Copyright in Academic Publishing

I’ve been finishing up my thesis, and some of that involves filing it various places. Another component is meetings, one of which I had yesterday. I want to preface this with the fact that she was both charming and sincere in her desire for good outcomes, and emailed me at 8:51am on a Saturday to help me get stuff in in a timely manner.

But some of what she told me made me blisteringly angry.

So, copyright is your claim to intellectual property you produce, right? We’re on the same page with that. When you publish, you grant distribution rights to the publisher. The only time you won’t have copyright on what you produce is if you do it under very specific contract, like ghostwriting. Because copyright is automatic. Registration is separate, and entirely optional unless you intend to file a lawsuit.

This is the part where I edit out the swearing about ETD/Proquest.

ETD/Proquest, when you upload your thesis to them, is kind enough to streamline the registration process. Which is great, if you want to take that entirely optional $55 step. But what they imply, in their wording and what they communicate to graduate schools, is that unless you apply to register your copyright, you don’t own it. People don’t need to cite you, and can use your work willy-nilly with nary a mention of your name. I am in the process of submitting my thesis currently in another tab, and waffled on taking a screenshot of their exact wording. But I want my degree more than I want receipts on this particular issue, so you are left with only my word that they imply that not registering can be hugely expensive later and also that you don’t really have copyright protections.

You don’t have to pay anyone in order to own what you produce. Your copyright is yours. You need to cite whether or not you’ve hunted down someone’s copyright registration.

A lot of academic publishing verges on the predatory, between for-profit journals that don’t pay writers or peer reviewers and, apparently, the repository that holds most theses and dissertations produced in the US and several other countries implying that you don’t own your own work. I think it’s important to know what you own, know what you retain control over, and know that self-archiving is a viable path – in a couple different ways, depending on journal policy.

Knowledge is power. If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t be academics in the first place. Knowing more about intellectual property law is the power to not get dragged down into the morass of misinformation that’s out there.

Changes

I’ve taken down my non-fiction book on epublishing from Smashwords.

It wasn’t an easy decision: I’m proud of what went into it, and it was a decent introduction.

But the verb tense is important, there, as are the incredible shifts epublishing has undergone since February 2011, when I put it out. One of the websites I recommended, a fledgling then, has now become a haven for episodic teen fiction. It is the Pandemonium of werewolf love triangles and poorly-edited tragic orphans. It is not something I highly recommend anymore.

Blogging has changed somewhat, and Twitter is now a place where groups discuss writing and publishing.

Navigating the Ebook Jungle is still something I want to revisit and update. I want to have that basic primer and list of resources available for anyone just getting into self-publishing, because it’s a big wide world full of conflicting opinions and at the very least summaries of approaches and links to more detailed sources are valuable for anyone just starting out.

It’s not something I can do right now, though, and I feel better about pulling it than I do about leaving up information that I don’t consider as up-to-date and thorough as it could, and should, be.

In the meantime, if you have a question, shoot me an email. I’ll probably at least have a link to recommend.

Hey, look, antitrust

When the US Department of Justice is investigating accusations of collusion among big publishers and Apple, it’s a sign that people still care about reading.

Agency pricing is what self-publishers traditionally have no recourse from: you set your price, the seller takes a cut, and you get the rest. Wholesale pricing is a matter of selling the book to the seller, and then they sell it to the customer for whatever price they choose. That’s kind of neat, because while self-publishers in particular don’t traditionally have access to reams of statistics about the best price to sell something for, booksellers do. Letting the sellers set the price means that they’ll optimize it to sell as much as possible, and takes some of the worry from you (under wholesale model pricing, you get paid the same not matter what, so you can quite gleefully cease to agonize over pricing). Amazon traditionally sold ebooks for very little over their wholesale cost. A lot of the shift to agency pricing as opposed to wholesale boils down to ‘wah, Amazon’s willing to make less money on this than me.’

This does raise some concerns: if ebooks are absurdly cheap, that makes printed books less attractive.

And then we take a break from numbers and theory and talk to real people. Jesse Hajicek and Cory Doctorow both have their books available for free, in their entirety, online. They both have many people who read them for free, in their entirety, online. They both also sell hardcopies. People buy the hardcopies. It’s a miracle!

But this post is not about the benefits of one’s work being available free. This is about colluding to make the work of the people one represents more expensive. The publishers accused of course have experience hiding collusion, so it’s possible nothing may come of the accusations. But lawsuits and expensive settlements and the possibility that the people who are handling your work are doing morally reprehensible things while not notably increasing what they pay you sure do make self-publishing more attractive right now.

