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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.
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    Monday, June 09, 2008

    Is Bluster over Google Book Search = Shame that publishers didn’t get there first?

    I do not really like quoting at length in my blog entries, but the article that I am referencing here is such an important article from the house of a major publisher, that I think it is warranted. Sara Lloyd of Pan Macmillan Digital Publishing has written an article linked from the company blog, the digitalist: A book publisher’s manifesto for the 21st century (pdf).

    Book. Publisher. Manifesto. Read it!

    Right at the start, there is the statement which shows such a clear view of the implications of a digital future that I am awed to hear it expressed by a publisher (not because I think publishers have no vision, but because I think acceptance of this particular vision must impinge profoundly on publishing):
    We will need to work out how to position the book at the centre of a network rather than how to distribute it to the end of a chain.
    Built on the thought that e-books are content with context rather than content with cover, this is a publisher looking at possibilities:
    We will need to think much less about products and much more about content; we will need to think of ‘the book’ as a core or base structure but perhaps one with more porous edges than it has had before.
    The article looks to a future in which e-books may be written using the wisdom of crowds, or in which they can offer shared reading such as is trialed in Book Glutton.
    Reading is not an activity that can be defined simply and it is all too often described as a solitary, immersive experience, as in the experience of reading a novel for hours at a time… even if a reader spends some solitary time reading, readers have always traditionally liked to swap views and ideas about the content of books, to turn over the corners of pages in which favourite passages appear to which they want to refer again, and to write notes in the margins.
    To date, publishers seem to have been content to digitise their paper books, leaving the more adventurous formats, the social books, the new structures, the experimentation to those outside of the conventional publishing arena. I have always wondered how – or if – these experiments will migrate into the centre stage of ‘real publishing’ – and now we have evidence of major-league interest. This is exciting! And why?

    Google Book Search set out to define 'access'; can the publishers redefine 'book'? If the:
    question really is no longer, “Will consumers read on screens in the future?”… [but] is rather, “How will consumers read on screens in the future?”
    …publishers had better be the ones defining what the shape of a ‘networked book’ should be … because if they are not someone else sure as hell will be.

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