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Thomas Elrod
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books and stuff
books and stuff

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Just heard that it is Kent Anderson vs Charles Watkinson for president elect of the "Society for Scholarly Publishing". Anderson is the head honcho at "The Scholarly Kitchen" a publishing blog that I find distasteful in many ways, including most recently that they have as one of their bloggers the person the Heartland Institute has recruited to make anti-science teaching curricula. The Scholarly Kitchen and Kent Anderson have not expressed any concerns about Wojick being one of their bloggers (eg., see http://phylogenomics.blogspot.com/2012/02/hey-scholarly-kitchen-do-you-support.html ). And in general Anderson is as far as I can tell decidedly anti open-access in many ways. Watkinson is the Director of Purdue University Press and seems pretty solid all around. If you have any voting role in SSP I encourage you to vote for Watkinson.

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Liz Castro on Apple's new iBooks Author software:

"5. It fragments the ebook ecosystem and requires new publishing tools and workflows for publishers. iBooks Author does not create EPUB files and it cannot import existing EPUB files. It certainly can't export to any other format. I don't know any publishers who are looking for extra formats in which to publish their books.
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8. It's bossy. I bridle at anyone telling me where I can sell my books. Even if I only wanted to sell through the iBookstore I would be annoyed at Apple making me sign a paper to that effect.

9. It's unnecessary. Even if iBooks Author generated EPUB standard supporting ebooks, there's not an ereader in existence that could have viewed them. They would have blown the competition out of the water, without any coercion required."

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Maja Thomas has a lot of interesting things to say about digital publishing in this interview. One of my favorite quotes from the interview:

"There is a natural limit to the growth of digital. I think it might be 50%. The book as an object is a perfect object. It has a lot of utility. People love it. There is something about a book. We’re going to see again a doubling of our growth over the next few years, to 40% or more. But once we reach a plateau, we’re going to have two businesses: a digital business and a physical business."

AKA: The publishing world is not collapsing. We're always going to have books. In the future we're just going to have different kinds of books, books which can do some different things with different audiences, and books that are read and engaged with (I won't use the word "consumed," because I hate that word) in different ways.

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Thanks to +Gerry Canavan for reminding me about this article from last spring. The money quote, of course, is:

"Hammerbacher looked around Silicon Valley at companies like his own, Google (GOOG), and Twitter, and saw his peers wasting their talents. 'The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,' he says. 'That sucks.'"

When I was bouncing around the Triangle this past year looking for jobs, this sentiment felt depressingly apt. I applied for several jobs at SEO-optimization firms (and even interviewed at one...I wasn't going to turn down anything at that point) and was a little depressed about it. Were "exciting jobs in internet marketing" the only available career path available for liberal arts majors/grad school dropouts? Luckily, they weren't, but it often felt like that.

Point is, it's good to know that this is probably another bubble. I mean, it's not good that in another year or two we're going to have another tech burst and subsequent economic troubles, but it IS good that this kind of silliness will eventually pass and tech start-ups might get back to doing something, you know, useful.

Google+ seems to be somewhat busier of late.

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Amazon's Kindle is now going to support HTML5. This is a big step in the right direction. It's not Epub, but it's on the way. I've been assuming this was coming, but figured that it would happen with the next generation of Kindles (i.e., not the ones coming out in the next month), giving the Fire and Kindle Touch enough time to more or less destroy the Nook and Sony Reader business. (We're moving toward an ecosystem with essentially two e-readers, the Kindle and iPad. Unfortunately.)

Perhaps Amazon just assumes that the Kindle is going to continue to dominate and grow its business, but I think the fact that this happened now has more to do with the hassle of converting everyone's epub files to mobipocket. Currently, if you're a publisher (or self-publisher) Amazon will accept your ebook and convert it for you into Mobi. This is a pretty clear waste of time, and Mobi doesn't really offer any technological advantages over Epub (especially not over the new Epub3, which allows for fixed-paged layouts and more multimedia support).

Whatever its reasons, it's good that Amazon is doing this. Ebooks should be platform-neutral. You should be able to buy an ebook anywhere and read it anywhere, on any device. This is the way books have always worked, and it looks like Amazon is going to allow that to continue.

Today Google also reversed its anti-pseudonym policy. Way to go, giant technology corporations!

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Some information on my new job at UNC Press.

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I think this is a key distinction:

"But so far the great e-book debate has barely touched on the most important feature that the codex introduced: the nonlinear reading that so impressed St. Augustine. If the fable of the scroll and codex has a moral, this is it. We usually associate digital technology with nonlinearity, the forking paths that Web surfers beat through the Internet’s underbrush as they click from link to link. But e-books and nonlinearity don’t turn out to be very compatible. Trying to jump from place to place in a long document like a novel is painfully awkward on an e-reader, like trying to play the piano with numb fingers."

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This reminds me somewhat about recent debates in film blogger circles regarding Netflix Instant Watch: when you can watch everything, why watch anything? Good curators will become much more important to our overall cultural consumption, it seems. (Bloggers with good link aggregation services are pretty indispensable, for this reason. Keep on trucking, +Gerry Canavan ).

For what it's worth, as much as I love browsing the stacks at libraries (academic, public, etc.) unless I'm looking for something very specific, I always tend to get overwhelmed with the sheer number of awesome possibilities. Even when I find something to read, I always feel a little disappointed. So this is not a new problem. Only the scale is new.
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