ENTRIES TAGGED "Mobi"

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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What devices and formats do your customers prefer?

Your future content plans can be shaped by asking these questions

Most publishers create ebooks in all formats figuring it doesn’t matter whether mobi is more important than EPUB or if the content is read on an iPad more frequently than on a mobile phone. That approach means these publishers have no idea how their content is being consumed. It also means they probably don’t have a direct channel to their customers or some other way of polling them on their preferences.

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The future is bright for ebook prices and formats

But first we have to break a bad habit and embrace HTML5

I typically get a sympathetic look when I tell people I work in the book publishing industry. They see what’s happened with newspapers, they realize many of their local bookstores have disappeared, and most of them have heard about the self-publishing revolution. The standard question I’m asked is, “wow, isn’t this a terrible time to be a book publisher?” My answer: “We’re in the midst of a reinvention of the industry, and I can’t think of a better time to be a book publisher!”

Sure, there’s plenty of volatility in our business but we have an opportunity to not only witness change, but embrace it, as well.

With that in mind, there are the first two of four key areas that make me so enthusiastic about the future of this business: pricing and formats.

Pricing

You might be wondering why pricing tops my list, particularly since we seem to be in the midst of a race to zero pricing. First, Amazon set the customer’s expectations at $9.99, and now some of the most popular ebooks are free or close to free. Amazon routinely sells ebooks at a loss so that they can offer customers the lowest price, and the agency model isn’t turning out to be the silver bullet for falling prices many hoped it would be.

Despite this, I firmly believe publishers are to blame for low ebook prices, not Amazon (or anyone else). After all, we publishers are satisfied with quick-and-dirty print-to-ebook conversions, where the digital edition doesn’t even have all the benefits of the print one. Ever try loaning an ebook to someone? How about reselling it? Of course customers are going to assume the price should be lower in digital format!

We need to break the bad habit of doing nothing more than quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions and look at new strategies to reverse the declining pricing trend. I’m talking about rich content.

Let’s work on integrating features in the digital product which simply can’t be replicated in the print version. Once we start creating products that truly leverage the capabilities of the devices on which they’re read, I believe we’ll end the race to zero pricing.

Formats

If you’re a publisher, you’re forced to deal with mobi files for Amazon, EPUB for almost all other e-book retailers, and probably PDF as well. Despite all the sophisticated tools and techniques we can access, it still requires extra work to deliver content in all these formats, especially as specs change and capabilities are enhanced.

Fortunately for us, help is on the way, and its name is HTML5. I believe that in the not too distant future, we’ll be talking less about mobi and EPUB as we focus more of our attention on HTML5. After all, HTML5 is one of the core file formats on which EPUB 3 and KF8 (Amazon’s next-gen format) are built. Additionally, HTML5 already supports many rich content capabilities we need to address the pricing opportunity noted earlier. HTML5 is supported by all the popular web browsers, so there’s no need to wait for mobi or EPUB readers and apps to offer richer content support; let’s just use the underlying technology capabilities of HTML5 and turn every browser into a reading app.

In the second part of this discussion I’ll share the other two reasons why I’m so excited about publishing’s future: direct channels and evolving tools.

This content is taken from an article I wrote for a magazine Sourcefabric published called The Future of the Book. You can learn more about the Sourcefabric magazine here and you can download the free PDF of The Future of the Book here.
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Publishing’s “open” future

Today's closed models will give way to tomorrow's open platforms

If I had to summarize the future of publishing in just one word, I’d say “open.” We’re living in a very closed publishing world today. Retailers use tools like digital rights management (DRM) to lock content, and DRM also tends to lock customers into a platform. Content itself is still largely developed in a closed model, with authors writing on their word processor of choice and editors typically not seeing the content until it’s almost complete. Then we have all the platforms that are closed from one another; have you ever tried reading a mobi file from Amazon in an EPUB reader, for example?

Given these examples of our closed industry, why do I think the future will be different? It has to do with some of the early indicators I’m seeing through start-ups and other trends. My TOC colleagues and I are in the enviable position of getting to cross paths with some of the most forward-thinking people in our industry. We share many of these encounters via our website as well as at our in-person events. I’d like to share some of the more interesting ones that are currently on my radar, including a few featured at TOC Frankfurt last week.

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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?

Play

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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Neutralizing Amazon

Open platforms and services will lead to ebook marketplace disruption

What would you think of a start-up who offers the following?:

    • Selling ebooks in a model where one simple transaction gives you access to all formats (e.g., PDF, mobi and EPUB).
    • All those ebooks are available in a completely DRM-free manner. There’s no social DRM applied either.
    • Every ebook can be quickly and easily side-loaded to the device of your choice. Got a Kindle? No problem. All purchases will be sent right to it. Same goes for Nooks, Kobos, etc. No more awkward installations with USB cables.
    • No restrictions on reselling your content or loaning it to someone else. Are you finished with that ebook and have no plans to ever open it again? Why not resell it or pass it along to a friend like you’d do with a print book?
    • Enabling and, more importantly, encouraging publishers to have a direct relationship with their customers through this retailing platform.

Sounds too good to be true? I don’t think so. Here’s why…

One of the benefits of working at O’Reilly and being chair of our TOC conference is that I cross paths with countless industry start-ups throughout the year. I’m seeing evidence that many of today’s publishing industry challenges, particularly the closed, proprietary systems that are forming all around us will soon be met with some very cool and disruptive open alternatives.

What would that mean for a platform like the Kindle? Nobody’s knocking Amazon off the mountaintop anytime soon but these open-minded start-ups are going to make things very interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if all the elements of the start-up outlined above are in place before the end of 2013. Then it’s just a question of tying them all together.

P.S. — If you’re attending TOC Frankfurt on October 9 you’ll get a first-hand look at some of this. I can’t share the details just yet but in a few short weeks you’ll see what I’m talking about. If you haven’t registered yet do so now with this code and you’ll save 20%: TOCPartner20TSpeaker

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Portable Documents for the Open Web (Part 2)

Why PDF is not the future of portable documents

Part 1 of this three-part series argued that there will be an enduring need for portable documents even in a world that’s evolving towards cloud-based content distribution and storage. OK fine, but we have PDF: aren’t we done? The blog post from from Jani Patokallio that inspired this series suggested that “for your regular linear fiction novel, or even readable tomes of non-fiction, a no-frills PDF does the job just fine”. In this second part I take a hard look at PDF’s shortcomings as a generalized portable document format. These limitations inspired EPUB in the first place and are in my opinion fatal handicaps in the post-paper era. Is it crazy to imagine that a format as widely-adopted as PDF could be relegated to legacy status? Read on and let me know what you think.

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Portable Documents for the Open Web (Part 1)

What role does EPUB play in the cloud-centric world?

Having been involved for over two decades with the intersection of technology and publishing, I’m looking forward to being an occasional writer for the TOC blog. At Joe Wikert’s invitation, I’m starting out with my personal vision for the future of portable documents and the Web, including the relationship between EPUB 3, HTML5 and PDF. This post is the first in a three-part series. Part two can be found here and part three here.

What’s up with HTML5 and EPUB 3? (and, is EPUB even important in an increasingly cloud-centric world?)

EPUB is the well-known open standard XML-based format for eBooks and other digital publications, based on HTML and CSS. EPUB is the primary distribution format for B&N Nook, Kobo, Apple iBooks, Sony Reader, and many other eBook platforms, and is supported by Amazon as an ingestion format for Kindle (whose distribution format is proprietary).

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Ebook formats and the allure of customer lock-in

Ebook formats and the allure of customer lock-in

Sanders Kleinfeld on obstacles to a unified ebook format.

In a recent video interview, O'Reilly's Sanders Kleinfeld addressed a number issues surrounding ebook formats. He also talked about how vendors are among the biggest obstacles to an open, universal ebook standard and the end of DRM.

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Over 160 O'Reilly Books Now in Kindle Store (without DRM), More on the Way

I’m happy to announce that more than 160 O’Reilly books are now available on Kindle, and are being sold without any DRM (Digital Rights Management). Though we do offer more than 400 ebooks direct from our website, the number for sale on Kindle will be limited until Amazon updates Kindle 1 to support table rendering (“maybe this summer” is the most specific they would get). We expect to add another 100 or so titles in the coming weeks; those have needed a more detailed analysis of the table content to identify good candidates. There were two main reasons we held our books back from sale on Kindle: poor rendering of complex content and compulsory DRM.

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