Ebook/Ereader Technical

Doubling Down on DRM

17 July 2014

From Cory Doctorow via Publishers Weekly:

I’ve just seen a letter sent to an author who has published books under Hachette’s imprints in some territories and with Tor Books and its sister companies in other territories (Tor is part of Macmillan). The letter, signed by Little, Brown U.K. CEO Ursula Mackenzie, explains to the author that Hachette has “acquired exclusive publication rights in our territories from you in good faith,” but warns that in other territories, Tor’s no-DRM policy “will make it difficult for the rights granted to us to be properly protected.” Hachette’s proposed solution: that the author insist Tor use DRM on these titles. “We look forward to hearing what action you propose taking.”

The letter also contains language that will apparently be included in future Hachette imprint contracts, language that would require authors to “ensure that any of his or her licensees of rights in territories not licensed under this agreement” will use DRM.

It’s hard to say what’s more shocking to me: the temerity of Hachette to attempt to dictate terms to its rivals on the use of anti-customer technology, or the evidence-free insistence that DRM has some nexus with improving the commercial fortunes of writers and their publishers. Let’s just say that Hachette has balls the size of Mars if it thinks it can dictate what other publishers do with titles in territories where it has no rights.

. . . .

The truth is that anyone who wants to avail herself of a Hachette e-book title without paying for it will have no problem doing so. DRM doesn’t stop people who scan books, or retype books. DRM doesn’t stop people who download widely available cracks that can remove all the DRM from an entire e-book collection. And DRM doesn’t stop people who are inclined to download the DRM-free pirate editions. All DRM does is punish legitimate users who had the misfortune to be so honest that they paid for the book, rather than taking it.

Hachette’s letter claims, “Improvements in retailer systems and e-book platforms has led to more flexible DRM which grants the consumer” (this being the odious term the letter uses in place of “the reader”) “greater flexibility in their use of purchased files, such as the ability to share across multiple devices.”

Devices, perhaps. But not across multiple platforms. With the exception of the Kindle Reader app, or the Nook app, available in Apple’s App Store and Google Play, there is no way to read e-books across platforms. And recently, we got a reminder as to what happens when Apple decides that an app is eating into its profits: out it goes. Just last week, Apple stopped bundling the YouTube player with its devices as part of its ongoing war with Google.

. . . .

Readers aren’t stupid. When they discover that paying for books results in locked, crippled editions, and downloading for free (simply by typing the title and “free e-book” into Google or Pirate Bay) gets them the same book, minus the offensive restrictions, they start to put two and two together. After all, DRM is not a selling point. There’s no one who’s ever bought a book because it had DRM. No one has ever clicked onto Amazon saying, “I wonder if there’s any way I can buy a book that offers less than the books I’ve been buying all my life.” People buy DRM e-books because they have no choice, or because they don’t care about it, or because they don’t know it’s there. But DRM never leads to a sale.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to SMH for the tip.

Five reasons for optimism about the future of ebooks

1 July 2014

From Medium:

“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.”

“Me too.”

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.

#1: Ebook standards development is flourishing

I think there’s a tendency in publishing circles to look at EPUB 3 as some sort of digital-book endgame (e.g., “When NOOK finally fully supports EPUB 3, I can upgrade my entire ebook catalog”), when in reality, it’s merely a precondition for the real cutting-edge work to come.

EPUB 3 set the stage for avant-garde ebook development by opening the door to embedding (X)HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript within an ebook container, but the next stage of evolution in the EPUB specification is about further leveraging standards to mainstream this innovation.

. . . .

#4: Might the tide be turning against DRM?

When Tom Doherty, publisher of Tor Books, announced at IDPF Digital Book 2014 that Tor had eliminated DRM from its ebooks and had seen no significant detrimental impact on sales, the audience erupted in a loud cheer.

