March 8, 2016 Last Updated 8:46 am

Publishing tech updates: Google Docs now can export to EPUB; WordPress plug-in for Facebook’s Instant Articles available

Amazon adds Immersion Reading mode to its iOS Kindle reading app, combining text with Audible narration; PressReader adds 3D touch gestures on iPhone 6s/6s+ devices

The publishing community, as anyone who has worked in it as long as I have knows, is very conservative when it comes to technology – though there was a time in the late eighties into the early nineties when many publishers saw the rise of desktop publishing as a positive, a way to cut costs and speed up production. Soon, however,  upgrading both hardware and software every couple years began to sour many publishers on the new tech, leading more than a few to look for outsourcing options.

In 1999, Cahners – at the time owned by Reed Elsevier, and not yet renamed Reed Business Information – famously made the decision to get rid of all their Macs and replace them with PCs because Apple was, according to the company’s executives, about to go out of business. In came a whole lot of Compaq computers, out went the Macs. No one was happy, including the executives who never could explain their decision to anyone’s satisfaction and had to watch as Apple returned to profitability, etc, etc.

IBM-computer-400The point is that publishers rarely embrace technology, despite the fact that their business is so dependent on it. Today, publishers across industries have to deal with new digital distribution channels, many of which demand a different digital publishing solution than the others. The complexity of digital publishing have many publishing executives grasping for simple solutions that ultimately are unsatisfactory for everyone, especially readers.

“Where you are seeing some hesitation,” one publishing association executive told TNM in late 2011, “is that reaching an audience through digital technologies… is, in a sense, a game of fragmentation and segmentation. In order to reach that audience you have to reach them potentially on all devices. You are sometimes reaching the same people that are moving from device to device to device throughout the day… and sometimes you are reaching different audiences. There are some people you are only going to reach through a mobile app you’re not going to reach through online, and visa versa.”

He was right, and when asked who he thought the major players in the industry’s new technology were he (correctly) said Apple, Google and Amazon. Had he, or anyone at the association, reached out to these companies and begun a conversation on the needs of the industry? No, he said. That seemed outside the purview of the responsibilities of the association.

So, when Apple decided to stop maintaining the Newsstand, and eventually shut it down, only a few media companies that were working directly with Apple, and at their invitation, knew what was going on. When Amazon decides not to play nice in the sandbox and prevent other types of file formats from working with the Kindle, few publishers complain. That is just how the business works today: tech companies innovate, publishers adapt. It is a terrible business model – well, it is a terrible business model for publishers, it’s great for the tech companies.

Google yesterday posted a blog post about a new feature of Google Docs, the ability to export a document as an EPUB file.

“EPUB is the most widely supported file format for publishing accessible documents and digital books, allowing people to consume long-form content in their preferred apps on a diverse range of screen sizes and devices, including smartphones, tablets, and eReaders,” the Google Apps team wrote on their blog.

“To make it easier for authors, publishers, and academic institutions to create works that can be consumed digitally, today we’re launching the ability to export Google Docs files as EPUB publications. Simply go to the File menu > Download as > EPUB Publication (.epub).”


Apple added EPUB export to iBooks Author an update or two ago, but few authors, journalists or communications pros would use iBA as an authoring tool. Google Docs, on the other hand, is widely used (and recently added voice typing).

Facebook will be opening up their Instant Articles to publishers in April. Today, a handful of major publishers have been working with Facebook on the publishing platform. Once it does, a flood of small to mid-sized publishers, as well as self-publishers, will likely want in. Many of those use WordPress.

To make converting content easier from WordPress to Instant Articles, Facebook has worked with Automattic to come up with a plug-in.

“We’re always looking for ways to make it easier for publishers to share their content on Facebook, so we’ve partnered with Automattic, parent company of VIP, to build a free plugin for Instant Articles, which simplifies the process of generating and publishing Instant Articles from WordPress,” Chris Ackermann, Partner Engineering wrote yesterday. “The open-source WordPress publishing platform now powers more than 25% of sites on the web, so we are excited to help millions of publishers all over the world bring the Instant Articles experience to their readers.”


“We’ve been working with Facebook, and VIP Featured Partner agency Dekode, on a plugin which takes care of the basics. Activate it, and you’ll have a compliant feed of Posts, wrapping your core content in the markup Facebook requires,” said Simon Dickson, Director, Platform Services at Automattic.

The plug-in is currently available through GitHub, but will soon be added to the WordPress plug-in directory.

Wordpress plug-in Instant Articles Facebook

Platform updates:

Amazon has updated the iOS Kindle reading app, adding two new features:

  • Immersion Reading: Now when you add Audible narration to your books, you can read and listen simultaneously, with real-time text highlighting. This engaging, immersive reading experience is perfect for children learning to read, language learners, and anyone looking to boost their reading comprehension. This feature will be available for nearly all books you download with Audible narration after updating to this version (v4.18) of the Kindle app.
  • OpenDyslexic font: We listened to feedback from our customers and have made OpenDyslexic available – an open source font that some readers may prefer.

PressReader has updated its app bringing it up to version 4.8.1. The app still appears under the original developer account name of NewspaperDirect – it rebranded as PressReader in November of 2013. The app changes:

  • 3D touch gestures on iPhone 6s/6s+ : Browse the original graphic layouts of your favorite titles and use 3D touch to preview articles. You’ll be able to pop into a mobile-friendly reading view and then use 3D touch from anywhere on your screen to instantly share it or leave a comment.
  • Simplified issue ordering : Tap on the thumbnail image or name of the publication to view available supplements and back issues. Or, tap on the arrow to download the title while you continue to browse the catalog.

Adobe has updated the iOS app version of Adobe Digital Editions bringing the app up to version 4.5.1. The updated adds localization support, UI refinements, and new deauthorization workflow integration.

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