Friday, January 20, 2012

Apple's new iBooks Author: a potential game changer for many small and independent publishers

Alert: Senator Harry Reid has announced that he would delay a vote on SOPA PIPA – though the key word is "delayed" rather than killed. Here is the report from the Washington Post.

Most new software packages have a steep learning curve attached to them. I must admit that I am still not much of an InDesign expert after learning desktop publishing using Quark. But iBooks Author, Apple's new free tool for creating digital books, is about as easy a program as you will come across for producing rudimentary interactive books.

Rudimentary usually means simple; interactive usually equates to hard. But with iBooks Author anyone with a Mac, and at least some skills at creating documents, can produce a finished digital book quickly. Those capable of producing more complex java and html5 elements will make their finished product more than rudimentary – but for most projects, someone with iBooks Author can produce satisfactory results.
Early yesterday evening, while making dinner (roast pork loin – it was delicious, of course) I spent ten to fifteen minutes playing around with iBooks Author. Because my time was extremely limited (lest I burn the roast) I quickly grabbed some copy from the TNM website, along with the photos used.

The idea for the test book was a Year at Talking New Media so that each chapter would be easy – they would simply be individual months, while the copy would be some posts that appeared that month.

I opened iBooks Author, chose my "theme" (which was "Contemporary") and began to work. I copied and pasted the content which was then automatically formatted. Although the Apple demo makes it seem like additional formatting won't be necessary you would be naive to believe that you won't have to review the results and make adjustments.

I then added in the photos, made adjustments and found that my book at 90 percent complete. Yikes.

I quickly checked the time and realized I had five more minutes before the fire alarm would go off due to the roast, so I very quickly created a cover and added a photo to the chapter intro pages (grabbing photos off the web – more on that subject later).

I plugged in my iPad, pressed preview, and within 30 seconds I had a book (though one that needed lots of work, of course).
Andy Ihnatko, who writes for the Sun-Times and other outlets, spent more time playing around with iBooks Author and not surprisingly produced better results than I did. He tweeted about his work and provided a download link.

But, frankly, Ihnatko's finished product isn't that much better than mine, which shows you how quickly one can produce decent results using iBooks Author.

You might conclude that anyone could now become a book publisher – any independent, small or mid-sized company could now become the publisher of digital books. But as I mentioned in yesterday's look at iBooks 2, I know of more than a few publishers that have decimated their own production capabilities by outsourcing, downsizing or making their staffers independent contractors.

In a world where creating digital products can be accomplished without expensive outside vendors, the difference between the haves and the have-nots will be resources, not necessarily the size of the company. A small publisher committed to developing in-house, to keeping production in-house, will find themselves able to create new digital products on the fly. Meanwhile, those without in-house resources will be always one step behind. In a strange turn of circumstances, the downsizers will find their costs higher if they want to join the rest of their industry in new digital ventures.

iBooks Author, as others have suggested, will probably prove to be a useful tool for products other than digital books, but it is still limited. One can not, for instance, design a magazine using iBooks Author and submit it for Newsstand directly. But iBooks Author will output to PDF. It would be sad to see a tool developed for the creation of interactive books be used to create replica-like magazines, but it could be done.

It's best use by magazine and newspaper publishers will be in creating new digital book lines. Anyone with content, after all, can quickly convert that content for book creation.

But self-publishers will also, of course, be using iBooks Author, and it is already clear that this tool is in the hands of some people who really don't grasp the fundamentals of publishing (based on comments appearing online).

When I needed some artwork for my own iBooks project, and I was in a hurry, I quickly grabbed some artwork from the web to insert into my digital book. I'm not dumb enough to believe that I could really use that artwork for a real book simply because I have a working knowledge of copyright and fair use rules. But many do not. While one expects a professional journalist, photographer or publisher to understand copyright, few civilians do. If easy web hosting solutions have led to online piracy and the casual reposting of the work of other publishers, imagine what the consequences of easy digital book production will lead to.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Apple's grand new vision for textbooks and textbook authoring gets tested with E.O. Wilson's Life on Earth

Despite the hype and excitement of a new Apple event, the roll out of new iBooks products ends today with only eight textbooks available inside iTunes. Because of this, the event will have to be judged as a success or failure weeks, months or years from now when iTunes is filled with new digital textbooks, or else as empty as it is today. (Some publishers, no doubt, will want to reclassify their books as textbooks.)

But while the new iBooks 2 only offers a minimum number of titles inside the Textbooks category, each book is more like an app than books previously found in iBooks. In fact, that really is the point of today's product launches: to promote more native designed books over mere text-only books. (This is why many independent magazine publishers would be thrilled if Apple would create a self-publishing authoring tool for magazines. But let's leave that for another day and just talk about books.)

As of today, McGraw-Hill Education has five textbooks inside the iBooks Textbooks category; Pearson has two. That leaves one other book: E.O. Wilson's Life on Earth. The book is free to download and additional chapters will be made available in the spring, according to the "app description". (DK Publishing also has a series of books that were developed with iBooks Author – those books can be found in other categories other than Textbooks.)
Anyone who has been a reader of TNM will be familiar with what this new textbook looks like in iBooks 2. The "app", if you will, looks like other books that were developed using Xcode: they include embedded video, and have pages specifically designed to be read on an iPad. The assumption is that this, though, was created using Apple's new iBooks Author software.

iBooks Author allows anyone with a minimum amount of computer skills to design and produce their own books. The software, free and available through the Mac App Store, comes with several templates that can be used immediately to produce a book that will be far more interactive than the standard ePub book familiar to Kindle or NOOK owners or those reading previously released books through iBooks.

E.O. Wilson's Life on Earth, though, did not perform very well on my first generation iPad. In fact, the introductory video could be heard but not seen – and it eventually froze my iBooks app completely. The first generation iPad simply doesn't have the juice and memory needed to power this 965 MB sized iBook.

If you saw the presentation today, or followed the live blogs online, you know what this book will look like. In landscape the book resembles a book app, with the video embedded right into the pages (though you can make the videos full screen with a simple tap.) In portrait, the books resembles a standard ePub book, but with the pictures running along the left side of the page, and the video, when tapped, will automatically open in a new window. It is very attractive, and quite intuitive.

So far this book has received overwhelmingly positive reviews inside iTunes, with only one person completely baffled by the requirement that they will have to update iBooks to the new version. That person will be failing their class, for sure.

Left: the book in landscape with its embedded video content; Right, instructions for taking notes and highlighting text.

For those who have seen the rise of mobile and tablet publishing as the promised land for self-publishers, iBooks Author is what many have waited for. Here Apple has given publishers a free tool to create and publish their own books.

For would-be authors, iBooks Author will end any excuses (outside of "I don't own a Mac"). What will be required to get your books into iBooks is a new account (your developer account does not work for iBooks, you must have a new one for book publishing, and don't blame Apple here), but Apple does not charge for the privilege.

The issue of exclusivity is a thorny one: any book produced with iBooks Author can only be sold through the iBookstore. One simple reason is that iBooks Author exports into three formats: iBooks, PDF and Text. There is no ePub export simply because iBooks Author is not using the current ePub standard. Whether iBooks Author is actually ePub 3 or a hybrid, I do not know.

If you plan on giving away your book, you can reformat it and distribute it elsewhere. But if you plan on selling it, well, Apple wants exclusivity.

Many won't like the idea of authoring only for Apple and Apple's exclusivity clause will certainly rub some people the wrong way:
B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:
(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;
(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.
It will be up to other software developers to create something that will compete with iBooks Author, and will open other digital sales channels for authors. For now, it is Apple if you want to produce an interactive book, and Amazon for an eBook.

