Editorials & Commentary

An MPubber’s Experience at eBook Craft and Tech Forum, or, What I Learned at Nerd Camp

by Jessica Riches

It’s been about a month since eBook Craft and Tech Forum, and even that is not enough time for me to have absorbed all the information the conference offered. If further evidence were required to show the sheer volume, consider that I have found myself writing a 1000+ word blog post just to begin describing it. I’ve broken it up into three parts, one for each day, but I only have one thing to say, ultimately: if you’re looking to educate yourself on ebooks and data, this conference is the absolute best place to do it.

Day One: Diving into #eprdctn

I started at base camp with the workshop day. The group was small, not even a third of what the final day would draw, but the sessions were focused on how to simplify and further the work of making ebooks. I learned about document object models, troubleshooting pagination, incorporating Javascript into ebooks, and building book apps the absolute for-dummies way. Questions swirled in my brain: Why is pagination hard to get right? How might I introduce interactivity into an ebook? How do loops work?

My highlight of the day was a rousingly polite discussion on the future of ebook standards led by Dave Cramer. Intended as a stitch-and-bitch session, it manifested with all of the stitching (literally: knitting needles were present) and none of the bitching. I found it both enlightening and refreshingly similar to what we do all the time in the MPub program: talk about problems, brainstorm solutions, extrapolate on trends to try to imagine where things are going. It was also an eye-opening example of how smart the conference attendees really are.

Day Two: The Bigger Picture of #eprdctn

The second day was decidedly less cozy, and the space expanded to accommodate the #eprdctn masses. Accessibility was a hot topic throughout the day, with various speakers weighing in. I learned about the issue from the perspectives of ebook reading apps, librarians, accessibility groups, and production people, and their combined weight went a long way to convincing me that, like ebook production itself, accessibility is not a fringe problem; it belongs at the centre of any conversation about contemporary publishing. It can be a tricky discussion for an industry that often relies on various types of privilege, but if I learned one thing from this conference, it’s that accessibility is not just a question of morality—it’s also a question of efficiency affecting the entire supply chain (and also morality). If we’re going to do something, like make an ebook, let’s just do it right the first time, no?

And again Dave Cramer rose as the eBook Craft conference all-star, at least as far as I’m concerned. He gave a fascinating and thoroughly understandable talk breaking down the process of digital-rights-management encryption. It was riddled with Moby Dick references, which probably went a long way towards comforting the book crowd during the math-heavy parts, and it was paced so perfectly that it would have been hard to avoid becoming absorbed. Not that I wanted to. It was, as I say, fascinating.

Day Three: I Love (Lieutenant-Commander) Data

Free datanerd cookiesI began the third day, the Tech Forum day, very poorly indeed. A Toronto transit meltdown resulted in me missing Noah Genner’s breakdown of BookNet data—and that, let me tell you, is a real tragedy for someone who identifies strongly as a <datanerd>. Fortunately, I was met by swag, and from that moment, I knew that Tech Forum would be the best day yet. Cookies, pins, free books: I am eminently bribable.

The free stuff was only the first sign of the great things to come, though. The second was the schedule card, which told me that, at any given point during the day, I was going to have to choose between three different sessions. High stakes, indeed.

The decision was tough, but I can speak very highly of the sessions I did attend. My favourite—of the whole conference, in fact—was Erica Leeman’s investigation of Amazon keywords. Erica, in addition to being an all-around delightful human being, is a librarian-turned-publisher who embodied a spirit of systematic inquiry that I found inspiring. By carefully and deliberately altering metadata, she was able to find a (partial) answer to the perennial question of book publishing: but what is Amazon really up to? The results were both unsurprising and somewhat irrational, but at least now we know that—news flash!—Amazon can’t always be trusted to make sense.

The conference closed with a couple of high-powered speakers, Nathan Maharaj of Kobo and Robert Wheaton of Penguin Random House, whose respective keynote talks on understanding book buyers and facing the challenges of a changing media landscape spoke to two of the most pressing issues in today’s publishing world. The presentations were, truthfully, quite reminiscent of things said at SFU’s Emerging Leaders summit, and not only because the speakers hailed from the same companies. Rather, they mirrored the kind of long-sighted, big-picture approach to publishing that the MPub program excels at. They made for a fitting close to a conference that started with hands-on learning.

