Sunday, March 30, 2014

MediaWeek (V8, N13): Lonely Planet, Digital & Comics, Philip Roth Inteview, UCal Online Courses +More

Here are this week's articles at my flipboard magazine: http://flip.it/rmD2x

Outside magazine takes a look at Lonely Planet and wonders, Can it Survive?
Less than a year later, Kelley saw an opportunity. Lonely Planet, the Melbourne, Australia, guidebook company, seller of 120 million books, was struggling. In 2007, the BBC had bought Lonely Planet from its founders, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, for $210 million. Profits had since cratered due to the global recession, appreciation of the Australian dollar, and the struggling bonok industry.
Kelley offered $77 million for the company and closed the deal on April 1, 2013. There was no search for a new boss; he'd already tapped Houghton to captain the sinking ship. A few weeks before closing, the president of BBC Worldwide, Marcus Arthur, announced the impending purchase. Houghton, who was less than three years out of college, made the rounds at Lonely Planet's international offices. In London, before he introduced himself, someone projected an image of the biblical scene of Daniel in the lion's den on a screen.
"That pissed me off," he recalls, "but I tried not to show it."
Staffers were predictably bewildered. "I figured there had to be more to the story than 'reclusive billionaire hires 24-year-old with no known experience to run the joint,' " a veteran Lonely Planet author e-mailed me. "But I think it's as silly and fucked-up as it sounds."
Never a big comics person but I've always been interested in their particular transition from print to web.  Here a CNet story about the relationship between print and digital:
CEO David Steinberger said that the people have now downloaded 180 million comics since the app was released five years ago, a jump of 80 million from October 2012.
As digital comics have become widely accepted by publishers, retailers, and readers, the format has not been without its growing pains. While comics are available digitally from a wide range of marketplaces, including Apple iBooks and Amazon, Comixology undoubtedly offers the widest selection of major North American publishers. That relationship to the marketplace caused havoc when Comixology's servers crashed in March , following a Marvel Comics giveaway.
Another controversy erupted a few months later, when Comixology pulled a new issue of the extremely popular comic book Saga from its iOS app without warning .
It was an attempt to avoid a conflict with Apple, said Steinberger. "We put out a ton of books, almost 300 a week. It's tough to expect any channel to review every single one of those," he said. 
A Daily Telegraph interview with Philip Roth:
“The struggle with writing is over” is a recent quote. Could you describe that struggle, and also, tell us something about your life now when you are not writing?
Everybody has a hard job. All real work is hard. My work happened also to be undoable. Morning after morning for 50 years, I faced the next page defenceless and unprepared. Writing for me was a feat of self-preservation. If I did not do it, I would die. So I did it. Obstinacy, not talent, saved my life. It was also my good luck that happiness didn’t matter to me and I had no compassion for myself. Though why such a task should have fallen to me I have no idea. Maybe writing protected me against even worse menace.
Now? Now I am a bird sprung from a cage instead of (to reverse Kafka’s famous conundrum) a bird in search of a cage. The horror of being caged has lost its thrill. It is now truly a great relief, something close to a sublime experience, to have nothing more to worry about than death.
Janet Napolitano is the newish President of the University of California System and recently had some comments on online education that caught some off guard (LATimes)
Napolitano, who took over at UC in September, made her remarks Monday during an appearance sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California. Some 500 spectators were present in person and, ahem, online. Her remarks can be seen on YouTube here.
Asked by PPIC President Mark Baldassare about UC initiatives in the online space, Napolitano moved promptly to separate fact from fantasy. She called the development of online courses merely "a tool for the toolbox."
For higher education, she said, "It's not a silver bullet, the way it was originally portrayed to be. It's a lot harder than it looks, and by the way if you do it right it doesn't save all that much money, because you still have to have an opportunity for students to interact with either a teaching assistant or an assistant professor or a professor at some level."
As for preparing the courses, "if they're really going to be top-quality, that's an investment as well." Taking aim at the dream that online learning might be most useful for students needing help in remedial courses in subjects like English and math, Napolitano said: "I think that's false; those students need the teacher in the classroom working with them."
Online courses might be all right for capitalizing on UC's multi-campus structure by allowing students at one campus to take courses developed at another, she said, but she indicated that there's still got to be human interaction.
Could (should) Costco be a role model for libraries? (David Rothman via LLRX)
The rage is to compare everything in creation to a business. But be careful when doing so with America's public libraries. They are civic and service institutions, not profit-making corporations. A major caveat!Just the same, in a library context, I was intrigued when President Obama once again singled out Costco for its success. It's delighted shareholders in recent years while paying hourly workers around $21 per hour on the average. Granted, Costco isn't your typical retail chain. It focuses on upscale markets (and bulk purchases). By contrast, public libraries need to serve everyone, especially the poor. That's yet another caveat.
Still, in Costco, I see a few lessons for public libraries in the digital era:
1. Costco has a strong retail corporate culture. It invests in its people and promotes from within as opposed to mindlessly going the usual MBA route. First-year employees get several hundred hours of formal training. Talk about ways to maintain customer-service standards!
Likewise public libraries should strive to help staffers adjust to the digital era while hewing to traditional library values and culture. Alas, budget cuts often make adequate professional development impossible. A national digital library endowment could assist in some cases, besides helping to pay for e-books and other digital content. Books by themselves aren't enough. Along with teachers, librarians can encourage books' absorption. It can happen through means ranging from story-telling hours to family-literacy drives updated for the era of econo-tablets and e-books on cellphones.
Did the letters of Mark Twain transform Mark Twain (Salon):
In his four months in Hawaii he wrote twenty-five letters for the Union, watched a volcano erupt, saw native girls skinny-dip in the sea, ate horrifying amounts of tropical fruit, and tried and failed to surf. The contrast with San Francisco exhilarated him: here he walked on coral, not cobblestone, and smelled jasmine and oleander instead of offal and sewage. Like Stoddard, he found the balmy, beautiful setting deeply relaxing: during five weeks in Maui, he took a much-needed holiday. “I have not written a single line, & have not once thought of business, or care, or human toil or trouble or sorrow or weariness,” he wrote his sister‑in‑law. But Hawaii wasn’t purely a vacation: it also gave Twain invaluable training in travel writing, the genre that would produce his first major book, “The Innocents Abroad.” He took Union readers on a galloping tour of a kingdom rife with lurid customs and costumes, rich with sugar and whales, infested with British, French, and American interlopers, and governed by the last of the great Hawaiian kings, Kamehameha V
From Twitter:
Oregonian Plans New System For Compensating Reporters
Harvard vs. Yale: Open-Access Publishing Edition  
College textbook startup heads to 'Shark Tank'

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