Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year's top 10 PND articles

The top ten articles read this year (no surprise on the first one).

ISBN is Dead
Border's Store Closings
Digital Concierge
Five Questions with Bondi Digital
580,388 Orphans Give or Take
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Loose Credit Rating
Predictions 2009: Death and Resurrection
Anderson News Folds Tent
Presuming No Book
Harcourt Houghton Mifflin in Anti-Trust

Works Progress for Scanning

Carl Malamud blogging on the Radar O'Reilly blog speaks eloquently about the need for a coordinated approach to digitizing the nations print content and one that doesn't "lien on the public domain, preventing the public from accessing these vital materials." He concludes (O'Reilly):

If the government invested a mere $100 million of our stimulus package (we've already spent over $72.6 billion), that means 2 billion pages of paper or microfiche would get scanned. For $500 million, we're talking a huge chunk of our national backlog being digitized, a task that would result in an enduring digitial public work for our modern era, something that would prove immense use to future generations, and would also save the government tremendous amounts of money in storage costs and other facilities expenses.

What would it take to get the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Government Printing Office, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Technical Information Service all singing off the same page and working together? There is a tremendous opportunity for White House leadership here, bringing the parties together and creating a compelling case on why we should launch and fund a 5-year $500 million effort to create a National Scan Center. Both the CIO and the CTO in the Executive Office of the President have talked about the tremendous "moral authority and convening power" of the White House, and I believe that this issue is of sufficient importance that it would be worthwhile to pursue.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Adventures with Alan Moore and Dodgem Logic

I'm not a huge comic book readers but I did find this article in last weeks Saturday Telegraph magazine very interesting about Alan Moore who created The Watchmen. As we pontificate on the future of publishing we mostly forget to recognize that we haven't yet seen the true creativity of the author (and editor) that is key to how the reading experience will morph. It is a talent like Alan Moore that will move us in these new directions (Telegraph):

Is an underground magazine a sustainable proposition as the print media come under threat? “I think that in an increasingly virtual world, lovingly produced artefacts are at a premium,” he says. “But I haven’t really got a business plan, and I don’t expect to make a profit on it. A good result for me is to pay all the contributors, and then anything left over we’re going to plough back into the neighbourhood.” A Dodgem Logic hamper is planned for the elderly people of his old manor this Christmas and Moore’s old adversaries DC Comics, whom he told never to contact him again after a dispute over the rights to Watchmen, may be surprised to learn their sales are funding the project. “After that wretched film, Watchmen is now selling everywhere,” he says, “and much as I’m sure it pains them, that means they have to send me huge cheques every three months. I’ve got enough to cover my needs and I’d probably feel guilty if I wasn’t doing something for the area I’ve come from.”

Future issues of Dodgem Logic should include a contribution from Moore’s friend Iain Sinclair, a long piece on anarchy by Moore (“I’ve become very attracted to the Athenian lot system as a system of government that anarchists might go for”), several pages curated by Damon Albarn’s band Gorillaz and a possible interview with David Simon, the writer of The Wire. But he’s keen to ensure it remains diverse and “that all our contributors, from the famous to the completely unknown, are treated in exactly the same way”. He’s already entrusted the next “women’s column” to a young mother from the area and has commissioned a piece by a former local police officer to run alongside an article by a former member of the CIA
Perhaps what hits home for me is that Moore's activities connected several threads in my own mind about projects that I would like to work on combining elements of magazine publishing, self-publishing, annual adventure books and photography. On the surface a strange mixture but if I could only find the time I could show you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Traveling Home and Baffling Terror

Before we left the family manse on Saturday morning (12/26) I happened to turn the news on to the reports about the Delta Airlines flight in Detroit. I realized immediately that I needed to keep quiet about this but I anticipated a raft of issues when we got to Heathrow. Not so. Our pass through security and the wait in the terminal was no different than any other flight.

As we boarded however, every passenger was re-screened and patted down. I actually have no problem with this if it is done one of two ways: Either no one gets the treatment or we all do. One of my most vivid memories of traveling as a child during the 1970s occurred at Frankfurt's Main airport where on boarding our Pan Am flight security had erected a screened pen where they were selectively strip searching passengers. What goes around comes around but it also shows that not too much has been learned. In a poorly executed exercise that had the entire passenger load lined up the gang way for 2hours, we were lucky enough to get on board early.

After about an hour the first curious announcement was made: All water bottles carried on board had to be handed over. At this point half the passengers had already been searched and were in their seats. The flight crew could only rely on the honesty of each passenger to hand over their bottles. If you were up to no good why volunteer?

The flight took off and we were tucking into our meal watching a movie when the next weird announcement was made: On FAA instruction the in-flight entertainment system had to be turned off. But we could still use our own electronic 'devices'. That was until the next announcement about 20mins later: Anything with an on-off switch had to be turned off. Again, if you were up to no good....

The crew had no idea either and the in flight purser (or whatever he was) was completely inarticulate which only made the whole thing more bizarre (there was nothing from the Captain). The weirdness only got worse when they announced they had to collect all pillows and blankets prior to landing and that for the last hour of the flight no one could stand-up or visit the dunny. (The last bit is not too controversial since that was/is in effect for flights to DC). Mrs PND who was still ignorant of the Detroit issue (it was never mentioned on the plane) was becoming increasingly baffled (and in full bluster).

The whole thing was as though they were making it up as they went along but I am glad we got out before the silliness really got started. Out of all of this is the constancy that the 'security' process is more for passenger's piece of mind, that circumventing 'security' is easy and that we are always several steps behind. Indeed on the last point, a read of Fred Forsyth, Tom Clancy or Mark Burnell represents enough of a blue print as to what the bad guys are up to.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Media Week 52: Magazines, Stealing, Reader's Digest, SONY, Translations

A little late this week.

