Sunday, May 31, 2009

Readers at BookExpo?

If like me you have stayed over the weekend at the Frankfurt bookfair on even one occasion you will know that the fair opens to the public. A public largely interested in reading and publishing. The startling thing about this is that on each day YOU CAN'T GET DOWN THE AISLES FOR THE PEOPLE!

I bring this up because not only do the US and UK publishers bitch and moan about having to man their booths at Frankfurt - and generally, myself included, the executives tend to evacuate early Saturday anyway - but these same publishers are not interested in opening up BookExpo to the public either. Admitting there are some logistical issues, but in the face of a BookExpo where the most common statement on the floor seemed to be 'will this be the last or second last' one, I would argue opening BookExpo to readers and customers might not be such a bad idea. Actually, I don't have to argue it because Richard Nash has done so on the PW show blog this morning:
I draw the following conclusion. The publishing business is not in trouble because there's no demand for books. It is in trouble because there are changes afoot in how best to satisfy the demand, changes to which there are suitable responses, two of which are fostering fan culture, and generating a sense of occasion, and the leaders of the largest publishing organizations are failing in their professional responsibility to implement these responses. By reducing their participation in BEA at the same time the media participation has increased by almost 50%, by refusing to open the Fair to the readers on Sunday, these CEOs have effectively thrown in the towel. They are managing the demise of the book business, pointing fingers at any generic social forces they can find, failing to see the one place the responsibility can be found, their own damn offices.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Kindle Sales: Nothing, Nada, Never

News - not too shocking - that Amazon may never release Kindle sales not only adds a new dimension to the developing problem of how the industry counts itself but there's also a possible darker side. Since the company attributes their attitude to competitive issues that to me also indicates a willingness to disemble; that is, they will continue to provide misleading and partial information regarding these sales. As a result we will continue to see a variety of interpretations of the data that is provided, both by people who should know better, and worse, by people who have no grounding in publishing dynamics. It's the last set we worry about.

Don't Forget: Blogger Signing at BookExpo; 1pm Saturday

Firebrand Technologies has organized a 'blogger signing' at their booth 4077th during BookExpo and I am participating. It sounds like a lot of fun and an opportunity to meet a lot of blog readers across a spectrum of topics. Firebrand is the owner of a great application named NetGalley which automates the process of providing review copies to reviewers. Sign-up if you are a reviewer and don't forget to come by the 4077th booth to meet all of us.

I will be at the booth at 1pm on Saturday - pen in hand.

(Bare in mind however, that I will not be signing any body parts and generally speaking a hand shake will do).

Here is a note from Firebrand:

Firebrand is thrilled to announce that 44 bloggers signed up to be at our booth (#4077) during Book Expo America. It’s clear from how quickly this idea went from concept to reality, that book bloggers need and want to create community-to-community relationships with publishers, retailers, and readers. This is an incredibly exciting time in publishing!

We invite every publisher at BEA to review this schedule and mark their calendars, so they have a chance to meet the bloggers who are helping to sell their books.

The schedule is below. We have a couple of new entries (Sarah Weinman, Ed Champion, and Austin Allen) not listed below, or if you have trouble reading the layout below, Click Here

You can also see the list here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Publishing Under 25

It was nice to hear Eric Hippeau of Softbank say pretty much the following from my Pimp My Print post:
If I were heading a publishing house, I would hire a band of 25-30 year old editors/writers, give them a budget to acquire content and have them build a new 'publishing' operation unfettered by print runs, business models and pub dates. Their responsibility would be to create content a target market valued enough to use, to experiment in how to monetize the content and to be able to replicate the model. With guidance - not oversight - provided by the many experienced managers that exist in a typical publishing house the team won't fail. And yes, I would do this TODAY.
He actually said round them up from within your own organization and he did intersperse a 'good luck' but essentially the point was the same. Unfortunately, Eric and the moderator Chris Anderson were off the subject for most of the discussion and there was little real information about "directing investments into new media" which these two were/are uniquely qualified to address. Pity.

BookExpo: Session Picks

These are the sessions today and tomorrow that I think you would want to attend:

Thursday:

The Impact of Free (and Piracy) on Book Sales: An Update on The Piracy Project
9:30AM - 10:30AM (Thursday, May 28, 2009)
As digital content has become more available and more commonly distributed in book publishing, fears of piracy and lost sales have grown. While the debate over the impact of free content has been at times heated, the discussions are more often than not characterized by a lack of hard data. To address this data gap, O'Reilly Media began a project in 2008 to characterize the free universe, catalog and assess recent experiments, establish ways to measure the benefit or cost of free distribution and conduct some follow-on experiments of our own. Come to this session to hear an update on this ongoing study.
Presenter: Brian O'Leary - Principal, Magellan Media Consulting Partners

Stay Ahead of the Shift: What Product-Centric Publishers Can Do to Flourish in a Community-Centric Web World
11:00AM - 12:00PM (Thursday, May 28, 2009)
Publishers have necessarily been focused on short-term changes in their market environment because they've been happening fast. EBook sales are rising more quickly than anything else But Mike Shatzkin is thinking of much bigger changes than these. He looks out a couple of decades and imagines a world more different than today's than the world of 20 years ago is different from today's. He challenges the most basic assumptions we have always accepted that a book is "finished" when an author turns it in, that audiences are mostly reached through intermediaries, even that publishing is about products and paints a believable picture of a completely different media and content world which, he maintains, is coming whether publishers like it or not. so they require attention, but they don't amount to much yet in the way of sales. Individual title marketing, which worked through a bunch of "usual suspects" that hardly changed year to year, has become a game of Whack-a-mole, with new blogs and social networks popping up for every book between the time you get a manuscript and the time you print a book. And sales channels and how you reach them are shifting with new online accounts sprouting while many brick-and-mortar accounts are dying and catalogs, sales conferences, reps dedicated to bookstores, and even "publishing seasons" themselves are endangered species.
Presenter: Mike Shatzkin - Founder & CEO, Idea Logical Co, Inc

A Discussion with Softbank Capital's Eric Hippeau on where VC Dollars are Flowing and What it Means for Publishers
1:30PM - 2:30PM (Thursday, May 28, 2009)
New and radical innovation has accompanied each recession for the past four decades. And though the financial meltdown is historic in its roiling of hedge and mutual funds, there is still a substantial amount of uninvested money that will be invested soon. Couple this with the impact of new broadband and mobile media applications changing consumer behavior, and publishers are left with a future of media influence uncertainty. That is, unless you are talking with a major player who is directing investments into new media. Don't miss this discussion between Wired's Chris Anderson and Softbank Capital's Eric Hippeau as they dig into the detail of what's hot and where the VC dollars are flowing.
Host: Chris Anderson - Editor in Chief, WIRED, author, FREE
Guest: Eric Hippeau - Managing Partner, Softbank Capital

The End of the Supply Chain and the Beginning of the True Book Culture
2:30PM - 3:30PM (Thursday, May 28, 2009)
Knowing what we now know, about media and content in the digital networked age, and recognizing we may not yet know that much, let''s now ask ourselves: what might the ideal publishing company look like? Had we it to do over again, how would we build a system for connecting writers and readers? Richard Nash gave up his job in order to start to answer those questions and here offers his thoughts so far...
Panelist: Dedi Felman - (formerly) Sr. Editor, Simon & Schuster
Presenter: Richard Nash - (formerly) Publisher, Soft Skull Press

Friday:

D2T2: Digital Debut Tool Time
9:30AM - 10:30AM (Friday, May 29, 2009)
An insider’s presentation of new and soon-to-be-mainstreamed web-based entities providing innovative digital services and tools to authors, publishers and readers.
Moderator:

Mike Shatzkin - Founder & CEO, Idea Logical Co, Inc
Presenter: Peter Clifton - President & Ceo, FiledBy, Inc.
Mark Coker - founder & CEO, Smashwords, Inc.
Hugh McGuire - co-founder & President, BookOven