Changing Fields

I had someone write to me the other day that they find my interest in literature rare.

It surprised me, as I live surrounded by people with literary bents, and I see numbers on a regular basis about ebooks an selfpublished books as they take off. I think interest in literature in a general way is stronger than ever, but it is less of a central culture; genre fiction is immensely popular, and indie authors tend to find more success in physically local markets.
With Oprah retired, we have no central figure telling us what to like; the New York Times bestseller list shows what people already like an buy, not what they might like in the future. This is where the proliferation of all manner of small decentralized communities comes in: if you like steampunk, you can find communities that discuss it, that can recommend and review and dissect various authors and novels in the genre.
Interest in literature has just become more specialized, more genre-based, as genres and our ability to expose ourselves to only what we want expands. It’s an interesting direction for an ever-changing industry.

Makers

In an interesting collusion of events, I read an article about real-life makers the same morning I decided to spend most of the day reading Makers by Cory Doctorow.

They both touch on the proliferation of customized technology put out by people who see the need and think the meeting of it is fun; individuals with support networks they can consult, small teams of people with varied skillsets. They’re not big businesses. They’re representative of the social movement that has catapulted the term for a new company from ‘start up’ to ‘start-up’ to ‘startup’ in our cultural vocabulary. To quote from Makers, this is what the dotcom boom laid the foundation for.
Makers fill a need with their products, or at least an interest. Unlike L’Oreal, which makes everything from Lancome to Maybelline, makers make something unique, which means that anything else that comes along is real competition. There’s more drive to be better when the business is more personal.
The same thing’s been happening with publishing. Borders is bankrupt because it was not a model for the current and coming era. Author services like Lulu.com are growing faster than publishers, because authors are realizing that they can have an active role in the publishing of their book, they just may lack some of the applicable skills.
Traditional publishers have acted as gatekeepers, as arbiters of taste, but now we can find book reviewers online who review independent and self-published books, and we can find ones who share our taste in reading material. The market acts as a surer arbiter of taste than any book editor can; there’s just not enough time in the world to read all of the new material coming out. But books are the ultimate niche market: all unique, all intended to appeal on different levels to different people. Making more of the good stuff available is good for everyone.

Full Fathom Five

Full Fathom Five is James Frey’s latest project. We all remember Frey, right? The notorious author of the ‘memoir’ A Million Little Pieces, he’s now using his notoriety – er, sorry, industry contacts – to get young and bright-eyed MFAs published, with aims at movie deals for all of them.

Sounds great, right?
Except that said MFAs don’t get to claim credit for it. Their names appear nowhere on the published book. The recent movie I Am Number Four was put out by Full Fathom Five, and the author has sued for the right to claim in public that he wrote the original novel. He’s now allowed to talk about it, but his name still doesn’t appear on the book.
It’s an interesting concept, a think tank for coming out with cool young adult novels, surrounded by other people trying to do the same thing, with someone acting as literary agent for the whole group. Even the idea of branding as a think tank more than as a collection of individual writers is kind of fun, in concept.
Where Full Fathom Five falls off into creepy and exploitative is that James Frey is modeling it after Damien Hirst’s art factory – it’s all to be rewritten to his orders, and bear his stamp more than that of the writer, or even of the collective, for low wages and no recognition. The contract is a nightmare.
Which is why, despite pretty people and sparkly special effects in the previews, I will not be seeing I Am Number Four, or any future project from Full Fathom Five that makes theatres.

Networking 2.0

It’s no secret that most business decisions have always happened in old boys’ clubs, over drinks or golf or both. But now we do a lot of our socializing online. How many startups have been born from interest-based communities on the internet?

The same necessary camaraderie springs up just as easily from internet associations as from face to face ones for me, and for many people accustomed to socializing on the internet. Part of that is a paradigm shift from when I first started using computers, where I was explicitly warned by mentors that most of the people I met online would be predators and liars, and I’d never know who they really were or how old they were or where they lived, so I should never, ever give out personal information lest I be kidnapped.
This was before Facebook.
Now, while we don’t bandy our mailing addresses about on public forums, those people I’ve met on writing forums I know as people, not Random Internet Strangers. We’ve talked story ideas, bemoaned the night shift, watched the hilarious faces one of our number makes when she has to take her cold medicine. And, when one or more of us has an idea, it’s this network of like-minded individuals who come together and discuss it.
I’ve had a couple major ventures come out of my online networking; Theory Train and Lunatic Writers. They never would have come into existence if it weren’t for my finding a group of like-minded friends on the internet.
As valuable as local groups and workshops are, it never hurts to be open to the possibilities inherent in new media.