Further compounding the mystery about consumers likes and dislikes and purchase patterns, is news that Martin Amis does indeed pass the free test (NYTimes):

Apparently the thieves have not yet read the “Thou shalt not steal” part — or maybe they believe that Bibles don’t need to be paid for. “Some people think the word of God should be free,” Bercu said. As it turns out, Bibles are snatched even at the Parable Christian Store in Springfield, Ore., the manager told me, despite the fact that if a person asks for a Bible, they’ll be given a copy without charge.

But this holiday season, the Good Book is hardly the only title in danger of being filched. At independent bookstores, thieves are as likely to be taking orders from Abbie Hoffman’s “Steal This Book” as from Exodus.

Fiction is the most commonly poached genre at St. Mark’s Bookshop in the East Village of Manhattan; the titles that continually disappear are moved to the X-Case, safely ensconced behind the counter. This library of temptation includes books by Martin Amis, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo and Jack Kerouac, among others. Sometimes the staff isn’t sure whether an author is still popular to swipe until they return their books to the main floor. “Amis went out and came right back,” Michael Russo, the manager, told me.

At BookPeople in Austin, titles displayed with staff recommendation cards are a darling among thieves. “It’s so bad lately that I feel like our staff recommendation cards should read: ‘BookPeople Bookseller recommends that you steal ________.’ Apparently the criminal element in Austin shares our literary tastes, or are very prone to suggestion,” Elizabeth Jordan, the head book buyer, wrote in an e-mail message.

The Universtiy of Rochester has developed a vibrant translation publishing program (NYTimes):

Though it might have initially been conceived as a marketing device, Three Percent has turned into a lively clearing house for everything related to literature in translation, and logs more than two million page views a year, with obvious commercial benefits for Open Letter. Readers can post their own reviews and learn what foreign publishing houses are up to, and translators can discuss their craft and check to see which works are available and which have already been snatched up by colleagues.

“It’s very difficult in the present economic climate for a publishing house to be totally dependent on university funding, and in the press, editors have less space for reviews and translations,” said Peter Bush, vice president of the International Federation of Translators, who is translating a collection of short stories from Catalan for Open Letter. “But there are readers out there communicating with each other about translation, and through Three Percent, Open Letter is plugged into the new media and is using that space to find new readers and sell their books.”

Interview with Michael Lynton - he used to be in publishing but went on to greater things at SONY (TimesOnline):

Sony is a prime mover in the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, a consortium that includes Warner Brothers and Fox — part of News Corporation, parent of The Sunday Times — which will let consumers store movies in “the cloud” to access them from a range of devices. The hope is that viewers will be happy to pay for the convenience.

Lynton hopes the collaboration will help the studios strike back at Apple. Analysts at Screen Digest predict its iTunes store will account for 60% of all US online movie transactions this year, even though it is only compatible with Apple’s own gadgets.

The studios’ historic markets are disappearing fast. Although cinema admissions are thriving in Britain, the value of DVD sales fell 7% in the first 11 months of the year, according to the British Video Association. Annual volumes are flat at about 250m units, even with the explosive growth of Blu-Ray discs.

Adam Peneberg in Fast Company thinks about the future of publishing (Fast Company)
For the non-fiction author therein lie possibilities to create the proverbial last word on a subject, a one-stop shop for all the information surrounding a particular subject matter. Imagine a biography of Wiley Post, the one-eyed pilot from the 1930s who was the first to fly around the world. It would not only offer the entire text of a book but newsreel footage from his era, coverage of his most famous flights, radio interviews, schematics of his plane, interactive maps of his journeys, interviews with aviation historians and pilots of today, a virtual tour of his cockpit and description of every gauge and dial, short profiles of other flyers of his time, photos, hyperlinked endnotes and index, links to other resources on the subject. Social media could be woven into the fabric of the experience--discussion threads and wikis where readers share information, photos, video, and add their own content to Post's story, which would tie them more closely to the book. There's also the potential for additional revenue streams: You could buy MP3s of popular songs from the 1930s, clothes that were the hot thing back then, model airplanes, other printed books, DVDs, journals, and memorabilia.
A long discussion in the NYTimes about the prospects for Reader's Digest - needlessly catty in places (NYTimes)

As Ms. Berner tries to persuade the world to rethink this company, she apparently also needs to re-educate employees. Much of her time and boundless intensity is spent prodding her staff out of its entrenched, slow-motion ways — no easy task, given the eccentric and insular culture of this company, a legacy of the long stewardship of DeWitt and Lila Wallace, the Reader’s Digest founders.

Beyond agitprop, Ms. Berner’s continuing internal campaign has included some let’s-put-on-a-show enthusiasm and some merciless cost-cutting. Lines of authority have also been redrawn, integrating the print and online realms. “Silo busting” is a phrase you hear a lot.

To lead this revolution, Ms. Berner has hired an impressively credentialed group of women to the company’s top jobs, a coterie known around the building collectively as “the blondes.” Strictly speaking, they’re not all blonde, but they have brought high-heel chic to a place that resisted, or actively shunned, that style for a long time.

“It was hilarious to see all those Prada shoes on that campus,” says Jackie Leo, the onetime editor in chief at Reader’s Digest magazine whom Ms. Berner eventually replaced. “It’s such a Manhattan group in such a suburban place.”

Hollywood remake eyes global hit for 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (CNN): I looked everywhere in London last week for the DVD but only found it on Ebay for $54! I think I would rather see this version than the 'remake':

The Swedish-language adaptation of Larsson's book released earlier this year, "Man Som Hatar Kvinnor" ("Men Who Hate Women") was sleeper hit, grossing nearly $100 million in Europe, according to Variety.

Now producers are hoping a star-powered English-language adaptation can turn the already successful Swedish adaptations of the "Millennium" trilogy into a truly global phenomenon.

"The English-language films will be a more international story than the Swedish ones," said Mikael Walleen, Managing Director of Yellow Bird Pictures, the company producing the original Swedish adaptations.

Magazines Get Ready for Tablets (The NYTimes):

The new approaches depend on two assumptions: that consumers will finally embrace the tablet computers that manufacturers have promised for years, and that they will want to read magazine-style content on them. Publishers are creating magazinelike products for these devices, but different mediums lend themselves to different reading styles, as the Web showed.

Thomas J. Wallace, the editorial director of Condé Nast, said he expected the design of the magazine app to evolve, reflecting how people used it. “As time goes on, we’ll find our way with this, but we need to have the thing — we need to have the consumer using the thing — to tell us what’s best. So we start with who we are.”

In the Esquire app, articles are recreated in documents that the reader scrolls through. A tap calls up more photos or video, a navigation screen or a search box. Because Mr. Granger has a sponsor — Axe — for the first three issues, he hasn’t had to figure out how to incorporate and measure print ads.

Mag Bag: 2009 Round-Up Of Magazine Closures (MediaPost):
These are just the latest in a long casualty list of magazines closed in 2009 -- a total of 433, if you include 64 titles that ceased print publication to go online-only. MediaFinder noted that this number is actually down from previous years -- 526 in 2008, 573 in 2007 -- but the victims include a larger proportion of big titles. Among the high-profile magazines to close this year were Country Home, Teen, Wondertime, Domino (January), Hallmark (February), Best Life and Blender (March), Portfolio (April), Nickelodeon and Vibe (June), Southern Accents (August), Gourmet, Cookie, Modern Bride, and Elegant Bride (October), Fortune Small Business, Metropolitan Home (November) and National Geographic Adventure (December).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Technology and Sport 2000-2009

On the Sports Blog at the Guardian they intertwine who did what over the past ten years with a look at how technology has redefined how we interact with live and broadcast sport events (Guardian).

It would be a mistake to think of Wetzel's new buddy from Arizona as the geek at the gate: a pauper disenfranchised by exorbitant ticket costs. This was a lesson in fan empowerment. The non-live spectator is now a kind of Willy Wonka in a paradise of instant-thrill-availability. "In 1999 the vast majority of Americans didn't know how to send or receive a text message on their cell phones," Wetzel wrote. "Now we watch TV on the thing. The biggest story of the decade wasn't what Pacquiao did but where you could watch him do it."

This is one revolution that will be televised. The old models of image and information dispersal have been demolished. For all the dramas on the field of the play technology is the real story of sport in the so-called Noughties. At Premier League football grounds now it is common to sit behind a fan who is watching Jeff Stelling in the Sky Sports Soccer Saturday studio while also observing the game on the turf below.

For some, text alerts, hot clip downloads and breaking news are now part of the package of being a supporter. Sensory overload is available with a few prods of a phone screen. In the United States sports pages fight a losing battle for immediacy against NFL and NBA clubs who broadcast their post-match press conferences straight on to their own websites. Why wait for the next day's paper when you can hear what they said, right here, right now? A newspaper man will answer: because Pravda was not the best source of insights into Kremlin politics, but no one knows how much spectators value the objectivity that an independent media bring to analysis.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Magazine Future from Bonnier

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

The above is a more sophisticated look at what a designed for the web magazine could look like. Several weeks ago I linked to a design concept from Sports Illustrated but this takes things a little further. Things move fast, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a production version(s) like this by the end of 2010 and I (almost) guarantee that you will see at least one major book publisher experiment with a non-fiction title on one of these devices: I do mean 'experiment' and not just slapping the content into epub.

In this video, Jack Schulze explains how they conceived their idea of the digital magazine and at The Guardian, tech editor Bobbie Johnson asks some further questions (Guardian):
What does that mean exactly? Öhrvall explained that the company has done a lot of research to try and understand what it is about magazines that readers enjoy, rather than make certain assumptions about what people do and why."We have done extensive research about consumer behaviour reading print magazines, trying to understand the real drivers behind the emotional attachment people have to magazines... drivers important to translate to a digital world. Furthermore, we have looked into existing digital magazines and analysed why they have failed. We have also done market studies in Japan and South Korea where the use of media in digital media is much more extensive and advanced.This basic research may seem a no-brainer, but it's funny how often the media business relies on self-fulfulling guesses - people often glide over the differences between what customers want and what is convenient for the publisher, often confusing one with the other or amalgamating the two (that's something my colleague Roy Greenslade alluded to in a recent piece).

Monday, December 21, 2009


I am in London all week so let me know anyone who wants to get together for coffee. So far it is quite cold and snowy but much less snowy than New York.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Media Week 51: Cormac McCarthy, Cranford, Libraries/Google, eBooks, Magazines

All Cormac McCarthy as the film version of The Road finally makes it to the big screen. (I'm one book into the border trilogy myself). This weekend in addtion to a review of the film by Wil Self (here), The Observer profiles the author (here):

McCarthy spends a lot of his time at the Santa Fe Institute, near his home in New Mexico, a multi-disciplinary institution set up by the Los Alamos physicist Murray Gell-Mann to study "complex systems". McCarthy lunches there and counts a number of the scientists among his friends. When asked recently, in a conversation with the Wall Street Journal, about the nature of the catastrophic event in The Road, he answered by saying: "I don't have an opinion. It could be anything – volcanic activity or it could be nuclear war. It is not really important. The whole thing now is, what do you do? The last time the caldera in Yellowstone blew, the entire North American continent was under about a foot of ash. People who've gone diving in Yellowstone lake say that there is a bulge in the floor that is now about 100 feet high and the whole thing is just sort of pulsing. From different people, you get different answers, but it could go in another three to four thousand years or it could go on Thursday…"

By nature, you can't help feeling, McCarthy tends toward the latter timeframe. He is the great pessimist of American literature, using his dervish sentences to illuminate a world in which almost everything (including punctuation) has already come to dust. He once argued that he could see no point at all in literature that did not dwell on death. His touchstones are Dostoevsky and Melville; he hasn't much time for Henry James.

