Internet choice: June 2012

Here’s my somewhat belated monthly round-up of articles on the internet that I’ve found interesting, stimulating, annoying and, occasionally, funny. The full spectrum is available at that very quiet place, Google + .

There are more articles on the future of publishing out there than the number of raindrops we are endlessly subject to, the central question being whether content providers of words will go the way of the content providers of music, etc. Unusually, there is a readable perspective on this perennial topic at the excellent Scholarly Kitchen, a blog written by various specialist academic publishers and editors. Their advice to publishers: “If your priority is the dissemination of knowledge, then partnering within your own community to further that goal makes a lot more sense than turning over the future of scholarship to those who see it as a means of selling Kindles or iPads……So many of the current movements in the scholarly publishing space revolve around control — who holds the copyright, who gets to re-use the published material in new ways. If the research community wants to reclaim the ownership of its output, then it would be wise to truly do that, and to not merely trade one set of commercial owners for another.”

Turning to book publishing, in similarly dire straits, not enough of us appreciate – “digital is not free and easy” – as Brett Sandusky explains well in an article with the title The Biggest Lie in Publishing. Another article making the same point is at the HuffPo – “making e-books is harder than it looks” – it is not correct to assume that they should be vanishingly cheap. Random House is beginning to produce videos about what is involved in producing written and audio books.

In a vaguely related vein, Paul Bradshaw at the Online Journalism blog is writing a series of posts on how journalism education needs to keep up with the seismic changes in the industry. His first series post is about the skills gap – that is, the vast number of new (usually tech-based) skills that journalists are expected to have now compared with the old days of “rehash press release, where’s the cheque, ed?” (a style that I have actually witnessed!).

The Guardian reported the sad news that the Queen’s English society is closing due to lack of interest. Nobody cares about the correct way to write prose in an era of text messaging and Twitter. So we will no longer be told interesting snippets, such as the fact that in one of its surveys, it found that 80 per cent of English university undergraduates cannot spell.

If you like reading and book groups, you have until August to apply to join a panel for Pan Macmillan. (Via The Bookseller.)

“Bookstores are going down and taking discoverability with them” (Paid Content). Can “social reading” (interactive features and the like) perform this function? I can tell you that one solution proposed in the report, that of renaming titles so that, for example, Hamlet becomes Ghost Dad, is not going to work. Another attempt, involving “layered content”, is described in a tecchy post by Joe Wickert.

But the internet is good for discoverability of some things, so long as filtering is applied. I somehow found this article in The Smithsonian about Fritz Haber: “In 1918, Haber would be awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in developing a method of synthesizing ammonia from nitrogen in the air—the process that enabled the production of fertilizer in quantities that revolutionized agriculture worldwide. But in the winter of 1915, Haber’s thoughts turned to annihilating the Allies. For his efforts directing a team of scientists on the front lines in World War I, he would become known as the father of chemical warfare.” Another element, bromine, is the topic of a neat little post about lethal lipstick at Sceptical Chymist, Nature Chemistry‘s blog.

The “outraged at bankers & fat cats” post for June has to be Robert Peston’s for the BBC, in which he reveals that “FTSE100 chief executives were last year awarded average total remuneration of £4.8m, a rise of 12%….at a time when earnings for the vast majority of people are stagnating and represents a record of just over 200 times average total pay in the private sector.” (Good point, but clearly the BBC does not share the values of the Queen’s English society.)

If you want more on that topic, you can read this piece in Eurozine: “From Scandinavian democracy to target of British anti-terror laws: the whole world knows about the Icelandic crash, but how did the country get itself into such a mess? Andri Snær Magnason tells a saga of privatizations, overreaching and astronomical pay checks.” (Just tipping over into July, the BBC is running a video in which uber-handsome and ubiquitous Professor Brian Cox “claimed the UK has spent more on saving banks in a year than it had on science “since Jesus”.”)

Spare a thought for those poor climate scientists. Pop Sci: “Not so much a battle as asymmetric warfare, between scientists and deniers. The scientists have science on their side. The deniers have billionaires, Republicans and talk-show hosts. The stakes are high, the tactics are nasty.”

If you’ve read this far, you might like some light relief from Gav Reads – reasons why we reviewers won’t read your self-published book (not that this will stop anyone from trying, as is evident in the comments to the post). One reason is, as described in The Guardian, the importance of good editing (not the same thing as self-editing!).

