Saturday, October 29, 2011

Note re my TKC interview

I was flattered to hear that the Kindle Chronicles' interview with myself is amongst favorites. This is particularly pleasing since that podcast is well known for having many interviews with highly qualified and well spoken guests (like this week it is the editor of Amazon's Kindle Singles program). So I'd honestly only dared hope that my own would sort of hang in there and not be too embarrassing in comparison.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ebook publishing is way too complex

It is breaking my heart, my nuts, and my brains that ebook publishing and even just ebook creation is so damn complex.

I've been listening to a nice podcast called Ebook Ninjas, and it's getting very clear that there are just no reliable and simple ways to convert a book (unless it's a dead simple book with no tables, graphics, etc) to the various ebook formats. There are apps which can make attempts, but it seems you always have to know the code (HTML basically) and get in there and mess with it, in order to get a professional looking ebook produced.

It is just so typical of this messed up world. There are millions of readers wanting to buy ebooks, there are hundreds of thousands of authors wanting to write them, make them and sell them, and there are tens of thousands of publishers wanting to publish them. And yet nobody has yet come up with a system which a normal person can learn to use easily.

It really should not be so difficult. We have had e-commerce for fifteen years at least, we have had publishing for centuries, we have had book formatting for as long, electronically for decades, and digital and conversions for many years. What is taking so long?

The only simple way I know is to take your book, if you have a Mac, select "print", and "print" a PDF file. This I admit is really amazingly simple, and it's totally cross-platform. And then sell the book on Lulu or just via Paypal.

But it does not work well with the small screens of Kindle and such readers, which is a huge hole in the method, to say the least. Maybe the problem is that Apple has shown no big interest in ebooks*, and Apple is the only company who has had real success in making things simple to use. One suspects that making things simple is the most complex thing of all.

Update: Bruce said:
I agree, what Pagemaker did for DTP, what PageMill did for HTML, has not been done for ebooks yet. However...
Numbers, by Apple, does have a save to epub option. Simple, but I don't know how well it works.
From MS Word it looks like the best option is save to HTML (use option of "filtered" on PC or "display" on Mac) and import to calibre. Calibre itself is complicated, but does offer lots of control and many file types to save and convert documents to. 

Yes, and I hear Pages saves to ePub now, and it's good enough that TidBITS uses it, so it must be pretty good (their books are complex enough that they don't publish in Kindle format, I think. [See below]) (They can get away with this because they publish technical how-to books with an Apple slant, so if a reader wants the books on an ereader, he probably has an iPad.)
Update: I asked Adam Engst from TidBITS about this, and he says:

[Apple] Pages does produce reasonable EPUBs, and we don't hand tweak them after the fact. We could run the EPUBs through the command-line kindlegen program from Amazon to turn them into Mobi files, but there were problems when we did that, so we have O'Reilly's conversion house do the conversions still. So our books are available in Mobi format, but it's nowhere near as good as the EPUB.

Unfortunately then there's the split between the "universal format" ePub and the actual best-selling format, the proprietary Kindle format. Generally you can't ignore the latter if you want to sell, sadly. (And of course many want copy-protection, which splinters ePub into many groups.)

*I wonder why Steve Jobs seemed so dismissive of reading. ("People don't read anymore.") I can't imagine he was not a reader himself, and in most aspects Apple seems to mirror Jobs' mind. Maybe he was really only intensely interested in making products which "everybody" would potentially use?
If so, that's notable. Sort of noble in itself, I guess. But on the other hand, many worthwhile activities are really only enjoyed by minorities, like fine art or, indeed, serious reading.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Adobe Digital Editions, and DRM

It seems the Google ebook store (which I otherwise liked because unlike any other ebook store I'm aware of, it has a good presence of graphically rich books), uses Adobe Digital Editions. I think it's unfortunate. I hear the format has not been updated in over four years. And the app is just generally a pain to use. For example, if you refuse to update the app when there is a new version available, the app quits!*
Worse, it is so draconian about Digital Rights Management that it does not even allow local storage of a book! This means it just stores a tiny 4k reference file, and you have to download the book every time you want to read it! If you're offline, you're f***ed.

It seems though that ADE is the standard option for DRM for PDF files. Meaning there's no good way.  I hope that ebooks will go the way of music, into non-protected files. So far though the trend in that direction is virtually non-existent, so I'm not optimistic about it happening any time soon. It seems the book publishing industry is way more conservative than the music industry, for some reason. (If I'd been asked to guess in the past, I'd actually have guessed it opposite.) But then ebooks are the better part of a decade behind music in digitalization, so...

*And it does not even actually update when I click Update. Right now I'm trying to install the app again, but of course Adobe insists on downloading an "installer" first, and of course that download stalls, and I get a message that the "signature" is wrong, whatever that is.  I hate Adobe installation and upgrade procedures, one way or another it's usually made into a nightmare.

Mild in our method

Vigorous let us be in attaining our ends, and mild in our method of attainment.
           -- Lord Newborough, Motto

Funny I should fall over this quote, just as I've been marvelling all morning, reading the Steve Jobs book, about how rude the man often was.

I have huge respect for his taste and ideals and accomplishments, but I find it hard to respect his personality. He would always view and treat people as either Gods or Shit, nothing in between, and even the "gods" would live in constant fear of his famous and frequent changes of mind. "This is shit" was a common comment when seeing something he didn't like or understand, regardless of how much or how little data he had about it yet.
When he had recruited the affable Andy Hertzfeld to the Macintosh team, Andy wanted a few days to round off his current Apple II work so he could hand it over smoothly. Jobs insisted that working on the Mac was infinitely more important, and he actually ripped out the power plug to Andy's computer in the middle of Andy's work, and virtually pulled him away. To me, such behavior is simply inexcusable, and would be even if it resulted in the best results. But I don't think it even does that, because you always have to work with people, and if you habitually offend people, it throws gravel in the gears of the machinery. 

A person should respect differing viewpoints, and a person should be able to control his feelings instead of letting them spill all over the landscape wherever he goes, to no aim. I think doing this is simply immature, no matter one's status. 
I also think that the binary, black-or-white matter of seeing everything is immature, though perhaps this is more on a spiritual development scale than a human scale, seeing as how many outstanding humans have such a mentality all their lives. 

While I'm insulting kings (in the name of learning) I think Jobs also wasted great amounts of time and energy on details which actually didn't matter.  He went "into the opposite ditch" to use a Danish expression. One ditch is releasing a product with obvious flaws, or making products without a feeling of aesthetics or pride or quality. And the opposite ditch is, like Jobs did in just one example, not being satisfied with any of the 2,000 shades of beige in the Pantone catalogue for the Apple II's case, and wanting to make a new one for it. That's just borderline insanity. One of the most important mental attributes a person can have is a good judgement of the importance of a datum or decision. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

iPhone 4S dictation

Something I hadn't heard: on iPhone 4S, the screen keyboard has a little microphone key, which takes dictation. You tap it, talk a sentence or more, tap Stop, and it sends it to a server which sends back text.
I am still getting about two errors in every sentence, so that's crap, but it seems to work well for many, and if and when it does, it's very cool. You could dictate not only emails, but the next big vampire romance novel if you want, talked into the iPhone version of Pages.
It's irritating, normally tech works well for me, but it appears that my Danish accent is a serious barrier for dictation software. Durnit.

Introducing Kobo Vox

We now have three Android 7-inch tablets sold as e-reader devices Nook Color, Kindle Fire, and now Kobo Vox. They are all very similar, hardware-wise. Kobo is the most open one, giving access to other stores than Kobo's own, and having the Android Market right out in the open.
I like the Kobos for the soft material on the back, making holding it easier, something nobody else gives much thought to.
Like the Nook, Kobo is USA-only. I suspect it's a bitch to get the rights in various countries, only Amazon so far has made much inroads.

I think none of them will let anybody from outside USA buy media on the tablet. But I'm hoping that the Kindle Fire will at least let the Kindle app read my books, and let the browser and such work normally, that'd cover my use pretty well. If I want to buy books from the device I can probably do it in the browser like normally, from the UK Kindle ebook store (I don't think it handles video/music yet though, but I use iTunes for that anyway.)

Siri no hablo ingles

Just got my iPhone 4S. In brief testing of Siri, my scepticism has not been disproven yet. So far it has understood less than one in five of commands I tried, and twice it started to dial a phone number when I had not asked for it. (Once I'd asked for location and once I was trying to begin an email.)

Like with the grayness of e-ink backgrounds, I am beginning to suspect it is only a problem for me, and hardly anybody else, since I haven't been able to get any voice operating or dictation system to work well for me in the past. It's irritating for me, but bully for others if it works for them.

