Friday, September 29, 2006

Publishing Week in Review

It was banned books week this week (Sponsored by ALA). Here is a list of the most challenged books from 2005. No word yet on 2006 but I expect to see perennial favorite Catcher in the Rye on the list again. Pretty much any children's or young adult book that deals with sex education, dangly bits, and snogging is guaranteed at least an honorable mention. Throw in Why do I have two daddies? and you will have cracked it.

Litlove had a recent post about two new mystery writers she has started reading. Both Reginald Hill and Susan Hill produce great stories but as she points out in the case of Reg that the characters have been hijacked by TV script writers. I am not sure I like this trend which also happened with Morse and is now happening with Inspector Linley. The 'ghost' written stories don't seem to have the same substance of those that come from the authors books.

Many years ago I attended a conference given by Stanford University and Guy Kawasaki was the dinner speaker - it was a small affair. He was at Apple in the early days and is now a VC among a number of other things. His blog is very interesting and he had this recent post on 'distribution' which does sound boring but he has an interesting view point. Additionally, he also published a post at the end of last year which if you are a frequent user (and abuser) of Powerpoint you will want to read. Lastly, from a traffic and design stand point you can see how he has taken a particular approach to the way he creates the content for his blog that results in maximum attention. If you are interested in this - and who wouldn't be - here is an article.

Here is a little more on the Google decision made by the Belgium court that I commented on earlier this week. Google clearly did not like the requirement to post the judgment and replied very strongly to the court on this issue. There is another hearing in November where they are likely to rely on industry practice that enables any web site to effectively close itself off to spidering. In this case had this technology been invoked by the plaintiff would have avoided the law suit. But then, where's the fun in that?

Eoin Purcell had a post on comics and beat me to a reference from the New York Times article on same. There have been a few other articles that I have noted over the past several weeks in addition to this one. Firstly, the 9/11 Report is being published in a comic book version. Interesting...I am not sure the point, but perhaps comprehension and reading ability has something to do with it or maybe it is a "...let's see if we could do this.." kind of thing. As the article points out it is a little hard to generate the gravitas of two aircraft slamming into the WTC with a simple ...KABOOM!! Here also is an article from the Houston Chronicle about Comic book Bibles. (I just report the stuff I don't believe it). Comics are of course huge business and a number of large US publishing houses have undertaken publishing programs or distribution deals for comics or Manga.

Finally, I haven't had a link to The Daily Show for a while but Hugo Chavez was such great comedy that it has to be referenced. Oh and Norm Chomsky - assuming he earned out his advance - running all the way to the bank.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Publishers Fight Back

Some of you will be aware that Google lost a copyright case in Belgium last week that ruled that Google infringed on German and French newspapers copyright by reproducing article snippets in search results. Publishers everywhere will probably feel somewhat emboldened by this ruling. Google on the other hand were very sulky in their response; they initially refused to place the ruling on their web site as required by the court. I haven't heard that they plan to appeal but I would think this is not the last we will hear of this.

This story was interesting to me but not particularly earth shattering until I read this report in which discussed a publishing industry initiative named the Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP). Once implemented a search engine will be able to recognize the content owners' access and permissions use rights. Rather than shut down their sites publishers will be able to manage the indexing that search engines conduct and tell search engines under what terms the content may be used. The World Association of Newspapers produced a briefing paper on this initiative.

Gavin O'Reilly the current President of the WAN had the following comment: "Importantly, ACAP is an enabling solution that will ensure that published content will be accessible to all and will encourage publication of increasing amounts of high-value content online," he said. "This industry-wide initiative positively answers the growing frustration of publishers, who continue to invest heavily in generating content for online dissemination and use."

Clearly, the briefing paper makes clear that the content owners are not looking to restrict the use of their content but I wonder how this fits with the recent announcement by some major US newspaper publishers. Perhaps there is no impact and this merely 'automates' what these newspapers have set out in their legal agreements with Google.

The WAN are not the only participants in this initiative and the International Publishers Association are also sponsors. This is the international association that most national publishing associations are members (AAP, PA, APA). Jens Bammel, the director of IPA is quoted in the Silicon article in support of the initiative. Here is another article that appeared in CNET.

This initiative does represent an interesting aspect since not only are companies within these associations cooperating and funding this program but associations across industries are cooperating. Interesting what is possible when the stakes are so high: publishers and content owners recognising that their content is being used without permission to create value for an entity that had no hand in its creation. But before you rush to judge that statement, we will also continue to see proven the reality that content owners need the search engines to enable content users to find and use the content.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Publishing Supply Chain

A number of years ago I was asked to speak at a conference on the future of the book. I did not take this title literally and decided to examine the inherent inefficiency of the publishing supply chain. Importantly, I believed the future of the book had as much to do with profitability and efficiency as it did with creativity.

Since that meeting, I have presented the themes of this post on a number of occasions. As I noted earlier this month an old colleague of mine, Michael Healy has been named BISG Executive Director and he joins BISG with a mandate to address the inefficiencies that are endemic to our industry. Many other industries have successfully addressed supply chain issues and have significantly improved all major functional areas in their organizations; some have created competitive advantage from their attention to these supply chain issues. The publishing industry on the other hand is still characterized by vertically constituted monolithic organizations which rarely share information and rarely collaborate with their supply chain partners to common advantage.

In my presentations, I proposed a structure named The Intelligent Publishing Supply Network (IPSN) which would be dependent on the sharing of information regarding activities in their market. It is information that increases speed and improves productivity, enables better and faster decision making and supports an environment suitable for innovation and development. Time and effort is not distracted with non-productive activity.

The most obvious information limitation publishers and retailers have is accurate sell-through and channel data. Without real time or near time access to information about what is happening – and notice I use the present tense - in the supply chain most publishing industry participants are forced to make ill-informed decisions. Large levels of inventory, sales promotions that sell-out before their sale period ends and uneven product distribution are but a few of the examples of our inefficient supply chain.

Both BISG and BIC (UK) must address the supply chain issues our industry faces and become advocates for improvements similar to those supported by GS1. GS1 is the leading global organization dedicated to the design and implementation of global standards and solutions to improve the efficiency and visibility of supply and demand chains. This organization grew out of the grocery and food business but now spans many industry groups. It may be a viable strategy to integrate some of the publishing supply chain programs of BISG with those of GS1. Not surprisingly they are far more advanced in their programs and there is no sense reinventing the wheel.

Over the next several weeks, I will expand further and update some of the ideas I have presented over the past few years. What is readily apparent however, is that there is a willingness from retailers, wholesalers and publishers to cooperate more to improve efficiencies in the publishing market. BISG will become more relevant in this context.

Friday, September 22, 2006

How to Read A Book

Bill Grimes in the New York Times this morning looks at a number of books that have recently come out that examine the meaning of books, their changing impact on readers over time and books different people feel impacted their lives. It is an interesting article. It is a sad reflection on life that speed to finish is a component I take into account when picking up a new book. As is noted in the article, prison and vacation make good readers and while I am thankfully unfamiliar with the former I am regrettably infrequently familiar with the latter. Vacation does represent the opportunity to make a big dent in the backlog and also to pick books that require a degree of concentration that 10 minutes before I nod off each night really can't support. But I still need to choose carefully, a few years ago I started Gotham which is a history of New York to 1900, and got through the first 600 pages but once I returned to real life it took me six months to finish the book.

We are about to go on vacation and I am currently honing my list. The Emperors Children or Jonathan Strange and Mr. Morrell (see backlog!) will probably be on the list but I also thought I would re-read The Good Soldier (Ford Maddox Ford) a book I haven't read for a long time. Happy readings.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Simon & Schuster

There hasn't been too much M&A activity in publishing this year (TWBG/Hachette) and when we think about what might happen we routinely think of S&S which is stuck like some coelacanth in the belly of big media giant Viacom/CBS. Well, the boss Les Moonves says there are still synergies to be had but not many - actually he said "few". As reported by MediaPost from a Goldman Sachs investor conference yesterday S&S is not currently on the block. In fact CBS has "no plans to do anything with it" a comment which hopefully sounds more negative than he really meant...

No doubt, CBS will be getting a few calls from the usual suspects and I would suspect 'fire sale or no" that a deal will be made either with PE or with a house other than Harpercollins or Random House.

