Looking Back, Looking Ahead, Looking…Around

At the outset of PUB 802 I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I have been pleasantly surprised at the way the course has encouraged me to reflect on the role that technology plays in my life and how I relate to technology. Technology and Web 2.0 are so ubiquitous in my life, and has been for so long—I realized over the course of this semester how complacent I had become with how it functions and even the lack of awareness that I had related to a lot of things that go on behind the scenes. This has played out in regards to each of the course objectives.

Appetite: Whetted

This course has encouraged me to think more critically about how interact with and consume content in a digital environment. I’ve reflected on my reading habits; for instance, last week’s reading on Being a Better Digital Reader  has made me more aware of the obstacles we face trying to engage deeply with content online, which has had the twofold effect of alleviating some of my anxiety/guilt regarding sometimes feeling like I’m not full absorbing online content, and also allowing me to consciously employ strategies to absorb content online in a more meaningful way.

Hey, I See what You’re Doing over There

This course has also educated me on the function that data serves in the Web 2.0  economy. I was aware of this in a vague sense before coming to PUB 802, but I had no idea how extensive and pervasive of an issue this really was. Reading this Twitter thread about Google and this article about Facebook really brought into focus the surveillance economy. I feel like, now that I know more, I can make conscious decisions about how I’m using technology in my life, and, when I am offering up my personal data as currency in exchange for a service or product, I can make a more informed decision and weigh the cost against the value of the service.

A Peak Behind the Techno Curtain 

My technological knowledge was very use-based before coming to this course; I understood how programs worked from a user’s perspective, but I really had no idea what was going on behind the scenes. It was so interesting for me to learn about the origins of the Internet and how information travels. Specifically, I appreciated acronyms like IP, HTTP, and CSS being demystified. I like understanding what’s going on around me, and when it comes to something as ubiquitous as the Internet, I really appreciate things being made a little more transparent.

I Do, Therefore I Am

The Wikipedia assignment, admittedly, was not a favourite of the 2018/19 MPub cohort. That being said, I’m happy to have completed the training module. It’s empowering to feel like I’m equipped to contribute to public knowledge production projects like Wikipedia, and I also enjoyed the WordPress work that we had to do. I think it’s good in a course like this that there is a hands-on aspect to the learning, because I think technology really lends itself to learning this way.

I also really appreciated working with Hypothes.is. All throughout this year, in PUB 800 and 802, it was a great tool for our cohort to make meaning out of the readings, and also build community among us. Even when serious knowledge production wasn’t necessarily happening in those margins, it helped bring us together as a group, and it was also a fun GIF testing ground.

Wrapping Up

Prior to coming to 801, my relationship to technology was quiet passive—things were what they were, and I didn’t necessarily spend much time or energy thinking about how technology functioned in my life or how it affected me, I think partially because I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it. After having completed this course, however, I do feel more engaged, informed, and empowered when it comes to thinking critically about technology in our society. Thank you for an interesting course, and have a good summer!

 

 

I Object! A Pub 802 Reflection

I walked into PUB 802 feeling very excited and fascinated by the course syllabus, partly because I’m a rookie tech lover and constantly surround myself with social media and new tech forms. I soon realized that the class would be centered around thinking about technology with a critically analytic lens. I have never been in a seminar like this, or even felt challenged to think about technology in an academic way, so I felt very inspired to alter my thinking and learn further about the technology that consumes our everyday lives! To critically reflect on my experience in this course, I will address my attitudes towards each learning objectives from our course syllabus. 


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

I felt most drawn to the articles from Week 7: data privacy, Lynn Neary’s article “Publishers’ Dilemma: Judge A Book By Its Data Or Trust The Editor’s Gut?[Week 9: Measuring & Tracking], and the text from Frank Chimero, “The Good Room” [Week 3: The Internet changes everything]. These articles and our class discussions during these weeks definitely challenged me to further my thinking and spiral down a rabbit hole of research and additional relative news articles. Technology is not just a fancy shining thing that needs our everyday attention; in fact, I’ve learned specifically from those weeks that perhaps we desperately need technology for our society to evolve and continue growing. Technology has thoroughly integrated into our lives; could it be for the better? I don’t believe we can go backward toward a time without tech now.

Objective 2: To help you develop a framework to analyze and interpret technology-related events and trends

I feel that I’m quite up to date to popular news on technology while discovering them by the trusted Twitter; but with those stories, I read it, hear it, and go on with my day. However, this class has given me the opportunity to dive into the technology-related events and really question it’s deeper context and reasoning. Specifically, with the Facebook scandal, many of my close family/ friends vowed to never use Facebook again, and I started feeling a little hesitant towards social media. However, after reading Cory Doctorow’s “Deleting Facebook is not enough: without antitrust, the company will be our lives’ “operating system” [from Week 7: Data Privacy], I realized that if we don’t discuss and think critically about these issues, then it is a form of ignorance and avoidance to the problem. I learned that perhaps technology is not the real problem, but the problem is how creators/users interact and make bad decisions with technology.

