Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why Free Matters

The publishing industry hasn't, yet, had to face the Armageddon that the movie and music industry has been battling over the past decade simply because bits on a screen are not, yet, a substitute for the dead-tree version of books.

However, with the advent of the Kindle et. al. there seems to be a slow, inexorable move towards digital consumption of the printed word.

And then comes this:

Peter Sunde, one of the founders of the Pirate Bay, wrote a mysterious blog post today asking for someone in the U.S. to send him an Amazon Kindle, and hinted that he might be working on a new project involving e-books.

“Do [sic] anyone wanna help me out? I’m looking to make an interesting service together with some friends in the New Media Market…,” he writes.

He says he isn’t able to purchase one in Europe, and that it’s too expensive to use mailing dropboxes in the United States. On top of all that, he links to a Digital Renaissance blog post discussing the future of the book industry and the Kindle's potential.

"Book publishers -- it’s time to act. You have an amazing digital future ahead of you. Monetize it before some smart guy in a garage does it," writes Martin J. Th√∂rnkvist.

We sent Sunde an e-mail for clarification to find out if there really is a secret new project focusing on e-books.

His reply was equally as cryptic:

“Sponsor me with a Kindle and I'll answer? :-)”

While we work through the bureaucracy of funding this little investigation, one message is clear:

Publishers need to get a grip on the biz before the pirates do.

How do you compete against this? We've been firm believers that open and free are two possible models. Chris Anderson's latest missive, shown below, offers us a window of opportunity.

1. Here's the first, which dates back more than a century. It's the razors-and-blades model, as well as loss leaders of all sorts, from "free gift inside" to "free toaster for opening an account":

2. The second is the media business model, ranging from free-to-air broadcast radio and television to all ad-supported content online today:

3. The third is the new one, enabled by digital markets where the marginal cost of production and distribution is close to zero. This is the one that allows the "freemium" business model, where 90% of the users get the basic product for free and 10% chose to pay for a premium version. In economics this is called "versioning"...

The Digitalist

The Digitalist is fast becoming our favourite blog and has a few posts that merit a mention.

State of the Writopshere
While some aspiring novelists spurn blogging others are making a success of it. Think of people like Alison Norrington or Scott Sigler who have used blogging technologies to tell and promote their novels. While many people cherish the opinion that their unique vision stands out the sheer mass of the estimated 188 million blogs seems to curl the lips and spike the arrogance of those who can’t see that this is now part of the writosphere as much as scribbling sestinas and neo-Freudian meditations on childhood.

Creative writing is as much about tweeting and posting on blogs as anything; or if not then it will be, or at least, if writers accept the challenge, could be. The novel to was once seen as a rather shabby medium, not fit for the Augustan literary elite.

Times changed.

Skills in the Digital Era part two

...I agreed with everything Chris Meade had to say, especially about the importance of the creative roles in digital media, although from the other side of a five-year cline, and had anticipated some of his conclusions in my talk. Speaking as a trade publisher, I argued that although editors in our part of the archipelago needed new knowledge and understanding, as they always have, they didn’t need new skills, and I outlined ten key islands of knowledge, five collaborative and five individual. A few people asked if they could have a copy of the talk, so I’m posting it here. The first part sets out some general ideas, the second part looks at how to apply the ten points specifically to the creation and publication of eBooks.

Please click through and read the last one, Skills in the Digital Era part two. It's a great post on the value, and issues, of technology in the publishing industry.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Pioneering Library Sparks Volunteerism

By Sailen Routray, NIAS

Over the last decade or so Satya Nagar in Bhubaneswar has morphed from a sleepy residential area to a commercial hub. When you go straight down the road from the brash, new Big Bazar in the area you hit a reasonably sized, unremarkable two storied house numbered 16 that is painted white and looks as boring as any other house on the lane. But you cannot miss a signboard that is essentially a piece of carved and painted wood that says ‘Bakul Sishu Paathaagaara’ (Bakul Children’s Library) in Oriya.

A small gate leads you into a space that looks as unlike a library as you can imagine. Of course there are books all around; but you have pictures of joyous monkeys playing on the walls and every inch of the walls painted cheerfully with one motif or the other in soothing bright colours.

But the physical aspect of the library is perhaps the least unusual thing about it. The Bakul library is one of the largest children’s libraries in the state of Orissa. It houses more than 8,000 books (primarily in Oriya and English, and some in Hindi) as well as multimedia and other educational material. There are no user charges for reading and referencing in the library, and there are no formalities involved in terms of becoming a member till now. Any child can drop in and read. Lending of books has not started, and a small fee might be levied as and when it starts. The library is run by the Bakul Foundation, with Dr Jatindra Nayak, Professor of English Literature, Utkal University as President, and is managed by volunteers Sujit Mahapatra and Satyajit Puhan with help from Puspalata Sethi and others.

A pledge campaign - "Donate Books, Build a Library" - was launched on the Internet by the trio of Satyajit Puhan, Sujit Mahapatra, and Ayushman Sarangi on the Orissa Day, 1 April 2006. Puhan is a young development economist and one of the founders of the Film Society of Bhubaneswar, Mahapatra is a Ph D scholar of English Literature at Delhi University and Sarangi is a computer engineer at Adobe. The campaign site was www.pledgebank.com/bakul-library. The goal was to mobilize a thousand people who would directly contribute (either with cash for a book or directly with a book) to set up a library, initially focusing on children and youth in Bhubaneswar. The deadline to get 1,000 supporters as well as to set up the library was the 1st of April 2007.

By the time the deadline passed, 1011 people had pledged support, and the library managed to start functioning. Around two thirds of those who signed up for the pledge were of Oriya origin, the rest being non-Oriya including some foreigners with significant proportions of both the groups being based out of Orissa.

The goal was not merely to create a library but to tap the energies of volunteers. As Sujit Mahapatra puts it, “most people do not try to initiate change because they know that they can contribute only in small ways and do not see how their small contributions can bring about any change. As a result of which, they do nothing and only ‘crib’ about things. They get cynical that things can never change. We are trying to tell people that change is possible and they can be the agents of that change. By coming together with our small little contributions, we can bring about a change in not only the lives of others, but also in ourselves.”

The inauguration date was marked by a small function and three children including a child from a nearby slum, inaugurated the library. The Bakul pledge campaign has since attracted the attention of scholars. It is being used as a case study in IIM Calcutta and in a Delhi University undergraduate textbook for using the internet for effective social mobilization tool for positive social change.

But the size of the library and the use of the internet for mobilization are not the only things that make the library unique. The entire collection has been built with the voluntary contributions of ordinary people without any funding from corporate or institutional sources. Apart from the help of the numerous individual supporters, drives for book collection for the library at educational institutions like the University of Waterloo, Canada, Duke University, USA, HP, Bangalore, and BITS Pilani have been important. Bakul plans to build an online library system that can help its users to check the availability of books and multimedia material, to place a request and to renew already borrowed books etc.

The library has already met its target of a thousand footfalls, and has partnered with organisations working with disadvantaged children such as Khelaghara (a school for slum children) Anand Ashram (an orphanage), the B B C School for the Differently Able, and the Thakkar Bapa Special Hostel for tribal students. The library is involved in extending its services to as many disadvantaged children in the area as possible. With the help of Ramesh Swain, a prominent local architect, an amphitheatre is being built behind the library so as to facilitate storytelling sessions, theatre workshops etc.
The library plans to promote a good reading culture, especially among the children and youth by promoting activities like storytelling sessions, film screenings educational workshops, creative writing workshops. Many initiatives to such an effect have already been undertaken. On Gandhi Jayanti last year Sarbeswar Das, a noted Gandhian, talked to some tribal children from a local government school on Gandhi and Gandhism. On 14 November 2007 (Children's Day), children from 12 government and private schools from across the city volunteered to convert a public wall opposite the Bakul Children's Library into a children’s art wall by painting it up on the theme of ‘Bhubaneswar- Our City.’

Bakul also participated at the Sishu Prativa Congress organized by UNICEF and the Education Department of the Government of Orissa on the occasion of Children's Day, 2007; it replicated itself at the venue of the Congress for 2 days and there was a parallel Bakul Children's Library at the playground of the Unit IX Boys High School in Bhubaneswar that was housing the Congress. Art charades, theatre and reading session were organised by Bakul for the children. All these activities took place in Oriya. But the most popular event was the Children's Community Storybook where children collectively wrote stories, primarily in Oriya. Over a period of two days, about seventy children ended up writing 14 stories.

On 13 January 2008, 18 children from primarily fifth and sixth standards from four private schools performed an English adaptation by Roald Dahl of the story Snow White and Seven Dwarfs to a packed audience of children from various schools of the city, their parents and theatre enthusiasts in the Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya auditorium, Bhubaneswar. It was the result of a month long theatre workshop conducted by Nicole Suchanek (director of the play and social work student from Germany, an intern at Bakul). Melissa Cornacchia and Melanie Eidecker, both international social work interns working at Orissa coordinated the dance and costumes and props respectively. The children were integrally involved with the planning of the play, and the emphasis was not so much on producing a brilliant show as to facilitate children’s learning and fun. This is only one instance of volunteers, in this case international volunteers, who are expanding the range of the organisation’s activities by their own initiative.

