Tag Archives: publishing industry

tentative toe blogging: Harvard approves open access

I’ll be watching Harvard’s A&S faculty vote today to see if they approve setting up a library-run faculty publications open access repository. (A proposal, I noted to my partner, that I first saw some 15 years ago in the library community.) The NYT covered the proposal.

For-profit scholarly publishers have of course been complaining vociferously about the trend toward scholars’ and faculty’s open access archives; scholarly societies less so. The for-profit scholarly publishers are in the same position as the recording industry: A set of middlemen that has profited from a technology that, for two centuries, made their business model profitable and even, in some cases, a virtual monopoly. Now that technology has moved on they feel insulted, as if they have a “god”-given right to their particular business model.


update 10pm: Yaay! It passed. See Chronicle of Higher Ed which says it passed, and see Harvard Crimson for details about the proposal. More info at inside higher ed.

requiem for the Weekly World News

The Weekly World News is shutting down. The WWN was the source of many a headline or graphic I pasted at various workplaces over the years.

This NYT article profiles the story, mostly from the perspective of right-wing (faux) commentator, Ed Anger. In the South, in the 80s, it wasn’t apparent to me that Ed Anger was a parody. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who took it seriously. The article describes the falling audience for the WWN, which has moved to rightwing talk radio ….

copyright versus writers

“I wish with all my heart that you will be able to publish a new translation.”

Simone de Beauvoir, 1982.

Another example of copyright being used by the copyright owner to control or restrict dissemination of a copyrighted work — regardless of the likely desires of the creator. Ampersand at Alas, a Blog writes about publisher Knopf’s control over Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, citing Sarah Glazer’s editorial, “Lost in Translation”, NYT Aug. 22, 2004. Apparently, Knopf refuses to allow a new French-to-English translation to fix the (apparently) glaring problems with the first translation. This editorial is over a year old, so I just checked amazon.com as a quick & dirty proxy for a Books in Print search. All the English versions I found still cite to the Knopf translation (copyright renewed in 1980).

Ann Bartow’s commentary on Sivacracy includes this very pointed observation:

Once again copyright law is preventing rather than incentivizing the creation and distribution of important ideas and expression.

When the government brings the force of law to bear to prevent a person from using particular words or images to communicate, and/or to prevent her from distributing or reading certain words, to some of us that seems a lot like censorship. Copyright laws are a restraint on speech, but one that is tolerated by the First Amendment because the copyright system is supposed to incentivize the creation and distribution of useful, creative works. That’s not what is happening here.

Like most authors, Simone de Beauvoir probably had to capitulate to every demand made by her publisher just to see her book in print. Copyright laws could be re-written to at least slightly improve the balance of power between authors and publishers, but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

update 12/21: Alas, a Blog has heard a rumor that Knopf may have agreed to a new translation, and links to another article on the issue.

google print: google’s evilness is beside the point (Bonus Rant Included)

I’m pleased to see the Google Print issue spurring discussion of the role of corporations in controlling access to information. See, e.g., today’s post @ Gnuosphere [link from sivacracy]

Gnuosphere, Siva, and others point out that Google isn’t doing Google Print out of the goodness of its heart; the company is scanning, indexing, and providing access to information for lots and lots of money. These warnings are a helpful antidote to Google worship.

But the problem with this complaint can be seen in the gnuosphere post:

Personally, I’m not against having an institution be granted the right to create such a database. But I’m wary about handing over such privilege and control to a body that is not working for the people. Should a corporation control what could potentially become the world’s first digital library? What is the purpose of a library? Why do libraries exist? For who do libraries exist? If this project is to become a globally accessible library, should there be someone controlling your right to read?

As the database of books increases in size and therefore scientific and cultural value, is an unregulated for-profit corporation the best choice to manage and control that database?

I think not.

The impulses guiding this post are clearly pro-public access and use, and pro-library, and I wholeheartedly support that. But the issue is couched as “handing over … control” of this information to a corporation. “[G]rant[ing] the right to create such a database.” Making a “choice” of entities to “manage and control” that database.

No, no, no.

The point of people’s support for Google Print is not that we support Google, love Google, or want Google to control our access to information. The point is that Google, and any other entity who wants to do it, should be able to add value to information. Google should not be THE ONE; Google should be ONE OF MANY. Picking and choosing a single entity presupposes that the information is already controlled, and this new use, this new added value, is to be carefully metered as a scarce resource.

We should be concerned about Google Print’s contractual restrictions on holders of its scanned works. But we should not fear Google simply for being the first entrant into the market. Google turns out to be evil? Implementing DRM, gathering and exploiting private personal data, indexing our DNA, imposing restrictive licensing agreements on its source material holders? Fine, criticize the evil practices (and Google too). Some other entity turns out to be evil, and wants to restrict copyright such that only Google’s database is valid? Criticize them, too. But I want to recommend that we resist the conflation of evils. If we’re concerned that Google is going to control a big huge really valuable database, and possibly to the detriment of those who want to use the database, then the answer is, in First Amendment terms, more speech. More databases, more indexers, more more more.

