Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Making Your Metadata Better: AAUP Panel Presentation - M is the New P

The last time I was asked to speak at an AAUP meeting was in Denver in 1999 and naturally the topic was metadata. As I told the audience last week in Chicago, I don’t know what I said at that meeting but I was never asked back!  I am fairly confident most of what I did say in Denver still has relevance today, and as I thought about what I was going to say this time, it was the length of time since my last presentation that prompted me to introduce the topic from an historical perspective.

When ISBN was established in the early 1970s, the disconnect between book metadata and the ISBN was embedded into business practice.  As a result, several businesses like Books In Print were successful because they aggregated the collection of publisher information, added to this some of their own expertise and married all this information with the ISBN identifier.   These businesses were never particularly efficient but, things only became problematic when three big interrelated market changes occurred.  Firstly, the launch of Amazon.com caused book metadata to be viewed as a commodity, Second, Amazon (and the internet generally) enabled a none too flattering view of our industry’s metadata and lastly, the shear explosion of data supporting the publishing business required many companies (including the company I was running at the time, RR Bowker) to radically change how they managed product metadata.

The ONIX standard initiative was the single most important program implemented to improve metadata and provided a metadata framework for publishing companies.  As a standard implementation, ONIX has been very successful but the advent of ONIX has not changed the fact that metadata problems continue to reside with the data owners.

More recently, when Google launched their book project a number of years ago it quickly became apparent that the metadata they aggregated and used was often atrocious proving that little had changed since Amazon.com had launched ten years earlier.  When I listened to Brian O’Leary provide a preview of his BISG report on the Uses of Metadata at the Making Information Pay conference in May, I recognized that little progress had been made in the way publishers are managing metadata today.  When I pulled my presentation together for AAUP, I chose some slides from my 2010 BISG report on eBook metadata as well as some of Brian’s slides.  Despite the 2-3 year interval, the similarities are glaring.

Regrettably, the similarities are an old story yet our market environment continues to evolve in ever more complex ways.  If simple meta-data management is a challenge now it will become more so as ‘metadata’ replaces ‘place’ in the four ‘p’s marketing framework.   In traditional marketing ‘place’ is associated with something physical: a shelf, distribution center, or store.  But ‘place’ is increasingly less a physical place and, even when a good is only available ‘physically’ - such as a car, a buyer may never actually see the item until it is delivered to their driveway.  The entire transaction from marketing, to research, to comparison shopping, to purchase is done online and thus dependent on accurate and deep metadata.  “Metadata” is the new “Place” (M is the new P): And place is no longer physical.

This has profound implications for the managers of metadata.  As I wrote last year, having a corporate data strategy is increasingly vital to ensuring the viability of any company.  In a ‘non-physical’ world, the components of your metadata are also likely to change and without a coherent strategy to accommodate this complexity your top line will underperform.   And if that’s not all, we are moving towards a unit of one retail environment where the product I buy is created just for me. 

As I noted in the presentation last week, I work for a company where our entire focus is on creating a unique product specific to a professors’ requirements.  Today, I can go on the Nike shoe site and build my own running shoes and each week there are many more similar examples.   All applications require good clean metadata.  How is yours?

As with Product and Place (metadata), the other two components of marketing’s four Ps are equally dependent on accurate metadata.  Promotion needs to direct a customer to the right product, and give them relevant options when they get there.  Similarly, with Price, we now rely more on a presumption of change rather than an environment where price changes infrequently.  Obviously, in this environment metadata must be unquestioned yet rarely is.  As Brian O’Leary found in his study this year, things continue to be inconsistent, incorrect and incomplete in the world of metadata.  The opposite of these adjectives are, of course, the descriptors of good data management.

Regrettably, the metadata story is consistently the same year after year yet there are companies that do consistently well with respect to metadata.  These companies assign specific staff and resources to the metadata effort, build strong internal processes to ensure that data is managed consistently across their organization and proactively engage the users of their data in frequent reviews and discussions about how the data is being used and where the provider (publisher) can improve what they do.

The slides incorporated in this deck from both studies fit nicely together and I have included some of Brian’s recommendations of which I expect you will hear more over the coming months.  Thanks to Brian for providing these to me and note that the full BISG report is available from their web site (here).

End of the Knowledge Network at the New York Times

A short piece in Inside Higher Ed two weeks ago announced the quiet demise of the New York Times' foray into online education and learning.  As reported in IHEd, Times spokeswoman Linda Zeban confirmed the news by saying "I can confirm that after July 31, Knowledge Network courses will no longer be available online,"

As I noted in 2007 (again referencing a report in IHEd) the venture looked both promising and a natural extension of their brand.  It is a pity they were not able to execute anything meaningful but then, over the past five years, the Times has had its share of issues to deal with so perhaps they can be excused (from class).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Blackboard Expands Content Play into K-12: Adds The Learning Company

Blackboard is in the run up to their annual user conference next month so expect more announcements to come but this one is significant.  Blackboard and The Learning Company have announced a partnership to integrate TLC content within the Blackboard platform which will, they hope, enable K-12 teachers to create high quality content for their courses quickly and easily within the Blackboard Learn platform.  This partnership should bolster the Blackboard presence in the K-12 space and the agreement could be interpreted as a major play into the K-12 segment. More about the integration is explained on their website here.

