Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Garden Rail and Narrow Gauge World

Garden Rail and Narrow Gauge World come from Atlantic Publishers. They are the quickest titles into the system, since it took 3 weeks from the preliminary inquiry email we had from their publisher, for the contracts to be exchanged, the archive of back issues to be processed and the titles now to be in the shop.

How beautiful is a Garratt and how evocative the Baldwin?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Exact Editions for Book Publishers

The patter of references to Google Book Search in these blogs since August may have betrayed our interest in offering a service to book publishers. We have for some weeks been testing how Exact Editions works as a promotional service to book publishers and the first customisation is now in the open for Berkshire Publishing at

Berkshire Publishing is a young and highly innovative publisher of academic and general reference titles (Berkshire MA not UK). They have produced a list of outstanding and ambitious multi-volume reference works in the last decade. We are pleased to be helping promote these great resources in a web environment. The entire books are available and searchable for a limited period through this promotional service. A typically bold move from Berkshire's CEO, Karen Christensen. Her decision makes me wonder why publishers do not as a matter of course make their new titles available for free for a limited period through the web? Surely there is no better way of promoting a title? Opening access for a limited period makes complete sense. Complete commercial sense if the aim is to sell more books.

The Berkshire Encylcopedia of World History runs to well over 2,000 large format, double column, pages. It employs three different page numbering schemes over five volumes. So it was quite a challenge for our automated clickable-indexing system. Here is a typical index entry (hint: the clipping is a link to the index page. You will need to click on the clipping, which is just a fragment of JPEG to see the live index pages):

With such a large book, in several volumes, instant searchability encourages a different sort of browsing. Here are the results of three searches on three african geo terms: Khartoum, Tanzania, and Durban. For the Tanzania search its very handy the way that the search term is highlighted in the thumbnail images on the search results; and then again on the page when you click through. Here is the first result on a search for 'China' + 'Buddhism'.

Which (if you click on the clipping) takes you to the very map which tells the story of the spread of Buddhism. These books are hugely informative and for a month or two available to all and to everywhere.....

Calcio Italia

Calcio Italia, a new magazine in nostra edicola for followers of Serie A

This is our first football magazine and the 56th title in the shop/kiosque/edicola.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

File conversion or interoperating services?

A few years ago, the standard view was that magazines and books needed a suitable digital file format in which they could be stored (something which might become an industry standard like the MP3 was for music). The internet was the powerful new way in which publications would be shipped. To this way of thinking, digitization was all about electronic delivery. It seemed kind of obvious that this was the road ahead, and most of the companies, our competitors, that offer a digital magazine platform have this kind of technology. It usually means a proprietary and non-standard file format, often a modified form of PDF.

There is a huge amount of baggage that comes with this way of looking at things. First, it seemed that publishers would only work with this sort of system if there was a workable technology for DRM (Digital Rights Management and there were lessons here from the music industry). Second, once we see the web as a way of providing users with issues as downloadable files, we have a lot of problems about making magazine archives searchable, and over co-ordinating the usage of copies of stuff that ought to be handled through a network resource. Third, there was a big problem in deciding whether digital books or magazines should be adapted and deformed so that their format changed in a digital version from what it was in print.

All these issues are being chased to ground by a consortium which works with book publishers. The International Digital Publishing Forum with its new proposed Open eBook Publication Structure Specification.

These standards may serve a useful purpose, but it could all be a real diversion. The Google Book Search way of handling digitization may be the way forward. In which case DRM was always a bad idea. Print will always be page-based and digital print will respect the conventions of pagination. Archives should only be searchable via a network service. References and citations should always target the source. Search services matter and distribution services are beside the point. And file formats need be of no concern to users. Access management is key, just as digital rights management is otiose.

In this new world the standards that matter will be to do with making different web services inter-operable, not with harmonising the formats in which texts are held.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Google Book Search Project or the Human Library Search Project?

