Tuesday 31 January 2012

Things I Like This Week - January 31, 2012

- No sooner do I write a blog piece on SOPA and PIPA than they are both derailed by the global online community. I think it’s fair to say that my input was clearly the turning point. You can thank me later, world. Next stop, ACTA; I’m coming for you…

Online piracy remains a battle-ground that has still to be won, but at least the potential fallout from SOPA and PIPA has been recognised and avoided. There will be other bills; no doubt many of them. But future policy-makers will at least now be aware of the public fear that such blanket acts will irrevocably impinge on their freedom of speech, expression and creativity. Well at least I hope they’re aware, otherwise it’s all going to start again.

- Twitter recruitment video. Brilliant.

- Another book sculptor! And this time cropping up in Edinburgh. Beautiful and enigmatic – with a tip of the hat to Banksy with the secret identity. Truly stunning – I want.

Paper sculptures - the end!

- Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’ – someone has spent an incredible amount of time putting this together. Time well spent, I say…

- Canongate TV. Canongate are a remarkable company in many ways and this new approach to their website is inspired. Check out this video for one their books, Little Hands Clapping, published last year. Delightful:

- I’ve raved about this before, but it really is a beautiful app and demonstrates the best utilisation of the iPad’s functionality that I’ve seen so far:

- We’re only a few days away from the Six Nations, but I’m still reeling from the epic final few days of the 2012 Australian Open. I thought the Andy Murray–Novak Djokovic semi-final was seismic; it was, incredibly, surpassed by the final. See this super article on Djokovic’s staggering encounter with Rafa Nadal:

I really want to publish a tennis book and interactive app – if you have any ideas, please let me know.

That’s all for now.

Speak soon.

Tuesday 24 January 2012


So moving on from yesterday’s brief mention about the (misplaced) furore over Apple’s supposed copyright grab through iAuthor/ iBooks 2, it would be remiss not to mention the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect I.P. Act (PIPA), the two internet copyright bills currently passing through the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. There is also the slightly less publicised ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, that is being negotiated by the US, Canada, the EU, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Jordan, Morocco, and the UAE. The titles of each act seem to say everything they need to on the tin: ‘Piracy is bad, we’re here to stop it!’ But if these bills are passed (or any similar bills are passed in the future), there is a very real chance that the ramifications will fundamentally affect the functionality of very key elements of the internet all around the world. Not only that, the suggested punishment for breaching the terms of each act, even unintentionally or benignly, are severe.

It is important for me to state here my position on the bills. Online piracy is out of control, particularly for the music, TV and movie industries; if these industries cannot make money, then new content cannot be funded in the future, it’s as simple as that. What I do object to, as many people around the world do, is the approach that these bills are taking, as any mention of or link to a site that features illegally obtained copyright material can be deemed piracy by association and can be punished accordingly.

This TED video explains things very eloquently:

As alluded to in the TED video, lurking rather ominously in the background of these bills is the overbearing power of the US entertainment industry. The conspiracy theorists are lapping it all up, of course – it’s all very cloak and dagger, with the financial muscle of the entertainment industries twisting the arms of politicians around the world. See this article on the supposed reasons why Kim ‘Dotcom’ Schultz was arrested in New Zealand yesterday, as a classic example of the theories flying around the place: https://plus.google.com/u/0/111314089359991626869/posts/HQJxDRiwAWq#111314089359991626869/posts/HQJxDRiwAWq.

It’s all wonderfully Orwellian but SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and the clamp down on online file sharing should be considered with measured rationale (piracy is, after all, illegal and we all know that). Having said that, there is also a nagging sense that the gargantuan US media conglomerates are perhaps beginning to tug on the webs that they have weaved through various global political systems over the years, meaning that the balance of the acts that are being proposed are being skewed in their favour.

Now, I completely understand that as copyright holders, media organisations want to protect their creations and the finance that has been invested into them at a whole range of levels, but the measures put forward to prevent file sharing of any sort – and the prevention of someone even posting directions to a file that has been uploaded on another site (such as posting a link on Facebook or Twitter) – are draconian in the extreme.

As a publisher of original creative output, copyright theft is a major concern to us; but I do not condone the threats carried by SOPA, PIPA and ACTA. True, we are not in a business that bears the same financial risk as the movie, TV or music industries, and our products are not so quickly and easily digestible – and therefore transmittable – as a movie clip posted on YouTube, but it is still a very real problem for us. Our tactic (and here I am talking about the book industry as a whole, particularly when dealing with digital editions) is to look to price our products at as reasonable a level as is financially viable for us (we need to cover our costs, pay authors and staff, and make money to commission or procure new material), but the thinking is that if a book isn’t priced too high (i.e. is clearly good value for money) then people are, on the whole, happy to purchase it through legal channels. If, however, we wanted to charge £35 for an electronic version of a bestselling £9.99 paperback, then we would expect to see piracy go through the roof. Yes, there is a reliance in this model on people’s general decency and good will, but so far it is a reliance that has been well placed. We still keep a close eye out for free illegal versions of our books on the internet and if we find them we issue take-downs – but we would never dream of punishing the people who downloaded them, tweeted about them or circulated a post on Facebook to their friends about where they found their free copy. We have no wish to be Big Brother.

The internet has given global society an unparalleled freedom of expression and access to information that would otherwise be totally out of reach. SOPA, PIPA and ACTA threaten to destroy this whole infrastructure. They, and any subsequent efforts to police the internet so severely, should be challenged at every step to ensure that a middle way is found. Piracy needs to be stopped, or at least curtailed as much as possible, but the method for doing so needs to be approached in a more reasoned and objective way than the current proposals that are being circulated.
What are your thoughts?

Speak soon.

Monday 23 January 2012

Things I Like This Week - January 23, 2012

I’m going for a change of tact with my blog entry today. Instead of my usual dissertation, I’m going for concision. Let’s look at some cool things that are going on at the moment; this is my new Things I Like This Week feature. Here goes:

-          Apple’s iAuthor/ iBooks 2. Contrary to all the hype in the press, Apple’s new publishing system is not some covert plot to control the ownership of writers’ work, rather it is an incredibly brilliant method for writers (and publishers) to easily put together and publish app editions of their books. Having spent well over a year looking at myriad offerings from a number of app development companies and balking pretty much every time at the exorbitant prices they quote to make relatively straight forward interactive books (£60K for a simple text book with slide shows and some pop-up video boxes? Please!), Apple have come to the rescue. If you want to give away the end product for free, Apple are happy for you to distribute it anywhere you want; if you want to sell it, they say that it can only be done through the iBookstore (thus the kerfuffle about ownership). Since the software and all the plug-ins that allow you to make the book an app are free, why shouldn’t they insist on only allowing it to be sold through the iBookstore? Seems perfectly reasonable to me.  http://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/

-          Adobe Digital Publishing. Also extremely cool and the answer, once again, to my app development problems – and to the issue that many people have with the iAuthor’s output only being available through Apple. This offering from Adobe allows you to make apps with videos, slide-shows, audio files, 3D graphics, rotating graphics, interactive maps and hyperlinks and so on alongside the traditional text for any number of tablet and smartphone platforms. And the best bit? It can all be done in Indesign. Halleluiah! Yes, you have to have Indesign 5.5, but once you upgrade then it is a simple case of adapting traditional typesetting files (and typesetting techniques) to create amazing interactive books – and all for a smidgen of the price that I’ve been quoted by app developers. http://www.adobe.com/solutions/digital-publishing.html

-          For publishers and authors who are happy with Indesign and Quark, but who do not feel comfortable enough to explore the Adobe Digital Publishing solution or the iAuthor, there are a number of companies who can add interactivity to your existing files. Check out Mobcast http://www.mobcast.co.uk/# and Press Run http://www.pressrun.com/

-          The Joy of Books. This video is mesmerising and brilliant – but the mind boggles at how long it must have taken them to film. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=SKVcQnyEIT8

-          The Book Surgeon’s sculptures. Totally stunning. http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/the-book-surgeon-15-pieces/

-          The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. A great story and a triumph of modern publishing: the hardback is everything a hardback should be with beautiful production values; the eBook does everything it says on the tin; the audio book is wonderful; and the marketing of the whole project with its dedicated website is just sensational. Check them all out if you haven’t already – particularly the website. http://www.nightcircus.co.uk/Home/Auth

-          The lovely people at the RFU and the British & Irish Lions. It has been a pleasure working with you all so far, and I look forward to the months ahead. Fingers crossed things go as well with the SRU and IRFU in due course. Check out the projects we’re working on at http://www.polarispublishing.com/Behind the Lion and Behind the Rose.

-          The build up to the RBS Six Nations. Along with Burns Suppers, the best way to lift the January blues. And add to that Edinburgh Rugby making it into the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup and this has been a superb start to the year (only mildly countered by the disappointment of the 49ers losing the NFC Championship playoff to the New York Giants. You can’t have it all…).

-          The new Action Movie app from Bad Robot – a fun example of the power of augmented reality. Instantly impressive. http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/action-movie-fx/id489321253?mt=8

-          Stephen Page’s excellent appraisal of the eBook publishing scene and the ongoing role of publishers in this rapidly changing medium  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jan/13/way-ahead-publishing-ebooks-stephen-page?CMP=twt_gu

Hope the above is of interest to some of you. Any comments or suggestions, let me know.

Speak soon.