From their press release:
The integration, which is currently being piloted by a number of K-12 institutions and will be generally available soon, lets teachers and administrators find, use and manage more than 200,000 digital learning resources from the Learning.com catalog seamlessly in the course platform, rather than having to move between systems. The Learning.com catalog includes both free and fee-based resources from leading education publishers and individual educators that are aligned to academic standards.
With access to the rich collection of material from Learning.com—including curriculum and textbook content, multimedia, assignments, quizzes and more—teachers can design a more engaging and intuitive learning experience. For example, teachers would build a lesson plan with material from Learning.com, and make it available to students through Blackboard Learn with a "single sign on," eliminating the time and access barriers from multiple Web sites, logins and passwords. Assignments would appear directly in the Blackboard Learn gradebook so teachers can easily track student progress.
"Students are demanding new types of content to support personalized learning and, as a result, teachers need smart ways to locate and manage rich material," said Matthew Small, Blackboard's Chief Business Officer. "By partnering with Learning.com, we plan to provide our clients with access to high-quality learning tools that help students succeed – whether a district curriculum, an innovative learning tool from a trusted provider or a unique activity designed by a peer."
"Our teachers love to incorporate third party content into coursework; however, up until now, materials were dispersed across multiple sites requiring a tremendous amount of time to find appropriate resources," said Alisa Jones, supervisor of instructional resources at Clay Virtual Academy. "The Learning.com and Blackboard partnership would allow our teachers to focus on leveraging the content in their classrooms rather than figuring out access issues."
The Learning.com catalog includes a growing collection of content from premier providers like USA Today, NASA, the Smithsonian, Waterford Institute, Adaptive Curriculum, and over 10,000 learning objects created and peer-reviewed by educators. Available content covers critical educational areas including language arts, library media, math, science, technology and professional development for teachers. All of the content can be searched by subject, grade level, academic standard, and keyword.

Monday, June 25, 2012

MediaWeek (V5, N26): AAUP Meeting, Summer Reading Lists, Magazines, The Guardian's Future +More

Last week the Association of American University Presses held their annual conference in Chicago, (where I attended and made two presentations but more on that later) and there were several write-ups.  First, the organizers added a session on the last afternoon about the Georgia eReserves case and here is a blow-by-blow of the session (Inside Higher Ed):
University presses are still unhappy with the outcome of the landmark copyright case, which centered on Georgia State University's practice of duplicating book material and making it available to certain students free through the universities' electronic reserve database. That much was clear at Wednesday’s session, during which Steinman repeatedly slammed Judge Orinda Evans’s legal reasoning in the decision to a chorus of exasperated groans from a packed room of university press workers and executives.
“This is a terrible decision, it’s poorly reasoned, the result is a poor one, it’s a terrible precedent to have on the books,” said Steinman, doubling down on the AAUP’s much milder statement last month, which merely asserted that Evans’s 347-page ruling “appears to make a number of assertions of fact that are not supported by the trial record.”
But collective disdain for the judge’s reasoning in her decision eventually gave way to a general agreement among the attendees that, in order to make the outcome workable, university presses need to mend fences with another key player on their campuses -- librarians.
And from Jennifer Howard at The Chronicle an overview of the entire meeting:
Be part of the conversation, mind your metadata, and use technology as a bridge to the world: That advice animated sessions at the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses, held here this week.
This year marks the group's 75th anniversary, and attendance hit a record high, with 787 people registered. The numbers created some logistical hassles but gave the meeting energy, too, tempering nervousness about how to feed the growing e-book market and how to convince budget-obsessed administrators that presses are assets, not liabilities.
People talked somberly about the news that the University of Missouri plans to shut down its press. But so far Missouri has been the exception, not the rule. Most presses have survived the recession and budget cuts. Some, like Princeton University Press, had excellent years, according to Peter Dougherty, the Princeton press's director and the new president of the association.
What should the kids read over summer (NYTimes)
Reading literature should be intentional. The problem with much summer reading is that the intention is unclear. Increasingly, students are asked to choose their own summer reading from Web sites like ReadKiddoRead, where the same advanced Real World Fiction category includes “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Flipped,” by Wendelin Van Draanen, which centers on divorce and kissing. Both books can be enjoyed by middle schoolers, but how will the seventh grader determine which one to pick?
The issue is further compounded when summer assignments require students to write about what they read. The problem is that the tasks assigned are at once too open and too circumscribed to be of use. What summer reading needs to be is purposeful. But how do we ensure purposeful independent reading given the low accountability of summer assignments?
Some students will happily read off a recommended-reading list (which should include a companion list of resources to support understanding). They will head to the park with Dickens or Austen under their arms, so long as they can leave the Post-it notes at home. They should be permitted this luxury, to have their teachers treat them as independent learners capable of a first dip into a classic, with no destined-to-be-unread written responses required. Doing this allows the student who chooses tougher books to say, “I didn’t understand half of it.” What better time to allow students to struggle than summer, when no one is calling on them to interpret or explain?
How's the magazine business doing you ask? (Economist)
But among magazines there is a new sense of optimism. In North America, where the recession bit deepest (see chart), more new magazines were launched than closed in 2011 for the second year in a row. The Association of Magazine Media (MPA) reports that magazine audiences are growing faster than those for TV or newspapers, especially among the young.
Unlike newspapers, most magazines didn’t have large classified-ad sections to lose to the internet, and their material has a longer shelf-life. Above all, says David Carey, the boss of Hearst Magazines, a big American publisher, they represent aspirations: “they do a very good job of inspiring your dreams.” People identify closely with the magazines they read, and advertisers therefore love them: magazines, says Paul-Bernhard Kallen, the chairman of Hubert Burda Media, a large German publisher, remain essential for brand-building.
Also from More Intelligent Life (Economist Family) a look at The Guardian newspaper and how it might survive (I thought it was).
In terms of reach and impact, the Guardian is doing better than ever before. But its success may contain the seeds of its demise. Its print circulation is tumbling. In October 2005, boosted by a change to the medium-sized Berliner format, the average daily circulation was 403,297. By March 2012 it was down to 217,190. Those figures are not quite like-for-like, as the Guardian has sworn off the Viagra of giveaway copies and overseas sales (which tend to be counted less rigorously); but they are still bleak. Saturday sales remain sturdy, at 377,000, but, on a typical weekday, only 178,000 people buy the Guardian, while millions graze on it for nothing on their screens. In the financial year 2009-10, the national newspapers division of Guardian Media Group—which also includes the Observer, Britain’s oldest Sunday paper—lost £37m. The following year, it managed to cut costs by £26m, and still ended up losing £38m. In May, Rusbridger told me he was expecting a similar loss for 2011-12. So, for three years running, the Guardian has been losing £100,000 a day. This is not boom or bust, but both at once: the best of times, and the worst of times. 
At the Open Weekend, one event looked at whether journalism was a second-rate form of writing. In the audience of 50 or so was the white-haired figure of Nick Davies, taking a breather from his investigative duties. When the conversation turned to long-form journalism, he spoke up, sounding exasperated. “In 20 years’ time,” he said, “there won’t be any newspapers left to do this. All these millions of hits won’t pay our salaries. The internet is killing journalism.”

Rare aerial photographs of Britain go online

15 books that apparently make you "undateable" – happy to report I've read most

Libraries, patrons, and e-books  

Top US universities create online platform EdX worldwide initiative to deliver online course by Harvard & MIT

The French Still Flock to Bookstores

Sunday, June 17, 2012

MediaWeek (V5, N25): Coherent Marketing, Analyzing Email, Library Futures and Congress + More

Strategy+Business has an interesting article titled "How to be a more Coherent Marketer" (S+B)
Many of our respondents pointed to the importance of developing senior marketing executives with traits that will enable them to evolve as the scope of their responsibilities changes. For instance, best-in-class senior marketing leaders demonstrate a collaborative and participative leadership style. They tend to be approachable and informal. When making decisions and solving problems, these leaders demonstrate an ability to combine creativity and decisiveness, and are comfortable with complexity and ambiguity. Success comes from encouraging behaviors that yield the desired results. Google Inc. understands this better than most companies. To encourage innovation and agility, the company requires employees to spend 20 percent of their time on projects of their own choosing.
But attracting the right talent is only one part of the equation. People need to see how their roles will evolve over time if they are going to stay with the company and remain productive and creative contributors. Survey respondents who described their company as a leader in its respective market were more likely than self-described market followers to be focused on providing a competitive career path for marketing employees. For example, in shifting its talent system to address a shortage of leaders, Royal Dutch Shell PLC identified talent within the company by focusing on technical skills and leadership ability. The development program was customized for frontline, midlevel, and executive staffers, and was incorporated into the company’s university relations and diversity initiatives.
Interesting analysis showing how information flows within an organization using Enron as an example (Atlantic):
What does this show? This is a picture of how information moved across Enron's hierarchy, as indicated by the thickness of the tie. The authors of the study, Tanushree Mitra and Eric Gilbert of Georgia Tech, have divvied Enron's employees into seven levels, zero being the lowest ("employees") and six being the highest (president and CEO). Level five includes all the vice presidents and directors; level four are the in-house lawyers. In the graphic, you can see that the plurality of the information circulates among the level-zero employees (the thick gray bar connecting the two zeroes). "Employees at the lowest level play a prime role in circulating gossip throughout the hierarchy," the authors conclude. Additionally, a substantial amount of the information that flows up goes straight to the very top, and a substantial amount that flows down goes straight to the very bottom. None of the lines seems particularly mutual: For every combination of rank, there is an imbalance in who is doing the talking and who is doing the listening.
Summary of a talk by Roy Tennant (OCLC) on how libraries need to prepare themselves (Info Space)
Funding for academic libraries is dwindling while competitors are popping up everywhere. Accessing e-content is ridiculously complicated and fraught. Library staff have the wrong skills. Today, students and faculty have lots of easy ways to find the same stuff they used to rely on a library to provide. Tennant said that these issues, along with new mandates for higher ed, are changing the roles of libraries on campuses. Rather than see these challenges as burdens, Tennant told his audience, a group of academic librarians and library students, to see them as an invitation to innovation, a kick in the butt. (My words, not his, but I think he’ll approve.)
Sticking with that theme, from ArsTechnica a discourse on the future of libraries (Ars):
This transition time is one of great opportunity for those involved in libraries, but all transitions, all borders and verges, are places of great vulnerability as well. Grand changes are possible here, but so are operatic failures. The future seems promising. It’s the present that worries some librarians.

“The myth that the information scholars need for research and teaching is, or soon will be available for free online is a dangerous one,” said Bourg, “especially when it is used as an excuse to cut funding to libraries. Right now libraries face enormous but exciting challenges in maintaining print collections and services where they are still necessary, while simultaneously developing strategies for collecting, preserving, organizing, and providing access to digital objects. I fear that if libraries across the nation don’t get the resources we collectively need to meet these challenges that we may be at risk of losing big chunks of our cultural record because of a lack of funding for digital collecting and preservation.
The Library of Congress may be under fire for bad financial management (Gov Executive)
While spending is under scrutiny, the library is seriously stretched for space. No funding for future buildings has been appropriated, and while the collection in Landover, Md., will be able to hold a million books after a completed renovation in October, the library adds 250,000 books and periodicals a year, so the fight for space remains.
The inspector general’s office reported that librarians are storing books on the floor, double- and triple-shelving materials, and keeping rare and valuable collections in nonsecure areas. The Asian Division, which grew out of its designated secure space, recently lost a valuable scroll that was kept in a cage, but the scroll was later mysteriously returned. During the search for the scroll, the inspector general’s office also discovered a number of valuable artifacts left out in vulnerable locations.
Congress appropriated $587.3 million in taxpayer dollars to the Library of Congress for fiscal 2012, a portion of which went to contractors. Schornagel did not reveal which specific contracts had not been sent out for bids, but he did say that library contracts often carried hefty price tags, such as $40 million for an IT contract and more than $50 million for talking-book machines for the blind and disabled.
Novelist Richard Ford interviewed in the Observer
In the book, Canada becomes a sort of promised land, a refuge. There is a line characters cling to: "Canada was better than America and everyone knew that - except Americans." Is that how it feels to you?
I never had much conceptual idea of Canada being better. But whenever I go there, I feel this fierce sense of American exigence just relent. America beats on you so hard the whole time. You are constantly being pummelled by other people's rights and their sense of patriotism. So the American's experience of going to Canada, or at least my experience, is that you throw all that clamour off. Which is a relief sometimes.
How does that sentiment go down among American readers?

