Friday, December 14, 2012

Decline of eReaders

Here is an interesting article about the decline of eReaders.  It seems that people are going after multi-use tablets, rather than cheaper, single-use readers.

Two studies predict that as few as 7 million readers may ship by 2016, down significantly from 20-30 million in 2011. More reason than ever to make digital books which are accessible on all devices, rather than locked to one platform.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

iPad Losing its Grip in Japan

According to an article in the Asahi Shimbun (Japanese newspaper), research company BCN announced on Nov. 7th (2012) that sales of Android Tablets have surpassed iPad sales for the first time, in October, in Japan. 

It attributes much of this to the Nexus 7, which entered the market at the end of September, 2012.  The affordable price of the Nexus 7, at 19,800 yen, seems to be the determining factor for many people.  The market share for Android tablets in October stood at 58.1%, whereas the iPad came in at 40.6%. 

Amazon's Kindle Fire, to be priced at 12,800 yen, is on its way in December.  Other tablets, including those running Windows 8, will soon follow suit. 

iPad's stranglehold on the tablet market is expected to end very soon, according the Eiji Mori, BCN analyst.

Asahi Shimbun article (requires free registration to fully access)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Android vs iOS for smartphones

Platform fragmentation (Android, Apple iOS, Win 8, etc...) will continue for some time, but Android has had a very good 12-month period, and has increased their market share to 75% of the worldwide smartphone market.  That is a leap from 57.5% a year ago.

Apple also saw an increase in share, from a modest 13.8% to 14.9%.  With Windows 8 being rolled out, we'll see what part of the share they grab for themselves. 

What we see with phones now, is also being played out in the tablet market.  Look for tablets to be the Xmas present this season.  Does the new iPad Mini catch on?  Will the Surface Tablet make the splash that MS is gambling on?  Can Android do for tabs what it has done for smartphones?

The biggest question is how this affects all of us... publishers, teachers, students and consumers.  Without any one platform establishing itself as the predominant stakeholder, we need to be flexible and attend to all users, all platforms and all devices.

That's where I am putting my money!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

DRM Part 2

In the previous post, I talked a little about DRM vs DRM-free.  More and more publishers are giving up on DRM in 2012.  A good article about this can be found here.  Some may talk about altruism, but I have my doubts.

Whatever they may say, publishers and booksellers want DRM.  The only reason they would give it up is because the choices that are available are so unpleasing to users that you end up without sales, or end up incentivizing people to copy and share (cheat).  Better to have some "unlocked" sales, rather than no "locked" sales. 

At DEC Publishing, we use the BookOnPublish system to create our digital books.  These are multimedia, interactive, digital books, with DRM.  The BookOn system (created by MediaTechnics Corp... MTC) has been in use since 1997, by millions of users (primarily University students) around the world.  Now that's a track record!  Have some students not purchased the book and gotten away with it?  I don't know, but I would have to assume that someone has at least tried (and succeeded).  But MTC has been very profitable for all these years simply because the system created was the most flexible one for students, which took away "easy copying/sharing" (which is the problem with PDFs and ePubs) and made it less intuitive to cheat.

Here is how it works:
  • The book can be easily copied and shared by anyone, at any time.
  • However, only the first pages are accessible and the rest is locked until activated with a keycode.
  • The purchased keycode is 1 of 4 variables needed to unlock a book.  First name, last name, and email address* are also required.
  • The unique (to each user) keycode binds that user to that book.  This means that the book will carry the name of the user with it (personalized).  It only needs to be activated once.
  • If it is a textbook (which most previous books have been), it probably includes some sort of testing or self-assessment.  These results can be tracked and used as performance markers.  These test results will be tracked back to the instructor (or institution) in the book owner's name.**
 * Email address.  This address is not used at all (not retained or used for mailings).  It is simply needed as a unique identifier as no two people have the same email address.  
** Tracking.  Tracking results are locked to the purchaser of the book.  So if Bob buys the book and figures out a way to make a copy and gives that to Mary, neither of them gains from this exchange.  Mary will get no credit for any of the tests she has done.  Bob will be saddled with Mary's (potentially) bad test results.  Neither has any incentive to copy and share the book.

Is this perfect?  We don't presume it to be.  If the Pentagon can be hacked, we would hardly suggest that this is a more robust solution.  However, although copying & sharing may be possible, it is hardly easy nor intuitive (unlike a PDF) and would require some real investigation.  If testing and tracking is included, there is no way around the system (that I know of... and we have had a decade and a half to figure that one out!).

It is unobtrusive and non-restrictive.  And since the BookOn system allows for books to be made very quickly and economically, pricing can remain low, making it easy for users to "do the right thing."

A Few Words on DRM

There is plenty  of talk about DRM (Digital Rights Management) these days, and for good reason.  Everyone wants to be fairly compensated for their work, and on the buyer's side, people want fair value for a purchased product, without undo restraints or restrictions. 

DRM used up to this point has often been restrictive.  You buy the product, but can only use it on 1 device.  This is not fair and people have every right to be upset.  Top that off with a higher price point, and you have a recipe for cheating. 

Everything should be DRM-free.  This seems to me to be a direct reaction to the problems with DRM, from above.  If you use a poorly created DRM system and it doesn't work, then your answer should not be to scrap DRM altogether.  Just use something better.  But that is my opinion.  Others will cite Louis CK.

American (everyman) comedian, Louis CK followed the idea first offered by the band Radiohead.  They made their 2007 album, In Rainbows, available online and allowed buyers to name their own price.  This was a success.  Louis CK followed this up in 2011 by producing his own concert video and making it available for only $5.00.  Important to this is that Louis also made a personal plea to buyers to "do the right thing."  By doing this, and by keeping the price low, Louis was able to remove the incentive to cheat.  To learn more, read this.

Before deciding that the "Louis CK model is best", we need to consider that his is a very unique position.  He is well known (has a following), but hardly an out-of-touch multimillionaire.  He has an everyman quality, which is a very significant part of his act.  As a fan, you want to support him.  And he charges 5 bucks!

On the flip side, JK Rowling and Bloomsbury have made billions of dollars with the Harry Potter series, they have restrictions on their books (can't buy in certain countries, books are watermarked, etc...) and they are selling simple, plain-text ebooks for $8, and audiobooks for $30.  No doubt, they need to be compensated for their work, but, you can see why people may want to circumvent their locking system.

So what is the solution?  Read about our philosophy with regards to DRM in the next segment... DRM Part 2.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The iPad is the Future of Education... or is it?

Disclaimer:  I am a teacher, I am a school owner and I own an iPad (2)... and I love it.

The iPad is a wonderful device and can be a great tool for education.  Digitizing textbooks is definitely the way to go, but for those that say, "Buy every child an iPad and the traditional textbook is no longer needed.  They will have everything they need." I think this is troublesome, and here are just a few reasons why.

1.  There are no productive skills being taught, or learned.  The iPad is great for consuming, but not for producing. I mean real production, not dropping and dragging into a preset template that has been designed.  Term papers, graphic design, audio/video editing, schematics, etc... all need an environment conducive to productive skills.  Not the "lite" version you get on an iPad.
2.  No multitasking.  For learning, you need to be able to view the material, search the net, take notes, enter info into a spreadsheet, etc...  Nice to do all at once (several windows open at the same time).  Not possible with the iPad.
3.  Moving info on and off the iPad.  Not easy.  I cannot get pics onto my iPad without "emailing them to myself."  This is because I do not have an iTunes account.  Apple requires that I install their software just to access MY own files, the way I want.  Could you imagine if Microsoft ever tried to do that?  How are students going to move, backup and manage their files?  Cumbersome at best.  Have a separate device (laptop or desktop), install Apple software, connect the 2 devices and wait for that process. 
4.  Expensive.  Not only the device, but every textbook/material you get will need to be made into an app and sold through the App Store (of which Apple will get 30%).  This makes it expensive for developers and will drastically narrow the playing field.  Big and rich will prosper (able to absorb costs).  Small and innovative will find this hit and miss.  But it is hardly democratic.  This would be mandating that ALL educational materials would be controlled by one entity... Apple.  This is a company that openly censors content already, so who actually decides what content is "acceptable?"
5.  At the moment, a number that I have heard is that about 30% of iPod Touches (the predominant device for HS and JrHS students) are damaged, stolen, go missing, etc...  What happens when the iPad gets dropped, lost, stolen?  If a school board is going to hand these out to students, what happens when replacements are needed?  Parents are on the hook?  The school or school board?
6.  Batteries.  What happens when these start to go?  Each device needs to be shipped off to Apple as there is no way to replace a battery on your own.  Who pays?  Is the student excused from class?  Are deadlines changed for these students?
7.  Small HDD.  Unless you go with a more expensive iPad, the lower end ones have an extremely small hard drive, which soon gets filled up with music and pics (and movies?).  There really is not much space on these for an array of textbooks, especially the kind that everyone envisions (with videos).  If the videos are not on the device (to save space), then are students only allowed to access the material when they have an internet connection?  When they try to study at home, without a connection, what do they do?  They may have internet access, but do they have WiFi at home?

Do I think that schools should NOT use iPads?  Absolutely not.  They should be free to choose.
Should they mandate iPads?  Absolutely not.

To go digital does not mean either going with the iPad or not.  It is pretty safe to say that every student in North America either has a device, or access to a device.  This can be the richer student with an iPad, the middle class student with a Win or Mac (desktop or laptop), or the lower income student who can access a computer either at the school, or at a local library, etc...  The ability to "go digital" is definitely within reach.  However, you needn't mandate that every student use one device.

I would suggest that rather than supply every student with an iPad, you supply them with a flash drive.  All of their books, notes, reports, etc... should be housed on this stick.  You put it into the computer you are working with and you have access to everything you need.  Forgot your stick at home?  You should still be able to access the textbook on your phone, iPod Touch, or other devices.

Put the money allocated to buying every student an iPad (let's say $700 each) and use the money like this:
1.  $50 - large flash drive for each student (64Gb or larger)
2.  $400 - credit towards the device of your choice (laptop, iPad, tablet, or other)
3.  $250 - put towards content creation, invest in the school/board, or to buy textbooks to give to students

Very democratic and a much better use of our money.  We allow the student to access learning materials in the way THEY choose.  Have a Galaxy Tab?  Use it.  Love Windows and used that all of your life?  Use it.  Hate Microsoft?  Use an Apple device.  We don't mandate what you should use... we should allow you to freely choose how to access these materials. 

Education should be about choices, accessibility for all, and learning from a variety of sources.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

First Post

Welcome to the DEC Publishing Blog.  This blog will be dedicated to an open discussion with regards to multimedia, digital publishing.  You will find links to articles concerning this topic, as well as comments from publishing professionals.  In the spirit of full disclosure, we at DEC Publishing have aligned ourselves with the BookOn Publish format, which allows for cross-platform, across-device publishing.  The folks at MediaTechnics Corp developed this system more than 15 years ago, and have successfully used this method for textbooks in use by millions of students around the world.  A proven system can be hard to find these days, so a track record like this cannot be discounted.
I must also further disclose that DEC Publishing is neither an Apple enthusiast, nor Microsoft apologist.  We are device agnostic and we currently have, use, and test our books on the following:  Mac laptop, Win7 laptop(s), iPad 2, Nook Tablet, Acer 7" tablet (Android), Acer Iconia tablet (Win7), GTablet, Android phone, Blackberry, and iPod Touch.
We are firm believers that digital publications should work on the device you have, in the way you want