Monday, May 31, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) 22: Censorship, Liquid Textbooks, E-Books, Revenge Reviews.

Sometimes your censor is someone you know from the NYTiimes:

But sometimes, depending on the country, the story is more nuanced — not genocide or crude repression but a more subtle chronicle, the fine shadings of control.

So it was for the South African-born writer and Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee, as an audience at the American University in Paris learned recently when he spoke of his experiences to students, faculty members and at least one American icon — the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 91, who was also, coincidentally, visiting Paris.

“Until I was 50 years old my books could be read by my fellow South Africans only after they had been approved by a committee of censors,” Mr. Coetzee, 70, told his listeners. But it was only around 2008 that an academic researcher offered to show him files he had unearthed relating to three of the author’s works from the 1970s and early 1980s.

In those years, apartheid pervaded the land, prescribing where people lived and worked, where they were born and buried, how they traveled, whom they loved: a law called the Immorality Act made miscegenation a crime. Yet one file, concerning Mr. Coetzee’s “In the Heart of the Country” (1977), seemed to find a way of bypassing those pseudo-moral strictures, noting that “although sex across the color line is described,” the book “will be read and enjoyed only by intellectuals.”

Comments and dedications on the fly leaves of books are lost in an eBook world (NYTimes):
If e-books end up largely replacing traditional books, where would the extra personality that comes with an inscription go? Where would the future Rings and Willies leave their personal markings? Would you really ask Tom Wolfe to type a note on your Kindle?
In a Times editorial Verlyn Klinkenborg hints at a big potential issue (NYTimes):
When it comes to digital editions, the assumption seems to be that all books are created equal. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the mass migration from print to digital, we’re seeing a profusion of digital books — many of them out of copyright — that look new and even “HD,” but which may well have been supplanted by more accurate editions and better translations. We need a digital readers’ guide — a place readers can find out whether the book they’re about to download is the best available edition.
A reuters (all over the place) recap of BookExpo (Wired):

Eileen Gittins of Blurb, which helps authors and companies self-publish, predicts e-books will make up half of all sales in five years. In 2009, the global publishing business, including print and digital, was worth $71 billion, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

“We’re seeing now in book publishing what had happened previously in the music publishing industry. And that is, a massive disruption of the business model,” she told Reuters.

The problem is that the cost of printing is a minor cost of publishing whereas developing work with an author and marketing it consume the lion’s share of costs.

That means, she said, that the book industry will become more like the movie business. “The book publishing industry is becoming more blockbuster focused,” she said.

Susan Petersen Kennedy, president of Penguin Group USA, said publishers will not make the same mistakes as the music industry, which had an epic struggle over electronic distribution and piracy and lost huge market share.

“It’s always treated as if the publishers are the Luddites,” she told Reuters in an interview. “The devices have not caught up with the content. Contrary to popular opinion, the book is actually so far more flexible.”
Canadian company Symtext has launched a product for educational publishers that attempts to "weave together print and electronic" content. (TheStar):

After graduating, Barker found financing through Flow Ventures, a tech startup accelerator that gives seed capital and operational support to early-stage ventures, which then helped to develop a more sophisticated version of the Liquid Textbook. Barker returned to the publishers he had initially approached and asked them for permission to feature chapters of their books in Liquid Textbooks.

In exchange, the publishers would receive royalties, similar to those paid for print course-packs. So far 70 publishers have agreed, including Oxford University Press Canada. Liquid Textbooks respect “the place of the publisher in developing content and also offer something beyond what the printed book offered to its end users,” says David Stover, president of Oxford University Press Canada. “We really feel it represents an alternative revenue channel.”

The interactive nature is exciting, Stover says. In a Liquid Textbook, instructors can post summaries or questions about the material. Students can then post comments on what instructors – and other students – wrote. “It allows an ongoing discussion around the material,” Stover says.

That’s exactly what Amanda Goldrick-Jones experienced when she used a Liquid Textbook to teach business writing at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. “Many of the students’ [online] comments were very insightful and so we would bring the comments into class discussion and students would elaborate on them, agree, disagree,” said Goldrick-Jones. “That added more depth and a bit more richness to class discussion.”

Recap of a eBook forum panel discussion at Buying and Selling e-Content (eContent):
So yes, it is time to rebuild the ebook infrastructure from the ground up-from author contracts to licensing models to delivery networks and mechanisms. Yet I would also propose that unlike other content types that have already faced much of the pain in this transition, text-based content must look more deeply at the user expectation developed through years of internet use. As we seek to rebuild publishing, let us reconsider what experience digital delivers to our readers that its page-flipping predecessors did not. Let's not become obsolete middlemen in the content value chain. Ebooks are crying out for nonlinear editors who can push the form and format to create a nonprint experience that will resonate with readers steeped in short-form, stone-skipping, socially intermediated digital reading experiences. These, like the potential I saw in The Elements, will deliver a user-optimized, multidimensional user experience that could do a lot more than save books. It can reinvent them ... and the industry along the way.
Information Today journalist Marydee Ojalga recaps the timeline and process in selling the Reed Business Information magazine titles and also speculates on issues for librarians with respect to archive content. (InfoToday)

Has PND favorite Philip Kerr gone off the reservation in posting a review on Amazon of his critics book? At least he appears to have used his own name (Telegraph):

“Good manners and honesty prompt me to mention that Alan Massie [sic] has reviewed my last two novels with a distinct lack of enthusiasm,” the post said.

“For the first review I say good luck to him. If he didn’t like my book, then that’s fair enough.

He’s entitled to his opinion which is that I can’t write for toffee. Maybe I can’t. “He should however, have excused himself from reviewing me a second time. In my opinion that’s bad manners. I’m of the opinion that authors should avoid reviewing the books of their peers and, usually, I stick to this principle, but I’ve made a special exception in Mister Massie’s case. . .”

Kerr is the creator of the Bernie Gunther books about a German private detective. The reviews by Massie concerned the two most recent instalments, A Quiet Flame and If The Dead Rise Not, published in March 2008 and October last year.

In the first, Massie concluded: “The novel is enjoyable enough, good-quality airport fiction. But that’s all it is, which is sad, because the early Bernie Gunther novels were so much more.”

If The Dead Rise Not featured “an unconvincing plot and a still less convincing love affair” but remained “an agreeably readable novel”. Last night, Massie was taking the matter in good humour.

“I am quite amused to find that Mr Kerr has taken such deep umbrage that he has clearly gone to the trouble of reading my book in order to slate it in an unsolicited review.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Penguin Bag: Best in Show

I really liked the Penguin bag from BookExpo. Definitely the bag of the show - maybe that should be an annual contest.


And the car was pretty cute to.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

BookExpo CEO Round Table

In an at times contentious, moralistic but ultimately unfulfilled discussion on the future of the book this morning, Jonathan Galassi hosted the CEO forum to kick things off at BookExpo 2010. (Please excuse the roughness of this commentary).

On the panel were Jonathan Galassi, Farrar, Straus; with Scot Turow, Authors Guild, Bob Miller, Workman; Esther Newberg, ICM; Skip Prichard, Ingram; David Shanks, Penguin Group USA; Oren Teicher, ABA

In the opening salvo, Galassi asked bestselling author Scott Turow (ST) what he saw as the biggest issues in the e-world. ST responded by commenting that the industry faced an 'enormous risk' from piracy the results of which had already been seen in music where he suggested it had 'killed off the music retail business'. He went on to lament that the 'culture share of books (in the e-word) is not what it was in the paper world. This he sees as a problem in a universe where trade books are suffering.

Apropos of nothing, Agent Esther Newberg (EN) broke in to ask the assembled publishers why they couldn't pay 50pc on e-book backlist "it's a new thing" and David Shanks (DS) responded by saying that royalties on all formats were different and should be looked at as a package.

In a theme he was to come back to DS also reminded the audience that the business was still skewed 90pc to print and all the structure and overhead existed to support the legacy business. The financial picture will change "when the publisher doesn't need the warehouse" As a argument supporting the status quo, this ignored the multiplicity of options available to authors today. That the current cost structure legitimizes royalty schemes appears to many to be a weak argument. In the DS world publishers don't see themselves competing with a SmashWords model where most of the earned revenue goes to the author.

ST questioned why publishers had agreed to make the e-Book available at the same time as the hardcover and with a low price. (ST is also the elected head of the Authors Guild). Unfortunately, his comments sounded ignorant of some critical market dynamics which were corrected later by Bob Miller. On this point JG also suggested that it was a mistake to release books at the same time.

Oren Teicher (OT) - ABA President reminded the group that it the business needed to focus more on getting content to consumers in the format they wanted. He saw the bookstore as almost 'format neutral' and focused only on satisfying the customer. What he was reacting to was the suggestion that holding back content was a good idea, and BM pointed out that keeping people from content causes piracy and that in making it easy to buy content, digital is the better solution. (BM also corrected ST earlier comment that trade books 'were suffering'). Skip Prichard (SP) from Ingram also added that most piracy originated with print version of books and not the digital version and the group should be clear that digital books don't cause piracy.

ST launched into an attack on publishers ability to strategize: "You folks have to be able to see around the corners" and to counter the people in the world who don't believe in literary culture and would be happy with 52 published books per year. Responding to the idea of culture OT suggested that as music stores went away this contributed to the decline in the industry as a whole. The ABA and publishers need to support the 'community' aspect of book retailing as an important component of the whole industry. In agreement, BM contradicted ST by arguing that publishers "can't be keeping readers away from the books - meaning eBooks - and that we should always be looking to connect people to the content.

There were one or two curious comments during the 90min discussion such as JG's "no author is going to be happy to only publish online" since they will always want to give their mother a copy. But in contrast BM channeled the peasant in Gutenbergs lifetime: "these books are a real time suck" suggesting we sometimes miss the point.

On pricing OT questioned the $9.99 price point as irrational but BM couched that we can kiss the $27 price point goodbye. Continuing he point, he noted that books exist in competition with other media spend and additionally, that we can't lump all books together: the paper back for the plane ride is far different than the reference book you use for research. "We can't make blanket statements (about pricing) of all books.

JG summarized: "Bob suggests that providing changes are the result of a multifarious number of available choices" but he went on to say we want to be able to say to our customers that the new ST book is worth $27. Again however, this came across as an arbitrary argument based on history - why not suggest $100 - than one based on market reality. SP brought up the point that ease of use has in part contributed to the decline in value proposition for consumers. But there must be an incentive for authors as ST reminded the audience and in the absence of selling tickets to events he saw writers not writing if they were not adequately compensated. That authors would forgo their creativity seems a little absolute to me.

The discussion transitioned for a while to community and building awareness for books. BM commented that we may even have a larger readership without the traditional press noting social networks. DS agreed emphatically that there will be a bigger market but we shouldn't shouldn't forget there needs to be big investment to buy reading devices.

OT made the point the notion that the physical and digital are separate is wrong and to think of them separately will ultimately disappoint consumers.

The focus on the device was seen as a narrow view by SP who suggested, "in cloud it won't be about the device." And in addition it will become important to build community around the book using online networks.

Seemingly in contradiction to his earlier comments ST said that the publishers and authors "can't sit in the pulpit and demand that people value our content at a certain price."

While JG believes that there will always be segment that wants to go the bookstore, SP went much further and agreed curation via bookstores will be important but online it is far different and escalating in importance. Consumers are going to use facebook and online circle of friends much more than traditional promotional channels.

In a comment that initially confused me DS seemed to suggest that readers were clueless: "Readers don't know what to read. So they rely on their friends and on their community. Publishers are finding the places people are talking about books."

The last topic covered was prompted by EN description of an upcoming title by Hachette which will be highly stylized and designed. This she was as a wonderful consumer offer but was contradicted by SP who said that having the infrastructure that decides font and paper and cover is going to be under intense pressure. For the most part people don't care about this 'extra' effort. Managing downward pressure on pricing while trying to create value in physical books are opposing strategies and will be in conflict. "The economics of this are all at odds."

Lastly BM: The app and the book can be complimentary. We haven't seen the full potential of different formats working together yet. Can't generalize across all formats and content when we try to determine what works and what doesn't.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mobile Applications Panel at BookExpo

I am leading a panel discussion on Mobile Applications: A Publisher Road map for Creation and Use at BookExpo on Tuesday at 1:30.

Following are my introductory comments:

By way of introduction, I was reminded recently how profound are the changes in how we engage with content.

Traveling on the Seoul subway – underground - last week, I happened to notice that the attention of the person seated next to me was focused on his phone. As I concentrated on the screen of this smart phone, I saw he was watching the television news live. It turns out deep engagement with digital content isn’t unusual in Korea where the country has the second highest penetration of 3G networks in the world behind Japan. As think about the guy watching TV underground it seems incredible to me that it wasn’t that long ago that a Blackberry was just a beeper (or a fruit).

Mary Meeker, a well known media analyst from Morgan Stanley, recently presented an annual report on the state of the Internet, and in that presentation she chose to focus on the rapid and radical expansion of mobile computing. The ability to engage with content anywhere, anytime is changing behavior and reducing the importance of the desktop environment as the vehicle for presenting and delivering content. Mobile is also feeding a social environment where content is central to the user experience and the social ‘platforms’ - notably Facebook – are providing transaction tools that support discovery, recommendations, purchases and a lot more.

All of us have to be aware that there is something going on in mobile: We remember the hysteria over iPhone and then the iTouch, which all pales in comparison to the iPad and the apparently 200,000 units being sold per week of that device. Mobile is huge but still in its’ infancy. In her presentation, Meeker points out that while mobile has grown faster and quicker than anything before it, it will be another four years before mobile exceeds desktop usage. Inherent in that prediction is the assumption that mobile application development as well as new hardware will continue to engage consumers so that they continue to adjust their behavior. “Adjust” versus “change” since desktop usage continues to grow incrementally.

On the face of it, this expansion of mobile computing looks like good news for the book industry. Firstly, book selling is one of the most mature and deeply penetrated online retail segments and it is natural that this retail model has transported to the mobile environment.

Secondly, as Meeker points out in her presentation consumers using mobile applications have shown a unique interest in actually paying for content.


There are several reasons why she believes this:

• Point of purchase and secure payments make it easy
• Value proposition more closely equals pricing
• Platform is highly ‘curated’/managed
• Branded selling: users are comfortable with store fronts
• Personal identity and ‘life experience’ is tied to device

All of the above reasons bode well for the future success of the content industry.
A number of publishing companies as well as some technology companies are investing aggressively in mobile delivery of their content and, in the development of specific environments where both new and old customers can engage with each other and with the content owner. On the panel you will hear from some of these companies.

On the panel with me, I have Josh Koppel, co-founder, ScrollMotion, Dominique Raccah, CEO, Sourcebooks, Linda Gagnon, SVP - Digital Media Services, Baker & Taylor and, Peter Costanzo, Dir., Online Marketing, Perseus Books Group. From each of these panelists you will hear about their varying experiences in leveraging mobile computing.

The Meeker presentation is here:

Morgan Stanley Internet Trends Analysis

Above the Treeline: Books at BookExpo

From their press release, an interesting and useful application from Above the Treeline. At Bowker, we tried this idea with Books In Print:
Above the Treeline, a leading provider of business intelligence tools to the publishing industry, is pleased to announce that the on-line product catalog for BookExpo America 2010, called "Books@BEA" has now gone live and is available for attendees and other interested book professionals to use.

The catalog currently has over 300 exhibitors participating and contains over 10,000 titles being featured at this year's show. The catalog can be found at http://www.booksatbea.com/ .

A mobile version for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry will be available in the next few days. Check the Books@BEA site for news on the mobile version and its availability.

Books@BEA uses Edelweiss, the internet-based digital catalog service from Above the Treeline, as its foundation to provide users with the ability to search and browse titles by keyword, exhibitor, genre, format, pubdate, and event. Users who are registered with Edelweiss (a free and easy process) can also add tags and notes that will be stored for future reference. Exhibitors and browsers can email, tweet, and share titles on Facebook as well.

"It's all about bringing people and books together," says John Rubin, CEO & Founder of Above the Treeline, "It's why our customers use Edelweiss and it's why we all come to BEA. Books@BEA will make it easier for everyone to keep on top of the hot titles and to find the undiscovered gems."

For more information about Books@BEA, email booksatbea@abovethetreeline.com.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) 21: Larsson all the Time, Pearson, Exile, Appetizers, British Library.

The insert in the NYTimes this morning notes that The Girl the Kicked the Hornet's Nest is available on Tuesday for $16. In addition to that piece of good news the papers are full of articles about the author and the book series. Not too much new but the Times magazine has a good review of the state of play vis a vis the status of the supposed fourth title and the internecine battles between Larsson's family and his non-wife life companion (Times):

Larsson died in November 2004 — at age 50 — before any of the novels were published and with little clue to just how successful they would be. Like Blomkvist, he was a journalist, well known in certain circles for his campaign against right-wing extremism in Sweden, but hardly a household name. “To introduce a brand-new crime novelist like this, someone who is unknown, our goal was to sell 20,000 copies, but we thought 10,000 would be marvelous,” Eva Gedin, Larsson’s editor at the Swedish publishing house Norstedts, told me recently. “You could never imagine that the books would do so well.”

Larsson began “Dragon Tattoo” while on vacation in the summer of 2002, thinking of it as a kind of pension fund for himself and Eva Gabrielsson, the woman he lived with. He actually had a series of 10 books in mind, she says. The money from the first three would go to them, they figured, and the rest they would give to charity. Remarkably, he displayed none of the anxiety and impatience typical of first-time novelists and finished two entire books and most of a third before he submitted any of them to a publisher. He considered all three novels a single text and at one point wanted to number the chapters of the second and third volumes consecutively. Gedin says that Larsson never seemed in any doubt about their worth.

His was not a view widely shared. Mikael Ekman, a friend and protégé of Larsson’s who collaborated with him on a nonfiction book, recalls sitting with Larsson one night in 2001. “We were drinking a little too much whiskey,” he told me, “and Stieg started talking about what he’d do when he was too old to work anymore. He said, ‘I will write a couple of books and become a millionaire.’ I laughed at him. I thought he was crazy.”

Kurdo Baksi, another friend, had pretty much the same reaction a year later when Larsson told him he had written a thriller and offered to show him the manuscript. Baksi declined, saying: “Stieg, I don’t think you’re so good at literature. It’s not your business.” Baksi told me: “I thought he was joking. His talent was for writing about Stalin, Lenin, Bush — not for thrillers.”

(I liked that end quote - surely there were several leaders left out).

There was also a shorter article contemplating the genesis of the character Salander (Times):
An old colleague of Mr. Larsson’s has said they once talked about how certain characters from children’s books would manage and behave if they were older. Mr. Larsson especially liked the idea of a grown-up Pippi, a dysfunctional girl, probably with attention deficit disorder, who would have had a hard time finding a place in society but would nonetheless take a firm hand in directing her own destiny. That musing led to the creation of Lisbeth Salander, the central character in Mr. Larsson’s trilogy. So how does Lisbeth compare to Pippi, the creation of the earlier Swedish author Astrid Lindgren?
Ben Ratliff likes what he hears on the re-issue of the Stones' Exile on Main Street (Times):
It is often called one of the best rock records ever made, and framed as an after-the-fact concept album: a wise horror show, an audio diary of rock stars finally facing the rigors of marriage, children and addiction. (“ ‘Exile’ is about casualties, and partying in the face of them,” the critic Lester Bangs wrote in 1972. “The party is obvious. The casualties are inevitable.”) The notion of the record as story also comes from the strong documentary images around its creation— Dominique Tarlé’s black-and-white pictures of the Stones at Villa Nellcôte, shirtless and dazed in the stifling air of a basement in the South of France. These images dot the 64-page booklet and the DVD film included in the reissue’s deluxe edition and have been part of the avalanche of press around the reissue, released by Universal on Tuesday.

Recently, thinking about this alternate “Loving Cup” and why it’s not on the original album made me wonder what the ideal of “Exile” really is. I find most of “Exile” good, but not great. (That era of Stones music, fantastic. The album, not so much.) I can’t see it as a masterpiece, not only because I distrust the idea of masterpieces, but because I especially don’t want one from the Stones, who make songs and albums like birds’ nests — collaborative tangles with delicate internal balances — and have a history of great triage work, assembling bits and pieces recorded over a long period. But “Exile” remains the preference of the most judicious Stones fans. Why? What is its essence?

Pearson is buying another learning company (London Times):

Pearson is to buy one of Britain’s largest vocational training companies for £99.3 million.

The publisher of Penguin books and the Financial Times said that the acquisition of Melorio, which runs courses and arranges apprenticeships for more than 15,000 people a year, would boost its educational business. Melorio has a particularly big presence in ICT, construction and logistics and focuses on school-leavers and adult learners.

Pearson said that it would combine its educational publishing, technology and assessments business with Melorio’s training expertise to offer a better service to learners and employers. The deal should also allow Melorio to expand more quickly outside Britain.

This weekend's Cory Doctorow article in the Observer:
My Books are free.
The WSJ invents the term 'literary appetizer' and reports on publishers using unique content to engage future book buyers - Gosh! (WSJ):
On June 1, Toronto-based Harlequin Enterprises, a unit of media company Torstar Corp., intends to give away e-book copies of Julie Kagawa's "Winter's Passage." The 15,000-word novella will serve as a link between Ms. Kagawa's February debut novel, "The Iron King," and her second teen novel, "The Iron Daughter," which goes on sale July 27.
...
The 6,000-word piece, "The Balkan Escape," is too short to have been published as a paperback original. In effect, it is a literary appetizer, inexpensive enough to attract potential readers who might otherwise not be willing to buy a new novel from an author whose works they haven't yet read, said Mr. Berry.
James Murdoch is upset about the British Library digitizing their newspaper content. Warning graphic image. (Independent):
Mr Murdoch was responding to the library's announcement this week that it would digitise its archive, which aims to be a complete record of British regional and national newspapers. "This is not simply being done for posterity, nor to make free access for library users easier, but also for commercial gain via a paid-for website," he said. "The move is strongly opposed by major publishers."
Less reported, the photographers got in on the act as well (Register):

For Stop 43's Paul Ellis, this is "Big Culture" - what he calls the powerful galleries, museums, and quangos like the Arts Council - taking the mickey.

"It's clear now that the whole orphan works programme is one big supertanker, taking just as long to turn and stop," Ellis told us. "The British Library's statement reads as if Clause 43 had been enacted. Unfortunately for them, the supertanker has a new captain.

"Big Culture has looked at Google and wants to do the same thing. They just want to get on digitizing and build up a head of steam. Then nobody will be able to do anything about it." The wrinkle is that newspaper copyright is far from straightforward. Only unsigned articles lapse from copyright after seventy years. For bylined pieces and photographs it's life plus 70. And since a newspaper is a bundle of all three, it's a complex picture.

The AP report of the British Library proposal to scan their newspaper collection (AP):
The British Library said Wednesday it was digitizing up to 40 million pages of newspapers, including fragile dailies dating back three and a half centuries.

Once digitized, the British newspapers documenting local, regional and national life spanning to the 1700s will be fully searchable and accessible online, the national library said.

The vast majority of the British Library's 750 million pages of newspapers — the largest collections in the world — are currently available only on microfilm or bound in bulky volumes. Thousands of researchers have to make a trip to an archive building just outside London to look through them.

The library said it would focus on digitizing newspapers documenting historical events in the 19th century, including the Crimean War, the Boer War and the suffragette movement. It also aimed to build material in the fields of family history and genealogy, as well as safeguard the future of the vast archive.


In sport, England won their first international cricketing trophy "Harrah" (Guardian). Mourinho will be on £10million a year at Real Madrid (Times).

In food (a new category), Nigel Slater's pork pie recipe (Observer).

I've been off the twitter for two weeks now. Have I missed it - I'm not sure....

Friday, May 21, 2010

Repost: Pimp My Print

Originally posted on December 10, 2008

Many pundits pontificate on the demise of publishing (myself included and some others I could mention) and while many of these versions of the future are well intentioned they often lack substance. Today in ComputerWorld - an obvious organ of reasoned strategic discussion about book publishing - is a perspective 'from technology' that decries the effort by Penguin and some others to launch their content on mobile platforms as 'painful'. The author's wider point seems to be that publishers need to place their full content - not just snippets - in as many places as possible so that readers/consumers can access it with as little difficulty as possible. Music publishers did not do that and became the victims of rampant piracy, and some have argued that because electronic access to music content was limited this drove piracy. Had there been easy access and easy payment options perhaps the music industry would be in a different place now. But that is 20/20 hindsight and at the time, you would have to have been a certified genius to have seen that.

Publishers have a different issue. Reading is immersive: We are active readers and passive (music) listeners. 'Pimping' the content so that it appears on a smart phone or a web browser or a flat panel will only ever have limited success. It is tactically important to do this with the current inventory of content that a typical publisher will own, but that's not going to sustain the future of the business. Any publisher who's digital policies and activities are focused entirely on retro-active conversions and the migration of their historic product packaging to an electronic environment will see their market whither. It is possible that some publishers may make a choice to cash-cow the existing content and sell it on every available electronic platform they can. That makes some sense but not if in doing so they believe that model will sustain their future publishing programs built on delivering readers a 250 page novel or a 12 chapter business book with an index limited by the number of blank pages left in the last folio.

Pimping the print compounds an issue publishers have faced for a long time (forever?). They don't really know what consumers want. To paraphrase Wannamaker 'I know only 50% of what I publish sells, I just don't know which 50%' (He said it about advertising). The publisher of the future is going to spend more time understanding the consumer and fulfilling their needs (marketing 101: a need is filled not created) than transferring the current model to phones, screens and digits. If I were heading a publishing house, I would hire a band of 25-30 year old editors/writers, give them a budget to acquire content and have them build a new 'publishing' operation unfettered by print runs, business models and pub dates. Their responsibility would be to create content a target market valued enough to use, to experiment in how to monetize the content and to be able to replicate the model. With guidance - not oversight - provided by the many experienced managers that exist in a typical publishing house the team won't fail. And yes, I would do this TODAY. So forget pimping existing print and think about delivering content consumers need.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Seoul's Youngpoong Bookstore

In my ignorance, there were many things that surprised me in my visit to Seoul last week. The city's infrastructure from the immaculate and extensive subway, some incredible architecture, to the lack of potholes in the wide boulevards that course through Seoul, there was a lot to admire.

Since we were hosted by publishers, our hosts were obliged to ferry us through one of their primary bookstores which proved similarly impressive. Located in downtown Seoul the Youngpoong Bookstore in Gwanghwamun, is large. Approximately 75,000 sq feet large - on two floors.

In a store this big, they can afford to carry as many as a million titles and 'every classic Korean book ever published'. Some of this may be marketing hype but in our visit the store seemed a poster child for those who don't believe print is dead.

A mostly open layout with flat tables covered with stacks of books, the store didn't feel overwhelming despite its size. It was also full of customers - which was perhaps the most interesting aspect. We visited in the middle of the day and there was easily 500 people in the store.

Their English language section was larger than many independent bookstores in the US (and if you look closely at the photos they carry an eclectic selection). The store also had a Japanese book section that was smaller but also impressively sized.

Clearly, print isn't yet dead in Korea; in fact, it is robust. YoungPoong has one other superstore of similar size in Seoul but their main competitor (with a total of 18 stores) has an even bigger store located a half mile from the store we visited. So arrogant are they in their market position that they could afford to close their mega store for six months to renovate.

In terms of book selection, other than the translated Korean titles many of the books throughout the store were recognizable from UK and US titles. There were few hardcovers and I noticed that their covers were all highly graphic and colorful no matter the subject. While predominantly a bookstore, the lower level included a restaurant, coffee shop, software and gaming products and an event space. All in all, a very impressive operation.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Apple and The Korea Times

As I settled into my seat for the long haul back from Seoul on Saturday, I unfolded the English language broadsheet The Korea Times and happened on the following quote which I found amusing:
Subsequently, the developers of the apps fear of the possibility that their ousting from the App Store could be permanent.

As predicted, Apple Korea, which is consistently the biggest information void this side of North Korea, refused to explain why the previously-approved apps had been pulled, with its spokesman Steve ``No Comment'' Park having this reporter wonder whether he should ever bother to call again.
Journalistic challenges know no boundaries evidently.

The Book Lending Machine

Exhibiting at the Seoul International Bookfair last week was the Korean library automation company Eco Inc offering clients a full suite of automation products including OPAC, RFID and Hardware. It was the hardware that grabbed my attention and in particular the book vending machine - see picture. Designed both to extend the reach of a library and the hours a library is effectively open this vending machine for library books is an interesting solution. I am not sure if it is unique, but it is the first one I have seen.

The vendor explained they designed the machine to provide easy pick-up and drop off of books at places like train stations, offices and shopping malls. Additionally, the machine could also sit outside an existing library location so that patrons can collect and drop off their books after hours.

The machine integrates with the lending function the library offers. A patron selects a book(s) from the catalog and reserves it for pick-up at one of the locations. Once reserved online, the patron visits the machine location and using their activated library card retrieves their book. Each of the numbered slots in the picture is a hinged door behind which is 'mailbox' which can hold up to three books. The door pops open, the patron collects their book together with a printed receipt with their details. The patron can repeat the process to return the book or simply drop it off at the library as they would normally.

The machine isn't cheap: $25,ooo for the unit in the picture which includes the control panel and two vending bays. Additional bays are $5K each sold two at a time. There is a limit of six bays per installation - although I'm not sure if this isn't an artificial limit designed to increase the number of expensive control units they sell. While not new to the market the company only has several locations currently installed and pricing must surely be a consideration. While libraries are decreasing staffing and hours, this machine could be viewed as costing (perhaps) one headcount with the added benefit of extending library hours; however, this is a large capital expense and I suspect beyond the abilities of many libraries to justify. I would think pricing would need to come down below $10K for this to gain any substantial penetration or for leasing to be an option.

Building wider distribution for library materials is also a benefit and even at a cost of $25K there could be payback versus establishing new facilities. Regardless, if installed in a local mall or mass transit location the library would need to see high utility to justify the purchase. There are also practical considerations in that the machine needs to be filled either continuously as 'orders' are placed online or on some set schedule. If the machine is located at a current library location, the process of fulfilling on-line 'orders' is straight forward as books can be placed in the machine as the orders are placed. That would not be the case if the machine sits at the local mall. In the latter case, a schedule for filling (and emptying) the machine would need to be established to manage the expectations of the patrons. You wouldn't want a patron arriving at the vending machine only to find their selection had not been placed in its mailbox. I would also suggest the 'loan' period starts when the order is placed rather than when the book is collected by the patron and I am not sure how the software manages this. If the book is in a mailbox it is not available to other patrons.

In my view, the most likely use of the machine would be where it was located immediately outside a current library location. In this instance the machine could be filled and emptied frequently (but not after-hours) and could be an effective automation tool for both patrons and librarians. Whether that is worth $25K (or $10K) I am not sure but nevertheless an interesting product.

(Of note, it did occur to me that the machine could be used for other completely different applications where materials need to be tracked. For example, it could be used effectively to administer items as diverse as office supplies or even food and groceries - although the mail boxes would need to be re-architected).

Monday, May 17, 2010

CA Bill to Prohibit Proposed Tx Education Changes

From the San Jose Mercury News a report on proposed state legislation that would ensure CA state educators be on the look out for some questionable changes to Texas' education texts:

Under Yee's bill, SB1451, the California Board of Education would be required to look out for any of the Texas content as part of its standard practice of reviewing public school textbooks. The board must then report any findings to both the Legislature and the secretary of education.

The bill describes the Texas curriculum changes as "a sharp departure from widely accepted historical teachings" and "a threat to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California."

"While some Texas politicians may want to set their educational standards back 50 years, California should not be subject to their backward curriculum changes," Yee said. "The alterations and fallacies made by these extremist conservatives are offensive to our communities and inaccurate of our nation's diverse history."

But some publishing industry experts say worries that the Texas standards will cross state lines are unfounded.

"It's an urban myth, especially in this digital age we live in, when content can be tailored and customized for individual states and school districts," said Jay Diskey, executive director of the schools division of the Association of American Publishers.

NYC 5:30am Monday

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Korea Publishers Conference Presentation

I was in Korea all last week - more on that later - and my presentation and conference speech is here: The full text should be available if the file is downloaded.



And holiday snaps.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Booksellers Unite

Here in Seoul things are just the same. That's to say the first question - of a planned 10 to be asked within an hour and with serial translations - was something like ' as small and medium sized independent booksellers how do we complete with ebooks?' Bookselling for these retailers in Korea is little different than many other countries and there are increasing worries about what they sell, to whom and in what quantity.

We never got through the 10 questions but we did exceed our time slot by 30mins; however, I don't believe our suggestions about building community, looking at POD machines such as the espresso machine, selling ebook content and many other suggestions really alleviated the booksellers' concerns about their future.

Books in Korea have price controls but eBooks do not and booksellers here are beginning to feel marginalized and excluded as the business inexhorably migrates to eBook content. As this happens they face an economic disadvantage on pricing and in a marketplace that is relatively small changes often produce significant financial consequences. During the conversation, the theme of our discussion was so familiar to me, having listened to similar concerns from booksellers in the US, UK and Australia that I wondered at the opportunity for some international convention. Sharing concerns and ideas could produce a collective improvement in independent book retailing across the world. It would certainly save a lot of time.

Having said that, as the final set of questions from the group of 10 retailers dealt with ideas about 'other products' and 'other retail options' they should explore I wondered whether the answer isn't more basic. Doesn't success come down to individual ingenuity, the willingness to experiment, building real connections with customers and an understanding that reliance on a single solution is tantamount to failure? The best examples of independent book retailers from Readings in Melbourne to Northshire in Vermont to Hatchards in London all depend on a combination of strategies to survive. Some work out and some don't and that's the lesson we tried to impart to our South Korean hosts.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) 19: Book Jackets, Social Media in Education, For Profit Colleges, Mobile Media Forecast

From the Observer this morning an interview with a book designer about why covers have to change from country to country (Observer):
What possible discussions took place in Germany, for instance, when publishers first received the manuscript for Martin Amis's House of Meetings – a novel that describes the misery of life in a Russian gulag – and set to work on a cover that featured six figures body-popping in the windows of a modern apartment block? What prompted Italian book designers to give junior wizard Harry Potter a hat shaped like a mouse, and why did the French opt against the monochrome design that jacketed Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated in the UK and the US, concocting instead a watercolour of somebody fondling a woman's breasts?

"What you are trying to get across on a cover is the essence of a book, quite an ambiguous thing," says Nathan Burton, a British designer who created the striking cover for Ali Smith's The Accidental, based on an image of a dead woman. "Designers in different countries read and interpret the fiction in different ways." It doesn't quite explain how Germany arrived at silhouetted dancers for House of Meetings, but "the germ of an idea can come from anywhere," says Burton. He points to the Swedish cover of The Accidental, on the surface a starkly different treatment – "but there's a photograph of a girl, bold sans serif type... You could argue that they are born out of a similar thought process."

And at the end of that is an insult for the designer of the UK versions of the Stieg Larsson books.

