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3 posts from May 2011

Digital Publishing on Digital Publishing

If you're familiar with O'Reilly's TOC conference you know that we hosted our fifth annual U.S.-based event earlier this year.  You might also know that we're scheduled to host our third Frankfurt event later this year and we also held our first Bologna event back in March.

TOC is a global phenomenon, but it's mostly been limited to in-person events up to now.  Conference co-chair Kat Meyer, the rest of the TOC team and I are working to build the brand out further, turning it into a year-round platform that encourages and embraces change in the publishing industry.  Webcasts are one type of TOC extension and you may have read my earlier post about our new SneakPeek series; I expect to formally launch this free webcast series later this week as the first event is scheduled for late May.  I'll be back shortly to provide details and registration info.  (UPDATE: Our first TOC SneakPeek webcast takes place at 1ET/10PT next Tuesday, May 31st.  Register here for this free event.)

In addition to in-person events and webcasts we're also assembling a terrific lineup of short-form content written by some of the most innovative thinkers in the business.  We haven't even announced these on our website, but look for the following projects later this summer:

Breaking the Page: A Digital Document Design Guide, but Pete Meyers.   A fresh, elemental look at how screen-based publications work, the kinds of material they can and should contain and how to assemble all this new stuff in a package that's entertaining and compelling.

Book: A Futurist's Manifesto, by Hugh McGuire and Brian O'Leary.  A collection of essays from thought leaders and practitioners about the bleeding-edge of publishing.

Every Book Is a Startup, by Todd Sattersten. Most books for authors are focused on how to get published. This product covers how publishing works so writers can make better decisions about what route they should take.

Unlike traditional books, these won't be 300-400 page products that are out-of-date the moment they come off the printer.  As Microsoft is fond of saying, we're "eating our own dog food" with these; we're applying some of the innovation described within them to our own publishing model and toolchain:

All of these titles will be "digital first."  That means we're creating them to be e-products first and possibly print products second.  Readers will have a much richer experience with the e-versions of these titles.  That said, we're making print-on-demand versions available for two of the three for anyone who still insists on a physical copy.  (Breaking the Page is the exception here as it will be four-color and there's no cost effective POD option...yet.)

We're publishing each of these in a serial fashion.  Once we have enough content to create a "minimum viable product" we'll make it available for purchase.  As the authors write more of the content, we'll add it to the earlier version of the title.  Customers who buy the e-versions direct on will receive email notifications when updates are available for download.  This approach enables us to offer the first pieces of each work before the entire project is complete.

We'll offer the "minimum viable product" version at a lower price, then increase the price as we add more content.  Here's my favorite part: Customers who buy early, when the least amount of content is available, will pay the least but will also get all the additional content at no extra charge.  IOW, this serial publishing model is an incentive for customers to buy early rather than wait.

We expect to learn a lot about customer behavior, preferences and e-content flexibility with these products.  We also anticipate sharing many of the results on the publishing section of our Radar blog, via TOC and here on my blog.

Keep an eye out for my follow-up post with links to product catalog pages when they're available.  In the mean time, if you've got an idea for a short-form TOC-oriented title you'd like us to consider send me the details.  This is an important component of the TOC build-out and we'd love to hear your thoughts on additional products for the publishing community.

What Will the Kindle Platform Look Like in 2012?

Amazon is well positioned to advance the Kindle platform much faster and further than they have in any 6-12 month period up to now.  Here's where I hope they end up between now and the middle of next year:

An insanely inexpensive entry-level device.  Picture the current Kindle, but for $99 or less.  How about $49?  Better yet, how about free with a customer commitment to buy a minimum of X books in each of the next 2 years?  Sounds a lot like a cell phone plan, doesn't it?  If instead your'e looking for something a bit more powerful and extendable, how about...

An Android tablet device with an LCD screen.  This one is the worst kept secret since the iPhone 4.  Amazon didn't launch that Appstore for Android because they want to push more cell phone sales.  The only questions here are (1) when?, (2) how much?, and (3) how open?  If they're smart the answers will be (1) any day, (2) $300 max, and (3) wide open.  You can't stand the thought of reading long-form content on an LCD screen, so how about...

That same Android tablet with a hybrid eInk/LCD screen.  That's right.  A single device offering both the bright light comfort of eInk with the backlit option of LCD.  Unfortunately for Amazon, it seems Apple is the one who's taking the lead on this front.  Just Bing the phrase "hybrid eInk LCD display" and you get nothing but Apple news.  That's a bummer since the first company to offer this solution could own the high end (and my loyalty).  A fully open Android tablet with hybrid eInk/LCD could easily command a $500 price or higher.

That's all great for the hardware side, but what about the rest of the platform?  Will Amazon really stick with the proprietary AZW file format that's based on mobi, even as the rest of the world embraces EPUB?  For backwards compatibility reasons they probably have to stick with mobi.  What a shame though.  EPUB is where the action is and EPUB3 adds a great deal of functionality to enable much richer content than the Kindle supports.

Expanding into a tablet with LCD display means the Kindle will no longer be hamstrung by the limits of eInk.  What a terrific opportunity Amazon has to offer (and encourage the development of) richer content than just words on the screen.  But will they?  I've been critical of the glacial pace at which Amazon implements Kindle enhancements but I hope they take advantage of this opportunity early on.

Regarding formats and flexibility, I'd love to see Amazon support mobi and EPUB.  Better yet, if they have the confidence to provide an open device, how about letting it run any reader app from the competition?  Let me put the nook app on my Kindle device and may the best content provider win.  Now that would be a bold move!  After all, if I could own an Amazon device that lets me buy content from any store, why woud I ever consider buying a device from anyone else?

"Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader"

Last week I mentioned that we're busy building a series of webcasts to extend the Tools of Change (TOC) brand so that it's much more than just a couple of in-person conferences each year.  The first of those Sneak Peek webcasts is scheduled for later this month and I'll be sharing more details shortly.  In addition to webcasts we're also acquiring and developing ebooks in the TOC space.  It's great seeing speakers talk about what they're passionate about at the conference but there's also value in reading written works on similar topics.

The title of this blog post is, "Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader."  That's not some catchy phrase I came up with.  Rather, it's the title of one of our first TOC ebooks from Peter Meyers who's tackling a topic on everyone's mind these days: what digital books can do that can't be done in print.  Peter is a former O'Reilly employee who first wrote about the project on his blog.  (Btw, if you're not already following Peter's blog and Twitter feed you can find links here and here.)  He also wrote about the subject of ebook updates on O'Reilly's Radar blog last week.

That Radar post is a terrific example of the type of content you'll find in "Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader."  I'm excited to be part of the project and will be excerpting portions of it here on my blog in the coming weeks.  The catalog page for "Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader" is still in the works but once it's up I'll also be sure to pass it along.

"Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader" will be a digital product with a twist: we're going to release it in stages and the first version will be shorter and lower-priced than the final version of the complete ebook.  Customers who buy in early will get all the updates free though, meaning they'll pay a lower price for the entire ebook.  It's a fairly unique model in the ebook world and we're looking forward to not only testing it out but also sharing the results with the TOC audience.