This evening (Sunday) in the UK a new series based on the Gaskell Cranford books starts: A second series of Cranford is coming. Apparently, no one has read the books so don't know then endings (Link)
Writer Heidi Thomas had again brilliantly fashioned the stories of Elizabeth Gaskell into something wonderful, greater than the sum of its parts. I get irritated when the show is dismissed as ‘costume drama’ as I see it as an original work by Heidi, based on classic short stories. I think the first series succeeded because viewers were surprised both by the narrative – as they had no way of knowing where the story was heading – and also by the boldly comic tone and versions of the bizarre events that Mrs Gaskell had witnessed in Victorian Cheshire. In television the term aspirational is used to describe shows such as Desperate Housewives, meaning viewers wish they could live like the characters. I think the same was true for Cranford: people wish they lived in a tight little community where people know your business and there are a set of rules and rituals to live by. I also think the audience welcomed a show dominated by strong, distinctive female characters.
Libraries have asked for help controlling what they expect will be high subscription prices for the Google Book Database (Link)

The American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries and the Association of Research Libraries said that there was unlikely to be an effective competitor to Google's massive project in the near term.

It asked the government to urge the court to use its oversight authority to prevent abusive pricing of the online book project.

"The United States should carefully monitor implementation of the settlement, including the pricing of the institutional subscription," the library organizations said in their letter, which was dated December 15 but released on Thursday.

It was addressed to William Cavanaugh, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's antitrust division.

David Pogue in the New York Times questions whether eBooks should wear protection (Link):

All right. So: should e-books be copy protected?

As an author myself, I, too, am terrified by the thought of piracy. I can’t stand seeing my books, which are the primary source of my income, posted on all these piracy Web sites, available for anyone to download free.

When I wrote about my concerns a year ago, my readers took me to task. “For all you know,” went their counterargument, “the illegal copies are just advertising for you; people will download them, try them out, then go buy the physical book. Either that, or they’re being downloaded by people who would not have bought your book anyway. Why don’t you try a controlled experiment and see?”

Well, it sounded like it could be a very costly experiment. But I agreed. My publisher, O’Reilly, decided to try an experiment, offering one of my Windows books for sale as an unprotected pdf file. After a year, we could compare the results with the previous year’s sales.

The results? It was true. The thing was pirated to the skies. It’s all over the Web now, ridiculously easy to download without paying.

The crazy thing was, sales of the book did not fall. In fact, sales rose slightly during that year.

Stephen Covey's extends his already widely distributed publishing and promotional operations to include a digital rights deal with Amazon. The Guardian suggests this startles New York publishers (Link)

The move has put a chill over New York publishing houses already struggling to keep up with the ebook revolution. One of their big fears is that of becoming separated from their backlists, the titles that act as the cash cows of the industry, bringing in a steady and increasingly crucial income in the insecure digital world.

As jitters spread, some big publishers have moved to defend what they claim is theirs – the digital rights to the backlist.

Borders UK staff are expected to lose their jobs during Christmas week and as many as a 1,000 jobs will be lost as the chance of a last minute reprieve looks remote. (Link)

Magazines are getting ready for tablets and there may be lots of benefits to be had (Link):

Publishers like the iPhone, but it has drawbacks, especially its small size. That’s where the tablet is expected to come in.

Few tablets are on the market today. (Mr. Wallace keeps a 10 1/2-inch piece of foam and paper on his desk, his best guess at what a tablet will look like.) Hewlett-Packard and other hardware companies are developing touch-screen tablets that are expected to look like a much larger iPhone. Apple, too, is rumored to be working on one.

“The technology will allow these magazines, and these advertisements, to look as good as they look on the magazine page,” said Louis Cona, senior vice president of the Condé Nast Media Group.

As good — or better. Wired’s mockup has elements like interactive graphics, links that take the customer to a floating window rather than a new page, and the ability to play video and audio. “You can put as many pyrotechnics in there as you want to,” Mr. Wallace said.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Predictions 2009: Death and Resurrection: (Repost)

A year end repost of some of the predictions I made for 2009. Originally posted on 1/5/09

Like the guy who is asked how he went bankrupt, ‘slowly and then quickly’, the escalating economic downturn in 2008 has really been brewing since the end of 2007, but we only fell off the cliff in fall 2008. I still believe (as I noted in January 2008) that 2007 will be viewed historically as a watershed year for media: the economic decline will further accelerate the macro trends the industry witnessed as 2007 evolved. These trends include:
  • the rapid commitment to electronic delivery of content in both education and trade
  • separation of ad-based and subscription-based models in both information and professional publishing
  • forced concentration in the traditional publishing supply chain countered by (nascent) new channels including direct-to-consumer
  • further blurring of the edges across media segments: More publishers will offer all content – not just their own - wider services and applications, and broader linking and partnerships designed to draw customers
The economic difficulties today are stark compared to the boisterous 2007 where the price for publishing assets kept going up and many big deals were made. During 2008, many high-profile divestitures were either abandoned (Reed Business) or ignominiously completed (TVGuide magazine sold for $1). 2009 is likely to see both the unraveling of some of the deals done in 2007 and some opportunistic buying but, more generally, the deferment of many companies' corporate development strategies.

Naturally, 2009 will see new companies emerge and there are numerous precedents for companies launched in economically challenging markets ultimately becoming very successful. Perhaps challenging the status quo is easier when the status quo is concentrating on just staying "status".

