Monday, June 30, 2008

Google Book Search is it Rudderless?

Some librarians are complaining that they have been used by Google (hat tip to David Rothman) and they worry that Google is now losing interest in the library market. Google certainly seems to have backed away from publishers (no longer attending the main trade fairs, not making a concerted pitch towards them). So is the Google Book Search project losing its direction? Here are three guesses about that:

  1. Google has made tremendous progress with the data capture project. There are no public aggregate statistics, but Michigan passed the 1m books target earlier this year, so I would estimate that Google Book Search has over 4 million titles contributed by the libraries, plus perhaps 1 million from publishers (Springer will have over 30,000 now). (If anyone has any good data on this please add as a comment). So in this sense Google Book Search is working very well as a powerful data-service, but no one at Google has a good idea about how to drive the books operation as a commercial service. Text-driven advertising is not going to monetise most of the books in the collection. GBS is a computer science project which is working really well but it is hard to see how it can become a pay-for-itself proposition. I think this is why Microsoft pulled out of its 'shadow Google Book Search' play, a month ago. It didnt see the point of being second best at something which might not have a commercial justification even if they were 'first best'. Microsoft doesnt believe in fundamental computer science engineering the way that Google does. The GBS project is not losing its direction, it was just a 'moon shot' with a long time to come to fruition. Come back in 10 years time. By then the computer science on handling a 50 million volume text database will be part-done. Google is not being slow or neglecting anybody. Its just a huge project.
  2. Google is waiting until the legal mess around the status of in copyright titles is cleared up before putting a clear commercial direction on the Google Book Search service. So GBS is not so much rudderless as in 'legal limbo'. The direction will be resolved as part of a settlement with the publishers and authors and this settlement will give Google a big head start in providing a commercial book service, sanctioned by the publishers. Peter Brantley is worried that this may be where we are. But I am not convinced, because I suspect that Google is more interested in prolonging and delaying the legal issues than it is in reaching a settlement. Google gains by prolonging the dispute, because its hard to negotiate what it wants, and in the end technology will 'prise open' the copyright position that publishers (and agents) will never agree to surrendering. Publishers and 'old fashioned' authors and agents want to maintain the requirement that texts may only be copied with explicit permission. Google doesn't think like that and takes the view that texts like any physical object can be digitised, and that the digital object can be computed without permission, (though accepting that secondary commercial exploitation may need explicit permission). So Google is not expecting a legal victory, or a negotiated agreement anytime soon. If we think that the Google Book Search project is all about delivering books in the largest possible numbers, in the best possible format, to the greatest number of human readers, they had better get on and settle the disputes and start rolling out the commercial services before Amazon has walked off with all the commercial advantage using its Kindle. Google is just being too slow to get commercial because of legal hassles.
  3. Finally, there is the possibility that the Google project really is 'rudderless' and they would have been better off taking on board explicit bibliographic and librarianship skills from the begining and they they can still do this and need to change tack in order to do so. They would need to re-orient and declare open some of their proprietary positions, perhaps they could co-opt Brewster Kahle, but an 'open source' revision to their project might have some benefits. Having a complete input from librarians and using the objective of creating a free open library of all no-longer-in-copyright material would have been a worthy target for Google and perhaps they will revert to operating in this way, if they decide that the legal obstacles to a fully commercial service of the kind that they are building are perhaps too fraught and tricky for them. Google Book Search is somewhat rudderless, because they have not defined the appropriate goal for their massive enterprise.
I tend to alternate between (1) and (3), but that may mean that I am wrong about (2) also. It could be that Google is well advanced with plans for a commercial version of Google Book Search and will launch a 'pay per view' implementation next week. Who knows?

Friday, June 27, 2008

How Should Publishers Price Digital Books?