Do Publishers Still Hold the Keys to the Kingdom? A Panel of Authors Weigh In
2:00PM - 3:00PM (Friday, May 29, 2009)
Book publishers have been criticized for their reluctance to adopt new technologies. Yet their tepid forays into the digital media world have been due in part to flavor-of-the-day platforms that leave even the experts guessing what technology will be around tomorrow. Our panelists will discuss some of the thorniest issues facing old media today, what old media can learn from new media and what both must do to adapt and survive. NOTE This panel will be held on the Downtown Author Stage
Moderator: Steven Johnson, author of The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, Everything Bad is Good For You, and other bestsellers
Panelist: Chris Anderson - Editor in Chief, WIRED, author, FREE
Lev Grossman, Sr. Writer & Book Critic, Time and author, The Magicians
Tom Standage, Business Editor, The Economist, and author, An Edible History of Humanity

Canon Tales: 7x20x21 - Sponsored by The New Yorker
4:30PM - 5:45PM (Friday, May 29, 2009) A unique event designed to inspire conversation, creativity, and passion for the future of publishing. It was born in the UK, where the most recent event at the London Book Fair was presented to a standing-room-only crowd.
Our panel will be the first US adaptation. Ten presenters who are at the forefront of what is exciting in publishing now will be given seven minutes each to present their stories to the crowd. Their presentations will be accompanied by a Powerpoint presentation of 20 slides, with a strict 21-second limit per slide, which forces the presenter to keep the presentation moving forward quickly. Our guidelines for what they discuss will be left wide open, in order to encourage a wide range of topics and styles of presentation throughout the panel. NOTE This panel will be held on the Downtown Author Stage.
Presenter: Debbie Stier, Harper Studio; Richard Nash, former publisher of Soft Skull; Lauren Cerand, PR rep; Jeff Yamaguchi, Digital Marketing, Random House; Mat (Some one - name cut off on program).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SharedBook Launches Platform Supporting Google Book Search Discussion

SharedBook.com has launched a site that enables stakeholders and the public at large to annotate the Google Book Settlement and other related documents. The website leverages the company's editorial platform so that users can match comments and annotations directly to the locations in the text to which the comments pertain. This technology is already in use with some of SharedBook's clients and users of the GBS application of this tool can also print the official documents together with any comments they think important. These comments can be both their own as well as those of the community. Here is an excerpt from their press release:
Until now, discussions on the Google Book Settlement have been taking place across fragmented forums. Now, for the first time, policymakers, businesspeople, scholars, journalists and others have the opportunity to come together and engage in a granular, contextual dialogue on this important topic. Our platform supports comments and responsive statements in real-time, linking them directly to the Google Book Settlement and accompanying documents through online footnoting, always preserving the original documents in their original form. As a result, the Google Book Settlement site becomes an informed and transparent analysis of key points of the settlement by its most concerned stakeholders, available to anyone on the Web.

The platform also offers a compilation and print capability, allowing books to be created from the content with any combination of annotations, which appear in the book as footnotes. We invite all interested parties to participate in this discussion, and to be a part of the debate on this very important subject.
Visit the website here.

Update:

David Rothman (Teleread) also comments on this announcement and makes a statement that I believe indicates exactly the promise of this SharedBook application:
The obvious questions: What annotation sites exist to let anyone mark up federal documents here in the States? Elsewhere? Any sites from governments themselves? And via APIs, standards and in other ways, just how can governments foster the growth of such sites? Also, what about the issue of special interest groups using the sites without identifying themselves? What place is there for anonymous comments? What to do about deliberate information? And how does the media fit in, given all the enticing linking possibilities? The issues go on and on.

Borders Looks for "Selling Culture"

Admitting that hand selling is nothing new, Border's CEO Ron Marshall spoke about returning the company to one driven by sales rather than cost containment and supply chain improvements alone. In the press release accompanying their first quarter results he expands on this point,
"We continued to strengthen the financial structure of the company by making further improvements to cash flow, debt and adjusted EBITDA," said Borders Group Chief Executive Officer Ron Marshall. "Make no mistake about it, we have much more work to do and will continue to maintain our financial discipline. At the same time, we know that we cannot save our way to prosperity. Our long-term success will come from doing a much better job of driving sales and that's where our focus is right now."
The company reported significant top line declines in comp store sales; however, the company is making significant improvements in store product mix, supply chain costs and other key areas. The company saw significant improvements in certain product line gross margins but the proactive reduction in multi-media sales (DVD, Music) hid much of the improvement. The company also appears to have improved its debt position and according to their CFO is in compliance with all debt coverage obligations.

Other key metrics from their press release:
  • Adjusted EBITDA in the first quarter was $3.0 million compared to an adjusted EBITDA loss of $14.3 million a year ago.
  • First quarter cash flow from operations improved by $19.5 million over last year.
  • Operating SG&A expenses and inventory were reduced from the prior year by $48.1 million and $254.9 million, respectively.
  • Debt at the end of the first quarter was reduced by $266.0 million to $325.9 million a 44.9% reduction over a year ago and $10.3 million or 3.1% less than the end of fiscal 2008.
  • Total consolidated first quarter sales were $641.5 million, down 12.1% from the prior year.
  • Comparable store sales for the first quarter declined by 13.5% and 5.5% at Borders superstores and Waldenbooks Specialty Retail stores, respectively.
On an operating basis, the company generated a first quarter loss from continuing operations of $15.9 million or $0.27 per share compared to a loss of $30.5 million or $0.51 cents per share for the same period a year ago. On a GAAP basis, the first quarter loss from continuing operations was $86.0 million or $1.44 per share compared to a loss of $30.1 million or $0.50 per share a year ago. The $1.44 per share loss includes $1.17 per share of non-operating charges that were primarily non-cash.
On a side note, it looks like someone hacked their web site, (Link) and I am sure they will get that fixed soon.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Houghton Mifflin Owner EMPG set for Refinancing

The Irish Independent is reporting advanced debt for equity discussions with loaning banks of troubled Houghton Mifflin Harcourt owner Education Media Publishing Group. The refinancing is likely to significantly reduce CEO/Chairman Barry O'Callaghan's 38pc ownership in EMPG. (Independent)

Other items of note:
  • Operationally EMPG appears to be doing well with 'strong cash flow'
  • Synergy and savings are pushing EBITDA close to $1bill up 20%
  • The company has pulled out of the ratings service after downgrades
  • Lending banks have agreed to relax some of their covenants
  • Bertelsemann offered to invest $300mm in EMPG but was rejected
  • The debt to equity swap will further dilute Reed Elseviers share

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

File Under WTF?

OK, so Peter Olson has been gone a while but apparently he still lives in Marion Maneker's memory: (Reuters)

Legendary Simon and Schuster CEO Dick Snyder was the figure who turned publishing companies into public corporations. And it is as corporate enterprises that the book barons lost their distinctiveness, acumen, and clout. Indeed, Peter Olson's lasting legacy was not making a business of Random House but making it a business that was too big, wasteful, and flabby to succeed.

As head of U.S. operations, he presided over the purchase of Random House from the Newhouse family and combined it with Bertelsmann's own Bantam, Doubleday, Dell operation. The resulting empire controlled 10 percent of the book market but could never outrun its own massive cost structure. It lumbered from hit to hit without making progress toward greater profits. By the time Olson left for Harvard Business School—pity the students he teaches—Random was envied by no one.

As an intro to the above the author chastises Olson for a comment (taken out of context by him) quoted in Portfolio about having a hand in being "part of a process of making something that was a gentleman's hobby into a real business."

Truth is, you could drop the three or four paragraphs in question out of his commentary and I don't think it would matter at all. If you are going to do a hatchet job on a managers' legacy, do the job don't bury it in an article about ebooks.

(Gender corrected - thanks SW.)

Art of Kindle Forecasting: What's a $100mm between friends?

As noted in paidcontent Collins Stewart analyst Sandeep Aggarwal is predicting that revenues from Kindle sales will approximate $300mm this year and generate $70mm in profit. Even more he projects $1.6bill in revenues and $400mm in profit by 2012:
Aggarwal argues that sales of the Kindle grow almost 80 percent a year from ‘09 to ‘12, and that subscriptions will also jump as a result. (Amazon gets 70 percent of subscription revenue). Some 30 percent of Kindle owners subscribed to a service on the e-reader last year, a number that Aggarwal will grow to 75 percent in 2012 as more products are offered and the device becomes more mainstream.
Who's he arguing with? Maybe this guy from Piper Jaffray who suggests 2009 revenues of $405mm going up to over $1bill by 2010. What a nice growth curve that is. eMarketer goes on to note that analyst Mark Mahaney from Citibank believes 10% of all books sold in the 1Q 2009 were Kindle books. Impressive, but nontheless unknowable unless you are looking at real Amazon sales numbers and who is doing that?

