The first day of any new thing can be a little shakey and yesterday’s release of Blio, the much anticipated e-reading software developed by Ray Kurzweil and KNFB Reading Technology in conjunction with Baker & Taylor, seemed about as shakey as it gets. Blio is e-reading software that supports video, audio, original full-color layouts and an enhanced Text to Speech feature. Originally announced in late 2009, the free software has been delayed but was finally released on September 28. And that’s where our problems with Blio begin.
On the first day of its free downloads, even savvy tech users complained of difficulty installing the software. Others complained of wildly varying prices and a lack of for-pay titles to buy as well as a poor functioning text to speech feature that was much hyped in Blio’s many demos. And to top it all off, Hadrian Gardeur, founder of free e-book site Feedbooks.com, complained on Twitter that Blio was offering downloads of the Feedbook catalog without their permission (“Hey Blio, next time that you add our OPDS catalog to a commercial product, send us an e-mail first.”)
Needless to say the twitterati were unhappy and variations on #blio #fail hashtags were prominent throughout the day on Twitter. To be fair, there were users who had no problems installing Blio. And there were others who said that while they had some ” issues” with Blio’s debut, they were still pleased with its performance and potential. PW was able to reach Peter Chapman, an executive at KNFB Reading Technology, who blamed the problems on “first day jitters,” and said the company was working to correct the problems.
Chapman says the problems around installing Blio only affected people using Windows XP. The problems, he said, were caused by bad software hosted by a third party client Blio is using to host downloads. “It is now fixed but it took us most of the day to get it down,” Chapman said. He acknowledged that most people’s Text To Speech (TTS) would likely have problems because, “the TTS software on most Windows machines isn’t very good.” KNFB, Chapman said, is in the process of making new and affordable TTS software available through the Blio bookstore. Chapman said consumers dissatisfied with their TTS can purchase better (but significantly more expensive) software immediately online that will improve its quality. However, he said they are working with TTS software vendors to offer a better and much cheaper TTS software that will allow users to choose different voice qualities and he said it will be available very soon.
The Blio e-book store launched with about 11,000 for-pay titles and Chapman said KNFB is uploading “700 to 800 new books every day. We’re loading them by their sales ranking, the most popular books are being uploaded first.” He blamed wildly varying prices (one user on Twitter complained of a Steig Larsson novel being offered for $27.95) on inputing errors that have now been corrected. “We have books from all the big six publishers and prices are based on whether they use the Agency Model or the traditional wholesale model; these days e-book are all priced pretty much the same.” And no, Chapman says, Blio will not support ePub titles consumers may have purchased from other e-bookstores, “ePub books from other vendors have different DRM and are not compatible,” he said. But he also emphasized that Blio is focused on graphical books, “and we are offering digital books that no one else has, cookbooks, children’s books; books with visual content.”
According to Chapman, Blio/KNFB has been in discussions with Feedbooks and Gardeur about using their catalog of free books, but acknowledged that “we didn’t tell him exactly when we would start.” And he also acknowledged that users that signed up for the Blio mailing list to be notified when it was available were not notified until after the site was up and working, “because we didn’t want to send people to a site that wan’t ready.”
And Chapman said Blio’s initial release was limited to Windows only because “of the numbers and the bigger screens of laptops and desktops are more appropriate to the viewing experience.” He said a Mac version is in the works and Blio for iOS4—for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad—is currently in beta.
“Birthing a new product is always difficult and stressful,” Chapman said, “but I’m sure we’re through the worst of it.”