| Subcribe via RSS

Story as code: Books in Browsers IV

February 1st, 2014 | Comments Off | Posted in Digital Books, Libraries, Publishing, Transmedia

Sometimes you in a position to create something, and give it a name without too much consideration; before long the name doesn’t mean what you thought it once did. Yet sometimes, with luck and grace, the name becomes more fitting than you could have ever realized.

For several years running, I’ve organized a small conference called “Books in Browsers” (BiB), now in concert with the Frankfurt Book Fair, that is focused on the design and development of next generation books and other publications. Its premise has always been that digital technology lowers barriers for entry into new forms of publishing, enabling a range of experiences in digital contexts that were not previously possible.

Although that’s a neat encapsulation, in practice the conference’s agenda has changed markedly over the first four years it has run. In the first couple of years, BiB concerned itself with “hacking publishing,” which was best reflected in the cluster of publishing startup firms then emerging. These new companies were attempting to engage with traditional companies, developing tools that took advantage of network affordances to enable more efficient online selling, discovery, and early forms of social reading. They were trying to engage the existing industry; by and large, they failed.

They failed for a variety of reasons; misunderstandings between technology-centered firms running head on against large companies’ practices created to-be-expected impedances. As a consequence, by BiB’s third year, it was evident that the era of engagement with traditional trade publishing had come and gone, and there was a palpable sense that the design and technology communities interested in publishing were on the threshold of new ways of creating literature. BiB 2012 was a conference awash in the excitement of edgy hacks – for example, merging voice recognition with Google Docs, using a git software repository on the back end, demonstrating the feasibility of new forms of composing literature that possessed built-in revision control.

With BiB IV in October of 2013, that era of a new engagement with literature seems to have arrived. This is not to state that what emerged out of the conference now defines, or even will necessarily define in the future, what we know of as literature. I certainly do not expect the zeitgeist of BiB IV to be manifest in an Amazon shopping experience anytime soon. But, in a way, BiB IV pointed to a future of literature that extends beyond Amazon – it makes it obvious, in other words, that there can be literature that defines itself in terms far different than what we understand today.

Digital craft.

BiB in 2013 brought a wide range of people together – artists, novelists, technologists, and those straddling these boundaries – and what the gathering demonstrated more than anything else was people creating new publishing systems with web technologies without citation towards traditional book publishing. People demonstrated new forms for creating and discussing literature, divorced from a historical methodology for creating books.

A straightforward example of this was the Booksprint work from Adam Hyde. Booksprints bring together a small number of people to produce a print and digital book in a very limited number of days – a week or less – usually in a niche or market that could not be addressed in traditional publishing. Thus, Adam Hyde coordinated the production of an open access book on negotiating oil contracts with the input of developing nations dependent on extractive industry, as well as legal experts; a work that has been translated into many languages, and is used as part of the induction process for new employees at one of the largest oil companies in the world. A guide to understanding and negotiating mining contracts was produced later in the year, using the same process, within five days. Traditional publishing does not have a place for these pamphlets.

To the extent that there was a dominant theme at BiB in 2013, it was one of craft. There were many discussions of the forms of fine control that book designers exercised in the past, in both pre-digital as well as early digital workstation eras using QuarkXPress and Adobe Indesign. This was made tangible in the compelling presentations by the European designers who attended BiB, such as Etienne Mineur, whose volumique highlights alluring mergers of physical and digital interfaces, where a game piece, for instance, controls a digital environment or story. This carefree breaking of boundaries between physical and digital, conducted without the pretense of novelty, demonstrated maturity in design that has not previously existed.

Craft invokes the importance of art and aesthetics as part of the message of literature. In a digital era, the challenge is to integrate that sense into new forms of production using digital technology: not via traditional manual hand-work, but by building and working with digital tools to effect an individual expression of artistic intent. Ultimately, digital craft represents a new manner of engaging the reader as a participant, directly and actively.

Gaming literature.

Digital design and expression does not imply, however, that new forms of literature need to be “gamified” – in other words, for elements of compulsory interaction to be embedded within stories. The new design ethos does not require readers to help produce a narrative by constructing a path through a creative work that is critical to the definition of that work.

What is changing with digital design is that increasingly content is perceived to be procedural, in a programming language or computer markup sense. It has to be, inherently, because it is being developed with computer tools. Artists, writers, and engineers are beginning to think of their output as retaining that programmatic nature, not just being produced with it. Computer code is recognized as the driver for shaping and delivering content.

When content is recognized from conception as code, it becomes straightforward, indeed, elemental, for a reader to have the ability to experience a story in different contexts and in different forms – on a desktop computer, in one presentation; or as a mobile experience within a city, on a phone; or as a game through a console. The reader can choose how the wish to consume, engage, and potentially – participate – in literature.

Literature is an ongoing project.

We live in a world where the literature of our past inevitably becomes a context for the literature of the future. How we produce literature is an ongoing project of our human society, and that exploration is evolving alongside our own understanding of ourselves.

As the digital network becomes more pervasive in our lives, there is an innate change in how we understand what our engagement with that network should be. As my colleague and friend James Bridle, an artist in London, observes, there is a growing dialogue between us and the network that we have constructed. If we attune ourselves, we can appreciate that the network is talking back to us, speaking to us in the language we have given it: our stories increasingly can tell themselves. The network, as it attaches itself to more and more of our lived experience, alters our expectations of the environment, shaping and conditioning our own artistic expressions.

We have become something different than we used to be. We are no longer simply artists using digital tools, but artists in a conversation with a world that our network is itself transforming, writing back to us through sensors, software bots, and an increasingly subtle mingling of digital and physical interactions. We take the network for granted; it brings a presence into our world that we assume is part of how we are experiencing our life. You have that experience when you walk around with a mobile phone. Whether you are conscious of it or not, you are connected within an environment that extends far beyond yourself, and are able to reach into it and intervene with it.

This is a new way of perceiving the world, and it must change how we think of literature. It changes how we understand time. Interaction with the omnipresent network introduces a temporal element that I think we need to consider. In other words, we must think about how we live within time’s fabric. This is part of the story that each of us tells in the world by being part of it: we must grasp the nexus between our sense of time and living in a world of interconnected devices and people, and how that punctuates the stories we tell and that we are part of. That is the humanist project of the 21st Century, and understanding it is the task we must complete to emerge beyond it.

The authoritative voice.

We have been living through a couple of centuries of human history where we have understood the authorial voice to be located in the role of the producer of a narrative. Yet, surely our understanding of that is shifting away from the author or authors as a unitary point of creating a reality about the world. Readers are merging into the authoritative voice of the narrative, growing into the story. As readers, we are increasingly choosing the stories we want to encounter by choosing the story elements that are presented to us.

At the start of our preparations for Books in Browsers in 2013, my colleague Kat Meyer suggested a tagline carrying a meme from The Fellowship of the Rings, “One doesn’t simply walk into Mordor,” therefore, “One does not simply put a book in a browser.”’ I protested, “Isn’t that exactly the point, that one does simply put the book in the browser?” She noted that the best thing that Books in Browsers has demonstrated is how much design craft is required to deliver storytelling in a browser on the network. There was evident truth in this, and it became our theme for BiB IV. “Books in Browsers,” as a conference name, has aged better than I feared it might.

We are realizing that beyond the book, the reader is moving onto the network as well. Our understanding of the world has changed as the network has grown to the point where we can be in a conversation with ourselves and the world the network has created. In his talk, James Bridle observed that perhaps this is the network that we had to create – that we were compelled to build – because it is what we need. Our literature is an expression of that conversation about ourselves, and we will begin to see how our understanding of our stories has changed as we learn to perceive ourselves within them in greater clarity.

Reading 2.0

June 12th, 2012 | Comments Off | Posted in Publishing

Reading 2.0 Mailing List 

owner: Peter Brantley

mod: 2015:03:08
rev: 15652
num: 610

- active list -

Aaron Stanton			Booklamp
Abby Smith 			[Independent]
Adam Engst			TidBITS
Adam Hodgkin			Exact Editions
Adam Hyde 			Book Sprint
Adam Salomone			Harvard Common Press
Adam Silverman			HarperCollins
Adam Smith 			Google
Adam Witwer			Safari Books Online
Adélaïde Klein 			[student]
Akio Nakamata			Web Magazine KO
Alain Pierrot			i2s (France)
Ale de Vries 			Elsevier
Alex Boden			Quayle Munro 
Alex Lincicki			Orbit Books
Alex Macgillivray		[Independent]
Alexander Polzin 		Worldreader
Alexandra Borg  		Bonnier Group
Alix Vance			Architrave Consulting
Allen Noren			O'Reilly Media
Allison Belan			Duke Univ. Press
Allison Horton 			Vook
Amalyah Keshet			Israel Museum Jerusalem
Amanda Close			Random House
Amanda D'Acierno		Random house
Ammy Vogtlander 		Elsevier
Amy Garmer 			Aspen Institute
Amy Stolls 			National Endowment for the Arts
Ana Maria Allessi		HarperCollins 
Andrea Angiolini		il Mulino
Andrew Albanese 		Publishers Weekly
Andrew Brown			Founders Collective
Andrew Cohen			[Independent]
Andrew DaPuzzo			SONY DADC
Andrew Malkin			Overbrook Consulting Group
Andrew May-Miller 		Pan Macmillan
Andrew Savikas			Safari Books Online
Andrew Spong 			STweM
Andrew Weber 			Bonobos
Andrew Weinstein 		Ingram Digital
Angela Bole			IBPA
Angela James			Carina Press, Harlequin
Angie Doyle			Pearson Education
Anh Bui				Benetech
Ania Wieckowski			Harvard Business Review Press
Anisse Gross 			Publishers Weekly
Anju Ahuja			Pscyhe Manufactory
Ann Kingman			Random House
Ann Michael 			Delta Think 
Ann Okerson			Center for Research Libraries
Anna Curran			Cookbook Create
Anna Lewis			Completely Novel
Anna Maguire			Digireado
Anne Bunn			MIT Press
Anne Kostick			Foxpath IND
Anne Kubek			Inscribe Digital
Anno Saxenian 			UC Berkeley, School of Information
Anthony Watkinson		CIBER Research
Anurag Acharya 			Google
Ardy Khazaei 			Booki.sh
Ashley Gordon			Mockingbird Press
Audrey Watters 			Freelance Writer
Aziz Isham			ReKiosk
Barry Eisler			Writer
Ben Bunnell 			Google
Ben Vershbow 			New York Public Library	
Bertrand Rocton			Hachette Livre 
Bethanne Patrick 		Washingtonian Magazine
Bill Janssen 			Palo Alto Research Center
Bill McCoy 			IDPF (director)
Bill Newlin			Perseus Books
Bill Trippe			MIT Press
Blaine Cook			Poetica
Bob Stein			Institute for the Future of the Book
Bonnie Tijerina			Data & Society
Brad Stone			Bloomberg/Business Week
Brett Sandusky			Macmillan New Ventures
Brian Heller			Macmillan Publishers
Bridget Warren			Vertigo Books 
Bud Parr			Sonnet Media
Callie Miller			[Independent]
Carolyn Pittis 			Sterling Publishers
Carrie Russell			American Library Assoc.
Cason Lynley			Duke Univ. Press
Catherine Cussigh		Hachette Livre
Chad Post			Univ. of Rochester
Chantal Restivo-Alessi		HarperCollins
Charles Watkinson		Univ. of Michigan Press 
Charlie Parker			Tampa Bay Library Consortium 
Charlie Redmayne		HarperCollins UK
Charlie Schroder 		Charlie & Company
Charlotte Abbott		[Independent]
Cherilyn Parsons		Bay Area Bookfest
Cheryl Gould 			NBC Universal 
Chick Foxgrover 		Am. Assoc. of Advertising Agencies
Chris Emerson			Hachette Livre
Chris Kubica 			Neverend Media
Chris Meade			Institute for the Future of the Book
Chris Shillum 			Elsevier
Christin Evans  		Booksmith 
Christy Mirabal 		Frederator Books
Cliff Guren 			Bluefire Reader
Cliff Lynch 			Coalition for Networked Information
Clive Thompson			Wired
Cody Musser			Librify
Corey Menscher			Betaworks
Cotty Chubb			Aerbook
Cory McCloud			GiantChair
Craig Mod			Flipboard
Craig Teicher			Publishers Weekly
Cristina Gilbert		Bloomsbury Publishing
Cristina Mussinelli		Italian Publishers Association
Daihei Shiohama			Voyager Japan
Daisuke Muro			Book & Computer 
Dale Flecker 			[Independent]
Dan Burstein			Millennium Technology Ventures
Dan Cohen			Digital Public Library of America
Dan Gerstein 			Gotham Ghostwriters
Dan Lubart			Iobyte
Dan Simon			Seven Stories Press
Dan Vidra 			txtr
Dan Visel			Institute for the Future of the Book
Daniel Gervais			Vanderbilt University
Daniel Lenz 			buchreport
Daniel Raff			Univ. of Pennsylvania, Wharton School 
Danielle Zacarias 		Worldreader
Danny Sullivan			Search Engine Land
Daryl Rayner			Exact Editions
David Lindrum 			Soomo Learning
Dave Cramer 			Hachette Book Group
Dave Pullin			Cold Logic
David Berry 			University of Sussex
David Creechan			GoodReads
David Davis			Copyright Clearance Center
David Goddy			Scholastic
David Groff			City College of New York
David Limp 			Amazon
David Marlin			MetaComet
David Marshall			Berrett-Koehler
David Millman 			New York University
David Moldawer			CreativeLIVE 
David Naggar			Amazon
David Riordan 			NYPL
David Risher			Worldreader 
David Rothman			Library City
David Schiffman			Yale Univ. Press
David Schoenberger		Healthagen
David Streitfeld		New York Times
David Weir			Smashwords
David Wilk			Booktrix
David Worlock			[Independent]
David Young			Hachette Book Group
Dean Smith			Project MUSE
Deanna Marcum			Ithaka
Debbie Stier			Perfect Score Project
Dedi Felman			UCLA Film School
Deni Auclair 			Outsell
Dev Chatillon			Devereaux Chattilon
Diana Stepner			Pearson plc
Dominique Raccah		Sourcebooks
Don MacKinnon			Milq
Donald Waters 			Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
DongWon Song 			Zola Books
Doron Weber			Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Drew Podwal 			The Book Corps
Edward McCoyd 			American Assoc. of Publishers
Edward Nawotka 			Publishing Perspectives
EJ Van Lanen 			Frisch & Co.
Elaine Stott 			Cambridge University Press
Eli James  			[Independent]
Eli Neiburger			Ann Arbor District Library
Elisabetta Castiglioni 		Telekom Austria
Eliza Wing			American Greetings
Elizabeth Weiss			Allen & Unwin
Ellen Faran			MIT Press
Emilie Herman 			John Wiley & Sons
Emily Arkin			Harvard Univ. Press
Emily Craven 			If:book Australia
Emily Green 			Welcome Books
Emily Williams			Zoho 
Emily Young			Duke Univ. Press
Emma Barnes 			Bibliocloud 
Emma Hager			Atingo
Eoin Purcell			Green Lamp Media
Eric Hellman			Gluejar
Eric Rumsey 			Univ. of Iowa
Eric Stromberg			Oyster Books
Eric Swenson			Elsevier 
Erich Van Rijn			UC Press
Ethan Nosowsky 			Graywolf Press
Euan Adie			Nature Publishing Group
Eugene Schwartz 		Consortium House
Evan Schnittman			Hachette Livre
Fabrice Piault 			Livres Hebdo
Fiona McCrae 			Graywolf Press
Fionnuala Duggan 		CourseSmart
Florent Souillot 		Flammarion Group
Frances Pinter			Knowledge Unlatched
Garret Voorhees			Open Publishing Lab, RIT
Garrett Kiely			Univ. of Chicago Press
Gary Price			ResourceShelf
Geert Lovink 			Institute of Network Cultures
Geneva Henry			Rice University
Geoffrey Fowler			Wall Street Journal 
George Slowik Jr		Publishers Weekly
Georgios Papadopoulos		Atypon
Gerardo Capiel 			Benetech
Giuseppe Granieri 		40k Books
Gita Manaktala			MIT Press
Glenn Nano 			Code Meet Print
Gregory Britton			The Johns Hopkins University Press
Gus Balbontin 			Lonely Planet 
Hadrien Gardeur			Feedbooks
Haig Armen 			Emily Carr University 
Hamish Brocklebank		Flooved
Hannes Eder			Publit (Sweden) 
Heather Joseph			SPARC
Heather McCormack		3M Cloud Library
Heather Myers			[Independent]
Henrietta Thornton		Library Journal
Herbert van de Sompel 		Los Alamos National Laboratory
Hilary Spencer			[Independent]
Hollis Heimbouch		HarperCollins 
Hope O'Keeffe			Library of Congress
Hugh McGuire			Pressbooks
Inez Baranay 			Onsekiz Mart Univ.
Ingrid Erickson			Social Science Research Council
Ira Silverberg 			Broadview Arts Management
Itai Erner			Worklight
Ivan Herman 			W3C
Jack Perry 			38enso Publishing Services
Jacqueline Deval 		Hearst Publishing
James Erickson 			Outsell 
James Gray			[Independent]
James Grimmelmann		Law School, Univ. of Maryland 
James McQuivey			Forrester
James Robinson			New York Times
Jane Friedman 			Open Road 
Jane Litte			Dear Author
Jani Patokallio			Lonely Planet
Jared Friedman			Scribd
Jarkko Ylikoski			Pulp Republic
Jasna Markovac			[Independent]
Jason Allen Ashlock		Movable Type Literary Group
Jason Boog			Mediabistro
Jason Illian			Bookshout
Jason Edward Wilson		Jones McClure Publishing
Jason Singer 			Curriculet
Javier Celaya			Dos Doce
Jean Kaplansky 			Aptara
Jeff Steele			[Independent]
Jeff Ubois 			MacArthur Foundation
Jeffrey Belle			Amazon
Jeffrey Lependorf 		CLMP
Jeffrey Richardson		Feedbooks
Jeffrey Trachtenberg 		Wall Street Journal
Jeffrey Yozwiak			Vook
Jenna Newman			Simon Fraser University
Jennifer 8 Lee			Plympton
Jennifer Howard			Chronicle of Higher Education
Jennifer Pearson		OCLC
Jennifer Webb			O'Reilly Media
Jenny Bullough			Harlequin 
Jenny Schuessler		New York Times
Jeremy Grainger 		Independent
Jeremy Greenfield		The Street
Jeremy LeBard			ReadCloud 
Jerome McDonough 		UIUC, GSLIS
Jessamyn West 			Open Library
Jessica Deutsch 		Digital River
Jill O'Neill			NFAIS
Jim Fruchterman 		Benetech 
Jim Hanas 			HarperCollins
Jim Milliot 			Publishers Weekly
Jing Li				Apabi
Joe Calamia 			Yale Univ Press.
Joe Gonnella 			Barnes & Noble
Joe Karaganis			Columbia University
Joe Merante			Simon & Schuster
Joe Wikert			[Independent]
Johanna Vondeling		Berrett-Koehler 
John Augustsson			Swedish National Library
John Chodacki 			PLOS
John Conley			Xerox
John Duhring			Bitmenu
John Dupuis			York Univ. 
John Ellis			Consultant/Advisor 
John Maxwell			Simon Fraser Univ.
John Mayer			Computer Assisted Legal Instruction 
John Mutter			Shelf Awareness (publisher) 
John Pettigrew 			Cambridge Publishing Solutions
John Sherer 			Univ. of North Carolina Press
John Tagler			American Assoc. of Publishers
John Tayman 			True Ventures 
John Unsworth 			Brandeis University
John Warren			Georgetown University Press
Jon Fine			[Independent]
Jon Noring 			Digital Pulp Publishing
Jon Orwant 			Google
Jon White			[Independent]
Jonas Lennermo			Publit
Jonathan Band 			Policy Bandwidth
Jorge Portland			[Independent]
Jos Damen			African Studies Center, Leiden
Jose Afonso-Furtado 		Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
Joseph Esposito 		Portable CEO
Joseph Barrera III 		Google
Joseph Pearson			Inventive Labs 
Josh Greenberg			Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Josh Hadro			New York Public Library
Judith Appelbaum		Sensible Solutions
Juergen Boos			Frankfurt Book Fair
Jule Sigall			Microsoft 
Julie Trelstad 			Writers House
Juliet Sutherland 		Distributed Proofreaders
Julieta Lionetti		SWBN, Publishing Perspectives
Justin Nisbet			Chelsea Green
Justine Trubey			Shapewave
Justo Hidalgo			24Symbols
Kalin Georgiev			Astea Solutions
Karen Christensen		Berkshire Publishing
Karen Myers 			W3C
Karen Templer			Salon
Karina Mikhli 			On Demand Books
Kassia Krozser			Booksquare
Kat Meyer			Publishers Weekly
Kate Brown			Yale Univ. Press
Kate Davey			Bibliovault
Kate Eltham			Queensland Writers Center 
Kate Pullinger			Writer
Kate Travers 			Workman Publishing
Kate Spelman			K&L Gates
Kate Wilson			Nosy Crow
Katherine Molina		MIT 
Katherine Skinner 		Educopia 
Kathleen Fitzpatrick		Pomona College
Katie McCalmont			Maria B. Campbell Associates
Katie Pekacar			Arts Council UK
Katie Zaun  			Barbara Tolley & Associates 
Katie Zhu 			Medium
Kathy Ishizuka 			School Library Journal
Kaveh Bazargan 			River Valley
Keelin Kane  			Common Good Books
Keith Fahlgren			Safari Books Online
Kelly Peterson			Inscribe Digital 
Kelsey Ford 			New Directions Publishing
Ken Brooks 			Thomson Publishing
Ken Horowitz			Polestar Partners
Ken Michaels 			Macmillan 
Kenji Muro			Book & Computer 
Kent Freeman			Ingram Digital
Kevin Guthrie			Ithaka
Kevin Nguyen 			Oyster Books
Kieron Smith 			Best Little Bookshop
Kim Anderson 			The Reading Room
Kovid Goyal			Calibre
Krista Coulson			Univ. of Chicago Press
Kristen McLean 			Bookigee
Kristen Van Leuven 		Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Kristina Jutzi			Bloomsbury US
Larry Norton			InScribe
Laura Baldwin			O'Reilly Media
Laura Davulis			Yale Univ. Press
Laura Dawson 			Firebrand 
Laura Mancuso 			Little Pickle Press
Laura Owen			GigaOM
Laurence Bricker		Popular Front
Len Vlahos			American Booksellers Association
Leonard Muellner		Center for Hellenic Studies
Leslie Hulse			HarperCollins
Letizia Sechi			Bookrepublic Italy
Lewis Pennock			Ingram Group
Libby Jordan 			BookShout
Linda Holliday			Semi-linear
Linda Klein			Yale Univ. Press
Ling Ling Lu 			Vook
Lisa Faith Phillips		Hachette Book Group
Lisa Gallagher			Sanford J Greenburger
Lisa Jablonsky 			Goodreads
Lise Quintana 			Lithomobilus
Liz Scheier  			Brilliance Audio
Liza Daly			Safari Books Online
Lorcan Dempsey			OCLC
Lori James			All Romance eBooks
Lorraine Shanley		Market Partners International
Lucinda Blumenfeld 		Lucinda Literary
Lynda Radosevich		Directly 
Lynn Rosen 			Publishing Executive / Book Business
Mac Slocum			Nieman Labs
MacKenzie Smith 		UC Davis
Madeline McIntosh		Random House
Magdalena Michna 		PWN Group 
Mahinder Kingra			Cornell Univ. Press
Maja Thomas			[Independent]
Malle Vallik			Harlequin Books
Marco Ferrario			Bookrepublic Italy
Marco Ghezzi			Bookrepublic Italy
Marcus Woodburn 		Ingram Content Group 
Marcy Goot			Benetech
Margy Avery			MIT Press
Maria Bonn			UIUC
Maria Jesus Aguilo 		Berrett-Koehler
Marijke Visser 			American Library Assoc. 
Mario Pena			Safe Creative
Mark Coker			Smashwords
Mark Glaser			PBS Mediashift 
Mark Gompertz 			[Independent]
Mark Krotov 			Overlook Press
Mark Warholak			Cursor Books
Martyn Daniels			Opus 57
Mary Ann Naples 		Rodale Press
Mary Cummings 			Diversion Books
Mary Murrell			UC Berkeley
Mary Rasenberger 		Authors Guild
Masaaki Hagino			Voyager Japan
Mats Berglund			Norstedts Publishing House
Matt Cavnar			Vook
Matt Kirschenbaum 		UMD - MITH
Matt Lee			Hyperink Press
Matt MacInnis			Inkling
Matt Mullin			Blurb
Matthew Bernius			Open Publishing Lab, RIT
Matthew Rascoff			Google 
Matthew Young 			Penguin UK
Maura Marx			Open Knowledge Commons 
Maureen McMahon 		Kaplan Publishing
Meagan Timney 			Inkling
Melissa Techman			Albermarle County Library, VA
Meredith Schwartz		Library Journal
Merrilee Proffitt 		OCLC
Micah Bowers			Bluefire Reader
Michael Bhaskar 		Profile Books
Michael Clarke 			Clarke & Company
Michael Dieter 			Universiteit van Amsterdam 	
Michael Edson			Smithsonian Institution
Michael Ferrari			Fine Creative Media
Michael Habib 			Elsevier
Michael Healy 			Copyright Clearance Center
Michael Jensen 			National Academy of Sciences Press
Michael Kowalski		Get Contentment
Michael Magoulias		Univ. of Chicago Press
Michael Smith			Easypress
Michael Tamblyn			Kobo Books
Michael Wolf			Copyright Research Fellow, UC Berkeley
Michelle Pearse			Harvard Law Library
Michio Tomita			Aozora Bunko
Mike Edelhart			[Independent]
Mike Shatzkin 			The Idea Logical Company 
Mikita Labanok			Random House
Milo Sindell			My Knowledge Genie
Minh Truong			Aldiko
Miral Sattar 			BiblioCrunch
Molly Barton			MPB Consulting
Molly Kleinman			Univ. of Michigan 
Molly Sharp 			PLOS
Monique Sendze 			Douglas County Libraries
Nathan Naze			Google
Nate Hill			Chattanooga Public Library
Nayia Moysidis 			Columbia Univ.
Ned Rote			Blurb
Ned Rust 			Hachette Book Group
Neelan Choksi			[Independent]
Neil Fraistat 			UMD - MITH
Neil Levin			EverPub
Neil Strandberg 		American Booksellers Association
Nic Boshart			EBound Canada 
Nicholas Cheetham 		Bookgrail
Nicholas Smith			Dynamic Books
Nicholas Tollervey		Fluidinfo
Nick Bilton			New York Times
Nick Lindsay			MIT Press
Nick Ruffilo			Aerbook
Nina Gielen			Humanities E-Book
Nina Von Moltke			Random House 
Noel Murphy			New Zealand Book Council
Oliver Brooks			ValoBox
Oren Beit-Arie			Ex Libris
Otis Chandler			Goodreads
Pablo Defendini			Safari Books Online
Pablo Francisco Arrieta		Xpectro
Paola Dubini			Bocconi University
Pascal Honscher			O'Reilly Media
Patrick Alexander 		Penn State Univ. Press
Patrick Brown 			Goodreads
Patrick Nielsen Hayden	 	Tor Books
Patty Chase 			Duke Univ. Press
Paul Courant			Univ. of Michigan 
Paul Ford			Harpers Magazine
Paul Vidich			Storyville 
Peter Armstrong			Leanpub
Peter Balis			John Wiley & Sons
Peter Brantley 			New York Public Library
Peter Collingridge		Safari Books Online
Peter Fritz			Fritz Agency
Peter Froehlich			Indiana University Press
Peter Haasz			Overdrive
Peter Hildick-Smith		Codex Group
Peter Hirtle			Cornell University
Peter Kaufman 			Intelligent TV
Peter Kayafas 			Eakins Press
Peter Krautzberger 		MathJax
Peter Larsen			Amazon
Peter Meyers			[Independent]
Phil Pochoda			[Independent]
Philip Jones			The Bookseller 
Phyllis Wender 			Gersh
Phoenix Wang 			Startl
Porter Anderson			Porter Anderson Media
Praveen Madan 			Keplers 2020
Prue Adler			ARL
R V Guha			Google 
Rachael Gootnick		Open Publishing Lab, RIT
Rachel Rushefsky		Barnes & Noble 
Ralph Swick 			W3C
Rama Sadasivan 			Scribd
Rana DiOrio 			Little Pickle Press
Raymond Bennett			Sourcebooks
Rebecca McLeod 			Copyright Clearance Center
Rebecca Schrader		MIT Press
Rich Bellis 			Digital Book World
Richard Boulderstone 		British Library
Richard Herold			Natur & Kultur
Richard Nash			Sony DADC
Richard Price			Academia.edu
Richard Wallis			OCLC
Rick Joyce			Perseus Books Group
Ricky Wong			[Independent]
Robert Baensch			Baensch International
Robert Bolick			[Independent]
Robert Richards			Legal Informatics 
Robert Wallace			Asahina and Wallace
Robin Seaman			Benetech
Robin Straus 			Robin Straus Agency
Rochelle Grayson		Bookriff 
Roel Nuyts 			Team51
Roger Schonfeld			Ithaka
Roger Sperberg			[Independent]
Ron Hogan			Beatrice.com
Ron Martinez			Invention Arts
Ronald Schild			Libreka 
Russell Grandinetti		Amazon
Russell Manley			Fluidinfo
Ruth Liebmann			Random House
Ryan Raffaelli 			Harvard Business School 
Ryan Shaw			Univ. of North Carolina
Sabrina Ricci			Write or Read
Sam Missingham 			HarperCollins UK
Sam Toolan			George Mason Univ.
Samir Kakar			Aptara
Sanyu Dillon			Random House
Sarah Chubb 			Independent
Sarah Glassmeyer		Computer Aided Legal Instruction
Sarah Houghton			San Rafael Public Library
Sarah Weinman			Publishers Marketplace
Sarah Wendell			Smart Bitches
Sayeed Choudhury		The Johns Hopkins University
Scott Lubeck			Bert, Davis
Scott Shannon			Random House
Sean Concannon 			Sonnet Media
Sebastian Posth 		Publishing Data Systems
Seth Seigel-Laddy 		Scholastic
Shana Kimball			New York Public Library
Simon Groth			If:Book Australia
Simon Juden			Publishers Association UK
Søren Peter Sørensen 		Systime 
Sol Rosenberg			Copia
Stefanie Syman 			Spark N. 9
Stephanie Duncan		Bloomsbury UK
Stephanie Troeth 		Robotic Rodents
Steve Gillen			Wood, Herron, & Evans
Susan Dunavan			Atypon 
Susan Grimshaw			Random House
Susan Peterson			[Independent]
Suw Charman-Anderson 		[Independent]
Sven Fund			De Gruyter
Tarleton Gillespie		Cornell University
Ted Carroll			Noson Lawen Partners 
Ted Hill 			THA Consulting
Ted Weinstein			TW Literary
Terry Ehling			The Johns Hopkins University Press
Terry Jones			Fluidinfo
Thomas Bruce			Cornell Univ. Law School
Thomas Minkus			Frankfurt Book Fair
Tiffany Wong			Aldiko
Tim Brandhorst			American Bar Association
Tim Carmody			Wired
Tim Ditlow 			[Independent]
Tim O'Reilly 			O'Reilly Media
Timo Hannay 			Digital Science
Timothy Vollmer			Creative Commons
Tina Pohlman 			Open Road Media
Tina Tam			Worldreader
Todd Carpenter			NISO (director)
Tom Beyer			iFactory
Tom Clarkson			Cumberland Systems Review Group
Tom Killalea 			Amazon
Tom Uglow 			Google
Tom Ward			[Independent]
Tony Brancato 			New York Times
Tony Hammond 			Nature Publishing Group
Tony Sanfilippo			Penn State Univ. Press
Travis Alber			ReadUps
Tzviya Siegman 			John Wiley & Sons
Ulrich	Klopotek		Klopotek AG (CEO)
Victoria Holbrook 		Istanbul Bilgi University. 
Virginia Rutledge 		[Independent]
Virginie Clayssen 		Editis
Willem van Lancker		Founders Collective
William Clark 			WM Clark Associates
Yuma Terada			Cork Agency
Zev Lowe			Worldreader


Books are not turbines (or paper towels)

August 9th, 2011 | Comments Off | Posted in Digital Books, Innovation, Publishing

Recently, for the Internet Archive, I have been on the apparently quixotic quest to buy books from publishers. What gives this (sometimes epic) quest its quixotic flavor is that we are actually trying to buy these books, not subject them to 40 page license agreements. There are a couple of reasons for that, the most simple one being that we think libraries (like the Archive) have done perfectly well buying books and lending them out — for generations — and heck, it kinda seems to us like that model works.

I’ll also note, on this point, that for publishers, cutting licenses with each new distributor or retailer is a major pain in the rear end. Every platform expects something different, after all, and so today publishers must not only be experts on author and agent contracts, they have to figure out the whys and wherefores for increasingly complex, convoluted license agreements with a growing number of business partners for digital products whose own complexity grows with every month. That works well, huh?

But I digress.

One of the most common responses I get from publishers when I tell them I want to acquire their books for the Archive (once I explain it adequately) is a nicely-put response that buying books is certainly an intriguing idea, but “we’re not really set up for sales like this, have you tried our asking our distributor?” In other words, handling individual sales is a very painful, high threshold task, and publishers only want to accommodate “high revenue” arrangements.

Now the engineering part of me finds this a truly odd response, at so many levels. I mean, these are books, after all. Whether digital or print, these are ultimately consumer goods. They are not computer-controlled machine lathes. I could understand in part if the redirection to a distributor or retailer was because publishers dealt in great bulk with physical goods, and it just didn’t make sense to respond to individual consumers. That’s the paper towel model. I don’t make a habit of buying Bounty paper towels from the manufacturer; I get them at Costco or Target.

But ebooks aren’t like that. They are digital goods; I don’t need either Amazon or the manufacturer to ship them to me via UPS Super Saver. And as a consumer, from an engineering perspective, my ideal interaction with a publisher trying to vend, realistically, a small number of copies of a title in order to not have too many books cutting away from the profit of the very few books that get movie deals should be seamless and straightforward. As Brewster Kahle of the Archive observed to me, it should be rather more like going up to a vending machine and buying cans of soda. I want one of that, two of that, twenty of this. Okay, maybe not soda. But you get the idea.

In engineering land, what this would imply is … wait for it … an API. An automated interface that would permit the purchase of a book by any party (human or code) in whatever quantity they wished, in whatever format they wished, as long as whatever arcane territorial restrictions and contract clauses did not override the desire of the reader to part with their money to help make the author wealthier, happier, and in a position to write more books.

But its not like that. And one reason that buying books is not like buying towels, and there are no APIs, is that publishers have to spend extraordinary amounts of time preparing custom ONIX feeds, metadata bundles, and format packages for every distributor and retailer of note. Sometimes even multiple formats for a single retailer (looking at you, Amazon). Which leaves publishers utterly unable to take cash from readers, because they neither have the organizational slack, nor have they developed the expertise to write APIs, present title information in OPDS Catalogs, and augment web discovery via schema.org.

In other words, publishers spend the majority of their time on filling the supply chain, customizing the requisite data flow with every business partner, instead of focusing their engineering on what they are actually selling, which are books and – more important – the experience the reader gets when they read the book. And that’s kinda insane.

It’s like publishers are selling turbines for a new power plant. An incredible amount of customization goes into each opportunity for selling books, in large part because publishers have never stood together and told the retailers, “You’re getting EPUBs through an OPDS Catalog. Period.”

The other wrinkle with this is that if publishers worked this the right way, they would start to build relationships with readers. Publishers don’t actually have to sell direct to consumers to be able to touch or hold that relationship, although they could easily, once they standardized the supply chain and normalized product delivery. With set standards for purchase via an API, they could force an Amazon customer to come back to the publisher website (or repository) to obtain the title with a little train of useful information on the redirected URL.

Really, it could be so much simpler. All it takes is a set of URIs, an API, and the web. Oh, and resolve.

GBS: Settle or Litigate?

July 22nd, 2011 | Comments Off | Posted in Digital Books, Google Book Search

A second post-GBSSv2 status conference occurred in the continuing Google Book Search settlement saga on Tuesday, July 19, in New York. The parties indicated, nor surprisingly, that they needed yet more time, and that the slogging was tough-going. Judge Chin, in turn, indicated a bit of annoyance and suggested that they better move on down a patch within a couple of months (by September 15, to be more precise). As James Grimmelmann noted at The Laboratorium, Chin also suggested that if settlement talks do not reach fruition and there was a return to litigation, the path would be clearly lit:

Judge Chin suggested that he saw the case, if it were to be litigated, in terms of fairly straightforward cross motions for summary judgment on whether snippet display is a fair use.

Michael Boni, counsel for the Authors Guild (AG), represented Google and the parties in the presentation before the court, as has usually been the case. As I have recently speculated, it would not surprise me to find that the AG are the only actors with any real skin in the game, due to the compensation expectations of their counsel. Notably, they remain just as handicapped in obtaining an approved class certification as before; neither ASJA nor NWU have suddenly swooped to offer support, and I see no sign that academic authors – whose interests were previously stated to be “inimical to the interests of the class” – suddenly espouse that a new revision would fall to their favor. Since the majority of digitized books are academic — from research libraries — one has to wonder who the AG thinks they are negotiating for.

It seems to me that the only benefit Google obtains from a new settlement is clean hands over the past claims of infringement for digitization, but if the only operation they conduct is snippet-view, there is not necessarily a requirement for all-party approval. One could well argue from Google’s perspective that they actually don’t want to establish a precedent for asking permission for a broad class of activities that have been elsewhere held as Fair Use when they have been litigated. Furthermore, the barrier of final class certification resides primarily in the house of settlement; it need not be invoked if snippet display was decided on motion.

Finally, the arrangement that Google made with Hachette Livre in late 2010, which has received inadequate attention in the United States, belies any assertion that Google requires a class action settlement to obtain relief for claims against commercial uses of works that are out of print. To a degree, a contract was the only course available due to the absence of class action in France’s legal system, but it demonstrates that acceptable results can be obtained through bilateral agreements. As an evident precondition, intent and willingness had to be present for any understanding to be reached.

If the case should return to litigation in the absence of any settlement, even for claims of past infringement, there would be a number of potentially interesting consequences. One of those is that archives, museums, library associations, and the Internet Archive –- the latter having been a particularly staunch opponent of the settlement — might actually wind up writing amicus briefs on behalf of Google in support of a favorable Fair Use finding. Far stranger things have happened in Silicon Valley.

Publishers and Libraries moving forward

June 30th, 2011 | Comments Off | Posted in Digital Books, Libraries

N.B.: I am a member of the ALA OITP eBook Task Force, which met in a business meeting at the American Library Association meetings in June 2011. Senior HarperCollins staff suggested they pay us a visit to discuss lending models for digital books. That overture was quickly accepted by the task force.

HarperCollins staff attending were Virginia Stanley, Director of Marketing, Josh Marwell, President of Sales and Adam Silverman, Senior Business Manager.

——— -=-=-=-=- -=-=-=-=- -=-=-=-=- ——— -=-=-=-=- -=-=-=-=- -=-=-=-=- ———

The meeting between the ALA OITP eBook Task Force and HarperCollins was a welcome and important opportunity to begin discussions between major trade publishers and libraries. We noted that while libraries have ridden out multiple format changes in other media, the transition to ebooks is meaningfully different, with broader ramifications, than those in the past.

The meeting was initiated by a comparison of estimated per circulation costs for different types of print books versus digital in different kinds of libraries, such as public or school. This discussion highlighted the pitfalls in assuming that every kind of published work could be suitably described in a common revenue model.

At that point, various ways of re-conceptualizing how the published catalog might be acquired and utilized were arrayed: this became the heart of our conversation, and while it discussed current service models and providers in the library market, it definitely did not assume a static position. Additionally, awareness of the growing number of self- and independently published works is alerting libraries to the need for new collection strategies and partnerships.

We discussed ways it might be possible to differentiate acquisition and circulation models for blockbluster or heavy selling titles from normal frontlist or midlist material; or whether it might be possible to acquire a complete set, or obtain a subscription to, all backlist titles from any given publisher by a library consortia. (Interestingly, there was no discussion of Google’s proposed GBS settlement-based Institutional Subscription; the low value proposition given both the academic source material and the holdings gaps resulting from publisher Partners Program opt-outs may have rendered it inconsequential to both the publisher and library parties at the table.)

The task force raised the possibility of libraries providing their own digital book services without relying on intermediaries by forming library-operated digital book consortia, loosely modeled on the recommendation of the COSLA report [pdf]; technically, a single national library-controlled service with a new governance model could be spawned. However, because most public library funding is community or State based, it may be more straightforward to create State-level consortia, or linked State consortia. Since it is inherently possible to split the service layer from the revenue vector, these new extra-local consortial models need not imply a diminution of income for publishers; it’s also conceivable they might streamline accounting for both parties in a cost-saving manner.

We also discussed the conundrum of digital ownership versus licensing. The challenge is how to ensure adequate compensation to rightsholders while endorsing the continuity of the key library function of retaining titles for preservation, and whether it was feasible to generate acquisition models that permitted libraries to own copies of digital books in a traditional sense while specifying business models for publishers, perhaps on a tbd per-circulation basis (or a capitated basis for a service area) with allowances for purchase price. Since ownership and revenue can be differentiated, this is another example of how traditional library services need not threaten essential publisher goals. It is also an example of how we can embrace copyright law without enervating it through licensing.

We closed with early-stage discussion of the ways that publishers and libraries, communicating more deeply, might be able to share with each other various types of high-level usage data that would augment both library and publisher positions, such as interest in certain types of titles, or geographic distributions of readership, and so forth. These new models of data sharing, while remaining cognizant of and protecting the critical value for libraries of reader privacy, are made possible by the digital transition and might indeed be best delivered by entirely new models of both acquisition and provision of digital books.

All sides of the table were very open to further discussion of these opportunities, and indeed we recognized that the process of clarifying the goals for each party – answering the question: “what do publishers (or libraries) want out of a digital world?” – is not an easy one, but it is one that we must answer together.

Speculating on the next GBS Settlement

June 29th, 2011 | Comments Off | Posted in Digital Books, Google Book Search, Libraries

Last week, the American Library Association’s (ALA) Google Book Search Settlement (GBSS) Task Force issued what might be its penultimate report, suggesting that much of the passion of the GBSS debate has dissipated. In reference to its most recent committee conference call:

The Google Settlement issue did not seem as important as it did two years earlier. In part this is because the publishing and distribution landscapes have changed rapidly. Today there are more distribution channels for ebooks, the Hathi Trust continues to grow, various publishers have initiated their own ebook programs, etc. The ebook market—including access to out of print works—is becoming increasingly varied and competitive.

As the summer spins closer to the Google Book Search settlement status conference on July 19, a variety of nuanced speculations are beginning to emerge around the set of possible scenarios that might develop in the months ahead (solid answers are not expected to emerge as early as July).

At the 2010 February 18 hearing in the SDNY, Google clearly stated that an opt-in regime was not particularly appealing to them, yet the 2011 March 22 ruling that came from the court suggested that such a path was the only one favorable to a positive review. Much of the debate therefore has centered on the parameters around which an opt-in regime might emerge. It is widely expected that all or most non-display uses would be represented in a revised settlement under an opt-out basis; unfortunately for cultural sector organizations, these are the uses that are most likely to legitimately fall under a Fair Use exemption. It remains to be seen if an opt-out endorsement for snippet view would harm the ability of libraries to assert copyright exception for similar uses for their own digital collections.

