Sunday, March 28, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) 13: ISTC, Libraries and eBooks,Twain, Byron, Academic Libraries, EBSCO

BISG has a seminar on Tuesday (3/30) to discuss the International Standard Text Code (ISTC) and as a prelude they have published a discussion document (BISG):
The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) and Book Industry Communication (BIC) today co-published for public comment a discussion paper on the International Standard Text Code (ISTC) intended to foster understanding of the unique book identifier and provide clarification as to its potential benefits. The paper, entitled The International Standard Text Code: A Work in Progress, is the first in a new series of BISG discussion papers that will be published online for real-time reader review and comment.

"We've commissioned this paper to encourage our members to take a long hard look at the opportunities ISTC can offer the book industry," commented Peter Kilborn, Executive Director of BIC. "Their active support is essential if the standard is to achieve the critical mass it needs to deliver real benefit, especially as digital formats proliferate in the future."

The ISTC has been called one of most important identifiers since ISBN. The ISO standard, published in 2009, identifies an underlying textual "work" independently of a specific manifestation. It provides a much needed mechanism for identifying an original text that may be available in many seemingly different published versions with different ISBNs. By doing so, it has the potential to provide better, more targeted online search and discoverability.

However, like ISBN, ISTC's path to adoption has not been a straight one. Misunderstandings--even controversy--with regard to its implementation and its efficacy in solving key book industry problems abound. The new BISG/BIC discussion paper is designed to look beyond the official documentation of the International ISTC Agency at the real opportunities available to publishers, retailers, rights and collection agencies, bibliographic aggregators and systems providers to derive benefit from early implementation of the standard.
The Bookseller (UK) reports on UK publisher concerns over libraries future lending practices with respect to e-Books. Does this presage issues in the US? (Bookseller):

The Library Modernisation Review, published this week by culture minister Margaret Hodge, said the government would make an “affirmative order preventing libraries from charging for e-books lending of any sort, including remotely”.

Tim Godfray, chief executive of the BA, said he had “concerns” over the issue, with the BA council meeting yesterday [Thursday] to discuss the matter. In a submission sent to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on 25th January, the BA said it was “worried about the loaning of e-books in the library market”.

The submission also said there was “undeniable tension” between the library world and authors, publishers and booksellers. It stated: “The former want to give as much information to their ‘customers’ for free; the latter to make a living by creating, producing and selling copyrighted material.”

Mark Twain's autobiography is in preparation and will include revelations about his relationship with his assistant Isabel Lyon (Times):
Clara convinced Twain, perhaps unfairly, that Lyon had stolen $2,000 when she supervised the building of his last home in Connecticut. Twain sacked Lyon and repossessed a farmhouse he had given her as a Christmas present. He then showed her the 429-page dossier and threatened to release it if she ever tried to extort money from him or his family. It was a brutal finale to a close relationship that had brought much happiness to one of America’s most popular and highly paid writers. In 1904 Twain, then 68, employed Lyon, a socialite who had fallen on hard times, as his secretary and a companion to Clara. Twain and Lyon became close: the widower described her as “slender, comely, 38- year-old by the almanac and 17 in carriage and dress”.

A newly rediscovered memoir by one of Lord Byron's lovers suggests he was really a monster (Observer):

Written by one of the women closest to them, it contradicts historical accounts and demolishes their moral reputations. Penned when she was an embittered old woman, it reveals for the first time her accusation of both poets ruining lives, including her own, in their pursuit of "free love" and "evil passion". Historians yesterday hailed it as an extraordinary discovery.

Daisy Hay was researching her first book in a New York public library when she found the manuscript – a fragment of a memoir by Claire Clairmont (1798-1879), Mary Shelley's pretty step-sister, who was made pregnant and dumped by Byron in her teens, and whose contemporaries gossiped that she had also had a child by Shelley.

Historians have striven repeatedly to understand the bizarre relationship between Clairmont and the Shelleys – she went with them when they eloped, and lived with them throughout most of their marriage. There was also the entanglement with Byron, who virtually abandoned their illegitimate daughter, Allegra, sending her to a convent, where she died aged five.

From the twitter (@personanondata)

Outsell/Springer Report on Special Libraries Offers Academic Parallels (LJ)

Perception crucial
Aside from linking library value to grant income, another crucial component of demonstrating value is addressing the perception of library services, especially among decision makers. This is important in both academic and corporate settings.

Here, the Springer/Outsell report's conclusion that "information managers must not allow the value of the library to be underestimated" stands as a more universal maxim: Libraries provide services and support not just in the breadth and quality of the information provided, but also in terms of staff skill-sets. Embedding the library function into the workflow of users as much as possible will further cement their position.
OCLC looks at future risks to the academic library and concludes (OCLC):
This is heartening but likely to be inadequate. Most institutions continue to direct resources in traditional ways towards operations that are marginal to institutional and national research priorities, towards processes and services that are ignored or undervalued by their clients and towards staff activities that are driven more by legacy professional concerns than user needs. To properly respond to the risks identified here, research libraries need to come together around an action agenda aimed at improvement of the research enterprise they serve. Incremental revision of traditional operational models will only hasten the movement of important new research services to other entities within the academy, leaving the library with only the vestigial values of its book-determined legacy. It will look the same but everything will have changed.
Information Today's Barbara Quint discussed the NetLibrary to Ebsco deal (IT):
The NetLibrary acquisition will ultimately allow EBSCO customers to search their NetLibrary ebooks on EBSCOhost. EBSCO will begin work immediately to integrate NetLibrary ebooks into the EBSCOhost platform while also maintaining and making improvements to the NetLibrary platform. The purchase included e-audiobooks and the NetLibrary staff and operations located in Boulder, Colo. EBSCO plans to continue the subscriptions using the NetLibrary platform. Tim Collins, president of EBSCO Publishing, stated, "We plan to invest in the current platform with scheduled enhancements. We're working with the Boulder team to integrate it so users can search NetLibrary along with EBSCOhost databases and EBSCO Discovery Services. We plan to grow the business."

To protect library investments in NetLibrary ebooks, OCLC will place all NetLibrary ebooks purchased by libraries in a dark archive-the OCLC ebook archive-at least through March 2013.

EBSCO will provide OCLC MARC records for applicable ebooks to libraries free of charge and will ensure continued visibility of these important collections in EBSCO plans to maintain the popular ebook content purchase model and will explore ebook subscription options. Thousands of libraries also subscribe to Recorded Books eAudiobooks on the NetLibrary platform. This service will continue as EBSCO and Recorded Books will partner to provide access and new eAudiobook content on the NetLibrary platform.

Moving into ebooks marks an expansion of EBSCO's scope. "Our customers have been encouraging us to enter the eBook business as their users want to search eBooks on the same platform they are using to search leading full-text databases," said Collins. As to EBSCO's future plans for ebooks in general, Collins said, "We are already talking to publishers about new formats like epub and Onix for metadata. If publishers want material processed in those formats and it can benefit customers, I do see us going that way. At this point we're agreeing to explore it. As to e-readers, it's probably too early to be looking at different devices. One of the first things we're going to do is work with focus groups of librarians and ask what they want to see us do in general for interface features. We're trying to approach this methodically and avoid the temptation to make decisions quickly. It's early days yet, but we're committed to serving libraries."

Even without Rooney, the team played well. Still top.

Friday, March 26, 2010

BookExpo 1999 - Repost

This was 'posted' in my final week at PriceWaterhouse before I took up my new role at Bowker. I had been collecting and commenting on news items and circulating a news digest via email on the industry for our Entertainment, Media and Communications practice for the prior two years and this 'post' is from my attendance at BookExpo 1999 (Los Angeles). It was posted 5/22/99. (All of my digests from those years are in my archive on the lower right of the PND blog page).

