Sunday, March 08, 2009

Media Week 6: Alternative Reality, Brewster Kahle, Reviews, McGraw-Hill, Kaplan

In this quarter's technology report The Economist had three articles of general interest and relevance to publishers. Firstly, an article about alternative reality games and it would seem to me that some of the important elements that go into the creation of an ARG could (should) be delivered or supported by a 'traditional' publisher. (Economist is paid access - Sorry).
It was back in 2001 that the first commercial ARG, “The Beast”, a promotional campaign for Steven Spielberg’s film “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence”, began blurring the line between reality and fiction. Instead of formally announcing the start of a game, ARGs merely leave clues for potential players to follow: a subtle image on a poster, perhaps, or a cryptic message on a website. Fans must piece together the narrative—that’s the “alternate reality”—on their own. ARGs are characterised by their reliance on technology and teamwork, and are often shrouded in mystery until they end, weeks or even months later. Only then is the full story (and the product being promoted) revealed.
In the second article, the newspaper wonders do reviews really help and how many is too many? Apparently they do and maybe there is a limitless appetite for them:

The sheer volume of reviews makes far more difference, according to Google’s analysis of clicks and sales referrals. “Single digits didn’t seem to move the needle at all,” says Mr McAteer. “It wasn’t enough to get people comfortable with making that purchase decision.” But after about 20 reviews of a product are posted, “We start to see more reviews—it starts to accelerate,” says Sam Decker, the chief marketing officer of Bazaarvoice, a firm that powers review systems for online retailers.

His company’s research shows that visitors are more reluctant to buy until a product attracts a reasonable number of reviews and picks up momentum. In a test with Kingston, a maker of computer memory, Bazaarvoice collected reviews of Kingston products from the firm’s website and syndicated them to the website of Office Depot, a retailer. As a result there were more than ten reviews per product, compared with one or two for competitors’ offerings. The result was a “drastically” higher conversion rate, which extended even to other Kingston products that lacked the additional reviews.

Lastly, The Economist profiles Brewster Kahle the founder of the Open Internet Archive.

But all these things are steps towards Mr Kahle’s wider goal: to build the world’s largest digital library. He has recruited 135 libraries worldwide to, the aim of which is to create a catalogue of every book ever published, with links to its full text where available. To that end, the Internet Archive is also digitising books on a large scale on behalf of its library partners. It scans more than 1,000 books every day, for which the libraries pay about $30 each. (The digital copy can then be made available by both parties.)

Some 200 people work for the Internet Archive, which has an annual budget of $10m-14m. Initially funded by Mr Kahle, the archive now gets much of its income from grants made by foundations and from libraries that pay it to digitise their books. It also runs a variety of one-off projects, such as a collaboration with America’s space agency, NASA, to make available photos and films relating to the history of the space programme, and a “print on demand” system to turn digital files into physical books in minutes.

BusinessWeek suggests that the Android Mobile operating system will overtake the IPhone by 2012.

The iPhone's lead over smartphone upstart Android is set to be short-lived, according to new research.

Android smartphone sales will outstrip iPhone sales by 2012, a report by industry watchers Informa Telecoms & Media has predicted.

Last month, O2's parent Telefónica Europe revealed sales of the iPhone topped one million in the UK. While T-mobile UK Рthe exclusive carrier of the first Android device, the G1 Рwouldn't put a figure on how many of the devices have been sold, it did say the handset now accounts for 20 per cent of its contract sales.

McGraw Hill is in the second phase of an e-Book experiment at Northwestern Missouri State:
One of the largest public university e-text research trials is currently being conducted by Northwest Missouri State University and McGraw-Hill. The alliance is testing the potential of replacing students' printed textbooks with the electronic, fully interactive versions that offer promising cost savings.

The preliminary phase of this study ended this past December and involved four classes and approximately 200 students. This second phase involves 10 departments and more than 500 students. Initial results are expected by mid-April 2009.

"As we look ahead to the University's ever-growing operational costs, especially in today's challenging economic environment, we see eBooks as a proactive solution to address the considerable expense associated with higher education," said Dr. Dean L. Hubbard, Northwest's president. EBooks typically cost about half as much as traditional printed textbooks.

In the second phase of the pilot program, the students download the McGraw-Hill eBooks using VitalSource Bookshelf(R) a software application for reading, managing and interacting with digital content.

Online Universities Kaplan and University of Phoenix are given failing grades by Consumers Digest:
For-profit online universities represent a $6.2 billion industry with some 620,000 students as of fall 2008. Because of questionable oversight by the federal government, some of these "institutions," such as Kaplan University and University of Phoenix, are able to skirt requirements of the Title IV student-assistance program that is part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, and thus, mostly taxpayer money is filling the coffers of these companies. The transgressors often use high-pressure tactics to mislead individuals regarding the value of a degree and the costs involved in working toward that degree. Many potential students are deceived about the transferability of credits earned elsewhere. Allegedly, instructors are pressured to inflate students' grades to keep them enrolled and the financial aid flowing in -- and are rewarded for doing so. For students, all of this can result in subpar coursework, insufficient job training and a degree that is devalued by employers -- a complete waste of a student's time and money.

In the course of producing the investigative report, "Degrees of Difficulty: The Truth About Online Universities," in the April issue of Consumers Digest (on sale March 3), interviews with 26 former employees and students from the biggest for-profit online universities brought to light the questionable role of admissions "advisers" who know little about academia but a lot about sales; the existence of giant call centers adorned with large wallboards that track applicants and enrollment numbers; and bonus- and commission-based enrollment practices -- even though federal law prohibits schools that are eligible for federal funding from using these practices.

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