Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

February 18 2011

An era in which to curate skills: report from Tools of Change conference

Three days of intensive
discussion about the current state of publishing
wrapped up last
night in New York City. Let's take a tour from start to end.

If I were to draw one point from the first session I attended, I would
say that metadata is a key competitive point for publishers. First,
facts such as who has reviewed a book, how many editions it has been
through, and other such things we call "metadata" can be valuable to
readers and institutions you want to sell content to. Second, it can
be valuable to you internally as part of curation (which I'll get to
later). Basically, metadata makes content far more useful. But it's
so tedious to add and to collate with other content's metadata that
few people out in the field bother to add it. Publishers are
well-placed to do it because they have the resources to pay people for
that unappreciated task.

If I were to leap to the other end of the conference and draw one
point from the closing keynotes, I would say that the key to survival
is to start with the determination that you're going to win, and to
derive your strategy from that. The closing keynoters offered a couple
strategies along those lines.


Kathy Sierra
claimed she started her href="http://oreilly.com/store/series/headfirst.html">Head First
series with no vision loftier than to make money and beat the
competition. The key to sales, as she has often explained in her
talks and articles on "Creating Passionate Users," is not to promote
the author or the topic but to promote what the reader could become.

href="http://www.toccon.com/toc2011/public/schedule/detail/17571">Ben
Huh of I Can Has
Cheezburger
said that one must plan a book to be a bestseller, the
way car or appliance manufacturers plan to meet the demands of their
buyers.

Thus passed the start and end of this conference. A lot happened in
between. I'll cover a few topics in this blog.

Skills for a future publishing

There clearly is an undercurrent of worry, if not actual panic, in
publishing. We see what is happening to newspapers, we watch our
markets shrink like those of the music and television industries, and
we check our own balance sheets as Borders Books slides into
bankruptcy. I cannot remember another conference where I heard, as I
did this week, the leader of a major corporation air doubts from the
podium about the future of her company and her career.

Many speakers combatted this sense of helplessness, of course, but
their advice often came across as, "Everything is going haywire and
you can't possibly imagine what the field will look like in a few
years, so just hang on and go with the flow. And by the way,
completely overturn your workflows and revamp your skill sets."

Nevertheless, I repeatedly heard references to four classic skills
that still rule in the field of publishing. These skills were always
important and will remain important, but they have to shift and in
some ways to merge.

Two of these skills are research and sales. Although one was usually
expected to do research on the market and topic before writing and do
sales afterward, the talks by Sierra, Huh, and others suggested that
these are continuous activities, and hard to separate. The big buzz in
all the content industries is about getting closer to one's audience.
There is never a start and end to the process.

The consensus is that casual exploitation of social
networking--sending out postings and updates and trying to chat with
readers online--won't sell your content. Your readers are a market and
must be researched like one: using surveys, statistical analysis, and
so on. This news can be a relief to the thousands of authors who feel
guilty (and perhaps are made to feel guilty by their publishers)
because they don't get pleasure from reporting things on Facebook
ranging from the breakfast cereal they ate to their latest brilliant
insight. But the question of how bring one's audience into one's
project--a topic I'll refer to as crowdsourcing and cover later--is a
difficult one.

Authoring and curation are even more fundamental skills. Curation has
traditionally meant just making sure assets are safe, uncorrupted, and
ready for use, but it has broadened (particularly in the href="http://www.toccon.com/toc2011/public/schedule/detail/18000">keynote
by Steve Rosenbaum) to include gathering information, filtering
and tagging it, and generally understanding what's useful to different
audiences. This has always been a publisher's role. In the age of
abundant digital content, the gathering and filtering functions can
dwarf the editorial side of publishing. Thus, although Thomson Reuters
has enormous resources of their own, they also generate value by href="http://www.toccon.com/toc2011/public/schedule/detail/17827">
tracking the assets of many other organizations.

When working with other people's material, curation, authoring, and
editing all start to merge. Perhaps organizing other people's work
into a meaningful sequence is as valuable as authoring one's own. In
short, curation adds value in ways that are different from authoring
but increasingly valid.

Capitalizing on the old

I am not ready to change my business cards from saying "Editor" to
"Curator" because that would make it look like I'm presiding over a
museum. Indeed, I fear that many publishers are dragged down by their
legacy holdings, which may go back a hundred years or more. I talked
to one publisher who felt like his time was mostly taken up with huge
holdings of classics that had been converted to digital form, and he
was struggling to find time just to learn how his firm could add the
kinds of interactivity, multimedia, links, and other enhancements that
people at the show were saying these digital works deserved.

We hope that no publishers will end up as museums, but some may have
to survive by partnering with newer, more limber companies that grok
the digital age better, rather as the publisher of T.S. Eliot's
classic poem The Waste Land partnered with Touch Press, the
new imprint set up by Wolfram Research and discussed in a href="http://www.toccon.com/toc2011/public/schedule/detail/17732">keynote
by Theodore Gray. Readers will expect more than plain old rendered
text from their glittery devices, and Gray's immensely successful book
The Elements (which brought to life some very classic content, the
periodic table) shows one model for giving them what they want.

Two polar extremes

Gray defined his formula for success as one of bringing together top
talent in every field, rather as Hollywood film-makers do. Gray claims
to bring together "real authors" (meaning people with extraordinary
perspectives to offer), video producers with top industry
qualifications, and programmers whose skills go beyond the ordinary.

I can't fault Gray's formula--in fact, Head First follows the same
model by devoting huge resources to each book and choosing its topics
carefully to sell well--but if it was the only formula for success,
the book industry would put out a few hundred products each year like
Hollywood does. Gray did not offer this economic analysis himself, but
it's the only way I see it working financially. Not only would this
shift squelch the thousands of quirky niche offerings that make
publishing a joy at present, I don't consider it sustainable. How will
the next generation of top producers mature and experiment? If there
is no business model to support the long tail, they'll never develop
the skills needed in Gray's kind of business.