At the BookExpo show in Los Angeles, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) reported that last years trade sales declined for the first time in seven years. This information was in contrast to the popularly held belief that internet or online sales had expanded the market for books generally and further the report indicated that affluent educated readers are buying fewer titles. In the day prior to this announcement, I asked Peter Olson CEO of Randon House (who was participating in a panel discussion) that if the market share of online booksellers was to grow to 20-25% of the market by 2003 as is predicted by BCG and Jupiter Communications where he thought this additional share was going to come from. He responded by saying that he believed online sales were incremental to existing book sales and therefore there would occur limited shift from other traditional outlets. The BISG reported that online selling accounted for 2% of total sales last year and as has been the case over the past five years independent book store sales declined and chain stores saw their share of the market increase.

During the same panel discussion, Michael Lynton – CEO of Penguin Group commented that the current price model for online book selling would almost certainly change and that the biggest risk would be the negative gross margin model. “If someone were to take all front list titles and sell them at a loss this would radically change the model for selling publishing product online.” Such companies sell ‘below the line’ products such as credit cards, services and advertising as sources of income. is the most recent example of a model that didn’t really exist on the web six months ago.

While at the show I also had a conversation with Mike Lovett who is the CEO/President of the Ingram Distribution Company. We spoke about the proposed purchase by Barnes and Noble of the company and he is convinced that the merger will go ahead. “They have interviewed – which is a polite way of saying deposed – many, many B&N and Ingram people over the past six months as well as others in the industry” he commented and that the Justice department he believed were ‘trying their best to understand the publishing industry.’ At this point he thinks that the original issues with the merger have been answered and that there may be some request to reduce operations in certain areas but for them it wouldn’t be a big deal. I would think that the transcripts from this review would be interesting reading for anyone interested in this industry.

At the BookExpo show, a company named On Demand Machine Corp displayed a book printing system that can print and bind a standard trade paper back in a machine which measures eight feet by four feet. This machine is designed to fit in a bookstore and can both store electronic titles in its memory and call up additional titles from the company head office via satellite. Customers can order the books, confirm the title is the one they want and purchase using a credit card. The transaction takes a little more than five minutes. The first full implementation is scheduled to take place in June at The Tattered Cover in Denver. My guess is you will see similar machines at Kinkos, Airports and other public places in the not too distant future.

Other interesting comments from panel discussions at BookExpo:
The traditional book distribution channel poses too many problems for some publishers particularly those which are smaller. The difficulty they face is not the risk people will copy their books rather that customers couldn’t find them in the first place. Placing content on the web actually increased sales of the printed product by 30%. National Academic Press and Rough Guides are examples of this. Additionally, McGraw Hill’s Beta Books have been so successful on line (while still generating bookstore sales) that the company is expanding the availability on the internet of non technical titles as well.

Many people commented that the highest risk job in publishing is ‘International Rights Manager.’

Xerox has developed a product that allows the production of a book anywhere in the world via web ordering. There will be literally 100,000’s of titles which were previously ‘out of print’ available via print on demand to individuals over the next five years. Additionally, what are now considered ‘non viable’ titles by publishers will also be made available as publishers make publishing investments without the huge investment in large volume printing. Coupled with this, some projections assume that front list sales will decline as a percentage of total sales as back list sales increase.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Link Bait

Someone announced to me the other day that publishers need to control the links in and out of their content. The notion being that a publisher shouldn’t allow another entity – say a retailer for example – to insert their own links and references into content produced by a publisher. This is half right: Enabling third parties to link and build applications using your content could become an important aspect of consumer engagement but today that idea – enabling linking and supplying APIs – might give publishers pause. It doesn’t mean however that the concept is completely wrong for publishers and with experimentation and testing third party access to publisher content is likely to develop over time.

Print books are seen as a ‘unit’ but in the eBook world the ‘unit’ can be atomized and through this process all sorts of opportunities for the publisher to provide additional value and commercial opportunities may develop. For example, publishers can provide reference links that expand on some element of the text like an encyclopedia entry or mapping that shows geographic or topographic details, images or archive video on an historical event. Much of this is the stuff of basic blogging but should now be considered by publishers as key components of their eBook product offerings.

Commercial applications will enable up and cross selling. For publishers, this ability to manage how the consumer navigates within the eBook content could be critical to building consumer loyalty, engaging with the consumer and adding incremental revenues. If a consumer is reading a book about President Lincoln it is (almost) obvious that up selling that consumer to a paid ‘invitation only’ discussion with the author could be commercially viable. This is also true of cross-selling that consumer on books published by the same author and about revolutionary history. Commercial applications could also include advertising – consider a trade title on home repair where advertising is matched to topic. In the case of advertising, many publishers have reservations over effectiveness, but this is a legacy of the print world where the ad was static and often became irrelevant over time.

Key to enabling some of this in/out linking could be the digital object identifier (DOI). (A DOI remains ‘persistent’ but a DOI can ‘resolve’ to different online locations over time). CrossRef, the organization that – in part – supports journal publishers with DOI resolution, has been assigning more and more DOI’s to books and publishers should be thinking about using DOI’s to up and cross sell enhanced consumer engagement. Publishers will be thinking less about the book as a single ‘unit’ and more about their unique ability to add and enable universal (but appropriate) linking that raises their engagement with consumers. After all, wouldn’t a publisher rather control this than Amazon?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) 12: The Economist on Data, Children's Publishing, Marvel, Librarians, Holmes.

In their Feb 27th issue, The Economist takes a look at Data in an article titled Data, data everywhere and it is well worth a read. I won't paste in too much since it is an 18page insert however here are some nuggets (The Economist):

In the article A Different Game: Information is Transforming Business
  • Best buy a retailer, found that 7% of its customers accounted for 43% of its sales, so it reorganized its stores to concentrate on those customers needs
  • Cablecom a Swiss telecoms operator. It has reduced customer defections from 1/5th of its subscribers a year to under 5%
  • By examining more than 2m transaction records the RSA (Royal Shakespeare Company), discovered a lot more about its best customers: not just income, but things like occupation and family status, which allowed it to target its marketing more precisely.
  • Nestle found improving the quality of its data to be as important as the analysis: For just one ingredient, vanilla, the company was able to reduce the number of specifications and use fewer suppliers saving $30mm per year.
  • Most CIO's admit their data are of poor quality: In a study by IBM half the managers quizzed did not trust the information on which they had to base decisions
  • Companies are increasingly moving to analyzing real time information flows
  • Wal-Mart's RetailLink, enables suppliers to see the exact number of their products on every shelf of every store at that precise moment
  • New tools make working with data sets easier: Visa, in a recent trial with Hadoop crunched two years of test records, or 73bil transactions amounting to 36 terabytes of data. The processing time fell from one month with traditional methods to 13mins
There are many other interesting points I noted as I read the section but I'll leave with this one for all you data geeks: In a short article titled Needle in a haystack,
  • Metadata are a potentially lucrative business. "If you can control the pathways and means of finding information, you can extract rents from subsequent levels or producers."
That's why when I was at Bowker we moved the business in the direction of data analysis and there's still more to be done there.

A future of Children's publishing (WaPo):
That may be good for the bottom line at children's publishing houses, but entertaining the kids with the printed page seems to grow more difficult by the year. Children's appetite for cell phones, computers, video games and television far exceeds that for books. In January, a Kaiser Family Foundation report found that the time spent on all entertainment by kids from 8 to 18 rose from 6.5 hours a day five years ago to 7.5 hours a day. But only 25 minutes were typically spent reading a book. The Department of Education found that in 1984 only 8 percent of 13-year-olds and 9 percent of 17-year-olds reported that they "never or hardly ever" read for fun on their own. By 2008, the percentage had jumped to 24 percent for both groups.

