ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Digital Book and Audio Book Integration

Drew Frish of Electric Type on digital and audio book integration

Electric Type's Drew Frish on digital/audio book integration

Drew Frist is the founder of Electric Type (@electrictypeco), a digital book publisher who just released their debut digital children’s app, Jungle Book: The Story of Mowgli & Shere Khan. It looks delicious! Check out the promo video, and I’m guessing that if you have kids you’ll head over to iTunes before long.

In a recent video response to the question, “What are your thoughts on audio books?”, Frist expressed a wish that I’ve been trumpeting for months: it’s time for user friendly digital book and audio book integration. Print books are familiar and nostalgic. Digital books are cheap, quick, frictionless and they eliminate paper cuts. Audio books are perfectly portable and they expand our reading opportunities to the car, the gym, the ski slopes.

Why aren’t we bundling all three? This value-added merchandising play is not only good business in an increasingly competitive publishing world, it’s actually better than all three. In short, bundling digital, audio and print is better than the sum of its parts.

Most of us still love paper and ink. Bindings. Smells. Easy marginalia. Worn pages. Dog eared corners. It’s a habit with some enduring benefits (ever read your iPad in full sun?) and a viable long tail. In short, many readers still want print books.

Digital book detractors have not immersed themselves in the experience. Just my two cents, but I find it hard to believe that print book purists don’t accept that there are some amazing opportunities with digital publishing. Instant access to almost everything no matter where you are. Did I mention instant? Did I mention cheap? Did I mention searchable content? Okay, the technology is still new and rather clunky, but progress is being made at warp speed.

I admit that once upon a time I scoffed at audio books. Remember when they were recorded on tapes? When they were almost all abridged? When the audio book technology and availability were more hindrance than help? I changed my tune almost a decade ago when my then-fling-now-bride and I were commuting between the Adirondacks and Manhattan. Five hours in the car wrestling with tailgators and snow storms was transformed into five hours of “reading” books that we might not otherwise have taken the time to squeeze into our busy lives. Outstanding recordings, many by the authors themselves, and none were abridged. In those early days we listened to CDs. Remember those? The advent of compact disks reduced the need to abridge books because they could hold so much more data than tapes. Before long we transitioned to MP3 downloads from places like and enjoyed the dilated offerings and the instant access. Driving bliss. It wasn’t long before audio books crept into my workouts, flights, train rides, etc.

So spoiled! So many choices. So much bickering about which one is best.They’re all best! Do you remember this video?

We have so many amazing resources at our fingertips, and yet we live in a culture where opinions are celebrated without necessarily stopping to evaluate or analyze them. Remember debate? No? It was a logical, quasi-methodical framework for constructively addressing differences of opinion. Weird, right? I know. Now we just shout opinions, whine opinions, burp opinions, snore opinions, regurgitate opinions, sweat opinions and generally excrete opinions around the clock. It’s cool. It’s social…. ;-)

An avalanche of opinions. But are we evaluating and analyzing this avalanche of opinions, or are we just scrambling to keep our heads up and our opinions spouting? Is anyone stopping to ask if print books, audio books and digital books need be mutually exclusive? With such distinct merits and appetites for all three, it would make a world of sense to zip them all up together in the same pair of pants so that they could audition for the lead roll in our storytelling opera.

Some of my best book experiences lately have resulted from buying all three formats, and in many cases re-consuming large sections of the work in multiple formats. Active writers, researchers and thinkers would relish the opportunity to:

  • buy a bundled, multi-format title from their favorite seller
  • tuck into the hammock to read the print book in the shade of a towering oak tree
  • continue the story on their iPod while mowing the grass
  • bookmark a quotation while listening to the audio book so that they can send it off via Twitter or email
  • sync the audio book with their digital book reader to pick up where they left off
  • quickly locate and share the bookmarks via email, blog post, Facebook, etc.

So often while I’m listening to an audio book I’ve yearned for a quick and easy way to bookmark, quote or share a passage. So often while reading a digital book I’ve yearned for a high-quality audio performance to pick up where I need to leave off to drive to a meeting. So often while reading a printed and bound book I’ve yearned for an efficient way to search for a passage…

Isn’t it time that we integrate digital books and audio books seamlessly in a single, user-friendly app? And wouldn’t it be great if this integrated digital app were bundled with a print copy? It’s a win-win-win proposition!

How to Format an EPub

English: A woman cuddling a pile of digital de...

