Doing Radio on TV

RadioOnTVEvery disruptive media technology goes through a phase where its proponents really don’t understand its applications or potential — but use it anyway. Invariably, they do what they’ve always done with their familiar medium, and hope that somehow it will work in the new.

They’re usually wrong. Early TV shows featured former radio dramas and comedies with actors in front of microphones. The fact that it was done in front of a camera added nothing. It took a while for people to realize that this was really a new medium, not just a new way of doing radio with cameras.

The problem is not a new one. Gutenberg’s cast metal type was deliberately manufactured to emulate its hand-lettered predecessor. Ebook readers are engineered to simulate the turning of a physical page — for no reason other than the habits and expectations of traditional users. Smartphone and tablet video is presented as if the device was simply a smaller TV set. The list goes on. The history of today’s new media will be filled with quaint-sounding attempts to “do radio on TV,” rather than invent new, technology-specific ways to tell a story.

Media forms evolve from the technology that generates them — and from the way humans interact with those devices. I don’t know precisely what the ideal content medium is for, let’s say, a wearable digital device. It may contain elements of old media: a text message, an image, an interactive video, an e-commerce link, a 911 call (for when you walk into a wall while accessing the content). But the sum of that new medium will certainly be greater than any of its parts, and will be its own unique and challenging medium.

— John Parsons (john@intuideas.com | www.intuideas.com)

Creative Cloud Edges Forward

When Adobe moved away from the traditional shrink-wrap software model with Creative Cloud, one of the promises was that updates—incremental and otherwise—would be more frequent. The frustrating wait for the next version release, and the speculation about whether desired features would be added or not, would be replaced by a more benign, less hype-filled process.

Today’s announcement has confirmed that trend. Creative Cloud subscribers—all 1.4 million of them by Adobe’s count—will receive some significant feature updates, along with relatively minor improvements that, taken as a whole, continue to improve the design and production experience. (Caveat: The announcement also marks Adobe’s entry into 3D printing, but this review will focus primarily on issues of interest to publishers.)

To be sure, Adobe has had to weather the revenue transition—away from selling disc-based Creative Suite packages and towards a subscription model.* However, as I predicted over a decade ago in The Seybold Report, the service-based model is infinitely more sustainable, and better for the graphic arts community as a whole.

According to Adobe, there have been around 50 “feature-bearing” updates since Creative Cloud’s inception, comprising about 500 new features. While some of these have been relatively minor, others certainly have not, including the single edition DPS license for creating iPad apps.

Feature Overview

For magazine and business publishers, today’s update contains some cost-saving new features. Muse, Adobe’s highly-intuitive Web design environment, now directly supports HTML animations created in Adobe Edge. These animations can now be stored and re-used—and even shared with other users via a free online exchange. (There is currently no way to sell these resources, or even obtain customer information as part of the download.) Muse has also automated social links, letting website creators simply drag-and-drop a widget to specify a Facebook page or a Twitter feed to be used on the site.

Improvements to Photoshop are mainly for designers, but production workers will appreciate the addition of linked smart objects—items copied from Illustrator or Photoshop that can be used multiple times and changed globally. (This has been standard fare for InDesign, using the links feature, for some time.)

Illustrator received some long-awaited new features aimed at designers, including “live corners” (the ability to easily specify the roundness of any object corner) and a much improved pencil tool. Also in the time-saving category is Illustrator’s new ability to customize the toolbox—a godsend for a complex, mega-multi-tool program. Customized toolboxes can be made part of a custom workspace and, presumably, shared with other users.

Both Illustrator and InDesign are now tightly integrated with Typekit, which offers over 900 fonts as part of a Creative Cloud license. Users can search for Typekit fonts from within the program, rather than switch to a browser. Selected fonts are downloaded as desktop and/or Web fonts, and can be used in non-Adobe applications.

InDesign itself has been improved in one very important aspect—at least for publishers of interactive content. Hyperlink creation, once a source of extreme frustration, is now remarkably easy. Users can create URLs automatically from selected text, and can easily re-use those hyperlinks elsewhere in the publication. Hyperlink tracking is not only more intuitive, it is also “live,” so long as the InDesign user is connected to the Internet. If a created hyperlink does not resolve to a valid URL, a red warning icon appears. This warning is regrettably not part of InDesign’s live preflight, but it is still a welcome respite for those creating interactive PDFs, tablet apps, or e-books.

On the subject of e-books, InDesign CC now supports EPUB3’s pop-up footnote convention which, alas, is not supported universally by all e-reading devices. It also supports right-to-left languages like Japanese and Hebrew.

The Bottom Line

Those who create and publish content in a multimedia environment will appreciate many of the changes announced today. The thrill of waiting for “the next big release” may be diminished, but so is the stress of worrying if a particular feature will make the cut. This is a solid, albeit not earth-shattering improvement.

Only time will tell whether Adobe’s new model will remain an agile one—adding publishing-essential features incrementally but with shorter wait times. However, since publishers today are less likely to be among Geoffrey Moore’s 16% group of early adopters and innovators, the steady, more predictable subscription model is the right one.


*  Technically, Creative Cloud is not a true cloud service, like Google Docs, but a members-only online download, installation, and periodic verification process for traditional computer software. Adobe applications are simply too large and complex to be used in a client-server fashion.

PRINT 13: Back from the Brink?

As I recover from my annual trek to Chicago, my thoughts about “the printing industry” are all astir. The GASC-sponsored event this year was the quadrennial PRINT show — replacing the smaller-profile Graph Expo event. Frankly, it was hard to tell the difference.

In terms of floor space at McCormick, PRINT 13 was roughly the same size as any recent Graph Expo. If anything, it seemed a bit smaller, occupying only the South Hall. The mega-vendors of past shows, notably Heidelberg and Screen, were absent, while others like Manroland had greatly reduced booth sizes. Kodak — which apparently signed on at the last minute — had only about 300 square feet at the extreme south end of South Hall. While this year’s event was a few days longer than a Graph Expo show, it was hard to find the same enthusiasm I had witnessed at previous PRINT shows.

I did find more optimism in the conference sessions. (Full disclosure: I was invited to speak this year, so I am biased.) Hal Hinderliter’s excellent seminar, “Making Print Come Alive,” is a case in point. His provocative session included multiple examples of out-of-box thinking when it comes to print — all of which resonated with the audience. Clearly there are many in the industry who want to leverage print as PART of a total media experience — not a doomed “either-print-OR-digital” philosophy.

The devil, however, is most definitely in the details. Traditional thinking was still very evident throughout the show, with the same print and equipment salespeople targeting a zero-sum, commodity-oriented market. To me, it spoke of an industry that would like things to change (perhaps by going back in time?) but are unwilling to actually change themselves. Printers and their suppliers have heard that they need to become collaborative partners, with a full repertoire of media expertise. However, making that ideal a reality is a lot harder than finding ways to cut costs and sell commodities.

Some printers have mastered the supply chain aspect of this business: supplying other businesses with printed materials at the highest quality, in the shortest possible time, and at greatly reduced costs and inventory overhead. The bad news is that there’s a limited demand for efficient print-only deliverables. The survivors in that market will be only a few large providers.

It will be the breakout companies — the oddballs — that pull the printing industry back from the brink, and towards a forward-thinking, innovative path. The companies themselves may not even think of themselves as printers, but they’ll certainly carry forward the notion that images and words on a substrate — in concert with MANY other media — are a powerful way to tell a story.

Irony Alert

As I develop my class curriculum for the upcoming PRINT 13 event on creating tablet apps, I realized I needed to become an Apple developer. This was not an unreasonable requirement, since my class involved teaching people how to create content apps for Apple iPad using Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) and Quark’s AppStudio.

For the cost of only $99 a year, I thought, “why not? What could possibly go wrong?” So I dutifully went to the Adobe-recommended page (http://bit.ly/Rjz90j) and, with a shiny new Apple ID and a credit card, prepared myself to enter the Holy of Holies.

To my dismay, the vast majority of sites I needed were down for “overhaul.” Check it out:

Apple developer status screen, as of July 26, 2013.
With only two out of 15 servers online, it made me wonder how Apple, with all its marketing panache, can survive over the long haul. Yes, developers will continue to gather at the “cool kids’ table” for bragging rights on the latest gadgets. However, sooner or later, if companies treat developers with disdain, then even the most sycophantic will start to look elsewhere.

The Rocky Road from Print Books to E-Books

My work with long-time colleague Steve Paxhia on the BISG Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading study has often led us into a more-or-less friendly debate over the future of printed books. With some of that debate about to appear in Book Business magazine, I thought I’d add a brief account of my attempt to convert one of my old favorites from mass market paperback to e-book format. It was not easy — and the process raised some interesting questions. Way Station, by Clifford D. Simak

First off, I should confess that I have a weakness for 1950s and 1960s science fiction — from classic authors like Heinlein and Asimov to guilty pleasure works like the Lensman series. Since I re-read many of these from time to time, it follows that I have a large stash of mass market paperbacks taking up space and causing problems whenever I move.

In our debate, I lamented the fact that I could not easily convert these artifacts (mostly low-quality print) into e-book format, similar to the way I converted my legally purchased vinyl and CD albums into MP3s. Many of these titles are not available as e-books, and even if they were, I dislike the idea of buying the same thing twice.

My colleague pointed out that there are services, like 1DollarScan that will do the job for very little cost. Intrigued, I ran a test on a book I was willing to sacrifice. (Typically, you don’t get the printed book back after scanning; they recycle it.)
1DollarScan results

Working with 1DollarScan

The process was pretty simple. I selected the number of 100-page “sets” in the book — for which they charge $1 each — and options like OCR (which I chose) and direct shipment from Amazon (which I did not). This meant $6 for a 230-page book, to which I added book rate mailing and the cost of a padded envelope, bringing the total to around $8.50. This is roughly what a backlist e-book costs these days. However, my book wasn’t available in e-book format, and I was doing a test anyway, so I thought  what the hell.

After waiting for the book to arrive and be processed, I was duly notified, and downloaded the resulting PDF file. It was quite large (142MB), including the scanned images for each page and imbedded OCR data. (More on that later.) There were also several free “Fine Tuning” options for common e-reading devices. These reduced the file sizes considerably, and adjusted page margins to match the intended device screen size. These could be “side loaded” into some connected e-readers, but could not be emailed, because the file size was still too big.

OCR BluesSample OCR results

When I copied the OCR text in Acrobat and pasted it into Word, the results were abysmal (right). Granted, I did not choose the High Quality OCR option (for an additional $6), but since the object was to keep the price reasonable, there was no incentive to do this. (Even if the better OCR option had resulted in better data, I would have had to copy and paste each page’s worth, and done some formatting tricks to create a true EPUB file.)

Pages, not E-Pages

The whole point of the EPUB format is reflowable, resizeable text, which can be easily read on almost any portable device — or even on multiple devices. For trade publishing, it’s just about perfect. The problem with 1DollarScan’s solution is that it creates static pages — literally replicas of the printed work — not real e-books. I’ve lost my physical copy of Simak’s novel, and in its place received a bulky, inconvenient PDF file. (Also, the copyright issue is a little sketchy. 1DollarScan users must agree to a “fair use” arrangement, which I’m not sure would survive a court test.)

So, What’s the Answer?

On occasion, I have purchased e-book versions of books I already own in print, but enjoy re-reading — or would like to lend to friends or family members. If my physical copy is a mass market paperback, I gladly recycle or donate it to Goodwill. Almost always, these are backlist books, with relatively low e-book price points. However, because that price is still higher than a used paperback, I don’t do this very often.

Publishers already have the rights to the words that make up books — printed or digital. In fact, with few exceptions, all modern books are already digital! Formatting them as e-books is not rocket science. Why not do this more often for backlist collections?

Rather than scan my old books, I would much rather trade them in, as it were, for the convenience of EPUB. Would it kill publishers to offer price incentives for backlist e-books to those who owned — and were willing to give up — their printed copies? Because it would be limited to titles that generate little or no revenue now, it’s potentially “found money” for publishers — from book lovers who are more likely to buy new e-books from publishers who meet their needs.

It would certainly give me an incentive to buy more e-books. After my disappointing experience with 1DollarScan, I renewed my search for Simak’s work. Alas, I still could not find Way Station, but I did locate (and purchase) a collection of Simak short stories on the Sony e-book store. However, if I ever want to re-read Way Station, I’ll probably buy another paperback.

InDesign CC and 2D Barcodes

I’ve been reviewing, using, and talking about InDesign since version 1.0. With each new incarnation, I marvel that Adobe continues to add new functionality. After all, it’s page design software; how many new things can there be?

With the latest Creative Cloud-deliverable version, users can now auto-generate QR Codes—those ubiquitous 2D barcodes that, when scanned by one of many smartphone apps, point users to a mobile experience of some kind.

The InDesign feature itself seems to be well implemented. The QR Codes are vector-based, with transparent backgrounds, which means they can be scaled without degradation, and even brought into Illustrator for enhancement. (I’ll explore the issues with that in a future blog.)

What really concerns me is that InDesign’s new feature will put a dubious power in the hands of designers who do not understand the nature of the mobile experience. Everyone I know has had the disappointing experience of scanning a QR Code only to be directed to a non-mobile-optimized website. Worse, there is seldom a viable mobile call to action to be found in many QR-Code-related campaigns. (For examples of how it SHOULD be done, check out www.print2d.com.)

QR Codes are already in disrepute, thanks to ill-advised campaigns and over-use of free QR Code generators on the Web. The new InDesign feature is a logical, potentially practical innovation, but dangerous in the wrong hands.

And Away We Go…

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged with this account, but I have not been idle. Until recently, I’ve had the privilege of blogging for Nimbleware Consulting and PrintUI, writing articles for several magazines, doing research work for BISG, Library Journal, plus many other writing and editing projects. A new client has ask me to start blogging here once more, so stay tuned.