October 2007

reading a paper in the waterNewspaper publishers in the United States are facing challenging times.  As reported in the New York Times earlier this year, their print ad revenues are in a steady decline.  Figures reported by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) showed that while online ad revenues rose by 31.5% in 2006, they were not yet enough to offset the decline in print advertising.  Online ad spending currently accounts for only about 5.4% of total newspaper ad revenues.  NAA figures from Q4-2006 illustrate where the revenue declines originated:

  • Recruitment advertising down 13.7%
  • Automotive advertising down 11%
  • Real estate down 2.3%.
  • All other classified advertising up 0.9%
  • Overall newspaper classified advertising down 7.1%

One example that highlights this trend is Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the US and parent of USA Today.  Recently, it reported that its newspaper ad revenues fell 6% to $1.19 billion.   The grim news for the newspaper industry has continued into 2007 according to the Center for Media Research.

At the same time, circulation is also declining as more readers turn to the web and other media venues for news.  Circulation has been in a slow decline since 1984.  At that time, there were 1,600 paid dailies with circulation of 63 million.  Today, there are 1,450 paid dailies, with circulatino at 53 million readers.  At the same time, finding new subscribers has gotten more expensive.  According to the Newspaper Association of America, the avergae cost of gaining a new subscriber has more than doubled to $68 in 2006 from 2002.  In an article October 1, 2007, Richard Perez-Pena of the New York Times, highlighted the strategies big newspapers were using to eliminate low value subscribers and build a more loyal, if smaller readership. 

These trends, according to the World Association of Newspapers, are not yet mirrored in world markets. The association reported that the only declines in circulation and advertising were in North America.  Howeer, what is happening with American newspapers should serve as a warning of what might befall non-US newspaper franchises. 

journalists in a newsroomSo how are newspaper coping?  Not well.  Newspapers are struggling to find a formula that will preserve (and preferrably expand) their readership, as well as increase their ad revenue.  However, they are on a clock.  Advertisers have found the web to be a much better medium for targeting narrow audiences.   But as print ad revenues decline faster than online ad revenues grow, they have been forced to cut staff and expenses, which impairs the quality of their product.  Part of the problem is that newspaper publoishers waited too long to take action.  Alan Mutter, on his blog Reflections of a Newsosaur, cogently deconstructs the reasons for the plight of the American newspaper.   In the November 5, 2007 issue of BusinessWeek, Steve Hamm takes a look at one particular case study – the San Jose Mercury News – to illustrate the difficulties of transitioning to the digital world.

What will the newspaper of the future look like?  There is no lack of vision, advice and speculatino.   A great sampling from people in the newspaper business around the world is showcased in an October 18, 2007 article by the World Association of Newspapers.  The organization has commissioned 22 futurists, academics, industry insiders, internet pioneers and other media experts to envision the newspaper of the future, which will be summarized in a soon to be published report. 

One things that emerges is that the survival of newspapers will depend on maintaining their journalistic credibility, regardless of the format they use to deliver content to readers.  They also see newspapers needing to reach out (carefully) to embrace the world of consumer generated media – e.g. blogs, podcasts, social networks.  This trend is underway already in the US, where bloggers and newspapers are teaming up.  A number of blogs are now more valuable media properties than their Old Media cousins.

old TV with rabbit earsAny medium supported by advertising revenues will have to follow its advertisers to the most efficient venues for delivering targeted audiences.  The next crisis could be in television, which, like newspapers, has been slow to integrate effectively with the web.  As finding and aggregating niche audiences becomes easier and cheaper, every product, even those mainstays of mass media – autos and drugs, will be a niche product.  Venues that can’t adapt to this reality will become extinct, regardless of their reputation and past glories.

Related Posts
Bookmark this Post

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

book vid lit iconSheila Clover-EnglishBook Vid Lit

by Sheila Clover-English

Sheila Clover English, the CEO of Circle of Seven Productions, has been a pioneer
in book video production, marketing and distribution for authors and publishers

There’s a rise in lawsuits that should have you questioning what videos you upload to social sites.  Sites like Bolt and Grouper lost the fight of copyright infringement and what were once million dollar companies no longer exist.  And this is only the beginning. Sites like Google and YouTube are fighting Viacom  while Bolt and Grouper  were taken out by Universal Music Group.  The use of copyrighted material without permission has become a key focal point for online social sites. Even MySpace is  is not immune.   For now the lawsuits are focusing on the social network companies, but how much longer will it be before they start to target individuals?  Take heed, it has already started with music. People who are using popular music as part of their video need to be aware that you, the site you upload to and perhaps even your publisher could be held accountable for the copyright infringement. Publishers should be concerned since many authors have the book cover, ISBN and even the publisher’s name on the video. All of these elements lead back to publishers who have much deeper pockets than authors.Even when using royalty free material  you must understand the boundaries of  the use for the material. Normally you are required to pay a one-time use fee or credit the company you took the royalty free material from. A book video is NOT non-commercial. You are using a video to help sell your book. That is, by definition, a commercial use. Recently, we noticed a number of book videos using popular music so we contacted Sony to find out how much it would cost to utilize popular music, even not-so-popular music for an online book video. The cost is very prohibitive!  Yet, we’ve seen book videos with popular music that were produced by companies advertising themselves as “professional” book video creators.  If you paid $250 for your video and it has popular music embedded in it, there’s trouble. And it doesn’t matter if you’re assured that the music is okay to use.  YOU will be the one sued over copyright infringement. You need to insist on seeing the music license if anyone offers to put popular music in your video.That’s not to say that you can’t get popular music. It can be done, for a price.  And some artists have music they will license to you.  However, independent artists still need to give you permission in writing to use their work.  My company, COS Productions is currently working with some name artists on a licensing deal for their music.  This ensures that our clients are protected by a license agreement.

Even if you do license music you need to be aware of the term of the license because they can change according to what you’re using it for and how many people may see the video and hear the music.  Even popular music licensing sites such as Shockwave-Sound have limitations and rules for utilizing their music.  If you’re giving the video with their music on it to more than 5,000 people you need to look at an extended license.  You can always email the folks at Shockwave-Sound to make sure you’ve purchased the correct license. 

Music isn’t the only license you need to worry about. Stock photos or film must be licensed as well. Popular stock photo site iStockPhoto has a lengthy legal document that you need to have read before using their products.  Photos cannot be significantly altered, they can’t be sent to friends for them to use too and you can’t resell something that has one of their pictures on it if you use the standard license. 

It’s fun to make your own video – whether to marketyour book or just as a humorous home video to entertain friends and family.  But be aware of the legalities surrounding uploading video to public sites. And for authors and pubishers creating book videos, be sure you know who is making your video and that they are following the law.  Your ignorance will not stop you from being sued.

Related Posts
Bookmark this Post

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

pile of cashAttention all ye weary bloggers, exhausted from constant posting; your labors may finally bear fruit!  We have often speculated about the value of blogs.  Now Standard & Poor’s is indicating that blogs may be the next round of acquisition targets for investors hungry to cash in on the Web 2.0 frenzy.

The blogosphere continues to grow like topsy; as of September, 2007, blog tracker Technoratiindexed more than 106 million blogs, 12 million more than in the previous month.  It has long been a shadow medium, existing alongside traditional media outlets.  Now as it demonstrated the ability to garner both readers and advertisers, blogs are gaining more respect.  According to a recent article in S&P’s Outlook,

Blogs – especially the big-name brands such as TechCrunch, Gawker, GigaOm, Boing Boing, and the Huffington Post -appear to have attractive business models. This is good news for traditional media companies that are being marginalized online and off, and are hoping to catch up to–and cash in on–a rapidly evolving Web 2.0 world.

Traditional media – especially newspapers which have been bedeviled by rising costs, falling subscribership and dwindling display and classified ad revenues – and bloggers are teaming up to extend their offering and build readership.  This has sent valuations, at least on well known blogs, soaring.  Advertisers are beginning to link up with A list bloggers and traditional media outlets will no doubt follow the advertisers to the blogosphere. 

However blogging is still only a small part of the overall online traffic of newspapers.  As Red Herring reporter, Alexandra Berzon, commented in a January 17, 2007 post, Newpapers Go Blog Crazy:

Newspaper blogs still represent only a very small percentage of overall newspaper Web traffic. The top ten newspaper Web sites saw nearly 30 million total viewers in December, 2006-led by The New York Times-up 9% from the year before.

But the growth rates in readership for blogs are tantalizing.  A Nielsen/NetRatings release, quoted in the article, showed that the top 10 U.S.-based online newspaper blog pages were up 210 percent year over year. 

jump for joySo how high could blog valuations go?  Try this one on for size.  In a post on Silicon Alley Insider on October 3, 2007, Henry Blodget cited speculation by analyst Doug McIntyre at 24/7 that Techcrunch, a very popular blog focusing on new Silicon Valley startups, might be sold to CNET for $100 million.

So how do you value a blog?  Some advice to would be blog moguls is given on a July 20, 2007 Performancingblog post entitled How To: Put The Right Price On Your Blog.  The factors considered include:

  • Niche potential
  • Revenues and expenses
  • Traffic
  • Content
  • Reputation
  • Branding

These are all very reasonable.  But if we are in a Web 2.0 bubble, as some have suggested, all conventional valuation techniques could be tossed out the windows as companies try to buy a piece of new media real estate.  

Related Posts
Bookmark this Post

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

pop up bookOver the last several years, there has been a resurgent market for books that contain – gasp! – physical / mechanical elements.  Members of this species includes pop up books, board books, movable books and works enhanced with additional “pull out” materials.  The added enjoyment provided by these titles can be ascribed to our almost fetish-istic fascination with books as “must have, must hold” objects.  The mechanical extensions provide a greater engagement of our visual and tactile senses to make the reading that much more enjoyable.  They are even still appealing even for today’s technology saturated youth. 

movable bookPop up books are particular satisfying in this regard.  They bring added dimensionality to the flat, printed page.  The art of the pop up has steadily evolved since the nineteenth century.  A great history is provided by Ann Montanaro in her article A Concise History of Pop-up and Movable Books.   The craft required to design and produce such works indulges our sense of mystery about them.  The production process for pop up books is labor intensive as  Suzanne Davis notes, writing in The Scoop earlier this year, described the process as follows:

Most contemporary pop-up books are assembled by hand in Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, or Singapore. After printing, the nesting pieces of a book are die-cut from the sheets and collated with their pages. Production lines are set up, with as many as 60 people involved in the handwork needed to complete one book. These people fold, insert paper tabs into slits, connect paper pivots, glue and tape. Alignment of tip-on pieces with the printed page must be exact and angles must be precise. The most complex books can require over 100 individual handwork procedures. 

You can certainly add China to that list now.  But books with such enhancements aren’t just for kids.  Becker & Mayer, a book producer based in the Seattle are have been created many such books for adults.  Their latest is David McCollough’s 1776 Illustrated EditionIt contains maps and recreations of other documents that bring the text to life. 

Should you catch the bug and want to delve into this unique book subculture a bit more, you can check out some of the great resources posted on the All Experts as a response to a user inquiry about pop up books:

So when you feel like a new read and want to surrender to your inner child, try something that goes pop!

Related Posts
Bookmark this Post

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

A few months ago, I had dinner with a colleague who works for a large printer based in the Midwest.  He had just attended a conference where graphic novels were all the buzz.  He indicated his company was seeing more orders for books of the graphic novel genre.   His comments made me curious about this visual form of fiction. 

Graphic novels are becoming a popular new form of fiction, especially for younger readers.  There is no absolute definition of a graphic novel, but one given by librarian Steve Raiteri seems to fit the bill:

Any trade paperback or hardcover book consisting of work in comic-book form. 

graphic-novels are all the rageThe popularity of the graphic novel can be gauged by its soaring sales.  Andrew Grabois, posting in Beneath the Cover; cites an industry study which shows that sales had grown almost five fold from $75 million in 2001 to $330 million in 2006 in the US.  The primary channels for graphic novels are comic shops and retail bookstores.  Originally, the majority of sales were made at comic shops.  But now bookstores outsell comic shops about 2 to 1.  According to Books in Print, in 2006, 2,711 new graphic novels were published, a 16% increase over 2005.  Grabois notes that manga, a Japanese version of the graphic novel, is the catalyst for growth.  Also driving sales is a new focus on material for girls and juvenile readers who play video games and are fans of TV based anime. 

In Japan, manga (the Japanese progenitor of the graphic novel) accounts for 22 percent of all printed materials, comprising an industry with annual sales of $4.2 billion.  Yet, according to an article by Daniel Pink, entitled Japan, Ink, in Wired 15.11, sales of traditional manga In Japan – its place of origin – are sagging.  In his insightful look at the Japanese manga market, Pink lays out the causes and what may be the solution for this important Japanese entertainment staple.

Although the graphic novel format is used almost exclusively for works of fiction, it is now also being employed to a much smaller extent for non-fiction.   One interesting example of a non-fiction work was the 911 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson, with illustrations by Ernie Colon.  The book’s description on Barnes & Noble’s online bookselling site conveys the authors’ approach:

Using every skill and storytelling method Jacobson and Colón have learned over the decades, they have produced the most accessible version of the 9/11 Report. Jacobson’s text frequently follows word for word the original report, faithfully captures its investigative thoroughness, and covers its entire scope, even including the Commission’s final report card. Colón’s stunning artwork powerfully conveys the facts, insights, and urgency of the original.

Where could the graphic novel format go next?  Here are some thoughts..

New themes – As young readers now consuming graphic fiction grow up, so will the genre.  No doubt the themes and illustrations will expand as more women read graphic novels and look for reading that mirrors their interests.  

New uses– The graphic novel / manga format is being used to enhance non-entertainment experiences.  For example, Tokyopop and Kaplan publish graphi novels aimed at building vocabulary as part of a test prep regime for high schoolers.

Greater recognition – Graphic novels are beginning to win awards – e.g. Art Spiegelman’s Maus won a Pulitzer Prize.

Serialized stories delivered online – Increasing bandwidth could make the graphic novel an attractive candidate for serialization via e-mail.

Small screen – The increasing screen resolution and software capability of cell phones lends itself to the graphic novel.  This is already happening in Japan.

manga artists at workDojinshi manga– This refers to self published manga, now the rage in Japan.  According to Daniel Pink, it represents a remix of published manga by individuals who are both fans and aspiring authors.  The dojinshi avoid being prosecuted by publishers by not publishing too many copies (usually 20-30) of any work.  The publishers use the sales of these amateur works as a way to see what themse are becoming popular and to find new talent.  It is difficult to say whether the dojinshi concept will ever find a home in the more litigious American and Western European markets. 

Related Posts
Bookmark this Post

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

frankenstein-photo.jpgHalloween approaches.  Night falls early and the wind howls menacingly.  Leaves swirl and crackle along the ground.  Thoughts turn to Dracula and Frankenstein.  Meanwhile, novice writers huddle in their homes and gear up for NaNoWriMo.  All of which conjures up the question:  Could a software program write a novel?  Yikes!  Open those pod bay doors, Hal, and let me out!  Any time we consider having an automaton perform an acitivity that we have always regarded as distinctly human, it sends shivers down our spines.  But let’s close our eyes for a moment, take a deep, calming breath and explore this a bit. 

First, what would it take for a computer program to create a believable work of fiction?  Certainly it would need some state of the art linguistic processing capability.  Not just the ability to create syntactically and grammatically correct prose, but also an understanding of semantics.  And that’s just the foundation.  On top of that Robo Writer would need the ability to conceive interesting stories, create memorable characters and animate them with credible dialogue and behaviors.  Could the same kind of fallible logic that frustrates our use of the word processor and spreadsheet possibly do any of this?

Well – not yet.  But the technologies required are continually evolving.  An example of linguistic processing improvement is WhiteSmoke.  WhiteSmoke software analyses text on-the-fly or at the user’s request and suggests grammatical improvements, amends spelling and enriches text through suggesting alternative or additional wording.  What is interesting about WhiteSmoke’s approach is that it is supported by an online database that constantly crawls Internet sites for common usage of English.  It uses that knowledge to edit prose based on the type of English style selected, for instance commercial, legal, medical, casual, creative, executive and even dating.

There are numerous programs, for example NewNovelist and WritersBlock that break down fiction writing into a defined process and help writers to plan their story and organize their research. 

Beyond these baby steps, one can imagine databases of characters, built up from standard physical and psychological profiles, similar to those used in law enforcement.  Drawing on the work of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, other databases of archetypal story themes could provide templates into which scanning software could plug items plucked from news sites, blogs and other social media to generate stories.

Alan Turing photoThe ultimate way to decide whether a computer had arrived at literary competence would be something like the Turing testAlan Turing, one of the father of the modern stored program computer considered the question of how we could know whether a computer had achieved human scale intelligence.  He devised a simple test.  A human sits in a room and can communicate with another entity on the other side of a wall by exchanging written messages through a slot in the wall.  The human participant can ask the entity any kind of question to determine whether it is human or machine.  If, at the end of the questioning, the human can’t tell whether the entity is human or machine, then effectively the computer program has passed the Turing test and achieved the level of human intelligence.  In fact, there is a contest, held each year, to determine whether any software has met this criteria.  The winner of this annual contest is the best entry relative to other entries for that year, regardless of how good it is in an absolute sense.  (No one is claiming absolute victory yet.)

We envision two Turing literary tests for a computer generated work of fiction.  

  • Soft test – Human readers can’t tell it’s not human generated.
  • Hard test – Human readers not only can’t tell it’s not human generated, but they’ll actually purchase it. 

For the moment, let us suspend our judgment about whether we want computers writing books and see where such a technology might take us.  Here are some speculations.

  • Publishers could eliminate those pesky authors.  (Well, maybe not entirely.  Authors, in addition to their writing contribution, are also the most important part of the marketing equation for a book.  Perhaps Disney could chip in some animatrons.) 
  • Authors could use software programs as writing assistants.  Few authors are expert at every aspect of writing:  story, scene structure, character, dialogue.   Let the software do some of the heavy lifting e.g. fleshing out the minor characters or adding polish to the dialogue.  The good news is, software programs won’t ask for title credit.
  • Reverse the process.  If a program can write a novel, couldn’t it also read a novel.  Goodbye slush pile!  Publishers could employ armies of “robot readers” who would funnel the good stuff up the food chain.    They could also take a manuscript that had been accepted for publication and rework it into a salable work.
  • Mass customization.  Who says a book has to be the same for every audience.  Let the software add subtle cultural nuances for different audiences in different countries.  Kind of like the way McDonald’s tweaks it burgers for different tastes in different countries.

Robo WriterThere is precedent.  We’ve already seen technology invading the film and music industries.  In each case, the human element isn’t replaced, but empowered.  So Robo Writer may just turn out to be a friendly Frankenstein.  Maybe some wealthy, aging patron, seeking a bit of immortality, could offer a substantial prize for the first work of fiction written entirely by a computer program, to pass the hard literary Turing test.  Who knows, maybe one of this year’s NaNoWriMo contestants may turn out to be disembodied bit of logic.  On the Internet, nobody knows you’re not human.

Related Posts
Bookmark this Post

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

blook looks icon

Blook Looks

by Cheryl Hagedorn

Cheryl Hagedorn authors Blooking Central, which examines
published books to discover what makes for a blookable blog.

It’s not that Lawrence R. Velvel, Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, isn’t well known or that the web isn’t littered with his essays that makes talking about his blook difficult.  It’s just that beyond this bit about the book deal from Publishers Marketplace, there’s nothing to be found regarding the blook’s construction.

31 March, 2006
STANDPOINT: 2004-2005, the best postings from velvelonnationalaffairs.com, to Doukathsan Press, in a nice deal, by Massachusetts School of Law (world).

In fact, the deal suggests that Velvel slapped a cover on all the posts between Jan. 1 2004 and Dec. 31 2005, and sent it off to Doukathsan for printing.  (I’m guessing that 2004-2005 means two years’ worth of posts – the blook has 500 pages.)The blog Velvel on National Affairsis self-described as “A progressive blog setting forth the personal views of the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law on national events.”  Trust me, these are not grandma’s posts about her garden nor a collection of postcards with secrets plunked on a blog, ala Frank Warren’s Post Secret.

The lengthy entries found at Velvel’s blog are essays.  Carefully crafted and, no doubt, reread and revised many times before posting.  They are just the stuff of a blookable blog.  But what about the order of appearance in the dead tree version?  Were they left in chronological order?  Considering the many blooks I’ve examined, I don’t think so.

In fact, in his post on August 11, 2006, Velvel refers to page numbers in the blook:

But there are, of course, many other opinions that are themselves dishonest or reward the dishonesty of parties. Last year I wrote about the Arthur Andersen case, in which the Supreme Court wrote a ridiculous opinion letting Arthur Andersen off the hook for its dishonest misconduct.  (The post is dated June 20, 2005, and is printed at p. 460 of Blogs From The Liberal Standpoint: 2004-2005.)

Okay, so my guess that the blook covers two years was correct.  Good.  But that doesn’t tell us much about organization; the post is 2005 and it’s near the end of the book. But then he continues:

I also wrote about the judicial approval of the government’s dishonest screwing over of soldiers who were told and thought they had signed up for the reserves for only a one year trial, but later were told that the fine print had them hooked for several years and so they were going to be sent to Iraq.  (This post is dated December 6, 2004 and appears at p. 14 of Blogs From The Liberal Standpoint:  2004-2005.)

Thine Alabaster Cities Gleam book coverThe post he refers to comes from late in the first year yet appears on page fourteen. That’s enough to convince me that posts were collected topically, not chronologically.  Something which I was unable to discover is whether or not the blook includes all the posts from that two-year period.  If not all made it onto paper, I’d love to know how Velvel decided what to put in and what to leave out.  I also found it curious that the blog carries no hint of the blook in the sidebar. On the other hand, Velvel’s Thine Alabaster Cities Gleam merits a cover image and description as well as a link to Amazon.

Related Posts
Bookmark this Post

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Next Page »