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World in Conflict and Transition
Created by:LIDIJA RANGELOVSKA
REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA
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Essays dedicated to the new media, doing business on the web, digital content, its creation and distribution, e-publishing, e-books, digital reference, DRM technology, and other related issues. http://samvak.tripod.com/internet.html
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Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, Bellaonline, and eBookWeb, a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Between 1999-2002, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com
Table of Contents
E-books and e-publishing The Future of Electronic Publishing
I. The Disintermediation of Content II. E(merging) Books
III. Invasion of the Amazons
IV. Revolt of the Scholars V. The Kidnapping of Content VI. The Miraculous Conversion VII. The Medium and the Message VIII. The Idea of Reference IX. Will Content ever be Profitable? X. Jamaican OverDrive - LDC's and LCD's XI. An Embarrassment of Riches XII. The Fall and Fall of p-Zines XIII. The Internet and the Library XIV. A Brief History of the Book XV. The Affair of the Vanishing Content XVI. Revolt of the Poor - The Demise of Intellectual Property XVII. The Territorial Web XVIII. The In-credible Web
XIX. Does Free Content Sell?
XX. Copyright and Free Online Scholarship XXI. The Second Gutenberg, or How Michael Hart Revolutionized the Internet XXII. The E-book Evangelist XXIII. Germany’s Copyright Levy XXIV. The Future of Online Reference XXV. Old Reference Works Revived XXVI. The Six Sins of the Wikipedia XXVII. Battle of the Titans – Encarta vs. Britannica XXVIIII. Microsoft Embraces the Web - Encarta and MS Student XXIX. The Encyclopedia Britannica XXX. Project Gutenberg’s Anabasis XXXI. The Ubiquitous Project Gutenberg XXXII. The Content Downloader’s Profile XXXIII. The Economics of Conspiracy Theories XXXIV. Games People Play Web Technology and Trends How to Surf the Internet Safely Cyber (Internet) Narcissists and Psychopaths Thoughts on the Internet’s Founding Myths Regulate the Internet!
I. Bright Planet, Deep Web
II. The Seamless Internet III. The Polyglot Internet IV. Deja Googled V. Maps of Cyberspace VI. The Universal Interface VII. Internet Advertising – What Went Wrong? VIII. The Economics of Spam and the Nigerian Scam IX. Don’t Blink – Interview with Jeffrey Harrow X. The Case of the Compressed Image XI. Manage IT – Information Technology at a Crossroads The Internet, the Economy, and the Digital Divide I. The Internet – A Medium or a Message? II. The Internet in the Countries in TransitionIII. Leapfrogging Transition
IV. The Selfish Net – The Semantic Web V. The Law of Technology VI. Metaphors of the Net VII. The Solow Paradox VIII. Decision Support Systems IX. Education and the Internet as Public Goods X. The Ghost in the Net XI. Wanted: An East European Ataturk XII. The Industrious Spies XIII. Leapfrogging to Cellular Telephony
First published by United Press International (UPI) UNESCO's somewhat arbitrary definition of "book" is:
""Non-periodical printed publication of at least 49 pages excluding covers".
The emergence of electronic publishing was supposed to change all that. Yet a bloodbath of unusual proportions has taken place in the last few months. Time Warner's iPublish and MightyWords (partly owned by Barnes and Noble) were the last in a string of resounding failures which cast in doubt the business model underlying digital content. Everything seemed to have gone wrong: the dot.coms dot bombed, venture capital dried up, competing standards fractured an already fragile marketplace, the hardware (e-book readers) was clunky and awkward, the software unwieldy, the e-books badly written or already in the public domain.
Terrified by the inexorable process of disintermediation (the establishment of direct contact between author and readers, excluding publishers and bookstores) and by the ease with which digital content can be replicated - publishers resorted to draconian copyright protection measures (euphemistically known as "digital rights management"). This further alienated the few potential readers left. The opposite model of "viral" or "buzz" marketing (by encouraging the dissemination of free copies of the promoted book) was only marginally more successful.
Moreover, e-publishing's delivery platform, the Internet, has been transformed beyond recognition since March 2000.
