Mai 18th, 2015

by Brian O’Leary …

[The 2015 Publishers Forum featured four conference themes – strategy and goals, the role of information technology, customer focus and new business models. Closing the conference, I moderated a panel that considered those themes from the standpoints of a publishing startup, a digital-only imprint and a publishing innovation lab.

Titled ›Outlook: Perspectives On The Road Ahead‹, the panel explored what works, and what doesn’t work, for those laboring at the leading edges of our industry. To frame the discussion, I provided a brief overview that returned to my persistent call for a shift in our approach to creating, managing and distributing content. Those remarks are presented here.]

Three years ago, the first time I joined the conversation at Publishers Forum, I gave a talk titled ›Context First‹. In it, I talked about the ways that moving from a mindset of ›product‹ – a book – to ›service‹ or ›solutions‹ would change at least four things for publishers:

– …

So, that was three years ago.

Two years ago, Helmut von Berg asked me to develop a new talk, ›Disaggregating supply‹, that built upon some of these ideas. Toward the end of the talk, I invoked the words of a colleague and friend, John Maxwell, who had suggested that ›we needn’t take boundedness and completeness as a prescription for what serious media ought to be. Our challenge is to look beyond that.‹

“Context first” had proposed that we not use containers as the primary source of information. Instead, I asked that we consider them as vehicles to transmit what Hugh McGuire calls an “internally complete representation.” But, “internally complete” is not the same as “complete”.

I argued then that we’re inevitably moving toward what I called a “pre-book world”: a living representation of the development, refinement and extension of a particular work. That’s what we get with the web. At various points, an object – a book or an eBook, as examples – may be rendered, but as a subset of the greater representation.

Last year, I joined the conversation at Publishers Forum to talk about what I called ›An architecture of collaboration‹ – 12 things everyone here can do to prepare for a web-enabled future. Those 12 things included calls to:
– …

More than thirty-five years have passed since punk poet laureate Joe Strummer sang ›If you’ve been trying for years, we’ve already heard your song‹. Maybe that’s the case with my ideas, as well. To safeguard against that, we assembled a panel of three people working at the forefront of publishing innovation – a Publishers Forum collection of ›courageous new publishers‹, including:

Zoe Beck, Culturbooks
Benjamin Wüstenhagen, K-Lab Berlin
Jörg Rheinboldt, Axel Springer Plug and Play

A set of questions about the opportunities and challenges inherent in working at the leading edge of publishing guided that conversation. The questions were:
1. …
A future post will capture the content of that discussion.


Up and About in Amsterdam and London

Mai 17th, 2015

… they were around those tables because of a shift in power that has taken place throughout the media, and I slowly realised how little we have taken that shift into account and what it means for creativity in our businesses.

And who in our information business is organising this new creativity? …

If this is the case then some will feel that the creative role of the Data Architect is grossly under-recognised. I would agree, though the power in these roles, derived at once from a networked economy and from the rapid proliferation of intelligent ways of organising data like MarkLogic, is shown both in the scramble to recruit talent in this field and by the growing influence it has on budgets and expenditure. And this also raises a worry. If these people are the creative cadre of the future, are information businesses exposing them sufficiently to their customers. And given that customers never entirely told the truth in the long history of market research (a bit like political opinion polling?) do the designers of our solutions get enough observation time inside the customer context to discern where value may lie? We have the project development strategies (Agile et al) and we have the tools and structures, but do we have the evidence upon which to make decisions that will add value in contexts where our customers expect ever more customized responses from us?«


Facebook post by Wolfgang Blau (Director of Digital Strategy, The Guardian, London)

Mai 15th, 2015

»I had (the privilege) to give a couple of interviews to media journalists these last days and keep wondering: why are eight out of ten questions about the future of journalism predictably negative and why do they seem to keep asking the same questions over the last seven to eight years?
Here is the usual set of questions posed by so many European media journalists:


The Deniability of the Blog

Mai 12th, 2015

»Back in Germany after a weekend, I find that everything has changed. …

The speaker of the event, for me, was Anya Smit, the challenging university librarian from Utrecht. Designing a library which will soon be an entirely digital concept, she and her colleagues set aside the format limitations of ›book‹, or rather reconstruct them so that a blog becomes a ›book‹. I loved the openness of her approach and her disdain for limitations as to what a library might contain and how its knowledge exploration might be bounded. … in many ways this made an admirable book-end to Anya Smit’s talk, illustrating how completely we have removed ourselves from the age of format and how completely the chain of scholarly communication in a digitally networked world values contributions by impact and timing, and not by process and format.

And will this be exacerbated by the impact of Open Access? Deni pointed to the relative lack of impact of OA on publisher revenues, less than 1 % of which were derived from author publication fees. Given that publishers were the recipients of prophecies of doom and extinction from OA fundamentalists like Professor Stevan Harnad some years back, I had the temerity to tweet this at #fiesoleretreat15, wondering if that great warrior was prepared to acknowledge predictions unmet. I had the reply immediately: ›umm,where did I predict OA by (any date)?-Did say it could be provided overnight, was greatly overdue, optimal, and inevitable‹. Which demonstrates both the glories of the global conferencing of Twitter and my need to apologise to the Professor. I clearly misunderstood him to mean that it was coming before it was overtaken by other inevitabilities like the death of the journal, the end of the article and the decay of peer review!



Würth antwortet im digitalen Handelskrieg – mit 200 MEUR Invest in IT, davon 50 MEUR Invest in E-Commerce

Mai 9th, 2015

von Markus Fost

Ziel von Würth ist es, die Vorteile der einzelnen Vertriebskanäle möglichst intelligent zu verbinden: den großen Direktvertrieb, die Niederlassungen und die Internetangebote. Das Marktpotential könne zu 52 Prozent ausgeschöpft werden, wenn man die drei Kanäle miteinander verknüpfe, hat Würth errechnet. Dagegen kämen die Vertreter allein oder die Niederlassungen allein nur auf je neun Prozent Marktausschöpfung. ›Die Herausforderung ist, das Management der unterschiedlichen Kanäle zu beherrschen‹, sagt Friedmann. Er sieht Würth in einer vorteilhaften Position, verglichen mit reinen Internetanbietern. Würth könne und müsse dafür sorgen, den Kunden das Leben zu erleichtern, sei es mit einem qualifizierten Telefonservice oder einer App, die hilft, den genau richtigen Dübel für eine bestimmte Anwendung zu finden. Auch in der Zustellung geht Würth neue Wege, bietet etwa die Lieferung auf jede beliebige Baustelle oder in verschließbare Boxen am Auto des Kunden an.


A Stroll in the Tiergarten

Mai 4th, 2015

»It was almost May. The asparagus is just arriving and the rhubarb at its best. This can only be the backdrop for the annual Publishers’ Forum in Berlin, now celebrating its 12th year and consistently performing as the focus for publishing discussion in central Europe, and celebrating the global view Europeans now take of publishing in all its forms and marketplaces. This show is put on by Klopotek for the industry it serves, which is a service that its industry should appreciate. With some 260 delegates from Germany and central Europe, that appreciation certainly seems to be in place. This year’s theme ›How to Reconstruct Publishing: Competing Visions, Channels and Audiences‹, was the first under the direction of Dr Ruediger Wischenbart, but was as typically challenging as ever. A real debate about where we are going is still hard to find.

This conference does bilingual brilliantly, but it also does breakout sessions that create wonderful debate but mean I lose some agenda items. Thus I really wanted to hear Publishing goes Pop: instead I moderated a session with a small group in which a very valuable discussion took place. Across the table was an Open Access STM publisher from Poland and a consumer publishing marketing executive from Germany. The others at the table were left to listen as these two set out to demonstrate the parallels in their very different specialties and effectively draw together the themes of the conference. This was the antidote to any idea that publishing is pulling apart. Indeed, at the end of this I was convinced that the digital network is helping publishing of all types re-focus on the user, and services to the user, in a way that in the world of physically formatted publishing we could only pay lip service.


Why Don’t They Tell it Like it is?

