Friday, January 14, 2005

ROB: Torstar aiming at younger readers

The Toronto Star is changing its stripes. To compete with the Post and the Globe, apparently the editors of the Star are changing to a format that emphasizes fancy graphics and will have colour on every page. Apparently, Torstar is trying to create a magazine/newspaper hybrid that "will grace your coffee table for the week, dipping in and out as you please."

There's a point to this madness. If the newspaper spends more than a single morning in your living room, the ads therein will become correspondingly more valuable. Or so the argument goes.

This move can also be read as a direct salvo against the Internet. Several years ago everyone was talking about the persaviness of information and the need for currency. Information appliances like the BlackBerry and the Treo grew in popularity (although the tricolour TV station that did nothing but scroll news and provide the accurate time seems to have disappeared). Now, the newspapers are replying with a very different tactic. They're after something that is *persistent*, something that hangs around for days before making its way to the recycling box.

Will people actually browse through old newspapers days after their release (provided there is actually something else to read, such as some breaking CrackBerry headlines)? Will the papers find a better way of indexing back and forth through the various issues? I'm just not talking about serialized pieces or a "read also" column but some way of combining the various weekly issues. Is there a way to increase the collector value of these papers?

I remember sitting beside someone on a plane who explained a scheme concocted by some Japanese bank. They issued phone cards in a variety of denominations and they commissioned leading graphic novel artists to do the art. They also affixed a coating to each card that scratched very easily so to use the card was to destroy it. Inevitably, people collected the cards instead of actually using them--a more creative way of printing money. Now that Torstar is going the persistent route, can they formulate something similar?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Architectural Graphic Standards and Bookscan

I'm currently quite interested in visual languages of all types. I'm adopting more of a social orientation to these things (i.e., technology as a creation of groups) rather than an individual orientation (i.e., technology as the brain storm of one great individual). As I've noted before, my main interest is with the early machine books such as the manuscripts of Leonardo da Vinci and the theatrum machninarum of individual like Besson, Ramelli, and Leupold. This period is particularly interesting since it represents a great transition in technological communication spanning from the craft work of the middle ages, through manuscripts, to printed books. During the same period we witness the rise of royal privilege (for both printing and invention) and the rise of a literate consumer body.

While my analysis is pretty interesting, it's also pretty far off. I can't just use inter-library loan to get a copy of Leonardo's Codex Madrid! Instead, I've decided to ILL a collection of graphical works that have become a core cornerstone for one particular occupational community, namely the 10 editions of Architectural Graphic Standards.

For any analysis of AGS I should probably know how popular these books were. These numbers seem pretty hard to find. I've learned that learning the *real* sales numbers for any book is a tricky task. Instead, I've just crunched out some of the numbers from the library collections represented in WorldCat:

1932 1st ed. :: 80**
1936 2nd ed. :: 88
1941 3rd ed. :: 248
1951 4th ed. :: 166
1956 5th ed. :: 450
1970 6th ed. :: 746
1981 7th ed. :: 1052
1988 8th ed. :: 1030 student ed. :: 106 (1994)
1994 9th ed. :: 926
2000 10th ed. :: 787 student ed. :: 99

** 1932/1989 Facsim ed. 138
** 1932/1998 Facsim ed. 98
** 1930/1990 Facsim ed. 10

To get total numbers I could probably contact the publisher... but this seems like an awfully complicated procedure. I'm quite encouraged by the potential of Nielsen Bookscan, a service which captures point-of-sale data for the publishing industry. Their statistics are apparently quite good since they started collecting data in about 2001. There are bound to be some gaps (e.g., Walmart doesn't report) but the tool is certainly better than the current status quo: nothing.

For the purpose of studying book history, Bookscan could be used for some pretty interesting studies. I can think of a few good quantitative questions: do book sales correlate with citations in the journal literature (Bookscan and Web of Science); do book sales correlate with citations in books (Bookscan and A9); do book sales correlate with library collections (Bookscan and WorldCat); are there differences based on format (i.e., paperback), LC code, or DDC code; do book sales correlate with Amazon ranking (already attempted in a seemingly non-rigourous fashion); what's the effect of best seller lists on book sales (Alan Sorenson has a manuscript on this topic); etc.

To effect these analyses, there are a number of other questions that should also be addressed: how many titles have been published each year; how many titles have been added to library collections each year; what are the cull rates; etc.

ROB: Apple tops forecasts

So Apple Computer Inc. has come in big: first quarter earnings quadrupling to 70 cents a share, over guidance of 49 cents. The company attributes their strength to both the runaway success of the iPod and increased sales of computers. They’re even taking aim at people entering the computer marked with the Mini Mac, and sub-$500 machine.

Their financial strength seems to be coming from their low guidance. But that’s a cheap trick—guiding low and coming in high. Everyone (including beleaguered Nortel) has given it a try. I suspect that their success and popularity is coming from somewhere else, namely the ubiquity of the iPod. So their earnings are way up and their revenues are way up and they have a pretty saucy licensing deal with iTunes (despite the agreement with the Beatles). But how are their margins looking on the iPod? I’m not too sure. I’m not sure that the financial statements are going to tell us. What I do see, however, is increased competition in the hard-drive MP3 player market that may either put a crimp on margins or, perhaps, improve margins due to greater supply chain efficiencies from the OEMs.

Regardless of margin, the iPod has given Apple visibility. They’re everywhere in popular culture. On the scale of celebrity candids and remixed advertisements, the iPod has taken Apple to the top of pop culture. Perhaps we should pay some more attention to the “pop” part. Isn’t this the sort of thing that market bubbles are made out of?