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July 17 2012

Four short links: 17 July 2012

  1. What’s Next for Newspapers?three approaches: Farm it [...] Milk it [...] Feed it. (via Stijn Debrouwere)
  2. Why The Fundamental Attribution Error Exists (MindHacks) — assuming causation, rather than luck or invisible effects, is how we learn.
  3. Stuff Makes Us Sad ( — The scientists working with UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families studied the dual-income families the same way they would animal subjects. They videotaped the activities of family members, tracked their moves with position-locating devices, and documented their homes, yards, and activities with thousands of photographs. They even took saliva samples to measure stress hormones. Studying our lives with an eye to understanding and improving it: the qualified self. (Long story short, as Cory Doctorow summarized: Stuff makes us sad)
  4. chibi (GitHub) — A tiny JavaScript micro-framework.

May 28 2012

Jacob Zuma penis painting removed by South African newspaper

Controversial image showing genitals of South African president taken off City Press website after escalating row with ANC

A South African newspaper has removed a controversial image of Jacob Zuma from its website, after coming under pressure from the African National Congress (ANC), explaining: "The atmosphere is like a tinderbox."

The weekly City Press was subjected to a call by the governing ANC for a reader and advertiser boycott after refusing to remove a photo of a painting that depicts the South African president with exposed genitals.

The boycott appeared to backfire on Sunday, with the paper selling out at many newsagents, but its editor took the picture down on Monday "out of care and fear".

The satirical painting, The Spear, has provoked one of South Africa's most polarising political debates in recent years, with the ANC and others construing it as reopening the wounds of racial apartheid, while others have defended artist Brett Murray's right to free expression.

"That we are now a symbol of a nation's anger and rage is never the role of media in society," Ferial Haffajee, the editor of City Press, wrote on Monday.

"We take down the image in the spirit of peacemaking – it is an olive branch. But the debate must not end here and we should all turn this into a learning moment, in the interest of all our freedoms.

"Of course, the image is coming down from fear too. I'd be silly not to admit that. The atmosphere is like a tinderbox: City Press copies went up in flames on Saturday; I don't want any more newspapers burnt in anger."

One of her reporters had been banned from covering a trade union meeting, Haffajee added, while vendors of the paper were most at risk.

"For any editor to respond to a threat to take down an article of journalism without putting up a fight is an unprincipled thing to do, so we've fought as much as we could. It doesn't serve City Press or South Africa to dig in our heels and put our fingers in our ears."

The ANC welcomed the move but still demanded an apology. Jackson Mthembu, the party's national spokesperson, said: "We appreciate what has been done. We appreciate that at least Ferial is saying she can now understand the pain.

"All that we are saying to her, is can she apologise for the pain. Please apologise to the people of South Africa. This pain has been so deep seated."

He added: "We will then call off the boycott."

Earlier Haffajee did issue an apology in an open letter to Zuma's daughter Duduzile. "I understand that what is a work of satire to me is a portrait of pain to you," it read. "I understand the impact on your little brothers and sisters, who may face teasing at school.

"Playground cruelty leaves deep scars. And if they and your dad saw the work in our pages and it caused harm, then I apologise from the bottom of my heart."

City Press's U-turn was condemned by South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, with a warning: "We must never give in to bullies."

Mmusi Maimane, its national spokesperson, said: "Whatever one may think of the painting, no political figure – no matter how powerful or influential – has the right to tell any newspaper what it is allowed to publish or not; similarly no one should be able to tell an artist what he or she is allowed to paint."

He added: "It is unfortunate that president Zuma and the ANC chose to intimidate the City Press into taking down the painting from its website, and it is equally unfortunate that the City Press has caved in to this pressure after a valiant attempt to fight for what is right.

"This kind of self-censorship will stop our democracy in its tracks. We will never forget how the apartheid government bullied its critics in the media, many of them into submission. Those who stood firm against the bullies carried the torch of media freedom in those dark days. We must keep that flame alive."

City Press's initial stance had an unlikely defender in Julius Malema, the expelled president of the ANC's youth wing. In a column for the paper on Sunday, Malema said he intended to buy two copies, explaining: "Banning newspapers simply because we disagree with them, and boycotting them on the basis of believing that our conception of truth is absolute, poses a real threat to our democracy."

The intervention of Malema, who has fallen out bitterly with Zuma, fuelled theories that The Spear has been a gift for Zuma's base to manipulate public anger and mobilise support before he faces ANC factions in an election contest in December.

The ANC and its allies are organising a protest march on Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery on Tuesday/today, where the painting hung until it was vandalised by two protesters and removed. Although it is now widely visible on the web, including on a page of Wikipedia, the ANC will continue its legal action to have the painting and images of it banned. A court case has been postponed indefinitely. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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South African newspaper defies ANC boycott call

South Africa's ruling party, the ANC, has called for a boycott of the City Press newspaper after it published a picture depicting President Jacob Zuma in a Leninist pose with exposed genitalia.

The ANC has demanded that the Sunday paper remove the image - a reproduction of a painting by Brett Murray entitled "The spear of the nation" - from its website.

It has called on advertisers not to buy space in the paper and on people not to read it until the publishers comply with its demand.

In calling for the boycott, the ANC described the paper as "a paragon of immorality" which "does not belong to our shared democratic dispensation and values". It was therefore "anti-ANC, the president, our democracy and the majority of South Africans."

The paper published a copy of Murray's painting column 10 days ago (18 May) to accompany a review of the art exhibition in which it was displayed.

But the City Press editor, Ferial Haffajee, responded with a column, "The spear of the nation stays up," in which she defended her decision to publish on the grounds of both artistic freedom and press freedom. She wrote:

"Our constitution explicitly protects artistic expression as a subset of free expression...

I've learnt that the commitment to clauses like free expression (be it in art or journalism) is never going to be tested by still lifes of bowls of flowers or by home decor magazines.

It is always going to be tested by art that pushes boundaries and journalism that upsets holy cows, which is why our clever founders enshrined the right in our constitution."

Haffajee is an executive board member of the International Press Institute (IPI), which has condemned the boycott.

Its executive director, Alison Bethel McKenzie, described the call for a boycott as "an abuse of power and a form of harassment." She argued that it is "part of a disturbing trend, which has resulted in an erosion of press freedom in one of Africa's most respected democracies."

City Press, which is the third best-selling newspaper in South Africa with a reputed 2.5m readers, was also summoned before the country's film and publication board as censors sought to decide whether to classify Murray's work as pornography.

According to the latest news story on the affair, the ANC appears to be divided over the boycott call. Several senior members have opposed the party's official line.

NB: I am carrying a copy of the picture as an act of solidarity with City Press. The image is also displayed on the WAN-IFRA website and on many other sites.

"Spear of the nation" (Umkhonto we Sizwe) was the title chosen by the ANC's armed wing during its struggle to overcome apartheid.

Sources: City Press (1), (2) & (3)/WAN-IFRA/IPI/The Guardian © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 16 2012

April 01 2012

Hilton Kramer obituary

Former New York Times art critic known for championing the modernism of his youth

Hilton Kramer, who has died aged 84, was the most lucid art journalist of his generation. From his early days on Arts Digest and the New York Times, he compelled attention with the forensic skill of his arguments, the accuracy of his praise and the ferocity of his disembowellings.

He was judge, jury and scourge of, among others, Kirk Varnedoe, curator of painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1988-2001), for what he regarded as Varnedoe's betrayal of the trust passed down from Moma's great founding director, Alfred Barr. In 1980, he skewered the art academic Meyer Schapiro for an analysis of Cézanne that brought "discredit upon the whole Freudian enterprise", concluding: "There thus remains an unresolved conflict – the conflict between the aesthete and the ideologue – that sooner or later will have to be faced if this author is to be taken seriously as a significant analyst of our artistic heritage."

Kramer started out as a moderate lefty but by the mid-1960s was well on his way to becoming the self-professed neocon who considered that the steely-eyed president Ronald Reagan had "won" the cold war, and who basked in a climate in which liberalism, socialism and communism co-existed in a miasmic mindset as a threat to western democracy; west of Rhode Island, that is.

In 1982, he resigned as art critic of the New York Times because he considered it too leftwing and became founding editor of the New Criterion, where he could open a broad front in defence of the achievements of modernism against the philistines, but also continue the battles of the McCarthy years, mentioning senator Joe McCarthy rarely but comrade Joe Stalin often. He raged against those on the Hollywood blacklist of artists suspected of communist sympathies, from the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to Charlie Chaplin, and particularly the Hollywood 10, toilers in the movie vineyard who refused to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee and went to prison.

The intransigence of Kramer's political views sits awkwardly with the subtlety of his perception in his writings on the arts but brought him a devoted public following as well as the scorn of many, particularly painters and sculptors practising today.

Kramer was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the son of Russian immigrants, and received a BA in English from Syracuse University in New York state, then took postgraduate courses at Columbia, Harvard and the New School for Social Research, covering cultural and political issues, but not art. In 1953, bugged by Harold Rosenberg's description of abstract expressionist paintings as psychological events, he wrote an attack which Partisan Review accepted and which turned him into an overnight celebrity, bringing him a job he had not known he wanted.

