Changes at Bluefire

Today we are announcing the departure of Cliff Guren, our VP of Business Development. Over the past five years I have had the pleasure of working with Cliff as we’ve successfully grown our software licensing business. During this time we’ve created white-label applications for 70 companies around the globe, and licensed Adobe Content Server to more than 90 companies worldwide. Our impact and global reach have been amazing for a company our size. Cliff has done a fabulous job for us and we hope to find opportunities to work together in the years to come.

Cliff will be focusing on re-launching his consulting business, Syntopical. He hopes to use the digital media related expertise that he has developed working at Bluefire, Hearst, Microsoft, and Apple to help publishers and other content focused businesses refine their digital media strategies, build key business relationships, and grow their revenues.

Over the coming months you will hear more from us about updates to Bluefire Reader and our white-label apps. You’ll also be hearing from us as we launch Cloudshelf, our new family of EPUB 3 reader applications and distribution services. Cloudshelf will enable businesses and institutions of all types to easily and cost-effectively deploy digital private libraries and subscription services to their constituent groups (employees, students, association members, and consumers). But that’s a story for another day… Stay tuned!

We are grateful to Cliff for his significant contributions to our success.

– Micah

A Note on Data Collection by Adobe Digital Editions 4.0

Over the past few days we’ve received a number of questions about Adobe’s collection of user data in Adobe Digital Editions 4.0 (ADE 4.0). We’re writing today to address these questions.

For those of you who have not been following the issue, it has recently been reported that ADE 4.0 collects data about user reading habits and transmits the data to Adobe’s servers in plain text. It does so without any user controls to turn off or limit the data collection. Understandably, users have expressed concerns about the privacy implications of this feature.

Following the initial disclosure about the data collection feature Adobe issued the following statement:

All information collected from the user is collected solely for purposes such as license validation and to facilitate the implementation of different licensing models by publishers. Additionally, this information is solely collected for the eBook currently being read by the user and not for any other eBook in the user’s library or read/available in any other reader. User privacy is very important to Adobe, and all data collection in Adobe Digital Editions is in line with the end user license agreement and the Adobe Privacy Policy.

We have been asked if we perform similar data collection in our free Bluefire Reader apps. The answer is No. While our apps are built on Adobe Reader Mobile SDK (RMSDK) versions 9 and 10, we are not aware of similar data collection by Adobe in these SDKs.

We do support an optional Bluefire developed sync feature that (when enabled by the user) sends anonymous, encrypted data to our servers. This data is used to sync the user’s reading location across the user’s activated reading devices. We also collect a limited amount of anonymous aggregated usage information. All of this is spelled out in our “Terms and Conditions” and “Privacy” statements.

We want you, our users, to know that we respect and value your privacy. While it is true that some technologies (like page location sync) require the transmission of user data, we believe that it is essential to implement these services in a manner that respects and protects the privacy of our users. We believe that our current apps meet this standard.

– The Bluefire Team

White-Label App Tips & Tricks: The Auxiliary Tab

In November, we rolled out a redesign of Bluefire Reader for iOS, and later this year we will be rolling out a similar redesign of our Android app that will use Android 4.x design elements and styling to deliver an app that will light up in users’ hands. Our free versions of Bluefire Reader are the basis for our white-label apps. We call the free versions our “reference apps.”

With the update to our iOS reference app we’re included the ability for our white-label partners to add a fourth tab to their apps. That fourth tab, or Auxiliary Tab as we’ve been calling it, allows our partners to set up a second web view from inside the app that can be used for any purpose that they’d like – as long as it doesn’t run afoul of Apple’s rules regarding in-app purchasing!

We’ve received quite a few questions about the Auxiliary Tab from partners who weren’t sure just what to do with it, so I thought I’d share some of the ideas that we’ve had on how to get the most out of this new feature.

Let’s start with what we did with Bluefire Reader. We used the Get Books web tab in our app as a place where users can download free ebooks from our friends at Feedbooks. In that pane we consume an OPDS feed from Feedbooks that gives access to public domain  ebooks and free ebooks that can be downloaded directly into the app. We feel that is a great way to demonstrate some of the app’s functionality while also making available classic literature to our users.

We used the Auxiliary Tab in Bluefire Reader to share information about our company, providing marketing and other insights into Bluefire’s business and partners. We’ve found this space to be a valuable way of marketing our company in a relatively subtle way.

