Sunday, May 29, 2011

Unbound wants to be the Kickstarter for Books

... and what they really are is the editor-curated, agent-filtered Gluejar for books that haven't been written.

Ignoring the fact that tomorrow is Memorial Day (and why aren't you Brits out barbecuing anyway?), I feel compelled to write promptly about today's unveiling of Unbound, because many of the words being used to describe Unbound are similar to things I've written about Gluejar.

One of my early attempts to describe our model of "Ungluing eBooks" was that Gluejar would be "like Kickstarter for ten million books". I found that approximately 50% of the subjects tested were mystified by that description, and the other 50% got totally the wrong idea.

So the introduction of Unbound allows me the chance to compare and contrast Unbound, Kickstarter, and GlueJar.

Business model

Unbound is a conventional publisher that asks readers to pre-fund some or all of the fixed cost of producing a book that hasn't been written yet. Unbound tells you how many supporters a book needs, but not how much cash. Unbound doesn't tell you how much money they get or how much the authors get, and once a project is subscribed, Unbound publishes the book, and splits net profits 50/50 with the author.

Kickstarter is not a publisher at all. They just let creators ask for a specific amount of money to support their projects, including projects that might result in the production of a book. Kickstarter takes a 5% fee from funds raised; 100% of subsequent profits from a book go to the creator.

Gluejar won't be a publisher as the term is currently understood.  Gluejar will allow book lovers to pledge support for making books (that already exist) free to the world in a creative-commons licensed ebook edition. Authors retain commercial rights for print and other subsidiary rights. The price is set by the rights holder to match or exceed the income they would expect for future sales of the ebook; Gluejar takes a fee similar to Kickstarter's from funds raised.

Selection Process

Despite their slogan "Books are now in your hands", Unbound is using a selection process that's pretty much identical to how it already works. Book proposals will be carefully curated, and Unbound is only going to deal with submissions coming from literary agents. So if you're Monty Python's Terry Jones, great. I feel so empowered.

Kickstarter also reviews projects rather carefully to ensure quality. But anyone can propose a project, and it's clear from the projects on the site that it's relatively open to newcomers and nobodies with good ideas. It's really the crowd that decides what flies.

Gluejar will allow patrons to pick books for themselves. Although there are a huge number of books out there, you already know which ones you love. We're not sure how to extend the concept to new books or new authors.


Because Unbound acts as the publisher, supporters have a reasonable assurance that a completed project will actually deliver a book. On the downside, a book that has already been funded might turn out to be less than promised. The incentives encourage the author to split a narrative into multiple volumes, and if a book turns out to be bad, or perhaps just dull, the supporters don't get their money back. I don't know what Unbound means when it says that "All unused credits expire after 30 days."

Kickstarter doesn't do anything to assure that projects get completed. Supporters have to judge for themselves whether the creator is honest and worth supporting.

Gluejar will act as a trusted third party to make sure that good quality, Creative Commons editions are delivered to patrons of a successful pledge campaign. What Gluejar can't guarantee is that a rights holder with all the needed rights for relicensing a particular book will exist. That's why we'll let supporters spread their pledges onto lists of books.

Bottom Line

Unbound has launched with a very nicely done website. They've done a nice job of setting up reward levels and website features matched to book publishing. But Unbound is profoundly timid about putting publishing into the hands of the reader. It's more of a brilliant marketing gimmick than a publishing revolution; they've mapped out a healthy way to pre-sell an ebook for £10.

Thanks to @pablod, @julietalionetti and @muttinmall for a great discussion bringing out some of these issues.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hachette at the Tipping Point

Hachette CEO David Young
But it's not the tipping point that you might be thinking of. At this week's Publishing Point Meetup, David Young, Chairman and CEO of Hachette Book Group took his turn being interviewed by Michael Healy. Here's the bit that caught my ear:
If you just rewind the clock five, even ten years, the negotiations that one had with with Barnes and Noble, or WH Smith or Waterstones seemed like the most challenging things in the world, you were entering a G8 summit or something, and now they appear like a vicar's tea party compared with the people with whom we now regularly deal. Massive companies, Amazon, Apple, Google, and in fact last year was a tipping point for our company, because 50% of our net revenues were made through outlets that were not invested in us. Companies like Walmart and Costco and all the others you can think of, not directly invested in our business. And I think that was a big moment and it means you're having to deal with people who think about books in a way totally different from the way Barnes and Nobles regards books. Every retailer who does sell books understands that they drive traffic into their stores, I have no doubt that's why Walmart and Target and Costco love them so much, but they do tend to cream off the top. [..]
We have a very wide ranging, wide array of customers with whom to deal. They're selling our books in our special sales department through TJ Maxx and Anthropologie now. I know they even think about covers of our new books ahead of time to make sure that they're in this season's color.
That's right, Amazon just announced they were selling more Kindle ebooks than print books, and the big transition in Hachette's business is that they don't sell the majority of their books in bookstores anymore.