I assume that if you were to reformat the book for another device, call it something else, and obtain a new ISBN number then you might be OK. But Apple could, based on the agreement, pull your book for the iBookstore in any case. (If Apple really wants to enforce this provision, look for a legal challenge eventually.)

As a former B2B publisher, iBooks Author would have been a godsend. At both McGraw-Hill and at Reed, I have book titles under my control. But book publishing was a minor part of what we did, mainly because it was a pain.

With an authoring tool, however, a magazine publisher could quickly turn a columnist's work into a book title. Before you know it, you have a book line, and a way to distribute the titles.

All it would take would be for your art directors to learn iBooks Author.

Sadly, far too many publishing firms have decimated their production departments. I know of at least one B2B media company that has made their art directors into independent contractors (the good news is that the company will probably be out of business soon).

For many publishing firms, doing anything that involves production is out-of-the-question. And app development? Fuggeddaboudit.

But savvy publishers will see the opportunity at hand. iBook Author is free – frankly there will be no excuses now.

If you need more inspiration, here is Apple's promotional video:

Apple's education event: iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U app unveiled - all free and now available

Many years ago Apple launched a product called iWeb that some hoped would bring web development 'for the rest of us', but failed to make much of an impact due to its less-than-powerful capabilities. Today Apple has, with much more fanfare, launched a series of tools that the company hopes will revolutionize textbook creation, and education itself.
Apple's Phil Schiller, senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, took the place of the late Steve Jobs on stage at the Guggenheim in NYC and began by unveiling a new version of iBooks, Apple's eBook reading software for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

The demonstration for iBooks 2 showed books that were far more interactive, visual and animated than books previously available for iBooks or Kindle Editions. In fact, iBooks 2 is the bridge between previous digital books available for the Kindle or iBooks apps, and book "apps", such as Al Gore – Our Choice and books being produced by Joe Zeff Design.

To produce these books, Apple unveiled iBooks Author, a new application for the Mac. iBooks Author is iWeb, or is GarbageBand. The new program is free in the Mac App Store, and is the tool necessary, the company hopes, that will allow publishers and self-authors to create these revolutionary new textbooks.

Four screenshots from the new iBooks Author app for the Mac.

If iBooks Author ends up being iWeb millions of people will be disappointed. If iBooks Author is the equivalent of GarageBand, then a revolution in education (or at least textbooks) may be at hand. TNM is no position to come to a conclusion right now, but believe me, this appears at first blush to be an exciting development.

The Apple event had a "and one more thing" ending as Eddy Cue, Apple's Senior Vice President
Internet Software and Services, took the stage to introduce yet another new, and free, application: the iTunes U app.

The iTunes U app looks to be a far more powerful tool for teachers than what is currently available. The app promises to give teachers to create one place where they can provide documents, apps, books, a syllabus, teacher posts and iBooks notes. This new app is also free, but whether teachers and professors adopt the new application is, to me, an open question.

The one thing missing, which some live blogs picked up on, was any new program from Apple that would discount the iPad for schools. If Apple does introduce something like this, it wouldn't have been announced at this event, as Apple doesn't like to throw everything at the wall, so to speak, but prefers to make sure the focus is on just a short list of things. Today's event, with three new product roll outs, last almost exactly one hour, was sharp and concise.
Notably missing was Tim Cook, Apple's CEO. Cook will probably be seen next at the iPad 3 introduction, most likely to be scheduled in February or March.

Today's new products, especially iBooks Author, I would think would have a far bigger impact on the college textbook market, where individual professors and schools can select the books to be used in the classroom. I always believed that those who thought today's event was all about K-12 were all wet, and I think that has been proved to be correct.

That doesn't mean that today's iBooks 2 and iBooks Author rollouts won't be relevant to K-12 (in fact, they specifically highlighted high school textbooks at the event), but higher education is where there is more ability to tailor the teaching experience quicker and deeper.

