Google Has a Serious Page Turner: Story HD

The media and content tycoons at Google have announced the release of their own e-reader that will be available this Sunday for $140.00–a price that compares to the Kindle.

They teamed up with product manufacturer, Iriver, assembling the Story HD. The e-reader has an antique two-tone color finish of bronze/bone-white. The device features wifi, a convenient QWERTY keyboard, and the world’s first High Resolution XGA E-ink screen that packs in about 60 percent more pixels than the competition–allowing the device to be smaller and comfortably readable.

But being supported by Google also comes with a few perks. This is the first E-reader that provides access to Google eBookstore clients and over 3 million titles through wifi, including scanned titles of Google Books made available for free. This puts one of the largest libraries at the users’ fingertips without the need to plug into a computer at home. It will be a key advantage to be reckoned with.

With tablet ownership growing and new colored e-reader/tablet hybrids on the rise, it will be interesting to see what comes of Google’s and Iriver’s Story HD–a serious page turner. Can the improved e-ink technology and Google eBookstore provide the edge this device will need to carve a place for itself in the digital device marketplace?


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HP vs Apple

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Apple released the iPad 2 last March to the delight of millions of tablet users who wanted an even better Apple product. Well, Apple takes another stride to perfect the formula with the iPad 3 which, rumor has it, will be released this fall1. This update to the iPad line might include that HD screen consumers have been begging for since the release of the original iPad, and a larger hard drive, too. A list of rumored specs can be found here.

The question: Is this a move to give consumers an even better device, one that will prolong even further its seat on the tablet throne, or is Apple trying to outsmart its strongest competitor yet? It might prove to be the latter as a worthy opponent finally enters the tablet arena.

MG Siegler of TechCrunch reports, “HP held a big event in San Francisco to unveil their latest products. One of these devices is a tablet, called TouchPad. The device looks like an iPad, but it has better specs. As such, some are already wondering if it’s a possible ‘iPad-killer.’ Of course, the main problem is that the planned availability of the TouchPad isn’t until this summer.”

What exactly does this “iPad-killer” bring to the table?

Troy Wolverton of Merced Sun–“The TouchPad runs on webOS, the innovative operating system software developed by Palm, which HP acquired last year. WebOS includes a feature dubbed Synergy that automatically combines things like address book contacts and calendars that may be stored on multiple accounts. Synergy is woven deeply into webOS. The preinstalled messaging application, for example, allows you to log in to multiple chat applications at once, including Google Talk, Skype and Yahoo Messenger. And the photo gallery pulls in pictures from Facebook and Photobucket. It also has a feature called Exhibition that’s intended to be used when you’re not actively playing with the TouchPad. Instead of showing an app or the home screen, Exhibition will display a clock, recent Facebook posts from your friends, your upcoming appointments or your pictures like a digital picture frame. You can turn Exhibition on manually or it will launch automatically when you set the TouchPad into an optional charging dock2.”

HP is also recruiting celebrities to promote the tablet through the TouchPad’s quirky and funny ad campaigns. I don’t see Russel Brand or Manny Pacquiao working for Apple:

How might these devices affect the ePublishing world? The big difference between the iPad and the HP TouchPad is in the app market.

Wolverton–“You’ll find just 300 tablet-customized applications in Palm’s App Catalog. With Android tablets, you at least have the comfort of choosing from tens of thousands of applications, even if they haven’t yet been customized for tablet devices. But webOS users don’t have that luxury. There are only about 8,000 total apps for webOS, and HP says about 700 of those won’t work on the TouchPad. While you can find some of the most popular apps for webOS, such as ‘Angry Birds’ and Facebook, there are many holes.”

With the emergence of book apps in the ePublishing market, it is important for devices to have the very best apps available for consumers. Book apps such as Comixology are missing from the TouchPad app store. Without acquiring a larger catalog of apps, the TouchPad will fall short like many other tablets before it.




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Comixology: Comics Done Right

Comic books have been an American pastime since the early 20th century, and it’s about time they got the digital treatment. Nothing has me more excited than Comixology, the #1 top grossing app on the iTunes App Store with more than 1 million app downloads. It is the digital hub for all comic junkies, and an impressive reader to boot.

