Sunday, March 31, 2013

MediaWeek (V7, N13): London Town, Kirtsaeng Copyright, Bacon, Today Show + more

An homage to Uncle Monty who died this week. Also known as Henry from Pie in the Sky. New Statesman.

A long The Nation article discussing several books about London. How distinct, original and independent is London or has it all just been "Made in America"?
The arrival of new sensibilities in pop, couture and conceptual art coincided with the arrival of youngish, self-consciously forward-looking, extravagantly promise-making politicians who sought to persuade American journalists and not a few other people that London was the home of a distinct contemporary set of ideals. (Though in a way, this was nothing new: in 1966, Time magazine had identified London as “the swinging city”—with people saying ever since that London swung for about thirty people for maybe half an hour—while in the mid-1990s, the “Cool Britannia” moment was announced by Newsweek and duly covered in Vanity Fair.) It was a time of jubilation, partly about what was happening, but mostly about what was going to emerge: a post-Thatcher, post-Major utopia populated by politicized guitarists and guitar-playing politicians. It lasted until late 1997, with—depending on where you were standing—the release of Oasis’s bloated album Be Here Now or the revelation that the new prime minister, Tony Blair, part of the generation pledging to end political “sleaze” (the word appeared in national newspapers 3,479 times in 1994–95), had exempted the Formula One racing empire, run by the Labour donor Bernie Ecclestone, from the government ban on tobacco sponsorship. It turned out that, despite what people believed, Oasis wasn’t infallible and, as many people suspected, Blair was a cynic. Blair’s friend Peter Mandelson later assured a Silicon Valley audience that New Labour was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” (“intensely relaxed” doubling as an uncannily accurate description of Blair’s persona).
James Grimmelmann writing in Publisher's Weekly about the Kirtsaeng copyright case the Wiley lost last week.
Justice Breyer, writing for himself and five colleauges, disagreed. "Lawfully made," he explained, refers only to infringing versus noninfringing copies; it does not make geographic distinctions. First sale applies to copies made anywhere in the world "as long as their manufacture met the requirements of American copyright law." Since the textbooks Kirtsaeng was importing were printed with the permission of the copyright holders, they were legal, and so were his imports. Game, set, match.

Breyer's opinion gives particular weight to concerns suggested by the American Library Association and other groups who submitted amicus briefs. If copies made abroad aren't subject to first sale, there goes the lending right for imported books; art galleries couldn't safely display foreign paintings; and don't even think about trying to sell your imported car, which contains copyrighted software. Indeed, one might ask, why wouldn't publishers shift all their priting overseas, to be rid of first sale once and for all? Breyer's opinion for the Court denies this parade of horribles a permit.

Justice Ginsburg's forceful dissent, however, points out the serious consequences the decision will have for publishers. If Kirtsaeng can import international editions, so can Amazon, or anyone. The price differential between the two will collapse. Publishers will be reluctant to create inexpensive editions for those in less affluent countries who can't afford the eye-watering prices (some) Americans can. That's bad for readers around the world, and could make it infeasible to publish some books at all.

The Kirtsaeng opinion seriously undermines the viability of English-language territorial rights in this age of global e-commerce and cheap shipping. All English-language editions will be competing against each other, which means licensing a U.S. edition and a Canadian edition and an Indian edition is inviting the three publishers to compete against each other on price.
Columbia Journalism Review is one of the best media industry journals going and I've linked to their articles many times. Here in brief they jump on some link bait set by BusinessWeek about the Amazon Goodreads deal:
Bloomberg BusinessWeek makes itself look silly today, running a speculative piece on how much Amazon paid for its latest acquisition, Goodreads.

Here’s the headline: Amazon likely paid $1 billion for Goodreads
Philip Pullman on bacon (More Intelligent Life):
Frying bacon: is there any smell that prompts the saliva glands to gush more freely? Roasting coffee is almost as good, perhaps, but bacon is the king. And it has to be fried. Grilling the stuff makes it self-conscious and prim. Grilled bacon is for people who are too polite for sensuousness, let alone sensuality. The rashers have to wallow in a blackened frying pan, curling up with delight, spitting with glee, letting the fat molecules, as they rise in excitement from the stove, carry the news of the ongoing savoury-umami-salty-Maillard orgy to every corner of the house. And what sort of fat? The bacon will generously supply some of its own, but if it needs supplementing, the best of all is lard. No olive oil here, thank you.
In a way you have to feel sorry for Matt Lauer over at the Today show although the irony is lost on everyone at this point. (NY Mag)
The irony of the current situation is that almost no one with an eye for live television thought that Curry, all things being equal, was a natural for Today’s couch. Curry was a television pro—her emotionally charged reporting on Darfur and Haiti won awards and performed well in the ratings—but that’s a very different skill than making small talk about salad dressing and bantering with Matt Lauer. Wide-eyed and breathless with empathy while interviewing people touched by tragedy, Curry could be awkward and mercurial in the morning happy-talk milieu, her real feelings bursting forth at odd moments. She was considered intensely earnest and somewhat fragile, despite her hard-news chops. In the past, Couric would sometimes tease her about her clothes, remarks that Curry took badly. When Lauer and Today producers tried to “punk” the rest of the cast one morning in 2011—sending them to a fake magazine photo shoot where the photographer had a meltdown and started firing all his assistants—Curry was infuriated with Lauer and retreated to her dressing room. Roker, her longtime friend, was sent to comfort her.

From my twitter feed:

BBC News - Your Week in Pictures Check out the seventh photo!
Launch Pad Finalists Announced for SLOAN-C Conference on Emerging Technologies.  

Friday, March 29, 2013

Beirut International Airport 1972

In many of the countries we visited once the plane had settled into its' parking space somewhere out on the tarmac they would roll over the stairs to the plane and everyone would descend to be transported to the terminal in a bus.   At some airports - Karachi, Tehran, Beirut - before the cabin doors where opened they would send out guards to watch over the plane.  At one airport I remember a ring of soldiers facing outwards and spaced a few feet apart entirely circling the plane.  For a kid, that seems exciting but I am sure to some of the adults coming down the stairs from one of these Jumbos seeing that type of welcome was possibly unsettling. This guy seems a little more relaxed and isn't typical of what I recall about some of the guards I saw in other locations.  I think PND Senior probably took this image because officers with guns mingling with civies was for us still unusual.  Times have changed.

