Authors as marketers

Rob Eagar explains how to build a better platform and sell more books

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Authors are always looking for an edge. In a world where thousands of new traditionally- and self-published books are released every month it’s hard to rise above all the noise. We’re launching Author (R)evolution Day at TOC NY in February is because we realize authors need better resources to understand marketing, publicity, discovery, and distribution.

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The complex world of copyright, licensing, and piracy

The complex world of copyright, licensing, and piracy

Bill Rosenblatt untangles several thorny areas of IP distribution and ownership

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Our TOC theme this month is “legal” and I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation with Bill Rosenblatt covering a variety of topics in the legal realm. Bill is a recognized authority on intellectual property in the online world. He’s also an author of the Copyright and Technology blog as well as the founder of GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies.

Key points from the interview include:

  • Copyright vs. Creative Commons — As Bill says, “copyright law is a huge mess”, and Creative Commons (CC) is a viable alternative. CC has never fully embraced the commercial content community though. CC also doesn’t really make enforcement of IP ownership any easier.
  • Libraries and sales vs. licensing — I feel our industry is overcomplicating the library channel situation but Bill explains how digital content isn’t subject to copyright but rather to whatever licensing terms are being offered. Bill feels libraries are “screwed” unless there’s a change in the law. It doesn’t help that libraries aren’t accustomed to trying to operate like businesses.
  • First-sale doctrineReDigi is a great example of a company that’s pushing the envelope on sale vs. licensing of content. Bill feels it’s unlikely ReDigi will prevail in the current litigation to resell digital music. (See related TOC article here.)
  • Piracy — Bill points out that obscurity is indeed a bigger problem than piracy…until you become famous. He asserts that Lady Gaga doesn’t benefit from piracy but I’m not sure I agree. After all, maybe future paying Gaga fans start off pirating a song or two before they get hooked.

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

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The once and future book

Alex Gillespie looks to the past to help understand publishing tomorrow

Alex Gillespie is an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto focusing on medieval book history. I had the pleasure recently of sitting down with her to talk about the advent of the book, what the book means to us, and how looking back can help us decode the future.

As an editor and avid reader I’m a big fan of books both the actual object and the multitude of stories, histories, and information that one can find within, but didn’t know very much about their history. So when I had a chance to talk to Alex Gillespie I was thrilled. My first question to Gillespie was – “When did the book first appear?” But as she mentions here the first question really should be – What is a book? According to Gillespie and other scholars, pre-book objects appear before the current era in the form of rolls while wax tablets, believed to have been around since the eighth century BC, are a big step closer to a current day book and where the term book comes from originally. What we think of today as a book, “stitched together folded pieces of paper…it’s not really a technology that takes off until…probably the second century AD.”

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Kindle file format and Amazon’s walled garden

Kindle file format and Amazon’s walled garden

Why switch to EPUB when you control the mobi/KF8 spec and user experience?

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A couple of weeks ago I interviewed the IDPF’s Bill McCoy about the current state of EPUB. As I mentioned in that conversation, EPUB is the format used by pretty much every device not named “Kindle.” But since the Kindle format is the most popular I wanted to get an update on it as well, so I managed to grab a few minutes with industry expert Joshua Tallent, founder and CEO of eBook Architects.

Key points from the audio interview include:

  • Beware of auto-conversions — They tend to lead to the most common problems in Kindle-format books. Some hands-on work is required for just about everything except the most basic content formats.
  • Amazon and EPUB — They accept it on the content ingestion side but Joshua feels Amazon benefits so much from their proprietary format that it’s unlikely they’ll ever switch to a more open solution like EPUB.
  • HTML5′s role — Yes, HTML5 is already used by KF8 and EPUB, but Joshua feels HTML5 will always require a container to define, manage and control the content and that HTML5 isn’t a viable standalone solution, at least not in the short term.
  • Enhancements required — Fixed layout capabilities are at the top of Joshua’s wish list but he also notes a few features of EPUB 3 he’d like to see implemented in Amazon’s format.

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

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What’s new with EPUB?

EPUB3 is a big step forward but we haven't seen all the benefits it has to offer

This month’s TOC theme is “formats.” Even though our customers still tend to favor PDF it’s clear that mobi and EPUB are the formats with all the momentum. In order to get the scoop on EPUB I decided to go right to the source. The IDPF is the organization that develops and maintains the EPUB standard and Bill McCoy is the IDPF’s Executive Director. Bill was kind enough to sit down and talk with me about the current state of EPUB and where it’s heading.

Key points from the full audio interview (below) include:

  • HTML5′s impact — EPUB3 is based on HTML5 and brings with it all the rich functionality that HTML5 has to offer. Global language support and accessibility are two very important improvements in EPUB3.
  • Why do we need both EPUB3 and HTML5? — Bill points out that EPUB is a “reliable container” within which HTML5 content can be distributed. EPUB also allows you to step back from HTML5 coding and focus more on the structure of the document itself.
  • Fixed layout — PDF is designed with fixed layout in mind whereas EPUB not only supports fixed layout but it also offers the reflowable option as well as a hybrid solution for those situations where both fixed and reflowable are needed in the same product.
  • 12 years in the making — I’m puzzled over why it’s taking so long for EPUB3 support to show up on devices and in apps. Bill reminds me it was a pretty significant jump from EPUB2 to EPUB3 but that we’re already seeing signs of significant progress.
  • Beyond today’s EPUB3 — Bill prefers to focus on EPUB3 but I did manage to pry a few details from him about what we can expect in the future: Advanced fixed layout (e.g., Manga), adaptive layout (page templates), dictionaries, indexes and annotations.

For more information be sure to download a copy of our free ebook, co-published with the IDPF, What Is EPUB3? If you’re attending the Frankfurt Book Fair you’ll also want to register for TOC Frankfurt to hear Bill and I debate the pros and cons of DRM. (Are there really any DRM pros?!)

You can listen the entire interview in the audio player below.

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HTML5 is the way forward

HTML5 is the way forward

HTML5 solves today's single-source file, compatibility and rendering problems

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Our TOC theme for August was platforms and we transition to the theme of formats in September. In a couple of earlier interviews we talked about the future of iOS and Android as publishing platforms. I also wrote a piece about how the ultimate winner isn’t actually a platform at all. It’s time to bring in an expert and tell us whether HTML5 really is the future of publishing, both as a platform and a format.

I picked one of the smartest people I know for the job. His name is Sanders Kleinfeld and he’s a publishing technology engineer here at O’Reilly. That’s a fancy way of saying he knows digital publishing inside out. Sanders has worked extensively with HTML5 and is the author of our free ebook, HTML5 for Publishers.

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Navigating the Android market

Navigating the Android market

Apple's legal victory over Samsung is just the latest chapter in the platform's saga

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It’s “platforms” month here at TOC and we covered the current state as well as future predictions for iOS in an earlier article. Now it’s time to shift the focus to Android. It didn’t take too long for me to figure out who we need to talk with about Google’s OS. Brian Jepson is senior editor of Make books here at O’Reilly and he lives and breathes Android.

Depending on who you ask you’ll discover that Android is either crushing iOS or so splintered that it’s having little impact on Apple’s momentum. What does all that mean for publishers? That what I set out to learn in this conversation with Brian.

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Current State of the iOS Platform

Current State of the iOS Platform

Apple isn't a major ebook player today but the iPad Mini will bolster their position

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We’re focusing on platforms this month and Apple’s iOS is still the one to beat. Android has momentum but recent reports indicate it’s still not a serious threat to iOS, at least not on the tablet front. The much-rumored iPad Mini will only reinforce Apple’s position and potentially eliminate consumer interest in other tablets.

Is the iPad Mini for real? What does the future of the iOS platform look like? I recently sat down with John Brownlee, Cult of Mac’s Deputy Editor to discuss.

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Data-driven publishing is the future

James Levy explains how publishers can use the Hiptype platform to make smarter publishing decisions.

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As our industry shifts from print to ebooks we’re discovering a wealth of new data to study. Retailers hold most of the cards for this data, but a startup named Hiptype is looking to change that. In the interview below, Hiptype’s president and CEO James Levy (@jamtoday) talks about how their platform works and how it can lead to making smarter publishing decisions.

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The agency model’s impact on ebook pricing

Literary agent Simon Lipskar explains why the DOJ got it all wrong

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The agency model has played a key role in ebook pricing models, and the DOJ’s recent ruling has generated a large number of responses from the community. One of the more interesting ones was from Simon Lipskar, President of the Writers House literary agency. I invited Lipskar to participate in a TOC podcast interview so he could talk further about his letter to the DOJ as well as where he sees the ebook market heading.

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