Of course, partners can use these tabs for other similar strategies. Most of our partners have some sort of credential-based “cloud shelf” in the Get Books tab, and we strongly recommend that they stay with that for that tab. But there are so many possible options for the fourth tab. Obviously you can offer free ebooks, or can use the tab for marketing purposes as we do. Here are some other options that we recommend our partners consider.

Billboard page: A page that features cover images and blurbs about new books can be a useful way of showing the type of content available in your store as long as you don’t give users the option to buy books from within that tab.

Blog: If you have a blog on your site that is used to promote your products, the Auxiliary  Tab is an ideal place to feature that. This is a nice way to share information on new ebooks that you’re promoting or let readers know details about your company’s operations. As long as there are no calls to action in this tab, and no pricing information for books, a blog can be a nice fit for many of our partners.

FAQ/User Guide: The Auxiliary Tab is an ideal place to post an FAQ or User Guide to address user questions about your app or store. It can be used as a supplement to your existing ePub-formatted User Guide that ships with the app or can take the place of that book.

Free or sample books feed: If you’d like to offer users the chance to download free samplers from books, you can include a browsable view into that list from the Auxiliary Tab. This is an ideal way to tease content while avoiding soliciting user purchases. Any sample books included in this tab must avoid pricing information or a call to action to download.

Localized webpage: If your website is available in multiple languages, you can deliver one language in the main Web View tab and another in the Auxiliary Tab.

Recommended reading: You can highlight books that you feel are especially notable or popular that are available through your store.

Author interviews or bonus content: Offer multimedia content relevant to the books you sell such as author interviews, videos, trailers or other similar content.

Really, there is no limit to the choices you can make. We encourage you to think creatively, brainstorm ideas and consider the best way to maximize the perceptions that users will have of your apps. We’re always available if you’d like to bounce your ideas off of us.

We’re excited to see what our partners come up with.

– Jason


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

Meet Jason Sacks

(This is the first post in a series of introductions to the Bluefire team.)

Jason Sacks, Bluefire Project Manager

Hi, I’m Jason Sacks and I’m the Project Manager at Bluefire Productions.  I manage the processes and workflows around our white-label eReader products. I have about twelve years experience in the computer industry, most recently as the Release Manager for the Windows Protocols team at Microsoft. I joined Bluefire in the summer of 2011 and am really delighted to be part of a company that is making a real impact eReading.

I have a particular passion for eReader technology because I’m a voracious reader. My favorite books are nonfiction works about history and economics. These types of books help provide a deep perspective on our complex world. I really believe that the only way to understand the future is to understand the past, so I find history to be endlessly fascinating.

My other great reading passion is in graphic novels. I’ve read comic books since I was a kid, and as an adult I have grown a deeper passion for this art form. The graphic novel is a medium for really interesting work these days. It’s an infinitely malleable medium that offers amazing and unique storytelling opportunities that one can’t find in any other format.

Yeah, you can see I have a passion for this stuff, which is why I also own and manage a comic and pop culture website, Comics Bulletin. I work with a team of about 40 writers and editors and we cover all kinds of aspects of pop culture and “geek culture”, including TV, movies and video games. I think it’s a pretty great site and we run a lot of outstanding writing. It’s pretty much all run by volunteers, but we produce a lot of content every day for the site. Thankfully I have a great team that keeps me from having to spend all my nights and weekends working on site business.

Obviously with this background in technology and love for comics, you can see why I have a deep passion for eReading technology. As a company, we need to find ways to help companies improve and streamline the experience of reading ebooks and comics on iPad and Android devices. More than that, though, we need to work to make the device invisible for the user.

Just as you seldom think about the actual three-dimensional book that you’re reading, you should also seldom think about the actual tablet or phone that you’re reading on. The real trick when working on these apps is to allow the reader to feel engrossed in their book, to create apps that help readers to connect to the material they love without feeling the electronics sitting in their way.

A small, nimble and extremely entrepreneurial company like Bluefire is the perfect place to be tacking these complex issues in smart ways. Because we can think on our feet and innovate quickly, Bluefire is in the perfect position to have a dialogue with our users and clients about the best ways to make the right choices in eReader technology. I’m loving this journey so far, and can’t wait to see how this business evolves.

– Jason