From Screen To Press, Via HTML and CSS
29 Nov 2005, 7:52:41 am
CSS is evolving to accept page-ready formatting, allowing for the web-designer or content-management program to format their documents for both the printer and the screen. From a convergance point of view, this isn't just a printer-trick: it is a way to change the way content-oriented businesses manage their info for a variety of media.
A List Apart has very rudimentary descriptions of next-generation CSS that allows for page formatting. The article, at first glance, isn't much more than demonstration of some new CSS tricks that impersonate Microsoft Word functions, but it does show a step in a very different direction for CSS and XML.
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The Textbook Revolution
28 Nov 2005, 12:39:13 pm
The Textbook Revolution is a service linking to online learning materials that are available to educators, for free online use. The texkbook market is, as with most publishing, a rather cutthroat market, although once a foothold is gained, built-in customers are brought in tow. Those customers for decades have complained about having to pay hundreds for a textbook -- only to have it worth nothing at the end of the semester. However, they still do so: the education is too important to simply refuse to spend the money.
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The revolution here is not that books are being provided online, but a rebellion against a publisher-controlled textbook market. As with other online revolutions, the change is not in the information itself, but in demanding an alternate medium to enhance the communication. As I mentioned regarding WikiBooks, the online medium offers more to a teacher building their class curriculum than a textbook catalog can. Merely offering texts for free online isn't the revolution: how they are used is the revolution.
The Commonplace Book
18 Nov 2005, 2:38:59 pm
I hate linking to other blogs who are linking to someplace else, but Metafilter has a nice summary about commonplace books. These are books of interesting subnotes, not worthy to devote an entire book of, but worth writing down for posterity. While some of the writers were famous, other commonplace books are noteable simply for their subject matter: they contained information that maybe wasn't considered particularly earthshaking or relevant at the time but remains otherwise lost in history from today's vantagepoint. They demonstrate a purpose for books that's quite lost today, and missed by the whole eBook phenomenon: Books aren't simply created to be read temporarily. They are printed in a universally available and interactive format so that they can sit on a shelf until ready to be read again at any time in the future, from months to years to centuries later.
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MeFi considers blogs to be an analogue of this old technique: not a diary (a list of daily activities), but a journal of interesting facts, a cyclopedia of the writer's interests assembled in a taxonomy that most likely makes sense to the writer and nobody else. The commonplace books were often published and distributed, as blogs are, but blogs are not permanent: missing a month's hosting fees could result in deletion, or if Blogger suddenly closes their doors and formats the blogspot servers for privacy reasons, it's gone -- not just damaged or misplaced...gone.
Let's connect this to the ease of self-publishing today, allowing anybody to bind their thoughts on archival paper for nothing more than the cost of a single copy for their shelves. The world of Blogspot could be a universe of Pepyses who could be led to the next level, creating books published from their blogs as actual books -- not just chronologically, but organized for reading -- and silently waiting to be rediscovered, hundreds of years from now, ready to be read and translated.
Printing The Web
13 Nov 2005, 9:24:23 am
I, long ago, heard the statement: If I invested in the paper industry the first time I heard the term 'paperless office,' I'd be rich now.. People go back and forth between citing the internet as the death-blow to books, to saying that the internet is the saviour of publishing.
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Two interesting business ideas have popped up to fit the gaps between internet and offline: BlogBinders and WikiBooks.
BlogBinders is little more than a conversion interface designed to take a blog-entry database and convert it to a press-ready PDF. While this sounds simple (people have been doing this, by hand, at LuLu for a while), but the mechanism is the interesting part. There's a lot of hoopla over the simplicity of taking Old Media (music, movies, print) and making it a digital commodity -- MP3s can be made in seconds, Google is scanning books at an amazing rate, movies show up on Torrents before they're in theatres. However, here's an example of moving the data, quickly and simply, back into hard-copy format. Digital Convergence isn't limited to putting offline data online -- it's about the two becoming inseparable. MP3s aren't only downloaded and played on the PC -- they're burned to CD. Online animators are making their money selling DVDs of their works, despite the interactivity of their websites. Giving online diarists seamless paper archiving of their writing, bound for permanent storage, is an ideal application of convergence.
Now, WikiBooks is dedicated to community-creation of textbooks, specific to its application. The books that are available on the site are mostly still in development (most are quite barren), but the 'comprehensive' books do seem to be quite detailed. However, the textbook comparison begins to fall apart here. Actually producing a book from the WikiBooks system would appear to be difficult: Wikis are constantly updateable, and tracking hard-copy revisions would be near impossible. It does not appear that hard-copy output is in the plans, anyway. The organized structure of Wiki data wouldn't be too difficult to convert to PDF format (no more difficult than the Wiki output software itself), but I could not find any direct link to such an animal. These 'books' are little more than collaboratively-written websites, organized within the Wiki structure. Textbooks are, however, quite necessary: how do you take your book to the library? Or to a friend's house to study? How do you highlight passages for easy location later? Instructors actually wishing to teach from a WikiBook (if they can find enough credibility in the text) will have to resort to printing out pages for themselves and the students at a far higher cost than owning a printed book (on a per-page basis). Paperless classrooms don't exist yet, despite the laptop-for-every-student push in education today. Wikipedia is considering hard-copy versions of the encyclopedia for underwired countries; applying this to the textbook Wikispace, and collecting a printing service fee for each copy, could be a significant source of revenue. For as easy as it is to digitize the data and place it online, it should be equally as simple to produce a realworld version of the same information. This back-and-forth motivates use of the technology, just as easy photo-printing has expanded digital camera use. Wikimedia should look at how the data can be 'locked' online, then written to paper, as a way to ensure the information's usefulness to the world at large. If books of compiled blog entries can sell, actual viable knowledge should be a golden egg for the online world.
8 Nov 2005, 4:29:35 pm
Since I work directly with authors, discussing contracts, I hear a lot of author concerns.
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Concerns authors have generally are to protect themselves, their works & their rights to their works, as well as to know that we, as publishers, will do everything we can, within reason, to sell that book.
In discussing their concerns, along with my own experiences with publishers, some strange images of publishers emerge...
Publishers that will not allow an author to list on or in their book a list of other works if they are not from the same publishing house. Do these publishers imagine that a reader finds this new book on the shelf at B&N, and upon reading the jacket, discovers that this author has another book (book A), will look for this other book, and then decide to buy book A rather than this new book? Are they more concerned about this potential 'loss' of a book, as compared to the benefits (sales) of printing the author's credits (and increasing credibility)? How shortsighted is that?
Publishers suing Google Print. You can read more about this issue at Kottke. Here again, publishers believe that either 1) that reading online is a replacement for physical books (and if they believe this, they are in the wrong business), or 2) that folks are going to be able to get past Google's limits & print out the whole book (as if that would actually be cheaper?).
Publishers imposing a short shelf-life on their own works. Publications & reviewers request review copies of books, only to hear from the publisher that they are no longer promoting that book. It's not out of print, it is, in fact, 'laying about the office here,' but publishers will no longer send out review copies or make press pushes when the author/topic seems popular. I'm sure this started for some practical reason, but to refuse promotions & press on a book in your backlist is nuts. If reporters/reviewers are just discovering the work, you can bet there are plenty of readers who have yet to discover it too.
If these are the laws that govern successful publishers, I wonder, how do they define their success?