Weightless Instant Free One-Tap E-Book Delivery to Any Mobile Device

So there you are. You’ve just sold your first book from your very own bookstore. Your customer has a download link. And then everything comes to a screeching halt.

How do they read your book? Where is the book? How do they get it from your store to their device? Who’s brilliant idea was this?

The little bridge that separates the teeming hordes of readers from the teeming hordes of ambitious authors is book delivery. Without it, no books get to readers, and that makes everyone sad. So how do we get a book from our own store to a phone or a tablet?

Long ago, some smart people got together and created something called “extensible markup language.” It combined all the best parts of HTML with all the best parts of application development, and gave developers a way to publish arbitrary data in a standard way. You’ve used XML quite a bit if you’ve ever visited a podcast menu or read an EPUB or visited a site with a sitemap. Mobile apps use XML as a versatile data format.

XML is going to help you build that bridge between your store and your customer’s mobile device with a protocol called the Open Publication Distribution System. The Android phone screenshots you see here are the OPDS menus in an application called Moon+ Reader. The “Net Library” feature of this and other EPUB readers like Aldiko allows a user to subscribe to an OPDS feed the same way they subscribe to an RSS feed. Instead of a list of articles, they get a list of books. When they tap on the books, they are downloaded to the mobile device and immediately available to read.

If you think about it, this is exactly the same mechanism all other retail electronic bookstores use to distribute e-books to mobile devices.

The tablet screenshot is from Aldiko running on the Kindle Fire.

You’ll also notice that some heavyweight book publishers out there, including the Gutenberg Project and Smashwords, use OPDS-compatible feeds not only to distribute books, but to sell them too. Now it is possible, naturally, to give a reader a download link and let them sideload their book, but a feed is better for a number of reasons. My store uses it to maintain a catalog of purchased books for each customer on a cloud server. Since this is their continuously updated list of available books, I can even throw in some freebies, newsletters, or pretty much anything else I want my readers to download and try out. All I have to do is add it to their feed and it’s delivered.

Now you might be asking yourself why any author would want to go to all this trouble just to get books to their customers. Couldn’t someone else handle that for you? Sure they could, and they’re going to charge you an unbelievable amount of money to do it. In fact, the more books you sell, the more it’s going to cost you. Now are you really going to pay someone large sums of money on a regular basis to perform a service this simple?

For the time being, maintaining feeds for your customers is going to be a manual process. However, getting a standardized e-commerce service like Shopify to “notify” your site and update a database when you sell a book is a rather straightforward technical feature. For that matter, setting up a nice front-end for the service on your feed server is equally simple for a moderately capable web developer. OPDS feeds are all text and can be automatically generated by a database. As my Digital Bookshelf service grows, I’ll need to write that software for my cloud server and perhaps I’ll be able to make it available to other shops.

For most authors, this is the last piece of the “open your own bookstore” puzzle. Publishing content directly to mobile devices (and desktops for that matter) is quite powerful, as any YouTube channel owner will tell you. From there, it’s a simple matter of training your readers to use it and fielding the occasional technical support request.

The main reward for this extra work is that those readers are your customers. And isn’t that ultimately what every author wants?

Take a look at my other articles on how to open your own bookstore:

P.S. This is Moon+ Reader running like a Swiss clock factory on a Kindle Fire and wow, does it make my books look good!

Goodbye Google

After another 45 minutes fighting with my analytics dashboard, I have extricated Google Analytics from all my web properties forever. I’m this far from blocking Google entirely at the router. Yes, that means my sites won’t show up in search, but I’m not convinced showing up in Google searches matters any more.

Yeah, I know. There’s some genius on YouTube who uses analytics and search consoles and webmaster tools and super-technical-gee-whiz-wowEEEEEEEEEEEEMONEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE except I know better. Google has constructed a giant taffy wad of unintelligible nonsense designed to consume time and return nothing. Analytics used to be a good product, but now we’re back to the social media thing: Solve a puzzle, win a prize. The only problem is, there is nothing Google offers that will help you in the slightest when it comes to selling products. That is unless you think spending $2.40 a click for traffic makes sense on any planet populated by humans.