I had never been inside an Anthropologie store before, so I decided to go and take a look at the future of the book selling business. It seems to be mostly pink and pale green this year. Also a sort of pale purplish blue.

Here are some of the titles I found:
What a brilliantly arranged store! The casual cotton dresses look at least twice as slinky with a stack of color-coordinated Lover's Dictionaries piled next to them. And my mom loved candles- I never realized their connection to good parenting!

That other tipping point I've been writing about here? The library ebook thing? In the Q&A session, Young was asked: "What's your policy on ebook library lending?" Since Hachette allows Overdrive to distribute its ebooks to libraries, I hoped this would be a softball. But it wasn't. (Or maybe Young, an Englishman, only knows cricket.)
That is, I think, a really really big question, and I wish I knew the answer to it. All I know is we're putting a lot of thought into it. I'm meeting the President of the ALA in New Orleans in June and we're talking with our various partners around that. I think its something that needs a lot of careful thought because if you let that particular genie out of the bottle and get it wrong then you could get yourself in all sorts of trouble. Should there be a library solution? I'm certain there should be, but what it is we haven't figured it out. We're putting a lot of thought and effort into it.
The beginning of dialog at the very highest level between book publishers and librarians is definitely good news, and long overdue, but I'm not sure what advice I would give to ALA President Roberta Stevens for that meeting. Maybe she could offer to put the genie in one of those pot-candles that look so great alongside books at Anthropologie?
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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Object-Oriented Book

To most people, objects are things you can touch, see, maybe even smell. They have existence on their own. Software developers talk about objects as well. Although they're more abstract, software objects can also be touched- programs can interact with them, and they exist on their own as packages of code and data.

In some recent conversations about books and content containers, I've been hit in the face with the fact that most people in publishing haven't been steeped in Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) the way I once was, and as a result, some of the things I've written about the evolution of the book into digital form have sounded a bit strange to many people. So I've decided to write a bit here about how books are becoming software objects, and why it matters.

Object orientation is a style of programming that models problems as spaces of objects from various classes. The programmer solves problems by manipulating objects; the objects communicate among themselves by passing messages. The messages that objects pass are governed by interfaces; every class of objects is defined by the interfaces it supports. If that doesn't make sense to you, don't worry, I'll have some examples.

Let's think about how we might model the book as a software object. With a physical book, you know how to get the title and name of the author. You open up the book to the title page, and there you find the title, probably the words in the largest type size, and the author's name, probably printed below the title, perhaps with a designator word such as "by".

In the prehistory of programming before OOP, a book program might define data structures containing tables of book titles and author names. The program would look in these tables for the book data. An object-oriented program would instead send the book-object messages saying "what is your name?" and "What person was your author?" An object-oriented approach binds the code and data together, so that objects of the book class know what their title is, how many chapters they have, and what the 20th word of the 32nd paragraph of their 3rd chapter is. The set of messages that an object can respond to defines its class. A programmer knows that any object in the Book class will be able to tell you its title.

Another key concept in object orientation is inheritance. A cookbook is a book and inherits from the Book class the ability to tell you its title. But you expect a Cookbook to have recipes, and you should be able to ask it how many recipes it contains.

The reason I think this is important for non-coders to understand is that very soon, the book industry will become focused on producing lots and lots of these software objects. And I'm not talking about some far-fetched digital utopia.

The third revision of the EPUB standard is very soon to become a reality, and I believe its use will quickly become pervasive in the book industry. It would be a mistake to think of EPUB3 as yet another document format. With the adoption of EPUB3, the book industry will, for the first time ever, have standardized a software object model for the book. This comes along with EPUB3's use of HTML5 as a foundational layer.

An object model became associated with HTML documents very early in its evolution. Called the DOM, or Document Object Model, it was developed by programmers working with HTML documents, and it quickly became the basis for most software that works with HTML documents. With the development of Javascript, HTML documents delivered over the web could bind to code that accesses and manipulates their data via the DOM. It's only with HTML5, however, that the DOM is officially becoming part of the HTML standard.

With HTML5 as its basis, EPUB3 becomes a very capable "container" of content. The whole discussion of how containers limit the ways in which content can interact with consumers becomes completely moot, and a bit silly. EPUB3 binds a complete "API" (application programming interface) onto the content, and provide many mechanisms for the extension of that interface. The "API" and the "container" are one and the same.