I took this as a hopeful sign that publishers are perhaps becoming more receptive to the notion that DRM is maybe not so much the solution to safeguarding ebook sales, but in fact the problem. In his 2011 dispatch, “Cutting their own throats,” author Charlie Stross put it thusly:

As ebook sales mushroom, the Big Six’s insistence on DRM has proven to be a hideous mistake. Rather than reducing piracy…it has locked customers in [THAT COMPANY WITH THE WEBSITE THAT SELLS ALL THE THINGS’s] walled garden, which in turn increases [THAT COMPANY’s] leverage over publishers….If the big six began selling ebooks without DRM, readers would at least be able to buy from other retailers and read their ebooks on whatever platform they wanted, thus eroding [THAT COMPANY’s] monopoly position.

In addition to fostering a more competitive ebook retail landscape, I believe dropping DRM from ebooks will help lead to more competition, and thus innovation, in ereader software. When the ebook point of sale is decoupled from the platform on which the product is consumed, customers have the freedom to choose retailer independent of ereader, and vice versa. Regardless of where they purchase their ebooks, they can choose the reading system that has the features they like best—e.g., best CSS3 support, best open annotation functionality (see #1, above), or best accessibility for those with visual disabilities.

I hope more and more publishers will be swayed by the case against DRM and follow Tor’s lead, or at least consider that the benefits DRM affords in terms of the illusion of piracy prevention might be outweighed by unfavorable market effects and diminished customer satisfaction.

Link to the rest at Medium and thanks to Rich for the tip.

Removing Roadblocks to Community: Tom Doherty on DRM

29 May 2014

From Tor.com:

“Ultimately it comes down to the desire to be where our customers are, to play fair with them in the assumption that they’ll play fair with us. And you know something? It’s worked.”

Tor Books president and publisher Tom Doherty had a lot to say during his speech at the International Digital Publishing Forum at this year’s 2014 Book Expo of America, but the main item on the agenda was Tor/Forge Books’ decision to strip Digital Rights Management software from the ebook versions of their titles and whether, two years later, that decision has had any negative impact.

In the case of Tor Books it appears that it hasn’t, but as Doherty pointed out in today’s speech, the implications of DRM go beyond the financial impact to publishers, authors, and readers. Insidiously, it chips away at the very connectivity that the entire publishing community has always relied upon.

. . . .

During the speech, the publisher related a story about how the success of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time was built on the excitement that every aspect of that publishing community brought forth:

“…like any #1 fan, I just wanted the whole world to know about this story, this world [Jordan] was creating. From page one of Jordan’s first Wheel of Time book “The Eye of the World,” at about the length of a novella, there was a natural breakpoint. To that point there was a satisfying story that really involved me. There was no way I was going to stop there and I didn’t think others would either. So we printed I think it was 900,000, long novella-length samplers, and gave them to booksellers in 100-copy floor displays to be given free to their customers. We gave them to fans with extras to give to friends, to semi-pros, and readers at conventions and anyone in the publishing community who we thought would feel the excitement that we felt. [...] We’re a community of many people, many of them here to talk about the stories that we find to be terrific.”

And from there you get #1 New York Times bestselling writers like Brandon Sanderson, notably inspired by The Wheel of Time. You get communities like Tor.com, where readers have been talking non-stop about the fiction that excites them. You get authors like Jo Walton finding new fans by engaging in a substantive manner with those communities. Although we now have digital spaces to house this kind of interaction, it has always been taking place in the physical spaces of the science fiction/fantasy publishing community, Doherty argued. It is, in fact, “a connection they make naturally. Barriers, whether it’s DRM or something else, disrupt these natural connections.”

. . . .

And from a marketplace perspective, it appears that Tor Books has achieved the same results. In a decisive statement, Doherty declared:

“…the lack of DRM in Tor ebooks has not increased the amount of Tor books available online illegally, nor has it visibly hurt sales.”

Link to the rest at Tor.com and thanks to Laura for the tip.

Indie Writers: Make MS Word Work for You Instead of Against You

20 May 2014

From TPV regular JW Manus:

It always saddens me a little when a writer sends me an overly formatted Word doc to turn into an ebook or print-on-demand. It’s not that I have to clean it up–I can strip and flip the messiest files in less than an hour. What bugs me is how much thought and effort the writer wasted on utterly useless manuscript styling.

. . . .

