Category Archives: Digital Publishing

Two eReader Apps You Should Check Out

Here are two iOS ereader apps that I think you should try. Both Readmill and Marvin read ePub files and offer features that iBooks is nowhere close to rolling out.

Readmill

This app has quickly become my favorite app to read in. The design of Readmill is fantastic and they have pioneered many of the highlighting-type features that kindle and iBooks have adopted.

readmill ereader appsWhat really makes Readmill great is the community and sharing aspects. Basically, (if you turn on the features) it turns any book you’re reading into a book club. You don’t necessarily “follow people” (though you can), but while in a book other people’s highlights and comments pop up, just as if they were scribbled in the margins of a paper book. In Readmill you can reply to their marginalia or highlights and then others can respond to you, etc. You’ll have a full blown discussion before you know it… all centered on this shared experience of that very book you are reading. Of course, you can also ‘@’ people not reading the book to help promote the book or spur interest/discussions among your friends, but the idea of a group of people gathering around the shared reading of a book is fantastic. I really like the notion of discovering people to follow based on their ideas and observations alone.

readmill ereader appsI have always read business books in paper. I need to scribble and make notes in non-fiction books. But I recently gave Readmill a go for a business book and can honestly say I was better for it. I stumbled on a few people, in the Readmill community, who had read it before me and made some fantastic connections inside that book. These were ideas that  I may never have come up with on my own. It was a cool experience.

 

Marvin

Marvin is a fun app to read in as well, but for totally different reasons. You do have amazing controls over the color, brightness, etc. and the design is solid. Plus, they have some nifty features to help folks with dyslexia or near-blindness. Marvin also allows one-click downloads from free eBook sites, Dropbox, Readmill, ODPS, and Calibre integration.

marvin ereaderBut my favorite feature of Marvin is the Deep View. Once you click ‘OK’ the Marvin app will quickly read your whole book in about a minute. It will then offer you a list of every name in the book with external links and how the names appear to be related in the book. It will also offer you a summary of the book (free Cliffs Notes!) if you’d like one. It will also compile a list of articles about that book, article about the author, and other internet content related to the book. It’s like setting your own private wiki-pedia for the book you happen to be reading.

marvin appOnce you integrate that with IMDB, etc. it gets to be very very fun. I’ve found I enjoy reading older books in this app as I’m always amazed at how many author “from the days of yore” knew each other, hung out together, berated each other, or mentioned each other in their books and reviews.

For every Brat Pack in Hollywood, there were at least 10 groups of authors paying attention to each other.

 

While neither Readmill or Marvin have direct access to a robust bookstore like iBooks or kindle, these two ereader apps are worth the extra two clicks to getting an ePub side loaded to read. Check them out. I’d love to know what you think.

An eBook Frustration

The digital publishing world is one of the most schizophrenic marketplaces. Now, let me qualify that by saying: I work for a publisher. I help make print and digital books. I know the challenges and the limitations. That being said….

I just bought an iBooks ebook thinking: “I can read this immediately and on any of my devices, because Mavericks put iBooks right on my desktop. I’m living in the future!” But what was the first thing that greeted me upon opening my new eBook…

iBooks iOS pop up - This book was designed for iBooks on iOS.

Ugh! Are you serious!? My suped-up laptop can’t do whatever it is this book was designed to do? This stinks. Ebooks have now grown into such a multi-headed enhanced hydra that they can no longer consistently deliver on what is one of the biggest perks of an eBook… instant access on multiple devices.

But too be honest all of my frustration (and this blog post) could have been avoided if the publisher had simply stated something along the lines of “best for iOS-only reading” in the product description or marketing copy or email promotion… anywhere.

So publishers… please… please… PLEASE… use your own books and see where your frustration lies. Chances are your “ugh!” will be the same one your readers will utter. So think of them and work harder on the book or take the time to be up front with your readers. They will all appreciate you more for it.

 

HANDS ON: Espresso Book Machine

The first Espresso Book Machine in Alabama, is now open for business. It’s located inside the Brookwood Mall Books-A-Million store. The BAM crew did a good job with the launch, food, speeches and demos…. but let’s get to the good stuff and talk books!

The EBM is on the first floor by the front door.
The EBM is on the first floor by the front door.

For those that are not familiar with the Espresso Book Machine (EBM), it is a essentially a book-making machine. You can bring in (or download) a PDF or photos and it will print you a paperback book. The operator loads up the files and the color printer does a color cover, the printer then prints on archival quality paper, folds everything together, glues the cover on and trims it. I watched four demo books being printed last night and they averaged 8 minutes for a 150-page finished book.

With the covers off you can see the guts working. This part is powered by a Mac-mini, the ordering, barcodes, etc. is all on a Windows machine.
With the covers off you can see the guts working. This part is powered by a Mac-mini, the ordering, barcodes, etc. is all on a Windows machine.
The books slide out the bottom one at a time.
The books slide out the bottom one at a time.

The Espresso Book Machine can handle books 50-600 pages and sizes anywhere between 5″x5″ and 8″x10″.

The neat thing about the EBM is not the “hey, go print your own book or create a scrapbook for grandma”. Though that is certainly the emphasis of their marketing efforts now. The neat part is that you can legally have them print and bind any public domain work for you. They have ondemandbooks.com which supposedly ties-in to thousands of public domain works, but their search capability is horribly frustrating. You pretty much have to know the exact title you are looking for. So I recommend starting at Project Gutenberg or somewhere similar. Side note: Be aware that some publishers have made even their copyrighted materials available via the EBM, but much of that has geographic restrictions. The rep last night said that there are books he is allowed to print in Birmingham, but not in other parts of the country and vice-versa (hey Washington, time to update some copyright laws?). Anyway, I recommend going in and letting them search for  current titles you’d want to buy.

As an example, after doing some research I think that a book called Scrope, from 1874, may very well technically be the first biblio-mystery. Thanks to the kind souls at Project Gutenberg and folks on Google I have a PDF copy of that book that probably no one else cares about. But now I could go and get a physical copy of this book to put on my bookshelf next to all my other biblio-mysteries.

The paper quality is good. You won’t be disappointed. Of course, when it comes to interior half-tones and images, it’s as decent as any quality office printer. So no surprises there. It’s not as good as a traditionally printed book, but no one is expecting it to be.

Paper quality is really good, both in feel and ink retention.
Paper quality is really good, both in feel and ink retention.
Images and half-tones are only as good as the source, but the EBM doesn't enhance much.
Images and half-tones are only as good as the source, but the EBM doesn’t enhance much.

 

The glued spine was amazingly tight for having almost zero drying time.
The glued spine was amazingly tight for having almost zero drying time.

 

Being PDF-based, they have no problem printing in other languages as well.
Being PDF-based, they have no problem printing in other languages as well.

The book covers are made of a heavier and better (what I call) “photo paper”. Nothing is overtly fuzzy, but it’s not the laser precision detail of a web press. You can see the sheen in this book jacket:

 

The cover material is slick and what you'd expect from a "color printer".
The cover material is slick and what you’d expect from a “color printer”.

You can also tell that they EBM suffers from the same font issues all printers and book people do, like in this barcode. But with speed in mind, they just don’t have the QA steps that most presses do. So make sure you check your book before you leave the store!

Oops! Fonts are a thorn for every book designer. No different here with it swapping out and crashing into bars.
Oops! Fonts are a thorn for every book designer. No different here with it swapping out and crashing into bars.

Last night they got their first paying customer as well.  A guy used their system to look up and buy a copy of James Froude’s 1888 Victorian-era travelogue The English in the West Indies. The 208-page book set him back $18.53. Unfortunately, this guy also gave them their first big paper jam! This was cleared up much in the same way you clear out the copier at work.

Checking all the nooks and crannies for the paper jam.
Checking all the nooks and crannies for the paper jam.

 

I never got to see the finished product though as 25 minutes into it they were having to hand-collate the pages to make sure they didn’t miss any during the snafus. I’m sure he got his book though.

Seems there will always be a need for a pressman to check the production... especially when there's a paper jam.
Seems there will always be a need for a pressman to check the production… especially when there’s a paper jam.

 

I’m anxious to give the Espresso Book Machine a try. It’s all about finding that book that you want that no one else does. That lost work that no publisher can justify printing. That’s when it’ll be fun. I just need to find the right book.

 

 

Calvin and Hobbes Go Free!

The entire run of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip is now free to read online or via the Go Comics mobile app (again, for free). Calvin and Hobbes have been some of the best Sunday funnies reading ever. The strip has been put online in a promotional effort for an upcoming documentary called Dear Mr. Watterson.

Go read the strip

Calvin and Hobbes

I know I am going to check in on Calvin and his tiger ever day. I wonder if the film will be any good….