What do we talk about when we talk about digital reading?

We have been comparing digital reading to reading in print for a very long time. However, in many discussions, I noticed that people did not tend to differentiate what kind of digital reading was being compared. Digital reading has become an umbrella term that could refer to online reading, reading with ebooks or even listening to audiobooks. I believe it is time to look closer at digital reading and differentiate one type of digital reading from another.


1. Online reading: reading on websites with either computers, laptops, tablets or mobile phones

Personally, I read on websites only for news or articles. I have never finished an entire book with my web browser although I know some people may have done that. For example, I was quite shocked when I found my roommate could finish a very long novel that was published on a fanfiction website.

For me, I found it was very difficult to stay focused when I read on websites. I tend to skim read a lot and become very easy to be distracted by anything going on the websites. Sometimes it could a pop-up ad, sometimes it could be the hyperlinks embedded in the article, sometimes I just automatically start to check my Facebook without even being aware of it. For this reason, I really want to name this type of reading “the open reading” because my mind is still open to all sorts of notifications and distractions in this reading environment.

I am not the only one. A survey found that, on Slate, a daily magazine on the web publishing about politics, business, technology, and culture, most readers scroll to about 50 percent of the article (shown by the graph below).  Well, I did have to admit, I was also one of them.


Cognitive neuroscientists had worried that our online reading habit may have negatively influenced our ability to read in print. That is, when we read in print, we would be less able to process long and complex sentences because we had become so used to read shorter sentences online.

This alerted scientists but some of them believed that there are advantages to both ways of reading and there is potential for a bi-literate brain as long as educators start to train students to read both on screen and in print properly.

I agreed and I think deep reading on screen may be achieved by extra tools such as Hypothes.is. It helped me to slow down and to go back and forth between the paragraphs to figure out the logic connections. Also, with Hypothesis turning on, I would feel like I’m seriously learning so I would consciously control my self from checking Facebook.

Overall, for the purpose of learning, I will rate reading on websites 3 out of 5 but I believe that it could be improved to 4 with training and extra tools.


2. Reading with an ebook reader or a specific app designed for reading

Another popular digital reading is to read with an ebook reader or with a specific app on your phone (such as the Kindle app). Personally, I often use ebook readers or an app to read an entire book. In my opinion, reading with a specific app is similar to reading with an ebook reader. They both require you to take an extra step (to buy an ebook reader or to download an app) to read! Because of this extra step, I will be more serious when I read with an ebook reader or an app.

Most ebook readers had been trying to resemble print books with its display and page-turning function. Comparing to reading on websites, there are generally fewer ads going on but if you are reading with a phone, you are still very likely to be distracted by notifications.

Another feature I like about reading this way is that I can highlight sentences I think are interesting and I will be able to go back to these notes later.

Overall, I would like to rate this type of digital reading 4 out of 5 for its convenience and its capability to hold numerous books at the same time. Despite that, I am still not a keen ebook reader because I had spent way too much time on the screen every day for my school work (and sometimes for Netflix), I am eager to do something without looking at the screen when I want to relax. Therefore, I’m going to tell you about my new hobby–listening to an audiobook!


3. “Reading” audiobooks

Thanks to Moorea and Avvai who highly recommended me to “read” audiobooks, I now had finished 4 audiobooks! They are mostly fictions and mostly fun read for entertainment.

Audiobooks are the best when you want to multitask. Usually, I will listen to an audiobook when I was commuting, doing chores or sometimes designing for Mauve’s class (don’t tell her!). That is, when I do anything that is not text-related, I would be able to listen to an audiobook at the same time.

After listening to several audiobooks, I realized that it could be a good way for ESL students to learn English. For me, I always found it really hard to learn about all of the slangs and informal way to speak because when we learn English in school, it is always based on textbooks with an academic objective (TOFEL, IELTS, SAT, etc). Those exams will never teach you how to talk casually when you just want to chat with your coworkers or friends.

In the past, I tried to watch a lot of TV shows to learn about the slangs but it was exhausting to my eyes. However, with audiobooks, it would be much more comfortable. I think anyone who wants to learn another language should try to listen to the audiobooks in that language.

However, for me, listening to an audiobook is not the best way for deep thinking. For example, if it is for Hannah’s history class, I would definitely not listen to the textbook. For that scenario, I would prefer a print book.

Overall, I would rate audiobook 4.5 out of 5. This is my favourite way of digital reading so far.


In conclusion, I think they are all reading. I would choose the way for reading according to the circumstances or my purpose. If I am jogging, audiobook! If I want to learn about the update on technology-related news, read something online with Medium! If I need to prepare for a test, probably a print book for me. There is definitely no “pure” form of reading. Let’s just READ!

