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Publishing News: Consequences and questions from the Twitter kerfuffle

Twitter suspends an account, Time Inc.'s new chief has a consumer plan, and ereader technology needs a "kick in the pants"

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.

20-20 hindsight

On Sunday, Twitter suspended British journalist Guy Adams’ account after he tweeted NBC executive Gary Zenkel’s email address. Much kerfuffle ensued, Adams wrote a letter to Twitter, Twitter’s general counsel Alex MacGillivray apologized for the way the situation was handled, and Adams’ account was reinstated.

Reviews in the aftermath were interesting. The account suspension ultimately had the opposite of the intended effect, pointing a spotlight at Adams’ tweet and garnering it far more attention than it likely would have had otherwise. Meghan Garber at The Atlantic put together a Topsy chart of the response to Adams’ tweet, which showed the response began as pretty much nothing and then exploded upon his account suspension.

Kashmir Hill at Forbes also reviewed the situation and the surrounding drama, and concluded that the biggest loser was the complainant, NBC: “Beyond having their exec’s email spread far and wide over the Internet, it’s reflected poorly on their stance on free speech and garnered much more negative press for them than they could have imagined when they first complained.”

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm took a look at the bigger picture and identified a serious issue raised by Twitter’s actions:

“… as it expands its media ambitions and does more curation and manual filtering of the kind it has been doing for NBC, Twitter is gradually transforming itself from a distributor of real-time information into a publisher of editorial content, and that could have serious legal ramifications.”

Ingram points out that Twitter isn’t interested in being a publisher or being seen as one, but notes the company is walking a fine line: “If the company is filtering and selecting messages, however, and possibly letting certain parties know when a legally questionable one shows up, that is much more like what publishers do …” Ingram’s post is this week’s recommended read — you can find it here.


The key to digital may lie in consumers, not products

Amy Chozick at the New York Times took a look this week at Laura Lang, the former chief executive of Digitas and Time Inc.’s new chief executive. Chozick’s interview with Lang and a few of her staff members offered a bit of insight into how Lang will help transform Time Inc.’s magazines for the digital era, insights that extend beyond magazine publishing.

A few key takeaways:

  • “Although her plans for Time Inc. are not yet completed, she said has homed in on the transition to mobile devices and the customizing of ads for marketers based on the vast amount of consumer data Time Inc. collects on readers. Her theory: if users’ personal information is a treasure trove for Silicon Valley businesses, it should be equally valuable to traditional media. … Marketers hoping to reach new mothers, for instance, can incorporate messaging into an issue of People magazine (and its various app and online editions) with Jessica Simpson’s baby photos or Sandra Bullock’s announcement that she has adopted a child.”
  • “Ms. Lang said the word ‘consumer’ more than 25 times in a roughly 90-minute interview.”
  • “‘We used to put magazines at the center and all the other ways consumers connect were extensions of the magazines,’ said Mr. Caine, the chief revenue officer. ‘[Lang] didn’t come in with a magazine plan; she came in with a consumer plan.’”

You can read more from Lang’s interview and about how she’s tackling the challenges at Time Inc., here.

The state of ereaders and ereading

Alan Jacobs took a look at the state of ereaders this week in a post at The Atlantic. Writing from the perspective that ereaders have been around long enough to be considered part of the “reading landscape,” Jacobs looks at ereading technology progress and lack thereof. On the progress side, he highlights backlighting and improved contrast in e-ink screens; on the improvement-needed side, he points out that screen glare continues to be an issue and typeface options are still too limited, but those are the least of the technology gaps. Jacobs argues:

“… it seems to me that the most serious deficiencies of e-readers involve readers’ interactions with books. In this respect we may be losing ground rather than gaining it. … newer versions of the Kindle software are making it harder to annotate … [and] even to highlight … for engaged, responsive reading, [ereaders] seem to be generally stagnating, or perhaps even moving backward. These are technologies that need a kick in the pants.”

O’Reilly publisher and GM Joe Wikert also recently took a look at ereader technology and areas that leave him wanting. Wikert argues that ereaders need an econtent manager that allows users to create a reading schedule, a sample content manager that reminds users they have samples waiting to be read, and the ability to connect with Instapaper accounts.

These technology gaps may be having an effect on readers’ reading habits. The Book Industry Study Group released the latest report from its ongoing Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading study, and according to the press release, the survey results show “that the percentage of e-book consumers who exclusively or mostly purchase book content in e-book format has decreased from nearly 70% in August 2011 to 60% in May 2012.” The study also found an increase in the percentage of readers (25% to 34%) who either have no preference in book format or who buy both ebook and print formats, depending on genre. You can read more about the latest study here.

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