Philanthropic Biz Opportunity?

The Times reports today on tech gazillionaires’ “helping hand” towards print media. Sort of the journalism equivalent of underwriting a hospital for sick children, I guess. Except these children are not going to get any better.

From the story:

“So ironic,” Les Hinton, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, wrote in a Twitter post last week about Mr. Bezos, that The Washington Post “should be consumed by a pioneer of the industry that almost destroyed it.”

The same story has a quote so audacious from Craig’s list founder Craig Newmark, I had to read it twice:

Mr. Newmark declined to comment on why newspaper officials blamed him. He said he supported journalism initiatives — media ethics and fact-checking are two pet causes — because he valued news he could trust. He said he was not even convinced that Craigslist had hurt newspaper classified advertising.

“I’m still waiting to see any hard evidence for cause-and-effect,” Mr. Newmark said. “I’ve been paying attention for a long time.”

Maybe Craiglist advertising (and web advertising in general) didn’t kill the cash cow that was newspaper classifieds;  if so, it would certainly seem to be one of Mark Twain’s “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” I have a hard time imagining a different scenario, although Phil Weiss in New York magazine makes this provocative point,

From a business standpoint, this may be the most revolutionary aspect of the Craigslist model: It took what had long been defined as a profitable industry—classifieds—and demonstrated that it is not much of a business at all, but is rather what open-source advocates call “a commons,” a public service where people can find one another with minimal intervention from their minders. Even so, the revenues from the tiny portion of ads Craigslist charges for are so considerable that Microsoft and Google and eBay have all come up with competitors or have announced plans to do so.

Sort of interesting considering the inflection point as a discovery that something really isn’t a business “after all,” or at least “any more.” What else is on that conveyor belt?

Today’s Times also has a piece on bookstores turning to donations to survive.

Crowdfunding is sweeping through the bookstore business, the latest tactic for survival in a market that is dominated by Amazon, with its rock-bottom prices, and Barnes & Noble, with its dizzying in-store selection. It’s hardly a sustainable business model; but it buys some time, and gives customers a feeling of helping a favorite cause and even preserving a civic treasure.

So you can’t buy WaPo, maybe you can underwrite a shelf at Politics and Prose?

Surely some consultant (perhaps the guy who got canned from NPR?) could work up a service organizing this market, putting millionaires or small fry in touch with their favorite (needy) purveyors of print. Getting your very own printing press sure beats a tote bag, right?

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Printing press for the Boston Globe. Definitely space for an elegant “name plate”–“The operation of this press underwritten by Dandelion and Albrecht Goldenrod of Newton, MA.” Or maybe just skip that step, turn it off, and make it a museum!

Paper vs. Screen: Can you do academic reading on an iPad?

Last year I interviewed a bunch of college teachers as part of a work project.  Although my focus was getting user feedback on a new online educational product, as an aside, I asked the group about their own and their students’ attitude towards e-texts. I was struck by how uniform they were in dissing e-textbooks, and how frustrated students were with them.

iPad vs. dog-eared treasured volume? Which does your brain really want?

For this group (a very small n), e-readers (whatever the brand) were personal objects, fine for “recreational reading” but not suitable for academic work. Surprisingly, this even was true for law and criminal justice students, who have to lug around such massive tomes. You’d think that the weight factor would trump other considerations, but it wasn’t so.

When I probed a bit for reasons, the most frequent answer was that page numbers were not uniform (which would seem to be an easy problem to solve technically, but is kind of a psychological barrier; “80 pages of econ to read by Friday” being a college trope ). Also mentioned were the difficultly of note-taking and highlighting (functions that are available, but a bit more complicated than on paper) and the generally bad (or at least different) layout and typography.

IScreen Shot 2013-05-12 at 5.23.47 PM have an iPad and have found it okay for reading fiction. I have read William Morris’ News from Nowhere (somewhat ironic that given his anti-technology philosophy) and Jude The Obscure, both free from Project Gutenberg, and I bought Bullfighting, a collection of short stories by Roddy Doyle, in an e-edition. The cognitive experience didn’t feel much different, and although I wasn’t trying to do anything that people complain about (reading assigned pages, jumping around, taking notes, copying sections etc.) They were all wonderful by the way. Also, I am an “Alice in Wonderland” style reader:

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. ‘Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?’ he asked.

‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’

Given that it’s always been hard for me to do anything but work through a book from page 1–or to stop reading a book, however lousy, once I’ve started–perhaps I’m not a fair test of e-reading versus print. That said, I haven’t read much non-fiction on an e-reader, except for O’Reilly books, including a book on how to use Apple’s iBook Author program, (which ironically, would have been much easier for me to deal with in printed form).

All this as (overlong) preliminary to an interesting piece in Scientific American on the brain in e-reading.

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens

How exactly does the technology we use to read change the way we read? How reading on screens differs from reading on paper is relevant not just to the youngest among us, but to just about everyone who reads—to anyone who routinely switches between working long hours in front of a computer at the office and leisurely reading paper magazines and books at home; to people who have embraced e-readers for their convenience and portability, but admit that for some reason they still prefer reading on paper; and to those who have already vowed to forgo tree pulp entirely. As digital texts and technologies become more prevalent, we gain new and more mobile ways of reading—but are we still reading as attentively and thoroughly? How do our brains respond differently to onscreen text than to words on paper? Should we be worried about dividing our attention between pixels and ink or is the validity of such concerns paper-thin?

Read the full article.

I wonder if MOOCs come with print textbook requirements? Would seem as archaic as requiring a modern college student to bring a typewriter…

Digital Newspapers and their Affordances

An interesting bit by Australian writer, Anne Summers who gives up her three a day print newspaper habit for digital subscriptions is today’s Library Link of the Day. The deciding factor: the nuisance of getting and then disposing of the papers themselves. (She doesn’t mention the environmental issue per se, but I’ve always thought that will finally be what finishes off hard copy subscriptions for me.)

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Version 1.0 of the NYTimes–the first front page from 1851. Had to wait awhile for version 2.0 enhancements, like photos.

Not quite there yet though: my NYTimes came to my door this morning. And like my parents (newspaper people and later journalism teachers), I sat with my coffee and scanned, read, page turned, enjoyed the feel of the thing in my hand and the look of it on the table.

No question that the digital format offers lots that this batch of inky atoms doesn’t. (Summers in her Sydney Sunday Morning essay describes the digital presentation as a library, true enough and doesn’t even reach the multimedia or social elements digital offers.) But as she notes, this bonanza comes with a learning curve, different enough in each of the three papers she subscribes to require a little futzing. In web/media/education speak these different formats all have their affordances. A term connected to usability, and a little pompous, I grant you. “Affordance, please bring the Benz to the door. Cyril and Daria are going for a spin!” For me, affordance mostly refers to question, “what does a format let you do?” One newspaper format affords you the chance to play video or search, another affords you the chance to clean your BBQ or pick up cat poop. (So far, no Firefox plug-ins for those activities).

The thing about the printed newspaper page is that it affords—or just offers—such a well-designed and evolved interface. The graphic display is the result of centuries of development of graphic design, and user testing. You understand hierarchy, you get how to use it, you scan, read, scribble, clip, and know what is contained in that day’s helping. I like being able to understand what the writers and editors intended, and I like the organization of content, which presents this intention pretty transparently. I say this fully realizing that for a one-year-old a print publication is just an iPad that doesn’t quite work. But for me, for a little while longer, a digital edition is just a piece of print that doesn’t quite work.

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The Globe’s epaper version. A lot of interface to find out who won the game or the Golden Globes. I think they are solving the wrong problem.

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