You see, when I look at Google analytics I notice almost all of the traffic Google says I’m getting is from fake referrals. Remember kids, Google is a $760 billion company with buildings full of PhDs. They only hire the smartest people in the world, yet somehow they are getting outmaneuvered by teenagers who can fake referral traffic with a couple dozen lines of Python code.

Why isn’t this fake traffic being automatically deleted from my reports? This has been going on for months. Why is it when I set up a segment or a filter and say “block everything from this host name” it doesn’t block anything? Google does a phenomenal job lording itself over our e-mail, but I suppose controlling your e-mail is more important than controlling your web site.

You know, with my new server I have access to my own web logs now. How long would it take me to write a Perl script to get accurate traffic data? An afternoon? And then I’ll be able to customize my reports any way I like.

If you’re in business for yourself, this is one of the most important things you can do to make your enterprise more efficient. Don’t invest time or treasure in anything that doesn’t give you a bankable return on that investment. When you find yourself standing in the surf filling buckets with seawater and emptying them back into the ocean, it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re getting any benefit.

One thing you can be certain of: The technology industry excels at handing you a box of blinkenlights that doesn’t do anything useful. They also really enjoy charging you a lot of money for it too. Google analytics is just the most recent example. It is an utterly useless service now, which perfectly explains its affordable price. Free and worth every penny.

Doesn’t Google have artificial intelligence and self-driving cars? Aren’t they the self-appointed Internet Police? and aren’t they SO MUCH SMARTER THAN YOU ARE?

Or maybe they aren’t. Perhaps that’s the lesson here. Either way, they’re out in the parking lot with a cardboard box as far as this little gray duck’s web sites are concerned. Black out.

Am I Part of a Trend?

Seems I’m not the only one who has had enough of social media. Can’t say I’m surprised. Even Forbes looked like it was in on the trend until the writer decided to add 1000 words of “you’re doing it wrong.”

Folks, there is nothing you can do to make social media better. Twitter and Facebook (and all the other noise-hoses) have a vested interest in keeping your stuff invisible. They don’t want people to click away to some other site. They want to keep them on Twitter and Facebook so they can show them ads. That way they get paid when someone clicks or taps away.

Social media is central control on a platform that was specifically designed to prevent central control. Here’s the basics: Big tech knows what the individuals on the web want. Everyone wants their stuff to get attention. Attention is the currency of the Internet. Big Tech hoards attention and uses it to reward their sharecroppers in exactly the same way medieval kings hoarded gold, land and wealth. Their rules are just like your boss’ rules: never pay ’em enough to sue you.

You know what the first thing is central control does when they get control? They make you invisible, and then they force you to work for them in order to get your visibility back. Except you never actually get your visibility back. You sure do waste a lot of unpaid time making their sites better and sending them free traffic, though.

If you are trying to get traffic to your site, social media is competing with you. They are not cooperating with you. Stop. Unplug it. Stop spending your treasure on “post boosts” and dollar-a-click ads. Stop trying to pick better hashtags. Twitter has an automated system designed to make everything you post there invisible, no matter what hashtag you pick. So does Facebook and every other social noise site.

Here’s the good news: If all the social media sites disappeared tomorrow (from my pen to God’s ears), the Internet itself would shrug and reach for another chicken salad sandwich. AOL came and went. Myspace came and went (and incinerated $500 million in the process). Google+ came and went. The “portal” thing came and went. Internet’s still here, and the basic technology hasn’t changed much. The web, links and e-mail all work pretty much the same way they ever did.

If you want to get your message out, you have everything you need. You don’t need social media.

Public Photography Permit

Hey folks. If you ever find yourself out in public confronted by an officially officious official, and you are asked for your permit to record video or photograph in public, bookmark this article on your phone and feel free to present it as your permit. You may also optionally choose to read it out loud.

United States Public Photography Permit

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

— First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

— Article VI, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States

Big on the Interwebs

Now that I’m done with social media, I’m putting my blogroll back online.

I dumped Twitter yesterday after the third locked account warning in as many days. If I’m going to publish something, why would I put it on someone else’s site first? That’s the question you should be asking yourself if you actually believe social media performs any useful function other than wasting time.

