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Best of TOC, 3rd Edition








































  Best of TOC, 3rd Edition O’Reilly TOC Team Beijing • Cambridge • Farnham • Köln • Sebastopol • Tokyo

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Chapter 1. Introduction

  2012 was quite a year for change in the publishing industry. Throughout the year we useo provide insightful analysis of the latest industry developments. And since ours is a community site, the articles we publish aren’t just from the TOC team; we also feature perspectives from many of the top innovators and publishing experts. It wasn’t easy, but we hand-picked the most noteworthy articles from 2012 for inclusion in this Best of TOC collection. We think you’ll agree that the more than 60 pieces featured here represent some of the most thought- provoking dialog from the past year. We’ve arranged the articles by category, so whether you’re most interested in marketing, revenue models, production or innovation in general you’ll find something to get your creative juices flowing. And since we’re all about fostering community at TOC we hope this collection will encourage you to add your voice to the discussion. Since each of these articles is taken from our website you can add your comments by searching for the headline on


How Agile Methodologies Can Help Publishers


  Kristen McLean ( ) believes many of the same techniques can also be applied to content development and publishing workflows. She explains why in the following interview.

What is an agile methodology?

Kristen McLean: An agile methodology is a series of strategies for

  managing projects and processes that emphasize quick creative cycles, flat self-organizing working groups, the breaking down of complex tasks into smaller achievable goals, and the presumption that you don’t always know what the finished product will be when you begin the process.

  These types of methodologies work particularly well in any situation where you are trying to produce a creative product to meet a market that is evolving — like a new piece of software when the core concept needs proof from the user to evolve — or where there needs to be a very direct and engaged relationship between the producers and users of a particular product or service.

  Agile methodologies emerged out of the software development community in the 1970s, but began to really codify in the 1990s with the rise of several types of “lightweight” methods such as , and


. These were all rolled up under the umbrella

  of agile in 2001, when a group of developers came together to create the


, which set the core principles for

this type of working philosophy.

  Since then, agile has been applied outside of software development to many different kinds of systems management. Most promote development, teamwork, collaboration, and process adaptability throughout the life-cycle of the project. At the end of the day, it’s about getting something out there that we can test and learn from.

How do agile methodologies apply to publishing?

Kristen McLean: In relation to publishing, we’re really talking about two things: agile content development and agile workflow

  Agile content development is the idea that we may be able to apply these methodologies to creating content in a very different way than we are traditionally used to. This could mean anything from serialized book content to frequent releases of digital content, like book-related websites, apps, games and more. The discussion of how agile might be applied to traditional book content is just beginning, and I think there’s an open-ended question about how it might intersect with the deeply personal — and not always quick — process of writing a book.

  I don’t believe some of our greatest works could have been written in an agile framework (think Hemingway, Roth, or Franzen), but I also believe agile might lend itself to certain kinds of book content, like serial fiction (romance, YA, mystery) and some kinds of non-fiction. The real question has to do with

   and understanding the leading edge between knowing your audience and crowdsourcing your material.

  Publishing houses have been inherently hierarchical because they’ve been organized around a manufacturing process wherein a book’s creation has been treated as though it’s on an assembly line. The publisher and editor have typically been the arbiters of content, and as a whole, publishers have not really cultivated a direct relationship with end users. Publishers make. Users buy/read/share, etc.

  Publishers need to adapt to a radically different way of working. For example, here’s a few ways agile strategies could help with the adaptation of a publishing workflow:

  Create flat, flexible teams of four to five super-talented individuals with a collective skill set — including editorial, marketing, publicity, production, digital/design, and business — all working together from the moment of acquisition (or maybe before). These teams would need to be completely fluent in XHTML and would work under the supervision of a managing publisher whose job would be to create the proper environment and remove impediments so the team could do its job. An original creative voice and unique point of view will always be important in great writing, but those of us who produce books as trade objects (and package the content in them) have to stop assuming we know what the market wants and start talking to the market as frequently as possible. Use forward-facing data and feedback to project future sales. Stop using past sales as the exclusive way to project future sales. The market is moving too fast for that, and we all know there is a diminishing return for the same old, same old.

  [This interview was edited and condensed.]

Taking a Page Out of ESPN’s Playbook

By Joe Wikert

  If you misse you owe it to yourself to go back and read it. ESPN is so much more than just a sports network and their brilliant strategy offers plenty of lessons for publishers. Here’s just one important indicator of their success: While the average network earns about 20 cents per subscriber each month ESPN is paid $5.13. That’s more than 25 times the average!

Pay for one, access all

  Of course ESPN isn’t just one channel. It’s a family of channels (e.g., ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Classic, etc.) If you’re a subscriber to any one of


hing on

the ESPN network on my tablet, even those channels I don’t get via cable.

  Think about that for a moment. That would be like buying one ebook but getting access to the entire series it’s part of. That’s unheard of in book publishing. It’s also pretty unusual in network broadcasting but ESPN is ahead of its time. When I stream those channels on WatchESPN they’re commercial-free; a static logo appears during commercial breaks. That’s because ESPN hasn’t sold the advertising rights to the streaming broadcasts … yet. They’re willing to stream everything now, even without advertising income, to build a nice solid base to lure those advertisers to the table. Smart.

Building talent franchises

  The article talks about he brought the concept to ESPN to see what they thought. Rather than watching Simmons go off on his own and create something that might compete with them they launched Grantland with him using their arm. When this scenario plays out in the publishing world it usually ends with the author taking the idea somewhere else, often to a self-publisher. It’s clear ESPN is willing to take more risks than the typical book publisher, even if it might lead to cannibalization. As the saying goes though, it’s better to eat your own young than to let someone else do it.

Memorable quotes

  This article is loaded with plenty of interesting observations but my favorite quotes are the following:

  I have friends who work at Google, and they are beating their chests. ESPN, they never feel like they are at the mountaintop. They’re always thinking they can do something bigger. He stresses ESPN’s multi-platform advantage: print, radio, broadcast television, cable television, Internet, mobile applications. To date there are no competitors who have assets in all those media.

I don’t think you’ll find a lot of hubris here. Or complacency. I don’t think there’s any sense of

trying to protect what we’ve got. We’re going to try new things.

  Meanwhile, most book publishers today seem content with high growth rates (off small bases) for what’s nothing more than quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversions. There’s certainly not much happening in the multi-format, multi-channel world ESPN is pioneering.

   What’s your opinion? Do we need to think more like ESPN? And can you name any publishers who are breaking away from the pack and creating some really innovative, multi-channel products?

Perceptive Media: Undoing the Limitations of Traditional Media

  B indicates a clear desire for interactive engagement in

  storytelling on the part of audiences. Researchers at the BBC are pioneering the concept of engagement and content personalization with their Perceptive Media experiment. The Next Web’s managing editor Martin Bryant took a look at Perceptive Media and its first incarnatiarlier this summer. :

  Essentially, it’s media — either video or audio — that adapts itself based on information it knows about individual viewers. So, if you were watching a game show that you’d never seen before, it might show you an explanation of the rules in detail, while regular views are shown bonus, behind-the-scenes footage instead. … Other smart ideas behind Perceptive Media include the idea that TV hardware could automatically recognize who was watching and tailor the content of TV to them automatically.

  I reached out to BBC R&D researcher o find out more about Perceptive Media and the potential for the concept. Our interview follows.

How does Perceptive Media work, and are there privacy concerns?

  Ian Forrester: takes storytelling and narrative back to

  something more aligned to a storyteller and audience around a fire. However, it uses broadcast and Internet technologies in combination to achieve a seamless narrative experience. Ourakes advantage of advanced web technologies [to adapt the content], but it’s only one of many ways we have identified. [Editor’s note: BBC writer Sarah Glenister wrote

  about her experience working on the Breaking Out audio play experiment

] The path we took means there are no privacy or data protection issues.

  Other paths may lean toward learning from what’s being customised (rather then personalised) using a more IP-based solution. The BBC has a rich history in this field, with the likes of , which I was the head of for many years. Big data is the trend right now, but in R&D, I’m more interested in implicit data that comes from us and everything we do.

What driving factors are pointing to the success of this kind of storytelling platform?

Ian Forrester: As an R&D department, its very hard to say for the

  broadcasting industry, and we have even less experience in the publishing industry. However, our research on people’s media habits tells us a lot about people in thetates. We use that research and what we have seen elsewhere to gauge market acceptance.

  At the BBC, we don’t look at advertising, but every other company we’ve seen interested in this type technology/experience/media is thinking adverts and product placement.

  In the early days, Perceptive Media is being applied to broadcast technology. What

potential applications for Perceptive Media do

you envision in the publishing industry? Ian Forrester: We have only scratched the surface and do not know what

  else it can be adapted toward. In BBC R&D, we watch trends by looking at early innovators. It’s clear as day that ebook reading is taking off finally, and as it moves into the digital domain, why does the concept of a book have to be static? is tragic and feels like a massive step back. But Perceptive Media is undoing the limitations of broadcast. It certainly feels like we can overcome the limitations of publishing, too.

  [This interview was lightly edited and condensed.]

Kindle Fire vs iPad: “Good Enough” Will Not Disrupt


  With its recent release of the new Kindle Fire HD tablets, some have argued


. But how serious is the

  threat? Are the two companies even playing the same game? I reached out to analyst , to get his take. Our short interview follows.

How disruptive is the Kindle Fire to the low- end tablet market?

Horace Dediu: The problem I see with the Kindle is that the fuel to make it

  an increasingly better product that can become a general purpose computer that is hired to do most of what we hire computers to do is not there. I mean, that profitability to invest in new input methods, new ways of interacting and new platforms can’t be obtained from a retailer’s margin.

  Also, there is a cycle time problem in that the company does not want to orphan its devices since they should “pay themselves off” as console systems do today. That means the company is not motivated to move its users to newer and “better” solutions that constantly improve. The assumption (implicit) in Kindle is that the product is “good enough” as it is and should be used for many years to come. That’s not a way to ensure improvements necessary to disrupt the computing world. Lastly, the Amazon brand will have a difficult time reaching six billion consumers. Retail is a notoriously difficult business to expand internationally. Digital retail is not much easier than brick-and-mortar. You can see how slow expansion of different media has been for iTunes.

Is Amazon a threat to Apple?

Horace Dediu: Amazon is asymmetric in many ways to Apple. Asymmetry

  can always be a threat because the success of one player is not necessarily to the pain of another. Thus, the “threat” is unfelt, and therefore it’s less likely that there is a response in kind. However, it’s important to couple the asymmetry with a trajectory of improvement where the threat goes from unfelt to clear and present. That’s where I’m having a hard time putting Amazon on a path that crosses Apple’s fundamental success. I’d say it’s something to watch carefully but not yet something that requires a change in strategy. I would add one more footnote: Apple TV is a business that matches Kindle perfectly in strategy. Apple TV is a “cheap” piece of hardware that is designed to encourage content consumption. It is something Apple is doing with very modest success but is not abandoning. Apple is exploring this business model.

What role do you see Apple playing in the future of publishing — and what current trends do you identify as driving factors?

  Horace Dediu: I think Apple will put in a greater effort at the K-12 and

  higher ed levels. I think the education market resonates strongly with them, and they will develop more product strategy there. The main reason is that there are more decision makers and less concentration of channel power.

  [This interview was lightly edited and condensed.]


Don’t Build Social — Thoughts on Reinventing

the Wheel

By Travis Alber

  For the publishing community, social reading has been the hot topic of the year. Since 2008, in fact, social features have spread like wildfire. No publishing conference is complete without a panel discussion on what’s possible. No bundle of Ignite presentations passes muster without a nod to the possibilities created by social features. I understand why: in-content discussion is exciting, especially as we approach the possibility of real-time interaction. Granted, I’m biased. Running a social yself, I think all this interest is great. The web should take advantage of new paradigms! Social discussion

  layers are the future! However, there is one important point that all the

  myriad new projects are ignoring: unless it’s a core feature, most companies shouldn’t build social. That’s right. Unless social discussion features are the thing you’re selling, don’t build it from scratch. What’s core? Your unique value proposition. Are you a bookstore or a social network? A school or a social network? A writing community or a social network? A content creator or a social network? The distinction is often lost on a highly-motivated team trying to be all things to all users. For all these examples, the social network is just an aspect of the business. It is an important piece of the experience, but most of the time it’s not worth the incredible investment in time and manpower to build it from scratch.

Services, APIs, and the Complex Web

  We’ve seen this happen again and again on the web. If you’ve ever heard of


, you’re familiar with the evolution of customer

  service on the web. Ten years ago companies built their own threaded bulletin board systems (and managed the resultant torrent of spam), so that they could “manage the user relationship.” There were some benefits — you could customize the environment completely, for example. But it took the greater portion of a week to build, and a lot of work to maintain. Today that kind of support can be up and running in an hour with third party solutions. Just ask forward thinking companies like , who have embraced these services.

  The same can be said of newsletters. For years newsletters were hand-coded (or text-only) and sent from corporate email accounts. Unsubscribing was difficult. Getting email accounts blacklisted (because they looked like spam) was common. Today everyone uses , or a similar service. Even if you hire an agency to design and manage a system, they’re likely white-labelling and reselling a service like this to you. Companies no longer build a newsletter service. Now you just use an API to integrate your newsletter signup form with a third-party database. Design your newsletter using one of their templates, and let them do all the heavy lifting for email management, bounces, unsubscribes, and usage stats.

  There are other examples. Who stores video and builds their own player? Instead we upload it tustomize the settings, and let the service tell you who watched it, handle storing the heavy files, push player upgrades frequently, etc. Even web hosting itself has become a service that people sign up for - in many cases setting a project up on AWS ( , essentially cloud computing) is faster and easier than acquiring a real hardware server and configuring from scratch.

  The rise of these third-party solutions are a testament to maturity and complexity of our digital world. Specialization makes systems more stable and dependable. Sure, any time you partner with a service there are risks. But I’ve seen so many publishing projects with social features miss their launch deadline or trash their social features before launch because they found they couldn’t get it built, that it’s hard to watch them spin their wheels over a center of your business.

Publishing focus and third-party opportunity

  This move to third-party social solutions should start happening with all the education, journalism, authoring platforms, writing communities and publishing projects currently in development. Although it sounds simple to just add discussion into content, the devil is in the details. Obviously the front end — the process of adding a comment — takes some work, and the estimation for that is fairly straightforward. But what about the paradigm that people use to connect? Are they following people in a Twitter paradigm, or is it a group-based, reciprocal model, like Facebook? Who can delete comments? What can you manage with your administrator dashboard? Are servers ready to scale with peak activity? What kind of stats can you get on how your audience is interacting with your content? Most of these issues don’t relate to the core business.

  In the end, it comes down to the project definition. Is it a bookstore or a social network? I’m guessing nine times out of ten it’s a bookstore first, with additional social features. Focus on controlling the content and making the sale, be unique via curation and selection, and add the rest of the social features in using APIs and third party solutions. Then tweak the experience based on what those third-party services can tell you. That way you have the freedom to experiment and tweak the social options you offer your users, but still focus on your core offering. Everybody wins.

Startups and Publishers: It Ain’t Easy

By Hugh McGuire

  Any startup company trying to work with book publishers will tell you tales of woe and frustration. Big publishers and small publishers (I’ve worked with both) pose different sets of problems for startups, but the end result is a disconnect.

If you sell a product publishers don’t want, who is to “blame”?

  Start-ups tend to blame “slow-moving legacy publishers” … but blame lies as much on startups misunderstanding of publisher needs as on publishers being slow. This is a classic “customer development” problem for startups. The reason things don’t work is not that “publishers are too dumb to see how they should change, and choose me to help them,” but rather that the pains publishers are suffering, and solutions startups are offering, are probably not well matched, for a few kinds of reasons:

  a) the pain startups are trying to solve is not acute enough for the publishers (yet?)

  b) the cost (in time or dollars) to adopt startup solutions is too high (for now?) c) startups are trying to solve the wrong pain (for today?)

  • or-

  d) startups are addressing their products at the wrong customers

Solutions to solve future problems

  In my particular case, I’ve recognized that the pitch ends up being something like:


Eventually you’ll need to embrace solutions like PressBooks because solutions like PressBooks

will radically transform this market flooding the publishing market with more books than you ever imagined …

  That is … we (and others like us) are trying to solve for publishers problems that we are helping create, and which aren’t quite here yet on a scale that is visible to the day-to-day operations of a publishing company. (Certainly these big/catastrophic problems are coming, and soon … but still, it’s a future problem, not a present problem).

Where to next?

  So, as a startup, you have to choose what direction to go in:

  a) try to solve the pain that traditional publishers have right now, which is felt acutely enough

  • or-

  b) (in our case) try to expand the market by helping millions of new publishers exist … thereby helping create the problems traditional publishers will have to face in the coming years I like b) as a direction, but in the end it’s not so surprising that existing publishers aren’t falling all over themselves to embrace solutions for problems that aren’t quite here yet.

The risk of ceding the future to other players

  Still, there is a case to be made that a publisher with a vision of the future you should be out-front of the changing market. As a fellow-traveller in startup frustration, Andrew Rhomberg at ays: Publishing has been — technically speaking — an amazingly stable industry for a very long time.


In defense of publishers: it is going through a transition from analogue to digital AND online

faster than any other media industry before it. But by not partnering, publishers are ceding influence over how this industry will be shaped.

  And that’s the problem for both startups and publishers … most publishing startups are trying to solve problems that will come because of innovations in the future; most publishers are worried about solving the problems of a radically transforming industry right now.

  e suggested creating a kind of Manhattan Project funded by publishers that would invest in new technologies, models and thinking.

  It’s an admirable idea, though evidence from some such initiatives in publishing hasn’t been promising.

In the end, readers will drive the change

  Change is coming though, there is no doubt, and we will know it is here when big numbers of readers start to choose new solutions over existing solutions (see: ebooks). These solutions will come from a mix of startups, of old publishers and new publishers, and crucially, from the big four tech giants: Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook (and possibly others). In the end, it’s readers who will choose the future, which will follow their eyes, minds and wallets. And for all of us — new players and old — our task now is to present readers with different kinds of futures, and see which ones stick.

It’s Time for a Publishing Incubator

By Travis Alber

  Last June, over beer (generally a good place to start), I had a great conversation with entrepreneur about how startups are funded in publishing. There was a lot to discuss, a little to celebrate, a bit to complain about, and one fact that we arrived at beyond everything else. It’s a challenge to raise money for publishing ventures. Sure, raising funding is always difficult, but publishing presents a particular challenge. Publishing is “old media,” and it’s new to the technology game (especially in terms of startups focused on the consumer web). There isn’t a real precedent of cooperation between technology and publishing. And that makes it a challenge to find money to build new things.


  Some of the issues come straight out of the investor community: Most investors are unfamiliar with publishing. Books seem traditional. I can’t tell you how many investors put their personal feelings into the equation and say things like, “Well, my spouse is in a book club, but I don’t read much so I’m probably not a good fit.” Ouch. Although personal experience figures in somewhat, their total unfamiliarity with the market stops them cold before we’ve even started.

  Concerns about returns on investment. It’s true, we haven’t seen the huge acquisitions like Instagram. Or Yammer. Yet. Publishing is worth billions

  • it has what everyone wants: content. So maybe the book industry doesn’t seem like a high growth market. One thing is certain, though, as the industry goes digital, those publishing billions are going to be spent on something. Clear exits will materialize. There’s always the ve a presentation at a TOC event about innovation and he chuckled about this specific question. He pointed out that at this point Google can pretty much build anything anyone can invent. That shouldn’t be your yardstick. The better question is, are the founders smart enough to offer good strategy, a unique experience, or a new market? If so, Google is much more likely to buy the company once the idea proves out, rather than build every single idea in the world. In short, that question is not a question.

  True, there are some people who get investment while working on publishing startups. The list above can be overcome if you’ve worked with those investors before. Or if you’re an Ivy-League ex-Googler that has had a successful exit, you have qualifications that will work in your favor. But that is a frightfully small portion of the people with boots on the ground, developing cool ideas. What about the technically savvy people who don’t meet those criteria (most of the people I know innovating in publishing today)? If in Amercia, those people go out and crash head- first into the arguments listed above, then spend a few years toiling in bootstrapped obscurity.

People have been thinking about this for awhile



  (transcribe ). He put forth a bold vision of collaboration among publishers, each contributing to support innovation and enjoy in its technical fruits. He talked about goals — that survival for publishing is not a “goal” in itself, for example — and that innovation is one of the important pillars of publishing health. He used an example from the gas industry to illustrate how it pooled resources to innovate. He said:


I called the prospect of people not engaging with our content the publishing manifestation of a

super-threat. I’d argue (pretty strongly) that it represents a super-threat not just to publishing, but to the way we function as a country, an economy and as a part of a world order. We have a

responsibility to address this threat, not just so that we can make money, but because we’re the

ones with the ability to solve it. Other industries facing an uncertain future have banded together to form and fund superstructures.

The Gas Research Institute, for example, was authorized in 1976, at a time when the natural gas

industry was highly fragmented among producers, wholesalers and distributors. The latter often

held a local monopoly.

By 1981, GRI was spending $68.5 million on research and a total of $80.5 million on oversight

and R&D. This represented about 0.2% of the wellhead price of gas that year, valued at the time at a bit more than $38 billion.

GRI undertook research and development in four areas…Funding, drawn from a surcharge on

sales as well as some government grants, accelerated to something north of $100 million in the

mid-1980s. If you look across all of publishing in the United States, it’s about a $40 billion business. Imagine what we could do if we could create and sustain an organization with $80 million a year in funding. It’s also likely that an industry-wide commitment to addressing engagement would garner

the external funding that most parties have been understandably reluctant to spend on narrower


  A good point. A great plan. If show us that publishers can partner, then why not partner in innovation? Brian gives a number of concrete suggestions for areas to focus on. I’ve been mulling this over ever since he gave this presentation. Despite his guidelines and recommendations, it hasn’t happened yet. But there’s a way this idea fits neatly into startupland.

The publishing incubator

  A similar solution already exists in the tech world: the incubator. If you’re not familiar with it, technology incubators accept applications from startups in small batches. If accepted, the startup gets between $20,000 - $100,000 (in exchange for around 5% equity), along with three months of office space, mentors, a chance to demo for investors, and a lot of help. Investors get early access to cutting-edge technology. Corporations are encouraged to come in and meet the startups at any point along the way.


  multiple times a year. Imagine the amount of healthcare innovation going on right now. Education does this too. Incubator is one of many education-focused incubators from across the country — with a group of startups that has raised $10M post-graduation. And Turner Broadcasting just launched an incubator in NYC called . Since the products integrate with broadcast media, there is a major focus on mentorship from executives in the field, and a lot of discussion about how to work with big media conglomerates. Sounds a lot like what we need in publishing. Even publishing expertbout how he is struggling with how to distribute his TechFellow money to startups.



  efforts. But those teams are usually small, and since they’re internal they don’t have the massive variation we see in incubators. One company isn’t going to move the needle for an entire industry in that way. We need an incubator for publishing technology. We need a group of investors and publishers that want to benefit from a pool of innovation, and encourage it grow. With this, publishers would contribute to and sponsor events, perhaps even influence the direction of future partners. Investors would raise the fund, and choose the most viable startups. Innovation and disruption might actually find a common ground, as new technologies could

   this gets us there.

  This should exist now. I’ve been working on publishing startups for five years and I have yet to see it. Moreover, with so many publishers on the East Coast, New York City is the place to do it. New York has a healthy startup industry, access to publishers and publishing conferences, mentors and experts. My question is, who’s going to do something about it? Who’s with


The Slow Pace of eBook Innovation




Ebook vendors enjoy a closed loop ecosystem. They have millions of reader/customers who are

satisfied with EPUB 2 display capabilities and devices. Amazon readers, for example, are largely

content with the offerings in the proprietary Kindle store; they’re not lining up with torches and

pitchforks to push for improvements. While publishers wait for eReader device manufacturers to add new features and EPUB 3 support, eBooksellers are just as happy to wait. The best way to promote EPUB 3 right now is to bypass it in favor of delivering ultra-innovative

books through the web and app-based distribution. When we can give eReader device makers a

compelling reason to bring eReaders into parity with apps and webkit browsers, they’ll put their

mouths where our money is. Until eBookstores know they’re losing sales to alternative/open

channels, they’re going to sit pretty, stall, and make money doing what they’re doing.

  Who’s pushing for innovation in the ebook space? Publishers? No, they’re fairly content with quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions and they’re risk averse when it comes to making big investments in richer content formats. Retailers? Nope. If retailers were motivated we’d see much broader adoption of EPUB 3 in the various readers and apps out there.



  (e.g., Samsung) have no incentive to update all the existing devices. They’d prefer to force you into a new phone rather than give you a quick OS update with all the new features. This is one area that Apple really understands and gets right. When they come out with a new version of iOS they have it pushed out to as many customers as possible (assuming their devices can support it). Apple knows there’s so much sex appeal for each new device they don’t have to starve existing device owners from the new OS features. Will an ebook vendor ever follow Apple’s iOS model and lead the industry to a more accelerated pace of innovation? Or is Dave Bricker right that web delivery is the best way forward?

Putting a Value on Classic Content

By Robert Cottrell

  Think of a newspaper or magazine as a mountain of data to which a thin new layer of topsoil gets added each day or each week. Everybody sees the new soil. But what’s underneath gets covered up and forgotten. Even the people who own the mountain don’t know much about the lower layers.

