Monthly Archives: June 2013

Through a Glass, Brightly: Marrakesh

Peter Brantley -- June 26th, 2013

Teen Read Week
This week, Pew Internet Research released a study on young readers, their library habits, and reading preferences. Although ereading continues to grow, the eye-opening part of the survey for some has been the high percentage – 75 percent of those aged 16-29 – who have read a print book in the past year.

Count me among the surprised. I would have thought the percentage of print readers would have been lower. Print has an interesting stickiness – it’s still available nearly ubiquitously, both in book- and general stores, as well as through Amazon – and it has one other gainful characteristic. It is a self-contained media package. Unlike walking around with an LP, CD, or DVD, which are useless in-and-of themselves, most of us can stick a book in our purse, bag, or jacket and not require anything else to go forth and ponder the world’s mysteries or plumb an imagination. (Except reasonably dry weather).

Of course, there’s a fly in the ointment. Well several, but I personally came across one the other day in a jarring fashion. Last month, I wound up purchasing two print books: one, a mass market paperback, and one hardback. Both purchases were driven by vexations with the clumsy, overly-corporatized digital transformation of publishing. First is the continuing gnash-the-teeth frustration that my partner and I have figuring out a way to share our ebooks, which we are wont to do, since we have overlapping interests in literature. We will probably wind up sharing a single Amazon account, but it’s a stupid solution that grates. Second, the rights associated with the pocket book have not been adjudicated for digital; for the hardback book, which is older, and concerns itself with political diplomacy with a scholarly bent, a digital reprint must represent a questionable source of income for its publisher.

I couldn’t read either one of them. It was a purely physical, I’m-getting-older experience, but I found the contrast of type on paper for both the mass market paperback and the better-manufactured hardback rather execrable. The paper stock in both volumes was darker than I would expected, and appeared rough. The printing itself was not very sharp, and the apparent fuzziness of the font’s strokes made the experience more tiresome. I reached for reading lamps to no avail. The fact of the matter is that I am now used to high contrast, highly controllable screens. Putting aside all the endless stupidities of DRM and the inane restrictions on access that prevent my family from enjoying books together, reading digitally is simply superior – it is more customizable, and extends more control to the reader.

It is this basic, raw accessibility of digital reading that makes the recent WIPO Marrakesh agreement on the right to read for people with reading disabilities so damn important. The treaty won’t help me (yet, anyway), but for the first time, it will be possible for accessible editions to cross borders without needless restrictions, and for a reader to be able to access global reading-impaired library platforms built from books from many different countries. Up until now, for example, it has been impossible for the Internet Archive to make available its DAISY-formatted and protected modern books to blind or dyslexic readers in Canada or other Commonwealth countries.

As James Love of Knowledge Ecology, one of the foremost advocates for greater access by the disabled, comments in a statement:

The treaty will provide a dramatic and massive improvement in access to reading materials for persons in common languages, such as English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Arabic, and it will provide the building blocks for global libraries to service blind persons. On the issues that mattered the most for blind persons, such as the ability to deliver documents across borders to individuals, and to break technical measures, the treaty was a resounding success.

Shame on the MPAA, GE, Disney, and Viacom, among other corporations, for resisting the treaty. Their intransigence in gracefully acknowledging the greater access that digital technologies make available to the blind and dyslexic should be widely noted.

The Intelligent, Adaptable Book

Peter Brantley -- June 20th, 2013

Network: Domestic Intervention
In the midst of revolutions, ideas which initially seem inscrutable, or fantastic, suddenly become the building blocks of a new world. This week, Professor Robert Glushko, of UC Berkeley’s Information School and a leading pioneer in hypertext, dropped by the offices of Hypothes.is to discuss his new textbook, The Discipline of Organization. The conversation ranged from notes, to annotations, to transclusion – bringing an early concept of Ted Nelson‘s back to the fore. Continue reading

What are the biggest comic-cons in North America?

Heidi MacDonald -- June 19th, 2013

It’s no secret that comic cons are getting more popular world wide—I just covered the triumph and occasional growing pains in this week’s Comic Con Culture on the Rise. These carnivals of comics provide fans of all ages with a chance to see celebrities, meet cartoonists, buy old swag and dress in elaborate costumes.

We all know that next month’s Comic-Con International: San Diego is the largest show in North America, and that New York’s own Comic-Con (held in October) is a fast rising #2, but what comes after that? Is it long established WonderCon or upstart Phoenix or something else? Using attendance figures from news sources and show-runners, and with the design wizardry of PW’s Matt White, we put together an infographic to show how shows rank and just how many Stormtroopers and Minecraft cosplayers are streaming through the halls of cons in the US and Canada. Continue reading

Shelf-talkers: Kickstarting a new library journal

Peter Brantley -- June 18th, 2013

PE - Printing Press MTAOne of the things that I am most excited about is the creation of new forms of publishing on the web, using lightweight platforms featuring clean and simple writing and editing tools that allow communities to express themselves without expensive, legacy production workflows that belie the print era. And yet one of the most collaborative and openly sharing communities in the world – librarians – have yet to take advantage of this opportunity. I think it is time for that to change.

In the last couple of years, something remarkable has happened – three publications have won Pulitzer Prizes for national reporting that exists only on the web: ProPublica, Huffington Post, and most recently, Inside Climate News. These organizations, and many of their brethren, have been founded by experienced journalists who have seized the opportunity of reaching people more quickly through leaner staffing and reduced operations costs. They often have been assisted through startup grants from philanthropic organizations, and are supported by a wide mix of web-centric advertising and subscription models.

New companies are helping catalyze these emerging models of journalism. Ev William’s highly regarded Medium, an elegant and lean publishing platform that encourages collaboration and community, has attracted wide attention. It has in turn recently acquired MATTER, a long form journalism project founded by two experienced professionals, Bobbie Johnson and Jim Giles. Startups like Editorially and Draft are working to produce production tools that enable communities of writers to collaboratively develop material as easily as authoring a blog. Publet is building a platform for simple, rich-media authoring to support periodical and journal publishing. The world of professional journalism is entering a web-native era, on the cusp of redefining how it does business.

Oddly, the library community has a dearth of competitive products to help inform them about the rapidly changing information landscape. Our primary vehicle, Library Journal, has many well-regarded contributors but is rooted in an older model of “push” journalism, and premised on print subscription revenue. Its cost structure is consequently higher than a digital-only publication, and requires significant underwriting through large corporate advertisers which inevitably have their own editorial interests. ALA runs a flagship publication called “American Libraries” but it is more topically focused; it doesn’t cover breaking news, critical reviews of the library marketplace in products and services, active discussion on information discovery and analysis, or discursive coverage of the spectrum of emerging technical standards and debates.

It’s time for librarians to develop our own journalism. The basis of the American Library Association – individual membership vs. institutional affiliation – evidences the affinity for an in-community approach. A new library publication – call it Shelf Talkers – could be supported through librarian subscriptions, rather than vendor dollars, to assure complete editorial independence, lowering the risks of special interests. The PeerJ membership model is one option, although given the finite number of librarians, annual renewal will be required to establish a self-sustaining product. Launch support could come via a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign, and I suspect the concept of a new generation online publication would find resonance at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which could potentially underwrite some of the recurring costs for the first couple of years. The DPLA is also intrinsically geared to provide assistance in-kind, and its interests are well-aligned.

Shelf Talkers – or whatever we wanted to call it – could run with an editor-in-chief, an operations manager, and a small cadre of staff reporters. Additional contributors from the library world – one of the most literate and expressive communities around – could fill out a publication which need not worry itself with “issues” or “volumes” or printed matter. Its reach would be global, as would its contribution base – an inherent advantage of a networked publication. Libraries span the world, and although funding and support models may differ, the critical problems and core opportunities show far less divergence. Our shared values make the power of librarians’ global voice greater than any corporation’s or state’s.

