Thursday, October 22, 2009

Geoff Livingston: "Now Is Gone": Social media replace one-way self-publishing


Geoff Livingston was one of the panelists at the “Social Media Outlook” forum at Tysons Corner Va. Oct. 14, sponsored by Potomac Tech Wire, and he mentioned his book “Now Is Gone: A Primer on New Media for Executives and Entrepreneurs,” published in Laurel MD in 2007 by Bartleby, with ISBN 978-0910155731. The book runs 194 pages, with an attractive “Milwaukee Road” yellow and black cover, paperback. The website for the book is this.

The transition from “Web 1.0” to “Web 2.0” roughly marks the development of a duality: the Web moves from being a one-way publishing platform (especially for self-publishing) embellished with the kernel of e-commerce, to a public interaction forum that restructures not just social meeting, but the whole functioning of a market economy, with public relations and marketing.

My own experience is instructive. I started by writing a book focused on trying to lift the ban on gays in the military, and found that I was developing a whole paradigm to understand the tension between individualistic and group or family-based ways of looking at moral issues. Once the paradigm is published and becomes known, it is difficult for special interests to maintain a grip on the debate, because it is “always there,” available through search engine for anyone. I maintained “running footnote” files as flat web pages to supplement the book (and put the book online). But in 2006, I basically replaced the “running footnote” maintenance with the blogs that you see today.

But the Web 2.0 approach to repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” would support the “special interest” way of doing things: you use social media to find and grow like-minded people, raise money (organizations call this “development”) and make your cause socially, rather than just intellectually, compelling. Indeed, the social aspect of this problem (DADT) is in practice much harder than the intellectual part (it’s pretty easy to knock down the old arguments for the military ban, that is).

Indeed, the media has presented many ways in which the Web is used for charitable giving and organizing volunteer and relief efforts (as after Hurricane Katrina).

When I wrote my book and first created my site in 1997, I regarded my “work life” and “expressive life” as separate, the latter as almost my “private life” (even despite my Minneapolis television appearances in early 1998). Social media, however, force “unification” of one’s “online reputation.”

The book includes an introduction by Brian Solis, and some “Best of the Buzz Bin Interviews” with Shel Holtz, Toby Bloomberg, Todd Derfen, Brian Oberkirch, Laura Ries, Kami Watse Huyse, and Scott Baradell. It’s interesting to me that the Additional Reading Lists gives Rebecca Blood’s “The Weblog Handbook” but not Nancy Flynn’s American Management Association guide “Blog Rules: A Business Guide to Managing Policy, Public Relations, and Legal Issues" (006).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Discount retail chains erode publishers' business models


Wal-Mart, Target, and Sears are drawing Amazon into a book-pricing war that could be harmful to publishers (especially self-publishers), according to a story by Stephen Lowman in the Washington Post, Wednesday Oct. 21, p. 19A, link here. The title of the story is “Amazon, discounters in book-pricing war; Wal-Mart fires first, online giant responds, then Target enters fray”.

The strategy of the lowballing on book prices is to draw customers into adding other higher profit margins, like clothing, to their shopping carts.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Libraries allow readers to download books, one at a time


Public libraries are exploring “digital lending” of books, in a model in which only one reader can download a particular digital book at a time, according to a story by Mokoto Rich in the October 15 New York Times, “Libraries and readers wade into digital lending”, link here.

Generally, these books cannot be read on Amazon’s Kindle or the Apple iPhone. But still, since visitors can download onto their personal laptops, publishers worry that the practice would ruin sales, as visitors could essentially get personal use copies for free.

Of course, I have no objection if readers do this with my authored books.

Also, look at this column by Ashley Surdin in the Monday, Oct. 19 2009 Washington Post, "In some classrooms, books are a thing of the past : Digital texts gaining favor, but critics question quality", link here.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

E-books could faces "Napster-like" threat


Randall Stross has a provocative article in The New York Times this morning, “Will E-Books Be Napsterized?” link here, in the Digital Domain section of the paper’s Business Section.

My own personal reaction is, if I want to read an entire book, I usually want a hard copy, to peruse while waiting for the previews in a theater (if the overhead lights are on). But, as the article points out, portable tablet devices, self-illuminated even for dark spaces, may quickly change things, even “on the beach”.

The article discusses RapidShare as having unwittingly been involved in questionable hosting of copied book material. The company says it honors DMCA take down notices.