If we look at the immense infrastructure that arose around the book as a physical object, from book bags and compact shelving, to printing plants, warehouses, libraries and used bookstores, we can get an inkling of the infrastructure that will grow up around the book as a software object. In the coming weeks, I'll try to write about some of the implications of EPUB3 for the industry as a whole.
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Open Access eBooks, Part 4. Libraries

No Shelf Required: E-books in LibrariesThe fourth section my book chapter on Open Access eBooks looks at theier relationship with libraries.  I previously posted the IntroductionWhat does Open Access mean for eBooks and Business Models for Creation of Open Access E-Books. I'll be posting one more section, a conclusion.

Thank you for all of your comments; the completed chapter (and OA eBook) will be better for them.

Libraries and Open Access E-Books

One of the missions of libraries is to provide access to all sorts of information, including e-books. If an e-book is already open access, what role is left for libraries play?

Here’s a thought-experiment for libraries: imagine that the library’s entire collection is digital. Should it include Shakespeare? Should it include Moby Dick? These are available as public domain works from Project Gutenberg; providing these editions in a library collection might seem to be superfluous. Many librarians have been trying to convince their patrons that “free stuff on the Internet” is often inferior to the quality information available through libraries. There are certainly e-book editions of these works available for purchase with better illustrations, better editing, annotations, etc. Should libraries try to steer patrons to these resources instead of using the free stuff?

For the most part, libraries have not done a good job of incorporating resources such as those available from Project Gutenberg into their digital collections. Overdrive, the leading provider of e-books to public libraries, now offers Project Gutenberg titles for no extra charge, but they are offered as a separate collection. At present, if a user searches for Moby Dick in a library collection, a result will be returned only if the library has a purchased edition of Moby Dick, which may be in use by another patron. A separate search must be done to retrieve the free edition.

As we saw in the section on types of open access, for an e-book to really be Open Access, there must be an appropriate license (or public domain status) AND effective access. There are a number of ways that libraries can work to make that access effective, both individually and through cooperative effort. Similarly, Open Access e-books can play an important role in supporting the mission of libraries. This section will consider libraries’ roles in access, selection, archiving, community, and production of Open Access e-books.

Access and Storage

Most libraries can avoid worrying about access and storage of Open Access e-books, thanks to services such as the Internet Archive’s OpenLibrary project and HathiTrust, a “partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future”.  These services provide reliable low-cost file storage and bandwidth. Adding effective access to cost-free e-books at other sites may need a bit more work; figuring out and tracking stable, persistent URLs at multiple locations can create a logistics burden for libraries that could help manage access. Library-oriented “knowledgebase” services from vendors such as OCLC, Proquest and Ex-Libris may prove to be useful in this regard.

As users shift towards reader devices and tablet computers, libraries will find themselves spending a lot of time helping users figure out how to move Open Access e-books onto their devices. In principle, Open Access e-books shouldn’t require Digital Rights Management, and should thus be compatible with most devices. In practice, getting content free content onto a device can be non-intuitive and often “side-loading” or other indirect procedures are required; most e-reader devices have book shopping functionality and the vendors are not motivated to push users to content that doesn’t generate revenue.

Selection and Description

Metadata based discovery and browsing have been a strength of libraries; without the motivation to sell copies, many cost-free e-books lack even basic metadata, let alone good quality catalog records. This is clearly an area where libraries can make significant contributions, especially when they work cooperatively.

With a flood of free content already available, and much more on the way, there is a continuing need to highlight the material most suited to the needs of the user. Multiple editions can exist of public domain works; it makes sense for libraries to help patrons find the best ones.

Perhaps the best example to date of work in a library on selection and description of Open Access e-books is the Online Books Page at the University of Pennsylvania. Edited by John Mark Ockerbloom, it indexes over a million online books, all of them available for free to users (

Archiving and Preservation

One of the biggest uncertainties presented by e-book licensing is whether today’s e-book acquisitions will meet the needs of future readers. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first e-books, it’s hard to ignore the fact that most libraries have print collections that reach back a hundred years and more. We don’t know what parts of today’s written culture will be in demand 100 (or even 40) years from now or how readers will expect to approach them. For that reason, texts must be in a form that can evolve with reading technology, and the evolution must not depend on the permission and continued existence of publishing companies, platform vendors, rights management software, proprietary software or hardware. Formats must adhere strictly to standards. The forty-year-old texts from Project Gutenberg can still be read today because they used very simple formats; these are being converted to newer more capable formats such as EPUB for easy consumption on e-book readers. Going forward, there will be continuing challenges in the evolution of photos, graphics, mathematics, scripting, and linking of e-books.

LOCKSS, a peer-to-peer preservation system in which libraries are taking the lead in preserving e-journals and other websites. LOCKSS has been working to extend its digital preservation efforts to e-books; about 45,000 e-books are “in-process”, and it’s expected that another 30,000 will be added in 2012.

