Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Ibis Reader is Well Done

The Ibis reader was released a week ago and it gets a very solid review from the Wired blog Gadget Lab:

Ibis reader is an e-book reading application that does everything that you’d expect an iPhone e-reader to do, with one big difference: It doesn’t come from the App Store. The app runs on any iPhone or iPod Touch and offers full offline access to your library of books, and is as fast and responsive as a native iPhone application. It manages this through the magic of HTML5, which is supported by Mobile Safari and - crucially - offers offline storage for web-sites. (Ibis reader for iPhone a web app that thinks its a native app)

It also runs on Android, of course it should -- it is a web app, though I have not checked this out myself. At Exact Editions we dont care too much about eBooks and the ePub standard. We think digital editions are much more important. But we like the style of the Ibis reader, and we definitely think that eBooks should be done well if they are done at all. Doing them well should encompass, doing them in such a way that users do not get locked down into a proprietary standard, nor is it good if publications are made available only through a sole e-commerce solution (whether Kindle, or iTunes or something else). There has to be consumer choice; and Ibis is also an elegant piece of software development which works nicely on my iPhone and on the desktop. All round it is to be applauded.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Making Life Difficult for Android

I am sure you noticed that Steve Jobs was reported as really going at Google, and particularly targeting Android. There has also been a good deal of discussion on the Apple:Adobe kerfuffle over Flash. Some of the best points are being made by John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

Here’s what I mean about Flash Player’s performance being a distraction from the underlying story: Even if Adobe solves Flash’s performance problems, I still doubt Apple will want to include it in iPhone OS.

It boils down to control. I’ve written several times that I believe Apple controls the entire source code to iPhone OS. (No one has disputed that.) There’s no bug Apple can’t try to fix on their own. No performance problem they can’t try to tackle. No one they need to wait for. That’s just not true for Mac OS X, where a component like Flash Player is controlled by Adobe.
I say what Apple cares about controlling is the implementation. That’s why they started the WebKit project. That’s why Apple employees from the WebKit team are leaders and major contributors of the HTML5 standards drive. The bottom line for Apple, at the executive level, is selling devices. It may well be true that Steve Jobs doesn’t really give a shit about the web in and of itself. It’s just good business for Apple to control a best-of-breed web rendering engine. If Apple controls its own implementation, then no matter how popular the web gets as a platform, Apple will prosper so long as its implementation is superior. (Yet More on the Unfolding Future-of-Flash-and-the-Web Saga)

Its all about control. And you could say much the same thing about the recent row over Apple throwing out various dubious bad taste, vaguely ridiculous and smutty apps. Again this is really Apple asserting its ability to control not only the implementation of its hardware, but also the environment in its e-commerce operation. Its all about controlling the environment and the implementation. Of course, iPhone users and iPad owners will still be able to access and play bikini-shaking apps on their iPhone. It is just that they will have to be web apps. There is lots of wicked, I mean really bad stuff on the web and it will run in the browser but it doesn't go in the catalogue. Users will still be able to access any kind of pornography or worse, but Apple are saying loud and clear that they are not going to have them in their iTunes listings or in their e-commerce mall. It is pretty much the same issue of control as when a shopping centre landlord says: "No massage parlours and no abatoirs in this 5 acre park. Sorry, no boiling of bones here."

Why does control of this sort, both of the operating system and the environment, matter so much to Apple? It matters because the quality of the consumer experience is affected by these issues and Apple is trying, succeeding, in mapping out a high-end and smarter consumer experience. That is it.