"The budget of most video games rivals that of Hollywood blockbusters," said Kinney, who worked on the "Wimpy Kid" movie that opened over the weekend. "The kid gets to be the star of the story, and it's really tough to compete with that."

Yet several publishers are making the attempt. Scholastic launched a 10-book international mystery series called "The 39 Clues" in the fall of 2008. Scholastic hopes it will appeal to 8-12 year olds, an age group they have successfully captured in the past with titles such as "Goosebumps," "The Babysitters Club" and, of course, "Harry Potter." Much of the action takes place online, however, where kids amass hundreds of collectible cards and compete for prizes. According to Scholastic, they have 760,000 registered users.
What of Hollywood Reporter and Variety? Insiders are baffled by their business strategy and wonder whether they will survive (LABusiness):
In a cost-cutting announcement that shocked insiders earlier this month, Variety said it had laid off its chief film critic and chief theater critic.

“The decision to fire Todd McCarthy and David Rooney is a profoundly significant move for a paper like Variety, considering that reviews were such a core function of what they did,” said Sharon Waxman, a former New York Times reporter who runs TheWrap.

“It’s almost bewildering in a way that they would do this.”“History may record the dismissals as a seminal moment,” said Hollywood publicist Michael Levine of Levine Communications. However, he believes Peter Bart’s decision to step aside as Variety’s editor in chief a year ago was more important.

“Many people working at the Hollywood trade papers are as anxious as a hemophiliac in a razor blade factory,” Levine said
At the same time, Hollywood Reporter has been plagued by rumors that it would kill its print edition and go Web only. In December, the paper, along with seven other sister publications, was sold by Nielsen Business Media to e5 Global Media LLC, a company chaired by New York media figure Jimmy Finkelstein, for an estimated $70 million.
A librarian speaks: In OP Ed in the LA Times a librarian laments that without people like her - now, pink-slipped - students won't know what they don't know (LA Times):
As a librarian in the Pasadena Unified School District, I teach students research skills. But I've just been pink-slipped, along with five other middle school and high school librarians, and only a parcel tax on the city's May ballot can save the district's libraries. Closing libraries is always a bad idea, but for the Google generation, it could be disastrous. In a time when information literacy is increasingly crucial to life and work, not teaching kids how to search for information is like sending them out into the world without knowing how to read.
Instead of laying off librarians, we should be studying how children think about information and technology. We need professionals to advocate for teaching information literacy from an early age. We need librarians to love books -- to inspire kids to turn off the screen sometimes and get caught up in a story -- but we also need them to train students to manipulate search engines and databases, to think about them in a fresh way.

Instead of closing library doors, we need to give librarians the time to teach what they know: basic research survival skills that are as important as reading, writing and math. If we don't teach our kids to take charge of information, they will get swept aside by it.

Sara Scribner is a librarian at Blair International Baccalaureate School, a public middle and high school in Pasadena.
On the back of the Marvel comics acquisition by Disney, the comic book industry is bracing for a copyright battle with possible wider implications that focus's on whether work done by one of Marvels finer creative artists was 'work for hire' or not. (NYTimes):
The dispute is also emblematic of a much larger conflict between intellectual property lawyers and media companies that, in Mr. Toberoff’s view, have made themselves vulnerable by building franchises atop old creations. So-called branded entertainment — anything based on superheroes, comic strips, TV cartoons or classic toys — may be easier to sell to audiences, but the intellectual property may also ultimately belong in full or in part to others.

“Any young lawyer starting out today could turn what he’s doing into a real profit center,” Paul Goldstein, who teaches intellectual-property law at Stanford’s law school, said of Mr. Toberoff’s specialty.

Mr. Goldstein said cases like the one involving Marvel are only the tip of an iceberg. A new wave of copyright termination actions is expected to affect the film, music and book industries as more works reach the 56-year threshold for ending older copyrights, or a shorter period for those created under a law that took effect in 1978.

Mr. Toberoff is tackling what could be one of the most significant rights cases in Hollywood history; it’s certainly the biggest involving a superhero franchise. Unlike his continuing fight with Warner Brothers over Superman, Mr. Toberoff’s rights-reclamation effort against Marvel involves dozens of stories and characters from about 240 comic books.

Complicating matters are licensing agreements Marvel has made over the years with rival studios for characters Mr. Kirby helped to create. Sony holds long-term movie rights to Spider-Man; 20th Century Fox has the equivalent for the X-Men and Fantastic Four. Universal Studios holds theme park rights to Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk. And more films stemming from Mr. Kirby’s work are coming: Marvel is spending hundreds of millions to bring Thor and the Avengers to theaters.

If the Kirbys succeed in their reclamation effort — and that’s still an enormous if — they would be entitled to a share of profits from new works based on any of the copyrighted material.

Taking Sherlock Holmes and Watson into the 21st century (Observer):
A bored Holmes once complained to Watson that "life is commonplace; the papers are sterile; audacity and romance seem to have passed forever from the criminal world". Gatiss has set out to prove that this is not the case in 2010. A lifelong devotee of Conan Doyle's original stories, published in the Strand Magazine from 1891, Gatiss said they provided him with an escape from a dreary childhood in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.
An interview with Sam Shepard (Observer):
Sam Shepard opens up With a new collection of short stories to his name and two of his plays currently showing in New York, the notoriously private Pulitzer prize-winner discusses masculinity, his battle with drink and his 'tumultuous' relationship with Jessica Lange
From the twitter (@personanondata)

Sara Paretsky: Interview - Telegraph "Sara Paretsky tells Jake Kerridge about her headstrong heroine, VI Warshawski" Telegraph

From the best travel show on tv (@noreservations) Anthony Bourdain is back with sequel to follow Kitchen Confidential The Bookseller

Jacket Copy (LATimes) Publishing lessons from SXSW Interactive: A publisher refects on "SXSWi" LA Times

Focusing on WorldCat, OCLC Sells NetLibrary to EBSCO, Thins FirstSearch - 3/17/2010 - Library Journal

BBC News - JD Salinger letters shine light on a recluse. On display at the Morgan Library.

Chelsea stutter and MU remain rightfully at the top and I ran a decent half marathon with reasonable room for improvement.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Future of Publishing from DK and Penguin

I was curious why visitors to PND were looking for a Penguin video - now here it is (hat tip to paidcontent):


EBSCO Buys NetLibrary

Announced yesterday and summarized in an article in Library Journal, the deal to sell OCLC's NetLibrary division to EBSCO looks to be a smart move by OCLC. From the LJ article:

In a strategic shift, OCLC today announced the sale of its NetLibrary Division to EBSCO Publishing and the exit of H.W. Wilson databases from the FirstSearch service. In doing so, OCLC moves its business from hosting and reselling vendor content further along the road toward "new Web-scale services for libraries" that include integration and expansion of WorldCat Local ("the one search box that does it all"). Meanwhile EBSCO Publishing, the database aggregator, continues to expand its offerings.

"It’s a strategic repositioning from hosting and reselling content to building WorldCat out as a platform that libraries can use to manage and provide access to their entire collection," including ebooks and articles, said OCLC VP Chip Nilges in an interview with LJ. It's also "part of a broader effort to provide comprehensive coverage" of ebooks in WorldCat, said Nilges. "We have an agreement with Google Book Search to link to books in WorldCat; we have a similar agreement with Hathi Trust. We're in hot pursuit of many different providers." (Also see Nilges's account of his history with OCLC's econtent efforts.)

