Monday, 10 November 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

Is Nonfiction eBook Formatting Still Terrible on Tablets?

Posted: 10 Nov 2014 04:02 PM PST

The latest edition of UI guru Jakob Nielsen’s newsletter showed up in my inbox this morning, and it focuses on a topic near and dear to my heart: ebook formatting.

One might think that ebook formatting would be nearly perfect in 2014, but as we rapidly approach the Kindle’s 7th anniversary the Neilsen Group reminds us that badly formatted nonfiction ebooks are not hard to find.

shakespeare[1]There are still ebooks formatting with print-aping formatting:

To my disappointment classical texts such as Shakespeare's plays have very little electronic support. Most versions available do not support annotations, or, when annotated, risibly follow the limitations of the paper medium, as in the screenshot below.


And there are still ebooks that fail to make use of links as a way of hiding text, in particular text that needs to stay hidden:

spoiler-alert[1]Custom sections that can be optionally read by those interested can be easily supported through hyperlinks, yet ebooks still have to take advantage of it. A "spoiler alert," for instance, is unnecessary: instead the spoiler text could be placed on a separate page, accessible through a hyperlink. By inserting it in the text, the editors force the readers to go through those spoiler pages until they find the spot where they can continue reading.

And then there’s the issue with tables, images, and other illustrations. Sigh:

monalisa[1]Textbooks and other non-fiction books frequently supplement text with figures, tables, and images. These are essential learning tools, but, somewhat paradoxically, their deployment in digital books is suboptimal. From the beginning beautiful images on high-resolution screens were a tablet strength, yet the illustrations found in ebooks are often low resolution and look unappealing. And the interactions around figures and tables are cumbersome. For instance, many times figures are shown on a separate page than their captions or tables may be split across several pages.

With all the problems that the Neilsen Group found, does this mean that ebooks are still as badly formatted as they were 7 years ago?

In a word, no. Or at the very least you can’t prove it from that single post.

While some ebooks do have problems like the ones mentioned here, it’s not a good idea to extrapolate from a single set of examples to all of a given category. (It would be like looking at that one post in the Neilsen Group website and concluding that web formatting was stuck in the 2000s – yes, it is that bad).

I don’t own very many nonfiction ebooks, but I do own enough that I can say that I have very rarely had issues as bad as the ones illustrated above.

For example, I recently bought a bundle of books on writing (the NaNoWriMo HumbleBundle, to be exact). Almost all of the books were well formatted; in fact, the only badly formatted ebooks all came from the same author.

The rest of the books looked just fine on both my ereaders and tablet, and while that doesn’t prove that formatting issues are uncommon it does suggest how one should look at this issue.

Rather than look at these examples as a representative sample of the state of nonfiction formatting, I choose to see them as a list of worst practices. They are to be avoided when formatting ebooks.

What about you? How often do you encounter badly formatted nonfiction ebooks?

Update: A reader has pointed out that a lot of nonfiction is sold in PDF (and to a lesser degree, fixed layout Epub) – something that did not even occur to me. This puts a different spin on my experience, and it explains why I had encountered so few bad ebooks.


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Study: Reading for Pleasure Boosts Your Vocabulary

Posted: 10 Nov 2014 12:11 PM PST

7905981818_6d04640981[1]A new report from the IOE confirms what educators and past studies have been saying for years: reading for pleasure does indeed boost your vocabulary.

In a report titled “Vocabulary From Adolescence to Middle-Age” (PDF), two researchers at the UK’s Institute of Education studied the the vocabulary test scores of 9,432 test subjects in their early forties. The results were then compared to the tests that the participants had taken as children and sorted based on each test subject’s childhood reading habits.

Researchers Alice Sullivan and Matt Brown found that those who had read for pleasure at the age of 10 scored 67% on the vocab test when tested at the age of 42, but those who hadn’t read for fun as kids scored an average of only 51%.

6475701897_5eb7fdaec9[1]The study also showed that what people chose to read as adults mattered as much as how often they read. The greatest improvements in vocab scores between the ages 16 and 42 were made by test subjects who identified themselves as readers of ‘highbrow’ fiction. That group scored an average of 5 points higher on the test.

What’s more, the study also noted that the newspapers read by a test subject could be having an effect on their test scores. The study found that those who read a tabloid regularly actually made slightly less progress than those who never read newspapers, while readers of better newspapers showed  greater improvements in their test scores.

“The long-term influence of reading for pleasure on vocabulary that we have identified may well be because the frequent childhood readers continued to read throughout their twenties and thirties,” say the researchers, Alice Sullivan and Matt Brown. “In other words, they developed ‘good’ reading habits in childhood and adolescence that they have subsequently benefited from.”

And finally, the study found that reading was a popular pastime at age 42. Just over one in four people (26%) said they read books for pleasure every day, and a further 13 per cent said they did so several times a week.

IOE via The Bookseller

images by pedrosimoes7John-Morgan



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Fictionaries are Custom Dictionaries for the Kindle

Posted: 10 Nov 2014 10:50 AM PST

Picture7[1]Many readers like the way the Kindle’s X-Ray feature adds extra details to the books they read, but it only works with ebooks bought in the Kindle Store. Those of us who like to buy ebooks elsewhere and sideload them can’t use it, but luckily there is a solution.

I’ve just learned of a new startup called Fictionaries which uses the Kindle’s proprietary dictionary ebook format to offer custom dictionaries. Readers can download a fictionary and install it as a dictionary on a Kindle or the Kindle app for iOS (this doesn’t work with Android).

Eighteen fictionaries are currently available across several genres including classic books, SF, and fantasy. The content is drawn from many of the same sources as the Kindle X-Ray: people. According to Tech Cocktail, the details in a fictionary comes from the multitude of community-driven wikis already available.

Fictionaries is the brainchild of Dave Byard. It’s a project he’s been working on for a couple years now, but he only got serious about it about 6 months ago when:

“I gave it to a couple of friends and they spurred me on to do something with it because they liked it so much,” says Byard.

ipad[1]Due to the source of the content, Byard doesn’t feel he can charge for a Fictionary, so they are all free to download. Currently he has ads on his site to defray the costs, and he is also in talks with indie authors who want to get featured on the site with their own Fictionaries.

This is a pretty cool idea, and if Amazon hadn’t already come up with a better idea (X-Ray) then fictionaries could have been a big deal. Byard has even thought up a couple clever refinements, including offering spoiler-free fictionaries. For example, a fictionary for a Game of Thrones (the first book in the series) would hypothetically exclude details from later books in that series, thus saving you from learning that nearly all of the characters you like are killed.

But as cool as this is, there is a downside. You can only load a single dictionary, so if you choose to load a fictionary you’ll have to do without a regular dictionary.

But in spite of that limitation, I hope more fictionaries are created. I am following several series which have grown into “cast of thousands” situation and could really use a fictionary to keep the characters and locations straight.

Byard uploads new fictionaries as he reads new books or upon request, so I just might go ask.

Fictionaries via Tech Cocktail

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Kindle Paperwhite is on Sale Today – $79

Posted: 10 Nov 2014 08:00 AM PST

Kindle_Paperwhite_35438287_35437744_35438313_35438312_02_620x433[1]If the Kindle Voyage’s $199 price tag is too rich for your blood then I have an okay deal for you today. Amazon has the refurbished Kindle Paperwhite on sale today for $79, or the same price as the new ad-subsidized budget model.

They’re listing that as $30 off the regular price for the refurb, or about $60 off the regular non-subsidized price for a new Kindle Paperwhite.

Assuming you get a 2013 or 2014 model and not the 2012 Paperwhite (poorer frontlight and older screen tech), this is a very nice deal albeit one with a major catch. As I sit here writing this post, the ship date on the refurb has been pushed out 3 to 5 weeks.

So if you don’t mid up not getting your Kindle until right before Christmas, this is the deal for you. (I would go for it myself, but since I already have both the 2013 and the 2012 Paperwhites so I see no reason to get another.)


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Is Losing a Single Editor a “Setback” Amazon Publishing?

Posted: 10 Nov 2014 07:20 AM PST

EPsylviamainborder[1]The NYTimes continued to predict the imminent death of Amazon’s publishing efforts with a new article on Friday.  Ed Park, a prominent literary editor, has left Amazon Publishing to go work for Penguin:

When Amazon hired the novelist Ed Park as a senior editor in its New York publishing office in 2011, it seemed an unlikely match. Mr. Park — a member of New York's literary elite who had worked for the Poetry Foundation, co-founded a literary magazine and edited The Village Voice's literary supplement — seemed ill suited to Amazon's algorithm-driven business.

But now, in the latest setback for Amazon's publishing aspirations, Mr. Park is leaving the imprint to join Penguin Press as an executive editor. His departure reflects the challenges that Amazon faces in a publishing ecosystem that largely views the online retailer as a rapacious competitor. Most bookstores — having been undercut by the giant retailer — refuse to carry books published by Amazon, a major hurdle as the company courts authors and agents.

As the sole editor at Little A, the imprint will be left in considerable disarray until Amazon finds a replacement.

No, wait, Little A employs at least one other editor, besides Park. According to the Deals section of Publisher’s Marketplace, Carmen Johnson has been signing deals for Little A since September. The NYTimes says that she will be taking over his role, but it looks like she did that a couple months ago.

Speaking of book deals, guess how long it has been since Ed Park was credited with signing a new book deal for Little A?

Sixteen months. Park was last credited with signing a new book in June 2013.

Could someone tell me how the loss of a single editor who had stopped bringing in new books long before he quit could be a setback?

If anything, I think the lack of book deals would mean that he is saving Amazon money on books which would never sell well (a gross generalization of literary publishing, but still mostly true).

The NY Times described it thusly:

Jane Dystel, an agent who has done more than two dozen publishing deals with Amazon, said offers from the company — once generous, including even some six-figure deals — have largely fallen to the $10,000 to $20,000 range, and sometimes lower. Some of the writers she represents have returned to self-publishing. "It's discouraging to those clients," she said.

Funny, that would seem to be an accurate description of just about every major publisher, and not just Amazon. Advances are shrinking for many authors, and a significant number are going indie.

The NYTimes went on to describe the frustrations Park experienced:

In another victory, one of Mr. Park's acquisitions, a short-story collection by Shawn Vestal, recently won the prestigious Pen/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction.

But his bids often fell flat. Some agents would agree to meet with him, then never send him anything, he said. Benjamin Anastas, who published his memoir "Too Good to Be True," with Little A, said that while his memoir sold better than his previous books, he wonders how it might have been received if a traditional publisher had released it.

Given that Johnson has signed two books in the past couple months, can you really say that agents are refusing to work with Amazon Publishing?

Maybe, but I think you would need more evidence than a single departing editor.

h/t to The Passive Voice




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