But it isn't quite all. Have you noticed, how by asserting these standards and insisting on control Apple is parenthetically giving Android a tough hand to play? Android looks like being the number 2 (maybe it will be number 1, but it is starting at number 5 or 6) mobile platform. Apple is giving them some nice assets to start building their consumer experience: here you can have Flash. And a lot of the early Android phones will make much of the fact that they can run Flash. Here: you can have all the developers who produce Apps in lousy taste. Clever developers, ticked off with Apple who have a tendency to produce wobbly boob apps. These are what chess players call 'poisoned pawns'. There is no way that Android will not be able to welcome these gifts with, gritted teeth, open arms. But could it be that Android's playing field is being subtly polluted? Google really doesn't much like Flash either, and I suspect Eric Schmidt is not a great fan of iBoob, still less of BabyShaker. Is Android going to be the environment in which Flash stuff runs not too well? How are Google/Android going to navigate the smut field? Part of the point (a large part of the point) of Android is that it is a much more open environment than the traditional smart phone O/S. A large part of the point of the Android e-commerce system is that it will not have those 'ridiculous' Apple controls. Steve Jobs is totally and absolutely delighted that Android will suck up this stuff that he is throwing out of his shopping trolley. Couldn't be pleased-er when the Android e-commerce mall gets the reputation of having dubious apps.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

iBookstore and the Format of eBooks

Increasingly I rely on my Twitter stream for arresting issues in publishing technology. First off, yesterday was a thoughtful blog post at Semantico on the choice facing publishers on whether to go into the iPad platform via individual apps, or via the iBook store. Richard Padley's conclusion:

For straightforward chapter based book content it seems clear there is no longer a compelling case for publishers to deliver e-books as apps. The extra cost of software development, combined with the slowness and lack of scalability in the approval process no longer make sense now that Apple have introduced the iBookstore. (iBooks or Apps? The Publishers Dilemma)
If this conclusion is warranted, it presumably follows that for books that are not 'straightforward chapter based' there remains a compelling case for going down the books as apps route. In point of fact, a very large proportion of books are not straightforward and chapter based. ePub is not a happy format for books with lots of illustrations and tables. So that should keep us busy at Exact Editions. But something else follows from his point: publishers and even worse, readers are going to have to make choices. We are going to expect our audience to read books in one way, as eBooks, on the iPad if they are simple books, but in another way, in another format, say digital editions as apps, if they are not so easy. The experience of reading books will become increasingly fragmented.

Sigh! Life would be a lot simpler if publishers were to consider whether all books might be readable straightforwardly as digital editions (so probably best delivered as individual apps) and then readers would not have to get used to reading books in one way (if they are the kind of book where it does not greatly matter how the page looks and is laid out) and in another way if the layout and design of the book matters. The really odd thing about this, is that the devices are getting better at displaying books as books that we recognise. Because the iPad has a much more generous screen, the need for texts to reflow, or to rescale on the fly, is much reduced. Most book pages on the iPad will be very readable as is.

Furthermore we do not yet know quite how the iBook's reading and display interface is going to work. There are lots of different ways of presenting ePub files. From another tweet, a link to an article in which Hadrien Gardeur notes
(I am disappointed by my).... first glimpse at the iBook's typesetting. "There's not even hyphenation on the page," he said. "If you're designing a reading system I think it's much better to offer optimized typesetting and really create something that's beautiful and easy to read rather than trying to replicate pages in a real book."

Although most readers don't think in terms of kerning and leading, Gardeur's concern was that when they start reading, they'll be able to tell that something's wrong, even if they're not sure why. (from Mediashift -- Dan Brodnitz)
I think its becoming increasingly clear that the ePub format is not going to work equally well across all the many devices that the eBook proponents want it to travel. Part of the reason for this is that the standard file format was designed to solve a problem of how to make 'reasonably straightforward chapter based' books flow and reflow across multiple screen-based systems. The original specification did not allow for the fact that scores of different and somewhat incompatible reading engines would be implemented so that the same text looks so different across different platforms. Here (from some email that Michael Jensen has allowed me to quote) is a heartfelt groan about this inconsistent rendering:

In my own experiments with .epub and other formats, I have yet to find a way of presenting, dependably, any visual model that works the same in Calibre as it does in Stanza/PC as it does in Adobe Editions as it does in Stanza/iPod....