OCLC rebuilt NetLibrary after they collected the company out of bankruptcy and in the process they updated some key technology, re-established relationships with publishers and re-aligned their management team. However, in an increasingly competitive market for e-Books and e-Platforms, the process of expanding content and market share must have looked daunting for OCLC. There is likely to be some consolidation in this segment over time and this NetLibrary deal looks to be one of the first examples of that trend.

Eric Hellman has a good summary of why this deal was executed (Go To Hellman):
The sale of NetLibrary should be viewed primarily as a capital allocation decision by OCLC. eBooks and eReaders are not the only change happening in the library world, and NetLibrary is not the only major product at OCLC that would suck up significant capital. OCLC is making significant investments in cloud-based library management service based on WorldCat and WorldCat Local, and sensible managed businesses, even non-profit ones, allocate capital according to the potential value created.
The reason that a move into ebooks makes sense for EBSCO is that ebook purchases are really subscriptions. The print book production and distribution chain was built under the assumption that once the book was delivered to the customer, the transaction was done and could be forgotten. Magazine subscriptions, by contrast, are continuing relationships. Electronic magazines and journals require even more continuing support, and this is true for ebooks as well. A corporate infrastructure built to sell and support magazine subscriptions works well for supporting ebooks.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hiatt at Count Basie Theater in Red Bank

John Hiatt rocks and in the show at The Count Basie Theater in Red Bank last week he put on a typically professional and intimate show. Backed by "The Combo" - which is actually three tried and true old hands, the group ran through many of Hiatt's standards and mixed in half an album worth of new material. The same evening the band performed on Letterman and according to John he got the call the day before: 'Say, would you guys like to come on the show tomorrow night'. Letterman seems to be a fan and has had Hiatt on the show a few times. Letterman once asked Pete Townshend about 'smashing is guitar' which is the subject of a great Hiatt tune Perfectly Good Guitar. Mr. Townshend was untypically clueless.
Oh it breaks my heart to see those stars
Smashing a perfectly good guitar
I don't know who they think they are
Smashing a perfectly good guitar
He played that one as well but no smashing guitars this time.

Here is a link to a free download of one of his new tracks.

Some photos from the evening:

Flickr Link

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Opens March 19th

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens on March 19th and is set to play in Chelsea and Lincoln Center. The Swedish movie has already grossed $100mm in worldwide distribution and should make a bit more now that it has a release schedule in the US. Here is a link to the Music Box (Film distributor) website where there is more information. Here is the movie trailer:

Also an interview with Noomi Replace who plays Lisbeth Salander in the movie (named Millennium in Sweden) AFP

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Managing Born Digital Archives

NYTimes looks at the archiving challenges for librarians dealing with born digital archives and in doing so they also speak to the unique presentation opportunities that digital archives enable for scholars (NYTimes):

Some of the early files chronicle Mr. Rushdie’s self-conscious analysis of how computers affected his work. In an imaginary dialogue with himself that he composed in 1992 when he was writing “The Moor’s Last Sigh,” he wrote about choosing formatting, fonts and spacing: “I am doing this so that I can see how a whole page looks when it’s typed at this size and spacing.

“Oh, my God, suppose it looks terrible?”

“Oh, my God, yeah. And doesn’t this look wrong?”

“Where’s the paragraph indent thing?”

“I don’t know. I will look.”

“How about this? Is this good for you?”

“A lot better. How about fixing the part above?”

At the Emory exhibition, visitors can log onto a computer and see the screen that Mr. Rushdie saw, search his file folders as he did, and find out what applications he used. (Mac Stickies were a favorite.) They can call up an early draft of Mr. Rushdie’s 1999 novel, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” and edit a sentence or post an editorial comment.

“I know of no other place in the world that is providing access through emulation to a born-digital archive,” said Erika Farr, the director of born-digital initiatives at the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory. (The original draft is preserved.)

To the Emory team, simulating the author’s electronic universe is equivalent to making a reproduction of the desk, chair, fountain pen and paper that, say, Charles Dickens used, and then allowing visitors to sit and scribble notes on a copy of an early version of “Bleak House.”

“If you’re interested in primary materials, you’re interested in the context as well as the content, the authentic artifact,” Ms. Farr said. “Fifty years from now, people may be researching how the impact of word processing affected literary output,” she added, which would require seeing the original computer images.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) 11: Food and Shakespeare.

Cookbook author Gordon Ramsay is interviewed in the Observer on his annus horribilis (Observer):
After a year of scandal in his personal life and financial woes in his business empire, Gordon Ramsay looks back with some regret – and some anger – and looks forward to his latest British restaurant opening.
He books under the name Gordon, not Ramsay, so as not to scare the chefs, but he still finds he has to wait 15 minutes longer than other diners for each course, so eager is everyone to impress. At Hotel Le Bristol he encountered a chicken dish for two costing €260. "I'd get stabbed in this country if I charged that! Even if the chicken had its arse wiped every day by the farmer and they said its feathers were shampooed by John Frieda – I'd be shot. Even if the chicken was delivered by the Queen's driver and had this little Armani dressing gown on before it got taken to the slaughterhouse."
I ask about the swearing. "Fuck!" he said. "When you saw those two Kitchen Nightmares condensed into one – last year when they had those 298 'fucks' – I wasn't proud of that. There has come a time when, at the age of 43, I'm getting a bit tired of the foul-mouthed bully chef. But I've never tried to get the Great British blue-rinse nation to start falling in love with me. I don't want a radical change where I have to put a woolly hat and scarf on and go round every Women's Institute and improve their Victoria sponge or show them a much better recipe for spotted dick."
"What have I learned?" Ramsay wonders in the car. "I've learned that outside the UK I'm not going to hold the baby with the liabilities coming out of my own pocket. One reason I lost €1.3m in Paris is because the French have become fucking lazy. They want to work 32 hours a week and they call themselves uniquely talented chefs. We do that work in two days over here.
And there is more where that came from.

If you visit Chicago you have to go to Rick Bayless' restaurant Topolobampo and in addition to Gordon, Rick also has cookbooks (Observer):

For six years he lived part time in Los Angeles and part time in Mexico with his wife Deanne, working on his first book, Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking From the Heart of Mexico, written before he had opened a restaurant. "I would go into Mexico and detail everything that was available," he says of these years of research. "I would go into restaurants and list everything they were cooking, how they were cooking it. Because I was light-skinned, marketholders would view me with suspicion if I took notes." They would assume he was some kind of policeman. "So I had to memorise exactly what these ingredients were that they were selling. What they were used for."

With the book completed he was drawn back to Chicago. "I thought I was going to become a food writer but at the same time I knew I needed to do something else. Suddenly I was not driven to write about the food. I had to cook it." With the help of wealthy friends from Los Angeles he opened the Frontera Grill. I suggest to him that the restaurant was essentially his interest in anthropology expressed by another means. "I think that's exactly right." The title of his long-running television show for PBS and the book that has accompanied it, Mexico –One Plate at a Time, speaks to that sense of a man working to understand a country directly through its food.

Robert Crum picks on Americans as he discusses the question "Who really wrote Shakespeare?" (Observer):
Surely not that 'upstart crow' from Stratford? As James Shapiro's new book rehearses the loony arguments about our greatest playwright, we ask some of today's finest Shakespearean actors and directors their thoughts on the authorship question.
Delia Bacon was a formidable advocate for her namesake. Of course no one individual could possibly have written the plays attributed to Shakespeare. He was little better than a "pet horse-boy at Blackfriars", "an old showman and hawker of plays", an out-and-out "stupid, illiterate, third-rate play actor". The catchy vehemence of her arguments eventually got debated by two riverboat pilots on the Mississippi, one of whom, Samuel Clemens, would become the most famous writer in the United States, Mark Twain. But it was not until the very end of his career that the author of Huckleberry Finn returned to Bacon's theories. At a dinner at his house in January 1909, Twain's circle decided that it was possible to find the coded signature FRANCISCO BACONO in a sequence of letters from the First Folio.

