feeling random 02.27.2007, 1:35 PM
posted by ben vershbow
Following HarperCollins' recent Web renovations, Random House today unveiled their publisher-driven alternative to Google: a new, full-text search engine of over 5,000 new and backlist books including browsable samples of select titles. The most interesting thing here is that book samples can be syndicated on other websites through a page-flipping browser widget (Flash 9 required) that you embed with a bit of cut-and-paste code (like a YouTube clip). It's a nice little tool, though it comes in two sizes only -- one that's too small to read, and one that embedded would take up most of a web page (plus it keeps crashing my browser). Compare below with HarperCollins' simpler embeddable book link:
Worth noting here is that both the search engine and the sampling widget were produced by Random House in-house. Too many digital forays by major publishers are accomplished by hiring an external Web shop, meaning of course that little ends up being learned within the institution. It's an old mantra of Bob's that publishers' digital budgets would be better spent by throwing 20 grand at a bright young editor or assistant editor a few years out of college and charging them with the task of doing something interesting than by pouring huge sums into elaborate revampings from the outside. Random House's recent home improvements were almost certainly more expensive, and more focused on infrastructure and marketing than on genuinely reinventing books, but they indicate a do it yourself approach that could, maybe, lead in new directions.
Joe Wikert on February 28, 2007 8:12 PM:
As a fellow publisher, I love what RH and HC are doing with these widgets. Are they perfect? No, but they're a great first-generation tool that could be expanded in all sorts of directions in the future. I've been a big fan of Librarything for quite awhile now and I feature their widget on my blog (jwikert.typepad.com). But I like the idea of being able to do even more with content on a title by title basis like what RH and HC are offering. Bravo!
bowerbird on March 1, 2007 4:23 PM:
> As a fellow publisher, I love what
> RH and HC are doing with these widgets.
> Are they perfect?
> No, but they're a great first-generation tool
as a programmer, i think their widgets suck. badly.
plus they will always be geared to marketing;
and aren't we all getting sick of commercials?
Joe Wikert on March 1, 2007 9:01 PM:
Dear Bowerbird... As a former programmer myself, I have to agree that most widgets I've seen aren't a thing of beauty. Don't even get me going on a rant about load times! But honestly, I try to keep in mind the fact that a lot of these are indeed first-generation items and that they can be improved upon. Remember Windows 1.0? Compare that to Windows Vista...OK, maybe that's not the best example!
Btw, I totally disagree with you about the notion that these book widgets are "commercials". If that's true, commercialism rules on Amazon. After all, their Search Inside the Book (SITB) program, which these book widgets are partially modeled after, is one of the more popular features on their site. Books without SITB functionality are at a huge disadvantage against those that do have it. Amazon originally said this can mean as much as a 7-9% sales differential...that's nothing to sneeze at, and clearly shows it's not disregarded as a bunch of ads/commercials.
bowerbird on March 1, 2007 9:45 PM:
> If that's true,
> commercialism rules on Amazon.
i couldn't have said it better myself, joe. :+)
> After all, their Search Inside the Book
> (SITB) program, which these book widgets
> are partially modeled after, is one of
> the more popular features on their site.
some marketing efforts _are_ user-friendly, yes.
> Books without SITB functionality are at
> a huge disadvantage against those that
> do have it.
makes sense to me...
> Amazon originally said this can mean
> as much as a 7-9% sales differential...
that's the kind of statistic that should
make _any_ marketer's ears perk up, yep...
> that's nothing to sneeze at,
> and clearly shows it's not disregarded
> as a bunch of ads/commercials.
no, it clearly shows it's a good marketing tool.
and part of the reason it works so well on amazon
is because we only have to go to a single site.
do you think this strategy will be _anywhere_
near as effective when every publisher has
their own walled garden we'll have to visit?
not a chance.
but that's just part of my objection.
take a gander at the examples on this page.
look specifically at the option to jump to a
specific page, and see how many (i.e., how few)
of the pages are actually available for viewing.
is that a sufficient "replacement" for browsing
the book in a bookstore? no, it's nowhere close.
another factor -- a very big one, in my mind --
is that these efforts propagate the mentality
that a picture of text is as useful as the text.
it's not. it's a clumsy way to hobble users by
making "samples" we get as useless as possible.
and don't give me all that b.s. about preventing
piracy. i can scan and o.c.r. your page-images
almost as easily as i'd copy-and-paste the text.
so they're only inconveniencing paying customers.
and all of this means that the quality of the
widgets we get is poor. but furthermore, it's
the case that improving the technology will _not_
make these tools any better, because they are
being sabotaged by the _attitudes_of_publishers_.
there's a way to move books to the 21st century
-- a good way -- by making them cyber-vehicles.
there's even a way to make them convenient to
_print_out_, so people like gary frost are happy.
but publishers want us back in the 19th century,
because that's the only way they know how to
continue to keep their cash-flow flowing past.
to a person like me, who sees all that is being
sacrificed in the name of maintaining the greed,
it's sad. it's just very, very sad...
and i don't mean to harsh on your mellow,
so i apologize if i have done that. if you
are happy, then please continue to be happy.
but me? i think it's all just very, very sad.
Gary Frost on March 2, 2007 10:29 AM:
It makes me sad not glad. But publishers are captive of the 20th century, not the 19th which was the inventive era of paradigm shift in communication technologies. They are captive of the time of the advent of screen based reading when print and screen differentiated themselves well. This was a golden age when the attributes and functionalities of both modes were clear.
The complexity of the current situation is the ability of screen transmission to mimic any reading mode or publishing mode without regard to inherent advantages or disadvantages. Mimic print is pretty dumb, but it can be done. One clue to the future of screen based reading is to see the screen, not as a print surrogate, but as a BLANK book with live connection to content occurring in the presence of the reader. I have a dozen ideas about this scenario, and I am an advocate for print reading!
Gary Frost on March 3, 2007 8:35 AM: