Sunday, October 30, 2011

Extreme Face Painting (Enhanced Editions): Taking the Scary Out of Producing eBooks

A significant amount of the books we publish at F+W Media are written for people who are passionate about such topics as Design, Craft, Horticulture, Fine Art, and more. The majority of these titles are highly illustrated, which means it can be quite challenging to convert them into eBook form and maintain the integrity of the original print editions. However, it's important to embrace this challenge and strive to produce digital versions of books with the same attention to detail when first published in print.

With this in mind, I'd like to tell you about two enhanced eBooks we released shortly before Halloween called EXTREME FACE PAINTING. The duo features one with 25 step-by-step "fiendish" projects and the other 25 that are "friendly." And though we're pleased with the way both turned out, the winding road to get there was pretty scary at times.

To start, we decided to split the print edition, which features 50 "fiendish and friendly step by step demos," into two separate projects. This was meant to give each focus and frankly to help keep the file size from getting too large. By dividing the content into two we prevented creating enhanced eBooks with very long downloads, which is important because let's face it, most people don't like waiting.

So I believe this strategy put us on the right track, but two new eBooks meant the need to design two new covers! Both came out great but I honestly wish I'd requested the "fiendish" design be as radically different from the original cover as "friendly" is. Instead, the iconic green skull image is identical to the one used on "50" and I can see how this might cause some confusion with consumers. But that's the beauty of digital, if this really does end up being problematic we can always make that change and resubmit. That would be a nightmare to contemplate in the print world!

But one early decision that did take us in the wrong direction was my desire to try and faithfully replicate the format of the printed book. In the original each face painting project is explained using a series of photographs grouped together, side by side. This layout approach works well with a book that's 8 1/2 x 11 in size. But when considering a reading experience meant for a 10" tablet you're now designing for pages closer to 4 1/2 x 6 and smaller still if you include a device with a 7" screen. Don't get me wrong, we more than managed to get multiple images on a page for these digital editions, but during production it became pretty clear that things just weren't coming together as originally planned.

The main reason was due to the captions that accompanied the pictures. Each set of text varies in length so the content appeared cramped and uneven. Plus the book includes an entire introduction of suggested materials like brushes, sponges, and (of course) paints and after being converted from InDesign to ePub looked particularly disproportionate and simply awful.

I knew we had to start over.

So I consulted with my colleague India Amos, who always has great suggestions, and together we determined the best course of action. One key change was the decision to break out each content element, specifically all those "step-by-step" photographs, and give each a dedicated page. This new direction provided the room we needed to present both images and text in an understandable, linear fashion that the reader would find appealing, but more importantly, useful.

This revision was a vast improvement but to me the images appeared as though they'd been copied and pasted into the file and looked more like a scrapbook than an eBook. Granted, the full screen images were nicely framed by our test device but the smaller ones seemed incomplete somehow. We remedied this by adding a gentle border around the majority of pictures, which introduced more presence and dimension.

If you regularly read eBooks then you've probably noticed how captions and photos often get separated as the text size is increased or decreased. This usually results in a frustrating reading experience, so we did our best to ensure that won't happen, especially since the Extreme captions are instructional and meant to accompany the photos as closely as possible.

These enhanced editions also feature a graphical Table of Contents that presents each face painting project using a thumbnail image. This concept adds a level of convenience for the user because it really helps to quickly decide which characters are of interest and prevents having to browse through each step-by-step demo.

And lastly, a terrific DVD featuring the extreme artists/authors, Brian and Nick Wolfe, is included with the print version of Extreme Face Painting. So we re-edited the footage specifically for the enhanced editions and the clips look great, especially in full screen mode. It's amazing to see how the twin brothers transform a willing subject into a "fiendish" green skulled monster or a "friendly" Mardi Gras fairy making these video demonstrations essential viewing.

You can see sample pages of the iBooks version here.

We hope you agree they're spooktacular. ;-)

Happy Halloween!!!

Also available at:
Amazon
Extreme Face Painting: 25 Fiendish Step-by-Step Demos
Extreme Face Painting: 25 Friendly Step-by-Step Demos

Barnes & Noble
Extreme Face Painting: 25 Fiendish Step-by-Step Demos
Extreme Face Painting: 25 Friendly Step-by-Step Demos

Friday, September 30, 2011

The New Kindles: Is It Me or Is It Hot In Here?

