Joho the Blog » publishing

September 22, 2013

The New Yorker’s redesign: A retreat from text?

The New Yorker has done it’s first major redesign since 2000, although it’s so far only been rolled out to the front of the magazine.

Personally, the return to a more highly stylized typeface is welcome. But I am disappointed that they’ve made the magazine look like more like everything else in the racks. It’s not a lack of originality that bothers me. Rather, it is the retreat from text.

There’s no less text and so far the writing style seems to be the same. Rather, the previous design presented a wall of text, broken up with occasional insets of text, with empty spots filled with text. For example, “Tables for Two” used to be a small, two-column insert into the Goings On section. The type size was the same as the directions on a tube of toothpaste. Now it’s a single column that takes up the entire right-hand three-fifths of a page, in a perfectly readable font, with a quarter-page color photograph at the top, as if to say, “Well look at us! We have so much room that we’re filling it up with a merely pleasant photo.”

There are at least two results in how we take that page. First, “Tables for Two” has turned from a lagniappe into a column. Second, the magazine doesn’t feel like it’s so bursting with things to write about that it had to shoulders goodies into whatever nooks it could find or force.

Sections now are headed by a graphical emblem (e.g., a Deco knife and fork on a plate for the Food & Drink section) that signals that the New Yorker thinks the section titles themselves are not enough for us. Really? What part of “Food & Drink” does The New Yorker think we don’t understand? Why does the New Yorker now believe that mere words are not up to the task?

The New Yorker used to be for people unafraid of climbing a sheer wall of text. It demanded we make judgments about what to read based solely on the text itself; this was even more the case before Tina Brown put the authors’ names at the beginning of the article instead of at the end. But now it’s pandering to the graphical-minded among us. The graphical folks have plenty of other magazines to thumb through lazily. The New Yorker was a text-based trek that had to earn our every footstep.

Don’t go soft on us, New Yorker! We’re not afraid of words. Bring ‘em on!

 


More to read:

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July 31, 2012

[berkman] Brad Abruzzi on being an indie author

TITLE: [berkman] Brad Abruzzi on authorship and publishing
BODY:

Brad Abruzzi, author of the NJ Famous Turnpike Witch, a novel I really liked, is talking about the trajectory of authorship, at a Berkman lunch.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Brad says that he’s not a success story. If you want to know how to make millions, thousands, or even hundreds, you should write a book about how to write succcessful books. Or vampires, he says. Instead, he’s going to give us thoughts about authorship and publishing.

He says he was in his first year at law school, interested in the history of literature. He wrote a note titled “Exploitative publishers, untrustworthy systems, and the dream of a digital revolution for artists. ” It was based on Marxist historical theory and sketched three phases:


1. Feudal: pre-modern, from antiquity to production publishing. It relied upon patrons who offered a living wage, and could bring interest and favor to the works. In return, the author might offer a celebration of the patron in the work. Or, Virgil who established the lineage of Emperor Augustus all the way back to the gods. Or dedicate the work. Brad points to Sterne’s dedication in Tristram Shandy. But this arrangement produces resentment: the authors feel they are the creators, but the patrons take some of the glory. (He reads a scathing letter to Chesterfield from Samuel Johnson in response to a request for a dedication, who lived on the cusp of Phase 2.)


2. The industrialization of publishing. It put the means of reproduction (Marxist pun intended by Brad) into the hands of the publishers. Thus, authors were once again dependent. This is because there’s always a super-abundance of manuscripts trying to get into the market. This selection process has of course become highly professional. “The problem is that we didn’t choose these people to be the gatekeepers…Ultimately their responsibility is to their shareholders.” This works better than the Feudal system, but the criterion is what an editor thinks will sell. (Brad points out that his work was rejected by publishers.) “The superabundance problem persists.” There are now two barriers of entry to works of fiction: Works have to come from literary agent before publishers will consider them. “If you want to be a writer, you’ll probably be better off writing for yourself and buying scratch tickets, because you won’t be as frustrated when the scratch ticket tells you that you’ve lost.”


So, he asks, is there any hope for someone like him, who thinks his works are good but who cannot get a publisher to publish them? Yes, he says, digital publishing is the hope. “We can make our works directly available to readers. We don’t need publishers any more.”


But, readers rely on publishers to winnow away at the super-abundance of manuscripts. Without publishers, “we move the slush pile to around the ankles of readers.” “We can create a ground-based, critical reader culture” in which people can publish their own reviews, accrue authority, etc. “Amazon does this a bit of course…but we can be more substantive than that.” “Everyone has the means of reproduction. So, hooray.”


So, why did it take him 11 years to publish his own work? “I’ve got all sorts of excuses…but the truth is that traditional publishing offered a better prospect for me.” First, digital reading hasn’t been as appealing. That’s obviously beginning to change. Second, publishers put their chosen works on the fast track. If you can get two people to like your work — agent and publisher — you can cut to the front of the line. So, he tried for ten years to sell his books. His agent was very good at getting flattering rejection letters from publishers. His first novel, In Defense of Cactus Kelly in the late ’90s, didn’t get a publisher. He blogged the second book — NJFTPW — and added popup multimedia. But no one came.


Time passed. Self-publishing became a more promising prospects because of the emergence of digital marketplaces where people can find what they want to read. At certain point, he decided to just publish NJTPW. He uploaded it, pressed the buttons about royalty schemes, and it’s up on Amazon. “But then there’s the super-abundance problem.”


The book is currently at #164,296 at Amazon. A couple of days ago, it was over #300,000. “It doesn’t take much to bump up your book.” “If you can use social media to overthrow an Egyptian dictator, you can probably get people to buy my book,” Brad says, adding “These are probably at comparable levels of difficulty.” He has a handful of followers at Twitter. He’s posted some ads at Facebook, and has 421 Likes. “But Likes on FB don’t translate to sales and reading of your book. Maybe they translate at a 1% rate.” Brad isn’t willing to conclude anything about the effectiveness of social media, since he is “ham-handed” in its use.


He shows his sales from the last month on Kindle, which was his worst week: 4. But in the three days he had a promo offering it for free, he had 350 downloads. The promotions get you channeled into Kindle’s promotions. During the promo, he was in the top 20 for literary fiction, along with public domain classics. He thinks he did that well in part because he has all 5-star reviews [one of which is mine].


This gets him thinking about the reader-based review culture. People do write blog posts about books, some on book sites. “Even the reviewing culture suffers from the super-abundance problem. If you want a good book blogger to review you book, you have to pitch them.” The Kirkus Indie program wants $425 to review your book. “I stand here fairly clueless…but hopeful in a general sense that we’re on the cusp of creating a situation in which publishers are not the final answer….Readers need to believe that books that are not traditionally published can still be a good book. Readers need to look outside the walled garden.” “Writers need to trust that readers will do these things.” If so, those who own printing presses won’t get decide what we get to read.

Q&A


Q: How did you pick Kindle, and not Nook, etc.?


A: It was my choice for an initial platform. You can participate in Amazon’s free promos if you commit to exclusivity to Kindle Select for 90 days. It also lets your books be lent for free to Kindle Prime program. You get paid pro rata for those loans. I am thinking about printing on demand.


Q: In the spiritual self-help area, a lot of people promote their books via their blogs. They refer to one another mutually.


A: I experimented with posting at FB under the name of the Turnpike Witch, trying to get this character communicating with people.


Q: I appreciate your intersection of analysis and emotional experience. What you say about publishing is the same as in music. And Louis C.K. And Patton Oswald a couple of days ago gave a keynote called “A Letter to Gatekeepers,” saying that if they continue to think narrowly, they’ll kill their industry. Also, on FB you can pay to promote your post. Finally, people want to participate in things that other people are participating in. That can work for us or against us in the attention economy. Finally finally, a combination of all three of your phases: fan-funding, kickstarter.com, etc. This gets people in as patrons, and then they evangelize for you.


A: Publishers encourage you in their rejections not as a tactic to maintain hegemony, but because they’re being polite. BTW, my agent left the biz, and went back to school in anthropology.


Q: What about copyright? People can disseminate it without your knowledge. We’re looking at self-publishing because the royalties are better, but are you protected?


A: I’d take the trade in a minute. It’s not a coincidence that the first copyrights were given first to the publishers (“stationers privileges”). They wanted to avoid undercutting each other, and the Crown wanted to keep an eye on what was being published. The copyright concerns come first and foremost from publishers…


Q: Creative people are concerned also.


A: I won’t say categorically they’re not. But many of us would put it out for free, since I’m not depending on my books to make a living.


Q: [doc searls] Cluetrain is free online but still sells well. But, Brad, why not just make it freely available in an open format, and put out a tip jar? How comfortable to do you feel inside the silo that is Amazon?


A: I’m trying to understand how useful it is to have Amazon. It might be a deal with the devil.


Q: [me] How many of you here in the audience are going to buy the book? [About 5 hands go up.] Why not?


Answers: It’s not on Nook. …I’ve got too much to read…I don’t know enough about it…


Q: Publishers play an important curatorial function. I’d love to circumvent it because they look for a formula. But putting it on line isn’t enough. Where is the inter-connect?


Q: I edit an online literary magazine. Finding folks who are already reading at open mics, making a connection is great. We have gatekeepers of a sort, but they’re made up of writers and readers already in the community. Also, there are independent publishers who are not motivated by profit. Getting the novel excerpted in a journal like ours helps. Also: BestIndieLitNewEngland.org There’s something inbetween self-publishing as an individual and commercial success. There are communities.


A: Yes, my social media work was aimed at reating a community.
ti


Q: Have you tried open mic readings? Or do you need to be a published author?


A: One of the reason I write is because I do it better than I speak. A judge once told me to find a job where I write things to people, rather than talking to them, I elected to take it as a compliment. I still see myself as someone who’ll put something out and broadcast it, stand behind it. T’hat’s not getting me to where I need to be. I thought maybe I’d get NJFTPW out of the way so I could write the next thing to submit to a conventional publisher. Now I’m not sure. I’m trying throwing our more content.


Q: Your expectations of traditional publishers are overstated. Publishers often do nothing but print. Also, digital publishing has taken us to a place as bad as traditional publishing. Charlie Stross (sf writer, former sw guy) has an excellent analysis of what Amazon is doing to the market. Single publisher, single format, own their own hardware.


A: Traditional publishing has worked wonderfully for us. People can make a living as a writer. The Amazon issue is a trade-off, which I re-examine all the time. People complain that there’s too much junk at Amazon., e.g. people re-selling Wikipedia content. Rather than putting in a spam button, let people write reviews.


Q: I’m writing a book for a publisher. Even with a publisher, it’s up to the author to build a market. I’m writing a memoir of my father, a queer poet, self-published before the digital age. It was all shoe leather: printing stuff up, going to bookstores, doing readings. It was about finding community, promoting writers like himself, and putting out ideas.


A: Copyright is an incentive for people to do something creative, but I don’t think it’s anything close to the whole ball of wax. E.g., I enjoy communicating to myself — re-reading something I wrote when younger. But, more important, I want to communicate something.


Q: My new startup is trying to enable readers as reviewers. Our tech helps lend credibility to reviews. Self-publishing has grown 400% since 2010, approaching a $4B market. Your 2001 article described the problem perfectly.


Q: I’m intrigued by the two sides of your personality: button-down and creative. This book is very readable. Could you get a celebrity do the reading?


A: I think a lot of this has to do with authority. People with broader authority can move copies.

TAGS: -berkman

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April 29, 2012

[2b2k] Pyramid-shaped publishing model results in cheating on science?

Carl Zimmer has a fascinating article in the NYTimes, which is worth 1/10th of your NYT allotment. (Thank you for ironically illustrating the problem with trying to maintain knowledge as a scarce resource, NYT!)

Carl reports on what may be a growing phenomenon (or perhaps, as the article suggests, the bugs of the old system may just now be more apparent) of scientists fudging results in order to get published in the top journals. From my perspective the article provides yet another illustration how the old paper-based strictures on scientific knowledge caused by the scarcity of publishing outlets results not only in a reduction in the flow of knowledge, but a degradation of the quality of knowledge.

Unfortunately, the availability of online journals (many of which are peer-reviewed) may not reduce the problem much even though they open up the ol’ knowledge nozzle to 11 on the firehosedial. As we saw when the blogosphere first emerged, there is something like a natural tendency for networked ecosystems to create hubs with a lot of traffic, along with a very long tail. So, even with higher capacity hubs, there may still be some pressure to fudge results in order to get noticed by these hubs, especially since tenure decisions continue to place such high value on a narrow understanding of “impact.”

But: 1. With a larger aperture, there may be less pressure. 2. When readers are also commentators and raters, bad science may be uncovered faster and more often. Or so we can hope.

(There is the very beginnings of a Reddit discussion of Carl’s article here.)

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August 10, 2011

[2b2k] Tim O’Reilly on the end of paper books

My interview of Tim O’Reilly for the Harvard Library Innovation Lab podcast series is up. Tim begins by arguing that paper books will go away before our culture is entirely ready for it because the disappearance will be driven by the publishers, not by demand. Good point.

The conversation ranges wider than that…

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March 28, 2011

ePublishing business models

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.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

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. ]

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October 6, 2010

Everyone’s a publisher

Barnes & Noble has launched PubIt, a service for authors who want to publish directly to readers — well, directly through B&N. Create a B&N user account and upload some files, and PubIt will convert them to ePub, list your book on its site, collect money from sales, and about 60 days later will send you your money.

Some miscellaneous points about PubIt: You can optionally add DRM to your books, but you don’t have to. You don’t need an ISBN number. You set the list price, but B&N can set the sale price. You have to charge at least $0.99. You have to guarantee that you won’t list it for less elsewhere.

How much does an author make per copy? B&N says: 65% of the list price for books priced at $2.99-$9.99, and 40% for books outside of that range. But a warning: I think I got that right, but B&N refers to the money paid to “the Publisher,” leaving us to figure out whether the publisher is the author or B&N. It’s getting so hard to tell!

(BTW, you can still buy books published at LuLu.com at B&N.

(PS: I also posted this at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab blog.)

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May 10, 2010

Dan Gillmor forced to choose between traditional publishing and a CC license. Guess which he chooses?

Dan Gillmor got an offer from a publisher for his “Mediactive” book (“a user’s guide to democratized media”), but the publisher wouldn’t agree to publish it under a Creative Commons license. So, he’s self-publishing it at Lulu. He’s doing this on principle, but also for pragmatic reasons:

… the main reason I’m still getting royalty checks for We the Media is that the book has been available as a free download since the day it went into bookstores. Had we not published it that way, given the indifference (at best) shown by American newspapers and magazines, the book would have sunk without a trace.

Of course, Dan’s motive is not primarily financial:

…this isn’t just a book, at least not way traditional publishers understand books even as they dabble online.

To publishers, books are items they manufacture and send out in trucks. Or else they’re computer files to be rented to publishers’ customers, or customers of Amazon, Apple and other companies that use proprietary e-reading software to lock the work down in every possible way. In both cases, publishers crave being the gatekeepers.

Mediactive aims to be a multi-faceted project. Over the next few years, I hope to experiment in lots of media formats and styles with the ideas here. And — this is key — I also plan to experiment with it in the broader context of the emerging ecosystem of ideas.

Dan reports that the folks at Lulu.com (where — product placement alert — you can get a copy of my young adult book, My $100 Million Secret — are being helpful and creative about supporting books in the new ecosystem. Plus, it’ll be available at Lulu this summer, instead of the year it would have taken to get it onto shelves via the traditional route.

Since Dan is one of the most admirable people around, It would be fun as a community to make his book a success in every way, from spreading its ideas to selling a whole bunch of copies…

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November 15, 2009

Google Books Settlement 2.0?

Google has announced a revised settlement [redlined pdf faq pdf] that it hopes will address the concerns raised by the Department of Justice and many other groups.

Here’s a summary of the summary Google provides [pdf], although IANAL and I encourage you to read the summary, which is written in non-legal language and is only 2 pages long:

1. The agreement now has been narrowed to books registered for copyright in the US, or published in the UK, Australia or Canada.

2. There have been changes to the terms of how “orphaned works” (books under copyright whose rightsholders can’t be found) are handled. The revenue generated by selling orphaned works no longer will get divvied up among the authors, publishers and Google, none of whom actually have any right to that money. Instead it will go to fund active searching for the rightsholders. (At the press call covered by Danny Sullivan [see below], the Authors Guild rep said that with money, about 90% of missing rightsholders can be found.) After holding those revenues in escrow (maybe I’m using the wrong legal term) for ten years (up from five in the first settlement), the Book Rights Registry established by the settlement can ask the court to disburse the funds to “nonprofits benefiting rightsholders and the reading public”; I believe in the original, the Registry decided who got the money. So, in ten years there may be a windfall for public libraries, literacy programs, and maybe even competing digital libraries. (The Registry may also (determined by what?) give the money to states under abandoned property laws. (No, I don’t understand that either.))

The new settlement creates a new entity: A “Court-approved fiduciary” who represents the rightsholders who can’t be found. (James Grimmelmann [below] speculates interestingly on what that might mean.)

3. The settlement now explicitly states that any book retailer can sell online access to the out-of-print books Google has scanned, including orphaned works. The revenue split will be the same (63% to the rightsholder, “the majority of” 37% to the retailer).

4. The settlement clarifies that the Registry can decide to let public libraries have more than a pitiful single terminal for public access to the scanned books. The new agreement also explicitly acknowledges that rightsholders can maintain their Creative Commons licenses for books in the collection, so you could buy digital access and be given the right to re-use much or all of the book. Rightsholders also get more control over how much Google can display of their books without requiring a license.

5. The initial version said Google would establish “market prices” for out of print book, which seemed vague because what counts as the market for out-of-print books? The new agreement clarifies the algorithm, aiming to price them as if in a competitive market. And, quite importantly, the new agreement removes the egregious “most favored nation” clause that prevented more competitive deals to be made with other potential book digitizers.

From my non-legal point of view, this addresses many of the issues. But not all of them.

I’m particularly happy about the elements that increase competition and access. It’s big that Amazon and others will be able to sell access to the out-of-print books Google has scanned, and sell access on the same terms as Google. As I understand it, there won’t be price competition, because prices will be set by the Registry. Further, I’m not sure if retailers will be allowed to cut their margins and compete on price: If the Registry prices an out-of-print book at $10, which means that $6.30 goes to the escrow account, will Amazon be allowed to sell it to customers for, say $8, reducing its profit margin? If so, then how long before some public-spirited entity decides to sell these books to the public at their cost, eschewing entirely the $3.70 (or the majority of that split, which is what they’re entitled to)? I don’t know.

I also like the inclusion of Creative Commons licensing. That’s a big deal since it will let authors both sell their books and loosen up the rights of reuse.

As far as getting rid of the most favored nation clause: Once the Dept. of Justice spoke up, it’s hard to imagine it could have survived more than a single meeting at Google HQ.

Reactions from the critics has not been all that positive.

James Grimmelmann is studying it carefully, but quickly put up a substantial and detailed evaluation of the revisions. He is deep into the details.

The Open Book Alliance (basically an everyone-but-Google consortium) is not even a little amused, because the new agreement doesn’t do enough to keep Google from establishing a de facto monopoly over digital books. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is not satisfied because no reader privacy protections were added. Says the ACLU: “No Settlement should be approved that allows reading records to be disclosed without a properly-issued warrant from law enforcement and court orders from third parties. ”

Danny Sullivan live-blogged the press call where Google and the other parties to the settlement discussed the changes. It includes a response to Open Book Alliance’s charges.

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September 18, 2009

[berkman] Transforming Scholarly Communication

Lee Dirks [site] Director of Education and Scholarly Communication at Microsoft External Research is giving a Berkman-sponsored talk on “Transforming Scholarly Communications.” His group works with various research groups “to develop functionality that we think would benefit the community overall,” with Microsoft possibly as a facilitator. (Alex Wade from his group is also here.)

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He begins by noting the “data deluge.” But, compuing is stepping up to the problem: Massive data sets, evolution of multicore, and the power of the cloud. We’ll need all that (Lee says) because the workflow for processing all the new info we’re gathering hasn’t kept up with the amount we’re taking in via sensor networks, global databases, laboratory instruments, desktops, etc. He points to the Life Under Your Feet project at Johns Hopkins as an example. They have 200 wireless computers, each with 10 sensors, monitoring air and soil temperature and moisture, and much more. (Microsoft funds it.) Lee recommends Joe Hellerstein’s blog if you’re interested in “the commoditization of massive data analysis.” We’re at the very early stages of this, Lee says. For e-scientists and e-researchers, there’s just too much: too much data, too much workflow, too much “opportunity.”


We need to move upstream in the research lifecycle: 1. collect data and do research, 2. author it, 3. publish, and then 4. store and archive it. That store then feeds future research and analysis. Lee says this four-step lifecycle needs collaboration and discovery. Libraries and archives spend most of their time in stage 4, but they ought to address the problems much early on. The most advanced thinkers are working on these earlier stages.


“The trick there is integration.” Some domains are quite proprietary about their data, which makes it problematic to get data and curation standards so that the data can move from system to system. From Microsoft’s perspective, the question is how can they move from static summaries to much richer information vehicles. Why can’t a research reports be containers that facilitate reproducible science? It should help you use your methodology against its data set. Alter data and see the results, and then share it. Collaborate real time with other researchers. Capture reputation and influence. Dynamic documents. [cf. Interleaf Active Documents, circa 1990. The dream still lives!]


On the commercial side, Elsevier has been running an “Article of the Future Competition.” Other examples: PLoS Currents: Influenza. Nature Preceedings. Google Wave. Mendeley (“iTunes for academic papers”). These are “chinks in the armor of the peer review system.”


Big changes, Lee says. We’ll see more open access and new economic models, particularly adding services on top of content. We’ll see a world in which data is increasingly easily sharable. E.g., the Sloan Digital Sky Survey ios a prototyupe in data publishing: 350M web hits in 6yrs, 930k distinct users, 10k astronmers, delivered 100B rows of data. Likewise, GalaxyZoo.org at which the public can classify galaxies and occasionally discover a new object or two.


Lee points to challenges with data sharing: integrating it, annotating, maintaining provenance and quality, exporting in agreed formats, security. These issues have stopped some from sharing data, and have forced some communities to remain proprietary. “The people who can address these problems in creative ways” will be market leaders moving forward.


Lee points to some existing sharing and analysis services. Swivel, IBM’s Many Eyes, Google’s Gapminder, Freebase, CSA’s Illustra…


The business models are shifting. Publishers are now thinking about data sharing services. IBM and RedHat provides an interesting model: Giving the code away but selling services. Repositories will contain not only the full text versions of reserach papers, but also “gray” literature “such as technical reports and theses,” and real-time streaming data, images and software. We need enhanced interoperability protocols.


E.g., Data.gov provides a searchable data catalog that provides access through the raw data and using various tools. Lee also likes WorldWideScience.org, “a global science gateway” to international scientific databases. Sxty-sevenety countries are pooling their scientific data and providing federated search.


Lee believes that semantic computing will provide fantastic results, although it may take a while. He points to Cameron Neylon’s discussion of the need to generate lab report feeds. (Lee says the Semantic Web is just one of the tools that cojuld be used for semantics-based computing,.) So, how do we take advantage of this? Recommender systems, as at Last.fm and Amazon. Connotea and BioMedCentral’s Faculty of 1000 are early examples of this [LATER: Steve Pog's comment below says Faculty of 1000 is not owned by BioMedCentral] . Lee looks forward to the automatic correlation of scientific data and the “smart composition of services and functionality,” in which the computers do the connecting. And we’re going to need the cloud to do this sort of thing, both for the computing power and for the range of services that can be brought to bear on the distributed collection of data.


Lee spends some time talkingabout the cloud. Among other points, he points to SciVee and Viddler as interesting examples. Also, SmugMug as a photo aggregator that owns none of its own infrastructure. Also Slideshare and Google Docs. But these aren’t quite what researchers need, which is an opportunity. Also interesting: NSF DataNet grants.


When talking about preservation and provenance, Lee cites DuraSpace and its project, DuraCloud. It’s a cross-repository space with services added. Institutions pay for the service.


Lee ends by pointing to John Wilbanks‘ concern about the need for a legal and policy infrastructure that enables and encourages sharing. Lee says that at the end of the day, it’s not software, but providing incentives and rewards to get people to participate.


Q: How soon will this happen?
A: We can’t predict which domains will arise and which ones people will take to.


Q: What might bubble up from the consumer sector?
A: It’s an amazing space to watch. There are lots of good examples already?


Q: [me] This is great to have you proselytizing outside. But as an internal advocate inside Microsoft, what does Msft still have to do, and what’s the push back?
A: We’ve built 6-8 add-ins for Word for semantic markup, scholarly writing, consumption of ontologies. A repository platform. An open source foundation separate from Micrsooft, contributing to Linux kernel, etc.

Q: You’d be interested in Dataverse.org.
A: Yes, it sounds like it.


Q: Data is agnostic, but how articles aren’t…
A: We’re trying to figure out how to embed and link. But we’re also thinking about how you do it without the old containers, on the Web, in Google Wave, etc.
Q: Are you providing a way to ID relationships?
A: In part. For people using their ordinary tools (e.g., Word), we’re providing ways to import ontologies, share them with the repository or publisher, etc.


Q: How’s auto-tagging coming? The automatic creation of semantically correct output?
A: We’re working on this. A group at Oxford doing cancer research allows researchers to semantically annotate within Excel, so that the spreadsheet points to an ontology that specifies the units, etc. Fluxnet.org is an example of collaborative curation within a single framework.


Q: Things are blurring. Traditionally libraries collect, select and preserve schoilarly info. What do you think the role of the library will be?
A: I was an academic librarian. In my opinion, the safe world of collecting library journals has been done. We know how to do it. The problem these days is data curation, providing services, working with publishers.
Q: It still takes a lot of money…
A: Definitely. But the improvements are incremental. The bigger advances come further up the stream.

Q: Some cultures will resist sharing…
A: Yes. It’ll vary from domain to domain, and within domains. In some cases we’ll have to wait a generation.


Q: What skills would you give a young librarian?
A: I don’t have a pat answer for you. But, a service orientation would help, building services on top of the data, for example. Multi-disciplinary partnerships.


Q: You’re putting more info online. Are you seeing the benefit of that?
A: Most researchers already have Microsoft software, so we’re not putting the info up in order to sell more. We’re trying to make sure researchers know what’s there for them.

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April 20, 2009

Pam Samuelson on the Google Books settlement

Pam Samuelson has written a brilliant piece about the Google Book settlement. It goes in the must-read (and highly readable) pile along with Robert Darnton’s eloquent NY Review of Books piece and James Grimmelmann’s more wonky explanation.

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