Yesterday, Apple announced iBooks Author, a new Mac app that lets people create and distribute ebooks for the iPad. Immediately following the gleeful fanboygasms came the equally predictable backlash, like this piece in ZDNet that called the app’s end-user license agreement (EULA) “mind-bogglingly greedy and evil.”
This reaction confuses me, because iBooks Author’s EULA says exactly what I expected it to say, namely that you can’t sell the books you make with iBooks Author through any distributor except Apple.
Why is this even a surprise? For one thing, iBooks Author is free. It’s obviously intended to ease creation of content for sale through iTunes, because Apple makes a ton of money on those content sales. Why would they make a free tool that would let users create content for other platforms? Why is not doing so “greedy” and “evil”?
On a more practical level, it’s frankly not that big a deal. If you’re formatting a traditional book (i.e. only words), then the process should mostly involve cutting and pasting those words from your .doc file. You will have to format your ePubs for other distributors separately, which is a drag mostly because ePub-formatting programs suck (when we publish books here at C4, we use Smashwords; it’s not perfect but it is better and easier than other formatting and publishing options we’ve tried).
So yes, Apple has not given you a free, easy, universal ePub creator. But iBooks Author isn’t geared toward creating plain old ePubs anyway, it’s specifically geared toward creating “Multi-Touch books for iPad.” In other words, this sort of thing. Because iBooks Author simplifies the formatting process, the rich-media interactive ebooks you make with it will almost certainly only work on an iPad. Even if you could export them to universal ePubs, they would look like garbage on all other devices.
Apple won’t own your copyright, your content, or the versions you make for all other platforms. You’re free to use that content however you please, even according to that reactionary ZDNet writer’s reading of the EULA. Claims that “only Apple can ever publish your work” are simply not true.
So everybody please calm down about this EULA. It’s not nearly as greedy or evil as they’d have you believe.
Barnes & Noble debuted their new ereader, the Nook Tablet, yesterday, and I found it entirely disappointing. It has slightly bumped specs from the original incarnation, the Nook Color, but those specs are largely unnecessary for an ereader, especially since the Nook Color can run all of its headline features.
I’m not disappointed in its specs or form factor, though. If anything, the similarities between these versions show just how solid a device the Nook Color was. Instead, I’m disappointed in Barnes & Noble’s continuing failure of strategy.
Here’s the official demo. Kate, the unnecessary tour guide, doesn’t mention reading until halfway through the video’s four-minute length. Hulu, Netflix, Facebook, web-surfing, Scrabble, Epicurious—all of these things get mentioned before books. These are bonus features. A bookstore’s flagship gadget should first attempt to demonstrate that it’s the best ereader in the world, and then, as a bonus, here are some cool extras like Netflix.
The Nook Tablet video is a structural copy of the Kindle Fire video. That’s another problem. Amazon showcased little to nothing of the Fire’s ereading capabilities. Instead of taking advantage of that oversight, B&N copied it.
The Nook Color/Tablet and the Kindle Fire appear to be more or less interchangeable. There are small differences, like the fact that parents can record audiobooks for their kids on the Nook Tablet. But from those videos, it’s impossible to tell which one is the better ereader, because both treat ereading as an afterthought. Right now, the clearest differentiator between them is their content providers. Barnes & Noble loses that matchup.
When there are signs that B&N isn’t all that interested in selling books anymore, how confident can you be buying ebooks from them? If you buy a Nook Tablet next week, are you still going to be using it in a year? Two years? Is B&N going to be around then? Are they still going to be a bookstore? Are they going to be interested in making sure their Nook Color ereaders keep up with Amazon’s Kindle Fires? The answer to any of these questions is a doubtful maybe.
(Side note: I haven’t had any personal experience with the Nook Tablet. I’m basing my impressions mostly on my own experiences with the first-gen Nook Color, which I bought when it first came out last year. I don’t use it anymore, because I’m afraid books I buy on it will expire in a couple of years, and partially because I got so frustrated with its wasted potential. Its version of the New York Times omitted most of the paper’s web content, like the blogs, videos, and picture galleries. The Nook Color never really had comic books or the New Yorker, cross-content interaction, or many other things I’d like to have seen.)
On the other side of the fence, you can be sure Amazon will still be here in 3 years. You can be sure your Kindle Fire will work well, will be safe and functional if not cutting edge, and will have a staggering array of content.