Last night, I was in New Orleans at this book party full of local oligarchs, a charity group. I was trying to tell them why I called the book Canada, and I said this stuff about America beating on you and I saw a lot of unfriendly faces in the room. There is this very strong "If you are not for us, you are against us" feeling in America just now. Perhaps there always has been. You are not allowed to complain. Or even have a dialogue. But if a novel is there for anything I believe that is what it has to induce.
From my twitter feed this week:

James Joyce's Ulysses - reviews from the archive

These historical photographs from the New York City Municipal Archive are fantastic:

BookExpo America Report: Book Publishing Begins Anew as a Startup and Growth Industry

Teen inmates pen graphic novel about escaping criminal life

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Business Out of the Ordinary

By nature, business development is often more disappointing than validating.  That brilliant deal you thought was so obvious and beneficial can fail for all kinds of reasons.  Rallying internal support for a business initiative can be harder than finding the perfect external partner and there’s no accounting for how short-sighted or uninspired a company might be in assessing its position and prospects.  Most of my experience is in publishing and I am routinely surprised by the wide gulf between the small number of companies interested in exploring new ideas and the majority who can’t or choose not to.  Business development is all about mutual benefit--defining an outcome that balances the inputs to the product or project and the output of success.   Publishers, in particular, often seem to go out of their way to discourage advances from potential partners.

Thinking about this topic recently, I was reminded of a series of meetings I organized while at Berlitz, the language company.   When I assumed income statement responsibility for one of their business units, I found I’d inherited an unexpectedly lucrative licensing deal when the first-quarter royalty check came in at more than $98,000 when we had budgeted $100,000 for the full year. In addition to being pleasantly surprised, I realized we could do even more with the relationship, now about to enter its second year.

As business partnerships went, this was one of the best.  One day a couple of years before, two IT professors talked their way into Berlitz and happened to reach the right executive – purely by chance – with the idea that they could marry their CD-ROM technology with Berlitz’s self-teaching language material.  The product got off to a slow start and revenues were small for the first year, but the Berlitz executive who did the deal had pressed his advantage and we were taking 20% off each sale.  By the time that check came in, the guy who did the deal was gone and I (happily) was running my first real business.  The second-quarter check that year was $150,000 and we finished the year over $400,000.

That first foray seemed to indicate that technology had a role to play in the delivery of educational material despite the fact that, in those early years of ‘multi-media’ publishing, the CD-ROM product was simply a direct translation of the print/audio product.  But more sophisticated opportunities were obvious to anyone willing to think differently and, even before our one-product CD-ROM partner was acquired by a much larger company, I’d started to explore how we could expand this relationship.  Once The Learning Company (publisher of the Reader Rabbit series) acquired our partner, I began discussions to form a deeper association.  I got very little support from senior management at Berlitz, many of whom believed self-teaching materials would cannibalize in-class instruction and somehow damage the Berlitz brand (- an insane proposition).  Over the course of the next six months, I wrote business plans and extrapolated models with the sole goal of forming an equal partnership between Berlitz and The Learning Company (it took that long to get the two groups together). The idea was simple: Apply the Berlitz brand to TLS’s entire language learning product line rather than to just the one product they had acquired with their purchase.  

By that time, I had decided to leave Berlitz--arranging the CEO meeting was the last meaningful thing I accomplished and I did it proudly.  On my way out, I commented to our CEO was that there wasn’t anything else to do: We had agreed terms which were being reviewed, but it still took another year to complete the deal.  That unproductive year probably cost Berlitz over $1mm in profit.  Even more dispiriting was that fact that, once the deal was done, neither Berlitz nor TLC was able to expand beyond the language titles each already produced.  Had they done so, they would have created an education brand of far greater strength and depth.  Successful business development requires vision and commitment and, if these aren’t in play, all initiatives fail.

Good business development requires that you do your homework and have a clear idea how the project will be mutually beneficial.  In my development dealings, I’m less concerned about wasting my potential partner’s time than I am about wasting my own.  This isn’t arrogance on my part: I’m always comfortable in the knowledge that I’m proposing something of significant value to the target and, given the chance, I can present my case convincingly.  Sadly, many other industry overtures don’t fall into this category because no real thought has gone into the proposal and it’s often glaringly obvious.  In the run- up to the London Book Fair last month, I received many proposals for business services bearing no relationship to what our company does.  Bogus proposals like these cause all of us to be circumspect about any business development initiative because, all too frequently, they are irrelevant.  It can be hard to overcome this barrier.

Nevertheless, despite these spurious approaches, I am frequently baffled by the sheer lack of curiosity exhibited by some of the companies I’ve contacted.  Publishing and media are currently undergoing wrenching change—the way we now do just about everything will be very different five years from now (and maybe even next year).  Some, with withered hands firmly pressing against the figurative front doors of their publishing houses, deny entry to any new force as if they could overcome change with feigned ignorance and exasperation.  I don’t forget the few slammed phone receivers or nasty outbursts but I do relish when they come back for a second look--it proves that good business development eventually wins out.

Curiously, digital conferences are big business because, supposedly, there is a collective striving for  greater knowledge or understanding about the direction of our business.   If attending a digital conference is a substitute for real, proactive business development –actively looking for new ideas and partners – have we changed how we conduct daily business operations in order to be more receptive to development opportunities from potential partners from outside our traditional universe?   Not in my experience.  (Presumably, your conventional partners are all tapped out!)

