Are you getting sick and tired of the PDF as a reading format for ebooks? Join the crowd.

So, why has this boring yet efficient format continued to vex users and clog our collections of ejournals and ebooks? Change is coming, however, PDF continues to meet some rather basic needs that will have to be worked into the design of future academic products. Academics like having page numbers, having a peer-review piece set in 'stone' of some type so that changes cannot be slipped in - think of all of the hacking of Wikipedia, for example.

Against the Grain recently asked me to figure out when we might see the demise of the PDF for a news piece and the resulting article is available here.

The answer would appear to be don't hold your breath, we have a long way to go finding ways to incorporate innovation, multimedia, interactivity and others wonderful options with a need for stability, integrity and archival access. Will the PDF ever completely go away? I doubt it, we will always have some around to support in legacy systems.

However....innovation is coming, it may just take awhile to really take hold in the research sector. Check out the article and let me know what you think!

The Challenge of Accessibility & New Media


Ebooks are starting to show the technological edge with EPUB 3 and HTML5 - however, a larger issue looms as far as market penetration. Accessibility. No institution of higher education, K-12, libraries or other institutions can acquire information products that are not meeting ADA requirements. This is a wonderful and important piece of legislation; however, ebook designers seem to be ignoring this elephant in the room.

I was asked to write about new media and accessibility for Against the Grain's news blog and you might find the article interesting - especially the perspectives from some very smart people I was able to talk with in doing the research.

Did you realize, for example, that we currently live with a "book famine that causes over 300 million visually impaired persons, the majority of them in developing countries, to be excluded from access to over 90 percent of published works" according to the U.N.? We face a major literacy challenge, let alone a starving marketplace, awaiting innovation and change.

Let's hope for a better world coming with access to all.

Earlier this Fall, Cengage Learning - a major publisher for academic markets - made a very open public disclosure of their bankruptcy action stated that "the traditionally stable higher education publishing make has recently gone in decline, furthermore, Cengage is underperforming the market primarily driven by its digital execution." Changes include "resetting our cost structure" and "creating stare of the art product management and development functions."

I was asked to write about this action in a news blog for Against the Grain's website and was able to talk with some very interesting, smart people about Cengage's position. Indiana University Kelley School of Business professor Alan Dennis, who has worked with Cengage in the past and has now set up his own etextbook company notes that "unlike other publishers, Cengage was very slow to consider and adopt new ideas in the etextbook space. They told me that Cengage's strategy was to price their books at a 20% premium over other publishers offering similar content, because they believed their books were better and commanded higher prices."

The textbook industry is finding itself in the same difficult position as other book publishers and print-based information industries. Course reserve packs and other innovations have cut into the profits for textbooks for years, and etextbooks and Open Access products (along with MOOCs for training/practice exercises have cut into the market even further.

What is the future of textbooks? Being in the middle of this maelstrom, we can only watch, wait and see.

Google Gives MOOC Development a Major Push


MOOCs - those massive open online courses - have made a big splash in terms of hype - and things only got bigger with Google's efforts to enter into this arena. I was asked to do a news piece for Information Today's NewsBreaks and you can read it here. The involvement of Apple, Google and other big Cloud Service providers is a natural given their provision of the massive storage that would be required if these systems take off - and imagine what they could make from algorithms applied to all this metadata!

So far, MOOCs seem less than perfect and only mildly popular. However, they do push institutions into moving more content to the web and moving away from both traditional classroom teachings modalities and the use of expensive textbooks - which is a move in the right direction.

Mark Yudof, former President of the University of Minnesota, Texas and California university systems, has frequently spoken of the fact that physical universities have reached the end of growth and that online resources, libraries and classrooms are the only way to expand their bases and increase revenues. Is this the future? I'm not convinced....unless we are moving into some type of retro Dark Age instead of a bright New World.
Your thoughts?

What's Next for the Bezos-Owned Washington Post


Late last Summer, Amazon's Jeff Bezos bought the flagging Washington Post for a quarter billion dollars and the sale appeared to shock staffers, but others I was able to talk with seemed less concerned. Bezos himself described this as a personal effort to try to find a way to save something he held dear:

"The paper's duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we'll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely. I won't be leading the Washington Post day-to-day. ... There will, of course, be change at the Post over the coming years. That's essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs. There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment. Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about--government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports--and working backwards from there. I'm excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention."

So far, there seems to be no cause for concern. And, given the deep hole that most papers find themselves in today, it will be interesting to see if Bezos can find a way to leverage 21st technologies to save these institutions.

The article I wrote for Information Today's NewsBreaks is available here if you want to check out my reporting on the sale.

Can we really live without our daily paper? I guess many do. How might you work to save the venerable daily paper?

PRISM and the First Amendment: A Critical Issue


Are you starting to feel rather squeamish about all of the personal data that is being collected on you, your choices, your opinions, your habits? You aren't alone.

