Current state of formats and platforms

A free SPI Global whitepaper summarizing industry trends

SPi GlobalRemember the old days when PDF was pretty much the only way to distribute content and those PDFs were read on computer screens? PDF still lives, of course, but now we’re also faced with offering content in mobi and EPUB formats for consumption on a variety of platforms and devices.

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PlayTales one year later

New apps, new technology, and new statistics

In March 2012, Joe Wikert posted an interview with a new bookstore app startup called PlayTales. Since then the app market has continued to grow, and PlayTales along with it.  My name is Kate Shoaf, PlayTales’ PR and communications manager, and I’d like to tell you how we’ve modified our apps and distribution platforms to suit the ever-changing international app market.

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Creating reader community with open APIs

The connections between readers and potential readers matter most

I spoke at the “Frankfurt Digital Night” at this year’s Frankfurt Book fair, making essentially three points (see slides embedded below): first, publishing requires – and has always required – a commitment to creating and courting communities of readers. Second, there are new digital tools emerging for creating and courting these communities. Third, in this context, openness in terms of APIs is becoming a feature.

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The dangers of platform lock-in

Even iOS can lead to a content access and support dead-end

One reason some consumers haven’t jumped on the ebook bandwagon is because they’re concerned the format they select might become obsolete in a few years. Others dismiss that as unfounded pessimism but I have an example of how it can happen, and not with some fly-by-night platform. This problem happened on Apple’s extremely popular iOS platform.

Here’s a link to a problem one of our customers recently reported about our iOS ebook apps. As you’ll see, when iOS 6 arrived it broke our book apps by preventing readers from going beyond the first page of any chapter. This problem was caused by a chain-reaction of events:

  1. We hired a third-party to develop our iOS book apps. This was a pretty popular developer btw, used by many other publishers as well.
  2. That third-party developer was was acquired by someone not named Apple.
  3. Not surprisingly, it became quite clear after the acquisition that support from this developer would evaporate, especially for products on competing platforms like iOS.
  4. When iOS 6 hit and created this problem we had no way of updating the apps.

When the problem was reported my colleague Adam Witwer jumped in and offered the solution outlined a bit further down the thread. In short, we’re removing the apps from iTunes and offering free multi-format ebook bundles to anyone who previously bought the iOS apps.

Rather than being stuck with an iOS-only version our customers will now have access to the content in all major formats (e.g., PDF, EPUB and mobi). It was a painful lesson but it shows that even a platform as rich and robust as iOS can lead to a dead-end for ongoing content access and support.

Kindle Remorse: Will consumers ever regret ebook platform lock-in?

Every ebook purchased today makes it harder to switch platforms tomorrow

If Barnes & Noble doesn’t already have a sense of urgency, especially after last week’s developments, this quote from a thoughtful piece by Joe Arico should help fire them up:

In the age of the e-reader and tablet, every person that purchases an Amazon Kindle, Nexus tablet or iPad should be viewed as a customer Barnes & Noble will likely never get the chance to serve again.

That makes me wonder what goes through a consumer’s mind when they’re deciding which device to buy. I figure they’re mostly focused on brand, price, feature set, and perhaps what their friends and family recommend. But as Arico goes on to say:

Today, when a person decides which e-reader or tablet they’re going to buy, they’re also committing to the online retailer to supply books and other content.

You could argue that Amazon and B&N are making the decision less painful by offering reader apps on all popular platforms (e.g., Mac, Windows, Android, iOS). So the Kindle ebook you buy from Amazon can be read just about any modern device.

But what if Apple decides they’re tired of Amazon customers buying ebooks outside iOS and reading them on an iOS-powered device? Maybe Apple removes the Kindle app from their platform. (It could happen.) Or what if Amazon has a falling out with Google and the Kindle app disappears from all Android devices? You could replace “Amazon” with “B&N” in either of those examples and have the same problem.

Let’s look at this a bit differently: What if B&N comes out with a killer tablet that has all sorts of terrific features not found on any other device? And what if you’ve spent the past 5 years building your Kindle ebook library but the B&N device doesn’t support the Kindle app? Unless you’re prepared to abandon your library you probably won’t purchase and enjoy that new B&N tablet.

This doesn’t seem to be on many people’s radar right now but every ebook purchased today makes it harder for that customer to switch platforms tomorrow. Or, as Arico says later:

A customer who purchases an e-reader is paying for admission into a store they may never leave.

I can’t decide whether that reminds me more of Hotel California or the Roach Motel. Neither option sounds very appealing though.

What do you think? Consumers may not have buyer’s remorse today but is this platform lock-in something they’ll eventually regret?

Navigating the Android market

Navigating the Android market

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


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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iOS 6, Android, HTML5: Which Publishing Platform Prevails?

The ultimate winner isn't really a traditional "platform" at all

August is “platforms” month here in TOC-land. That means we’re throwing iOS and Android into the Thunderdome arena to fight it out. It’s not really, “two platforms enter, one platform leaves” though. After all, there’s a third player in this one, its name is HTML5 and I’m betting it ultimately wins the war.

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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


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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Apple's in-app shift: What does it mean for publishers?

Apple's in-app shift: What does it mean for publishers?

Readability's Richard Ziade on the softening of Apple's in-app subscription rules.

As Apple softens its position on in-app subscription rules, publishing companies and developers gain more elbow room. Richard Ziade, founding partner of Readability, says resulting simplicity and flexibility could result in more interesting iOS apps.

Nearly 800 O'Reilly and Microsoft Press titles now available in iBookstore

Nearly 800 O'Reilly and Microsoft Press titles now available in iBookstore

Ebooks are already a big part of our publishing business, and we know many of those ebooks are read on iOS devices. Having those ebooks available for sale in the iBookstore makes it even easier to find, buy, and read hundreds of O'Reilly and Microsoft Press titles on iOS devices.