On Wednesday, May 15, 6:30pm, at the Loft Literary Center I’ll be joining Kaeti Hink, Steve Laliberte, Kate Parry, and Dan Haugen on panel discussing e-books and how journalists can leverage them for longer form, in-depth work. It’s a free event open to the public sponsored by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. See you there.
“ebook” is shorthand for at least 3 different file formats:
- PDF (you’re likely familiar with this one), it’s been around for 10+ years and almost all devices and browsers can render a PDF. Publishers have a great deal of presentation control in a PDF but PDF renderers on mobile devices aren’t very sophisticated – making the readability questionable.
- ePub – that’s essentially a compressed folder of HTML and CSS files. It’s preferred by Apple, Barnes & Noble, and most everyone else except Amazon.
- .mobi – Amazon’s file format that previously was an non-human-readable binary file – but in the latest version ‘Kindle Format 8‘ is a very comparable to ePub 3.
In may ways you can think of ePub and .mobi files as an offline archive of a webpage. Like a webpage, ebooks can support video, complex styling, links, scripting for complex interactions. Everything you would expect of a modern web experience – but all without a persistent internet connection.
You can think of PDF as, um, well, a frozen Word doc.
Technical publishers like The Pragmatic Programmers and O’Reilly Media (and essentially any publisher that doesn’t have a line of ebook readers) make their publications available in all 3 file formats as a way to serve all their customers.
The annoying thing is each ebook reader (whether a device or a software application) has it’s own presentation and functionality constraints. Some support color – others don’t. Some support tables of data or code samples or embedded fonts well – others completely not at all. In many ways – this is very analogous to publishing a website where, despite the publisher’s intentions and technical potential – presentation & experience is still completely up to the reader’s choice of vendor.
In many ways, the ebook retail space feels identical to the mobile application space. Each ebook retailer takes substantial cut of the purchase price and may or may not have a completely opaque approval process that you may or may not be able to coordinate a market launch against. Thankfully, generating ebooks is very inexpensive compared to app development. There are number of tools that can generate ebooks from pre-existing content – InDesign, Pages, as well as many open-source toolchains like Adobe InDesign, Apple’s Pages, as well as many open-source toolchains like eBook Export for WordPress, Booktype, easybook, bookshop, Bookie, and likely more.
Content that’s primarily text will render fairly well across all ebook readers with these converter tools – some more manual/detailed tweaking may be required to really polish it. Again, similar to web development in this regard.
Unlike the web space, people are accustomed to paying some, how ever paltry, amount for ebooks (and mobile apps).
I see two opportunities for news publishers relative to ebooks:
The first is repackaging existing content into focused, collections on a topic that serve a niche audience in a fuller, more comprehensive manner. A couple examples of this are Neiman Lab’s “The Future of News As We Know It” series of epubs and locally StarTribunes The Cookie Book: 10 Years of Winning Recipes from our Holiday Baking Contest.
The second is longer form work that may not fit in a larger, more general audience print publication. These are articles that really go in-depth and highlight journalistic expertise. Something so good that I’ll want to re-read it again and again. The definitive telling of an issue – that will likely take multiple sittings to finish. Recent examples include the Star Tribune’s In the Footsteps of Little Crow and the New York Times’ Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.
The thing is, web browsers are now technically sophisticated enough that they elegantly support offline access. In fact, in 2012 O’Reilly acquired the browser-based epub reader ibisreader.com and the company behind it – merging them into Safari Books Online, their on-demand content service.
This just leaves the bigger challenge of getting fans and customers comfortable with paying a meaningful amount for content.
Dear ebook backers,
For too long I’ve been uninspired to write – and for too long, I’ve been sufficiently distracted by a small child (well, three of them).
Over the weekend, I found a new vision for the ebook project.
Something much more timeless than what you’ve already read.
Something more representative of my adventure in opt-out.
First step: updated editorial calendar.
The promise of ebooks is their inexpensiveness. Their portability. Their ability to make perfect copies of themselves so, you and your friends can read and enjoy the same text simultaneously. If ebook retailers wanted to develop a technology based on the social aspect of books – they’d make it easy to share the text I’m currently reading with my favorite book club, with all our collective annotations and highlights.
Developing a technology that treats bit like atoms (i.e. can only occupy 1 place at 1 time) is worse than ridiculous – it’s disingenuous and asocial. Assuming an individual has the wherewithall to purchase a Kindle – or other ebook reading gadget (laptop, etc), they can find a couple bucks to purchase their own version, digital or not.
Late last night, I emailed the first draft of the GarrickVanBuren.com eBook to those that pre-ordered it (hereby known as ‘The Backers’).
This initial draft includes 27 posts from this blog tied into 6 larger themes (“What’s Wasted”, “I Don’t Care What Everyone Thinks”, “Omnipresence”, “Self-Containment”, “Listful”, “Unexpired Potential”). As I mentioned in my message to The Backers – I’m pretty happy with the structure of the book. At this point it feels like a solid series of key frames, or the dots in a connect-the-dots puzzle.
The next iteration will be about deliberately connecting those dots. To get it, all subsequent releases, and become a member of the The Backers’ discussion list, click the ‘Buy Now’ button below.
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed I’ve been pointing to posts written 1, 2,…5 years ago. You may also notice that I’ve been rambling about ebooks as well.
If you suspected I’m reviewing my 6+ year blog archive and curating it for an ebook – I am, and you are most clever.
How will this be different than just reading GarrickVanBuren.com here or in my beloved feed reader?
- Expanded, ebook only, elaboration on the larger themes and ideas explored here.
- Access to the ebook-only discussion group, where I’ll be posting drafts and posing questions.
- Organization and categorization more usable on ebook readers.
- Pre-orderers will be listed in the Acknowledgements section
- Pre-orderers will receive an affiliate link to share with friends – and receive $5 for each ebook ordered with that link.
- Part of this experiment is to find out.
What about comments?
At this point – I’m not inclined to include the comments in the ebook version unless they provide significant insight or clarity to the topic – in which case, I’ll link to the comment on the live site.
When can I expect it?
I’m expecting to complete this project before Thanksgiving 2010.
For those of you pre-ordering, I’ll send out updated ebooks as each section is completed – anticipating your comments & feedback. Yes, very similar to Pragmatic Programmers’ Beta Book program that I’m so fond of.