Monday, 21 March 2011

Harper Collins vs the Real World

We're working on a really exciting e-book project at the moment, so I've been spending time digging around the e-book world seeing what's going on.

The other week Harper Collins decided that e-books sold to libraries could only be borrowed 26 times. Then they would expire. Give up the digital ghost. Cease to be bits.

It sounded bizarre - 26 times? Why not 25. Or 100. It turns out 26 is the amount of times a paperback would be lent before it became too shoddy and had to be replaced.


I'm getting that deja vu feeling all over again. HC is trying to map an old economy model on to a new economy business. And guess what will happen - exactly what happened to the music industry. When Napster and others came along the market spoke loud and clear to the music labels and stores: "We love this music, but we believe, with the new models of distribution, lack of packaging and retailer markup, we really shouldn't be paying £14 for an album any more. You're choosing to ignore what the market is telling you, so we will take matters in to our own hands. Goodbye Tower Records, hello BitTorrent". The first to go were the stores (Tower, HMV, Our Price, Virgin) labels had to reinvent themselves as 360 degree merchandising machines.

The first company (Apple) to come back with a sensible counter argument ("OK, we'll reduce the price just a bit, but we'll make it super-easy to get what you want legally") won the day. They've now sold 12 billion songs, and over 10 billion apps (an unforeseen bonus with the ITunes model).

The second company to come back with a sensible argument, Spotify ("All you can eat - $10 a month), just passed 1m paying customers.

When you try to shore up an old economy model in a new economy, you're just delaying the inevitable. In a mirror of the record industry, bookstores are now closing with Borders filing for chapter 11 the other week.

Harper Collins can try this on for a while, but the market has spoken. And I'm not sure they're listening.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Facebook and Geeks

Ars Technica is one of the grand-daddies of tech blogs. It's been around for years, and about a year or so ago refocused to become even more technical, putting some daylight between it and sites like The Register.

So it's safe to say that readers of the site know their stuff technically speaking and are up to speed with the latest sites, apps and trends. Ars have a poll on their site today to gauge the use of Facebook. I voted and checked out the results - and was stunned.

As at today, 36% of readers never use Facebook and 18% have an account but never use it. More than half of all readers are just not engaged with the dominant social networking platform. Why?

A measured response. This audience won't believe the hype. They'll take a look, weigh it up and decide if it's for them. They're smart and they normally make good decisions.

Time poor. Geeks work hard and then either play hard or disengage with technology. They don't generally have endless idle hours to fill before going home time, and have better things to do with their evenings (such as they are).

Trivia-intolerant. Much of what I see on Facebook could fairly be described as pointless drivel. The Ars audience has a low boredom threshold.

A preference for privacy. Technically-savvy users understand (and may even be paranoid about) the use of their data and profile. They don't want private information shared, and prefer to control dialogue rather than have it exposed to scrutiny.

Low sociability. Lets face it - geeks aren't the most sociable of creatures.

So why is this important - who cares if geeks don't use Facebook so much?

Because they're the advance guard. Exposed to technology more than most, they will actually be representative of the rest of the population in a decade.

Busy, clued-up, a bit cynical.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Not Fading Away

To Grasmere last week, to the Innovative Interpretation of Manuscripts conference, organised by the indefatigable Jeff Cowton from the Wordsworth Trust.

As we edged along Ambleside in glorious sunshine, I mentioned to my taxi driver where I was going. She never learnt Wordsworth at school, she said, and had never been to Dove Cottage. He was just a name, and his work was irrelevant.

I spoke with Dr Luca Crispi from University College Dublin (formerly from the National Library of Ireland), showing some work we did with Joyce and Yeats manuscripts. Eighty people jammed in to the Jerwood Centre with others sitting in the lobby outside, and a further fourteen on the waiting list. It was a great event, the numbers proving that there's a real demand for information on this subject. Too often librarians can just do what they've always done. The charismatic Nat Edwards spoke about the Burns Birthplace Museum, and I was struck by the attention he'd paid to environment, and the erudite David McKitterick from Trinity College Cambridge illuminated us on the revolutions in writing.

I blogged not long ago about the centrality of special collections, and the importance of the user experience and interpretation. The conference gave me a new understanding of the need for leadership, knowledge sharing and collaboration in these areas.

Unless we can get user experience and interpretation right, it won't just be the taxi driver who doesn't know who Wordsworth is. Visitor numbers are declining at the homes of many smaller collections. I think we know how to fix this, but we will need to learn from those who already have.