I will be curious to see how many public schools will be able to transition to totally digital textbooks, they will certainly need help. But Apple knows that to accomplish this they will need content. McGraw-Hill and other big textbook publishers are supposedly on board with iBooks. But seeing Terry McGraw on the big screen brought a chuckle to me – I just can't see these big publishers being very enthusiastic about what the future may bring if Apple is successful. This may well be why, though, that McGraw-Hill has chosen to split itself into two companies, with the textbook division clearly separated from its financial services division.
Apple says that the books that are to be found in its new Textbooks are of iTunes (under Books) will priced at $14.99 and lower, and that buyers will be able to keep these books forever – that is, they really will own them.

While this is great news for students, I think the major textbook publishers will be hesitant to launch a flood of books at this price level – at least until they have no choice. We are talking, after all, about old media companies here.

iBooks Author lets you export your book to iBooks, PDF and Text, but not ePub.

Mark Gross, CEO of Data Conversion Laboratory, told TNM this morning that technology will certainly be the key to a successful conversion to digital.

"I don't quite agree that the $8-billion-a-year business was 'ripe for destruction'," said Gross, referring to the often quoted remark by Steve Jobs from the Walter Isaacson biography.

"The missing link is better technology to support the complexities of education publishing which is much more complex than epublishing a novel," said Gross.

Data Conversion Technology works with publishers to convert their books into ePub format for reading through iBooks, Kindles, etc.

Short takes: And the winner is...; Kodak files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; Apple's education publishing event today

The big reason politicians spend so much time in Iowa trying to win the caucuses there is not to win delegates but to get momentum for future primaries such as in New Hampshire and South Carolina. A win in Iowa, the thinking goes, can propel you on to future wins, maybe.

The press declared Mitt Romney the victor in Iowa, with Rick Santorum coming in second by only eight votes – or that was what was reported.

This morning the official votes are in and now Rick Santorum is in first by 34 votes. I'm sure the Santorum campaign would have liked those results announced on election night instead of two weeks later.

According to the Des Moines Register, Rick Santorum ended up with 29,839, 168 less than first announced. But Mitt Romney ended up with 29,805 votes, 210 less than first announced. Eight precincts are missing and will never be recovered and certified, the Republican Party of Iowa officials told the newspaper. There were more discrepancies, as well, that make ones wonder about the level of professionalism of those who counted the votes in the first place.

But as the Register story points out:
Romney has already soaked up the benefits of his declared win. With the Iowa caucuses, the prize is the immediate media attention and the credibility bestowed on the winner. But history now has an asterisk: It’s not clear whether Romney is the first Republican since 1976 to win in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Eastman Kodak Co. has filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The company has been trying to find a way to survive by selling its patents, filing several patent suits, but in the end these moves simply could not delay the inevitable.

"After considering the advantages of Chapter 11 at this time, the board of directors and the entire senior management team unanimously believe that this is a necessary step and the right thing to do for the future of Kodak," CEO Antonio M. Perez said in a statement.

While many blame the move to digital as a reason for the failures of many media products, there is no doubt that Kodak's inability to adjust to the growth of digital photography doomed the company.

Founded in 1880 by George Eastman, the company was the giant of the industry for over 100 years, until Fuji entered the U.S,. market with lower priced products.

All eyes, at least in the tech and book publishing world, will be on the event at the Guggenheim scheduled for 10 am EST today. There, Apple will unveil its plans for book publishing in the education field.

Several websites will be live blogging the event as there will be no live stream by Apple. CNet and All Things D, among others.

The latest speculation from ZDNet's Jason D. O'Grady is that the event will used to introduce a new iWorks that will have a new version of Pages with ePub 3 support, as well as a new version iBooks that will also work on Macs.

We'll see, but this would be good news for Mac owners. Whether book publishers will be pleased is another question.

TNM will be reporting on what Apple has to say following the conclusion of the NYC event.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

AT&T introduces new data plans with smallest plan now $5 more per month

You got to hand it to AT&T, whenever their reputation as America's most hated cellphone company begins to wane they find a way to piss off everyone all over again.

