Links of the Week, March 22nd, 2011

Welcome to a middle-of-the-week roundup (as I said last Friday, this coming Friday I’ll be running around making an event happen, so you get links today, and then a week from Friday.)

Here, on this blog:

You’ll notice I’ve rearranged the sidebars – added is a new box with quick links to some of my favorite posts and post series. (I think the new layout works a bit better, but please let me know if something doesn’t work for you.)

You’ll see that one of those links is to Copyright Videos: this is the round-up of videos about copyright. My focus was on videos that were short enough (5-10 minutes) enough to be played briefly at the beginning of a discussion, but that also informative enough to give students or teachers something to dig into. (There are a few longer ones that I thought were especially interesting.)

I looked fairly broadly, but I’m sure there’s lots of amazing stuff I missed. If you have a favorite that fits the criteria, please leave it in comments or use the contact form.

Information bits and pieces:

Brian, at Swiss Army Librarian, has a neat post about the American Library Association Library, which posts some of the reference questions they receive (with answers) and links to some of their other resources. Brian also has a post showing how Delicious (whose future is still up in the air) and Diigo compare, using the same links and basic structure.

Joyce Valenza shares several posters she and her practicum student, Jenni Stern, made to illustrate how both traditional and new information skills matter.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan has been about how information is communicated. I don’t want to do a roundup of links, but I do want to highlight two that I found particularly interesting. One was a conversation on my favorite Minnesota Public Radio show, Midmorning, talking about news and journalism relating to the quake. It’s actually one of the least smooth conversations I’ve heard from the host in a long while, but that shows how hard it is to have a conversation about some of the deeper issues (and it does settle down into the goal topic eventually.)

I’m also fascinated by the geek comic xkcd’s illustration of radiation levels. You can see some more about the design over on their blag, and his source for the data has a different presentation of it (with more about some specific effects) as well. (She’s a senior reactor operator at the Reed Research Reactor, and as she says “.. one of my many duties is being aware of radiation levels in the facility and adjusting my behavior appropriately.”)

Connecting online:

There’s a great post about what social networking might mean in academia from the Tenured Radical. I definitely agree that it’s much more about making things easier than anything else.

And in the latest round of privacy issues in online settings, Etsy (which has been moving towards adding more social networking tools) made people’s past purchases visible online. Fortunately, they turned this off, but in the meantime, there were some interesting posts about the specific issues of privacy in a purchase setting. Ars Technica has a summary, and Yvi has a roundup of several other posts, as does The Consumerist.

Jonathan Martin has a great post on edSocialMedia about the dilemmas and tensions of blogging as an educator. Personally, I blog because writing for an audience (even a very small one!) makes me think about what I say (and how I say it) in ways that improve my life (and my professional work), because I like sharing neat stuff with other people (hi, librarian), and because it also helps me have a record of what I was thinking about (at least partly) at a particular time.

(I’ll also be honest here and add that I’ve spent more time on the professional blog rather than other forms of writing in the last 10 months or so because it’s also a great way to demonstrate my technical skills, information literacy interests, and much more to potential employers. But I’d been blogging in other settings long before that, and knew that once I found the right tone and focus for this space, it’d be great, which it is.)


The big conversation this week has been about ebooks, and more specifically pricing. First, there’s the question of how much money is saved by having an electronic version rather than a print version. iReaderReview has an older post from 2009 breakdown of costs with links to some other analysis. (but the print book numbers probably haven’t changed that much: I wanted something for context.) Here’s another take from an eBook publisher. There are definitely various ways to look at pricing, but the short answer is: the costs aren’t always where readers expect.

(The rest of this gets long, so you get a ‘continue for more’ cut at this point.)

The short answer is that the distribution of print books (printing them, and shipping them) runs about 10% or ($2-3 a hardcover), while retail stores usually take 45% of the cost (for a hardcover, that’s $12-13 or so) because they have to staff the store, rent the space, etc. all of which are expensive. Wholesalers (the people who sell to retail stores – Baker and Taylor, Ingram, etc.) take about 10%, or about $2.50 for a hardcover.

(A friend has passed on a post from an Australian publisher which does a different breakdown on the numbers, with higher publishing costs – however, I note that it doesn’t break out editing, etc. and I wonder what those are. Anyway, I include it for another set of numbers.)

eBooks remove the printing and shipping costs, and the wholesaler costs, and some amount of the retail costs – but ebook creators still have to create multiple formats for each book, and distribute them to different retail outlets, and ebook sellers have to maintain software and databases and answer support questions [1] and so on, which have their own costs. So we’re still talking about 40-55% of the cost of the hardcover book still being relevant, or so, which leaves us with somewhere between about  $10.80 and $13.5 for the current system of publishing (advances paid to authors, professionals who edit, copy edit, design, and create cover art, publicity and marketing, etc.)

There are definitely some ways to streamline the system and reduce costs and/or raise sales to come out ahead, as Baen has found out to their profit and success. Some eBook publishers don’t pay advances, but do pay a larger percent in royalties – this reduces the up front cost. Looking for books online means that the cover may matter less (or at least differently), and some people choose stock covers or simple ones to reduce costs. Some people do all the digital formatting and layout themselves. (But not everyone has the skills or desire to do so – plus, it takes time away from the writer writing the next book.) And then there’s the whole complicated conversation about the role of an external editor with wide experience reviewing work (and the additional benefits of a trained and experienced copy editor.)

It’s definitely a still-evolving situation and ecosystem. So, more links on the topic, expressing various different approaches and thoughts.

[1] I can’t resist linking to my favorite tech support video, namely tech support for the book (captioned). But because it’s tangential, and lots of people have seen it, it’s a footnote, rather than up above.

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Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

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