Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

The distribution of iBooks 2 content

Yesterday, Apple announced the launch of iBooks 2, and an audacious initiative to modernise the textbook industry. As part of the launch, they also announced the release of iBooks Author, a free tool for creating and publishing eBooks.

I’ve not had a chance to play with it myself yet, but it looks like a very slick, well-made and easy-to-use tool for creating interactive books — something which has been missing from the market for far too long.

I’ve seen a fair bit of negative talk on Twitter though, mainly about the terms of Apple’s SLA and how books created with iBooks Author can be distributed. The short story is that if you’re planning to sell your publication, you have to distribute it through Apple’s store — you’re forbidden from distributing through any other means. Seems to many like a dictatorial move from Apple, but David Smith has an interesting take on this:

The real story here today shouldn’t be that Apple has ‘audaciously’ claimed ownership of the books make with iBooks Author but that they have created an avenue for non-commercial distribution that would exclude thementirely. That is actually unprecedented.

If I create a textbook using iBooks Author and then decide to made it freely available to the world (à la Khan Academy) I can do that without any restriction. Simple click ‘Export’ within iBook Author and the resulting file can be distributed by any means I choose and then loaded in iBooks. The mind boggles at what things may come out of this.

All Apple is doing with this restriction is saying that if you directly profit from this free tool and platform that we have created, then we deserve our cut. Which seems entirely fair to me.

And John Gruber has followed up on this with an interesting point about the HTML5 foundation of this iBooks format:

Second, it’s about not wanting iBooks Author to serve as an authoring tool for competing bookstores like Amazon’s or Google’s. The output of iBooks Author is, as far as I can tell, HTML5 — pretty much ePub 3 with whatever nonstandard liberties Apple saw fit to take in order to achieve the results they wanted. It’s not a standard format in the sense of following a spec from a standards body like the W3C, but it’s just HTML5 rendered by WebKit — not a binary blob tied to iOS or Cocoa. It may not be easy, but I don’t think it would be that much work for anyone else with an ePub reader that’s based on WebKit to add support for these iBooks textbooks. Apple is saying, “Fuck that, unless you’re giving it away for free.”

Worth noting that Apple pitched their launch event at the education market, and they’re probably already a long way down the road with making deals with educational institutions (Apple has a track-record of quietly making individual, private deals in the education sector). Amazon et al have had a massive head-start in the ePublishing sector, but none of them have been audacious enough (or powerful enough) to make these kinds of bold moves into education.

Apple are doing a very clever thing here: they’re making efforts to put iPads into the hands of young adopters. Talk about brand exposure!

The old print model just doesn’t work

In an article comparing the latest crop of paid-for newspaper apps, Rory Cellan-Jones picks up on what is lacking from a traditional approach to publishing on digital devices: He says of The Times iPad app:

What it does not do is take advantage of those things that online products can deliver which a paper cannot. Search, for instance, is absent – trying to find out whether today’s Times has an article on a particular subject means flicking through every section.

More seriously, the app is not a “live” newspaper – what you get each morning is the edition that went to bed about the time you did. Take today’s iPad Times for instance. There is a long article about Apple and the challenges it faces from rivals now that Steve Jobs is taking sick leave.

But not only does it quote a share price that is way out of date – the 6% fall at Tuesday’s NASDAQ opening – it also fails to mention the startlingly good results published at 2130 GMT on Tuesday evening.

This shows exactly why the old print model just doesn’t translate effectively to the digital world — modern-day journalism needs to be responsive; be more relevant.

News groups appear to be groping in the dark, unsure of what readers want from an app.

What readers want from an app is what readers have been getting from the web: searchable, relevant, up-to-date journalism and content. But they want that experience to be enhanced through the use of intelligent, intuitive design which digital devices can provide.

Publishers aren’t learning from the web

Oliver Bothwell ponders the current state of publication apps on tablets, concluding that publishers just aren’t learning lessons from the web:

And now it is quite easy to see why the media apps are failing. They are all difficult to navigate requiring too many swipes, flicks and scrolls to find things. Eureka has a lovely opening navigation and the magazines have contents pages but where are the search bars? Have they learnt nothing from the web? Where are the related articles, tags and comments. They are not taking advantage of the fundamental tools available to them. Instead they are creating gimmicky apps without any real substance. Media companies are changing but without realising what is their best asset, their quality journalism and ability to edit, which they sacrifice to fads and pointless interactive content. Newspaper and magazine sales are down because the internet allows easy consumption and access to lots of information; the only way to start making money is by championing this in their apps and combining with excellent user-interface and editorial design. At the moment there isn’t an app which is better to use than the newspaper or website equivalent and this should be worrying to an ailing industry. The approach is entirely wrong; it is not the content that is the problem, it’s the way it’s being presented.

I’ve, personally, yet to find a media app which feels “right” — even the very popular and innovative Flipboard doesn’t fit the bill, for the may of the reasons that Oliver flags up: too many swipes, no way to effectively filter and search.

Murdoch set to launch a tablet-only newspaper

When NewsCorp announced that they were taking online version of The Times behind a subscription-only firewall, I was -like many – quite sneering and derogatory about the idea: a paysite for news content just seemed like such a ridiculous idea when the web is a boiling pot of free and diverse news and opinion.

But there was something about the idea which seemed quite intriguing. Aside from the ballsiness of it: whether the project fails or succeeds, it will prove to be an informative case study in present day, mainstream news consumption. And I also had an inkling that the wily Murdoch was up to something else: using The Times as a test bed for something more ambitious; something even ballsier.

And it appears my inklings were spot on. Edward Helmore at The Guardian has reported:

Rupert Murdoch, head of the media giant News Corp, and Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, are preparing to unveil a new digital “newspaper” called the Daily at the end of this month, according to reports in the US media.

The collaboration, which has been secretly under development in New York for several months, promises to be the world’s first “newspaper” designed exclusively for new tablet-style computers such as Apple’siPad, with a launch planned for early next year.

Intended to combine “a tabloid sensibility with a broadsheet intelligence”, the publication represents Murdoch’s determination to push the newspaper business beyond the realm of print.

This is big news. Really big news. Not only because Apple appear to be on board as advocates of the pilot of this kind of distribution, but because the newspaper print industry is in freefall, and is desperate to find a new, proven model for distribution which eradicates the need for lumbering, restrictive print plants. But they can’t make that jump until they can be sure that advertisers and their revenue will follow suit. The tide is ready for turning though, as Horace Dediu notes in this really insightful piece at Asymco:

But if you keep following the money from the revenue side, you realize that the situation is critical. In the US, a large part of the local paper’s revenue base was wiped out by Craig’s list. Classifieds are a fading memory. With respect to regular ads, the story is almost as bad. 26% of ad spend in 2009 was allocated to print, while only 12% of time spent consuming media was spent on it. In contrast, Internet use is at 28% of time where only 13% of ad dollars are allocated.

So, if NewsCorp jumps, and they prove successful in this new, evolving model, then surely the rest of the newspaper industry will – out of necessity and pure survival instinct – have to make the leap in our to remain viable. It’s going to be an interesting one to watch, both economically and technically. And I can’t help wondering how much Steve Jobs might be conspiring to add to Apple’s profit margins through this deal.

Tablet Reading Experience for Any Browser

This is pretty neat. The Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit research organization based has created an HTML5 project designed to make lengthy stories palatable for readers using desktop and mobile browsers. You can see a demo of it here, and Mashable have featured it in a recent article:

Content is displayed in a horizontal, widescreen format devoid of distracting banner ads and links to other content. Users can pull up a left-hand navigation bar to navigate between story sections, and click on arrows to tab between individual pages. The size and amount of text on display adjusts according to the size of the browser.

Since the template (created in conjunction with digital reading platform Treesaver) is rendered in HTML5, the format is entirely mobile-friendly, bringing the app experience not only to desktops, but to any mobile device with an up-to-date web browser as well.

It’s also significantly cheaper to produce than a mobile app for a complex operating system like iOS or Android, meaning that more news organizations will be able to render digital, app-like experiences without hiring a developer.

Really interesting to see this kind of development going on, which is in direct contrast to the walled-garden, proprietary solutions for online publication which have been adopted by the mainstream so far.

Baker ebook Framework

Baker is an open-source HTML5 ebook framework for publishing books on the iPad using open web standards. From the website:

To design for the Baker Framework you just have to build HTML5 pages with a fixed width of 768px and you can unleash the power of WebKit.

That’s all. Use your favorite tools, test it on the iPad from Safari, refine as much as you want.

It seems to have a workflow – which is being refined – which allows you to easily compile your HTML5 as an application which is ready for submission to the Apple spp store.

Mashable has a short feature on the framework:

“HTML5 is out there,” co-founder Davide Casali wrote us in an e-mail. “Why is nobody really making the convergence between the publishing industry and the web, and why are we confined to those crappy designed epubs?” he asks.

Casali and his team hope their creation will lead to more beautiful e-books and digital magazines on the iPad, and for other WebKit-enabled devices later.

Ber interesting to see how this develops and what gets created with it. I’m sure the fact that it’s being released under a BSD license will encourage plenty of experimentation.

Khoi Vinh on iPad magazine apps

Khoi Vinh on the rush of publications hitting the iPad:

My opinion about iPad-based magazines is that they run counter to how people use tablets today and, unless something changes, will remain at odds with the way people will use tablets as the medium matures. They’re bloated, user-unfriendly and map to a tired pattern of mass media brands trying vainly to establish beachheads on new platforms without really understanding the platforms at all.

The fact of the matter is that the mode of reading that a magazine represents is a mode that people are decreasingly interested in, that is making less and less sense as we forge further into this century, and that makes almost no sense on a tablet. As usual, these publishers require users to dive into environments that only negligibly acknowledge the world outside of their brand, if at all — a problem that’s abetted and exacerbated by the full-screen, single-window posture of all iPad software. In a media world that looks increasingly like the busy downtown heart of a city — with innumerable activities, events and alternative sources of distraction around you — these apps demand that you confine yourself to a remote, suburban cul-de-sac.