Who on your staff is responsible for fielding the occasional new business opportunity?   Are they identified on your web site?  Let me take a step back; is anyone identified on your web site?  And, if they are, do you list their phone numbers and e-mail addresses?  I’ve visited many web sites where the only communication option is via an anonymous “info@” e-mail address!   I understand there’s resistance to hearing from all kinds of wackos but this is the way business is conducted.  And I’ve got news for you: For anyone with a modicum of patience, tracking down almost any phone number and email address is ridiculously easy so not putting these on your website is only an irritant.  A far better approach would be to identify the executive responsible for fielding business development proposals, describe the kind of business ideas you are interested in and define a format for proposing them.  Present press releases from completed deals to give visitors to your site essential background and context for prospective partnerships.  Proactively manage this process and you will not only save yourself (and your potential partner) valuable time while still opening up your company to new and interesting business opportunities.

One thing I learned when I attained a certain level of management responsibility was to be immediately and also politely forthright about my interest level in proposals.  Don’t just slam the phone down—take the time to clarify your understanding of the overture and then be clear about why it’s not something you’re interesting in pursing.   There’s nothing worse than wasting everyone’s time on repeated attempts to make something work if one party is really not interested: End it as soon as possible but do so professionally and with an explanation.  You say you don’t need to provide an explanation?  I would disagree; not only is it professional courtesy but the intellectual exercise of thinking things through is essential for seeing how, in the future, out of the ordinary ideas could support your business objectives in ways you hadn’t thought of.

As our industry continues to corkscrew through changes, we increasingly feel like its 'business out of the ordinary', but this is manageable and, while some of us might want to ignore our circumstances, most of us would like to survive in this new and different world.  That requires a receptiveness to new ways of working and openness to new partners offering ideas and solutions we’ve never thought of.  Therein lies the true opportunity for good business development.  Once, Berlitz was a company virtually devoid of technology: The customer experience was completely dependent on humans delivering live language instruction; their salaries and rent for school locations around the world comprised the vast majority of the company’s expense.  We knew nothing of technology but saw the potential in a simple CD-ROM product and it is sometimes upon the most tenuous of platforms that key relationships can be established.  I believe that those companies open to extrapolating beyond their current circumstances are those that will embrace business development as a function for growth beyond the confines of their existing environments and will prosper as a result.  Companies who don’t, won’t.

Monday, June 11, 2012

MediaWeek (V5, N24): Gatsby, Effective Tweets, Taliban, Why Read? Young Offenders + More

Jay McInerney writing in the Observer about The Great Gatsby (Observer):

The Great Gatsby seems to be enjoying a moment, what with the success of the New York production of Gatz, opening in London (described by America's leading theatre critic Ben Brantley as "The most remarkable achievement in theatre not only of this year but also of this decade"), and the release later this year of Baz Luhrman's $120m film version. The book was little noticed on your side of the Atlantic on its initial publication. Collins, which had published the English editions of F Scott Fitzgerald's first two novels, rejected it outright, and the Chatto and Windus edition failed to arouse much enthusiasm, critical or commercial, when it was published in London in 1926. To be fair, the novel hadn't been a smash hit in the States the year before, selling less than his two previous novels and falling well short of the expectations of Fitzgerald and his publisher, despite some very good reviews. TS Eliot declared: "In fact, it seems to me the first step American fiction has taken since Henry James." And yet, many of the 23,000 copies printed in 1925 were gathering dust in the Scribner's warehouse when Fitzgerald died in obscurity in Hollywood 15 years later.
At that time, Gatsby seemed like the relic of an age most wanted to forget. In the succeeding years, Fitzgerald's slim tale of the jazz age became the most celebrated and beloved novel in the American canon. It's more than an American classic; it's become a defining document of the national psyche, a creation myth, the Rosetta Stone of the American dream. And yet all the attempts to adapt it to stage and screen have only served to illustrate its fragility and its flaws. Fitzgerald's prose somehow elevates a lurid and underdeveloped narrative to the level of myth.

How popular are your tweets?  Take a lesson from some researchers (The Atlantic):

The algorithm comes courtesy of a fascinating paper [pdf] from UCLA and Hewlett-Packard's HP Labs. The researchers Roja Bandari, Sitram Asur, and Bernardo Huberman teamed up to try to predict the popularity -- which is to say, the spreadability -- of news-based tweets. While previous work has relied on tweets' early performance to predict their popularity over their remaining lifespan, Bandari et al focused on predicting tweets' popularity even before they become tweets in the first place. The researchers have developed a tool that allows Twitterers -- and, in particular, news organizations -- to calibrate their tweets in advance of their posting, creating content that's optimized for maximum attention and impact. That tool allows for the forecasting of a tweeted article's popularity with a remarkable 84 percent accuracy.

An anthology of contemporary Taliban poetry is being published (The Atlantic)

The anthology has already been criticized for promoting sympathy for the Taliban. How do you respond to such commentary?
We understand where these criticisms are coming from. Troops from 50 different countries are currently fighting in Afghanistan, and each week brings news of more injured and dead. At the same time, though, we would make a distinction between sympathy and empathy. This collection was not complied to garner sympathy for the Taliban. What it does give the reader is a new window on an amorphous group, possibly allowing one to empathize with the particular author of a poem, letting one see the world through their eyes, should one want to do so. For this collection, we felt these songs brought something new to the discussion, and added a perspective on where those who associate themselves with the movement are coming from. From our own experience, we knew how important and resonant these songs were for people living in Afghanistan, and we thought it would be useful to present these to a broader community of scholars, poets and the general public.

And a somewhat related opinion piece in Salon about the need to read books-with a question mark (Salon):

Essentially we haven’t changed since the beginning of our histories. We are the same erect apes that a few million years ago discovered in a piece of rock or wood instruments of battle, while at the same time stamping on cave walls bucolic images of daily life and the revelatory palms of our hands. We are like the young Alexander who, on the one hand, dreamt of bloody wars of conquest and, on the other, always carried with him Homer’s books that spoke of the suffering caused by war and the longing for Ithaca. Like the Greeks, we allow ourselves to be governed by sick and greedy individuals for whom death is unimportant because it happens to others, and in book after book we attempt to put into words our profound conviction that it should not be so. All our acts (even amorous acts) are violent and all our arts (even those that describe such acts) contradict that violence. Our world exists in the tension between these two states.
Today, as we witness absurd wars wished upon us less from a desire for justice than from economic lust, our books may perhaps help to remind us that divisions between the good and the bad, just and unjust, them and us, is far less clear than political speeches make them out to be. The reality of literature (which ultimately holds the little wisdom allowed us) is intimately ambiguous, exists in a vast spectrum of tones and colours, is fragmented, ever-changing, never sides entirely with anyone, however heroic the character may seem. In our literary knowledge of the world, we intuit that even God is not unimpeachable; far less our beloved Andromaque, Parzifal, Alice, Candide, Bartleby, Gregor Samsa, Alonso Quijano.