New York Times Bookstore

It won't happen often but I picked up on this story a few months ago regarding a partnership agreement between Paradies retail group and the NYT. I am happy to report that has just reported that the companies have agreed that the Delta Terminal at La Guadia will be their second store. Here is my post from July.

The post was about renting a book which you can do at a fairly large number of airport stores managed by Paradies. When I first noticed this offering at the Columbus, OHIO airport (where I have spent way too much time) the promotional material was all over the place. When I was there last week (suffering another two hour delay) there was far less promotion of this offer. Either the store management isn't getting the floor staff to do their jobs correctly or the promotion isn't that important.

Incidentally, I am always shocked and amazed that anyone would get on a plane with absolutely nothing to read and I see this happening all the time. When these people sit next to me they get a very quiet seat mate. These people will thumb through the in-flight magazine which will take all of 10 mins, maybe sneak a look at my computer screen or try to engage in conversation. These people won't be renting books because they don't read. People who read probably don't need the motivation of knowing that they can return a book (i.e.; rent it) in order for them to buy at the airport store. So, my theory is that renting a book is a mere promotional concept and generally speaking wouldn't materially impact store sales.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Who

The Who play Madison Garden tonight and tomorrow and I was really torn whether to go or not. Sitting miles away from the stage is not my idea of fun so it was floor seats or nothing for me (and the wife). Seats in the second section from the stage just a little beyond half court were going for $300 a piece last week. It is a lot of dosh but I was tempted since we saw them the last time - when I thought the whole thing was going to be cancelled since John E snuffed it in Vegas. Tempted because the concert was possibly the best I have ever been to especially since Pete and Roger are my parents age. Still, I suspect they will be back. Regrettably, I have no stories of seeing them (or really anyone of note) in a small bar before they were famous and the only other time I saw them was at the Kingdome in Seattle (which as the name suggests was fucking huge - since demolished). Strangely, MSG can actually be a decent place to see a concert. We saw McCartney there last year and while we weren't on the floor it wasn't too bad at all.

As they embarked on their US tour, Pete reflected on the upcoming tour and some aspects remind me of how I feel about an upcoming long business trip. He says "I’m not going to pretend I’m looking forward to being away from home, but neither am I going to pretend I’m not looking forward to the tour." I have been lucky enough to manage businesses around the world and this entailed a lot of travel over the years; it gets old after a while leaving but there can be benefits to meeting and experiencing how other markets work and understanding your overseas managers is critical to managing them from a long distance. I don't go to Frankfurt this year and I will miss the experience. My reflections don't have much to do with what Pete experiences but if there wasn't reward in it - beyond the money - he wouldn't be doing it. Here is the link to his 'diary' which he suggests will be the last entry for a while.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Frey: Covered in Candy Sprinkles

Many thanks to Steven Colbert for this evisceration of James Frey and others unnamed. Possibly not fair on Barry Manilow...but he gets in several great shots on many others.

Atlas of Fiction

MobuzzTV did a round up of Google Map mash-ups and noted the presence of Atlas of Fiction, which at the moment goes under the banner of interesting distraction. That said, with the inclusion of more content - real locations represented in fictional stories - the site could become a reference point for a better understanding the novel, to sight seeing trips or general back-ground for someone visiting a new city. (Witness all those fee paid Sherlock Holmes walking tours of London).

What I would think would be interesting is some combination with and sites like this where users have identified the settings of the titles they have read. This information would provide a boost to Atlas in establishing a large body of data on locations. The granularity of the location information in Atlas is to the street level so you can pin point exact locations for specific action in each story and annotate the location with a summary of what happened at each location.

Some novels could lend themselves to an entirely new way of reading or engaging in the book. For example, and obvious title would be Ulysses where as a reader you could follow the story on a map of Dublin going from geographic point to point with the narrative changing as you move a cursor from place to place. Intertwine images (still or low-res video) and perhaps sounds as background and you would have a new way of interacting with the novel. This could be particularly interesting if archival pictures and sounds are used.

It would be great to see publishers start to use some of these types of tools as part of their readers guide 'products' often understanding the neighborhoods and locations in which titles are set is highly important to understanding the dimensions of the title and characters. (At least that's what I was told in English lit).

