David Owns 3,500 Books

April 23, 2011

I was reading the bio of the David Lavin, the president & CEO of The Lavin Agency, a speakers bureau that represents some famous names, including the 400-Hour Workweek’s Timothy Ferriss, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and “Literary Legend” Margaret Atwood.

In his bio Lavin catalogs some impressive achievements. He was the youngest chess master in Canada and represented the country in two World Under-27 chess Olympics. He had a very successful career as a promoter, bringing such luminaries to Toronto as Peter Ustinov, Tom Wolfe, Jerzy Kosinski, Noam Chomsky, Hunter S. Thompson and the legendary triple bill of Abbie Hoffman, Timothy Leary, and Eldridge Cleaver.

And he owns 3,500 books.

What? Wait. Does that strike you as an odd claim? People have long boasted about their libraries. But I tried to translate it into the ebook era and it doesn’t parse.

Lavin actually writes that his 3rd-person self “has an ever-growing personal library of over 3,500 books.” Try adding “on his Kindle” or “on his iPad” to the phrase and say it slowly. It doesn’t sound right to me.

19 books on an iPad

Or as I’ve seen trumpeted elsewhere, Lavin could update the claim to having 3,500 books on “three Kindles (including the DX), two iPads (both versions), his iPhone and his Android smartphone” — emphasize the hardware, not the software. But that would sound boastful.

If Kevin Kelly is correct about the future of books — they will be “accessed” not owned — then how will we categorize our love affair with the printed word…oops…the…word?

May 1, 2011

Another view of the library of the future from Jeff Koterba at the Omaha World Herald.

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Count on The New Yorker for the Best Writing About the Kindle

July 27, 2009

You’re all in luck. Today’s issue of The New Yorker features a very fine article by the excellent writer Nicholson Baker on the Amazon Kindle. Titled “A New Page: Can the Kindle Really Improve on the Book?”, this article is certainly the best-written I’ve seen yet on this overly- and endlessly-discussed subject, as well as the funniest.

I could offer you excellent excerpts and some analysis: I suggest you just read it and ponder. All comments most welcome.

(Remember that The New Yorker has formed a “let’s surprise ’em,” i.e. an inconsistent policy as to how long it keeps current articles online: sometimes a week, sometimes longer. But if you don’t have time to read it today, they do print well to PDF, albeit with rather small type.)

And a remnider that I’ve covered Kindle developments with skeptical amusement for some time. You can find my blog posts on the topic by searching “kindle” and clicking on “Blog” from any page on the site. My favorite remains my link to the McSweeney piece on Jeff Bezos’ Kindle monologue. Second best: Oprah gushing about the Kindle as her new “new favorite favorite thing in the world” (also noted by Baker).

Follow-up: On July 29th The NewYorker offered an “Ask the Author Live” with Nicholson Baker, which fleshes out some of the points he made in the article.

Also an amusing blog entry on the New York magazine site speculates as to how much Baker or The New Yorker paid for the hardware and the expensive eBooks Baker describes. I had pondered the same question about the expenses he must have run up, but he clarifies the whole thing in the comments section of the entry.

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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.”

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The Future of Publishing: Doom

December 12, 2008

Well, I must give kudos to Steve Rubel, “a marketing strategist and blogger …and senior VP in Edelmean’s Me2Revolution practice.” (What would a junior VP do there?) Mr. Rubel, has by my estimate, broken the 100,000 barrier on the number of essentially self-proclaimed experts who have grabbed at some superficial data points and decided that the sky is falling for all media.

He wants to make a bet with each of us (he doesn’t specify the amount or where we can send our bucks). The bet: “By January 2014 almost all forms of tangible media will be either in sharp decline or extinct in the U.S.” I guess he may not have offered his bookie’s address because this is what you might call a hedged bet. First we’ve got “almost all forms of tangible media.” Very difficult to parse definitionally. “Almost all” we could note leaves a pretty broad margin of error. Clearly it means “more than 50%,” but does it mean 70%, 80% or 99.9%? I can’t tell you. Perhaps Mr. Rubel can. But he’s got further squirm space with the statement: “in sharp decline or extinct.” The word “extinct” has an unequivocal meaning. “In sharp decline” is significantly more vague. I’m not certain that it even means “more than 50%,” and definitely unsure if it means 70%, 80% or 99.9%?

Mr. Rubel then trots out the usual selective data to try to bolster his argument. I won’t repeat them all (check the link), as they’ve been repeated too often and really weren’t mentioning the first time.

Rubel does note that he hasn’t bought a CD since 2003. He doesn’t note whether he has been pirating music since that time. Apple announced the iPod in October 2001. Perhaps that’s where he makes his purchases. I bought two CDs yesterday from Amazon. Call me old-fashioned. While the dollar value in retail shipments of recorded music has declined by 35% in the last decade, it still represents an $8 billion market in the U.S. This trend line will certainly shrink the market further in 5 years, but won’t make it disappear.

I’ll take your bet, Mr. Rubel. Do you take PayPal?

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Is the Web Making Children Illiterate?

July 26, 2008

A surprisingly strong article appears in tomorrow’s New York Times (July 27, 2008) that tackles the ongoing and vexing issue of whether the increasing hours spent by youngsters on the Web, often at the expense of reading books and other sustained verbal constructions, is turning them into babbling drones, or whether it’s possible that new forms of literacy might be accompanying this dramatic change.

I write “surprisingly strong” because newspapers often treat these complex issues by merely interviewing a few “representative” humans, and then drawing conclusions on this worthless limited data. The result is more “color” than analysis, akin to the tripe we encounter when the subject is “what’s your favorite movie this summer?” The Times‘ piece “Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?” weighs in at nearly 3500 words, and while we do meet the Konyks, the Sims (not from SimCity!), and the Gaudets, we’re also treated to a bevy of outside experts with conflicting viewpoints, and are provided references to several important reports.

You’ll find all of the standard anti-Internet arguments well-represented in the article, but also fresh ideas. We’re reminded once again that “at least since the invention of television, critics have warned that electronic media would destroy reading.” But, the article continues, “what is different now, some literacy experts say, is that spending time on the Web, whether it is looking up something on Google or even britneyspears.org, entails some engagement with text.”

Further, “some Web evangelists say children should be evaluated for their proficiency on the Internet just as they are tested on their print reading comprehension. Starting next year, some countries will participate in new international assessments of digital literacy, but the United States, for now, will not.” (Surprised?)

There’s lot’s more to discover in this well-balanced account of the debate. It’s the best summary I’ve encountered to date.

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