Enhanced Ebooks

Bring on the browser books

2 August 2017

From The Bookseller:

I’d like to start this month’s editor’s musings with a personal rising-from-the-ashes anecdote.

One of the other jobs I juggle alongside my role at FutureBook involves being Digital Editor for PHOENIX, a six-year-old fashion and culture magazine. At the core of PHOENIX is a bi-annual print magazine: 200-odd pages of long-form journalism on high quality paper with really nice smelling ink.

It’s essentially a mini book.

Ever since PHOENIX began, we’ve continually questioned what – if any – sort of digital presence the mag should have. How could we use digital to enhance, but not replicate, our physical hero product? How could we use digital to pull in new readers, whilst ensuring they converted to print sales? How could we create digital content of the same quality we’re known for in print – but with a tiny team on an even smaller budget?

Yep – essentially the same questions that preoccupy the big-book trade.

Two years ago, we thought we’d come up with the answer. We launched PHOENIX’s monthly counterpart, The Manual: a digital-only, custom-created magazine cradled within a bespoke app. It was interactive. It was beautiful. It was timely.

It was a huge mistake.

Why? It seemed like such a brilliant idea at the time. But we soon came to realise that, while apps are great for functional services such as Uber or banks, they’re pretty useless when it comes to publishing.

From a reader’s point of view, downloading an app is a surprisingly big barrier to entry. Not only do you have to wait a few seconds to install the app and another few seconds every time you want to download each new issue, you have to reproduce the whole process every time you want to read on a different device. And, if you want to launch an external link, its’a clumsy process that takes you outside the app – and out of your closed story-garden into a wilderness of distractions.

From a publisher’s point of view, producing and distributing content via an app is a total pain – from creating complex InDesign files to working with frustrating external shopfronts such as the Apple Store. And it’s useless for SEO.

. . . .

Last week, Simon Rowberry wrote us a very popular – and polarising – piece called ‘Is the e-book a dead format?’ In it, he explained the growing interest around Portable Web Publications (PWP), “a self-described vision for the future of digital publishing based on a fully native representation of documents within the Open Web Platform.” His cautionary note – ” how will books cope in the complex attention economy of web browsing?” – is worth listening to.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

A Case for Multimedia Storytelling

25 June 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Interactive multimedia storytelling is probably older than recorded human history itself. The famous cave paintings of Lascaux, for example, date from about 17,000 years ago. While we do not know their exact purpose, one can easily imagine a narrator or shaman using them to describe a successful hunt or enact a ritual. Holding a torch, the narrator walks along the walls, recounting a sequence of events, in a kind of early form of cinema.

. . . .

Today, we have interactive digital narratives, also known as video games. This relatively new form of interactive media has evolved into a mature form for the presentation of narrative, and may well represent a possible future for storytelling.

Why should this be interesting or relevant to book publishers? Because it is worth knowing what readers are into these days. According to a 2015 Pew internet study, about half of all American adults play video games: 50% of men and 48% of women play them, and about 10% consider themselves to be gamers. Mary Meeker’s highly regarded “Internet Trends 2017” report describes video games as more engaging than popular forms of social media such as Facebook and Instagram, driving an increase in deep engagement in “an era of perceived disengagement.”

. . . .

The first thing to know is that digital interactive storytelling has matured in recent years. The depth and quality of the writing and emotional experience in some games rivals the best literary narratives—and some are even drawn from them. The international hit Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, for example, is based on a series of novels by Polish novelist Adrzej Sapkowski, adapted for the game medium by developer CD Projekt Red’s Jakub Szamalek.

Second, despite book publishers’ fears that mobile apps are a form of digital distraction, taking readers away from books, interactive digital media can actually drive readers toward text-based storytelling. Twine, for example, bridges the gap between interactive fiction and gaming; it’s an open-source software tool that allows users without programming expertise to create and publish interactive stories. Twine has become so popular that it has begun to be noticed by book publishers. In many ways, it is the digital offspring of the popular Choose Your Own Adventure book series.

Because Twine is free and does not require coding skills, it has become a platform for writers who want to try their hands at interactive fiction. Many Twine games are composed entirely of text. Some are also visual, but in many cases, a branching narrative composed of text is the final published product. As this shows, gamers are open to and interested in text stories.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Do We Really Need to Innovate the Reading Experience?

