Interviews

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Library Consortiums are gaining momentum as a viable way for many smaller locations to make group purchases. One of the problems facing small libraries is that many of the top publishing companies either limit or do not allow their books to be sold via this model. 3M has created a new way for consortiums all over the USA to buy ebooks, from any publisher.

The 3M Private Cloud is a new program that will allow the library responsible for group purchases to buy titles in bulk and then distribute them to all of others. The Personal Cloud functions as a centralized hub to buy Penguin and Hachette titles, something they wouldn’t normally be able to access. Any of the other libraries can instantly have all of their digital books delivered into their ILS systems and available for lending. Obviously, all the libraries involved have to buy into the 3M Cloud Library system.

Today, we talked to Tom Mercer, the head of sales at 3M. One of the new projects we discussed allows libraries to try hundreds of titles for free, for one year. This is basically designed for people on the fence on making digital content available in their library, but aren’t sure about all the costs involved or if the public will embrace it. 3M will allow libraries to access hundreds of free books and see for themselves if this program is for them. If the library does not renew, the books will automatically expire after the first year.

Over the course of our interview, we check out the growth of 3M, how the company handles ebook discovery, and talk about its relationships with major publishers in the trial programs in New York.


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Maureen Sullivan is the current president of the American Library Association and has been very busy planning out the largest annual gathering of industry professionals. She took a moment out of her busy schedule to discuss the evolutionary growth of ebooks in the library, how the discovery of content is a top priority, what it took to talk Simon & Schuster and Penguin into joining the library lending model, and how libraries are selling ebooks.

This is the last year Maureen is the president of the ALA and she has overseen dramatic changes in the library industry. One of her big accomplishments was getting several of the top six publishers to loan out their ebooks to libraries all over the USA. She mentioned that initially S&S and Penguin were very hostile to the idea of the entire library concept. It took over a year to sway them by meeting with them regularity, and cooler heads eventually prevailed. The large argument at the time was that if ebooks were given away for free at the library, it would cannibalize the physical and digital sales. Once big data proved this wrong with trials at Brooklyn, Queens, and the New York Public library, the concept caught on. Front-list Penguin titles are now available via 3M and Axis 360, and S&S is now walking down the same path. ALA played a pivotal in this and in the video below, Maureen documents exactly what happened.

Libraries are talking about selling ebooks via their websites and allowing patrons to bypass the waiting lists. This has been the hottest issue at ALA this year and we wonder how can libraries offer the ability to buy content and still stay true to their non-profit concept? Maureen thinks that there is a fine line between meeting community needs and satisfying the publishers. Her main argument was that many bookstores are closing, and libraries are playing a big role in book discovery. It only makes sense to sell digital books and use the money to increase the number of titles they can carry.

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Maureen Sullivan is the current president of the American Library Association and has been very busy planning out the largest annual gathering of industry professionals. She took a moment out of her busy schedule to discuss the evolutionary growth of ebooks in the library, how the discovery of content is a top priority, what it took to talk Simon & Schuster and Penguin into joining the library lending model, and how libraries are selling ebooks.

This is the last year Maureen is the president of the ALA and she has overseen dramatic changes in the library industry. One of her big accomplishments was getting several of the top six publishers to loan out their ebooks to libraries all over the USA. She mentioned that initially S&S and Penguin were very hostile to the idea of the entire library concept. It took over a year to sway them by meeting with them regularity, and cooler heads eventually prevailed. The large argument at the time was that if ebooks were given away for free at the library, it would cannibalize the physical and digital sales. Once big data proved this wrong with trials at Brooklyn, Queens, and the New York Public library, the concept caught on. Front-list Penguin titles are now available via 3M and Axis 360, and S&S is now walking down the same path. ALA played a pivotal in this and in the video below, Maureen documents exactly what happened.

Libraries are talking about selling ebooks via their websites and allowing patrons to bypass the waiting lists. This has been the hottest issue at ALA this year and we wonder how can libraries offer the ability to buy content and still stay true to their non-profit concept? Maureen thinks that there is a fine line between meeting community needs and satisfying the publishers. Her main argument was that many bookstores are closing, and libraries are playing a big role in book discovery. It only makes sense to sell digital books and use the money to increase the number of titles they can carry.


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Sony has been selling e-readers since 2006 and has been operating its own ebook store for a number of years. The company has expanded its reach within the last year, opening new stores in UK, Japan, Germany, Austria, Canada, and Australia, and it will be coming to France, Italy, and Spain. Every few weeks, Sony has been announcing new content partnerships and new enhancements to the store. Today, we spoke directly with Sony to get a sense of the company’s overall mentality when it comes to selling ebooks.

Sony is putting a priority on ebook discovery with the launch of infographs and Discovery Trees. Natascha Helbig, director of Reader Store for US/Canada, explained “Our team puts a lot of thought and work into these discovery tools and the response has been very positive. In an online ebook store you get often overwhelmed with the sheer amount of titles available so often customers tend to go for the author or series they know and like. We wanted to create a different and unique way of guiding customers to new reads by way of relating them to other books they might have read. Recommendation engines can only do so much; they don’t quite replace a real person knowing the books and how they might be relevant to customers.”

How exactly does Sony aid ebook discovery? “We are doing a variety of things to help our customers discover their next book and are planning to launch even more features this summer. We think some relevant titles can always be discovered via algorithm-based recommendation mechanisms in the store, but we focus on having our team put together tools in various genres to discover new books and authors, be it through our discover infographics, our Sony Reader Store blog, our curated collections and our staff picks,” Helbig explained.

In October 2012, Sony launched its online book club. Every month a new ebook is selected and special social media channels are developed to give readers a place to talk about the book. Often, Sony gets the author to engage the community in a Q/A. Natasha talked a bit about this and said, “We always look for new and exciting ways for our customers to discover new books and authors, and to learn more about the authors they love. The Sony Readers Book Club was a great experience which brought us closer together with our customers and allowed us to all participate in a reading experience together. We had hundreds of applications for the club and our online chats generated millions of impressions. The book club was a great way to discover new authors and titles and facilitate lively discussions amongst our customers and authors, and those are themes you will continue to see at Reader Store.”

The big priority with ebook sales used to be the dedicated line of e-readers, since that has been the big focus for the last seven years. Most of the core customers Sony has are switching to mobile and tablet devices to consume their media. This allows for more multimedia features, such as audio, video, and interactive elements. Recently, a new EPUB3 section has been introduced on the Sony Reader Store, to give people a dedicated portal to enhanced ebooks. “Sony has been very supportive of the industry standard ePub format so it was a logical step for us to be one of the first retailers to support ePub3, including embedded audio/video and read-along functions. We’ve been working very closely with our publishing partners to create the first ePub3 titles, which was a collaborative effort. We initially focused on children’s titles and sales have been very encouraging. Sony also just launched its newest tablet, the Xperia Tablet Z. Its new features make it the ideal family tablet and enhanced children’s ebooks were a great fit. That said, we will support ePub3 files in other categories as well and encourage publishers to experiment with the new format and push the boundaries of what ebooks can become. We’re excited to be part of this evolution.”

Given that Sony’s shifting strategy is tablets, how are sales on that platform, when compared to e-readers? Natascha said, “Most of our customers used to buy content through our desktop app Reader for PC, but with the launch of our web store last year, the majority of customers transitioned to that storefront. The web store is such an easy way for customers to buy books wherever they are and then they can download the titles on any of the devices they use. We have also seen a spike in purchases on the tablet and mobile storefronts, particularly in the last year, both on Sony Tablets as well as third-party tablets and phones.”

Speaking of sales, Sony tends to never publicly release metrics on overall sales and market reach. Natasha gave a bit of a perspective on what ebook genres do the best. She said, “Fiction is definitely the strongest category for us. Our most popular genres are Romance, Mystery & Thrillers, Fiction & Literature, SciFi & Fantasy, and Young Adult.”