Seth Godin has some intriguing and radical reactions to the Kindle. Hear his conclusion:

A lot has been written about how cool the screen is. It is cool. A lot has been written about the offbeat interface (not so good) and the seamless downloading (a wonder.) This is all irrelevant to me. What's worth commenting on is how close the Kindle comes to revolutionizing the way ideas are sold and spread, and how short it comes out in the end (for now.) My bet is that this is just round one. Round five could be/should be powerful indeed. (Random thoughts about the Kindle)
There are many other ideas in the piece. I was struck by Seth's suggestion that the pricing of books is whacked (ie too high). This despite the fact that many of the books available for the Kindle have a $9.95 price (ie a lot less than the corresponding trade hardback). Seth got on the phone and tried to persuade Amazon that they should ship every Kindle with some free books including several that Seth was prepared to offer them. That is not such a bad idea, though one understands why Amazon passed on the offer.

We wonder whether Amazon might not shift to a 'book club' model of distribution (did I somewhere see Mike Shatzkin suggest that Amazon might do this?) and the Kindle book-club would certainly be jump started if each Kindle came with 100 titles that the user could select from the 'premium offer shelf'. Publishers would collectively hate the still greater pricing power that such an approach would bring to Amazon, but authors and publishers individually would leap to see some of their titles included in the 'premium offer shelf'. Competition is tough.

There is a lot of resistance amongst publishers to the idea that the prices of books will come down as they go digital. A publisher (academic books, high level, limited markets) with whom I was discussing the Exact Editions platform said that our proposition for the end-user (a one year subscription tied to an individual account) was really more like a long-term library loan than anything else. Not a book purchase. Of course, we are not used to the idea of book libraries charging for loans (video libraries are a different matter) and publishers are not used to thinking of their role being 'library-like'. But roles are changing. My academic publisher friend decided that a one-year loan of one of his typical titles would probably be fairly priced at 60% of the full volume price. I suspect that he may be being a bit cautious and might gradually move to 40% if he finds that there is little substitution between book purchases and long-loans. But who knows? Pricing is mostly guesswork.

The value of an index and of free search

The Exact Editions platform makes it easy for publishers to offer free searching of their titles. The publisher can decide how 'restrictive' the search results will be, but even on the most restrictive view, the search results can be quite informative. For, example if you search in Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage on your own name, (click on the Debretts link if you wish to see any of the links which follow) you will find out whether you have aristocratic connections. As I expected, the Hodgkin links to the aristocracy are very tenuous. But a search for 'Thatcher' gets 19 hits, mostly for Margaret, which shows that she made quite an impact on the higher echelons of British society.

Searching Debrett's Peerage is a free offering. It should be a useful first step for any keen family historians and amateur genealogists. The publishers are happy to provide limited free research because the snippets with which the results are presented are helpful, but do not give the game away. Here is one of the 19 fragments which the 'Thatcher' search threw up:

That is a very small fragment of a page, but the selection of JPEG fragments which come with any search should in most cases be sufficient to alert the family historian to some basic guidance and, if a vein of blue blood is struck, the possibility of consulting the book in a library, or to obtaining a subscription.

Now comes the difficult part. How does the publisher alert the public to the fact that this limited but useful free service is now available? That is the challenge of the web....

Thursday, June 26, 2008

ISBNs per Title, per Edition, or per SKU?

This topic is really only for publishing and logistics nerds. Since I am not nerdy enough, I am not really qualified to opine on the matter (but when did that stop anybody?). Anyway we find it an intriguing and perplexing issue. PersonaNonData today has a report on the flux that digital publishers find themselves in. Should there be as many ISBNs for each title as there are conceivable ebook formats? If so, there are going to be a very great many ISBNs, since it seems quite feasible that there are going to be a dozen, or perhaps many more. ebook/digital formats. Sure the market will settle down in due course to a few favoured formats. But that could take a while, and in the interim the ISBN system will need to cater for a very large set of potential numbers.

