Sunday, February 28, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) 9: Cool reading, Dick Francis, Reader's Digest, "Free" is Advertising

Lucy Mangan writing in the Guardian: How to make reading cool (Guardian)
World Book Day is a wondrous hive of activity. There are exhibitions, school visits by authors, story­time sessions, the distribution of vouchers, trips to libraries and book shops, and all of this is, of course, A Very Good Thing, pointing as it does the way for many to an unfamiliar source of entertainment. But it does all have that slightly worthy, top-down feel that only heightens the real problem with reading, which is that it is and always has been terminally uncool (even in Victorian times, the boy with the hoop and stick got more kudos than the one who got the third volume of Jane Eyre before anyone else). What it ­really needs to get kids reading en masse is a few initiatives to rupture that link. A free Bacardi Breezer with every book next year, perhaps. Or black T-shirts for everyone that say, "Fuck off, I'm reading." Or ­borrow a trick from cigarette ­advertising and warn that this ­volume might give you cancer.
Hand wringing over celebrity books (Guardian):
John Sutherland He rejoiced to concur with the common reader, said Dr Johnson. I don't exactly rejoice at the triumph of celebrity books, any more than I rejoice at the Economist, Spectator and New Statesman being elbowed off my local newsstand by the latest instalment of the Katie Price / Peter Andre / Alex Reid saga. But it's a fact of life. Live with it. We don't have much choice.
The book world's not so mystery bloggers (Guardian):
The most venerable of these is more of a traditional newspaper diarist rather than a faceless guerrilla blogger, but as Horace Bent has embraced the internet and does appear on his (we must, of course, presume masculinity from his name) Twitter profile with a bag over his head (though this has, in an indication that publishing is rising out of the recession, recently acquired a drawn-on face and a couple of authorial cats).

Bent writes for the Bookseller and is, in his own words, the custodian of the Diagram prize for the oddest book title of the year.Bent's nuggets are often drawn from the dry sales figures the Bookseller avails itself of, with a nice line in arch commentary: "Sales of Andy Murray's memoir were up 150% last week – to 45 copies sold. Cripes, even A Scattering [small press Costa winner] sold more than that!" and sotto voce asides: "I wonder whether the three bespectacled members of Channel 4's TV Book Club went to Specsavers?"

Informa has moved its tax domicile to Switzerland to save £12mm per year in UK tax. They are following the example set by others including UBM who relocated to Dublin. (Times)

The Times reprints the last interview with Dick Francis from September 2009 and in it he talks of collaboration with his son Felix who will keep the books coming no doubt (Times):

The Dick Francis way of doing things is clearly a winning formula and Francis has sold more than 75 million books since he first put pen to paper in 1957 for his autobiography, The Sport of Queens. “You know what you’re going to get with a Dick Francis,” says Felix. “Horses, jockeys, danger, good triumphing over evil, but not on a smooth and even path. I like to think, or at least I hope I’ve made the books a bit younger, and given them slightly more humour.” Though Francis senior can hardly be accused of losing his sense of fun - since having a foot amputated two years ago, he signs his letters “Legless Dick”.

Richard Stanley Francis was born in Lawrenny, south Wales, in 1920, and grew up in Berkshire with horses and racing in his blood. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been steeplechase jockeys and horse breeders.

“I always loved riding, ever since I was so high” he says, stretching out his hand close to the floor. The outbreak of the Second World War delayed his foray into racing and in 1940, he joined the RAF, working as part of the ground crew repairing planes in the Middle East, before completing his pilot training and returning to England to fly Spitfires and Lancasters.

The Mail on Sunday is reporting 'significant interest' from possible buyers for Reader's Digest UK (Mail):
The administrators of Reader's Digest UK said today there was "significant interest" from potential buyers of the business and confirmed the magazine would continue to be published until at least April.The 72-year-old British edition of the magazine collapsed into administration earlier this month when its embattled US parent Reader's Digest Association (RDA) said it was no longer able to support it following a crisis in its pension fund.Today, administrator Philip Sykes, of Moore Stephens, said there was "significant interest" as he sought a buyer for the business.Mr Sykes said: 'While we are reasonably optimistic, it is difficult to predict a timescale, but negotiations with interested parties have begun.'
Research suggests free on-line content does not hurt paid student enrollment (Chron HEd)
New research takes a close look at what happened when one institution, Brigham Young University, experimented with granting free access to the content of some of its distance-education courses. The study examined the cost of opening up those materials and the impact their publication had on paid enrollments, a concern for institutions worried that giving away free courses could cannibalize their ranks of paying students.

The data suggest they needn’t worry. Opening the courses “provided neither a large positive marketing effect that boosted enrollments nor a large negative free-rider impact decreasing enrollments,” wrote Justin K. Johansen, who conducted the study as a dissertation in instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young, where he also serves as director of independent study.

“Really, the OpenCourseWare ended up serving as an advertising tool,” Mr. Johansen said in an interview. Over all, the six opened courses attracted 13,795 visits and 445 paid enrollments in four months. But Mr. Johansen cautions that the limited length of the pilot study meant that a “statistically significant” measure of the impact of opening the classes on paid enrollment “was not possible.”
And from the twitter (@personanondata) this week:

Guardian:Teenage fiction's death wishes "why are teenagers so fascinated by tales of death and dying?" (Guardian)

Seattle Public Library opens conversation on its future: Seattle Times "We want people to think big about the library," (ST)

A Win For Publishers: Gain an injunction against German file-sharing company Rapidshare AG (Inside HigherEd)

I've finally cracked Meacham's American Lion and hopefully I can find the time to finish it quickly.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Alibris Buys Monsoon Software

Alibris has announced they have purchased marketing services company Monsoon which helps companies manage their on-line retail operations (OregonLive)
The companies did not put a dollar value on the deal, but Gopalpur said Monsoon's early backers -- who invested about $2 million in the company in 2005 -- "got a very good return on their investment."

Monsoon employs 50 in Portland, and the company said all those workers will keep their jobs. Monsoon said it also plans to fill two open positions and add more jobs later in the year.

Monsoon's technology helps independent sellers on big online marketplaces -- and eBay, for example -- manage their inventory, pricing and order fulfillment, according to Gopalpur. He said its business fits neatly with Alibris' online book, music and movie store.

Monsoon's 2009 revenue totaled just above $7.9 million, according to Gopalpur. He said the company plans to add new services, and new employees, in 2010.
The interesting thing about Monsoon is whether the company offers an industrial version that medium and larger publishers could use.

From their press release:
Monsoon Chief Executive Officer Kanth Gopalpur, who will continue as CEO and join the Alibris Holdings executive management team post-transaction, said, “This transaction will provide the combined Monsoon-Alibris customer base with even more opportunities to expand their businesses and increase sales. We will be able to take advantage of additional resources, technology, and capital in order to deliver more and better solutions to grow our customers’ businesses on all online marketplaces.”

Leveraging the best of what each company has to offer, the Monsoon-Alibris merger will broaden sellers’ reach, giving them increased sales potential with the best tools, world-class customer support, and an extensive network of business partnerships, including, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Chapters Indigo, eBay, and Waterstone’s. Monsoon will continue to run as a separate operating company led by Kanth Gopalpur and the Monsoon senior management team. Combined, Alibris and Monsoon managed more than $400 million of book, music, movie, and videogame sales for its sellers in 2009.

re-Set Conference Series from HarperStudio

HarperStudio is launching an interesting conference series featuring 'brand-name' authors and speakers. Sounds interesting - from the website:
re-Set Business is an innovative speaker series designed for senior-level executives to share thoughts with the world’s leading visionaries about how the world does business in a variety of fields, today and in the future.
Speakers on tap include Michael Eisner, Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin.

Monday, February 22, 2010

BISG Needs You!

In advance of this year's Making Information Pay (May 6th, McGraw Hill Auditorium), BISG is sponsoring a survey on "Exploring the Digital Transformation of the Book Industry" and will use the responses during the day's conference. Here is their press release:
A new Book Industry Study Group (BISG) survey, opened today, explores the ways in which new technologies are dictating “points of no return” in how books—both digital and physical—are being acquired, produced, distributed, marketed and sold.

The survey is being conducted as part of preparations for BISG’s seventh annual Making Information Pay conference, to be held Thursday, May 6, 2010 at the McGraw-Hill Auditorium in New York City.

The survey is open to all members of the publishing community and can be found HERE. “The Making Information Pay Pre-Event Survey has become a vital learning tool for the conference over the past few years,” said Angela Bole, BISG’s Deputy Executive Director. “It’s a great way for members of the book community to become involved with the program and be sure their voice is heard.”

As new technologies revolutionize the book business, Making Information Pay 2010 will address key “points of no return” through an open exploration of how close we are to a fundamentally different publishing paradigm driven by:
  • Books without bindingsBestsellers without agents or publishers
  • Retailers without storefrontsSales efforts without sales forces
  • Distributors without warehouses
Featuring a lineup of book industry leaders sharing practical insight into how they respond daily to the waves of change affecting the book industry, Making Information Pay 2010 will explore how we can know when systemic change is actually happening. Speakers and a full agenda will be announced at a later date.

If the above link doesn't work copy this:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) 8: Larsson Trilogy (or More), Learning, Reader's Digest, BGov.

If you want to see the first movie versions of those very popular Stieg Larsson books you will need to look hard because they don't have a US distributor this despite the fact that they have collected all kinds of critical support in Europe. The last (or is there a fourth?) title has been available in the UK for months but will not be out in the US for many more so while waiting amuse yourself with a profile of the actress who plays Lisbeth Salander and contemplate George Clonney for Mikael Blomkvist: Could it happen? - Times Online

It is Salander, the unlikeliest of literary heroines, with whom Rapace has become inextricably entwined. As the character’s screen embodiment, she has starred in all three film adaptations of the books, the third of which has just opened in Scandinavia. Belatedly, the first one, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is about to launch in the UK; the other two follow later in the year. It has been worth the wait. The story of the wealthy Vanger family and the unresolved disappearance of the patriarch’s niece in 1966 is far from a trashy screen translation. A superior thriller, it has been nominated for gongs across Europe, not least for its female lead.

There is a touch of Salander about Rapace in real life. “I am not senti­mental,” she shrugs. “The prizes, I give them to my manager.” At one point during filming, she even threatened to quit after a blazing row with the director, Niels Arden Oplev. “In every creative circus, it’s good to have some fights,” she offers. “In Sweden, in most film productions, everybody’s friends and everybody’s afraid of conflict.”

Switching gears a bit - The Chronicle of Higher Ed looks at how scholars are looking into how the brain deals with multi-tasking particularly in respect to learning and memory: (Chronicle)
That illusion of competence is one of the things that worry scholars who study attention, cognition, and the classroom. Students' minds have been wandering since the dawn of education. But until recently—so the worry goes—students at least knew when they had checked out. A student today who moves his attention rapid-fire from text-messaging to the lecture to Facebook to note-taking and back again may walk away from the class feeling buzzed and alert, with a sense that he has absorbed much more of the lesson than he actually has. "

Heavy multitaskers are often extremely confident in their abilities," says Clifford I. Nass, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. "But there's evidence that those people are actually worse at multitasking than most people."

Indeed, last summer Nass and two colleagues published a study that found that self-described multitaskers performed much worse on cognitive and memory tasks that involved distraction than did people who said they preferred to focus on single tasks. Nass says he was surprised at the result: He had expected the multitaskers to perform better on at least some elements of the test. But no. The study was yet another piece of evidence for the unwisdom of multitasking.

The problems of Reader's Digest UK and its imminent collapse may bewilder some but many long time readers will miss the title if it disappears. Here is Alexander McCall Smith's portrayal: Reader's Digest: a teacher, and a friend (Telegraph)

And that was the problem: the Reader's Digest was unashamedly middlebrow. It had no intellectual pretensions: it sought to entertain and, yes, educate its readers. This was at a time when everything was going the other way. It was no longer fashionable to claim an educational role in the mass media – everything had to be entertainment, everything had to be slick and, if possible, sensational.

The Reader's Digest clung stubbornly to the notion that mass reading could be part of the process of educating the public about the world. It published popular science; it published factual articles about economics and business, about history and endeavour. This all continued at a time when radio and television were turning away from any serious educational objectives. The Reader's Digest stuck to its mission. It was a magazine for autodidacts.

The NYTimes is to implement sometype of pay wall later this year but some research conducted with smaller newspapers may mean the NYTimes will be forced to reverese its decision quickly thereafter. From Viewsflow, Early newspaper paywall results suggest that the New York Times' plan is doomed (Viewsflow)

Fancy yourself a writer, then perhaps you should follow some of these simple rules: Ten rules for writing fiction (Guardian)
From Roddy Doyle, Number One: Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.
News a few weeks ago that Bloomberg is to build a legal reference product to compete with West and LexisNexis is now followed by confirmation that the company also intends to build a government data reference business. (Acquisitions anyone?) Washington Technology
Mark Amtower first reported the rumor earlier today on his Amtower B2G blog. Bloomberg officials confirmed the acquisition when contacted by Washington Technology, but would comment on the value of the deal or expand on Bloomberg’s strategy in the government space.

However, rumors have swirled in recent months about Bloomberg wanting to create a Bloomberg Government business to be named Bgov. The enterprise will compete with the likes of Congressional Quarterly, but with a focus on how government actions impact publicly traded companies.

United had a chance to go top this weekend and blew it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why don't Libraries Have Publishing Programs? - Repost

Originally posted 4/9/2007

My introduction to Charles Bukowski occurred via the display cases inside the Boston University library lobby, and I was drawn to them because I happened to be working in the library's special collections department at the time. The special collections department at BU is quite renowned and was established by Dr. Howard Gotlieb who recently died. (Gotlieb actually wrote one of my recommendations for business school). My job was less intellectual than hired muscle since the library was becoming so overwhelmed with boxed submissions they needed someone to unload the stuff and place the materials in uniform boxes on shelves. I didn't have too much time to peruse the material in some of these boxes but I do recall a wealth of material from Herbert Swope and Fletcher Knebel, who's boxes were filled with photos of JFK and his family while they were all in the White House.

Some of the material deposited wasn't quite so moving or important (at least to my eyes) and in many cases it was clear that entire desk draws had been upended into a box and sent off to BU. These boxes often included things like gum, blank paper, pens, pennies, paper clips and other detritus which had minimal residual value to scholars. BU did have several archivists responsible for cataloging the vast amount of stuff that was deposited. They seemed to work fairly methodically (slowly) to identify the important material and provide tables of content for scholars. Increasingly, the material in formal special collections libraries like BU and in local libraries is being digitized and there is little doubt that this will accelerate. Books constitute some of this material and are included in scanning projects but the bulk of material in these collections would be non-book format material such as documents, letters, posters, art work, banners, etc.

Displaying this material is regarded as an important activity at libraries. After all, they have expended the effort to collect and catalog the material and they want people to know they have it. Hence the display cases at BU and in the lobbies of many other libraries. On a sales call to a small public library in Redlands CA a number of years ago, our meeting was held in the special collections room which contained their collection of local southern Californian historical material. Much of this material probably doesn't exist anywhere else and sadly patrons had to ask for permission to enter the room. With the glacial progression towards digitization of this material it does mean that patrons will eventually have more access to this material online but it will take some time.

Digitization will enable more opportunities for the library to benefit commercially from this material and I am curious why more libraries are not recognising these opportunities. Two of these include the electronic version of the traditional display case and traditional publishing. Both of these require the touch of the archivist/curator to prioritize, explain and make relevant the chosen material. Not everything in a collection will be important or interesting enough for the average patron and the editing function remains important to ensure that the interest of the patron is held through the presentation. The electronic version of the display cases are computer terminals and/or online access that enable some self-directed exploration of the material and these are showing up in some libraries. In an electronic collection, this material should be available to other institutions that want to access it where the material could add to or enhance material they may be also be featuring. The network aspects of intermingling collections and expertise is nascent in the library world but could become a very exciting area of study. Increasingly, much like museums, libraries will be able to develop programs and special events that feature their special collections content not only at a reasonable cost but also as a revenue generator.

Traditional publishing can also support and enhance the display and exploitation of library special collections. Many of us are familiar with the Museum shop experience which can be irritating because it often appears overly commercial; however, the reason these shops exist is basic economics. The products sold are a material support to the institutions. In the case of virtually all museums the institutions retain extensive publishing programs for everything from books and exhibition catalogs, to greeting cards, post cards and posters. Digitization will allow even small libraries to leverage their content in revenue producing ways. Ideally, the most savvy library administrators are going to realize that the opportunity for revenue could actually pay for the the digitization. After I graduated from BU, I became the book buyer at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and that experience showed me the intense focus on leveraging their collection in all commercial aspects is critical to retail revenues, special events and shows and donor participation. Obviously, the correlation with your typical local library and the MFA is tenuous but the lessons are there to be learned in how to build new and recurring revenue streams that can be channelled back into the library.

Once in digital (leverageable) format it is no slam dunk that your typical librarian is going to be able to produce a printed book but today there are more readily available options for print production. All of the 'photo book' providers such as, etc. offer templates and functionality that could provide that basis for a publishing program. At least something they could test without too much downside. The downside of these providers is that the retail price point for these products would probably be too high to create much demand. On the other hand, the self-publishing programs offered by, exlibris and iUniverse may be the answer especially as they become more sophisticated about format and color. Even now, quality from these vendors is high enough that patrons would pay for the books. As any Museum publisher will tell you, the popularity of their in-house titles published to support both specific events and to show case their collection would amaze in the number of annual units sold. I am convinced that there is a business opportunity or consulting practice here for someone to help libraries build publishing programs or digital collections that will enhance their revenue base.

