Thursday, 4 April 2013

Intro to eBooks for Journalists and News Publishers

“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 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.

Wednesday, 2 August 2006

Monday, 2 January 2006

First Crack 69. Garrick Talks About Attention, Advertising, and Interruptions

Just me today to kicking off the new year with a new mic – Sennheiser e816S, a simplified production process, and a glass of Armagnac.

Things on my mind:

  • Cooper’s crying is like interruption-based advertising is like a Vonnegat story.
  • Distribution is Advertising.
  • Removing distraction for the New Year; moving status indicators to my dashboard and unsubscribing from yahoo podcasts, ruby on rails, and a pile of rss feeds.
  • Errol Morris’ First Person
  • Special thanks to Dave Slusher for remembering the story was Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, Lewis for the bottle, Sam for the delivery, and Jeremy Piller for the theme music.

Listen to Garrick Talks About Attention, Advertising, and Interruptions [10 min]

Thursday, 15 December 2005

First Crack 68. Dan Carroll Talks about the IMP Media Player

Dan Carroll and I grab lunch at Joes Garage and we talk about IMP – his music and movie distribution platform currently in beta.

We talk about how it benefits independent artists, how it’s different than iTunes, the decision to go with BiTorrent, and who this platform is intended for.

We start off with a bit about Attention and then get down to business.

Listen to Dan Carroll Talk About the IMP Media Player [18 min]

More about IMP over at the Minneapolis Observer

Friday, 28 January 2005

First Crack 25. Weblogs and the Media with Jen Bohmbach

Photo-blogger and good friend Jen Bohmbach and I grab a cup of coffee at Dunn Bros’ Freighthouse. We talk about the weblogs, transparency, the media landscape, and an age where we are all paparazzi and stars. She offers her thoughts on

Listen to the Weblogs and the Media with Jen Bohmbach [33 min]

Got questions about coffee or comments about the show? Call: 206-20-BEAN-1

Like the show? Support the First Crack Podcast

Sunday, 14 November 2004

Friday, 29 October 2004