Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 18 April 2014

Posted: 17 Apr 2014 09:30 PM PDT

I have a short list for you today.

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eBook Production is Hard – Especially if it is an After Thought to the Paper Book

Posted: 17 Apr 2014 07:29 PM PDT

There’s a new article over on The Economist website this week which details the problems one creator experienced while trying to produce a paper book and an ebook for a Kickstarter campaign, and it’s well worth a read (beware the paywall).

While the article is written from the viewpoint of being frustrated with the process of producing an ebook, it is actually a cautionary tale in how not to produce ebooks. All of the problems were grew out of a single mistake which the creator still doesn’t realize that he made.

The tale starts out simple enough; the creator needs both a leatherbound paper book and an ebook to award to the various backers of a Kickstarter campaign. Creating the paper book was largely farmed out to experts, and the process went off without a hitch:

As the result of a Kickstarter campaign, Babbage hired designers he knew and a recommended printer, and contracted to have made 1,500 copies of a 216-page book with a clothbound hardcover and dust jacket. While the process took longer than he’d hoped and expected due to his own bandwidth limitations, once the digital files went into the printing firm’s operations, there was little to do but wait as a series of specialists carried out successive tasks at the printing plant. The final result exceeded his expectations, and as the project’s backers have received the tome, delighted e-mails and tweets abound.

The ebook didn’t fare so well, and that was largely the result of the creator assuming that making the ebook was so easy that he didn’t need to hire an expert to do it for him:

However, once the layout files had headed to far Wisconsin (Babbage is in Seattle; his designers in Maine), your correspondent turned to what he deemed to be the easier task of converting the layout file first to a hyperlinked PDF document, and then to the EPUB format used in most e-book hardware and software, and to MOBI, Amazon’s proprietary and simplified analogue of EPUB.

I know that the phrase is “familiarity breeds contempt”, but in this case I think it was ignorance of the technical issues that lead to the problems.

The PDF came off without a hitch, but things fell apart after that:

The PDF proved simple, requiring a few hours of fussing to get the right combination of metadata and image compression to produce a reasonably sized file (measured in megabytes) that also retained image fidelity. It also featured a clickable table of contents and other paraphernalia.

And that is where the trouble began. Accustomed to creating InDesign layouts for which the ultimate destination is either print or PDF, Babbage and his designers (under his direction; the e-buck stops with him) made myriad tiny choices that refined the presentation, but which made EPUB conversion tedious. Choices as simple as the width of a text container for a headline, repeated 28 times throughout the book, once per story, affected the flow of text that InDesign created. The opening spreads with overlays of photographs, illustrations and type work in a PDF, but had to be deconstructed and rendered into flat image files for EPUB.

Your correspondent hired a friend, an early employee at Voyager and one of the people who, in the 1980s, set the standards for “enhanced” books that have developed to the current day, to do the lion’s share of the conversion. Despite having produced dozens of e-books in EPUB and other formats, the colleague had worked mostly with a firm that derived its workflow from Apple’s Pages '09 page-layout and word-processing software.

As we worked through the underbrush of our own making, and cut a clear path from the source file form which the print book and PDF were made to export an EPUB, we faced a “fork” in the road. Should we create an almost-done EPUB from InDesign and then twiddle it further? Doing so would break the chain, and require any typos or other fixes to the source document to be made separately in the EPUB file, which increased the chance of other errors. In the end, InDesign proved malleable enough. …

There’s a lesson here, and it’s not that ebooks are difficult to make.

Okay, they can be difficult and technically complicated, yes, but so is the production of a paper book. That was farmed out, and much of the ebook pain experienced by the creator could have been avoided by hiring a digital expert from day one.

That is the one lesson worth learning from the tale, and unfortunately the creator didn’t learn it (or at least that is the impression I get from the article).

P.S. What’s more, the creator could probably have cut his digital costs to a minimum by hiring the expert. Rather than costing him 3 weeks of time,  the expert would have charged a negotiated fee and produced the ebook in a timely fashion.

P.P.S. This post is not intended as a criticism of authors who create their own ebooks, but if you griped like this guy I would tell you the same thing: go hire an expert. Or at least buy them coffee while you pick their brains.

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Amazon Adds New Channels to the Fire TV’s Voice Search, Promises New Updates Will Add MP3, FreeTime Support

Posted: 17 Apr 2014 02:34 PM PDT

The limited AmazonFireTV-FireStandingabilities of the voice search feature on the Fire TV hasn’t kept the set top box from (briefly) selling out for a few days since it launched a couple weeks ago, and I think today’s news might make that happen again.

