Sunday, January 17, 2010

Media Week 2: Scientific Publishing, Textbooks: Renting and E, 1930s Culture and Nordic Mysteries.

Michael Clark writing for Scholarly Kitchen wonders why Scientific Publishing hasn't been disrupted already (Link):
Given these 3 deeply entrenched cultural functions, I do not think that scientific publishing will be disrupted anytime in the foreseeable future. That being said, I do think that new technologies are opening the door for entirely new products and services built on top of—and adjacent to—the existing scientific publishing system:
  • Semantic technologies are powering new professional applications (e.g. ChemSpider) that more efficiently deliver information to scientists. They are also beginning to power more effective search tools (such as Wolfram Alpha) meaning researchers will spend less time looking for the information they need.
  • Mobile technologies are enabling the ability to access information anywhere. Combined with GPS systems and cameras, Web enabled mobile devices have the potential to transform our interaction with the world. As I have described recently in the Scholarly Kitchen, layering data on real-world objects is an enormous opportunity for scientists and the disseminators of scientific information. The merger of the Web and the physical world could very well turn out to be the next decade’s most significant contribution to scientific communication.
  • Open data standards being developed now will allow for greater interoperability between data sets, leading to new data-driven scientific tools and applications. Moreoever, open data standards will lead to the ability to ask entirely new questions. As Tim Berners-Lee’s pointed out in his impassioned talk at TED last year, search engines with popularity-weighted algorithms (e.g. Google, Bing) are most helpful when one is asking a question that many other people have already asked. Interoperable, linked data will allow for the interrogation of scientific information in entirely new ways.
California has set a deadline for college texts to be available in electronic form (Link):
While it seems increasingly likely that e-books will one day become the standard in education, California has passed a law to virtually guarantee it -- and to set a deadline. A new state law, effective January 1, 2020, will require that all textbooks used in public and private postsecondary institutions be made available in electronic form "to the extent practicable" either "in whole or in part." Senate Bill 48 states that "the electronic version of any textbook shall contain the same content as the printed version and may be copy-protected." Senator Elaine Alquist, who wrote the bill, was unavailable for comment. Her legislative aid, James Schwab, who was involved with writing the bill, said that helping students save money was the primary motive. For instance, even today, one textbook with a list price of $173.33 is available electronically for $95.33.

Cengage is expanding their previously announced textbook rental scheme (Link):
At students can now rent textbooks for up to 70% off the suggested retail price, and purchase print textbooks, eTextbooks, individual eChapters and audio books. The Web site also includes Cengage Learning's broad range of homework and study tools, features a selection of free content and offers discounts for purchasing multiple products. Currently, 1,200 Cengage Learning titles are available for rent -- including popular titles such as Essentials of Psychology, 5th Edition (Douglas Bernstein); American Government: The Essentials, 12th Edition (James Q. Wilson); and Principles of Economics, 5th Edition (N. Gregory Mankiw) -- with approximately 1,500 more titles to be added in July 2010. The rental process with is simple and convenient for customers. Students who choose the rental option will have immediate access to the first chapter in eBook format and will also have a choice of shipping options. Once the rental term is complete, students can either choose to print a pre-paid return label from and ship the textbook back, or purchase the title.

Inside HigherEd looks at all the different textbook rental programs, but leaves us with this (Link):
Strangely enough, the rental companies don’t see their rental services as being a long-term solution, either — at least, not in their present incarnations. The transition to electronic textbooks might not happen overnight; in a 2008 Student PIRGs survey, only 33 percent of students said they were comfortable reading off a screen, and 60 percent said they would buy a low-cost printed textbook rather than using an electronic one for free. CourseSmart, one of the leading e-textbook vendors, does not always charge less than it would cost students to rent, Allen says. “Students overwhelmingly prefer print still,” she says. “And digital textbooks are not where students are at now; they want to be able to print — they want to be able to make their notes on paper.”

Still, just as Netflix has begun making more and more of its inventory available for users to stream instantly on their personal computers rather than sending away for the discs, a number of companies acknowledge that sometime in the not-so-distant future they probably will be renting access to digital e-textbooks instead of hard copies, and have been quietly preparing for such a shift.

A review of Dancing in the Dark by Morris Dickstein - Culture and the Great Depression "the most effervescent popular culture of the twentieth century" TimesOnline
The commonest explanation for this apparent contradiction is that poverty and anxiety intensified the need for escapism. It is not a bad explanation, either, as far as it goes. But Dickstein is determined to dig deeper. He begins with crime or crime-and-punishment films (the gangster classics; I Am a Fugitive from the Chain Gang), and has no trouble in presenting them as social parables, which articulated public fantasies and frustrations. Moving on to the screwball comedies which were one of Hollywood's glories in the 1930s, he argues that they were appropriate romances for a conflict-ridden post-1929 world – tough-talking, hard-boiled and disenchanted (though not, it need hardly be said, to the point of spoiling the fun). His prime exhibit, however, is popular music – and here a positive connection with the Depression might seem harder to prove.

Dickstein offers three different lines of approach. First, he cites a number of songs where references to the Depression were deliberate and unmistakable: the most spectacular example is Busby Berkeley’s lavish number “Remember My Forgotten Man” (an unemployed First World War veteran), from the film Gold Diggers of 1933. Such songs certainly deserve their place in the historical record, but there were not many of them. Second, he detects a new spirit of community and solidarity in the songs of the period. It may be so, but such a generalization needs to be backed up by more evidence than we are given. Finally, he points to the plangency of many 1930s songs, and suggests that it had “a larger cultural resonance”.

The headline is from the WSJ but someone pointed out that the use of "Nordic" is incorrect: The Strange Case of the Nordic Detectives (Link)
Stieg Larsson's hugely popular Millennium Trilogy (beginning with "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") is the most visible example of the global mania for Scandinavian crime fiction. Running a close second is Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander series, nine novels that, combined, have sold upward of 25 million copies world-wide and spawned a British television series (starring Kenneth Branagh), as well as several Swedish films. That's a pretty impressive impact for a paunchy, diabetic, middle-age police detective in a provincial Swedish city, a man hobbled by self-doubt, pessimism and an untameable yen for junk food. In the U.S., Mr. Mankell has a new publisher that is printing five times as many copies of his next book, "The Man From Beijing," as his previous title. Even before Mr. Mankell, the Swedish husband-and-wife team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö produced 10 very successful novels in the '60s and '70s about a laconic, ulcer-ridden Stockholm police detective named Martin Beck; the best-known is "The Laughing Policeman," made into a 1973 American film starring Walter Matthau.
Thomas Nelson keeps track of the top US trade publishers (Link) - Why no Houghton Mifflin?

Pearson may sell their majority interest in financial data arm IDC. The company confirmed they are reviewing strategic alternatives for their 61% stake in Interactive Data Corporation. Is this the prelude to further anticipated investment in Education? (Guardian)

The Economist looks at e-Readers (from December - Economist):
Now for a reality check: in the history of ingenious display technologies, only a handful have ever made it into mass production. So although there are many promising new technologies for next-generation e-readers, the technology arguably best positioned to take over from E Ink, at least in the near future, is a variant of LCD. Engineers have repeatedly shown that they can improve LCD technology when the market demands it. Such displays have wider viewing angles than they did just a few years ago. Fast motion, like a tennis serve, is no longer jerky. And large LCD panels have become much thinner and far more power-efficient.

There is already one LCD-based e-reader on the market. Fujitsu’s FLEPia uses a so-called cholesteric LCD, which produces an image from reflected light. The crystals are bistable, which means that they can remain in either a reflective or non-reflective state without any power. Cholesteric LCDs do not require a backlight and lack many of the layers of a traditional LCD, which should make them easier to build. But the manufacturing process and materials differ enough to make cholesteric displays more expensive than standard LCDs—hence the FLEPia’s high price (about $1,000). Moreover, despite having a colour display, the FLEPia takes two seconds to switch from one image to another, so video is out of the question, and even reading books can be painfully slow.

Robert McCrum: Is it really doomsday for books? Not while English casts its spell. (Guardian):
The essentials are clear enough: English, in its contemporary Anglo-American guise, has been a lingua franca since roughly the end of the second world war. Throughout the cold war, Anglo-American culture and values became as much a part of global consciousness as the combustion engine. There was hardly a transaction in the contemporary world that was innocent of English, in some form. However, until the turn of the millennium, its scope was limited by its troubled association with British imperialism and the pax Americana.

But now, for the first time, English language and culture are rapidly becoming decoupled from their contentious past and disassociated from postcolonial trauma. At the same time, thanks to Microsoft, Vodafone, Orange and Apple, this rejuvenated lingua franca has acquired the capacity to zoom through space and time at unprecedented speeds, reaching unprecedented new audiences. An evolving technology is changing the rules of the game faster than the match itself can be played.


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