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Monthly Archives: October 2006

Well about time. Adobe finally understands the digital universe, it seems. In practical terms, anyone who has tried to read a double column pdf document online knows what I mean. It’s almost pointless, except for those producing photocopiers and for publishers fearing for their lives.

Ted Nelson, recently a visiting fellow at Oxford, has been talking about the misapplication of the digital alternative for years.

(see comment 4)

But of course it could have been Adobe and pdf’s point and attractiveness to investors in the first place – effectively slowing the digital environment enough for the likes of Murdoch to catch up with it.

Locking digital to the print universe is as dishonest as the inflated cost to consumer of a hardcover (hardcovers and paperbacks have always been close in terms of production cost), but the exploitation of consumers’ naivete continues. To print publishing this sort of talk is heresy, even more to the owners.

The truth is, print and digital both will benefit from freeing digital from print constraints – and publishers won’t lose, they will get another very productive arm to their business. Look at film and DVDs. There is always talk of piracy, but in real terms very little of it overall shows up. Still, the retro-heads of the print publishing industry bang the doom drum because they can’t see round the digital corner.

But if life were as simple as fitting solutions to problems London would be filled with bicycles. Instead middle aged out-of-condition novelists with nothing better to do go on radio to denounce cyclists for the ‘appalling’ dangers they present (to my knowledge not one person has been killed by a cyclist…since 1920 how many have cars killed?).

It’s the same with digital publishing, many discoursing dangers that have never existed.


“..Gemstar-TV Guide, a company controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., has also been struggling with declining circulation, although it continues to be sold on newsstands … It has launched a TV Guide channel in the United States, with celebrity news and gossip and has tried affixing free DVDs to its newsstand copies in a bid to attract customers and stay relevant.”

Is TV Guide Murdoch’s achilles heel, a reminder that he has feet of clay too? The idea he’s still trying to revive this bag of dinosaur bones has a poignancy to it.

Having paid 3 billion in 1988 for a 25 year old turkey (even then), will Murdoch never forgive himself? And what did Murdoch get for 3bn – 3 magazines? And oh yes, a ticket into the American Club. Three billion dollars must be just the highest joining fee for any club anywhere in the universe. TV Guide was his greatest error, responsible for nearly sinking him and his company in 1991. He could have had his successful American company without it. Murdoch can’t forget TV Guide.

So when people say his ongoing spat with Yuen and Gemstar (TV-Guide) is all personal I’m almost prepared to believe them, except under that red-grey-brown – whatever hair of his, Murdoch’s lethal cells are still working on more than one objective. When an old media hand like Murdoch thinks of new media, it’s like a 30 year old cobra with a small mammal in its sightline. The body may be an ironing board but the instinct for the kill is still ticking over.

When I look at the press Sony’s new e-reader is generating (or Sony is generating for it) I think: what ever happened to Gemstar? I’m no blinkered fan of digital reading or portable devices, though I do like the idea of consumer choice. When I first started researching this area the Gemstar e-readers were about to be released in the UK. They never arrived and a couple of years later News Corporation began dismantling Gemstar. The company seems to have continued as an e-book service site (as litigation between Yuen and News Corp has also continued) , but it is certainly not the same new media force that it once was. The closure and investigation of Yuen by the US government (SEC) had some effect on the Gemstar brand.

Now Sony is treading very similar e-reader territory with its new device. There are big improvements with e-ink text, but basically the devices are the same. So why was News Corp concerned with killing off one of the early pioneers of portable e-text reading devices? Did it have something to do with the fact that Gemstar’s founder, Henry Yuen – having the patent for a TV set top decoding device, and having developed it for both cable and satellite – held a big key to reaching mass consumers with his e-book/e-readers? Every time a viewer who had the set top box turned on her/his TV, h/she would have seen Yuen’s/Gemstar’s promotion for e-books.

Democratisation of information, publishing conglomerate control over the information provision process, writers and consumers (remember them?), a shrinking reader base, what does it all mean for digital and paper publishing? Watch this space for more.