Not every library is going to have a collection worthy of digitization, but those that do will increasingly see revenue opportunities from catalogs or a publishing program. Who knows perhaps BU will get around to publishing their Charles Bukowski collection.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) 7: Amis, Plagiarism, Demand Media, "Botulism"

Martin Amis muses about the fourth estate (Guardian):
About 90% of the coverage has passed me by, but some new tendencies are clear enough. What's different, this time round, is that the writer, or this writer, gets blamed for all the slanders he incites in the press. Some quite serious commentators (DJ Taylor, for one) have said that I'm controversial-on-purpose whenever I have a book coming out. Haven't they noticed that the papers pick up on my remarks whether I have a book coming out or not? And how can you be ­controversial- on-purpose without ceasing to care what you say? The Telegraph, on its front page, offers the following: "Martin Amis: 'Women have too much power for their own good'." This is the equivalent of "Rowan Williams: 'Christianity is a vulgar fraud'." I suppose the Telegraph was trying to make me sound "provocative". Well, they messed that up too. I don't sound ­provocative. I sound like a much-feared pub bore in Hove.

And yet experienced journalists will look me in the eye and solemnly ask, "Why do you do it?" They are not asking me why I say things in public (which is an increasingly pertinent question). They are asking me why I deliberately stir up the newspapers. How can they have such a slender understanding of their own trade? Getting taken up (and recklessly distorted) in the newspapers is not something I do. It's something the news- ­ papers do. The only person in England who can manipulate the fourth estate is, appropriately, Katie Price. But there I go again. No, the vow of silence looks more and more attractive. That would be a story too, but it would only be a story once. Wouldn't it?
Is plagiarism the new black? Interview with a young successful author/artist who admits to 'mixing' rather than steeling content from others. She even gets and endorsement from one of the 'victims' (NYTimes):
For the obviously gifted Ms. Hegemann, who already had a play (written and staged) and a movie (written, directed and released in theaters) to her credit, it was an early ascension to the ranks of artistic stardom. That is, until a blogger last week uncovered material in the novel taken from the less-well-known novel “Strobo,” by an author writing under the nom de plume Airen. In one case, an entire page was lifted with few changes.

As other unattributed sources came to light, outsize praise quickly turned to a torrent of outrage, reminiscent of the uproar in 2006 over a Harvard sophomore, Kaavya Viswanathan, who was caught plagiarizing numerous passages in her much praised debut novel. But Ms. Hegemann’s story took a very different turn.

On Thursday, Ms. Hegemann’s book was announced as one of the finalists for the $20,000 prize of the Leipzig Book Fair in the fiction category. And a member of the jury said Thursday that the panel had been aware of the plagiarism charges before they made their final selection.

NY Times reporter Bill Carter, who wrote the book on the 'Late Night Wars' is set to pen an up-t0-date book on the recent Conan-Leno fracas (Gawker):

Carter said he isn't taking a Team Conan or Team Jay stance now—or in the book. "I obviously have to reach out to all sides," he said. "For the longest time, I personally tried to watch as many episodes of all the shows as I could to get sense of each show, and what each guy does. I don't just pick one and stick with that guy."

Although the book will touch on many of the TV industry's struggles, Carter said he is focusing on the recent late-night infighting. "It's fun to have something to write about again," he said.

Carter's 1992 The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno, and the Network Battle for the Night had exclusive details about one of televisions most infamous power struggles: the original battle between NBC, CBS, Jay Leno and David Letterman for Johnny Carson's seat on the Tonight Show. The Late Shift revealed secret NBC documents; Johnny Carson's role in Letterman's decision to join CBS; and ridiculous scenes like Jay Leno hiding in a closet to spy on a secret NBC staff meeting. It was later turned into an 1996 HBO movie.

Libraries seeking to migrate to eBooks and send print volumes to deep storage find it's not so easy: InsideHigherEd (And, yes that is the worst web site design ever).

But campus resistance to digital creep might not boil down to simple antiquarianism. Notwithstanding Apple’s new iPad, the e-reader market may be as unprepared to be embraced by academe as academe is to embrace e-books. “Although some e-book standards such as ePub are beginning to emerge, there is still significant flux and divergence from those standards,” Henry and Spiro write. “Standards are important in enabling consumers to read content from multiple publishers on their devices, to move content around to multiple devices, and to preserve books for the long-term.”