Integrating other services into the PRS-T1 and T2 has been a priority with Sony. The Overdrive App has been wildly successful with many people discovering they can borrow digital books from their local libraries. How much of an emphasis will Sony continue to put on these extra services? “We wanted to enable customers to do with our Readers what they already are accustomed to as passionate readers – and renting books from libraries was an obvious choice. The feature is extremely popular. In our latest Reader, the PRS-T2, we also worked together with Evernote to enable customers to read other content like personal notebooks or web clippings on their Reader, allowing customers to take their Readers with them, lean back and have plenty of reading choices right at their fingertips. Digital reading has to go beyond reading of print books and take advantage of what the technology enables customers to do.”

Finally, Sony confirmed that it has no current plans for magazines and newspapers on its platform. It is something the company is looking at, but it has nothing in place right now to launch anything formally. Sony also doesn’t have any plans to launch a dedicated self-publishing platform and instead deals with 3rd party companies to produce content for them. Also, with the rise of short-fiction, Sony doesn’t have any plans to currently strike a deal with anyone to add more of these titles into the library. “The ebook business is very important for Sony in North America. We offer a variety of terrific entertainment devices and services for our customers and our eBook team is playing its part in that Sony family.” Natascha wrapped up the interview by saying, “We are determined to increase our market share by continuing to offer a unique discovery and reading experience for both Sony as well as third-party devices.”

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Otis Chandler, the CEO of GoodReads, founded the company in 2006 and launched the first iteration of the company in 2007. Recently, he sold the company to Amazon for $100 million dollars and delivered a keynote speech at IDPF, talking about the growth of the platform and the future. He then spoke exclusively to Good e-Reader, talking about the future of GoodReads and alleviating concerns about the Amazon acquisition.

GoodReads is an online bookclub where users can rate and review books they have read and create their own collections. There are over 18 million members that participate in the culture and over 570 million books are currently on users shelves. Every single month, 11 million books are flagged as “Want to Read,” and every single second 250 more are added. Reviews are off the charts right now with over 857,000 currently in the system.

Authors are attracted to the GoodReads ecosystem, mainly because this is where the users are and the entire interface is fairly intuitive. Over 74,000 authors are registered in the system, actively engaging in Q/A and addressing questions from their fan base. James Patterson, Margaret Atwood, John Grisham, Nicolas Sparks, E.L. James, and Neil Gaiman are a few examples of the more active names.

One thing that GoodReads does very well is organize collections of quotes by famous authors and from specific books. You only have to Google for a specific author and likely the first result is from GoodReads. Over one million quotes are currently in the system and more are added every single day.

Before GoodReads ever got bought out by Amazon, it used to do business with the online giant. GoodReads used its API to gather book cover art, the number of pages, and other critical metadata. In early 2012, the company switched over to Ingram, the largest book distributor in the world. GoodReads also developed its own public API that allowed companies such as Kobo and Sony to use their rating system and reviews. I asked Otis if the Amazon acquisition meant the end of the public API and what should the bookstores do that depend on it. He answered, “We have no plans to discontinue our API for the foreseeable future, we know companies depend on it, and while I am in charge, it will be status quo.” Still, companies are worried about the future of their metadata and Sony has recently switched from using GoodReads to dealing with Sony and formed a partnership with iDreambooks to tap into its wellspring of ratings and critic reviews. Its business model centers around the aggregation of literary reviews from publications like the NYTimes and Washington Post and recommends books that were given a positive rating by 70% of critics. It functions a bit like RottenTomatoes or Metacritic in terms of ebooks and mainly focuses on bestsellers or perennial favorites. Currently, the company is adding reviews from all top-tier publications going as far back as 2008 in the next couple of weeks. It has thousands available right now, and tends to add more every day.

Otis mentioned that “GoodReads was originally developed just to share my reading lists with my friends and to recommend books to each other. In 2007, the landscape was radically different and there were only a few scant message boards with any kind of book recommendation going on. Honestly, at first when people I did not know started to join, I was ready to shut it down, or limit the people who could join. In the first year, 10 million books where shelves and we knew we were on to something.”

What does the future of GoodReads hold? “Amazon is letting us run the company autonomously, similar to Audible and Zappos. Of course, I now have a boss, but they are fairly liberal at letting us run the company the way we always have. We now have access to a larger network and shared technologies to expedite our growth and implement new features,” Otis answered. GoodReads is also building more functionality into Facebook and working on a number of new of initiatives.

The general consensus at IDPF this year was that Amazon merely bought GoodReads so the corporation did not have to compete with them. Amazon has its own VERY extensive user rating and review system and basically had no need to acquire GoodReads for this type of metadata. Most people believe that in a few years, if Amazon did not buy them, someone else would. It was a preemptive decision to buy the only massive book community that mattered on the internet and decide what to do with it later.

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Sylvia Day is one of the best examples of an author who publishes on her own terms. She self-publishes and has a line of bestselling books dubbed “The Crossfire Trilogy.” Her stories have been translated into several languages, she’s been honored with the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the EPPIE award, the National Readers’ Choice Award, the Readers’ Crown, and multiple finalist nominations for Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA Award of Excellence. We caught up with her at Book Expo America and talked about always having to always be “on” in the world of social media and how she handles interacting with fans on her website and Twitter. We also talk about how she goes about writing a book and the best environment to make it happen.


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The Kobo Aura HD is the most recent e-reader the Toronto based company has produced. It certainly buckles the trend of the standard six inch device that seems to be the industry standard. In a very short period of time, the Aura now accounts for over 25% of the company’s overall hardware sales, and is poised grow even more, as the availability in international markets starts to increase.

Sameer Hasan, Director, Product Management, gushed about the severe departure from the standard design Kobo employed with the Aura. He mentioned, “If the Kobo Glo was compared to a paperback novel, the Aura is much akin to a hardcover. Customers seem to identify with this larger display, and despite the premium price, it is selling very well.” One of the things that makes the Aura HD unique is the back of the case. In the first few generations of the Kobo line of eReaders they used to rely more heavily on outside design firms. Today that reliance has shifted more towards a talented in-house design team, while still partnering with firms like IDEO. The Aura, certainly bears no resemblance to previous iterations of hardware, that all used a quilted back. Sameer said, “The design references the simplest of things, like folded paper or the spine of a book. Ergonomically, the design allows the pads of your fingers to rest against the gentle angles for a good grip”.

Kobo has consistently stayed in the media limelight due to its aggressive strategy of international expansion. Michael Tamblyn, the Chief Content Officer at Kobo explained their strategy. “Normally when we enter a new market, we start off with the local publishers, small presses and top publishers that market ebooks in that country. We then send over key personal that have at least 20 years experience in book rights and have a well established connection base to tap into. Once we have publishers on-board that offer ebooks in whatever local language we are going after, we go where the book buyers are. It does not make sense to offer our hardware in tech electronic stores, because our base of customers are book buyers. I would much rather sell one e-reader to a book lover, than three to a tech enthusiast. This is why we normally partner with bookstores, and put our e-readers side by side with physical books.”

Shortcovers was the digital book ecosystem that was apart of the Indigo organization around five years ago. It was established to give the bookstore chain a viable entry point to start selling ebooks. The company transformed into Kobo and had millions of dollars invested into them by Indigo and a few other partners. Last year, the Company was picked up by Japanese e-commerce website Rakuten. How much say does Rakuten have in the business practices of Kobo? Michael explained, “The main reason why the Rakuten deal made sense is because our vision of the company fell in line with theirs. We don’t receive mandates from them and they mainly let our business run autonomously. One of the ways we benefit is the sharing of technology to really allows us to grow up fast. They have poured millions of dollars into features like Search, and various databases that really help us manage our company more effectively.” Kobo has since expanded the Toronto headquarters and now has close to 500 employees.

There are a few big markets that Kobo is very interested in expanding into next, but present a myriad of challenges. India is one big market they are trying to break into, but the publishing market has not embraced digital yet. This challenges Kobo to educate the publishing community on the merits of digital and uses their own metrics and statistics on how similar markets have blossomed by embracing ebooks. The bigger the market, like India and China, the longer it takes to break into.

Kobo certainly has the ebook ecosystem nailed down, with over three million titles and thousands of graphic novels, comic books, and manga. The obvious next step is digital magazines and kids books. Many people use the Kobo ARC, the companies second iteration Android tablet, but many more use the Kobo app for iOS, Blackberry, and Android. This gives the company an established base of people who use a full color screen, which makes the prospect of magazines extremely viable. This is a new market for Kobo, and presents challenges in talking to a new segment of the industry, but by this summer we should expect a new section of magazines in the Kobo bookstore.

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Bexar County in San Antonio will be launching the first pure digital library in the United States in August. The publicly funded library has raised over $200,000 to finance its new digital library and will feature 48 computers, 300 e-readers, and three Discovery Terminals via 3M.

We talked to Laura Cole, Special Projects Coordinator of BiblioTech about the origins of the upcoming digital library and the mentality of the staff going into it. “Buxer County has never run a library before and all of the surrounding county’s are limited to being established within city limits. We have been looking at ways to enhance the library services for people that normally don’t have access.  How could we address this in a cost effective manor? In the past five years the expansion of digital books and their availability to libraries is significant.”

She went on to say “We first started discussing the feasibility of an all digital library in August 2012 and did our major research in September 2012.  In December we the plan basically all ironed out, factoring in the pros and cons. We had appointments with various judges and the  commissar’s court in January.  This is when we publicly announced the new project and its tentative launch date.  We have a county owned facility that featured 4800 sq.ft  that wasn’t even being used!  This particular location is ideal, it’s a under-served area of San Antonio.  It features many schools nearby and a  seniors center across the street.”

The main selling point behind this library is that its the first tangible location that will feature intangible content. There has been no precedent or case studies that have ever been done for this type of location and it has been a challenging task to plan out all aspects. Laura cited a number of organizations that have helped along the way “We spoke with many academic libraries, including the UTSA library on logistics. The Texas State Library Commission has also been very helpful.”

There are many digital library content distributors out there, that help libraries formulate an ebook system.  The 3M Cloud Library managed to win the contract and has been very influential about helping guide Bibliotech. When it opens in August, the library will have 3 Discovery Terminals that will allow patrons to browse the wide selection of ebooks and load them onto the 3M Android/iOS apps, or one of the 300 e-readers.  Recently, Hachette and Penguin have joined the library bandwagon, so there will be plenty of books to borrow.

When a library goes digital, there is often the question of data. How exactly do you go about reporting book purchases, loans, statistics, and other metrics? Laura said, “3M provides lots of data with their online reporting tools and how the content is being used.  All of our information is public and has to be reported and how funds are being spent and our annual reports.” One of the big difficulties surrounding the digital library is the tangible and intangible. It might be easy to report on digital usage, but what about the metrics of e-readers being loaned out, people coming into the library and the average duration of a computer session? These are challenges facing the library that there is no current solution for.

It is safe to say that this library is getting a massive amount of media attention. Major news outlets and online websites have been reporting on the first pure digital library in the USA. Needless to say, this is very moving for everyone involved. Laura finalized “all of the press in print and digital are a driving factor for us, all the positive press helped us validate that the world is ready for us. People really want this, want to know how it works, what it can do for them,  it’s so edgy.”

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The New York Public Library is one of the most successful branches in the USA and it has been one of the first to adopt a cohesive digital strategy. The library system has been distributing ebooks via Overdrive since 2004 and recently started doing business with the 3M Cloud Library. During the last few months, Penguin and Simon & Shuster have both launched their first US pilot projects at the New York Public Library. How does the library secure the rights to participate in the pilot and how do the underlying semantics work?

To answer this question, we caught up with Christopher Platt, the Director of Collection & Circulation Operations at NYPL. He mentioned that publishers often choose his library because of the sheer amount of visibility and internet ebook loans they get. The library saw over 753,000 loans in one calendar year just for trade-fiction, which was a huge jump from 173,000 three years ago. Overall lending in one year toppled 28,000,000 digital books, audiobooks, movies, physical books and music files.

One of the big reasons why Penguin and Simon & Shuster do business with the New York Public Library is because of the data the library receives. Chris said, “When you don’t pay attention to public libraries, you lose a large amount of data. Publishers aren’t being exposed to that reader’s behavior. Libraries aggregate data all over the place, funding agencies, government, and annual reports. There is big value in sharing data with publisher, but remember, no private information is given out.” He went on to elaborate, “For Penguin, we give them the circulation information and then they can compare it to the sales data.”

One of the drawbacks in participating in so many pilot projects is inevitably you will have to do more business with digital content distribution systems. Overdrive has been one of the most longstanding primer partners, but the company tends to ruffle publishers’ feathers by loaning out the library ebooks to Kindle e-Readers. This has promoted the NYPL to do also do business with the 3M Cloud Library System. This means there are now two completely different content systems being used to facilitate ebooks from many different publishers.

Obviously, it can get quite confusing with two massive systems, but Chris and his team manage the situation quite well. Chris told me “We used the Penguin pilot as a new competitor to Overdrive. We are making sure that we’re not overlapping content dealing with many different companies, keeping both separate, if we have a title in Overdrive, we are not buying it from 3M.”

One of the things Chris wants to develop is a new library checkout method that won’t take library patrons away from the main library’s website. As it stands, when you do business with Overdrive, you begin at your main library’s website, and then you are redirected to the Overdrive’s checkout portal, which creates confusion in the whole process. Chris told me that he wants to eventually streamline the entire process, so it’s easier and more intuitive. Chris and his team will most likely employ the new Overdrive API system that allows technical teams to do just that.

Running the most visited cultural institution in New York can can be quite taxing on the budget.  Chris would not talk specific numbers, but 7% of the total money available is used to procure ebooks. The library has also been hit hard by budget constraints due to a rough patch in the American economy. This means the overall pool of financial resources is lower now than what it was five years ago. One of the ways the NY library offsets costs is by buying the ebook but not the physical book, to prevent duplications in the system. Chris mentioned, “With the new pilots projects by Penguin, Hachette, and Simon and Shuster, it is a very heavy drain on our materials budget for next year. We want to be careful around the system, because of the prices changing with the amount of loans.”

Penguin and the New York Public Library are not only running a pilot project, in which all front and back-list titles are available, but it is also experimenting with sales. If you consider the new Dan Brown book coming out in a few weeks, there are already 500 people on the waiting list. Your average patron might have to wait months to read the digital editions. To offset this, NYPL will be introducing BUY IT NOW links that will allow customers to buy the book from their favorite ebook store and the library will see a small royalty in return. Chris made it very clear that this program “is not looking to disrupt the traditional bookstore experience. It’s about giving our patrons more freedoms.”

One thing Chris and I agreed on was that every big six publishing company had different terms on selling their ebooks to the libraries. Some had increased the digital cost by over 300%, while others have adopted a 26 limit checkout before needing to purchase the book again. Still others have different pricing structures and different terms. Chris thinks “this whole situation will iron itself out in due time, as libraries start to work with publishers more directly.”

My take is that when the Justice Department came down hard on all of the big six publishers, it has soured them on defining a comprehensive library strategy. They are all really scared to be talking to each other on the record because of the global collusion cases levied against them for establishing “Agency Pricing.” You basically have all six companies doing completely different things, with no consistency in terms and pricing. It is illegal for them to come together and try and figure this out, so it is basically up to the the big libraries and the American Library Association to liaison across the world of publishing.

