When will ebook covers evolve?

I suppose that's a silly question, especially since ebooks themselves really haven't evolved yet. They're still basically "print under glass", quick-and-dirty conversions from print, so it's no surprise that the covers are still as static as the print books they're based on.

The current book cover was designed for the physical world, of course. It serves as a billboard on the shelf for those rare instances when the book is face-out in a store. Covers are intended to be as unique and memorable as possible, selling the key features of the product. But they're also designed to be a lot larger than ebook covers ever appear on screen. So what happens when a print book cover that's 6 X 9" is reduced to the size of a postage stamp? Details are lost, the selling impact is diminished and the branding impression is compromised.

As I scroll through the various category pages on Amazon I can read most of the titles, but almost all of the subtitles are unreadable. A better solution would be to automatically pop up a larger image of the cover as I mouse over each one. Btw, do you want to see a publisher who understands the challenges of branding with smaller cover images? Look at all the Lonely Planet product icons in iTunes. You'll see they use the same template across the entire library and each title is distinguished from the others with three large letters: The location's airport code. Brilliant. Yes, I know that's a very unique vertical market. My point is to show that you can create something unique and memorable, even when the real estate available is as small as an icon.

There's plenty of innovation yet to happen with the content of the book and I hope the same proves true for the cover. Why do covers have to remain static? As I mentioned above, why not have them auto-magnify when I hover over them? Maybe have that pop-up show not only a larger cover image but also a few more details (e.g., short description, quick breakdown of 5-star vs. 1-star reviews, etc.)? How about making those cover images flippable? Touch it and the cover flips to show that info I want in the magnified version, just like the back of a baseball card? Then make sure I can drag that object off the page and drop it onto my own website, with my review and/or affiliate code built into the resulting link.

There's so much more we can do with covers but, again, we need to stop looking at them as simply static, digital renderings of the print cover.

Fluidinfo CEO Terry Jones on API's & Why Publishers Should Offer Them

Publishers and authors obviously have a sense of how they intend their content to be used but what if there are other ways of accessing and consuming content that publisher and author didn't even consider? It reminds me of that great Henry Ford quote: "If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have said 'a faster horse'." The point is sometimes we just don't know what we want. That's where exposing content via API's can help. As we talk about in this interview with Fluidinfo CEO Terry Jones, APIs enable developers to work with your content like a box of Legos, building solutions you may never have dreamed of. Key points include:

  • What's an API?  -- Just as user interfaces enable access to information by users, API's enable access to information by programmers.  [Discussed at :54]
  • The "read-only" model is not the future -- Publishers have grown accustomed to a one-way communication. We produce content but generally don't let users enhance or modify that content. That may have worked well in the print world but the digital world demands more. As Terry notes, the real world is "writeable." [Discussed at 5:15]
  • Publishers are just starting to recognize audience signals-- There's value in not only detecting these signals but acting on them. [Discussed at 10:55]
  • Reading has always been a social activity -- Much takes place in isolation but think about why page numbers exist, for example. [Discussed at 12:10]
  • How do you manage control in an open API access model?-- It's not as scary as you might think. There are plenty of control mechanisms that can and should exist when exposing your content via API's. [Discussed at 13:45]
  • Mobile changes everything -- Simple paywall access via a browser isn't the best solution. Mobile offers a completely new opportunity to distribute and monetize content...but it has to be done correctly, of course. [Discussed at 18:50] 
  • Why not just offer access via HTML5? -- HTML5 is a delivery good delivery mechanism but API's are more like offering a toolbox for building even more powerful solutions. [Discussed at 28:16]

Publishing Talk: Blog, Widget & Facebook

PubtalkPublishing Talk is the name of a blog I've subscribed to for quite awhile now.  Highly recommended.  My thanks to Krisan Matthews of The Publishing Curve blog for pointing out that Publishing Talk is much more than just a blog.  There's also a Facebook group as well as a discussion board.  And, I just added their feed widget to my own blog (look in the right panel).  If you've got a Facebook account you ought to join the group...and if you don't have a Facebook account you need to get one today!  When you get there, look me up and send me a friend invitation so we can build a strong publishing network.

