28 Dec 2011

Publishing predictions for 2012

It will be interesting to see if PaidContent's three predictions for book publishing come to fruition during 2012. The most interesting in my view is the idea that ebook pricing will shift to quality-focused debates. Seth Godin's contention that pricing should reflect the availability of substitutes, is derived from a basic principle of economics: the idea that monopolistic rents (i.e. higher prices and profits) can be extracted from a unique product with no close substitutes.

Whilst books are unique in one sense (with the obvious exception of plagiarism), a reader would probably be reasonably willing to substitute one back-list crime novel for another, and therefore, in theory, market forces dictate that these should be priced lower reflecting the increased competition in this segment and high price elasticity of demand. Conversely for a newly published controversial non-fiction book by a specialist in the field, there are arguably no real substitutes, and therefore higher profits can be extracted from higher pricing as these titles are more price inelastic.

Will readers embrace such a model of pricing? We already see it to a degree with hardback and paperback formats, and people seem to accept the substantial difference in price between both as a given even though it is far greater than the real cost differences in terms of production.  Ultimately costs are essentially only relevant for the producer and not the consumer. However, for some reason when it comes to ebooks most readers feel that pricing should reflect the lower cost of production, when really it comes down to demand and how much people are willing to pay for it, just like any other good.

26 Dec 2011

The Chromebook and Libraries

The Google Chromebook recently celebrated its one year anniversary.  The Chromebook uses the Google Chrome OS operating system and Chromebooks are primarily designed to be used while connected to the Internet. This means they have very limited offline capabilities. Instead of using traditional word processing software, the Chromebook uses web apps from the Chrome Web Store.

Recently, Google has been working with public libraries recently in order to promote its concept. At least three libraries have been working towards lending out Chromebooks to patrons for a period of time. The Palo Alto, California Library tested out 21 of the devices over a month’before deciding on an upcoming lending program in January. A senior librarian from the library pointed out that the typical response to Chromebooks would be, “that was pretty cool. I wish I could do word processing with that.”

The Chromebook has some positive aspects such as ease of use (if you can operate a browser, you know how to operate Chrome OS), cloud storage and a very quick boot on under 10 seconds. However, the disadvantages may outweigh these. These include inability to run your Windows applications directly, limited choice of browser and, most importantly, you need a constant good internet connection. It appears unlikely to me that the Chromebook will gain serious traction unless there is near ubiquitous quality internet coverage.

More information about the libraries initiative can be found on the following link: http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/libraries-begin-lending-out-chromebooks/

21 Dec 2011

Using the library does the trick

Research suggests that going to the library and actually dipping into resources on offer (rather than sleeping off a hangover) helps one doing better academically. Our place (narrowly) looked at the correlation between the number of books borrowed and grades achieved; a trend was identified showing that students who borrow “more” tend to do better. The question is whether any statistical significance can be applied to this finding.

Well, the University of Huddersfield conducted a longitudinal study over a period of four years (2005/6 – 2008/09) for the purpose of substantiating a reliable link between library usage and student attainment. Surprise, surprise: a strong correlation between library usage and degree results was suggested. Huddersfield took a broader view by including the number of e-resources accessed, the number of books loaned and the number of accesses to the University Library.

So the idea is to see to what extent ‘user activity data’ (= a record of a user’s actions on a Web site or software system or other relevant institutional service) and ‘attention data’ (= the record of what a user has viewed on a Web site or software system or other relevant institutional service) affect academic performance in a student.

Importantly, Huddersfield acknowledges that library usage is not the one and only factor influencing overall student attainment. Various variables affect the reliability in user data analysis. For example, some courses do not require extensive borrowing of library materials, which in turn does not say anything substantial about quality of academic performance.

For results see presentation below:

Huddersfield has since hooked up with a bunch of other universities (JISC funded initiative) to prove the hypothesis that ‘there is a statistically significant correlation across a number of universities between library activity data and student attainment’.