Predictions 2009
  • An easy one: It gets much worse before it gets better. When times were good an oversupply of market options – particularly in retail – hid a myriad of structural problems. Right-sizing in media retailing and distribution will result in one major physical book retailer, one wholesaler and one online retailer. Media will be a sideshow compared with some other segments, particularly clothing and department stores.
  • Another easy one: Several major city newspapers will change hands for less than the debt they carry. Local and hyper-local models will expand and further encroach on the market for traditional big city news. Coupled with linking, content licensing and arrangements with classified providers like Craigslist and Ebay, there will be a rapid expansion of the (hyper) local online news provider market.
  • Out-of-work journalists will see increasing opportunities to become ‘content producers’ as more and more companies seek to enrich their sites with professional content that appeals to their target market. The typical website ‘experience’ becomes more expansive and deeper than a company catalog or press release site. Journalism as a function becomes more widely dispersed across many business segments.
  • The NYTimes will either close the Boston Globe and ‘rebrand’ a NYTimes version for the Boston Market or sell it for a $1 saddled with as much debt as they can get away with. Sunday's paper will now come on Saturday: The UK market successfully went down this road and the US will (belatedly) follow.
  • In media M&A, look for companies that have lots of cash to act opportunistically: NewsCorp, Holtzbrink, Bauer, Bonnier, Bertlesmann, Axel Springer, Lagardère, BBC (Commercial).
  • Gathering of ‘equals’: Media owners unable to sell assets may seek to partner with another media company in the same boat and combine assets to form a new company. One combination that could be interesting is Nielsen Business Media with Reed Business Information (– pure speculation on my part). Others in this space looking for options might include Primedia, McGrawHill, Penton.
  • The Obama administration will make wholesale revisions to education policy which will pain education publishers who have made particular investments in assessment companies. Long term, the assessment market will be robust; however, with explicit indications that student performance is no better for the ‘no child left behind’ programs, fundamental changes will be instituted including a more federalist direction. Ready your lobbying dollars.
  • Evidence that the edges of media segments continue to overlap: Google will bid for the 2014 and 2016 Olympic broadcast rights.
  • Social networking and ‘community’ building will become the CEO’s pet project as a ‘cheap’ alternative to decreased ad and marketing budgets with, predictably negative results. Senior-level misunderstandings of what constitutes effective social programs will result in efforts being treated casually. Piecemeal approaches will predominate and there will be a continued lack of cohesion of marketing with social networking. Programs backfire as customers witness the cynicism. Effective social networking is not just for Christmas.
  • Professional and information publishing will effectively leverage Linkedin-like networks (possibly using their platform) to extend social networking to their closed networks. Lexis/Martindale is creating a private legal social network platform.
  • Too much Linkedin with my Facebook. More people will do what I did in 2008 and build barriers around their online social networks and selectively cull ‘friends’ or ‘connections’ Sheer numbers have no logic, friendship is earned and legitimate business connections are money. Quality, not quantity, will reign. Don’t take it personally.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

London's Libraries and Distributed Collections

In a letter to the editor of The Times a reader reflects on how London's libraries offered an early model for distributed physical storage (Times):

Sir, In 1946 the London metropolitan borough public libraries instigated a scheme where each of the libraries had a part of the alphabet for which they were to aim to collect all the fiction works of authors within their allocation, to enable out of print novels to be available through the inter-library loan systems. The scheme allowed libraries to send to the appropriate library fiction that was past its use-by date and therefore allowed a copy to be preserved.

Hence when Harold Pinter was looking for Murphy, a novel by Samuel Beckett, it would have been no surprise to find that a copy was sitting in the reserve stock of Bermondsey public library, since its allocation was BAJ-BEC (“Pinter’s 59-year pause”, letter, Dec 16).

Rarely did the participating libraries prior to 1988 catalogue their collections but they were known within London at least and the scheme was well used. In 1988 the scheme was enlarged so that many public libraries throughout England are participating in a “fiction reserve” scheme on a similar basis.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Media week 50: Random House, Dissertations, Cormac McCarthy, Ian Dury

Random House is taking an aggressive stand on the rights they assume over digital versions of their backlists are reported in The Wall Street Journal:
In the letter, dated Dec. 11, Markus Dohle, CEO of the Bertelsmann AG publishing arm, writes that the "vast majority of our backlist contracts grant us the exclusive right to publish books in electronic formats." Mr. Dohle writes that many of the older agreements "often give the exclusive right to publish 'in book form' or 'in any and all editions.' "

"I don't accept Random House's position, and I don't think anybody else will either," Mr. Sobel said. "You are entitled to the rights stated in your contract. And contracts 20 years ago didn't cover electronic rights. And the courts have already agreed with this position."

Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, said, "We believe Random House has the right to publish our authors' backlist titles as e-books. We think we can do the best job for our authors' e-books."

The story was also covered by The NYT:

The discussions about the digital fate of Mr. Styron’s work are similar to the negotiations playing out across the book industry as publishers hustle to capture the rights to release e-book versions of so-called backlist books. Indeed, the same new e-book venture Mr. Styron’s family hopes to use has run into similar resistance from the print publisher of “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller.

On Friday, Markus Dohle, chief executive of Random House, sent a letter to dozens of literary agents, writing that the company’s older agreements gave it “the exclusive right to publish in electronic book publishing formats.”Backlist titles, which continue to be reprinted long after their initial release, are crucial to publishing houses because of their promise of lucrative revenue year after year. But authors and agents are particularly concerned that traditional publishers are not offering sufficient royalties on e-book editions, which they point out are cheaper for publishers to produce. Some are considering taking their digital rights elsewhere, which could deal a financial blow to the hobbled publishing industry.

UC Berkeley: Paper is out, digital is in, when it comes to dissertations (Link)
For the last few years, Berkeley students have been able to file their ProQuest copy digitally, but Lemontt says few took advantage because they still needed to produce a perfect printed copy for the library. The move to all-electronic has been in the works for a year or more, according to Lemontt. The Graduate Council signed off on it in October.In addition to making Berkeley students' research far more widely available, going electronic is "a major step in line with campus 'green' initiatives" and also is in line with Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's directive to streamline business processes, according to an August memo from Graduate Dean Andrew Szeri to council chair Ronald Cohen.Revisions of the library's procedures made the cataloguing of electronic papers possible. The final hurdles were concerns that that research published instantly online might be more susceptible to plagiarism, and that some students might want to delay digital publication while they revise their dissertation into a publishable book.
There's a movie out about Ian Dury and an interview with his son Baxter. (Link)

Cormac McCarthy talks about The Road The Road tops our pool of the decade’s best 100 books. In a rare interview, its author, Cormac McCarthy, talks about religion, fatherhood and the future of humanity. (Link)

The writer himself, however, has proved more elusive. He won’t be found at book festivals, readings and other places where novelists gather. McCarthy prefers hanging out with “smart people” outside his field, such as professional poker players and the thinkers at the Santa Fe Institute, a theoretical science foundation in New Mexico where he has been a longtime Fellow.