Bakul also plans to give a fillip to the production of children’s literature in Orissa as well as contribute towards scholarship on children’s issues. A public lecture titled "The Impact of Imagery in Picture Books for Young Children" by Professor Ellen Handler Spitz organised on 7 January 2008 at Bakul was a step in that direction. Spitz teaches at the University of Maryland, US, and is an eminent scholar on children’s issues and their imagination.

The story of this lecture is also the story of how Bakul is slowly turning into a node for various kinds of volunteering. Spitz had originally planned a trip to some other city in India for some academic work. She heard about Bakul’s work and offered to come down to Bhubaneswar at her own cost and deliver a lecture in English. It was open to all and was well attended by people from the development sector working in the fields of education and children.

But children are not the only constituency that Bakul is trying to address. It recently hosted a Film Festival on the ‘Great Masters of Contemporary Western Art’ from 20-23 December 2007 that was a relative success with around 50-60 people attending the festival every day with most of the viewers being students of the arts. The festival screened feature films on contemporary western masters such as Anish Kapoor, Allen Jones, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. The focus of the festival was on David Hockney, arguably the greatest living painter in the world with three films on him being screened.
The festival was open to all and was intended to provide exposure to the art students of the state to the work of the greatest artists of the world. This is another example of the culture of volunteerism that Bakul is trying to foster in the state. A promising Oriya artist, Birendra Pani, who was visiting London for work came across the films and thought that Bakul can organize a festival for young art students in the state, and got the movies to Bhubaneswar for screening.

As an example between the proposed synergy between art, culture and development strung together by volunteerism that is a part of the vision of Bakul, more than a dozen promising, young artists are having a show of their work in a major art gallery in Kolkata in the first week of March this year the proceeds from which will go towards strengthening the work of Bakul. The organisation also sees this is as a first step towards building a people’s art gallery and cultural centre that will work towards the democratisation of the ‘high’ arts in the state and beyond.
The principle guiding Bakul’s initiatives is as simple as it can get; neither let funding/funding agencies’ priorities determine work, nor push for what the organization sees itself as a need of the people it wants to work with, but to work as a node, a social space that acts as a catalyst to get people together to volunteer together for the betterment of a greater collectivity. In fact volunteerism lies at the heart of Bakul’s vision; apart from Puspalata none of the people working at the library take a salary from Bakul. Therefore, interns are increasingly seen as a major component of the organisation’s work.

Bakul’s long term plans involve the setting up of a research and documentation centre that will do two things simultaneously; it will try and fill in the gaps in social science research in the state and the region, and act as the node for filling in gaps in undergraduate education in the surrounding area by having extension programmes as well by morphing into an alternative space for higher learning and research. Initial steps have already been taken in this direction. Commitments from various prominent people from the state of Orissa such as Padmashri D P Pattanayak (eminent linguist and educationist) and Dr Kabi Mishra, (eminent cardiologist) have been received regarding the donation of their personal collections. The research and documentation centre will start with a library containing these personal collections, and by forming a researcher’s collective of scholars that have an academic interest in the state and the region.

Simultaneously, Bakul aims to strengthen the children’s library at Satya Nagar so that it can act as the nucleus of a children’s library movement in the state, and as a centre of innovation for practice and research in Oriya Children’s literature.

The name Bakul refers to the grove of bakul trees near Sakhigopal in Puri district in coastal Orissa that was the site of the first alternative school in Orissa set up by the leaders of the nationalist movement. It remains to be seen whether the organisation fulfils the promise that the name evokes; but the beginning looks auspicious.

So the next time you are in Bhubaneswar, please drop in at 16, Satya Nagar to see some robust volunteerism at work; the organisation is new and there are both internal debates and critiques about its direction, but this is one young organisation that needs to be watched.

