Monthly Archives: October 2009

there’s no such thing as an amorphous “public”

Cody Brown, an NYU undergrad, just announced Kommons, an ambitious effort to build a new model of news gathering and presentation. I just read his blog post announcing the new venture, “A Public Can Talk To Itself” and find myself deeply disturbed. Although its no longer fashionable to say so, we live in a class society and our news organizations serve the needs of the classes they represent. Brown may very well go on to build the most successful news gathering operation of this new era, but whose interests will it serve? Brown’s idea of “the public” is clearly limited to those people who have access to technology, to the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to express themselves with that technology and the time to be a “citizen journalist.” Brown’s use of his mentor Clay Shirky’s automobile analogy confirms this when he writes: “A hundred years ago, back when cars were first being sold, you didn?t just buy one and drive it off the lot, the car itself was so complicated and difficult to manage that you hired a professional chauffeur who also served as a kind of mechanic.” I”m not sure how wealthy you had to be to buy the pre-Model T cars but I’m assuming it was a very small percentage of “the public.”
A last point, i find it fascinating and not insignificant that Brown has named his new venture, Kommons. I’m sure he just thinks it’s cute, but if he checks the Wikipedia, he’ll find there is a specific historical meaning often attached to the switch from K to C. I’m sure he didn’t set out consciously to trash the concept of the Commons but then i’m also sure he doesnt’ see any problems with his definition of public either.
From Wikipedia
“K” replacing “C” (article here)
Replacing the letter ?c? with ?k? in the first letter of a word came into use by the Ku Klux Klan during its early years in the mid to late 1800s. The concept is continued today within the ranks of the Klan. They call themselves “konservative KKK.”
In the 1960s and early 1970s in the United States, leftists, particularly the Yippies, sometimes used Amerika rather than “America” in referring to the United States.[1] It is still used as a political statement today.[2] It is likely that this was originally an allusion to the German spelling of America, and intended to be suggestive of Nazism, a hypothesis that the Oxford English Dictionary supports.
In broader usage, the replacement of the letter “C” with “K” denotes general political skepticism about the topic at hand and is intended to discredit or debase the term in which the replacement occurs. [9] Detractors sometimes spell former president Bill Clinton’s name as “Klinton” or “Klintoon”. [emphasis mine]
A similar usage in Spanish (and Portuguese too) is to write okupa rather than “ocupa” (often on a building or area occupied by squatters [10], referring to the name adopted by okupación activist groups), which is particularly remarkable because the letter “k” is rarely found in either Spanish or Portuguese words. It stems from Spanish anarchist and punk movements which used “k” to signal rebellion [3].
The letter “C” is also commonly changed to a “K” in a non-pejorative way in KDE, a desktop environment for Unix-like operating systems.

independent booksellers fight for their existence

October 22, 2009
The Board of Directors of the American Booksellers Association today sent the following letter to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting that it investigate practices by, Wal-Mart, and Target that it believes constitute illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers.
October 22, 2009
The Honorable Christine Varney
Assistant Attorney General
Antitrust Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 3109
Washington, DC 20530
Molly Boast, Esquire
Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Matters
Antitrust Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 3210
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Ms. Varney and Ms. Boast,
We are writing on behalf of the American Booksellers Association, a 109-year-old trade organization representing the nation’s locally owned, independent booksellers. A core part of our mission is devoted to making books as widely available to American consumers as possible. We ask that the Department of Justice investigate practices by, Wal-Mart, and Target that we believe constitute illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers. We are requesting a meeting with you to discuss this urgent issue at your earliest possible opportunity.
As reported in the consumer and trade press this past week,,, and have engaged in a price war in the pre-sale of new hardcover bestsellers, including books from John Grisham, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Sarah Palin, and James Patterson. These books typically retail for between $25 and $35. As of writing of this letter, all three competitors are selling these and other titles for between $8.98 and $9.00.
Publishers sell these books to retailers at 45% – 50% off the suggested list price. For example, a $35 book, such as Mr. King’s Under the Dome, costs a retailer $17.50 or more. News reports suggest that publishers are not offering special terms to these big box retailers, and that the retailers are, in fact, taking orders for these books at prices far below cost. (In the case of Mr. King’s book, these retailers are losing as much as $8.50 on each unit sold.) We believe that, Wal-Mart, and Target are using these predatory pricing practices to attempt to win control of the market for hardcover bestsellers.
It’s important to note that the book industry is unlike other retail sectors. Clothing, jewelry, appliances, and other commercial goods are typically sold at a net price, leaving the seller free to determine the retail price and the margin these products will earn. Because publishers print list prices indelibly on jacket covers, and because books are sold at a discount off that retail price, there is a ceiling on the amount of margin a book retailer can earn.
The suggested list price set by the publisher reflects manufacturing costs — acquisition, editing, marketing, printing, binding, shipping, etc. — which vary significantly from book to book. By selling each of these titles below the cost these retailers pay to the publishers, and at the same price as each other, and at the same price as all other titles in these pricing schemes,, Wal-Mart, and Target are devaluing the very concept of the book. Authors and publishers, and ultimately consumers, stand to lose a great deal if this practice continues and/or grows.
What’s so troubling in the current situation is that none of the companies involved are engaged primarily in the sale of books. They’re using our most important products — mega bestsellers, which, ironically, are the most expensive books for publishers to bring to market — as a loss leader to attract customers to buy other, more profitable merchandise. The entire book industry is in danger of becoming collateral damage in this war.
It’s also important to note that this episode was precipitated by below-cost pricing of digital editions of new hardcover books by, many of those titles retailing for $9.99, and released simultaneously with the much higher-priced print editions. We believe the loss-leader pricing of digital content also bears scrutiny.
While on the surface it may seem that these lower prices will encourage more reading and a greater sharing of ideas in the culture, the reality is quite the opposite. Consider this quote from Mr. Grisham’s agent, David Gernert, that appeared in the New York Times:
“If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over. If you can buy Stephen King’s new novel or John Grisham’s ‘Ford County’ for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer’s attention away from emerging writers.”
For our members — locally owned, independent bookstores — the effect will be devastating. There is simply no way for ABA members to compete. The net result will be the closing of many independent bookstores, and a concentration of power in the book industry in very few hands. Bill Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, an ABA member, was also quoted in the New York Times:
“You have a choke point where millions of writers are trying to reach millions of readers. But if it all has to go through a narrow funnel where there are only four or five buyers deciding what’s going to get published, the business is in trouble.”
We would find these practices questionable were they taking place in the market for widgets. That they are taking place in the market for books is catastrophic. If left unchecked, these predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our collective ability to maintain a society where the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public, and will allow the few remaining mega booksellers to raise prices to consumers unchecked.
We urge that the DOJ investigate and request an opportunity to come to Washington to discuss this at your earliest convenience.
ABA Board of Directors:
Michael Tucker, President (Books Inc.–San Francisco, CA)
Becky Anderson, Vice President (Anderson’s Bookshops–Naperville, IL)
Steve Bercu (BookPeople–Austin, TX)
Betsy Burton (The King’s English Bookshop–Salt Lake City, UT)
Tom Campbell (The Regulator Bookshop–Durham, NC)
Dan Chartrand (Water Street Bookstore–Exeter, NH)
Cathy Langer (Tattered Cover Book Store–Denver, CO)
Beth Puffer (Bank Street Bookstore–New York, NY)
Ken White (SFSU Bookstore–San Francisco, CA)
CC: Oren Teicher, CEO, American Booksellers Association
Len Vlahos, COO, American Booksellers Association
Owen M. Kendler, Esquire, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice

The internet Archive (and friends) announce Bookserver

Congratulations to Brewster Kahle and Peter Brantley of the Internet Archive for the very exciting, maybe sea-changing debut of the BookServer initiative. Possibly some real competition to Google, Amazon and Apple.
Here is a re-post of Fran Toolan’s detailed account of yesterday’s event.
The Day It All Changed
October 20, 2009 by ftoolan
OK, sounds dramatic, but trust me, mark down October 19, 2009 as a day to remember.
Rarely, in my career have I been “blown away” by a demonstration. Tonight, “blown away” doesn’t even begin to describe it. I should have seen it coming, but, I didn’t. I was completely blindsided. I was blindsided by the vision of Brewster Kahle, the raw brilliance of his team, and the entire group of individuals and companies who played a role in Brewster’s “convocation”.
What I saw, was many of the dreams and visions of e-book aficionados everywhere becoming a demonstrable reality tonight. I say ‘demonstrable’, because by Brewster’s own admission, it’s not ready for prime time, but the demonstration was enough to make my head spin with the possibilities. But you don’t really want to know that, so let me do my best to just report what I saw.
Let’s start from the beginning…
Tonight, Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive Founder and Chief Librarian, introduced what he calls his “BookServer” project. BookServer is a framework of tools and activities. It is an open-architectured set of tools that allow for the discoverability, distribution, and delivery of electronic books by retailers, librarians, and aggregators, all in a way that makes for a very easy and satisfying experience for the reader, on whatever device they want.
Now that may sound fairly innocuous, but let me try to walk through what was announced, and demonstrated (Please forgive me if some names or sequences are wrong, I’m trying to do this all from memory):
* Brewster announced that the number of books scanned at libraries all over the world has increased over the past year from 1 million books to 1.6 million books.
* He then announced that all of these 1.6 million books were available in the ePub format, making them accessible via Stanza on the iPhone, on Sony Readers, and many other reading devices in a way that allows the text to re-flow if the font has been changed.
* Next he announced that not only were these files available in ePub form, but that they were available in the “Daisy” format as well. Daisy is the format used to create Braille and Text to Speech software interpretations of the work.
* There were other statistics he cited related to other mediums such as 100,000 hours of TV recordings, 400,000 music recordings, and 15 billion (yes it’s a ‘b’) web pages that have been archived.
* He then choreographed a series of demonstrations. Raj Kumar from Internet Archive demonstrated how the BookServer technology can deliver books to the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) XO laptop, wirelessly. There are 1 million of these machines in the hands of underprivileged children around the world, and today they just got access to 1.6 million new books.
* Michael Ang of IA then demonstrated how a title in the Internet Archive which was available in the MOBI format could be downloaded to a Kindle – from outside the Kindle store – and then read on the Kindle. Because many of these titles were in the Mobi format as well, Kindle readers everywhere also have access to IA’s vast database.
* Next up, Mike McCabe of IA, came up and demonstrated how files in the Daisy format could be downloaded to a PC then downloaded to a device from Humana, specifically designed for the reading impaired. The device used Text-to-speech technology to deliver the content, but what was most amazing about this device was the unprecedented ease at which a sight impaired person could navigate around a book, moving from chapter to chapter, or to specific pages in the text.
* Brewster took a break from the demonstrations to elaborate a couple of facts, the most significant of which was the fact the books in the worlds libraries fall into 3 categories. The first category is public domain, which accounts for 20% of the total titles out there – these are the titles being scanned by IA. The second category is books that are in print and still commercially viable, these account for 10% of the volumes in the world’s libraries. The last category are books that are “out of print” but still in copyright. These account for 70% of the titles, and Brewster called this massive amount of information the “dead zone” of publishing. Many of these are the orphan titles that we’ve heard so much about related to the Google Book Settlement – where no one even knows how to contact the copyright holder. (To all of my friends in publishing, if you let these statistics sink in for a minute, your head will start to spin).
* Brewster went on to talk about how for any digital ecosystem to thrive, it must support not just the free availability of information, but also the ability for a consumer to purchase, or borrow books as well.
* At this point, Michael came back out and demonstrated – using the bookserver technology – the purchase of a title from O’Reilly on the Stanza reader on the iPhone – direct from O’Reilly – not from Stanza. If you are a reader, you may think that there is nothing too staggering about that, but if you are a publisher, this is pretty amazing stuff. Stanza is supporting the bookserver technology, and supporting the purchase of products direct from publishers or any other retailer using their technology as a delivery platform. (Again, friends in publishing, give that one a minute to sink in.)
* The last demonstration was not a new one to me, but Raj came back on and he and Brewster demonstrated how using the Adobe ACS4 server technology, digital books can be borrowed, and protected from being over borrowed from libraries everywhere. First Brewster demonstrated the borrowing process, and then Raj tried to borrow the same book but found he couldn’t because it was already checked out. In a tip of the hat to Sony, Brewster then downloaded his borrowed text to his Sony Reader. This model protects the practice of libraries buying copies of books from publishers, and only loaning out what they have to loan. (Contrary to many publishers fears that it’s too easy to “loan” unlimited copies of e-Books from libraries).
* In the last piece of the night’s presentation, Brewster asked many of the people involved in this project to come up and say a few words about why they were here, and what motivated them to be part of the project. The sheer number of folks that came out were as impressive as the different constituencies they represented. By the end of this the stage was full of people, including some I know, like Liza Daly (Three Press), Mike Tamblyn (Shortcovers), and Andrew Savikas (O’Reilly). Others, I didn’t know included Hadrien Gradeur (Feedbooks), the woman who invented the original screen for the OLPC, a published author, a librarian from the University of Toronto, Cartwright Reed from Ingram, and a representative from Adobe.
After the night was over, I walked all the way back to the Marina district where I was staying. The opportunities and implications of the night just absolutely made my head spin. I am completely humbled to be asked to be here and to witness this event.
In one fell swoop, the Internet Archive expanded the availability of books to millions of people who never had access before, bringing knowledge to places that had never had it. Who knows what new markets that will create, or more importantly what new minds will contribute to our collective wisdom as a result of that access. In the same motion, Brewster demonstrated a world where free can coexist with the library borrowing model, and with the commercial marketplace. Protecting the interests of both of those important constituencies in this ecosystem. He also, in the smoothest of ways, portrayed every ‘closed system’ including our big retail friends and search engine giants, as small potatoes.
I will have to post again about the implications of all this, but people smarter than me – many of whom I was able to meet today, will be far more articulate about what just happened. I’m still too blown away. I know this, it was a ‘game changer’ day. It may take a couple of years to come to full fruition, but we will be able to pinpoint the spot in history when it was all shown to be possible. I need to thank Peter Brantley for inviting (or should I say tempting) me to be there. Wow.

transliteracy research group launched

Sue Thomas and Kate Pullinger today announced the formation of The Transliteracy Research Group, a research-focused think-tank and creative laboratory. They define transliteracy as the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks. The public face of the group resides on a new blog.

visualizing changes in The Origin of the Species

Ben Fry has made a wonderful visualization showing how Darwin changed the text of Origin of the Species over the course of six editions. It’s more of a conceptual art piece at this point but an exciting indicator of the powerful tools to come. Here’s Ben Fry’s own description:
We often think of scientific ideas, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, as fixed notions that are accepted as finished. In fact, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species evolved over the course of several editions he wrote, edited, and updated during his lifetime. The first English edition was approximately 150,000 words and the sixth is a much larger 190,000 words. In the changes are refinements and shifts in ideas — whether increasing the weight of a statement, adding details, or even a change in the idea itself.
The second edition, for instance, adds a notable “by the Creator” to the closing paragraph, giving greater attribution to a higher power. In another example, the phrase “survival of the fittest” — usually considered central to the theory and often attributed to Darwin — instead came from British philosopher Herbert Spencer, and didn’t appear until the fifth edition of the text. Using the six editions as a guide, we can see the unfolding and clarification of Darwin’s ideas as he sought to further develop his theory during his lifetime.
This project is made possible by the hard work of Dr. John van Wyhe, et al. who run The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. The text for each edition was sourced from their careful transcription of Darwin’s books, and Dr. van Wyhe generously granted permission to use the text. This piece is a simpler version of a larger effort that looks at the changes between editions, and is intended as the first in a series looking at how the book evolved over time. Built with Processing.
Screen shot 2009-10-11 at 10.03.32 PM.png

first vook — utter failure, hbo Cube — very interesting experiment

Screen shot 2009-10-02 at 6.50.29 AM.pngThe first Vooks (combination text and video) were published yesterday by Simon & Schuster imprint, Atria. I bought the iPhone app version of Jude Deveraux’s Promises. Basically it’s an ordinary romance novel with video clips interspersed in the pages. In terms of form the result is ho-hum in the extreme, particularly as there doesn’t seem to be much attempt to integrate the text and the banal video, which seems to exist simply to pretty-up the pages. (Note: two of the other Vooks, released yesterday are self-help titles, 90 Second Fitness Solution and Return to Beauty: Old World Recipes For Great Radiant Skin, which probably make a much better case for integrating video into the page.)
Screen shot 2009-10-02 at 6.52.34 AM.pngIf you want to see something innovative however, check out HBO’s Cube experiment which breaks the film into more than 35 scenes each presented from four angles. As the viewer, you choose how you move through the time and space of the movie. Putting it all together is not unlike solving a jigsaw puzzle with a narrative.

24 hour novel

idea3narrow.jpgAnother innovative project from our colleagues at the London branch of the institute; this time in collaboration with the folks at cross-posted from if:book London’s blog, BookFutures.
Something is growing in South London … Spread the Word challenges writers to write and publish a book about London in just 24 hours
In collaboration with if:book, The Society of Young Publishers and, Spread the Word has commissioned The 24 Hour Book, a groundbreaking project to challenge a group of writers to write a new story about London in just 24 hours.
The book will be written by a group of experienced writers working together using online collaboration tools around the clock between 10am on Saturday 3 October and 10am on Sunday 4 October. On the Sunday, a group of volunteer editors and publishers will move in to make the story ready for publication.
As well as making the book available to read online, will link directly to Print-onDemand printers to enable hard copies of the book to be available for its launch at 6pm on Monday 5 October.
Using digital technology, the public will also be able to follow and to contribute their ideas to the story online as it develops. Based around a group of city centre allotments, the story will explore ideas of shared and private space and the real and imaginary barriers between a range of different city characters
The lead writer for The 24 Hour Book will be Kate Pullinger and writers participating will include Sarah Butler, Aoife Mannix, Dean Atta, Cath Drake, Ben Payne, Chris Meade, Toni Le Busque, Saradha Soobrayen and Shamim Azad. The final book will be published under a Creative Commons license and available to buy on
For more information please visit or contact Ben Payne on 07974 155312,