PubCasts: subscribe to publications through RSS

January 28, 2010 | 1 comment

This is inspired by the iBooks launch, but it’s applicable to any ereader that uses the ePub format. (Or, indeed, it could use any ebook format – MobiPocket, Kindle, DAISY, etc.)

A podcast is just an RSS feed with a file enclosure – part of the RSS standard – that points to an MP3 file. Similarly, video podcasts point to video files. An obvious evolution, then, is the pubcast: periodical publications delivered through RSS feeds.

Free publication subscriptions

In the free case, a user would simply subscribe to a public pubcast feed with a compatible reader. The reader software would check regularly for updates, and new publications would be downloaded and fed into the user’s ereader software on release. Easy.

Paid publication subscriptions

In the case of paid publications, there are two options:

An authenticated pubcast feed. When you subscribe to a publication, you get an address to an RSS feed that requires a username and password to download content. (Gmail is an example of an application which already does this.) This authentication ensures that only paid subscribers can access the file, but you could go a step further and watermark the publications themselves.

Activation within the ebook file. The RSS feed itself is public, but each downloaded publication could require an access code to read. This would open the door for public feeds of paid journals, where users could buy each issue individually to read.

Making subscriptions an open standard

Either way, this approach would allow any ereader using any compatible software solution to subscribe to periodicals. It could be used for newspapers, magazines, journals, zines, or new kinds of periodical; they could be hosted anywhere and, in the case of paid content, use any payment provider. I love reading, but dislike monopolies, so this is something I’d like to see.

iBooks is a killer app for ebooks

If you pay any attention at all to the tech press, you’re probably sick to death of the iPad, Apple’s announced tablet device. I’m posting about it anyway, because there are two things that haven’t been discussed enough, which I think deserve a mention.

One: this isn’t a device for the tech community. I think Rafe Colburn hits it on the head:

It’s just an iPod Touch with a big screen, but that’s all that many people need from a computer. You can use it to surf the Web, read email, listen to music, watch video, or compose documents. That’s the personal computer use case for many people. And I think a lot of people are going to buy them.

He goes on to discuss the locked-down nature of the device, which I agree is a setback that may have a profound impact on the consumer computing industry. (On the other hand, as Yehuda Katz argues, this is a major win for standards-based web applications.)

Two: for me, the big news wasn’t the iPad at all. It was iBooks: Apple’s new iTunes-like store for ebooks. You may remember that iTunes pretty much revolutionized how we buy music, and this is the same; the books are stored in the open ePub standard, so they’ll play with other ereaders, and the experience is seamless. (You almost certainly won’t need an iPad to buy from iBooks.)

Mashable notes that some big players are on board:

iBooks is backed by big-time launch partners Penguin, Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Hachette, all publishing powerhouses in their own rights.

You can think about the iPad as a kind of $499 catwalk model, that other devices will slowly emulate over the next couple of years. But iBooks? That’s a store that anyone will be able to use right away, which just might change the publishing industry forever.

Photo by kennymatic, released under a Creative Commons license.

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