Streaming Video and Music Developments at Alexander Street Press
Paula J. Hane
Posted On January 20, 2011
Alexander Street Press doesn’t act like a company struggling in a tough content market and dealing with library budget cuts. At the recent ALA Midwinter meeting, the company held its annual customer breakfast for an overflowing room of some 500 people—its largest turnout ever. Stephen Rhind-Tutt, founder and president, told me the company had a “pretty good 2010 despite the recession.” Much of its success is due to its rapidly growing streaming media collections. It plans to release three major new video products for libraries in early 2011.
The company has just acquired Filmakers Library, the highly regarded New York-based distributor of documentary films. Filmakers was founded in 1969 by Linda Gottesman and Sue Oscar to distribute high-quality, issue-based documentaries to the education market. For 40 years it has brought a wide range of titles to its academic market (on VHS and DVD). Alexander Street plans to launch the complete Filmakers Library as a subscription-based online streaming database, Filmakers Library Online, in early 2011. The publisher will also make it possible for libraries and educational institutions to order individual films via the Alexander Street streaming platform.
Coming this spring is Education in Video, said to be the first online collection of streaming video developed specifically for the training and development of teachers. It will include more than 1,000 videos that cover a wide range of issues, including mathematics education, literacy development, motivation, assessment, learning disabilities, and multicultural education. The collection will include teaching demonstrations, documentaries, primary-source footage, study guides, and other classroom tools.
The third new video product coming soon is World History in Video, an online collection of 1,750 global documentaries covering everything from early civilizations to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many of the critically acclaimed documentaries from filmmakers worldwide are the most used today in university-level classes.
Rhind-Tutt says “Our editors select and license the most important video content in each field from the top video providers. These are the films most often used in university courses—together with innovative, new content and rare or previously unpublished films that can support scholarship. Controlled vocabularies tailored to each discipline and innovative technical features make these collections powerfully searchable and even more useful as teaching and research tools.”
According to Rhind-Tutt, the company is about 50% of the way toward bringing its video collections to the iPhone and iPad. A delay was caused by Apple changing some of its technical specifications.
He says that there’s now a huge opportunity for streaming video to become part of libraries’ offerings. DVDs and CDs are no longer the trend—an estimated one DVD in 10 gets stolen or scratched every year. He cited an estimate by TechCrunch that by 2013, 90% of all traffic on the internet will be video. YouTube is reportedly two times more popular than Wikipedia, according to Alexa.
But, a key benefit of the Alexander Street videos are the technical features, which include synchronized, scrolling transcripts that run alongside each video as well as clip-making tools and playlists that let users pull together selections from multiple videos (and from anywhere on the web) and then annotate and share them. Users don’t have to watch an entire lengthy video but can search for specific text and then watch and clip just the relevant minutes and transcripts.
Music to Our Ears
The company also announced that its streaming music service for libraries and the education market, Music Online, has nearly tripled in size following the addition of nearly 400,000 new jazz, world, and American music recordings—and with no price increase. Alexander Street’s senior music editor Liz Dutton, explained that system-wide enhancements, process improvements, and search functionality upgrades have made the site’s rapid—and ongoing—growth possible. Said Dutton, “We expect to offer access to more than 750,000 recordings by mid-2011.” Other site enhancements include ten times faster search speeds; sound quality, which has increased from 64 kbps to 320 kbps for most recordings; and simplified search results display. Since mid-2010, the site has also supported on-the-go access for most mobile devices.
Alexander Street Press was founded in May 2000 in Alexandria, Virginia, by Rhind-Tutt and several colleagues. The company’s first product was North American Women's Letters and Diaries, a collection of 150,000 pages of letters and diaries by women from colonial times through the 1950s. From the beginning, the company’s products were distinguished by the quality of its indexing. It uses semantic indexing to pull out metadata for gender, age, author nationality, etc. It can distinguish between speeches made by someone versus about someone.
A look over the company’s products shows considerable diversity in content—women and social movements, underground comics and graphic novels, letters and diaries, education, history, opera, dance, and, most recently, counseling and therapy (through its Fall 2010 acquisition of Microtraining Associates, a producer of counseling and therapy videos). Rhind-Tutt explains that “as a publisher we look for what should be said. We make silent voices heard.”
The company now has some 2,000 customers worldwide and this is expanding quickly. It is impressive that it pulled in new customers even in a tough year. With bandwidth improvements on the horizon, the future looks bright for libraries and for Alexander Street Press.