Works cited

Rosenwald, Michael. 2014, April 6. Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say. Washington Post.

Manjoo. Farhad. 2013, June 6. You Won’t Finish This Article: Why people online don’t read to the end. Slate.

 

Mission Complete…

Like most of the cohort members, I walked in this class at the beginning of the term with an expectation to learn about some actual technology-related skills such as coding. I was surprised to find out that this class was mostly philosophical. Honestly speaking, part of me was relieved because I did not want to learn to code (I just feel that I need to do that because of the trend); part of me was also curious about the big picture topics we were going to discuss. In the end, I did enjoy most of the readings and discussions we had. I would like to elaborate on the objectives listed below.

  1. To whet your appetite for thinking about the role and effects of digital technologies, especially as it relates to the content we consume.

This course has 100% whetted my appetite for thinking about the role and effects of digital technologies. As I mentioned in my first blog, I had terrible experiences with some Chinese social media before, so I was aware of my behaviours on any Chinese social media. However, I did not apply the same degree of consciousness when using Facebook, Google or Amazon. This lack of awareness was probably due to my biased perception of Capitalism. Before this course, I did not actively think about the shortcomings of Capitalism because as an immigrant, I wanted to believe that I am now living in a society with more respect to individual, freedom and transparency. However, during this course, I started to think about the relationship between Capitalism and digital technologies, especially during the week on data privacy and surveillance when Echo and I lead the seminar.

  1. To help you develop a framework to analyze and interpret technology-related events and trends.

This course has helped me to develop a framework to analyze and interpret technology-related events and trends. First, I learnt about where to find the technology-related content. I really like platforms such as Medium, the Guardian, Electric Lit, The Shatzkin Files and etc. I am considering choosing a platform to subscribe after this term so I will still be able to follow the recent technology-related news and trends. Second, I learnt about how to critically think about technology-related controversies and apply it to my personal life. For example, I used to turn on my ad blocker all the time without any second thought, but after we talked about advertising and Internet business models on Week 5, I became aware of the importance of advertising to some websites and started to adjust my use of ad blockers accordingly.

  1. To better understand (but not necessarily fully comprehend) how different technologies work.

This course has helped me to better understand how different technologies work. I appreciated that at the beginning, Juan told us about the origin of the Internet which was maybe a basic knowledge but very helpful. I also like the mini tech lessons on topics such as XML, HTML or DRM. I did have a better understanding but also felt that my knowledge of these different technologies was still very minimal. I wish we could spend more time on elaborating these topics or we could have more readings on how these technologies work and fewer readings on the big picture concerns.

  1. Give you practical experience with three digital publishing tools and formats: blogging (WordPress), wikis (Wikipedia) and annotations (Hypothes.is)

I enjoyed using Hypothes.is. because usually I am not used to talk in class but with Hypothes.is, I am able to participate in discussions and engage in conversations with my cohort members. I really appreciated their input. Also, if someone mentioned something I am interested in, I would be able to keep a record, reflect upon and go back to the topics afterwards. In retrospect, I realized I may have asked too many questions in the annotations, but I was happy when my questions were answered. I also like sharing my thoughts via blogging and reading what my cohort members had written. I like this chance to research, practice my writing and learn something new about my classmates. However, I found that sometimes, it was difficult to keep blogs every week. I was not sure if each blog should be research-based, but for those are research-based, I ended up spending a lot of time on researching and it was especially time-consuming when something else from other classes was also due in the same week.

  1. Allow you to develop and express your own thoughts about various aspects of technology.

As I mentioned previously, I appreciate that I can express my own opinions with Hypothesi.s and blogging. I was very happy to write about my own experiences with Chinese social media in the first two blogs because those were unique experiences that my cohort members may not have. When I read the comments from Avvai and Juan under my second blog, I was very glad that I could contribute something to this class and motivated to keep exploring the cultural differences of technology.

Mission Complete!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, I think this class is definitely inspiring to me. I did learn a lot from every topic and I enjoyed the assigned readings. This course does not only change my perspectives on digital technologies but also affects my views on Capitalism and western societies. This class will end soon but my life will still be full of technologies and I will think about what the class had taught me whenever I encountered any controversy regarding digital technologies.

 

 

Yes, I want DATA!

I always want to have my own publishing company someday in the future. A small-scale, independent children’s book publisher will do. Hopefully based in Vancouver. My plan is to publish children’ picture books in Chinese and sell them to Chinese parents living in Canada.