20 Dec 2011

ILL ills

The recent decision by the British Library to change the pricing and policies for their document supply service to certain overseas customers raises some interesting issues surrounding the future of inter-library loan facilities for journal articles.  The move follows pressure from publishers, who have contested the practice of the BL supplying documents to overseas customers under Library Privilege. Several cases have been taken in recent years including a high profile Subito case in Germany.

Under the terms of their new INCD (International Non-Commercial Document Supply) service, licensed copies can be supplied via a non-commercial library linked to an educational institution. However, all overseas national hospitals and public health service bodies now fall outside of this, reflecting the publishers' view that public health services outside the UK are mainly operated by private sector providers (this is not the case in Ireland however, where many hospitals are run by the State). Therefore, these institutions will in future have to use the BL’s service for the supply of articles for commercial purposes (even though they are not commercial operators!). This service involves an additional copyright fee, thereby increasing the cost of document delivery services for Irish health science libraries.

Publishers seem to be making it as difficult as possible for document delivery services and ILL services to operate, as these services are obviously not in their interest in terms of maximising profits. However, when journal subscriptions are so expensive in the first instance such that prices arguable already have this element built into them, it is difficult to comprehend. It seems that publishers are obviously hoping that sufficient pressure will push users towards downloading such articles on a pay-per-article basis directly from the publishers’ websites. An interesting lower cost model is also offered by Cambridge University Press who now offer a facility for ‘renting’ articles for 24 hours for €4.49. These articles cannot be printed but allow the user to access them as many times as desired during a 24 hour period. Is this the new model for document delivery, and will traditional ILL services for journal articles soon disappear under the weight of pressure from publishers?
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2011 | Categories:

19 Dec 2011

2011 Horizon Report

Most (...some, all, none) of you will have come across the annual Horizon report (a research venture established back in 2002) filed by NMC & ELI. It charts the landscape of emerging technologies for teaching, learning, research, creative inquiry, and information management in the higher education environment (NMC, 2011).

The report represents a well-informed guessing exercise on technologies expected to enter the mainstream within three adoption horizons over the next 5 years (2011-2015). Poring over a pool of technologies and armed with research reports, a team of experts selected six contenders. The good thing about this report is that it provides insights into practical application models, tagged resources and suggested lists of further readings for each technology itemised. It's well worth your while taking a closer look.

Emerging technologies to watch out for are listed below: 

Near-term horizon (within the next twelve months):
- Electronic books
- Smart phones (enable ubiquitous access to information, social networks, tools for learning and productivity)

Mid-term horizon (within two to three years):
- Augmented reality (layering of information over a view or representation of the normal world)
- Game-based learning (single-player, small-group card and board games, multi-player online games)

Far-term horizon (within four to five years):
- Gesture-based computing (moves the control of computers from a mouse and keyboard to the motions of the body via new input devices)
- Learning analytics (joining of data-gathering tools and analytic techniques to study student engagement, performance, and progress in practice)

A key challenge right across the board is keeping up with the rapid proliferation of information, software tools, and devices. What technology should be trialled, let alone adopted, in a given library? Naturally, audiences and circumstances (financial and otherwise) dictate choice, as well as appropriate staffing that can handle new-technology traffic.

See also below informative, albeit cheesy summary presentation... 

16 Dec 2011

What's Next for the Web?

A satirical look at the future of the web or an idiots guide to how it works?

Assigning numbers to each iteration of the web seems a bit simplistic. When did Web1.0 end and 2.0 begin? And when do we get to Web3.0? Are we there yet or has it passed us by? Where does the semantic web fit it?

12 Dec 2011

European Commission to investigate possible collusion among ebook sellers

The European Commission recently launched an investigation into possible collusion and anti-competitive pricing practices among ebook publishers, including HarperCollins, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster. Good news obviously, as such collusion is seldom a good thing in a market economy. However, many may misinterpret this as meaning ‘Great, ebook prices will fall now!’. Many readers still find it difficult to comprehend that ebooks often cost the same as the print book to purchase, believing instead that the cost should be significantly lower. I mean, how much can it cost to put together a pdf, right?

The editing, production and design costs of ebooks are in reality still substantial (think of a book that needs to be heavily edited with a very complex layout for example) – the real cost savings come through having no transportation costs or storage costs for unsold copies, and using channels of distribution with a lower cost base (such as online sellers compared with bricks and mortar stores for printed books).

However, the majority of people still do not seem to place as much (or perhaps any!) value on the content as the physical form. In reality, even with a printed book, you are paying mainly for the ‘finished’ content (including the publishers' services) – this is where the real value lies. Until people shift their thinking in this respect (as has largely already occurred with mp3s for example), they will still expect to be able to download ebooks for a few dollars - or at the very least substantially less than the cost of a paperback. Whilst this change in relative pricing may indeed occur in the future, it will likely be because the cost of print books increases due to lower economies of scale as people go digital, rather than the price of digital content falling. Some ebooks at present are certainly over-priced, but for the mass market typical paperback titles the current pricing at around $10 is not too far off the mark in my opinion.

11 Dec 2011

How do I conduct intelligent text analysis within the Digital Humanities?

Before one can answer this question it’s necessary to provide a conceptual picture of what the Humanities actually mean and encompass. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines Humanities as the arts: liberal arts, literature, history, philosophy, classical studies, and classical literature. So Humanism as a field of study is complex and multidisciplinary by definition, a multi-faceted, all-encompassing and overlapping field.

The ‘digital’ in humanities denotes the metamorphosis (or recasting for want of a better word) of text through the process of methodical digitisation. The idea is to increase, qualitatively as well as quantitatively, access to cultural information via computational means. It also means transformation of scholarly communication by embracing multi-media, hyperlinking, social media (blogging, YouTube, Flickr, delicious, Twitter, collaborative annotation…) and effective Web searching. This also affects research, teaching and learning practices in a sense that scope and opportunities for community-based learning and collaboration are continuously evolving.

All of this is realised through the cooperative effort of humanists, IT technicians, librarians, archivists, students, and members of the public. Why the public? The public contributes valuable cultural materials that would otherwise remain undetected and inaccessible to interested audiences. A random example of constructive public participation would be Europeana’s recently launched World War One in pictures, letters and memories archive (see also previous blog entry).

From a pragmatic perspective, research within the digital humanities environment requires effective management of electronic texts. TAPoR is an online gateway and on-going collaborative project, which provides tools for sophisticated text analysis and retrieval. It affords the user an online environment for keeping track of texts they want to study (located on the web or uploaded) and analyse in different ways. Essentially, computer assisted text analysis environments go way beyond the ‘Find’ tool of a generic word processor. They provide researchers with the means to analyse large texts in a multi-faceted way and allow for searching word lists and complex word patterns. Crucially, text analysis results can be displayed in a variety of ways.

So, for example one can employ TAPoR portal recipes  to locate and identify themes within a text or aggregate information to explore a concept. It is also possible to filter for specific themes or analyse theoretical foundations in a given text. The portal is expansive and offers a variety of analytical templates.

Go ahead and sample them...


8 Dec 2011

So You Want To Be A Librarian?

Interesting perspective on librarianship in this film. How many librarians actually work with books and people these days? I'm not sure the profession has changed that much. However, the tools that we use to do our jobs have.
Love this footage!

Source: Richmond Town Library YouTube channel.
Date: 1947
URL: http://youtu.be/4RGccQFxi3U

While the daily tasks may have changed, the principles of the modern library are the same. Academic, Public, Special, Digital, Archival or otherwise, the ability to deal and communicate well with people should always be at the core of the profession.
They had cataloguers, reference librarians, circulation librarians (professional qualification not required), children's librarian, school librarians, college and univeristy librarians. The principle purpose of the librarian according to the film is "the improvement of the service to the people in the community".

Why is it that old black and white footage, however worn and crackly, looks better and more interesting than the slick high definition alternatives we have these days?

The History of Search Engines and Browsers

Two sites have come to my attention recently which provide an interesting overview of the history of internet searching and the historical development of web browsers. The first one is searchenginehistory.com As much as Google enjoys dominance today, it is interesting to think that at one stage Yahoo! was the thought and market leader and that in 1994, Lycos ranked first on Netscape's list of search engines only to see other developers come in, innovate and gain huge market share. It just goes to show that the dominant search engine of today may not be so tomorrow unless they continue to innovate. This site also has an excellent overview of Search Engine Optimisation as well as aspects of Search Engine Marketing such as Pay Per Click and Google AdSense.

The Evolution of the Web site has an interesting interactive chart which shows the development of the various web browsers. A surprising fact I found was that the Opera browser has been around for even longer than Internet Explorer, beginning a few months earlier in 1995. It also gives a timeline of the stage the various versions of CSS, HTML etc, came in. Furthermore, it links to useful guides about new exciting elements such as CSS3 3D Transforms and video tags and when browsers are expected to support them.

6 Dec 2011

2011 saw more ebooks sold than hardbacks for the first time

And that’s because ebook readers have become respectable gadgets and are relatively affordable (sort of…).  Amazon and Waterstones reported earlier this year “that ebooks now easily outsell hardbacks in the UK” (Hughes, 2011). Once you’ve scored an e-reader  (Sony Reader, ipad or Kindle) you’re instantly tuned into thousands out-of-print classics at the press of a button via, say, Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive or the Open Content Alliance.

It’s certainly hard to predict what will happen to the printed book in the long run. David Hayden of the Folio Society (cited in Hughes, 2011) reckons that publishing will adapt by producing fewer books that are of much higher quality with regard to utilised materials and individual design effort.

The prevailing perception among many private presses seems to be that readers of all persuasions will more readily adopt e-readers as a matter of practical and cost-efficient choice. Buying hardcopies becomes a retroactive purchase in a sense that they are acquired as collectors’ items. They become objects of art where form seems as important (more so) than content. This trend clearly requires new business models rendering the traditional bookshop a side show. Hardbacks are sold online via mail order. An interesting alternative approach is that adopted by Unbound. Here, would-be authors pitch their books on the company’s website. They will only actually write the book if a sufficient number of would-be readers pledge to buy a copy (ebook or hardcopy). The advantage of this model is that various up-front publishing costs are avoided (Hughes, 2011).

This is the world of recreational consumption in fiction and nonfiction texts. Catapult yourself into the academic library and the story is much simpler in a way. Here, it’s about three things: reduce costs, free-up/increase at-premium library space and adapt to users’ changing information behaviours. In our place, ebooks are rampantly on the increase. Over 1000 titles can be accessed online now. At the same time, hardcopy equivalents are still provided for. However, this may change over time for secondary, non-core texts. So an interesting question at this point is whether ebooks will tip the balance to the detriment of their analogue counterparts at some point in the future…

1 Dec 2011

To print or not to print

I have to admit that one of the aspects of my job which I treasure the least is dealing with print journals -in every aspect: renewals, missing issues, shelving, the difficulties involved in measuring usage, repairing damaged issues, the idea that users have to physically visit the library to access them, and last but definitely not least, storage.

Aside from my view as a librarian however, as a user I would never consult a journal in print unless it were the only format accessible to me. I find online journals much more convenient and quicker to navigate, and if I really want to read an article in hard copy on the train for example, the option of printing is still there. But yet, my experience is that many users still prefer print journals over e-access only. This is obviously partly a function of the specific nature of the library and users in question, but I do find it strange when I see somebody standing over a photocopier with the latest BMJ when they can access it online from anywhere on-site - including their own desk - without even having the hassle of remembering usernames and passwords etc.

I ask myself if it is perhaps largely an awareness issue; maybe the library is not promoting electronic resources sufficiently? But no, I approach these same users and explain how they can access our journals online, and it seems to have no effect. I wonder is it habit? It can be difficult to change the way you do something after a long time, especially when it is something relatively trivial, such as the way in which you access research and information. Or maybe in fact, some users come to the library to get away from their desk, paperwork, their PCs and other distractions. If we stopped providing print journals would these individuals stop using the library altogether, rather than reluctantly switch to downloading pdfs instead? In some cases, I really do think so.

However, I still hate print journals.