Community and Context

Open Access e-books give libraries new ways to reach out to the communities they serve. The social aspects of reading are well known to libraries; the story times and book clubs nurtured by public libraries are excellent examples. Although an e-book isn’t tied to location the way a print book is, people and their social circles are tied to places. There are two types of advantages for the use of Open Access e-books in a library’s outreach efforts. Cost is an obvious factor; public libraries have an obligation to support reading by community segments that might not be able to afford the books they need. A second advantage is that of context building. The sort of annotation, commenting and discussion around books that can take place in a group of friends and neighbors is quite different from that which occurs anonymously in a global forum. At the same time, the availability of free, untethered e-books from libraries, free from DRM or Internet monitoring, allows individuals to obtain and read books with real privacy.


As technology lowers the barriers to e-book production, more and more people will be able to produce and distribute e-books. Just as the combination of YouTube, cheap video cameras and editing software allows Rebecca Black to become a viral sensation, the corresponding e-book technologies are already starting to nurture grassroots authorship. Libraries may play an important role in enabling and promoting community-created content. Books that may not be commercially viable may still be important to a community, and libraries can play a role in connecting local authors to communities both near and far.

Libraries can also fill the need for educating grassroots authors about the meaning and importance of public licenses. Some authors will of course need to use traditional licensing strategies, but most will be unfamiliar with Creative Commons and other types of licenses. The social benefit of the use of these licenses is aligned with the library’s mission of promoting access to information, and libraries should not be hesitant to promote their use.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Open Access eBooks, Part 5. Changing the World

The final (short) section of my book chapter on Open Access eBooks tries to make clear why I think think it's important to work on them.  I'll release an EPUB version of the full chapter around when the book gets published.

Here's the outline for the full set of posts:
  1. Introduction
  2. What Does Open Access mean for E-Books?
  3. Business Models for Creation
  4. Libraries and Open Access E-Books.
  5. Changing the World
Again, thank you for all of your comments.

Changing the World

As applied to the scholarly journal, the goals of the Open Access movement have been diverse. The success of the movement must be judged against those goals. There’s no doubt that Open Access has been successful at its core goal of increasing access to many types of information. But some other hopes pinned on the movement have been unrealized. Serials budgets at libraries have continued a seemingly inexorable rise.

It’s been estimated that 4 billion books are printed each year. That seems like a big number until you remember that the world’s population is almost 7 billion. A large fraction of the world’s population has minimal access to books. Yet the number of cell phones in the world has been estimated at 4.6 billion. As more and more cell phones become capable of delivering e-books, the fraction of the world’s population with access to e-books may soon exceed the fraction of the world’s population with access to physical libraries.

The majority of the people in the world will not be able to pay $9.99 for an e-book. Even in wealthy countries, the cost of food, clothing, shelter, transportation and medical care limit many people's ability to buy content licenses. Yet the thirst for literature, learning and culture is not confined to the wealthy of the world. Open Access e-books can help to slake this thirst and help to create a global community of understanding and knowledge. Through shared access to culture and ideas, Open Access e-books can erase some of what separates the nations of the world, rich and poor.

For Open Access e-books to have this sort of impact, their production and distribution must be effective. Production can occur through a variety of business models, including models that reward authors and creators for their efforts. New distribution channels must be created and supported. Libraries have a clear and vital role in this process, and must work cooperatively to meet the needs of their diverse communities. Venues for such cooperation already exist (OCLC, OpenLibrary, Hathitrust, Europeana and various national libraries) or are being planned (the Digital Public Library of America), but new ones will also be needed.

Together, we must strive to make sure that the best and most thoughtful of the world’s e-books are not lost in a deluge of free dross, free come-ons and free polemics. If people are to govern themselves in peace, they should have easy access to good ideas and honest information.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Coffee's On, Let's Get to Work

Gluejar is becoming real. I'm pleased to announce the first three hires for Gluejar's new business of "ungluing ebooks".

Amanda Mecke is an expert in literary rights management. Before founding her own literary agency, Amanda was VP, Director of Subsidiary Rights for Bantam Dell, a division of Random House Inc. from 1989-2003, where she led a department that sold international and domestic book rights and pioneered early electronic licenses for subscription databases, CD-ROMs, audiobooks, and ebooks. She was also a co-leader of the Random House/SAP Contracts and Royalties software development team. Prior to joining Bantam Dell, Amanda ran the New York marketing office of the University of California Press. While there she served the board of the American Association of University Presses and was President of Women in Scholarly Publishing. Amanda has been a speaker at the Frankfurt Book Messe Rights Workshop, NYU Summer Publishing Program, American Independent Writers conference, and the International Women’s Writers Guild. She has a B.A. from Pitzer College, Claremont, California and a Ph.D. in English from UCLA.  Amanda will continue to represent original work by her literary agency clients.

