Thursday, May 29, 2008

On-demand book releases soar

Publishing information management service R.R. Bowker reports that a stunning total of 411,422 titles were released in the U.S. last year, a 39% increase over 2006. That is simply amazing. Print-on-demand and other short print-run releases fueled nearly all of the growth:
Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2007 increased slightly to 276,649 new titles and editions, up from the 274,416 that were published in 2006.

While traditional book publishing was basically flat last year, there was a staggering rise in the reported number of “On Demand” and short-run books to 134,773, pushing the grand total for projected 2007 U.S. book output to 411,422 books.

Technology, by lowering barriers to entry, has made the publishing marketplace even more competitive. While there will always be big hits and bestsellers, this proliferation of content can only mean lower average sales and a greater focus on niches for publishers.

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Murdoch predicts big win for Obama

News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch expects Barack Obama to win in a landslide this November, and also gave what appeared to be a presumptive endorsement to the likely Democratic nominee. According to Yahoo Finance: "Murdoch even nonchalantly owned up to influencing the New York Post to back Obama in the New York primary."

So much for claims that Murdoch is an ideologue. Whether this is an opportunistic move on his part to cozy up to the next administration, or a reflection of his own political beliefs, it demonstrates that the mogul is not the arch-conservative many have claimed him to be. Of course, that's not exactly news. Murdoch helped Hillary Clinton fund raise during her 2006 Senate campaign, and he also backed Tony Blair's Labor Party in Britain.

In the video interview accompanying the article, Kara Swisher discusses her interview with Murdoch and puts forward the argument that he should make the WSJ's online content available for free in order to be more relevant. I recall that Murdoch hinted that he might do this before acquiring Dow Jones, but he has yet to take any action along these lines.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

B&N exploring acquisition of Borders

According to the WSJ: "Barnes & Noble Inc., the nation's largest book chain by sales, has assembled a team of executives and advisers to study the possibility of acquiring No. 2 chain Borders Group Inc., according to a person familiar with the situation." Click here to read the rest of the article.

This would be a very dramatic development for the book retail industry. The same article estimates that B&N does about 20-22% of retail sales, compared to 10-12% for Borders and 15% for Amazon.

While it's probably a longshot, it wouldn't surprise me if a deal happens. There's a lot of pressure on retailers right now, and online shopping is changing consumers' buying habits.


Book teaches kids about affirmative action

Take a look at this interview with Tony Robles, the author our new bilingual children's book, Joey Gonzalez, Great American. As one of the first kid's books to be published in both English and Spanish, this illustrated story teaches young people not to judge others by their race, a realization that Joey and his friends come to when their teacher puts affirmative action into practice.

As Robles passionately says in the interview, "...[A]ffirmative action tends to teach our kids that their ancestry is a weakness that needs to be overcome, and affirmative action teaches that they need to rely on special preferences to succeed. I don’t believe that. Affirmative action steals your dignity."


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Death toll in Burma could top 100,000

The top U.S. diplomat in Burma says 100,000 people could die as conditions worsen following last weekend's cyclone. Disease outbreaks could worsen this catastrophic tragedy. The country's dictatorship is not helping matters:

The U.S. military has put people and airplanes into position to work on any relief effort, as officials awaited word on whether the Asian nation would accept American help...

[U.S. charge d'affaires Shari ] Villarosa did not sound optimistic... She said lower reaches of the Myanmar regime appear to recognize the magnitude of the problem, but the senior leadership is isolated and has not yet announced a final decision on how to handle outside aid.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Egyptians using Facebook to protest government

The WSJ reports that dissidents in Egypt are attempting to organize a nationwide strike using Facebook. The article says this is part of a larger trend across the Mid East:
The activism on Facebook is part of larger efforts by youths across the Arab world to use technology -- from blogs to cellphone text messages to YouTube -- to challenge their governments and push the envelope on dissent in ways older generations didn't know. In parts of the Middle East such as Beirut and Tehran, local governments immediately jam cellphones if there is civil unrest, to prevent it from spreading. ...

Egyptian officials have taken notice. Tech-savvy Interior Ministry officers browse the social-networking site to keep an eye on anything they may deem a security threat.

This excerpt really captures the double-edged sword of technology. While overall the Internet clearly promotes freedom (a main theme in my book, The PayPal Wars), technology can also be used by oppressive regimes trying to promote their own interests.

Blocking content is an obvious example, and a favorite tactic of dictators. Recall China's recent efforts to block access to YouTube during the uprising in Tibet, or Iran's crackdown on Web access back in 2006. But dictators are also pretty inventive in their efforts to twist tech to their benefit. In this particular case, Egypt is monitoring Facebook to identify dissenters. Similarly, China has convinced many Silicon Valley companies such as Google and Yahoo to cooperate with it by restricting content available to Chinese citizens.

Let us pray that the advocates of freedom -- empowered by technology created through the free market -- stay two steps ahead.


Tragedy in Burma

Early reports suggest there could be 50,000 deaths from the cyclone that hit Burma this past weekend, making it the worst natural disaster since the tsunami in 2004. No doubt the scale and scope of this tragedy has been made worse by the military dictatorship. According to the Times of London:
Burma's junta refused foreign aid after the 2004 tsunami, in which between 60 and 600 of its citizens are reported to have died, but this time the sheer scale of the slowly emerging disaster seems to have forced it to change its mind. "We will welcome help . . . from other countries because our people are in difficulty," said Nyah Win, the Burmese Foreign Minister, in a rare television appearance....

Today private frustration was growing among aid organisations, however, that although the junta has publicly invited assistance, bureaucracy is impeding the granting of visas to allow foreign workers into the country. As delays drag on, living conditions for the victims is getting worse.

Let's hope this topic gets coverage in the mainstream media (especially with the Democratic primaries today). The American people are extremely kind-hearted and generous, and no doubt they will be willing to provide assistance once informed of what appears to be a disaster of epic proportions.