Tag Archives: publishing

To Be Or Not To Be; a book publishing Kickstarter project

There’s not much time left if you want to participate in this Kickstarter project (20 hours and counting when I accessed it at 0930 PST Dec. 20, 2012) but I want to feature it here because it illustrates how writers can succeed with new publishing models and because of the intellectual property nonissues.

Ryan North, writer and self-publisher, asked for $20,000 to publish his “To Be Or Not To Be; A chooseable-path adventure” book allowing you to “be” Hamlet, Ophelia, or King Hamlet and, at this time, has raised over $480,000.

Prototype cover with art by Noelle Stevenson, she is the best [downloaded from http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/breadpig/to-be-or-not-to-be-that-is-the-adventure]

Prototype cover with art by Noelle Stevenson, she is the best [downloaded from http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/breadpig/to-be-or-not-to-be-that-is-the-adventure]

Here’s a link to the Kickstarter “To Be Or Not To Be” book project and if you’re not ready to go there quite yet, here’s a bit more about the project (from the title webpage),

The greatest work IN English literature, now in the greatest format OF English literature: a chooseable-path adventure!

Now the #1 most funded publishing project on Kickstarter ever!

To Be Or Not To Be is an illustrated, chooseable-path book version of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, written by me, Ryan North:

  • “William Shakespeare” you may know from single-handedly giving us some of our most evocative phrases, such as “all that glitters is not gold”, “too much of a good thing”, and “the game is afoot” (Sherlock Holmes said this too I guess.)
  • “Ryan North” you may know from my work on the critically-acclaimed comic Dinosaur Comics, writing the incredibly popular Adventure Time comic book series, or from co-editing the #1 Amazon bestselling short story anthology Machine of Death.
  • “Chooseable-path” you may recognize as a trademark-skirting version of a phrase and book series you remember from childhood.  Remember?  Books in which… an adventure is chosen??

These three things got mashed up together into one BASICALLY AMAZING BOOK full of JOKES and also SWORDFIGHTS and GHOSTS and AWESOME AS A MASS NOUN …


While we won’t be delivering the books in time for Christmas, if you pledge $30 or more, you unlock a Kickstarter-exclusive Holiday Hamlet ecard that can be sent directly to your gift recipient.  You can read about that here!  It’s the perfect last-minute gift for anyone on your list (assuming they are good at waiting for things) (and also like to read)!  Also we’ve unlocked lots of new prizes at each reward level: be sure to check the updated list!

H/T to Mike Masnick’s Dec. 19, 2012 posting at Techdirt for the  pointer to this project and for noting some interesting non copyright and trademark issues,

…  how does that hit on copyright and trademark issues?

  • Copyright: Even if the head of the Author’s Guild doesn’t seem to know this, Shakespeare’s works are in the public domain, meaning that anyone can use them however they want — whether it’s to make an exact copy (and, yes, there are plenty of those on the market) or to do a derivative work. There have been tons of remakes and updates on Shakespeare’s work, and many of them are super creative, such as this one. Kinda demonstrates just how ridiculous it is for copyright maximalists to argue that without strong copyright protection, creativity gets killed off. Just the opposite, it seems. The ability to build on the works of the past quite frequently inspires amazing new creativity.
  • Trademark: North refers to this as a “choosable path adventure” because:

“Chooseable-path” you may recognize as a trademark-skirting version of a phrase and book series you remember from childhood. Remember? Books in which… an adventure is chosen??

Yes, they’re not using the widely known phrase “choose your own adventure,” because it’s trademarked, and the owner of the mark has sued before. Of course, the story of the mark is interesting in its own right. Apparently, Bantam Books who helped popularize the original choose your own adventure books let the trademark lapse, and it was bought up by Ray Montgomery, who had run the small press that published the original books, but had not held the original trademark on it.

So we have examples of how a lack of a common “intellectual property” law enabled greater creativity, and how a current “intellectual property” law stupidly limits the option of using the most reasonable description of the work. …

Congratulations to North!

Elsevier and Google; scientific publishing

Due to my interest in communication,  I have from time to time commented or drawn attention to developments in publishing (scientific and otherwise) and ebooks. Earlier this month, Google announced the launch of its ebook store and now Elsevier, a major publisher of scientific, technical, and medical information, has announced that it will be using Google’s ebook store as a new distribution channel. From the Dec. 10, 2010 news item on Nanowerk,

Elsevier, the world-leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical information products and services, announced today that it is participating in the recently launched Google eBooks store by including a large selection of Elsevier’s eBook titles. Elsevier regards Google eBooks as a valuable new distribution channel to increase reach and accessibility of its scientific and professional ebook content in the United States.

“Selling a substantial part of our Science & Technology ebooks through Google eBooks will significantly add to the reach and accessibility of our content,” said Suzanne BeDell, Managing Director of Science & Technology Books at Elsevier. “The platform contains one of the largest ebook collections in the world and is compatible with a wide range of devices such as laptops, smartphones, e-readers and tablets. We are therefore confident that our partnership with Google will prove an important step in reaching our objective to provide universal access to scientific content.”

Presumably ‘adding accessibility’ as BeDell puts it means that the books will be significantly cheaper. (I still remember the shock I experienced at discovering the costs of academic texts. Years later, I am still recovering.)

I’m not sure that buyers will own the ebooks. It is possible for an ebook to be removed without notice if you buy from Amazon as I noted in my Sept. 10, 2010 posting, part 2 of a 3 part series on e-readers.)

If you’re interested in the Google part of the story, here’s an article by E. B. Boyd for Fast Company,

If you stroll on over to your corner bookstore this week and ask the person behind the counter about Google’s new ebookstore, which launches today, you probably won’t be greeted with the kind of teeth-gnashing that has accompanied other digital developments, like Amazon’s online bookstore or the advent of proprietary e-readers. Instead, you might actually be greeted with some excitement and delight. That’s because Google is taking a different approach to selling e-books than Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Rather than create a closed system that leaves others out in the cold, Google is actually partnering with independent bookstores to sell its wares–and share the profits.

There are a few reasons Google is going a different way. The ebookstore emerged from the Google Books program, which didn’t start out as a potential revenue stream. Instead, the company’s book-scanning project was simply a program to help the company fulfill its mission to make all of the world’s information accessible. Since so much information is contained in books, the company wanted to make sure that if you were using Google Search to look for a particular topic, it would be able to point you to books containing information about that topic, in addition to relevant web pages. Then, as Google Books began partnering with publishers and contemplating a program to sell books in addition to just making them searchable, it made a philosophical decision that brick-and-mortar bookstores are critical to the literary ecosystem. “A huge amount of books are bought because people go into a physical bookstore and say, ‘Hey, I want this, I want that,’” Google Books engineering director Dan Clancy told an audience at the Computer History Museum last year.

Here’s a response from some of the bookstore owners (from the article),

Bookstores seem to be cautiously optimistic about the Google program. A person who answered the phone at St. Mark’s Bookshop in New York said, “We’re looking forward to it,” before referring Fast Company to the ABA. “We’re really pleased,” said Mark LaFramboise, a buyer at Washington D.C.’s Politics and Prose. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

Darin Sennett, director of strategic partnerships at the famous Powell’s book shop in Portland, Oregon, is particularly excited about Google’s technological model. The Kindle, the Nook, and the Sony eReader all use the traditional approach to e-books: They sell DRM-protected files that customers download to devices and which must be read with specific e-reading software. Google, however, is using the cloud. Its e-books will be stored on Google servers, and readers who’ve purchased them will access their books via a browser. [emphasis mine] Unlike in the Kindle system, where Kindle e-books can only be read on Kindle devices, Google e-books will be able to be read on any device that has a browser. Until now, independent bookstores have been effectively shut out of devices like the iPad and smartphones (which are emerging as many customers’ reading platforms of choice) because the e-books available from other distributors were either not compatible with those devices or the formatting was so clunky as to make them effectively unreadable.

Certainly, this sounds a lot better from the bookseller’s and reader’s perspectives. I’m glad to see that people at one of my favourite bookstores (Powell’s) is so enthusiastic but I do note that the books are stored on Google’s servers, which means they can be removed or even altered quite easily. On the plus side, the books can be downloaded in either PDF or ePub format. All in all, bravo!

California boycott of Nature journals?

It seems the California Digital Library (CDL) which manages subscriptions for the University of  California has been getting a deal on its Nature journal subscriptions and now the publisher, Nature Publishing Group (NPG), has raised their subscription price by approximately 400 percent. Predictably the librarians are protesting the rate hike. Less predictably, they are calling for a boycott.

The Pasco Phronesis blog notes,

The negotiations continue via press releases. Independent of the claims both sides are making, this fight brings out the point that journal subscription rates have continually increased at rates that challenge many universities to keep up. NPG is not the only company charging high rates, it’s just that the long-standing agreement with the CDL has become no longer sustainable for NPG. Given the continuing budget problems California faces, it seems quite likely that the CDL may no longer find NPG subscriptions sustainable.

The article by Jennifer Howard for the Chronicle of Higher Education offers some details about the proposed boycott. In addition to canceling subscriptions,

The voluntary boycott would “strongly encourage” researchers not to contribute papers to those journals or review manuscripts for them. It would urge them to resign from Nature’s editorial boards and to encourage similar “sympathy actions” among colleagues outside the University of California system.

The boycott’s impact on faculty is not something that immediately occurred to me but Dr. Free-Ride at Adventures in Ethics and Science notes,

One bullet point that I think ought to be included above — something that I hope UC faculty and administrators will consider seriously — is that hiring, retention, tenure, and promotion decisions within the UC system should not unfairly penalize those who have opted to publish their scholarly work elsewhere, including in peer-reviewed journals that may not currently have the impact factor (or whatever other metric that evaluators lean on so as not to have to evaluate the quality of scholarly output themselves) that the NPG journals do. Otherwise, there’s a serious career incentive for faculty to knuckle under to NPG rather than honoring the boycott.

There is both support and precedent for such a boycott according to Howard’s article,

Keith Yamamoto is a professor of molecular biology and executive vice dean of the School of Medicine at UC-San Francisco. He stands ready to help organize a boycott, if necessary, a tactic he and other researchers used successfully in 2003 when another big commercial publisher, Elsevier, bought Cell Press and tried to raise its journal prices.

After the letter went out on Tuesday, Mr. Yamamoto received an “overwhelmingly positive” response from other university researchers. He said he’s confident that there will be broad support for a boycott among the faculty if the Nature Group doesn’t negotiate, even if it means some hardships for individual researchers.

“There’s a strong feeling that this is an irresponsible action on the part of NPG,” he told The Chronicle. That feeling is fueled by what he called “a broad awareness in the scientific community that the world is changing rather rapidly with respect to scholarly publication.”

Although researchers still have “a very strong tie to traditional journals” like Nature, he said, scientific publishing has evolved in the seven years since the Elsevier boycott. “In many ways it doesn’t matter where the work’s published, because scientists will be able to find it,” Mr. Yamamoto said.

I feel sympathy for both sides as neither side is doing well economically these days. I do have to wonder at the decision to quadruple the subscription rates overnight as it smacks of a negotiating tactic in a situation where the CDL had come to expect a significantly lowered subscription rate. With this tactic there’s the potential for a perceived win-win situation. The CDL will triumphantly negotiate a lower subscription rate and the publisher will get the increase they wanted in the first place. That’s my theory.