Double Dipping – Picture book therapy

When medical conditions affect children or the people in their lives, one of the most daunting aspects of their situation is how to cope. The management of a disease or disability is one thing, the understanding why they have it and why others react the way they do is another.

Emily Eases her WheezesPicture books are marvellous non-invasive ways of presenting expositional information on a variety of tricky-to-handle topics in relatable formats for young readers. Here are two hot-off-the press releases that tackle two such ailments yet are still stories of substance and integrity.

Emily Eases her Wheezes by Katrina Roe and Leigh Hedstrom, is a delightful tale about a very energetic elephant, Emily. Always full of energy, Emily loves to scooter, leap, and twirl. Unfortunately, Emily suffers from asthma as approximately 1 in 10 Australian children do.

Being unable to play with her friends and live the active lifestyle she craves frustrates Emily to the point where she is willing to risk wheezes and coughs just to have fun. Such behaviour results in her relying on her puffer more and more until she is relegated to remaining quiet in her room. Her friends are slow to appreciate that ‘you can’t catch asthma’ but miss her friendship so much that they use their 21st century-Generation Z data-retrieving smarts and soon discover an activity they can all do…swimming.

Emily Wheezes illo spreadAs Emily’s lungs grow stronger so too does her chance to race with her team in the summer swimming carnival. Will this plucky little heroin keep her wheezes under control long enough to win the day?

Emily Eases her Wheezes is a delicately sobering tale about a condition with which many younger readers will resonnate. Roe’s crisp contemporary narrative couples easily with Hedstrom’s big bold illustrations. I found the epilogue-style overview of asthma in children at the end of the book interesting as well.

Asthma is a disease I’ve been aware of since childhood, however I can honestly say, this is one of the first books I’ve encountered that has presented its manifestation and control in children in such a clear, simple and entertaining fashion. Well done.

Wombat Books Rhiza Press June 2015

Newspaper Hats Newspaper Hats by Phil Cummings and Owen Swan is an incredibly intelligent and beautifully sensitive look at a family dealing with the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease.

Georgie visits her grandpa’s nursing home regularly with her father. But rather than it being an ominous outing to a place she is fearful of, Georgie looks forward to arriving at the sky-blue door because it is a room ‘full of sunshine’ with stacks of old newspapers as tall as city buildings; her grandpa’s world.

However, Grandpa is becoming more and more vague and forgetful. Georgie is desperate to know if her remembers her, but repeated enquires are met with far away recollections of his youth. With child-like innocence and gentle tenacity, she tries to connect with him through these memories and the photographs on his dresser until, by chance she discovers a simple act that unites not only the rest of the nursing home community but also, the relationship between she and Grandpa.

Cummings’ unrushed narrative pulses gently with visceral images, doors that slide open like curtains; thunderclouds that taste like dust; they leave your heart swooning with emotion until the very last word.

Through using the simple joy of making paper hats and the subtle historical connection to memory with noteworthy newspaper headlines of the 20th century, Newspaper Hats unfolds into a powerful yet immensely touching story of what binds a family together.

Swan’s watercolour and pencil on paper artwork is subdued and mindful of the weightiness of the subject matter lurking just below the surface of the text. It is neither grim nor foreboding, rather the illustrations float across the pages with infinite optimism like a paper hat carried away on the breeze.

Phil Cummings BooksA beautiful book on many levels from a potent teller of poignant tales and my pick for pre-schoolers as a catalyst for caring, sharing, and understanding.

Scholastic Press July 2015

 

Why booklovers need newspapers

The SMH replica app allows a tablet user to see the newspaper as it appears in print.
After 14 years in newspapers of which 11 were with Fairfax titles, and seven were online, I have some pretty strong views about recent events in that great newspaper company.

As an avid reader and book lover so should you. Newspapers have long encouraged and supported their journalists as they add the writing of books to their creative output. Without their newspaper jobs, these journalists simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to devote their time to the writing of books.

There are too many current or past Fairfax journalists and columnists who have become authors to mention here, but some names that spring to mind are Maggie Alderson, Mia Freedman, Peter Fitzsimons, David Marr, Chris Womersley, Annabel Crabb, Roy Masters and Kirsty Needham.

I’m most concerned for those friends and former colleagues who have already lost their jobs, or may do so in coming months.

I’m also worried about how those who keep their jobs will cope with all the uncertainty and change.

I’m devastated about the impact cuts have already had and will continue to have on the quality of the content coming from the SMH, Age and Canberra Times.

I’ve also always been a passionate reader of Fairfax content, whether it’s in newspaper form (rarely these days), on the web on my computer, on my iPad via an app or on the iPhone as a mobile optimized version of the websites, and whether it’s content I’ve found by flipping or scrolling through Fairfax’s own pages or via a recommendation from a Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn contact.

However we find or read the content, it’s a huge enrichment for our lives.

As a journalist who was lucky to be poached from Fairfax by a small start-up publisher a year ago, before the outsourcing of sub-editors started the current doom and gloom, I have mostly happy memories of my time there. Fairfax is a great company. Its people are exceptional as writers, editors and mentors to those building media careers.

A little part of me is angry about some management decisions made over the years, particularly the ones that involved head-in-the-sand statements like, “No, you can’t publish that online, it’s a print exclusive” and “No, we can’t publish a replica app because it might impact on print sales”.

The latter particularly frustrated me because replica versions (like those found on Zinio or PressReader) seemed like such a simple and cheap way to get Fairfax content onto tablets for readers interstate and overseas, or for those who had an allergy to newsprint, and who thus couldn’t access the print edition.

I replaced my print delivery of the SMH with a replica app subscription in 2010 and haven’t looked back. I’d do the same for The Canberra Times today if they offered one.

I’ve always believed that if your readers want to receive your goods in a particular way, and you can provide the goods to them in that way relatively cheaply and easily, then you should do so.

Print has been over for a long time, and the direction CEO Greg Hywood has finally shifted the business in is the right one.

A digital first policy and the appointment of social media editors for each title are necessary steps forward. A little late, maybe, but better late than never.

As for Gina Rinehart, well, wouldn’t it be great if everyone who felt strongly about keeping her off the board invested in a few Fairfax shares themselves. Don’t hold your breath.

What do you think the future holds for newspapers?

Do you, like me, believe Fairfax should pull back further on printed editions to save on printing and distribution costs and provide print subscribers with tablets and app subscriptions?

I reckon that will happen in time.

I also think they should look to charge for longer form journalism, focusing on depth and expertise rather than trying to compete on breaking news, though this will only work if they expand still further on their social media plans to ensure their content is discovered.

As for how you can help to support Fairfax’s great journalists, the most important way is to pay for their content. Subscribe to an app or paid website. Buy a print edition (if only to show your grandchildren so they know what a newspaper used to look like). Buy some shares. Or join the Get up! Campaign to promote its editorial independence.

The great digital newsprint struggle

The book industry has handled the transition to digital with greater intelligence, foresight and strategy than the newspaper business.

In the space of two years (given the Kindle arrived in this market in late 2009 and the iPad and Kobo in May 2010), all major book publishers and many smaller operators have begun to publish ebooks simultaneously with printed titles. Larger book retailers were either already selling ebooks, or moved as quickly as they could to partner with businesses that would allow them to do so. Customers who adopted ereader technology understood from day one that they would need to part with cash to buy ebooks, just as they had physical books.

Newspaper publishers have posted their content online since the mid-90s (making it available to their readers for no charge in most cases), but many are still trying to find a digital model that will make their business sustainable.

Perhaps it’s because newspaper editors are so flat out getting the next day’s edition together, they don’t have time to research, plan, and ponder their likely future, whereas book publishers are used to thinking long term.

Perhaps, like many who are opposed to taking action on climate change, the newspaper bosses see the so-called digital threat as a problem for their successors, and thus one they can ignore or pay lip service to without taking genuine steps towards a sustainable model.

Andrew Rossi’s documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times examines some of these issues, and is a must-see for anyone who is interested in the changing face of the mainstream media. It’s showing in arthouse cinemas in Australia now.

A poster for Page One.
Rossi spent a year in The New York Times newsroom, focusing particularly on the media desk as it covered the dramatic changes affecting the reporters’ own industry.

During that year, the paper’s editors debated how they would cover WikiLeaks’ Afghan war logs, the release of the iPad, the bankruptcy of the Tribune Company (some serious scandals in that one, I’m definitely keen to read more about the workplace culture that filtered through to the LA Times and Chicago Tribune among other papers), NBC Universal’s merger with Comcast, media staff cuts impacting on coverage of the White House and the end of US combat in Iraq.

The film also looks at the Jayson Blair and Judith Miller incidents, the rise of Gawker, Pro Publica and new models for investigative reporting and charging for news online (the Times introduced a metered model of charging regular users of its website during filming).

The lively characters who fill the newsroom and those who commentate on the future of the Times for the cameras provide intriguing side-stories within the larger narrative. Media and culture columnist David Carr, a former crack addict whose 2008 memoir, The Night of the Gun, was a New York Times bestseller, is a star of the show.

But it is the newspaper itself that plays the leading role, surviving by adapting to make best use of new tools like Twitter and blogs and (as has been the case in newspapers here) cutting staff.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the future of newspapers. Do you still read them? How often? In print or online? Or via apps for smartphones or tablets?

Do you prefer to read native apps (purpose-built for tablets) or replica versions of the print editions, like those found in the PressReader app?

Or do you find you now read only the occasional newspaper story you’ve found via Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms?

Would you be prepared to pay by the article, ebook-style, to access quality, well-researched long-form journalism?

Finally, do you think newspapers will even exist in five or ten years?

I’ll write a follow-up post with some of my own thoughts on these questions (as a former online editor of three newspapers, including one that introduced a paywall a decade ago) soon.

Charlotte’s posts on books, digital publishing and social media also appear on Twitter (@ebookish), Facebook (www.facebook.com/ebookish) and at ebookish.com.au.

Review: The Daily Pt 2

READ PART 1 OF THIS POST

Having said all that, what The Daily does not do is shift the pendulum back towards news as a single portal paradigm – and that is its ultimate downfall (and possibly the downfall of all printed newspapers and magazines). Nowadays when I read news, it isn’t through a single organisation’s curated (or created) window. It’s by flicking between links shared on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s a process frequently interrupted by sharing things I read with other people I trust.

Which is not to say The Daily doesn’t at least try to interact with Facebook and Twitter. It really does, and it does so in a way that makes it unique to paywalled news – you can share almost every article in The Daily, and people can read it through a web browser – it just isn’t as compellingly interactive as it is on the iPad, and you can’t browse the entire issue except in the paid app. But that isn’t to say that the process of sharing articles is easy.

What you get when you try and share an article from The Daily is a carefully crafted advertisement for The Daily. The link is still there, but this isn’t a click and go process, and that rather misses the point of the modern news sharing paradigm. News isn’t about where it comes from, it’s about who it comes from, what it is and who you trust. If I wanted a curated news experience on the iPad, I’d just use Flipboard and my Twitter stream. And that may not be the average news reader’s experience, but that is where it’s heading – and trying to dam the river with an app like this isn’t going to stop it.

That’s something that any digital industry can learn from The Daily. Digitising content isn’t just about making it available digitally – it’s about hooking into the new ways people have of finding, sharing and consuming content. Now we’ve just got to find a way to get people to pay for it – and that’s one experiment The Daily is pioneering that I suspect will be very interesting indeed.

Review: The Daily

There is no shortage of comparisons between the book industry and the music industry, despite their obvious differences. However, book publishers are loathe to compare the digitisation of books to the digitisation of newspapers and magazines. And that’s mostly because paper and mag publishing is (arguably) facing off against far bigger problems than the book trade. Chief of those problems is how to get consumers to pay for content. And that’s where The Daily comes in.

The Daily is Rupert Murdoch’s tilt at making paid newspaper and magazine content work online. For the moment it exists exclusively on the iPad, and it’s the first iPad app to leverage Apple’s contentious new subscription system. And it’s a good deal too. At the moment The Daily‘s content is free to try, but when subscriptions start rolling out in a couple of weeks, it’ll cost just $0.99 per week (and there’s an entirely new issue every day, with updates throughout the day).

Click on any of the images in this post to see them full-size.

So what’s the app like? I guess you could say it’s slick. If I were the kind of person who read a newspaper from cover to cover, I’d say it gave me almost everything a paper gives you and more: all the regular sections of a daily paper (arts and lifestyle, gossip, politics, technology, opinion and business), comprehensive (American) sports coverage, sudoku and crossword puzzles (which can be linked through Apple’s Game Centre to compete against friends) and much more.

The app’s interactive elements definitely have a bit of a wow factor – not because they’ve never been done before, but because the content is so fresh. This isn’t just a one-off app like an iPad book, or the gorgeous interactive table of elements app. This is immersive daily news. It’s a format I could get used to. There are photos with zoomed in hotspots, 360-degree photos, live polls, animated elements; not to mention most articles have an audio version (read out by a real person), and there’s a video that gives the highlights of each issue that can be interrupted at any time to go to the full story being talked about. You can ‘shuffle’ The Daily to take you to a random section of the issue you haven’t read yet, and flick through individual pages like you would in a physical paper or magazine.

Having said all that, what The Daily does not do is shift the pendulum back towards news as a single portal paradigm – and that is its ultimate downfall (and possibly the downfall of all printed newspapers and magazines). Nowadays when I read news, it isn’t through a single organisation’s curated (or created) window. It’s by flicking between links shared on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s a process frequently interrupted by sharing things I read with other people I trust.

READ PART 2 OF THIS POST

The Tyranny of the Digital

News surfaced this week of Rupert Murdoch’s plans to launch a newspaper exclusively on tablet devices. It’s the kind of plan that sounds great in a press release. Murdoch knows how to put a newspaper together – The Daily, as it will be called, will be housed in a real office, with real journalists, but it will not have a print or web edition. The only edition, which will be released seven days a week for 99c, will be available solely on the iPad. Murdoch, I fear, has finally jumped the shark.

It’s not that a new newspaper (can you even call it that if it’s not printed on paper at all?) is something to sneer at. Or that newspapers don’t need to experiment with new models to succeed. But the distribution model – locked to a single kind of device and behind a paywall – fails to acknowledge that people who read the news no longer do so in isolation. A huge proportion of digital natives rarely, if ever, get their news from a single paper delivered to their front door; news comes piecemeal from diverse sources like Facebook, Twitter and from multiple websites, RSS feeds and email. Most importantly, news comes from trusted colleagues, friends and family members – through connections that are more important than loyalty to a brand of news. Murdoch’s The Daily will not be able to join in on this participatory news experience, which is increasingly becoming the norm. It will be edged out by content that is more easily shared. In essence, like many follies in the digital era, Murdoch is trying to replace the analogue experience of a newspaper with a digital facsimile, and it is not going to work.

It’s a similar story with ebooks. Publishers would much prefer it if ebooks were just like real books, only digital. The problem is, they are most emphatically not. Digital content is completely different – it can be easily shared, copied and moved around. These things are all good things; they’re what make ebooks cheaper to produce, easier to carry and faster to buy. They are why ebook readers buy more books than regular dead tree book readers. But ebooks could be more successful than they are, and the reason they are not is that publishers (and retailers) are still trying to control the content in a way that is even more restrictive than the dead tree books they are trying to emulate.

Why, to pick just one example, are ebook loaning rights so restrictive? Barnes & Noble’s Nook already has the ability to lend books, and the Kindle is soon to join it. However, owners of digital books will only be allowed to lend a book once for a period of two weeks. Does anyone in their right mind really think that the book business is going to be sunk by giving ebook readers the ability to loan out their books to a single person at a time for as long as they want as many times as they like? This is a basic feature of any dead tree book, and the benefits to the book industry are obvious. Anyone in publishing will tell you that the basic problem with selling books to people is getting people to read books. To paraphrase Tim O’Reilly, obscurity is a far greater threat to the book than piracy. It’s why publishers give away paper books to drum up interest in it. It’s one of the cheapest ways to market a book. Why not harness the word-of-mouth power of social networks to get books out there to at least as many people as it was already getting out there with the paper edition?

But no. Where producers are able to restrict, they restrict. What producers of content are not doing is working backwards from what their consumers want. Consumers want fast, cheap, easy access. Producers of content want to be paid enough to keep doing what they’re doing. There is a compromise position between these two points that allows both to be achieved. But it won’t happen when producers are sticking their heads in the sand and trying to recreate the analogue in an increasingly digital world.

Do You Believe in Ebooks?

You may not have heard, but the publishing industry is not doing all that well at the moment. The market is shrinking in lots of ways. It might bounce back, but it’s likely that there is a general trend towards publishers needing to seek new ways of making money from the written word. If not now then soon. In this climate, ebooks are not something to be feared, yet there is a general tendency, especially among people who don’t understand, don’t use or don’t like ebooks to build them into a monster of mythic proportions. The fact is, however, that ebooks are not changing the industry. The industry is changing itself.

An author asked a friend of mine the other day if the decline of the second format market (that’s cheap paperbacks) was the fault of ebooks. Another friend who passed this blog along to an acquaintance was actually asked “Do you believe in all that stuff?” All that stuff, presumably, means ebooks – as if ebooks were magic pixie fairy dust that would be influenced by our collective belief or non-belief. Don’t they realise that every time you say you don’t believe, an ebook dies?

Seriously, though, ebooks are not something to be feared. They are at worst another potential revenue stream, and at best a whole new way of looking at telling stories. My beliefs on the matter (which make less than no difference to the outcome) fall somewhere between these two. At any rate, the future, whether you like it or not, will very likely include ebooks to some extent.

But for how long? Is the ebook itself already an old way of thinking about writing and selling stories? If so, what will come next?  Clay Shirky, author of the excellent Cognitive Surplus wrote a post some time ago about the death of the newspaper industry called ‘Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable‘. Much of what he says there about newspapers applies equally to publishing books. Snip:

The curious thing about the various plans hatched in the ’90s is that they were, at base, all the same plan: “Here’s how we’re going to preserve the old forms of organization in a world of cheap perfect copies!” The details differed, but the core assumption behind all imagined outcomes (save the unthinkable one) was that the organizational form of the newspaper, as a general-purpose vehicle for publishing a variety of news and opinion, was basically sound, and only needed a digital facelift … It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.

We in the book publishing industry are far further away from demise than the newspaper industry, but it doesn’t take a massive leap of imagination to put us in the same situation. I’ve seen it myself. “Leadership,” Shirky writes, “becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en bloc.” Sound familiar?

All of this isn’t to say that the book is dead. Newspapers and books aren’t the same, and the internet has not had the same effect on books as it has had on newspapers. But that is not to say that the digitisation of publishing – a process which started long before ebooks and will continue after them – is not going to have a profound effect on the way written stories reach readers. The one thing we can be sure of, though, is that the stories themselves will still be there. You might not believe in ebooks, but you can believe in that.