Survey reveals wide differences in how technology and social tools can be integrated into education (e-School News):
Still, the latest Speak Up survey reveals significant gaps in how education technology is perceived among various groups of users. One of the most surprising disparities was how respondents view the importance of online tools for communicating and collaborating in the classroom.

When asked to describe their vision for the ultimate “school of the future,” 67 percent of district administrators and 51 percent of school principals said it should include the use of collaborative tools. But only 27 percent of teachers agreed—and teachers still are much more likely to communicate online with their peers or with students’ parents (90 percent) than with students themselves (34 percent).

Evans said there are a few factors that might explain this difference.

For one thing, many teachers “are not familiar with how to incorporate these collaboration tools into [their] instruction, and thus … they don’t have the personal familiarity that you need before adoption can take place,” she said.

“Second, we continue to hear from students that their teachers are very concerned about the potential dangers of internet use in the classroom—the student safety and personal liability issues.

So, in some ways, the ‘fear factor’ may be holding back their interest.” She continued: “Teachers also are still not fully buying into the concept that social networking sites can have educational value for students. They see the social components, but not necessarily how to leverage the tools for academic reasons.”

Interesting rebuttal to a PBS documentary on for profit colleges (and education). It is longish and there are some good quotes throughout (Link):

For instance, viewers are told that students from for-profit colleges have higher debt loads than those from non-profit or public institutions, but do not hear that for-profit colleges have exceptionally high rates of degree-completion, given the students they serve. We hear that Clifford, the former rock star and cocaine addict, admits he is under-qualified to manage a college, but never learn that most instructors at the largest for-profit colleges and universities have advanced degrees and are evaluated and promoted based on how well they educate their students. While Martin Smith tells us that regional accreditors are cracking down on the practice of "buying accreditation," he fails to explain how accreditation is a coarse and often ineffective quality control mechanism. Observers lament online education's lack of meaningful interpersonal interaction, but fail to cite high-profile research by the Department of Education which shows that online education is just as effective as in-person instruction, and that hybrid programs are superior to both.

The picture of for-profit institutions of higher education is neither all good nor all bad. Unfortunately for those institutions that are operating in good faith, zeroing in on the sector's blemishes is admittedly easy. As College, Inc. outlines, the story of fraud in the for-profit higher education world is almost as long as the story of the sector itself. In the 1990s, Congress embarked on a series of high-profile investigations of student aid fraud at proprietary colleges, and the revelations were not pretty: some for-profits enrolled anyone off the street, including the homeless, to capture student aid dollars. More recently, BusinessWeek reporter Daniel Golden (who appears repeatedly in the documentary) found that for-profit schools across the country were paying homeless individuals to enroll in courses, flush with loans from the federal government.
....
Second, the documentary seems to suggest that for-profit schools are subject to less accountability than traditional colleges and universities, and that these institutions should be subjected to additional regulatory burdens because of their profit motive. Barmak Nassirian, a lobbyist for the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers interviewed in College, Inc, is only half right when he argues that "one requirement for all of their practices to ensue is that billions of dollars of federal money flow with no accountability, no oversight, and minimal regulations." Many non-profit colleges and universities, some of which are of exceptionally low quality, also reap benefits from billions in federal aid; but, outside of the restrictions inherent in their tax status and some licensure requirements that vary across states, they are rarely subject to much more stringent accountability measures than these for-profit institutions. In order to receive federal student aid dollars, institutions must be accredited by the regional bodies, but accreditation is a sorry substitute for meaningful quality control (see here). The idea that the patchwork system of higher education accountability is only lax vis a vis for-profit institutions, but ensures quality and good faith among all public and non-profit colleges, is a fallacy. Surely, the profit motive can lead to severe problems when educational quality cannot be mandated, but the same goes for traditional schools that offer little by way of return on the federal investment.
...
Like most business ventures, for-profit colleges are filling a void that existing providers are leaving open. As Smith points out in the documentary, community colleges are unable, or perhaps unwilling, to fill this demand themselves. Clearly, these public schools are under incredible fiscal pressure, and many must often turn students away. However, these traditional institutions, and their four year brethren, have shown little inclination to search for innovative ways to serve more students and leverage their best faculty by harnessing technology. The for-profits have done so with gusto, and may provide lessons to these traditional institutions on how they might create and implement such practices.
Canada's National Post takes a look at economics in the e-Book age (NatPost):

Amazon currently gives authors 35% of the money made from each sale of a digital copy of their books, compared with the 7% to 15% royalty cut authors typically get for each hardcover sold. The publisher gets the same, and Amazon keeps the remaining 30%. But under the terms of a new deal effective June 30, authors that self publish can receive the publisher's cut as well, getting 70% of the revenue from each e-book sale.

It is a clear attempt to compete with the 60% fee authors make from e-books sold through Apple. Kobo is staying quiet on the details of their own agreements but Author Solutions, one of Kobo's suppliers, says it typically provides 50% royalties to authors.

"I did the math on [Amazon's] new deal," said Peter Nowak, Toronto-based author of Sex, Bombs & Burgers. "If I were to sell my book [on Amazon] for five bucks, I would make more per book than selling the book to a conventional publisher."

Stephen King showed the world just how profitable the e-book business can be. In 2000, his novella Riding the Bullet was the first book to be released in a solely digital format. After 400,000 downloads in the first 24 hours, the horror king netted himself US$450,000 after the third day. But self-publishing an e-book is not a sure-fire recipe for riches.

Morgan Stanley Analyst Mary Meeker: Mobile Internet Will Soon Overtake Fixed Internet (GigaOm):

And what does Meeker see in her crystal ball this year? Two overwhelming trends that will affect consumers, the hardware/infrastructure industry and the commercial potential of the web: mobile and social networking. Such a conclusion is hardly earth-shattering news to GigaOM readers, for we have been following these trends over the past year or two, but Meeker puts some pretty large numbers next to those trends, and looks at the shifts that will (or are likely to) take place in related industries such as communications hardware. She also compares where the rest of the developed world is in terms of mobile communications and social networking with Japan. Again, not a radically different approach to the one many tech forecasters take, but Meeker has the weight of some considerable research chops on her side.

From the twitter this week:

Former Lexcycle CEO Neelan Choksi Leaving Amazon - NYT

Court Says Internet Filtering in Public Libraries Not Censorship - NYT Determine it is collection development

White Pages May Go Way of Rotary-Dialed Phone - NYT

Hundreds of N.J. librarians protest $10.4M proposed budget cuts. Bad news in library funding for NJ. (NJ.com)

"The Sorter" from The New York Public Library. And snazzy music. (NYPL)

Off to Seoul Korea this week. Football ended as a dud. In cricket England beat SA in the Twenty20.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Hail the Death of the Book Review Section - Repost

A return to my lazy practice of re-posting this time on the supposed death of newspaper book review sections. Given that PW, LJ and SLJ are now under new management will we see a re-invigoration of the reviewing of books? Originally published on April 30th, 2007.