Those who are devoted to the belief that Edward de Vere is the real author of the canon have to swallow almost as much hocus pocus. Despite his inconveniently early death in 1604 – before Macbeth, King Lear, Coriolanus, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest were written and/or staged – de Vere continues to fascinate the anti-Stratfordians for whom the plays are the surrogate autobiography of a secretive literary earl. This Oxford caucus derives a good deal of its confidence from the advocacy of Sigmund Freud. Possibly more embarrassing to the father of psychoanalysis, Freud's views are based on one book, "Shakespeare" Identified by John Thomas Looney, another American.

This is bibliographic "crack" and you will get lost for a while if you succumb (Link).

From the twitter (@personanondata)

National Post Canada argues halfheartedly for an Open Canadian Book market. Irony: it could help Heather monetize.

Completely Novel announces an author blog award program and nominations are now open for (Link)

Cengage Learning Unveils Suite of Digital Solutions and Services Focused on Improving Student Engagement (Link)

Man U sees the return of Beckham to Old Trafford and we end the week on top again. Sadly, Becks is out of the World Cup (BBC).

Friday, March 12, 2010

Charity Bookselling - Repost

Originally posted on December 6th, 2006:

As a result of our annual clothes cull that ends in a trip to the Salvos I found myself in the basement of said 'mission' in Jersey City looking through their shelves of donated books. We ended up buying 12 books for $20. All were in reasonably good shape and some were worth more than the amount we paid for them. Earlier this year as a fun exercise (when I found myself with a lot of time on my hands) I set up a bookstore on alibris to sell books I knew I would never read again.

As it turns out, I have sold about $300 worth of books. The store front on Alibris cost $10/mth. I ultimately put some of the books I found at the Salvos in my Alibris store and it was easy to see that if you knew what you are doing you can easily buy low and sell high. There are many people who make considerable amounts buying books at yard sales and charity locations and selling them on. That is too much work for me.

It is surprising to me that Goodwill and The Salvation Army do not consolidate their bookselling activities. I hadn't really thought about this until I received a recent copy of Rare Book Review. Setting up a store front to sell second hand books could be beyond the abilities of Goodwill or the Salvos, but with so many easy online options and even 'wholesalers' such as blue rectangle who will buy titles in bulk (if they need them), it seems strange that these charities wouldn't be considering doing more with books. The story in RBR that caught my eye was on the increasing presence of Oxfam bookstores in UK high streets. Clearly, charities in the UK have recognized the value in selling donated books and have by accident or design taken on the small traditional local second hand bookseller. Not only is the traditional bookseller under cut on price but their supplies are also dwindling because the increased presence of charity bookstores serves to take away potential inventory.

The article notes the presence of Oxfam's Marylebone store which has an annual turnover of over £400K. As the article continues:

Oxfam's bookshops are the clear market leaders in the charity sector. Their transformations from ill-sorted repositories for unloved paperbacks to serious players in the secondhand and antiquarian book market has been swift and icily efficient. Between 1998 and 2005, sales rocketed year on year by 20% giving them an annual turnover of more than £16million, and making them Europe's largest bricks-and-mortar second hand book retailer. About 50 new stores have opened in the past year.

And they are not all in big city centers, as one local vendor in little Dumfies (I have visited) noted there are no second hand retailers left but there are four charity shops.

The crux of this article is the question of tax exempt status and it is a valid one. Regrettably, the poor second hand and antiquarian retailer is not going to garner much political support but it is a fair question whether it is right that charity shops can push for profit businesses out of business. On the other hand, as is argued in the article, perhaps the bookseller needs to compete better. Oxfam may become a victim of its own success with other charity organizations moving into 'their' market. They recognize this and are becoming more sophisticated in approach and have hired some expertise to make sure any actionable items are identified and indeed auctioned at specialist auctions such as Bloomsbury and Dominic Winter.

It is interesting how this phenomenon has developed as a physical storefront and not internet based and it will be interesting to see if the US market follows suit.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Completely Novel Launches Author Blog Awards

Book social site Completely Novel is launching an Author Blog Award effort to both reward great author websites and raise awareness of as many sites as possible. The company tells me their aim is to highlight to readers the great content that you can find in author blogs and microblogs and to reward authors who engage with their readers online and ecourage others to do the same.
All the blogs and microblogs that are nominated and shortlisted for the awards will get strong exposure from the competition and raise the profile of the authors behind them.

From their website:
The aim of the Author Blog Awards There are over 10,000 published and self-published authors blogging to readers, writers and industry professionals. Despite huge loyal followings and a remarkable wealth of new content, many readers remain unaware of these blogs. The Author Blog Awards is brought to you by CompletelyNovel and aims to honour the best blogs by both published and unpublished writers. They will recognise the writers who use their blogs to connect with readers in the most imaginative, engaging and inspiring ways. At the same time we hope to attract new audiences to these blogs and help readers find out more about the authors they love…and new authors too.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Edelweiss Is Blooming

Today’s announcement of the cooperative relationship between Above the Treeline and BookExpoAmerica is a perfect introduction to the potential of the book catalog and electronic promotion tool Edelweiss which launched just over a year ago. Edelweiss will power “Books@BEA” to create an online catalog of new titles from publishers exhibiting at Book Expo 2010 and will be free to both publishers and attendees. Since launch, Edelweiss has grown rapidly to 350 active catalogs containing more than 30,000 titles from nearly 600 publishers and their respective imprints. The exposure at Book Expo will allow new users to recognize the significant advantages that an Electronic catalog has over traditional printed book catalogs.

Building workflow solutions that embed an application into the production flow or process of a business or organization is a powerful way to build customer loyalty. Traditionally, those are not the type of applications you generally see in the book retail space less you happen to be the software provider Above the Treeline, which is doing exactly that.

When I was at Bowker in 2004, I met John Rubin who was rolling out the first version of his software product for small independent retailers. I was immediately taken by the product he was launching. Notably, his product development originated from real experience working with his family-owned independent store and this theme – taking a workflow approach to development – continues to serve the company well as it gains more recent success from Edelweiss, the company’s catalog application.

The core Above the Tree Line product enables booksellers to manage their inventory and store product mix in far more productive and profitable ways. For many stores, using this tool has probably enabled them to weather the recent cruel economic times far more effectively than they may have without it. Stores using the tool are able to see both their own inventory mix and turns and those of other stores in their geographic areas. This ‘collective’ knowledge encourages better market awareness and more intelligent buying decisions, supporting better sales performance.

Edelweiss is a newer product application that builds on the base Above the Treeline application. In speaking to John recently, he emphasized that, in the development of Edelweiss, the workflow approach was key to understanding how a typical bookstore, publisher and publicity person worked with book catalogs. The application has been in full roll-out for just over a year and continues to garner unsolicited positive comments from users. “Timesaver” and “efficiency” seem to be the recurrent themes of this feedback. Above the Treeline was able to establish an early relationship with the ABA and has recently announced an agreement with Association of American University Presses (AAUP).

Edelweiss allows any registered user to create a catalog which can then be marked up and emailed (distributed) to others. The users can order from the catalog and data is also integrated with a store’s point-of-sale system. Users can also add more information to a title such as covers, internal reference materials or other content, and using WYSIWYG screens makes adding this content very easy. From the publisher perspective, they can set up catalogs any way they want. No longer does a publisher or sales rep have to rely on a generic catalog: Building one by genre, previous seasons buys or any other criteria is simple, efficient and effective. The sales rep is also able to create custom address lists so they can create their own mailing lists within the system to make their communication far more productive.

