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.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

“How long before Twitter carries exclusive content.”

Dave Winer asks “…how long before the money jumps the gap and Twitter buys a struggling news organization.

If we say Facebook needs to buy Sony for the entertainment capture, promotion, and distribution synergies.

Then who’s a likely acquisition target for Twitter?

How about a small and medium market newspaper company like Media General? Makes Buffet’s purchase so much more interesting.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Seems to Work for You

“By selling access to potentially market-moving stories — some of which would theoretically also have a public-policy element or some other broader social value to them — the NYT would be sacrificing (in some sense at least) its commitment to readers and public journalism in return for subscription revenue from stock traders.” – Matthew Ingram, GigaOm

What makes it OK for one publication with a research & analysis arm to poo-poo the notion that another publications might want to also consider spinning up a research and analysis arm?

Oh, right – potential competition.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Source Material

The following brought great joy, optimism, and purpose to my morning:

“Journalism itself is becoming obsolete….I happen to think journalism was a response to publishing being expensive. It cost a lot of money to push bits around the net before there was a net. They had to have huge capital-intensive printing plants, fleets of trucks and delivery boys with paper routes. Now we can hear directly from the sources and build our own news networks. It’s still early days for this, and it wasn’t that long ago that we depended on journalists for the news. But in a generation or two we won’t be employing people to gather news for us. It’ll work differently.” – Dave Winer

“I tried to solve the problem by leaving Silicon Valley, and writing software I believe in, and doing the best I can. For me it’s never been primarily about money. I like money, up to a point — but I’m really in it for the wonderful things you can do with the tech.” – Dave Winer

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Saturday, 1 December 2007

RE: Blogger Sees Red Over StarTribune’s Lack of Citation

As if I didn’t have enough reasons to grumble at the STrib – a reporter doesn’t credit their sources. Coincidentally, on a story covering questionable ethics.

“Come on, Jackie. You called me about this on Thursday afternoon. We discussed the story, I pointed you to sources where you could find more info, including the email of one of the sources you quote. You told me you’d mention The Deets in the article.”- Ed Kohler

BTW – Ed’s story hit my radar first.

The Wege hauls everyone back to their own corner:

“Just to be clear, the Strib clearly screwed over Ed Kohler at The Deets, and he has every right to complain. My issue is with the piling on. Bloggers steal. Period. I try to attribute but I also have a two and out rule: anytime I give credit to a blog twice in one day, I’m entitled to steal any other links I like from them without giving credit. Others have different rules, but hardly anyone gives credit for EVERY link every day. If nothing else you don’t plug Atrios because you chose to read his take on today’s Krugman before going to the NYTimes and reading it for yourself.” – The Wege

Monday, 19 November 2007

Strib: Off-Topic, Uncredited, Fear-fanning, Ads

Reading the Strib’s Business section yesterday, I was reminded of Sesame Street’s “One of these things is not like the other” sketch. Here’s the story, can you guess which one doesn’t belong?

“Grounds for worry: Trouble’s brewing in the economy, if the news from the nation’s biggest coffee chains is any indication.

No. 2 player Caribou Coffee Co. Inc., based in Brooklyn Center, announced the unexpected departure of CEO Michael Coles, who spent the past two years overseeing an aggressive expansion that has yet to show results on the bottom line. Caribou is expected to see red ink of $1.01 per share this year and lose 63 cents per share next year.

More worrying, market leader Starbucks disclosed negative same-store traffic later in the week and took down its projections for ’08.

People don’t give up their high-end java for Maxwell House unless they’re feeling light in the wallet.”

That’s right, it’s the last sentence. Aside from free advertising for Kraft Foods there’s no reason to include it. It’s off-topic, uncredited, and simply continues to fan the ‘hell-in-a-handbasket’ attitude.

In addition, if these 5 sentences were actually news reporting, we’d see that Starbucks’ issues have little to do with people buying less coffee and more to do with the over-saturation.

“The concern is that the company has been adding locations so quickly that the new stores are cannibalizing the old ones…” – Janet Adamy, Wall Street Journal

Lastly, even if the dip in bottom-line growth in the Starbucks and Caribou wasn’t due to build-out, “Trading Up” could just as easily explain fewer sales as reaching for the lower quality coffee. Personally, I don’t remember the last time I stepped into a Starbucks, because I’ve found far-tastier and higher-priced coffee at Kopplin’s.

Thank goodness Black Monday is coming, the additional ad flyers should distract me from the paper itself.

Friday, 28 September 2007

RE: Pioneer Press to Launch ‘e-paper’

Every couple of years, the idea of delivering a frozen PDF instead of a living, breathing website hits my radar 1. This is the first time it hit’s this close to home.

“Presumably, you’ll now be able to pay a premium to have a format that less searchable, doesn’t get corrected or updated the same way a normal paper doesn’t and ultimately cannot be linked to or aggregated.”- Aaron Landry

At best, this effort is a distraction from their two other delivery channels – paper, This middle ground is just silly.For everyone over at the Pioneer Press, could you something, anything by Jeff Jarvis or Doc Searls. Oh, and maybe you’ve heard that NYTimes has dropped their paywall.1. I remember an HP project that would automatically print out your newspaper on your home inkjet every morning.