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Why Books in Browsers? A Closer Look at e-book Publishing Software Choices

What’s an ebook?  


For many, the first thought is of a Kindle, Nook or similar device, designed for a single purpose and packed with texts downloaded from a single retailer.  However, it’s easy to forget just how new that notion of ebook publishing software is...or how quickly it’s changing.
Vintage Rocket eBook (left) and SoftBook devices show how quickly the basic definition of an ebook can change.  (From the collection of Tizra founder David Durand.)
As broadband connections and computing power become more pervasive, the idea of “books in browsers” or “books in the cloud” is gaining traction.  As has already happened in other media with services like Hulu, Netflix and Spotify, book publishers are starting to see the value in streaming content direct to users as they need it, rather than requiring them to download it to their own device before use.

The Case for Books in Browsers:

Delivering books or content in browsers is ideal for publishers that want to build a direct relationship with their consumers, as well as to maintain control over both content delivery and user experience. The benefits of web-based publishing include:


  • Audience.  With about 2 billion users worldwide, the web dwarfs even the largest single-company network, so if you want the largest audience with the least amount of custom development, the web is the way to go.
  • Control. It is important strategically to avoid being locked into systems owned by companies whose long term interests may not always mesh with your own. When you distribute through someone else's "walled garden," you are at the mercy of changing terms and usually have to give up significant portion of your revenue. You need only look at cases like Lendle, a book sharing service shut down after Amazon changed its API, or iFlowReader, an e-book reading app that closed because Apple’s 30 percent revenue fees and agency model didn’t allow for a sustainable business.
  • Relationships.  Selling direct allows a publisher to build its brand and establish a direct connection with its readers using personalized content and offers, direct marketing, and social integration. 
  • User data. A direct relationship also provides publishers with detailed data on user behavior, including the popularity of specific sections within specific publications, as well as information on traffic sources, conversion rates, and many other parameters using standard web analytics tools. This kind of information is crucial in evolving better user experiences and developing new products.
  • Discoverability.  Unlike content locked up in proprietary Apps or buried deep in App Stores, users can easily find web-published content through standard search engines, such as Google, and through links shared via social media, scholarly citations, email, and more.
  • User experience.  Every e-reader app is a little different.  I know personally when I use my Overdrive app versus my Nook app, I’m disoriented as I try to figure out how to access my bookmarks, look up words, change font sizes and more.  With web-based publishing, readers access content using their familiar web browser, providing a consistent experience across content and devices. Unlike e-reader apps, readers can easily keep multiple pages open in tabs without needing to open and close apps to compare sources and bookmark content.
  • Sharing.  With web-based publishing platforms like Tizra, each document page has its own persistent URL, making it easy share, via social networks or email links to specific pieces of content. This is difficult or impossible with e-reader apps because even if you refer to a page number, that will vary depending on the device being used.
  • Faster updates.  If you have new content to release, you aren’t dependent upon App store gatekeepers to approve your updates.  Rather you can push it out for users to see, read and purchase immediately.
  • Unbundling, remixing and sales flexibility.  Because you are not locked into a particular retailer's idea of a book as a sellable unit of content, you're free to experiment with unbundling publications into chapters, lessons, articles or other subsections, and to rebundle them into new products. And you can quickly create and test new promotions, targeting specific user groups, events or other sales opportunities.
  • Production flexibility. Systems like Tizra let you to leverage as much as possible of your existing production workflow, rather requiring you to generate content in new formats for specific ereading platforms.
  • Support for Complex layouts and interactive content. Converting to dedicated ereader formats often means stripping out formatting, so complex page layouts and illustrations no longer work as intended. In addition, options for authoring interactive content are limited, if they exist at all. By working within an open, browser-based environment, publishers gain access to a vibrant and growing ecosystem of tools and techniques for authoring rich content.
  • Offline support. For publishers that want to offer offline reading support, this is still possible via downloads or offline web readers.  


The Case for Dedicated e-Reader Apps:


Dedicated e-reader apps do well for mainstream publishers of e-books, especially fiction.  The benefits include:


  • Offline reading. With downloadable content, dedicated e-reader apps are ideal for offline reading in comfortable reading sessions with a dedicated e-reader or mobile device.
  • Distribution. Some publishers are not equipped to do their own direct marketing, and in these cases, Amazon and Apple can provide access to their significant installed audience base.  Although it should be noted that discovery is still a challenge and user account information is not accessible to publishers, so you continue to be dependent upon their distribution and unable to build a direct relationship with your readers.
  • Fine-tuned "page flipping" experience. Designers of dedicated ereaders have optimized around making it easy for readers to one thing first and foremost: flip through one page after another in narrative order, as one tends to do with fiction. If you expect your readers to do just that--without the need to search, bookmark, share and interact--a dedicated app may be the best solution.
  • Encrypted DRM. While encrypted DRM schemes are unpopular with readers, some situations still demand proprietary DRM schemes supported by dedicated e-reader apps.  Just keep in mind that user support costs are high, no DRM scheme can absolutely guarantee security, and the web offers some easier to support alternatives that may, for practical purposes, be just as secure.


Granted, as a web-based digital publishing platform you'd expect us to lean toward the web, but our preferences are practical and evidence based.  Consider The Daily, a news app which first appeared on tablets in February 2011 after a $30 million investment by Rupert Murdoch, and famously failed and closed in 2012. Or Conde Nast, which has seen relative “success” via Apple’s Newstand app but whose digital only subscriptions are still quite small.  The costs of creating content for apps on e-readers, tablets, smartphones, and more have pushed publishers like the Financial Times to drop their apps entirely in favor of a new HTML5 website, which optimizes for devices and provides features and functions that are app-like.

If you would like to learn more about Tizra’s web-based publishing approach, contact us for a free demo.

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