I said when I saw this little product card last week that B&N was heading in entirely the wrong direction. (I mean, from that sheet, can you even tell it’s supposed to be an ereader?) So sound the dirge trumpet, the B&N deathwatch has begun. Don’t buy a Nook Color this Christmas, I think you’ll regret it.
Barnes & Noble unveiled the Nook Color yesterday. Here are some specs, thoughts, observations, and links.
Specs and overview: The Nook Color is a 7-inch color touchscreen Android-powered ereader, retailing at $250. It will ship Nov. 19, and it’ll be in stores soon after that. It has WiFi, but no 3G, and an LCD screen instead of Pixel Qi or Mirasol (which would give it better battery life) because of price considerations and performance.
It’s difficult to get good hard spec numbers right now, especially processor speed and memory capacity, but it has micro SD expandable storage, and it comes with an 8 Gb card (16 Gb cards run about $30). It supports Adobe ePub and “boasts” an 8-hour battery life with WiFi off (I’d say you shouldn’t hope for more than 3-4 hours with WiFi on). Battery life is its weak point, without a doubt.
That said, there’s a whole lot to like here. Despite tech blogs keying on the word “tablet,” this is not a tablet computer, it’s a (possibly excellent) color LCD ereader. Real tablet computers of decent production value are very expensive, like the iPad starting at $500, and the new Samsung Galaxy Tab starting at $600. Anything much cheaper than the Nook Color, like the Pandigital Novel at $180, is too crappy to use. So do not expect the best Android tablet out there, expect a great magazine/newspaper reader, with a few perks.
Weird/cool bonus features: You can now take your Nook to a Barnes & Noble store, and read any part of any ebook in their catalog, for up to one hour a day, at which point, you presumably have to get up and go find the paper copy. With the Nook Color, you can also share passages from books via Facebook or Twitter, and lend (or evidently request to borrow) ebooks from friends.
You can also still get library ebooks, and read your ebooks on your phone or desktop via Nook apps available on most platforms (the Nook apps are quite nice, much better than Kobo in my opinion). However, I have little hope for the dedicated, curated Nook Color app store. Nook apps will not challenge iPad apps anytime soon.
Thoughts on content: One of the things I learned this summer after publishing our fiction anthology is that Barnes & Noble does its content right. I’ve been very skeptical of their ereader endeavors in the past, but they are clearly committed to ebooks, and committed to providing content. The same simply cannot be said of Apple and its lackluster ebookstore. If the hardware holds up, the Nook Color will be outstanding for readers.
The bottom line: If you want a tablet to play games, watch movies, email, Twitter, etc., get an iPad. But if you want a tablet primarily to read—especially to read magazines, newspapers, kids’ books, etc.—then the Nook Color is your clear front-runner. I don’t hold out any hope for a competitive or even decent app store, but the content will be there, in a way it’s not on the iPad.
Feel free to wait until you can lay your hands on one in stores to test its interface; that and its battery are its obvious potential weak spots in the early running. Basically, for the right user, this device makes a whole lot of sense.
Things I’m unsure of: How well will its interactivity work? Will it be able to highlight and note-take in a useful manner, as no E-Ink reader currently can? Will my grandmother be able to use it? If so, the Nook Color could be even better. I initially assumed the Nook Color would have lots of comic books, but haven’t seen confirmation; if no, that seems like a big oversight.
Some more links: Here’s a hands-on video at Engadget. Engadget says it’s sluggish, but the video has me sold. TeleRead has a video of the release event here—I usually hate product launch events, but some crazy dancing pageantry makes the first 3 and a half minutes pretty watchable indeed. (Second half here and Paul Biba’s write-up of the event here.) Various other impressions by ZDNet, Salon, publishing Twittersphere reactions. And the Nook Color page at B&N.
So Amazon announced the new Kindle Wednesday. Two big pieces of newsworthiness here.
One: TeleRead nailed the prediction. I mean, by a matter of hours.
Two: this wi-fi-only Kindle is a contender. It’s only $139 (ships Aug. 27), making it the cheapest E-Ink ereader on the market. Our problems with Amazon and Kindle still exist: the proprietary Kindle format means that you can never completely trust that you’ll always own your books; there’s always a chance that they’ll pull a Yahoo! Music and your ebooks will simply disappear. Of course, this is true of all DRMed formats, but with Adobe DRM, you can borrow library ebooks and not spend money you might never get back. To make matters worse, Jeff Bezos is kind of a jerk, and he frequently does things that are either stupid or just kind of bullyish.