Being eMarketer they go on to quote some stats on consumer purchasing. But surely some of these stats seem to undercut the basic tenants of the stratospheric growth:
Importantly, people are increasingly willing to try e-book readers.

Piper Jaffray found that 5% of consumers surveyed were interested in buying a digital book reader, and 9% were interested in buying one after a price drop. Nineteen percent of respondents had never seen a digital book reader but wanted to check one out.

US Consumers

I am not sure I could take anything meaningful from that set of results. The first question is a killer. We all know eBooks and eContent and devices are important but this 'analysis' is banker talk and look where that got us.

And another thing, there aren't that many $100mm publishing companies out there: Here we are just talking about the delta between these two forecasts.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Harcourt Houghton Mifflin in Anti-Trust Suit

There is no back up to this news item at this point but updates if and when they are available; however the news gets no better for Harcourt Houghton Mifflin. The state of California is investigating the merger of Harcourt and HM in 2007. As part of that agreement Harcourt devolved some assets at the request of the Feds but this action assumes that that wasn't enough. From the Courthouse News Service:
California filed a federal antitrust complaint over the $4 billion merger of textbook publishers Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt Education Group, claiming "The merged entity now commands over 50 percent of aggregate primary and middle school textbook sales in the U.S." Combined with its competitors Pearson and McGraw, the three giants now "account for roughly 87 percent of the aggregate commerce in U.S. primary and middle school textbooks." California claims that December 2007 merger will reduce competition, raise prices and "the value of the materials and services likely will decline."
Not the news that HHM would be in the mood for. (Post: Credit Rating)

Update: In the complaint (and there is a link to it on the Courthouse web page at the bottom) on page 9 the complaint is dated May 15, 2009. This is being contested under the Clayton Act which is more stringent that the Sherman Act. (And I know that sounds like I know what it means but I really don't). Here is more on the Clayton Act. Look for references to section 7.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pete Townshend on Pete Townshend

Long open interview in The Times with Mr Townshend where he discusses Quadrophenia and the up-coming stage version. Some samples (Link):
But the supporting structure of music theatre somehow began to show itself like a manifesting ghost in early British rock. The Beatles larked about like Arthur Askey in a panto; Ray Davies exalted the glamour of the working-class world; The Who wrote songs about growing up that with a few word changes could have been squeezed into My Fair Lady. Music theatre, and its bastard brother music hall, had created and inhabited most of the venues that early British pop bands used to play in. You simply couldn't get away from the idea that it might come back one day, and of course it has. The musicals of the late 1950s - especially those by Lionel Bart - did try to anticipate what rock soon arrived to do. But Lionel himself told me once that he was just two or three years too old to understand what had been coming - it reminds me today of my anticipation of punk in the early 1970s. I knew something needed to happen, and I knew it would be subversive, but I couldn't see how it would take shape.
.....

Austin Powers has done a lot of damage to the image of swinging London, parodying what had already been parodied by lazy American newsreels over the years. So in a sense my mission is to bring back some of the greyness, the bleakness of those years, and demonstrate to the cast that what happened simply had to happen, otherwise we would all have gone nuts. It wasn't an optional outing of boys playing on scooters; it was a vital rebellion.

Where the Mod movement looks shallow today is in its lack of political, social or ecological interest. But you have to understand that after the ban-the-bomb movement and the failure of anti-apartheid, and then the Cuban missile crisis, young people felt their input was pointless. Fashion, music and daily life was elevated to a form of aloof poetry and was very much a secret society.

....

Have you ever been to see a rock musical based on a back-catalogue?

I live inside one. Musicals based on back-catalogues are becoming a saturated market. How can rock musicals avoid being watered-down exercises in asset-stripping?

....

What's next after the internet?

Compulsory electronic body implants linked to Gordon Brown's base station.

Scribd Create Content Store

Scribd the web site for sharing documents will launch an e-commerce service that will enable any publisher to load any type of document to the service and charge for usage. Scribd will take 20% from this sale. Scribd has become the most popular document sharing site since it was started several years ago. Here is more from the NYTimes:

Scribd hopes its more open and flexible system will give it a leg up on Amazon, which has become the largest player in the burgeoning market for e-books. Amazon sets the retail price for books in its Kindle store and keeps the majority of the revenue on some titles, which has publishers worried that Amazon is amassing too much control over the nascent market. Amazon also allows those books to be read only on its Kindle devices and in Kindle software on the iPhone.

“One reason publishers are excited to work with us is that they worry that publishing channels are contracting as Amazon and Google are gaining control over the e-book space,” said Jared Friedman, chief technology officer and a founder of Scribd.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Blog Roundup: Week 20 - iPhone, DRM, Disintermediation, Platforms

Adam Hodgkin tells us why Apple has enabled the best of eBook readers: (Exact Editions)
Necessity is the mother of invention, in the case of the iPhone, as elsewhere. There is not enough room on the device to support a mouse-device or a touchpad, other than the screen. So the screen had to be touchable. But there is no doubt that the Apple engineers have crafted an extraordinarily effective solution. As more books are piled into the iPhone's eco-system, I think we will see that there is a growing realisation that the digital text of a book or a magazine should be seen as the starting point for network based interaction with it. The text itself is the starting point, within it are located the points, the referrers, codes and symbols which engender user interaction. The digital version of a text, having many explicit or implicit resources for linkage and reference becomes a hypertext in its own right and one which engages the reader in more than mere reading. Much of this interaction will be initiated by finger gestures. For sure, reading is part of the point of a digital edition, but equally, it has to be said that, pointing is fully a part of the reading of a book on the iPhone.
Evan Schnittman (Black Plastic Glasses) looks at disintermediation (Post):

While Michael’s efforts over time will lead to a cleaner and clearer understanding of who owns what, it won’t fix the inherent problem. The works in question will have competing rights holders for a variety of versions. Few will have clear electronic rights ownership, and few if none will have a single entity that controls all versions. This is the key to enabling the kind of content access that is needed for Generation On-Demand, and this is what is missing across the board. This problem is beyond enormous – it is basically one that cannot be fixed. There is no short term or mid term gain for any parties involved with IP contracts to fix this problem and you cannot fix something if the parties involved don’t see their goals as being aligned.

The result – we will become irrelevant as an industry (not just publishers, but publishing in every facet) over time and have no place in the content economy. But lets face it, this doomsday scenario has been sounded for years – who doesn’t think that book publishers will be obsolete in the future?

Michael Hyatt on how to build a "platform" as he points out most of the heavy lifting has been done for you. (Post):

By “platform” most publishers mean the ability to influence an audience that is large enough to make publishing a book less of a risk. Just a few years ago, this meant you had to have a television or radio show or write a regular magazine or newspaper column. This typically required a lot of money or important contacts.

But today, by starting a blog and making use of tools social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook, you can build a big platform with little more that the investment of your creativity and time. I’m not saying it is easy, but I am saying it is within reach. (By the way, I consider my blog to be my “homebase” and Twitter, Facebook, Plaxo, LinkedIn, etc., to be “outposts.”)

Kassia Krozser at Booksquare reacts to the Mokoto Rich (NYT) article about book digital piracy:

You’ll discover total frustration surrounding purchases. Anger over DRM. You want to hear screams and curses? Listen to the reader who can’t read the book she purchased because the Adobe Digital Editions authentication server is down. Spend some time with a reader who, due to extreme confusion, bought the wrong format of a book and has to deal with the bureaucracy of rectifying an error that shouldn’t have to happen. Piracy is and has been a fact of our lives for as long as we’ve created marketplaces. Books are as subject to thievery as any other product. Same thing, different realm. How you deal with piracy is changing, even as it stays the same (physical piracy still exists). It’s going to be an ongoing battle for the entertainment industries, but unlike your predecessors, book publishers have the chance to get so much right while the market is young.

