Text that flows and rolls

Last week I finished The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen by John Bryant. The book is a great introduction on how a text is not a text unto itself, but falls in a continuum of versions from the manuscript to alternative versions. For publishing folk it's a reminder of how responsible they are for culture. For metadata folk and catalogers, it is one of the clearest explanations of the relationship of a text to its manifestations, or Work, Expression, Manifestation, and Item (Hello FRBR!) The book had me thinking about e-books and the different ways multiple versions of text could be displayed (specifically, I was thinking about how an e-book version of Melville's Typee could reproduce the original British edition, the expurgated American Edition, a critical edition and a genetic edition all in one linked document and still give different levels of readers the text they wanted. Vertical integration of reading experience!).

With that fresh in my mind, I started listening to This Week in Tech with Leo Laporte, episode 305: This One Time at Foo Camp. The program was mostly dedicated to discussions of what was happening at Foo Camp that week. One of the guests was Ben Huh, the founder of Cheezburger network and he was talking about his new Moby Dick Project, which aims at taking a look at journalism in a new way. Like the ideas behind the fluid text, Moby Dick hopes to take journalism and recognize that events (the main fodder for journalism) evolve over time and are covered in different ways during that time. Or, as Ben puts it in one of his initial posts about the project:
The traditional methods of news-writing, such as the reverse pyramid, the various “editions” of news pose big limitation on how news is reported and consumed. Unfortunately, internet-based changes such as reverse-chronological blogging of news, inability to archive yesterday’s news, poor commenting quality, live-blogging, and others have made news consumption an even more frustrating experience.

ReadWriteWeb provides a few more details on the project in the article, Cheezburger CEO Planning WordPress-Style News 2.0 Software, including Ben Huh's wireframe of how news may be presented.

I think the idea bears investigation, but I have no idea how worthwhile it would end up being. I have had in-class discussions about digital tools and journalism and digital tools and publishing to get them thinking about how to publish smarter. And having a way to follow an event or see different views on an event could be very valuable for researchers (much like different versions of Typee are of interest to scholars like Bryant), but how many people really want to invest time and energy in tracking the creative process and how many just want the product, whatever version that product may be? I know my students are generally split on the idea. Yes they say it would be a great thing to have, as long as there was a way to just see one version. My students like to point out that their lives are filled with enough information as it is, to have each piece of information they find provide different options on interacting with the data is too much. Sometimes simplicity is more attractive than completeness.

It's one of the concerns I had about FRBR- great system for catalogers and librarians who revel in a real-world equivalent of "Spot the Difference" games, but not so good for the patron/ reader who just wants direct access to a story/ report/ idea. As information creator/ curators we need to figure out the optimal way to present this information. Going back to Melville, while an e-text of different version of Typee could provide some insight into Melville's thought process, it could also present a large block of inaccessible text to a larger audience who would feeling like K in Kafka's Castle, trying to find a way in to the text, but being blocked at every attempt because they can't interact with the gate-keepers.

For now I'm going to keep an eye on the Moby Dick Project's Twitter Feed and think a little bit more about how epub and mobi can provide more accessible and more useful critical editions (or come to the realization that it's impossible and go back to creating clean epub versions of yesterday's best-selling novels that haven't been in print for decades).

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Closing the year

We should start seeing more and more press releases from publishers as the either finish up analysis of last fiscal year or close the year at the end of this month. Of particular interest for those companies ending their year in June or reporting first quarter/ half reports is the effect of the bankruptcy from Borders.

It hit the industry back in February and while some panic ensued, the next few months should provide us with some more information on what it really meant for the industry.

The original filings can be found on Scribd. There's one report up that identifies the top debts owed. Which is a rich primary source to use against press releases and reports.

Let's get it started with John Wiley-

Publishers Weekly released this earnings overview today. (Thanks Iris!)

PW's article identifies two points in the earning report that identifies the disruption from Borders:
Wiley took a $9 million bad debt charge to account for Borders’s bankruptcy

Sales in the consumer category fell 7%, to $32 million, due in large part to the Borders disruption (Wiley had expected Borders to account for 5% of sales before shipments to the chain were stopped in December)

While some more in-depth research and reading is necesary to see how Borders affected the bottom line* for the company as a whole, it might be worth it if we can use this along with other companies to see where Border's bankruptcy caused the most damage.

*For example, the consumer market of the professional/ trade group dropped 7% to $32 million, but the whole of the professional/ trade division posted a 2% growth to $437.1 million which is less than half of earnings from the Scientific/Technical/Medical/Scholarly which posted sales of $998.9 million. So, in the words of Hungrybear9562, what does it mean?

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Return from the wilderness...

18 months since my last post.

18 months of quiet contemplation on the mountain top of digital publishing.

18 months of watching publishers stumble and trip and rise over digital publishing and changes in the market.

18 months of new devices- tablets, e-readers, phones that allow the reading of books on their screens.

18 months of new lawsuits and still no resolution to the Google lawsuit.

18 months.

Okay, maybe I haven't really been alone in the wilderness watching the world change like some monk watching the seasons change from a small window. If anything the past 18 months have been a hectic run. I got the electronic publishing concentration up and running in the Writing, Literature and Publishing Department at Emerson College. Taught 8 classes, including three new ones that focused on digital publishing and e-books. Guided students in independent studies on podcasts, digitizing heavily illustrated books, creating wordpress blogs for food writers and an investigation into how these new digital tools can further some of the concepts outlined by the Oulipo school. And that was just the class stuff.

Anyway, I feel like I'm slowly coming back from the wilderness and starting to turn back on posting and sharing between this blog and my twitter feed. Figure it's better than torturing friends and family with talk about digital publishing and publishing in general

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