Monday, April 2, 2012

Week 12: Writers and Publishing

What does it mean to publish in the web 2.0 world?
Some key terms we will discuss during this  session:
  • digital storytelling
  • affordances
  • new media platforms
  • audience
  • open source
  • print on demand
  • self-publishing
  • e-readers

Open Publishing
When thinking of “open publishing” the first things to probably springs to mind are people like Lawrence Lessig, Cory Doctorow and Tom Reynolds who have all persuaded their publisher to allow them to release electronic versions of their books at the same time as the physical dead-tree version. (More on those three later.) In all cases, this seems to have been to the benefit of the book, but to give your book away at the same time as you put it up for sale is a bit of a leap of faith. Why would you take that risk? It’s far from being a proven economic or promotional strategy.
I think Chris Saad gets to the heart of this very quickly, when he asks, Am I being heard? He says there is:
“A fundamental human need that I think podcasting, blogging and all forms of social/citizen journalism speaks to… the need to be heard. People just want to feel connected and understood.”
At a very basic level, Larry, Cory and Tom share in common with me, you, and pretty much everyone else a desire to be heard, to be read, to have the things that we’ve laboured over appreciated.
Chris Anderson, editor of Wired and author of The Long Tail, also confesses that he just wants to be heard (although he doesn’t seem to have published an ebook version of his book):
Anderson, however, tangles up a few threads in his piece, the first is a discussion of equivalence: ebooks are assumed not to be equivalent to books; digital audiobooks are assumed to be equivalent to CDs.
Reading an ebook isn’t currently a great experience (the iPad however might be the game-changer). Specialised e-book readers are expensive, and most people don’t like reading on-screen, so the ebook is seen as not equivalent for a paper book, i.e. people are more likely to go and buy the paper version if they like the ebook. Thus it is beneficial to release a free ebook so that you can reach as wide an audience as possible, as you stand a good chance of converting ebook downloads to paper book sales.
Conversely, it doesn’t really matter whether you have an unlawfully downloaded copy of an audiobook, or the real thing, whether bought as a download or as a CD, because either way you are probably going to listen to it on your iPod, computer or other MP3 playing device. The assumption is that giving away ebooks encourages sales of paper books, but giving away audiobooks, or allowing unauthorised downloads, will cannibalise the sales of the legitimate ebook. This is exactly the same logic as used by the RIAA and BPI for suing file-sharers, and the rest of the music industry for attempting to slap DRM onto everything in sight. It’s a very compelling and sensible looking argument, but it’s based on unproven assumptions behind the motivations of the downloader/buyer.
Right now, there are more questions than answers. The publishing industry is being pushed into experimentation in a way that the music and movie industries are not (one example is  the Million Penguins wiki-novel). Authors are forcing publishers to do things that might seem counterintuitive, and we’re slowly starting to figure out, through trial and error, what all this means. Still lots to find out, though, about this open publishing idea.
Update Nov. 2010: Lawrence Lessig responds to the “outrage” about his talk on a panel at Vimeo's Festival+Awards. The title of the panel was "Know your digital rights." See Lessig’s response in the 17th Nov. 2010 Huffington Post:


  1. Lessig makes an important point about context and researching the details before you respond.

    That's always been true, but the digital world of easy communication and messages of 140 characters and under increase the chances that important details are missing. We've seen this in email where the tone of the message is absent and people jump to conclusions.

    It's an important part of teaching transliteracy that those who communicate really consider the audience's perspective and that those who are at the receiving end of communication, verify what they are hearing before knee jerk reactions.

    The medium really is an important part of the message (ok - did not make that one up!) Each medium requires different consideration. Teaching transliteracy is more than just ensuring our students can write cursive, read paper and digital, create video or visual presentations,communicate digitally and via social media tools, read body language etc. but also ensuring they know when to use each.

    I teach corporate communications and the audience is always a central teaching point but these discussions have provided me with a new and different perspective to start from - while it has always been true, the nature of the options now available and the bandwagon effect when new tools are introduced can blur the basics.

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  3. I would be interested in a study of the e-book-audiobook-hard copy book connection. Chris Anderson says, "I'm confident that a free ebook would sell more of the print versions..." but he also said that five years ago, when I might have agreed with him too. But since that time, e-book readers what come into their own. In an earlier conversation in this course (I think it was a chat), some of us indicated that we read both hard copy books and e-books. And now, in 2012, just like hard copy books, you either buy an e-book or take it out from the library. Personally, if I got an e-book online, free, I doubt that I would buy the hard copy book. What would be the point?