Publishing News: Is Medium an evolution or a mashup?

Biz Stone and Evan Williams look to evolve publishing, the EFF offers further arguments against TPP, and a new report offers insights into the ebook market.

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

An “evolutionary leap” toward the future of publishing?

The Obvious Corporation, led by Twitter and Blogger co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, launched a new publishing platform this week called Medium. Williams writes in a company blog post that they feel media and publishing can be done better, and that Medium is intended as an “evolutionary leap” in the right direction. He describes how the new platform will work:

“Medium is designed to allow people to choose the level of contribution they prefer. We know that most people, most of the time, will simply read and view content, which is fine. If they choose, they can click to indicate whether they think something is good, giving feedback to the creator and increasing the likelihood others will see it.

“Posting on Medium (not yet open to everyone) is elegant and easy, and you can do so without the burden of becoming a blogger or worrying about developing an audience. All posts are organized into ‘collections,’ which are defined by a theme and a template.”

Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab says that the new collaborative publishing platform raises “fundamental questions about how content on the web is structured” and looks at the evolution of the web and individual self-expression. He argues that the most radical aspect of Medium is its approach to authorship — while the platform doesn’t ignore authorship, it definitely makes it a secondary issue to content. He writes:

“Medium is built around collections, not authors. When you click on an author’s byline on a Medium post, it goes to their Twitter feed (Ev synergy!), not to their author archive — which is what you’d expect on just about any other content management system on the Internet. (The fact we call them content management systems alone tells you the structural weight that comes from even the lightest personal publishing systems.) The author is there as a reference point to an identity layer — Twitter — not as an organizing principle.

“As Dave Winer noted, Medium does content categorization upside down: ‘Instead of adding a category to a post, you add a post to a category.” He means collection in Medium-speak, but you get the idea: Topic triumphs over author. Medium doesn’t want you to read something because of who wrote it; Medium wants you to read something because of what it’s about. And because of the implicit promise that Medium = quality.”

Mathew Ingram wonders at GigaOm whether the new platform is all that ground breaking, arguing that “it’s not immediately clear what Medium offers that other services don’t.” Ingram says the service “looks a lot like a mashup of Pinterest and Tumblr.” He agrees that Medium’s approach to authorship, as noted by Benton, is indeed different, but he questions: “Is the combination of a topic focus and a voting system enough to make Medium something magical, in a way that will propel it beyond Pinterest and Tumblr and the growing cohort of other social-web tools and publishing platforms? I would hate to count it out, but I’m just not sure.”

Carolina Rossini and Yana Welinder at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) took another look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) that’s currently under negotiation and argue further that it’s a bad idea. They specifically address the fact that TPP is seeking to expand the lengthy copyright terms found in American copyright legislation and to extend the terms to other countries through trade agreements. They write:

“Under this proposal, if the copyright holder is a natural person (an individual), the copyright term would extend to the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years after her death as a minimum. On average, this means that a work could only enter the public domain after almost 140 years. This provision in particular surpasses restrictions as laid out in the US Copyright Act that sets the 70 years as a ceiling, whereas TPP sets the 70 years term as the minimum requirement. In the case of published works whose copyrights are owned by corporations, the term of protection would extend to 95 years from the first publication. Finally, corporate works that were not published within 25 years of its creation, are protected the term of protection is 120 years from the date of the creation.”

Rossini and Welinder argue that such stringent terms are “detrimental to creativity and innovation,” and that justifying restrictive monopoly rights and lengthy terms in copyright law with claims that they incentivize creativity is ill-informed. They note that “economists (PDF) and law scholars who have studied this rationale have found that ‘the optimal length of copyright is at most seven years,'” and quoting Dennis S. Karjala, argue:

“The more we tie up past works in ownership rights that do not convey a public benefit through greater incentive for the creation of new works, the more we restrict the ability of current creators to build on and expand the cultural contributions of their forebears.”

Rossini and Welinder’s post (along with Rossini’s previous post) are this week’s recommended reads — you can find them here and here.

Identifying the trends and the movers and shakers of the ebook market

Chris Rechtsteiner, founder and chief strategist of BlueLoop Concepts, released a new report this week called “The eBook Platform Landscape — 8 Trends and 29 Companies Shaping a Market” (PDF). Rechtsteiner writes in a blog post that the report aims “to provide insight on a highly dynamic market and its participants — the organizations that are actively shaping the publishing and ebook markets.”

Market trends described in the report include a desire for non-traditional distribution that offers authors and publishers more control and a rise in short-form works resulting from an increased tendency toward shorter attention spans. The research also identified a significant commitment among authors and publishers to start leveraging the cloud and highlighted four core areas in which the cloud will be key to the success of ebooks: collaboration, discovery, distribution, and connection. According to the findings, the cloud also will be important to globalization. From the report:

“As books become more cloud based … the ability to reach a global audience becomes inherent. Savvy independent authors and publishers are going to recognize the opportunity to add a 5% – 10% increase in sales of their titles by opening their distribution to a global audience, and do so on day one. … Improved quality of content and ebook ‘files,’ improved quality and availability of metadata through search and social channels and a holistic embrace of the cloud … to support an author-to-reader engagement will all be critical success factors.”

You can download a free copy of the report here (PDF), and Rechtsteiner also addresses several questions about the report in this FAQ.


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