Bringing books to people's doorsteps

45-year-old hardware engineer and entrepreneur Pankaj Kurulkar has launched his ambitious 'Books-on-Wheels' project here on Wednesday.
This is first of such projects in India where, to begin with, as many as ten mobile vans have been deployed at various vantage points of Mumbai, where book distribution mechanism is poor. These vans fulfill the dream of getting books at people's doorsteps free of cost.
In the next six months, Kurulkar plans to have 20 more vans in 27 districts of Maharashtra to sell books published in 22 Indian languages. If he succeeds in raising enough private equity, the project is expected to be launched nationwide in the same period.
Every mobile or Granthayan store has been fitted with a global positioning system and a satellite-linked point of sale software that will help Granthayan's 65-strong staff keep track of the position of the mobile bookstores, and help them keep a running track of sales made from any of the bookstores. Kurulkar also has a call centre where book lovers can call on 30 lines if they want a Granthayan store at their doorstep.
Speaking at the launch ceremony of Books-on-Wheels project, Kurulkar said: "Books are not reaching masses as expected. That's due to poor book distribution network. There are hardly any bookstores available at many places. There are 500-odd pizza outlets, but there are only 20-odd Marathi book stores in Mumbai. I wanted to fill this gap between demand and supply. Therefore I hit upon the idea of launching the Books-on-Wheels project. The project affords us tremendous advantage over conventional brick-and-mortar stores because it allows us to travel. We will reach youth with over 20,000 books in each van, who have never seen a bookstore in their lives."
Kurulkar also plans to create cultural shows that will be staged where his mobile vans are stationed. "We will stage poetry reading sessions, author- reader interactions, plays and other cultural events, so our customers get an experience beyond just the buying of books. We would also invite literary figures to participate," he said.
Kurulkar also plans to bring brilliant regional works into the mainstream and visit campuses and pick up students post-graduating in different languages and hire them to translate. He said 70 per cent of his stock would comprise of Marathi books while the remaining would be books in English.
In the next six months, Kurulkar plans to have 20 more vans in 27 districts of Maharashtra to sell books published in 22 Indian languages. If he succeeds in raising enough private equity, the project is expected to be launched nationwide in the same period. He has already set himself targets of growth – 100 mobile book shops in a year and 1,000 in three years, covering a majority of the states in the country.

Via: Publishers Post Source: merinews.com

Friday, September 26, 2008

Technology and Doing Good

Gaurav writes about:

... two separate groups discussing using technology for doing good. The first set of discussions, primarily amongst large aid organizations, converge around ICT4D (or information and communication technology for development). The second set of discussions, primarily amongst smaller non-profits and web 2.0 geeks, are around SM4SC (social media for social change).

... the true power of communications technologies lies in creating disruptive models of social change. That’s the space that really excites me and I’m hoping to be a part of more conversations around such disruptive uses of technology for doing good.

'Giving It Away', not 'No Pay'

Read this document on Scribd: 'Giving It Away', not 'No Pay'

A presentation by Elliott Bledsoe from Creative Commons Australia detailing 7 case studies of CC use within the Creative Industries. In particular it focuses on new business models emerging which utilise CC for noncommercial licensing while still finding a way to make a buck.

Emerging Markets for Publishers

Via the Penguin India blog, this story from the Times Online on emerging markets:
The point is to harness the potential of emerging markets, where literacy rates are rising and where Penguin is willing to break from English. In India, where the company has been operating for 20 years, the publisher is moving into Hindi, Marathi and Urdu. Penguin India publishes 300 titles a year.

Mr Makinson, 53, believes that Penguin can generate 10 per cent of its sales from emerging markets, which amounts to £100 million a year. The operation in India grew by 25 per cent last year, boosting turnover by £15 million and should, Mr Makinson says, generate 5 per cent of revenues in five years.

Information, Creativity and Cognitive Overload

PSFK has the heads-up on two of our favorite thinkers, Charles Leadbeater and Clay Shirky.
The author of We-Think, Charles Leadbeater gave an impressive presentation at Picnic 08 this week. He looked at the new dynamics of creativity and innovation. He covered several subjects in his book including the prediction that many large media organizations (or ‘boulders’) are going to disappear in the next 10 years - covered by a sea of small contributions of content (or ‘pebbles’). But he warned that it’s all very well having a large amount of people contributing pebbles in the form of video clips, encyclopedia entries, blog posts and so on but now we need to match our contributions with our ability to collaborate to create something useful out of them - like encyclopedias, or games, or open source software. Leadbeater argued that this would involve collaboration that will be as sophisticated as our ability to participate - and pointed to the I Love Bees game that showed how 600,000 people tried to solve a puzzle together as an example of the sophistication we can achieve.

