Looking Back at 2012 and Ahead to 2013

Happy New Year! We’re back at work and are looking forward to a great 2013. This post recaps our 2012 product enhancements and provides some insight into our plans for 2013.

2012 In The Rearview Mirror

It’s been a good year for Bluefire and a good year for our industry. The eBook business is growing worldwide. Over sixty percent of our customers are located outside of the US. We’ve also seen our customer base expand to include businesses and associations who distribute high value content including ebooks, industry briefs and other professional publications.

We released major updates to our iOS and Android white label apps in 2012 with exciting new features as well as performance and user experience enhancements.

The 2012 feature updates included:

  • Support for the new iPad Retina display
  • Support for the new iPhone 5 screen size
  • Support for iOS6
  • Support for multiple concurrent user accounts (Adobe ID’s and Vendor ID’s)
  • Single Sign-on option for Vendor ID customers
  • Improved PDF performance and reading experience
  • Support for system fonts, a feature that enables more reading settings and enhanced rendering of ePUB formatting
  • Online dictionary look-up
  • Support for external hyperlinks in ePUB and PDF titles
  • Streamlined highlighting
  • Sharing via Facebook, Twitter and email
  • Contextual ebook text search results
  • Collections (iOS only)
  • Swipe for brightness control (iOS only)
  • Enhanced side-loading (iOS only)
  • Annotation export
  • Support for Chinese, Japanese and Korean text, including vertical writing and right-to-left page order
  • Enhanced first-run user experience

The Asian language features noted above required implementation for support of specific elements of the ePUB3 spec. We will be adding more robust ePUB3 file format support to the platform moving forward.

Looking Ahead to 2013

In 2013 we will be focused on four primary areas of development:

1. Improvements to our iOS and Android White Label apps – This includes new features, user experience enhancements and performance improvements. Here are a few examples of our current high-priority new features:

  • Zoom and pan on images in ePUB books (particularly useful for maps and diagrams,)
  • Read aloud (when DRM permissions allow) – This is an important part of our ongoing effort to improve content accessibility
  • A Back button, so that readers can easily return to their last reading position after following search result, anchor link, and so forth…
  • Improved user management of loaned/rented items
  • Improved user settings interface and workflows
  • Major revamp of the Android user interface to reflect the recent and rapid evolution of common Android user experience paradigms, and to improve usability on new Android devices

2. Development of a new ePUB3 rendering engine with ACS4 DRM support.

3. Development of new web based services that are tightly integrated with our white label applications, with enhancements such as synchronization of reading location across multiple devices, analytics reporting of aggregate application usage statistics, and in-app notifications.

4. Development of white label reading applications for the Windows platform.

As our plans solidify we will provide regular roadmap updates with more granular details. We will also be demoing our work-in-progress at industry events and private meetings in the coming year.

We look forward to sharing a great 2013 with you!

- The Bluefire Team

White Label App Rush: It’s All About Choice…

The holiday season is shifting into high gear and so are we. You probably already know about our recent app updates and the great new features we’re delivering. But there’s more! We’ve also been rolling out new white label apps for our growing list of customers worldwide.

While we continue to add new customers in North America, most of our new business is coming from abroad. The growing availability of ebooks from publishers worldwide, the growing range of compelling devices at a variety of price points and the availability of cost effective, branded mobile reading/retailing apps (from Bluefire) are giving booksellers of all kinds a shot at competing in this fast growing market.

Here are the new white label apps that we’ve shipped in the last two months:

International

  • Booktopia Reader (Australia) – iOS
  • eBækur from D3 Midlar ehf (Iceland) – Android / iOS
  • eKitabu (Kenya) – Android
  • eBook.de Reader from Libre.de Internet GmbH (Germany) – Android / iOS
  • Kalahari.com Reader from MIH Internet Africa (Proprietary) Limited (South Africa) – Android / iOS
  • Saxo Reader from Saxo.com (Denmark) – Android / iOS
  • VLeBooks Reader from The Little Group (United Kingdom) – Android / iOS

North America

  • Better World Books – Android / iOS
  • HMH eTextbooks from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Android / iOS
  • Reader – eBooks from Sony – iOS

We think this is an impressive list—and it will grow quite a bit over the next few weeks as we release more new partner apps and update our existing customers to the latest iOS and Android builds.

