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August 26 2011

Publishing News: Publishing startups bet on curation and apps

Here's what caught my eye this week in publishing news. (Note: Some of these stories were previously published on Radar.)

A look at three publishing startups: BookRiff, MagAppZine, and LiquidText

TOC Sneak Peek series: BookRiff, MagAppZine, LiquidTextThe second round of TOC Sneak Peeks highlighted three new publishing startups. Their market areas included content curation, app creation for non-geeks, and multitouch content control.

BookRiff: Ever 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 an interview, company CEO Rochelle Grayson (@RochelleGrayson) talked about how BookRiff works and how it can benefit publishers and consumers. She said 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.

Read the BookRiff interview here.

MagAppZine: This startup is a platform that allows publishers to create custom apps without a lot of overhead. In an interview, company founder Paul Canetti (@paulcanetti), who worked at Apple during the birth of the iPhone and the subsequent app revolution, talks about how MagAppZine works and the benefits he sees for publishers.

Read the MagAppZine interview here.

LiquidText: In an interview, company founder and CEO Craig Tashman (@CraigTashman) said his annotation and document manipulation software began as an academic project, but commercial applications quickly became clear. The software allows users to annotate, highlight and manipulate PDF content with multitouch gestures. LiquidText may be the next major step toward making etextbooks more practical for students — and it's another nail in the coffin for the "death of marginalia" debate.

Read the LiquidText interview here.

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

Jim Romenesko's semi-retirement

Romenesko.pngAfter spending the past 12 years at Poynter blogging and aggregating news (which he started doing before anyone even knew what those words meant), Jim Romenesko announced his retirement this week. Well, semi-retirement. Julie Moos, director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications, explained in an announcement that Romenesko will continue posting part-time at Poynter. The Romenesko blog will live on, but under its new name, "Romenesko+" — the "+" designates an expanded staff that will include Romenesko and co-posters Julie Moos, Steve Myers and Jeff Sonderman.

Romenesko also will launch a new personal blog. In an interview with the New York Times, he explained he was ready to go back to his roots and start reporting again. His new blog "would still cover media but would also touch on other topics he's interested in, like food, finance and real estate."

So, though an end of an era might have been reached with Romensko's semi-retirement, being Romenesko'd might still be in the cards.

New York Times data artist Jer Thorp on the intersection of data, art, science and publishing

This segment was written by Audrey Watters

Jer Thorp (@blprnt), data artist in residence at The New York Times, was tasked a few years ago with designing an algorithm for the placement of the names on the 9/11 memorial. If an algorithm sounds unnecessarily complex for what seems like a basic bit of organization, consider this: Designer Michael Arad envisioned names being arranged according to "meaningful adjacencies," rather than by age or alphabetical order.

The project, says Thorp, is a reminder that data is connected to people, to real lives, and to the real world. I recently spoke with Thorp about the challenges that come with this type of work and the relationship between data, art and science. Thorp will expand on many of these ideas in his session at next month's Strata Conference in New York City.

Our interview follows.

How do aesthetics change our understanding of data?

Jer ThorpJer Thorp: I'm certainly interested in the aesthetic of data, but I rarely think when I start a project "let's make something beautiful." What we see as beauty in a data visualization is typically pattern and symmetry — something that often emerges when you find the "right" way, or one of the right ways, to represent a particular dataset. I don't really set out for beauty, but if the result is beautiful, I've probably done something right.

My work ranges from practical to conceptual. In the utilitarian projects I try not to add aesthetic elements unless they are necessary for communication. In the more conceptual projects, I'll often push the acceptable limits of complexity and disorder to make the piece more effective. Of course, often these more abstract pieces get mistaken for infographics, and I've had my fair share Internet comment bashing as a result. Which I kind of like, in some sort of masochistic way.

What's it like working as a data artist at the New York Times? What are the biggest challenges you face?

Jer Thorp: I work in the R&D Group at the New York Times, which is tasked to think about what media production and consumption will look like in the next three years or so. So we're kind of a near-futurist department. I've spent the last year working on Project Cascade, which is a really novel system for visualizing large-scale sharing systems in real time. We're using it to analyze how New York Times content gets shared through Twitter, but it could be used to look at any sharing system — meme dispersal, STD spread, etc. The system runs live on a five-screen video wall outside the lab, and it gives us a dynamic, exploratory look at the vast conversation that is occurring at any time around New York Times articles, blog posts, etc.

It's frankly amazing to be able to work in a group where we're encouraged to take the novel path. Too many "R&D" departments, particularly in advertising agencies, are really production departments that happen to do work with augmented reality, or big data, or whatever else is trendy at the moment. There's an "R" in R&D for a reason, and I'm lucky to be in a place where we're given a lot of room to roam. Most of the credit for this goes to Michael Zimbalist, who is a great thinker and has an uncanny sense of the future. Add to that a soundly brilliant design and development team and you get a perfect creative storm.

This story continues here.


  • Why blogging still matters
  • When judging visualizations, intent matters
  • Data science is a pipeline between academic disciplines
  • More Publishing Week in Review coverage

  • 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


    April 25 2011

    Announcing the TOC Sneak Peek webcast series

    TOCEvery week I come across countless interesting articles and press releases about new econtent products and services. Many sound promising, but who has the time to research them all or even figure out which are worthy of further consideration?

    We're about to launch a new TOC webcast series to help solve this problem. Each "Sneak Peek" webcast will feature 3-4 of the most interesting startups in the publishing tools, platforms and technologies space. All of these startups will still be at the pre-release stage, so the webcasts will give you a unique opportunity to learn what makes them special before their products go live.

    Details are still being finalized for the first Sneak Peek webcast, but I can tell you that it will take place in the next couple of months. Two of the slots have already been spoken for but we expect to finalize the entire lineup in the next week. All of the Sneak Peek webcasts will be free. Stay tuned to Radar for more details on the inaugural event.

    Also, if you're part of a publishing startup at the pre-release stage and you'd like to be considered for a Sneak Peek, we'd love to hear from you. Email me the details and a member of the TOC team will get back with you.

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