Clay Shirky gave a great speech at the recent Web 2.0 Expo which contains a wealth of insightful thoughts about our modern problems of managing information. He says that the issue is not information overload, it’s the failure of filtering systems. Shirky believes that information overload has been around since the invention of the printing press, and it’s nothing really new. What is the issue, is in the forms and flows that information is now taking. When information is coming and going at and from you from so many different directions, the social systems and filters that used to manage the flows breakdown from stress. He says we need to re-think a lot of things, including social norms, to understand and deal with all the new ways of living technology has provided.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pratham Books is Looking for a Content Manager

Pratham Books is looking for a content manager to be based in Bangalore. A brief description of the job follows. If you are interested or know anyone who might be interested, please contact me at for further details:

gautam at prathambooks dot org | +91 9886042017

We are looking for a dynamic, self-motivated individual with experience and skills in web and publishing content management, managing our online presence, writing and editing for the web and the management and curating of our digital archives and repositories run in conjunction with multiple external partners.

The content manager will be responsible developing the voice for all aspects of the organization’s online presence. In addition to writing, editing, and proofreading site and repository contents, this person will also work closely with the technical team to maintain standards with regard to new development.

The content manager will work closely with technical, business development, and marketing members of our organization, so strong communication skills are needed. The ideal candidate will also have experience outreach campaigns. Tasks require a strong attention to detail and ability to work under tight deadlines.


  • Manage and curate digital content for organization’s web presence and repositories.

  • Coordinate projects across departments.

  • Maintain a consistent look and feel throughout all web properties.

  • Oversee freelancers, including writers, copy-editors and community outreach organizers. Liaison with translators, traditional media and editors.

  • Keep current with emerging web technologies through relevant blogs, listservs, and events.

  • Assure web-based information is archived for future needs and reference.

  • Track and report on all site metrics.

  • Work cooperatively with key team members, clients and vendors.

Required Skills

  • Exceptional communication and organizational skills.

  • Ability to manage multiple projects in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment.

  • Basic Adobe Photoshop skills and familiarity with the Internet – a good understanding of Internet publishing is an advantage.

  • Ability to build consensus and work effectively within a cross-departmental team.

  • Passion, Integrity and Energy.

If I Were A Book

If I Were A Book’s publishing platform lets one publish a book/blog and the company has tied up with publishing houses like HarperCollins India, Random House India, Hachette Book Publishing, Hay House (present in US/UK/Canada) etc for printing.

If I Were A Book has a strong community factor - one can upload their books/blog, which is then rated by visitors of the site. Publishers can simply filter the books based on readers’ popular opinion and can then contact the author through the website for print publishing.

How Children Learn

Cory has a long review of an interesting book titled "How Children Learn" by John Holt:

Holt's basic thesis is that kids want to learn, are natural learners, and will learn more if we recognize that and let them explore their worlds, acting as respectful co-learners instead of bosses. Practically speaking, that means letting them play and playing with them, but resisting the temptation to quiz them on their knowledge or to patronize them. Most resonant for me was his description of kids' learning unfolding from the natural passionate obsessions that overtake them -- it made me remember my best learning moments, like the time when I was 7 and my teacher Bev Pannikar found me reading Alice in Wonderland to myself in a corner of her classroom, and she just let me be, as I branched out from there to book after book, hiding out and falling in lifelong love with reading. Or the time that Brian Kerr found me afire with a passion for math and just let me go at it, working through workbook after workbook to the detriment of my other studies -- I think I was ten. There were other incidents like this, reflecting that passionate, engaged process that unfolds when kids are allowed to work at their own pace (I was lucky to go to a publicly funded alternative elementary school where kids of all ages shared a class and were given a lot of freedom to learn in their own way, with an emphasis on mentoring).

Sneak Preview - Annual Report 2008

For the first time at Pratham Books we are using real pictures of children reading our books in the Annual Report. Until now we had always used illustrations and this year we have experimented with everything from colours to style to even using bleed images!

Here are some of the pictures used and the annual report should be released shortly on our website and the blog...Look out!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Cover Design Contest

As part the first year of Hearts & Minds, Creativity partnered with Penguin Books on a talent contest, asking artists of all types to conceive a cover design for one of the publisher's upcoming titles. Penguin, as you may know, appeared in our Creative Marketers report last year, for bringing an updated art-driven aesthetic to its book covers. Notably, its Graphic Classics have become veritable collectors items, with cover art reimagined by contemporary artists like Frank Miller, Tomer Hanuka, Roz Chast and Art Spiegelman.

Penguin and Sam Taylor, author of The Amnesiac, kindly offered up Taylor's upcoming novel The Island at the End of the World as the foundation of our competition. Designers, illustrators, painters and photographers contributed more than 300 ideas for the cover design of Taylor's new book, and a jury comprised of Penguin editor Alexis Washam, creative director Paul Buckley and Creativity editors selected the 25 finalists presented here.
Click on over to see these designs.

