Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s been making news lately, not all of it good. The educational publisher announced a move last week into bankruptcy process and reorganization to eliminate $3.1 billion in debt. They also recently announced a content partnership with Barnes & Noble to put pre-loaded, institutional Nook collections in K-12 classrooms and the release of two enhanced iBooks titles on the new platform for iPad. The focus on K-12 markets drew flak on the e-reader blog beat for its limited scope, but the prospect of annual e-textbook licensing and the stability of institutional subscriptions seems like a unifying move for HMH.
There’s been a lot of digital action on the bookstore circuit these days. The recently-announced spin off of Barnes & Noble College Bookstores to the Nook division and their investment partnership with Microsoft will undoubtedly bring change to the massive chain, though plans have not yet been divulged. Follett, the second largest chain of college bookstores, announced its own partnership with the iPad publishing platform Inkling yesterday. The two plan to distribute iPad optimized textbooks to students through Follett college sites with more attractive payment options like a 3-chapter selection of the book and purchase through financial aid bolstered student accounts. This flurry of activity represents a definite wind change on the college bookstore frontier. The stores have course data and student access on their side and a pivot, even this late in the game, may let them stand in the face of the aggressive pricing and comprehensive coverage of competitors like Amazon.
Clarity is a newly-launched website meant to serve as a line of connection between startup royalty and the aspirational. The idea is similar to Ohours, but with cooler font and a greater emphasis on multitasking phone interviews over in-person meetings. The site was founded by Dan Martell, a lean startup guru and investor/advisor to sites like Hootsuite.
Clarity’s UI is gorgeous, very bright and lush with big, clean images. Though its mission is fairly straightforward, it offers a lot of flexibility for users in time and payment plans. Advisors are given the option to receive hourly payment for their service or donate their time to the charity of their choice. Clarity takes a transaction fee for paid calls (but not the charity ones) and plans to offer a freemium model in the future.
An intriguing idea has been floating around the library blogosphere inspired by Overdrive’s recently announced plans to expand into a new, $5 million headquarters and the potential implications for content and service. Amongst librarians miffed at Overdrive’s fund allocation in light of their consistent mediocrity there have been rumblings of a buyout. Not that we could afford it in its current state or even have a mechanism in place for such a venture, but the idea suggests an interesting possible future for digital book lending.
Amazon’s neat little private library also announced today a partnership with J.K.
Soldier accounts in the form of letters, diaries, and mementos have long been targeted for archival preservation. These collections are well-used and offer a unique perspective to our understanding of historical conflict. Soldier record methods in the Iraq/Afghanistan war have developed somewhat faster than preservation and archivists must move quickly to make record of these primarily born-digital accounts.
These resources present several unique challenges to archivists. The real-time methods of military blogs and other digital records make anonymity and ambiguity more important than it is in slow-travel and no-travel communication. The close watch and multiple warnings issued by the US Army to Specialist Colby Buzzell over his blog, My War are cited as examples of the unique restrictions on military blogs over both sensitive information and representations of the military. Limited soldier access to the Internet means that some date information or detail can be lost when entries are finally posted. Linking and networking are unique benefits to digital materials, but these quickly degrade and are difficult to preserve even several months from creation.
Lynda.com is part of an emerging trend, but draws heavily from analog business. While Salman Khan was but a student, Lynda was already producing solid, sustainable video tutorials on a variety of subjects. The most popular videos on the site are aimed at adult education, with a stunning catalog of detailed tutorials explaining media technologies, business, and development/computing. The courses appear like the table of contents in a textbook and the content creators are treated like authors. Trainers submit a proposal and if they are approved, receive an advance for production. After the videos are produced, trainers receive royalties based on how many users view their content.
Lynda.com’s other element of the old school is their staunch refusal of outside funding.
Google is dipping its toe into information literacy training with the launch of Google Search Education. The new site contains very detailed lesson plans arranged by level and subject. The content of the plans skews heavily towards search strategy over resource evaluation, but does a good job of explaining tips and tricks for becoming a more efficient searcher in an increasingly searchable world.
The site also contains some terribly sad webinars aimed at teachers, worth a look if you like to see the big G in raw form. Google is so influential in the search world, it’s nice to see the influence of information education reflected in Google (there are even librarians in the video!) The bonus is that Google’s influence has made the skills learned in these sessions translate to all the single keyword box, filterable clones.
Bowker’s 2009 report found that non-traditional publishers are now far surpassing the output of traditional publishing. This is nothing new, for many years the combined output of non-traditional venues like POD, republishing of public domain content, and vanity presses have surpassed the highly-structured and vetted process of major publishers.
The developing difference is described by Laura Dawson in her 2008 paper The Role of Self-Publishing in Libraries, “it’s no longer a given that large publishers are the arbiters of what books we ﬁnd useful.” The recent successes of non-traditionally published authors such as Amanda Hocking and E.L. James illustrate the point, but the dramatic output and general lack of established rating criteria make access to these titles a challenge for acquisitions librarians. The study in the paper reflected this. OCLC holdings revealed that libraries had acquired a smaller than expected percentage of non-traditionally published titles. This could be due to a lack of acquisitions pathways and structures for library lending of these publications.
It’s not every day that I get to say nice things about the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation, but their new “umbrella license” is a slam dunk for libraries. A workaround for what used to be a tedious, difficult, and expensive venture, the license allows libraries to purchase a yearly subscription that includes performance rights for nearly 400 production companies including 20th Century Fox, Discovery Channel, A&E, The History Channel, and Sony Pictures Classics.
The license is unlimited and covers individual viewing on library grounds and ambient use as well as library events. Pricing is based on service population and seems extremely reasonable, especially for libraries used to paying individual performance fees.
Big things have been happening at the Harvard library lately. In September they announced a system restructure around affinity groups, at the end of January they revealed that plans for the reorganization included significant staff downsizing and the fallout from that announcement meant protests and backlash from the library community throughout March. Earlier this week the Faculty Advisory Council made an announcement that rocked the library world, yet seems rather obvious: electronic subscriptions are too expensive. The rocking part is that Harvard is the Bill Gates of libraries. The Atlantic describes it as the “second-wealthiest nonprofit institution in the world (right behind the Catholic Church)“ and Harvard’s library swings a $3.75 million serials purse. Harvard’s boundaries in this area carry a lot of clout. The other scandal is that for all the hand-wringing subscription librarians do around conglomerate packages and steadily rising prices, it’s thought that Harvard is the first to plainly state that the current prices are more than they can bear.