8 November 2016

From Digital Book World:

Reading a book used to be considered a fairly straightforward experience.

You opened the book (it was a print book) and you started reading.

Today we have ebooks and audiobooks, which, to varying degrees, have changed our reading experiences. With an ebook, we can read that same print book on our phones, on our computers, on our tablets or on our e-reader devices. And with digital audiobooks, we can now listen on our phones to someone else read the text from that print book.

I hear a lot of talk about how ebooks didn’t innovate enough, or how ebooks are unsatisfactory—that they’re stuck in this “print-under-glass” model that offers nothing new to the reading experience.

I also hear about companies, both within and outside of traditional publishing, that are trying to change the reading experience, be it through new platforms or apps that bring in other forms of media or break a book down into smaller segments.

Maybe I’m a bit naive, but my question is, why?

. . . .

Are print books and ebooks no longer effective? Do some people believe they are somehow antiquated?

. . . .

To that end, what is so wrong with the print-under-glass model of ebooks? What else were we expecting? To my eyes, an ebook on my Kindle looks a lot like a print book in my hands. And that’s exactly how I want it to be.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

In Pursuit of an Affordable Tablet for the Blind

19 January 2016

From MIT Technology Review:

An inexpensive, full-page Braille tablet could make topics like science and math more easily accessible to the blind, according to a team of researchers who have built a prototype device.

The device, which is under development at the University of Michigan, uses liquid or air to fill tiny bubbles, which then pop up and create the blocks of raised dots that make up Braille. Each bubble has what is essentially a logic gate that opens or remains closed to control the flow of liquid after each command.

. . . .

Existing refreshable Braille displays tend to max out at one line of text and cost several thousand dollars. They use plastic pins pushed up and down by a motor. The Michigan team found it impossible to pack the pins in densely enough to create a reasonably sized full-page display, and as a result started from scratch with the microfluidic option. The switch could help them make the final product tablet-sized instead of laptop-sized, like existing refreshable displays.

. . . .

“My observation is that, currently, even many of us who read Braille well find reading it with single-line Braille displays slower and more tiring than using text-to-speech or audio materials,” says Chris Danielsen, a spokesperson for the National Federation of the Blind. “I think this would dramatically change with a larger display, especially one at a reasonable price point.”

. . . .

“Anything where you want to be able to see stuff written down, like coding or music or even just mathematics, you really have to work in Braille,” says O’Modhrain, who is visually impaired. “That just means for a lot of people these things are not accessible or not available.”

Link to the rest at MIT Technology Review


Wally Lamb’s Latest Novel to Be Released Exclusively as Book App

6 December 2015

From The New York Times:

In 1992, two debut novelists gave a joint reading at a Manhattan bookstore. One of them was Ken Siman, whose novel, “Pizza Face,” sold decently, but was hardly a blockbuster. He eventually went on to pursue a career in publishing.

The other novelist was Wally Lamb. His first novel, “She’s Come Undone,” was selected for Oprah Winfrey’s book club, and went on to sell more than three million copies.

Nearly 25 years later, the two have reunited to collaborate on Mr. Lamb’s sixth novel, “I’ll Take You There,” which is being released next year exclusively as a digital app by Metabook, a new e-book publishing company for which Mr. Siman is the co-founder and publisher.

. . . .

There are obvious downsides to releasing a book exclusively as an app. “I’ll Take You There” won’t be available in bookstores or even from e-book retailers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble when it comes out next spring. Instead, Mr. Lamb’s fans will have to buy it from the iTunes app store, and it will work only on Apple devices.

Mr. Lamb said that as a music and film lover, he was excited by the prospect of enhancing a narrative with music, film clips and video.

“I’m thinking to myself, wow, this is really cool, it’s something a little bit different,” he said.

. . . .

Interactive children’s books have become another booming genre, with everything from Dr. Seuss to an app based on Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians series. But when it came to adult fiction, interactive bells and whistles often seemed like noisy distractions that pulled users out of the immersive experience of reading a story.

That attitude is slowly starting to change. Some writers have created apps that allow readers to play a role in the plot or become a character. Others have developed apps that deliver tailored content depending on the reader’s geographic location.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Andy for the tip.

