What Can Publishers Learn from Indie Rock? « The Scholarly Kitchen

“Over the last few years, I’ve been buying more music on vinyl than I have since, well, ever. I realize this is a bit anachronistic. I’m not one of those audiophile types who go on and on about how much better music sounds on vinyl. I do think it sounds a bit warmer but really to my ears it is not that big a difference. Mainly I buy vinyl because I enjoy the whole experience of the record.”

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Don’t Shout Too Loud, Amazon Might Hear | Publishing Perspectives

“Dallas-based startup BookShout, which is backed by book distribution company Ingram Content Group’s CEO John R. Ingram, is doing something that may make Amazon and Barnes & Noble mad: it is importing books that customers have purchased on Nook and Kindle into its own Android, iOS and web apps.”

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Humanities left behind in the dash for open access

About this time last year, open access had apparently come of age. According to a study published in the journal PloS One, freely accessible publishing had passed from an early experimental phase into a period of consolidation, with the number of papers showing steady growth. The model had been shown to work.

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New and exciting kid on the block: PeerJ | A Blog Around The Clock, Scientific American Blog Network

“As many of you know, before accepting a job at Scientific American, I worked at PLoS for three years (and became a vocal Open Access Evangelist even before that). While there, I worked closely with Pete Binfield who replaced Chris Surridge as managing editor of PLoS ONE shortly after my arrival there. Pete and I became friends, bumped into each other at meetings, he came to ScienceOnline at least a couple of times, and we remained in frequent contact after my move.”

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Starting an Open Access Journal: a step-by-step guide part 1

Scholarly publishing is totally broken. Not only, at present, can most of the people (taxpayers) who fund research not get access to it, but plans to fix this look set to screw over Early Career Researchers and anybody else who can’t persuade their funders to give them the up-front fees required by publishers for Open Access journals.

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Digital Humanities Project Wins IMLS National Leadership Grant

TEI Archiving, Publishing, and Access Service (TAPAS), a digital humanities collaboration between the libraries of Brown University and Wheaton College, has been awarded a $250,000 National Leadership Grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), to begin on December 1, 2011 and run for three years. The goal of TAPAS is to create a shared repository and a suite of publishing and preservation services for humanities scholars who are creating digital research materials using the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) Guidelines.

TAPAS will add a new dimension to Brown’s text encoding initiatives, pairing Brown’s technical expertise in digital repositories with emerging developments in web publishing and data representation. This new IMLS grant will enable large-scale infrastructure development to make TAPAS a reality. For more information on TAPAS visit tapasproject.org

Searching in ebooks: A unique use case that requires a unique approach

This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers’ project “Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader: A Buyer & Builder's Guide to Digital Books.” We’ll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It’s republished with permission.)


Not all ebook search monocles are equal. Options range from non-existent (Hey, Kobo! If there’s room in the programming budget for virtual reading awards like the Inverted Comma and the BookLover, then it’s time to spring for a search tool, too!), to roughly implemented (Nook), and from nicely polished (Kindle, iBooks) to fully instrumented (Inkling).

To help make sense of what works versus what doesn’t, consider first why readers search. If the title at hand is a reference or how-to book it's often to look up a specific ingredient or procedure. But those kinds of books aren't actually selling that well in eBookLand; publishers are turning those titles into apps. Instead, ebook fans are gobbling up narrative — fiction and non-fiction alike. Those titles all top the charts and so it's worth refining that earlier question: For narrative-style ebooks, why do readers search?

Often it’s for a quick lookup: a character we’re having trouble remembering, a plot twist we want a refresher on, a memorable quote. In each of these cases the searcher’s goal is quite different than what takes place during, for example, a traditional web search. There, you want to leave Google or Bing or wherever. In a book, by contrast, you just want a quick answer … and then an equally quick return to where you left off.

So with that in mind, let’s start off with what I would argue is a not particularly good search implementation. Here’s what a reader sees when searching on the Nook iPad app:

How’s a reader supposed to decide which of these results is the one she wants? Think about how cumbersome it is to tap each item, get whisked off to its location, and then have to navigate back to the starting spot. What a pain. In a print book, at least you’ve got fingers, bookmarks, or a coaster to hold your spot as you leaf around (reviewing index entries, for example). But in an ereader device, the disruption readers suffer after following a link is significant.

Especially for folks in search of a memory jiggle, the most important thing a search tool can do, then, is help quickly decide which result contains the answer they’re looking for. So this means designing a search tool that:

  1. Returns accurate results (duh)
  2. Presents these results with plenty of surrounding context
  3. Highlights the term clearly on the destination page
  4. Makes it easy to quickly return to the original reading position

If 1) and 2) are done well, there are plenty of cases where the reader never has to deal with 3) and 4). So a big part of making a search tool helpful happens in the results list itself. Make it big enough and you bring joy to the reader: they get the memory nudge they need and can get back to the passage where they stopped reading. Some of this stuff is fairly straightforward and can already be found in a few of the more polished e-reading systems.

Consider, for example, the iBooks app on the iPad.

You get a generous sampling of text surrounding the found term (which is itself clearly visible in boldface) making it easy to skim the list and find the result you’re looking for. You also get a tally of the number of times the term was found. For students and other researchers this can be a big help, as they often want a search tool to function like a print book’s index: to help perform a comprehensive review of a particular person or concept. And once the reader taps a result, the page he arrives at displays the term highlighted in yellow. Nice.

But there’s more, still, that can be done. More that a morphable digital screen can do … all in the service of trying to maintain a reader’s flow and minimize the page flipping required on devices that have proven themselves to be pretty poor page flippers.

Here, for example, is one possible solution I’ve sketched out, modeled on the “page preview” feature popularized by Bing, and now used by Google and plenty of other web search sites. (In case you haven’t seen it, it’s where you hover your mouse over any item on a typical search results page and up pops a small window showing the web page you’d see if you follow the search result link; it’s a great timesaver when you’re reviewing a list of results since it lets you do a quick visual skim before clicking any link.)

Proposed design for improved ebook search results
Click to enlarge

Rather than sending the reader to the search result, the idea here is to fetch the result for them. The results list appears just as it ordinarily does in, say, the Kindle app. But there’s that tiny “Show More” option; when tapped, it unfurls the result, increasing the viewable preview. In many cases that’s all a reader needs. For those who need more, the search term remains active and can be tapped to see the target page in full. By giving readers a quick way to review, temporarily, extra content like this, digital books can help preserve the immersive state that a great book induces.

Another way to improve the search results list: sortable search results. Here again progress made in the world of web search can improve how things work within a book. By letting the reader sort the results list in different ways a seemingly overwhelming heap can be reduced to something more manageable. iPad textbook publisher Inkling provides some handy design work in this area.

The tabs at top let the reader sort according to relevance (a software-driven guess at what's most important), content order (where the result occurs, ordered from start of book to finish), and type (audio, video, text, and so on). At the bottom of the search pane two other tabs let the reader switch between chapters they own and the entire book (Inkling sells chapters individually). This last twist is clever — half reader service and half marketing. Because the tool lists a meaningful snippet of the found term, someone searching for, say, bassoon, might see that there’s a video demo of that instrument in a chapter they haven’t yet purchased. Good stuff.

My main takeaway: by all means, let readers search. But give ’em tools that let them get back to what they’re reading as quickly as possible.

TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR

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Skimming on the digital side

This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers’ project “Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader: A Buyer & Builder's Guide to Digital Books.” We’ll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It’s republished with permission.)


The iPad and other touchscreen devices seem perfect for replicating the page flip. After all, one of the first gestures users “get” is the swipe: it’s intuitive, it’s quick, it’s fun. And despite the power packed into today’s tablets, virtual page flipping isn’t as useful as its print counterpart. For starters, paging speed is noticeably slower than what you get with a wet pointer finger and the latest issue of, say, People.

A bigger problem lies with a common digital publishing culprit: trying to faithfully replicate all the “features” of print. A regular magazine has pages, the thinking goes, so by golly we’re gonna reproduce pages in the digital edition. Lotsa problems with that approach, but for this post let’s tackle the “filmstrip”-style page-browser found in many e-magazines. Consider Fortune’s, for example:

Fortune's Page Viewer icons
The “Page Viewer” icons are too small to deliver useful info

What the average eye can easily decipher in each of these thumbnails is close to, approximately, zero. And once you decide you don’t want to read, say, the article about Twitter, why the heck do you have to page through each of the article’s other unhelpful icons? The system, in other words, replicates the act of browsing without delivering its essential benefit. You get none of the come-hither signals that are easy to spot on a print page: headlines, pull quotes, pictures, sidebars, and so on.

App designers, my suggestion: don’t throw the browser out with the bath water. Instead, a little redesign can satisfy the reader’s desire to skim quickly and dive in when something looks worthwhile. A few suggestions:

One icon per article is sufficient

Print-based page flipping is how we readers solve what is, at heart, an information architecture problem: most magazines order their contents in a way that doesn’t match our preferred reading path. So we flip to find the juiciest, most satisfying bits. In an app, then, swiping through page icons isn’t the best way to aid that quest.

How about, instead, article representations—let's call ‘em blurbs—that quickly convey what the piece is about? Something, in other words, like what you get in a table of contents (e.g. title + quick summary). Wired, for example, uses a horizontally-scrolling system:

Wired's horizontally scrolling TOC
Wired magazine’s horizontally scrolling TOC is pretty useful

A useful blurb at the top of the screen lets you know what the article or ad is about. And the size of the replica that hangs below the blurb signals the length of what you’re in for. Nice.

Similar options exist, many of which don’t require the creation of new material. How about, for example, bundling up and making swipeable each article’s nut graf and a great pullquote? Or the article’s best art (an image, say) with the title super-imposed using compelling typography? (The Bold Italic magazine, a current events guide to San Francisco, sorta/kinda does this in their app.) Or even simply reproducing the article’s title page with the headline’s font bumped up for easier viewing.

No need to replicate the trim size of the printed page

The current approach in most page browsers is to offer up page miniatures that replicate the aspect ratio of the print magazine’s dimensions. Why? Probably because designers wish to replicate the experience of reading the print edition. (Not to mention the fact that thumbnails are easy to generate.) But the essential service readers are looking for has nothing to do with trim size; it’s about quickly scanning big chunks of info and deciding where to spend our reading time.

That purpose can be better served by making the scannable units large enough to deliver meaningful info. So bump up the thumbnail to, say, a rectangle and give that headline it contains more room to breathe; you can even, then, include an image. Even better: have the blurb container’s size reflect the importance of the article within the magazine. A jumbo rectangle, for example, could be used to showcase an important feature while a smaller square would indicate a shorter piece. Here’s a quick example:


multi-shaped article example

Click to enlarge.

Expand and reveal

Apple has added a neat-o feature to its iPad Photos app. You’ve probably seen it: you spread your fingers over any photo stack icon to temporarily reveal the other pictures beneath it. If you did the same for each browsable icon representing an article, you’d give article browsers a chance to peek at individual pages before committing. Another option: let users control the size of the page-browsing icons. Popular Mechanics uses this approach.

Popular Mechanics' sizing handle
The sizing handle on the right lets readers adjust the page icons’ size (click to enlarge).

See those little icon-size controls (the four stacked lines on the right side of the page browser)? You can drag them up or down to change the size from jumbo to skinny mini.

Got any examples you like of digital page-browsing solutions? Let me know (peter.meyers AT gmail DOT com) and I’ll add them right here.

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DIY publishing: getting Amazon and Lulu to co-exist

My new Publishers Weekly column has just gone up, documenting the progress with my DIY short story collection, With a Little Help. This month, I talk about the Baroque process of getting a book listed on both Lulu and Amazon:

Getting the book on Amazon was much harder than I anticipated. At first, I considered selling the book using Lulu’s wholesale channel, which can feed into Amazon. But once both Lulu and Amazon had taken their cut of the book, my net price would have been in nosebleed territory, somewhere in the $20 range. Add to that a $2 royalty for me and the book would be remembered as one of the most expensive short story collections in publishing history.

In order to list on Amazon at a decent price point, I needed fewer wholesale discounts. For me, that meant cutting out Lulu and listing directly on Amazon through CreateSpace, Amazon’s own POD program. But CreateSpace, frankly, is a pain in the ass. First, it refuses to print any book that already has an ISBN somewhere else, a very anticompetitive practice. To overcome this, I had to create an “Amazon edition” of the book with a slightly different cover and some additional text explaining the weird world of POD publishing.

But the fun was just beginning. CreateSpace also has a cumbersome “quality assurance” process that effectively throws away all the advantages of POD. For example, every time I change so much as one character in the setup file, CreateSpace pulls the book out of Amazon. A human being must recheck the book, and then I am notified that I have to order (and pay for) a new proof to be printed and shipped from the U.S. to London. I then have to approve the proof before CreateSpace will notify Amazon that the book is ready to be made available again. It can then take three to five days before the book is actually back for sale on Amazon. Practically speaking, this means that fixing a typo or adding an appendix with new financial information costs about $20 upfront, and takes the book off Amazon’s catalogue for two weeks.

With A Little Help: Hitting My Stride






Wiley Open Access Launched

John Wiley & Sons has launched Wiley Open Access.

Here's an excerpt from the press release:

Wiley Open Access will provide authors wishing to publish their research outcomes in an open access journal with a range of new high quality publications which meet the requirements of funding organizations and institutions where these apply. . . .

The new journals are being launched in collaboration with a group of international professional and scholarly societies with which Wiley currently partners.  Each journal will appoint an Editor-in-Chief and Editorial Board responsible for ensuring that all articles are rigorously peer-reviewed, and each journal will be offered with the full functionality of Wiley Online Library.

The new Wiley Open Access journal Brain and Behavior will publish open access research across neurology, neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology.  Brain and Behavior’s newly appointed Editor-in-Chief, Andrei V. Alexandrov, Professor of Neurology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, comments:

"With the launch of Brain and Behavior, the Editorial Board and I, along with the support of many international societies, will offer the research community a high quality peer-reviewed journal that meets the needs of those authors who wish to publish their work in an open access environment. I am delighted to be working with Wiley to deliver this important new service."

Professor Allen Moore, University of Exeter and newly appointed Editor-in-Chief of Ecology and Evolution comments:

"I am excited to be involved with this new open access journals initiative.  Ecology and Evolution will deliver rapid decisions and fast publication of research in all areas of ecology, evolution and conservation science.  By working in collaboration with leading societies to deliver open access to all, this new journal offers authors an ideal place to publish their work quickly to the broadest possible audience." . . .

Wiley Open Access journals will be published under the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.  A publication fee will be payable by authors on acceptance of their articles.  Wiley will introduce a range of new payment schemes to enable academic and research institutions, funders, societies, and corporations to actively support their researchers and members who wish to publish in Wiley Open Access journals. 

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