Google Books: Scan First, Ask Questions Later
Nov 27, 2009
n a revision to the Google Books Settlement filed in federal court late Friday night, Google and the Authors Guild made concessions to industry groups, regulators and others who have vocally opposed the planFriday she is queen of Atlantis. She has never before been queen of anything, but she’s a quick study, and by the time her attendants finish draping her in necklaces of coral and sea glass and shark teeth, she’s confident she can handle it. But the search giant refuses to budge on one of the agreement’s most controversial points.
So-called orphan works, millions of books for which copyright laws still apply but whose rights owner is unknown or cannot be located, will still be scanned and sold in an online registry. New revisions to the plan call for an independent trustee to collect revenues generated from orphan works for up to 10 years, or until the rights holders are found. After 10 years, that money will be donated towards the continued effort to seek out copyright owners.
In September, head of the US Copyright Office Marybeth Peters said Google’s initial “opt-out” proposal to scan orphan works before attempting to find rights owners amounted to a throwing out of “fundamental copyright principles.” Though the most recent revisions stipulate more rigorous steps for collecting and distributing money to authors and publishers, the proposed agreement is still opt-out, as Danny Sullivan pointed out in his blog Search Engine Land. Peters is still likely to object.
Other revisions which are likely to sway some critics include a new geographical limit to the the deal. Now, the Google Books Settlement applies only to U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia. That will please the governments of France and Germany, who have objected to the plan.
In the next week, U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin is expected to schedule a fairness hearing to hear arguments for and against the revised agreement. Expect to hear from groups like the Open Book Alliance, the coalition led by former Microsoft antitrust watchdog Gary Reback, which has already objected to the new agreement in a blog post.
David Steinberger of Perseus Books and Tina Brown of The Daily Beast.
In a joint venture with Perseus Books Group, The Daily Beast is forming a new imprint, Beast Books, that will focus on publishing timely titles by Daily Beast writers — first as e-books, and then as paperbacks on a much shorter schedule than traditional books.
On a typical publishing schedule, a writer may take a year or more to deliver a manuscript, after which the publisher takes another nine months to a year to put finished books in stores. At Beast Books, writers would be expected to spend one to three months writing a book, and the publisher would take another month to produce an e-book edition.
In an interview in her office at The Daily Beast, which is owned by Barry Diller’s InterActive Corporation, Ms. Brown said she believed books often missed opportunities to attract readers because the titles took too long to come to market.
“There is a real window of interest when people want to know something,” Ms. Brown said. “And that window slams shut pretty quickly in the media cycle.”
Ms. Brown said that Beast Books would select authors from The Daily Beast’s cadre of writers, most of whom are paid freelancers, to write books with quick turnarounds. She said she planned to publish three to five books in the first year. Other publishers have already experimented with releasing quick e-books before issuing a print version and have seen only modest results. “Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation” by Daniel Gross, a writer for Newsweek magazine who expanded on some of his articles for a book that was first published in an electronic edition by Free Press, a unit of Simon & Schuster, sold 4,000 copies in paperback, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales.
PublicAffairs, another imprint of Perseus, issued an e-book version of “The New Paradigm for Financial Markets” by George Soros two months before releasing a hardcover, selling 50,000 copies of the print version.
Ms. Brown, a former editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and the ill-fated Talk magazine, said there was a gap between online writing and full-length books that was no longer being fully met by a dwindling market for magazines.
She envisioned most of the Beast Books titles as being 40,000 words, or about 150 pages. They would cover touchstone political and cultural topics first addressed on the Web site, as well as more personal memoirs.
Perseus is paying The Daily Beast a five-figure management advance to cover the costs of editing and designing the books, and Perseus will distribute the titles through its existing sales force. The writers will receive low five-figure advances from Perseus, then split profits from the sale of both the e-books and paperbacks with Perseus and The Daily Beast. Ms. Brown said writers were not required to give Beast Books a right of first refusal on any book ideas they might generate.
Both Ms. Brown and David Steinberger, chief executive of Perseus, declined to say exactly how the profits would be split, but Mr. Steinberger said authors would receive “meaningfully more” than the typical 15 percent of the hardcover price that authors currently receive as royalties in more traditional book contracts.
The imprint’s first book, scheduled to be published as an e-book in December and a paperback in January, is “Attack of the Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America,” by John P. Avlon, a commentator on CNN who has written extensively for The Daily Beast about left- and right-wing political groups.
Perseus is planning an initial paperback print run for “Attack of the Wingnuts” of 100,000 copies but may adjust after reviewing the number of digital downloads.
With three million unique visitors a month, Ms. Brown said, The Daily Beast — which marks its first anniversary next month and has not yet turned a profit — would be able to provide a much more powerful marketing machine than typical publishers. The site will provide links to retail sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble to buy the books, although Mr. Steinberger said that in the future, if Daily Beast readers wanted it, the site would consider selling books directly to consumers. He said there were no current plans to do so.
“One of the big criticisms that one hears about print books is that by the time they get out it’s too late and who cares,” said Constance Sayre, a principal at Market Partners International, a consultant to publishers. “The only thing I worry about is that everybody’s writing and nobody’s reading. But I think it’s not going to happen if you don’t try it.”
Ms. Brown said she was not concerned that readers would feel saturated after reading free articles on The Daily Beast and was confident they would want to pay for additional content. She said she learned from her experience helping to run Talk Miramax Books, where she helped to attract celebrity authors including Madeleine K. Albright, Rudy Giuliani and Queen Noor of Jordan.
ReadingGroupGuides.com Releases Survey Results
Jun 15, 2009
"A lot has changed" since the last survey in 2001
By Lynn Andriani -- Publishers Weekly, 6/15/2009 2:25:00 PM
ReadingGroupGuides.com recently conducted a survey of book club members and found that 83% of groups read both hardcovers and paperbacks, and that at least half of book club members are on Goodreads or Facebook.
More than 7,700 respondents completed the 62-question survey, which asked where members get information about books, if they use online social and book networking sites, and whether their book-buying habits have changed in the last year. Carol Fitzgerald, co-founder and president of the Book Report Network, which owns ReadingGroupGuides.com, said the survey results demonstrated that “a lot has changed” since the last survey in 2001.
The survey also found that 15% read only paperbacks, and that book club members get information about books in the following order: local newspapers, the New York Times, the Oprah Winfrey Show, morning talk shows and NPR (71% rely on recommendations from friends). Among the other findings: 65.6% of respondents said they are interested in having authors join their book club discussions, and 72% would like a place online where they can find out what other groups are reading.
The second incarnation of the Kindle book reader, introduced last week by Amazon, has attracted significant attention, with most reviewers describing it as sleek and user-friendly, and a few hailing it as the device that may finally make digital readers mainstream. But Sven Birkerts, in an article on TheAtlantic.com, suggests that it augurs the end of the culture of letters. In its play to "supplant the bound book," he warns darkly, the Kindle may displace not only the pages-and-boards codex, but the very structures and systems that, in Birkerts' words, evolved to "map our collective endeavor to understand and express our world."
Yet the culture of letters has always been subject to disruption and transformation. Indeed, since the advent of print, technologies of the book have changed dramatically, and with them the book’s place in society. The world of letters not only transcends these technological changes—it thrives because of them. Were that not the case, the cultural continuity that Birkerts holds so dear would have been lost long ago.
In the Middle Ages, the role of the book in Western culture was more a matter of symbol than of substance. The Bible ruled supreme, holding sway over the public imagination and regulating the holy calendar. In slowly growing numbers, other books—the Decameron, the Canterbury Tales, Petrarch's Sonnets—began to lay the groundwork for Humanism as well. But in daily life, books mattered little to the great mass of people. A typical book’s ornate illuminated pages and rich leather binding signaled its status as an accoutrement of the aristocracy—and indeed, books were every bit as rare as cardinals or courtiers.
Then, as movable type began to take hold in the age of Copernicus, Erasmus, and Luther, some worried that the printing press would devalue the book. But in fact, it represented a disruption only to the channels of authority that had hitherto controlled the creation and distribution of word and image. Likewise today, the Kindle and other information technologies are less likely to destroy the authority of books than to disrupt the authority of those who control the place of books in our society.
Birkerts worries that the Kindle will reduce the lives and works of our poets and authors to interchangeable packets of information buzzing through the network. When someone at a party he attends responds to a question about Wallace Stevens by calling a Stevens poem up on his BlackBerry, he frets that we may be "gradually letting go of Wallace Stevens as the flesh-and-blood entity he was, and accepting in his place a Wallace Stevens that is merely the sum total of his facts." Yet instant access to Stevens doesn't rob him of his place in a context; only forgetting him altogether could accomplish that. And forgetting is a corollary of the disciplining of access and the hierarchical imposition of taste. Given that Stevens is considered by some a "difficult" poet, his work could end up hard to come by in a world where tastemaking gatekeepers determine what gets published and distributed. But if my fourteen-year-old son can easily "call him up" on his BlackBerry, then I am a happy father. Such liberation of access can only enrich and deepen the historical imagination—extending its nourishment to new audiences.
In place of this digitized ease of access, Birkerts offers the middlebrow comforts of Bartlett's Quotations as somehow more contextualizing and enriching. But Bartlett's (which began its career as an act of piracy by Harvard's printer in the nineteenth century) is a famously troubled, context-negating device, a universal Cliff Notes, the last hope of the intellectually lame. Contrast its thin fare with YouTube, where you can listen to the poet himself read "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"—where you'll also find an animated photograph of Stevens performing "No Ideas But In Things" in the poet's own voice; John Ashbery discussing Stevens' impact on his work; or any number of unknown readers reciting Stevens' works in front of their computers. Wikipedia, meanwhile, tells me that a portrait of Stevens' wife Elsie served as the basis of the profile of Mercury's head on the Liberty dime. I can view Stevens' house on Wikipedia, and follow links from his entry there to information about the lives and works of his contemporaries, critics, and poetic legatees. There is a context here far richer than anything the glue-and-boards Bartlett's can offer. But here's the rub: we have to make sense of this cornucopia of information ourselves. Wikipedia is not a one-stop shopping source for tidbits of misinformation; it is a living discourse, inviting dialogue and participation.