I was asked to write about the PRISM program of our government last Summer when information on it was first released for Information Today's NewsBreaks and you can read my findings here.

Since then, things haven't really changed, although it's very interesting - as a lifelong information professional - to see how the government is creating their own metric connections and relationships in tracking 'security' issues.

Timothy Lee wrote a good summary of what we know from government testimony and leaks in a good Washington Post article that you might want to check out as well. London's The Guardian is also doing a good job of pulling together key information on the program.

Maybe its time to pull out a copy of 1984 for a good read!

Measurement is the big thing today in academe and NISO has finally entered the area hoping to bring some definitions, credibility and standards into this arena. I was asked to write about this for Information Today's NewsBreaks and you can read my report here.

The site explains the dilemma this way:

No one can read everything. We rely on filters to make sense of the scholarly literature, but the narrow, traditional filters are being swamped. However, the growth of new, online scholarly tools allows us to make new filters; these altmetrics reflect the broad, rapid impact of scholarship in this burgeoning ecosystem. We call for more tools and research based on altmetrics.

As the group notes: "Altmetrics are in their early stages; many questions are unanswered. But given the crisis facing existing filters and the rapid evolution of scholarly communication, the speed, richness, and breadth of altmetrics make them worth investing in."
Hopefully we will soon start to see some of the results of the NISO effort.

Stay tuned! And, feel free to share your thoughts here!

"The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) came out swinging in its opening statement of its antitrust suit against Apple in New York on June 3, 2013. The April 2012 suit alleged that what was then the Big Six trade publishers conspired with Apple to "limit ebook price competition ... [and] reached an agreement whereby retail price competition would cease (which all the conspirators desired), retail ebook prices would increase significantly (which the publisher defendants desired), and Apple would be guaranteed a 30 percent 'commission' on each ebook it sold (which Apple desired)." In the past year, all of the publishers settled with the DOJ, ending their involvement in the case. Apple, however, has chosen to fight the charges in court."

The Big Six (really five) publishers settled with DOJ on the charges, but Apple decided to fight the charges in court. I was asked to write up a summary of the case as it was being tried in federal court for Information Today's NewsBreaks. You might want to give the article a read.

The DOJ gave their summation late last week and in over 100 presentation slides, DOJ reiterated their charges that Apple and the publishers violated antitrust laws in their agreements on ebook pricing. Their presentation appears to be quite strong.

Who will win? Stay tuned. I'm sure this will be covered in all major news outlets!

Imagine having visual problems and trying to deal with the new world of ebooks and digital information. Most ebook vendors (and especially Amazon) have been dragging their feet when it comes to accessibility.

I was asked to look at this for a blog entry in Information Today's NewsBreaks and gladly took on the assignment. It allowed me to look at Amazon's activities with Kindle over the past few years. How they

I was able to get the reactions and comments of many experts whose opinions I respect on all of this. One of these is Jim Denham, assistive technology coordinator at the Perkins School for the Blind. He made this important comment:

"The accessibility improvements to the Amazon Kindle iOS app opens a whole new library of reading materials for persons who are blind. Historically, titles available in the Amazon Kindle store have been, at best, only marginally accessible to individuals who rely on screen reading software. As many books and magazines are available only via Amazon, this meant individuals who were blind had very little access to this content. This long awaited app upgrade finally resolves these issues and has resulted in individuals who are blind gaining full access to all text-based materials available from Amazon. As an individual who is blind, I appreciate these long-awaited accessibility improvements and am thankful that I, as a screen reader user, now have the same access to Amazon Kindle books that my sighted colleagues have enjoyed for years."

Accessibility isn't just a good idea - it's the law. More than 40 years ago, Section 502 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 legally codified the concept of accessibility--and this was followed by the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 (amended in 1976), the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (amended in 2009), and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act (2009). Simply put, these laws require businesses (with 15 or more employees), government agencies, and those nonprofit service providers to make accessibility accommodations to enable the disabled to access the same services as non-disabled. For a company such as Amazon, which has been courting educational markets for years, this lapse in planning and execution of products is a mystery.

If this is something of interest to you, you might want to give the article a good read.

Finally, all of the major trade publishers have committed to at least test new models for distributing books - and especially ebooks - into libraries. This may seem like a no-brainer (after all when you think of books, you think of information which means books, journals, etc.), however, publishers are caught in a bind with changes brought on by technology. Self-publishing is now very real, aggregators like Amazon are squeezing them for better margins on sales, and they need to develop whole new models for their activities as they move from paper to digital.

After this was purchased, even Hatchette announced efforts to provide some testing of ebook sales to libraries.

In years to come, we will all hopefully be able to laugh about all of this - but for libraries and information professionals this has created very difficult situations. Books have to be sold through third-party aggregators (like ebrary) and many dislike their interface (me too). Again, things are slowly improving. So, hang in there with us!

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