Objective 3: To better understand (but not necessarily fully comprehend) how different technologies work

I felt like one of the biggest missed opportunities in this class is that we didn’t learn how to code. I think it’s a fundamental learning objective that should have been included within the course schedule, as it’s an important and growing skill that could be beneficial to our relationship with technology/ publishing. I truly appreciate the mini-tech lessons, especially the first lesson we had that helped us understand how the web works (with the cool web drawing Juan made). I understand that learning how to code within 30 mins sounds impossible, but I wonder if we could have devoted a class to it. 3 hours seems reasonable? I often felt a little lost during the mini tech lessons as they were huge concepts squished into a slim 20 min time slot. Could workshops break up the discussion heavy component to this course? I think it would help us feel more motivated and on track with the course. It’s hard to be in a technology course and always talk, just talk, and not feel like we are interacting with tech more beyond using the basic publishing tools.

Objective 4: Give you practical experience with three digital publishing tools and formats: blogging (WordPress), wikis (Wikipedia) and annotations (hypothes.is)

I felt very comfortable with using WordPress before I came into this course, having run a small lifestyle blog site before. I also completed the exact same Wiki assignment in my undergrad English literature class, so I was familiar with the site and the weekly tasks. I particularly liked being provoked to annotate via hypothes.is as it kept me motivated to complete the readings and contribute to my class’ online discussion. I liked how it became a space for me to communicate with my cohort and further discuss how we each felt about the readings. I think hypothes.is is a powerful tool that can invoke better online reading, and with a couple more enhancements (better @ system or reply/comment area, or a better way to include photos and GIFS!), it can be game-changing.

Objective 5: Allow you to develop and express your own thoughts about various aspects of technology

I really liked each blog prompt, despite some taking more time from me to ponder and outline. I like feeling like I have a space to explore my thoughts, even if they are incomplete, incoherent ones. One of my biggest fears with sharing anything is the fear of failure or rejection, so knowing that I am sharing my opinion with my peers who do not judge me, but rather push me to think harder is really motivating and new for me. I particularly liked the task of reading everyone’s blog post and posting a comment during my lecture week. It inserted me into a position of having to challenge attitudes and ideas, despite initially agreeing to them and wanting to move on as I always do. One of my favourite things about this is seeing a thread going on in the comments in hypothes.is ! The digital party is always bumping! 


Overall, this class has opened my eyes to technology, to not simply read what I see and live in ignorance about it. Group discourse is important about tech issues because we can better understand and find ways to live a balanced life with technology (hence, the birth of recharge). I’m excited to learn about new technologies that come and interact with them the same way I did during this course, if not better and deeper.

Audiobooks are my JAM*

 

In case you couldn’t tell from the title and the GIF, I love audiobooks. I love reading and I love performance, so an audiobook is the marriage of those two things into a consumable media that I just devour. Also, they are so handy to read when you’re traveling, doing chores, or cooking. Traveling is a particular draw for me, as the audiobooks I listen to are housed online or on my phone, which means I don’t have to carry any extra weight with me when I travel.  Besides all this, I think they are just super neat! Seriously, of the fifteen non-school related books I’ve read in 2019, eleven have been audiobooks.

But there is phrasing around audiobooks that really bothers me, and it is that, supposedly, when one listens to audiobooks they aren’t ‘real’ reading.

Okay, I say after a deep, calming breath, I’ll bite. What are the reasons that audiobooks aren’t ‘real’ reading? 

““I was a fan of audiobooks, but I always viewed them as cheating,” says Beth Rogowsky, an associate professor of education at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania” in Markham Heid’s article Are Audiobooks As Good For You As Reading? Here’s What Experts Say.

Rogwsky went on to conduct an experiment in 2016 where she had students read the same section of a book on an e-reader and in audiobook. She found that the retention of information from the reading was the same in both formats, although she did say that that might have been because e-books have been shown to sometimes have a smaller retention rate than physical books (Heid, Are Audiobooks). However, we know that this is not necessarily the truth, thanks to Maria Konnikova’s article Being a Better Online Reader where Konnikova finds that difficulties with retention in reading have more to do with distractions than to do with the physical format (Konnikova, Being).

The most compelling evidence that audiobook reading is not ‘real’ reading, in my opinion, is that the spatial and physical aspects of reading a physical book are lost, leading to poorer retention of material (Heid). However, those issues also exist in e-book reading, and I haven’t heard many arguments that ebook reading is not ‘real’ reading, just that you need to read it differently (Konnikova).

Audiobooks have immense benefits that should not be undermined by negative connotations. They can help children who struggle with reading, as we read about in Linda Flanagan’s article, but they can also help readers with disabilities, like dyslexia and blindness. By writing audiobooks off as cheating, people are also writing off those who benefit from audiobooks as less than as well. Also, people get the story the same way whether it be through physical, audio, or e-book.

