Monday, February 18, 2013

MediaWeek (V6, N7): NY Public Library, Chinese Textbook Prices, Obligatory Downton, Nielsen's Problem + more

New York Times Interview with Julian Fellows (Fitzwilly to me).
Q. This season, in particular, it felt like American viewers were much more aware that “Downton” was showing first in Britain, and were having plot details spoiled months in advance. You may not be able to control this, but would you like the series be shown simultaneously in both regions?
A. Well, I would love them to be simultaneous. And my own feeling is that the thinking behind different screenings belongs to a different era. The Internet has shrunk the world. We’re the two English-speaking countries that enjoy each other’s entertainment, it seems to me, as much as any linked countries in the world. I would vastly prefer that we all saw it together. The world is much more global. And so I look forward to the day when it changes, as I’m sure it will.
What to do about the rear end (of a building). NYTimes on the back of the New York Public Library:
The New York Public Library presents a unique situation. Its rear facade, facing Bryant Park, is almost as prominent as the Fifth Avenue front. Public opinion in 1911 would have been harsh had the library saved money by covering the park side in simple vanilla or tan brick.
So the architects, Carrère & Hastings, used marble on that side, too, but with a difference. Instead of repeating the sculpture-heavy Beaux-Arts designs of the front, they gave the back a near-industrial look, albeit with a luscious dose of Vermont marble. Behind that is a dense cage of bookstacks manufactured by Snead and Company.
The Snead-type book stack represents a late 19th-century shift in the conception of the library. The earlier model was that of a rich man’s house or private club, with expansive alcoves where reader and book could plop into a leather chair. 
But the increasing numbers of books dictated more compact storage, and volumes were relegated to tight, dark little storage areas distant from where they were actually used, the library now permanently bifurcated.

To some librarians separate book stacks, which could be closed to the public, were a prison for books, and the narrow vertical strip windows of the library do give off a whiff of the penitentiary. But the demands of storage kept this prison open for good, followed by microfilming, off-site storage and, in our time, the electronic book.

Rarely does the back of a structure receive critical notice, but the Bryant Park facade has attracted appreciative remarks over the years, especially from modernists. “Perhaps the origin of straight-line architecture in America,” mused American Builder in 1930, and in 1952, Lewis Mumford called it “the most successful” of the four facades, even though he thought that Thomas Hastings had “little appreciated this fact."
Measuring an audience is getting next to impossible. Not like the old days (Economist)
Measurement is the “number one issue for television right now”, says Philippe Dauman, the boss of Viacom, a big media company. Executives battle as hard for Nielsen’s ratings as footballers do for Super Bowl rings. These ratings determine where advertisers put the $75 billion they spend on TV in America every year. Recently, however, consumers’ media-viewing habits have changed too fast for Nielsen to keep up. “Everyone is unhappy,” says Alan Wurtzel, president of research for NBCUniversal, a media giant. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t sell it.”

There are two separate problems with counting couch potatoes, one more pressing than the other. The first has to do with “time-shifted” viewing, which means that people are watching fewer programmes live. When the DVR became mainstream, advertisers and networks agreed to count eyeballs only if they watched live or within three days of the programme airing. If adverts are skipped by DVR (as around 72% are, according to Bernstein Research), then they are not counted. However, because viewers sometimes watch recorded shows long after they air, media networks protest that three days is too narrow a window. They want to move to “live plus seven” days. Advertisers, especially those with time-sensitive messages, are not keen.

The second, bigger problem is how to track fragmented audiences. This is a particular worry in America, where people watch TV on countless websites and on multiple devices. Nielsen, a 90-year-old company, had revenues of $5.5 billion in 2011 from measuring the viewing and buying habits of consumers around the world. The largest content companies pay Nielsen $100m-200m a year for its services; advertisers pay it, too.
Why can textbooks be cheap in China? It's not what you think (Chronicle)
These textbooks are mostly published by universities. They may not pay much attention to paper and binding, but they make efforts with the contents of textbooks and with efficiency of publication. Unlike commercial publishers, a university press’s publications can be adapted by faculty members and students faster, and a university press can also publish books that are fitted both for the students’ need and the university’s academic goals. So the university press can have a better balance between financial and quality concerns. Further, publishing textbooks not only benefits their students, but also gives the universities more of an impact on academia. In fact, universities and faculty members in mainland China have a great influence on students in social science in Taiwan by publishing and translating good textbooks. Therefore, the universities should be more involved in publishing textbooks.

In addition, these universities usually recognize and reward their faculty members’ devotion to writing and translating textbooks. In Taiwan, promotion is based on publishing in journals, but not on writing textbooks. Professors seek good materials, but because of the stress of promotion and evaluation, they can only write some handouts by themselves. Also, since the price of books is relatively low and commercial publishers give authors only modest compensation, there is not much incentive for professors to write textbooks. However, professors in mainland China are encouraged to write and translate textbooks; they can also make reputations for themselves by doing so. If colleges want their faculty members to devote themselves to writing good textbooks, even open-source texts, they should be encouraged with practical rewards in both finance and career.
And from my twitter feed this week:

Reader’s Digest Is Bankrupt as Iconic Magazine Falters
An academic press sues a librarian, raising issues of academic freedom
Quarter of adults 'have barely read a book in past six months'  

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