Timo found this one, which is not so far from my experiences:

OK, this is weird. When I finally found the Siri settings (tucked in under "general"), it turned out that the durn thing was turned off by default! Seems I had the old "voice control" (which I'd never used.)  Now that I've turned it on, things may be different.
To compound matters, location control was *also* turned off for Siri by default (though I had it turned on for other services), and wifi was turned off by default, I'd have thought it would ask me to turn it on.

"Send an email to Judith"
"... sending email to Judith... Sorry, something is wrong, I can't do that." 
"What is wrong?"
"Wrong: noun: that which is contrary to the principles of justice or law." 

... very helpful.

A historic event?

This is from Apple's delivery tracking page. I find it totally hil that they label the delivery date as a "historic event".

Monday, October 24, 2011

iRiver Story HD reader, short review

One out of five stars
European buyers beware.  

Sorry, The iRiver Story HD reader is one of the lamest purchases I've ever made. I'd been looking forward to getting a Google Book Store dedicated reader (got interested here), but...

Apart from the very nice 16-tone high rez screen (which Amazon should have looked at) (black on grey like other e-ink screens, but sharper), it's clunky. The design and interface are just not good, see this review. One example: an Enter button should be large and clearly set off from other buttons. And preferably it should be set in the middle between the four-way controller (making it a five-way controller), not off to the side. This kind of thing really should be obvious.

But what kills me is:
1) In Europe/UK, the price is twice what it is in the US. (200 Euros/$280 versus $140.
2) And for what? For half the functionality. I spent so much time trying to find out why the durn thing couldn't connect to the Google ebook Store like I'd read about. Then I started suspecting that the functionality had been removed. And it has! It doesn't even have any wifi system at all! And this is despite Google eBook Store actually now having a UK department.

It won't even read ebooks that I've bought on the UK Google Store site and side-loaded onto the device. The files don't even show up in the booklist on the device. (I'm beginning to suspect that only Kindle and iPad will let us buy books outside the US.)

I tried side-loading a bunch of different PDF and ePub documents to the Story: not so joyful, in three out of four cases I just got: "can't open document".

In short about the iRiver Story HD:
US customers: read some reviews, it might be for you or not.
European customers: avoid. It's twice the price, for a crippled product with interface problems..

Downloading "Steve Jobs"

I just got this in the email from Apple: 

Oddly, I could not find the download either on my Mac or my iPad. But when I clicked the link in the mail, it downloaded fine, so I just had to plug in my iPad and sync it. (To my disappointment (slightly), it turns out that iCloud does not work on Snow Leopard. I doubt there are compelling technical reasons for that.)

Thank god they didn't call it "iSteve, the Book of Jobs" like first announced. Then again calling it "Steve Jobs" is a bit austere. But then again that's perfectly in his style. Austere minimalism.

... Typical: as has happened before with a product I was interested in well before publication, I have just found out I have ordered this books both over iBooks and Kindle. Well, at least it gives me a good chance to compare them. ... iBooks has better controls over fonts and text size, which I find important (as frequent readers will be aware).

... Aaaaand, it is also already out as audiobook! I did not expect that, it does not often happen. So now I've paid for it three times, I hope it's a good book! (It does seem promising so far.)

I like that the writer, and Steve, and Steve's wife, all agreed that this should be a very honest book, and not just a promotional tome. All admit that Steve had his character flaws, and they want people to learn, and learn from, the whole story.

I think I'll go mainly for the audio version, cuz it's not a short book... it's a 700-page book, and 25 hours in audio! That's as long as Moby-Dick. Most books are less than half of that.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Amazon savvy

I really keep marvelling at the sheer savvy of Amazon. It's uncanny. Sure, they have their blind spots, for example it's ridiculous that the Kindle can't read iPub. But to put out apps on all major platforms, and to pay for free 3G for their customers, is awesome and long-sighted. As is another one: their intense support for self-publishers and small publishers. In the short run, I'm sure it seems unimportant to other platforms, because obviously what 99% of readers want is the already known authors and the bestsellers. But in the long run, years and decades, who writes those bestsellers changes, and the more new authors publish first on the Kindle platform, the more bestsellers will come from there, and it will contribute enormously to the growth of the platform. And that's not even considering "the long tail" (which means a big number of marginal and niche titles) which is growing in volume and importance year over year as digital takes over, since there is not limit to Shelf Space in digital.