Here are some highlights from this week’s publishing news.
Google looks to corner local content market with Zagat acquisition
Google officially entered the business of distributing content written by real, live human beings this week with its acquisition of Zagat. This opens up a whole new world of competition for Google — some think to the extent of possibly raising conflict-of-interest questions. Regardless of the possible dangers of the acquisition and arguments that it should be “blocked, reversed, annulled, undone, or whatever the right word is, to protect consumers, to protect restaurant owners, and to protect competitors,” this is big news on the local content and mobile search fronts.
Tim Carmody points out at Wired that “much like Yahoo or Microsoft, Google increasingly owns outright some of the media content it serves up for searches, rather than simply indexing and influencing it” (this is probably among the “dangers” of the acquisition, but a very smart move on Google’s part). The best part for me was highlighted in a Business Insider look at the ins and outs of the deal: “Imagine pulling out your Android phone, looking up local restaurants on Google Maps, seeing Zagat reviews for restaurants around you, and perhaps a coupon for some of them.” Now, that is a service I would use.
Publish an ebook without writing a word
It seems content publishing platforms are popping up everywhere, allowing anyone with Internet access to publish, well, whatever they want. Just in the past two weeks, Dymocks announced a new “end-to-end” self-publishing service for authors, and Uncram launched a publishing platform that allows people to publish status updates, tweets and other social media fodder to a “diary” page. But the one that really caught my eye was Instebooks, which launched 50 mobile phone apps that will allow users to publish ebooks from their phones.
The mobile part isn’t the most interesting bit, however. As explained on Good E-Reader:
The basic format of creating a mobile phone ebook is to allow users [to]click on an image in Instebooks’ gallery then simply speak their stories. The file is then automatically converted to a text file from the speech and uploaded as an ebook …
OK. Wait. Anyone can speak his or her story into a smartphone, then publish for the world to read? (We’ll leave whole the speech-to-text accuracy problem alone for now.) Yes, I can see the actual value in this — writers brainstorming, lecturers planning class sessions, etc. — but seriously, this will add a ton of potential to the 2 a.m. post-bar philosopher discussions, and it could well put the whole drunk-dialing of the ’80s and ’90s to shame. The press release notes that upon publication, if the user opts to make the ebook public (yes, there thankfully is a choice), Instebooks not only will publish it to a web page , but will also “update a user’s Facebook wall with a summary and a link to keep a user’s fan base informed.”
Reuters percolates new aggregation site
Some might argue that we need another content aggregation site like we need a hole in the head, but Reuters might actually be onto something with its launch of Counterparties.com this week. Reuters teamed up with Percolate to launch a site that focuses on usability and content value. Felix Salmon, a major force behind the site’s creation, explained how Percolate works on his Reuters blog:
Percolate is a fantastic engine for this kind of thing — a pared-down, ultra-simple website which just tries to link to the best and most relevant information we can find. You show it your RSS feeds and the people you follow on Twitter; it will generate a dynamic list of stories generated by your own personal tastes.
Using the Percolate engine, Reuters pulls the top 30 or so financial stories each day and links to them directly, only rewriting the headlines — as Jason Del Rey pointed out on AdAge, it’s a bit like Drudge Report. In that same post, Del Rey also noted that monetization wasn’t the first and foremost concern, quoting Chrystia Freeland, digital editor at Reuters: “We want to see who’s using it, and how they’re using it, before figuring that out.” This is an interesting take on aggregation — instead of aggregating content based on my preferences — thus ultimately limiting discovery and my exposure to interesting content I might not otherwise find — it’s aggregated based on a news service’s tastes.