Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Publishing round table National Library of Australia

Greetings from the National Library of Australia. Colin Steele organised a round table with Richard Charkin, Executive Director of Bloomsbury Publishing, London. There were 26 people present, about one third from the library, a third from the ANU and the rest from federal government agencies and universities.

Richard, who I met in the library's cafe on the way in, is talking at forums in Melbourne and Sydney. Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research talked at the forum yesterday. In his speech "THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION: PUBLISHING IN THE 21ST CENTURY". He announced a book industry support group. The group has not been set up and its composition and role is unclear. Richard commented that the Minister seemed to be making it up as he was speaking.

Richard talked about Bloomsbury's role in publishing educational and scientific materials with "
Bloomsbury Academic". He talked about the tradition business model of publishing, with the separate roles of publishers and book stores. Publishers became more specialised an online delivery became available twenty years ago with Dialog and the like. There were also early CD-ROM books, such as the BBC Domesday Project. The point of this was that e-publishing is not new. One example was the spell check program based on a traditional paper dictionary. One large e-publishing effort was the Oxford English Dictionary.

Large digital scholarly publishing started around 1993 and was largely complete in five years. Scientific journals were traditionally published as a record: to be written, not read. Computer based systems allow the material to be easily searched. The science publisher's staff were scientifically trained and so comfortable with computers. Because the publisher had rights to re-purpose the material allowed for new databases, which Richard argued was a good thing (although in other ways publishers may have too much power). The last link in the chain were the university librarians, who were comfortable with digital materials.

Richard commented that scientific publishing has been very profitable for hundreds of years. The profit was an enabler for digitising publishing. Also university library budgets for subscriptions is a source of funds. He claimed that scientific publishing is now 99% digital. For leading journals, such as "Nature" all submissions are now digital. The print journal is now a sideline.

Book publishers are now being sucked into the maelstrom of electronic publishing. Book publishing is incredibly complicated (something I discovered recently with my new book "
Green Technology Strategies").

Unlike scientific papers, format matters for scholarly books and there are many different complex formats. The rights to books are very complex, with rights for different territories and in different languages. Some of the rights are unclear, as for example, is Hong Kong an "Open Market". A publisher might have the paper rights, but not digital rights, or may have the rights, but have agreed a royalty. This makes the metadata for the rights difficult to encode. Calculating royalties can be difficult when the book is available in different formats and modes, such as subscription.

Richard commented that the fear of book piracy may be more of an issue than piracy itself. There is also a fear of e-book sales cannibalising paper book sales. He also commented on the Macmillan verses Amazon.com pricing issue. With
Amazon Kindle e-books, he commented that the commercial arrangements were confidential (I see this as similar to software licences).

Richard said that many Kindle book sales are to regional areas and less developed nations. He speculated this was a new market of people who previously had difficulty getting access to books. There is a large market for English language books outside English speaking countries. I assume this is particularly the case for technical and scientific works, where English is the language of the discipline (such as Computer Science).

There are frustrations and delays with e-publishing still. This will require new systems and clarification of rights. Richard used the example of the Kindle edition of my book of what is possible, which took only 12 hours to be distributed.

There is needed a new emphasis on marketing of material. Also global agreements on copyright is needed. Richard argued copyright is workable and Creative Commons is an example of how it can be adapted to new needs.

He suggested that academic publishers need to de-specialise, so they find a new wider market.

Post Harry Potter, Richard decided to build Bloomsbury's academic publishing, with
Bloomsbury Academic. He commented that a fiction book goes through 25 intermediaries before publishing, making it difficult to make a profit. The academic publishing process has many fewer steps.

Net Neutrality by Christopher MarsdenBloomsbury set up " Bloomsbury Academic" which has adopted the Creative Commons licence, with "vanilla text" versions online for free, as well as selling e-book and print editions. I was surprised that a credible publisher had taken this innovative step and more surprised that I had not heard about it. I had a quick browse and found at least one book of interest ("Net Neutrality" by Christopher Marsden). But Bloomsbury need to improve their web site, as I could not find a web page about the book. He aims to publish a few hundred titles in five years, an at least break even. He accepts that this new initiative will not appeal to academic authors as much as prestige publishers, but will be attractive as the books will be much widely read and have the potential to become popular. The production process has traditional editors and quality controls.

The floor was then open for questions.

The first question was about Print On Demand (POD), such as the
Espresso Book Machine at University Bookshop and Melbourne University Library. Like me, Richard has doubts about the current machines, but they have potential for the near future (next year or so). Someone then commented that US publishers don't allow POD outside the US, because the US market is so large in itself and they do not have to try too hard. Richard also commented that due to the "thirty day rule" many books are now printed in Australia (unfortunately I could not find a web pages explaining the 30 day rule).

The next question was about markets and demographics. Ricahrd commented there was little science in trade publishing and it as more a matter of passion and reading the book. It occurred to me that the sort of data you get from web sites using tools like Google Analytics could be of use.

The next question was about the ability to produce large print books on demand. It was commented that this was very useful, but expensive from
Amazon POD (but an exclusive arrangement will not be used). I produced a large print edition of my latest book, simply by increasing the paper size. he Apple iPad also got a positive mention.

The next question was composite textbooks, made from chapters out of different works. Richard responded that US style textbooks are an outdated "Oldsmobile 1996" style of working, with a long production time and large costs. He doesn't think "chunking" (taking chapters from different works) is an interesting approach. The lecturer's notes are more interesting. Textbooks are bought by students in shops, whereas digital materials are bought by libraries. He suggested university libraries might buy a e-textbook site licence and then obtain reimbursement from students. Last year at ANU I selected an e-textbook available through the library for COMP2410 and this worked fine (we aren't charging the students extra for this).

The next question was why English and Dutch academic paper publishers think they can make money, but others can't. Richard's reply was that if you subsidise the publishing it will never make money. He argued that academic publishing can make money and university should not subsidise their presses.

One question was why aren't students demanding e-textbooks? One comment was that the text is no integrated into the course and students may never read the text, electronic or on paper. Richard replied that teaching English was producing the most sophisticated e-learning systems. Another comment was that the Australian Government's new publishing intuitive did not include educational institutions, who are a large source of the content, as well as consumers. It occurred to me that the e-learning initiatives funded by the federal education department for universities (
Education Network Australia: edna ) and TAFEs (Australian Flexible Learning Framework) could be usefully combined with the publishing initiative.

Richard commented that "printers" were not now seen as a significant part of the publishing business, but with POD this could become important again: "desperate industries tend to be ahead of the curve".

Another comment was about "Learn on Demand" rather than "Print on Demand". Students want to be able to select components of courses and texts in different formats as required. It seems a shame that the publishing people in this room did not know about all the excellent work being done on exactly this by people who probly a few doors down the corridor from them.

Richard expressed doubts that Google Books would earn significant advertising revenue and was likely done out of idealism. I am trying it out, by making my book avialable on Google Books.

One person commented that academic publishing online was still largely in the format of traditional books. Also better measures than citation index was needed. It occurs to me that some of the sophisticated measures available to web publishers could be applied.

Richard commented that the business model for Apple iPad was still not clear. He also amusingly commented that the market for e-books did not seem to be mobile younger business people as expected, but actually older people who wanted to read in bed without disturbing their partner. He also commented that the limiting factor in selling books was bookshelf space at home and there may be more shelf space in India (haing seen the book store at Bandglore airport and the public library in Panjim, Goa, I can agree). There were also comments about the iPad and Knidle being too big. In 1996 I predicted a
passport size (b7) PADD device, much like the Apple iPad.

There was then a discussion of the disposable nature of mass market paperbacks, particuarly romance novels.

Richard said how he saw no books in the canteen of the British Library, only laptops. He also said how good the canteen is. This I found surprising, as on my one and only visit as a reader at the BL, I found the food at the cafe very poor (along with the poor state of maintenace of the technology in the BL, poor customer relations and poor building design).

There was then a discussion of how quickly books go out of print and general agreement that e-publishing would eliminate this.

Richard asked if books could be e-published in 12 hours, why couldn't peer review be made faster. In fact with electronic support for publishing, this can be done. The systems automatically track how ling reviewers are taking, send them reminders and monitor their performance.

One comment was that books only count slightly more than journal articles for the Australian research ranking system. So a smart academic will chop their book into about five papers to maximise their ranking.

I commented that my e-learning course ended up being a printed book as well. Richard replied that several initiatives at Nature which started out purely electronic later produced print versions which were popular.

One audience member asked that if the academic author does all the production work, then what is the publisher for? Richard responded that authors always feel there publishers are not doing enough, but they do provide production, marketing and distribution services, as well as "love". One of the audience commented that the film industry has a different arrangement. It occurred to me that the modern publisher is more like a holywood studio, which actually does little of the film production.

Bloomsbury created qfinance.com for the
Qatar government. Also is creating Bloomsbury Qatar Publishing Foundation for publishing educational materials and Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals (couldn't find their web site) to do institutional repository with open access for Education City's research output. These are non profit actives established by Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned (موزة بنت ناصر المسند‎), chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.

1 comment:

Kerry said...

from http://www.proprint.com.au/News/117090,piaa-opposes-feds%E2%80%99-changes-to-30day-copyright-rule.aspx

"The 30-day rule stipulates that local publishers must supply a book to the Australian market within 30 days of its publication overseas. If the book is not supplied within that timeframe, the local copyright holder forsakes their copyright privileges, allowing booksellers to import the book directly from any overseas supplier for distribution within Australia."