Calling all coders: can you help free webzines make ebook versions?

Paul Raven @ 08-06-2010

K Tempest Bradford has identified a problem that many webzine editors have, but that most of them (myself included) have neither the time, money or 1337 code sk1llz0rz to solve alone: our readers would probably really appreciate downloadable ebook versions of our content, and an easy mechanism for delivery of such.

These are the core issues Tempest has identified thus far:

  1. Relatively easy eBook creation. Though programs like Calibre can create EPUB (and other eBook format) files, Tobias Buckell recently pointed out to me that this is not the optimal solution. He equated it to people using Microsoft Word to create web pages. Yes, the program can do it, but the code it generates is from hell. Not fit for anyone except really clueless newbies. We wouldn’t want that for these eBooks. So a primary aspect is to figure out who or what will generate clean code for EPUB.
  2. How many eBooks? Many online magazines do the monthly or semi-monthly thing, but for those that publish every week, do readers want an eBook for every story, or is one per month good?
  3. Free or Not Free? Many online magazines are free, which is a yay. Should their eBooks be free as well? I am personally in favor of charging a small amount for the files for the convenience of having the eBook format. The fiction will still be free on the website, of course. What are other people’s thoughts on this?
  4. Delivery System. Outfits like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony will deliver magazines to subscribers automatically, but only if you have a device that stays within their ecosystem. Like, if I subscribe to a magazine through B&N but use my Sony Reader to read it, it won’t show up each month on its own, I’d have to download then transfer it. Plus, I imagine that many online magazines would want to sell or make their eBook versions available through independent eBookstores or just from their site. I had an idea that I’d like to be able to embed and deliver eBooks with an RSS feed like you do with podcasts. That way, if you subscribe to the feed, you automatically get the file. It would be nice if this worked with paid eBook files as well. This is where the major coding work comes in. How do you set this kind of thing up? And would you need an accompanying program to then transfer the eBook to your eReader?
  5. Subscriptions or Individual Payments? Going along with the system I described above, will readers want to subscribe up front to many months worth of a magazine or would they be happier just paying per month?

If you’re involved in the clever coding side of things (professionally or otherwise), and/or you’re a regular reader of webzines who’d like to help them out, maybe you could drop a comment over at Tempest’s post so she can coordinate the expertise on offer?

As for here, I’d be interested to hear from the Futurismic regulars: would you be interested in a convenient monthly EPUB bundle of Futurismic content (say the fiction piece, all columns, and a selection of the more popular blog posts)? What device would you read it on? What channels do you use for getting content of this type already? Would you be willing to pay a small fee for that convenience and portability (not to mention a version of the site that would be ad-free)?

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6 Responses to “Calling all coders: can you help free webzines make ebook versions?”

  1. A.W. Ford says:

    I’ve done some eBook conversion using a variety of tools, although I’ve only worked with MOBI format. I’d be willing to do some conversion work if asked.

    On your other topics, my quick opinions:
    – One book of stories in digest form per month, offered in subscription format (like Analog or Azimov’s on Amazon for auto-distribution). I’d gladly pay the $1.99 – 3.99 that most short fiction magazines are charging monthly for Kindle subscription rates.
    – Delivery system. I receive PDF files all the time right along with the MP3 files in podcast distributions. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see it work with any other file format natively. However, the bigger question would be does an individual user’s podcatcher software support it? As a Kindle user, I’m happy to use Amazon’s services, but don’t have much knowledge of how the other ereaders work or what features they support. Any for pay distribution model will have to be resigned to choose one service or another unless you wanted to build a new one from scratch.
    – Subscriptions would definitely be better, IMO. I simply forget to go back month after month if I have to purchase and download them separately. I think it’s the same reason magazine publishers must have a solid base of subscribers – newsstand sales are too fickle and variable month to month to be fiscally stable.

  2. LG says:

    would you be interested in a convenient monthly EPUB bundle of Futurismic content (say the fiction piece, all columns, and a selection of the more popular blog posts)?

    Hell yes, in fact when I got my Kindle I came here looking for a link (and was bummed that there wasn’t one)

    What device would you read it on?
    Kindle.
    What channels do you use for getting content of this type already?
    About 90% of my non-novel reading I get from Calibre’s builtin News downloader thingy – But I also buy stuff from Amazon’s web store (via my Kindle) and from other web stores (like Bookdepository when the price difference is worth futzing about with DRM removal tools)

    Would you be willing to pay a small fee for that convenience and portability (not to mention a version of the site that would be ad-free)?

    I’d be willing to pay something – but I’d prefer to pay nothing. I wouldn’t be averse to even full page ads in the downloadable version to help defray costs – and it would seem to be a great platform for authors to sell their long form e-fiction.

  3. Karen Burnham says:

    Count me in amongst those who’d be happy to get a monthly eBook and pay for it. My supplier of choice (for Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF, and Interzone) is Fictionwise.com (once for the eBookwise format, now for iPhone), but I don’t know how difficult they may be to do business with from a supplier side. However, in addition to those ‘big 4,’ I’d love to be able to get Futurismic, Clarkesworld, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, et al on the same device. And I’d happily pay for the privilege, since I seem to read more on my iPhone now than anywhere else. I was happy to see Lightspeed’s iPhone app go up, and I only wish I could pay a bit to get all the monthly content at once on that format.

    Unfortunately, my c0der sk1llz are teh lame, so I can’t help at all on the nutz-and-boltz of such a scheme.

  4. Gerry Allen says:

    Many of the readers at my publication consume our content and move on; re-publishing it in any form is anathema to them. A blog, I suggest, is even more evanescent than fiction and reviews, especially when some of the content is linked to other publications. These links may grow stale rather quickly.
    All in all, I would not read an e-Pub of Futurismic. After all, I read this blog in its entirety every publication day. And, while I was an IT pro for over forty years, my scripting skills are strictly amateur.

    Gerry M. Allen
    Managing Editor, Strange Horizons

  5. Paul Raven says:

    Thanks for the input, folks… we’ll see what comes down the pipeline. Having given it more thought, I’m not sure we publish enough long-form content to make a bundled monthly issue worthwhile, but if the barriers to entry lower (which I suspect they will) that might change. Then again, by that point there may well be ereaders that can view webpages in standard HTML/CSS, which would circumvent the issue rather conveniently.

    Gerry – the honesty is appreciated! To be honest, I’m just pleased to know you’re a reader of the site… I’m a great admirer of SH, and your quality benchmark over there is one of many things I aspire to with this ol’ blog. 🙂

  6. Alex Ingram says:

    Interested to read this today, especially after (at last) a magazine publisher has said they’d rather use EPUB to reach the iPad and iPhone than an app.
    http://www.vqronline.org/blog/2010/06/08/vqr-ipad/

    I reckon it can’t be too long until someone sorts out a decent WordPress plugin to deal with these kinds of issues, making an EPUB is actually not too complex, although making it validate to the standard can be a bit tricky.