Henry von Ofterdingen

Continuing the series of great German thinkers, I’ve added to my Hymns to the Night (published as “Novalis”) by Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis), the same author’s Henry von Ofterdingen, his incomplete novel.

It is the first book I have directly sourced from a Google epub, and it went well and developed a few good tricks and tools that will ease the process. (Of course, I was already 98% done when I discovered, it had already been converted by Project Gutenberg …)

(Publishing a “finished” book from a Google epub is quite a different matter from simply converting it, warts and all, from the machine scanned epub.)

Should appear in the Kindle store within the next 48 hours!

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“By the flickering flame of Mt. Olypmus, It’s great to be back in the Game …”

BTW, it’s been a while since I pressed the “Publish” button in DTP, most of my focus being on RetroRead, which continues to grow apace and has been much more stable. Re-doing Alice was fun and I hope to come to press again soon!

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Curiouser and curiouser!

Well, the new Kindles must be selling very well, as evidenced by the rise in sales of BLTC Press titles, which show no sign of abating (in general I could always notice blips when Kindles were back in stock or new feature release) … going very strong now!

What is most (pleasantly) amazing is the the BLTC Press edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes seems to have crawled out of a rock and is — now in the top 1000 of paid titles. Published over two years ago, it has more or less languished (like: extremely — there are dozens of Sherlock Holmes titles available on Kindle). Either someone somewhere (?) gave it a reference, the RetroRead referrals have helped, or, just possible, it has “bubbled” up the visibility stack on Amazon due to, bit by bit, folks deciding they like the illustrations and formatting (I do: I think the edition is quite nice.)

… Just to make sure I was continuing to put my best foot forward with such a larger audience, I have re-published it using my latest publication engine, although the present edition was quite suitable.

Not quite so my Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, at least according to thoughtful reader “S. S.,” who took the trouble to write and task me, rightfully, with the illustrations for Alice being quite below the standard set by Through the Looking Glass (which, now perhaps understandably, has lately outsold Alice 2 to 1). I had to agree: Alice was my first publication venture, and the scans used were rather a bit low-res. (In defense, originally published for the Sony Reader with 4 shades of gray.) Thank you, your feedback is always appreciated!

A new edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is “at the printer’s” and should appear online at Amazon in a day or two. I’m quite pleased with it and was able to make a few formatting enhancements while I as at it!

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Support for Wi-Fi Kindles

A user brought to my attention (as I still rely on my Kindle2) that with wi-fi in place for Kindle, emails sent to mydevice@free.kindle.com bypass the wireless route (if available), and thereby, bypass the $0.15 / MB fee from Amazon. So if you have wi-fi connectivity available, you can now have your ebooks mailed directly to your Kindle for free. So the “wi-fi” delivery option has now been added to the user profile section of the RetroRead site.

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RetroRead library adds 1000th converted Google Title

OK, I’m pretty excited about this … at close to one year since first launching, we’ve seen the 1000th title added to the library. A small fraction of the million+ available at Google, but these are 1000 titles which were selected based on interest of some user or other.

The 1000th title was: “History of the Forty-second regiment infantry”.

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mea culpa

Ouch. Just discovered a RetroRead bug that apparently has existed for the longest time which makes you unable to convert a file upon first registering … not a very promising experience. Apologies to those who tried and then gave up.

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The Wylie thing

Comments on ebook world in general … was very interested to read a week ago about the Wylie agency’s plan to publish some of its authors (such as Phillip Roth and John Updike) in ebook format directly (and exclusively) with Amazon, slicing out the hardcover publishers altogether. (ebook rights being a gray area as most publishing contracts pre-date the notion of ebooks.)

Meanwhile, publishers such as Random House have “had a cow” and announced they will cease doing business with Wylie (see how long that lasts if they have the next hot property). The Guardian article cited above points to a big part of the problem: publishers have been extremely greedy in their offers to share ebook proceeds, which have essentially zero marginal cost to them.

But the real question is, what will the brave new world of ebook publishing really look like? We’re still quite a ways off (but recent price drops on Kindle seem to get us a lot closer) from the time when almost every potential book consumer has the ebook option, so “real” books will be necessary first to capture the total available market, and secondly — the whole business of book promotion is (currently anyway) geared around traditional books and traditional channels (ie bookstores), except for the odd ebook promotion.

(It will be a big turning point when the New York Times Review of Books reviews a book available only in ebook format).

Although I think Wylie is (possibly) making a good move for the established authors they represent in terms of maximizing ebook revenue … these are long established authors. Whether the Amazon editions have the Wylie or Random House or other imprint is irrelevant to their marketability: users will simply search for “Rabbit, Run” on Amazon and download it.

The exclusivity is very disturbing however, and one must conclude that, given that 70% royalties are available already through Amazon’s DTP program, this must be one sweetheart deal royalty wise; which makes one wonder for a moment, what is in it for Amazon, other than cachet? Probably, the opportunity to lock out other channels from name authors, thereby de-valuing the other platforms. Monopolistic? At some point Amazon’s sales figures will become very relevant, as their actions in “limiting supply” and “predatory pricing” seem to invite review.

Regardless of the fallout and possible clumsiness of the arrangement, one has to say “good on you” to Wylie for staking a claim as to the author’s claim to the better part of a more disintermediated ebook ecosystem.

What would perhaps be even more interesting is if Literary Agents were to begin publishing previously unpublished authors. Right now there is a multi step process involved in bringing a new author to print: first the work must find an agent who believes in it enough to invest their time and reputation in pedaling it to a publisher; then a publisher must select it, advance something towards future royalties, and invest not only in the print inventory but in the whole mechanism of promotion (to the extent this occurs). Wylie’s “publishing” venture does none of this. I think it is real challenge to imagine how this will all take place in a universe where the ebook becomes the primary edition.

Right now, anyone can publish themselves, with Amazon DTP or Smashwords. However, these channels are not so terribly removed from vanity publishing: there is no editorial filtering nor production standards (which at least the vanity press provides to some extent).

Well, piling on to the publishers as being rather obtuse about this: where they are shooting themselves in the foot is by becoming passive victims of Amazon and I suppose to a lesser extent B&N and Sony. What they seem to fail to grasp in the era of ebook disintermediation is that they should be slicing out the distribution channel, ie Amazon.

A look back at some magazine publishing history might offer a suggestion: many decades ago a group of magazine and book publishers (including Time-Life, McCalls, then independent Bantam Books, and Grosset & Dunlap) formed a magazine distribution company to get more control over magazine distribution and lower costs of distribution (never mind that it went bankrupt in 1989…).

Creating an ebook store is no more difficult than any other garden variety web content site, which are basically a dime a dozen. And ebook readers are trending commodity, although it is certainly true that maintaining a state of the art competitive hardware platform probably ain’t cheap. But in the end, these are details if there was a concerted investement attempt on the part of Random House, Viking Penguin, HarperCollins, etc. to established a publisher owned ebook marketplace.

Aside from all of the inertia, FUD, and cluelessness on the part of publishers, I think the big barrier is the current semi-closed model for DRM technology, which is in the grand scheme of things going to be a necessary evil for some time. What a “Select Ebooks” would need is an open hardware platform specification. (We may already be there with epub and Adobe’s Content Server, but I’d opt for something a little more open; the whole point is to get as many fingers out of the pie as possible.)

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Is RetroRead redundant?

Just the other day, I delved a little more deeply into the Internet Archive’s collection of “ebooks” … and discovered they have managed (?) to upload close to one million texts with “google” as the scanner, and have an option to download for Kindle. Two things: these are apparently uploads of the source PDF image scans, and have been re-OCR’d; and the mobi conversion seems to break fairly frequently. The OCR is definitely of inferior quality to the Google scans, which are of course what are in the Google epub downloads, and lack (for example) structure such as table of contents. Additionally, with RetroRead, you can edit extraneous front matter imagery; full-text search the library using Google search; and of course, easily download direct to your Kindle.

… Let a thousand flowers bloom.

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RetroRead has Facebook page

Well, title says it all, mostly … have hooked up the twitter feed to the fan page as well as RSS of the blitzesblog. So folks can see what’s up at RetroRead while hanging out at FB

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And now for some good news

Last weekend wasn’t a total waste, although the problems at Blue Host were somewhat trying … meanwhile, have implemented updates to the way the RetroRead “colophon” elements are injected into the ebook. Previously I was using some assumptions about the canonical layout of a Google-generated ebook which, while correct in what still seems like the majority of cases, don’t hold up universally, with the result that in some cases, I was over-writing some of the introductory material. I now do a “smart” injection of the RetroRead title page and colophon text such that it is directly context-sensing, rather than making assumptions. Result: better books!

Meanwhile, need to look at either batch re-processing existing titles to re-fresh the conversions, or (more likely), tweak the “file exists” logic to allow the original uploader of a title to re-do it and replace (I already have this implemented for my own account for test purposes.)

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