like focusing on the HTML5 version before the native apps for iOS and Android.

In terms of the model, the basics are the same. We believe a cloud-based social reader with a freemium subscription model is key for the future of publishing. And we recently branched out to license our technology to companies and institutions that want to offer a cloud reader to their customers or employees. This was in our minds from the start, but we wanted to focus on the consumer offering first and create a top-class platform.

This interview was edited and condensed.


Reposted byRK RK

January 10 2012

Three reasons why we're in a golden age of publishing entrepreneurship

We are entering a golden age for entrepreneurship in the publishing industry. The Books in Browsers conference last October and the London-based Futurebook conference in December showed a rich array of startups from all around the world. Profile Books' Michael Bhaskar has compiled a list of publishing-related startups that he intends to add to as it grows.

There are three reasons why this growth is happening.

Books are digital

Or, I should say, books can be digitally managed. Standards such as EPUB or ONIX enable both the content and the metadata of the books to be digitally available. And this means that new capabilities and services can be built around the content. You can think of e-bookstores, of course, but startups try to look beyond the obvious: What about recommendations based on the book's DNA á la Pandora, like BookLamp? Or relating places, songs, or others books, as does SmallDemons? And what about some remixing, like BookRiff?

Processes are digital

Internet technologies have simplified some of publishing's processes. For a few years now, digital publishers and self-publishing platforms have experimented with new ways of approaching the market, the authors, and, most importantly, the readers. Self-publishing initiatives like Smashwords or Lulu are pretty well known, but new ventures are also popping up, like the commoditization of EPUB processing proposed by Pressbooks or BiblioCrunch. Startups that focus on offering new back-end tools and services to boost efficiency in the publishing lifecycle will be, as Don Linn hailed them, 'heroes, even if largely unrecognized, this year."

Readers are digital

Most importantly, readers are becoming more digital. I have been reading almost exclusively in digital format for more than a year. When, a week ago, I started "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" in print format, I fully understood how significant the digital leap is. I found myself thinking: "I don't understand this word — where is the dictionary?" "I loved this passage, how do I share it?" I truly felt that I was going backwards. And this is where all the startups focused on social reading like GoodReads, Anobii, or Flatleaf will be competing.

Entrepreneurs from the IT and publishing industries will find many opportunities now. And they must, because startups play at least one critical role in any industry: they challenge assumptions. One of the innovation myths is that people like change, but that's not really true. So, when an industry reaches some type of stability, and when competition starts to look like an oligopoly, then someone else needs to think differently. And startups typically do a great job there. Many of them will be wrong or will execute poorly, of course, but even if they fail, these challenges will be good for the industry. As Steve Blank states, a startup is an organization where the main goal is to find a repeatable and scalable business model. And if a specific startup is unable to achieve it, others should try.

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 08 2011

What publishers can learn from Netflix's problems

In a wide-ranging interview, Tim Carmody (@tcarmody), a writer for, Snarkmarket, The Idler, et al., looked at the lessons publishers and others can take from Netflix' recent troubles, and he examined the ways in which technology shapes the reading experience. (Carmody will be a keynote speaker at TOC 2012.)

Specific highlights from the interview (below) include:

  • Inevitability isn't inevitable, just ask Netflix — For a while Netflix's continued ascendance appeared "inevitable." That's a fantasy, said Carmody, and the best lesson publishers can take is that "anything that looks inevitable now might not look so inevitable in six months." Carmody said it's important to disrupt your business — something Netflix has done well — but you must tread lightly because consumers are fickle. [Discussed at the 3:50 mark.]
  • Reading experiences are not confined to a specific form — If you spend your days crunching numbers on a screen, you're likely "primed" to make a database of friends on Facebook. Play Angry Birds on your iPad? Carmody said you might gravitate toward game-like publications. Publishers need to understand that the context of all content influences what we read and how we read it. "We're always making generalizations based on the broadest set of technologies that we're reading," Carmody said. "It's never just within the medium or within the format. It's everything. The way we look at street signs changes the way we read books, the way we read the newspaper changes the way we read magazines. All of these things are always operative." [Discussed at 1:22.]
  • Kickstarter's tier model can work for publishing — Bundling content and offering levels or tiers of content (if you buy tier three, you also get tiers one and two) is a powerful retail model that could work well in book publishing. [Discussed at 6:22.]

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


  • Ebooks and the threat from "internal constituencies"
  • The problem with Amazon's Kindle Owners' Lending Library

  • Tools of Change for Publishing Newsletter: December 7, 2011

    TOC 2011 Speaker

    While we're eagerly preparing for our large Tools of Change for Publishing (TOC) conference coming up in New York City this February, we're also focused on smaller things. To wit: Our mini TOCs. Mini TOCs are one-day conferences that examine modern-day publishing from a variety of aspects. In the U.S., we've firmed up dates for miniTOC conferences in Austin, Texas (March 9), and Chicago, Illinois (April 9). And the not-so-mini TOC Bologna is slated for Italy on March 18 in conjunction with the Children's Book Fair, which theme will inform that day's discussion. We'll be certain to keep you updated as we are.

    As always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback. We also promise to write less about Amazon in future issues. Way less. Promise. We'll return in the New Year with new content and new fun. Please email us with kudos or dissent at (no reason to give that address to Jeff Bezos, OK?).

    O'Reilly TOC newsletter header
    Kat Meyer

    Joe Wikert


    Kat Meyer and Joe Wikert

    Chairs, Tools of Change

    TOC New York 2012

    Seeking Startups for Startup Showcase

    Want to get your early-stage company in front of some of the most savvy and connected publishing professionals in the industry? We're looking for publishing (and publishing-related) startups to participate in the Startup Showcase, happening Tuesday, Feb. 14, during TOC New York. Read more about the showcase and see if your company is qualified to participate.

    Photos from TOC

    See the Full Schedule

    Hot Type

    Kat & Joe's Must–Reads

    Ball of Confusion

    In pointing to this piece, Joe says, "I love the points Todd Sattersten makes in this article on the 'Paperless Book'. It's an important read for everyone in the publishing industry." We'll cut to the chase: Our customers don't know what a book is anymore. That's all.

    The Twitter Book Dept. of Gosh Darn Sweet
    Twitter expert (and recent coauthor with Tim O'Reilly of the second edition of The Twitter Book) Sarah Milstein posted a very sweet human interest story on our Radar platform last week profiling one small bookstore owner who is using social media to drive business. Ominvore Books owner Celia Sack is bawdy, she's opinionated, and she's making a niche shop thrive—140 characters at a time.

    ALL Amazon

    From the Windy Halls of Amazonia

    Monopoly/Strangehold/The Usual

    In considering the library e-lending system OverDrive and its relationship to Amazon, Kat scans a new Publishers Weekly piece, titled in part Libraries Caught in the Crossfire, by Andrew Albanese and Jim Milliot. She writes: "The library e-lending issue could use a more comprehensive examination—Jim and Andrew's piece here hints at the complexity, but it's ripe for further exploration. Where Overdrive has locked in many libraries, and Amazon has locked in Overdrive, and publishers have become slightly myopic where the big picture/long term results of ebook library lending are concerned, it's definitely one of those opportunities that feels more like a problem right now." Monopolizing stuff, indeed.

    Digital Duchy
    This item wasn't tough to find, being as it's the cover story of the current issue of Wired Magazine, but if you missed it you'll probably be forever indebted to us for tepidly serving it up right here. Wired contributor Steven Levy sat down with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to discuss the Kindle Fire and all things Amazonian. "Bezos doesn't consider the Fire a mere device, preferring to call it a 'media service,'" Levy writes. "While he takes pride in the Fire, he really sees it as an advanced mobile portal to Amazon's cloud universe. . . . When you pay $199 for Fire, you' re not buying a gadget—you're filing citizen papers for the digital duchy of Amazonia."

    Amazon Infographic

    Pretty: Scary
    For those who like pretty pictures, and we are heartily among that group, Frugal Dad offers this groovy (read: terrifying) infographic delineating Amazon's monster reach.

    Petard, Hoisted
    Call us smug, but call us right: All of O'Reilly's ebooks are DRM-free. We have many lofty philosophies for this stance but our bottom line is that it's good for business. Writing on his blog, Charlie Stross might be thought to agree. In a piece mildly titled Cutting Their Own Throats, he argues that by locking their texts, Big Six publishers are not only losing significant sales, their "pig-headed insistence . . . is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder." Yow.

