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eBooks Analytics Startup Hiptype Shuts Down – Cites Lack of Support From Major eBook Platforms

Hiptype_LogoHere’s an old news story that no one noticed happening at the time.

Hiptype, a startup that launched in July 2012 with the promise of offering publishers new insight into their customer’s reading habits, shut down in late December.

According to the Hiptype blog their business plan fell through when one, Apple updated iBooks and disabled code features that Hiptype relied upon, and two, Hiptype was unable to convince other major ebook platforms to let Hiptype spy on readers:

Just a few days after speaking with a representative from Apple, an iBooks update was released that removed the support for analytics we previously had. Progress with Amazon and Barnes & Noble had also stalled. …

The problem is that from all three vendors, we were eventually told the same thing – if we wanted a feature that wasn’t supported for eBooks, then we should be looking at their app platforms instead.

When Hiptype launched last Summer their ebooks analytics idea was built around inserting a snippet of code into ebooks. When you read the ebook that snippet of code would track what you were doing and send data back to Hiptype’s servers, where it would be collated and served up to the relevant publisher.

That snippet of code initially only worked in iBooks because that platform supported Epub3, while  getting similar data out of a Kindle or Nook ebook required the cooperation of Amazon or B&N. According to what Hiptype said at the launch this was in the works, but apparently neither Amazon nor B&N liked the idea as much as Hiptype did.

Yeah, that comes as no surprise. It might be true that Apple, Amazon, B&N (and many other companies) spy on their users, but they have little reason to let 3rd parties inside their walled garden ebookstores.

And so Hiptype is, for all intents and purposes, dead. Apple’s current security restrictions on iBooks prevent Hiptype’s code from working, and Amazon is never going to add the support Hiptype needs (there’s a reason why the new KF8 format is described as Epub 2.5; Amazon made KF8 less capable than Epub3 so they could also avoid the security problems and other issues).

Given that Apple and Amazon account for 70% or more of the world ebook market (with the rest spread between a half dozen companies: B&N, Google, Kobo, Sony, Pocketbook, etc), there’s really not much of a market for Hiptype.

And so the company is shut down.

According to their LinkedIn profiles, both of the founders now work elsewhere. The CEO has moved on to Urban Airship, and the CTO now works at Zynga.

If you’re wondering why I’m digging up such old news, it’s because yesterday I was looking into how a publisher might be able to use a snippet of code in an Epub3 ebook to spy on readers.  This was what Hiptype was doing last year so naturally I looked them up to see how well things were going.

I was planning to write a post that listed exactly what data Hiptype was collecting in their spying efforts, but as you can see they’re not collecting data anymore. So instead I will explain why I was interested.

Hiptype offered a service that depended on the JavaScript security holes that I wrote about yesterday. This is one of the things that would probably be blocked by any rational security policy designed to protect users from malware. While I personally see that as a good thing I’m not sure publishers would agree.


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fjtorres June 28, 2013 um 10:59 am

Publishers have waxed enthusiastically about all the ways epub3 spyware can deliver user data to them. That is why we can count on those "features" being used…if somebody doesn’t block it.
Non-epub buyers from Amazon and Apple will be protected but buyers of generic epub3 books will be on their own.

Johnny Pearseed June 30, 2013 um 6:54 am

> buyers of generic epub3 books will be on their own.

I expect the anti-DRM/anti-spyware communities will come up with hacks and workarounds soon enough, for those who care.

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