This is a “publisher pays” model with free access to the service for retailers. The publisher pays a base administration fee and then a per-title charge for each six-month period. The payback for publishers should be obvious in reduced hard-copy catalogs, more effective sales reps and better and more efficient buy-in from the stores.

In coming months, the company expects to enhance Edelweiss with several new enhancements that they emphasize (again) come from the feedback they have received from the marketplace. These will include:
  • Subject/Format Mapping: Retailers will appreciate the ability to map to POS departments using a combination of bisac subject category and bisac format code.
  • Google Map Authors and Titles: Soon the company will introduce the ability to search Edelweiss based on geographic criteria in conjunction with the currently available filter criteria. Set an address and a radius to search, and results will be mapped on Google maps based on available author bio info (residence, birthplace, universities attended or affiliated) and title setting or relevance.
  • Custom Market Views: As the number of users and publishers have grown, the company has seen a need to provide different views of the system. Soon retailers and other catalog readers will be able to choose between a number of different market views such as General Trade, Christian Trade, Academic and others. Each view will provide a custom set of publishers, catalogs and titles specifically for that market.

Not only is Above the Treeline expanding the functionality of Edelweiss, but they also continue to look for other opportunities to improve the relationship between independent retailers and publishers (such as the Book Expo relationship). Late last year, the company announced a partnership with Firebrand Technologies that allows integration of the Net Galley e-Galley service into Edelweiss. From their press release:

Edelweiss publishers will be able to use NetGalley’s powerful functionality to offer digital galleys, with or without DRM, directly from their Edelweiss catalogs. NetGalley supports a broad range of dedicated reading devices and platforms and publishers can select reading options and security features based on their specific needs.

For NetGalley publishers with Edelweiss catalogs, this additional functionality will come at no additional charge. Edelweiss publishers who are not currently using NetGalley will be able to purchase the NetGalley add-on on a per-title basis for their Edelweiss catalogs through Above the Treeline. The first electronic galleys provided by NetGalley will appear in Edelweiss in the second quarter of 2010.

As the Net Galley integration takes hold and more Edelweiss functionality is implemented we should see even wider acceptance of Above the Treeline products and services. Interestingly, other publishers outside the traditional independent retail segment are starting to take note of the Above the Treeline products with Moody Publishers and their 34,000 titles announcing that they have chosen Edelweiss as their web-based catalog of choice. And I am sure there will be more to come.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The New Library Model in Birmingham?

The guardian publishes a discussion of the plight of British libraries as they struggle for relevance and uses the proposed new Birmingham public library as the focal point of the article. While UK libraries are in particularly desperate circumstances, some of the issues remain constant with libraries elsewhere including the US. (Guardian):

Whitby's office looks out on to the existing Birmingham Central Library, an inverted modernist ziggurat built in 1973-4. This is the building Prince Charles famously described as a place where books were incinerated rather than borrowed. Unlike him, I once spent long, happy hours reading here, amazed that so many books (2.5m of them, stretching over seven floors) were at the disposal of a non-princely nobody like me. Now culture minister Margaret Hodge has given the go-ahead to flatten this Grade II-listed building; demolition will be completed over the next five years. Why must it go? "It leaks, and great big chunks of concrete keep falling from it," says Birmingham head of libraries, Brian Gambles. He keeps a souvenir chunk in his office to prove the point. "It's ugly and unfit for purpose and would cost too much to properly renovate."
In advance of a report on libraries, the Culture Minister sees volunteerism, loyalty cards and 'creative thinking' as avenues to reform:

Hodge wants such reforms to revolutionise the library service without adding to the cost. "It isn't enough to say, as some do, that all libraries need is more money to supply more books and have longer opening hours. The point is we have got to be more innovative, because the money ain't there." She cites the head of Norwich libraries as a success story. "She has reversed the national footfall trend. She told me that if she's ever stuck for an idea on how to run libraries, she visits Tesco." Hodge is also impressed by the ideas of Starbucks' UK MD Darcy Willson-Rymer, who argues that the best way to save libraries is to put coffee shops in them, as they have in the US. "I like the idea of browsing books in a library with a coffee." She is fearful for those libraries that won't embrace such changes, describing them as "sleepwalking into the era of the iPhone, the ebook and the Xbox without a strategy". Having no strategy, Hodge argues, runs the risk of turning libraries into "a curiosity of history, like telex machines or typewriters".
Naturally, cost cuts - rather than even unchanged funding levels - are a focus across the country:

Of course some Britons couldn't care less about saving their local library. When West Sussex county council recently announced it was planning to reduce opening hours for three out of four libraries, in order to save £200,000, several blog posts on the Brighton Evening Argus website suggested the cuts weren't deep enough. "I haven't been to the library for years," wrote Arthur of Horsham. "I read papers online, get information from the internet and buy books from Amazon. The people who most 'need' them – are the least likely to use them – too busy watching rubbish on TV. They are essentially outdated and should morph into more of an online information service."
Lastly, on the ground how does an average library manage patron experience:

Consider this vignette. Last week I was angrily returning a book to Islington Central Library when I passed a woman in the foyer drinking beer and swearing at people going in and out. It was 9.45am. But it wasn't her who made me livid. I was angry because when I read the book I had borrowed – the AA Guide to Los Angeles – it informed me that LA was looking forward to hosting the Olympic Games. Hold on: didn't LA host the Olympics in 1984? And wasn't that 26 years ago? It turned out that the book dated from the late 1970s. It's perhaps unfair to point out that Margaret Hodge was Islington council's leader from 1982 to 1992. But during that period someone, surely, should have thought of taking the AA Guide to LA out of service.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) 10: Dave Eggers, WorldBook Day, James Joyce

Long review and interview with Dave Eggers about his recent book and about McSweeneys (Observer):
Well, you need to read Zeitoun. All I can tell you is that it is like something out of Kafka. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) should have been there only to help. But its absorption by the Department of Homeland Security, itself a creation of George Bush following 9/11, seemed somehow to have muddled priorities. As hundreds of Americans drowned, the people at the Department of Homeland Security were still worrying obsessively about the many and various ways in which a terrorist might seek to "exploit" a hurricane.

Eggers found Zeitoun via his Voice of Witness project, a non-profit venture which produces books in which ordinary people tell their stories (the first book in the series told the stories of victims of miscarriages of justice in America; Zeitoun first appeared in a volume devoted to Katrina; the next will be about Zimbabwe). "A few weeks after the storm, we started working with local interviewers, sending them into Atlanta and Houston, and all the places people had fled. I was struck by Zeitoun's story, so the next time I was in New Orleans I met the family. I was angry about the war on terror and the suspension of all sense of decency. This seemed like the absolute nadir of all the Bush policies and here was this family squeezed between all these distorted priorities. We talked, and in the first hour it was clear that there was so much to say." Eggers the novelist found a pleasing watery symmetry in Zeitoun's story; his brother, Mohammed, had been a world-class swimmer, a famous man back home in Syria. The family came from originally from Arwad, an island. An island, off Syria? Eggers had never heard of such a place. He was hooked.
What's more, when it comes to memoir, the line between truth and fiction is, for him, an agonising one and perhaps best avoided. When the James Frey row blew up – it was discovered that Frey's "memoir" about his drugs hell, A Million Little Pieces, was largely fiction – Eggers received at least 100 emails asking him to comment. "I am obsessed with explaining my processes, in my first book, and elsewhere. I didn't weigh in because I hadn't read the book. But I felt for everybody. For him, for his readers, for Oprah – I'm a fan of hers and what she does for books. He stretched things, but you can read the book how you want, and that's how it's read now. With a grain of salt." Sometimes, fiction takes you closer to truth. "Tim O'Brien's book about Vietnam, The Things They Carried, has won every award, is studied in college and is considered to be definitive. But it's fiction." He sighs. "Oh, I'm always sad at book controversies!"
Victoria Barnsley on World Book Day (Observer):

But arguably these gadgets will be serving an audience of existing readers. What interests me in particular is the ability to reach new readers through new devices or clever ways of getting content to existing devices. On Boxing Day 2008, Nintendo launched their 100 Classic Books collection for those who had just received a DS for Christmas. And they were overwhelmed by the take-up. It was one of their top-selling products of the season. Now – who would have thought that teenagers would be huddled together round their screens reading Oliver Twist? Not me for one. So there is huge potential if we provide the right content to get young audiences enthused about great stories.