    Project Publishing
    The domino finally drops as Seth Godin announced the last book in his year-long adventure with Amazon Publishing. He writes, "By most of the measures I set out at the beginning, the project has been a success. So why stop? Mostly because it was a project, not a lifelong commitment to being a publisher of books. Projects are fun to start, but part of the deal is that they don't last forever." Prompted by Godin's announcement, Paid Content's always-excellent Laura Hazard Owen turns a jaundiced eye towards Seattle with The Truth About Amazon Publishing which, while crunching numbers, managed to elucidate quite a few nasty feuds, making this one of the more entertaining number-crunching pieces we've read in a while.

    Tim Ferriss App4-Hour Fame
    We take nearly four hours to turn to Tim Ferris, the "4-Hour" everything dude, whose new deal with Amazon is marketing genius. According to Laura Hazard Owen, Ferris is the first author signed to a new Amazon imprint and, though his new title, 4-Hour Chef, won't be out until next September, he's already marketing the book by offering fans a chance to win one of 50 pre-loaded Kindle Fires. There's more about drinking wine and eating fruit cake while the pounds magically melt away, but you have to do some of the work and read it yourself.

    Publisher's Corner

    The occasional rant from our benevolent dictator

    Joe Wikert
    Joe pulls himself briefly away from any number of Pittsburgh Penguin hockey games to brush some bitter froth from his lips and pour it instead onto the page. We thought the Penguins were doing better; he's a bit testy.

    Kindle device license limits are stupid. There, I said it. I'm betting most consumers and quite a few publishers don't realize that Amazon has limits in place to prevent you from loading one Kindle ebook on more than six devices within the same account. You're probably wondering why I have so many devices connected to the same account. The answer is simple: I like to test new devices and the old ones become hand-me-down's to family members. They all remain on the same account though.

    Amazon has a default maximum of six devices for any given Kindle ebook. Once you try to get it onto the seventh device you're greeted with an error message saying, "License Limit Reached," and they nudge you to buy another copy of the product. No way. I already bought it once and I'm not buying it again.
    This is yet another example of why DRM is such a poor choice for publishers. Someone decided six was a magical number and so no title can be read across more than six devices. Sure, I could de-register or maybe even just delete the book from one or two of my older devices—but why should I have to?
    Limitations like this, including DRM in general, are evil and should be done away with. Amazon and publishers, please start trusting your customers and eliminate barriers like this. You're not protecting your revenue stream this way, but you are doing a terrific job of irritating your customers and reminding them that you don't trust them.

    This Month's Free TOC Webcasts

    The Challenging Business of Kids' Apps

    The Challenging Business of Kids' Apps

    December 8, 10am PTM

    Learn how to navigate the mobile software ecosystem, produce the best possible product, and make it stand out in a crowded marketplace.

    HTML5 for Publishers

    HTML5 for Publishers

    December 14, 10am PT

    Get an overview of some of the most exciting features HTML5 provides to ebook content creators—audio⁄video, geolocation, and the Canvas—and learn how to put them in action.

    Register Now for Free

    Audible Knowledge

    The Latest from our TOC Podcast Series

    You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes. Not an iTunes fan? No worries. All podcasts live safely here.

    APIs and Content
    In which Joe talks with FluidInfo CEO Terry Jones about how APIs can enable developers to work with content like a box of LEGO bricks, building solutions you may never have dreamed of.

    Final Note

    Worst. Book. Ever.

    Microwave for One

    Publishers Weekly's Gabe Habash's loving poke at Microwave for One has gone deliciously viral, which is perhaps the only delicious thing about Microwave for One. Bon appétit!

    PSSST: Want to just read these newsletters again and again for ever and ever like the sacred texts they are? They all live happily together now online.

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    In this Issue:

    • TOC Startup Showcase
    • Hot Type

    • Amazonian Madness
    • Publisher's Corner: DRM SUX
    • Free Live TOC Webcasts
    • Audible Knowledge
    • Podcasts
    • Worst Book Ever
    • New Books & Free Reports

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    New Books & Reports
    for Publishers

    Kindle Fire: Out of the Box
    Kindle Fire: Out of the Box

    Ebook: $2.99

    First to market, this is the book that should have come with the device.


    Book: A Futurist's Manifesto
    Book: A Futurist's Manifesto
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    September 21 2011

    Papercut has designs on a new storytelling genre

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months.

    Papercut, a new iPad publishing platform developed by ustwo, is scheduled for release in late September. Jonas Lennermo, head of publishing at ustwo, recently sat down with O'Reilly's Joe Wikert to talk about the new platform. Highlights from their interview include:

    • A Papercut overview — "You could say Papercut is three things: it's a publishing platform; it could work as a storefront; and first and foremost, it's a new genre — it's a storytelling experiment." [Discussed at the 0:53 mark]
    • It's also a multi-sensory experience — "The concept is quite straightforward: you have a small, scrollable reading window, and because of the reading window, we know where the reader is in the story and we can trigger events based on what's happening in the story." Readers can hear doors close, the wind blowing, and visuals can be included as well. [Discussed at 1:33]
    • The issue of development scalability — "I think it's a hard balance because we are really keen on creating a platform so we can create these stories quite cheap and quite fast, but we don't want to be locked in to only do one thing. We still want to experiment, but mainly we want to experiment with storytelling. It's a fine balance between creating a one-off — to explore and do something brand new — but also at the same time be strategic and create a platform that you can reuse." [Discussed at 7:23]

    The full discussion is available in the following video. Lennermo will talk more about ustwo and PaperCut at next month's TOC Frankfurt.

    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


    August 24 2011

    BookRiff: A marketplace for curators

    BookRiffLogo.jpgEver want to compile your own cookbook, travel guide or textbook? Has your publisher edited out sections of your book you'd like to share with interested readers? Publishing startup BookRiff aims to solve these problems by creating new ways to access and compile content.

    In the following interview, Rochelle Grayson, CEO of BookRiff, talks about how BookRiff works and how it can benefit publishers and consumers. She says her company is based on an open market concept, allowing publishers to sell the content they want at prices they set and consumers to buy and customize that content as they see fit.

    BookRiff will be featured in the next TOC Sneak Peek webcast on August 25.

    What is a "Riff"?

    RochelleGrayson.jpgRochelle Grayson: A Riff is a remix of chapters from published books, essays, articles, or even one's own content. The concept behind BookRiff is to create an online platform that allows consumers and publishers to remix and to resell content, while ensuring that all original content owners and contributors get paid.

    Who is the target audience for BookRiff?

    Rochelle Grayson: BookRiff's target audience is "domain experts" who can curate — and perhaps even create — content that is of interest to a specific reading audience. This could include things like cookbooks, travel guides, extended "authors editions," and custom textbooks.

    Can curators make their compilations (Riffs) available for purchase? If so, what's the cut? And how is money divvied up to the content owners?

    Rochelle Grayson: Absolutely — in fact, we encourage curators to post and to market their Riffs to their social networks, audiences, and so forth. We have built ways for them to easily share their Riffs through these social channels, and we are building widgets to allow curators to promote their Riffs through their own websites and blogs.

    In terms of the business model, we follow a standard agency business model, where the content owners set the price of the content and we split the revenues with them 30/70 — 30% goes to BookRiff, 70% goes to the content owners. For curators, or Riffers, we also have a Riffer commission, which is set by the content owner — we recommend a minimum of 5%. This means that when a Riffer sells a Riff, he would receive 5% of that content piece's price (or whatever % the content owner has agreed to pay). Assuming that every content owner in a Riff has agreed to 5%, the Riffer would receive 5% from the total sale price of the Riff, and BookRiff and the content owners would then split the remaining 95%, 30/70 as outlined above.

    Can edits be made after a Riff is published?

    Rochelle Grayson: Yes, once a Riff is published it can be "retired" and a new version with new edits can be uploaded to the system and sold. However, consumers who have purchased an earlier version will only have access to that earlier version. That said, the content owner can also sell the "edits" or "updates" separately to previous purchasers for an incremental price.

    As a reader, how do I access a Riff?

    Rochelle Grayson: During the purchase process, readers select the appropriate digital file for the ereader or application of their choice. Our files will be compatible with the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Adobe Digital Edition, as well as other ereading systems that support Adobe DRM. If the content is not DRM'd, as decided by the content owner, the Riff will be a standard EPUB file and will work on any ereader system that supports the EPUB format.

    As a reader, can I share Riffs I purchase with other people?

    Rochelle Grayson: At this time, we do not offer sharing for DRM'd Riffs. However, we are looking into ways of enabling this that work well for both content owners and readers. Non-DRM'd files, though, can be shared.

    Can you share your launch schedule?

    Rochelle Grayson: We will be launching at the end of September.

    Expanding this a bit: Are we in a golden age for curators? And if so, how do you see curation evolving over the next five years?

    Rochelle Grayson: It's definitely a golden age for curators. Over the next five years, the amount of published information will increase exponentially. It will become more difficult for readers to assess and to evaluate the quality and the relevance of a growing database of content. BookRiff aims to enable curators to participate in both the editorial and marketing process and to provide a valuable service as a human filter.

    We want to facilitate a new kind of curatorial publishing that will reward not only the content owners and authors, but also the tastemakers and marketers who can further promote the most relevant content to broader and more distributed audiences. Social ecommerce, social marketing, and sharing are becoming critical to the success of any content marketplace.

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

    Rochelle Grayson: Our model is based on access to the specific content you want. We believe an open marketplace that allows publishers to sell their content at prices they set and also allows consumers to purchase and customize that content is a critical piece to making access ubiquitous. If consumers have access to purchased content whenever and wherever they want it, it may change the definition and expectations associated with "ownership."

    This interview was edited and condensed.

    Webcast: TOC Sneak Peek at BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine — Sneak Peeks are a TOC webcast series featuring a behind-the-scenes look at publishing start-ups and their products. Our next episode will feature presentations from BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine.

    Join us on Thursday, August 25, 2011, at 10 am PT
    Register for this free webcast


    July 29 2011

    Publishing News: Apple's new in-app rules cause a minor dustup

    Here's a few highlights from this week's publishing news. (Note: Some of these stories were previously published on Radar.)

    In-app drama: All's well that ends well

    AppStoreLogo.jpgThis week Apple began enforcing its ban of in-app outside retail links — those "Buy" buttons that take users to web-based retail storefronts. Minor chaos ensued following the change, with the Google Books app and the Barnes & Noble app temporarily being removed from the App Store. Both reappeared once they were updated to adhere to the new rules.

    Some were hoping that because the rules weren't enforced on the June 30 deadline, that perhaps Apple had further softened its position on the in-app subscription rules. Not so, but once the dust settled, everything worked out fine. Even Amazon decided to play nice.

    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

    The U.S. joins World Book Night 2012

    WBNlogo.jpgWorld Book Night (WBN) founder Jamie Byng moved a step closer to his goal of making WBN a global event when the United States hopped on board for WBN 2012. Additionally, the organization announced that Carl Lennertz, VP of retail marketing for HarperCollins, will be the chief executive for the U.S. arm of WBN starting in September.

    At the inaugural WBN event in the UK last year, 25 titles were selected and one million books were given away. The U.S. has adopted the same one-million-book goal for the 2012 event, which will take place on April 23.

    Book nominations for the 2012 event are underway, with "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Pride and Prejudice," and "The Book Thief" leading the polls. Readers can nominate their 10 favorite titles to help the committee choose the final 25 titles for the April event. Nominations will continue through August 31.

    The publishing world can learn a thing or two from tech startups

    Todd Sattersten (@toddsattersten), founder of BizBookLab, argues in his new book "Every Book Is a Startup" that authors and publishers need to be more entrepreneurial and treat each book like a startup business. His conviction on this point is so strong that he's using the startup model itself to publish his new title. In the interview below, I talk with Todd about the specifics of the model and how he's applying it.

    What parts of the traditional publishing model are limiting opportunities?

    ToddSattersten.jpgTodd Sattersten: There are several things that limit opportunities. Most traditional books take two years to write, publish, and distribute, and risk increases with time. Editors ask themselves more often today, “Will the point of view presented still be applicable and relevant?”

    Additionally, product marketing as a business practice has evolved, while books continue to be published as a singular product without regard for alternate use cases and price points. For example, only the biggest of bestsellers warrants a premium edition. Enormous opportunity lies in versioning.

    Your personal definition for a "book" can limit your opportunities as well. If you limit that definition to, say, 224 pages of paper in a 6-inch-by-9-inch trim size, you just made your world a pretty small one.

    How does your book map out the new publishing model?

    Todd Sattersten: My argument starts with the idea that entrepreneurship needs to be brought back to book publishing. As an industry, we introduced over 3 million new products to the marketplace in 2010. Each one of those books start in the same place: in search of an audience. Startups face the same problem.

    The core set of ideas I plan to present will look familiar to people who work in publishing. The way I approach them will be very different. I dispel some myths and identify some trends that are important to understand as we search for new business models.

    This story continues here.


