Articles tagged "ebooks"

Meet the Dropbox for Books…Ownshelf

OwnshelfIn only a few short years of existence, Dropbox has become indispensable for computer users the world over, who need to quickly share files with their friends, coworkers, and relatives. But until now, there hasn’t really been a popular way to share eBooks across platforms with the ease of simply accessing a communal cloud-based hard drive. So in that spirit, meet Ownshelf, which is marketing itself as the Dropbox for books.

Ownshelf lets eBook readers share their DRM-free eBooks (eBooks that are allowed to be shared without paying for them again) in a simple and fast way: you just add books to your virtual bookshelf, and your friends can browse them and download them to their reader or computer. Not only can you browse books posted by your friends, but you can also check out titles that have been recommended by complete strangers through the “Featured Shelves” component.

Since the precipitous rise of eBooks over the past few years, readers have been looking for ways to share eBooks with one another through website and social media. Ownshelf takes advantage of this tendency by directly plugging into your Facebook, allowing friends to see which books you’re currently sharing with the world, and which other one’s you’ve been reading. Of course, if sharing with the world that sort of thing is not you cup of social media tea, then you might be out of luck with Ownshelf, which heavily uses the Facebook element of its design.

Ownshelf is still in the early stages of it development, but has the potential to grow into an indispensable part of the eBook ecosystem. Unlike other platforms that make readers choose between “bookshelves” only available to certain products and companies, Ownshelf opens up eBook sharing to everyone, and is one of the first projects to do so.

As a reader, how do you find eBook recommendations? Do you think products like Ownshelf will encourage independent authors to publish without DRM protection, or will writers be scared away by the threat of piracy? As always with eBooks, the situation is constantly evolving, and whether an application sinks or swims is entirely dependent on just how helpful the (voracious) eBook-reading population finds it.

Are eBooks Bad For Kids?

[Photo via Mashable]

In the eyes of many parents, there’s just something wrong with the image of their child hunched over a tablet computer, whizzing through a program with the tip of their finger. Upon closer inspection, the parent sees that they’re reading an eBook, but still the screen itself is unsettling. Haven’t a few generations of parents been taught to turn off the devices and give children a book instead? What happens to that instinct now that books are digital?

Well, it’s actually quite a tough parenting instinct to shake, it turns out. A new Pew Research Study found that 81% of parents still find that reading print books are incredibly important to a child’s development, and that 81% (again) find print books preferable to digital ones while reading with their child.

The statistics do begin to change a bit when parents are asked about selection and travel. When reading books while on a trip, 73% of parents preferred eBooks (the tablets can also double as a computer, taking up less room). Parents who valued selection also preferred eBooks by 18%.

Does this mean that eBooks are bad for children? No, it simply means that parents are still changing their own parenting habits, and that they still believe there’s value in a simple, colorful print children’s book (which there is).

Yet another study however, might not give solace to those parents itching to make the digital jump. Britain’s National Literacy Trust found that children who do most of their reading online are half as likely to be an above-average reader. It also found that “those who read only on-screen are also three times less likely to enjoy reading very much (12% vs 51%) and a third less likely to have a favorite book (59% vs 77%).”

While the favorite book statistic is more indicative of reading habits shifting away from contained long-form stories and more towards shorter, serialized works, the advanced reader statistic is a bit alarming. Does reading eBooks stunt children’s growth?

Digital Book World weighed in, and (as can be assumed from their name) was not pleased by these findings: “Some parents and educators correlate digital screens with ‘unhealthiness.’ For years, they’ve been trying to wean their kids off of TV and video games. TV and video game screens are windows into non-reading activities.  eBooks, however, are not video games or passive TV shows.”

Because of the rapidly changing nature of reading, technology, and education, it’s obvious that the jury is still out on the effect of eBooks on reading skills. However, reading is reading. It’s all about making sure that those eBooks are less of a game and more of an internal experience, allowing children to create world’s in their minds, and to think critically.

eBooks gaining ground but, printed books remain number one

Courtesy of Typedesk.com

When eBooks really started to take off around three years ago, their success was accompanied by the typical doomy, gloomy apocalyptic hand-wringing about the future of the printed book. The thinking then was that every winner has to have a loser, and with a winner this big (British sales for consumer eBook fiction and non-fiction were up 366% in 2011!!) a big dive was predicted. It’s funny to think, just three years down the line, that people were sure the printed book was on the way out. Perhaps it was just a testament to the popularity and exciting potential of eBook technology, perhaps it was something closer to a silly panic. Either way, the numbers from last year seem to point to a happy, mutually beneficial coexistence, which is good news for all parties involved.

According to Britain’s Publisher’s Association, total book sales rose 4% last fiscal year, and while print still makes up the majority of sales, its small 1% sales slip was more than made up for by a 66% gain in the digital realm. As The Telegraph points out, that number is way down from the previous year’s 366% surge. “There is an inevitable slowdown going on,” said [Richard] Mollet [chief executive of the Publisher's association]. “You expect that with any new technology but there is still very healthy growth.”

It seems like this type of evening out is to be expected. Not only that, it’s probably a healthy sign that eBooks are becoming less gimmicky and finding their way into normalized reading culture. As Gaby Wood points out, “Digital books are a complement to, not a replacement for, physical books. Some publishers now offer a hardback with an eBook as a package, since an eBook is easier to carry around but a hardback is what you want to own, and have on your shelf.” And sales data is starting to reflect this cooperative nature in comforting ways. When print publishers don’t have to worry about another source of lost funds (the fabled flight to eBooks!) and bibliophiles are growing more and more aware of the advantages both formats hold, we the readers (and we the customers!) win.

Worldreader delivers with mobile phones and eBooks

When we think of an ideal e-reader, we tend to visualize something like the Nook or Kindle or iPad — a device that has the dimensions, but not necessarily the heft of a book. Most us probably don’t think of our cell phones.

iPhones screens have remained relatively small and don’t lend themselves to sustained reading. While the Samsung Galaxy screen is big for a phone, it still doesn’t compare to the ease of reading on a tablet or Kindle. It might seem less than ideal for us, but for awhole sector of the world’s readers, cellular phones are now the central medium for reading eBooks.

In developing countries, where landlines have been skipped entirely and millions of people have directly adopted cell phones as their main interaction with technology,  eBooks are now being read in massive amounts on older, smaller phones that run off of a 2G wireless connection. The non-profit organization Worldreader, which used to just distribute Kindles to children in Africa, has now begun a mobile application where anyone with a mobile phone can access up to 1,400 eBooks for free.

Susan Moody, Worldreader’s director of marketing and communications, told the website Mashable that, ”Feature phones are omnipresent in the developing world. They’re people’s lifelines; they’re where they get their access to payments and the Internet.”

Worldreader takes advantage of Creative Commons licenses to make available classic children’s books like Nancy Drew and Black Beauty. They also partner with larger publishers to offer such all-time favorites as Matilda and the Magic Tree House series. In addition, they offer a good amount of Africa-centric literature. Taking advantage of existing technological infrastructure to get kids hooked on reading is a wonderful idea, even if it puts eBooks on some unfamiliar territory.

Through the project, Worldreader has found some interesting (but somewhat predictable trends) — young women read a lot, and Romance is the most popular genre.

eBooks, often heralded as the end of publishing as we know it, continue to fight against that idea by introducing great works to even more readers everyday, readers who will search for even more books.

Would you ever read on a small cell phone screen with a slow 2G connection? Have you? What other ways can eBooks continue to reach out?

Image courtesy of WorldReader

Should eBooks even try to be books?

Photo Source: Gizmodo

We can all agree that when it comes to eBooks, we’re still at the very early stages of their existence. Like early video games or early films, we have yet to push the boundaries that will ultimately define the format.

In a piece for Gizmodo, businessman Kane Hsieh asks why we persist in creating eBooks that are still grounded on the model of a physical book. Like when television shows were simply filmed stage plays, he believes we’re at the beginning of a long period of innovation — if only we allow ourselves to get the technology and the business model right.

He writes:

The problem with eBooks as they exist now is the lack of user experience innovation. Like the first television shows that only played grainy recordings of theater shows, the eBook is a new medium that has yet to see any true innovation, and resorts to imitating an old medium. This is obvious in skeuomorphic visual cues of eBook apps. Designers have tried incredibly hard to mimic the page-turns and sound effects of a real book, but these ersatz interactions satisfy a bibliophile as much as a picture of water satisfies a man in the desert.

Which is exactly why eBooks should keep changing. Only when authors conceive of eBooks as something different than a physical book (which, we’ve established, aren’t going anywhere), will eBooks really take off and come into their own. Something that Hsieh points out is the rise of serialized fiction — authors can now write books and release chapters as they go — imagine receiving input from your fan-base on what should happen next, or where you’ve gone wrong and possible corrections you can make.

Another great point he brings up is the idea of bundling print and digital books together. He describes how in other technology shifts, like the one from a CD to MP3 to putting them on the cloud, you only had to buy the song once. Yet with books and eBooks, you end up buying the book several times as you buy it physically, digitally, and then sometimes again for digital as readers shift. He makes the great point that the time is coming for a flat price for a book, both digital and physical, to be yours in perpetuity.

That brings him to his last point, which is the idea of a eBook subscription service, similar to the music-sharing site Spotify. Book subscriptions hearken back to the age of book-of-the-month clubs, when you would get a different book each month. Now, Hsieh, and a lot of businesses, are pushing for a subscription to all the eBooks you would want to read for a single monthly rate.

These are all interesting ideas, and definitely are exciting for fans of both reading and technology.

Do you think eBooks will continue to change? How so? And would you buy a subscription to all eBooks? Let us know!

The Modern Poet

It’s National Poetry Month and in conjunction with Poets.org, we are celebrating the works and contributions of poets from all over the world.  Check out all of the happenings here.

Poets face an interesting dilemma in the contemporary publishing field — while the rest of the industry is in flux, their lot remains mostly the same. Poetry will never produce huge runaway successes like fiction or non-fiction, but it has a devoted, loving fan base who show up in droves to see poets read as well as for the classes they teach.

And while the rest of the writing world migrates towards independent publishing, poets have been doing that for some time — they have produced chapbooks and other artistic distribution methods for as long as they’ve written.  And because poetry is so compact and the poet so fervently believes in their material (as well as being more of a presence in their poetry than say, fiction writers) they are first-adopters of many new technologies, from the wonders of dial-a-poem to poetry in motion.

So eBooks are no different. Poet Susie DeFord self-published her eBook of poetry “Dogs of Brooklyn” after years of trying to get it published through a traditional publisher. She told Galleycat:

“I paid to submit to first book contests for almost two years, so I lost money and time trying to do it the old-fashioned way. I suppose that time spent revising/ editing/ swearing/ and feeling rejected made for a better book and some character building, but there are so many cool easy ways to self-publish and get your work out there from blogs to books. I think poets and writers in general should try to make their book the best book possible and not rush into publishing.”

While rushing a book out doesn’t help the work, knowing that one can publish their book of poetry and have it on hand for readings is a huge boon to poets, who often do much of their selling through readings and events.

But the switch to eBooks has not been entirely smooth. Because of the added formatting issues of poetry, a lot of poets have had issues when converting their verse to eBooks and eReaders. Because spacing and breaks are so important, and the viewing and formatting options of eBooks can easily be altered, poets are having a hard time getting their formatting right. Ira Silverberg, director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts, told the Washington Post:

“Right now, we’re talking about conversion of print files to digital files and the greatest issue is in the poetry community. If you’re working on a Kindle or Nook or Kobo device, and you shoot up a page, you lose the line breaks depending on how you’ve formatted your preferences.”

Poets are trying to work out the kinks, however. Judging on the level of creativity that goes into a poet’s existence, we’re betting that they’ll figure it out.

What has your experience been independently publishing poetry? Have you had issues with your eBook formatting? How has it changed your life as a poet?

Independent Publishing at SXSW

SXSW, the Austin-based conference that features events base around technology, education and music took place last week and I’ve now finally recovered from all the excitement of having all of these insanely talented minds congregating in one place. While I did not attend the interactive presentations on independent publishing (they were packed!), from outside the convention center, I can tell you that independent publishing and eBooks had a huge presence, as the technology continues to evolve and become even more intertwined with other digital platforms like phones, tablets, and videogames.

In the Publisher’s Weekly roundup of events, you can see how the energy around independent publishing has freed up authors t make more interesting publishing decisions:

“Originally published by small press, Hugh Howey quickly decided to go the self-publishing route generating an enormous word of mouth following that turned his books into e-book bestsellers on Amazon. Indeed Howey said at one point he was generating $30,000 to $40,000 a month in sales and selling hundreds of thousands of e-books.”

The move by established authors to selling books on their own was a huge topic of conversation. For established authors to then use their reputation and leverage a successful independent publishing campaign from it has been a huge development, and lent a lot of credibility to independent publishing.

Another new development has been the discussions over whether you should give away content for free to build your credibility. David Carr, of the New York Times, had some choice words at his presentation,

“Don’t give your shit away for free,” he declared to the hall—emphasizing that “exposure” doesn’t work and free doesn’t lead to paying customers. But he also seemed so focused on the newspaper world—unsurprisingly— that his vision for the future of digital content kind of stops at the New York Times website, now revitalized with an innovative pay wall generating a sustainable and growing level of income. 

It seems like the argument over pricing will go on for some time. However, walking along the convention hall, it was easy to see that the rise of eBooks will continue at its staggering pace. New electronics, like Google Glass, will make reading even more accessible. eBooks will continue to grow and the fact that the leaders in technology are even talking about books, unthinkable only a few years ago, is a testament to this wonderful phenomenon.

Any writers out there make it down to SXSW this year? What did you learn? Any plans to go next year?

Reselling eBooks raises questions for authors

Over the past week, debate has intensified over the practice of reselling eBooks. Amazon and Apple both filed patents last week to make reselling eBooks a reality, and the collective reaction by readers and book-buyers across the Internet was ambivalent. Of course, selling and buying used books has long been a practice in the publishing world, but eBooks provide a series of new issues that need to be resolved before the practice can become widespread.

When you would buy a physical version of a book, you would buy the rights to owning one copy of that book. It could be resold to whomever you chose, at whatever price, but at least there was only one copy of it. eBooks are a little more complicated with their ability to be copied as well as the multiple Digital Rights Management choices out there for authors. Every author’s worst nightmare is seeing their book go out there, become a hit, and everyone reading a pirated copy. Luckily, that hasn’t been the case so far for eBook readers. A lot of readers enjoy buying their books, which is good. But at what price do they want to pay for it?

If the book resells for a dime, wouldn’t it cut into the profit margins of the author, especially if it is being resold right next to the original full-priced eBook? Mark-downs are common for used copies of physical books, but that’s because they physically degrade. A “used” eBook would look just like the original one.

David Pogue over at The Times tries to sort through this complication — physical degradation of a book is necessary for its discount.  He goes through the patents filed by Amazon and Apple and doesn’t quite find a solution, but believes that publishers and writers will find a common-ground that allows for used eBooks to help writers make a living, while also making their work more available and affordable.

What do you think about the possibility of used eBooks? As writers, do you want their to be a secondhand marketplace?

Print Books Bounce Back

The reports of the death of the printed book have been greatly exaggerated.

Sales figures from the end of last year show that while they don’t dominate the marketplace as they once did, print books are showing a good amount of resiliency during the precipitous rise of eBooks and the shifting of content from the printed word to a digital sphere. According to the Wall Street Journal, the role of eBooks might have been greatly overestimated. “It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audiobooks — a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.”

It’s fair to say that a seamless transition from printed books to digital ones just isn’t happening, and the marketplace that we live in now — where both printed books and eBooks are having brisk sales — might be here for some time. According to a 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research, 59% of Americans say they have “no interest” in buying an eBooks. While I believe that this number will go down as more and more Americans familiarize themselves with reading on digital devices like tablets, it goes to show just how much of the population is still wedded to our old friend, the printed book. This transitional market bodes well for authors looking to explore multi-platform publishing, as they will be able to test the waters of both a digital and print readership, and see which one works best for their content.

While it doesn’t appear the the rise of eBooks has stopped in its tracks, it has definitely slowed. When it comes to eBooks, a lot of consumers and providers are still working out the kinks. Publishers are still trying to figure out how much they should cost, while libraries are desperately trying to make them widely available to the public. In the goodwill of making eBooks and an author’s content as widely available and as equitable for both the reader and author as possible, Lulu recently said goodbye to DRM. So while the market has definitely shifted over the past few years, we won’t be living tomorrow in a world without the printed book, and probably won’t for years to come.

High Demand for eBooks in Libraries

The American thirst for eBooks keeps growing, and yet, one of the cornerstones of the American reading scene is still not a big enough player: libraries have yet to offer enough eBooks to accommodate the recent surge in digital reading. According to a new study, 53% of American readers feel that there should be more eBooks in libraries. If the demand is there, why aren’t more eBooks available?

The answer is a little confusing. Large publishers are wary of offering digital titles to libraries for fear of losing some of their market. However, study after study has proven that readers who go to libraries and read eBooks, end up buying even more books than those with only the option of buying eBooks online. Until the publishers come to a consensus about how best to lend eBooks, the amount of eBooks in libraries will still remain below the apparent demand, and this is bad news for readers.

“The availability of eBooks isn’t happening fast enough,” says Christopher Platt, the Director of Collections and Circulation Operations at The New York Public Library. “The availability hasn’t kept up with the demand. The demand is there. Our eBook usage over the last few years has risen six-fold.

Libraries play a huge role in promoting technology adoption. From the Internet to tablet computing, libraries are where many Americans go to familiarize themselves with new technology. Typically, when publishers do allow eBooks to be lent by libraries, they charge them an exorbitant amount of money, virtually fleecing a public institution.

“It’s an education thing, also. We need to make sure library users are aware that we offer eBooks to begin with.We offer more workshops than we ever have,” Platt says. “The publishers have to wrestle with a new business model, but they need to allow us to do this. This train has already left the station and it’s a question of whether you’re driving the train or holding onto the caboose for dear life. This is just going to become even more exciting for libraries and how we interact with patrons.”

But this stand-off between libraries and large publishers might not last much longer: a new bill in Connecticut proposes forcing publishers to charge libraries the same amount they would charge the general public. If the bill gains support, expect similar legislation to take off nationwide.

Still, the publishers’ loss is independent authors’ gain. A smaller browsing section allows more independent titles to gain visibility and find both circulation and reputation.

Related Post: Are eBook borrowers eBook buyers?