Friday, November 28, 2008

Petticoats and Halos

We have been working for some months with a way of selectively revealing content. Our internal codeword for this system has been 'petticoats', the idea being that there are some layers in the system which can publishers can raise to reveal more content.

Time Out City Guides can only be viewed in their 16 pp thumbnail format. But the text of the whole book is searchable.

Some of our other titles are viewable as double-page spreads throughout, and we also support free, full view (all the magazines in our shop have at least one such sample issue).

We have been wanting a system which will allow our publishers to mix and match the 'petticoats' style of layered display with some of the content being open to full view. Our code-word for this development was 'halos'. The idea being that thumbnails which would be open for full view would have a small 'halo' round them, inviting further inspection.

The first title mixing halos and petticoats, which is the incredibly tempting Sawdays book Pubs & Inns of England and Wales.

If you have an iPhone and want to check out the way you can call a pub and find the Google map straight off the page from within your iPhone. Here is the link for two fine Clerkenwell watering holes. When you land on the open page click on the phone numbers and then on the Post Codes.

eBooks and Digital Editions

Yesterday I bought myself Stanza and Classics from the iPhone ApStore. Stanza was free, gives me free access to a lot of books and samples, and the Classics collection cost me 99c. So it wasn't an expensive day. They both work fine. I will read some of The Time Machine in the Stanza format, and some of Paradise Lost with the mildly annoying page-flip in the Classics reader. Since I havent read too much H G Wells or Milton in book form for a good many years, the iPhone can claim some credit for educating me -- at last! But if I do enjoy the Milton, I will go to my old but little-read Oxford edition, inherited from grandmother.

These reading systems both come from small innovative companies with very few employees (Classics may have only two). They are working ingeniously within the Apple eco-system. For sure, they must be giving the product managers of Amazon's Kindle and the Sony eReader a headache. Apple have an installed base that the speacialist hardware ebook solutions can merely dream about and the Stanza distribution system looks as though it will be adopted by some big publishers. But these are not web-based reading systems. They are fine for reading the text but they are using the internet to communicate literary resources. The pages are not web pages. In my terminology they are ebook systems not digital edition platforms (with a digital edition: pagination and layout is conserved).

All the Exact Editions publications already work on the iPhone, all our pages are web pages, so its not in our plans to develop a comparable solution for fungible text. We think (and more important Google Book Search thinks) that pages and page lay-out matters. This 'conservative' or 'post modernist', 'hyper-referential' preference comes with predilections for colour, illustrations, complex layout, paginated references and citations. All the gorgeous apparatus of print that is lost when books, magazines and newspapers are boiled down to a simple ASCII/XML stream. Staying with web pages and web delivery is our mantra. We do get support questions asking whether we can do Kindle editions and I expect that we will now get questions asking us if can sell subscriptions for the Stanza platform. Easy answer in this case: Stanza no, but any of our subscriptions will work on the iPhone, on the Wii, and I am confident although I have not yet verified it on Android devices.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hardware Standards Proliferating

The Register has a tantalizing and extraordinary glimpse of a 'new' Samsung device, which is both a mobile phone and a fold-out 5" digital viewer. Here is a YouTube of the device clamped in a showcase at a trade show:

The market for mobile phones and similar (or dissimilar) devices will explode in the next three years. They will be a lot smarter and more content aware than today's models. Publishers are not yet thinking hard about these potential markets. The Samsung device will make it very easy to consider reading a digital edition of a book or a newspaper on the move.

The very diversity of these devices will make it impractical for publishers to create different versions of their properties for different platforms. Rather than re-format and re-package content for devices with varying interfaces and form factors, much better to offer a digital edition that can be served and used through any valid web browser. Let the browser take the strain as Apple have done so magnificently well with the new Safari on the iPhone. Safari defeats the small scale of the screen by allowing web pages and images to be squeezed and slid around within the browser. I wonder if Samsung's fold-away marvel has a touch screen?

