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The Real Ebook Revolution is Just Beginning (pdf with notes)


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My talk at Digital Book World in New York, January 14, 2014. I talk about "the arc of data," how information disappears into services, and what publishers can learn from the kinds of information services being created today. I give examples from O'Reilly's publishing, but also lessons from young adult author John Green.

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The Real Ebook Revolution is Just Beginning (pdf with notes)

  1. The Real Ebook Revolution is Just Beginning Tim O’Reilly @timoreilly Digital Book World January 14, 2014
  2. “The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.” —Edwin Schlossberg #dbw14 I like to begin my talks with a quote, because, as Oscar Wilde once said, “Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.” But seriously, this is an important one. Edwin Schlossberg once said... I’m going to provide some context from technology about where the world is going, as well as some examples from what O’Reilly is doing. @timoreilly
  3. What Job Does a Book Do? #dbw14 The first piece of context I want to give you is the same question I gave in my talk at the very first TOC conference eight years ago: what job does a book do? Because of course, there are many types of jobs that books do. A dictionary or an atlas are reference works. Many of our books at O’Reilly are tools for teaching and learning. Other books seek to persuade a point of view. Still others are primarily for entertainment. Even within books for learning and persuasion, some are more hands-on, some more simply meant to be read. But let’s start with one kind of functional reference work: the atlas, which is a collection of maps. Let’s see where that went @timoreilly
  4. This Used To Be A Book #dbw14 Yes, the Google self-driving car used to be a book! @timoreilly
  5. The Arc of Data #dbw14 I like to talk about what I call “the arc of data.” What was once a book became an online map, interactive and exciting. Google layered more data onto the map: street view, restaurant recommendations, etc. But then something strange happened. That map got smaller and smaller. You can get turn by turn driving or walking directions read aloud to you. The end game is the Google self driving car: “Take me to digital book world.” @timoreilly
  6. From Information Product to Information Service #dbw14 You can see how many types of “map-related” publishing - travel guides - have become information services. @timoreilly
  7. But the most provocative new service built with Maps may well be Uber, the service that lets you summon a black car or taxi from your smartphone. How many of you have tried Uber? I recommend it!
  8. “Uber is a $3.5 billion lesson in building for how the world *should* work instead of optimizing for how the world *does* work” - Aaron Levie of Aaron Levie of Box said it perfectly in a tweet: “Uber is a $3.5 billion lesson in building for how the world *should* work instead of optimizing for how the world *does* work.”
  9. Some Lessons from Uber  Do Less  Build on existing platforms  Build “software above the level of a single device”  Users are part of the service  Harness network effects in data  Rethink workflows and experiences  Create more value than you capture #dbw14 @timoreilly
  10. Whoa! Can Publishers Do All That? #dbw14 @timoreilly
  11. More Than You Might Think  Do Less (focus on the essential job you do for the reader)  Build on existing platforms (partner with others)  Build “books above the level of a single device” (DRM free)  Authors and readers are part of the service  Harness network effects in data (reader/fan networks)  Rethink workflows and experiences (Do the job in new ways)  Create more value than you capture #dbw14 I’m not going to try to enumerate everything on this list, but I put it here for reference, for you to go back to as you review what I say later in this talk. @timoreilly
  12. Create More Value Than You Capture There’s a wonderful section in Les Miserables about the good that Jean Valjean does as a businessman (operating under the pseudonym of Father Madeleine). Through his industry and vision, he makes an entire region prosperous, so that “there was no pocket so obscure that it had not a little money in it; no dwelling so lowly that there was not some little joy within it.” And the key point: “Father Madeleine made his fortune; but a singular thing in a simple man of business, it did not seem as though that were his chief care. He appeared to be thinking much of others, and little of himself.” #dbw14 @timoreilly This last point is important. Uber creates value not just for consumers, but also for drivers, who see increased utilization because of the service. I always try to work this point into my talks because it’s such an important message for businesses. I’ve been in too many discussions with publishers over the years that have the form of “How are we to survive in this new world?” That’s the wrong question. Your job is not to survive as a business, it’s to create value for customers, suppliers, and society as well as yourselves. Publishing has always been a value-creating business. Value for authors, value for readers, and for society as a whole. Find new ways to create value, and you will prosper.
  13. Rethink Workflows and Experience #dbw14 @timoreilly Because we know these are key competencies required of our audience, and because we know that the job we do isn’t publishing books, but teaching people what they need to know, we also got into the conference business. Here are some of our events on the technologies people need to know about today.
  14. #dbw14 But here’s the interesting thing: the same tools we use to generate ebooks can also be used to make a better experience at our events. We noticed that in our tutorials, everyone has a laptop open while they are also straining to see slides up on the screen. @timoreilly
  15. #dbw14 Well, with an HTML canvas, and CSS that turns an “ebook” into a slide template, people can follow right along on their laptops. @timoreilly