When I dream about this publisher, I found a lot of obstacles that would drag me back into reality. I asked myself: How many Chinese immigrants have young children at home in Canada? What are their book-purchasing habits? Will they buy books in English or Chinese for their kids? Will they order books online and have the books shipped directly from China?

I know nothing about them. How am I supposed to sell books to them without knowing them?  Now, imagine if I had access to any data in the world, that will be great!

First, I want to learn about the population of Chinese communities in Canada. I want to find out how many Chinese parents are there in Canada and how many of them have child(ren) 3-10 years old. In addition, I also want to find out where they are mostly living. Are there more of them in Vancouver or Toronto? Which city do they prefer to live in? I would like to use this information because I want to know if I should start the publisher in Vancouver or Toronto or maybe other cities in Canada.

Second, I would like to explore their economic status. What kind of jobs are they doing? Do they have enough savings to support the education of their children? Will they be willing to spend money on children’s books or just borrow them from local libraries? For example, a survey among English readers has found that half of the picture book “purchases” made by the parents were either second-hand (34%) or came from the library (11%). Will the trend be similar within the Chinese community?

Third, I would like to learn about their psychographics. What do the parents want their children to learn from books? What kind of children’s books do they want to buy for their kid? Are they aware of how important reading is for young children? Do they care if the kids read in English or Chinese? This will help me to find the gap in the market.

To get the information without violating anyone’s privacy, I agree with my cohort member Moorea that “a layer of anonymity is needed”. I would only collect the data from anonymous parents who are willing to enter our database. I would not force anyone to join our survey or secretly collect their preferences, neither will I be aware of their personal information such as name, date of birth, home address or private contact information.

Data is important to any business. For me, I want to use the information to decide if I am going to have this publisher. If the data shows that only few parents is interested in encouraging kids to read in Chinese, then I might not start this publisher or I might adopt another strategy.

Data will help me to position myself. Do I want to publish for younger kids (3-5 years old) or do I want to publish for older kids or even teenagers? Data will tell.  Data will also help me to get my first capitals. It is the evidence to support my business plan and convince any potential investors or to successfully receive grants.

Yes…I can think of millions of benefits to my (future) business if I can get access to any data in the world. However, I am also aware that part of the privacy will be sacrificed in exchange for the benefits. If I collect and analyze the data to satisfy readers/customers’ needs (and make just enough money for me to support myself), will the end justify the means?

Dr. Seuss vs. Dr. Juice

Published by Penguin in 1996, the book The Cat NOT in the Hat! A Parody by Dr. Juice told the case of O. J. Simpson using the elements from Dr.Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat. The publisher and the author were sued for copyright infringement later. It was determined by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as “not a fair use”.

Let us first look at how alike they are.

Here is the original cover:

And here is the cover of “the Cat NOT in the Hat!”:


Obviously, the two covers share a similar design style. Their title occupies the right half and the figure occupies the left half, facing towards the title. Also, the font of the title mimicked the original font. As for the illustration of the figure, both characters wear the red and white striped hat.

Inside the book, Dr. Juice is using the rhymical style of Dr. Seuss to retell the story of O.J. Simpson. For example, “A man this famous/ Never hires/ Lawyers like/ Jacoby Meyers/ When you’re accused of a killing scheme/ You need to build a real Dream Team”.  The court believed that Dr. Juice’s work copied substantially from Dr. Seuss’s work.

But, on the cover of Dr. Juice’s book, it clearly claimed itself as a “parody”. Is it a fair use if the book is a parody? More essentially, is it a parody as it claimed to be?

As we mentioned, Dr Juice’s book told the case of O.J. Simpson using the rhymical style of Dr. Seuss. The story inside the book is not relevant to the original work. According to the court, “The work was not a parody, because it did not hold up Dr. Seuss’s style, but merely mimicked it to attract attention or avoid the difficult work of developing original material”. The book is non-transformative.

Also, the book was published for profit which was clearly commercial. Due to the commercial nature of the book, the court inferred that there would be harm to the market of the original work. Dr. Juice and his publisher failed to provide evidence to go against the inference of the court.

Therefore, the court finally decided it as “not a fair use”.

In conclusion, I agree with the court’s decision. The lesson to learn here is that to be fair use, a parody is supposed to mock the author or the content of the original work. If the content of the parody is nothing related to the original work, then it is more likely to be decided as not a fair use.

