Thursday Threads: Kindle Singles and Kindle Accessibility, Sped-up Discourse, ISBN Troubles

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This week Amazon takes center stage of DLTJ Thursday Threads with a report of their new Kindle Singles program for medium-form digital content and a screen-reader-aware version of the Kindle reader application for PCs. After that is a look at how scholarly discourse is changing — radically! — with the availability and use of near-real-time feedback loops. And we close out with a peek at shaky ground in the world of ISBN identifiers.

As a sidenote to last week’s comment about this blog migrating to Amazon’s service…there are still a few hiccups. For instance, last week’s edition of DLTJ Thursday Threads wasn’t published via the RSS feed until late in the day and it wasn’t until Friday that the e-mail subscribers received it. I think those issues are ironed out now, but if you notice any other problems please let me know.

Kindle Singles — Compelling Ideas Expressed at Their Natural Length — Now Available in the Kindle Store

Before the advent of digital reading, writers often had to choose between making their work short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the “heft” required for book marketing and distribution. Three months ago, Amazon made a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Kindle in making a new kind of content available to readers—Kindle Singles. Typically between 5,000 and 30,000 words, each Kindle Single is intended to allow a single killer idea — well researched, well argued and well illustrated — to be expressed at its natural length. Today, Amazon is introducing the first set of Kindle Singles to the Kindle Store. …

The new Kindle Singles section of the Kindle Store is now available at www.amazon.com/kindlesingles. Available to both Kindle device and app users, and priced between $0.99 and $4.99, the first set of Kindle Singles include original reporting, essays, memoirs and fiction. Amazon plans to frequently launch many more Kindle Singles over time.

Is there room for commercial content between “short enough for a magazine article” and a full-fledged book? Amazon seems to think so with this announcement of the Kindle Singles program. Among the first are three works from TEDTalk speakers priced at $2.99 each. The content is only available in digital form and only in the proprietary Kindle format. This may be a problem for a library trying to acquire this content for its collection (although this is just a subset of the more general issue of acquiring content saddled in proprietary formats with restrictive digital rights management). What makes this problem more acute, though, is that Amazon is seeking high quality content for the Kindle Singles channel (“Singles will be a highly curated group of content they feel is valuable to their readers” according to the Kindle Expert website). That might make the content more desirable by patrons and more likely to be considered preservation-worthy. (You can read about one author’s perspective on publishing in the Kindle Singles program.)

Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin

Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin is a free application for your Windows PC. It provides the following accessibility features:

  • Text-to-speech reading with adjustable voice settings
  • Voice-guided menu navigation
  • Large font sizes
  • High contrast reading mode
  • Keyboard navigation
  • Accessible shortcuts

Because this software is an assistive technology, there are no restrictions on text-to-speech reading. In order to use the text-to-speech feature, an external screen reader program must be installed and running on the Windows PC. Tested screen readers include: JAWS and NVDA. An external screen reader is used to read aloud menus and navigation items, while book text is read by a built-in text-to-speech engine.

Although I’m hard pressed to find the formal announcement, a version of the Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin was made available earlier this month. The National Federation of the Blind has a review of the software with some constructive criticism that hopefully Amazon will take to heart. What is interesting is that one can use a screen reading program such as the commercial Jaws for Windows or the open source NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) to have the text of the book read aloud “regardless of a publisher’s [text-to-speech] … choice.” If you are serving a population of users with a sight impairment, this may be an option to look at to expand the universe of accessible materials to everything available in the Kindle store.

Peer review: Trial by Twitter

For many researchers, the pace and tone of this online review can be intimidating — and can sometimes feel like an attack. How are authors supposed to respond to critiques coming from all directions? Should they even respond at all? Or should they confine their replies to the conventional, more deliberative realm of conferences and journals? “The speed of communication is ahead of the sheer time needed to think and get in the lab and work,” said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a postdoctoral fellow at the NASA Astrobiology Institute in Mountain View, California, and the lead author on the arsenic paper. Aptly enough, she circulated that comment as a tweet on Twitter, which is used by many scientists to call attention to longer articles and blog posts.

To bring some order to this chaos, it looks as though a new set of cultural norms will be needed, along with an online infrastructure to support them. The idea of open, online peer review is hardly new. Since Internet usage began to swell in the 1990s, enthusiasts have been arguing that online commenting could and should replace the traditional process of pre-publication peer review that journals carry out to decide whether a paper is worth publishing.

This article in Nature News points out the problem when commentary on scientific studies moves at Twitter speed. The old mechanisms of published peer-reviewed articles followed by commentary in later issue of the same journal in the form of published letters is being challenged by the internet world of blogs and tweets. As the author says, a new form of cultural norms is required as well as mechanisms to track the discourse. [Via Eric Schmell]

eBook Identifier Confusion Shakes Book Industry

Last Thursday, I was fortunate to be at a presentation of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) about identification of eBooks. BISG hired Michael Cairns, the principal of Information Media Partners, to do a study of the use, issues and practice surrounding assignment of ISBNs in the US book industry. Think of him as a structural engineer hired to inspect the damage to the supply chain’s supporting infrastructure after an earthquake. Cairns conducted 55 separate interviews with a total of 75 industry experts from all facets of the industry. (I was interviewed for my expertise in the use of ISBN in library linking systems).

Cairns (@personanondata on Twitter) is an industry veteran- he’s held senior executive positions at Bowker and other companies. His presentation was clear and direct, and he quickly went to the heart of the matter. He found very little support for the policy set forth by the 2005 revision of the ISBN standard regarding when to assign a new ISBN to an ebook.

Eric Hellman writes about his views of the dysfunction surrounding ISBN assignments for ebooks. “What problems?” you might ask — Eric writes has an example of how Barnes and Noble was enhancing some ebooks for their Nook platform. By itself, this activity wouldn’t result in assigning a new ISBN. But because publishers are now exerting more control over setting the prices of ebooks (the so-called “agency model“) the existence of these Nook-enhanced versions needs to cross back-and-forth between the publisher’s and retailer’s electronic systems. The only commonly agreed upon identifier? The ISBN. And this proliferation of ISBN assignments is making trouble for library’s efforts to effectively identify material — which is to say nothing about what it is doing to our efforts to shoehorn these distinctions between various works into the MARC format used by our catalogs. Is that a separate record for that manifestation with a different ISBN?

The text was modified to update a link from http://infomediapartners.blogspot.com/ to https://www.linkedin.com/company/information-media-partners on November 21st, 2012.

(This post was updated on 21-Nov-2012.)