As always, catching up with some interesting articles regarding publishing, science and Web 2.0:

Beyond the Flickering Screen: Re-situating e-books
An excellent article, and one of the best, most realistic takes I’ve seen on the future of e-books. The author argues that while cost plays some factor in the failure of e-books to catch on (a Kindle purchaser needs to buy 61 books before they break even on the purchase of their device), the real problem is a cultural one:

“The idea of electronic books, or e-books, remains the domain of geeky early adopters. The reasons for this are manifold, but, arguably, a broader uptake of e-books has not occurred because cultural change is much more difficult than technological change and book readers have yet to be persuaded to change their cultural habits.”

He suggests that one solution for this is to make e-books ubiquitously available, rather than limiting them to a separate e-book-reader-only ghetto. To reach a mass audience, e-books need to be a common part of the sort of things one does online or with the electronic devices one already owns:

“The availability of e-books on mobile platforms may not result in more people embracing longer-form literature. But it will increase the number of people actually reading, and, just as casual gaming has attracted a female demographic, the instant availability of appropriate reading material might sway some of those men who appear to be reluctant readers.
Rather than focus on printed books, and book-like reading devices, the industry should re-position e-books as an easily accessible content choice in a digitally converged media environment. This is more a cultural shift than a technological one—for publishers and readers alike. Situating e-books in such a way may alienate a segment of the bookloving community, but such readers are unlikely to respond to anything other than print on paper. Indeed, it may encourage a whole new demographic—unafraid of the flickering screen—to engage with the manifold attractions of “books.””

—article continues—

Cory Doctorow: Macropayments
Next up is another column from Cory Doctorow, on micropayments, and why he doesn’t sell his books and stories directly to the reading public. While most tend to think of Doctorow as some sort of open-source, give-everything-away-for-free, Communist-neo-hippie, he makes a great case here for the value of publishers to an author:

“When you take money directly from someone, they become your customer, a relationship that’s fundamentally different from the “writer-reader” relationship that you get when the reader is the publisher’s customer. In the traditional relationship, a publisher serves as a commercial intermediary between the writer and the reader in the same way that a newspaper’s circulation and advertising department serve as intermediaries between advertisers/readers and reporters. It’s not that reporters get to ignore the needs of circulation and advertising — but they’re not beholden advertisers and subscribers; their first duty is to make the best news they can, not to please advertisers or subscribers…

This all changes once the reader is the writer’s customer: suddenly, the reader starts to treat the writer as the publisher (and rightly so, if the writer is taking money directly from the reader) and to make demands about the kind of books she writes. At best, this is faintly helpful but kind of painful. At worst, it’s a torrent of contradictory, entitled “advice” that often amounts to, “Can’t you just write more like the last one?”…

Taking someone’s money is expensive. It incurs transaction and bookkeeping costs and it incurs emotional and social costs. Micropayments have historically focused on eliminating the cash overheads while ignoring the intangible costs. For a writer whose career might span decades and involve hundreds of thousands of readers, these costs cannot be ignored.”

Dear World: What kind of a person blogs?
(found via Bora’s blog entry)
I’ve often speculated that blogging (and many other Web 2.0 pursuits) are attractive and fun to particular personality types, and less interesting to others. It follows Jakob Nielsen’s 90-9-1 rule, where for most interactive websites, 90% of the people just read and don’t contribute, 9% occasionally contribute, and 1% do nearly all the community contributing. This article highlights a study that tries to pin down personality factors that are common among bloggers.

And finally, I wouldn’t feel right without adding a little cynical snark about Web 2.0, including this gem from Merlin Mann:
Social Networks: The Case for a “Pause” Button

“…FriendFeed, which has quickly become the platform of choice for the web’s least interesting narcissists — and the slow-witted woodland creatures who enjoy grooming their fur…”

And from Warren Ellis’ Bad Signal mailing list:

“On the whole, Open Mesh will only matter to people in San Francisco, for a couple of years — people who need to hook Facebook, Brightkite and Yelp together so they can change their relationship status as it happens, weep on Twitter and have their GPS loc broadcast, and then find the nearest bar to drink two shots of crap tequila and fall over. On their iPhone.
Upshot being: social’s going to continue to be a “story” for a while longer, but I have a feeling we’re approaching the end of a phase pretty quickly.”