Sunday, January 29, 2012

MediaWeek (V5, N5); Fixing Copyright, UK Education & History, Girlsand Science + More

Long article in The Nation this week about reforming copyright and makes deep reference to Bill Patry's How to Fix Copyright. The author of the article Caleb Cain is not convinced of the arguments Patry, who is lead council for Google and widely seen as an expert on copyright issues, makes and he makes his opinion know very early on:
The non sequitur I’m objecting to here is a small one. Unfortunately it’s representative; Patry’s reasoning is slipshod throughout the book, and more than once he tells the reader what to think instead of taking the trouble to convince him. Nor are these the only signs that the book may have been hurriedly—or just poorly—written. Patry often repeats himself. Though he seems to wish to address a broad audience, he uses legal terms of art such as “de minimis” and “worldwide exhaustion” without explaining them, and the later chapters sprint faster and faster through vagaries of international copyright law that are more and more complex. His priorities seem unsorted; he devotes a whole chapter to discrediting a 1995 article that consists only of notes in outline form and that by his own admission seems to have been little read. Nonetheless, if only because of Patry’s connection to Google, the ideas in his book will be taken seriously.
* * *
Patry believes that copyright laws have failed, and for evidence of the failure he begins by pointing to conflicts. Creators of copyrighted work have tussled with the distributors to whom they sell it. Record labels, for example, have been found guilty of withholding payments to musicians, and Patry recounts that in his capacity as a writer, he was recently forced against his will to sign away valuable rights in negotiations with a powerful online publisher. Creators have also been quarreling with their audiences, especially about pricing and access. Patry cites a recent dispute over Amazon’s Kindle: Amazon enabled the device to read books aloud in a mechanized voice, and the Authors Guild protested that the function would cut into sales of audio books. Amazon backed down—a matter for regret, in Patry’s opinion.
This article is mostly a review of the book rather than an argument with Patry's point(s) of view. Read the whole thing in The Nation.

UK Education Secretary Michael Gove argues that schools should teach children about kings, queens and wars. He's offering a quack remedy to a misdiagnosed complaint (New Statesman):
How about teaching narrative rather than analysis, then? It is wrong, David Starkey has asserted, that history in the schools has modelled itself on university research. What we need, he declares, is to give children "a sense of change and development over time . . . The skills-based teaching of history is a catastrophe." But what sells in the bookshops or what succeeds on TV is not necessarily what should be taught in schools. Teaching is a profession with its own skills and techniques, different from those needed to present a television programme (as Starkey's performance on the reality TV show Jamie's Dream School dramatically indicated). Physics, biology and every other subject in schools is taught along lines that reflect research in the universities. One wouldn't expect physics teachers to ignore Stephen Hawking's ideas about black holes, or biology teachers to keep quiet about the discovery of DNA. So what makes history so different? Chemistry devotes a large amount of time to transmitting skills to students; why shouldn't history?
The narrative that the critics want shoved down pupils' throats in schools - as they sit in rows silently learning lists of kings and queens - is essentially what's been called the "Whig theory of history"; that is, telling a story of British history over a long period of time, stressing the development of parliamentary democracy in a narrative that culminates in a present viewed in self-congratulatory terms.
This theory was exploded by professional historians more than half a century ago, under the influence of the classic tract The Whig Interpretation of History by the conservative historian Herbert Butterfield. Yet it still has strong support in the media. The Daily Telegraph and the right-wing think tank Civitas even campaigned to get H E Marshall's patriotic textbook Our Island Story put on the National Curriculum. Dating from the Edwardian era, this book, with its stories of how the British brought freedom and justice to the Maoris of New Zealand and many other lucky peoples across the world, has rightly been described as "imperialist propaganda masquerading as history". In what other academic subject would people seriously advocate a return to a state of knowledge as it was a hundred years ago?
Steering Girls to Science and Technology (MediaShift):
One thing research consistently shows is the impact that one-on-one relationships and role models can have in influencing kids. And that's one of the defined goals of the Techbridge program. To that end, Ebony and her peers get to work once a week with Esosa Ozigbo, who comes from a similar background as many of the girls in the program -- single-parent home, struggling financially, parents who never graduated from high school. But Ozigbo, a Stanford graduate with a science degree, is living proof that there's a way out -- and it might just be in a field like science or math. "I definitely know that growing up, it would have been great to have someone like that come in and talk to me," Ozigbo said.
Ozigbo leads Techbridge field trips, taking girls to companies like Google and Yahoo for site visits so they see for themselves the possibility of a life that's different than what they've lived so far. "I took some girls to San Francisco -- they had never been on the other side of the bay," she said. "It's just about seeing what's out there and seeing if it's in your grasp and saying, 'This is what I have to do, this is what I can do.' I think that makes the world of a difference."
From the Twitter this week:

Serving police officer among four men arrested in London and Essex as part of Operation Elveden

Casio has unveiled smartphone prototypes able to exchange data using light. Some have labelled this system Li-Fi

Amazon's Hit Man - With Bow Tie

Locked in the Ivory Tower: Why JSTOR Imprisons Academic Research

Monday, January 23, 2012

MediaWeek (V5, N4): Research Works Act, Aussie Fiction + More

The Chronicle of Higher Ed looks at the Research Works Act: (Chron)
Whatever the executive branch decides to do about open-access mandates, it's not at all certain that the Research Works Act stands much chance of becoming law. In 2009, a similar bill, called the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, failed to make it out of committee.
This is an election year, which makes it "a very difficult year to move any sort of legislation, let along legislation that has acquired a certain amount of controversy," Mr. Adler said. A lot of Congress's attention has been absorbed by higher-profile proposals, such as the widely unpopular Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act, or PIPA. Those bills have created considerable resistance in the tech industry and among advocates of an open Web. Rep. Issa has been one of the legislators most vocally against SOPA.
Still, the introduction of the Research Works Act has public-access advocates on the alert, and it has once again exposed the persistent differences of opinion among scholarly publishers over federal mandates and how to approach the complex issues they present. University presses in particular are caught between wanting to take advantage of the resources of a big group like the Association of American Publishers, their own commitment to spreading scholarship widely, and the need to find a way to stay in business while honoring that commitment.
Seems and annual call for the teaching of more Aussie Classics (Brisbane Times):
Mr Heyward's comments follow a Sunday Age report last August that Melbourne University students had started their own Australian literature studies because there was no comparable course offered by the university.
Barbara Creed, head of the school of culture and communication at Melbourne University, said this was an unusual situation in which the course lecturer had left unexpectedly, and the university had been unable to offer a dedicated Australian literature subject as a result. However, ''The Australian Imaginary'' was back on the syllabus this year.
Professor Creed said that, although there may not be many courses designated specifically as Australian literature, the texts were nonetheless covered in a wide range of other courses, including creative writing, indigenous studies and film studies.
But she agreed with Mr Heyward that more Australian texts need to be adapted to film or television, where they will have a far broader audience reach. Whenever a novel is adapted to screen, she said, there is a boost in sales of the book as a result.

From the Twitter:

Self-Published Authors Still Rarely Make the Jump to Publishing Houses: PBS

Apple and digital publishing: A textbook manoeuvre  The Economist 

Bibliophilia: Punches, matrices and fetishists: The Economist  

Salman Rushdie: a literary giant still beset by bigots: Guardian

Is the International Herald Tribune about to breathe its last?

5 Universities to Test Bulk-Purchasing of E-Textbooks in Bid to Rein In Costs Chronicle

Universities look to get discounts on e-textbooks for students: Inside Higher Ed

Thursday, January 19, 2012

An Apple for the Teacher

To the average Apple aficionado, today’s spectacle on Apple’s entry into the education space would have seemed just par for the course.  Hype is about everything Apple does in these coordinated announcements and today was no different.  To the average textbook publisher today’s hype would have seemed of another world; that another entity – Apple yet? - would view the staid, traditional and, let’s face it, relatively small textbook publishing business as an opportunity to do big things must seem odd. I also thought, there was some irony today because a company I recognize as possibly one of the first brands ever to enter my consciousness - KODAK - declared bankruptcy.  KODAK sold film and processing and their cameras (hardware) were secondary to the revenue they got from film.  In context of today’s announcement Apple’s model is the opposite and it is unlikely textbook companies and other content providers will see themselves as the ‘KODAK’ in this relationship.  How healthy that approach may be for publishers only time will tell.

According to the National Association of College Stores the average price of college textbooks approaches $70.  Many people make value judgments about college textbook pricing but how does this very real data point jive with the desire of Apple to sell much cheaper college textbooks?  According to the presentation today, Apple plans to hold pricing of k-12 texts at less than $15.  Why would traditional publishers participate in a model that undercuts their business model to such an extent?  While I admit to assuming their pricing strategy will be consistent from K-12 to college, my conclusion is based on a primary premise of their presentation which was that textbooks are expensive.  In education today, what is clear is that there’s significant interest in ‘reinventing’ education from the content perspective and who can argue with the attention that a company like Apple can bring to a slow moving business like textbook publishing?  How sustainable their attention will be is another matter entirely.  Let’s not forget that the hype that preceded the Google bookstore and the Apple iBook store did not result in any appreciable changes in the business.  Apple’s motivations are also suspect: They are motivated by selling more hardware (unlike KODAK) and are only interested in content to the extent that it is cheap and plentiful and helps to drive hardware sales.  A content model with imposed low pricing, just like iTunes, will help sell more units.  I don’t believe Apple’s 30% cut of $14.95 will ever be significant relative to their sales of iPads at $500 a pop (give or take).

While the twitter feed this morning was overwhelming at times it was interesting that some very critical questions were quick to arise regarding Apple’s new self-publishing platform.  Fundamentally, the platform does (will) attempt to address a desire by educators for more control in the content they assign for their students.  That’s a good thing.  This desire/need of faculty is very much in nascent form; however, this may have more to do with expectations - what they see as their options given the concentration of content around less than five large publishers – than true desire to create their own material.  Motivated faculty will want to build their own content for their classes and if they can do this cost effectively and easily so much the better.  Whether they will do this on the Apple platform remains to be seen.

Offering an ‘open’ platform for faculty and others to build their content poses many potential problems.  (Since this is an Apple platform technically it isn’t ‘open’).  The functionality of the platform could be very impressive but, what’s the guessing the ‘store’ becomes full of crackpot theories, spurious pedagogy and denier/revisionist historians unless Apple ‘censors’ (a more polite favorite word could be ‘curate’) the content.  And, if they censor, what will the basis of the censorship?  I am a believer in self-publishing, and it often throws up gems on the trade side, and there is no reason why it won’t on the education side; however, the cost may be a lot of dross (or worse).  Frustration will simply drive people way.

One of the other items quickly identified as a potential problem was the management of copyright; specifically, what’s to stop someone uploading content that they don’t have rights to?  The user will be contravening copyright in using material if they haven’t cleared it appropriately and plan to pay the copyright owner for use.  Most publishers price their content at a level that inclusion in a product that can’t be priced above $15.00 makes the (legal) inclusion uneconomical.  So, that begs the question: Who will clear content properly if they categorically won’t make it up in volume?  If there is a check on copyright what will the process be that enables the use of this content which at the same time doesn’t cause the entire self-publishing process to unravel?

There are more questions over this Apple initiative in addition to those I raise above; however, I believe the only objective Apple wants to achieve is to sell more hardware.  The Education initiative is a smokescreen and we shouldn’t forget that Apple sold a school management platform named PowerSchool that they developed to Pearson in 2006.  At the time, they didn’t find the education market attractive enough even though PowerSchool was considered an impressive tool.  Interestingly, some commentators on the twitter felt the Apple education announcement represented an attack on Blackboard and other LMS platforms.  I’m not sure I see that either.

I believe the involvement of Apple in education will be a good thing for all the players in education and will spur new investment and new initiatives.  This is a dynamic space at the mmoment with technology companies, content companies and wholesalers and distributors all vying for advantage.

Monday, January 16, 2012

MediaWeek (V5, N3) JStore, Reg Hill, Hockney, Research Works Act + More

JStore is experimenting with a new access model (IHeD)
Under the new program, unsubscribed visitors will be allowed to check out three “items” from the JSTOR archive every two weeks, which they will be able to read for free. In order to prevent piracy, the texts will be displayed as image files (so that text cannot be copied). Users will not be able to download the files.
The depletion of the traditional professoriate has produced a new demographic of unmoored scholars who might not have “the consistency of access that they want,” says Heidi McGregor, a spokeswoman for JSTOR. The goal of Register & Read would be to better serve that population — as well as others that the organization might not have even known about.
Seventy journals are participating in the pilot, including Ecology, American Anthropologist, PMLA, the Journal of Political Economy, the Journal of Finance, and the American Historical Review.
Since 1995, JSTOR, which aggregates the back issues of more than 1,000 scholarly journals, dating back hundreds of years, in its digital archive, has made its bones selling subscriptions to libraries — charging its largest clients up to $50,000 per annum. The organization says that business model is still working, despite reports that many libraries are cutting expenditures. JSTOR has operated at a 5 percent surplus in each of the last five years, according to McGregor.
An appreciation for Reginald Hill who died last week. Read his books, they are great (Telegraph):
I once saw Reginald Hill, who died last week aged 75, being interviewed on stage alongside John Banville. Banville was explaining how every day he would decide whether to rattle off a few thousand words of one of his “Benjamin Black” thrillers or to wring from his brain a paragraph or two of one of his “literary” novels. Hill responded mildly that every morning he too said to his wife over breakfast, “‘now, shall I work on my Man Booker Prize-winning novel today, or my bestselling crime novel?’ But you know, it’s funny, every day I come down on the side of the bestselling crime novel.”

Hill loved Literature with a capital L. He drew the themes for his novels from the works of Francis Bacon, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Emily Dickinson; A Cure for All Evils (2008) updates Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon and gives it an ingenious conclusion. But, having “decided to grow out of” reading crime fiction in his teens, he discovered after a “decade of maturation” that many crime writers “were still as interesting and entertaining as the ‘serious novelists’ I now revered”. All of his 40-odd books are crime novels or thrillers: the genre proved flexible enough to accommodate all he wanted to say about the times he lived in.
The Hockney Show at the Royal Academy has been overwhelmed with Culture Vultures but one critic at the Telegraph doesn't get it:
Whether or not we accept this argument, the simple truth is that the show is far too big. Like a sprawling oak in need of a tree surgeon, it required a stronger curator prepared to lop off the deadwood. I could happily have done without the watercolours recording midsummer in east Yorkshire in 2004, or the suite of smallish oil paintings from the following year.

Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but I don’t understand paintings like these. Fresh, bright and perfectly delightful, they are much too polite and unthinkingly happy for my taste: if they offer a vision of arcadia, it is a mindless one. Moreover, they resemble the sorts of landscapes that we expect from amateur Sunday painters. Hockney is anything but that – yet whatever game he is playing here eludes me.

The iPad drawings from 2011 are similarly irksome. Some people get excited because they were made using a piece of fashionable technology (a tablet computer with a touch screen). Yet the technique is surely immaterial – as Hockney says, an iPad is just another tool for an artist, like a brush.
The Guardian worries that all state funded research would be locked away under the Research Works Act (Guardian):
This is the moment academic publishers gave up all pretence of being on the side of scientists. Their rhetoric has traditionally been of partnering with scientists, but the truth is that for some time now scientific publishers have been anti-science and anti-publication. The Research Works Act, introduced in the US Congress on 16 December, amounts to a declaration of war by the publishers.
...
But what's good for science isn't necessarily good for science publishers, whose interests have drifted far out of alignment with ours. Under the old model, publishers become the owners of the papers they publish, holding the copyright and selling copies around the world – a useful service in pre-internet days. But now that it's a trivial undertaking to make a paper globally available, there is no reason why scientists need yield copyright to publishers.

The contribution that publishers make – coordinating editors, formatting, and posting on websites – is now a service that authors can pay for, rather than a bargaining chip that could be worth yielding copyright for. So authors making their work available as open access pay publishers a fee to do so, and the publisher does not own the resulting work.
On the CITE blog they report on an initiative lead by NACS Media Solutions (National Association of College Stores) to help college stores grow their custom content businesses (CITE):
To be clear, this initiative is not about “dumb custom” – i.e., the “custom that is not customized.” For example, taking a book, ripping off the cover, putting in the faculty syllabus (maybe), and putting a new cover on with the school and faculty member names on it would be considered "dumb custom." Our focus is on “smart custom” – i.e., custom aggregated content that is aligned or matched to student learning outcomes. Smart custom is created in partnership with faculty and linked to course descriptions, syllabi, and accreditation targets for student learning outcomes. It is in recognition that one of the biggest complaints of students is that the faculty member does not use large portions of the course materials required, and also considers where course materials are headed in the future with increasingly custom course material offerings.

There is ample evidence to show that by building custom (and by that I mean smart custom, not dumb custom) stores can lower the cost of course materials for students, increase the value of the course material product for students, increase faculty satisfaction, increase store and publisher revenues, and create an opportunity for competitive advantage. It is a strong win for nearly all players. It is a sound strategy for building market share and driving traffic. The strategic timing for focusing on custom is now as the percentage of custom is poised to grow and many of the college store's traditional and future partners are focused on customized learning solutions.
From the twitter:


Has Microsoft Word affected the way we work? The Guardian

Tim O’Reilly: Why I’m fighting SOPA OReilly

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Predictions 2012: The Search for Attention


There’s little more to say about eBooks these days: The migration is now embedded into business operations across the industry. Yes, there remain some issues and problems day-to-day but it would seem that the issue of most concern to publishers for the past five years (trade particularly) is now subsumed under business operations as usual.  And that bores me.

Sure, we could argue about the future purpose and value of a publisher but most (if not all) the big trade houses are doing better now than they were three years ago and continue to sign the big authors and sell lots of units.  The amount of attention given to the self-publisher model is disproportionate to its viability as a solution better than that delivered wholesale by a traditional publisher. Yet, to some, the counter argument or disruptive solution is always more interesting and therefore garners more attention.  There will be more big success stories in self-publishing but the larger point isn’t about replacing the old model with the new—it’s more about incorporating the new model into the old.  Where self-publishing was derisively termed ‘vanity publishing’ 10 years ago, it could now be considered a vital component of a better, more efficient publishing industry.

This set of predictions was harder to conceive that those in prior years and I am not sure why that it is.  I’ve been going through this exercise since 2007 (the year I started this blog) and so went back over some of the things I suggested in years past.  For example, in 2007, I said:
  • Several major US colleges will teach various social science courses entirely in simulation. The courses will not be taught in traditional lecture form but entirely within the software simulation.
Now, five years later, there have been some experiments in this area but my comment was uttered in a time when everyone was building a home in the simulation game world and, at the time, it seemed inevitable we would all be spending half our lives in SecondLife.  Clearly that never happened, and on the other hand, during 2011, I spent many weeks looking into the medical simulations ‘business’ which is very impressive and continues to push the boundaries of real simulation in education and training.  What’s important here is that simulations solve several business, operational and administrative issues for schools and hospitals which drives the business case for their adoption.  That might not have been the case for SecondLife (at least in a comprehensive sense).

The anticipated benefits of simulated learning will only be realized if they solve a business problem(s).  As I saw during my short research project, in medicine and especially nursing, there are very real addressable problems that simulations solve for educators and administrators.  Some of the simulations centers I visited are almost exact replicas of hospital wards and operating theatres.  It is quite incredible.  The money poured into hardware at these centers is significant (and growing) but the next big change in simulations training will be how traditional medical content is integrated into delivery in the simulations context.  No easy thing, but the merging of the practical and the theoretical is viewed as critical by educators and practitioners.  The medical segment is representative of how education publishing in particular still has significant challenges to address as their industry deals with changes in technology, delivery and performance measurement.

The following year (2008), I incorrectly predicted “McGraw-Hill will reorganize its business much as Thomson [Cengage] has done. MGH education could be sold to private equity.”  The impact of the sale of MGH in 2012 is unlikely to drastically change the publishing landscape in the short term, but there may be larger structural changes across the entire business that will be more interesting.  As we know, Apple is set to make an announcement soon which is rumored to be about educational publishing. If that’s true, it might stimulate some fundamental changes in education similar to the impact iTunes had on the music business.

Sticking with education, in 2009 I suggested that the Obama administration would make wholesale changes in education policy and become more ‘federalist’ in approach.  As some ‘celebrate’ the ten-year anniversary of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ the administration is pushing more (or allowing more) responsibility to the states for education policy while at the same time providing more assistance to ‘failing’ schools so they can improve.  If anything, the Obama administration may be more ‘activist’ with their assistance versus the prior administration and this policy (or set of policies) is likely to aid education publishers in the provision of the next generation of assessment tools, which will be oriented more toward remediation and intervention (and which I touched on in 2010).

Last year, I focused my prognostications on the concepts of curation and community: 

The growth of intimacy assumes that users will seek closer relationships with their core community of friends, workers or communities of interest in order to make decisions about the content they access, the products they use and the entertainment decisions they make. Book publishers, retailers and authors will need to understand how to actively participate in these communities without ‘marketing’ or ‘selling’ to them. Facebook is obviously the largest social community but, within Facebook, there are a myriad of smaller ‘communities’ and, within these communities, the web becomes highly personal. The relationships among the participants becomes ‘intimate’ in the sense that the participants share knowledge, information, even personal details that in a traditional selling or marketing environment would never be breeched by the vendor. The dynamic of selling becomes vastly different in this context and publishers must find a way to understand these new communities, the influencers that dictate behavior and the motivations that contribute to selling products (and services potentially).

I still believe the above to be a trend even though it hasn’t developed as quickly as we might have expected. I fully expect the concept to mature over the coming years.

Which suggests a lead-in to a theme for my 2012 predictions: Where 2011 was about the community providing a filter for its ‘members,’ 2012 will be more about the community helping focus/apportion the attention of its members.  In a screen-based entertainment world, publishers will struggle to assert their right to a user’s time against competition that includes every media option out there from games to TV to social networks.  This is different than the former paradigm because all media usage is rapidly migrating to tablet and applications-based consumption.  And this includes television.

With both major book retailers actively engaged in the tablet wars, it seems inevitable that tablets will be the predominant delivery mechanism for publishers’ content, including trade and education content.  So, if our content is delivered on these devices, how do we establish and hold the user’s attention in an environment where the user can skip from media to media with almost no friction whatsoever.

The answer to this question is partially reflected in last year’s post regarding community and curation.  The most significant challenge publishers will face is getting their content shared and linked to and powerful social network marketing programs will be at the center of this effort.  This doesn’t only apply to trade content--‘communities’ organized around ‘influencers’ such as academics/professors, institutions, specific courses, etc. will also drive the sharing and linking of educational publisher content.  For example, an individual interested in business entrepreneurship might ‘friend’ the Harvard class ‘Entrepreneurship 101’ and use the reading list to guide his or her personal reading.

Another key aspect of the quest for attention revolves around the metadata and the supplemental content publishers produce for all their content.  Most of this remains either dis- or un-organized.  A lack of depth and accuracy of meta-data is still a deficiency shared by most publishers, even as the need for more meta-data expands.  On the whole, publishers are probably getting further behind.  The thing that will help publishers win a larger share of attention will be multiple ‘entry points’ that enable the user to interact with their content and allow influencers to share and link to it.  Not only do meta-data files need to be robust and detailed, but users need to be able to easily find references, indexes, TOCs, links, etc. and reviews as well as alternate views of the content (audio, video, even perspectives).  Not only do these various elements provide ‘hooks’ which users can grab in multiple ways, they will also serve to build loyalty and authority for the content itself.  And this could ‘index’ the content so that it scores high-ranking positions when consumers seek the content you are selling.  Thus, the entire process feeds on itself.

Searching for Attention will represent a significant challenge for all content owners but particularly publishers, as content amalgamates via the tablet platform.  Not for nothing, I think I’d rather go on that journey with B&N and Amazon versus Apple or Google because at least they are booksellers.  Whether that’s enough remains to be seen.

Here are some additional trends to watch for over the next year or two:
  • The MGH deal aside, there’s a good chance we will see additional movement in the ownership of segments of the education business.  Cengage will have little difficulty with their refinancing (doesn’t mean there won’t be any pain) but educational units on the periphery (medical, legal, etc.) may witness more consolidation in the coming year.

  • With the ‘settling’ of eBook content and processes within many publishing houses, we’ll begin to see more experimentation from publishers especially with expanded definitions of traditional book content.  We’ll see eBook content – the ‘book’ part as a component of something that looks more like an issue of an online magazine.  Obviously, an ‘issue’ where the ‘book’ part is the focus but ancillary material (in the magazine sense the supporting articles) lend deeper meaning, context and even leads to obvious tie-ins and sequels.  Essentially, I think we will begin to see the beginnings of the renaissance of the ‘book’ that everyone has been moaning about.

  • In an area that I am focused on, we will begin to see a rapid movement towards atomizing educational content.  Apple may well announce an educational publishing version of iTunes where content is such as chapters, cases and articles are sold in parts as songs are sold versus albums.  Watch for a painful realization about pricing.  The al a carte approach for content purchasing is something educators and institutions are looking for and initiatives similar to the iTunes model are being welcome because they empower people to make better choices.

  • In sport, it will be a tight run thing at the top of the premiership this year but I still believe Manchester United will beat out Manchester City for the title.  England will come second in the medals table at the London Olympics.
Prior Predictions: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007

Monday, January 09, 2012

MediaWeek (V5, N2): 1962 it was a very fine year, Daytona Textbook Migrations, Protecting the Franchise, Touch Technology + More.

More Intelligent Life on what was going on in 1962.  (They missed one important fact).
Even Khrushchev’s decision to allow the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch” (November), to highlight the evils of Stalin’s labour camps, made little impression in the West. No one can have foreseen how Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” (September) would inspire the environmental movement. Nor did anyone spot the future impact of Anthony Burgess’s nihilist novella “A Clockwork Orange” (May): “clumsy...tawdry...aimless” – the Times. The author came to hate it too, but the film, made and then withdrawn by Stanley Kubrick, gave it a lasting resonance.
And even after the Canadian academic Marshall McLuhan began to be hailed as a visionary for understanding the significance of the electronic media, no one grasped the importance of the prediction in his 1962 book “The Gutenberg Galaxy”: “A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organisation, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.” Most of us would not hear the word “internet” for another three decades.

No one guessed that the first James Bond film, “Dr No” (October), would spawn 23 more, and counting. Roy Lichtenstein’s cartoon strips and Andy Warhol’s soup cans landed on the art scene (November), but left the establishment unimpressed: “like a joke without humour told over and over again”, said the New Yorker of the soup cans, “until it carries a hint of menace”. At least Warhol got some attention, which was more than could be said when Bob Dylan gave the first public performance of “Blowin’ in the Wind” at Gerde’s Folk City downtown in the West Village (April). Let alone when the Rolling Stones played their first gig, at the Marquee Club in London (July)

An ambitious eTextbook migration at Daytona State College is momentarily abandoned (INed)
Well, actually, it's more complicated than that. Daytona State has not abandoned its e-textbook initiative, but it has tempered its approach. And while Spiwak’s departure may have weakened the college’s enthusiasm for the transition to digital, a recently completed report on a yearlong pilot at Daytona State, comparing the satisfaction and success of students using all electronic texts with students using all print, has also complicated the picture.

The findings of the study, in which college officials collected data through surveys and focus groups over four semesters, suggest that making the transition to electronic content could pose challenges — especially if the college tried to force the transition by giving students and faculty no choice, as some for-profit institutions have done.

“Avoid top-down mandates,” the study’s authors wrote as their top recommendation. “Institutions that require all instructors to simultaneously go e-text might be courting disaster.”
The majority of the students in the study who used exclusively e-texts came away dissatisfied. While they appreciated that there was no possibility of losing or forgetting their textbooks when they could be simply summoned to a device, the students told officials that they found it fatiguing to read off a computer screen (the students used netbooks, rather than e-readers, due to the unavailability, at the time, of certain key texts on the Amazon Kindle).

There's a new bill before Congress to protect publishers interests in publishing government funded reseasrch.  From the AAP press release:
The Research Works Act will prohibit federal agencies from unauthorized free public dissemination of journal articles that report on research which, to some degree, has been federally-funded but is produced and published by private sector publishers receiving no such funding. It would also prevent non-government authors from being required to agree to such free distribution of these works. Additionally, it would preempt federal agencies’ planned funding, development and back-office administration of their own electronic repositories for such works, which would duplicate existing copyright-protected systems and unfairly compete with established university, society and commercial publishers.

Here is the bill sponsored by Rep's Issa and Maloney.

Fellow traveller John Dupuis (Confessions of a Science Librarian) has a round up of some of the commentary on the proposed bill and includes this comment:
This is a rather bald-faced attack on the open access movement, attempting to restrict all kinds of sharing mechanisms and open access publishing ventures. Institutional and disciplinary repositories and open access mandates seem particularly to be the targets. Essentially, it wants to give a free hand to the scholarly publishing establishment
From NPR: The Touchy Feely of Technology.  A look at how touch technology seen in tablets is helping to change several industries.  Here is an excerpt specific to education but the article is more expansive than this (NPR):
Now that the iPad does exist, people are finding a lot of practical applications for it. Jamestown Elementary School in Arlington County, Va., has a growing cache of iPads, about 100 for 600 students. The school uses its tablets for everything from writing to math to reading graphic novels. But NPR's Larry Abramson reports that in one classroom the iPad has been a real game changer.
Special education assistant Lesley McKeever uses an iPad to get her student, an affectionate autistic boy who can't speak, to learn to connect words with images by touching the right picture on the screen. Touch technology has been so helpful for students with autism that Arlington County provides enough iPads for every student in the special education classroom.
According to Apple, more than 2,300 school districts in the U.S. have iPad programs for students or teachers. But the benefits of having iPads in the classroom don't come free. Teachers say you have to invest time into the technology in order to get something out of it, which means much of the iPad's usefulness will depend on the applications both teachers and publishers discover as adoption grows.
 From Twitter:

Google Snaps Up 200+ IBM Patents, Including One for a 'Semantic Social Network' Mashable

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg on the sale of Sterling Publishing business (WSJ)

Medical marijuana entrepreneur Christ asks justices for access to UM Law Library Not a headline you see often.

Education Department releases new data on academic libraries-Inside Higher Ed: Academic Libraries in Flux 

Noises Off: the play so funny it made people ill Guardian

Welcome to 2012!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Albrecht Dürer Bust the Publisher Model

A fascinating article from the Christmas Economist last week on Albrecht Durer who may have been one of the first self-publishers to build a real business.
For Dürer, this was an unusual incident. Then 50, he had been for some years the most famous artist in northern Europe; but he was not in essence a court painter. He thought of such people as “parasites”, hanging round great men, waiting for a commission to fall from the lordly lips. He, by contrast, was an independent businessman. He made his money not by grovelling, but by selling copies of the woodcuts and engravings printed, since 1495, at his workshop in the centre of Nuremberg. He was not even a member of a guild, for there were no artists’ guilds in the city: he was a free individual, unaffiliated, making money and a reputation purely for himself.
...
It was easy to meet demand, however high he fanned it. Though the fundamental work, carefully incised in mirror-image with knife or burin on the wood or copper plate, was every bit as laborious as drawing, it could then fly out in hundreds of copies. Dürer or his assistants just inked a wood or copper plate and cranked a lever. Thanks to the printing press he had bought, he was never in thrall to a publisher; his book of extra-large printed woodcuts of the Apocalypse, which had made his fame in Nuremberg, was the first to be both illustrated and published by a great artist.
He could now replicate and communicate his art. In 1520, for example, he sent a whole set of prints to Raphael’s studio in Rome (he had hoped to impress Raphael himself, but the master had just died), and expected prints of Raphael’s work in return. Artists no longer needed to meet, or ship precious works along dangerous roads, to show each other what they could do. Dürer was not the first artist to exploit the joy of the new medium, but he was the most assiduous and influential—and the best.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Predictions 2011: The Growth of Intimacy (Revisited)

I am re-posting these in advance of thinking about 2012 but in re-reading the post I could almost stand pat on this effort for 2012.  This was originally posted on Jan 3, 2011.



Things might have been worse: As 2009 came to a close, there wasn’t a lot of optimism about 2010 yet; as the year unfolded, things were neither worse nor better than they had been. And now, there is even some excitement spurred on by the launch of the iPad and the rapid growth of eBook sales. Certainly any analyst, technology company or consultant publicizing his or her [proprietary] forecast of eBook and eReader sales for the next decade was almost guaranteed to gain some attention, especially as each successive forecast sought to outdo the prior reports.

Encouraged by the boosterism, many pundits think this is ether the end of book publishers or a new dawn. I don’t think it’s either, but the transition from print to electronic could mimic the transition music made from vinyl to disc which stuffed record company profits in the short term (only to entirely undercut the industry for the long). It is too early to tell how book publishing will survive this transition, but it is entirely possible that we will look back on these ‘transition’ years as ones in which publishers missed an opportunity to connect directly with their readers, having limited their ‘opportunity’ merely to replicating the book experience on the screen.

Change and progress is glacial in the book industry while, all around the industry media markets and products advance at break-neck pace. Evidence of massive and rapid change surrounds the publishing industry: This time last year, tablet computers were utilitarian business equipment; now, with the iPad, they are status symbols and, for millions, a gateway page to life online. In 2009, few televisions were web enabled but this year this is a standard feature opening up the web for living room leisure activity on a big screen. Content produced by publishers is now showcased in these channels and on these devices, yet book publishers continue to be bit players in the evolution of eContent and indications are this is unlikely to change appreciably in the future.

Some of the macro changes I mentioned last year continue to roll out into the mainstream, such as the migration toward subscription models for education content and trade reference, collaborative content and data sharing in academic publishing and an adoption of the rent vs. buy model for content. And while none overtook the business in any wholesale manner, all continued to grow in significance during 2010 as they will in 2011.

The Growth of Intimacy

In 1961, Newton Minow (newly installed as Federal Communications Commissioner) made a famous speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in which he described television programming as a ‘vast wasteland’ and he suggested those in attendance watch a day of television where,
You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience-participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western badmen, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence and cartoons. And, endlessly, commercials--many screaming, cajoling and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you will see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few.
The web may be all of this in spades but, increasingly, the web user is demanding guidance and intermediaries who will then aid in their selection of appropriate and meaningful content. As I’ve discussed before, curation will become a marketable skill set and audience building around specific interests and specialties will be increasingly valued by content users. Just as publishers may have purchased publishing companies with defined title lists in years past, they may now consider purchasing “communities of interest” (and their associated apps and Facebook pages, etc.) to which they can market content/products. These communities may become the ‘imprints” of tomorrow with defined – even built in – product development, marketing and selling channels.

The growth of intimacy assumes that users will seek closer relationships with their core community of friends, workers or communities of interest in order to make decisions about the content they access, the products they use and the entertainment decisions they make. Book publishers, retailers and authors will need to understand how to actively participate in these communities without ‘marketing’ or ‘selling’ to them. Facebook is obviously the largest social community but within Facebook, there are a myriad of smaller ‘communities’ and, within these communities, the web becomes highly personal. The relationships among the participants becomes ‘intimate’ in the sense that the participants share knowledge, information, even personal details that in a traditional selling or marketing environment would never be breeched by the vendor. The dynamic of selling becomes vastly different in this context and publishers must find a way to understand these new communities, the influencers that dictate behavior and the motivations that contribute to selling products (and services potentially).

This is the next level of social networking: It isn’t enough to have a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Authors and publishers need to engage deeply where it matters in order to build awareness, build their brand (if necessary) and establish selling channels. In the case of Facebook, the company already has a vast amount of book-related information broadly collected from their community and undoubtedly the sales volume that results from the discussions on Facebook is large. Most importantly for vendors, the ‘conversion’ rate from an ‘intimate’ recommendation to purchase is likely to be far higher than from any other source or marketing activity. Finding and understanding the applicable nexus within these communities that delivers the widest possible ‘conversion’ rate will be critical if publishers are to participate in the growth of intimacy.

While publishers may think the ‘growth of intimacy’ will have more relevance to trade publishing, this may not be the case. As LexisNexis and some other professional publishers have proven that a social strategy that encourages users to act as curators for other users has significant value in building and supporting the publisher value proposition and brand. I see this evolving in education as publishers encourage academics and students to participate in social networks focused on specific topics and content. But a word of caution: Building a social network simply to facilitate the sale of your content or textbooks will never work. A critical aspect of Facebook is that it is vendor agnostic and thus provides the latitude for the community to come up with the right solution or product.

With reference to Minow, it won’t be the ‘broadcasters’ that ‘[could] do better’ as he suggested, but it will be the consumer that will find a way to get to the content they value using their web of ‘intimate’ relationships. Curators (or docents) will become critical for users in this discovery process and, if publishers aren’t connected to this network a meaningful way, they will be consigned to the vast wasteland of skateboarding dogs and porn.

The growth of intimacy will be a recurring theme for all content producers over the coming years and addressing the various aspects of this trend may result in important changes in the way publishers develop and market their products.

Here are some additional trends to watch for over the next 12-24mths:
  • Prices for dedicated eReaders will fall to $30-50 and will increasingly be used as “fee-with-purchase” subscription promotions with newspapers and magazine subscriptions or combinations thereof.
  • That newspapers will be moving toward a paid subscriber model is rapidly becoming old news (with the NYTimes expected to launch their service in January); however, to raise their value proposition, newspapers will be more interested in limited content syndication partnerships that lower the number of outlets with access to specific content, thus raising the exclusivity for the content and the value proposition for consumers. Rather than the same story appearing in hundreds of outlets, consumers will be looking for exclusive insights, analysis and commentary that can’t be found elsewhere. (Again, a ‘curation’ theme going on here).
  • Tentatively, ranking “best social sites” will attempt to do the same thing that bestseller lists do in reflecting interest and popularity. The parameters will be unclear (or experimental) initially but this data – organized as a ranking – will become a valid measurement of commercial success and reader interests in the same way that bestseller lists do today.
  • Print will increasingly be diminished by publishers - not directly because of electronic versions, but by their dismissive attitude to the quality of paper and bindings. Shoddy quality will serve to undermine value as paper rapidly yellows, bindings split and pages fall out.
  • The popularity of eBooks and eContent will also chip away at the Byzantine (or British Empire- like) organization of many international publishing companies, which effectively splits rights by country and region rather than by language. We will start to see international publishing companies completely rethink the ‘local office’ formula where in different editions with different pricing, layouts, covers, release dates, etc. are produced by local staffing. Instead, publishers will begin to dismantle these operations and replace them with ‘centers of excellence’ where specific offices prove their expertise in specific functional or content areas and provide these services to the rest of the worldwide publishing operations. Direct customer-focused staff will remain but the duplication of functions – driven primarily by the content normalization that eContent imposes – will result in the elimination of functions across the global enterprise. Publishing companies will become stronger as a result, since they will be able to aggregate expertise in specific areas and distribute it broadly across their operations.
  • International ownership of publishing companies is par for the course but we haven’t seen entities from China, India or the Arab world make a material impact on English language publishing. That will change as these markets mature and local investors determine they needn’t be simply buyers of English language materials but they could own the producers of this content as well. Most of these markets are still untapped: the market for English language content continues to grow and the supply of content locally produced and distributed internationally is still in its infancy. There are over 5mm college graduates in China each year versus less than 2mm in the US. This represents a vast market opportunity for all types of content and it is more than possible that a Chinese investor will buy a large English language publisher to address both supply and demand in this market. The same scenario could be true of the Indian and Arab markets. Watch for a big news takeover during 2011.
Lastly in sports: Last year I predicted that Manchester United would win the Premier League title over Arsenal but, in fact, United lost by a point to Chelsea. The point was effectively lost in a late season loss to Chelsea but, this year, Chelsea look well out of it. So again I predict United will win the title over Arsenal. I also predicted that England would win the Ashes series in Melbourne which they did last Tuesday. Hooray!

Thanks for your support and I hope your 2011 is better than 2010.


Related:

Predictions 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007