Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Finding An Orphan

Based on my personal experience working with small and medium sized publishers, it will be prove very difficult for anyone reaching out to the 'Orphan' group to encourage them to participate in the Google Book Settlement process.

When I joined Bowker in 1999, we were still using the post office to mail our publisher check lists to over 55,000 small and independent publishers each year. These check-lists represented our primary communication with this group of publishers most of whom published less than 10 titles each (many only one). These publishers had one chance per year to correct any errors or change any prices to make sure that year’s edition of Books In Print had the most accurate information. This should have been sufficient motivation then for any publisher who understood that Ingram, Barnes & Noble, Borders and a raft of independent booksellers relied on BIP for their title research and buying. When we reviewed this process and analyzed the results that year – forms returned and changes made – the data showed us that less than 20% of this group bothered to return the document and of these less than 50% made any kind of change. Even with a degree of financial motivation, over 40,000 small and independent publishers couldn’t be bothered.

Certainly, you could argue this had to as much to do with the paper based process as it did their disinterest; however, several years later when we had fully implemented BowkerLink the small press group of publishers remained largely anonymous. By 2005, the publisher data base had grown from 65,000 in 1999 to approximately 85,000 and we counted approximately 45,000 publishers registered on BowkerLink. BowkerLink includes both US and international publishers and registrations were naturally skewed to active and newer publishers. In the transition, we aggressively mailed to every publisher encouraging them to register and manage their title listing online. We also proactively cleaned the publisher address file using the National Change of Address (NCoA) file which we had not been using prior to 1999. I think we eventually stopped mailing paper checklists in 2004. Still, the number of small and independent publishers who chose to participate only increased marginally even as Bowker made the title management process more inclusive.

Most of the Books In Print database reflects titles published after 1970 and most observers of the Google settlement expect that the large proportion of Orphan titles are going to be found in the pre-1970 grouping. If it has been challenging to engage the small and independent publishers post 1970 then the earlier group will be significantly harder. Whether the publicity around the Google Book Settlement proves more of a motivator than the options the post 1970 group often disdained such as listing their title(s) in bibliographic databases, asserting their ownership via the copyright office and/or selling their title on Amazon.com remains to be seen. I have my doubts. If the expectation of retail glory (however misguided) at Amazon.com hasn’t galvanized anyone with an ‘Orphan’ copyright then Google probably wont either.

I hope the lack of interest changes if real money is dispensed. The Authors Guild has stated that when you are collecting money for people and looking to disperse it recipients have a tendency to show up at your door. Around 2001, the AG started collecting the money due from rights and permissions for authors. (Previously this had been handled by CCC). Not only did they become proficient at collections but their membership and disbursements increased. All good things, but their membership is still less than 10,000. Not only do they not have a lot of undistributed revenue but they also haven’t seen a mammoth rise in members.

Monday, June 29, 2009

OUP on Google Book Settlement

Via Evan Schnittman.

There is a very long piece on the Google Settlement by OUP USA President Tim Barton in the Chronicle of Higher Education today.
..What once seemed at least debatable has now become irrefutable: If it's not online, it's invisible. While increasing numbers of long-out-of-date, public-domain books are now fully and freely available to anyone with a browser, the vast majority of the scholarship published in book form over the last 80 years is today largely overlooked by students, who limit their research to what can be discovered on the Internet.

For most books published in the last 10 years or so, the picture is more heartening: University libraries provide students and scholars with access to a fair number of those works via services purchased directly from publishers and aggregators. Excerpts can often be viewed online free (but only as much as is allowed by publishers, with an eye toward generating sales). And many titles are available as e-books. Nonetheless, the vast majority of the scholarship published since 1923 (the date before which titles are in the public domain in the United States) is now effectively out of reach to the modern student.

As one of the world's most prolific scholarly publishers, Oxford views as a core expression of its mission — and the responsibility of all scholarly publishers — the reactivation of publications long sidelined by the restrictions of a print-only existence....

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Media Week 25: Chris Anderson, Readers Digest, Google Book Search,

Some of these were on noted Twitter (@personanondata). I find I am using delicious much less.

Reader's Digest sold their library business to management (link):

Gareth Stevens Inc., the publisher of library and classroom books founded in Milwaukee, is being sold by Reader's Digest Association Inc. to Gareth Stevens' chief Gary Spears and a business partner.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Gareth Stevens Inc., now based in Strongsville, Ohio, is being sold to Gareth Stevens Publishing LLP, a new entity led by Spears and Roger Rosen, owner and CEO of Rosen Publishing of New York City, Reader's Digest said Thursday.

Rumors that Bertelsmann may get back into music publishing (Billboard):
U.S. private equity firm KKR and several banks are said to be ready to act as co-investors for a plan by Bertelsmann and its BMG Rights Management arm to acquire the master recordings archive of EMI Music in London (described as "one of several" targets in the report), though a representative for EMI says no deal is in the works.
Pearson invests in education businesses in the UK (NYT):
Pearson is buying half of the vocational training business of Educomp Solutions, a Delhi education company that creates software and training systems for 23,000 schools. Pearson is also buying a 17.2 percent stake in TutorVista, an online tutoring company that brings together Indian tutors and American students.
Comprehensive article in support of Google Book Settlement (BigMoney):
The meme of the Google book monopoly has been gathering force over the last months, after being given a push by Robert Darnton, the head of Harvard's library system. Darnton was originally one of the most prominent backers of Google's digitization initiative. But somewhere along the line, Darnton got cold feet. In February, he wrote an essay for the New York Review of Books in which he set out the case that thanks to Google Book Search, Google will enjoy "a monopoly of a new kind, not of railroads or steel but of access to information." Since Darnton's essay appeared, the anti-Google crusade has gathered steam, fed by Google-bashing advocacy groups like Consumer Watchdog, and the hue and cry has sparked a federal antitrust inquiry.
Chris Anderson makes an ass of himself (Edrants):
As the examples below will demonstrate, Anderson’s failure to paraphrase properly is plagiarism, according to the Indiana University Bloomington Writing Tutorial Services’s very helpful website. It is simply not enough for Anderson to cite the source. An honest and ethical author cannot, in good conscience, swipe whole sentences and paragraphs, change a few words, and call it his. Plagiarism is not an either-or proposition, although we leave the readers to decide whether the cat inside the box is dead or alive.
And some more on this from the Boston Globe
But the more important debate is going to be over the ideas in the book itself, over the future of free as a business model - and over Anderson’s contention that companies that want to survive will have to either figure out how to offer their wares for free or contend with competitors that do. “Free” is a business book, but the dynamics it describes are unsettling the social and cultural landscape, as well. For many people, music is now free, along with news, movies, video games, and the software to help with everyday tasks. In ways it was not before, it’s free today to look for jobs, apartments, friends, roommates, and even romance. For the time being at least, the forces of free are upsetting not only traditional business models, but long-held assumptions about what we have to pay for, and when and how. It’s a confusing time, and Anderson’s book offers a reassuring diagnosis and set of prescriptions.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

After the Storm

Lightning and heavy rain pushed through last evening but as the sun set an orange glow reflected off the skyline and also produced some weird amoeba like cloud formations.