And in reaction to the same Rich (NYT) article, Mike Shatzkin had a longer piece challenging the widely accepted negative perception of online and free content (IdealogBlog):

The other study was done by my colleague Brian O’Leary in conjunction with O’Reilly Media and Random House. The methodology was similar to what Hilton employed and was reported by O’Leary and Mac Slocum of O’Reilly at Tools of Change last February. Now they have published a Research Paper with O’Leary’s findings which is available from O’Reilly. What O’Leary found, using Random House data on ebook giveaways and O’Reilly Media data on books found on pirate sites, was that there was a correlation between free distribution and a sales lift for the books in question. But O’Leary cautions, “correlation is not causality”; the fact that sales rose after piracy and giveaway doesn’t mean sales rose because of piracy and giveaway. Both O’Leary and Hilton say more data is needed to come to any definitive conclusions.

Richard Curtis notes that 'quickies' are less prevalent in publishing than the average conference goer might assume. (E-Reads):

Though the New York Times's Andrew Adam Newman describes the process as "just a blink of a book editor’s bespectacled eye," it looks pretty glacial to a YouTube generation that knew everything it needed to know within hours of the astounding event. Sure, some of those ten months from splashdown to publication date were taken up by writing the book - something that quickie-watchers tend to overlook. Still, it plays up the immense disparity between pre- and post-digital quickies. “In the old days," says the book's editor Jonathan Galassi, "it would be ideally a year from delivery of the manuscript to publication, but now I’m hoping we can do books in four months.”

Alas, four months is about 119 days too long by 21st century standards, and so no matter what Farrar does to goose (awful pun intended) the Flight 1549 book along, a quickie will always be a slowie unless the publisher goes out with it as an original e-book. And some of us have real problems with traditional publishers releasing e-book originals. Farrar, Straus & Giroux being the quintessentially traditional publisher, it's hard to know what they're going to do if they have to publish a true quickie. But Galassi says help is on the way in the form of "measures that include editing copy electronically and streamlining design."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Champions (Again)

The nill nill draw with Arsenal gives United their 18th title and third successive league title. With one irrelevant game left in the league next week, it's on to Rome to meet Barcelona in the Champions League final. Looking forward to a repeat of our win last year. Old Trafford is the European Capital of Trophies.
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Media Week 20: Harpercollins, NYTimes, Long Tail,

In the NY Observer this week Debbie Stier from Harpercollins and Harper Studio is asked about social and digital media (Observer):
“Change is easier for some people than for others,” she said. "You know how some people are hoarders and they don't like to throw anything out? I'm the opposite: I get this weird thrill from throwing everything out and having nothing." Ms. Stier is the head of digital marketing at HarperCollins, as well as the associate publisher of HarperStudio, the small imprint there whose stated mission since it formed last spring has been to question conventional industry wisdom concerning advances and returns, and to experiment with untested methods of promotion. Ms. Stier is among the most visible and energetic believers in the idea that publishers must stop relying on critics, journalists and talk show hosts for coverage, and instead start finding creative ways of reaching readers directly through emerging social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.

“I’ve been running down the halls screaming ‘fire’ for a couple of years now, and you know, I feel like it’s only recently that people are starting to hear me,” Ms. Stier said. “It’s hard for me because I’m up here in my own little beehive of exciting stuff, and I forget that there’s a world of people out there in the rest of the industry who don’t believe. But there are definitely pockets of people who do, and those pockets are growing more and more, faster and faster, which is good.”
There is a lot of debate about the merits of the central arguments made by Chris Andersen in The Long Tail - that is, whether there is one. A new report (summarized here) looks at P2P and appears to debunk the Long Tail concept:
A study of P2P music exchanges to be revealed this week suggests that the ailing music business is shunning a lucrative lifeline by refusing to license the activity for money. Entitled "The Long Tail of P2P", the study by Will Page of performing rights society PRS For Music and Eric Garland of P2P research outfit Big Champagne will be aired at The Great Escape music convention tomorrow. It's a follow-up to Page's study last year which helped debunk the myth of the "Long Tail".

Page examined song purchases at a large online digital retail store, which showed that out of an inventory of 13 million songs, 10 million had never been downloaded, even once. It suggested that the idea proposed by WiReD magazine editor Chris Anderson, who in 2004 urged that the future of business was digital retailers carrying larger inventories of slow-selling items was a Utopian fantasy.
Via Mr Nash, here is the link to the whole document. (Link)

The brianiacs at the NYTimes are showing off some of their toys. (Nieman)
The R&D group is obsessed with the ability to seamlessly transition among web-enabled gadgets. They’re not convinced that the future will land on a single, multipurpose contraption — like some sort of Kindle meets Chumby meets Minority Report. Instead, they predict consumers will connect to the Internet through their cars, on their televisions, over mobile networks, and in traditional browsers, while expecting those devices to interact and sync with each other.
Reports in the Guardian from the Journalism Enterprise and Experimentation unconference in sunny Birmingham looked at hyper-local success stories (Guardian):
A session in a break-out room featured James Hatts talking about the London SE1 Community website. James was quite candid about getting different levels of support for the initiative from different organisations. Their patch covers Southwark and Lambeth. Southwark Council have, it seems, for years treated them as a news outlet on an equal footing with the traditional local media. By contrast, SE1 have found it difficult at times to even get Lambeth Council to send them press releases. Similarly, Hatt said that whilst Scotland Yard were forthcoming with information about serious crime in the area, the local police forces were more cagey.
The International Coalition of Library Consortia has weighed in on the OCLC data usage guidelines (ICOLC):
The member consortia endorsing this ICOLC statement add our recommendation to others in the library community calling for OCLC to withdraw the proposed policy and start anew to formulate a record use policy. Most notably we add our support to the January 30, 2009 Final Report to the ARL Board by the Ad Hoc Task Force to Review the Proposed OCLC Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records. It includes an extended review of the policy and six recommendations. We concur with the ARL report that OCLC develop a new policy based on widespread member library participation with a clear set of goals and explanations as to how the policy will achieve these goals and how member libraries will be affected operationally and legally.
Caroline Pittis from Harpercollins uses BookBusiness magazine to argue publishers must be less reclusive in order to thrive in the social economy (BookBus):
So, how do book publishers add visible value for their authors and consumers in new ways? What needs to change, and perhaps more importantly, what needs to stay the same? As both a publishing “insider” and a frequent reader of publishing’s critics, I am often struck by how the public discussion of these questions is fundamentally different than private ones, how the focus of those inside publishing houses is different from those in the blogosphere. Beyond publishers’ walls, the tremendous value editors and their publishing colleagues provide in helping an author create a publishable work is often unknown. Yet, the vast majority of publishing time and energy go into just this activity—the core of what publishers do.

In the blogosphere, some opine about how hidebound and irrelevant publishers now are, how slow to change and resistant to risks. It makes good copy sometimes—I know I always bite on the most critical headlines first! Rare are the critics, however, who have concrete, insightful, specific suggestions of how to evolve publishing without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Black-and-white thinking and talk of violent revolution distract many from the natural evolution that is both occurring and will likely be more sustaining for the “book” economy in the long run.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Summary of Making Information Pay

Happily I don't have to do this myself because the nice people at Follow The Reader have done this for us. They note some interesting stats from Bowker's book reader panel and link to the other presentations (Post):

Who was reading in 2008

  • 45% of Americans read a book
  • The average age of those who read a book was 44
  • 58% of readers are women
  • 32% of readers are over the age of 55
  • The average reader spends 5.2 hours reading per week vs. 15 hours online and 13.1 hours watching TV (In 2008, going online surpassed watching TV as a primary activity)

Who was buying books in 2008

  • 50% of Americans over 13 bought a book
  • The average age of the most frequent book buyers was 50 yrs old
  • 57% of book buyers are female and they buy 65% of books (e.g. women buy books and they buy in volume)
  • 67% of books are bought by people over 42; Gen X buy 17% of books; Gen Y buys 10%
  • Of books purchased by those who earn $100K or more, mystery and detective fiction represent 16%, juvenile 13%, romance 6%, thrillers 4% and comics and graphic novels 4%
  • 41% of all books are purchased by those who earn less than $35K
  • The average price of a book purchased last year was $10.08
  • 31% of all book purchases are impulse buys

Pelecanos Interviewed by LATimes

I have mentioned I enjoy the work of George Pelecanos, who in addition to publishing 16 books, is also a writer and producer most notably of The Wire. In this interview he discusses his new book but he also touches on community work he has undertaken in prison reform. Here is a 'snippet' (LATimes)

GP: I've been working in adult prisons and juvenile prisons for some time. The prison in the book is based on a place called Oak Hill here in D.C., which is where all the juveniles are sent if they do time. I was out there one day -- I was kind of walking around, I had full access, the boys were in class, and I went into one of the kids' cells -- it just kind of hit me. It was a 6-by-9 cell, it's basically a cot and an open commode sitting in the middle of the room, and there's a dirty piece of plexiglass on the wall that functions as a window, but it's so dirty that you can't see out of it, and very little light gets in. I just started thinking: What's it like? What's it like for a kid to go to jail, and also what's it like for his family? How does this tear them all apart?

