Friday, August 31, 2007

Old media, new media

Some interesting advice from a young fogie, Ben Goldacre, apparently ensconced in one of London's smarter Gentlemen's clubs (hat tip to Martin Stabe).

10 bits of advice about what to do and not to do about newspapers and their web sites. Mostly very sound. These two caught my attention:

(8) Make all of your content work on mobile phones, blackberry browsers, old computers, and PDAs. You have no idea how many people own these. You have no idea how bored they get at the bus stop, on the loo, and in meetings under the table. ..........
(9) Do not use flash, or other complicated animated web nonsense. It looks good on the developer’s laptop, when they come to show you the site, but it’s slow to load, and irritating to browse. ...............

So keep it simple is a big part of his message. But we would say that there is an even more basic rule. Make the newspaper, the magazine, the periodical, the printed supplements and the special issues, make them all Digital Editions. Make them available on the web. The print publication can speak for itself and stand for itself on the web. Once you have done that well (and hardly any newspapers have done that at all well), you can spend time on inventing the most impressive array of additional web services. You can even spend your afternoons in the Garrick or the Carlton drinking chablis with a good conscience and your young advisers.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Copyright in a technological flux

Microsoft, Google and others, working through the C&CIA (a technology trade group), has mounted a campaign Defend Fair Use for the liberal interpretation of fair use/fair dealing for copyright materials. It is surprising to see Google and Microsoft as allies... but of course they have a fair point. In a clever piece of timing, today, Google's YouTube strikes a deal through which it will remunerate music copyright holders for the 'performance' of their materials on submitted YouTube videos. The artists' deal was negotiated by the Perfoming Rights Society. According to the Guardian the deal could be worth 10s of millions of pounds. I wonder how they know that?

At the very same time, in a text-book illustration of how not to mount a pressure group the STM (Scientific Medical Technical) publishers have announced PRISM which has drawn understandable derision from the blogosphere. To see how botched a PR move this is, take a look at Andrew Leonard on Salon. The STM publishers are very worried that they may lose a profitable market because scientifc researchers are being encouraged to make their research Open Access (ie freely available, especially when the research has been publicly funded). Their PR move has really just drawn attention to the impossible position they appear to be defending -- that it is a good and necessary thing for the results of publicly funded research not to be freely available to the public. Whatever you do, you dont want to appear to be arguing for that.

These are difficult issues, but Google and Microsoft appear to understand better how to manage and present a case than the Association of American Publishers. Anyone seriously concerned about copyright and the impact of technology on our current practice, should take a look at Pamela Samuelson's Preliminary Thoughts on Copyright Reform. Professor Samuelson points out that any major statutes on copyright are unlikely in the next few years. She does not say this, but we may conclude that the practice on copyright will be reformed by technological breakthroughs more than by legislative fiat. As the Chinese proverb has it:- "when the typhoon rages the bamboo bends". Clever of the MCPS-PRS Alliance to bend with the YouTube hurricane. Clever of Google to let it be known that 10s of millions will be going to musicians who may have been ripped-off, just when they are mounting a campaign for relaxations in the expectations of fair use.


Opera joins the Exact Editions shop. The free trial issue has plenty to tempt the keen opera buff:

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Historic Motor Racing News

I will soon stop counting, but this is our 53rd title.

  • A spectacular front cover and contents clickable from there.
  • This is a magazine with an international editorial coverage. As you can tell from the masthead (or is that a mastfoot?).
  • It also has some intriguing small ads. I have always fancied a Lola.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Amazon becomes a publisher with PrintOnDemand

A couple of week's ago we referenced the new Amazon service Create Space. Last week the development drew some interesting discussion on the Charkin blog: see notes and discussions 'On Retailers Becoming Publishers', 'Death of the Publisher?', (NB the question mark) and 'Print on Demand'. There was a deal of concern expressed in the comments that Amazon may be in too strong a position and that publishers may get 'disintermediated'. But I suspect that the Amazon threat to book publishers from this service is limited. After all Lulu (which was only mentioned once in the discussion -- by Dan Penny) has for some time been doing for self-publishers pretty much what Amazon Create Space promises to do, and Lightning Source (not only them, also Antony Rowe) does for publishers a similar job. Its funny the way that the company that initially defines a market service on the web has a good chance of holding it and maintaining market leadership, even when big competitors come in with technically sweet alternatives. I suspect that Lulu and Lightning Source have established important bridgeheads, and they will be hard to dislodge. Even for Amazon.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Amazon announcement is that it is really an endorsement of what Lulu is already doing. And the key point about that, which the Charkin discussants mostly missed (include me in that) is that the act of writing and publishing your own book to semi-professional standards is being radically democratised. There could well be a million or more ISBN-ed titles published each year in the US and the UK before long, (yes Lulu and Amazon make it easy to get your own ISBN). Some of these books will be very good books, and a few of them will be best sellers. If I was a book publisher or literary agent I would be closely studying the Lulu and Amazon Create Space lists or employ someone in an "A&R" role to do it for me.

Successful self-published authors are not unknown, but they have usually been picked up by real publishers after their first or second book, or after their first mainstream reviews. One of the the most successful self-published author of recent times is Edward Tufte. He has also achieved standards of quality design and successful promotion that almost certainly would not have been his with any publisher. If you don't know Tufte you should probably buy one of his books. I suspect that most readers of this blog will be familiar with his work and the lessons that he draws from this remarkable diagram of Napoleon's Russian Winter.

You can buy Tufte's books from Amazon, they are cheaper than from his own web site, but I doubt if he needs to give them a 50% discount.

The Minard diagram also plots the size of the average print run over the last 150 years. Moscow represents the invention of photolithography 50 or so years ago, which meant that it was no longer necessary to cause books to be written in metal before reproducing them in reasonable numbers. ;-).

AnOther Man

We had some feedback today asking for more fashion magazines. So this fits the bill.

Quest Bulgaria

Our latest title

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A University Press Report

A few days ago, Charkin Blog mentioned a report on University Publishing in a Digital Age. Its an interesting report and Peter Brantley mentions it today. Brantley links to a location where the report can be read and commented upon in CommentPress "an open source theme for the WordPress blog engine that allows paragraph-by-paragraph commenting in the margins of a text". What an interesting idea, and congratulations to the Scholarly Publishing Office of the University of Michigan and the Institute for the Future of the Book for putting it to work. Simple but very effective and I hope that they get a lot of comments (is this the first?). The Ithaka report is exactly the kind of consultative/informative document for which the CommentPress solution is well suited.

The University of Michigan has been at the front of the charge with Google's Book Search. But its time the libraries began to steer the Google Book Search project. So its encouraging to see the American universities and their presses begining to seize the challenge of digital publishing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Intelligent Life and Bright Paper

The Economist -- which may be the most valuable and interesting magazine on the planet -- is about to launch a new magazine called Intelligent Life.

I am such a fan of The Economist that I will be pleased to be proved wrong, but the announcement gives me a sinking feeling. There is surely some hubris in launching a magazine with this title. The web site gives nothing a way (that is not a good sign -- the web site for a magazine which is going to be launched in less than a month should give a lot away).

The current edition of the parent magazine has a fascinating piece on how a cellulose, paper-like, substance can store electricity as a capacitor and as a battery. If you need to know more, I refer you to Professor Ajayan's web page. He has done the research. Who knows, in a few years time we may be reading newspapers and books on a paperlike substance, like a large pocket handkerchief, which holds its own electricity and navigates us to any web page. By then the web will be a superset of all printed literature.

Since the alarms of last week, Skype has returned in a reliable form. In fact, it seems to be a lot clearer. No background muzziness. Have we been palmed off with a phony explanation. Were Skype surreptitiously improving their network software whilst appearing to heal a bug?...... I am also relieved to hear that its not Microsoft's fault. Though the first Skype explanation did sound a little bit as though it was.... ("those dunderheads in Redmond with their routine patches" did appear to be the subtext).

Friday, August 17, 2007

Skype and the challenges of 24/7

Yesterday Skype had a major software failure across its network. It seems to be persisting today. I had not realised how much I now use Skype, and quite how much I depend on it. I am not in the mood for complaining, even though I am a paying Skype user (Skype Out is a great aspect to the service). I just hope that they come back on line soon and that there is no deep flaw in the code. That would be a nightmare!

Any business that runs a 24/7 service will have sympathy for the engineers in Luxembourg.

Why do I use Skype so much? The first reason is that because its a VOIP system and completely web-based, every name and phone number on our wonderful CRM system is a click a way from a phone call. Since I have never been good at managing Address Books, this is a great boon. I can also note the phone call on the integral Wiki within the CRM. This home-brewed CRM -- fondly known as Crumb -- is even more integral to my daily work than Skype.

The second reason is that Skype is extremely easy for conference calls (and if you have Skype Out you can run the conference and bring in participants who will not realise that they are being Skyped). The third reason is that Skype links beautifully from the links on our digital magazines. Here is a page with lots of live phone numbers -- but please only try them if you really need to ring up!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


This is our 50th title. Its another gorgeous magazine for designers. So here are some pages to whet our appetites:

Google Maps will be embedable

Its hard to avoid Google. They are doing so much, most of it very well. The latest innovation to catch our eye:

Google will be releasing a new feature next week that will enable people to easily embed a Google Map into their Web site or blog, just like you can do with a YouTube video. No coding or programming required; just copying and pasting a snippet of HTML, a Google spokeswoman says. (from Elinor Mills on CNET)
How immensely useful, Google maps can now become an even more essential, an even more networked, reference resource. As Elinor says this sounds like YouTube for maps. Will such widgetised maps now come with little counters telling us how many people have viewed this particular embedded map? One can be sure that Google will know this statistic:- perhaps they are introducing the feature so that they can better understand how maps are used.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Book Searching is not the same as Book Preserving

It has been fairly clear to the library community for a while now that the Google Book Search project is not going to deliver sufficient quality that 'preservation' is assured. There is now a rather detailed critique at First Monday, from Paul Duguid. His essay (noted via Peter Brantley) focuses on some editions of Sterne's bizarre novel, Tristram Shandy, included in GBS in several editions. His conclusion:

The Google Books Project is no doubt an important, in many ways invaluable, project. It is also, on the brief evidence given here, a highly problematic one. Relying on the power of its search tools, Google has ignored elemental metadata, such as volume numbers. The quality of its scanning (and so we may presume its searching) is at times completely inadequate [14]. The editions offered (by search or by sale) are, at best, regrettable. Curiously, this suggests to me that it may be Google’s technicians, and not librarians, who are the great romanticisers of the book. Google Books takes books as a storehouse of wisdom to be opened up with new tools. They fail to see what librarians know: books can be obtuse, obdurate, even obnoxious things. As a group, they don’t submit equally to a standard shelf, a standard scanner, or a standard ontology. Nor are their constraints overcome by scraping the text and developing search algorithms.
When I mentioned the article to a friend he said that it was possibly a little unfair. But I guess that is the issue that Google has to confront. If Google is going to assume the responsibility of scanning, and to speak plainly, the responsibility of establishing, these texts, it will attract the highest standards of scholarly nitpicking. Which is often and notoriously unfair. That after all is why Professors study the early editions of Tristram Shandy. They are professional and unrelenting pickers of nits. Companies such as ProQuest are used to collecting and aggregating materials with careful and scholarly procedures. They know that they will be pilloried if and when their scanning is unreliable or their selections are unwarranted.

I think that Dr Duguid has some good points, but there is perhaps more of a case to be made for Google than he allows. After all his paper is a very good example of how easy it is to cite and use the material that Google is assembling. He clips and shows the messy pages he has found. Scholars will like that (as those in Europe will dislike the fact that for strange copy-right related reasons the Google citations do not work. In the US that link will give you the first/?second page of the Harvard edition. Nothing visible in Europe.).

But I also wonder about Google's methodology. Why should they ignore the way that librarians and scholars have assessed this material in the past? Not recording volume numbers seems like a laughable error. On the day in which the New York Times reports Google's and Microsoft's urgent drives to capture and utilise health records, we may wonder whether the medical services which Google develops can possibly be so apparently haphazard as the Book Search record appears to be.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Site upgrades

Every couple of months we have a site upgrade. The software that runs our service, the databases and the individual user accounts, is enhanced with a new version. We do this so that additional features can be added to the service, and usually there are some small but subtle changes to our interface. Today, our Technical Director told me that there had been a site upgrade and that with luck no changes at all would be apparent. Why have a change which changes nothing?

While I was pondering this, he told me that the point of the new release was so that we could accommodate linguistic changes......So here is a clue:

About half the consumer magazines in the world are published in languages other than English. At some stage we need to be capable of delivering them.

Dont you love the newsagents that you see in big capital cities that are stuffed with magazines and newspapers in umpteen different languages?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Google Videos Canned

Google aims to prune the number of services it offers, and has announced that it is closing the program that allowed you to rent or buy videos from its video store service. See Philipp Lenssen's posting and the comments at Google Blogoscoped.

This is a surprising decision. Sure there will have been good reasons for it -- maybe Holywood didnt like the model that Google was pushing, and so it was hard to fill the store. Or there may have been other good reasons for stopping a program which encouraged users to rent and buy from Google; but read this quote from the Google email:

As a valued Google user, we’re contacting you with some important information about the videos you’ve purchased or rented from Google Video. In an effort to improve all Google services, we will no longer offer the ability to buy or rent videos for download from Google Video, ending the DTO/DTR (download-to-own/rent) program. This change will be effective August 15, 2007.
................................................{snip -- note about compensation}.....................
After August 15, 2007, you will no longer be able to view your purchased or rented videos.
This is pretty bald. If I have understood it correctly the email is saying "you bought it, but with less than a week's notice it won't be yours anymore"? That seems like a pretty graceless way of serving customers/subscribers.

After this mess-up, Google will need to be very careful about the way it offers subscription services to media content in future.

If Google is thinking of pruning its services, maybe it should take a look at Google Catalogs. With its limitation to US-only Catalogs and its inability to tie in to the e-commerce systems of the Catalog companies, this has always seemed to me like one of the good Google Ideas that really dont cut it. And yes it really was a good idea.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Amazon is innovating in all directions

Google rightly gets a pile of credit for its rapid innovatory pace. But people tend not to focus on how well Amazon is doing in the innovation stakes. Their impressive S3 has been around for a while and is very good value in providing deep infrastructure for developers. But lots is happening at Amazon. Three typical developments caught our attention in the last week.

  1. Amazon Flexible Payments System enters beta. From the description, this sounds like a very serious and useful piece of infrastructure for e-commerce. It led us to wonder whether major libraries are already using Amazon services. If they do, Amazon FPS would be a very important framework for new library services (eg IP address-based access to consumer magazines). Do libraries order books via Amazon? I feel I ought to know, but my awareness of the library supply market is very rusty.
  2. Amazon do a rather nice click through on front covers for the magazines they sell in the US market. We had never noticed this before and it may have been going for a while. This is a tiny feature but since it touches on magazines we were intrigued. Amazon will surely do more with magazines one day.
  3. PersonaNonData led us to review their Books On Demand service. It certainly looks like a very appropriate part of their range of services.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Magazine Week

Its good to see that Magazine Week, which we blogged earlier in the year, is coming to fruition. I like the 10 amazing facts about magazines.

Jeremy Leslie blogs that the YouTube video produced in support makes him weep. He is right. The idea of a YouTube video is good, but this promo is cringe-making, and way too self-regarding. Magazine Week needs an altruistic, engaging, or 'other regarding' aspect if it is to make a similar impact to World Book Day.

Institutional Sales

There is an old rule of software development which says that it is a very bad idea to talk in public about developments before you implement them. But this is August, and blogs are not press releases, so here goes.

We have had a growing chorus of requests for institutional access to some of our magazines. Mostly from universities, but not just from them, also from businesses.

We have decided that we will support institutional access via IP-addresses, but whether or not any specific publication will be available this way will depend on our publishers. If a publisher does not want to support institution-wide access it will not be available from us. We have also decided that our publishers will set the prices (all the prices in our service are set by the publishers). So we expect to support IP-based subscriptions to some of our magazines in Quarter 4.

Also, we will not be offering aggregated packages. It will be entirely up to the subscribing institutions, the libraries or universities, to decide which magazines they need.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Harry Potter is also a Rare Book

The first edition of the first issue is rare and valuable. We missed the midsummer frenzy, but several members of my family have already purchased and consumed the final installment.

One of my favourite magazines, Rare Book Review, in its latest issue, reminds me how valuable that first edition would now be if we had not allowed it to be read to destruction: