Flashlight: Strobing the Book World #9

Still busy and thinking through my ‘authors’ post, but there’s a good deal going on that warrants comment albeit by necessity too briefly.

First up, I think this potential alliance between Barnes and Noble and Waterstones to internationalise the Nook is very exciting. Amazon will be tough to beat and Kobo have done some smart work as the insurgent start-up but to make this market work and continue the innovation there’s got to be more players in the game. Elsewhere you can see Eoin Purcell’s take on Barnes and Noble’s corporate culture here (with the NYT article he references here). The American Editor blog volunteers an idea about franchising the B&N brand (and idea I’d be very wary of, brand dilution alert). I suspect B&N (with added Waterstones?) vs Amazon will be a major theme for 2012. Update: even more on B&N. (HT Graham Beattie.)

The ebook reader advance looks to have moved forward substantially again over the Christmas period though perhaps not quite as quickly as was imagined before Christmas. Mike Shatzkin looks at some of the initial data. PW looks at the adoption of ereaders here and the rapid advance of the Kindle Fire here. Six million units sold in the final quarter of 2011. As I said, tough to beat.

Finally, I retweeted this over the holidays, but reading it again there’s much food for thought in an article by Stephen Page on the Guardian that looks at the history of publishing and segues that into a view of the future for 2012. Two money quotes:

There’s a riot of cross-dressing going on; a scramble as roles are redefined by usefulness, not legacy.


The demonstrable creation of value and the fair sharing of it. Publishers exist to create value and audience for writers, and this needs to be at the centre of all publishing endeavours.

Which will lead me on nicely to a future post.


Analogue, digital and Franzen

I’m tremendously charmed by this grass roots Little Free Libraries innovation and if nothing else it makes you realise that the digital age can go hand in hand with a much more analogue brand of creativity.

Unless of course, you are Jonathan Franzen. Franzen’s views on the pernicious threat to democracy that is digital reading here, takedown by Andrew Sullivan here.

(Little Free Libraries HT Library Stuff)

Sweet Thames, run softly,

I really like the new app for The Waste Land.

This is how digital publishing should be approached. The enhanced ebook has always been for me the equivalent of DVD extras; frou frou that no-one cares about or opens and entirely separate from the experience they originally purchased.

The app route is much more dynamic and begins by rethinking the potential ways of presenting the work and enabling the user to interact with, understand and engage with the text. It is an organic portrayal and experience of the work not a throwaway afterthought. And an enhanced experience is what makes all the difference.

What’s more, I think that there is a hidden bonus for the publishers who make apps. With each construction they are driven to think harder and go further, to rethink the possibilities and potential of the work they are publishing rather than following the same old path. Creating apps will drive innovation throughout the business and that can only be a good thing for publishing.

Now I also really like the British Library app. Or rather I really want to like the new British Library app. Its a fabulous idea but so far its only teased me with possibility then given me the spinning beach ball of doom. The concept though looks brilliant, classic texts expertly curated. At least I hope that what it will be.

Going back to Eliot, I’m sure it will be an excellent introduction to the poem, and frankly I could watch Fiona Shaw read her shopping list and be entertained.

My own introduction to Eliot was my sixth form girlfriend,  The The’s Infected video and Marlon Brando.

Here’s Marlon.

P.S. Touch Press also created the brilliant Marcus Chown Solar System app for Faber so they have good form.

UPDATE: I’ve got the British Library app going. A Voyage in the Sunbeam by Mrs Brassey being my first excursion. Published by Longmans, Green and Co 1878.

Burning Down the House

I’m still pondering Seth Godin’s prescription for libraries. I’m not sure I totally buy all of the post but I really like the way he is trying to provoke a much more active approach and I think his idea of the role of the librarian as thought leader rather than guardian is bang on. Money quotes:

‘Librarians that are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.’

‘There are one thousand things that could be done in a place like this, all built around one mission: take the world of data, combine it with the people in this community and create value.’

Libraries are in danger of being suddenly and dramatically wrong-footed by a seismic shift in technology and the correllating changes in usage. Now, of course librarians can mourn that change or adapt to it, explore it and exploit it. But only if they realise that their role has always been as guide rather than gatekeeper.

If we think of the digital space as usurping the hallowed place of the book then we will fail to champion and extend the possibilities for opening up the knowledge contained therein. Knowledge ossified and unused is hardly being defended.

The digital space allows us to not just store information but to be simultaneously entertained and inspired by it, to publicly and actively recombine it and rework it creatively and critically. To take our heritage and reboot it into new experiences. This is not a usurpation but a liberation.

Godin’s historical riff reminds me of the the great Carl Sagan’s discussion of the Great Library of Alexandria. Now of course, the contemporary public library is a fairly distant cousin to Hypatia’s halls but this quote outlines the perils of guarding our inheritance too closely and not projecting knowledge outward inclusively:

‘Science and learning in general were the preserve of a privileged few. The vast population of the city had not the vaguest notion of the great discoveries taking place within the Library. New findings were not explained or popularized. The research benefited them little. Discoveries in mechanics and steam technology were applied mainly to the perfection of weapons, the encouragement of superstition, the amusement of kings. The scientists never grasped the potential of machines to free people. The great intellectual achievements of antiquity had few immediate practical applications. Science never captured the imagination of the multitude. There was no counterbalance to stagnation, to pessimism, to the most abject surrenders to mysticism. When, at long last, the mob came to burn the Library down, there was nobody to stop them.’

Carl Sagan-Cosmos

Now no-one is likely to go around burning down our libraries. But something almost as bad may happen if we do not constantly challenge and engage with them; they might be ignored. For Hypatia’s heirs, it is time to open the gates wide.

(I loved Cosmos as a kid and the book of the series was one of the first books I remember owning. I’m sure I understood very little of it, and would still struggle with a lot of the science, but it was an object lesson in how to create wonder.)