How the Web Became Unreadable

22 October 2016

From Backchannel:

It’s been getting harder for me to read things on my phone and my laptop. I’ve caught myself squinting and holding the screen closer to my face. I’ve worried that my eyesight is starting to go.

These hurdles have made me grumpier over time, but what pushed me over the edge was when Google’s App Engine console — a page that, as a developer, I use daily — changed its text from legible to illegible. Text that was once crisp and dark was suddenly lightened to a pallid gray. Though age has indeed taken its toll on my eyesight, it turns out that I was suffering from a design trend.

There’s a widespread movement in design circles to reduce the contrast between text and background, making type harder to read. Apple is guilty. Google is, too. So is Twitter.

Typography may not seem like a crucial design element, but it is. One of the reasons the web has become the default way that we access information is that it makes that information broadly available to everyone. “The power of the Web is in its universality,” wrote Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web consortium. “Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

But if the web is relayed through text that’s difficult to read, it curtails that open access by excluding large swaths of people, such as the elderly, the visually impaired, or those retrieving websites through low-quality screens. And, as we rely on computers not only to retrieve information but also to access and build services that are crucial to our lives, making sure that everyone can see what’s happening becomes increasingly important.

. . . .

For example: Apple’s typography guidelines suggest that developers aim for a 7:1 contrast ratio. But what ratio, you might ask, is the text used to state the guideline? It’s 5.5:1.

. . . .

 The original web browser, built by Berners-Lee in 1989, used crisp black typeon a white background, with links in a deep blue. That style became the default settings on the NeXT machine. And though the Mosaic browser launched in 1993 with muddy black-on-gray type, by the time it popularized across the web, Mosaic had flipped to clear black text over white.

Link to the rest at Backchannel

Fixing the Broken Experience of Genre Fiction Retail Online

16 October 2016

From Digital Book World:

For years, the numbers have been telling us that digital adoption among genre fiction readers is at least double that of the general and literary fiction reading audience. In fact, a recent report shows that romance, for example, makes up only 4.4 percent of print sales in the US, but a whopping 45 percent of all ebook sales. Stat after stat and survey after survey have shown similar trends for crime, fantasy and even YA (young adult) books. Yet we still seem to be trying to fit digital readers into one singular mold when we think of innovation in book tech.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried buying a book in your favorite genre but find you have to drill down three or four categories on your online bookstore website to get to the ones you want? The high-spending “whales” of reading who have cultivated specific bookish interests with time and are most particular about the titles they like have the most cumbersome shopping experience. This applies equally to readers of ebooks as well as those shopping for their print titles online.

The existing retail system, which is essentially a clickable catalogue dump of all books ever created, is flawed, and the romance, fantasy and crime readers buying in droves are doing so in spite of this broken experience.

. . . .

A good example of the attempts to court romance readers is Simon & Schuster’s Crave app, which connects popular authors with dedicated fans through daily book segments and multimedia content. Whether or not this particular formula works, book hangovers among series readers can be harsh, and this lingering connection to a book universe and its characters is certainly an avenue to be explored by publishers for greater digital immersion (and monetization).

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Why paper road maps won’t die

16 October 2016

From The BBC:

How did we manage to get from point A to B before GPS and navigation apps — especially when such journeys were long distances?

In sprawling, car-happy America, many motorists used TripTiks. Paper guides bound by plastic spirals, they were personalised trip planners, lovingly compiled by actual human beings who would take into consideration your personal tastes, sense of adventure, even your travel budget. It was, and still is, a service the American Automobile Association (AAA) gave to its members for free.

It was a blow-by-blow map and guide, tailor-made for your road trip. And it also gave scenic drive suggestions, construction warnings, food and lodging locations, and even off-the-beaten-path attractions, from pumpkin patches to kazoo museums.

You can probably guess where this is going: In the age of the internet, Google Maps, Wikitravel, digital mapping technology and GPS navigation, one could argue the TripTik, and other paper guides of its ilk, are dead.

