Sunday, June 03, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Reasons to Avoid Doing Business With Amazon -

Tintin cover fetches record price

Spanish Booksellers to Sue Amazon Over Book Prices

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

Libraries Grapple With The Downside Of E-Books NPR

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