Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Edward Tufte on the iPhone

Edward Tufte's explanation of what the iPhone has done right (BTW its a BIG file and 5+ minutes here). And a few suggestions about what it has not got quite right. I wish I could use the phrase 'computer administrator debris' with similar quiet disdain. 'PowerPoint' is another term of disapprobation in the Tufte vocabulary. We know exactly what he means.

Tufte thinks that the iPhone is really showing the way that information needs to be presented in computer interfaces: touch, slide and zoom. Key verbs. Tufte is hugely influential, hat tip to Jimmy Guterman on O'Reilly Radar for the link.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Print Working with the Grain of the Web (2)

There are plenty of signs that the web is influencing the way we like to see our print products designed and the way prints work. Here is Bo Sacks reporting on the marked tendency for magazines and newspapers to slip into a smaller format, easier to squeeze into a web window without painful shoe-horning. And according to Silicon Alley Insider Google is now encouraging the use of barcodes, printed in newpapers or magazines which will be picked up and interpreted by mobile phones. What would a digital edition do with such a bar code? Well assuming that the bar code was telling you where the nearest Pizza restaurant is, then I guess that is what the digital edition will tell. Google is the biggest 'ad resolver' so my guess is that the link will have to go through Google.

Omnivorous Magazine Readers

In March last year, somone subscribed to 6 magazines at once. Last weekend an existing subscriber, renewed his/her subs and went from 3 to 10 magazines. That seems to be a pretty convincing tribute to online access as a means of consuming magazines.

Clickable ISBNs: Who Owns the Clickability?

We have been supporting clickable ISBN's for just over a month. And we now have a rather rich example of the potential of this enhancement. The Bookseller (central source of industry information for publishers and booksellers in the UK) are using Exact Editions to make their substantial bi-annual Supplements available through the web. The main (adult) title has 8,943 ISBNs in it which are all now live links (I can promise you that they all work and I have clicked every single one ;-)). The children's books Supplement has 1,767 (yep they all work too).

Here is a typical page with 16 jackets, 16 corresponding live links for the ISBNs, and as it happens some live phone numbers, which is very handy if you want to order some of the books and need to get in touch with Prestel or Macmillan distribution straight off the page. Clicking on the link at the top left of the array (the title is Bob Dylan: the Drawn Blank Series) takes you straight to a page of Google search results on the ISBN.

Google do a pretty good job on searching for ISBN's (as one would expect). But there are lots of ISBN resolvers that the page could link to: Amazon, Waterstones, OCLC's WorldCat.

This is a promotional service for the Bookseller, so they get to determine to which service the ISBN linker will target. This is after all an open and free service where we know nothing about the users, do not track their sessions, and know nothing of their identity. But we are also offering this linking service for our paid subscribers, for publications to which they subscribe. Looking at usability from the customers point of view, it seems appropriate that deciding the preferred ISBN resolver should form part of the user's preferences on her individual account. The user should be able to select the ISBN-resolver that will be most useful to them. So, in our view the Publisher owns the choice for default clickability (and the Bookseller may wish to develop its own business model to exploit this service with individual ISBNs getting different treatment, they will certainly get some very useful aggregate stats), but the individual subscriber who is paying for a service should be able to choose his own bookshop/library.

When it comes to owning the 'relationship' it seems to us that publishers can and should own the default, and different magazines/publishers may have different choices, but customers should own and control the over-ride. The final say is always with the customer. Does that seem like the right policy?

Although this application of the Exact Editions system adds value for magazine publishers and subscribers, it will probably be of even greater interest to book publishers. Many book publishers offer their catalogues on line as PDFs, but the Exact Editions system is faster, more searchable and better with links which have an obvious application in e-commerce.

Searching is fast:

Penguin 84
Bloomsbury 67
Quercus 43

Friday, January 25, 2008

Continuum Theology Titles

Continuum are showcasing 6 of their current and forthcoming theology titles on the Exact Editions platform at

Each book has a 32pp sample available for searching and browsing. The Continuum editors also write an active theology blog and it seems likely that they will be blogging about and linking to the samples.

René Girard is an intellectual giant (theologian, anthropologist, philosopher and literary theorist) so his latest book Evolution and Conversion will be much discussed. The opening pages are now accessible to anybody with web access.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Uses of Amazon and the Future of Ideas

Lawrence Lessig's book The Future of Ideas is now available for free from his web site (here for future reference is the explicit link for the PDF -- note the use of S3). It looks like a great book and while I now have the PDF download on my Mac I am still going to buy it from Amazon. The book was first published by Random House in 2001 and Lessig with their agreement now makes it available for free under a creative commons license which sanctions any non-commercial reuse of the copyright. If I had a Kindle I could buy it from Amazon in that format. Random House would, if I prefer, sell me an eBook version. Amazon will also kindly let me search inside in another digital format.
So much choice -- really too much format choice. But we wonder how much arm-twisting Professor Lessig had to engage in to persuade Random House to allow him to give the book away. There is also some irony in the fact that Lessig's book is being given away using the Amazon S3 service (presumably because in that way Lessig, with his limited resources can cope with immense or fluctuating demand). When Amazon planned their superb service S3 (Amazon Simple Storage Service) did it cross their mind that one of its uses would be to facilitate the giving away of digital books that might otherwise be sold by Amazon? Some irony, but so what? Lessig, Random House and Amazon are to be commended for their open-ness and their generosity.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Wal-Mart cuts the long tail

According to the New York Post, noted by Bo-Sacks, Wal-Mart is cutting 1,000 magazine titles from its range of stocked items. Since Wal-Mart delivers about 15% of US magazine retail sales that is a big bite out of the long-tail. Major business titles, including The Economist, BusinessWeek, Forbes and Fortune, are trimmed in the cull.