I'd been very interested for a long time in incarceration reform. Here in Washington we have a new guy that's been at it for several years now. He's done a tremendous job of trying to change things so that these incarcerations don't just rip up families but neighborhoods and our city, because that's what happens. That's why the book is split into two parts, so you see the way the system was run before, and then these guys go back later in the book when the jail is getting ready to be torn down, and they see how much it's changed for the better.

George is on tour and will also be autographing at BookExpo.
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Thursday, May 14, 2009

JISC Study on Higher Education

At London Bookfair, mention was made of this report commissioned by JISC in the UK that looks at the educational market. While this is a UK study, there is little doubt most of this is relevant to a much wider audience. Here is an snippet of their conclusions: (Link)

The impetus for change will come from students themselves as the behaviours and approaches apparent now become more deeply embedded in subsequent cohorts of entrants and the most positive of them – the experimentation, networking and collaboration, for example – are encouraged and reinforced through a school system seeking, in a reformed curriculum, to place greater emphasis on such dispositions. It will also come from policy imperatives in relation to skills development, specifically development of employability skills. These are backed by employer demands and include a range of ‘soft skills’ such as networking, teamwork, collaboration and self-direction, which are among those fostered by students’ engagement with Social Web technologies.

Higher education has a key role in helping students refine, extend and articulate the diverse range of skills they have developed through their experience of Web 2.0 technologies. It not only can, but should, fulfil this role, and it should do so through a partnership with students to develop approaches to learning and teaching. This does not necessarily mean wholesale incorporation of ICT into teaching and learning. Rather it means adapting to and capitalising on evolving and intensifying behaviours that are being shaped by the experience of the newest technologies. In practice it means building on and steering the positive aspects of those behaviours such as experimentation, collaboration and teamwork, while addressing the negatives such as a casual and insufficiently critical attitude to information.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Google Print: A Numbers Game

The following post was originally published in March 2007 but I recently saw an up tick in views which prompted me to look at it again. Given the excitement over the Google Settlement I thought it would be interesting to post it once more.


The following post is written by Andrew Grabois who worked with me at Bowker and has (among other things) compiled bibliographic stats out of the Books In Print database for a number of years. His contact details are at the bottom of this article.


On February 6th, Google announced that the Princeton University library system agreed to participate in their Book Search Library Project. According to the announcement, Princeton and Google will identify one million works in the public domain for digitization. This follows the January 19th announcement that the University of Texas libraries, the fifth largest library in the U.S., also climbed on board the Library Project. Very quietly, the number of major research libraries participating in the project has more than doubled to twelve in the last two years. The seven new libraries will add millions of printed items to the tens of millions already held by the original five, and more fuel to the legal fire surrounding Google’s plan to scan library holdings and make the full texts searchable on the web.

The public discussion has been mostly one-sided, with Google supporters trying to hold the high moral ground. Their basic argument goes something like this: The universe of published works in the U.S. consists of some 32 million books. They argue that while 80 percent of these books were published after 1923, and, therefore, potentially protected by copyright, only 3 million of them are still in-print and available for sale. As a result, mountains of books have been unnecessarily consigned to obscurity.

No one has yet challenged the basic assumptions supporting this argument. Perhaps they’ve been scared off by Google’s reputation for creating clever algorithms that “organize the world’s information”. This one, though, doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny.

The figures used by supporters of the Library Project come from a 2005 study undertaken by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), the largest consortium of libraries in the U.S. According to the OCLC study, its 20,000 member libraries hold 31,923,000 print books; the original five research libraries participating in the Google library scanning project hold over 18 million.

OCLC did not actually count physical books. They searched their massive database of one billion library holdings and isolated 55 million catalog records describing “language-based monographs”. This was further refined (eliminating duplicates) to 32 million “unique manifestations”, not including government publications, theses and dissertations. The reality of library classification, however, is such that “monographs” often include things like pamphlets, unbound documents, reports, manuals, and ephemera that we don’t usually think of as commercially published books.

The notion that 32 million U.S. published books languish on library shelves is absurd. Just do the math. That works out to more than 80,000 new books published every year since the first English settlement in Jamestown in 1607. Historical book production figures clearly show that the 80,000-threshold was not crossed until the 1980’s, after hovering around 10,000 for fifty years between 1910 to1958. The OCLC study showed, moreover, that member libraries added a staggering 17 million items (half of all print collections) since 1980. That averages out to 680,000 new print items acquired every year for 25 years, or more than the combined national outputs of the U.S., U.K., China, and Japan in 2004.

Not only will Google have to sift through printed collections to identify books, and then determine if they are in the public domain, but they will also have to separate out those published in the U.S. (assuming that their priority is scanning U.S.-based English-language books) from the sea of books published elsewhere. The OCLC study clearly showed that most printed materials held by U.S. libraries were not published in the U.S. The study counted more than 400 languages system-wide, and more than 3 million print materials published in French and German alone in the original Google Five. English-language print materials accounted for only 52% of holdings system-wide, and 49% in the Google Five. Since more than a few works were probably published in the United Kingdom, the total number of English-language books published in the U.S. will constitute less than half of all print collections, both system-wide and in Google libraries.

So how many U.S.-published books are there in our libraries? Annual book production figures show that some 4 million books have been published in the 125 years since figures were regularly compiled in 1880. If, very conservatively, we add an additional 1.5 million books to cover the pre-1880 years, and another 1.5 million to cover books published after 1880 that might have been missed, we get a much more realistic total of 7 million.

Using the lower baseline for published books tells a very different story than the dark one (that the universe of books consists of works that are out-of-print, in the public domain, or “orphaned” in copyright limbo) told by Google and their supporters. With some 3 million U.S. books in print, the inconvenient truth here is that 40% of all books ever published in the U.S. could still be protected by copyright. That would appear to jive with the OCLC finding that 75% of print items held by U.S. libraries were published after 1945, and 50% after 1974.

If we’re going to have a debate that may end up rewriting copyright law, let’s have one based on facts, not wishful thinking.


Andrew Grabois is a consultant to the publishing industry. He has compiled U.S. book production statistics since 1999. He can be reached at the following email address: agrabois@yahoo.com

Clarification update from Andrew: My post is not intended to be a criticism of the OCLC study ("Anatomy of Aggregate Collections: The Example of Google Print for Libraries") by Brian Lavoie et al, which is a valuable and timely look at print collections held by OCLC member libraries. What I am attempting to do here is point out how friends of the Google library project have misinterpreted the paper and cherry-picked findings and conclusions out of context to support their arguments.
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Monday, May 11, 2009

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Lose Credit Rating

Speculation about the financial health of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt took another turn for the worst when Moody's debt rating agency removed its' rating on HHM's debt. According to the report in the Irish Times the action by Moody's will impact virtually all the company's debt and it likely to both further raise the cost of their borrowing (although they were already at Caa3 with a negative note) and increase the expectation the company will default. From the Irish Times report:

Moody’s said that it took into account “the business risk and competitive position of the company versus others within its industry; the capital structure and financial risk of the company; the projected financial and operating performance of the company over the near-to-intermediate term, and management’s track record and tolerance for risk”.

Last month, Moody’s downgraded some of HMH’s debts to Caa3 from Caa1, and put it on a negative outlook. The move meant that it classed the company’s debts as high risk.

