Next month, two seminal image-sharing communities, FFFFOUND! and MLKSHK, will close their doors within a week of each other. There's a profound difference in how they're doing it as noted by someone who's previously sold off a community.
This is a great little piece comparing and contrasting how to relatively similar online communities and social silos are shutting down their services. One is going a much better route than the other and providing export tools and archive ability to preserve the years of work and effort.
WithKnown is a fantastic, free, and opensource content management service that supports some of the most bleeding edge technology on the internet. I’ve been playing with it for over two years and love it!
And today, there’s another reason to love it even more…
This is also a great reminder that developers can have a lasting and useful impact on the world around them–even in the political arena.
It may take me a week or so to finish putting some general thoughts and additional resources together based on the two day conference so that I might give a more thorough accounting of my opinions as well as next steps. Until then, I hope that the details and mini-archive of content below may help others who attended, or provide a resource for those who couldn’t make the conference.
Overall, it was an incredibly well programmed and run conference, so kudos to all those involved who kept things moving along. I’m now certainly much more aware at the gaping memory hole the internet is facing despite the heroic efforts of a small handful of people and institutions attempting to improve the situation. I’ll try to go into more detail later about a handful of specific topics and next steps as well as a listing of resources I came across which may provide to be useful tools for both those in the archiving/preserving and IndieWeb communities.
Archive of materials for Day 2
Below are the recorded audio files embedded in .m4a format (using a Livescribe Pulse Pen) for several sessions held throughout the day. To my knowledge, none of the breakout sessions were recorded except for the one which appears below.
Summarizing archival collections using storytelling techniques
Presentation: Summarizing archival collections using storytelling techniques by Michael Nelson, Ph.D., Old Dominion University
Saving the first draft of history
Special guest speaker: Saving the first draft of history: The unlikely rescue of the AP’s Vietnam War files by Peter Arnett, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for journalism
Kiss your app goodbye: the fragility of data journalism
Panel: Kiss your app goodbye: the fragility of data journalism
Featuring Meredith Broussard, New York University; Regina Lee Roberts, Stanford University; Ben Welsh, The Los Angeles Times; moderator Martin Klein, Ph.D., Los Alamos National Laboratory
The future of the past: modernizing The New York Times archive
Panel: The future of the past: modernizing The New York Times archive
Featuring The New York Times Technology Team: Evan Sandhaus, Jane Cotler and Sophia Van Valkenburg; moderated by Edward McCain, RJI and MU Libraries
Lightning Rounds: Six Presenters
Lightning rounds (in two parts)
Six + one presenters: Jefferson Bailey, Terry Britt, Katherine Boss (and team), Cynthia Joyce, Mark Graham, Jennifer Younger and Kalev Leetaru
1: Jefferson Bailey, Internet Archive, “Supporting Data-Driven Research using News-Related Web Archives” 2: Terry Britt, University of Missouri, “News archives as cornerstones of collective memory” 3: Katherine Boss, Meredith Broussard and Eva Revear, New York University: “Challenges facing preservation of born-digital news applications” 4: Cynthia Joyce, University of Mississippi, “Keyword ‘Katrina’: Re-collecting the unsearchable past” 5: Mark Graham, Internet Archive/The Wayback Machine, “Archiving news at the Internet Archive” 6: Jennifer Younger, Catholic Research Resources Alliance: “Digital Preservation, Aggregated, Collaborative, Catholic” 7. Kalev Leetaru, senior fellow, The George Washington University and founder of the GDELT Project: A Look Inside The World’s Largest Initiative To Understand And Archive The World’s News
Technology and Community
Presentation: Technology and community: Why we need partners, collaborators, and friends by Kate Zwaard, Library of Congress
Breakout: Working with CMS
Working with CMS, led by Eric Weig, University of Kentucky
Alignment and reciprocity
Alignment & reciprocity by Katherine Skinner, Ph.D., executive director, the Educopia Institute
Closing remarks by Edward McCain, RJI and MU Libraries and Todd Grappone, associate university librarian, UCLA
Live Tweet Archive
Reminder: In many cases my tweets don’t reflect direct quotes of the attributed speaker, but are often slightly modified for clarity and length for posting to Twitter. I have made a reasonable attempt in all cases to capture the overall sentiment of individual statements while using as many original words of the participant as possible. Typically, for speed, there wasn’t much editing of these notes. Below I’ve changed the attribution of one or two tweets to reflect the proper person(s). Fore convenience, I’ve also added a few hyperlinks to useful resources after the fact that didn’t have time to make the original tweets. I’ve attached .m4a audio files of most of the audio for the day (apologies for shaky quality as it’s unedited) which can be used for more direct attribution if desired. The Reynolds Journalism Institute videotaped the entire day and livestreamed it. Presumably they will release the video on their website for a more immersive experience.
