Browse Tag by e-reading
blog

eReader Review: Kobo Aura One

Last month, I was lucky enough to get a new Kobo Aura One eReader, Kobo’s newest device that was engineered start to finish with the help of their customers. Sold out in many places until next year, the Kobo Aura One is Kobo’s new flagship eInk device that has been called “the greatest eReader of all time.”

aura3
The Kobo Aura One in its natural habitat.

In addition to standard details like a high-definition screen resolution, access to articles saved from Pocket, and accessibility features like adjustable font faces and sizes, the Aura One boasts a number of new reader-first features, like a bigger screen that mimics the size of a print book,  a red-shift screen light, and a waterproof design. You can also natively borrow library books from public libraries and Overdrive (no more sideloading!). In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that while this is not a sponsored post, I do work at Kobo and this device was a gift from the company.

aura2
Comparison of the Aura One (left) and Glo (right) in size and tone of light.

Before the Aura One, my go-to eReader was the first-generation Kobo Glo, which features a six-inch eInk screen with a one-setting front light. I have always enjoyed reading on my Glo and have purchased several as gifts for friends and family. I’ve also done some reading on the Kobo iOS app on my phone, and on a Kobo Touch (my first device), and a Kobo Arc tablet. Of these different platforms, I’ve always preferred the Glo. I liked that I could turn pages with one hand on the bus; I liked that the light didn’t hurt my eyes after a long reading session like a computer screen did; and I liked that I could throw one device filled with dozens (hundreds!) of books into my bag and never be without something to read while vacationing or in a waiting room.

Now that I’ve read several books on the Aura One, I can say that the reading experience exceeds my expectations after being a Glo devotee. Reading on the 7.8 inch touchscreen feels more like reading a real book, and the page turns feel faster. I like being able to adjust the warmth of the reading light and that you can set it to shift tones based on time of day, although I haven’t tried reading with the full red shift at night yet. You can also set the device to go to sleep or turn off after a set period of time, to help conserve the battery; as a person who has been surprised more than once with an uncharged eReader after she left it asleep for a couple weeks, this is a welcome addition. The screen resolution is sharper, and the device responds to my touch more more quickly than the Glo. And! The new sleepcover has this clever magnetic panel that lets you prop up the Aura One, so you can read hands-free (I believe this brilliant idea was invented by one of Kobo’s own employees). This is perhaps my favourite feature, as it makes reading over meals much more enjoyable. I am wholly converted and I don’t think I could go back to my Touch now.

aura1
It stands!

The only complaints I have about the Aura One is that this is much more of a two-handed device for me; as a tiny-handed person, it’s more difficult to hold the device in one hand and flip the pages. It also takes up more room in a purse and I am pretty sure you would be hard pressed to fit this one into a pocket at all. The brightness of the light is also a little finicky – I was expecting a button to control the light, as on the Glo, but on the Aura One there’s a very sensitive on-screen slider that gives you too many options for screen brightness. These are my only grievances about the Aura One so far but they’re not enough to turn me away from this device.

As a person who reads print and eBooks about equally, I have felt more excited about reading digitally on the Aura One than reading a paper book since I got the device. I’ve also found myself reading more and in longer sessions, and enjoying my reading experience more. If you can get your hands on an Aura One, I think you’ll find that your reading habits are changed for the better too.

Do you read digitally at all? Tell me how you do it and your favourite places to eRead!

blog

So You Want to Work in Digital Publishing: Getting an Internship in eBook Production

It’s that time of year, when a couple dozen eager publishing students are released from Humber’s Creative Book Publishing program and begin hunting for an internship in the wilds of Toronto’s publishing industry. Digital publishing has become a more and more popular option as the traditional avenues of editorial and marketing positions become scarcer. Digital publishing, although it has stabilized in the past few years, is still a growing aspect of the publishing industry, and some of the more exciting changes in publishing are happening here. It seems pretty natural that keen young publishing students, with strong grasps on social media and technology, turn their prospecting eyes to the semi-uncharted waters of e-publishing. Maybe that’s just how I felt when I was a new graduate, as I felt that my publishing school education had sort of skimmed over some of the important aspects of digital publishing when I began looking for internships. What are the components of an epub? How do you QA an epub? What is metadata, really? Whatever brief lessons we had on making epubs (with Sigil lol) didn’t seem like it actually translated into helpful experience when I was job-hunting. I did, however, have experience with coding and eReading, and all sorts of other computer skills.