Technologies shift—and with those shifts come changes in our consciousness. We read differently now than did the contemporaries of Johannes Gutenberg or Jane Austen. By the nineteenth century, books were no longer individually crafted works of art, but products of industry – no longer richly bound and ornately hand-decorated, but serviceably assembled using interchangeable parts. Yet despite these far-reaching shifts, the sequences of words themselves have been handed down more or less intact from age to age. Changes in their outward form—from scribal artifact to assembly-line product to networked device – have historically been the means by which books, and the knowledge and culture they transmit, become more widely and equitably distributed, enriching human society. Vellum has yielded to linen and wood-pulp, which in turn are yielding to pixels; and hand-lettering has yielded to the printing press, which in turn is yielding to code. Human civilization is a thing of innovation and metamorphosis, not stasis. Now as ever, we get the books our times demand.
Amazon's [AMZN] new Kindle 2, shipping this week, shames the original Kindle with a host of improvements: better enclosure, faster page-turns, a better Web experience and seven times the memory. But the Kindle 2 is put to shame by the someday-Kindle 3, which exists, for now, only in our collective imagination.
Don't get me wrong; the $360 Kindle 2 is cool. Very cool. But not yet cool enough for the price. In fact, if anything, the Kindle 2 has made me more inclined to buy the original Kindle at its new discounted price of $220.
After spending a week using both Kindles intensively—I adopted a collegiate slacker-at-finals reading pace—I can say that neither device fulfills even a sliver of its potential. But when the next version bursts from CEO Jeff Bezos' bird-like head, I will picket tirelessly for its universal adoption. (Listen to Fast Company's interview with Bezos below.)
Why Plastic Is the Logical Choice for a World without Paper
Feb 16, 2009
(C) 2009 The Independent - London. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved
Adieu print? Last Monday, on the very same day that Amazon revealed its underwhelming Kindle 2, Plastic Logic, a UK-US technology start-up that is pioneering a portable plastic electronic screen, announced a series of deals with publishing companies that will, I suspect, be seen one day as the death knell of magazines and newspapers.
While Amazon wants to replace the physical book with their iPod sized Kindle, Plastic Logic have developed a larger and technologically more ambitious plastic screen - a bendable and fully portable e-reader that, according to Joe Eschbach, the company's marketing VP, is lighter, more robust and cheaper to produce than a glass electronic screen.
Eschbach rejects the idea that Plastic Logic is a direct competitor to Amazon's Kindle. "It's a different type of product," he says. Amazon are going after the reader of what Eschbach calls "recreational books" like paperback novels, while Plastic Logic's target is what he claims to be the 10 times larger market of "business readers" of newspapers, magazines, pdf documents and emails.
While Plastic Logic demonstrated a prototype at last week's O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference in New York City, their device won't have what Eschbach described as "broad commercial availability" until 2010. Last week's announcements from Plastic Logic were, therefore, all about alliances or distribution deals with new media technology companies such as Zinio and Adobe, and newspaper publishers such as The Financial Times, The New York Times and USA Today.
As the insurrectionary Web 2.0 age fizzles out in a damp climax of superfluous social networking widgets, Plastic Logic might well be Silicon Valley's new thing. This plastic revolution-from-above represents an audacious attempt to finally kill off the already sick print newspaper and magazine. Backed by both British and American venture capital, Plastic Logic, which owns over a hundred patents on its technology, employs three hundred people and is headed by former Hewlett-Packard executive Richard Archuleta. With their R&D facility in Cambridge, their manufacturing centre in Dresden and their sales and marketing HQ in Mountain View, California, the company's unconventional organisation reflects the audacity of its revolutionary plastic e-reader.
I suspect that Archuleta's greatest challenge will be how to most effectively monetise his technology. With only 300 full-time staff spread across three countries and two continents, Plastic Logic might not quite have the human bandwidth to be simultaneously a next- generation publishing platform, a mass producer of branded hardware and a technology outsourcer. But Joe Eschbach is so confident about the commercial viability of Plastic Logic technology that he promised the product will "sell itself". The 2010 launch of a Plastic Logic branded e-reader, he told me, will result in the company getting "big quick" with "hundreds of thousands or millions of sales" of an internet-enabled device he predicted would cost somewhere between $300 and $800. I hope Eschbach is right. Silicon Valley desperately needs a new new thing. Plastic may indeed be the new paper. By this time next year, you might even be reading this column on Plastic Logic.
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