Although our founding team will be be playing many roles at once, Amanda will be spending much of her time reaching out to rights-holders and identifying works that will attract financial support from book lovers who want to see the ebooks available for free to anyone, anywhere. Her experience in both trade and academic publishing, together with her keen insight into the world of book rights, stood her above a lot of great people who expressed interest in working for Gluejar. Amanda's email address is amecke. Contact her with your ideas for books that deserve to be free.

Raymond Yee is a data architect, author, consultant, and teacher.  He is author of the leading book on web mashups, Pro Web 2.0 Mashups: Remixing Data and Web Services (published by Apress and licensed under a Creative Commons license).   At the UC Berkeley School of Information, he taught Mixing and Remixing Information, a course on using APIs to create mashups.  An open data and open government aficionado, he recently co-wrote three influential reports on how the US government can improve its efforts to make data and services available through APIs. Pro Web 2.0 Mashups: Remixing Data and Web Services (Expert's Voice in Web Development)Raymond served as the Integration Advisor for the Zotero Project (a widely used open source research tool) and managed the Zotero Commons, a collaboration between George Mason University and the Internet Archive. Raymond has been an invited speaker about web technology at the Library of Congress, Fashion Institute of Technology, the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, American Library Association, the Open Education conference, Code4lib, Educause, and NISO. While earning a Ph.D. in biophysics, he taught computer science, philosophy, and personal development to middle and high school students in the Academic Talent Development Program on the Berkeley campus. Raymond is an erstwhile tubaist, admirer of J. S. Bach, and son of industrious Chinese-Canadian restaurateurs.

I've admired Raymond's work for several years now, and the work that he's done is very much is tune with the technical vision I have for an ebook crowd-funding website. The interfaces it will expose to other websites and the data mash-ups it will enable will be just as important as the website itself. Expect that any webpage- book blog, face book page, or library online catalog, will be able to combine book data and user interaction with the effort of nudging the book towards Open Access. Raymond's email address is rdhyee. Contact him with ideas about how your website can work with ours.

Andromeda Yelton is former Latin teacher and recent library science graduate (with a background in mathematics) who's quickly made a name for herself in the library world.  She has a BA in Mathematics from Harvey Mudd College, an MA in Classics from Tufts, and recently completed her MLS from Simmons. She blogs at Across Divided Networks and at ALA TechSource, and last year won  the LITA/Ex Libris Student Writing Award for an article on  A Simple Scheme for Book Classification Using Wikipedia. She was named an ALA Emerging Leader this year.

Andromeda's been mentioned in this blog before. In January, I wrote about her fund-raising to "Buy India a Library". She also has first-hand experience with public broadcasting- she was once a listener contestant on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. Andromeda has already started work on a new Gluejar corporate web site. Her email address is andromeda. Contact her with all your libraryish ideas.

You can follow the Gluejar team on Twitter with a single click at @gluejar/team.

Don't be surprised if my blog post are less frequent- I'll have a lot to keep me busy!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Open Access eBooks, Part 3. Business Models for Creation

No Shelf Required: E-books in LibrariesHere's the third section of my draft of a book chapter for a book edited by No Shelf Required's Sue Polanka. I previously posted the introduction; and What does Open Access mean for eBooks subsequent posts will cover Open Access E-Books in Libraries and a Conclusion. Note that while the blog always uses "ebook" as one word, the book will use the hyphenated form, "e-book". The comments on the second section prompted me to make significant revisions, which I have posted.

Business Models for Creation of Open Access E-Books

Any model for e-book publishing must have a business model for recouping the expenses of production: reviewing, editing, formatting, design, etc. In this section, we’ll review methods that can be used to support Open Access e-book publishing.

In 2009 Cory Doctorow put together a collection of short stories called “With a Little Help” and documented the process of publishing it in a series of columns on Publisher’s Weekly. He used a variety of business models to support the project, as detailed below, and the e-book version was released under a Creative Common License.

DIY publishing models

One way to meet the costs of e-book production is to keep those costs close to zero. Free blogging sites have made it simple for authors to produce blogs and other sorts of websites; additional tools are available to add keywords, links, and images. Other tools can convert a blog or similar website to the EPUB e-book format; EPUB export is available in Apple’s Pages word processor and it’s likely that other programs will soon follow suit.

With a Little HelpGiven these tools, authors can produce e-books on their own, with no other expense than the value of their time. For With a Little Help Doctorow did most of the production himself; as the title suggests, he got friends to help out with things such as cover and book design.