In recent years his circle has inched farther into Hollywood. Now, set for release in January, is a screen adaptation of The Road. As intimate as it is grim, the book tells the story of a man’s bond with his young son as the two struggle for survival years after a cataclysm has erased society. The novel won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 and was promoted heavily by Oprah Winfrey as a surprising selection for her book club.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Watching the News (Repost)

Every Friday I am saving myself some effort by re-posting something from the archive. The following post was my first on May 17, 2006.

Watching the News:

I watch a lot of news; NY local news, NBC, BBC, Local NJ news and Jon Stewart. Virtually without fail each evening we ask ourselves while watching the BBC news 'was this even mentioned on NBC'. It is readily apparent to me that the US news - in this case NBC - is bland, bias and boring. That is not to say the comparison - in this case the BBC - doesn't have its faults but we used to watch the network news for the broader view point and a bigger national and international perspective but network news just doesn't cut it. Routinely, the BBC news will have deeper analysis and reportage about US relevant issues - particularly the situation in Iraq and will also offer perspective and insight on stories domestically - New Orleans and the illegal immigration situation. In contrast NBC and the other networks are the comic book version of the news, providing glossed over stories, bland reporting and limited coverage.

Perhaps the strangest confluence of news stories this week, Newsnight with Jon Stewart did a story on illegal border crossings from Canada to the US and interviewed some poor misguided gent who singlehandedly is holding back the tide of illegal Canadian migrants (hockey players?). In the nature of Comedy Central this was conducted tongue in cheek but in a similar vein, the BBC interviewed a similar gent earlier this week from the South who was just as hard to understand and just as confusedly dangerous.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Apple a Daily and Action Comics

In 1997 I spent a month with Jimmy Lai aboard his rocket-like media story Apple Daily. Who is Jimmy Lai? He's the guy they said swam across from China to Hong Kong with nothing, rose up to found the down-market Gap like Giordano (which he sold for a $1.0billion) and went on to start a newspaper business (complete with his own printing presses) just as China was regaining Hong Kong.

Apple Daily was just over a year old when I was engaged as a member of a PriceWaterhouse consulting team and, even then, Apple Daily was already the most talked-about newspaper in Hong Kong. And they did it sensationally. In the weeks I was there, the scandalous and the salacious were on full color display: I will not forget the images of mobster "Big Spender," who was tried, sentenced and hanged all in the month I was there. There's only room for a summary appeal in China and to the satisfaction - no doubt - of the Apple Daily editors, the story reached its denouement in double-quick time. They promptly moved on to the next story.

Apple Daily has continued to grow and is now also published in Taiwan. The newspaper is also readily available on newsstands in New York City. In the past two weeks, Apple Daily has gained international attention for their recreations of the Tiger Woods story. These 'action comics' (my words) are amusing - and they are also typical of Apple Daily where the scandalous and salacious are often front and center. This is Apple Daily's bread and butter but while the US media seems to be 'taken' with these 'action comics', there is a little more behind the headlines. These action comics are a fairly recent feature of the Apple Daily empire and one of the earliest was a recreation of the Seattle cop killings of a few weeks ago. In total bad taste, but well within the boundaries (or lack thereof) set in the very early days of Apple Daily.

In the biggest story featured while I was in Hong Kong, the newspaper had developed a story around a laborer - no one 'important' - who got mixed up with drugs, girls and gambling. On the face of it nothing too extraordinary: But this blue collar guy had a wife and small child and Apple Daily pursued and tormented him and his family so much he threw himself out a window. This was over the course of four or five days. With a suicide on their hands, the newspaper printed a front-page apology but the 'damage' was done: Higher circulation.

Jimmy Lai and his media company Next Media are a powerful force for good in the pursuit of wider democracy for all Chinese and the elimination of political corruption and cronyism; but, the scandal-mongering is an important aspect of Apple Daily's appeal. The negative implications of the indiscriminate salaciousness have been conveniently ignored because the Woods 'action comics are funny and cute.

Houghton Mifflin Invests

A profile of Houghton Mifflin in the Irish Independent references a €350m investment supported by Enterprise Ireland for digital learning products (Link):

From simple mathematics to the intricacies of the Pythagoras' Theorem, Stevens shows how through the use of laptops in the classroom, as well as at home in their own time via social networking, kids can absorb vital knowledge at a critical stage in their development. The lessons appear as visual quizzes, puzzles and games to keep young minds engaged. Teachers can monitor their progress and ensure that struggling students are supported. Entire education clouds where teachers can share knowledge, arrange lesson plans and file reports are now being used to manage millions of students in the US. "These platforms are not just delivering content," explains Fiona O'Carroll, executive vice-president at HMH in Dublin. "They instruct their young minds and also allow teachers to assess the children and provide them with individualised learning paths. Kids with particular needs can be ushered in the direction of individualised lessons."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

UK Researchers: Can't You Hear Me Knocking

A new report this week from the UK Council on Graduate Education suggests researchers are facing increasing difficulties gaining access to research materials. The report concedes that researchers have better access to search and discovery that identifies appropriate materials but (as a group) they are frequently stymied when they try to gain access. (Link)
The report’s findings show that the impact of this lack of access on the efficiency, as well as the quality, of research across the higher education sector and beyond is very real. New technological developments, including moves towards open access publishing models and the availability of e-books may help to solve some of theses problems, but there is little evidence from the report to show that they have had a positive impact to date.
Many librarians, and researchers, fear that unless licensing and technical issues are resolved, moves towards a digital environment may impose new barriers, as researchers face restrictions on access to resources which would have formerly been accessible to them in print. With impending funding cuts in higher education institutions’ budgets next year, libraries are already facing increasingly difficult decisions about which subscriptions to keep as cancellations will only add to these problems for researchers. Our report shows that libraries need to ensure they can continue to provide access to content through a range of sources, including interlibrary loans and document supply services, and that they implement efficient, effective and user-friendly systems to ensure researchers can gain easy access.