I am so enchanted by my iPhone that I am already spending quite a lot of my time on the move looking at content. Favourite sites such as the BBC, the NY Times and the Guardian, seem poorly adapted to iPhone delivery. These sites have too many columns, the links are sometimes over-dense and the lack of thumbnail perspective is disorienting. The newspapers are perhaps better than the BBC, which is particularly irritating since it shoehorns one to a clunky mobile version of the site which is poorer than it needs to be on the iPhone. Is this the last hurrah of WAP? I have a strong intuition (perhaps not solely and entirely motivated by bias) that the Exact Editions use of the original format of content as pages, aided by search, linkage and thumbnails is clearly the way to go.....Don't reformat when you go digital, do let the browser take the strain, do embrace the new platforms with books, newspapers and magazines exactly as they were meant to be: searchable and citeable digital editions.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Magazines Coming out of the Recession II

What would Google do? I think that the CEO of any magazine company should ask themselves this question. We are now in a really tough recession. Advertising is getting scarce, shrinking in print and going to the web. Subscriptions are tough. News stand sales are tougher. Magazines and periodicals are explicitly excluded from the scope of the Google Settlement with the Authors and Publishers. But what would Google do with magazines?

The short answer is that Google would not be doing what most magazine brands are doing. Google would not be building something other than the magazine which tries to capture, enshrine, repurpose, reposition whatever it is that great magazines do really well. Google, if it had its way with magazines, would be doing with magazines what it has won the agreement of the publishers to do with books. It has started doing this with newspapers (also excluded from the settlement), digitizing historic newspaper archives. It would be building a database system which coherently and elegantly puts magazines on the web exactly as they are and then selling digital subscriptions to those digital magazine properties. That is exactly what Google is planning to do with books and that is what the magazine publishers should be doing with their magazines. Working with Exact Editions consumer magazines can sell digital editions with no upfront costs. Just new revenues. The conventional magazine wisdom is that the magazine's web site needs to be somewhat like the magazine content but somewhat mixed up, that customers don't buy subscriptions to digital magazines and that magazine ads do not work on the web. Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

Magazine publishers who see their magazine coming out of the recession stronger than they went in, will realise that they need to build digital subscriptions and build them fast in a pure web platform. Make sure the magazine works on the web. Make sure that it works on an iPhone and Android. Make sure that Google searches it and that anybody can link to it.

This is a matter for CEO's. Its a matter for owners and for those who care and see the magazine in its total consumer space. The conventional wisdom that consumer magazines will somehow 'morph' into web sites needs to scrutinised very carefully. In few cases does it really work. A lot of consumer magazines are building themselves expensive and irrelevant web mausoleums. Portfolio, a great new magazine launched in 2006 has recently fired most of its large web staff. For a while it had a cool but unprofitable web site. But you still cannot subscribe to a digital edition of the magazine. The magazine is in most cases the best possible vehicle to put itself on the web. As a digital edition. Do that and then supplementary resources (blogs and competitions, newsgroups and communities) can be built around it.

If magazines get their act together and start offering themselves for inspection and for sale on the web, they will be in a good position to work with Google when it has finally got its act together and is selling millions of book subscriptions. That could be 2010. Get ready for the other side of the recession. The upside and the out-side. It will be more digital.

Real Travel

Real Travel joins the shop

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Sidewalk skates in to our shop

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Amazon's Cloud gets more Cirrus

Amazon announces its new Content Distribution Network: Cloudfront. This allows their 'pay as you go' web services to be even more widely and efficiently distributed, see a helpful blog at allthingsdistributed. Think of your content as being distributed in the higher reaches of the atmosphere accessible to all, from the cirrus layer. Cirrus clouds being those "which may appear as delicate white filaments, featherlike tufts, or fibrous bands of ice crystals." Cloudnomenclature.

Media will benefit from this distribution of all content through the cloud, perhaps more than we can yet appreciate. When all music, print and video is available in the cloud and available to myriad devices at negligible cost to anyone we will all indulge in this cultural diversity, this trivial availability. Cloud-based access will encourage the already strong trend towards very simple and light-weight electronic and digital devices which can provide access to media.