Hey Twitter, it’s Time Someone Said It

I think I speak for more than a few reasonable people when I say I’ve about had it with Twitter. Three times this week I’ve been presented with the lockout screen because I followed a few dozen people.

Now we all know there are limits on the number of people we can follow. That’s enforced at the account level and is usually calculated by adding some margin to the number of followers you have. The more followers you have, the more people you can follow. Fair enough.

Then why is there a second and a third limit on the numbers of people I can follow (or unfollow) in some arbitrary time interval? Why not just leave it at the original limit? Well, the answer is pretty obvious. Twitter doesn’t want you doing too much communicating. The croppers might get uppity and out of control, dontcha know.

Here’s what needs to be said: Twitter is a worthless, pointless waste of bandwidth and air conditioning. It is a noise machine. It is a firehose of nonsense that nobody pays any attention to. It produces nothing of value. At all. It is about as useful as a rocket-powered unicycle.

Twitter’s LIFETIME stock value is -30%. The company basically lit fire to six billion dollars. If you had invested $10 in Twitter in 2013, it would be worth $7 now. Why? Because Twitter doesn’t produce anything except noise. For $21 billion I could rent a 747 and park it someplace with its engines running to produce all the noise I want and still have enough left over to do something useful, like create jobs or build a product people actually want to pay for.

Here’s the value proposition for you, dear user of Twitter. You know what this site does? It takes your hard work, in the form of tweets, videos, pictures, animation, links and so on, and it publishes them at Twitter.com. That gets Twitter more traffic.

What do you get in return? Well, if you follow this many people, nothing. If you follow this many people plus one, your account gets locked and you get a reading from the book of no-nos.

Let me tell you about my experience on Twitter so far. I have 8000 followers and change. Our account features Jessica Halloran and has been traditionally presented in her voice as a fictional character. We’ve posted 5200 tweets, many of which had full color art from our comics, games, books, book covers, videos, etc. Want to know how many referral clicks we’ve gotten from Twitter in the last nine years and seven months? (We joined in March of 2009)

835

That’s one click for every six tweets on average. Now that might sound pretty good, until you look a little closer. In 2009, Twitter had a tiny fraction of the number of users it has now. So you’d expect that since our tweets are getting better and our potential audience is growing, we’d be getting more clicks, right?

Since January, 2017 we’ve gotten 42. We got a total of 3 clicks in all of 2017.

Three clicks.

In the five-and-a-half year period between October of 2006 and July of 2012, when we were publishing our comics, ladystar.net generated over 218,000 uniques.  That’s roughly 100 visits a day.  LadyStar produced more traffic in nine days than our lifetime total on Twitter produced in nine years.

Now I’m not going to say this reminds me of the 179 clicks I got from Facebook that I thought were “targeted” for English-speakers in the U.S. but turned out to be from anywhere-but-America, but what I am going to say is this reminds me of the 179 clicks I got from Facebook that I thought were “targeted” for English-speakers in the U.S. but turned out to be from anywhere-but-America.

I’d really like to participate on Twitter, but the reality is Twitter isn’t going to allow us to communicate with our followers or find new ones without constantly interfering and threatening to close down our account. So we’re leaving.

Those of you investing time and energy in Twitter, I recommend you consider what I’ve written here. Twitter is not the least bit interested in you, and they have no obligation to protect your account or do anything valuable for your life or business. All they are doing, ultimately, is trying to profit from your relationships with others and sell your hard work to advertisers while giving exactly nothing back. The same is true of Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and all the other noise factories out there.

Social media is a waste of time.  I say this as someone who was doing business on the Internet when Mark Zuckerberg was in sixth grade. The people who tell you they are getting zillions of sales and visits from social media are either lying or they are leaving something out, like the bill for their paid ads, which is a taffy wad of stupid I’ll reserve for another post.

Set up your own site. Make real connections with other people. Don’t give Twitter the power to interfere in your life and business. Black out.

Text Files

If you use computers, you’ve probably run across the phrase “text file” before. Unless you spend a lot of time using computers, you probably don’t know for sure exactly what a text file is or why it is important.

