Cobalt Mining Dilemma: Unveiling Tragedy and Demanding Accountability for Lives Lost

In an era dominated by digital advancements, the seamless flow of information through electronic devices obscures the often-unseen consequences of digital publishing. Beyond the allure of shimmering screens and the convenience they afford, a harsh reality emerges—one of finite resources, exploitative mining practices, and the overlooked toll on human lives. Under the sleek façade of our ubiquitous electronic devices lies a complex process fueled by rare earth metals.

Yet, the extraction of these rare earth metals is far from simple. Exploitative mining practices, characterized by perilous working conditions and environmental degradation, define this industry. Mines, often situated in ecologically sensitive areas, contribute to deforestation and habitat destruction. Moreover, the chemicals employed in the extraction process can lead to soil and water pollution, posing threats to both the environment and nearby communities.

Lax Regulation’s Toll on Workers, Environment, and Human Rights

The cobalt mining industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is plagued by lax regulation, leading to unchecked exploitation and severe consequences. The absence of stringent oversight has created hazardous working conditions for freelance miners engaged in cobalt extraction. Artisanal mining, lacking proper safety measures, exposes workers to life-threatening risks, including tunnel collapses and toxic substance exposure. The desperate circumstances of these miners perpetuate a cycle of poverty, as they endure dire health consequences for minimal compensation.

Furthermore, lax regulations contribute to widespread environmental degradation in cobalt mining regions. Improper disposal of toxic waste and acidic dust from the mining process contaminate farming land, rendering it infertile, and pollute rivers, threatening local ecosystems and biodiversity. The lack of effective regulations exacerbates the environmental toll, impacting not only local communities but also wildlife.

The absence of robust regulations also allows for human rights abuses, notably child labor, to persist in the industry. Artisanal miners, including children, face harsh working conditions without proper safeguards, jeopardizing their immediate well-being and limiting their access to education and better opportunities. Moreover, insufficient corporate accountability persists as companies, including foreign entities, operate with impunity, accused of exploitation, underpayment, and mistreatment of miners.

The Human Toll and Ongoing Conflicts

In the cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), freelance workers endure meager compensation in a perilous undertaking that goes beyond hazardous labor. Intimately tied to historical turmoil, notably the Congolese Genocide, this endeavor has triggered ongoing conflicts involving rebel groups such as M23, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), and the Congo Cooperative for Development (CODECO). This section unveils the profound human toll and the displacement of people due to unsafe mining practices, underscored by recent reports of heightened armed conflict in eastern DRC.

Since May 22, 2022, renewed clashes between Congolese security forces and the M23 armed group have forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. M23 rebels launched their most significant offensive against government troops in a decade, reaching the outskirts of the provincial capital, Goma, posing a severe threat to civilians. Despite international humanitarian law, abuses persist, including displacement and loss of life.

Human Rights Watch stresses the obligation of all parties, including rebel forces, security forces of Congo and its neighbors, and United Nations peacekeepers, to protect civilians under international law. Concerns are raised about the danger posed to civilians amid allegations and accusations between Rwanda and the DRC, further complicating the situation.

The complex web of conflicts and geopolitical tensions has already yielded devastating consequences, with displaced communities, property damage, and injuries resulting from recent clashes. The gravity of the situation is heightened by the historical context, where past fighting has led to widespread abuses against civilians and prolonged humanitarian crises.

As the region contends with a resurgence of armed conflicts and accusations between neighboring countries, the toll on civilians continues to escalate. The international community, including the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM) and regional forces, must thoroughly investigate and report their findings. This ongoing strife not only complicates the cobalt mining dilemma but also underscores the urgent need for accountability, justice, and the protection of vulnerable populations caught in the crossfire of these conflicts.

Alternative Perspective: Print Publishing

Print publishing emerges as a conscientious and eco-friendly option, notably emphasizing its use of sustainable trees as a primary resource. Unlike the finite nature of rare earth metals extracted for electronic devices, trees represent a renewable resource, underpinning the environmentally sustainable practices of the print industry. Crucially, this alternative perspective also draws attention to the stark contrast in human impact, pointing out the absence of exploitative practices, such as those witnessed in the Congo, within the print publishing supply chain.

In addition to its reliance on sustainable trees, the regulated and ethical practices within the print industry contribute to a smaller environmental footprint. Managed forests, carefully overseen by regulatory frameworks, ensure responsible harvesting and minimize adverse effects on ecosystems and biodiversity. This stands in direct opposition to the exploitative mining practices linked to electronic devices, particularly evident in the hazardous conditions faced by freelance miners in the Congo.