Image via Wikipedia

Ready to turn your damned-good-doggerel into an ebook? Or that collection of your grandmother’s delicious desserts? These “Six eBook Formatting Tools” from eBookNewser will get you started:

  • Calibre: This free tool will let you create an eBook for all of the major eReaders, including Kindle, Nook, iPad and Sony eReaders as well as a bunch of others. You can transform news from websites into readable files on eReaders and even make DRM-free eBooks. But note that it does not support Word files.
  • Aspose: Using Aspose.Word plugin, you can convert a Word file into an ePub file. It is a pay service, but you can test drive the application with a free trial.
  • Mobi Pocket: This free tool lets you create an eBook from HTML and Word and image files. Image files –GIF, JPEG, PNG, BMP– get automatically optimized for a PDA viewer.
  • Jutoh:This $39 tool lets you make books for Kindle, iBooks and Nook, among other formats. It can ePub, .mobi, .txt and .odt files through its in app text editor. It works in Windows, Mac and Linux.
  • This free tool lets you create your own ePub, Kindle and PDF files from within its software platform.
  • BookGlutton: This free tool lets you turn HTML books into ePub files

Did I miss your favorite ebook creation tool? Please tell me about it, and I’ll add it to the list. Thanks!

Surrounded By Books

Surrounded by Books: 10 Second Pause

A publishing world evolution. Print. Digital. Books. Gadgets. We’re bombarded with speculation, doomsday nay-saying and snake oil promises. Exciting. Exhausting. Time to take a rest. Just for a moment. A short rest. Here. On this bookshelf… Aaahhh.

Tinkering with Perception

Rory Sutherland: Life lessons from an ad man (TEDTalk)

“How many problems of life could we solve actually by tinkering with perception rather than that tedious hard working and messy business of actually trying to change reality?” ~ Rory Sutherland

Aside from Rory Sutherland‘s native charm (V4VYVUKTS56Y) and compelling storytelling which might have made his presentation enticing even if he were reminiscing the joys of wash-and-wear nappies, this ad man’s life lessons about perception and intangible value are spot-on! Obviously writers and storytellers of all stripes have been trafficking in perception since the beginning, but listening to Sutherland wax on about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Pernod and Shreddies I found myself thinking about publishing.

On the one hand, much lamentation has been spilled over the inevitable tactile and aesthetic losses in a digital book world. That musty smell of decomposing paper, the crisp swish of a turned page, the decadence of filling the margins with inked notes, doodles and the phone number of that attractive lady you met in the adjoining library carrel. Also much grumbling about the practical nuisance of an electronic tablet, ill-suited to reading in the tub or on a beach towel under the sun… In short, print book folks worrying aloud as we adopt a new vehicle for reading and sharing books.

To be sure, there is much that we’re losing, though I’ve suggested often enough that the transition is not likely to be quite as black and white as most people suggest, nor will print books vanish for a long, long time. Books will remain an important and present part of my world forever. But the inevitable transition to digital for many/most new releases is bittersweet for me. And yet, I understand and embrace this change. Sutherland touches obliquely on one of the reasons for my enthusiasm.

“If you want to live in a world in the future where there are fewer material goods you basically have two choices. You can either live in a world which is poorer, which people in general don’t like, or you can live in a world where actually intangible value constitutes a greater part of overall value. That actually intangible value in many ways is actually a very, very fine substitute for using up labor or limited resources in the creation of things.” ~ Rory Sutherland

This is but one small enthusiasm I share for digital publishing’s eclipse of smells-and-bells print publishing. And yet it’s an interesting one given that this question of perception and intangible value is deeply intertwined in the markets eager move to digital. Buyers are loading digital accounts with books that they may read, hope to read, could read,… Reading is hot again! Or at least owning books is hot again. I suppose that publishers lamenting the appetite for digital books might have mounted more intelligent campaigns cultivating and nurturing our appetites for the aesthetic pleasures of print books. It’s not too late. As print books become the exception rather than the rule, they will become luxury goods. And the opportunity to romance and inflate the value of ink and paper and binding will be ripe for exploitation.

A meandering post, headed nowhere in particular, I realize now. A pensée du jour that I’ll abandon as quickly as I initiated it. But first, two quotations with which Sutherland concluded his presentation:

“We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

Poetry is when you make new things familiar and familiar things new. ~ Rory Sutherland

So far as I can tell, this second quotation is Sutherland’s adaptation of a smart reflection inherited from Samuel Johnson:

“The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, and familiar things new.” ~ Samuel Johnson

Kindle Library Lending & Marginalia

Holy mackerel! Amazon is closing the marginalia gap that I’ve fretted over and soapboxed/dreamed about. With “Library Lending for Kindle Books” Amazon is partnering with OverDrive to offer the next big leap in digital books: library-ification of ebooks. But hidden in this evolution is the top item on my wish list, ebook marginalia.

“We’re doing a little something extra here,” Marine continued. “Normally, making margin notes in library books is a big no-no. But we’re extending our Whispersync technology so that you can highlight and add margin notes to Kindle books you check out from your local library. Your notes will not show up when the next patron checks out the book. But if you check out the book again, or subsequently buy it, your notes will be there just as you left them, perfectly Whispersynced.” (Kindle Nation Daily)

As Mike Cane opines, “Well, if there was any doubt Amazon has totally vanquished everyone else, there’s no doubt now.” Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) the marginalia is user specific, so the next borrower won’t be able sift through your clever comments. But wouldn’t it be nice/handy if we could give others access to our marginalia? It should be quick, easy and fun to share my marginalia with others!

Digital storytelling must develop the potential for annotation and marginalia that print books permit. And it will be important to devise innovative ways for readers/consumers to share this marginalia. I know this sounds scary, and it poses real challenges (intellectual property rights, etc.), but it is inevitable and good. And it will unleash a viral potential heretofore unfathomable, not to mention the pedagogical implications.

Think, for example, of a teacher who lets students see/use her margin notes, etc. Or imagine the voyeuristic pleasure of observing the notes, doodles and underlining of an admired thinker or writer…

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Jane Friedman on the Future of Publishing

Christina Katz: Is the future of publishing bleak? Go ahead and tell us. We can take it.

Jane Friedman: The future of paper-book publishing is bleak. Paper books will become talismans, souvenirs, collectors’ items, or something that “paper sniffers” will insist on buying. I don’t buy into all the sentimentalism for paper books, but there will be a cabal of those types—just enough people to ensure that paper books are an enthusiast or niche product, much like vinyl.

The future of writing, reading, and literacy [however] is bright… (Christina Katz ~ The Empowered Writer)

So begins Christina Katz’s insightful interview with Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer’s Digest and current visiting professor at The University of Cincinnati. The interview complements Friedman’s publication of The Future of Publishing: Enigma Variations, but employs a more pragmatic, dilated look the present and future of the publishing industry. To my knowledge there are very few as informed, lucid and articulate on this subject, and Katz does an excellent job of amplifying the message that Friedman so lightheartedly explores in her new ebook.

View the collected highlights from Jane Friedman’s ebook launch…  

Jane Friedman’s new book is part publishing world science fiction, part 21st century book fugue and part author-agent-publisher slapstick! Released on April Fool’s Day, it delivers the wisdom that only laughter can conjure…

Fed Slams Google Books

I’d like to get it out on the table at the outset. I’m not a Google hater.

On the contrary, I’m a fan. A huge fan.

Not always. Not blindly. But I can honestly say that Google has changed my life for the better at least several times over. And I believe that Google Books is/will change my life for the better too. But their vision and the many many strings attached are complex.


EBooks: Supplement or Supplant


The future of the book Ramin Setoodeh suggests, is coming into view. Quickly. What exactly this future will look like is anybody’s guess, but the publishing industry has reached a tipping point.

Electronic books now outsell paperbacks on Amazon, the retailer recently announced. And Borders, the second-largest bookstore chain in the United States, is reportedly considering a bankruptcy filing. (Newsweek)

Setoodeh asked some book-blokes what they foresee, and here are a few takes on the future of publishing in the digital age.

Books are going to get both longer and shorter. I think they will be more affordable. Books are pretty expensive. Publishers are so silly because they focus on “We’re not going to be selling so many hardcover books at $26.” Yeah, but you’re going to sell infinitely more electronically, so what are you complaining about? ~ Judith Regan(book editor and SiriusXM host)

You have to give readers a choice, between a richer experience with paper and board and cloth, and a more sterile experience through an electronic reader. We just try to make every aspect of the physical book as good as it can possibly be, because that’s our greatest hedge against the dominance of e-books. ~ Dave Eggers(author and founder of McSweeney’s)

The new immigrants don’t shoot the old inhabitants when they come in. One technology tends to supplement rather than supplant. ~ James H. Billington (librarian of Congress)

We’ve maintained in the last few years there will be fewer bookstores. Barnes & Noble will benefit from that. We have the best real-estate and business model in the world. Books are still a majority of what we sell in stores, but they are becoming less and less… ~ William Lynch(Barnes & Noble CEO)

I’m particularly keen on Billington’s take, though I’m not certain he’s right. At first, yes. But over time I suspect there will be more supplanting than he anticipates. Time will tell.

The post wraps up with a quotation from Joyce Carol Oates who reads books and newspapers on her husband’s iPad while traveling but still prefers books. I’m agree. I love books. And yet, I’m a digital native, and frequently surprise myself by opting for digital over print. Sometimes efficiency, accessibility, ease and/or economics trump tastes and aesthetic preferences. Often, actually…

Web-Hooked EBooks

According to Hugh McGuire the future of book publishing looks more like the internet than print books or even ebooks. Web-connected digital books are inevitable, and the line will vanishing between books and the Internet. Today’s savvy publishers will be tomorrow’s ebook API providers:

E-books to date have mostly been approached as digital versions of print books to be read on a variety of digital devices, with a few bells and whistles–like video… Thinking of e-books as just another way to consume a book lets the publishing business ignore the terror of a totally unknown business landscape… While you can list advantages and disadvantages of print books vs. e-books, these are all asides compared with the kind of advantages that we have come to expect of digital information properly hooked into the Internet…

Let books live properly within the Internet, along with websites, databases, blogs, Twitter, map systems, and applications… the foundation is there for the move. If you are looking at publishing with any kind of long-term business horizon, this is where you should be looking…

We are a long, long way from publishers thinking of themselves as API providers, or as the Application Programming Interface for the books they publish. But we’ve seen countless times that value grows when data is opened up (sometimes selectively) to the world. That’s really what the Internet is for and that is where book publishing is going, eventually…

The current world of e-books is a transition to a digitally connected book publishing ecosystem that won’t look anything like the book world we live in now. (

I don’t need any convincing, but I found McGuire’s article straightforward and compelling. This isn’t rocket science, folks. It’s open source storytelling! And it’s one of the most exciting application of this global rhizome we call the World Wide Web. Like McGuire, I still can’t envision what the commercial underpinnings for this future of publishing looks like, I am confident that entrepreneurial minds all over the world are already scheming up efficient, reliable methods for monetizing web-enabled ebooks. Copyright issues will become increasingly complicated, but where there’s a will (and a market) there’s a way. And I’m thrilled to be able to participate!

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Books and Beer

It’s no mystery that the folks at Just Beer at Buzzard’s Bay Brewing are a slightly quirky bunch, so it should be no surprise that their newest version of India Pale Ale is served up with a novel idea: A hard-boiled detective tale in twelve chapters, one on each of the 22-ounce bottles in a 12-bottle case.

The Case of the IPA, the name of the beer and the story, is a result of the melding of the minds of brewer Harry Smith, author Paul Goodchild and owner Bill Russell. The noir-style tale, reminiscent of “The Maltese Falcon” author Dashiell Hammett’s gritty detective novels and his serial magazine stories of the 1920s and ’30s starts off with the main character, “a two-bit shamus in a dirty, gritty, bluesy, and cool city of some renown” who is summoned to a wealthy businessman’s “swank starter mansion in the ‘burbs” and wraps up 264 ounces later. And Russell has one suggestion for readers: “Please don’t drink Chapter 12 first.”

Goodchild, who described himself as an artist who doesn’t count on royalties, said he came up with the idea of writing a story on Buzzard’s Bay beers about five years ago, but it didn’t fly until the Just Beer brand started making the 22-ouncer, just the right size for each chapter. “At first I thought about writing a science fiction serial because I love that genre, but I didn’t want people to think we were pandering to kids. This serial is decidedly adult — not XXX — but a hard-boiled detective, noiry serial; it’s perfectly oriented to the IPA. I’m a big fan of Dashiell Hammett,” said Goodchild. (Herald News)

Is it too late to pretend I invented this? This may be one of the most compelling reasons yet to focus on print publishing versus digital publishing. I mean, how often do folks offer up virtual cocktails on Twitter, etc? And how disapointing are they when you toss them down the hatch?!?! But this is the real deal. Analog literature for the mind and soul…