walkitout: (Default)
In a way, it's just like school.

I'm reading another book from Netgalley on the kindle. This book, again, oh, so beautiful in Adobe Digital Editions. However, my "keep a finger" in the end notes on another device will not work this time, because this publisher chose to use footnotes. You know, bottom of the page style? Let's just say they are not showing up at the bottom of the page in the kindle edition.

I know it is a ridiculous amount of scut work, but anchor tags and targets would _totally_ fix this problem if the publishers could be convinced to use them. Which, I would imagine, they cannot be convinced of. I can't help but feel that this sort of stuff could be usefully crowdsourced, including the checking-to-make-sure-it's-right part.
walkitout: (Default)
Years ago, I read a book with that title. It was a book that the authors had clearly expended a lot of careful thought on and which I took a lot of care to understand. Also, really asinine. But that's neither here nor there.

There's a kind of book I like to read. It is non-fiction, but not the "fun" non-fiction, where the author includes themselves in the story, doing research, doing interviews, contemplating the subject matter, blah, blah, bleeping, blah. Certainly not the wacky non-fiction where the author is the subject, engaging in some kind of year long insanity like trying to reduce their environmental impact to zero or whatever. No, the non-fiction I am referring to here is often called a "monograph". You can recognize a "monograph" in several ways. First, the subject matter is very narrow, and the writing style is formal? Stilted? Certainly scholarly. None of this, and then I got lost trying to find this guy's basement office where he attempts to measure psychic presence stuff. Second, the publisher is a university press, or, conceivably, an scholarly imprint of a trade press. Third, the main text of the book is relatively short (on the order of 200 pages), and endnotes (hopefully at the very end, and not at the end of each chapter) plus things like a bibliography and index constitute a third of the book. There may be a few pictures, but they probably aren't in color. The cover matter (cover art, title fonts, description of the book and author) is restrained and probably doesn't include any review matter along the lines of, gosh, wow, you really MUST read this fantastic book right now it's so compelling. (Altho if a university press could get someone plausible to say that about the book, they would probably put that on the cover. Of course, they have their own sense of who is plausible as a reviewer.)

I love this stuff. I can't read that much of it (I need my trashy, narrative thrusty, ahem, genre fiction in between, along with the cotton candy kind of narrative non fiction), but it's the entree of my reading meals. You _can_ just read an appetizer and then have dessert, but it's not the same.

Some monographs read just fine ignoring the endnotes: I'm familiar enough with what they're talking about that I know what those notes are probably referring to. I'm here for the argument, not the information. Some monographs I _have_ to read the endnotes, because portions of the argument are developed in the endnotes (I disapprove of this). Some monographs _I_ have to read the endnotes, because I'm not familiar with the information and thus can't follow the argument without doing a little side research along the way. The strategy for a parallel read (text and notes) is to have a finger and/or bookmark in the text and in the sources. That's a lot of work, tho, so I prefer when the book supports losing and refinding my place in the notes. Ideally, that's by printing at the top of each and every page in the notes (which are at the END OF THE VOLUME, not buried in arbitrary spots throughout the book) which pages the notes are referring back to. That also lets you read the notes, and go read the text as secondary (which, believe it or not, is a great strategy in some monographs).

As near as I can tell, all major e-reading file types support linkages between the number in the text and the note it is referring to, generally in the form of an anchor tag and target. Unfortunately, as you can probably imagine, manually creating all those tags and targets is a painful and thankless task, so most publishers are not doing it. While it is quite possible to create software that would support creating these linkages in an easier way, it is probably not possible to create software to do it fully automagically (well, actually it probably is, but writing an expert system for these purposes does not sound remunerative or even personally rewarding, even to me, and I doubt you could even communicate the requirements to most software engineers. And then people would persist in complaining about all the weird errors it committed in books with, say, lots of tables or quantitative anything in the text). I'm not holding out any hope that this problem gets fixed soon, as a general rule, certainly not for backlist titles that are autoconverted.

I have been doing some experimenting with bookmarks, but advancing bookmarks in the sources is a pain in the neck in person with fingers; doing it using the bookmarking facilities in kindle and elsewhere is worse. And so, I have resorted to Dual Screening.

I started by looking at the book in Adobe Digital Editions. It is pretty, but longform reading on an active screen is really tough for me. I can do it, but it gives me a headache, and the more I do it, the worse that headache gets until it is a migraine. No fun. When I got the kindle edition, that was better, and I used Adobe Digital Editions to be a bookmark in the sources. That was nice, but awkward. It works okay sitting in my chair, but not lying in the bed. Once I got Bluefire up and running and the kids were no longer competing for the iPads, I had the chance to experiment with the Sources in Bluefire and the text on the kindle. This worked great, altho I personally would probably prefer two kindles. In this particular instance, that would require me asking the publisher to resend the kindle text to a second kindle (since it was going via the email link -- it's a Netgalley thing), which seemed like more hassle than it was worth.

Here's the executive summary for anyone who has read this far:

(1) There's nothing about this that scholars can't adapt to. The laptop + kindle solution also supports note taking and side research really effectively. I expect this one to be the default, altho it does trap you back at a surface or at least in a chair.

(2) E-editions which make you pay for every copy SUCK. Having figured out how to do this, any scholarly text that didn't let me have enough copies to at least dual screen would be a scholarly text I would avoid.

(3) Endnote linkages matter a lot less than I thought they would.

(4) I can suddenly see a purpose for headers (altho not footers) for chunks of a file. Each section of the notes, say, could be marked off by chapter, with a header that indicated the chapter. This would allow reflow, but let a scholar "flip" through the notes to the spot they wanted much faster than looking painstakingly for the breaks with the headings.

(5) None of this addresses the basic problem of citation caused by reflow and the lack of stable pagination that is currently pushing the academic world towards pdfs. I don't, personally, see the problem: cite the kindle edition and the location number and call it good. Page numbers aren't (necessarily) stable from hardcover to paperback or across editions anyway (altho to be fair, they usually are stable on the hc/pb pair of a monograph from a university press).
walkitout: (Default)
I downloaded adobe digital editions as part of this so what's up with the university presses and the ebook revolution obsessive research project. Also, I got takers over on netgalley and have a couple of books to read. While I was waiting for the kindle version to arrive, I thought I'd check out the other option.

Download was easy. There were two options to identify myself; I opted to go with the adobe account, rather than the per computer thing. Everything worked the first time, which is very good. I downloaded the file from netgalley; my MacBook asked if I wanted to open it with Adobe Digital Editions, so clearly it has already taken over some stuff, which I'm okay with. File opened readily.

Where's the page turn button.

Wait, _that_ is the page turn button?

You _have_ to be fucking kidding me. You call _that_ a page turn button?

I can't stop laughing. I'm going to go eat a waffle now. Hopefully I won't die from choking because I can't stop laughing.

ETA: I did not choke on the waffle. I am currently using the kindle to read the book (despite formatting problems which I feel confident will be corrected in the final version. They'd better be.), and the adobe digital editions to track the sources. I tried a bunch of other things involving bookmarks and none of them made me happy. And while it is possible for numbers in the text to be linked to the sources at the end, neither this book, nor several others I've read lately (including _Boardwalk of Dreams_ and _Frontier of Leisure_) have done so. Which is a bummer.

ETAYA: Oh, yeah, and adobe digital editions does not work on an iPad. I feel confident there's a way to read this thing over there (I'm betting Nook would read it, for example), I haven't pursued that yet.


Dec. 12th, 2010 05:27 pm
walkitout: (Default)

H/T liblicense-l

Color me an upstart. I, too, would avoid the reference work published by the faculty of Harvard.
walkitout: (Default)
Okay, this isn't actually funny at all.


This is long and involved, and I started reading it after reading a really detailed description of what it's like to be in charge of ebooks at a university press (a press which looked competent according to a cursory survey of what ebooks they had for sale on their own website and what showed up on Amazon when searching the kindle store for that publisher with kindle format). I was initially quite surprised to realize that the woman with the job and the details (who sounded really on top of her game) seemed to be spending such an amazing amount of her time dealing with rights issues. I believed her, I just didn't understand it.