The New York Public Library System has seen massive gains in its digital platforms, due to the new CEO Tony Marx who joined the system in 2011. Since then, he instilled the belief that you should devise systems and plan for five to ten years from now, but also two years from now. He has been a driving force in getting these publishers to deal with this library in these pilot projects and giving them all the big data they need to gauge if it’s a success. Obviously, this approach worked, and after a few short months Penguin got out of the trial and decided to loan out their entire catalog of books in every library in the USA.

In the end, the digital future looks bright for the New York Public Library with Chris and Tony spearheading the digital initiatives. Soon the vast majority of ebooks will be available in the USA, Canada, and other major markets. If it wasn’t for hard work and the love of reading, likely the entire industry would see a major setback and we would still be wondering why the major publishers aren’t loaning their books out. Also, a special tip of the hat to the president of the American Library Association Maureen Sullivan for her tireless efforts.

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In 2010, Neelie Kroes became the Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe. She has been a staunch advocate of eBooks and their accessibility for all citizens. She gave a talk in Salon du Livre, yesterday on the future of publishing in Europe.

Publishing in Europe has a long and storied history, for hundreds of years many companies have been in business producing some of the great literary works. Modern companies are facing a crisis because they are failing to adapt to the digital landscape that is starting to catch on in a big way. She mentioned “I know some see the advent of digital as a threat to the sector. But for me the biggest risk is that we fail to take advantage of new possibilities. Unless we embrace the future, the sector will for sure fall behind, overtaken by more forward-looking and dynamic parts of the world; overtaken by those who can look ahead and grasp the future. Then we will let down our economy, our people, and our cultural heritage. And as it stands we are not sufficiently taking advantage. We are not taking enough risks. In the US, eBooks are about one quarter of book sales; in only one European country does that figure go above 2%.”

Europe currently has a number of avenues for the general public to access eBooks via Europeana. This is Europe’s online cultural gateway, people can access over 26 million exhibits, including books, from over 2,000 institutions like libraries and archives. The Orphan Works Directive also provides a god framework for getting more content online

Neelie thinks that publishers have to think bigger then they are.”When competing with the American giants, piecemeal national initiatives won’t cut it. We need to think European to compete globally. Specifications and standards can help: for example, by supporting interoperability and portable eBooks. ePub is just one example. Most readers expect to be able to access their books in whichever country they are, and on whatever device they choose; if European publishers can’t meet those expectations, consumers will vote with their wallets; or go to the big American companies who can offer that kind of scale.”

European licensing remains a murky issue, for hundreds of years publishers have been printing books in their own countries and seldom exporting. Most scenes in France, Spain and Germany don’t translate that well to other countries and seldom do they see localization for your average title. Being able to market your books and gain the necessary permissions of the publishers to sell digital content to any country in Europe is something the industry has to strongly consider to develop a cohesive solution. There is also many different variations of VAT.

Neelie elaborated on the role that VAT tax in Europe plays a role in the current state of publishing and what it means going forward. “Globally, according to one study, the number of countries providing a VAT exemption or reduced rate to eBooks rose significantly, around 50%, over just three years. But not in Europe. Because in Europe we continue, for the most part, to charge the higher rate of VAT for eBooks; even when paper books enjoy a reduced rate. The EU Commission is obliged to enforce EU law. But that does not mean we all agree with it, or think it needs to stay as it is.”

She went on to say “The VAT system is changing. From January 2015, it has already been agreed that the rule will be the “country of destination” principle. That is highly relevant for e-Books; and we will work with booksellers next year to develop guidance on this. Even more importantly, the intention is for the subsequent system to align VAT rates applied to print books and eBooks. But – as with all tax decisions – member states will need agree, unanimously. I think such a change would be good for our publishing sector; good for an education system increasingly trying to go digital; and good to remove artificial market distortions. After all, it is common sense that the same rules should apply to same products. I support such a consistent, non-discriminatory tax regime for paper and e-publications; and so does the OECD”

The London Book Fair is right around the corner and it will be interesting to see the continued presence of digital this year and how companies are going to take advantage of a virgin landscape. There is a ton of business models that are available, that no one is doing. Such as informing a user in France when an eBook from Germany just came out. Unless you belong to that specific German eBook site, you will never know.

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Despite its name, Digital Manga Publishing (DMP) was a print publisher for the first 12 years of its existence; founded in 1996, the company didn’t begin publishing digitally until 2008. Since then, however, they have become a leader and innovator, with manga available on every digital platform imaginable: ComiXology, Kindle, Nook, even Wowio.

The heart of DMP, though, is its website, eManga. It started out as a streaming site on which you could buy points to “rent” or “buy” manga. A rental lasted for 48 hours, while buying gave the user unlimited access–as long as he or she was online. There were no downloads.

Over the years, DMP revised the website several times, eliminating the rental, adding other publishers (some of whom have since disappeared) and finally, late last year, allowing readers to download their manga. In typical DMP fashion, they offer seven different formats, which are readable on a wide variety of different devices.

I asked production associate Amy Koga, who helped develop the site, about some of the changes.

Good E-Reader: Why did you decide to allow downloads?

Amy Koga: I think one of the biggest reasons was we recognized that the industry was changing, and that is what the customers wanted: They wanted downloadable files they could download and keep. This is where it’s all at.

Why are you offering so many formats?

I was the one to decide on that. As we were testing, we noticed so many devices had different ways of displaying different file types, and we wanted to be sure our books looked great on different devices. E-pubs look great on e-ink devices, but on the iPad they don’t look as good as an Apple-restricted fixed-layout book. We wanted to be sure the customers had a fixed layout file to download.

Logistically, is it difficult to transition your readers over?

It took time. It was not an easy transition. It definitely took a couple of weeks, and on the tech side, our IT department worked overtime. They worked really hard to get it out. We were able to do it. The migration actually went much easier than we thought, so it wasn’t too difficult, but there were some bumps along the way.

How have readers reacted?

I’m not sure if I can give you an exact number, or any kind of ballpark number, but I can say we have gotten positive reviews and positive feedback from a lot of customers. They are very happy with downloads, the formatting, and the way eManga now looks. We have seen a very large increase in order at eManga.com.

Are you going to keep your standalone apps and keep your manga available on comiXology and other services, or do you plan to fold all your digital sales into eManga?

We are not going to limit ourselves at all. We have Android and iOS apps that we are going to continue to update and offer, we offer books through comiXology and iVerse, and we still offer books for Kindle, Nook, and Kobo,

What are the most popular formats?

We are still colleting data. So far it seems a lot of people like PDFs, but we don’t know yet the final verdict.

Who are your readers?

As far as our customers, what we know of them is based on what they purchased and what they tell us and how they react. We try to get them to let us know what they want, and perhaps, if they prefer mobile devices, what is their device of preference. We are still collecting data.

There is some adult content on eManga, mixed with manga aimed at teens. Have you given any thought to making a separate site for 18+ manga?

We are trying to open our doors to everyone who likes manga. We are offering not just mainstream shoujo [girls'] and shonen [boys'] manga. Right now we have pages that if they are 18+ you have to agree to say you are 18+ to view them, and of course the credit card restriction is you have to be 18 or over. The younger audiences can use a PayPal account, and they will have access to the 13+  books.

So it goes by how you pay?

Yes, and also if you click on one of the hentai [adult] books. It will ask if you are 18 or over. We are just trying to keep our doors open to everyone at the moment and not to make it too difficult for people to get what they want.

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While digital has definitely taken off as a medium for adult comics, with some comics garnering as much as 25% of their sales in digital channels, children’s comics remain largely a print market. Jesse Post, the marketing director for the children’s graphic novel line Papercutz, wrote an interesting blog post recently about children’s comics and comics shops, in which he noted that digital accounts for only 3-10% of children’s book sales. Jesse’s post was addressed to comics retailers, but I thought it would be valuable to hear his thoughts on marketing digital comics to children. Here’s what he had to say.

Good E-Reader: First of all, do you think selling kids’ comics digitally is a viable idea at all? Why or why not?

