REFLECTION

Being a user of technology at every seconds of my life, I was excited to learn more about technology in this course. PUB 802 was a very interesting course; I have learnt as evidence by this reflection.

My lecturer, Mr. Juan Pablo Alperin, has afforded me the opportunity to learn more technological terms and trends. We were also exposed to different materials highlighting the importance of integrating technology in the publishing industry. As I reflect on the course, I must say that I have really learnt a lot.

I believe that technology integration continues to increase in the publishing industry. It is important that we, as future publishers, possess the very skills and behaviours to better survive in a digital age.

Applying technology at school has had a great impact on me as it has given me more knowledge, such as sannotation, e-book and Amazon. This course has taught me different ways that I can use to plan effective technological integration for working in the industry.

In this class it was challenging at times, especially with the weekly assignments but I have learned to use different technological tools. I opted to try different things even though I wasn’t sure how it would work, but because of my determination and curiosity, I did it anyway and it worked. I guess this says that I take risks in learning on my own at times.

As I willingly accepted the opportunity to explore educational technology, my darkened state was lit as it was brought to my attention how technology savvy the 21st century learners are. However, as the course progressed new information surfaced. At some point in the course I felt frustrated, but I continued to do what I had to do, knowing that it would only redound to my success.

As I continue to reflect I realize that this course has helped me to understand that the use of interactive educational activities can promote higher order thinking skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. I have proven this to be true, based on the discussions and group activities done in the class. This course has helped me as I work with my colleagues and we collaborate and make decisions to create meaningful, learning experiences.

Without a doubt technology has become a vehicle for educational growth and I am happy to be a part of this vision. This course has definitely helped me to realize it.  

Reflections on the Class

When I started the MPub, I thought I was going to end up in editorial. It wasn’t until John’s Text and Context class and my own self-led research into scholarly communications that I realized I might want to go into tech. This class, Tech Theory, was really important to me as I prepared for an industry that I didn’t have as much background in as I would have had I gone my original route. Though I understand PUB802 was more theoretical where PUB607 would balance out the practical technology, I do wish both courses had been running the entire semester concurrently.

What worked for me

1) Hypothes.is annotations

We’ve talked a bit about digital reading behaviors, but I think annotating via Hypothesis really helped me concentrate on the content and get something out of it. It was helpful that reading the articles was incentivized beyond being able to successfully participate in class discussion the next day. Though I do think it could have been rewarding to have our annotations publicly visible, I understand why we didn’t. Perhaps for future classes, there could be a consensus requested. Engaging in the reading and knowing I had to contribute to a building conversation also helped me stop from skimming. I’ve started annotating pages that weren’t for class, and I think it’s a plug-in that I’ll keep installed and use in the future.

2) Student-run classes

I appreciated the opportunity to educate myself really well about a certain topic and have to be responsible for knowing as much as I could about it. In the future, however, I wish that this aspect of the course was better structured and laid out in advance.

3) Industry guest: Jamie Broadhurst

Jamie’s presentation on the data involved with Fire and Fury was super enlightening. Having recent, real-life examples of how the tech we’re learning about is used in the industry was helpful to orient our perspectives on the way things may work.

What I think could change

1) Shorter student-run segments of class

Though we didn’t always know how long we’d have that day to lead the class we structured, it was often upwards of two or two and a half hours. In the future, I think it would be better to have students lead for about an hour and a half, after which we would have instructor-led or industry guest-led lessons to fill in the gaps that students may have a bias against or be missing.

2) More industry guests

I noticed an overall trend that when comparing fall semester to spring semester, fall semester had far more industry guests. Because half of our classes in the spring semester involve tech, I think it would be helpful to invite more tech-focused industry guests into the classroom. I feel that as students we have a more limited network of acquaintances in magazines and tech than we do of Vancouver’s book publishing scene. More industry guests could also help students who are, in the spring semester, still struggling to find places to apply for their career placements, as I believe many of our cohort chose placements with guests that had visited throughout the program.

3) Cross-over classes?

It might be neat to occasionally cross the practical and theoretical between PUB607 and PUB802. If crossover classes aren’t an option, it would at least be nice to structure 802 to have parallel components with 802.

Overall, I enjoyed the course and learned a lot. I feel much more ready to embrace a role involving publishing technologies. My fellow students did a good job of preparing their classes, and my perspectives on the industry has changed a lot

Reflections on PUB802

Each student will write a final essay (approximately 500-750 words) that outlines their experience in the course, and the ways in which their thinking about the roles of technologies in publishing, and in our lives, has changed as a result. Students can focus on a single takeaway, on several, or discuss the course as a whole. The takeaway need not be about a specific piece of knowledge, but rather about the experience as a whole.

Technology, in general, has never been my strong suit. I’m interested in learning more about technology and how it works, but, much like science, I’ve never really been able to wrap my brain around how a lot of it works. I was excited and nervous to start the technology course because I knew I would learn a lot, but I was worried about having little prior knowledge. I came into the first class of PUB802 assuming that the class would be a practical lab and we would be learning how to use various publishing technologies, so I was surprised when I found out that it would be mostly lecture style. Given that the media and tech projects were done differently this year, I would like to offer a suggestion to combine the technology and tech project courses—starting both in January—instead of combining the media and tech project courses. I think combining the lecture style learning (like PUB802) and practical lab learning  (like the workshops in tech project) would be beneficial to students, especially those with different learning styles.

Now that I’ve offered a suggestion for future classes, I will focus on how the class was run and how it helped my learning. This class can be broken up into a few sections: annotations, blog posts, class lead, and other assignments.

Annotations:

Using annotations for our online readings was brilliant. MPub has been difficult and time consuming, and some readings end up not being read because work takes priority. Having the annotation requirement ensured that I read everything for every week, which improved my participation in class and overall learning. The only thing I would suggest for this is to ensure the people who are leading that topic are still participating in annotations by answering and asking questions and prompting further discussion and threads in the annotations.

Blog Posts:

I’ll admit that it was tough to get these done every week. The blog post questions weren’t hard or time consuming, it was just another thing to do every week that usually got pushed to the end of the week. That being said, I found them incredibly valuable. For the weeks I wasn’t leading the class, I was still encouraged to participate in the discussions and come up with my own ideas and thoughts about every topic. This definitely contributed to my learning about technology in publishing because I was forced into deep thought about every topic, but I could focus that topic around the things I’m interested in: small presses, speculative fiction, short fiction, etc. Putting things into a perspective that I enjoyed and understood was a great way to think about new things.