We’re also seeing our customers use their branded apps to expand their reach beyond the traditional app distribution channels (e.g. the iTunes App Store and the Google Play store). For example, Hastings preinstalls their branded app on devices that are sold online and in their stores—giving new device owners an easy way to connect with the company’s impressive goHastings.com online store.

Device manufacturers are also using the Bluefire platform to expand their reach. The release of the iOS Reader™ app – eBooks from Sony gives iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users access to their Reader Store by Sony purchases, helping Sony deliver on their goal of giving their customers the freedom to read the content they love, anytime and anywhere.

Over the past few years we’ve championed the notion of choice. We’re pleased to see that readers have a growing choice of retailers along with a growing choice of reading devices and apps. It’s a good way to start out the holiday season!

-  Cliff

iOS Again! Bluefire Reader now supports iOS 6 and the new iPhone

A short note for our iOS users: We’ve updated Bluefire Reader for iOS. Version 1.9 (available now) includes full support for iOS 6 and the new iPhone.

And don’t forget to check out the great new features we just shipped in version 1.8. Add full screen reading on the new iPhone to the list and you’ve got the best ebook reading experience available on iOS! Enjoy!

- Cliff

Announcing Bluefire Reader 1.4 for Android!

Android fans: We’re pleased to announce the release of a new version of Bluefire Reader for Android! Version 1.4 (available now) includes the following new features:

  • The ability to define words and terms using the Google online dictionary
  • Sharing for annotations, bookmarks and excerpts via Facebook, Twitter and email
  • An improved search function that that adds contextual information to your search results (including chapters and page numbers)
  • Improved PDF search
  • Support for system fonts
  • Support for Chinese, Japanese and Korean text, including vertical writing and right-to-left page order
Check it out!
- Cliff

 

Announcing Bluefire Reader 1.8 for iOS!

We’re celebrating in Seattle! Our sunny summer weather lasted all September, the Seahawks are resurgent, and there’s a new version of Bluefire Reader for iOS. Version 1.8 (available today) includes the following new features:

  • The ability to define a word or term using the Google online dictionary
  • The ability to create and manage collections of books
  • The ability to highlight text with just one touch
  • Sharing for annotations, bookmarks and excerpts via Facebook, Twitter and email
  • An improved search function that that adds contextual information to your search results (including chapters and page numbers)
  • Improved PDF search
  • Support for system fonts
  • Support for Chinese, Japanese and Korean text, including vertical writing and right-to-left page order

We’ll be submitting our iOS 6/iPhone 5 version shortly. We’ll also be releasing an update to our Android app in the next week or so.

Finally, please visit us at the Frankfurt Book Fair (Hall 8.0 L972) in October. We’ll have more exciting news to share.

- Cliff

 

Customer-Friendly ACS

This is a post for readers of this blog who are currently using (or are planning on using) Adobe Content Server for the distribution of eBooks. Below you’ll find a few “best practices” for you to consider based on our experiences working with ACS technologies over the last several years. These suggestions mostly apply to retailers, but often require the agreement and cooperation of rights-holders and distributors to make these practices a reality.

  1. Enable customers to re-download purchased items multiple times.  Do not restrict a purchase to a single download. Avid readers often have multiple devices and acquire new devices over time.
  2. Enable customers to transfer content between devices. The Adobe solution provides the option to restrict a downloaded file to a “single device,” but it is rarely advisable to do that. While buyers can often re-download files directly to another device, there are many different reasons why customers may need to transfer files (a tethered reading device is a good example), and it is important that customers can back up their purchased files to future-proof against unforeseen events.
  3. Craft distribution agreements as a long-term commitment whenever possible—at least for previously sold content even after sell rights expire. Consumers fully expect to be able to re-download purchased content well into the future so it is important that retailers do not find themselves in a position where they are unable to provide that service. This fact is true with or without the use of DRM.
  4. Offer your customers free branded reading applications for mobile devices and desktop machines and tightly integrate your content acquisition workflows into these apps. This greatly reduces customer friction and builds your brand identity and customer relationships.
  5. Utilize the Adobe Vendor ID service that enables your customers to authorize their ereading applications with their retail store account credentials rather than having to go get an Adobe ID account. This enables you to offer the “single sign-in” user experience that consumers expect.
  6. Make sure that your reading applications support multiple user account authorizations for your customers that share devices with their spouse or child, or have multiple accounts for several other valid reasons.
  7. Enable customers to re-download purchased titles to devices that are authorized with a different user account. An example of this is enabling a customer to re-download a file that was initially downloaded to a device authorized with their Adobe ID account—to a different device owned by the same customer—but that is authorized with their spouse’s account credentials.  While many modern apps enable users to add multiple account authorizations to a single device, many older apps and devices do not support that. It is reasonable to limit this to two or three accounts as that covers the vast majority of valid use cases while limiting the potential for abuse.
  8. Offer customers an alternate download link option that is not “tied” to your own reading apps that enable customers to more easily read purchased items on their favorite third-party reading app or device that leverage the Adobe platform.
  9. Offer good help and support content and services.  Don’t try to sweep it under the rug or ignore it just because it is not an easy topic.

