This Blog has Moved – Come and Visit Me at the New Address!

Hi everyone, this blog has been shifted to its new home!

You can now find me at the following address:

Please come and visit, the website and I would love some house-warming guests and some new posts will be appearing just as soon as all the design elements are completed.

If you’ve missed any of the previous posts, you will find them at the new address.

I look forward to seeing you at – don’t forget the “e”!

Kindest Regards,

Mel 🙂


Posted in Amazon, Blog, Business Strategy, Cutthroat Capitalism, e-book, E-Paper, E-Reader, Future of the Book, Games, IDEO, Journalism, Kindle, Kobo, Mortal Kiss, News, Pirates (yes, pirates), Plastic Substrate, Print on Demand, Publishing Models, Random House, Reading Practices, Sony, Stardoll, Thoughts to Boogie To, Uncategorized, Wired Magazine | Leave a comment

The Future of the Book According to IDEO

Design firm IDEO has released its vision for the future of the book.  The concepts shown by IDEO are premised on the idea that “an increasingly digital context can add to our notion of books, instead of taking away from it”. Their video seeks to show us how these concepts can be brought to life and introduces three concepts that could make it happen: Nelson, Coupland and Alice.

Each new concept presented by IDEO is introduced with a particular challenge (question) in mind and I have included these in my summary of each concept below.

Given that publishing is moving toward a decentralised publishing model, how do you ensure that readers are adequately informed?

According to IDEO, Nelson would:

  • Provide a reading experience that accommodates and comprises multiple perspectives
  • Allow readers to discover writings based on the impact they’ve had on popular opinion or debate
  • Allow readers to double check source reliability
  • Provide insight into current debate
  • Examine how the discourse has evolved over time

According to IDEO, all the features contained in Nelson would allow us to form our own opinions of the issues that punctuate our times

What is truly worth knowing?

Coupland represents a future notion of the book because it would:

  • Use professional networks to determine key readings that may be relevant to particular readers
  • Allow readers to access college reading lists and recommended books
  • Enable readers to start book clubs and join discussions
  • Allow popularly purchased books to become available to everyone via the company’s shared library
  • Create a platform for users to stay in the loop with organisations that inspire

How do we experience written narratives in new and engaging ways?

Alice would:

  • Invite the reader to engage in the storytelling process (for example, by unlocking geographic locations)
  • Allow readers to communicate with characters in stories
  • Enable readers to contribute to the story itself

To me, Alice really stands out as a truly compelling and gripping concept for the future of the book.  While the vision presented by IDEO is just a snapshot of what the future may hold for fiction, IDEO posed some really enthralling concepts for avid fiction readers such as, the capacity to unlock parallel stories or secret plot developments. In this way, Alice seems to employ many methods of interactivity frequently found in games. Most notably, Alice brings to mind interactive movie video games (such as Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain). Here, in the present case, we are talking about an interactive fiction narrative that would employ the kind of methods often seen in video games (eg. unlocking parallel stories), but would also introduce new elements such as co-authorship, which is a relatively rare method of narrative development in video games.

Alice presents a very appealing possibility for the future of books and one that could be quiet enjoyable, recreational and absorbing. While it’s possible that readers would not feel inclined to engage in such heavy degrees of interactivity for all of their fictional reads, IDEO notes that Alice operates to invite “exploration beyond just turning the page”. Indeed, as IDEO significantly note, through Alice, a “non-linear narrative emerges, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the story from multiple angles”. This is perhaps what I find most compelling about IDEO’s final proposal, Alice.

Posted in e-book, Future of the Book, Games, IDEO, Publishing Models, Reading Practices | Leave a comment

Considering the “Dedicated Reading Experience”

Kobo and its various device platforms

Kobo and its various device platforms

Kobo Chief Executive Officer Michael Serbinis was recently interviewed (20 September 2010) by Peter Nowak of CBC News about how e-books could alter the publishing landscape. It’s a question which is frequently posed to publishers by the media and while Mr Serbinis seemed to echo some often-cited answers, he also made an interesting statement in which he distinguished single-use e-readers from the looming giant, the iPad.

According to Serbinis, many customers who are reading e-books would prefer to have a dedicated reading experience in which they can focus on the experience of reading as a recreational activity, to the exclusion of other distractions. Accordingly, it is likely that such customers would be more inclined to select a single-use e-ink reader – such as a Kobo or Kindle – instead of a multi-purpose device such as iPad, as its sole purpose is for the activity of reading only.

Serbinis’ statement appears to be directed to that section of the market which views reading in traditional terms; that is, a recreational act in which the reader follows the narration of a book in a linear trajectory. While a large section of the burgeoning e-book market would find this kind of reading appealing, there are others who may find that the convergence of internet, e-reader device and e-book presents an exciting range of permutations for the future of narratives. For example, the intersection of an e-book, read on a device that offers net connectivity would allow authors to experiment with the way narratives are told. Hyperlinks, rather than standard narrative linearity, could dictate the way that a book is read, understood and enjoyed. The kind of reading practices that this kind of narrative would engender would appeal to some readers and repel others – and that is exactly the point.

While Serbinis’ comment uses a significant factor (the dedicated experience of reading) to distinguish the kind of motivations that prompt readers to prefer one device over another, it neglects other readers who view the rapid popularity of e-books as an opportunity to experience innovative ways of reading through new technologies. Furthermore, the use of technological benchmarks such as the hyperlinks and even embedded music and video does not necessarily have to be viewed as an unwanted imposition, nor would it necessarily prevent reading from being a dedicated experience.

Some other statements made in the interview about the current state of the e-book market are below.

  • When asked if an e-reader is analogous to a video game console in the sense that the manufacturer can “afford to take a loss on the hardware [since] it’s the software that makes the money”, Serbinis indicated that this would be possible, where the manufacturer has a “comprehensible solution of content”, in particular apps and a device. If both of these elements are present, manufacturers ought to be able to subsidise, even though Serbinis notes that no manufacturer is significantly pursing this business strategy at the moment.
  • e-Books have grown at such an astonishing (and unexpected) rate because of the availability of diverse and expansive content. To compliment this, there are also a great range of devices which enable you to access this content.
  • Interestingly, Serbinis remarks that e-reader screens are like paper and that the similarity of content on e-readers to the conventional book page is a persuasive factor prompting customers to feel ready to receive content via e-readers.
  • While the digital tools which are currently available make it easier to self-publish, it is still very difficult to actually market and sell the book.
  • In terms of managing competition for e-books, ensuring that consumers have choice is very important. Choice encompasses, not just a large selection of e-books, but also a choice of devices which are compatible with e-books, such as those that may be bought from the kobo bookstore.
Posted in Business Strategy, e-book, E-Reader, Kobo, Reading Practices | Leave a comment

From Paintings on Stone Walls and Papyrus to E-Paper – Mediums of Reading

flexible e-paper

The Flexible E-Paper Exhibited by Sony

At the 2010 Dealer Convention, Sony presented a small exhibit of e-paper technology that has the potential to be used in Sony Reader devices in the future. The e-paper on display uses plastic substrate, instead of glass substrate, which is less likely to wear damage, is lighter, flexible, may be bent and is difficult to break. It would take more than plastic substrate to render e-paper more paper-like and Sony is being very hush hush about how it would make the leap to such a resilient e-paper material. If engineered, such an e-paper could be a defining factor in the future designs of e-readers over the next few years. Indeed, LG already claims to be manufacturing just such a product.

While the earliest sparks of the human desire to form narratives can be found on the stone walls of caves – where drawings (depictions), not writing, encapsulate the human experience – humans have been constantly evolving the writing materials by which they preserve their experiences and stories. From drawings (pictographs) and carvings (petroglyphs) on the stone walls of caves, tree bark and papyrus, the use of animal hides (parchment) and the invention of wood pulp paper, innovation has strongly driven what writing materials are used by humans. With the advent of the printing press, the cost of writing implements started to decrease and the template of the typewriter was adapted for computers in the form of keyboards. Today, electronic media is the underlying force of innovation.

What is most interesting about the progression of this innovation is the way in which these advancements have started to come full circle. Not only has technology become pivotal to how we record our narratives (whether it is in news or literature), but devices previously known for their utility in writing (such as computers) are now being devised with the purpose of reading.

Most materials throughout history have been employed for both writing and reading; take for example paper, stone walls in caves, etc – all except the computer which has primarily been used for the production of text. Even though the rapid emergence of e-readers signify a turning point in human reading practices, the desire to have the medium of the computer operate as a device for both writing and reading is difficult unless the computer is capable of replicating conventional paper. At least this seems to be the popular conception publicised by critics and e-reader designers.

The majority of analysis on e-readers would suggest that the computer monitor, as it presently exists (flat screen or not), is one of the only mediums which cannot easily be used for both writing and reading. Contemporary conceptualisations of e-reader designs seem to stake the success of the device on its capacity to replicate and mimic the experience of conventional paper. In this way, the proposed technological advancement of e-readers is hinged on its capacity to embrace the essential characteristics of older reading mediums. In this way, reading technologies are in a state of janus-faced innovation; embracing forward-thinking toward the digital, yet relying on the success of a tried and tested previous model.

Posted in E-Paper, E-Reader, Plastic Substrate, Reading Practices, Sony | Leave a comment

Print on Demand: There’s a New Pod in Town ;)

A ‘Thoughts To Boogie To’ Editorial

I am currently in the process of writing a thesis on the future of books, reading and publishing. As someone who is compelled (academically speaking, but I guess I’m personally interested too) to read copious amounts of information on the subject, I can safely say that sometimes the debate about the future of books can feel a little like much ado about nothing.

Take, for example, Print on Demand (PoD). As the name suggests, print on demand (sometimes referred to as “publish on demand”) is a production model in which new copies of a book are only printed once an order for a specific title has been placed. Pod is the new-fangled model for production. It is lauded for many a reason. Among these reasons is the fact that PoD will spare publishers the tiresome pain and effort of having to approve “the usual large run” of 1,000 copies of books – although this sum actually represents the minimum requirement for many publishing houses. Apart from the obvious paradox here, it seems like size is just one of those things that will remain a perpetual source of confusion for some people.

Let’s move it along. Publishers say that PoD will prevent excess copies of books from being pointlessly stored in warehouses gathering dust – and, depending on the climate, maybe some moss too. This can only mean one thing, so listen up people: There is going to be a huge combustive overflowing of converted warehouses on the real estate market. All those who have been ruthlessly shafted in the “trendy penthouse” stakes should see PoD  as your opportunity to go while the going is good. Remember, location, location, location!

The demise of warehouses aside, PoD will operate by a different method than traditional publishing. It will pass the mantle of production from publisher to retailer. Accordingly, publishers will grant retailers the right to print copies of books in accordance with consumer requests. Since the books that are generated through this method are the result of orders made by consumers, publishers will be assured of sales and the financial uncertainty created by the traditional minimum requirement run (of 1,000 books) will be alleviated. J. Kirby Best, the chief executive officer of Lightning Source, a PoD printer and distributor, has reportedly suggested that the PoD production model will take approximately three to five years to be functionally established. I have a printer now. Granted it needs a new cartridge, but it is working, so its almost ready to go…

The PoD model clearly has many advantages. It offers assurance of sale to publishers, removes the superfluous requirement of storing books in warehouses and also offers a welcome convenience to consumers. Reading over just these three factors, who would complain about such a system?

Well, let me play devil’s advocate (just a little game of argumentation we like to play over here in Oz). Yes, it is true that PoD offers publishers, retailers and consumers alike the kind of assurance that any viable market would relish, but what about the lingering and resonating power that books can have for the booklover who stumbles upon a hidden gem and unexpectedly goes home with not just a new favourite book, but a new favourite author. That booklover could end up being quite an avid fan of this author and contribute to future sales. There is something to be said for seeing books on shelves. It can represent burgeoning popularity, spark curiosity or just serve as real-life advertising. Sometimes the real-life tangibility of the product will circumvent all the marketing ploys of a sales department and simply speak for itself. Someone will simply pick up a book right off the shelf, just because they want to. No marketing pyrotechnics and no glitz or glamour, just a consumer making a decision to choose a particular product. In this scenario, the story, the writing, the quality are speaking for themselves. In this way, having books on shelves is not unlike the catchcry heard in theatres and concert halls where the primary concern of producers and marketers is to ensure “bums on seats”. Actually having the “seats” readily available is crucial to this goal.

Having said all of that, PoD would not obliterate these traditional and familiar aspects of publishing. As I said, I am just playing devil’s advocate and am being deliberately dystopic, but it does call to mind some very interesting scenarios and permutations for the future. PoD could put a very sizeable dent in the marketing prowess or “word of mouth” influence that the alluring presence of books on stands can generate. It could also inadvertently take marketing and publicity powers away from publishers and shift it overwhelmingly to retailers or electronic channels such as Google, itunes and Amazon. It could create very centralised perceptions about which books are popular, “best sellers”, or worthy of reader attention. On the other hand, it gives consumers the opportunity to get exactly what they want. PoD would certainly not devastate the autonomy of publishers as it would be a supplementary mode of production, operating in conjunction with the production of traditional paperbacks, e-books and audio-books. For some it also means no more taking 180mg anti-allergy pills in order to trawl through stacks of dusty books. However, it does make one wonder: What about that “gem” you unexpectedly find hidden at the back of the shelf. If it weren’t for the traditional publisher’s “large run”, you wouldn’t be able to buy a book on a whim, discover a new favourite author or explore a new world in a book simply because it was there to be bought. A notion which should, after all, remain a primary objective of publishers.

Thoughts to boogie to.
Brought to you by,

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Are Newsgames A Possible Future for News Journalism?

In a recent article in the (14 September 2010), Niraj Chokshi presented an excerpt of the first chapter of Newsgames: Journalism at Play. Written by Ian Bogost, Simon Ferrari and Bobby Schweizer, the book considers the synthesis of news and games as an integrated format for information delivery.

Newsgames is launched from the premise (and often cited proclamation) that “most online journalism just translates existing practices to the Web: stories are written and edited as they are for print; video and audio features are produced as they would be for television and radio”. In short, it is argued that online journalism merely seeks to extrapolate a Gutenberg style of publication and transpose it to the web, without adapting (or perhaps assimilating) to the myriad of possibilities web technologies offer for the presentation of content on the web.

Cutthroat Capitalism

I have successfully captured a vessel. Now onto those negotiations in 'Cutthroat Capitalism'.

The authors of Newsgames suggest that, if fused with games, news journalism has the best chance to “persuade, inform and titillate; make information interactive; recreate a historical event; put news content into a puzzle; teach journalism and build a community”. As a primary example, Newsgames cites Wired magazine’s Cutthroat Capitalism. Ever wanted to be a pirate commander on the open seas, conducting raids around the Gulf of Aden and attacking ships for ransom? If your answer to any of this questions is “yes”, then Cutthroat Capitalism is a game that you may enjoy.

Designed for the purpose of providing an economic analysis of the Somali “pirate business model”, Cutthroat Capitalism synthesises news with intricate information which gives readers (game-players) unique knowledge of something which sounds more like a swash-buckling fantasy than a real-world event. The game takes you through the whole business of being a pirate in the modern age. You must pick your target (fishing boat, cruise ship, tugboat, etc), intercept it and then successfully demand a ransom. For those of you who prefer Captain James Hook to Jack Sparrow, the game gives you options; you can choose to feed, threaten, beat or kill your hostages.

While the fusion of the news with a game does create a product which delivers an intricate insight into events taking place in the world, it is doubtful the extent to which all news could be funnelled through such a model of dissemination. News games could operate quite effectively to provide accessible information about certain issues, but there is a reason why news tickers (news crawlers), RSS feeds and other alerts are becoming ever more popular modes of news dissemination. We are becoming an ever more time-poor society, and sometimes, a news crawler read while munching on a bowl of cereal is all one has time for. To the extent that journalism seeks to operate to probe issues that face society today, news games are definitely worth being considered as a way to add interactivity, a deeper engagement and educational validity to important news items. Despite the limitations of news games as a format for news, it undoubtedly has a lot to offer the kind of journalism that seeks to engage and interrogate the state of affairs in the world today.
(Source: The Atlantic; The MIT Press; Wired)

Posted in Cutthroat Capitalism, Games, Journalism, News, pirates), Publishing Models, Wired Magazine | Leave a comment

The Blog to Book Publishing Model

Just World Books has a radical proposal: To publish “timely books for changing times”. It’s the kind of ideology that would motivate many contemporary publishers of foreign affairs, but its not necessarily so urgent that it would keep them awake at night as they worry about how to bring such an ideology to fruition. For Just World Books the notion of timely publication is the central contribution which the publisher seeks to make to its readers. Indeed, the idea of timeliness is so central that it is has been adopted and integrated in the company’s acquisition and editorial process for Just World Books, as it turns out, is a blog-driven publisher.

Based in Charlottesville Virginia, Just World Books has just launched its website and has announced the publication of its first title, America’s Misadventures in the Middle East by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr which will be due for release in October. Following this book, the presses of Just World Books will be publishing three additional titles, cultivated from blogs written by writers specialising in foreign affairs.

According to Just World Books owner Helena Cobban, the blog-to-book model enables books on current (and perhaps controversial) topics to be published with a “rapid turnaround”. For Just World Books, this rapid turnaround amounts to approximately three months, as opposed to the few years that it usually takes to complete work on a book. As a journalist, Just World Books founder Helena Cobban explains that her need to deliver timely books is the hangover of a “newshound’s addiction to speedy turnaround”. Just World Books seek to deliver their books by employing a “batch-editing” system in close collaboration with the authors of each book. The fast turnaround also owes its expediency to the fact that the text is not being written from scratch; but rather, is being built upon already existing analysis and commentary that exists in blog archives. As for delivery platforms, Just World Books interestingly seeks to publish their texts in paperback first, then hardcover and finally e-books optimised for the iPad. Given that Just World Books is seeking to deliver books in a timely fashion, the e-book format would offer the greatest expediency and convenience to potential readers.

Cobban notes that “some of the best thinking and writing on the important issues of our day [are] often hidden deep in other people’s blog archives”. This is perhaps the greatest aspect of Just World Books’ publishing model. Not that they are offering timely delivery of books, but that their books contain contemporary and up to date commentary on issues that are relevant to the world today.
Just World Books’ media release (9 September 2010)

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