We have a treadmill at home. A fine treadmill, but with a major design flaw (from my perspective): the book holder. I’m a pretty big guy, and at 6 feet, 5 inches tall, my eyes are a long way from the book holder when I’m on the treadmill. My eyes aren’t great, but I can read a book with standard print from that distance. It’s a little jiggly when I’m moving, but I can manage. The holder itself is fine for a small book, but won’t easily hold a thick book. It will hold a magazine, but most magazines have pretty small print.
It’s also deucedly awkward turning pages. I have to just about take the book or magazine out of the holder, turn the page, and slide it back in. A real pain in the neck. I want something with large text that fits easily in the rack and has easy-to-turn pages, even when walking or jogging on the treadmill.
I can enlarge the text as I please, it’s backlit so I don’t have to worry about positioning a light on the treadmill, and turning a page is as easy as swiping my finger across the screen — a piece of cake even at a jog. I like the feel of “real” books, and I like buying and selling used books, which makes reading less expensive, but the iPad is the perfect treadmill solution.
Then came Apple’s new release of iOS, which I loaded this week. It has a million new features, but some of the basic fundamentals stopped working, like being able to read an ebook. Big chunks of text disappear between virtual pages. I have to keep changing the text size up and down to try and fit more or less text per page and hope I can read those missing lines. A pain in any circumstances; completely untenable on a treadmill.
“iOS 5 has a million new features, but some of the basic fundamentals stopped working, like being able to read an ebook.”
Apple’s been trumpeting their new “Newsstand” on iOS 5, which allows you to group all of your magazines in one place and read them on the iPad. I figured I’d give it a shot. I can usually count on Wired magazine being ahead of the curve on tech, and they have a free issue when you load the app, so I loaded it up and gave it a try.
I love you, Wired, but you sure missed the boat on your iPad app. It’s almost like a group of designers sat down in a room and said, “How can we make this as awkward as possible for a 50-year-old dude on a treadmill?” It’s pretty; I’ll give them that. It’s an immersive experience that’s better than a magazine and better than a web site. But it has a few problems.
“I love you, Wired, but you sure missed the boat on your iPad app.”
- You can’t adjust the text size. This is a huge step backwards in both ergonomics and accessibility.
- Navigation is inconsistent. Sometimes you have to swipe down (for the next page in an article) and sometimes you swipe sideways (for the next article), but you can’t skip to the next article without either going through all of the pages or activating the scroll bar on the bottom and delicately scrolling sideways.
- Navigation requires precise movements. Turning a page while moving at a jog is easy with the iPad’s e-reader for books. Just tap the right margin or swipe from the right. In the Wired app, you have to have the motion exactly correct. If your swipe isn’t exactly horizontal, it will try to scroll down, even if you’re on a page where downward swipes don’t work. If your swipe is too short, it treats it as a tap and shows the scroll bar. Many of the pages have active spots, and if you accidentally hit one of those, you end up playing an audio clip or showing a graphic instead of moving to the next page.
- As a combination of my first and third point, some of the features require hitting fairly small buttons with fairly high precision (just a tap, not a swipe), which is quite a challenge on the treadmill.
- There’s no onscreen indication of how to navigate. When I first loaded it up, I got to the first page of an article I didn’t want to read, and couldn’t figure out how to move on. I kept swiping sideways, and the image would flick sideways and come back. It took several minutes to figure out I had to go through all of the pages to the end of the article, and then flick sideways.
Beautiful app, guys. Looks great. Tons of data. Nice interactive features. But your ergonomics stink.
Until Apple fixes their ebook reader, it looks like I’m back to podcasts on the treadmill. Oh, well. I’ve been missing Science Friday lately. Hey, Ira! I’m back!
As a writer and bookseller, I depend on copyrights and their enforcement to make a living. I believe that people should be able to profit from their creative labors, and that a properly-constructed copyright system encourages people to create. I also believe that our current system isn’t properly-constructed, but that’s another topic entirely.
Last Wednesday, July 6, a group of major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) entered a voluntary agreement with the music and movie industries (MPAA and RIAA) to enforce copyrights on their customers’ websites. When someone (most likely the RIAA or MPAA) notifies your ISP of a potential copyright violation on your website or through P2P usage, you will receive a warning. The first four warnings are “educational” in nature, with no penalty and no appeal. As you move up to the fifth and sixth warning, the “mitigation” stage kicks in, and you could find your access speed throttled back or a landing page that comes up every time you try to access the Internet.
This bothers me on several levels. Even though the ISPs won’t be monitoring your Internet traffic, and disconnection isn’t one of the possible punishments, it puts Big Daddy right in your office or living room. And the penalty phase seems misguided to me. Once you’ve reached the fifth or sixth warning, and the ISP has applied a penalty, you have the option to appeal. Unfortunately, you have to pay for the appeal ($35.00), and your reasons for appeal are highly limited.
The memorandum of understanding (warning: PDF file) lists six possible grounds for appeal (the misnumbering is theirs, not mine):
(i) Misidentification of Account–that the ISP account has been incorrectly identified as one through which acts of alleged copyright infringement have occurred.
(ii) Unauthorized Use of Account–that the alleged activity was the result of the unauthorized use of the Subscriber’s account of which the Subscriber was unaware and that the Subscriber could not reasonably have prevented.
(iii) Authorization–that the use of the work made by the Subscriber was authorized by its Copyright Owner.
(iv) Fair Use–that the Subscriber’s reproducing the copyrighted work(s) and distributing it/them over a P2P network is defensible as a fair use.
(vi) Misidentification of File–that the file in question does not consist primarily of the alleged copyrighted work at issue.
(vii) Work Published Before 1923–that the alleged copyrighted work was published prior to 1923.
Does anyone else notice a glaring omission on that list? If someone reports you for copyright infringement, you can’t say “Piss off; I own that!” I suppose you could go for clause iii and say that you had given yourself permission, but remember you can’t appeal the first four warnings at all, and if someone reports you for placing your own copyrighted content on your website or blog, it will cost you $35 and some unknown amount of time to make the penalties go away.
I am interested in how this will affect writers. I have found copies of my work scattered all over the Internet, and found that most website operators ignore my requests to take it down. Although the RIAA and MPAA started the process that led to this memorandum of understanding (MOI), it opens with the following words:
Copyright infringement (under Title 17 of the United States Code) on the Internet (“Online Infringement”) — including the illegal distribution of copyrighted works such as music, movies, computer software, gaming software, e-books and the like via Peer-to-Peer (“P2P”) file exchanges and other illegal distribution via Internet file hosting, streaming or other technologies — imposes substantial costs on copyright holders and the economy each year.
Notice the inclusion of ebooks? This seems to imply that writers can contact an ISP and report violations under the terms of the MOI. Would this also include our articles, stories, poems, and audio books? How about digital copies of artists’ work? Well, apparently not. According to the MOI, notices of infringement may only be given by the “Content Owner Representatives,” which they define as the RIAA and MPAA. If your content is pirated, you can’t do a thing about it unless the RIAA or MPAA choose to respond.
If, however, those organizations do choose to pass through notices generated by individuals, it would create a whole new form of harassment. If you don’t like someone, report them for copyright infringement over and over and over. Even if they’ve done nothing wrong, it will cost them $35 each time to remove the mitigation measures.
This could be a very far-ranging contract, and there could be consequences unforeseen by the signers of the MOI.
Incidentally, the ISPs that signed the agreement — as listed in Attachment A of the MOI — are SBC Internet Services, Inc., BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc., Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, Pacific Bell Telephone Company, Illinois Bell Telephone Company, Indiana Bell Telephone Company, Incorporated, Michigan Bell Telephone Company, Nevada Bell Telephone Company, The Ohio Bell Telephone Company, Wisconsin Bell, Inc., The Southern New England Telephone Company, and BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc. (the AT&T Inc. companies); Verizon Online LLC, VerizonOnline LLC –Maryland, and Verizon Online Pennsylvania Partnership (the Verizoncompanies); Comcast Cable Communications Management, LLC; CSC Holdings, LLC (solely with respect to its cable systems operating in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut)(the Cablevision systems); and Time Warner Cable Inc.
In 2003, I created a booklet based on a pamphlet written by Fay Kuhlman. Entitled The Darkest Hour: A Comprehensive Account of the Smith Mine Disaster of 1943, it sold pretty well both at my bookstore and at the Carbon County (Montana) Historical Society. When 2010 rolled around, it seemed like time to update the book a bit, so I went to work on building a 3rd edition.
I had monkeyed around with eBooks back in the 90s, but that was well before their time. Delivery mechanisms were limited, there was no copy protection, and few devices that would qualify as readers. I decided this would be a fine time to see what’s involved in becoming a Kindle author and an iPad author.
I must confess that I went into the experiment with a bias. I’m not your typical Apple fanboy, in that I definitely recognize the flaws in Apple’s products and I use a wide variety of competing products. I have, however, done consulting for Apple, owned many of their different products, and currently use an iMac, iPhone, iPad, iPod, AppleTV, and more.
On the flipside, I own a bookstore. That means I deeply resent some of the things Amazon has done to the book business. That hasn’t stopped me from selling used books on their site and promoting my own books there, but I’m certainly not an Amazon fan.
Nonetheless, I resolved to do both at the same time and compare the processes with as little bias as possible.
I began the process by applying to be a publisher on Kindle Direct and on Apple’s iTunes Store. I filled in the forms, submitted them, and set out reading whatever information was available on preferred formats. The Kindle application went through fast. I was up and ready to publish in a day. The Apple application took well over a week, and I couldn’t find any way to speed things up. It was far more complex and the agreement far more restrictive than Amazons. This is definitely Advantage: Amazon.
As for file formats, Amazon uses a format called MOBI. You can use color in your cover image, but the inside of the book is black & white. Amazon didn’t have any tools of their own for doing the conversion, but recommended a product called Calibre. Once I stripped out tables, removed all color, and generally took the book back to text-only format, I could reformat the illustrations, build a table of contents, add in the cover art, and convert it using Calibre. It took several iterations, but I finally got what I wanted.
Apple, on the other hand, uses the open ePub format. Since Calibre does ePub, I did a quick reformat of what I’d done for MOBI, swapped the color pictures back in, and did the conversion on Calibre. Looked smooth and easy, but wouldn’t upload. I wrestled with it through several iterations, and finally resorted to reading the help files on Apple’s website. As it turns out, they specifically tell authors to avoid Calibre, as it creates incorrectly-formatted ePub files. Argh! However, the “Pages” word processor on the Macintosh outputs beautifully-formatted ePub, and everything went smoothly from there.
Since I don’t own a Kindle, I had to download a “Kindle Preview” app from Amazon to see how the book would look. On Apple, I simply dragged it to iTunes and synced the iPad. In both cases, I saw what I expected.
Given the formatting capabilities, availability of color, and openness of the format, I’d have to call this Advantage: Apple.
Making the books available for sale
Once your contracts are in place, uploading books is easy with both companies. Again, Amazon’s is faster, but that wasn’t a big deal. Setting prices and royalties was similar. Amazon made the book available in the U.S., U.K., and Germany. Apple gave me all three of those, plus Australia, Canada, and France. One rather significant difference is that Apple requires an ISBN for each eBook. I bought a block of ISBNs when I self published a couple of books years ago, so that wasn’t an issue for me. If you’re a first-time self-publisher, however, that could be a problem. Amazon, on the other hand, makes up a code themselves (they call it an ASIN rather than an ISBN), and you’re ready to go.
You can see what the book looks like in Amazon’s store and Apple’s store and compare for yourself. The Apple iBookstore looks quite different in a web browser than it looks on an iPad, but you’ll get the idea.
Both companies offer online sales and royalty reports and trend charts, and both make it easy to remove or update your book. It’s a close race here, but not requiring an ISBN probably makes this Advantage: Amazon.
The bottom line: Sales
The Darkest Hour, 3rd edition went on sale through both venues in March. Aside from a quick announcement on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve done no promotion whatsoever. It’s a highly-specialized booklet about a mine explosion that took place over 65 years ago. How has it done? According to the royalty reports, 25 copies on Kindle and 1 copy on iPad.
I’ll probably come back and update this after doing some promotion and giving it more time, but for the moment I have to declare Kindle the winner from the author’s perspective. I still like my iPad much better for many reasons, but as I release eBooks, I know where I’m putting my priority for first release!