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Publishing News: B&N improves its ecosystem

B&N Nook HD tablets launch, with Nook Video on deck; Bjarnason argues against web-based ebook formatting; and taxes won't save journalism.

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention this week.

B&N pursues the “low-end tablet throne”

Barnes & Noble’s new HD tablet launch was the headline news this week. Reuters reports B&N introduced a 7-inch Nook HD tablet for $199 and a 9-inch Nook HD+ tablet for $269 — a price point B&N CEO William Lynch called a “wow price point.” Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps told Reuters the devices were a big improvement over earlier iterations and that they even “one-up Amazon in some areas.”

Laura Hazard Owen took an in-depth look at the tablets over at GigaOm and outlines a few of the improved areas. First, B&N is looking to improve discoverability with the new devices and bring the tablet shopping experience a bit closer to the in-store experience. Owen reports that readers can browse the store from inside ebooks to discover additional titles by that book’s author and similar titles in the genre. B&N also is launching Nook Channels to help readers discover books that are similar to other books they’ve liked. Owen reports the channels are curated collections of books with 40 to 50 titles — many of which are curated by B&N’s in-store booksellers. There also will be a new “Your Nook Today” button on the Nook home screens, which most notably will provide book recommendations based on the device’s content.

B&N also announced plans to launch a Nook-branded video store this fall, called Nook Video. Lauren Goode at All Things Digital has the need-to-know info on the service. Goode writes that it won’t be video subscription service, but will offer rentals and download purchases for streaming, and all content will be stored in the Nook Cloud. Goode also highlighted an interesting feature regarding owned physical DVDs:

“Nook Video will also create and store digital copies of the DVDs that you normally play on UltraViolet and Blu-ray players. So if you purchase a Blu-ray or UV DVD and sync your console with your Nook Video account, it will create a digital copy in your Nook Cloud. You could then, theoretically, watch it on another gadget, via the Nook app.”

Kind of like iTunes Match for DVDs. Joe Arico at Mobiledia argues that the Nook Video announcement takes the new Nook HD tablets to the next level and fills a crucial gap in the B&N ecosystem, making B&N “much more of a legitimate contender for the mid and low-end tablet throne.”

Publishers need “agile and easy-to-use publishing platforms”

Baldur Bjarnason took a look this week at web formats and argued that web-based ebook formatting is too complex, unmanageable and error-prone for the publishing industry. In part, Bjarnason argues that as things stand, IDPF executive director Bill McCoy’s argument that EPUB 3 will become the Portable Documents for the Open Web just won’t stand. Bjarnason disagrees with McCoy on a few points in McCoy’s Portable Documents for the Open Web series he wrote here on the TOC blog, but in the end, he argues the problem comes down to CSS overrides. Bjarnason writes:

“A few weeks ago, I got into a massive argument with several ereader app developers about CSS overrides. … I maintained that their insistence on CSS overrides was the single biggest issue that ebook developers are facing. It increases costs, complicates development, makes testing next to impossible. It is a nightmare.

“But, as it happens, one of the biggest issues ereader app developers are facing are ebook developers. To be specific: a large proportion of the ebooks they get are so utter rubbish that to load ebook files without CSS overrides would have a dramatic negative effect on their business, support costs would skyrocket, returns spike, reputations would crater, etc. … Pretty much everybody I’ve approached who has been involved in ereader app development confirmed this: they get a lot of utter rubbish that’s only salvageable by overriding the CSS. … So, ereader app developers can’t implement apps that don’t override the book’s CSS and so can’t, ever, implement full and unfettered support for CSS. Which is, y’know, exactly the thing that’s required for EPUB3 to become the portable document version of the web that Bill McCoy is trying to pitch it as.”

Bjarnason argues that web tech is becoming an app platform and that EPUB is following, trying to do the same. He says, “Publishing needs a publishing platform, not second rate knockoffs of existing web platforms. … They need an agile and easy to use publishing platform. Current ebook platforms are neither.” Bjarnason goes into great depth on the issues he’s experienced with web formats and is well worth the read.

Subsidizing newspapers is not the same as subsidizing quality journalism

David Leigh at The Guardian argued this week that taxing Internet access could provide a viable subsidy to save newspapers. Leigh writes:

“Consumers won’t pay for online news. But they are of course paying, now and for the foreseeable future, and in huge numbers, for the necessary broadband connections. A small levy on UK broadband providers — no more than £2 a month [about $3.20 US] on each subscriber’s bill — could be distributed to news providers in proportion to their UK online readership. This would solve the financial problems of quality newspapers, whose readers are not disappearing, but simply migrating online.”

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm argues that though this idea may look good on first blush, it is rife with problems. Ingram points to several posts that address major issues, but highlights what he argues is the biggest flaw: “that it is based on the principle that journalism — of the kind that is deserving of government funding — is synonymous with newspapers.” Ingram argues that the tax may indeed prop up a failing business model, but would do nothing to subsidize journalism or benefit society as a whole.


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  • Dave Bricker

    Publishers are responsible for ensuring their eBooks amount to more than “utter rubbish” when viewed on various eReaders, but it’s unfortunate that Bjarnason’s argument is directed against web-based/CSS eBook formatting. CSS overrides restrict the typographic freedom that, when it’s done right, make eBooks better. Designers don’t craft good work to have it paved over. As Ebook vendors advance their offerings, good file validators and preview utilities will offer a more constructive solution. At very least readers of eBooks should have an OPTION to view the work with default eReader settings instead of a forced override. CSS3 eBook formatting is what typographers have been waiting for. Better tools and fewer rules are the solution.