  That wouldn’t matter if old content was bad content. But it’s not. Journalism, at least good journalism, dates much less than we are prone to think. You never hear anybody say, “I’m not going to listen to that record because it was released last year”, or, “I’m not going to watch that film because it came out last month”. Why are we so much less interested in journalism that’s a month or a year old? The answer is this: We’ve been on the receiving end of decades of salesmanship from the newspaper industry, telling us that today’s newspaper is essential, but yesterday’s newspaper is worthless. Look who’s talking. It’s been 50 years since newspapers had the main job of telling people what’s new that day. For decades they’ve been filling their pages with more and more timeless writing. The process is all but complete. Go back into the features pages of your favourite newspaper from a year ago, and you’ll find scarcely a piece that couldn’t appear just as easily today, with a few very minor changes. All this boils down to a simple proposition: old content is undervalued in the market, relative to new content. There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of articles in writers’ and publishers’ archives which are as good to read today as they were on the day they were published. Yet they are effectively valued by their owners at zero, written off, never to be seen again. I say all this with feeling because for the past five years I have been curating a recommendations sitecking out six to eight of the best pieces published online each day. The thought of all these thousands of pieces, every one a delight, lying dormant in archives, strikes me as deeply unfair to both writers and readers. I have my own ideas for exploiting this market failure. What puzzles me do almost none of them (the New Yorker is an honourable exception) make any serious attempt to organise, prioritise and monetise their archives? They, after all, are the owners of the mountains, and whatever treasures may lie buried within.

  The answer is that they are too fixated on adding the daily or weekly layer of new topsoil. Some of them, I know from experience, see any serious effort to monetise their archive content as a form of competition with their new content. At most, they may have some “related content” algorithms, but those algorithms are only going to be as good as the database tagging, which is to say, not good at all.

  So here’s my advice: Newspapers and magazines, make your next hire an archive editor. Mine that mountain of fantastic free content. It’s your history and your brand. Don’t just sit on it.

Reading Experience and Mobile Design

By Travis Alber

  It’s all about user experience. Once you get past whether a book is available on a particular reading platform, the experience is the distinguishing factor. How do you jump back to the table of contents? How do you navigate to the next chapter? How do you leave notes? How does it feel? Is it slick? Clunky? Satisfying? Difficult? Worth the money? A few weeks ago, at omeone asked me how I approach new digital publishing projects. How to test or design them. Where to start. The easy answer: start by looking at mobile design. The way we design reading experiences and the way we’ve been designing mobile applications are similar. The two are converging.

Mobile design?

  Mobile design patterns and best practices overlap with the way we design (or should design) reading experiences. It’s a simple concept that may seem unremarkable — that generic concepts in mobile design and user experience apply when putting together a reading system — but it’s actually at the heart of building something in publishing today. If this sounds technical, it isn’t. If you’ve used a smartphone to read email, a tablet to read magazines, or an e-reader to consume content, you’re experienced enough to have seen a number of mobile design patterns, even if you didn’t notice them. Consistent functionality, simple interfaces, polished graphics, and speedy responses: together these things are all part of mobile experience design. As the opportunity for reading long-form text explodes across different platforms, the reading systems (the way we navigate through the content), will draw from the lessons mobile UX designers have learned over the last decade, from things that had little to do with reading.

Five convergence points for mobile design & reading system design

  1. Simplicity is really, really important

  For people using a mobile device, connections are slow. Images need to load quickly. There isn’t space to explain (or use) 20 different features. People close apps before bothering with a FAQ. People are impatient. Knowing this, mobile UX designers are specific about what goals they design for, and they stick to those. Most mobile apps do just a few things, and they strive to do them well. That keeps apps very straightforward and simple.

  Obviously simplicity has always been a sign of an optimal reading experience. Open and read, right? In fact, it’s best if most of the chrome around a book disappears, so readers can focus on the content. It’s natural that the most successful reading systems need to follow this principle of mobile design.

  2. Everything takes place in the context of our lives

  The first thing UX designers learn when working on a mobile project: people use phones while doing other things. They use them one-handed. They often use them when they are not at home. Design for sub-optimal conditions, because you never know if you have someone’s complete attention.

  Reading also takes place within the contextual fabric of how we live our lives. People read books on the subway. At the doctor’s office. In coffee shops. Loud noises, phone calls, check-ins, and conversations all disrupt the experience, even with paper books. As long as we have an easy way to mark our place, a simple way to carry it with us, and a graceful way for features to fail until we can get back to optimal conditions (for example, in the way a reading service might need to reconnect to upload notes), reading systems will act like people expect them to: consistently.

  3. No one will wait to read

  One the biggest complaints when the original Kindle came out was the page refresh. It was a simple blink to swap out the content from one page to the next. People didn’t want to wait for the next page to load — they expected it to appear instantly.

  The same is true of mobile. There are a number of design patterns created to notify the user that content is loading. Different loading bars and contextual messages are designed to manage people’s expectations in a world of high- speed internet, where most clicks bring content to them instantly. This is called latency, and it will drive users away. In both reading systems and mobile apps, latency needs to be under control.

  4. Patterns matter create a uniform experience across applications. For

  example, if you’re filling out a form in a mobile app, there are some best practices the designer has (hopefully) followed, like saving your data as you enter it (people typing with their thumbs don’t have a lot of patience if they have to do it twice), or preserving that data if an error message loads (for the same reason). Granted, these are good guidelines on the web too, but they are really of paramount importance in mobile. These best practices are used inside recommended patterns, so layouts must have optimal places for error messages, or easy ways to update content. You see those patterns repeated in the way lists and forms work across all your mobile apps. (I use patterns and

  best practices loosely here, the exact definition of each is eternally debated

  among UX professionals.) How does this relate to reading systems? On one level, the same applies to users adding notes or reading socially — respect the data because most people won’t enter it twice. But it also has a lot to do with design patterns for reading. The way a table of contents is treated, the way people move through books, the expectation that there will be a way to bookmark a section — these are all patterns.

  Last month, at ve a presentation on

   . In it he talks about how, if you need a screen of

  instructions on how to use your reading app, it’s probably too complex. To avoid this, UX designers need to pay attention to user expectations and habits. Everything from page-turn options, to title visibility to a linkable table of contents, these rules are being created now, and they need to be followed consistently.

  5. APIs will be the source of interactivity and real-time action

  Mobile systems often pull in different informational feeds: maps, Twitter posts, ratings. The flow of information into mobile apps means that the applications are richer; these capabilities live on top of an app’s core system. Expect to see the same thing in reading systems. Although many reading systems are a bit too immature to allow full EPUB 3 capabilities, they will evolve to allow JavaScript and the ability to bring in real-time data. iBooks does this with limited ability now. Enhancements that make reading better without being a direct part of the book are going to very popular. And readers will expect it in the way they expect it from mobile apps.

  All of these similarities between mobile design and reading systems exist now; faster, better reading applications will be created if we are mindful of what has already been defined by the mobile experience.

Serial Fiction: Everything Old Is New Again

By Alice Armitage

  2012 may be remembered as the year that digital publishing brought serial fiction back to the reading public. Readers in the 19th and early 20th centuries often read fictional stories in installments in newspapers and magazines: books were simply too expensive for many people. But as affordable paperbacks flooded the market in the mid-1900s, serials lost popularity. Now, however, the ease of delivering installments to digital devices, combined with the limited time people have to devote to reading, is leading to a resurgence of interest in serial fiction.

  Serial fiction has been available on the web since the 1990s. But suddenly in the last six months, there has been an explosion of interest in fiction delivered in installments: Amazon announced its , and


  were launched, and at least one award-winning novelist, began writing her own serial stories.

Why should you be interested in serial fiction?

  Whether you are looking at this development as a publisher, reader, or author, there are plenty of reasons. For a publisher, serial fiction provides ongoing engagement with your readers. Each new installment is delivered to them automatically on their device of choice, bringing your product back into the forefront of their minds. The episodic nature of serial fiction may also increase the buzz around the author and the story, as there is often a lively online discussion among readers about what may happen in future installments. This enhances discoverability by creating more opportunities for new readers to hear about the product. Perhaps most interesting for publishers is the flexibility in payment options for serial fiction. For example, Kindle Serials charges one low price for the purchase of the series up front, with each subsequent installment delivered for free. If the series is well-subscribed, when it is complete, it is offered for sale as a book, either as a paperback or as a Kindle edition. The price for this often exceeds the price for the series if purchased when it began. Other publishers charge a per installment price, usually also offering a discounted price for all installments if paid upfront as the series begins. Some have experimented with offering the first installment for free, with subsequent installments at a set price, charged as each is delivered. And a few publishers have begun selling subscriptions to their site, with all series then available for free, no matter whether delivered in installments or as a completed whole. Obviously serial fiction lends itself to many different business models. For a reader, serial fiction provides the opportunity to personally tailor the reading experience. Some serials offer quite short installments, 1,000 words or so per piece (Silent History is an example of this). Others are closer to 10,000 words per installment (like ), and some are more like short stories in each installment, running between 50,000 and 100,000 words (like ).

Frequency, engagement, and experimentation

  The shorter the installment, the more often it is likely to be delivered. For example, Silent History delivers a new installment each weekday for four weeks and then takes a break for a week to let everyone catch up before issuing new installments. Where a reader plans to read each installment may be a factor in what they purchase. For example, someone looking for something to entertain them during their 30 minute commute will most likely want longer installments than someone looking for a diversion while they wait in line for 10 minutes at the bank. But for someone about to begin a three-hour plane flight, a few installments of novella length may be the most appealing. Readers may also like serial fiction for the option it provides for interaction with the author through online discussions of upcoming installments, which may influence the direction of the story. (Authors have reported they have changed the ending or the level of involvement of secondary characters based on reader feedback.) And lastly, the need for cliffhangers at the end of each installment, as well as other techniques for bringing readers back to the story after a waiting period, means that serial fiction is often more intricately plotted and engaging than a stand alone book might be.

  For an author, serial fiction offers the chance to experiment with new ways of storytelling. Pieces are shorter and more quickly delivered to readers. This allows authors the possibility of receiving reader feedback before the story is finished — a kind of agile development model for writing. And for serial fiction offered as apps on Apple devices, there is the opportunity to use the increased functionality of the mobile device as a part of the storytelling. For example, Silent History tells the main story through short “Testimonials”, written by the authors. But there is the option of reading and/or creating what are called “Field Reports.” These stories (based on the fictional premise of the app) are written by the community of readers and can be accessed only within 10 meters of the GPS location about which the field report is written. Another app, Seven Poets, offers not just the story installments, but also “newspaper articles” on the main events in the story, as well as challenges to the reader based on the events of each installment, the results of which are stored and can be shared as “Your Story” with a reader’s own community.

It still comes down to great writing

  Overall, after reading many different kinds and examples of the serial fiction that has recently burst onto the scene, I have to say I like the flexibility of matching my current reading needs (the length of time I have, my attention span at the moment, the situation I’m reading in — is it a quiet doctor’s office or the DMV?) with all the different sorts of serials available at an affordable price. And I am amused by the new ways of telling stories utilizing the bells and whistles of my mobile devices. But I have discovered that the measuring stick for serials is the same as the one I use for all books: How good is the writing? Over time, neither the novelty of periodic delivery of installments nor the new storytelling techniques available through my device kept me interested in the story unless the plot was intriguing, the characters were fully developed, and the writing was engaging. Bottom line: I like the flexibility of serial fiction, but only good writing will keep me coming back for more.

Getting the Content Out There Isn’t Enough Anymore

By Jenn Webb

  Content is still king, but now it has to share its crown. Justo Hidalgo ( , 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?


Justo 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 ofnd 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


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.

  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



  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.]

Amazon, eBooks, and Advertising

  B It all started harmlessly enough with Amazon’s Kindle with Special Offers.

  That’s the cheaper Kindle that displays ads when the device is in sleep mode or at the bottom of the screen when paging through the owner’s catalog of books. It is very unobtrusive and, since it lowered the price of the device, has made that Kindle an extremely popular device.



Amazon to drive a bit of additional income that’s pure profit for them.

  Given that Amazon’s goal is to offer customers the lowest prices on everything, what’s the next logical step? How about even lower prices on ebooks where Amazon starts making money on in-book ads? Think Google AdWords, built right into the book. Of course, Amazon won’t want to use Google’s platform. They’ll use their own so they keep 100% of the revenue.

  The changes the DOJ is requiring for the agency model means a retailer can’t sell ebooks at a loss, but they can still sell them for no profit, or break even. In other words, the 30% the retailer would keep on an agency ebook sale can be passed along to the customer as a 30% discount on the list price, but that’s as deep a discount as that retailer can offer. The rules are different with the wholesale model. Amazon already loses money on sales of many wholesale-model ebooks. Let’s talk about a hypothetical wholesale model title with a digital list price of $25. Amazon is required to pay the publisher roughly half that price, or about $12.50 for every copy sold, but that ebook might be one of the many that are listed at $9.99 for the Kindle. So every time Amazon sells a copy, they lose $2.51 ($12.50 minus $9.99). Amazon has deep enough pockets to continue doing this, though, so they’re quite comfortable losing money and building market share. So, what’s preventing Amazon from taking an even bigger loss and selling that ebook for $4.99 or $0.99 instead? In the wholesale model world, the answer to that question is: “nothing is preventing them from doing that.” And if selling ebooks at a loss for $9.99 makes sense, especially when it comes to building market share, why doesn’t it also make sense to sell them at $4.99, $0.99 or even free for some period of time? It probably depends on how much pain Amazon wants to inflict on other retailers and how much attention they’re willing to call to themselves for predatory pricing.

  Make no mistake about the fact that Amazon would love to see ebook pricing approach zero. That’s right. Zero. That might seem outlandish, but isn’t that exactly what they’re doing with their program? Now you can read ebooks for free as part of your Prime membership. The cost of Prime didn’t go up, so they’ve essentially made the consumer price of those ebooks zero.

  Why wouldn’t they take the same approach with in-book advertising? At some point in the not-too-distant future, I believe we’ll see ebooks on Amazon at fire-sale prices. I’m not just talking about self-published titles or books nobody wants. I’ll bet this happens with some bestsellers and midlist titles. Amazon will make a big deal out of it and note how these cheaper prices are only available through Amazon’s in-book advertising program.

  Maybe they’ll still offer the ad-free editions at the higher prices, but you can bet they’ll make the ad-subsidized editions irresistible. Remember that they can only do this for books in the wholesale model. But quite a few publishers use the wholesale model, so the list opportunities are enormous. And as Amazon builds momentum with this, they’ll also build a very strong advertising platform. One that could conceivably compete with Google AdWords outside of ebooks, too. Publishers and authors won’t suffer as long as Amazon still has to pay the full wholesale discount price. Other ebook retailers will, though. Imagine B&N trying to compete if a large portion of Amazon’s ebook list drops from $9.99 to $4.99 or less. Even with , B&N simply doesn’t have deep enough pockets to compete on losses like this, at least not for very long. At the same time, Amazon will likely tell publishers the only way they can compete is by significantly lowering their ebook list prices. They’ll have the data to show how sales went up dramatically when consumer prices dropped to $4.99 or less. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon would give preferential treatment to publishers who agree to lower their list prices (e.g., more promotions, better visibility, etc.).

  By the time all that happens, Amazon will probably have more than 90% of the ebook market and a nice chunk of their ebook list that no longer has to be sold at a loss. And oh, let’s not forget about the wonderful in-book advertising platform they’ll have built buy then. That’s an advertising revenue stream that Amazon would not have to share with publishers or authors. That might be the most important point of all.

  What do you think? Why wouldn’t Amazon follow this strategy, especially since it helps eliminate competitors, leads to market dominance and fixes the loss-leader problem they currently have with many ebook sales?

   been lightly edited.]

New Life for Used eBooks

By Joe Wikert

  I’ve got quite a few ebooks in two different accounts that I’ve read and will never read again. I’ll bet you do, too. In the print world, we’d pass those along to friends, resell them or donate them to the local library. Good luck doing any of those things with an ebook.

  Once you buy an ebook, you’re pretty much stuck with it. That’s yet another reason why consumers want low ebook prices. Ebooks are lacking some of the basic features of a print book, so of course they should be lower-priced. I realize that’s not the only reason consumers want low ebook prices, but it’s definitely a contributing factor. I’d be willing to pay more for an ebook if I knew I could pass it along to someone else when I’m finished with it.

  The opportunity in the used ebook market isn’t about higher prices, though. It’s about expanding the ebook ecosystem.

  The used print book market helps with discovery and affordability. The publisher and author already got their share on the initial sale of that book. Although they may feel they’re losing the next sale, I’d argue that the content is reaching an audience that probably wouldn’t have paid for the original work anyway, even if the used book market didn’t exist. Rather than looking at the used book world as an annoyance, it’s time for publishers to think about the opportunities it could present for ebooks.



  direction as well and have the original ebook with more rich content than the version the customer is able to either resell or pass along to a friend; if the used ebook recipient wants to add the rich content back in they could come back to the publisher and buy it.

  As long as we look at the used market through the lens of print products, we’ll never realize all the options it has to offer in the econtent world. That’s why we should be willing to experiment. In fact, I’m certain one or more creative individuals will come up with new ways to think about (and distribute) used ebooks that we’ve never even considered.

  “lets you store, stream, buy and sell pre-owned digital music.” As the article points out, ebooks are next on ReDigi’s priority list. Capitol Records is suing to shut down ReDigi; I suspect the publishing industry will react the same way. Regardless of whether ReDigi is operating within copyright law, I think there’s quite a bit we can learn from their efforts. That’s why I plan to reach out to them this week to see if we can include them in an upcoming event. By the way, even if ReDigi disappears, you can bet this topic won’t. Amazon makes loads of money in the used book market and Jeff Bezos is a smart man. If there’s an opportunity in the used ebook space, you can bet he’ll be working on it to further reinforce Amazon’s dominant position.


In-Book Purchases

By Joe Wikert

  We’re all familiar with the in-app purchase model. It’s a way to convert a free app into a revenue stream. In the gaming world it’s an opportunity to sell more levels even if the base product wasn’t free. Each of the popular ereader apps allow you to purchase books within them, of course, but why does it end there? What if you could make additional purchases within that ebook? Here’s an example: I’m almost finished reading Walter Isaacson’s terrific biography of paid $14.99 for the Nook version and as I’ve read it I’ve been tempted to go out to YouTube and relive some of the interviews and product launches Jobs did over the years. I didn’t do that though, mostly because it would have required me to close the ebook and search for the relevant video.

  I would have paid an extra $5 for an enhanced version of the book with all the YouTube videos embedded (or linked to). Sell me the base edition for $15 and let me decide to upgrade to the richer version for an additional price. Even though everyone won’t necessarily upgrade why not make the option available to those who might? My example is pretty simplistic but the lesson here is to think about how a single product can be re-deployed as multiple products. Think basic, enhanced and premium editions, each at different price points and upgradable to the next level. The most successful approach here is likely one where the basic edition is as inexpensive as possible and readers are given a compelling reason to upgrade to the enhanced and premium editions.

  What do you think? Is this a viable model and can it be implemented in today’s walled gardens or will it have to wait till more ebooks are being sold direct to consumers by the publisher?


Why a Used eBook Ecosystem Makes Sense

By Joe Wikert

  I , the company making waves by helping consumers resell their digital music. One day consumers will also be able to resell their ebooks via ReDigi and that has some publishers concerned. What’s a “used ebook” anyway and should consumers be allowed to resell them? I felt the answer to the last part of that question was “yes” before I spoke with ReDigi founder John Ossenmacher but our conversation convinced me even more that reselling ebooks will be a good thing for everyone.

  I should first mention that at O’Reilly we already allow you to resell the ebooks you buy directly from us . If you’re not a fan of consumers reselling their ebooks I ask you to consider two key points John made in our conversation: authentication and revenue. One of the first steps you take after joining ReDigi is to let the service scan your music collection so they can determine what’s legit and what’s not. That’s right, ReDigi is able to analyze your music collection to determine which songs you bought from services like iTunes vs. the songs you illegally downloaded from a torrent site. RedDigi only lets you resell songs they’ve identified as legitimate purchases. John tells me their ebook service will have the same forensic capabilities. That means pirated books cannot be resold through ReDigi. Better yet, the ReDigi service also puts a little “make me legal” reminder next to every illegal file it finds in a customer’s collection. Click on that reminder and you’ll be able to pay for each of those pirated files to make them legit. How cool is that? Still not convinced it’s a viable service? What if I told you the IP owner also gets a cut of the resale transaction? It’s true. When ReDigi launches their ebook reselling platform publishers (and therefore authors) will get part of the resulting revenue stream. Good luck making that happen at a used print book shop! Seeing what ReDigi is up to makes me even more excited about the future of reselling digital content. I also wonder if consumers will tolerate higher ebook prices if they know they can resell them just like they can resell a print

  What do you think? Is ReDigi on to something here? Could a service like this help the industry avoid the race to zero pricing?

In the Case of Interactivity, We’re Still at the Phase of Irrational Enthusiasm

By Jenn Webb

  When it comes to including interactive features in books, “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” may be your best rule of thumb. In the following interview, Theodore Gray, Wolfram Research, Inc. co-founder and author of , offers insight into the interactivity issue. He says, “Interactivity for its own sake is a bad thing: It should always be serving communication.” Gray also says that static ebooks haven’t fundamentally changed the dynamics of publishing, but that super-enhanced ebooks are staking out new territory.

Where do you draw the line between meaningful and gimmicky interactivity?

Theodore Gray: It’s all about communication. If an interactive feature helps

  communicate an idea, helps the reader understand a complicated concept, or in some way makes the material easier to navigate, search, organize, or visualize, then it’s probably a good feature. If it’s just cool but tends to distract from the material, then maybe it’s a good idea for a game but not as an interactive element in a book. Very much the same principle applies to film editing, where one must always be willing to throw out one’s favorite scene because, however cool it is, it does not contribute to the story. In fact, the more cool and amazing a scene or feature is, the more on guard you have to be that perhaps the only reason you like it is because it’s cool, not because it has earned a proper place in the film or book you’re working on.

  It’s hard to be more specific because every situation is so different, but in general, I believe in the principles of minimalism expounded by the likes of

  nd Apple. If you’ve got pixels on the screen occupied by

  something that is not directly contributing to communication, then they had better be prepared to justify their existence in front of a skeptical committee. Not that you can never have pure adornment, you’d just better have a really good reason for it.

Are there times when interactivity is detrimental and should be avoided?

Theodore Gray: There are certainly some kinds of activity on the screen that

  are purely bad — for example, animated images that keep playing while you’re trying to read. On the web, people learned years ago how incredibly annoying this is, but the allure to designers is so strong that it seems we need to learn the lesson all over again. A quick movement as an image comes on screen is fine, but if there is body text meant to be read on a page, then the images had better stop moving within a second or less. I think continuous animation is fine on a menu or title page where the focus should actually be on the moving images, but not on a body text page where it is a pure distraction. I don’t want to name names out of deference to the well-intended atrocities committed by some ebooks, but there are a number of examples out there where people obviously felt that their book would benefit from some kind of interactivity, but they didn’t have any good ideas for interactivity that would communicate new information or clarify important ideas. So, they just threw in gratuitous things that flip when you touch them and the like. This might be okay in something meant for very small children, but even there I think it’s a cop out. Doing good interactivity is very hard, and it’s even harder to admit when you don’t have a good enough idea and should just stick with plain text.

How have mobile platforms changed the publishing landscape?

Theodore Gray: The large-scale switch to conventional, static ebooks for

  trade books and scholarly monographs is clearly under full steam, and while print books are here for a very long time, the center of gravity is clearly shifting to ebooks. But this hasn’t really fundamentally changed the dynamics of publishing. Yes, there are power struggles between publishers and retailers over price points, margins, etc., but that’s nothing new. Publishers have been fighting with retailers for a generation, and I think the introduction of static ebooks is part of a continuous evolution in these power relationships, not, at this point, a fundamentally new thing.

  Super-enhanced ebooks like ishes are a bit further out of bounds, in that they stake out a new territory somewhere between book publishing, game development, and movie/television production. If they turn out to be an important segment of the book market, then they change the kinds of talent and skills publishers need to be competitive. Whether they will also stake out new territory in distribution models or power relationships between authors, agents, publishers, and retailers/distributors remains to be seen.


What kinds of tools do authors need to create

interactive content, and what new skills might

they need to develop? Theodore Gray: Good interactivity is hard. Fundamentally, it’s the same

  skill set needed for any kind of software development, which means hard- core programming talent, interactive/game design skill, and visual design skill. There are some tools that can make interactivity much easier within limited domains, but most of these result in shallow — which is to say bad — interactivity. For highly technical kinds of interactivity, nd Wolfram’s


are attractive tools, in that they allow very

  deep computation and data-based interactivity with minimal software development. But for more visual/graphical or game-like interactivity, there are no shortcuts.

What are some guidelines authors should follow when considering interactive features for content?

Theodore Gray: You have to be ruthless in assessing what kinds of

  interactivity, if any, are appropriate. Back when computers were first able to print with a range of different fonts, people started producing documents littered with dozens of different fonts and faces. It’s a natural response, but it’s also a passing phase. Today, it’s not so important to have rules like “no more than three fonts on a page” because people are no longer excited about this capability, and they naturally tend toward more reasonable font choices.

  In the case of interactivity, we’re still at the phase of irrational enthusiasm for littering every page with six different interactive things, whether they make any sense or not. Interactivity for its own sake is a bad thing: It should always be serving communication.

How should one decide between building an ebook and building an app? Is there a tipping point?