The clear message for those publishers in the long tail (you have to have a very short tale to put The Economist and BusinessWeek in a long tail) must be to get their magazines onto a digital platform, preferably one that is scaleable and essentially immune to tail diseases. According to Bo-Sacks "industry sources with knowledge of Wal-Mart's plans, the company's Sustainability Committee-and its commitment to reducing waste-played a key role in its decision."

Would that really be the reason for Wal-Mart's decision to chop its magazine tail? Conceivably yes, the slowest selling newstand magazines are very wasteful in generating returns (magazines that are shipped 2 ways and then pulped are hugely wasteful, and such returns can reach 50% on the most specialist titles). Oddly enough the leading theorist of the Long Tail Chris Anderson (editor of the magazine Wired) has recently suggested that the printed magazine is less ecologically damaging than its digital equivalent. His arguments are stretched and the conclusion only stands up on a very wobbly leg, if you think that the magazine industry carbon deserves credit for the existence of primeval forests. Perhaps Chris needs to have a word with Wal-Mart?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Jobs cuffs the Kindle

Steve Jobs was interviewed by the New York Times shortly after his MacWorld presentation on Tuesday:

...... he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading.

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

This is really odd, because most techies will read about the MacWorld presentation through blogs or newsreports or through online versions of newspapers like the NYT. Millions of people have now read about Steve Jobs saying we dont read any more. An awful lot of what we do on the web is to read, so its simply a nonsense, no starter, non sequiter, not at all true, to say that people dont read any more. If you use the web you read a lot. The web is a literary medium to its core, down to the last little hyperlink.

The real challenge is that most publishers (of magazines, books and even newspapers) do not yet do a very good or reliable job of publishing their books, magazines and papers on and through the web. If most books were on the web, there would be a lot more reading of books. Contra Steve Jobs, the Kindle is flawed from the bottom up. He should have said people do an increasing portion of their reading on the web, so its kind of irrelevant (or 'loopy' to use a Jobs word) to build a specialist book reader. Books need to be on the web and playing their full part in the digital dance. A specialist book-reader also misses the point that Steve is missing. We want to read more through the web, and building a specialist and compartmentalised book reader risks further ghetto-isation of the book.

Not to worry, we are in a transitional phase. Almost all scientific, technical and academic periodicals are now published primarily through the web. Most scholars read them using their web versions (mostly PDF files). Fifteen years ago nearly all access was via print.

Where the scholars, engineers, doctors and academics have gone, consumer markets will follow. In five or ten years time we will happily access magazines and books mainly (but not exclusively) via their digital editions.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Print going with the grain of the Web

It is an article of faith for Exact Editions that:

Print works well on the web when it is represented exactly the way it is.

Exact Editions works on the assumption that the web can re-present print perfectly adequately and there are many advantages in having magazines (and books) accessible on the web as exact replicas of the print editions. Actually, buried beneath this 'article of faith' is a very deep conviction that print publications are incredibly strong and will survive and prosper as digital editions (oddly enough, many in conventional publishing doubt this).

On the other hand, we do in various ways try to enhance or improve the print editions so they work better as a web resource than would a mere print replica. First, by making the titles individually and collectively searchable. Second, by adding elements of helpful interactivity (clickable contents pages, e-mail addresses, URLs, phone numbers and ISBNs, for example).

For all these reasons, we find it hard to think of digital publishing as being inimical to print publishing, to reading, or indeed to civilisation as we know it. If you want some gloomy hand wringing about the future of print, of fiction and of literacy you can find it here, here and with rather more insight and optimism here.

We have been thinking more about the ways in which print and digital can interact. And it really is a matter of interaction. This is not a market in which digital will simply replace print and paper. Publishers, booksellers and retailers really need to think long and hard about the immense advantages of working with a medium in which print sales can be used to help digital sales, and vice versa. Having a physical bookstore or news kiosk on the street is potentially a great way in which to leverage digital sales. Having a virtual bookstore or kiosque is an amazingly good way in which to leverage sales of the printed book or to garner more print subscriptions for a magazine. Getting the two media flows to work together is the biggest challenge that we face.

Magazine Subscriptions are Getting more International

Magazine subs through the web will inevitably attract a larger and more international audience. Looking at our service yesterday (we can see the sales popping along in real time) I noticed 10 subs from 6 countries which went in this order: United Kingdom, Brazil, United States, France, United States, United Kingdom, France, Brazil, Norway, Canada..... Its not just that the market is international, the choices betray our global interests and our enjoyment of national cultures. Quest Bulgaria for the UK, Ancient Egypt and Le Monde Diplomatique for Brazil (bien sure en Français), Music Tech and Calcio Italia for the USA. Magazines are great cultural ambassadors.

The World Today

The World Today joins the shop:

Thursday, January 10, 2008