Posts about books

Google, the librarian

I was interviewed by Norman Oder of Library Journal for What Would Google Do? Snippets:

Libraries already act like Google in many ways. Or I should say instead, Google acts like libraries. It is the mission of both to organize the world’s information, to make it openly accessible, to find and present the most authoritative (by many definitions) sources, to instill an ethic of information use in the public, to act as a platform for communities of information, to encourage creation. . . .

How can libraries collect the wisdom of the crowd that is their communities (e.g., creating collaborative town wikis and maps made by the community)? Librarians and their expert patrons could curate the web and create topic pages that would rise in Google search as valuable resources for the world (if your library is in Florida, it could maintain the best collections of sources for information on manatees or sunburns). What I’d really like to do is brainstorm this question with your readers on my blog: How could they be Googlier?

I think librarians will have a key role in what I believe will be a distributed future of education… in a limitless web of teachers and students no longer bound by a classroom or campus or by geography. Librarians, like Google and like learners, are thinking past their libraries.

On Google Book Search and the settlement with publishers and authors (still controversial with some librarians):

There’s no reason publishers couldn’t have created their own consortium to do everything Google will do: scan books, make them searchable, manage purchases and payments, and even sell ads on book content. Similarly, libraries could have scanned works in the public domain on their own. That Google puts on conditions–some of which are not Google’s but are apparently rights holders’– should not be shocking. Just as ad-supported media conceded much of the ad market to Google, so did publishers and libraries allow Google to step into a void they left.

I think that Google Book Search and the settlement around it are good for books and authors because the service will enable many more readers to discover many more books. Authors and publishers might end up with another revenue stream. And books can live on past the remainder table. Rather than fighting the tide and Google, publishers should have tried to see how to offer and capture these benefits themselves. Now they’re wise to work with Google.

Tomorrow belongs to them

As I was writing my first book, What Would Google Do?, I thought I knew what my second would be – about the profound changes in culture, worldview, attitude, aptitude, impact of young people today, a group I believe will prove to be an extraordinary generation – Generation G, I call them in the book. But almost as soon as I thought that, ambitious and important books on the topic came out from people I respect. So I’ll recommend them instead.

Don Tapscott, coauthor of Wikinomics, wrote Grown Up Digital, which I believe will be seen as the seminal work on the net generation. It is the product of $4 million worth of research including 10,000 interviews in many countries, producing a treasure trove of data about behavior and beliefs.

Importantly, Tapscott, like the other authors here, debunks the shallow assumptions made about this generation – that they are unsocial or antisocial, stupefied and stupid, exhibitionistic and narcissistic and uncaring. Instead, at the start, he writes:

The story the emerges from the research is an inspiring one, and it should bring us all great hope. As the first global generation ever, the Net Geners are smarter, quicker, and more tolerant of diversity than their predecessors. They care strongly about justice and the problems faced by their society and are typically engaged in some kind of civic activity at school, at work, or in their communities. Recently in the United States, hundreds of thousands of them have been inspired by Barack Obama’s run for the presidency and have gotten involved in politics for the first time. This generation is engaging politically and sees democracy and government as key tools for improving the world….

Eight characteristics, or norms, describe the typical Net Gener and differentiate them from their boomer parents. They prize freedom and freedom of choice. They want to customize things, make them their own. they’re natural collaborators, who enjoy a conversation, not a lecture. They’ll scrutinize you and your organization. They insist on integrity. They want to have fun, even at work and at school. Speed is mornal. Innovation is part of life.

Such insights continue regarding the generation and work, commerce, family, and democracy.

I believe – but won’t live to know – that this generation will prove to be as remarkable in its way – and for very different reasons – as the World War II generation was. This, too, could be a generation that builds through change and Tapscott’s book gives us a window into their culture and its impact.

I’m equally heartened by Mimi Ito’s Digital Youth Project report for the MacArthur Foundation. It, too, defends youth against common slanders. Youth, it says, “use online media to extend friendships and interests… and engage in peer-based, self-directed learning online.” In short: Digital is good and adults should encourage and enable youth to be digital and benefit from it.

Next I plan to dig into Born Digital by the amazing John Palfrey of Harvard’s Berkman Center and Urs Gasser. And then: The Pirate’s Dilemma – How youth culture is reinventing capitalism by Matt Mason.

At the end of my book, I say of this generation:

My generation, the children of the 1960s, prided itself on nonconformity but our nonconformity became conformist. I fear it was a fashion. Some worry that Generation G’s nonconformity and individualism will be entitled rather than empowered, alone more than social, entertained more than educated. Any of that and worse could be true. But I have faith in this generation because, far earlier than their elders—my peers—did in their lives, today’s young people have taken leadership, contributed to society and the economy, and created greatness: great technology, great companies, great thinking.

Flip (video) the pages

Bob Miller, head of Harper Studio (a division of HarperCollins, parent of my publisher, Collins) has been blogging about the industry as he tries out new models for it. We sat down and talked in front of a Flip camera (which they also give to all their authors to get them to post videos) and talked about links and aggregation.

The Bookseller’s Blog likes the idea of making videos like this and suggests bookstores should do the same:

How can you integrate this idea into your store’s blog or website? If you have an author in the store, ask if you can record a brief video. Let the author talk about his or her area of expertise, but in a way that doesn’t just promote the book but also provides a nugget of valuable information that might be shared.

I’ve been recording more than a dozen videos using my Flip to include in an electronic version of the book; more on that later.

Books, books, books

The Frankfurt Book Fair is phenomenal: jammed, absolutely jammed, with German book fans, including an incredible number of kid. The book culture in Germany is nothing like that in America, where allegedly one third of Americans, or more, never read a book after high school.

The Frankfurt convention grounds are also jammed with books from all around the world. What struck me was the optimism of it: all that work to create books on the hope that someone would read them. And they make fun of bloggers for whistling in the wind.

I was there on Saturday to speak with Wolfgang Blau, editor in chief of Zeit Online for what turned out to be a sizeable audience.

Frankfurt Buchmesse

At the last minute, I foolishly thought I might be able to answer a question or two in German. Ha! All I know how to say in German is how I can’t say anything.

I got to meet with a few of my publishers worldwide, wonderful folks from Taiwan, Holland, and Germany.

And I got a nice ego boost – not that I need one – when I came across this:

WWGD Frankfurt Buchmesse

Past, meet present

I’m headed to Frankfurt to speak at the Frankfurt Book Fair about What Would Google Do? thanks to Zeit Online which I’m visiting in Hamburg first. As I fly off, I read the the Publishers Marketplace Publishers Lunch newsletter reporting on Paulo Coelho’s talk at the Fair (Coelho’s a star in my book as the Googliest author I know):

Boos was followed by author Paolo Coelho, who is being celebrated here for sales of over 100 million books around the world and for his energetic efforts in sharing his work–and his time and attention in interacting with readers–freely over the internet in multiple languages.

“For fifteen centuries, as a media form, the book has proven unsurpassable. Of course, e-books are slowly claiming ground and it’s likely that, in due time, the digital form may override paper. But this will still take a few more years, which gives us – publishers, booksellers and writers – a precious moment before the Web makes its move.

“Yet what I saw as a writer came as a surprise, and a lack of understanding of the Web on the part of the industry. Instead of seeing in this new media an opportunity to invent new ways of promotion, publishers concentrated on creating micro sites, which are totally outdated, and a few of them complained about the ‘misfortunes’ of the other cultural industries, perceiving the Web as the ‘enemy.’

“…Given that books as media are still widely used, why not share the whole digital content of books for free? Contrary to what common sense tells us – and common sense is not always a good guide, otherwise publishers, booksellers and writers would probably be doing something more profitable – the more you give, the more you gain.”

That has certainly been Coelho’s experience, where freely available electronic files have led to increased print sales in territory after territory–including the US, where The Alchemist has been on the NYT bestseller list for a full year even though it was among the first of his titles to be available online at Harper’s web site.

Speaking to the larger paradigm of internet culture, Coelho said, “There’s an important element to this which most people are not fully aware of: people are sharing what they deem pertinent in a free way and they expect the same thing to occur in all systems of mass communication. The usual mass communication channels have a hard time understanding this.”

At the same time he acknowledged that Yet, “there are still two problems to tackle: copyrights and the sustainability of the publishing industry. I don’t have a solution, but we are facing a new era, so either we adapt or we die. However, I did not come here to share solutions, but my own experience as an author.”

In contrast to Coelho’s remarks, director of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association Dr. Gottfried Honnefelder followed Coelho and insisted that the real problem is a need for stricter laws to monitor and punish internet pirary. “We can’t treat the Internet as a largely lawless space for the simple reason that this creates difficulties in solving the problem of how to treat intellectual property on the Web.” He did, as the same time, acknowledge that “we are talking about new book-minded financial models which reward the publishers’ work in new, perhaps indirect ways.” But the governmental solution apparently still holds romantic appeal here in Germany. A local colleague told us that there is legislation pending to try and require that e-books be priced the same as print books and not discounted.

Compare and contrast.