The New Yorker: Digitally Speaking

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Since the rise of digital publishing, magazines have been converting their print publications into digital ones. Now, these publications use the superior power of the iPad to bring their digital versions to thousands of users. The New Yorker, one of the top culture magazines in the country, is no exception.

Jeremy Peters of The New York Times says, “Offering the first detailed glimpse into iPad magazine sales since subscriptions became available in the spring, The New Yorker said that it now had 100,000 iPad readers, including about 20,000 people who bought subscriptions at $59.99 a year1.”

The New Yorker has become the best-selling magazine on the iPad in the Conde Nast line of publications. It has sold better on the iPad than GQ and Vanity Fair.

What’s spectacular and ironically “innovative” about the digital version of The New Yorker is that it doesn’t try to be flashy or very interactive. It is meant, like all print magazines, to be read well. It is more than a PDF version of the print publication, but the magazine doesn’t come to life with videos and audio like in a lot of digital mags.

Check out Jason Schwartzman’s demonstration of The New Yorker’s new app. Hilarious!

Pamela Maffei McCarthy, the magazine’s deputy editor, says, “That was really important to us: to create an app all about reading. There are some bells and whistles, but we’re very careful about that. We think about whether or not they add any value. And if they don’t, out the window they go.”

The most important feature, the game winner, is the digital archive. Once readers subscribe to the magazine, they can access issues dating back to the early 1900s—the birth of the magazine. This is an invaluable resource for the magazine’s history, and it is definitely the feature I’ve tinkered with the most.

This magazine is definitely a must-read for anyone looking for something entertaining, educational, funny, nostalgic, etc. If you like to read and own an iPad, I suggest you subscribe to this magazine or you’re not getting your money’s worth.


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Libraries in the 21st Century

Going for a "library in the palm of your hand..." thing.

The digital advances in publishing and media may provide new services and even opportunities for the classic social amenity of the library. The what? I know–the li-brar-y. Stacks upon stacks of dusty tomes will be moved to make room for a few extra computers and even rentable ereaders. Libraries will offer the same technology that has convenienced a generation of readers and scholars, providing them with services that a library card simply can’t on its own.

What’s new?

  • OverDrive, the global digital distributor of ebooks, recently dropped hints of providing library ebook support for the Kindle at this past Digipalooza conference1. At this time, only rumors are circulating, but one can speculate that it would mean free-range and 24/7 access to your library’s digital inventory if you have a Kindle in hand. This actually surprises me a bit, because OverDrive is partnered with Sony, and this development could cannibalize the market for the new Sony ereader.
  • Speaking of Sony, their partnership with OverDrive is a natural fit, considering Sony has made great strides in working with public libraries to establish ereader lending programs with their devices. Now, paupers like myself can enjoy all the technological facilities that hipsters can at a local library.
  • Scholastic is launching BookFlix in California to connect homes, teachers and children to local libraries (provided they have an internet connection). The service provides interactive literary resources to engage children and enforce strong reading habits. The program pairs fictional storybooks with nonfiction ebooks from Scholastic to provide real-world knowledge to reinforce the themes of the literature. Check out the BookFlix website to see a video overview.

Even with all of this 21st century support, the public libraries have a lot of work left to do. Libraries and publishers still butt heads over a lending model that is effective and profitable for both parties. They also still have to develop their digital inventories and find ways to connect to patrons remotely. It will be an interesting time of transition, but with new tools and strategies, the library of the future is not far from reach.

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Bookbags Getting Lighter

Textbooks are closer to becoming a serious presence in the book app market than ever before. Students make up a large percentage of the iOS audience as younger consumers flock around devices that offer new ways to consume media.

Students all over the country want a lighter book bag. Carrying 20 lbs of books on your back is not and will never be in style.

Dianna Dilworth of eBook Newser says, “According to a new study from education software company Kno, American college students dislike lugging school books around so much that 73 percent of them are willing to give up sex in order to avoid having to carry books.”

Convenience and affordability are definitely the ends that students are looking for.

Dilworth says, “According to the study,  24 percent of students carry 20 lbs or more of books on a typical day. In addition, 46 percent of college students have been prevented from studying because they forgot the specific book they needed; 20 percent have lost their books and 16 percent have been hindered due to missing pages in the book.”

Companies such as CourseSmart are finding ways to make textbook acquisition more convenient and cost effective. Students can get textbooks for up to 60 percent cheaper from its library, which is 20,000 eBooks strong1.

The CourseSmart app itself serves as a marketplace and platform. The app works very much like most store apps in which you browse and rent the texts you need. The rental system is very generous, giving you enough time to finish the semester. It also allows for super discounts on much-needed textbooks.