My Internet Choice columns, collected.

Internet choice: May 2012

Although I share links to interesting articles at Google +, I try to write a round-up post here once a month, to provide a little more detail of what I’ve enjoyed or found annoying over the past month online.

The Good Library blog: in an excess of Jubilee and Olympics celebrations, a succinct view of why we should instead be spending the money on books and libraries. No hope of that of course, but it’s a sentiment with which I have sympathy.

Tubes: Behind the Scenes at the Internet, sounds as if it is a fascinating book from this brief Observer review. There is a more in-depth account in a Q&A with the author at Metropolis (for which the author is an editor), in which the book is described as “an evocative trip to the heart of the Internet, a look at both the physical connections behind the web and the complex almost ad hoc infrastructure supporting it”.

I’ve stopped reading the Language Log a good while ago as it has lost its way in a wealth of judgemental detail. Nevertheless, this post about e-book “editing” is hilarious. “The Nook edition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace (in its English translation) has been de-Kindled, quite literally. Every instance of the text string kindle has been replaced by Nook.” This is one of the problems with our current “spell check” generation, where nobody can spell any more as they all rely on auto-correct (see this BBC article). However good an auto-spell-checker (and my colleague Jeremy tells me that Swipe for Android is “almost making the ‘art’ of spelling redundant”) I would challenge any of them on matters such as “out” or “are” for “our”, “their” for “they’re” and so on, but now I’ve read the Language Log post, I’d also challenge it on nonsensical commercial censorship grounds!

From the plethora of (mostly silly) articles about the James Daunt/Waterstone’s decision to sell Kindles and provide free wi-fi for customers to download directly in-store, perhaps the best was one by Martyn Daniels of the UK Booksellers’ Association, who writes “the reality is that the deal is not just about digital, and online it about really knowing what your customers want and not what you think they want.” (His point being that Waterstone’s have now kissed their customers goodbye, though of course many people already browse in bookshops and order the books they want from Amazon on their smartphones while in-store.) Indeed, the commenter who writes that the next step will be that Amazon will buy Waterstone’s may have a point! For another perspective, see “James Daunt “doesn’t get” reaction to Amazon partnership, denies ever calling Amazon the “devil,” and lashes out at publishers”, an article at Melville House.

The Guardian carried an interesting comparison between the original (1963) and updated selections for the new Penguin English library.

Mad Bankers part 94. Via the BBC, “Andrew Bailey, a director of the Bank of England who will soon become the City’s top regulator, has said that free banking is dangerous and needs to be reformed by the government.” How ridiculous. Personal customers are a cheap resource for banks, as branches disappear and everyone performs their transactions with machines – yet are subject to constant targeted marketing. How about Mr Bailey doing something much more important, concerning the billions of pounds the banks have lost owing to their own greed and incompetence? Too hard for him, I suppose, whereas it is easy to flick a switch and charge personal customers unfair fees. Incidentally, there is an informative post at Sifting the Evidence blog at Nature Network, by two economics students, on real vs nominal interest rates and how the economics editor of the Sunday Times gets it wrong. And if you are really into all this stuff, or are like me and reading about it in frozen but fascinated horror, the Huffington Post has a blog on A Survivor’s Guide to the End of the Euro, by Simon Johnson.

“When the Guardian was print-only, subs had three or four deadlines a day. Now every minute of the day is a deadline.” Excellent, and true, article by the Corrections editor on the changing role of the sub.

Finally, the latest visualizations. Tornado tracking at O’Reilly Radar – beautiful. And the Guardian is creating an interactive map of Britain’s best bookshops (while they exist!) and literary locations (a better long-term bet). Take a look.

Internet choice: previous posts.

Internet choice: April 2012

I haven’t written a post of links for a long time. This is because I’ve been using Google + to share these links, ever since the “share” facility on Google Reader was closed to make way for the new “plus” era. Google + is a very quiet place, though, so I will post here some of the stimulating, fun or plain annoying articles that caught my eye in April.

Gyrovague: Why e-books will soon be obsolete (and no, it’s not just because of DRM)
E-books will be obsolete within five years.  Crippled by territorial license restrictions, digital rights management, and single-purpose devices and file formats that are simultaneously immature and already obsolescent, they are at a hopeless competitive disadvantage compared to full-fledged websites and even the humble PDF.” I am not sure that I agree with the contention, very common among tech types, that a one-device-for-all-purposes is something that everyone wants: I quite like having a dedicated e-book reader. But his points about sharing, rights restrictions, proprietary formats and so on are well-taken.