Class Lead:

Again, this part of the class was beneficial because I dug deep into a specific topic and facilitated discussion with my peers. I tried to participate in the annotations more, as I suggested people should do above, but I think I could have done better if it was more suggested that I do so. I also think Juan should weigh in on the discussion a bit more than he did, especially during some weeks. Leading the class is definitely beneficial to everyone’s learning, but Juan knows more about every topic than we do and it would have been nice to have a bit more lecture from him.

Other Assignments:

I particularly enjoyed the open knowledge assignment. I think it was valuable for me to learn how to use Wikipedia, and I believe in contributing to open knowledge because it’s important for accessibility. I was less keen about the reflections assignment, though. It made sense to do something like this at the beginning of the semester, but doing the reflections essay and three forms of feedback (written, scantron, and the single question) in class seems to be a bit overkill. That being said, I appreciate that Juan is open to receiving feedback and it genuinely seems like he cares about improving his teaching style and his class for future years, which is never a bad thing.

A book is a book is a book: On Marginalia and Authority.

Publishing is to make public”. This is a statement that has been repeated plenty of times over. To publish is to seek out eyeballs. Whether it is done on the individual level (via self-publishing) or the collective level (traditional publishing), when work is put out there, audience engagement in some form, is sought out. “Eyeballs” are multidimensional: audiences do not only read works but they form opinions of works and make them known. They comment, they highlight, they leave marginalia on texts, both online and in print. Do they have the right to interact with texts that have been made available to them? Yes, they do.

Is marginalia authoritative if it is never found, never made public or if it never garners an audience? It has been argued that marginalia in print is long-lasting however in my opinion, it is less likely to gain an audience of more than a handful of the same people. For example, if a codex has a print run of 10 000, distributed all over Canada. And a person finds marginalia in one of the 10 000 books, possibly on a library shelf buried besides other books, their likelihood of being able to trace back to the original creator of the marginalia is low and their ability to create an instant community around the musings is even lower. In the digital sphere, however, marginalia is usually credited to a specific person (eg. on Hypothes.is) and as much as S. Brent Plate argues that this marginalia is ephemeral, the likelihood of more people interacting with it quicker is higher. Furthermore, the ease of community building around online marginalia could also be based on the fact that everyone is commenting on the same article despite their geographical location. In print, the marginalia might be in book 528 of the 10 000. Unless posted online (yet again), can this marginalia reach the author and be in conversation with them? The likelihood is no. I take into account that entire communities have been formed around print marginalia but these are the limitations of it in this digital era.

The point I am getting at here is that both audiences in print and online should be allowed to interact with texts if those texts have been made public. Whether they can “shape the text” however will be determined by the visibility of their marginalia and the community they can build around it.

Writers are also able to determine who can comment on their work by the simple act of defining the public it reaches and not publishing to all groups. They can choose language that deters certain people from engaging with their works for example. This has a tendency to be discriminatory however. By censoring interactions the writer becomes  a propagator of an opinion vacuum.

To summarise:

1) Audiences can react to texts if those texts have been made public. To publish something is to garner eyeballs. Interactions between published work and reader are part and parcel of the publishing process.

Marginalia requires an organised public of its own to be authoritative.

2) The writer can determine how their work is disseminated thereby deciding who has the right to comment on it. This can be discriminatory.

3) Should authors seek out eyeballs and subsequently not allow those eyeballs to engage with their works? I think not.

Small fun fact, on this topic of marginalia: I am a person who had first edition Jane Austen books and doodled in them because a book is a book is a book.

 

Author, Authority, Authoritarian

While thinking about the dichotomies involved when we talk about authorship of a work, it struck me that when I think about the word “authority” I don’t usually associate it with the word “author” — though pretty clearly that was the idea behind the concept whenever some old Latin guy or gal coined it yesteryear.

As Wikipedia lays it out for me:

Middle English: from Old French autorite, from Latin auctoritas, from auctor ‘originator, promoter’ (see author).

[I “see author”]:

Middle English (in the sense ‘a person who invents or causes something’): from Old French autor, from Latin auctor, from augere ‘increase, originate, promote.’ The spelling with th arose in the 15th century, and perhaps became established under the influence of authentic.

So now we’ve conglomerated a family of meanings and associated terms: author, authority, and authentic denoting originality, promotion, and invention. In the most denotative sense of the term, authority stems from the original author or writer’s creation of a thing. They have (?) the innate authority — or power, as we’ve come to view the term — over that work.

In the digital age of global marginalia and annotations, we’re now challenging those ideas of authority, or perhaps redefining them. There is nothing in particular in the etymology of the word authority that gives us an idea of a timeline; we can decide, perhaps, that an author has authority over a piece until it is passed to the next person (Copyright law, anyone?), or we can decide that an author has authority over a piece ad infinitum. At some level, I think the discussion is one of respect, but on another I think that publishing something — making it available to a public — is in the act itself asking for a response from your audience.

Though their complications with audience interaction didn’t manifest in the same way, I believe Audrey Watters‘ views on marginalia echo those of fiction author Anne Rice. Rice, back in the early 2000s was so vehemently against fan’s appropriation of her content for fanwork purposes — art, fanfiction, et cetera — that she sought legal action against her fans. The contention then was that she was alienating her own fanbase. Though many authors who shared Rice’s opinions turned around and came to accept fan culture, those sentiments are still harbored by many today, as we can see. A public is hard to form if the members of that public have no way to communicate with one another, and an effect of that is that the author/authority of that content works against their own interests.

So, should readers be able to interact with or shape the text? Should is hard to say, but will is definite. It’s an inevitability that authors will have to face. And annotations software like Hypothes.is don’t affect the original copy of the work; that maintains its shape.

Does a writer have the right to define who can comment? The writer has the right to give that comment context, of course, but to define “who can comment” is inherently discriminatory. In practical terms, most writers aren’t in control of the platforms they publish on anyway, and most websites have some means of moderation. Ever more popular these days is also the Reddit-style peer review system in which readers of a particular piece up and down vote comments according to how valuable they feel that comment to be. Peer reviewed community commenting seems to me a lot more reader-friendly than banning a particular group of people.

Should audiences be limited in their socialization over a text? Not if authors want an audience. But ultimately, it is and should be up to the author.

“The More One Knows, the Quaggier the Mire Gets” – Sarah Vowell*

Having recently prepared a project that relies on the concept of “digital fatigue,” I have read a lot of information online on the topic. There are blog entries, such as Frank Buytendik’s futurist-focused one, where he writes, “we are moving towards a #digitalsociety. Not only business changes, not only work changes. Life itself changes.” At the same time, there are medical warnings against the continued and growing exposure to screens. For example, Dr Aizman’s talks about ocular muscle strain and writes, “digital eye strain is very common because of our reliance on digital technology.”

Yet if you put these two observations together, you’re in Quagmire Land. Somewhere somehow, the eyes (which recent studies say are part of the brain and not separate organs) have to both do the work you’re demanding of them, and preserve themselves as part of providers of one of your five senses. Perhaps this is why content-retention when reading materials online is not as reliable – there is ocular and brain stress that steals away from the energy one devotes to reading and reading comprehension.

So – should publishers care? is a question that one wonders as a budding publisher. I think the most reasonable answer is, “it depends on the publisher.” When I was finishing my Graphic Design diploma, the Head of the Department and Portfolio instructor had us do rigorous research in terms of our “dream companies.” I had learned about Scholastic through my part-time work with children and made it one of my three winning companies. Now, at the tail end of the academic portion of my Master of Publishing, I know that if I were to indeed become a part of the team, I would use the type of medical and psychological research being done to encourage children to read real books, as well as educate parents on the necessity of perpetuating this method of reading. In fact, if you haven’t heard this interesting factoid, it has become public knowledge over the last few years that the children of Silicon Valley techies attend no-technology schools. While this New York Times article is a bit outdated, it offers a peek at some of their methodologies, such as  “Andie’s teacher, Cathy Waheed, who is a former computer engineer, tries to make learning both irresistible and highly tactile. Last year she taught fractions by having the children cut up food — apples, quesadillas, cake — into quarters, halves and sixteenths.”

Isn’t that so ironic? That the masterminds who brought personal computing to global levels are segregating their own children from their inventions? They must know something we don’t know.

So that’s if I were involved in publishing geared towards children and education.

Now, on the other hand, given Buytendik’s prediction that our future lives are inescapably digital and will become more so over time, I can imagine improvements to technology that publishers could (and would have to) take advantage of. I have not seen any VR-reading yet but sci-fi films often touch upon scientists finally unravelling the mysteries of the brain and plugging materials directly into neurons, the way we transfer data via cables or miniSDs into devices in the present. While growing up I was never much of a sci-fi fan, it never ceases to fascinate me that all writers’ “predictions” from past decades are now part of our daily lives. A vast majority of people are so ungrateful, too, in their unquenchable thirst for “better” “faster” “more.”  So with this new technology, new reading formats would inevitably dictate the way readers would access information. Thus publishers would have to indeed lend an ear, if they wished to survive into the 22nd century.

I’m 31 now and know that life will be so vastly different when I am 81.

*Vowell said this about American History but I find it applicable to everything in life.

Anna Stefanovici

ent-Retaining digital readers

Picture: The Van der Graaf or Tertiary Canon, used for page design creates harmony by its rules -which- lead the textblock to having the same ratio of the page, but it also positions it in perfectly whole units.

Publishers should care about the difficulties created by digital reading, leading to users nowadays to lose attention and becoming distracted while reading online or, being the case, any digital platform.

When you design a book, you ideally set a page size, layout and ortho-typographic characteristics for it. Every publisher worth his/her salt has to guarantee an ideal formatting of their books so they help the reader to get a better understanding of the content.

There is no agreed philosophy on this, some say roman fonts are better for long books, some say grotesques are better, some defend wider margins and white space, while others keep broad columns filled with text. In any of those cases, there is a clear purpose on the Publisher’s part to satisfy the readers needs as per their mission and philosophy.

We all remember “The Crystal Goblet” by Beatrice Warde, taught in our Design class, where you can only delight on the content when you do not nottice the recipient. I also remember seeing a documentary where they said, the cup has to be wide, so the corners of your mouth, which have lots of sensory terminals, could soak in the wine (or water) and you get a much improved sensation while drinking. I found this to be true, but what matters of these couple metaphors, is that, just like Pottery does to your drinking, Editorial Design also have its ways to enhance the readers experience. And its because of their mere existence, that Publishers have the responsibility to apply them to every field they intervene.

Several studies, some of which we reviewed last week  (here is another, just for completion purposes), point out that reading online hinders the optimal comprehension (i.e. to grasp the nature, significance, or meaning of… something) of the content. Yet, these platforms are common among all of us, whether for reading books, or to learn other contents, not available elsewhere.

So why would a digital publisher should not care about their readers fully comprehending the contents they publish and thus, provide the optimal format for this? The only reasons I can think of, is the ignorance of these format conventions, or the ways to code or implement them in their products.

Beyond these formal rules, there are other factors that keep readers distracted from the text, these have more to do with the multi-task and all encompassing lifestyles we are continually being suggested, it has nothing to do with the comfortability of reading on one or other platform. People have always been able to drink something while reading, but now they also need to be checking the screen of their phones at all times, the result (I soaked my book while drinkng my tea and checcking phone”. Before this, the -dial- phone also ringed some times, or night came and people could not read, there was hardly a time when you could do nothing else but reading (except an IELTS certification exam of course), but since books have existed, people have taken measures to provide an optimal reading, from creating spaces dedicated to the activity, to the lecterns, reading lamps, seats and many other gadgets. It was even a ritualized activity! And they have also invented a bunch of reasons why they don’t read.

Nowadays, most people believe it is a “democratic” privilege to be able to read on the go, while on the bus or train, from the screen of a reader, tablet or smartphone. It is also believed, everything on the screen is something to be readable, while it is not, sometimes it is not even legible. This is where publishers of all kinds have messed up with the act of reading on their part.

Lets consider the famous “accessibility” feature of digital texts, an elegant name for “zoom in/out” in most cases. Does this help people read better? From the designer point of view, it is an aberration, because the screen size limits the column width, and with this, all the careful work usually done on a printed book is thrown in favor of bigger letters and shorter lines. The mere fact to be scrolling down to reach the next line is a distraction. When people had “accessibility” problems with printed books, they bought a magnifying glass,there are some like a sheet you put on top of the book and you have your accessibility, you don’t mess with the layout, period. This may be a rudimentary example, but it shows how these technologies are not necessarily new.

So yes, it is not only their responsibility but also their fault things are screwed up like this.

So what can be done? From the design POV, first and foremost would be to learn the basic -and advanced- principles of formatting texts, including the editing canon, even if you are not going to do the formatting, you will at least know how it would look like. Then, learn how they can be implemented in digital works.

Primitive digital books in PDF preserved page format, today we have CSS to do that online. For all the myriad of possible digital texts, we have to learn how to control the text flow on a screen, and what are the best results that can be achieved with them.

Text now interacts with video, hyperlinks, buttons, menus, etc. The digital reading age is in fact too young and ever changing, but most of the basic obstacles have been overcome, so it is a matter of putting some interest to the task, not just writing a long column for a blog or leaving the available space after that huge banner in your website. Ebooks need a major set of rules, and it  will just take a successful publisher to find the ideal format, at least for one of the many platforms out there. Its a worthy excercise, an ongoing one I insist, contrary to the centennial rules of book publishing, we are living the age where these matters are about to emerge.

Final note: And fear not because we are human beings, capable of adapting to new standards, given enough time, so even if no one achieves a successful result, we will deal with reading on five or six different ways anyway

Oh! and just a final note: That Van der Graaf thing, was not exclusive to
Europe…

 

Audio for Small Publishers. Hooray!

In 2014 I founded Kamaria Press, a not-for-profit African and Caribbean publishing house. The original business plan was to publish the works of Black authors using Amazon CreateSpace for the production and distribution of print books. As a student with not much experience in the publishing industry, I assumed that the works that Kamaria Press was to release needed to be in print for the company to be validated/recognised as legitimate. A long history of viewing print as the default book format influenced my early business plan.

It took me a while to realise that as a startup publisher with no external funding, printing with CreateSpace as beneficial as they portrayed it to be would run me into a loss within my first year of business. (Not-for-profit presses need to make surpluses too in order to carry out their mission). I was then introduced to eBook publishing as a viable business model but a lack of tailored expertise on how to produce them in-house meant that I did not pursue this route.

But as we all know digital publishing is not limited to eBooks and a survey I did amongst Black readers in the UK proved that audiobooks would be a popular reading format for them (my target audience). With this knowledge, I am looking to create an audio-only imprint which will be a significant part of Kamaria Press’ offerings going forward. Despite claims of audiobooks being extremely expensive to produce (insert the advice from Kevin Williams, publisher at Talon Books), I believe that small presses such as Kamaria Press can incorporate audio content using certain practical steps.

 Set-Up

According to Dr Hannah McGregor, publishing professionals can use USB or preferably analog microphones to achieve high-quality sound when recording podcasts and audiobooks. They are relatively easy to find and can cost as little as CAD$500 (a small investment when placed in the bigger picture). Here is a list of 25 of the best podcasting microphones, some of them can easily be used to record audiobooks too. I plan to invest in an analog microphone because of the elevated “warm” sound that they produce. I also plan to use built-in recorders such as Garage Band and Hindenburg to save and edit my books. This strategy is, for the most part inexpensive, and I want to start recording multi-page stories before moving on to longer texts.

Public libraries such as the Vancouver Public Library have recording studios and microphones which can be used by members whenever available. Depending on them is not a sustainable business strategy but it is viable start for an up and coming publisher.

Furthermore, if I or one of the Kamaria Press volunteers enrolls into an audio editing course then the knowledge capital of the organisation will increase as well as the ability to edit audiobooks in the long run. Another one-off investment. I, for example, will not have to hire outside help to edit thereby keeping costs low something that is crucial for startups.

Another option would be to use Amazon’s self-publishing audio arm, Audible’s Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) but I am trying to avoid the same problems I had with CreateSpace. Creating as much financial autonomy is a key part of  Kamaria Press’ business strategy.

Final Thoughts

As the fastest growing segment in publishing, it has been reported that “books in every imaginable genre [are selling] better as spoken rather than written word – four times as well” to be exact. It is of utmost importance that digital content particularly audio content be integrated into current business plans even for small publishers. I have attempted to discuss cost-effective ways of incorporating audio content into a small/growing publisher’s business plan. I truly believe that audio is for both the big and the small.

Skim Or Swim – The Book Must Go On

In her book, Proust and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf craftily inserts an excerpt from Proust’s book, On Reading and asks the reader to read the text as fast as they can.

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those . . . we spent with a favorite book. Everything that filled them for others, so it seemed, and that we dismissed as a vulgar obstacle to a divine pleasure: the game for which a friend would come to fetch us at the most interesting passage; the troublesome bee or sun ray that forced us to lift our eyes from the page or to change position; the provisions for the afternoon snack that we had been made to take along and that we left beside us on the bench without touching, while above our head the sun was diminishing in force in the blue sky; the dinner we had to return home for, and during which we thought only of going up immediately afterward to finish the interrupted chapter, all those things with which reading should have kept us from feeling anything but annoyance, on the contrary they have engraved in us so sweet a memory (so much more precious to our present judgment than what we read then with such love), that if we still happen today to leaf through those books of another time, it is for no other reason than that they are the only calendars we have kept of days that have vanished, and we hope to see reflected on their pages the dwellings and the ponds which no longer exist (M. Wolf 2007).

After reading the above text, Ms. Wolf asks the reader to analyze what they were thinking while reading the paragraph. She claims that Proust successfully conjures up the reader’s long-stored memories of books; the secret places they hid in, to read. Perhaps took them to the moments they spent reading underneath a tree, eating their favorite snack, completely lost in a trance; reading for the pleasure of reading.

The act of reading has been evolving forever. From Papyrus to parchment, to paper, to typewriter, to a computer, to a mobile phone . . . the way we read has come a long way. As reading habits change due to digital distraction and the dynamic nature of the web, our ability to consume long pieces of text and our capacity to focus is declining. Thus, not only are we reading differently, our brains are being exercised in a new way that is causing a shift in our cognitive processes. This transformation in the act of reading is affecting how publishers and innovators are approaching literature.

Canadians are among the biggest online addicts in the world, visiting more sites and spending more time visiting websites via desktop computers than anyone else in the world, according to comScore Canada. According to them, Canadians visit an average of 80 sites and spend an average of 36.3 hours online on their desktop computers every month. This leads us to the question: are people skimming content in same way they would skim their FB feed? Have our online scrolling and browsing habits affected our ability and desire to read real works of literature?

As has been discussed in our class, websites are designed to support the skimming behaviour, with clear heading, sub headings and the emphasis on the F-shaped pattern. Reading online can affect how we process information. Even as the online fatigue gets to us, we filter though the popping ads, hyperlinks, distracting layouts, colors and contrasts. These considerations that the reader has to make today, is steadily turning the goal of reading from contemplative to utilitarian. Time is of essence as our whole world is captured in one single screen and is constantly vying for our attention.

Considering that scrolling and scanning are the way of the future, the publishers and authors have to keep the needs (without assumptions) of the readers working through so many distractions and a shorter attention span.

Radish fiction is effectively doing this by serializing longer books in romance genre for its readers. Similarly, Juggernaut Books, India is remediating longer works of literature into shorter abridged versions to encourage the distracted/ reluctant readers to read more, imitating the short-term goals of digital reading. Author James Patterson is of the opinion that people have trade books for TV, movies, mobiles and social media. He craftily created a new line of short and propulsive novels, called Bookshots, that are easy on the pocket at $5 and can be consumed in a single sitting. The idea of serialized content is not new. Earlier it was done considering the reading style, level and genre of the content. But now, with digital reading making a one big umbrella, it can be applied to most of content being published. Another innovation is Spritz – a reading software that runs a speed reading box that shows no more than thirteen words at a time on a rolling basis and keeps you from getting distracted by the rest of the page.

So yes, the publishers care, as they should. But, this is no longer a lone man’s job. Publisher, authors and innovators need to work hand-in-hand as the readers re-calibrate  to the reading style of the future, whatever that may be.

Who knows . . . it might be wearable books!

Wolf, Maryanne. “Reading Lessons From Proust And The Squid.” In Proust and the Squid, by Mayanne Wolf, 3-17. HarpeerCollins Publishers, 2007.

Reader engagement and publishing

Prompt: Studies show that reading online can cause skimming and a decrease in understanding and retention of content. Do publishers care? Should they? Whose responsibility is it if it’s not publishers?

I think publishers do care about decline in reading, because it’s not just that the quality of reading online that has deteriorated; reading in print has also taken a nosedive. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, the percentage of adults in the US who read a book in any format reduced from 76% in 2013 to 72% in 2015. “The decline in reading in 2015 occurred in books across all formats: print, digital, and audio,” the research found. The announcement, this year, by Penguin Random House India to release a digital imprint called Penguin Petite for mobile reading, which would “repackage sections of longer books as digital shorts” is indicative of that fact that publishers are cognizant of the decline in people’s reading habits and want to do something about it.

Most publishers today have multiple digital imprints, as most have embraced a “digital-first” or “digital-only” stance, when it comes to launching new imprints. Most of these imprints specialize in genres such as sci-fi, fantasy, YA, romance, mystery, and more. Some, like Little, Brown, even have a literary and non-fiction digital imprint called Blackfriars. Unlike self-publishing, where the onus is almost entirely on the author to the make their book work, when it comes to digital imprints, a lot is at stake on the publisher’s side too. In an interview with The Guardian, Ursula Doyle, founder of Blackfriars, speaks about how the production processes followed at Blackfriars mirror those of traditional print book publishing. Blackfriars’ e-books are carefully edited, designed and published and dedicated publicity and copyrights people work to promote and publish the books. With so much riding on the fate of e-books, it is obvious that the quality of online reading and reader engagement has a direct effect on the success of e-books and the sustenance of the publishing industry. And it’s not just the big publishers who are affected by this. Millions of up-and-coming writers and small publishers start publishing digitally, because it is a cost-effective way for them to get their content out in the public. If they don’t find readers, because we are too distracted by our cellphones and Facebook alerts to concentrate for an hour and read an e-book, it’s a huge blow to creativity, inclusivity and innovation. Then only the companies that have the financial wherewithal to spend advertising dollars to get our attention will have a chance to net any readers. The small and emerging publishers – who are often the ones experimenting – will fall by the wayside. And even if the big publishers manage to sell their books, if data shows that no one is really reading them – that their “bounce rate”, as it were, is high – then no one really gains from this. Poor quality of online reading affects both the big publisher and small.

The option is not to bemoan people’s reading habits, but to do something about it. In an article for The Bookseller, Roger Warner, a digital consultant, maintains that “reading a book is best done in solitude without a zillion bits and bytes of digital distraction nibbling in from the sidelines – be it from friends, advertisers, or other forms of ‘native’ content.” To counteract this “digital distraction”, Warner says “publishers [need] to focus their digital innovation efforts on activities that support the core act of reading.” That can be done, he feels, if publishers focus on how their readers discover books. If publishers understand what topics their readers are interested in and how they find their content, then they can devise “new content-driven reader engagement strategies” that actually work. All this can be done if all publishers embrace digital and web analytics tools at their disposal, Warner feels. Reader engagement is key to the success of any publishing enterprise. That is why we have companies like Jellybooks that are dedicated to tracking it, via specialized software. This software is meant to inform publishers and marketers about whether what they are doing is right and how they can augment their efforts to promote their books and keep the readers interested in reading them. That people are reading poorly is an established fact, and it is one of the many issues plaguing the publishing industry. But it is what publishers will do with this information and the steps they will take to address it will in some ways determine the sustenance of the industry and potentially change/improve the way we read.

Looking Forward to an E-Literate Future

When we talk about reading online (or on an ereader, for the sake of argument) responsibility is an odd way to think about the part a publisher plays: despite one’s best intentions, a publisher is not the sole factor in how people read. The better way to approach the issue of digital reading and retention is through raising awareness and expanding literacy education to teach people, at least from school age, how best to interact with different digital texts for different purposes. In my opinion, educators, publishers, and ultimately readers all have a part to play in how we interact with and get the most out of digital reading.

The use of the Web was popularized on a mainstream level because of its ability to share messages over a network. While reading emails or online chats, personal websites, blogs and later in newsfeeds were the primary way people started reading digitally, the functions of digital reading have greatly expanded to academic, literary, and leisure reading– but the perception of reading on screens for these expanded (arguably “deeper) functions hasn’t quite caught up.

The first reason for this is because the majority of readers, educators, and publishers are still biased towards print reading as a more valuable and meaningful way to gain knowledge. As Dan Cohen points out, there is an “inertial positive feeling of physical books for most readers”, a hangover of being surrounded by print books our whole lives, that makes people generally inclined to choose print over screen. An article like James MacWilliams’ is telling, but not that reading is some kind of lost art: to me it indicates that we still haven’t learned how to read digital content the way we do print, and that writers or publishers who produce these kinds of articles perpetuate the idea that we never will. Ironically, MacWilliams writes that reading is something we must be taught to do, but that the “frenetic nature of digital life” inhibits our attention spans and is the reason we read less, and less deeply. Instead he argues that physical interaction with a book is what helps us submerge deeply into a text. It’s true that the Web in particular is a distracting environment. We are bombarded by enticing but ultimately dissatisfying clickbait articles. A Kindle or Kobo may mimic a page, but for many readers, not knowing how many pages we’ve come or how many we have left is disorienting and distracting. A long-form New Yorker article is lined with advertisements. I am as guilty as anyone of reading an article that shares a browser window with dozens of other tabs. However, these are merely forms we have complete liberty to either adapt to, or to change for the better.  As long as publishers and writers remain subsumed in the notion that the internet as merely a tool for commerce and dismiss the potential of digital reading, the culture of digital reading won’t be taken as seriously as print is. 

But I don’t think the bias has to remain this way forever. In Hannah McGregor’s History of Publishing seminar, we looked at reading digitally compared to physically in the context of Alan Galey’s essay “The Enkindling Reciter: E-Books in the Bibliographical Imagination.” In it, Galey compares the phenomenon of  the consumers’ desire for– and outrage at not obtaining– an out-of-print book that was readily available as an ebook. As Galey points out, “e-books are human artifacts, and bear the traces of their making no less for being digital, though they bear those traces in ways bibliographers have yet to explain thoroughly”– and I would argue, that the average consumer cannot yet explain either (214). Our familiarity with the “forensics” of print (that is, the way we are able to conceive of the construction of the book as we look at it’s glue binding and ink upon the page) means that we feel we can get closer to it, can understand it on a more intimate level. The forensics of a digital text, on the other hand, are still relatively mysterious, even magical, to the uninitiated eye: a mash of light, pixels, code, or a server in some remote place.

It is here I see a prime educational opportunity. As people become more familiar with how the internet or how e-readers work, the technology loses its mystique, and importantly, its novelty. A screen does not just have to be a vehicle for games and frivolity, which is what television, and later the PCs, has set us up to perceive. The kind of academic or intellectual value placed on print reading can be placed on digital reading; it’s just a matter of reframing. This has already been happening at a school level for a few years: in many elementary and high schools, tablet readers are an essential tool on which students do readings, exercises, and submit homework assignments. People in older generations might be aghast, thinking that these tablets will only be used for games and distraction, but that’s only what we have seen them useful for. When delivered and trained correctly, the use of tablets will have increasing success– and the adults who grow out of the e-reader-educated generation will be better equipped to read (and read well) in digital environments.

Publishing Plasticity: Don’t fear the e-reader

Reading in print is different from reading digitally. One study has shown that students report longer reading times, but also higher multitasking, when they read e-textbooks compared to print ones. Another one found that “students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally.” Michael S. Rosenwald says results like these have given rise to concern among neuroscientists that humans are “developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online,” and that “[t]his alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia.”

There are two claims here: one is that reading behaviour like skimming is taking over from slower, deeper reading, and I don’t disagree. The other claim is that “traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia.” Rosenwald acknowledges that it’s not as simple as this when he writes: “There are no genes for reading like there are for language or vision.” (I’m no expert, so I’ll have to take his word for it that there are in fact genes for language or vision.) However, in the next sentence, he argues that “the brain has adapted to read … spurred by the emergence of Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Phoenician alphabet, Chinese paper and, finally, the Gutenberg press.” In other words, it’s not just that our brains are changing as individuals in response to our reading habits; it’s that humans as a species evolved the “trait” of being able to read in response to our use of specific technology.

I am curious to know which research Rosenwald is using. The implications of viewing reading as an evolutionary adaptation to certain tools are not small. This is an example of a teleological understanding of the history of reading. On this view, science, technology and the human brain march upward together on a linear path toward fulfilling the human goal of the Printed Book. It’s a neat and tidy view, and if we take it, we are more likely to defend print reading as inherently superior over digital technology, at least until we’ve had a few more centuries to evolve our new digital reading trait.

However, human beings did not join hands and agree to begin reading all at once, “several millennia” ago. If this evolutionary view of reading behaviour were correct, then people from cultures where literacy became widespread only a few centuries ago would be centuries “behind” on reading skills, print or digital. But reading is not an evolutionary trait; it is a skill that can be mastered, or lost, in a single generation. Neuroplasticity is different from evolution.

This brings us back to the first claim, that reading behaviour like skimming is taking over from slower, deeper reading. If we are doing more and more of our reading digitally (which we are), and if digital reading gives rise to behaviour like skimming (which it appears to), and if skimming results in less cognition and understanding (as many psychological studies suggest), then we have a problem.

As we attempt to interpret these findings and consider how they should inform our choices as publishers, I think we should be cautious before we draw any sweeping conclusions based on our limited research. A December 2017 article in the Review of Educational Research “Reading on Paper and Digitally: What the Past Decades of Empirical Research Reveal” examined 36 psychological studies on the subject of print vs. digital reading. The authors state that to their knowledge, “this is the only systematic review on the topic of reading in different mediums since 1992 that juxtaposes the contemporary field of reading digitally against the long-established and deep-rooted research on reading in print.” The study leaves me with the impression that researchers have only just begun to investigate the differences between print and online reading, and that, unsurprisingly, further research is needed:

In addition to the aforementioned need for details on textual aspects, there is a need for more clarification regarding individual differences factors and text processing in print or digitally. Simply stated, individual difference factors are the variations or deviations among individuals with regard to the characteristics shown to play a significant role in human learning and development (e.g., working memory, academic ability, gender; Gagné & Glaser, 1987). In the case of reading in print and digitally, individual difference factors such as reading rate, vocabulary knowledge, and topic knowledge have been shown to be particularly pertinent. . . . Surprisingly, very few studies in this review considered such relevant individual difference factors as fluency or topic knowledge as potential explanations for performance outcomes between print and digital reading (Kendeou et al., 2011). Thus, assessing the role of individual differences factors could help clarify patterns in comprehension performance across mediums.

They conclude, carefully, that “medium plays an influential role under certain text or task conditions or for certain readers.” This measured answer makes sense to me. With respect to the question of how publishers should respond to the rise of digital reading, I think we have a responsibility to investigate our biases and personal reactions to these kinds of claims with curiosity, setting aside our personal preferences and assumptions about different reading formats, and thinking about what it is that the readers and writers in our specific areas (genre fiction, children’s literature, Indigenous authors and content, Black literature, etc.) need for their particular “text or task conditions.”

Rosenwald quotes Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (which I have not read, for the record). Wolf worries that “the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing.” To illustrate this, she describes herself reading a novel: “skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed.” But her reaction to watching herself exercise these (frankly remarkable) skills, the same skills that university education expects of us, was surprising: “I was so disgusted with myself.”

I think this illustrates how odd the panicked conversation about digital reading really is. Yes, reading in different contexts places emphasis on different kinds of skills. If print reading is falling to the wayside, I don’t think publishers need to clutch desperately at it as though it is a thread by which human intellect hangs.  We should absolutely study the different affordances of each medium, but not from the point of view that one is inherently better. Wolf points out that “the brain is plastic its whole life span” and is “constantly adapting.” Publishers need only take inspiration from that.

Final Essay: Reflection on Learning (PUB 802)

Each student will write a final essay (approximately 500-750 words) that outlines their experience in the course, and the ways in which their thinking about the roles of technologies in publishing, and in our lives, has changed as a result. Students can focus on a single takeaway, on several, or discuss the course as a whole. The takeaway need not be about a specific piece of knowledge, but rather about the experience as a whole.

Three months after the start of PUB 802 – Technology & Evolving Forms of Publishing, I can barely remember what I wrote on my cue card on that first day when we were asked to write out what we wanted to get from the class—but no matter what I wrote, I leave this class satisfied with the knowledge I have gained.

I remember feeling slightly overwhelmed by the fluid structure and the amount of autonomy we were given from day one. But coming from an educational background (I work for a school board), I understood the reasoning behind and the importance of letting students take control of their own learning. I understood that I would be more engaged in the course material if I had played a role in selecting in.

It has been an interesting experiment, seeing how these strategies that we encourage our teachers to use have played a role in my own life over the course of the semester. And I think that when looking back on my year in Vancouver, this course will stand out for me because of the forward-thinking structure it was delivered in, and because I will remember more of the content having made a conscious decision that this was information that I wanted to learn.

While I’ve taken many marketing, business, writing, and design courses before and have found much overlap with that content and the content in many of our other MPub classes, this tech class contained new information—information that will have a real and lasting impact on my life.

As much as I had hoped around the start of the class that I would leave with more concrete skills to navigate the ever-evolving world of tech, I understand now after our deep dives into the difference between the web and the internet, digital reading, tracking and measuring, and so forth, that having the background knowledge and the language to talk about these things is equally important (and has hopefully given me a solid foundation on which I can base future independent hard skills learning on).

I think a big part of the reason I have been able to take so much away from this course is because we used the hypothes.is plugin to annotate all of our readings. While I have always been a decent note-taker, being required to dig deeper and pull meaning, connections, and questions from the text on a public stage in front of my classmates lead me to think much deeper about the readings rather than take them at face value. I found in doing the annotations, I became more critical of the authors and was more likely to fact-check their claims, even if the articles came from reputable sources. I was also much more likely to seek out additional information to broaden my and my classmates’ understanding of the topics we were learning about. This sense of community, both between myself and the class, and the class and the author, has helped hold us all accountable to being engaged and doing proper research. If only this relationship dynamic showed up more throughout the online world, it would be a healthier place.

I also have a new appreciation for evolving and emerging technologies such as AI. Prior to this class, I was fearful and skeptical (and I think I still am, which isn’t a bad thing), but now I am able to acknowledge the problems rather than ignore them. I definitely can’t fix them, but I know that having an awareness and understanding of how they impact my life and my career is necessary. Furthermore, I understand that things like AI and metadata can benefit our lives, such as by leading to greater accessibility, knowledge, and connection. But that without proper regulation in place to hold big tech (and ourselves) accountable in this very real world, the results could be disastrous, as we have seen recently with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

I leave this class equipped with the tools necessary to understand technology, even as it shifts and changes. While we spent the last three months looking at things through a publishing lens, I feel that the background knowledge I have gained is applicable to many different fields and will be of benefit to me whatever career path I follow.

I could go on about my experience planning and leading a class, the weekly blog posts, or the contribution to public knowledge—all of which also challenged me to grow and learn—but I’m running out of space, so I will just say thank you instead.

Let’s address the root of the problem and not the split ends

Studies like those that Konnikova cites in Being A Better Online Reader do show that reading online creates a different type of reader behavior, which may manifest in increased likelihood to skim and decreased retention. But it’s important to put those observations into context.

For one, there are a few areas where we can notice a correlation and dig to find whether causation is there too. One of the reasons retention could be so low is because of the skimmable nature of digital reading. The root of these predicaments could be addressed at the same time by adapting digital texts to create different reading behaviors.

That’s something that one organization, The Rebus Foundation, is looking to do — create an environment for webbooks that encourages deep reading behaviors. As explained on their website:

Bringing books truly into the web will be transformative. We have joined the W3C to help define a new, open and integrated web standard for webbooks, one that will enable better sharing, annotation, collection, and deep reading of digital books. In this sphere, we are focusing on deep reading ecosystems for academics and scholarly readers.

It’s important to look at the verbs that they’re using to describe deep reading: sharing, annotating, collecting. It’s not just a matter of pointing out the problem and hoping you gather enough people that agree with you; they’re adapting the technology to fit the people and not the people to fit the technology.

Each of these actions they’re hoping to facilitate can be traced back to the reasons we find digital reading so difficult. Sharing capabilities help create a more tangible community around the texts, annotation (like taking notes in the margins) helps readers interact physically with what they’re reading, and collecting helps people feel that what they’re reading is more than ephemeral.

Through Booknet Canada’s State of Digital Publishing statistics, we can see that traditional publishers aren’t perhaps giving as much thought to digital reading, but that’s not to say that it’s not being done. The Rebus Foundation is doing work in the scholarly sector of publishing, but that means that those solutions can’t be transferable to other areas of publishing (and maybe also reveals that our hang ups with deep reading are most closely associated with scholarly texts in the first place).

So, not only is it the responsibility of publishers to address issues surrounding digital reading, but it’s already being done.

For the most part, traditional publishers seem to be giving up the fight with ebooks to Amazon and focusing on their print sales. While the longevity of print no doubt will prevail, and unlike Dan Cohen I don’t think ebooks will in the next few decades be the dominant form of the book, it does make me question the integrity of the publishers’ dedication to the form of publishing. To not recognize the evolution of the industry seems to me a major misstep, at least for those who can afford it. E-readers and audiobooks enable accessibility; it’s not just a matter of personal preference but of exclusion.

I think once publishers realize “make print books more attractive” isn’t the best response to “what do we do about digital reading?” then we’ll find an equilibrium in the industry.

Digital Tracking & the Responsibility of the User

Digital tracking has been in the news lately more than Donald Trump – who knew that any topic would ever manage that?! Or no… wait, you could easily just argue that it’s still about Donald Trump and politics, only that the focus is the tens of millions of online users that got duped. In her article about The Cambridge Analytica files, the fragment that stood out the most to me was the question writer Carole Cadwalladr posed to Wiley in regards to an analogy to bullying. Wiley responded, “’I think it’s worse than bullying because people don’t necessarily know it’s being done to them. At least bullying respects the agency of people because they know. So it’s worse, because if you do not respect the agency of people, anything that you’re doing after that point is not conducive to a democracy. And fundamentally, information warfare is not conducive to democracy.”

This aspect of data tracking shook me to my core. The reality is that 7 years ago, I had a messenger conversation with one of my smartest friends in Romania and he was showcasing to me his Master’s work. I did hear him when he said that every single keyboard stroke, even those that are deleted, in fact remain encrypted in the system. I heard him but I did not listen.

Online users range dramatically in behaviour, and some accept tracking as “a matter of fact,” while others become disenchanted and slow down… and others grow paranoid and disappear altogether. The main issue here is the ripple effect of this revelation. In my case, after my friend’s lessons began to sink in, I took a step back and converted my page from personal content to a collection of articles. In other words, I deliberately became the gal at the water fountain spouting “Hey, did you knows?” and all about content relevant to me: astronomy, nature, relevant people of the world, moving digital shorts, etc.

I also monitor the settings each time Facebook makes an update. I think they’re not going to do anymore but they had this habit of overwriting the new settings because they were expanding the menu… and the onus was on you to untick a bunch of sections. In addition, one of the tools I’ve employed since the new updates has been the careful curation of posts – some are locked to “me” (with the lock symbol), most are “for friends only,” (the two people logo) and once in a blue moon, some are “global” (with the globe logo). The latter is my way of manipulating what I want potential employers or non-friends to know about me, who I am, what I care about. Political content is something I post less and less about, and never allow it to be public. It still exists, however, computationally-speaking, as part of my “online persona,” but I am one of those people that believes that if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.

On a larger scale, however: in conjunction with the #deletefacebook movement, an immediate response came from Elon Musk. Both Space X and Tesla had around 2.6 million followers and Musk deleted them both within minutes of being challenged on Twitter. Mark Zuckerberg reacted shortly thereafter by first, reverting to the older model of showcasing family and friends postings, and subsequently, in a very intelligent PR move, issuing a public apology in several newspapers, on both sides of the ocean.

Is that enough though?

I don’t think so.

I think the responsibility lies with each individual. The trouble is that whether educated or not, school-taught or life-taught, millions and millions fell into the traps of silly apps, without ever bothering to retrace their steps when they were told “the results require access to a, b, c.”

Do you know what I’m referring to? If you do, don’t accept.

If you don’t, I’ll let you look it up because a lesson learned by yourself is a lesson better remembered.

I’m going to end with a data tracking anecdote: the friend mentioned above was told to use his personal computer as test hamster. By accessing the IP remotely and harvesting the full list of keyboard strokes, including the deleted ones, he found out that his girlfriend was cheating on him.

Nothing is ever lost in the digital realm, remember that.

Due diligence and transparency in the age of digital tracking

It’s true that digital tracking is pervasive; but comparing the tracking and use of people’s data without their consent (which is what Cambridge Analytica did) to tracking people’s reading behaviour with their consent (which is what a company like Jellybooks does) is not entirely fair. One is a serious breach of trust and violation of privacy for political uses and the other, a tool to develop ways in which we can market books better to sustain a precarious industry. The only way I see these two forms of tracking intersecting is if we assume that digital tracking of any sort is a risky venture, which, true, is not an entirely unreasonable apprehension to have. The Cambridge Analytica incident has especially forced us to revaluate digital tracking and its ethical implications.

What Cambridge Analytica did was manipulate Facebook users by way of an innocuous personality quiz. They dangled the carrot of money in front of people in exchange for access to their Facebook data. The participants knew their data was vulnerable, because they had agreed to the ‘Terms and Conditions’ of the test, but few must have wondered what harm would come from someone knowing what they had “liked” in the past year. Fewer would have realized that they were endangering not just their own privacy but their friends’ privacy as well, because by agreeing to the T&C’s of this test, they automatically enabled Cambridge Analytica to access their friends’ data, thanks to Facebook’s default terms that allowed their friends’ data to be used as well. None of the participants were made privy to the reason their data was being collected. Had they known the reasons, one hopes that most would have declined. Even Facebook – at least from what the reports say – did not know the nefarious ends to which user data was being collected. They thought it was only for academic purposes. Even if we assume Facebook was in on the charade, the people who participated in this quiz and by extension, millions of other people connected to them, definitely did not know that their data was being manipulated for sophisticated “psychological operations”, with the end goal to “microtarget” the British and American electorate to vote in a way that aligned with the political ideology of Cambridge Analytica’s funders.

Now, if we think of the ways in which digital tracking is done in publishing – and if we take the case of Jellybooks – they encode ebooks with software that tracks a reader’s engagement with that book. The software “records the reader interactions across a range of 3rd party apps such as iBooks and Adobe Digital Editions (ADE)”. The data is used to market books more efficiently. Software such as Jellybooks, OptiQly, and machine-learning programs that have the ability to predict bestsellers are useful because they are injecting some much-needed innovation into the publishing industry in a way that helps marketers position books better and readers to discover them easily. The problems occur when tests are conducted on users who are not entirely made aware of what they are getting into. In an interview with The Guardian, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie talks about the lack of “due diligence” on the part of Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, SCL. I think this due diligence is crucial. It is incumbent upon Jellybooks to be transparent to its ebook testers about its intentions and its end goal. It is also incumbent upon them to ensure that their software is encoded only into the ebook the reader has agreed to test for and not all the ebooks on their devices. If there is gray area, they should provide users information on ways to disable, delete or uninstall their software and ensure their reading behavior does not continue to be tracked by Jellybooks’s third-party affiliates. This sort of due diligence should extend even to organizations we don’t typically associate with participating in the publishing process, like Facebook. We’ve all “liked” posts about ostensibly generic and harmless things like Barack Obama auto-tune singing Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’, shared information about our favourite films and participated in quizzes like “Which Pride and Prejudice character are you?” When we partake in social media activity, we think we are participating in the extended community of our friends. We don’t think our data is going to be harvested for ulterior motives. I am not sure whether the solution – although some have already done it – is to absolutely stop digital tracking or social media activity. My social media averse family would seem to think so.  But I, personally, think the solution is for organizations to promise complete and absolute transparency and “privacy settings” that, by default, are not checked to allow access to personal data. The solution is also, as Wylie puts it, for users to participate in any digital endeavour with “a healthy dose of skepticism”.  Beats hearing “I told you so” from your siblings.