Nick Turse
a fresh batch…

a fresh batch…

Does Penguin Books know that their mascot is moonlighting as the logo of an air conditioning contractor from Brooklyn?  Or did they let him go because he appears to have let himself go? 

Does Penguin Books know that their mascot is moonlighting as the logo of an air conditioning contractor from Brooklyn?  Or did they let him go because he appears to have let himself go? 


Textbooks, 812% More Expensive Than 1978
With a new semester almost upon us, it’s time to figure out why college textbooks are so absurdly expensive.


Textbooks, 812% More Expensive Than 1978

With a new semester almost upon us, it’s time to figure out why college textbooks are so absurdly expensive.


What is the Picador team reading this upcoming weekend?

Darin just finished Martin Amis’s newest book, Lionel Asbo, calling it “great fun!”

James is reading Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam by journalist/historian Nick Turse, which Metropolitan Books will publish in January.

A tremendously well-sourced (90 pages of endnotes! 10 years of poring over government documents!) that shows conclusively that incidents like the My Lai massacre were not isolated incidents. An important book.

PJ has a “super happy book weekend” ahead, with both Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked, by James Lasdun, due out from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in February 2013 and Santatango by László Krasznahorkai on his to-read list.

Gabrielle is just finishing up Karaoke Culture from last week and is looking forward to sorting through her stacks of Picador and non-Picador books to find her next read. In the meantime, she highly recommends Daniel Mendelsohn’s essay on why he became a critic and what criticism means to him.

There are so many words of wisdom in this essay but here’s a bit to give you an idea:

The serious critic ultimately loves his subject more than he loves his reader—a consideration that brings you to the question of what ought to be reviewed in the first place. When you write criticism about literature or any other subject, you’re writing for literature or that subject, even more than you’re writing for your reader: you’re adding to the accumulated sum of things that have been said about your subject over the years. If the subject is an interesting one, that’s a worthy project. Because the serious literary critic (or dance critic, or music critic) loves his subject above anything else, he will review, either negatively or positively, those works of literature or dance or music—high and low, rarefied and popular, celebrated and neglected—that he finds worthy of examination, analysis, and interpretation. To set interesting works before intelligent audiences does honor to the subject. If you only write about what you think people are interested in, you fail your subject—and fail your reader, too, who may in the end find himself happy to encounter something he wouldn’t have chosen for himself.

Creative Director Henry is reading Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students by Ellen Lupton.

This is one of the best books on the complexities and joys of designing with letterforms. I read it for inspiration, and then use that inspiration to help me with teaching my typography class at the School of Visual Arts.

Justin is re-reading Michael Kimball’s Big Ray ’cause its AMAZING.

Daniel is reading The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. In it, she gives some instructive advice, which he tried at his desk (it worked).

If your eyeballs move, this means that you’re thinking, or about to start thinking.

If you don’t want to be thinking at this particular moment, try to keep your eyeballs still.

The level of abstraction and obtuseness in vendors is unreal. It’s so hard to figure out what some of them actually do.
Gawker’s Erin Pettigrew on the publisher-vendor relationship. (via joshsternberg)


About 150 US news sites have some sort of paywall (give or take 150 or so). Some are hard, some are soft and some are in between.

All have been written about extensively.

But what if we looked at walls from an entirely different direction? Google’s done this with their Consumer Surveys. Instead of asking readers to pull out their wallets to access content, they’re asked to answer a single question. Think of it as a Surveywall.

Frédéric Filloux describes it like so:

Eighteen months ago — under non disclosure — Google showed publishers a new transaction system for inexpensive products such as newspaper articles. It worked like this: to gain access to a web site, the user is asked to participate to a short consumer research session. A single question, a set of images leading to a quick choice.

The solution is one that’s beautiful in its simplicity. Market research is an almost $30 billion industry. And while a lot of it is much more than having people answer surveys, a lot of it is people answering surveys.

So what if you target surveys to, say, readers of certain sections of The Miami Herald, or Wired, or Car and Driver. The researcher wins because it’s a lower cost solution than traditional outreach. The publisher wins because they’ve gained a revenue stream by running the surveys. The reader wins because her wallet stays in her pocket.

There are caveats, of course, which Frédéric outlines:

In theory, the mechanism finally solves the old quest for tiny, friction-free transactions: replace the paid-for zone with a survey-zone through which access is granted after answering a quick question. Needless to say, it can’t be recommended for all sites. We can’t reasonably expect a general news site, not to mention a business news one, to adopt such a scheme. It would immediately irritate the users and somehow taint the content.

I’m not so sure it’s unreasonable. Different, yes, but the entire digital enterprise and the economics behind it is different.

The solution though reminds me of reCAPTCHA, an initiative started at Carnegie Mellon and now run by Google to crowdsource book digitization by harnessing a few seconds of millions of users’ time by having them enter the text they see in a traditional CAPTCHA box (the first word is machine readable, the second isn’t and that’s the one that Google hopes you can decipher).

As Google explains:

About 200 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans around the world every day. In each case, roughly ten seconds of human time are being spent. Individually, that’s not a lot of time, but in aggregate these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day. What if we could make positive use of this human effort? reCAPTCHA does exactly that by channeling the effort spent solving CAPTCHAs online into “reading” books.

In theory, the micro-surveys of a Surveywall would work similarly. With enough scale to conduct a full survey one question at a time, market researchers gain the insights they’re looking for. The publisher earns more for running the survey than it would get with traditional display advertising.

The question, as it always does, comes back to the reader.

Will she take a few seconds to answer a question, or think it intrusive, close the page and move on?

And that, most likely, comes back to the king of it all: just how valuable is the content that the publisher is providing? — Michael


My interview with Jason Pontin, editor-in-chief and publisher of MIT’s Technology Review. One of the questions I asked him was what keeps him awake at night on the business-side of things. He said he has two things that keep him up; here’s the first:

The first, as Michael Wolffe said in his piece for us, “The Facebook Fallacy,” is the heartbreaking reality of digital publishers. The people in the business of selling display advertising on business-to-consumer sites are involved in an essentially exhausting attempt to increase audiences faster than the cost of advertising is declining. We have a high CPM, and we succeed in a business-to-business ad market, where there’s less downward pressure, but even we feel it. In a world of infinite advertising inventory, where ads are simultaneously measurable, publishers are not the ones in control. We’ve held the line so far on our CPM. But I find it nerve-racking.

Click through to read the rest of the interview. Dude knows his business.