Via Kobo on Instagram
Via Kobo on Instagram

I landed an eBook Production internship at Random House, a Publisher Operations internship at Kobo, and later a full-time job wrangling ebooks and metadata. My knowledge skews heavily towards the retailer end of ebooks, but I also have some experience with the publisher side; I’ve worked with ebooks at every stage of their lifecycle, from conversion to epub to deactivating out-of-print titles. Now that I’ve been working with eBooks for over two years and have been on both sides of the interviewing table, I have some advice for breaking into eBooks. I’m going to avoid basic job application and interview advice, such as doing your research on the company and asking knowledgable questions, and stick to what you should know for ebooks in particular.

Excel

My number one piece of advice: Get some excel skills. Like, don’t just say you know how to use excel if you’ve opened up a spreadsheet once or twice. You don’t need to be an expert (I use it every day and I’m not!) but hands-on experience goes a long way. Learn how to use fomulas. Learn how to do a vlookup. Learn the glory of a pivot table. Filters are your friends. Chances are you’ll be working with spreadsheets with lots of data on a daily basis, so get comfortable with the features of Excel. If you had called me up when I was in university and told me I would have favourite Excel tools (Text to Columns and Compare, fyi) and never use Word documents in a professional setting, I probably would have thought you were crazy. As an employer looking for an intern, show me that you’ve got some solid excel experience and I will swoon.

eReading Experience

Needless to say, probably one of the most basic things you can do if you’re hoping to work with ebooks in publishing is to actually read ebooks. Ideally, if you have a specific retailer or publisher in mind, you should read their ebooks, and be familiar with their devices and apps. What kind of ebooks and devices/apps are they selling, and what sort of features do they have? What kind of features do you wish they had? If you come to an interview without having ever read an ebook, or mention that what you’re actually more interested in print books, or not know the difference between a Kindle and a Kobo, you are not proving yourself as a strong candidate.

Metadata

Metadata is great. It’s the core of ebooks and you can do a lot of cool stuff with it; more complete metadata pretty much means your book has a better chance in hard-to-browse ebookstores. I’ll let you in on a secret: no one likes working with it. ONIX is the industry standard and it’s the worst to look at, unless looking at rows of impenetrable, always-different, non-standard lines of code is really exciting to you. Pro tip: you’ll never have to build an ONIX feed from scratch, no matter what your publishing teacher tells you. You will have to crack open publishers’ ONIX feeds and poke around, though. Know what a composite is, what the difference between ONIX 2.1 and 3.0, and what sort of information is transmitted through metadata. Take a look on booksellers’ websites and see what kind of information they display for a book – there is a 99% chance that information came from the publisher’s metadata. Each ebook retailer also has a proprietary, non-standard Excel-based metadata sheet (see, I told you that excel knowledge would come in handy) that some publishers use in place of ONIX.  Editeur, BISG and Booknet all have good ONIX resources. In lieu of actual experience with metadata feeds, experience with coding (XML, CSS, and HTML are all good; mine was in HTML and TEI (lol)) can make up for it.

ePubs

This is the standard (non-Amazon) file type for ebooks. It’s supremely helpful to know what’s inside one (it’s basically just a bunch of HTML files, images and CSS zipped up), so I’d suggest buying one and cracking it open to take a look. There are different kinds of epubs: reflowable and fixed-layout, epub3, ebooks with “enhanced content” like audio and video; be aware of these different formats and if your prospective employer makes or sells them. I know a lot of publishing schools have their students build epubs from scratch but it’s highly unlikely you’ll have to do that in your internship, as most ebook production is outsourced to conversion houses. The most I ever had to do as an intern was unzip, make a minor change, and rezip, so make sure you know how to do that. Find yourself an epub validator that you like (my favourite is Pagina). It’s best to know what a standard reflowable ebook looks like on the inside, and how to make changes, but if you can figure out what’s wrong with a broken ebook, I will be impressed.

All this might sound like a tall order, especially if your digital publishing courses were less than spectacular. However, employers know that it’s hard to gain practical experience with such specialized files, so if you can show them that you’re ahead of everyone else by demonstrating interest and experience, and the ability to learn quickly, it can give you a real leg up. It’s also important to know that your employer will train – it’s an internship after all! Do you have any questions about getting an internship in ebooks and digital production?

blog

Social Reading Revolution: What’s Next?

In Sean Prpick’s CBC article ‘Social reading’ the next phase of e-book revolution, he claims that e-reading is going to evolve into a social activity. The article mentions two types of social reading: Socialbook, an in-browser reader that lets you make comments, add marginalia, highlight text and more, while also allowing your friend network to see what you’re reading; and what are essentially hyperlinked web books, of which Hugh McGuire is a major proponent. McGuire’s vision is for books to be published online as their own websites, with hyperlinks peppering the text connecting to useful information such as photos and maps to enrich the text. The article mentions using a web book edition of Dracula to take a tour of the book’s setting in London. Both of these types of books and networks offer different and social reading experiences.

Social reading is new again. Via Wikimedia Commons
Social reading is new again.
Via Wikimedia Commons

The article asserts that McGuire’s vision of free web books is frightening to publishers because they “are in the business of selling access to that information in order to get you to buy a copy.” While this is for the most part true, I don’t think that free web books are necessarily scary to publishers – for example, Penguin UK has its own series of interactive web books called We Tell Stories, including one Google Maps-based version similar to the one described for Dracula. I also predict that free web books will work best for public domain texts, because websites for books do not offer the same kind of revenue stream that traditional books or e-books do, because there are no sales; website revenue is driven by ad sales, which would likely be undesirable on this kind of website. If publishers got on board with this kind of model, it would be just as but probably more expensive than developing an e-book: regular editing and marketing and some production costs would still apply, while the development and maintenance of the website (similar to building an app, I suspect), the research necessary to provide useful hyperlinked information and other costs, would also apply to this project. Unless the book was hidden behind a paywall, I don’t see how web books would be a lucrative channel for publishers; the paywall, of course, dashes McGuire’s dreams for open access content. (Side note: Hugh McGuire gave a talk similar in content to the CBC’s interview to my Public Texts class at Trent University last fall. It is interesting to note that his new book, Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto is available for purchase in traditional format as well as online in a free, hyperlinked web book. Even Hugh needs to pay the bills, I guess.)

As for SocialBook, I like that its creator links his service with the oral and social history of the book. In the CBC article, Bob Stein, SocialBook’s founder, connects it to the “pre-historic, preliteratre era [when] storytelling was communal, as tales were told around the campfire.” In fact, you don’t need to go quite that far back to find social reading as a part of everyday culture. Reading aloud was a form of entertainment as late as the 19th century, before silent, isolated reading became popular. While I agree with Stein that social reading is valuable and deserves a comeback, I don’t know if I would use his product. While I have not taken the plunge into e-reading on devices, I have tried desktop readers, and browser-based readers such as Zinio, Issuu and Flipbook. I do not like sustained on-screen reading. Additionally, I am not sure that I actually want my friend network knowing what I am reading as I read it via a social network (for that matter, I don’t want another social media platform to keep track of). Furthermore, Socialbook is also only available for Chrome and Safari, which excludes Firefox users like me, as well as Internet Explorer and other browsers. The ability to add marginalia is cool, but I think adding this feature to an e-reading device would eliminate SocialBook’s edge.

Both of these new forms of e-reading raise interesting questions about the direction of e-books and publishing. Will offering different e-reading experiences increase sales or an interest in reading? I am not sure. People who use e-reading devices might not try out a new type of in-browser reading. As mentioned before, I don’t see how web books can be profitable enough for traditional publishers or authors to become mainstream, while the source of SocialBook’s online library is unknown. McGuire is suggesting a move away from publishers-as-gatekeepers and towards open access and self-publishing. I think that if SocialBook takes hold, it could be an interesting alternative to GoodReads (rest its independent soul) if a review feature were added, while web books might work for traditional publishing if they were paid content; otherwise I suspect they will be more popular with public domain and self-published books. Either way, I will stick to reading a codex or on an e-reading device.