  • Intellectual property gone mad
  • Release Early, Release Often: Agile Software Development in publishing
  • Ebook pricing power is undermined by perceived value
  • More Publishing Week in Review coverage

  • July 20 2011

    Support vs Access: Why Highlighter picked Seattle

    HighlighterLogo.PNGAnnotation and marginalia issues in digital publishing have been much discussed here on Radar and elsewhere. Solutions are being brought to the table, the latest and perhaps most in-depth of which is Highlighter, an application that allows readers to interact with words, sentences or paragraphs of content on any content management system. (Audrey Watters has a nice breakdown of Highlighter's capabilities on ReadWriteWeb.)

    For more on the company — including its location outside the publishing and tech epicenters of New York and Silicon Valley — I turned to Highlighter co-founder and CEO Josh Mullineaux (@JoshMullineaux). Mullineaux will also be speaking at next week's miniTOC Portland in Portland, Ore.

    Do you consider Highlighter to be a tech company or a publishing company

    Josh_Mullineaux.pngJosh Mullineaux: I see Highlighter as more of a tech company. The reason being that we are a very software-heavy company with plans to produce more software. We are a publishing company, too, because our goal is to bring publishers and readers together, via our software.

    Why did you choose not to locate in Silicon Valley or New York City?

    Josh Mullineaux: We are all from Seattle, our families are here, most of our investors are here, and Seattle is a fantastic place to start a software/technology company. There is a large talent pool here with Amazon and Microsoft, and now Facebook and Zynga as well. Seattle is a close-knit community, so networking and getting to know others in both the technology and publishing industries is fairly easy to do. The people of Seattle also are committed to making this a great place to start a company and to nurturing our community.

    miniTOC Portland — Being held on Wednesday, July 27, 2011, miniTOC Portland will bring together art, business, craft and technology leaders for a day of collaboration in Portland, Ore.

    Register to attend

    Do you have concerns about not being in one of the tech or publishing epicenters?

    Josh Mullineaux: I attended Book Expo America in New York this year for the first time, and I must say that I was immediately impressed with the concentration of people in the publishing industry based in New York City. If there's a drawback to our location, it would be that. Seattle simply doesn't have the number of publishing companies and people in the publishing industry that New York has. That said, I'm sure I'll be spending more time in New York connecting with people and companies.

    What are your short- and long-term goals for Highlighter?

    Josh Mullineaux: When we launched our first WordPress plugin about eight months ago, we learned a lot about how people wanted to use Highlighter and the sorts of features that were going to be most useful for our customers. Now with the public launch of Highlighter, the product is completely based off of user requests and where we see Highlighter as being most effective. Our short-term goal is to really refine the product to something that authors, bloggers, and educators absolutely love.

    Our goal for authors is to make their online content more social, help them drive more traffic to their content, help them write content that their readers love, and in the end, help them sell more books.

    For educators, we want to make their online content even better. We have partnered with professors at the University of Colorado, University of Washington, and Northwestern University, and we are making their online content for courses more engaging. This means allowing students and professors to interact over specific sentences, paragraphs, and images and also making it easier for students to save important notes and snippets of texts or images to their Highlighter account. The education market is something we're excited about.

    Long term, we want to be an indispensable part of education and to authors. We want to make sure we're helping authors sell more books and helping education become more effective.

    This interview was edited and condensed.

    For more on how Highlighter works, check out the following video:


  • Reports of marginalia's demise have been exaggerated
  • 3 ways to improve ebook note taking
  • Ebook annotations, links and notes: Must-haves or distractions?
  • Notes that don't break the reading flow

  • May 25 2011

    Sign up for two important (and free) TOC webcasts

    TOC SneekPeek companiesIn a post last month I mentioned a new TOC webcast series we've been working on. The webcasts are called SneakPeeks and they'll offer a pre-release look at some of the best publishing tools, platforms and technologies that are about to hit the market.

    Our first SneakPeek takes place next Tuesday, May 31st at 1PM ET / 10AM PT and features segments from the following startups: 24symbols, Valobox, Appitude, Active Reader and OnSwipe. Space is limited, so be sure to register now to take part in this free webcast next Tuesday.

    While you're at it, you'll also want to register for Michael Tamblyn's webcast next Thursday (June 2). It's called, "What Do eReader Customers Really, Really Want?" Michael is an executive vice president with Kobo, Inc. Kobo does extensive customer research and this is your chance to hear what they've learned about ereader trends and what matters most to ebook consumers.

    Michael's webcast takes place at 1PM ET / 10AM PT on June 2nd. If attendance at Michael's past TOC conference sessions is any indication, we anticipate this one will also fill up quickly. So be sure to register now for this free session.


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