March 30, 2011
March 30, 2011
March 29, 2011
March 28, 2011
I’m at an education conference put on by CET in Tel Aviv. This is the second day of the conference. The opening session is on business models for supporting the webification of the educational system.
Eli Hurvitz (former deputy director of the Rothschild Foundation, the funder of CET) is the moderator. The speakers are Michael Jon Jensen (Dir of Strategic Web Communications, National Academies Press), Eric Frank (co-founder of Flat World Knowledge) and Sheizaf Rafaelli (Dir. of the Sagy Center for Internet Research at Haifa Univ.)
Michael Jensen says he began with computers in 1980, thinking that books would be online within 5 yrs. He spent three yearsat Project Muse (1995-8), but left because they were spending half their money on keeping people away from their content. He went to the National Academies Press (part of the National Academy of Science). The National Academies does about 200 reports a year, the result of studies by about 20 experts focused on some question. While there are many wonderful things about crowd-sourcing, he says, “I’m in favor of expertise. Facts and opinions on the Web are cheap…but expertise, expert perspective and sound analysis are costly.” E.g., that humans are responsible for climate change is not in doubt, should not be presented as if it were in doubt, and should not be crowd-sourced, he says.
The National Academy has 4,800 books online, all available to be read on line for free. (This includes an algorithmic skimmer that extacts the most important two-sentence chunk from every page.) [Now that should be crowd-sourced!] Since 2005, 65% are free for download in PDF. They get 1.4M visitors/month, each reading 7 page on average. But only 0.2% buy anything.
The National Academy Press’ goal is access and sustainability. In 2001, they did an experiment: When people were buying a book, they were offered a download of a PDF for 80% of the price, then 60%, then 40%, then for free. 42% took the free PDF. But it would have been too expensive to make all PDF’s free. The 65% that are now free PDFs are the “long tail” of books. “We are going to be in transition for the next 20 yrs.” Book sales have gone from 450,00/yr in 2002 to 175,000 in 2010. But, as they have given away more, they are disseminating about 850,000 units per year. “That means we’re fulfilling our publishing mission.” 260,000 people have opted in for getting notified of new books.
Michael goes through the available business options. NAP’s offerings are too broad for subscriptions. They will continue selling products. Authors fund some of the dissemination. And booksellers provide some revenue. There are different models for long-form content vs. articles vs. news vs. databases. Further, NAP has to provide multiple and new forms of content.
General lessons: Understand your mission. Make sure your strategy supports your mission. But digital strategies are a series of tactics. Design fot the future. and “The highest resolution is never enough…Never dumb down.” “The print-based mindset will work for the next few years, but is a long-term dead end.” “‘Free’ of some kind is required.” Understand your readers, and develop relationships with them. Go where the audiences are. “Continue experimenting.” There is no single best model. “We are living in content hyperabundance, and must compete with everything else in the world.”
Eric Frank of Flat World Knowledge (“the largest commercial publisher of” open source textbooks) says that old business models are holding us back from achieving what’s possible with the Net. He points to a “value gap” in the marketplace. Many college textbooks are $200. The pain is not evenly distributed. Half of college students are in 2 yr colleges, where the cost of textbooks can be close to their tuition costs. The Net is disrupting the text book market already, e.g.,through the online sale of used books, or text book rental models, or “piracy.” So, publishers are selling fewer units per year, and are raising pricves to protect their revenues. There’s a “vicious downward spiral,” making everyone more and more unhappy.
Flat World Knowledge has two business models. First, it puts textbooks through an editorial process, and publishes them under open licenses. They vet their authors, and peer review the books. They publish their books under a Creative Commons license (attribution, non-commercial, share-alike); they retain the copyright, but allow users to reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute them. They provide a customization platform that looks quite slick: re-order the table of content, add content, edit the content. It then generates multiple formats, including html, pdf, ePub, .mobi, digital Braille, .mp3. Students can choose the format that works best for them. The Web-based and versions for students with disabilities are free. They sell softwcover books ($35 fofr b&w, $70 for color) and the other formats. They also sell study guides, online quizzes, and flashcards. 44% read for free online. 66% purchase something: 33% print, 3% audiobooks, 17% print it yourself, 3% ebooks.
Second business model: They license all of their intellectual property to an institution that buys a site license at $20/student, who then get access to the material in every format. Paper publishers’ unit sales tend to zero out over just a few semesters as students turn to other ways of getting the book. Free World Knowledge’s unit sales tend to be steady. They pay authors 20% royalty (as opposed to a standard 13%), which results in higher cumulative revenues for the authors.
They currently have 112 authors (they launched in 2007 and published their first book in Spring 2009). 36 titles published; 42 in pipeline. Their costs are about a third of the industry and declining. Their time to market is about half of the traditionals (18 months vs. 40 months). 1,600 faculty have formally adopted their books, in 44 countries. Sales are growing at 320%. Their conversion rate of free to paid is currently at 61% and growing. They’ve raised $30M in venture capital. Bertelsmann has put in $15M. Random House today invested.
He ends by citing Kevin Kelly: The Net is a giant copy machine. When copies are super-abundant, and worthless. So, you need to seel stuff that can’t be copied. Kevin lists 8 things that can’t be copied: immediacy, personalization, interpretation (study aids), authenticity (what the prof wants you to read), accessibility, embodiment (print copy), patronage (people want to pay creators), findability. Future for FWK: p2p tutoring, user-generated marketplace, self-assessment embedded within the books, data sales. “Knowledge is the black gold of the 21st century.”
[Sheizaf Rafaelli’s talk was excellent — primarily about what happens when books lose bindings — but he spoke very quickly, and the talk itself did not lend itself to livebloggery, in part because I was hearing it in translation, which required more listening and less typing. Sorry. His slides are here. ]
Categories: business, education, experts, libraries, liveblog, open access, too big to know Tagged with: copyright • e-books • ebooks • publishing
Date: March 28th, 2011 dw
March 27, 2011
I just shared a cab with James Bridle, a UK publisher and digital activist (my designation, not his) who is the brilliance behind the printing out of the changes to the Wikipedia article on the Iraq War. It turns out that those changes — just the changed portions — fill up twelve volumes.
What does the project show? “The argument,” James says. Of course it also shows the power of the cognitive surplus: we just casually created twelve volumes of changes in our spare time. If only all users of Wikipedia all understood how it’s put together! (Rather than banning students from using Wikipedia, it’d be far better if teachers required students to click on the “Discussion” tab.)
Categories: education, too big to know Tagged with: 2b2k • cognitive surplus • wikipedia
Date: March 27th, 2011 dw
March 26, 2011
Having written in opposition to the Google Books Settlement (1 2 3), I was pleased with Judge Chin’s decision overall. The GBS (which, a couple of generations ago would have unambiguously referred to George Bernard Shaw) was worked out by Google, the publishers, and the Authors Guild without schools, libraries, or readers at the table. The problems with it were legion, although over time it had gotten somewhat less obnoxious.
James Grimmelmann has an excellent and thorough explanation of the settlement, and a prediction for its future.
Categories: copyright, libraries Tagged with: copyleft • copyright • dpla • gbs • google books • libraries
Date: March 26th, 2011 dw
March 23, 2011
4. [NOTE: (These notes are in reverse chronological order. I have numbered them for your reading convenience.)I unlocked my Blackberry by calling Verizon support. I bought an Orange SIM card in a cigarette store in the Old City of Jerusalem for $10, plus $9 of calling time that times out in a week. So, I now have a working phone. It does not come with a data plan, however.]
3. [NOTE added minutes after the note right below this one: I’m on the phone with Verizon. It is indeed $20.48 per MEGABYTE. But wait…I am now talking with a tech support person who assures me that attachments don’t count unless you actually download them. Well, that’s something. She, however, is also telling me that the first two reps I talked with are wrong; in fact (says the tech support person), Verizon’s international plan gives you 70MB per month for $100, and every megabyte after that is $20.48. That’s still piracy, but the broadsword goes into you slightly more slowly.]
2. [Note added minutes later: Some other knowledgeable people tell me that Verizon must mean $20/gigabyte, not per megabyte. So, this may have been a mistake by the the service rep. I would happily take the blame for any misunderstanding, except that I confirmed that the rep said “megabyte” by inquiring, “PER MEGABYTE? PER MEGABYTE? ARE YOU FREAKING CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!,” to which he replied in the affirmative to the first two of the three questions.]
1. I’m going overseas tonight for a week. In the past, I’d call Verizon and have them switch service from my Droid to my previous phone, which was a Blackberry with “world phone” service. For $2/day, I’d get unlimited data access, so I could check my email and perhaps check the news on the Web now and then. (Believe me, on a Blackberry you don’t want to do a lot of heavy Web browsing.)
Today when I tried to make the switch, Verizon informed me that they have changed the plan, entirely for the benefit of their customers of course. So, now it’s $20 per megabyte. Holy crap! What kind of unearthly profit margin is that?
My knowledgeable friends tell me that that I should figure 50-100 emails per megabyte (although that number is conservative). So, no email for me. That’s what happens when the “free” market is so pwned that it laughs in the face of competition.
And these are the folks we’ve handed our Internet to? Great. Freaking great.
March 22, 2011
Larisa Mann (AKA DJ Ripley), a doctoral candidate at Berkeley Law, is giving a Berkman talk titled “Decolonizing copyright: Jamaican street dances and globally networked technology.” [I had to talk a phone call during the first ten minutes :( ]
Her question: Does globally networked technology and/or copyright law reinforce the coloniality of power? She explicitly takes coloniality as undesirable because it unequally distributes power. She is looking particularly at Jamaica. Copyright law is colonial in Jamaica, she says, since it was written by the British for their colony.
There are culturally specific assumptions at work in copyright law: that there are discrete, identifiable, individual authors who are separate from consumers, it’s about originality, and works are “fixed” (discrete and identifiable).
An example. A riddim is the instrumental part of a song, Larissa says. Riddims circulate independently from vocals in Jamaica. They’ve been recorded since the 1950s, if not before. Many songs use the same riddim. One site has cataloged 279 songs that use the Stalag 17 riddim, for example.
DJs will play series of songs using the same riddim, which many dancers like since they know what’s coming. Riddims become “shared cultural knowledge,” she says. People know them by name. They recognize the samples in songs. Riddims create shared knowledge and enable engagement with the current musical environment.
But riddims contradict copyright: shared, repeated, unoriginal. “Technology can bring copyright law considerations into people’s daily practices.” Law gets embedded into tech. But this can disrupt valuable cultural practices, like riddims.
Dancers have become among the most highly discussed and famous in Jamaica, at least in part due to the availability of video. E.g., videos of the Boasy Tuesday party are online, and you can learn the dances from it. People become famous from these videos.
The good side of network tech is that it eases circulation, you can achieve international fame, and it can increase your local reputation. And in Jamaica, financial and social relationships overlap.
The bad side is that there’s more surveillance, both of daily life and of the circulation of audio/video materials. This can lead to lawsuits that could discourage practices such as sampling or using riddims.
“Exilic spaces” are spaces at the margins of law. That’s where a lot of culture lives, and where there’s a lot of potential for equality.
Q: Has there been any move to change Jamaican copyright law?
Q: The sound systems and crews also contribute to the music…
Q: If you’re a music producer in Jamaica and would like to have your artist go for the big money, are you pro or con copyright?
Q: What type of actual enforcement attempts are there against individual Jamaicans,? Also, do artists’ positions about copyright change as they become successful?
Q: Jamaica has strong class distinctions…
Q: How does gender play into this, which is a different power dynamic. The previous prime minister was a woman. Are women producers?
Q: How do the riddim creators get compensated?
Q: Are people trying to come up with a more legalistic, more open license for riddims, etc.?
Q: How do you think Jamaica will change its means of cultural production? Has there been a chilling effect?
Q: Copyright is crazy.
Q: You said that if a policy is divorced from reality, why have it? Maybe the answer is that they constructed their copyright law in order to get into WPO, without any effort to enforcement.
Q: Do you think Jamaicans’ attitude toward copyright is different than that of Americans?
Q: You fundamentally misstate the situation. You say that we don’t have colonialism now. But now we have neo-colonialism.
Q: As a Jamaican, I agree that it’s very much bottom up. And why don’t producers take more ownership? Because the shelflife of these riddims is measure in weeks. By the time you get your paperwork approved, it’ll be over.
Categories: copyright, culture Tagged with: copyleft • copyright • jamaica • music
Date: March 22nd, 2011 dw
My understanding (possibly bogus) is that moths spiral into flames because evolution has designed them to fly in straight lines by noting celestial lights. When the light is nearby, keeping its position fixed in their visual space causes them to spiral inward toward it.
Fine. But why is it an evolutionary advantage for moths to fly in a straight line? Where are they trying to get to so quickly? And isn’t there a metaphor for MBAs somewhere in here?
March 21, 2011
He says there have been 381,000,000 check-ins so far. In every single country. The last country to check in was North Korea. The biggest single event was the Rally to Restore Sanity. “The most basic user experience is simply when friends check-in to their current location to find their friends.” “We help engineer serendipity” in which you discover a friend is nearby.
Their value proposition: Discovery, encouragement, and loyalty.
Discovery: They want to push people out into the real world. They’ve just launched an “explore” tag, a recommendation engine. It uses info about what your friends like to do, what people like you like to do, what people are saying in the “tips” review feature, etc. “We want to be like that best friend who knows every cool bar in Chicago, or every restaurant…”
Encouragement: Use gaming mechanics to get people to do what they wouldn’t have done otherwise. The mayor races have become really competitive. If someone loses it, they’ll go back to the place over and over. Their badges also encourage people to go out. E.g., go out to the gym a few times a week and you’ll get the gym rat badge. They have also improved their leader board. The Ambassador program enables users to bring merchants onto Foursquare.
Loyalty: They encourage merchants to offer rewards of various types. They’ve relaunched this part of the platform: easier for merchants, for users, and new “specials” types. They’re now offering “flash specials” to drive traffic when the place is under-utilized. Not all specials are discounts. “It’s an experience.” They also have a “friends special” that only works if you show up with some number of friends. Over 250,000 venues have verified on the merchant platform. Merchants have done creative things with Foursquare. Even when Starbucks offered a mere $1 off a frappucino to the local mayors, checkins jumped by 50%. “It’s about the experience and recognition as much as anything.”
They have a full and easy API, modeled on Twitter’s.
[I find Foursquare fascinating. To the users it’s a game. To the merchants, it’s a form of marketing. And as a blending of the virtual, the real, gaming, and marketing, it’s amazing.]
Categories: business, cluetrain, games, marketing Tagged with: business • foursquare • games • marketing
Date: March 21st, 2011 dw
March 19, 2011
Jean-Claude Bradley at Useful Chemistry has announced (a few weeks ago) that the international chemical company Alfa Aesar has agreed to open source its melting point data. This is important not just because Alfa Aesar is one of the most important sources of that information. It also provides a model that could work outside of chemistry and science.
The data will be useful to the Open Notebook Science solubility project, and because Alfa has agreed to Open Data access, it can be useful far beyond that. In return, the Open Notebook folks cleaned up Alfa’s data, putting it into a clean database format, providing unique IDs (ChemSpiderIDs), and linking back to the Alfa Aesar catalog page.
Open Notebook then merged the cleaned-up data set with several others. The result was a set of 13,436 Open Data melting point values.
They then created a Web tool for exploring the merged dataset.
Why stop with melting points? Why stop with chemistry? Open data for, say, books could lead readers to libraries, publishers, bookstores, courses, other readers…
Categories: libraries, too big to know Tagged with: 2b2k • chemistry • copyright • libraries • open data
Date: March 19th, 2011 dw