Business models are also a problem at the other extreme,
crowdsourcing. Everybody would like to draw on the insights of
readers. We've learned from popular books such as
The Wisdom of
Crowds
and Wikinomics that our
public has valuable things to say, and our own works grow in value if
we mine them adeptly. There are innumerable conversations going on out
there, on the forums and the rating sites, and the social networks,
and publishers want to draw those conversations into the book. The
problem is that our customers are very happy on the communities they
have created themselves, and while they will drop in on our site to
rate a product or correct an error, they won't create the digital
equivalent of Paris's nineteenth-century cafe culture for us.

Because I have been fascinated for years by online information sharing
and have href="http://www.praxagora.com/community_documentation/">researched it
a fair amount, I made use of the conference in the appropriate way
by organizing a roundtable for anyone who was interested under the
subject, "Can crowdsourcing coexist with monetization?" Some of the
projects the participants discussed included:

  • A book review site that pays experts for reviews, and then opens up
    the site to the public for their comments. This approach uses
    high-quality content to attract more content.

  • O'Reilly's own Answers
    site
    , which works similarly by sharing authors' ideas as well as
    excerpts from their books and draws postings from readers.

  • A site for baby product recommendations, put up by the publisher of
    books on parenting. The publisher has succeeded in drawing large
    groups of avid participants, and has persuaded volunteers to moderate
    the site for free. But it hasn't taken the next steps, such as
    generating useful content for its own books from readers, or finding
    ways to expand into information for parents of older children so the
    publisher can keep them on the site.

  • Offering a site for teachers to share educational materials and
    improve their curricula. In this case, the publisher is not interested
    in monetizing the content, but the participants use the site to
    improve their careers.

In between the premium offerings of Touch Press and the resale of
crowdsourced material lies a wide spectrum of things publishers can
do. At all points on the spectrum, though, traditional business
models are challenged.

The one strategic move that was emphasized in session after session
was to move our digital content to standards. EPUB, HTML 5, and other
standards are evolving and growing (sometimes beyond the scope, it
seems, of any human being to grasp the whole). If we use these
formats, we can mix and mingle our content with others, and thus take
advantage of partnerships, crowdsourcing, and new devices and
distribution opportunities.

Three gratifying trends

Trends can feel like they're running against us in the publishing
industry. But I heard of three trends that should make us feel good:
reading is on the increase, TV watching is on the decrease (which will
make you happy if you agree with such analysts as Jerry Mander and
Neil Postman), and people want portability--the right to read their
purchases on any device. The significance of the last push is that it
will lead to more openness and more chances for the rich environment
of information exchange that generates new media and ideas. We're in a
fertile era, and the first assets we need to curate are our own
skills.

An era in which to curate skills: report from Tools of Change conference

Three days of intensive
discussion about the current state of publishing
wrapped up last
night in New York City. Let's take a tour from start to end.

If I were to draw one point from the first session I attended, I would
say that metadata is a key competitive point for publishers. First,
facts such as who has reviewed a book, how many editions it has been
through, and other such things we call "metadata" can be valuable to
readers and institutions you want to sell content to. Second, it can
be valuable to you internally as part of curation (which I'll get to
later). Basically, metadata makes content far more useful. But it's
so tedious to add and to collate with other content's metadata that
few people out in the field bother to add it. Publishers are
well-placed to do it because they have the resources to pay people for
that unappreciated task.

If I were to leap to the other end of the conference and draw one
point from the closing keynotes, I would say that the key to survival
is to start with the determination that you're going to win, and to
derive your strategy from that. The closing keynoters offered a couple
strategies along those lines.


Kathy Sierra
claimed she started her href="http://oreilly.com/store/series/headfirst.html">Head First
series with no vision loftier than to make money and beat the
competition. The key to sales, as she has often explained in her
talks and articles on "Creating Passionate Users," is not to promote
the author or the topic but to promote what the reader could become.

href="http://www.toccon.com/toc2011/public/schedule/detail/17571">Ben
Huh of I Can Has
Cheezburger
said that one must plan a book to be a bestseller, the
way car or appliance manufacturers plan to meet the demands of their
buyers.

Thus passed the start and end of this conference. A lot happened in
between. I'll cover a few topics in this blog.

Skills for a future publishing

There clearly is an undercurrent of worry, if not actual panic, in
publishing. We see what is happening to newspapers, we watch our
markets shrink like those of the music and television industries, and
we check our own balance sheets as Borders Books slides into
bankruptcy. I cannot remember another conference where I heard, as I
did this week, the leader of a major corporation air doubts from the
podium about the future of her company and her career.

Many speakers combatted this sense of helplessness, of course, but
their advice often came across as, "Everything is going haywire and
you can't possibly imagine what the field will look like in a few
years, so just hang on and go with the flow. And by the way,
completely overturn your workflows and revamp your skill sets."

Nevertheless, I repeatedly heard references to four classic skills
that still rule in the field of publishing. These skills were always
important and will remain important, but they have to shift and in
some ways to merge.

Two of these skills are research and sales. Although one was usually
expected to do research on the market and topic before writing and do
sales afterward, the talks by Sierra, Huh, and others suggested that
these are continuous activities, and hard to separate. The big buzz in
all the content industries is about getting closer to one's audience.
There is never a start and end to the process.

The consensus is that casual exploitation of social
networking--sending out postings and updates and trying to chat with
readers online--won't sell your content. Your readers are a market and
must be researched like one: using surveys, statistical analysis, and
so on. This news can be a relief to the thousands of authors who feel
guilty (and perhaps are made to feel guilty by their publishers)
because they don't get pleasure from reporting things on Facebook
ranging from the breakfast cereal they ate to their latest brilliant
insight. But the question of how bring one's audience into one's
project--a topic I'll refer to as crowdsourcing and cover later--is a
difficult one.