Jesse Post: It’s absolutely a viable idea! It’s just a viable idea with a lot of challenges ahead, particularly because of the available devices for kids. As more kids become device users rather than momentary device borrowers I think we’ll see the print/digital split in children’s publishing change dramatically, but at the moment we’re still in a print-first world for kids’ books. With that said, even our current industry average 10% share for digital is nothing to sneeze at; I’ll gladly take a 10% sales boost on a million-copy-selling series like LEGO Ninjago! We see nice sales on many of our titles through comiXology, and our just-launched e-book program is selling well beyond our initial expectations right out the gate, with no marketing yet. There is a resource commitment when deciding to publish kids’ comics digitally, and it’s very time-consuming, but from our perspective it’s absolutely worth it and will only become more so as kids increasingly embrace digital reading.

You mentioned on your blog that digital is just a small slice of the kids’ comics market. Why do you think that is?

I think that was actually a stat about children’s’ publishing in general, but it certainly applies to comics. Kids like to show off their books, trade them with friends, bring them to school in their backpacks, draw in the margins, and file them away on a bookshelf. I’ve personally moved almost all of my music and movie library to digital because I’m satisfied with the abstract idea of owning a file stored in the cloud, but kids have a more tactile relationship with the stuff in their bedrooms, including books. When I worked for Disney Adventures, a kids’ entertainment magazine, I was always surprised by how much our readers valued physical aspects of the magazine, like its small trim size and the paper quality.

Device availability also has a big impact, as I mentioned. LeapFrog is making great strides towards a “real”

have. But at the moment, kids are borrowing mom’s tablet or e-reader, and their primary interest once it’s in their hands is either video games or similar things like highly interactive e-books that don’t require much quiet reading.

Parents may be influencing this, as well, as studies and news reports are showing that they still prefer print books for their kids, even if they read e-books themselves. I think this is more a matter of cultural bias that will probably wash itself out in future generations.

When you think about selling kids’ comics via digital media, who do you think is the customer–the parents/gatekeepers or the kids themselves?

At the moment it’s absolutely the parents/gatekeepers, and kids are the main motivating force behind the decision. That’s true for both print and digital; once a parent decides to buy something for their kids to read, they’ll most likely buy the book the kid is requesting. Our marketing efforts usually have those two prongs (well, three, including retail marketing). If kids don’t know it’s there they won’t ask for it, and if parents don’t trust it they might say no.

In the digital space, this becomes a unique challenge in that gatekeepers have an extra gate to keep in the form of device access. We’ve knocked this around with comiXology a few times, trying to wrap our heads around the best way to draw attention to the great things within each app, both the main app and their kids’ app. Do we really try to draw in the parents, or try to make the space a straight-up kid zone? I think there’s value in both approaches.

Do you think that needs to change? Is there a way to change it?

I don’t think you can change a parent’s need to be the customer in their child’s consumer life, but digital does present a chance to give kids a bit more freedom than they would have in a physical bookstore, perhaps a walled garden of pre-approved buying choices and an allowance. Personally, I’d find that really valuable if I had kids.

What sort of media do you see kids using right now—web browsers, smartphones, iPads?

All of the above–I think the Bowker study I referenced in our ComicsPRO presentation listed all of them as being part of a kid’s media life, with print books still their #1 choice (and, I think, DVDs a close second). Anecdotally, I’ve seen five-year-olds playing online games happily and very handily; they know how to navigate to their favorite sites, how to discern between a game and an ad, etc. Kids are even better at using the web than I am! Smartphones are on the rise and I’ve seen kids lovingly, carefully play with their parents’ iPads, but, again, it’s usually not for reading. The kids I know like to play Tap Tap Radiation when someone hands them an iPad. I don’t think media devices are beyond kids at all—I just think we haven’t yet come up with a device that kids can completely own and be responsible for as well as enjoy and use the way they want to.

We are seeing some attempts to market kids’ comics digitally, including the comiXology Comics 4 Kids app, the Archie app, and some stand-alone apps like Pocket God. What do you think of the platforms that are out there and how do they need to change?

These are all great attempts, and the more comics portals for kids there are in the world, print or digital, the happier I am! I think the main problem with all of this is discoverability, and we’ve also batted this around with comiXology. Kids are very brand-focused and less inclined to embrace the “container app” model that comiXology and iVerse and the rest are built on. Those kids I mentioned that love playing online games don’t go to “games.com or whatever it might be; they go right to MarvelKids.com and play the Iron Man game, then over to Nick.com to play the Power Rangers games. Kids don’t care about umbrella brands and such nearly as much as adults do, and I think asking them to find all their favorite-character comics underneath something else can wind up being a “give up and move on” moment if we’re not careful.

We did a Smurfs comics app with comiXology that had blockbuster sales because it allowed kids and parents who like The Smurfs to find it, both in text searches and from Apple’s promotion of it in the App Store. At the moment, there’s no way for a kid who loves LEGO Ninjago to find the digital comics instantly–they need a comics-savvy parent with a comiXology account to find it for them. More in-app promotions for kids’ material always helps, and comiXology in particular has been really generous with promo space, but unless you’ve got that rare kid or parent who pores over the app every Wednesday looking for new things, some of that effort can be lost.

We’ve only recently started working with iVerse, but I can say that both iVerse and comiXology are all over this and seem to me to be genuinely concerned about these challenges. The iVerse library app is going to be a huge boon for digital kids’ comics marketing; they were really smart to hire on Josh Elder and John Shableski. They’ve hit upon one of the main areas of improvement in marketing kids’ digital comics: letting the gatekeepers know. I see this as a joint responsibility between publishers and digital retailers/service providers. Once we start trumpeting our digital offerings in outside-the-Direct-Market marketing I think we’ll start to see an up-tick in parental awareness of these apps. If they see a review or an ad for a new Smurfs comic and learn that it’s available on something called “Comics4Kids,” it stands to reason that they’ll go download Comics4Kids and check out what’s there, and then they’ll in turn show their kids how to use it.

What about parental attitudes–do e-books fall victim to parents’ inclination to limit “screen time”? Are e-books too much like video games?

Yes, yes, and yes! I alluded to it above, but this is a big challenge that will change as post-millennials (is that a thing or did I just make that up?) and later generations start raising kids. But parental queasiness about e-books isn’t entirely unfounded. You know a lot more about the various e-book reading comprehension studies than I do, but anyone who has seen a kid with an interactive e-book can attest to the fact that there’s not much reading going on there. I think Thrillbent is a great counterargument in that it offers up the delight of interactivity without distracting from the reading. Any interactive e-book that similarly makes reading itself the center of the activity is going to win with parents. My gut instinct is that this will work itself out over time and parents will embrace digital more and more; we’re still in the early days.

What are your aims for digital marketing at Papercutz?

To take over the world! No, seriously, our digital business goals have always been blessedly simple: be on as many platforms as we can, for as low a price point as we can afford, as quickly as humanly possible. This simple goal makes my marketing decisions pretty easy; once our e-publishing program is fully operational, we plan to do a full-court-press outreach campaign that includes many partners we haven’t worked with before as a print-focused publisher. Our “Be Everywhere” strategy is a little different from other publishers and I think that should be interesting to the many outlets covering digital publishing news.

But my main goal is to make sure our regular title-by-title marketing raises awareness of our digital offerings. Our company mission is to introduce kids to the joys of comics, and over the years we’ve developed some amazing rewarding relationships with bloggers, magazines, newspapers, libraries, schools, distributors. Really anyone and everyone who shares our goal has been extremely supportive, so it’s the best network to get the word out about digital comics. And I really hope that our marketing efforts will drive more people to the various digital kids’ comics platforms where they’ll find even more great stuff from Top Shelf, Viz, and the rest. Digital gives us a new and entirely accessible marketplace where we can talk directly to our customers; it’s a tremendous opportunity to find a wider audience and I want to make sure Papercutz is as present there as we possibly can.

