Tag Archives: Canadian history

canadian history – long live the long tail?

So I’ve just started Chris Anderson’s audiobook version of The Long Tail and am loving it. No surprise here since I’ve already heard him lecture on it and so knew what I was getting into. But what has really peaked my interest is how Canadian history – that subject that everyone thinks the public has little to no appetite for, may be a perfect long tail example.

For those not familiar with The Long Tail thesis, Wikipedia describes it as follows:

“…products that have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters. Anderson cites earlier research on the relationship between Amazon sales and Amazon sales ranking and found a large proportion of Amazon.com’s book sales come from obscure books that are not available in brick-and-mortar stores.”

In other words, although most large publishing houses only look to publish the book that will make the top 10 best seller list (the green part of the graph), there is a huge market for those books that will only sell one or two copies every three months (the yellow part of the graph), but will do so over and over again over for a long period of time. All that is necessary to make this viable is a cheap distribution channel.

The point here is that there is still demand for lots of old goods, it is just that the relative demand – compared to the current blockbusters – is so tiny that no one notices it. Which brings me to books on Canadian history.

Peter C. Newman is a national treasure. When was the last time you looked at that man’s astounding catalog of books?  (This is not even a full list!) But did you realize that 90% of his books are no longer in print? And yet, many are just as relevant, and well researched today as when they were published 20 or even 35 years ago. The good news is that the Long Tail suggests Peter Newman’s work is still in demand. Indeed Canadian history more generally may not be a best seller but a constant churning demand is out there. One that, if fed, could fuel still greater interest.

The bad news is that most of Newman’s works are not publicized, or even published, anymore. This is what Lessig calls orphaned works: pieces still under copyright, but not in print and essential unavailable. This means that the potentially enourmous, but slow moving demand of The Long Tail, is not being met.

While discussing this problem over scotch in the wee hours of this morning we agreed that it would be great if Canadians, in complete violation of copyright opted to dictate the oldest of Newman’s works into their computers and publish the voice recordings online as free audiobook versions of his work? This would certainly create a cheap distribution channel for his works.

Would this make them bestsellers? No, but it would make them cheap and easy to disseminate. It would definitely open up his work to a whole new audience: the ipod generation. Maybe Peter C. Newman would even give us his blessing…

Research on the 1960 Kingston Conference… any leads?

I recently read John Beal’s 1964 book “The Pearson Phenomenon” I found this little gem in the library while looking for books that would have something to say about to Kingston conference that the liberal party held the week of September 6, 1960.

The book is interesting for two reasons. The first is that it is written by an American. (and I thought Americans didn’t care about Canadian politics, especially in 1960?) The second is that it was written in 1964, while Pearson was in office and so reflects the optimism and challenges of that time.

What drew me to the book was what it had to say about the Kingston conference – for which it had a reasonable blow-by-blow account, some transcripts and interviews with key player. Not a ton of material, but at least 15-20 pages worth.

I’ve been struck by how little has been written about the Kingston conference. For those who are also looking for accounts of the event, this book has some of the play-by-play but will almost certainly leave you wanting. If you found a good account of the conference, both of its organization and/or a description of the events, please let me know by e-mailing me or posting a comment. Would appreciate any thoughts ot help…

A remarkable man passes on…

This weekend Sandra Martin of the Globe and Mail published this article/obituary on my grandfather, Israel Halperin (I’ve put a PDF version here in case the G&M link goes dead). As some of you already know my grandfather passed away on March 8 at age 96. He was a remarkable man, a fact attested to by the article’s summary:

“He was a brilliant mathematician and an influential Cold War peace activist who saved the likes of the dissident, Anatoly Shcharansky, from a Soviet labour camp, reports SANDRA MARTIN. Before all that could happen, though, he bravely and resolutely faced down espionage charges in the Gouzenko Affair of 1945.”

For those who pay attention to this blogs’ reading, this fact may clear up tit accounts for why I read Gordon Lunan’s autobiography “Redhanded: Inside the Spy Ring that Changed the World” (Gordon Lunan was the Canadian foreign affairs officer who ‘operated’ the spy ring for the Soviets in which my grandfather was alleged to have been involved). What makes the book remarkable is how it tracks the complete breakdown of law and order – and specifically the gross violations of Habeas Corpus – made possible by the use of the War Measures act, even after the war had ended. For those who believe that the mishandling of the Arar case is something new in Canadian history, my grandfather’s case offers a possible counter point…

[tags]Israel Halperin, Gouzenko, Canadian history, cold war, Arar[/tags]