Amazon announced on Thursday that they expect to expand had expanded the number of video sources which could be searched by voice. Fire TV owners can now will soon be able to search for shows and movies available through Hulu Plus, Crackle, and Showtime, and find videos to watch.

The retailer is also boasting today that they have signed new partners, and that other features are in the works. Fire TV owners should soon have the option of buying games and other content from a variety of companies, including Telltale Games, Halfbrick, Pixowl, Disney Interactive, Minority Media, Paradox Interactive, Gaiam, AllRecipes, and Twitch.

And in related news, Amazon says we can soon expect new firmware updates which will add even more games and channels as well as a couple useful features:


  • New Prime browse will make it even easier to discover movies and TV shows that are included in Prime Instant Video.
  • Amazon FreeTime and Amazon MP3 integration coming as part of a free, over-the-air software update.

I was a little surprised when the Fire TV launched without mp3 support and without support for FreeTime; I had thought that these would be so obviously useful that they would be present. Perhaps Amazon left them out in order to make sure that the remaining features were bug free. A sensible decision, I think.


The Fire TV retails for $99, and it is available now.

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Spritz Partners with Oyster for New Speed Reading Demo

Posted: 17 Apr 2014 12:18 PM PDT

The speed a8e87_spritz-speed-reading-technology[1]reading app developer Spritz is getting all the buzz right now with new implementation of old speed reading science, and they are back in the news today with a new demo.

I am still unable to point you to an app which uses tech from Spritz to increase your reading speed, but I can show you the new demo that Spritz developed in partnership with the ebook subscription service Oyster.

Spritz and Oyster have taken the first part of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and wrapped it in a web-based app, enabling you to read it at speeds between 250 and 600 words per minute. You can find the demo here.

Spritz’s technology is based on rapid serial visual presentation, a speed reading technique first identified in the 1970s. RSVP is a way of flashing a single word at a time in front of a reader, and it looks kinda like this:


This trick has been implemented any number of times over the past 40 years, and past studies have shown that it’s not without its problems. For example, a reader’s ability to retain and comprehend what they’re reading drops as their reading speed increases, and  it is also easy for readers to miss vital information.

Spritz has not released an app of their own, but they have generated enough interest  to secure $3.5 Million in funding last month. The Spritz tech is available for license to app developers as an API, and the company has patents pending.

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B&N Stock Price Drops After Chair Riggio Reduces His Stake

Posted: 17 Apr 2014 09:24 AM PDT

Barnes & barnes noble logoNoble chairperson Leonard Riggio scaled back his stake in the company to 20% today by selling shares.

According to Barnes & Noble, the sale of shares is part of Riggio's long-term financial and estate planning. He has no plans tp sell more shares this year. In a statement, Riggio said, “after this sale I remain the company's largest shareholder, a position I feel very good about. I love this company and I believe in its future as I do in all of the wonderful people who work here.”

The deal is expected to be worth around $64 million, and it is his second major sell off in the past 6 months. In December Riggio sold around 2 million shares, reducing his stake in Barnes in Noble to around 26%. Another investor, Liberty Media sold off most of its shares in the bookseller earlier this month.

Riggio had previously built up ownership of 30% of B&N and control of a total of 37% of the company early last year as part of his plans to split B&N and take the retail stores private. His plans fell through or were canceled right about the time that Bill Lynch left the company, with Riggio taking charge in his role as chairperson.

The stock price slipped about a dollar on the news, and was trading at $16.50 when this post was published.


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Scribd is Now Offering a 3 Month Free Trial

Posted: 17 Apr 2014 08:46 AM PDT

Scribd scribd-logo-blk_100x28launched a new promotion today.

Their all-you-can ebook subscription service normally costs $9 a month, with a free 30-day trial, but thanks to a promotion with More Magazine, you can now get Scribd subscription for three months – Free.

Originally a document hosting site, Scribd launched their ebook subscription service back in October 2013.  They boast 300,000 titles which can be read in apps for the iPad, iPhone, and for Android. If you don’t have a mobile gadget you can also read in a web browser.

After Amazon, Scribd is probably the largest ebook subscription service. They claim a larger catalog than Oyster or 24Symbols, and thanks to their catalog and global focus they probably have more subscribers as well.



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New Poll Shows the Majority of Americans Read eBooks – or Does it?

Posted: 17 Apr 2014 08:04 AM PDT

5584753106_db56d98926[1]The Pew Research Center, Joan Ganz Cooney Center, and other public interest groups have been recording the gradual rise in digital reading, but now there are signs that they may have been under-reporting the ebook adoption rate.

A new survey report from Neilsen shows that 54% of Americans read ebooks. The report is based on a poll by Harris Interactive, a company owned by Nielsen, and it radically contradicts the survey data linked to in the paragraph above.

A total of 2,234 American adults were polled in March 2014, with about 84% reporting that they had read a book in the past year and about 65% reporting that they bought an ebook in the past year. Women tended to buy more books, and they tended to read more.

46% of the respondents only read paper books, 6% only read ebooks, and the rest read a mix of both formats. The report also showed that 51% were reading about the same amount today as they were 6 months ago, with the rest mostly split between reading either more or less.

You can find the complete report here, including the questions asked by the pollsters.

This blogger doesn’t know why the Harris poll achieved such a different result than the other two polls, which mostly agreed with each other. Harris Interactive wasn’t asking trick questions or ones that would require complicated answers.

Got an idea for the difference? The comment section is open.

image by Wiertz Sébastien

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Infographic: Tips to Help Children Refocus on Reading

Posted: 17 Apr 2014 07:13 AM PDT

Kids aren’t spending much time reading ebooks these days, and even when they do they waste too much time with the enhancements, and there’s something we can do about that.

The following infographic is chock full of tips on how parents and educators can encourage a a love of reading.



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eBooks Will Soon be Returnable in Germany(*)

Posted: 17 Apr 2014 06:24 AM PDT

Self_Publishing_BookRix_Vorschuss-500x359[1]Amazon is widely known as having the most customer-friendly return policy of all the major ebook retailers, but that could change soon in Germany. New regulations will be going in to affect in June 2014 which will require online retailers to offer refunds for ebooks and other digital downloads.

Starting 13 June Germany is going to extend the “right of withdrawal”, the legally mandated return policy, to include digital purchases. German consumers will be able to request a refund for any reason in the first 14 days after buying an ebook, and the ebookstore will be required to grant it -  with exceptions.

The new regulations could prove to be a boon to consumers, but they come with a loophole. Retailers have the option of trying to get consumers to waive their right to a refund. It’s not clear to me whether the ebookstores will update their terms of service with new language that excludes returns, or if they will have a check box and/or boilerplate in the check out process, but it does look like the new regulations won’t be quite as useful as one would hope.

Europe as a whole has much better consumer protection laws than the US, but this is the first that I have read about the laws being extended to include digital content. Alas, the laws don’t extend nearly as far as I would have liked.

On a related note, the regulations going in to effect are intended to harmonize German laws with EU directives on consumer rights. This is intended to create uniform laws across the European Union, but I can’t find reports that similar regulations are being enacted elsewhere. This is a topic worth keeping an eye on, IMO.

eBook Fieber


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Check Out This Dual-Screen eBook Reader Prototype From 1989 (video)

Posted: 17 Apr 2014 05:34 AM PDT

Sony is widelytnfigdb1[1] credited as being the first into the ebook reader market when they launched the Sony Data Discman in 1990, but they weren’t the only ones working on a prototype.

I’ve just found a new video on Youtube which looks at a prototype dual-screen ereader from 1989. It was never produced, and I doubt that it was ever a viable product, but it is still a cool-looking device.

The Electronic Book Unit 1 used 2 monochrome LCD displays. Powered by 6 AA batteries, this ebook reader weighed in at an impressive 2.7 kg.  It measured 28 cm by 19 cm by 5 cm, making it thicker and nearly as large as my laptop.

There are no accessible details on the ebook format, but the video does reveal that this device used Sony’s 2″ floppy discs to store and transfer content. (To be honest, this is the first I had ever heard of that product.)

I actually can’t add much more than what I wrote above due to the video. It’s narrated in text in Japanese, which means I cannot use Google translate to get more information. The video is also less a video than a montage of photos from 1989, but it still shows enough detail that it’s worth watching.

The video is an excellent reminder that the idea for ebook readers has been around for far longer than the past decade. Sure, the Kindle ignited the market in 2007, but the idea had been kicking around for at least a couple decades, waiting for technology to catch up.



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