Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Pirates on Leaky Ships

By Kaitlin Loss, Editorial Assistant

Today, it’s not uncommon for music and movies to “leak” before their release date. I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sure how it happens, but somehow, someone gets a hold of a song or a movie and sends it to his or her friends all over the Internet. It’s not really big news when it happens anymore. Actually, it’s almost like we expect it to happen; I’ve seen blog posts complaining because all of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture weren’t yet available for free (and illegal) download.
On the other side, it’s big news when the manuscript of a book gets out to the public before its release date. It’s not hard to remember the rumors of the security that surrounded the manuscript for the last Harry Potter book. In 2010, HarperCollins sued Gawker Media for posting 21 pages of Sarah Palin’s book America by Heart on their website a week before its release. Recently, Barnes & Noble accidentally delivered a shipment of preorders of John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars about three weeks before the book was slated for release. This was a news story covered in many publishing blogs and the author himself expressed his dismay over the fact that all of his readers wouldn’t get to enjoy the book at the same time. In reality, it didn’t affect his sales—the book debuted at number 1 on the New York Times Children’s Bestseller list—but it did prompt me to wonder why this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often.
Because books now exist in the same format as movies and music—digital files, easily uploaded, easily shared, and easily pirated—it’s not hard to imagine a future when the newest John Green novel won’t be leaked in physical copy, but in digital form. Ten years ago, the only way I could imagine book piracy was kind of ridiculous: someone standing at a photocopier, scanning every page of a novel to send along as a PDF. It was much easier to go to the store and hand over the $15.
While publishers have obviously spoken out against book piracy—they’re not blind to the collapsing music industry and the lower-than-ever box office numbers—Brazilian author Paulo Coelho doesn’t share their view. He recently encouraged readers to download his books on the infamous file-sharing website the Pirate Bay. “Welcome to download my books for free, and if you enjoy them, buy a hard copy—the way we have to tell the industry that greed leads to nowhere,” he said on his blog.
Whether it’s greed or simply a desire to stay in business, it will be interesting to see what kind of measures publishers will take to keep their rapidly changing industry from becoming a victim of piracy.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The New Math Homework

By Karen Parkman, Intern, Spring 2012

Growing up with an engineer as a father meant I always had help with my math homework, all the way up until I left for college. Whether it was Algebra, Geometry, or Calculus, he knew the concepts and would help me work through tough problems. Math never came easily to me, but my dad managed to convince me that it’s an imperative skill no matter what field of study I chose. I remember him snatching the calculator out of my hand when I used it for simple math problems and telling me to at least try to do it in my head before relying on technology. Eventually the lesson sank in, and today I unconsciously do little things to keep my basic math skills sharp. When I need to calculate the tip at a restaurant, or cut a recipe in half, I do it in my head—just to be sure I can still do it on my own.
Not all students leave high school with this sentiment, regardless of the quality of their education. From my personal experience, it seems like many students’ antagonism towards math comes from their serious skepticism of its relevance in the ‘real world.’ I felt the same way when calculating the arc of a parabola junior year of high school—a skill I no longer remember and haven’t had to perform since. But math is still an incredibly important vehicle for learning problem-solving skills, which will aid students directly or indirectly throughout their lives.
PBS is attempting to familiarize children with numbers and bring mathematical thinking into their everyday lives through their PBS KIDS Lab site. They’ve recently made additions to the site that are meant to provide math support for children and their caregivers by offering home activities, parental instructions, and math tips for families to use in their daily lives.  The idea is to convince kids that math is not confined to the classroom, and give parents the opportunity to help students understand concepts like counting, addition and subtraction, and identifying shapes at home in a natural and playful way. The additions to the site are still new, but this is a learning strategy that makes a great deal of sense to me. It makes math seem both useful and less intimidating, which it can sometimes be in a classroom setting, and gives parents resources to get involved and provide support.
Hopefully the visitors of PBS’s site will build enough confidence to learn to enjoy math and improve their test scores. It makes a huge difference when parents participate in the learning process. With some support at home, even the most devoted reading enthusiast can develop a healthy appreciation of numbers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Collaborative Textbook Authoring

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

After spending over 30 years in the publishing industry, I’ve collaborated in the development and production of thousands of published works. I’ve worked with authors, editors, designers, illustrators, proofreaders, production artists, translators, reviewers—hundreds of people who contributed to the accuracy and quality of each book or digital offering. We followed procedures to ensure content was accurate and errors were eliminated, relying on the next level of review to check the previous changes and additions.
Now that the Internet has given most everybody access to, well, most everything, anyone with a computer can become an author through Wikipedia and numerous blogs. And a major publisher will now allow college and university instructors to edit and rewrite online textbooks—online. This new process struck me as odd, if only because my training and experience always included someone checking behind me each time I changed anything in a manuscript or page proof. But this program allows and even encourages instructors to “fine-tune a textbook” leaving it to students, parents, and other instructors to help monitor the changes.
I’m interested to see how this innovative plan works over time, specifically in the opinion of the original textbook authors whose works will be revised. I’m also curious to see what kind of changes come about to textbooks when left in the hands of an instructor with strong biases toward one theory or another; or one with fanatical religious or political beliefs; or another who has an ax to grind with the publisher or university. And then there’s the inevitable hacker, who might make changes just for the fun of it. Stay tuned to this one.
Wherever you might fall in the process of creating content, give us a call at PSG for help with your publishing needs.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

EBooks in Libraries

By Hilary Kody, Intern, Spring 2012

Like any good publishing student and intern, I am a big fan of books. I enjoy reading something substantial, physically flipping pages, using bookmarks. Naturally, I was a little wary of eBooks and eReaders. But last semester, when I found myself attempting to stuff another book into my already full backpack, I decided I would give eBooks a try. And just as I have transitioned to eBooks and eReaders, libraries across the country are also seizing the opportunity to expand their electronic materials.
In 2010, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that two- and four-year postsecondary institutions have increased their level of eBooks and electronic references sources. At the time of the survey, academic libraries possessed 158.7 million eBooks and 1.8 million electronic sources. 
Molly Raphael, president of the American Library Association, says that libraries are facing a number of challenges including changing technology, adequacy of financial resources, and shifting demographics.  Libraries need to adapt services to meet community demand and remain central to people’s lives. This, Raphael says, means adjusting to technology and knowing your audience. For example, middle class communities are more likely to have a high demand for eBooks because more people have eReaders. In lower income communities, people are likely to use library computers to access Internet resources.
Similar challenges are facing primary and secondary libraries as well. While many academic centers would like to make the transition to eBook readers to replace costly and heavy printed texts, they face a number of challenges. Primarily, many texts traditionally included in curriculum are not available electronically. Fahrenheit 451 was only recently released for eBooks, while fairly standard readings such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye remain unavailable in digital formats. However, many textbooks and other nonfiction materials are available in eBook format. Despite the challenges, it seems that in all levels of education, electronic resources are becoming increasingly popular.
This semester, I have replaced a number of my textbooks with eBooks. With all my reading materials conveniently condensed into one device, my backpack is much lighter. Do you find yourself caught in this changing market? Looking to cater your material to students like me? PSG can help prepare your content for electronic delivery in eBooks or online. Contact us for a quote.