Children Reading

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The End of Publishing?

The book business as we know it will not be living happily ever after. With sales stagnating, CEO heads rolling, big-name authors playing musical chairs, and Amazon looming as the new boogeyman, publishing might have to look for its future outside the corporate world.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bihar Floods: Situation, Analysis and Plans

Joint relief action by AID INDIA, PRATHAM and GOONJ - A field visit report by Balaji Sampath

Bihar Flood Report - Get more Business Documents

A number of people have been contributing generously in many different ways. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support. Without your support neither our work so far, nor the activities planned will be possible.

We need to work on the relief efforts in the area for at least 8 to 12 months. We will need a lot more support in terms of funds, relief materials and volunteers. So please do pass this information along to your friends and request them to support the relief efforts as well.

You can find more information on our website: www.eurekachild.org

Book Reviews

Friday, September 19, 2008

On Piracy, Textbooks and More

Data point 1: Text book piracy is up.

Data point 2: Stanford offers free CS, robotics courses.

Data point 3: Open textbooks gaining popularity.

Data point 4: An open knowledge revolution.

What does it add up to? A challenge for publishers, of course.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Free Books

Cory Doctorow on why he gives his books away for free:
Giving away ebooks gives me artistic, moral and commercial satisfaction. The commercial question is the one that comes up most often: how can you give away free ebooks and still make money?

For me -- for pretty much every writer -- the big problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity (thanks to Tim O'Reilly for this great aphorism). Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy. Mega-hit best-sellers in science fiction sell half a million copies -- in a world where 175,000 attend the San Diego Comic Con alone, you've got to figure that most of the people who "like science fiction" (and related geeky stuff like comics, games, Linux, and so on) just don't really buy books. I'm more interested in getting more of that wider audience into the tent than making sure that everyone who's in the tent bought a ticket to be there.

Via the Digitalist:
It seems that we are beginning to trip over increasingly enlightened authors on the digital frontiers here at Pan Macmillan. Just as we are poised to publish the the seventh novel in David Hewson’s beguilingly atmospheric and addictive Rome series, Dante’s Numbers, David has shrewdly agreed to an experiment to give away the first of his novels featuring the popular detective, Nic Costa, as an unDRM’d ebook.

You can download the ebook from Scribd

Since yesterday it’s been downloaded over 3000 times. The ebook will cease to be available as a free download after October 15th, 2008. Kudos to David and good luck to him!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Open Source Medicine

Via the Economic Times:

The 'Open Source Drug Discovery' (OSDD) programme, launched by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), aims to build a consortium of global researchers and bypass the patent regime, which makes drugs expensive.

To begin with OSDD, a brainchild of CSIR Director General Samir K. Brahmachari, has taken up research on discovering new drugs for treatment of tuberculosis, a field in which no major advancement in treatment has emerged since 1960.

"The normal process of drug discovery, through the patent regime, has not worked very well for diseases in our part of the world," Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal told reporters here.

Inspired by open source movements like Linux and the human genome sequencing project, OSDD seeks to expand resources for research manifold by allowing collaboration among voluntary researchers.

CSIR has set up a website - www.osdd.net - as a platform for collaborative research, data on pathogens, tools for data analysis, and discussion forum for members to share ideas and projects for students to participate in drug discovery.
They have also chosen to use the Creative Commons license for all research in this database so that everyone can benefit.
Picture uploaded by Darren Hester

Monday, September 15, 2008

Download. Don't Buy.

SQUINT hard, and textbook publishers can look a lot like drug makers. They both make money from doing obvious good — healing, educating — and they both have customers who may be willing to sacrifice their last pennies to buy what these companies are selling.

It is that fact that can suddenly turn the good guys into bad guys, especially when the prices they charge are compared with generic drugs or ordinary books. A final similarity, in the words of R. Preston McAfee, an economics professor at Cal Tech, is that both textbook publishers and drug makers benefit from the problem of “moral hazards” — that is, the doctor who prescribes medication and the professor who requires a textbook don’t have to bear the cost and thus usually don’t think twice about it.

