Frank Ramsey 1903-29

Frank Ramsey who made seminal contributions in four disciplines dying at the tragically early age of 26, is the subject of a brilliant and rounded biography by Cheryl Misak: Frank Ramsey: a Sheer Excess of Powers. Catherine Belton has written a deeply researched and bold book on the murky backgrounds of Russia’s populist autocrat: Putin’s People. Whereas Smellosophy: What the Nose Tells the Mind is the intriguing title of a philosophical-neurological treatise that snuffles its way through odours, taste, perception and cognitive science in search of neglected aspects of consciousness and sensation. These are all parts of my summer reading and I was led to them, most happily, by podcasts. In this case Philosophy Bites, Intelligence Squared, and Mindscape. These podcasts are filling up my summer reading list. I am even recommending them on Twitter.

Perhaps partly in response to the COVID-19 crisis, podcasts are certainly having a surge. Books, especially intellectually ambitious books, as those three are, have many advantages as topics for a podcast. There is some objective and substantial argument for the wide-ranging interviewer to get his teeth into. The book will usually be in need of publicity, so the publisher and the author will be keen for a forum for discussion which is quite unaffected by lockdown. Sometimes a paragraph or two will be read from the book, and links will be given from which the title can be purchased. Since the majority of podcasts are purely sound events the fact that the book cannot be seen does not matter. And we have got used to the idea that digital books must be purchased before they can be evaluated and tested. Because there is no easy way of making PDFs or ebooks available on a temporary basis, there is no easy way of providing substantial and generously wide access to the title, short of buying it.

However, the Exact Editions platform of Reading Rooms for Books should disrupt this equation. Or rather, it would allow us to write some new equations and to see several new forms in which digital access could be granted to an audience for a limited period of time. When a digital platform makes a book available digitally for a defined period of time (an hour, a day, a week or 30 days) it would be practical to provide pre-set, temporary access to an important or new book for a podcast audience. Here is how it works:

We have a great book.

First we need to ensure that the book could be available through a Reading Room link. And for this the digital book (a complete PDF file would be uploaded to the Exact Editions database). Since Exact Editions is currently offering a free service to publishers with innovative ideas, this should not be a problem for the author/publisher combination. Our publisher will then have access to a dashboard which will facilitate the making of links like this:

A link which will only last 24 hours, and has probably expired by the time you read this blog. However since the half-life of the average tweet or Facebook posting is less than an hour, it would be quite effective as a form of advertising for a podcast that was scheduled to appear in a few days, or even next week.

Then on the day of the podcast it would be advisable and might be thought desirable, by the author and publisher, to post a time limited Reading Room that would last for a full week:

As you can perhaps tell from the code in the link, this is a Reading Room link to the same book. The only difference being that it will last for 7 days. With such a link posted in the episodes shownotes there is opportunity for most of the audience who hear the podcast to sample the book and appreciate its quality. Patreon backers and registered supporters will be mailed the link, perhaps with another link to the recommended bookshop/ebook providers.

Might there also be a case for providing even longer but temporary access through a Reading Room to the digital version of the book which is being discussed in a podcast? Experience will tell. If more copies of books are purchased when the exposure is long, then one can be sure that longer exposure will be introduced. Intuition would suggest that some very popular categories of book may not benefit from longer exposure (thrillers, romance?) but books that are perceived as having lasting or long-term value are different. Publishers who need to supply inspection copies to textbooks (often heavy and costly to dispatch) will surely encourage extensive podcast discussions and exposure of their titles. The expectation being that a professor can surely decide within a week or two whether this new textbook will be needed for her class next September. Similarly the Velleman book (30 day link) that we have been showcasing in this blog is likely to strike any librarian as ‘must have’ title for a good philosophy library. Even though the PDF of the book is available Open Access.

There is thus a seeming paradox about the possible challenge to sales from the Reading Room approach to sales promotion and extensive reader evaluation. Books of sufficient quality to merit, even demand, long-term access and preservation are among those most likely to benefit from short-term temporary Reading Room promotion.

We think of books as lasting. Rightly. Print books, ebooks, PDFs and even audio books are sold on the basis that their owner will need them in the future. Even so, there is great potential advantage in having access to a platform that can provide temporary, time-limited and open access to titles through a simple click. Reading Rooms as enabled through the Exact Editions platform provide a mechanism through which a digital book can be broadcast through a time-slice. A timed slice where the parameters are set by the publisher.

We have been discussing these possibilities as helping the audience and promoters of podcasts. However, very similar procedures, with suitable scheduled Reading Rooms, could apply to blogs that focus on reviewing and deep reading of books, or on literary festivals and with the catalogues of major art or museum exhibitions, when they come back to our cities.