ENTRIES TAGGED "Nook"

Reverse showrooming

Improving the B&N shopping experience with...the Amazon mobile app

This past weekend a friend asked me to pick up a couple of books for them. Print books, btw, and they needed them later that day. That meant it was time to head to a local bookstore, something I’m doing less and less of these days.

B&N was the closest and when I walked in I immediately realized why online shopping sometimes offers such a better experience than in-person. My local B&N moved all their categories around from the last time I was there and I must have circled the entire store three or four times just to find the two books I needed.

Then there’s the reviews and top-seller lists I’m so used to seeing online. They don’t exist in the brick-and-mortar world, so I decided it was time to do some reverse showrooming.

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Automated ebook summaries

Here's one way B&N could distinguish Nook from other platforms

Yesterday I wrote about the opportunity to rethink the used book in the digital world. One option I suggested is for the community to create summaries of ebooks and sell them as bundles with the original work. Now I’m thinking about how the summary process could be automated and built into the ereader app.

I recently discovered a Chrome plug-in called CruxLight which highlights the key elements of a web page. If you’re pressed for time and just want to quickly scan the page CruxLight helps you out by highlighting the important pieces and providing a list of keywords.

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Publishing News: B&N is at a “fork in the road”

B&N's dismal earnings call, fine-tuning paywalls, and German booksellers launch an ereader.

B&N, analysts respond to Nook losses

Nook_DigitalShopHeadline news this week was the dismal Nook news from Barnes & Noble’s earnings call on Thursday. The news wasn’t unexpected — Leslie Kaufman reported at the New York Times on Sunday that B&N warned it expected “losses in its Nook Media division” and she quoted a source “familiar with Barnes & Noble’s strategy” as saying, “They are not completely getting out of the hardware business, but they are going to lean a lot more on the comprehensive digital catalog of content.” A B&N spokesperson assured John Cook at GeekWire, “To be clear, we have no plans to discontinue our award-winning line of Nook products.”

Cyrus Farivar reported at ArsTechnica that, on Monday, Leonard Riggio, B&N’s largest shareholder, offered to buy the company — minus the Nook and college bookstore divisions — and take it private, causing B&N’s stock price to rise 11% that day.

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Why B&N should abandon hardware

They should focus instead on reader experience and new content sales models

The ebook retailing business consists of three elements: hardware, content, and selling model. Dedicated e-readers (think eInk devices) are losing momentum to tablets. Content is mostly quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversions, or “paper under glass”, if you will. The typical selling model is to buy one ebook at a time. Pretty simple. And not a whole lot of innovation happening in any of the three areas by the major players.

Recently there’s been speculation that B&N is about to ditch the hardware part of their Nook business and focus instead on content and licensing. If true, that’s probably the wisest thing I’ve heard from Riggio & Co. in a long time. Hardware has been, and will increasingly become more of, a fool’s game for B&N.

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O’Reilly’s journey to EPUB 3

Upgrading to EPUB 3 is not a trivial undertaking

We at O’Reilly are very pleased to announce that we have officially upgraded to EPUB 3, and ebook bundles purchased from oreilly.com will now include EPUB 3 files, in addition to Mobi and PDF files. All O’Reilly ebooks released in 2013 are now available in EPUB 3 format, and in the coming weeks, we will be updating and rereleasing our backlist ebooks in EPUB 3 as well.

But while we’re excited to share this news, this article is not merely a press release. The decision of when and how to upgrade to EPUB 3 has been challenging for many in the publishing community, and it has been a long journey for O’Reilly as well. I’d like to talk more about why we chose to take this step now, what additional value we believe EPUB 3 provides to our customers, and the challenges and tradeoffs we’ve tackled in making our EPUBs backward compatible with EPUB 2 platforms.

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B&N sorely needs to make a mark

The Nook price reduction may not be too late, but it's most certainly too little.

Ahead of its 7-inch Nook HD and 9-inch HD+ release this week, B&N has reduced the price of its Nook Color and Nook tablets. The Nook Color dropped $10 to $139, and the tablets dropped $20 to $179 for the 16GB model and $159 for the 8GB model. The price reduction might make a tiny wave for advertising purposes for a few days, and it brings the Nook pricing more in line with Kindle pricing Amazon already had, but $10-$20 is hardly going to leave a mark on the tablet market — and B&N sorely needs to make a mark at this point.

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Wikipedia’s EPUB export feature

This DIY ebook construction tool could have much broader potential

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I recently watched a couple of episodes of The Men Who Built America on The History Channel. Although I learned a lot about John D. Rockefeller, for example, I wanted more. I thought about looking for a good ebook about Rockefeller but decided instead to head over to the Wikipedia.

Like most historical icons, Rockefeller’s Wikipedia page is fairly extensive. It offered more than I was able to read at that moment and there were other people in the series I wanted information on as well. That’s where the Wikipedia’s EPUB export feature came into play. If you haven’t heard about this it’s probably because it didn’t generate a lot of buzz when it launched a couple of months ago. I think it’s one of the most under-appreciated features of the Wikipedia and offers plenty of lessons for all content producers and distributors.

In a few very simple steps I was able to quickly and easily create my own EPUB file featuring bios of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas A. Scott. You can download my custom ebook here. I copied it over to my Nook and have been reading pieces of it each evening as time permits.

It’s one thing for someone to go in and create their own custom Wikipedia ebooks but what I don’t see through this service is a way to share your creation with others. The Wikipedia should offer a site where users can discover and download other custom ebooks created by others who have similar interests. Think of it as a Wikipedia playlist.

When will the book publishing industry offer something like this? You could argue we already have it with a service like Valobox.  Their pay-as-you-go model is terrific but (a) not many publishers have warmed up to it yet and (b) the content isn’t 100% freely available before you buy. With the Wikipedia model I can read as much as I want online before I ever bother splicing together a custom ebook. It’s still free to download, of course, but what if the Wikipedia introduced a modest fee for downloads (99 cents)? Or, what if they inserted ads in those downloads and monetized the content that way? Why couldn’t a traditional publisher do the same?

A platform where your content is totally free to access online and includes a self-service option to create your own customizable, portable version doesn’t seem like a viable model today. Then again, streaming music subscription models didn’t seem viable a few years ago but look at how popular they’re becoming.

Here’s a thought: B&N should create that Wikipedia playlist idea I mentioned earlier. They could offer all those custom ebooks, just like my Rockefeller/Carnegie/Scott one, to their customers. Creators could set a price for their ebooks but free is a better option. B&N uses the EPUB format so the output would flow nicely into the Nook ecosystem. It would also be a great way for B&N to get some lift from Wikipedia’s traffic, especially if a “send to B&N” button could be added to the EPUB creation process.

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Three questions for…Jason Illian of BookShout

The universal ebook shelf comes to life thanks to BookShout's import feature

1. What is BookShout and what makes it unique?

BookShout is a unique type of ereader that allows for sharing and discoverability. In other words, the “social” tools are built into the ereader so that users can either actively or passively share the books with which they are most passionate, increasing unit sales and notoriety. Not only can readers share notes and thoughts to other BookShout users, but they can also share them out to Facebook and Twitter.

BookShout is available on iOS, Android, and the web.  We work directly with publishers to make sure all of their books are available and for sale through BooksShout. We are signing new publishers up all the time and most see us a creative new sales channel that gives them options and data not available with other retailers.

2. You announced your new Kindle and Nook book importer feature at TOC Frankfurt earlier this week (see short video below and press release here). How does a consumer use it and what benefit does it offer?

Its really quite simple, which is one reason we think it is so powerful. When a user downloads the iOS or Android mobile app, they are asked if they want to import their current Kindle or Nook books. If they do, they simply enter their username and password, and within a few seconds, their previous purchases are imported to BookShout. We only import books from publishers in which we have a relationship, so if a book isn’t available for import at the current time, we notify the user when it is.

The benefit from a readers perspective is a universal bookshelf, in which all their books are easy to find, share, and read. Users don’t have to worry about where they bought the books–they can read them all in one place, which just makes sense. Users also get the added benefits of sharing notes, interacting with authors, seeing one another’s bookshelves, etc.

3. You spoke with quite a few members of the publishing industry before launching the importer feature. What has their feedback been?

So far the feedback has been great. Our goal is to work closely with the publishers so that we can provide meaningful data and analytics going forward on book sales, trends and sharing. If users can aggregate all their books on BookShout, the opportunity to arm publishers with new, measurable data is greatly increased. In a sense, it allows publishers and authors to have a direct relationship to the end user, which allows for more powerful and viral campaigns around books.

Jason Illian is the founder and CEO of BookShout.

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Gamechangers: Two important announcements at TOC Frankfurt

Bookshout and txtr aim to disrupt the publishing industry

It’s after midnight here in Frankfurt but I’ve got to give a quick shout-out to two of the most innovative announcements at today’s TOC Frankfurt. First up, txtr and their Beagle device. Watching txtr CEO Christophe Maire introduce the Beagle today reminded me of a post I wrote more than two years ago where I suggested that Amazon should offer an extremely inexpensive Kindle with no wifi or 3G and just have it connect to your cellphone to purchase content.

txtr beat them to it with the Beagle. Watch this video and see if you agree that every man, woman, and child should have one of these cute devices. The Beagle isn’t for you or I though. It’s for all those people who have yet to jump onto the ebook bandwagon. But imagine getting one of these free with your next cellphone purchase/contract. You buy ebooks on your phone and move them to your Beagle via Bluetooth. Brilliant!

Then there’s BookShout. I introduced BookShout CEO Jason Illian at TOC today and I told the audience he was about to make a very important announcement. Jason’s company is helping us take the first steps towards tearing down the walled gardens around two of the biggest ebook platforms: Amazon’s Kindle and B&N’s Nook.

As you’ll see in this BookShout press release, you can now import your Kindle and Nook ebook purchases into the BookShout social reader platform. I just moved all my Kindle ebooks into it. What a liberating experience. I was half-tempted to open my hotel window and yell out, “Mr. Bezos, tear down this wall!” :-)

I’ll write a couple of more in-depth pieces about both txtr and Bookshout before the end of the week. In the meantime, let’s raise a glass and toast the industry innovators and disruptors!

Comments: 14 |

EPUB 3 facts and forecasts

Why ebook publishing will look more like software development than print production

In an article posted a few days ago I shared the first part of an email exchange between Bill McCoy of the IDPF and Sanders Kleinfeld of O’Reilly. They were debating the merits of HTML5 and EPUB 3. In the second of this three-part series they dig deeper into the capabilities of EPUB 3 and what the future of this format might look like:

Why isn’t EPUB 3 leading to more innovative products?

Bill: It seems to me that your argument amounts to (to paraphrase): “EPUB 2 is good enough for plain text, everything else can and should be a web app, so let’s not bother with EPUB 3″. That’s not an entirely new argument, but I’m a bit surprised to hear it from you.

Sanders: I definitely did imply this, and I really wish I hadn’t, because at its heart, EPUB 3 *is a web app*; it’s just packaged according to a specific standard. I have absolutely no qualms about the feature set EPUB 3 was designed to support, and I think those features are exactly what is needed to do Category 2 digital content.

My complaint is that there’s really no sane way to do full-fledged Category 2 [more sophisticated, feature-rich] emedia *right now* in EPUB 3 given today’s landscape of ereaders and the features they support. But that’s really a knock against the tablet vendors, not EPUB 3, as I feel they’re the ones stifling innovation.

Anyway, if you are a publisher who wants to press forward today, you really have to pursue an app, in the sense of something that can either be served via a Web browser or compiled and distributed in an app store. I don’t really feel I can advocate that publishers do an EPUB 3 at this time, unless they’re content with limiting its marketability largely to the iPad, and even then, Apple does not make it especially easy to do a standard EPUB 3 for iBooks (because presumably they’d much rather you use iBooks Author).

But I do regret sounding so dismissive of EPUB 3 in my remarks. I also wish I had specifically mentioned Readium as an example of an app that holds a lot of promise in terms of furthering the goals of an open HTML5-based pathway for modern “ebook” content. I hope it helps crack the stranglehold that tablet vendors have over feature support.

Bill: [My first issue with what you noted earlier is that] publishers can’t afford to create custom web apps for each title at scale. A declarative content model and associated toolset will be required. Unless we want that model and toolset to be closed and proprietary, EPUB 3 or something very much like it will be needed.

As you know, creating compelling engaging web apps isn’t easy.  Most publishers don’t have O’Reilly’s technical talent and resources and I doubt even O’Reilly has enough JavaScript software developers to make web apps for every title. There’s a reason there’s only one Financial Times and a reason there’s only one Principles of Biology, and that’s in large part that they are extremely expensive endeavors.  At Google I/O the Chrome team spent a lot of time talking about how offline in the browser didn’t deliver a great user experience for things like Google Reader, and that’s why they are rolling out new packaged apps.

Publishers will demand tooling and that tooling will require underlying content representation that’s not just JavaScript, and will largely be assembling and configuring widgets, not writing them and the apps around them from scratch. HTML5-based tools like Habitat and iBooks Author have underlying representations but they are entirely closed and proprietary. And, I don’t think you are implicitly arguing that either of these toolsets is the path forward rather than a free and open content representation that enables multiple tools from different vendors as well as multiple distribution options.

Sanders: Agree with all your points above, and heck no, I am definitely not arguing for iBooks Author or Habitat over EPUB 3 :)

Open source development will lead to additional EPUB 3 growth

Bill: If you get to the more micro level of features, EPUB 3’s “extra layer” (as you called it) has features like Media Overlays and declarative triggers. Do you really think that publishers who need to synch audio with text or wire up buttons to media controls should have to hand-code home-grown solutions every time they need to do it? How about other accessibility features?

Sanders: Excellent points. I agree, and I do not think I gave credit where it was due here to the packaging layer of EPUB 3. However, much of the hard work of creating an interactive web app exists whether or not it’s packaged in EPUB 3 format or not. Composing interactive games in <canvas> is basically the same challenge either way. I think that in the future, ebook publishing is going to look a lot more like software development than print production, so if content producers want to stay competitive, I think they will need to hire more software engineers.

I do think, though, that just as there’s been a huge wave of open source innovation that’s sprouted in the past several years around doing web apps for mobile and tablet devices (I’m thinking of software like jQuery Mobile and bootstrap.js), there will be a similar wave of development around tools and widgets facilitating the creation of interactive ebook content. It seems likely that this will facilitate and complement the growth of EPUB 3, which is great. The bummer right now is that EPUB 3 feels like more of a hindrance than a help, because I can’t get it to render the way I want in Nook Tablet’s ereader, but I can just unzip that same EPUB file and put it up as a web site, and come much closer to the results I want.

Bill: [My second issue with your earlier points is that] EPUB 2 isn’t good enough even for text-centric non-enhanced content. 

For one thing we have fixed layout. For another, vertical writing and other global language features: even for a novel, EPUB 2 isn’t enough in Japan. Thirdly, accessibility.  These are all defined in terms of modern HTML5/CSS features that aren’t part of EPUB 2. Fourthly, we have a much tighter spec for content and reading system conformance in EPUB 3 than in EPUB 2. So even if we accepted the proposition that publishers should create web apps to deliver highly interactive content, there’s enough reason to move non-interactive content to EPUB 3 to get these other benefits.

Sanders: Yes, I agree with this point. In retrospect I feel I was wrong to suggest that EPUB 2.1 was good enough as is for text-centric content. I do see the need for broader accessibility and foreign-language support.

Sanders makes a great point about EPUB 3 not being fully supported in most ereader apps. I’d like to think once that happens we’ll see much more innovation and less of a need for publishers to create platform-specific apps. I’m skeptical though. Ours tends to be an industry of followers where we wait for others to take the risk, prove the investment worthy and then jump in. I figure it will be the small, lean startups that will do more exciting things with EPUB 3 and the rest of the industry will follow. What’s your opinion?

Here’s the link to the third and final portion of this series.

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