Wednesday, February 27, 2008

10 Lame Excuses

Frank Anton, CEO of B2B publishing company Hanley Wood has produced a devastating list of 10 deadly sins that lead B2B companies into a spiral of purgatory in a challenging economic environment. The list is at Folio. Technophobia (along with "inferiority, complacency, coziness, stinginess, cluelessness, disorganization") is one of the sins:

Trade publishers that have underinvested in electronic media are now playing catch-up—and are paying the price, Anton said in reference to his ‘technophobia’ sin. Hanley Wood’s online advertising has seen growth over the last couple of years, and Anton expects that revenue to grow 40 percent this year.....
Magforum has asked us to compile our own list. Not so sure about the deadly sins, but here is a list of 10 lame excuses for doing nothing about digital editions:

A digital magazine will take away my print sales (and not having one will preserve your print sales?)

The decision about digital subscriptions rests with our IT department (not sure how, when or why IT departments became charged with strategic marketing decisions)

The decision about digital subscriptions rests with our Web Editor ( ditto above ...)

Our digital committee makes decisions about our digital strategy (or no decisions at all.....)

We are going to re-purpose all our editorial and make it freely available on our web site. ( but surely your editorial is your crown jewels..)

Our Repro house does not return our PDF's to us ...(and whose content is it?)

I am not sure that our customers would buy a digital sub. Isn't all content on the web free? (No, definitely not- quality editorial and searchable archives are not, in most cases, free)

We've asked all our current subscribers (print) and they say that they like to have the magazine in their hands. (yes, and they are your print subscribers but there's a whole new market out there)

We don't want to be seen next to our competitors ( isn't that how newsagents sell magazines?)

Our readers will see that we sometimes repeat the editorial........

BUT.....the majority of publishers are genuinely embracing digital editions and believe in the following revelations:

Digital Web Editions are a fantastic way of reaching a new audience

Digital Web Editions with searchable archives are complementary to the print edition

Digital Web Editions are a good way of marketing the print product

Digital Web Editions sold with a print subscription build subscriber loyalty

Digital Web Editions help sell advertisements

Digital Web Editions appeal to an increasingly eco-friendly society

Digital Web Editions assist with product development ( statistics of web activity show what is being read)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Sale a Second

Earlier in the afternoon (at 13:05:22) someone in the UK bought a subscription to Quest Bulgaria one precise second before someone in France bought an annual subscription to Le Monde Diplomatique (at 13:05:23). Google tells me that there are just over 31.5 million seconds a year, and if we suppose that each subscription is worth £16.877 on average ....... I make that something over £500 million a year when we are handling subs every second throughout the year.

Dream on! Think about the customer service! How many publications would be called for to attract 30 million subscribers? Still its nice to know that we can handle an order a second when we are busy :-)

Print in the Cloud

Nicholas Carr has been writing in interesting ways about Cloud Computing. One of the key vectors in this meme is the idea that devices, machines, desktop applications, software itself gets virtualised.

As the cost of computing power and storage capacity has continued its decades-long freefall, it’s become possible to turn more and more hardware into software code – to use a single powerful computer to run many virtual machines........ Virtualization simply turns the hardwired instructions into code and gets rid of the physical machinery. That not only saves a lot of cash, it makes the radical automation of formerly manual IT processes possible. From Turing's Machine to the Computing Cloud
'Virtualisation' is another manifestation of that old computing trend for processes to become more abstract and more generic, and more efficient and more scaleable because they are more generic. Sixty years ago a computer was programmed by flipping switches and setting valves. Once there were operating systems the machine settings were left to look after themselves. The history of computing is a story of processes becoming more virtual and more automated at pretty much the same rate as the cost at which hardware falls.

Books are now in the process of being 'virtualised'. Print is being sucked into the cloud. The Google Book Search project is virtualising libraries and the Exact Editions process works in a parallel fashion for individual publications: magazine issues and books. If you pushed me as to exactly where the digital issue of one of our magazines now is, I would be hard pressed to answer: "On some Rackspace servers in Texas or in a building near Heathrow" -- if you really must have a location. But 'it' is 'backed up' elsewhere in the cloud and our process works across a group of servers, so one is really much happier with the idea that our magazines now have virtualised locations, ie specific urls, one for each page, and for each page in a style of viewing. The virtual address of a digital magazine is a much more important feature than its physical address. The magazine issue is no longer a downloadable file it is not resident on the hard disk of a PC, it is now part of a database system which communicates with other web applications.

For me, one of the most interesting and hardest to comprehend consequences of this turn towards abstraction and virtualisation of digital print is that all print will be treated in the same way. Books, magazines, newspapers, packaging, instruction manuals, court reports, patents and of course advertisements....These virtual digital-formerly-known-as-print objects will soon be "talking to each other" whilst we are nonchalantly searching them.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Opera X 2

The publishers have put up a new trial issue of the magazine Opera. This is the current March issue and it also include a 48 pp supplement covering the career of Luciano Pavarotti as recorded in the magazine.

There is a warm mid-career review from George Gualerzi, published in 1981; but warm though it is, Gualerzi does not shirk the Pavarotti problems (John Allison's phrase in his judicious editorial)

Opera is also the name of the valiant, free, originally Norwegian and still independent browser. I have started using it. For 18 months I have used Safari and Firefox (since upgrading from Windows to a MacBook) but in the last few weeks I have noticed that Gmail (and Google Reader) seems to be running a 'slow script' which hobbles both these browsers. Opera seems not to be affected, and it has a number of nice features, including speed (also Speed Dial and the pw manager Wand). I think I will gradually convert to it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Value of an Index

Serious scholarly and technical books have indices and serious readers use the index heavily. They do so partly to avoid reading the books more than is necessary. Because we read books efficiently by not reading them more than we have to (you can probably tell at this point that I am deeply under the influence of the very wise, short and much talked about but little read book: How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read).

Although scholars will often browse and read a technical or deep book by filleting it and raiding it through its index, the index also serves the obvious and primary purpose of enabling us to search books that we have already read, and locate specific pages. The index of a traditional book was there because we did not have search engines. We did not have searchable texts. However, indexes are still a very attractive way of entering and browsing a serious book. For example consider the index to Lawrence Lessig's Code Version 2.0. As soon as I glanced at that book's index I wanted to see what Lessig had to say about Berners-Lee.

If you click on that fragment of the index, you will jump straight through to the index where the page references are live (this becomes clear once you have clicked through to the index page, where all the page references have bounding boxes, this does not show up in the clipping which is just a fragment of a JPEG, but a fragment that links); since the book is Open Access you can immediately navigate from the index to the page where Lessig notes how the inventors' ambitions for the web grew when they realised that with an open system documents could link to anything, to any document or any object in the HTTP network

What lesson can we draw from this example? One lesson is that links are the core of the web. The original point of the web is to facilitate citation and linking. But the second lesson that I draw from the example, is that indexes in printed books are still a very good way of approaching the books especially when they are digital documents. Authors and scholars working in the traditional mode were building links to their text when they made their indices. They were working in the way of the web before there was any possibility of a an instant live linking of documents, one with another. It could well be that one of the most valuable aspects of a digital book in the Exact Editions format is that the index is fully linked and the navigation of a book via its index is even easier in digital format than it is in printed volume form. It is obvious that the traditional Table of Contents is a crucial way to navigate a digital book, and so the pages in the ToC should be live-linked, but it may not be so obvious that the index is equally important and helpful to deep readers. Sure, we know that we can search the whole book very easily, but a good index helps us to interpret a book through the author's perception. Very valuable.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lessig into Politics

Lawrence Lessig may be about to announce that he is running for Congress. He has been an early and strong Obama supporter. It would be interesting if it happens; Obama for President and Lessig in Congress?

Lessig will not be worried if both his supporters and his critics scour his publications for clues to his political motivation and for controversial issues which will be aired in the election process. The Exact Editions Lessig mini-library facilitates searching and cross-comparisons. I guess the 'black' propagandists of the Republican right may be searching it for inconsistency right now ;-). Mind you would'nt it be cool if we could put Obama's book The Audacity of Hope into an Open Exact Editions format? Perhaps every politician running for office should make his publications open, at least during the election campaign.

I suspect that Bloomsbury would do no damage to sales and will attract some worthwhile interest if they were to put Gordon Brown's two books into an open format. Since Random House will want to recoup the $9 million advance on Tony Blair's forthcoming book, it is unlikely that it will be appearing with a Creative Commons licence any time soon.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Please stop dialling my ISBNs

Google have recently enhanced Google Docs so that one can send out emails with data fields and get the respondents to fill in a results form in the spreadsheet. Doesn't that sound great? I have been very impressed with occasional experiments with Google Docs. I have merely toyed with the spreadsheet but used the word processor a few times and was very impressed by the Presentation. It doesnt have all the bells and whistles of PowerPoint (and isnt that a solid recommendation?) but it works very slickly with the web and has some great collaboration features. It also allows you to publish the Presentation (see the end of this blog for the Presentation, I did not in the end need to present to the O'Reilly Tools of Change conference this week).

GigaOm was my lead to Google's web-aware survey form. But I am not quite sure about his gripe about Windows Mobile.

......consider Windows Mobile. If I have a spreadsheet full of phone numbers, I should be able to select a number and dial it. But the Mobile version of Excel is so true to the original, it doesn’t think about data in the context of being a phone. So I have to manually copy the number to the clipboard, create a new contact with that number, and dial it.
I dont think a spreadsheet can be expected to know that a number which could be a telephone is a phone number. We have this potential problem with phone numbers and ISBNs in print. The Exact Editions system parses PDF files before databasing them so as to sort out and mark up phone numbers and ISBNs. Although we currently only identify phone numbers when they have the proper International prefix, it would be nice if there was a way of identifying and "internationalising" ordinary phone numbers. So the system would need to know the context in which an Italian magazine was using one number, and quietly supply the +39 prefix. My colleagues tell me that should be possible. In which case, I guess it will be done, sooner or later.

It sounds like a lot of work. The conversion process would need to be carefully designed so that we did not find ISBNs triggering phone calls and were not accidentally Skype-ordering books off Amazon when all we wanted was a takeaway pizza. Here is the presentation that I was not called upon to give:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tools of Change

I have been in New York for the O'Reilly group's Tools of Change conference this week. Many strong presentations, but it was especially interesting to see who was there and who was not. Some of the major publishers had a lot of staff there. Someone at Random House told me that they had 40 people there; Penguin/Pearson and Macmillan each had 10+. Who was not there? Adobe and Microsoft were represented, but if Google, Apple or Amazon had staff at the show I did not meet them or see them on the list of attendees. No speakers. The representation was overwhelmingly from the book publishing industry. Hardly any audience from the magazine or newspaper sectors.

What should we take from this? Well Google (GBS), Apple (iPhone) and Amazon (S3 and Kindle) are going to shake the publishing industry this year and their innovations are disruptive but are not really aimed at the publishing industry (except the Kindle). They do not need to be at the Tools of Change meeting or any publishing event to shake the industry. The coming revolution in the publishing industry is endogenous and will be disruptive, but publishers need to respond and some of the big publishers know this.

Two of the best talks: Aaron Swartz on Wikipedia and Open Library, and Tim O'Reilly on the Complications of Free.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Publisher's Catalogues

Most book publishers produce Catalogues of their publications, either seasonal lists (the publisher's year has only two seasons: Spring and Autumn) or subject catalogues. These printed catalogues are an important sales tool, particularly valuable to exporters, trade buyers and librarians. In some cases the publisher will make the Catalogue available as a PDF file from their web site. This is generally a good idea, because the Catalogue will get additional circulation and the creative and design effort that has been expended on the print catalogue should be used to maximum advantage.

Publishers who use their print catalogues in this way should seriously consider using the Exact Editions platform to accelerate the use and access to their Catalogue information. The benefits that come from using this platform include:

1. automatic click-throughs from ISBNs to a retailer of choice (and/or to the publisher's own web site).
2. fast and efficient search
3. ability to link directly to individual catalogue pages from web site or from email campaigns and blogs
4. immediate access – no downloads required
5. comprehensive usage reports

We have prepared a very straightforward packaged solution implementing this service for publishers at a highly competitive rate. We also provide the service in a branded format that can be tightly linked to the publishers' existing web services. Any publisher interested in the potential of this service should check out The Bookseller special issue which uses the Exact Editions platform in exactly this way, then email us for a Rate Card.

Getting the Right Scale

Exact Editions uses a pragmatic assumption that magazines (books) can be flicked through 16 pp at a time, or browsed 2 pp at a time, or when you want to read an article you devote the whole screen to the page. Having 3 levels of resolution is reasonably straightforward and allows us to build a generic platform. But the pages of magazines and books come in all shapes and sizes, and the monitors or screens through which users see the pages are equally diverse.

There are clear elements of compromise in the solution we have developed, and subscribers sometimes ask for an additional level of magnification, or for a user-controllable zoom option. We had such a request yesterday and Tim Bruce, our Technical Director, produced a reply which may be of broader interest:

Q: Is there a Controllable Zoom In/Zoom Out button on the Site.

A: Short answer: no.

Longer answer: To resize the page images reliably we'd currently need to use Flash or a similar plugin. We don't want to do that, as we'd prefer to deliver pages quickly which "just work" wherever you are - from an older browser through to the iPhone. That means keeping Flash use to an absolute minimum (currently just in our clipper tool).

The iPhone illustrates a growing support in browsers for full-page zooming, where the user can zoom everything on the page - text and images - to whatever size they like. This feature is currently supported on the iPhone, Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 3 (still in beta), Opera and it should be in the next release of Safari. I'd expect it to be in general use this year.

So much talk of the iPhone. I think I am going to have to get one soon!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Clipping from Books

The Exact Editions platform supports a *Clipper* which helps you to cut a selection from one of the JPEGs which show the detail of a magazine/book. The Clipper tool also provides information on the publication and a link back to the source. The Clipper was designed for magazine columns and it now works well with books, especially if you need to blog a short quotation:

The limitation of no more than 12% of a page, per clipping, remains. It is there as a marker for traditional views on the permitted extent for 'fair use', or 'fair dealing'. One supposes that as publishers realise the advantages of sanctioning and enabling fair use through Clippings, especially those which provide a citation, there will be pressure for this limit of 12% to be raised.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

University of Michigan has 1 million Google Book Searchable books

What an amazing achievement:

Here is the millionth book.
Paul Courant's blog about the milestone.

In a very few years all 7.5 million bound volumes (that must include magazines and newspapers) will be searchable, by anyone, anywhere. That is right the University of Michigan will allow searching of its collections by anyone (not reading of entire volumes or even pages, for reasons of copyright, but searching). It can hardly be imagined what potential this has for scholarship (especially in the humanities). Michigan's reputation will soar (rightly). Universities are highly competitive and international competition is getting more urgent, this is a knowledge race. Michigan will be at the head of a chasing pack.

We can be sure that this is putting competitive heat on universities and their planners everywhere. The book publishing industry and the magazine industry are well behind in rising to meet this challenge, whereas the scientific periodical publishers have matters well in hand (not quite as well in hand as Google).

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Lessig Library

Exact Editions now provides open access to a Lessig mini-library, an account with 3 of Professor Lawrence Lessig's published books in it.

The books carry the Creative Commons license and what our service adds to the readily available PDF file versions are some features that will matter to close students of Lessig: (1) the books can be searched quickly, severally or individually (2) each page can be cited or linked as a separate url (3) the Tables of Contents and the Indices provide clickable navigation (4) the works should be accessible from any web-enabled device with no special software required (eg from an iPhone as well as ordinary computers).

Here are some interesting pages: a highly clickable index, a page with a diagram, a search for 'rivalrous' and a search for 'Posner'.

Our service is pro bono. It does incidentally demonstrate some of the advantages of the Exact Editions systems (that is pro our bono) and it also may help to generate some donations for Creative Commons and some sales of the books. On every page there are links to CC and to Amazon for the purchase of printed copies.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Books -- streamed or downloads

Sara Lloyd at thedigitalist (a Pan/Macmillan blog) picks up on the contrast we drew between services which stream digital books and those which offer downloads (along with Google Book Search, Amazon Search Inside and the Open Content Alliance, Exact Editions is squarely on the streaming side of this divide). So of course, we think that there is a lot to be said for the streaming approach.

For example it has recently occurred to us that as a platform which provides access but does not offer a download, we are in a good position to offer promotional access through WiFi hotspots. Why does the access-streaming solution win over the 'download a file' approach, in WiFi environments? For two main reasons, first because the support issues are minimal and secondly because there is no download to 'walk out' of the WiFi hotspot -- which means that premium content can be given away in a reasonably precise location, and only there. So any magazine publisher or book publisher who likes this market and the project of geosampling should give us a call. If you can see an interesting market through promoting digital print in a WiFi shop window, or alongside one of the big consumer brands that is going for WiFi (think Virgin, McDonalds or Starbucks), then you should email and we will see if we can pop you into the zone, where your stuff can be sampled and tasted.

Reverting to the Macmillan blog, one has to agree with Sara that the traditional eBook mindset often goes with an over-rigid view of what reading is, and a monolithic view of what a book is. If you want to challenge the traditional and monolithic view of what a book is and how it should be read, you must read Pierre Bayard's book How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read. It is a brilliant and deeply wise, funny and subversive book by a Professor of literature at the Sorbonne (and bien sur I have not read it {all{yet}}). The book is short enough to demand no more than half a day of unreading time. And if you decide not to read it, please remember and repeat the Wildean aphorism with which Bayard begins his book -- "one should never read a book that one intends to recommend, it prejudices one so....." (slightly adapted).

Friday, February 01, 2008

Amazon is buying Audible

Audible has arguably been more successful at promoting and publishing audio books than anybody has been at promoting and publishing eBooks. Correction: that is not even arguable. Audible has been really successful with audiobooks and nobody has yet been really successful with eBooks. It is certainly intriguing that Amazon, with its own Kindle, will be able to pipe audio and ebook through the same device. Apple has had an effective relationship with Audible, and they may not be too pleased to see Amazon as the new owner.

An Audible overlay should go well with the Kindle, but this is making Amazon very committed to the download model of eBook distribution. Apple, on the other hand, has been making moves in the direction of a streaming/access model for film distribution. Google Book Search is at the streaming/access end of the spectrum. So who is going to get this right? If Amazon, Google and Apple are going to have a tussle over books, they are coming at it from different angles. Which certainly makes life interesting.