I have a suggestion: where titles go into a format where there are in effect many individual instances of the work then that format should have a separate ISBN attached to it. The ISBN system was introduced so that books would have a standard method of stock control. ISBNs are SKU's. So digital platforms where copies of books are handed/downloaded to readers/purchasers the SKU specific to that channel serves a purpose. For digital platforms which are based on an 'access' system, which would include Google Book Search, and Amazon Search Inside, there is no need for a separate ISBN, because there are no 'units' that need to be tracked. Exact Editions is another such access system and there is no need therefore for publishers to assign separate ISBNs to their titles in the Exact Editions platform. The identifiers that matter for 'access' systems are the urls which comprise the book's web presence.

I suspect that Exact Editions can hide behind the skirts of Google Book Search in this issue. It is pretty unlikely that Google will be prevailed upon to find and provide separate ISBNs for the millions of titles in its database. Very unlikely, because the ISBN fees for such a large number of titles will be a tidy sum. Very unlikely, because for many of the titles in Google Book Search, Google has no better idea than anybody else to whom the ISBN should be assigned. One of the difficulties with the Google Book Search project is that it is unclear who owns what. Who needs to be consulted about what? If Google knew how to assign ISBNs it would know which were the publishers to approach for permission to do so. Might as well ask them for permission to database the book at the same time?

Monday, June 23, 2008


Zoomii is an imaginative way of using and displaying front covers (works fine in Firefox, not in Opera and Safari). It is an alternative interface to Amazon which gives you a good way of shopping for Amazon titles using a 'virtual bookstore' with the covers on shelves, face-out and clickable to purchase or get more data. I really like the way that it is built on Amazon bookstore meta-data, uses Amazon's S3 and Amazon EC2 (Amazon's cloud computing infrastructure) and of course guides you to Amazon's e-commerce system (it should get a promising flow of affiliate income). This is a business built by, with, from, on, and in front of Amazon. Chris Thiessen, the developer has a blog which reads as though it must be pretty much a one man (woman) and a baby effort. Isn't that cute? Isn't the achievement impressive?

One subtlety appeals to me, you can save bookshelves you may have generated. Here is my shopping cart for P G Wodehouse books. Hat tip to PersonaNonData and Brantley.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Is Google good for Writers?

This issue of whether Google helps the writer and the researcher seems to me a more important question, with a more clearly positive response, than the bugbear which is apparently agitating Nicholas Carr "Is Google Making us Stupid?". Nicholas Carr quotes various pessimists. For example, Maryanne Wolf who, perhaps worried that the web is encouraging intermittent and chunky reading, posits that "Deep reading is indistinguishable from deep thinking", or Richard Foreman who suggests that under the pressure of information overload we are losing our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance”. Foreman suggests we risk turning into “‘pancake people’—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.”

These worries are fashionable, but they are border-line silly. This suspicion that we may be losing the ability to engage in "deep reading" or "dense inner repertories" really needs to be set against the question: How does the web (for which "How does Google?" is a surrogate) help us to engage in better writing, and deeper intellectual inquiries? If it does that, it is arguable that our dense inner repertories can look after themselves.

Does Google help the researcher and the serious writer? It seems blatantly obvious that it must. If so, the readers will benefit and some of them will read deeply of the results. But it is still rather early to tell how, and in what ways, a program such as Google Book Search may help the researcher, the serious reader and the serious writer, to write. Peter Brantley, in a discursive, inconclusive and even rambling, blog, raises many interesting questions about GBS as a reading system.

What is difficult here is intentionality. It is extraordinarily difficult to determine what a user's intentions are as they navigate and browse through a sea of text. It is relatively easy to give them intellectual "snack food" - places cited in this book; a timeline; historical figures. Those might drive clicks, and ultimately ad sales, but they might not actually help the user in their quest.