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crystal ball

The future of digital publishing in the years to come is filled with uncertainty. The entire industry has failed to unilaterally embrace a standard format and we are currently seeing fragmentation. HTML5, EPUB3, and dedicated apps are currently the preferred platforms to include a myriad of multimedia aspects such as audio, video, and interactive content.

Interactive features and cross-platform accessibility are two of the most important factors in the future of publishing. Users want to be able to view their books without having to use Adobe Digital Editions to manually transfer them over to their e-readers, tablets, or smartphones. Some companies like TOR, Pottermore, and LULU are making the conventional EPUB2 format more accessible by offering their ebooks without digital encryption, making them easy to transfer. Unfortunately, this is the exception and not the normal way companies tend to distribute their content.

Many people may ask the question, why should ebooks be interactive at all? The standard novel may not benefit from this directly, but kids books, cookbooks, and magazines do. Rolling Stone Magazine recently introduced a new App for iOS that allows you to listen to music and then make purchases for the artists’ albums and individual tracks via iTunes. Kids books often have the ability to play animations and have an author read the book to you. Barnes and Noble has an interesting feature in its line of Nook tablets that allow parents or grandparents to record themselves reading the book, instead of relying on the stock voice actor. Cookbooks will show you the entire process of cooking a recipe, which helps you gauge how it should look and offers guidance along the way.

During the coming weeks, we are speaking to the publishing industry’s leading innovators to weigh in on the future of digital in relation to ebooks. What will be the definitive standard in 2014 and the coming years: EPUB3, HTML5, or dedicated reading apps? Today we talk to Babur Habib – CTO of KNO, Michel Kripalani – President of Oceanhouse Media, Kathy Masnik – Director of Project Management at Ebrary, Allen Lau – CEO of Wattpad, Sol Rosenberg – VP Business Development at Copia, Rita Towes of Read an eBook Week, Evan Ratliff – CEO of Atavist and Chris Anderton – CTO of Bilbary. You can read our first installment of the series HERE.

HTML5

HTML5 is the emerging internet standard that is slowly seeing wider adoption within the publishing industry. It has a number of enticing multimedia factors that allow for embedding music and video without needing third party plugins like Silverlight or Adobe Flash.

The most exciting aspect of HTML5 is that it is compatible with most internet browsers found on tablets, smartphones, and computers. It does not require an app and you can read a book anywhere at anytime. HTML5 has solutions for offline reading, so you don’t need to be constantly connected to the internet.

Amazon and Kobo both run dedicated Cloud Reading Apps that allow you to buy and read books. They have very advanced features that you would find on the Amazon Kindle Fire or Kobo Arc, in terms of the overall reading experience. You can make the fonts larger, change the margins, access the table of contents, or look at word up in the dictionary. Overdrive recently introduced its own HTML5 enhancements to its website and we saw books being read on fridges, cars, and even the Nintendo Wii U. You could say some major companies are investing in HTML5 as a content delivery platform for EPUB2 and EPUB3 ebooks.

Q: HTML5 tends to be more flexible in being accessible in most internet browsers. Do you think this will be a format that is going to be more widely adopted in the future?

Allen Lau the CEO of Wattpad weighed in on the issue and said “At Wattpad we use HTML5 as our default container because the value isn’t in developing a ‘book specific’ content format, but rather in ensuring that readers and writers can always access their books and get the full experience of our product. HTML5 is the most ubiquitous platform available right now. Technology platforms trend towards open, commodity-like solutions, with the value being delivered and created at the interaction or user interface layer. You’ve seen it in operating systems and hardware, as well as in things like audio and video formats on the web. Apple, SONY and Microsoft each developed their own proprietary standards for distributing content, and eventually everyone’s moved to a shared set of standards for the majority of content.
The customer doesn’t care about the format that’s used to transmit or store the content, they want to be able to choose the type of reading experience they want, and have their content “just work” on any device. HTML5, and all web technologies in general, are a fundamental part of the Wattpad experience – for discovering, reading, and most importantly sharing content.”

Kathy Masnik, ebrary director of product management told us, “We are already seeing a shift in the market toward using HTML5 to implement sophisticated ebook products. That said, the HTML5 technology is still not robust enough to support some of the functionality we need to support in our ebook product, such as downloading a protected copy of the ebook for offline use. The HTML5 offline cache functionality may not yet be robust enough to support this use case. The app based technology can still provide more consistent functional support than HTML5 based technology for our needs.”

CTO of KNO Babur Habib replied, “HTML5 holds a lot of promise for the future of building ebooks. However, it is still not there in terms of performance for mobile platforms. Native development is superior especially for sophisticated applications like learning platforms, and e-textbooks. Mobile platforms need to put in a lot more effort into enhancing browser technology so that apps can be built with web technologies.”

Chris Anderton CTO of Bilbary told us that “HTML5 will be more widely adopted – i expect we will see an increasing number of ebook related projects using this set of web technologies. We have already created a HTML5 based EPUB reader, and there are other projects such as Readium that are building tools in this space. It is also worth pointing out that, as usual, the flexibility of HTML5 comes at a cost – not all devices have an identical implementation, and performance will vary.”

Finally Michel Kripalani the President of OceanHouse Media explained “All of these formats are still lacking relative to the features that we can put into digital books delivered as apps. For example, we have a ‘record and share’ feature which is very deep, very intricate and very powerful for children, educators, families in the military, etc. The user can record their voice while reading a digital book and then share the custom audio file via email with anyone, anywhere in the world. With a single tap, the person receiving the file has the ability to seamlessly integrate the recorded audio file back into their personal version of the app. These types of robust features will most likely never be available with HTML5 or EPUB3. The bottom line is that we prefer to push the boundaries of dedicated apps and believe they provide the best user experience and customer value.”

Piracy Concerns with HTML5

Many companies are turning to HTML5 as a way to deliver content, the one problem is offline storage and localized content. The BBC, Microsoft, and Google have all petitioned the WTC to implement DRM to protect content. The BBC may not have the rights for a worldwide audience and currently that is what is happening.

Q: What are the piracy concerns you have with HTML5 as a way to deliver ebooks?

Rita Toews, the organizer of Read an eBook week, disagreed and said piracy isn’t even a problem. “I know that sounds a bit flippant, however books are meant to be loaned, traded and shared. Used book stores have been in existence for years. It wasn’t until ebooks came along and the major publishers saw them as a threat that a lot of effort was put into DRM, etc. Books aren’t music or videos.”

Chris Anderton the Chief Architect and CTO of Bilbary mentioned “I don’t have any piracy concerns due to HTML5 per se. The main point is that content platforms think smart about how to protect content within a HTML5 based service. It takes just a few minutes on Google to see how to easily remove the DRM from a ‘protected’ file – i think with a HTML5 (or native app) based solution it is actually easier to protect the content. While this protection may be through obfuscation or fragmentation rather then sophisticated encryption, the net result will make it harder for people to copy a whole book in one go. The other advantage is that unlike traditional DRM, with the HTML5 (or native app) approach then content providers can be much more agile about reacting to threats or breaches – we don’t need to wait for a large corporation to put a fix on their roadmap – we can master our own destiny and dance directly with any would-be pirates ourselves!”

Babur of KNO said, “One of the biggest issues with HTML5 is the lack of content protection. Publisher content is not like news or weather. It is reused multiple times and for long durations. That’s why any platform that delivers the actual content in HTML5 should be carefully evaluated. You may be able to obfuscate parameters like copy/paste limits etc., but only superficially. Browser technologies have to take this into account if ebooks are going to be widely adopted in HTML5″

Kathy from ebrary explained his company’s position, “DRM is a high priority for our market. We can provide sufficient protection for online reading of PDF-based ebooks using HTML5. The protection is not sufficient once we enable the ability to download that ebook to their HTML5 cache for offline use. Additionally, we have not found that HTML5 includes sufficient protection methods for EPUB format ebooks.”