The Amazon cloud sets admirable standards of transparency and simplicity in its pricing. In their words "Amazon CloudFront passes on the benefits of Amazon’s scale to you. You pay only for the content that you deliver through the network, without minimum commitments or up-front fees." They provide a simple calculator from which you can predict the cost of your requirement [storage, data-in, data-out, put requests etc]. The whole system is so elegant and straightforward that I am inclined to draw unfavourable comparisons with the hugely convoluted, and complex access system and pricing models envisaged for Google Book Search (foreshadowed in the agreement and Registry). Will books really be encumbered by such a bizarre and fragmented pricing and rights management solution? I suspect that the Google proposition may yet be subverted by something much simpler.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Magazines Coming out of the Recession I

The recession is hitting magazines hard and there is no doubt that 2009 is going to be a tough year. Bad news this week from Haymarket, Centaur, and Time Out. These are publishers with top quality magazine properties. We assume that it must be even tougher for the second tier players. Advertising, mostly the lack of it, is a big part of the problem. But circulation figures are also being challenged. This makes it really incomprehensible that the major magazine companies have mostly failed to introduce, in many cases failed even to explore, the practicality of building a digital subscription base.

Digital editions work. They tend not to be competitive with a print subscription. We have very little evidence of customers switching from print to digital (except for a few 'ecologically motivated' subscribers); but our steadily rising subcription rates, usage rates and the direct feedback from subscribers tell us that customers like their digital subscriptions. Any magazine ought to be able to get a rise in its subscription figures of 5-10% in the first year by offering a digital subscription and promoting it through the web.

Any magazine CEO who is planning to cut the editorial budget by 5% or more for 2009 should be asking themselves why they are doing this when they have not yet launched a digital subscription option to their key magazine properties? If you will get an uplift of 5% to 10% in your circulation for 2009, and to your subscription revenues, by promoting a digital edition, should you not be doing this?

The Exact Editions business model involves no upfront cost, no investment at all for consumer magazines (its commission based for any well established magazine). And since digital subscriptions to individuals and institutions will grow even through a recession (especially during?) deciding to offer a digital edition is a real no-brainer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

UK Booksellers diss the Google Book Settlement

The BA reaction is summarized on the Bookseller web site:

The trade body warned that the arrangement could create "a de facto monopoly" and "have a hugely damaging effect on the publishing and bookselling industry" if adopted in the UK.
One can hardly blame the BA, since booksellers would appear to be thoroughly disintermediated by the Google type of digital book platform (to declare an interest: the Exact Editions system is very similar in this). It is indeed hard to see why we will need high street bookshops if book distribution goes completely digital (hard to see why we will need Blockbusters or CD shops if film and music distribution goes completely digital). One does not see many typewriter shops these days. Sewing and knitting shops no longer carry as many printed patterns as they once did.

But will book distribution go completely digital? I wonder whether the bookselling outlook is really quite so gloomy. It is conceivable that traditional bookselling could continue in parallel with digital distribution. Several of our magazine publishers distribute what we call 'combined subs'. The print subscriber also gets a digital subscription. One reason this works is that the products are really rather different. Print magazines cannot be digital magazines and vice versa. The customer who gets both editions is actually getting something more useful, not a mere duplication.

We think publishers and booksellers should try selling 'combined' book and digital offerings. Whenever you buy a book and register your ownership you would obtain access to a personal subscription. Or the mechanism could work the other way round, digital offers could be used to promote hard copy sales. Proof of purchase of a digital edition would entitle you to a discount on the book {at Borders, Waterstones and participating booksellers}. That could help the traditional bookshop to retain its traditional showcase role. If the combined book+digital offer catches hold perhaps the digital delivery of books will help bookshops to sell more books. The publishers however have the whip hand in this. Its unlikely that the booksellers could set this system up without a publisher lead.

iPhones and Projectors

The iPhone is a surprisingly good reading platform. The touch interface works wonderfully, both in sliding digital pages and in shrinking or enlarging them; and the brilliance of the Apple design means that no one needs a user manual. Even with its very small screen area, broadsheet digital editions are easily read. The main snag holding us back from awarding Apple the universal digital reading device accolade is its limited battery life. iPhone users get used to coaxing and feeding the machine but it would be nice not to be aware of this.