Arguably, not just Google would see diminished benefit from an all-parties opt-in regime for commercial uses. For many publishers, the existing Google Partners Program permits a degree of control over terms of access and revenue distribution that is unavailable through the settlement. At the cost of some bright-line clarity over author-publisher distributions associated with older contracts, publishers lose only the availability of an institutional subscription database (ISD); a revenue model that is increasingly faulted for its coverage gaps as trade publishers pull out their more attractive titles, and academic publishers waver towards more open access principles under pressure from their host institutions and faculty authors. Additionally, academic catalog initiatives from Project Muse and JSTOR are likely to claim an ever-growing portion of university press backlists, and as trade backlist titles are digitized and enter markets at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, only smaller or niche publishers with fewer resources might benefit from settlement clauses. They are not the ones at the bargaining table.

It is conceivable that the participant publisher representative body, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) lacks the financial resources to participate in a resumption of costly litigation in a case where even the discovery process was never completed. Indeed, the scope of material available for discovery now is vastly greater, with millions more books scanned and many more agreements with international libraries in place. As the ALA report suggests, the AAP’s most vocal members, the trade publishers, are well aware that the world has moved on – a sentiment widely expressed to me off-hand as recently as the 2011 BookExpo America exposition. It seems entirely conceivable that the publishers might be willing to fold their cards, with only compensation for claims of past infringement as their ticket out of this increasingly dreary poker game.

This would leave the authors to negotiate with Google alone. It is not a far-fetched notion: the class action attorneys for the Authors Guild are operating under the premise that a settlement would fetch them their fair portion of an allocated $45.5 million in attorney fees; there’s a clear financial incentive to see some kind of settlement emerge. But if it is to be authors only, what would an opt-in settlement look like?

In the face of continuing litigation over the split of revenue between authors and publishers for books governed by older contracts which did not anticipate digital availability, it might be appealing for authors with strong rights claims to be able to commercialize their titles. There is no “Authors Program” of the same standing as the publishers program, and while individual authors could attempt to enter into contracts, the entry barrier is relatively high. For many authors, better to have the opportunity to opt-in to commercialization for business models that permit readers to buy individual books that would otherwise not likely be noticed in the market. Although authors can opt for rapidly-emerging self-publishing options that would permit entry in distribution channels, the prospective revenue of many older titles is modest. Inclusion in an Internet scale finding aid would be better than solitary competition against a mass of newly emerging titles and authors.

Calving off the publishers and leaving the authors in a much reduced settlement, while of some benefit to Google, would have other ramifications. For example, it would eliminate any remaining motivation to carry forward an ISD offering, leaving only individual title business models available for refinement.

A crucial unresolved question is whether an author class could be certified. The Court acknowledged that the objections of academic authors to the settlement held merit; party briefs for the settlement stated that the interests of these authors were “plainly inimical” to the interests of the class. There would be a challenge in re-binding academic authors to the goals of a new revision: a challenge, but one conceivably met if the lessened barrier for class representation of opt-in participation was stipulated.

This leaves perhaps the biggest conundrum: the disposition of the Books Rights Registry (BRR). An Authors Guild-only settlement would leave the current conception of the BRR severely under-funded, since it would be starved of significant publisher title revenue. It is conceivable that the BRR could be re-specified as a registry-only service, perhaps with court-appointed oversight to appease some of the private-party concerns expressed by settlement objectors. Excision from the settlement of some administrative burdens, such as author-publisher contract mediation, would permit the BRR to settle into a leaner operational model closer to the European ARROW project. Re-allocation or re-provisioning of licensing income might be another path towards financial stability, but this is an issue of concern for any settlement of reduced ambition. The BRR is the cobbler’s child that has no shoes (or perhaps only huaraches).

This discussion has attempted to illuminate one possible path forward; I present no assertion that this must be the road taken, and while directions such as this are being debated, the complex mix of factors and interests dictates hard against definitive analysis. Still, it is likely to be some form of reduced, hybrid model that emerges from the on-going discussions of the parties in the GBSS in the summer months ahead.

Complex objects, complex rights

September 18th, 2010 | 5 Comments | Posted in Digital Books, Rights Registries, Transmedia

I was recently asked about how pricing for transmedia book productions might be established, by someone who had listened to my interview with David Wilk at writerscast. This topic is difficult terrain, and rapidly evolving. Not coincidentally, the question came from a CEO at a transmedia (vs. book publishing) company that has recently begun to serve the writers community.

As my friend, Hugh McGuire of Librivox, has pointed out, the transition to complex objects, particularly those that are web native and embed pointers to resources existing across the network, is one that the publishing industry has yet to get its head around. I know that publishers would ideologically like to have these assets bundled into a single physical file (or small set of linked files) for purposes of both ready technical translation and rights control, but I suspect that we will wind up with “narrative experiences” that are actually not wholly “owned” but increasingly have at least some of their aspects licensed for performance rights (instead of having been either commissioned or licensed for broader rights), or that rely on blanket proffered commercial license terms. UGC that is just-in-time and custom-embeddable into transmedia productions will only hasten the transition to more complex rights packages.

Already the issues of advanced publications, like Peter Collingridge’s work (e.g. Apt Studio, in London), are obvious in extremely large file sizes, and this kind of CD-size aggregation is probably not tenable long term for end-user device management as composite assets swell. So inevitably, I think the tendency is toward assemblage of pointers, versus assemblage of assets.

From the limited terrain that I can see, traditional publishers are not well positioned in terms of their competencies to compete in this area, and I think we will find a wide range of new entrants, particularly those from gaming, movie and audio recording and production studios, and other more innovative media groups. The consequences for the further attenuation of digital first sale are obvious, and one can expect that the “publisher” and end user relationship will be governed by restrictive licensing covenants.

The maintenance of rights information for any form of complex asset is difficult, and pricing is tied to accurate capture of rights data and rights attributions. In the absence of any international, distributed rights registry, the requisite tracking of rights data will fall laboriously into firm to firm arrangements, and incur the consequent risk of litigation and constant management as assets are re-used. Even if production companies establish collectives, the management costs will merely be mitigated. This is one reason that I think collecting agencies and their brethren are well positioned to innovate, particularly cross-border, in the development of new services to support new creative endeavors. [N.B.: There is a potentially relevant, prescient 2006-2007 Yahoo! WIPO filing].

From my point of view, another extremely serious shortcoming of the GBS Books Rights Registry is that it looks over its shoulder at publishing’s past, being too focused on historical interpretations of books from the perspective of a narrow range of commercial uses. It is ill equipped to accommodate the world of creation and use that we are heading into.

Get in the goddamn wagon

September 1st, 2010 | 26 Comments | Posted in Innovation, Libraries, Openness

It’s time for younger librarians to claim the future.

I was intrigued when I saw an announcement for an ARL-CNI meeting, “Achieving Strategic Change in Research Libraries”, to be held in mid October, because Lord knows this is a good time for strategic change. Yet when I clicked through to the program, I was sorely disappointed. The program is oriented toward library directors talking amongst themselves. In the growing string of strategy meetings and whitepaper collections coming from research library organizations, I see many familiar names. While I find these individuals to be brilliant, thoughtful people, I don’t believe much will come out of their talking amongst each other for another day. Library leadership has been discussing emergent roles for libraries for over a decade.

(N.B.: In libraries, the senior executive usually has the title “University Librarian”, and their immediate junior staff, “Associate University Librarian”; these are abbreviated as UL and AUL respectively.)

The current leadership of many of the leading research libraries belongs to a cohort that has held senior management positions for several decades; they have exceeded, or are near, retirement age. The generation beneath them, the late boomers and the Gen X’ers, have often been unable to fully advance in their careers because of the overhanging cliff edge above them. In libraries, archives, and museums – all organizations with astounding levels of commitment and loyalty – theirs will be a Lost Generation. They are not likely to steer these institutions for any long length of time. Instead, Gen X has led – is leading – a Long March.

Even in conversations with the existing leadership, there is wide acknowledgment that the greatest sea change of vision and perspective among librarians, museum and archive staff, rests primarily among those (more or less) in their 20s, into their early to mid 30s. This generation has completely different expectations for information management, privacy, direct access to data and people, interaction with services, and organizational behavior.

It is perhaps in the expectations for organizational conduct that the need for change is greatest, and most immediately wanting. Libraries are supremely hierarchical organizations, not given to matrix management or effective team based project management. Many young librarians do not have any effective means to make substantive comment on change in their institutions; even when their voices are heard, no engagement is offered.

I have heard ULs say that they are all for new initiatives, but their librarian unions are preventing them from making deep structural change. Well, you know what? Unions don’t want to be the last one to turn out the lights either. Don’t blame labor.

When I tweeted my attendee concerns about the program agenda of the ARL-CNI meeting, @ARLnews responded with:

We strive to ID timely topics & speakers based on the forum theme. We have begun talking about how to recruit new ideas & faces… including the “new library generation” so your input is timely & well taken. Thanks again for taking the time to give us feedback.

That’s not what I am talking about. Revolutionary councils don’t form around the existing leadership. Existing leadership has spent its credibility. The changes they led long ago were bold in their time, but this is a new time, with new dangers, and new people must address them.

