Monday, December 23, 2013

Media Week (V7, N52): Looking forward to 2014. Round-up of predictions.

On UK newspapers, the apocalypse has been averted (Guardian)
It's exactly four years since – at a heavyweight conference in eastern Europe – I heard an expert on the communications apocalypse predict that, only five years hence, printed newspapers would be dead and digitally buried. The trends, he said, were clear. Umm… not exactly. There's an awful lot of perishing left to cram into the next 12 months, and it shows no sign of happening any time soon. Indeed, rather the reverse. Bring on Ken Doctor, a great American guru, offering us five, 10 or more 15 years to choose from. Nemesis indefinitely delayed.
And the most fascinating thing about the ABC-sanctified print circulation results (for November) involve two politically polar opposites on the newsstand: the Telegraph and the Guardian. Both belong to the national quality market. Both, over the years, have cleared out bulk sales and other devices that prop up or confuse their sales figures. Both have solid and growing online statistics to boast about: the Telegraph with 13,855,000 unique visitors and the Guardian with 12,301,000 on the latest UKOM results. They leave everything but the inevitable Mail online far behind. But what does this mean for print, for copies pushed across the newsagent's counter or dropped through a letterbox?
In Hollywood everyone knows the same nothing (Economist)
Since everybody still knows that nobody knows, studios continue to show early cuts of films to focus groups, to determine how to tweak and market them. But even after a film’s release it remains unclear why it boomed or bombed. Why was “Gravity”, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in a tale about stranded astronauts, one of this year’s hits despite the misgivings of its studio, Warner Bros, whereas “The Lone Ranger” was such a flop, despite Disney’s high hopes for a film starring Johnny Depp?
“Hollywood is always in crisis,” jokes an unusually publicity-shy talent agent. Indeed, his office is in Century City, a district full of high-rises in Los Angeles that was once the backlot of 20th Century-Fox until it had to sell up because of the crippling cost of its 1963 epic, “Cleopatra”. Faced with bankruptcy 50 years ago, Fox might have been better off keeping the property and junking the film-making. The industry’s return on capital has been chronically anaemic. The media conglomerates that own the major studios grouse about the lousy economics of the business, particularly since DVD sales peaked in 2004 and then waned, with consumers shifting to lower-cost rentals and subscription services like Netflix. Technology should have helped Hollywood, by lowering the cost of distributing films, but it has also cost the industry dearly, as film-makers doll up their movies with expensive special effects, and negative social-media buzz kills films before they even open.

Will 2014 be the year of the eBook subscription model (Publishing Technology):
It’s quite likely that we’ll look back at 2013 as the year when publishing stopped talking about the ‘Netflix’ or ‘Spotify for Books’ and actually did something about it. eBook subscription services went from being something talked about in op-ed articles and conference platforms to real-life services, some of which launched with tens of thousands of titles and support from major publishers.
Most debate has focused on the fortunes of Oyster, the NYC-based start-up that launched earlier this year and Scribd, a service that has pivoted away from document sharing and publishing towards eBook subscription. Yet these are far from the only eBook subscription services in town. Another US-based service eReatah also launched earlier this year. Amazon has entered the market on its own terms, using eBook lending rather than subscription as a way of boosting membership of the Amazon Prime program. Meanwhile Europe’s fragmented ereading market is at risk of further fragmentation as country-specific subscription services emerge. 24Symbols continued to do well in its Spanish speaking home market and two Dutch publishers WPG Uitgevers B.V. and Lannoo Meulenhoff B.V. have teamed up to create a Netherlands-specific equivalent Riddo. In Denmark Riidr One addresses the relatively small domestic market with its own subscription service and in Germany the recently launched Skoobe boasts a 23,500 strong catalogue.

Ad agency Millward Brown's media predictions for 2014.

Digital BookWorld's list of 10 things to look for in 2014:
It’s been another exciting year for the publishing industry – perhaps the most dynamic in the history of the business. In 2013, all ebooks by publishers became subject to retailer price controls and ebook prices plummeted. At the same time, ebook revenue growth has tapered off even as many of the largest publishers still reported digital gains. A handful of ebook subscription businesses were launched and libraries won some key victories in their fight to bring ebooks from all publishers to their patrons.
From Book Business Magazine the future looks bright for 2014

Friday, December 20, 2013

Image: So goes the Holden

GM announced this week that they were ending Australian production of the Holden.  Off into the dust...

Hard to categorize that color.  Other than very ugly.  Both images from 1973.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

MediaWeek (Vol 7, N 50): Boundless reprieve, Tablet reading, Blackrock, IT Departments, Digital Film.

Boundless an innovative textbook start-up announced yesterday that they have settled a law suit brought against them by several large pubishing companies which accused the company of copyright violations.  (Chronicle)
The publishers’ suit alleged that Boundless had boasted that “they copy the precise selection, structure, organization, and depth of coverage of plaintiffs’ textbooks and then map in substitute text, right down to duplicating plaintiffs’ pagination.” Boundless argued, however, that the publishers were suing over beta-version material that was subsequently withdrawn and replaced by offerings built on open educational resources.
Ariel Diaz, the Boundless founder and chief executive, said in a blog post on Wednesday that the company “now has a clear path for building and marketing its OER-driven textbook alternatives without treading upon the plaintiffs’ rights, and it is confident that it is in compliance and will not have further legal issues with the plaintiff publishers.” The publishing companies, he added, “look forward to Boundless operating its business within the agreed-upon framework,” though he did not say what that was.

Are tablets really good in encouraging children to get immersed in reading? (Atlantic):
Best-selling children’s author Julia Donaldson, whose picture books dominate top 10 lists, explains why she vetoed an e-book version of her most famous title, The Gruffalo, in a 2011 article in the Guardian. “The publishers showed me an e-book ofAlice in Wonderland,” Donaldson said. “They said, ‘Look, you can press buttons and do this and that,’ and they showed me the page where Alice’s neck gets longer,” said Donaldson. “There’s a button the child can press to make the neck stretch, and I thought, well, if the child’s doing that, they are not going to be listening or reading.”

The typical argument for interactive stories goes like this: Soon enough, children will only read on screens, and where readers are going, publishers must follow. Kate Wilson, the founder of children’s publisher Nosy Crow argues that publishers must create reading experiences for touch-screen devices so that children will continue to read. “We shouldn’t go a little way down the digital path or do it half-heartedly and with reluctance,” she writes. “We should, I think, go to where our readers are going, and make sure that they read along the way.”
From The Economist, I found this article on Blackrock very interesting.  What you can do with data on a mega basis:
But “Aladdin”, the risk-management platform that occupies all those computers in the orchards, is not just used to look after BlackRock’s $4 trillion. The firm makes its facilities available in whole or in part to managers looking after $11 trillion more, a tally that has recently been growing by about $1 trillion a year. All told, Aladdin keeps its eyes on almost 7% of the world’s $225 trillion of financial assets. This is unprecedented—and it means flaws in the system could matter to more than just BlackRock, its investors and its customers. If that much money is being managed by people who all think with the same tools, it may be managed by people all predisposed to the same mistakes.
The system is based on a large and, its creators say, particularly well quality-controlled trove of historical data. On the basis of that information it uses “Monte Carlo” methods, which produce a large, randomly generated sample of the huge range of possible futures, to build up a statistical picture of what could happen to all sorts of stocks and bonds under a range of future conditions. These risk assessments cover both likely futures that matter day-to-day, and less probable but highly salient ones. A portfolio can, say, be stress-tested by being put through market turmoil modelled on that which followed Lehman Brothers’ collapse, to see what happens. Users can see their portfolio’s predicted response to a “tapering” of the Federal Reserve’s asset-buying programme or to the onset of a global flu pandemic.
The aim is not just to figure out how each stock, bond and derivative in a portfolio would move. It is also to check how correlated those movements are, and how that correlation could amplify a shock. For example: combining shares in an Indonesian bank, a bond issued by a European power company and a basket of mortgages secured on Canadian shopping malls might seem like a sensibly diversified portfolio. But some changes in credit availability might set them all tumbling. That is the sort of thing that Aladdin, having tracked such assets through previous crises, is meant to spot. Armed with insights from these simulations, traders managing large, complex portfolios can tweak their holdings accordingly.

And from the same Economist issue on IT departments and their struggles to keep up.
In theory, this is a fine opportunity for the IT department to place itself right at the centre of corporate strategy. In practice, the rest of the company is not always sure that the IT guys are up to the job—and they are often prepared to buy their own IT from outsiders if need be. Worse, it seems that a lot of IT guys doubt their own ability to keep up with the pace of the digital age. According to Dave Aron of Gartner, a research firm, in a recent survey of chief information officers around the world just over half agreed that both their businesses and their IT organisations were “in real danger” from a “digital tsunami”. “Some feel excited, some feel threatened,” says Mr Aron, “but nobody feels like it’s boring and business as usual.”
One reason for worry is that IT bosses are conservative by habit and with good reason. Above all they must keep essential systems running—and safe. Those systems are under continual attack. If they are breached, the head of IT carries the can. More broadly, IT departments like to know who is up to what. Many of them gave up one battle long ago, by letting staff choose their own smartphones (a trend known as “bring your own device”). When the chief executive insists on an iPhone rather than a fogeyish BlackBerry, it is hard to refuse.
Many years ago in one of my annual predictions, I suggested great things would come from digital distribution of movie films obviating the need to physical film distribution.  We may finally be there.  Economist
This new breed of programming is made possible by the spread of digital technology. Cinemas no longer rely on the delivery of 35mm reels, now that pictures can be delivered over satellite or broadband connections. Cinema-owners can make fuller use of their screens, and audiences see delights they would otherwise miss. “We have a presence in 78 Mexican cities,” says Alejandro Ramirez, the boss of CinĂ©polis, which runs plush cinemas in the Americas and India. “In the vast majority of these cities, there is no opera,” he notes. So far this year nearly 300,000 people worldwide have gone to see opera and other “alternative programming”, such as “Cirque du Soleil 3D”, a circus performance, at CinĂ©polis’s theatres.
Cinema-owners want to do more than beam in events. For instance, Tim Richards, the founder of Vue Cinemas, which operates chains in Europe and Taiwan, predicts that theatres will be rented during off-peak hours to video-game players to display contests on the big screen. “We are not trying to displace Hollywood films,” he says. “All we are trying to do is make better use of the assets we have.”

Saturday, December 14, 2013

PND Mansions

PND Mansions sold.  In a few days it will be leveled and a triple sized McMansion will begin to take its' place.  No regrets on our end and a small dividend for all the employees.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Publishing Platforms Evolve

Interview in Research Information Magazine recently:
When the first big scholarly e-book programmes launched six or seven years ago there was plenty of excitement about putting e-books and e-journals on the same platform so that they could be searched together and this trend has continued.
As Michael Cairns, chief operating officer  online at Publishing Technology, observed: ‘Over the course of the last few years there has been a recognition that there is benefit to integrate not just books and journals but also conference proceedings.’ 
Publishing Technology, which also creates and hosts platforms for a range of publishers, has observed similar things. ‘On the journals side we always have issues with format for ingest and always anticipate some back and forth to get things how the customer wants,’ said Cairns. ‘Typically, we specify to publishers that we require XML but there are always exceptions and problems – especially with converting archives.’
And he said that the challenges are greater with e-books. ‘Books haven’t been online as long, so the issues are more basic. Often we will get a full book PDF that we need to break down into chapters – and metadata is often provided at the book level rather than at the chapter level.’
In addition, he noted that many things such as indexing, endnotes and footnotes work well in print book navigation – but in the online world, especially in content ingestion, these are problematic. ‘Even within publishing houses, processes are not consistent,’ he observed.

Monday, December 09, 2013

MediaWeek (V7, N49): The pdf, French Publishing, Web News Traffic, MOOC Myths, Aftrica Reading

Can Scholarly Publishing Evolve Beyond the PDF? From John Wiley.

French authors can't get a break (BBC):
"I often joke that the only way to get published in Britain if you're French is to pretend you're Spanish. If you've been a best-seller in France, it's a sure-fire recipe for not getting a deal in the UK.  "As for US publishers, they're so convinced that with 350 million potential readers and a big stable of American writers, they've got everything covered - every genre, every style. So why bother?"  The costs and difficulty of literary translation are clearly part of the problem. So too is the fact that the Anglophone book market is thriving - so the demand for foreign works is limited.  Some French authors are critical of Anglo-Saxon "complacency". 
"Personally I am fed up with all the stereotypes," says Darieussecq. "We're not intellectual. We're not obsessed with words. We write detective stories. We write suspense. We write romance.
"And it's about time you started noticing."
How does news web traffic work?  The Atlantic goes looking.
About the middle of October, a number of news organization websites started to see huge numbers of visitors flowing from Facebook. Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel reported that Buzzfeed and its partner sites had seen traffic from Facebook surge 69 percent between August and October.
The change wasn’t out of nowhere. In August, a Facebook corporate blog post hinted that the algorithm that controlled the site’s News Feed was changing slightly, such that “stories that people did not scroll down far enough to see can reappear near the top […] if the stories are still getting lots of likes and comments.”
It sounds like a little change, but it’s hard to overstate the importance of the News Feed. The feed is what you see when you log into; it’s essentially the homepage of the site, and it changes for every user. What dictates how it looks is the elusive News Feed algorithm, a program that decides not only which statuses, photos, and news stories should display, but how many of each there will be. And a traffic jump of the size Warzel reported could only come with a change in the News Feed algorithm.
Enter Upworthy. Simultaneous to this traffic upheaval, an entire vocabulary and syntax for headlines that people click and share—and oh, boy, do they click and share—had presented itself on the social web. For publishers trying to grab more traffic from Facebook, the path became clear. Borrow, adapt, employ the Upworthy style post haste. Assure readers your content was nothing but wondtacular. And so began the wondtacularization.

Confirming the MOOC Myth: IHeD
The research presented on Thursday was perhaps best summarized by research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, which analyzed the study habits of 1 million students across 16 Coursera courses between June of 2012 and 2013.  “Emerging data ... show that massive open online courses (MOOCs) have relatively few active users, that user ‘engagement’ falls off dramatically especially after the first 1-2 weeks of a course, and that few users persist to the course end,” a summary of the study reads.  For anyone who has paid even the slightest bit of attention to the MOOC space over the past year, those conclusions hardly qualify as revelations. Yet some presenters said they felt the first day of the conference served as an opportunity to confirm some of those commonly held beliefs about MOOCs.
BBC looks at the culture for reading in Africa (BBC)
Publishers have long bemoaned Africa's lack of a "book culture" but some hope that the advent of smartphones and the internet could help change this, writes journalist Chris Matthews. The 566% increase in worldwide internet usage since the start of the millennium might appear staggering but not when compared with Africa, where online activity has grown by an astonishing 3,606%.  More than 160 million people are now connected throughout the continent, mostly on mobile phones.  With internet access surging and connectivity increasing, the doors are being thrown open to digital publishing.  All of which suggests a new chapter has been started since Kenyan publisher Henry Chakava's withering attack on Africa's book culture back in 1997.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Information Today Post on Trends for 2014

Information Today magazine asked me and some other pundits to think about what we may see in 2014:
There were plenty of newsworthy events in 2013, from acquisitions (Elsevier acquired Knovel, Swets acquired JSTOR ebooks), to ebooks (Ingram added an ebook lending model to MyiLibrary, Apple was tried for ebook price fixing), to MOOCs (institutions such as edX and Coursera offered topics including 21st Century American Foreign Policy, Introduction to Computer Science, and Embedded Systems: Shape the World). Tablet computers and apps gained in popularity, while previously favored devices such as BlackBerry found their customer bases declining.
So what’s likely to make headlines in 2014? Industry professionals John Blossom, Michael Cairns, Roy Kaufman, and Pat Sabosik offer their insights about the cloud, massive open online courses (MOOCs), Big Data, open access (OA), and the Internet of Things:

Here is a sample from my submission:
The evolution of MOOCs will also become entwined with some broader issues of higher education effectiveness, cost, and access. More universities will see MOOCs as a means of managing some or all of these issues at a local level, whether they’re looking to reduce tuition (and/or operating expenses), provide more course offerings, or expand beyond their traditional market or catchment area. Experimentation will also include local testing of MOOCs used in combination with small in-class/in-person structures: This will provide more immediate social interactions and communication with colleagues while, at the same time, capitalizing on the “star professor” and the wide exposure to other student backgrounds that MOOCs can provide. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

MediaWeek (V7 N48): Amazon Drones, Digital Afterlife, PW Person of the Year + More

Lots and hype and hyperbole about this week.   At least Scott Pelley at 60mins went right to the top and managed to keep his hands clean.  As you probably know by now,  Amazon is going to deliver your toys to you with a toy helicopter.
Amazon is the world's largest online retailer, serving 225M customers worldwide. What's next for the company that prides itself on disrupting tradition? Charlie Rose interviews Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos.

Other reporters tried out the drudgery of working in a warehouse to see how they were treated.  Guardian.
For a week, I was an Amazon elf: a temporary worker who got a job through a Swansea employment agency – though it turned out I wasn't the only journalist who happened upon this idea. Last Monday, BBC's Panorama aired a programme that featured secret filming from inside the same warehouse. I wonder for a moment if we have committed the ultimate media absurdity and the show's undercover reporter, Adam Littler, has secretly filmed me while I was secretly interviewing him. He didn't, but it's not a coincidence that the heat is on the world's most successful online business. Because Amazon is the future of shopping; being an Amazon "associate" in an Amazon "fulfilment centre" – take that for doublespeak, Mr Orwell – is the future of work; and Amazon's payment of minimal tax in any jurisdiction is the future of global business. A future in which multinational corporations wield more power than governments.
And The Economist on the same story.

Kevin Roose in NY Mag believes something more sinister(ish):
Instead, I think Bezos is up to something much more practical. By unveiling a huge drone program in progress, he's sending a message to the FAA regulators and Senate committees who are currently considering how unmanned aircraft can be used commercially. And that message is: Don't even think about getting in our way. By floating a teaser about the drone program, and allowing the public to freak out about it, he's showing regulators how popular such a scheme would be, and how much backlash they'd face if they outlawed it.

Also, NYMag will now go to bi-monthly printing rather than weekly.  There's an iPad version.

"New York has evolved dramatically since its founding in 1968, with its intelligence, humor, playfulness, and visual punch remaining constants," editor-in-chief Adam Moss said in a statement. "Readers will continue to find what they love in the magazine, and we're undertaking these new changes to meet their changing media habits on all platforms."  The company did not address any financial reasons for its print publishing cuts in the statement. will have a new science blog, and more photography and political and cultural coverage, according to New York Media.

Questions about the digital afterlife from the FT:
The elderly who die today still leave behind an attic full of relics for children and grandchildren to rifle through: boxes of love letters and photos documenting the family history. But increasingly, such memorabilia is password-protected and stored online. Many wedding albums exist only on Flickr. The history of courtship and falling in love among today’s young newlyweds is documented on Facebook and in text messages.
“Look how awful people are when they fight over the couch or dad’s graduation ring,” says Josh Slocum, president of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, an advocacy group. “I can only imagine what the fight will look like over dad’s computer files.”
In the US, such questions fall into the messy intersection of state property laws, federal privacy laws and corporate policies of the companies housing online accounts.
A handful of US states have passed laws addressing the treatment of digital remains. In Oklahoma and Idaho, digital data are treated like tangible property. The executor of a will can take control of social networking or email accounts the same as bank accounts and houses, and decide to continue operating them or shut them down. In Indiana, a law allows access to those accounts but not control. In Rhode Island and Connecticut, only access to email accounts is covered.
The Atlantic notes the awarding to Oren Teicher as PW Person of the Year:
This year's selection for PW's Person of the Year represents a wholly different approach to the honor. It is Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, and the ABA's board of directors, the organization that represents the country's independent book stores. The fact that these traditional brick-and-mortar, mainly locally owned bookstores are being recognized as outstanding contributors to publishing is not merely a sympathetic gesture to old-fashioned commerce in a generally downward trajectory. The accolade is justified by results defying the odds that so heavily favor the Amazon juggernaut and the chain stores, still led by (the struggling) Barnes & Noble.

From Twitter;
Yahoo’s Flickr Resurgence Continues With Handsome Photo Books, But Reliance On Sets Could Stumble Raises $1.5M Seed To Become The OpenTable For Time And Services  
Becksistentialism: because man is a goal-seeking animal