Most people compose documents with applications like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. When those applications save your document, it is put in what developers call a “proprietary” format. Only Word is supposed to be reading and writing .docx files. They aren’t text files. They are Word files. Google Docs has its own formats. So does LibreOffice.

When an application like Emacs or Notepad saves a document, it is saved as plain text. This means there is no formatting, no tables, no fancy fonts or images. It is just the alphabet, numbers and punctuation. Developers sometimes call this “plain ASCII text” because it uses only characters that appear in the basic ASCII table, which is numbers, letters and punctuation.

ASCII is the American Standard Code for Information Interchange. ASCII tells a computer which arrangement of bits correspond to each letter of the alphabet. It has been the PC standard since 1981.

Why is text important? It is important because text files contain only the data. There is no extraneous information like “put an image here” or “change the font there.” It’s just the raw data in the absolute simplest possible format.

Now you might think that raw data in a simple format is pretty boring. It is. That’s the whole point. When things get fancy, they tend to get broken and start wasting huge amounts of time and money. Ask any programmer which is better: simple or not simple?

The fact is boring works. The entire world wide web runs only on plain text. Usenet runs on plain text. The entire global e-mail system runs on plain text. UNIX and Linux are configured with plain text. Google runs on plain text. The source code for every application you have ever used was originally written as plain text. The entire Perl programming language was designed to work with plain text.

That’s why ASCII is still around and is still running all the world’s electronics after 37 years. If you’re an author, I strongly recommend you consider storing your manuscripts as plain text. If at some point in the future you decide to put your work into a proprietary format, you can, but you’ll always have the plain data to fall back on. Going from proprietary back to plain text is never a sure thing.

Plain text is the universal data format. Everything can read it. Everything can write it. Plain text is safe.

Are You a Blue Shirt Picard?

If you’ve watched Star Trek: The Next Generation much, you’ll recognize this episode. Alongside “Lower Decks,” “Tapestry” depicts the life of the low-ranking officer aboard a ship commanded by a legend.

These episodes tell an important story, and one we can all learn a thing or two from. If you spend your life following the “rules,” you’re going to find that society will be very happy to have you sit quietly in the corner and un-volunteer yourself from life. You’ll be shoved out of the way and be expected to spectate while others get their share and yours.

Consider your favorite social media site. They all want you to communicate and interact, but not too much, because that’s bad. What you’ll eventually discover is social media is specifically engineered to stop you from communicating, but that’s another article. Who is to say how much is too much? Well, if you’re selling something, how much ain’t much, that’s for sure.

How do you get a date? Well, you just walk right up to her and introduce yourself and announce you have a favorite table at her favorite restaurant. Shocking, I know, but that’s how men and women find ways to avoid eating alone on a Friday night. The rules say you can’t just ask her out. Who do you think you are? Well, you’re the guy who breaks the rules, because that’s how you get noticed.

There is one principle you can always count on. The rules are there to separate the blue shirt Picards from the starship Captains. Follow the rules and play it safe, and you get to sit at a table in Ten Forward listening to Counselor Troi “there-there” you about your wrecked life. Get stabbed through the heart by a gorilla with teeth on the outside of his mouth, and you get to command the Enterprise. The latter is most assuredly not following the rules, now is it? Which result interests you most?

If you’re in business for yourself, ask yourself this question: are you avoiding the Nausicaans, or are you prepared to start a bar fight to get what you want?

When you run into an obstacle in your pursuit of what you know you need to get to the next level, just ask yourself if the decision you’re about to make will lead you to becoming Blue Shirt Picard or Captain of the Enterprise. Then you’ll be sure to make the right choice.

Digital Bookshelf Subscription Idea

As you all know, running a web server comes with regular expenses in the form of bandwidth, CPU usage and storage costs. For the time being, the Digital Bookshelf will be free. My intent has always been to offer my new Digital Bookshelf as a free service, but I also have a subscription model for it.

If I charged you $5 a month to be part of a premium readers club, and made the bookshelf one of the perks, and gave you a free book every month alongside an enhanced newsletter, would that be something you’d subscribe to?

Tell me what you think in the comments.