Adobe unveiling the Digital Design Suite

Mashable report that Adobe are about to unveil their Digital Publishing Suite, a tool which will allow publishers to create Wired-style digital magazines:

The Digital Publishing Suite will let publishers create, produce, distribute and monetize their digital magazines and content across different devices and marketplaces. The App Store is obviously the biggest target of the Digital Publishing Suite right now, but the platform is designed in such a way that it is easy to target multiple marketplaces at once.

At first glance, it looks like Adobe have thought the publishing workflow through quite well on this, with distribution, monetization and analytics built right in to the toolset – they’re obviously focused on keeping ahead of the game in this profitable area. But the authoring platform is heavily focused on InDesign, and I’m not convinced that’s the right tool for creating the next generation digital magazines: it’s a tool for creating page-based print designs, not the rich, interactive experiences we’ve come to expect.

An interesting closing comment from Christina Warren:

Thanks to desktop publishing tools, the barriers to creating professional content and layouts have really been reduced. With the App Store, and mobile devices and tablets, the distribution barrier is also breaking down, allowing more publishers — big and small — to get their content onto digital devices.

The distribution and publishing barriers were broken down a long, long time ago: HTML and PDF are much better tools for modern-day publishing. HTML5 and CSS3 blow the pants off of anything these bespoke, proprietary solutions can offer.

What If the iPad Magazine is Already Obsolete?

There seems to be a lot of coverage around the subject of magazine apps, and I found another couple of interesting articles. In one of his recent posts, Mathew Ingram considers the failings of the “walled garden” approach being taken by most publishers:

The biggest flaw for me is the total lack of acknowledgment that the device this content appears on is part of the Internet, and therefore it is possible to connect the content to other places with more information about a topic, or related material of any kind, let alone any kind of social features that allow readers to share the content with their friends. Some magazines have made some tentative steps in this direction, but so far they are few and far between. Meanwhile, Flipboard and Pulse have taken Twitter and Facebook and RSS and turned them into magazines — and much more appealing ones in many ways.

Navneet Alang goes one step further and questions the relevance of editorial magazines in the online space:

But another necessary question is this: What is the magazine? After all, other than its physical dimensions, what unites PeopleThe New Yorker or Tennis? What really seems to unite a magazine into a coherent whole isn’t subject matter. The same magazine could contain a column on politics and a recipe. No, what turns a magazine into a single entity with a name is editorial focus: what the overarching purpose of the magazine is. It’s the idea of a magazine as a single editorial entity that makes it work.

But here’s the problem: the web allows you to collect and gather your own content from many many different sources, putting together your own set of things to read based on your interests and desires and social network. It is the opposite of a magazine. Instead of one entity providing all the coverage on a given topic, the web allows you to cull from multiple sources to put together your own collection of things you’re interested in.

Is the iPad Really the Savior of the Newspaper Industry?

In-depth analysis from Mashable about the current state of newspaper applications for mobile devices. There’s nothing conclusive in the article, but it does include some interesting tidbits and some startling facts and figures:

The Harrison Group survey found that tablet users spend nearly 75% more time reading newspapers and newspaper articles, and 25% more time reading books. Those surveyed were apparently so convinced by the digital delivery and form factor, that 81% of tablet owners believe that it is inevitable that all forms of publications will eventually be produced almost exclusively in a digital format.

Those are some pretty compelling and encouraging numbers for content creators. So why are so many of the current apps failing to make the grade?

After looking at a variety of newspaper iPad apps, our main complaint — and we’re generalizing across the entire market — is that they don’t take enough advantage of the iPad’s wowing capabilities.

Uh-oh.

The solution could be found in a new “hybrid newspaper app” suggests Fidler, in which “automated sections with continuously updated news stories and more visually rich magazine-like sections created by editors and designers could coexist.” The Reynolds Journalism Institute is experimenting with exactly that kind of new publishing model.

The NAA also acknowledges the need for newspapers to “differentiate” content, and digital strategist Levitz says that consumers read longer-form content on the iPad, and they really enjoy the high quality of the visual images on the screen. She thinks newspapers can thrive in the tablet space if they take advantage of the device’s capabilities.

So essentially, what’s being said here is “people like pretty pictures and clicky, whizzy, shiny things.” This is where so many publishers and analysts seem to be missing the point. The IPad’s wow factors aren’t it’s ability to show high-quality imagery, nor it’s slick animations. The iPad’s wow factors are it’s pick-up-ability, it’s tactile and responsive interface, it’s ability to connect your offline world seamlessly with your online world.

So many newspaper publishers got it so wrong when they tried to transition from print to the web. They failed to innovate; failed to adapt their business models; failed to see the value in their content and the power of their readers. Amid that disruption, they appear to be about to make the same mistakes again: failing to innovate, failing to adapt; failing to realise that their content has become even more valuable, and their readers ever more powerful.