Mai 3rd, 2015

Never before have German politicians so studiously avoided telling their countrymen the truth. That might be understandable given the troubled state of the world, but it’s still dangerous.

By Bernd Ulrich

It’s history, stupid!

Recently Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) celebrated the 75th birthday of former chairman Franz Müntefering, with a small dinner that only included his wife, two leading Social Democrats, a sociologist, a historian and two journalists. Mr. Müntefering didn’t want anything bigger and he explained why right at the beginning. He just wanted to talk – there simply wasn’t enough discussion about all the earthshaking and deeply unsettling events going on around the world at the moment.

That had to stop, he said, and presented his own take on matters: We Germans were Cold War sleepwalkers until the watershed events of 1989-90 briefly shocked us awake. We thought at the time, what horrible thing might happen if the world’s old West-East division fell? Then nothing did and we quickly became accustomed to the new reality: Democracy would grow stronger, Europe would grow together and Russia would recover economically and slowly become more democratic. Everything would be just fine and in our best interests.

A quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, according to Mr. Müntefering, we’ve woken up and it feels like a bad dream. Because everything happening now is just as we feared back then, but quickly dismissed. Russia has refused to accept the loss of its empire; Western democracy, once so secure in its friend-and-foe divisions, is slowly splintering; the European Union is losing its sense of direction, and the transatlantic alliance appears hollow after losing its common enemy, the Soviet Union. Not even the resurgence of an aggressive Russia appears to be enough to repair U.S.-E.U. ties damaged by everything from the war in Iraq to the NSA spying affair. How can all this be happening, asked Mr. Müntefering, with a 25-year delay?

As those present cleared their throats, the historian was the first to find his voice. A quarter of a century, he assured, wasn’t that much in terms of history. Just the blink of an eye, really. Well, that’s nice for history. But what about the people?


Translated by Marc Young


Warum sagen sie nicht, was ist?

Mai 3rd, 2015

Nie haben sich deutsche Politiker so sehr vor der Wahrheit gedrückt. Das ist angesichts der Krisen verständlich, aber gefährlich.

Ein Kommentar von Bernd Ulrich

It’s history, stupid!

Kürzlich richtete die SPD eine Feier zum 75. Geburtstag ihres alten Häuptlings Franz Müntefering aus. Ein Abendessen im kleinen Kreis, darunter seine Frau, zwei führende Genossen, ein Soziologie- und ein Geschichtsprofessor, zwei Journalisten. Mehr Feier wollte Müntefering nicht; gleich zu Anfang erklärte er, warum. Er wolle nur reden, so viel Grundstürzendes und Markerschütterndes geschehe zurzeit, und so wenig werde darüber diskutiert. So kann es nicht gehen, befand der ehemalige SPD-Chef und legte gleich eine These vor:

Wir waren Schlafwandler, beim Epochenbruch von 1989/90 hatten wir uns kurz erschreckt, dachten, wer weiß, was jetzt alles passiert, wenn die in West und Ost geteilte Welt aus ihrem Gehäuse springt. Dann passierte aber nichts Schlimmes, und wir wähnten uns in einer neuen Selbstverständlichkeit: Die Demokratie wird immer stärker, Europa wächst zusammen, Russland wird ökonomisch gesunden und allmählich immer demokratischer. Alles wird gut. In unserem Sinne.

Ein Vierteljahrhundert nach dem Fall der Mauer sind wir, so Müntefering, aufgewacht und fühlen uns dabei wie in einem bösen Traum. Denn jetzt passiert all das, was man damals befürchtet und dann rasch zu den Akten gelegt hatte: Russland bescheidet sich keineswegs mit dem Verlust seines Imperiums; die westlichen Parteiensysteme hatten seinerzeit den Verlust der bipolaren, in Freunde und Feinde säuberlich sortierten Ordnung leidlich überstanden, nun zerbrechen sie verspätet doch noch; die EU verliert ihre Richtungsgewissheit, und das transatlantische Bündnis wirkt nach dem Verlust des großen gemeinsamen Gegners Sowjetunion ausgehöhlt. Nicht einmal die Rückkehr eines aggressiven Russlands auf die Bühne genügt, um zu reparieren, was von Irak bis NSA zwischen den USA und EU alles schiefgelaufen ist. Wie kann es sein, schloss Müntefering seinen Vortrag, dass all dies mit 25 Jahren Verzögerung geschieht?

So sprach der alte Müntefering, und die Runde räusperte sich. Als Erster fand der Historiker seine Sprache wieder. Ein Vierteljahrhundert Verzögerung, tröstete er, das sei, historisch gesehen, ja nicht viel, im Grunde nur ein kurzes Einatmen der Geschichte. Ach so. Schön für die Geschichte. Und die Menschen?



Not Virtual, Just Reality

April 26th, 2015

… We know these things are growing apart but we seem reluctant to acknowledge the difference. [Nowhere] has this been more marked than in the newspaper industry, which strictly speaking we should now stop calling the newspaper industry. If we called it ›news media‹ we might get closer to seeing how differentiation is taking place, and mark the points at which the digital service elements are going out on a track that print can never follow, and creating information in formats which will become the hallmark of communication. They are the defining moments in the separation of print and digital, and we should point to them whenever some senior executive says (so many do, I am afraid) ›There will always be a market for print‹ or ›digital is neat but what are its real advantages for which I would pay extra‹.

They still say these things and there have been moments when I have thought the entire news industry would go the way of Yellow Pages, despite Vox, Buzzfeed, Fast Company (and that stubbornly non-innovative digital analogue of print, the Huffington Post). And then last week I saw surprizing green shoots of change, and not from the new digital news industry, but from those good souls who have huffed and puffed up and down the the peaks of inflated expectations a time or two, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The latter have been celebrating Nasdaq’s birthday in fine style. They have taken my pathetic wave metaphors in a different context into a graphers delight, a 3D journey around the index from its inception ( Use it on your mobile, walk round the room with it, or (get this!) get the WSJ headset and really appreciate it. This is not just a beautiful birthday card – you are looking at the way graphical information will be read, or, rather experienced, as the years go on. Here we move away from anything which can be ›printed‹, and once this style of activity does become the way in which we experience and record change, then only the network can deliver it.

But I would have to reserve special praise for what the New York Times did last week on an architectural review of the new Whitney Museum building (
This is a delight to the eye. Once you have seen this you will never want to read a review of a new building which does not include this type of 3D analytical effect. It enhances every readers’ appreciation of the points Michael Kimmelman is making, yet this is VR lite, needing no headset and simply deploying great VR graphics to display the planes and vistas of a new building in a moving dynamic. And until they start moving you think you are just encountering another illustration in text. This answers the question – what would you pay extra for – because it adds a new dimension to understanding which could only have come from this environment.


How APIs Can Make Publishing More Efficient

April 18th, 2015

By Emma Barnes

»As a rule, application programming interfaces, or APIs, aren’t easy to talk about.

For instance, you can’t have a debate about whether or not APIs are a good idea. That would be like arguing over whether the Internet is a good idea.

Instead, it’s easier to talk about what a modern API actually is. …

Modern web services make data available in that JSON format, at a perfectly ordinary web URL. And if you know some rudimentary programming, it’s straightforward to go to that URL, authenticate with your username and password and read the data. If the application’s API allows it, you can also send data. In practical terms, that means that even novice programmers can get computers to share information.

This has terrific, and by now well-known, implications for digital publishers. Take our metadata web app, Bibliocloud, which sends its data to the e-commerce platform Shopify via an API. In the same vein, publishers can write their own web apps and get them to ask Bibliocloud for up-to-date metadata to populate them.

From a publishers’ point of view, any efficiency gains from new web services are lost by repetitive web processes. If you have to type book data manually into your ebook platform, and then into your metadata system, and then into a rights marketplace, and then into retailer web forms and so on, it’s no better than the bad old days. APIs let us enter data in just once and get the computers to do the boring bit of sharing it around. And then things start look a lot more productive.

So when you’re considering your options from the plethora of web services coming to market, ask web service developers to show you their well-documented APIs as well as the functionality of their products. You’ll be headed toward a more strategically sound, better integrated investment.«