On Social Networks
This is really great! A Kickstarter project called The People’s E-Book needed $20K to fund an ebook creation platform for artists, authors, and alternative presses who want to try new things, publish new books, and push into new territories. The People’s E-Book will handle ebooks of all sizes and scope, but it will excel in areas that no one else has cared to consider—the very small, the quick and dirty, the simple, and the experimental. The People’s E-book is a super-simple online tool with an intuitive visual interface to allow anyone to make ebooks quickly and for free. This is barebones ebook publishing. What the photocopier was to zines, we hope The People’s E-book will be to digital books.
The funding was needed to hire a team to develop the software and cover hosting and development costs. Well, funding has been reached:
UPDATE: The People’s E-Book will be built! Now, help us build it even better. Your continued pledging and sharing will make possible more and more of the features you want. As a thank you, for every $10K we raise above our original goal, we’re commissioning a favorite artist to create a People’s E-Book especially for our backers. Every backer, from the first to the last. E-books for everyone!
The fact that such a project could get funded is a clear message that ebooks are considered important by a large volume of the public.
An article in Fortune.com is entitled “Why Japanese readers don’t like ebooks” is a bit silly. It correctly states that ebook adoption in Japan is fairly low, but then it somehow equates the fact that publishers in Japan have produced very few ebooks with the fact that readers aren’t reading ebooks. How can readers read something that doesn’t exist?
The publishing industry in Japan has been long reluctant to jump into ebook production. As the article states: “So far the Japanese have failed to be moved by e-readers from home or abroad, mostly owing to a paucity of content,” says editor and publisher of Japan’s E-book 2.0 magazine Hiroki Kamata. A recent Bowker study, mentioned in the article, does seem to say that many Japanese readers aren’t interested in ebooks, but, again, this makes little sense as Japanese readers have pioneered a new form of digital reading: scanning your own books and reading them digitally. This is so popular in Japan that, as Publishing Perspectives reported, one the the major Japanese scanning companies, Bookscan, has opened a US operation.
Indeed BOOKSCAN’s almost instant success in Japan was a business dream come true, and part of that was due to an influential IT blogger raving about the service on his site, which says Nakano, had a “huge impact.” Soon the firm had a four month backlog of people demanding to use services, and — perhaps the greatest measure of success — 100 competitors who had sprung up almost over night, like mushrooms after rain. But while an influential endorsement can create buzz, it doesn’t sustain a business long term.
Also, until the recent adoption EPUB 3, there was no standard software format for reproducing vertical and right-to-left text. This made the production of ebook readers very hard as text rendering would have to be based on proprietary systems. This has led publishers to be extremely reluctant to produce Japanese-language ebooks. There has been a Japanese consortium of publishers trying to promote a standard, but the unattractive financial terms required by the consortium and the fact that it will be non-open ebooks doesn’t give much incentive to adopt it. Now that EPUB 3 is finally here this may make a difference.
Other market forces have caused problems as well. Publishing Perspectives reported on Sony’s failure in this arena: Sony takes the prize for “Squandering a Leading Market Position.” For a couple of years Sony has been the go-to vendor for Japanese consumers interested in a dedicated reader, and its e-book store is perfectly serviceable if not ground-breaking. Sony, though, does little to market their service, has not launched reader apps for mobile devices and has maintained device prices at a level that screams ‘niche’ to potential buyers. ($250 for an entry level Wi-Fi enabled reader? Per-lease). Sony can comfort themselves with their position as technology provider to Pottermore but unless they radically shake up their approach they will be irrelevant in the Japanese e-book market ex-Potter within two years.
Now that we have EPUB 3, and Amazon and Kobo are jumping into Japan, we may see the market start to take off. A year from now we may have some worthwhile market intelligence.
Mark Wald of Thrillbent participated in the closing keynote speech of the Tools of Change conference in New York. He said that “Comics have a problem in the digital space because they are in portrait format almost exclusively. They tend not to work well in landscape mode, which is how they are displayed on tablets and laptops. Many comic pages are too large and dense to display well on current readers. We tried to solve this with something called motion comics, which has a few effects and are a bit livelier on the page.”
Wald founded a site call Thrillbent which is designed to display comics in a way that they can be appreciated on current readers. All the comics are free at this point. Mark gives a demonstration that is completely visual and can’t really be described. Instead of “turning pages” images are added and subtracted to continue the story. It’s very hard for comics to deal with exposition. It’s a terrible use of comic real estate. His model makes necessary exposition much more interesting. It takes advantage of what digital does. Panels load dynamically, no page reloading, with optimized fonts and responsive movement.
Comics are doing well as a medium, but he wanted to take advantage of what technology can do now. Nowadays, the most expensive part of a comic is printing. For a $4 comic he gets about $1.60 back and $1 of that goes to printing. Add another 50 cents for other expenses and not a lot is left. The company decided to go digital first; do each installment weekly, add some other material, and then sell through Comixology. This way Thrillbent can recover the production costs. A lot of other models are available that they haven’t tried yet. An iPad app will be coming out soon. And the whole process is done by three people in their spare time.
Bill McCoy of the IDPF and Sanders Kleinfeld of O’Reilly discussed whether web apps or an ebook format was better for publishers. McCoy pointed out that publishers needed to scale and they were in the business of making multiple titles. Because of this they need tools that will scale with the enterprise. On the whole, he said, design and content are best handled by designers and authors and not by programmers. Programmers should be used to develop tools and it doesn’t scale to hire a lot of programmers to develop web apps for multiple projects. Further, he said that HTML 5 is capable of developing ebooks, websites, and apps and this leads to a a consistency across titles. Companies should not think of building each title as a piece of software.
Kleinfeld felt that apps are the future of digital publishing. e-Readers don’t support a lot of the things that can be done with HTML5. By doing a web app, one can avoid the compatibility problems that the readers present. Web apps are useful because they are online and can be social and the way they are developed makes sharing and discovery very easy. Web apps can be done now and don’t have to wait for various e-readers to catch up. eBooks are software and whether you like it or not if you do ebooks you are a software developer.
Both agree that dedicated ereaders are on the way out and will be replaced by phones and tablets.
Travis Alber of Read Social moderated a session on ebook subscription services. Included were Christian Damke of the German company Skoobe, Justo Hidalgo of the Spanish company 24Symbols, and Liza Daly of Safari Online.
All three said there is a definite market for a “Netflix” of books and consumers are more than willing to pay for the ability to rent a book online. Skoobe’s customers start at age 30 and go to age 88. Skoobe has found that people will buy in parallel. They will buy the hardcover for use at home and then rent a version to read on their phone while they commute. 18% of their customers tried the book on Skoobe and then bought the book and 11% will buy the ebook even though they have the ability to read it on Skoobe. Users tell them that they usually read more after they become a subscriber and they take their reading time from watching tv and sleeping.
24Symbols reported that about 45% of their subscribers read their books directly on the web and the next largest number use the iPad. Both agreed that DRM is not an issue with their readers, but it is with the publishers, because the readers don’t own the books and so aren’t concerned about it. Safari Online does not use DRM, but this is not an issue because all of their content is streaming. A bigger issue for them is people sharing their accounts with others and they monitor this. However, this type of abuse has dropped considerably. All parties do not share individual reading data with publishers, but they do provide aggregated data. In terms of privacy, 24Symbols said that they started with a login through Facebook, but people strongly objected to this and they had to provide an alternate login method.
Both 24Symbols and Skoobe said that they wished publishers were willing to experiment more and be more willing to try out new methods of distribution and sales. 24Symbols pointed out the the subscription model worked well because if the customers like the service they tend to forget about how much it is costing them and this takes pricing out of the equation. In one interesting question from the floor an author who has one of her books listed at one of the services mentioned that she gets $6-8K/month on royalties from her book, but only pennies from the service. It was pointed out that royalties are completely between the author and the publisher and the subscription service has no control over this. Also, the European services are quite new and they are expecting to grow in the future.
Oren Teicher, American Booksellers Association.
Booksellers represent a combination of the old and the new. ABA is the trade association of the independent bookstores and was founded in 1900. Independent bookselling has changed a lot in 15 years and is seeing a reniassance in the US with an 8% sales growth in 2012 as compared to 2011 (in book unit sales). For most of 2012, we were seeing double digit increases over 2011. For ABA online sales, there was a 28% increase over 2011 and a much greater increase from 2010. Web sales are becoming an important revenue stream for independent booksellers. For the third year in a row ABA membership has grown and more independent bookstores are opening. 43 stores opened in 2012 and one even raised money by crowd-funding site Indiegogo in order to open the store.
One key factor in the increase in sales is that independent bookstores are actively implementing technology. They can offer an online commerce experience through the ABA site, with each company having a fully customizable site. The debate about whether an independent bookstore should be online is long over. ABA partnered with Kobo to offer ebooks, but earlier partnerships, such as that with Google, provided an unsatisfying experience for customers. Through the holiday season, about 400 stores signed up for the Kobo plan. They like the fact that Kobo uses recognized standards and so their readers are not locked into a particular device. Independent bookstores are now outperforming earlier attempts to do this and revenue is increasing. Since the costs of this type of technology has come way down, independent bookstores can now afford to do a lot of stuff they couldn’t before. About 15 ABA stores have print on demand with the Espresso Machine and rather than buying books through the machines it has turned out that the major revenue from the machines comes from the self-publishing business of their customers’ books.
ABA believes that the publishers steps with regard to ebook agency pricing benefited readers and publishers and they feel, despite the DoJ, that agency pricing actually resulted in lower prices. They feel that the DoJ settlement does nothing but increase prices and help give monopoly power to Amazon. The ABA feels that the settlement will be destructive to book selling.
Independent bookstores are benefiting from the general localization movement in the United States. The move of consumers to independent local stores is an encouraging trend for all independent businesses. The “Buy Local” movement is a success and in five years of surveys they show that indie businesses are growing. The localization movement has reached a tipping point and bookstores have been in the forefront of this for years.
There is no substitute for the importance of indie bookstores in book discovery and the numbers show that this is the case. Indie bookstores perform a showrooming experience for purchasers who may decide to make their purchases elsewhere. Publishers are beginning to recognize this and a number of new initiatives are under way. One example of this is that Amazon had to release the Kindle to stores because they found that discovery of the unit on the Amazon site was not good enough to get them the sales figures they wanted.
Jeff Jaffe, CEO of WC3 spoke today at the Tools of Change conference in New York. His main point that he tried to get across during his keynote was “that publishing = web and web = publishing.” Web people tend to understand this concept, but many people in the publishing industry do not. 20 years ago the web came into being and became an additional form of publishing, but no substitution for print. Eventually tools came out, such as blogging platforms, that turned everyone into a publisher. Now, a lot of core technology changes have made the web a rich place for publishing.
What is the future? The impact of the web will continue and intensify. Screens, typography, and layout will get better and better. Links will raise asset value exponentially and rich media will enhance ebooks. The web’s impact on publishing will probably be greater that the impact on other industries. TV and entertainment are moving to the web and away from the television set. But what publishing is trying to do with the web is different from what other industries are doing. Other industries are using the web as a delivery mechanism, but the web is more intrinsically tied to the purposes of publishing. For some parts of the industry this is easy to see, such as magazines, but it is harder for book publishers to see. In the future, publishing will be the web. HTML5 and CSS3 provides cross-browser interoperability and rich content management. Just about everyone is moving to this technology. It’s easy to say this, but its hard to do because the web community and the publishing technical community have not been talking to each other. This is causing a lot of sub-optimization. WC3 will be trying actively to encourage a dialog and want to address: matching current publishing practices, leveraging value-add of the web, supporting diverse business and distribution models, and satisfying diverse consumer behaviors.
The workshop was presented by Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He said that the story of the last 5 years in publishing is the story of Apple, Amazon, Kobo, and their internationalization. Kobo announced a deal with a Brazilian company and the night of the launch party Google opened its Brazilian ebook store and 35 minutes later Amazon opened one of its own, as well. This shows how fierce competition has become. Amazon opened a store in India and started to price in Rupees, which makes them competitive with the locals. Google and Amazon have had a hard time staying in business in China, but their local Chinese competitor is making a fortune.
There are two options when a company comes in from outside to your country: give in or find a way to do it yourself. Talking about globalization has a clash of friendliness and intensity. Local publishers must find a way survive. One of the issues that comes up is that works translated into English locally are often undercut by English editions put out by the big guys. To do business overseas, you need to know more than just that the market exists, you need to understand the culture. However, the trend is that the big sellers are trying to impose their styles on overseas companies.
The future is in the phones as their penetration overseas is getting higher and higher. The most pirated books internationally are business books. One of the big under-reported stores of last year is why Penguin and Random House merged – because they fit together like a puzzle piece overseas and each complements the other almost perfectly on an international scale. One of the things that goes unnoticed by most people is that 75% of the US book publishers have overseas owners.
This was a panel on the education market. Jim Hamilton from InfoTrends spoke and said that the overall printed book volume is in decline. By “printed book” he means books printed on the old-fashoned printing press. Run length is declining and more custom books are being printed. Digitally printed books, however, are increasing as market forces drive printing to one-off, and print on demand.
Jo Ann McDevitt, Association of Educational Publishers said that change is happening in education, even though it is a market that is very slow to move. There is an increasing movement in schools from print to digital materials as the cost of tablets and mobile devices come down. The textbook adoption process is changing in those states that are now looking at having a blended approach between print and digital. A recent survey says that 77% of educators think that publishers will go out of business if they don’t offer digital content. Schools, as opposed the the publishers, are the ones driving the change to digital, but they want digital integrated with print. Publishers are beginning to recognize that they also need a professional development arm to help teachers utilize digital materials if they are to be successful.
Peter Givler, Association of American University Presses, said that there are new digital aggregators who are putting scholarly publications online. Oxford University Press Online and Johns Hopkins Project Muse, both of which aggregate electronic journals, are popular examples of the platform. JStore, a curated collection of journals, has also been adapted to scholarly books.
Seth Kaufman, Copia Interactive. Copia makes its platform available to people who want to compete with Amazon and Google. They are in 900 campus bookstores and launched a bookstore for Parents magazine. One of the unique things about the platform is that it has enabled marginal annotations that you can share with others. The idea that margins exist and can be shared is a major breakthrough in the history of the book. Added value has worked in the dvd industry for years, but the publishing industry doesn’t think like that. The dvd industry has developed the art of selling the same thing to consumers three or four times. Can do this with a book – put in an ending that was killed by the editor and then annotate it and say why it was dropped?
A book can have layers and layers of content on top of each other. Some examples: author annotations, content “updates,” talk to the author (have the author answer questions for a limited period of time), expert annotations, contests, crowd sourced contributions, inside the book sweepstakes, rewrite the ending. It is a very simple process to add the annotations to books and they can be threaded discussions. Authors have been putting out “new” old books and then annotating them. They system makes it easy to refresh a book that’s been out for a while. They have had good success with the “classics” and having them annotated by professors.
Tim O’Reilly, of course, runs the show and this is the seventh edition of the conference. He started Tools of Change because O’Reilly needed to look to the future. eBooks are multiplying, but even more interesting is the fact that print has not gone away and it looks like the industry is coming to some kind of equilibrium. Importantly, the fear that a new thing is a bad thing is going away, as this fear is almost always misplaced. Most of the industry is wrong about the difficulties of book discovery, as is the fear that if the bookstore goes away discovery will as well. It is encouraging that there are more and more new methods of discovery and people know how to use them People are figuring out the new medium, as is proved by John and Hank Green, who have built a massive online presence around books and YouTube. If you are a publisher and all you think about are books and ebooks, you may be missing something as publishing today encompasses much more than this. This is the reason O’Reilly is involved in so many different types of business. There is no bright line between publishing and the internet any more. The biggest reason to be optimistic is because readers and writers are doing fine. We should be talking about why we are here – it is not to make our fortune. Publishing and writing are all about solving problems. We still have a job to do and that job is to entertain and educate and share knowledge. Books and writing have mattered in the past and they still matter and if you make this the heart of what you do, you will succeed. He says his message is this: work on stuff that matters.
Brian David Johnson, Intel Corporation; He is a “futurist” with Intel whose job is to look 10 to 15 years in the future and model what will happem. Intel needs this because it takes about 5 years to design a chip. Around the year 2020 we will be able to turn anything into a computer because of the decreasing size of chips. But once you can turn anything into a computer the next question is what you should do. He’s a science fiction author and for the last decade has been using science fiction, with good science, to understand what science will be doing to people. Steampunk is interesting because it is all about technology that is playing with the past and this means that steampunk authors want a different future and is fun to speculate on what this could bring about. The way you change the future is to change the story that people tell themselves about what the future will be. For the work we all do as publishers, writers, thinkers and technologists we need to think about how we will change the way that people think about the future and what will happen. The future of publishing sits in the ToC room and the people here are the ones who will make it.
Matt McInnis, of Inkling who recapped the press event we covered earlier.
John Wheeler of SPI Global discussed HTML5 (EPUB), which many people consider the future of publishing. He pointed out that without standards, such as ePub, publishers have to sort out a lot of device specific output formats. It is encouraging that even Kindle, Nook, Sony and Kobo are starting to support ePub3. There is a long ways to go but they are getting there. Embracing it gives the producers the opportunity to simplify their production activities and can result in a simpler and enhanced work flow. Importantly, Epub 3 allows for graceful degradation if a device does not support the standard. It is also good for alternate language support and for accessibility.
The morning keynotes ended with Brian David Johnson and Cory Doctorow, moderated by Henry Jenkins. Cory feels that now you can do a novel with concepts unfamiliar to readers because you can assume that the reader has a search box open and can find out what the unfamiliar concept is about. Good literature in the future will assume that a search engine is available, just like we assume pocket calculators are available to the everyday user. Wide distribution is the next major phase of literature. He says that we need to replace mammalian reproductive strategy with dandelion strategy. A dandelion has thousands of seeds that are scattered indiscriminately over the landscape. It wants a seed in every crack of the pavement Cory feels that book distribution should be the same way. This kind of strategy only works when reproduction cost is zero or extremely cheap. Brian feels that now if you write a book that is too long you can take the material out and make another book – and make it digital. This allows the author to expand on the narrative and is very liberating.
Amenda Gomm and Tom McClusky of Digital Bindery presented the results of their testing of Epub 3 elements on various reading platforms. Some elements worked and some didn’t. For metadata, Epub 3 offers a lot: container, publication, structure, and content. Focusing on the publication metadata, there are many optional elements, but when they put these elements into a document they are not supported by the reading systems. The optional areas in the creator and title metadata also didn’t work with a lot of display systems and is should be considered unreliable. Cannonical fragment identifiers are a new Epub 3 feature, but they don’t work at all. There are a lot of navigation features, such as table of contents, page list, and non-linear content that are supported in Epub 3. The basic functionality of table of contents is universally supported, but the Nook won’t nest a table of contents and the Kobo Arc only goes 3 levels deep in nesting, so you don’t know what will happen if you use them. Since good navigation is critical producers shouldn’t nest tables of contents now, or if it is critical there are some more complicated workarounds.
Non-linear content is stuff such as footnotes, ancillary content, and covers, but readers are different as to whether they will support the tags for it. You will need to test your non-linear content on individual readers. Pagelists are the way to tie together the print and ebook page numbers so they are both the same. Unfortunately, support in the readers is minimal. They found the same problems with a lot of the semantics tags, such as for bi-directional reading, as these are not supported by many of the readers that are out there. Interestingly, hyphenation is a nightmare as many readers don’t support it or will display hyphens in strange ways no matter how you try to program them. Page breaks are another problem with inconsistent support. For example, the Kobo Arc will support page breaks in portrait mode but not in landscape mode.
The takeaway from this session is that there are two parts to the ePub equation. The first is that it is important to have standards and ePub 3 is the current one. However, every reading device is different and not many will currently pay attention to the new ePub 3 calls and so a developer has be be very careful about using them as they may be ignored or produce gibberish on many devices. If the book is at all complicated it is vital to test it on as many different devices as possible.
Tools of Change started today. In addition to some technical workshops, something new is happening. This is “Author [R]evolution Day.” It’s an all-day series of talks for authors about what’s going on with the publishing revolution. Tools of Change is mainly for the publishing professional and the type of content and the cost of attendance are not aimed at average authors. Having received some criticism for this, today is the first attempt by O’Reilly to cater to authors and provide them a forum that is affordable. Most every seat was sold out. I noticed that the majority of people were taking notes. The presentation was designed to have no bias about self-publishing vs regular publishing and the goal was to give all authors some aid and guidance. Here are some of the highlights of the presentations that have the widest interest for our readers.
First up was the famous author Cory Doctorow. His basic point was a good one, that DRM puts the provider of the book, such as Amazon, in the driver’s seat and takes power away from the author. Once DRM has been applied to a book, it is illegal for anyone other than the one who introduced it to remove it. For authors, this means that once someone, like Amazon, puts DRM on your book, then you are stuck with it because you can’t remove it from your own book even if you find it is hurting sales. It puts the seller of the book in charge and removes all the control from the author. He also made a typical Doctorow aphorism: “Converting fame into money is hard alchemy. Most people who try it fail. Fame won’t make you rich, but you won’t get rich without fame.”
Following this, Eve Bridburg and Porter Anderson discussed what an author needs to do to succeed. Typically, the guidance for authors is to create an author platform for social media and then hope that this creates a marketplace. But the problem for authors is that there are almost too many tools and and authors are running around trying to do everything with every tool. This creates fear and dread in authors, and so they are running around trying to pick out their best tactics, but there is little help for them in developing an overall strategy. Takeaways: find a community of some sort to help you; be purposeful and don’t let the tactics lead. It is important to develop an overall strategy about what you want and then let the tactics take over: whatever you do, it is important that you do things that you enjoy, because if you don’t enjoy it the work won’t get done and you will be miserable.
Then there was an interesting presentation on the use of free content by Rob Eagar, President of Wildfire Marketing. He said that Bowker reports that 582,000 new titles were published in a 12 month period, so getting noticed is hard. The important thing is that readers don’t need as much reason to buy a book as people think. Many people will buy a book without ever looking at the content, so you need to create reasons for them to do so. One of the best ways to do this is to give away content. If a campaign is designed properly, it will not cannabilize sales, but instead multiply them. The free content must answer the purchaser’s question “what’s in it for me” and this works for fiction as well as non-fiction. For novelists, free short stories and novella are effective, as they easily attract fiction fans. This worked well for Stephanie Meyer. Use your expertise to bring people to your fiction books (for example, an author of a series of Amish stories set up a website about Amish history and culture). The site contained links to her books, but mostly it is strictly factual. Thus, people interested in facts about the Amish were also introduced to her books.
Community driven publishing was discussed by Jacob Lewis (Figment.com), Amanda Barbara (Pubslush), Scott James (Red Hat Project), Mark Jeffrey (glossi.com), and Allen Lau (Wattpad). Scott James made the point that Kickstarter is a good way to promote a book and is an excellent way to build a “street” team as funders have a stake in the process, will promote the book, and this has paid back exponentially in the Kickstarter book he created. People want to be part of the discovery process and crowd funding is a great way to get them involved. Alan Lau had some interesting figures on Wattpad. They have 14 million monthly visitors spending 3 billion minutes of reading time per month. There are 10 million stories on the site and there is and 1 upload every 2 seconds.
Choosing a production and distribution service was the subject of a panel discussion with Peter Armstrong, LeanPub; Sabrina McCarthy, Argo Navis; Libby Johnson McKee, Amazon CreateSpace; and Tim Sanders, Netminds. In the very beginning, an author needs to set their goals and this will set their distribution strategy,but you have to understand your own personality and assets. If you are not a self-starter, then self-publishing is not for you. You also need to understand what is the best use of the time. There are a lot of publishing platforms that will let you do everything, which takes a lot of time, or should you let other people do some stuff so that you can use your strengths in other ways. In terms of choosing a distribution platform, first figure out who your customer is and then that should drive the type of distribution you need. In general, it is best to be in as many places as possible. The number one mistake that authors make is that they overestimate their editing skills and so editorial services are very important. Design services are important because you need to have an outside designer figure out what the public needs to see.
In addition to the above there were sessions on metadata (by Linda Dawson and very well done!), the place of the agent and strategies for marketing and discovery. The session participants were well chosen and articulate and I found the session to be definitely worth my time. I think most authors would find the entrance fee well worth it.
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