Siva Vaidhyanathan discusses how the Google Book Project threatens copyright in a short podcast, posted at First Monday (hat tip to IF Book blog). Siva says that Google is 99% certain to lose its copyright case in the courts (although he also mentions that a settlement is quite possible, so I guess he means that Google will lose or settle in a way which loses the key issue). Siva is a lawyer and he is 99% sure that Google will lose. I wonder how the case looks to the Google lawyers?

But Professor Vaidhyanathan is not a Luddite, he is very much in favour of the project of a global, universal, web-based library; but not as a private venture. He draws the comparison with the Human Genome Project. Making the universal digital library, through which all out-of-copyright information could be accessed, is worthy of national and international support.

We’re willing to do these sorts of big projects in the sciences. Look at how individual states are rallying billions of dollars to fund stem cell research right now. Look at the ways the United States government, the French government, the Japanese government rallied billions of dollars for the Human Genome Project out of concern that all that essential information was going to be privatized and served in an inefficient and unwieldy way.

So those are the models that I would like to see us pursue. What saddens me about Google’s initiative, is that it’s let so many people off the hook. Essentially we’ve seen so many people say, “Great now we don’t have to do the digital library projects we were planning to do.”....... transcript

A very interesting idea, and it would need drivers like Jim Watson, John Sulston, the NIH and the Wellcome Trust to make it happen (and the Health component will be a big part of the public justification). Digital magazines will be part of such a global library and some of their archives will be freely accessible. All published magazines should be searchable through the web and that will happen because it obviously needs to happen and because it will enormously increase their value when it does. As Siva says the next five years are going to be interesting.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why aren't all Phone Numbers Clickable?

One of the Exact Editions innovations is that we render phone numbers clickable (provided that they are in the 'international format'). This means that readers browsing our magazines can to click on the phone number to call the listed phone number (assuming that they have VOIP or Skype), which probably belongs to an advertiser. Here is an example:

The clickability of the phone numbers does not show up on the clipping (the clipping is after all just a fragment of the JPEG) so you will have to click through to the full page to see the live links. But this instant connectivity is a huge advantage of the digital edition over the print edition. I am surprised that the Exact Editions innovation has not yet been more emulated. In fact any decent web site that seeks telephone response should enable this straightforward connectivity. Why aren't phone numbers on web pages standardly clickable (as emails and urls are almost always)? I have no idea, but since Skype is becoming omnipresent and as more web pages are being viewed on mobiles, or iPhones, its an idea whose time has come.

Linkage on the web is so important. It can not be underestimated. Which reminds me, we noticed, via Eoin Purcell, that Google have introduced their own clipping tool, and it seems to be a neat piece of code. But it would be even better if the Google clippings carried a decent citation. With the EE clippings the reader sees where the page reference for the clipping and jumps straight back to the context from which the clipping has been taken. With the Google clipping-citations you jump back to a catalog entry. If you click on the stockists fragment above you go straight to the page. Since this issue of AnOtherMagazine is over 400 pages that precision is helpful!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sense and nonsense on eBooks: consumers and patrons

Peter Brantley and Ben Vershbow run excellent blogs that anyone interested in digital libraries should follow. They have some insightful postings on the recent Amazon (Kindle) and Google (MyLibrary) developments: Ben here and Peter on Google's MyLibrary. But they also contribute some frankly dumb and thoroughly misleading ideas to the discussion. Item: after some shrewd analysis of the shortcomings of the reported/conjectured spec. for the Kindle, Ben Vershbow asks us to:

...... project forward a few years... this could develop into a huge money-maker for Google: paid access (licensed through publishers) not only on a per-title basis, but to the whole collection—all the world's books. Royalties could be distributed from subscription revenues in proportion to access. Each time a book is opened, a penny could drop in the cup of that publisher or author. By then a good reading device will almost certainly exist (more likely a next generation iPhone than a Kindle) and people may actually be reading books through this system, directly on the network. Google and Amazon will then in effect be the digital infrastructure for the publishing industry......[e-book developments at amazon, google]
Wait a minute, doesn't Ben realise that people are already reading books on the network? Reminder: the scientific, medical, technical and legal literature has largely migrated to the web already. In universities, the reading matter for most of the technical subjects studied, is accessed almost entirely through the web. The brute fact is that when people go on to the web what they are doing most of the time is reading. Often what they read is literature, extended text. Most of this literature that has gone on to the web already, a lot of it out-of-print or scholarly periodicals but some of it the very latest research, has migrated in the form of PDF files, or print repurposed as HTML. Those texts are 'books', however inadequate their file format and however proprietary their publisher platforms. It is a complete nonsense to suggest that "actually reading books directly on the network" is any kind of innovation or step forward. There is nothing futuristic about people reading on the net.

On the contrary, the embarasment of the publishing industry is that people spend most of their time on the web reading and commercial publishers have so far failed to provide an adequate way for web users to read, search, consult, cite, snippet, bookmark, share, savour etc.... most of the 100,000 new books published each year (scholarly periodicals excepted).

Because there is so much literature already available and more or less directly usable on the web, it is most improbable that any new hardware or software eReader environment is going to establish a proprietary format. There is not going to be a better eReader than the omni-purpose web browsers (although Mozilla, IE, Safari etc will of course be improved in ways which may help readers and searchers). Also, because so much of what we read on the web is now freely accessible (all those out of copyright texts, self-published theses and reports) Ben's hypothesis of a largely commercial jukebox, pay as you go, Googlised network for literature is implausible. There may be a lot of paid for network-based reading in five/ten years, but there will remain vast acreages of freely accessible (advertising-led) literature available to us all. Subscription-based publishing, as it evolves, is going to have to be very well integrated with all the free and immediately accessible literature that is already on the web. And with the vast amounts that will be pouring out of Google Book Search and similar projects.

Commenting on this paragraph of Ben's, Peter Brantley sees a fork in the road:
This is a critical cognitive and more importantly business development split - will ebooks be consumed over the network, or will the older model of downloadable and packaged books into dedicated readers persist? [What Books? Where Books?]

OK, its pretty clear that we will take the first fork in his disjunction -- downloadable books and dedicated readers are clearly a no-no. But hold your horses, what does Peter mean by using the phrase "consumed over the network"? 'Consumed' is exactly the wrong word to use. It is already taking us in the wrong direction, down the second fork. Books are going to be accessed over the network. 'Consumed' suggests that the resources are scarce, that issues are to be delivered, that books will be downloaded, that readings are rivalrous not collaborative and interpretative, that we are talking products not services.

The key issue in all of this is not eBooks, but how digital libraries will be accessed and how individuals will have rights to search, read, use and enjoy the books that will be in them. Will they be public or commercially run libraries? Will they support institutional or individual access or both? We never consume libraries, we patronise them. The ways in which digital books will be patronised and supported is a topic worthy of serious investigation.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pricing Digital Editions

Part of our deal with publishers is that they get most (sometimes it seems like 'nearly all') the revenue from the subscriptions we collect. They also get the subscribers lists (email addresses , country of residence and subscription dates) this being pretty much all the individual identifying data that we collect. They also have the responsibility for setting the price of the annual subscriptions that we sell on their behalf.

It quite often happens that a publisher will ask us for advice on the price that should be set.

