Monthly Archives: February 2010

Curiosity – the driver of innovation

iSchool Advisory Board member, and entrepreneur-in-residence at UT this year, Gary Hoover provided a degree’s worth of insight in last month’s lecture on innovation which is available here. Start at part 1 and work through it at your speed to get the most from his words. Gary is a human dynamo and a self-confessed information junkie with a passion for learning that is truly inspiring. This lecture is exactly how he speaks – without notes, without affectation, and barely pausing for breath. Worth watching more than once.

Jon Meacham at UT

I went to the taping of Texas Monthly‘s talk show with Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek today. The discussion veered, naturally, to national politics but not before a few opening salvos from Evan Smith on the challenges of publishing in the digital age. Meacham made the point that Newsweek struggles continually with how to provide meaningful web presence in a world that demands free online information, updated hourly. He noted, to the surprise of some, that the real measure of success in the magazine and newspaper world, is not circulation numbers at all, but revenue stream from advertising, more important than circulation by ‘a factor of 4 or 5’ he estimated.

I recalled my undergrad sociology lectures on media from 25 years ago (maybe it was 30 years now!) where my naivety about subscription prices and profits in the news business was shattered, so I should not be surprised to hear these sorts of numbers again, but it seems many people are. I asked him if he could imagine that someday, the present day obsession with information online having to be free will be seen as a quaint, early belief of the web adopters, replaced in due course with a fee or subscription based model. His response spoke eloquently to the importance of a free press having the ability to withstand special interest funding and the hope that we would figure this out for the web but on reflection, I wonder how free our press has ever been?

All this, as the London Evening Standard elects to give its paper editions away free and to rely solely on advertising revenue. And this the newspaper of Churchill. Early signs since they started this in October 2009 are that circulation is up. No doubt the naysayers will be searching for evidence that quality is down but the experiment lives on, or, as is happening, cynics are suggesting the circulation data is less than accurate. Interesting times.

Has the ebook moment arrived?

The predictions of e-book supremacy in the not too distant future have been made early (see Jonnassen, 1982) and often (see anything written about the Kindle), but I was struck by VP of Oxford University Press, Casper Grathwohl’s comment in the Dec 2009 issue of Library Journal that “we feel the ebook moment is finally here”. The cause of this supposed tipping point is not, as you might imagine, new technology such as the iPad, but good old fear generated by the worldwide recession which Casper feels is the true driver of creative juices.

It’s not easy to translate the belief into hard data, though there are signs that ebook sales are continuing to generate more and more revenue at the wholesale level — keep on eye on this page where, despite a blip in the last quarter, the trajectory is clearly up and up. O’Reilly dropped DRM and report ebook sales up 104%, and there is a general feeling among trend watchers that yes, the moment for e-books to shine has finally arrived. Two years ago, Amazon predicted $3bn in ebook sales by 2012 which has been revised upward to $9bn by some more recent analysts. The Association of American Publishers reports perhaps the most telling statistic: while book sales in general are still moving slowly up at just under 5% a year, ebook sales are rising at a rate closer to 200%. Assuming the pattern is stable (which is an assumption but not an entirely unreasonable one), the moment of crossover is coming.

Those of us who watched this world and studied reading on screen over the years predicted an inevitable time when e-reading would be routine but most of us, well me at least, argued that print would not die as a result but instead, the two media would co-exist, perhaps even synergistically. I still put my shirt on that outcome (digital for management, search, comparison, facts etc., paper retained for leisurely lengthy reading, deep study of narratives, or tasks that require perspective and overview of lengthy document contents ) and have not had a chance to play seriously with any e-book tool that I would want to take to the beach, but I see the future getting nearer. What is interesting is how many people are now reporting, at least informally, that they have switched to digital for the lengthy leisurely reads I felt to be paper’s greatest provision. Few if any studies have been reported on this as yet but it’s definitely an interesting question. Meanwhile, I expect I’ll still be buying and reading paper for the rest of my life but I might just be purchasing more e-texts along the way.