DBW Weekly Roundup, 5/19/11
Digital Book World presents a weekly roundup of some of the most interesting news, commentary and tweets related to publishing that you may have missed, from all over the digital book world.
Is It Piracy or Is It Marketing?
It started as a joke: Rutgers University visiting professor Adam Mansbach commented on Facebook that he couldn’t get his daughter to sleep, but what came out of the gripe is a snarky children’s book for adults called Go the F*&# to Sleep, which isn’t even available for purchase until June (pushed up from October) but still has topped the Amazon bestseller list on the strength of preorders. Oh, and Mansbach has already signed a movie deal with Fox, as reported by Reyhan Harmanci at The Bay Citizen.
How can a still-to-be-published book from an unknown author make such a splash? Pirated galleys.
There has been so much talk about combating piracy, about the lost revenues from ebook piracy, about digital rights management, perhaps galvanized this week by the Protect IP Act going into the Senate. And, here at Digital Book World, there’s been a great deal of discussion about discoverability, about connecting with readers to drive sales.
Even Mansbach’s Brooklyn-based publisher Akashic is fighting the “virality” of the pirated galleys, as relayed in this Fast Company piece:
Piracy, any publisher will tell you, is bad. It’s the scourge of the music industry. With the rise of e-reading, booksellers now fear it to a similar degree. Akashic has been fighting the rampant piracy of its best-seller, almost reflexively. As [Akashic Senior Editor Ibrahim] Ahmad told The Bay Citizen: “As the publisher of this book, our responsibilty [sic] is to tackle instances of piracy when we become aware of them…That’s just doing a service to our authors, ourselves, book sellers, distributors, to everyone involved in the successful making and promotion of a book.”
But in this particular case, fighting piracy may not be doing a serivce [sic] to the book. Piracy, it seems, is what has driven the book’s real-world, money-making, flying-off-the-shelves success. The bootleg copy hasn’t replaced the actual artifact. It has only served as a sort of free advertising. Piracy can hurt publishers, but it can also help them. Call it the double-edged cutlass.
The success of Mansbach’s book does cut at the heart of the piracy issue, inspiring Timo Boezeman over at FutureBook.net to come right out to say, “Piracy Is Good,” while Matthew Ingram over at GigaOM discusses well-known authors who have come to terms with piracy, authors such as Neil Gaiman or Brazilian author Paulo Coelho who assisted in the piracy of his own books.
How off Can You Be about Libraries?
Very, if you’re Seth Godin railing against librarians railing against ebook lending limits. In a post earlier this week, Godin goes very much against the tide of best-selling authors and everyday petitioners who criticize HarperCollins’ ebook policy when he writes:
Librarians that are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.
Post-Gutenberg, books are finally abundant, hardly scarce, hardly expensive, hardly worth warehousing. Post-Gutenberg, the scarce resource is knowledge and insight, not access to data.
Quite a few folks throughout the digital book world have responded to Godin’s post, including this challenge from “Librarian by Day” blogger Bobbi L. Newman. Nat Torkington over at O’Reilly Radar summed it all up quite forcefully:
Passionate railing against a straw man. The library profession is diverse, but huge numbers of them are grappling with the new identity of the library in a digital age. This kind of facile outside-in “get with the Internet times” message is almost laughably displaying ignorance of actual librarians, as much as “the book is dead!” displays ignorance of books and literacy. Libraries are already much more than book caves, and already see themselves as navigators to a world of knowledge for people who need that navigation help. They disproportionately serve the under-privileged, they are public spaces, they are brave and constant battlers at the front line of freedom to access information. This kind of patronising “wake up and smell the digital roses!” wank is exactly what gives technologists a bad name in other professions. Go back to your tribes of purple cows, Seth, and leave librarians to get on with helping people find, access, and use information.
Luckily, the fact that librarians, if they are to be public’s “concierges” and “connectors,” do themselves need access to high-quality shareable data doesn’t seem to be completely lost on McGraw-Hill Professional, who this week launched an ebook platform for libraries that provides “unlimited concurrent usage” for over 1,000 of its titles.
Although the tension between publishers and libraries is inspiring some libraries to bypass publishers to build their collections, some book publishers are not ignoring the concrete needs of librarians and the people they serve: STM publisher Elsevier just launched its Apps for Library Idea Challenge, a competition to encourage information professionals to help create solutions for the challenges of information search and discovery.
From Elsevier’s press release:
“Librarians have a good understanding and knowledge of which tools are most needed to manage information and improve the research workflow,” explained Rafael Sidi, Vice President, Application Marketplace and Developer Network at Elsevier. “We view this challenge as an opportunity for the library communities to share their ideas around the unmet workflow needs of researchers and propose innovative, customized solutions. We look forward to bringing these concepts to life through the vibrant developer communities that exist within universities we serve.”
Neither are libraries passively allowing their roles to be defined; rather, they seem to be pushing the boundaries of public service and creating new innovative ways of engagement. For example, the New York Public Library launched its free iPad app, Biblion: The Boundless Library, featuring more than 700 artifacts from its World’s Fair 1939-40 collection. A second app from the NYPL is set to be released at the end of this week as part of the Find the Future game, presented by socially conscious game designer Jane McGonigal. While, not to ignore print, the Library has also released 25,000 copies of a limited edition paperback out on the streets of New York City–all part of the library’s centennial celebration.
And, while we are here, let’s not forget that libraries do hold things other than books, things quite valuable to the preservation of cultural heritage and history, as Yale adopts an “open access policy” and makes digital collection of cultural artifacts, not just available for viewing online, but also public domain, thus adding to its already substantial collection of 250,000 images.
Open Access by the Numbers?
Since the theme of this week’s roundup seems to be “access,” with all its related issues, let’s turn now to the concept of “open access.” This week Eric Hellman (not in response to either Godin or GTFTS) published the section on libraries and open access ebooks, part of his chapter in Sue Polanka’s No Shelf Required, which provides a more expansive view of the role of librarians and libraries. The whole series is a fantastic look at “open access” and ebook publishing.
Of course, “open access” is a much more appealing proposition for certain markets, namely, education and scholarly, and a few interesting bits of data have been published in this past week about open access in these markets. For example, Mashable reprinted this infographic on the economics of open access textbooks, centering around textbook price points in various sales schemes.
On a more scholarly front, Paul Biba at Teleread forwards along the results of a survey of 8,000 authors (most respondents self-identified as “researcher” and claimed to “work in university”), conducted by Croatia-based publisher, InTech. 75% of participants said that it was “very important” or “important” to be able to offer their work free online, even if the costs of that access were placed on the authors themselves.
One author’s response quoted in the report:
“If a publisher does not offer my work online free of charge to a global audience, I won’t even consider it. However, if the publisher wants to charge me an arm or a leg as publication charge, I definitely won’t consider it. In other words, a good piece of work will find a global audience, sooner or later. The cream will rise to the top.”
That’s just a taste of what you may have missed this week. To stay on top of the most interesting news, commentary and tweets related to publishing, keep in touch via our RSS feed, follow us on Twitter, join your publishing colleagues in our LinkedIn group, and connect with the broader DBW Network.