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June 22 2012

Publishing News: Penguin goes back to the library

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.

Penguin tests digital library waters

Penguin LogoPenguin Group and ebook distributor 3M announced a pilot program this week to distribute Penguin books in The New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library. The program is scheduled to begin in August, and if successful, could be rolled out to libraries nationwide. There are a couple conditions, as noted in the announcement: Ebooks for lending will be windowed — or held back — for six months after publication, and the books will expire (and need to be repurchased) after one year.

Tim McCall, vice president of online sales and marketing at Penguin, told the Wall Street Journal "the six-month delay is intended to prevent library e-books from undercutting other sales" and "the renewable one-year expiration date on e-books, meanwhile, is designed to mimic the natural shelf life of print books."

Over at Publishers Weekly, Peter Brantley wrote a nice commentary on Penguin's return to the library and its included conditions. He says Penguin has it all wrong in terms of protecting sales:

"Most recent studies of library patron's borrowing and purchasing habits indicate that the most active library users are also the most active purchasers ... These surveys suggest that windowing will indeed have an impact on sales: it will reduce them, by eliminating their exposure among patrons who would otherwise be among their most fervent marketers."

A Pew Internet study, "Libraries, patrons, and e-books," released this week states: "Among those who read e-books, 41% of those who borrow e-books from libraries purchased their most recent e-book." Statistics from the report also highlight another important point about awareness:

  • 58% of all library card holders say they do not know if their library provides e-book lending services.
  • 53% of all tablet computer owners say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  • 48% of all owners of e-book reading devices such as original Kindles and NOOKs say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  • 47% of all those who read an e-book in the past year say they do not know if their library lends e-books.

Brantley says this is an area of untapped opportunity: "[B]oth publishers and libraries should be particularly trying to build relationships with the large portion of the population that is 'e-unaware' — prospective readers who have not been introduced to e-books, or find their adoption too difficult because of digital illiteracy. Libraries can bridge these divides and increase the number of readers that no bookstore or online retailer would be able to reach." Brantley's post is a must-read this week.

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Ebook accounting

Philip Elmer-Dewitt at CNNMoney highlighted an excerpt from a piece by Ken Auletta at the New Yorker (subscription/purchase required) this week that debunks claims and perceptions that ebooks cost almost nothing to produce. In the New Yorker piece, Auletta concedes that ebooks are about 20% cheaper to produce than print books, as they don't require paper, printing, shipping and warehouse, and there are none of the costs associated with book returns. But Auletta points out other cost considerations:

"... [T]hey create additional costs: maintaining computer servers, monitoring piracy, digitizing old books. And publishers have to pay authors and editors, as well as rent and administrative overhead, not to mention the costs of printing, distributing, and warehousing bound books, which continue to account for the large majority of their sales."

Elmer-Dewitt also submits that "[t]he accounting gets even more complicated when you consider that most books cost publishers more than they earn." To this end, Kevin Murphy over at Melville House shared a New York Times graphic that approximates publisher costs and profits for hardcover books and ebooks. According to the graphic, for a $9.99 ebook, a publisher will profit $3.51 to $4.26 — this is profit before overhead costs, such as staff salaries, building rent and utilities.

Tracking news that resonates

The first round of 2012 Knight News Challenge winners were announced this week. The theme for this round of awards was networks. Mathew Ingram at GigaOm has a nice roundup of all the winners, as does The Nieman Journalism Lab, but one startup stood out in its practical approach to solving a problem newsrooms are experiencing across the board: shrinking resources. Using an editorial analytics approach, Signalnoi.se looks to help editors decide which stories warrant resources. From the Nieman Lab post:

"Signalnoi.se aims to help, by tracking social engagement with the news — scanning social network activity to provide real-time information on what's resonating with readers. Editors are able to track their own — and competitors' — stories. Signalnoi.se will sort not just headlines but news topics — to spot trends and spikes in interest."

You can read full descriptions of the six winners here and here.


Related:


  • The anchor on ebook prices is gone. Now we'll see where they float
  • Open question: Do libraries help or hurt publishing?
  • Dominant form of journalism foretold by Reynolds Journalism Institute
  • More Publishing Week in Review coverage

  • May 24 2012

    Knight Foundation grants $2 million for data journalism research

    Every day, the public hears more about technology and media entrepreneurs, from when they started in the garages and the dorm rooms, all the way up until when they go public, get acquired or go spectacularly bust. The way that the world mourned the passing of Steve Jobs last year and that young people now look to Mark Zuckerberg as a model for what's possible offer some insight into that dynamic.

    For those who want to follow in their footsteps, the most interesting elements of those stories will be the muddy details of who came up with the idea, who wrote the first lines of code, who funded them, how they were mentored and then how the startup executed upon their ideas.

    Today, foundations and institutions alike are getting involved in the startup ecosystem, but with a different hook than the venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road in California or Y Combinator: They're looking for smart, ambitious social entrepreneurs who want to start civic startups and increase the social capital of the world. From the Code for America Civic Accelerator to the Omidyar Foundation to Google.org to the Knight Foundation's News Challenge, there's more access to seed capital than ever before.

    There are many reasons to watch what the Knight Foundation is doing, in particular, as it shifts how it funds digital journalism projects. The foundation's grants are going toward supporting many elements of the broader open government movement, from civic media to government transparency projects to data journalism platforms.

    Many of these projects — or elements and code from them — have a chance at becoming part of the plumbing of digital democracy in the 21st century, although we're still on the first steps of the long road of that development.

    This model for catalyzing civic innovation in the public interest is, in the broader sweep of history, still relatively new. (Then again, so is the medium you're reading this post on.) One barrier that the Internet has helped lower is in the process of discovering and selecting good ideas to fund and letting bad ideas fall to the wayside. Another is changing how ideas are capitalized through microfunding approaches or how distributing opportunities for participation in helping products or services go to market now can happen though crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter.

    When the Pebble smartwatch received $10 million through Kickstarter this year, it offered a notable data point into how this model could work. We'll see how others follow.

    These models could contribute to the development of small pieces of civic architecture around the world, loosely joining networks in civil society with mobile technology, lightweight programming languages and open data.

    After years of watching how the winners of the Knight News Challenges have — or have not — contributed to this potential future, its architects are looking at big questions: How should resources be allocated in newsrooms? What should be measured? Are governments more transparent and accountable due to the use of public data by journalists? What data is available? What isn't? What's useful and relevant to the lives of citizens? How can data visualization, news applications and interactive maps inform and engage readers?

    In the context of these questions, the fact that the next Knight News Challenge will focus on data will create important new opportunities to augment the practice of journalism and accelerate the pace of open government. John Bracken (@jsb), the Knight Foundation's program director for journalism and media innovation, offered an explanation for this focus on the foundation's blog:

    "Knight News Challenge: Data is a call for making sense of this onslaught of information. 'As data sits teetering between opportunity and crisis, we need people who can shift the scales and transform data into real assets,' wrote Roger Ehrenberg earlier this year.

    "Or, as danah boyd has put it, 'Data is cheap, but making sense of it is not.'

    "The CIA, the NBA's Houston Rockets, startups like BrightTag and Personal ('every detail of your life is data') — they're all trying to make sense out of data. We hope that this News Challenge will uncover similar innovators discovering ways for applying data towards informing citizens and communities."

    Regardless of what happens with this News Challenge, some of those big data questions stand a much better chance of being answered because of the Knight Foundation's $2 million grant to Columbia University to research and distribute best practices for digital reporting, data visualizations and measuring impact.

    Earlier this spring, I spoke with Emily Bell, the director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, about how this data journalism research at Columbia will close the data science "skills gap" in newsrooms. Bell is now entrusted with creating the architecture for learning that will teach the next generation of data journalists at Columbia University.

    In search of the reasoning behind the grant, I talked to Michael Maness (@MichaelManess), vice president of journalism and media innovations at the Knight Foundation. Our interview, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows.

