December 1, 2015 Last Updated 3:46 pm

Still awaiting the next big thing in eBook platforms; iOS app for Google Play Books updated

Morning Brief: Flipboard update wants users to ‘send the Gift of Flipboard to your family or friends’; Apple issues fix update for its phased-out Beats Music app

There is a bit of a debate going on right now about whether eBook sales are falling, or still rising, whether eBooks are a good development for publishers, or a dead-end. That the debate is going on at all is a reflection of the fact that the industry is being as badly led as that of the newspaper and magazine industries.

No, eBook sales are not falling, they are just falling for the group of major publishers who have increased the price of their eBooks. Yes, eBooks are a good thing as it makes more books available to more readers and without the cost of printing and distribution.

GPB-iPad-updateBut the publishing industry is being ill-served by their trade associations, their trade magazines and by those in the technology area responsible for improving digital publications.

Take eBook publishing platforms. The advancement of ePub3 is taking place at a glacial pace, while the device platform creators such as Apple, Amazon and Google are doing nothing to create cross-platform standards that will lead to better eBooks.

Most eBooks, those that represent the vast majority of sales, are pretty bad. But because they are mostly plain text, fonts can be adjusted so that reading is at least not as painful as the typical digital magazine or e-newspaper. Advancements are slow, so slow that many of those who thought they would by now only be reading eBooks have returned to discover the joy of print. And why not, print is great, having 576 years to have perfected the medium.

It is possible to create a great eBook, of course. I always point to The Mozart Project and The World Atlas of Wine as examples of good digital publishing. Both use the iBook Author platform but unless one is reading on a standard size iPad or a Mac, both with have their reading experience degraded by the fact that the publishing platform is less than ideal for creating equally great eBooks for reading on an iPhone, and not at all for reading on a Kindle.

It is hard to see where the big breakthrough is going to come from. Apple, under the leadership of CEO Tim Cook, feels far less interested in intellectual pursuits such as publishing, the pressures of meeting earnings forecasts being paramount. Amazon has a vested interest in maintaining its position as the number one retail outlet for both print and digital books, why would they want to create a platform that improves the medium on its competitor’s devices?

That leaves Google who has the Android platform and has proven to be an excellent app maker – most of its iOS apps are better than the equivalent app made by Apple. (How many of your Apple apps are stored away in an Apple folder so they don’t take up room on your home screen?)

Today Google issued an update for Google Play Books, the default book reading app on its own Android devices, but an app that has little traction on iOS. Unlike the company’s other apps, Google Play Books gets fairly poor marks from users and some of the strangest reviews inside iTunes. The most recent review says “Very interesting older editions for the Catholic who relishes visiting in the last century; the theology of the Churches as to how it was, is now and every shall be…!” If you know what that means let me know.

The new update adds a feature that at first sounds of value, but probably really isn’t: the ability to go full width while in landscape mode. This simply takes the page on the left side and expands it to full screen, though because the page would have been designed for portrait it ends up cutting off the bottom half. It really is a faster way to pinch-to-zoom, a feature not available in standard eBooks. So, yes, it is nice, but what it really does is compensate for the fact that the standard eBook is poorly designed for their digital devices when the page design is more complex than plain text.

I still await Google getting serious about digital publishing because I cannot see who else will move things forward.

Google also issued iOS app updates for Hangouts and its YouTube apps.

Apple issued an update for the Beats Music app. The reason is that the last update killed the app for many users. Many of the complaints are simply that users cannot create a new account – but that is because Beats Music is going away, to be replaced by Apple Music. But the fact that the app does not make this clear is… well, rather crazy.

Maybe Apple needs to outsource its own app development. Just a thought.

The app Apple surely wanted to compete against, Flipboard, received an update that optimizes the app for the new iPad Pro.

Flipboard-iPadIt also adds a bit of self-promotion that some users are objecting to, though since the app is free it is hard to see why they should object.

The promotion is “Send he Gift of Flipboard” – a rather odd gift idea, but one that a penny pincher like Ebenezer Scrooge might think appropriate.

What’s New in Version 3.3.11

  • Send the Gift of Flipboard to your family or friends to help them get started with content tailored to their interests.
  • Flipboard now optimized for the iPad Pro.
  • Facebook Messenger integration enables easier sharing between the Messenger and Flipboard apps.
  • Bug fixes and performance improvements.

Google-Nexus-takeoverReturning to Google: the company is dominating the NYT’s home page this morning with a massive takeover campaign for its Nexus 5X.

The LG built phone, released last month, has received good reviews from the tech websites, including the NYT.

That is why I found it a bit strange to see a story on the home page about the Google Cultural Institute right below the ads from the same company.

This is something most newspapers would try to avoid, but is pretty hard to accomplish on the web.

My real issue with the ads is that it makes the NYT’s home page, usually a good place to get a quick update on major news stories, more like the websites of Gannett or Tribune Publishing.

  • Chris Meadows 11 months ago

    Here’s my own response to this argument..

    Funny that everyone makes so much noise about needing to “improve” the e-book, while the people actually reading e-books just carry right on without even noticing.

    • D.B. Hebbard 11 months ago

      I find your view of eBook publishing too conservative for me. You seem to equate fiction with the entire universe of book publishing. You argue that since a plain text Kindle edition is fine for the novel.. well then it is fine for all other eBooks – and if it is not, then it is something else, but not an eBook. My guess this is a popular position to take inside the traditional book publishing industry, it is very comforting.

      But that position would lead one to believe that the modern website is no longer the Internet but a multimedia project. It is not, it is still the web, but it has evolved since the mid-90s and I believe both publishers and reader are happy with that.

      My vision of the future of eBooks is certainly different than yours. I would like my travel book on France to allow me not only to learn about the country, but allow me to make hotel reservations, see winemakers in their vineyards tending their vines, hear the elevator chains of the Eiffel Tour as it pulls up the car, and interact with things outside of the book itself (like my phone, contacts, calendar, photos, etc.)

      These are the kinds of books being created today by the industry’s most progressive designers and publishers. That is who TNM serves. Tele read can serve the others.

      Later: Chris writes on another forum: “Given that such changes would only benefit non-fiction e-books, which most people don’t even read anyway.” Thanks for envisioning a world without textbooks, histories, biographies. No thanks, you can continue to live in fantasy land.