Yes the screen is certainly small, but I am now used to peaking at my iPhone and to reading solid text off it; however it would be good to be able to project a sharp image on to the wall. How about this?

According to Engadget the Optoma PK-101 will cost about $500, weighs 120g and it throws a sharp and bright 60" image (can't be too sharp if its 480x320 pixels?). But I can see this becoming a must have add-on to the iPhone. If the Vodafone 3G connection in London were just a little bit faster, a little bit more predictable, I would feel happy about projecting live demos from my iPhone when we visit partners. That would be a wee bit cooler than the usual PowerPoint.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The iPhone Ocarina

A YouTube is worth 1,000 words

The video clip shows you how it works, and its great fun to play with. Costs 79 euro cents. Very easy to get started with little breaths.

Perhaps the cleverest aspect of this invention is the way Smule have made the toy viral. The app also lets you see any other ocarina players out there. There is a navigable 'earth' interface that allows you to zoom in and select named ocarina players. The app politely invites you to switch 'location services' on when you launch it.

Its a beautiful toy, a brilliant design, a very sweet application. It also leads me to wonder how inventors are going to start thinking about the social interactions we have with literary objects, books, magazines and documents when we access them from mobile devices as smooth and seductive as the iPhone.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Regulating the Google Settlement

While it is a very good thing that Google and the authors and publishers are not going to be involved in years of fruitless and expensive litigation, there may be some awkward consequences. The draft settlement stops the head-on dispute, but the compromise does appear to have some rough edges. Signing off on this settlement is going to be a tricky problem: no judge will want to be blamed for approving a system which violates public trust or creates a de facto monopoly. A lot in the settlement is indicative and provisional and interim (they don't quite say "If this doesnt work both parties agree that we will whistle up something else", but they come damned close to doing so on more than one occasion). Who, at this stage, knows how the various business models will work out (take a look at Georgia Harper's speculations on pricing "bins" here)? Will a poorly crafted and hastily approved settlement create as many problems as it solves?

But one of the clear things is that there is going to be a Books Rights Registry. This doesnt wait for the judge. It is already whirling into action and authors and publishers are addressing it. This agency is something that the books world needs and it has precedents and cousins in the many 'collection societies' that look after dispersed copyright interests (eg in music, graphic art, xerography etc). So we have a new 'Rights Society' one which serves the interests of authors and publishers in the management and exploitation of digital texts (so far only in the US, but the same model will doubtless be rolled out in other jurisdictions -- think about it: we just called up 150 or more digital collection agencies in different jurisdictions and languages). Google is paying $34.5 million for the creation of the first Books Rights Registry (whose ongoing operation will be funded by a levy from the rights managed) and it would seem highly likely that Google is already building it. That Google is doing this is in many ways a good thing -- what an appaling prospect if the publishers were to try and build such a system! But there are dangers and ironies in a situation where Google as the commercial fox, the first and prime exploiter of the distribution opportunities flowing from the settlement, is also designing the chicken wire and building the coop in which the hens will be housed. It is a bit odd for a commercial operator to building its own regulator. Yes, I know that the 8 directors of the Registry are all appointed by the publishers and the authors (4 each). But directors decide the issues that havent already been decided, its the architect and the plumbers who get the building to function. Odd, but possibly unavoidable in these strange circumstances.

Google, unlike the publishers, the authors or their agents, is capable of rapidly and elegantly building a databases system which maps and regulates the incredibly complex real world of copyright exceptions (I recall Frances Haugen's comment about Google's management of 'amazingly complicated' viewability restrictions). Google's code already understands much of the bizarre detail of the world of rights and Google also understands how these rights might need to be exploited (or 'circumnavigated' the international ramifications are quite mind-boggling) so their system is more than likely going to work. This is certainly an area in which code will become law.

But all this makes me wonder whether the judge who signs off on the settlement will really devote a small portion of his/her time to the 300 odd pages in the settlement documentation. A lot of that documentation will and should evolve in the light of experience. She should really be looking very carefully at the API which the Rights system will incorporate and the principles which underline the API. Devising the principles which should govern this API and crystalising the objectives that the Rights Registry should foster is a matter on which the judge can make a real impact. These are matters of principle and public good, barely touched on in the public documents about the settlement, where we need judicial oversight. Perhaps she will spend some of her time looking at the Android constitution and I hope she will require that the commercial exploitation of literary rights is as open and at least as un-Google biased as Google has promised to make the Android playing field. Some of the Android slogans work rather well for our vision of digital books: 'Books without borders', 'Books can easily embed the web', 'Books are created equal', 'Books can run in parallel'. Digital books should do all of that and if they run on Android devices as well, who knows all books may soon be 'available' anywhere for everybody. Nearly all available for free search..... but that is not yet enough.

Friday, November 07, 2008


Whitelines is the UK's premier snowboarding magazine and it has joined our shop.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Long Run

My colleague has just reminded me that the blogosphere is waiting to hear whether I completed the New York Marathon last weekend. Yeah right! But since you ask, I did, and great fun it was. Apart from the last two miles in Central Park when my legs decided that they were really not intended for such distances.

I knew that the flight home was going to be a challenge; the idea of sitting upright for seven hours with 'wooden' legs was not an appealing thought. However, as 'luck' would have it when I arrived at my seat there was someone already in it. I think the air hostess could see the terror on my face when I heard the words 'jump seat' being muted and quickly suggested that I take my seat - or bed, I should say- in 'Upper Class.' Never before has the idea of stretching out for hours on end seemed so appealing. That's not to mention the unlimited champagne, of course! And access to all kinds of magazines and newspapers. Not able to find the rack of papers, I asked the air hostess on three occasions if I could have a newspaper and she enthusiastically said she would bring me one before promptly forgetting each time. As an imposter in 'Upper Class', I didn't feel that I could ask again. All I really wanted to do, of course, was see whether I had made it into The New York Times along with thousands of others who had completed the 26.2 miles in under 5 hours.

Too bad that a digital version of The New York Times wasn't available to be accessed from my screen before take-off. Virgin really should think about offering such a service to their premium customers. I'm sure their clientele would welcome access to a collection of searchable newspapers and magazines.

I did finally get to see a copy and found my entry. The listings give your name and your age and are organised in order of times. I proudly showed one of my kids on my return, thinking he would appreciate the effort that had gone into just completing the course. He was quick to point out, however, that I was pipped over the line by two seventy year olds! Must do better next time, I guess!

Hard Times for Print Media

The combination of a fierce recession and a big shift in advertising budgets towards new Media is making life very difficult for newspapers and consumer magazines. Take this article in this week's Advertising Age, Will Print Survive the Next Five Years?

In the worst-case scenario, however, advertisers won't come back. The downturn will drive them into the arms of efficient electronic media that can better demonstrate a higher return on investment. Auto looks likely to behave that way. Marketers will get the hang of building friendly social networks and advocates around their brands, undermining their interest in the trusted brands of newspapers and magazines.

The hemorrhaging of jobs will scare the print industry's top talent into other businesses entirely. The focal points of culture and commerce will swing further from faded institutions such as newspapers and magazines. The print products that continue will rely on smaller audiences than ever.
Portfolio is chopping out its web team, and "doubling down on its print edition" but it still has not launched a digital edition. What is the point of doubling down on your print edition if you dont offer it through the web? Where is the sunlight? If you look around the newspaper and magazine industry pundits optimism is very thin on the ground. The problem is that the industry has not yet appreciated that the web can be used to deliver the magazine, it has made the terrible mistake of trying to repurpose its content to a format and a package which will attract the same audience as the print product. As though mashing up a print magazine as some kind of web service could conceivably deliver the same audience and the same commercial benefits. Oddly enough this last week's announcement from Google and the publishing industry really tells the magazine industry what it should have been doing in the last five years. Books are now to be sold as web services. Magazines should be sold as digital subscriptions for the audience that uses the web. This audience is growing and will value the fantastic advantages of web delivery (speed, archives, searchability, omnipresence and multiple access). None of the major consumer magazine companies in the US or the UK has an effective program of digital subscriptions and paid digital circulation. If they had been building this for 4/5 years they would by now be seeing 20% or more of their ciculation coming from digital only subscribers, at much higher margins than can be realised by a print product.

The gloomy pundit will point out that it is still not entirely clear how digital magazines can deliver the advertising benefits which make consumer magazines highly profitable (circulation revenue is not the 'cream' of the magazine business -- the cream comes from ads). But magazine experts are being too blinkered if they write off the potential for consumer magazines delivered as high value advertising through digital editions. One can begin to get the flavour of this digital potential if one looks at the free sampler that we now have running for Dazed & Confused. On this page note the discreet link to, or the Blackdice ad with its phone number. Within the index of advertisers there is a wealth of linkage that can be used to generate instant targetted responses for advertisers. That is a nexus which the magazine reader and the advertiser need to see integrated through the digital magazine.

Wii Magazines

Reading The Spectator on your TV

If buying a Wii to improve your fitness and well being is not enough for you, its also quite OK to buy a Wii so that you can project your magazine subscriptions on to the TV in your lounge or kitchen.

Just a reminder that digital editions benefit from being pure web solutions. If a digital magazine or book runs on any standard web browser then it should run on any new web-connected gadget or device that appears in the consumer market (with the emerging Android open standard there are going to be quite a few). Take home lesson for publishers and aggregators: there is no need to develop and support different versions of your content for a multitude of platforms. Just make sure that your content is available on the web through a standard web browser. That is what software compatibility now means.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Minor Monthly

Minor Monthly joins our shop:

Monday, November 03, 2008

Ecological Approval

Speaking of the ecological impact of print (which we just were): we have had a nice bouquet from Ecovelo:

The Exact Editions interface is one of the best online magazine interfaces I’ve seen, providing the ability to zoom each page and navigate through the document using embedded hyperlinks, spread thumbnails, and navigation buttons on the interface. In my opinion, the EE interface is even better than a high quality, fully bookmarked and linked PDF document. The page scans are relatively high resolution and hold up well to magnification, and the reading experience is as good as, if not better than, the experience of reading traditional paper magazines.
But you must read the whole thing. Alan and Michael think that digital magazines have lesser ecological impact than print magazines, and bikes are a low impact way of travelling. That must be right.

Printable PDFs

We recently enhanced our service so that a complete issue can be printed from a PDF file. We have offered page by page printing from the begining, but many publishers do not like the idea of a complete magazine issue being printed from a single downloadable file (the worry is piracy, with one person taking out a subscription and then sending out scores of PDF copies to all his/her friends). I am not sure how valid this worry is, but it is a real one for some publishers. So the option to have a printable PDF of a complete issue is now available on some of our magazines. It will remain a publisher-dependent option. Athletics Weekly is the first magazine to have opted for it.

The PDF is taken at a reasonable resolution, but it is not high-res and so the user can download an issue without undue drumming of fingers on the desk or undue strain on bandwidth (yours or ours). We also omit the external links. The PDF alternative will probably be most useful to subscribers who like to read the magazine on the train or in a plane. It will also be useful to those subscribers who like to use our service so that they can print out the whole magazine --- but when I see those requests in the support log files I tend to grit my teeth. My puritanical, ecological streak is aroused by the thought of such wastefulness. Lets hope our provision of this alternative file format is not damaging to the eco-sphere......


DIVER joins the Exact Editions magazine shop. The free trial issue has: