Category Archives: Technology

Great Gatsby Videogame

Earlier this year, someone says they paid 50 cents for an old Nintendo cartridge that had some Japanese bootleg version of a Great Gatsby game. And thanks to the world of emulators you can play this 8-bit wonder right in your web browser.

You start off dodging butlers and tipsy partiers as Nick Carraway. Your goal is to simply “find Gatsby”. I admit that I have not played very much of the game and have no idea where it goes with the story or characters. I just thought its was neat that even way back when NES was the coolest, someone thought it worth while to make a game out of a book.

Small Demons and Connecting the Dots

Small Demons launched in beta this week and is trying to help us discover new things by connecting all the dots for us. How vague is that? But seriously that what it does. You can start with a person, book, movie, music, brand or thing. I chose a specific bourbon, Old Grand-Dad. Small Demons was able to list out three books that specifically mention that bourbon and cite the passages.

Want to know a character’s favorite recipe? Small Demons will eventually be the place to go. There is also a “My Library” tab, that is not yet active and I’m not sure how deep the social component will go. I’ve only been in for a day.

The “Books Mentioned in Other Books” is quite a big rabbit hole to start down. It goes on and on and on, but it’s fun to see what books, genres and author share certain things. As fun as it is, Small Demon’s bookshelf is still small, so all of the results feel a little truncated. There are many many books that will be added and indexed.

It’s one of those things that could only happen (and scale) thanks to the internet. It’s on the same track as LibraryThing (one of the most awesome services the internet has birthed). Here’s a quick under-two-minute video they produced to promo the new search/relationship/discovery engine:

Sony Catches Up with new eReader

No doubt the eReader sector is a tough business. One has to have the right balance of device manufacturing skills, end-user service, available titles, etc. Sony has been late to the show, even though they were an early mover. Their devices were over-priced and their customer-facing services and stores were cumbersome at best.

But yesterday, Sony has jumped in with both feet and announced a device that meets readers’ needs.

Available in October, the PRS-T1:

  • sports a 6″ eInk screen that is full TOUCHSCREEN (works with both fingers and stylus)
  • wi-fi enabled
  • weighs less than 6 ounces (making it barely lighter than Nook and Kindle)
  • costs only $149
  • has native support for checking out library books from Jefferson County libraries

That’s a pretty impressive list of specs for a company that’s been lagging behind. And it is about time. One thing Sony knows how to do is make things. They should have done this years ago. I’m just glad they did. Competition is a good thing and will keep Amazon, Apple, etc. honest and customer-focused. Which is where Sony has to focus now. Their Harry Potter deal is interesting, but not the overhaul that’s needed. I started e-reading on a PRS-505 and Sony lost me as a customer years ago. Everything was just too hard to do. I know it was early in the industry and I tried to cit them some slack. But Amazon and others just blew past them and I jumped ship. They seem to have come a long way since then.

Of course, we still have to wait on some real-world testing. I wonder if the screen really can work as advertised. But I’m anxious to see how the reading public responds to the $149 price-point and what Sony does to try and keep their readers coming back to buy books.

Netflix is Not a Better Librarian

Someone shared Seth Godin’s post The Future of the Library, via Twitter. In it Godin says “Netflix is a better librarian…”. Something that I totally disagree with. I have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old at home. Ninety-five percent of what gets streamed to my house is kids’ programming. From which the Netflix-librarian-bot makes the following not-so-helpful recommendations:

I took these screen shots today and stopped halfway through Page 2 of the recommendations. Now, none of these are offensive (Netflix once recommended Teeth to us, based on VeggieTales and Strawberry Shortcake) , but I’m not sure which one of these programs my Dora-loving 2-year-old would want to watch.

To be fair, Netflix-bot has gotten better over the past year. We really enjoy the service. But they are a looooooong ways away from being “a better librarian.” I do hope you all read Godin’s post, he does end up highlighting the need for people to curate and determine selections. Even if he does over reach with his esteem for bot-driven recommendation engines. People are still better.

Bookstores Make Your Inventory Mobile, Please

Hello independent bookstore owner. I am Trav. I believe in what you do and what you add to my community. I am your customer… and I have tools. You need to wake up and start participating, so I know you’re still there. Here is one thing all independent bookstore owners need to be aware of and learn how to do:

make your inventory public and accessible from mobile devices.

I use a few bard code scanning app. Currently, Red Laser is my favorite. I was in a big-box home improvement store the other day pricing closet organization systems. Up by the registers, I picked up a $17 book on closet makeovers. It seemed to be just what I needed. I was curious what else was out there, so I scanned it. Here are the results:

See that? There at the bottom? It should list everywhere that I could pick up this book locally. I only see some big-box chain stores and… my wonderful local library system. They understand what’s happening. You need to also.

These things aren’t too hard to learn and don’t cost tons of cash to implement. Bookstores of all sizes need to follow and study folks like LibraryThing (local books app and libanywhere app) and the scanning apps. Just doing that much is the surest way to remain relevant.

Read Library eBooks on your Apple iOS Device

You can now download and read free ebooks from the JCLC OverDrive system, on the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. I’ve been doing this for two weeks now, and other than a lack of sleep from all of the reading, I have had no issues. This week I finished up two paper books and three ebooks, all thanks to the BlueFire Reader app and the JCLC eBooks system.

It’s a pretty straight forward process. I get pretty detailed in my steps, so please don’t let the number of steps deter you from trying this. Here is how you check out and read the library eBooks on your iOS device:

  1. Download the free BlueFire Reader app (iTunes link) to your device and create an account.
  2. Download the free Adobe Digital Editions desktop reader and create an account. This puts the Adobe Digital Editions program on your computer, which will act as “home base” and authenticate your ebooks.
  3. Launch the BlueFire Reader app, on your device, tap on “info” and authorize your app with your Adobe Digital Editions password.

Now, that you are all legit you are ready to check out a book!

  1. Go to the JCLC site (or your library’s downloadable site) and sign in.
  2. Check out a book. An .acm “key” file will download to your computer. Use your Adobe Digital Editions program to open this file, this will download the .epub (the actual book) file to your computer. You can now read that book on your computer.
  3. From your computer, send yourself an email, with that .epub file as an attachment.
  4. Now check your email on your iOS device. The attachment will appear with the BlueFire Reader logo.
  5. Tap and hold on that icon until the fly-out menu appears saying “Open with BlueFire Reader”, which you will select.
  6. BlueFire Reader app will now launch and you can start reading! Once your “checkout period” has expired the file will deactivate from your iOS device and your computer desktop.

I’ve also heard of people using free services like DropBox to get the book file on their device, but I haven’t tried it. The BlueFire folks are on Twitter and have been really responsive to all of my support questions. The OverDrive team is on Twitter too. I know that OverDrive and Sony have both promised Adobe DE-friendly apps soon, so BlueFire won’t be the only option. But as of right now, it’s certainly the best.

Let me know what you think and if you read anything good!

Desks of the Future

Yesterday, I ran across this great (and way too short) video about the future of the desk.

The next item in my feed yesterday was coverage of this week’s Books in Browsers 2010 summit, where the Internet Archive showed off what they have dubbed the Reading Desk 2.0. Basically, it’s an antique church reading desk hacked together with a massive touchscreen eBook reader display.

I guess technically the video isn’t focusing so much on the features of a desk as it is the functions of a desk, but it’s interesting how integrated displays, etc. never came up in the discussions, in what they see as being needed from a desk, to help accomplish our reading, tasks, work, etc.

The discussion and tidbits being passed along on Twitter, via the #bib10 hashtag is worth following all day today and worth going back and reading yesterday’s feed. It sounds like it’s been a GREAT event dolling out plenty of practical experience and numbers for those in publishing to consider.

Free eBooks from Birmingham-Area Libraries

It is 11pm and I just checked out a book from my local library.

This week the JCLC system turned on its Overdrive-powered eBook network. So far it’s very very cool. The only complaints I have are tied to the CRAZY complicated hoops Adobe Digital Editions (which you will have to download) has in place. But that’s no fault of the library system and is required by most publishers anyway. But once you get the Adobe Digital Editions set up right, it’s great.

Via my JCLC account, I have “checked out” an eBook and am reading it on both my laptop and on my desktop. I have not tried to put it on my Sony eReader yet, as it needs a new battery and won’t hold a charge (yeah yeah, I know. That’s not a problem people reading print books have, but hey… did I mention, I just checked out a book at 11pm!) Anyway….

Here is the one tip I can offer: Once you download your eBook file (it has a .acm extension), “right click” (or ctrl-click) and choose “Open With…” and navigate to Adobe Digital Editions. The permission drm-wrapped file that is downloaded is not a straight up ePub and this seems to work better than opening Adobe Digital Editions and trying to import the .acm file into the library.

Cool factoids of the new system:

  • You get to choose your “check out period”. You elect 7 days, 14 days or 21 days at checkout.
  • You can checkout up to 5 titles at a time
  • Every digital file has icons showing which platforms/devices that book can be read on
  • So far there are 477 fiction books and 435 non-fiction books listed

The eBooks are not Kindle-friendly nor iDevice-friendly, but here is a list of all compatible devices. I’m going to take a look at checking out books to the Sony Reader and various iDevices.

Kudos to the JCLC System in bringing another great service to us. You guys really are something Birmingham can brag about.

IPSA Presentation slides

Here is the slide deck from my presentation at the June IPSA meeting. I only wish there was a way for me to display the Q&A that followed, the questions were great and just what one would expect from a room full of technologists, when the subject is ebooks and book publishing.

Amazon Kindle App for Mac Now Available

It’s finally here! Click here to go download it (download will start automatically).

There’s nothing super special about it. With all the delays, since last year, I thought they were cramming in all of the annotations and such, but it looks like those are coming later. This app, which lets you buy and read kindle books on any Mac OS 10.5 machine does support device syncing, which is more important to me and worked fine this morning. So I can start readying a book on my phone and then pick up where I left off on my computer. Pretty handy. Bookmarks are displayed too. Not a bad little app, but you can see why they didn’t launch with a parade.

Let me know what you think about it or if you’re even going to give it a try.

Amazon Ready to Battle for Books

It’s less than a week before Steve Jobs takes the stage atop a unicorn showing the world the fabled Apple Tablet (iSlate). And it appears that Amazon thinks there is going to be a real battle for books. In the past two years, Amazon has used its size to bulldoze its way through publishing. But all that is changing, fast.

1. New 70% royalty rate. Amazon has been artificially keeping Kindle book prices at $9.99, to entice readers. Fancy math aside, this just means that Amazon has to pay royalties based on the cover price, not the lower $9.99 price. So the profit is non-existent there. This week Amazon announced, that starting in June, they will increase their payouts to 70%. This should balance out a lot of the math so that publishers can keep the doors open and Amazon can keep the prices low.

2. Kindle to support apps. Amazon is making the Kindle SDK available for download and will open up the devices as app platforms. So, if all things stay constant, third-party folks could make software that readers could install and run, in their Kindle. This is the same model used on the iPhone and other smart phones.

3. Amazon invites other printers back to the party. It’s no secret people can print their own books these days. The secret is finding a great way to sell and distribute those books. For years Amazon let people print their own books and then sell them on Amazon as each being their own publisher. In 2009, Amazon stopped playing nice and told writers that if you want to print your own writings to sell on our site, you have to use our printers… at our prices… everyone else, hit the road. This was a BIG deal and lots of people left the Amazon ecosystem. But now they have backed down and opened the doors to everyone again.

And all of this because the latest twist on the rumor of the hearsay of the tablet is that Apple has been talking to publishers to build enhanced editions of their eBooks to run on the pixi-dust powered Apple Tablet. I just want to know how “enhanced” an eBook has to be to warrant a $1,000 device, multi-functional or not? We’ll see.

What I do know is that consumers win again as competition forces big businesses to be more open and agile.

Bundling eBooks and Digital Products

It is almost 2010 and despite the rose-colored glasses being handed out by the Amazon PR team, eBooks and print-to-digital products still have a ways to go before becoming mainstream and major streams of revenue. This post is also serving to round out some views I’ve passed along via Twitter recently and in reply to V.Sandbrook.

Publishers need to bundle their products. Period. It’s simple and can require very little extra cost (production wise) beyond putting together a printed book. There are too many services and tech solutions to name, so I’m going to put forth just a basic outline of a bundling option that a publisher might offer. Bundling accomplishes two things:

  1. keeps the customer first; it allows the reader to access the content how they prefer
  2. it increases the margin of every book sale, ever so slightly

So, I think publishers should really start to look at their product offerings and seeing if they can’t offer something like the following.

1. Print Book – been around for hundreds of years. Everyone knows the business model. Amazon seems to discount much of publishers’ backlists by 20%-30%. So if possible the publisher should discount their books on their own direct-to-consumer website by 25%.

2. Print Book + Digital Edition – This bundle would be made available on the publisher’s direct-to-consumer site. Basically, you’re selling the printed book and a “smaller file size” version of the pdf you sent to press. So no more work is created, in offering this. A consumer is then faced with the following decision: do I buy the print book for 25%-off and have it delivered to my doorstep in two weeks or do I simply pay cover price for the print book, which is what I would pay in the bookstore, which gets the book delivered in two weeks, but I can also immediately download the pdf and start reading now.

3. Enhanced Digital Edition – This is a $9.99 offer designed to compete with device-dependent eBooks. The publisher would basically be selling their “to press” pdf, but with color photos, a hyper-linked TOC, maybe added audio snippets, an extra “links on the web” section, video, etc. Anything you can add to a current pdf to add value to it, to justify the higher price for a pdf-only download. Your readers deserve it. You have the content. Get it off the edit-room floor and add value to the digital book.

4. Device-Dependent eBooks – these are your Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, etc. files. They need to be out there and in the catalogs. Let the device makers do the marketing for you. I really think these will come and go, but the amount of infrastructure in place here really makes it a great sales channel for 2010. Most of these are in the $9.99 price range.

5. Mobile Apps – you have to start looking mobile. It doesn’t matter if you publish fiction or non-fiction. There are many ereading devices out there, but many people already have a device they love. And it fits right in their pocket, their phone. The mobile ereaders are getting better and better. So publishers better have a plan in place, if not already in the mobile space, by the end of 2010. Just check out some of the cool things that StanzaKobo,Aldiko and Vook are doing. They all rock. Publishers need to start seeing .epub, .mobi and .prc appearing somewhere in their workflow. The earlier in the publishing process those files appear, the better.

So that’s it. A quick rundown of how a small publisher might offer one book to the world. It’s by no means a definitive list of the possibilities.

But it does only get better. What happens if you have a “hot” book? Imagine if the book hits shelves in March, what would rabid fans or curious consumers pay for a pdf copy one month earlier? Would the same pdf be worth a higher price pre-pub and then a lower price after the book came out? Pretty cool topic for another post on some other day, I think. Not too mention what happens once you invite XML-tagging to the party.

If you have any digital product strategies that are working for you or that you have seen and are a fan of, please share!