From an open, somewhat anarchic, web of networked computers - it has evolved into a territorial, commercial, corporate extension of "brick and mortar" giants, subject to government regulation. It is less friendly towards independent (small) publishers, the backbone of e-publishing. Increasingly, it is expropriated by publishing and media behemoths. It is treated as a medium for cross promotion, supply chain management, and customer relations management. It offers only some minor synergies with non-cyberspace, real world, franchises and media properties. The likes of Disney and Bertelsmann have swung a full circle from considering the Internet to be the next big thing in New Media delivery - to frantic efforts to contain the red ink it oozed all over their otherwise impeccable balance sheets.
But were the now silent pundits right all the same? Is the future of publishing (and other media industries) inextricably intertwined with the Internet?
The answer depends on whether an old habit dies hard. Internet surfers are used to free content. They are very reluctant to pay for information (with precious few exceptions, like the "Wall Street Journal"'s electronic edition). Moreover, the Internet, with 3 billion pages listed in the Google search engine (and another 15 billion in "invisible" databases), provides many free substitutes to every information product, no matter how superior. Web based media companies (such as Salon and Britannica.com) have been experimenting with payment and pricing models. But this is besides the point. Whether in the form of subscription (Britannica), pay per view (Questia), pay to print (Fathom), sample and pay to buy the physical product (RealRead), or micropayments (Amazon) - the public refuses to cough up.
Moreover, the advertising-subsidized free content Web site has died together with Web advertising. Geocities - a community of free hosted, ad-supported, Web sites purchased by Yahoo! - is now selectively shutting down Web sites (when they exceed a certain level of traffic) to convince their owners to revert to a monthly hosting fee model. With Lycos in trouble in Europe, Tripod may well follow suit shortly. Earlier this year, Microsoft has shut down ListBot (a host of discussion lists). Suite101 has stopped paying its editors (content authors) effective January 15th. About.com fired hundreds of category editors. With the ugly demise of Themestream, WebSeed is the only content aggregator which tries to buck the trend by relying (partly) on advertising revenue.
Paradoxically, e-publishing's main hope may lie with its ostensible adversary: the library. Unbelievably, e-publishers actually tried to limit the access of library patrons to e-books (i.e., the lending of e-books to multiple patrons). But, libraries are not only repositories of knowledge and community centres. They are also dominant promoters of new knowledge technologies. They are already the largest buyers of e-books. Together with schools and other educational institutions, libraries can serve as decisive socialization agents and introduce generations of pupils, students, and readers to the possibilities and riches of e-publishing. Government use of e-books (e.g., by the military) may have the same beneficial effect.
As standards converge (Adobe's Portable Document Format and Microsoft's MS Reader LIT format are likely to be the winners), as hardware improves and becomes ubiquitous (within multi-purpose devices or as standalone higher quality units), as content becomes more attractive (already many new titles are published in both print and electronic formats), as more versatile information taxonomies (like the Digital Object Identifier) are introduced, as the Internet becomes more gender-neutral, polyglot, and cosmopolitan - e-publishing is likely to recover and flourish.
This renaissance will probably be aided by the gradual decline of print magazines and by a strengthening movement for free open source scholarly publishing. The publishing of periodical content and academic research (including, gradually, peer reviewed research) may be already shifting to the Web. Non-fiction and textbooks will follow. Alternative models of pricing are already in evidence (author pays to publish, author pays to obtain peer review, publisher pays to publish, buy a physical product and gain access to enhanced online content, and so on). Web site rating agencies will help to discriminate between the credible and the in-credible. Publishing is moving - albeit kicking and screaming - online.
The Disintermediation of Content
Are content brokers - publishers, distributors, and record companies - a thing of the past?
In one word: disintermediation
The gradual removal of layers of content brokering and intermediation - mainly in manufacturing marketing - is the continuation of a long term trend. Consider music for instance. Streaming audio on the internet ("soft radio"), or downloadable MP3 files may render the CD obsolete - but they were preceded by radio music broadcasts. But the novelty is that the Internet provides a venue for the marketing of niche products and reduces the barriers to entry previously imposed by the need to invest in costly "branding" campaigns and manufacturing and distribution activities.
