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Academic Publishing

Digital snails

Digital product capabilities strive to evolve, at least you’d hope so. In the instance of academic publishing, the snails of the publishing world, the conversion of academic books to websites and services is still an arduously long, tedious road that produces an end product that sits quite comfortably covered in digital dust.

Why is this? Well, one reason is that these products are very expensive to make, a basic companion website for a large reference book can cost up to £250,000 alone. As print rambles along its uncertain path, particularly in recent years (and since the decline of print in 2007), publishers have less budget to play with and more concern about where they put it. The market isn’t screaming for digital e-books and academic professors aren’t either. That’s the belief anyway. From communicating with authors and the market at ground level I’ve developed a different image.  Exploring the reasons why technology hasn’t gone hand in hand with publishers going forward I’ve come up with some general influences.

These are:

  • The mindset that digital is just a ‘phase’
  • Publishers can’t afford to explore digital opportunities
  • The conversation isn’t agile and it takes a long time to decide on a new venture, during this technology has waltzed on by and publishers either go back to the drawing board or continue to lag behind
  • Conversion to e-books/sales/ the online market place has proven difficult for publishers to navigate

Much of this I put down to tradition, workflows and processes that haven’t changed in decades exist, still. We’re making an e-book now, what more do they want? The answer, products that compete with those of other markets. You can easily search a popular brands website for a specific piece or category and be rewarded with a host of choices and related suggestions. Created by savvy algorithms, good SEO and engaging content, identified as valuable to the target market. So why can’t we do that with books? Publishers are only just coining onto SEO strategies and the idea of putting real effort into building an online audience base in order to increase sales and traffic. As mentioned before, the content of an e-book isn’t easily digitalis-ed, for example building a taxonomy is a little more tricky when you ask a bot to differentiate between the tuberculosis disease referenced to in a chapter about dysentery disease and the actual chapter on tuberculosis. It requires human intervention, someone to physically go through the text and acknowledge what belongs where and how it can be searched for in a digital copy. Thus the high cost. With the decline in print sales the ROI from e-books isn’t enough to cover large scale digital investment. This is obviously a huge problem for print across the board and with little resources given to explore the possibilities of getting round it we continue to shed out for these products to be made. The reality is that they are clunky, unpopular and don’t fulfill their potential as new revenue streams.

How to give good feedback

As an editor I spend a lot of time going over content with a critical eye, making edits and suggestions and then rounding it all into a nice ball of feedback. Here are some useful feedback tips:

  • Be comfortable
  • Be specific
  • Be firm, not mean
  • Be positive
  • Be reasonable

Most of the time people dread feedback, as soon as you say the word it makes people think they’re going to be torn down. Tailor your feedback according to the relationship level you have with that person. Create a safe zone so the person you’re feeding back to knows what to expect and will be comfortable receiving your comments.  Be clear and concise, bullet points in an email and comments where you want to make suggestions in a doc.

Track changes, authors like to see what you’re doing. If it isn’t grammar related, then a reason why you’ve made the change won’t go amiss.  Your rationale is an important part of any edit.

When feeding back your overall review keep in mind to be respectful of peoples work and their ‘creative babies’. Targeting just the bad stuff won’t go down well so talk about the good points too. It’ll encourage people to tackle the edits and will provide a platform for further exchanges where you can simply feedback changes to them, safe in the knowledge that they are aware of your support.

The ability to negotiate and collaborate on ideas and edits will lead to better rapport and better work. When giving feedback steer clear of setting forth your ideas as concrete blocks, but rather living forms that take shape to meet the needs of the project and that can be worked with by others.

If you have a huge list you can lay out what needs to be tackled first in order of importance, this could help an author prioritize if they are feeling lost on where to start. Colour coding or differentiating between types of edits is sometimes helpful for authors too i.e grammar change green, sentence structure blue, content revision red. This can help an author to see where their weaknesses lie.

Set deadlines or milestones for edits to give them momentum. If you have any examples of work that would be useful, such as layouts, then communicate this. Make your aims as clear as possible.

Google Analytics: Accessing data

So you’ve set up your GA account, what now? If you’ve already got to grips with the tools and interface then you’re good to go- if not then head over to my other post on them and have a read.

When you log in you’ll see the Audience Overview report, it’ll look like this:

audience-report

If you have more than one site you will have to select the report you want to view. There are over 50 different reports available, these can be selected through the reporting tab at the top. Report selected, you can change the dates via the top right drop down to change the date range of data you are viewing. You can also check the Compare box to compare your data from one date against another.

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When in Audience Overview you can hoover over a line to get the data for that particular day, hoovering on the metrics beneath the graph will give you more info.

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It’s here that you can switch between reports to see the top ten languages, countries, cities, browsers, operating systems, services providers, and screen resolutions of your visitors. You can drill down a number of levels here, for instance in locations you can choose United States and see the breakdown of visitors according to states with more info there for each metric. Some easy access reports are:

reports-list

Audience reports
Outline specifications about your traffic, such as age, gender, demographics, frequency they visit the site, where they go on the site. It is possible then to map out their interests and behavior, location and so on.

Acquisition reports
The reports produce data on what drives traffic to the site and specific sources.

Behaviour reports
Will provide date on your content, what your pages are, landing pages, top exit pages etc. If you set up site search you will be able to see what terms were searched for and the pages that were search on. You can also see here how fast your website loads with suggestions from Google on how to make it faster.

Conversions
If you’ve set up Goals then you can see how many conversions you’ve has and URL paths your traffic took to reach them.  Conversions can also be seen in other reports such as location through-> Audience Overview.

For a full list of reports see here
For building in custom reports 
Some recommended custom reports

Your Google Analytics is as comprehensive as you want to make it, read through what is available first before setting off so you can get the most out of your account.

More on GA data soon!

Google Analytics, what?

In this post I want to put some scope on Google Analytics, it’s a really useful tool for feedback on new digital products. It can help can shape future content directions in terms of commissioning, giving you key data on the behavior of your users. More often than not editors don’t use it as it sits outside the traditional editorial domain. GA can be used to track website and mobile apps, at a glance it might seem intimidating. The word analytics threatens a complex matrix to get to grips with but in reality it is a series of simple processes to follow.

The things GA can tell you are:

  • How much traffic is the website getting?
  • Where do my visitors live?
  • Do I need a mobile-friendly website?
  • What websites send traffic to my website?
  • What marketing tactics drive the most traffic to my website?
  • Which pages on my website are the most popular?
  • How many visitors have I converted into leads or customers?
  • Where did my converting visitors come from and go on my website?
  • What content are my users accessing and related content from side feeds

Lets tackle set-up first. There are a variety of ways to set up your account, for simplicity I’ll work off of the basis that we are tracking one site.

Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like when you’re setting up a GA account:5582cb90ebb6d9-18962362

The standard set-up for one site looks like this:

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Once you’ve set up your account you’ll be given a unique tracking code, which has to be entered into the back wall of every page on your website, for blogs this can be done via the header or footer scripts. If you have a WordPress on your own domain, you can use the Google Analytics by Yoast plugin to install your code, no matter what theme or framework you are using.

If you have a website built with HTML files, you will add the tracking code before the </head> tag on each of your pages. You can do this by using a text editor program (such as TextEdit for Mac or Notepad for Windows) and then uploading the file to your web host using an FTP program (such as FileZilla). Ecommerce sites and blogs like Tumblr have different entry points but most are easily to find/ look up.

The first thing you want to do once your account is set up is set your goals, go to admin->goals. This will set up your websites profile.

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Your goals will tell you when something significant has happened, they can also create link pages for landing pages such as a thank you or confirmation after a purchase/ sign up etc. Name your goal and select the destination and custom link.

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Then you add the URL link and change the drop down to ‘begins with’.

goals-2

It’ll then look like this ^

You can add up to 20 goals, make sure they are the most important ones for retrieving data. More instructions on setting up different types of goals can be found here .

Lastly for a basic set up you’ll want to get data from you site search, this is for any website that has a search bar. Open your site and search for something, keep that tab open (as you’ll need the URL) and then go back to your GA admin-> View tab-> View Settings. Now scroll down until you see site settings:

site-settings-2

Change search site settings to ON. Now go back to your website search URL and put it in the parameter box that appears underneath this what is shown in the results (either a q or an s) and save. This will allow you to see what your traffic has searched for specifically on your website.

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Editing: the basics

Before I embark on any editing specifics I thought a little summary of the basics for editors and copy editors alike might be useful. Editing isn’t just about cutting out text or re-writing content is also involves a lot of communication and relationship management.

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For the editor effective listening is critical to any relationship with an author or business partner. Whether you are aware of it or not there are endless cultural differences that come into play, not to mention business etiquette. Your author’s first language may not be English, they may have never worked with a publisher before and they may, for all intents and purposes, not be listening to you. Follow-up any meetings or calls with summaries so you are both on the same page and pay close attention to detail.

Silent expectations, what you, as an editor, are going to do and deliver could be very different from what an author expects. Email is two dimensional but is visually interpreted as three dimensional, a phone call or face to face meeting is never time wasted. Relationship management plays a key part in nearly all editorial roles, having the ability to build rapport and lay out a strategy, summary or mile stones will ensure a project and its author rolls along smoothly.

A sub editor provides:

  • Clear, understandable edits with tracked changes.
  • Specific solutions, i.e if you are cutting length let them know that you are doing so for x reason.
  • Collaboration, if a change is suggested that doesn’t sit right suggest an alternative option rather than just shooting it down cold.
  • Market sense, to provide a good commercial awareness of what the market is looking for and when according to global trends and different demographics of readers, including foreign markets, cross culture developments, industry standards, regulations and policies.

To conclude, the editor is there to create the outline that an author will colour in.

I’ll go over the specifics like extent, permissions and the types of editing in posts to come.

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Institution as e-textbook publisher: a brief overview

Textbook inflation has risen dramatically in recent years due to the fall in print sales, this has led to an arms race in publishing content.  Now modern technology is implementing that content and investing in the digital experience, particularly institutions, whose aim is to allow students greater access to learning via e-books.

Universities have long since been running their own print presses but are now moving in greater digital directions.  With the rise in university fees more students cannot afford books, which already come in short supply at libraries. Access to e-books has become a core part of student learning. Institutions want to enhance the student experience so that students can access not just all of the books they need to but all of the books they want.  But how do you create a sustainable e-books marketplace?  A recent e-books conference at UCL listed the following points for any e-book provider’s consideration:

  • Re-usability
  • Accessibility
  • Interoperability
  • Durability
  • Have a clear mechanism for driving adoptions
  • Bench marking
  • Impact
  • Extent to which access has been improved
  • Content creation, production process
  • Licensing, distribution, cost models effective?
  • Author experience
  • Reader experience

Through various examples of data analytics, such as student surveys, they showed that e-books with greater accessibility had a steady increase of usage over time than those with more limited access, such as e-pdfs. Access to these e-formats varied across the board with the highest percentages of students using e-formats with features such as ‘highlighting’ and ‘text to speech’. This data aligned with student grades, which increased according to those students with higher e-text and journal usage.

Consider the following questions:

How will knowledge be generated and published?

How will it be accessed?

How is knowledge engaged with and added to?

Yes, loaded questions.

I’ll go over their answers briefly for now and in more detail as I cover individual e-book topics, like accessibility and consumer experience.

The aim is to pull you to the community interested in that subject in order to generate more discussion, one university has created a program that allows users to upload their own files in order create their own learning space. There they can collate and work on one chapter/book that can be linked around the world. This program also allows for big data sharing, mirroring Apple’s cloud ability to accommodate storage online. A hugely popular app right now is ‘Refme’ which does reference formatting. It auto-populates the references needed, no matter how large or how many it can do them all at once, right down to the last point. I’m sure most people will remember how much of a bummer it was to finish your essay and then spend arduous amounts of time referencing only to be marked down for being one comma short of perfection.  As the need for such product capability increases so does the number of platforms and technologies available to institutions, here are a few of the cooler kids:

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Ebooks have the potential to engage with three key strategic priorities common to most universities: to enhance the student experience and academic outcomes within an increasingly competitive environment; to drive innovation in learning, teaching and research; and to help to use space and human resources more effectively and efficiently.” Jisc , 2015

Case study

UHI & Edinburgh Napier: Frank Rennie’s How to write research dissertations

I’ll use this book as an example of what some institutions are doing now. This book was produced at very low cost, using tools that were of little expense and with free programs, by a small production team at the university.

The Model:

– Academics discussed the content and proof-read

– No formal contract as it is a curation of many academics and colleagues so no legal rights to anyone

-Books are ecologically wasteful and inconvenient to students; this model aims to remove the printed word

-Electronic file conversion for Kindle available

-Permissions have been granted and licences for use acquired where needed

-Online sales channels offer access to consumers with minimum effort

-Mainstream consumer acceptance of e-books has created sustainable marketplace

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Institutions believe this model of publication, once streamlined, will leave the traditional publisher in the dust and create a smarter more efficient way for institutions to generate material, at little cost. But we all know that a good idea never stays free for long. The idea of academics creating textbooks tailored for their course and for wider access freely or at affordable cost is a good one, but whether it is sustainable on a large scale is debatable.

 

This book is available on BM Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), and has DRM (digital rights management). Both incur a cost, particularly the latter. If an institution wants these books to have a companion site then they must also add that cost in too, most though already have some kind of platform in place. One question that sprung to mind when looking at this model is ‘who owns the content?’ When I put that question to the representatives of UHI & Edinburgh Napier, they drew a blank. As it’s still relatively new ground for institutions there is no standard yet on how these books are rolled out, and so each case performs differently.  In most cases they do not follow the traditional books model, which means no royalties for authors, an intimidating concept.

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