Friday, June 26, 2009

NY Times Announces Linked Data Initiative

A cool announcement from the NY Times yesterday:
Releasing the Times thesaurus is consistent with our TimesOpen strategy. We want to facilitate access to slices of our data for those who want to include Times content in their applications. Our TimesTags API already makes available our most frequently used tags, the 27,000 that power our topics pages. But the new effort will go well beyond that. We plan to release hundreds of thousands of tags from the corpus back to 1980, and later, in a second phase, hundreds of thousands more going back to 1851.
Here is some more material on the Linked data initiative.

And my post from earlier this month on a PWC report discussing Linked Data and the semantic web: PND

Teleread: Amazon and Synergy = Kindle

On the TeleRead.org blog about a month ago Felix Torres was asked to expand, as a guest contributor, on a comment he had made on a related post. His guest post turned into one of the best explorations of the Amazon market strategy I have seen. Two years ago, I thought the implications of the Kindle were far greater than publishers anticipated but Felix pulls together all the strands to make clear both the 'danger' for publishers and the inevitability of the strategy (Link):

Here are some examples:
Once you factor in Amazon’s hidden face it is hardly surprising that they are leveraging their cloud platform capabilities into boosting Kindle with features like Whispersync and hosting notes and bookmarks; they already host Kindle bookshelf backups and email accounts and file conversion services for their users, after all. And when you consider that none of their existing ebook-business competitors has any experience in that arena (except Microsoft, who may not even be in the game anymore) this just might turn out to be the deciding factor.
....
For the near term, say three-to-five years, Amazon really has no significant challengers to the Kindle cloud they are developing. Expect new features to roll out regularly, many of them shocking, some might even seem head-scratchingly odd, but all will fit into a basic paradigm that says: “reading is more than just about books”.
....

Want to see where Kindle is going? Look to Xbox 360. Look to Zune. Look to XBOX Live. And then look again, at what doesn’t show on the surface.

XBOX 360 is, like Kindle, a “walled garden” content delivery system. DRM rules XBOX live. Unlike Sony, Microsoft doesn’t own any movie studios, yet they beat them to market by over a year with online movie rentals and TV show sales.
....

Kindle is just for reading ebooks, after all, right?

Sure, just like an Xbox is “only” for games. Except people buy Xboxes these days so they can play with/against their friends; they buy Xboxes because the people they know buy Xboxes. And there is added value in having the same console, playing the same game, and talking, interacting. Suddenly, gaming is about more than the games. Its about the (forgive the marketing-speak) “experience”.

And that is where Kindle is going. Fast.

....

There is a lot more. With respect to this last quote the Amazon strategy of owning Social Booksites like Shelfari and LibraryThing (partly) suggests they have the elements in place to build their 'experience.' As potential influencers and curators perhaps it is the Kindle upon which these investments will be leveraged.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Roy Blount Jr. Addresses the Orphanage

Authors Guild president Roy Blount Jnr. addresses his flock on the issue of the copyright Orphans 'created' (not really) by the Google Book Settlement. This is thematic of my post earlier this week. (Link).
When, you may ask, is a book consigned to the orphanage? Some people have the impression that most out-of-print books are orphans. That's not true. Most authors I know have written some books that are out of print. Me too. We are all findable. So are most of the authors I don't know. Many of us have produced books that included excerpts from other copyrighted work. The Guild did a survey a few years ago on how difficult it is for authors to clear rights to these excerpts. Of the authors that had tried, 85% reported that they had been "rarely" or "never" unable to reach the rightsholder to ask permission. I sit on the board of the Authors Registry, a non-profit organization that helps pay authors for photocopy and other uses of their books from overseas. Its success rate at finding authors of out-of-print books is upwards of 80%. If you look for authors, the odds of finding them go way up.

Desperate Publishers of Manhattan

Poor Book Depository having been cast as the next Amazon.com killer by publishers desperate for some broadening of the retailer market they face inevitable marginality. On the back of 'they've seen some success' and 'they offer free shipping anywhere in the world' it is suggested they are a legitimate player in the US market dominated by Amazon.

David Rothman at Teleread.org addresses this silliness further (Teleread):
Some wishful publishers are rejoicing that a British company called The Book Depository will go after the U.S. market and in other ways compete online against Amazon.

Alas, I’m not so optimistic. Would you believe, the little TeleBlog in recent months has drawn more traffic at times than The Book Depository has, according to Alexa. Even allowing for Alexa’s inaccuracies, it’s clear that the Book Depository is not that big a power on the Net. Perhaps eventually the store will be. But it has a long way to go as an Amazon rival—look at the chart below. In the comparison, you can’t even see the Book Depository’s line. What’s more, if the Book Depository has a Kindle equivalent, that’s news to me. Just how is the company to be a major power in a fast-growing sector like e-books?

And another bizarre aspect to this flaccid conversation is there's no mention of B&N.com.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Are the Orphans really Phantoms?

Opponents of the Google Book Search (GBS) agreement often seem to grasp hold of the emotive issues pertaining to the ‘orphan’ works problem by suggesting some grievance on a massive scale (a content ‘land-grab’) is taking place before our eyes. The GBS, while not perfect, shouldn’t be derailed by a small, potentially un-addressable segment of publishers since the counterveiling benefits are so considerable.

Firstly, the 'orphan' issue is unlikely to represent as large a number of titles - some say as many as 2mm - as suggested. Secondly, the ‘orphan’ issue is by no means a GBS-created issue and facilities available to the parents of these orphans to assert ownership appear to have been largely ignored over the years. There is also a third issue: Copyright holders who have maintained their records and appropriately managed their copyright status stand to lose substantially should the GBS agreement be quashed by the court, and all because of an emotive argument about a relatively small number of possible copyright holders who live in blissful ignorance.