No doubt those same younger audiences will devise many clever new ways to consume content, to read books, to view movies. But there is one thing that remains constant for me and connects us back to our forebears sitting around fires at the beginning of time – the fascination with storytelling, the desire to learn about ourselves and the world through the power of the imagination. The plethora of new ways to express those thoughts can only enrich this age-old culture.

It's true that World Book Day in the UK has always had a huge emphasis, rightly so, on children. We know that if they catch the bug young, children will become lifelong readers. But for those who have missed out on the opportunity, the Quick Reads series launched in 2006 has been a great success. Aimed at reaching out to the millions of adults in the UK with reading difficulties and the one-third of the British population that never picks up a book, they are written by bestselling authors for both emergent readers and for readers wanting a short, pacy read. And research shows that once they have acquired the habit of reading, they never lose it.

Joyce's Finnegans Wake has been re-edited (Observer):

Seventy years on, scholars Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon have reached the conclusion of 30 years of textual analysis. Poring over the tens of thousands of pages of notes, drafts, typescripts and proofs that make up, in Joyce's own words, his "litters from aloft, like a waast wizzard all of whirlwords", they have made 9,000 "minor yet crucial" amendments and corrections to the book, from misspellings to misplaced phrases, ruptured syntax and punctuation marks.

"I never thought I'd see this day," said Rose. "The complexity of the texts and the complexity of the social situation meant it was very, very difficult indeed, but we stuck with it and we got there. There were 20,000 pages of manuscript, and beyond that 60 notebooks, and beyond that it extended out into thousands of different volumes. It extends out and out and out – what Joyce was doing was distilling in and in and in. To reach the text we had to follow him back, and it's a lot harder to go backwards than forwards."

Author David Shields making the case for literary "appropriation" (Boston Globe):

“Reality Hunger” has a number of grievances and goals. Shields, the author of nine previous books, is sick of the traditional novel and calls for a “blurring” of genres, championing what he calls the “lyric essay” as the emerging vehicle of “chunks of ‘reality,’ ” emotional immediacy, and meaningful contemplation. In addition, the author praises the self-referential, ironic, and irreverent as seen in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” karaoke, Sarah Silverman’s stand-up routines, “Borat,” and other contemporary cultural productions.

He also makes a passionate case for the literary “appropriation” of the words of others (as in musical “sampling”). Indeed, he praises plagiarism, and more than two-thirds of “Reality Hunger” itself is unoriginal material, a collection of others’ words. The lawyers at Random House insisted that Shields cite the sources at the end of the book. The “author” reluctantly complies but advises the reader to cut these pages out.

From the twitter:

NY Law School Professor James Grimmelmann has self-archived "The Amended Google Books Settlement is Still Exclusive" in SSRN

This brief essay argues that the proposed settlement in the Google Books case, although formally non-exclusive, would have the practical effect of giving Google an exclusive license to a large number of books. The settlement itself does not create mechanisms for Google's competitors to obtain licenses to orphan books and competitors are unlikely to be able to obtain similar settlements of their own. Recent amendments to the settlement do not change this conclusion.
Project to develop "Open Bibliographic Data" (OpenKnowledge)

In the past few weeks there have been a number of developments related to opening up bibliographic metadata. At the end of January we blogged about CERN opening up their library data. Just recently Ghent University Library have published their data under an open licenseugent_biblio and ugent_catalog) - which is excellent news! (see

In the first instance this group will aim to:

  1. Act as a central point of reference and support for people interested in open bibliographic data
  2. Identify relevant projects and practices. Promote best practices as well as legal and technical standards for making data open (such as the Open Knowledge Definition).
  3. Act as a hub for the development and maintenance of low cost, community driven projects related to open bibliographic data.

Visual Books - Love the London Underground world map. (NYTimes)

Heroes of “This Book Is Overdue” are resolutely high-tech, engaged in “activist and visionary forms of library work.” (NYTimes)

And Manchester United are top of the table this morning.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Times Square: Thursday Evening

Is There a Future for Bibliographic Databases? - Repost

The following was originally posted on April 2nd, 2007 and since John and I met for dinner in NYC last night I thought I would re-post his article.

I have commented a number of times on what I view is the future of bibliographic databases - particularly those similar to Books in Print and Worldcat - and in keeping with that theme I asked John Dupuis (Confessions of a Science Librarian) what his views were on the same subject. The following article is written by John Dupuis, Science Librarian, Steacie Science & Engineering Library, York University. He told me to mention he is on sabbatical.

A week or so ago, Michael asked me to do a guest post here on Personanondata about bibliographic databases, based on some of the speculations I've made on my own blog, Confessions of a Science Librarian, about the future of Abstracting and Indexing databases.

Here's how he put it in his email:
I have read your posts on the future of information databases and bibliographies etc. over the past several months and I was wondering whether you had a specific opinion of the future of bibliographic databases such as worldcat and booksinprint? ... [O]n my blog I have skirted around the idea that the basic logic of these types of databases is beginning to erode as base level metadata is more readily available and of sufficient quality to reduce the need for these types of bibliographic databases. Assuming that is increasingly the case then these providers need to determine new value propositions for their customers. So what are they?
How could I resist? I'm not sure if I exactly answer his questions or even talked about what he'd hoped I'd talk about, but at least I've probably provoked a few more questions.

In my blog post on the future of A&I databases, I basically came to the conclusion that in the face of competition from Google Scholar and its ilk, the traditional Abstracting & Indexing databases would be increasingly hard-pressed to make a case for their usefulness to academic institutions. Students want ease of use, they concentrate on what's "good enough" not what's perfect. Over time, academic libraries will find it harder and harder to justify spending loads of money on search and discovery tools when plenty of free alternatives exist. Unless, of course, the vendors can find some way to add enough value to the data to make themselves indispensable. I used SciFinder Scholar as an example of a tool that adds a lot of value to data. I think we'll definitely start to see this transition from fee to free in the next 10 years, with considerable acceleration after that.

Now, I didn't really talk about bibliographic/collections tools like Books in Print (BiP), WorldCat (WC), Ulrich's or the Serials Directory (SD). Why not? I think it's because those tools are aimed at experts, not end users. Professionals, not civilians. Surely if a freshman only wants a couple of quick articles to quote for a paper due in a couple of hours, then we librarians and publishing professionals are looking for good, solid, quality information and we're willing to pay for it. This distinction would seem to me to be quite important, leading to quite a different kind of analysis, one I wasn't really aiming at originally. So, I didn't really think about it at the time.

So, now it's time to put the thinking cap back on and see what my crystal ball tells me.