Furthermore, beyond resource use, the print industry’s commitment to sustainable practices extends to other facets contributing to climate change. Unlike the digital landscape marred by lax regulations, the print industry adheres to stringent frameworks that encompass not only paper production but also the operational aspects of printing, including factories and transportation. Trees harvested for paper production often originate from regulated forestry programs, contributing to responsible resource management.


Companies engaging in the extraction and utilization of cobalt must shoulder the responsibility for the consequences of their supply chain choices. Transparency and accountability are paramount, requiring companies to trace the origin of their cobalt and ensure that it is sourced ethically. This includes rigorous oversight to prevent the exploitation of freelance workers and to mitigate the environmental degradation associated with mining activities.

Adherence to international labor and environmental standards, coupled with supporting responsible mining practices, can contribute to alleviating the human suffering and ecological damage inflicted by the cobalt industry. Companies should actively collaborate with local communities, NGOs, and governmental bodies to create a framework that safeguards the rights and well-being of the miners and the surrounding environment.

Equally essential is the role of consumers in shaping the demand for ethically sourced products. Informed choices empower consumers to be conscientious contributors to the broader societal and environmental landscape. Understanding the connection between electronic devices, rare earth metals, and exploitative mining practices is the first step toward responsible consumption.

Consumers should prioritize products from companies that demonstrate a commitment to ethical sourcing, fair labor practices, and environmental sustainability. Seeking out information about a company’s supply chain policies, certifications, and overall corporate responsibility can guide consumers in making ethical purchasing decisions.

Education is a powerful tool in fostering consumer awareness. By raising awareness about the hidden costs of digital publishing and the impact of electronic devices on communities and the environment, consumers can make choices aligned with their values. Social media, consumer advocacy groups, and educational initiatives play pivotal roles in disseminating information that empowers individuals to demand accountability from companies.


A compelling imperative arises for the adoption of ethical and sustainable practices within the rare earth metal industry, prompting a collective reassessment of our digital consumption patterns. As we traverse the vast expanse of the digital landscape, it becomes paramount not to dismiss the concealed costs lurking beneath the sleek façade of our electronic devices.

This collective reevaluation should extend beyond mere awareness to tangible actions. One impactful avenue is the consideration of used technology, a choice that not only aligns with ethical consumerism but also serves as a potent means to avert human rights abuses associated with the mining of rare earth metals. By opting for refurbished or pre-owned tech, consumers can actively contribute to breaking the cycle of exploitation in regions like the Congo, offering a practical solution to mitigate the adverse human and environmental impacts embedded in the production of electronic devices.

How Much Do You Pay for Textbooks?

The Education Data Initiative—an organization of researchers dedicated to collecting data and statistics about the US education system—stated that the typical college student spends an average of $105.37 per textbook. The undergraduates spend up to $600 per year on class materials. If you’re a postsecondary student, you could expect to spend twice that amount. The Education Data Initiative also has some other eye-opening statistics on the cost of student’s textbooks:

  • Between 1977 and 2015, the cost of textbooks increased 1,041%
  • Textbook prices are rising roughly 3 times the rate of inflation
  • 25% of students reported they worked extra hours to pay for their books and materials
  • 66% of college students skipped buying or renting course materials because they were too expensive 
  • 11% skipped meals in order to afford books and course materials
  • 90% of professors say textbooks and course materials cost their students too much

Student spending on textbooks and course materials has declined as much as 48% over the last ten years. While some students may take advantage of scholarships or other financial aid programs to help cover the cost of books, others turn to digital publishing, such as eBooks or open-source websites, to help mitigate the expense. Inside Higher Education performed a survey of 2,400 undergraduate students in April of 2023. This research organization provides sources of data, analyses, and information on higher education in the United States. Of those surveyed, 59% claimed to use free sources. Open-source libraries like Open Library and Project Gutenberg offer students free access to millions of digital book titles, including textbooks. However, around 11% of the students surveyed admitted to using digitally pirated sources.

The current global market for digital publishing of textbooks represents $15.74 billion in revenue for 2023 and the market is expected to increase by 17% to $29.56 billion by 2027. With such a large profit margin, publishers could face a hefty loss in revenue if more students turn to pirating their titles.

In response to the risk of more students turning to piracy, four of the top ten major textbook publishers have taken legal action. Pearson, McGraw Hill, Cenage, and MacMillan Learning are joining together to bring a lawsuit against one of the most prolific publishers of pirated titles—Library Genesis—for copywrite infringement. The lawsuit claims that over 20,000 titles have been illegally uploaded by the “shadow library.” LibGen is one of the most popular sources for college students to find free versions of textbooks, journals, and articles with over six million titles in their index. The representative for the publishers in the lawsuit, Matt Oppenheim stated, “LibGen’s massive infringement completely undermines the incentive for creation and the rights of authors, who earn no royalties for the millions of books LibGen illegally distributes,” and called the LibGen website a “thieves’ den of stolen books.”   

While the official lawsuit, Cenage Learning Inc v Library Genesis, makes a solid case against LibGen, the suit also acknowledges that shutting down the site will present with some tough challenges. Pirate sites are notorious for reappearing after a legal battle has shut them down. They purchase new domains and use proxies and mirrors to curtail legal tracking. The creators go through extensive efforts to hide their identities and IP addresses to avoid detection, making legal action evasive. Other pirate host sites have been successfully sued in the past, and LibGen has also faced previous legal troubles. Sued by publisher Elsevier in 2017, a judge ruled in favor of the publishing company, awarding a $15 million payout and demanding that LibGen turn over their domain. However, representatives from the pirate site never appeared in court, and LibGen opened a new domain and is still operational.

The cost of higher education is continuing to rise, and students are in growing need to cut costs where they can. Illegal sources for book titles are not condoned, and students have other means available to help ease the cost of textbooks. Scholarship programs, financial aid, and grants are some of the resources students can use for help. However, as long as the need exists, pirate sites will continue to pop up and fill the gap between students and publisher prices.

Writing News for Twitter

According to research conducted by Pew, 86% of U.S. adults report they get news from a smartphone, computer, or tablet “often” or “sometimes.” 60% report they “often” do so. One of the most common ways of consuming digital news, particularly with younger generations, is through social media. “Of Americans aged 18-29, 42% use social media as their primary source of news,” Pew says.

While all social media platforms are often utilized for news consumption, the practice of using specifically Twitter for this purpose is commonly known. “As of December 2022, Twitter’s audience accounted for over 368 million monthly active users worldwide.” Knowing this, how should writers adapt? To create consumable content, writers must move with the times, including creating news content for Twitter.

To write successful and consumable news on Twitter two things should be kept in mind: length and style.


While it may potentially be expanded, Twitter currently has a 280-character limit. Sentences must be concise and information-packed to fit within the character limit. Because of this, many writers and news sources have opted for a link to a full-length article with a short commentary or headline.

Another option is to utilize threads. Threads break up the content into bite-sized parts that are linked together in order to beat the character limit. While this is acceptable with a few tweets, it
quickly becomes tedious and confusing to read with a long thread. In such a situation, linking to the entire article would be preferable to slicing and dicing the material. Another option is to both link the full article and include a thread of Tweets.

Facebook notes how quickly readers scroll from one piece of content to the next. “In the News Feed on Facebook, we’re seeing people spend, on average, 1.7 seconds with a piece of content on mobile compared to 2.5 seconds on desktop. All writing must be incredibly succinct due to the ability to quickly scroll away from a piece of content and immediately consume fresh media. The shortening of attention spans calls for concise writing, especially online.


Former President Donald Trump is infamous for his questionable Tweets. Whether the information in the Tweets was accurate or not, the style of the Tweets was mostly to blame for the criticism he received. He utilized slang terms, overcapitalization, and over-punctuation. To retain credibility, these stylistic choices should be avoided.

The limited length calls for snappy concise Tweets. Information should be succinct and eye-catching but avoid becoming sensational. If posting a summary or headline along with a link to the entire piece, the headline should be strong without sacrificing any formality. It can be tempting to include flame or siren emojis to attract attention, but this exaggerated choice may not be the best for prefacing a news article.

When using a thread, the opening tweet should have the greatest impact. The initial tweet in the thread will receive the most attention and, if written correctly, may entice people to read the rest of the thread.

Images of tables or graphs or polls can be utilized to increase engagement. Using hashtags associates the tweet with others with the same hashtag, potentially increasing traffic.

Personal Accounts

Writing choices made on an official news company account, such as @CNN, could be different than those made on the personal account of a writer or journalist. Many writers utilize their personal accounts to share news as well. Retweeting and quote-tweeting are commonly used by writers on their personal accounts, as well as pointed political statements about current events. While potentially inappropriate on a company page, these tactics could be acceptable and effective on a personal page.

Twitter Controversy

Twitter has recently undergone a change in command, after being purchased by Elon Musk last year. Musk has altered and experimented with Twitter’s components, receiving both support and backlash.

One of the major changes is the introduction of Twitter Blue. Instead of receiving the blue checkmark as a verified account, the checkmark is received with the purchase of a Twitter subscription.

Another controversial decision by Musk was the reinstatement of previously restricted or suspended accounts. Many of these accounts were restricted due to being labeled as “fake news” or “misinformation.”

Because of the leadership changes and evolving aspects of Twitter, writers utilizing it should stay informed on its developments. Writing tactics and stylistic choices that may work now may not in the future. Just as writers have had to adapt to digital writing, they will have to adapt to follow the ever-evolving world of social media.

in News | 748 Words

Top Digital Publishing Trends from FIPP Insider Paris

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FIPP (International Federation of Periodical Publishers) held its highly anticipated conference in Paris on October 1st. Notable members of FIPP include National Geographic, Business Insider, Marie Claire, and Buzzfeed. Networking and digital publishing experts from around the globe attended the event to discuss the top trends in data journalism and the future of digital media: 

This exciting initiative from FIPP combines a select group of world-class speakers from the local region and across the globe, sharing their knowledge and insight. Delegates will have plenty of opportunities to network with their peers across the media industry.

FIPP puts on more than ten international events each year called FIPP Insider. During these conferences, media leaders are encouraged to come together to build marketing techniques and pursue partnerships that will better improve the publishing industry. At this year’s Paris’ conference, James Hewes, President and CEO of FIPP outlined some of the top industry trends impacting the publishing industry in 2019.

Platform-Focused Content & Why Print Matters

Hewes reminded publishers that the rise of digital platforms is highly notable. To keep up with GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon), publishers are cautioned not to rely solely on the success of these leading platforms. They need to focus on the needs of consumers and the relevant content created within the most reliable frameworks.

With expanding video content, podcasts, and the preponderance of online media, some media users have turned back to print. Rebekah Billingsley of John Brown Media says , “In a world of fake news and uncertainty, print brands feels like a tangible trustworthiness.” Tapping into the tactile nature of print creates a nostalgic feel with consumers that proves to be a useful marketing tool.  Reverse publishing is a tool that publishers use to adapt to specific online content for a print resource. 

John Watkins , a content marketer and media consultant for FIPP, focused on the digital age and benefits of reverse publishing. In his FIPP Insider presentation , “The Future of Media: How digital-to-print revenue models continue to shape the industry” Watkins noted:

Some traditional digital-first brands have gone as far as to launch a new print offering for a specific audience, filling that print product with repurposed content originally created for digital channels.

In 2013,  Allrecipes made one of the first major web-to-print moves by announcing the launch of a print edition of their online magazine. Later, the company integrated SmartCode technology  within its printed versions. Readers can use their smartphones and print copies interchangeably to access information from Allrecipes. Jennifer Darling , editor-in-chief of Allrecipes, explains the introduction of QR-code SmartCode technology:

Whether it’s launching the first Skills on Amazon Alexa devices or blurring the lines between print and digital and audio with this latest SmartCode issue takeover, we’re reaching home cooks everywhere and are helping them connect with us across channels in fun, informative ways.

The State of Advertising

Hewes proposed that companies pay particular attention to content and trust in their advertising strategy to provide a better consumer experience on a website. Bernard Glock, senior VP of MediaLink, encourages companies  to “focus on the areas which have been proven in the last one or two years to help publishers and advertisers to grow their business, namely data proficiency, partnerships, and trust.”

Just last week, the two largest chumbox providers, Taboola and Outbrain, merged under the Taboola name. Together, their expected annual gross revenue will be more than $2 billion. Outbrain’s former marketing chief, Eric Hadley, told The New York Times , “This is clearly working, somehow. You may laugh at these ads, but people click on them.”

This method may be effective in the short term results, but it lacks a personal connection between the publisher and consumer. Other companies have even included ad-blocking technologies to protect the integrity of their content and relationship. This relationship expands its audience’s desire to be loyal to relevant and specific advertisers within the publisher’s content.

The Importance of Artificial Intelligence

Hewes explained that publishers should research the potential benefits of utilizing an AI strategy on their websites. Organizations that adopt the approach are expected to see exponential revenue growth within the next five years. Margaret Ann Dowling explains,

The heavy lifting of duplication and generic content creation can be automated, leaving more time for creative writing and effective storytelling. 

The use of integrated AI reflects the continual progression of the digital publishing industry.

While Hewes encourages publishers to assimilate AI into their work, he cautions the reliance on these powerful data strategies before understanding the impacts, both positive and negative, of implementing these technologies. In her article, “I, Robot Author, ” Myia FitzGerald writes, “AI can be incorporated more into the writing and publishing world, but only at the writer and publisher’s discretion.”

Many companies embrace new ideas and creative partnerships to position themselves ahead of their competition. Hewes’s biggest takeaway from the Paris conference was for publishers to embrace a commitment to continuous learning 

FIPP’s dedication to keep pace with a rising media industry and help companies pursue the smartest solutions for their businesses will continue to lead and shape the future of digital publishing. 

in News | 882 Words

Changing the World with Worldreader

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Worldreader, the lovechild of Amazon and higher education, gained three million new users in 2018, bringing the total number of individuals the company has reached to 10 million according to Publishers Weekly’s Ed Nawotka.

Worldreader, a charitable organization that promotes literacy and learning through technology, was founded by David Risher, previously both a general manager at Microsoft and Amazon’s senior vice president for Retail and Marketing, and Colin McElwee, the first Director of Marketing at ESADE Business School in Barcelona. As an AllAfrica article on Worldreader explains, Risher and McElwee’s initiative  “provides people in the developing world with free access to a library of digital books via e-readers and mobile phones.”

Worldreader intends to bridge the gap in education that permeates developing nations. According to CIO’s article “Worldreader Launches E-reading Program in Rabai,” “only one in nineteen African countries has anything close to adequate book provision in schools.” To change that, Worldreader gives away Kindles and Tablets, loaded with e-books, to disadvantaged peoples in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

What Worldreader has to Offer

Worldreader re-evaluates its e-book catalog each year based on reading levels and gauged interest. The 35,000 works that it offers fit all different categories to engage readers fully – AllAfrica says the e-books are “texts for all ages; books that are supplementary reading for education; vocational books; books for low literacy adults; and basic books to get parents to tell stories to kids.”

Worldreader offers three different apps so that readers can access the e-books on mobile devices. The regular Worldreader app enables users to set and track reading goals through gamification and supports offline reading, which the frequently low-fi status of the villages necessitates. The unique language support feature contributes the most to Worldreader’s success: the app supports all modern written languages from Hindi to Arabic.

The organization also offers a “Worldreader Kids” app. Like the original app, it enables offline reading – however, the child-friendly app includes personalized avatars to entertain young ones while they read the illustrated children’s e-books.

The “Worldreader Student” app works on Android devices and supports reading level analysis as well as other insights to help the organization tailor the program for students.

Worldreader also offers a product it calls a BLUE Box, which the charity designed for schools and libraries. The BLUE Box costs $15,000 per package and consists of 5,000 e-books pre-loaded onto 50 Kindles (sometimes donated Android tablets) with full Worldreader operational support. The products Worldreader supports feed directly into its established programs.

Moreover, the charity boasts an incredible range of partners, donors, and patrons. Worldreader is partnered with publishers such as Pearson, Penguin Random House, and Rosetta Books, and supported by organizations like EBSCO, Google, LinkedIn, and the UN. Additionally, Amazon, Samsung, and Microsoft all make products for Worldreader at low cost.

Worldreader’s Reading Programs

Worldreader outlines four major reading programs: Pre-Reading, School Reading, Library Reading, and Lifelong Reading. The “Worldreader Kids” app feeds into the Pre-Reading program, which aims to get parents and teachers reading with young children to establish the importance of literacy young. Worldreader’s 2018 Annual Report says that learning to read at a young age dramatically increases a child’s earning potential which “increase(s) their chance of breaking the cycle of poverty and create(s) inner capacity to build healthier and more equitable societies.”

The School Reading program correlates with the student app and BLUE Box to provide material to both student and teacher. UNESCO states that “an astonishing 617 million children and adolescents worldwide are not reaching minimum proficiency levels in reading. A lack of books prevents literacy acquisition and learning, blocking students from reaching their full potential.” Worldreader challenges this problem by providing students access to online textbooks through their program.

Worldreader has several initiatives in both the Library Reading and Lifelong Reading programs: the Library Reading program has LOCAL (Local Content for African Libraries) and LEAP (Libraries, E-Reading, Activities, Partnerships) which engage the public in e-book consumption. The Lifelong Reading program has AvanzaLee, a Latin American initiative focused on Mexican e-books, and Anasoma, an initiative geared toward gender equality.

Why E-readers instead of Print Books

Donating e-readers makes more sense than providing print books in an environment where scarcity oppresses. As Linendoll from CNN explains,

Carrying heavy loads of books is not practical for Kenyan students who often have to walk miles to and from school. E-readers, however, are a different story. They’re lightweight and portable and give students access to entire libraries, including books from African publishers.

The e-readers also allow for more technological intervention – between being data-driven and fully supported remotely, e-readers encourage more engagement in continents like Africa by supporting African languages. The technological literacy the readers attain also promotes the use of e-readers.

The founders, Risher and McElwee, explain that the previous favor print books held counteracts the goal of the charity,

Donating paper books to a place like Africa is well-intentioned, but it’s actually ill-informed. You can’t actually get the right books to the people you want to get to, at the time they need it. It’s very expensive and highly inefficient.

The expense of sending print books would be astronomical – the cost of production and shipping alone would already eat through Worldreader’s funds, and e-readers contain more content in half the size for pennies on the dollar. The volume and versatility of e-readers make them the clear choice for an operation of this size.

Some might worry though about the danger of theft when using tools so valuable; as Linendoll expresses, “The students, after all, go home to a community filled with poverty.” However, less than a single percent of e-readers has disappeared, which indicates the absences can likely be attributed to other factors, such as moving. “Books and education are really the way out of this, and people take great care of books and education,” McElwee stated.

Worldreader has pushed literacy through e-books with great results on four continents. Though the charity currently boasts 10 million users, Nawotka’s article “Worldreader Added 3 Million Users” reports that, “The stated goal for the group is to ultimately reach one billion readers.” These results should come as great news for e-book authors as Worldreader has expanded the digital publishing universe by opening up audience demographics that were previously left untouched. All an author has to do is write something worth reading.

Changing with the Times

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Changing with the Times

“You find the future in the past if you look hard enough,” says Mark Thompson, Chief Executive Officer and president of The New York Times. It is a common belief that newspapers’ going out of print is a direct effect of changing times. In many ways, this is true. However, the reasoning for lessening print publications is rooted in the same basic marketing strategies that the media have always followed.

Traditional print newspapers have always thrived upon meeting the reader in their daily lives. After all, without the readers there would be no reason to share the news. Writers and producers of the news know that, often, consumers do not seek out the news themselves. Therefore, in order to stay afloat, these news sources must find a way to come to the consumer.

While many print publications are struggling to keep up with consumers, the Times is managing to not only stay afloat, but also thrive in a world of mass digital news consumption.

In the past, life was centered around the daily papers. If you wanted to find a job, you looked to the paper. If you needed look for a new apartment, you looked in the paper. Now, all those things and more are done online. According to Thompson, “ads once brought in as much as $235 million with very little overhead costs, but that figure slid to just $6 or $7 million in revenue in recent years.”

This decrease in ad sales was a major push towards a digital way of thinking for the Times. Executives knew that, in order to keep up with consumers, they would need to reevaluate and reconnect with the modern consumer’s lifestyle.

“It’s all about the user experience and it’s all about engagement,” says Thompson. In 2015, the company set out to make $800 million in digital revenue by 2020 and they are already on track to blow that goal out of the water. As of the end of 2018, the Times made $709 million in digital revenue. With a total of $1.748 billion at the end of the fiscal year in 2018, this shows that digital revenue “accounted for just over 40% of the total.”

With such great numbers coming in from the financial side, Thompson set a goal to reach 10 million subscribers by 2025. This goal seems to be in reach for the company as its number of digital subscribers has grown to 3.3 million as of 2018. This number is up 27% from 2017. The Times now has over 4.3 million subscribers, which is an all-time high for the company.

Another record breaker for the Times happened in the fourth quarter of 2018 when digital advertisement made more than print advertisement. Digital advertising sales jumped 23% to $103 million while print advertising dropped 10% to $88 million.

Thompson says that these gains in revenue will be put back into newsroom operations. At a time when many news companies are being forced to make cuts due to lack of funding, the Times take the opposite approach.

Our appeal to subscribers — and to the world’s leading advertisers — depends more than anything on the quality of our journalism. That is why we have increased, rather than cut back, our investment in our newsroom and opinion departments. We want to accelerate our digital growth further, so in 2019, we will direct fresh investment into journalism, product and marketing.

Thompson also believes that the Times’ legacy has played a hand in its success in the shift towards primarily digital platform. “An intense news cycle has always sold newspapers and made TV news ratings shoot up,” Thompson says. In this world where every news company is racing to get the most recent information out first, it pays to be a credible company that consumers trust.

Another possible reason for the Times’ continued success is the diverse material that they offer consumers. Recently, over half of Times’ subscriptions came from the cooking and crosswords. According to journalist Tyler Bishop, one of the highest priorities for digital publishers coming into 2019 was growing their audiences. According to Bishop, the main focus for many digital publishers was “traffic, but more specifically, quality visitors.”

The Times is a legacy company, and their diverse offerings of news, opinion pieces, crosswords, and more make them more appealing to consumers. According to Thompson, these subscribers are “the kind of person who is our kind of person.” While other news companies and digital publishers are struggling to get the audience they are reaching for, the Times has the advantage of having a solid, diverse, consumer base to work and grow with.