An Online Novel

Alexander McCall Smith is writing his first ever online novel exclusively for Telegraph.co.uk. A new chapter will appear on this page each weekday for the next 20 weeks. The best-selling author welcomes your suggestions as the story unfolds. Chapter 1 is now up.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

'Talking' books draw crowds in Delhi Book FairSource: Financial Express

Want to turn the attention of your internet-crazy kid to books? Gift him a "custom-made" one that tells the story of his adventure with the Spiderman.
Feel like reading a book but not ready to tire your eyes? Buy a "talking book" that reads out the story for you.
These are some of the new concepts publishing firms have brought to the ongoing Delhi Book Fair to attract new-age readers.
"Children are more into internet surfing and television shows these days. Parents are eager to inculcate reading habit among kids. Personalised books are a unique way to pull your child towards books," Manoj C Dalal, Vice President (Expansion) of Kolkata-based 'My Personalised Mall', said.
The firm has brought out some 13 titles, with stories of superheroes like Batman, X-men and Spiderman as also famous fairytale characters like the Little Mermaid. The books are printed in Texas, US after obtaining giving royalty to the publishers who hold the copyright.
"Custom-made books are printed after inserting your child's name and the names of any three other persons who are known to him or her in the story. If you want to gift such a book to a child called Davinder, it will be like 'Davinder and Spiderman fights Dr Octopus'. The child will feel the story has been written about him," Dalal said.
The concept is already quite popular in the US but for the first time a firm had started it in India, he claimed.
The firm delivers books at the customer's doorstep after taking orders and printing the books. The production work is done partly in the US and partly in Kolkata.

Source: Via Publisher's Post
Photo Via: Kiddharma

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Goodbye, textbooks; hello, open-source learning

Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk explains the vision behind Connexions, his open-source, online education system. It cuts out the textbook, allowing teachers to share and modify course materials freely, anywhere in the world.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pratham Books Wins an Award. Or two.

At the recently concluded Awards for Excellence in Book Production held by the The Federation of Indian Publishers two of our books won prizes.

A picture of Manisha receiving the awards.

From Submarines to Skyraiders - Dragonflies and Damselflies written by Ranjit Lal and illustrated by Sanjay Sarkar won the second prize.

Synopsis: Dragonflies have been on the earth much before human beings appeared! Read this account of their incredible life cycle in Ranjit Lal’s effervescent style. Sanjay Sarkar’s expert brush comes up with illustrations to match !

The book is priced at Rs. 25.00, has 28 pages and is available in English, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi and Gujarati. To order, please click here.

City of Stories written by Rukmini Banerji and illustrated by Bindia Thapar won a Certificate of Merit.

: Nobody in the city has time to tell a story, until Didi and a little girl start a tidal wave of stories, that washes over everybody. Read this fascinating fable of the transformation of a city into the City of Stories.

The book is priced at Rs. 20.00, has 32 pages and is available in English, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Telugu, Punjabi, Gujarati and Urdu. To order, please click here.

Technology Round Up

This edition of our once in a while round up focuses on technology and education.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Talking Books

A write up on Cliff's Talking Book project from the Seattle PI:
Most of the world's billion or so poorest, unhealthiest and disenfranchised people are also illiterate, Cliff Schmidt noticed a few years ago, a chronic global deficit that he believes seriously hamstrings any other humanitarian or assistance efforts under way in the developing world.

"Literacy is critical to self-empowerment," said Schmidt, a former Microsoft program manager who has been spending time in Ghana observing the daily lives and needs of African families.

Teaching someone to read obviously isn't as urgent as teaching a mother how to care for a newborn child or getting someone vaccinated, he acknowledged. But Schmidt said failing to help the mother become literate means she must remain subservient to government largesse and do-gooder programs.

Allowing people to remain illiterate, Schmidt says, means allowing people to remain powerless.
Cliff also plans to run a pilot project in Ghana soon for which funding is required to build the devices.
At low pilot quantities, labor costs per device are more than 10x the cost during production runs. Each pilot device costs us approximately $160. Thanks to a few generous donors providing matching funds, each $100 donation will cover one of the remaining 89 devices.
And he asks if we could:
... a Talking Book Device and do your part to support a family with no other means for reading practice and with no other efficient way to learn about crucial health issues. I can guarantee you that each of those families will do their part to improve the device for hundreds of millions of other families.
To donate, please visit http://literacybridge.org/donatenow.html

For more information, visit literacybridge.org

We are also hoping to do a pilot with Cliff, later in the year, in Bangalore.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Leveling the Playing Field

Via the NYT:

Hundreds of small, independent publishers will have easier access to digital book technology under a new service offered by Perseus Books Group, the result of agreements between it and more than a half-dozen technology companies, Perseus is expected to announce on Thursday.

The new service, called Constellation, will allow independent publishers to make use of electronic readers, digital book search, print-on-demand and other digital formats at rates negotiated by Perseus on their behalf. Unlike large publishers, small ones typically lack the resources to use digital technology and as a result often bypass it altogether.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Pictures from Pratham

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Some pictures via Kim Smith who visited a Pratham school.

A Sign of the Times

Do you wonder if people are reading less? Apparently "a bookstore in Venice,Italy tired of not selling, has decided to change the marketing plan and now sells books 5 Euros a kilo as if they were sausages!"

Saturday, September 6, 2008

How To Scan a Book

Build a robot, of course.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Teachers' Day Thoughts

September 5th is this Friday. In India we celebrate this as Teachers Day. It is the birth anniversary of Dr. Radhakrishnan, India’s second President and a literary scholar and life long educator. It is in his honor and to celebrate the educators in our lives that we celebrate September 5th every year as teachers day.

Teachers have always held a revered position in the Indian social structure. They have been given the same status as one’s own parents and not without merit.

Indian mythology has tales abound about student-teacher relationships and one is taught about Eklaviya who gave away his thumb because his teacher asked for it.

In today’s day and age it would be a little difficult to image one doing that. However the ethos behind the tale is the real story.

Sadly in today’s fast paced world, the value of teachers and what they do is fast losing importance.

About Those Ridiculous Textbook Prices....

This piece was originally published by David Bollier under a CC-BY license.


The burgeoning Open Educational Resources movement tackles textbooks and much else.

As students head back to school, one of the first things they encounter – besides the high tuition costs – are soaring textbook expenses. I blogged about this problem three years ago, but sadly, textbook prices continue to be ridiculous. The average student now spends $700 to $1,000 a year on books – which is about three times more than what students paid in 1986, according to a federal Government Accountability Office report. Many textbooks are deliberately designed to be made obsolete by new editions – a power play by publishers to undercut the used-textbook market and artificially bolster their revenues.

One of the most hopeful developments, however, is the rise of the “open educational resources,” or OER, movement. This fledgling but fast-growing movement seeks to make textbooks, courses, videos, taped lectures, software and other materials available free online, without copyright or technical restrictions.

Most OER projects used to be experiments conducted on the fringe of higher education with little recognition or support. But now, various commons are starting to discover each other and collaborate with each other. Its leaders see themselves not as some marginal effort, but as a movement that is challenging unresponsive markets, improving the quality of educational materials and making learning more affordable for everyone.

Photo by djfoobarmatt , via Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC license.

The OER Commons is one of the chief clearinghouses on the Web for this activity. The website provides a single point of online access for educators, students and learners of all types to find, browse and obtain OER materials. It also encourages the re-use and improvement of OER materials. Much credit must go to The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for its steadfast commitment to funding OER initiatives and seeding the movement more generally.

The OER movement is trying to build new bridges among existing projects, many of which are expanding at impressive rates. A brief overview:

  • MIT’s OpenCourseWare project has placed the course materials for more than 1,800 courses in 33 disciplines online. Now more than 120 educational institutions in twenty nations have banded together to form the OpenCourseWare Consortium, to create “a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model.”
  • Rice University’s Connexions project is a repository of more than 5,800 “learning modules” in more than 344 “collections,” all of which are open, re-usable and adaptable by teachers and students alike. More than a million people from 194 countries use Connexions materials.
  • Textbooks and educational materials produced by a given discipline can now be shared online and then printed on-demand. QOOP, the print-on-demand publishing partner of Connexions, for example, makes it possible for students to obtain a hardback textbook that normally sells for $125, for only $25.
  • Another textbook alternative is being pioneered by the Foothill De Anza Community College in Silicon Valley. It has banded together with other two-year colleges in California to create open-licensed digital textbooks that can be printed on-demand. This model lets professors update and revise textbooks frequently and easily, and costs much less than conventional print textbooks. This is especially important for community college students, who in 2007-08 spent 60 percent of their educational expenses on textbooks.

The public-spirited professors are getting into the act by writing their own open-licensed textbooks. One of the most famous instances of this is CalTech professor R. Preston McAfee’s economics textbook, Introduction to Economic Analysis, which has been adopted at NYU and Harvard. McAfee declined to accept a $100,000 advance from a commercial publisher in order to make his textbook freely available online under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. (This means that people are free to use and modify the book without payment or permission so long as they attribute authorship to McAfee, do not sell the textbook, and share any derivative works under the same license terms.)

The student-run Public Interest Research Groups have also become active in promoting open textbooks. Their Make Textbooks Affordable campaign is encouraging professors to use course materials that are as affordable and accessible as possible.

There is a lot of ferment in OER activity, as this quick survey suggests. (For a longer overview, see this excellent 84-page report to the Hewlett Foundation. ) But clearly much more needs to be done to validate the advantages of educational commons and take their activities to a higher level.