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Book and Reading News

Noted News & Opinion, June 17, 2009

TechCrunch recommends an Adobe AIR-based e-reader for Project Gutenburg books. More than 200 million PCs have AIR, a Web applications platform, installed and can run NetBook application. The developer, Dean McKee, hasn’t signed the application, so you will receive a stern warning about its lack of provenance. It appears on downloadin go be safe and sane. […]

NetBook AtticTechCrunch recommends an Adobe AIR-based e-reader for Project Gutenburg books. More than 200 million PCs have AIR, a Web applications platform, installed and can run NetBook application. The developer, Dean McKee, hasn’t signed the application, so you will receive a stern warning about its lack of provenance. It appears on downloadin go be safe and sane. Functionality is limited to increasing or decreasing the screen size, the ability to cache books on your PC, and copying text. See the image at right for a look inside a book. There is a full-screen mode that would be useful on a laptop. Pages scroll and there is no bookmarking, so it can be difficult to find your way back to, or share, a particular place in the book.

A “platform-a-second world” declared. Joe Mandese, writing at MediaPost, makes an important point, but mangles the meaning of some important terms. He writes that “by the time you finish reading [this sentence], a new online publishing platform will have been created. That’s right a new online destination is created every few seconds.” He means a new blog or publication is launched each second, not that a new platform, which denotes a collection of technologies for “content management” and publishing on the Web, is created each second. Platforms, like WordPress, Movable Type, Elgg, Blogger and to some degree, Twitter, come along very rarely. On the other hand, Mandese does make the valuable point that all these new publications—each of us has access not to one press but many presses from our keyboards—are potentially competitive with mainstream titles. There’s no barrier to beginning to compete, though there is a limit to an upstart’s competitiveness without access to some working capital or a long line of credit. He suggests focusing on “premium content” is the only differentiable investment publishers can make. I’d only add that creating conduits for discussion between readers is the ultimate premium experience, especially when writers and editors actually get involved to shape a valuable conversation. Publishers have always served communities, who were largely unaware they were in dialog. Now, the community around a book, Web site, newspaper or magazine is talking. Helping them do that while staying deeply involved in your articles, ideas, stories or data is the premium to work on.

Speaking of books with a soundtrack, Ballistic Publishing is releasing an example of how to make a book into an event. Utherworlds, The art of Phillip Straub (US$99), is a large-format (9.7″ x 15.1″) hardcover graphic novel that comes with a soundtrack and access to a Web site dedicated to the book. The site includes free PC wallpaper and links to buy Gelaskin device covers featuring Straub’s art, the opportunity to buy his prints and so forth.

PenguinPubOfficePenguin Group has a social-leaning Web site, From the Publisher’s Office, reports Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly.”It’s about narrowcasting, narrowcasting,’ said Penguin president Susan Petersen Kennedy,” Milliot writes. The site, which launched Tuesday, features a video channel, called The Screening Room, and a Radio and Reading Room, too, that will offer programming on Penguin’s Storytime, YA Central, Classics on Air, and Business Thought Leaders. There is vampire programming, too. Vampires are big. Episodes are 30 minutes long. My experience is that is way too long for most people, and I’ve produced more than 79,000 audio and video episodes, so I think I can say that with some confidence. Launch with more short stuff—five minutes long, if that—and see what catches people’s interest. Then, invest more in topics that you know have legs. Starting with a few long programs gives readers few options and could wash out because of several factors, including the programming not being very good. I’m not saying Penguin’s programming is bad, just that it is a small net conceptually.

Why duz dey hate de Strunk and White? Ron Kovach, the Writer’s magazine senior editor, suspects most veteran magazine editors would “still heartily endorse the heart of The Elements of Style.” He acknowledges that the venerable style guide, which recently has been attacked by no less than The Chronicle of Higher Education, has faults, but its guidance, that one should write short, clear sentences that express ideas. I still refer to S&W sometimes, though I’m an old Chicago Manual of Style man, but the argument reminds me that at one point in the history of the book there was no punctuation. Books were written to be read aloud, not silently, so there was no need for punctuation, nor was it easy to distinguish one word from the next. Punctuation offended some people, as do texting habits and their influence on written and spoken language do many people today. Language changes. We’ve got front row seats for a major chapter in the saga.

Newspapers’ online investments reap mixed returns. Douglas A. McIntyre of 24/7Wall Street, a financial news service based in New Rochelle, N.Y., has assembled data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Web visitor data from Compete.com, and a subjective review of the layout and ease of use of newspaper Web sites to rank the return on investment in digital/online publishing by 23 publishers. He concludes that many newspaper publishers will not survive the next few years. The key statement: “Even at companies where 15% of the sales come from online operations, the amount is not great enough to carry the costs of large editorial and business staffs.” In short, online will not save a newspaper that continues to operate like newspapers did through most of the 20th century. The rankings, as EditorsWeblog.org suggests, contain some surprises, as several smaller papers rank with majors, such as the The New York Times (one of the three papers to earn an “A” grades, the others were Newsday and The St. Petersburg Times). Noted: The methodology’s components are explained completely, but the weighting of the factors isn’t described, which leaves plenty of room for subjectivity.

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