We are dumb animals after all, most of the time. We click on bright shiny objects, and are easily distracted. Designing a product to best meet the diversity of a user's intentions is very different than designing a product to maximize revenue. (Brantley: Book Search as a Product)
I have the impression that Peter may be expecting too much of GBS, and too much of Google. Google Book Search may well turn out to be a less than ideal platform for reading (which may happen if we are distracted magpie fashion by too many shiny objects), but it is surely shaping up to be a wonderful platform for research? Some of Google's critics suppose that the aim of the GBS project is to capture, corale and deliver to readers the whole of the world's literature in a readable format. But perhaps the business goal has all along been to produce a complete searchable index of literature, not the monopolistic reading medium. I am sure that GBS, as currently conceived, will never be a satisfactory platform in which to present and therefore publish all that can be published. Writers, designers and (even) publishers are too creative for all literary products to fit ideally in one representational and ideal reading platform, with a common architecture and apparatus.

In the end Google Book Search may work best as index and as a search tool because it enables us to obtain access to many different reading and writing styles, and to search books in a variety of digital manifestations. That Google should confine itself to this important but rather limited goal may be one outcome from any negotiated solution to its legal battles with copyright holders. But it would be good to have more evidence that Google Book Search is already helping scholars to write wonderful PhD's. It is a mild worry that the most credible example that I have seen of how GBS is helping scholarship is highly anecdotal and more than a year old (cited by Vielmetti in a comment on Brantleys' piece). It would be pleasing to have some richer, more recent and more substantial examples. Or is Google Book Search still too unrepresentative to be completely useful as an index to 19th century literature? Perhaps it really is too early to tell.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A magazine without single page views?

Well its really a catalogue (not a magazine) for a trade show:

The organiser wanted us to produce the catalogue with no option for 'single page' views. When I overheard discussion of this request, I assumed that it would not be practical, but I am pleased to say that the Exact Editions platform can be adapted to meet this slightly unusual request.

Why would the customer want this? His principal reason was that he wanted to make sure that his advertisers would get maximum exposure and was concerned that browsing users might simply skip all the single pages devoted to ads.

A Page for Shops

The Exact Editions system supports e-commerce solutions for various currencies and for different publishers. There are now a few more 'shops' on our page which lists the various options. This all started when Le Monde Diplomatique asked us to support their french language edition, which of course had to be priced in Euros. It was Napoleon who first noticed that the English were a nation of shop-keepers.


Steppe magazine is added to the shop.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pricing and Digital Editions

Eoin Purcell (whom we only know through the blogosphere) has followed Exact Editions closely and he makes a comment about the pricing of our recently released titles (Sawdays and Debretts). Eoin thinks the pricing is very reasonable (Debrett's individual is £75 and institutional is £295 per annum) and, by email, wonders whether we 'advise' the publishers, or whether they make up their own minds. Mostly they make up their own minds, but of course they sometimes consult us.

The pricing of the Sawdays books seems to me quite low (£1.99 to £6.99), but it is not so low that it would be a concern to us (at some point, we will say to a publisher: rather than charging one really ought to give the book away!). If the Debretts publishers had asked us how they should price their resources, this is the kind of response we might have given them:

  1. consider what the competitors are doing
  2. we can offer two servicies (1) to institutions (2) to individuals
  3. probably important to consider which type of market is more important to you in the long term (my guess for this book would be the institutional market)
  4. the individuals market is also important for creating the institutional market (librarians are more likely to subscribe to services which they hear that their members want) and the individual enthusiast creates an awareness buzz
  5. pricing can be changed (but not too often or too dramatically without causing upset to your market)
  6. its very important to remember that the pricing for a YEAR. 12 months only. But you should expect most subscribers to renew (especially the institutions) and in the longer term you will make much more from renewals than for one off non-renewers. The pricing should be such that the individual or the institution sees that it is good value to renew next year (even if they didn't use it as much as they thought they would -- which will often be true).
  7. beneath some level the pricing is not elastic. I dont know what that level is, but my hunch would be that there is not much difference for your book between take-up at £200 per institution and £250, but that there is a reasonable difference in take-up between £200 and £600 per institution (similarly there may not be a huge difference between £45 and £55 per individual, but there probably is a big difference in take up between ££60 and £95 per annum). I think very few individuals not closely related to the Duke of Westminster will pay for an online annual subscription over £100.
  8. Just guesses!
Actually that last piece of advice is the key. Just guesses! All this is guesswork. We none of us yet know how much digital literature will be free and what the right prices are to build up a culture of loyal subscribers to premium content. I have a strong suspicion that the right prices are going to be a lot lower than the premium prices charged by STM publishers for institutional access.

Its also the case that a digital platform offering 12 month licenses offers publishers a very interesting opportunity to test pricing strategies which they would not be able to do with print offerings.

Reference and Accessibility

As you get older (its more than 30 years since I started out as a greenhorn philosophy editor) you begin to notice that its sometimes quite hard to read the typeface of the books you want to read. Especially when the books are paperback reprints of books that were originally published in a larger hardback format (eg wonderful book on Leonardo). Since the cost of reformatting a major book are trivial, I used to complain about those mean-spirited publishers of great books who did not make any effort to ease the legibility of their republished books for over 50s.

No longer. Publishers are absolutely right not to reformat their popular paperbacks but to leave them exactly as they were in their originally published format, exactly as they were when they were first reviewed. This conclusion was inspired by the kerfuffle surrounding the issue of 'how many ISBNs should a book have?'. See Brantley's posting and reactions summarised on Publishing Frontier. The most extraordinary thing about these discussions is that it appears that many publishers believe that a digital format which does not allow or facilitate consistent citation is an acceptable format for their books to appear in. If the original typography, layout, design and pagination of a book is lost (and all these 'reflowable' formats for ebooks fail in this regard) then it is much harder, perhaps impossible, to devise a consistent way of citing it and referring to it.

When harping on in this respect on the importance of citations and consistent reference schema, within a book and between books, I sometime feel that I may be veering in the direction of millenarianist fanaticism ("prepare for the universal digital library by rendering all pages into consistent web resources, for the digital universe of cloud computing is nigh"). Peter Brantley may even have accused me of such a "born again" approach.

But before dismissing this preference for reliable references, properly evinced by publishers who stick with their original typesetting when they produce a trade paperback in shrunken dimensions, remember that 'Cloud computing' also needs consistent schema for access (so urls matter) and for searching (so proprietary file formats don't help). ISBNs only belong to formats which can be properly cited and searched. Give SKUs to formats which dont literate in the cloud computer. They arent real books so they dont need an ISBN!

The problem of re-sizing pages for the over 50's is going to be solved by our browsers with resolution independent scaleable graphics.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Sawdays, the Bristol-based, ecologically sensitive, travel publishers are using the Exact Editions platform to provide digital access to some of their titles. The 'Sawdays shop' opens today and will have a policy of completely Open Access for five days (till close of business on Friday 20th). The Exact Editions system is a 'streaming' system, it does not involve file downloads, so there is no likelihood of all the cats getting out of the bag whilst providing a limited window of 'Open Access'.

Technical note: sure someone could 'steal' all the content whilst its on open access, but they will get nothing more useful than would be obtained by photocopying or scanning all the titles from physical copies. A serious pirate would probably do that because they should be able to get higher quality scans from a professional scan.

One of the Sawdays books is a guide to Pubs & Inns of England & Wale
As the Exact Editions platform now supports automatic linking from post codes, this guide will help the exploratory drinker by providing handy Google-map directions as to how to get there. One of my favourite pubs in the guide is the Mole at Toot Baldon. Excellent food and Hookie beer. The link we provide on how to get there is keyed to the post code. I like the way that Google Maps helpfully suggests 'make this my default location'. The temptation to make your 'local' your 'default location' should be resisted, however good the beer.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Publisher's Catalogues -- the Book Buyer's Perspective

PersonaNonData notes a thoughtful posting on the role of catalogues in today's market from Arsen Kashkashian who is a buyer in a Boulder bookstore. Arsen's recommendations are interesting and progressive, but the situation is both more complicated and in several respects simpler than he allows.