An idea solution for researchers would be the implementation of a national library membership card to enable access and borrowing rights at all higher education institutions in the UK. However, our study finds that the infrastructure to provide this in higher education institutions is lacking.

Monday, December 07, 2009

JISC E-Books and Education Study

This report was noted in my summary of last weeks news items but for those who missed it here are some summary bullets from the executive summary (JISC).
  • 52,000 respondents
  • Over half of respondents said the last eBook they used was provided by the library
  • Demand for short loan collection print titles significantly exceeds supply
  • Librarians see eBooks as viable 'safety valve' for short loans
  • E-Books offer greated convenience: almost 1/3 of total pages are viewed off campus
  • Effectiveness of E-Content frequently diminished by bad UI and limited functionality
  • Usage of E-textbooks significantly different: fact checks, look-ups not continuous reading
  • Business models complex and often inappropriate
  • Usage varies by subject
  • [Controversially] E-books compliment rather than substitute for print versions
  • UK Student spending on textbooks has fallen 20% in three years.
  • Discover tools and access via library catalogs is insufficient.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Media Week 49: E-Books, Australia, Brit Library, Amazon Warehouse, German Digital, Pearson Outlook

Again most of these have been noted on the twitter (@personanondata). This is almost an "International Edition" this week.

Jeffrey Archer lands record £18m deal for a modern Forsyte saga TimesOnline. Last we heard he was rewriting his old books. (Telegraph)

A JISC report on the uses of E-Books in education has been finalized (Link)

Observatory project final report published. The results of the two year project exploring the behaviours of e-book users and the impact of course text e-books on print sales are now available. The final report summarises the key findings of the project and the recommendations for future action.

The Sydney Morning Herald reflection on the Australian retail market and the proposed share listing of book retail holding company REDgroup and "its curious collection of bookshops and newsagents" (SMH)

With the fragile economics of the book trade clear for all to see and the looming presence of ebooks such as the Kindle you might have thought it's an odd time to even think of putting a $500 million diversified book business on to the sharemarket.

A cynic might suggest if you were a private equity group - in this case Pacific Equity Partners, controlling two book chains along with a chain of stationery and newsagency shops - it might be just the time to bring ''mum and dad'' into the loop and get your money out. After all, those Texan tearaways TPG managed to do just that at Myer.

Also my mate Richard Siergersma is quoted:
Richard Siegersma, chief of wholesale book operator Central Book Services, suggests, the protection debate was a sideshow. It is the arrival of a new supply chain in the form of online publishing that will mark the winners in the industry.

Siegersma says that where his business provides an electronic book option, up to half the sales are already electronic. The implication is that once devices such as Kindles offer Australians the same content as their local bookshop, online sales will soar.

FT reports that a consortium/JV of magazine publishers will be joined by NewsCorp in building a consumer platform for content: (FT):

News Corp, a frequent critic of how Amazon shares revenue and information on its Kindle e-reader, will throw its weight behind the consortium of magazine publishers, including Time Inc, Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith, in the hope of luring newspapers publishers further down the line.

The new partnership aims to meet four objectives necessary to develop the next generation of magazines for mobile and digital devices and to ensure they become more profitable than publishers' current online efforts.

The group is working on creating a reading application, a "robust" publishing platform, a digital storefront for consumers and a new line-up of "immersive advertising opportunities", according to people familiar with the plan.

Berlin Plans Response to Google Books Project. (They could call it - oh wait, that name's already taken). (DW)

The project, called the German Digital Library (DDB), would go online in 2011 and play a major role in the preservation of Germany's cultural identity, Neumann added. Initial funding of 5 million euros ($7.6 million) as well as annual costs of 2.6 million euros will come from a German economic bail-out program and be split by the federal and state governments. The German project is a response to the Google Book Search program, which the German government opposed, saying it lacked sufficient protections for copyright holders.

The DDB will contribute its work to the Europe-wide Europeana database "The German Digital Library is a reasonable response to Google," Neumann said, adding that the German project would first seek copyright holders' approval before digitizing a work, rather than following Google's strategy of allowing copyright holders to have their works removed from the database after being digitized.

Robert Darnton: a long commentary on the New York Review of Books on the Google Book Settlement and he concludes (NYRB)

The most ambitious solution would transform Google's digital database into a truly public library. That, of course, would require an act of Congress, one that would make a decisive break with the American habit of determining public issues by private lawsuit. The legislation would have to settle ancillary problems—how to adjust copyright, deal with orphan books, and compensate Google for its investment in digitizing—but it would have the advantage of clearing up a messy legal landscape and of giving the American people what they deserve: a national digital library equal to the needs of the twenty-first century. But it is not clear how Google would react to such a buyout.

If state intervention is deemed to go too far against the American grain, a minimal solution could be devised for the private sector. Congress would have to intervene with legislation to protect the digitization of orphan works from lawsuits, but it would not need to appropriate funds. Instead, funding could come from a coalition of foundations. The digitizing, open-access distribution, and preservation of orphan works could be done by a nonprofit organization such as the Internet Archive, a nonprofit group that was built as a digital library of texts, images, and archived Web pages. In order to avoid conflict with interests in the current commercial market, the database would include only books in the public domain and orphan works. Its time span would increase as copyrights expired, and it could include an opt-in provision for rightsholders of books that are in copyright but out of print.

Tiger Woods apparently interested in Physics: drives sales of physics book sky-high. Maybe the titles should have been "Get a grip on the steering wheel" (Link). Just proves that book marketing is all about placement.

Interesting video showing the new deep storage facility that is being brought on line by The British Library. (BBC)

And if that's not enough, inside the Amazon UK warehouse as they prep for mega Monday. (Telegraph):

"Customers shopping habits have really changed in the past few years. They now do their research in store, and go home to find a cheaper price on the internet. Or they buy online and collect in store. And we are seeing an amazing number buying from their iPhones," he said.