Summing Up

This was an incredible conference, and I was so lucky to have the opportunity to attend it. It may have been a lot of information, but it was worth every exhausted brain cell. The balance of practical and theoretical concerns was perfect and the cookie game? That was definitely on point.

To future MPubbers: you should really, absolutely, definitely apply to go. As wonderful as our program is—and after to speaking to several graduates of other publishing programs, I feel ready to assert that our program is, in fact, the best one (#unbiasedopinion)—there is no better place than this conference to learn about ebooks and things that computers can help with. There is certainly no better place to get inspired by the people who do these things every day.

BookNet’s conference isn’t just for the nerds. It’s for anyone who has ever questioned the role that digital technologies can play, now and in the future.

My Top Five Sessions to See:

  1. Demystifying the Inner Workings of Amazon Keywords, Erica Leeman
  2. Beyond Good and Evil: The Nuts and Bolts of DRM, Dave Cramer
  3. The End of Broadcast Media and Publishing’s Hidden Radicalism, Robert Wheaton
  4. How I Built an Automated Ebook Production Platform—and You Can, Too!, Nellie McKesson
  5. Bionic Bookselling, Nathan Maharaj

Playful Generative Art: Computer-Mediated Creativity and Ephemeral Expressions

WEDNESDAY, February 8, 2017
7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Room 1800 (SFU Harbour Centre)
Fee: Free (to reserve a seat, please email pubworks@sfu.ca)

“Generative art” is a blanket term for any creative work produced in part through programmatic or algorithmic means. “Playful generative art” makes use of highly technical disciplines—computer programming, statistics, graphic design, and artificial intelligence—to produce chat bots, digital poetry, visual art, and even computer-generated “novels.” These pieces may be motivated by serious social or political issues, but the expressions are decidedly unserious, often short-lived or quickly composed. Creators working in this medium are rarely artists first—as programmers, designers, game developers, and linguists, they use the tools of their trade in unexpected and delightful ways. Generative art also has much to teach us about issues at the intersection of ethics and technology: what is the role of the artist in a human/machine collaboration; what is our responsibility when we design programs that talk with real people; how do we curate and study ephemeral digital works? Digital artists, writers, technologists, and anyone interested in media studies are invited to attend.

Guest Speaker:


lizadalyLiza Daly
is a software engineer and occasional corporate executive who lives in Boston. She is currently focusing on providing technical assistance to non-profits that work to uphold civil rights and protect vulnerable populations. Her personal projects revolve around digital art, interactive narrative, and digital publishing. Formerly she was CTO at Safari and prior to that, founded a digital publishing company called Threepress, which Safari acquired. Her new company is World Writable. She has been quoted about “Digital Detox” and the effects of the iPad on reading (NYT, 2010), ebooks in the cloud (Wired, 2011), and on strategies to help introverts network (FastCompany, 2015). Liza has presented about great engineering teams and digital publishing. She wrote a short book on Next-Generation Web Frameworks in Python (O’Reilly, 2007), which, she says, is “out of date so please don’t read it”.


John Willinsky Honoured with SSHRC Impact Award

John Willinaky onstage
John Willinsky in his bandleader role.

On November 22, 2016, John Willinsky, professor (part-time) in the SFU Publishing Program, was awarded the 2016 Connection Award at a Social Science and Humanities Research Council ceremony held in Ottawa. The Connection Award is one of SSHRC’s five annual Impact Awards, recognizing the highest level of achievement among Canadian scholars working in the social sciences and humanities. The Connection Award recognizes outstanding contributions in facilitating the flow and exchange of research within the academic community and beyond. In Willinsky’s case, this was achieved through his Public Knowledge Project (PKP) at SFU and Stanford University, which has grown into a major pillar in the movement to provide open access to research and scholarship. Read more


SFU Publishing Workshops Underway – Still Time to Register!

Publishing may evoke the sights and smells of books, but it is much, much broader and in the digital age, publishers and publishing come in all shapes and forms.

Bloggers, copyeditors, community news content creators, and academic writers and editors are all part of publishing. This summer we have workshops in everything from grammar and copyediting to analytics to creating ebooks. Our instructors are drawn from the top publishing and technology professionals in Canada and work closely with SFU to create the most relevant curriculum possible.

As part of our university’s 50th anniversary celebrations, registrants can receive 20% off most workshops – use code PUB2016 at checkout.

In addition, APSA members can now access their tuition funds to cover costs of non-credit workshops and courses!

Register today and take advantage of two great opportunities!

Suzanne Norman

SFU Publishing. 

http://publishing.sfu.ca/



Trying not to drop breadcrumbs in Amazon’s store

"Your margin is my opportunity" ~ Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Last week while on a day trip to Seattle, I decided to make a stop at Amazon’s first[1] “Brick and Mortar” store, in the University of Washington neighbourhood of University Village.

I had two goals in mind. I wanted to see if I could get a personal book recommendation from an employee and I wanted to purchase a book without leaving any data. I am not averse to providing personal information, but I like to have the choice.

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David Ryder—© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP

Now the company was moving into the physical space. How consumer-centric would it be?

As I wandered into Amazon’s first physical book store, I was struck by nostalgia for the small independent bookstores. Amazon has gone full circle. The small independent bookstores were decimated by massive, multi-city block stores such Chapters in Canada and Barnes and Noble in the US. In turn, Amazon’s entry into the online bookselling business in the late 1990s had, by the early 2000s, badly bruised the competition. Books began to take a back seat to lifestyle merchandize, kitschy cards, stationary and stuffies. Amazon grew bigger, squeezed publishers on pricing, and further backed the physical bookstores into a corner. Books were longer realizing a sustainable margin for the big chains. By 2010, Amazon dominated book selling through online sales of print books, and leading the way in eBook sales and its proprietary electronic reader – the Kindle.

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Photograph: Suzanne Norman

The Seattle storefront reminded me of a modest neighbourhood book store in a great community setting. There was a cupcake shop and kids toy store nearby, and kids were playing on an outside playground. People were coming out of Amazon chatting and smiling, heading off to get a coffee and talk books.

An employee greeted us inside the store. She held an electronic gadget in her hand and smiled warmly as she beckoned toward the inside of the 7400 square foot store. In the very centre of the room, sat a huge flat screen TV. I am not sure if it was 4K, but the three kids sitting in front of it sure looked happy. They were playing the iOS-born Crossy Road using Amazon Fire TV.

 

Next to the TV was a table bedazzled with Kindles of all makes and models. A salesperson was talking to a customer about Amazon’s Digital Assistant Alexa (allegedly named in tribute to the Library of Alexandria). “Alexa” is actually the wake-up word used to activate Amazon’s Echo[2], a voice command device for the “smart home”, which answers questions, reads audio books, orders pizza, and becomes increasingly better at offering suggestions and choices the more data “she” has to analyse.

The more questions you ask of Alexa and the more you interact with it, the more it can “help make your life easier”, assures the salesperson. The customer is clearly unsure as to how all this works and suggests that it might make too much personal information freely available.

The salesperson quietly tells him that the information collected by Alexa is used to enhance the customer experience; to make shopping easier. Developed for the voice-activated “smart home ecosystem”, Alexa also personalizes search results for pretty much anything: books to vacations and, of course, helps the user order or restock items through Amazon.com.

Not having access to Alexa in Canada, I was completely enthralled, but I was getting data-saturated.

I refocused on books and decided to ask the nice employee who greeted us at the door if she might be able to help me find a book. She whipped out her device and asked me what title I wanted. I said I was looking for a recommendation of some titles. I told her I wanted to buy something for a friend who was interested in sports writing, more specifically, newspaper sports writers’ work outside of their journalism work.

