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Printed blog publication fails; world dies of shock

Karp started working on The Printed Blog in January of this year, taking free articles (with permission, of course) from bloggers and printing them on actual paper. The idea was that he could try and sell ads to local businesses in Chicago and San Francisco, newspaper style. According to the New York Times, Karp tried to keep costs down by putting his commercial printers inside the homes of delivery workers, who could then print out the papers and distribute them without needing to run down to some central plant.

Predictably, things went exactly as Karp’s detractors had warned. Karp was never able to make enough money on advertising to cover the costs of running the business—running up his own personal credit card debt and dwindling his savings in the process—and was unable to get commitments from investors.

In his letter to readers, Karp said that The Printed Blog saw 16 issues before closing down. In a telltale sign that online media is destined to stay online, he also noted that 80,000 print copies were distributed, while another 100,000 copies were downloaded from the Internet.

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Among Calls for Collaboration, a Plea to Reinvent University Presses

More (and there will be even more to come) on the long-time ailing business model:

Despite the emphasis on cooperation, there were occasional hints of residual tensions among the presses, university administrators and libraries. At a session called “University and Press Collaborations,” moderator B. Byron Price, director of the University of Oklahoma Press, asked panelists about such tensions. Penn State Press’s Patrick Alexander, referring to the fact that the session was being recorded, declined to answer.

The final plenary, on Saturday afternoon, explored experiments in the highly controversial area of open-access publishing, primarily of journal articles. Among others, Ivy Anderson explained the California Digital Library’s recent open-access arrangement with Springer’s journals, though overall there was perhaps more boosterism than details on a sustainable business model.
At a session on open-access digital repositories at Harvard, MIT and Penn State, an audience member asked about studies on whether such repositories are saving campus libraries the cost of buying back faculty scholarship in the form of expensive journals; Amy Brands of Harvard said no such studies have been done, but that such cost savings are not one of the Harvard repository’s goals.

Nonfiction Now: One Publisher’s View

My contact at Holiday House prefers to stay anonymous but has graciously provided the following responses to my questions:

What is unusual or surprising about nonfiction vs. other types of books?
The thing that still surprises me about nonfiction is that despite many novel and inspiring attempts, booksellers have yet to figure out how to get customers to buy nonfiction for children that does not include some sort of novelty element.

Does nonfiction seem to be viewed differently than other genres by the reading public? If so, in what way?
The Internet has made the reading public view nonfiction differently. Publishers, authors and illustrators of nonfiction, and booksellers now need to explain to consumers that books can offer things that the World Wide Web does not. It’s not just about the information—although that is certainly a crucial part of what nonfiction can provide. We need to figure out how to engage young readers with excellent writing, innovative approaches, critical thinking, and innovative formats.

Bezos: We’ve got issues with Google Book Search
(Just like the rest of us, dear!)

“There are many forces of work looking at that and saying it doesn’t seem right that you should do something, kind of get a prize for violating a large series of copyrights,” Bezos said.

Bezos was speaking at the conference, which had the subtitle “Disruptive by Design,” to talk about Amazon’s legacy of shaking up the retail industry and now potentially the publishing industry with its Kindle e-reader device. Most of his talk was focused on the sort of business advice that one might expect a tech company to provide to a room full of big-business and old-media types (“be stubborn on the big things and very flexible on the details,” “you have to be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time”), but he did get a few minutes to talk about how he thinks the Kindle is changing things.

Use Their Work Free? Some Artists Say No to Google

While some online publications, like Salon and Slate, hire illustrators, many rely on free or cheap stock illustrations, so illustrators are on tenterhooks about making a living online.

The fact that print publications are shrinking or folding also troubles illustrators.

“There’s a lot of concern that newspapers and all of print is becoming a bit of an endangered species,” said Brian Stauffer, an illustrator based in Miami whose work has appeared in publications including Rolling Stone, Esquire and Entertainment Weekly, and who also rejected Google’s offer. “When a company like Google comes out very publicly and expects that the market would just give them free artwork, it sets a very dangerous precedent.”

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Kindle Joins a Literary Ritual: Authors Can Autograph It

(Still not quite convincing.)

At book events, bibliophiles typically wait in line to present books to pen-wielding authors, but as readers increasingly turn to electronic-book devices like the Kindle, it raises the question of whether book-signings may one day go the way of the inkwell.

A recent reading in Manhattan at the Strand bookstore by David Sedaris, whose most recent book is “When You Are Engulfed in Flames,” may have offered a glimpse of the future. A man named Marty who had waited in the book-signing line presented his Kindle, on the back of which Mr. Sedaris, in mock horror, wrote, “This bespells doom.” (The signed Kindle was photographed, but its owner’s full name is unknown.)

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Google Book Search Settlement: Foster Competition, Escrow the Scans

So what would be necessary to create a marketplace with an opportunity for real competition? Obviously, entities other than Google will have to be able to get the same kind of blanket copyright license on comparable terms. Unfortunately, the proposed settlement makes Google the only company that can get a blanket license that covers orphan works — that issue has received considerable attention.

But those who are worried about market entry and long-term competition in this arena should also be thinking about another thing competitors need: access to the scans themselves.

The raw scans themselves should not be subject to copyright protection. But if Google hoards the scans, preventing bulk copying (with either legal or technical measures), then competitors will be forced to spend millions to re-scan the very same books in order to compete with Google. This not only is a barrier to entry, but also entails enormous long-term social waste — do we really want a world where every book needs to be re-scanned, over and over, by anyone who wants to enter this market?

Simon and Schuster to Sell Digital Books on Scribd.com

More forward-looking than Kindle et Co.:

“We are interested in getting our books in front of consumers in as many formats and distribution platforms as possible,” said Ellie Hirschhorn, chief digital officer of Simon and Schuster.

Unlike Amazon, which sets the retail price for its e-books and sells them in its own proprietary Kindle format, Scribd is offering publishers considerably more control over how their digital titles are sold.

Simon and Schuster will sell its books on Scribd for 20 percent off the list price of the most recent print edition. Amazon sets a price of $9.99 for many popular e-books, meaning titles there might be less expensive. But Scribd will allow publishers to see what is selling and change their prices accordingly.

Scribd also gives publishers 80 percent of revenue. Amazon reportedly gives publishers about half of the list price of books sold for the Kindle, but also discounts many titles and in some cases chooses to make no revenue itself from those sales.

Simon and Schuster will sell its books with anticopying software from Adobe, which means those books can be transferred to devices like the Sony Reader and some mobile phones, but not to Amazon’s Kindle.

Scribd, a start-up based in San Francisco, also says it is working on a reading application for the iPhone, which should be ready in a few weeks.

Kerala: mad about books

Outside the big cities, a very small minority of Indians – only seven to eight million – read in English. India has an overall rate of 65% literacy – measured in people’s own mother tongues. But where India drops into the Indian Ocean, in the state of Kerala, home of Malayalam literature, literacy is close to 100%. Not surprisingly, the population of Kerala – some 31 million – reads books.

Malayalam writers are in the enviable position of writing for Adiga’s rickshaw puller and not just about him.

Paul Zacharia, one of the best-known contemporary writers in Malayalam, says: “In the Indian picture, Kerala’s book readers are a record. They are the product both of the literacy movement and the earlier library movement spearheaded by a one-man army called PN Paniker [the founding father of the literacy movement in Kerala]. A whole world of grassroots readers keep emerging from the villages.”

Sixth on the list of seven objectives of Kerala’s communist-led state government’s literacy mission is “provision of facilities for library and reading rooms for creating an environment conducive for literacy efforts and a learning society”.