Tuesday, July 16, 2013

MediaWeek (V7, N28): Turow and Authors, Library Incinerator, Open Access, Apple Decision, Responsive FT, Linguistic Rowling + More

Gene Schwartz writing in Book Business magazine about Scott Turow's advocacy for the lowly author (Book Business):
Copyright protection has now become a two edged sword. Not requiring registration, ownership is vested from the moment of the first scribble. Large corporate copyright holders who can afford policing these provisions, are now benefiting a few authors at the expense of the many, by constraining the ability of journeymen and aspiring creators to excerpt and cite from other works without going through daunting procedural barriers, at the risk otherwise of what could be draconian punitive penalties (the threat of up to $150,000 in statutory damages) and outsized processing and permissions costs.

So, Turow’s main point has traction with me, that our institutions work against the author’s interests: legal decisions such as the first sale doctrine applied by the Supreme Court to the recent Wiley case – albeit confirming what has been going on for over fifty years; regulatory interventions such as that of the Justice department upsetting a settlement supervised by the courts, and agreed to by the Authors Guild, major publishers and Google.

Turow also made a point that with Amazon’s patent for the resale of e-Books, non-drm protected works would need very few original sales in order to create an unlimited copyable inventory for the resale market. This forecast may seem a bit extreme, but I think it suggests is that Scott Turow’s lament is not without foundation. Unless the industry and the legal system is prepared to re-visit how creators can extract a legally and technologically enforced portion of the economic value of their intellectual output, very little economic value will remain after first publication.
That big train crash in Canada destroyed a library (Metro)
The fatal train disaster that obliterated much of Lac-Megantic also destroyed the local library, including irreplaceable items outlining the history of the town and the surrounding area. Nothing is left of the building — which bordered the railway tracks — except ash. Including books, some 60,000 items are gone. The library was next door to the Musi-Cafe, where dozens of patrons and employees died after the July 6 tragedy. The archives were personal — more than two dozen families had donated various documents, items and heirlooms since the library opened in 1991. Diane Roy, chairwoman of the library’s board of directors, said the archives included letters penned by her uncle dating back to the Second World War. Other items included some of the oldest photos in existence of Lac-Megantic as well as the negatives. Also gone forever are a few hundred works of art — reproductions, originals and some that were being housed on loan.
Michael Clark writing in Scholarly Kitchen on the Apple court decision (ScholarKitchen):
What this means is that anyone wishing to enter the ebook distribution space will face an ebook pricing war against an entrenched competitor that is willing to sell at a loss, propped up by a seemingly limitless supply of cash from investors who do not seem to care about margins so long as market share is growing.

The result is likely to be an ebook market (at least in trade publishing – professional and scholarly publishing is a different matter) with little innovation – why would anyone bother? Not only must a new entrant invest in new technology, negotiate complex, multi-national rights agreements with publishers, and market their new product to consumers, they must then slog it out in a price war. And while a very few entrants such as Kobo are trying, one of the few companies with the cash hoard to withstand Amazon is Apple (Google is another and Microsoft, reported to be flirting with the idea of purchasing Barnes & Noble’s Nook business, is a third), though a price war goes against their DNA and it is not clear that ebooks are important enough to them to be worth the cost.

In case anyone thinks that this is overstating the bleakness of the situation, I direct you to the recent departure of Barnes & Noble’s CEO, William Lynch, a former Palm executive who was brought into the company to grow their reader business, in what Reuters called “an acknowledgement that its digital division Nook has failed to compete successfully in the e-reader and tablet markets“. Furthermore, after reporting that Nook sales dropped 34% last quarter, the company announced it was pulling the plug on its hardware division.
Interesting business case review of the Financial Times responsive design approach (SmashingMag):
In order to stay competitive, a digital product needs to evolve, and as developers, we need to be prepared for this. When the request for a redesign landed at the Financial Times, we already had a fast, popular, feature-rich application, but it wasn’t built for change. At the time, we were able to implement small changes to features, but implementing anything big became a slow process and often introduced a lot of unrelated regressions.

Our application was drastically reworked to make the new requirements possible, and this took a lot of time. Having made this investment, we hope the new application not only meets (and even exceeds) the standard of the first product, but gives us a platform on which we can develop faster and more flexibly in the future.
Why Open Access makes no sense (Guardian):
There can be no such thing as free access to academic research. Academic research is not something to which free access is possible. Academic research is a process – a process which universities teach (at a fee). Like it or not, the primary beneficiary of research funding is the researcher, who has managed to deepen their understanding by working on a particular dataset. The publications that result from the research project are only trivially a result of the research funding, they come out of a whole history of human interactions that are not for sale. Not even in a slave society.

For those who wish to have access, there is an admission cost: they must invest in the education prerequisite to enable them to understand the language used. Current publication practices work to ensure that the entry threshold for understanding my language is as low as possible. Open access will raise that entry threshold. Much more will be downloaded; much less will be understood.
Nerd Alert: Heard on the Radio The linguistics professor who unmasked Rowling (BBC):
Prof Peter Millican of Hertford College, University of Oxford, helped unmask JK Rowling as debut crime writer Robert Galbraith. An expert in computer linguistics, the professor developed software to analyse and compare texts. He analysed The Cuckoo's Calling against Rowling's other novels, The Casual Vacancy and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He spoke to BBC News about how he arrived at his conclusions. "I was given some text by The Sunday Times - I had two known texts by JK Rowling, two by Ruth Rendell, two by PD James and two by Val McDermid. "What I did was clean up the texts, put them into my software and do a battery of tests to see what similarities there were.
From twitter:
Amazon shares hit another record on strong sales data Reuters
Blackboard Announces New MOOC Platform,By Jeffrey R. Young /The Chronicle Chronicle
Vital Source Launches E-Textbook Building Block for Blackboard Learn Platform PRWeb
Copyright actually keeps many books off the market, study says Fortune

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