Sunday, January 31, 2010

Amazon capitulates to Macmillan

The Amazon Kindle team has posted the following:
Macmillan, one of the "big six" publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books.
All good clean fun. Their last comment may be the important one:
And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.

News: January 31st

More on creating ePub
The Unofficial Apple Weblog has an article about ePub, listing it's strengths and shortcomings, as well as the tools (for Mac users) that are available for creating ePub documents: All about EPUB, the ebook standard for Apple's iBookstore

File Sharing
I missed this post from Macrumors that points to file sharing between the iPad and a Mac or PC, providing a way to easily share files (particularly iWork files) between the device and your home computer.

I suspect, however that Apple will be pushing hard on the (beta) as a way to share iWork files with others. They won't be assuming that every iPad user will actually have a desktop/laptop computer.

ePub sucks for formatting
Henry Melton at Idle Thoughts blog has mixed feelings about ePub. Not because of DRM; he really wishes Apple had come out with a better way of formatting electronic books:
When an ebook is displayed, the source material has no layout, and relatively inexpensive web browser like software quickly lays out the text line by line. An individual line of the text may look good, but the screen as a whole may look poor. Add to that, a limited font selection, chosen by a reader based on the whim of the moment or personal taste rather than with an eye to compliment the words, and even a perfectly created source ePub file can never be expected to look as good as a well designed paper page.

Kindle is Safe
Meanwhile Best Tablet Review reckons that though the iPad may be a success, the Kindle has nothing to fear.
The iPad will be a success (mostly due to the diluted price). It just won’t be a success when it comes to reading. Out of our three criteria it solidly hits the price element, fouls off on the eBook delivery method and disastrously strikes out on the display. It’s like The Natural (the book version, not the uplifting movie). It swings for eReader fences but comes up short.

But how many Kindles are there?
MacDailyNews last week spent a bit of time trying to figure out how many Kindle's Amazon has actually sold. Their article dissects a previous article on Reuters that estimate Kindle's sales, and compares the numbers to Apple's sales of iPhones:
As Phil Wahba reports for Reuters, "Online retailer Inc. is testing Wall Street's patience by repeatedly touting the success of its Kindle electronic reader without providing specific sales figures."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Amazon Pulls Macmillan Books was one of the first to report that Amazon had stopped carrying books by Macmillan both in regular and Kindle editions yesterday.

Brad Stone at the New York Times Bits blog has a theory:
Macmillan, like other publishers, has asked Amazon to raise the price of electronic books from $9.99 to around $15. Amazon is expressing its strong disagreement by temporarily removing Macmillan books, said this person, who did not want to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the matter.
I'm not too sure how to feel about this; strangely enough, it appears that competition may actually work to drive UP the price of electronic books. Is that a good thing? I guess it depends on who you are.

And people thought Steve was the only one that played hardball.

News: January 30th

College Newspapers Could See Future With iPad has a very short note about the iPad that suggests that the iBookstore might be used for distributing College Papers:
Assuming that Apple gives an easy way for organization to create an iTunes/iBooks account, it should be possible for college news publications to be available on the device.
Which is an interesting thought, but I think it's doubtful; at least based on what they showed at the announcement. The interface they showed seemed geared to books, not magazines or newspapers.

Maybe that's coming...

Far & Beyond
The blog for Far Away Books is having conflicting thoughts about the iPad. On Thursday, in a column titled iPad for iBooks, they enthusiastically declare the iPad the winner over the Kindle:
Absolutely iPad is a winner.
It will take some people some time for some authors (and their publishing houses) to figure out how to use it. It will take marketers some time to figure out how to fully exploit it (expect to see authors doing “product placement” and publishing houses and authors looking at pay per click revenue from books more closely). But a good development for the book world.
Just a day later, enthusiasm has changed to anxiety in iSad for now, due to the lack of details for small publishers:
After his announcement yesterday that “this afternoon we’re throwing it open to all publishers,” we expected to see details posted on how all publishers could join on the website. You know, info about royalties, agreements, specifications, contracts, ISBNs, all the need to know things so that publishers could gear up for iBooks.
But there is nothing to be found. Anywhere. Yet.
Ahh, it's early days, and we're all a bit anxious...

iPad a Threat to Publishers?
Who knows how eBooks will play out here, but in Australia, the iPad appears to be striking fear into the heart of publishers. The problem there is that Australia (and New Zealand too, I think) has managed to protect it's publishing business by preventing importation of lower cost books from overseas (parallel importation.) Former NSW premier Bob Carr thinks Australia will have to act:
"The Federal Government will have to sooner rather than later lift the ban on parallel importation because of the competition to traditional books now being provided by these technologies."

Walls close in on e-book garden
David Gelles at wonders about the DRM Apple is using, and how it will work (can you play on other machines/readers, or just on Apple's?) He notes that there's currently two worlds; Kindle, and ePUB documents using Adobe’s Content Server 4 DRM.
But the EPUB files with Adobe’s DRM can be read on more than two dozen different e-readers, giving consumers a choice of hardware. This has resulted in two e-book ecosystems – Amazon’s walled garden, and the more open network of devices supporting EPUB files with Adobe DRM.