We're still in the late-1990s world of "the same HTML webpages displaying differently in IE than in Netscape," as far as I can tell. Different proprietary software interpreting the same file leads to consumer confusion.

That leads to lowest-common-denominator design: sequential, linear presentations. Sure, leading and line length matter. But c'mon, if I can't have a callout? A wrapped-around image? A dropcap? What a mess, and it's more the rendering software than the format itself.

We are far from making the e-version anything but a pale imitation of the print -- because e-reading software is still in its infancy. For straight prose, it's fine. Anything more? bleh.

My .03 -- we are far away from anything that my ancient typesetter genes would recognize as smart presentation. Perhaps that will change, but I'm betting it'll be 18-24 months before quality and readability becomes dependable, across "e-book browsers."
One can get even more of this pain by reading Mike Cane's accounts of his heroic but frustrating struggles with the ePub format. I think that there is a chance that Steve Jobs is going to decide that ePub is not such a good idea after all (Adobe had a good deal to do with the ePub format and Adobe is Steve's current whipping boy. Can somebody gently point out to Mr Jobs that ePub is a kind of Flash for text -- a flexible but plug-in solution, which complexifies by over-simplifying, where we no longer need it?). Stick with pages! After all, an iPad really is a pad, which holds virtual pages, and Apple has a perfectly good page-oriented word processing program called..... Pages. Admittedly, page breaks in books are arbitrary but they are better than arbitrary implementations of standard files by an unmanageable and ever growing collection of rendering engines.

If all digital books have pages, life will be even simpler if they are all apps. We can then start doing clever stuff with the pages, like linking from pages in one app to pages in another. Will we call that a cross reference or a cross app? Or a page reference from within an app? The idea makes perfect sense. Apps should aspire to them.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

GBS and the Judgement of Solomon

The Google Books Search Settlement came to court last week for a Fairness Hearing. There is now a full transcript, but like many who follow the case closely, but not too closely (it could easily become an obsession), I have mainly relied on Twitter comments and the excellent blog of Professor James Grimmelmann, The Laboratorium, as a way of keeping in touch with what is going on. Grimmelmann and his students have also produced a fascinating, colourful and impressionistic report of the presentations and the behaviour of the actors on the day. This is highly recommended if you have an interest in how the case is developing. The whole process leaves me in considerable admiration for the American legal system -- astonishment even; though one knows that it is very possible that a perverse decision may be formulated in the end. And then dragged out and mangled with a decade-long process of delay and appeal all the way to the supreme court.

Admiration, that the process involves a Fairness Hearing -- a hearing where all parties are invited to present arguments for and against the 'fairness' of the proposed settlement. Fairness really is at issue and fairness should speak. Admiration for the remarkable skill and ingenuity of the critics and the proponents of the settlement. Admiration, really, that the Judge is clearly looking for a solution. At several points in the process he asks for help -- he especially wanted suggestions from the critics as to how the Settlement could be fixed. Grimmelmann notes in his commentary that critics who could not come up with ideas as to how to fix the problems they were focussing on, lost ground.

The Judge (Denny Chin) was not asking for outside help, but like Solomon he clearly needs it. Perhaps his case would work in a Biblical framework? The dispute has unnerving parallels with the one brought to Solomon, but there are also many additional complications: Rule 23 and the arcane process of American class actions, identical factual predicates, Firefighters and all (no, I don't know what Firefighters is about, but a lot hangs from its precedent). The crucial point is that this is once again a dispute about a child who should have a long and healthy future and there is a danger that it may be smothered or torn apart in his chambers. The orphan books should thrive! But there are too many jealous 'foster parents' and the judge will need a masterly stroke if he is to separate the shameful pretenders from the true mother. Is there scope for the judge to put the settlors to a Solomonic test? Two moments in the argument struck me as particularly crucial in this regard:

First: BONI (for the Authors' Guild) on orphans in dialogue with the Judge:
THE COURT: I think I agree with Mr. Katz and the government that if you give an opt-in, you would eliminate a lot of the objections.
MR. BONI: We would eliminate a lot of objections but we wouldn't have a settlement, and here's why. Number one, and most importantly for us, we will not -- we as class representatives --THE COURT: Well, I would assume -- before I said I would surmise. But I would surmise that Google wants the orphan books and that's what this is about -- (Transcript p138)

Second: DURIE (for Google) in dialogue with the Judge:
THE COURT: If Google had been digitizing entire books and not just making portions available but making the entire portions available and indeed selling them, would that be
something that Google would have tried to defend?
MS. DURIE: Selling the work, no. Making the entire work available, that is a more complicated question, in the following respect. We were giving an entire copy of the book to the library.....(Transcript p150)

Boni says that there wouldn't be a settlement if it had to be opt-in (presumably because Google would not work on that basis. But are we sure about that? They are working on an opt-in basis from now on). Durie, speaking for Google, concedes and volunteers that Google have been quite willing to give away entire copies of books in copyright (books that it did in no sense own). Google is not ungenerous. I think these positions conceal an axis on which Judge Chin may be able to turn the case with a judgment worthy of Solomon. Notice his comment to Boni: 'make it opt-in and you would eliminate a lot of the objections'. There are bluffs to be called. The parties should be forced to live with a purely opt-in solution, which incidentally keeps copyright the right way up, will keep Ursula le Guin, and the French and German governments happy; or (and at this point Judge Chin needs to stroke the handle of his sword, even test the mettle of the blade with his forefinger) Google must be much more generous with the copyrights it has opted from the orphans. Generous to the public domain and non-exclusive to its competitors.

With a crafty swipe of his rapier, Judge Chin should be able to pierce the settling parties apart on this issue. And put the whole thing back together in a more pleasing fashion. I am not sure whether or not copyright will still be the right way up. But we may hope!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Uniquely Attractive Invitations

So the question arises: how are publishers to make their offerings uniquely attractive in the multi-media maelstrom of the iPhone/iPad space? Keep in mind that we are operating under two constraints: first, the shop is a media hypermarket -- iTunes is an ecommerce environment in which all types of media product and service can be purchased (Apple are going to have to do something about that name, 'iTunes' is off-key for most other media). The competition will be naked and ruthless, although slightly less naked this week than last. Second, the iPad (and its iPhone, iPod Touch, companions) will be fully capable of showing all media in gorgeous and slick reproduction and playback. The capacity of the system as a media player is going to be very impressive and will be getting better fast (Moore's law applies). How does a publisher make his wares gorgeously attractive in this fiercely competitive environment?

If you are a media-owner or a publisher-proprietor, you are not allowed to dodge this question! Nor are you allowed to postpone it by forming consortia or by hiring consultants to tell you how to build a new cultural format. Newspaper owners who think that their best future is to build a new kind of Text-TV-PressWire news channel are on a voyage to nowhere (TV channels can and will make their own elegant transition to the iPad, whilst print journalists are still finding out how to clip on their microphones). Magazine owners who think that their future lies in building brand-oriented, vertical, communities, with multi-media components, had better ask themselves why these new sort-of-maybe-products did not work as web-sites, because they will otherwise be making the same expensive mistake with the iPad that they have been making these last five years with their web services.

By and large book, publishers have avoided the temptation to think that the right response to a multi-media maelstrom is to build muti-media products and services. The Vook team may have located a viable niche, but no publisher thinks its a big niche, or that a lot of books are going to become vooks. Book publishers know that there is a digital future for books. Magazine and newspapers show much less confidence about the enduring validity of their format. But they should give it a try. Because putting your magazine, or your newspaper directly on to the iPad has a lot to recommend it. And now for the first time it can be done in a way in which the traditional print format actually looks and works very well. The iPad is going to be very friendly to publications in the traditional print formats.

Getting the book, magazine or newspaper on to the iPad and into the iTunes competitive environment pretty much as it is, is the first, but very necessary step. The second requirement is that the iTunes audience should be able to find your product in the iTunes e-commerce environment and it would be better that they should be able to find it directly, by which I mean that it is very much second best that iPhone users who want to read Business Week or the Independent, currently have to buy their subscription via Amazon's Kindle. Finding magazines and newspapers in the iTunes maelstrom is not going to be too much of an issue once the publication is there. Magazines and newspapers have tremendous brand recognition, tied up in the name, perhaps supplemented by the location (there is more than one Independent). These first two steps are really surprisingly easy.

The third requirement is that potential customers should be able to sample or try your product before they buy it or subscribe to the service provided. Sampling is really the answer and the Apple system also makes this surprisingly easy. Films (with their trailers) and music tracks (with their lead-in samples) are already showing how sampling, try-before-you-buy, works in the iPhone economy.

At Exact Editions we have now realised that the Free App Sample to Paid App subscription is an enormously powerful part of the Apple e-commerce system (and it did take us a few months to recognise how this should work and how to tie the 'free' element in with 'in-app purchasing'). We are now re-positioning all the Exact Editions apps so that they will use this freemium approach. The first of these new-style apps will be released in the next week or so. The user will be able to freely acquire a branded app in the iTunes service. The app will give the user some free pages from the magazine issue in full, the publisher deciding how much, and the rest of the content will be available as a searchable resource -- but only viewable in thumbnail pages. This way of arranging matters for a periodical is especially compelling because it means that the magazines key contents pages, and cover pages can be delivered through the free app as a kind of alert service. The freemium approach is also very compelling with books, and I suspect that this is one way in which book publishers can be highly aggressive in competition with other forms of media. Film makers and music owners will be wary of giving away sizable samples. But book publishers can be very generous in offering chunky samples without undermining the value of ownership.

Books of real quality (and books of marginal, minimal or even questionable quality) will be able to make themselves available as free apps in the Apple system, with generous content chunks being for each book a uniquely attractive invitation to its potential readers. Amazon has already shown with its Kindle, how powerful it can be to promote by digital sampling (hub pages). The interesting thing about the app store is that the publisher, who has to take responsibility for how much to offer by way of a sample, will be in direct control of these decisions and will be seeing the very immediate impact of decisions through the sales reported, day by day. Again the Apple way of doing things is giving publishers/developers more control than they are used to having with Amazon. Publishers will be getting immediate and very measurable feedback from their promotional decisions about sampling. It is also a strong plus that the 'free samples' that can be sync-ed with a book/magazine app will be on the consumers iPhone or iPad, even when they have not yet bought. This puts the publishers sample directly in the consumer's pocket (when did anybody think of downloading a movie trailer to their iPhone?). I suspect publishers will soon learn that it pays to be very generous with samples for publications available through the iPad.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Apple and Amazon in the battle for books

Three weeks ago there was a very public bout of fisticuffs between Amazon and Macmillan over the pricing and sale of eBooks. The fight was a by-product of Apple's announcement of the iPad and Macmillan's desire to extend the trading relationship and pricing parameters that will now be deployed for the iPad to its existing business with Amazon. After the dust settled it looked as though Macmillan and the authors, who largely backed Macmillan, had won; that Apple had won without needing to raise a finger and that Amazon has lost. From now on pricing will follow the so called 'agency model' which is really just the supplier management system that Apple uses in its iTunes store. The term 'agency' is a huge misnomer, because Apple is much more than an agent for the publisher. Apple 'owns' the customer and Apple retains all the information and almost all the demographics relating to users (this is something that the magazine and newspaper publishers are very upset about). Under the Apple one-size-fits-all e-commerce system, the publisher sets the price and sells the product (eBook or digital license) to a customer and Apple takes a 30% cut from facilitating and exclusively managing the transaction. Amazon is now being invited/instructed by publishers to follow a similar route, and in fact Amazon had earlier seen this coming and announced that it was willing to work with authors/publishers on a 30:70 split provided some other conditions applied.

Although this dispute appeared to be a dispute about pricing: it was really a dispute about control. Macmillan as a publisher, having been reminded of its role in the supply chain by its dealings with Apple, was asserting its power to set the terms of sale and to regulate the flow of goods. The best commentary on the upshot of this change in the balance of book power comes in a pair of blog postings by Michael Clarke at the Scholarly Kitchen. Why Publishers have Won and Why Publishers have Lost.

The real reason the iPad marks the end of pricing controls for ebooks has nothing to do with Apple’s iBooks pricing policy. In fact, the iPad renders Apple’s own ebook pricing policy as irrelevant as Amazon’s. The real reason the iPad renders any ebook pricing policy irrelevant is because the iPad is not a dedicated ebook reader. Why Publishers have Won

Because the iPad is not a dedicated ebook reader, there are, unfortunately, many things that users can do with the device other than read books. .......Publishers may have won the pricing war, but the real struggle is going to be for users’ attention. Why Publishers have Lost

We can add that the book publishers also lost in a way which they appear not to have noticed or minded, Apple's definition of 'agency' presented the publishers with apparent control of list price but snaffled the customer while they were pondering the various regions and the 85 tiers in the Apple pricing matrix. Reverting to Clarke's observation that the iPad is a multiply undedicated book reader: we should point out that it is a media pad with an impressive technical specification and at the same time a peculiarly empty and neutral format, such that it can be used for accessing and displaying many kinds of media. Certainly the iPad is not primarily to dedicated to books (as is the Kindle), and it is also not restricted to reading books in any particular format or digital manifestation. Books could be on the system as ePub files, but they could be there as title-specific Apps, or they could be there as web resources simply accessed through the browser, plain old HTML, or they could be there as viewable via title-agnostic apps (as Amazon already has a Kindle app on the iPhone platform, and Exact Editions has a generic app, Exactly). Clarke, we must assume, has been studying Derrida and Lacan in preparing for the iPad (I am positively certain that Steve Jobs reads Derrida); for, as the post-structuralist theoreticians might put it: the flexibility of the iPad is radically overdetermined since the consumer can not only read books on it in different ways and from distinct routes and formats, it is also much more than a book reader: music, film, TV, photos, email and the web will all crowd for attention on the device. The iPad is a great but 'undedicated' digital picture frame, a fabulous but undedicated hold-in-your hand TV consol, a truly amazing, undedicated, but remarkable music centre, wonderful for games etc.... It is this very flexibility and media-omnivorousness of the iPad that led to the initial "Is that it?" reaction to the Apple presentation ("Just a large iPhone with a chunky bezel"). The device appears to be strangely empty because it seems to invite or depend upon such a confusing variety of media inputs.

This may seem like a confusing situation and a perplexing opportunity for media creators and media owners. It is. But I will draw one urgent conclusion from the confusion. Scoffing aside, the iPad is a huge and wonderful opportunity. The flexibility and omnivorousness of the device will remain a feature, but the apparent emptiness will not. Book publishers, magazine and newspaper publishers had better figure out quickly how to make books, magazine and newspapers more attractive than film or TV shows. Or, at least more attractive in themselves. Did you notice that Apple are encouraging TV broadcasters to offer their shows for 99c each (a 50% price cut)? So winning in this competition is partly a matter of pricing, where comparisons will be drawn with other media. But it is also a matter of availability and even more of attractiveness. How do publishers make their digital offerings on the iPhone/iPad peculiarly and uniquely attractive? That is the key to success in a multi-media, marketplace, maelstrom.

Making the newspapers look more like broadcast news is surely not the answer; and making the magazine look more like a collection of YouTube videos, or Flickr slide shows is not going to be a winning strategy either....

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Happens when we get the 15" iPad?