This trend is also likely to restore the balance between artists and the commercial exploiters of their products. The very definition of "artist" will expand to encompass all creative people. One will seek to distinguish oneself, to "brand" oneself and to auction one's services, ideas, products, designs, experience, physique, or biography, etc. directly to end-users and consumers. This is a return to pre-industrial times when artisans ruled the economic scene. Work stability will suffer and work mobility will increase in a landscape of shifting allegiances, head hunting, remote collaboration, and similar labour market trends.
But distributors, publishers, and record companies are not going to vanish. They are going to metamorphose. This is because they fulfil a few functions and provide a few services whose importance is only enhanced by the "free for all" Internet culture.
Content intermediaries grade content and separate the qualitative from the ephemeral and the atrocious. The deluge of self-published and vanity published e-books, music tracks and art works has generated few masterpieces and a lot of trash. The absence of judicious filtering has unjustly given a bad name to whole segments of the industry (e.g., small, or web-based publishers). Consumers - inundated, disappointed and exhausted - will pay a premium for content rating services. Though driven by crass commercial considerations, most publishers and record companies do apply certain quality standards routinely and thus are positioned to provide these rating services reliably.
Content brokers are relationship managers. Consider distributors: they provide instant access to centralized, continuously updated, "addressbooks" of clients (stores, consumers, media, etc.). This reduces the time to market and increases efficiency. It alters revenue models very substantially. Content creators can thus concentrate on what they do best: content creation, and reduce their overhead by outsourcing the functions of distribution and relationships management. The existence of central "relationship ledgers" yields synergies which can be applied to all the clients of the distributor. The distributor provides a single address that content re-sellers converge on and feed off. Distributors, publishers and record companies also provide logistical support: warehousing, consolidated sales reporting and transaction auditing, and a single, periodic payment.
Yet, having said all that, content intermediaries still over-charge their clients (the content creators) for their services. This is especially true in an age of just-in-time inventory and digital distribution. Network effects mean that content brokers have to invest much less in marketing, branding and advertising once a product's first mover advantage is established. Economic laws of increasing, rather than diminishing, returns mean that every additional unit sold yields a HIGHER profit - rather than a declining one. The pie is getting bigger.
Hence, the meteoric increase in royalties publishers pay authors from sales of the electronic versions of their work (anywhere from Random House's 35% to 50% paid by smaller publishers). As this tectonic shift reverberates through the whole distribution chain, retail outlets are beginning to transact directly with content creators. The borders between the types of intermediaries are blurred. Barnes and Noble (the American bookstores chain) has, in effect, become a publisher. Many publishers have virtual storefronts. Many authors sell directly to their readers, acting as publishers. The introduction of "book ATMs" - POD (Print On Demand) machines, which will print
every conceivable title in minutes, on the spot, in "book kiosks" - will give rise to a host of new intermediaries. Intermediation is not gone. It is here to stay because it is sorely needed. But it is in a state of flux. Old maxims break down. New modes of operation emerge.
Functions are amalgamated, outsourced, dispensed with, or created from scratch. It is an exciting scene, full with opportunities.
A novel re-definition through experimentation of the classical format of the book is emerging.
Consider the now defunct BookTailor. It used to sell its book customization software mainly to travel agents - but such software is likely to conquer other niches (such as the legal and medical professions). It allows users to select bits and pieces from a library of e-books, combine them into a totally new tome and print and bind the latter on demand. The client can also choose to buy the end-product as an e-book. Consider what this simple business model does to entrenched and age old notions such as "original" and "copies", copyright, and book identifiers. What is the "original" in this case? Is it the final, user-customized book - or its sources? And if no customized book is identical to any other - what happens to the intuitive notion of "copies"? Should BookTailor-generated books considered to be unique exemplars of one-copy print runs? If so, should each one receive a unique identifier (for instance, a unique ISBN)? Does the user possess any rights in the final product, composed and selected by him? What about the copyrights of the original authors?
