Monday, May 6, 2013

The Future(s) of Print

I am pleased to present the draft iteration of our class project: a collaboratively-authored book in both Apple iBooks Author format (with hyperlinks, slideshow galleries, embedded video, and the like) and Adobe PDF format (with more traditional e-document affordances).  For a limited time only, readers of this blog and friends of our course may download this draft document free of charge from an open folder on our Google Drive.  (All contents are copyright the authors!)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Suggested readings about hyperlocal news

There has been an explosion of writing and scholarship over the last several years about the potential of hyperlocal news as a viable business strategy for newspapers and news-gathering organizations. Two articles, in particular,  helped me to understand and analyze the promise and the pitfalls of hyperlocal news. The first was "Local and Niche Sites," a chapter of a 2011 report by the Columbia Journalism Review about the Business of Digital Journalism.  The second was a 2011 article in the American Journalism Review about "Hyperlocal Heroes" that provided good in-depth description and analysis of some of the most successful hyperlocal news sites.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Why are libraries paying so much for digital content?

For the librarianship group, I focused on Joanne Budler, Kansas State Librarian. She is an amazing woman and is the Librarian of the Year for 2013 as awarded by the publication Library Journal (Link to article here). Many people to not understand how the relationship between content providers and libraries works. There are huge inequities in pricing models and legal precedents when it comes to libraries lending materials. SI chose the article is "E-book versus print: a per-title cost and usage comparison of a public library's population" by David Gray and Andrea Copeland to share with the class. It is really interesting to look at the price differences in print and digital books, how often they circulate, how publishers differ in their business models in terms of owning, leasing, or PDA-ing (patron driven acquisitions, ex. the tenth time a patron looks at this item, you buy it) digital content. Libraries facing increasingly tight budgets, need to justify their purchases and make the most of the money they receive. This article articulately those concerns and possible solutions. 

Gray, D. , & Copeland, A. (2012). E-book versus print. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 51(4), 334-339.

Life Without the U.S. Mail?

A topic that piqued some interest early in the semester but which we ultimately did not have time to explore more closely is that of the postal system, and its integral role as a distributor of print. There has been quite a bit of press in recent months about the decline and possible death of the United States Postal Service (USPS). The causes of this distress are multiple, including the proliferation of digital communication technologies over the past decade-plus. Email, online bill paying, cloud computing, and the like have replaced the need to send physical printed documents through the mail. Nevertheless, the postal service still handles plenty of paper and packages. Compounding the losses caused by this shift, though, has been a poor economy, competition from private couriers like UPS and FedEx, and deepening budget deficits, in large part due to Congressional mandates that require prepayment for employee benefits. The result is a severe financial situation that must be remedied soon.

It's an interesting case for a whole range of reasons that cannot be adequately explored here and now. I must say, though, that I personally find it hard to believe that we'll find ourselves living in a country without a public postal service anytime soon. However, the USPS will almost certainly need to undergo some drastic changes, and the USPS of the future will not necessarily resemble the one we've all grown up with. The postal service crisis, though, has prompted a number of writers to ruminate on the social function of the U.S. mail, and with it the social life of print. One of the more interesting of these pieces is an article titled "Do We Really Want to Live Without the Post Office?" by Jesse Lichtenstein in the February issue of Esquire magazine. It's particularly interesting how Lichtenstein digs into the inner-workings of the day-to-day operations of the postal service, and also gives readers an intimate portrait of the postal workers.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Slow Death of the American Author?

Hey guys, I'm doing a "wild card" piece for the non-traditional publishing chapter on the rise of the self-publishing book industry and I thought I'd pass along this New York Times article from earlier this month in case you missed it by Scott Turow on "The Slow Death of the American Author." 

It's a short but interesting read. Turow, president of the Author's Guild, has a number of targets in the article: (1) the publishing houses which have colluded to limit royalties on e-books to 25 percent, (2) the courts which have now decided to allow cheaper foreign editions of books to be sold domestically, (3) search engines like Google which he argues have helped book piracy to proliferate, and even (4) public libraries, which he says are further undermining authors' ability to make a living by proposing to "lend e-books, not simply to patrons who come in to download, but to anybody with a reading device, a library card and an Internet connection." 

He concludes by asking what sort of society it would be if authors were left to write "purely for the love of the game?"

Anyway, I found his perspective thought-provoking, although I'm not entirely convinced either. It's not as if being a published author has ever been a particularly lucrative profession. In any event, I thought you all might find the piece worth reading.

Ever try to burn a book?

One thing related to the future of print that I’m interested in that we kind of haven’t mentioned a lot is the afterlife of print.  Because print (in all its manifestations) has a material future regardless of whether or not it has a marketable future. 

I’ve been thinking about this issue for a few years—ever since I helped to coordinate a workshop to teach African refugees about properly disposing of electronic waste like computers and television, only to discover that among the places the US illegally dumps their electronic waste is, in fact, Africa.  We also dump quite a lot of it in China. 

I’ve also been thinking about this in terms of cell phones, since I get really pissed off about how I have to re-negotiate my contract every two years, which entails getting a new phone because my old phone has broken.  My last phone’s hinge broke—yes it was a flip phone—which meant it wasn’t even salvageable for charitable purposes.  (Not to mention that every time I have to re-negotiate my contract, my cell phone provider also tries to mysteriously tack on a data plan that I have to then call them about.) 

Finally, last semester, I was in a book history class where we read Matthew Kirschenbaum’s book Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (2008), in which he talks about the complex ways in which digital media are and are not ephemeral, etc.  Two significant points that resonated with me from all the things Kirschenbaum says are that 1) information stored on computers isn’t actually ephemeral.  Even computers that have been destroyed in fires or sunken in rivers can occasionally have their data recovered—they’re pretty durable.  And 2) even though computers have this kind of permanence, there is a sense in which what materially exists becomes inaccessible.  In other words, you can’t always run your old software, especially in 2013 when computers are constantly being updated without your consent, scooting your device slowly into obsolescence.   By the way, did I mention that all that information stored in “the cloud” is probably stored at a 24-7 diesel-engine powered warehouse in some low-income area?

What I’m getting at is that while I don’t know where all of our old media is going, I’m pretty sure it isn’t going away.  If I may raise a very artificial, unhelpfully binary distinction, books are compostable and e-readers are not.  Electronic devices (not just e-readers) are made of silicon chips, flame-retardant plastics, circuitry, and a bunch of stuff I’m not even aware of.  Not to mention all those old televisions and monitors that had between 4 and 8 pounds of lead in them that don’t get use anymore but exist somewhere in the world. 

Anyway, I’m hanging out on my soap box too long.  I’m not trying to raise some kind of opposition between e-books and paper books in which paper books are victorious.  What I’m really mad about is that concept of planned obsolescence. 

I knew people growing up who kept all their old stuff in their yards.  Washing machines, mattresses, old cars, refrigerators.  I thought it was, well, trashy I guess.  Now I think they may have a point. 

Here’s an article I found that talks about this issue: Vivien-Elizabeth Zazzau, “Becoming Information Literate about Information Technology and the Ethics of Toxic Waste,” Libraries and the Academy 6.1 (2006): 99-107.  Unfortunately, I don’t know how to link to this content, but I found it in Project Muse.

[One last thing so this isn’t all doom and gloom—there are places that help to address this problem; one in our area that recycles computers is Remachines.  They’re on capital square, and in my experience, they’ve been really helpful with recycling laptops.]

An interesting report from ACRL about the future for academic libraries

I found an interesting report “Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians:Scenarios for the Future of the Book”, written by Dr. David J. Staley, and released by the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) in May, 2012. The major goal of this report is to help librarians, especially academic ones, expand their thinking when making decisions about the future of libraries. Staley pointed out that many librarians planned for the future based on one assumption: e-books would replace print books; however, relying on only one assumption might, he further stated that, have potential risks when the future is not what they expect before. Therefore, Staley listed four scenarios for the future of books, including consensus, nostalgic, privatization of the book, and printed books thrive. By expanding the understanding of the future landscapes for library services, librarians can “develop situation awareness”, which might be helpful for their strategic planning in the end.   

Suggested Reading: "Two Years In: Reflections on the New York Times Paywall"

Greg asked us to pass along an interesting article from our final project research. I chose "Two Years In: Reflections on the New York Times Paywall" by Rachel McAthy. One of the really interesting things about this piece, which appeared on the British website, is that McAthy offers a ton of quotes from Paul Smurl, who was the vice president for paid products at at the time of the paper's decision to reintroduce a paywall in 2011. As such, it provides a ton of insider insight into what the Times was thinking at the time of the transition.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

An interesting article

I've been watching this topic ever since I first saw the blog post. I think the issues surrounding the cost of scholarly journals are really interesting. Is some of the things I've read it seems that the profit margins for publishers are really, really big. I know they are in a business to make money, but there is making money and there is price gouging. It seems that no one can really know just how much publishers charge because they have different pricing models for the same products.

In addition to the cost of journals, this blog post brings up another interesting point. The librarian decides to cancel their subscription to ACS journals. But here is the catch, the ACS puts their seal of approval on their chemistry program. Without the ACS journals it is nearly impossible to have all the things the ACS says you need to be a good program. So ACS is in a position to both put their seal of approval on your program, and in order to get their seal you have to buy their journals. For which there is essentially no competition. And they can charge whatever they want for it. In the case of SUNY Potsdam, the cost of ACS journals ALONE is 10% of the entire university's library budget.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Jordan's Suggestions

UW-Madison e-text report from fall 2012

I've just posted a PDF of a UW-Madison report on the e-text pilot project that took place last year.  Phase two is taking place this year.  The file is in the usual place.  Consider it an optional reading for next week, as I try to schedule a guest to talk about it.

When Dickens Met Dostoevsky

Here is the link to the Times Literary Supplement article I mentioned in class about the fictional meeting between Dickens and Dostoevsky.  And here are two relevant quotes based on our discussion today:

"Tomalin regarded publication of the article in the Dickensian as an authentication of the encounter; moreover, the meeting had subsequently been mentioned in monographs by two leading Dickens scholars, Malcolm Andrews and Michael Slater. 'We were all caught out', Tomalin wrote. 'The hoax was a clever one precisely because it convinced so many Dickens scholars.'"

"In other cases Harvey seems to have been operating as something of a vigilante, punishing scholars who casually appropriate the labour of others. A scholar who lives in the archives sets a trap for lazy but more generously remunerated colleagues."


Fitzpatrick begins her article “Texts” by describing how she will be talking less about the form that hypertexts take and instead focusing on what McKenzie called “the sociology of texts,” which is analyzing the interaction among the texts and with their readers. She mentions how the affordances that lie in network-based communications systems facilitate the vast degree on interaction which is available on the web and the possible power that it could be in the future of scholarship. She starts her arguments by talking about one the current highest degrees of scholarship, the book, but she takes Stallybrass' view that we must escape what he called “the tyranny of the book,” and we need to remember that authors write sentences and printers print pages, and neither one produces books. Only the binder actually makes books. The Fitzpatrick focuses on this idea and says that the idea of a book is derived from it's organization, not it's ink-on-paper-ness, so we should not be worrying what a book looks like, but instead be focusing on how it works, how it communicates.

The author then begins talking about how a lot of information on the web is not even using the affordances of the most recent textual structure, the codex, and instead relegating us even farther back to imitating the scroll. And even when we do use the way that a codex is set up, which in the form of print is sequenced, bound, and cut leaves of information, it's still just reproducing the printed page on the screen. She says that we are still thinking of the web in codex-based language, that we are thinking of the web like we did about the horseless-carriage at the invention of the automobile. Instead, we must focus on the new textual structures that the web makes available.

One of the main powers of the web is hypertext, with its ability to delinearize and interlink the text within its own boundaries and with other texts. She says that when we began thinking about hypertext instead of as a new form of table on contents, it “promised a radical restructuring of worldview,” like the way we think about nature not as a hierarchy but “as a network of interconnected species and systems.” She says a true hypertextual structure has the power to “[elevate] the reader to full participation in the production of the text's meaning.” But, with her students describing the frustration and disorientation they had with hypertext books, using hypertext in this way might actually reinstate the author-reader hierarchy because clicking through hypertext is not the same as writing and it still follows the author's ascribed path, one of many paths, but still one that the author created. Fitzpatrick then talks about database-driven scholarship through things like the Walt Whitman Archive or the Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-century Electronic Scholarship. She describes them and then says that while focusing on the interaction between texts is good, these systems still don't get away from author-driven work. While scholars have focused on individual reading, what she calls the library model of texts circulating among individual reading, they also need to look at the coffee-house model of public reading and debate.

An example of this public reading that she sees is Facebook. And while her students felt disorientated with the hypertext books, they love and use Facebook constantly. She says that hypertext only works if the interactive and non-authoritative structure is “fully mobilized.” She finishes her article by talking about blogs and they could facilitate a new powerful stage in scholarship where authors and readers can interact with each other at each stage of the writing process, highlighting this idea of network-based writing. She talks about one platform called CommentPress, built upon WordPress, where comments are side-by-side with the text an author is writing, and the text itself is split into paragraphs that are arranged with the comments next to them to paragraphs that are arranged with their comments next to them to help structure the reader responses. She ends her article by imagining a platform that would combine the power of database-driven scholarship, creating connections between texts, with the power of the blog, creating connections between readers and authors.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jennifer Crewe and Scholarly Publishing

From: Literary Emergency
In her article, "We're definitely not in Kansas Anymore - but Are We in Oz?," Jennifer Crewe, of Columbia University Press, discusses the current state of scholarly publishing and analyzes the roles that academic presses and their editors will continue to play despite the "revolutionary changes" affecting the publishing world (page 116).

First and foremost, she argues that "one thing that hasn't changed much in the world of scholarly publishing is the way that manuscripts are selected for publication" (page 117). She explains the crucial role that editors play and will continue to play in finding and choosing new books for their presses. She acknowledges that most presses receive many more "worthy manuscripts" than they are able to publish, and she emphasizes the importance of the "fit" between a book and its press. Editors have to strike a balance between books that mesh well with their existing catalogs and books that will not hurt the bottom line in selecting manuscripts to publish. She also observes that editors shepherd the book through the writing and re-writing process, and she anticipates that academic presses will continue to play this vital gatekeeping function.

She also argues that, in an increasingly digital world, editors and presses perform the vital service of managing and disseminating metadata about their titles so that readers are able to find the books once they are published.  "People increasingly learn about books via search engines and databases," she writes, "which reinforces the need to use metadata effectively to increase discoverability and optimize search results so that a book can be found by anyone searching on the topic" (pages 119-120).

Lastly, she writes that, despite, the increasing digitization of the printing process, e-books, like their print counterparts, require a great deal of labor intensive work such as formatting, coding, marking up, proofreading, and editing that most authors cannot do themselves.  Due to all of these time-consuming activities, she notes, e-books are not appreciably less expensive for academic presses than print books.

In the end, she observes, that for the foreseeable future, most academic presses will continue to publish both print books and e-books, but I wish she had talked more about the economics of academic publishing. She observes that keeps e-book titles artificially low in order to to sell Kindles, but she never really says whether or not she thinks there is a viable and exploitable future in digital publishing for academic presses.

Similarly, she seems not to consider the possibility that the three important functions she lists (selecting manuscripts, creating metadata, and editing/marking up books for publication) could be performed by people not affiliated with academic presses. Is there a viable avenue for authors to self-publish their work? In an open-source environment, could scholarly organizations or other institutions perform the gatekeeping role? Could libraries or library consortiums create metadata for new books instead of relying on academic presses? Are crowdsourced projects like Goodreads a viable alterative for applying metadata to books? Could authors/publishers outsource mark-up and coding?

Crewe makes some interesting points about the continued role for academic publishers in the digital world, but, in this article at least, she seems to consider the future for academic publishing very narrowly.