Authoring and curation are even more fundamental skills. Curation has
traditionally meant just making sure assets are safe, uncorrupted, and
ready for use, but it has broadened (particularly in the href="http://www.toccon.com/toc2011/public/schedule/detail/18000">keynote
by Steve Rosenbaum) to include gathering information, filtering
and tagging it, and generally understanding what's useful to different
audiences. This has always been a publisher's role. In the age of
abundant digital content, the gathering and filtering functions can
dwarf the editorial side of publishing. Thus, although Thomson Reuters
has enormous resources of their own, they also generate value by href="http://www.toccon.com/toc2011/public/schedule/detail/17827">
tracking the assets of many other organizations.

When working with other people's material, curation, authoring, and
editing all start to merge. Perhaps organizing other people's work
into a meaningful sequence is as valuable as authoring one's own. In
short, curation adds value in ways that are different from authoring
but increasingly valid.

Capitalizing on the old

I am not ready to change my business cards from saying "Editor" to
"Curator" because that would make it look like I'm presiding over a
museum. Indeed, I fear that many publishers are dragged down by their
legacy holdings, which may go back a hundred years or more. I talked
to one publisher who felt like his time was mostly taken up with huge
holdings of classics that had been converted to digital form, and he
was struggling to find time just to learn how his firm could add the
kinds of interactivity, multimedia, links, and other enhancements that
people at the show were saying these digital works deserved.

We hope that no publishers will end up as museums, but some may have
to survive by partnering with newer, more limber companies that grok
the digital age better, rather as the publisher of T.S. Eliot's
classic poem The Waste Land partnered with Touch Press, the
new imprint set up by Wolfram Research and discussed in a href="http://www.toccon.com/toc2011/public/schedule/detail/17732">keynote
by Theodore Gray. Readers will expect more than plain old rendered
text from their glittery devices, and Gray's immensely successful book
The Elements (which brought to life some very classic content, the
periodic table) shows one model for giving them what they want.

Two polar extremes

Gray defined his formula for success as one of bringing together top
talent in every field, rather as Hollywood film-makers do. Gray claims
to bring together "real authors" (meaning people with extraordinary
perspectives to offer), video producers with top industry
qualifications, and programmers whose skills go beyond the ordinary.

I can't fault Gray's formula--in fact, Head First follows the same
model by devoting huge resources to each book and choosing its topics
carefully to sell well--but if it was the only formula for success,
the book industry would put out a few hundred products each year like
Hollywood does. Gray did not offer this economic analysis himself, but
it's the only way I see it working financially. Not only would this
shift squelch the thousands of quirky niche offerings that make
publishing a joy at present, I don't consider it sustainable. How will
the next generation of top producers mature and experiment? If there
is no business model to support the long tail, they'll never develop
the skills needed in Gray's kind of business.

Business models are also a problem at the other extreme,
crowdsourcing. Everybody would like to draw on the insights of
readers. We've learned from popular books such as
The Wisdom of
Crowds
and Wikinomics that our
public has valuable things to say, and our own works grow in value if
we mine them adeptly. There are innumerable conversations going on out
there, on the forums and the rating sites, and the social networks,
and publishers want to draw those conversations into the book. The
problem is that our customers are very happy on the communities they
have created themselves, and while they will drop in on our site to
rate a product or correct an error, they won't create the digital
equivalent of Paris's nineteenth-century cafe culture for us.

Because I have been fascinated for years by online information sharing
and have href="http://www.praxagora.com/community_documentation/">researched it
a fair amount, I made use of the conference in the appropriate way
by organizing a roundtable for anyone who was interested under the
subject, "Can crowdsourcing coexist with monetization?" Some of the
projects the participants discussed included:

  • A book review site that pays experts for reviews, and then opens up
    the site to the public for their comments. This approach uses
    high-quality content to attract more content.

  • O'Reilly's own Answers
    site
    , which works similarly by sharing authors' ideas as well as
    excerpts from their books and draws postings from readers.

  • A site for baby product recommendations, put up by the publisher of
    books on parenting. The publisher has succeeded in drawing large
    groups of avid participants, and has persuaded volunteers to moderate
    the site for free. But it hasn't taken the next steps, such as
    generating useful content for its own books from readers, or finding
    ways to expand into information for parents of older children so the
    publisher can keep them on the site.

  • Offering a site for teachers to share educational materials and
    improve their curricula. In this case, the publisher is not interested
    in monetizing the content, but the participants use the site to
    improve their careers.

In between the premium offerings of Touch Press and the resale of
crowdsourced material lies a wide spectrum of things publishers can
do. At all points on the spectrum, though, traditional business
models are challenged.

The one strategic move that was emphasized in session after session
was to move our digital content to standards. EPUB, HTML 5, and other
standards are evolving and growing (sometimes beyond the scope, it
seems, of any human being to grasp the whole). If we use these
formats, we can mix and mingle our content with others, and thus take
advantage of partnerships, crowdsourcing, and new devices and
distribution opportunities.

Three gratifying trends

Trends can feel like they're running against us in the publishing
industry. But I heard of three trends that should make us feel good:
reading is on the increase, TV watching is on the decrease (which will
make you happy if you agree with such analysts as Jerry Mander and
Neil Postman), and people want portability--the right to read their
purchases on any device. The significance of the last push is that it
will lead to more openness and more chances for the rich environment
of information exchange that generates new media and ideas. We're in a
fertile era, and the first assets we need to curate are our own
skills.

December 06 2010

TOC hosting publishing startup showcase

This year at TOC, we're hosting our first ever Publishing Startup Showcase. Highlighting the startup ecosystem's creativity and variety, the Showcase will give you a chance to get your company in front of a global community of leaders in the publishing and technology industries -- as well as potential investors.

