Archive for January, 2010

Sunday Image: Love is in the air

Jan 30, 2010 in Sunday Image

I know it’s cold, but put on your best wooly hat and keep your chin up.

Image from here and spotted by the keen-eyed Jenn Godbout.

52 in 52: How to Drink, by Victoria Moore

Jan 27, 2010 in 52 in 52, Books

52 in 52 is a project to read a book a week in 2010

After two novels to start the year, it was about time I sunk my teeth into some non-fiction. I wanted something light and fun and this book hits the spot. Victoria Moore, the Guardian’s wine columnist, has given us a delightful little book on drinking well throughout the year. And she doesn’t just write about booze. Moore has written a very nice primer on juices, coffees and, that most British of drinks, tea.

Of course, some parts of the book were a bit like torture. The recipes on summer drinks had me aching for bike rides to the park and picnic (also, large pitchers of Pimms and mint juleps). But I’m probably more likely to start with some of the winter drinks. Some of you might be lucky to see them at a dinner party soon.

Moore should also send a thank-you card to her book designer, Heredesign, for elevating this book with dozens of charming letterpress-inspired illustrations throughout the book. I’ve embedded the Google Books excerpt for your perusal.


Digest: Moscow’s subway dogs, adventures in music, Junot Diaz on Obama

Jan 25, 2010 in Digest

Lets start this week off light with a few fun things I’ve been reading.

The Atlantic points to an adorable story from the Financial Times on the dogs who live in Moscow’s extensive subway system.

From that story:

There is one special sub-group of strays that stands apart from the rest: Moscow’s metro dogs. “The metro dog appeared for the simple reason that it was permitted to enter,” says Andrei Neuronov, an author and specialist in animal behaviour and psychology, who has worked with Vladimir Putin’s black female Labrador retriever, Connie (“a very nice pup”). “This began in the late 1980s during perestroika,” he says. “When more food appeared, people began to live better and feed strays.” The dogs started by riding on overground trams and buses, where supervisors were becoming increasingly thin on the ground.

Boing Boing ran a series of delightful posts from animation archivist Stephen Worth called “adventures in music.” Worth looks at everything from Booker T and the MGs (see below) to Leonard Bernstein. Great fun.

Finally, personal fave Junot Diaz writes about Obama’s failure to give us a narrative about his presidency.

All year I’ve been waiting for Obama to flex his narrative muscles, to tell the story of his presidency, of his Administration, to tell the story of where our country is going and why we should help deliver it there. A coherent, accessible, compelling story—one that is narrow enough to be held in our minds and hearts and that nevertheless is roomy enough for us, the audience, to weave our own predilections, dreams, fears, experiences into its fabric. It should necessarily be a story eight years in duration, a story that no matter what our personal politics are will excite us enough to go out and reëlect the teller just so we can be there for the story’s end. But from where I sit our President has not even told a bad story; he, in my opinion, has told no story at all. I heard him talk healthcare to death but while he was elaborating ideas his opponents were telling stories. Sure they were bad ones, full of distortions and outright lies, but at least they were talking to the American people in the correct idiom: that of narrative. The President gave us a raft of information about why healthcare would be a swell idea; the Republicans gave us death panels. Ideas are wonderful things, but unless they’re couched in a good story they can do nothing.

Have a delicious week.

Sunday image: Protect your hands

Jan 24, 2010 in Sunday Image

A reminder for the work week ahead. Although for most of us this means wearing plenty of lotion and keeping those mitts on.

The New York Times paywall debate continues

Jan 22, 2010 in Media, Uncategorized

Earlier this week The New York Times finally announced its plan for a paywall starting in 2011. There really aren’t any surprises and I rounded-up some of the rumours earlier. But the announcement has rekindled the commentary and punditry about the Times paywall.

From the horse’s mouth

Starting in January 2011, a visitor to NYTimes.com will be allowed to view a certain number of articles free each month; to read more, the reader must pay a flat fee for unlimited access. Subscribers to the print newspaper, even those who subscribe only to the Sunday paper, will receive full access to the site without any additional charge.

Executives of The New York Times Company said they wanted to create a system that would have little effect on the millions of occasional visitors to the site, while trying to cash in on the loyalty of more devoted readers. But fundamental features of the plan have not yet been decided, including how much the paper will charge for online subscriptions or how many articles a reader will be allowed to see without paying.

Times media columnist David Carr tries to explain his bosses’ decision and there are some interesting points that I’ll pull out below:

1. The paywall is a flexible tool. The NYT will be able to dial up or down the amount of free articles, charge more or less for online subs.

By building a metered system, the executives have installed a dial on the huge, heaving content machine of The New York Times. Access can be gradually ramped up or down depending on macro trends in the market. Given the dynamic state of the advertising business and how quickly things change on the Web, not so dumb when you think about it.

2. What works for a big brand like the Times might not work for a small paper.

People will assign all manner of broader meaning to The Times’s approach, but The New York Times – like The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, which also charge for content – is very much a unique business and consumer proposition. What might work for The New York Times probably won’t work for a regional daily. There will be a lot of speculation on price – The Times is, in part, defining what a digital newspaper is worth – but that number is far less important than habituating a certain kind of consumer to the idea that conveniently accessing certain kinds of content is worth money.

3. Being the middleman is GOLD.

One of the biggest lessons of Web 2.0 is that the company that controls the relationship with consumers is the one that owns the future. It would have been much more expedient to partner with Amazon or iTunes, because they already have the machinery in place and own the credit cards of millions of consumers. But in the long run, they would have controlled and benefited from the relationship far more than The Times.

The more mathematically minded should read Felix Salmon’s post on the numbers behind the paywall.

From the post:

The way that it seems the NYT paywall is going to work, visitors to nytimes.com will have a free allowance of n articles per month. To read the n+1th article, they will have to pay a subscription fee F. After that, they can read as many articles as they like for the rest of the month.

If a visitor to nytimes.com normally reads N articles per month, then the key number in their mind will be N-n. If reading that number of articles is worth more to them than F, they’ll pay the fee. If on the other hand N-n is small, or perceived value-per-article is small, then they won’t pay. Specifically, if the average value to the reader of any given article is v, then they’ll pay the fee when v(N-n)>F.

Across the pond the Daily Telegraph weighs in on the paywall question and says that it likely won’t work, simply because there are too many ways to get around it.

Ken Doctor over at his blog Content Bridges tries to answer nine questions about the Times’ strategy.

And the good people at the Nieman Lab, who are paid to think about this stuff all the time, have an amazing roundup of talk about the Times. Happy reading.

52 in 52: The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood

Jan 21, 2010 in 52 in 52, Books

52 in 52 is a personal challenge to read a book a week in 2010

Margaret Atwood just might be Canada’s best science-fiction author. She probably won’t like that label but this book and Oryx & Crake, the novel that closely dovetails with The Year of the Flood, is science-fiction at its best.

The novel tells the story of two women, Toby and Ren, and the God’s Gardeners, a survivalist eco-cult. They are all trying to survive in a dystopian world where the social fabric has been torn apart by rampant consumerism, environmental damage and bio-technology run amok. So basically, Las Vegas.

Atwood is grimly serious and if you don’t steel yourself, Year of the Flood can be a difficult read in many ways. Sometimes I found sections of the book a bit didactic and preachy. But the horrors that she writes about just have enough grounding in reality that to simply dismiss them would be wrong.

Further reading:

The Year of the Flood’s official site

Margaret Atwood on Twitter

Will the NY Times’ new payment scheme work

Jan 19, 2010 in Media

There’s speculation flying that the New York Times will soon have a new payment scheme. New York magazine broke the story over the weekend that the most likely scheme is a metered system not unlike the Financial Times, where a reader gets access to a number of pieces and then be asked to subscribe.

From their story:

One personal friend of Sulzberger said a final decision could come within days, and a senior newsroom source agreed, adding that the plan could be announced in a matter of weeks. (Apple’s tablet computer is rumored to launch on January 27, and sources speculate that Sulzberger will strike a content partnership for the new device, which could dovetail with the paid strategy.) It will likely be months before the Times actually begins to charge for content, perhaps sometime this spring.

The New York magazine piece is full of speculation and Gawker calls bullshit on most of it but if it’s remotely accurate it seems that the payment scheme is an attempt to get the best of both worlds: wide online reach AND cash from frequent subscribers.

But with the painful declines in advertising brought on by last year’s financial crisis, the argument pushed by Keller and others — that online advertising might never grow big enough to sustain the paper’s high-cost, ambitious journalism — gained more weight. The view was that the Times needed to make the leap to some form of paid content and it needed to do it now. The trick would be to build a source of real revenue through online subscriptions while still being able to sell significant online advertising. The appeal of the metered model is that it charges high-volume readers while allowing casual browsers to sample articles for free, thus preserving some of the Times‘ online reach.

(more…)

Digest: Print magazine turns 70, a big book bag, fancy letterhead

Jan 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

Design:Related looks at the 70th anniversary of Print (the magazine, not the medium, which is much, much older). Karen Horton, the author of the post, shows us the subscriber-only cover, which I prefer to the one that hit the newsstand. Pick it up at your local newsstand.

Man, how many books can you get in this Boston Public Library book bag?

A hat-tip to Ms. Sara-Beth Hayden for pointing me to Letterheady, a blog that looks just at letterhead, mostly from famous (and infamous) people, but sometimes from companies like this one…

Sunday image: Ryan Berkeley’s animal illustration

Jan 17, 2010 in Uncategorized

Thanks Coach House Books for putting two images from Portland’s Ryan Berkeley on their spring catalogue. They’re twee-rific. He’s got prints for sale on Etsy.

52 in 52: Daniel O’Thunder by Ian Weir

Jan 16, 2010 in 52 in 52, Books

52 in 52 is an unofficial challenge to read one book a week this year. I tried this last year but lost track somewhere in the 30s. So we’re trying this again for 2010.

Book the first? Ian Weir’s novel of pugilism, faith and Victoriana, Daniel O’Thunder. The book is also the first selection of the Afterword Reading Society so you’ll be hearing more about it in the coming weeks.

Weir’s novel is a fun, well-paced and well-plotted book about an Irish street preacher and boxer who challenges the devil to a boxing match. C’mon, how can you not like that summary?

Some of my favourite books in the last few years have been novels that played with the conventions of the historical novel (i.e. the Man Game). This one fits that bill and is probably a bit more accessible than Lee Henderson’s novel, with its crazy patois and slightly more outrageous, MMA style fighting.

My co-worker Brad and a few others have said this book was an overlooked title of 2009 and I agree. Daniel O’Thunder is a manly, meaty book. I’d recommend it to those who enjoyed Quirk’s Jane Austen mash-up series or those who enjoy their Victoriana a bit rougher around the edges.