Though e-books are poised to gain a firm foothold in higher education within the decade, the authors predict, academics and e-reader vendors aren't yet on the same page. This is largely due to the fact that e-readers have not managed to replicate certain aspects of the traditional book-reader's user experience: “You can do a lot with a print book: photocopy or scan as many pages as you like, scrawl in the margins, highlight passages, bookmark pages, skip around, read it in the bathtub, give it to someone else, make art out of it, etc.,” the Rice researchers note. “Due to constraints imposed by some [Digital Rights Management] regimes, readers of e-books may find that they only can print a limited number of pages, have to navigate awkwardly through the book, cannot take notes or bookmark pages, and cannot give the book to someone else.” While they enjoy the searchability of electronic documents and databases, academics still prefer holding a book in their hands to read it.

These advantages come at a price, though. Print volumes are, after all, voluminous — a property that implies a series of relatively pricey preservation costs. According to Courant and Nielsen, these work out to an average of $4.26 per book, per year when you take into account, maintenance, cleaning, electricity for temperature control, staffing, and circulation, as well as the considerable funds that go into building and renovating centrally located, open-stack facilities to house the volumes
Profile of Demand Media and their 'factory' approach to content creation (Guardian):

And it is changing, indeed. It is not only that 7,000 freelance editors, writers and video producers as well as 650 copy editors work for the company. Demand Media produces more than 4,500 items of content a day, and it uses algorithms to produce that content most effectively.

Previously, news organizations published content based on what their editors thought readers were interested in. Now, the internet gives publishers access to hundreds of millions of people's search queries. That is where Demand Media's algorithms come in. "Our search algorithm delivers keywords like 'pruning roses', 'naming babies', or 'hiking'," says Rosenblatt. "We take these keywords and turn them into article titles, and use that to influence what we are going to create."

But Demand Media is taking it further. After learning about web users' interests, Demand Media calculates if an article is commercially relevant. The company calculates the advertising demand by using another database, and looks if there isn't too much competition for its content because the topic has been widely reported online. If the outcome is correct, it assigns a freelancer to produce content.

French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy extensively cites a fake philosopher in his new book (NYTimes):
For the debut of his latest weighty title, “On War in Philosophy,” the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy made the glossy spreads of French magazines with his trademark panache: crisp, unbuttoned white Charvet shirts, golden tan and a windswept silvery mane of hair.

But this glamorous literary campaign was suddenly marred by an absolute philosophical truth: Mr. Lévy backed up the book’s theories by citing the thought of a fake philosopher. In fact, the sham philosopher has never been a secret, and even has his own Wikipedia entry
In his newest book, Mr. Lévy attacked the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant as a madman, and in support cited the Paraguayan lectures of Jean-Baptiste Botul to his 20th-century followers.

In fact Mr. Botul is the longtime creature of Frédéric Pagès, a journalist with the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné. “We’ve had a big laugh, obviously,” Mr. Pagès said of Mr. Lévy. “This one was an error that was really simple that the media immediately understood.”

Mr. Pagès has never made a secret of his fictional philosopher, who has a fan club that meets monthly in salons throughout Paris.

Mr. Botul’s school of thought is called Botulism, his followers are botuliennes and they debate such weighty theories as the metaphysics of flab. As they describe it, Mr. Botul’s astonishing ideas ranged from phenomenology to cheese, sausages, women’s breasts and the transport of valises during the 1930s.

Hamstrung by computer issues over the past week or so that accounts for the tardiness.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

All about the T Shirt

I had some fun with my latest blurb book. It is quite silly but I got to the point where I had to throw out some of my collection and thus decided to commit them to print posterity.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tracking the Reader

Instinct and intuition are the stuff of the editor when it comes to deciding which books and which articles will resonate with a reader. As the circuitry of the web forges deeper into our daily lives the data 'exhaust' trails of our activity begin to offer real clues as to what interests us and what engages our attention. Often - and I will bet with increasingly frequency - the material that generates attention from readers is not what the editors expected.

I've long believed that content databases sold into the academic library and to the scholarly world could build a robust market catering to the average consumer. There's an in-bred bias against the level of interest and the intelligence of the average Joe in 'scholarly' material. This perspective seems to preclude many of the purveyors of journals and full text databases making their database content available to consumers. Increasingly this will change and better tools to aid consumers will be important in this expansion: Gale, for example, has begun to disaggregate some of their database content to make it available for consumers. I think this is an intelligent move in that they are leaving it to the end-user to decide whether the content is too advanced for them (and typically it will not be).

In the NYTimes, John Tierney takes a look some research that was under-taken by the University of Pennsylvania examining which types of NYT articles are most distributed via email:

The results are surprising — well, to me, anyway. I would have hypothesized that there are two basic strategies for making the most-e-mailed list. One, which I’ve happily employed, is to write anything about sex. The other, which I’m still working on, is to write an article headlined: “How Your Pet’s Diet Threatens Your Marriage, and Why It’s Bush’s Fault.”

But it turns out that readers have more exalted tastes, according to the Penn researchers, Jonah Berger and Katherine A. Milkman. People preferred e-mailing articles with positive rather than negative themes, and they liked to send long articles on intellectually challenging topics.

There is some discussion delving further into motivation and the article continues near the end with this:

The motivation for mailing these awe-inspiring articles is not as immediately obvious as with other kinds of articles, Dr. Berger said. Sharing recipes or financial tips or medical advice makes sense according to classic economic utility theory: I give you something of practical value in the hope that you’ll someday return the favor. There can also be self-interested reasons for sharing surprising articles: I get to show off how well informed I am by sending news that will shock you.

But why send someone an exposition on quantum mechanics? In some cases, it, too, could be a way of showing off, particularly if you accompanied the article with a note like, “Perhaps this will amuse, although of course it’s a superficial treatment. Why can’t they use Schrödinger’s full equation?”

All told, data begins to lead the way in the formation of content that readers will react to whether by reading it or sharing it within their social circle. More importantly, the data begins to document the wide interests of users and their faculty with material that in the past editors may have regarded as of little interest to their readers or deemed the material 'too advanced' for the average Joe. Happily, some of these walls are falling as data reflecting real experience shows the way.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Media Week 4 (Vol 3): Google Wave, Reed Elsevier, Lexis/West, Elsevier,

Google Wave could be part of Google's plan to enter the educational market: eSchool News

Raymond Schroeder, director of the University of Illinois’s Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service, said an instant replay of students’ waves answers “the age-old question posed to faculty members: How do you know that everyone contributed to the project?”

“With playback, you can view the wave in time-lapse, blip by blip—even those that are deleted. You can see who contributed what at what time to the wave,” said Schroeder, adding that free access to Wave could be a fiscal godsend for IT officials whose budgets have dwindled over the past two years. “Free is very good,” he said. Schroeder became one of the country’s first campus IT officials to use Google Wave last month when he connected Illinois’s Internet in American Life course with a class from Ireland’s Institute of Technology at Sligo, participating in a wave that focused in the internet’s role in energy sustainability.

Setting Reed Elsevier to rights may mean break up (Times):

Sales remain weak and margins are heading south. Reed urgently needs to catch up on the investment it should have made in its information tools years ago. LexisNexis, its database for lawyers, is losing market share in the giant US legal market to Westlaw, owned by Thomson Reuters. Only Elsevier, its science and healthcare arm, is still growing. Thomas Singlehurst at Citigroup thinks the group as a whole will not return to topline growth until the end of the year.

Reed shares rallied 13% in December but have trailed the wider market by 26% in the past year. Trading at 13 times this year’s forecast earnings flatters its weak earnings profile. What is Erik Engstrom, Smith’s replacement, to do? In these cases, the kitchen sink is the favoured option. Engstrom is not ready with a revival plan yet, so painting a bleak picture of the trading environment and writing off lots of good will should do the trick. The nettle he has to grasp is closing down the remnants of business publisher RBI, where trading is in freefall, and selling off its exhibitions arm. It could raise £1.2 billion and it is essential to pay down its £4 billion debt pile.

With a lack of ideas coming from Reed, analysts are coming up with their own. Claudio Aspesi at Bernstein thinks a complete break-up becomes an option if LexisNexis cannot fight back against Westlaw. That plan has plenty of merit. Selling databases to lawyers and journals to academics has as much in common as the meat trays and cigarette filters that were demerged from each other when Reed chairman Anthony Habgood ran packaging combine Bunzl.

More of the revamped Lexis and West legal database products (Law Tech News):

Online legal research is not an easy activity. An entire industry has grown up around interpreting research needs and finding information for lawyers and their clients. Researchers have to remember where information resides, e.g., which database, and extract relevant documents in a compressed amount of time using Boolean or natural language search strategies, prayers, and perhaps a Ouija board.

Last year, Google Scholar and Public.Resource.Org made legal information more available and easier to search. This year at LegalTech New York, LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters aim to change the way users interface legal research tasks. And these changes, at once, appear to make legal research easier and more effective.

LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters are putting their best assets forward with Lexis for Microsoft Office and WestlawNext, respectively, to bring value to the legal information stored in their repositories and make search easier and more effective for legal professionals. LexisNexis draws on its experience in enabling content-related workflows and the IP in LSA to put legal research in Microsoft Office and SharePoint Server. Thomson Reuters incorporates its work product in digests, headnotes, indices, and more into WestSearch.