The majority of writers I work with use Word. The vast majority have no idea how to use Word for their own benefit. I understand. I was a fiction writer for over two decades and even though I have been using computers and a variety of word processing programs since the late ’80s, it wasn’t until I started learning book production that I figured out how those programs worked. Why would I? All I needed was a printed manuscript in standard format to mail to my editor. Word processors made that easy.

Now I produce books for digital and print, and those old ways of “thinking print” make the writer’s job harder. Especially indie writer/publishers who might be doing it all alone or working with contractor editors and proofreaders and formatters.

. . . .


  • Tabs
  • Page breaks
  • Headers
  • Footers
  • Page Numbers
  • More than one space for any reason
  • More than two hard returns for any reason
  • Multiple fonts
  • Text boxes
  • Justification

. . . .

The most useful styles for the fiction writer are: Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2.

  • Normal: apply to the body of your text. Set your paragraph indents, line spacing, and font. Never worry about spacing, margins and indents again.
  • Heading 1 & 2: apply to titles, chapter heads or sections. Bonus: Word will automatically list your headings in the navigation window. No more scrolling through a long document to find a specific chapter or section. Another Bonus: Ebook conversion programs recognize heading styles. Some, like Calibre, will automatically build a table of contents for you based on headings 1 & 2.

Additional styles fiction writers might find useful:

  • Emphasis: Remember, styles apply to paragraphs. “Emphasis” is italics. If your entire paragraph is italicized, use “emphasis”.
  • Strong: “Strong” is bold.
  • Custom style–”Center”: Instead of clicking on the icon for centering, create a style sheet. Makes life easy.
  • Poetry: For poetry, quotes, lyrics, anything you want with different margins and font style.

. . . .

When I’m working on a project, I might have four, five, ten versions of a file. If I’m making major formatting changes, I NEVER EVER mess with my source file. Let’s say I want a printed version. I do a Save As to make a new version that is named Print_Docname_date. Then I apply headers/footers, page numbers, page breaks and modify my styles to make it suitable for printing. My original source file remains unchanged and ready to use. Using Save As is the best habit you can get into while you’re working. (And it’s not like you’re having to save your work to floppy disks–your computer has lots of space. Use it!)

. . . .

Forsake print view and get used to web view while you work. This view is flexible (flow text) and enables you to easily display multiple screens and compare text while you work. You can adjust the width of your screen, too, and not lose chunks of text or reduce the image size in order to see everything.

Link to the rest at JW Manus where there are lots more good tips.

PG gave this post his highest honor – saving it to Evernote for future reference.

Enjoying OverDrive e-books from the Indianapolis Public Library

19 May 2014

From TeleRead:

One of the great things about being in Indianapolis is having the Indianapolis Public Library’s main branch just a few blocks away. It’s a gorgeous place, with plenty of books and excellent facilities. One of those facilities I like the most is an extensive OverDrive e-book collection.

. . . .

The library allows you to choose to check out a book for 1, 2, or 3 weeks, and you can have up to 25 out at a time. You find the book you want, hit the checkout button, then choose the format and hit “download.” (I went with EPUB rather than Kindle.)

Your browser downloads an ACSM file that triggers Adobe Digital Editions to get the book, and boom, there it is on your computer. You can read it in ADE, or (I believe, didn’t try it) use ADE to sync it to any e-readers you have that are compatible with ADE. It shows up right there in your “My Digital Editions” folder in Documents, if you’re using Windows.

. . . .

My one concern about it is something that hasn’t changed since the last time I took a close look at e-book library systems. The library e-book DRM is still exactly as easy to crack as regular purchased-book DRM—because it’s the exact same DRM. If you have a certain popular plug-in for Calibre, all you have to do is drag and drop.

How can publishers still believe DRM is even remotely effective if you don’t even have to buy the book to crack it? And honestly, I would be inclined to believe that libraries are costing publishers some e-book sales; the same people who crack e-books they buy to back them up could just as easily crack e-books they check out to own them.

And honestly, I don’t know if there’s any solution to that. It’s been years and years since the first e-book DRM systems were developed and they’re still laughably ineffective.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Tackling the Limits of Touch Screens

19 May 2014

From The New York Times:

Touch screens are ubiquitous on tablets and smartphones, but their flat glass surfaces can hinder close reading and accurate typing. People flipping through electronic pages often retain less of what they read than on printed ones, studies suggest. And typing on a flat surface with no physical keys to guide the fingers requires heightened visual attention to avoid typos, draining concentration from the thoughts being expressed.