The rumour mill was pretty accurate about the size of the iPad. Most of the speculation was about a 9" or 10" tablet and so we get a 9.7" screen device. I suspect that most users, when they lay their hands on it, will consider it objectively a little small (smaller than most books), but it will feel (subjectively) bigger than you imagined --just as the tiny iPod/iPhone, feels a lot larger than it seems once you get going. The touch screen with its easy zoom creates a sensation of spaciousness. The virtual page can be several times as big as the screen. The iPad has to be that not-quite-paperback size to begin with, since at the moment it is too tricky and too expensive to build a 15" touch screen iPad. Predictably, there will be bigger tablet devices on offer, in the months and years to come. From Apple, and from others: 3.5", 5", 9.7", 15" and 23". Expect even more variety. No law says that mobile systems and their media players have to have rectangular shapes, or even be flat! Look out for hexagonal shaped systems from Android makers, and perhaps spherical projected 3D gamespaces from Light Blue Optics.

Does it matter that media players will come in different shapes and sizes in the years to come? Not at all for most media. For music, the iPod Nano has already shown us that the coolest and most convenient music players can be very small. Music players only need to be big enough to give the user a convenient control panel, and if the control panel can be virtualised the music system could yet be even smaller than the Nano. Video, TV, photographs and film require more space for display and it will be these forms of media which are really pushing the boundaries for the 23" and 48" display iPads that we may be buying in the 2013 holiday season.

Printed media? That is another issue. Do magazines, newspapers and books, when they become digital, absolutely need the rectangular shape that we have come to expect from print volumes and editions? Do they need any particular shape at all, or will they become like web pages and blogs, infinitely extendable scrolls of information? Does the print-like page with its fixed and inevitably arbitrary page breaks still have a function? Will we still have editions and issues? Front covers and front pages? Tables of contents? Will books and magazines be parked or opened on the iPad interface in much the same way as printed books are placed on a desk or a shelf? Or will they morph into time-shaped, multimedia, evolving-structure aggregations in the manner of the web site, the RSS feed, the Fast Flip, or the blog? Exact Editions holds that the time-tested design and shape of books and magazines is far too valuable to readers and to our expectations for their to be any question of abandoning the format. Do not lose the design values when you abandon the paper version!

Most of the magazine and newspaper apps that have so far been developed for the iPhone are RSS-style apps. They take the news stream from the magazine/newspaper web site and repackage it in a blockier, formatted, tagged and streamed way for the phone's app. It is the web site, rather than the newspaper issue that is being repackaged. Some of these apps are very good (we like the New York Times app, the Guardian app and especially Le Monde's app), but they have been tightly designed for the tiny screen on the iPhone. These little apps, with their micro story-stream, will not do justice to their parent publications if they are merely 'blown up' for the larger screen sizes that are coming. There is a difficult decision coming: do you design two (maybe three or four, for Android and Blackberry) variant RSS apps for different mobile platforms, whilst still maintaining the original web service, and not forgetting the 'mobile' web pages, also? Soon newspapers and magazines which have committed themselves to this route will be supporting and repackaging their digital product into half a dozen variant forms. Worse, every time there is a significant new hardware form-factor, they will be pulled towards offering a tightly engineered solution for the new thing (15" iPad, Hearst Skiff, Blackberry Lozenge, Nokia Bottle, or Android Scarf etc).

The complexity of this enormously evolved format-offering has considerable impact on the overheads and production infrastructure of the publisher. But it also has a bad effect on the expectations and loyalty of the user/reader. The loyal reader is required to learn different navigational and editorial conventions for the different formats, and app interfaces supported by the digital newspaper/magazine.