On Tuesday evening, February 15th, we'll have approximately 20 publishing and publishing-related startups demoing in one large room. If your company is chosen to participate, we'll provide you with a small table and room for two people to demo -- you'll bring a laptop (or two) and a founder (or two).

TOC attendees and a panel of judges from the investor community will have 50 minutes to visit the demos and listen to your pitches. We'll sound a chime every five minutes, letting people know it's time to circulate. As they walk around, attendees will vote on their favorite demos. At the end of the hour, the judges will announce their top picks, along with the audience favorite. These winning startups will then each give a pitch and have an on-stage conversation with the judges.



Here's what we're looking for:


  • Relatively young publishing (and publishing-related) startups that aren't drowning in investment (yet)
  • Companies incorporating new technologies and/or innovative business models in their approach to publishing.


If you're selected:

  • You'll supply your own laptop for the demos (we won't provide power, so we recommend bringing two laptops)
  • Wireless Internet access will be available, so web-based demos are okay.
  • You'll bring a maximum of two people (at least one of whom must be a founder or C-level equivalent)
  • The week prior to the event, you'll supply us with a presentation of 2-4 slides that includes screenshots for your onstage pitch in case you are selected
  • You'll receive a complementary TOC Day Pass that will get you into all of Tuesday's keynotes, sessions, and events.
  • Submit your proposal by Jan. 10, 2011.

    November 26 2010

    Announcing TOC Bologna

    bolognacbf.gifTOC is hitting the road again, and we could not be more pleased than to be teaming up with the folks at the Bologna Children's Book Fair for the first ever TOC Bologna. Details below, with more to come soon. Be sure to follow @TOCBologna for tweeted updates and info.

    From the official press release:

    O’Reilly Media and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair today announce the first Tools of Change for Publishing event at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. TOC Bologna will be a one day conference held on Sunday 27 March 2011, focussing on digital and mobile technology. This new collaboration between O’Reilly Tools of Change and the Bologna book fair unites two well-known and professional event organizers to produce an inspirational conference. TOC Bologna will be a landmark event for children’s publishers, agents, writers and international book people who are looking for the best speakers and insight into this new digital era.

    Andrew Savikas, VP of Digital Initiatives at O'Reilly Media:

    O'Reilly's Tools of Change for Publishing events have helped define the agenda for publishers seeking to understand the impact of digital and mobile technology on reading and the business of publishing. The mobile web is driving fundamental changes in modes of reading and sharing, and few audiences will adopt those new modes more quickly than digital natives coming of age immersed in that mobile web. We're thrilled to be working with the Bologna Children's Book Fair to bring the TOC message to the children's book industry.

    Roberta Chinni, Project Manager for the Bologna Bookfair:

    The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the top meeting place for the children’s book industry. We are delighted to be working with O’Reilly Media on this new conference. We aim to offer a lively and profitable debate on the issues that the industry is facing. It is fantastic to start 2011 with a conference about the digital book world so that we can explore the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

    Tickets go on sale January 1st 2011. To receive more program information please email tocbologna@bolognafiere.it

    The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the most important international event dedicated to children’s publishing and the multimedia industry. The 48th trade fair has over 1,200 exhibitors, coming from 67 countries. More than 20,000 people visit the fair each year. BolognaFiere is one of the leading European fair organizers.

    http://www.bolognachildrensbookfair.com

    For more than 30 years O’Reilly has been an active participant in the technology and publishing community, and has a long history of advocacy, meme-making, and evangelism. O’Reilly Media understands the impact technology has on businesses and is applying that knowledge to publishing. O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing events are an inclusive meeting ground for exploring the options, a gathering place for the publishing community, and an unparalleled opportunity for in-person networking. Participants come away from TOC with the knowledge and inspiration to lead change within their own organizations.

    http://www.oreilly.com

    http://radar.oreilly.com/publishing


    January 27 2010

    When it Comes to News, Why Won't People Eat Their Vegetables?

    One of the basic questions in journalism these days is, "What news do consumers actually want?" Chris Lee believes that today's citizenry is getting too much of what they want, and too little of what they need. With the Tools of Change for Publishing conference approaching, it seemed appropriate to talk to Lee, who has spent his professional life in the trenches of broadcast journalism, about where the industry is going and what the future of news looks like.

    James Turner: Why don't you give us your background.

    Chris Lee: I've been a journalist for most of my career, or at least the first part of my career. Then I gradually got interested in the technology, and have tended to go back and forth between the journalism and news management side, and the production technology side; asking what are the new devices that stations and journalists could use. I haven't been frightened of the technology like most journalists have been along the way. Sometimes you can see things earlier, or you understand how to turn something sideways and turn it into a new newsgathering tool.

    James Turner: So, clearly print journalism is on the ropes right now.

    Chris Lee: And TV, also. Local TV, in particular, in the United States.

    Tools of Change

    James Turner: What are the factors playing into that in your mind?

    Chris Lee: Well, on the newspaper side, you start with Craigslist. This is all pretty well-documented, but the audience is gone. They can't support the news organizations on the ad revenue, given that there are fewer eyeballs watching the ads on the newspaper side. And frankly, on television, it's the same story. It's caused not by Craigslist, although other internet sites have contributed, but largely through the boom of cable television. Thirty years ago, cable was a way to get a cleaner, clearer picture. Now basic cable channels beat the broadcast networks quite handily in primetime ratings.

    James Turner: We have started to see that even in the "news networks," MSNBC, CNN, and FOX, they're shutting down their bureaus. They're consolidating because even they don't seem to have the budget for it.

    Chris Lee: I can't speak to what's going on right now in detail at CNN. MSNBC has some GE issues, and now change of ownership issues, so you might need to exclude them. But whatever's happening at the basic cable channel CNN-like level is far kinder than what's happening at the networks or the local stations, meaning broadcast networks. In the end, the broadcast networks are only as healthy as the station business, and the station business is in big trouble.

