Archive for the 'ebooks' category

Friday Fun: 30 things to tell a book snob

I'll admit, I'm a bit of a book snob, a strange thing to say for a lifetime comics/science fiction/fantasy/horror/mystery fan, but there you go. Perhaps more precisely, I'm a snob about books versus other media.

But in my defense I'll maintain that I'm getting better as I get older -- more tolerant and accepting and less snobby. Perhaps not coincidentally, I think my takes in reading material are getting more diverse too.

In any case, let's all enjoy 30 things to tell a book snob.

1. People should never be made to feel bad about what they are reading. People who feel bad about reading will stop reading.

2. Snobbery leads to worse books. Pretentious writing and pretentious reading. Books as exclusive members clubs. Narrow genres. No inter-breeding. All that fascist nonsense that leads commercial writers to think it is okay to be lazy with words and for literary writers to think it is okay to be lazy with story.

3. If something is popular it can still be good. Just ask Shakespeare. Or the Beatles. Or peanut butter.

4. Get over the genre thing. The art world accepted that an artist could take from anywhere he or she wanted a long time ago. Roy Lichtenstein could turn comic strips into masterpieces back in 1961. Intelligence is not a question of subject but approach.

5. It is harder to be funny than to be serious. For instance, this is a serious sentence: 'After dinner, Alistair roamed the formal garden behind this unfamiliar house, wishing he had never betrayed Lorelei's trust.' That took me eight seconds to write. And yet I've been trying to write a funny sentence for three hours now, and I'm getting hungry.

Go read all the rest of the suggestions. Then fire up your reading device and/or dig deep into your bookshelves and read any damn thing that gives you pleasure. (Me on Goodreads plus my 2012 reading.)

Now, at the end of the day, I tend to think music snobs are just as bad. It would be fun to see a
"30 things to tell a music snob" post somewhere. Of course, most of the points would be similar, but slightly different.

Maybe we can invent one in the comments?

I'll start:

1. It doesn't matter whether or not the musician is living or dead, young or old, it's all just music. If you like it and it gives you pleasure, that's all that matters.

4 responses so far

Around the Web: Open Access in the Humanities & Social Sciences, Top ed-tech trends of 2012, eBooks in libraries

Dec 31 2012 Published by under around the web, ebooks, education, open access

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From the Archives: Interview with Michael Morgan of Morgan & Claypool

I'm on my annual summer hiatus for the month of July so I'll be only publishing my weekly Friday Fun posts as well as re-posting some of the interviews I did a few years ago on the old blog with people from the publishing, library and science worlds. Not that my posting of late has been particularly distinguishable from the hiatus state, but such is the blogging life after nearly ten years: filled with ups, downs, peaks, valleys.

This interview with Mike Morgan is from April 24, 2007.


It's time for another in my occasional series of scitech publishing/blogger/scientist interviews. This time around I have a few questions for Michael Morgan, formerly of Morgan Kaufmann and now with tech publishing newcomer Morgan & Claypool. I first met Mike at SLA in New York City a few years ago at a party, still well before the launch of the new product, and his ideas for what became Synthesis really struck me as a terrific idea, in many ways a possible template for the future of "book" publishing in computer science and engineering. I've been happy to support it from the beginning, as I think good work deserves our support, and I'm even happier to give Mike an opportunity to talk a bit about himself and his company's new product. Thanks, Mike!

Q0. Please tell us a little about your education & career path to this point and a bit about the thought processes that lead to the forming of Morgan & Claypool.

I've been in publishing my entire career. I graduated from Connecticut College, one of the great small American liberal arts colleges. I started my publishing career at Addison-Wesley, first as a college traveller (sales representative) and then as a computer science editor. In 1984 I was invited by William Kaufmann (former president of Freeman) and Nils Nilsson (a Stanford computer scientist) to join them in founding Morgan Kaufmann Publishers. We built Morgan Kaufmann as an independent company for 14 years and then merged with Academic Press, a subsidiary of Harcourt.

At Academic Press, I became VP of book publishing and also remained as president of Morgan Kaufmann. After three years, Reed Elsevier acquired Harcourt and therefore Academic Press and Morgan Kaufmann. At that point, I had been at Morgan Kaufmnann for 17 years and it seemed like a natural point to consider doing something else so I left and took some time off. After a few months, Joel Claypool, who was engineering publisher at Academic Press, suggested the key idea behind Synthesis and we started Morgan & Claypool to develop it. Both Joel and I are book publishers. We had observed the transition of journal publishing from print to electronic and saw that there was the opportunity to pursue some interesting publishing ideas with the technology and business models that had been created.
Q1. Could you tell us a little about what Synthesis is?

Synthesis is a large (and growing) collection of original, innovative content in engineering and computer science. We publish across about 30 areas now, for example: bioengineering, computer graphics, signal processing, artificial intelligence and are adding new areas on an ongoing basis. The documents in Synthesis are called "lectures" and are essentially 50-150 page peer reviewed book-like presentations of key topics in research and development written by active researchers. They are shorter and more targeted than typical books but broader and provide more of a "synthesis" than a journal article. Also, since they are created and delivered electronically they can be revised frequently. They can also include multimedia elements such as animations, code, video, audio, etc, although we haven't done much of that yet.

The concept of a short targeted presentation that can be updated frequently turns out to be very powerful. It enables presentation of cutting edge, active research topics that are moving too fast for books but for which there is a need for a tutorial overview. Our target audience is researchers who need to come up to speed in an area outside of their own, graduate students and advanced undergraduates, and engineers who are looking into new ideas for application. Another great application of this model is short pedagogically oriented treatments of more mature subjects that can be used for courses or professional development. Since our license encourages unlimited classroom use of Synthesis faculty can assign a lecture to supplement traditional textbooks at no additional cost to the student.
Q2. In reference to Synthesis, who's harder to convince that the model is a good one, faculty or librarians? Have you had a lot of feedback from teaching faculty and students so far, or are you not getting much from them yet?

Although we have had very gratifying support from our library community, the most active initial excitement came from faculty. I have personally discussed this idea with hundreds of faculty in computer science and have never in my career heard such enthusiasm for a publishing idea. The Synthesis lecture fills the need for a vehicle to present a first synthesis of a new field for students and researchers in other areas. As science and engineering expand and become more interdisciplinary, there is a growing need to understand new areas. Most journal articles are not very useful for this since their purpose is to record new research and not to summarize and synthesize the state of the art.

On the other hand, the business model for traditional books makes them equally unsuitable for the presentation of material that will need updating within a year. Faculty are very aware of this gap since they live with it every day. A strong indicator of their enthusiasm is the number of prominent researchers who have volunteered to author, edit and referee lectures. These are typically people who would not take time from their research to write books but who have seen what a strong contribution a lecture can make to their field. Since most of our content has been published for only a few months we've not yet had much feedback from users on the published lectures other than from usage statistics.

Usage has been growing substantially. For some lectures, we are approaching over 1000 downloads within a few months after publication which is much higher than one would see for a journal article.
Q3. What have been some of the challenges so far, for example, keeping the lectures short, getting good metadata, recruiting authors?

Well, on the content side, our greatest challenge is getting authors to finish. We and our editors have been very picky about choosing authors and all of our lectures are written by invitation. The positive result is that we have been able to recruit some of the most prominent researchers as authors. The negative result is that these are busy people with the most demands on their time. We act as advocates for their future audience and give them every encouragement (translation: nag, plead, beg) to get the lecture to the top of their stack. Then, once they finish a first draft, the manuscript is reviewed by their peers. Our task is then to get them to put in the additional time to revise.

On the library side, I guess our biggest challenge, which is now beginning to diminish, has been gaining credibility. Librarians haven't seen too many new companies start in the last 10 years and they haven't seen many new original electronic content products, most have been digitization of existing print works or aggregations of the same. Also, they have only seen a few undertakings that were really serious about high quality content. Although Joel and I are well known in engineering and computer science, as professional book publishers we weren't known by many librarians. So, in the beginning, we needed to overcome some skepticism. We had strong early support from a group of visionary libraries and librarians who are actively involved in the engineering library community to whom we owe a great deal.

Now that Synthesis has been licensed by many if not most of the top engineering schools and is beginning to be licensed more broadly this is less of an issue for us, at least in North America.
Q4. What's the future of print books in the computing field?

I think that this is very much dependent on what is available in terms of reading devices, electronic paper and personal printers. The main current advantages of econtent are in distribution, availability, search, linking and multimedia features. However, it seems that many people prefer reading in print, especially longer documents such as books. Once we have higher resolution screens, ergonomically enjoyable portable reading devices or even personal printers that can economically print and bind at the desktop, the preference for buying print books should decline. It's likely that this will happen first in engineering and computer science.
Q5. Who do you see as your main competition at this point? Other ebook providers or free stuff on the web? Wikipedia?

There are three potential fronts for competition for Synthesis: for authors, for library funds and for interest from readers. We don't feel much competition from other publishers for authors and content. Most of our authors are interested in a Synthesis lecture because their topics are moving too quickly or are too narrow for books. Also, since we give our authors the right to reuse their lecture material later in writing a longer book for any publisher, they don't have to choose. Our biggest competition for authors is for their time. For library funds, our competition is increasingly going to be other ebook providers as publishers make more of their lists available. Our challenge will be to convince librarians that the content in Synthesis is unique and valuable and that it is not just another ebook collection comprising digitised traditional print books. In terms of attention from readers, most of our content is unique but they are increasingly overwhelmed by the amount of content available. We will need to work hard at marketing, creating awareness and enabling discovery to compete against an increasing amount of noise. Although I am a big fan of Wikipedia, we don't see much competition from it at the advanced level of our content.
Q6. I had to get one Morgan Kaufmann question in -- in all the time you were at Morgan Kaufmann, what's the one thing you're most proud of? Do you have any regrets?

I am most proud of the community of authors and list of great books that we built. I think we were successful in creating a culture of collaboration and respect for authors that produced some great work. I think it's fair to say that several MK books made substantial contributions to computer science and that most faculty in such areas as computer architecture, databases, computer human interaction, graphics, networking and AI would agree.

My one regret is that we didn't keep MK independent. We merged the company with Academic Press to provide an exit strategy for our investors which was only fair to those who had made MK possible in the first place. Many of the original MK staff, especially in editorial, are still there and continuing a tradition of great publishing. It would be very interesting to be developing Synthesis in that context. On the other hand, if we hadn't merged with AP, Joel Claypool and I might not have developed the working relationship that led to the development of Synthesis and Morgan & Claypool. Ultimately, I think that Synthesis and Morgan & Claypool have the potential to make a much more significant and unique impact for our disciplines.
Q7. Finally, what's the best and worst things about your job these days?

The best thing is to be working closely with authors and librarians to do something so worthwhile. I've always worked closely with authors but it's been very rewarding to discover this new collaborative community of librarians. As a professional book publisher you don't have a community of (non reader) customers that is so engaged and knowledgable. For example, I am writing this from a UK library conference where I have spent pretty much every waking moment of the last three days in conversation with librarians, including on the disco floor until 2:30am this morning.

Frankly, there is not much that is bad. If I had to pick something, it would be the sense of feeling stretched too thin. In the traditional book world, most of the innovation is limited to content and everything else is pretty well established. With Synthesis we think about innovation in content, delivery, user experience, discovery, business models, digital archiving, and the list goes on.

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Friday Fun: 8 Unexpected Downsides of the Switch to E-books

Feb 17 2012 Published by under ebooks, friday fun

Given all the fuss and bother going on in the library world these last few days about ebooks, I thought this one would be a pretty fine choice to highlight today.

I just love me some Cracked!

8 Unexpected Downsides of the Switch to E-books

  1. You Can't Hide a Gun in a Kindle
  2. You Need Physical Books for Physical Tasks
  3. No More Flipbooks and Mustaches in Textbooks
  4. It May Change the Perception of the Necronomicon and Other Mystical Books
  5. Book Burnings Will Have Less Visual Impact
  6. How Will People Open Secret Passageways?

    Seriously, if you can't pull a cleverly titled book out of a bookcase to get it to swing open, what else are you going to do? You have to put an artifact in a slot or push a really obvious wooden carving every time? Boy, that is going to get old fast.

  7. You Can't Separate Bathroom Books from Outside Books
  8. Well, I let you find out for yourself...

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Library lending of trade ebooks: How should it work?

We have here what is sometimes known as a wicked problem.

On the one side, communities would like to be able to pool the resources of their members to acquire digital content that may then be shared and consumed by everyone in that community.

On the other, content creators and publishers would like to maximize their revenue from the content they produce and distribute.

Libraries want to pay the least amount possible but still have the maximum rights to share it among their communities.

Publishers want to make sure every possible reading transaction is monetized, so as a result want to minimize the sharing rights of the people and organizations they sell their content to.

I don't know the answer to this question but I was hoping that the accumulated wisdom of the masses of my readers might have some good ideas and share them in the

What is the most fair library/publisher ebook business model or set of business models for mass market, non-academic books?

Some further reading, both posts by others that have inspired this post and some of my own previous ramblings:

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Penguin ebooks & The Research Works Act: Publishers gain, communities lose

I was really angry riding home on the bus last Friday night. Not angry because the transit system here in Toronto is royally fudged in general or that transit to York University is fudged in particular.

No, it wasn't that particular aspect of the public sphere that had me upset.

It was the growing tendency of publishers of all sorts to try and take their works out of the public cultural commons and place them exclusively behind pay walls. It's their desire to monetize every reading transaction that had me hot under the collar.

Here's what I tweeted standing on the bus, altered a bit for readability:

Penguin withdrawing ebooks from libraries & The Research Works Act are the same things.

Publishers want to monetize all reading and sharing transactions. Are publishers basically saying that they are opposed to the core values that libraries represent?

Both Penguin and the RWA are cases of legacy industries protecting rapidly crumbling business models in the face of rapid technological change.

At a certain level, the challenge is not just how to stop them but also to build a fairer system that can include diverse players.

Scholarly publishers have never been libraries' friends, but it's sad to see it happening on the trade publishing side too, though I guess just as inevitable. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

It was on the bus, standing there, crushed, hot and stuck in traffic, that the link between the two big controversies in the library work in the last few months are so explicitly linked.

On the one hand, Penguin largely withdrawing from the main library ebook distributor and on the other the recent proposed US legislation, The Research Works Act.

Both are driven by publishers wanting to block what they produce from partaking in the open cultural commons in a fair and equitable way. To be able to impose their view of reality, their "reality distortion field." That the value they add outweighs their obligation to their broader stakeholders.

I like the way Peter Brantley puts it:

But from Penguin, and large publishers generally, there has been a striking paucity of engagement with librarians about their larger obligations to our communities. Libraries are not auto parts dealers, and Penguin is not an automobile manufacturer, unhappy that a distributor is making non-OEM parts available to consumers. Not permitting libraries to lend ebooks means that some people have less opportunity in their lives than others. That requires a better explanation than being scared about the revenue impact of letting people read for free without having any data to back it up. (Emphasis mine -jd)

I like that idea: scholarly and cultural producers have an obligation to the larger communities from which they draw their revenue.

For scholarly publishers this obligation means working with the researcher, librarian and funder communities to come up with a set of business models that allow publishers to be properly compensated for the value they add while at the same time allowing open access to the public, who, after all, funded most of the research.

Trade publishers such as Penguin (and HarperCollins, we're not forgetting you!) are terrified that the frictionless lending of ebooks will damage their audience's desire and need to actually purchase books. And that is understandable.

But this larger obligation to communities means working with public libraries primarily to find a way to allow lending of ebooks without directly causing too adverse an effect on their sales revenues. What we think of as First Sale rights for purchased materials must translate into the digital world in some way.

That historic obligation allow communities to pool their resources to acquire a range of materials and share them among the entire membership of that community. Not everyone needs to buy everything they consume and certainly the idea of community means that those that can afford to contribute via their taxes support those in their community who can't.

So, ebooks in public libraries, open access to publicly funded scholarship, quality, properly funded public transit. It's all the same.

Private interests are attacking the public good. Let's stop them.

(And it's here that I'll also state my support for the Elsevier boycott. I've signed -- in fact I've already refused an opportunity to publish in an Elsevier trade publication.)

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Friday Fun: 25 Things I Learned From Opening a Bookstore

Feb 03 2012 Published by under ebooks, friday fun, science books

Well, not me, exactly, but...

Anyways, some ideas and experiences from someone out there in blogland who used to be a lawyer and somehow managed to think opening a bookstore was a good idea.

25 Things I Learned From Opening a Bookstore

Here's a chunk from the middle:

19. If you're thinking of giving someone a religious book for their graduation, rethink. It will end up unread and in pristine condition at a used book store, sometimes with the fifty dollar bill still tucked inside. (And you're off and leafing once again).

20. If you don't have an AARP card, you're apparently too young to read westerns.

21. A surprising number of people will think you've read every book in the store and will keep pulling out volumes and asking you what this one is about. These are the people who leave without buying a book, so it's time to have some fun. Make up plots.

22. Even if you're a used bookstore, people will get huffy when you don't have the new release by James Patterson. They are the same people who will ask for a discount because a book looks like it's been read.

Yeah, I've always vaguely dreamed of opening a used bookstore someday. Sadly, I've grown rather fond of eating so I've never gotten around to it.

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Will Amazon kill off book publishers?

As reported here and elsewhere, Amazon is actually dipping its toes into the world of publishing.

Which of course is an interesting challenge and threat for traditional trade publishers. And who knows, maybe academic publishers too, if Amazon decides it wants to disrupt that market as well.

In any case, The New York Times has a nice set of four essays debating the topic, Will Amazon Kill Off Publishers?.

Amazon is getting a lot of heat these days over its attempts to push its way into the hearts and minds of readers, writers and the larger book culture -- even comic books. Indeed, the news last week that Amazon would aggressively expand its publishing efforts by signing up authors has ruffled the feathers of many agents and publishers.

Will Amazon's plan shake up the book publishing industry as more writers have the option of a one-stop shop: agent, publisher and bookseller? Are publishers still needed?

Here are some highlights from each of the essays:

There's No Going Back by Michael Wolf, vice president of research, GigaOM

Ultimately, what matters is who owns the relationship with the reader. Amazon has a trusted relationship with the reader because it has become the trusted bookseller in the digital market for books. Same with Apple, or Barnes and Noble. The writer holds the other key relationship with the reader. They are the rock stars -- the brands with which the reader wants to connect.

Traditional publishers, unfortunately, don't have a relationship with the reader -- or if they do, it's extremely tenuous.

Where Writers Can Grow
by Thomas Glave, author, "The Torturer's Wife"

And now, as things become more dire for writers who want to develop into actual artists, Amazon, the behemoth that fears no one, enters the fray. Can Amazon's profit-centered forays provide a healthy space for writers?

In recent years, some corporate publishers have dealt with writers in notably problematic and even damaging ways. But other writers have actually received real editing and invaluable counsel in those environments. I fear much more what Amazon's entry into publishing might do to independent publishing houses where writers' potential and the great possibilities of literature are often valued far above sales and the seductions of profitability.

Embracing New Opportunities by Laurel Saville, author, "Unraveling Anne"

What is Amazon up to? I imagine what any successful business is: looking for opportunities to grow by offering new, different, more relevant or better services than the competitors. It's what the new car dealership, restaurant or ad agency down the street does. It's what my husband does in his high-tech business. It's what I do in all my writing projects.

As a businessperson, I need readers. As a writer, I want them. Readers who are moved, changed, engaged and broadened by what I write. To get these readers in the world of book publishing, I need a lot of help. Some I've bought, like my M.F.A. education; some I've begged for, like family and friends as readers; some has been generously given, like my agent's uncompensated investment.

Monopoly vs. Diversity by Dennis Johnson, publisher of Melville House

Can Amazon sell a lot of books? You bet. They really do know how to develop algorithms that can move just about anything. Good books, bad books. Beautifully edited, completely unedited, edited by chimpanzees - it doesn't matter. The numbers, they brag, speak for themselves.

And they do, which tells us something else: it's all widgets to them. Amazon will soon be a pretty solid publishing company; even small presses like Melville House are already losing out to them on esoteric projects, such as obscure translation projects. But Amazon's publishing house will be in service to a different idol, because publishing isn't, right now, and hasn't been, for 500 years, about developing algorithms. It's been about art-making and culture-making and speaking truth to power.

I have to admit, I'm still unsure what I think of this particular development. Amazon's impulse to monopoly and apparent desire to remove every one else from the value chain are certainly worrying. Crowding out smaller players, concentrating buying power, narrowing publishing towards a certain device, these are all trends that are worrying.

On the other hand, perhaps this is the new shape of the publishing industry. Where all the players will be completely integrated across all the levels of that value chain. And the problem isn't with Amazon, but with all the other players for not getting the shape of the future sooner.

And what does this portend for scholarly publishing? Are the Elseviers of the world jockeying for position, looking to become the Amazon of academia? Or will the forces of Open Access find a way to prevent that kind of monopoly from coming into effect.

It would be very odd indeed if the disruptive forces of the online world blew up and freed scholarly communications from dangerous commercial monopolies while at the same time delivering the trade publishing world further into the arms of equally dangerous commercial monopolies.

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SONYC Presentation: Enhanced eBooks & BookApps: the Promise and Perils

Waaaaay back on September 20, I flew down to New York City to take part in one of the Science Online New York City panel discussions, this one on Enhanced eBooks & BookApps: the Promise and Perils (and here).

Ably organized and moderated by David Dobbs, the other panelists were Evan Ratliff, Amanda Moon, Carl Zimmer and Dean Johnson.

Here's a description of the panel:

Enhanced ebooks and tablet apps clearly offer new ways to present material and engage readers. Yet some of the software restrictions and rights deals that these ebooks, apps and their platforms use can make them unfriendly to librarians, archivists, and future users. How can authors, designers, and publishers best exploit these new opportunities while avoiding their current and potential downsides?

Some questions that the panel will discuss include: How do we develop AppBooks or enhanced eBooks that make the most of the technology without locking the contents in proprietary formats that may be hard to crack open in 5 or 50 years? How can we reconcile the desires and agendas of authors, app developers, publishers, librarians, archivists, and readers?

September's panel includes representatives from all these groups and promises a lively discussion around one of the hotter topics from the ScienceOnline e-book session last January.

I wrote a post about my views a while back as part of my preparations: On the evilness of the emerging ebook app ecosystem.

So, how did the panel discussion go? Pretty well, I think. Sure, there was a fair bit of gosh-wow about the admittedly thrilling potential of book apps to really bring something new and innovative to the whatever-books-become landscape. But I think I was able to get in a few good points about the kinds of things we'll have to watch for in order to ensure the app ecosystem lives up to it's full potential as part of an open cultural commons. The audience seemed to be at least of bit on my side during the Q&A, not to mention at the Rockefeller University campus pub afterwards.

For those that weren't able to make it, there's a surprisingly complete and comprehensive (and comprehensible!) Storify of the event here. Storify is a very cool tool that allows you to assemble online objects, in this case some of the many hundreds of tweets about the event, into, well, a story.

There's also a video stream of all the talks that you can watch. I start about 37 minutes in and go for about 11 minutes. I just listened to myself and thought my part went pretty well.

The Lessig-y slides I used to frame my talk are here.

And last but certainly not least, I'd like to thank David for organizing the event as well as Carol Feltes of the Markus Library at Rockefeller University for her hospitality.

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Just curious: What are you reading right now?

Oct 08 2011 Published by under ebooks, science books, science fiction

Inspired by John Scalzi, I thought I'd poll all my readers out there and see what you are reading this weekend.

Books, magazines, blogs, whatever.

I'm reading Ross Macdonald's Meet Me at the Morgue for fiction, Gotham Central Book 1: In the Line of Duty by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark in the graphic novel category and since I'm leading a book club session on it in a couple of weeks, I'm planning on spending a fair bit of time wth Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Magazine-wise, I'll be taking a look at the most recent issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

For those that are interested in following my reading adventures, I'm on GoodReads here.

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