Sunday, August 30, 2009

Media Week 32: Economist Edition - Australia, Ebooks, Reading, Rankin, Ransome & More

This is what happens when I let four Economist issues pile up.

Publishing in Australia and a review of the copyright rules under review in Australia. Strangely for the free market Economist they don't advocate elimination of the rules that in the views of some protect the indigenous publishing but which in the minds of others contribute to higher prices. (Economist):

Ultimately the decision rests with Kevin Rudd, Australia’s prime minister, a bookish type who famously penned a 7,000-word essay for a highbrow magazine, the Monthly, warning against “free-market fundamentalism” and “extreme capitalism”. Then again, he also likes to rail against high prices with populist fervour.

Most of the English-speaking world, including America, Britain and Canada, still retains territorial copyright. The main exception is New Zealand, which gave it up in 1998. Different studies have pointed to different effects, from the earlier release of new titles to a flood of cheap foreign children’s books. In 2004 a report found that local publishers were producing a narrower range of titles, with an emphasis on rugby and images of New Zealand’s idyllic countryside. That is exactly the sort of blow predicted by authors and publishers of books like the “The Slap”.

The Economist notes the spiral into bankruptcy of Reader's Digest but also holds some hope for its' future (Economist):
This is wise. There are a lot of people in the heartland, and not just in America. Reader’s Digest’s talent for distilling complex arguments ought to be more valuable in an era of information overload. In the past year Every Day with Rachael Ray and the American edition of Reader’s Digest have lost less than a tenth of their advertising pages, according to Mediaweek—far less than the competition. If it can escape that troublesome debt, the least sexy of publishing companies ought to be around for a while yet.
A review of Outside of a Dog: A Bibliomemoir (Economist):
“I do know some things,” he writes at the end of “Outside of a Dog”. “My books have made me, and through them I know myself and through myself I know them. And nobody can take them away.” At 65, Mr Gekoski’s greatest wish is to have grandchildren to read to so that he can be “connected once again to my parents, as through my children and my children’s children the reading will go on.” This is a book for anyone who has ever wondered how many books there might be time to read: funny, wistful and filled with a longing finally satisfied.
American readers may be unfamiliar with the Swallows and Amazons series of children's (YA) books by Arthur Ransome which charted the adventures of a group of children in England's lake district. Written by Ransome between 1930 and 1947 the were published after a comparatively unconventional personal history for the author (Economist):
It is possible that Ransome was a double agent, also in the Russian service. Certainly, in 1918 he wrote a propaganda pamphlet for the regime entitled “On Behalf of Russia: An Open Letter to America”. In January 1919 he was identified by the Swedish authorities as a Bolshevik and deported with the Russian legation. But this, like so much of Ransome’s Russian adventure, is shrouded in doubt, a mystery caused by lingering official secrecy, a fire in 1923 that destroyed his papers and some deliberate refashioning of history by Ransome himself. One way and another, this was so effective that he eventually became “a national treasure, a sort of grade-one-listed author”.
Finally, The Economist doesn't miss the eBook frenzy but notes the looming presence of Apple (Economist):
Yet there are already signs that consumers may prefer to read e-books on devices that do other things as well. According to some estimates, more people use Apple’s iPhone to read digital texts than use the Kindle. And Apple is hard at work developing a multimedia “tablet” that will probably act as an e-book reader too. Gizmos such as these are the likeliest heroes of the next chapter of electronic bookselling.
In the next few months Thomson Financial will be launching Project Utah which represents a $1bill technology investment to update their systems. At the same time their business is under going significant changes from the market downturn crimping revenue to a new more technically savvy client base (TimesOnline):

The biggest technology bet he will place is Project Utah. Almost two years in the planning, and arriving early next spring, it aims to create a common platform for all of Thomson Reuters’ 200 financial products for the first time, making Reuters’ systems simpler to use.

It is likely to look and feel more like a conventional web portal and all its 500,000 customers will be moved on to it, replacing 3000Xtra as its flagship product. For a company that has previously tailored everything to different customers, it marks a new direction. So does the way that Wenig plans to introduce it.

“It is the first time we are going to properly launch a product,” he said. “We never really launch products. They just emerge. This will have proper marketing and advertising.”

Bloomsbury, proud new owners of Wisden is set to launch an electronic version of the product (TimesOnline): Surely an iPhone app can't be far behind?

One hundred and forty-five years after it was first published, Wisden, the cricket bible, is joining the digital age. Bloomsbury, which bought the publication last November, said yesterday that the 2009 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack would be available in e-book format by November, with several other Wisden titles.

Nigel Newton, chief executive of Bloomsbury, said that a new edition of Wisden on The Ashes was being rushed to press for the Christmas market after England’s victory over Australia.

An interview with Ian Rankin in the Independent:
Inspector Rebus was said to be a repository for the more sinister side of his creator – yet, as he approaches 50, Scotland's most famous crime writer has had counselling and gone teetotal. But can he really be thinking about jacking it all in 'before the books get bad'? Katy Guest meets Ian Rankin.
"Crime writers," he explained, "are usually very well-balanced, approachable people, because we channel all our crap on to the page. In the crime-writing community we joke about romantic fiction writers and how they're all evil, backstabbing bitches because they don't have that outlet ..."
Motoko Rich in the NYTimes takes a look at students who are allowed to pick their own reading material for class (NYTimes):

The approach Ms. McNeill uses, in which students choose their own books, discuss them individually with their teacher and one another, and keep detailed journals about their reading, is part of a movement to revolutionize the way literature is taught in America’s schools. While there is no clear consensus among English teachers, variations on the approach, known as reading workshop, are catching on.

In New York City many public and private elementary schools and some middle schools already employ versions of reading workshop. Starting this fall, the school district in Chappaqua, N.Y., is setting aside 40 minutes every other day for all sixth, seventh and eighth graders to read books of their own choosing.
In January 2007 (I only note the date because time flys), I wrote about a similar idea for education (PND):
My answer to the question posed to me was that I envisioned an environment where there were no set textbooks, content or a curriculum for particular courses. Courses would have learning objectives both general and specific and the students would be required to obtain and/or demonstrate their understanding of the core material against these objectives. The student could obtain this knowledge and understanding via any means they wanted. In addition to demonstrating a mastery of the course objectives they would also have to justify the reference material and methodology they used to obtain their knowledge.

Following were posted on the Twitter (@personanondata) this week.

Library Journal notes that Elsevier and Springer have lost their arguments before the Texas AG to keep their pricing to Texas libraries a secret. Several economists are looking into price contracting and think that academic journals represent a perfect market to study "price discrimination, bundled sales, and long-term contracting in an imperfectly competitive industry." Numerous other vendors have been asked for their pricing as well (LJ):
The Texas records request is the second to generate an official legal ruling or statement, following a June case before a judge in Washington state concerning a motion from Elsevier to block the release of records from Washington State University. Claims that the contracts contained “proprietary pricing methods and formulae" were similarly rejected, and the documents released.
SONY came out in support of the Google Book Settlement (Bloomberg):

Sony’s position puts it at odds with, which is part of a coalition that includes Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo! Inc. who argue that Google is trying to control the access and distribution of the largest database of books in the world. The settlement also has generated complaints from authors and independent publishers, and prompted investigations by the European Commission and U.S. Justice Department.

With Sony taking the side of Mountain View, California- based Google, the debate over the lawsuit in New York could become a proxy war over electronic book readers. In March, Sony gained access to more than 500,000 e-book titles for its readers through an agreement with Google.

England won The Ashes (Week'sBest Cricket)

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