Theodore Gray: The tipping point is when there is important, meaningful

  useful interactivity you want to have in your book, but it isn’t supported by the ebook format you have available. This is a shifting ground, as ebook formats continue to evolve to support more kinds of interactivity. For Touch Press, what we do is so far beyond what anything like EPUB can do that there’s no question about it — we have to make apps. For a mystery novel, it might be equally obvious that it should be a static ebook. The important point that some people seem to miss is that the only difference between an “ebook” and an “ebook app” is technical. An ebook app should still be a book and have all the same characteristics of readability — good writing, user-driven pacing, calm presentation, etc. — as a static ebook does.

  I think it’s a failing of the current distribution models that there is such a hard line between ebooks and apps. The fact that there is a “Books” category in the Apple App Store as well as an iBooks store is very un-Apple-like in the confusion it creates. There should just be a bookstore that contains books. Some of those books might be EPUB-format static ebooks with limited interactivity, some of them might be more highly interactive books that are implemented with their own custom C-code (i.e. they are apps), but either way, they are books in a bookstore.

  [This interview was edited and condensed.]

Are eBooks Good Enough Already?




  Is it possible that ebooks are already good enough? Are we currently experiencing the best possible forms for the enjoyment of a written work? It’s a viable question because, if you look closely at your reading habit and preferences, what would you really need or want to change that is materially different from what you’re capable of doing today? As more technological innovation hits ebooks (and storytelling, sharing, news, etc.), more readers are complaining in unison not about the lack of robust multimedia or interactive elements but about the need for improved basics: cross-device portability, page formatting, font sizing & clarity, bookmarking, sharing, etc. Improvements aren’t being sought in the quality / type of the content’s presentation. Improvements are being asked for relative to the consumption experience. It’s possible we’re looking at the ideal form for an ebook and we’re taking it for granted.

  What if the time spent and money invested in building “new” ways for stories to be presented was, instead, spent on / invested in helping storytellers gather information and formulate ideas to create more high-quality stories? Could an entire industry be working to solve the wrong problem? Thank you for the prompt, Mr. Dediu.

  [Ed. note: You’ll also want to read Jenn Webb’s earlier interview with Horace Dedi

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, TO of

  alks 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.

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

Kristian 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.

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.]


Book Marketing Is Broken. Big Data Can Fix It


  Peter Collingridgeays digital books are requiring a new style of data-driven marketing and promotion that

  In the following interview, Collingridge talks about how real-time data and analytics can help publishers and he shares insights from the beta period of


market intelligence service for books his company is developing.

What are some key findings from the Bookseer beta?

Peter Collingridge: I think despite the increasing awareness of data as being

  a critical tool for publishers to compete, it’s genuinely hard for people to look at data as a natural addition to the work they are doing, whether that’s in PR, marketing, acquisition, or pricing. Publishing has operated in a well-defined way for a long time, where experience and intuition have dominated decision making and change is hard. What has been really exciting is that when people have the data in front of them, clearly showing the immediate impact of something they did — a link between cause and effect that they couldn’t see before — they get really excited. We’ve had people talking about being “obsessed” and “addicted” to the data. Some of the most surprising findings: That on some titles, big price changes aren’t as relevant to volume as everyone thinks; that big-name glowing reviews of literary fiction don’t have anywhere near the impact on sales to merit the effort; and that social media buzz almost never translates into sales.

  For me, the key observations so far are around marketing. First, big budget media spending and ostentatious banner ads might impress authors and bookshops, but they deliver very poor return on investment (ROI) for sales. Secondly, the super-smart publishers arend doing tiny little pieces of very focused and cheap marketing — and watching the results like hawks before iterating in direct response to the data. Bookseer is designed to disclose the former and to aid the latter — and that is probably our biggest finding: it works!

What kinds of data are most important for publishers to track?

Peter Collingridge: Before we built Bookseer, we spoke with 25 people

  across the industry, including authors big, small and unpublished; editors and publishers; managing directors; digital directors; sales, marketing and PR directors; and literary agents. We asked exactly that question. For most people, the data they had was pretty basic: Nielsen (which obviously only goes to the granularity of one week) plus the F5 button to manically refresh an Amazon web page for changes in sales rank. Neither of these is particularly helpful in determining the impact of an activity.

  Of course, there are loads of data points, but we began with the lowest- hanging fruit. Aggregated sales (print and digital) across multiple sources; Amazon sales rank; price; best-seller charts; social media mentions; buzz; review coverage in mainstream and new media, and on social reading sites; and other factors such as promotion (advertising and other) and merchandising.

  We think the most important thing to do is aggregate activity and data points across as many sources as possible, building a picture of what’s going on for one title or across a whole retailer, and allowing publishers to draw their own conclusions.

What does real-time data let publishers do?

Peter Collingridge: Publishing has been B2B, about supplying books into bookshops, for forever — combined with working with media to support that

  And for that world, weekly aggregated retail sales work, I guess. But when you’re in a much faster-paced world, with the industry moving toward being consumer- rather than trade-facing, and with a fragmented retail and media landscape, you need to make decisions based on fact: What is the ROI on a £50,000 marketing campaign? Where do my banner ads have the best CTR? Who are the key influencers here — are they bloggers, mainstream media, or somewhere else? How many of our Twitter followers actually engage? When should we publish, in what format, and at what price? Data should absolutely inform the answers to these questions. Furthermore, with a disciplined approach to promotion, where activities are separated from each other by a day or a few hours, real-time measurement can identify what works and what doesn’t. We can identify the difference between Al Gore tweeting about a book and Tim O’Reilly doing the same; the difference between a Time review and a piece on CNN; the impact of a price drop against an email sent to 200,000 subscribers; and measure the exact ROI on a £300 campaign against a £30,000 one.

  Over time, you build up a picture of which tactics work best and which don’t. And immediate feedback allows you to hone your activities in real-time to what works best (particularly if you are A/B testing different approaches), or from a more strategic perspective, to plan out campaigns that have historically worked best for comparable titles.

How would you describe the relationship between sales and social media?

  Peter Collingridge: Right now, sales drives social — not the other way

  round. However, I believe there will come a point when that’s not the case, and we will be able to identify that.

  [This interview was edited and condensed.]

Will Retailers Start Playing Big Brother with Our Content?


  One summer morning in 2009 countless Kindle customers awoke to discover


  been taken and Amazon eventually noted that “we are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.” That’s a smart adjustment, but how much control should an ebook retailer have over the content it distributes? Should the retailer be allowed to alter any of the content? I started thinking about this when I considered how a service like , they’ve “designed a plug-in that publishers can add to their eBooks to gain valuable insights about how to make their books better for readers and more successful in bookstores.” I love it. They’re gathering extremely useful data for publishers by simply adding some code to the ebook.

  But what if an ebook retailer decides they don’t like this service? Maybe they’ve engineered their own customer data gathering solution and are planning to charge publishers for it. Or maybe they just decide they don’t want a third-party to have access to their customer data.




  code and remove it. Doing so across an entire library of titles would be a bit time-consuming, but far from impossible. But should a retailer be allowed to go in and remove the code for this or any other service? If so, where do you draw the line? What if you publish a book that includes some unflattering commentary about that retailer? Should they be able to edit that out? I believe the answer is no, a thousand times no. A retailer should have absolutely no right whatsoever to alter the content they’re selling, even if it includes code for a service they might ultimately want to offer as well. Hiptype is just the start. We will undoubtedly see many new and innovative services that operate through a plug-in or a bit of code in the ebook.

  Will these services be allowed to survive and will retailers keep their hands off our content?

It’s Time for a Unified eBook Format and the End of DRM

By Joe Wikert

  Imagine buying a car that locks you into one brand of fuel. A new BMW, for example, that only runs on BMW gas. There are plenty of BMW gas stations around, even a few in your neighborhood, so convenience isn’t an issue. But if one of those other gas stations offers a discount, a membership program, or some other attractive marketing campaign, you can’t participate. You’re locked in with the BMW gas stations.

  This could never happen, right? Consumers are too smart to buy into something like this. Or are they? After all, isn’t that exactly what’s happening in the ebook world? You buy a dedicated ebook reader like a Kindle or a NOOK and you’re locked in to that company’s content. Part of this problem has to do with ebook formats (e.g., EPUB or Mobipocket) while another part of it stems from publisher insistence on the use of digital rights management (DRM). Let’s look at these issues individually.

Platform lock-in

  I’ve often referred to it as Amazon’s not-so-secret formula: Every time I buy another ebook for my Kindle, I’m building a library that makes me that much more loyal to Amazon’s platform. If I’ve invested thousands or even hundreds of dollars in Kindle-formatted content, how could I possibly afford to switch to another reading platform? It would be too inconvenient to have part of my library in Amazon’s Mobipocket format and the rest in EPUB. Even though I could read both on a tablet (e.g., the iPad), I’d be forced to switch between two different apps. The user interface between any two reading apps is similar but not identical, and searching across your entire library becomes a two-step process since there’s no way to access all of your content within one app. This situation isn’t unique to Amazon. The same issue exists for all the other dedicated ereader hardware platforms (e.g., Kobo, NOOK, etc.). Google


sun — except the one with the largest market share.

  EPUB would seem to be the answer. It’s a popular format based on web standards, and it’s developed and maintaine that’s focused on openness and broad industry adoption. It also happens to be the format used by seemingly every ebook vendor except the largest one: Amazon. Even if we could get Amazon to adopt EPUB, though, we’d still have that other pesky issue to deal with: DRM.

The myth of DRM I often blame Napster for the typical book publisher’s fear of piracy

  Publishers saw what happened in the music industry and figured the only way they’d make their book content available digitally was to tightly wrap it with DRM. The irony of this is that some of the most highly pirated books were never released as ebooks. Thanks to the magic of high-speed scanner technology, any print book can easily be converted to an ebook and distributed illegally.

  Some publishers don’t want to hear this, but the truth is that DRM can be hacked. It does not eliminate piracy. It not only fails as a piracy deterrent, but it also introduces restrictions that make ebooks less attractive than print books. We’ve all read a print book and passed it along to a friend. Good luck doing that with a DRM’d ebook! What publishers don’t seem to understand is that DRM implies a lack of trust. All customers are considered thieves and must be treated accordingly. The evil of DRM doesn’t end there, though. Author Charlie Stross recently wrote a terrific blog post entitled " .” It’s all about how publisher fear has enabled a big ebook player like Amazon to further reinforce its market position, often at the expense of publishers and authors. It’s an unintended consequence of DRM that’s impacting our entire industry. Given all these issues, why not eliminate DRM and trust your customers? Even the music industry, the original casualty of the Napster phenomenon, has seen the light and moved on from DRM.

Lessons from the music industry

  Several years ago, Steve Jobs posted a letter to the music industry pleading for them to abandon DRM. The letter no longer appears on Apple’s website,


y favorite part of that letter is

  where Jobs asks why the music industry would allow DRM to go away. The answer is that, “DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy.” In fact, contends that removing DRM can actually decrease piracy. Yes, you read that right. I recently had an experience with my digital music collection that drove this point home for me. I had just switched from an iPhone to an Android phone and wanted to get my music from the old device onto the new one. All I had to do was drag and drop the folder containing my music in iTunes to the SD card in my new phone. It worked perfectly because the music file formats are universal and there was no DRM involved.

  Imagine trying to do that with your ebook collection. Try dragging your Kindle ebooks onto your new NOOK, for example. Incompatible file formats and DRM prevent that from happening … today. At some point in the not- too-distant future, though, I’m optimistic the book publishing industry will get to the same stage as the music industry and offer a universal, DRM-free format for all ebooks. Then customers will be free to use whatever e-reader they prefer without fear of lock-in and incompatibilities.

  The music industry made the transition, why can’t we?

  [This post originally appeare .]

  “Lightweight” DRM Isn’t the Answer

By Joe Wikert

  To: Bill McCoy, IDPF Executive Director From: Joe Wikert, GM & Publisher, O’Reilly Media, Inc. Subject: “Lightweight” DRM Isn’t the Answer The world doesn’t need another DRM platform, regardless of whether it’s called “lightweight.” DRM is annoying for customers and provides a false sense of security for publishers. As author publishing’s “pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder.” I realize your proposed solution is intended to become an industry standard and prevent the type of lock-in Stross describes. Let’s face facts though. Amazon doesn’t use the EPUB format and their current market dominance means they’re the least likely player to advocate an open, interoperable solution like this. And since Amazon owns approximately 60-70% of the ebook market, your proposed standard would only apply to the remaining 30- 40%. Why would anyone want to develop yet another DRM option for, at best, 30- 40% of the market? More importantly, why do you want to give the publishing industry another distraction and reinforce that false sense of security when we’re finally seeing movement towards a DRM-free world? We’ve been very open about the success of our DRM-free approach at O’Reilly Media. One simple guiding principle led us to being DRM-free: We trust our customers. We get plenty of compliments from those customers throughout the year and it’s clear our trust has created goodwill with them. After spending years touting the benefits of being DRM-free it’s encouraging to see others adopting the same approac , a Big Six imprint. O’Reilly has long maintained that the costs of DRM — even lightweight DRM — far outweigh any potential benefits. Our position has not changed


  If the IDPF really wants to make an impact on this issue I suggest you forget about creating another form of DRM and instead spend time educating publishers and retailers on the virtues of going DRM-free. Besides the obvious benefits to customers this could also lead to the end of Amazon’s big stick that Charlie Stross says we’re all getting hit with. Once we’ve completely eradicated DRM perhaps the IDPF could offer their own mobi-to-EPUB conversion and sideloading tools for consumers to further level the ebook playing field. That would be a much better use of IDPF resources than any DRM project could ever be.

Kindle Remorse: Will Consumers Ever Regret eBook Platform Lock-in?


  If Barnes & Noble doesn’t already have a sense of urgency, especially after


  should help fire them up:

  In the age of the e-reader and tablet, every person that purchases an Amazon Kindle, Nexus tablet or iPad should be viewed as a customer Barnes & Noble will likely never get the chance to serve again.

  That makes me wonder what goes through a consumer’s mind when they’re deciding which device to buy. I figure they’re mostly focused on brand, price, feature set, and perhaps what their friends and family recommend. But as Arico goes on to say:

  Today, when a person decides which e-reader or tablet they’re going to buy, they’re also committing to the online retailer to supply books and other content.

  You could argue that Amazon and B&N are making the decision less painful by offering reader apps on all popular platforms (e.g., Mac, Windows, Android, iOS). So the Kindle ebook you buy from Amazon can be read just about any modern device.

  But what if Apple decides they’re tired of Amazon customers buying ebooks outside iOS and reading them on an iOS-powered device? Maybe Apple removes the Kindle app from their platform. (It could happen.) Or what if Amazon has a falling out with Google and the Kindle app disappears from all Android devices? You could replace “Amazon” with “B&N” in either of those examples and have the same problem.

  Let’s look at this a bit differently: What if B&N comes out with a killer tablet that has all sorts of terrific features not found on any other device? And what if you’ve spent the past 5 years building your Kindle ebook library but the B&N device doesn’t support the Kindle app? Unless you’re prepared to abandon your library you probably won’t purchase and enjoy that new B&N tablet. This doesn’t seem to be on many people’s radar right now but every ebook purchased today makes it harder for that customer to switch platforms tomorrow. Or, as Arico says later: A customer who purchases an e-reader is paying for admission into a store they may never leave. What do you think? Consumers may not have buyer’s remorse today but is this platform lock-in something they’ll eventually regret?

Neutralizing Amazon

By Joe Wikert

  What would you think of a start-up who offers the following?: Selling ebooks in a model where one simple transaction gives you access to all formats (e.g., PDF, mobi and EPUB).

  All those ebooks are available in a completely DRM-free manner. There’s no social DRM applied either. Every ebook can be quickly and easily side-loaded to the device of your choice. Got a Kindle? No problem. All purchases will be sent right to it. Same goes for Nooks, Kobos, etc. No more awkward installations with USB cables. No restrictions on reselling your content or loaning it to someone else. Are you finished with that ebook and have no plans to ever open it again? Why not resell it or pass it along to a friend like you’d do with a print book? Enabling and, more importantly, encouraging publishers to have a direct relationship with their customers through this retailing platform.

  Sounds too good to be true? I don’t think so. Here’s why… One of the benefits of working at O’Reilly and being chair of our TOC conference is that I cross paths with countless industry start-ups throughout the year. I’m seeing evidence that many of today’s publishing industry challenges, particularly the closed, proprietary systems that are forming all around us will soon be met with some very cool and disruptive open alternatives.

  What would that mean for a platform like the Kindle? Nobody’s knocking Amazon off the mountaintop anytime soon but these open-minded start-ups are going to make things very interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if all the elements of the start-up outlined above are in place before the end of 2013. Then it’s just a question of tying them all together.

Kindle Serials Is the Next Brick in Amazon’s Walled Garden

  B as one of the more interesting aspects of

  Amazon’s big press event a couple of weeks ago. We’ve done a few serial


  authors and publishers connect with readers more than they might through a traditional book. I also think a serial publishing model could be just what it takes to bring more of a social element to reading. Since the book comes out in segments customers will be reading it at the same time. Depending on how much time passes between installments there will be plenty of opportunities for readers to talk about the story so far and speculate on what will happen next. Amazon is well positioned to capture that conversation as they note at the end of the Serials description: …and discuss episodes with other readers in the Kindle forums.

  This works best during the writing/installment phase since synchronous reading across the entire audience pretty much ends once the whole work is available. It’s like weekly TV shows. There’s a nice rhythm where the audience shares laughs from a comedy or speculates what will happen next in a drama. Serial publishing can bring that same phenomenon to ebooks. What I don’t like about this model though is the content exclusivity aspect of it. As some authors are rejecting Amazon’s exclusivity requirement. Good for them. The last thing we need is to see is even higher walls around the Kindle platform. Therticle I wrote earlier talked about how consumers probably don’t even realize they’re gradually locking themselves into a platform. That’s because Kindle Serials is just the next brick in Amazon’s walled garden.

  The social engagement needs to extend much further than any one retailer’s to me; it’s open and offered through an API that any content provider can leverage. Amazon feels it’s in their best interest to create a closed model that also features exclusive content. That’s why I was disappointed (but not surprised)


  did ae need more open digital content platforms and fewer closed, closely-guarded ones.

Publishing’s “Open” Future

By Joe Wikert

  If I had to summarize the future of publishing in just one word, I’d say “open.” We’re living in a very closed publishing world today. Retailers use tools like digital rights management (DRM) to lock content, and DRM also tends to lock customers into a platform. Content itself is still largely developed in a closed model, with authors writing on their word processor of choice and editors typically not seeing the content until it’s almost complete. Then we have all the platforms that are closed from one another; have you ever tried reading a mobi file from Amazon in an EPUB reader, for example? Given these examples of our closed industry, why do I think the future will be different? It has to do with some of the early indicators I’m seeing through start-ups and other trends. My TOC colleagues and I are in the enviable position of getting to cross paths with some of the most forward-thinking people in our industry. We share many of these encounters via our website as well as at our in-person events. I’d like to share some of the more interesting

  Let’s look at what exactly open publishing is. The word “open” is used a lot in the technology world these days. Open source projects are just one example, but open standards are another. So when people talk about open publishing, what do they mean? It’s helpful to first think about what open publishing is not. The old days, when authors worked on their own until they completed a manuscript and then handed it on to an editor, is a good example of publishing that’s not open.

  Contrast this scenario with one where the author is able to collaborate with others, including editors, from the beginning. Feedback happens in real time, and everyone on the project operates synchronously. This is open publishing. It might sound chaotic, but with the right tools it can be a wonderful experience. The key word here is “synchronous,” and one of the key shifts is the movement of the editor’s role toward real-time editing. Open publishing can support a variety of collaborative and iterative development models. There are rapid intense development models like book sprints, where several people write a book in three to five days, or slower models often referred to as “iterative"or “agile” book development. If you’re not familiar with these phrases, you need to be, as they are part of the new lexicon of book development and open publishing. Each of these models offers the producers the opportunity to engage in rich dialogue with others while producing content. This in turn enriches the text while also speeding up content development and helping alleviate negative motivation factors, which often confront those facing the momentous task of writing a book alone. Another important part of open publishing is the role the reader plays in the development of a book. Books can be released in a raw early state to readers for feedback, and hence early readers become part of the development cycle. These releases are sometimes referred to as a “minimum viable product,” or MVP, a term borrowed from software development. MVP strategies provide your customers with a glimpse of what you’re creating well before it’s finished, and give you the opportunity to gather feedback from your readers and make adjustments to better suit their needs. An MVP is the smallest version of your initial product you can use to gauge customer feedback. That might be an outline and a couple of chapters. Or it might be just a summary of what the book will cover. It all depends on what you’re looking to learn from your customers.

  Once you realize the benefits of synchronous production, real-time editing, early reading, and MVPs, you quickly see why open publishing can be an



to our TOC website for future discussions about this important topic.

Content access via APIs

  Developing content in an open manner is great, but how can we ensure the finished product is also available in an open format? One way is to leverage what are known as APIs, or application programming interfaces. That’s really just a fancy way of saying you’ve made your content available in a fashion where developers can come in and easily gain access to it. You might be wondering why you’d ever want to enable developer access to your content. We’ve all heard of developers who’ve gone rogue and created viruses and other destructive applications. Exposing your content via APIs doesn’t mean you lose control over it. What it does mean is that you open the door for new methods of content discovery and consumption that you might not have thought about before.

  I’m betting that the next phase of content distribution will come from someone outside our industry, not inside it. Those of us who have been in publishing for a while are simply too attached to existing models. We’re resistant to change and therefore not likely to come up with the next big idea. That’s where the API model really shines. If you set your API access up correctly, you’ll empower countless developers to take your content and make it available in new ways. You’ll be able to dictate certain ground rules (e.g., how much content can be given away for free, minimum pricing of products, etc.), but you’ll also want to be careful and not make the rules too restrictive. An easy way to start down this path is to make your metadata available through APIs. Developers can then start reimagining new methods of discovery for the content your metadata describes, and you can relax, knowing you haven’t exposed all your intellectual property just yet. When that proves successful, though, the next step would be to work with some of those same developers and make available portions of your content.


is one of the start-ups doing a lot of work in the content API arena.

  Thanks to the magic of APIs, they offer a quick and easy way to embed one of their books anywhere on your web site is another terrific example and one of the most interesting start-ups in the social content space. Although some still say reading is a solitary activity, ReadSocial is showing just how useful an open, sharing reading experience can be. ReadSocial believes so much inthe notion of open standards that the founders built the entire platform on a set of APIs.

Evolution of DRM

  DRM is one of those hot-button topics. Most people tend to be either very supportive of it or fiercely opposed. There seems to be no fence-sitting on this one. The majority of publishers insisted on DRM before they’d commit their content to ebook format. That was their security blanket and one way to convince skeptical authors that ebooks are worth pursuing. What’s ironic here is that this same DRM has been instrumental in retailers’ ability to create platform lock-in for consumers. Since you can’t move your Kindle e-books to a Nook, for example, every purchase you make from Amazon makes it harder for you to eventually leave its platform. Most of the big publishers still support DRM, if not insist on it. Macmillan is the lone member of the Big Six American publishers that has opted to test the DRM-free space with its . Then there’s what’s known as “social DRM,” which is where the ebook can be copied and easily redistributed, but it typically contains sensitive information such as the owner’s name or, worse, credit card number. By inserting this information into the file the publisher or retailer hopes to discourage the owner from letting the ebook sneak out into the wild. At the end of the day, though, DRM offers nothing more than a false sense of security to intellectual property owners. Every form of DRM can be hacked, and the unlocked file can then be shared with friends and strangers alike. Social DRM is even more easily bro-ken, as that sensitive personal information can be very easily removed from the file.

  Some would argue that the only way to prevent piracy is to never release an ebook to begin with. That’s another myth. After all, prior to the launch of the


, the Harry Potter series was not available in ebook format, yet

each of the titles was among the most oft-pirated books on the planet.

  Scanning technology means that print-only books won’t remain print-only for very long. Given all these facts, why bother with DRM at all? It simply penalizes your

  ll continue to share both sides of thestory in person and online.

Apps, platforms, formats, and HTML5

  One of the biggest opportunities for an open publishing future has to do with both platforms (e.g., iOS, Android, Windows) and formats (e.g., EPUB, mobi, PDF). There are countless horror stories of publishers investing in native apps for iOS devices only to later discover that they’ll have to invest at least as much as they’ve already spent to get the same app onto the Android platform. You also have to deal with the retailer’s cut of any sales of those native apps or the in-app content they serve up. In other words, native apps lead to a very closed model where only the target platform is served and significant expense must be incurred to port them elsewhere. A similar situation exists with formats. PDF is the granddaddy of them all and remains extremely popular with O’Reilly’s customers. EPUB and mobi are quickly gaining momentum, though. And although PDFs can be read on a Kindle and EPUBs can be read on a variety of devices, there’s no one format that seems to solve all the problems of open, cross-platform use. Or is there? HTML5 is the format that’s often overlooked. It’s the lingua franca of the web, but I believe it’s also the future of an open content model for publishers. HTML5 is, in fact, at the very core of the latest version of EPUB, EPUB 3. HTML5 offers a variety of features that allow publishers to render anything from the simplest text-only novel to the richest, immersive digital product that leverages audio and video as well. So if HTML5 is so terrific, why hasn’t the industry already fully embraced it? To answer this question you need to keep in mind that ebook retailers don’t feel an open, barrier-free content delivery platform like HTML5 is in their best interest. Remember that today’s retailers have built their market share by locking customers in, not by giving them the choice of reading anyone’s content on their device. (The partial exception here is Apple, where you can easily load many competing ebook apps on an iPhone or iPad, but Apple’s own content from their iBookstore can be read only on an iOS device.) The simple truth is the Kindle gave birth to today’s ebook marketplace, and there’s no way Amazon is going to tear down the walls they’ve carefully constructed around the garden.

  That means that either another retailer will pave the way to an HTML5 future or publishers will forge an alliance to do it for themselves. The U.S.

  Department of Justice has publishers worried about being charged with any sort of collusion these days, so I figure a retailer will have to intervene. That retailer will either be a start-up or a second-tier player with little to lose by breaking the rules of the walled gardens.

  Whoever does it has a bright future, and they’ll be creating a terrific user experience. After all, imagine not being tied to any given device or vendor. DRM goes away in this world too as content is streamed to the user, much the way Netflix does with video, so HTML5 helps on a number of open fronts.

Let’s open this up together

  As you can see, this “open” vision won’t happen overnight, and you can bet the entrenched leaders will have something to say about it, especially as it threatens their market positions. I’d like to think this article has helped you see the value in shifting our industry to more of an open model. Being open doesn’t mean we’re carefree about our intellectual property; rather, it means we’re dramatically improving the customers’ user experience and building a future we have more of a stake in than what we see today in our largely closed environment.

  [This article was originally written for Publishers Weekly and their Digital

Free and the Medium vs. the Message


must-read ebook of 2012. If you buy it direct from HBR’s website and use the code ADINFO1 you’ll only pay 99 cents, by the way.

  I spoke with Joshua and his editor and, true to the promise of the title, they’ve given me permission to share many of the longer excerpts I highlighted while I read the book. This is the first of what will be a two- or three-part series with those highlights.

Free as in freedom (and beer)

  Have you ever thought about how DRM and other restrictions negatively impact the value a consumer places on your content? Here’s what Gans has to say about it:


When consumers acquire information, they want to be free to use it in a form they choose. This

might mean transferring music between computers, but it also may mean editing a song to use in a home movie. This also makes information (in this case, music) more valuable, which is why, when constraints were lifted, the price of music could increase.

  So even though publishers whine about the pressure to lower prices when content is delivered electronically they actually have themselves to blame for a big part of the situation. Give up the DRM, trust your customers, let them use their content as they want and there will be less pressure for cheaper ebooks.

Information and delivery

  Gans goes on to quote :

  Almost every form of publishing has been organized as if the medium was what they were selling,

and the content was irrelevant. Book publishers, for example, set prices based on the cost of

producing and distributing books. Economically, the print media are in the business of marking up paper.

  Gans then says:


The point here is that publishers and other content providers can benefit from envisaging what

their business models would look like if they considered themselves in the delivery business

rather than the information business. In other words, if information were actually free, how

would they provide value to consumers that consumers would pay for?

  Isn’t that a kick in the shorts?! After all these years of publishers saying it’s about the content not the delivery we’re challenged to re-think our industry based on information being free. Aren’t we partway there already? After all, Google is a bigger competitor for most of us than other publishers. So what will your revenue stream look like when all the information your customers needs is free (and/or shared)?

Creating Reader Community with Open APIs

By Leonhard Dobusch

  I spoke at the " at this year’s Frankfurt Book fair, making essentially three points (see slides embedded below): first, publishing requires — and has always required — a commitment to creating and courting communities of readers. Second, there are new digital tools emerging for creating and courting these communities. Third, in this context, openness in terms of APIs is becoming a feature.

  Even long before the advent of the Internet, probably even before the invention of the printing press with movable type, publishing was essentially a social network business, with strong network effects lies at the heart of the dynamics leading to bestsellers: Just as the rich tend to get richer, oftentimes what is popular becomes even more popular. And the reason is that the utility - the reading pleasure — of the individual reader not only depends on how well written a book is, but also on whether he or she is able to share this experience with others.

Reading is more than a solitary activity

  Paradoxically, reading books combines solipsistic and social practices. From a publisher‘s perspective, the social aspect is probably much more important than the solipsistic one. Because sharing the joy of reading a certain book makes others buy and read the book as well. And all bestsellers throughout history — from the Gutenberg Bible to Harry Potter to 50 Shades of Grey — were to some degree viral, rooting in social practices related to reading a book. These examples of bestsellers teach us basically three things: first, literary quality is at best an only modest predictor of a book‘s success. Second, bestsellers are very difficult to predict. And third, it is the connections between readers and potential readers that matter most. The root cause for network effects is the fact that the number of potential connections between individuals increases disproportionally with community size. A group of five readers allows up to ten different connections. In a group of 10 readers, there are already 45 potential connections. And adding another five readers increases the number of connections over a hundred. Creating communities of readers means turning potential connections into actual connections. And thus making them valuable for readers. But how can you do that? What we can observe is a growing number of startups and businesses devoted to social reading, social publishing and, thus, to create and court communities of readers. One of the pioneers in Germany was , which allows its users to comment on and to recommend books to others, thereby offering the possibility for authors, publishers or shops to reach certain groups of readers. However, the majority of LovelyBooks members still comment on deadwood books. The Berlin-based startup n turn, totally focuses on interconnecting ebook readers. And one of the main features of Readmill is to foster sharing annotations and to allow collaborative highlighting in books. This collaborative highlighting is of particular interest because highlighting is something many people do anyway when reading books. By enabling and automatically sharing highlights and annotations Readmill provides the basis for topically connected communities of readers.

The new era of data-driven publishing

  While LovelyBooks and Readmill focus on readers when harvesting reading data, another startup calleocuses on offering publishers real-time analysis of reading progress, demographics and so on. Hiptype even paints the picture of a new era of data-driven publishing, where books are literally re-written according to instant reader feedback. I have to admit, I don‘t know where exactly the path of data-driven publishing is leading us or whether it is a dead end. But what I am quite sure about is that all these cases — and there are many more beyond these — need access to real-time reading data, provided by application programming interfaces, or APIs: of reader apps, of


Readmill gets interesting when as many other ebook reading programs and devices as possible

feed the Readmill central server with data.

  For new services such as Readmill or Hiptype to thrive, openness via APIs is required. When we are looking at today‘s Internet, what we see is a web that is turning more and more into a set of walled gardens. We have few platform providers, creating new borders and new rules in the digital sphere. These platform providers derive their power from, again, network effects. The huge installed base of users makes the platforms attractive for both users themselves and third-parties — publishers, software developers and so on, who want to cater to those users.

The consequences of walled gardens

  And while the walls between these paltforms may have advantages in terms of security, they may also bear severe consequences for decentralized innovation in general and for bringing together communities of readers in particular. It is annoying that I can read my Kindle-ebooks only in the Kindle Universe and not on any reading device I want. In the iOS Universe I cannot even read books I bought on my MacBook Air. But when I want to share annotations and want to collaboratively highlight, openness in terms APIs really becomes a feature: I want to share my comments with others interested in the same topics, same authors or same books — independent of the reading device or book store they are using. The same is true for publishers wanting to experiment with data-driven publishing. They need data from as many readers as possible — independent of reading devices or whatever online store they are using. What we have right now is a battle of different, proprietary programming interfaces. With open programming interfaces that allow for data exchange among different platforms, the whole game would be transformed into a competition of service providers. For the small and creative startups, this means to open up their APIs and not make the mistake to engage in a battle of APIs they can only lose. Opening up APIs, however, requires coordination, to make each other‘s APIs compatible and to agree on standards. Or to put pressure on the new giants Google, Amazon and Apple to open up their APIs. In the best case, by making open APIs a feature, we may end up creating communities of readers that also allow smaller and medium-sized service providers to survive in the age of Amazon.

Buy Once, Sync Anywhere

By Oliver Brooks While building ValoBox we’ve been working with a number of publishers

  We’ve been asked a number of times about the potential for publishers to integrate ValoBox more closely into their existing direct retail channels such as a Read now button on their eCommerce site. This has been an intriguing element to look into, particularly as it goes to the heart of what we are really interested in: making the content within books more accessible. Our platform does it through enabli it got us thinking of ways to solve the wider problem of paid content fragmentation.

The problem — a fragmented content ecosystem

  The crux of the matter is that the paid content ecosystem is getting very fragmented. There are traditional ebook retail platforms such as Amazon, Kobo and Apple, enhanced content platforms such as the Appstore and Google Play, and then a variety of smaller retail and subscription websites such as Penguin, O’Reilly and Safari. All these platforms distribute different versions of the same content i.e. a book in the form of an EPUB, PDF, app, or online stream.

  Such fragmentation is inevitable given the breadth of the content industry, but it is a pain for consumers and publishers alike. As a consumer buying a book I have a lot of decisions to make — where to buy it, what version I want and which platform I want to commit to. After purchasing a number of books I can end up searching through a number of different apps and websites to find the book I bought a few months ago.

  For publishers it isn’t much easier. To reach a wide audience they have to push books into all kinds of channels. Very rarely do they get a direct channel to customers. This limits what they know about consumers and what they can offer. It also means they have to manage a number of relationships with content platforms, which all operate in different ways. I believe something is missing, something which gives customers the ability to share information about content they have already purchased with other platforms, or accounts. This would enable customers to benefit from a choice of formats, platforms and enhanced content, without having to repeatedly pay for the same core content.

The proposed solution — an API to share a user’s purchase information

  I think a strong case can be made to create an API to enable content services to share a user’s purchase information. Let’s call it the Open Library Standard (OLS). It would enable a user to connect their accounts on different platforms so that their purchase information could be synchronised.

  This would provide a lot of benefits, not only for the user but also for publishers and content services. Here are some initial ideas:

Buy once, sync everywhere

  Imagine being able to buy a book from your favourite retailer and then open your favourite ebook reader, made by a different company, and have your new book download automatically for viewing. In this instance, when you purchase the book, the purchase information gets sent to all your platforms using the OLS. Each platform can choose what it does with the information such as making the book available to read there too. It would mean no tedious side-loading or manual library management.

Access exclusive supporting content and updates

  As a publisher you may often want to make supporting or updated content available to those who have bought a specific book. An access permission API would mean you could incentivise those customers to connect their account with you by granting them access to this extra material. You would then have a direct relationship with the customer and the customer would get even better value from their purchase. This would work for both digital book or paper book purchases.

Upgrade and enhance your content

  An enhanced edition or audio-book may be more expensive than a standard copy. At the moment the user must decide upfront which they would rather spend their money on. Using the API to transmit your purchase information, the enhanced edition provider could offer an upgrade to the standard edition for a reduced price. The same principle could apply to sites that may offer better social tools or services for particular books — perhaps an academic site offers additional citations or a way to share comments with particular groups

  Now I can hear people saying but large-south-american-river will never join


that which is true, but this would provide a framework which goes some way

  to removing the negative aspects of choosing a different retailer. A consumer could buy with confidence knowing their purchases are portable to other platforms.

What would the access permission API look like?

  A cross platform API needs to be easy to implement and maintain, but flexible enough to be future-proof. I believe a good start would be to establish a set of principles to guide the design decisions, I would propose:

Open, free data format and API

  Everyone should be able to contribute additions and documentation without cost or competitive restrictions.

An API based on existing standards

  Developers can use existing framework extensions and documentation that’s easy to customise for their requirements.

A minimal but extensible API

  The API should be the minimum viable implementation to share the relevant information. This will make it easy to implement and maintain. It should also be flexible and extensible so if a provider wishes to offer additional information there is a sensible structure and place for it.

Decentralized system

  I believe that the system should be decentralized. This means each platform connects to one another independently based on a data standard. This removes the need for gatekeepers who might stifle innovation. It also creates an open system in which anyone in the content community can choose how to link their systems together. Of course a distributed system affords for hubs to appear as well.

  At this point I’ve hopefully explained the goal of the OLS and how it might work. From here on the post gets a bit more technical which might scare/bore/frustrate a few folks so advance at your own risk.

Concept basis of a specification

  Disclaimer — this is in no way a formal proposal. It is an outline of what might be possible and the basic technologies which could be used.

  Web developers have done the hard work for us and many tools already exist which could fulfil the requirements of this kind of work. The core components we need are: a user authentication standard a common data format

  The emergent standard for user authentication in APIs is Oauth 2.0. The beauty of Oauth 2.0 is its simplicity. It is designed to be easy so that any device which can make HTTP (web) requests can use it. These systems crucially include web browsers, mobile apps, servers and command line tools. Oauth comprises of two parts: the provider, which stores information, and the client, which accesses and sends information to the provider.

  If a publisher wishes to offer perks to customers in return for them signing up for an account they can create an Oauth provider. As a provider they can enable customers to connect and share information. Twitter and Facebook use Oauth to securely share user information with thousands of other applications such as Hootsuite and we use it at ValoBox to enable quick login via other services. As an example, say I run a publisher website I want to be able to offer additional support such as supplementary content and updates for purchases my customers have made on other platforms. This is how I can connect my system to a retailer ( and make it easy for customers to access their purchases from on and vice versa. Step one is setting up the system and connection, a one time process:

  I implement the Oauth provider on implements the Oauth client on their platform I send an access token so our systems can talk and their users can securely connect our services together

  Now, the customers will see an OLS link and can opt to connect their account to The process is the same as the sign in

  with Facebook/Twitter links you use around the web. Once connected the information about books bought at will be sent to then knows what has been bought and so can offer the customer the additional material and product updates. Any number of customers can then connect their accounts with no extra work by either the retailer or publisher.

  The beauty of this system is that: the user is in control — they choose who to share their information with, personal information does not need to be shared — the two sites don’t need to know the username or password of the other site but can share information such as the purchases securely, it is very scalable — once implemented it is possible to connect to thousands of services by generating a new access token for each service. Other contending technologies for this task would be Shibboleth, OpenID and LDAP. I prefer Oauth 2.0 because it is simple — the Oauth 2.0 client can be implemented without needing a complex server.

A common data transfer medium

  The most elegant data transfer medium I know of is JavaScript Object Notation (JSON). It is a simple data construct very commonly used when web browsers make requests for data. It is lightweight and easy to manipulate in any programming language.

  I propose a minimal data structure with a unique key as the identifier for purchase details. In the case of books using something like an ISBN would make sense. The only detail that must be given in this information is the state (purchase state). For example:

  { "ISBN1": { "state": "purchased" }, "ISBN2": { "state": "purchased" } }

  The great thing about this format is that it can be easily extended. For example, if one service wanted to send a bit more information. Such as:

  { "ISBN1": { "state": "purchased", "date": "2012-06-13", "format": "epub" } }

  The extra date and format can be used by some systems to determine purchase date and file format and ignored by other systems which can’t use that information. DRM information could also go into these details. These commonly used data formats would in practise be decided by a committee.

  If a particular service wishes to supply more information than the details defined in the standard they should add a vendor prefix so that other platforms can easily ignore it such as:

  { "ISBN1": { "state": "purchased", "date": "2012-06-13", "format": "epub",

  "valobox": { "fraction-purchased": 0.6, "url": " } } }

  The alternative data format would be XML. Personally I prefer JSON even though it’s not quite as powerful it’s lightweight and can be easily understood by web browsers.

The future

  The API would be the first building block for a community of content providers, distributors, services and users. It would give a user greater choice when purchasing and easier management of their content. Publishers and reading services would be able to offer specific benefits to the content rather than reinventing the same features available elsewhere. I would love to see standard industry API’s available to enable the community to connect our favourite eReading apps together giving us the choice to purchase, read and share using our favourite platforms.

  Ultimately, I would like to see this as the beginning of a paid content ecosystem comprised of many content sources and services. There are also lots of applications for this outside of books; perhaps you purchase a music track or a mobile app and want it to work on your other platforms without buying it again. At ValoBox we’ll be building upon this idea as we work with our partners and I aim to put a website together to act as a central point for information about the standard. I’d love to hear what the TOC community thinks of the proposal so please feel free to comment or .


The Core of the Author Platform Is Unchanged

— It’s the Tools that Are Rapidly Changing

By Jenn Webb

  Digital not only is affecting the way books are produced and consumed, it’s also affecting the way readers and authors interact. In the following interview, Jeff Potter ( alks about the changing author platform, which is requiring authors to don marketing hats and connect with readers directly. He says the book as a product is expanding to include the conversations and communities surrounding the book. Our interview follows.

What is an “author platform” and how is it different today from, say, 10 years ago?

Jeff Potter: There is so much amazing writing available online, whether

  curated by hand (New York Times, The Atlantic) or by community (Reddit, Hacker News). Readers today can satisfy most of their reasons for reading for little time and money. That’s a pretty big hurdle for a book author to compete with. I realized that, in order for people to want to spend time with my book, it was going to have to fit into a lifestyle that’s already full of amazing, quick content.

  Readers are buying books as experiences, not just for the facts or knowledge, and a component of that is the author-reader relationship. A decade ago, it was a very one-directional conversation: The author wrote and the reader read; ideas and questions rarely flowed from reader to author or from reader to reader. Today, that’s no longer the case. Readers tweet me questions; they file errata and corrections on O’Reilly’s site; they send me messages. The “book” is no longer the product — the product is now the conversations and community that grow around the book.

  Historically, an author’s job was done when the final manuscript was submitted, maybe along with a minor number of press interviews after the book launched. The author platform today has expanded to include fostering that online community and supporting readers. Being an author is about communicating ideas, not about writing a book, and once framed this way, it’s easy to see that an author’s platform, at its core, is unchanged — anything that helps the author spread ideas and excite readers — but that the tools for doing this are rapidly changing.

What are some of the key ways authors can connect with readers?

Jeff Potter: Google Alerts and Twitter searches, these are some of my

  favorite things. Readers will tweet out or blog about my book without even thinking that I might see it. I make a habit of responding, even if only a short comment (“Glad you liked it!” or “Let me know if you have any Qs”), and I can’t tell you how many times that’s blown people away and led to a fun conversation. As for blogging, and this is just me, I find it to be more work than it’s worth to post regularly, but that’s probably more an artifact of who I am and the particular topic I deal with. There are tons and tons and tons of food blogs; coming up with something novel and not just being an echo chamber is harder in this field. If, however, you’re dealing with a specific topic and can create a blog of real value to your community, definitely do that.

  In marketing your book Cooking for Geeks,

what were some of the most successful tactics

you used?

Jeff Potter: In a nutshell, being creative and coming up with tactics that fit

  my audience and message. I was incredibly lucky to have my book come out the same month that JetBlue sold its pass — I put up a blog post that read, “If you buy a box of books, and JetBlue flies to your city, I’ll come and give a talk.” This worked out amazingly well. I didn’t have to deal with cash or selling book-by-book — I had the boxes of books shipped ahead of time, and I got to go to events where someone else was excited enough to have me come and speak that they made sure there were plenty of people for a fun talk. And by selling a box (using my author’s discount), I was able to pay for my costs along the way. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was an incredible experience. In the interest of offering something directly actionable, here’s my quick punch-list of things that I recommend:


for your book that comes up right away in Google when

  searching for the title. (Change the title if necessary!) On the main page, have a very clear section. On your press page, give the following information: list your contact info, including a phone number (you can remove it after a few months; get a Skype or Google Voice number if you prefer); list two or three bullet points of what makes your book unique (from the viewpoint of what would be interesting from the journalist’s readers perspective); photos of you and your book, with a permission release.

What advice would you offer to new authors just starting out?


Jeff Potter: This is going to sound cheesy, but write a good book that readers

  want. Worrying about publicity and even author platform stuff is much further down the list, compared to having something interesting to share. So, to that extent, here are a few tips I wish I’d been given on day one on how to write a book.


Dedicated time; dedicated space. This is the magic formula that I hear

  over and over from successful creative people. Whether it’s a dedicated writing desk or a table at a café, find a space where you can get into the act of creating content. And then carve out time in your schedule to go there. The hardest challenge, I found, was to get the proverbial pen and paper ready to go. Once out, things seem to take care of themselves, at least most of the time.


Do creating separate from editing. The act of creating is about adding

  words (or paint or clay or cocoa powder); the act of editing is removing the weaker ideas. Trying to do both at the same time is like trying to play tug of war with yourself: You’ll end up exhausted and in exactly the same spot you started.


WIIFM: “What’s in it for me?” Every single sentence is there for the

  benefit of the reader. Not you, the writer, nor your editor, nor as an inside joke between you and a friend. (Well, maybe some of that’s okay, right Marlowe?)


Know who you’re writing for, and write for them. Don’t worry about

  trying to make something “broadly appealing.” For me, I wrote the book I wish I would have 10 years ago when just starting out in the kitchen. It was that simple.


Answer one and only one fundamental question in your book. The

Cooking for Geeks question was: “How do you go into the kitchen and

  have fun cooking?” As a corollary to this rule, develop a simple litmus test for anything you’re putting in your book. In Cooking for Geeks, everything had to be a) fun or interesting, b) directly applicable, and c) answer the fundamental question.

  I’ll leave you with two of my favorite quotes. Stephen King: Writing is “like

  Gene Fowler said, “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Writing a book is the single hardest thing I have done in my life. It’s also the most rewarding.

  [This interview was edited and condensed.]

The Sorry State of eBook Samples, and Four Ways to Improve Them

By Joe Wikert

  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?

  [This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog ( . This version has been lightly edited.]

How Libraries Can Help Publishers with Discovery and Distribution

By Joe Wikert

  Why can’t the publisher-to-library sales model simply be the same as it is for every other ebook channel? The only difference is the library can only lend the ebook out to one patron at a time, just like the print version. Set a discount schedule off the publisher’s digital list price and call it a day. Some libraries might want to order one copy while others might want ten. Again, same as the print world.

  Publishers are apparently afraid of lost sales. Why is this any more an issue in the ebook world than in the print book world? It’s really an opportunity for discovery and, more importantly, distribution. This piece was partially inspired by a report I read from the . After reading this six page report I kept wondering why we’re making this so complicated. As it says on page two:

  Libraries should have an option to effectively own the ebooks they purchase, including the right to transfer them to another delivery platform and to continue to lend them indefinitely.

  Yes! No limits. And please, publishers, don’t force patrons to actually visit the library to check out an ebook. That’s ridiculous. Don’t delay the availability date for the library either. They should have access to their ebooks when they’re available everywhere else. In short, let’s start treating libraries like valued partners and stop worrying about them causing lost sales or cannibalization.

  My friends who try to borrow ebooks from the local library seem to have one common complaint: The wait list is ridiculously long. Why not turn this problem into a benefit? Turn the library site into an ebook sales platform as well. If the wait list is too long let’s make a special offer to encourage the patron to buy that ebook through the library. As the ALA report notes, “library users are also heavy book buyers.” Let’s work with libraries to give them deeper discounts for these sales so they can compete with the traditional retailers and sometimes even beat them on price. Libraries have always been a wonderful place for discovery. Ironically our industry is mired in the challenge of discovery, especially as more and more ebooks are published and self-published. Let’s find a way to leverage the rich history of library discovery in the ebook world. And let’s also think creatively hat a terrific, clever use of library space!

How to De-Risk Book Publishing

By Steven Rosenbaum

  The nature of book publishing is changing, in ways big and small. In fact, the very nature of what a book “is” is shifting. But that’s not what I’ve been thinking about these past few days. No, my exploration today is about authors — and what the author of the future needs to do in order to be good partners with their publisher.

  Wow, did I just say that? You bet I did. Partners. Because the nature of how books are conceived, written, and brought to market, is being dramatically re- invented. The concept of de-risking comes from venture capital. VCs look at new investments, and find themselves more inclined to write a check when they can de-risk an investment. Which is to say, find some indicators or elements that reduce the risk and improve the likelihood of success.

  Historically, books weren’t published that way. Books were chosen on merit, or in some cases, an author’s previous track record. But risk analysis wasn’t artistic, and didn’t tend to lend itself toward the work of creative, idiosyncratic, often insular people known as authors.

  Today — social media makes all those old world attributes charming, but antiquated. Authors are the spark-plugs of their ideas, both the makers of the books they write, and the conveners of conversations around their topic. When I wrote my first book, the publisher asked me about my platform. I confess, I didn’t know that I had one. Of course I did. I was already a well- regarded blogger and organizer of tech events and conferences. I spoke, paneled, and had a growing profile in the thought leadership space.

  But today, de-risking an investment in an author and a book means asking some new questions about how they can activate a readership, and move people from the sidelines and into the important space of paying customer. A book buyer is a rare and wonderful thing.

  So, in looking to form a partnership with a writer, publishers need to look for writers who are both prolific and passionate. Voices that can break through the increasingly overwhelming noise, and attract attention that can be

  For many writers, social media is thought of as chore, or a obligation. But for a new generation of authors — the book is the lynchpin to a conversation that crosses media boundaries. A successful book can have a life that begins in blog posts, grows to magazine articles — launches in print — and then is amplified and magnified via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and even sharing sites like Pinterest and FourSquare.

  Simply put — in a world of way too much free content, asking someone to pay for content requires more than a nifty marketing campaign and a snazzy book jacket. It requires a promise. A promise that you’re joining an exclusive club that is hosted by the author. This club promises deep knowledge, ongoing conversations, and shared information. The decision to buy a book now often comes after you’ve met the author, heard his or her public speaking, and read blog posts and tweets. Social Media has turned book marketing upside down. So, how can publishers “de-risk” decisions about a book’s potential in the marketplace? Start with this five-point checklist.

  Twitter Facebook Paid Speaking (speaking agent) Moderating / convening conversations (meetup) Blogging / website

  Twitter. While it’s easy to disregard Twitter as a noisy world of too many,

  too short posts, Twitter followers are incredibly important. They reflect people who’ve voted that your point of view is important. And, Twitter followers are your most likely form of re-broadcasters. They’re both fans and advocates. Building a Twitter following takes time, consistent nurturing, and effort. An author with a large Twitter following is more likely to sell books than one who’s opted out of this new communications format.

Facebook. Yes, Facebook used to be a connecting point for friends and

  family. But today it’s more more than that. For writers who tend to want to use words with precision, the idea of having thousands of friends seems disingenuous. Fair enough. But Facebook friends are engaged fans who want to engage and share. So an active Facebook community is good evidence that book sales will follow. fees for book sales — driving the always important best sellers list. But today, speaking is far more than a way to front load book sales. Speaking gigs generate blog posts, Instagram pictures, tweets, and buzz. People who connect with you while speaking will buy your book, and become your advocates. So authors with speaking agents, and a track record of successful public presentations, are doing more than a book tour, they’re selling memberships into a community of ideas — paid for with book sales.

  Convening Conversations. Paid speakers are always having to balance a

  speaker’s fee with a great venue or community opportunity. I organize the NY Video Meetup, the largest group of web video professionals in the world. I don’t make a dime, and it’s real work. Why do I do it? Because the topics of entrepreneurism, video, curation, and content, matter to me — and I enjoy leading the conversation in this community forum.

Blogging. I used to have a blog and a website. I still do, but most of my

  writing is for others. I’m a regular contributor to, FastCompany, HuffingtonPost, TribecaFutureOfFilm, and Mashable. Yes, I’d like to have that traffic on my blog. But I’ve come to realize being a spark-plug and conversation starter is often better accomplished on other blogs with existing readers and traffic.

  It used to be that having conversations with readers came after publication. But today — a book is the outcome of thought leadership, blogging, and conversational leadership. It is the deep, valuable synthesis of a thought leader’s vision and understanding. It’s paid media, and as such — needs to provide something that free media doesn’t.

  So — if you want to know if an author can sell books, search Twitter. It’s a good place to start.

Selling Ourselves Short on Search and Discovery

By Joe Wikert

  As my O’Reilly colleague recently reminded me, online discovery pretty much begins and ends with search engines. Look at the analytics of any website and you’ll find the inbound traffic largely comes from Google. So what are we doing as publishers to take better advantage of that fact? What do we expose to those search engines to ensure more of the results displayed point to our websites? Today’s search engine access is generally limited to our metadata, not full book content. As a result, books are at a disadvantage to most other forms of content online (e.g., articles, blog posts, etc.) Here’s the big question: At what point do we expose the book’s entire contents to all the search engines? As Allen pointed out, we give all our content t and Amazon but that introduces middlemen. The publisher’s website doesn’t benefit from those programs. So why do we offer this privilege to Amazon and Google but our own websites don’t get the same benefit? You might point out that Google and Amazon are able to limit reader access to that content. Even though we’ve given them the entire book they don’t let someone read it from cover to cover for free; access is limited to a certain percentage of the total work. Fair enough, but look at

   . Keep in mind that Craig’s goal isn’t to simply let everyone read

  his book for free. As he puts it:

  I also believe that we will sell more digital and physical copies of _Art Space Tokyo _by having all of the content available online. The number of inbound links to the site should increase exponentially. is one of the largest collections of publicly available text

about the Tokyo art world online. Organic search traffic should increase accordingly, and by

having upsells on every page, the conversion to paid users should follow suit.

  Craig goes on to say he’ll report the results at some point. I can’t wait. Even if his experiment doesn’t lead to a large number of paying customers there will undoubtedly be many lessons to learn from it.

The 7 Key Features of an Online Community

By Travis Alber

  Here’s something about the user experience of online communities that you’ve probably never considered: everyone in an online community is having a unique, individualized experience, even though they’re all doing it together. Think about that for a second. Your activity feed is not my activity feed, it has different places, people, and pages appearing in it. Some of the

  posts in your feed may also appear for me, depending on our collective preferences. But most of the time I’ll only see a small portion of the things you see, and then share those with my own subset of friends. It’s like riding the subway. It’s a personal experience in a shared space: a million small interactions that can be meaningful, or totally forgettable. Yet, somehow online communities hang together. How? They’re focused on a particular theme. In the generic example above, you may have imagined Facebook. The common theme in Facebook is your real-life network of friends. Most others have a more focused theme, like a common taste in music, shared restaurant reviews, or photographs. No matter what people are actually talking about, all online communities, regardless of the theme, are constructed in a similar way.

Book Communities

  The online communities we see in the publishing world are no different. This may be surprising, since there are so many kinds of communities related to books and writing. When viewed in aggregate, though, these different communities can be grouped into a few broad categories*:


Communities that Read Together — Some communities read together,

  building communities inside and around book content, including .

  Communities that Share Reviews — Other communities focus on

  grouping and reviewing books. These include


Communities that Write Together — A portion of book communities

  are there for users to write together, like


. Writing communities include tools for writing,

  editing and distributing content. They often have a goal of producing books, or helping agents discover authors, so I’m including them in the online-book-community lineup.

Communities that Focus on Content and Context — Still other

  communities have a hard-to-categorize peripheral focus on context and content, like . These offer additional layers of discussion or content both inside and about books. Of course, there are other ways to carve up the differences between these products. A focus on discussion inside content versus a focus on discussion about content. App-only solutions compared to web-based. Differences in business goals, between content sales, writing improvement, marketing reach, or community-building (as a valuable commodity in itself). The list can expand or contract according to how we slice the pie, but as long as a community fits under the publishing umbrella, we can see the same fundamental components of communities.

The Fundamentals

  All book communities strive to seem unique, from branding to features. But they’re all still made of the same community building blocks. There are key concepts and design practices that show up everywhere in digital book communities:

  The Activity Feed — The activity feed is a real-time, personalized list of

  information within a network. It’s ground zero for viral activity. The activity feed is the jumping off point for connecting with both content and users. Sometimes this pattern is rolled into user profile pages, other times it appears on a personalized homepage or dashboard, but it’s centrally located. Good community experiences all have a version of the activity feed.


Contributions — Online communities are driven by user contributions.

  To that end, users are encouraged to contribute at every turn. To accomplish this, the steps to contribute must be short and easy; it should be easy to tell who posted what, and when. Users should be able to repost and react accordingly. It should be the easiest thing to do on the site (after registration).

Content — Content is a fuzzy concept. It can refer to the integrated

  content available for discussion when a user signs up, or, more broadly, to posts created by members. For online book communities, the content usually includes writing samples, published works, author information and reviews (much of this information is pulled in via APIs or ONIX feeds). Additional content includes metadata about books, author fan pages, tags, lists, and anything else worthy of discussion. Community designers devote special attention to displaying this content. It’s easy for designs to be crushed under the weight of so much text-based content, so the better communities keep it lightweight, with plenty of images.

Discovery and Browsing — Catalogs, collections, and lists, as well as

  recommendations for related content, are all parts of browsing and discovery. The complexity of the discovery process varies. For developers, recommendation algorithms can be a bottomless pit of never- ending work — after all, a recommendation engine can always be better. Still, even the slightest suggestion based on what a user’s connections have done, or the user’s browsing history, is helpful, as long as the user can tell why it’s relative.


Identity and Social Connections (Profiles and Groups) — Expressing

  a personal identity is central to users in an online community. From profile pictures to recent activity, people join networks to be heard. Displaying an online personality is important, so most online communities will have a profile section. Robust communities usually innovate on group features as well. Groups are a natural progression for discussion, even though they are much more complex to build and maintain.

  Involvement with Other Networks and the Larger Web — Better

  online communities share a stream of information with the web. Users expect to push their actions out to Twitter or Facebook, to share what they’re doing with the larger web audience. Users also want the capability to post links back to in the community, from blogs, content sites, and other networks.

Simplicity — Simplicity is paramount. Communities are complex, so it’s

  important that using them seems simple and natural (simplicity should be balanced with user expectations) tells us that people are less likely to interact if there are too many choices, so it’s important not to overwhelm users with every possible option. Communities can continue to be complex, they just shouldn’t feel that way to their members.


  Good book communities will always have the seven key features found in all online communities: activity feeds, contributions, content, discovery, identity, web interactivity and simplicity. Granted, these will be tailored to the discussion of long content and defined by book metadata, but the most successful ones will find a way to build on the individual experiences within a community and make them sharable.


Full disclosure: I’ve been involved with a few of these, namely BookGlutton,

ReadSocial and NetGalley.

Direct Sales Uncover Hidden Trends for Publishers

By Joe Wikert

  One of the most important reasons publishers should invest in a direct channel is because of all the data it provides. Retailers are only going to share a certain amount of customer information with you, but when you make the sale yourself, you have full access to the resulting data stream.

  As you may already know, when you buy an ebook from, you end up with access to multiple formats of that product. Unlike Amazon, where you only get a Mobi file, or Apple, where you only get an EPUB file, provides both (as well as PDF and oftentimes a couple of others). This gives the customer the freedom of format choice, but it also gives us insight into what our customers prefer. We often look at download trends to see whether PDF is still the most popular format (it is) and whether Mobi or EPUB are gaining momentum (they are). But what we hadn’t done was ask our customers a few simple questions to help us better understand their e- reading habits. We addressed those habits in a recent survey. Here are the questions we asked:

  If you purchase an ebook from, which of the following is the


primary device you will read it on? (Choices included laptop, desktop,

  iOS devices, Android devices, various Kindle models, and other ereaders/tablets.) On which other devices do you plan to view your ebook? If you purchase an ebook from, which of the following is the


primary format in which you plan to read the book? (Choices included

  PDF, EPUB, Mobi, APK and Daisy formats.) What other ebook formats, if any, do you plan to use? We ran the survey for about a month and the answers might surprise you.

  Bear in mind that we realize our audience is unique. O’Reilly caters to technology professionals and enthusiasts. Our customers are also often among the earliest of early adopters. So, what’s the primary ereading device used by these early adopters and techno-enthusiasts? Their iPads. That’s not shocking, but what’s interesting is how only 25% of respondents said the iPad is their primary device. A whopping 46% said their laptop or desktop computer was their primary ereading device. Despite all the fanfare about Kindles, iPads, tablets and E Ink devices, the bulk of our customers are still reading their ebooks on an old-fashioned laptop or desktop computer. It’s also important to note that the most popular format isn’t EPUB or Mobi. Approximately half the respondents said PDF is their primary format. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Again, our audience is largely IT practitioners, coding or solving other problems in front of their laptops/desktops, so they like having the content on that same screen. And just about everyone has Adobe Acrobat on their computer, so the PDF format is immediately readable on most of the laptops/desktops our customers touch. I’ve spoken with a number of publishers who rely almost exclusively on Amazon data and trends to figure out what their customers want. What a huge mistake. Even though your audience might be considerably different than O’Reilly’s, how do you truly know what they want and need if you’re relying on an intermediary (with an agenda) to tell you? Your hidden trend might not have anything to do with devices or formats but rather reader/app features or content delivery. If you don’t take the time to build a direct channel, you may never know the answers. In fact, without a direct channel, you might not even know the questions that need to be asked.

Direct Channels and New Tools Bring Freedom and Flexibility


I wrote about why I’m bullish on publishing’s future. I talked about

  two areas that are ripe for change: ebook prices and formats. In the second and final part of this discussion I share the other two reasons why the future is bright for smart publishers: direct channels and new toolsets.

Direct Channels

  As we’re creating those rich, HTML5-based products, we should also start thinking about the opportunity to sell direct to our customers. I’ve heard some publishers say that they see no need to create a direct sales channel because (a) the existing retailers do a great job and (b) they don’t want to compete with their retail partners. Perhaps these publishers haven’t noticed that some of their retail partners have no problem competing with them as publishers. Even if they aren’t concerned about that, they should be focused on establishing a direct relationship with their customers.

  Direct channels provide outlets for products, and they also provide customer insights that are almost impossible to get anywhere else. For example, you can keep a close eye on what formats customers prefer (EPUB, mobi or PDF) and make adjustments as necessary. Good luck getting your retail partners to provide you with that kind of information. Creating a successful direct sales channel isn’t easy. There’s much more to it than simply offering your catalog on your website.

  You need to give your customers a reason to buy from you rather than buying somewhere else. Publishers who take the time to do this will be richly rewarded, though, not just in sales revenue, but customer intelligence. Publishers need to re-evaluate what value they can bring to the process. Building communities and creating experiences around your books will play a huge part in this development. This is especially relevant for smaller publishers who don’t have the muscle to compete with Amazon and other industry giants in attracting large numbers of consumers. By offering a more narrow but deep and focused range of books and expertise to a smaller number of specialized consumers, publishers might just be able to carve out an area that they can fill and manage.

Evolving Tools

  Publishers have spent small fortunes enabling their production systems to output all those formats covered in the first part of this discussion. Despite those investments, most publishers still work with the same content creation tools they used in the pre-ebook era. It’s time to bring our authoring tools in line with the capabilities of today’s powerful e-reading devices and apps. More and more books are being written by multiple authors these days. Even if it’s a single-author project, there are still editors and reviewers who need to get into the manuscript, often working on it simultaneously with the author or each other. Tools like Microsoft Word don’t really lend themselves to collaboration like this. Another issue we’re going to face in the future is more frequent updates to content as well as short-form content that can grow over time.

  This leads to the need for version control capabilities that haven’t been a major consideration in the past. And even if a publisher’s content isn’t updated frequently, there are still version control considerations for the collaboration requirement noted earlier. For example, if a freelance editor accidentally wipes out a batch of changes the publisher will want the ability to roll back to an earlier version of the content.


, Sourcefabric’s tool for writing and publishing books and ebooks,

  already responds to those needs and anticipates the demand for collaborative tools very well. At O’Reilly, we also realize the need for these collaboration and version control capabilities, and have made the investment to bring our authoring tools in line with today’s content management requirements. We’re currently using a new authoring and development platform we developed for our books, and we plan to make it available to other publishers soon, so stay tuned for more details right here

It’s the Brand, Stupid!

By Joe Wikert

  None of the Big Six are all that interested in creating their own direct channel. They usually say “we already have retail partners…we don’t know how to sell direct and we don’t care to learn.” That’s all true but the real reason they won’t do it, and wouldn’t be successful if they did right now, is because none of them are household brand names. Who goes into a store looking for the latest book from Penguin or Random House? Nobody. The author and sometimes the series is the brand, not the publisher. That model served traditional publishers well in the print days but it’s a formula for painful dependency in the digital world. A recent issue of alled “How to Build an Author Brand.”


many years ago.

  Publishers who don’t have a household brand name will always be dependent upon someone else to represent them to readers. Today that’s mostly Amazon and it looks like that will be the case for the foreseeable future too. Publishers (and authors) with a well-known brand name are much better suited to establish a direct relationship with customers, build community, etc. Plenty of developers look for “the O’Reilly book” on the latest technology. It’s hard to come up with many other examples of publisher-as-brand-name that consumers seek out.

  But without tooting our own horn too much, that’s precisely why we’ve been able to build such a strong direct relationship with our customers. It’s not just about selling products. As my colleague Allen Noren always reminds me, it’s really about building community. You can’t just launch a website called and expect anyone to come. And you certainly won’t be successful unless you’ve taken all the steps required to build a brand name consumers know and care about. This is why the smaller, more well-focused publishers have an advantage in the digital content world. Sure, the big publisher’s books will be right next to them on the virtual store shelf, but the small to mid-sized publisher who has a strong brand that means something to consumers is the one who’s much more likely to build a successful community and direct channel. It’s no wonder Penguin and Random House want to merge. They have little hope of establishing a direct channel so they’re looking to create more leverage with all the channel partners they’re so dependent on.

NY Times eBook Initiative Could Be So Much More

  B The NY Times realized they were sitting on a mountain of valuable older

  content. Readers might discover it through search but why not curate and convert it into ebooks? That’s exactly what they’ve done with their


  It’s a great idea but I’m puzzled over why they’re only selling them through ebook retailers. Why not go direct? I suppose they could be testing the waters this way and if retail sales generate enough interest perhaps they’ll make the investment to add a shopping cart system to the TimesFiles site and sell direct. In the mean time though they’re missing out on all the benefits of the direct channel. The primary one, of course, is getting to know your customer and establishing a relationship with them. There are plenty of up-sell and cross- sell opportunities they could pursue but they can’t as long as they’re only selling through someone else. And since there are only a couple dozen TimesFiles available today it makes me wonder if they’re unable to dedicate the editorial resources to build more. Here’s an idea: Let the community help. I’m sure plenty of people would love the opportunity to search across the Times archive and assemble ebooks on topics they’re passionate about. Some might volunteer but imagine if the curator also received a cut of the resulting sales? I hope the Times folks don’t abandon the Files idea because retailer sell- through was modest. It could lead to all sorts of new community engagement and revenue if they’d add the direct channel and an open curation option.

Fair Use: A Narrow, Subjective, Complicated Safe Haven for Free Speech


  Questions of fair use continue to arise, with the coming from a U.S. federal court in Nevada, which ruled that excerpting copyrighted materials — n the case of a newspaper story — is fair use.

  I reached out t


  takes a look at factors courts consider, offers a few guidelines and best practices to follow, and highlights some fundamental problems with Creative Commons Licensing.


How is “fair use” defined and what is its legal


Miles Feldman: Basically, the fair use doctrine creates a narrow safe haven

  for authors to quote, comment on, or parody copyrighted material. It was built into our copyright laws to protect freedom of speech and our First Amendment rights.

Does the breadth of the fair use guidelines cause confusion?

Miles Feldman: There are four factors courts look at to determine if fair use

  applies: The nature of the work used The nature of the new work The amount of the original work used in the new work The effect on the market for the original work

  These factors do involve some subjectivity. Uses that are more likely to be found to be fair are those that do not displace sales of the original work. For example, a parody or commentary of a book will not displace a sale of the original work. Where this gets much muddier is when authors create new works based on the original, claiming the new work is a parody of the original work. A notable example is the wor ,” by Alice Randall, which was a reworking of the well-known “Gone with the Wind,” by Margaret Mitchell, telling the story from the perspective of the slaves. “The Wind Done Gone” was held to be a fair use because it commented on the original and would not displace a purchase of the original. On the other hand, creating a sequel to a copyrighted book would not be fair use because one of the rights that an author has is to create derivative works based on their works of authorship.

What are some best practices people should follow to stay within the guidelines?

Miles Feldman: First, quote just enough needed to comment. Because the

  amount of earlier work that is used is a factor in the analysis, the less of that work that is incorporated into the subsequent work, the better. Further, authors should ask themselves if the use will have an impact on the market for the earlier work by displacing a sale. Of course, the safest course of action, but not really practical, is always to obtain a license before using any material that is protected by copyright.

What are the most common fair use abuses?

Miles Feldman: The biggest would be using more of the copyrighted work

  than was necessary. For example, if you are going to report on the death of Michael Jackson, some footage of the star may be included in the story and would likely be considered fair use. However, if you broadcast the entire “Thriller” video in memoriam, that would likely be deemed infringement and the fair use defense would not apply.

What kinds of content aren’t protected by copyright or subject to fair use?

Miles Feldman: Content that is older than 200 years. Such works are now likely in the public domain. Moreover, ideas are not protected by copyright

  Rather, the expression of an idea is protected. Therefore, anything that is merely idea and not expression is not subject to fair use, but is free to be used nonetheless. In the same vein, stock literary devices that are common in most books are not protected by copyright. In addition, titles to literary works are not copyrightable.

How would someone know if something is in the public domain or not?

  Miles Feldman: The first step is to determine when the work was initially

  created and when it was first published. If the work was published after 1923, it is very difficult to determine whether it is in the public domain or whether


  held that the copyrights on foreign works that had fallen into the public domain could be restored. However, there are some good research tools to determine the status of works. For motion pictures, a good place to start is with a search of the


. For music compositions and sound

  recordings, aintain records of the music publisher for a given work. The music publisher will list the work’s original author and date of publication. Once an author who wishes to use the work determines when the work was originally published, he or she can determine whether the work is still protected. Finally, the can be a good research tool for determining when works were originally published.

What’s your take on Creative Commons licensing?

Miles Feldman: Creative Commons was founded in 2001 as a clearinghouse

  for copyright licensing. Although widely regarded as a valiant effort, there are many critiques of the Creative Commons platform. First, there are many variations in the types of licenses and permissions granted by the website. Second, if an author chooses to allow his or her work to be licensed through Creative Commons and then realizes that the work has gained popularity and could be more profitable through traditional licensing channels, the author may remove it from Creative Commons, leaving those who relied on its licenses uncertain as to their rights. No court has ruled on whether an author who uses Creative Commons can reclaim full bundle of rights after others have licensed the work.

  [This interview was edited and condensed.]

  eBook Lending vs Ownership B

  In an earlier article called


  ADINFO1 you’ll only pay 99 cents, btw.) I’d like to revisit and excerpt from that title one more time and focus on the subscription model Gans sees for the book industry. Let’s pick it up here:


Books have the same basic characteristic as scholarly journals. In particular, like other digital

media, they are not easy to exclude, and even if they are, you need to subvert their digital core to make it happen. This suggests that the correct approach to selling books is away from ownership

and back toward access. Indeed, back to the model that, until the arrival of the printing press,

described how people could read books. In this respect, we may soon look back on five hundred

years of book ownership as a mere aberration.

Lending is the natural state for books and publishers. So how would the business of publishing

look if it were built around lending rather than ownership?

  There’s been plenty of speculation about creating “the Spotify for books” and I tend to think that model will be more successful than most would assume. A few years ago I never would have considered a streaming music subscription.

  I wanted to own my songs and have the ability to take them onto whatever platform I chose. Now I can’t tell you the last time I bought a song but I can tell you I use Spotify every week. And whether it’s an ad-supported stream or a monthly subscription it’s clear the borrowing model is gaining momentum in the music world. So how might pricing work in a lending ebook model? Here’s what Gans has to say:


Gather enough friends to pitch in for a subscription and you can all access it. The mobile phone

companies worked this out with “friends and family” plans that reduced the costs of communicating within social circles. If a newspaper adopts a sharing philosophy to information, it should be thinking in terms of clubs rather than individuals when it comes to subscriptions.

  Pretty smart. Rather than just selling to individuals why not leverage the power of the social circle and offer better deals to groups of users? He wraps up the topic by saying:

  With respect to books, publishers have desperately reacted to digitization by replicating the offerings to consumers available in the physical world. That has meant a model of book ownership rather than of shared use. But book ownership is a recent development, prior to which books were shared goods. Indeed, it is a mistake to think of books as objects at all when they actually offer a claim on attention.

  That reminds me of an expression I heard for the first time earlier this week: today’s ebooks are nothing more than “print under glass.” We expect customers want to own their ebooks just like they do their print books. Of course, the main problem with that is they really don’t own them; they simply own a license for them, which is yet another reason we’ll likely see a strong surge in ebook lending over ebook ownership.


A Screenshot, a Link, and a Heap of Praise Are

Met with a Takedown Notice B cause Quartz published a screenshot of a Times interactive visualization.

  Let me clarify: Quartz posted a static screenshot of an interactive and it linked to the interactive and praised the interactive. Quartz was actively encouraging people to go check out the full thing on the New York Times' website. The offending Quartz article is title .” Quartz was transferring at least 90% of the attention and value to the New

York Times. And yet, the Times wanted Quartz to take the whole thing down.

  Quartz wisely did two things:

  1. They revised the article to make it clear the full interactive visualization was produced by the Times. This was really their only mistake in the matter. Insert attribution clearly and often is a rule to live by in the online world.

  2. Quartz didn’t take the screenshot down because they believed its inclusion qualifies as fair use. The Times and said they were only looking for proper attribution. That’s not quite right, though. hey received and there’s nothing in there that says, “Hey, thanks for the link. You think you could make the attribution clear?” Rather, it’s one of those “take that down or else” letters. Here’s what I find interesting about all this:

  Any reasonable online editor would look at thend deem it acceptable. The Times, or whoever is sending these notices on behalf of the Times, is shooting the organization in the foot because now they’ve planted a seed of doubt in the minds of Quartz editors, and all online editors for that matter. People may think twice before highlighting the

  I love that Quartz pushed back with fair use. If this isn’t fair use I don’t know what is. There are questionable curation and attribution committed by mainstream media and independent writers alike. This isn’t one of them.


Portable Documents for the Open Web (Part 1)

By Bill McCoy

  Having been involved for over two decades with the intersection of technology and publishing, I’m looking forward to being an occasional writer for the TOC blog. At Joe Wikert’s invitation, I’m starting out with my personal vision for the future of portable documents and the Web, including the relationship between EPUB 3, HTML5 and PDF. This post is the first in a three-part series.

  What’s up with HTML5 and EPUB 3? (and, is

EPUB even important in an increasingly cloud- centric world?)

  EPUB is the well-known open standard XML-based format for eBooks and other digital publications, based on HTML and CSS. EPUB is the primary distribution format for B&N Nook, Kobo, Apple iBooks, Sony Reader, and many other eBook platforms, and is supported by Amazon as an ingestion format for Kindle (whose distribution format is proprietary). Until recently EPUB has been primarily used for text-centric publications, with pagination and formatting generally applied “on the fly” by reading systems. But the latest as completed last Fall, now supports complex fixed layouts as well as audio and video, interactivity, MathML, and many other new features. It’s definitely not your father’s EPUB any more. But, since the vast majority of this added goodness comes from HTML5 and related Web Standards, rather than anything intrinsic to EPUB, some have questioned whether EPUB is a necessary or beneficial ingredient for the future of books in an increasingly cloud-oriented digital worlhat eBooks are obsolete and we should “throw away the artificial shackles of ePub” and develop websites instead (the comment thread that I contributed to there was the original stimulus for me to write this article). As the Executive Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (

   ), the group responsible for the EPUB standard, I’m certainly not a

  disinterested party. But, professional affiliation aside, my personal vision for EPUB, informed by a career largely spent developing publishing technology and standards, is drastically different than Jani’s. I fully agree with him and others that publishers need to think and act a lot more like web developers. I also agree that for some types of real-time content (including a lot of what Lonely Planet publishes) websites and web-based databases will over time replace books (whether p- or e-).

  But I believe that EPUB has a critical role to play that isn’t filled by plain websites. In a nutshell, EPUB is the portable document format for the Open document anyway, and why do we still need them (or files at all) in a world rapidly evolving towards a cloud-centric model of content distribution and access?

The Enduring Need for Portable Documents

  Back in the early 1990s, Adobe successfully framed its Acrobat format as the Portable Document Format — hence its name, PDF. PDF is defined by two fundamentally distinct attributes. First, a PDF file is fundamentally a fixed sequence of static page images: an electronic equivalent of paper, or “What You See Is What You Get” (WYWISYG). But, more fundamentally, a PDF file is self-contained and usable across devices and operating systems. This was the core meaning of “portable” and underscored by Adobe’s original tagline for Acrobat: “view and print anywhere”.

  We’ll come back to the WYSIWYG bit. But, the first question is whether in a Web world, we will still need to package and download portable documents? As Jani’s colleague “If I can use a great website (read: UX, content, functionality) online and offline … on any of my devices … I don’t see a reason why we wouldn’t migrate to all our requirements being fulfilled by pointing our browser to a specific address”.

  I think Jani and Gus’s arguments gloss over a critical distinction between websites and documents. The Web’s fundamental architecture — pends on two-way transfer of information between servers and clients. While caching is part of that architecture, and thus websites can indeed potentially be used offline, the core assumption of the Web includes the opportunity to dynamically determine the data sent from a server to a client. The fact that the server “knows” the clients it’s communicating with (even though at times mediated by a cache) is at the heart of the Web’s distributed architecture. So web pages are rarely designed to be long-lived entities, and increasingly never exist as static objects at all, instead being on the server from database queries or even on the client from JavaScript applications in the browser. The REST architectural style is great for a number of things, but content portability is not one of them: the coupling of server and client is loose, but it still exists. Complex websites rarely work properly other than on browsers with which they are explicitly tested. That means current browsers: not older ones, and not necessarily newer ones. More fundamentally, it’s just not possible to deterministically take a modern, rich website — a collection of markup, stylesheets, assets, and server and client programmatic elements — and usably transfer it to either an end user or to another entity for subsequent redistribution. In some sense a website doesn’t really ever exist as a reified object. Instead, a web server is called upon — in the context of some specific web client — to serve it up, piece by piece. Or, really, multiple web servers, because part of the architecture of the web is its distributed nature. A given website, like Lonely Planet’s, may be served up by a host of affiliated servers for content, social data, advertising, analytics, etc. Notionally, what is triggered by (as Gus wrote) “pointing our browser at a given address” is a stream of unique, tailored requests and responses, operating in parallel with execution of downloaded JavaScript code in the browser’s virtual machine. Generally speaking, this is OK. Online web applications are not necessarily expected to be archived for years on end. You engage with today, on yesterday and today’s browsers. notwithstanding, one doesn’t expect to stash away a copy of and visit it with future browsers in two year’s time. Again while some web experiences may be able to be cached for offline execution this is a special case of a generally online-centric architecture. And, one that is typically temporarily limited to timely content and only works well in practice on systems where it’s carefully vetted and tested (it’s not coincidental that the signature example of an offline Web application, the , only works on one specific environment, iOS, and is focused on “fresh” content). A portable document by contrast is, fundamentally, a single entity that reliably contains its constituent content. There may be links to the broader corpus of Web content, but it’s clear what’s “inside” a portable document package. And, the portable document is not generated ephemerally for a single client system, but as something that can be reliable archived, moved across different devices, and redistributed via multiple channels.

  But, ontology aside, Jani and Gus’s core question remains: will we still need such self-contained content entities in an increasingly cloud-based world? Well, it sure looks like portable documents aren’t going away. In the market for consumer eBooks, reflowable formats are prevalent, primarily the open standard EPUB and its proprietary evil twin, Amazon Kindle’s .mobi format. Online browser-baesd viewing solutions are widely available, but have only a tiny proportion of eyeballs. And, for other digital publications and ad hoc support is built-in to major operating systems, including OS/X and iOS, Microsoft Office, and thousands of other software programs. While there’s certainly many times more web pages than PDF files published on the Web, there may well be more net total text in the PDFs. And many enterprise, and most of our personal hard drives, continue to hold more PDFs than web pages.

  Motivations for this continued use of portable documents (and, more generally, content objects reified into interoperable files) come from two perspectives: the content producer (publisher) and the content consumer (end user).

  From a publisher’s perspective, a universal goal is cost-effective publishing. A big part of this is the simple one-button “print to PDF”. But there’s also the reality that once the PDF is made, the publisher doesn’t have to worry about what system or device the recipient is using: it just works. A website that “just works” everywhere can certainly be made, but only at the expense of a visual presentation that is highly dumbed-down and likely to be a poor experience for many users. A reified content object in an inteoperable format, unlike a website, can also be reliably delivered indirectly through channels.

  From the end user’s perspective, the advantage harkens back to the original “view anywhere” tagline of Acrobat. Certainly we aren’t yet at a point where the cloud can be depended on 24/7, particularly not for immersive reading.

  Immersive reading needs to be, well, immersive. Not being able to go to the next page because your Internet connection is down is the opposite of immersive. And, most consumers expect to be able to download and store content locally, particularly content that they’ve purchased. And if “owned” content is going to be stored in a cloud, consumers will want it to be the cloud of their choice, and the cloud to be an option not a required intermediary for consumption. is the signature example of an online cloud-centric solution, but file upload and download are front-and- center features. There’s no denying the trend towards the cloud. I’m sure that over time there will continue to be an increasing ability to conveniently publish directly to the cloud, as well as increasing acceptance by end users of cloud-based consumption. Perhaps someday the idea of a “file” will even become obsolete. But, at a minimum for many years to come — and possibly forever content objects, particularly portable documents. This naturally leads to the question of whether PDF, the incumbent portable document format, can continue to fill that role indefinitely. That is the focus of part 2 of this series.


Portable Documents for the Open Web (Part 2)


   of this three-part series argued that there will be an enduring need for

  portable documents even in a world that’s evolving towards cloud-based content distribution and storage. OK fine, but we have PDF: aren’t we done? The from from Jani Patokallio that inspired this series suggested that “for your regular linear fiction novel, or even readable tomes of non- fiction, a no-frills PDF does the job just fine”. In this second part I take a hard look at PDF’s shortcomings as a generalized portable document format. These limitations inspired EPUB in the first place and are in my opinion fatal handicaps in the post-paper era. Is it crazy to imagine that a format as widely- adopted as PDF could be relegated to legacy status? Read on and let me know what you think.

  For over two decades, PDF has been the dominant file format for portable documents. PDF remains extremely popular, particularly for professional and technical books. O’Reilly Media earlier this year that it’s still their most popular download format. But, the key point is that PDF’s share

   in a scant three years. And that’s for

  technical books with relatively complex layouts, often read on large-screen PCs. For publishers of fiction eBooks, PDF market share has declined to negligible levels. So the big question is, why did PDF market share fall off a cliff? For that matter, if “a no-frills PDF does the job just fine”, why is Jani’s employer, Lonely Planet, selling travel guides in EPUB and other formats? Undoubtedly, the primary reason for the rapid fall-off in PDF market share for digital publications is lack of reflow. PDF documents are a sequence of final form pages, typeset “at the factory”. While PDF stands for the “Portable Document Format”, it could more accurately be termed the “Portable Print Preview Format”. For many years, the Adobe group responsible for PDF was titled the “ePaper Business Unit”. By contrast, the formats that now represent the vast majority of eBook market share (EPUB and MOBI) are designed to, by default, be formatted dynamically at the point of consumption. This means that you can change font size on a tablet or PC screen to a comfortable level, change to “night mode” (white text on black screen”, etc. None of which is doable with PDF. And on smartphones and other smaller-screen devices,

  PDFs aren’t even readable in the first place, other than via “pan and zoom hell”. As more reading moves to digital devices, and printing diminishes in importance, the need for reflow — for optimizing content for context — increasingly trumps being a faithful replica of paper.

  A related issue is that PDF documents are poorly accessible. In PDF, character glyphs are essentially spray-painted onto pages at (x,y) positions, without any clear relationship to reading order and not necessarily in any intelligible encoding. Accessibility of course relates to making content available to the blind or those with other reading disabilities, or who for whatever reason want a larger font size or to listen to an aural rendition (I hope you’re not reading while driving!). But accessible content is also reusable content: data, not just presentation. There is a means in PDF to add on accessibility information (“Tagged PDF”), but it’s a complex and fragile and ultimately somewhat of a hack (trying to tack structure onto final-form typeset pages is, fundamentally, a backwards approach). In practice very few PDF files contain structure enabling even determining basic reading order — including most PDFs created via Adobe’s own software.

  The PDF format is also monolithic and complex, attributes that make it much less approachable. PDF’s specialized binary format entangles “packaging” with the content representation. Creating and manipulating PDF requires use of specialized, heavy-weight software libraries. It is impossible to “hand code” PDF. PDF has hundreds of proprietary scripting APIs (with all the security exposure that entails), but not a true runtime DOM (Document Object Model). And after more than two decades of monotonic feature growth, PDF is not, in any sense, lean (the spec is 750 pages, not including supplements, scripting API documents, etc.). Feature bloat is one problem (to which the Open Web is not entirely immune), but a more critical impediment is that PDF is a proprietary

  technology stack, not based on Open Web Standards. Some documents need

  rich media (audio, video, etc.), interactivity, forms, and other capabilities. To do this in PDF requires depending on specialized PDF-only technologies in these areas, utilizing a proprietary scripting language and APIs that are not well-supported other than in Adobe’s own Acrobat and Reader software. That means if you are using Preview on a Mac or iOS device, or other PDF reader software like FoxIt on a PC, these features just won’t work. More fundamentally it means you can’t leverage the skills, staff and technologies you already have for website development for PDF. Adobe has pushed over a number of years a concept of the “Interactive PDF”. To call resulting adoption a “niche market” would be charitable: “failure” is more like it. The signature indictment of the PDF format has to be Adobe’s graft-on of a second proprietary forms format, “XFA” (additive to the original, also proprietary, “AcroForms”). AcroForms support is thin on the ground, but no PDF software other than Adobe’s own has ever bothered to support XFA, and not even Adobe’s own PDF readers support it across the board (it doesn’t work in Adobe’s Reader Mobile SDK or mobile Reader apps, for example). None of this is very surprising: PDF is a single vendor’s solution, designed over 20 years ago, before the Internet and XML, based on the limitations of then-current computers, to enable its print-centric products. The opening sentence of the original PDF specification is telling: “PDF [is] the native file format of the Adobe Acrobat family of products” (that sentence dropped away in later versions of the spec). Adobe eventually opened up PDF as an

  ISO standard, but the perception is that it still belongs to Adobe, who still


  stamp” standard: no substantive changes from Adobe’s spec, and hundreds of pages that describe features that are only implemented by Adobe. A single vendor solution is dependent on that vendor’s ongoing support and more fundamentally just can’t keep up with the rapid pace of evolution of the Open Web, which is fueled by the virtuous circle of competing browsers and an ecosystem of developers and solution providers many orders of magnitude larger. As evidenced by the failure of Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight, the Web has become the universal experience delivery platform. And since it’s clear Flash and Silverlightt’s a stretch to imagine that a revived “Interactive PDF” could.

  I don’t mean to suggest that PDF has no utility or is going the way of the dinosaur. PDF has ably filled the niche of “ePaper”, and remains one of the most widely adopted file formats ever. I’m proud to have contributed to its development. And for the specialized but very important use case of print production workflows, where faithfully replicating paper is a given and the other issues less pertinent, PDF’s dominant market share will likely continue for the foreseeable future. But when it comes to immersive digital reading experiences, with print fidelity increasingly secondary to N-screen support, it’s another story, as evidenced by the rapid rise of EPUB as the primary eBook format. And increasing need for rich media, interactivity, and accessibility should only accelerate migration to EPUB, given the Web Standards foundation of the latest version, EPUB 3. That’s the topic of part 3, the conclusion of this three-part series.


Portable Documents for the Open Web (Part 3)




  format that has rapidly emerged as the open standard for eBooks. It’s my contention that EPUB, not PDF, represents the future of portable documents in our increasingly Web-based world. Why? In short, EPUB addresses all the key limitations of PDF. EPUB is reflowable, accessible, modular (with packaging and content cleanly separated), and based on HTML5 and related

  Web Standards. It’s a truly open format, _developed in a collaborative

  process_ to meet global requirements rather than by a single vendor to support its proprietary products. Let’s take a harder look at these points.

EPUB 3 brings the Open Web to portable documents

  EPUB 3, the latest version of EPUB, fully embraces HTML5 and related modern Web Standards. Previous versions of EPUB were based on specific subset profiles of HTML and CSS, in effect “borrowing” from these standards. But as a result they were effectively frozen in time. EPUB 2.0.1, completed in 2010, adopts modules from XHTML 1.1, which was completed in 2001 and is based on the Web and browsers of the mid-1990s.

  During the development of EPUB 3 we made a key decision to tightly align with HTML5, SVG, CSS 3, and related modern Web Standards. Rather than defining “frozen” profiles of these standards, the general approach of EPUB 3 is to normatively reference the relevant standards in their entirety. This means that if it’s legal HTML5, it’s legal EPUB 3, period. And as HTML5 evolves, EPUB 3 is committed to evolving with it. This decision has made EPUB 3 much more fundamentally a portable document (as generally defined earlier in this article) packaging of Web content, rather than a distinct format.

  As a portable document, an .epub file has within it all of the assets needed to render the publication — content, stylesheets, media, scripts, fonts — in a well-defined, structured, interoperable manner. You might say that a .epub file is a website “in a box”, one that’s been “domesticated” so that it can be distribute through channels, and used online as well as offline. You can put that the content is well-defined: it has a logical reading order, navigable structure, and metadata. You can do more than just toss it to a browser and execute it, seeing what happens: you can process it as data. EPUB also leverages the universality of Web Standards and open formats like ZIP and XML. With EPUB you can utilize Web development skills and technologies for things like interactivity, forms, and rich media. You get a real runtime DOM (Document Object Model) and associated standard APIs. Critically, you don’t add to a user’s security exposure beyond what they already get with a web browser, and the browser stack is heavily scrutinized by both vendors and 3rd parties, and any exploits are rapidly patched. And because EPUB 3 now supportss well as reflowable content, you can represent in EPUB a superset of the range of content that can be represented in PDF. Including content that requires precision in display and printing. And with SVG being in effect an XML representation of the PostScript/PDF imaging model, moving from PDF to EPUB can be lossless (as HW-accelerated SVG proliferates in modern browsers you can expect to see much more seamless PDF-to-EPUB conversion tools, and ultimately print-driver support a la Acrobat for EPUB generation from any type of document). Of course the specifics of EPUB 3 are not the only conceivable way one might package HTML5 and related content into a portable document format. Several proprietary HTML5-based solutions have sprouted up in parallel with EPUB 3, including Inkling’s S9ML and the format of Apple iBooks Author. But market pressures tend to create convergence to a single solution for key standards, particularly when interoperability is involved. There were originally multiple competitors for PostScript and PDF, but each rose to become the unchallenged technology standard of its era. In the HTML5 era, it seems clear that a single portable document packaging of Web Content will maximize interoperability, and that an open standard, if adequately supported, is likely to prevail over proprietary solutions. And EPUB 3 has another key advantage over both PDF and proprietary alternatives: accessibility. EPUB 3 has been designed in close collaboration with theo ensure that requirements for accessibility to the blind and others with print disabilities become part of the mainstream digital publication format. PDF is notoriously difficult to make fully

as a standard format for education institutions, governments, and others. Arbitrary HTML5 websites and proprietary alternatives will be very unlikely to have EPUB 3’s nd they won’t have the critical mass of accessibility stakeholders who are converging on EPUB 3 as the means to make accessibility part of mainstream digital publications.

  As a side note, stepping up to be the key format for accessible publications was a primary reason for the expanded scope of EPUB to cover all kinds of publications. As EPUB 3 was being developed there was some debate about whether EPUB should focus only on eBooks, or even more narrowly only on text-centric “trade” eBooks (where EPUB’s original use cases were centered). But, the accessibility community needs all documents to be accessible and it was clear that this implied stepping up to eventually become the global standard horizontally across the many market segments of digital publishing. Last but not least EPUB has from its origins been developed in a collaborative open process. The IPDF is a democratically governed member- driven organization with over 350 members from 36 different countries. That means that EPUB is designed to meet a broad set of digital publication use cases and requirements, not to enable one vendor’s proprietary products. As EPUB’s use cases and applicability has expanded, so has IDPF’s membership, which now has a majority of members from outside North America, and is gaining members focused on corporate publishing, magazine and comic publishing, and other parts of the publishing universe beyond book publishing. IDPF has also forged a close partnership with the organization responsible for broader Web Standards, the W3C, which enables us to influence the development of these broader standards, and the browsers that implements them.

EPUB and the Semantic Web

  I’ve outlined why there will be an ongoing need for portable documents, and presented an argument for why EPUB is becoming the next-generation portable document format for the Web, not just for eBooks but on track to displace many use cases presently fulfilled by PDF. Some might consider that a sufficiently big vision, but actually I see EPUB’s utility as transcending even the need for portable document packaging. And, let’s face it, the need for representing content and documents as concrete files may indeed ultimately fade away, even if it’s going to take long enough that it won’t be

  To me, what makes EPUB special is not that it is packaged into a single ZIP- based file, but that is enables structured, metadata-enhanced content that can be created & manipulated reliably with automated tools and distributed through multiple channels. It ensures that Web content is declarative data — that can be presented in different ways, sliced & diced, and reused — rather than programmatic spaghetti that can only be rendered to see what happens.

  Even if we someday all use cloud-based services, and never need to download monolithic “.epub” files, I’m convinced that a declarative approach to complex document data will remain valuable — even if the use cases are only around syndication that document data across cloud-based services.

  Fundamentally this is the vision of the Semantic Web. One might argue that the W3C’s explicit focus in recent years on Web Applications, while necessary to stay relevant and support very real needs in the broader IT arena, have come at the expense of failing to pay enough attention to the needs of documents and content as data. A Web browser is not just a virtual machine for JavaScript. EPUB in effect takes the Wild, Wild Web and tames it. EPUB for example requires use of the XML serialization of HTML5 (XHTML5), rather than “Tag Soup” aka “Street” HTML. This means that EPUB content, unlike arbitrary web pages, can be reliably created and manipulated with

  XML tool chains. EPUB defined Reading System conformance more tightly than HTML5 defines for browser User Agents, pinning down things that are under-specified in the union of W3C standards. For example, conforming EPUB 3 Reading Systems are required to support both OpenType and WOFF font formats, to support MathML, and SVG. The result is, in theory, a much higher degree of reliability of content and interoperability across Reading Systems, including temporally (i.e., content created today will continue to work into the future). This is something that PDF pretty much nailed; the Web, not so much. In effect EPUB is both a distribution and syndication format. If down the road we don’t have to distribute downloadable files any more, then it would still have a useful (if not necessarily central) role to play as a reliable, structured syndication format. Even within a self-contained web property, EPUB could play a useful role as a well-defined profile of HTML5-based content. The surrounding app might be Web-app spaghetti, designed to work on today’s browsers, but for representing rich content assets, EPUB provides a well-defined “contract”.

EPUB in the Real-World

  The core mission of the IDPF, the organization responsible for EPUB, is to establish a global, interoperable, accessible standard for eBooks and other publications to help foster a growing digital publishing industry. In this article I’ve presented a personal vision for why we’ll still need portable documents for the foreseeable future, why EPUB is becoming the next-generation portable document format based on HTML5 and the Open Web, and why ultimately EPUB, as a way to think of Web content as declarative data, can be viewed as an important part of the broader Semantic Web. But it’s clear we’re not yet sipping mai-tai’s on a sandy beach of universal platform harmony. Circa August 2012, the industry is smack in the middle of a painful transition from EPUB 2, which was based on a 10-year-old version of HTML and limited to text-centric content, to the much more capable EPUB 3, which is based on the latest Web Standards. While several eBook reading system vendors (notable Apple, Kobo, and VitalSource) have substantially delivered on EPUB 3 support, and others (including Sony, B&N and Google) have publicly endorsed EPUB 3, we certainly aren’t yet all the way there. And being based on the latest Web Standards — many of which are not finalized, and some of which are even in danger of s its downsides: they don’t call it “bleeding-edge” for nothing! And, EPUB 3.0 is not the end of the road: a number of new features need to be developed to fully realize the broader goals. So in the very short term it may well look like EPUB support is getting less, rather than more, consistent, similar to when the first HTML5-based browsers came to market.

  But, I’m personally convinced the migration to EPUB 3 will ultimately yield a higher level of conformance, just as all modern browsers now support HTML5 and exhibit a higher degree of overall conformance to standards than in the bad old days of browser-specific websites. And, while some publishers might be happy to stick with proprietary platforms, and others might find plain websites sufficient, the benefits of an open, interoperable, global, accessible platform should ultimately lead to the largest set of tools and services for publishers, and the most consumption choices for consumers. Ultimately these things are what matter: a format is just an enabler for a larger ecosystem.

  To make this ecosystem thrive we need to successfully navigate the current transition, while continuing to evolve EPUB to meet global requirements across the publishing industry. The IDPF is an inclusive organization and welcomes the support of organizations large and small in advancing our mission. There’s also a number of related open source initiatives: including


  publication format based on the Open Web makes sense, I hope you’ll consider

  DPF and its activities to help make sure it happens!

Graceful eBook Degradation

By Joe Wikert

  Remember the old days when print was the only format a publisher had to worry about? Now the minimum output requirements include PDF, mobi and EPUB. But what about the devices used to read those formats? You’ve got to consider eInk displays, mobile phones, tablets and computers.

  We’re in the very early innings of the ebook game and our focus is mostly still on quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversions. That means the ebook pretty much renders the same way as the print book. Reading devices offer so much horsepower and presentation capabilities yet the vast majority of our content is nothing more than the printed page on a screen. Why? One of the challenges in producing richer content has to do with certain device limitations. eInk devices like the Kindle and Nook don’t support video or animation, for example, and these are still some of the most popular reading platforms in use. Another example is simple web browsing. Yes, it can be done (painfully so) on some eInk devices but I long for the day when every ebook reading device/app lets you access the web from within the book page and doesn’t require you to launch a separate app. When you publish an ebook which level of fidelity do you aim for? The richer tablet or the simpler eInk display? In order to keep things simple we’re mostly going with a least common denominator approach: If it renders on the eInk display it will also work on a tablet. The same content simply works across devices but what we really ought to be shooting for is a graceful degradation model where the content adjusts itself to optimize its presentation on each device. Think about how challenging that is. As I mentioned in a meeting recently, it’s like trying to create a totally immersive, 3D movie and have the same product gracefully degrade for playback on an AM radio station. I don’t think this is a short-term problem either. eInk might go away at some point but there will always be an assortment of devices with different capabilities that will need to be considered. We’ll always want to take advantage of all the capabilities of the most sophisticated devices while also offering a terrific user experience on the less capable ones.

  It’s pretty clear that today’s content creation tools aren’t ready for this challenge. Our authoring and development techniques will also need to change. After all, if a video is well integrated but that video must be removed for certain devices how is the surrounding content altered? We can’t rely on empty boxes and references to elements that no longer exist. Logic will have to be built into the product to dynamically adjust the content based on the device it’s being consumed on. What do you think? Will publishers acknowledge this opportunity and start looking beyond those quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversions? Will new tools and content authoring/development techniques emerge to address this need?

IOS 6, Android, HTML5: Which Publishing Platform Prevails?

By Joe Wikert

  August is “platforms” month here in TOC-land. That means we’re throwing iOS and Android into the arena to fight it out. It’s not really, “two platforms enter, one platform leaves” though. After all, there’s a third player in this one, its name is HTML5 and I’m betting it ultimately wins the war. When the topic of platform-specific apps comes up I’m hearing the same thing over and over from publishers. They sank a lot of money into iOS because it was (and by some measures remains) the leader. The experts then told them they also need to invest in Android so some spent even more money on this popular but splintered platform. The result? Mostly disappointment. With publishers shrinking and budgets tightening why make parallel investments in book apps for iOS and Android, especially if HTML5 can be used across both (as well as other) platforms? One reason to stay with a platform-specific approach is that your apps can fully leverage all the device’s capabilities. That’s generally not possible with HTML5 but (a) I’ll bet that situation changes and (b) how many rich ebooks really need to communicate with a phone’s built-in gyroscope, for example? What do you think? Will publishing opt for a more agnostic solution like HTML5 or are we likely to see more investments in iOS- and Android- specific apps?

Responsive eBook Content


inspired me to share an example

  of responsive content that I thought of while brainstorming with my ebook dev colleagues here at O’Reilly. Much of the way authors present content is based on what they know is possible with the printed page. But the page has changed — it’s no longer the rigid, rectangular object it once was. It’s important to think about how best to present your content given these new boundaries — one of the key aspects being that these boundaries change. The same reader might look at your content on a large monitor at work, and then switch to her mobile phone on the train home. Tables are a specific example of content presentation that needs rethinking. Data is often presented tabularly simply because it’s an efficient use of space (and printing pages can be expensive), or because the information is easier to absorb at a glance when presented side-by-side. Unfortunately, large tables are hard to replicate on the digital page. Cutting down the pagecount is irrelevant, and even if the device allows horizontally-scrolling tables or other hacks to fit the content on the screen, the original benefit of having content that is easily absorbed at a glance is lost. (I’m not saying all tables are evil; of course there is true tabular data.) But what if you included both a tabular and non-tabular display of the same information in your file, and then used media screens to dictate which version to display on which device (or, in an html5 world, on which screen size)? In our table example, imagine that you had a tabular display, like this:

  <div class="tabular"> <p>Table 1. Pros and Cons of eBook Formats</p> <table> <thead> <tr> <td>Mobile format</td> <td>Pros</td> <td>Cons</td> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr>

  <td>Mobi</td> <td>Access to Amazon store; mostly cross-platform (with Kindle App)</td> <td>Limited tag support; disparity among devices/apps</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ePub</td> <td>Open format; broad formatting support; cross-platform</td> <td>Different platforms have limited support</td> </tr> <tr> <td>PDF</td> <td>Print-fidelity; always single-source</td> <td>Not reflowable</td> </tr> </tbody> </table>

  Immediately followed by a non-tabular interpretation:

  <div class="nontabular"> <p>Pros and Cons of eBook Formats</p> <ul> <li>Mobile format: Mobi</li> <li>Pros: Access to Amazon store; mostly cross-platform (with Kindle App)</li> <li>Cons: Limited tag support; disparity among devices/apps</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Mobile format: ePub</li> <li>Pros: Open format; broad formatting support; cross-platform</li> <li>Cons: Different platforms have limited support</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Mobile format: PDF</li> <li>Pros: Print-fidelity; always single-source</li> <li>Cons: Not reflowable</li> </ul> </div>

  Both of these presentations exist side-by-side in your text. For the displays where you want the tabular version, you use media queries to set div.nontabular to “display: none;”, and vice verse. The content itself will then adapt to the reading device, presenting the reader with a table where space permits (as dictated by you via media screens), and a linear flow of text when the screen gets too small.

  For example, your CSS file might look like this:

  @media only screen and (min-device-width: 768px) and (max-device-width: 1024px) { / Styles for the iPad / div.tabular { display: block; } div.nontabular { display: none; } }

@media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) {

/ Styles for the iPhone / div.tabular { display: none; } div.nontabular { display: block; } } Here are a couple screenshots of the above code in action.

  Figure 11-1. iPad


Figure 11-2. iPhone

Of course, there are technical limitations to this kind of approach right now.

  For example, these kinds of detailed, screen-size-specific media queries are

  s if

  you’re thinking of streaming html5 books, as browser support for CSS3 is currently somewhat more consistent than in eReader devices). But the point stands that responsive design isn’t limited to just margins and font sizes, but can apply to the content itself. Hopefully this inspires you to think about new ways to present your content, and to make it work across multiple displays.

HTML5, EPUB 3, and eBooks vs Web Apps

By Joe Wikert

  One of the benefits of working on TOC is that I get to see some of the behind-the-scenes industry debates that take place via email. I thought it would be fun to share a thread about HTML5 vs. EPUB 3 featuring O’Reilly’s . They’ve both agreed to share this thread with the TOC community since it helps clarify the state of both EPUB 3 and HTML5. It all started with earlier this month. Bill reached out to Sanders as follows:

Your mileage may vary, especially on the Nook

  Bill: Your interview with Joe for TOC was interesting. As you know from prior discussion I

totally agree with you that the current situation is sub-optimal. It’s disappointing that nearly a year

after EPUB 3 is out, B&N’s flagship tablet device doesn’t support EPUB 3 yet, even though it

ships with a reasonably modern browser that does support HTML5. This is due to delays by their

current vendor for eBook rendering software (Adobe) rather than a lack of desire on B&N’s part,

but it’s still a problem. I also agree with you that where EPUB 3 is supported like Apple iBooks

and Kobo the consistency in terms of being able to safely use leading-edge JavaScript libraries and

other browser-stack features in disparate reading systems is not where it needs to be. While it’s

true that EPUB 3 needs to be able to be supported on limited capability devices I think we didn’t

help by making so many things optional and being silent on reading system support for various APIs that are de facto part of the browser stack but not officially part of the HTML5 spec normatively referenced by EPUB 3 spec (e.g. geolocation, local storage, XMLHttpRequest). I also agree with you that Web-technologies-based apps are the future for experience delivery,

both in browser and increasingly for native-class apps that are liberated from the browser (whether

wrapped in PhoneGap or CEF, W8 Metro apps or the new Chrome Packaged App model Google

rolled out this summer at I/O).

  Sanders: Yes, I think what I find so frustrating is that we’ve got tablets on the market like the

Nook, which use two different engines to render Web content — one for the Web browser and one

for the ereader — and the ereader is lagging so far behind the browser in HTML5 support. The

ereader is being treated like a second-class citizen, even though it’s ostensibly the primary feature

of the tablet (or at least the primary feature by which the tablet is being marketed; I concede that there are many people buying the Nook who just want a low-cost Android tablet, and have no intention of reading ebooks on it).


One of the things I appreciate most about iBooks is that it uses the same Webkit engine as Mobile

Safari, and if you test the same HTML5 content in Safari and in iBooks, you usually get the same


Distinguishing apps from ebooks

  Bill: But … despite all this violent agreement … I’m having a hard time with your contention in the interview that “a lot less is going to fall in the eBook side than it does now for enhanced text

and graphics … anything that’s more enhanced is going to drift over to the app side … we’ll have

our standard EPUBs for fiction/nonfiction and then biology textbooks will be on the other side”.

That’s what I want to probe on in this email.


Sanders: I’ve thought about this quite a bit after my initial conversation with Joe, and I think the

debate of “ebook” vs. “app” can be pretty facile if you’re not careful about how you define those

somewhat loaded terms. And I think I failed to do a good job of that in my interview. So let me step back and try to do better now. If you define “ebook” as “something that can be represented in EPUB 2/3 or Mobi format and rendered in an ereader app”, and you define “web app” as “something that can be rendered in a

Web browser and/or sold in an app store”, then you’re really just arguing about packaging, not the

underlying content, because an EPUB 3 file is composed of HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript, just like a web app. In the quote you cite above, I wasn’t really trying to make an argument about

packaging, as much as about the kinds of electronic media that publishers are creating right now,

and will be creating in the future.

I think Phase 1 of ebook creation for publishers was basically, “Let’s take all our print books and

digitize them so they can be read on a Kindle or iPad”, without much in the way of innovation in

terms of interactivity, customized rendering for a reflowable context, or even hyperlinking. I think we’ve now graduated to Phase 2, where publishers are thinking, “How can we make

customized digital content for tablet devices, instead of plain-old text-and-graphics ebooks? Do I

make an app or do I make an enhanced ebook?" I think publishers are generally taking two approaches to this:

  Approach #1: Hire on software developers to make full-fledged native apps they can sell in the

   Approach #2: Make an “enhanced ebook”, which takes the standard Phase 1 text-and-graphics

context, and then grafts on some multimedia features, like audio and video clips (here I’m thinking

of the Steven Tyler memoir “, which

was featured prominently in .

I’m rather against Approach #2, because I don’t think it’s especially innovative, and I don’t think

it’s what customers really want out of next-generation e-content. I feel like the whole notion of

“enhanced ebooks” is somewhat of a transitional concept, as publishers start making baby steps in

rethinking how they produce content for a Digital First world. In the long term (next 5 years or so), I think a large part of the “enhanced-ebook” middle ground is going to go away, and ebook content is going to fall more neatly into one of two categories:

Category 1: The standard text-and-graphic content that you can read on even the lowest-end eInk

ereader (because I don’t think all-text fiction/nonfiction is ever going to go out of favor) Category 2: Everything else, which will be more and more app-like in the sense that it will be highly interactive, to-some-degree social (commenting, linked to Facebook/Twitter, etc.), and

conceived from the start for a Web context (densely hyperlinked, with sophisticated mechanisms

to search content and navigate it in a nonlinear fashion) So, that’s what I was getting at above; I just wish I had articulated it better in my interview.


That’s just part one, folks. Stay tuned later this week for excerpts from the rest of the thread where

Bill and Sanders talk further about the subtleties of EPUB 3, HTML5 and web apps.

  eBooks as Native Apps vs Web Apps

By Joe Wikert

  Over the past week I’ve posted excerpts from a very insightful email exchange betwee O’Reilly. This is the final installment of that thread and we pick it up where Bill suggests a tighter connection between the simple ebooks of today and the richer ones we’re likely to see in the future:

Distinguishing ebooks from apps

  Bill: There’s a continuum between non-enhanced text-centric publications and enhanced interactive publications, not a dichotomy. Sanders: Well, I think you always need to draw a line somewhere between “ebook” and “app”.



the line is going to be drawn such that more and more content slides over to the “app” side, and

more specifically that more of these will be web apps, as opposed to the native iOS/Android book

apps that predominate now. It sounds like you believe the reverse will be true, and you may very

well be right.

  Honestly, I just want publishers to put out more and more awesome, innovative digital content, preferably crafted using open Web standards. If it’s easier for them to do it using EPUB 3, then

I’m all for it. But if circumstances militate against this route, as they do now, I’d rather see them

explore web apps than throw in the towel.

  Bill: Your argument would seem to imply that if you need to add a video or an equation

visualization widget to an eBook you should move to the “other side” and build a web app instead.


That’s not realistic for publishers. A lot of content will bring limited enhancements to largely text-

centric linear documents. Your own ay even be a good example. It obviously has a lot of

enhanced capabilities. It can live as a web app but as far as I know it doesn’t, or if it does it isn’t

the normal way it’s consumed. And if you did make it into a standalone web app you’d have to

code up a whole skeleton of supporting infrastructure around it, using non-standard tools. Do you

really expect every publisher to do this for every title?

Sanders: I disagree with this point, in that it implies that in circumstances where you want to add

a video or another widget, it’s necessarily a lot of additional work to do a web app than an EPUB


3. There’s no reason why you can’t take the very same content that you zip up in an EPUB 3 and

instead post it wholesale on the Internet as a website. And if you did want to add additional

supporting infrastructure for a title, it could likely be reused for other titles; I don’t think it’s true

that publishers would have to start over from scratch for every book.


Bill: And a whole lot of content is going to be less enhanced than “HTML5 for Publishers” (since

after all it’s subject is interactivity). I think any title being created today witnd


ill be doable with off-the-shelf EPUB 3 based tools and deliverable to multiple off-the-

shelf EPUB 3 reading systems within the year.

  Sanders: That’s great. I really do hope that proves to be true.

Closing the gap between HTML5 and EPUB 3 support

  Bill: We are still in the initial rollout stage of EPUB 3 support. As EPUB 3 proliferates, there’s no reason for EPUB 3 support to continue to substantially lag browser support.

  If I thought reading system implementations would remain well behind browser stack level capabilities forever, that it wouldn’t become normal to expect to deploy the same wide variety of

JavaScript libraries in an interactive ebook as in a web app, I’d be less positive. But I see things

converging to a model where everyone will be using WebKit, in many cases the same one that the

platform’s web browser is using, so no reason that it should be any less feature-rich. iBooks is

already there, and things that work in browser-based web apps that are disabled there are only for business or security considerations, and I view the former as temporary. We’re catching up more

than 10 years in one transition — it’s painful that it’s taking over a year to accomplish but that’s

no reason to presume it won’t be successful. In fact I’d much rather have your help getting us

there than having you arguing that we shouldn’t bother. But maybe I’m misunderstanding your

POV and would welcome your thoughts and feedback.

  Sanders: It’s great to hear you say that. I do acknowledge that my perspective on this debate may be overly biased by my experiences as an ebook developer for the past year, who has been greatly

frustrated by the current state of the ereader landscape’s support for HTML5 features and how

much it’s limiting innovation in the EPUB (and Mobi) space. But I know you’re traveling all over, fiercely advocating for EPUB 3, HTML5, and open Web standards, and have a much better

perspective than I do where things are headed, and how fast we’ll get there. I’m not sure what

you’re advocating publishers do in the meantime, though. Should they just wait? Should they

predicate their digital publishing initiatives on whether NOOK will support Canvas in the next

year? I have a great deal of admiration for the IDPF and their mission to achieve broad-based support for EPUB3, and I most certainly regret that anything I said may have diminished the value of this goal

or argued against it. At the same time, I hope it’s understandable why publishers might view

putting all their eggs in the EPUB 3 basket to be undesirable at this time.

  I believe this statement by Bill was one of the most important ones in the whole discussion:


As EPUB 3 proliferates, there’s no reason for EPUB 3 support to continue to substantially lag

browser support.

  That lag is one of my biggest concerns as well and why I feel publishers should focus on HTML5 itself and not something else that’s built upon HTML5 (and therefore requires more time for development and adoption). What’s your opinion? Will the gap between HTML functionality and EPUB reader support for those features shrink or will there always be a lengthy delay in the latter’s ability to keep up with the former?

Books as Apps Deserve Serious Consideration

By Chris Rechtsteiner

  While followi ) a topic came to mind that I feel needs to gain additional traction: Books as apps play an important role vs. existing ebook platforms. This is a frightening future for many in publishing (and for many authors) but it’s true.

  Books as apps enable authors to control the key components necessary to ensure their works are freely available and readily shareable. When an author is the provider of the book in app form, they decide what can be done in and with the book. Can comments be made? Can paragraphs be copied and shared? Can margin notes be shared / publicly visible in a way that authors want them to be (e.g. to all readers of the book) vs. in a controlled environment where the retailer determines the way a reader can engage. Books as apps deliver:

  A direct connection to the reader vs. the retailer Reinforcement of the author’s brand on the homescreen vs. the retailer’s brand.

  The ability to sell directly to readers to increase margins The ability to interact directly with readers within the work The ability to manage use of their works with respect to sharing, quoting, etc.

  These opportunities (and many more) don’t / won’t / can’t exist in the current ebook platforms. That’s because they simply don’t operate to the benefit of the platform. Books as apps don’t have anything to do with technology. Books as apps have everything to do with: who has control of the content who has control of the content ecosystem who owns the financial relationship with the reader who owns the personal relationship with the reader

  The idea behind the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, etc. platforms is lock-in. These platforms are hardware and software uniquely designed to keep the works, commerce and conversations all within their environment, all within their control. While the platforms do provide a few glimpses of “control” to the author and reader, these vanish when thoroughly inspected.

  Everyone inherently knows this. It’s discussed frequently. Yet, it’s still staggering when you read it. The existing ebook platforms are about benefit to the platform provider. They are only secondarily (at best) about benefit to the author and to the reader.

  In this model, works become marketing vehicles for customer acquisition for the ebook platform. They are not about acquisition to the author’s platform. This model doesn’t fundamentally support the author’s long-term prospects. The real question is, when will authors begin to take steps to gain full control of their digital future?

Piracy, Pricing, and eBook Hoarding


  I was on a conference call recently talking about piracy with ,


. At one point someone mentioned

  that piracy can be avoided when content is made available at a reasonable price and in all convenient formats. That begs the question: What’s a “reasonable price”? I asked the group if they felt $9.99 is the answer. All three of them said that’s too high. Maybe we’re too focused on the 99-cent phenomenon and, of course, it’s hard to state a “reasonable” price when talking generally about all types of books (e.g., trade, technical, etc.) Nevertheless, it’s disturbing to think that the future of ebooks features a race to zero on pricing. As long as publishers are offering nothing more than quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions we can’t really expect consumers to pay more, especially since the e-version loses functionality (e.g, lending restrictions, can’t resell). I mentioned when richer products arrive and they leverage the device capabilities they won’t have to be as cheap as the quick-and-dirty conversions. Joe and Brian weren’t very optimistic about that. Brian pointed out that $9.99 has become such a standard in consumers’ heads that it will be hard to break that price point.

  Joe then brought up a very interesting point: Pirates tend to be ebook hoarders. He noted that the definition of a “personal collection” has changed from dozens or hundreds to thousands of titles. That’s when I remembered that I’m an ebook hoarder too. Low ebook prices have caused me to change my behavior. When a book is $9.99 or less I don’t even think twice about clicking the buy button. The result? I now have more unread ebooks on my Nook than I ever had before. And the number is growing. Every week. I’m heading towards a situation where one day I’ll have bought far more ebooks than I can read in the rest of my life and I’ll bet I’m not alone. What we’re creating here is a world where lots of content is purchased but much of it is never read. Is that really what we want? Is there actually a benefit to publishers and authors when consumers pay a higher price and therefore have more skin in the game? Consider these purely hypothetical scenarios:

  Scenario #1: An ebook is priced at $1, sells 100 copies but only 3 buyers actually read it. Scenario #2: That same ebook is instead priced at $20, sells only 5 copies but every customer reads it.

  Which scenario do you prefer as publisher/author, especially if you’re looking to sell the next book in the series?

Page Count, Pricing, and Value Propositions

By Joe Wikert

  I was going to buy Chris Anderson’s new book but stopped me in my tracks: “Reads like a poorly written magazine article that has been unfortunately dragged out into a full-length book.” I’ve read far too many 300-page books that could have been summarized in 5-10 pages as a magazine article. Why do we insist on puffing up articles until they’re the length of a book? One reason is because we’re used to creating a spine presence on a physical bookshelf. That’s less of an issue these days, especially as ebooks become more popular. Another reason is that we haven’t figured out how to sell the value proposition that “shorter saves time so it’s OK to charge more for it.” This is one area where Amazon gets it wrong sometimes. Kindle Singles don’t have to be cheap.

  Anderson’s ebook lists for $12.99 for on Rather than buying it and being disappointed I’d prefer paying $13.99 for a 10-page summary of the core content. Why pay more? Because it saves me time to read 10 pages vs. 300. That’s worth something to me. If publishers offered both options, $12.99 book-length and $13.99 summary, which version would sell more? Long- form will be more popular initially but short-form will eventually overtake it, especially as consumers get more comfortable with this model.

  Btw, I’m not talking about those existing book summary services. I’ve tried two of them and they generally didn’t deliver, partly because they didn’t want to give away all the key elements of the book. More importantly, the summaries I tried weren’t written by the author.

  Give me an ebook in summary format, written by the author, sell it at a slightly higher price and I’ll buy it. How about you?

The Future Is Bright for eBook Prices and Formats

By Joe Wikert

  I typically get a sympathetic look when I tell people I work in the book publishing industry. They see what’s happened with newspapers, they realize many of their local bookstores have disappeared, and most of them have heard about the self-publishing revolution. The standard question I’m asked is, “wow, isn’t this a terrible time to be a book publisher?” My answer: “We’re in the midst of a reinvention of the industry, and I can’t think of a better time to be a book publisher!” Sure, there’s plenty of volatility in our business but we have an opportunity to not only witness change, but embrace it, as well.

  With that in mind, there are the first two of four key areas that make me so enthusiastic about the future of this business: pricing and formats.


  You might be wondering why pricing tops my list, particularly since we seem to be in the midst of a race to zero pricing. First, Amazon set the customer’s expectations at $9.99, and now some of the most popular ebooks are free or close to free. Amazon routinely sells ebooks at a loss so that they can offer customers the lowest price, and the agency model isn’t turning out to be the silver bullet for falling prices many hoped it would be.

  Despite this, I firmly believe publishers are to blame for low ebook prices, not Amazon (or anyone else). After all, we publishers are satisfied with quick-and-dirty print-to-ebook conversions, where the digital edition doesn’t even have all the benefits of the print one. Ever try loaning an ebook to someone? How about reselling it? Of course customers are going to assume the price should be lower in digital format! We need to break the bad habit of doing nothing more than quick-and-dirty p- to-e conversions and look at new strategies to reverse the declining pricing trend. I’m talking about rich content. Let’s work on integrating features in the digital product which simply can’t be replicated in the print version. Once we start creating products that truly leverage the capabilities of the devices on which they’re read, I believe we’ll end the race to zero pricing.


  If you’re a publisher, you’re forced to deal with mobi files for Amazon, EPUB for almost all other e-book retailers, and probably PDF as well. Despite all the sophisticated tools and techniques we can access, it still requires extra work to deliver content in all these formats, especially as specs change and capabilities are enhanced. Fortunately for us, help is on the way, and its name is HTML5. I believe that in the not too distant future, we’ll be talking less about mobi and EPUB as we focus more of our attention on HTML5. After all, HTML5 is one of the core file formats on which EPUB 3 and KF8 (Amazon’s next-gen format) are built. Additionally, HTML5 already supports many rich content capabilities we need to address the pricing opportunity noted earlier. HTML5 is supported by all the popular web browsers, so there’s no need to wait for mobi or EPUB readers and apps to offer richer content support; let’s just use the underlying technology capabilities of HTML5 and turn every browser into a reading app.

  In the second part of this discussion I’ll share the other two reasons why I’m so excited about publishing’s future: direct channels and evolving tools.

  [This content is taken from an article I wrote for a magazine published called The Future of the Book. You can learn more about the Sourcefabric magazine .]

The New New Typography




  symmetrical columns and instead treated the printers block as a blank canvas to be explored in its entirety. The calling card of the movement was type arranged in harmonious and beautiful asymmetrical compositions. In the last 2 years there is another slow breaking wave of typographical exploration. The printers block is now HTML and CSS and JavaScript are fast becoming the new tools of the typographer — not just for the web, for ebooks and for print, and not just for printed books, but for all printed material.

Browser as typesetting machine

  The change of the books basic carrier medium from paper to HTML (the stuff webpages are made of) has meant many changes to what we might still call typesetting. Kindle and other e-ink devices actually move ink on a display to form words, sentences and paragraphs. The moveable type of Gutenberg’s time has become realtime, in a very real sense each book is typeset as we read it. Content is dynamically re-flowed for each device depending on display dimensions and individualised settings to aid readability. Moving type in

  read time marks a significant paradigm shift from moveable type systems,

  including digital moveable type manipulated by Desktop Publishing software, to flowable typesetting. We are leaving behind moveable type for flowable type. The engine for reflowing a page in realtime is something we have seen before. It is the job of the browser. And, since ebooks are webpages, browsers have come to play a central role in digital ereaders. In the case of the iPad the iBook reader is actually a fully featured browser engine; Webkit, the very same technology behind the Chrome and Safari browsers. Browsers are the typesetting machines for ebooks.

  What is interesting here is that the browser can also reflow content into fixed page formats like PDF which means that the browser is becoming the typesetting engine for print. CSS and JavaScript are the print design tools of our immediate future and the vast majority of innovations in this area are based on Open Source and Open Standards.

The power of CSS and JavaScript

  CSS is the set of rules used by the browser to know where to place type, images and other elements on a webpage and style those elements. Typical rules define where an image is placed in relationship to text, what fonts used, the font size, background color of the page, and the maximum width of an image, etc. While designed originally for the exclusive application to webpages the CSS Working Group, responsible for overseeing the development and direction of CSS, anticipated the intersection of the book and the web some time ago. In the latest drafts of the CSS standards new additions are almost entirely focuse . As a consequence this area is starting to blossom. In particular, the CSS Generated Content for Paged Media Module specification is astonishing for its reframing of flowable text into a fixed page. Cross reference and footnote controls, not needed on the web, are among many book-like structure controls being addressed by CSS. Table of contents creation, figure annotations, page references, page numbers, margin controls, page size, and more are all included. The definition of these rules precede their adoption in browsers, however they are being included in browser engines, notably Webkit, at a very fast pace.

  Coincidently there has recently been an explosion in interest in improving browser typography primarily for the better design of websites. Although these advances have not been made with book production in mind these advances can be inherited by the browser for typesetting both electronic and paper books. Of interest is the sharp rise in the websites offering tips on CSS typography an explosion of web fonts, and some very interesting JavaScript libraries. JavaScript is the programming language of the web and it can be used to create dynamic content or manipulate objects on a webpage in ways CSS can not, or can not yet. Of particular interest is ibrary. These code libraries allow you to change each letter individually in a paragraph or heading and control the spacing between letters (called kerning). Kerning is essential for printed books, and ebooks, but missing from browsers for a very long time is another Javascript library which enables dual toned glyphs, and the amazing Javascript emulates the sophisticated TeX line spacing algorythims developed by ven the layout of musical notation (which was never effectively mechanised with Gutenberg’s moveable type and was hand written into books for many decades after the printing press came into the world) has come into focus with the avaScripts. With libraries like this it is apparent that JavaScript, the programming language of the browser, has a future with typography, and with that JavaScript is fast becoming the lingua franca for all typesetting.

  There is a lot of fuel in these developments and, interestingly, most of it is coming from outside the traditional print and publishing industry. It could be said that these industries, built upon the printing press, have lost sight of their very foundation. Instead the IT industry is taking hold on a very deep level. Apple and Google are behind the development of Webkit — the rendering engine behind iBooks, Safari and Chrome — which makes a lot of these typesetting innovations possible. Apple utilises these typographical features not just in its browser, but in the development of its iBook reader — the ebook reader on iPad which is itself based on Webkit. Google also fuels these innovations for many reasons other than the browser — better typography in Google Docs being one of them. We can expect the momentum to build and it is possible to say with some confidence that the browser, together with CSS and JavaScript is to become the most important typesetting engine of our time as it is fast becoming the typesetting mechanism for digital and paper books and the web.

Ease and efficiencies

  The implications for this are enormous and possibly not yet fully realised. At publishing industry conferences and other book-focused forums the attention has largely been on the ebooks effect on distribution, ereaders and the demise of the so-called brick-and-mortar book stores. The biggest effects however are elsewhere, bubbling under in the recasting of the browser as a typesetting engine, and with it the slow realisation that the technical ecosystem surrounding book production can be replaced by tools for producing webpages. We are beginning to turn our attention to the tools for making webpages, to make books, and this, it turns out, is much easier than with Desktop Word Processing and Publishing software. Additionally due to recent developments, all of this, as it turns out, can also be used to design print (more on in-browser print production in a future post). Book production once again is becoming faster and cheaper and on its way to achieving another leap of magical efficency. The future of book production right now is exploding all around us. These pieces of the puzzle are coming together and coming together fast. We can almost watch in real time the necessary mechanics get filled in by new release candidates of major browsers and searching online for out of the blue small innovations such as Javascript typography controls. It is getting easier and easier to make books in the browser and consequently there has never been a time when it has been this easy to make books of all kinds. Ease of production is where it all started for Gutenberg and it is starting again for us. If you believe Gutenberg’s efficiencies changed society forever then what effect will the new new typesetting engines have? Its a giddy question. Making books in the browser will have an enormous impact on society as a whole, and just like the printing press, it will not revolutionise the old order, but create a new one.

  [This and all posts by Adam Hyde are CC-BY-SA.]

BookJS Turns Your Browser into a Print Typesetting Engine

By Adam Hyde

  I mentioned that the movable type of Gutenberg’s time has become realtime, in a very real sense each book is typeset as we read it. Content is dynamically re-flowed for each device depending on display dimensions and individualized settings. Since ebooks are webpages, browsers have come to play a central role in digital ereaders. What is interesting here is that the browser can also reflow content into fixed page formats like PDF which means that the browser is on its way to becoming the typesetting engine for print. BookJS demonstrates nicely the role of the browser as print typesetting engine.

  BookJS is a Javascript library that you can use to turn a webpage into a PDF formatted for printing as a book. Take a webpage, add the Javascript and you will see the page transformed into a paginated book complete with page breaks, margins, page numbers, table of contents, front matter, headers etc. When you print that page you have a book formatted PDF ready to print. It’s that simple.

  Figure 13-1. Plain HTML file with book content

  Figure 13-2. Same file with BookJS applied

  Figure 13-3. A page with an illustration

  Figure 13-4. Illustration of Table of Contents automatically generated by BookJS


Figure 13-5. Three books produced by the BookJS in-browser typesetting library [photo by Kristin


  It brings us closer to in-browser print design and a step closer to the demise of Desktop Publishing. Although BookJS is in alpha form it is a clear demonstration that the browser is fast becoming the new environment for print design.

  That is an enormous leap. One that not only means print design environments can be developed using browser based technology, which will surely lead to enormous innovation, but it radically changes the process of design. The will enable more possibilities for collaborative design and bring print production into the workflow of online content production. There will be no need to exit browser-based environments to take content from source to final output. This means there is no need to juggle multiple sources for different stages of production, there can be efficiency gains through integrated workflow, and, most interestingly, content production and design can occur simultaneously. It is also important to realize that these same technologies, BookJS and others that will follow it, can make the same things possible for ebook production. Flowing text into PDF for paper book, or into ereader screen display dimensions, is the same thing. This enables synchronous in-browser design and production on a single source for multiple output formats. BookJS is Open Source, developed originally by and for Booktype, but the team is looking to collaborate with whoever would like to push this code base further. It is at the alpha stage and a lot of work still needs to be done so please consider jumping in, improving the code and contributing back into the public repository. BookJS demo and information can be found here :

  [Note: This is strictly for the geeks to try as it requires the latest version of

Chrome; see the demo information. This and all posts by Adam Hyde are CC-


Ebook Problem Areas that Need Standardisation

By Baldur Bjarnason

  eBook publishing is full of problem areas, most of which cannot be addressed through standardisation but can only come about via a sea-change in the behaviour and nature of the various participants in the ebook industry. There are, however, several issues that could be addressed, at least partially, via standardisation, that would make everybody’s life easier if implemented.


  One of the major issues facing publishers today is the spiralling complexity of dealing with vendor rendering overrides. Each vendor applies different CSS overrides with differing behaviours, sometimes even only enabling features through server-side manipulation, which means that proper testing of an ebook is not only difficult, but impossible. If vendors cannot be talked out of requiring these overrides then they need to be standardised and normalised. Any reading system that implements a CSS override is in violation of how the CSS standard defines the cascade and so is in violation of the EPUB 3 standard. CSS overrides come in four broad types:


Vendor styles only — The publisher’s styles are completely ignored in

favour of the vendor’s.

Aggressive vendor styles, but publisher styles enabled — Very little is

  seen of the publisher styles in this scenario. They mainly surface in edge cases that weren’t accounted for in the vendor’s stylesheet.

  Minimal overrides — The vendor only really enforces control over margins, backgrounds, and possibly font styles.

Publisher styles — The mode that the reading app goes into when the

  reader deliberately selects publisher styles. Under ordinary circumstances this would simply disable the overrides but in most reading apps this mode has a unique behaviour.

What needs to be standardised


How does the cascade work in each scenario? These overrides change how

  the cascade behaves. User settings in web browsers come second in the cascade, after the browser’s defaults, and both are overridden by the publisher’s stylesheet. In many reading apps user settings are mixed in with the overrides, which come after the publisher’s stylesheet in the cascade.

  This has unfortunate consequences. Publisher styles in the browser context can build on the defaults and user settings, which is something they can’t reliably do in reading apps. Setting font sizes or other properties before the defaults and preferences are applied can result in different behaviours from setting them afterwards, depending on how the overrides are implemented. Unfortunately, reading apps are inconsistent in their behaviour, often varying wildly from app to app and device to device from a single vendor.

  Because many of the user’s setting are a part of the override and not actual defaults, what the reader sees when they select publisher styles is often a barren page that doesn’t take any of their preferences or defaults into account. Reading apps clearly ignore the . Standardising their behaviour is preferable to the current wild west that dominates the ebook reading app landscape.


What features are covered by the override stylesheets? (This applies to both

  minimal and the more thorough vendor styles.) It isn’t uncommon for some vendors to override both text colours and background colours. But some (I’m looking at you Kobo) tend to only override one or the other, often resulting in invisible text and unusable links. The current behaviour of CSS overrides frequently results in a much worse result: unreadable text, unusable links, and broken designs.

  This behaviour needs to be normalised and standardised so that publishers know what to expect. And vendors need to properly think about how their overrides interact with existing designs so they don’t actually make the book much worse than it would have been without overrides.

  Of course, none of this matters when vendors keep adding design features that are only enabled through server-side munging. Which means that the only way publishers can test books is by actually publishing them. (I hope I don’t have to explain how much of a quality assurance disaster this trend is.)

Things that wold be nice to standardise

  How detailed is the vendor stylesheet? Publishers need to know what cases

  are and aren’t covered by the vendor stylesheet so that they can avoid them in books that have to behave properly on platforms where vendors are overly aggressive.

  Override opt-outs. It would be interesting to see if vendors are open to

  standardising a way for publishers to opt out of overrides, much like how iBook’s specified-fonts options toggle works.


  There is no interoperability between ebook annotations systems today. If you’re lucky, you might encounter a vendor that lets you export your annotations as simple HTML, which usually discards a lot of the original context, metadata, and styles.

  Annotations are, however, a big part of editorial work and the writing process. In the absence of interoperable annotations, publishers (self- or traditional) are forced to use PDFs if they want to read and annotate drafts on a device or a tablet.

  (And when I say editorial work, I don’t just mean publishing. Almost every modern business needs to review and edit text every single day. If you want EPUB to compete with PDF and other document formats then this needs to be addressed.) There are two ways of addressing this:

  Specify a detailed and lossless format for exporting annotations and hope that vendors will implement support. Specify a way of embedding bookmarks, highlights, and annotations in a DRM-free EPUB and wait for niche vendors to come out with EPUB reading apps with specialised editing and annotation features.

  The first route would be ideal if we could actually expect it to work. If all ebook reading apps were full of proprietary export formats then it would be the path I recommend. But no ebook reading app to date even tries to do feature-complete, lossless, annotations import and export. Standardising a file format for a feature nobody is interested in implementing seems futile. The second route is, IMO, likelier to succeed as the plurality of PDF readers with specialised annotation features demonstrate. This might be one of those niches where vendors can actually charge for their reading apps. Especially if they integrate features that tie into the workflows of most businesses.

Modularised EPUB

  EPUB 3 is a sprawl of a specification. It’s full of complex crap that is extremely problematic to author and support. I’ve heard from a couple of people that the IDPF is interested in standardising a stripped down, simple, version of EPUB 3. I think that’s an excellent idea. I also think it should be the first step in modularising the EPUB 3 spec. You’d have the core EPUB 3 features as the core spec. epub:switch? Separate spec. epub:case? Separate spec. epub:trigger? Separate spec. Scripting? Put all of that in a separate spec. Bindings? Metadata? Media Overlays? CFI? All separate specs with their own groups, editors, and timetable. Or you could always aggregate all of the dead-end features into a single trashcan spec that everybody can safely ignore.

Staying out of CSS

  Nothing good can ever come from forking CSS and, make no mistake, any attempt on behalf of the IDPF to add ebook-specific features to CSS is going to result in a fork. Ebooks already behave too differently from the browser baseline as it is. Anything that increases that deviation is going to increase costs and the complexity of publishing ebooks. So I propose that the IDPF give up on its efforts to standardise CSS extensions for EPUB and focus on advising the CSS WG on what ebooks need from CSS.

Graceful degradation for Fixed Layout

  Both reflowable EPUB 3 books and fixed layout EPUBs support media queries. Both of them support a wider range of CSS design features than you find in EPUB 2 systems. There is no easy way of creating a fixed layout EPUB 3 that uses features such as positioning, backgrounds, colours, etc. and degrades gracefully in EPUB reading apps that don’t support the fixed layout spec. This is a problem especially for mixed-mode EPUB 3’s that include fixed layout pages in otherwise reflowable books. These pages often look incredibly ugly or are simply rendered blank in reading apps that don’t fully support the fixed layout spec, such as the recently released iBooks 3.0.

  Figuring out some mechanism for graceful degradation in this context would be nice … unless, of course, everybody thinks that mixed-mode EPUB 3’s are a dead end that will never be widely implemented anyway.

What else?

  There are a lot of things that should be standardised if we could reasonably expect them to be supported at all in the ebook industry. But those issues should not take priority over normalising and standardising existing reading system behaviour.

InDesign vs CSS

By Adam Hyde

  The explosion in web typesetting has been largely unnoticed by everyone except the typography geeks. One of the first posts that raised my awareness

  It is a great article which is almost a year old but still needs to be read by those that haven’t yet come across it. Apart from pointing to some very good Javascript typesetting libraries Joshua does a quick comparison of InDesign features vs. what is available in CSS and JS libs (at the time of writing).

  It’s a very quick run down and shows just how close things are getting. In addition Joshua points to strategies for working with baselines using grids formulated by JavaScript and CSS. Joshua focuseshese approaches are getting increasingly sophisticated and of course they are all Open Source. It brings to our attention that rendering engines utilising HTML as a base file format are ready to cash in on some pretty interesting developments. However it also highlights how rendering engines that support only CSS are going to lose out in the medium and long term since they lack JavaScript support. JavaScript, as I mentioned before, is the lingua franca of typesetting. JS libs enable us to augment, improve, and innovate on top of what is available directly through the browser. Any typesetting engine without JavaScript support is simply going to lose out in the long run. Any engine that ignores JavaScript and is proprietary loses out doubly so since it is essentially existing on a technical island and cannot take advantage of the huge innovations happening in this field which are available to everyone else.

  Once again, this points the way for the browser as typesetting engine; HTML as the base file format for web, print, and ebook production; and CSS and Javascript are the dynamic duo lingua franca of typesetting. All that means Open Source and Open Standards are gravitating further and faster towards the core of the print and publishing industries. If you didn’t think Open Source is a serious proposition it might be a good idea to call time-out, get some JS and CSS wizards in, have a heart-to-heart talk about the direction the

  Correction: The latest release of has limited beta Javascript support. Thanks to Michael Day for pointing this out.*

  [This and all posts by Adam Hyde are CC-BY-SA.]

Math Typesetting


  Typesetting math in HTML was for a long time one of those I can’t believe

  that hasn’t been solved by now! issues. It seemed a bit wrong — wasn’t the

  Internet more or less invented by math geeks? Did they give up using the web back in 1996 because it didn’t support math? (That would explain the aesthetic of many home pages for math professors.)


is the W3C-recommended standard markup for equations — its like

HTML tags for math. While MathML has a long history and has been

  established in XML workflows for quite some time, it was only with HTML5 that mathematics finally entered the web as a first-class citizen. This will hopefully lead to some interesting developments as more users explore MathML and actually use it as creatively as they’ve used plain text.

  However the nd Konqueror does not support it. WebKit’s partial support only recently made it into Chrome 24 and was held back on Safari due to a font bug. Firefox wins the math geek trophy hands down with early (since FF 3) and best (though not yet complete) support for MathML.

What’s the hold up?

  It seems that equation support is underwhelmingly resourced in the browser development world. WebKit’s great improvements this year (including a complete re-write + the effort to get it through Chrome’s code review) have been due to a single volunteer, plays the same heroic (and unpaid) role for Firefox. The question is: Why is this critical feature being left to part-time voluntary developers? Aren’t there enough people and organisations out there that would need math support in the browser (think of all the university math departments just for starters … ) to pay for development? As a result we have no browser that fully supports MathML. While you cannot overstate the accomplishments of the volunteer work, it’s important to tell the full story. Recent cries that an give the wrong impression of the potential for MathML when users encounter bad rendering of basic constructs. The combination of native MathML support, font support and authoring tools (more on this in a later post) makes mathematical content one of the most complex situations for web typesetting. There have been some valiant attempts to fix this lack of equation support with third-party math typesetting code (JavaScript), notably Asciimath by Peter Jipsen with its human-readable syntax and

  However by far the most comprehensive solution is theibraries (JavaScript) released as Open Source. While MathJax is developed by a small team (including Frédéric Wang above) they are bigger than most projects, with a growing community and sponsors. MathJax renders beautiful equations as HTML-CSS (using webfonts) or as SVG. The mark up used can be either MathML, Asciimath or TeX. That means authors can write (ugly) mark up like this: J_\alpha(x) = \sum\limits_{m=0}^\infty \frac{(-1)^m} {m! \, \Gamma(m + \alpha + 1)}{\left({\frac{x} {2}}\right)}^{2 m + \alpha} into an HTML page and it will be rendered into a lovely looking scalable, copy-and-past-able equation. You can see it in action

So why is this really interesting to publishing?

  Well … While EPUB3 specifications support MathML this has not made it very far into ereader devices. However MathJax is being utilised in ereader software that hasince many ebook readers are built upon WebKit (notably Android and iOS apps, including iBooks) this strategy can work reasonably effectively. Image rendering of equations in ebook format is another strategy, and possibly the only guaranteed strategy at present, however you can’t copy, edit, annotate or scale the equations and you cannot expect proper accessibility with images.

  The only real solution is full equation support in all browsers and ereaders either through native MathML support or through inclusion of libraries like MathJax. We can’t do anything to help the proprietary reader developments get this functionality other than by lobbying them to support EPUB3 (a worthwhile effort) but since more and more reading devices are using the Open Source WebKit we can influence that directly.

  The publishing industry should really be asking itself why it is leaving such an important issue to under-resourced volunteers and small organisations like MathJax to solve. Are there no large publishers who need equation support in their electronic books that could step forward and put some money on the table to assist WebKit support of equations? Couldn’t more publishers be as enlightened as nd support the development of MathJax? You don’t even have to be a large publisher to help — any coding or financial support would be extremely useful.

  It does seem that this is a case of an important technological issue central to the development of the publishing industry being left to others. I have the impression that it is because the industry as a whole doesn’t actually understand what technologies are at the center of their business. Bold statement as it is, I just don’t see how such important developments could go otherwise untouched by publishers. It could all be helped enormously with relatively small amounts of cash. Hire a coder and dedicate them to assist these developments. Contact nd ask them how your publishing company can help move this along and back that offer up with cash or coding time. It’s actually that simple.

  [Many thanks to Peter Krautzberger for fact checking and technical

  clarifications. All posts by Adam Hyde are CC-BY-SA.]


By Adam Hyde

  Since online editing environments are becoming much more important for publishing. Dominant until now has been the WYSIWYG editor we all know and … err … love? However the current WYSIWYG paradigm has been inadequate for a long time and we need to update and replace it. Producing text with a WYSIWYG editor feels like trying to write a letter while it’s still in the envelope. Let’s face it … these kinds of online text editors are not an extension of yourself, they are a cumbersome hindrance to getting a job done. Apart from huge user experience issues the WYSIWYG editor has some big technical issues. Starting with the fact that The WYSIWYG editor is not ‘part of the page’ it is instead its own internally nested world. In essence it is an emulator that, through Javascript, reproduces HTML. As a walled/emulated garden it is hard to operate on the objects in the garden using standard Javascript libraries and CSS. All interactions must be mediated by the editor. The ‘walled garden’ has little to do with the rest of the page — it offers a window through which you can edit text, but it does not offer you the ability to act on other objects on the page or have other objects act on it. Thankfully a new era of editors is here and maturing fast. Still in search of a clearly embraced category name they are sometimes called inline editors or HTML5 editors. This new generation takes a large step forward because they enable the user to act on the elements in the page directly through the HTML5 contenteditable attribute. That allows ‘the page’ to be the editing environment which in turn opens up the possibility for the content to be represented in a variety of forms/views. By changing the CSS of the page, for example, we can have the same editable content shown as multi-column (useful for newspaper layout), as a ‘Google docs type’ clean editing interface, in a semantic view for highlighting paragraphs and other structural elements (important for academics) as well as other possibilities…. Additionally it is possible to apply other javascript libraries to the page including annotation softwares like typographical libraries like

   . This opens up an enormous amount of possibilities for any use case to be extended by custom or existing third-party Javascript libraries.



  interface which will open the path for in-browser design of various media including, importantly, ebooks and paper books. There are various attempts at the HTML5 editor, which might also be called a

  WYSI (What you see is) editor. The most successful are .

  Each of these are treading their own path but things are really opening up. As an example and with reference to the made about Math in browsers, the WYSIWHAT group is making some giant strides in equation editing. Their at the September WYSIWHAT hack meet in Berlin has since been improved and extended by the


  allowing the editor to interact with that. This was not easily possible with previous WYSIWYG editors. The progress on the equation front is looking very good but what this shows more than anything is that by using WYSI editors the entire page is available for interaction by the user or Javascript. Anything you can think of that Javascript can do you can bring to the editing environment, and that is quite a lot …

  [Coda: if you are brave and have Chrome 23 installed try visiting it enables content editing of a book and dynamic CSS editing via contenteditable). All posts by Adam Hyde are CC-BY-SA.]

A Kindle Developer’s 2013 Wishlist

By Sanders Kleinfeld

  2012 was a good year for Kindle developers. With the unveiling of the first- generation Fire tablet in late 2011 and the release of the in early 2012, designing beautiful ebooks for the Kindle platform became a reality. KF8 introduced a fixed-layout specification for Kindle Fire, which opened the door to graphically rich titles — children’s books, graphic novels — in Mobi format. KF8 also greatly increased CSS2 compliance for standard reflowable ebooks, implemented a handful of CSS3 features (text shadow, rounded borders), and added support for embedded fonts. The subsequent rollout of KF8 to Kindle eInk readers running firmware 3.4 (including the new Kindle Paperwhite) and KF8’s support foro enable fallback styling for non-KF8 devices helped to increase rendering parity within the diverse Kindle ecosystem. But while 2012 marks a huge leap forward toward the incorporation of modern Web standards into the Kindle platform, there is still much room for improvement in terms of multimedia/interactivity, content rendering, and ease of ebook development. Here is my humble wish list of improvements for the Kindle platform for 2013:

  When KF8 was introduced in early 2012, support for audio/video was not included in the format — even though MP3 audio and MP4 video were



  audio and/or video content. Kindle e Ink devices and Kindle Fire do not support Kindle Editions with Audio/Video.” Given that support for streaming multimedia content via Amazon Instant Video is such a highly touted feature of Kindle Fire, it’s rather surprising that Amazon has not been more assiduously pursuing support for embedded multimedia for Kindle Fire ebooks. As a result of this discrepancy — Kindle Fire supports KF8 but not audio/video, and Kindle for iOS supports audio/video but not KF8 — there is no single Kindle platform that supports all the ebook features that Amazon offers. Those Kindle readers who opt to buy a Fire over an iPad are penalized by not being able to view embedded video in ebooks, and those who opt to instead read their ebooks on Kindle for iOS are penalized with a lower-quality reading experience, as embedded fonts and many key CSS features will not be supported. This should be rectified ASAP. Here’s hoping that by this time next year, embedded audio/video is supported on every Kindle tablet device, and that KF8 is supported on Kindle for iOS.

  High-quality typesetting of mathematical equations is a challenge in most digital formats, and Kindle is no exception. Because Kindle’s KF8 format does not support (a XML vocabulary for markup of math content that is part of the HTML5 specification and supported to varying degrees in different desktop and mobile Web browsers), the only viable typesetting option for including complex equations, matrices, etc., in ebooks is to embed the math content as images. However this approach is far from ideal, because when implemented as images, mathematical equations are not searchable or resizable by readers. Optimizing image size can also be challenging. See the Kindle Paperwhite screenshot below featuring two equation images scaled to the same size, which results in the longer equation (bottom) being more heavily “shrunk” than the shorter equation (top).

  Figure 13-6. Two probability equation images rendered on Kindle Paperwhite, the bottom equation


shrunk more than the top equation

  Adding MathML support to KF8 would remove the burden for equation sizing and resolution from publishers and developers, and place it on the ereader’s rendering engine, where it belongs. As Adam Hyde notes in his

  he current state of MathML support in

  browsers and on the Web is rather woeful, forcing reliance on third-party libraries like to correct and normalize rendering. But this presents a huge opportunity for ereader vendors like Amazon. Adding robust MathML support may provide a competitive advantage in the likely-to-grow ebook marketplace for math and science textbooks. iBooks already provides limited MathML support via its WebKit engine; your move Amazon!

  The Kindle Paperwhite ereader contains : Baskerville, Caecilia, Caecilia Condensed, Futura, Helvetica, and Palatino. None of these is aonospace fonts are critically important for technical- book publishers, because elements such as code listings aust be formatted such that every character is of equal width, in order for them to render properly.

  Because Paperwhite supports the KF8 format, Mobi developers can embed their own monospace font if their content requires it (O’Reilly embeds the

  ont family in its Mobis). However, by default, Kindle

  Paperwhite has Publisher fonts turned off, so readers must navigate to the Kindle font menu themselves and enable the Publisher Font option — which they may not know they need to do. Compare the rendering of the code block below on Kindle Paperwhite with Publisher Fonts turned on (left) and Publisher Fonts turned off (right):


Figure 13-7. The same code listing displayed on Kindle Paperwhite, with Publisher Fonts turned on

(left) and Publisher Fonts turned off (right)

  Kindle customers shouldn’t have to be educated to enable Publisher Fonts to ensure monospace content is displayed properly, and publishers shouldn’t be required to embed additional fonts (which bloat Mobi file size) to enable monospace functionality. Ereader vendors should provide a rich set of system fonts, optimized for their rendering engine, that meet the needs of publishers of fiction, technical reference books, or anything in between. Both legacy eInk Kindle devices and the Kindle Fire have monospace system fonts; please extend this support to Paperwhite as well.

  One of the best CSS features added to KF8 was support for two specific @media queries: @amzn-kf8 and @amzn-mobi. These two queries allow Kindle developers to segregate their CSS so that styling that takes advantage of KF8 features (in an @amzn-kf8 block) is ignored on legacy Mobi7 Kindle ereaders, and fallback styling (in an @amzn-mobi block) will be used instead on the legacy devices.

  This @media query support was a boon when Kindle Fire was the only device in the Kindle family that was KF8-enabled, because you could use @amzn-kf8 to specify not only KF8-specific features, but also four-color- specific styling for Fire tablets that would be ignored on the black-and-white devices. However, now that eInk readers like Kindle Paperwhite also support KF8, they also use the CSS specified under @amzn-kf8, which means it is not possible to target CSS for the tablet readers and provide graceful degradation for eInk. See the screenshots below, which show the same

   code example side-by-side on Kindle Fire (left) and Kindle Paperwhite (right).


Figure 13-8. Rendering of syntax-highlighted code listing on the four-color Kindle Fire tablet (left)

and the eInk Kindle Paperwhite (right)

  I’d love to see support added for @media queries such as @amzn-kindlefire, @amzn-kindlepaperwhite, and so on, so that Kindle developers are better able to tailor Mobi content to the unique capabilities of each ereader. (This would be an equally welcome feature for other ereader platforms that encompass both eInk and tablet devices — e.g., NOOK, Kobo.)


is an excellent emulator that allows you to quickly review

  how a Mobi file will display on all major Kindle platforms (see screenshot below).


Figure 13-9. Kindle Previewer for Mac in Paperwhite Mode

  But one thing you can’t do in Previewer is inspect the underlying HTML/CSS source code to debug any rendering oddities that may be present. There are tools available, such as hich you can use to crack open a Mobi file and see the source, but they are neither especially convenient nor user-friendly. Having “View Source” functionality built into Kindle Previewer would be a huge timesaver.

  What features are on your 2013 Kindle developer wishlist? Hit the comments and share your requests.

  I’d love to have put “EPUB 3 support on Kindle” at the top of my wishlist, but sadly I don’t see that being a realistic request.

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