Taplin’s eBook on 60s and 70s music uses educational technology of the future

By Jackson DeMos

Communication professor Jonathan Taplin’s new enhanced eBook not only educates a new generation about the 1960s and 70s music revolution, but it also allows the reader to experience that era’s  sights and sounds through embedded videos and songs.

Outlaw Blues: Adventures in the Counter-Culture Wars” features 105 videos throughout its 460 digital pages. It is the first product of a long-term deal between Apple and the Annenberg Innovation Lab that enables USC Annenberg professors to publish books specifically designed for a digital medium.

“When we started the Annenberg Innovation Lab, one of the things we first thought was that the eBook had to grow beyond being just a book on a tablet,” Taplin said. “Why not take all these multimedia capabilities through the iPad and really enhance what the future of books will look like? So that’s what we did.”

 But the book is much more than new technology and an enjoyable multimedia experience. It gives readers a glimpse of a time when music and art were a driving force behind the U.S. cultural movement during the Vietnam War era.

“I hope it will be inspiring to today’s youth when they see the way that music and art can actually change the society,” he said. “That’s what I experienced in the 60s and 70s. The counter culture really did change society, and the artists and the film makers made a difference. They weren’t just entertainers.”

Taplin draws on his experiences working with Bob Dylan and The Band, George Harrison and Martin Scorsese that changed the cultural landscape of America. Though much of the book is centered on a group of musicians and filmmakers that Taplin worked with from 1965-1995, it is also the story of the roots of that era and the rebel artists of America’s past — H.D. Thoreau, Mark Twain, Louis Armstrong, Orson Welles, Billie Holiday, Allen Ginsberg — the “mad ones” who made much of what U.S. culture is today.

“The political and the cultural were perfectly fused in those remarkable years when we tried to make sense of John Kennedy’s assassination by fulfilling his dream of a just society,” he wrote in the book’s opening pages.

Taplin worked with USC School of Law professor Jack Lerner and a team of law students to figure out which songs and videos could legally be used in the book. Taplin calls Lerner, who is the director of the USC Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic, one of the country’s leading experts on fair use in the digital age.

Other USC staff were instrumental in getting “Outlaw Blues” published just 18 months after Taplin began writing it.

Lee Warner of Annenberg Facilities & Technology figured out how to compress the videos in a way that kept exceptional quality while also maintaining a small file size. The complete book with embedded multimedia is only 354 megabytes – about half of the memory available on a standard CD-ROM.

Taplin said Anne Balsamo, a professor at both USC Annenberg and the USC School of Cinematic Arts and editor of the in-print Innovation Lab series, was critical in helping him focus and bringing out certain elements of the book.

“This book shows that the Annenberg Innovation Lab is actually producing things that are getting out into the real world,” Taplin said. “It’s not just theoretical. We’re innovating in a way that will be helpful to other professors and those who want a better way to learn.”

Taplin began his entertainment career in 1969 as tour manager for Bob Dylan and The Band. In 1973 he produced Martin Scorsese's first feature film, Mean Streets, which was selected for the Cannes Film Festival. Between 1974 and 1996, Taplin produced 26 hours of television documentaries and 12 feature films. He was the founder of Intertainer, the first Video on Demand service delivered over IP Networks.

Outlaw Blues is published by The Annenberg Press and distributed by the Apple iBookstore.

Outlaw Blues: Adventures in the Counter-Culture Wars 
Jonathan Taplin
Annenberg Innovation Lab