    The last time I checked, you're in charge of funding ideas that will make the world better through journalism and technology. Is that about right?

    Michael Maness: That's the hope. What we're trying to do is make sure that we're accelerating innovation in the journalism and media space that continues to help inform and engage communities. We think that's vital for democracy. What I do is work on those issues and fund ideas around that to not only make it easier for journalists to do their work, but citizens to engage in that same practice.

    The Knight News Challenge has changed a bit over the last couple of years. How has the new process been going?

    Michael Maness: I've been in the job a little bit more than a year. I came in at the tail end of 2011 and the News Challenge of 2011. We had some great winners, but we noticed that in the amount of time from when you applied in the News Challenge to when you were funded could be up to 10 months, by the time everything was done, and certainly eight months in terms of the process. So we reduced that to about 10 weeks. It's intense for the judges to do that, but we wanted to move more quickly, recognizing the speed of disruption and the energy of innovation and how fast it's moving.

    We've also switched to a thematic theme. We're going to do three [themes] this year. The point of it is to fund as fast as possible those ideas that we think are interesting and that we think will have a big impact.

    This last round was around networks. The reason we focused on networks is the apparent rise of network power. The second reason is we get people, for example, that say, "This is the new Twitter for X" or "This is the new Facebook for journalists." Our point is actually, you should be using and leveraging existing things for that.

    We found when we looked back at the last five years of the News Challenge that people who came in with networks or built networks in accordance with what they're doing had a higher and faster scaling rate. We want to start targeting areas to do that, too.

    We hear a lot about entrepreneurs, young people and the technology itself, but schools and libraries seem really important to me. How will existing institutions be part of the future that you're funding and building?

    Michael Maness: One of the things that we're doing is moving into more "prototyping" types of grants and then finding ways of scaling those out, helping get ideas into a proof-of-concept phase so users kick the tires and look for scaling afterward.

    In terms of the institutions, one of the things that we've seen that's been a bit of a frustration point is making sure that when we have innovations, [we're] finding the best ways to parlay those into absorption in these kinds of institutions.

    A really good standout for that, from a couple years ago as a News Challenge winner, is DocumentCloud, which has been adopted by a lot of the larger legacy media institutions. From a university standpoint, we know one of the things that is key is getting involvement with students as practitioners. They're trying these things out and they're doing the two kinds of modeling that we're talking about. They're using the newest tools in the curriculum.

    That's one of the reasons we made the grant [to Columbia.] They have a good track record. The other reason is that you have a real practitioner there with Emily Bell, doing all of her digital work from The Guardian and really knowing how to implement understandings and new ways of reporting. She's been vital. We see her as someone who has lived in an actual newsroom, pulling in those digital projects and finding new ways for journalists to implement them.

    The other aspect is that there are just a lot of unknowns in this space. As we move forward, using these new tools for data visualization, for database reporting, what are the things that work? What are the things that are hard to do? What are the ideas that make the most impact? What efficiencies can we find to help newsrooms do it? We didn't really have a great body of knowledge around that, and that's one of the things that's really exciting about the project at Columbia.

    How will you make sure the results of the research go beyond Columbia's ivy-covered walls?

    Michael Maness: That was a big thing that we talked about, too, because it's not in us to do a lot of white papers around something like this. It doesn't really disseminate. A lot of this grant is around making sure that there are convocations.

    We talk a lot about the creation of content objects. If you're studying data visualization, we should be making sure that we're producing that as well. This will be something that's ongoing and emerging. Definitely, a part of it is that some of these resources will go to hold gatherings, to send people out from Columbia to disseminate [research] and also to produce findings in a way that can be moved very easily around a digital ecosystem.

    We want to make sure that you're running into this work a lot. This is something that we've baked into the grant, and we're going to be experimenting with, I think, as it moves forward. But I hear you, that if we did all of this — and it got captured behind ivy walls — it's not beneficial to the industry.

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