  16. #dbw14 @timoreilly
  17. #dbw14 And we can integrate tutorials from our live events into Safari, our online subscription service, as both slides and video. @timoreilly
  18. #dbw14 @timoreilly Safari is our own software as a service platform, which we built starting back in 2000. Safari is a cloud library subscription service, containing tens of thousands of books and thousands of hours of video instruction, all for a single monthly price, available on the web as well as on mobile devices.
  19. HTML 5 #dbw14 I mentioned HTML 5 already, but let me give you a bit more of a taste of what it makes possible. @timoreilly
  20. #dbw14 It lets us integrate video directly into books where appropriate, as in this Raspberry Pi Cookbook, where “showing” is better than just telling. @timoreilly
  21. #dbw14 @timoreilly It can support tools for interactive programming and visualization, so that people can actually try out the technology in the context of the book. And all this is done with HTML 5. Sanders Kleinfeld and I will be talking about how we do this in our session later in the day.
  22. #dbw14 Here’s what our back-end workflow looks like today. @timoreilly
  23. If you think this means your web design team is now your production team... #dbw14 @timoreilly
  24. you’re right #dbw14 @timoreilly
  25. #dbw14 One of the other things that’s great about the toolset we’re building is that it lets you switch between WYSIWYG editing and various kinds of markup. @timoreilly
  26. #dbw14 Like HTML (but also various forms of Wiki style markup.) @timoreilly
  27. #dbw14 And then, with a press of a button, you can generate various kinds of ebook, web, or print output. We believe that there’s a lot of opportunity for this platform to be used in documentation of all kinds, not just by publishers. There are a lot of people who need to share information they’ve created in a variety of formats. @timoreilly
  28. HTML 5 Is The Future of Book Authorship 1:30 PM #dbw14 Sanders and I will be talking more about this at 1:30 @timoreilly
  29. Competing for Entertainment Minutes #dbw14 But now I want to move on to other kinds of publishing. My opinions here are less well informed, but perhaps worth sharing anyway. It seems to me that fiction and many kinds of narrative non-fiction are competing for entertainment minutes with social media, YouTube, and online interaction. @timoreilly
  30. Safari Flow #dbw14 There’s a kind of “newsfeed” interaction available to publishers even here. At Safari Books Online, we’ve created a new product called Safari Flow that shows a feed of interesting topics (personalized to you), that lets you click through to subjects that interest you.’s style of interaction could work for other kinds of publishing as well. We’ve found that it greatly increases engagement with the content. @timoreilly
  31. Safari Flow #dbw14 There’s a kind of “newsfeed” interaction available to publishers even here. At Safari Books Online, we’ve created a new product called Safari Flow that shows a feed of interesting topics (personalized to you), that lets you click through to subjects that interest you.’s style of interaction could work for other kinds of publishing as well. We’ve found that it greatly increases engagement with the content. @timoreilly
  32. The Book Above The Level of a Single Device #dbw14 And then there’s what Amazon has done so well - synchronizing a book across multiple devices - and even, with Audible, multiple reading modalities. We’ve all got to learn from that. It’s really impressive. @timoreilly
  33. #dbw14 Our version of “the book above the level of a single device” is to offer readers their choice of formats, DRM-free. When you buy an ebook bundle from us, you can read it on any device. Unfortunately, we aren’t able to synchronize, like Amazon does. Another key thing to learn from software is the notion of collaborative development. We’ve done some significant and successful experiments there at O’Reilly, such as this book, Etudes for Erlang. @timoreilly
  34. #dbw14 And one of the things we’ve done best is to take advantage of the collaborative features that are available for free by using software version control and sharing platforms like Github and Gitlab. @timoreilly
  35. The Author Above The Level of a Single Device John Green #dbw14 But there’s another notion I want to share with you, that of the “author above the level of a single device,” or rather, above a single medium. Consider John Green. He’s got four books on the NYT Young Adult Bestseller List. @timoreilly
  36. #dbw14 But he also runs, with his brother Hank, the Vidcon conference, which has put him at the heart of the YouTube community. What is really striking about that community is its generosity. Many YouTube stars have gotten started by being featured on the channels of others (including Hank and John’s vlogbrothers). In some sense, they are proto-publishers themselves, sharing their capabilities with up and comers. @timoreilly
  37. #dbw14 John’s YouTube channel, which he and Hank run, has nearly 1.7 million subscribers. @timoreilly
  38. #dbw14 And he’s got nearly 2 million followers on Twitter. @timoreilly
  39. #dbw14 And check this out. His latest book (which is also being made into a movie) has nearly half a million ratings on Goodreads, and more than 60,000 reviews. I believe he’s sold about 2 million copies, which means that one in four of the buyers has rated the book! @timoreilly
  40. #dbw14 So when John and Hank went on a book tour, is it a surprise that they sold out Carnegie Hall? @timoreilly
  41. Why Does John Still Have a Publisher? Answer that question, and you still have a business #dbw14 John himself believes in publishing and the value it adds. So when you hear the rhetoric that says in today’s world, authors don’t need you any more, don’t believe them. But do a lot of soul searching to understand what they need you for, and how you can really help them. Don’t rely on tired bromides that aren’t true. Find what is true and stand on it. Getter better at it, and make sure you create more value than you capture. @timoreilly
  42. Slides: Thank you very much.