Earlier this year, long time HMH executive and current CEO Tony Lucki retired and was replaced by Barry O'Callaghan.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Media Week 19: Newspapers, BookClubs, Television, George Orwell

Frank Rich in the NYTimes shares his opinion the state and possible future of newspapers:
In the Internet era, many sectors of American media have been re-enacting their at first complacent and finally panicked behavior of 60 years ago. Few in the entertainment business saw the digital cancer spreading through their old business models until well after file-sharing, via Napster, had started decimating the music industry. It’s not only journalism that is now struggling to plot a path to survival. But, with all due respect to show business, it’s only journalism that’s essential to a functioning democracy. And it’s not just because — as we keep being tediously reminded — Thomas Jefferson said so.Yes, journalists have made tons of mistakes and always will. But without their enterprise, to take a few representative recent examples, we would not have known about the wretched conditions for our veterans at Walter Reed, the government’s warrantless wiretapping the scams at Enron or steroids in baseball.
A few months ago I made a similar observation (PND):
Last week, I was discussing this topic with an acquaintance who lives in a fairly affluent part of Central New Jersey. He noted that, in a wide swath covering eight to ten townships and a number of counties, he wasn’t aware of more than one journalist assigned to that market from the larger state-wide newspapers. In Hoboken (regional HQ for PND), where mayoral and city council budget incompetence has seen our property taxes increase 50% in the past six months, there is rarely any local media coverage nor any attendance at city business meetings by traditional media. And forget investigative reporting - even in a state where you could throw a rock in any direction and hit a shady politician. The lack of journalistic attention means that one of the mainstays of democracy (the fourth estate) is eroded and this is seen starkly in Hoboken, where private citizens are forced (on their own initiative) to file freedom of information requests to gain access to basic public interest materials such as meeting minutes and financial statements.
And Rupert Murdoch was vocal this week becoming the self-interested shrill for paid newspaper content (Guardian)

Nature Publishing is launching Nature Education and their first project is something named Scitable (ZDNet)
The first deliverable from the Education group is Scitable, an incredible combination of social media and a vast library of articles “commissioned, edited, and reviewed by NPG editors.” While Nature Education intends to expand Scitable’s offerings to include cellular and molecular biology and ultimately tackle the physical sciences, their initial focus has been on genetics. Exploring Scitable makes it very clear that this strategy of sticking with a single area of expertise and dealing with it expertly and in-depth makes a great deal of sense. I’m not a geneticist, but I spent enough years in the publish or perish world of biomedical research to know that they nailed this. The content is accessible, deep, relevant, and understandable. Entire college courses could be taught around this material and there is more than enough content to keep high school students digging deeper into their Advanced Placement Biology courses or to build introductory genetics curricula.
Watch the first series of Wallander stories on PBS happy in the knowledge that there will be a second series - and they won a BAFTA. (TheBookselller)

Publishing Trends took a detailed look at Book Clubs (PublishingTrends)
Online retailers’ deep discounts, however, have lured away readers who might once have joined book clubs because they wanted cheap books, and any book can be found online, so today’s book clubs must offer something beyond price and selection. For PBC, that means an active online community; in fact, the club is online only. To expand its reach, PBC has linked with 37 “Alliance Partners,” including the Huffington Post and Daily Kos, and e-mails these organizations’ members about new books once a month. “Those people may buy books through us or may go on to Amazon,” Rosen says, claiming, “We just want to help these books sell, the books to do well, and the authors to do well, and this is our mission.”A look at how in failing health
George Orwell was able to finish 1984 (Observer)

This is one of Orwell's exceedingly rare references to the theme of his book. He believed, as many writers do, that it was bad luck to discuss work-in-progress. Later, to Anthony Powell, he described it as "a Utopia written in the form of a novel". The typing of the fair copy of "The Last Man in Europe" became another dimension of Orwell's battle with his book. The more he revised his "unbelievably bad" manuscript the more it became a document only he could read and interpret. It was, he told his agent, "extremely long, even 125,000 words". With characteristic candour, he noted: "I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolutely dissatisfied... I think it is a good idea but the execution would have been better if I had not written it under the influence of TB."And he was still undecided about the title: "I am inclined to call it NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR or THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE," he wrote, "but I might just possibly think of something else in the next week or two." By the end of October Orwell believed he was done. Now he just needed a stenographer to help make sense of it all.

Fears of new technology on incumbent businesses - in this case television - are often found to be unfounded. The Economist notes the impact of Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) that we supposed to destroy the television advertising model but have had nothing like that impact. In the words of one interviewee, DVR's have become "a hit saving machine" (The Economist)
Far from being revolutionary, in some ways DVR has made television more stable. With the exception of live events it is broadly true that the most popular programmes are recorded the most. Mr Wakshlag describes it as “a hit-saving machine”. Broadcast television receives a bigger boost from DVR playback than cable television. The device has made it harder to introduce a new television programme, particularly at 10pm when people are likely to be playing back shows they recorded at 8pm or 9pm.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Body Double Twits

Reading the twitter stream yesterday from BISG's Making Information Pay (#mip) made me anxious. I've spoken before at many conferences but things are different now. With heads bowed, tapping away there is out there a phalanx of twittering critics passing immediate judgement on any presenter. Well, maybe that's what an 'audience' is and like a school of fish they can suddenly turn unexpectedly from positive and engaged to "WTF am I doing here." Even today many speakers are probably happily unaware of the twittering audience phenomena, like Marcus Leaver (President, Sterling) who, in an otherwise interesting and engaging performance yesterday, happened to mention that he tried Twitter, didn't like it and some how ended up with a Twitter "body double". That's not playing fair.

Many people will know Mike Hyatt (CEO, Thomas Nelson) is an avid social network user. Why? Because he sees social networking as an important aspect of his job as CEO, and not just to spout off whimsically about this and that but to actively and meaningfully engage both his employees and customers. There would be no chance he would engage a body double twit. Mike often plays first line customer service rep on Twitter which is where his activity is significant. If he sees an item having to do with TN he will step in directly and engage with the person or persons who are either seeking help or complaining about something. A body double CEO can never do the same thing in the same way.

Played for laughs, Leaver went even further down the 'we're getting it wrong in social networking' road by telling us that the guy twit responsible for twittering on all things pregnancy - for their Good Expectations titles - recently got a response from someone that read, "I'm having Braxton Hicks contractions right now, what do I do?" It was amusing, but am I laughing because I'm imagining the helplessness of the twit or because I can't believe they've got this so wrong? If you are going to bother using social networking, be like Mike and make it real.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Murdoch on the Kindle and Paid Content

From their earnings conference call yesterday (SeekingAlpha):
If it is possible to charge for content on the web, it is obvious from the Journal’s experience. We are now in the midst of a [proper] debate over the value of content and it is clear to many newspapers the current model is malfunctioning. We have been at the forefront of that debate and you can confidently presume that we are leading the way in finding a model that maximizes revenues and returns for our shareholders. I can assure you we will not be feeding our content rights to the fine people who created the Kindle. We will control the prices for our content and we will control the relationship with our customers. Any device maker or website which doesn’t meet these basic criteria on content will not be doing business long-term with News Corporation.
Too many content creators have been passive in the face of obvious violations of intellectual property rights. We rightly hold China and other countries accountable on this important issue. But the violation of these rights is rampant on the web in our own country. Our content is extremely valuable and the violators have recognized that value.
Within the company itself, the very bright people we have at our Slingshot Laboratories are devising clever ways to monetize the content of some of our long established print properties. We will be matching their contemporary expertise and the creation of communities within our traditional -- with our traditional expertise in the creation of content. The [current days of the Internet] will soon be over.
PS: Barely a mention of Harpercollins. A tough 3rdQ means HC will need a very strong 4thQ to finish the year in positive territory. (PublishersWeekly)

Big Kindle Goes to School (Shrug)

The launch of Big Kindle looks like another round in the continuing Apple vs Amazon cage fight. Amazon looks to be on the defensive as they rush out a larger version of the Kindle for the education market in advance of Apple's proposed Tablet PC. Jobs may think that people don't read but he does know that children are educated, and education is an arena Apple has traditionally done well in. The developing convergence of education and book e-commerce is what Amazon may see as a threat: A captured market of educational materials that, should Apple enter with a tablet PC type device, Amazon could be locked out of.

For Amazon however, Big Kindle will still be giggled over by those in Cupertino. Will the Apple tablet be any better? It is certain to have a far better form factor. Whether it will be expressly suited to delivering educational content in a dynamic and forward thinking manner remains to be seen. That is certainly not within the capabilities of Big Kindle.