Right at this moment, commercial directors of many of our major newspapers and magazines are considering whether they should develop and support two types of 'app' for their audience: a 'micro' iPhone app and a 'maxi' iPad app. They are also wondering whether the apps should be free, or part of a 'pay wall strategy'. The chief operating office of the New York Times or the Guardian, who contemplates this convoy of evolving digital formats, might ask him/herself the question: "If there is a digital newspaper format that can be used on all platforms, should we not stick to that?" Once this question has been framed, the attractions of the digital edition which just is the newspaper becomes apparent. The digital edition can be fed out to any number of platforms and should look the same on all platforms, though inevitably a bit slower or smaller on some of them. The advantage of the iPad, and even more of the 15" iPad, is that we will then be able to lay out the sections of the newspaper (or the issues of the magazine) as separate entities on the more generous screen canvas provided. The presentation to the reader is straightforward as front-covers, thumbnails over an app engine that work the same way with different packages of material. The sections or issues, yeah the pages, are all laid out and held together the same way as they worked in print. Of course, there still will be some value in an RSS feed, it is the way that you communicate to readers between editions, but it is not and should not become the skeleton on which all the content of the paper or the magazine is to be hung.

Once one starts thinking of digital editions of books, magazines and newspapers as just being virtualised editions of the print variety, life becomes a whole lot simpler for the reader and the distribution director (these digital editions also have a bit of magic web dust scattered over them and built into them). This approach also naturally leads to a subtler way of tackling the thorny issue of 'pay walls'. But we will tackle that subject on another day....

Where is the iPad Projector?

I am not sure how Apple were projecting the image off the iPad that Steve Jobs was using in his initial presentation last week. But since they are making such a big thing of the productivity suite iWork on the iPad, there is going to have to be a way to project Keynote presentations from the device.

When is this coming? What will it look like? I am pretty sure that there is not yet a reliable way of doing real time presentations from an iPhone (though you can do videos off an iPhone). It would be a good idea.....

Mind you, in a couple of months we should be able to do an intimate presentation straight off the iPad (one would be enough for a small group) and then pass the device around, clicking through to the magazine app under discussion, whilst the small group admires the trial magazine that we have also prepared for our demonstrations. We may or may not be able to pay you a visit, but if you publish a successful print magazine and would like to see a trial of the app we could make for you, do email us for a free test. With our test account you will be able to simulate the performance of your branded app, using our generic app Exactly. Drop us a line here. And then send us a complete PDF of a single issue, PDF of single pages rather than double page spreads, please.

Friday, February 05, 2010

What Will Google Do Next?

Is the DoJ filing, the nail in the coffin of the Google Books Settlement? James Grimmelmann, who has been following these things as closely as anybody, thinks that it is increasingly unlikely that the Settlement will be approved (which is how I interpret this tweet: "I'm updating my priors on the chances of the settlement's passage downward substantially." -- James, poor guy, has been reading too many briefs these last few months).

So, if the Settlement is not approved, what happens next? In fact, even if the Settlement is approved since it will be ensnared in appeals and delays for years yet to come we might well wish to know: what happens next? The most visible part of the grand Google library project, university-based subscriptions to most of 20th Century literature and published knowledge, modest royalty streams flowing to orphaned works, public access terminals in libraries etc, is stalled. The Books Right Registry may not come to pass. There are three good things that could and should nevertheless happen when Google finally washes its hands of the Settlement and shrugs off its law suits:

  1. There should be a way of delivering the original index-ing service that was the primary goal when the whole exercise began. Negotiating for that to emerge, may be a way of letting the Author's Guild and the APA off the nasty hook that they have constructed for themselves and Google. It would also, of course, be a way for Google to satisfy many of the obligations it has by now built up to its library partners.
  2. Google may finally get round to delivering Google Editions, about which there has been some talk, and more than a little rumour. But if it really is going to appear in the first half of 2010 it was time that it had a bit more visibility.
  3. Google should give greater prominence to Google Scholar which has been for too long a neglected but steadily useful aspect of the Google service
Whatever Judge Chin decides, Google has 10 million+ books scanned, databased, interpreted and searchable in its servers. It has had a good deal of encouragement and collaboration from the publishing industry and I can't see the publishers really wanting to pursue their original copyright infringement suit to the bitter end. Those books are going to be put to some use at some point. I bet there is intense internal debate at the Googleplex about what to do next. The critical mass of 10 million books will be part of the answer.