This week Amazon announced a new line of Kindle eReaders that will undoubtedly secure their dominance in the selling, marketing, and publishing of eBooks during the holiday season and beyond.

Throughout the entire press conference, the mostly silent crowd listened carefully as CEO Jeff Bezos introduced several devices with a range of price points, in essence making digital reading accessible to the masses.

Of course, all were there to learn about Amazon's highly anticipated tablet dubbed Kindle Fire and they were not disappointed. The 7" device is light, well designed, and fully optimized to consume Amazon's wealth of digital products such as eBooks, Music, Movies, Magazines, and much more. In order to make all these offerings seamlessly available on this Android driven tablet, Amazon also announced their own proprietary cloud browser called Silk, which seems to be the key to making everything come together in a smooth, integrated, and intuitive way. Personally, I'm not a fan of the smaller screen experience, and I doubt I'm alone with this point of view, which must be why there is much speculation that a 10" Kindle Fire will be released sometime early next year. Regardless, other than iPad2, the Kindle Fire will most likely be the "must-have" gadget this winter and should be popping up everywhere on December 26th.

That said, the Fire wasn't the Kindle I found most intriguing. For me, it was the $79 eInk Kindle with Special Offers that really caught my attention. At this price, practically anyone who's been waiting to buy a simple digital eReader that both looks and works great can now afford to own one. And once purchased, those on a tight budget will find enough free and public domain titles available in the Kindle store or from their local library to read for a lifetime (or at least until the next Kindles come out).

There were two additional versions of Kindles with 6" Pearl eInk touchscreens and slightly higher price-points that were also introduced, but this was unsurprising. After Barnes & Noble released their latest Nook, which had similar features, no one had any doubt that Amazon would do the same.

One new feature that Jeff Bezos demonstrated for the touch devices was something called X-Ray, which is meant to provide deeper information described as the "bones of the book." I imagine this development, along with the ability to look up word definitions, note taking, etc., will only add to the overall enhancements that distinguish reading on a Kindle vs. a print book and I look forward to giving it a try.

You can watch the entire press conference here.

Overall, what concerns me most is whether or not the likes of Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Sony can continue to compete with Amazon in the eReader market. Of these three I suppose Sony can continue to stay in the game from the sales of other products like TVs and Playstations, but what about the others? Will sales from non-book products such as plush toys and stationary be enough for B&N to lower the cost of a Nook or Nook Color in any meaningful way? Can Kobo afford to reduce the price of their device to $50 and still be profitable? Only time will tell, but as of now the future of eReading looks like it might boil down to just Amazon and Apple leaving authors and publishers with very few options when it comes to selling eBooks on a grand scale.

What do you think? Will the book industry be able to stand the heat?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kindle Cloud Reader for iPad: Stormy or Clear Skies?

The new Kindle Cloud Reader is Amazon's response to Apple's forced removal of the purchase capability once found within the Kindle for iPad app. Several other eBooksellers such as Kobo and Barnes & Noble were also required to comply with this demand but Amazon decided to go a step further by taking a page from Google's eBooks app and go the way of the cloud. In other words, they developed an HTML5 web-based reading experience that's independent of Apple's App Store, which enables mobile and desktop reading just about anytime, anywhere.

So...how well does it work?

I accessed and downloaded the Kindle Cloud Reader directly from my iPad, which was quick and easy to do, and after using it for a few hours found this version of my Kindle library to be simple, functional, intuitive, and performed very much like the Kindle App (also on my iPad). However it's worth noting a strong 3G or Wi-Fi connection is necessary to read books stored on Amazon's servers instead of having to download them and that a weak signal results in slower page turns and longer load times. There is an option to download 50MB of the KCR platform onto the iPad to cache content and reduce the reliance on a good cell or Wi-Fi connection. But if you decide not to do that, you can "download and pin" individual titles instead. Both choices are meant to ensure a smooth reading experience and overall I'd say it works pretty well.

So...how does it compare to the app?

The app version of Kindle's reader is downloaded directly to a computer or mobile device and doesn't rely on a signal in order to work. Instead it's essentially an independent mini software bundle containing many of the integrated bells and whistles we've come to enjoy within book related apps, such as word definitions, highlighting, social media sharing, and a wealth of information from sites like Wikipedia.