The world of librarianship has never been bigger, and our influence potentially never more profound. Let’s seize the tools at hands, and tell our story in our own way, leveraging our community’s independent spirit, and embracing the freedom to engage in a life of literacy and debate.

The best APIs are simple web standards

Peter Brantley -- June 13th, 2013

Studying HomeopathyThere’s been much recent attention paid to the addressability of book content on the web, with a “Publishing Hackathon” in New York, and HarperCollins’ creation of an API-fueled hackathonProgramming Challenge“, both of which received a mix of criticism and praise; nonetheless they are a good start. But in the rush to try to entice a more technically savvy element, I think publishers are missing a more elemental approach – borrowing simple and well-established web standards. Continue reading

Mourning Iain M. Banks

Rose Fox -- June 10th, 2013

The death of Iain M. Banks, just a couple of months after he announced his cancer diagnosis, has been reverberating through my literary community. Banks was well known and respected for his mainstream novels (written as Iain Banks) and mind-expanding science fiction, and all the personal remembrances of him describe a generous, funny, upright fellow. I’m very sad I never got the chance to meet him.

Last September, PW ran a brief Q&A that Joe Sanders conducted with Banks, which you can read here. As often happens, there were more Qs and As than we could fit in the magazine; but blogs have no such constraints, so here are the ones that didn’t make it to publication.

Joe Sanders: It sometimes seems that the Culture’s real citizens are the Minds (and Ships, Drones, etc.)—since humans and other flesh-mortals are too slow and vulnerable to participate usefully. What’s the relationship of mechanical and meat?

Iain M. Banks: We are their pets. Or their passengers. Or maybe their parasites; hard to be sure. Maybe (d)—all of the above. The trouble with the machines from their own point of view is that they’re too perfect, too self-sufficient, too self-consciously pristine; we—with all our weaknesses, idiocies, dramas, dreams and vulnerabilities—and our need to be protected, from ourselves as much as from anybody or anything else—provide them with a reason to keep real; we are their project, their hobby. They need us. Though I am thinking that part of the business of the next Culture novel will take place in a part of the civilisation where the humans are running things themselves and the AIs keep away, just to take a look at how that might work. We’ll see.

JS: Would you like to live in the Culture?

IMB: Good grief, yes! I don’t know what sort of messed-up sadomasochist you’d have to be not to want to live in the Culture!

JS: What would readers have to give up if they wanted to join? Do you think that would be as serious as entering the Sublime?

IMB: Your religion and your money. Nah, just kidding. It’s the Culture; you can believe what you damn well please, and while they might be baffled by a collection of billions of rather boringly similar scraps of paper, that would be indulged like every other eccentricity. So, ‘Nothing’ is the real answer. Though, on a civilizational/ethical level we’re—ahem—probably not quite ready to join yet. And besides, the Culture is slightly paranoid about looking too imperialist, so would generally encourage people to go their own way and find their own path into the future rather than just grab hold of the Culture’s trailing edges and surf along behind it. Plus it’s profoundly non-coercive and non-prescriptive anyway; you can always ‘leave’ again with no penalty or hard feelings (and you never really ‘join’ in any formal, ceremonial sense; you just start behaving like them—that’s pretty much all it takes). Subliming is a rather more profound and one-way process and very much not to be taken lightly. Lightly, on the other hand, is probably the only way to take the Culture.

JS: Why so many names that stretch the human mouth and vocal cords?

IMB: Self-indulgence, frankly (always a risky route for an author to take). There are two naming regimes in the books; one is the crazily long names for Culture people—names which act as their address should they happen to stay where they’re born—and the ship names. The human names were kind of a rejection of the idea around when I was starting to think about this sort of stuff that in the future we’d all have numbers—and probably be popping a pill instead of eating a meal, and so on. I just took against this sort of thing and went wildly in the other direction, deciding no, we’d all have very long, meaning-rich names—and we’d eat extremely well, thank you. It was also done to try and hint at the classless but effortlessly opulent nature of life in the Culture; the inhabitants all live in the absolute lap of luxury and so giving them names like aristocrats just seemed fitting. With the ship names, I was reacting against the implicit assumption that, post-artificial intelligence, we’d have much meaningful control over the kind of AI you’d have to put in a starship to make it work right; they’d be their own creatures, we would not get to captain them and they would choose their own names, names that would not be the earnest, taking-yourself-a-bit-too-seriously names we tend to give capital ships (whether maritime or space). In all honesty, I may have taken this too far, but, what the hey; taking things too far is partly what SF is about.

Reading Banks’s plans for the next Culture novel is a bit heartwrenching. I wish he could have gotten many, many more years in which to “take things too far”.

‘The Adventures of Augie March’ in Pie Chart Form

Gabe Habash -- June 6th, 2013

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Holy Lord and God! I know man’s labor must be one of those deals figured out by Providence that saves him by preserving him, or he would be hungry, he would freeze, or his brittle neck would be broke. But what curious and strange forms he ends up surviving in, becoming them in the process.

During the course of his adventures, Augie makes stops in Canada, Mexico, Paris, and in those places he gets involved in human trafficking, protests, and war. Not to mention he gets kicked in the head by a horse. Not to mention a lot of people tell him about their problems.

With all the picaresque fun spanning Bellow’s huge book, it’s easy to lose sight of all the moving pieces. That makes it a perfect candidate for a PWxyz Pie™. What pie is it? Why, a Chicago deep dish pizza pie, of course. As if you even had to ask.

Still hungry? Check out previous literary pie charts for UnderworldMadame Bovary, Crime and Punishment, The Metamorphosis, Ulysses, 2666, and Beckett’s Trilogy.

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Going Public…In Shorts: With Johnny Heller and Robert Fass

Adam Boretz -- June 1st, 2013

GP_FINAL_2400x2400The audiobook community is giving back! Spoken Freely, a group of more than 30 professional narrators, has teamed with the Going Public Project to celebrate June is Audiobook Month 2013 by offering a serialized audio story collection: Going Public…in Shorts.

Each narrator has recorded a short piece from the public domain, including the work of Chekhov, Twain, Chopin, Poe, Lovecraft, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Wilde and many others — even Lincoln’s pivotal Second Inaugural Address. All proceeds will go to literacy advocacy organization Reach Out and Read.

Throughout June, one or two stories will be released each day via the Going Public blog, as well as on various author and book blogs, with each participating narrator hosted by a different blogger. As a “Thank you!” to listeners, stories will be available online for free for one week following their release. The full schedule of story release dates and narrator appearances is available at Going Public.

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It’s all legs, all the time, as Johnny Heller, Robert Fass, and I help kick of Going Public…In Shorts at Recorded Books.

Excited to kick off Going Public…In Shorts on PWxyz, Johnny Heller and Robert Fass joined me at Recorded Books in New York City, where we recorded the following interview about the project and all things audio.

And now, without further ado, check out Heller’s fantastic reading of “Skip Tracer Bullets” by Joe Archibald:

And give a listen to Fass’s truly terrific narration of Washington Irving’s “The Spectre Bridegroom:”

In collaboration with Blackstone Audio, stories will also be available for download purchase at Downpour, with the full compilation available beginning June 30th. CLICK HERE to purchase Heller’s Reading of “Skip Tracer Bullets” and CLICK HERE to purchase Fass’s narration of “The Spectre Bridegroom.” All sales proceeds go directly to Reach Out and Read, which serves more than 4 million children and their families across the nation, with an emphasis on aiding those in low-income communities.

Going Public…in Shorts is made possible by the efforts of the Spoken Freely narrators and many others who donated their time and energy to bring it to fruition. Engineering and mastering provided by Jeffrey Kafer and SpringBrook Audio. Graphic design provided by f power design. Project coordination and executive production provided by Xe Sands.

And don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for the next installment of Going Public…In Shorts at Linus’s Blanket.