- Makerspaces Coming to Libraries (Wired) — [W]hile I’m just as sentimental about the primacy of hard copy, the librarians aren’t. As they all tell me, their job is helping with access to knowledge—not all of which comes in codex form and much of which is deeply social. Libraries aren’t just warehouses for documents; they’re places to exchange information.
- Rolling Stone Feature on Randall Munroe — When you’re talking about pure research, every year it’s a longer trip to the cutting edge. Students have to spend a larger percentage of their careers catching up to the people who have gone before them. My solution to that is to tackle problems that are so weird that no one serious has ever spent any time on them. (via BoingBoing)
- Not Safe for Working On (Dan Kaminsky) — some things that needed to be said, and which couldn’t have been said better, about security, victim shaming, and separating the 2% from the 98%.
- Generative eBook Covers — very cool (with code) system for programmatically generating aesthetic and interesting ebook covers. I particularly like the face-recognition-in-engravings look.
It's time to place a moratorium on negativity and start working toward book publishing's bright future.
Editor’s note: this piece originally appeared on Medium; it is cross-posted here with permission. The writer is an O’Reilly employee, but he is expressing his personal views. We love his optimism about the future and wanted to share it with the Radar audience.
“THAT COMPANY is destroying my P&L, the entire book industry, and the fabric of civilized society.”
“I really like their free, two-day shipping, though.”
There’s a lot of tsoris in the publishing community right now over ebooks. Much of it has something to do with THAT COMPANY WITH THE WEBSITE THAT SELLS ALL THE THINGS, how THAT COMPANY has a stranglehold on the book market, how it’s devaluing our literary canon, how it has publishers right where it wants them.
But we’re not just cranky about THAT COMPANY. Other jeremiads include — but are not limited to — the painfully slow adoption curve of EPUB 3, the demise of beloved sites like Readmill, the failure of “enhanced” ebooks to gain traction, sundry ereader feculence, stagnating ebook sales, and sideloading.
I’m a cynic by nature, and count wallowing among my favorite hobbies, but after half a decade as a software engineer in the digital publishing space, even I’ve had enough and am issuing a moratorium on the negativity! Instead, I want to talk about some of the promising trends I’ve seen develop over the past year that foretell a bright future for the digital book. Forthwith: Five reasons for optimism about the future of ebooks.
Constant KV Store, Google Me, Learned Bias, and DRM-Stripping Lego Robot
- Sparkey — Spotify’s open-sourced simple constant key/value storage library, for read-heavy systems with infrequent large bulk inserts.
- The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling (Ted Chiang) — story about what happens when lifelogs become searchable. Now with Remem, finding the exact moment has become easy, and lifelogs that previously lay all but ignored are now being scrutinized as if they were crime scenes, thickly strewn with evidence for use in domestic squabbles. (via BoingBoing)
- Algorithms Magnifying Misbehaviour (The Guardian) — when the training set embodies biases, the machine will exhibit biases too.
- Lego Robot That Strips DRM Off Ebooks (BoingBoing) — so. damn. cool. If it had been controlled by a C64, Cory would have hit every one of my geek erogenous zones with this find.
Comparing Algorithms, Programming & Visual Arts, Data Brokers, and Your Brain on Ebooks
- mlcomp — a free website for objectively comparing machine learning programs across various datasets for multiple problem domains.
- Printing Code: Programming and the Visual Arts (Vimeo) — Rune Madsen’s talk from Heroku’s Waza. (via Andrew Odewahn)
- What Data Brokers Know About You (ProPublica) — excellent run-down on the compilers of big data about us. Where are they getting all this info? The stores where you shop sell it to them.
- Subjective Impressions Do Not Mirror Online Reading Effort: Concurrent EEG-Eyetracking Evidence from the Reading of Books and Digital Media (PLOSone) — Comprehension accuracy did not differ across the three media for either group and EEG and eye fixations were the same. Yet readers stated they preferred paper. That preference, the authors conclude, isn’t because it’s less readable. From this perspective, the subjective ratings of our participants (and those in previous studies) may be viewed as attitudes within a period of cultural change.
Drone Journalism, DNS Sniffing, E-Book Lending, and Structured Data Server
- Drone Journalism — two universities in the US have already incorporated drone use in their journalism programs. The Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska and the Missouri Drone Journalism Program at the University of Missouri both teach journalism students how to make the most of what drones have to offer when reporting a story. They also teach students how to fly drones, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and ethics.
- passivedns — A network sniffer that logs all DNS server replies for use in a passive DNS setup.
- IFLA E-Lending Background Paper (PDF) — The global dominance of English language eBook title availability reinforced by eReader availability is starkly evident in the statistics on titles available by country: in the USA: 1,000,000; UK: 400,000; Germany/France: 80,000 each; Japan: 50,000; Australia: 35,000; Italy: 20,000; Spain: 15,000; Brazil: 6,000. Many more stats in this paper prepared as context for the International Federation of Library Associations.
- The god Architecture — a scalable, performant, persistent, in-memory data structure server. It allows massively distributed applications to update and fetch common data in a structured and sorted format. Its main inspirations are Redis and Chord/DHash. Like Redis it focuses on performance, ease of use and a small, simple yet powerful feature set, while from the Chord/DHash projects it inherits scalability, redundancy, and transparent failover behaviour.
Drone Burnout, Middle-Class IoT, ePUB Interactive Fiction, and Minecraft Booming
- High Levels of Burnout in US Drone Pilots (NPR) — 17 percent of active duty drone pilots surveyed are thought to be “clinically distressed.” The Air Force says this means the pilots’ stress level has crossed a threshold where it’s now affecting the pilots’ work and family. A large majority of the pilots said they’re not getting any counseling for their stress. (via Beta Knowledge)
- The Internet of Middle-Class Things (Russell Davies) — my mind keeps returning to this: you know, commercially, that a technology has succeeded when it’s used for inane middle-class tasks.
- First Draft of the Revolution (Liza Daly) — interactive fiction, playable on the web and as epub book. Very nice use of the technology!
- Minecraft for Raspberry Pi — see also Minecraft augmented reality for iOS. Minecraft is Lego for kids, and it can be a gateway drug to coding.
Developers and ereader vendors are missing an app opportunity
I read on my GlowLight NOOK much more frequently than I read on my Asus Transformer tablet. I’d say there’s at least a 10:1 differential, so for every hour I read on my tablet I read at least 10 hours on my Glowlight Nook. I’ll bet I’m not alone and people who own both an E Ink device and a tablet probably do much more reading on the former. So why is the apps ecosystem limited to tablets? Why are there no add-on apps for E Ink devices in general?
In a recent TOC newsletter we asked readers “What do you wish your ereader could do?” We received quite a few replies, but one of the more interesting ones came from a person who said they’d like to have apps like Flipboard, Zite and Pulse on their E Ink device. I found that interesting because those are the apps (along with News360) I use almost every day on my tablet. If there were Nook E Ink versions, that 10:1 ratio noted earlier would probably become 50:1 as there would be less reason for me to switch to my tablet for reading.
So why aren’t there apps like this on E Ink devices? One reason is tied to E Ink’s capabilities. Apps like Flipboard, Zite, et al, offer nice graphics and even a bit of animation. E Ink is limited to grayscale and no animation, of course. So why not create those apps without the animation and just show the images in black and white? That leads to reason No. 2: Amazon, B&N and the other E Ink device vendors aren’t encouraging third-party app development. That’s probably because they want those devices to have the highest walled gardens of all, which is a shame and a loss for consumers.
Is it too late for these vendors to reconsider and encourage third-party app development? Maybe. After all, the momentum has already swung toward tablets and away from E Ink readers. Nevertheless, as long as tablets weigh more than E Ink readers, their displays aren’t as easy on the eyes and they don’t offer significantly longer battery life, I’ll remain a two-device reading consumer. I suspect I’m not alone, so I hope an E Ink app ecosystem takes root at some point.
This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“Why Are Apps Only on Tablets?“). This version has been lightly edited.
Old ebooks and clever thinking can create new opportunities for publishers.
This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“The Used Ebook Opportunity“). This version has been lightly edited.
I’ve got quite a few ebooks in two different accounts that I’ve read and will never read again. I’ll bet you do, too. In the print world, we’d pass those along to friends, resell them or donate them to the local library. Good luck doing any of those things with an ebook.
Once you buy an ebook, you’re pretty much stuck with it. That’s yet another reason why consumers want low ebook prices. Ebooks are lacking some of the basic features of a print book, so of course they should be lower-priced. I realize that’s not the only reason consumers want low ebook prices, but it’s definitely a contributing factor. I’d be willing to pay more for an ebook if I knew I could pass it along to someone else when I’m finished with it.
The opportunity in the used ebook market isn’t about higher prices, though. It’s about expanding the ebook ecosystem.
The used print book market helps with discovery and affordability. The publisher and author already got their share on the initial sale of that book. Although they may feel they’re losing the next sale, I’d argue that the content is reaching an audience that probably wouldn’t have paid for the original work anyway, even if the used book market didn’t exist.
Rather than looking at the used book world as an annoyance, it’s time for publishers to think about the opportunities it could present for ebooks. Read more…
Subscription sales models tested, a "holy trinity" of web opportunities missed, and publishing's future assessed.
Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention this week.
Publishers test subscription model waters
TED Books launched a new app this week, TED Books for iOS, that not only allows them to sell directly to consumers, but also to experiment with a subscription sales model. Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent notes that the app also is built on the Atavist publishing platform, which allows for audio features and embedded video. Hazard Owen describes how the app sales model works:
“Readers can buy the books a la carte for $2.99 each or can purchase a subscription: $14.99 for three months of books. That price includes six books, with one new one delivered every two weeks. ‘Founding subscribers’ — those who sign up in the first 90 days — get free access to all the books in the back catalog. (Authors are paid advances and also get a royalty each time their book is downloaded.)”
Jacqui Cheng at Ars Technica took a hands-on look at the app and concluded “that book and subscription prices were right in the sweet spot, though the app itself (while functional) could use a little more polish before it becomes great.” Her observations include issues with subscribers not being able to preview content before downloading; the comment system only applies to books as a whole — there’s no way to highlight a section and comment within the book; and comments also are only viewable to those who’ve already purchased the book, not to potential book buyers. Glitches in social media sharing features, however, seemed to present the most frustrations. Cheng writes:
“I tried to share a TED Book over Facebook via the app, but when I tapped the Facebook option, a white screen came up in the center for a second and then went away. And when I tapped the Twitter button, it simply brought up a blank Twitter box like the one built into the rest of iOS. There was nothing attached — no book summary, no screenshot, not even a link to TED for my Twitter friends to click on. The e-mail sharing option only starts a new e-mail with a picture of the book cover attached. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed with the sharing options here — they almost may as well not even be included in the app for how limited they are by default.”
You can read Cheng’s entire account of the app here.
In other subscription experiment news, Next Issue launched its all-you-can-read magazine subscription app for iOS this week, a few months after launching on Android. Laura Hazard Owen reports at PaidContent that the platform currently offers 39 titles, “with more expected later this year,” and outlines the various subscription options, from $1.99 to $14.99 per month. But is it worth the money? Hazard Owen concluded that the $14.99 premium subscription ought to be a bargain for her family, “except it doesn’t include print issues and two of the magazines [they] subscribe to, Martha Stewart Living and the Economist, aren’t available, at least for now.” Lauren Indvik at Mashable also addressed the value proposition and notes: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s 2010 Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average American household spends $100 per year on reading materials, a category that includes books, newspapers and magazines.”
Value aside, is it even a model that will work in the age of digital disruption? Mathew Ingram argues at GigaOm that the biggest problem Next Issue faces is that its model of selling entire magazines doesn’t fit the way people are starting to consume content — articles-at-a-time, Flipboard style — and that the platform is “paving a cow path.” Ingram also describes the bigger picture issue that is plaguing magazines as well as newspapers:
“If Next Issue were to pull individual articles out of its magazines and collect them based on popularity or some other algorithm — or made it easy for readers to share individual articles and other content outside the walled garden of the app itself — that might make it more appealing to those who have gotten used to a Flipboard-style model for consuming content. But it’s not clear that magazine publishers would be interested in doing that. For them, the game is about increasing circulation figures so they can try to keep their advertising revenues from bottoming out as print-based revenue continues to decline.”
You can read more on Ingram’s thoughts here.