I very much like the poems of Carol Ann Duffy so I was pleased to see that the Poet Laureate is going to write her own versions of traditional fairy tales for a stage show this Christmas season (BBC).

I like this new way of occupying one’s time while at the station: maths problems to work out how long you have to wait (Going Underground blog).

Only for strong-minded authors: The Rejection Generator Project. “The Rejection Generator rejects writers before an editor looks at a submission. Inspired by psychological research showing that after people experience pain they are less afraid of it in the future, The Rejection Generator helps writers take the pain out of rejection.”

Appnewser: iPhone diorama (video). This is a beautiful little idea – I haven’t watched the video but the initial still is so lovely. Maybe someday iPhones will be personalised like this – and I might even buy one if so!

Debtonation: We can learn from Iceland’s crash – and their recovery. I sure hope so.

Author Barry Eisler takes an unfashionable view in the Guardian: Why trailblazing Amazon should take on the publishing establishmentWhile most people in the world are either wary or downright hostile about Amazon’s presumed monopolistic ambitions, Eisler begs to differ, arguing that it is the “legacy publishers”, as he calls them, who have the monopoly, and that Amazon is the route to freedom. There are, naturally, some dissenting views in the comments, politely put and well-argued for the first page of them at least.

And in the Guardian’s Sunday sister, The Observer: The talking penguin’s guide to climate change. “Darryl Cunningham is using the graphic novel format to address the most serious issues in science and to fight disinformation.” Killan Fox, author of the Observer piece, writes: “He [Cunningham] has done a good job of representing the subject in all its ambiguities, but ultimately it is a snapshot of how we understand climate change at this time. As new information emerges, that understanding will be expanded and refined. As his Afterword says: “Good science is testable, reproducible and stands the test of time. What doesn’t work in science falls away and what remains is the truth.””

O’Reilly Radar has a great weekly feature on visualisations. I particularly liked The history of shipping routes, a visualisation of 100 years of sea trade, by Ben Schmidt (I am not going to mention the T word in this context).

Petrona’s choice from the Internet (14 June)

When I received this comment on my blog today: “you have put together one of the worst pieces of writing that I have come across for sometime” I was a bit hurt but duly got my revenge by marking it as spam. I was quite heartened, then, to read this article at Guardian Education by the esteemed Marc Abrahams “Don’t let the trolls get you down” in which he reports, unsurprisingly if you know his work, an academic study in which a lecturer has come up with a scientific definition of a troll, and advises on how to deal with one: “Trolling can (1) be frustrated if users correctly interpret an intent to troll, but are not provoked into responding, (2) be thwarted if users correctly interpret an intent to troll, but counter in such a way as to curtail or neutralise the success of the troller, (3) fail if users do not correctly interpret an intent to troll and are not provoked by the troller, or, (4) succeed if users are deceived into believing the troller’s pseudo-intention(s), and are provoked into responding sincerely. Finally, users can mock troll. That is, they may undertake what appears to be trolling with the aim of enhancing or increasing effect, or group cohesion.” (inevitably there are lots more suggestions in the comments to this academese (why can’t academics write plain English?), including some that have been “removed by the moderator”).

In a different type of Internet abuse, Nature ran a couple of thought-provoking articles on cyberwarfare last week. An Editorial opines that “National cybersecurity plans should go beyond the cold-war mentality of an arms race and focus more on linking traditional computer security with protections for industrial control systems.” And an accompanying News story focuses on a new type of threat to critical infrastructures, for example underlying water and energy supplies.

While on the topic of Nature, the Internet and threats, I can’t resist a linguistic-association link to this News story: “Underwater spiders use webs as gills”. Fascinating stuff.

Back to more on-topic subjects for this blog: someone has just decided to share my opinion that Atonement is Ian McEwan’s masterpiece. It’s a great book and as it was written in 2001 it would be the first on my list of “best novels of the last decade” if I ever get around to writing it (which I doubt I will as I haven’t read enough good novels published over that time period – What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn would be another one, though).

