June 2, 2009

Everything in Moderation

We're toiling away on the 2010 edition — rounding up the usual updates, sketching out some new features, and starting to argue over some of our annual "editor's picks" lists, like top news stories and the time capsule.

Gmod.jpgBut why should we have all the fun? This time around, I thought we might try to open that process up a bit, and invite readers to nominate and vote on items for these (and other) lists in the 2010 World Almanac. We're going to try using Google Moderator to gather your input: visit this link to add suggestions and give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to other reader's ideas.

I won't promise that the final lists will be based solely on your votes, but it would be enlightening to have more reader input throughout the year — especially to see how rankings shift as new stories emerge.

So get cracking!

Link: Google Moderator: World Almanac 2010

May 4, 2009

The Rumors of Our Demise...

...Have been greatly exaggerated. It's true that World Almanac Education Library Services is slated to close by the end of the current fiscal year (see below for press release), but this does not spell the end of The World Almanac and Book of Facts or The World Almanac for Kids. Alternate distribution to school and library customers is still being worked on, but we'll post any news right here as soon as it becomes available. Until then, feel free to e-mail us with any other questions you might have... and never fear, you'll still be able to buy a 2010 edition of The World Almanac.
Weekly Reader Publishing Group to Exit Library Market
PLEASANTVILLE, NY, March 10, 2009 - Weekly Reader Publishing Group (WRPG) has announced plans to focus exclusively on its core Weekly Reader brand and to exit two businesses that serve the library market. World Almanac Education Library Services (WAELS), based in Strongsville, OH, will close by the end of this fiscal year. Gareth Stevens Publishing (GSP), based in Pleasantville, NY, is being offered for sale through Broadwater & Associates (www.broadwaterllc.com), an investment bank that specializes in mergers and acquisitions for the publishing industry.
Neal Goff, President of WRPG, said: "We will be focusing strategically on our Weekly Reader-branded businesses, specifically our magazines and Custom Publishing businesses and our growing array of digital activities. We expect that this focus will support our efforts to grow the Weekly Reader brand."
Gareth Stevens Publishing serves the library market with non-fiction titles aligned to curricula. WAELS provides books and educational materials to school and public libraries. The two businesses formerly were part of WRC Media, a company that was integrated into The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., in 2007 through RDA's acquisition by a group of investors led by Ripplewood Holdings, LLC.

February 19, 2009

Tweet, Tweet!

Ok, ok... since the eagle-eyed folks at ResourceShelf have already sniffed this out, I might as well make the formal announcement: The World Almanac now has a Twitter feed. If your response is "Huh?" then I suggest a quick jump over to the NYTimes for a recent explanation of the Twitter phenomenon. We don't have any grand plans for the feed right now -- the truth is, we're stretched a little too thin to keep up with regular, full-length blogging right now, but we can definitely handle a few 140-character tweets here and there. Follow us, send us comments or suggestions, ask questions... we'll see where it takes us.

And while I'm at it, I should point out a few more online tidbits from the World Almanac:

  • I've mentioned our Facebook fan page before, but now we've also got a funky little daily-quiz widget on Facebook -- sign up, pass it around, and click on it daily to test your knowledge on all manner of odds & sods from the latest World Almanac.
  • If you're a rabid David Cook fan, you've probably already seen this. But you might not have seen some of the delightful responses it elicited, from the good to the bad and the ugly. Thank you, snarky Internets! I feel like I'm in the 8th grade all over again...

And one more note, before I take my creepy smirk back inside World Almanac HQ: people always ask "Who's a typical World Almanac Reader?" The stock answer is "virtually anyone"... but I think this video suggests a whole new demographic to pursue with the 2010 edition. Enjoy.

January 7, 2009

Dude, Where's My Town?

With the holiday gift-giving season behind us, there are a lot of new World Almanacs floating around out there. For the most part, feedback on the 2009 edition has been positive -- especially from those readers who have begged us for years to hold the book open for U.S. election results, World Series stats and summaries, and expanded coverage of the year's news events.

Of course, you can't please everyone: a few die-hard, long-time readers of the World Almanac are up in arms over the disappearance of the chapter on "Places of 5,000 or More Population." It's not a printing error, and it's not an editorial oversight: we made a conscious (and difficult) decision to remove that chapter from the 2009 World Almanac. Even if you don't particularly miss that chapter, the factors driving our decision may still give you some insight into how the book comes together and changes each year:

The Elephant (and Donkey) In the Room: We knew at the start of 2008 that it would be an historic election year -- the first in more than 50 years without a sitting president or vice-president in the race; the largest slate of "Super Tuesday" primary states in history; and to many observers, strong odds that we could end the year with either the first woman or first African American elected to the presidency. We also knew that long-time World Almanac readers wouldn't tolerate a 2009 edition that came up short in election coverage, so we blocked out room for summaries of the campaign; candidate biographies; detailed preliminary results for presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial races; and information on key ballot initiatives across the country. The grand total? Approximately 40 pages. Total length of the "5,000 or more" chapter? 34 pages -- one of the longest chapters, and the largest single data set in the book, and thus the best candidate for elimination, since one deletion could give us almost all the room we needed for election coverage.

Death by a Thousand Cuts: So why single out that chapter, when we have more than 1,000 pages and dozens of chapters to choose from? If we had to open up a few dozen pages, why couldn't we use (to borrow some campaign lingo) a scalpel instead of a hatchet? In short, the "scalpel" approach isn't quite as clean as it sounds. We can't make room by cutting a few lines from World History, and a half-page from Sports, and a handful of entries from Tall Buildings, without throwing the book's layout and pagination into disarray; individual chapters have to grow or shrink in full-page increments. And within any individual chapter, it's a tall order to identify full pages that could be deleted as they stand -- and even harder to free up a full page by making minor cuts to many different parts of that chapter. We use both techniques on a limited basis each year: close observers may note that several pages of sun and moonrise data were cut from Astronomy a few editions ago, or that selected tables in Aerospace and other statistical chapters have been condensed to fit in less space. But when we need to free up 40 pages in a single edition, those piecemeal deletions simply won't do the trick.

Free and (Slightly Less) Easy: Another reason to remove the "5,000 or more" chapter this year: 20 years ago, or even ten years ago, the presence of this information in the World Almanac represented a substantial service to most readers. Detailed information about local populations, area codes, and zip codes was harder to come by, even for the smaller percentage of U.S. residents who had internet access in those decades. And while some people persist in thinking of our book as an alternative to the Internet, we believe that the future of the World Almanac hinges on our ability to serve as a valuable companion to the Internet, and to the vast majority of people in the U.S. who have regular Internet access at home, work, or school. This means occasionally cutting long-standing content that can now be found online freely and easily, and in a more useful form than we could possibly provide. In this case, you can now find detailed information about even the smallest U.S. cities from dozens of independent websites, if not the official sites of the towns themselves... and free, comprehensive, and authoritative information about each element of our chapter is available from the Census Bureau (population), the U.S. Postal Service (ZIP codes), and the North American Numbering Plan Administration (Area codes).

No doubt this is small consolation to the few souls for whom that chapter remains a valuable and vital resource. If the outcry is strong enough, we can certainly restore it to the 2010 World Almanac, but in the meantime, we have to be content with the fact that we've made the news, politics, and sports junkies a little bit happier with this edition... and we invite all our readers to let us know what parts of the World Almanac are most valuable to them, and what parts they wouldn't miss in future editions.

Photo: Nolly (Creative Commons, some rights reserved)

December 23, 2008

Quiz Time

Over the next few weeks, I'll spend a lot of time rounding up the big (and odd) events of the past year on various TV and radio shows — keep an eye here for advance notice (and post-show recaps) of some of the more notable conversations. Special thanks to the folks from the 10! Show on NBC in Philadelphia, who helped us to kick off the season in fine style yesterday with a quick 2008 trivia quiz (below).

And condolences to guest host Tim Furlong, who got question #3 right, but for painfully wrong reasons. But, hey, just because Tina Fey is, oh, one of the most powerful people in broadcast television right now, I'm sure she won't hold it against you... Tim? Tim? Are you there...?

And don't forget to download our own Quiz Night Kit here.

December 16, 2008

Cooking the Book

Cover photo selection is one of our biggest challenges each year: how do you keep the photos timely and topical, when the cover has to go to press weeks before the final text pages are done? Even in years like this one, when we keep the book open long enough to include election and world series results, the cover still has to be wrapped up weeks before those events occur.

For the 2009 edition, we couldn't call the election four weeks early, so we had to give equal space to Obama and McCain; we couldn't predict the winner of the World Series, so we opted for a shot of Ken Griffey Jr., whose 600th home run was one of the most notable sports records of the year*; we didn't want to show too much national favoritism (and in an early fit of Phelpsomania, we had already put Mr. Eight Gold Medals on last year's cover), so we opted for a shot of waving Chinese and Olympic flags; and because the cover was wrapped up before the economic crisis really came to a head, we've got a shot of someone pumping gas — a reminder of what had been most people's major economic complaint in the first half of 2008.

AP080521036931-edit.JPGAnd, oh yeah... we had that other guy... what was his name again?

there are 3 pictures on the cover of the 2009 World Almanac... Obama & McCain, the Olympics, and DAVID COOK! Sweeet!

In retrospect, I guess we shouldn't be surprised — but I have never seen so much online chatter about World Almanac cover photo selection. Google "world almanac david cook" and you get gems like this:

Hmmmmm...what to put on the cover of the 2009 World Almanac? Let's see. Obama and McCain, the 2008 Olympics...and...DAVID COOK, of course.

Wow, David Cook makes the cover of the 2009 World Almanac along with Barack Obama, in the words of Posh Spice, that's MAJOR.

David Cook on the cover of The 2009 World Almanac and Book of Facts. Hmmm... who won American Idol in 2008? David... Cook! (Queue crying David Archuleta fans...)

For the record: the World Almanac does not decide wagers, and we do not have an official position on the issue of Cook v. Archuleta. Cook won American Idol, American Idol was the biggest thing on TV last year (and has been since the 2005-06 season; pp. 292-93 in the new World Almanac for more), and we just thought it made sense to put the biggest show on TV on our cover. Nothing more!**

*And never mind the additional debate that this selection triggered: record-setting Cincinnati uniform, or season-ending Chicago?

**But seriously, wasn't it all downhill for Archie after "Imagine"? ...I kid, I kid! (cue pitchfork-wielding Archuleta fans...)

Image: AP Images

December 9, 2008

Could You Pass a Citizenship Exam?


If you think you fulfilled your civic duty by showing up at the polls November 4, think again. As The Tonight Show's "Jaywalking" segments and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? have repeatedly and amply shown, many Americans' understanding of their own history and government is somewhat lacking. A new study from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute American Civic Liberties program, the perhaps melodramatically titled Our Fading Heritage: Americans Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions, concurs.

The findings were based on the results of a multiple choice exam that included "33 straightforward civics questions, many of which high school graduates and new citizens are expected to know." 71 percent of the Americans who took the test failed it, with an average score of 49 percent. (Sample question: What was the source of the following phrase: "Government of the people, by the people, for the people"?)

Test your own civic literacy at ISI's website, where you can take the exam for yourself, and see if you can beat the average. Of course, if you feel like studying beforehand (or cheating), you can find most of the answers in The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2009 (pp. 435-530).

Civics Quiz

Photo: Dorothea Lange, LIFE, 1942 [via]

December 5, 2008

The Day After

So Sarah and I survived another big satellite media tour: neither of us slept through our 4AM wakeup calls, we successfully hid our pasty white skin (the mark of the true almanackist) under a few layers of makeup, and we made it through 19 interviews without boring anyone to tears with long speeches about the truly geeky stats that we really enjoy, like tungsten mining or meat consumption in developing countries.

The clip below from XETV in San Diego is typical of the kind of interviews we have this time of year: recap the top news stories, share a few offbeat trivia items, maybe take a peek inside the World Almanac Time Capsule*. It's all good fun, and even more so when the hosts get really sucked in by the book — as with the whirlwind tour through the world of contranyms, below.

What you don't see is how truly weird it is to be an interviewee in one of these satellite tours. On TV, you get the impression that all participants can see each other... but in reality, you're perched on a stool in a small studio, staring straight into a big TV camera, only hearing the interviewers through a tiny earpiece. Which means the big challenge is to treat the camera like another person, and not let your attention wander all over the room... But then the fun part is finding out what your interviewers actually look like, when the clips go online or on the air.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun; thanks to all the stations that took time to talk with us. And don't forget to become a fan of the World Almanac on Facebook (just watch out for the Koobface virus currently making the rounds on Facebook and MySpace).

(*Which exists only in our imagination, as I often have to remind people; I can't tell tell you how many interviewers thought we were actually burying Nancy Pelosi's gavel, or Barry Bonds' 756th home run ball, in a physical capsule last year.)

December 3, 2008

On the Air

As promised, here's the list of Thursday morning's TV interviews. All times are ET, and may change slightly — the perils of live television! If we're talking to your local station, tune in to learn a little bit more about the 2009 edition of the World Almanac (especially if you're in range of KMPH, one of my favorite interviews from last year).

We'll be taping interviews with a dozen other stations, too, and will let you know when to watch for those segments as soon as we know their air times.

6:30AM CN8/COMCAST (Boston to Delaware): Your Morning
6:40AM KVUE ABC (Austin, TX): Daybreak
7:52AM KIVI ABC (Boise, ID): Good Morning Live
8:40AM KMIR NBC (Palm Springs, CA): KMIR 6 Today
8:50AM WYAM IND (Huntsville, AL): Valley Happenings
9:50AM WDAF FOX (Kansas City, MO): Fox 4 Morning Show
10:20AM XETV CW6 (San Diego, CA): Fox 6 News in the Morning
10:40AM KMPH FOX (Fresno, CA): Great Day
10:45AM KMAX CW (Sacramento, CA): Good Day Sacramento
11:20AM KARE NBC (Minneapolis, MN): Showcase Minnesota

December 1, 2008

Fill 'er up...

I just returned from a relaxing holiday in Pittsburgh (actually, I spent more time around my tiny hometown of Mars, PA — Go, Planets!) and in a nice coincidence, today is the anniversary of the opening of the first drive-up gasoline station, also in Pittsburgh. You can click here for a few other curious automotive firsts, or click on the image for a fine collection of early-20th-century Pittsburgh postcards.

Sarah and I will be doing the annual World Almanac satellite media tour this Thursday (Dec. 4), so check back here soon for a listing of all the TV stations we'll be chatting with that morning — and maybe also some reflections on the strange experience of sitting alone in a dark room for five hours, staring into a camera lens and being interviewed by people you can't see...!

Image: Postcard of World's First Drive-in Gas Station (Carol Szwedko)

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