Learning to wiki – and one complaint

It’s here! The eprdctn wiki, a place online where we can share eBook production tips and hacks. This just might help level the playing field in an industry where accurate specs are hard to get.

Big thanks to Toby Stevenson of eBook Architects who worked with the kind folks at mobileread.com to create the wiki. Check in with the eBook Ninjas podcast (always a worthwhile listen), #48 is “wikilicious.”

The wiki is only as good as the information shared. So I figured I’d do my part. But first I had to learn to wiki. I am happy to report it is easier than writing CSS for mysteriously inconsistent reading platforms.

My first attempt was to add a link to delicious.com, people have been saving #eprdctn links there for a couple of years. It seemed the best place to put this was in some sort of general information article, and that is under “The famous #ePrdctn Twitter Group.” (Are we famous? Wouldn’t infamous be more fun??? I’m just sayin’) It took me a couple of tries to get the link the way I wanted it:
[http://www.delicious.com/ delicious.com]
gave me a link with “delicious.com” for the text. I hope Dale DePriest, who started the article, didn’t get an email update every time I tested the link.

Next I figured I’d contribute to the Holy Grail, a table listing CSS support by device started by Robert Nagle and Nick Ruffilo. http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/Device_Compatibility It’s simply an html table! I needed to add comments to be sure I was putting the right symbols in the right columns.

My one complaint is that I need a differnet password for the eprdctn wiki. I can’t use my existing Mobileread password and account, or link my eprdctn wiki activity with forum posts. (except an url, of course)

You can add your own article if you have information about new topic. Its surprisingly easy to contribute, and every little bit helps build our knowledge base.
So what do you know?

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If Only Font Pirates All Looked Like Johnny Depp

Font issues in eBooks

Recently, #ePrdctn hour on Twitter hosted @desi_leyba, @sugarlange, @Fontscom (http://www.fonts.com) to talk about fonts in eBooks. The whole hour was taken up with the thorny issue of rights.

It was considered the publisher’s responsibility to get the digital rights to each font they’d like to embed in an eBook. If the fonts come from different designers, each designer must be contracted and a deal worked out, and payment made.

It is only fair that font designers get paid. It takes hours of work, tremendous talent, and nearly obsessive attention to detail to make a good font.

But the system of contacting each font designer is time-consuming work for any publisher who wants to do the right thing. It might not be in the font designer’s interest either  — anything that makes it hard to get paid is bad for business.

Even stranger is obfuscation. (The most appropriately named technology EVER). It seems that in bundling a font into ePub, the font is intentionally obfuscated (scrambled) to prevent someone from extracting the font from the eBook and using it. How many people can crack open an ePub or Mobi file? Unfortunately, not all reading systems will display an obfuscated font, an obfuscated font is so safe from piracy that it is pretty much useless.

Also, it seems that getting the digital rights to use the font in an eBook does not prevent obfuscation.

The easy answer is not to embed fonts at all, or use freeware fonts, and there are many fine choices. (See links below) The downside of this? Talented, obsessed font designers might not be able to make a living making beautiful fonts.

Perhaps another business model?

Could book producers/publishers pay a subscription to a font foundry or font collection, and the eBooks produced during that time could use any of the collection’s fonts? Could a font license be required in the CSS @font-family declaration or the meta tags to be a valid ePub? I know, pirates could steal that, too.  Again, how many people crack open eBooks files?

Maybe just reward the good guys, a “font seal of approval” for companies that negotiate for digital font rights. It would be even more compelling if the big retail outlets required some sort of seal or certificate to sell the book.

This is just like DRM issues. How do you protect the livelihood of creators without technology so frustrating it makes it hard for customers to stay off the high seas with a parrot on their shoulder?

Font design resources

Open-source Fonts

Sticky Wiki: What’s the Best Way to Share eBook Production Information?

Sharing is caring. 

If you haven’t already, sign in to Twitter and follow the #eprdctn tag. There are some talented and generous professionals who help each other out with eBook production. We’ve been at it for more than a year now. (Begun by @crych, we are in your debt.) There’s an hour of presentations and chat every Wednesday at 11am New York Time, you can check the schedule here.

The problem is, tweets are ephemeral. There are some ways of capturing particular hashtags from a particular time span, or from a particular person, but if you’re trying to remember that text-indenting hack you read a few months back, well, you’re likely out of luck.

There’s some links on delicious.com, tag #eprdctn. We’ve tried a wiki, personally hosted by a frequent contributor to #eprdctn. However, we are competitors also, so neutral territory is preferred. The the group parameters are:

  • neutrality, no one contributor should profit in money or reputation from the work of the group as a whole
  • free, as in no fee, access to the information
  • easy to use and maintain, because we’re all busy making a living

One sensible suggestion is to join up with MobileRead, through our own URL. (generously and anonymously donated). It sure beats reinventing the wheel.  What do you think? And why not try it?

It was kind of pointed for a roundtable

A discussion to which Richard Nash (Red Lemonade) was late, snarky, and eventually won me over.

It was billed as “Publishers’ Roundtable: Execs discuss agency and other recent events” on Monday at the Digital Book 2011 Conference put on by the <IDPF>.

Dominique Raccah, of SourceBooks started the discussion with some facts, 42% of books sold are Adult, 25% are Juvenile. (The remainder would be YA, Textbooks? I’m not sure I got the numbers right). How fast, she wondered, can we find a platform for juvi? As pictures and pedagogic tools become part of the platform, we will see more [juvi] integration.

Richard Nash piped up with “Don’t look too hard at the data—in 3 years we’ll see the end of the eBook as a product.” Hmm.

DR: Its about the experience—and we haven’t found a way to enhance the experience—we keep taking readers out of stories, not immersing them.

RN: Enhanced eBooks are a price-protection scheme. We are left with publishers aping video game designers.

DR: Richard, we didn’t do it for that—we are in an exploratory space—we need to blow up the book.

Dominique went on to say that the average POD title sells 200 copies. She expects the next conversation to be “How do self-publishers get what they need?” She explained that artists require fans, people who will evangelize their work and spread the word.

Apps, she said, are a transitional form non-fiction. I cling to this.

Richard Nash’s rallying cry was libraries: “For the 18 million Americans engaged in creative writing each year, libraries can become community centers for discovering tools to connect writers to readers.”  I applauded. So did one other brave soul.

Evan Schnittman of Bloomsbury made a good point about piracy: “Cloud solutions eliminate 90% of the casual piracy—its a good business model. Let’s not punish consumers for us not giving them reasonable ways to access their material.”

Digital Book 2011-the first session

The week in which, despite predictions, the world didn’t end, so we figured we’d keep making eBooks.

I was lucky enough to attend International Digital Publishers Association <IDPF> conference, Digital Book 2011. The next few blog entries are based on copious notes fueled by atrocious coffee served by some very nice people at the Javitz Center in Manhattan.

Kobo announced a snazzy looking new e-Ink device. Michael Tamblyn of Kobo Books gave us facts and figures: book sales saw an 8% growth last year, 15-22% growth in digital book sales. Common price points for non-agency books were $9.99 for best-sellers, $7.99 for mass market, and new sales were coming in a $2.99, $3.99, even $.99. (Not sure I get the agency model, more here: ebookreadersresource.com)

Self-publishing grew, 7% of the total unit sales.

And tablets didn’t kill e-Ink devices. It turns out that at this time, the e-Ink customer is worth more, as they purchase 15% more books than tablet owners, giving them a greater lifetime value of 66-126%.

These trends are global.

He identified 2010 as the year we got the reading experience right (easy for you to say, try making a cross-platform EPUB with no errors) and in 2011, we will go on to create the ultimate reader experience. On that hopeful note, he showed us a demo of “Reading Life,” Kobo’s answer to social reading.  I’d love to try this.

Abe Murray from Google Books described reading platform statistics for their customers in a mathematically challenging way:

1/4 read on the web
1 in 4 read on phones
1 in 5 use eReaders
the rest use tablets

Best I can figure, that makes 25% web, 25% phones, 20% eReaders and 30% tablets.  Was he trying to avoid saying the 30% tablet part? I know Google folks are way smarter than me, so I keep going over the math in my head . . .

Lastly, Yoshinobu Noma, of The Electronic Book Producers of Japan, showed slides of a beautiful eBook of haunting photos, donated by the artists, showing the devastation in Japan. I think the English title is 3/11.

Mr. Noma said “We don’t have to make a choice between electronic and print books,” and said that EBPAJ strives to cultivate both.