ImageSpan teams with Arvato Finance to create a global clearinghouse for digital content (MarinIJ)

ImageSpan connected with Arvato, a Dublin, Ireland-based subsidiary of media giant Bertelsmann, to streamline its LicenseStream service, which wraps a photo with tracking information that allows its owner to identify who is using it on the Web. Arvato operates Payment Lounge, a payment system that takes the money from a licensee and then distributes the proper share of the revenues to the different parties that created or distributed it. "By joining LicenseStream with Arvato Finance's PaymentLounge services we are creating a new category of infrastructure that addresses a monetization gap - an automated content clearinghouse - and generates revenues for content producers and owners in several significant ways," said Iain Scholnick, ImageSpan's chief executive officer.

The company launched LicenseStream in 2008 and it has inked deals with a number of large digital content owners, including the Chicago Tribune newspaper and McEvoy Group, publisher of media properties such as Spin magazine and Chronicle Books. ImageSpan tracks how many times a photo is viewed and thereby can figure out how much money the news site would have to pay the owner of the content.

From the @twitter:

Amazon Said to Buy Touch Start-Up (NYTimes)

Pearson buys Medley to aid FT's move to digital (EveningStandard) Adds more 'premium services' for FT subscribers.

Hachette tells US court: revised Settlement worse than first: (Bookseller)

ScrollMotion tapped by publishers to develop textbook apps for iPad (AppleInsider)

CQPress/Sage launches custom textbook publishing operation for professors. (CQPress) (LibreDigital platform).

Elsevier announce Pageburst (Elsevier)

Friday, February 05, 2010

Munich: February 6th 1958 - Repost

Originally posted on 2/6/08.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the air crash that killed eight members of the Manchester United football team among 23 who died when a plane they were on crashed on take-off. It was the aircraft’s third attempt to gain altitude but the snow and ice that had accumulated on the plane and slush at the end of the runway ensured it never achieved the lift necessary for take-off. The plane clipped a fence at the end of the runway and split open on impact. The team members who died were Roger Byrne, Billy Whelan, Tommy Taylor, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, Eddie Colman, Geoff Bent and David Pegg. It is hard to underestimate the impact the tragedy had on Manchester and England at the time. All were members of a youthful team dubbed the Busby Babes so named after the team's manager. Many of the dead not only played team football but had already been named to the full England team despite their youth. There was a wider context in that the crash occurred only 13 years after the end of WW2 and this team somehow represented a new generation free from the expectation of deprivation and war. In contrast to the US, the nation was only just starting to come out of the war years and rationing had only just ended.

Duncan Edwards, ‘the young colossus’ was the soul of the team. At 21, he survived the actual crash but died from his injuries 15 days later. Perhaps the intervening years have added to his mystique but even in his day he was considered a special footballer. Bobby Charlton who survived the crash and went on to a phenomenal club and international career has said he was "his hero and a beautiful, beautiful footballer and he has never seen one better." Bobby played with George Best and against Pele, Eusebio, Beckenbauer among other great players of the 1960s and 1970s. Family legend has it that some of the team were billeted in a rooming house my grandfather owned near the ground and that my father had a kick-around with Duncan and the other team members from time to time.

Manchester United is a world club just like the Yankees but bigger. The Munich disaster punctuates any discussion about the team - even today, whether the fan is in Japan, China or England. It is one of those club facts that a new fan - or in my case a young fan becoming more aware - is confronted with. At the ground, despite all its changes in the years since, still has a clock set to the time and date of the crash. No one visiting the ground can fail to see it.

No one knows what the Busby Babes team could have accomplished. This team, with an average age about 22, had already won the league title twice and the night of the crash they went into the semi-final of the European Cup for the second straight year. Sir Matt Busby, who almost died in the crash, went on to rebuild the team around the nucleus of the remaining players. It took another ten years until the team led by Bobby Charlton and another Busby wunderkind named George Best conquered Europe. Today, and this weekend there will be commemorations about this event for ‘the young players with the world at their feet – suddenly no more,” lest we not forget them.

Manchester United
Football Focus

Monday, February 01, 2010

Beyond the Book: Does Piracy Improve Book Sales?

At the Digital Book World conference last week, founder and principal of Magellan Media Brian O’Leary discussed research his firm has conducted that shows that eBook sales are boosted by pirated copies of eBooks. Brian discussed these findings with Chris Kenneally, host of Copyright Clearance Center’s Beyond the Book (

Brian explains that the publishing industry has always given away content in order to sell content by citing examples like book readings, signings, etc. For more details, you can see the transcript of the interview here: