Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Large Double Page Spreads

We have added a new function to our interface. The Large Double Page Spread icon on the toolbar:

This richer double-page view comes in to its own when you are reading an article spread across a double page, Le Monde Diplomatique on the Basque problem. Where it may be a trifle awkward to read one page, and then the facing page.

Mind you it is also sumptious for rich double page pictures or advertisements.

I dont think I can see the joins in those JPEGS, and that is how things should be if the Trim Boxes are set.

Will we still be seeing snow on the top of Kilimanjaro in 2015? Maybe not, but I think magazines will still like to make a feature of good legs.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Libraries working with Google Book Search, Or Not

At the weekend there was an interesting article in the NYTimes about the increasingly wary reaction of libraries to the Google Book Search proposition. Major research libraries are looking for a more open distribution model, without Google proprietary restrictions, and supporting the OCA (Open Content Alliance); and more are realising that they can do their own thing.

Interesting comments on this article from Michael Cairns at PersonaNonData, and from Peter Brantley at O'Reilly. Interestingly different, but they both highlight the idea of Digital Interlibrary Loan.

But I am not sure that the concept of Digital Interlibrary Loan really holds up. Well it works fine if digital libraries are composed of Books-as-files, since you can of course loan and track a PDF file; but if digital libraries are databases of searchable books and manuscript collections, where the book lives by virtue of being searched with and linked to other books, the concept of an interlibrary loan is redundant. Consider this question: how are you going to find this rare out of print book which might be available to you through digital interlibrary loan? Before you can borrow a book you need to know that it exists. So you are going to search for it in the complete library catalogue which provides full text searching as part of the catalogue, and then offers you Google-style snippets of the content. That is roughly the way things are going to work in state of the art libraries in 2010. The catalogue you are searching is in a library on another continent. And yet the book looks really good so you want to have it on interlibrary loan.....

But, but hold on a minute, you have been searching it and snippeting it and its already 'on' the server where you are searching the catalogue, so having it available to read digitally is just a matter of being able to access, search and read every page. Its just a matter of access and of lifting up the snippeted grid that stands between you and the book in all its veridical, full text, scanned image, glory. There is nothing to be loaned, its just a matter of providing access. Once books are searchable through the web, the idea that they need to be loaned is otiose. Before we get to digital interlibrary loans we are going to have campus to campus digital walk-in access......

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

PayPal Coverage

Our payments for subscriptions runs through an automated e-commerce system which relies heavily on PayPal. PayPal handles the major credit cards for us and subscribers in the developed world can join in with little difficulty. PayPal does a good job for us. The list of countries where PayPal works looks impressive, but note that for many of them one can only send money.

There is a problem for many readers in countries where PayPal purchasing is not supported. We have been selling Le Monde Diplomatique like hot cakes in the last two weeks, and we would be selling many more hot-cakes if PayPal had complete African coverage.

We would be very interested to hear about alternatives. But I suspect that there are no easy answers to this question and a large part of the problem is that many of the countries where the PayPal writ does not run are under restrictive foreign exchange controls; government control is the underlying issue. Getting a decent global infrastructure for web-based e-commerce is not a shoe-in.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


We have always taken the view that the publishers who use Exact Editions to provide access to the magazines on our platform, own the subscription lists that accrue through the process of selling subs. As far as we are concerned they also own the aggregate usage date which we carefully collect and supply for them through a stats account. In our production process we enhance the PDFs which are our source documents, and so far as ownership goes they also own these improved PDFs. [The PDFs are only enhanced by us so that we can build a better database, we do not of course use the PDFs in a delivery mode].

These are valuable assets, and I sometimes wonder whether our policy in not claiming any ownership over these intangibles is altogether prudent. Its possible, that if our company was part-owned by a VC we would have been required to take a more aggressive view of our own contribution. Would there be a case for asserting part ownership? Maybe, but on the whole, and with the benefit of reflection, emphatically NO.

Our position is right on this. Quixotic perhaps, naive I concede, but right and strong. Exact Editions does have some important intellectual assets, but claiming any proprietary stake in the copyrights of the publications or the subscriber lists which attach to publications sold on susbcription, is not one of them. Our position is stronger precisely because our process enhances the value of what the publishers are doing, and that is the way we intend to keep things.

Call this a hostage to fortune if you will. But we think of it as a basis for collaboration.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Importance of Magazines?

Mark Chillingworth at Information World Review reports that Google are unlikely to extend their book search program to magazines.....