Over the past several months, there has been a lot of hand wringing and wailing regarding the demise of newspaper book review sections. The prevailing view is that if books are not supported by reviews in these publications then books will be less read. This is nonsense. I am a staunch supporter of newspapers, but they are locked in a vortex of decreasing print circulation which the reviews sections are just a part. Perhaps it should be no surprise that publishers do not want to believe that a paper based medium is fast becoming irrelevant, but rather than try to buck a trend, publishers should be evacuating this medium just as other advertisers have already done. If I advertised on a bill board at an intersection that was made redundant by a by-road, I would be a mug if I continued to advertise on the same billboard rather than seek to advertise closer to the bi-road.

'Advertising' has to morph into something different. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful as is replicating some of the in-store benefits (excepts and chapters) which is how book focused sites and bloggers can support publisher's efforts. It is doubtful that the existing print display ads work at all. They are not frequent enough and obviously one dimensional. Other than for identifiable authors it is unlikely that one of these ads will hit a reader on precisely the right occasion. These print ads also expire virtually immediately when the paper is read. On the web however, a 'body of work' can develop around a title that includes multiple reviews and supporting material from a publisher that will grow in depth and value over time. Think about how this supports the 'long tail' of publishing.

Publishers have more not fewer options when it comes to supporting their titles via review sites however they do not seem to be doing so aggressively. Currently both publishers and book review editors seem locked into presenting reviews in antiquated ways. The branding and site traffic that newspapers exhibit on their web pages could be better maximized by publishers to support their titles. In Sunday’s NYT review section, Clare Messud reviewed Edith Wharton. There were no first chapters (excerpts), no similar titles previously reviewed by NYT, no reviews or books written by Messud and no purchase option. For many years, UK national newspapers have offered more functionality and purchase options (not via Amazon.co.uk) for their book sites, and is a lead US publishers should encourage. (The Times).

The suggestion that eliminating review sections from major newspapers will reduce exposure to books in uninformed. There has been an explosion in the number of sites dedicated to providing good, authoritative reviews of books. Most of the work of identifying the best of these has been done and some sites have become strong ‘brands’ themselves. It may require more administration dealing with these sites/reviewers versus the metro newspapers and Publisher’s Weekly but increasingly the people who buy books are looking to these types of sites to aid their purchase decisions. Not surprisingly, these sites should represent an increasing part of a publisher’s promotion plan suggesting that galleys and pre-publication materials should be circulated to these influencers to support book launch activities. (Librarian’s Place, Grumpy, TheMillions, to name three).

A hidden third benefit derives from the breadth of the web itself that begets a wide expanse of coverage. Reviews of obscure titles can be found to be supported by proficient and/or professional writing and readers do not have to wait until Sunday for the NYT or LAT to tell us what is important or not worth reading. Additionally, these reviews are supported and linked to by other reviewers and together with comments by consumers further ‘legitimizes’ the review (and reviewer). Hence, over time, a 'body of work' to support the titles and continued sales down the long tail. There is so much more the web affords in support of reading and books that it is tragic that so much attention is paid to supporting a delivery mechanism that is not only sub-optimal but in its death throws.

Articles on Reviews Sections:
The Millions
The Century Foundation
GalleyCat

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Houghton Mifflin in West Virginia Education Partnership

From their press release:

The School Turnaround Plan is made possible by a $21.9-million School Improvement Grant (SIG) derived from education stimulus funds. West Virginia must use the SIG to transform the bottom five percent of its schools by replacing principals (who have served for more than two years), undertaking curriculum reform, implementing professional development and extending learning time over the next three years.

As one of West Virginia's external providers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt can assist this transformation through its Alliance Initiative, a campaign to achieve success in underperforming schools by developing, implementing and supporting education transformation through a sustained enterprise partnership.

"The Alliance Initiative embodies a creative partnership and a comprehensive reform plan that works to ensure long-term success for districts nationwide," said Mike Lavelle, K–12 President, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. "HMH looks forward to bringing this unique and proven approach to the schools of West Virginia."

The Alliance Initiative model looks beyond content to tangible, proven progress by addressing every aspect of school reform. The district-Company partnership begins with an assessment of needs and benchmarks and continues with a customized reform plan that includes data-driven decision making, quality content and assessment, professional development resources and grant and funding support. All Alliance Initiative content for West Virginia complies with the state's Standards of Learning.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

"Predatory" Open Access Publishing

In the early days of the on-line self-publishing revolution when companies like Xlibris, iUniverse, Author House and Publish America were vying for the attentions of authors of all stripes there occured the inevitable 'bad experiences'. Authors making use of some self-publishing companies were taken to the cleaners with bad contracts, poorly printed books, content they couldn't gain access to and a host of other things. Online research into the experiences of others now enables more recent self-publishers to avoid the rookie mistakes and nefarious companies.

That's not the case in the Open Access Journal market which according to a recent article in the Charleston Advisor is seeing a rash of so called OA journal publishers preying on researchers for their content. They are up to many of the same tricks that some of the early book self-publishing companies got up to that left customers frustrated, disappointed and poorer.

In the article entitled 'Predatory' Open Access Scholarly Publishers, the author takes a close look at nine companies that are offering questionable services. They conclude:
These publishers are predatory because their mission is not to promote, preserve, and make available scholarship; instead, their mission is to exploit the author-pays, Open-Access model for their own profit. They work by spamming scholarly e-mail lists, with calls for papers and invitations to serve on nominal editorial boards. If you subscribe to any professional e-mail lists, you likely have received some of these solicitations. Also, these publishers typically provide little or no peer-review. In fact, in most cases, their peer review process is a façade. None of these publishers mentions digital preservation. Indeed, any of these publishers could disappear at a moment’s notice, resulting in the loss of its content. While we were researching this review, one publisher, Academic Journals, was hacked and the site replaced with radical Islamic propaganda for about a week.

Why would authors pay to have an article published when there are so many free outlets where they could publish, including free Open-Access journals? In many cases, the answer is that the quality of the articles is poor, and they were rejected by the mainstream journals.
...
Predatory publishers use words such as “Academic” and “Scientific” in their names to falsely add a veneer of legitimacy to their business. Practices such as these, according to Harnad, “are now being taken to a grotesque extreme because of the ease of entry into online publishing and a perceived instability in the traditional journal publishing trade, owing to the growing clamor for OA.”

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

More Content, More Screens, More Questions

In their continuing education series beyond the book, CCC speaks to Bill Rosenblatt on mobile applications of content (BTB):
Author and digital media authority Bill Rosenblatt examines how the proliferation of mobile phones and other networked devices is giving rise to an accompanying mobile screen culture – and what publishers need to do to survive and thrive in such an environment. A special presentation from Copyright Clearance Center’s Educational Services team.

To access a copy of Bill Rosenblatt’s just-published white paper, The New Content Monetization Opportunities for Publishers, go to www.copyright.com and in the Latest News and Events section, click “White Paper: New Content Monetization Opportunities for Publishers.” You will have the opportunity to complete a brief survey to help us develop future educational programming, and you will be provided with instant access to Bill’s paper.

Content Farms

The Economist takes a look at the editorial operations of Demand Media and AOL (Economist):

Demand Media’s approach is a “combination of science and art”, in the words of Steven Kydd, who is in charge of the firm’s content production. Clever software works out what internet users are interested in and how much advertising revenue a given topic can pull in. The results are sent to an army of 7,000 freelancers, each of whom must have a college degree, writing experience and a speciality. They artfully pen articles or produce video clips to fit headlines such as “How do I paint ceramic mugs?” and “Why am I so tired in winter?”

