In the (unlikely!) event that loyal readers can’t get enough of either Oxford or me in print, you may want to visit my video blog. In the first installment, I talk a bit about OUP’s history, as well as the future of ebooks and of publishing in general. Here’s the Video—
Archive for the ‘Future Thoughts’ Category
As has been noted elsewhere in the blogosphere, if you think you’ve heard of something like the iPad before … well, you have. Forty-two years ago, in his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, legendary science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke described a device virtually identical to the iPad. He called it the “newspad,” and here’s how he described it:
“When he was tired of official reports and memoranda and minutes, [Heywood Floyd] would plug his foolscap-sized Newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers; he knew the codes of the more important ones by heart … He would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him [which he would expand] until it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort.”
The newspad makes an appearance in the movie 2001 as well: if I recall correctly, you see one of the astronauts aboard the spacecraft Discovery en route to Jupiter reading it while eating breakfast.
Not only did Clarke guess right about the i/news Pad, he also guessed right about its contents. Again from the novel: “There was another thought which a scanning of those tiny electronic headlines often invoked. The more wonderful the means of communication, the more trivial, tawdry, or depressing its contents seemed to be.”
Amen to that.
Earlier this year, OUP began working with a Toronto-based company called Symtext to digitize some of the content from our textbooks for specific adoption situations. Symtext’s unique proprietary technology delivers content from OUP (and other participating publishers) as so-called ”Liquid Textbooks,” which offer various functionalities including the capacity for instructors and students to enter comments and questions. Symtext launched Liquid Textbooks this Fall, and recently I had the chance to chat (by email) with Symtext president Ian Barker about where the digital revolution is taking us.
Ian Barker: What sort of shift in the market toward demand for digital content are you seeing? Is this shift changing (increasing, decreasing) and can you comment on the pace of the change?
David Stover: There’s definitely a shift and it’s definitely gaining momentum. That’s not to say that I expect to see the printed book disappear next week or next year or even next decade. If anything, the availability of digital options seems to be increasing the total size of the market, because there are some kinds of content (or some audiences for content) where digital opens up possibilities that simply didn’t exist in print.
IB: As a company, is OUP Canada seeing demand from professors/schools for alternatives to print, and how has this impacted your strategic planning?
DS: Most important for us is the ability to “hold” content in forms that can be distributed through a variety of channels and methods — as traditional printed books, as digital files, and so on. In most cases so far where instructors want an alternative to print, it’s because what they were trying to do was not very well suited to print. Print lends itself to narrative, and while there are segments of educational publishing that are very narrative-based, there are other segments that really involve the delivery of discrete “chunks” of information in a way akin to encyclopedias and databases. So a big part of our strategic planning is making sure we can deliver content in different ways, and trying to anticipate in what form the market will want content delivered to them.
IB: Where do companies like Symtext and products like Liquid Textbooks fit into the publishing landscape?
DS: My view is that what the digital world has lacked until now is an effective delivery channel. After all, publishers never (or at least very rarely) delivered content directly to customers. We utilize intermediaries — bookstores, of course! Companies like Symtext open a new channel to end-users. How a sales channel is configured inevitably affects how a product looks, so one would expect a product that’s delivered digitally — the Liquid Textbook — to look and feel different than a traditional book.
IB: It’s early days yet, but having made the decision to utilize a digital publishing platform, what would you share with other publishers as they assess the market and their position within it?
DS: I think publishers need to keep the needs of end-users in mind and not get swept away by the enthusiasms of the moment. Something big is going on, but publishing has been through big changes before, and one would hope that coming out the other side of the current transitional period we would see an era in which more information is available in more formats more readily to more people. Incidentally, that’s a much different thing from everything being free! As Dr Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote but for money,” and the same applies to editors and publishers. So there has to be a commercial (or at least a cost recovery) mechanism that supports the distribution of information in digital as well as traditional print forms. That’s one of the appealing things about Symtext’s model — it provides content affordably to end-users while still compensating content creators.
I know I’m showing my age when I admit the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word “tweet” is the incredibly annoying yellow bird from the old Warner Bros. cartoons. (A point worthy of Trivial Pursuit: did you know Tweety Bird is male?)
But now of course “tweet” is what you do on Twitter (come to think of it, a perfect medium for Tweety Bird: presumably Sylvester would be his #1 follower) and not to be left behind, Oxford is there.
First of all, our lexicographers monitor Twitter for new words and usages, as this recent blog posting explains:
Second, OUP Canada itself is on Twitter. You can sign up to receive our tweets right here:
I don’t know if they’ll be of the same compulsive interest that Tweety Bird was to Sylvester, but sign up and see!
“This is an old team trying to learn a new trade.” That was how legendary broadcaster Ed Murrow introduced the first episode of his CBS TV show “See it Now,” back on November 18, 1951. Murrow had come to prominence with his radio broadcasts from London during the Second World War. Now he and his CBS News colleagues were making the transition from radio to television, which in 1951 was about as new as a new medium could get.
(The era has been popularized for a whole new generation in George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck,” which I wholeheartedly recommend.)
These days book publishers feel much the same way Murrow did. After all, book publishing is a much older trade than radio journalism was in 1951, and the transition from the world of ink-on-dead-trees to photons-emanating-from-a-screen is a much bigger leap than from radio to TV.
Nor does Murrow’s own experience necessarily make one feel better. Most of Murrow’s team (including Murrow himself) never really did learn their new trade all that well, and the first stars of television news — CBS’s Walter Cronkite and NBC’s Chet Huntley and David Brinkley — were of a later generation.
I don’t know that book publishers are going to navigate the current transition any better — if as well — than the “Murrow boys” did. But at heart, whether it’s book publishing, the Web, radio, or TV, it’s all about the effective communication of ideas. Oxford University Press has been in that business a long time: since the late 1400s in the UK, and since 1904 here in Canada. Over that time, we’ve had to learn new trades time and time again. (Anybody remember linotype machines?) My bet is we’ll do it again. This new website and blog are just a tentative toe poked into the surf.
But it’s a start!
P.S. For more on Murrow and “See It Now,” check out the Museum of Broadcast Communications.