Condoms were required issue in Vietnam–we used them to waterproof film containers in the field.
Do not stay close to the head of a column, medics, or radiomen. #warreportingadvice
I told the AP I would undertake the task of destroying all the reporters’ files from the war.
Instead the AP files moved around with me.
Eventually the 10 trunks of material went back to the AP when they hired a brilliant archivist.
“The negatives can outweigh the positives when you’re in trouble.”
Some quick thoughts and an archive of my Twitter notes during the day
Today I spent most of the majority of the day attending the first of a two day conference at UCLA’s Charles Young Research Library entitled “Dodging the Memory Hole: Saving Online News.” While I knew mostly what I was getting into, it hadn’t really occurred to me how much of what is on the web is not backed up or archived in any meaningful way. As a part of human nature, people neglect to back up any of their data, but huge swaths of really important data with newsworthy and historic value is being heavily neglected. Fortunately it’s an interesting enough problem to draw the 100 or so scholars, researchers, technologists, and journalists who showed up for the start of an interesting group being conglomerated through the Reynolds Journalism Institute and several sponsors of the event.
What particularly strikes me is how many of the philosophies of the IndieWeb movement and tools developed by it are applicable to some of the problems that online news faces. I suspect that if more journalists were practicing members of the IndieWeb and used their sites not only for collecting and storing the underlying data upon which they base their stories, but to publish them as well, then some of the (future) archival process may be easier to accomplish. I’ve got so many disparate thoughts running around my mind after the first day that it’ll take a bit of time to process before I write out some more detailed thoughts.
Twitter List for the Conference
As a reminder to those attending, I’ve accumulated a list of everyone who’s tweeted with the hashtag #DtMH2016, so that attendees can more easily follow each other as well as communicate online following our few days together in Los Angeles. Twitter also allows subscribing to entire lists too if that’s something in which people have interest.
Archiving the day
It seems only fitting that an attendee of a conference about saving and archiving digital news, would make a reasonable attempt to archive some of his experience right?! Toward that end, below is an archive of my tweetstorm during the day marked up with microformats and including hovercards for the speakers with appropriate available metadata. For those interested, I used a fantastic web app called Noter Live to capture, tweet, and more easily archive the stream.
Note that in many cases my tweets don’t reflect direct quotes of the attributed speaker, but are often slightly modified for clarity and length for posting to Twitter. I have made a reasonable attempt in all cases to capture the overall sentiment of individual statements while using as many original words of the participant as possible. Typically, for speed, there wasn’t much editing of these notes. I’m also attaching .m4a audio files of most of the audio for the day (apologies for shaky quality as it’s unedited) which can be used for more direct attribution if desired. The Reynolds Journalism Institute videotaped the entire day and livestreamed it. Presumably they will release the video on their website for a more immersive experience.
If you prefer to read the stream of notes in the original Twitter format, so that you can like/retweet/comment on individual pieces, this link should give you the entire stream. Naturally, comments are also welcome below.
Below are the audio files for several sessions held throughout the day.
Greetings and Keynote
Greetings: Edward McCain, digital curator of journalism, Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) and University of Missouri Libraries and Ginny Steel, university librarian, UCLA
Keynote: Digital salvage operations — what’s worth saving? given by Hjalmar Gislason, vice president of data, Qlik
Why save online news? and NewsScape
Panel: “Why save online news?” featuring Chris Freeland, Washington University; Matt Weber, Ph.D., Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; Laura Wrubel, The George Washington University; moderator Ana Krahmer, Ph.D., University of North Texas
Presentation: “NewsScape: preserving TV news” given by Tim Groeling, Ph.D., UCLA Communication Studies Department
Born-digital news preservation in perspective
Speaker: Clifford Lynch, Ph.D., executive director, Coalition for Networked Information on “Born-digital news preservation in perspective”
What's wrong with the economics of the textbook industry, and what students, parents, professors, and universities can do to mitigate the ever-rising price of textbooks.
t’s the beginning of yet another quarter/semester (or ovester, if you prefer) and a new crop of inquiries have come up around selling back used textbooks and purchasing new textbooks for upcoming classes. I’m not talking about the philosophical discussion about choosing your own textbooks that I’ve mentioned before. I’m considering, in the digital era,
What are the best options for purchasing, renting, or utilizing textbook products in what is a relatively quickly shifting market?
The popular press has a variety of evergreen stories that hit the wire at the beginning of each semester that scratch just the surface of the broader textbook issue or focus on one tiny upstart company that promises to drastically disrupt the market (yet somehow never does), but these articles never delve just a bit deeper into the market to give a broader array of ideas and, more importantly, solutions for the students/parents who are spending the bulk of the money to support the inequalities the market has built.
I aim to facilitate some of this digging and revealing based on years of personal book buying experience as well as having specified textbooks as an instructor in the past.
Most current students won’t have been born late enough that electronic files for books and texts will have been common enough to prefer them over physical texts, but with practice and time, many will prefer electronic texts in the long term, particularly as one can highlight, mark up, and more easily search, store, and even carry electronic texts.
Before taking a look at the pure economics of the market for the various forms of purchase, resale, or even renting, one should first figure out one’s preference for reading format. There are obviously many different means of learning (visual, auditory, experiential, etc.) which some will prefer over others, so try to tailor your “texts” to your preferred learning style as much as possible. For those who prefer auditory learning modes, be sure to check out alternatives like Audible or the wealth of online video/audio materials that have proliferated in the MOOC revolution. For those who are visual learners or who learn best by reading, do you prefer ebook formats over physical books? There are many studies showing the benefit of one over the other, but some of this comes down to personal preference and how comfortable one is with particular formats. Most current students won’t have been born late enough that electronic files for books and texts will have been common enough to prefer them over physical texts, but with practice and time, many will prefer electronic texts in the long term, particularly as one can highlight, mark up, and more easily search, store, and even carry electronic texts. It’s taken me (an avowed paper native) several years, but I now vastly prefer to have books in electronic format for some of the reasons indicated above in addition to the fact that I can carry a library of 2,500+ books with me almost anywhere I go. I also love being able to almost instantly download anything that I don’t currently own but may need/want.
The one caveat I’ll mention, particularly for visual learners (or those with pseudo-photographic or eidetic memory), is that they attempt to keep a two-page reading format on their e-reading devices as their long-term memory for reading will increase with the ability to place the knowledge on the part of the page(s) where they originally encountered it (that is, I remember seeing that particular item on the top left, or middle right portion of a particular page.) Sometimes this isn’t always possible due to an e-reader’s formatting capabilities or the readability of the size of the text (for example, a .pdf file on a Kindle DX would be preferable to the same file on a much smaller smartphone) , but for many it can be quite helpful. Personally, I can remember where particular words and grammatical constructs appeared in my 10th grade Latin text many years later while I would be very unlikely to be able to do this with the presentation of some modern-day e-readers or alternate technologies like rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP).
Purchasing to Keep
Personally, as a student and a bibliophile (read: bibliomaniac), I would typically purchase all of the physical texts for all of my classes. I know this isn’t a realizable reality for everyone, so, for the rest, I would recommend purchasing all of the texts (physical or electronic, depending on one’s preference for personal use) in one’s main area of study, which one could then keep for the long term and not sell back. This allows one to build a library that will serve as a long term reference for one’s primary area(s) of study.
Renting vs Short-term Ownership
In general, I’m opposed to renting books or purchasing them for a semester or year and then returning them for a partial refund. It’s rarely a great solution for the end consumer who ends up losing the greater value of the textbook. Even books returned and sold later as used, often go for many multiples of their turn in price the following term, so if it’s a newer or recent edition, it’s probably better to hold on to it for a few months and then sell it for a used price, slightly lower than the college bookstore’s going rate.
For tangential texts in classes I know I don’t want to keep for the long term, I’d usually find online versions or borrow (for free) from the local college or public library (many books are available electronically through the library or are borrow-able through the library reserve room.)
Often college students forget that they’re not just stuck with their local institutional library, so I’ll remind everyone to check out their local public library(s) as well as other nearby institutional libraries and inter-library loan options which may give them longer term loan terms.
General Economics in the Textbook Market
One of the most important changes in the textbook market that every buyer should be aware of: last year in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.the US Supreme Court upheld the ability for US-based students to buy copies of textbooks printed in foreign countries (often at huge cut-rate prices) [see also Ars Technica]. This means that searching online bookstores in India, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc. will often find the EXACT same textbooks (usually with slightly different ISBNs, and slightly cheaper paper) for HUGE discounts in the 60-95% range.
Example: I recently bought an international edition of Walter Rudin’s Principles of Mathematical Analysis (Amazon $121) for $5 (and it even happened to ship from within the US for $3). Not only was this 96% off of the cover price, but it was 78% off of Amazon’s rental price! How amazing is it to spend almost as much to purchase a book as it is to ship it to yourself!? I’ll also note here that the first edition of this book appeared in 1964 and this very popular third edition is from 1976, so it isn’t an example of “edition creep”, but it’s still got a tremendous mark up in relation to other common analysis texts which list on Amazon for $35-50.
For some of the most expensive math/science/engineering texts one can buy an edition one or two earlier than the current one. In these cases, the main text changes very little, if any, and the primary difference is usually additional problems in the homework sections (which causes small discrepancies in page number counts). If necessary, the problem sets can be easily obtained via the reserve room in the library or by briefly borrowing/photocopying problems from classmates who have the current edition. The constant “edition-churning” by publishers is mean to help prop up high textbook prices.
Definition: “Edition Churning” or “Edition Creep“: a common practice of textbook publishers of adding scant new material, if any, to textbooks on a yearly or every-other-yearly basis thereby making older editions seem prematurely obsolete and thereby propping up the prices of their textbooks. Professors who blithely utilize the newest edition of a texbook are often unknowingly complicit in propping up prices in these situations.
One may find some usefulness or convenience in traditional bookstores, particularly Barnes & Noble, the last of the freestanding big box retailers. If you’re a member of their affinity program and get an additional discount for ordering books directly through them, then it may not be a horrible idea to do so. Still, they’re paying for a relatively large overhead and it’s likely that you’ll find cheaper prices elsewhere.
These are becoming increasingly lean and many may begin disappearing over the next decade or so, much the way many traditional bookstores have disappeared in the last decade with the increasing competition online. Because many students aren’t the best at price comparison, however, and because of their position in the economic chain, many are managing to hang on quite well. Keep in mind that many campus bookstores have fine print deals in which they’ll match or beat pricing you find online, so be sure to take advantage of this fact, particularly when shipping from many services will make an equivalent online purchase a few dollars more expensive.
There are fewer and fewer of these around these days and even fewer textbook-specific stores that traditionally sprouted up next to major campuses. This last type may not be a horrible place to shop, but they’re likely to specialize in used texts of only official texts. Otherwise, general used bookstores are more likely to specialize in paperbacks and popular used fiction and have very lean textbook selection, if any.
Naturally when shopping for textbooks there are a veritable wealth of websites to shop around online including: Amazon, Alibris, Barnes & Noble, AbeBooks, Google Play, Half/EBay. Chegg, Valore, CampusBookRentals, TextBooks.com, and ECampus. But in the Web2.0 world, we can now uses websites with even larger volumes of data and meta-data as a clearing-house for our shopping. So instead of shopping and doing price comparison at the dozens of competing sites, why not use a meta-site to do the comparison for us algorithmically and much more quickly.
There are a variety of meta-retailer shopping methods including several browser plugins and comparison sites (Chrome, Firefox, InvisibleHand, PriceBlink, PriceGong, etc.) that one can install to provide pricing comparisons, so that, for example, while shopping on Amazon, one will see lower priced offerings from their competitors. However, possibly the best website I’ve come across for cross-site book comparisons is GetTextbooks.com. One can easily search for textbooks (by author, title, ISBN, etc.) and get back a list of retailers with copies that is sortable by price (including shipping) as well as by new/used and even by rental availability. They even highlight one entry algorithmicly to indicate their recommended “best value”.
Similar to GetTextbooks is the webservice SlugBooks, though it doesn’t appear to search as many sites or present as much data.
When searching for potential textbooks, don’t forget that one can “showroom” the book in one’s local bookstore or even at one’s local library(s). This is particularly useful if one is debating whether or not to take a particular class, or if one is kicking tires to see if it’s really the best book for them, or if they should be looking at other textbooks.
From an economic standpoint, keep in mind there is usually more availability and selection on editions bought a month or so before the start of classes, as often-used texts are used by thousands of students over the world, thus creating a spot market for used texts at semester and quarter starts. Professors often list their textbooks when class listings for future semesters are released, so students surfing for the best deals for used textbooks can very often find them in mid-semester (or mid-quarter) well before the purchasing rush begins for any/most titles.
And finally, there is also the black market (also known as outright theft), which is usually spoken of in back-channels either online or in person. Most mainstream articles which reference this portion of the market usually refer tangentially to a grey market in which one student passes along a .pdf or other pirated file to fellow students rather than individual students being enterprising enough to go out hunting for their own files.
Most will know of or have heard about websites like PirateBay, but there are a variety of lesser-known torrent sites which are typically hosted in foreign countries which extend beyond the reach of the United States Copyright law enforcement. Increasingly, mega-pirate websites in the vein of the now-defunct Library.nu (or previously Gigapedia) or the slowly dying empire of Library Genesis are hiding all over the web and become quick and easy clearing houses for pirated copies of ebooks, typically in .pdf or .djvu formats, though many are in .epub, .mobi, .azw, or alternate e-book formats. The typical set up for these sites is one or more illegal file repositories for allowing downloads with one (or more) primary hubs that don’t necessarily store the pirated materials, but instead serve as a searchable hub which points to the files.
Creative advanced searches for book authors, titles, ISBNs along with the words .pdf, .djvu, torrent, etc. can often reveal portions of this dark web. Naturally, caveat emptor applies heavily to these types of sites as often files can be corrupted or contain viruses to unwary or unwitting thieves. Many of these sites may attempt to extract a small token monthly fee as a subscription or will rely heavily on serving banner advertising to help to offset large web hosting and traffic fees associated with their maintenance, though it is posited that many of them make in the millions of dollars in profit annually due to advertising arrangements, though this is incredibly hard to validate given the nature of these types of markets and how they operate.
Rather than stoop as low as finding textbooks on the black market this way, students should place pressure on their professors, the faculty of their departments, and their colleges or universities to help assist in smoothing out some of the pricing inequities in the system (see below). In the long run, this will not only tend to help them, but many future generations of students who will be left adrift in the market otherwise.
Long Term Solution(s) to Improving the Textbook Market
The biggest primary issue facing the overpriced textbook market is that the end consumers of the textbooks aren’t really firmly in charge of the decision of which textbook to purchase. This is why I advocate that students research and decide by themselves which textbook they’re going to use and whether or not they really need to make that purchase. Instead, individual professors or the departments for which they work are dictating the textbooks that will be purchased. The game theory dynamics behind this small decision are the massive fulcrum which allows the publishing industry to dictate their own terms. Students (and parents) should, in a sense, unionize and make their voices heard not only to the professors, but to the departments and even the colleges/universities which they’re attending. If universities took a strong stance on how the markets worked, either for or against them and their students, they could create strong market-moving forces to drastically decrease the cost of textbooks.
The other larger issue is that market forces aren’t allowed to play out naturally in the college textbook market. Publishers lean on professors and departments to “adopt” overpriced textbooks. These departments in turn “require” these texts and students aren’t questioning enough to use other texts for fear of not succeeding in courses. If the system were questioned, they’d realize that instead of their $200-300 textbook, they could easily purchase alternate, equivalent, and often even better textbooks for $20-50. To put things into perspective, the time, effort, energy, and production cost for the typical book isn’t drastically different than the average textbook, yet we’re not paying $250 for a copy of the average new hardcover on the best seller list. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that universities, departments, and professors are colluding with publishers, but they’re certainly not helping to make the system better.
I’ve always taken the view that the ‘required’ textbook was really just a ‘suggestion’. (Have you ever known a professor to fail a student for not purchasing the ‘required’ textbook?!)
In past generations, one of the first jobs of a student was to select their own textbook. Reverting back to this paradigm may help to drastically change the economics of the situation. For the interested students, I’ve written a bit about the philosophy and mechanics here: On Choosing Your Own Textbooks.
Basic economics 101 theory of supply and demand would typically indicate to us that basic textbooks for subjects like calculus, intro physics, or chemistry that are used by very large numbers of students should be not only numerous, but also very cheap, while more specialized books like Lie Groups and Lie Algebras or Electromagnetic Theory should be less numerous and also more expensive. Unfortunately and remarkably, the most popular calculus textbooks are 2-5 times more expensive than their advanced abstract mathematical brethren and similarly for introductory physics texts versus EM theory books.
To drastically cut down on these market inequities, when possible, Colleges and Universities should:
Heavily discourage “edition creep” or “edition churning” when there really aren’t major changes to textbooks. In an online and connected society, it’s easy enough to add supplemental errata or small amounts of supplemental material by means of the web.
Quit making institution-specific readers and sub-editions of books for a specific department
If they’re going to make departmental level textbook choices, they should shoulder the burden of purchasing all the textbooks in quantity (and taking quantity discounts). I’ll note here, that students shouldn’t encourage institutions to bundle the price of textbooks into their tuition as then there is a “dark curtain,” which allows institutions to take the drastic mark-ups for themselves instead of allowing the publishers to take it or passing it along to their students. Cross-reference Benjamin Ginsberg’s article Administrators Ate My Tuition or his much longer text The Fall of the Faculty (Oxford University Press, 2013).
Discourage the use of unpopularly used textbooks written by their own faculty. Perhaps a market share of 5-10% or more should be required for a common textbook to be usable by a department, and, until that point, the professor should compete aggressively to build market share? This may help encourage professors to write new original texts instead of producing yet-another-introductory-calculus-textbook that no one needs.
Discourage packaged electronic supplemental materials, which
are rarely used by students,
could be supplied online for free as a supplement,
and often double or triple the price of a textbook package.
Strongly encourage professors to supply larger lists of relatively equivalent books and encourage their students to make their purchase choices individually.
Consider barring textbook sales on campus and relying on the larger competitive market to supply textbooks to students.
Calibre: E-book and Document Management Made Simple
As an added bonus, for those with rather large (or rapidly growing) e-book collections, I highly recommend downloading and using the free Calibre Library software. For my 2000+ e-books and documents, this is an indispensable program that is to books as iTunes is to music. I also use it to download dozens of magazines and newspapers on a daily basis for reading on my Kindle. I love that it’s under constant development with weekly updates for improved functionality. It works on all major OSes and is compatible with almost every e-reader on the planet. Additionally, plug-ins and a myriad of settings allow for additional extensibility for integration with other e-book software and web services (for example: integration with GoodReads or the ability to add additional data and meta-data to one’s books.)
Be sure to read through the commentary on some of these posts for some additional great information.
What other textbook purchasing services and advice can you offer the market?
I invite everyone to include their comments and advice below as I’m sure I haven’t covered the topic completely or there are bound to be new players in the space increasing competition as time goes by.