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Vox looks back at the ebook. It hasn’t made progress in a decade.

Publishing spent the 2010s fighting tooth and nail against ebooks. There were unintended consequences.

Source: The 2010s were supposed to bring the ebook revolution. It never quite came. – Vox

Long time readers of this site will know to expect ebook scepticism. Ebook readers do little for me. Yet that’s not the main objection: the ebook business model is wrong. 

Apart from a handful of exceptions, it is hard to understand the attraction.

Let’s get those exceptions out of the way first.

Flyers: Ebooks are great for avid readers who are long distance flyers. The hardware weighs a few grams and is not much bigger than a phone. You can carry an entire library for less space and weight than a paperback. It’s a strong argument. 

That said, I find my eyes tire much faster with an ebook than with a printed book. And, for reasons I can’t fully explain, probably to do with lighting, it’s not as relaxing if you plan to read before snoozing on the flight. 

These days I carry a couple of printed books in my carry on bag and another one or two in the stowed luggage. Yes it’s heavy and takes up valuable room. I can live with that.

Textbooks: There’s a case for publishing textbooks as ebooks. Indeed, many textbooks are only available in a digital form.

When I was a student carrying three of four weighty physics books back and fourth to the university was a serious workout. An ebook, especially one that fits in a pocket makes more sense.

There’s an added bonus, it’s easy to update an electronic text book. Doing that with print is hard. 

Large print: Being able to adjust the size of print so that ageing eyes can read is another argument in favour of the ebook. As the Vox story explains, this is one reason older people are keener on ebooks than younger folk. 

What’s wrong with the ebook business model?

In a word: greed. It costs far less to distribute photons and atoms that mashed up dead trees sprayed with ink. There’s no manufacturing, no shipping, no shopkeepers taking a reasonable but still heft retail margin. 

And yet ebook publishers ask customers to pay as much or almost as much for digital books as for printed ones. Their margin for each book is way higher than for printed books. As an aside, do authors get paid the same for digital copies?

Publishers can’t justify this. But it gets worse. If you buy a printed book, you can hand it to someone else after you have read it. You might sell it secondhand or donate it to an op shop. Either way, it retains value after it is read. Restrictive licences mean that’s not the case with ebooks. In other words, publishers get another bonus. 

Given all this, an ebook should cost a fraction of the price of a printed book, somewhere in the region of 10 to 20 percent. They don’t. The savings are not passed on to customers. 

If ebooks were priced appropriately, they’d sell, it’s that simple. Almost everyone carries a device which could act as an ebook reader. They could do better. 

The Vox story also makes a valid point about publishing and retail monopolies, which, if you think about it, also come back to greed. 

What could have been a revolution is, in part, a victim of greed.

A persuasive look at the many reasons why you should have your own website, and some of the benefits it will bring you.

Source: Why I Have a Website and You Should Too · Jamie Tanna | Software (Quality) Engineer

Jamie Tanna’s post lists many good reasons to have a website. It’s written from his point of view as a software engineer, many of the reasons translate directly to other trades and professions.

A powerful reason is to own your own little patch of the online world, what used to be called cyberspace. As Tanna says it can be many things, a hub where people contact you, an outlet for your writing and other creative work, or a sophisticated curriculum vitae.

Now you may be thinking you can do all these things on Facebook, Twitter, Medium or Linkedin. That’s true up to a point.

Yet you don’t own those spaces. You are part of someone else’s business model. You don’t have control over how they look, you can’t even be sure they will be there in the long term. After all, there were people who thought the same about  Geocities, Google+ or MySpace in the past.

Creating your own site takes time, effort and maybe a little money. It doesn’t have to take a lot of any of these things. You’ll need to pay for a domain name… that’s roughly $20 a year. If you are hard-pressed financially there are free options with companies like WordPress. You can get a basic WordPress site up in an hour or so.

You don’t need to be a writer to own your own website. If you post things to Facebook or Twitter, use your site instead (or as well as). It could be a place for photography.

One thing you will find is that a website gives you more of a voice than you’ll get on other people’s sites.

 

 

For several years now, the trend among geeks has been to abandon the RSS format. RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a way to queue up and serve content from the internet.

Source: The Case for RSS — MacSparky

Geeks might not like RSS, but it’s an essential tool if you monitor news or need to stay up to date with developments in a subject area.

An RSS feed is a way of listing online material. There’s a feed for this site if you’re interested. It sends out a short headline and an extract for each new post. That way you can stay up to date with everything published here without needing to constantly revisit the site to check for updates.

Separate feeds

Some big sites break up their news rivers into separate feeds. At the New York Times or The Guardian you can choose to read the technology news feed. At ZDNet you can pick subject feeds or selected a feed for an individual journalist.

Sometimes you can also roll your own niche feeds from big sites by using a search term to get a list of all stories including a certain key word.

The beauty of RSS is that it is comprehensive. It misses nothing. If you go offline for a week you can pick up where you left off and catch up immediately.

RSS is comprehensive

The alternatives are social media sites like Twitter or Facebook. They are nothing like as comprehensive or as easy to manage. Tweets go flying past in a blur on Twitter.

All the main social media sites manage your feed. They decide what you see. This means you can miss important posts as they get pushed out of sight. That doesn’t happen with RSS.

In his story David Sparks says you need to be on Twitter all the time to catch news. Make that: you need to be on Twitter all the time AND staying more alert than most people can manage.

Universal feed

The other great thing about RSS is the format is so universal. It can be as simple as raw text. You can read it on your phone, tablet, computer or anywhere at any time. You can suck it out and place it on your own web site, for instance.

There are RSS readers built into browsers, mail clients like Outlook and other standard software. Or at least there were. I haven’t checked again lately. Feedly is one of the most popular readers. This is both a website and a series of free apps. You can pay a little extra to extra features such as an ability to search feeds, tools for integrating feeds into your workflows and so on.

a post

I’ve a few ideas about new ways of working as a journalist that overlap with the Indieweb movement.

The first is having a syndicated work portfolio. If you like, a single source, feed or river of everything I post elsewhere.

This means linking back to my stories published on mainstream media sites. I want to do this even when those sites don’t reciprocate my links. At the moment I sometimes write a linking blog post on my site.

Here’s one from last year: https://billbennett.co.nz/agility-knowledge-economy-key-for-auckland-as-an-emerging-global-city/

My second idea is to somehow consolidate the comments that fill different buckets at places like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. There are also some on Disqus. There have been times when there are two or more conversations covering much the same aspects of a story. It would be better if the interested commenters could see what others have to say and interact.

Indieweb central repository

Then there’s my unrealised idea of moving to more of a stream-of-concious style of reporting. This is not so much Jack Kerouac style, but more like the daily live blogs you see on sites like The Guardian. I like the idea of writing a post then update it as the story evolves. This would be easier to manage with a central repository.

Last and not least, there’s my need as a journalist to own my work outside of the big silos. I’m not a snob about FaceBook or Google, but I am aware their shareholders get the reward for my effort when my work appears there. It won’t happen overnight, but the Indieweb may hold the key to redressing the balance in the future.

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For years publishers, broadcasters and anyone else in the media business have wondered if Facebook could be their salvation.

The old publishing business model has crumbled. Building mass audiences with entertainment or information then selling advertising no longer delivers rivers of gold.

Some saw Facebook as an answer. Perhaps not the answer, the question is too complex for a single response. And anyway, Facebook has always been part of the problem.

Yet for a moment it looked as if the social media giant could breathe life back into the advertising-lead business model.

Mighty empire

After all Facebook is a mighty empire. It has greater reach and more influence than any organisation in history.

Yet it turns out the emperor has no clothes. Well, fewer clothes.

The Wall Street Journal reports Facebook has misreported its viewing figures for the past two years.

Advertisers have been given numbers that overestimate the amount of time Facebook users watch video by between 60 and 80 percent. This comes after the social media giant talked about the rapid growth in its video numbers.

Advertiser fears

There’s a growing fear among advertisers that Facebook and Google hide too much of this kind of information. That’s ironic, because one reason advertisers tell traditional publishers they prefer online media is ‘accountability’.

This isn’t the only bad news Facebook has for traditional publishers. In June there was an algorithm change which saw Facebook prioritise material from human accounts while decreasing the number of posts users would see from media companies.

Those publishers who depend on Facebook to deliver readers get less traffic as a result.

Many publishers feel they have no choice but to throw in their lot with Facebook. After all, it is the largest source of traffic for most big media companies. And Facebook has consistently pushed itself to publishers in a bid to fill its pages with their, free-to-Facebook, material.

Fickle, unsympathetic

Yet Facebook has proved a fickle and unsympathetic partner. Its relationship with traditional media is asymmetric.

It’s not clear if Facebook’s recent misreporting was deliberate or accidental. The difference doesn’t matter much to publishers, either way they suffer.

Facebook’s business is all about building compelling services that win large audiences. It then sells that attention to advertisers. Google is the same.

Scale

In many respects both are following the traditional media-advertising model, although there are huge differences of scale and neither invests heavily in producing original material. Instead they let other people do the heavy lifting.

You can see this as a parasitic way of making money. Despite all the goody-two shoes rhetoric about extending the reach of the internet into the poorer areas of the world or bringing people together, the pair are vast empires that care little for what goes on down at the grass-roots level.

Facebook is not the answer to publishers’ prayers, it is yet another nail in their coffin.