That survey Explains It All, which I should have realized after reading a summary of the state of the agreement in the google books settlement (which still hasn't been signed off on by the judge, and the judge got a new job and, well, never mind that now), because it's such a problem that the group involved is not included in the settlement.

Pictures. Images. The rights to the pictures and images and so forth is handled in the contract for a book, but if the contract doesn't explicitly deal with online/ebook/etc., you have to go back and renegotiate. With everyone. If you can find them. Sometimes you can't even find your own copy of the image, for that matter.

The three big issues identified with ebooks identified in the survey are Business Model (how can we make money doing this, or even recover our costs -- always a problem for small presses), Rights (overwhelmingly image rights), and Resources (finding the people to do the actual work, again, when money is tight all around, everyone has too much to do, no one knows how to do this, etc.). This was particularly interesting:

"A press whose survey responses reflect one of the most expansive programs of digital
book publishing reported here that they are finding each of these issues to be a serious
or greater concern in their efforts.
50% of individuals who report the highest level of concern on at least one issue are
directors or publishers by job title."

I would summarize that as: if you think it's not a problem, it's because you haven't actually tried to do it, or you have failed to perceive that you might be breaking the law and you could find yourself in much more serious trouble than just a bad performance review as a result, or are not participating the financial aspects of the process and thus have no insight into how fast you are bleeding money.

When people say a picture is worth a thousand words, I'm now going to be thinking about a thousand words of contract governing digital rights. That is missing. And because it is missing, that backlist book isn't ever going to be an ebook.


I don't think I've blogged about this, but I've been talking about it with R. University Presses, to the extent they are doing ebooks at all, are _very_ much PDF first, and everything else an extremely distant second. I'm not sure what to think about this. I understand a lot of the rationale for doing this: they can't go _backwards_ from what happens in a paper monograph, and the other obvious choices (kindle) don't support things like figures/graphs/images in minimum-paper-standard sort of way. Also, Adobe has a suite of software for producing digital books that at the InDesign level would appear to be more or less perfect for what this size and type of press needs to accomplish. (That's not my opinion; I found out about this by reading the survey.) There's even the tantalizing possibility that you could flow a book through InDesign and have it come out the other end either digital or paper: you wouldn't have to do a conversion at the end for digital, you wouldn't have to duplicate work constantly, etc.
walkitout: (Default)
I've been wandering around reading about university presses, partly for the humor, but also because I find it perversely entertaining to watch the sausage that I Love So Much be made. Yesterday, when I was busy making fun of some of the blue-sky types, I was concerned that sanity might not be prevailing in university presses. However, once I stumbled upon the trade association, I decided sanity _was_ prevailing. This slide show was particularly heartening.



Basically, some New World Archaeologists were trying to figure out how to do digital monographs. They had a grant and they have a variety of participating university presses. Pratt uses the underpants gnomes joke to show the disconnect between what they were trying to accomplish (digital monograph) and where they wanted to go (profit). As a result of this disconnect, they switched focus from technical innovation to business innovation (aha!), and learned a few things about underpants. Slide 7 is particularly good:

The people (archaeologists) wanted this done
They had to limit the juicy multimedia goodness ("We are going to have to set strict
parameters regarding enhancements and how they are incorporated")
Senior scholars not junior would have to be leading the way

Really very shockingly sensible of these people.

They figure if they can come up with a channel agnostic (works on iPad or kindle or wherever) and XML based publishing workflow, they'll be in business, especially if it turns out to work for disciplines other than New World Archaeology.

All good stuff. Sanity may yet prevail. Slowly.
walkitout: (Default)
I feel sorta bad for poking at this phrase, because now I can't stop thinking about it. It is very easy to stop thinking about someone who proposes an R&D group at a University Press -- that's just silly. But "Smart crowdsourcing peer reviews" is tough to let be.

My first thought brought me back to the very mildly interesting Bloomberg news interview with Reid Hoffman that sent me down this whole academic publishing rathole in the first place: maybe LinkedIn could help connect potential, um, manuscripts just seems _really_ wrong in this context, e-books for publication to peer reviewers. Then I got to thinking, today, about the way TUG (Timeshare Users Group -- see, this is what it's like inside my head) solicits reviews from its consumer base.

TUG is a bunch of people who own timeshares and visit timeshares. They are interested in learning about other timeshares, and they know about some timeshares directly. Thus, every participate in the users group is potentially a producer of reviews and a consumer of reviews, and many are both. Same thing in academia. Fresh reviews are better than old reviews (not totally clear how that translates to e-publishing academic books, but hey, nothing is ever exact); more reviews are better than fewer. IIRC, TUG doesn't have any particular reputation system for assessing reviewers, or for assessing the utility of a particular review (Amazon does have the latter; eBay has a parallel for the former).

You could take all this stuff and readily imagine a replacement for editorial staff and/or reviewers in general (such as at Choice), in which you submit a text (has to satisfy format requirements, but you can contract out that part). There could be compensation (honoraria) for the first few reviewers, who might be required to meet particular requirements (registered with the system as having particular credentials in particular areas of expertise). Separate from the "peer review" bar being met, you could also have general (uncompensated, probably) reviews.

It's pretty easy to imagine that some really fast reader with the right credentials in enough fields might decide they could sweatshop themselves and make a living just off of reviews. Whether that's a good thing or not is entirely debatable; some cases might require some investigation to ensure that reviewer ethics are being met. That, in turn, would lead to an entertaining debate on just what reviewer ethics are or should be, exposing a sordid underbelly of academia that could do with a little sunshine. And it's not like we don't have professional readers already, anyway, right?

If you're not asking, why not just do a wiki with credentials, you probably should be.

ETA: Similar ideas used for doing translation work.


On facebook, no less.

ETAYA: Less sweatshoppy, more relevant to the problem in question:


The commenters were selected to contribute and they signed their work -- and there were other reviewers as well.

The article references this:


How did I miss that!!! I could have had a whole week in August being totally geeky and insufferable following the discussion! Yes, I know. No one else cares.

ETA last time I swear: After digging around in wikipedia for a while and reading about Sokal and the French pseudo-scientist twins and publication subvention and a few other odds and ends, I have concluded that attempting to sweatshop the peer review part of the process is probably missing the point. Totally technically feasible, won't actually help anyone.
walkitout: (Default)

I have to say the worst thing about electronic publishing (at least in a journal about same) is that people go on and on and on.

This guy is imagining the world of 2020, a world of climate change and peak everything. How will that affect University Presses? Yes, that's the first question I would ask, too. (<-- Sarcasm.)

Here are some highlights:

"So, let me posit two dystopian economic/scholarly publishing futures, and explore what they might mean for university presses.

In both scenarios, on the positive side, by 2020, I expect to live in digital ubiquity, where digital “devices” are as quaint as a vacuum-tube stereo, since we each have a digital presence that simply surrounds us. My personal engagement with the digital world is by now facilitated by the systems’ knowledge of the activities, interests, concerns, and enthusiasms of the other seven thousand people just like me, who are each also “one in a million.” We will have almost forgotten that once upon a time we had to ask a question with “key words.” Walls and kiosks and foldable screens and NetSpecs will provide access to whatever degree of content bandwidth we desire, for whatever purposes we choose."

Someone has read _Neuromancer_ and its ilk several thousand too many times.

This is funny: "For university presses, in both scenarios, I expect to see routine “smart crowdsourcing” of peer review". Okay, that might not be funny. I like Amazon's reviews, and I have a pretty good sense of how to interpret them. I know there are some real issues with peer review as it works today. But I have a bad feeling about "smart crowdsourcing peer review".

"In both scenarios, tenure and review remain necessary elements of scholarly validation, and the desire for high-quality, high-touch, high-authority products, produced by publishers and facilitating authority for that validation, remain high." Words fail. Tenure not going anywhere, even if the world goes to shit. Ya gotta love that kind of bedrock certainty. Most of the rest of this dystopian scenario makes absolutely no sense, however, this will give you some flavor:

"Publishing innovation, in this scenario, will be nearly all reactive, a sort of whack-a-mole tamping-down of the next unexpected problem. By 2020, when it is crystal clear that repair of the physical world is nearly impossible (and/or when geoengineering schemes have caused massive “unintended consequences”), the economic contraction will be staggering. Beyond that, there be tygers."

The rest of it made so little sense that I sort of gave up. Good luck if you give it a shot.

There's actually some reason to suspect this author has real competence at electronic publishing, and just has a real fanciful bent to his personality, particularly when brainstorming about the future. It's always nice to find someone who can find the funny in the truly appalling.
walkitout: (Default)

That is an incredibly, shockingly long blog post. Truly wrong. Here are a couple highlights:

"UP2.0 will be immediately confronted by the co-existence of the two not quite compatible sensibilities sketched above: one that attaches to the printed book (and the many mature intellectual, scholarly, professional and personal circuits in which books circulate); and the other that is cathected to the digital book, itself the emerging epicenter of a vast but immature set of technological, scholarly, professional, and personal digital networks (attachments that make up in passion and scope for what they lack in history and development). In the short run, at least, I believe that presses will have to harness and ride the print/digital pair in tandem, favoring the digital colt as the mount for the future, but keeping the aging but steady print workhorse nourished on demand."

I still think The Onion had something to do with this. Ride a couple horses in tandem? How does that even make sense? And how can a "sensibility" be "cathected" to a "book", digital or otherwise? Aren't you usually cathected _with_? Conceivably by, I suppose. I don't think I trust this writer.

Continuing to the next paragraph:

"UP2.0 will feature the availability and applicability of digitally enabled interactive networks and networking at every phase of the publication process. Digital books will incorporate a wide range of digital features and resources, including, at a basic UP 1.0 non-interactive level, supplementation of text by imaginative digital audio and visual materials; linkages to relevant disciplinary books and other didactic materials issued by UP2.0 itself; and instant access to all of the sources, citations, notes, and bibliography mentioned in the text."

Look, you're going from paper to digital to save money, and the paper process _does not have artwork_ typically, because it's too expensive to design and you can't usually hand that project off to the author, and you don't professionally proofread the book (because it's too expensive) and you try to discourage _pictures_ in the book -- not just because of reproduction costs, but because of _rights_ costs -- and getting the index and notes right is one the biggest headaches of academic publishing. How do you think you're going to have the resources to hyperlink the little numbers in the text to the notes in the back, much less have the sources in the back link off somewhere else to access something that you also have to get the rights to? A link which will break every time the source decide to redesign its archives.

It's bad enough when a software company hires idiots like this with Brilliant Ideas that no one really cares about, certainly not enough to justify the price tag. We've watched Blio do a slow-motion collapse attempting to implement these kinds of ideas first as a hardware reader, then as a software reader, and they're _still_ hung up on content issues. But to have a subsidized university press engage in this kind of timewasting day dreaming?

It _was_ really funny, but now I feel a little hungover and cranky. I think I'll go play Farm Town for a while, and be extremely thankful I avoided academia as a career path.
walkitout: (Default)
I've been reading the Journal of Electronic Publishing, and I haven't laughed this much since, oh, the last time I was reading stuff over at Cafe Press that you can find by searching on keywords like asperger's.

I'm _pretty_ sure Katharine Wittenberg wrote this seriously, but I swear it reads like the people at Onion decided to take on academic:

"This R&D group will look and behave more like a research lab than a production operation. They will be directed to work with authors to develop new kinds of publications in a select number of fields that complement the areas of strength within a press’s host university. This group will play a critical role in helping the university press devise new models of scholarly publishing that will strengthen the press’s identity as a center of innovation."

I LOVE University Presses. Seriously. I'm happy to pay way more for a University Press book than an otherwise substitutable Big 6 book, because I believe the University Press offerings represent a better risk. But in absolutely no universe that I can imagine do university presses have an "identity as a center of innovation". It is to laugh.

Really, really hard.

Also, Wittenberg's theory about how R&D works in the corporate world is a complete and utter crock of shit. And given that she used to run the electronic publishing effort at Columbia U, and her departure and the program shutting down coincided, I have to suspect some really thorough-going incompetence. (They've since outsourced a bunch of stuff to, I kid you not, _Perseus_. I guess if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? Geez.) Honestly? This article makes typical ebook coverage look _brilliantly insightful_.

Lest someone come along and say, hey, aren't you being a little harsh on Ms. Wittenberg, here's what you can read over at Columbia University Press:


"The Press announced a plan to close its warehouse facility in Irvington, NY in the summer of 2009 and outsource its fulfillment operations to Perseus Distribution, a division of Perseus Book Group. This restructuring is part of an overall effort to improve print economics while facilitating electronic delivery.

The collaboration with Perseus will strengthen the print program of the Press and allow it to accelerate growth of digital offerings—not previously available through its operations—for its eleven distribution partners, particularly for short run digital printing, print on demand, and a suite of delivery services for electronic books in multiple formats. Columbia University Press will continue to concentrate on growing its core publishing operations including its recently launched Columbia Business School Publishing imprint, making them available in multiple formats."

I've been around when a division was supposed to produce something, and the day came and went and they didn't deliver, so the company had to go outside and buy it instead. And this looks a whole lot like that happened to Columbia University Press in the wake of EPIC and Wittenberg.

I can't _wait_ to read the next set of brilliant ideas about how to save university publishing. I would say I'm serious about this, but honestly, I've had to do a lot of deep breathing just to read the particularly hilarious bits out loud to R.

ETA: I think that EPIC got shut down during the general collapse of the economy in 2008, but Columbia University Press couldn't get around the knotty problem of needing to provide digital publication services. They probably fired up a laptop, and googled around and found this:


Must have felt like every one of their prayers had been answered. Hope it works out for them; seems more likely to do so than anything involving their former director of epic.
walkitout: (Default)
I'm hanging out here at the house with my daughter, doing a little vacuuming, stuff like that. R. took T. to run some errands. Occasionally, A. wants my help getting something down from a shelf, or an assist on a little pretend play (give monkey a bottle, help monkey play on the dollhouse tricycle, etc.), but mostly we're doing very, very little. She requested in to the big tub, but I'd just put serious Balmex on her for rash and didn't want to undiaper her just yet. In she went, with the water on trickle: more fun than a water table.

While all this is going on, I have Bloomberg on the downstairs TV and I'm wearing the headphones, one earpiece on, one off, so I don't lose track of what's going on with A. Reid Hoffman is being interviewed, which is very mildly interesting, but he keeps repeating something that just does not sound right to me: academics write books for an audience of 50-60. _I_ read a couple dozen monographs a year, and I'm just a dilettante trying to keep the boredom at bay.

When I had the chance to do a little googling, I found some stuff from the second half of the 1990s about print runs of monographs, and just what precisely constituted a monograph. The print runs were a lot smaller than I had realized: 600, with the assumption that half would be bought by academic libraries and half by individuals. These would be books with no undergraduate audience. There was also an interesting article about whether academic books published by university presses differ from academic books published by commercial presses in terms of circulation in academic libraries. Given how I've felt about several recent commercial press published "academic" books, I'm a little scandalized at the idea that university presses should just let the commercial folk have the field. Not that anyone is seriously proposing that. I don't think. Yikes.

Anyway. One of the articles was at this online journal, which really felt like striking gold when I went to check out what the current postings were:


[ETA: Volume 13 Issue 2 Fall 2010 issue, in case you read this at some time in the far flung future and it isn't completely obvious.]

Yum. Yum. Yum.

Let the Wild Geekitude Begin! Er. Ahem.

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