Books are Back: Romanticism Lives!

by Cynthia W. Moore

I Love Books

Photo from: https://brewingthoughts.quora.com/E-Books-vs-Printed-Books-The-Dilemma

Digital Book World published an article on their blog entitled “Who Cares How You Read? Just Read.”  Writer Laura Brady wrote that “There has been a lot of press lately about data that looks like it’s pointing to declining book sales and surging print sales.”  Well, if third quarter data counts as data, she is, indeed, correct.  Publisher’s Weekly recently posted that third quarter eBook sales were “down” at HarperCollins and “weak” at Penguin Random House.  Is the ever-climbing eBook sales graph line headed to the long tail?  Perish the thought!

The digital publishing industry is just hitting puberty and suitors of all kinds are lining up at the door.  Brady writes that, although she is now an eBook developer, she “loves books [and] started working in publishing because of a romantic idea of what books and the people who publish them are all about.”  She even admits that she doesn’t “apply the same romanticism to the business she works in now.”  Ah, there’s the rub.  People really do have an attachment to their books.  Reading books digitally is utilitarian.  You can’t really cuddle up to an e-reader, but you can get your work done.

Even playground bully Amazon has weighed in on the disruptive mess it has created by changing its status to brick-and-mortar bookstore owner as well.  Many “Like” the move and the comments are overwhelmingly favorable.

Laura Brady, though, is really addressing publishers and doing some much-needed PR for eBooks:

“I think there are certainly a lot of misconceptions about ebooks—that they can’t be nicely-designed, that they are worth less than print, that reading them is a “less-than” experience. None of these things are true. But they will become a self-fulfilling prophecy if publishers believe them and put little to no energy or creative attention into their digital publishing programs. Just like mass market paperbacks upended a staid publishing culture in the ‘30s, ebooks aren’t going anywhere and need to be a critical part of the publishing planning process.”

Brady goes on to say that “Some of us are working constantly to make future-proof ebooks that are nice to look at and easy to consume despite the confusing proliferation of specs and devices.”  Apparently it is up to publishers to save eBooks’ fourth quarter sales and thereby the industry overall.  Sometimes, though, I like rooting for the underdog and unlike Brady, I do “get jazzed by the smell of paper” in a newly purchased book.

Sources:

http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2015/who-cares-how-you-read-just-read/

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/index.html

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/financial-reporting/article/68440-bestsellers-offset-weak-e-book-sales-at-penguin-random-house.html

http://publishingtrendsetter.com/industryinsight/long-tail-publishing/

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/its-time-to-turn-your-back-on-amazon/Content?oid=19708679

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/11/03/454250311/amazon-opens-a-real-bookstore-in-seattle

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Cynthia Moore is a writer and former educator who joined the M.P.S. in Publishing program at The George Washington University to gain cutting edge industry know-how to launch her own publishing venture.

The Amazon Books Experience

Amazon opened it’s first brick and mortar bookstore in Seattle on Nov. 3, 2015. Located in University Village, an outdoor shopping center across the street from the University of Washington, the location has been described by reviewers as both “unimpressive” and “bizarre.” Amazon has built it’s brand on being the “go to” location for anything and everything consumers could ever want— an unending, virtual megastore, but the first physical location of an Amazon store seems to be anything but. Rob Salkowitz of Forbes referred to the small bookstore as “more Waldenbooks than Barnes & Noble.” The first reviews are reporting that the store, which claims it has hired professional, qualified booksellers to “curate” it’s shelves, is lacking in selection and offers a strange variety of what appears to be excess stock.

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Even stranger still is the way customers are made to shop in the store. There are no prices listed for any of the books or merchandise; the customer must scan a bar code using the Amazon app on their smartphone (if they don’t have the Amazon app or a smartphone, a bookseller will scan it for you). All the shelf tags contain the star ratings and snippets of reviews that you would see when shopping online, but absolutely no pricing information. When asked why the process of browsing for books is made so difficult for the customer, Amazon explains that its prices may fluctuate and they want to ensure that they are offering the same price to every customer, the one that is listed on Amazon.com.

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In his review of the bookstore Salkowitz asks a question that I’m sure most Amazon Books shoppers were left asking themselves: If you’re going to open a physical location of an already massive online bookstore, why open such a crappy one? His answer hits the nail on the head… Amazon Books doesn’t care about selling books. Instead of titling this post “The Amazon Books Experience” perhaps “The Amazon Books Experiment” would have been more appropriate.

By requiring shoppers to price scan using their Amazon app anytime they’re interested in a book, the customer is unwittingly sending Amazon their shopping habit information, preferences, and history, along with all their personal information. All this data is being tracked by Amazon’s massive cloud data service. So maybe Salkowitz is right, maybe this tiny brick and mortar bookstore born from it’s megaparent, Amazon.com, isn’t really a bookstore after all, but the physical location of Amazon’s experiment in blending physical and digital commerce. Very sneaky, Amazon, very sneaky. Let’s hope this isn’t the future of all of our retail shopping experiences— where our movements, histories, and data are tracked at every turn. Let’s hope that Amazon retires back to the web where it belongs soon, and that another monopoly on the way we shop hasn’t just been born.

Check out Salkowitz’s article here:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/robsalkowitz/2015/11/04/amazons-retail-store-has-nothing-to-do-with-selling-books/

***Heather Hickox earned a Bachelor’s in English at Middle Tennessee State University and is currently pursuing a Master’s of Professional Studies in Publishing at the George Washington University. Her writing has been published in several editions of Collage: A Journal of Creative Expression and VSA TN’s 40 Days Around the World. Heather is a Writing Facilitator for The Carnegie Writers, Inc. in Nashville, TN.

The Rising Costs of College Textbooks

Image result for rising cost

by Kelly Fleshman

Almost every college student is aware of, and burdened by, the high costs of textbooks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, textbook prices have seen an increase of 1,041% since 1977. As we learned in our Week 4 Learning Unit (Publishing Audiences), students are captive customers and have limited options.

In attempts to avoid the higher costs of textbooks, some students are renting their textbooks from companies such as Chegg or Barnes and Noble, using e-book versions for the lower cost, or not buying the required textbooks at all. Using these methods may be more cost effective, but students have a more difficult time being able to highlight and take margin notes or are missing out on assigned readings completely.

Perhaps, all of this is about to change for the better. In October, a bill to potentially reduce the costs for college textbooks was reintroduced to the US Senate (the Affordable College Textbook Act). The bill would establish a grant program that would support the open use of college textbooks and students would have free access to those materials.

The bill would also potentially force publishers to rethink their textbook pricing structure and requirements for educational materials, which could be a possible game-changer for academic publishers.

Salman Rushdie Defends Free Speech at 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair Opening

The Frankfurt Book Fair is always an exciting publishing industry event.  Kick it off  with Salman Rushdie as a keynote speaker, talking about free speech and you have an event worthy of world-wide discovery.  Publishers Weekly posted a great article, “Frankfurt Book Fair 2015: At Opening, Salman Rushdie Defends Free Speech” about this monumental event.

Author Salman Rushdie with Frankfurt Book Fair Director Juergen Boos
Author Salman Rushdie with Frankfurt Book Fair Director Juergen Boos – Photo courtesy of Publishers Weekly

“I’ve always thought in a way that we should not need to discuss freedom of speech in the West, that it should be like the air we breathe,” Rushdie said. But violence and the ongoing threats of violence, he acknowledged, requires publishers to fight on.”

“At this point, publishing begins to feel like a war,” he observed. “And publishers and writers are not warriors. We have no guns, no tanks. But it falls to us to hold the line, not to withdraw from our positions, but to understand that this is a position from which we cannot fall back.”

As publishers here in the U.S. we need to recognize how lucky we are to be able to publish what we want, and to understand the power behind our publications.

This article made me stop and think about the content I am working on and I’m reflecting on how I can, and should be doing a better job for the reader, as a publisher and a writer. I sent this article around to my editorial team and have asked everyone to think about the incredible freedom we have as publishers, and if we’re doing all that we can do.

Since reading the article, I’ve spent some time on line searching on the subject of “freedom of the press making an impact” and stumbled upon this Discussion paper – Freedom of the Press and Media in the World by Marietje Schaake MEP.

One particular paragraph in this paper stood out to me and I read it several times over.

“In many societies across the world however, it is precisely the powerful impact of independent journalism, and increasingly digital media and their cohesive effects, which create anxiety to those in power. Sunlight is a threat to those who seek to hide corruption, abuse of power, and injustice from the public eye. Journalists and media still mostly face restrictions coming from government interference. Should citizen journalists be distinguished from quality journalism and do different rights and responsibilities apply? Is a newspaper article more valuable than a 20 sentence online blog, and who should make that judgment?”

Freedom of speech should be a fundamental right for everyone around the world and I am grateful that I have such an opportunity speak freely. As we continue to move through the Masters of Professional Publishing program at The George Washington University, let’s all keep freedom of speech top of mind and we’re sure to become publishers that will make a positive impact on the world.

Publishers Will Need Independent Tech to Level Playing Field

Technology in the hands of businessmen
Source: http://www.theblindguide.com/evolutionary-technology/

By Danielle Desjardins

“Google, Facebook, and Twitter — Are they media companies disguised as technology companies?”

This is the question at the heart of “Publishers Will Need Independent Tech to Level Playing Field,” by Kirk McDonald, President of PubMatic, and although the answer to this hotly debated issue isn’t quite clear, one thing is: regardless of whether these outlets are media or technology companies, traditional publishers will need to up their game, and rethink their roles, to compete.

Premium content is no longer the failsafe recipe for success that it was for publishers for decades. Instead, technology and data are upending the monetization strategies that publishers have relied on for so long.

The world of publishing has changed dramatically over the past several years, and according to McDonald, this has created a new paradigm for publishers. “Premium content is no longer the failsafe recipe for success that it was for publishers for decades. Instead, technology and data are upending the monetization strategies that publishers have relied on for so long.” And these changes show in user behavior.

According to a study by Publishing Technology, a leading supplier of data and content solutions, 43% of mobile phone users (both in the United States and United Kingdom) use their phones to read books. The remaining 57%, however, find the experience of reading on a mobile phone unpleasant (36% in the US; 29% in the UK) or found the mobile platforms designed for reading too difficult to use (26% in the US; 21% in the UK). This indicates that unlike game developers, social networking sites, and other media/technology hybrids, publishing companies are not concentrating on continuously refining the user experience of their digital content — a necessity when users can, and will, easily switch loyalties. And considering that an estimated 2.4 billion smartphones will be sold in 2015 alone — approximately 120 times the number of Kindle e-readers sold from 2007 to 2014 — this represents a lost opportunity on a huge scale.

But that is only one technology. As millennials and other digital natives increasingly affect the marketplace, this need for excellent user experiences, and more convenient print/digital hybrid solutions, will only increase.

But the task of developing new monetization strategies and redirecting focus requires publishers to rethink their roles entirely. No longer will they solely be responsible for acquiring, producing, and disseminating content; instead, the average publisher will also need to consider the development or acquisition of specialized technologies built around their unique products — and their unique challenges.

Although some may rush to partner with the Facebooks and Twitters of the world to gain access to these groundbreaking technologies without a substantial internal investment, this strategy may prove short-sighted, especially as the partner technology company moves (often lightning fast) to change the offered technology to fit their own needs, not the publisher’s.

These marketplaces are no more invested in a publisher’s success than the NASDAQ is invented in the success of a particular mutual fund that makes trades on its exchange.

Instead, according to McDonald, the secret to adapting is to locate and partner with independent technology companies — or create individualized technology perfectly suited to your requirements in-house — to solve problems such as the need for greater market automation and real-time inventory management. In a sense, it is only by redefining themselves as both media and technology companies — effectively blurring the lines between each segment — that publishers will survive.

“It’s time for publishers to stop asking, “Are Google and Facebook media companies or tech companies?’” says McDonald, “And start asking themselves, ‘How am I using technology to build the media company of the future?’”

Big Data and the Value of Data-Sharing

 

By Stacy Masucci

Istockphoto
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The existing notions of big data and the value of sharing information is a controversial subject from its core- should we share information, how much, and if so how?

In a recent article from the UCLA Newsroom, Christine Borgman (UCLA Professor and Presidential Chair in Information Studies) explains her vision for a new project (which has a three-year grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation). Simply, the project will look at how researchers in a data-intensive environment handle and share information. But on closer inspection, the project is much more than that. Of note is the question that was posed in the title of the grant:

“If data sharing is the answer, what is the question?”

Finding that root “question” is truly at the heart of the project. The group will analyze how data is handled in four research projects (astronomy, biology and medical sciences). They will simplify data practices and present findings back to the scientific communities as well as to funding agencies, government agencies, publishers and stakeholders, to effect change in current policy. There are no specifics within the article as to which policies the group is targeting, but the report will certainly be of great interest and will no doubt shape future roles and responsibilities of stakeholders.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what the question is…

Is Electronic Publishing the Future for the Education Market?

By Sherrie Wilkolaski

Publishers in the education market are looking to electronic publishing and other digital educational tools as a way to improve the learning process and manipulate their educational text. The printed textbook is starting to look a bit old-fashioned when you compare it to high-tech tablet in the classroom. Leading educational publishers are taking big steps to utilize technology when it comes to publishing. In early September, BookBusiness reported that, “Hachette Livre, the third-largest trade and educational publisher in the world, announced a partnership with leading adaptive learning company Knewton”.

The collaboration between Hachette Livre and Knewton is a step in the right direction and with both companies being industries leaders in what they do, I look forward to seeing what they can do together to improve the future of education. We’re living in a world where electronic information is free-flowing in all areas of life. Why should the education process be any different? As a current student who was looking for an online learning alternative, I was surprised to learn during my quest for an online graduate program, that more schools were not offering what I was looking for. There are many schools who are doing an excellent job at utilizing a virtual and electronic classroom, such as The George Washington University, but still there is room for growth.

Only days before the announcement of the Hachette Livre and Knewton partnership, McGraw Hill Education revealed they will be going public. They reach both the K-12 markets and higher education, and per the Insider Trading Report, they noted, McGraw Hill Education, “also makes products for specific needs of companies, academic institutions, libraries and hospitals.” They will be focusing on “developing educational content technology” and their announcement is another indicator that the educational publishing is looking to electronic publishing and technology as the future.

What does all this electronic publishing mean for students? Will electronic publishing ultimately create a better leaning environment? Will new learning technologies replace the textbook and provide a less expensive alternative? The overall electronic publishing market is still a new experience and collaboration between educators and students, will help to guide publishers and technology experts to create a positive learning environment.  Only time will tell.

To read an additional article published by the Washington Post about a GWU student’s textbook experience, check out the article, “How college students can save money on pricey textbooks” by Danielle Douglas-Gabriel.