December 4, 2012
"That most existing iPad magazine apps are slow, badly-designed, can’t search, etc. does not mean iPad magazine apps cannot be fast, well-designed, and searchable."

The post mortems and “I told you so”s are in full swing for the late Murdoch iPad publication, The Daily, with commenters split on the reasons for its fail. John Gruber (above) has a good piece which does not fall for Felix Salmon’s take that it wasn’t The Daily’s fault it was bulky, slow, and difficult to navigate. Gruber writes: “He’s 180 degrees wrong. All of these problems were entirely The Daily’s fault.” And, he concludes, this is really one more example of the fragmentation of big business as we used to know it: after all, a lean publishing team should be able to thrive on a budget of $5 million a year (though how many of those outfits, employing how many people, would be able to make a living from this, is another question altogether.)

Meanwhile, Twitter’s Michael Sippey flagged a post he wrote after one issue of The Daily, which turns out to have been awfully prescient. “The product doesn’t deliver on two fundamental features of today’s web — community and real-time,” he wrote, which if you ask me neatly nails the issues on the head. I follow the news pretty carefully, and can’t remember a time in which anyone flagged a story from The Daily. However painstakingly written, carefully edited, lovingly designed and beautifully produced, The Daily stories lived in a bubble. And that bubble just burst. iPad publishing will continue, of course, and hopefully those at the head of large organizations with an alleged appetite for innovation will be able to avoid the obvious mistakes next time around.

May 8, 2012
"The apps were, in the jargon of information technology, “walled gardens,” and although sometimes beautiful, they were small, stifling gardens"

Why Publishers Don’t Like Apps is a great piece by Jason Pontin of Technology Review, explaining why apps haven’t proven to be the savior of publishing. The lack of linking and creation of “small, stifling gardens” is key, as are the economics of a business model that actually forced publishers to pay Apple for the privilege of selling single issues of magazines. Then there were the immense technical challenges, none of which mean a fig to the reader but which cause expensive headaches for the publisher. In short, the overarching question is simple but profound: what do users want or expect from their digital reading experience, and how do publishers provide that without bankrupting themselves? Clearly, providing a walled garden experience doesn’t cut it, and Pontin is searingly candid in his assessment of Technology Review's own rather desultory experiments:

We sold 353 subscriptions through the iPad. We never discovered how to avoid the necessity of designing both landscape and portrait versions of the magazine for the app. We wasted $124,000 on outsourced software development. We fought amongst ourselves, and people left the company. There was untold expense of spirit. I hated every moment of our experiment with apps, because it tried to impose something closed, old, and printlike on something open, new, and digital.

That last phrase holds the key. As long as publishers attempt to shoehorn the old into the new, it proves they still haven’t understood the shifts to their business. 

May 2, 2012
Thoughtful piece by Timothy Egan about e-books and the threat of Amazon on the livelihood of publishers and independent book store owners, pointing out that despite the howls of “o me miserum” and fraught hand-wringing, "we have more books, more readers, a bigger audience for words, on pixels or paper.”
I’ve wondered before about those consumers who are less focused on bargain basement prices and who might want to know that a percentage of their money is going towards those actually producing the content (so I’m a writer, color me biased.) But the fear of innovation and transformation from those who wish things could just stay as they used to be is potent, dangerous and, ultimately, irrelevant. It’s useful to remind ourselves that markets shift, worlds change, whether we like it or not. Or, as Egan puts it:

Publishers need to reinvent their own future. They could offer packages. They could partner more with communities of interest, from environmentalists to religious conservatives. And, most important, they could start believing in tomorrow, instead of being afraid of it.

[Encyclopedia image via Stewart; Story via Maria Popova]

Thoughtful piece by Timothy Egan about e-books and the threat of Amazon on the livelihood of publishers and independent book store owners, pointing out that despite the howls of “o me miserum” and fraught hand-wringing, "we have more books, more readers, a bigger audience for words, on pixels or paper.”

I’ve wondered before about those consumers who are less focused on bargain basement prices and who might want to know that a percentage of their money is going towards those actually producing the content (so I’m a writer, color me biased.) But the fear of innovation and transformation from those who wish things could just stay as they used to be is potent, dangerous and, ultimately, irrelevant. It’s useful to remind ourselves that markets shift, worlds change, whether we like it or not. Or, as Egan puts it:

Publishers need to reinvent their own future. They could offer packages. They could partner more with communities of interest, from environmentalists to religious conservatives. And, most important, they could start believing in tomorrow, instead of being afraid of it.

[Encyclopedia image via Stewart; Story via Maria Popova]

February 25, 2012
In The Future Of The Book Is The Stream, Megan Garber outlines about a new initiative from audiobooks.com to sell a monthly subscription service rather than sell books by the title. She writes:
"The service has the potential to reframe book-buying as a transactional thing, making it less about purchasing an object, and more about purchasing an experience."
It’s an interesting proposition, and if taken to its logical conclusion, as Garber tracks here, could potentially revolutionize the book-selling business. But one thing she doesn’t get into: what this means for the content providers themselves. What does a monthly subscription service mean for the authors and writers trying to make a living through their craft? If we move to a world where we no longer pay for things because we actually want to read/watch/hear them and more because we have the ability to read/watch/hear them, what does this mean for the content that will become available to us? 
In a world of shared value and collaborative consumption, it’s likely that our attitudes towards “owning” books will evolve rapidly. Yet while I now read digital books almost exclusively, there’s still something to be said for having permanent access to those digital files, lost if a subscription lapses. And, while the shift that subscription brings to content ownership might encourage people to read more widely and freely, I also wonder about the other implications on our resulting relationships with that content. Interesting to ponder.
[“Books About Books” image by jm3 on Flickr.]

In The Future Of The Book Is The Stream, Megan Garber outlines about a new initiative from audiobooks.com to sell a monthly subscription service rather than sell books by the title. She writes:

"The service has the potential to reframe book-buying as a transactional thing, making it less about purchasing an object, and more about purchasing an experience."

It’s an interesting proposition, and if taken to its logical conclusion, as Garber tracks here, could potentially revolutionize the book-selling business. But one thing she doesn’t get into: what this means for the content providers themselves. What does a monthly subscription service mean for the authors and writers trying to make a living through their craft? If we move to a world where we no longer pay for things because we actually want to read/watch/hear them and more because we have the ability to read/watch/hear them, what does this mean for the content that will become available to us?

In a world of shared value and collaborative consumption, it’s likely that our attitudes towards “owning” books will evolve rapidly. Yet while I now read digital books almost exclusively, there’s still something to be said for having permanent access to those digital files, lost if a subscription lapses. And, while the shift that subscription brings to content ownership might encourage people to read more widely and freely, I also wonder about the other implications on our resulting relationships with that content. Interesting to ponder.

[“Books About Books” image by jm3 on Flickr.]

February 6, 2012
"In my early job at Vogue, and now at Teen Vogue, you’re managing creative people. It’s very different from managing people who are doing quantitative work. It’s all qualitative, and it’s all you judging their work. And it becomes very emotional."

Loved this weekend interview with Teen Vogue editor, Amy Astley. She nails a problem for those looking to instil creativity and innovation into their organizations… the qualitative aspect of the work can mean that developing meaningful metrics for assessing its effectiveness is a real issue. Where quants can be judged on the accuracy of their algorithms, creative ideas are much harder to manage. That doesn’t mean methods don’t exist, of course, but I think Astley is smart to recognize the potential minefield (and brave to admit where she got it wrong in the past… would that more were strong enough to do the same.)

On a related note, I just logged my votes for this year’s Catalyst Awards, a scheme organized by the IDSA to reward design that demonstrates its impact on business. Many of the entries showed that a lack of accepted metrics is a continued problem for designers, who either haven’t internalized the language necessary to demonstrate their own impact, or haven’t found a way to persuade clients to share the salient details. Thing is, such data are not merely “nice to have”; they are imperative to anyone wanting to make the case that design really can make a difference. Otherwise, designers and creative folks will have to continue to rely on those executives who intuitively “get” the power of design. I think the industry can do better.

January 30, 2012
"If a professor assigns books that cost more than $50 per student, per semester–take the excess, multiply it by 100 and subtract it from their salaries. If less, add the total as a bonus. Make the professors bear the weight of the external negative effects they have on the economy (and my pocketbook). On average I would say that most of my professors would take hits ranging from $2,000 to $10,000."

— In Spending Other People’s Money: What Professors and Doctors Have in Common, Forbes writer David Whelan outlines a proposal to deal with the problematic disconnect between the one doing the prescribing (doctor/professor) and the one actually supplying (textbook publisher/pharmaceutical manufacturer.) 

December 14, 2011
"

We pay some people to be Big Thinkers for us, but mostly they just say things that please people with money. It pleases the money folk to think that the wild and crazy and unregulated world of the web is no longer threatening them. That users are happy to live in a highly regulated, Disneyfied app space, without all that messy freedom.

I’ll stay with the web.

"

Tech world evangelist, Dave Winer writes a smart post about Why Apps Are Not The Future. Publishers are gaga about the potential of apps to control their users, and as Winer writes, that’s fine, only:

The great thing about the web is linking. I don’t care how ugly it looks and how pretty your app is, if I can’t link in and out of your world, it’s not even close to a replacement for the web. It would be as silly as saying that you don’t need oceans because you have a bathtub. How nice your bathtub is. Try building a continent around it if you want to get my point.

Winer certainly strikes a chord, and the question for me is: who is really being served here? With apps, the publishers get to control the experience and make some money. Neither of these are inherently evil, but if the app ends up being more focused on serving the publisher’s needs than on providing an enjoyable experience for readers/users/viewers, they will simply tune out. A lose-lose.

Meanwhile, Winer’s cynicism about “big thinkers” in the quote at top is alarming. It’d be great to write this off as overblown but, given how many stories we’ve read recently about the corruption at the heart of our culture, it would be naive to dismiss him out of hand. Sigh. Read, too, his more detailed follow-up post on this topic: Enough With the Apps Already.

April 19, 2011
Quakebook is a “Twitter-sourced charity book about how the Japanese Earthquake at 2:46 on March 11, 2011 affected us all.” It’s a media project that is a product of its hyper-connected age as well as a snapshot of a particular moment, featuring as it does short essays written in the week after the initial shock had subsided but even as the longterm outlook in Japan remained far from clear.
The themes of the book’s 80-odd contributors—which includes citizens caught up in the chaos alongside higher profile contributors such as Yoko Ono and William Gibson—are timeless. The importance and love of family is noted time and again, as is anger at the mainstream media’s perceived preoccupation with potential apocalypse. Above all, many of the authors urge readers to use the tragedy wisely, as a timely reminder of the fleeting nature of life. Here are some of the phrases that stood out in the book (the price of which goes to the Japanese Red Cross):

I’ve lived for many years. Night has always turned to day and rain has never failed to cease.

Grandfather Hibiki, Sendai

To support Japan, what I would say is this: Simply do what you do every day, but do it better. Go to school or to work but with passion and energy. Engage your neighbors or community but with more sympathy and compassion than you ever have. Let these historic moments move you, inspire you and invigorate you for as long as the feeling lasts because, believe me, that initial adrenaline and humanitarian solidarity will wear off. Ride it as long as you can. Let it make you be a better person, and let it wake you up from the complacency in your life.

Tokyo Twilighter, Tokyo

I would like to urge everybody to be more actively involved in their local community in their everday life. Because nobody can survive without the support from others.

Yumiko Takemoto, Hitachinaka, Ibaraki

I had prepared, yes, but I wasn’t prepared.

Annamarie Sasagawa, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Somehow London and Tokyo are the capitals of my imagination, with Manhattan and Los Angeles like space stations between them. I have lived in none of these places. I doubt I will. Their function is other. Oneiric. Engines of dream.

William Gibson, Vancouver, B.C.

Quakebook is a “Twitter-sourced charity book about how the Japanese Earthquake at 2:46 on March 11, 2011 affected us all.” It’s a media project that is a product of its hyper-connected age as well as a snapshot of a particular moment, featuring as it does short essays written in the week after the initial shock had subsided but even as the longterm outlook in Japan remained far from clear.

The themes of the book’s 80-odd contributors—which includes citizens caught up in the chaos alongside higher profile contributors such as Yoko Ono and William Gibson—are timeless. The importance and love of family is noted time and again, as is anger at the mainstream media’s perceived preoccupation with potential apocalypse. Above all, many of the authors urge readers to use the tragedy wisely, as a timely reminder of the fleeting nature of life. Here are some of the phrases that stood out in the book (the price of which goes to the Japanese Red Cross):

I’ve lived for many years. Night has always turned to day and rain has never failed to cease.

Grandfather Hibiki, Sendai

To support Japan, what I would say is this: Simply do what you do every day, but do it better. Go to school or to work but with passion and energy. Engage your neighbors or community but with more sympathy and compassion than you ever have. Let these historic moments move you, inspire you and invigorate you for as long as the feeling lasts because, believe me, that initial adrenaline and humanitarian solidarity will wear off. Ride it as long as you can. Let it make you be a better person, and let it wake you up from the complacency in your life.

Tokyo Twilighter, Tokyo

I would like to urge everybody to be more actively involved in their local community in their everday life. Because nobody can survive without the support from others.

Yumiko Takemoto, Hitachinaka, Ibaraki

I had prepared, yes, but I wasn’t prepared.

Annamarie Sasagawa, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Somehow London and Tokyo are the capitals of my imagination, with Manhattan and Los Angeles like space stations between them. I have lived in none of these places. I doubt I will. Their function is other. Oneiric. Engines of dream.

William Gibson, Vancouver, B.C.