Primarily, Comixology is a digital comic book store in direct partnership with publishers such as DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image and others. Readers can find staples such as Batman, X-Men, Superman and many more for prices between $0.79 and $1.99. Consumers can also buy print comics for the normal $2.99 (unless the series is cheaper), plus shipping and handling fees. And as far as vintage goes, readers can  find older titles like Uncanny X-Men #1 or The Amazing Spider-Man #1.

Digital publishing is important to brands such as DC Comics, who are now releasing digital editions of their newest comics the same day as they hit comic book stores. Comixology is working with more and more comic book publishers to do the same.

David Steinberger, CEO of Comixology, (in an interview with Dianna Dilworth of eBook Newser) had this to say:

“We expect to see more publishers releasing digital comics, as they want to continually expand the reach of their content to their readers. On top of that, more comics will come out digitally the same day they do in print as DC did recently. We are empowering smaller publishers and creators to get digital distribution through our platform with our Guided View Authoring Tools program, which will help level the playing field by giving independent creators and publishers an equal chance for visibility in the digital marketplace through a standard format and ubiquitous platform. We have a program in the works that will empower partnering comic retailers to sell digital comics through their websites as part of our continued support1.”

Comixology will allow people to publish their comics the way PubIt! allows writers to publish their eBooks. It’s an opportunity for comic book fans to get more involved in the comic market. If you’re an artist or a writer, make yourself a pot of coffee and get to work!

What’s really remarkable about Comixology is the actual reading experience. The app acts as its own reader optimized for comics, supporting the high-quality and detailed artwork as well as font size, which might get too small on digital screens.

Steinberger said, “Our focus is always on the reading experience, which is why we developed our Guided View Technology that allows the user to go from panel to panel. We are always trying to author the comics to guide the reader through the comic as the creator intended.” Guided View Technology allows the reader to progress through each panel with the swipe of a finger, so that you’re only viewing one enlarged panel at a time and soaking each one in.

Comixology deserves to be #1. It’s innovative, fun, convenient and interactive: everything a top-notch app should be. I can never keep up with a comic book series, so I’m looking forward to browsing through issues I’m missing. Take that, comic book store guy who wouldn’t go to the back and look for Batman #695.



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Agencies and E-Readers are Conniving Behind the Publishers

The New York Observer published an article last week concerning a deal that super literary agent Andrew Wylie, of the Wylie Agency, made with Amazon. According to the article, Wylie will be selling books by his clients (I will list some famouses at the bottom) directly to the Amazon Kindle, totally skipping over publishing companies like a game of hopscotch. Surely this is a trend that will up the agency’s revenue and enrage publishing companies all over the place. If this strategy works for Wylie, many agencies might start experimenting with the idea.

What makes this news relevant to my argument on exclusives is that Wylie will be selling the eBooks exclusively to the Amazon Kindle Store under the brand name Odyssey Editons. All of the titles in the Odyssey Editions are making their electronic debut, as they have never before been released in eBook format. Once you see the list of writers included in the editions, you will know why many publishers are undoubtedly preparing to push the big red panic button. Exclusives are a big a threat if more are maneuvered the way Wylie did. Amazon will be looking for more literary agencies to make direct deals with.

The list of Wylie’s clients/titles to be published include:

Junky by William S. Burroughs

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

The Complete Rabbit Novels by John Updike


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Who’s Going Exclusive with the E-Reader?

“Exclusive” is the magic word that will define the next generation tablet race once Amazon and B&N are involved. Apple is the first company to really look into exclusives in the form of the multimedia app, and the smart move for them is to keep the multimedia app business their own so that more people will flock to their device for the exclusives.

The Nook Color has begun its run in the exclusive app market by securing “Magic Places,” a new expansion for the “Angry Birds” series, a popular tablet side-scrolling game2. This will be the first time the series will be available on (and only on) an eReader.

The Kindle has also secured some exclusive content in the form of The Atlantic Fiction for Kindle series, which features monthly never-before-published stories on the Kindle3. How long before magazines like The New Yorker (which only has an official “app” for the iPad) start making deals with such a reading device brand?

Readers of said magazines who are also interested in the digital market (which is becoming harder to avoid) will undoubtedly flock to the respective devices.

The Atlantic

Another major market that hasn’t been given a proper look-see by the big three is the eBook subscription service. Companies such as OverDrive have started digital eBook renting services for libraries that are beginning to offer eBooks as part of their collections4.

Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company speculates, “The retailer creates a pool of content that will be offered through the subscription service. The proposition to the consumer will be that for a price, they can read all they want from the content pool. In turn, the retailer divides 70 percent of that money among the publishers in proportion to how many ‘pages’ of their material have been read. Of course, all available public domain content will be in the pool5.”

This service would be like Netflix. How does Netflix keep their customers? It keeps them because of the affordable prices and the variety of things to watch. The same would go for the eBook subscription services. There would be so many books to read that people would think twice about going out of their way to buy a book absent from the subscription catalog.

Shatzkin says, “And just like customers for Amazon Prime (one annual fee for shipping), Kindle or Nook owners are highly resistant to buying outside those programs. Customers for this subscription service would largely be lost to other book consumption. It will take a more powerful desire to read any one particular book to make it a purchase outside the subscription than it takes to buy it now.”

Tapping into this untouched market is vital for the big three. The company that acquires these services first will undoubtedly be king.







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An eBook for Young and Old

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It’s almost hard to believe that T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” has managed to become one of the top-grossing iPad book apps this year1. It’s dated (forgive me) and not something you see young men and women reading these days, which is why the ePublishing industry knew to aim this book app at older audiences (not that the younger ones can’t enjoy it).

For those unfamiliar with it, “The Waste Land” is a classic 434-line poem written in 1922 by the Nobel prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot. It’s a complicated text full of satire mixed with prophecy, and the nonlinear narration makes for a more challenging read, but a rewarding one as well. “The Waste Land” is considered one of the great poems of the 20th century—and now it’s brought to consumers via enhanced eBook.

What’s so innovative about this app is that it allows consumers to read the text along with a narrator who performs the poem with such enthusiasm that it’s impossible for consumers not to love what they’re seeing, hearing and reading.

Laura Miller of Salon gives us the features in a nutshell: “You can watch Fiona Shaw read for a while, then switch back to the text to check a reference or translation, then go on reading the lines to the accompaniment of Ted Hughes’ very different vocal interpretation; the app keeps track of your place as you go. Eliot’s friend Ezra Pound played a crucial role in shaping ‘The Waste Land’; and the inclusion of the original manuscript with Pound’s handwritten edits offers a glimpse of that process. These various ways of approaching the text are enticements to the multiple readings that make a full appreciation of the poem possible.2

This app is designed to be nostalgic, one for men and women who read this classic poem many years ago and want to see the pages come to life. Surely, the multimedia capabilities of the app can add loads to the experience.

“Finally, ‘The Waste Land’ is familiar. Publishers may tell themselves that students will buy the app because of its filmed performance by the great Irish actress Fiona Shaw and its audio recordings by Alec Guinness, Viggo Mortensen and the poet himself—not to mention video commentaries by such luminaries as Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. I don’t think so, not when you can get a used paperback copy for a buck or just download the thing for free off the Internet. Instead, the people willing to shell out a premium for ‘The Waste Land’ app are more likely to be older, the sort who feel they could have gotten a lot more out of the poem in college if they’d only been a little less distracted by the temptations that assail freshman English majors,” says Miller.

This type of app is something that interests older audience as well as writers (such as our fearless editor Megan Kellerman) who will undoubtedly love to geek over this collection in a whole new way. There’s something rewarding about hearing Eliot himself read his poetry; but as a reader hears more and more voices interpret the poem, it takes on a whole new meaning. It comes alive in a way older audiences could have never imagined.

The ePublishing market will continue to succeed if they keep looking into these types of book apps. Maybe more contemporary authors such as David Foster Wallace (whose narration would have made his text SO much easier) or Dave Eggers (with his ironic tone) or David Sedaris (whose collection of writings should already be compiled in audiobook) would do the job. Whichever way, ePublishing is one of the reasons we can have nice things.




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How Does One Make an Enhanced E-book?

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Push Pop Press, architects of the digital and interactive version of Al Gore’s book Our Choice, are an enigma. Caught between roles of playing developers, publishers and licensors, the ex-Apple super-team pose a model for how enhanced e-books could begin to take center stage. In fact, e-books have already surpassed the amount of available games in the Apple store, boasting 26,976 e-books over 25,330 games1.

The success of the Our Choice App had much playing to its favor. It was already a successful in print and it compartmentalized the development of the digital edition—three groups needing to come together. Push Pop Press was the platformer, Al Gore was the writer and Melcher Media was content creator. In essence, they formed a production team much like one that would be involved in the making of movies and video games.

Why this works: As Howard Libov put it during the Hot Topics earlier this year, “Nobody is great at everything.” These multimedia, transmedia, mega-enhanced e-books require a lot of diverse minds. Strong platformers, passionate writers and creative media teams put Our Choice together, not a single man.

This kind of collaboration takes a lot of organization and a shared vision worthy of a Vulcan Mind Meld. Unfortunately, it also costs a lot of money to develop a project that demands high-quality multimedia content. Deus Ex: Human Revolutions is an upcoming video game title that is rumored to have a $200 million dollar budget. They will sell each copy for $50-$100 to make a profit. In the e-book market, people still aren’t interested in paying even $15 to $25 for an enhanced e-book, no matter how many whistles and bells it comes with.

The best business strategies we’ve seen are publishers enhancing already successful print books (Our Choice), or releasing Apps in junction with content providers such as the Starz adaptation of The Pillars of the Earth, or the character companion app for Game of Thrones. Another award-winning company called Padworx Digital Media found a niche in taking Tim Burton-worthy fictions and creating iPad apps with a more interactive and artistic flare—enhancing popular titles such as Alice: Madness Returns and Dracula: the Official Stoker Family Edition.

The pieces seem to fall seamlessly together, as opposed to the e-book being preconceived as some decked-out transmedia experience. The fact of the matter is, there is no incentive for publishers to create original enhanced e-books—the most successful projects derive from tried stories that have already stood on their own.

Video games and films take many years to complete, and this kind of project doesn’t fit into a publisher’s business model, where the companies such as the big 6 put out thousands of books every year. Also, their in-house writers aren’t thinking about how to make their works brilliant transmedia experiences. So who’s left to put all the pieces together?

I am not sure that there is a market for Push Pop Press’s iPad publishing platform. Medium-sized production teams may be able to pull it off, but not if the platform license costs an insane amount to use. After all is said and done, I’m not so sure that many original enhanced e-books will be coming out in the near future.

However, there still may be some interesting ways to bolster the new art form with the aid of ingenious monetization strategies. My thoughts on this, coming soon.


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The iPad is Taking Over!

I think the above statement has a great degree of truth behind it. People are using iPads to assist or enrich simple tasks. Eating—ever seen that diet app? Sleeping—ever played around with the relaxation music app? Going to the bathroom—ever read a newspaper or magazine on it? The iPad is almost embedded in its user’s genome.

This is why Amazon and Barnes & Noble are anxious to get into the tablet market. Present Android tablets have been unable to compete with iOS, and iPad sales are at their best. Consumers have deemed the iPad popular, and it’s seeing so much success.

PC Magazine has more: “In both the U.S. and U.K. surveys, 50 percent of respondents said they’d pick an iPad over any other manufacturer’s tablet. That left Research in Motion, Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Nokia, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and ‘no preference’ vying for the remaining half of consumers in the two countries1.”

It’ll be hard for any other device to top it unless companies such as Amazon and B&N have studied the market closely. They’ll need to improve on what the less popular Android tablets have to offer, have better apps and the capabilities of the iPad, which is basically a much more stylish netbook at this point (if you don’t believe me, check this out). The eReader companies need to study the shortcomings of the Android tablets.

Diana Dilworth of eBook Newswer says, “And those consumers that do want just any tablet want one with features like an iPad — a 10-inch screen, for example. The [Bernstein Research] report stated: ‘We find that consumers are not interested in form factors that deviate from the benchmark set by Apple. Few consumers, less than 15 percent, prefer the 7-inch screen size versus the 10-inch screen of the iPad.’”

A year after the first iPad was released (April 2010), the international market still has a big demand for the device. Consumers in other countries are more interested in the device than ever before.

In terms of digital publishing (the reason Amazon and B&N care about putting a device on the tablet market), the international market is a huge deal. Consider this survey that was taken in the U.K. For example, 69 percent of British iPad users said that they read newspapers and magazines on the tablet computer, while a similar amount, 63 percent, said they used the Apple device to read eBooks. Those are important numbers for publishing companies who are tapping into the app market with interactive eBooks and their transmedia companions.

Furthermore, 57 percent of British consumers own an iPad, and 48 percent spent the most money on the iPad when compared to other digital devices. Thirty-three percent of British consumers have 20-49 apps on their iPads. These are promising numbers for publishing companies that want to sell their apps to readers.

Concerning the health of the eBook in the age of the iPad, Yudu Media ran some research that found the following:

1. Sales of eBooks now outpace print book sales, having nearly tripled in the US from 2009 to 2010.

2. Tablets such as the iPad appear to be overtaking eReader devices such as the Kindle as the platform of choice for reading eBooks; Forrester predicts that by 2015, there will be twice as many owners of tablet PCs than there are of dedicated eReaders.

3. Apple’s iBookstore is gaining rapidly on as the highest volume sales platform for eBooks.

Surely, consumers, Amazon/B&N, publishers and Apple see the above patterns? They’re simple: the further conquests for tablet devices (especially the iPad) equals the downfall and end of eReaders. No wonder Amazon and B&N are so intent on going in with guns blazing. It’s either that or run for the hills, Enron style.

Amazon and B&N need to use their years of experience with publishers to their advantage. One way to beat the iPad is in the book app market. According to BusinessWeek, book apps now outnumber game apps on tablet devices2. Beating iPad to the big name publishers might be Amazon/B&N’s best shot at toppling the almighty iPad.

This all remains to be seen. The next year in electronics and digital publishing should be an exciting one as the race of the best eReader ever ends and the tablet race continues as a tour de force. For now, take cover and download some apps.

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Harry Potter Apparates to the Web

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JK Rowling has announced an October launch of Pottermore, a community website that will host the first e-book editions of the series as well as provide a platform for fans to engage in the extended world of Harry Potter.

From what it sounds like, members will be able to contribute to Pottermore so that the series lives on in a more communally involved fashion. We can only speculate as to what members will be able to do, but we know that users will be able to make witch and wizard characters or profiles and be divided into one of the four houses of Hogwarts.

More importantly, people will be able to enjoy the series with all new enriched and interactive content via the web and most likely other app versions.

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Multimedia Apps FTW

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Multimedia apps are providing new and enriched content to preexisting books by providing text, video, slideshows and audio. With books such as Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, this is a terrific experience.

The multimedia app for The Pillars of the Earth (created by Penguin) allows consumers to read, watch and listen to the novel (the video is provided by the Starz adaptation). Consumers can also read character biographies as they read through this immense story by choosing the character tree. They can also take a look behind the scenes to check out things such as costume design. The multimedia app establishes The Pillars of the Earth as more than a novel. It establishes it as a brand. It’s also awesome to see your favorite characters come to life.

Providing an innovative multimedia reading, viewing and listening experience is what the Kindle and the Nook aspire to do. Consumers want more bang for their buck, and The Pillars of the Earth is a prime example of how they can in the tablet market.

Ferrell McDonald, senior v-p,marketing for Starz, said, “this application will be a model for such cross-media partnerships and is a terrific showcase for the more than 3 million iPad users in the marketplace1.”

What might not be an “as apparent” move is the metafiction weather app created to promote literary saga and new HBO series Game of Thrones. This app tells consumers bits of pieces of the story according to whether changes on an iPad. Okay…let me explain. When consumers open the Game of Thrones: Ice and Fire app, they are prompted to choose a location. Based on that location’s current weather, the app will open a set of story clips from the show as a kind of metafiction.

It’s a bit surreal to think that as consumers are walking down Manhattan, their iPads will tell them they’re walking down a certain area in Westeros (the Game of Thrones weather-driven world). Though it’s not directly a reading experience, this app shows how multimedia apps are becoming more complimentary and much more interactive.

iPhone Screenshot 1Game of Thrones also has a companion app like The Pillars of the Earth although this one serves more as a compendium. The app collects character bios, family trees and maps that is (unbelievably) spoiler-free. The app settings allow readers to designate how far they are into the books, so that the app can adjust itself accordingly, revealing more and more information as readers enjoy the saga. If you’ve ever checked out the Fire and Ice Saga (of which Game of Thrones is the first installment) you know how dense the series is. There are too many characters, places and events to keep track of. This app makes it a bit easier.

All the above mentioned apps are great examples of how transmedia can enhance a reading experience. It also shows how publishing companies could better monetize the app market by selling these companions in the app market. Publishers such as Penguin are tapping into these new technological capabilities and creating an unparalleled reading experience that consumers won’t find in eReaders. That is why it is so important for Amazon and Barnes & Noble to get a move on because publishers show obvious signs that they’re investing in tablet technology. To stay away from tablets is to lose money.

I’m going to enjoy some tablet awesomeness, now. See you there.



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