Or take BookCrossing.com. On the face of it, it presents no profound challenge to established publishing practices and to the modern concept of intellectual property. Members register their books, obtain a BCID (BookCrossing ID Number) and then give the book to someone, or simply leave it lying around for a total stranger to find. Henceforth, fate determines the chain of events. Eventual successive owners of the volume are supposed to report to BookCrossing (by e-mail) about the book's and their whereabouts, thereby generating moving plots and mapping the territory of literacy and bibliomania. This innocuous model subversively undermines the concept - legal and moral - of ownership. It also expropriates the book from the realm of passive, inert objects and transforms it into a catalyst of human interactions across time and space. In other words, it returns the book to its origins: a time capsule, a time machine and the embodiment of a historical narrative.
E-books, hitherto, have largely been nothing but an ephemeral rendition of their print predecessors. But e-books are another medium altogether. They can and will provide a different reading experience. Consider "hyperlinks within the e-book and without it - to web content, reference works, etc., embedded instant shopping and ordering links, divergent, user-interactive, decision driven plotlines, interaction with other e-books (using Bluetooth or another wireless standard), collaborative authoring, gaming and community activities, automatically or periodically updated content, ,multimedia capabilities, database, Favourites and History Maintenance (records of reading habits, shopping habits, interaction with other readers, plot related decisions and much more), automatic and embedded audio conversion and translation capabilities, full wireless piconetworking and scatternetworking capabilities and more".
Return Invasion of the Amazons
The last few months have witnessed a bloodbath in tech stocks coupled with a frantic re-definition of the web and of every player in it (as far as content is concerned).
This effort is three pronged:
Some companies are gambling on content distribution and the possession of the attendant digital infrastructure. MightyWords, for example, stealthily transformed itself from a "free-for-all-everyone-welcome" e-publisher to a distribution channel of choice works (mainly by midlist authors). It now aims to feed its content to content-starved web sites. In the process, it shed thousands of unfortunate authors who did not meet its (never stated) sales criteria.
Others bet the farm on content creation and packaging. Bn.com invaded the digital publishing and POD (Print on Demand) businesses in a series of lightning purchases. It is now the largest e-book store by a wide margin.
But Amazon seemed to have got it right once more. The web's own virtual mall and the former darling of Wall Street has diversified into micropayments.
The Internet started as a free medium for free spirits. E-commerce was once considered a dirty word. Web surfers became used to free content. Hence the (very low) glass ceiling on the price of content made available through the web - and the need to charge customers less than 1 US dollars to a few dollars per transaction ("micro-payments"). Various service providers (such as Pay-Pal) emerged, none became sufficiently dominant and all-pervasive to constitute a standard. Web merchants' ability to accept micropayments is crucial. E-commerce (let alone m-commerce) will never take off without it.
Enter Amazon. Its "Honour System" is licenced to third party web sites (such as Bartleby.com and SatireWire). It allows people to donate money or effect micro-payments, apparently through its patented one-click system. As far as the web sites are concerned, there are two major drawbacks: all donations and payments are refundable within 30 days and Amazon charges them 15 cents per transaction plus 15(!) percent. By far the worst deal in town.
So, why the fuss?
Because of Amazon's customer list. This development emphasizes the growing realization that one's list of customers - properly data mined - is the greatest asset, greater even than original content and more important than distribution channels and digital right management or asset management applications. Merchants are willing to pay for access to this ever expanding virtual neighbourhood (even if they are not made privy to the customer information collected by Amazon).
The Honour System looks suspiciously similar to the payment system designed by Amazon for Stephen King's serialized e-novel, "The Plant". Interesting to note how the needs of authors and publishers are now in the driver's seat, helping to spur along innovations in business methods.
Revolt of the Scholars
Scindex's Instant Publishing Service is about empowerment. The price of scholarly, peer-reviewed journals has skyrocketed in the last few years, often way out of the limited means of libraries, universities, individual scientists and scholars. A "scholarly divide" has opened between the haves (academic institutions with rich endowments and well-heeled corporations) and the haves not (all the others). Paradoxically, access to authoritative and authenticated knowledge has declined as the number of professional journals has proliferated. This is not to mention the long (and often crucial) delays in publishing research results and the shoddy work of many under-paid and over-worked peer reviewers.
The Internet was suppose to change all that. Originally, a computer network for the exchange of (restricted and open) research results among scientists and academics in participating institutions - it was supposed to provide instant publishing, instant access and instant gratification. It has delivered only partially. Preprints of academic papers are often placed online by their eager authors and subjected to peer scrutiny. But this haphazard publishing cottage industry did nothing to dethrone the print incumbents and their avaricious pricing.
The major missing element is, of course, respectability. But there are others. No agreed upon content or knowledge classification method has emerged. Some web sites (such as Suite101) use the Dewey decimal system. Others invented and implemented systems of their making. Additionally, one click publishing technology (such as Webseed's or Blogger's) came to be identified strictly to non-scholarly material: personal reminiscences, correspondence, articles and news.
Enter Scindex and its Academic Resource Channel. Established by academics and software experts from Bulgaria, it epitomizes the tearing down of geographical barriers heralded by the Internet. But it does much more than that. Scindex is a whole, self-contained, stand-alone, instant self-publishing and self-assembly system. Self-publishing systems do exist (for instance, Purdue University's) - but they incorporate only certain components. Scindex covers the whole range.
Having (freely) registered as a member, a scientist or a scholar can publish their papers, essays, research results, articles and comments online. They have to submit an abstract and use Sciendex's classification ("call") numbers and science descriptors, arranged in a massive directory available in the "RealSci Locator". The Locator can be also downloaded and used off-line and its is surprisingly user-friendly. The submission process itself is totally automated and very short.
The system includes a long series of thematic journals. These journals self-assemble, in accordance with the call numbers selected by the submitters. An article submitted with certain call numbers will automatically be included in the relevant journals.
The fly in the ointment is the absence of peer review. As the system moves from beta to commercialization, Scindex intends to address this issue by introducing a system of incentives and inducements. Reviewers will be granted "credit points" to be applied against the (paid) publication of their own papers, for instance.
Scindex is the model of things to come. Publishing becomes more and more automated and knowledge-orientated. Peer reviewed papers become more outlandishly expensive and irrelevant. Scientists and scholars are getting impatient and rebellious. The confluence of these three trends spells - at the least - the creation of a web based universe of parallel and alternative scholarly publishing.
The Kidnapping of Content
http://www.plagiarism.org and http://www.Turnitin.com
Latin kidnapped the word "plagion" from ancient Greek and it ended up in English as "plagiarism". It literally means "to kidnap" - most commonly, to misappropriate content and wrongly attribute it to oneself. It is a close kin of piracy. But while the software or content pirate does not bother to hide or alter the identity of the content's creator or the software's author - the plagiarist does. Plagiarism is, therefore, more pernicious than piracy.
Enter Turnit.com. An off-shoot of www.iparadigms.com, it was established by a group of concerned (and commercially minded) scientists from UC Berkeley.
Whereas digital rights and asset management systems are geared to prevent piracy - plagiarism.org and its commercial arm, Turnit.com, are the cyber equivalent of a law enforcement agency, acting after the fact to discover the culprits and uncover their misdeeds. This, they claim, is a first stage on the way to a plagiarism-free Internet-based academic community of both teachers and students, in which the educational potential of the Internet can be fully realized.
The problem is especially severe in academia. Various surveys have discovered that a staggering 80%(!) of US students cheat and that at least 30% plagiarize written material. The Internet only exacerbated this problem. More than 200 cheat-sites have sprung up, with thousands of papers available on-line and tens of thousands of satisfied plagiarists the world over. Some of these hubs - like cheater.com, cheatweb or cheathouse.com - make no bones about their offerings. Many of them are located outside the USA (in Germany, or Asia) and at least one offers papers in a few languages, Hebrew included.
The problem, though, is not limited to the ivory towers. E-zines plagiarize. The print media plagiarize. Individual journalists plagiarize, many with abandon. Even advertising agencies and financial institutions plagiarize. The amount of material out there is so overwhelming that the plagiarist develops a (fairly justified) sense of immunity. The temptation is irresistible, the rewards big and the pressures of modern life great.
Some of the plagiarists are straightforward copiers. Others substitute words, add sentences, or combine two or more sources. This raises the question: "when should content be considered original and when - plagiarized?". Should the test for plagiarism be more stringent than the one applied by the Copyright Office? And what rights are implicitly granted by the material's genuine authors or publishers once they place the content on the Internet? Is the Web a public domain and, if yes, to what extent? These questions are not easily answered. Consider reports generated by users from a database.
Are these reports copyrighted - and if so, by whom - by the database compiler or by the user who defined the parameters, without which the reports in question would have never been generated? What about "fair use" of text and works of art? In the USA, the backlash against digital content piracy and plagiarism has reached preposterous legal, litigious and technological nadirs.
Plagiarism.org has developed a statistics-based technology (the "Document Source Analysis") which creates a "digital fingerprint" of every document in its database. Web crawlers are then unleashed to scour the Internet and find documents with the same fingerprint and a colour-coded report is generated. An instructor, teacher, or professor can then use the report to prove plagiarism and cheating.
Piracy is often considered to be a form of viral marketing (even by software developers and publishers). The author's, publisher's, or software house's data are preserved intact in the cracked copy. Pirated copies of e-books often contribute to increased sales of the print versions. Crippled versions of software or pirated copies of software without its manuals, updates and support - often lead to the purchase of a licence. Not so with plagiarism. The identities of the author, editor, publisher and illustrator are deleted and replaced by the details of the plagiarist. And while piracy is discussed freely and fought vigorously - the discussion of plagiarism is still taboo and actively suppressed by image-conscious and endowment-weary academic institutions and media. It is an uphill struggle but plagiarism.org has taken the first resolute step.
The Miraculous Conversion
The recent bloodbath among online content peddlers and digital media proselytisers can be traced to two deadly sins. The first was to assume that traffic equals sales. In other words, that a miraculous conversion will spontaneously occur among the hordes of visitors to a web site. It was taken as an article of faith that a certain percentage of this mass will inevitably and nigh hypnotically reach for their bulging pocketbooks and purchase content, however packaged. Moreover, ad revenues (more reasonably) were assumed to be closely correlated with "eyeballs". This myth led to an obsession with counters, page hits, impressions, unique visitors, statistics and demographics.
It failed, however, to take into account the dwindling efficacy of what Seth Godin, in his brilliant essay ("Unleashing the IdeaVirus"), calls "Interruption Marketing" - ads, banners, spam and fliers. It also ignored, at its peril, the ethos of free content and open source prevalent among the Internet opinion leaders, movers and shapers. These two neglected aspects of Internet hype and culture led to the trouncing of erstwhile promising web media companies while their business models were exposed as wishful thinking.
The second mistake was to exclusively cater to the needs of a highly idiosyncratic group of people (Silicone Valley geeks and nerds). The assumption that the USA (let alone the rest of the world) is Silicone Valley writ large proved to be calamitous to the industry.
In the 1970s and 1980s, evolutionary biologists like Richard Dawkins and Rupert Sheldrake developed models of cultural evolution. Dawkins' "meme" is a cultural element (like a behaviour or an idea) passed from one individual to another and from one generation to another not through biological -genetic means - but by imitation. Sheldrake added the notion of contagion - "morphic resonance" - which causes behaviour patterns to suddenly emerged in whole populations. Physicists talked about sudden "phase transitions", the emergent results of a critical mass reached. A latter day thinker, Michael Gladwell, called it the "tipping point".
Seth Godin invented the concept of an "ideavirus" and an attendant marketing terminology. In a nutshell, he says, to use his own summation:
"Marketing by interrupting people isn't cost-effective anymore. You can't afford to seek out people and send them unwanted marketing, in large groups and hope that some will send you money. Instead the future belongs to marketers who establish a foundation and process where interested people can market to each other. Ignite consumer networks and then get out of the way and let them talk."
This is sound advice with a shaky conclusion. The conversion from exposure to a marketing message (even from peers within a consumer network) - to an actual sale is a convoluted, multi-layered, highly complex process. It is not a "black box", better left unattended to. It is the same deadly sin all over again - the belief in a miraculous conversion. And it is highly US-centric. People in other parts of the world interact entirely differently.
You can get them to visit and you get them to talk and you can get them to excite others. But to get them to buy - is a whole different ballgame. Dot.coms had better begin to study its rules.
The Medium and the Message
A debate is raging in e-publishing circles: should content be encrypted and protected (the Barnes and Noble or Digital goods model) - or should it be distributed freely and thus serve as a form of viral marketing (Seth Godin's "ideavirus")? Publishers fear that freely distributed and cost-free "cracked" e-books will cannibalize print books to oblivion.
The more paranoid point at the music industry. It failed to co-opt the emerging peer-to-peer platforms (Napster) and to offer a viable digital assets management system with an equitable sharing of royalties. The results? A protracted legal battle and piracy run amok. "Publishers" - goes this creed - "are positioned to incorporate encryption and protection measures at the very inception of the digital publishing industry. They ought to learn the lesson."
But this view ignores a vital difference between sound and text. In music, what matter are the song or the musical piece. The medium (or carrier, or packing) is marginal and interchangeable. A CD, an audio cassette, or an MP3 player are all fine, as far as the consumer is concerned. The listener bases his or her purchasing decisions on sound quality and the faithfulness of reproduction of the listening experience (for instance, in a concert hall). This is a very narrow, rational, measurable and quantifiable criterion.
Not so with text.
Content is only one element of many of equal footing underlying the decision to purchase a specific text-"carrier" (medium). Various media encapsulating IDENTICAL text will still fare differently. Hence the failure of CD-ROMs and e-learning. People tend to consume content in other formats or media, even if it is fully available to them or even owned by them in one specific medium. People prefer to pay to listen to live lectures rather than read freely available online transcripts. Libraries buy print journals even when they have subscribed to the full text online versions of the very same publications. And consumers overwhelmingly prefer to purchase books in print rather than their e-versions.
This is partly a question of the slow demise of old habits. E-books have yet to develop the user-friendliness, platform-independence, portability, browsability and many other attributes of this ingenious medium, the Gutenberg tome. But it also has to do with marketing psychology. Where text (or text equivalents, such as speech) is concerned, the medium is at least as important as the message. And this will hold true even when e-books catch up with their print brethren technologically.
There is no doubting that finally e-books will surpass print books as a medium and offer numerous options: hyperlinks within the e-book and without it - to web content, reference works, etc., embedded instant shopping and ordering links, divergent, user-interactive, decision driven plotlines, interaction with other e-books (using Bluetooth or another wireless standard), collaborative authoring, gaming and community activities, automatically or periodically updated content, ,multimedia capabilities, database, Favourites and History Maintenance (records of reading habits, shopping habits, interaction with other readers, plot related decisions and much more), automatic and embedded audio conversion and translation capabilities, full wireless piconetworking and scatternetworking capabilities and more.
The same textual content will be available in the future in various media. Ostensibly, consumers should gravitate to the feature-rich and much cheaper e-book. But they won't - because the medium is as important as the text message. It is not enough to own the same content, or to gain access to the same message. Ownership of the right medium does count. Print books offer connectivity within an historical context (tradition). E-books are cold and impersonal, alienated and detached. The printed word offers permanence. Digital text is ephemeral (as anyone whose writings perished in the recent dot.com bloodbath or Deja takeover by Google can attest). Printed volumes are a whole sensorium, a sensual experience - olfactory and tactile and visual. E-books are one dimensional in comparison. These are differences that cannot be overcome, not even with the advent of digital "ink" on digital "paper". They will keep the print book alive and publishers' revenues flowing.
People buy printed matter not merely because of its content. If this were true e-books will have won the day. Print books are a packaged experience, the substance of life. People buy the medium as often and as much as they buy the message it encapsulates. It is impossible to compete with this mistique. Safe in this knowledge, publishers should let go and impose on e-books "encryption" and "protection" levels as rigorous as they do on the their print books. The latter are here to stay alongside the former. With the proper pricing and a modicum of trust, e-books may even end up promoting the old and trusted print versions.
The Idea of Reference
There is no source of reference remotely as authoritative as the Encyclopaedia Britannica. There is no brand as venerable and as veteran as this mammoth labour of knowledge and ideas established in 1768. There is no better value for money. And, after a few sputters and bugs, it now comes in all shapes and sizes, including two CD-ROM versions (standard and deluxe) and an appealing and reader-friendly web site. So, why does it always appear to be on the brink of extinction?
The Britannica provides for an interesting study of the changing fortunes (and formats) of vendors of reference. As late as a decade ago, it was still selling in a leather-imitation bound set of 32 volumes. As print encyclopaedias went, it was a daring innovator and a pioneer of hyperlinked-like textual design. It sported a subject index, a lexical part and an alphabetically arranged series of in-depth essays authored by the best in every field of human erudition.
When the CD-ROM erupted on the scene, the Britannica mismanaged the transition. As late as 1997, it was still selling a sordid text-only compact disc which included a part of the encyclopaedia. Only in 1998, did the Britannica switch to multimedia and added tables and graphs to the CD. Video and sound were to make their appearance even later. This error in trend analysis left the field wide open to the likes of Encarta and Grolier. The Britannica failed to grasp the irreversible shift from cumbersome print volumes to slender and freely searchable CD-ROMs. Reference was going digital and the Britannica's sales plummeted.
The Britannica was also late to cash on the web revolution - but, when it did, it became a world leader overnight. Its unbeatable brand was a decisive factor. A failed experiment with an annoying subscription model gave way to unrestricted access to the full contents of the Encyclopaedia and much more besides: specially commissioned articles, fora, an annotated internet guide, news in context, downloads and shopping. The site enjoys healthy traffic and the Britannica's CD-ROM interacts synergistically with its contents (through hyperlinks).
Yet, recently, the Britannica had to fire hundreds of workers (in its web division) and a return to a pay-for-content model is contemplated. What went wrong again? Internet advertising did. The Britannica's revenue model was based on monetizing eyeballs, to use a faddish refrain. When the perpetuum mobile of "advertisers pay for content and users get it free" crumbled - the Britannica found itself in familiar dire straits.
Is there a lesson to be learned from this arduous and convoluted tale? Are works of reference not self-supporting regardless of the revenue model (subscription, ad-based, print, CD-ROM)? This might well be the case.
Classic works of reference - from Diderot to the Encarta - offered a series of advantages to their users:
1. Authority - Works of reference are authored by experts in their fields and peer-reviewed. This ensures both objectivity and accuracy.
2. Accessibility - Huge amounts of material were assembled under one "roof". This abolished the need to scour numerous sources of variable quality to obtain the data one needed.
3. Organization - This pile of knowledge was organized in a convenient and recognizable manner (alphabetically or by subject)
Moreover, authoring an encyclopaedia was such a daunting and expensive task that only states, academic institutions, or well-funded businesses were able to produce them. At any given period there was a dearth of reliable encyclopaedias, which exercised a monopoly on the dissemination of knowledge. Competitors were few and far between. The price of these tomes was, therefore, always exorbitant but people paid it to secure education for their children and a fount of knowledge at home. Hence the long gone phenomenon of "door to door encyclopaedia salesmen" and instalment plans.
Yet, all these advantages were eroded to fine dust by the Internet. The web offers a plethora of highly authoritative information authored and released by the leading names in every field of human knowledge and endeavour. The Internet, is, in effect, an encyclopaedia - far more detailed, far more authoritative, and far more comprehensive that any encyclopaedia can ever hope to be. The web is also fully accessible and fully searchable. What it lacks in organization it compensates in breadth and depth and recently emergent subject portals (directories such as Yahoo! or The Open Directory) have become the indices of the Internet. The aforementioned anti-competition barriers to entry are gone: web publishing is cheap and immediate. Technologies such as web communities, chat, and e-mail enable
massive collaborative efforts. And, most important, the bulk of the Internet is free. Users pay only the communication costs.
The long-heralded transition from free content to fee-based information may revive the fortunes of online reference vendors. But as long as the Internet - with its 2,000,000,000 (!) visible pages (and 5 times as many pages in its databases) - is free, encyclopaedias have little by way of a competitive advantage.