Google has damped down speculation that it will extend its Google Book Search platform to include magazines with an ISSN number. Technical difficulties with digitising magazines and a lack of existing archives were cited as the main reasons.
Chillingworth quotes Jens Redmar (Director Google Book Search in Europe) as saying:
"Magazines describe a trend at the time. A historic book has more valuable information than a historic magazine." Periodical publishers have also failed to create archives of their content, which Redmar sees as essential to a successful search tool.
We can agree that consumer magazine publishers have by and large failed to create archives of their content (amazingly many still do not archive PDFs of their current issues), but this has nothing to do with the value of these archives. It is really very odd to say that a historic book is more valuable than a historic magazine. What on earth can he have meant? Historians find contemporary magazine archives an invaluable tool.

IWR is a reliable magazine, indeed a valuable magazine, but I am not sure that this report really stands up. Google Book Search after all already includes a great number of issues of historic magazines. Here is one from the Bodleian and here is a typical page [Though the Google meta-data gives me a shudder: "blackwoods magazune By william blackwood sons" where did the magazune come from, and has the apostrophe gone awol?]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Google and Copyright

Google have just announced a new set of Content ID tools which will help copyright owners protect their content on the YouTube platform. More detail is given here. These new policies and the copyright ID platform may enable Google to shrug off or negotiate a way out of the onerous suits it faces from Viacom and the UK's Premier League. But it also seems to back away from the idea of establishing a 'fair use' of video clippings or quotations -- a contentious issue which is at the heart of the YouTube success. The new Google approach appears to give copyright owners total control over the distribution of their video content.

Google will have to make similar proposals to the owners and custodians of literary copyrights. We can expect a comparable "highly complicated technology platform -- [with] content identification tools" to be in preparation for the Google Book Search platform (they already have much of it in place already) . It would be hard to go before a judge saying that literary copyrights are going to be treated differently from video copyrights. I predict this is going to lead Google to handing a lot more power to its Publisher partners and less leeway to its Library partners in the construction of the Google Book Search 'library'.

Some of the Google statements are quite striking and humble:

No matter how accurate the tools get, it is important to remember that no technology can tell legal from infringing material without the cooperation of the content owners themselves.....The best we can do is cooperate with copyright holders to identify videos that include their content and offer them choices about sharing that content. As copyright holders make their preferences clear to us up front, we'll do our best to automate that choice while balancing the rights of users, other copyright holders, and our community as a whole. [See videoID-about]
It is especially tricky to see how one can automate the choices of copyright holders whilst balancing the rights of users....As John Batelle wonders its not at all clear what happens to fair use. But book publishers will certainly welcome the idea that they might be given more control 'up front'. Its what they have been asking for all along.

Trouble is that literary copyrights can be a lot more confused and complicated even than video copyrights. All serious literary publishing requires that scope be given to 'fair use'.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Radiohead Strategy and the publisher's variation

Radiohead's new disk, In Rainbows, is going to be, is already a smash hit, a commercial coup for the band and a pathbreaker when it comes to music distribution. A VC, Fred Wilson, estimates that it may have grossed them $6.5 million in four days. Not bad.

Books are different from music (especially in that 'downloads' are not the way forward; since digital editions are much more promising); but there is a lot that book publishers could learn from the Radiohead example. Precisely because books can be exposed through the web, without being usefully or viably downloaded, the web is a great medium for promoting new or topical books. But publishers really arent doing this.

Here are some topical books which their publishers should be promoting through the web by either offering a significant chunk for free open access, or providing open access to the complete edition for a limited period. All these books would sell in much greater numbers this Christmas if they were promoted in this way. In one or two cases we may find something from them on Amazon, Search Inside. but there is very little from the books themselves on the publisher's own web sites. Why arent these titles being promoted through the web with substantial extracts? Or the whole edition a la Radiohead?

Pears Cyclopaedia 2007-2008, Penguin £20. This is a title which absolutely should be exposed in full from the Penguin website for at least a month.

My Manchester United Years, Bobby Charlton, Headline, £20. Surely at least a chapter should be shown from the Headline web site -- where it is hard to find the book -- and why is there no Search Inside from Amazon?.

Exit Music, Ian Rankin, Orion, £10.99. The publisher offers us an interview and an audio extract, but no facsimile of the print to whet our appetites. Nothing would be lost, no twist at the end revealed, and many buyers would be won over if the publisher hosted a 32 or 64pp sample.

The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane, Granta, £18.99. This author writes so beautifully and is still relatively unknown. Arguably his book should be open access for a few months since very few readers will be satisfied with just a web-read or a web-browse. There is some limited exposure on Amazon Search Inside.

An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore, Bloomsbury, £14.99. The author has just won the Nobel Peace Prize. The book sold well last Christmas, but with vigorous promotion this title might sell even better this year. Given the environmental message of the author it is strange that Gore has not insisted that his publishers promote with open access versions of his book. The book is so beautifully produced that more copies would surely be sold.

An Inconvenient Truth
is a very Radiohead proposition. And the message of the book is important for us all. Book publishers have a huge advantage (contrast with the music industry); since temporary open access through the web does not diminish the appetite for a book. With all good books the demand will be stimulated. So why are not new titles made available on publication through the web at least for a few months, AS A MATTER OF COURSE?

.... it really is a no brainer as Radiohead are showing us. (OK, yes there is another view on the Radiohead caper -- see Eoin Purcell).

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Wire

The Wire "...seeks out the best current musics in, and between, all genres; and is committed to investigating music's past as well as its present and future..." (from their FAQ). The latest magazine in the Exact Editions shop.

From the editorial:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Large or Small?

We had some interesting feedback from a new subscriber the other day:

This is my first adventure into a web magazine, and I am amazed at the size I can get by zooming into a page, showing the images so clearly that you can almost see the structure of the cloth. I am sure that in the months ahead, I am going to enjoy having a subscription magazine on line.
"The structure of the cloth" suggests that this subscriber was commenting on Selvedge which does have some wonderful fabrics in its pages:

When you really want to study a cloth closely, a very large image (that may require a good deal of scrolling) is not going to be a problem. In fact the Selvedge images are not so large, but I can see what our subscriber means by enjoying the structure of the cloth.

These thoughts were neatly counterbalanced with some testing I did with the Apple iTouch earlier in the week. Apple's London store had run out of them but I was able to spend half an hour playing around with one of the demo models and confirmed that its a perfectly feasible way of reading our magazines. To read the text you need to use the built in 'magnification' system on the iTouch's version of Safari, but, in spite of their small scale, the screens are amazingly sharp and bright; the devices are very compelling. I can see reading/browsing magazines on the iTouch or the iPhone will become addictive. I reckon that we are inevitably going to look for bigger and better screens and smaller and more portable devices. The question of the appropriate scale for viewing a web page remains moot. More, in all dimensions is the way things will work. Nano and Peta together, please!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Catholic Herald

The UK has a postal strike and The Catholic Herald has made this week's issue temporarily available as a free trial issue. This is your chance to sample their tricky crossword before it withdraws behind the pay-wall next Saturday.

Just to get you started, 14 down, Africa's oldest republic (1847), has to be 'Liberia'?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Radiohead and the Future of Print

OK, I know that is a mildly ridiculous headline. But hear me out. The Oxford-based band Radiohead have made a move which is giving the music industry the jitters. Radiohead are launching a new album without the help of the majors and they are asking their fans to pay what they want to pay for it ("its up to you") if they download the music digitally. They are also selling an expensive package of physical goods CD/DVD vinyl disks etc. for £40/$80. Michael Arrington thinks this marks a turning point in the inevitable march of music towards free. Jeff Gomez (at the Print is Dead blog) notes the control with which Radiohead have managed this publication process themselves:

So with one fell swoop Radiohead shatters half-a-dozen rock-star rituals, and further makes the existence of record labels a questionable thing in a digital age.
Jeff does not ask whether print publishers are similarly vulnerable. But the question hangs in the air (it is a Print is Dead blog, right?). On the other hand, maybe print publishers are in a better position. After all, in a curious way the Radiohead exercise is lavishing particular attention on the packaging and the physical product. There is even a book in the package as well as the CDs and the vinyl. One can see that £40 package becoming a collectors item. It is possible that as we embrace the digital, the quality and the value of print magazines and books will actually increase (though as a luxury item) whilst the digital versions become the most popular and evanescent form in which the works are enjoyed.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Pdfs, downloads and reading a magazine on the plane

"Exact Editions is great, but why not offer a downloadable version of the magazine, like a PDF?" This seems like a very reasonable request and its one of our more frequent themes in customer support. Here are some of the reasons we do not offer a PDF or issue-download solution:

  1. If we were to offer this our publishers would reasonably insist on some sort of DRM solution. We do not think DRM (so called 'Digital Rights Management' software) is a solution to anything. The publishers would require a DRM system because without it piracy would be rife. Think about it: if it were to be as easy to download issues of magazines from Exact Editions as it is to search issues of magazines we would become a type of Napster service for magazines. Publishers who care about their subscription revenues (most consumer magazine publishers do so care) would hate this.
  2. Issue download systems appear to be attractive to users who do not consider the difficulties and inefficiencies involved in storing, managing, saving and searching across issues. By providing a convenient and shared access service, Exact Editions is able to solve all these maintenance issues at a stroke. Downloads may appear to be a reader convenience but they can rapidly become a maintenance nightmare.
  3. The most frequently offered reason for wanting a download is that web access is unpredictable (eg only available through a modem), or we have often heard that users like to read their magazine on the plane, the train etc. There is, of course, reason and force in these requests. But it should be recognised that there are countervailing advantages in a system like the Exact Editions access system which means that you can log in to your subscription from any web-enabled device. There are advantages in not needing to download. Planes and trains are rapidly acquiring in flight web access, and as they do so it will be possible to log in to your Exact Editions subscription whether or not you have (a) remembered to carry your laptop on board (you will use your iPhone or the headrest-mounted web monitor); or (b) remembered to download an issue of a magazine to your laptop.
  4. In short: the web will soon be everywhere and when it is everywhere and omnipresent, having access to all or any magazine issues will be much, much more important than being able to download individual issues.
PDFs are a brilliant file format for printing and they were at one time the only option for reading magazines and printed books. No longer. Same arguments apply to Flash and all the other file-download solutions out on the market. Database service to which the consumer will have access are generally to be preferred.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Le Monde Diplomatique

Is the first title in our French Shop/Kiosque Francaise. And here is the opening of the first article in the free trial issue:

Monday, October 01, 2007

A very big step for Exact Editions

You may not notice our big change of today, when you go to our home page its pretty much as usual:


The new feature is a tiny link at the top right to French shop.


Pas grand chose, you may say. But its a big step for us. Maybe several big steps. We now have a generalisable shopping system and can cope with shopping in different currencies. We have an interface and tooltips that can be spun into other languages. I am sure that there would be some work for us to do Japanese and Arabic, but the European languages should be OK.

So we need more French magazines.......BTW I love the concept of a 'Kiosque anglophone'. The French language is so precise and elegant. Much, much better than an 'English shop'.

Widgets and Namespaces

Having just had four days holiday without web-access, one realises that things move too quickly right now. Here is some stuff that I hope to catch up with:

Tim O'Reilly posts about Adobe opening up Share, a generalisable document widget system. A kind of YouTube for documents. Looks interesting and one more copyright challenge for publishers and authors to think about. Yet another reason for keeping close control of those PDF files before they get shared in ways that were not possible a few years ago! But, I wonder whether Adobe have positioned this quite right: {I only raise the question} - perhaps the 'Share' concept is missing the revolutionary point about the YouTube analogy. YouTube was viral because it was very easy to share videos that way, but I reckon that the key step forward with YouTube (and similar services) is that they have shown how it is possible, useful, viral and creative to QUOTE videos. Quoting is much more productive and creative than another potentially abusive sharing technology......The problem of standards, of 'fair use' and techniques of digital quotation through the web (which is one step beyond citation and mere linking) has not yet been solved.

The Exact Editions/Berkshire announcement drew an insightful and appreciative response from Outsell:

There are services which offer similar opportunities, Amazon’s Search Inside! being a prime example. However, the functionality is limited when compared to Exact Editions, both for the publisher and the end user - through Amazon, users can only search inside one book at a time, for instance, and can never look at every page of a single title. This move from Berkshire may indicate that book publishers are becoming less cautious about exposing their content on the web, and more likely to start experimenting in earnest with ways in which the networked environment can not only help to boost sales, but can also deliver valuable new functionality around existing content.
I suppose Kate Worlock's way of putting this point makes it clear that the Exact Editions service is also doing what the new Adobe system is doing, but our system makes it easy for the publisher to control and brand the content in the network environment, and with our clipper the quotation carries the attribution/citation with the quotation. Her conclusion is the essence: "Not only boost sales but deliver new functionality....." I will remember to reuse that phrase (with proper attribution to Kate Worlock of course).

This looked interesting on harmonising meta-data: Lorcan Dempsey blog, on why we need a Strunk and White for namespaces.

Finally, just before I took my break, Richard Charkin said goodbye to Macmillan and set sail for Bloomsbury. The trade press reports it here. Richard is such a talented academic and STM publisher that I will lay long odds that Bloomsbury will now make some forays in that direction. STM publishing has become way too congested, predictable and costive. Time for a shakeup and some innovation. Bloomsbury could do that.