He became an editor at Arts Digest (later simply Arts) and in 1965 he joined the New York Times as an art critic, later becoming chief art critic. He used his slot to defend the achievements of modernism up to the 1950s and to excoriate most of what happened later, though there were occasional surprising exceptions, such as his judgment in a New York Review of Books article in 1969 of Claes Oldenburg, "whose zany sculptures and offbeat designs for monuments," he wrote, "offer a robust engagement with the world we actually encounter beyond the perimeter of the art gallery, the museum, and the millionaire's fancy pad".

He brought an acerbic sanity to his occasional ventures into British territory, particularly in puncturing the Bloomsbury revival in a fine essay of 1984 which ends by quoting JM Keynes's rueful view from hindsight of the "superficiality, not only of judgment, but also of feeling" of Bloomsbury, in which Kramer included the underpowered work of Virginia Woolf, her sister Vanessa Bell and the negligible Duncan Grant. In the course of a richly appreciative assessment of Kenneth Tynan, he wrote: "As a critic, Tynan worked very much as certain high style actors do, always ready, with the rhetorical flourish or the coup de théatre that disarms complacency and causes both shock and applause."

Norman Podhoretz, Kramer's fellow neocon and contributor to the rightwing magazine Commentary, summed him up best: "Hilton came to occupy an almost uninhabitable critical space of his own construction, in which … the daring and experimental art and fiction and poetry of his own youth was considered highly praiseworthy, whereas the transgressive efforts created and displayed in his middle age drew from him exactly the sort of response the abstract expressionists had drawn from leading critics in his own early days."

In 1964, Kramer married Esta Teich, who was an assistant editor at Arts. She survives him.

Hilton Kramer, art critic, born 25 March 1928; died 27 March 2012 © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 09 2012

Publishing News: The threat of censorship, from a non-government entity

Here are the publishing-related stories that caught my attention this week.

Censorship disguised as a business decision

Censored.pngThe PayPal-as-content-police saga continues this week. Publishers Weekly reports that PayPal is backing off Smashwords a bit: "As it stands now, PayPal has contacted Smashwords about the possibility of relaxing the enforcement and has assured the distributor that their account will not be in immediate risk of limitation pending ongoing discussions." The post outlines the background on the situation:

"The issue began February 18, when [Smashwords founder Mark] Coker received an e-mail from PayPal notifying him that Smashwords had until February 24 to correct titles with the controversial topics or else the Smashwords account would be limited. PayPal told Coker: 'Our banking partners and credit card associations have taken a very strict stance on this subject matter. Our relationships with the banking partners are absolutely critical in order to provide the online and mobile services we do to our customers. Therefore, we have to remain in compliance with their rules, which prohibit content involving rape, bestiality or incest.'"

Several anti-censorship and privacy rights organizations, including the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the Internet Archive, have signed a letter to PayPal in support of Smashwords. The letter concludes by noting exactly how dangerous PayPal's intended actions are:

"The Internet has become an international public commons, like an enormous town square, where ideas can be freely aired, exchanged, and criticized. That will change if private companies, which are under no legal obligation to respect free speech rights, are able to use their economic clout to dictate what people should read, write, and think."

Magellan Media founder Brian O'Leary also highlighted a bit of the bigger picture:

As the tools of creation and production have become increasingly democratized, efforts to control supply have shifted to the platforms that support this more open process. After all, it's a lot easier to shut down Smashwords than it is to get its thousands of authors to stop writing.

The PW post includes comments that claim PayPal's demands are not censorship, just a business decision (... a decision that just happens to prevent people from being able to buy or read something). You didn't like SOPA? Meet the bankers.

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This kind of consumer demand should make you drool

Inspired by the Oatmeal cartoon detailing futile attempts at legally watching the "Game of Thrones" TV show (and several subsequent responses to it), David Sleight over at Stuntbox takes a look at the current state of piracy and makes a compelling argument to corporate America that pirate consumers are an opportunity:

"The audience is telling you, in no uncertain terms, they want your stuff. And they are telling you precisely what stuff. The people you're calling 'thieves' are telling you where you need to be. They are jumping through hoops only slightly less complicated than the ones you set out for them via official channels, displaying the sort of pent-up demand that should make you drool. This is what's commonly referred to in business circles as an opportunity."

Sleight points out that behind private, closed doors, corporate America acknowledges this but can't get seem to migrate the mindset into the boardroom. He offers several proposals to help them get a move-on. A few teasers include: "Start projects by picturing what the user wants to have in their hands and build up from that." And, "... the future is about frictionless access ..." And, "Stop thumping the table with these [bogus] stats." Sleight's piece is well worth the read.

And publishers might take a page from the TED playbook: Joshua Gans at the Harvard Business Review profiles the TED publishing platform, noting not only the openness of the TED talks themselves (the videos are freely available), but also the TED name (adhering to a few rules, anyone can hold a TEDx event). Gans concludes: "TED could have done the traditional publishing thing — put up walls and sold exclusivity. Instead, it has chosen to embrace the notion that information has the most value when it is shared widely. Perhaps traditional publishers of other forms of media should take note."

And in case you missed it, here's author Neal Gaiman on the opportunities of piracy:

What we have here is a failure to visualize

A new study from The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism shows that newspapers' digital efforts are falling short in making up for losses in print revenues and that "most newspapers continue to contract with alarming speed." Fear of rapid failure seems to be fueling the slow, steady decline. One newspaper executive told the study group, "There's no doubt we're going out of business right now." The report continues:

"The problem, he [the newspaper executive] explained, is the dilemma that faces many trying to innovate inside older industries. If you changed your company and did not succeed, that could hasten the end of the enterprise. 'There might be a 90% chance you'll accelerate the decline if you gamble and a 10% chance you might find the new model,' he said. 'No one is willing to take that chance'."

PewStudyNewsRevenues.pngThe study investigates the decline in the industry from many angles — digital advertising to mobile to cultural obstacles. The study also asked newspaper executives to look five years down the road; the results were grim and highlighted the industry's lack of vision. Response highlights include:

  • The most common scenario was that the newspaper would be printed and delivered to people's homes less frequently, perhaps as little as two to three days a week-or even just on Sunday. This has already occurred in some markets, such as Detroit.
  • One foresaw a looming era of significantly downsized newsrooms. Another suggested the papers would inevitably get "thinner and weaker."
  • One thought it would be possible for papers to "limp along," but that another recession could be catastrophic to the industry.

The study report points out what is "probably the strongest underlying finding of this study: The people who run the newspaper industry are unsure of where it is heading or what it will look like."

Got news?

Suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to send along your news scoops and ideas.

Photo (top): Vitruvian by Mr.Enjoy, on Flickr


March 08 2012

Read all about it: how Gilbert & George stole the headlines

Urbane artistic pair pilfered 3,712 newspaper bills from outside London shops to create works now on show at White Cube galleries

If you are a London newsagent and have noticed an impeccably dressed but slightly shifty gentleman in his 60s regularly buying chewing gum in recent years, you may have been the victim of a "crime".

He was, in fact, a distraction to prevent you from seeing another impeccably dressed gentleman outside, removing the local newspaper bill from its metal rack.

"We realised we had to steal them," said Gilbert. "We had a drawer full of chewing gum at one stage," said George.

The men responsible for the systematic theft of 3,712 newspaper bills in east and north London are, of course, the artists Gilbert & George – and on Thursday they revealed the results in an exhibition across all three White Cube galleries in London.

The 292 bills that made it into London Pictures form Gilbert & George's largest series of works.

The artists have grouped the bills together by subject – yobs, for example, with LASER YOBS ENDANGERED COPTER PILOT and RABBIT IS SET ALIGHT BY YOBS – and laid them out in groups on a background which features them as ghostly observers.

They assumed that getting the bills would be easy. "We thought it would be very simple, we'd ask the shopkeeper to keep last week's poster," said George.

"But it was: 'What do you want that for guv?'. 'What's your game?' and 'Where are you from anyway?' They were very suspicious and very aggressive – they would never let you have one."

"Not one," interjects Gilbert.

They were caught in the act only once when an "overenthusiastic" policeman came up to George as he was putting a bill in his pocket. He pretended to be a teacher making a display of the posters at his school to try to curb antisocial behaviour and relieve pressure on police. "He replied: 'Oh sir, if only more people were like you.' "

The project has taken up all their time. "We've lived it, we've breathed it, we've sexed it, we've thought it … everything," said George. "More than any other pictures, they went all the way through us."

He said appropriating the bills allowed them to tackle subjects they otherwise may not have tackled: "I wouldn't like to start thinking about how you draw or paint a group of yobs – it would seem very patronising or awkward."

Gilbert & George have been hoarding the bills at their studios in Fournier Street, east London, where they have lived and worked for 40 years. They are something of an institution and there are people who will hang around the street in the hope of spotting the two on their regular walks.

They have won the Turner prize (1986), represented Britain at the Venice Biennale (2005) and had a retrospective at Tate Modern (2007). Throughout, they have never been shy of offending sensibilities: the Naked Shit Pictures from the mid-1990s, for example, which featured the artists naked alongside giant turds.

Four years ago, they entered into a civil partnership which they said was primarily to do with protecting the other's interest if one of them were to die.

Most of the bills in the new show are from Gilbert & George's normal hunting ground around Spitalfields and Liverpool Street, in east London, but some betray a wider journey – N7 GAS TERROR AS COPPER THIEVES STRIKE, for example, which features the postcode for Holloway. "We went to north London for dinner," said George.

The bills are a reflection of a society that we are all complicit in, the artists said.

"It is quite extraordinary that you have this slogan, this poster every single day and everybody just moves on. The next day it's another one. This is life standing still," said Gilbert.

The works are full of "death plunges", "terror" and "murder" but they also have a positive side.

"Yes there's a lot of misery, shame and unhappiness but this is also a celebration in a way because there are many countries where you can't have posters like this. It's a sign of an amazing freedom," said George.

The pictures will be on display at the White Cubes in Bermondsey, Hoxton and Mason's Yard, in central London, until 12 May – it costs nothing to get in and see them, but anything between £50,000 and £250,000 to buy one. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 21 2011

Guardian wins people's choice award for excellence in disability journalism

Judges praise 'thoughtful, entertaining, rigorous and enlightened' coverage of Guardian series on disability and the arts

The Guardian's "outstanding" coverage of disability issues was recognised on Sunday night when it picked up the first ever People's Choice award for journalistic excellence.

The publicly-nominated Ability Media International award, created by the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, recognises "creatively excellent work that has either been produced by disabled people or promotes a greater understanding of disability issues".

The judges praised the Guardian for its "thoughtful, entertaining, rigorous and enlightened" coverage of issues facing disabled people in a series of pieces about disability and the arts.

The award was presented at a star-studded ceremony at London Studios, attended by UK media and arts luminaries including Downton Abbey actor Dame Maggie Smith, childrens TV pioneer Anna Home and filmmaker Mike Leigh.

Jane Jutsum, Leonard Cheshire Disability Innovative Projects director and co-organiser of the AMI awards, said: "The Guardian has an impressive record in its coverage of disability issues. Its features and news coverage are thoughtful, entertaining, rigorous and enlightened and demonstrate the inclusion and journalistic responsibility not always apparent in our national press."

The Guardian's editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, said: "Diversity is a central part of what we are trying to do at the Guardian. I hope we are at the forefront of allowing a range of voices in, getting other points of view and raising issues of vital importance to people who previously weren't heard. That is why it makes me very proud to receive this AMI Award."

Ability Media is an initiative by Leonard Cheshire Disability aimed at giving disabled and disadvantaged people access to all forms of digital media training, providing a springboard into the industry. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 28 2011

Publishing News: Amazon's Kindle Format 8 dashes hopes for EPUB3 compatibility

The Books in Browsers conference continues today — and it's being livestreamed. Speakers today include Wired's Kevin Kelly, BookOven's Hugh McGuire (@hughmcguire), Kassia Krozser (@booksquare) of Booksquare and Brian O'Leary (@brianoleary) from Magellan Media Partners.

Now, onto a few highlights from this week's publishing news.

Amazon thumbs its nose at EPUB3, releases Kindle Format 8

AmazonIDPFart.jpgOn the heels of EPUB3 being signed off on, any hopes that Amazon might participate in an EPUB3-united publishing format were dashed when it announced its new Kindle Format 8 — or to keep with the acronym standard, KF8 — ebook format. Martin Taylor has a nice analysis of the format battle over at eReport. Much like EPUB3, the new Kindle format is fancy and shiny, accommodating all the latest web standards (including HML5 and CSS3), but as Taylor points out, the continued incompatible formats keeps things complicated:

But for publishers, it [KF8] could add challenges as the new features these formats offer mean ebook production requirements and costs will scale up. And for the newly-minted EPUB3, it poses a challenge to stay relevant as Amazon';s importance as the number one sales channel might tempt some publishers to bypass it.

This is to say nothing of device and app support issues for continued incompatible formats — and how the confusion might ultimately affect (nay, I say annoy) consumers.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012 in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

The Guardian, rising above the fray ... again

n0tice from The GuardianAs newspapers continue to struggle to find their way and experiment with out-of-the box ideas, one newspaper continually rises above the fray: The Guardian. With its Open Platform and strong commitment to data journalism, I guess it should be no surprise the newspaper would stride ahead of the pack in crowdsourcing and reader engagement as well.

Along those lines, this week The Guardian launched n0tice, a new social news gathering platform, and @GuardianTagBot, a Twitter-based bot that will search The Guardian's tags to find the information a user needs.

Megan Garber over at Nieman Lab was all over both stories and provides great analysis — her piece on n0tice is here and her examination of @GuardianTagBot is here.

The new social platform, n0tice, goes way beyond engaging readers with comments or links to send in news tips. It offers readers an entirely separate section of their own. From Garber's post:

'It's a place where you can share news, post details about forthcoming events or let people know you have something to sell or share,' the project's FAQ puts it. Just like IRL message boards, 'everyone else in your locality will be able to see what you've posted and also take part."

This gives readers yet another entry point into the newspaper and another reason to interact with its brand in a much more personal, communal setting than simple comment areas or reader blog setups — not to mention giving The Guardian an additional line into hyperlocal news coverage.

The Twitter bot achieves a similar goal, and then some. Many newspapers signed up for Twitter and/or Facebook accounts and called it a day, but creating the search bot was a stroke of ingenuity: It allows readers to interact with the brand in real time, and the newspaper is using the search results to make improvements to its tagging system.

With both products The Guardian is not only extending its brand to engage readers, but using that engagement to also enhance its brand. Struggling newspapers, take note.

Tablet users are reading books — both digital and print

Fig-24_-Book-Reading-01_1.pngThe Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism released results from a new study this week that took a look at tablet usage in terms of news and book consumption across several categories. Some highlights from the study include:

  • About 4 in 10 people (41%) in the select web-based survey group had read a book on their tablet over the last seven days, but more had read a printed book, 55%. A closer look into these respondents reveals that about half of those who had read books on tablets, 46%, had also read a book in print; while 54% had not.
  • When asked broadly to choose whether they liked print or digital better as a reading platform, 41% said the two were equal.
  • News apps have not become the primary interface for news on tablets — 40% of tablet news users rely primarily on their browser for news. A little less than a third, 31%, say they use both their browser and apps equally, while just 21% rely mainly on apps.
  • When asked specifically about paying for news on their tablets, 14% said they have done so, while 85% have not. Also, 21% said they would be willing to pay $5 and half as many, 10%, said they would pay $10 dollars per month for their favorite source on their tablet if it were the only way to access this content.

The full report is available here.


October 21 2011

Publishing News: The news is free but the API will cost you

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

News orgs turn to data and shopping for new revenue streams

USATodayDeveloper.PNGTwo news organizations recently took out-of-the-box steps in the relentless pursuit of that illusive digital-era revenue. First, USA Today decided to dip its toe into the business of big data: the newspaper will now offer commercial licensing for its information. As noted in a Nieman Lab post this week, access to USA Today's APIs isn't new — but selling the access for commercial purposes is. In an interview, USA Today's Stephen Kurtz said the newspaper is feeling it out at this point to assess the demand and to hone a working model. Perhaps Kurtz should look to an example highlighted in the Nieman post: The Guardian's Open Platform.

Another news organization stepped into a more uncharted sales area this week: Politico is now in the bookstore business. Politico recently teamed with Random House to publish instant ebooks, and now the duo will sell the ebooks from a new online store dubbed Politico Bookshelf. Initially, this venture looked like a first step for one of the Big Six to delve into direct book sales, but the release on Politico's site indicates that it's really more of a browsing platform than a store: "Shoppers can browse or search for titles, and then purchase them through a selection of online retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Politics and Prose and Apple's iBookstore."

Amazon's foray into publishing continues to jolt the industry

The New York Times reported this week on Amazon's rapidly increasing reach into publishing: first it edged out bookstores, then it started launching imprints, and now it's wooing writers and "gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide." Examples of Amazon's gnawing were summed up in the post:

Amazon has started giving all authors, whether it publishes them or not, direct access to highly coveted Nielsen BookScan sales data, which records how many physical books they are selling in individual markets like Milwaukee or New Orleans. It is introducing the sort of one-on-one communication between authors and their fans that used to happen only on book tours. It made an obscure German historical novel a runaway best seller without a single professional reviewer weighing in.

And this doesn't even take the Kindle Fire and the ecosystem it's creating into account. The Atlantic took a look at the dangers of where this kind of one-stop-shop might lead, and over at GigaOm, Mathew Ingram looked at Amazon's disruption and why its working. He also offered some sage advice for publishers: "Take a lesson from the music industry and don't spend all your time suing people for misusing what you believe is your content — think instead about why they are doing this, and what it says about how your business is changing, and then try to adapt to that."