Should Apple introduce its own DRM for EPUB files, it would create a third system and further complicate consumer choice.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Oh! Umm....Printing?

Years ago, when I bought my second motorcycle, I was very excited because it had electric start. No more having to kick-start the thing! I'd had the bike for a couple of weeks when I was showing it to a friend, and he asked "Can you kick-start it too?" and I said "Sure!" and looked down for the pedal I assumed would be wasn't. The bike could only be started using the electric start!

Not that this turned out to be a problem; at least during the time I had it. But looking back, it was funny how I was so focused on the electric start that I never even checked or thought about the possible lack of a kick-start.

I feel a bit the same today, as I suddenly realized I had given absolutely no thought to printing from the iPad. It was never mentioned during the roll-out demo, and hasn't gotten a lot of coverage in the articles I've seen either. I'm assuming it will do something...but probably limited to network printers, and maybe that's a big assumption too.

Fortunately, others have asked the question, and AppleInsider reports that, at least for the Enterprise:
Sources who talked to Apple's business unit also say the company is working on some additional features that haven't been publicly announced yet. These include support for direct network printing from iPad apps, as well as support for accessing shared files from a local file server.

News of the day

Book Marketing DeMystified
Bruce Batchelor has some thoughts on the implications of the iPad for authors and publishers. He notes that the appearance of Apple has added competition to the eBook scene, and already forced Amazon to lower their "cut" from 65% to 30%. That's a good thing for publishers, though Apple (apparent) agreement to higher prices is more troubling.

He also talks about PDF support, and wonders if the store will support PDF files. He notes that ePub is really HTML, and works fine for novels,  but not so much for technical guidebooks. Clearly the iPad will display PDFs just fine, but it would be interesting if the store sells them (and even cooler if they added a "snazzier" interface to reading/navigating PDFs (like the page turn effect.)

Battery Life and Book Pricing
Engadget notes that Steve Jobs accepts that you will have to plug the thing in much sooner than you do with the Kindle (ahhh...surprise?!)
It also notes about Apple's agreeing to higher prices, and a suggestion that Amazon will be forced to follow.

- Having books selling at $19 hardback (on Amazon) and $9.99 pushes me to consider the electronic version, but if the electronic version is $14.99 I'm not so sure!
[UPDATE 2:51PM] - Jobs told Mossberg that Apple and Amazon's prices would be "the same"

Top Ten Reasons The Apple iPad will Put Amazon's Kindle Out of Business
TechCrunch has a guest editorial from Ben Elowitz, co-founder of Wetpaint, where he lists the reasons why Kindle will die. Here's just some:
  • Multi-functional capability
  • The screen
  • Compatibility
  • The economics
It would be easy to counter each and every one of these reasons, but that might be missing the point. Just as people who never thought the iPod would be a huge success missed the point. Sometimes it's a lot of little things done a little better that adds up to something great.

iWorry: Does the iPad Signal the End of the Era of Open Computing
James Casico at Fast Company fears that the iPad heralds a movement towards a locked-up world (you can only install approved software from the approved store.) He also dislikes Apple's use of ePub (though I think because they are using DRM, not because of the ePub format itself) and he wonders:
...all signs seemed to point to an Apple-controlled ebook standard. It's still unknown how difficult it will be to use non-iBook ePub documents, but in principle, the system should be open to any publisher.
NOTE: the ePub format actually provides for DRM in the specification. So Apple is still using a "standard"; they haven't gone an added something illegal to an open format.

More on iStudio Publisher

A little searching turned up this interesting post on The eBook Test blog from back at the end of 2008 about another program that the developer of iStudio Publisher was talking about producing: iStudio Bookbuilder. It is/was supposed to be built specifically for building eBooks.
[I]t will be very similar to iStudio Publisher, which is focussed on drawing / layouts, and turning the focus more to writing. There will be lots of features for writers, such as allowing the writer to make notes and save URLs against certain parts of the text, auto indexing, advanced stylesheets, outputting to ePub and many more features.
Unfortunately, there's nothing on their site about it. There's also little about the ePub export in iStudio Publisher, which is even more annoying. The only thing I've found is this from their FAQ:
The current version of iStudio Publisher supports exporting documents to PDF file, and text flows to EPUB file (ebook format) and RTF file (styled text).
Which pretty much confirms what I've found; as soon as you install a graphic into an iStudio Publisher document, the ePub export gets turned off (and removing the graphic doesn't turn it back on.)


BostonCHI Meeting - February 9th

This months meeting of the Boston CHI (Computer Human Interaction) group will be held on February 9th at Microsoft, Cambridge. The topic is:

From eBooks to Learning Books; Boris Goldowsky & Lisa Spitz

This talk will cover the basics of Universal Design for Learning and show how applying principles of UDL to the design of electronic books can transform plain text documents into learning tools. We will show a examples from CAST’s digital learning environments and compare to current trends in eBook interface design.