Although an article may pay as little as $5, writers make on average $20-25 an hour, says Mr Kydd. The articles are copy-edited and checked for plagiarism. For the most part, they are published on the firm’s 72 websites, including eHow, answerbag and travels.com. But videos are also uploaded onto YouTube, where the firm is by far the biggest contributor. Some articles end up on the websites of more conventional media, including USAToday, which runs travel tips produced by Demand Media. In March, Demand Media churned out 150,000 pieces of content in this way. The company is expected to go public later this year, if it is not acquired by a big web portal, such as Yahoo!, first.

AOL, a web portal which was recently spun off from Time Warner, a media giant, does not like to be compared to such an operation. Tim Armstrong, its boss, intends to turn it into “the largest producer of quality online content”. The firm already runs more than 80 websites covering topics from gadgets (Engadget.com) and music (Spinner.com) to fashion (Stylelist.com) and local news (Patch.com).

I predict this type of content will start to show up on book and (with increasing regularity) magazine publishers looking to maintain consumer interest in their sites and in efforts to build or maintain their audiences.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) 18: Granta, Aussie Librarians, Pippi Longstocking, Special Collections

In advance of the Sydney Writers festival, The Australia profiles Granta Editor (and American) John Freeman (Australian):
Gracefully chuffed to find himself in the enviable position of editing a magazine he reveres, Freeman must nevertheless be a little shell-shocked from the barrage of choose-me writing that has come his way since he became Granta's editor. He is also an anti-email campaigner, so it is doubly difficult for him not to feel as if he's drowning in the demands that ping into his inbox unceasingly. He has written an entire book about how new communication methods are turning us into the linguistic equivalent of laboratory rats, churning on endless, meaningless wheels of words. But although he admits to missing the reading time his reviewing life gave him, and finds the "editing, acquiring, stroking and supporting, the making of the thing" more tiring than he had anticipated, he is determined to succeed.

Freeman began at Granta as acting editor following the precipitous departure of Alexandra Clark, who had lasted less than a year, as had the previous editor, Jason Cowley. Given this instability after the long and stable editorship of Ian Jack, Freeman says he perfectly understands why the magazine's publisher, Sigrid Rausing, hesitated in appointing him to the role.

It was a risky manoeuvre: Freeman is only 35, he is American and he has not had much editing experience.

The secret of his success, it seems, is an affable and practical positivism that is pervasive even in a phone conversation. Some of this he puts down to the influence of his grandmother, whose letters taught him how to listen and to give.

Again in the land downunder but this time in The Age, it seems the profession of librarian faces the same issues as it does in the US (The Age):

Like many of her peers, she is also due to retire in the next few years, and her position will be difficult to fill.

A national inquiry into school libraries heard evidence last week to suggest that teacher-librarians are a dying breed. While the Rudd Government is building thousands of libraries as part of the $16 billion ''building the education revolution'', experts warn there will be no one to staff them.

About 13 per cent of Victorian primary school libraries are staffed by a professional librarian, a recent survey suggested, and the figure is expected to fall as teacher-librarians retire. There are no official statistics.

More than 90 per cent of teacher-librarians in Australia are believed to be over 40, compared to half of teachers generally. Many teacher-librarians also retire early because of a lack of promotional opportunities.

Meanwhile, there are just four tertiary courses nationally to train them, from a peak of 15, and only about 100 graduates a year.

Library associations say job security is poor, discouraging potential students. In Victoria, rationalisation during the Kennett era and dwindling budgets has meant many principals have chosen to hire extra classroom teachers instead of librarians to reduce class sizes.

''The view is that libraries are not important because students just access information online,'' Mrs Ellingworth told The Sunday Age. ''But the thing is, students have got information overload. They don't know where to start.''

The London Times suggests there is a 'real-story' behind the Stieg Larsson heroine. Turns out to be Pippi Longstocking (Times):

As a boy he read Enid Blyton and the much-loved adventures of Pippi Longstocking. His tenacious heroine Salander is a radically reworked — and tattooed — modern version of Pippi with a polymorphous sex life.

He explained to a Swedish journalist shortly before his death that he had begun to wonder how Pippi, the classic Swedish children’s heroine, would behave today. What sort of an adult had she become? How would one define her — as a sociopath, a childwoman?

Larsson construed that Pippi might have an alternative view of society and transmogrified her into Salander, a girl completely alienated from society. She doesn’t know anyone; she has no ability to socialise.

Salander is introduced into the first story in single-minded and skilful pursuit of a paedophile — the sexual abuse of women and children is a key theme of the novel. She is a white-faced young woman of anorexic appearance with facial piercings and a wasp tattoo on her neck. The bicep of her left arm is similarly festooned and on her left shoulder blade she has a dragon tattoo. Her hair is dyed a deep black and her boss describes her as looking like she has emerged from a lengthy orgy. Despite her anorexic appearance she seems able to vacuum up massive quantities of junk food.

She is 24, but with her small breasts she sometimes appears to be about 14.

Erland Larsson, the author’s father, believes that although “Salander is a mixture of different people”, a possible inspiration may have been Stieg’s niece, Therese, who was very close to him. The two often used to visit each other.

Since my only library work experience was in the special collections department at Boston University, I am always interested to read about these departments. In the Chronicle of Higher Ed, a warning about guarding the hoard (Chron):

Since she hadn't offered to let me search myself, I knew she was determined to make quick work of me. After perhaps three of her very narrow searches yielded nothing unique—only secondary sources I had seen before—I realized I wouldn't find anything useful unless I had the opportunity to search on my own, trying different approaches as I discovered the scope of the collection.

That was so obviously not going to happen that I finally just thanked her politely and turned to leave. I had been in her office perhaps five minutes. Realizing she had won her battle even more quickly than expected, she mumbled an apology about how it was just a bad day, what with her being short staffed and having to train a new person and all.

And so the dragon succeeded in guarding the hoard.

The worst part is that I honestly think she believed she was doing her job—that her behavior was justified because I was foolish enough to just "turn up" expecting to use "her" collection.

Let this, then, serve as a gentle reminder to rare-book curators that your job is not to keep readers from your books but just the opposite: to facilitate readers' use of the collections. If altruism or professional integrity aren't sufficient motivators to get you to play nice, you might consider the fact that you have a job only because people want to read what's in those collections, and you will keep your job for only as long as readers feel welcome to approach you to make use of the materials.

From the twitter this week:

More Publishers Trying Outsourced Journalism AdAge Fascinating implications and some interesting comments.

A new set of police heroes hits the UK small screen based on book characters. Hopefully over here soon. Independent

Ian McEwan sees funny side of Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize nomination Independent Funny Not.

Cancel Publish - A Call For the End of Tumblr Book Deals GQ Hilarious & True.

History on the web "One of the most important collections of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts " BBC News

Farrar, Straus & Giroux announced Marilyn Monroe writings to be released this fall - Conn Post

In Sports, Liverpool put in a lame, pathetic and typical performance to hand Chelsea the title. Man United should have done better this season.