- MIcah

On the Adobe eBook Platform – Part 7 of 10: DRM

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a hot topic these days for folks in the ebook business. There are strong opinions on both sides—pro and con. You won’t find me at either end of the spectrum. Bluefire’s mission is to develop technology solutions for the distribution and use of digital content that help our retail and publishing partners compete and succeed. Fulfilling that mission often comes with the requirement of supporting DRM protection. I have neither the luxury nor the responsibility to make decisions about when, or if DRM is used. When it is required we make every effort to execute on it well.

Given that perspective, my goals for this post are to explore why and how DRM is used, look at some of the challenges it can present to publishers, retailers and their customers, and to discuss some potential solutions.

Rights holders are concerned about sharing

The main driver for rights holders such as authors, publishers, and others to require DRM is to reduce the risk of lost revenues due to casual sharing of ebook files. This directly relates to the inherent nature of digital files where I (as a consumer) can buy an eBook, keep a copy for myself to read while simultaneously sending additional copies of it to my friends and family—some of which may have otherwise bought a copy themselves. The popularity of social networks amplifies this dynamic. A single consumer sharing an ebook with a few friends and family is not a big problem, but many thousands doing so can be. This is a REALLY BIG CONCERN for many rights holders. You can take the tact that there are other more important concerns or countervailing benefits, but any productive conversation on this topic has to begin with recognizing and respecting how passionate many authors and publishers are on this topic.

That said, one of the things that many of us really value about books we enjoy is our ability to share them with people we care about. So, it is worth noting that services can be crafted, that employ DRM, while still offering readers the ability to share in a meaningful way. In fact, a couple of the large ebook retailers already offer such services to their customers—though I personally find them to be a little too restrictive. There are many different potential approaches to enabling sharing. A service could enable consumers to share books with friends with a “loan” term that expires, or to share with a limited number of people, etc. My point here is that there is nothing inherent in DRM technology that prevents retailers and publishers from enabling customers to share content in a reasonable way –this is a “business rule” issue rather than a technological limitation. It seems to me that even just making it easy for readers to effortlessly send a preview of any book they are reading to a friend or family member would be very welcome.

But what about piracy?

A topic that is often unfortunately conflated with sharing is “Piracy.” In my mind, that term most usefully refers to folks that sell or freely distribute a collection of ebooks to the general public without permission to do so and without compensating the rights holders. This could be a real problem for some publishers if left unchecked, but commercial DRM is not designed or intended to address that particular problem. It appears to me that the only effective means of reducing piracy are enforcement, smart pricing, synchronous global availability, and consumer convenience.

However, DRM can aid in the enforcement efforts as retailers that sell unprotected content can be quickly identified as pirate sites by rights holders that require DRM.

A lack of a crisp separation between the concepts of “Piracy” and “Sharing” in regards to downloadable content is counterproductive to meaningful conversations around the ultimate cost/benefit analysis of the use of DRM—and I see that happen too often.

Beyond copy protection

One aspect of DRM is the symbolic message it can convey. One might think of it as a short fence: I can easily jump over it, but if I do, I’ve got a pretty good idea that I’m now standing on someone’s property. The point being that DRM is not always about just what it actually does–or prevents, but also what it communicates.

DRM can also communicate and enforce license terms such as how much content can be printed or cut and pasted from an ebook and can even control the resolution at which content can be printed. This can be important to publishers of high value content, such as industry reports and hi-res photography or collections of artistic works. It can also be important in documents distributed within an organization to employees and partners.

In some countries, there are federal laws that require that rights holder’s that wish to enforce copyright claims on digitally published content must apply DRM when distributing the content.

DRM in the supply chain

There is another, often overlooked aspect of DRM which relates to control and tracking mechanisms in the distribution channel. Publishing houses often choose a small number of partners that are entrusted with housing many thousands of unencrypted ebook files. These partners then re-distribute content through a wide variety of retail and library channels. In most cases, these files are directly fulfilled to the end customer once purchased rather than flowing through the retailer’s infrastructure. The agreements between the publishers and these distributors often specify robust network security systems and policies with a right to audit these systems. Beyond the security aspects of such an arrangement, it also offers a streamlined, auditable and track-able supply chain. DRM is not absolutely required in order to put such control and reporting systems in place, but it is worth recognizing that it is currently a key component in much of today’s digital book infrastructure world-wide.

Retailers and lock-in

By far the most unfortunate ramification of the allowance of the use of closed, proprietary DRM technology by major retailers is the vendor lock-in effect.

How serious this problem is for rights holders and consumers is a bit of an open question in the industry, with varying opinions and little hard data. That said, I don’t think that anyone would argue that there are no downsides at all, especially given the unhealthy level of consolidation that is occurring in the retail space.

There are some market trends that are helping to reduce the negative impacts of lock-in such as the unprecedented growth of multi-purpose devices like smart phones and tablets, and even the desktop is becoming a more popular reading platform. On most of these devices, consumers have choices in reading apps, and many use more than one on a regular basis. The growth of dedicated reading devices is slowing and many industry analysts expect that to continue.

As I’ve talked about in prior posts, the Adobe ebook platform was designed specifically to avoid the problem of vendor lock-in. There’s wide variety of apps and reading devices available from popular retailers and hardware manufacturers that support this interoperable system–including Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Books-A-Million, Hastings, Indiebound, and many others both in the U.S. and abroad.

(As this post is rather long, I’m reserving my comments on customer-friendly practices when utilizing the Adobe Digital Publishing Solution for eBooks for a follow-up post.)

The popularity of Kindle devices which utilize a closed proprietary DRM system presents a real pain-point for vertically focused retailers who would like to be able to sell content to Kindle owners, but can not due to rights holder’s requirements on the use of DRM.

There are potential solutions to this issue that don’t require dropping DRM altogether:

  1. Retail systems could be crafted that utilize DRM when fulfilling purchased content directly to a reading system that is tightly integrated with the retailer’s ecommerce system, but also offer an additional “Send to my Kindle” option. In this approach, the file sent would need to be a DRM free file (but could be watermarked). It would need to be recognized that a customer could side-load that item off of their Kindle device and share the file with others, but many publishers might judge that action to have sufficient friction for the subset of the retailer’s customers that have a Kindle device as to be an acceptable risk.
  2. Another similar option would be to offer the option of direct downloads of watermarked files for those customers that wish to side-load content to a third-party device or app that utilizes a closed rights management system.
  3. Retailers that utilize a proprietary content protection method in their own reading apps can also offer an option to their customers to download a file protected with the interoperable Adobe DRM. In fact Kobo and Google both do exactly that today. Rights holders could encourage other retailers to take this approach, and possibly even require it in the cases where they have sufficient leverage.

All of the potential solutions above (and there are others on the way) require the participation and agreement of the rights holders and the supply chain operators. The same applies to any change to the current status quo.

DRM can introduce barriers to entry for ebook retailers

One of the impacts of the use of DRM is that it adds additional costs for ebook retailers as they implement their back-end systems and conduct transactions. While these costs are relatively small for larger retailers, it can be a real hurdle for independents and retailers operating in smaller regional markets abroad. These retailers are an extremely important part of the overall ecosystem for many reasons, not the least of which is as a counterpoint to over-consolidation. They can be a real driver of discovery and innovation in the market–not to mention a source of significant revenue growth in the aggregate. This is especially true in emerging ebook markets abroad that are at the early stages of ebook adoption.

As the primary drivers for the use of DRM is the interests of the rights holders, it seems to me that it would behoove rights holders to consider ways to facilitate the diversity of ebook retailers by lowering barriers to entry. There are many means by which this can be accomplished both in terms of financial arrangements, technical support and consulting, shared infrastructure, open API’s and many others.