Several universities participated in the launch of Big Kindle and the hype around the launch hid a troubling question; namely, why these schools were in-bed with the retailer at all? On a list serve I questioned,
Don't the participating universities appear to be endorsing a hardware platform (not to mention a specific retail channel). You could argue (possibly strongly) that allowing the bookstore to be managed by B&N or Follett or even the adoption of college textbooks themselves to be little different; however, doesn’t the changed paradigm suggest an opportunity to operate on a more open field of play or is this more of the same leading to more student frustration, higher prices and deadened innovation in education?
In other words, why would the universities want to continue the (essentially) old way of doing business when most observers believe we are on the cusp of a renaissance in educational learning. The Kindle doesn't do multimedia, it doesn't do color and most importantly it doesn't do networking because the Kindle is a closed system. This is a short sighted collaboration between schools and Amazon that doesn't really suggest any major change.

As I thought about the Big Kindle development it struck me that there could still be a more interesting development. Content media companies suddenly developing a hardware delivery platform are growing like weeds from NewsCorp to Hearst, and there could be an opportunity for collaboration between the news/magazine world and education. What if CourseSmart or Safari joined one of these efforts? That would be a far more interesting and potentially game changing development than selling text book content on a Big Kindle. By definition, the hardware to support a digital magazine will be capable of all the aspects necessary in delivering a changed educational experience.

Will that happen? As it turns out some of the partners involved in CourseSmart are also participating in the Big Kindle roll out; but, what is CourseSmart if it isn't a new way to deliver educational materials to learners? That doesn't seem to be what students will be getting with Big Kindle. There may be all kinds of reasons why CourseSmart (or even an publisher themselves) won't be launching a device: The predominant reason may be the amount of print revenue tied to Amazon, and therefore from my perspective Big Kindle and education is more about marketing hype than anything fundamental. We await more developments with keen interest.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Library Associations Address Issues in Google Settlement

Fellow traveler Peter Brantley has posted on Scribd the submission by ALA, ARL and ACRL addressing their concerns about the Google Settlement agreement. This document was submitted to the court last week. Here are some of the notable passages but the document is only 22 pages long for those looking for a quick read.

On how important the database may become:
Notwithstanding these deficiencies in the ISD, an institutional subscription will provide an authorized user with online access to the full text of as many as 20 million books. Students and faculty members at higher education institutions with institutional subscriptions will be able to access the ISD from any computer -- from home, a dorm room, or an office. Accordingly, it is possible that faculty and students at institutions of higher education will come to view the institutional subscription as an indispensable research tool. They might insist that their institution’s library purchase such a subscription. The institution’s administration might also insist that the library purchase an institutional subscription so that the institution can remain competitive with other institutions of higher education in terms of the recruitment and retention of faculty and students.
And this in regard to market power:
However, as likely consumers of this essential research facility, the Library Associations cannot overlook the possibility that the Registry or Google might abuse the control the Settlement confers upon them. Abuse of this control would threaten fundamental library values of access, equity, privacy, and intellectual freedom.
This with respect to pricing:
Google will have the incentive to negotiate vigorously with the Registry to set the price of the institutional subscription as low as possible to maximize the number of authorized users with access to the ISD. Nonetheless, Google’s business model, at least with respect to the institutional subscription, may change, and at some point in the future it may seek a profit maximizing price structure that has the effect of reducing access.

Significantly, the predominant model for pricing of scientific, technical, and medical journals in the online environment has been based on low volume and high prices. Major commercial publishers have been content with strategies that maximize profits by selling subscriptions to few customers at high cost. Typically these customers are academic and research libraries. Therefore, the Registry and Google may seek to emulate this strategy in the market for institutional subscriptions.
On privacy:
Evidently, in the Settlement negotiations the class representatives insisted on these measures to protect the security of digital copies of their books; but no one demanded protection of user privacy. Users of the services enabled by the Settlement also cannot rely on competitive forces to preserve their privacy. In the online environment, competition is perhaps the most powerful force that can help to insure user privacy. If a user does not like one search engine firm’s privacy policy, he can switch to another search engine. Similarly, a user has many choices among online retailers, email providers, social networks, and Internet access providers. The competitive pressure often forces at least a minimal level of privacy protection. However, with the services enabled by the Settlement, there will be no competitive pressure protecting user privacy.
They worry about intellectual freedom and censorship:
While Google on its own might not choose to exclude books, it probably will find itself under pressure from state and local governments or interest groups to censor books that discuss topics such as alternative lifestyles or evolution. After all, the Library Project will allow minors to access up to 20% of the text of millions of books from the computers in their bedrooms and to read the full text of these books from the public access terminals in their libraries.
Addresses issues with new affiliated services:
Although the Settlement permits the Registry to license the rights it possesses to third parties such as Amazon, the Settlement does not require it to do so. Nor does it provide standards to govern the terms by which the Registry would license these rights. This means that the Registry could refuse to license the rights to Google competitors on terms comparable to those provided to Google under the Settlement.43 The Registry, therefore, could prevent the development of competitive services.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Remember the Book Clubs?

Ad age has a review of book clubs and the article touches on curation and community. It is interesting that the idea of helping information consumers navigate the plethora of choices available to them - in this case books - is being discussed with increased frequency. Ad Age:

From this article:
He views PBC not as a mere book club, but as a book community. Members can discuss their views online in community discussion forums and read exclusive content from highly regarded writers and journalists. PBC also offers a unique book-reading and charity-giving combination; books are selected for their liberal bent by a renowned editorial board (members include Michael Chabon, Dave Eggars and Erica Jong) and $2 of the proceeds from each book sale go to one of the participating nonprofits.
And this:

"We don't like to think of ourselves as pushing our books on readers; we like to think that we are curating and recommending a selection of books for our readers," Ms. Siegel said.

Direct Brands spent $51.8 million on advertising in 2008, according to TNS Media Intelligence estimates, excluding internet data -- a decrease of 18% over 2007.

(My post Silos of Curation from last week).

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Blog Roundup: Week 18 - Schlager, Exact Editions, O'Reilly, Booksquare

Neil Schlager worries about the future of reference publishing in a post this week (SchlagerBlog):

For too long–decades now, really–reference publishers have pumped out a cascade of books (and now databases) but done very little to address a fundamental problem: discoverability. Reference books have always required a conduit–the librarian–to be used properly and fully, because their contents don’t show up in any card catalog. A student writing a paper about the Battle of Gettysburg has no idea that the multivolume encyclopedia buried away in a far corner of the library has wonderful information that can tell her everything she needs to know, unless a librarian is there to help her, and unless that librarian himself is familiar with that set. As a result, as studies have shown, print reference sections in all libraries have been gathering dust, day by day, year by year, decade by decade. The familiar library convention discussion group topic–”Is Print Reference Dying?”–is both mordantly funny and also terrifyingly legitimate. The truth is that lots of print reference is still published and bought, but most of the new stuff joins its ancestors–it sits on a shelf, unused.

The situation is only modestly better with electronic reference. Tech-savvy students may indeed be more likely to stumble upon resources that they can use in this setting, but “stumble” is still the operative word. First, they have to navigate a myriad of unique, siloed databases, with inscrutable names and idiosyncratic search interfaces. Then, they have to be careful enough to pick the search results gems from what may be a torrent of hits.

Adam Hodgkin reflects on London Bookfair as well as thoughts about the meaning of the Google Book Agreement (ExactEditions):

If we think of this rather large and hangar-like hall being occupied by the books that are currently the focus of the commercial market for books, we can also imagine a skyscraper of 30 or perhaps 40 stories being built above the Earls Court Stadium. The stacked stories of this skyscraper will each contain another 300,000 mostly older books, but this time all of them ordered, regimented and deployed in total silence and precise obedience with no noisy haggling or discordant trading. Such a skyscraper would be a serious obstacle on the flight path for planes approaching Heathrow, but its towering shadow does give us an idea of the relative scale of the Google Books Search project as set against the current (this year, last year) output of publishers in the English language. The 10,000,000+ books that Google will have in its arsenal when the Google Book Search library goes live in a year of two will completely dwarf the current activity. The 40 odd stories of the Google Books skyscaper will not need the traditional tools and mechanisms of the book trade. The transactions, accessibility, searchability, and reading of these millions of books will all be a matter of database and web-driven activity. Commercial arrangements will be settled by the Books Rights Registry or the publishers' agreements with Google and the commercial transactions and access rules will be executed by Google or its contracted distributors. There will be very little need for human intervention, except at the periphery. When authors, agents and publishers decide to put things into the system, or, at the consumer edge, when readers, searchers, librarians or consumers decide that they wish to have some form of access to the repository. Of course Google will also not need a skyscraper at all. The few hundred terabytes, possibly by then one or two petabytes, that may be needed for the Google nearly-complete libary in 2012 will comfortably fit in the confines of the whirling, bladed and racked systems, housed in a single standard freight container. We should add a few more trailers to cope with the bandwidth of a billion users, but it is all fitting nicely in the underground loading bay that they have at Earls Court. The efficiency and reliability of the Google system does not require large physical infrastructure. Push on a couple of years, and by 2014 I think one can be sure that Google will have most of the world's published literature in the Google database. How will new books then be working in relation to the 50, 60, 70, 80 stories high skyscraper of previously published but now completely databased and universally accessible digital books?

Brian O'Leary had some thoughts on curation as a method to disperse the increasing clutter of information (Magellan Partners):

But that’s not quite a business model. As my colleague Mac Slocum noted, “The world definitely needs a clear-headed curation advocate, particularly one that links it directly to revenue (this labor of love stuff only goes so far ...).”

Historically, reviewers got paid by newspapers, who relied on some mix of advertising and subscription revenue to create and deliver a comprehensive product. It’s believed that few people read everything, but the “one size fits all” model was accepted by readers and advertisers alike.

Booksellers are paid for curation when they sell something. Unfortunately, the small, independent bookstore whose title mix reflects a niche, a neighborhood or a community is hard to sustain. This curation question came to a head two weeks ago, when Amazon appeared to delist titles with gay and lesbian content.

Joe Wikert posted some video from the CEO Roundtable at the TOC conference earlier this year. It features, Bob Young (Lulu), Mike Hyatt (ThomasNelson), Tim O'Reilly and Clint Greenleaf (Greenleaf Publishing). (2020 Blog)

Back on the curation theme Clay Shirky talks about "filter failure" and how collaboration may be the answer to finding the best information and news content (Pub 2.0)

The #swineflu hashtag on Twitter serves as a good point of reference for what Clay Shirky called “filter failure.” The problem is not that there’s a wild abundance of useful information, overloading us with detail, facts, and commentary; the problem is that we don’t have the proper filtering system set up to separate trusted sources and reliable resources from rumors, jokes, misinformation, and ephemera. If those seeking to provide links to reliable information started using a hashtag such as #therealswineflu, it would likely be overtaken — quickly — by tagged content with less value, whatever its source.

So how do we solve filter failure?

We depend on humans to serve as our filters. We do this all the time, when we ask a friend a question, or talk with someone we know who happens to be an expert on a given topic. (I imagine the world’s epidemeologists are fielding a huge number of Facebook messages from old friends this week.)

When it comes to reliable sources for news that breaks on a massive scale, our best sources are likely to be Wikipedia for facts, and journalists for explanation, clarification, context, and meaningful analysis.

Tim O'Reilly discusses a new book project written in (on?) Powerpoint (Radar)

Of course, modularity isn't the only thing that publishers can learn from new media. The web itself, full of links to sources, opposing or supporting points of view, multimedia, and reader commentary, provides countless lessons about how books need to change when they move online. Crowdsourcing likewise.

But I like to remind publishers that they are experts in both linking and in crowdsourcing. After all, any substantial non-fiction work is a masterwork of curated links. It's just that when we turn to ebooks, we haven't realized that we need to turn footnotes and bibliographies into live links. And how many publishers write their own books? Instead, publishers for years have built effective business processes to discover and promote the talents of those they discover in the wider world! (Reminder: Bloomsbury didn't write Harry Potter; it was the work of a welfare mom.) But again, we've failed to update these processes for the 21st century. How do we use the net to find new talent, and once we find it, help to amplify it?

Kassia Krozser expresses some concern over privacy that may engender if the Google Booksettlement goes ahead (Booksquare)

If the settlement is approved, then Google owns lots and lots of readers. We’re locked into the Google service if we want the best possible search results. Yet our concerns were not addressed in the settlement. One such worry is the privacy factor.

Every move we make online is tracked and traceable. Generally, this is not a concern; so much data is being crunched that individuals are rarely singled out for close examination. But this audit trail can be used against us, and I hadn’t really considered the implications of my online activity in light of GBS until I read a recent call from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Physical libraries have long held firm against law enforcement seeking to use customer records against individuals (and it’s just one more reason to love librarians!). What we read should remain private to us. However, once we, as a society move beyond the physical into the digital, new rules seemingly apply. Now is the time to ensure that the GBS includes consumer privacy protections.

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Media Week 18: Amazon, OCLC, Springer, RFID

Amazon.com launches subscription payments functionality for third parties (Amazon Blog via PB)
We are very excited to announce that more than 25 providers, including CardinalCommerce, Miva Merchant, Magento, ShopVisible, Mercantec, and Zoovy will be supporting Amazon Payments as part of their offerings. In addition, Convio, a software and services provider to the nonprofit community, is integrating Amazon Payments into its fundraising platform to enable its client base to accept alternate payment methods for online donations. Plug-ins for widely-used open source e-commerce platforms, such as osCommerce and ZenCart, are also now available for quick and easy integration with Amazon Payments.
Informa moves domicile for tax reasons and also looks to raise cash via rights issue (TimesOnline):

Informa, the publisher behind Lloyd's List, is to desert Britain for Switzerland to avoid “double taxation” controversially introduced by Alistair Darling for profits earned overseas.

The move, announced as the debt-laden company also said that it would tap shareholders in a £242 million rights issue, will save Informa an extra charge of about £10 million a year, based on last year's profits.

Discussion over RFID use in Libraries. Some commentary on placing bibliographic data on the RFID chip which seems to me to be a disastrous idea. RFID Blog:
The question of “what goes on the tag” has been occupying the list quite a bit this week. Prompted by an enquiry from Helen Jarvis at the University of Kent I wrote a short reply to try and explain my assertion that adding bibliographic data to tags was not necessarily a good idea. My invitation for someone to “tell me I’m an idiot” was enthusiastically accepted by Ivar Thyssen, Export Manager of PV Supa, who suggests that placing any bibliographic data on tags is, in fact, illegal.

I must confess that this came as something of a surprise to me but not as much of a surprise at it will be to those libraries that have already begun adding bibliographic data to tags. We’ll have to see how Ivar’s assertions stand up under scrutiny, since he has been invited to provide backing for this claim by Brian Green Executive Director of the ISBN agency but if he’s right the rules have just changed again.
OCLC announces a report: Online Catalogs, What Users and Librarians Want.. Selected key research findings:
  • The end user’s experience of the delivery of wanted items is as important, if not more important, than his or her discovery experience.
  • End users rely on and expect enhanced content including summaries/abstracts and tables of contents.
  • An advanced search option (supporting fielded searching) and facets help end users refi ne searches, navigate, browse and manage large result sets.
  • Important differences exist between the catalog data quality priorities of end users and those who work in libraries.
  • Librarians and library staff, like end users, approach catalogs and catalog data purposefully. End users generally want to fi nd and obtain needed information; librarians and library staff generally have work responsibilities to carry out. The work roles of librarians and staff infl uence their data quality preferences.
  • Librarians’ choice of data quality enhancements refl ects their understanding of the
    importance of accurate, structured data in the catalog.
The Economist reports on standards efforts in the Cloud Computing world:
Just as predictably, the leaders in cloud computing are absent from the list of supporters: Amazon, an online retailer that has successfully branched out into computing services; Google, which is not only a huge cloud unto itself but has built a cloud-computing platform for use by others; Salesforce.com, the biggest provider of software-as-a-service; and Microsoft. Indeed, it was an executive at the world’s biggest software firm, Steven Martin, who first leaked the manifesto, complaining that it had been drawn up in secret. “It appears to us that one company, or just a few companies, would prefer to control the evolution of cloud computing,” he wrote in a blog.
Speculation on which Private Equity firms may be interested in an investment in Springer (FT):

Leading private equity groups are competing to inject about €400m ($530m) of equity into Springer Science and Business Media, the German academic publisher, which is looking to sell a stake of as much as 49 per cent.

Blackstone, CVC Capital Partners and TPG are all considering submitting first-round bids, due by next month.

Other groups mulling over a bid are: Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Hellman & Friedman, Carlyle, EQT and Providence Equity Partners.