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8 posts from January 2012

The Challenge of Apple Forking the EPUB Standard with iBooks Author - 4 Articles to Read

IBooksAuthorWhile I ranted last week (here and here) about the lock-in aspect of Apple's launch of iBooks Author, an even more disturbing action Apple took was to "embrace and extend" the EPUB standard and create their own version. In programming-speak, they "forked" the standard and are now off with their own proprietary - and incompatible - version.

What this means is that I was wrong in my last post - there is in fact a technical restriction on how you can view ebooks created with the new iBooks Author app.

Basically, you can only view them on the iPad using iBooks.

That's it.

Complete lock-in, both legally and technically.

Here are four posts that go into great detail about the new format and explain how Apple deviated from the EPUB standard:

I share the frustration of both authors and have to end quoting Baldur Bjarnason's last post in his series:

The idea behind ePub3 is that it would, finally, bring ebooks to a relative feature parity with the web and enable more advanced authoring and reading tools. The iBooks Author application is exactly the sort of app people expected would be brought to market as a result of ePub3’s capabilities. The iBooks new textbooks are exactly the sort of dynamic, interactive, and rich ebooks that ePub3 enables.

Now that Apple has decided to deliver both as a part of a custom format that throws the future of ePub3 into question. Apple isn’t an outsider who decided that a format somebody else didn’t have the capabilities it needed, it is essentially one of the format’s co-authors. One of the format’s biggest proponents and supporters has forked ePub3.

This is akin to Google deciding to build support for an incompatible fork of the HTML5 standard in Chrome after it had gone through the trouble of building consensus around the standard.

Will Apple add ePub3 to iBooks now? If they do, will they do a full-featured implementation that matches the capabilities of the textbook format, or will they just work like a warmed over ePub2 files?

What was the point of Apple’s participation in the ePub3 standards process?

No. I have to say, I still don’t understand why they did it.

Again, iBooks Author just makes me sad...

P.S. Hat tip to Rich Ruh for pointing me to one of these articles, which then led to others.

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The Super Simple Secret to Stopping Online Piracy (Hint: It's not SOPA)

Memo To MPAA and other SOPA Proponents: Yesterday was a perfect example of the failure of your current business models to meet consumer demands - and the reason why there is online piracy. It also shows you the super simple secret to stopping almost all piracy.

Let me explain.

As probably most people here in the US know, yesterday we had the US football playoff championships. Even if you aren't a football fan, it was hard to escape the media attention. Particularly here in the "Patriots country" of northern New England.

While I don't really follow football, I do like to tune in around the playoffs to watch the final games. However, we don't have cable TV so I had no way to watch our local CBS station.

Here's the fundamental problem:


None. Zip. Nada.

No CBS websites had a live stream of the game, nor any other legitimate websites I could find. If I tried to go to the NFL Networks' website and pay to watch a live stream, I got this message:


Yes, indeed...

NFL Network Online is not available in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and any U.S. territories, possessions and commonwealths (including American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands).

MPAA and SOPA proponents, are you paying attention?

I was trying to give an entertainment network money.

I had my wallet open. Credit card out.

And you failed me.

Now, in my case yesterday, I drove across town and watched the game at my brother-in-law's house. But had that not been an option and had I really cared enough, I would have gone online to one of the many live streaming sites and sought out a live stream that someone else was running.

Yes, that "someone else" might be someone who is taking a web cam, pointing it at the TV and using one of the many live streaming apps to send their stream out on the web.

It would have been someone "pirating" the live broadcast of the event.

And I might have had to listen to whomever it was swearing at the screen, eating chips and guzzling beer.

But I would have been watching the game!

Because you, the entertainment industry, couldn't give it to me in the way I wanted.

Artificial Scarcity In An Era Of Abundance

Now, I completely understand why I get this NFL Network Online error message. The NFL has all its various contracts with TV and cable companies where those companies pay the NFL a zillion dollars so that the NFL can then in turn pay the ginormous salaries of the players, the owners and everyone else involved.

The only way the NFL can get the income they need to sustain their business model is to create conditions of artificial scarcity.

The NFL, as a content provider, needs to provide exclusivity to a content distribution provider so that that distribution provider can charge whatever exorbitant rates it needs to charge to cover its investment of a zillion dollars.

The distribution provider, CBS, in this case, needs to recoup its investment somehow... and so it then has contracts with cable and satellite TV companies where it provides exclusivity for them so that they can then charge their own high rates to pay for their fees.

In this case, though, the content distribution provider, CBS, failed to provide a way for a consumer like me to legitimately/legally obtain the content.

The end content distribution networks, the cable companies and the satellite TV companies, also failed to provide a way for a consumer like me to legally obtain the content. I can't simply call up my local cable TV provider on a Sunday and say, "oh, hey, can you hook up my cable this afternoon so that I can watch the game? and then disconnect it after that?" And they have no way for me to simply view their content online over the Internet unless I am actually a paying subscriber (which again, I'm not).

The content provider, the NFL, similarly failed to provide a way for a consumer like me to legally obtain the content when the content distribution provider offered no option.

So, then, as a non-subscriber to a cable or satellite network, I really have only three options:

  1. Forget about the content and go do or view something else;

  2. Go somewhere where I can view the content; or

  3. Become a pirate. Watch the content on an illegal source.

And while I wrote here about wanting to watch a sports game, you can go back through my text and substitute:

  • watching the latest movie;
  • watching a hit TV show;
  • reading the latest novel of a best-selling author;
  • listening to a live concert;
  • listening to the latest album of a band.

The fundamental problem with this business model based on artificial scarcity is that is is completely broken in an era of abundance.

I don't need to subscribe to cable TV to get most of the news and entertainment that I want to watch. I don't need to sit in a movie theatre to see the latest movie. I don't need to go to a bookstore to buy the latest novel. I don't need to go to a music store to buy the latest album.

The Internet has severely disrupted all of those "traditional" channels and we now have an abundance of different channels and different ways to obtain our content and entertainment.

Propping Up Scarcity

What we are seeing with the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation here in the US is

the failure of the entertainment industry to adapt to the new consumer preferences.
Rather than spend their millions to figure out how to evolve and meet consumer demands, the industry would rather spend their millions to reduce/remove/eliminate/kill all those other distribution channels.

They want to prop up scarcity.

Keep their business model alive.

That's what this is all about. It's not about "breaking the Internet". It's about putting the proverbial genie back in the bottle and somehow trying to get back to an era when the entertainment industry could be in control of all the distribution channels and thereby charge whatever they felt like charging.

In the end, it will most likely fail. (Assuming we all in the Internet space continue to pay attention to what is going on.)

But the battle will be hard-fought largely because of the insane amount of lobbying money and people engaged with manipulating the political process.

The Super Simple Secret To Stopping Online Piracy

If you've read this far, you probably already know the simple "secret" to stopping almost all online piracy:

Give people a way to get...

the CONTENT they want

in the CHANNEL they want

at a reasonable COST.

That's it.

The vast majority of people, even those "young kids" people say want everything for free, will pay when a legitimate channel is made available.

Don't believe it?

Consider iTunes. Think of how many millions and millions of songs are being purchased every single day. Because Apple provided a very simple and easy way for people to legally obtain the music content people wanted in the channel they wanted (on their iPods/music players) at a cost that people felt was reasonable.

Now, if you go back a few years, the music industry wasn't too happy with Apple's move and did all they could to fight that move.

Apple understood: give people a way to get the music they want in a downloadable form at a reasonable price.

Sure, there's still probably online music piracy going on - there are some people who will never pay and want everything for free. But for the vast majority of people, why do they need to bother with a pirate music site when a legal download is only a click - and a buck - away?

Amazon's been similarly disrupting the publishing and book distribution business for years now - and now is doing it again with ebooks. Netflix and Hulu have been disrupting the movie and video distribution business.

They get it.

The MPAA and other SOPA proponents seem to be missing the point.

Entertainment industry folks - want to stop almost all online piracy?


Figure out a way to get us the content we want in the channels we want at a cost that works for us.

Figure out how someone like me can decide to watch a sports game and go online and pay to view it live. Figure out how to let someone watch the latest TV episode of a popular series either live or shortly thereafter. Figure out a way that someone can watch the newest movie in their big huge home theatre on the day of release. Oh, and figure out how to do this globally.

Do that and probably 99% of the online piracy you are currently whining about will simply... go away.

Does that trash most of your existing business models?

Absolutely. I'm not saying this is easy.

I'm only saying that the solution from a consumer point-of-view is simple.

Yes, some of the jobs and companies (and even industries) of today may be lost... but new ones will be created. Yes, the transition will be extremely hard on some people. Transitions always have been. But sticking your head in the sand and pretending the transition isn't happening will not make it go away. It will only make the transition harder on the people in those jobs and companies.

Stop spending your millions on lobbying for profoundly stupid legislation like SOPA/PIPA and instead spend it on figuring out how to reinvent the way you connect with consumers in the world of today.


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Yes, Apple's iBooks Author Strategy Is Absolutely Brilliant... Just Short-Sighted

IBooksAuthorAfter my rant yesterday about Apple's über-restrictive license terms for the new iBooks Author app, I had several comments to the effect of "DUH!" and "Well, doesn't it make sense for Apple?"

Yes, it absolutely makes sense for Apple.

It's the proverbial "give away the razors to sell more blades".

Or give out free samples of crack to turn people into addicts.

Give people a FREE, simple, easy-to-use authoring program - AND give them an easy channel to market with iBookstore...

...with just that wee minor stipulation that Apple gets 30% of all sales and locks you in to their marketplace and their rules (including whether or not your book even gets published).


Abso-freaking-lutely brilliant!

And I have no doubt it will be insanely successful. With this one action Apple will sow the seeds for thousands... probably tens of thousands and maybe even millions of ebooks to be born. Textbooks, sure, but many other kinds of books. Having used iBooks Author a bit yesterday I can say that it really does seem to be a great editor.

And I get that it is called "iBooks Author" and not something like "eBook Author" because it is designed as an on-ramp to get content into iBookstore. Apple's not even pretending it's for anything else...

And I completely understand that, just like the App Store, Apple's requirement to be the gatekeeper to what gets published is in part wanting to control what gets published, but also wanting to ensure that the iBookstore user experience "just works" and that books have a certainly level of quality and lack of technical errors.

And I get that it is free and so comes with these restrictions - although I, for one, would gladly pay for a version that was not locked to a specific marketplace.

And on a macro level, there is a part of me that welcomes anything that brings more competition to the larger publishing marketplace. I'm a big fan of Amazon, make many purchases through Amazon and see a good bit of sales of my books coming through Amazon... but I share the concern of many that Amazon is perhaps too powerful and able to exert too much of an influence in the publishing space. So on a macro level I'm okay with Apple building up their iBookstore to be a stronger competitor. Competition is good, both for consumers and for authors.


... as I said in my other post, iBooks Author could have been so much more.

Edd Dumbill really nailed it in a Google+ post appropriately titled "iBooks Author makes me sad" when he begins:

I adore content creation tools. I've spent most of my adult life either trying to build content creation tools or in the search for the perfect one. How exciting that Apple are getting behind this!

and ends with:

Write a book, any book, as long as it conforms and you permit us to own your distribution. Oh, except if you're giving it away. In that case, have at it, we love free advertising!

No thanks.

Like Edd, iBooks Author makes me sad.

Particularly when there is probably no technical reason to restrict published books to iBookstore. Early reports I've seen indicate that iBooks Author spits out a modified version of the EPUB 3 format. Apple's just doing a little bit of the old "embrace and extend" of open standards.

Give some developers a few hours and someone will have a script out there to make an iBook Author-published book readable in other readers. That script is probably already out there if I search hard enough.

No technical restriction... just a legal restriction.

Like Edd, I adore content creation tools. For the past 25+ years, I've been working with such tools and always searching for better tools that help us as content creators more rapidly create even better content.

There is a need for simple, easy-to-use tools for ebook creation that can help take advantage of the differences of an ebook from a regular book.

Many of the tools out there today are designed to help you take written text and package it up in the appropriate formats for ebooks. While this is great, it doesn't make use of what is different about ebooks. The idea that you could easily incorporate multimedia content... or even bring in live content from the Web. The idea of making an ebook that might appear different on different devices. Or that could be displayed differently for different people (ex. font sizes or typefaces).

iBooks Author could be the "killer app" that totally disrupts publishing and lets so many more people easily publish ebooks.

I don't know if it is, because I've just started playing with it.

But even if it is, what makes me sad is that it is tied to one closed, locked-in ecosystem.

Perhaps it will open up at some point (although I doubt it)... and perhaps it will inspire other app vendors to make a similar app that is just as good or even better, or to improve existing apps.

Yes, the strategy is brilliant and yes, Apple will probably make millions as a result of this.

And I'm honestly glad that Apple released iBooks Author. It's great to see their support behind ebook publishing and it's great to have their entrant into the tools space.

But where the app could have lifted the entire ebook publishing space and maybe even become THE default ebook publishing app (at least on the Mac)... now it may only lift one part of the ebook publishing space.

That is what I find sad.

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Apple's Great Big FAIL: iBooks Author Is Amazing - But Locks You In To iBookstore!

IBooksAuthorIt could have been beyond amazing!

Apple's iBooks Author app, announced today and available for free in the Mac AppStore, could have severely disrupted the ebook publishing space. I mean... watch the video... it's got all the ease-of-use, the simplicity, the drag-and-drop goodness... everything we've come to know and love from Apple apps.

It could have been beyond simply "amazing".

As an author and online writer who is employed full-time to create new online content, and who has several ebook ideas in the queue, both professionally and personally, I know first-hand the challenges of ebook creation. While the tools have gotten better over the years, the market could still use the disruption of an app that truly makes it drop-dead simple to create ebooks.

You know, the kind of app that Apple is so good at creating.

However, Apple's iBooks Author app, as amazing as it may be... is a great big FAIL in my book.

It could have been beyond amazing.

Now, I probably won't ever use it.




Go ahead... download the app. It's free, after all. (Assuming, of course, you have a Mac.)

Then go up to the "iBooks Author" menu and choose "About iBooks Author". You'll get the screen below:

IBooksAuthor 1

Click on the "License Agreement" button... and prepare to cringe.

Right at the very top in bold print is this message to you:

If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a “Work”), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple.

And if you aren't disgusted enough, keep reading down to section B, clause (ii):

B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:

(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;

(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.

Soooo.... you can use it to write documents that you will give away... but if you want to sell them you can do so only through Apple???

And Apple "may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion NOT to distribute your work? So you go through the whole process of creating an ebook only to find out Apple will not carry your ebook in their iBookstore???


And of course, you see this message again when you go to actually export a document you create:




It could have been more than just amazing.

It could have severely shook up the ebook authoring environment.

It could have been yet-another-reason why people would choose to use a Mac.

Instead, Apple decides that they will use it as a way to lock people in to their specific platform.


Sorry, Apple. You've lost a potential user.

Instead you'll find me at the Tools of Change Conference (TOCCON) next month in New York, where the real revolution in publishing will be unfolding as we look at new apps and technologies that can truly feed an open ecosystem of authors and publishers.

Too bad.

It could have been beyond amazing!

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Video: Oh, the Places You'll Go at Burning Man!

I hadn't really mashed up Dr. Seuss and the annual Burning Man festival in my brain, but a gent named Teddy Saunders did and the result is this amazing video!

It's a wonderfully well-done re-telling of Dr. Seuss' classic book "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" set in the Arizona desert and showcasing many creative people and their structures, artwork and talents. The whimsical nature of Dr. Seuss fits so well with the structures and the people.

For communicators it's an interesting example of taking a well-known story and using video from an event to illustrate that story. I'm not quite sure that anywhere other than Burning Man could illustrate this particular story so well, but the idea is very good to think about for other events.


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Fun Video: The Joy of Books

I can't even begin to imagine the amount of time it must have taken to create this video... but I admire the folks you did it! Fun to watch...

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TheNextWeb Highlights 9 Free Display Typefaces...

Tnw 9freetypefaces
If you are, like me, a fan of all things related to typography, then you are probably, like me, easily sucked into articles with headlines like:
9 Awesome free display typefaces you can download right now

And indeed this post from TheNextWeb's "Design & Dev" site did pull me in...

... but that's okay, because I enjoy seeing what designers will come up with for new typefaces.

The 9 highlighted in this article are not necessarily ones you would use for typical written text but rather are designed for "display" usage, i.e. signs, banners, logos, etc.

It's a nice collection and I've got some ideas in mind for a couple of them... :-)

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My Report into For Immediate Release (FIR) Podcast #632

In this week's For Immediate Release episode #632, my report covered:

  • Congratulations to Shel and Neville on 7 years of FIR! It's insanely easy to start something like a podcast, but extremely difficult to keep it going... and 7 years is quite an accomplishment!

  • Text messaging is declining in some areas as people move to using other messaging systems working over the data network.

  • provides an easy way to learn a little bit about "coding" if you have ever been interested in dipping your toes in and understanding some of the allure of programming.

  • A gentle plea to experience the moment rather than focus on capturing moments to share on social networks.

  • My 3 Words for 2012.

If you are a FIR subscriber, you should have the show now in iTunes or whatever you use to get the feed. If you aren't a subscriber, you can simply listen to the episode online now.

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