From the Globe and Mail a news item about some teen inmates encouraged to write about their experiences in graphic novel form (GandM)

The result is In and Out, a graphic novel illustrated by Meghan Bell, a professional artist outside the system, based on a story line developed by the small group of 16-to-19-year-old inmates.
It follows the experiences of a young man who fights to get his life on the right track, while his brother and friends are trying to pull him back into a continued life of crime.
The goal of the project, Ms. Creedon said, was to both encourage literacy and find a way for repeat offenders to get across to their peers that there is a way to get out and stay out.
“They refer to themselves as frequent flyers,” Ms. Creedon said. “They get out and then come right back in ... it is tragic.”
She said the recidivism rate is in a large part due to the fact most young offenders have such poor literacy skills that they can’t get jobs.
From my twitter feed this week:

California takes another big step towards open education in higher ed:  

Educators say they want faster, more precise results for online searches of educational content.

How Dorothy Parker Came To Rest In Baltimore

OCLC Picks Jack Blount, former Dynix Executive, as New CEO -


Saturday, June 09, 2012

Park Court Hotel - Grand Dads Pile.

Park Court Hotel, Cheetham Hill, Manchester 1972

This was one of my grand father's bed and breakfast hotels and on travels back to England we stayed here a few times.  As was typical of the time, most of the rooms had their own electricity meter and I remember that you had to feed this meter 50pense coins if you wanted the heat on.  Grand Dad used to send us to bed with a bag of coins in case we got cold at night.  Can you imagine checking into a hotel and then having to pay for your own heat?

In this photo, there's some frost on the grass out front but in summer it was a nice lawn and I mowed it a few times.  It may be the only lawn I've ever mowed come to think of it.

Another weekly image from my archive. Click on it to make it larger.

In addition to the images I've posted on Flickr and those I've periodically posted on PND, I have now produced a Big Blurb Book: From the Archive 1960 -1980 of some of the images I really thought were special.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Mary Meeker's 2012 Internet Trends

KPCB Internet Trends 2012

Bradbury reads "If only We had Taller Been"

On Nov. 12, 1971, on the eve of Mariner 9 going into orbit at Mars, Bradbury took part in a symposium at Caltech with Arthur C. Clarke, journalist Walter Sullivan, and scientists Carl Sagan and Bruce Murray. In this excerpt, Bradbury reads his poem, "If Only We Had Taller Been."

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Wanting Contact

Most conferences now encourage attendees to reach out in advance to set up meetings with exhibitors. I tend to use this option as a last resort but and I've occasionally been able to set up business meetings with a target this way. London Bookfair and BookExpo are two conferences where I used their conference networking function.  Unfortunately, it is my experience this avenue is frequently ignored by the publisher, despite the fact that there is frequently a specific person identified as the recipient for your message.  I'm not sure if this is due to laziness or just incompetence but either way this makes this route to contacting a target often hit or miss.

Sometimes - and this has occurred to me in other contexts - you wonder at the decision making and competence of some of the people on the front lines.  Given some responses I've received from marketing and sales staff, I wonder how aware senior management are in the breadth and depth of the barriers sometimes placed in front of people who want to do business with them.  Training any staff to use their common sense or go beyond the strict limits of their job description for the betterment of the company sounds like something that wouldn't be needed but that's often not my experience.  This might be especially true of staff who are placed as points of contact - at a trade show or conference, etc. - where they are likely to receive a wide array of overtures.  Most of these will be spurious but occasionally that's not the case.  Many of these contacts will be beyond the staff's experience or specific day-to-day job responsibilities (that's the nature of a trade show), and they should be trained to validate these contacts and forward them to the right internal person.  Or they could simply provide the right person to approach.  Too often they are not forthcoming in either way.

At a recent conference, I noticed that a division of a publisher who I've been trying to reach for a long time was exhibiting.  Since all my prior contacts had run cold I reached out to the contact person on the conference website.  I validated my approach by noting we were working with a sister division of the company (and with several competitors) but to no avail.  I was told that the division was not in fact exhibiting this year and the marketing assistant suggested I register on their supplier website and the right person would get back to me.  I went to the supplier website and it was clear to me this site was more for plumbers and paper suppliers.  Not exactly where I thought I'd get the right response.

When I went back to the marketing person to question whether registering on that site was likely to put me in touch with someone at the same level as the person we were working with in their sister division, I got the pert response from the marketing assistance 'why don't you ask her yourself?'  That's a quote.

That wasn't very helpful but the story has a happy ending.  My colleague, was also chasing a contract at the same company, ended up getting a meeting at the show.  Interestingly, when I went by the stand the marketing person I had the above exchange with was standing right next to the person my colleague arranged to meet.  Now, how do I remind that marketing person about her complete incompetence - in a nice way, and shouldn't the boss know what the front line is doing?

Texas Texts are Tainted

Gail Collins in the NY Review of Books on the influence of Texas and the selection of content in many educational textbooks. It's an old story but entertaining nevertheless.
The changes often seemed to be thrown out haphazardly, and to pass or fail on the basis of frequently opaque conclusions on the part of the swing members. In 2010, the board tossed out books by the late Bill Martin Jr., the author of Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?, from a list of authors third-graders might want to study because someone mixed him up with Bill Martin, the author of Ethical Marxism.

The final product the board came up with called for a curriculum that would make sure that students studying economic issues of the late nineteenth century would not forget “the cattle industry boom” and that when they turned to social issues like labor, growth of the cities, and problems of immigrants they also take time to dwell on “the philanthropy of industrialists.” When it came to the Middle Ages, the board appeared to be down on any mention of the Crusades, an enterprise that tends to reflect badly on the Christian side of Christian–Islamic conflict. And when they got to the cold war era, the board wanted to be sure students would be able to “explain how Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to ongoing conflict.” Later, they were supposed to study “Islamic fundamentalism and the subsequent use of terrorism by some of its adherents.” And that appeared to be pretty much all young people in Texas were going to be required to know about Arab nations and the world’s second-largest religion.
 Another post from a few years back (Post)

Monday, June 04, 2012

Georgia State Update from Inside Higher Ed

ISHEd reviews the latest information pertaining to the Georgia State eReserves case (ISHEd)
Strictly speaking, Cambridge v. Patton only pertains to e-reserve practices at Georgia State. However, given the ambiguity over the boundaries of educational fair use with respect to academic libraries, many observers expect that the resolution of the case will cause ripple effects in e-reserve policies across the country.
As with the last proposed settlement by the publishers, this new proposal is likely to ruffle feathers among academic librarians.
"The proposed order is clearly intended to humiliate [Georgia State] and to make fair use as difficult as possible for them," wrote Kevin Smith, scholarly communications officer at Duke University, on his blog. "It reads to me like a party who actually won very little at the trial still trying to spike the ball in the other parties’ face."
Background from an earlier PND post - here.

BookExpo Week: Education Sessions of Interest

Some of the many interesting sessions at the Book Expo conference here in the big smoke this week.  (Full Program)

Raise Your Revenue & Increase Your Profit Margins With Direct-To-Consumer Sales

Date: Monday, June 4 9:30 am - 10:20 am
Location: 1E04
Author/Participant: Don Leeper (Founder ) BookMobile
John Oakes (co-publisher) OR Books
Keith Shay (CEO) Ware-Pak
Molly Koecher (Vice President & General Manager) Cartech, Inc.
Description:
Direct To Consumer Sales (DTC) are an indispensible sales option for publishers who want to be successful. Savvy publishers can take advantage of Direct-To-Consumer Sales and look forward to an increase in earning potential and establishing social relationships with a target audience for future sales. By selling directly to the consumer, publishers earn the full retail price of their products, which translates into higher profit margins. As a publisher, each time you reach out and make a connection to your consumer directly, it builds your brand, utilizes the reaching-readers strategy, and can create a loyal audience for future titles and products. This informative and educational session will help publishers learn how to fulfill online ebook sales and the logistics of print fulfillment. Also included are the secrets to creating a successful promotional marketing campaign, building a consumer-focused website and how to take full advantage of Print on Demand (POD). 

Protecting Your Titles - Building Out The Digital Rights & Permissions Marketplace!

Date: Monday, June 4 11:00 am - 11:50 am
Location: 1E04
Author/Participant: Bill Manfull (Sales Director)
  Michael Healy (Executive Director, Author & Publisher Relations)
  Robert Kasher
  Dick Stahl (Managing Director)
Description:
The next digital frontier in publishing will focus on Digital Rights and Permissions! This exciting and informative session will focus on presenting a hands-on practical guide to protecting published works with the digitalization of Rights and Permissions. Publishers will learn exactly what the benefits are to having proper Digital Rights and Permissions in place for their titles. Learn how to handle legacy contract digitalizing and why making this a priority is so important in today's downloadable mobile environment. Publishers who want to successfully enter the online marketplace should be integrated into the Book Industry Study Group's controlled rights vocabulary for Onix3 metadata and this will be covered in detail during this session. 

The Changing Face of E-Book Reading: Presenting Trended E-Book Consumer Data, 2009 - 2012

Date: Tuesday, June 5 9:00 am - 9:50 am
Location: 1E16
Author/Participant: Len Vlahos
Description:
Peel away both the hype and the cynicism and find out how consumers are actually using e-readers and consuming digital content. Presenting results from the third volume of the Book Industry Study Group's (BISG's) Consumer Attitudes Toward E-book Reading survey, Len Vlahos will provide a window into the mind of an e-book consumer. From e-reader preferences to price sensitivity, learn what end users really think today, and how this thinking has changed over the past three years.

The Current Size of U.S. Book Publishing: Exploring Shifts (2008-2011) Across Format, Category and Channel

Date: Tuesday, June 5 - 2:00 pm - 2:50 pm
Location: 1E11
Author/Participant:
  Dominique Raccah (CEO and Publisher) Sourcebooks
  Moderator(s)
  Angela Bole
  Speaker(s)
  Kelly Gallagher (VP of Publishing Services) RR Bowker
  Tina Jordan (Vice President) Association of American Publishers
Description:
In 2011, BookStats a joint venture between the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group revolutionized the way the book industry looked at its own data. For the first time, publishers, booksellers, and other stakeholders benefited from an accurate sizing of the entire book ecosystem based on a heralded new methodology. Now, in 2012, BookStats is back, bigger and better than ever. In addition to data across three angles format, category, and channel the new edition will include a deeper dive into category analysis along with individual company benchmarking. In this session, members of the BookStats Steering Committee will reveal topline results from BookStats 2012 and discuss the importance of good data to the entire industry. 

Digital Show & Tell

Date: Thursday, June 7 - 9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Location: 1E12/1E13
Author/Participant:
  Presenter(s):  Book Industry Study Group
Description:
At Digital Show & Tell, developed by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) and sponsored by BookExpo America (BEA), participants will "Speed Date" up and coming projects in the e-book, e-reader, digital book and digital content space. How it works: Over the course of four hours – punctuated with coffee breaks, of course! – eighteen demonstrators will elevator pitch their innovative digital projects to a small group of participants for 5 minutes. Once time is up, the participants will rotate to a new demonstrator. When all’s said and done, participants will have "dated" eighteen exciting new digital projects and voted for their favorite! Digital Show & Tell is for anyone in the book publishing industry that wants to get up close and personal with new technologies and talk directly with the people who created and use them. Separate registration is required through the BISG website for this innovative, experiential program. Visit http://www.bisg.org/events-0-813-digital-show-tell.php for more information. There is an additional $25 fee to cover the cost of refreshments. Please note: all participants are also required to have a BEA badge to attend. BISG will ask at registration whether or not the person already has a BEA badge

Sunday, June 03, 2012

MediaWeek (V5, N23): Amazon, Achilles, Ulysses +More

In a heavily retweeted article, The Nation takes a look at The Amazon Effect.  In the process, the author seems to rely a lot on what Jason Epstein had to say.  (Not that there's anything wrong with that).

Jeff Bezos got what he wanted: Amazon got big fast and is getting bigger, dwarfing all rivals. To fully appreciate the fear that is sucking the oxygen out of publishers’ suites, it is important to understand what a steamroller Amazon has become. Last year it had $48 billion in revenue, more than all six of the major American publishing conglomerates combined, with a cash reserve of $5 billion. The company is valued at nearly $100 billion and employs more than 65,000 workers (all nonunion); Bezos, according to Forbes, is the thirtieth wealthiest man in America. Amazon may be identified in the public mind with books, but the reality is that book sales account for a diminishing share of its overall business; the company is no longer principally a bookseller. Amazon is now an online Walmart, and while 50 percent of its revenues are derived from music, TV shows, movies and, yes, books, another 50 percent comes from a diverse array of products and services. In the late 1990s Bezos bought IMDb.com, the authoritative movie website. In 2009 he went gunning for bigger game, spending nearly $900 million to acquire Zappos.com, a shoe retailer. He also owns Diapers.com, a baby products website. Now he seeks to colonize high-end fashion as well. “Bezos may well be the premier technologist in America,” said Wired, “a figure who casts as big a shadow as legends like Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs.”
Tales of brave Achilles: From the Observer a discussion of the continued popularity of Achilles (Observer)
Why are the classics making a comeback? According to Hughes, the classical historian and broadcaster, it is to do with emotional connection.
"You think of big epic tales and you think they're just to do with war and conflict, but Homer actually writes beautiful lines," she says. "There's one line about Athena brushing an arrow away 'like a mother brushing a fly off the face of a sleeping child'. I read that and I remembered doing that with my own child.
"So suddenly there's an immediate emotional connection, 27 centuries later, to me as a 21st-century mother. There are big philosophical connections, but also the base connection of what it is to be human.
"I do think that, post-millennium and post-9/11, people have become much less abashed about asking the big questions about why we're here. If anything can answer those, it's the wisdom of the ancients because the Greeks and Romans weren't just swanning around in the Mediterranean sunshine, they were living in tough times. You could be dead by the age of 45. You were in a time of total war."

BBC Radio 4 is planning a whole day on Joyce's Ulysses for Bloomsday June 16th (Observer):

Which makes it all the more welcome that the BBC is intending to go several better than its (admittedly useful) cheats' guide and mount an extensive celebration of the novel on this year's Bloomsday. This coming 16 June, Radio 4 will be a wall-to-wall Joycefest, kicking off at 9am and running until midnight: a new, five-and-a-half hour dramatisation of Ulysses, narrated by Stephen Rea and starring Henry Goodman, Niamh Cusack and Andrew Scott, will be punctuated by broadcasts by Mark Lawson in Dublin and discussions about the book's place in 20th-century literature.
To reassure those who might quail at some of the book's more full-blooded material, the Beeb has emphasised that its raciest parts will be concentrated after 8pm (although there has not been a cull of the explicit: as the dramatisation's producer, Jeremy Mortimer, points out: "You can't have a Molly Bloom that doesn't enjoy sex").

Potentially interesting big data application in Higher Ed gets some funding (TC):

With capital in tow, Civitas is looking to provide colleges and universities not only with smart learning tools but also the ability to create their own learning apps based on its “Learning Community’s” application programming interfaces. By doing so, Civitas is providing an alternative path for scaling tools and solutions across institutions, through supporting publisher-created apps as well as those built by startups that otherwise could never invest in the integrations with campus systems or the sales cycles necessary to establish relationships with higher ed institutions.
In turn, the startup’s participating institutions can identify trends across swaths of student learning data, including a realtime view of which students are at risk of dropping out (and why), the ability to identify specific courses and degree paths that are contributing to attrition, and, in turn, what specific resources and interventions are most successful and for what type of students.

Frank Donoghue at The Chronicle thinks about the consequences of closing University Presses (Chronicle):

University presses have been an essential component of research institutions since the founding of Johns Hopkins, venues where scholarly knowledge could be dispersed to an admittedly small but interested intellectually interested community. It is, I admit, hard to imagine major universities without presses. But one has to at least consider: Have those various intellectual communities become too splintered, specialized and small? Have the monographs that university presses produce become so costly that individual scholars can’t purchase them? And, thus, have university presses outlived their time? If they have, there are even more dire professional consequences, which I will take up next time.
From the Twitter:

Ten Reasons to Avoid Doing Business With Amazon -

Tintin cover fetches record price

Spanish Booksellers to Sue Amazon Over Book Prices

Textbooks don't have to be free, but $20/month is too much. Students will rebel.  (HT )

Libraries Grapple With The Downside Of E-Books NPR

Friday, June 01, 2012

Bus Station Kabul 1971

Bus Station Kabul 1971

I think this was the central bus station for Kabul. Hard to tell but there does seem to be some commotion down front where it looks like a crowd has gather over some dispute or other.

See all the bus passengers crammed onto the bus on the right.  Hope they're not going far.

Another weekly image from my archive. Click on it to make it larger.

In addition to the images I've posted on Flickr and those I've periodically posted on PND, I have now produced a Big Blurb Book: From the Archive 1960 -1980 of some of the images I really thought were special.