yourlibrarian: SamatWork-no_apologies_86 (SPN-SamatWork-no_apologies_86)
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This post by Nielsen on where people were searching for Iran election coverage is rather interesting. Where they looked depended on what related term they used. The mix of sources continues to show priority of official sources but also reveals the importance of unofficial sources. Of course, as Stephen Colbert's brilliant segment on Jeff Goldblum reacting to news of his own demise points out, the gap between unofficial and official news is pretty tenuous these days.

This article which suggests Jeff Bezos is the Steve Jobs of the book world posed an interesting scenario.

"If Amazon Encore pans out, what's to stop authors from signing directly with bookstores and cutting publishers out of the loop completely? U2 and Madonna don't have deals with record labels anymore; they did their deals with a concert promoter, LiveNation. That stuff that the labels used to do — production, promotion, distribution — it's just not that hard to DIY now or buy off the shelf. It's the same with publishing. Amazon could become the LiveNation of the book world, a literary ecosystem unto itself: agent, editor, publisher, printer and bookstore. It probably will."

The thing is, if Amazon becomes the everything of publishing, then publishers can become the "independent booksellers" of publishing – creating a niche for themselves by branding themselves as selectors and editors of certain types of content. Above all, I think, the physical format of distribution is becoming increasingly irrelevant as a focus of production (although still important as an aesthetic issue for consumers). I was surprised to hear on a recent online interview that when you buy digital albums you don't get things like the liner notes and cover included. This seemed bizarre to me – transmitting that would be so simple, why isn't it included? Do most consumers simply not care?

Speaking of publishers, this post about university presses and their differing nature from commercial presses had some interesting discussion:

"Moreover, university presses are in the unusual position that their authors and their readers are interchangeable and share a professional community, a community that has strong opinions about the print/digital transition, and, in the aggregate, exerts considerable influence on university policy. Though the press may have strong financial, logistical, and institutional incentives to go digital, if a significant segment of their academic authors/readers insist on printed books while shunning the digital product, the transition is bound to be troubled."

Given the small run of most academic titles, they would seem tailor made for digital form, since it is incredibly handy to be able to search their contents. However status seems to trump usability, and status markers are apparently slow to change:

"Physical books transmit manifold latent as well as manifest signals about social position, cultural values, intellectual achievement and aspiration, professional identity and status, aesthetic convictions, and personal accomplishment."

Apparently the status symbol is also more important than the widespread readership digital formats facilitate.

A heartening argument is made for the continuing role of the university press and the loss we would face if many close their doors in these difficult economic times:

"With the control of other media, including almost all the large trade book publishers, passing to international media conglomerates that ruthlessly put requirements for profit far above the social value of content, coupled with the rise of web-based social networking sites draining advertising revenue from newspapers and magazines, university presses have become, almost by default, the primary source of robust information and sustained analysis on domestic issues."

Not, I would argue, all that timely however, particularly if they lag in digital publishing.


Social Informatics and Media Studies

April 2010

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