    The whole delivery concept in the United States, where you would have an affiliate that accepts the network programming, adds some of its own things, and then passes it on to local viewers, is a distinctly American approach. These individual local transmitters in most of the rest of the world aren't separate businesses; they're just relay points. So you've got these separate local transmitters that were once very important in our culture. That's the channel I watch Walter Cronkite on, or what have you. Now they're unnecessary technologically.

    You've got 2/3 or 3/4, depending on where you live, of the households watching other signal instead of theirs, via cable TV or DBS [direct broadcast satellite]. And it's just that much more competition. These guys, all of a sudden, used to have four other people to fight and now they've got 400.

    James Turner: Just to play devil's advocate though, I could say, "You know something? The local news was never really anything to write home about anyway. And maybe we can get by with what remains of print journalism in a city, that does all of the real investigative work, which isn't six things that could give you cancer at 11:00."

    Chris Lee: I'm not going to disagree. I think one of the reasons local news is where it is today is because they didn't respect their audience enough in these teases and this sensationalism, "Can bikinis cause cancer? Tune in in February when it's a ratings hook." In the end, that stuff helped erode an audience. But as business, it was quite profitable.

    People used to watch local news and read newspapers in great number. Now there are many more ways to get information or choose not to get information, because there's so many other media out there. Or you can get information that's specific to you rather than the news of the day, if you will. I think the really interesting and kind of scary question is so just how much consumption of what we traditionally call news is still a requirement of citizenship (I don't mean in the immigration sense), of being a productive member of a community. It's as if people were in the habit of eating their vegetables, but now there's so many other good things out there that they skip them.

    James Turner: The other interesting question is that if you say, "Okay, great. I'm going to have my customized news feed that's going to give me my local news, maybe even based on my geolocation, and it's going to give me whatever the national news is," where is this content going to come from once everything has dried up?

    Chris Lee: Good question. You rightly observe that when people go to alternate sources to look for news, they're very frequently looking at news produced by people who get paid by organizations that aren't making any money from that particular viewer choosing to read or consume that article. In the end, you're right. Those people go away, unless they're replaced by something else.

    Citizen journalism has its place, it ought to be one of the tools in any professional journalism organization's outfit. That doesn't mean you take something an unknown person does and necessarily publish it immediately, or maybe you put it on a website, but you indicate it's not yet vetted and then you fact-check. If you can really get volunteers out there who know a community and can start the newsgathering machine, I think that's good.

    But I think what we've seen by and large is that if you look at what citizen journalists are typically doing, they're opining; they're not reporting. Those who are reporting often have an ax to grind, and that ax is not necessarily out there and for all to see. I find it hard to argue that we don't need real journalists. I think we got into a war because we didn't have enough real journalists, or all of the real journalists were working on a deadline because there wasn't enough money to give somebody more time to think about or ask one more question.

    James Turner: What I have observed is that "citizen journalism" is really good for breaking news. You can see that with the Haiti today. A guy with a cell phone takes a picture; he is better than any reporter sitting at a desk at that moment because --

    Chris Lee: Oh, absolutely.

    James Turner: -- he's got the picture. If he's taking a picture of a bridge that collapsed somewhere, that's great. But he's not going to do the six-month investigative on why there was faulty cement in that bridge.

    Chris Lee: Exactly. There are those huge investigative things, but the truth is, with very few exceptions, nobody's doing that today. There are, maybe, the big national news organizations and some of this foundation-funded stuff that's starting. I think the bigger worry is the nuts and bolts. As you know, the meat and potatoes of daily journalism is that you've got to ask six people the same question; you've got to go to a council meeting. People get paid to do it for a reason. But I would agree.

    And that's why I say, certainly, if a citizen journalist is at a scene and has a camera and can take some video or you can interview them, by all means, you do it. But that's not to say that some network of citizen journalists is going to tell you why your education system doesn't work.

    James Turner: When you were talking about bias earlier, it struck a chord, because this is something that I run into a lot. I hear people say all the time, "Yeah, but every news organization is biased, too."

    Chris Lee: I think the bias of almost all news organizations is a bias about the economy in which they operate. A local TV newsroom today has a bias to assign a story that they have a high confidence can be completed in a short number of hours because they can't afford to send people out on stories that fall apart. That's the reason why the TV news doesn't cover complicated things, or doesn't do the investigation on why the bad cement was in the bridge. But I really don't think, with the possible exception of two national news channels I will say that come from a political left and right perspective, there aren't very many news organizations where you can organize a bias and drive it through the organization and have people fall in line. I really don't believe that happens.

    James Turner: I wanted to turn to another one of your interests, and how it ties into this. We've heard for a long time about how we're going to have this conjunction between traditional media, set top devices, computers, networking; it's all going to come together. It's all going to be one device. With things like Boxee and Hulu, we're starting to see that occur now. To some extent that means, for example, if you had all of your CNN segments for the last two days on Hulu, you could watch it on demand whenever you wanted. Does that basically turn broadcast or cable news into the same reaggregated content that we're seeing with print news now?

    Chris Lee: Well, the first thing I've got to say is what you describe I love. I have built one of those or two of those, and want to be able to one day sit down in front of my television set or my computer screen or whatever and say, "Show me a newscast." That newscast should not require me to lean forward and push a button every time I want a next thing to happen, and the newscast should be some mix of the things I need and the things I want, just like news has always been.

    Having worked on some of those schemes, and some other simpler things that would integrate broadcast television and the cable television infrastructure, the problem is there's lower-hanging fruit that is more profitable. There's not much attention to how to deliver customized news via Boxee or anything else, because they've all got their eye on the prize of how to deliver Hollywood movies. People have demonstrated they'll pay for that. And if anything, what's happening right now in consumer behavior makes you wonder whether people will watch news that's free, let alone news that they would have to pay for or that would be sponsored.

    James Turner: That brings us around to another thing that's happened recently which is that we've seen Rupert Murdock say, "Well, I'm just going to paywall all of my stuff." In the past, the New York Times tried to paywall their site, failed, and had to end up making it a registration-only site. The only sites I know of that really has a successful paywall is the Wall Street Journal, professional journals and things like that.

    Chris Lee: I would bet you most of those journal subscriptions are being put on somebody's expense account.

    James Turner: The thing we always heard was that micropayments would be the solution there, and you'd buy the stories you wanted for a couple of cents a piece. The reality is when you look at how much they charge per article today, it's usually a buck or more. So they're charging you more than the cost of buying the newspaper.

    Chris Lee: They forgot the micro.

    James Turner: Well, part of it was the reality of credit card processing, that a two-cent transaction didn't make any sense. And it's only through things like PayPal, that can aggregate it, that they're starting to see a solution. But do you think that paywalls can work? Advertising doesn't seem to have worked as a model, the click-view model. Not getting paid at all doesn't seem to be a good revenue model. So is paywalling going to be the way that we get some news generated in the future?

    Chris Lee: Well, somebody has to figure out a way to pay the journalists. I think there's a lot of hope, probably overly optimistic hopes, on whether tablets, iSlates, what have you, can come to market as a sort of breakfast table friendly news consuming devices. Whether there, like on the iPhone, consumers will accept that it's a different device; it's not a PC, and that some services have subscription fees. If we go the model of all information is free on the web, we're, I think, going to be beholden to foundations for a lot of our journalism. And that does not make it bias-free. Or we can wait for some of these start-ups that are working on hyper-local to try to develop into something that is sort of nominally paying someone's salary and get our news there.

    James Turner: Do you think there would be a place for a model where I said, "I know more about Derry, New Hampshire than anybody else who can report about it. So I will just start a subscription site for anybody who wants to know about Derry"? Essentially, launch my own online newspaper by subscription and charge little enough that I'm making it up on volume. Could that work, or is that going to suffer from the same "getting the word out" problem that all the other disintermediation strategies seem to be hitting?

    Chris Lee: I don't know. I'd like to see it work. I guess I'm skeptical. I think one of the observations about how consumers are behaving in the past five years that has surprised me the most is, again, this lack of feeling responsible for knowing the news of their country and their local government of that day. I don't think it's just a technology question. I think if you asked people now versus the same age group 20 years ago, I think they'd be stunningly less informed now about boring news, and tremendously more knowledgeable about bits of news that really interest them.

    I'm not sure that's entirely bad. But the guy in Darien, Connecticut is going to be churning out a lot of news of the day. And if everybody'd rather dig into their little content niche for what they really care about, Mr. Darien's going to have trouble making money.

    James Turner: One of the other strategies we've been hearing a lot about lately is automated news generation. Taking things that are available out there as public information and grinding it into news. So, for example, I saw that there's a project now that'll take the line from a baseball game and turn it into news copy.

    Chris Lee: [Laughter]

    James Turner: We've also heard about experiments where people tried to outsource the reporting of town council meetings to people in India, or other places, because it was just watching the meeting and then reporting on it.

    Chris Lee: Yeah. And there another thing that I think of that's happening in a lot of government agencies, and most prominently I think in professional sports. I'm a San Francisco Giants fan and my son is, too. My son just goes to SFGiants.com to find out what's going on. I go to the people who blog for the newspapers who are beat writers. There are a lot of people who don't grasp that the news you get from, in effect, the officialdom that you're interested in is not without its biases. I think that's a real concern.

    James Turner: I can remember a few years ago there was this whole thing with local news outlets running these reports which were essentially given to them by the government.

    Chris Lee: Oh, yeah. That was bad. In reality, in probably 80 percent of the cases, they were just ripping off the file tape and talking over the pictures. I can't speak to newspapers so much. But I'm sure the same thing is going on. Actually, television in some respects is worse because the news hole hasn't gotten any smaller. The business gets bad in the newspaper and you print fewer pages.

    In broadcast journalism, the problem is you've got a smaller staff. The same amount of time has to be filled. There's more pressure. And it leads to more corner-cutting. It's not just running video news releases, but it's doing these stories that are guaranteed to work, which means they're probably boring; you've seen them 50 times before. There's no chances. There's no risk-taking. It's no wonder people aren't watching local news because these evergreens that we're putting on don't have much to them.

    James Turner: I have to say I was very pleased to see that AP actually did a really nice piece of investigative journalism recently about cadmium and toys. Maybe it's because they are still a big enough resource, they really are almost like an aggregator. But they are an aggregator that can make some money off their content. So what's different with AP?

    Chris Lee: Well, AP is such a weird business model, you almost have to throw them out in terms of how they make their money. But you're right. There's an advantage of scale. If you've still got a lot of reporters, you can afford to have a couple of them not file a story this week. That's really what it comes down to, how many reporters do you need filing a story today to fill the hole? In a lot of news organizations, I'd say probably almost every local news organization of any media around the country, you pretty much need everybody to file everyday. That means there's not much extra time to do investigations or news that's just harder to dig up.

    James Turner: So it sounds like you don't have an answer for where this goes in, say the next five or ten years?

    Chris Lee: I think what ends up happening is that the magazine people and the newspapers begin to figure out how to make money. They're not going to let all content be free on the slates, and they begin to make some revenue there. I don't know whether they really make any revenue from paywalls on the web or not. I think the local news organizations in each American market will dwindle. Where there's four or five doing news now, they'll maybe do two.

    If the television stations were smart, there would be some real opportunities for A, making content that would be useful and interesting on the web and B, understanding how to build websites and RSS services that would allow people to see those stories. I've tried, but it's hard to make the dinosaurs learn. I don't think they're going to get there.

    A real key for making money out of video news is to enable a smart aggregation device that will select the stories, hopefully not just what you want but also some of the stories that you need to know, what's going on in the world, and combine those in a personalized newscast. And the reason that's useful is, I think, twofold. One, I don't think people want to lean forward and click every time to watch a news story, particularly if they're watching it on a big screen. And the other thing is, that provides a context where a commercial or a commercial break seems fair and reasonable and is what they're expecting, based on years of viewing. So it gives you a context where maybe you can make some money.

    James Turner: Isn't the danger of that, though, that you can get even more of an echo chamber effect than you get today if people really can personalize?

    Chris Lee: Oh, absolutely. I built this little system in 1994. The thing that the journalists all liked the most about it is there were several knobs you could twist to make different sorts of newscasts come out. There was one knob that, on one end of the scale would give them what they want; on the other end of the scale, give them what they need. You can set it anywhere you want and you'll get out a newscast that has a different level of ultra personalized versus important.

    In the end, it's not really a technology issue. It comes down to viewer behavior, because there are fewer and fewer people out there in journalism management who are prepared to spin the dial anywhere but where it will make the most revenue. I look everyday for a sign that we as a culture are interested in a little bit of news that we need, not just the news that we want.

    January 19 2010

    Bringing e-Books to Africa and the Middle East

    In the United States, Western Europe and Asia, e-Books are becoming a major player, especially now that e-Readers like the Kindle and Nook are available. But people living in the Arabic-speaking world or Africa haven't been invited to the dance. Two of the keynote speakers at the upcoming Tools of Change conference are working to improve access to e-Books in these areas: Arthur Attwell in South Africa and Ramy Habeeb in Egypt. We talked to each of them about how e-Books are important in their area of the world, and the challenges that they are facing.




    You may also download this file. Running time: 16:20


    Arthur Attwell runs Electric Book Works, based out of Cape Town. His company does both traditional print publication and electronic publication, but he believes that e-Books have a particular promise in South Africa. "Certainly in South Africa, our traditional model doesn't even begin to reach the market that I think digital publishing could cater for. For me, digital is a massive social development tool. I like to think of e-books as one small application of digital publishing, which is really a grand process of putting the world of letters onto the internet.

    "Mobile is one of the keys to that, I think, for Africa because of the existing penetration of mobile devices, but there may be other ways of harnessing digital as well that will include distributing e-books through libraries and internet cafes, kiosks, any infrastructure that doesn't require someone to be spending a lot of money on a device. I think print on-demand has got a massive future for Africa, and developing countries in general, because of the way it caters to people with low cash flow and who just need a book right now; they can't afford to get an e-reader or even a netbook computer to read books in the long-term."

    Tools of Change

    "I think that we will see an incredible growth of digital publishing in Africa over the next few years, we're in the process right now of really just laying down the infrastructure that's going to make that possible. Mobile has done a lot, but because mobile tends to be controlled by netbook operators, it doesn't have quite the freedom of the internet. So I don't think it's necessarily going to see the same innovation at a very high centralized level. But I do think that with the massive growth of bandwidth and connectivity we're seeing right now, especially in Central Africa, that more conventional web-based applications of content and content-sharing will take off there as well."

    While mobile access to e-Books in Africa is largely an urban phenomenon right now, Attwell thinks that is changing. "You're probably going to find that 80 percent of internet connections in any African country will always be in the urban centers. So that's naturally then where the investment money's going to be going. But we're already seeing some exciting innovative approaches to getting internet connectivity into more rural areas. I know that in South Africa, we have fairly common solution where farmers in a particular area will get together and pool their resources to share a satellite internet connection or something similar, often even solar-powered connections. Naturally, rural is an area where mobile will be critical."

    "I think one of the really exciting trend-setting technologies at the moment is the success of the M-Pesa mobile payment system in Kenya. I think that that system is showing the power of a simple effective mobile application, there obviously for the purpose of transferring money between people. But it's an incredibly powerful tool in Kenya and used as much in rural areas as it is in urban."

    One of the challenges Attwell faces is the issue of obtaining rights to translate works, something that currently requires laborious individual negotiations for each book. "What I'm going to be speaking about at Tools of Change this year is about encouraging publishers to license their work more flexibly. I think a translation license is one particular area where this is going to be important and powerful. I don't think that, for real market penetration in Africa, it's going to be possible to use the existing person-to-person, deal-by-deal negotiated translation agreements that the publishing industry is used to. It's not going to be a case of sitting across the table from someone at the London Book Fair signing a rights deal. You're going to need to have a very flexible way to allow local operators to translate your work into their languages for a very straightforward, standardized, quick, easy license transaction because ultimately, the language is one of the issues of last-mile delivery."


    Ramy Habeeb faces very different issues with his project. Kotobarabia, which means Arabic Books, is trying to become the primary source for Arabic literature in electronic form. Habeeb started Kotobarabia because he found there was a real lack of e-Books available in the arabic language. He says that he never wants to see another situation like the Library at Alexandria, where one fire wiped out huge chunks of cultural wealth.

    But unreadable books could be as devastating as burned ones, so one of the challenges Kotobaradia faces is keeping all the content fresh. "As long as you're aware of the changes in the markets, you'll be able to keep up with it. An example of this is when we first launched Kotobarabia, we only did PDFs because PDFs were pretty much the only software display that was reasonably compatible with Arabic. Now, we created our own simple form of DRM to display our books, which you can see on our website. And very soon, we will be launching an e-pub version, the first Arabic e-pub book that I know of at least. So we are keeping up-to-date with the formats and we are trying to keep the content relevant."

    Another problem Habeeb faces is the non-uniformity of arabic texts. "One of the problems with Arabic e-books is that there is no OCR. Google claims that they have cracked the OCR nut, and if anyone can do it, it's Google. But I haven't yet actually seen that with my own eyes, to see how it works. Part of the reason why we have issues with OCR is because there are thousands of fonts that are usually customized to local publishing houses. It's almost like a signature of that publishing house to create their own font, it's part of the culture in publishing. Also, there are so many dots and lines and other things that an automated OCR system can mistake for a letter or distort into another letter. And to complicate matters even more, because the industry is relatively poor, the quality of paper and the quality of ink used isn't always the highest. All of these factors combined make OCR an extremely difficult endeavor. So as a result, whenever we take on a book, it either goes through one of two processes."

    "One process is that we fully type it so that it's fully searchable. We discovered that typing a book with a series of edits is actually cheaper than working with current OCR software that's on the market. Then we'll go through a whole process of creating the metadata behind it and uploading it to the site and converting it to the two formats that we are currently using commercially."

    "The thing that we do is to scan the pages, and then we'll have people read the pages and pick out key words so that the books become semi-searchable. We do these for most of our books. But if we find that a book is being read over and over again or that this title has a particular interest, then we'll go back and retype it. It's actually cheaper this way to do it, it's a more sustainable business model."

    Another issue Habeeb faces is that rights clearance can be very complicated. "We've had several cases where we've signed with publishing houses only to discover that the publishers never owned the e-rights, nor did the publishers really understand what e-rights were. So we tend to sign directly with authors, which is a real pain for us because we've signed with over 1,300 authors. That's a lot of contracts to keep in mind and follow-up with. It would be easier to sign with 200 publishing houses than 1,300 individuals. But it was the only way to ensure that we were honoring copyright law."

    Obviously, the issue of censorship is a huge one for Habeeb, but it's one he doesn't shy away from. "You have a choice when looking at a project like ours. And the choice is you either do it and bear the risk or you don't do it and you're happy with the status quo. So we, of course, have taken legal measures to best protect ourselves. But our rule of thumb is that just because the book has been censored doesn't mean that it's not valid, so we do have censored books on our site. But we also do take steps. For example, with Egyptian law, as long as the content is hosted from a server outside of Egypt, Egypt has no control over that server to ask you to shut it down. So that's why we have a US server. "

    Habeeb is aware that certain books are so controversial that they can cause problems. "Like the censorship game, it is a diplomatic game that needs to be played. We won't necessarily publish the book the day after it was published. We might wait a year for the attention on it to die down a little bit. It is a game that needs to be played, and we play it to protect ourselves. But ultimately, we believe in transparency and we believe in the free dissemination of information. We believe that information should be equally accessible to those who are interested in it."

    "Kotobarabia is myself and two other business partners, but the three of us aren't political crusaders who have some agenda in mind. We're just three people who have an appreciation for books, who love books and who want to share these books with the world. I'm always hesitant to come across as someone who has any political agenda."

    Censorship is more than a policy issue that Kotoarabia has to work with, it is also an ingrained mindset that can be insidious. there is a lot of self-censorship. "I have personal experience with that as well as knowledge of the market, that there is a political atmosphere of fear. If I write this down and it gets published and someone reads it, I could go to jail or I could get in trouble or I could bring problems to my family. And then there is also an issue of just lack of understanding. For example, the concept of free thought in the sense of that all ideas are okay is not very prevalent there."

    "For example, as I mentioned earlier, we type books. We had a case where there was one book written by a Muslim author about Egypt. And if I can remember correctly, he basically was writing a book about 1968 and saying that this year was paramount to modern Egypt, in how modern Egypt exists today. He would list events from this year from the newspapers, and one of the events that he listed was that in this year, an effigy of the Virgin Mary appeared on a few of the Catholic Church walls in Zaytoun. So we have these typists who were typing the books from A to Z, and then we have editors who will go in afterwards. It's common for a typist to miss a line or miss two lines, they're going so fast that their eyes just skip it. But this guy actually missed three pages, and when we looked closely at it, it was the three pages talking about the Virgin Mary effigy. And so when we questioned this guy about why these three pages were missing, he very innocently looked up at us and said, 'Oh, because it's not true so why write it?'"

    Both men are looking forward to attending Tools of Change in February. For Ramy, it's all about networking. "TOC is an incredible event for sharing of technologies and for seeing what the modern trends of publishing are. One of the things that we're looking at is, because the state of distribution in the Arab world is so dismal, we need to look at other forms of distribution, and e-publishing is the way. It's just a fantastic forum to sit down with people and discuss issues. I participated in the TOC event in February in Frankfurt, and I met Neelan Choksi, the head of Stanza. That was a fantastic eye-opening meeting where we sat and discussed the possibility of having an Arabic catalog in Stanza. Another person that I was introduced to by Andrew Savikas was Liza Daly, who was really fantastic in helping us figure out some of the issues with Unicode, and also understanding that in the Arab market, we just don't necessarily have the expertise to deal with some of these problems so we need to teach ourselves. Just being in an environment where you have people who understand publishing but also understand innovation, it's absolutely inspirational."

    Attwell agrees that TOC is a great resource for trading information. "I think that it's always helpful to get a whole lot of people in one room who've been thinking about the same kinds of issues. Perhaps it's simply because I'm kind of far away out here in Cape Town, but I often feel that those of us who think very deeply and hard about digital publishing issues are very often working in little silos either within our companies or as freelance consultants. Much of that thinking can be shared at a place like TOC, it's incredibly valuable to each of us personally and also to the publishers that attend. For me, one of the major things I get out of TOC is putting faces to names. I think that in the e-book digital publishing communities, everyone knows each other by their Twitter handles, and it makes a huge difference to actually sit down around tables with people and have real conversations. I think it can have a massively positive effect on our businesses, not just our enjoyment of our jobs."

    Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
    Could not load more posts
    Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
    Just a second, loading more posts...
    You've reached the end.

    Don't be the product, buy the product!

    Schweinderl