World’s first braille smartwatch is an ebook reader and more

4 August 2015

From Engadget:

On the surface, Dot sounds like a fairly standard smartwatch: It resembles a Fitbit and features a messaging system, navigation functions, Bluetooth 4.0, an alarm and, of course, a timepiece. Dot is remarkable because it’s a braille smartwatch — the world’s first braille smartwatch, in fact. Its face features a series of dull pins that rise and fall at customizable speeds, spelling out words in braille as the user places a finger on top. With this system, Dot allows users to read ebooks without throwing down thousands of dollars for a portable braille reader. The watch should hit the market for less than $300, with pre-orders staring this year. Plus, Dot has an active battery life of 10 hours, according to inhabitat, so get ready for some serious reading time.

. . . .

“90 percent of blind people become blind after birth, and there’s nothing for them right now — they lose their access to information so suddenly,” Dot co-founder and CEO Eric Ju Yoon Kim tells Tech in Asia. “Dot can be their lifeline, so they can learn Braille and access everyday information through their fingers, which is the goal of Braille literacy.”

Link to the rest at Engadget and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.

Library of Congress Ebooks Allow for Historical Documents on Tablets

17 June 2015

From Education World:

New efforts from the Library of Congress have made sources such as scrapbooks from women suffrage activists, political cartoons, and photos from throughout American history available in ebooks for tablets via Student Discovery Sets.

The Library of Congress have released three new interactive ebooks and “will bring together historical artifacts and one-of-a-kind documents on a wide range of topics, from history and science to literature. Interactive tools let students zoom in for close examination, draw to highlight interesting details and make notes about what they discover,” according to the press release.

The ebooks are currently available for download free of charge through iBooks and are in addition to nine already published ebooks that focus “on the U.S. Constitution, Symbols of the United States, Immigration, the Dust Bowl, the Harlem Renaissance, Understanding the Cosmos, the Industrial Revolution, Jim Crow and Segregation, and Children’s Lives at the Turn of the 20th Century,” the release said.

. . . .

The books are completely interactive, meaning students are immersed in the content through primary sources that come alive with “maps, songs, posters, pieces of sheet music and iconic images.”

Link to the rest at Education World

As PG was posting this, he was reminded that the Library of Congress provides both access to and copies of many portions of its visual arts collections. You can download a copy of an image at no charge or you can have the Library of Congress make a high-quality print of photographs or a high-quality copy of other items for a very reasonable fee.

While the description of each photo provides warnings about potential copyright issues, the photos, including some terrific Depression-era works, that were created by photographers under contracts from various government agencies, are generally in the public domain. For images that were not created under government contract, it is likely that asking for a copy for your personal use would fall under fair use.

The following iconic Depression photo of the wife of a migrant worker in California was taken by Dorothea Lange for the U.S. Farm Security Administration:


Here’s a link to more information about this and other prints and photographs available at The Library of Congress


A Boost for Enhanced E-books

18 February 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

For the first three weeks of the new year, the enhanced edition of Chris Kyle’s memoir, American Sniper, led Apple’s iBooks bestseller list, consistently landing several spots above the title’s standard e-book. Its hot streak was a rare victory for enhanced e-books (especially over their unenhanced counterparts). On the whole, sales of enhanced e-books have fallen short of expectations since publishers began investing in the format, which incorporates video and other interactive features, roughly five years ago.

Is American Sniper’s place at the top of Apple’s chart a one-off occurrence, owing to the popularity of the film adaptation (which raked in six Oscar nominations), or is it a harbinger of good things to come for enhanced e-books—pointing to a new trend, enhancing titles with TV and film adaptations, that may help publishers sell what has been a historically difficult format to market?

The enhanced e-book for American Sniper was released simultaneously with the hardcover in 2012, well before the film premiered on Jan. 16, 2015, and the supplemental material is not directly related to the movie. It contains 12 original interviews with Kyle interspersed between chapters, in which the NAVY Seal (who died in 2013) touches on the book’s themes—and it also includes a video with his wife, Taya Kyle.

“Instantly after publication [in 2012], American Sniperbecame a huge bestseller and the enhanced e-book sales were part of that frenzy, becoming the bestselling enhanced e-book of the time,” said Sharyn Rosenblum, v-p, senior director of media relations at HarperCollins. “With the explosion of book sales now that the movie is out and has become a blockbuster, it makes perfect sense that the e-book would be equally in demand again.” And it is—according to HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray, the enhanced e-book has now sold more than 166,000 copies.

. . . .

According to deGuzman, the enhanced movie tie-ins are a win for everyone involved. “The more marketing and exposure, the better the chances of success for the adaptations,” she said. “The bigger the success of these adaptations, the more likely we are to sell more copies of the underlying book. That’s a recipe for happiness for all parties—authors, agents, publishers, studios.”

Grand Central does rely, per deGuzman, on the movie studio’s recognition that movie tie-in editions serve as crucial marketing tools for the movie. “I cannot stress enough how appreciative we are that the movie studios spend time and effort and resources to provide us with [additional material],” noted deGuzman. The enhanced editions of Sparks’s novels include content from the studios, such as interviews with the actors in each film and behind-the-scenes footage.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Nate Hoffelder at Ink, Bits & Pixels points out that the price of the enhanced ebook of American Sniper is less than $6.00. When PG wrote this post it was $5.86 on Amazon.

It’s amazing how many ebooks you can sell when you stop setting your prices to prop up print sales.

Anticipating Change in the Myopic Publishing Industry

29 December 2014

From Book Business:

In 2006 the ebook marketplace mostly consisted of PDF files. There were a few other formats but none showed any signs of broad consumer adoption. The industry seemed to be growing weary of anticipating the ebook explosion that was always “just around the corner”.

I remember working at a large book publisher in those days. One of my former colleagues was very outspoken, noting that books aren’t like music (which had already made the shift from physical to digital), there’s no device that makes a digital version more interesting than a print version, consumers like holding and reading a print book, etc.

Then, in late 2007, Amazon launched the Kindle and everything changed.

Let’s fast-forward a few years for the second example… In 2011 I was co-chair of the Tools of Change publishing industry conference. One of the messages we communicated to attendees was the need for them to diversify their channel strategy and focus on the one channel they totally control: direct-to-consumer. Our pleas were met with rolling eyes, yawns, and responses like this one from a very high-level executive at one of the Big Six: “We don’t need to create a direct channel…that’s why we have retail partners like Amazon, for example.”

. . . .

For my third and final example, let’s look back to 2013, when some were suggesting a “Netflix for books” model would emerge. Most scoffed at the idea, suggesting books aren’t like movies and an all-you-can-read option would never take hold.

Earlier this year we saw the launch of Oyster Books, featuring that all-you-can-read model. Some publishers opted to experiment while consumers (like me) flocked to the service. Even Amazon has copied the model with their Kindle Unlimited program.

. . . .

Ebook revenues have plateaued for many book publishers. Some believe the market has reached equilibrium and that a roughly 75/25 split between print and digital is the future.

These publishers are quite comfortable living in the “print under glass” world, where they drive incremental revenue from digital editions that are identical to the print editions. They don’t like it that consumers expect to pay less for the digital edition (vs. the print edition price), but they’re growing comfortable with the model. Many of them briefly experimented with native apps and enriched ebooks; for the most part, their expenses exceeded revenue on these failed projects.

This is largely why these publishers have an allergic reaction when someone mentions the phrases “enriched ebook” or “enhanced ebook”.

Link to the rest at Book Business

Glose Is A New Ebook Reader That Turns Reading Into A Social Experience

14 November 2014

From TechCrunch:

Meet Glose, a brand new ebook reader for your phone, tablet and laptop. Glose is like the Kindle apps, but on steroids. Reading a book in Glose becomes a collective experience as you can discuss quotes with your friends and other Glose users, keep notes and more. You can also browse a feed of your friend’s annotations to get a taste of books you have yet to read. At heart, the team wants to create a small social network around inspiring books.

. . . .

For its first early adopters, Glose recommends a few startup books to read with the community. It works a lot like a book club as you will find a lot more annotations in these books than in the rest of the catalog.

I read the beginning of The Hard Things About Hard Things from Ben Horowitz. Beta users left annotations, and it made me want to read the rest of the book after this post. Glose makes a lot of sense for non-fiction. For example, people working in tech can comment with their personal first-hand experience on the topics of the book.

“I kept a notebook with handwritten notes and key quotes that I wanted to learn by heart or read later,” co-founder and CEO Nicolas Princen told me in a phone interview. “This notebook — I lost it.”

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

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