In the “Do It Yourself” or DIY model, there are essentially no expenses to recoup. If the author wants to earn something, additional money needs to be spent on an ISBN and a bit more to get metadata into a feed for Amazon. But if income is not the object, the e-book can simply be posted on a website and made available to the world. A CC license allows the e-books to be distributed in a wide variety of channels.

In fact, with the consent of the editor, this book chapter will be released as a DIY Open Access e-book in EPUB format, with a CC BY-ND license. The author hopes to profit primarily from the experience of doing so.

Freemium models

“Freemium” refers to the business model, common on websites, to offer one level of service for free, and then, when the user is solidly hooked on the use of the service, to offer them a premium level of service for a fee. The difficulty of this model is to have a service that’s attractive enough at the free level of service to drive premium conversions, and at the same time to have the free service be limited enough that upgrades deliver significant value.

In the e-book space, the traditional premium service is typically either the print version or an updated or otherwise enhanced digital edition. O’Reilly has used this model to great effect, by allowing authors to make free PDF versions available on websites while O’Reilly sells print versions through traditional channels.

In Doctorow’s project, he offered Print-on-demand versions through for $18 each, along with 250 “super-limited hardcovers” for $275 each: These were hand-bound on acid-free paper and included original paper “ephemera”, and came with a memory card with the full text of the book and audiobook. The $275 version turned out to be the big moneymaker.

As e-book readers become preferred over print by users, using print as a revenue engine may run out of steam. Bloomsbury Academic is building a platform that also uses e-book versions as the premium. While CC noncommercial versions are available for reading online, the books will also be issued for purchase in print and on Kindle and Sony readers. It’s possible that publishers will look at enhancing e-books with supplementary content or deep semantic mark-up as their revenue driver; a bare-bones Open Access version would serve as promotional vehicles for the core product.

Advertising and promotional models

Cost-free and Open-Access content can promote more than just a premium edition of the same content. E-Book formats are much like HTML web sites in that they can embed links; even javascript functionality is becoming available in e-book content. Publishers can use these types of functionality to generate revenue through advertising. A quick look at iPad or Android App Stores reveals a huge selection of free, advertising-supported Apps, including many apps that simply wrap e-book content.

In one scenario where this might happen, an author of a book series might produce an OA electronic version of the first in the series. The free e-book could have embedded links or “in-app purchase” buttons for subsequent books in the series. OA E-books might also be supported by contextual links and/or product placement; imagine a story featuring a sports car where the brand and model of the car are chosen based on support from a car company.

Another type of promotion that can be furthered by all types of free e-books is personal brand-building. It could be argued that Cory Doctorow’s biggest payoff from the With a Little Help project was that it increased his fame and thus his ability to make money on appearances, commissions, and on the Boing-Boing website. (One story in the collection was a $10,000 commission) Seth Godin

Public funding

Some books, such as those relating to education, public health, political or social advocacy, or scientific research, fulfill a public purpose. Publication of these books using a form of Open Access will further their public purpose. The costs of production and release of these-books can financed by foundations, charities, political action committees, private individuals, or governments.

European governments have joined together to fund the digitization and distribution of cultural heritage works through Europeana. Funded by the European Commission and national ministries of culture, Europeana acts as a portal enabling distribution of large numbers of OA e-books. In the US, books created by the federal government belong by law to the public domain, but there’s no centralized funding of OA e-books or their distribution.

In developing countries, governments seeking to provide textbooks to large numbers of student will eventually find that producing e-textbooks, released for free, is the only scalable method of providing for their national educational needs. Many states in India, for example, already release their state-published textbooks on an OA basis.

A variation on public funding for OA e-books in the context of academic monograph publishing has been proposed by Frances Pinter. Her idea is for libraries to join together in a cooperative, diverting a fraction of their acquisition budgets to fund the fixed costs of producing new monographs by university and commercial scholarly presses, which would then be made Open Access. She estimates that individual libraries could save over 75%, depending on the participation rate.

Another sort of public funding model with a long history of use is the “tip-jar”, or more profitably, the pay-what-you want model. Here, the creator urges his audience to leave some money as a “thank you” in return for value received. Doctorow reported receiving over $1200 using a Paypal-powered donation box, which actually did better than his print-on-demand offering.


Wikipedia and the more specialized wiki sites it has spawned are excellent examples of Internet resources created by large numbers of individuals working together virtually. These volunteer collaborations have replaced printed encyclopedias for most people, and might be considered to be the largest, most dynamic Open Access e-books in existence. Most users wouldn’t consider these websites to be books, even though the printed equivalents certainly were.