Some News

Converting PDF to ePub
Some interesting discussions/information about converting PDF to ePub files on the Apple Support Discussion forum. Particularly interesting is the comment about Calibre and Stanza:

Both Calibre and Stanza will convert Pages PDF files to ePUB. However, as you noted, your results may not be what you expect. Using these applications it is better to create a very simple PDF source file for conversion. While Calibre retains your images while Stanza drops the completely (except possible for the first one which it may interpret as a a book cover) and neither application will retain things like "shapes" used as sub-chapter dividers, text boxes/background colors, paragraph borders/rules, etc. If drop shadows are used, Calibre will simply render them as black rectangles.

Both applications may do strange things with text depending on whether you use blank lines to separate paragraphs and or want paragraph indents, justified text, and such. Stanza also annoys me because it adds any header to the last paragraph of text on each page which adds an extra carriage return and divides the paragraph into two parts. For these and other reasons, I have switched to custom Pages PDF files targeted at 800x600 displays at 180 DPI. This allows me to create a single file for use on both my Amazon Kindle 2 (800x600 @166 DPI) and a Sony Pocketbook Edition (800x600 @ 200 DPI). Since I only create files for my own use or reading to the grandchildren (i.e., what I call "personal publishing"), this "non-print" work flow serves my purpose but may not be suitable for you.

John Gruber, of Daring Fireball blog posted a long series of thoughts about the iPad.

From Amazon's press release: Announces Fourth Quarter Sales up 42% to $9.5 Billion
"Millions of people now own Kindles," said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of "And Kindle owners read, a lot. When we have both editions, we sell 6 Kindle books for every 10 physical books. This is year-to-date and includes only paid books -- free Kindle books would make the number even higher. It's been an exciting 27 months."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

ePub Resource

The Lexcycle FAQ has a list of tools for creating ePub content.

Becoming an iTunes Content Provider

Despite the fact that in his speech yesterday Steve Jobs said:
We've got five of the largest publishers in the world that are supporting us in this and are going to have all their books on the store. And we're going to open up the floodgates for the rest of the publishers in the world starting this afternoon.
There's still nothing on Apple's site about becoming a Content Provider (other than the regular music content provider.)

Engadget compares iPad to Kindle

In Engadget's early comparison of features between the iPad and the Kindle - on the face of it - the Kindle wins. The big question is; what's it like reading on the iPad for long periods of time? The commenters at Engadget seem to think that only E Ink is acceptable in an ereader, and that LCDs are a fail.

Without discounting these concerns, I still think it's way too early to declare winners and losers.

Adobe takes a swipe at the iPad

The Adobe Flash Platform blog has a comment about Apple's lack of support for Flash on the iPad. Without getting into the why's and wherefore's of Flash support, this comment stood out because it also talks about Apple's DRM plans:

It looks like Apple is continuing to impose restrictions on their devices that limit both content publishers and consumers. Unlike many other ebook readers using the ePub file format, consumers will not be able to access ePub content with Apple's DRM technology on devices made by other manufacturers.
Adobe and more than 50 of our partners in the Open Screen Project are working to enable developers and content publishers to deliver to any device, so that consumers have open access to their favorite interactive media, content, and applications across platform, regardless of the device that people choose to use.

The State of Play

One day in, and we know little about Apple's publishing plans, other than the announcement that their reader supports the ePub standard.

Given that they already have a couple of "publishing" applications (the word processor Pages, and the Web Editor iWeb) it seems likely that they'll produce some kind of application that will create documents in the ePub standard. My bet would be on the next version of Pages adding ePub support (at the moment it supports Word, PDF and RTF formats.)

Perhaps the iPad's Pages application will support ePub too?

In the mean time, you can check out Adobe's Digital Editions eBook reader application (Mac and Windows) which will display ePub documents.

And for those interested in authoring, there's always Adobe Indesign. For those on a budget, if you have a Mac, you can download a 30-day trial of iStudio Publisher. This application will export to ePub, and I managed to quickly create a basic document that Adobe Digital Editions was happy with. BUT, it appears that it doesn't like to export files with graphics in them (at least that was the case in the ten minutes I spent with it last night!)

If you have a PC, you might try eBooksWriter, or eCub, or Atlantis Word Processor.

NOTE: Before you spend money on any of these applications, just be warned that - at the moment - there's no guarantee that any of them will produce an ePub document that will work with Apple's iBooks application.


Apple says it's supporting the ePub format, but it's not saying much else. At the moment, if you do a search of Apple's site for ePub, you get a link to information about a Mac program called iStudio Publisher (more on that later.)

But there are other applications that support ePub, most notably, Adobe InDesign. This blog on InDesign will probably be a useful resource:

Also, check this guide from Adobe on creating ePub documents with InDesign.

Stephen Fry {heart} the iPad

British wit, writer and tech enthusiast Stephen Fry loves the iPad. He says:

In the future [...] it will all have seemed so natural and inevitable that today's nay-sayers and sceptics will have forgotten that they ever doubted its potential

iBooks US only at the moment

Engadget reports that the iBookstore will be U.S. only - at least at the moment. Apple's Australia site, for example, specifically lacks the information about the iBookstore in it's iPad introduction materials.