Kobo's Vox takes on Amazon's Fire

Kobo stepped out ahead of Amazon this week and announced its new tablet, Vox, will start shipping Oct. 28 — a couple of weeks ahead of the Nov. 15 shipment date for Kindle Fire. Some argue that the Fire (and presumably similar low-priced tablets like Vox and Nook — there's a nice comparison of the three over at Dear Author) will lead to the demise of the iPad. What seems more likely is the impending obscurity of the dedicated ereading device. In a recent TOC Podcast interview, Max Franke of epubli talked about the German ebook market and pointed out that tablets were preferred over ereaders in that part of the world. Perhaps that trend will spread to this side of the pond as well.

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October 14 2011

Publishing News: Amazon fires up B&N and BAM

Here are the stories that caught my eye in the publishing space this week.

Amazon and DC Comics forge exclusive deal, B&N and BAM lash out

NeilTweet.PNGI first got wind of this story on Bleeding Cool when Neil Gaiman tweeted it. Basically, Amazon landed an exclusive deal with DC Comics to carry 100 of its best-selling graphic novels on the Kindle. B&N was first to take issue with the digital exclusivity and pulled the print versions of all 100 graphic novels from its shelves. This week, Books-A-Million, now the second largest chain bookstore in the US after the closing of Borders, joined the fray.

The reactions seem short sighted and knee-jerkish, especially in light of reports that the exclusive deal was for a limited period of four months. Giving Amazon additional (large platform retail sale) carte blanche to the print sales over that period seems a risky and questionable business strategy at best. CNN sums up the big-picture damage this fracas is causing: "Everyone is battling, and consumers are caught in the crossfire ..."

Content consumption increases threefold with Nook, Kindle

ShelfAwareness took a look at some of the digital publishing highlights from the conferences that took place this week ahead of the Frankfurt Book Fair. The increase in ereading is no surprise — Amazon announced in May that its sales of Kindle books surpassed print sales — but the speed of the transition and the accelerated ubiquity are notable. Some key points from the ShelfAwareness piece include:

  • Both Nook and Kindle users consume three times more content than they did before buying the device.
  • "Stephen Page, publisher and CEO of Faber & Faber, said that because of ebooks, the 85-year-old publishing house this year sold books in 20 countries where it had never sold a single book in the past."
  • The importance of digitizing backlists is becoming clear: Spanish publisher Santillana reports a substantial increase in sales after putting its backlist on the Kindle. "Before doing so, the ratio of sales of Santillana backlist titles in the U.S. to its other markets was 1:15; since the Kindle move, the ratio is 2:1."

What newspapers can learn from Wikipedia's success

Nieman Lab's Megan Garber took a look this week at Benjamin Mako Hill's research on the worldwide success of Wikipedia. Hill's analysis is interesting, but what really caught my eye was the application of that analysis to the newspaper industry, as suggested by Garber:

If you want user contributions, build platforms that are familiar and easy. Lower the barriers to participation; focus on helping users to understand what you want from them rather than on dazzling them. Though gamification — with incentives that encourage certain user behaviors, complete with individual rewards (badges! titles! mayors!) — certainly has a role to play in the new news ecosystem, Hill's findings suggest that the inverse of game dynamics can be a powerful force, as well. His research highlights the value of platforms that invite rather than challenge — and the validity of contributions made for the collective good rather than the individual.

These insights also can add to the discussion on the viability of paywalls, which saw some interesting activity this week as well. Press+ and the Knight Foundation teamed up to help college newspapers install metered paywalls — not so much to make broke college students pay to read their school's news, but to provide a way to charge for subscriptions or pander for donations from parents and alumni outside the college community. In a similar vein, The Independent newspaper in the UK is going the paywall route as well — but only for readers outside the UK.

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September 30 2011

Publishing News: Amazon vs barrier to entry

Here are a few stories that caught my eye this week in publishing news.

Let the ecosystem wars begin

KindleTrilogy.PNGAmazon's new Kindle Fire has the potential to disrupt the tablet space, but what Amazon did this week may actually be a much bigger deal with much broader implications: it lowered the ereader barrier to entry. And it lowered it on a mass-market level — at $79, the low-end Kindle arguably becomes an impulse buy.

Alex Knapp does a nice job over at Forbes outlining how these shiny new affordable Kindles will affect ebook sales and publishers (and a more in-depth look from a traditional publishing perspective can be found at CNN Money). But Amazon's long game isn't to sell hardware, it's to wrangle customers. Jeff Bezos said as much during the launch announcement: "We don't think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet. We think of it as a service." Once a customer has the device, shopping for nearly anything becomes an easy, seamless experience. As pointed out on Digitopoly, "the battle of the tablets is not a battle of devices, but a battle of ecosystems."

As excitingly disruptive as this is, there was one point that so far has gone largely overlooked in the media: the privacy issues of Amazon's Silk browser, which will run on the Kindle Fire. Chris Espinosa describes the situation on his Posterous blog (hat tip to ShelfAwareness):

The "split browser" notion is that Amazon will use its EC2 back end to pre-cache user web browsing, using its fat back-end pipes to grab all the web content at once so the lightweight Fire-based browser has to only download one simple stream from Amazon's servers. But what this means is that Amazon will capture and control every Web transaction performed by Fire users. Every page they see, every link they follow, every click they make, every ad they see is going to be intermediated by one of the largest server farms on the planet.

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A map in need of a website

BookshopMap.pngOn the opposite end of the disruptive digital spectrum, an extensive map of London's independent bookstores was published ... on paper. As described at The Bookseller:

The London Bookshop Map features 87 indies from across the city including ones selling new, antiquarian, specialist and second-hand titles. The map is free and is available in bookshops and galleries. It features a text work from the artist David Batchelor. The map will be updated every six months and rereleased with a new text artwork.

This is a fun idea for consumers and treasure hunters, and a great way to market indie booksellers. But to garner a larger audience it seems this project would lend itself well to digitization, and maybe even interactivity — perhaps something along the lines of Lonely Planet's city guides (on a smaller scale, of course). At the very least, this map deserves a website.

The sky might really be falling

The latest survey from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project this week spelled out some dismal news for newspapers. Most notably:

Most Americans (69%) say that if their local newspaper no longer existed, it would not have a major impact on their ability to keep up with information and news about their community.


Click here for interactive version.

That percentage increased to 75% when looking only at 18-29 year-olds. Newspapers aren't out the door quite yet, however. Though those percentages point to an impending irrelevance, "[a]mong all adults, newspapers were cited as the most relied-upon source or tied for most relied upon for crime, taxes, local government activities, schools, local politics, local jobs, community/neighborhood events, arts events, zoning information, local social services, and real estate/housing."

You can view the entire report here.


  • How many imprints does Amazon run?
  • More Publishing Week in Review coverage

  • September 26 2011

    For local news, TV is dominant but the Internet is our digital future

    03.Newspapers.SW.WDC.22dec05 by ElvertBarnes, on FlickrThe days of relying on a print newspaper and a television anchor telling us "the way it is" are long gone. In 2011, Americans and citizens the world over consume news on multiple screens and platforms. Increasingly, we all contribute reports ourselves, using Internet-connected smartphones.

    A new report on local news by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Internet & American Life Project provides reason to be hopeful about new information platforms. But the report also reveals deep concern about the decay of local newspapers, and what that will mean for local government accountability.

    "Research in the past about how people get information about their communities tended to focus on a single question: 'Where do you go most often to get local news?'," noted Tom Rosenstiel, Director of the Pew Excellence in Journalism project and co-author of the new report, in a prepared statement. "This research asked about 16 different local topics and found a much more complex ecosystem in which people rely on different platforms for different topics. It turns out that each piece of the local information system has special roles to play. Our research sorted that out and we found that for some things TV matters most, for others newspapers and their websites are primary sources, and the Internet is used for still other topics."

    Specifically, the report found that Americans rely on local TV for information about popular local topics, including weather (89% use TV for this information), breaking news (80%), local politics (67%) and crime (66%). Americans use newspapers for breadth and depth of many more topics, particularly with respect to local government information. Newspapers supply "broccoli journalism" about the least popular topics, including zoning and development information (30%), local social services (35%), job openings (39%) and local government activities (42%). These are topics that other local news institutions don't often deliver.

    The role of the Internet grows

    In the latest confirmation of the growth of the Internet in modern life, we're increasingly going online when we're interested in gathering information about specific local services, searching for information about education, restaurants, and business news, logging onto social media and accessing mobile devices to find and share what we learn ourselves.

    "The rise of search engines and specialty websites for different topics like weather, job postings, businesses, and even e-government have fractured and enriched the local news and information environment," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project and another report co-author, in a prepared statement.

    Nearly half of adults (47%) now use mobile devices to get local news and information. The proliferation of smartphones, iPad apps and new platforms offers insight into a rapidly expanding mobile future.

    "We don't yet know exactly how important mobile apps will be, but it's pretty easy to sketch out a scenario where they rise in importance, especially when it comes to breaking news, weather, traffic, local politics and some of the more popular local topics," said Rainie in an interview.

    The Internet has become a key source for peer-generated information. In fact, the survey showed that among adults under age 40, the Internet rivals or exceeds other platforms in every topic area save one: breaking local news. According to the study, the Internet has now become American adults' key source for five broad areas of information:

    • Restaurants, clubs and bars.
    • Local businesses.
    • Local schools.
    • Local jobs.
    • Local housing and real estate.

    The websites of local newspapers and TV stations aren't faring well, in terms of how the respondents rated their importance as a local news source. "Local TV news websites barely registered," reads the report, with less than 6% of those surveyed indicating that they depended on a legacy media organization's website for local news.  

    One clear finding from this report is that social media currently plays a small role in providing local information that citizens say they rely upon, with 18% using Facebook and 2% turning to Twitter. "Social media look more like a supplemental source of information on these local topics than a primary, deeply-relied-upon source," said Rainie, in an interview. "That's not too surprising to me. Local information is just one of the many things that people discuss and share on SMS and Twitter." 

    While the report showed that citizens don't rely on social media for local news, they are definitely discussing it there. "Participatory news" is a full-blown phenomenon: 41% of respondents can be considered "participators" who publish information online. That said, such information is frequently about restaurants and community events, versus harder news.

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    A digital generation gap

    The question of what these trends mean for all levels of society is also critical to ask. "People under age of 40 are a lot more likely than those over 40 to use the Internet on a host of the topics we probed," said Rainie in our interview. "The gap is quite striking across a number of topics. As this younger cohort ages, it will probably expect legacy news organizations like newspapers, TV, and radio, to have an even more robust online presence. And they are likely to want to be able to contribute to news and easily share news with others via social media."

    A generation gap could have profound implications for how informed citizens can be about their communities in the future, based upon their consumption habits and the availability of information.

    "There is a disconnect in the public mind about newspapers, and that raises an important question about community information needs," observed Rainie. "As we said in the report, 'If your local newspaper no longer existed, would that have a major impact, a minor impact, or no impact on your ability to keep up with information and news about your local community?'. A large majority of Americans, 69%, believe the death of their local newspaper would have no impact (39%) or only a minor impact (30%) on their ability to get local information. Yet, newspapers are the leading source that people rely on to get information about most of the civic topics on our list. So, if a local newspaper did vanish, it is not entirely clear which parts of the ecosystem would address those needs. Newspapers are deeply enmeshed in the local information system in ways that are pretty important to democracy. That's why the economic struggles of newspapers matter."

    Veterans of local news operations know that reality well. "This is something that I faced way back when I was at The Molokai Times in Hawaii," commented Kate Gardiner, responding to a question on Facebook. Gardiner is a new media strategist that works with Al Jazeera, Lauch and the Poynter Institute.

    "We built a very robust online community to complement the hard copy and were experimenting with ways to make things even better for everyone — until the bottom dropped out and our major advertiser went bankrupt. The whole newspaper died. The community (about 5,000 people) was left with no alternative means of consuming news. Our competition sort of stepped up, but they weren't doing straight news. It's a problem on any number of levels — and there's no really obvious way to do a community-funded replacement, online or off.

    Given that context, do these findings add additional urgency to funding and creating new models for information aggregation and distribution online?

    "There aren't clear indications in our survey that speak to this question," replied Rainie. "People say now it's easier than in the past to get the local information they need, so we are not getting a signal in the questions about people thinking that data is hard to find."

    An uncertain future for local government information

    As print fades and a digital future for news becomes more equally distributed, establishing sustainable local online information hubs to meet the information needs of our democracy will grow in importance, along with the means to connect those news sources to communities on the other side of the digital or data divide. Simply put, there's an increasing need for local government news to be generated from civic media, libraries, schools, institutions and private industry. New platforms for social networking and sharing still need to be supplied with accurate information.

    It's not clear if local governments, already stretched to provide essential services, will be able to become robust information providers. That said, new lightweight tools and platforms are enabling ambitious towns to go through "Gov 2.0 city makeovers."

    For now, citizens are not relying on local government to be their primary information providers. According to the report:

    ... 3% of adults said that they rely on their local government (including both local government websites or visiting offices directly) as the main source of information for both taxes and for local social services, and even fewer cite their local government as a key source for other topics such as community events, zoning and development, and even local government activity.

    The results of the survey leave us with significant questions and, unfortunately, few answers about the future of news in rural areas and towns. While local TV stations can focus on their profit centers — weather, breaking news, crime, traffic — it's going to be tough for local papers to monetize the less popular but important coverage of civic affairs.

    "Newspapers are not struggling in the information-dissemination part of their business," said Rainie in our interview. "Indeed, other research shows many newspapers have a bigger audience than ever if you combine the print and web operations." (Research data on the state of the media in 2011 may not fully support that contention.)

    "But if newspapers cut back on coverage of local government because it is expensive and doesn't pay for itself with lots of advertising, then local government information will be harder to come by," said Rainie.

    What these news consumption trends mean for local governments, in terms of getting information to citizens when and where they need it, is more difficult to judge.

    "The bigger issue that others have raised — notably by Steve Waldman at the FCC in his report [on the Information Needs of Communities"] — is who covers city hall and the school board and the zoning board to help make local institutions accountable? Our report raises that question without answering it," said Rainie. "If newspapers vanished, would TV stations or bloggers cover the bread-and-butter workings of local government, or do the kind of investigative pieces that newspapers have specialized in? We don't know and can't predict from these data. But it's an important question."

    Steve Coll published an article in the Columbia Journalism Review prior to Waldman's that provided a thoughtful series of recommendations to reboot the news.

    Of the suggestions in the FCC report Rainie mentioned, perhaps the most important to the technology community was the recommendation to put more proceedings, documents and data online: "Governments at all levels should put far more data and information online, and do it in ways that are designed to be most useful," suggested the FCC in its report. "Entrepreneurs can create new businesses and jobs based on distributing, shaping or analyzing this data. It will enable reporters to unearth stories in a day or two that might have previously taken two months."

    Notably, the Federal Trade Commission also has recommended publishing public data online to support the future of journalism.

    There is no shortage of creative ideas for the digital future of journalism, as evidenced by the conversations and new projects generated by the dynamic community that came together last weekend in Boston at the Online News Association's annual conference. The challenge is that many of them supply information to digitally literate news consumers with smartphones and broadband connections, not the poor, undereducated or disconnected. If local newspapers go away and local government information all goes digital, with primary access through mobile devices, what will it mean for the 21% of Americans still offline? In addition, will being poor mean being uninformed and disconnected from local civic life?

    "In our data, people who are less well off are less connected," said Rainie. "That makes it harder for them to use new tools for civic activism and to gather information easily and on-the-fly. "

    Closing the civic gap

    As citizens turns to the Internet for government information, government entities have to respond on some level. At the local level, however, resources are scarce. Local TV news is unlikely to fill the gap left by local newspapers. The economics and the medium don't support using limited time to cover topics that aren't popular, as the report discusses:

    Past PEJ studies have found that local newspapers typically have 70 to 100 stories a day. The typical half-hour local TV newscast is closer to 15. So it is logical that newspapers would offer coverage of more topics in a community, while television might concentrate on a more limited number that attract the widest audience.

    "Local government is one coverage area that will suffer immensely if daily newspapers go under," commented Owen Covington, a reporter for The Triad Business Journal in North Carolina, in response to ">my question on Google+. "It can be mundane, but is necessary, and time-consuming to produce. Daily newspapers cover local government as a matter of course, while much of the online coverage from other sources is sporadic, and often opinionated and lacking depth. I'm not saying there aren't alternatives that do as good or better a job than the daily print editions, but they are still rather rare and absent in most communities now served by dailies."

    The Pew report found that citizen-produced information (e.g. newsletters or listservs), commercial websites and newspapers all outweighed local government as news sources that readers relied upon. In that context, the work of and other civic media platforms will be critical.

    There are a growing number of free or inexpensive web-based tools available to city managers, including a growing repository of open source civic software at Civic Commons. Another direction lies in the use of local wikis to connect communities. Libraries will be important hubs for rural communities and will be a core element of bridging the digital divide in under-connected communities. Listservs will play a role in connecting citizens using the Internet's original killer app, email. Platforms for participatory budgeting may be integrated into hubs in municipalities that have a tolerance for ceding more power of the purse directly to citizens.

    "I would suggest that many of the citizen-powered information systems will not look like a newspaper website," commented Jeff Sonderman, a digital media fellow at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, when asked for his opinion, fittingly, in a Facebook group on social journalism. It's "more likely to be message boards, Facebook groups or email listservs."

    Many forward-thinking local governments will provide the means for citizens to obtain information by using the most common electronic device: a cellphone. Arkansas, for instance, has added question and answer functionality to mobile apps for citizens using text messaging.

    Should small cities or towns invest in citizen engagement? The government-as-a-platform approach looks to nonprofits, civic coders, educators, media, concerned citizens and commercial interests to fill that gap, building upon the core web services and data governments can provide. An essay on newspapers and government 2.0 published earlier this year by Pete Peterson, a professor at Pepperdine University, explored the potential for media and local government to collaborate on citizen engagement:

    The increasing use of these tools by local and state governments has created a niche within the burgeoning "Gov 2.0 field," which now covers enterprises from participatory policy making to 311-systems. Although newspapers have been slower to employ these online engagement platforms, several interesting initiatives launched by newspapers from the San Francisco Chronicle and its water shortage game to the Washington Post's city budget balancing tool indicate that news organizations are beginning to take the lead in online public participation. This can be seen as both good and bad.

    On the positive side, these tools are interactive, allowing a new and participatory form of learning for participants. Matched with the popularity of online games in general, these online civic engagement platforms can create a real "win-win" for both news organizations and users alike — informing readers and driving precious online traffic to newspaper websites.

    To date, however, that kind of cooperation doesn't appear to be gathering much momentum as a complement to the press looking for fraud, corruption or scandal. And, as Peterson noted, there are other challenges for the media:

    The way to build the most effective online engagement platforms is for news organizations and local governments to collaborate from their strengths: newspapers bringing their informed readership and marketing skills, working with a municipality's budget and policy experts. Of course, these relationships demand both transparency and a lack of bias — qualities neither party is known for. But — and this may be hardest of all — these tools also need citizens who are both engaged on local issues and humble about the challenges of forming public policy.

    The growth of a new digital news ecosystem populated by civic media, an evolving civic stack, and data journalism will generate some answers to these questions, but it won't address all of the outstanding issues.

    Local news readers write in

    When I asked for feedback from readers on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, I received a wide range of responses, some expressing serious worries about the future of local journalism and a few that were hopeful about the potential for technology to help citizens inform one another. A number of people discussed new public and private ventures, including, AOL's initiative to fill the gap in local news, and NPR's Project Argo, which is experimenting with regional news coverage through public radio.

    "I expect people will come together in groups or neighborhoods, and things will be more fluid," commented David Johnson, a journalism professor at American University, in response to my question on Facebook. "I don't foresee commercially supported news and information on the local level until there is a valuable platform for advertising and exchange of various levels of services. Perhaps associations will fill the void."

    The "loss of local newspapers, dailies or weeklies, is not a new concern, and a concern in metropolitan as well as more rural cities and towns," commented Robert Petersen, a software developer, in response to my question on Google+. Petersen continued:

    Many years ago the early trend in smaller markets was loss of local ownership of both print and broadcast news sources, an event that leads to a focus on financial performance first, rather than the financial success that follows from producing a quality product. More recently the advertising dollars necessary to sustain local journalism have tended to flow away from local journalism outlets to the additional delivery mechanisms, including "shoppers" (those go way back), electronic (direct email, blogs, coupon or deal sites, shopping help sites with reviews and price comparisons, etc.), movement of advertising to regional radio and TV, not to mention the loss of local sales to online merchants.

    This shift away from local journalism can also be seen in the journalism schools, where students are much more interested in journalism with perceived better financial prospects. That there can be substantial non-financial benefits to living in small cities and towns, i.e., quality of life, seems of less importance.

    I fear losing the judgment, ethics, and dedication of small-town journalists will lead to a slow deterioration of the quality of local government, a reduction in the quality of life due to a lack of balanced reporting (as well as editorials) of local issues, and in too many places a return to the civic leaders in the "smoke-filled room" making decisions for the uninformed.

    Jeanne Holm,'s open data evangelist, shared her community's hybrid news reality in a reply to my question on Google+:

    In my small town in Southern California, we still support a local paper, but the frequency has changed. We supplement with online news from City Hall, and most importantly we use social media — a lot. We have fires and floods in our area, and everyone connects on Facebook and via our emergency website to get people organized, supplies where needed, and our firefighters the support they need. It works really well. The local reporters often lead those social media conversations. They are reporting, but just in multiple modalities and in ways that make sense to the situation."

    If states are the laboratories for democracy, towns and cities may be the Petri dishes that stress test the vitality of different species of online hubs. The ones that will stick around will have met the information needs of citizens better than the alternatives — or they'll have found sustainable business models. In an ideal world, they'll have both.

    Appropriately, the conversation around the Pew report continues on a variety of online forums. If you have any thoughts on what's next, please feel free to share them in the comments here or on Google+ and Facebook, and via the #localnews hashtag on Twitter.

    Photo: 03.Newspapers.SW.WDC.22dec05 by ElvertBarnes, on Flickr


    September 23 2011

    Publishing News: Survey says publishers continue to miss out on digital opportunities

    Here's what caught my attention this week in publishing news.

    Digital publishing opportunities continue to elude publishers

    Aptara's Third Annual eBook Survey of Publishers was released this week. Overall, the study showed that publishers aren't yet making the most of digital opportunities. The survey revealed that "one out of five ebook publishers generates more than 10% of their sales from ebooks" — a pretty good number for this stage of the game — but that there are far more market opportunities yet untapped, "particularly for the majority of publishers that are still eluded by production efficiencies and meaningful revenues."

    Some interesting highlights from the report include:

    • Publishers' awareness of EPUB 3 and pursuit of enhanced ebooks is limited. EPUB 3 is the next edition of the EPUB ebook format standard and includes significant support for enhancements. There is a general lack of awareness of it and its benefits across all publisher types. While there has been a sizeable increase in enhanced ebook production in the past year, 60% of publishers are either still investigating or have no plans to produce enhanced ebooks.
    • pubwirGraphic.PNG
      Results for survey question 16: Do you have a strategy for moving to the EPUB3 standard once it is finalized?

    • Two out of three ebook publishers have not converted the majority of their backlist (legacy) titles to ebooks. With higher profit margins than frontlist titles, these digital assets hold significant untapped revenue potential.
    • The question of "digital or print?" has been answered. The answer is both: "digital and print." The vast majority of book publishers (85%), across all market segments, are producing print and ebook versions of their titles. For the time being, print publishing's legacy cost structure and business and production models are living alongside newer ebook-inspired practices.
    • Most ebook production still follows outdated print production models at the expense of significant operational efficiencies. Though publishers are pursuing multiple-output production (print and ebooks), they are slow to transition from a traditional print-based production to more flexible and scalable digital workflows that produce output for mobile devices, PCs, and print-all from a single content source.

    The full report can be downloaded here.

    News organizations continue to venture into ebook publishing

    ArsTechnicaEbookReview.pngThe idea of newspapers, magazines and other news organizations publishing ebooks isn't new, but as newspapers and magazines continue to struggle to find their way (and their revenue) in the new digital landscape, the practice is becoming a lot more common. A post this week in the New York Times took a look at this burgeoning market and how it's affecting ebook publishing:

    Swiftly and at little cost, newspapers, magazines and sites like The Huffington Post are hunting for revenue by publishing their own version of ebooks, either using brand-new content or repurposing material that they may have given away free in the past.

    And by making e-books that are usually shorter, cheaper to buy and more quickly produced than the typical book, they are redefining what an ebook is — and who gets to publish it.

    The practice extends to technology manuals as well — take a look at the Ars Technica Mac OS X Lion review that the company turned into an ebook (here's its page on Goodreads).

    Taking into consideration the nimble nature of ebook publishing and the high ROI for news organizations, this blossoming new rivalry for traditional publishers is likely to continue.

    Finally, a recipe organization site that really gets it

    Recipe sites and apps are popping up all over the place, but for recipe hunter/gatherers like myself, the modus operandi of emailing recipe links and storing them in inbox folders continued to be a better (though messy) solution. Until now. KeepRecipes — reviewed this week in Mashable — provides a solution that really works.

    As Sarah Kessler explains in the Mashable post, the site works like Instapaper — users install a bookmarklet they can click while on a recipe page they want to save. Kessler's rundown of how it works is great, but she gives one important tip that ultimately makes a big difference:

    Due to copyright issues, the bookmarklet can only auto-populate the ingredient list of the recipe. But if the user highlights instructions before clicking the bookmarklet, those are also saved with the ingredient list.

    While playing with the app, I found a couple instances where the ingredient list didn't auto-populate as well, but the highlighting trick worked for that, too. Other useful features include an auto-population of the recipe source link, and the site coordinates with an iPhone app, so you can easily access ingredient lists while at the grocery store.

    One of the more exciting aspects of this site is that it's looking to partner with publishers to sell digital editions of cookbooks that users can buy and download directly into their KeepRecipes folders. Kessler noted that the "Not Your Mother's" series, A. J. Rathbun's cocktail book "Dark Sprits" and cookbooks from the "A Baker's Field Guide" series are on deck for a Thanksgiving release. This not only offers potential revenue for publishers, it's very useful for consumers. It also could set the stage for selling individual recipes from cookbooks as one-offs.

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  • Structured data powers Google's Recipe View
  • More Publishing Week in Review coverage

  • September 16 2011

    Publishing News: Goodreads chases the recommendation Holy Grail

    Here's what caught my eye in publishing news this week.

    Has Goodreads nabbed the book recommendation Holy Grail?

    GoodreadsGoodreads purchased Discovereads about six months ago. This week, Goodreads finally put its acquired machine learning algorithms to use and launched a new book recommendation engine. As ReadWriteWeb explained:

    The site's new reading recommendations are generated using a set of propriety algorithms which look at over 20 billion different data points. Perhaps most importantly, it takes into account the stated preferences of of its nearly six million users, for whom rating books is already a key component of using the site.

    This giant dataset is what gives the engine its edge. Goodreads CEO and founder Otis Chandler gave an example in the press release, pointing out that Goodreads has "more than 174,000 ratings of the best-selling 'The Help' while Amazon only has around 4,400." But the algorithm doesn't stop at popularity — it digs deeper into readers' psyches, as pointed out on Mashable:

    The algorithm ... is largely based on what's on a reader's bookshelf and what other readers with similar bookshelves have enjoyed reading. It also takes into account why you liked a book. When a reader categorizes "The Help" as "historical fiction," the algorithm will react differently than when he or she classifies it as "racism."

    Goodreads' algorithm and dataset allows it to not only provide recommendations of similar books (ala BookLamp, Amazon, et al), but also suggestions that teeter closer to the Holy Grail of recommendation: serendipity and discovery.

    Hearst goes multi-platform with HTML5 web design

    Good HousekeepingHearst took the digital publishing bull by the horns and launched a redesign of its website — using HTML5. It also indicated it would pursue the same path for most of its other sites.

    One of the major benefits of designing with HTML5, of course, is the cross-platform utility it allows (see comparison screenshots over at ReadWriteWeb). Another advantage is the interactivity, which Hearst is embracing fully. In an interview at Folio, Eric Gullin, Hearst's group director, called out the the rotating promotional player on the home page at

    This slide show or rotator is touch enabled, depending on the device you're using, and that's one of the things that's wonderful with HTML5. We can use HTML5 to have it work the way we would like it to work depending on the device the reader has.

    But that wasn't all of the exciting HTML5 news this week ... delivers news in HTML5

    Boston GlobeYes, another newspaper launched a website that will be behind a paywall (I'll get to that part in a minute), but the intriguing thing about the launch of was pointed out on page two of a post:

    ...the site is based on HTML5 "responsive design," an app-like offering that reflexively re-sizes depending on the device and screen. Everything from the front page to the photo galleries to the HTML5 crossword puzzle ... is designed to work via browser. That includes a "MySaved" feature that allows users to save stories via the browser on one PC or device and not only open them in another, but quickly save them for offline reading on a new device. It even works in the experimental browser on a Kindle ...

    I'm impressed, and I'm not the only one excited about the HTML5 design. Nieman Lab was quick to point out this design might just allow the newspaper to bypass the 30% cut Apple takes from subscriptions. I'm certain other news organizations are bandying that tidbit about their conference tables.

    As for the paywall part of the site ... the plan is to continue running, the original free site, but move about three-fourths of the newsy content to the new and ask people to pay $3.99 per month (print subscribers get free access). The fact that they're going to offer breaking news, 20 new blogs, and some news content on the free site, as mentioned in the paidContent post, might work against them. There's also a fun three-step process posted at The Evolving Newsroom to estimate how well it will all turn out (hint: that HTML5 crossword puzzle and the photo galleries mentioned above might factor in heavily).

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    August 05 2011

    Visualization of the Week: The growth of newspapers in the U.S. from 1690 to date

    In an interactive visualization created by the Stanford University Rural West Initiative, we get a sense of the long-term growth of the newspaper industry. The data goes way back to 1690 when Boston's "Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick" made its debut (that paper was promptly shut down four days after its first publication by the colonial governor, who denounced it as "Without the least Privity or Countenance of Authority").

    The Stanford visualization maps in time and space the 140,000 some-odd newspapers that have been published in the U.S. over the course of the last 300 years. The data comes from the Library of Congress' "Chronicling America" project.

    Screen from the Stanford University Rural West Initiative newspaper visualization
    A screenshot from the Stanford University Rural West Initiative newspaper visualization. Click to see the full interactive version.

    Using the slider on the interactive visualization, you can see how newspapers spread across the country, growing and shrinking in various cities. You can also filter the results to see publications in different languages.

    Found a great visualization? Tell us about it

    This post is part of an ongoing series exploring visualizations. We're always looking for leads, so please drop a line if there's a visualization you think we should know about.

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    More Visualizations:

    July 22 2011

    Publishing News: Scribd flirting with ebook subscriptions?

    Here's a few highlights from this week's publishing news.

    Scribd takes baby steps toward ebook subscriptions

    FloatLogo2.jpgScribd's new long-form reading and reformatting platform Float was in the news this week. On the surface it seems to be very much like other content aggregator-reformatting platforms — such as Instapaper and Flipboard — that let users read and share content from the web in easy-to-read formats.

    The major difference between Float and its competitors is Scribd's agreement with 150 publishers to reformat their content. This is what will make Scribd's plan to become the "Netflix of reading" a reality. Liz Gannes talked to Trip Adler, Scribd's CEO, for a post for All Things Digital. Adler said the ultimate goal is to "be a Netflix for written content, where users can sign up for subscriptions to get access to a broad swath of premium articles."

    Premium articles? You mean articles from behind paywalls? Sure sounds like it, and if so, this is where those 150 established relationships will come in handy (just ask Netflix). In a post for Wired, Steven Levy said a subscription fee hasn't been established, but he touches on an idea that would make Float the holder of the Holy Grail of digital distribution — ebook subscriptions:

    Scribd hasn't decided what the monthly fee for that should be, but Adler says that the $8 to $10 range of services like Netflix and Spotify sounds about right. If the service included books — a concept that certainly has crossed Adler's mind — the fees might be higher.

    Now, that is a service I'd pay for, and it just might make me buy an ereading device.

    TapIn Bay Area app empowers citizen journalists

    The mobile photojournalism company behind the Tackable app teamed up with the Bay Area Newspaper Group to launch TapIn Bay Area, a location-aware news app for the Bay Area. The app allows journalists at the San Jose Mercury News to make use of citizen journalism in a very direct way. In a post for GigaOm, Mathew Ingram described how it works:

    The "citizen journalism" portion of the app is based around what are called "gigs," which are requests for information about specific topics or news events. Journalists from the newspapers working with TapIn or Tackable (which offers a similar system in its app) can post these requests if they need photos or other info about something, but other users can also create and post a "gig" through the service.


    Citizen journalism isn't new, but this mobile platform makes it a bit more slick, integrating Google Maps to create a friendly user experience. From a business standpoint, though, this isn't the most important part of this app. As Ingram points out, it's bringing a much needed digital revenue source to newspapers:

    ... it also allows the newspaper to offer readers Groupon-style "daily deals" based on their location as well ... An app like TapIn, if it can manage to get enough traction with users, could give the San Jose Mercury News and other Media News outlets a bit of a leg up (the media company says it plans to roll TapIn out in other cities where it owns newspapers).

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    Amazon gets into e-textbook rentals

    This week Amazon launched an e-textbook rental program on the Kindle. Broke college students might not be rejoicing just yet, however. Several companies, including CourseSmart and BookRenter, already have delved into the e-textbook rental market without overwhelming success.


    A study recently conducted at the University of Washington suggests ereading devices themselves might be the problem. In a release, first author and doctoral student Alex Theyer said:

    There is no e-reader that supports what we found these students doing. It remains to be seen how to design one. It's a great space to get into, there's a lot of opportunity.

    In the case of Amazon, selection also might be a barrier to success, as one report found the search results "discouraging." E-textbooks, rental or otherwise, are not quite there, but increased experimentation and advancements in digital device capabilities may hold promise for those strapped college students.


  • On
    a small screen, user experience is everything
  • Aggregation
    apps respond to consumer personalization demands
  • What
    publishers can and should learn from "The Elements"
  • More
    Publishing Week in Review coverage

  • July 15 2011

    Publishing News: Newspapers finally test tablet-content bundle

    Here's a few highlights from this week's publishing news. (Note: Some of these stories were previously published on Radar.)

    Philly newspapers jump on tablet bandwagon

    PhillydotcomlogoTwo newspapers announced plans this week to take a bold step into the digital era. Sister newspapers the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News announced they'll be selling discounted Android tablets, complete with built-in content, to subscribers in late August. (Note: models and pricing are yet to be determined — we'll update as more information becomes available.)

    In an interview with AdWeek, CEO and publisher of the Philadelphia Media Network Greg Osberg said the move will help the papers leverage digital content as well as give them data on how readers consume that content:

    No one in the U.S. has bundled the device with content. We want to gain significant market share in this area, and we want to learn about consumer behavior. Our goal is to be the most innovative media company in the United States.

    Implementing this type of project certainly will put them in the lead in terms of digital innovation in newspapers. The underlying idea isn't completely new, however — Business Insider estimated in 2009 that the New York Times could buy a Kindle for all its subscribers and save money if it ceased print production. The Business Insider post pointed out, "that as a technology for delivering the news, newsprint isn't just expensive and inefficient; it's laughably so."

    As newsprint costs become increasingly laughable and inefficient, the Philadelphia test might just be a solid step toward the new "print" model for newspapers that they so badly need to survive.

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    The Google eBookstore gets its first ereader platform

    PhillydotcomlogoGoogle and Iriver had a big week in publishing, too. Iriver launched its Story HD ereader, the first ereading platform to tap into the Google eBookstore. In a post for Google, Pratip Banerji, product manager at Google Books, said the Story HD launch is a milestone, but there's more to come:

    We built the Google eBooks platform to be open to all publishers, retailers and manufacturers. Manufacturers like iriver can use Google Books APIs and services to connect their devices to the full Google eBooks catalog for out-of-the-box access to a complete ebookstore. You can also store your personal ebooks library in the cloud — picking up where you left off in any ebook you're reading as you move from laptop to smartphone to e-reader to tablet.

    The $139.99 device will be available on July 17 at U.S.-based Target stores.

    The digital page eliminates footnote frustration

    This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers' project "Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader: A Buyer & Builder's Guide to Digital Books." We'll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It's republished with permission.)

    Footnotes have got to be one of the more frustrating aspects of ebooks today. For starters, woe to the fat fingered among us who read on a touchscreen device. Even simply tapping the asterisk takes a couple jabs. Once you hit the tiny target, off you go to Footnote Land, the return from which depends on how well you understand your e-reader's "Back" button system.

    Even in print, getting readers to shift their attention from body text to note is a tough sell. Schlepping to the bottom of the page — or worse, the end of the book — takes time, disrupts focus, and offers rewards that appeal mainly to the PhD set.

    Now, of course, dedicated readers are perfectly capable of taking these kinds of excursions and preserving their attention. Heck, nursing mothers plow through War and Peace amidst interruptions. But the point is: in an age of ever increasing distractions and info temptations, we need to minimize obstacles to good reading flow — especially those that occur within the document itself.

    The flexibility of the digital page offers promise.

    The Shakespeare Pro iPad app offers one nice approach:

    Embedded glossary in the Shakespeare Pro iPad app
    Click to enlarge

    The dotted underlines signal which words have available definitions. It's noticeable but unobtrusive; nice. (The same couldn't be said if instead we saw the classic blue web page link; the implicit message there is "I am a path to another document"). Having a touchscreen device is, of course, a key part of this design's success. Assistance is provided, at a tap, at the point of need. Clearing the note requires as little conscious thought as blinking; tap anywhere outside the box and it goes away. And a one-touch icon (the slightly open paged book in the upper-right corner) lets readers toggle the links on and off.

    • This story continues here


    June 30 2011

    How one newspaper rebooted its workflow with Google Docs and WordPress

    Bangor Daily News Google DocsDigital media not only forces newsrooms to face economic challenges, but also workflow issues. In a recent post, Todd Benoit, director of news and new media at the Bangor Daily News addressed the root of the workflow problem in his newsroom:

    Like many newsrooms, until very recently we were production heavy because we had to be. Moving stories to the web was a copy-and-paste affair, but that's not where the trouble started. If you begin with a print-directed front-end system, as we did, how does that system accommodate a story being updated from the field? Or how would the full possibility of story assets land online, to be chosen among for print? Even simpler: When do reporters add links? The answers, as countless journalists know, are: It can't; they won't; they don't. From there, it's all production, not creation.

    The Bangor Daily News attacked the problem head on, incorporating Google Docs and WordPress into a new front-end system that handles the flow of news in the digital era. As Benoit describes the solution:

    ... the guiding ideas we have put into practice are to match the tool to the job we need done (rather than the reverse), reduce the number of steps required and anticipate how our audience will want the information next. And the cost should be next to nothing.

    To find out more about how the project came about and how it works in practice, I reached out to William Davis (@williampd), the online editor at the Bangor Daily News and the architect of the new system.

    Our interview follows.

    How did you end up gravitating toward a Google Docs / WordPress / InDesign system?

    William-P-Davis.pngWilliam Davis: My boss [Todd Benoit] has a great post on our dev blog on the topic, and I talk about it a bit on one of my blog posts as well.

    We picked Google Docs purely for its ease of use and its collaboration tools. We wanted a place where reporters could work on their articles easily from wherever they are — we have quite a few bureaus, and our reporters often file from events. The collaboration tools are terrific and have really proved useful, for example, when we're editing articles on tight deadlines or when reporters are working on stories together. On Election Day we had three reporters at different campaign headquarters all working in one doc, and it went very smoothly.

    We chose WordPress because we wanted a content management system (CMS) that allowed us to develop components quickly and easily. WordPress has a great API and it's very extendable — we've been able to easily change pretty much any part of the CMS without hacking the core, which allows us to maintain the integrity of the system.

    Both systems are quickly evolving and pushing boundaries in their fields, without any prodding from us. WordPress has frequent updates that push the platform to a new level, and Google Docs' collaboration tools, for example, are second to none.

    Finally, we chose InDesign because it is the industry leader in page design software.

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    What was involved in developing the system?

    William Davis: We started development in August [2010] or so, and it's still ongoing. We launched things on a rolling basis by department, and started with sports, which turned out to be the hardest because it's the most complex. We then rolled out politics in time for the elections. We got the entire newsroom using Google Docs early this year.

    The display desk transitioned to InDesign in April, and then earlier this month we finished the website transition and turned off our old systems. As we developed the components needed for each department, we would move them over, test and tweak things, and then move on to the next department.

    What are some of the major challenges you've encountered?

    William Davis: We've had a few instances where Google has changed the way they structure their content in Google Docs or changed the way a part of the API works and we've had to adapt. We've also faced the usual technical problems that come with hosting any large website, but we haven't really encountered any challenges that we weren't able to solve fairly quickly.

    Some components we've rebuilt a few different ways and will probably rebuild again. The wire feeds are an example. Those were originally running directly into WordPress. We decided we didn't want to put the strain of tens of thousands daily stories and photos on our website and so we tried running the wires directly into Google Docs. We encountered problems there, as well. I`n the third iteration, which we're using now, we have a separate script that ingests the wires and provides a way to browse them, then sends the stories we want into Google Docs. That's worked pretty well, though that's not to say we won't rebuild that component or others in the future as needed.

    The great thing about building our own system is that we can tailor it to our needs. Because we're doing it all in-house, we can change quickly, rather than waiting for a corporation to adapt with us.

    Was it difficult for people to adapt to the new system?

    William Davis: With a transition to any new system, there are of course going to be problems, but I think the ones we've encountered have been pretty minimal. Reporters seem to have had a pretty easy time adapting to writing in Google Docs — many of them, especially bureau reporters, were already using the system to write their articles. They understand why it's important to move content quickly through the system so their articles have the best chance to succeed online.

    Can you give us a walk-through of the publishing steps involved — from story idea to final web and print versions?

    William Davis: Reporters start their stories in Google Docs, and when they're finished, they drop them in a folder for their section — Metro, State, Business, etc. Editors read the story and move it on to a copy editing queue, where a digital desk editor reads it before sending it to WordPress.

    In WordPress, the digital desk editors will categorize it, attach media such as photos and video, and then they will publish the story. This is done throughout the day — we have digital desk staff on from 5 a.m. until midnight. When the display desk comes in to lay out the paper, all they have to do is find the story in the InDesign plugin we built and bring it onto the page.

    Everything comes onto the page fully formatted, though the digital desk is responsible for writing their own headlines for print. They can do this either on the page or in a module I built for WordPress that provides a WYSIWYG headline-writing interface.

    Davis offers a tour of the new system in this screencast:

    How many people actually touch the copy before it's published?

    William Davis: As is the case in any newsroom, that varies by article. The digital desk editors, in addition to being copy editors, sometimes act as backfield editors, such as on the weekend. Other articles are seen by four or five editors before they're published. In general, though, articles go from reporter to assignment editor to at least one digital desk editor before being published.

    How much manual labor is involved?

    William Davis: We've managed to do away with pretty much all manual labor. Previously, all stories were written in our print CMS, and the web staff was responsible for copying and pasting the story into our web CMS, finding and adding links, writing a web headline and, quite often, doing that multiple times for the same story after it was updated. The copy editing was all print-centric, so at the end of the night, most of the stories would need to be updated. Now there's no copying and pasting — everything flows from one step to the next.


  • The line between book and Internet will disappear
  • Metadata isn't a chore, it's a necessity
  • Writing a Book with Google Docs

  • The secret to digital publishing success? Don't start with the book

  • May 25 2011

    1937: Franco sends for German bombers to flatten Basque town of Guernica

    In less than four hours several hundred civilians are killed. Most buildings lay in ruins and are still burning

    The fascist alliance between Franco, Hitler and Mussolini gave the Spanish dictator access to bomber planes, which were used with such devastating effect. The Spanish artist Pablo Picasso tried to capture the horror of the raid in the painting "Guernica", which is now regarded as one of his most famous works © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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