She frowned and said she was sorry. She could only search by title and that she did “not know all the books in the store.” She suggested I try the Sports, Entertainment, Biography and Reference sections. She assured me that all the books in the store were 4 or 4.5 stars. I asked what that referred to and she said all the books in the store were curated according to the reviews at Amazon.com.

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Photograph: Suzanne Norman

 

I walked to the Sports section and browsed some titles. I found an anthology of sports writing. It looked good. I checked the price on the back – $14.95. Knowing that Amazon would use the online price, I walked back to the employee and asked what the barcode on the cards attached the shelf was for, pretty certain it was a way to get the online price. She told me it was for internal inventory control.

On my way back to the shelf I ran into another employee. I showed him my book and asked if I could find the online price. He led me to a price checker. And there I discovered the book was listed at $11.99. Perfect, I thought. I did not have to give any personal data and I will get a nice discount. As I turned to leave, the employee suggested I also download the Amazon app. All I had to do was click the tiny camera icon on the app I could scan any price by using the bar code on the shelf to get the lowest price.

I said I was told the barcode was for internal inventory control. He looked baffled and told me they use the code to allow customer access to the most up-to-date online discounts. He noted that the online prices were always fluctuating “for various reasons” and that instead of changing the physical cards on the shelf, they just do it electronically.  Makes sense.

I download the app and head to the children’s section. Already I knew by even using Amazon’s WiFi on my phone my data footprint was becoming visible, but I was not planning to log in to the app, just use it to check prices.

I scanned one children’s book and I got the prize in Canadian dollars – more than the American cover price. Not good, but not too surprising given the current exchange rate.

I scanned another title. This time, I was instructed to log in. I would just go buy my books. I did not HAVE to log in anyway, I could always use the scanner, but if I did log in would I get a better price based on my own shopping habits? Would I get a “personalized” price? I did not see how they could be that customized (yet) since the sales person was scanning the book itself. And as I did not log in to the app, I have no idea what steps I would have been taken through on my phone.

Ha, I thought. Minimal data breadcrumbs and I have two books, an enjoyable shopping experience (for the most part – still wondering about the internal inventory control comment – and I have US cash so I don’t have to worry about the weak Canadian dollar in the purchase.

“You have saved 35%!”  the beautifully-dressed salesperson told me. Great, I think, and hand her my two American twenty-dollar bills. Her brow wrinkles and she says, “I am sorry. We are a cashless store.”

What?? I have no US credit card on me, and using my Canadian Visa is going to wipe out my discount and probably even add to the list price. I ask why in the world Amazon doesn’t take cash.

She smiles and says, “We want to replicate the online experience as much as possible.”

“But, you’re a physical store with physical books and I have physical money.”

She was sorry, she said.

I handed her my credit card. I could almost feel my data downloading into the Amazon vortex as my card slid through the machine. So much for avoiding the data trap…

“Have a wonderful day!” I heard from behind me as I headed out the door and thought about the rumoured expansion of Amazon’s physical stores into everything, not just books…

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Photograph: Suzanne Norman

 

[1] The location opened in the fall of 2015, with plans for a second one for San Diego, and according to some industry experts, as part of rollout of hundreds more.

[2] (Just last week Amazon released two new “siblings” for Alexa: the Echo Dot and Tap).

 


Zotero — Reference Manager & Social Bibliography

The Building of a Bibliography for Simon Fraser University’s Digital Aldine Collection

 

by Reese Irwin

Introduction:

In searching for a bibliography of Aldus Manutius on Google, one would discover something much like this brief, annotated bibliography from Oxford Bibliographies:

Screenshot 2015-11-20 15.11.59.png

This format, as an example, is static, cannot be modified or built upon except by the website administrator, and the best a user or reader can do is to “[e]-mail [the] Citation” through a link. Bibliographies, in large part, have not been brought into the twenty-first century: into the realm of sharing, modifying, and commenting that has become popularized by social media. As people grow used to this type of communication, various services have become increasingly not only digital, but social. Yet the academic bibliography remains a self-contained object, often constructed as a PDF or static webpage, as above. These forms are contrary to the social landscape, arguably because they are academic works. But why should academic work be restricted to itself, unable to be changed once created? Why not become an ongoing, social collaboration of those who are passionate about a subject in question? Read more


Brand Meets Audience: Interview with Stephen Collis

Brand Meets Audience is a podcast that explores how brands are built, interact with audiences, the challenges they encounter during these interactions, and how the people at the heart of these brands. innovate to achieve their goals.


