Sometimes the Web Drives Me Mad

March 26, 2009

These days I’m living in West Vancouver, British Columbia. I’m house-sitting for some dear friends. I’m lucky because it’s so beautiful here.

(more…)

Tags: , , , , ,

Good News for the Future of Publishing

January 16, 2009

I subscribe to Bob Sacks’ exhausting three times per day newsletter. As I’ve previously noted, Bob is one of the great veterans of magazine publishing and of publishing in general. He’s on our side. I recommend that you subscribe.

Many of his newsletters are simply reposts of articles of interest, but once a week or so he posts readers’ comments (anonymously). Because of the frequency of his newsletter I’ll admit that I often fall behind, but tonight I’m thinking about a recent issue where he noted one reader’s criticism (not verbatim): “I’m sick of reading all this bad news. Isn’t there anything positive to report?” Bob’s comment as I recall was essentially: “Send me some good news and I’ll be glad to post it.”

So it got me thinking about where are the rays of sunshine in the otherwise gloomy publishing landscape. Let me note a few:

1. eBooks are taking off. This may not be, in the short term, great economic news for book publishers, but I think it’s very good news. OK, some business models will require adjustment, but if we’re attracting (or retaining) a generation of readers with the Kindle, Sony Reader et al., then I’d say this weighs in strongly on the positive side.

2. Likewise digital magazine services are creating thousands of digital magazine editions for publishers who previously dealt only in print. I was initially skeptical of this technology (as I was of eBooks), but now see the many possibilities these digital magazines offer to augment the efforts of numerous print publishers. I’ll be going into ever-greater depth on this subject in my article on The Future of Magazines, but note that this has clearly become a very positive technological and business option for all kinds of magazine publishers.

3. Apparently the downward trend in reading has reversed. After a very depressing report several years ago from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA (noted extensively in my article on The Future of Book Publishing), a very recently-released report “Reading on the Rise, the National Endowment for the Arts‘…documents a significant turning point in recent American cultural history. For the first time in over a quarter-century, our survey shows that literary reading has risen among adult Americans.”

4. Please, please, look into the progress that Quark and Adobe are making with their competing product offerings. Each have become so sophisticated and powerful that the press has been doing justice to neither. From my perspective, designers and publishers now have access to technology for a few thousand dollars that would previously have cost them $100,000 or more (of course both companies offer server-based versions at significantly higher prices, but they’re for high-volume publishers). The financial analysts have downgraded Adobe’s share price figuring that a few thousand is too much to pay for their current offering (Quark remains a private company). I say to the financial press: You’ve no idea that the ROI on these offerings can be measured in weeks, not years, and that the published output will be a thousand times better than the outdated high-priced products they replace. They are both fine “Hall of Fame” candidates in my Future of Publishing showcase.

I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ve got a few more, but will save them for a later blog.

Cheer up! As Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker said nearly a half-century ago, when faced with a great political defeat: “This too shall surely pass.”

Tags: , , , , ,

Giving Away Digital Books for Free

May 30, 2008

Credit where credit is due: I was first informed of this fascinating tale about the future of writing and book publishing from David Pogue’s always fun, provocative and illuminating weekly column in The New York Times. His May 22nd column provided his take on whether he should provide free downloads of his (many) books.

After a couple of bad experiences he’s now firmly against it, while admitting that “I realize that it puts me, rather awkwardly, on the same side of the piracy issue as the record companies and movie companies, who are suing teenagers for downloading songs, and of whom I’ve made endless fun.”

But a far more intriguing story is referenced in Pogue’s column: the story of author Steven Poole, who took a successful book, “Trigger Happy: The Inner Life of Videogames,” and posted it for download on his blog. The book was first published in 2000, to favorable reviews, and, according to Poole, continues to sell well. But last November, as a simple experiment, he offered Trigger Happy as a free download, under a Creatives Commons license, which meant, if not in legal terms, but in technical reality, “no strings attached.” He asked only that “if you like the book, you can leave a tip via PayPal,” and provided a link for PayPal donations. The total was a vanishingly minuscule fraction of what I earned from the book’s traditional publication.”

The results were, to say the least, disappointing from a financial perspective. As Poole reported in an April 2008 blog entry, “the proportion of [31,697] people who left a tip after downloading Trigger Happy was 1 in 1,750, or 0.057%” and as he comments later in the responses to his entry, “the average donation was a (very reasonable) couple of bucks. What I found most important here are the nearly 230 comments found in both the original blog entry offering the book, and in its follow-up. A few of the comments are of course inane, but the sum of the comments (with a generous series of responses from Poole) amounts to the most fascinating discussion I’ve yet encountered on how writing and publishing are faring in the ongoing struggle to find an effective new business model that will encourage book-length publications (rather than articles and blogs) to flourish in the age of the Internet.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Putting Humanity Back Into Technology

March 21, 2008

It was some time after I finished school that I first heard about the trend towards co-operative non-competitive games and sports. I had been raised on games and sports the relied upon killing your opponent before he killed you, and so was taken aback by this new twist on things. It sounded kind of OK, a superior approach in some respects, yet I always had the nagging feeling that there was a little too much idealism in the concept, and a shortage of realism about how people really prefer to interact, in games as in life.

A March 12th Wired Campus blog entry on the The Chronicle of Higher Education website called “Putting Humanity Back Into Technology” describes how this concept is being transmuted to the Web, at least one attempt to do so. Last weekend the University of Central Florida’s digital-media department Interactive Performance Conference “to show what this new discipline is about.” According to Jeff Wirth, the director of the Interactive Performance Lab, much of the research works in an “emotion-based framework.” The article continues, attempting to clarify the meaning of “interactive performance”: “For example, while traditional video games are goal oriented (‘get to the next level’), research in interactive performance focuses on creating games where the success is in human interaction.”

So far so good. What startled me were Mr. Wirth’s own illustrations of the new discipline. “When you go to see a movie,” Mr. With explained, “and you see a character evolve in an understanding of his or herself, or a relationship to their world, it’s not about if the character survives,” he says. “It’s about whether the evolution during the course of interactions in that character is engaging…” Apparently Mr. Wirth views only a certain type of film, and appears to have missed the entire oeuvres of Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Steven Segal and Bruce Willis.

By way of example Mr. Wirth said that one of “the exhibitions” at the conference would be an unscripted role-playing session that simulates a prison. That is just the beginning. The article points out that there are larger ambitions afoot: “For example, a class could re-enact parts of World War II.”

They seem to have a pretty good grasp on moving gaming away from traditional competitive role playing, but I think that may have some work to do on the scenarios.