Monday, December 20, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) No 50: Google eBooks, Smelling Books, Spooky Retail Practices, Manga Censorship

TechCruch has a snarky piece about the Google eBookstore and some of the commentators see through the bias (TC):
Many hopes and dreams were projected onto Google Editions’ vaporware. It would index every published word since the dawn of humanity, and make it possible to search your personal library, and deep-link to individual chapters, sections, and paragraphs. It would somehow singlehandedly resurrect the dying bookstore trade. Instead, when the fog finally cleared, all we got was Kindle Lite.

Oh, it does what it does well enough. You can buy books from Google and read them on your Android, iWhatever, e-reader, or the Web; authors and publishers can upload their own books, with or without DRM; and it’s all been expertly implemented. But now that you can read Kindle books on the Web, Google’s new eBookstore is little more than a carbon copy of Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem — except that you can’t (yet) read DRMed Google ebooks on a Kindle (which remains, I note, the world’s most popular e-reader) or email them as gifts.

From "Thrilled"

Checked out some of my favorites Dickens titles. Looked at the sample, changed settings from scan to flowing text, adjusted font size, line spacing. Decided this is a must for my dad to get his books. Sorry that they've not served markets/authors with copyright issues, but this is a profound value for many. How is it that such a monumental effort to get books into available electronic format is denigrated because one segment of authors (which have multiple layers of legal concerns) is not well served??

From Khalid:

To be fair to Google, this is version one and they tend to make improvements to their services very quickly. Granted, some content will be held-back because of the legal situation, but ultimately the service will very likely be much better soon.

Worst case, Google Books doesn't do very well. But already Amazon are talking about a full Kindle web application and with it the ability for any site to sell books through Kindle. Those features were almost certainly pushed out there or made a higher priority because of Google. So, at the least, the competition has made and will continue to make Kindle better.

And "Harry"

I believe the true "problem" is expertly sandwiched into the article:

"The best is that you get public-domain books for free, though they seem to have missed the Creative Commons train: neither of the books I’ve released for free appears in their catalog. "

Oh....Now this article makes much more sense.
Michael Powell is enthusiastic about the Google eBook store and speaks to Forbes:
I’ve been reading for months that Google, the resident behemoth here, would partner with local booksellers when they launched their eBookstore. Sure enough, it’s happening. And maybe I’m just to used to the old tales, but I’ve found it hard to grasp the plot point. Sure, uses neighborhood booksellers to address scarcity, especially for used books, but ebooks magically eliminate such concerns. Why wouldn’t Google just stomp to the fight with Amazon, flattening those little bricky stores along the way?

When you need an answer from someone with bookstore cred you can do a lot worse than one of Google’s most notable partners — Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore. So I spent the past week emailing with Darin Sennett, Director of Web Stuff at Powell’s. He explained why stores like his and Google are ready to write the eBook of love, not war.

When I think about partnerships between Google eBookstore and publishers, it makes sense. But I have to admit that when I saw Powell’s partnering with Google eBookstore, it made me scratch my head. So let’s start there. What’s the advantage of this partnership for your store?

Our core competency is bookselling. Building an ebook distribution infrastructure from scratch is a gigantic undertaking – not something an independent bookseller has the resources to do. Then there’s keeping up with all the future devices people will want to read on, which means continual focus on technological development. Having Google take care of the heavy lifting lets us concentrate on being a fantastic bookstore.

Number 16 in the reasons to love New York from NY Magazine:
Because We’re Home to Not Only the Publishing Industry But Also to a Woman Who Spends Her Days Smelling Books: After artist Rachael Morrison, 29, started working at the MoMA library, she’d joke that she was “smelling books” all day. She loves being surrounded by all these books in an increasingly digitized age—they already seem like artifacts. She began wondering what it would be like not to be able to smell them anymore. “When you read a book, you become immersed in this way that feels very special and individual,” she says. Unlike when you read something online, where “I always have this sense that whatever I am reading is being read by millions of other people.” So six months ago, she decided to spend her lunch breaks chronicling the unique scent of each book in the MoMA stacks.
(And for my many readers who like pork - check this out in the same issue).

A popular theme at the moment: How eBooks, iPad, etc, etc are changing the whole idea of the book. From the Observer:

These two developments – the Economist's app and Eagleman's "book" – ought to serve as a wake-up call for the print publishing industry. The success of Amazon's Kindle has, I think, lulled print publishers into a false sense of security. After all, they're thinking, the stuff that goes on the Kindle is just text. It may not be created by squeezing dyes on to processed wood-pulp, but it's still text. And that's something we're good at. So no need to panic. Amazon may be a pain to deal with, but the Kindle and its ilk will see us through.If that's really what publishers are thinking, then they're in for some nasty surprises. The concept of a "book" will change under the pressure of iPad-type devices, just as concepts of what constitutes a magazine or a newspaper are already changing. This doesn't mean that paper publications will go away. But it does mean that print publishers who wish to thrive in the new environment will not just have to learn new tricks but will also have to tool up. In particular, they will have to add serious in-house technological competencies to their publishing skills.

Who will be the last book readers from Geoff Pevere at The (Toronto) Star on his visit to The Written Word Festival:

Admittedly, the Written Word Festival is not the best place to find kids who don't read, who are presumably those kids so neurally corrupted by Facebook and cellphones that reading is beyond them.

However, it's a terrific place not only to meet kids who do read but to learn how they read.

Katherine Drotos is 17. She says she'll read “pretty much anything” as long as it grabs her, and if it does she's hooked to the last page. She finds the stuff most likely to grab her on lists: online lists at Indigo and Amazon, and favourite lists posted by avid readers. As for e-books, there's no way. “I can't stand looking at a screen when I read.”

Reading, it is commonly believed, is in crisis. Just google these three words (reading in crisis) and you'll find articles, studies and columns worrying that people, kids in particular, are reading less than ever. The implication is clear: if it weren't for all those addictive, instantly gratifying, ADD-generating electronic distractions, kids would be curling up with 700-page novels. Not uncommon is this sort of sentiment, found in the 2008 book The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future by Mark Bauerlein: “Young (Internet) users have learned a thousand new things, no doubt. They upload and download, surf and chat, post and design, but they haven't learned to analyze a complex test, store facts in their heads, comprehend a foreign policy decision, take lessons from history, or spell correctly.”

Salon has an interesting article about how web stores not only know who you are but manipulate their prices accordingly. Why are we surprised? (Salon):

Online retailers also alter prices, deals, and offers on regular goods that do not traditionally have much price volatility. Groups like Consumers Union periodically track shopping sites to see how and how often they change prices, and find fairly frequent instances of dynamic pricing. "While surfing Barnes and Noble's site, we selected a new hardcover book," the watchdog noted in a 2007 investigation. "[We] placed it in our online 'cart' at a cost of $20.80. We added several other books as well but didn't finalize the sale. Two days later, using the same browser, we found the cart had been emptied. We selected the same titles…[it] now cost $26.00." Ditto for shoes on Zappos and a number of other products.

It is impossible to know exactly what stores change prices for customers after they have clicked to put a product in their shopping cart—or which stores change a price on a customer depending on their browser or cookies. Shoppers despise the practice, understandably, so stores rarely cop to it unless caught red-handed. But many offer disclaimers implying they are aware of price discrepancies. Pottery Barn, for example, answers the question, "Why is the price of an item in my saved shopping cart different from when I selected it?" on its site. The answer? "Prices are subject to change—including temporary reductions as well as permanent increases.

The prices of items in your cart represent the current price for which you will be charged." In short: Dynamic pricing.The practice, if mysterious, is not new. Mega-retailer Amazon offered the same DVD for different prices to different customers in 2000, creating a public-relations disaster. The company claimed it was performing A/B price testing—seeing how many more folks would buy the DVD at a higher price—and said it would always give all customers the lower price at sale. But the incident fostered widespread concern about dynamic pricing, and spurred the first thorough study of the practice.

Clamping down on 'extreme manga' in Japan (Independent):

Japanese comics, which are read by adults and children, are part of mainstream culture and often explore complex subjects, including business, war and politics. A manga version of Marx's Das Kapital recently made it into print, joining Tolstoy's War and Peace, Hitler's Mein Kampf and Shakespeare's King Lear. But although the country's shelves groan with romance and literary manga, it is the genre's hardcore fringe that has long upset conservatives.

Debate has raged for years on the impact of such material on children. Violent manga and anime have been cited in the trials of several notorious Japanese serial killers, but sexual and violent crimes are comparatively rare in Japan.

Exports of comics, animated movies and games have mushroomed in the last decade. Former Prime Minister Taro Aso was a famous manga -fan and the government has bundled popular culture into its "Cool Japan" strategy, which focuses on the commercial and soft-power potential of the industry abroad. Prime Minister Naoto Kan recognised the industry's importance this week when he blogged on the censorship dispute. "Upbringing of youth is an important matter. But it's also important to present Japan's anime to the world," he wrote.


From the Twitter:

Smithsonian Celebrates 50 Years of COBOL "Nerdy memorabilia"

From Google and Harvard, a New Way to Analyze the Written Word -

Columbia Journalism Review: Media Policy in the Digital Age

And in sports, normal service was resumed in the cricket world (BBC).

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