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April 30 2012

15:51

April 29 2012

15:21

Should Barnes and Noble break up?

Forbes :: Here’s an interesting idea: that Barnes and Noble should consider splitting the company. Separate the physical bookstores from the virtual business of the Nook and allow that digital business the room and capital to compete with Apple‘s iPad and Amazon’s Kindle?

Continue to read Tim Worstall, www.forbes.com

April 10 2012

14:00

Pew Survey Shows How E-Books Are Changing the Equation for Publishers, Readers

More Americans are reading e-books than ever, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

The most impressive stat from the study is that 21 percent of adults had read an e-book in the past year, but adults are still more likely to read a printed book. Seventy-two percent of adults (age 16 or older) turn the pages the old-fashioned way.

However, the reach of e-books is growing, increasing from 17 percent of adults before the 2011 holiday season, during which thousands of e-reading devices appeared under Christmas trees, to 21 percent immediately after. The poll, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, captured Americans' attitudes toward reading and digital reading in mid-December 2011 and January 2012.

The data showing that e-books are on the rise will not surprise anyone who's been paying attention to the rapid adoption of e-readers. But what the study really sheds light on is how quickly our relationship with reading is changing in the digital age.

Reading is still in decline, but not by much

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According to the study, 22 percent of Americans said they hadn't read a book in the previous 12 months or refused to answer the question. That figure was 12 percent in 1978, 19 percent in 1990, 15 percent in 1999, 14 percent in 2001, 17 percent in 2005, and 22 percent in 2011. Fewer people are reading than ever, but the percentage of people who don't read has been hovering around 20 percent for 20 years now. Increasing use of the Internet since the mid-'90s and ever more available tech gadgets haven't radically changed the percentage of Americans who read books, especially when the study's plus or minus two-percentage-point margin of error is taken into account.

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Richard Eoin Nash is a forward-thinking publishing veteran who ran Soft Skull Press, an independent publisher, from 2001 to 2007. He wasn't surprised by this result. "Frankly, this 'reading in decline' business struck me as a bunch of hokum," he said.

Nash currently wears several hats as the founder of Cursor, offering what he describes as a "new, social approach to publishing," the publisher of Cursor's Red Lemonade imprint, and the vice president of Community and Content for Small Demons, a startup that tracks the rich content inside of books, including songs and places referenced in them.

"There is absolutely no sign that reading is in danger," he said. "As a rule, these things tend to get exploited by people looking for stories about how the sky is falling, whether it's because they're looking for funding, or whether it's because every establishment institution that purveys culture in the end is looking for ways to preserve its status. Changes in technology, all other things being equal, tend to undermine its status. So, whether it was Socrates complaining about books or the great comic book scares of the 1950s when four-color printing came about, every time there is a new technology that allows more and different culture to be created, the guardians of the status quo announce that civilization is over."

E-Books Result in More Reading, Even in Men

On the other hand, despite the continued slight decline in reading overall, e-books are increasing the rate of reading among some people. According to Pew, "30 percent of those who read e-content say they now spend more time reading, and owners of tablets and e-book readers particularly stand out as reading more now. Some 41 percent of tablet owners and 35 percent of e-reading device owners said they are reading more since the advent of e-content."

Many studies have found that men read less than women, and this poll supports that general trend -- 14 percent of men are frequent readers, reading 21 or more books in the past year, while 20 percent of women are frequent readers. However, men who own e-readers report they are reading more now, and men are more avid readers than women of certain categories of material. Men are slightly more likely to read a newspaper daily. Men are more likely than women to read about current events daily (53 percent vs. 46 percent), and men are more likely to read daily for work or school, while women are more likely to read for pleasure. Men are more likely to own only a tablet computer, such as the iPad or Kindle Fire, while women are more likely to own only an e-reader, such as the Kindle or Nook.

Teachers and librarians have often lamented that it's more difficult to interest boys in reading than girls. Could e-books provide a way to interest more boys in reading?

Samantha Becker, research project manager of the U.S. IMPACT Study at the University of Washington's Information School, said, "I think it may be too soon to tell whether e-readers are making readers out of non-readers. But it certainly has the potential to be a hook for boys and other reluctant readers if they are enticed by being able to use technology. The other thing that e-books provide is the ability to link to other resources beyond the print, including videos and other enhanced content that will make reading more fun and interesting. This is an underutilized capability of e-books, particularly for tablets, but I think it will be a growing area of development as the market expands, and eventually there will be books written with enhanced content in mind."

E-Book Enthusiasts are Superlative Readers

E-book users earn a gold star for reading more avidly than any other group. The Pew study finds e-book readers are "relatively avid readers of books in all formats: 88 percent of those who read e-books in the past 12 months also read printed books. Compared with other book readers, they read more books. They read more frequently for a host of reasons: for pleasure, for research, for current events, and for work or school. They are also more likely than others to have bought their most recent book, rather than borrowed it, and they are more likely than others to say they prefer to purchase books in general, often starting their search online."

Significantly for publishers who feel the ground shifting under their feet with recent developments such as the demise of Borders and some other traditional bookstores, e-book readers are more likely to buy the books they read, while other readers are more apt to borrow.

"Is this part of a CD moment?" Nash wondered. "We had this moment in the music business where people embraced the CD player over their cassette player, and they started acquiring a significant amount of CDs. At a certain point, that plateaued as people acquired a critical mass of stuff, and then shifted to a more sedate degree of consumption. By consumption, I mean purchase. The amount they listened to remained the same, but the amount they purchased started to taper off. This is highly speculative. I'm not saying this will happen. But as Nassim Taleb (author of 'The Black Swan') always points out, every straight line going up at a diagonal stops some time."

Given that e-book readers are more likely to purchase books than non e-book readers, every publisher will have to cater to them to stay afloat in the rapidly changing book marketplace. Nash observed that figuring out how to do this is the publishers' problem, not the readers'.

"The interesting thing is the reader doesn't have a problem here," he said. "Because for so long, people could only read what a fairly small group of publishers picked for them to read. Readers were living in an oligopolistic world. So we didn't really have to think very much about readers. They were only peripherally part of the equation. From a cultural standpoint, they were absolutely central. But in terms of talking about the industry, they were an abstraction. They were helpless. Now they have power. Now they can choose not just from a much larger group of publishers than existed before, but also from a bigger chunk of publishing history, as books stay in print longer and books that were out of print get put back into print."

He added, "I would emphasize how significant it is that books are no longer going out of print. Most books published in 1986 were not available in bookstores in 1990, so there was this forgetting. We're sort of living in a science-fiction movie where no one forgets, where everything published stays published. That gives readers tremendous power."

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Do E-books Contribute to the Digital Divide?

The Pew poll, which was conducted in English and Spanish, found Hispanics read less than white or black people, and that lower-income Americans read the least: "A fifth of Americans (18 percent) said they had not read a book in the past year. This group is more likely to be: male than female (23 percent vs. 14 percent), Hispanic than white or black (28 percent vs. 17 percent and 16 percent), age 65 or older (27 percent), lacking a high school diploma (34 percent), living in households earning less than $30,000 (26 percent), unemployed (22 percent), and residents of rural areas (25 percent). Those who did not read a book last year also tended not to be technology users."

Do e-books contribute to the digital divide in which those without access to technology are being left behind in a tech-centered world? Becker said, "I don't know that e-books contribute to the digital divide right now, though that's certainly a possibility in the future if e-publishing overtakes traditional publishing and readers are shut out of participating because of excessive restrictions in borrowing and lending, or prohibitive costs for accessing devices and content.

"I think there is some more interesting research to be done around the intersection of reluctant readers and people who also don't use much technology. It seems likely that those folks are probably living on the margins generally, and lack of reading and use of technology is a symptom of their circumstances rather than a cause. Ensuring that rural, poor, unemployed, and other marginalized groups have access to reading and self-improvement has always been a core value for public libraries, and it continues in ensuring access to technology and digital literacy skills. Librarians see this as part of their mission, and e-book access is becoming part of that mission, too."

Looking Toward the Digital Future

The Pew study shows that Americans have begun to move toward reading books, newspapers, and magazines digitally, without waiting for the publishing industry to figure out how to survive this shift.

Nash reflected on the history of the publishing industry to frame the current moment. "In the last 150 years, publishing became a weird artifact of the industrial revolution," he said. "With the industrial revolution, you tend to have this really stark separation between producer and consumer, because you make money off of scale. In an analogue, mechanical reproduction situation, the primary way you're going to make money is because your marginal costs always decline. It starts high and always it declines. So the more you can print of something, the more money you're going to make on each additional unit. With digital, the marginal cost of reproduction is virtually zero. What we're witnessing most clearly is the slow demise of the industrial revolution model. It's interesting because books began it. Books were the first mass-produced object."

As Pew's research shows, only a few years after their introduction, e-books have arrived as an important part of reading in America, whether publishers and booksellers are ready for them or not.

Photo of e-reader by Anders Hoff on Flickr

Jenny Shank is the author of the novel "The Ringer" (The Permanent Press, 2011), a finalist for the Reading the West Book Awards. Her fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Poets & Writers Magazine, Bust, Dallas Morning News, High Country News and The Onion.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

February 09 2012

18:45

January 17 2012

13:30

A GarageBand for ebooks: Simplifying publishing could mean a flood of new content

It’s not just the platform — it’s the tools.

That’s the line that kept coming to mind this morning as I read this Ars Technica scoop on what Apple has in store for its press event in New York Thursday. Here’s Ars reporter Chris Foresman:

While speculation has so far centered on digital textbooks, sources close to the matter have confirmed to Ars that Apple will announce tools to help create interactive e-books — the “GarageBand for e-books,” so to speak — and expand its current platform to distribute them to iPhone and iPad users.

…[A]uthoring standards-compliant e-books (despite some promises to the contrary) is not as simple as running a Word document of a manuscript through a filter. The current state of software tools continues to frustrate authors and publishers alike, with several authors telling Ars that they wish Apple or some other vendor would make a simple app that makes the process as easy as creating a song in GarageBand.

We’ll see on Thursday, of course — but making ebook publishing easier has the potential to have a significant disruptive impact on information industries.

The first disruption of the web, after all, was making it possible for people to publish online without caring about money. Ebooks have already allowed a new generation of small-scale (and large-scale) publishers to reach an audience — sometimes for money, sometimes just for passion. But the process of ebook publishing today reminds me a bit of the early days of blogging, when publishing online was possible but still a pain.

The web as a platform dates back to 1991, and nerds like me were publishing personal webpages not long after. But it took the development of tools like Blogger, Greymatter, and Movable Type — nearly a decade after the web launched — for the power of personal publishing to start to be fulfilled.

Doing it by hand meant learning HTML, then manually FTPing an updated .html file to a remote server. It wasn’t outrageously complicated, to be honest — but it was enough of an obstacle to keep most folks from writing online. When tools reduced personal publishing to typing words in a box and clicking “Post,” a whole new universe of potential contributors was suddenly ready to pitch in, and you saw the blogging explosion of the early 2000s.

And further improvements in tools — think Tumblr and Twitter — have brought even more people to publishing. For a host of creative endeavors — think desktop publishing, motion graphics, video editing, data visualization, coding — it’s the arrival of tools or frameworks that abstract away complexity that marks when they move from niche to mainstream (or at least slightly more mainstream).

While there are many hundreds of thousands of them published every year, books have historically been the most constrained form of publishing. Getting a book into print usually convincing an agent, then an editor, then a publishing house that your work was worthy — and that’s before trying to convince the Barnes & Nobles of the world it should have a place on their shelves.

Ebooks have blown open that world of exclusivity — but the ease of use still isn’t there.

There’s a long list of tools that try to make ebook creation easier, from big names (Apple’s Pages, Adobe’s InDesign) to smaller ones (Scrivener) to open source alternatives like calibre. But it’s still a complicated enough business that there’s a healthy ecosystem of companies offering ebook conversion services.

That task is made more complicated by the format divide between Amazon, which uses a proprietary .mobi-based format called AZW, and most other ebook platforms, which tend to stick to a flavor of .epub. My girlfriend is a book editor (buy her books!), and that’s given me a front-row seat to the still-frustrating world of ebook conversion and formatting. The world of iBooks is particularly frustrating because its greater multimedia and formatting capabilities. (The Kindle keeps display options significantly simpler. Although that too is changing with Format 8, the engine that runs underneath the Kindle Fire and, presumably, future tablet Kindles.)

Here are a few questions to ponder as we wait to hear the details from Apple on Thursday:

Will ease of ebook authoring come with greater ease of ebook publishing? Once you have a properly formatted file, getting your ebook in the Kindle Store is a breeze. That’s not true of the iBookstore, where — perhaps inspired by Apple’s app-approval process — it can take weeks from submission to first sale. That’s kept some publishers from jumping on Apple’s bandwagon, particularly in the journalism world where a couple weeks’ wait can have a significant impact on a work’s timeliness. If Apple wants to make the production process easier, will it also make its go-to-market process easier?

Will there be an iBooks for Android? The Kindle and Nook platforms have the advantage of living on multiple types of devices: both on their own e-ink and tablet devices and on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. Apple’s iBooks thus far lives only on iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads. If they’re aiming at widespread adoption in schools, sticking to Apple-only devices could be a hindrance. Apple’s bitten this bullet before, putting out a version of iTunes for Windows when it became clear keeping music purchasing Mac-only was a recipe for irrelevance. An iBooks for Mac seems like an obvious next move, but are sales of non-iOS smartphones and tablets sufficient to also spread the platform in new directions?

Will this new tool publish in multiple formats or simply create iBooks? Apple’s platform is in either second or third place in the ebook race, well behind Amazon and possibly behind the Nook. Will Apple see a new easy-to-use tool as a way to support its ebook platform — by pushing more content into it — or as a way to gain widespread usage by also supporting the bigger Kindle market? The former would support iBooks; the latter would support Apple’s Mac business, since presumably the software would only run on Macs.

Apple’s gone both ways on this before. GarageBand creates MP3s that will play anywhere; iWeb creates webpages that can be uploaded to any server and viewed in any browser; iWork apps will export into the more popular Office formats like Word’s .doc and Excel’s .xls. In each of those cases, Apple supported market-standard technology because the market had the power. But for years, music purchased through its iTunes Store famously included DRM that only let it work on its industry-leading iPods.

If ebook publishing really does become super easy, how should news publishers fit it into their workflows? Imagine it really did take just a few clicks to get a work onto an ebook platform. What would it make sense to publish there? Should every three-part newspaper series be turned into an ebook? Should every sports season produce a newspaper-generated ebook made up of the year’s game stories, player profiles, and so on? Should a compilation of a newspaper’s restaurant reviews be pushed out as a $2.99 ebook each year?

To the extent that news publishers have dipped their toes into ebooks, it’s been for only the most special projects. But if publishing is dirt simple, what other kinds of content should find its way into the paid-content marketplace? And, on the flip side, how would publishers (book, news, and otherwise) respond to an even greater flood of competing content than the ebook world has already produced?

January 12 2012

16:53

January 10 2012

17:07

January 06 2012

21:46

CEO William Lynch: ‘The Nook will continue to be Barnes & Noble’s e-reader’

paidContent :: In a CNBC interview today, Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch told David Faber, “Whatever we do, we will continue to have a tight relationship between the Nook and [our] stores.” The interview follows yesterday’s news that Barnes & Noble may split off the Nook business from the rest of the company.

Transcript of the CNBC interview - Continue to read Laura Hazard Owen, paidcontent.org

January 05 2012

22:22
22:22
19:52

Buried in a holiday sales report: Barnes & Noble may spin off its Nook business

paidContent :: Buried in the middle of a holiday sales report, Barnes & Noble announced that it will “pursue strategic exploratory work to separate the Nook business” from the rest of the company. “We see substantial value in what we’ve built with our Nook business in only two years, and we believe it’s the right time to investigate our options to unlock that value,” B&N CEO William Lynch said. B&N projects the Nook business will reach $1.5 billion this year.

continue to read Laura Hazard Owen, paidcontent.org

January 03 2012

21:04

David Carey: Hearst's target is to reach more than 1m paid digital subscribers per month

paidContent :: In a New Year letter to employees, Hearst president David Carey reiterated that the company’s target this year is to reach over 1 million paid digital subscribers per month.

[David Carey, Hearst:] Our target is to reach more than one million paid digital subscribers per month via iTunes, Zinio, Nook, Amazon and Next Issue Media. We will fast-track the transition to HTML5 for all our sites, which allows for a far better user experience on mobile devices. ...

paidContent.org published the full letter online.

Continue to read Laura Hazard Owen, paidcontent.org

December 19 2011

15:20

Getting a Tablet Is Easy; Getting Digital Magazines Is a Pain

Buying that new iPad, Kindle or Nook for Christmas is just the first step to becoming a digital magazine reader. While shopping for books and movies is a fairly straightforward process, getting your favorite magazines onto your new e-reading device can be trickier.

The ways you can buy a magazine are rapidly multiplying, making it harder for readers to evaluate their choices. Major magazine publishers, digital newsstands and magazine customer service companies are trying to simplify the process of setting up digital magazine subscriptions, but so far, it's still sometimes a confusing process. Here's one strategy to get your digital magazine subscriptions set up for e-reading enjoyment.

Check Subscription Expiration Dates

It's helpful to know when your print magazine subscriptions expire if you really want to switch fully to digital-only subscriptions. If you have only one or two print issues left, you might wait until the print subscription ends to sign up for a new digital-only subscription, if that's offered by the publisher. The reason for delaying the move is that the "midstream" print-to-digital subscription switch is challenging for publishers right now. Some magazines can immediately convert your subscription to digital and stop your print issues from arriving in the mail; some can't.

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Zinio, one of the major newsstands for digital magazine subscriptions on iOS and Android, is developing a way to make this conversion easier, but it's still in the works.

"For example, if you had Men's Fitness and you wanted to switch it midstream, you would let Zinio know, and Zinio would contact the publishers to handle it for you," said Jeanniey Mullen, Zinio's global executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

Mullen said magazine publishers might model this process on Canada's epost service, which provides a centralized location for consumers to request e-bills instead of paper bills from a variety of billers.

For now, don't count on being able to immediately go all-digital for your existing magazine subscriptions. Depending on the magazine's policies, you may be better off waiting until the end of an existing print subscription, or may have to continue the print subscription to get digital access. You may also find that some of your favorite publications don't even have digital editions yet.

Investigate Your Options

When you're ready to pursue digital subscriptions, your first step should be to review -- thoroughly -- each magazine's website. Information about digital editions and magazine apps can sometimes be hard to locate, so rather than sifting through the magazine's website, opt for a Google search for its title and "digital edition" or "tablet edition."

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"Over time, I'd like to see a standard way of communicating what formats are available and a standard way of getting to them," said Tony Pytlak, president and chief operating officer of Strategic Fulfillment Group, which provides fulfillment services to a number of magazine publishers. "Right now, even a lot of the newsstands that are coming out don't provide things clearly."

You might find that you can access a digital edition for free as a perk of your existing print subscription. For example, subscribers to the print editions of The New Yorker or Wired can immediately get access to their tablet editions for free. Later, when you renew your subscription, you might seek a digital-only option if you find you're enjoying the digital editions more than print.

Publishers are experimenting with package deals, meaning offerings will vary widely among different magazines.

"Our publishing partners are trying to find, for their unique audience, what's the right combination of print/digital, at what price points -- and what does a subscriber to one or the other, or both, actually have access to," Pytlak said.

SFG gathers customers' responses to various print and digital subscription package deals in its database so that publishers can analyze their success. "If you're going to test print only, or digital only, at one price or another, or digital at a slightly higher upsell, capturing the customers' responses to those kinds of offers will help our partners understand them," Pytlak said.

Some magazines have chosen dedicated apps as their only digital content option (other than their websites). That means you'll have to visit the app store for your device (such as the iTunes Store) to download the app, and then likely will purchase the subscription to the magazine's content through the app. You'd then revisit the app on your device to access new content as it's made available.

Additionally, some magazines' digital editions are offered through a newsstand-type app like Zinio, which serves as a storefront for digital magazines. Amazon also sells digital subscriptions for Kindle devices through its Kindle Store, just as Barnes and Noble does on its website for the Nook.

Make the Switch

Once you know what subscription choices a magazine offers, you can either attempt to switch your print subscription to digital by using the magazine's website, if that's an option available online, or -- more likely -- you'll need to call customer service to get help.

"The best proactive approach is to contact the publisher directly, and let them know what they're trying to transfer to digital, and let them know what digital platform," said Zinio's Mullen. "If they've got an iPad, they can say, 'I want to transfer my print subscription to the digital version you have on [the iTunes] Newsstand' ... It will be extremely helpful for the customer service team to know that."

Still, there's no guarantee that customer service representatives will be able to help you. Pytlak said your success may differ from publisher to publisher.

"It varies in how they let their service providers help them," Pytlak said. "Some service providers are not able to handle the transition from print to digital. It's a function of the publisher and the service provider working together to sync those things up and make it easy for the customer to do that."

Form a Digital Magazine Habit

Once you've successfully made the switch to digital subscriptions, it can be hard to remember that you have new issues to read without the physical reminder of a new issue arriving in the mail.

Some magazine and newsstand apps will provide a notification on your device that a new issue is available to read. Those notifications can pile up and become easy to ignore, however. If notifications aren't available, you'll have to remember to reopen the app and see what's new. It can be easy to forget about apps, especially considering app users' habits: 26 percent of apps downloaded are never opened again after their first use. If you're paying for a subscription, though, your motivation to revisit an app might be higher.

Some magazines' digital editions will give you the option of receiving an email notification whenever a new issue is available, which -- depending on your email habits -- might be a more effective reminder to read your magazine.

Improving the Process

Clearly, making the switch from print to digital magazine subscriptions isn't always an easy process. And not everyone is choosing to switch completely just yet.

"I'd call it a shift in consumers' media habits, but not necessarily a transition from print to digital," Pytlak said. He said today, SFG receives more requests from readers to change subscriptions "either print to print, or print to digital and print, more so than print to digital."

Mullen said that rather than just converting existing print subscriptions, many new e-reader users are trying out magazines that are new to them, especially when promotional offers are available.

"They'll buy a single issue of a magazine they've never bought in print before," she said. Additionally, using Zinio, "a very high percentage of people will subscribe to magazines they've never subscribed to in print."

Both Pytlak and Mullen say that standardization of print and digital subscription management is necessary both to make subscribers' lives easier and to improve publishers' ability to gather and analyze data about their subscribers.

"I see 2012 as a big year of change around subscription management on the back end and in fulfillment processing," Mullen said. "It's a very consumer-oriented challenge that we all need to address. A lot of publishing houses are interested in making the midstream switch as easy as possible. The lack of standardization is really the challenge, and where I think we will see advancement in 2012."

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Linfield College. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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May 25 2011

06:21

Barnes & Noble goes after Kindle with Nook Simple Touch Reader

Ars Technica :: Barnes & Noble has decided to expand its Nook line by offering a new device that is... less capable than its previous offerings? The company announced the simplified Nook during a media event in New York on Tuesday, arguing that e-book fans are still looking for a "simple, pure reading experience." That's why the company decided to launch the $139 Nook Simple Touch Reader—a Kindle-like device that has an E-ink screen, no apps, no fancy colors, and (almost) no buttons.

Continue to read Jacqui Cheng, arstechnica.com

December 23 2010

17:47

iPads, Print-on-Demand Slowly Transform Magazines in 2010

birds 2010 small.jpg

This revolution is going to take its time.

It's been a year of high expectations but little fulfillment for those who thought 2010 might forever change the way we read magazines. We've seen that disappointing uses of new tools, limited audience interest, and small initial financial returns are going to result in a gradual shift, not a sudden transformation.

The iPad certainly hasn't made print magazines extinct, and in fact some of the early iPad efforts may even have discouraged readers a bit. Other developments in the magazine world -- such as the Cooks Source incident and the growing power of social media -- also suggest still more challenges and opportunities in the year to come.

The Challenges of Innovation for the iPad

The number of print magazines stayed steady in 2010, with 193 launches and 176 closures -- a great improvement over 2009's remarkable 596 casualties, as reported by Folio. In the meantime, readers began experimenting with digital magazines on the iPad following the device's April release. Zinio, a digital magazine provider, had its app in the App Store on the iPad's release day, meaning the digital replica-style magazines Zinio offered could immediately be read on the iPad.

Multiple magazines soon released their own dedicated apps for the iPad, such as Wired's much-touted app, which in June 2010 sold 105,000 copies, exceeding that month's newsstand sales. However, Wired's app didn't repeat that feat in later months, with sales dropping to 32,000 copies by September. Other magazines, such as People and Men's Health, have only achieved 1 to 2 percent of their newsstand sales with their iPad apps, according to Ad Age.

But how happy have users been with these digital magazines, and how rewarding have they been for publishers? A recent study by the Reynolds Journalism Institute found that users rated their reading experience only "somewhat better or about the same" than their use of print media or computers for reading. The users also said they would be most likely to buy news-related apps if the prices were lower than those for print subscriptions -- not the same or higher, as the prices generally now are for magazine apps.

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Users of iPad magazines have also criticized what they see as a lack of creativity and technological savvy in designing usable, intriguing magazine apps for the iPad. Today's magazine apps tend to be dull, clunky replicas of print magazine pages that don't let readers share content via social media or even email. Despite being designed only for the iPad, even Project, the much-anticipated iPad-only magazine from Richard Branson's Virgin Digital Publishing, was disliked by some readers for its awkward interface and its insistence on re-creating the print page experience.

Perhaps some of the reluctance to experiment with new interface designs and multimedia integration comes from a fear of alienating iPad users who might expect a magazine-like experience, including the feel of "turning pages." However, with the iPad still in its early-adopter phase, this seems like the perfect time for experiments that demonstrate to readers that a digital magazine app can offer more than the printed page -- and that the experience can be worth a premium price.

Ads and Subscriptions on the iPad

Advertisers have seemed quite interested in buying space in digital magazines, and publishers are experimenting with new formats for ads. Though window-shopping is usually free, simulating the experience in a new iPad ad included in the forthcoming Cosmopolitan app will cost advertisers $50,000, according to Mediaweek. In the meantime, Apple has launched iAd for the iPad, building upon its use of the advertising tool on the iPhone. It plans to broaden the use of iAd in 2011. The first iAd on the iPad -- for Disney's movie "Tron: Legacy" -- will run in the TV Guide iPad app, among others. More magazine publishers could become involved in the iAd platform as well.

Finally, one of the biggest obstacles to activating and maintaining reader interest in digital magazines is the difficulty of locating an app for a favorite magazine and then somehow getting a subscription to it. So far, Apple charges its standard 30 percent commission on magazine app sales, and requires the use of external subscription management software, according to Folio.

Until Apple develops a more user- and publisher-friendly newsstand, digital magazine app subscriptions will likely be limited. In the meantime, five major publishers -- Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp., and Time -- are taking matters into their own hands and developing their own alternative in the form of Next Issue Media, which promises to provide "open standards for a new digital storefront" that will sell magazines and newspapers for a variety of e-reading tools, not just the iPad.

In addition to existing competition from the Kindle, Nook, and Android devices, those e-reading tools might include new tablet devices that run Windows 7. If Apple wants to maintain the loyalty of its early adopters, including many avid e-readers, offering easy access to high-quality magazine content will be important in the coming year.

Magazine Credibility Under Fire

The iPad is obviously the biggest story of the year in the magazine world, but other issues are playing out on the web and behind the scenes. Magazines are reshaping their content and strategies for the digital world, and this is causing a reconsideration of ethical issues that underly the production of content.

The Cooks Source incident this fall underscored the difficulty of maintaining authors' rights to their work in the digital age. The small magazine "for food lovers of Western New England" took a writer's piece on apple pie and reprinted it without her permission. When the blogger complained, the editor claimed that "the web is considered public domain and you should be happy we just didn't 'lift' your whole article and put someone else's name on it."

cooks_source_newFBpage.jpg

Soon after this incident, another small magazine, Dairy Goat Journal, was exposed for using a blogger's photo without permission or payment, or even her name. The bad publicity resulting from these ethical failures creates doubt among the public and even among fellow journalists about the credibility of journalistic content when everything in digital form seems -- but most definitely isn't -- free for the taking.

Likewise, new advertising techniques in both digital form and in print have raised concerns about ethics. Forbes' use of paid blogs from advertisers as part of its online redesign (described here on MediaShift) is just one of many efforts to develop sponsored content for magazines' digital formats. As financial pressures increase, and deals for advertorial and sponsored content online and in print become more appealing, magazines will have to be vigilant to maintain a clear line between editorial and advertising content.

Redefining Magazines

As these experiments continue -- on the iPad, other e-readers, the web, and in print -- magazines new and old continue to challenge the traditional definition of their medium. Juan Senor of Innovation Media Consulting, interviewed earlier this year here at MediaShift, described magazines today as "content propositions": Concepts that lead to collections of multimedia content, rather than strictly to the creation of bundles of paper. Even the Magazine Publishers of America, first established in 1919, acknowledged the changing industry by renaming itself this year to "MPA - The Association of Magazine Media."

Some exciting variations on "magazine media" that we've seen this year include the socially curated, customizable digital magazine and the rise of print-on-demand and web-based options for one-off and independently published magazines.

Flipboard, the iPad app that draws together customized content from a user's social streams and from various major providers, now also includes a few traditional print magazines through its new Flipboard Pages. Unlike most dedicated magazine iPad apps, Flipboard presents articles alongside relevant social media commentary and allows easy social sharing of content, making the content more engaging and participatory. The Flipboard Pages streams are presented first like any other Flipboard article, but then can be opened in a more magazine-like layout, including full-page ads.

Flipboard's combination of the social experience with the magazine experience is compelling, as demonstrated by its early struggles to keep its servers functional to meet demand. Its design suggests a possible path for the development of other magazine-related apps. Clearly, this approach exemplifies the "content proposition" model of magazine publishing.

In the coming year, we'll probably also see more experimentation with tools that are making magazine publishing more accessible to the public, such as print-on-demand and web-based digital magazines. The success of the crowdsourced, print-on-demand magazines 48 HR (now renamed Longshot) and Stranded, as well as the availability of HTML5 web distribution platforms like NoLayout, targeted to indie magazines and accessible on mobile devices, show that with ingenuity and the right tech, crafting and distributing a new magazine is entirely possible, even with limited time and money.

Although 2010 might not have yet delivered on the revolution in magazines that some hoped for and was disappointing in some ways, it certainly demonstrated that publishers big and small are creating innovations that -- slowly but surely -- will remake the industry.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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August 12 2010

17:42

A Self-Publisher's Primer to Enhanced E-Books and Book Apps

In a previous article I described how self-publishers can easily create, market and sell e-books. In this article we'll discuss the differences and steps required to create more complex enhanced e-books and apps based on books.

In a nutshell, an e-book is a digital snapshot of a book, an enhanced e-book adds multimedia and interactive features as interruptions to the linear story, and a book app is based on a book but acts more like a game with multiple pathways that require the user to interact instead of simply scrolling and clicking.


Enhanced e-books are also referred to as rich media books, book mashups, enriched, hybrid and amplified books. The media and interactivity is provided by you, the self-publisher, who collects and integrates music, audio, video and color photo slideshows, news feeds, illustrations and background materials. You may also provide searchable text, tilt scrolling, internal and external links and Flash animations into the linear story. (Here are some video demos of these features.) To create an enhanced e-book requires the skills of a web developer.



A book app can do everything an enhanced e-book does, but crosses the line from linear storytelling to non-linear storytelling, allowing the user to choose from multiple pathways and select from a potentially huge number of photos, videos, audio files, illustrations, hyperlinks, and interactivity. Apps are third-party software programs requiring a programmer with C++ or Apple's Objective C programming skills.

Much confusion arises from the fact that so many books are simply bundled as apps so they can be sold in an app store. In April 2010 there were twice as many e-books as games in the iPhone App Store, and it's been posited by one pundit that Apple may purge such e-books as they have purged other overly simple apps. There seems to be little point to e-book app-wrapping when compared with more elegant, library-based e-book stores and their e-reader apps (the iBookstore download to the iBook e-reader app, for example), which gives customers a more consistent user experience and keeps the device desktop uncluttered.

What makes a good enhanced e-book?

wwwirelandmag.jpg

A few years ago I produced a multimedia e-zine, Ireland: The Sacred and the Profane. It was offered for download directly from the Wild Writing Women website until I recently found it easier to offer it via Scribd. Though most links, audio and video don't work inside their browser-based reader (they tell me they're working on that), they perform nicely when you download the PDF. The magazine was very time-consuming to produce, but incredibly rewarding and the enhancements offered readers extra value.


What's a good enhancement?

"If it's a book about music history, having music people can play at certain points in the book can be useful," says Amazon's Jeff Bezos, in an interview with USA Today. "You're not going to make Hemingway better by adding animations."


"Enhancements should only be in support of the central proposition of the writing rather than a 'I can do it therefore I will do it' approach," says Peter Collingridge of UK-based Enhanced Editions. New Media storyteller J.C. Hutchins also has some good advice, such as avoiding "self-congratulatory 'behind the scenes' content such as author bios, old drafts of your manuscripts."

jobsipad.jpg

The iPad's capabilities quickly made it the enhanced e-book platform of choice. Designers can create endlessly entertaining distractions within a linear story. The "amplified edition" of Ken Follette's Pillars of the Earth promises a huge cache of multimedia, an interactive character tree, video and still images from the Starz television series, the author's multimedia diary with his impressions of bringing the book to the screen, interviews with the actors, director and producers, and music from the series.

How much does this cost in terms of time and money? It took me months to create the Ireland magazine working in InDesign and with my group who painstakingly reviewed and edited every iteration. It would have been a huge project even without the learning curve, so when Collingridge quoted $8,000 to $15,000 for enhanced e-book production, that sounded about right.

Enhanced e-books are not device-specific but it's impossible to optimize for all of them. For example, audio, video and color simply do not work on the Nook or Kindle, and Flash does not run on the Apple iPad. You'll want to format your book for the platforms you think the majority of your audience is using. Popular format choices are:

  • Portable Document Format (PDF) is for very highly-formatted publications and can be read on many devices. Readers are forced to view the book exactly as it was designed, which, while it offers design stability, means users cannot reflow the text or change font sizes or colors.
  • International Digital Publishing Forum's Open eBook standard (EPUB) is a versatile winner. It's the format used by Apple iPad, Sony's reader, the Nook, and many other vendors. An export feature in the InDesign page layout program (on which your original print book was likely designed) lets you output an EPUB file. The results are not perfect, but they're getting there.
  • Microsoft's XPS platform is used by the new Barnes & Noble Blio software platform. They hype their enhanced e-book features and seamless integration with Quark a la the InDesign-to-EPUB export.
  • Amazon's Kindle/Mobipocket (mobi/azw) format is great for e-books but not a good choice for enhanced e-books because it does not display color or video. ebookformats.jpg

Yes, the relationship between hardware devices, software platforms and formats is complicated, especially with Google Editions and Copia entering the game this year along with the Blio, and there are rumors that RIM is planning an iPad competitor.

When enhanced is not enough: The book-based app

When you've got so much material that linear is no longer practical, then it might be time to consider an app as an add-on product to your book. (The fuzzy boundary between enhanced e-books and apps are discussed in the Digital Book World webcast eBooks vs Apps: The Pros, Cons and Possibilities).

To start the process, you'll first need to have a deep discussion about multimedia, formats, platforms and devices with the team you hire to do the work. "Book-based apps are more likely to be ancillary products with complex graphics and page layouts that can't be handled in something that auto-flows," says Michel Kripalani, founder of Oceanhouse Media (OM). "That's where you cross the line into the need for custom code." Kripalani assembled a team of former interactive CD-ROM and game developers to start his business, and has built over 100 since the company was founded in January 2009.

omapps.jpg"Children's books are especially ripe for apps, and compliment the e-book edition," noted Kripalani in an interview with Book Business Magazine. OM has also created a variety of card decks, calendars, and spoken word apps inspired by books from Hay House and Chronicle Books.


The price tag for a complex, quality book-based app? "In the five-figures," says Kripalini, "and requires a team that "includes C++/Objective C programmers, graphic designers, professional actors and custom narration, music soundtrack and sound effects, interactivity, editors and page layout designers for the different devices."



For the budget-impaired, DIY app builders are emerging. Travel guidebook publishers already know their audience is looking online and to apps instead of to the paper book. For them, Sutro Media has created a browser-based tool to let publishers upload material to a content management system, which then gets ported into Objective C on the back end. Co-founder Kevin Collins says, "these apps do things that books can't possibly do. sutromedia.jpgFor example, you can use all the photos you had to leave out in their book versions, and include live maps and hyperlinks, too."



Sutro does not require the author pay any up-front costs, but they carefully evaluate proposed projects. Their payment model is a revenue-sharing agreement with a royalty split of 30% each going to Sutro, Apple, and the author, with the remaining 10% going to their in-house editor.



If you're a technically inclined DIY self-published author, there is a growing list of inexpensive app development options, here are some for the iPhone. And remember, you'll need to decide which devices you want to reach. You can develop for more than one, but that will add to the time and price tag. Today's popular choices are:



* Apple's iBook app for the iPhone and iPad

* The Kindle or Stanza app (both owned by Amazon)

* The B&N eReader, or Kobo (a Borders partner)

* Google's free ebook reader for the iPhone and Android

* The Kobo app for Android

Selling it: The biggest challenge

corydoctorow.jpg

Once you've created your enhanced e-book or app, how do you get it distributed to e-tailers and to readers? Author Cory Doctorow has long and publicly wrestled with these issues, and has had only spotty success with distribution and sales via the major channels. Digital Rights Management (DRM) has been particularly problematic, as some e-tailers require it.

The enhanced e-book and app space is still all very experimental, but expect industry standards to emerge and the market to adjust to the technical possibilities. Apple is letting self-publishers upload directly to the iPad, as long as they adhere to very strict formatting rules.

Personally, I'm offering enhanced e-books on my own websites and on Scribd, amassing digital assets, paying for InDesign upgrades, studying EPUB, renewing my SPAN membership, and keeping an eye on Mark Coker and Smashwords for an easier enhanced e-book aggregation solution for self-publishers.

Carla King is an author, a publishing and social media strategist, and co-founder of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp program providing books, lectures and workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published non-fiction travel and how-to books since 1994 and has worked in multimedia since 1996. Her series of dispatches from motorcycle misadventures around the world are available as print books, e-books and as diaries on her website.

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May 03 2010

21:25

How to Pair Smashwords and Scribd for Ideal E-Book Strategy

Self-published authors are in a unique position to benefit from the increasing consumer acceptance of digital books. The challenge, however, is that so many companies are popping up to offer conversion, distribution and sales. It's tough for authors to know which vendor to choose for which services when it comes to their e-book. The truth is that it's wrong to look for a single vendor for your self-published e-book.

After spending time examining the options available, I've hit upon a combination of two vendors that stands out for ease-of-use, breadth of offerings, and fair pricing structures. The magic combination that works right now is to use Scribd for social publishing, marketing and sales, and Smashwords for sales and aggregation to e-book retailers. Here's a look at how -- and why -- it works.

Scribd

Scribd is an easy place for authors to make finished works and works-in-progress available online to the public, to converse with other authors, and to start collecting a reader fanbase. Scribd does not deliver books to e-book retailers; rather, it offers authors a sales and marketing platform via the growing Scribd community. Scribd is all about "social publishing."

Authors upload documents in any format (PDF, doc, PowerPoint, etc.) that readers can then buy or view free. The documents can be read on the Scribd site in slide, single-page or book mode. Additionally, the reader can download the document to their computer or send it to their mobile device.

What makes it social? A widget lets anyone embed the document on a website. Members add notes to each other's documents, subscribe to each other's documents and posts, and "readcast" what they're reading to friends on other social sites like Facebook and Twitter. Members can also become curators by collecting documents on a topic, from the "Best Fiction of 2009" to "Chinese History," for example. These features and functions can help an author spread their work, interact with readers, and build relationships with other authors. All of which can help promote your e-book.

Tool for Promotion

Author Helen Winslow Black uploaded an e-book version of her paperback, Seven Blackbirds, to sell on Scribd and found it sufficient to use the service as her main tool for book promotion.

"Instead of a blog, I publish articles and then people comment on them and I get feedback," she said. "I have conversations and interchange, and since I signed up [in May of 2008] I have over 58,000 subscribers. Scribd is where everybody goes to read me."

Another reason why Scribd is becoming a good option for authors is that it recently partnered with Blurb, HP MagCloud, and Mimeo to provide a print service for documents, magazines and color books. The book printing service isn't yet ready for prime time -- creating covers is awkward and book sizes are limited -- but the company rolls out new features fast, so don't be surprised to see it improve. You can now turn your e-book into a printed product, should the need arise, but not at the same quality that print-on-demand services like Lightning Source or Lulu provide.

Trip Adler

Scribd, which has about 50 million unique visitors a month, has published more books than the entire U.S. publishing industry last year. Their send-to-device service lets readers view documents on the Kindle, Nook, iPhone, Android and other devices, but unlike Smashwords, they are not an official aggregator to e-book retailers. That's why Scribd alone won't fulfil your e-book needs.

Scribd wants to be the hub of publishing. Founder Trip Adler told me their goal "is to make it dead simple for anyone to publish original written works and for readers to discover and share this content." They want "authors to use our social platform as a place to share what they are writing and to connect with other writers and readers, and to get their works in front of consumers when and where they want from any device."

Smashwords

smashwordslogo.pngSmashwords is the fastest and easiest place for self-published authors with text-heavy books to distribute their e-book in all formats. You simply upload the text of your book -- no page numbers, no headers or footers -- as instructed in their simple formatting guide.

Mark Coker created Smashwords when he and his wife spent two years attempting to get their own book published. They discovered that "the publishing industry is broken." A longtime Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Coker joked that "the solution to all the world's ills can be solved with technology, so wouldn't it be cool if we created an online publishing platform that would instantly let authors upload and sell books directly?"

markcoker.jpg"The service works best right now for the vast majority of books -- that is to say, the straight-form narrative," Coker told me. The book needs to be in Microsoft Word format with all the headers and footers stripped out. When you upload your book, you choose the formats to which you want it converted and the Smashwords "meatgrinder" churns them out.

But what if you spent a lot of time and money with a designer to format your book with drop caps and special fonts and dingbats?

"As technology evolves we'll be able to bring back some formatting," he said. "It's hard to ask people to devolve their book. Yes, your print book is gorgeous and that 17th century font you chose is perfect. But in the digital realm you need to liberate your words into reliable, reflowable text that can shape-shift easily across all the different devices."

He said it's important that readers be able to customize a book to match their preferences.

"Readers want to maximize fonts, change fonts," Coker said. "They might prefer pink Ariel font against a carved stone background -- they can do that and they are. It helps to remember that people buy your book for your words. When you give the reader the flexibility to murder your book like that you are actually increasing the value of your book."

There's no cost to sign up with Smashwords' Premium program, but your book formatting has to be just right and it has to have an ISBN. They are an official e-book aggregator (distributor) to many retailers including the Amazon Kindle, and they are the 6th largest aggregator to the Apple iBookstore. (Note that if your book is already for sale with an e-book retailer, for example in the Kindle bookstore, it's best not to offer it via this channel, too. There's no current "rule" but if you confuse Amazon they're likely to drop you.)

If you want to print your book you can use Smashwords affiliate Wordclay, an author services company that competes with Lulu and CreateSpace. It's easy and free, but you'll have to format using their templates or upload a PDF. (See my previous article on self-publishing packages.)

As of April 2010 Smashwords has published over 10,000 e-books. So what's next? "We're just getting started," Coker said. "The next three years will be exciting because we'll see e-books breach 25 percent of the U.S. book market. We want our authors and publishers to get a chunk of that."

Where's the Money?

While Smashwords seems very focused on independent authors and publishers, Scribd clearly has bigger fish to fry. They're wooing that market, too, but are also going after traditional publishing, the general document sharing market, and document management systems for the enterprise.

Both companies take a percentage of book sales: Smashwords 15% and Scribd 20% with a 25-cent transaction fee. When Smashwords aggregates a book to a retailer like Amazon or Apple, the author ends up with about half the cover price. In both cases, a much better financial split than traditional publishing.

Scribd recently made a deal with Author Solutions -- the self-publishing service company that owns iUniverse, Author House, Xlibris, and Wordclay -- to sell their customers' books for 50% of the cover price, and have partnered with over 150 traditional publishers for e-books distribution. They're also giving Issuu and Docstoc a run for their money in the business document sharing space.

In both cases, authors get a better deal than with traditional publishing (not counting the fact they have to do all the work), and since their services don't currently overlap, it's a great pairing for indie authors.

The Indie Author's Strategy

Both of these services are non-exclusive and very easy to use, so you don't have to worry about locking yourself in. If you want to combine them to create your e-book strategy, here's a breakdown of when and how to do what:

  1. Sign up with Scribd.
  2. Start contributing to the community, post some works-in-progress, comment, "readcast," curate, and collect subscribers.
  3. When your e-book is complete, upload it to Scribd for sale.
  4. Then go to Smashwords to convert your book into all the available formats.
  5. Join the Smashwords Premium program to aggregate your e-book to the Kindle, iBookstore, Sony, Nook, and all the other readers.
  6. Subscribe to the mailing lists of both companies to stay informed and take advantage of new features as they roll them out.

Photo of Trip Adler by Spencer Brown

Carla King is a publishing and social media strategist and co-author of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Workbook, which grew out of experiences leading workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published non-fiction travel and how-to books since 1994. Her series of dispatches from motorcycle misadventures around the world are available as print books, e-books and on her website.

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