Again, I’ve made my own books available online for free viewing (at doaskdotell.com) in order to gain “limelight”. However, established authors and publishers depend on original sales, and the world of trade publishing, like movies, is a bit insular and self-protective (as discussed in the review of Patry’s “Copyright Wars”, previous post). Authors Guild, for example, the last time I looked, only accepts as members authors who are normally able to gain advances before publication. The rise of self-publishing may challenge this old model, and new authors may object much less to free copies, further eroding the older business model.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Patry: "Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars"

Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars (0)
Author: William Patry.
Title: "Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars".
Publication: London: Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-538564-9, hardbound, 266 pages.

Patry, a Senior Copyright Counsel at Google who says that this book expresses only his own views, has an interesting metaphor. Copyright is an adjunct to social order, or, that is, it has been set up that way over history. Intellectual property rights are not necessarily a “natural right” (like land ownership perhaps); but once enshrined in the law and business, they can be manipulated to protect business models already commensurate with a certain social order (read: the family, judging from previous reviews on this column, although Patry stops short of making that comparison explicit). Hence, he develops his notion of "moral panics" or breakdown of social order (eg, the family, the corporate state).

I got a self-taught novice course in copyright law when I wrote my first book in the mid 1990s. I learned what fair use means, and discovered that there were double standards in place throughout the i.p. world even then, just as the Internet was taking off. There were companies around that would, for a fee, get “permissions” for you; but with any care, you really didn’t need permission. The danger was that an amateur writer could tick someone off.

It’s not unreasonable, in my mind, to maintain that a book author should have, according to conditions of a reasonable marketplace, get some royalty when her work is distributed; or that a composer ( a couple of current friends (pun if you like) of mine are young classical composers) should get paid when his work is performed. I’ve always understood that. It was nice to get a few hundred dollars in book revenue during the latter part of 1997. But my main purpose was to make an argument and, frankly, enter the limelight.

What gets hairy, as Paltry explains, is how businesses over the centuries tried to control how media could be developed and distributed by others, going all the way back to the time of the Catholic Church faced by the threat of the printing press. In his introduction, Paltry asks if copyright was a “tax” on consumers for the benefit of content authors, but as the book develops, it seems like it’s a tax to preserve the corporate-familial state.

In that sense, as I have explained on my blogs before, my own model for distributing political arguments is a “threat” to established models of publishing, and of lobbying for political influence. Back in the late 1990s, fellow libertarians in Minnesota warned me that I would be perceived as a “threat”; it’s turned out that Napster was a threat (as was P2P file-sharing, which the RIAA and MPAA took on as an existential threat, to the point of telephone lawsuits against individual downloaders), but Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia, in the final analysis, were not, even though they all proposed revolutionary models. They were what consumers wanted.

That’s the rub, Patry says. He brings this out particularly in his discussion of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which is remarkable in its reach in controlling content playback or distribution devices from third parties, even prohibiting what would be fair use. (I recall that back in the 1960s a friend and I would tape each other’s classical records for private use; and we would justify it morally by saying that we both bought lots of vinyl records anyway, usually at big sales; Patry brings up the notion that even the CD was at one time perceived as an existential threat to the vinyl record, before the Sony BetaMax case blew the whole old-fashioned “record sales” and old broadcast television models out of the water, because Sony also gave us non-infringing uses. Don’t forget here MGM v. Grokster, where downstream liability applies if a “new” business model is predicated primarily upon the expectation of user infringement.)

OK, on the DMCA, let me get back on subject. Patry’s point is that Congress was promised that the DMCA would actually promote legitimate consumer interests; in fact it did not, as we know. The notorious “safe harbor” provision of the DMCA, the take-down (or “disable”) provision, often credited (along with Section 230 of the 1996 CDA) of “saving the Internet” for free entry, is very much abused, Patry says, by third party companies who automate the process of generating bogus complaints, often intended to suppress free speech (rather like SLAPP). I digress here and recommend the link “Blogopshere Hails Tim Lee’s DMCA Paper” (“Circumventing Competition: The Perverse Consequences of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), link here at the “Technology Liberation Front”. Patry goes into some other side cases, like Redbox and even Cartrivision, an awkward precursor to the VCR.

Patry’s last chapter, “How Innovation Occurs” gives a good distinction between innovation and invention, and makes the case that “creative destruction” really does support “Reagan-style” economic well being for people who do have initiative to act on their own – which fits well into individualism but not into a world predicated on social control. Indeed, think about the “we give you the words” model of sales culture, designed to propagate an existing business structure founded on social and familial structures, in which most people never really become content creators.

Patry’s writing style is interesting, and paradoxical: he has lots of very long quotes himself, developing his subject matter in academic dissertation-style.

I don’t think the book makes a “Michael Moore” film. But maybe an innovative documentary filmmaker could take on Copyright, for PBS for example.