But in fact, the TripTik has never been more popular. And that’s indicative of bigger trends happening across the world that are flying in the face of the digital publishing revolution that’s sapped the life force of paper books, newspapers and magazines for over a decade.

. . . .

Ask any millennial-or-older American how his or her family navigated their way from, say, Milwaukee to Orlando, and you’ll likely learn that any road trip began with a stop at the local AAA branch.

There, a TripTik technician would have collected a stack of maps and drew — from memory! — the exact route you’d need to follow in neon highlighter, noting amusement parks, scenic byways, public toilets, restaurants and historic attractions along the way.

. . . .

By the early 1900s, car ownership was in full swing, and AAA’s maps were drawn specifically with car drivers in mind.

Sure, rudimentary maps existed at the time, but they weren’t much help to the growing number of drivers hitting the road — about 23,000 automobiles were registered in the US. AAA’s first maps were large cards depicting certain regions with “good roads” for motorists marked in red.

It wasn’t until 1937 that TripTiks as many American drivers know them — those spiral-bound notebooks filled with colourful maps — were introduced. They were compiled and customised by highly trained travel technicians who marked entire routes from start to finish in vibrant neon highlighter, all while viewing the map upside down (which was necessary, of course, so the customer sitting opposite the technician could see the map right-side up).

Mike Camarano was one of those technicians in the 1970s, working part time while pursuing a degree in geography. When he first began building TripTiks for AAA clients, Camarano was assigned routes that were relatively simple to navigate — the clear-cut drives that involved popular destinations and straightforward “master routes”, which technicians were expected to memorise. After he got the hang of the more basic trips, he started marking routes for more complicated trips for clients with adventurous tastes.

. . . .

Camarano held a number of other jobs at the auto club, including road reporter. He was responsible for driving for months at a time, documenting road conditions and reporting back to the office — a job that was unique to the organisation and to the time period, a sort of mix of travel agent and cartographer. He even specialised in gas, food and lodging for a spell. At one point in his career, Camarano’s job was “to get off at every exit to see what sort of amenities were offered”, log all the info and report back his findings to the central office.

. . . .

July 2016 was the most popular TripTik month in AAA’s history, issuing 2 million TripTiks to members in a single month.

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to T.K. for the tip.

Who Will Save Us From Our Screens?

15 October 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

Earlier this summer, Publishers Weekly reported on the surprising decline of e-book sales and on whether this signaled the first pangs of digital fatigue. Certainly, we all seem to be getting digitally exhausted these days. There are emails to check, Facebook posts to like, Instagram photos to upload, Tinder and Grinder profiles to swipe, emojis to learn, and endless text messages. We spend our days navigating tangled links of spam and clickbait to finally return to our beds at night—where we unwind by spending hours scrolling through social media posts.

Digital fatigue isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s simply our immune system responding to a decade of hyperconnectivity. And yet it doesn’t look like we’re at a place of total exhaustion. If anything, we seem to be growing increasingly addicted to our devices. I find myself checking my phone five times a day—or 20, or 30. Before bed I check one last time, and upon waking, I log in to see what messages I’ve missed.

. . . .

 Though it’s tempting to think the next generation is turning away from the seduction of cyberspace, the drop-off in e-readers may have less to do with a wish to return to books than a general lack of desire to read at all. Perhaps I’m jaundiced from a decade of teaching, but I hear the daily complaints of millennials when I assign an essay longer than five pages. The 20-plus-page stories of Baldwin, Chekhov, and Kafka are skimmed, and my creative-writing classes have to be weaned from producing stories based on television plots. When I ask students about their reading habits, they mention having a couple of tabs open at a time—the assigned PDF class reading in one, the latest episode of Game of Thrones playing on low volume in another.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Page-flip messing up KU page reporting?

6 October 2016

From Randall in the comments to Amazon is intermittently admitting to errors in its KU page reporting:

It appears that it may be tied to the new page-flip feature they rolled out back in June or July. Evidently you can download a book, read the entire thing in page-flip mode, and it will only register as ONE page read. Several people are trying it with their own books and they all report the same thing.

So, probably not a huge issue to fix for the future, but what to do about all those lost page reads?

The Indie E-Books Evolution

24 September 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

Indie authors are finding that now is a good time to dive into e-books. As readers continue to embrace the format, e-book platforms expand their offerings, and indie authors get savvier with the technology, authors and publishers are seeing more opportunities—but also a fair number of challenges—in the self-published e-book market.

At the beginning of September, Pew Research Center reported that 28% of U.S. adults had read an e-book in the past year—a five-point increase from four years ago. Additionally, earlier this year Technavio predicted that the e-book market in the U.S. would grow by almost 14% between now and 2020—surpassing $13 billion.

BookWorks founder and CEO Betty Kelly Sargent says members of her self-publishing association are embracing the format in ever-greater numbers. “E-book technology is the magic bullet for indie authors,” she says. She adds that members use the format to “make their books accessible to a worldwide audience [and] give their out-of-print books a new life by making them available again as e-books when the original rights have reverted to the author.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Google Books will now make better suggestions on what to read next

22 September 2016

From TechCrunch:

Google today is launching a new feature for Google Books which aims to offer a better challenge to Amazon’s Kindle app when it comes to helping you find new things to read. Called “Discover,” this new section in the Google Books application will help point users to new content, including both personalized suggestions as well as other recommendations based on what’s currently popular with the wider community.

Amazon, of course, has historically offered personalized recommendations in Kindle’s software as well as across its website. In its Kindle app, Amazon highlights books you may want to read based on your prior shopping history.

Google Books’ recommendations will work much in the same way. The company says it will offer up new stories based on what you read on Google Books. However, it will also automatically suggest books that are mentioned in an article or mentioned in a video you watch, elsewhere in the app – like in the new “Weekly Highlights” section.

. . . .

For comparison’s sake, Amazon’s “Book Browser” is the primary way Kindle mobile app users would find new content, but it’s more of a categorical listing of books. For example, beyond the suggestions powered by your shopping history, the app may showcase things like “Books with Narration,” or “Trending Now” selections, but not much more. Other book categories are found at the bottom of the screen, but only as standard navigation.

Meanwhile, Amazon has largely failed to capitalize on its Goodreads acquisition as a means of adding a more social experience when it comes to discovery and recommendations. In fact, the Kindle app’s latest update just oddly crammed a tiny “Goodreads” button on top of the “All Items” screen, so you can tap to see updates from that network.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Bailey for the tip.

Today Is International Read an Ebook Day

16 September 2016

From Digital Book World:

Ebooks provide a simple way to give readers instant access to what they want to read. And to celebrate digital reading, Overdrive is hosting its annual international Read an Ebook Day today, September 16.

Throughout the day, readers have a chance to win a tablet by sharing what they’re reading, pictures of what they’re reading, or stories about ebooks by using the hashtag #eBookLove on readanebookday.com, Facebook and Twitter.

Readers are also encouraged to take part in, according to Overdrive, “the largest digital reading event,” by borrowing ebooks from their local library.

A recent study conducted by Overdrive showed that ebook usage is on the rise, and that new users are using libraries for their digital reading because of their broad selection of titles and 24/7 access.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

It’s official — ebooks really are books and Euro tax could plummet

14 September 2016

From author Roger Packer:

Ebooks are books rather than ‘electronically supplied services’, the European Union has ruled.

The move means that member countries of the EU will be free to slash VAT (valued-added tax) on ebooks which have been hit by high rates of tax.

Some European countries have lower rates of VAT on print books than for other products and services, where the tax is generally somewhere between 15% and 20%. For example, in the UK (which has voted to quit the EU), print books are zero-rated and incur no VAT while ebooks have a 20% surcharge slapped on them.

