Archive for April 2009

Brad Scott

London Book Fair

The LBF has prompted a number of posts and ruminations. Mike Shatzkin’s paper at the digital seminar has been posted on the Bookseller blog.1 It’s well worth a read for a wide-ranging view of the industry. With my data-preparation hat on I was particularly struck by the comment:

Peter Balis, the ebook wizard at John Wiley in Hoboken, talks about the fact that he has to take IP designed to be optimized on a print page and figure out how to make it work on different sized ebook screens. He openly longs for the day when his outputs become the dog and the printed book the tail. He points out, correctly, that it would be an easier workflow for everybody if it worked that way around.

This is surely the experience of most publishers, and it’s not just in respect of ebooks, but all output formats; platform neutrality is the key. His paper makes clear how much the ebook phenomenon is causing waves through the industry, and the impact of that is addressed by Michael Cairns, who speaks of all-important standards, interoperability and collaborative action between publishers,2 and how essential it is that publisher direct the technology rather than be led by it.3

  1. Shatzkin, Mike. “ The future of trade publishing in the digital marketplace.” 27 April 2009. BookBrunch.
  2. Cairns, Michael. “Amazon Stanza: This Changes Nothing.” 27 April 2009. PersonaNonData.
  3. Cairns, Michael. “London Days of Futures Past.” 27 April 2009. PersonaNonData.
Brad Scott

Mental models of e-books

The UKSG meeting in Torquay was at the end of last month, and many of the slides are now available.1 One that caught my eye was the plenary from Warren Holder at the University of Toronto library (not least since I visited him at least a decade ago) entitled “Turning the Page: University of Toronto E-book Study.” As you might expect, their digital holdings are extensive, with 720,000 e-books, of which 69 per cent are licensed, and some 55,000 ejournals. Usage patterns of print and electronic were much as you might expect, with books still being the main printed matter that is used; the “e-books” were also mentioned as being less usable than other digital materials (indexes, journals etc), and harder to find, which is obviously an issue for both consumers and library users.

I particularly liked the slide “Mental model of e-books” which asked the question in a survey “When you hear the term “e-book”, which of these do you think of?” since the term is pretty useless and doesn’t really stand for anything. The responses were:

Scanned books in a PDF file 69%
Online scholarly texts 54%
Books published on websites 39%
PDA or eBook reader books 31%
Other 2%

Since I’ve been working with publishers, these are all usages I’ve come across, and underlined how important it is to understand what people mean by “e-book” before you try and build them a solution.

  1. Rapple, Charlie. “Presentations from the conference now on the website.” 24 April 2009. Live Serials blog.
Brad Scott

E-book devices and standards

The recent O’Reilly Tools of Change conference in February had a very useful session by Liza Daly and Keith Fahlgren about e-reader devices which is available as a video.1 They reviewed the main ones available now and indicated what a better device would look like.

Many of the devices are the so-called ‘eInk’ ones, such as the Kindle and the Sony Reader. Amazon’s Kindle has some nice features: it uses a wireless connection to get titles, but only from Amazon, and the experience of buying titles is very straightforward. It does not yet support the epub format. It does have some text to speech, but not accessible for visually impaired.

The Sony Reader has a nicer design, but you need to connect to a computer to load titles and the book purchasing experience can be complex, especially from many of the e-book retailers (though at least there are multiple retailers). Supports epub format, but not perfectly; there are good epub features that Sony Reader doesn’t support.

On the mobile front, the iPhone is the standard, with: Stanza (epub support; now owned by Amazon); Bookworm; and Kindle. Often the buying experience is not great.

In short, the readers need to support epub, and properly follow the standard, and use all of its features. The book buying experience also needs to be easier. As yet few devices do enough for linking and formatting, images, tables etc, sharing of notes etc, which will be really useful for academic and other educational use. A new Plastic Logic device will be available next year 2010, with note and annotation feature, saving stuff back to PC automatically. The Daisy Consortium is also working on new readers that will be more accessible. And Bookworm is an open source epub reader.

Keith Fahlgren also posted about the epub standard, and that is a useful quick summary of resources available for it.2

  2. Fahlgren, Keith. “ePub Resources and Guides.” 2 March 2009. O’Reilly Labs.
Brad Scott

Feed frenzy

Is a daily routine possible when faced with interminable data feeds? For at least a decade some of us have had continual information overload; initially from newsgroups, email and chat, and now from RSS, blogs and Twitter. How do you cope with it all, and make the best use of what is available?

You can certainly find some very practical, technical suggestions, such as those from Craig Sherman four years ago1 or Amit Agarwal in 20072 and they can give you useful strategies for managing your feed reader. But one’s engagement with reading all that information is not just a tools issue.

Even with filters and other machine mediators you still need to do some sort of sifting with eyeballs, be it on the train, at your desk or in a meeting. You will never read everything you think might be interesting. You know you will discard things that could change your life. (Maybe.)3 Francine Hardaway picks up on this and her media consumption appears to be largely online4.

These blog posts hint at the discipline you need with all this data that you have chosen to have flung at you.

It comes down to boundaries, which end up defining one’s entire online presence. Your online interaction and persona (“Me 2.0″) can and should be as conscious as your first (real) life.

Increasingly, I’m developing new disciplines and structures to my day, with spaces for reading the feeds, and also those for sitting on the sofa with the (physical) paper, book or magazine, and even being conscious of the differences in the engagement.

You will read the important information when you need it; only then will you be ready for it anyway and will make the most of what you have in front of you.

So, don’t get hung up on the feeds. Let them go.

[Thanks to James McCabe, whose conversation in the Swan in Forest Row tonight sparked this off, and who suggested the title. He's a copywriter; I'm not.]

  1. Sherman, Craig. “Managing the Firehose of Real-Time Information.” 17 November 2004. Search Engine Watch.
  2. Agarwal, Amit. “How to Reduce RSS Stress In Your Online Life.” 19 January 2007. Digital Inspiration.
  3. “Coping with RSS Overload.” 4 February 2009. Remixing Libraries blog.
  4. Hardaway, Francine. “RSS, Twitter, and Information Overload.” 28 February 2009.
Brad Scott

Collaboration and community

Many publishers have to engage with how best to support collaborative learning in an online environment. Furthermore, the wisdom of groups has implications and potential benefits for many other parts of the publishing process. Of course, it will have workflow, process and costs implications as well.

Collaborative authoring is certainly a suggestive possibility. The Open Text Book project has evolved from a similar space to the open access movement. Described as a “registry of textbooks (and related materials) which are open — that is free for anyone to use, reuse and redistribute,” it begins to open the idea, even for commercial publishers, that texts could be created and then offered to the community of users (purchasers) in a malleable form, so that they can be more comprehensively re-crafted for local course use, as well as providing a means of feeding back other learning materials to the wider learning community built around the “book”.

This creative process has analogues with the blog-based peer review described by the Institute for the Future of the Book.1 It forms the basis of the editorial work going on to finesse the book Expressive Processing due to be published by MIT Press later this year.

The community is much wider than authorial, of course. Blackwell have developed the user community to inform and shape their innovative online-only journals, the Compass suite. Over a few years hundreds of users (students, academics, librarians) signed up to be part of the user crew, and have provided invaluable comments to the publishers to make it a better and more useful resource. Not only has this given cheaper, more responsive feedback than, say, focus groups, it has also fed the creativity driving the journals themselves, with accompanying blogs, podcasts and video peer-reviewed articles. However, these innovations have all raised important issues for Blackwell editorial and marketing as these new methods, features and technologies have had to be fitted into an existing business model, often changing and challenging it in the process.

The way publishers use social networking and community tools is important. Twitter is a case in point. Users don’t want to be marketed at all the time, even in 140 characters; the medium needs to be respected. But, as it is used and played with, it can build the community and loyalty that all businesses need, as a couple of articles in the current Publishing Trends highlight.2 Finally, it’s worth reminding ourselves of last year’s item: Why Publishers Should Blog.3 We all need to join the conversation.

  1. Vershbow, Ben. “expressive processing: an experiment in blog-based peer review.” if:book blog. Institute for the Future of the Book. 22 January 2008.
  2. “Twitter Isn’t Stupid.” March 2009. Publishing Trends. and McDougall, Jesse. “@ChelseaGreen Has 2,350 Followers. Here’s Why.” March 2009. Publishing Trends.
  3. Krozser, Kassia. “Why Publishers Should Blog.” 23 June 2008. Booksquare blog.

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