Computers In Libraries Column: Key Players in the E-Book Marketplace


From my column, “Duking it Out in the E-Book’s Wild West Marketplace,” in Computers in Libraries, January/February 2013, p. 17:

The e-book is a new medium, but it follows many other breakthrough products with histories of disruption, adoption, market acceptance, and the forging of new business relationships. Perennials such as CD-Roms, DVDs and iPods come to mind, as each of these new technologies triggered important changes in commerce and entertainment. The disruption was real and has caused serious distress for publishers, but there is no getting around the fact that we are in a new era now. Publishers have gained expertise in digital media and are engaged in intensive experimentation. They are taking big risks with e-books and trying new innovative pricing models. And they are playing a tough game to protect revenue.

Steve Lohr on the Origins of the Term “Big Data”

Data hounds will appreciate reading Steve Lohr’s concise but informative article in the February 1 edition of the New York Times, in which he takes a look at the origins of the moniker “big data.” It’s fun insofar as the term has drifted into common parlance after being mentioned here and there, but it may not be so easy to find a single individual whom to credit for its creation. The first time I ever regarded it seriously was when it appeared in a NBER Working Paper that addressed future career opportunities for economists in big data (I’ll add the cite once I track down again).

It reminds me of a local story involving moniker-manufacturing on a grand scale. During the late 1970s, The Oakland-Berkeley regional newspaper East Bay Express published an article by humorist Alice Kahn. In the article, Ms. Kahn coined the term “Yuppie.”  So far as anyone could tell, she was the first person to use the term, which meme-exploded across the USA in a few months. In subsequent issues The Express she turned it into an ongoing gag, because everybody she knew kept telling her, “We think you should sue” –for rights to the term. Humor being an “open source” product first and foremost, she didn’t sue, but did “work it” for what it was worth.

Back to big data.  Here’s a quote from the article, given by Fred R. Shapiro, Associate Librarian at Yale Law School and editor of the Yale Book of Quotations:

“The Web…opens up new terrain.What you’re seeing is a marriage of structured databases and novel, less structured materials. It can be a powerful tool to see far more.”

This is exactly the point that Autonomy and other e-discovery firms such as Recommind make:  to analyze the full output of a given company, corporation or legal case, you now have to look at all of the data. That includes the easier-to-parse world of structured data, but more and more it includes social media, email, recorded telephone conversations and many other casual (but critical) information resources.


Chronicle of Higher Ed Reports on Electronic Course Reserves Kerfuffle

In the Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Publishers and Library Groups Spar in Appeal to Ruling on Electronic Course Reserves”

This case is heading for appeal. The following quote expresses one the publishers’ key arguments:

In their brief, filed on Monday, the publishers argue that, if the lower court’s ruling stands, it will have implications that go far beyond Georgia State’s practices. The publishers play up the idea that e-reserves amount to course packs or anthologies of reading material. Judge Evans’s decision “invites universities nationwide to accelerate the migration of course-pack creation from paper to electronic format” and to sidestep legal permission to use copyrighted content, the brief states.

And this from the intrepid Association of Research Libraries:

…Brandon Butler, director of public-policy initiatives for the Association of Research Libraries, took issue with the argument that e-reserves put publishers at great risk.

“I’m baffled that the publishers continue to claim that course reserves pose some kind of existential threat to their business,” he told The Chronicle via e-mail. “It was established at trial that GSU’s practices are in the mainstream, so libraries are basically already doing what the publishers claim will put them out of business, and yet Oxford University Press reported $1-billion in sales last year, $180-million in profits. Is that what a publisher on the verge of collapse looks like?”

Let’s hope the principal of “Fair Use” continues to prevail.

The “New” Job Hunt Strategy: It’s Who You Know, On- and Offline

On January 27, 2013, The New York Times published an article titled “In Hiring, A Friend in Need is a Prospect, Indeed.”  The article charted the recent and radical evolution of the process of job-hunting, and the impact this trend has on the placement and executive search industries.

First, some digital “backstory.” The emergence of Facebook and LinkedIn has changed how firms do their recruiting. It is now possible to spend time and effort searching these and other discovery systems in addition to combing through hundreds of resumes and vitae.

But even as social media sites gain acceptance, a surprise trend has come into focus, too. It turns out employee recommendations are taken more seriously, and such recommendations are culminating in new hires at a much higher rate.

The numbers bear out the change; the article says that at Ernst & Young, employee recommendations resulting in a hire stand at 45 percent of nonentry-level placements, and that is up from 28 percent in 2010. The employee recommendations have the effect of “fast-tracking” candidates. So once again, it’s “who you know” that can lead you to new employment opportunities.

This trend is based on personal relationships that are not necessarily begun online, but instead encompass everybody we know.  Of course, the use of Facebook and LinkedIn has its benefits, and Ernst & Young also says it reviews all print-based applicants. But this growth in effective referrals suggests that personal contacts are trumping digital community as a source of new employees. This strikes me as an unforeseen development, but when you think about it, it makes sense. Personal contacts carry a sense of reassurance and can contribute to the growth of trust, especially in recruiting. Moreover, now as always, employers with high appeal are inundated with candidates. The sheer challenge of making oneself “distinctive” among a cast of thousands seems like a remote possibility.

If this trend expands and affects the job market beyond professional boundaries, it may be time for job searchers to revisit their strategies. Building a personal network might bear more fruit than the conventional application process does. If so, LinkedIn in particular stands to benefit, because a personal network transfers handily to the digital sphere. It is also common to develop cordial and collaborative ties from associations that begin on LinkedIn. This is not necessarily a new feature of online life; I experienced a “stone age” version of digital networking in 1994, when the Web was beginning its commercial and ubiquitous expansion. I had read the writings of a Belgian information professional, and reached to him via email. In short order we were co-authoring articles, and a year later I was invited to make a presentation at a conference in The Hague. Email was the platform for the networking then, just as social media is now.

LinkedIn strives to recreate the good aspects of interpersonal networks so that they can be transformed into productive work. But if a “friend in need is a prospect, indeed,” job searchers might be well-advised to work on a network that encompasses not only the digital, but our “analog” lives. And perhaps LinkedIn and Facebook need to enhance their functionalities to encourage this trend online, as they stand to benefit.