In my professional work as a collections librarian, I am a frequent user of all the tools I mention above. I think that BiP is the one I use the most. Over the last 5 or 6 years I've built up a specialized engineering collection mostly from scratch so I've needed a lot of help and BiP has been an enormously useful tool. I use keyword searches. I also use the subject links on the item records a lot to take me to lists of similar books.

WC I use less frequently, mostly only when I want to look beyond books that are in print and want to identify older and rarer items that I'll end up having to get on the used book market. I've used this to build up various aspects of our Science and Technology Studies collection on topics like women in science. On the other hand, WC seems to have already found a big part of its value proposition with non-experts. Look at it's partnership with Google Book Search. Also look at the really innovative things it's doing with products like WorldCat Identities. It's not perfect by any means but you can see the innovative spirit working.

Ulrich's and SD I mostly use to identify pricing issues for journals I might want to subscribe to, so I don't use them that often. With the ease of finding journal homepages, this function is probably falling fast in it's uses. As for identifying the journals in a particular subject area, that's still a useful function but I wonder what the future is if that's all they offer.

For our purposes here, I'll concentrate on the one I use most: BiP. I presume a lot of what I have to say will also more or less apply to the other specialized tools aimed at pros.

So, I definitely need quality information on books to do my job, now and in the future. But if I need quality information, what will the source be? Although of course I use BiP, I also use Amazon quite a lot to find information on books I want to order; the features that they have that I like best and use most come out of the kind of data mining they can do with their ordering and access logs. When I'm looking at an interesting item, Amazon can quickly tell me what other books are similar, what other books people that have purchased the one I'm looking at have also purchased. I find this to be an extremely important tool for finding books, a great time saver and an incredibly accurate way of finding relevant items. Also, when I search Amazon, I'm actually searching the full text of a lot of books in their database. This feature gets me inside books and unleashes their contents in a way that can't be duplicated by being able to view or even search tables of contents.

I also very much like the user-generated lists and reviews. On more than one occasion I've appreciated multiple user reviews of highly technical books, especially when there are negative reviews to warn me away from bad ones. The "Listmania" and "So you'd like to.." lists are great sources of recommendations. On the other hand, it has some significant problems that keep me from going to it exclusively. For example, most any search returns reams of irrelevant hits. The subject classifications that Amazon displays at the bottom of the page I also find next to useless as they are often far too broad.

For BiP, the features I appreciate the most, the ones that draw me back from Amazon, include very good linkable subject classification and good coverage of non-US imprints. When I do keyword searches, the results seem more focused and less cluttered with irrelevant items. I also like that it gives me very complete bibliographic information, including at least part of a call number. While Amazon isn't geared to let you mark then print out a bunch of items (why would they want you to be able to do this?), I appreciate being able to generate lists and print them out using BiP. On the other hand, BiP has been slow to make their interface as quick and easy to use as Google or Amazon, to make use of the tons of data they have, to mine it to find connections, to harness user input and reviews in a massive way to compete with the Amazon juggernaut. When for-fee is competing with for-free, the one that costs money has to be very clearly the best.

Another threat to BiP is Google Book Search. As I've recounted in a story on my blog, Google Book Search in an incredible tool for research, reference and even collections. Once again, the ability to search the entire text of books is an incredible tool for revealing what they're really about, to surface them and make me want to buy them. As Cory Doctorow has said, the greatest enemy of authors (and publishers) is not piracy, it's obscurity. Google Book Search is an amazing tool for a book to get known and,ultimately, to get bought. As more and more publishers realize this (and even book publishers are smart enough to realize this eventually), they'll make darn sure all their new books are full text searchable by Google (and, presumably, Amazon and others). How can BiP compete with that?

I think it's safe to say, it wouldn't take much for me to completely abandon the use of BiP and only use free tools such as Amazon and Google. What could BiP do to keep in the game? What is their value proposition for me? What is the value proposition for all bibliographic tools hoping to market themselves to library professionals now and in the future?

Some issues I've been thinking about.
  • The changing nature of publishing What's a book? What's a journal? What does "in print" mean? Print journals vs. online? Ebooks vs. paper books? Fee vs. Free. Open Access publishing. Wikis. Blogs. To say that bibliographic databases have to be ahead of the curve on all the revolutionary changes going on today in publishing is an understatement. Look at all the trouble newspapers are in, the trouble they're having adjusting to a new business model. Well, the book world is changing as well, especially for academic customers. The needs of academic users are quite different from regular users. They don't necessarily need to read an entire book, just key sections. Search and discovery are incredibly important to these users, almost more important than the content. They also really don't care about the source of their content, what they really care about is having as few barriers between the content and themselves. How will BiP and other bibliographic databases help professionals like me navigate this mess? Easy. By continuing to provide one-stop-shopping, only for a much wider range of items. Paper books from traditional publishers, for sure, but how about all those Print on Demand publishers? Sifting through the chaff to get the rare kernel of wheat is an important task, one I know that they're already doing to some degree. But how about digital document publishers like Morgan & Claypool? O'Reilly's Digital PDFs? White papers and other documents from all kinds of publishers? How about the incredible amount of free ebooks out there? And other useful digital documents and document collections, both free and for sale (The Einstein Archives is an example)? And breaking down the digital availability of the component parts of collections like Knovel, Safari, Books 24x7 and all the others. Any tool that could help me evaluate the pros and cons of those repositories would be greatly appreciated. The landscape out there for useful information is clearly far larger than it used to be.
  • Changing nature of metadata. Never underestimate the value of good metadata; never underestimate the value of the people that produce that metadata. It seems to me that one of the core issues is who should create metadata for books and other documents and how should that metadata be distributed to the people that want it, be it commercial search engines or library/bookstore catalogues. It would be great if all content publishers created their own metadata and that it was of the highest quality and free to everyone. There's a role for bibliographic databases to collect and distribute that metadata, maybe even to create it. The library world has a good history of sharing that kind of data, but I'm not sure how that model scales to a bigger world. It seems to me that there's an opportunity here.
  • Changing nature of customers. I've publicly predicted that I will hardly be buying any more print books for my library in 10 years. Libraries are changing, bookstores are changing. Our patrons and customers are the ones driving this change. As my patrons want more digital content, as they use print collections less, as they rely on free search and discovery tools rather than expensive specialized tools, I must change too. As my patrons' needs and habits change, the nature of the collections I will acquire for them will follow those changes -- or I will find myself in big trouble. Anybody that can make my life easier is certainly going to be welcome. And that will be the challenge for the various bibliographic tools -- making it easier for me to respond to the changes sweeping my world. A good bibliographic service should be able to help me populate the catalogue with the stuff I want and my patrons need. I think a lot of progress has been made on this front in products like WC, but I think to stay in the game the progress will have to be transformative. There's lots of opportunity here.
  • What's worth paying for. In other words, BiP, WC and their ilk have to be better than the free alternatives. And not just a little better. And not just better in an abstruse, theoretical way; if it takes you 20 minutes to explain why you're better, the margin may be too slim. Better as in way better on 80% of my usage rather than just somewhat better than on 20%. Better as in saving time, saving effort, saving more money than they cost, making my life easier.
To conclude, I can only say one thing. In times of intense change and uncertainty, evolutionary pressure is extremely intense. Only those products and services that can find an ecological niche, a way to satisfy enough customers, will survive. To thrive is another story. To thrive requires a redefinition of products and services, a way to jump ahead of competitors and to win new markets with something new and exciting. It's hard to tell where bibliographic databases will find their place: will they be dodo birds, or will they find a way to survive or even thrive in the coming decade. There's certainly a window to change. Nobody is going to cancel any of these core tools any time soon. But the window will close sooner rather than later.

John can be reached at the following email address: