Literacy and the Future of Publishing

December 30, 2008

If you’ve examined my short essay on the subject of literacy and the future of publishing you will find it both brief and dated (although, arguably, this subject does not evolve rapidly).

I’ve been meaning for some time to recommend the TED site…what richness lies there!

When it comes to the subject of literacy, Dave Eggers, bestselling author and publisher-extraordinaire, on the TED site, offers an extremely moving call to improve literacy within Western countries. He has put his actions where his beliefs lie in an extraordinary way. I won’t steal any thunder from his presentation. When you have a few minutes to be inspired, please watch his presentation.

If you don’t have the time for video, head over to the Web site he’s established to follow his dream.

Literacy is clearly inextricably linked to the future of publishing. There are many roads to literacy: Mr. Eggers has created just one. I have nothing but admiration for his effort.

Noted January 23, 2009: I see that the New York Times‘ technology columnist Virginia Heffernan is very fond of TED also. Her Confessions of a TED Addict is a great read!

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It’s Not Just Reporters Losing Their Jobs

December 24, 2008

New York City, ever self-fixated, is treating the current downturn in the newspaper and magazine industries as a tragedy affecting mainly itself (oh yes, and a few folks in Chicago and LA), forgetting that this recession spreads far beyond its narrow borders.

An article yesterday in Canada’s The Globe & Mail (the rough equivalent of The New York Times in terms of reach and influence) points out that “across Canada, forestry is mired in a deep depression, with 40,000 jobs across the country shed over the last six years. In B.C. (British Columbia), the toll has topped 10,000.

“The pace of forestry’s decline has only worsened as the global downturn has intensified. It is one of the forces bringing economic growth in B.C. skidding to a screeching halt.”

Of course not all of this is related to paper consumption, but it’s a reminder of how far the dark night has spread.

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Does the Kindle Set Fire to Books?

December 23, 2008

Gosh am I slow on the uptake! Here I am in an unseasonably cold Vancouver, BC winter, each night placing kindling under the larger fire logs to ensure they’ll ignite. I just looked for a definition of kindle and find “kindled – ignited: set afire; ‘the ignited paper’; ‘a kindled fire.'”

So is that the story, Mr. Jeff Bezos at Your Kindle is designed so that we might use our printed books as kindling to get our fireplaces roaring, and your sales roaring at a similar pace?

Somehow this all came to mind as I began reading the marvelous “The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

It’s a very fine book, not just as a narrative, but as an example of “book as book.” Even in paperback it contains a preface, a postscript, an author’s note, acknowledgments and a very informed “Suggestions for Further Reading.”

The colophon informs that it was set in three typefaces. I ordinarily rail against the use of multiple typefaces in books primarily of text, yet this volume uses the three faces very effectively. It also includes a modicum of informative and amusing line-drawings.

There is not as yet a Kindle version available. I’m not surprised.

OK: I’m still a curmudgeon on e-books. Buy this book, and hold it in your hands. Get an electronic version when it becomes available. Then ask yourself: Which version do I most enjoy?

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Is THIS the Death of Newspapers?

I’ve tried to remain as dispassionate as possible regarding the ongoing screeches over the death of the newspaper. I’m not in denial: I know the situation is serious.

When folks like Mr. Zell bankrupt a communications empire, I do not necessarily regard this as a harbinger of things to come.

But when the The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News announce that they will stop home delivery four days of the week I think, oh my gosh, this is getting very serious.

If you are no longer even delivering the product, the situation is beyond serious: it’s a crisis.

OK it’s Detroit. Et cetera. But that doesn’t make the announcement much more palatable. This kind of announcement signifies the end of the printed version of newspapers in Detroit. Will it spread? I don’t know, but tell me why it won’t?

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Sam Zell can go to ….

December 13, 2008

Where the …. is the outrage at what Sam Zell has perpetrated in his financial manoeuvrings that have brought The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and 23 television stations into bankruptcy?

The aptly-named “Grave Dancer” has just dug a mass-grave for thousands of innocents who work these enterprises.

The New York Times first report labeled the debacle “The Newspaper Bubble, Too, Has Burst” as if this was just some sort of innocent homeowner who bought a cut-rate mortgage.

But finally a good reporter looked at things more closely. Andrew Ross Sorkin’s December 8th article in the same paper is called “Workers Pay for Debacle at Tribune.” It is a dispassionate and detailed look at the whole mess that billionaires are far too willing to engage in at the expense of the workers who make media properties valuable in the first place.

Shame on you, Mr. Zell! So you stand to lose $315 million. Boo hoo! As Sorkin’s article states pointedly: “It is unclear how much he’ll lose, but one thing is clear: When creditors get in line, he gets to stand ahead of the employees.”

Outrage is what is called for, not some neutral view that the newspaper industry is challenged. It would not be half as challenged if grave dancers of the sort Mr. Zell represents were not allowed to create such massive havoc.

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