  • "The catalog would be available online, and each store would access it through a distinct login." But a publisher's catalog to the extent that it is a promotional tool should be 'open access' without need for a login (there is no reason for keeping any potential customer or intermediary out of a catalog). But maybe it should also be presented in a customised way for an individual store.....So simpler but more complicated than one might suppose.
  • "Each buyer would be able to sort the catalogs however they wanted." Does Arsen mean that the buyer should do the sorting, searching, tagging.... and these are all different... or that the publisher should pre-sort? The requirement may be both simpler and more complex than it appears.
  • "An alert system could let buyers know of all the changes or additions that have happened since they last placed an order." But isnt there a role here for the publisher's catalog/seasonal list, which needs to be relatively unchanged as a 'print-type' publication, and the continually updated catalog in HTML format? This is what the Exact Editions catalogue system enables. But the situation is both simpler and more complex than it appears, as we need the 'periodicity' of a seasonal list and the 'updateability' of the web catalog. The print/PDF/digital edition requirement is simpler than it may appear. But the web requirement may be more complex.
  • "The publisher's online catalog would dump the purchase order directly into our computer system." This is what our live ISBN system enables (for PDF catalogs outsourced on the ExactEditions database), but the natural implementation is to collect the data on the publisher's or on the wholesaler's database system. Again this is simpler than Arsen's requirement (provided the publisher/wholesaler can resolve ISBNs) the catalog with live ISBNs does not need to know anything about the e-commerce system and its workings. But the requirement is again more complex than it appears, because as we have just mentioned, wholesalers are involved. The database catalog system has to be able to work with bookseller's systems, publisher's systems and also wholesaler's.
A key to making order out of this confusing situation, is to focus on these two features of the situation: promotional materials need to be published and as openly available as possible. Second, the book business (for librarians and well as retailers) is blessed with an amazingly unniversal product code: the ISBN. Automated systems need to leverage the value of these product codes and a catalog which is alive to ISBNs can be integrated with many other systems (bibliographic, transactional, or statistical) through the ISBN data. Use it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


We have opened a shop for Debrett's through which they are initially offering indvidual and institutional licenses to their formidable (3000 pp in print) and authoritative Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage.

The resource will clearly have a strong appeal for the growing interest in family history and genealogy and the publishers have generously allowed free searching from the Debrett's shop. That is right 'free searching' but browsing limited to the 16 page view; but come to think of it Exact Editions is really subsidising the free searching, since its our servers that are spinning away 24X7. The user can search for free 'Snowdon' (30 results), or 'Harrow' (more than 200), or 'Groucho' (9), 'Chelsea Arts' (10).... etc. Fascinating browsing in the free shop.... which may tempt you to buy an individual license (only £70).

The book comes through in an undeniably readable format on our platform. Here is a tiny snippet of the list of bishops, or to use the correct term "Lords Spiritual":

and it is enlivened by thousands of heraldic crests:

These can be merely glimpsed in the thumbnail page images. But the glimpse helps to give a sense of the book and its quality:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sky Writing and Earth Writing

Yesterday the second iteration of the iPhone appeared. Much anticipated and even with the hype not a disappointment. The iPhone and the soon to arrive Google Android are opening up a new wave of geo-rooted software.

Google Maps/Google Earth is helping a lot of this innovation and it is extraordinary how much can be done with the resource. Gutenberg would have been amazed that there is now a buildings-in-Google-earth typeface. One could even write a poem with it. A greetings message will illustrate the potential:

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Carbon Footprint of Digital Print

What is the carbon footprint of a digital book? We have to make some possibly heroic simplifying assumptions. The first point to note is that a digital book has a very, very low carbon footprint if no one reads/accesses it. This is a matter of some concern to librarians and archivists who may wish to simply preserve, or 'back up', large amounts of literature which will be little read. It can be held in computer memory for an infinitesimal energy cost. Well done the New York Public library and Oxford's Bodleian for using Google Book Search to archive books which will cost much more to move from the stacks than is spent on their digital archive. It is also very relevant that the ecological cost of printed books and magazines come up front: in the making of paper, the manufacturing of books/issues, significant numbers of which are 'returned' through the distribution channel and all of which may be bought but not read.

The carbon footprint begins to mount if the digital book is used. So let us assume that digital books are used in a service which has high throughput and which will deliver pages to customers at a price which will not be greater than the Amazon s3 service. Since Amazon is already delivering such a digital service with the Kindle, any seriously competitive digital publishing system will need to use a cost base with comparable or lower charges. The published tariffs of the s3 service tell us that a digital publisher should not really be paying more than 17c per GB for delivering content. A large digital distributor (eg Amazon itself) will obviously be paying a lot less than 17c, and the s3 scale goes down to 10c per GB for users who take up more than 150 TB a month. Now we can make a heroic guesstimate of the cost per digital book delivered. We need two more parameters:

  1. How many books do we get for a Gigabyte of delivered content?
  2. What percentage of the cost is attributable to electricity or to atmospheric pollution?
With a very rough back-of-the-envelope this looks like $100 per million pages delivered. If we say a typical book is read once page by page, for 200 pages, we have approximately 50 digital book-readings per $1 of server cost. Now how much of that $1 is attributable directly to energy costs, and how much to Amazon's margins the investment in computers, land etc? This envelope is getting rougher all the time, and I dont have the patience to plough through the details of Amazon's annual reports to find hard data on their energy expenditure, but if we say at most 50% of Amazon's web service costs are energy costs, it looks as though the $1 of server cost is translating to 50c in electricity, or about 1c per book-reading (10/20 book readings per kWh).

1 c or 1 penny is still a cost, but its not a big deal. Distribution costs do not disappear from the equation when we go digital, but they do almost vanish. Digital books cost almost nothing in the distribution chain and they have a much smaller environmental footprint.

What does a conventional book cost in energy? What is the carbon footprint of a typical book or magazine? According to David Reay quoted from the THES, a typical book costs 4.5 kWh or 3 kg of carbon dioxide:

What with production and transport, the average paperback has eaten its way through 4.5kWh of energy by the time it gets to a reader. In terms of climate impact, this is equivalent to about 3kg of carbon dioxide emissions for every glossy new textbook. So, for a print run of 10,000, there is a cost of 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide not mentioned on the dust jackets.

Digital books and magazines are at least two orders of magnitude more efficient than the print equivalents. These calculations may be back of the envelope, but they point to the urgent need to move to a more sustainable distribution system for the health of our planet and the long-term benefit of book and magazine publishing.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Digital Books Don't Smell

So what?

Exactly. There is really no possible interest in this line of discussion. I cited with approval Robert Darnton's recent piece in the New York Review of Books on the Digital Library. But I missed this truly silly paragraph:

Books also give off special smells. According to a recent survey of French students, 43 percent consider smell to be one of the most important qualities of printed books—so important that they resist buying odorless electronic books. CafĂ©Scribe, a French on-line publisher, is trying to counteract that reaction by giving its customers a sticker that will give off a fusty, bookish smell when it is attached to their computers.

Do you credit that statistic about French students? There are lots of reasons why French, Italian, English, American students do not buy electronic books but them not smelling has nothing to do with it. CaféScribe is not French, but based in Salt Lake City. I am sure that their sniffy sticker was just a publicity stunt, like their alleged poll result. So lets hear no more about the snags of odourless digital resources. Of course physical books are different and give us information that digital does not; of course historians and textual scholars should examine first editions with care and attention to every physical detail in real libraries, but there is no need to exaggerate.

Oddly enough, I revisited that paragraph of Darnton's (having originally skipped it) reading the blog of Hugh McGuire, who some years ago launched a wonderful complement to the digital library of our future: LibriVox. Public domain talking books. Digital books probably should never have an odour, but they can certainly be more useful when they are digital and also audible.

Promotional Codes

Magazine publishers find that special promotions can work well in recruiting new subscribers, especially when targeting a particular mailing list. We now support promotional codes. See our shopping basket. Quest Bulgaria are the first magazine to have taken advantage of our system.