The Wonderful World of Widgets

Cogs_2To paraphrase the famous line from The Graduate, "I've got one word for you: Widgets!"  If you need a nice reminder that widgets are the future, particularly in the world of content, read this article in this morning's USA Today.

Several book-oriented widgets currently exist but we're only scratching the surface of what can be done with this technology.  I use LibraryThing's widget on my blog.  If you hover your mouse over one of the covers in the left panel you'll find a link to that book on Amazon.  That's nice, but how about adding content access?  Wouldn't it be cool to add some functionality and have that same widget cycle through a few excerpts from the book?  Just hover over it and a pop-up appears showing a few sentences.  Want more?  Click on a set of horizontal arrows that will take you through all the excerpts the publisher wants to make available.

That's still pretty rudimentary.  How about making it more interactive and customizable?  Let's say I'm reading one of those books on a Kindle.  Shouldn't I be able to highlight a passage and have it added to the content I'm able to show via my widget?  Yes, the publisher would probably want to cap the amount of content someone could use for customized excerpts...or would they?

Better yet, let's say I'm reading that same book on my Kindle and I come across a paragraph I want to send to a friend.  With a few quick clicks I select the excerpt and send it off to them along with a note saying, "I immediately thought of you when I read this."  The excerpt shows up in your friend's e-mail in-box along with a cover image and link to buy the book.  Is there any better advertising than that?!

Take that last example a step further.  Let's say both of you are using the iRead app on Facebook.  One future option would be to enable your friends to post book excerpts and comments on Facebook.  So in the previous example, there would be a box you could check to automatically have this book, the excerpt and your comment posted on their Facebook page.

As the USA Today article notes, "there's no limit to what widgets can do."

Bookwrap Central

Bookwrap_2Here's a cool little service I stumbled upon this evening (thanks to the Big Bad Book Blog).  Bookwrap Central features video clips of authors talking about their book, what's unique about it, what inspired them, etc.

I like the idea but I have a hard time envisioning success as a standalone service.  If I'm looking to buy a book online I go right to the vendor (e.g., Amazon, B&N, etc.)  No matter how compelling the video content might be I'd almost never think to visit Bookwrap first.  And while you can buy directly off the Bookwrap site, they'll probably never have the breadth and depth of Amazon, for example.

Wouldn't this be a cool new feature for the online bookseller sites though?  I'd almost always click on a video or two as I'm making a purchase decision on an Amazon page, for example.  If you're annoyed by that sort of thing you would simply avoid clicking on the play button, but I'd get a lot of use out of it.

Widgets represent another excellent opportunity for this service.  I use the LibraryThing widget on my blog but the covers are fairly static objects on the screen.  I'd love to see LibraryThing integrate a video feature like this so that you could click on one of those covers and a small video screen would pop up with the author telling the story behind the book.

Amazon Widgets: What's Missing?

Amazon_blackI was glad to see that Amazon recently announced a collection of widgets that are ready for use on your blog or website.  The list includes some very useful tools and much of the functionality you'd expect from an Amazon widget.  I had one idea in mind and was all ready to install an Amazon widget to implement it on my blog.  The problem is it doesn't exist, at least not yet.

I was hoping Amazon would offer a widget that would display a list of 5 or 6 of the books I've reviewed on their site.  Covers would be displayed and as you hover over each one with your mouse a small pop-up window would appear and show the full text of my review.  No go.  This sort of widget wouldn't be that hard to create but I have no idea whether Amazon plans to offer one with this functionality.  I used their "What do you think?" link at the bottom of their widget page to suggest the idea.  I'll let you know what I hear back...

P.S. -- You could use the same widget to do some other cool things too.  For example, let's say you find another regular Amazon reviewer who you've grown to trust.  Why not feature their recommendations on your blog/website using the same widget?

Newspaper Widgets

Newspaper_stackNewspapers continue to see subscriber and advertising bases shrink but some are experimenting with news content distribution models.  This AP story was picked up by my local paper (The Indianapolis Star) today and is evidence that The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post are just three examples of papers that "get it" when it comes to widgets.

A critic could argue that there's no clear way to monetize this sort of model.  The optimist in me sees that these papers aren't content to sit on the sidelines and watch as their brands become even more marginalized.  So what if they can't make money right away?  As the article notes, at least they're getting their content in front of a much younger crowd, often the audience segment they're least likely to reach in print.

The irony in all this is that my local paper runs the story but offers no widgets for their own content distribution.  I'd like to feature a widget from The Indianapolis Star to give my blog a bit of a local feel to it but there are none to choose from.  OK, I'll bite...  I'm going to leave a comment about this on the Star's website to see if they respond...

edgeio's Paid Content Widget

EdgeioI'm always looking for new developments in the world of widgets.  I use a few on my own blog and I enjoy tinkering with ones I come across on other blogs.

edgeio is a company I hadn't heard of before, but this post about them on Mashable.com got my attention.  In a nutshell, edgeio is offering a widget that anyone can use to monetize their content.  The content can be straight text, downloadable files or streaming media.  The beauty is that you can leverage all the blogs and other websites that feature your widget. What's in it for those bloggers and website owners?  The edgeio widget includes an affiliate program so that bloggers and website owners can share in the revenue generated by the widget.  You'll find more details in this edgeio blog post.  Very cool.


Bookvideos_2I hope Simon & Schuster is patient with their BookVideos.tv initiative. It will probably take awhile to build up enough of a video repository to draw the large audiences they undoubtedly have in mind.  I think it's a great idea because it's yet another way for authors to communicate with readers and it lets them tell more of the story behind the book.

They recently released a widget, which lets you embed these author video feeds right into your blog or website.  Unfortunately for me (and every other Typepad customer using this particular blog template), it doesn't fit in the outer panes of my blog.  Did I tell you how much I love Typepad?...

Here's the widget embedded in a post, which is better than nothing, I suppose.

Humanizing Technologies, Inc.: A Local Tech Success

Hti_logoWhen you think of interesting technology companies it's easy to assume they're based out of one of the coasts.  There just don't seem to be too many hot ones sprouting up in the Midwest.  Humanizing Technologies, Inc., would be an exception to that rule.  I recently spent some time with their CEO and Chairman, George Witwer, CEO and Chairman.

George's company has three primary products: Lifepage, Concept Search and Widgets.  Lifepage is a tool that lets you grab pieces of webpages and create your own highly customized portal page.  Think of it like MyYahoo on steroids.  While the content on a MyYahoo page is limited by the elements Yahoo offers, Lifepage can feature pieces of any HTML page you choose, all dynamically updated.  Very cool.  I plan to set up my own Lifepage shortly and will report further on my experience in a bit.  In the mean time, I encourage you to watch a few of these short videos to see Lifepage in action.

Concept Search is an equally impressive tool.  In an effort to showcase the features of Concept Search, Humanizing Technologies has loaded up a database with all the U.S. Patent Office data from January 2006 through today.  Here are the results produced when I search for "Microsoft", for example.  The information on the right side of the screen looks much like what you'd get from other search engines, but it's the taxonomy info on the left side that makes Concept Search so useful.  I'm oversimplifying here, but the tool has enough language and terminology intelligence built in that it's able to parse the source documents and create the categories you see on the left, several of which can help you refine your search.  Wouldn't it be great if Google included a feature like this?

Finally, what makes the Humanizing Technologies Widget service so unique?  How about the fact that you can pull pieces of existing web pages and instantly create widgets for mobile devices in a snap?  For example, here's one we created in a minute or two, simply by grabbing a stock price feed off a Yahoo page.  I then added the URL to my Blackberry bookmarks and can use it on the go.  Again, this is just a user-selected portion of the Yahoo screen, not the entire page.

When I look at Humanizing Technologies products individually I'm very impressed with their functionality and ease-of-use.  I see all sorts of ways to integrate them into my daily solutions (e.g., replacing MyYahoo with Lifepage, using more widgets on my Blackberry, etc.)  Take a look at each of these services and I'll bet you'll find ways to utilize them as well.