A Slice of the Pie for All
Jill Tomich is at the helm of a start-up that's truly cutting edge. Tomich, who was O'Reilly Media's original Sales Director, launched Slicebooks with husband and co-founder Ron, the company's "vision chief and idea troublemaker" (every company should have at least one of those!). With a background that includes technology and a facility with computers, Tomich wanted to be able to take ebooks to a new level, and make them available for purchase by the chapter.
The company's technology takes ebooks or PDFs and "slices" them into sections or chapters, tagging each as an individual entity using metadata based on ONIX. Once the content, which is provided to them by publishers, is sliced, they can add it to their store. The sliced segments are priced individually, with prices ranging from 99 cents to $7.99 for more complicated STM material.
The process is straightforward: Upload a file, identify the slice levels, assign front and back matter, and decide if that is to be included in every slice. Cover templates can also be designed and included. Their tool then creates the slices in a minute or less, depending on the size of the files.
The second part of the tool is a remix tool. Says Tomich: "Once content is sliced [publishers] have a library of slices and can look at the slices, drag and drop which files you want to include, sort the order of the chapters, choose a cover template or upload your own cover, add metadata — it's a new ebook!" Remixes come from multiple books; each slice has its own copyright page.
Remixing is primarily used for text and professional books; consumer remixing is next up. The Consumer Remix Widget is the version of their remix tool that was developed as a widget so that anyone (i.e. bloggers, publishers, authors, etc.) can copy simple code and embed it on their site. It allows the site to provide their audience the opportunity to create a custom ebook (remix) with relevant content. Slicebooks debuted this new feature at BEA and continues to test, but aims to have it available by the Frankfurt Book Fair in October.
Tomich's next steps include expanding the number of sliced books in their library, in part through building partnerships. They're partnering with Ingram to deliver sliced files through Ingram's CoreSource program. According to Ingram, "Any publisher integrated with Ingram Content Group's CoreSource digital asset management platform will be able to deliver their files to Slicebooks for 'slicing'; their content is already stored and served from the CoreSource system, so it is a seamless process, no new integration required."
The company, which currently has 15 employees, is meeting with investors and on a track for growth, looking for what Tomich calls "the next big adventure beyond remix."
Better Data Through Community Building
For publishers, gathering data about the readers of ebooks is shaping up to be one of those Really Big Issues in the era of monolithic ebook distributors. Because while those distributors — the ones with the devices and apps upon which publishers' customers are interacting with their content — are quite literally awash in crunchable, parseable, actionable data, those distributors aren't exactly sharing that data with publishers.
What's a publisher to do? Democrasoft, a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based software company that specializes in collaboration and engagement solutions, thinks it has an answer. In May, publisher Rosetta released Kurt Vonnegut's collection of commencement speeches, If This Isn't Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young, as a WeJIT-enhanced ebook. A WeJIT, as it's used in an ebook, is essentially a landing page for a question embedded in text. Asking a question and popping a link into an ebook might not seem groundbreaking, but what lives at the end of that link is. In order to take part in the discussion introduced in the ebook, the reader needs to sign into the WeJIT platform via Facebook, Google or a WeJIT account. So the publisher finds out some useful data about its readers, as well as what those readers think is, say, the best Vonnegut witticism or, as per JD Messinger's WeJIT-enhanced 11 Days in May, if they believe in angels, or miracles, or a sixth sense.
"If you're a publisher and you publish a book on Amazon," says Democrasoft's Co-Founder and CEO Richard Lang, "as an author or publisher, you don't know anything about the people [who bought it]. All that data went to Amazon. … With a WeJIT in that book, every time somebody logs in, the basic information about that person] is captured. Suddenly, the publisher can add them to their mailing list and tell them about other books they might be interested in."
Lang emphasizes that Democrasoft only captures users' names and email addresses for the publisher, and that that information is neither published nor sold.
The benefit for readers is that a WeJIT is a form of community building, fostering discussion with other readers around a common topic.
WeJIT was born from another Democrasoft product called Collaborize, an online collaboration tool for teachers. "Over 46,000 teachers have launched sites," says Lang. "It became apparent very quickly that there is a natural affinity for the publishing industry."
(Democrasoft has a lengthy history in media delivery; formerly called Burst.com, its streaming media technologies have been licensed by Windows, Apple and RealNetworks.)
There are two models available for using Democrasoft's WeJIT platform: One allows a publisher to offer the capabilities to their authors on a per-title basis (as little as $99 for unlimited use within a title). The second is a site license, essentially a flat fee, that grants publishers carte blanche use across all titles.
For more information on WeJITs, visit mywejit.com or democrasoft.com.
—Brian G. Howard
THE READING ROOM
Member-driven book discovery.
The Reading Room offers book lovers the opportunity to create and join reader communities tailored to their personal interests. "My dream was to find a place on the web where people could to go to find out about really good books," says CEO Kim Anderson from her base in Australia.
The Reading Room (thereadingroom.com) lets book lovers talk about books they've read, why they read them and, most importanly, what it is that they love about them.
According to Anderson, the site offers readers "a place to live [their] reading lives." A global community, 75% of The Reading Room's readers are from North America and 25% come from Australia and the United Kingdom.
As an online reading community, The Reading Room has garnered comparisons to GoodReads, the biggest name in online reading communities, even before it was acquired by Amazon. Despite the many similarities between itself and GoodReads, The Reading Room prides itself on the things that distinguish it from GoodReads.
One difference is that The Reading Room does not facilitate the ability for authors to upload their own commercial material to the site for personal promotion. By doing this, The Reading Room's reviews are from the readers, not the writers themselves.
"We wanted to be a place where the membership endorses the writing — not the writer," says Anderson.
Readers have the opportunity to rate books "through critical reviews and through personal comments." But The Reading Room separates its reader endorsements from reader reviews. "If I say I love this book, that to me is a post," said Anderson. "If I spend time writing why I loved this book and what its strengths and weaknesses are, that to me is a review. We split them."
The Reading Room also features reviews from The Guardian as well as The New York Times.
The Reading Room has also been selling ebooks for roughly six months now, with Bluefire-powered e-reading apps for both iOS and Android operating systems.
On June 1, The Reading Room added print sales to its repertoire. While sales is an important part of the site's plan, Anderson says that The Reading Room exists for the benefit of readers. "We want to sell books. We don't want to be the Goliath. We just want to be good at what we do."
Easing the Burdens of Institutions, Students and Publishers
As the textbook space gets murkier in the wake of the Kirtsaeng V. Wiley decision, platforms for delivering online texts and course material will become more appealing to publishers who hope to avoid grey markets and arbitrage. The Indianapolis-based Courseload, a company founded in the early 2000s by Apple alum Mickey Levitan, brings more than a decade of experience in electronic textbook delivery to its offering.
"The company's biggest focus is looking at issues faced by higher-education institutions around pressures to reduce costs and improve educational outcomes," says Jennifer Callicoat, the company's Vice President for Publisher and Content Partnerships. In addition to providing a learning platform, Courseload deals with all copyrights and permissions for texts a school wants to use. "We're the aggregator and distributor of content. We establish contacts with publishers for easy flow-though. Once a school requests a certain type of content — and in most cases we already have an agreement — we request the files or, if we already have them, we take it from our database. … Institutions don't work with publishers directly."
The company has found that the students who are most successful with its product are the ones whose "instructor is engaged in using features of Courseload," says Callicoat. "Instead of just reading [the textbook] via the platform — it's really about the instructor customizing within the textbook, adding links that are current-day representations of a common term that they're teaching about. Going in and highlighting and making annotations in the textbook. Creating mini videos and inserting those alongside homework problems. It's really about instructors engaging with content and customizing what they're trying to achieve."
To this end, Courseload strives for adoption at the institution level — where it has seen increasing success at for-profit institutions and community colleges, which tend to have more centralized decision-making — and focuses on providing training for faculty, instructional designers and others involved in student support. Courseload has also emphasized accessibility, ensuring that all students have the same opportunities to interact with its content.
A big benefit Courseload provides to faculty and institutions, says Callicoat, is analytics. "We can provide data on all of the students and how they're interacting with the text. Who's opening, who's reading, and in what ways are the students engaged? Are they taking notes? Highlighting? … If there are areas that students aren't grasping, or that they're not reading, instructors can modify the way they teach."
Courseload realizes that it must also solve problems that publishers face in the evolving higher-ed landscape. "We address their pain points which we believe are around piracy of content and used book markets," says Callicoat. "And in many cases, students just aren't buying the content. We allow institutions to make the content as relevant as possible."
Because publishers can see 100-percent sell through when a text is used through Courseload, they can reduce prices due to greater volume, which is a bonus for all involved.
"We know we're not going to be successful if we're not creating win-win scenarios," says Callicoat. "It needs to be a win for content providers as well as institutions."
—Brian G. Howard