According to the New York Times’ 2020 group:

While the past two years have been a time of significant innovation, the pace must accelerate. Too often, digital progress has been accomplished through workarounds; now we must tear apart the barriers. We must differentiate between mission and tradition: what we do because it’s essential to our values and what we do because we’ve always done it.

This team of journalists  at the Times take deep pride in their work and understand that the same qualities that brought print subscribers will “lead people to devote valuable space on their smartphone’s homescreen to our app, to seek us out on social media amid the cacophony and to subscribe to our newsletters and briefings.”

In the world of publication, many companies see themselves as either print-first or digital first. The New York Times, however, sees themselves as a “subscription-first business .” The company does not want to get lost in a battle to “maximize clicks” or “win a pageviews arms race.” Rather, they are focused on producing the same strong journalism that they have for over 150 years. This business plan has secured them a front-runner in print journalism for many years, and the same business plan is what they hope will keep them a front-runner during this time of digital change.

I, Robot Author

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Earlier this year, science-centered publisher Springer Nature produced the online textbook Lithium-Ion Batteries: A Machine-Generated Summary of Current Research. This e-book has no earth-shattering findings on the batteries, but it made headlines all the same: “This is the first time AI has authored an entire research book, complete with a table of contents, introductions, and linked references.” 

AI Now 

The first fully AI-authored e-book is here. Similarly, an AI-authored travel novel was released this year, though only in print. In The Verge, James Vincent wrote, “For decades, machines have struggled with the subtleties of human language, and even the recent boom in deep learning powered by big data and improved processors has failed to crack this cognitive challenge,” but this no longer holds true. Now multiple businesses have released writing AI in the past year, all capable of producing intelligible sentences.  

Google, Springer Nature, and OpenAI produce the most crucial writing AI. Google’s BERT works with NLG or natural language generation. BERT aims to replicate the way language organically flows.  

BetaWriter outranks BERT, though, for writers. BetaWriter wrote the first published e-book from Springer Nature. The publishing industry has hailed the 250+ page textbook as a turning point in the advancement of AI writing. 

OpenAI’s GPT-2 also holds serious status for authors. GPT-2 excels in language modeling. The program can create anything from a realistic news headline to an entire story length tale from one line of input. 

Positive Aspects of Writing with AI 

Writing with AI can certainly benefit authors. The bots excel at matching texts in their samples, which makes them ideal for both writing passages in foreign languages and adding multiple versions of an e-book. Macho from PublishDrive touches on this subject saying, “This innovation shows a more accessible future translation market by listening to or reading a book out loud and getting them translated realtime.” 

While the AI bots may not be able to write precisely what the author imagines, they can compile large libraries easily. This research aspect helps authors streamline the writing process. As Kevin Waddel points out in this Axios article, the bots’ function ideally to “Dig researchers out from under information overload.” This function benefits both academic writers trying to compile educational or experimental data and the pleasure writer logging settings, mythical characters, and historical events. 

Bots also function within an established framework, making them ideal for online authors. Not only can AI compile all the information necessary to make writing easy, but authors can use the formatting “technicality” to format their e-book files with little error or effort. The bots can do all the formatting that people can, so authors and publishers should take advantage of what the bots can reliably do to maximize the payoff. 

Downsides to Writing with AI 

Writing with AI can come with some real drawbacks, especially if humans don’t run interference. AI learns through what it reads by searching for patterns, but that’s it. Macho explains, “The key lies in EQ or EI – whatever you call it – using emotional intelligence to engage your audience.” AI can only copy writing moves people because people are where the emotional intelligence comes from. 

AI also struggles to understand the more profound meaning and context that often fills writing. The more thorough parts of the pattern analysis, deep learning, can still only measure so much. The resulting text, though accurate, is filled with continuity errors and cold opens. These issues regularly leave the reader confused or lost, which deems AI an unreliable tool for writers. 

Many experts consider the AI’s self-learning from input to be the most dangerous drawback for writers. CNN and The Verge both criticized the newly available, high-quality AI writers for their potentially dangerous results. Vincent’s article in The Verge says the following: 

In the wrong hands, GPT-2 could be an automated trolling machine, spitting out endless bile and hatred.” OpenAI’s helpful research tool could be used to publish hateful propaganda with minimal effort. These downsides and ambiguities raise many questions. 

 Questions About Credit 

Whenever new technology develops, it always takes time for rules and general knowledge to catch up. With AI itself being so new, authors or publishers intending to use it don’t have very much guidance on doing so ethically. Coldewey of TechCrunch raises several questions about crediting when writing with AI: 

Who is the originator of machine-generated content? Can developers of the algorithms be seen as authors? Or is it the person who starts with the initial input (such as “Lithium-Ion Batteries” as a term) and tunes the various parameters? Is there a designated originator at all? Who decides what a machine is supposed to generate in the first place? Who is accountable for machine-generated content from an ethical point of view? 

