Imagine libraries that stock themselves organically based on what patrons decide to print. Wright State University librarian Sue Polanka writes that Springer Science+Business Media will bring its MyCopy on-demand book production service to North American libraries beginning next week. She has posted a June 22-dated press release from the company.
This is an intriguing program, because it turns the library into a potential retail distribution point for on-demand books from the Springer 11,000-titles strong e-book library (and, potentially, titles from other publishers that join the initiative through Springer’s MyCopy service). A library visitor can order a soft cover copy of any book in the MyCopy database and receive it with a color copy and black-and-white text for $24.95. The same price applies for all on-demand books provided by MyCopy.
There is no specific discussion of the pricing of on-demand journals from Springer’s 2,000-plus scientific and other journals catalog.
Libraries, of course, could shoulder the cost of creating a copy of an e-book for a patron, but it is more likely that, having paid for access to the e-book collection libraries will let patrons pay for personal paper copies themselves and, perhaps, provide some subsidies for low-income patrons.
The potential, too, exists for self-organizing groups of patrons to pay for a printed copy that remains in the library after they are done with it.
Thirty libraries in the U.S. and Canada participated in the trial phase of the MyCopy service and will be able to offer it immediately to patrons as of the date of the press release.
One of the strangest design caveats in e-books and online publishing is the need to reproduce the experience of turning a page as one would with paper. The fixation on creating the simulacrum of a paper page has held sway since the earliest days of electronic reading. E-magazine platform Zinio, for example, made the page-turning features in its reader the hallmark of its claim to reproduce the experience of reading a paper magazine.
Now, TechCrunch reports that Google will introduce “Flipper,” a page-turning feature, for Google News as a way of improving the user experience.
It all reminds me of the 50-year period following Gutenburg when, because printers had no better idea how to make a book, they simply imitated the designs of scribal manuscripts. Aldus Manutius had to come along and shake things up to kick-start the real evolution of reading and authorship, since most of the aping of scribal books led to folio-sized, un-attributed (except for mostly dead authors, who sometimes were deemed to have earned their billing) copies of a small set of acceptable books and lots of copies of The Bible and prayer books.
We may return to the scrolling page, which most of our ancestors found more pleasing than the codex-style page until the Dark Ages. We may not, choosing varying modes of access to text, and the “page-turn” may be an essential feature people can choose to turn off in favor of scrolling or something else. But the digital turning of pages isn’t an innovation, just imitation of a physical quality of printed works, without a solid design rationale, unless breeding familiarity is really the only challenge. It isn’t.
Marko Saric, over at HowtomakeMyBlog.com, has a very useful step-by-step guide to creating an e-book cover. If you’ve been wondering how to make an e-book look good, it’s well worth your reading time.
Imagine that in the 19th century the company furthest advanced laying US railroads was given the right to build all future rail lines. The public might have gained from the new services, but ultimately been left at the whim of a powerful monopoly. Now take the deal between Google and the publishing industry to create a digital market for out-of-print books – some 40 per cent of all those ever published. However laudable such a goal that may be, it raises anticompetitive issues too.
The article lays out clearly and simply why the Google Books deal with libraries is flawed. Rather than creating and exception to existing copyright and intellectual property restrictions, the outcome of the legal confrontation should be a general and open system for any company that wishes to scan books under terms acceptable to authors or other rights holders.
The deal is based on a scenario that is too good to be true. Google is only here to help, the company says, yet is it sweeping up rights that could be abused. Readers face a potential future where, because it is impractical to compete with Google, other e-book providers simply don’t try, giving Google free reign to raise prices on access to books, whether one at a time or through an all-you-can-read subscription service. It could choke off libraries’ access to these books, because Google circumvents their relationship with the reader or raises institutional prices too high.
For free culture activists, it should be clear that the settlement in effect grants Google a degree of control over access to library collections it has scanned that is functionally similar to holding a renewed and extended copyright on the works.
It is also questionable whether the potential for advertising in library-accessed books is a good idea, since it commercializes what had been a public good and, potentially, creates a commercial filter based on advertisers preferences for certain ideas and information. If faced with reading an uncontroversial history of, say, the Iraq War, which is free at the library through Google Books and one that, because it has no ad revenue support carries a fee, the least-privileged in society would probably opt for the free choice. That’s a kind of commercial Big Brotherism we need to engineer out of e-libraries.
The takeaway: Google is being granted a cartel position in the intellectual marketplace, which the FT believes is bad for competition. “Google’s ingenuity does not give it the right to surround itself with an impregnable digital moat,” the column concludes.
Tor.com, the Web home of the science/speculative fiction and fantasy publisher Tor Books, a division of Macmillan, has announced it will sell books from other publishers in its online store. Paper and hardcovers. No mention of e-books, though Fiction Matters reports the Tor.com store will soon launch an e-book sales effort—12 Edgar Rice Burroughs titles sold through the site come with free e-books packaged with a CD version of the book.
According to Compete.com, Tor.com sees about 30,000 visitors a month, well off its October 2008 highs of near 60,000 visitors (publishing is a cyclical business, even online). The site is well populated with bloggers’ writing that is a dead-on fit for its audience.
It can’t hurt to sell more titles to actively engaged customers. I’d still like to see the thinking turned inside out: How can Tor.com put its listings anywhere, extending access to its blog and feature content from a customer’s site. Think widgets and Web services to amplify the returns on this move. And publishers adding their books to the catalog need to be comfortable with Tor competing with other channels, so that they can embrace the Tor customer as their own (which means serving them, not “controlling the customer”).
Being open is the right move. No publisher should be thinking of their online catalog as anything other than a partial response to a reader’s interests. Catalogs are not what they were in the age of book-buyers thumbing through catalogs, they need to be accessible and responsive to changing reader actions in the marketplace.
“We believe it is important to take these forward steps toward an online delivery system and we are supporting the Governor’s initiative, recognizing there are numerous challenges ahead for the education community to work through,” including “how we ensure that low income and disadvantaged students receive equal access to technology; how we address the needs of English language learners; and how we protect the intellectual property rights of content and technology creators to support future investment and innovation.”
Schwarzenneger and California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and the state’s Board of Education announced the California Learning Resource Network initiative (an excellent summary by the San Jose Mercury News here), which seeks to transition the state’s $350 million textbook and instructional materials budget to digital sources as quickly as possible. A complex submission and review system is described here (PDF), however it’s not clear that textbook publishers or the schools are prepared to deliver the same or better
Simon & Schuster Digital Group has launched a social site, Pulse It, that offers a free e-book each month to members, who musts be between 14 and 18 years of age. Kids are presented a choice of two e-books a month and are allowed to pick one to read, which is available online for 60 days. The idea is to get kids sharing thoughts about the books and to get them talking amongst themselves. Members earn points for participating in the community. Monthly sweepstakes offer physical prizes, such as books and “other cool stuff.”
The site’s got all the signatures of a contemporary social site: Member profiles (no email addresses displayed, forcing the discussion to stay in the community for privacy’s sake), message boards and video. On the front page today, author Scott Westerfield (Uglies, Pretties, Specials) is featured in video. Interesting to note that there are no young people on the front page. Privacy certainly has something to do with this, but young faces are a key to engaging first-time visitors with community. Message board postings are not viewable without joining the site—it would be better if some sampling of the discussion were available.
I’d also suggest more images of kids reading and talking on the home page. Holding the current featured titles, preferably.
Foreign Affairs, the journal of record on international affairs and diplomacy, has launched a Kindle edition. The $1.99 monthly price is a bit confusing, as it is a bi-monthly magazine, but it works out to $3.98 per issue; individual issues are available for $5.99. How does that compare with the paper price? The paper magazine is $32 a year.
For me, this is another magazine I can move from the paper list to the digital one, and quit accumulating piles of these pale blue issues around my office. As a searchable publication, the e-version is far more valuable, though thumbing through old issues does have its charms. Quickly assembling a comprehensive list of articles that discuss a topic, such as “North Korea” or “Soft Revolution,” is very handy.
One suggestion: Make all the archives available for Kindle, sell that archive of 50 years of authoritative foreign policy thinking for $99 or $199. I think at least a third of subscribers would pay for the complete collection.
I’ve begun to assemble a comprehensive publishing industry statistics resource that everyone can use, which I’ll be keeping up to date. Why keep all that numerical goodness to oneself?
If you have pointers to sites and statistical resources you’d like to suggest in comments, it will be greatly appreciated.
If you are a publisher of statistics who charge great piles of money for comprehensive reports, I would like to publish summaries that will help everyone and bring traffic to your site, where you will certainly sell more copies of your paid reports. You can reach me through the About page of BooksAhead.com