However, this 20% tax was applied more as an admonishment to tech firms such as Amazon and Google, which have been seen as dodging VAT by funnelling sales through the low-tax territory of Luxembourg, so it remains to be seen whether the UK, which is the second-biggest ebook market, will actually make any move to cut the ebook tax, whether it’s a member of the EU or not. This could place publishers in the difficult position of facing higher ebook taxes in the UK than in the EU.

Link to the rest at Roger Packer and thanks to Lexi for the tip.

Here’s a link to Roger Packer’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

A Return to Print? Not Exactly

7 September 2016

From Bloomberg:

E-books are not taking over the world! That seems pretty clear from a Pew Research Center survey released last week, which showed that the percentage of Americans who read digital books hasn’t risen since 2014.

. . . .

The survey didn’t show any real sign of a print resurgence either, though. Overall, the percentage of Americans consuming books in any form appears to be trending modestly downward. By holding steady, e-books are thus gaining a bit of ground over print.

This is not exactly the “return to print” story that the nation’s book publishers have been telling lately. Yes, the Association of American Publishers reported in June that physical book sales were up in 2015, and that sales in brick-and-mortar bookstores rose, too. The percentage of people who read books is down a little, but the people who do read books are buying more of them. That’s what one should expect of a mature industry in an improving economy — which is certainly better than being in a rapidly declining industry like newspaper publishing.

The AAP also reported, though, that e-book revenue was down 11.3 percent in 2015 and unit sales down 9.7 percent. That’s where things get misleading. Yes, the established publishing companies that belong to the AAP are selling fewer e-books. But that does not mean fewer e-books are being sold. Of the top 10 books on Amazon’s Kindle bestseller list when I checked last week, only two (“The Light Between Oceans” and “The Girl on the Train,” both mass-market reissues of novels that have just been made into movies) were the products of major publishers. All the rest were genre novels (six romances, two thrillers) published either by the author or by an in-house Amazon imprint. Their prices ranged from 99 cents to $4.99.

. . . .

Book publishers are what business-school professors call two-sided platforms, or two-sided markets. They’re selling books to readers, but also selling publishing services to authors. When it comes to e-books, the established publishers are choosing not to offer a very good deal to either. After Amazon’s early experiment with limiting Kindle prices to $9.99, publishers now set the prices, and for prominent new books they’re often in the $12.99 to $14.99 range — not much less than the discounted hardcover price on Amazon. And even though publishers spend a lot less to produce and distribute e-books than paper ones, they generally don’t offer authors a bigger cut of the proceeds.

The publishers have instead chosen to prioritize physical books, and you can’t entirely blame them. Most book buyers still seem to prefer reading books on paper (I do, unless I’m traveling), and keeping physical bookstores alive seems like a much better deal for publishers than relying on an all-powerful Amazon to distribute all of their products.

. . . .

There are a few problems with this steady-as-she-goes scenario. The most obvious is that Amazon doesn’t really do detente. It’s now opening its own physical bookstores, and surely has other plans up its sleeve. Another is that cheap genre fiction is a lucrative business that publishers didn’t really want to give up. (News Corp, owner of Big-Five publisher HarperCollins, bought romance-novel publisher Harlequin, which has been hammered by the rise of digital self-publishing, in 2014.) Finally, the rise of e-books fits Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s classic model of disruptive innovation so perfectly that it seems unwise to assume that it is already all played out. This is from the introduction to Christensen’s book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”:

Generally, disruptive technologies underperform established products in mainstream markets. But they have other features that a few fringe (and generally new) customers value. Products based on disruptive technologies are typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use.

Established companies naturally focus on serving their existing customers, who aren’t all that interested in the new product. They also look at the lower profit margins on the cheaper, simpler new product and think, “No, thanks.” This leaves the field to new entrants, who keep improving their product and luring new customers until it becomes dominant. The former industry leaders are left on the sidelines wondering what went wrong.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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