Note: For some reason, Atlas of Fiction seems to work better using Firefox.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Librarything: More new stuff

Librarything just turned one year old and already has over 5million books cataloged on its site. Librarything, for the uninitiated, is a true book lovers social networking site which has garnered tremendous grass roots support from readers, librarians, bookstores and other ‘book people.’ Tim Spalding, who founded the site, has probably been courted by everyone from Google to Amazon and recently allowed ABE books to invest in the company and provide him with some much needed capital for investment. As a result of that investment, Librarything is now more stable than it was in the early summer when the interest in loading books to the site was causing slow response time and server crashes.

In recent weeks I have only seen minor problems and as noted in the librarything blog they continue to work on these issues and get them fixed. The increased investment has enabled some improvements to functionality as well as partnering. Interestingly, it is a trait of social networking – as with any social interaction – there needs to be constant stimulation. I noticed that after loading my titles initially and being generally interested in the site, I didn’t return for a few months. Social sites need to constantly add new reasons to interact with the other members on the site and I am happy to say that Tim and his small team of 3 have stepped this up.

In terms of functionality it is now far easier to tag your own titles and you can manipulate the display of your titles by selecting various fields of information you would like to see in column format. Additionally, you can format five different views of your content. This is a great feature and enables much faster tagging. Once your tags – and these tags are entirely of your invention but you can take a lead from others who have tagged the same titles – you can then see cloud maps of the tags. Clicking on the column heads enables resorting so you can easily bring to the top titles that have no tags which makes editing much easier. There are a few other new things and they continue to add more all the time.

Recently, librarything has enabled integration with bookswap sites. This is relatively new and I haven’t played with this yet; however, it is a simple matter of turning this on in your profile. This feature enables more opportunity to interact with others and share book titles just like a library. Interestingly, in an entry on their blog they discuss how to get scarcer titles added to the ‘share’ listing and there is consideration regarding using pricing (from Amazon) as a measure and applying some type of points system to the books. Obviously, the bookswap idea is less appealing if the only books available for swapping are books everyone has.

Librarything has generated some excitement and they are clearly interested in listening to their users and adding new and interesting items. Recently, they added author pictures and I expect that other information and data will continue to be added.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Never Saw it Coming

Who would have thunk it, the Senate Intelligence Committee has confirmed that the justification for war with Iraq was based on a number of erroneous conclusions (ed. lies, surely?) Well... whatever..., the Senate Intelligence Committee is moving on to confirming the existence of Santa Claus, Snow White and Gandalf. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Disaster Books

This year has been a year of disaster books for me. In a small way. Earlier this year I read A Crack in the Edge of the World By Simon Winchester about the San Francisco earthquake, and I have just finished Curse Of the Narrows by Laura MacDonald which is the true story of a massive explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1917. Both books were excellent and prove interesting reading given the current situation of New Orleans. Most know about the San Francisco earthquake and the resulting fire that destroyed most of the city but in his book Winchester – a geologist by formal education – spends much of the book describing the geological background to the earthquake. Using as a narrative tool his drive across the United States, he describes the geology and geography of the country and provides background on other lesser known earthquakes and geologic points of interest. He actually finishes his journey in Alaska and ‘passes through’ San Francisco to describe the Earthquake. What is comparatively interesting about San Francisco’s reaction to the disaster is the manner in which the city leadership went about dealing with the immediate aftermath and reconstruction. Almost as a circumstance of location and the timeframe in which they lived the city leaders knew instinctively that they couldn’t rely on federal government help and that they needed to take rapid responsibility for their own wellbeing. Help soon arrived and there was an organized mechanism for disbursing and rebuilding the city which got going rapidly. Additionally, it was always assumed that San Francisco was vital to the economy of the west and there was never any doubt of the economic viability and need to rebuild the city.

In December 1917, a munitions ship collided in Halifax harbor with another ship which set off an explosion that remains earths largest conventional explosion ever. The ship exploded in ‘downtown’ Halifax and the force was so strong that Robert Oppenhiemer studied the effects while researching the A-Bomb in 1944. Thousands died and the town was leveled. To make matters worse a blizzard, rain/flooding and another blizzard followed over the next five days and obviously further hampered rescue efforts. Help was sent from the US particularly Massachusetts. Local doctors, who themselves were in shock, were forced to work in terrible conditions for many days as residents were dug out or suffered burns from the ensuing fires. Eye wounds were particularly prevalent because the ship’s explosion was preceded by a fire which ignited the explosives. Many people were caught watching as the shock wave from the explosion blasted every window in town into the faces of the on-lookers. As relief flowed in a citizens emergency group was formed to manage the rebuilding and recovery of the town and a concerted effort was made to take responsibility away from politicians. This was one learning that was gained from the San Francisco recovery effort which some believed had been slowed by politics.

In all these were interesting well written books which are relevant today given the real recovery issues faced in New Orleans. It is fascinating to note that with so much less resource in these two cases, results were fast, early and effective in dealing with the problem at hand. In both cases, the cities were happy for the assistance but they weren’t waiting for someone else to set the priorities and do the job for them. They got stuck in immediately.

Lastly, Laura MacDonald quotes from Disasters a book by J. Byron Deacon published in 1918 which struck me as relevant to our current approach to disasters:

“It is the province of emergency relief to provide for immediate, common
needs. The promptness and completeness with which they are met are the
sole tests of efficiency. The province of rehabilitation is to help each
family meet the needs peculiar to it and return to its normal manner of
life. Its efficiency is tested by the degree to which it succeeds in
accomplishing these results. Emergency relief plans and acts to meet
present needs, rehabilitation plans and acts for ultimate welfare. All
disaster relief should be a process of evolving from dealings with its victims
en masse to treatment of them as individual families…need, not loss, is the
basis of relief; there must be the fullest possible utilization of community and
family resources for self-help; accurate determination of need, family by
family, is the only basis for a just and effective distribution of relief; in
addition to the needs which can be met by monthly gifts, there are others which
can be met only by wise counsel and devoted intelligent personal service.”

Thursday, September 07, 2006

More on Google Archive

Eion Purcell had a forthright and not disagreeable commentary on the Google Archive announcement. I have a similar view that indeed newspapers are realizing they need the traffic to support the web presence and having allowed Google to index their content is great for us users (with a caveat) but also a monumental shift for how these newspaper publishers view themselves. That would be especially true for the New York Times which has visions of being the Nation’s (some think the World’s) newspaper and a destination themselves. I think that this announcement is also a harbinger of things to come and all database providers may find themselves having to open up to Google (and the others) and be indexed. That is just the way things will be.

The library and information database business is currently characterized by monolithic “packages” and all the largest publishers have invested huge amounts to create “platforms” and “solutions” that represent delivery mechanisms for their proprietary content. Google Indexing will become a large federated search engine for all this content progressively (not immediately and maybe not universally) undermining the ‘platform’ approach that publishers have pushed. Having said that, Google Indexing (for want of a better term) is not the total answer and in fact is – in the example of Google Archive – missing a key element. Missing is a navigation tool/enabler that allows a searcher to identify content during their search that they have rights to access via their public or academic library (or other contract with the data owner). This represents the caveat that I mention above.

The technology called ‘link resolver’ has been around for many years and if implemented between the search query and the location of the material would enable the searcher to ‘skip’ the part where they would otherwise have to pay. Authentication that the user has access is as easy as inputting the users library card number. Ideally and logically this only needs to be done once so that the searcher can conduct another search in three weeks and skip even this step.

Now, it is early days in this initiative and I expect improvements will be made rapidly. I did however wonder what libraries were saying about this announcement. Universally, the list serve comments on Web4Lib were that they were disappointed with the implementation. Comments include “..the predominate number of articles were not free but pay-per-view..” or “…people will end up paying for things they have access to” or “..the search doesn’t return anywhere like amount of content available via the library.” (If you want to read them here is the link). As I said above, this is early days and I think the general public will enjoy playing with this Archive. For libraries, I think this represents another opportunity to ride the Google coat tails and via link resolver bring searchers into the library and turn them into patrons.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

More Amazon Movie News, Google Newspapers, Bertelsmann

I wrote a post about Amazons new 'movie platform' (my words) and the The LA Times has a story on the anticipated Amazon Movie Service. Here it is. (It is interesting the correlation to the EPIC 2015 video I linked to last week).

Again, the Google factor at play generating huge coverage this morning, but when I heard this story about providing search users with access to digital archives of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and others, I wondered what happens to Proquest which relies so much on revenues derived from thier newspaper databases.

As many news outlets are reporting this morning Vivendi has purchased Bertelsmann Music Publishing division for over $2.0billion.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ads In Textbooks

A number of recent articles about advertising supported textbooks got some media attention recently. I recall ads in travel guides and they never did well – perhaps it doesn’t help that many travel guide purchasers are arm-chair travelers. It was also difficult to manage the currency of the advertising. I am doubtful that ad supported textbooks will have much success either but I did wonder whether this idea could be taken a little further.

As long ago as 1995, TV Guide were producing as many as 52 separate weekly editions of their guide. Their desire to do this was to create local versions of the guide to gain local advertising (on top of the national advertising in all editions). Print production should allow multiple (economic) versions of a textbook. The question is would publishers as a group be interested in including advertising in their text books? If there was interest and the costs of incorporating the ads was significantly less than the revenue – both big ifs – then a market for the advertising inventory would need to be established. Since the publishing schedule for textbooks is highly seasonal and inventory expires at a certain point it could be relatively straight forward to set up an auction site for textbook ad inventory. (In a perverse way, could advertising in textbooks drive the students need to have the current year's edition...hmm?)

Key to this market would be how automated the activities could be. This would reduce expenses as much as possible. Guidelines on page layout, ad size, image resolution, content, payment, etc. would be easy to establish and using a formulated process such as ebay would also reduce expense by leveraging existing processes. Recently, the advertising industry began experimenting using Ebay as a marketplace for broadcast advertising.

It would seem more likely that an advertising model that enabled an advertiser to reach across multiple markets using multiple publishers and titles would have a greater chance of success than trying to create a publishing program based solely on advertising to justify a titles viability. Who knows? It would seem to me that ad based textbooks sounds interesting when everyone is debating a publishers right to make a reasonable profit but in reality the idea is a sideshow.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Google Lets it All Out

Any time the word Google is attached to anything everyone reacts like it is the second coming. Google opened access to the public domain titles they have scanned as if as Mr Charkin points out there aren't enough opportunities to get these already. Here thanks to a link at Library TechBytes is a vblog from Mobuzz tv that takes a surprising view point in support of the library catalog.

Also, I still wonder about those 'out of copywright' titles with introductions penned in the fifties, sixties and seventies. What's with that?

And since we are on the topic (Google), you may have seen this both really cool and kinda frightenting view of the future c2014. Well now they have updated it by a year. Here is the link to EPIC2015. Off to the Google Grid...

Friday, September 01, 2006

US Open, Andre Agassi and Video Line Calls

The US Open has been great so far, with one of the best and most exciting games played in recent memory between Baghdartis and Agassi. Agassi's match with Blake last year was pretty good to but this one was a true classic. Watching it live until 1:30 in the morning and jumping around the living room was exhausting.

Agassi has said this is his last tournament and I wonder if he is going to publish his biography in the coming years. He is certainly a personality that could move some units. Whereas he has traditionally been very closed about his upbringing and sporting life, he recently expressed more of himself in an article in Sport Illustrated.

This year marks the introduction of video line calls. A player gets to challenge via instant replay a set number of calls per set. When I heard about this it seemed to me games would become similar to The Price is Right with the fans screaming advice to the players. In fact, the implementation has been far better than that, but I am not a fan of introducing this type of technology into sport. I don't approve of goal line video or the camera used in cricketfor runouts. I don't want to seem old fashioned but the ref is as much a part of the game as are the players. The ref gets it right and wrong just like the players and as such the human element adds to the enjoyment and frustration of the game. If we wanted it perfect we should put a bunch of robots out there who never put a pass wrong, always score and are never bowled. Now how much fun would that be to watch? Sure England would have beaten Portugal in the European championship but it is the element of chance and unpredictability that makes sports so fun and interesting.

I can almost guarantee that someone is going to say the technology used to predict where the ball landed isn't good enough and will want improvements. Next thing you know there won't be any refs actually at the games they will all be in a dark room watching remotely as a computer makes the decisions.