On point three, any publisher that finds their titles have been scanned without their permission can do a number of things ranging from taking compensation and staying in the program, taking compensation and getting out, or doing nothing at all. The overwhelming number of titles scanned by Google appear to be those for which the rights are known, giving these publishers and copyright holders an opportunity to make their titles widely available and perhaps even make some money. This vast pool of titles will naturally benefit the wider publishing audience (whether students or consumers) and this is a social good that substantially exceeds the pitfalls inherent in the so-called orphan “land-grab”.

Importantly, the GBS agreement makes this access possible and empowers copyright holders to establish their own business arrangements. Publishers removing their title(s) from GBS only makes sense to me if they then go into the Google Publisher program instead. As part of this agreement, publishers that find their books in the GBS pool have an easy opportunity to assert their ownership and determine their rights. It is this facility – now with the breadth and market penetration of Google – that represents yet another in a series of decades-long opportunities that copyright owners have had to assert their ownership. Importantly, the GBS (BRR) registration process doesn’t cease once the agreement is approved; rather, money is set aside and the facility remains open for owners to register their titles and assert their ownership at any time in the years to come.

The copyright office, Bowker’s Books In Print, the ISBN agency, Amazon.com, Worldcat & OCLC have all provided some ability for copyright owners to ‘register’ their titles, update their information, possibly apply for an ISBN (if the title pre-dates 1970), change pricing, etc., etc. The Amazon emporium, together with the associated raft of retailers including second-hand and antiquarian stores, have represented years' worth of opportunity for a copyright owner to ‘find their title’. Worldcat – available in most libraries - has enabled copyright owners to find their titles and even request a physical copy should they want to. These facilities continue to offer copyright owners easy access to finding out about the existence and location of their potential works. Once located and correctly identified, there have been numerous ways to correct information regarding ownership. Importantly, the Google Book Settlement agreement doesn’t circumvent that opportunity in any way; rather, it enhances it.

I’ve spent some serious time analyzing this and it looks to me like the unknown number of 'orphan' titles will be low, both in absolute terms and in relationship to the total scanned book universe. Ample opportunity has been and continues to be afforded this group to assert their ownership and to make a business decision they believe to be in their best interests. What shouldn’t happen is to allow the insurmountable issues of effectively reaching this ‘orphan’ group to derail this agreement that represents a massive step forward in accessibility and knowledge.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Voyager Learning Bought by Veronis (Cambium)

Troubled educational publisher Voyager Learning has been acquired by educational investment vehicle Cambium. This represents a rather ignominious end to what was once a billion dollar information company but for management and staff perhaps they will be able to look forward to a more productive and stable future. Here is the press release:

Voyager Learning Company (PinkSheets: VLCY) , a publisher of education materials and provider of education solutions for the K-12 market, today announced the signing of a definitive merger agreement to combine its business with Cambium Learning, Inc., an education company serving the needs of at-risk and special student populations in the Pre-K through grade 12 market. In 2008, Cambium Learning had revenues of approximately $100 million and Voyager Learning Company reported $98.5 million in revenues. The combination of the companies' businesses will create a leading provider of education intervention services in the United States.

The business combination will be effected through a newly-formed company, Cambium-Voyager Holdings, Inc., which will acquire both companies and issue shares in the combined company to stockholders of each of Voyager Learning Company and Cambium Learning. Cambium-Voyager Holdings will be majority owned by VSS-Cambium Holdings III, LLC, which will be majority owned by Veronis Suhler Stevenson, a leading private equity investor in the information, education and media industries and current owner of Cambium Learning. Upon completion of the mergers, Cambium-Voyager Holdings will be a public company, and anticipates having its common stock approved for listing on the NASDAQ Global Market.

Monday, June 22, 2009

CCC Interview Michael Healy

The copyright clearence center interviewed Michael Healy who is the Executive Director - designate of the Book Rights Registry. Here is their announcement:

Exclusive Interview Sheds Light on Google Settlement
In his first public interview, Michael Healy--the man expected to become the executive director of the Book Rights Registry (BRR)--sat down with Copyright Clearance Center to discuss the potential benefits of the proposed Google Book settlement.

Healy, a former librarian, is currently the executive director of the non-profit Book Industry Study Group and has been working with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers on the establishment of the BRR. Development of the BRR was included as part of the proposed settlement agreement.

In his interview with CCC, Healy highlighted that book consumers have shifted their expectations about content delivery from traditional print forms to cell phones and e-book readers. He suggested publishers' future success will depend on their ability to adapt to that changing landscape.

Healy also offered this perspective on how the proposed settlement will ultimately help copyright holders:

"The Book Rights Registry introduces into the environment an unprecedented degree of control to authors, publishers and other rightsholders on how their copyrights are exploited and distributed in this new digital world."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Media Week 24: OCLC, British Library, Elsevier, Google,

Tim Winton wins Australia's most prestigious literary award for the fourth time (TheAge):

Tim Winton was only 24 when in 1984 he first won the Miles Franklin, Australia's most significant prize for literary fiction. He and his wife, Denise, had a colicky baby and no money. "It saved my bacon; it was the cavalry coming over the hill. And that screaming baby we were racoon-eyed from is a young man with several degrees who turns 25 next month."

Last night, after becoming the first writer to win the award in his own right for a fourth time - for his latest novel, Breath - Winton launched a passionate defence of Australian writers and literary culture
On their public policy blog Google continue their defense of the Google Book Search settlement arguing that it will expand access (Link):
Have you ever gone to your local bookstore looking for a book only to be told that it’s not there? You look for it on Amazon; they don’t offer it. You go to your local library and it’s not there. But you know that it exists because you read it your freshman year in college.

Or let's say you’re a second generation American interested in reading books in your parents’ native language, Greek. Try finding more than a few books in foreign languages in most town libraries or bookstores in the United States.

Or you're a graduate student who has been doing research on your thesis for years. You think you've read every book there is to read on your topic, but then you type your query into Google Book Search, and you suddenly discover a new original book or monograph that you weren't even aware of before.

...

The settlement won't just expand access to out-of-print books, either. Because authors and publishers will have the ability to let users preview and purchase their in-print books through Google Book Search, readers will have even more options for accessing in-print books than they have today.

Not only did Elsevier create some 'fake' journals for drug makers they also encouraged the drug maker to agree the content. (The Australian):

THE world's largest medical publisher asked the manufacturers of anti- inflammatory drug Vioxx which articles they wanted to include in a so-called medical journal on bone health.

Documents tendered to a Federal Court class action reveal staff at publishing company Elsevier, which produces The Lancet, emailed pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co about its "preferred content selection" for the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine.

The publisher also admits the journal is a "single sponsored publication" where most of the content is chosen by Merck with some "input from Elsevier". The plaintiff in the class action has alleged the journal was fake and it was simply a marketing exercise designed to promote Vioxx.

The court has also heard Merck put the names of high-profile arthritis experts on the editorial board of the phoney journal without telling them they had done so. Since these revelations, Elsevier has expressed embarrassment over its role and admitted it failed to meet its own "high standards for disclosure".

In more Elsevier news, there are rumors that the company is looking to take on the responsibility for managing Universities content repositories: basically managing and hosting the content that academics create. This is a potentially sly approach to the 'open-access' issue (Link):

Elsevier is thought to be mooting a new idea that could undermine universities' own open-access repositories. It would see Elsevier take over the job of archiving papers and making them available more widely as PDF files.

If successful, it would represent a new tactic by publishers in their battle to secure their future against the threat posed by the open-access publishing movement.

Most UK universities operate open-access repositories, where scholars can voluntarily deposit final drafts of their pay-to-access journal publications online. Small but growing numbers are also making such depositions mandatory.

An internet posting earlier this month alerted repository managers to Elsevier's move. "Rumours are spreading that Elsevier staff are approaching UK vice-chancellors and persuading them to point to PDF copies of articles on Elsevier's web-site rather than have the articles deposited in institutional repositories," the memo, on a mailing list operated by the Joint Information Systems Committee, said.

Google Book Search announced some enhancements to their Book Search interface (Link):

Today I'm excited to announce that we're rolling out changes to Google Books that give readers and book lovers everywhere new ways to interact with the words and images contained within the books we've brought online. We've also made it easier for users to share previews of their favorite books on their blogs or websites. Here's a tour of some of the enhancements we've made to the way you search, browse, and share the books that we've digitized.

OCLC is working with print machine manufacturer Kirtas to enable the printing of books on demand having found them via Worldcat (SBWire):

Kirtas Technologies, the worldwide leader in bound-book digitization, and OCLC, a global online library service and research organization; have signed an agreement that will enable streamlined access to the ever-increasing numbers of digitized books to users of OCLC’s WorldCat and Kirtasbooks.com.

As part of the agreement, OCLC will now be able to provide its users with data indicating that a book is either available as digitized content or that it can be made available for digitization.

In addition, OCLC will provide Kirtas with bibliographic records for use on www.kirtasbooks.com, ensuring consistent and accurate descriptions of the books being offered for sale by its library content providers.

OCLC has incorporated Worldcat identies into Worldcat.org (Blog)

The British library together with JISC and Gale/Cengage announced the launch of a newspaper archive that includes over 2mm pages of news material (Link):

The service - accessed at http://newspapers.bl.uk/blcs - includes more than two million pages of newspapers from 49 national and regional titles dating from 1800.

Newspapers covered by the service include the Daily News, Manchester Times, Western Mail, Northern Echo, Glasgow Herald and Penny Illustrated.

Users can read reports of the Battle of Trafalgar in the Examiner and the gory details of the Whitechapel murders in the melodramatic Illustrated Police News. Children as young as nine smoking and drinking, music hall star Vesta Tilley in an X Factor-style contest, and the banking collapse of 1878 are also among the stories.

A search on the words 'Hoboken, New Jersey' resulted in some very interesting results.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bezo's is Against it, Schonfeld Misunderstands it: Google Book Settlement

Erick Schonfeld over at Seeking Alpha notes some self-serving opinion from Jeff Bezos on the Google Book Settlement (Link):
That settlement in our opinion needs to be revisited. It doesn’t seem right that you should kind of get a prize for violating a large series of copyrights. The class action settlement law . . . you can’t believe that is the way it actually works.
But Schonfeld then goes on to make the following specious comment:
Google’s book settlement gives it a blanket right to display the text of any orphan work (unclaimed books still under copyright), and to sell digital copies of such works. Since the majority of book actually fall under this category, the settlement would in effect give Google an exclusive right to show or sell these books.
I added the bold. He knows nothing about what amount of books will or will not end up being Orphans. Just more ill-formed opinion.

UPDATE: Tim O'Reilly was at the same conference and posted some notes and here is a sample (He also got Erick's comment above): LINK
"These new businesses are very energizing. We don't 'stick to the knitting'...I wouldn't even know how to respond if someone said 'Jeff, this isn't the knitting.' But we do make business decisions in a very deliberate way: we work backwards from customer needs, and we work forwards from our business skills."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Back to the Future in Iran

As we slowly made our way toward the airport for our flight home, the car lurched forward as the front wheels fell into a particularly large hole. From the front seat, our guide turned around, rolled his eyes and said "Here, he was mayor of Tehran and now he's President but he couldn't even fix our streets." And so it was during our trip, an imperceptible admission that they - our hosts and others like them - weren't responsible for Ahmadinejad. Sure they voted but not for this guy. On the one hand the events of this week are amazing in a country ruled by fear but on the other-hand less so. The crowd - students, moderate clergy, the middle class - had been invited to participate, but they had had enough and told them so. To many of them Ahmadinejad turned out to be worst than their worst nightmare.

This was my third visit to Iran having stopped over twice before in the mid-1970s. At that time, Tehran was rapidly growing under another dictatorship. Here was a vast city in the middle of nowhere completely outside my experience yet they had skyscrapers, side walks, movie theaters, traffic, jet aircraft, incredible architecture, and a jewelry collection you couldn't believe. Even in the 1970s, the separation between us and them wasn't that great. We stayed at the newly built Intercontinental and there was a Sheraton across town. We visited the souk and we got a carpet and some other souvenirs. We visited all the important sites and we went by plane and back to Isfahan, the holy city. We even frolicked in the hotel pool where off-duty Pan Am air crews wandered around as though they were in Miami.

Over the years my memories remained positive and I was never able to marry Bush's 'axis of evil' with my experience. Wouldn't that be like invading France I thought. Iran isn't some backward country. Regardless, in advance of our trip in November 2005 I did have some trepidation as I left London. I was excited, and when we arrived we were escorted through immigration by our travel guide. We were welcomed. I've had more trouble getting into Canada. Conversations were generally guarded but when we went for our big dinner out the conversation did become looser. During the dinner, males and females interacted, some women did not wear head scarfs and the Iranians proffered an almost laisez faire attitude to their political situation. Almost admitting 'we didn't vote for him but what are we supposed to do?

As chance would have it, when I returned to Tehran in 2005 we were placed in the old Intercontinental. At the height of the 1979 revolution, the hotel was 'liberated' but in the years following the government chose to keep everything the same. While the pool is now out of commission, the Iranians seemed to be proud of their previous more westernized outlook. The hotel retained all the branding of the original Intercontinental - even down to the waste basket in my room - despite a name change. The lobby was identical to the image in my mind from the day we left back in 1974. And in the entry way to their best top floor restaurant they still had on display a famous award for excellence. Encased in glass it was so covered in dust it looked like a funnel spider. Unfortunately for me, that meal caused me to get so ill I couldn't get out of bed the next day and make the day trip to Isfahan.

There were some dark spots: walls painted with 'death to America' and the local Tehran Times English language newspaper was busy interviewing a holocaust denier. There was no interest exhibited by our travel guides to engage on these topics and we didn't press the issue either.

As we saw, life in Tehran was getting harder. Inflation was growing and we saw lines outside gas stations. The roads weren't getting fixed. Corruption was rampant yet the religious police maintained their sweeps of improperly dressed women. So, some bright spark asked them for some feedback on their political circumstance and this is what they got.

Publishing History Repeating Itself.

In the course of research, this caught my eye from the NYTimes of 1911. Just proves that people who should know better mouthing off about book related statistics have always been part of the business. That aside, this is an interesting snap shot of NY publishing in 1911.
AT a session of the International Circulation Managers' Association, held this month in Chicago, Third Assistant Postmaster General Britt made an address in which he upheld the Government's position as regards the new rate of postage on periodicals. In the course of his remarks he made the following sensational statement as to the publication of books and pamphlets in this country:
NYTimes.

And if you have the time and inclination here is another article from 1919. This article laments the rapid decline of bookstores, but blames not the automobile, movies, periodicals, pamphlets or even libraries; here, a Mr. William Arnold suggests the decline is due to the lack of cooperation between publisher and bookseller. He suggests that in the US the bookseller "may suffer ruinously through the speculative quality of many of the new books he is compelled to handle."

Was his solution consignment? It is not clear, however he does paint a very rosy picture of what the book retail and publishing business could become with greater cooperation.

NYTimes

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Media Week 23: Book Titles, E-Books and Text Books, Orphans,

Some of these appeared on The Twitter.

Robert McCrum does some thinking about book titles: (Observer)

Actually, if you're stuck for a title, Shakespeare is a good place to start: Brave New World (The Tempest); Remembrance of Things Past (The Sonnets); The Sound and the Fury (Macbeth); The Dogs of War (Julius Caesar); Cakes and Ale (Twelfth Night). Apart from quoting Donne (For Whom the Bell Tolls) or the Bible (The Power and the Glory) or TS Eliot (A Handful of Dust), you can fall back on theory. Some say a good title must contain a conflict (Crime and Punishment); others that one word is best (Atonement; Money); or that exotic confections (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) make good box office.

The truth is, as William Goldman has it, "nobody knows anything".

Seth Godin rants about Marketing textbooks.
The solution seems simple to me. Professors should be spending their time devising pages or chapterettes or even entire chapters on topics that matter to them, then publishing them for free online. (it's part of their job, remember?) When you have a class to teach, assemble 100 of the best pieces, put them in a pdf or on a kindle or a website (or even in a looseleaf notebook) and there, you're done. You just saved your intro marketing class about $15,000. Every semester. Any professor of intro marketing who is assigning a basic old-school textbook is guilty of theft or laziness.
Burning a 'gay teen book' in Wisconsin could become a legal matter (Observer):

Siems said there was clearly "a bit of theatre" in the lawsuit which followed. "They've filed a lawsuit which has little possibility of going forward legally, and they're asking for damages which include the right to burn a book. It does seem more to gain publicity than a real serious challenge." But, he said, PEN remained very concerned about the impulse behind the claim. "This is a group of people trying aggressively to rid the library of these books and that's very serious - it needs to be fought."

The claimants, he said, "have a right to continue to express their views, and this in a way is a creative attempt to express those views". But it's "also a dangerous game when you're talking about something like book burning, calling on the law to burn books. It's certainly completely un-American, and if they paused, I think they would agree."

JISC (UK) produce a report that suggests that the potential Orphan work problem in the UK could extend to 50mm items. It's not just about books.
The scale and impact of Orphan Works across the public sector confirms that the presence of Orphan Works is in essence locking up culture and other public sector content and preventing organisations from serving the public interest. Works of little and/or variable commercial value but high academic and cultural significance are languishing unused. Access to an immense amount of this material, essential for education and scholarship, is consequently badly constrained, whilst scarce public sector resources are being used up on complex and unreliable ‘due diligence’ compliance. Without any kind of UK or European Union-wide legal certainty, there will remain a major risk for all users of Orphan Works. The quantity of Orphan Works and their impact is only accelerating as content is being created and digitised without adherence to any single internationally recognised standard for capturing provenance information.
Six lessons from an e-Book project at Northwest Missouri State college: (Chronicle)

Then the university ran a pilot study with the Sony Reader, a device much like the Kindle (Sony was more responsive to the university's calls than Amazon was). University officials learned some sobering lessons about electronic books. Students who got the machines quickly asked for their printed books back because it was so awkward to navigate inside the e-books (though a newer version of the device works more gracefully).

Mr. Hubbard still dreams of lighter bookbags and lower costs, but the university is now moving more slowly — and running tests involving several different types of e-books. Publishers are clamoring to be part of the experiment.

Peter Olson examines what the Kindle really means: (BookBusiness)

The real issues are:

1. How can we enhance the reader’s overall experience—not just reading, but browsing, purchasing and library-building, and not just through print or digital media, but through a combination of both?

2. How can we create pricing options that will increase demand for books and offset the decline in book readership?

3. How can we build a new business model that is attractive to authors and sufficiently profitable for publishers and online retailers?

Asking baby boomers whether they will forego their affinity for printed books is irrelevant. The key to the future is whether e-books will be interesting enough to Generations X, Y and the millennials to capture a significant portion of their entertainment spending.

In Connecticut they take the development of Math courses into their own hands: (NYTimes)
So the district’s frustrated math teachers decided to rewrite the algebra curriculum, limiting it to about half of the 90 concepts typically covered in a high school course in hopes of developing a deeper understanding of key topics. Last year, they began replacing 1,000-plus-page math textbooks with their own custom-designed online curriculum; the lessons are typically written in Westport and then sent to a program in India, called HeyMath!, to jazz up the algorithms and problem sets with animation and sounds.

Friday, June 12, 2009

S&S and Proactive Digital

When the Bowker team launched our first online product we learned by experience, but one thing we got right was perspective. Even though nearly 100% of our revenue was in print, from that day forward we became an online database company. There was nothing we didn't consider to elevate our online product in the consciousness of our customers minds: not pricing, content, sales support or marketing. Our goal was to migrate all our customers from the print to the web product as fast as possible. Admittedly, there were many before us in the online database world who we could point to for guidance but we still managed to make mistakes. For example, we quickly understood that customer service was no longer about tracking a book shipment as it was about technical support, and selling wasn't about cold calling from New Jersey rather it became training on-site. Still, we were fast learners.

In the process of proactively migrating our customer base we aggressively increased the price of our print version while also reducing the content. We continued to add new content and new functionality to the on-line product while only moderately increasing pricing. We pulled back from third party data licenses and migrated these customers to our platform so we could maintain a direct relationship with all our customers. We placed sales reps in the field which hadn't been done for many years, and later added trainers in the field to ensure our customers were using the product to its capability.

All of these proactive tasks were established to not only support our new on-line business but also eliminate our print business. We always knew online and electronic was our future and we wanted to get there as fast as possible. Our product was better online and our relationship with the customers was more positive and engaged than it ever had been in the print environment. Most importantly, the company was able to survive and gain in strength which never would have happened had we not proactively engaged a digital strategy.

This week Simon & Schuster appears to have taken a similar proactive step in defining their own online future by placing 5,000 titles with Scribd. Many trade publishers at BookExpo seemed content in commenting on eBooks counting less than 5% of revenues (I'm being generous). In shugging off the (in)significance of the stat they also seemed to be saying 'it's not really up to us' to drive these numbers faster. And why would they want to drive eBooks when print is still so important? (This is the point where I point back to my example above).

In working with Scribd, S&S has said "we want to have some say in our digitial future" are we are not going to leave it in the hands of Amazon to dictate to us. I applaud this somewhat isolated example of a publisher taking control of their fate - however small the effort may appear to some at this stage - and look both for S&S to seek other relationships and for other publishers to join them. Which publisher will be first to eliminate a first edition print in favor of digital only?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Doing Away With Textbooks In California

California is one of the holy trinity of HS text book states and thus tremendously important to the success of any textbook program. E-texts have been gaining and programs by Cengage, Pearson and MGH have begun to make inroads into schools as legitimate supplemental (and in some cases substitutions for) printed text books. Recently in an interview in the San Jose Mercury News, Governor Schwarzenegger indicated he would like to replace printed textbooks in HS as a way to battle his budget issues. He is suggesting starting this process in August which must have some executives in the educational community running frantic. There is an undoubted significant opportunity that may both reduce expenses and provide for a better educational experience; however, given the politics of both California at large and the materials selection process don't hold your breath thinking a change like this will happen in August.

From the Guardian:

Schwarzenegger, trying to plug a budget hole of $24.3bn (£15bn), thinks he can make savings by getting rid of what he decries as expensive textbooks. The governor is serious about an idea that might make Gutenberg turn in his grave. He appeared in class yesterday to push an idea he set out in the San Jose Mercury News newspaper.

"It's nonsensical and expensive to look to traditional hard-bound books when information today is so readily available in electronic form," Schwarzenegger wrote. "Especially now, when our school districts are strapped for cash and our state budget deficit is forcing further cuts to classrooms, we must do everything we can to untie educators' hands and free up dollars so that schools can do more with fewer resources."

Schwarzenegger points out that California last year set aside $350m for school books and argues that even if teachers have to print out some of the material, it will be far cheaper than regularly buying updated textbooks.

The Governor's point of view on this matter is also warped: He believes textbooks are expensive and e-Book versions will be cheaper but neither is necessarily the case. E-Books will be better - especially true when they are integrated into a networked environment - but cheaper? Maybe but unlikely since there is the cost of the reader, (and some of these will inevitably have to be replaced every year), as well as the on-going cost of creation that publishers will want to cover on the same basis as they do now. Schwarzenegger has the objective correct: Replacing print texts with electronic versions is a good idea, but his motivation will focus the argument in the wrong place. It won't be what is best for the student but what will save California the most money, and on that basis why not just buy one text book for every three students and be done with it?

Are Characters Possible in a Fragmented World?

Interesting article in The Economist on Stan Lee the graphic artist and creator of many Marvel comic characters. The article explores how characters ended up on screen but also looks into how markets are fragmenting thus making the ability to be successful as Marvel was far more difficult. (The Economist):

But there is a hitch. Mr Lee’s most celebrated creations appeared at a time when comic books were widely read. The heroes were honed over many years by other writers and artists. As a result a great many people of diverse ages are familiar with them and will happily spend $10 to sit in a cool cinema and renew their acquaintance. Blockbuster audiences are built not of enthusiastic fans—there are never enough—but of people who are vaguely aware of a character or a story and want to see what a studio does with it.

These days it is extremely difficult to propel new characters or stories into broad public consciousness, and therefore hard to mobilise a mass audience for films based on them. Take Alan Moore, a revered writer of comic books. His works have inspired five ambitious films (the most recent is “Watchmen”), none of them hugely successful. And what goes for comic books also goes for television shows, computer games and other fodder for summer blockbusters. As audiences fragment, there is simply less mass content to throw into the Hollywood recycling machine.

Monday, June 08, 2009

About Being Semantic

PriceWaterhouseCoopers has just published one of their periodic Technical Reports where they discuss and forecast the impact of the semantic web on business operations. This report is readable - although the concepts are complex, and there are several examples that elucidate the practical implications of adopting some of the theory (BBC).

Fundamental to the development of the semantic web will be the Resource Description Framework (RDF) which builds on the experience of xml and improves on the benefits provided by relational data. Central to RDF are Universal Resource Identifiers (URI) which are 'supersets' of URLs - your garden variety web address. In a semantic context, URIs are more specific than URLs and on page 7 of the report, the authors explain how this interplay works.

There are three key themes noted in this report:
  1. Establishment & Use of Ontologies and Taxonomies. Increasingly anyone in data and information management is going to understand and recognise what these terms mean. In the publishing business, far more attention is now being paid to the the way data can/should relate to other data (Ontological) as well as how data can be structured hierarchically (taxonomy). As hierarchical classification schemes, taxonomies can/are limiting - although this factor may not be apparent until an organization considers utilizing one advantage of ontologies which is that they can be linked to other ontologies.

  2. The ability to link your data with data from any third party will ultimately create better business information and support both more accurate and faster decision making. The Linked Data Initiative is a standards based approach to try to make this happen. In a linked data environment data can be shared and the interrelationships between data understood within the confines of a shared understanding of a common ontology. In the report, PWC examine how establishing a new retail location using complex data from a variety of sources can be aggregated and made actionable all using a linked data framework. As the report says, linked data is about both 'supply and demand': Accessing the data you want but also allowing others to access your data as well.

  3. The report also addresses SPARQL and SQL. Theres much more in the report but SPARQL supports interpretation of graphical data representing an improvement over SQL. This discussion challenges the upper reaches of my pay grade so you will have to read this yourself.
I would have liked to quote directly from the report but ironically the pdf is disabled for copy and paste. However the report is free and runs about 50pages and I won't spoil the ending for you.

Also of relevance are two presentations I made at the Frankfurt supply chain meeting. Digital Age and Intelligent Publishing Supply Chain.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Media Week 22: University Press, BookExpo, BordersUK, News Corp

If you are on Twitter you will have seen these. Apologies.

Scott McLemee at Inside Higher Ed takes a look at some of the University Presses at BookExpo and their comparative investments in eBook formats:

Many people take it for granted that the economic downturn amounts to a a tipping point in e-publishing, at least for scholarly presses, and perhaps especially for them.But even the publishers moving steadily deeper into the digital terrain are doing so watchfully.

The expression "tipping point" (with its implication of "point of no return") hardly seems to apply, to judge by this year's Book Expo. A more fitting term might be the one used by Ellen Trachtenberg, a publicist for the University of Pennsylvania Press. "We're at a tension point," she told me. "We don't have any e-books, but our board of trustees is keen on doing them, so we are looking into it."

PW's BookExpo content is here.

Elizabeth Eaves took a walk around BookExpo last weekend (Forbes)
Why write books? The compulsion to try to entertain, persuade or make meaning is irresistible.

At the very least, the industry appears to be handling technological change more gracefully than the music business or ink-on-paper newspapers, in ways that are reassuring to an author. Publishers will automatically make new books available in a digital format, suitable for the Kindle or other e-readers--though mid-list authors may have to ask, or arm wrestle, publishers into digitizing their older books. Nobody knows whether sales in the still-tiny digital books market will cannibalize print book sales or add to them, nor whether margins on e-books will be enough to keep publishers in business. It seems wisest, though, to give the people what they want, how they want it.

Borders UK denied they are facing critical financial issues rather that they need some external help to rightsize their retail space. Nevertheless, the appointment of a financial adviser raises speculation about the company's future. The Bookseller

More from News Corp - this time newly hired Jonathan Miller - on developing a paid content model. (Hollywood Reporter)
Paid digital media services are the wave of the future for media giants, and the only question is how fast they will become reality, News Corp. chief digital officer Jonathan Miller said here Tuesday evening, adding that the conglomerate will push to develop new business models that work for the industry overall.

"We will see a return to multiple revenue streams," Miller predicted after his chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch recently hinted more of his empire's digital content offers may carry a price tag in the future.

"Free versus pay is one of the really big issues out there," and this is the time the industry seems ready to find answers, he said.

We want to see a (business) model established.
Also on The Twitter, there was a publishing boot camp in Toronto over the weekend and here is the link

An interview in The Observer magazine with crime novelist Martina Cole:
I've run down the batteries of not one but two tape recorders. My note-taking hand is aching. And when I finally arrive home, I have to spend some time sitting quietly in a darkened room. It's not unlike being kidnapped, interviewing Martina Cole, although if you've read any of her novels, you're probably thinking a claw hammer through an eye socket, or a shank in the neck and a severed artery or two, whereas in actual fact it's a constant, non-stop stream of stories, opinions, homilies, exhortations and offers of tea, coffee, wine, cake, ham salad, water, coffee. Ah go on, a little glass of wine. And when I come to transcribe it all, I manage 29 pages, or 16,000 words, or to put this into context, roughly a fifth of a novel, before I simply give up, overwhelmed.

God, she can talk, Martina. It's non-stop. The stories just keep on coming. She doesn't even need to pause for breath. I begin to suspect that she might have gills. Or that she breathes through her skin like a frog. But then she's written 16 novels, all bestsellers; in fact she's far and away the bestselling British author today, translated into 28 languages, trumped in the charts only by the likes of The Da Vinci Code, so it really shouldn't be surprising that she knows how to spin a yarn, although somehow it is.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Simple Analyst

Robert MacMillan over at Reuters MediaFile observes some facile 'research' from Moody's on the future of newspapers (which he cites) and then concludes with this:
This seems to leave managers with only one way to stay in business for now. If you want your credit rating not to fall further, lay off a few hundred or thousand more employees and make sure the newspaper features a bunch of under-edited news, lame stories and mostly wire copy. Repeat process as often as possible until shareholders and bondholders have a chance to cash out. Then look for another job, maybe as a McKinsey-style efficiency consultant.
Well done. It's no wonder these rating agencies contributed to the mess we are in. I do hope no one pays for this report.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Google on Orphans

On their public policy blog, Google addresses how the Google Book Settlement will increase access to 'out of print' works and also aid to decrease the number of 'orphan' works by enabling a comprehensive process for identification of rights owners. (Google):
As “parent” rightsholders claim their books through the Book Rights Registry, we think it will become clear that most out-of-print books are not actually “orphans.” Books that were once difficult for anyone to license will become books that are very easy for everyone to license, either through the Book Rights Registry or directly from their owners. Furthermore, many books that some think are in-copyright orphans (including a large percentage from 1963 or before) are actually out-of-copyright, and Google is working to make more information available that can clarify their copyright status.

Of course, some rightsholders may still be too difficult to find. Under the settlement Google will be able to open up access to truly orphaned books, but we still think more needs to be done to allow anyone and everyone to use these works. Any company or organization that wants to open up access to this untapped resource should be able to do so. The settlement is not a panacea, since it only covers a subset of orphaned works, provides only certain uses, and is not able to extend these uses to other providers. The need for comprehensive orphan works legislation is not diminished.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Australian Territorial Copyright

The Globe and Mail has the text of a speech given by Australian novelist Richard Flanagan (Sound of One Hand Clapping) during the Sydney Writers Festival two weeks ago. In this speech he makes and impassioned call to the Australian government to abandon their review of the policy of territorial copyright retention of which Flanagan believes is essential to the continued vibrancy and health of the nations written word.

Here are several samples from this long speech:

The battle to understand this world in our own tongue that Tyndale's Bible represents, to make the universal particular, the sacred secular, and the secular in its turn sacred, is a battle that has strangely resurfaced here in Australia this year.

For it falls to us to once more to defend the right – our right and our deepest need – to our own stories in our own voice, which is also, historically and perhaps inevitably, that same battle between truth and power.

At this moment, as many of you would be aware, the Australian government is giving serious consideration to a proposal that would see the ending of territorial copyright for Australian writers.

This dullest and dreariest of phrases – territorial copyright – is the drab motley thrown over a measure which will do untold damage to Australian culture. I cannot begin to convey to you the destructive stupidity of what is being proposed, nor the intense sadness and great anger that so many Australian writers feel about this proposal.

.....

But Australian publishing over the last four decades is an extraordinary cultural achievement. In an era when national cultures suffered greatly from globalization, ours grew stronger, in no small part because of our book industry. We read Australian stories from cradle to grave, and the best of our writing is judged around the world as globally significant.

....

Writers and books that matter will become like an endangered species with no habitat left to support them. The fate of most of them in the large chain and discount mega-store culture will be that of marsupials in new outer suburbs, dicing with death on freeways, not knowing until that short moment of blinding light dazzle that this is no longer their home.

That is but a small sample.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Media Week 21: BookExpo, Newspapers, China,

We are lagging behind this week due to BookExpo and the resulting back log of work; nevertheless, here are some of the news stories I found interesting over the past week. Many (all) of my twitter feeders (is there such a thing) will have seen most of these.

From PW describing the seminar "Stupid Publisher Tricks"(PW):
Among the more provocative proposals were one from Miller that booksellers start publishing and Madan’s request for a good clean data feed, or virtual catalog of all publishers' books, so that independent booksellers could effectively sell books online. Fifteen years after the rise of Amazon, he said, there is no such catalog, and independents have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to Ingram or Baker & Taylor for data that should be free.
Peter Preston points to some stats that suggest all is not doom and gloom in newspapers - perhaps though only where we notice (Guardian):

Cue those WAN statistics one more time and find that 81% of American online users also say they read a printed paper at least once a week. In sum, for the moment, it's not one or the other: it's both. And transition from one to the other, where it's happening, comes unpredictably and patchily from city to city and country to country. Gurus with web fish to fry sing a different tune, sure enough. Burgeoning tycoons who got their debt mountains wrong (like David Montgomery at Mecom) invoke broken old revenue models. It all seems so obvious boiled down to a ritual sentence or two in some TV script.

But too much "doom and gloom", according to O'Reilly? Absolutely: and perhaps he should look at his own Independent web figures - up 63% in a year - for some added personal cheer. But it's still a melee of hopes, dreams and disappointments out there - and, certainly, too many glib simplicities.

Paul McGuinness the manager of U2, isn't satisfied with copyright protections despite the Pirate Bay case and service providers required to do more (CNET):
I would really like them to willingly go to the movie studios and the music companies and say this is how we can collect money from the people who are listening to your stuff and watching your movies. We acknowledge that it's the fair thing to do and we have some responsibility for doing it. Let's do it together and let's make some money. I've heard the estimates that half of traffic across the Internet is technically illegal non-paid-for content. That can't go on. It's such a waste. Future generations of artists will face a vacuum where payment used to be. Artists are entitled to get paid, whatever kind of art they do, the same way technologists are entitled to get paid.

But if the technology you develop prevents artists from being remunerated then there's something wrong with it. I'd like to get a moral tone into the discussion. I think there is a big moral question for civilization. It's not good enough to say that the Internet is free to all and there should be no restrictions on its use. I had the experience last year of making a speech to a group of (Members of European Parliament) in Brussels and they were very hostile to the idea of any kind of monitoring or regulation of the Internet, which they regarded as the precursor to a form of taxation. And of course, as politicians, they were against any kind of increased taxation. But it's not taxation. It's paying for something that people are consuming.

NYTimes is becoming its own ad agency (Forbes)

In the past month, the Times has unveiled a real-time news wire feature wrapped in ads for software outfit SAP ( SAP - news - people ), as well as a Web campaign for the AMC series Mad Men, which includes a mini-archive of Times articles about the show within the ad unit. The Times' recent efforts demonstrate a realization that newspapers and magazines can't wait for Madison Avenue to create lucrative new ad models online. J.P. Morgan estimates newspaper revenues will decline 20% this year to $30 billion. Last year, the digital arms of newspapers only contributed an estimated $3 billion. Along with experimenting with new ad mechanisms, the Times has said it is considering various plans to charge users for access to NYTimes.com.
Days after BookExpo you may recognise the truth in research that suggests that Publishing and Media professionals lead all industries in binge drinking (Independent):
People working in media, publishing and entertainment sectors are the heaviest drinkers, according to the Department of Health. They consume an average of 44 units a week, almost twice the recommended maximum amount of three-to-four units a day for men, and two-to-three for women.

Plans for the Plastic Logic reader device were discussed at the All things digital conference (FOX)

A big highlight from the event is Plastic Logic’s new e-reader that is bigger and thinner than Amazon’s (AMZN) popular Kindle and targeted at business users.

This device measures 8.5 inches by 11 inches, the same as the standard letter size for the paper you load into your printer at the office.

Plastic Logic CEO Rich Archuletta told FOX Business in an interview the device will be available at the start of 2010 and that it will be able to handle all different types of content, including PDFs, Word, and Excel files. He showed a working prototype of the device displaying a cover of Fortune magazine as well as a couple of documents.

Very interesting (and generally off the radar) article about publishing mergers in China (Economist):

At a recent industry forum Liu Binjie, the director of China’s General Administration of Press and Publication, the industry regulator, said China would like to see such partnerships between studios and publishers lead to a massive consolidation, leaving half a dozen giant companies capable of spreading Chinese words internationally. Small firms not swept up in the various deals would be able to auction manuscripts. Instead of indirect censorship through publishers, there would be a government clearing house.

The result would be a better organised industry, somewhat similar to what already exists for Chinese films. Production is largely done by government studios, censorship is overt, productions have a global audience and there is strong consumer demand. However, much of that demand is met not by Chinese films but by black-market consumption of foreign films blocked from entering China legally because of tight controls.