DRM or Not DRM the debate continues

First of all for all those who are lucky enough to don’t know what DRM is, a very short introduction.

DRM is Digital Restrictions Management or as some marketing guys like to all it Digital Rights Management.
This is in other words copy protection. In an ideal world, it will prevent unauthorized copies of a book or music. But hey in an ideal world we don’t need it since no one will create unauthorized copies.

Why do I say that this is only in ideal world?
Unfortunately, copy protection schemes punishes only the legitimate users, since the unauthorized users cracked it anyway and can circulate it without any interruption.
DRM copy protection can be bypassed and they are bypassed all the time, therefore to really succeed with DRM a publisher has to invest a lot of money and effort in making better and better algorithms and change them all the times.

With DRM protected book, I need a reading system that can read the protected book, that means I am tied to one reading system and sometimes these reading systems can not read publications from other publishers, so I can not maintain a library of all my readings on one application or reading device.
Also if I want to replace my device, I loose all the library I purchased until now and after all in today’s world we replace our tablets, phone, e-readers etc. once every few years.

My company Helicon Books gives all kinds of services to publishers of digital books. One of the services is reading applications. We can add DRM to these reading systems so that customers will be able to read only the publisher’s books on these readers.
So from business perspective, I’d be happy to sell DRM solutions, this will tie the publisher to us for DRM algorithms upgrades and maintenance.

However in this post I would like to show what happened to publishers who knowingly dropped DRM from their books. There are currently two publishers that I know that has decided on no DRM policy for their digital books: O’Reilly and TOR (a UK based science fiction publisher).

TOR has decided about a year ago (On Apris 25, 2012) to drop DRM from all their titles. They have made their decision together  with their sister company in the US, so there is a very large audience that enjoys this decision. Now, about a year after that, Julie Crisp wrote in TOR’s blog –  “we’ve seen no discernible increase in piracy on any of our titles, despite them being DRM-free for nearly a year”

The reason for TOR’s decision is that their customers are a close-knit, with a huge on-line presence, and with publishers, authors and fans having closer communication than other areas of publishing do.

So what happened was that their customers where thrilled with the fact that they listened to them and removed DRM.

Posted in books, Computers & Software, Digital publishing

First book in English

I have recently completed translating to English my latest book “Sailing in Israel

 The book is about Avishay that lives on his Yacht in Herzelia marina,
an unexpected guest from his past, pays him a visit.

He offers her to join him on a cruise along the shore of Israel.
This cruise leads to unexpected adventures.
Including saving a yacht from sinking

Special thanks to Dr. Eldad Rechavia for the medical advise on parts of the plot.

 

The book is available in EPUB format on Helicon book store

Posted in books, Digital publishing

And they say iPad is easy to use…

My wife’s dad just got a new iPad, he asked me how can he read my books on the iPad.

The answer is easy, just install iBooks, download any of my books (sorry, Hebrew only at this stage) and start reading.

Ok, How do I install an app.? he asked.

At that time, I took his iPad and tried to figure out how to do that, i found the appstore icon on the main screen, clicked it, it asked for something called Apple Id. I asked him if he has any idea what it is? Of course he had no idea, after all, he never used an iPad.

Ok, there was an option there to create a new Apple Id, I clicked it. A new form appeared that asked many questions, among them was email address, name, address and they even required second email address which he did not have, so I entered my email address. Clicked Next and got many errors to fix, few of the fields where not correct. There where about 15 fields in this form and this was only the first step.
One of the fields that was wrong was the password field, password must be more then 6 characters, contain at least one upper case letter, lower case letters and numbers. So it should be a password that is not easy to enter. I did eventually found a password that was Ok (it took me about 3 itterations).

After fixing the errors on the first step, it proceeded to the next step where it asked for credit card information, at first he did not want to give, but we can not proceed without it. It appears that you must give credit card information but will be billed only if you download something that is not free of charge.

Ok, done with that step also. Now I got a message that a mail was sent to his address with an activation link.
I have set up his email address in the mail application, that was done easily. The mail arrived after few moments with an activation link. I clicked the link in the mail, it opened safari, the page said that email address was verified and that I have to login now with my Apple Id and password, but what is the Apple Id? There was no mention of it in the forms.