It's a version of Christmas that will baffle many people – buying your family's presents by tapping a few buttons on a mobile phone – but it is a trend that has much further to go, even if it means that some of the romance is taken out of giving and receiving.

Recent studies suggest that prices are significantly cheaper on the internet than they are on the high street, and that includes the cost of postage and packaging.
Interesting blog post from Publishing Perspectives on the Spanish book market: Spain’s E-book Business Stuck in Beta (link)
Trikar pointed out that, fortunately, upstart companies have risen to fill this void: “Grammata is hoping to sell a lot of their reader Papyre this holiday season—they’re the only ones who offer free e-books,” he said. “Others hope to digitize books and then sell them through big retailers like El Corte Inglés or Casa de Libro, which have very little in the way of e-books to offer at the moment.” But, he added, “A lot of these companies are new projects and I can’t tell whether they’ll succeed.” Despite the promise of numerous new e-reading devices hitting the market in the next few months, there remains a dearth of legitimate sources of Spanish e-books. “And if there are no new releases for sale [through legitimate channels] readers will go elsewhere,” noted Trikar.

Digital piracy dominated much of the discussion at the fair, in fact, as it has in all the public debate surrounding e-books in Spain. Like much of Europe, Spain has supported arguments in favor of copyright protection over those seeking universal access. The country has a particularly complex relationship to piracy—one widely cited statistic says the country has the second highest rate of digital piracy in the world—and fear of piracy has, say some observers, paralyzed the industry.
The ISBN agency want your feedback on ISBN use for ebooks. (Link)

Pearson CFO sees U.S. schools very tough in 2010 (Reuters)

Freestone said Pearson, which also owns Penguin Books and the Financial Times, saw the U.S. schools market remaining hard next year, despite a bigger market for new book adoptions.

"It's going to be a very, very tough place to be next year. State budgets are still contracting, and state budgets account for about 93 percent of all education spend in the States," he said, adding that 2010 might be no better than this year.

Pearson has been gaining market share in North America at the expense of rivals such McGraw-Hill, mainly thanks to its wide range of testing and digital learning tools that provide feedback to students and help to raise standards.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Rack Jobbing the E-Book (Repost)

Again a re-post, this time from July 16, 2008:

A change, equivalent to the launch of the mass market paperback just took place but did you notice? Months in advance of the expected release of the new iPhone thoughts ran wild on the potential for an Apple iBooks store as much for its potential impact on sales as for its counter point to With the launch of the 3G iPhone publishers have been found wanting, sadly waiting for the market to be gifted to us rather than proactively setting out to define it. This post from Kassia Krozer sums it up perfectly:

On a weekend when headlines were there for the grabbing and customers were searching for both toys and content, the publishing industry, perhaps practicing summer hours, was curiously silent. Not a single major initiative, announcement, horns-blaring call to check out these great offerings on iTunes.Call me crazy, but I’d expect an industry that salivates over moving 150,000 units to be all over the potential for reaching seven million “mobile is the future” customers. Are you not out there, listening to readers, gauging their interest? They want, you have, and you’re still hiding the goods. I get this isn’t the largest market you have, but is that an excuse to sit on the sidelines?

Publishers are again about to have a market dictated even as they continue to complain about the market power of the online retailers. Now $9.99 may become a defacto RRP for eBooks and as volume increases via the prodigious iPhone apps store publishers won't know whether to laugh or cry. When mass market paper backs gained market acceptance at Woolworths in the 1930s publishers gained access to a market they never would have developed on their own. Books were suddenly available for a dime and as publishers stood on the sidelines it wasn't until years later that they entered the market directly or bought up the main suppliers. Will history repeat itself with publishers buying ebook apps suppliers like Fictionwise or build their own applications? Hopefully, at least one or the other.

Traditionally, we think of distribution and content development as separate disciplines within publishing companies but in the e-Publishing world they co-mingle. Content optimization becomes the normative state where the end-user builds their own product out of a content repository created by the publisher without limitation on how the end product is rendered. The 'distance' between publisher and end-user (where distribution as a function currently sits) is wide but becomes virtually non-existent in the future state.

To bring us back to the iPhone circumstance, as long as publishers continue to think in terms of traditional functional silos and roles and responsibilities they limit themselves in their ability to leverage their assets. In contrast witness Amazon which has never considered any aspect of the publishing value chain to be off limits and more publishers need to think in this manner if they want to redress some of the advantages Amazon and others retain (or new competitors develop) in the marketplace.

Some other views on a similar theme:

Adam Hodgkin

A look at a Magazine Future: Sports Illustrated

Notice there are no ads (although I am sure that's to come)!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

ISBN Survey

The International ISBN agency is conducting a short survey on the use of ISBN's with respect to ebooks.

The following is from the JISC website (and the survey is not available on the ISBN International web site - not even a link).
In order for libraries to be able to identify and purchase e-books in various formats and from various vendors we need to establish an effective approach to identification of e-books. This is also essential in terms of cataloguing and ensuring that the print record is not replaced by the electronic record. But the question is to what level of granularity do we go to meet demand and what can publishers and aggregators realistically supply? The International ISBN Agency is trying to establish requirements and the simple 4-question survey is designed to assess both the real needs of users and the ability of publishers to satisfy them. Please do take part in the survey as this is an important issue that requires resolution. You can read about the background and the issues associated with ISBNs for e-books in Brian Green’s briefing paper. It is well worth a read.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Interview with Sara Nelson

From Copyright Clearence Center and Beyond the Book: (Copyright)

A Book Report From Sara Nelson

Sara Nelson“Publishing as we know it will die if changes are not made,” observes Sara Nelson, one of the industry’s leading pundits. Now with O, The Oprah Magazine, as its books director, Nelson is a former editor-in-chief at Publishers Weekly.

Unlike many, though, she doesn’t blame the digital revolution. “I don’t even think that Google, per se, is the culprit. It’s not that simple. I think that publishers need to think about the business model in which they operate… - in other words, advances against royalties.”