Today the company introduced new data plans. No, they haven't reintroduced the $30 unlimited data plan to counter Sprint. Instead they have introduced plans that give you a bit more data, but at a higher price.

The smallest old plan came in at $15 per month. That one is gone and now the new 300MB plan will cost you $20.

“Customers are using more data than ever before,” said David Christopher, chief marketing officer, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets on the company's blog. “Our new plans are driven by this increasing demand in a highly competitive environment, and continue to deliver a great value to customers, especially as we continue our 4G LTE deployment.”

Current AT&T customers with the $15 plan can keep it, for now. But any change in their plan, for instance a temporary increase in data for a business trip, or adding tethering, probably means that you won't be able to return to the $15 plan.

I migrated myself and my unwilling family from Sprint to AT&T because AT&T was the only carrier at the time that offered the iPhone. But with Verizon and Sprint now with the iPhone, and with AT&T simply doing what AT&T normally does, I'm sure a lot of customers will find that the time is ripe to dump AT&T once and for all. (Unfortunately, the best alternative to AT&T, Sprint, is also the carrier that appears to be providing iPhone users with the slowest data rates.)

Year starts with few new interesting media apps launched, but lots of updates that pull periodicals into Newsstand

I assumed that few newspapers or magazines would want to launch new tablet editions around the Christmas holiday season, but the trend has continued into the New Year.

Over 60 newspapers and magazines have appeared for the first time inside Apple's Newsstand this week. But of these, only 18 are new apps; and of those 18 new apps, only a couple of these were native designed tablet apps. The vast majority, as has been the trend of late, have come from third party vendors and are simple replica editions.
While I never consider it a good time to release a replica edition that will disappoint readers, releasing a new app now might not be a great idea anyways – especially if the app hasn't been in production long.

Apple will soon announce a date for its iPad 3 introduction, and with it might come an updated version of iOS 5, as well. The speculation is that the new version of the iPad will up the resolution of the display. (There are lots of other crazy rumors out there, but most have to do with launch dates, and I consider them without much merit.)

A higher resolution display won't change much for developers looking to build native designed tablet editions, but for replica makers the resolution change would most likely make their replicas look even worse than they already do.

The resolution change, if it comes, will require different artwork specifications, but little else as Apple is most likely to make the transition pretty smooth for its developers by not launching some crazy resolution set. But what else might be in the pipeline that media app developers should be aware of?

Many media apps already have incorporated AirPlay and Newsstand support. The iPad 2 and the iPhone 4S already support screen mirroring, which makes apps that do not support AirPlay streamable in a different way.

The big changes might not come until later in the year, or beyond. Just as Apple opened up app development to third parties in 2007, it has opened up other features over time, as well: multitasking, AirPlay, notifications.

CSP's new tablet app from Blue Toad: the December issue is extremely slow to download and then difficult to read. But issues may appear even worse if the next iPad has a higher resolution display.

The next biggie might be Siri. The first obvious use of Siri would be to allow the personal assistant to open apps. There is currently a crazy, convoluted way to make Siri do this, but it is no better than simply tapping the app icon.

In the future, Siri might be allowed to interface with third party apps in interesting ways. A user could, for instance, ask Siri to open the Chicago Tribune app and go to the sports section, or even to list any stories about the Bears (all sob stories no doubt).

But is a ways off, I believe. For now, media app developers looking at the iPad should simply see what can be done on the new iPhone 4S that might be added into the iPad's bag of tricks.

Web giants protest proposed legislation

Several web giants today made their feelings about proposed legislation in the Congress known to their users today by either shutting down their sites or posting messages.

Google posted a message saying "Tell Congress: Please don't censor the web!" which contained a link to an information page. "Millions of Americans oppose SOPA and PIPA because these bills would censor the Internet and slow economic growth in the U.S.," the page read as it asked users to make their feelings know to their representatives. was shutdown (kind of) for U.S. users. The normal home page remains, but once a user searched they were taken to a page saying "Imagine a world without free knowledge". Users could avoid the page, however, if they pressed the escape button before the page loaded, thus allowing them to continue to use the online information site. went black, as well, converting their home page in the cause. The home page now gives a detailed explanation of why Reddit and other web services are against the legislation being pushed by News Corp., RIAA and others.
Today, for 12 hours, goes dark to raise awareness of two bills in congress: H.R.3261 "Stop Online Piracy Act" and S.968 "PROTECT IP", which could radically change the landscape of the Internet. These bills provide overly broad mechanisms for enforcement of copyright which would restrict innovation and threaten the existence of websites with user-submitted content, such as reddit.
The story of the web blackout has been the lead story on the NYT website since late last night. The Washington Post is also leading its website with the story under the headline What happens when the Internet gets mad.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tablet publishing will not be immune from hucksters; the low cost of digital publishing will be attractive to 'profile' publishers looking to avoid printing their magazines at all

My first job in the B2B publishing industry was with The McGraw-Hill Companies, known to me as a major publisher of such magazines as Business Week (now owned by Bloomberg) and Engineering News-Record. I always saw them as a giant in the industry, though once I got there I realized that their heart was in the financial services area.

As the publisher of the local building trades newspaper and information service, I quickly learned that the previous publisher had made his revenue numbers mostly by producing special sections called profile issues. The formula was simple: the publisher called a major builder and said that our publication wanted to do a special section just about them. The whole 16 to 32 pages would be dedicated to their company, with stories about their building projects, their personnel, and with a major feature on their chief executive. The catch was that they needed to support the project in three ways: buy the back page ad, agree to buy some reprints of the section, and supply us with a list of their major suppliers and subcontractors.

We would turn around and sell ads to those on the list the company gave us – that was how we would make our numbers.

The whole thing seemed like a scam to me, like blackmail. After all, the sales pitch to the suppliers was that they did business with XYZ Company, and they really should support that company by buying an ad. It was blackmail, wasn't it?
Worse, the previous publisher had used a shady outside contractor to do much of the advertising – someone with a reputation for twisting arms.

My boss at McGraw-Hill thought it would be a good idea to get rid of the outside contractor if only to avoid future trouble. But he, my boss, still thought doing the profiles was a good idea.

At first I was against continuing the profiles but soon both my staff and some customers convinced me that we should continue them. These sections, it turned out, were well-written, and well-received by both the readers and the advertisers. It wasn't really blackmail, it turned out, if we truly were printing up the sections (we were), distributing them to all our readers (we were), and if they had the name of McGraw-Hill behind them (we did). Further, our advertisers felt that they were a good way to advertise since they could show them to other builders, sort of proof that they were well regarded suppliers or contractors.

So we continued the practice, though we eventually started to do other sections that were more general in nature, and less about one company only.

It didn't completely surprise me, years later, to learn that there were other companies doing similar kinds of things, but on a much bigger scale. These companies had built an entire business model around the technique of selling ads from lists supplied by the companies they would write about. These companies employed large phone rooms filled with staffers that called both the companies that would be profiled and the advertisers that would be solicited from the lists.

The sales people who called the big companies would often be called editorial researchers, but they were simply sales people – trained to sell the company on the article idea, and to sell them on the idea that they should hand over lists of the companies they do business with.

You'd think that companies would shy away from handing over those lists, but such is the lure of positive press that many were more than willing to have their partners and clients be bombarded with the calls from the ad sales people.

Sometimes the model would be a bit different in that the editorial itself would be sold, in which case it might be hard to tell the difference between what one would call custom publishing and something else more nefarious.

But what would separate out the legitimate publishers from the scammers was usually whether these magazines would be printed in large numbers and were audited. Very few publishers ever bothered to have an audit firm check their numbers. Further, no matter how many copies the publisher claimed they printed of their titles, usually one a small number (if any) ever made it into print – usually printed outside the U.S. (U.S. printers generally want to get paid within 60 days).

But these magazines also had one other thing in common: they were gorgeous. Well-designed, printed on good paper stock, these magazines were often quite impressive both in looks and size – with folios often well over 200 page, sometimes over 400. It was only by closely reading the magazines did you come to realize that the articles were simply press release material, and that the ads were not from companies you might expect to advertise, like major brands, but from small firms looking to butter up the subjects of the editorial pieces.

A decade ago, when the economy was in better shape, one publisher I am aware of routinely produced monthly issues that exceeded $500,000 in ad revenue, and then turned around and printed and mailed about 5,000 copies of the actual printed magazine. Whether any of these issues were sent to "readers" was hard to tell, but the companies profiled got copies, as did the advertisers, as did future prospects.

Has the textbook industry set itself up to be punked: Apple set to unveil education publishing plans Thursday

Imagine a scenario where you own a business and are wildly successful and profitable, but where the vast majority of your customers dislike you intensely and wish for your demise. That is the situation that textbook publishers find themselves in.

If you have a child in college, you know that each semester the buying of textbooks is a difficult and sometimes financially draining experience. With the textbook industry more consolidated than any other media area, prices for books appear to many to be artificially high – something ripe for innovation and competition.

On Thursday, Apple is holding an event at the Guggenheim to announce something that may turn this industry inside out... or may make matters worse, depending on exactly what is announced.

Ars Technica is saying this morning that Apple is planning to unveil a “GarageBand for e-books” and will announce support for the ePub 3 standard.

“When you think about what Apple is doing… they are selling tens of thousands of iPads into K-12 institutions,” Inkling CEO Matt MacInnis told Ars. “What are they doing with those iPads? They don’t really replace textbooks, because there’s not very much content on offer,” he said.

ZDNet is reporting that publishers such as McGraw-Hill are working with Apple, knowing that the digital wave is upon them, and hoping, as the ZDNet angle has it, that such a move will further benefit textbook publishers by killing off the used book market that has grown (this has been a big area of growth for companies such as

This sounds like a typical strategy for Apple. Despite the claims of many tech writers about the way Apple does business, the fact is that Apple typically lines up industry support for its moves. Before launching its iTunes store, for instance, it lined up the record labels; before launching the iPad it lined up some important publishers.

The question, though, will be whether what Apple unveils on Thursday will assist authors and small publishers. If so, a move into education publishing could break the stranglehold big publishers have on the market.

eBooks / app books

That books are going digital is a given. But most digital books today are simply digital conversions of print – Kindle Editions, if you will. These eBooks can be found inside iBooks, as well as through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. In their present form the only threat they are to publishers is if the file sharing bug hits this industry as badly as it has music (and there is some evidence that it is).

But app books are another thing altogether. Few app publishers are being produced, compared to simple eBooks. Take Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, for instance. This book was a classic example of a publisher missing a golden opportunity to show off what an eBook can be. The book was available in eBook form at launch – I bought mine from iBooks – but the book was simple digital text and a few pictures. Isaacson's book failed to include any of Jobs's famous keynote addresses, for instance. Such a simple addition to the book was, in my view, unforgivable.

Imagine what can be added to a digital textbook: slideshows, videos of demonstrations and lectures, audio, etc. Textbook publishers will only move in this direction if forced to – and if they retain near monopoly hold on the industry, these kinds of books will only prove to be even more expensive for students.

An easy and inexpensive way to produce eBooks would not only transform textbooks themselves, but the also the way textbooks are used in higher education. A professor could produce their own supplemental eBook to accompany a main textbook from a commercial publisher, for instance. Textbooks could also be reproduced on the fly with updates, as necessary.