All that said, $140 is a great price—that and the presence of Kindle apps on computers and smartphones makes the whole package quite tempting these days.
As for Kindle 3 (3G version), it’s the same as the old Kindle 2. It’s black now, I guess. A touch smaller. Buttons are a little different. Otherwise the new Kindle is nearly identical to the old, and still not our first choice for an ereader.
- Everyone seems to be touting the Great eReader Adoption as an iPad-Kindle war, but the Nook still looms (and also sports an iPad app) and the Alex is still on the way (and still overpriced). However if terrible customer service like this around haphazard products is what can be expected from Barnes & Noble, the Nook won’t stand much of a chance. Perhaps I don’t really understand why international buyers can’t have an instant download over the internet already, but I guess Diesel-ebooks allowing instant international “delivery” of ebooks is a good thing. (Really though, what do mail carriers have to do with ebooks, and what does “an innovative and evolutionary free digital shipping promotion” mean?)
- This year I’m once again a second round judge for the Amazon Breakout Novel Award. I obviously can’t talk specifics about the books, but it’s a pretty cool program so I wanted to stick in a link so more people could check it out. I like when the big guys open the doors for the small fries. You can see a full list of the entrants now, and if it’s run like last year’s was, more information about the books will be available once the short lists are narrowed down.
- Basically, nobody wants to shut up about the new Apple tablet (supposedlydubbed the iPad–consider it nominated for this week’s dumbest new ereader name award). It’s slated to be revealed today, so I’m not going to bother parsing out the rumors. This one bit about pricing strategies and the coming battle between Apple and Amazon is interesting though. Not sure where B&N is in all this. I guess they probably shouldn’t have f-ed up the Nook launch so badly. Perhaps they are waiting for a boost from Apple? If you’re foolishish enough to get a first generation iPad (thus ignoring Apple’s track record of vastly superior second gen devices), here are some other fun uses for it.
- It looks like Asus’s EeeReader (or are they Asustek?) will have two models. Acer’s got one running Chrome. Then there’s Mustek. And the Lenovo Tianji. And Endless Ideas has a WiFi BeBook Neo. There’s the Oppo Enjoy (dumbest name: winner). Copia is still hanging around. Even Nintendo is getting in the fray, selling romance novels on their DS. Man, the market is officially awash.
- Amazon has quietly laxed their DRM policies. So quietly that hardly anyone has noticed. In what could be an enourmous shift, Apple will allow iTunes users to store libraries in the cloud, rather than their harddrives (hopefully it doesn’t require a .Mac subscription). Besides fighting with China, Google is also in a tiff with its old buddy Apple. This may lead to Apple dumping Google integration from their devices and adopting Bing, which is of course owned by–Mac geeks are fainting left and right over this, I’m sure–the evil Microsoft. Regardless of Google’s early success (maybe) with Android’s apps, Apple is still the undisputed ruler of App-land.
- It’s kinda old news, but apparently colleges are being sued for using ereaders in classrooms because blind students can’t use them. How using a braille edition to supplement a Kindle (which reads books–poorly–out loud) is less fair than if the other students use deadtree, I do not understand. It won’t help the blind, but if you’ve no backlight on your ereader and can’t figure out how to turn on your lamp, try this dongle. This Boogie Board doodle toy isn’t an ereader (and probably isn’t much use to anyone not a basketball coach) but it does seem pretty cool, and uses no power at that.
- We’ll be posting on Friday about some of the many changes we have planned for our second year. There’s a lot of good stuff planned, and we’ll be getting bigger and better as time goes on. Check back Friday for that.
- I really like this comic explaining proper semicolon use; there’s also one for the apostrophe. Also at The Oatmeal, the best Twilight review I’ve yet read (yes, I read the books). Everyone in this school district should be given a lobotomy. And Scholastic Surprise! should chill on this one and use their noggins. Finally, Farmville is stupid (no link, just spouting the truth).
Here’s our last links update of the decade. First though, we’ve updated our eReader Comparison page as well as our Best Ways to Get eBooks, so check them out. Both will be seeing quite a few more updates in the coming weeks and months as much is happening with ereaders and ebook sellers. In fact, we’ve got a lot of changes planned for C4 in the near future as well; we’ll be posting on many of them at some point in January. Also, be sure to check out our Best Books of 2009 series if you haven’t already. We’ll be continuing the series through January.
