Friday, July 27, 2007

Mae West was a Bibliophile

"Is that a library in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?" Lorcan Dempsey found the connection, reflecting on Peter Kaufman's startling prediction: by 2020 an iPod sized device will be able to contain all the media content ever created. Kaufman is just extrapolating the familiar Moore's law trends. iPod style computer disk memory is now 3.6 millionth of the price of 1982 costs. So its not hard to believe that such a small device could contain a million times more content in 15 years than it does now.

The talk which accompanied Kaufman's ppt is pretty interesting. He points out how the world of content (published, played, filmed) is becoming totally integrated. How everything is potentially 'advertisable against' and how information content needs to be and become more sustainable and computable (means at the very least findable, authorised, visible, discriminable). He also points to an important paper by Michael Jensen which can be read here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

eBooks and Libraries

There is a fascinating post from Adrian Hon and lots of good discussion on the revolution facing the book publishing industry (noted via Charkin blog). Adrian is amusingly rude, but spot-on, in his criticisms of the book publishers current web offerings:

Most of these sites are so awful that there’s plenty of room for easy improvement, providing that someone else smarter doesn’t step in and capture all the traffic first. Maybe that someone will be Amazon with Shelfari, or some unknown web 2.0 upstart. But at this rate, it most certainly won’t be traditional publishers. And whoever captures the traffic can capture the sales.
There really isnt an adequate business model for ebooks that any major book publisher has yet produced and the marketing efforts on behalf of printed books are feebly unimaginative. On the other hand many of the large STM (Scientific Technical and Medical) publishers have produced effective systems for selling access to technical literature (especially scientific periodicals). Its not as though publishers could not devise a digital strategy.....

There is much of interest in the comments on Hon's original posting. But, there is one deep running problem in this discussion of ebooks. The focus is all wrong in being a focus on BOOKs, as individual titles. This discussion should be on elibraries not on ebooks. Hon says:
Physical books are about to be superseded by more advanced technology that will allow for the mass and trivial pirating of every single book ever published.
Maybe, but then again maybe not so straightforward. What if ebooks are primarily distributed and accessed via a system such as Google Book Search? That is not so easily pirated. In such a system what matters is that books can be easily accessed, searched and cited; any pirated digital copies are of no real use without the database access system. Hon also makes the comparison with the iPod. But the success of the iPod system is mistaken by ebook enthusiasts. The key advance of the iPod was that it was a half-decent personal music library. Not that it was another MP3 Player.

In thinking about ebooks we need to think about elibraries first and foremost. Publishers need to think about how their content will be digitally accessed and how it can be sold, and profitably given away. Publishers distribution options have always been title-focussed in the past. They need to start thinking more broadly.

How are libraries of digital content to be accessed and services allocated? The hardware on which ebooks can be read or consulted is not so important.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Clipper

Exact Editions now has a new tool -- a Clipper -- which allows readers to extract clippings from magazines on the Exact Editions platform and reproduce the exact clipping in a blog.

You can access the Clipper from the tool bar. There is a new icon which comes up in full green when you are on the Full Page view. This is the icon:

Clicking on that icon gives you a view of the page from which you can select the rectangle which you intend to Clip. For example, this clipping from the current issue of The Spectator:

Perhaps its no surprise that The Spectator is supporting Boris Johnson, but his video diaries will be a popular source of amusement.

As this clipping shows -- the Clipper will, by default produce a citation for each extract. Also, a subscriber who clicks on the clipping will jump straight to the full content, while a non-subscriber will be offered the change to buy a subscription.

There is a general presumption for 'fair dealing' in the use of copyright material. We have given the Clipper tool a default limit of 12% of a print page. Publishers who wish to encourage citations and clippings can request that the maximum is raised. Likewise, if any publisher wishes to prevent any form of clipping or explicit citation the tool can be withheld entirely from a publication. Since citation enhances the reputation of a magazine, we think that this option is not likely to appeal to many publishers.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Are newspapers in trouble?

Its good to lose touch occasionally; I have just had a week of holiday in Elba (a beautiful island and a great holiday). No contact with the web for a week, just a steady flow of emails to view on my Blackberry. So a very good holiday -- and as I tune back into the flow of blogs and trends and technology opinions there seems to be plenty of grounds for gloom about newspapers:

But if newspapers are really in such trouble why are Google (and Yahoo and Microsoft) so interested? Even interested in the old print technology....

Once newspapers have the confidence to produce and sell subscriptions to digital editions they will begin to see how their businesses (service businesses for sure) can still be highly profitable on the web.

Friday, July 13, 2007

New Consumer

The Guardian this week produced its list of top 100 media types (those who wield the most power in the UK media sectors). It strikes us as a crazy list (registration may be required). Barely a representative from book publishing (Marjorie Scardino of Pearson doesnt really count, her background is in newspapers). Eric Schmidt of Google comes in at (1) and Facebook stops the list at (100), with a great many here-today, gone-tomorrow, journalists, pundits and media personalities in between them. Its a nonsense list. If Facebook deserves to be there at all it should be in the top 10, and I wonder how many Googlers think that Schmidt is really more influential than Page and Brin?

Much more interesting is the list produced by New Consumer in the current issue. The magazine's Top 100 Ethical Heroes. You should get a subscription. Here are a couple that I was pleased to see:


Perhaps Jamie Oliver is more deserving of his place in this list, than Gordon Ramsay is of his position of 90th in the Guardian's.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Athletics Weekly

AW is the latest addition to our service. The magazine has been running for over 60 years and brings weekly results and reports to athletics fans in the UK and overseas. Noteworthy in the free trial issue:

This title was the speediest yet to join our service. We first heard from them less than a month ago, and after a few emails and some trial runs the magazine is now a fully fledged part of the service. I guess that you can count on Athletics Weekly to be fast out of the blocks.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Social Documents

It looks as though there is a new category of web application emerging: services which encourage the sharing, posting and processing of online documents. Techcrunch mentions two of the more prominent: Scribd and Docstoc..... the Techcrunch comments also mention Thinkfree.

Its not completely clear how these services may evolve and what new forms of writing and reading they may encourage, but this has to be a hot area when you look at the enormous success in the last couple of years of YouTube and Facebook, MySpace etc

Exact Editions is a technical service for publishers, and it may be my failure of imagination that cannot see it becoming a social end-user tool. On the other hand there is clearly an unmet need -- on Saturday I was hearing of such a need from a friend who has built up a database of literally hundreds of peace agreements (Sri Lanka, Sudan, Burundi etc -- unfortunately/fortunately its a hot and growing area in international law). She was explaining the difficulty of satisfactorily providing access to them through the web. HTML versions and PDF versions have obvious drawbacks. There is also the need to provide precise citations and comprehensive searches and for the database to grow gracefully. Exact Editions would be a good solution, but its hard to see the business model and our process is one which still requires a significant degree of human intervention and some investment on our side.

Hmmmm. Anybody got any suggestions? I know we could do it pro bono, but that is probably not scaleable.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Flickr Typefoundry?

Eric Kastner's clever simple idea:


C as in Monte Carlo

Hat tip to John Naughton.

Friday, July 06, 2007

If the iPhone is the best eBook Reader ever .....

And it is. What follows?

  1. The iPhone will be much more important as a new way of promoting and selling physical books, than it will be for selling digital books..... for the next few years. Few of us want to read digital books all the way through on our handheld, but the iPhone is a bookshop window with an infinite catalogue. In your pocket. This is very good news for Amazon and publishers who want to sell you print copies. Its good news for all small publishers who want to sell books direct through the mail. Publishers need much better websites with more digital samples on their pages. The digital book market will follow more slowly.
  2. The iPhone does not support Flash (and that is not an oversight and its a decision that will not be rescinded). YouTube is already on the iPhone because YouTube/Google have re-engineered the database so that YouTube doesnt need Flash. It uses H.264 which is what AppleTV will also build on. This is a big change for publishers who have used Flash for digital books. Harper Collins and Random House will be re-engineering their book display systems. Its again good news for Amazon Search Inside and Google Book Search who do not.
  3. One of the things wrong with the eBook reader concept is that it compartmentalised books. As though an eBook reader could manage with a Black on White only capability. There is no reason for this and the Apple engineers have produced a user interface through which all print products are equally accessible. Newspapers, magazines, journals, books, Bibles, concert programmes, user manuals and printed packaging. Sooner, well before later, we will be able to read and search anything through the web which has been printed. Even cereal packets, and especially seed packets, wine labels and user manuals. The iPhone is good news for printed ephemera.
  4. Apple will not own the books market, or the digital books market, the way it is hoping to 'own' or predominate in the music and Hollywood digital distribution channels through iTunes. Books, magazines and newsprint will be much more open, because all that is needed to sell them and make a market is the infrastructure to display and search them. All that the consumer needs is a web browser and access to an e-commerce system. Again Amazon and Google are in poll position. Google will soon be selling pay-per-view books.
  5. Because there is no library equivalent for books built into the iPhone, in the way that there is an iTunes for music, all those players who have a potential to fill this space will move aggressively to help fill the gap. Look for OCLC, the LibraryThing, Amazon, Bowker, Google to market and promote metadata through the iPhone eco-system. When you key an ISBN into an iPhone, what is going to happen? Apple need an answer to that question. Metadata is going to be very big on the iPhone.
  6. Because we will carry our iPhone everywhere and because we get used to searching book catalogues, bookshops and libraries from our peripatetic window-on-the-library, we will inevitably get used to doing a lot more snippeting and browsing. Comments, snippets, citations, gobbets and controversies will grow. Deep reading will diminish. Deep listening is also a declining skill.
  7. Digital books, newspapers, magazines will gradually grow to become ambient, transient and omnipresent. Not sure that anyone has yet subscribed to one of our magazines from an iPhone (but I wouldn't know if they had, and I was surprised to find that a subscriber to the Baptist Times was reading it on his Palm). Digital subs through the iPhone are on their way.
The iPhone's initial reception tells us that it will be a huge success. The best review I have seen is at Engadget. There are some interesting comments by Marc Hedlund at O'Reilly.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

An analysis of the news weeklies

Magforum has a useful round up of some of the new entrants in the weekly news segment. Tony Quinn reckons that the Economist will fight off the various new challengers to its crown, as the.... pre-eminent London/International business, current affairs weekly, newspaper/magazine. In fact, it is not easy to define exactly what the Economist's slot is, but it does whatever it quintessentially does very well. One million+ copies a week sold. Most of them on subscription.

But the Economist is not (yet) as big as the biggest US titles (Time, Newsweek, and it may be level pegging with Business Week though it seems to be growing faster and may well be more profitable then any of them); and, especially in the US market, The Week has made spectacular advances in the last four years. One can see why magazine founders/strategists at the BBC, News International and the Guardian may be eyeing the US market carefully in the view of The Week's powerful performance.

Two things struck me from the Magforum analysis:

  1. One should not forget that other languages have spectacularly successful titles in this slot. Stern gets a circulation of 1 million every week.
  2. None of the new launch challengers to the throne of the Economist (five current/imminent launches are mentioned) has, so far, come out at launch with an effective digital edition strategy. Why on earth not? Having a good web site is not good enough, though very necessary, when digital editions can be given to all new subscribers, and can be used for low-cost promotion to all potential new subscribers? Given the costs and distribution obstacles to launching a primarily print product, this oversight is unforgivable. This is a slot (whatever it quintessentially is) in which the digital edition has a strong role to play. Time-challenged, technologically savvy, international and mobile, these readers are digital consumers. And the fact/opinion that the Economist does not do an adequate job with its own repurposed HTML version is no excuse!
Noted from MagCulture

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Hard Problems and Fuzzy Solutions

Google Book Search ('search the full text of books and discover new ones') now supports 'text versions' of some of the out-of-copyright books that are in the Google Book Search database. Google Blogoscoped has a report. This is interesting, Google are OCR'ing books which have been scanned and figuring out how to reconstitute a reasonable ASCII version of the underlying text. Its also interesting that it is not possible to get a consistently good result -- mind you Blogoscoped picks a hard example, a Shakespeare text with 'f's' for 's'es'. But computing the underlying text of a book if you don't already have it is a really hard problem.

So what? Well it suggests that pirating books in Google Book Search is, and is likely to remain, a very tough proposition. Easy to make dumb copies, easy enough if you can invest the effort in re-keying, but to make accurate, usable, automated copies with the text in the file, from an image file. Don't even try. Google, with all their software geniuses can't do it, so there is little chance of a pirate in Macao being able to get a quality solution. Exact Editions has a very similar production and content management system to the Google Book Search service. So it looks as though its going to remain very difficult to produce useful pirate issues of Exact Editions magazines unless the pirate gets access to the publisher's copies of the PDF files. PDF files contain a lot more useful information than the dumb JPEGs that Google Book Search and Exact Editions ship out to web browsers. Publishers who care about their digital rights should be very careful with the security of their PDFs.

Fuzzy solutions? That is easy, even a poor machine-readable text version is pretty good for automated searching witness the way Google, Yahoo or MSFT Live already search out of copyright books. The fuzzy solution has been working for a while.