Bonus: Free Rant!

And by the way, you publishers, authors, and copyright-holders. You want to cash in on this market? Why don’t you consider selling the electronic texts to the aggregators and indexers for cheaper than they can scan them in and with reasonable licensing terms? There’s your market, right there. In fact, technology has made that market available to you for MORE THAN THIRTY YEARS. Dialog, Lexis, WestLaw, and other database vendors could have been using the full text of books for a really long time. Libraries would have killed to have full-text access to books.

As it happens, ignoring obvious markets is not new to the publishing industry. Book publishers ignored the market for enriched information content for years before they began ignoring the market for searchable full-text. Libraries and indexers could have used, at any time in the 20th century, a flourishing market for bibliographic and enriched descriptive information about books. Instead, with no such market, librarians CREATED, from scratch, and at very great expense, indexes and catalogs of information about books — with virtually no assistance from publishers. All those major research databases like MedLine, Agricola, and the like? Laboriously created by individual librarians, basically indexing and cataloging research journals by hand. Compare book publishers to research journal publishers. After some time research journal publishers figured out there was a market in enhanced information content, and began figuring out how to take advantage of that market. They facilitated the indexing process by including keywords and abstracts. They began selling tables of contents and journal indexes to the literature indexes. Ultimately they began selling full-text to databases and aggregators. In fact, once they figured it out, research publishers have been incredibly successful at capturing monetary value from information that the authors mostly want to give away for free. (So successful, in fact, that academic authors are having to fight their own publishers to get that valuable research information out of the market — another very interesting topic for another time.)

Could book publishers have done something similar? Sure. But for decades, literally, book publishers ignored this opportunity. As with research journals, individual librarians created the catalogs and indexes of books, hand-examining each book, figuring out what the book is about and how to describe it, etc. Libraries organized consortia and union catalogs to share this information and reduce the expense of creating it. For most of the time that cataloging took place, book publishers weren’t much help. Only in the very last few years have book publishers even begun to scratch the surface of providing enriched content to libraries and information vendors, by providing tables of contents to library systems vendors, and dipping their toes into very limited full-text databases that are scarcely available to anyone.

So the book publishing industry quaked in its boots and sat on its ass and ignored the market for searchable full-text, focusing solely on the market for information packaged as a physical artifact. And now the industry wants to complain that Google is jumping into the market? And doing it, not by licensing the full texts from the publishers, but in the most expedient fashion possible, by scanning? Please. Cry me a river, and while you’re at it, shed a few tears for the recording industry’s failure to jump online in the mid-90s.

cory doctorow & john scalzi & others discuss SFWA & ‘piracy’

cory doctorow writes about SFWA’s ongoing campaign against copyright infringement (Why writers should stop worrying about “ebook piracy”– boingboing 5/14)

cory also cited from & linked to john scalzi writing about the same thing (The Stupidity of Worrying About Piracy 5/13).

personally, i much appreciated john’s description of how he feels about readers who can’t pay — borrowers rather than thieves:

Who are pirates? They are people who won’t pay for things (i.e., dickheads), or they’re people who can’t pay for things (i.e., cash-strapped college students and others). …

As for the people who can’t pay for things, well, look. I grew up poor and made music tapes off the radio; my entire music collection from ages 11 to 14 consisted of tapes that had songs missing their first ten seconds and whose final ten seconds had DJ chatter on them; from 14 to 18, I taped off my friends; from 18 to 22 I reviewed music so I could get it for free. And then after that, once I had money, I bought my music. Because I could. As for books, I bought secondhand paperbacks through my teen and college years. Now I buy hardbacks. Again, because I can. Now, being a writer, you can argue that I’m more self-interested in paying for creative work than others, but I have to honestly say that I don’t know anyone who can pay for a book or a CD or a DVD or whatever who doesn’t, far more often than not.

I don’t see the people who can’t pay as pirates. I see them as people who will pay, once they can. Until then, I think of it as I’m floating them a loan. Nor is it an entirely selfless act. I’m cultivating a reader — someone who thinks of books as a legitimate form of entertainment — and since I want to be a writer until I croak, that’s a good investment for me. More specifically, I’m cultivating a reader of me, someone who will at some point in the future see a book of mine of the shelf, go “Scalzi! I love that dude!” and then take the book off the shelf and take it to the register.

i haven’t read his books but i love that dude!

and then john’s posting was followed by many comments from other writers … among them, scott westerfeld … which led me to scott westerfeld’s new blog. scott posted (without worrying about copyright violations!) on his blog a copy of a letter from a reader who sent him a “token of appreciation” after reading his novel in a bookstore. then scott discussed his feelings on sharing (okay) and mass for-profit reproduction (not okay) and reminded us all that writers are not the whole industry, that publishers and editors and libraries need love too.

… and it all led me to hilary rosen (!) complaining about DRM! consumer unfriendly, she says. user unfriendly. irony is not dead, after all.

men reading men

pet peeve: men reading men.

More precisely, based on highly scientific studies of (a) watching what people on public transit read; and (b) reading & listening to interviews with people about their reading habits, I conclude that men (in a general, statistical sense) love to read other male authors and rarely read women authors. Women, in my experience, read both. Sure, it may just be my observational prejudice, but i actually think its men’s gender-bias in selecting reading material, i.e., sexism.

to wit:

salon: What have you been reading recently?

JS: Well, a little [Michel] Houellebecq. Did you ever read that guy? I can’t spell his name. That French guy. He’s one of these fucking great maniacs. And, you know, the usual. David Foster Wallace. Bruce Wagner’s new book is great. There’s a lot of amazing writing out there right now.

salon: Which Wallace book?

JS: I love “Oblivion,” and one of my favorites is “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.” And “Infinite Jest” is one of those books you’re always three-quarters through till you keel over at 80, you know. It’s just genius, man. It’s like maybe if you wave it over your head some of it will rub off.

salon: I keep hearing people saying, “Oh, no, it’s not a time for novels anymore; this is a time for serious books and nonfiction.”

JS: Yeah, it’s like people announcing the death of irony. You know, there are people who make their livings by making declarations. But from where I’m sitting, just as a guy who reads, it seems like there’s a lot of great stuff out there. Sam Lipsyte has a great new book coming out. There’s a guy who couldn’t even get his book published in America, you know. Now Farrar, Straus and Giroux is publishing it, a book called “Homeland.”

— Salon.com Books Interview w/ Jerry Stahl
“All my heroes were dope fiends” [salon.com 12/6/2004]

Four for four.

Needless to say, such sexism could have a variety of interesting effects, some of which will amplify others:

  • male readers limit their exposure to female perspectives.
  • this becomes a self-reinforcing tendency if there are gender-affects in the writing beyond the subject matter — such as style, perspective, gender of narrative voice. if male writers are read 3 times more often, then the male affects become the standard, the norm, against which all writing is measured. it becomes difficult to evaluate quality when the work is different in ways that the reader has become accustomed to. so men go looking for “good writers”, and they naturally pick and like writers who hew more closely to writers they’ve previously recognized as “good writers.”
  • male reviewers who pick and choose among writers may choose to review male writers, thus either creating gender disparity among those writers reviewed, or gender segregation between writer/reviewer pairs.
  • glass ceiling effects. To the extent that women are glass-ceilinged out of prestige reviewing slots, prestige editorial slots, prestige publishing decision-making slots, then men’s bias towards men’s writing will result in gender bias in publishing and reviewing along a prestige axis.
  • awards which flow from publicity [don’t all awards ultimately flow from publicity?] will be skewed towards men. awards which have men on their awards committee would be statistically likely to demonstrate bias.

at this point i’ve almost worked myself up into a rant about a sexist self-important literary community talking to itself and a bunch of boys all talking about each other (“Oh, he’s a genius.” “No, he’s a genius among geniuses.”) … i almost feel inspired to do it … but i won’t, not right now, because i’m at work and have work-stuff to do, and the rant needs more thought than i have time to give it.

but i do think i’m going to make a new category of boys-reading-boys and pay especial attention to everything that proves my point. i will also attempt to ignore everything that disproves my point, of course.

… my real point is that i wish more self-defined non-sexist men would self-define as anti-sexist. in other words, while i’m being a bit flip here, i do think this particular form of sexism is a real, observable phenomenon. And i wish guys who would like it not to be real would (a) check themselves to see if they do it, and (b) engage in a little positive affirmative action with other guys, in the name of men fighting sexism

subsidiary points that are not really points but preventive self-defense:

  • yes, i know a lot of good, anti-sexist men who are already conscious of their own biases and fight them, and do indeed make sure that they are as open to reading female as male writers. but i also know a lot of men who think of themselves as non-sexist — or even as feminist — but ignore their own biases in action.
  • no, this is not to say anything bad about the writing of Wallace or Wagner or any of the other boyz who are so loudly proclaimed to be geniuses. they may well be geniuses. or not. but if male writers get read 75% of the time and female writers get read 25% of the time then genius male writers are more likely to turn up. [and of course they become the standard … so recognition of genius outside of what male writers are doing is trickier]