Our answer will often touch on these points:

  1. An annual sub to a digital edition service should be at least 10% cheaper than the print subscription. This is what the market expects.
  2. In some cases the digital subscription can be as much as 50% off the print sub.
  3. We discourage the publisher from making the price too low, since if the price is very low our fixed percentage commission gets to be too low to be interesting for us. Also, there is no point in charging very little for a digital sub, because it is significantly easier and cheaper to give a subscription away than to charge for it. Rather than extract $2 or £1 for an annual sub to 50 weekly issues, we would recommend giving the content away through Open Access.
  4. We also advise our publishers that it is not possible or sensible to try to price differentially for markets in different global regions. The price set is being quoted in £UK but one should also think how this price is going to be perceived in eg the $US. At present many British (or European) prices are going to seem very expensive to international markets.
Why should digital editions be cheaper than print subscriptions? Since it is at least arguable that digital editions are better than the print parents, that is a good question. And hard to answer. But one reason for charging less is that the digital subscriptions are limited to one user and to one year of access. A print subscription by comparison is often passed around among several readers (this can not be done with the digital subs), and the subscriber will retain the physical issues of the magazine after the subscription is ended. With the Exact Editions system the reader has no retained back issues when the subscription period finishes.

Anyway, the short answer is that digital editions ought to be cheaper than their print equivalents. Subscribers expect them to be so. But by how much the price should be reduced? That is a matter for complex judgement. Its more a matter of art than science.

Pricing a service appropriately is a difficult issue.

Pavarotti dies -- Amazon has an E-book reader and Google rattles the cage

The event of the week was the death of Pavarotti. Opera recently joined the Exact Editions service and the free trial issue has just one mention of the great Luciano. (If you look at the page --note that the saved search highlights the search term). Perhaps it is appropriate that this is a page on which there is a great picture of the newest operatic mega-star Netrebko.

This sad and moving news should not obscure the earth-shaking announcements about books through the web coming from Amazon: the Kindle as a new eBook reader (more of a well-placed leak in the NYT than an announcement); and from Google a personalisable MyLibrary service. Along with the MyLibrary service (which feels a bit like a knock-off of the excellent LibraryThing), Google simultaneously announces a clipping widget -- which allows a blogger to quote a passage by clipping a portion of a page from a JPEG image of that page. It is kind of Eoin Purcell to point out that this is very much like the Exact Editions clipper.

Speaking of kindness -- is the Amazon a 'Kindle' as in kindly? Or a 'Kindle' as in kindling? I bet it is the latter -- but if we start kindling Joyce or Shakespeare, does not that give one an odd connotation of burning books? Not to worry, it will not catch on -- it is an eBook reader and loyal readers of this blog know that we consider this a misconceived category.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Trouble with E-Readers

You will find an instructive account, from personal experience, of the deficiencies of the New York Times E-Reader at PersonaNonData. The commercial ineptitude of the NYT is startling, no follow-up calls during the promotional free trial, the dithering over Times Select, and the general uncertainty about what a great newspaper should now become. When the story about this new (Microsoft) E-Reader first surfaced, we wondered why no one was mentioning the old Microsoft eReader (has everybody forgotten what a flop that was?). The deficiencies in the two systems seemed to be remarkably congruent. The killer punch is here in Michael Cairns's review

In my experience there seemed to be less opportunity for engagement with the Reader than with the paper version. I am not sure why I felt this - perhaps it is a tactile thing - but I found myself preferring to buy the paper. I found it frustrating that I couldn't permalink to articles as can be done on the (NYT) web site and attempting to jump to the article on the is not possible. (PersonaNonData)

There is the rub. If the digital edition makes you feel less engaged than the paper version, the digital edition is bound to fail. When it comes to digital editions, if you can't link to it and you can't easily jump out of it, forget it. The prestigious newspapers who have invested in the Microsoft E-Reader have probably pushed themselves and their readers into a cul de sac.

There is a deeper question here about why it is that newspaper and book publishers continue to fall for the concept of an ebook or an ereader.......No special environment or device is needed.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

AnOther Magazine

AnOther Magazine joins the shop. Or yet another magazine (55th) joins the shop. This is an enormous magazine (400pp in the trial issue and counting); like its brother AnOther Man and its sister Dazed & Confused the magazine is full of wondrous photography, much of it in the ads.