News, media & communications

Do-it-yourself book publishing

What do you get when you cross citizen journalism with the cheap creation and distribution of digital content with personalisation and on-demand printing? Self-published books. is a San Francisco-based website that allows aspiring authors to re-write the book. The software, which is free, allows anyone that wants a book to get one or one hundred copies. Users choose a template that suits the genre of their book (for example, poetry, novels or cookbooks). Authors can also choose things like types of paper, dust jackets and linen fabric hard covers. Once you've chosen your 'style' the software then allows you to cut and paste in text and add photographs or illustrations. If you then want to change something - the background for instance, this can be done with a simple change to one page. There are, of course, companies and software packages that allow much the same thing but Blurb is targeted squarely at individuals that want a professional-looking book or companies that wish to 'bookify' data or information. Prices range from just under US $30 for a book less than 40 pages in length to just under $80 for a 440-page book. A host of other companies including Snapfish and Shutterfly offer similar services for amateur photographers that wish to create professional-looking photo albums while companies like offer high-end limited-run book production. One of the most interesting features on this print-on-demand publishing trend is that it is challenging the very definition of what constitutes a book. For example, books used to be identical. Now different versions of a book can be produced leaving out or adding various elements for different audiences - in some cases for audiences as small as two.
Ref: New York Times (US), 20 June 2006, 'Technology rewrites the book', P. Wayner,
Search words: books, publishing, DIY, personalisation


We've written exhaustively about e-books and briefly touched on e-paper previously so it will come as no surprise that e-newspapers are finally on the horizon. What are e-newspapers? More or less, exactly what you think they are - low-cost digital screens that can be rolled up and then thrown into a briefcase or a pocket. Early next year a handful of the world's leading newspaper companies will start trials with newspapers that will allow readers to download the very latest edition onto digital screens that are neither cellphones, PDAs or laptops. Hearst in the US, Les Echos in France (owned by UK-based Pearson) and De Tijd in Belgium are amongst those companies planning large-scale experiments. e-ink, which was originally developed by MITs Media Lab, and digital readers developed by the likes of Sony and iRex (part of Phillips) are to some extent the shape of things to come although most are fairly clumsy looking so far.
Ref: China Daily (China), 5 August 2006, 'Papers of the future my finally arrive' and
'Newspapers encouraged to go electronic'

A ring tone you can't hear

As if creating a language that parents can't understand isn't enough, teenagers and tweenagers have now discovered a high-frequency ring tone that parents and teachers can't hear. The ring tone, generally known as 'The Mosquito', was originally invented by a Welshman as a sound blast to deter teenagers from certain retail environments. However, the 'teenager repellent' soon got a new lease of life when people discovered that it had the exactly the opposite effect. The ring tone can be downloaded from the Internet and is primarily used at school or at home to alert users to new text messages. According to scientists, adults over the age of approximately 40 to 50 cannot hear the tone, because as we get older we lose our ability to hear high-pitched sounds.
Ref: CBS News (US), 12 June 2006, 'A new ring tone teachers can't hear',
Search words: mobile phones, cell phones, noise

The future of advertising

The fragmentation of mass media is a well-acknowledged fact but how advertising responds to such fragmentation is still a hotly-debated topic. Moreover, while it is agreed that television viewing is in a downward spiral most advertisers and agencies are still locked into a TV-centric mindset with only 4-10% of measured media spending typically going online. So what, apart from an increase in online spending, can we predict for the future? One no-brainer is that there will be more ad-supported free entertainment and information, much of which will blur the line between advertising and editorial and between image and promotional advertising. Much of this content will be targeted at people who are actually in the market for a particular product at a precise moment or location, which will make measuring outputs (ROI) much easier. Many of these 'ads' will in turn allow people to personalise the message or offer, which could include specific invitations to take action or by choosing how and when further messages are received (for example, on which device). According to a study by Forrester Research and Yankelovich 70% of people would actually block advertising if they could so all of this could be quite tricky. As a result, many new product launches will by-pass traditional media altogether - for example, by buying ad space in video games or by creating venues or events, further blurring the line between advertising and areas like sponsorship. Another relatively safe bet for the future is that the number of media channels will explode because anyone from brand owners to individuals will be able to create and distribute their own media content. But then how do individuals - or advertisers - navigate their way through a million-channel universe? One solution could be that peer reviews or user-filtering tools will be further developed to allow user personalisation.
Ref: Strategy + Business (US) Issue 43, QTR 2 2006, 'The future of advertising is now', C. Vollmer, J. Frelinghuysen & R. Rothenburg.

Making a difference - with a video game

Is it acceptable to make a film about the holocaust? The answer, today, is generally yes, but 50 years ago the thought would have been unimaginable. So how about a video game about the holocaust? Feeling a bit uneasy about that one? Then how about a video game about the Middle East? Peacemaker is a video game created by an Israeli-born US graduate student in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University (US) that allows players to pick a side and play politics in the region. Then there's Columbine the video game in which players can re-enact the Columbine High School Massacre or there's Darfur is Dying, a game that was downloaded 700,000 times in its first month of release. So what is it that makes people so uneasy about using video games to explore moral choices or political decision-making? To some extent the answer is generational. Older people (who generally don't play video games) think of games as brainless entertainment. Games are not serious, ergo they can't be used to discuss serious or complex issues.But they can and they are. Food Force is a game developed by the UN about distributing aid to war zones. It's free and has been downloaded 4 million times. The point here is that there is a generation that has grown up with video games and is comfortable with them as a communications tool. Games also appeal to younger generations that would never pick up a newspaper and they are very good at teaching people about complex systems and situations by allowing people to try things out for themselves. What's more, unlike other forms of media, the user can choose to become another person and thus experience things from differing viewpoints and perspectives. So what's next, a video game to persuade people to vote? Sorry, it's been done. Elect Howard Dean was a video game back in 2003. What we can expect to see in the future is two things. First, there will be lots of unimaginably bad video games produced by non-profits and single-issue action groups that nobody will play. Second, we will slowly start to use games to play with serious things. We may even start to view them as art one day.
Ref: New York Times (US), 23 July 2006, 'Saving the world, one video game at a time', C. Thompson. See also (US), 19 January 2004, 'Howard Dean, the video game', B. Osborne.
Search words; video games, computer games, politics, play
Links: The Games for Change Conference (New York)