This is a great full page spread in the Blurb book I am always mentioning.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Student Vision for Digital Learning

A presentation from Project Tomorrow on the uses of and implications for technology in education. More information about the Project Tomorrow is located here:
The vision of Project Tomorrow is ensure that today’s students are well prepared to be tomorrow’s innovators, leaders and engaged citizens of the world. We believe that by supporting the innovative uses of science, math and technology resources in our K-12 schools and communities, students will develop the critical thinking, problem solving and creativity skills needed to compete and thrive in the 21st century. We approach our mission through national research projects, the replication of model excellence projects in schools and communities, online tools and resources for students, teachers and parents, and national and regional advocacy efforts. In September 2005, NetDay, a national education technology nonprofit group, merged with a regional science education nonprofit to create the new Project Tomorrow.

Enabled, Engaged, Empowered: The New Student Vision for Digital Learning from Julie Evans

What can the "Speak Up" findings tell us about the future of technology in education:
  • Students serve as a 'digital advance team' 
  • Students regularly adopt and adapt technology for education
  • Students frustrations focus on the unsophisticated use of technology in education
  • Persistent digital disconnect between students and adults
  • Exacerbation of lack of relevance in current education
  • Students want a more personalized learning environment

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cambium Learning (Voyager) Makes Executive Changes

The fun never stops in education publishing these days. The Dallas based education content and technology company Cambium Learning Group announced senior level executive changes last week with their CEO and CFO leaving the company. Cambium comprises three businesses: Voyager, a comprehensive intervention business; Sopris, a supplemental solutions business; and Cambium Learning Technologies, which includes ExploreLearning, IntelliTools, Kurzweil and Learning A-Z. Cambium will have been negatively impacted by the general slow down (some say collapse) of the US K-12 market over the past three years.

Last week the company announced the resignations of CEO Ron Klausner and CFO Brad Almond. In both cases internal candidates were designated as replacements and both resigned their board positions as did board member Vernon Johnson. John Campbell who had been SVP and President of the Cambium Learning Technologies unit was named CEO.  Barbara Benson, currently the Controller and Principal Accounting Officer of the Company was named CFO. Johnson's position on the board was taken by Joe Walsh who was also named Chairman of the Board. Walsh has clearly been brought in as an executive chairman and in a change management role. There is more on the changes in the following 8K: SEC.GOV (8K Statement)

Over the past several years revenues have been up and down at Cambium but 2012 was clearly a painful year for the company as this summary indicates:

Cambium Learning Group, Inc 10K

Voyager was purchased by Veronis in 2009

Library patron borrows an eBook. Library can't cope.

From the Orlando Sentinel:
"The library's e-book service is great because I don't have to park, walk to the library, find the book and check it out," said the accountant [Krantz]. "The only complaint I have is that I have to wait longer than usual for an e-book because the library seems to stock few digital copies of the titles I want."

Krantz represents a growing number of Central Florida readers depending on their public libraries to fuel their consumption of e-books, downloadable audiobooks and other digital media. At the same time, librarians across the Orlando area are scrambling to meet that increasing demand while facing rising e-book costs and budget cuts.

"The growing expense of e-books is something we're up against as a profession," Pepo said.  Tate explains that the library's two e-book copies of "Guilt," a bestselling thriller by Jonathan Kellerman, cost the Seminole County PublicLibrary about $84 each. But each of the 20 copies of the same title in print cost $28.
"That really chips into your budget as you try to provide patrons e-books," Tate said.
Publishing houses say e-book prices are high because they don't ever wear out, are borrowed more frequently than print books and are convenient: Users don't have to go to a library to check them out.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

MediaWeek (V7, N12); Nash on Publishing, Retailing, Libraries, Copyright + more

A long treatise on publishing from Richard Nash and here is a sample (Virginia Quarterly);
Selling a book, print or digital, turns out to be far from the only way to generate revenue from all the remarkable cultural activity that goes into the creation and dissemination of literature and ideas. Recall again all the schmoozing, learning, practice, hustling, reading upon reading upon reading that goes into the various editorial components of publishing; the pattern recognition; the storytelling that editors do, that sales reps do, that publicists do, that the bookstore staff does. Recall the average feted poet who makes more money at a weekend visiting-writer gig than her royalties are likely to earn her in an entire year. You begin to realize that the business of literature is the business of making culture, not just the business of manufacturing bound books. This, in turn, means that the increased difficulty of selling bound books in a traditional manner (and the lower price point in selling digital books) is not going to be a significant challenge over the long run, except to free the business of literature from the limitations imposed when one is producing things rather than ideas and stories. Book culture is not print fetishism; it is the swirl and gurgle of idea and style in the expression of stories and concepts—the conversation, polemic, narrative force that goes on within and between texts, within and between people as they write, revise, discover, and respond to those texts. That swirl and gurgle does happen to have a home for print fetishism, as it has a home for digital fetishism. This is what literature has always been. Being yoked to the Industrial Revolution’s machines for analog reproduction, accompanied by an arbitrary process for selecting what should be reproduced, will prove to be an anomaly in the history of literature, useful as that phase was for the democratization of access to reading. The publisher is an orchestrator in the world of book culture, not a machine for sorting manuscripts and supplying a small number of those manuscripts in improved and bound form to a large number of people via a retailer-based supply chain best suited for the distribution of cornflakes, not ideas.
As for as the rest, this week's maybe The Economist edition... 

The idea that Amazon could open retail stores may not be so crazy as The Economist reports on other examples of web retailers getting physical:
Pure online retailers do not pay rent but their variable costs eat up much of that advantage, says Sophie Albizua of eNova Partnership, a consultancy. Without storefronts to lure in customers they shell out to buy ads linked to Google search results. Delivery, especially of bulky goods, is a headache. Couriers show up at empty houses, and fees often fail to cover the full cost. Shoppers return a quarter or more of clothing they buy, another big expense.