Different people learn in different ways– for example, I’m a kinetic learner, (with my audio and visual learning coming in second and third, respectively) which means I learn things best when I’m moving. Audiobooks stimulate this for me, as I can move when I’m listening.

In my opinion, audiobooks are just as much of a reading experience as reading a physical or e-book. By saying otherwise, people might forget the ways in which audiobooks excel where the other formats do not.

*seriously, I don’t listen to music anymore HELP ME

Work Cited

Flanagan, Linda. 2016. How Audiobooks Can Help Kids Who Struggle with Reading. KQED

Heid, Markham. Are Audiobooks As Good For You As Reading? Here’s What Experts Say. Time. September 06, 2018. Accessed April 02, 2019.

Konnikova, Maria. 2014, July 16. Being a Better Online Reader. New Yorker.

Pub802 Reflection

Me, looking forward to my new relationship with technology

Before taking Pub802, I had a fairly good understanding of a slice of many of the issues surrounding technology and media, but I wasn’t able to express my opinions nearly as coherently as I can now. I also did not have or use information from both sides of arguments to draw upon for my understanding and discussion. In this essay, I will draw upon the objectives stated in our course syllabus to reflect on my experience and growing relationship with technology. 

Objective One: 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 whet my appetite in that it made me more aware of the effects of digital technologies. This was particularly relevant during Week 6: Copyright! and Week 10: Digital Reading which both focused on the ways in which the internet enables information (especially copyrighted information) to spread more freely and unrestrictedly through the digital space. I am particularly interesting DRM after Week 10, as I have a deep interest in audiobooks and their growing role in the publishing industry. I found Linda Flanagan’s How Audiobooks Can Help Kids Who Struggle With Reading particularly fascinating.  

Objective Two: To help you develop a framework to analyze and interpret technology related events and trends

This course laid out the current events and trends surrounding technology in a more approachable and in-depth way than I’d previously been exposed to in my own reading. I found that Alex Singh’s twitter thread On the Web’s transition from nomadism to feudalism particularly thought-provoking. I often used this twitter thread as a “historical” lens to view other topics we covered in class. 

Objective Three: To better understand (but not necessarily fully comprehend) how different technologies work

Nothing illustrated this objective to me more than our discussion of how the internet actually works in Week 2: The Web Changes Things. Before this, I never thought of the internet as a physical technology. I also liked the introduction to the intricacies of Youtube in Week 4: Internet Business Models. I’m very interested to see how this particular technology develops and affects society, in both positive and negative ways.

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

My experience with digital publishing tools prior to this course was very limited. I feel like I’m now fairly well versed in word-press and hypothes.is, particularly with the later. I’ve also learned that my online style of annotation is to write many annotations that are on the medium to shorter side, which also mirrors my physical annotation style. One note on hypothes.is; I would like to see an easier way to integrate GIFs. I used them often, but it was difficult to implement them. I have not yet finished my Wikipedia article, but I have finished all of my training and have edited on Wikipedia, which demystified the Wikipedia process a lot for me. 

Objective Five: Allow you to develop and express your own thoughts about various aspects of technology

The blog posts, in particular, were a way for me to thoroughly develop my ideas before expressing them online, as they took a bit more distilling to make them coherent, in comparison to in the class discussion. I do wish that there was a little more direction early on in the blog post assignment. The title was misleading and I felt that it was difficult to express my thoughts in a way that met the assignment requirements. However, as the class progressed I think that my writing about technology became clearer. 

Conclusion

Overall, I thought that the class expanded my understanding of digital technologies and ideas. There were some weeks where I felt that there was a strong overlap of information that perhaps should have been touched on a little less in class. I feel like we discussed data privacy a lot in this class, which is fine, but it meant that we didn’t get to focus as much on other subjects I personally found more interesting. This class did give me a new framework and lenses in which to interact with and view digital innovations. 

I’ll miss these GIFs…

Bibliography

Flanagan, Linda. 2016. How Audiobooks Can Help Kids Who Struggle with Reading. KQED

Singh, Alex. 2018. On the Web’s transition from nomadism to feudalism. Twitter.

Reflections on Pub 802, Spring 2019


Upon looking at the lineup of classes this semester, I must admit I was a little apprehensive to be taking what looked like a tech-heavy course load.  Despite being someone whose work is heavily based on digital technologies, I consider myself to be a bit of a Luddite. However, my original fears that Pub 802 was going to be “techy”, dry, and beyond my comprehension were quickly proven wrong. Instead, I found the reading material and subsequent class discussions to be generally exciting as they didn’t focus so much on the digital technologies per se but the social, political, and economic implications these technologies have. Overall, I feel like I have learned a lot from this class as well as met, and in some cases exceeded, the learning objectives set forth in September. Continue reading “Reflections on Pub 802, Spring 2019”

Time to Say Goodbye: A Review of PUB802

Before taking this class, not only did I not think critically about anything involving the digital technology in my day-to-day life, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about anything tech-related in a serious way. Now, at the end of the semester, I can hold my own in a casual conversation about technology-related events and trends, drawing on the various lenses through which we looked at the digital technologies to do so.

Objective One
This class has definitely whet my appetite for thinking about the role and effects of digital technologies, and how they relate to the content I consume. Learning about the Web versus the Internet in our first class immediately captured my interest. In the future, I’m curious to learn more about some subjects than others—as a fan and frequent remixer, I’m still very interested in learning about copyright as laws continue to change—whereas I have less interest in online business models. In short, my eyes have been opened with regards to critically thinking about technology and the tech industry; the way the Web has evolved over time, the way we think of data collection and privacy versus what’s being collected and how that data is used, the dangers of using only one business model both on and offline, and the web as a space as it pertains to design were all of special interest to me.

Objective Two
As I said in my first blog post, this course has provided me a vocabulary and framework to analyze and talk about technology-related concepts, events and trends. I’ve become much more cognizant of how I interact with technology in the digital spaces I frequent, and now have the framework to be critical of them. I can analyze any platform through multiple lenses: business model and data privacy, measuring and tracking user behaviour, design as an integral part of the online experience, etc. As such, I’ve been able to develop my own thoughts regarding various aspects of technology—especially concerning the issue of data privacy, and user measuring and tracking. After reading and discussing in class, I’ve managed to better understand what my comfort level with regards to these things are, and why I feel the way I do.

Objective Three
While I have a very good grasp of copyright law, XML, various online business models (subscriptions services, the Patreon model, advertising, etc.), and how the Internet works, I wish we had learned more about how to implement a lot of the technologies we talked about, such as spending time learning to code. That being said, I definitely understand how the technologies we covered work, and can implement this knowledge in my future endeavors. My knowledge of metadata comes to mind, here; knowing how it works as well as its function permits me to understand why it’s important and how it can be better used to help publishers in the future.

Objective Four
After completing all required blog posts, annotating all the readings, and posting my Wikipedia assignment, I can confident say that I have experience with all three of these digital publishing tools. I really enjoyed annotating all the readings—I feel that they helped me grasp the material, and the sense of community created within the annotations was a welcome addition to the class, and provided further learning opportunities through links, explanations, and anecdotes. I’ll continue to use them. I found the blog posts to be extremely difficult to keep up with—they were very time consuming and the expectation for the assignment was unclear until later in the semester, which I found frustrating. That being said, I think I’ve hit my stride with regards to the assignment objectives and requirements; I’m linking, tagging, and adding gifs to my posts and have balanced the narrative reflection with information and analysis.

I’m very happy the Wikipedia assignment was optional; the weekly blog posts and annotations are a lot of work by themselves, but combined with that assignment and my other classes, the class workload was impossible to keep up with. It was still very difficult—I wish there had been fewer blog posts with longer word counts, and that they had been presented as mini-essays or articles.

All told, this class provided me with a solid framework to understand, use and analyze various digital technologies, and I’ve come out of it better equipped to be critical of the online world.

Reflection on PUB802

** To organize this post I will be referring to PUB802’s learning objectives. After each main idea, I write [in square brackets] what learning objective it’s related to **
  1. To whet your appetite for thinking about the role and effects of digital technologies, especially as it relates to the content we consume
  2. To help you develop a framework to analyze and interpret technology-related events and trends
  3. To better understand (but not necessarily fully comprehend) how different technologies work
  4. Give you practical experience with three digital publishing tools and formats: blogging (WordPress), wikis (Wikipedia) and annotations (Hypothes.is)
  5. Allow you to develop and express your own thoughts about various aspects of technology.

For the past few years, I’ve become hyper-aware of how much technology influences my life. I see myself and people around me dealing with phone addictions, going on social media detoxes, using tech for entertainment, for learning, for connecting, buying the latest Alexa, learning to code, etc, etc.  At least once a day I see an article or a TED Talk on my newsfeed about how technology is changing our mental and physical behavior. How it’s destroying humanity. How it’s empowering humanity. When a new feature is introduced on our gadgets, the immediate reaction seems to be “Woah! that’s magic!”.  It’s part of our everyday life, we wake up to it and go to bed with it, and yet it shocks me how little I understand it.
Therefore, I was pretty excited about PUB802 because I wanted to have tech demystified for me. To be totally honest, I wanted to learn all the nitty gritty details about how everything worked and some basic coding skills…this is probably because I enjoy learning how things work in a technical sense. But the course was more realistic in scope, and was more about thinking about tech in a  philosophical way and about the social and political implications of tech. I can now admit that this is probably more important to think about as we enter into our own publishing careers. However, some of the top highlights from the course for me was Juan’s brief mini-lessons on how the internet worked (Week 2), how data encryption worked (Week 8), and what XML and Pandoc are (Week 5). The technical aspects interest me and the course has spiked my interest more and allowed me to go do more reading on how things work and to teach myself some code.
[Learning Objective 1, 3]
**

The in-class discussions were my favorite part of the course. It always felt very conversational. I was able to listen to different opinions, develop my own ideas and share them in a coherent manner. It forced me to reflect and also dig deeper into my opinions. Some weeks were more challenging for me than others in terms of discussing topics as I felt a lot of points were brought up on Hypothes.is nonetheless, in-class discussions were always fruitful. I also learned that I don’t always have to hold one opinion or the other. The biggest takeaway from the discussions was that these topics such as copyright and data privacy are very complicated and there is no right or wrong answer. Which leads me to my favourite weektopics were:

  • Week 6: Copyright and Fair Use
    • learning about remix culture and the copyright implications of it and net neutrality were two very new topics I never knew about. I think as future publishers it’s super important to understand this
    • the blog prompt for this week was challenging but rewarding. Wrapping my head around fair use factors and applying it to a case study was a great exercise
  • Week 4 and 5: Internet Business Models
    • I’m grouping these two weeks together because for me they were less about the particular business models we talked about (Medium, Patreon, etc) but about thinking of the internet and the web as a business in general. I’ve always thought about the web as this place for free knowledge and entertainment, but this week shaped a more realistic picture.
    • I enjoyed writing my blog post for week 5 because I looked into how many different types of business models there were for the web (a lot!) and how different people and businesses utilize these strategies to make a living. As someone who wants to help creators showcase their work in a digital space, the ideas from these two weeks were valuable!
    • This week also felt the most optimistic in terms of how people use the web because we learned about peer-to-peer networks and platform cooperatives.

Though these two weeks were the most novel to me, I learned something new every single week such as Facebook’s shadow profiles, what data is being collected from us (answer: EVERYTHING), thinking about the web as a space, the switch from open web to platform based, AI’s role in publishing, and pros and cons of digital reading. This list can go on and on. The readings and discussions were engaging and I would even bring home certain ideas and discuss them with my housemates! I am now comfortable talking about metadata, ebooks, data privacy, etc.

Hypothes.is also played a huge role in allowing me to think critically about the readings and spend time digging deeper into the topics. For example, due to the comments, I was able to learn about things like Web 3.0  and watch a TED Talk about new trends in dealing with data (I can’t link to it because that Hypothes.is comment by Melody disappeared).
[Learning Objective 1, 2, 3, 5]

**
In terms of using publishing tools and formats, I believe the Wikipedia assignment was the most beneficial. I agree with the cohort that writing a Wikipedia article was challenging, however, learning how to do it and running through the modules was very inspiring! I noticed around the city that there are Wikipedia edit-a-thons (Art+ Feminism, Indigenous Writers). Now that I know how to do it, I’d love to attend future events such as these. I think it’s a really important thing to do and I want to contribute more to public knowledge. I’ve also noticed that now I’m a more critical reader of Wikipedia articles and have caught quite a few missing citations and biased information.
 [Learning Objective 4]
**

Future learning and course recommendations

Overall I think this course has allowed me to gain foundational knowledge on technology and how it relates to publishing. It has also taught me how to read articles, blog posts, and various other content about tech – it doesn’t seem so scary or mystical anymore. Even within our cohort, I can see that we’ve all developed interest in the topics in the course and when we find links about tech and publishing we share them with each other. For example, last week Charlotte shared Apple’s announcement about starting a magazine publication and Steph shared a link about Medium looking for partners to launch new publications.
In terms of course recommendations, I (and many others in the cohort) found that writing a blog post every week to be challenging. It required a lot more research and effort than what we expected. I agree that in some weeks it led to many interesting insights and deepened my knowledge of the topics, however in other weeks I felt the blog posts to be repetitive to the in-class discussion and I didn’t feel like I added anything new to the conversation. My recommendation would be to allow students to perhaps choose three or four topics that they’d be interested in and write blog posts about that.
Another recommendation is that I think basic coding knowledge would be invaluable and very practical for us as we enter into publishing. Having some weeks that are workshop days, where we learn HTML, CSS, and perhaps basic Javascript would have been very beneficial.
Other than that, it was a very enjoyable course and it’s definitely changed the way I think about technology. It’s made it less ‘magical’. There are real humans behind the technology we use, making real decisions that can impact how we use it. Understanding this is important because now I can critique it, fight against it, or support it.

A Publisher’s Dream

The publishing industry has been through many big changes in, especially with the rise in popularity of ebooks and buying books from Amazon. Customer data a very useful tool in the publishing industry. If I were a publisher, data about reader’s data would be the most effective data for the company.

Gathering readers’ data especially their behavior and interactions with the book and knowing what readers find engaging and what they do not can help us as publishers unlock previously hidden assets within our publishing lists. We have seen a lot of books that got rejected at first because the publisher did not think it would sell but later ended up on the bestseller list. This can happen when there is not enough data for the publisher to make an informed decision. Therefore, the reader’s insights can help publishers understand their readers better and thus make better new editions of books and improve the quality of the books taking user input into account. User data can give us more information about which authors and genres we should invest more time in. It also helps in gaining market insights by acknowledging which types of books are running out of steam; if there is any problem with a book itself, the reader’s data will help us identify exactly where it is. By knowing where and when they stopped and continued reading  It will give us opportunities to make a decision regarding the publishing content. This can help paint a detailed picture, allowing publishers to predict future book purchases and forecast sales and predict bestseller list–every publisher’s dream!

The main concern we have as publishers is getting customers’ data without breaching their privacy. As I always mention, transparency is the key. We should be very clear with our customers on how we are tracking and collecting their data. This model will allow us to retain customers and attract new ones. . Even if, as a publisher, we are not collecting the data ourselves and we receive it from another party (what we see in most cases in the publishing world), we should not resell or share any private information.

Collecting data is crucial for business survival, yet there is no clear way to implement it without breaching anyone’s privacy. Taking into consideration how recent the use of data in business models, it seems we are in the trial and error phase. Companies are trying to use data in many different ways, some are failing and others are succeeding. I think that the next phase will allow businesses to collect data in an easy manner while being honest with the customer. But for now, as publishers, we should take the initiative to be transparent with users by giving them the option to provide their data or refuse to do so.

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?

A dream: a world where our information is protected and truly private

While there is data that can predict the next blockbuster hits, as shared from Stephen Phillips’ “Can Big Data Find the Next Blockbuster Hit“, I believe that the most useful information a publisher can obtain is from the author and his/her readership credentials to prove that the author is worthy of being published. It’s sad that the amount of likes or follower count is how we qualify how worthy an author’s work is to be published, but I believe this is what the future of publishing is moving towards. Many publishers look at an author’s previous publishing experiences, or if an author has previous entertainment success to use as a security blanket, as a means to promise success and high profit from a project. For example, it’s been very popular to look at the social media account information from prospective poets, as most “Instapoets” are now published based off of viral posts from their poetry. I think this is how most celebrities become authors too. It’s so risky for publishers to publish works, as most ideas don’t really make money. I understand that not most publishers publish just for monetary value, but for the large-house publishing companies, I don’t see it any other way. It’s as if this data acts as the closest publishers can bet to a promised return on a project. 

While I’m not too familiar with the types of data there are for publishers to use in their favour, I’m particularly interested in Apple’s announcement this week with the launch of Apple News+, a brand new subscription service that offers human-curated news to the user. One of the most impressive perks is that Apple promises to keep the user’s reading habits private, from Apple and advertisers. Apple shared that “publishers will be paid based on how many people read… data will be collected in such a way that it won’t know who read what, just what total time is spent on different stories.” I’m interested in exploring this flip in the question, that what if readership data is restricted from publishers? How would it impact the productivity of the publisher, or alternate the decision-making process of what gets published? This is a huge stab at Google and Facebook, who are notoriously known for selling our data to brands, most often without our permission. I think this is a great step for Apple as a brand, but I wonder if this makes many advertisers pull out from working with Apple, or publishers nervous that they will be weakened from not accessing primitive data. I respect Apple as a company because it continuously sought to differentiate itself from companies like Google and Facebook by emphasizing on privacy standards. I admire that Apple focuses on being consumer-friendly, so I wonder what this could mean for publishers. I think if a publisher can be like this, it would gain even more appreciation and support from readers. It’s a strong way to increase branding value, by making the reader feel like they are respected and don’t have to fear for an invasion of privacy. However, if publishers don’t depend on readership data, then how can they strive for blockbuster hits? Can it be taken as just a game of chance or the gut feeling? How successful can this be? I guess time will tell, but given this powerful initiative from a big-time corporation like Apple, I hope that other companies can follow this as an example. 

PS: There was Oprah at the #AppleEvent so Apple is sooooo winning!

 

 

Working Towards Big Data Ethics

The use of big data has skyrocketed within recent years opening up new opportunities for traditional industries such as publishing. Through the use of data collection and the ever-evolving way it is gathered, publishers can now gain insights into which sections of digital books are popular with readers, how long it takes the reader to finish a book, and whether or not they do indeed finish it. These insights help publishers make strategic decisions on everything from the emotional content arc of a story, to finding the next blockbuster, and how to capture reader engagement. But like all things great, with big data comes big responsibility. Regardless of what information publishers find beneficial, I believe there should be strong governmental regulations which set the moral responsibility of publishers and create an ethical code to govern how data is collected and used. This extends beyond current personal data laws and requires policymakers to keep up to date with the latest data mining approaches.

Continue reading “Working Towards Big Data Ethics”

Digging for Gold: Reader Analytics and Data Mining in Manuscripts

As a publisher, if I had an all access pass to book data I would concentrate on my authors, their writing and my editorial team. I’m not talking about producing blockbuster after blockbuster, but simply having more hits than misses. Plus, only so many people read so many books a year which means the amount of blockbusters is finite. If I only wanted to be producing blockbusters then I’d be putting out two or three books a year, and somehow having a drastically reduced field of competition. No, I don’t need to sell a million copies of my author’s latest work (although that would be nice) but I do want to give their book the best possible chance to make it. How would I do this? By using reader analytics and data mining of course. Other publishers have already acknowledged the advantages.

A perfected Jellybooks would be my tool of choice. Being able to pin point where a reader struggles or stops reading would be beneficial for both the editor and the author to know. If the majority of readers are calling it quits after chapter three then some changes need to be made in the writing. My editor knows this book is a winner since the ending is spectacular, reflective, and thought-provoking, except no one is going to know that unless they get to the end! If the book lulls and you lose your audience (who is far less trained to recognize real talent and art, the je ne sais quoi of good writing than my editors and their gut) then it doesn’t matter how good the potential of the book is. Maybe all it will take is a little tweak to keep readers hooked.

Wouldn’t the authors have a problem with this? Sharing their precious baby before its ready for the cold world when it still needs some time to incubate with their editor. Yes, writers are sensitive and having their work picked apart by a bunch of strangers certainly doesn’t seem appealing and there are mixed opinions on beta reading. I would encourage them to reconsider, and to look at it as an investment in beta testing and although it may be painful it would at least give their book the best chance it could get before being released to the real cold world. Wouldn’t they appreciate a test-flop before a real flop? At least they have the time to go back and tweak their manuscript some more.

Plus, there are only six basic emotional arcs of storytelling and by data mining the manuscripts my editors would make sure that they keep on track with patterns readers are familiar with. Of course, this doesn’t mean the stories can’t break rules, and it’s possible to build complex arcs by using basic building blocks in sequence to create something unique. If my editors are able to catch a dip or spike in an already established arc, then it would be easier for them to hone in on the problem area and adjust it accordingly. Data mining manuscripts offers editors a map to the potential problem areas, and the chance to dig in and use their editorial training to adjust these segments. Generally, a good editor would be able to find these problem areas and lulls regardless, but an algorithm speeds up the process and allows for more time dedicated to workshopping the section.

Data mining manuscripts and using reader analytics isn’t about removing the human element from editorial work, quite the contrary. Reader analytics is studying human behaviour with reading, while data mining manuscripts is simply expediting the grunt work editors would have to go through regardless. Editors can use these tools to streamline the process they need to take with the manuscript and combine it with their gut instincts and human experience to allow a book to reach its full potential.

Data: My Preciou$

It is impossible to not feel diabolical if I, as a publisher, had access to any data.  I think I will have to encroach on personal privacy if I want to take vastly beneficial decisions for my publishing house.

Firstly, I would figure out geographical interest clusters in the country i.e. figuring out where lots of my target audience lives so I can arrange author tours, book signings, events, and launches nearby. I would consequently also know what time and days of the week they are in the mood to shop/attend events.

I would also, obviously, employ data analyzers to figure out trends in the market and ride those waves. One of the ways I would do that is to metadata my slush pile and pick out relevant manuscripts that can maneuver the trend waves, instead of killing my young, exhausted intern.

I have noticed that Netflix shows are a common conversation starter among young people with spending liberty. If we can understand the trends (excluding the unexpected booms of a new genre), I would like to have Netflix on board. If I can have access to their data, then I would collaborate with Netflix and create a TV series which are based on the series of books we are publishing (which would be a season ahead). That way, fans of the TV show would buy books produced by my publishing house, if they want to get ahead of the show and know what happens next before the next season.

I also think there is a lot of untapped international market. North American publishers tend to be hesitant circulating outside the continent. This is understandable since publishing is oft times a gamble even in the continent, but since I have access to all the data in the world, I can capitalize on this opportunity. I would purchase world media rights to books with themes that are “on-trend”. Following international markets are translations: with all the right data, I can translate the on-trend books, work with international retailers, libraries, and warehouses to place my books in the hands of people that really care about the subject matter.

Children’s books are a big seller and can be sold in different regions of the world since every parent loves the idea of a genius child(ren). There are numerous studies that can be used as awareness campaigns to encourage young parents to buy books for their children in any part of the world, with a reasonable literacy rate.

I am certain that as a publisher, I would have to invade privacy if it came at the cost of unlimited data: which is a great opportunity to take the book industry outside of North America.

 

 

 

Hot Take: If I Were a Publisher (Which I’m Not. Thank God.)

As a consumer, the idea of someone collecting any kind of information about me to use in any way is disturbing… but as someone who is now intimately familiar with the plight of small publishers, I can also understand the value of data collection. If I were a publisher and had access to any data out there, this would be my hot take on data collection without impinging on personal privacy (and how I’d later use collected data in my business model):

I’m okay with the collection of certain things, as long as it’s grouped and made anonymous. You want to know my age? Great, make me one of a thousand 25-year-olds. As a publisher, I’d only look at what can be easily anonymized—what cannot be traced back to readers should there be a breach. Age, for example, and how fast a person reads a particular book. What they read. If they finish the book. How many times they bookmark. How often they highlight/comment. Though I know that the latter two have the potential to violate privacy, when immediately grouped as and made anonymous (ex. 234 people read this Chuck Tingle book), it becomes very difficult to trace. I would not collect names, gender, or location, and I would not collect what readers highlight/comment. In short, I’d stay away from anything that could result in a person being easily identified.

I’d collect this data by way of asking consumers—exactly like Jellybooks. I think their model is incredibly clever: not only do they ask for data and seem to be transparent about their collection, giving readers advanced copies creates opportunities for free publicity. All this being said, there are a few changes I’d make to Jellybooks’ model. Most importantly, I’d lay out for the consumer that all data would be grouped and anonymized immediately in order to protect privacy, and that this data would be only for my company’s own use. I’d also be very clear that the goal of collecting this data would be to better connect books with the audiences interested in reading them. Though there undoubtedly needs to be a Terms and Conditions attached to this data collection project, I’d provide a plain language cheat sheet in order to be totally transparent.

As a publisher, the collection of the kinds of data listed above would allow me to understand what types of books are being most widely read and what age group is reading them. This would aid in optimizing marketing initiatives. I’d also be able to understand what kinds of books tend to be annotated, finished and how fast they do so. Over time, this would create a data set of the kinds of books that people tend to engage with and read the most, which would help with acquisitions.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve learnt that data collection is a really complicated and touchy subject, and that there are no easy answers. There are undoubtedly implications for privacy that I haven’t thought of in the collection of the data listed above; this is serious stuff, and business owners have to make hard ethical choices regarding what data they want to collect and what they want to use that data for. All of this being said, if I were a publisher, the above is the approach I would take. I’d try my very best to find a happy medium between data collection to help my business, and protecting my consumers’ identities in the event of a breach.

(But all of this is a lot of pressure, so thank god I’m not planning on being a publisher.)

If I had unlimited access to the world

As global COO of Macmillan Science and Education, Ken Michaels, states, access to data and the analysis of what is out there allows publishers to “chart better strategic business objectives, improve the effectiveness and efficiency in all parts of the business, including developing better products and audience outreach, enhancing how we market, even one to one [marketing].”

I would use the information out there to do all of the above. I would not necessarily start letting data or computers make all of my marketing or acquisition decisions, but I would work to interpret the data and let it inform my decisions in a way that is collaborative. I also think once publishers have a greater wealth of data and a greater understanding of it, it makes sense that that data would then become a larger factor in pitching titles to Indigo, Barnes and Noble, and other buyers. I would also use the data to shape which kind of titles to commission, as the data would enable us to determine where there is a niche to be filled and what audiences exist.

Speaking on a more specific level, having all the user data for Facebook would enable me to optimize my marketing by helping me learn more about specific reader demographic profiles and how to optimize my audience information when generating ads for specific books and branded contents. Using Facebook’s infinite amount of user data, we could learn more about how people read online, what makes them engage with content, and how directly target consumers likely to actually read our products. As a publisher, I could use data to identify historical trends of what has traditionally succeeded in terms of themes, format, and more. The data from social media platforms could help me identify social trends and I would utilize that knowledge to publish titles that are topical (with an understanding that some trends really are just “trends”) and I would combine this knowledge to see which patterns exist in the overall market.

Using Amazon’s data, we could find out more about what kind of metadata works and how best to optimize our titles for discoverability in a way that takes advantage of Amazon’s algorithms. We could also create more effective comp titles if we had access to all the similar titles a consumer tends to buy (rather than just the ones listed on the website), and we could create more in-depth reader/persona profiles by having further access to the full purchasing or browsing history of users who bought these similar titles.

According to WNWP (What’s new with publishing), a company called Storyfit has been using AI to determine which art is appropriate for which media. The artificial intelligence answers questions such as the following:

“Is this book a good fit for a Facebook marketing campaign across Europe? Is that book series a wise investment for a movie studio to option the film rights? In comparing these three books on sending a spaceship to Mars, which is the most likely to be the most popular and sell the most units, if all are priced the same way?”

The technology is likely not 100% dependable, but being able to gather data helps us improve discovery, create more effective marketing plans, and ultimately drive the sales. Despite all the class discussions about the ethics around using data, I think that publishing right now is largely a guessing game, and that any quantifiable information you can gather about the market and readers is an advantage that one would be foolish to ignore. While I do not think I would build my acquisition strategy, I think the data would prove pivotal for convincing other industry professionals once the practice of gathering better data fully catches on. I think any data I would be able to gather would give me a competitive edge and enable me to push for the books I am already passionate about.