Someone on the Internet runs a recurring post “questions to which the answer is no”. Here’s one for the collection: Would you fund your favorite [sic] author? Actually, I might fund my favourite author but that isn’t what this is about, this is about a new service called Unbound that “lets authors pitch ideas and collect funding from readers”. Sounds awful, when added to the tsunami of self-published e-books that are swamping Amazon and all points webwise.

However, if you are an author who publishes in academic journals, I smiled at this intriguing tool to see how close you are to having published with your nominated Nobel laureate (or anyone). Sabine does not mention Kevin Bacon but if I do you’ll get the drift.

Links in brief:

250 books by women that all men should read. (It’s a riposte!)

Swedish book review is online! (I may be the last to know.) Often this magazine carries articles by the English translator of a Swedish novel before the book is actually published in English – these insights are fascinating. Here’s a taster of Camilla Ceder’s second novel, Babylon, by translator Marlaine Delargy.

Lost collection: Art left on public transport – a new exhibition made up of art that’s been left unclaimed on the London Underground, buses, London Overground trains and Black Cabs.

How Nicola Morgan became a top trend on Twitter via her idea of asking users to nominate #lessinterestingbooks. Examples include Lord of the Files (which I think sounds quite interesting!), Jude the Fairly Obvious, Mein Kampsite, War and Peas, etc. As well as on Twitter itself, there are lots of suggestions at Nicola Morgan’s blog post and a Facebook group (link at post). Very droll.

Obama lets Dominique Strauss-Kahn know where the boundaries are….. in 2009!

The official media has finally caught on to sofalising- “people sitting at home watching a programme on TV while at the same time discussing what they are watching on another screen with friends, or indeed strangers, on social media sites.” Everyone under the age of 25 seems to do this automatically, it seems to me, and more than a few who are older than that if my Twitter feed is anything to go by (cue for a cull when it does happen, though).

Sad: US postal service faces collapse. “Delivery of first-class mail is falling at a staggering rate. Facing insolvency, can the USPS reinvent itself like European services have—or will it implode?”

Which author should write the next Bond novel? (Guardian open thread). Many of the suggested authors/titles/parodies are so funny, eg “The Good Man James and The Scoundrel Bond”, “From James, With Love & Squalor” and “Alexander McCall Smith: “I’ve been expecting you, Rra Bond.” “

One last laugh: tell us about your worst night at the theatre. (Guardian again). Alexis Soloski writes “in my time as a theatre critic I’ve been stalked in my seat and groped onstage. What’s your lowest theatrical moment?”. Read if you dare.

Petrona’s choice from the Internet (25 May)

What are the essential books of the last decade? Jackie of Farm Lane books entered and won a competition by Penguin Essentials which asked bloggers to suggest their own favourites. Jackie’s excellent selection is here. Her prize (pictured at post) is the entire Penguin Essentials series – but I am wondering whether I should read some of the books she’s chosen as I’ve only read a few of them. I would be quite hard-pressed to decide on a few essential books from the past decade as I haven’t read enough “good” (literary) ones, unlike previous decades. But I’ll think on it.

Some good book reviews I read recently: Work in Progress reviews Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, a book I enjoyed very much years ago; Georgina Phipps of Allison and Busby finishes her epic review/reading summary of War and Peace (Tolstoy), a marvellous series of posts that bought the book back to me (I read it when I was 18 and about to go to college); and there’s another old favourite reviewed (superbly) at A Penguin A Week, The Last Tresilians by J I M Stewart (which I read when I was about 11 and understood very little! My father had all the Michael Innes and J I M Stewarts on his shelf in the attic which I read my way through at that time).

There’s a lot of reaction to the announcement of an eventual buyer for Waterstone’s bookshops, a deal that includes James Daunt of the highly-regarded independent chain. See this Guardian article, for example. This piece provides links to Waterstone’s and Daunt’s current websites, and asks which is better. It’s a no-brainer, of course the Daunt one is much more appealing and reader-friendly. However, this isn’t the point. The books featured on the Daunt homepage, or in a newly “independent” Waterstone’s branch, are available on Amazon for half the price in some cases, and cheaper than the Waterstone’s/Daunt price in virtually all of them. This is what Waterstone’s has to compete with – however attractive a website or bookshop, most of the sales are going to be made by Amazon or the Book Depository or a few other sites. I don’t see how real-world bookshops can seriously compete, sadly (I like both forms of book buying but I am not going to pay twice as much for a book just because I like the shop).

Paul Wakely of the BBC explains why publishers like his and my own company have to be so careful about user-generated comments on their websites, even though the same comments are all over Twitter, people’s own blogs, et al. The England and Wales law is enough to make any company with a physical office in either country relocate to California or the Cayman Islands. (It isn’t the going to court that is so much of a worry as the vast costs of dealing with frivolous threats and preparing due diligence possible defences.) The England/Wales libel laws need to change, which won’t happen by users getting cross because their comments have been removed, but it might happen if the same users (if they live in the UK) lobby their MP to support the current bill (awaiting a reading) – see Sense About Science. On a related topic, it is heartening to read (Economist), assuming that more people will believe it, that alternative medicine is 95 per cent ineffective, compared with placebos which can “work” a lot more often. (Or, “easy ways to save your money”.)

Brief links.

Excellent post about why being quiet does not mean being “not smart”. (Female Science Professor)

Books (150,000 of them) from the sixteenth and seventeenth century can now be seen online in full colour, thanks to the partnership between Google Books and various national or leading libraries. They’ve also scanned 450,000 books from the eighteenth century. (Inside Google books).

Dinosaur feathers? No, kiwi DNA preserved in Maori cloaks reveals the origins and history of the revered textiles (Nature News).

Not in front of the children (Nicci French blog). You just have to read this – incredibly awful parenting and a great (book-related) punchline.

I had to laugh at the £3.50 Waitrose lettuce leaf, though this writer with an eating disorder did not find it so amusing, thinking it gives the wrong message to young women.

Petrona’s choice from the Internet (12 May)

One important post on the Internet is that of my daughters, who are running the “race for life” next month for a worthy charity close to our family’s heart. Please support them if you can – the three of them range from a regular marathon runner, through a tennis player, to someone who has never run a long(ish) distance before. They and I would very much appreciate your support. Please go here to their (international) donation page. Thank you so much.

Onto topics more usual for this blog. Bookish, to launch this summer, is the latest publishers’ initiative to encourage readers to buy books from their websites, which very few do currently (probably because most publishers’ websites are hopeless and their prices and/or e-commerce do not compare with sites such as Amazon). According to the New York Times, the one-stop site will be a mix of recommendations, reviews (by visitors) and features. I have already participated in several similar initiatives which have withered mainly due to lack of sufficient users or content, so it isn’t clear to me how Bookish will be better than those, or better than what one can do currently on a well-used, focused site like Amazon or Goodreads.

A Swedish newspaper has bucked the trend and boosted its circulation by being more ambitious editorially! (As well as various cost-cutting and efficiency initiatives.) Not only is this great news but the description of Svenska Dagbladet, described as an “upmarket tabloid”, reminds me strongly of the Annika Bengzton novels by Liza Marklund. One can almost imagine Annika as one of those journalists. Story in The Guardian.

There’s a nice post from Nicola Morgan who is preparing a booklet called How to Tweet right, about how and why to use Twitter. She is offering to list Twitter users in her index of recommended people to follow – instructions in the post at the link if you want to be included.

Unsurprisingly, publishers are now finding that e-books are contributing a significant amount to their total sales. (See also: Publishing’s paper problem and how to future-proof the industry.) What they need to do sooner rather than later is to sort out a more rational sales method, one that does not discriminate for or against readers from particular geographical regions. If they can do anything about pricing that would also be great, but those who rail against the high price of new e-books compared to the equivalent hardback need to acknowledge that cost is not only about distribution.

For those readers like me who are getting increasingly annoyed by the “noise” of self-published e-books when trying to look through Amazon listings, here’s a slightly unwelcome post about how tough it is to be an author of such a book. Amazon have told me that it cannot “kitemark” its e-books on the listing page as to whether the title is independently (professionally)- or self-published. The customer has to click through and look at each book’s product page (and even there, one cannot tell from the stated “publisher”, one has to check the blurb to be sure-ish). Given the plethora of these books, together with the large amount of “mini” books by established authors cashing in on the format’s flexibility to provide us with short stories, chapters or spin-offs, I’m pretty much at the point of deciding not to buy an e-book unless I know in advance which title I want to look at, as it is all too time-consuming and overwhelming.

Links in brief.

A book editor asks: what is suspense?

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a backlist book.

The four kinds of newspaper headline – and the health story.

Operation sandwich: the secret of the new Kindle.

Bad news, as a publisher outsources its subediting for two of Australia’s largest newspapers.

Petrona’s choice from the Internet (30 April)

Scott Adams’s take on the ludicrous “birther” issue in the USA (is President Obama, in fact, American? – honestly!) made me smile this week: “I think the birther issue is good for the country. A modern republic needs some simple and unimportant issues to keep its citizens invested in the process. The important issues of our time are far too complicated for the average person, and I count myself in that group. We need a few simple issues so we can be part of the political conversation without hurting anything. The last thing our system of government needs is regular citizens getting involved in Middle East strategy, healthcare reform, the budget, climate change, or anything else that might matter.” This point reminds me a little of the referendum in the UK next week, and associated current debate, in which we are to be invited to vote on our electoral system.

I enjoyed this post by James Wilsden, the director Royal Society’s science policy centre, in which he looks at how quickly China might become a world leader in science and innovation, based in part on how quickly the country came from nothing in the sporting sphere. Just look at that graph comparing countries’ projected spending on R&D! (Research and development.)

The Guardian asks its readers to name their favourite literary pseudonyms, the peg being the shortlisting for the Orwell (a pseudonym in itself of course) prize of “Death to the Dictator! Witnessing Iran’s election and the Crippling of the Islamic Republic” by “Afsaneh Moqadam”. Nominations include Benjamin Black, Flann O’Brien/Myles na gCopaleen (both pseudonyms of the same person), Currer Bell (and presumably Ellis and Acton), Lewis Carroll, Richard Bachman, Saki, etc. There are lots of names in the comments field, plus the usual Guardian comment pseudo-(intellectual this time) bickering.

Moving to something a bit more substantial, there’s a fascinating “guest” post at O’Reilly Radar about the use of linked data to examine the US Civil War on its 150th anniversary. By “linked” data they mean connecting data held on individual museums and historic sites, with the aim of making historical data both more discoverable and “interoperable” (the goal of many an open data project). The post is by two of the project organisers and well worth reading.

The latest back-to-front application of Twitter came to my notice – Storify. So you can write lots of 140-word tweets, then use Storify to combine them into a post. Hmm, what is blogging, exactly? A day or two after I read about this application, I saw it used for the first time in my own experience – when Chris Mims Tweeted the story of how he helped to establish the scientific blogging network for Seed Media, Inc. (These tweets were stimulated by the sale of the platform to National Geographic). See more about that here, if you are interested in this storm in a teacup.

A few brief links:

I was so impressed by the sheer magnitude and effort of Michael Sheen’s 72-hour The Passion in the streets and environs of Port Talbot, Wales. Lyn Gardner writes it up.

The Good Library blog has a passionate list of bullet points about what a good nationwide library service “could have done”. Broadly, who could disagree, though some of his points are plain wrong, most notably that people who work in libraries are overpaid whereas the truth is the opposite. Unfortunately, these sorts of incorrect details can undermine the real force of the main argument, as well as alienating many of those who feel the same and who happen to work in libraries!

Amazon is not the publisher’s enemy. A good counter-argument to that made last week by the small publisher Linen Press, whose owner said that every book sold through Amazon cost her more money than it took to produce the book.

Here’s an excellent review of Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen, at Shade Point.

The dark, disturbing genius of Philip Ridley. Indeed.

Mrs Peabody Investigates: crime novels that make you want to rant: Field Grey by Philip Kerr.

How to kill e-book piracy.

Translators must read with their ears.

Will books vanish along with bookshops? and Top 20 Facebook apps for book lovers.

Petrona’s choice from the Internet (18 April)

DRM, or “digital rights management”, is one of those topics that never ceases to generate heat in online discussions. Here’s a good post at O’Reilly Radar by Joe Wikert, in which he gives four reasons why DRM is like airport security: false sense of security; treats everyone like a criminal; is highly inefficient; and introduces silly limitations. Junk it, is his advice. For a consumer, it is annoying to pay more for an ebook than for a print hardback (partly for tax reasons), and then not to be able to loan it to anyone. It is also annoying to know that an ebook can be downloaded by a reader in one part of the world but not another. (See also Piracy adding to publishers’ digital costs at The Bookseller blog.) For my part, I seem to have stopped reading books in the e-format, pretty much, unless I see a book I’m about to buy in print on sale in e-form very cheaply. Even that assertion does not always hold, for example I’ve been shelling out £6 or £7 a go for Anthony Trollope books which are free in e-format (thanks to the Gutenberg project). I think it’s their sheer length that puts me off reading them on screen. And, returning to a point made above, the fact that someone else might want to read them as well as me. The Gutenberg project, incidentally, has just released its 30,000th English language book. DRM eat your heart out!

There is a fascinating slide presentation by Paul Adams, ex-Google and now at Facebook, about “how real social networks work, and why online social networks leave us feeling exposed and awkward”. (The slide show is embedded at Scholarly Kitchen but was presumably originally uploaded somewhere else.) The points are obvious but very well-put together and convincing. Or at least, they are in the first 30 or so slides, I got the message by then and did not progress through to slide 224, though I am sure they are all very good. In a sort-of similar point on a different topic, Alex Howard (at O’Reilly Radar again) argues that as “we all struggle to make sense of a world rapidly changed by technological disruption, the institutions that preserve cultural memory are becoming even more important.” He uses a museum project, Ignite Smithsonian, as an example.

How book publishing has changed since 1984 – this is a great article by Peter Osnos as he looks back “at an age of old retail and indie bookstores, before computers, celebrity memoirs, and megachains came to dominate the literary world.” And it isn’t only book publishing that’s changing. In the wake of its recent sale to AOL, The Huffington Post is being sued for back-pay by 9000 of its bloggers, who previously wrote for nothing.

Some nice book reviews this week: What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn (review at Reactions to Reading); Rupture (1000 Cuts) by Simon Lelic (review at Mysteries in Paradise); and Hotel Bosphorus by Esmahan Aykol (review at A Work in Progress).

Short links to posts I liked this week:

Help! I need a publisher. Have you been to Oxford? (Nicola Morgan)

London Book Fair vote shows that publishers are still relevant (Future ebook)

Novelists: What are you trying to accomplish? (Mysterious Matters)

Huh?! Faber (and Marcus Chown) to answer science’s biggest questions in tweets. (Bookseller)

Stupid, stupid. Want to avoid a retraction? Hire a medical writer, say medical writers. (Retraction Watch)

Even more stupid. Despite demand, parents urged not to use direct-to-consumer genetics tests on their kids. (Spoonful of Medicine)

Petrona’s choice from the Internet (10 April)

One of the links in my “blogs and website” sidebar (see right) is called Miscellany from the Internet- which are the articles I “share” on Google reader. I thought I’d round these up for the past week in this post.

O’Reilly, the technical publisher, is to go fully print on demand. “With the enormous change we are experiencing in the industry, the traditional models of publishing no longer make financial sense. To be able to grow our publishing program while at the same time lowering our costs is a huge leap forward”, said Laura Baldwin, president, O’Reilly Media.

The cost to a small publisher of selling books on Amazon. Linen Press loses £2 for every title sold by the online bookseller – not exactly a sustainable business model.

An anonymous Waterstone’s bookseller writes about the company’s current woes. “But all booksellers can hope for is that our new owners will eventually invest and give us the tools to do what they actually genuinely love doing—selling books.”

The Scholarly Kitchen, always worth a read, has a good post about the disruption being caused by the “social web” (or Web 2.0), based on a “recent report from Wedbush Securities, a Silicon Valley firm that analyzes the valuations of private companies, updates what we already know about the social Web, and shows how powerful it has become. Almost across the board, it is the de facto Web now”.

Moving to books, there is a fascinating and informative interview of Quentin Bates by Barbara Fister at her Scandinavian Crime Fiction blog. Bates is the author of the debut novel Frozen Out (UK; Frozen Assets US), which I reviewed for Euro Crime earlier this year. He answers questions about why he set his novel in Iceland; why the protagonist is a woman; and how his work compares with that of Arnaldur Indridason and Yrsa Sigurdardottir, native Icelandic authors whose novels have been translated into English. Bates’s second novel in his series, Cold Comfort, will be published in January 2012.

Book reviews I’ve enjoyed: The Magician’s Accomplice by Michael Genelin, reviewed by Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction; Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson, reviewed by Ben Hunt at Material Witness and also by Peter at Nordic Bookblog.

One or two posts of interest (to me):
Smashwords: Readers, authors and librarians against DRM (includes logos for your website or blog).

Cuts, cuts, cuts at Nicci French blog.

Two articles here and here about the threats to the important programmes to open up all types of government data in the US and the UK.

Google crisis response, including “preparedness tools”.