Springer Nature credited the program itself in the textbook they produced, but this does not factor in the rest of Coldewey’s questions. In fact, those questions can’t be answered until the industry knows more about the instrument. In the meantime, each user must rely on their instincts for best practices.  

 Best Practices for Writers and Publishers  

Some experts in AI gave their advice to authors and publishers about the truly effective ways to incorporate AI into their trades. Macho wrote, “There are two big areas of publishing where AI can (and will) make an impact: content analysis, recommendation and creation; and audience analysis.” 

The best ways to use AI without cutting out the human touch are by using the bots for everything but the writing. Publishers should use the bots for marketing: find out the types of people viewing the content, their preferences, and then use the bots to implement a targeted marketing plan. 

Authors should use AI to prepare their library for writing. The bots can compile all kinds of data which allows the author to focus only on producing the text. The bots could even theoretically produce dialogue to help the author create realistic conversations that sound varied and natural, especially if dialogue challenges the author. 

Publishers and authors can both use AI to make widespread changes, such as name or location changes. They can also use AI to reformat the text and files for publication or to determine the best place to insert features like images and other interactive aspects. With these options, authors and publishers should feel motivated to incorporate the bots more effectively. 

While writing AI advances further and further in ability each day, the writing AI produces has a very narrow audience, as Springer Nature’s e-book shows. People simply have more skill and nuance. AI can be incorporated more into the writing and publishing world, but only at the writer and publisher’s discretion.

The 2019 Digital Book Awards and Conference

Image of Rachel Ward

Digital Book World posted their finalists for the 2019 Digital Book World Awards on August 12. The awards will be given on Tuesday, September 10, between 5:45 and 7:15 p.m. in Nashville, Tenn. The finalists for every category of the 2019 awards can be found on Digital Book World’s website

Whether the nominees were published digitally, or if the book was published digitally at all after a physical release, each of these categories has something related to digital publishing. Through cursory research of the books in each Best Book category, it is difficult to see if these books are being featured in this awards ceremony for their particular contribution to digital publishing, or if they are merely showcasing some books that have e-book options. Most books have both an e-book option and a physical novel, even on their specific publishing company site. 

Some exceptions to this do exist such as Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin. It is available through Harper Collins Canada on the site Rakuten OverDrive, where you cannot purchase the e-book, but find out if it is at your local library. There is clearly accessibility in mind by aiding in locating it for free. At Amazon, it can be purchased through Kindle, or paperback for ninety-nine cents cheaper. Another exception is Civilian by Deonte Osayande, through Urban Farmhouse Press. 

The goal of the Digital Book World and awards does appear to be more about highlighting the digital aspects of a shifting world, which still includes print publication. In the 2019 conference, a breakout track included will be Print Book World: “Best practices in the print publishing world, with specific attention paid to the emerging, yet very under-discussed, world of augmented print books utilizing micro digital technologies.” Even while recognizing the world of print publication, they are focusing on it in a digital light. 

On DBW’s website, the CEO of Score Publishing, which owns the Digital Book World, wrote an article entitled “Barnes & Noble: How Can We Miss You, If You Won’t Go Away?”. Within it, Bradley Metrock writes the following:

One of the persistent topics of discussion at a conference like Digital Book World is the relationship between digital books and print books. We’ve all endured the absurd ‘print is dead’ trope, and have collectively reached the understanding that print books will always be with us, even as digital books become more and more ubiquitous and evolved.

Despite the critiques of Barnes & Noble, along with physical book locations in general, there is the recognition of the market still present for print publications. 

Digital Book World will hold a pre-conference on September 9, including workshops that feature topics such as Book Marketing for Independent Publishers and Leveraging the Colibrio Reader Framework.  

On September 10, there will be several speakers and events, featuring people from Simon & Schuester and panels featuring Amazon Alexa. The final event will be the awards dinner for the announcement of the Digital Book World winners. 

On September 11, the day following the awards ceremony, there will be more speakers and attention paid to some of their breakout tracks, which were not covered previously at DBW Conferences, such as the Marketing Book World and Academic Book World. 

The final day, September 12, will focus on Building Direct Connections with Readers and the political side of digital publishing, closing with a keynote presentation from the US Army: Our Nation’s Newest Publisher. 

Click here (Links to an external site.) for more information on the speakers and presentations available at the 2019 Digital Book World Conference, and here (Links to an external site.) to find available tickets to attend. 

in News | 659 Words