An organization called “Distributed Proofreaders” (DP) is an aggregation of volunteer effort clearly focused on e-books. Many of the digital texts in Project Gutenberg have been produced by DP volunteers who check and correct OCR transcriptions of scanned books. While OCR (optical character recognition) can be very accurate for modern books, books and magazines printed in the nineteenth century and earlier present a variety of challenges. The resulting digitized works are dedicated to the public domain.


The model that the author is working on at Gluejar Inc. is crowd funding. It’s analogous to the method that public radio and public television is funded in the U.S., except that every book that’s to be released with a Creative Commons license has a fund drive of its own. Once the producer’s price has been matched by reader pledges, an Open Access e-book is released. The pledge drives are managed by a website.

Authors have used crowd-funding websites such as to cover the expenses of completing a new book. For example, Mur Lafferty raised over $19,000 from more than 250 backers to fund book design, cover design, and e-book conversion for a fantasy audio series. In a few cases, the projects use Creative Commons licenses. Stephen Duncombe, a Professor at NYU, has been trying to raise $3500 to fund the further production of an open-source version of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, which is distributed with a CC BY-SA license. (Of course the underlying work is in the public domain, but the new translations, annotations, and commentary is subject to copyright.)

To get a better idea of how crowd-funding might scale to large numbers of books, consider the author of a romance series. Rights for the earliest books in the series have reverted to her, but there’s no cash to convert the book to e-book formats. She contacts the pledge-drive website, and enters an offer to release the first book under a Creative Commons license in exchange for a lump sum payment that she considers to be fair and which covers the conversion to e-book. Fans of the series can then go to the site and pledge support. If the author's offer price is met, supporters get billed, and the author gets the payment. The resulting e-book file is sent to all the people who have pledged, and put on a feed for the rest of the world to pick up. Since the e-book is now Creative Commons licensed, it can be redistributed for free.

In another scenario, a reader launches the pledge campaign, perhaps someone who has found the book in a library. The library metadata is pushed to the pledge-drive site and other fans can pledge their support. Eventually, the pledge amount gets big enough to attract notice from rights holders, who can then show up, deliver the e-book, and take the cash off the table and divide it among themselves.

  1. Cory Doctorow's With a Little Help Project
  2. Bloomsbury Academic
  3. Seth Godin's What Matters Now
  4. Europeana
  5. Distributed Proofreaders
  6. Mur Lafferty's Kickstarter Project- The Afterlife Series: Heaven, Hell, Earth, Wasteland, War
  7. Stephen Duncombe's Open Utopia project on Kickstarter:The Open Utopia: A New Kind of Old Book 
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Monday, May 2, 2011

Open Access eBooks, Part 2. What does Open Access mean for e-books?

No Shelf Required: E-books in LibrariesHere's the second section of my draft of a book chapter for a book edited by No Shelf Required's Sue Polanka. I previously posted the introduction; subsequent posts will include sections on Business Models for Open Access E-Books, and Open Access E-Books in Libraries. Note that while the blog always uses "ebook" as one word, the book will use the hyphenated form, "e-book". The comments on the first section have been really good; please don't stop!

What does Open Access mean for e-books?

There are varying definitions for the term “open access”, even for journal articles. For the moment, I will use this as a lower-case term broadly to mean any arrangement that allows for people to read a book without paying someone for the privilege. At the end of the section, I’ll capitalize the term. Although many e-books are available for free in violation of copyright laws, I’m excluding them from this discussion.

Public Domain

The most important category of open access for books is work that has entered the public domain. In the US, all works published before 1923 have entered the public domain, along with works from later years whose registration was not renewed. Works published in the US from 1923-1963 entered the public domain 28 years after publication unless the copyright registration was renewed. Public domain status depends on national law, and a work may be in the public domain in some countries but not in others. The rules of what is in and out of copyright can be confusing and sometimes almost impossible to determine correctly.

In addition to public domain books that are made available by Project Gutenberg, works digitized by other efforts may be available on an open access basis. It’s not true, however, that any digitized public domain book is also open access. That’s because the digitizer can restrict access to the works using license agreements. For example, JSTOR has many digitized public domain works included in its subscription products, but the terms of the subscription prevent republication of their scans. Similarly, Google puts restrictions on the public domain books from partner libraries that it has scanned, digitized and included in Google Books. While they’re available for free, there are limits on what you can do with them.

The public domain is more than just free; it belongs to everyone. Public domain works can be copied, remixed, altered or extended. A book publisher can take a public domain text, print up bound volumes, and sell them in bookstores. A movie producer can create a cinematic dramatization of the public domain work; derivative works such as the movie acquire copyrights of their own and are not in the public domain.