All this looks easier if you have real shops. With “click and collect” customers can order with, say, a smartphone but pick up the item at a convenient outlet. Often, they linger to shop more. Britons pick up something extra about 40% of the time, says Ms Albizua.

Happily hybrid John Lewis, an upmarket department-store chain, says that on- and offline shopping spur each other on. When a new shop opens, online sales in the vicinity can jump by 20-40% “overnight”, says Noel Saunders, the manager of the branch near London’s Olympic Stadium. New products can be tested online and stocked in store if they do well. Nearly a third of customers who order online pick up their wares in stores. Britons are among the world’s most avid online shoppers, but 65% still prefer buying in-store, according to a survey by Hitachi Consulting.
Taking a look at the right of first sale ruling by SCOTUS last week (Economist):
Publishers, record labels, film studios and other content-owners are shocked. They have often sold the same product in poorer countries for less, knowing that it would not hurt their pricing power at home. Now it will. Big online retailers such as Amazon and eBay could start exploiting these pricing differences on a large scale. Ian Whittaker of Liberum Capital, a broker, thinks this ruling will really hurt academic publishers, such as Pearson (a part-owner of The Economist). They tend to sell identical books for eye-watering prices in America and much less in countries where people cannot afford those prices.Publishers have already warned that they may have to turn the page on the old system of letting students in poor countries buy textbooks cheaply. “Some people are predicting a world where price discrimination will no longer be possible,” says Arti Rae, a professor of law at Duke University. Media companies could choose to stagger the release of films or books across countries, delaying the launch of titles in countries where they cannot fetch high prices. However, that may simply encourage piracy. Congress could intervene and rejig the Copyright Act of 1976, which established the first-sale doctrine. But that would require Washington to get its act together—a plotline so implausible that it would make J.K. Rowling blush.
No one likes to be belittled or disrespected (especially in public) but that may be how libraries perceive publisher behavior towards themOn eBook lending (Economist):
E-lending may reduce publishers’ control of their books, but it also takes power away from libraries. Relying on outsiders’ servers to host e-collections can mean legal hassles (it can be hard or impossible to switch providers) and worries about privacy. Alan Inouye of the American Library Association notes that libraries jealously guard data about users’ borrowing habits. But e-lending leaves new, digital traces that publishers could exploit.

An even bigger worry for both libraries and publishers is competition. In 2011 Amazon launched an e-lending programme in America. It has since expanded it to Britain, France and Germany. Customers who sign up for Amazon’s “prime” bundle of services, which offers free delivery and streamed movies for an annual fee, can also borrow a book each month on their Kindles, Amazon’s e-reading device. So far no works from big publishers are available. Librarians are irked by this, but not yet anxious. Laura Lent, the chief of collections at the San Francisco Public Library, notes that lending from her shelves, unlike Amazon’s, is free of charge.

Librarians and the book industry have different interests. But without getting future generations into the book-reading habit, both will perish, says Stuart Hamilton of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. Library lending plays a big if unquantifiable role in nurturing a love of reading.
From my twitter feed:

Dennis Wheatley to ride again, via Bloomsbury Reader The Bookseller
The ROI on Metadata for Books Swets
BBC News - Music sales are not affected by web piracy, study finds BBC
Bergdorf Goodman’s Literary Windows Bookriot

Friday, March 22, 2013

FT Confirms Cengage Roster of Helpers

I was just talking to someone about how the timing of their annual accounts will not favor Cengage when PWC has to pass judgement on the company's accounts. As noted this evening in the FT, Cengage has confirmed it now has all the advisory pieces in place to take the anticipated steps in fixing its' balance sheet.
The company said Friday that it had appointed Alvarez & Marsal for restructuring advice; Lazard to serve as financial adviser and Kirkland & Ellis for legal counsel “as part of ongoing efforts to assess its capital structure”.

It also announced that it had borrowed $430m, almost all the remaining available amount under its revolving credit facilities, to ensure it had sufficient liquidity to fund its working capital needs.

Cengage must repay $2.42bn of debt between June 2014 and June 2015 unless it can renegotiate the terms of its borrowings. Interest payments are due this June, when PwC, its auditor, must decide whether to qualify Cengage’s accounts.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rorschmap Weybridge

James Bridle whom some of you will know has caused me to waste a lot of time this evening with his hack of google street view.  The above image is near PND mission control in Weybridge, Surrey.  Here is James' explanation:
The whole thing, really, is another secret love letter to London, its red brick and blue skies, plane trees and construction hoardings, buses and eternal scaffolds. R. R. R. London as a great Georgian space ship in the sky. Making something magical with the robot photographers.
Here are some of my favourite locations discovered so far, but to be honest, it’s hard not to make something pretty good, if you like cities, patterns, and surprises:
Check it out:: : Rorschmap: Street View Edition. or click on the image above.  Do not hit the letter H!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Wiley Copyright Case Reaction

As you probably know, the case regarding re-importation into the US of books sold in another country which was brought by John Wiley & Sons against a Thai 'importer' was lost today when the Supreme Court decided to overturn the lower courts ruling in favor of Wiley. Instead, in a 6-3 decision the court sided with the defendant (Kirtsaeng).

The Wiley statement in response is terse but here is the AAP statement in reaction to the case:
Washington, DC; March 19, 2013 — The following statement was released today by Tom Allen, President and CEO, the Association of American Publishers, in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc:

“We are disappointed that today’s copyright decision by the US Supreme Court ignores broader issues critical to America’s ability to compete in the global marketplace. To quote Justice Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion, the divided ruling is a ‘bold departure’ from Congress’ intention ‘to protect copyright owners against the unauthorized importation of low-priced, foreign made copies of their copyrighted works’ that is made ‘more stunning’ by its conflict with current US trade policy.

“The Court’s ruling on a narrow question of statutory construction revealed diverse views among the Justices on whether Congress, in enacting the importation prohibitions, intended to facilitate the ability of publishers and other US copyright owners to segment their foreign and domestic markets with different pricing strategies in order to compete effectively in global trade.

“The decision will have significant ramifications for Americans who produce the books, music, movies and other content consumed avidly around the world. The Court’s interpretation of the ‘first sale’ provision of US copyright law will discourage the active export of US copyrighted works. It will also reduce the ability of educators and students in foreign countries to have access to US-produced educational materials, widely considered the world’s gold standard.

“Despite their differences, all of the Justices acknowledged the increasingly critical importance of foreign markets to the well-being of the US economy and that the impact of US copyright law on the development and growth of American participation in global trade is ultimately a matter for Congress to decide. AAP expects that Congress will likely consider whether the impact of the Court’s divided ruling on the ability of US producers to effectively compete in global markets requires legislative clarification. AAP will be prepared to participate on behalf of publishers in whatever process Congress undertakes to consider and address these issues.”
Other reaction:

Publishers Weekly

Statement from John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Libraries appear excited:  This from the The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) which consists of three major library associations — the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, and the Association of College and Research Libraries:
Today the US Supreme Court announced its much anticipated decision in Kirtsaeng v. Wiley a lawsuit regarding the bedrock principle of the “first sale doctrine.”The 6-3opinion is a total victory for libraries and our users. It vindicates the foundational principle of the first sale doctrine—if you bought it, you own it. All who believe in that principle, and the certainty it provides to libraries and many other parts of our culture and economy, should join us in applauding the Court for correcting the legal ambiguity that led to this case in the first place. It is especially gratifying that Justice Breyer’s majority opinion focused on the considerable harm that the Second Circuit’s opinion would have caused libraries.

Selections from the opinion on FindLaw:
Wiley filed suit, claiming that Kirtsaeng's unauthorized importation and resale of its books was an infringement of Wiley's §106(3) exclusive right to distribute and §602's import prohibition. Kirtsaeng replied that because his books were "lawfully made" and acquired legitimately, §109(a)'s "first sale" doctrine permitted importation and resale without Wiley's further permission. The District Court held that Kirtsaeng could not assert this defense because the doctrine does not apply to goods manufactured abroad. The jury then found that Kirtsaeng had willfully infringed Wiley's American copyrights and assessed damages. The Second Circuit affirmed, concluding that §109(a)'s "lawfully made under this title" language indicated that the "first sale" doctrine does not apply to copies of American copyrighted works manufactured abroad.
Section 109(a) says nothing about geography. "Under" can logically mean "in accordance with." And a nongeographical interpretation provides each word in the phrase "lawfully made under this title" with a distinct purpose: "lawfully made" suggests an effort to distinguish copies that were made lawfully from those that were not, and "under this title" sets forth the standard of "lawful[ness]" (i.e., the U. S. Copyright Act). This simple reading promotes the traditional copyright objective of combatting piracy and makes word-by-word linguistic sense.

In contrast, the geographical interpretation bristles with linguistic difficulties. Wiley first reads "under" to mean "in conformance with the Copyright Act where the Copyright Act is applicable." Wiley then argues that the Act "is applicable" only in the United States. However, neither "under" nor any other word in "lawfully made under this title" means "where." Nor can a geographical limitation be read into the word "applicable." The fact that the Act does not instantly protect an American copyright holder from unauthorized piracy taking place abroad does not mean the Act is inapplicable to copies made abroad. Indeed, §602(a)(2) makes foreign-printed pirated copies subject to the Copyright Act. And §104 says that works "subject to protection" include unpublished works "without regard to the [author's] nationality or domicile," and works "first published" in any of the nearly 180 nations that have signed a copyright treaty with the
United States. Pp. 8-12.
A nongeographical interpretation is also supported by other provisions of the present statute. For example, the "manufacturing clause," which limited importation of many copies printed outside the United States, was phased out in an effort to equalize treatment of copies made in America and copies made abroad. But that "equal treatment" principle is difficult to square with a geographical interpretation that would grant an American copyright holder permanent control over the American distribution chain in respect to copies printed abroad but not those printed in America. Finally, the Court normally presumes that the words "lawfully made under this title" carry the same meaning when they appear in different but related sections, and it is unlikely that Congress would have intended the consequences produced by a geographical interpretation.
But the law has not been settled for so long in Wiley's favor. The Second Circuit in this case was the first Court of Appeals to adopt a purely geographical interpretation. Reliance on the "first sale" doctrine is also deeply embedded in the practices of booksellers, libraries, museums, and retailers, who have long relied on its protection. And the fact that harm has proved limited so far may simply reflect the reluctance of copyright holders to assert geographically based resale rights. Thus, the practical problems described by petitioner and his amici are too serious, extensive, and likely to come about to be dismissed as insignificant--particularly in light of the ever-growing importance of foreign trade to America.

Pearson CFO Robin Freestone at Deutsche Bank Media Conference

Robin Freestone was interviewed in front of analysts at the Deutsche Bank's DbAccess 21st Annual Media and Telecom Conference earlier this month.

Full transcript from Seekingalpha

Some summary notes:

There are two mega trends impacting global education and they are very different:
  • Developed World:
    • Governments under pressure
    • No more money to spend on education
    • Student results not reflecting the amounts already spent on education
    • Fear losing education preeminence to developing nations
    • Belief need to improve 'productivity'
  • Developing World
    • Less state based - more private education: Brazil/India 15% privately educated students
    • Growing middle class will spend on education
    • Every year 100mm people join middle class and spending increases $1trillon
"Now if you look at what we're doing in developed markets, therefore, it's about efficacy. It's about trying to improve the outcomes with less money. And in the developing markets, it's about direct-to-consumer, where we're selling educational resources and actually education itself through our own colleges or through other people's colleges to that global middle-class"
  • Still selling them and will be for a long time to come but not growth market
  • Bundles and opening schools
"And so our cost base still reflects the old organization, if you like, to an extent, and we've got too many people, I'm afraid, who are designing beautiful books, ready to put them into the market and too few people designing software and running schools"
What's happening in the US market?
  • Always counter-cyclical: enrollments into college go down when the economy gets better.  More students go into jobs.  Enrollments contracted 2% last year and will do so in 2013
  • Less and less will we be selling books:  Selling better results: 
"In other words, rather than selling a product, a book, and saying "good luck with it, we think it's a wonderful book," but actually we really don't know whether it's really better than anybody else's book. What we're now going to be saying is, "we want you to get better examination grades. We've got a range of stuff here, mostly software, that will help you do that. And we're here with you to try and get your examination grades up, and if you implement it in this way, we can show you other customers who got that effect," and that's exactly what we're now trying offer into the market"
On the changing economics of their business:
  • Software at gross margin is a very nice business:  After break-even there is a "sizable margin improvement" and cash positions are far better.

"Anything involving books, frankly, from a working capital perspective is truly horrible. And when I first joined the company in 2004, we had a working capital to sales ratio of over 30%. And last year, excluding Penguin, it was 11%. And I think we are now seeing our way through a situation in a few years time when the working capital to sales ratio will be negative, where there wont be any, which is I think a nice place to be. Inventory fell 7% last year"
  • Want digital products and services to be over 70% of turnover by 2015: currently 56%
  • Experimenting with new models:
    • Brazil: Don't own real estate but supply educational resources for entire school: Pearson Inside Model
    • Margin profile is pretty strong
  • Current US book industry is zero sum game:
"If we can sell a book, which means that McGraw don't sell a book or Cengage don't sell a book or Houghton Mifflin don't sell a book, that's kind of victory. So it's a bit of a binary situation in that arena. When you get into the software arena, there's much more scope for our software to work with other people's software and to act in a sort of more collaborative way"

Corporate Development:
  • GBP 500 million to spend on right targets
  • Spent GBP 760 million in 2012 
  • No change in philosophy. It's very much about digital products, 
  • Opportunities anywhere in the world. Software in Hobart, Australia and in Oslo and the West Coast of America
Full transcript at SeekingAlpha

Monday, March 18, 2013

MediaWeek (V7, N11): Phoenix Flames Out, Pompeii Exhibit, Springer, MOOCs + More

The Boston Phoenix closed down last week. (CJR):
But nobody was expecting the guillotine. I certainly wasn’t. As a longtime Phoenix reader and part-time Boston resident, I’m shocked and disconsolate. The Phoenix is and was one of the best alt-weeklies in the country. From its smart reporting on state and local politics to its tough, nuanced coverage of social justice issues, the Phoenix consistently exemplified the best of the alternative press. Staff writer Chris Faraone’s you-are-there coverage of the Occupy movement was honest, unsentimental, and indispensable; during last year’s presidential campaign, political writer David S. Bernstein offered valuable insight into the Romney cotillion. The paper’s departments were memorable, too—David Thorpe’s loopy The Big Hurt music column; Robert Nadeau’s authoritative restaurant reviews; Barry Thompson’s “Meet the Mayor” series of interviews with various local Foursquare “mayors;” the tenacious local arts coverage. All were lively and occasionally brilliant; all will be missed. 
That’s not to say that the paper was flawless. No publication is. But, from my perspective, the Phoenix’s successes far outnumbered its failures. More to the point, the Phoenix was a legitimately independent weekly in a space largely dominated by conglomerate corporate media. While other alt-weeklies across the country were acquired by national chains, the Phoenix remained resolutely rooted in New England. (The Boston Phoenix had two sister papers in Providence, RI, and Portland, ME, both of which will continue to publish.) Now, the only true alt-weekly in Boston is the wisecracking Weekly Dig, which has a huge opportunity if it plays its cards right. (Many current Phoenix staffers began their careers at the Dig.)
Looks like a fascinating show at the British Museum (where the world comes to see their stuff) about domestic life in Pompeii and Herculaneum (FT):
Paul Roberts, the exhibition’s curator, talks me through the lessons of the double portrait, found at the site of a bakery. “We assume he is the bakery owner. He wears a white toga, which may mean he is a candidatus for political office. But his wife is the amazing one. She is the one with the reckoning tablet. They are equal, and they are shown equal, standing together, members of a confident, mercantile class.  
“And this was the reality of life for a lot of Roman women. They wouldn’t have been little old ladies sitting at home. They were highly visible in society.” Roberts plays down their disenfranchisement. “Think of Edwardian England: no vote, no ability to stand for office but tons of money and tons of influence.”  This is the most complete show, Roberts believes, to illustrate the domestic life of the two cities. It is designed to show the riches that would have adorned the typical prosperous Roman household: its gardens, its dining rooms; its private jokes and its grandiloquent statements of self-importance. The Italian addiction to bella figura, he says, can be traced to the flamboyance of ancient Rome.
Also in the FT, the Springer sale is off earlier than expected since the offers from some selected potential buyers were less than expected. This can mean only one thing. (FT)
But earlier this year, EQT hinted that it may wait until later in the year to start a formal process, after price indications from potential buyers including German media group Bertelsmann fell short of expectations, people with knowledge of the matter said then.
The fact that it is now accelerating the sale process highlights a dramatic shift in sentiment among the largest private equity firms in Europe over the past two months, as debt funding for acquisitions increases amid an investors rush into high yield bonds.
However this time, Bertelsmann says it won’t bid for Springer Science. After signalling for months that it would have a look at the publisher if it went on sale, the German media group said it was no longer interested.
Slightly biased research (which they admit to) on how faculty feel about the MOOCs they have taught (Chronicle):
The findings are not scientific, and perhaps the most enthusiastic of the MOOC professors were the likeliest complete the survey. These early adopters of MOOCs have overwhelmingly volunteered to try them—only 15 percent of respondents said they taught a MOOC at the behest of a superior—so the deck was somewhat stacked with true believers. A few professors whose MOOCs have gone publicly awry did not respond to the survey.

But the participants were primarily longtime professors with no prior experience with online instruction. More than two-thirds were tenured, and most had taught college for well over a decade. The respondents were overwhelmingly white and male. In other words, these were not fringe-dwelling technophiles with a stake in upending the status quo.

Therefore the positive response may come as a surprise to some observers. Every year the Babson Survey Research Group asks chief academic administrators to estimate what percentage of their faculty members "accept the value and legitimacy of online education"; the average estimate in recent years has stalled at 30 percent, even as online programs have become mainstream.

Professors at top-ranked colleges are seen as having especially entrenched views. For years, "elite" institutions appeared to view online courses as higher education's redheaded stepchild—good enough for for-profit institutions and state universities, maybe, but hardly equivalent to the classes held on their own campuses. Now these high-profile professors, who make up most of the survey participants, are signaling a change of heart that could indicate a bigger shake-up in the higher-education landscape.
Also from Wired: Where are MOOCs really going? (Wired):
The initial MOOCs came from a “process business model” where companies bring inputs together at one end and transform them into a higher-value output for customers at the other end — as with the retail and manufacturing industries.

But over time, an approach where users exchange information from each other similar to Facebook or telecommunications (a “facilitated network model”) will come to dominate online learning. This evolution is especially likely to happen if the traditional degree becomes irrelevant and, as many predict, learning becomes a continuous, on-the-job learning process. Then the need for customization will drive us toward just-in-time mini-courses.
And from the twitter feed this week:
How International Pricing Strategy Affects Publisher Profitability EPubDirect
OCLC launches WorldShare Interlibrary Loan service in the US KnowledgeSpeak
Historical audio: Unforgotten songs Economist
Ray Cusick Economist The genius who invented the Daleks. They got him.
ProQuest to Distribute NewspaperARCHIVE to Libraries Worldwide Link

Emma: Le papier ne sera jamais mort

Friday, March 15, 2013

42nd Street - The good old days of the mid 1990s

42nd Street Peep Show
This was image was taken in July 1993 was I walked across from Port Authority to Times Square and the image is approximately where MacDonalds now stands if you know the block between 8th and 7th Avenue.  Until the later 1990s the Times square area wasn't as G rated as it is now but I just wish I had taken more photos. 

During this month there was an open air art installation which is why I had my camera with me and the rest of the images showing installation pieces which included placing odd statements of the theater marquees are located here on Flickr.

This one isn't part of the Blurb book I remind everyone about but it will probably be in the next one.

You will notice that a peep was only 25cents in those days.  Something to reflect on.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cengage Reports Second Quarter

Cengage reported their second quarter results two weeks ago (Feb 13) and their analyst meeting was also the first time new CEO Michael Hansen led the discussion.  As the chart on the left indicates the second quarter 2013 showed significant deterioration in performance relative to the same period last year.  This also follows a weak Q1.  While results are disappointing it is harder to discern if Cengage is truely in trouble as some analysts suggest when they confuse the company's operating performance with their considerable short and long term debt situation.  There is little doubt the company will be forced to refinance their debt but whether they will do this by taking advantage of bankruptcy law is still an open question.  There was no indication on the call that this was being considered.

The Q2 $48 mm variance was explained as a result of the following issues:
  • Texas - National Geographic sale was non-recurring revenue
  • Channel partner issue - Not identified but also mentioned last quarter
  • Enrollments - declining
  • Research segment - under pressure
Hansen took the audience through his update which included a state of the business - enrollment continues soft, exposure in the library market mainly affecting Gale, the impact of a non-recurring sale in the same quarter last year and generally 'performance pressure' in higher education, which he then followed with an update on his strategic initiatives.

During the last call, it was noted the company had received some materially bad news from one of their significant channel partners.  Revenues were impacted and Hansen undertook personally to get this relationship fixed which he says he has now done.  Ordering from this partner is now back on track (although he didn't indicate the financial terms needed to fix this issue nor whether the lost revenue would be recovered).

His 'to-do' list includes setting up his new executive team which he has completed and then executing on several key strategic initiatives. These are as follows:
  • Optimize existing solutions: Legacy print, increase digital homework solutions, align pricing and sales approach
  • Mind Tap: accelerate development and lead the market, establish a dedicated team: relaunch Fall 2013
  • Digital road map: delivery solutions that make learning fun, effective provide superior performance, invest in highly competitive, differentiated solutions
  • Establish a key performance measurement program
It is early days yet to show results but these are definitely the areas where Cengage needs to establish itself as educational publishing moves forward as education becomes based more on technological solutions rather than bound print.

There were several other bullets of note from the question and answer period:
  • Slowing enrollment down 1.8%
  • Library reference:
    • Public libraries: 57% say spending will be flat or lower
    • Three years in a row state support has declined
    • Gale exposed but continue to invest in the segment - negotiating partnerships to expand the segment
  • Shift to subscription models impacts the recognized revenue
  • "Research": 18% decline in print and 11% decline in revenue
  • Gale is flat - 70% of revenue is in electronic
With respect to their digital offerings he spoke about "attach rates" where a book is associated with a digital offering.  The 'attach' part of this being the percentage of students with the electronic component.  With their student home school helper for example they have seen significant increases in sell-thru versus the print only offer.  The re-invigoration of MindTap will be important for the future of the business and is currently offers over 600 solutions.  Their 2nd generation offering will be launched for the Fall semester and will be focused on two disciplines and Hansen suggested the company was looking for distribution/exposure rather than revenues in this cycle.

On a related call from the private equity company Apollo which has an investment in Cengage there was some discussion of their investment in Cengage.   It was noted that Apollo had reduced their position in the company: After refinancing during the last quarter, the CEO James Zelter noted: "They came out with numbers that definitely surprised us" and we "thought the exposure was too large given the new information" so we "monetized a chuck of the position which obviously realized a loss" and as "new information comes out we will reevaluate" our position accordingly

Cengage - Company
Apollo - SeekingAlpha

Monday, March 11, 2013

MediaWeek (V7, N10): Grey House, Student Data, Amazon, Newspapers +More

There's still a lot of money in print. Grey House is taking over print titles from EBSCO (PW) and has made a business of taking over legacy print titles from a range of publishers including EBSCO, Bowker and Proquest.
Grey House Publishing will become the publisher of the print editions of the H.W. Wilson product line under a new exclusive license between EBSCO Publishing (EBSCO) and Grey House. Wilson publishes a range of reference work for the library markets and is best known for Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, first published in 1901. The deal with Wilson comes shortly after Grey House and EBSCO announced that Grey House would become the publisher of the print editions of the Salem Press product line. First titles to be published under that agreement are currently at the printer.
Big data pool of student achievement information is being created. Where's the concern? Reuters
The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided most of the funding, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and school officials from several states. Amplify Education, a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, built the infrastructure over the past 18 months. When it was ready, the Gates Foundation turned the database over to a newly created nonprofit, inBloom Inc, which will run it. States and school districts can choose whether they want to input their student records into the system; the service is free for now, though inBloom officials say they will likely start to charge fees in 2015. So far, seven states - Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Massachusetts - have committed to enter data from select school districts. Louisiana and New York will be entering nearly all student records statewide. "We look at personalized learning as the next big leap forward in education," said Brandon Williams, a director at the Illinois State Board of Education.
Why do we trust Amazon - from New York Magazine:
Amazon is good at sorting and ranking things—we understand that. It knows exactly how many boxes of diapers my kids have ever used. It knows every book I’ve considered. It’s also clear that Amazon doesn’t care about what it sells; it just cares about the selling. To Amazon, a book isn’t really a book. It’s the result of a database query that Amazon will seamlessly transmit over its Whispernet or via USPS to your doorstep, if that’s still your thing. To the shopper, Amazon, with its records of browsing and buying, is not a store nor a website, but more like a ghost limb, for grabbing whatever is needed or wanted.
A long look at Advance Communications changes to the way they run their newspapers with a focus on the Times-Picayune (CJR)
American newspapers have lost more than half their advertising dollars in the last five years, an existential threat to an industry that in 2007 depended on ads for three-fourths of its revenue. The Times-Picayune is no exception to the trend. Its advertising has plunged 42 percent since 2009, according to an analysis of figures its publisher gave The Wall Street Journal in September.

There is no sure answer for what to do about this. Still, by now, most major newspapers have begun moving to strategies that play to their strengths: charging core readers online while allowing casual visitors 10 or so free stories a month; increasing the price of the paper, sometimes by charging an upsell fee for bundling digital access with print; shoring up Sunday circulation; and attempting to convert ad departments into marketing-services operations that provide more holistic solutions to local promotion, like website creation, social-media help, app creation, and the like. These and similar strategies are based on the value of the content, and on a hopeful bet that newspapers can keep significant subscription revenue in the coming all-digital future.

Advance is following the industry into marketing services. But mainly it has stuck by what was conventional Web wisdom from before the recession—chasing clicks. In the new NOLA model, editors push reporters to increase “inventory,” more content with fewer journalists. And more of its remaining resources are in sports and entertainment. In this system, a distracted click on a story that says, in its entirety, “Hornets officially announce their nickname will be changing from Hornets to Pelicans,” is worth as much as one on, say, a prison exposé. More, actually, since the former comes with less time and effort.
From my Twitter stream:
Bertelsmann takes control of BMG - FT
Online data errors cost US groups $10bn -FT
At South by Southwest Education Event, Tensions Divide Entrepreneurs and Educators Chronicle
Launch of Digital Public Library of America Chronicle
Ebooks: newspapers should capitalise on their archives Guardian
Comixology launches online self-publishing platform for comic books The Verge

Friday, March 08, 2013

Bangkok Klong: Wash Day 1969

That's the real color of the water and no she's not having a swim.   There's a photo later on in this set of a guy clearly brushing his teeth.  Of course it is entirely possible that the woman in this photo is in far better health that the tourists on the sightseeing boat.

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.

I now have an iPad version of this book for sale ($4.99) on the Blurb site which you can find here: STORE

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

HBS Doesn't Teach Accounting

When I was in business school accounting was the worst class I took. Unfortunately, accounting turned out to be fundamental to where I ended up in my first job and I decided to enroll at NYU to build my skills. I didn't get what I needed at grad school. I was reminded of this experience when I read this interview with Clayton Christensen and I wished we had the type of options available to us when I went through business schools. Our accounting professors were average as well.
Christensen: Journalism, certainly, and publishing broadly. Anything supported by advertising. That all of this is being disrupted is now beyond question. And then I think higher education is just on the edge of the crevasse. Generally, universities are doing very well financially, so they don’t feel from the data that their world is going to collapse. But I think even five years from now these enterprises are going to be in real trouble.

Howe: Why is higher education vulnerable?

Christensen: The availability of online learning. It will take root in its simplest applications, then just get better and better. You know, Harvard Business School doesn’t teach accounting anymore, because there’s a guy out of BYU whose online accounting course is so good. He is extraordinary, and our accounting faculty, on average, is average.

Howe: What happens to all our institutions of advanced learning?

Christensen: Some will survive. Most will evolve hybrid models, in which universities license some courses from an online provider like Coursera but then provide more-specialized courses in person. Hybrids are actually a principle regardless of industry. If you want to use a new technology in a mainstream existing market, it has to be a hybrid. It’s like the electric car. If you want to have a viable electric car, you have to ask if there is a market where the customers want a car that won’t go far or fast. The answer is, parents of teenagers would love to put their teens in a car that won’t go far or fast. Little by little, the technology will emerge to take it on longer trips. But if you want to have this new technology employed on the California freeways right now, it has to be a hybrid like a Prius, where you take the best of the old with the best of the new.
The rest of that interview is here in WIRED

Sunday, March 03, 2013

MediaWeek (V7, N9): ISBNs, Books & Commuting, Course Guides, Music Money + More

The Economist readers in the group may have seen that the lowly ISBN made it into the newspaper this week. It wasn't a particularly good article and I said so. (Economist):
This is a curious article: In some cases, it misses the point and, in others, it misinforms the reader about how the publishing industry currently works.

There is no doubt that the ISBN--as a global standard for the identification of physical product--is facing, or will soon face, a challenge as physical books become eBooks but its irrelevance is still a fair distance off. A mix of formats (electronic and paper)is likely to exist for many years (particularly with the variability in markets around the world for adoption of the eBook) and the use of the ISBN is long and deeply embedded in all significant publishing systems from editorial to marketing to royalty accounting.

Further, it is hard to agree with your statement that the ISBN hampers small publishers when the past ten years have seen the most significant growth in small- and medium-sized publishers in history. Both Bowker and Nielsen report these numbers each year for the US and UK markets. One circumstance you allude to is that in 'olden times'--when we had more than two significant bookstore chains (in the US)--there was no question as to whether to obtain an ISBN; however, a publisher today could make a perfectly valid decision not to acquire an ISBN and simply sell their book or eBook through Amazon . . . and they could do okay with that. But why would any publisher with a book offering legitimate sales potential want to exclude all other retailers? That would be hard to understand.

Assigning an ISBN to a book never guaranteed 'mainstream' publication - it's not clear what you mean by that. Certainly, retailers would not (do not) accept a book without an ISBN but, by the same token, B&N won't accept your book simply because it has an ISBN. There's a little bit more to it than that. I wrote about the prospects for the ISBN back in 2009 and reflected on the ASIN situation. It's not new and it was never altruistic. Here it is, if interested:

The other identifiers you note are interesting but don't really apply or fit with the requirements of the book (e- or p-) supply chain. There's no question the industry needs to think differently about identifiers but I don't think that's a point you end up making. Even if a book can be easily downloaded and paid for, someone still has to do the accounting and make sure the right publisher gets the right payment so they can the pay the author and contributors their share. Individuals and small publishers could possibly do without an ISBN but, in doing so, they may only be limiting their opportunities.
Commuting on the Underground: John Lanchester rides the London Underground (Guardian):
This is an academic finding that hasn't crossed over into the wider world. I've never seen a film or television programme about the importance of commuting in Londoners' lives; if it comes to that, I've never read a novel that captures it either. The centrality of London's underground to Londoners – the fact that it made the city historically, and makes it what it is today, and is woven in a detailed way into the lives of most of its citizens on a daily basis – is strangely underrepresented in fiction about the city, and especially in drama. More than 1bn underground journeys take place every year – 1.1bn in 2011, and 2012 will certainly post a larger number still. That's an average of nearly 3m journeys every day. At its busiest, there are about 600,000 people on the network simultaneously, which means that, if the network at rush hour were a city in itself, rather than an entity inside London, it would have the same population as Glasgow, the fourth biggest city in the UK. The District line alone carries about 600,000 people every day, which means that it, too, is a version of Glasgow. 
There are quite a few novels and films and TV programmes about Glasgow. Where are the equivalent fictions about the underground? New York has any number of films about its subway – The Warriors, the John Carpenter movie from 1979, is one of the best of them, and explicitly celebrates the network's geographical reach across the whole city, from Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx to Coney Island. New York also has Joseph Sargent's The Taking of Pelham 123, an all-subway-located thriller, among many other cinematic depictions. Paris has the Luc Besson film Subway, and plenty of other movies. London has next to nothing. (Let's gloss over the Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle Sliding Doors – though not before noting that the crucial moment when she either does or doesn't catch the train is on the District line, at Fulham Broadway. Spoiler alert: in the version in which she rushes and successfully catches the train, she dies. A District line driver would call this a useful reminder that this isn't the national rail network, and there will be another one along in a minute.) There's a wonderfully bad Donald Pleaseance movie from 1972 called Death Line, set entirely in Russell Square underground station; there were some episodes of Doctor Who in the 60s, which seemed scary at the time, about the tube network being taken over by robot yetis. To a remarkable extent, though, that's it. London is at the centre of innumerable works of fiction and drama and TV and cinema, but this thing at the heart of London life, which does more to create the texture of London life than any other single institution, is largely and mysteriously absent.
American Public University and their course guides is an interesting project (CampusTech)
The online course guides project is an award-winning academic technology initiative to match every one of APUS's online courses with an online library course guide, a new approach to offset the high cost of traditional print text books. Now that the project has successfully completed guides for a little over half of the university's course offerings, further practical metrics may be applied to the initial statistical analytic framework to widen the project's focus from course guide completion rates to higher levels of quality assurance and sustainability.
Analysis on data reported on the music industry indicates that some music artists can make money (Atlantic):
Last month, Northwestern University law professor Peter DiCola released the results of a fascinating survey that tried to discern exactly how much income most working musicians make off of people actually paying for their recordings (or in some cases, their compositions). His very broad answer was between 12 and 22 percent, depending on whether you counted pay from session playing (shown as "mixed" below). If that doesn't sound like real money to you, consider how you'd react if your boss suddenly said you were getting a 10 percent pay cut tomorrow.

DiCola's study isn't perfect. It analyzes answers from roughly 5,300 musicians who volunteered for the survey, meaning it lacked the element of random sampling that most social science work strives for. The participants were overwhelmingly white (88 percent), male (70 percent), and old (the largest demographic was 50-to-59-year-olds). Almost 35 percent were classical musicians, and another 16 percent were jazz artists. In short, this isn't going to offer a crystal clear financial portrait of your up-and-coming Pitchfork darling.

Nonetheless, the results do offer insight into how workaday guitarists, saxophonists, singers, songwriters, and timpani players -- 42 percent of the group earned all of their income from music-related work -- earn a living. And music sales (or streams) are usually a small but by no means insignificant piece of the picture.
Do we own our eBooks? Covering old ground at Salon:
Switching devices presents another headache for readers. Late last year, independent booksellers made a deal with Kobo, an e-book retailer that also sells its own e-reader devices. The indies now sell both the devices and Kobo e-books. People who want to support their local independent bookstore might contemplate switching from the Kindle to the Kobo, but if they do they’ll have to leave their (DRM-protected) Kindle books behind on their old device. If you are an early e-book adopter who wants to keep and reread the books you bought for your Kindle, you’re locked into the Kindle platform.

Tablets like the iPad are slightly different. The tablet’s owner can install numerous proprietary apps to read a variety of e-book formats, but the titles have to stay in their own walled gardens. You can’t move your Kindle books into your iBook library, for example. This is a minor annoyance, but annoying all the same! When I got my first iPad, I mostly bought Kindle e-books because Amazon’s app was more versatile. Since then, iBooks has outstripped the Kindle app, especially when it comes to working with books used for research, and I would much rather read and organize all my e-books in iBooks. I can’t. Given such restrictions, it’s debatable whether or not I truly own them.
From my twitter feed this week:

PressBooks Goes Open Source To Let Authors Create Book Sites In Seconds
Not the Same Old Cup of British Tea Watch. 
RR Donnelley results hit by $1bn impairment charge
OCLC and ProQuest Collaborate to Enhance Library Discovery.  
What the Library of Congress Plans to Do With All Your Tweets  

In sports:
Lancashire County Cricket sign path-breaking 10-year deal PND Senior in the news - Congrats & Great News!