Here’s what I would like to see:

It’s time for the youngest generation of librarians to gather amongst themselves to discuss change in libraries. This definitely needs to happen in RL, but it can also happen online. This would be a gathering of people that I would denote as “< A/UL” – in other words, lower than (less than) AUL. Not <= AUL. There should be no directors present, no associate directors present. This is not about them. It is about those who will truly redefine the future of libraries. And there will be libraries in the future. And they will kick ass.

This is also not a Taiga-like recitation of calls for change or 5-year predictions for libraries, delivered by AUL level staff. It is not likely that a “community of AUL’s and AD’s challenging the traditional boundaries in libraries” is somehow going to make change happen. I applaud their manifest: “[w]e must develop cross-functional vision that makes internal organizational structures more flexible, agile, and effective. We must move beyond the borders and transcend the traditional library organization.” Yada yada yada.

That’s not enough. There is tremendous skepticism about Taiga in the rank and file. Let Taiga deal with their shifting boundaries, I want to plow under the farmland and gather with those who are madly tossing seeds for wild grasses on the prairies, provoking the native spirits into spring rains. Strategy is for young people.

As a friend observed to me, “v cool. in add’n to younger library staff, I’d also like to see non-librarian library professionals in lib strategy discussions.” Right on. Because the future is not contained within the neat walls of existing research libraries, but among all libraries, and archives and records keeping museums, attempting to redefine their role and purpose in a digital world. We live in a flattened world.

I am not suggesting that out of new conversations will emerge fully formed a blue print for a new class of library. But what I would suggest is: without energetic conversations, without more awareness of the things already being discussed in the hallways, libraries will have a future too long delayed. And that’s more than a problem for libraries. It’s a problem for everyone. By speaking together, we can break the deadlock and move the mountain. Talking about the world we want will help to build that world.

Right now, the best possible thing that ALA could do to reboot the future is to fund support for these meetings and gatherings, encouraging spontaneous leadership. If they cannot do that, then some other vehicle needs to step in and provide the platform where change can be not merely discussed, but architected. Realistically, I suspect that ARL is not the right institution to do this. William Faulkner said it best in Go Down, Moses: “Them that’s going,” he said, “get in the goddamn wagon. Them that aint, get out of the goddamn way.”

It’s too easy to proclaim the knock down – the traditional call out for the terrain-effacing transformation that is eroding the ground underneath us. Today, there is incredible optimism, energy, and enthusiasm in libraries –- at no other point in history has there been such opportunity to reach people with information using such a variety of tools, across such a range of means.

When mobile phones are held in the hands of farmers in the remotest villages across the planet –- the reach of every single library on this planet is now global. As our responsibility, let’s forge that vision.

Final and non-reviewable: Competitive pricing and ebooks

August 25th, 2010 | 3 Comments | Posted in Digital Books, Licensing, Publishing

Today I attended the GigaOM summit on the “Disintermediation in Publishing” session, run by Giga’s Michael Wolf. One of the most heartening things about the meeting was the relatively large number of authors and agents attending, and one well known agent, Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown in San Francisco, was a panelist.

I was intrigued by some of the complaints from authors about pricing policies relating to major retailers. I had heard about these issues in various forums, but I had not grappled with them in sufficient detail to grok their consequences. Today, I began to understand how authors – particularly those pursuing self-publishing – are trapped by the struggles around publisher pricing strategies, major online retailers, and distributors.

I was directed to an Amazon program as an example of how an author’s selling options can be coerced. Amazon recently initiated a self-publishing program for ebooks called the Digital Text Platform that permits authors to claim royalty rates of either 35 percent or, within certain strict limits, 70 percent. As they are enacted in the real-world, those limits unfortunately have the consequence of restricting competition in pricing and dampening ebook markets.

Among its other restrictions, the 70 percent royalty rate can be claimed only against U.S. consumer sales, and only when the book is sold within a very narrow band between $2.99 and $9.99 (accessed 25 August 2010). Fine. Well, not fine if the book is sold elsewhere for a lower price – Amazon can set the new ebook price as the lowest price in the marketplace. Here is the relevant text in the Pricing Page (accessed 25 August 2010):

For any Digital Book for which you select the 70% Royalty Option, at all times that the Digital Book is available for sale through the Program, you must adjust the List Price as required to ensure that the List Price does not exceed the lowest of: (a) the lowest suggested retail price or equivalent price for any digital edition of the Digital Book; (b) the lowest price at which you list or offer any digital edition of the Digital Book on any website or other sales channel; (c) 20% below the lowest suggested retail price or equivalent price for any physical edition of the Digital Book; (d) 20% below the lowest price at which you list or offer any physical edition of the Digital Book on any website or other sales channel; and (e) any maximum List Price we provide from time to time in the Program Policies.

That’s a strong statement. For anyone abiding by agency pricing agreements, we’re sitting pretty – the publisher (/author) gets to set the price and that’s that. But there are major ebook vendors that don’t always play by agency – among them, Kobo Books, Barnes & Noble, and Sony. While increasingly they might sign agency contracts, they might not always, particularly against small publishers. Further, any existing distributor contracts have probably one to three years to run before expiration.

If any of these booksellers discounts the price of the author’s book as obtained by a distributor, then Amazon will reset its own for-sale price to that discounted level. As an author, I have no attractive recourse against this:

Our determinations regarding price-matching are final and non-reviewable. If you object to our price-matching determination with regard to one of your books, your sole and exclusive remedy is to switch your Royalty option for future sales of the Digital Book to the 35% Royalty Option … .

This policy has a variety of consequences, most of them negative for the author. (N.B.: Apple is reported to have similar “most favored nation” [pdf] pricing policies, but I have not seen them, and Apple does not have the market share of Amazon).

Under the DTP conditions, if I (in a guise as author) present a book that I have approved to sell at $9.99, and Barnes & Noble discounts it to $7.99, then Amazon will automatically reset its sale price to $7.99 and provide me the 70 percent royalty against that figure (less “Delivery Costs”, as common to all royalty tiers). Of course, Barnes & Noble could then discount the book further, driving down my aggregate income from the book’s sales on each iteration.

I could theoretically attempt to game the system: e.g., I could price my book at $9.99 knowing and expecting that B&N is likely to discount to $7.99, and then expect that pricing at Amazon. However, that places final pricing control in the square dance between B&N and other discounting retailers on one hand, and Amazon on another.

There are more pathological conditions. Should the price be discounted below Amazon’s minimum threshold of $2.99 by another bookseller, my only resource as a self-published author is to be content with a 35 percent royalty rate, cutting my royalty rate in half. That’s a tremendous loss of revenue.

That wouldn’t matter if Amazon was merely one retailer in a competitive market. But it might not be. Recently, the VP for Kindle, Ian Freed, was quoted in C|net as stating that Amazon overwhelmingly dominates the ebook market:

CNET: Well, Apple’s saying it’s got 20 percent market share and I’ve heard Barnes & Noble saying it’s got 20 percent as well, so that would leave you guys with…

Freed: Honestly, something doesn’t add up because we’re pretty sure we’re 70 to 80 percent of the market. So, something, somewhere isn’t quite working right. I encourage you to do some more research. Obviously, from the beginning of Amazon we’ve been very metrics-focused and we don’t typically throw out numbers we don’t firmly believe in.

This level of market dominance, combined with the pricing controls as enforced through the Digital Text Platform, would lead me as an author to do some quick spreadsheet calculations on my sales data and pricing levels. And here’s what they might suggest:

In many cases, it would behoove me to remove my books for sale from all other retailers except for Amazon (and possibly Apple), because, due to price maintenance, I would make more money as an author by only utilizing Amazon (and possibly Apple). The curve crosses far more quickly if I am threatened with dropping below the $2.99 threshold price for the 70 percent royalty rate.

While such a strategy makes short term financial sense for me as an individual author, in the long term it severely restricts my opportunities to reach readers through other outlets, and it makes me dependent upon a single retailer. It is also detrimental for the broader ebook market because it generates a positive feedback loop that deepens Amazon’s share of self-published and low-priced ebooks. For anyone who believes that self-published ebooks will grow as a percentage of book industry sales, there should be concern that Amazon’s pricing policies will weaken retailers that are abandoned by authors seeking to avoid triggering Amazon’s pricing retaliation.

Amazon’s stance might also force other retailers into broader adoption of agency pricing at a time when both Apple and Amazon have come under scrutiny by State Attorney Generals who question the legality of agency pricing.

Amazon’s pricing policies are unfortunate for authors, and ultimately, for readers.

Eye to eye: The Authors Guild, Random House, and GBS

August 24th, 2010 | 24 Comments | Posted in Digital Books, Google Book Search

At the end of July 2010, a well known agent, Andrew Wylie, created his own publishing company, Odyssey Editions, and licensed a set of classic backlist titles in new electronic editions exclusively to Amazon for a two-year period. These titles had not been released as ebooks by their print publishers, and the authors or their estates had been unable to negotiate attractive enough deals to culminate new arrangements. They are not obscure titles: they include works such as Lolita (Nabokov), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Thompson), and the Rabbit series by John Updike (who, when previously breathing, was) a reluctant entrant into the digital age.

In this particular case, Random House – the publishing company most persistent and notorious for its aggressive pursuit of electronic rights from its backlist authors, responded aggressively by disputing Wylie’s ability to exploit their author’s titles, alleging that Wylie had set himself up as a direct competitor to Random, and by refusing to negotiate with Wylie over any additional titles.

The issues behind this dispute are complex, but at its heart is the fact that e-rights were not clearly negotiated with authors before the digital technology for ebook creation and distribution became more widely disseminated in the 1980s. This is not a surprise: it’s hard for pundits to accurately predict the intercourse of media and technology, just as much as it remains difficult to forecast weather beyond 48 or 72 hours. As a result, the right to publish digital editions, and the royalty rates that would accrue to authors for those publications, are often opaque to the stakeholders and subject to negotiation. Or litigation.

In fact, the landmark legal precedent in this case was a 2002 denial of a preliminary injunction, Random House v. Rosetta Books [pdf], by a judge in the Southern District of New York. The court ruled that Random House was unlikely to succeed on the merits of its allegations. Among other organizations filing supportive briefs was the Authors Guild (AG), an agency that represents a relatively small number of authors; its filing was submitted by an attorney named Michael Boni.

The Authors Guild (AG) reacted to Random House’s threats in the Wylie imbroglio with a chastising note:

To a large extent, publishers have brought this on themselves. This storm has long been gathering. Literary agencies have refused to sign e-rights deals for countless backlist books with traditional publishers, even though they and their clients, no doubt, see real benefits in having a single publisher handle the print and electronic rights to a book. Knowledgeable authors and agents, however, are well aware that e-book royalty rates of 25% of net proceeds are exceedingly low and contrary to the long-standing practice of authors and publishers to, effectively, split evenly the net proceeds of book sales.

Today (August 24 2010), Random House and Wylie announced a deal that marked a victory for the publisher in this most recent skirmish over the rights to digitally exploit backlist titles:

We are pleased to announce that The Wylie Agency and Random House have resolved our differences over the disputed Random House titles which have been included in the Odyssey Editions e-book publishing program. These titles are being removed from that program and taken off-sale. We have agreed that Random House shall be the exclusive e-book publisher of these titles for those territories in which Random House U.S. controls their rights.

As Kassia Krozser has commented, this was a skirmish. There will be others.

— —

Six months after the GBS hearing in the New York court, the world still wonders about the nature of the opinion that Judge Chin must eventually deliver. Most observers are skeptical that the settlement will be approved in its current form; conjecture is actually most heated around the possible endgames that might result from the parties – the Authors Guild; the five publishers from the original publishing suit and their associative organization, the AAP; and Google – being pressed back into active litigation.

The litigation process that brought us to this point started in 2005 with a class action filing by the Authors Guild; the AG’s lead attorney in the complaint was Michael Boni. (The publishers did not participate in a class action until they later procedurally joined the class action settlement proposal with Google.) At the time of its filing, the AG class action drew sharp criticism from not only Google, but many prominent authors as well, who did not believe their own perspectives were represented by the Authors Guild – a concern that would be echoed by many observers in detailed objections in the months ahead. The AG’s class action was then joined by a suit from five individual New York publishers alleging copyright infringement.

Eventually, a proposed class action settlement involving the Authors Guild, the publishers, and Google was entered before the Court. During the painful course of its two and a half year gestation, Google continued to digitize books from partner libraries. The proposed settlement was audaciously broad in scope, and secured opposition even from the U.S. Government’s Department of Justice [pdf] for – among other sins – the proposal’s departure from the motivations of the initial litigation.

One of the keystones of the settlement proposal is lodged in Attachment A (Author-Publisher Procedures), which attempts to clarify the digital rights issues that have brought authors and publishers so often to litigation or its brink. The proposal provides for a default bright line assignment of revenue from the exploitation of works included in the terms of the settlement. As Pamela Samuelson of UC Berkeley notes in a footnote of her filing [pdf] (Fn. 15) before the Court (Supplemental Academic Author Objections to the Google Book Search Settlement, Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google, Inc.):

Appendix A takes advantage of the settlement on other issues as to which Google is the antagonist to bring about a new allocation of copyright ownership, licensing, and reversion rights and procedures that, but for the settlement, could only have been accomplished through legislative action.

This outcome could never have independently arisen without the Google Book Search litigation. As Samuelson notes in the same paragraph:

Had Random House tried to resolve this e-book rights issue by bringing a class action lawsuit on behalf of a class of publishers against a class of authors in order to negotiate a settlement along the lines of Appendix A, the case would have been dismissed because the dispute would have involved both varying contract language and different state laws so that Rule 23 requirements could not have been satisfied.

— —

It is not too much to suggest that the conflict over ebook rights and royalties is one of the most outstanding irritants in the transition to digital publishing. It is an irritant that has drawn the Authors Guild and authors, and the AAP and publishers, into conflict time and time again. These actions have repeatedly involved the same small circle of actors – Paul Aiken, the Executive Director of the Authors Guild; Michael Boni, class action attorney for the Authors Guild; and Richard Sarnoff, the Co-Chairman of Bertelsmann, Inc. (responsible for the acquisition of Random House), the Chairman of the AAP, and widely attributed as an architect and lead negotiator for the GBS settlement.

In some lights, the proposed settlement in the Google Book Search case is really a proposed settlement in the conflict between the Authors Guild and the AAP over the exploitation of digital rights. Google, a bystander to that particular conflict, managed to drop a convenient litigation container for a class action settlement that could be alleged to contain all authors and publishers in a common agreement. The eventual proposal attempts to bring wholly new benefits to the other parties in the suits; benefits that Google might not have even imagined when it first began the Google Print program.

As Pamela Samuelson noted in Footnote 15 in her submission, Paul Aiken testified before Congress on this same point:

One of the reasons this thing [Attachment A] took 30 months to negotiate was that we weren’t just negotiating with Google. It was authors negotiating with publishers, and we rarely see eye to eye. So we had months and months and months of negotiations, trying to work out our differences.

These words echoed those that Paul Aiken had made almost a year previously, at the release of the first instantiation of the settlement in October 2008. As Library Journal noted:

We had a major disagreement with Google, and we still do,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. “We also don’t see eye-to-eye on with publishers on book contract law,” he added, before calling the settlement the “the biggest book deal” in U.S. publishing history. Aiken said two “guideposts” helped lead his organization through a thicket of issues in the suit. “Authors like their books to be read,” he noted, “and like they like a nice royalty check.”

It’s always nice to work out differences, but Google is arguably the party most likely to benefit out of all proportion to its potential liabilities from this divertissement. In the unlikely event that the settlement is approved, it moves forward on its merry way (subject of course to a lengthy appeals process). More likely, if the settlement is denied, it is difficult to envision a scenario where active litigation will re-commence. As a not necessarily naive bystander to the fundamental conflict between the AG and publishers, Google makes out like a bandit.

In the last five years, Google has amassed a singular and growing compendium of digital books; established a nascent rights registry; digitized historical Copyright Office renewal records; and moved to deepen commercial relations with publishers through its Google Editions service – whose release keeps coincidentally slipping in concert with the withering expectations of a summertime ruling from the SDNY. It is hard to imagine the AAP pursuing their case when Google is a useful potential ally in the publishers’ ongoing ebook pricing struggles with Apple and Amazon, which have themselves drawn scrutiny by State Attorney Generals.

And for the AG, it will have lost a most critical product: a determination of royalty revenue for the digital editions of backlist books that would have taken much of the provocation away for continuing uncertainty and conflict with publishers. With not that much to gain on the flip side.

— —

The firefight between Wylie and Random House, and AG’s strong public interest in its outcome, highlights the fact that the struggle to obtain mutually perceived value in royalty outcomes for backlist titles is very much a matter of the moment. The AG’s engagement on behalf of its clientele in the rights and royalty struggles emerging over the next few years grow ever more at odds with the terms it has attempted to obtain through the proposed settlement.

Those terms – certainly for prominent authors and their estates – are increasingly likely to be improved when aggressively negotiated by authors or their agents, or when titles are re-published digitally through new publishing ventures, such as those established by well-known and highly respected agents – e.g., Andrew Wylie’s Odyssey Books, Richard Curtis’ E-Reads, and Scott Waxman’s Diversion Books. Independent self-publishing firms such as Smashwords promise to bring mid-tier authors of backlist titles equally promising results when they take back titles for themselves.

The participation of the ASJA and the NWU in the Open Book Alliance, which contests the proposed GBS settlement, suggests that not all author agencies believe these issues can best be determined through this particular resolution.

As the summer months march into autumn, a historical engagement of a small circle of actors around the Authors Guild and the AAP may be increasingly misaligned from the interests of their larger, and evolving, constituencies.