On May 29th, Trevor Battye interviewed Stephen Collis (http://beatingthebounds.com/), activist, poet, and SFU English professor. Here’s the interview:

 

 

Stephen Collis’ many books of poetry include The Commons (Talon Books 2008; second edition 2014), On the Material (Talon Books 2010—awarded the BC Book Prize for Poetry), To the Barricades (Talon Books 2013),http://talonbooks.com/authors/stephen-collis and (with Jordan Scott) DECOMP (Coach House 2013). He has also written two books of literary criticism, a book of essays on the Occupy Movement, Dispatches from the Occupation (Talon Books 2012), and a novel, The Red Album (BookThug 2013).

In 2014, while involved in anti-pipeline activism, he was sued for $5.6 million by US energy giant Kinder Morgan, whose lawyers read his writing in court as “evidence.” His forthcoming book is Reading Wordsworth in the Tar Sands. He lives near Vancouver, on unceded Coast Salish Territory, and teaches at Simon Fraser University.


Brand Meets Audience: Trevor Battye Interviews Chris Kennedy

Brand Meets Audience is a podcast that explores how brands are built, interact with audiences, the challenges they encounter during these interactions, and how the people at the heart of these brands. innovate to achieve their goals.

On Feb 22, Trevor Battye interviewed Chris Kennedy (http://cultureofyes.ca/), Superintendent of Schools / CEO with the West Vancouver School District. Here’s the interview:

 

Chris Kennedy has taught secondary English and Social Studies, and been both an elementary and secondary school principal.One of the most progressive voices in BC education, Chris has been featured by Macleans Magazine as one of the 100 Young Canadians to Watch and his work has been featured in various local and national publications. In 2010 he was named one of the Top 10 Canadian Newsmakers in Educational Technology , in 2011 Business in Vancouver named him to their top Forty under 40 list and in 2012 Chris was named Canada’s Top Education Blogger.Kennedy is a writer and presenter on personalized learning and infusing technology in the classroom. Chris balances his professional passions with life as the father of four young children. You can also follow Chris on Twitter @http://twitter.com/chrkennedy<

Check out Chris’s TED Talks:

A Parent’s wish for his Children.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzvrDkzKyl8

What is Smart
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6TuO88nbxA


Trevor Battye is a partner at Clevers Media, a consulting firm based in Vancouver, with clients across Canada (Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Newfoundland) and in Europe, that specializes in marketing, branding, website development, and advertising sales across various media (print, online, social media). Trevor co-founded Clevers Media with Clare E Coughlan in April 2008. He began work in marketing and advertising sales in 2005 with Rebus Creative, where he managed program guide advertising sales for several arts festivals including Word on the Street Vancouver, the See 7 Theatre Seriesand the Vancouver International Film Festival, and worked on fundraising for the BC Book Prizes Adopt a Library Program. Trevor also handled advertising sales for Geist magazine, which he joined in the fall of 2005.

Trevor is currently a regular speaker at Publishing @ SFU and a contributor to the Vancouver Sun Book Club.


ALL the Tech: The latest publishing innovations from Tech Forum

SFU’s Master of Publishing program has famously positioned itself as a leader in the discussion on the future of the publishing industry. With current and future digital publishing trends always on the minds of MPub grads, it was now my responsibility to see how the discussion sounded outside the walls of Harbour Centre at BookNet Canada’s annual eBook Craft and Tech Forum conferences. I wanted to know, for example, how real-world professionals felt about proposed digital workflows. What were some skepticisms around new production technologies? Were publishers ready to disrupt or to maintain the industry?

There was no shortage of answers to any of these questions, and I tried to parse through twenty hours of mind-bending speeches from the industry’s most notable innovators, diviners, and disruptors. Here are four things I learned. Read more