Notice, however, that we are talking about higher education here. The industry and the way books get published and approved is very different when one talks about high schools and below. But here, too, a new way produce digital books could have an enormous impact - and not always a positive one. Imagine, for instance, what education looks like in a scenario where each school district could have customized textbooks for its classes – how many districts in the South would want biology books that teach creationism, for instance? There are, of course, still state and federal requirements, but an environment where books are more customized could have an impact on where education goes in the future.

Dr. William Rankin, Director of Educational Innovation at Abilene Christian University, is quoted by Ars Technica as saying that the time is right for a dramatic change in the format and use of textbooks. “We’re headed toward a completely digital future at ACU,” Rankin told Ars Technica. “A recent study showed that 82 percent of all higher education students nationwide will come to campus with a smartphone. We need to have resources and tools ready for these mobile, connected students.”

Five years ago even the Association of American Publishers saw this. In its report submitted to the Congressional Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, the association said:
Today’s textbooks are no longer just paper, ink and cardboard. They are integrated teaching and learning systems – employing CDs, online graded homework, online quizzes, online self-testing and tutoring, and other support materials. A history textbook of 20 years ago might reference Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, but today’s textbook has a CD or an online Web site that enables the student to watch and hear the actual speech."
The next logical move is to have this material integrated directly into the textbooks themselves, rather than as supplemental CDs or links out to websites.

For Apple, which has been moving iPads into the classroom as a very quick pace (my high school daughter has a class where iPads are integrated into the classroom experience), the key to further growth is the make sure those iPads have lots of content.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Paywalls & SOPA: creating scarcity to build profits

Today is MLK Day in the U.S., and although too few companies recognize the holiday, I believe it should be observed. But here are a few thoughts on paywalls and SOPA – the only post planned for today.

Today's big media brouhaha involves Rupert Murdoch's condemnation of both Google, which he accuses of promoting piracy, and the White House, which has taken a measured approach concerning SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act).

"So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery," tweeted Murdoch today.

At Google he threw out this one: "Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying."

Murdoch can have his opinion, but it is important to note that like newspaper paywalls, content copyright is not about protecting the economic rights of content producers (reporters, artists, photographers), it is about protecting the economic rights of content owners. Just as patents are sold from company to company until the owner has absolutely no relation with the inventor, copyright and paywalls are the profit generators of media owners.

In order to profit from these things, of course, one must create scarcity. This is the idea behind paywalls, and why newspapers that really have no real reason to install a paywall are on board with the idea. Sure, their traffic may be nil, but if all news can be put behind a paywall the scarcity of information will increase the value.

Most Internet observers don't believe the tactic (paywalls) will work simply because there are bound to be leaks, news outlets that don't play the game, and new news sources that will arise.

Likewise, the SOPA promoters can cry all they want about piracy, but the real issue is scarcity: if the Internet can be policed, and all copyrighted material removed, that material would be more valuable (the thinking goes). It's only fair, right?

But who owns the copyright on this content? Those rights have been sold from one company to another many time over. The same company that produced the original Kind of Blue recording no longer really exists. That company sold off the rights to Sony, a company that a few years ago showed its commitment to jazz by firing Wynton Marsalis. It now continues to profit from old jazz recordings without supporting jazz musicians today.

Rupert Murdoch's movie studio, 20th Century Fox, was created in 1935 when Fox Film Corporation, founded by William Fox in 1915, was merged with Darryl F. Zanuck's 20th Century, which has been formed in 1933. The creators of the great films of the old studio days are long dead, but Murdoch's News Corp. owns the rights today and wants to continue to profit. When Murdoch cries "piracy" it sounds too much to me like those rich investors who complain about the Fed continuing to hold interest rates low – they simply aren't making as much money on their holdings as they used to, and aren't they entitled to more profits from the money that sits idly in their accounts?

Why go threaten the freedom of the Internet over the issue of piracy? Why not go after the pirates themselves? If Google is such a promoter of piracy, then why not sue the company out of existence?