Monday, April 06, 2009

In Praise of Scribd

The new week starts in lean forward mode. The weekend is for leaning back and just accepting what the Sunday Newspaper has to tell us. Digesting food may take longer than usual and there is time for a walk in the sunshine. But then you realise that some things in the papers make no sense at all.

Henry Porter writes a normal sort of opinion for a known writer about the dangers of Google for copyright. "Google is just an amoral menace". Then he turns on Scridb as apparently another one of the "worldwide monopolies that sweep all before them with exuberant contempt for people's rights, their property and the past."

It is true that Scribd offers free downloads of documents for 55 million readers. Whether publishers are taking more action than usual to remove texts from the list is disputed. The main news development that Porter fails to mention is that book publishers including Random House and Simon & Schuster have agreed with Scribd to post promotional extracts from their titles as part of the Scribd resource.

Scribd Partners with Major Publishers to Bring Books, Exclusive Content to Community of 50 Million+ Scribd Partners with Major Publishers to Bring Books, Exclusive Content to Community of 50 Million+ Kathleen Fitzgerald March 18, 2009 Scribd press release

My guess, and this is obviously speculation, is that UK publishers are less keen on the global potential of the Web. they may prefer the protection of regional copyright deals. Look out for announcements of Scribd deals with publishers mainly based in London.

I have been posting documents to Scribd for about a year and welcome the response.


I have done some papers for academic conferences from a practitioner point of view. One about ISO 9000 has had almost 1,500 views and one about Dr Deming is approaching 5,000. Most of the comments are positive.

The design of the website is easy to use. They use Flash for display from any source such as Word or PDF. It loads very quickly compared to launching Word or Acrobat from a browser. The design is not Flash as in Adobe however. The Adobe websites now always feature something animated or load a video whether requested or not. Flash is forced on you all the time. The Scribd site seems to be designed by people who like text documents and classic page layout.

Scribd claims to be the "largest social publishing website". This social aspect allows for groups and collaboration as on a music site. My paper on ISO 9000 has been added to a couple of MBA study groups where I can find other material.

The Guardian today has a story about Cambridge University Press. My guess is that there is more of a Web strategy than appears from this report of the difficulties for litho printing. Problems include the development that "academics who used to rely on hardback books to help climb the career ladder have more recently been turning to the kind of self-publishing and free distribution offered by the internet."

The report has no more detail on open access models but my impression is that only Science Medicine and Technology journals have really engaged with the issues around public access to knowledge. Humanities and Social Science journal publishing is still closed down to university libraries by prohibitive subscriptions. So the leaks of papers in draft and alternate versions that may turn up on the Web are entirely to be welcomed, in my honest opinion.

Open access publishing is often discussed in Information World Review, a recent editorial for example. "What is clear is that open access publishing isn’t going to go away, and discussions to overcome the substantial differences between the different stakeholders must go on." It was recently reported that journal contracts allow more rights than is often supposed to publish draft or alternate versions of papers. My suggestion is that they should be posted to Scribd where they would be easily found. Department archives or personal websites may be as obvious for the spiders.

Previously Oxford University Press has made arrangements with Stanford for digital journal publishing. It may seem too simple to give up on a long tradition of printing and subcontract a new method of publishing. But it may be effective. At Online Information 2008 Highwire Press showed they were extending their platform for other content.

These issues will come up during the London Bookfair. Sony have sponsored a digital space with several presentations. It is possible that the 2009 London bookfair will be remembered as an occasion for progress in digital publishing. At the moment it seems more likely that the noise in the print media will be a continuation of misinformation and self-serving nonsense.

As far as I know there has not been a print review from London of the book "Everything is Miscellaneous" by David Weinberger although he has been a keynote speaker at Online Information with similar content. What is the connection between publishing as technology and the world of book reviews? Not very clear. Here is the result for a search on Scribd - reasonable guide to the issues, might persuade someone to read the book.

Everything is miscellaneous Weinberger Everything is miscellaneous Weinberger Erik Jonker Presentation about the book "Everything is miscellaneous by David Weinberger. The book is really a must-read !


Following the London Bookfair some of this text may be recycled for an OhmyNews story so comment and link suggestions are welcome.

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