Thursday 9 February 2012

Things I Like This Week - 9th February 2012

  • The new Polaris website is now up and running. At the time of writing, the address is the one that’s currently live, but the main .com one is expected to come on line any day. There’s still some work to be done with the content, but I hope you like this new beginning.
             Here’s the homepage video to give you a taster:

  • Remaining on the subject of films, here are some great examples of films being shot in HD on… iPhones. Absolutely brilliant. Get your creative juices flowing – see how easy it is to convert your ideas to produced film without vast expense (as long as you already own an iPhone 4 or 4S - slight caveat that, I admit).

  • This blog is designed to give you an insight into the publishing world and to discuss pertinent issues at hand. Reverting to the former goal, I stumbled across the below video. This in no way represents publishing. In any way. No way. Promise….

  • Debate of the Week Number Two: Now, here’s an interesting concept… bestselling Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho, actively encourages pirates to steal his work and distribute it for free online. Madness you say? Well Coelho believes that thanks to free editions of his books circulating the internet, his sales have seen an enormous growth increase, particularly in countries where he had previously been anonymous.  This is not a tactic that I would necessarily seek to emulate, but it makes interesting food for thought.

    •  You can see from a few of my previous posts – and the Polaris homepage video – that I’m into my stop animation at the moment. This video is just a delight – you can read about how it was made here:

    • Now, I can’t really write a blog like this without at least a passing mention to Facebook’s public offering. Are they really worth $5 billion? Will investors ever see their money again? Time will tell, but before it does, Mark Zuckerberg has revealed Facebook’s core business values. For all that I generally hate management speak, I have to admit to rather liking these:

    • New and noteworthy apps on the market:
    - Stephen Fry narrates Inside The World of Dinosaurs - Very cool. I’m a general sucker for Stephen Fry endorsed products but this app is tremendous in its own right, even without his soothing, dulcet tones.
    -  the first independently designed templates for iBooks Author are now available on the Mac App Store - Get out there and get designing your interactive iPad book apps everyone!

    • And just as a random ‘this is amazing’ post check out these nanobots synchronised flying:

    • Oh, OK then, here’s another random ‘this is amazing’ item. 3D printing, incredible (I can't embed this video into the blog for some reason, so you need to follow the link below):

    Hope you enjoy the above selection. Any thoughts or opinions on any of these (or on anything featured throughout this blog), I’d love to hear from you.
    Speak soon.

Amazon, Amazon Everywhere

Hello world. As unpleasant as it is to crow, I’d just like to bring your attention to (in case you’ve missed it) the news/ rumour that Amazon are going to branch out into physical stores. Are you ready for the crowing? Here goes… I told you so!

For reference, please see my insightful Casandra-esque blog piece from August 2010

And here is the New York Times’ take on it:

Sticking to Amazon (as the title of this post suggests we ought), the other piece of big news is that they have launched an e-commerce site in For the time being, Junglee does not sell anything directly to the customer, rather it is a central marketplace that guides shoppers to sellers’ individual websites (it should be noted that Amazon is one of these).
India is a market that has incredible potential for the publishing industry (for those yet to tap into it), but it is difficult to crack for small to medium sized publishers who do not have a base there. International bestsellers will do as well in India as anywhere else in the world, and publishers who have an international bestseller (but who do not, like Penguin India, have a base) will be able to explore the option of printing in India with production values and print-runs that can cope with the low cover price demanded by the market. For the rest of us, importing books into India isn’t really a viable consideration because of that low price selling point – there is very little return, if any; in fact, on the few occasions that I have looked into exporting into India, it has transpired that we would be selling copies at a loss once we incorporated shipping costs and local sales commissions.

So the alternative solution, you would imagine, would be through eBooks. But again there are snags – from poor internet bandwidth to promotion and, most crucially, a dearth of reliable and prominent retailers. What is most interesting to note is that Junglee sell Kindles, but does not (yet) list Kindle eBooks. When that position changes and the eBook market becomes viably accessible through Amazon’s existing central online distribution channels, then the issues over reaching the Indian market will suddenly alter dramatically. There will still be issues over bandwidth and promotion, but those are issues that can be tackled once market access has been gained – and Amazon are the most likely to achieve that and achieve it well. My eyes – and those of the rest of the publishing industry – are peeled. 

Speak soon.

Tuesday 31 January 2012

Things I Like This Week - January 31, 2012

- No sooner do I write a blog piece on SOPA and PIPA than they are both derailed by the global online community. I think it’s fair to say that my input was clearly the turning point. You can thank me later, world. Next stop, ACTA; I’m coming for you…

Online piracy remains a battle-ground that has still to be won, but at least the potential fallout from SOPA and PIPA has been recognised and avoided. There will be other bills; no doubt many of them. But future policy-makers will at least now be aware of the public fear that such blanket acts will irrevocably impinge on their freedom of speech, expression and creativity. Well at least I hope they’re aware, otherwise it’s all going to start again.

- Twitter recruitment video. Brilliant.

- Another book sculptor! And this time cropping up in Edinburgh. Beautiful and enigmatic – with a tip of the hat to Banksy with the secret identity. Truly stunning – I want.

Paper sculptures - the end!

- Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’ – someone has spent an incredible amount of time putting this together. Time well spent, I say…

- Canongate TV. Canongate are a remarkable company in many ways and this new approach to their website is inspired. Check out this video for one their books, Little Hands Clapping, published last year. Delightful:

- I’ve raved about this before, but it really is a beautiful app and demonstrates the best utilisation of the iPad’s functionality that I’ve seen so far:

- We’re only a few days away from the Six Nations, but I’m still reeling from the epic final few days of the 2012 Australian Open. I thought the Andy Murray–Novak Djokovic semi-final was seismic; it was, incredibly, surpassed by the final. See this super article on Djokovic’s staggering encounter with Rafa Nadal:

I really want to publish a tennis book and interactive app – if you have any ideas, please let me know.

That’s all for now.

Speak soon.

Tuesday 24 January 2012


So moving on from yesterday’s brief mention about the (misplaced) furore over Apple’s supposed copyright grab through iAuthor/ iBooks 2, it would be remiss not to mention the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect I.P. Act (PIPA), the two internet copyright bills currently passing through the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. There is also the slightly less publicised ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, that is being negotiated by the US, Canada, the EU, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Jordan, Morocco, and the UAE. The titles of each act seem to say everything they need to on the tin: ‘Piracy is bad, we’re here to stop it!’ But if these bills are passed (or any similar bills are passed in the future), there is a very real chance that the ramifications will fundamentally affect the functionality of very key elements of the internet all around the world. Not only that, the suggested punishment for breaching the terms of each act, even unintentionally or benignly, are severe.

It is important for me to state here my position on the bills. Online piracy is out of control, particularly for the music, TV and movie industries; if these industries cannot make money, then new content cannot be funded in the future, it’s as simple as that. What I do object to, as many people around the world do, is the approach that these bills are taking, as any mention of or link to a site that features illegally obtained copyright material can be deemed piracy by association and can be punished accordingly.

This TED video explains things very eloquently:

As alluded to in the TED video, lurking rather ominously in the background of these bills is the overbearing power of the US entertainment industry. The conspiracy theorists are lapping it all up, of course – it’s all very cloak and dagger, with the financial muscle of the entertainment industries twisting the arms of politicians around the world. See this article on the supposed reasons why Kim ‘Dotcom’ Schultz was arrested in New Zealand yesterday, as a classic example of the theories flying around the place:

It’s all wonderfully Orwellian but SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and the clamp down on online file sharing should be considered with measured rationale (piracy is, after all, illegal and we all know that). Having said that, there is also a nagging sense that the gargantuan US media conglomerates are perhaps beginning to tug on the webs that they have weaved through various global political systems over the years, meaning that the balance of the acts that are being proposed are being skewed in their favour.

Now, I completely understand that as copyright holders, media organisations want to protect their creations and the finance that has been invested into them at a whole range of levels, but the measures put forward to prevent file sharing of any sort – and the prevention of someone even posting directions to a file that has been uploaded on another site (such as posting a link on Facebook or Twitter) – are draconian in the extreme.

As a publisher of original creative output, copyright theft is a major concern to us; but I do not condone the threats carried by SOPA, PIPA and ACTA. True, we are not in a business that bears the same financial risk as the movie, TV or music industries, and our products are not so quickly and easily digestible – and therefore transmittable – as a movie clip posted on YouTube, but it is still a very real problem for us. Our tactic (and here I am talking about the book industry as a whole, particularly when dealing with digital editions) is to look to price our products at as reasonable a level as is financially viable for us (we need to cover our costs, pay authors and staff, and make money to commission or procure new material), but the thinking is that if a book isn’t priced too high (i.e. is clearly good value for money) then people are, on the whole, happy to purchase it through legal channels. If, however, we wanted to charge £35 for an electronic version of a bestselling £9.99 paperback, then we would expect to see piracy go through the roof. Yes, there is a reliance in this model on people’s general decency and good will, but so far it is a reliance that has been well placed. We still keep a close eye out for free illegal versions of our books on the internet and if we find them we issue take-downs – but we would never dream of punishing the people who downloaded them, tweeted about them or circulated a post on Facebook to their friends about where they found their free copy. We have no wish to be Big Brother.

The internet has given global society an unparalleled freedom of expression and access to information that would otherwise be totally out of reach. SOPA, PIPA and ACTA threaten to destroy this whole infrastructure. They, and any subsequent efforts to police the internet so severely, should be challenged at every step to ensure that a middle way is found. Piracy needs to be stopped, or at least curtailed as much as possible, but the method for doing so needs to be approached in a more reasoned and objective way than the current proposals that are being circulated.
What are your thoughts?

Speak soon.

Monday 23 January 2012

Things I Like This Week - January 23, 2012

I’m going for a change of tact with my blog entry today. Instead of my usual dissertation, I’m going for concision. Let’s look at some cool things that are going on at the moment; this is my new Things I Like This Week feature. Here goes:

-          Apple’s iAuthor/ iBooks 2. Contrary to all the hype in the press, Apple’s new publishing system is not some covert plot to control the ownership of writers’ work, rather it is an incredibly brilliant method for writers (and publishers) to easily put together and publish app editions of their books. Having spent well over a year looking at myriad offerings from a number of app development companies and balking pretty much every time at the exorbitant prices they quote to make relatively straight forward interactive books (£60K for a simple text book with slide shows and some pop-up video boxes? Please!), Apple have come to the rescue. If you want to give away the end product for free, Apple are happy for you to distribute it anywhere you want; if you want to sell it, they say that it can only be done through the iBookstore (thus the kerfuffle about ownership). Since the software and all the plug-ins that allow you to make the book an app are free, why shouldn’t they insist on only allowing it to be sold through the iBookstore? Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

-          Adobe Digital Publishing. Also extremely cool and the answer, once again, to my app development problems – and to the issue that many people have with the iAuthor’s output only being available through Apple. This offering from Adobe allows you to make apps with videos, slide-shows, audio files, 3D graphics, rotating graphics, interactive maps and hyperlinks and so on alongside the traditional text for any number of tablet and smartphone platforms. And the best bit? It can all be done in Indesign. Halleluiah! Yes, you have to have Indesign 5.5, but once you upgrade then it is a simple case of adapting traditional typesetting files (and typesetting techniques) to create amazing interactive books – and all for a smidgen of the price that I’ve been quoted by app developers.

-          For publishers and authors who are happy with Indesign and Quark, but who do not feel comfortable enough to explore the Adobe Digital Publishing solution or the iAuthor, there are a number of companies who can add interactivity to your existing files. Check out Mobcast and Press Run

-          The Joy of Books. This video is mesmerising and brilliant – but the mind boggles at how long it must have taken them to film.

-          The Book Surgeon’s sculptures. Totally stunning.

-          The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. A great story and a triumph of modern publishing: the hardback is everything a hardback should be with beautiful production values; the eBook does everything it says on the tin; the audio book is wonderful; and the marketing of the whole project with its dedicated website is just sensational. Check them all out if you haven’t already – particularly the website.

-          The lovely people at the RFU and the British & Irish Lions. It has been a pleasure working with you all so far, and I look forward to the months ahead. Fingers crossed things go as well with the SRU and IRFU in due course. Check out the projects we’re working on at the Lion and Behind the Rose.

-          The build up to the RBS Six Nations. Along with Burns Suppers, the best way to lift the January blues. And add to that Edinburgh Rugby making it into the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup and this has been a superb start to the year (only mildly countered by the disappointment of the 49ers losing the NFC Championship playoff to the New York Giants. You can’t have it all…).

-          The new Action Movie app from Bad Robot – a fun example of the power of augmented reality. Instantly impressive.

-          Stephen Page’s excellent appraisal of the eBook publishing scene and the ongoing role of publishers in this rapidly changing medium

Hope the above is of interest to some of you. Any comments or suggestions, let me know.

Speak soon.