There was a link to click if I forgot the Apple Id, I clicked it and it said it will send email with instructions but no mail arrived even after few minutes.

I tried using the email address it worked, so why didn’t they say that the email is also  the Apple Id?

Ok I thought that now it should be easy to download and install iBooks, I entered the appstore again, searched for iBooks, I could easily find it. Clicking on the iBooks icon just opened a window with all package details. there was no install button.

I thought that I should click the “Free” icon that was below. I did it several times and it did not work. After few minutes of unfruitful gaames,I found out that I should click the small green dot on top left side of the Free button. The free Button change to green “Install” button. I clicked it and it started installing the application. There was no indication I could see, what is being installed and how long will it take.

After few seconds the iBook icon appeared on a third home screen, although there was place on the main home screen, the icon was placed on another home screen. I guess he would never find it by himself (after all this is the first time he had seen a tablet of any kind).
I found no way to move the icon to another screen.

From now it was easy, go to my website (in Hebrew http://www.heliconbooks.com/?lang=he) and download the book. This worked great.

So is the iPad so easy to use? it took me almost an hour to do one simple thing, to install a free application. All this in addition to it’s many limitations with sending images (did you  try sending several images in one message? did you try answering a mail and attaching an image?). Also people always said that iPad is working fast, but this was not the case, my old Android tablet works much faster then this new iPad.

So again I can not understand why people find this product so great?

The only answer I can think of is that Apple is great at marketing! I should learn few things from Apple, not how to develop software but how to market limited software and hardware and make people think it’s the greatest thing on earth.

 

Posted in Computers & Software Tagged with:

First version of helicon books reader available on google play

The first version of my new company’s reader application is now available for purchasing on “google play”
This version would work on most android devices (in fact I don’t know yet of an android device it does not work on). A version for apple devices (iPad, iPod, iPhone etc.) will be available in the near future.

This application is the first in the world to fully support the latest EPUB3 standard.

It all started when I was looking for a good reader that support Hebrew. I found a group of programmers in India who started developing a reader to fully support the latest EPUB3 standard. Through LinkedIn I got to a short announcement regarding a new reader application for Andorid that supports MathML (a method for displaying mathematical formulas on a web page) and Animated SVG.

I have contacted them for a beta version and later on signed a marketing agreement with them so that Helicon books is now the marketing arm of “Creatve Studios” from India.

 

Shelf view

Posted in Digital publishing, IDPF, Uncategorized

Digital books vs. Printed books

I have just returned from the Frankfurt book fair, the biggest book fair in the world.

The main reason for traveling there was to market the new EPUB3 digital reader as it currently seems we are the first in the world to offer a reader that fully conforms to this new digital book standard.

EPUB is a standard for digital books which is gaining more and more popularity. The standard is maintained by a consortium of companies called IDPF I became a member of this organization and also plan to run for the board of IDPF.

The current standard EPUB 2 is good mainly for fiction books containing mainly text. The main advantage of this format is that there is no definition of page in the book. The reader formats the page before displaying it so the actual number of pages depends on the size of the reading device, so for example a chapter that will be 8 pages long when read on a tablet computer, will be 24 pages long if you read the same chapter on your phone.

The new standard adds many other features such as mathematical formulas, animation, sound, video and scripting. This will enable publishers to produce more interactive books with advanced multimedia similar to what we see on websites today.

The problem however is that there are no readers today that actually support this new standard. This is where I come in with a revolutionary new reader for the Android platform the fully supports this standard.

During the fair I talked with several publishers about the future of printed books and digital books. There are some people that think that digital books will displace printed books. I have just rad that education secretary Arne Dunkan says that in the next few years printed textbooks should be obsolete.

Other people say that it is similar to what people where thinking when TV first started that it will fully displace the radio but until today it did not. So just as we have both radio and TV, we will have both digital books and printed books and digital books will not fully replace printed books.

Posted in Digital publishing, IDPF

Yet another company I established

I have recently launched a subsidiary to of Helicon technologies named Helicon Books (http://www.heliconbooks.com)
That is my way of combining my career as a writer with my business career.

I always considered myself more of a technical guy and less a business man.

However, Looking at my career history, one can see, I have been successful also as a business man.

My first job after my Israel Air Force military srvice was as a marketing and sales person at Kardis Ltd. a small company who represented several US companies, mainly National Instrument from Austin Texas. I have been there for 3 years and after two years have managed to grow the sales of National Instruments by about 100%. About a year after I left the company, National Instruments have established a branch in Israel. I am sure this is a direct consequence of the growth in their sales in Israel.

After I left Kardis at 1994, I established by first company O. T. Idan Ltd that was later renamed Helicon Technologies Ltd. During my work as the founder and CEO of Helicon technologies I have done successful business with leading companies such as Tower Semiconductors, Electra Israel, and also some defense related contracts with Israel Military Industires, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and others.

Following Helicon technologies, together with Mr. Joseph Shimony, I established GRAPE Ltd. a start up company that developed an innovative graphical programming environment for micro controllers. We have raised a seed investment that provided us enough funds to work for about two years. Unfortunately when a prototype was ready, we ran out of funds and had to close the company. This deserves a story on it’s own and I hope I will write it soon.

After  closing GRAPE and reestablishing Helicon technologies, I was also a co-founder and consultant to Vaya Research  center, a small research center for researching Open Source technologies and Open source business models.

I was also the CTO of Maverick Ltd. an Open Source consulting firm in Israel.

In 2008 ISOC-IL (Internet society chapter of Israel) became a member of W3C and established the W3C office in Israel. I was called by ISOC-IL to head this office.

So I have done many business related ventures in my career so am I a technical guy or a business person?

In the future, I intend to promote digital publishing in Israel and around the world, for this reason I established Helicon Books and became a member of the IDPF.

Helicon books is now the marketing partner of Creatve Studios from India, marketing an innovative digital books reader conforming to the latest EPUB3 standard offering features such as:

  • SVG graphics including links from SVG file to other parts of the book, this features enables us to offer interactive tour guides, the reader will be later connected to the device GPS if available to show the user on the right map for the current place.
  • MathML a W3C recommendation for displaying mathematical formulas. I think this is the first EPUB reader to support this advanced feature.
  • Media Overlay (Speak aloud as dubbed by Apple Inc.) – A method to incorporate audio data synchronized with text/images in the book. This is the first Android application I know to support Media Overlays.
  • JavaScript scripting language to create interactive and animated contents. Most readers I know have many limitations supporting scripting. This is the first reader I know that JavaScript is fully supported.
Posted in Uncategorized

Technical guy vs. Marketing guy

Again and again I find that I am a technical guy and not a marketing guy.

I have recently released 3 open source projects:

  • txt2epub – A pel/GTK+ script to generate an ePUB digital book from series of text files
  • opdscreate – A perl/GTK+ script to generate an OPDS catalog from series of ePUB files.
  • opdsedit – A PHP script for editing OPDS catalog feed.
But other then reading them on github there is no link to read about who I am and why I wrote them.
I write this post since I just thought that a real marketing oriented person, would first write a website or publish in any other way some general information about the programmer and the programs and link from each software to this website. But I did it the other way around. I first wrote the software and now I am thinking what to write and where to write it.
This has been my way all my life, concentrate on the technical side which is easier for me.
What is so special about these projects that I can not simply link to my company web site?
All these projects are in a new field I am just entering into. The field of digital publishing. I already have a new domain for it: http://www.heliconbooks.com  but hardly contains some text in Hebrew.
Ok, enough complaining about me not being a marketing/sales person, this post with all the links is already a small step in marketing.
Also in the beginning of my career on 1991, I was working for a small company representing companies from the US. In one year of working there, I more then doubled the sales of our major company at that time (National Instruments)  so I probably know a little bit about marketing and sales. My job there was marketing,sales and technical support, all these duties together since this was a very small company with limited amount of sales in Israel only. Shortly after I left the company, National Instruments opened a branch in Israel so I probably left some impact :-)
Anyway, I don’t like marketing and sales and thus always looking for strategic partners to help me do the marketing.
I have found strategic partners who sold my services in Embedded Linux and Automatic Test Equipment.
I am now looking for a strategic partner to help me marketing my services in the area of digital publishing.
I am a very experienced programmer and like to do text manipulation and XML files generating and processing.
Posted in Uncategorized

I have become my own publisher

I have recently completed the writing of a new book (in Hebrew).

As in most of my previous novels, the story focuses on Avishay: his complicated relationships with family, profession, and his unconditional love for his sailing yacht.

The new story, centres on Avishay’s sailing along Israel’s coastline. His partner on this voyage is the salesman’s lady-agent from whom he bought his yacht.

The story starts with the lady agent’s surprise visit to Avishay. During their voyage, they find themselves in unusual situations: they are called to save another yacht and the life of one of its crew members.

Special thanks to Dr. Eldad Rechavia for the medical advice regarding medical case in the book and to Yudit Gourgy for proof reading the book and finding many spelling mistakes.

For those of you who can read Hebrew, I would be happy if you read it on my stories website

I hope to translate this book and other book to English. If one of you can help me or know a good translator, I would be happy to hear.

Posted in Uncategorized

Generating EPUB 3.0 Digital book from text files

When I write a book, I write it in a series of text only files. The reason is that text files are easy to convert to any other format. I also maintain a website with all my stories (http://read.heliconbooks.com) currently all the stories are in Hebrew but I intend to add either new stories (books) in English or translate the existing stories/books to English.

Last year I got to know the EPUB format and since I think the future of books are digital books, I decided to publish my books in EPUB format. It was not easy to learn how to support Hebrew in EPUB (The standard support the language but the documentation hardly mention it). I  found few free examples and after studying the standard documents I could unzip the example and look inside it (EPUB is actually a ZIP file of several XML and other files).

I wrote an ad-hock perl script to help me build an EPUB book. This script supported version 2.0 of the EPUB standard as most readers today support this version of the standard.

After joining the IDPF I decided to upgrade the script to generate EPUB 3.0 I started doing it and then thought why not start a new open source project that will do the same thing but more general so that other people can use and/or contribute.

So I opened a new project on GITHUB I called it txt2epub as it converts text files to EPUB. If someone has a suggestion for a better name I would happily change it (and of course give credit to anyone suggesting a better name).

The software is written in Perl (5.14.2) with GUI using GTK+. It is written for Linux only but I am sure it can be ported to MS-Windows. I would be happy if someone takes the code and port it to Windows as I have no idea how to work with Windows, I only work with Linux.

txt2epub screenshot

 

This is a screenshot of the main screen.

The main screen is used to enter the EPUB metadata, the Description tab is used to enter a book description (also part of the metadata).

The Cover page tab is used to enter a cover image, license text and a license logo. I publish my books using the Creative Commons Attribution Share alike license so I write a small paragraph about the license and include a logo of the license.

The Files tab is the most important tab, in this tab we enter a list of text files, for each file we can write a title and a subtitle.

The idea is that each file is one chapter in the book so the title can be “Chapter 1″, “Chapter 2″ etc.

When clicking the Create button an EPUB file is created in the chosen directory.

I tested it with one of my short books, I uploaded the file to the IDPF EPUB validator and it showed that this is a standard compliant file. I downloaded the file to my android tablet and tried to read it and it seems to work. In the near future I am going to publish a new book using this software and also convert my other books to EPUB 3.0 using this software.

The generated file is also compatible with EPUB 2.0. I had left all the EPUB 2.0 features (NCX file) and added the EPUB 3.0 additions (navigation file and updated metadata).

 

Posted in Computers & Software, Free software, IDPF

The future of books – Digital books

I think the future of books is digital books, books that are read on eReaders, tablets, iPads, smartphones etc.
I know some people may say that nothing can actually replace the printed books. I think that with today’s advanced technology and the appearance of eReaders tablet computers, toys like the iPad etc. the printed books will for some extent be replaced by digital books. Publishing and distributing digital books is much simpler and cheaper, therefore we can easily get to a bigger audience and still create income for the publisher and most important to the author.

As an author I always look for new and better ways to distribute my books. I have been thinking for a long time about digital books and have learned the EPUB format. I wrote a program to translate my books from text to EPUB format. I have also tested it on both Android tablet and iPad.

Recently I joined the IDPF which is a consortium of companies responsible for the EPUB format. This organization is similar to the W3C responsible for the web standards. I have been the head of the Israeli W3C office. I think my experience in standard body such as the W3C can help me in the IDPF.

I hope to be an active and helpful member in the IDPF consortium and contribute to the advancement of digital books and digital book standards. I think I can contribute a lot in the subject of internationalization and right to left languages such as Hebrew.

 

Posted in IDPF