Companies are trying to address these problems with new tools adapted from the analog world of three-dimensional typewriter keys, tactile paper pages, and pop quizzes on the blackboard.

. . . .

Many people who type on flat glass screens must keep their eyes focused on the surface to hit the correct key, he said. “It’s not just that visual attention is needed,” he added, “but a lot of visual attention.”

That means less focus on the act of composition, said Erik Wästlund, a senior lecturer in psychology at Karstad University in Sweden who specializes in the readability of electronic text.

. . . .

Accurate typing isn’t the only problem with touch screens and their fleeting electronic pages. Many studies suggest that people’s memory and comprehension are often better when they read long passages on paper than on screen, said Mariette DiChristina, editor in chief of Scientific American, which in August held a conference on learning in the digital age.

But electronic textbooks are incorporating ways to compensate for this, Ms. DiChristina said, “so that you are spacing what you are learning over time with feedback — right or wrong — to immediately help you understand what you know and what you don’t know.”

Old-fashioned pop quizzes can be inserted effectively into e-pages.

. . . .

 Another problem with touch screens’ transitory images is that they don’t help students create a mental map of what they’ve read and what’s to come — an overview that is known to be useful in memory. “You might remember that something you read yesterday in the paper was in the middle of the page, or in the right corner,” Dr. Wästlund said. “Even though you haven’t tried to memorize position, you have built this internal model” — like the page layout of a newspaper. That kind of cognitive map or physical landscape into which readers fit new knowledge is much harder to build with fleeting e-pages.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

US Navy-Issue ‘NeRD’ E-Reader Has No Ports or Wi-Fi, But Is Full of Books

9 May 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

The latest twist on the e-reader is a device headed for sailors on U.S. Navy vessels. The Navy eReader Device, aka NeRD, will come pre-loaded with hundreds of books, and it had better, because it has no ports, no card readers and no Wi-Fi connectivity. NeRD is designed this way to address the security issues, space constraints and lack of wireless Internet common aboard military ships.

Not only is there limited room for paper books onboard a naval vessel, but devices that rely on Wi-Fi or physical connections may be hard to reload, or worse, could be conduits for malicious software and other security threats.

. . . .

 The content consists mainly of newer bestsellers and public-domain classics, as well as titles from the Navy reading list and other texts for professional development.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Ebook Enhancements, Take Two: Shorter, Less Sparkly, More Functional

6 May 2014

From A New Kind of Book:

Ebook readers have made their preferences clear. Video extras, background audio, virtual tours of the author’s workspace: No thanks, say buyers. So-called “enhanced ebooks” have generated a reaction similar to New Coke’s reception: a “massive withdrawal of enthusiasm” (so said a Coke exec, in a massive, if admirably clever, bit of truth telling). Is ebook innovation over? Is the finely polished print replica all there is to the digital publishing revolution? Not from where I sit.

I spot five likely areas where we’ll soon see ebooks exceed the appeal of print.

. . . .

Start Screen

The table of contents presents a pretty dry and rigid itinerary to a book. Why not showcase, in addition to this traditional list, other points of entry? Why not spotlight noteworthy excerpts and key claims for those of us unwilling to commit a full 20 hours (or however long it takes to read a full book). Some possibilities:

  • Best Bits. A dozen or so book review-worthy passages or anecdotes that are the author’s favorites. Bonus points to designs that emulate magazine cover, print ad, and web design best practices. Think: rotating image galleries (with provocative pullquotes artfully postioned); typographically embellished quotes; and so on.
  • The Gist. A succinct account of the book’s main claims. We see this kind of write-up all the time in book reviews, blog posts, and tweets. Why not include the writer’s own version, giving her a chance to promulgate an authorized depiction of what she’s actually saying.

. . . .

‘To Go’ Packets

For the clever quip I want to make on Twitter, inside a slideshow presentation at my next conference talk, in an email to my daughter. What I want my books to deliver more seamlessly, less cumbersomely, are grab ’n go portions. Sure, sure: I can, on most ebooks, select a passage and then share to Facebook, then go to my Kindle highlights web page, then copy the text — come on! Seriously? With all the competition for my attention these days, books can’t afford to make sharing the best of themselves so hard.

. . . .

Phase one of the ebook revolution is over. We now have high-quality replicas of print books easily available on good-enough reading machines. We got sidetracked in phase two, led astray by how easy those machines made it to add more stuff: videos, audio, in-book social media gewgaws. Time for a reset. Let’s use software smarts to enable new and heretofore unmatched feats of reader-friendly utility. Let’s make our ebooks smarter, faster, better. 

Link to the rest at A New Kind of Book

Self-Publishing #Fails

6 May 2014

From Joel Friedlander:

As an author said to me last night, “This self-publishing is a lot of work, it’s hard.”

Hey, at least she has good advice and people to call on. It’s the other people I worry about, the ones who don’t know when they are poised to step right in something unpleasant, something that might require some real effort to get rid of.

Yes, it’s the Self-Publishing #Fails.

. . . .

1. Formatting for beginners.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been handed 2 books by their authors that really made my heart sink. Why? In each case the author was a professional, highly educated, well-informed and determined to create a book worthy of commercial publication.

Problem? They had each found a “semi-pro” book formatter to create their nonfiction book interiors. How do I know they were “semi-pro”? Immediately I saw things like blank right-hand pages, running heads on blank pages, an entire book typeset with hyphenation set to “off,” inappropriate visual spacing, all the usual suspects.

. . . .

3. Is That Cover Yours or Mine?

An author in the popular paranormal romance genre was just getting started in her career. She studied all the blogs that other writers in her peer group wrote, and learned how to put together a book for print on demand publishing.

She wanted a distinctive cover treatment, especially because she was launching a series, with the intent to publish a whole line of books with the same characters appearing in different settings and combinations.

So the whole representation of the story on the front cover of the first books was of a lot of concern.

She found an artist who specialized in illustrations for book covers, and the two had a great working relationship.

Together, they came up with a beautiful cover, attractive typography, and a custom illustration that truly represented the whole work.

Everyone was happy.

But then a funny thing happened. The book, and it’s sequel, started to get really popular, selling tens of thousands of copies.

When the author got back in touch with the illustrator for a new cover for the next book, she also got a shock.

The illustrator let the author know that she now owed more money for the first illustrations, and that the new illustrations were going to cost a lot more, like triple the original cost.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Screens on the Subway: The Rolling Library Is Going Digital

28 April 2014

From The Millions:

At 8 a.m. on a recent Monday, my first morning back in New York City after a year and a half away, I looked up from my newspaper – a Wall Street Journal, given away for free at my Financial District hotel – and saw that I was the only rider on the R train leaving South Ferry at the base of Manhattan reading print. Every other rider on the subway car was staring at a screen.

In 2004, when I first moved to Brooklyn, the commute on the New York subways was a world of paper. In the evenings most people read books or magazines, and in the morning it was newspapers. Riders from the outermost neighborhoods read the Post and the Daily Newswhile those closer in read the Times and the Journal, fussily folding the broadsheet pages into quarters for easy reading on crowded trains.

. . . .

A decade later, like real libraries across the country, New York’s rolling library is going digital. That first morning on the R train turned out to be an extreme example, but on every train I rode during my week back in New York, screens outnumbered printed pages, sometimes by a factor of two to one. When I’ve peeked, some of those screens have been displaying news stories and magazine pages and even a few books, but far more often my fellow subway riders were watching TV shows or playing Candy Crush on their phones.

None of this should come as a surprise, of course. The demise of the printed newspaper is by now very old news and it’s hard to imagine a venue where the shift from printed pages to screens makes more sense than on a crowded subway. Still, the speed and starkness of the change is a shock.

. . . .

When we talk about books, we tend to think in terms of great works of art and forget that for most people books, like newspapers and magazines, are merely a handy thing to have around for that idle moment when there isn’t something else better to do. Now, more and more often, those idle moments – on subway cars, on airplanes, in dentist’s offices – are being filled by games and movies and social media. By screens.

Link to the rest at The Millions

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