From what I can tell, all those great features are currently not included when using the cloud based Kindle reader. But one feature that is available is a tablet optimized Kindle Store that looks terrific and is a pleasure to browse. Purchases seamlessly appear in the KCR and that's exactly why Amazon has introduced this alternative way to buy and read Kindle eBooks, which will certainly be a major highlight of the soon-to-be-released Amazon tablet.

I think the Kindle Cloud Reader is an interesting development in eReading, which began with Google and lesser-knowns like Ibis Reader, but has now been mainstreamed by a retail powerhouse and will most likely be replicated, and soon, by the likes of Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, and others.

I'm forecasting sunshine with the occasional chance of drizzle ;-)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Nook & Kobo: eReaders with a Touch of Innovation

I recently had an opportunity to play around with the Nook Simple Touch Reader and the Kobo Touch Edition, both which came out this past June.

Overall these new eReaders are vast improvements over the previous models and here's my experience using each device:

Nook: The Simple Touch Reader

The first thing you notice is the complete overhaul of the design, which looks nothing like the Nook 1st Edition. This time Barnes & Noble decided to abandon the dual screen approach and focus on delivering a solid product with minimal bells and whistles. I have written about the first Nook and was not a fan of the hybrid approach.

The second thing you notice is how it feels in your hands. The exterior has a nice, gentle, rubbery feel, and the back is somewhat concave, making it really comfortable to hold. Taking a page from Apple, it has very few buttons that seem to disappear since they're beautifully integrated within the wide border that surrounds the screen. And that border contributes to the comfort factor, inviting the user to hold the eReader with two hands. But this Nook is incredibly light, so holding it with one hand is no problem.

The third thing that becomes immediately apparent is the touchscreen display. I'm really impressed by the responsiveness and you can effortlessly page through and bring up navigation with either a tap or a simple touch of the main button. This eReader truly lives up to its name. The quality of the display is very good, but unfortunately not great, and that's the only negative thing I have to say about this latest Nook.

The 6" Pearl eInk display is meant to rival the Kindle 3 (which is not touchscreen), but I'm sorry, it does not. In a side by side comparison the difference is obvious. It might be due to the additional layer necessary to make the screen touch sensitive, but the latest Sony Readers look just as sharp as Kindle 3 and those are touchscreen devices as well, so I'm not sure what happened here. For me, that's the only disappointment because if the display was killer, the device would be too.

But overall I believe B&N has done great job of taking the eReading experience to the next level by keeping things simple and offering an affordable device that any devotee of the bookstore chain will want to own.

Kobo: Touch Edition

I've written before about the Kobo eReader and have always been a fan. It's consistently been a good, portable, lightweight device that hasn't tried to be anything more elaborate than that. And I mean this in the best way possible.

You could load Kobo with a bunch of books and take it just about anywhere without worrying whether or not this inexpensive eReader fit in your carry on, was dropped, got sand on it, or whatever. The body was made of plastic, but didn't feel cheap, and the ingenious quilted back made it a pleasure to hold.

Now we have the touch edition and overall it's very much the same cute, lightweight, easy-to-use eReader the Kobo has always been except, (you guessed it), its got a touchscreen!

I found the screen to be sensitive and the response time pretty fast. The navigation is simple and intuitive and the big toggle button found on previous models has been replaced with one slender home button. All nice developments for sure, but again, the 6" Pearl eInk display has less contrast than the Kindle 3 or the Sony Readers. And again, that's disappointing, because like B&N, Kobo misses out on delivering the "wow" factor.

I've read other blog posts that point out how both the latest Nook and Kobo should've been released with displays that not just attempted to match, but instead surpassed that of Kindle 3. That's hard to dispute since this fall Kindle 4 will most certainly include an improved Pearl eInk screen with touch capability and even higher contrast. And you can bet these latest models from Amazon will be aggressively priced, so they're going to be hard to beat as the eReader of choice as we head into the holiday season.

That said, Barnes & Noble has the advantage of synching the Nook with in-store promotions at locations throughout the U.S. and Kobo, a Canadian company, is working hard to establish an international presence. Kobo also includes a social media feature called Reading Life that awards quirky badges to users in the spirit of FourSquare and GetGlue. Time will tell whether or not these efforts will attract customers away from Amazon, the current leader of the pack.

Touch: The Future of eReading

It's great to see both Barnes & Noble and Kobo introducing innovations to the eReader market and word on the street is that Sony will soon be releasing a new line of their touchscreen devices, which is good news since they usually add something inventive to the mix. There is no doubt touch is here to stay and any eReader that doesn't feature this functionality will instantly feel archaic, like the recently released "Google integrated" Story from iRiver.

Regardless, if you're seriously thinking about purchasing a dedicated eReader this year, you'd be "touched" not to wait until the new Kindles are announced. By then there'll be plenty of devices to choose from and surely one will meet all your digital reading needs.

If not, there's always the (rumored) Amazon tablet ;-)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Everything Embellished: The Making of an Enhanced eBook Series

It was late January and I was getting ready to leave for Paris. The bags were packed, the iPad charged, and before departing I intended to download an enhanced eBook to learn a few simple French phrases during the long flight. After searching several online booksellers I managed to find a number of choices but each was either poorly formatted or the enhancements just didn't contribute much to the reading experience. Needless to say, what was available (even for free) was of no use and I ended up downloading an app instead.

This experience resonated with me and upon returning from the City of Light I eagerly started working at F+W Media as Director of Digital Content to produce exactly the type of product I was hoping to find (or the kind even my friend Evan Schnittman might appreciate!). And so I proposed our first project be the relaunch of eight eBooks, enhanced with audio clips, that would make learning a foreign language easy and enjoyable. And so we immediately began development on The Everything Learning Language Series.

Since these were backlist titles, the first thing we did was extensively review the original ePub files. The print editions were published with CDs and to our dismay the digital versions referenced audio tracks from those accompanying discs. Yikes!! So all the tiny CD icons and sentences instructing readers to listen to this or that track had to be replaced and rewritten. Another aspect that required similar attention was the various tables populating each chapter. Tables, mathematical formulas, or symbols can be pretty challenging to replicate in digital format. However, the tables were essential to include and we wanted to get 'em right. We discussed at length how best to present these key components in a way that was both practical and aesthetically pleasing while closely replicating the formatting established in the physical editions. That's the fine balance with utilitarian books like these. They're typically meant to deliver useful information with little concern for the design. That said, I wanted us to aim high and focus on making them clean and inviting.

I shared this perspective with my colleagues Colleen Cunningham (aka BookDesignGirl), Matt Leblanc, and Lisa Laing, the terrific Production/Editorial team at Adams Media, and waxed philosophically about end user experience, etc., etc. And after much discussion (mostly of them explaining to me why half my zany ideas would never work!) they rolled up their sleeves and dove deep into the files to achieve what I like to refer to as an "elegant simplicity." But attempting to make something look the way it "should" is never easy and in this case required rounds and rounds of production notes and several months of experimentation. If there's one thing I've learned with these types of projects it's that they always take much longer to create than anyone first anticipates. Fortunately, I'm lucky enough to interact with knowledgable pros and together we learned a tremendous amount while embarking on this concerted effort.

But here's the thing (and why I personally have a love/hate relationship with eBooks). These enhanced versions of the Everything Learning Language books do look great, especially when the font is set to an average size. Make that font larger or smaller and all hell can break loose! If only we publishers could be present at those very moments to say to readers, "Stop, please, don't do that, can't you see it was perfect just the way you had it?!?" But alas, we cannot. However, thoughtful planning (and lots of programming) can go a long way to prevent most breakdowns in formatting...within reason. In the end, it's the reader who controls the text size, font style, line spacing, and background color with options such as sepia, black, or in some cases lavender depending on what device they're using. Unfortunately, there's just not much we publishers can do except try to predict the unpredictable. This is the reason while working on projects like this I'm often reminded of the Voltaire-ism: Perfect is the enemy of good enough.

Here's an example of what I mean: Each of the Everything Learning Language titles contains a number of writing activities designed to help the reader fully comprehend the lessons sprinkled throughout each chapter. But these are enhanced eBooks, not apps, so there weren't many options to make this kind of functionality possible. Yes, we could've spent the programming time to include a JavaScript pop-up that would allow for some kind of entry field, but at what cost? And for which device? What might work well on an iPad will most likely not do so on a Nook Color or even Kindle for iPad. So instead we decided to take a very different approach and begin each with a "How-To" section explaining the need for pen and paper while using these eBooks. We also recommend the user allow sufficient time for the eBook to load due to the amount of audio and images it contains. It's a simple solution we believe readers will appreciate.

After all is said and done, I'm pleased to report the entire series is currently being promoted in the iBookstore and we're working hard on getting them formatted for Nook Color and Kindle for iPad as soon as we can. Personally, I'm looking forward to the day when the Everything Learning Language Enhanced Series will also be available through Google eBooks, Blio, and Sony's upcoming tablets.

Naturally, we're hopeful all this effort and support pays off and "translates" into sales ;-)

NOTE: Special thanks to India Amos, our latest addition to the F+W Media family, eBook Architects, and Ugly Dog Digital, for their assistance in the production of this eBook series.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Expo America 2011: Surprisingly Touching!

Another Book Expo America has come and gone.

This was my twelfth time attending so when comparing this year's show to previous ones, I'd have to say the crowds of publishers, booksellers, librarians, and authors seemed less anxious about all things digital and instead appeared ready to openly embrace the undeniable fact that digital book products are here to stay.

Everyone I ran into wanted to discuss eBooks, Apps, eReaders, tablets, and whatever else might be coming down the pike. They also seemed genuinely interested to learn more and excited in making the various new content formats and sales channels work in their favor.

In addition to these conversations, more evidence was found during Publishers Launch, an all day seminar that dealt with a variety of hot topics and pressing issues surrounding the book industry today. Several who attended these sessions were from international companies facing similar challenges of their own. The conference within a conference was presented by Mike Shatzkin (Video Interview) and Michael Cader and gave the 120 or so in attendance an opportunity to hear industry heavies like Evan Schnittman of Bloomsbury, Tom Turvey of Google Books, Steve Potash of Overdrive, Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks, Simon Lipskar of Writer's House, Charlie Redmayne of HarperCollins, Cameron Drew of Kobo, and many, many more. Overall it was a very informative series of panel sessions that provided much food for thought and spurred a lot of debate.

Speaking of Kobo: It was this Canadian based company that added to the list of BEA surprises by announcing a new eReader with a Pearl eInk touchscreen, the Kobo Touch. In doing so they attempted to steal some much anticipated thunder from Barnes & Noble who the following day introduced a new Nook eReader featuring (you guessed it) a Pearl eInk touchscreen display. In a previous post I had suggested this type of device would be coming from B&N, but must admit I didn't expect to see one from Kobo as well. So now there are three basic touchscreen eReaders available at affordable prices. The Kobo Touch, Sony's Touch Edition, and the new Nook, a spiffy, sleek device billed as the "simple touch reader."

I must say this Nook appears to be a vast improvement over the first model and so far all the reviews have been quite positive. So between this new low-priced option and the critically-acclaimed Nook Color, B&N's share of the eReader market should continue to grow, especially with women readers. At this point, it will be quite disappointing if Amazon's next Kindle doesn't follow suit and include a touchscreen, but most analysts expect such a device will be announced shortly before the holiday season, if not sooner.

But as surprising as the Kobo press conference and the quality of the new Nook was, hands down the biggest eyebrow raising moment occurred just before BEA even began with the astounding announcement that legendary publisher turned literary agent Larry Kirshbaum would head the publishing division of Amazon. I don't believe anyone saw that coming and the implications of what this development means will most likely not be fully evident for months to come. But soon an experienced team of publishing pros selected and overseen by Mr. Kirshbaum will begin releasing works by prominent authors, most exclusively available only through the Kindle store, which will certainly be an interesting development for consumers, authors, and competing publishers alike.

Barnes & Noble has published books for years, but how long will it be before they introduce a full-fledged publishing arm of their own led by another cracker-jack publishing legend?

Perhaps we'll find out at Book Expo America 2012!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Is It Still the Year of iPad 2...Or Android?!?

Over a year ago in a previous Blog post I wrote about the onslaught of Android driven devices that would be invading the marketplace throughout the coming year. But back then I didn't fully comprehend just how pervasive this dynamic interface would become and that so many hardware companies would commit to using Google's O/S instead of something proprietary or even Windows based to run their tablet and smartphone creations.

This past March many of us watched Steve Jobs as he declared 2011 the year of iPad 2. And though this magical tablet certainly remains the one to beat, the giants of tech like Samsung, Dell, Motorola, Acer, Sharp, and Asus released competing tablets, all powered by Android, in the hopes of giving Apple a run for their money. Plus there's been a slew of near identical devices from lesser-knowns such as Viewsonic, Archos, Coby, and eLocity, each licensing Google's platform with similar aspirations of success. Just take a look at this long, long list featuring reviews and announcements of various Android gadgets out now or still in production. It's pretty overwhelming and continues to grow week after week.

So when Sony, no stranger to innovation and one of the first to enter the eReader market in 2006, announced they'll be launching two tablets using Android 3.0 this fall, it only reinforced suspicions that most companies believe Google's technology provides them the best, if not only, chance to go head to head with Apple. And from the look of this promotional video, both devices have been designed to appear and function like no others currently available, incorporating access to Playstation games, music services, and Sony's eBookstore.

RIM, on the other hand, decided to go the proprietary route with the Blackberry Playbook, however from several accounts the path they're traveling on seems to be leading down a road of disappointment and a possible dead end if much needed improvements aren't made...and soon! Could Android save the Playbook from possible extinction?

Of course, there's the Android based Nook Color from Barnes & Noble, an impressive and popular 7" eReader that's better than ever thanks to a recent software upgrade. So why then is B&N planning to release a new reading device on May 24th, just a month after these improvements were made? Who knows, but I hope it means they've got something big up their sleeves like a new Nook with a Pearl e-Ink touchscreen, similar to Sony's terrific, but neglected Touch Edition eReader.

Regardless, hands down the million dollar question everyone's asking is whether or not Amazon will be next to join the Android army with a color Kindle or simply choose to improve their bestselling eReader with a Pearl e-Ink touchscreen of their own. Since reading in direct sunlight continues to be a strong selling point in contrast to tablets with glass screens, I believe some type of black & white Kindle is here to stay, even if a "tablet-ish" device is imminent. But the latest round of speculation is more than just fun to ponder. This time it actually seems logical. Especially when one considers how Amazon's digital offerings have dramatically increased over the last few months.

Not convinced? Well, here's an article that predicts an "entire family" of Android devices will soon be graced with the Amazon logo and deliver a seamless buying experience making the retailer a true media alternative to Apple's iTunes.

One thing's for certain: If things continue as they are, Android powered tablets and smartphones may eventually surpass Apple's dominance as the preferred platform for all our entertainment needs leading to what might just become the technology showdown of the century!

So I ask you...will 2011 be the year of iPad 2 or will it be Android's to claim?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Amazon's Android App Store: Now Things Are Really Starting to Get Interesting!

In a surprising turn of events Amazon.com recently launched an app store specifically for Android driven devices, aptly named (what else) Amazon Appstore for Android!

What makes this so interesting is that Amazon does not currently sell an Android anything of their own, leading to speculation that the next Kindle, the popular and highly successful eReader, will be in color, more tablet in nature, and likely use a Honeycomb platform, similar to the upcoming product Sony plans to release this summer.

But who knows.

What we do know is that Amazon does sell just about every Android-powered smartphone and tablet computer available, including T-Mobile's MyTouch and HTC's EVO, as well as Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Motorola's Xoom. However none of these can run apps sold from Apple's iTunes, and except for a few simple apps developed for Kindle, like Scrabble and Hangman, Amazon hasn't really been in the business of mobile applications in any serious way.

Until now.

And that's because Amazon, a trusted consumer brand like Apple, decided to shine a light on one of the best and most enticing reasons to purchase a smartphone or tablet from them instead of anyone else: APPS!

So why does this matter? Well, for starters, in the past Android users had to go to a variety of different sources to locate apps, which wasn't very convenient from a consumer perspective. Plus, over and over users would read about how the "apps for Android" landscape was akin to the wild, wild, west (which is unsettling) and so you had an open source environment that wasn't policed well enough to prevent one or two from causing serious technical problems. But no more, because with their new app store, Amazon will aggregate the best and most popular apps, such as Angry Birds and Shazam, and test them to make sure they're safe to download. Sound familiar? It should since it's the Apple model but for "non-Apple" devices. Android users rejoice!

It's been reported that soon Barnes & Noble, the retailer that actually does sell eReaders powered by Android, will be launching an app store of their own. And it's worth noting B&N has made a limited number of apps, such as Chess and Sudoku, available for their critically acclaimed Nook for quite some time, just like Kindle. And owners of the Nook Color have been enjoying those same games plus Pandora Radio and Crossword Puzzles in glorious technicolor since November 2010. The major difference is that B&N isn't in the third-party cell phone or tablet business, so it remains to be seen if apps for Nook will also run on other Android devices. Regardless, it's gonna be a while before they can catch up to Amazon who just got the jump on 'em.

With this in mind I'm sure Amazon can relate and is aggressively working to grow its selection of apps as quickly as possible to compete with the more than 350K currently found on iTunes. Add to this effort its new cloud initiatives for digital music, data storage, plus streaming of instant movies (etc.), and it becomes quite clear Amazon is determined to remain a major player in each of these spaces. Frankly, I'm exhausted just thinking about it
:-\

So that leaves Google, the incredible company that introduced the world to Android in the first place, and who presently has a greater selection of apps than Amazon. But Google most likely has no interest in trying to compete with a formidable retailer with a long reputation for having great customer service and an online shopping experience that just can't be beat. Then again...maybe they do! In the end it really doesn't make any difference whether users get their Android apps from Amazon, B&N, or anyone else for that matter. Either way, Google wins! Plus Amazon's entry into this space will only increase sales of Android devices, expanding their reach and appeal, and all with the stamp of approval by one of the world's most favorite online retailers.

Having said all that, isn't it only a matter of time before a flood of book-related apps start pouring in to take advantage of Amazon's new channel of content distribution? From my vantage point this all makes for a very exciting time to be a publisher, author, developer, producer, or start-up with a dream and a story to tell.

Don't you think?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The French (Digital) Revolution: My Week in Paris - Part Two

Ah, the wine, the cheese, the croissants, the cognac, the...eBooks??

Sacrebleu! eBooks!!!

Yes, as I mentioned in a previous Blog post, the publishing and bookselling community in France, along with other European countries, is adjusting to the inevitable embrace of eBooks by the masses. But exactly how it will all play out, and at what rate, is still unclear and heavily debated in the cafes of Paris and beyond.

So, how do the French feel about reading digitally so far? Well, reliable sources tell me over the course of 3 months the popular chain store Fnac sold approximately 12,000 of the FnacBook, which is their own eReading device priced at around $270 and meant to fend off Amazon's Kindle. That's a respectable start, but in a country with a population of more than 65 Million they've got a long way to go before changing people's reading habits or their views about eBooks overall.

You see, our group learned a very curious thing during a meeting at Gallimard, one of the top publishers in all of France: The staff explained how independent booksellers currently represent 60% of the overall market, an incredible percentage, and emphasized this by demoing a new online network called 1001 Libraires (a similar concept to Indie Bound in the U.S.). They further explained that although several of these stores are slowly but surely adapting to the idea of selling electronic books, the government doesn't officially recognize eBooks as books at all. That's right, eBooks are not technically considered a legitimate book format. And that's because print books are seen as cultural products while digital books...well, let's just say at the moment...ain't.

This has many in the industry dismayed since it means eBooks are taxed at the higher rate of 19.6%, like movies, music, and clothing, compared to 5.5% for print books. And if things remain status quo it will only continue to make it difficult for publishers and booksellers to win the e-hearts and e-minds of consumers throughout the French Republic simply due to unaffordable pricing.

But here's some good news: Soon there is to be a vote on whether or not this policy should change, and if it does (which I believe it will), a seismic shift in the adoption of e-reading by the French will undoubtedly occur. This, along with the introduction of low-cost eReaders, the expansion of Amazon.fr, Google eBooks, and Apple's iBookstore, plus savvy indies that face their digital future head on, will all contribute to making "les livres numériques" easier to purchase and enjoy through a variety of channels. For example, one can envision all the Starbucks throughout Paris eventually selling eBooks, just as they're planning to do in America.

At first I'm sure such a scenario will be of great concern to a number of booksellers but with the regulated pricing protections in place (mentioned in a previous post), my hope is they will choose to rise up to the occasion and take on the competition with the same pride and dedication they've offered customers for years and years.

As for publishers, well some frustration was evident because France is two or three years behind the United States in regards to eBooks. And though I understand the desire for things to happen at a quicker pace, I also see this as an opportune moment to avoid glaring mistakes a number of American counterparts have made, and continue to make, by rushing digital works into the marketplace that should've received more editorial care and attention.

Instead, I believe the French will undoubtedly take the necessary amount of time needed to approach this growing medium with the passion, creativity, and artistry they've always applied to the best of everything that represents France's culture; like the wine, the cheese, the croissants, the cognac, and soon...the eBooks. Oui! eBooks!

Vive la Revolution!!!

P.S. - Here's an article by Publishers Weekly about this cultural exchange.

Merci Beaucoup :-)

Monday, January 31, 2011

The French (Digital) Revolution: My Week in Paris - Part One

I was recently invited by the French-American Federation of Publishers to spend a week in Paris along with fellow American publishing pros Evan Schnittman of Bloomsbury, Mitzi Angel of FSG, and Ira Silverberg of Sterling Lord Literistic.

The intent was for our group to meet with several of the top publishers like Gallimard, Flammarion, and La Martiniere and booksellers like La Procure and Fnac in France to discuss the burning topic of eBooks, Enhanced eBooks, Apps, and the various challenges currently facing our industry when it comes to all things digital. Needless to say, it was a great privilege and the business trip of a lifetime that provided me with a new perspective and plenty of food for thought (and I'm not just referring to all the amazing cheeses or baguettes!).

We first met with the Ministry of Culture and Communications where we learned, among other things, about how the government supports the local independent bookshops by not allowing price reductions on any books published in France, which prevents an indie or chain store from being undersold by a competitor, such as Amazon.fr. Instead, stores are expected to sink or swim based on the shopping experience they provide to their customers. And if a store struggles to live up to expectations, then pointers are given to an owner on how to create a good shopping environment. In other words, every effort is made to prevent a store from shutting its doors. This may seem incredible, but it's just one reflection of how committed the French are to preserving the written word and their culture at large. And it must be working because from what I could see, it seemed like there were independent bookstores, large and small, around every street corner.

But much of what was discussed centered around the issue of eBooks and whether or not they would be welcomed or disdained by French readers. Everyone seemed to acknowledge the growth of eBooks as inevitable, but no-one felt confident one way or the other predicting at what pace they would be accepted or impact the sales of print books. To date, books published in France are not available from Amazon.fr, which means they are not available on Kindle. The few times I did see a Kindle being used on a bus or the metro, the person using it was reading in English. Were they French, British, American, or none of the above? There was no way of telling and confess I wish I'd taken the opportunity to ask.

There are a few e-Readers available online in France, most notably from Sony, iRiver, and Bookeen. And while there I visited a Virgin Megastore at The Louvre to give them a try and must say each had their pros and cons. One other device released this past November is the FnacBook, an e-Ink Reader launched by Fnac, the largest bookstore chain in France, the equivalent of our Barnes & Noble or Best Buy. This device is just OK and we were told that a new, improved model will be coming in the spring. Since eBooks currently represent a little less than 1% of the total market, it was no surprise that the only place I saw one of these eReaders was at the Fnac headquarters. One thing everyone seemed to agree on, is that when the Kindle becomes available with French titles for download, the eBook market will significantly increase.

The other major player that concerns the French is Google France and the eventual purchase of eBooks from their cloud-based store. Ads for iPads were everywhere in the streets of Paris and it won't be long before the other tablets begin to catch on as well, which means lots of access to both Google Editions and the iBookstore. The one portable device I did see in the hands of practically everyone, everywhere was the iPhone! But will the French want to read on such a small screen? Only time will tell.

Regardless of how consumers in France feel about reading digitally, one thing is pretty certain, eBooks are coming on strong later this year and many of the industry people I had the pleasure to meet, both young and old, are excited and anxious to be part of this French revolution.

More on that later...