Allen from Wattpad mentioned, “We don’t see HTML5 as being inherently better or worse for piracy issues. Any Digital Rights Management technology applied to content hasn’t been able to last long when put up against the Internet. What has worked is providing better ways for users to obtain content legitimately, and to be able to move that content between devices and avoid vendor lock in.”

Evan Ratliff CEO of Atavist said, “Personally, for our own publishing, I’m not particularly concerned about it. Some of our software users are, so we’re looking into various ways to secure their content. But unless you are a huge publisher pushing hundreds of thousands of copies of big name authors, I feel like your thinking should be: If we’re getting enough attention around our content for people to try and pirate it, we’re doing pretty well. Pirates are gonna pirate, it’s a losing game to spend a lot of time worrying about that instead of making great stuff.”

Jeanny Mullen from Zinio said, “Without any DRM support, HTML5 will continue to foster a good bit of piracy related activities. It will be interesting to watch how this topic is managed as companies like BBC attempt to find ways to have their cake and eat it too with DRM supported HTML5.

Amy Ross of Vitrium finally explained, “There are no perfect systems to prevent piracy, because the stronger the protection, the harder the product is to use. The challenge is to find the sweet spot where piracy prevention makes circumventing security a challenge, without interfering too much with the user experience. Today, piracy prevention systems built on HTML5 can get closer to this sweet spot than alternative solutions.”

The Barriers of EPUB3

EPUB3 is an emerging native ebook format that allows for tremendous flexibility. It can be integrated into e-readers, HTML5 Reading Platforms, and dedicated apps on Android and iOS.

Currently, Apple iBooks does the best job with EPUB3 creation with the iBooks author program. It allows for super flexible books to give you tons of media enhancements with Google Earth, Video, Audio, and links to external websites. All of this is accessed via the iBooks app, but is only limited to Apple products and not available via Blackberry, Android, or PC’s.

There is a ton of synergy between HTML5, CSS, and EPUB3. HTML5 has been adopted as the XHTML format to render text and MathML can render complex math and symbols. You could say that EPUB3 is an amalgamation of the best aspects of interactive web content and the traditional form of publishing.

There are tons of barriers facing the wider adoption of EPUB3 right now. Major publishers have not committed to producing content in this fashion. Hachette has been the only large publisher to really say it will begin a massive effort to produce a number of big name titles in 2013. Major ebook reading apps all have the ability to display EPUB3, but what good is it if publishers aren’t adopting it to release new material?

Q: There is a lot of talk about HTML5, EPUB3 and KF8 as future formats that allow for multimedia based books, what are the potential barriers stopping wider adoption?

Kath from ebrary said, “We believe that providing ebooks in EPUB3 to the research market is the direction of the future. That said, the DRM issues are a significant barrier that is stopping aggressive adoption of this standard in ebrary’s market. Our publisher providers require us to adhere to strict access limits that we are still working on supporting with the EPUB3 format. Many of our publishers are already providing EPUB2 content that we are able to ingest into our own systems. The barrier for us is primarily in displaying ebook content in a protected fashion.”

Babur from Kno mentioned, “We believe that EPUB3 is the way to go. It is an open format, which supports fixed layout as well as multimedia. This means that textbooks with sophisticated layouts can be published in EPUB3.” But what about the barriers between Kindle Format 8, or EPUB3? He provided a clarification. “EPUB3 and KF8 are formats/specifications for ebooks while HTML5 is a technology that can be used to build books in EPUB3/KF8 format. KF8 is a proprietary format, which is not a good way forward for wider adoption. An open format, such as EPUB3, holds the most promise.”

Michel from OceanHouse Media told us, “All of these formats are still lacking relative to the features that we can put into digital books delivered as apps. For example, we have a ‘record and share’ feature which is very deep, very intricate, and very powerful for children, educators, families in the military, etc. The user can record their voice while reading a digital book and then share the custom audio file via email with anyone, anywhere in the world. With a single tap, the person receiving the file has the ability to seamlessly integrate the recorded audio file back into their personal version of the app. These types of robust features will most likely never be available with HTML5 or EPUB3. The bottom line is that we prefer to push the boundaries of dedicated apps and believe they provide the best user experience and customer value.”

Allen from Wattpad had some great points. “The barriers to adoption are that, for the most part, readers don’t seem to want deep multimedia integration in their reading activity. You can see this in the market failure of interactive books, which haven’t really expanded beyond the children’s book genre. There needs to be a behavioral shift in how readers think of the very act of reading for the desire to be there. In many cases this is EPUB and MOBI/KF catching up to where HTML5 already is. The EPUB and MOBI formats were built primarily for text and print, and for devices that weren’t capable of being graphically intensive. As technology moves forward, and e-ink devices decline in popularity (being replaced either by LCD screens or e-ink/LCD hybrids) those formats needed to catch up to the times. Device fragmentation (different screen sizes, capabilities) is another issue here. The cost of production is high as custom development and testing is required across different platforms.”

Chris from Bilbary explained “KF8 is a curious format – the last time i checked it wasn’t compatible with all of Amazon’s own devices (even for just text) – but i’d need to double check that to know if it is still true. In edition, some say it is like EPUB3, others say it is EPUB3 with some additions and changes, packaged and combined with Amazon proprietary DRM. KF8, i think, will stay confined to Kindle devices – i don’t know of any advantages that it offers over EPUB3. I expect there will be some traditionalists that find it hard to move off PDF – this has always been important for those wanting complete control over layout – i am not sure how quick they will be to embrace the fixed layout elements of EPUB3. I also believe there will be a gradual transition overall to EPUB3 – though not all books will make full use of the feature set offered. This migration will probably be partially defined by the makers of publishing tools – the more they support the format, the more people will start producing content in it. Using HTML5 alone makes less sense – EPUB3 provides a framework and encapsulation for the creating of ebooks – so i would rather see consolidation around it rather than many disparate approaches.”

Sol Rosenberg the VP of Copia summed up, “The barriers are coming down quickly. First barriers were tools. Second barriers are the widespread adoption of epub 3 reader/viewer apps. All that will be history by the end of this year.”

Dedicated e-Reading Apps

Tablet computers are being forecast to overtake sales of PC’s by the 4th quarter of 2013. It is being estimated that over 145 million units will be shipped, which adds to the hundreds of millions currently in circulation. Many companies have devoted a significant amount of resources to developing a fleet of reading and ebook apps that will give users unique experiences.

Digital magazines, newspapers, and cookbooks often are responsible for many of the apps found on iBooks, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble’s ecosystem. If you have an iPad and download Rolling Stone, it acts as a dedicated app. Same if you download USA Today from Amazon, it is in essence an app.

Being able to bundle your content in the form of an app is very beneficial because you can customize the look and feel. You can include muiltimedia and customizable features. If you are a company producing lots of books, you can basically just mirror the same template and just interject new content.

One of the main problems is the fragmentation of the app experience. The New York Times looks very different than the Wall Street Journal, there is no consistency.

Many other companies make reading apps and sell books directly within them. You also have companies like Wattpad, Moon+, Aldiko, and others that hinge their bets on creating an expansive reading solution and allow people to import their own books onto their devices.

Q. What are your views on maintaining dedicated apps for iOS and Android as a method to view ebooks?

Babur from Kno explained, “We believe it is necessary to build native apps for each platform for the optimal consumer experience. Each platform has specific navigation and user experience paradigms that need to be followed. At Kno, we aim to make sure the technology seamlessly integrates with the user’s experience and the student is more engaged in the content rather than navigating the technology.”

Allen from Wattpad talked about his company’s position, “A big part of our mission at Wattpad is to build a ubiquitous reading experience. 80% of the time spent on Wattpad is already happening through our iOS and Android apps on both phones and tablets. So for us, developing for the iOS and Android is our main priority. It works with our vision for delivering a new reading experience that eliminates the distance between readers and writers.
We’re not trying to replicate the experience of print, we’re pretty different from most companies in the publishing ecosystem who are experimenting with things like dedicated book apps. At Wattpad we have a very different view of content, which is that the container format isn’t as important as the ability to share and connect with audiences through a new form of mobile-first reading entertainment.”

Kathy from ebrary mentioned, “Ebrary plans to continue maintaining dedicated apps for iOS and Android in the near future. In addition, we will be focused on implementing a web-based mobile-friendly design for our ebook, search, and bookshelf experience. Based on our current usage statistics, we find that most of our mobile users are using apps to access our ebook content rather than the mobile browser. Based on these statistics, we would like to provide all avenues for a customer to be able to easily discover and use ebook content, including both apps and web-based mobile experiences. As the market trends shift, we will also shift to meet the needs of our customers.
Additionally, the library and academic markets have uniquely stringent DRM requirements for some of our ebook publications. By using mobile apps, we are able to implement stricter protections on the ebook content (device based authentication) than we can implement using a browser based experience. This means we are able to provide less restricted access through the apps than the mobile browsers at this time.”

Chris from Bilbary elaborated “I expect there will be a place for dedicated apps for the foreseeable future – most publishers still require ‘traditional’ ebook DRM – namely that provided by Adobe Content Server – so the only way to display this content is with a native app developed using the Adobe RMSDK. This is not an ideal scenario and something that we hope we will see change – especially as there are question marks around support for EPUB3. DRM is not the only consideration – there are a number of other benefits to native apps that are currently well suited to ebook readers. For example, access to device specific features such as notifications or local storage to allow viewing content and reading whilst not connected to the internet. In some ways on the app stores are also an advantage – it provides an additional channel for discoverability.

Michel from Ocean House Media finalized, “From our perspective, we believe that the highest quality, most interactive children’s books can be built only as apps. So, we’re 100% committed to building apps for iOS and Android using our dedicated omBook (Oceanhouse Media digital book) technology foundation.”

Q: Do you see the infrastructure and internal resources spent on developing a fleet of apps as worth it?

Allen from Wattpad said, “Smartphone adoption across the globe is skyrocketing. Many people are being exposed to Wattpad first, and in many cases only, through our mobile experience. I can only speak for Wattpad, but for us it is absolutely worth it for us to invest in developing the mobile (app and web) experience.”

Kathy from ebrary told us, “Yes, the current level of investment is appropriate. Our customers have long requested mobile applications to read our ebook content. Our goal is to satisfy the customer needs and provide content access where our end users are most comfortable. Additionally, the level of investment required to support app development is not very high. It is appropriate given the rise in customer satisfaction levels that an app brings.”

Babur from KNO verified, “We do. Having said that, we have optimized the stack is such a way that we can leverage a significant portion of the stack across the apps. This includes both C/C++ libraries as well as features built with web technologies such as HTLM5.”

Michel from Ocean House has a ton invested in dedicated apps, “We do see the value of committing the internal resources required for developing children’s digital book apps. This is especially true now that we have over 120 apps available on a common framework.”

Chris from Bilbary finalized “While they should not be the only way of allowing users to interact with our service or to read our books, we will continue to invest time in ensuring our customers have the right tools to access our content. While our long term hope would be to have one ‘mobile app’ across all platforms, in the medium term i expect we will still have to maintain a number of different codebases – even if elements of them converge to create ‘hybrid’ apps – namely native apps containing HTML5 functionality, alongside a pure HTML5 access mechanism. There are a number of features that, at the moment, would be hard to provide in the pure HTML5 solution.

Q: What is the Future of Digital Publishing?

Michel from Ocean House mentioned, “We have been publishing digital children’s books as apps for the last three and a half years. We have seen fast, widespread growth and we expect the trend to continue as tablets and smartphones become more ubiquitous not only in the U.S. but also around the world.”

“This is an exciting time for digital publishing. A book is no longer a static piece that gets updated every 3 to 5 years. It is now a dynamic, living/breathing repository of information. When the first black president of United States takes the oath of office, publishers can update the book in real time and not have to wait for years to do so. At Kno, we have built tools for publishers to do just that!” said Babur.

Rita from Read an eBook Week informed us, “The future of digital publishing is ‘onward and upward.’ Nothing will stop it from growing exponentially. Even traditionally published authors want to be digitally published, something Warren Adler saw years ago when he acquired his complete list of books and short stories and published them in digital form. His contention is that he books will never go out of print. Publishing digitally has become much easier with the proliferation of programs designed to simplify the process. Diaries, family histories, how-to books, children’s books created by grandparents to gift to their grandchildren – these are all possible now with digital publishing. The public is taking advantage of the new media and they are loving the result.
Interactive e-books are not far in the future. It’s easy to imagine the old classics redone with interactive features. There are millions of traditional books that will have a new life once digitalized. Never again will a book be lost to readers because it is out of print.”

Allen from Wattpad was riveting with his comments “We’re always looking at ways to eliminate the distance that has traditionally separated readers and writers. Wattpad fundamentally changes the way people share and interact through stories. We see a future where readers are discovering, recommending and sharing stories as easily as they would a song or video. On Wattpad, content will be streamed to readers like episodes based on past likes and who they follow. This means readers are interacting with writers and other fans from all over the world as the consume the media together. So, the emotional, social hook that’s unique to our platform is getting to know the person who creates your favourite story.
We look forward to the millions of new connections that will be fostered on Wattpad along with the billions of new stories that will be written and shared by people all over the world in the coming years.”

Kathy from ebrary talked about what her company is doing with the future of publishing. “At this point in time, ebrary is in investigation for how to support both ingestion of EPUB3 content and display of this format. Our research is focused on how we can develop DRM protections that work with EPUB3. We hope to be able to support this format in the next 2 years. Additionally, Ebrary is just starting redesign of our Patron and Librarian products to a next generation product that incorporates EBL. We are still choosing our implementation technologies and we are strongly considering using HTML5 for our interface implementation.”

Wrap up

We hope you all enjoyed our second installment on the future of digital publishing and the potential barriers preventing more wide screen adoption. It is one thing to hear a singular mortal go on a rant about what the future may hold, but its another thing to hear about it directly from the movers and shakers of the publishing world, all with a vested interest in its continued success. I want to thank everyone who talked with me over the last few weeks contributing to this story, you are truly all stalwart heroes. Our final installment should be up late next week!

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GoodEReader’s upcoming interactive event with author Brian Donovan, whose #1 bestselling  Amazon Kindle Single title Not A Match: My True Tales of Online Dating Disasters is available now, will take place Saturday, March 2nd, at 8:30pm ET via the Spreecast platform.

Donovan’s title grew out of his hilarious blog ItsNotAMatch.com, which chronicled his misadventures with trying online dating. He compiled about 100 of his worst experiences into the novella-length Single for readers’ amusement and quite frankly, reassurances.

“It actually started several years ago. I was writing for a website and I was supposed to be writing more news/comedy. I’ve always had crazy dating stories, and those stories became my website,” Donovan said in an interview with GoodEReader. “The thing that’s so different about writing digital books as opposed to conventional ones is the turnaround time is incredibly fast. We decided we wanted to create the book in November of last year, and it was to the publishers a few days before Christmas. We released it at the beginning of January. Thankfully, I had the website for so long that I had the stories that I knew people liked to read.”

The reason to go for a shorter Kindle Single versus growing this material into a full-length book was really based on the subject matter, in the author’s mind. A connective narrative is important in a longer work, but as a collection of humorous stories that are not all linked, the Single format seemed to be a better way to present consumable information.

The live Spreecast event with Donovan can be accessed at this LINK. Everyone is invited to attend, and in order to appear on camera with the author users will need a webcam and the latest version of Flash player.