Helping ebook retailers compete and succeed by lowering barriers to entry is our core mission at Bluefire and we are making solid progress: we currently serve 80 businesses in the digital publishing arena in over 30 countries. We are ourselves a small independent company and I would very much welcome collaboration with publishers and distributors that have common goals and business interests in supporting the success of a robust and diverse marketplace for ebooks worldwide.

- Micah

From the London Book Fair: Announcing Four New Bluefire-Powered Apps

Bluefire Productions Helps Booksellers Worldwide Offer Branded E-Reading Applications with Integrated Mobile Storefronts

Retailers and Publishers Around the World Tap Bluefire to Deploy eReading Apps on iOS and Android Devices and Introduces New Versions of Bluefire Reader

LONDON – April 16, 2012Bluefire Productions today announces at the 2012 London Book Fair, several new worldwide customers leveraging the Bluefire platform to license and deploy their own branded e-reading applications.  The recently updated Bluefire Reader is one of the top e-reading applications for Apple® iOS and Android™ devices and is based on the industry-standard Adobe® Digital Publishing Solution for eBooks, giving brick-and-mortar booksellers, start-ups and publishers the ability to offer a robust e-reading application and compete effectively with the market leaders.

New retailers deploying Bluefire powered apps include Chapitre.com in France, ciando GmbH in Germany, MediaCorp in Singapore, and Books.CH in Switzerland. These companies join more than 25 other retailers and publishers around the world who are releasing Bluefire powered mobile reading and shopping apps on the iOS and Android platforms.

ciando GmbH, one of Germany’s leading eBook wholesalers, was looking to expand their customer base by offering mobile e-reading applications. The natural partner for meeting their objectives quickly and affordably was Bluefire. “Bluefire gave us the ability to quick release a beautifully branded application with an integrated access to the user’s purchased eBooks, allowing us to extend our services to our loyal customers while appealing to new readers at the same time,” said Norbert Hofherr of Munich-based ciando eBooks.

Bluefire is the leading provider of licensed, cross-platform solutions in the mobile publishing arena, and offers the only customizable, full-featured e-reading application on iOS and Android tablets and phones. Recent updates to the platform include the following new features:

  • Support for the new iPad® Retina display
  • Support for new Android 4.0 user interface controls
  • Support for external hyperlinks in ePUB and PDF titles
  • Support for multiple Adobe IDs
  • New on-screen swipe for brightness control (iOS only)
  • Enhanced side-loading (iOS only)
  • Improved support for editing metadata (iOS only)

“Compelling mobile devices like the new iPad continue to proliferate and compelling market opportunities have continued to proliferate in lockstep.  Bluefire arms retailers and publishers with great tools to compete with major online brands,” said Micah Bowers, CEO of Bluefire Productions LLC. “The growth opportunity for our customers is endless, as they have been able to reach and sustain a new market of readers while protecting their brand and existing customer base.”

Bluefire Productions at London Book Fair April 16-19

Bluefire will demonstrate its robust e-reader mobile platform in stand X800 at the London Book Fair this week. The company will showcase partner branded e-reading apps on iOS and Android phones and tablets. Bluefire is also hosting a casual meetup during the show, at The Prince of Teck, 161 Earl’s Court Road SW5 9RQ London on Tuesday, April 17 from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm.

The London Book Fair continues to be the global market place and leading business-2-business exhibition for rights negotiation and the sales and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels. Bluefire is helping companies grow their businesses to capture the exploding digital publishing opportunity.

About Bluefire Productions, LLC

Bluefire Productions provides mobile reading solutions to publishers, retailers and companies who create or distribute high value content in support of their core business.

The company is the developer of the Bluefire white-label e-reading platform, including mobile reading applications for iPhone®, iPad, and iPod touch®, and Android tablets and phones. Bluefire powered apps support Adobe Content Server (ACS) encrypted ePub and PDF files, in-app purchasing and account management, and a highly customizable reading experience. Bluefire white-label solutions provide customers with a quick and affordable solution for creating and distributing branded e-reading applications with integrated stores. Bluefire Productions is an Authorized Reseller of Adobe Content Server and Adobe Vendor ID.

Bluefire Productions is based in Seattle, Washington. For more information, visit www.bluefirereader.com.

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Media Contact:

Danielle Adams
Concept PR for Bluefire Productions
Danielle@conceptpr.net / 206.979.2061