The most innovative capability in the app is the ability to “highlight, search, copy, paste, take notes, share and print while offline.” This makes buying eTextbooks a true “on-the-go” experience. No matter where you are, you can study your periodic table.

Sean Devine, CEO at CourseSmart, says, “CourseSmart’s use of ground-breaking technology and our innovative approach further demonstrates the company’s commitment to providing students and faculty with extraordinary access to affordable, outcome-oriented digital course materials. Eliminating the necessity for users to make a choice between online and offline access is a significant step forward in our goal of providing students and faculty access to digital course materials from any device, anywhere.”

Hopefully, this app will begin to further alleviate the ever-breaking back of the college student and fatten his or her wallet.



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Apple vs. the E-Book World

Apple is marginalizing its eBook market. The company has been waging war on third-party bookseller apps by competitors such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Google. What has kept Apple on top in the tablet market is how cunning and smart it is when moving its pieces on the chessboard. Amazon, B&N, and Google have long established book marketplaces online and in the Apple App Store. They have almost completely deleted the iBookstore from the equation. This meant consumers were buying the iPad, but using it to read eBooks sold by the competitors.

Philip Elmer-Dewitt of Apple 2.0 gives it to us straight: “In the past few days, Apple made good on the threat it issued in February when it revealed its so-called “subscription model.” Publishers and book resellers that wanted to do business on the App Store had to fork over 30% of every sale or take their business elsewhere. Putting a button on an app that took readers out of the App Store to make a purchase -as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Google had been doing–would, as of June 30, no longer be permitted1.”

The deadline has past, of course, but the 30% royalty to Apple was not very appealing to its competitors. Instead, these booksellers shutdown their apps and re-launched them without their easy-to-use buttons. While users can still purchase and read eBooks from the third-party booksellers, there is no longer a button to transfer you directly to the Kindle Store or the Nook Store or Google Books to do your shopping. The iBookstore will be the most convenient and fastest store to access.

“As someone who has purchased and read several dozen books on the Kindle app in the past year, I have to say that this sucks. The Amazon bookstore on the iPad was a reader’s paradise: A enormous library with open shelves that let you browse at will, check reviews and more often than not read the first chapter for free. Without that Kindle Store button, however, I suspect many users — if not most — will have no idea how to get started,” Elmer-Dewitt says.

The question now is whether the ends will justify the means. This is for consumers to decide. Will the iPad enchant its users to switch to the iBookstore? Do they care that the iBookstore has a way smaller library than the Kindle Store? These are all questions that Apple has studied and they seem to think the consumers will favor them in the end.

Apple’s competitors have a handicap. They need the iPad to sell a maximum amount of eBooks because consumers are flocking to the device. This means they have to cooperate with the enemy.

The digital publishing world is starting to sound like a scene in Wall Street. Surely, Michael Douglas would know what to do. First, he would check the stocks on his iPad…



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Digital Sentiment

Digital publishing might be slowly eliminating the concept of book signing with new services such as Kindlegraph and Longpen, both of which are designed to allow writers to sign things digitally through the web.

Kindlegraph and Longpen (the latter invented, oddly enough, by Margaret Atwood) are said to make the eBook “a little more personal.” At what cost?

There’s nothing like waiting in line to meet, hug, shake hands with, drool over, stare at like an idiot or hand your favorite copy of a writer’s book to sign.

Kindlegraphing is eliminating the connection between author and reader. In literature, the author is in direct correlation with the work. In other words, readers usually find books more interesting once they learn more about their authors, unless the writer is a complete nutjobs (which would only scare a few readers) or a conceited intellectual (which would deter most college students on a daily Bukowski fix).

Undoubtedly, writers such as the late David Foster Wallace wouldn’t be as interesting (surely, he’d still be fairly interesting) if the world wasn’t privy to how awkward (and super friendly) he was.

Paul Carr of TechCrunh explains how Kindlegraphing works: “The technology is straightforward enough — readers sign in using Twitter, and select the book which they would like ‘signed’ (authors, or their publishers, have to opt in to have their books featured). The request is then forwarded to the author who — using Docusign’s API — can write a short message and digitally sign it. The signed message is
then forwarded to the reader’s Kindle, as a separate file1.”

Readers could make the argument that Kindlegraph gives them the opportunity to get all their favorite authors’ autographs without having to run to New York City for a packed reading and wait on line for an hour. Sure, but isn’t the signing the foundation on which the connection between author and reader was built? Readers could have all these autographs, but nothing to show for them. Gone are the days when you can put your signed editions on a mantle.

Credibility. Anyone could sign those editions for you at the publishing company, and you would never know.

I like staying in lines for things I’m going to thoroughly enjoy, such as meeting my favorite author. It’s a pastime. Why let go of it?



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Borders Says Its Last Words

When I wrote about one of the five Borders stores that was closing in New Jersey, I should have expected that the rest of the stores would be going soon, too. To be honest, I had no idea until I saw an article1 online about the Borders Farewell Email, which I had deleted from my own inbox earlier without a glance at the subject line (A Fond Farewell…) because I was so used to getting handfuls of Borders promotional emails every week.

I fished it out of my Trash box, so to speak, and found a substantial goodbye, complete with company mission, liquidation summary and plans for the leftover resources available to Rewards Members. The explanation for the company’s downfall was simple: “Borders [had] been facing headwinds for quite some time, including a rapidly changing book industry, the eReader revolution, and a turbulent economy.” The email was signed by Borders CEO Mike Edwards.

The day after the Fond Farewell, a much more crass liquidation sale email was sent, the crassness coming from the fact that the message was pure marketing, something bankrupt businesses do best. A third email explained that Borders members will be able to use their login information at OO.com2 to retrieve their WOWPoints, which can be used just as they had been for Borders Rewards Perks. is run by the same company that headed Borders Rewards Perks, Next Jump, Inc., “so this makes the transition easy.”

Other transitions seemed like they might be a little trickier—what about customers’ Kobo accounts? As it turns out, Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis assures Kobo users that Borders only had “a minority stake in [the] company,” so there’s no need to worry about the eBooks formatted for the Kobo3.

The most complicated transition that will be spurred by the company breakdown: Where will former Borders employees go in this “turbulent economy”? There doesn’t seem to be any public mention of what the company has prepared for their employees, but that doesn’t mean that there are no actions being taken. One article4 details the efforts of a few supporters to set up a blog that may help connect Borders employees with new prospects. The blog is aimed at stores in close proximity to Borders locations that may be looking for new hires.

After more than 40 years of service to the reading community, Borders has said its final words.



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Don’t Underestimate the Dark Side

Digital publishing is the wave of the future, and the Writers Guild of America agrees. That’s why they’re trying to make it work for them. So far, the payoff just isn’t there, according to the Guild, and they want to see more money come their way from the digital medium. However, they know as well as I do: Don’t underestimate the dark side of ePublishing.

I wrote about the “darkside” of ePublishing earlier this summer and how writers might be affected ($$$) by the ever-growing threat of piracy. But when writers aren’t getting paid their fair share from their publishers, that’s an entirely different story, and that’s what the Guild (no stranger to picketing outside corporate headquarters) is trying to bring to light.

Graeme McMillan of Techland gives us the numbers: “WGA West reports $2.63 million for 2010 new media work, which sounds impressive before you realize that this number is for all its members; on average, each member is making only $219.16 from residual payments online. Surprisingly, that is 24 percent up on 2009, which is the one piece of good news for WGA members in this whole thing.1

The digital publishing model is built on a system that is less beneficial to the authors, albeit less restrictive. While the authors have less restrictions concerning length or genre, they also receive no advance. The major issue might not be the royalty system, which is usually 35 to 40 percent on sales (way higher than print), but the audience. Although digital publishing is growing exponentially, print still has a higher readership. This makes it a lot more difficult for both the publishers and authors to make money.

In an ideal world, publishers would want to sit down and negotiate. The loss of writers due to another strike could mean major losses in the digital publishing market.

Math lesson: Less writers = less eBooks.

Will publishers sit down with the Guild and discuss a better compensation agreement? That remains to be seen.

Piracy is hitting ePublishing like a bat to the face and the only people willing to stay down are the Go the F—k To Sleep readers. For the rest of the ePublishing world, experts are trying to find ways to better protect digital media from being copied and sold illegally.

According to Nate Hoffelder of eBook Newser, the top 5 pirated eBooks are: Men’s Fitness – 12 Minute Workout, How to Answer Hard Interview Questions, Excel 2010 Formulas, Playboy June 2011 and 1000 Photoshop Tips and Tricks2.

Passwords could and should be given to readers upon purchase of an eBook. As far as eBook subscription services go, CAPTCHAs (those annoying distorted letters you have to decipher before posting data on various social networking sites) and passwords could be implemented. This would mean a lot more button pushing and checkpoints, but it would protect both the readers and the writers from hacking and piracy. Hacking, although it isn’t a big issue as of yet, will be once book apps really kick off the ground.

This might all seem very 1984 to you (a bit dramatic?), but think about it. I dare say it: it’s for your own good. Evil-doers, Big Brother is watching.




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Harry Potter Isn’t Done Merchandising

This past Saturday, I took my girlfriend Lindsay to see the epic conclusion of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. Unfortunately, there were some people attending who thought it was a wise idea to bring their significant other to the last movie of the franchise who have never actually read or watched any of the prequels.

In short, she had to whisper plot points throughout the film’s entirety and force me to repeatedly tell them to silence themselves (“Silentium,” ha, I used Latin, which works magic in Potter-land). What they both could have used was a copy of Harry Potter: Film Wizardry–but not the book, the chart-climbing iPad App.

This engaging compendium connects ideas from the books that may have been left out in the movies’ translations–marvelous details that may have been caught on screen, but meant little without hardcover context. Harry Potter: Film Wizardry delivers an enchanting interactive experience, transporting readers to the wizarding world by sharing filmmaking secrets, unpublished photography and artwork and exclusive stories from the stars. As a full-featured App, many details come to life through interactivity, such as the wanted posters of Sirius Black (my favorite character) coming to life.

The experience doesn’t have to end after this movie. Download this App, and re-watch all the movies in new light with an iPad in hand. That should take up a couple more weekends.

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PadWorx for a More Mature E-Book

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Enhanced e-books are collectively the poster child of the digital/literary world, but the largest market is leaning toward interactive children’s books. Where’s the stuff for us big kids? I like playing with the iPad and other tablet devices, but would definitely prefer to sample their true potential with something other than The Berenstain Bears. Fortunately, there is a digital media group taking some of the best literary titles and giving them a shiny new makeover.

PadWorx Digital Media Inc. was formed by Jeffrey Alan Schechter and Tod Baudais. The dynamic duo came together in 2010 and their work scaled the iTunes Book App ratings with their Halloween release of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

They took the classic horror story and enhanced the reading experience with an artistic interactivity that lends itself to the mood of the dark literature and theme of the very passage you are reading. I embedded a video trailer of the book in my previous post. To demonstrate their innovation, note the clip where a match is used to light the passage of text on the screen. The first words of the panel are, “I struck a match.”

Their works also include features such as mini-games, original art, illustrations, animations and music. It all comes together on a gaming platform (believe it or not) developed by Tod Baudais for the iOS; hence, it is only on iPad :-(…

This clever use of bells and whistles went on to win PadWorx the Publishing Innovation Award and further recognition. PadWorx recently partnered with Quirk Books to release the digital rendition of the iconic cult fiction, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. For those of you who don’t know, this story takes Jane Austen’s Pride and Predjudice and sets the story and characters in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.

I really look forward to seeing what PadWorx does with the title. The release is slated sometime this fall (I’m guessing a second Halloween release). In the meantime, take a look at the trailers for their other exciting titles.

A Christmas Carol:

Alice: Madness Returns (An EA collaboration)

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Children’s Book Apps Reach for the Top

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While we know that comics rank highly for apps in the Apple store, children’s book apps like The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore and Blue Hat, Green Hat joined them on the top 10 list last week¹, making for a very colorful top-grossing sales experience.

This bodes well for HarperCollins, who will be releasing their digital I Can Read series soon², a collection including more than eighty books known to help children’s reading development. This is quite a feat for the company, especially considering that the actual decades-old series itself boasts more than 200 titles³. Available classics will include Little Bear, My Little Pony and The Berenstain Bears’ Class Trip (great to see the ponies and bears still going strong).

But it’s not as if the idea for interactive reading is anything new, so why the rise in success for children’s book apps now? I even remember playing around with a few on an iPhone last summer; however, the screen is really small for comfortable reading, and a parent would be entrusting their phone to the slippery hands of a sleepy kid at bedtime. In that case, a tablet would be a lot more appealing: better size, it’s in color and there’s no chance of missing a phone call because your kid’s using it.

The ironic thing here is that the technology behind interactive reading has had to become so much more sophisticated in order to accomplish the simple goal of holding a child’s attention and teaching the basics of reading. It’s more convenient for iPad-toting parents, too; they don’t have to search for and buy physical books now, but can just download apps that can come complete with audio, flash and virtual pull-tabs.

That’s why the launch of the I Can Read series will likely succeed in its new digital incarnation. The series will not only have all the bells and whistles, but is known for its system of levels that cater to reading development at any stage, and that coupled with distribution to both the iBookstore and Nook Bookstore proves that HarperCollins have got their bases covered.

Other publishers have of course been heading down a similar path; last month, Random House UK launched their own group of eBooks for kids, but the series included a mere four titles⁴. With so much competition between publishers, agencies and platforms, such a small effort might not be enough to be noticed. Everyone will have to play their A-game (and it better be colorful and teach you something) in order to make a dent in the top apps list.






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