Free Copyrighted Content

Laypeople often confuse public domain for “free”, and vice versa. Most content available for free on the web is copyrighted, which restricts what people can do with it. Often, the content is made available using an advertising model, trading the opportunity to read and interact with content for the user’s attention to ads or links to e-commerce websites. But website users are usually not free to republish content or email the content to friends beyond the bounds of fair use. They’re bound by whatever terms and condition the website chooses to employ; if there are no explicit terms and conditions, they still can’t copy the website’s content for other uses.

Even professional publishers are sometimes confused by copyright on the web. In 2010, the editor of “Cooks Source”, a Massachusetts magazine got into hot water for republishing a blogger’s work without permission. The publisher’s response to the blogger, on being asked for restitution, made the rounds of the Internet, and is striking for the bellicose ignorance it betrays:
Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things. But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!
Many free e-books are available on a similar basis as free websites. They may include advertising or advocacy. Promotional literature and instruction manuals often fall into this category. Many publishers make free e-books available for limited periods of time as a means of marketing them; that doesn’t make them free to redistribute, though it happens.

Creative Commons Licensing

Creative Commons licensing arose to expand the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. Many authors really want their works to be redistributed for free in venues such as Cooks Source, but they want to make sure attribution is given, and often want to prevent their work from being altered or chopped into pieces. Others want to make sure that if their work is altered or somehow improved, the altered or improved version will also be available for free. Sometimes, authors are happy to have their works reused non-commercially, but want to keep their works from being commercially exploited without permission. Creative Commons licenses give authors the tools they need to accomplish these goals.

CC BY-SA mark
The different licenses available from Creative Commons are designated with a special mark, with added code letters that indicate the features invoked by the rights holder. For example, the “Attribution-ShareAlike” license is denoted by the letters “CC BY-SA” and the mark shown. This license requires attribution as to the author of the work, and the ShareAlike features bind the licensee to share any modifications or improvements.

It’s important to note that in the Creative Commons licenses, the owner of the copyright does not give up ownership of the work. The owner is free to re-license the work under any terms they desire, and can still sue people who infringe on the copyrights. The owner licenses the work to the user, who accepts the license as a condition of use. The user can in turn distribute the work along with a copy of the license to other users, who accept the terms of the same license from the copyright owner as a condition of their use.

Creative Commons licensing is now widely used for free e-books distributed on the web. Perhaps the best known e-books using CC are the works of Cory Doctorow, a blogger, science fiction author and advocate for copyright law reform. It’s also used for Wikipedia contributions, and is supported by Flickr for use in photos.


While Creative Commons licenses are the most frequently used for e-books, other licenses can be used to allow for the free reading of books. Noteworthy among these is the GNU Free Documentation License (FDL), created by the Free Software Foundation to allow software documentation, manuals and other text to be distributed with strong “copyleft” provisions compatible with the GPL software they’re meant to accompany. The GNU FDL can easily be applied to e-books; many ebooks have been released with this license and with other Free Software Foundation licenses.

The idea of copyleft is that licenses can be used to prevent someone from taking from the commons without also giving back. For example, when a book publisher adds commentary and illustrations to the text of a Shakespeare play, the resulting book is covered under copyright and permission must be given for redistribution even though the underlying work is in the public domain. This would not be allowed by a copyleft license. The Creative Commons SA licenses have weak copyleft; the GNU FDL is stronger, and even forbids the use of DRM. It’s not clear whether it would be legal to distribute a GNU FDL e-book to a Kindle e-reading device without permission from the author.

Open Access vs. open access

How Wikipedia Works: And How You Can Be a Part of ItConsider the book How Wikipedia Works by Phoebe Ayers, Charles Matthews, and Ben Yates. Is it an open access e-book? Based on the page at the Free Software Foundation, you might assume the answer is an easy yes, because it comes with a GNU FDL license. If you search for this book on Google, however, you’ll have to dig quite a bit to get a free e-book. Amazon will sell you the Kindle version for $21.64. You can buy it in three different formats from O’Reilly or from No Starch Press, the publisher, for $23.95. Google books has it through their publisher program; it appears to fully available and Google doesn’t try to sell it to you. You can find the e-book in a library through Worldcat, but the libraries that hold it restrict access to their own users. Wikipedia itself has a page for it, but no download link; for that you need to look on the talk page.

The intent of the publisher of this book doesn’t seem to be to make the e-book available openly, even though it uses a “free” license. The free distribution of the e-book is not effective. There are a lot of ways to license content, but at the end of the day, it’s the intent of the rights holders and the effectiveness of the free distribution that makes an e-book “Open Access” with capital OA.

  1. How Wikipedia Works: is available (GNU FDL license) as PDF (here (15 MB)). The Google books version is here. It's listed on a GNU web page.
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