Works Cited

Dr. Seuss Enters., LP v. Penguin Books USA, Inc.,109 F.3d 1394 (9th Cir. 1997) https://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/summaries/drseuss-penguinbooks-9thcir1997.pdf

Satire or Parody? Dr.Seuss Enterprises v. Penguin Books USA

Satire or Parody? Dr.Seuss Enterprises v. Penguin Books USA

 

 

Subscription Model in Publishing: Not Like Netflix/Spotify

This week, we talked about the Medium’s subscription model during the class. In The rationalization of publishing, Medium’s founder Evan Williams believed that since publishing could not be supported by advertisements alone currently, a subscription model will be the best solution. He compared this model to Netflix/Spotify and argued that:

  1. People who care about understanding themselves and the world will pay for information
  2. People who care about reading will pay for texts as they pay for videos and audios
  3. People will pay for high-quality content rather than reading free but poor-quality content online

I agreed with his arguments. However, I do not think that TV/music is an appropriate analogy for publishing. In my opinion, reading has a lot of differences from watching TV or listening to music. Therefore, publishers should be careful when applying the subscription model.

First, the market for publishers tends to be smaller than TV or music producers. There are fewer people who read than who watch TV or listen to music.

According to the Pew Research, “Overall, Americans read an average (mean) of 12 books per year, while the typical (median) American has read four books in the past 12 months”. Let us assume they spend 10 hours on each book (it is hard to assume the average because depending on the genre and page number, it will take a different length of time to finish a book), then an average American spends about 120 hours on reading in a year and a typical American only spends 40 hours on reading in a year.

Let us look at the data for Netflix. By the end of 2017, Netflix had 117.58 million subscribers. It also claimed that in average, its users watched 140 million hours of content on a day. According to the numbers, the averages time for one subscriber to spend on Netflix on one day is a little over 50 minutes.

Then what about the time that people spend on digital reading?

In 2017, Medium only had 60 million monthly readers (not exactly subscribers) and in total, these users spent 4.5 million hours reading on Medium in per month. This means that each reader only spends 4.5 mins on Medium per month.

A big difference, huh?

The subscription model works for Netflix or Spotify because a huge number of consumers watches TV or listens to music now. For a keen online reader, paying a subscription fee to get the unlimited access to good quality articles is a great deal but how many keen online readers are there? For people who only read four books a year, unlimited access to books is not very appealing. However, they might be one of the one-time book buyers out there in the market which the subscription model does not work for.

Another significant difference between reading and the other two media is that there are better alternatives for readers rather than subscribing to a certain platform. If I quit Netflix or Amazon Prime today, I do not know where to find a better solution. I could go to a movie theatre which only provides me with a few options, or I could pay for a cable which would be very troublesome and expensive to get considering I don’t even own a nice TV now. Without the subscription model, I can still read a printed book, an ebook or listen to an audiobook, either bought by myself or borrowed from libraries or friends.

I am not saying that subscription model would not work for publishers. Except Medium, there are also subscription services for Ebooks such as Kindle Unlimited, Oyster or Scribd. In the article Subscription Services for E-Books, the author pointed out that the sales of physical books are “fairly stable” and he concluded that “the reading public doesn’t get subscription e-book services — or at least doesn’t get them yet”. However, I think the readers did not get the subscription model because the physical books (or the experience of reading a physical book) are still in need.

Overall, I think the subscription model will work for publishers, but only to a certain extent. In the publishing world, the subscription model will not be as dominant as it in other fields such as TV or music.

Introducing My Virtual Good Room

From last week’s reading The Good Room, Frank Chimero claimed that “in the last decade, technology has transformed from a tool that we use to a place where we live.” I was intrigued by this place metaphor. He also mentioned that “the web is a marketplace and a commonwealth, so we have both commerce and culture”. It reminded of an online “good room” I feel belonged to and I would like to introduce it to you because I think it is an interesting example where culture and commerce have been married successfully.

As we all know, Facebook, Twitter and a lot of other social media platforms have been banned in mainland China but the Chinese created (or shall I say “copied”?) its own version of social media such as Renren mimicking Facebook or Weibo mimicking Twitter. Among all the social media platforms, one of them is an original platform that I cannot think of a Western equivalent so far. It is called “Douban” which means “bean paste” in Mandarin. It has multiple functions: rating and reviewing books, movies and music; socializing with people who share the same interests on in the same city; providing FM broadcasting services and podcasts; providing self-publishing services; selling their self-designed items such as cups, calendars or clothing. Generally speaking, it is a comprehensive website including the features of Goodreads, Rotten Tomatoes, social media, podcasts, self-publishing services and markets.

The logo of Douban

 

After moving to Vancouver, lacking meaningful, long-lasting friendship has been a problem for me for a long time. I found it was very hard to find people who share the same interests as me. However, since I became a frequent user of Douban from 2015, I met other Chinese living in Vancouver who also like reading, writing or watching films (as I mentioned last week, I had known my best friend through this website!). And now it has become part of my identity. I pictured this website as a virtual street in a quiet neighbourhood where there are bookstores, theatres, coffee shops and markets alongside.

Culture is the core theme for Douban as it has been trying to connect people through books, movies and music. Its slogan can be roughly translated as “Douban, a corner for your mind”. Comparing to other Chinese social media platforms, Douban is a slow-growing company. However, as the young generation in the Western society moving from Facebook to Instagram, its Chinese equivalent also gradually moved from Renren to Weibo or WeChat. But Douban has always been there no matter what the trend is. I am curious about how Douban makes its profit and maintains its status in the furious competition.

According to my research, it has several revenue strategies. First, Douban profits from redirecting its users to Dangdang, JD.com or Amazon to purchase books or to buy movie tickets from online ticket sellers. Second, it gains income from ads. Douban values the users’ experience so they strictly select ads that fit its target users (young urban white collars or college students). Recently, Douban also launched a variety of paid online classes which covered topics like creative writing, calligraphy, photography, design and philosophy. Overall, these are some of its revenue strategies.

In my opinion, I enjoyed my experiences with Douban so far and I don’t mind seeing ads on the website as long as it still provides high-quality content. I found the users on Douban also tend to tolerate some of the commercialized steps that Douban had taken recently. For example, they would mock at the badly self-designed hoodies or socks that Douban was selling but still continued to be frequent users thereafter.

The socks mocked by most Douban users

I think it could be an example of the “lively and nourishing digital environments” that Chimero was talking about.

 

References

The Good Room

6 Chinese Social Media Sites You Should Know About

Decrypting China’s most wonderful website: What is Douban thinking? 

Reflection on the Internet from My Cultural Background

In The Information: How the Internet gets inside us, Adam Gopnik proposed three labels: the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers and the Ever-Wasers. I think I am a little bit of every kind.

First, like any Never-Better, I must admit that I do appreciate the technology advance a lot. Connecting to my own culture is the biggest benefit that the Internet has brought to me. I moved to Canada in 2010, the year when iPhone 4 was first released. A year later, WeChat was first launched in China after the success of Tencent QQ and Sina Weibo. I had always been thankful for these technological advances because they helped me to keep in contact with my friends in China. They kept me accompanied remotely to get through the first toughest year after landing in Canada. Imagine the immigrants 20 or 30 years ago, how hard it would be for them to talk to their family with just letters and expensive long-distance calls! More importantly, eBooks and eReaders also help me to keep reading in Chinese and accumulate my knowledge of the Chinese book market without living in China physically. More broadly speaking, the Internet provides us with the tool to explore any culture with links, texts, visuals and audios without physically being there.

However, with all the appreciation, the Better-Never me still worries about the Internet, especially when the technology meets the government. This fear is also rooted in my own experience. On an ordinary day in March 2017, my friend and I had a conversation via WeChat during which we mentioned the name of the previous Chinese President. We did not criticize him, nor the current Chinese government. Later that day, I posted a screenshot of the conversation to my Weibo, only visible to my friends. The next time when I opened the Weibo app, I noticed that I was banned from Weibo. I would not be able to log into my account permanently! I had been kept a record of my personal thoughts on that account for over 5 years and it was all gone in just a minute. All my posts, my comments to other accounts and even the account itself disappeared instantly from the Internet. A chill ran down my spine. This just terrified me (imagine someone threw your 5-year diary into a fire).         

Take a step back, the Ever-Waser me kicked in. Censorship and authoritarian had a much longer history than technology. It has been going on for a long time. Before the Internet, a dictating government would control the newspaper, book or radios. When the Internet is bringing convenience to the citizens, it also brings convenience to the ruling government. It is not the Internet to be blamed.

Wandering on both the English-speaking (and mainly North American) and the Chinese-speaking social media platforms, I feel like there are more Better-Evers and Ever-Wasers in North American society while there are more Never-Betters in the Chinese society. One day, I was talking to John. He asked me if Chinese people were also worried about the centralization of WeChat, as the Westerners worrying about Amazon or Google monopoly. This question just hit me right at the moment. I then realized that I have not read any significant article criticizing WeChat so far on any Chinese media. Meanwhile, I’m glad to read many articles in this class discussing and reflecting on how the web has changed us, in either a positive or negative way. No matter what attitude we hold towards the Internet, it is important to talk about it rather than take everything for granted.