Sunday, December 31, 2006

Welcome the New Year

At the start of 2006 Exact Editions was running some test magazines through our system. They are still there. We had no commercial service at all. That began in February.

As the year turns we have:

32 magazines in the shop
506 issues in your hands if you subscribe to them all.
But we have processed many more issues. 1908 have been through our hands so far (as a 'whitelabled' service to publishers, or for test purposes, or part of the stockpile which will appear next month or later in 2007).
That makes, 130,000-ish print pages - rough estimate. Each page appears exactly as in print, with its own unique url.

The most popular page -- by a distance.

The four most popular search terms ,were: 'BBC', 'research','clinical research','london paper', in that order. Many of these searches were performed for users who were accessing the 'whitelabled' content we host for publishers -- eg The New Scientist or Thelondonpaper.

In 18th place for the list of search terms was the phrase 'suck on this' and in 34th place was the term 'doherty'. If you are puzzled by this, here is another link to the most popular page in our service. That should explain the sucking (and that it should be a popular search phrase suggests that some people remember headlines -- tagging works); the 'Doherty' still mystifies me, but Pete is obviously popular with potential magazine readers.

My tip for the alert editor in 2007 -- do not on any account neglect the doings of Pete Doherty or the comfort of the female breast. But the popular end of Fleet Street has been following that prescription for years and years.

Enjoy 2007!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Last Minute Shopping

If, on reading the last posting, you decide that a digital subscription for a friend, nephew, aunt, colleague, or distant lover is the present that you still have to buy before Christmas:

All you need to do is to buy the annual subscription for your chosen magazine in the normal way (using PayPal and/or your credit card as our shop encourages you to do) and then email and tell us that this is a gift subscription, mention the name and most important the email address of your intended recipient. In effect, you buy a sub and then reassign it to another email address, and the other address will have the benefit of your gift subscription for 12 months, with regular reminders as each issue appears.

Its as easy as pie......and will be even easier next year.

Radical Transparency and Web Intimacy

Chris Anderson, who wrote the book The Long Tail and is Editor of Wired magazine, has written a stimulating piece on 'What Radical Transparency would mean for Wired'.

There is a lot to consider in the two-part posting. It got me to thinking about the way the web enables any media business to establish a surprisingly close, immediate and in a sense intimate relationship with the audience (the market, the readership), while at the same time there is still a big distance between those who serve stuff and those who search and surf stuff. It is an inherent advantage of the web that the users can exercise a degree of control any service and to some degree leadership which shapes the offering.

Here is a fairly trivial example: about 6 weeks ago we realised that it would be a good idea to make it easy for our customers to buy subscriptions to magazines as gifts. We were going to make the necessary changes to our 'shopping environment' and at the same time make some other useful enhancements.

In fact, we ended up being so busy with other activities (plenty more magazines coming in 2007, some with big runs of back issues) that we did not get round to it in time for this year's seasonal giving. But the really interesting thing is that plenty of our users have reached exactly the same conclusion as us: buying digital subscriptions through Exact Editions for friends, partners and relations is a GOOD IDEA. So we have had dozens of purchasers take the matter into their own hands. The audience has led the change for us: in the last two weeks we have had a flood of requests to reassign a subscription which the individual has already purchased and these thoughtful customers have been emailing us with the email address of the intended recipient. They have been asking us to notify the recipients, to send our email on 24th December, to mention the name of the giver in the email, they have been asking to include a special message in the email etc....They have actually been designing our improved shopping experience for us. The intimacy and the immediacy, the "shared-ownership" of a web service, the intellignece of the market, all these are huge advantages.

We look forward to bringing you many more Radically Transparent magazines in 2007 (they will be Exact Editions as well as being radically transparent) and to more web intimacy -- in fact to a better shopping experience as we all buy digital subscriptions for our friends in the New Year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ancient Egypt

Beginners guide to hieroglyphic inscriptions.

Maps and a timeline.

The Liberal

Ayaan Hirsi Ali contributes an essay on feminism.

Fifth Wreath (poem) by Richard Burns

Monday, December 18, 2006

Guardian notes Dazed & Confused

Jemima Kiss, who writes on web matters for the Guardian, picks up on the Dazed & Confused launch, and ponders personal ads on the London Review of Books.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dazed & Confused

Dazed & Confused is the latest addition to our shop. The sample issue has:

Striking photography

Interviews with stars

Sumptious ads

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Google Book Search and other Book Collections

Tim O'Reilly, who has been a stalwart defender of the Google Book Search project, has picked up on some criticisms of the balkanised searching landscape which is where various Book Search projects are headed. It is the isolation of these privately scanned book-content 'silos' that is getting troublesome to web idealists. Tim O'Reilly has a particularly clever but obvious solution which should win acceptance with book and magazine publishers:

Book search engines ought to search publishers' content repositories, rather than trying to create their own repository for works that are already in electronic format. Search engines should be switchboards, not repositories.
The really strong point about this suggestion is that its exactly what publishers should be doing in response to what they perceive as the Google threat. A groundswell of publishers doing this well, would promptly cut the 'public interest' ground from under Google's feet in the lawsuit with American publishers. O'Reilly is a wily political animal and a publisher. So, maybe, big publishers will listen to his proposal and if they were to do it they would soon start exercising some reponsibility for issues which they have been very slow to grasp: like how to keep and maintain adequate archival versions of the books they publish, in electronic form. His other positive suggestions are also good. Read them in context.

Some comments from Brewster Kahle in reply to Tim's posting are astringent:
Bringing google back into the web-oriented world takes a decision at the top of the organization, but I hope they change course because we have seen the permission-based / licensing-heavy movie before. It tends towards lock-out, monopolies, and holiday bonuses for lawyers.
Brewster Kahle is a an all round web hero, only one rung down from Tim Berners Lee in the pantheon of web all stars, so perhaps Google will listen to his counsel.

We're all for fighting the "search silos" and would be more than happy for search engines to index the contents of our sample issues. In fact, Microsoft's Live service does so already:

Sample search on Microsoft Live for a phrase in magazine copy

but the trick is getting Google to do the same without convincing them we're engaged in shady SEO activity.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Friend

The weekly magazine on Quaker topics published by the Society of Friends since 1842.

The Notices and Classified Ads have immediate utility and added value in a web format. ABC should please take note.

Shrewd comment from Skype founder

Greenslade at the Guardian notes some off-hand remarks from Niklas Zennström:

"I don't read as much paper as I used to and I think they will obviously be challenged. The thing that is a challenge is the daily press - you have free newspapers and quality newspapers and they each have to find their own markets, but I don't think they're dead.....There's always going to be a need for in-depth journalism."
Greenslade comments:
I agree with him about the journalism but won't that be delivered on the net rather than newsprint?
To which one can reply "Of course, and newspapers and magazines can work on the web -- provided they (to echo Zennstrom) find their own markets." The most interesting thing about Zennstrom's comments is that he assumes that people of his generation are less into newspapers, less into reading paper, but that there will still be a real role for free newspapers and quality newspapers if they find the appropriate way of living in the web. I am sure that this is what he meant and am surprised that Greenslade does not take the obvious conclusion, that there is a future for digital newspapers. And of course for digital magazines. In the web.

Roy Greenslade is a credible commentator but he sometimes appears to be transfixed, like a rabbit in car headlights, by the evidence that circulation of London papers is falling off a cliff. He should take another look at Rupert Murdoch's enlightened speech on the digital future. Murdoch's enthusiasm is appropriate and necessary for the print industries. Of course print is challenged by the web. But print can use the web to find new ways of serving the market.

There is a slightly fuller account of Zennstrom's comments at

Monday, December 11, 2006

Dentist's waiting room to Newsagent

When we were about to launch Exact Editions, at the end of 2005, we used to show publishers a prototype service with half a dozen very disparate magazines. We sometimes joked that the service was a bit like a dentist's waiting room (boating, fashion, caged birds, current affairs, and rock climbing in a haphazard mixture). All good and reputable magazines but not in the same market segment. Why do dentists have such diverse interests?

So it is a high compliment to have our service now likened to a newsagent. Perhaps Charkin's blog is being a shade generous. A proper newsagent really needs several hundred magazines to fill the kiosk, we are not there yet but we are going in that direction. In 2007 Exact Editions will become increasingly like a well stocked newsagent with a marked fondness for the long tail of magazines.

Friday, December 08, 2006

New Internationalist

How to be an Ethical Consumer

Sweating over sweatshops.

Measurement and readership

ABC (the Audit Bureau of Circulations) is the industry body which measures circulations, news stand sales, subscriptions etc for magazines and newspapers in the UK. It gathers an immense amount of detailed information on thousands of publications, much of it is freely available from its excellent web site.

There is also an 'electronic' offshoot, ABCe, which measures the reach and popularity of some of the large UK media web sites. ABCe has recently amended its basic approach to measurement of web presence. 'Unique Users' not 'Page Impressions' is now the mandatory minimum to be certified by ABCe. This does not mean that they will stop counting things that they have been counting (Page Impressions), but priority and more weight will be given to the Unique User data. The in's and out's of this are helpfully covered by Shane Richmond's blog on the Telegraph.

Now that ABCe has got its act together it is perhaps time that the bigger brother (ABC without the 'e') looked again at its rule book for Digital Editions. This was last issued in June 2004, and unlike all their other Rule Books has remained unchanged (very odd since web technology is moving so fast). There are some obvious bloopers in the present rules. Here are two: (1) ABC expects a digital edition to be essentially the same but it may omit the Classified Advertising. Why should that be? Is the assumption that Classified Advertising cannot work in digital editions??? (2) The rules on Free Digital Editions are written as though all practical free editions will be 'downloads' in which a 'copy' is mailed to a recipient or the reader downloads an issue (PDF-type). Would you only count the circulation of Metro or CityAM if you had the name of the people who were picking it up?

The magazine industry's auditing systems have a brilliant future when they wake up to the fact that auditing can be much more detailed and certain with the web. But you have to be measuring the right things, for example the effectiveness of the Classified Advertising as indicated by click-throughs in the digital edition. It is good to see ABCe moving its goalposts as it plays the new game. ABC now needs a lesson from its scion.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Economist

Is possibly the best magazine of current affairs. It would get my vote. They might not welcome the compliment because, in-house, they have a tribal custom of always referring to it as a (or 'the') newspaper. Last week's issue of the 'newspaper' was one of their regular Science and Technology Quarterly surveys.

Most of the Science and Technology survey is behind their subscription pay-wall, so I can not link you to some of the best articles (good ones on biometrics and social media web sites: think Digg and Reddit), but here is an open one on the future of the phone. There is nothing really radical in the article, but it makes one think in the round about the technology and the culture of the phone and its future. This is the hallmark of The Economist's style: thorough analysis, good overview, and probing insights into what may be underlying the superficial froth of innovation.

The Economist isn't one of ours (yet -- we have had quite a few requests), but we look forward to welcoming them on board one day. Perhaps we should talk to them about getting their Technology Quarterlies up as browseable web resources. This might get their readers familiar with the advantages of web-format digital magazines. (It slipped out. Ermm 'digital weekly newspapers' is what we meant to say).

The Gowers Report is published

The Gowers report, published yesterday, was commissioned by the UK government to review the Intellectual Property framework of the UK and produce recommendations. The report is here as a pdf. The bit that caught my eye, is that Gowers proposes a limited right to private copying for 'format shifting'. It is not widely known that copying a CD to an MP3 player in the UK is prohibited. It is not in the US, or in other European countries, and nobody thinks of it as an act of piracy. In this case the law is certainly an ass and this Gowers recommendation will, surely, be taken up. However such a change in the law will be framed in general terms -- so it will apply to all media. This will have an impact on the way in which book, newspaper and magazine copyrights are handled. Prediction: in 2012 it will be OK to format shift your magazine, Vogue or more likely Mojo, to your iPOD and flip your Citizen Kane across to your Sony eReader. Second prediction: there will be a reason you want to do that.

Two points to keep in mind as you peruse Gowers' 150 odd pages. First, it is only a report. These are recommendations not changes in the law. It is still illegal to copy your U2 CD to your iPOD in London (wait till you get well away from Heathrow). Second, (and this is the serious point sheltering behind the flippant warning), copyrights now have to work in a global environment. What the UK parliament legislates will play catch-up to technological innovations in Korea and is anyway less important than the work of EU and US lawmakers.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Press Gazette revived

Having been laid to rest at the end of last week, the Press Gazette is coming back. We have been following this saga closely and wish the patient a very long and prosperous future.

See the announcement on the PG web site.

Having been withdrawn when the receivers were appointed, the magazine is going back into the Exact Editions shop as we blog this. So now is the time to get your digital sub.

Google Book Search IS page citeable (correction)

Jeff Bartelma (Book Search, Product Manager, at Google) has corrected our suggestion, from last week, that Google Book Search had abandoned print-page/web-page correspondence.

He is absolutely right. The link to page 34 of Skottowe's Life of Shakespeare is fine. We are glad to be corrected on the point, since reliably precise citation must be the cornerstone of the global library service that Google Book Search should become.

No Google lawyer has chipped in to address the complaint about unavailable (to ex-US IP addresses) public domain works and Google's copyright hassles. But, to be fair to Google, its hardly their fault if copyright terms and fair use provisions are different in the US, the European Union (Belgium, France) and other countries. The law and the coherence of literary copyright, not Google, will be the ultimate loser if 'proxy IP addresses' are used to run circles round 'national' interpretations of copyright and the efforts of Google-style aggregators to work with such rules. National interpretations of copyright do not square with global technology platforms.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Media Convergence: last orders and the bar-code

Media Convergence -- or the idea that all the different media are moving towards a common and ultimately unitary media puddle -- has its adherents and is probably coming back into fashion (it temporarily went out of fashion in about 2000 at the time the web investment bubble popped).

Whether these various media really are going to converge at one omega point on the near horizon (this omega point looks a bit like Gooooooooogle from this perspective), about this theory we can be sceptical, but there surely are some centripetal pressures.

Have you noticed the way quality typography, in newspapers magazines and books, is increasingly emulating web-design? Take this B2B magazine for which we provide a white-label service:

The contents page of The Publican shows clear signs of being a magazine in the age of web design. The extensive use of colour to separate different information blocks, the horizontal contents banner along the top of the page, the use of a thumbnail image to cue a feature, and of course the clickable links -- which in the case of the page numbers in the print design are just numbers but on the web become formal links and allow the magazine to map itself more closely to the topology of the web. There are probably more features in common which an expert typographer would notice. But one could use this evidence of convergence to argue that whilst magazines and the web may be converging, it is unlikely that they will fully converge. Print typography can emulate the web because it is not the same medium. Emulation works better when there are also some differences. There will still be a place for a print magazine in ten years time, and a role for a magazine web site which serves a different purpose (though one of those purposes is to help in the distribution task by serving a record, and a searchable archive, of the print issues).

There are some features of the print page for which the web has no obvious use. For example, the bar-code at the top right. But now that one notices that ..... perhaps there is something useful to which a digital copy of a bar-code should link? It is clearly a catalogue-type datum, with an ISSN. But this could be a hook for other relevant stuff -- maybe ABC or BPA data. Hmmm......

If there are any good suggestions we will buy the proposer another round. There is a thought for a Monday morning.