- Kindles (and their attached ebooks) apparently sold like hotcakes this Christmas (though we can’t be sure), while the Nook continues its snaggy, stumbling launch. However, hackers finally cracked the Kindle DRM. It’ll be interesting to see how Amazon responds. Despite purchasing Kobo neé Shortcovers, Borders maintains they’re not working on a ereader device of its own. I’m with Nico on their days being numbered, though I would like to see a solid all platform ebook store contend with the bigger boys. Barnes & Noble, on the other hand, has begun selling readers besides the Nook: the JetBook and the Foxit eSlick.
- More Apple rumors this week, this time that they will be producing a dedicated reader called the iSlate that differs from they long-rumored tablet. Seems convincing, but I wouldn’t trust this one just yet. Paradigm Shift announced a couple of color ereaders, though the screens look to be LCD, which I don’t think will win the day. Asus (of netbook fame) has a rumored ereader/tablet on the horizon, and it gets this week’s Stupidest eReader Name Award for calling it the EeeReader. Finally, hot on Asus’s heels, Lenovo wants in too (hopefully they come up with the dumbest name yet).
- A library in Oregon has announced plans to lend out ereaders. Hopefully this proves successful and this sort of thing takes off. Interead, makeres of COOL-er ereaders, partnered with OverDrive (who make very solid library software) to expand their ebook store. As you may have heard, there was a big MediaBistro ebook summit recently. Of all places, Vanity Fair has a nice breakdown of the proceedings. Now you can read Sesame Street, Curious George, and Veggie Tales stories on your iPhone, and record your reading for your children to replay later. A Wallace & Gromit ebook sold half a million downloads on the Apple App Store, which is impressive indeed.
- Apparently HP’s new facial recognition PCs are colorblind (in the unacceptable, can’t see black people way). Don’t feed sea turtles brussels sprouts unless you want their farts to mess up your aquarium. I know I’ve posted to it before, but I really like this isn’t happiness.
- This weeks video is an oldie-but-goodie:
Before we get to the links, a little site promotion: I was Christmas shopping for books today and I wanted to get a mystery novel for my grandfather. Where did I look? Why the C4 Book Reviews section of course. Give it another peek, maybe you’ll find some gift ideas of your own. Also, check out our Best Books of 2009 feature, which will be updated Mondays through January. Well, enough of that…
- I walked by a SonyStyle store the other day, and I have to admit they’re doing a good job of pushing their Readers in brick and mortar stores (I’ve also seen them in Best Buy stores amongst others as well). And while they have a decent selection of models, I’m not sure these themed Readers are quite necessary. In other ereader news, the Aiptek Storybook inColor is pretty neato looking, though I still don’t think an LCD ereader is ever going to really fly. The Aluratek Libre has a nice pricetag, but the same LCD concern still applies. (Before you poo-poo me, electronic ink–in our opinion–really does make a huge difference. Here are my initial impressions of the tech from last spring.)
- The COOL-ER is getting a hardware upgrade, making it marginally cool-er in the eyes of the other wallflower ereaders. And there’s lots of Applet Tablet rumors floating around this week, but I’m not going to link to any, beacause I’m sick of them. We’ll discuss an Apple Tablet and its secondary ereader abilites only when (if) it actually gets announced. Here’s a review of the Sungale Cyberus, which also doesn’t look all that impressive.
- Amazon’s Jeff Bezos took a weird shot at the Nook’s sharing feature. While he’s right that it’s definitely not ideal, it’s a lot more than Kindle’s DRM allows. There’s also a rumor afloat that Amazon, in their benevolent hearts, lose $2 per ebook. The logic on this seems fuzzy at best, and I don’t buy it one bit. Also on the list of things that weren’t well enough thought through, Simon & Schuster will be holding their ebook releases until 4 months after hardcovers go on sale. Good plan guys! HarperCollins has a similar plan, and a similarly dumb explanation. Here’s a nice counterpoint.
- I came across a lot of cool stuff around the web this week. The bookish part of me finds something alluring about Altered Books‘ poetry. I also really like the experiment going on over at One Sentence. The NH part of me really likes this redneck twinkle light display. And this animation by Pascal Campion is pretty mesmerizing.
Wow, been a while. Here’s a healthy collection of links to make up for the last few weeks. And if you’re sick of my style, fear not: Nico is back and will be helming next week’s edition.