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Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

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Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

E-mail Kevin.

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Sunday, February 11th, 2007

Open publishing - preparing a lecture for De Montfort

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Last year I was invited by Sue Thomas and Kate Pullinger to go up to Leicester to give a lecture about the impact of blogging on writing at their Narrative Laboratory for the Creative Industries seminar, Blogs, Communities and Social Software. This year, I have a return invitation, not to lecture in person again but to be one of several guest lecturers contributing to De Montfort’s Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media via a variety of online venues. I thought for a while about giving my lecture in Second Life, but decided that that might be a case of the medium obscuring the message with technical difficulties - if your computer’s not powerful enough to run Second Life well, it can a very frustrating experience. Instead, I’m going to be recording a short video which I will publish here on Strange Attractor and we’ll have a discussion with the students in the comments.

My topic this year is ‘open publishing’ and everything related, and in the spirit of openness, transparency and discussion, and with the realisation that there are a lot of people out there who know a lot more than I do about this, I have decided to publish all my research here, as I go along. So you’ll get to see all my sources, my half-formed thoughts, my wrong turns and my wild goose chases - and you’ll be able to join in now, if you feel like it.

My video is due to be published on Monday 26th February, and I’m currently feeling like I really should have started putting this together before now, but them’s the breaks. Hopefully, if the wider community feels like joining in, we can pull together a set of links, notes and finally a video that will both engage the students and prompt a discussion about what all this social software and open licensing really means for the publishing industry.

A note of caution, though. I can’t say that I really have a clear cut idea right now about the shape of the video, so don’t expect this to be all that well structured! I’m also planning a lot of small posts, rather than a few big ones, so it might get a bit ’stream of consciousness’-y.

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19 Responses to “Open publishing - preparing a lecture for De Montfort”

  1. joanna howard Says:

    Hi Sue,
    I’m really looking forward to this. ‘Open publishing’ is a fascinating topic.

    Some of us have been involved in the Penguin millionpenguins experiment which has been a big learning experience.

  2. alison norrington Says:

    Hi Sue, hi Jo (fancy seeing you here!)

    I’m very interested in the concept of open publishing too. I am researching, as part of my project for this MA, how far publishers will go to reach some ‘middle ground’ between traditional print publishing and the huge capabilities and opportunities of blogs, social software and online communities.
    Looking forward to catching up with you this week and hopefully generating some thought-provoking chat.

  3. Suw Says:

    Hi Jo, Alison,

    As it happens, Jo, I’ve just been looking at the Million Penguins site, and have just written about it in a post addressing collaborative writing. I think it’s an interesting project from a sort of ‘meta’ perspective - observing how the wiki unfolds and what people’s reactions are. I’m slightly less sure about the actual quality of the resultant work, though!

    Alison, I wonder if there is even a middle ground for publishers to occupy. Is a compromise in this area as good as a rejection? Many publishers see that compromise position as being ‘release it online, but under DRM so people can’t copy it’, and I think in those cases they are doing themselves more harm than good. But more on DRM later!!

  4. Renee Turner Says:

    Hi Suw,

    I’m one of the De Montfort crew and could not agree more that we have everything to gain with open publishing. I’m also looking forward to hearing your thoughts on DRM…

  5. Mary King Says:

    Hi Suw,

    Mary here; another of the DMU mob. I’m also intrigued by what open publishing has to offer, and I also look forward to gleaning more on DRM.

  6. Suw Says:

    I didn’t do a big post on DRM, choosing instead to give you set of comprehensive links but if you want me to summarise for you, let me know.

  7. Alison Norrington Says:

    Suw - re publishers middle ground - I wonder though, whether publishers reluctance to embrace powers of internet will eventually lead to their gradual demise? With options of open publishing, surely publishers need to recognise potential of creating their works in a slightly different medium? Or will it simply be ebook downloads and people blogging their novels?

  8. Suw Says:

    Alison, I don’t think that we’ll see the demise of the traditional publishing house any time soon, but they are going to have to adapt, whether they like it or not. Right now, there’s no electronic equivalent for impulse buys at the airport, for example, so I see no reason why the publishing industry shouldn’t remain healthy so long as the standard of writing that’s being published doesn’t plummet.

    I do think that what we’ll see is a gradual broadening of types of publishers, from pure e-publishers who only do e-books online, through the traditional trade paperback publisher, through to artisan publishers producing expensive collectors editions.

    I also think that the net opens up all sorts of opportunities for niche publishers, specialising in markets that possibly wouldn’t have been profitable before. Worth looking at Chris Anderson’s Long Tail blog to get a feel for how niche markets worth

    Change is inevitable, and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

  9. toni Says:

    I was discussing publishing and the web with a guy the other night who was very defensive about books and finances and the money making aspect of distributing materials online.

    I think a lot of people worry about who’s going to be making the money. He made the point that what would happen to people employed in traditional media if the web takes over as a distribution tool for books or film or documentary. I suggested that it was about time there were other avenues beyond the mainstream. He then suggested the internet may lead to anarchism. I wasn’t sure at this point whether he was kidding or not.

    There’s a lot of fear around the idea that the reigns will be taken out of the hands of those who currently sit astride the horse. I think it’s a good thing and I imagine a time when people will be writing and then printing their own books at home and selling them down the market with the carrots and cabbages and handmade soap.
    And why not.

    I can’t imagine the book will ever die, though the cd might. The book is already a portable device so it wouldn’t go the way of the record player etc. The market for something like the ipod and downloadable music was there because we wanted something portable to play music on. We have that in a book already. How many books can you read on holiday?

    I think there’s always an overreaction to something new, it’s simply human, excites all our fears.

    Anyway enough already, where is the video Suw?
    Is there a link here?

  10. Mary King Says:

    Hi Suw, I’m thinking of taking a leap of faith into the open publishing pond with a book I wrote. I don’t believe that I will benefit financially, or professionally. I do, however, feel that after all the hard work I put into the book, I would rather like as many people to read it as possible. But, I don’t necessarily think that something FREE encourages people to read something. I have downloaded lots of FREE material and have never read them (of course, that is also occasionally true of books and material I have paid for). I can see how for some writers giving away their book can be a news-worthy event, but I don’t think we can all get positive PR out of such an act. I also figure that giving a book away for free could backfire, in as much as many people reckon something given away free must be crap. For example, I heard John Williams, a new film director who has snapped up a number of awards, talk about the shooting of his film Starfish Hotel in Japan. The talk was very interesting but afterwards Mr. Williams handed out free tickets = he immediately devalued his film in the eyes of his audience and I doubt anyone bothered to then go to see the film.
    My other thought is this: Letting people play with your work sounds intriguing. It could be great fun, but rather like wikis it may invite the kind of person who desires to do something destructive with your work. Ultimately, it could tarnish a writer’s image. I understand how bad publicity is sometimes good publicity, but sometimes bad publicity is simply bad, and could wreck a career.
    I also have doubts about Creative Commons licenses. They don’t offer any real protection as far as I can see. For example, someone could take my book and translate it into Chinese, change a few details here and there, and then actually sell it and make a profit from it. I may never know about it, but even if I found out I doubt that there is anything I could really do to stop it. So, I think open publishing is about being prepared for the fact that someone else (or a company) may reap the financial benefits of your hard work.

    I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this.

  11. Renee Turner Says:

    Just a quick connection to Mary’s post about Creative Commons.

    There are a lot of options out there when it comes to open content.

    The Piet Zwart Institute invited Lawrence Liang to think through the variety of licences available and that information has been collected here:

    It’s really a handy guide to licencing open content.

  12. Bruce Mason Says:

    Well speaking as someone who also did an online lecture and found that it grew in the attempt ( for those interested) I’ll be interested to see what you have to say and the mechanics by which you do.

    I’ve been much taken by Oort Cloud recently - an “open literature” site for sci-fi and fantasy ( The cynic in me sees this as “vanity publishing” but I do suspect that taking a web2.0 attitude towards publishing will shake up the industry.

    I also have a sneaking suspicion that Star Trek is an accurate depiction of the future - in all but fashion. There books are revered artifacts. If the programme needs to make it clear that someone is cultured, that someone reads an actual, physical, real, bound book. Said book always looks like it was bound in 19th century and looks rather august. In Star Trek, no one reads cheap Penguin paperbacks.

  13. Suw Says:

    Toni, sadly, many people in what we might call the traditional media industries are very defensive about the internet - they don’t really understand it, and they don’t feel comfortable with it. Now, it is what’s called a disruptive technology - its changing traditional business models and that’s alarming for those who don’t feel able to comprehend the change, let alone take advantage of them.

    Harsh truth is that some people’s jobs might disappear, but this is a natural part of the evolution of the labour market. We no longer work at spinning jennies, for example, and the weaving trade is completely different now to how it was 200 years ago. But where people employed in traditional media have an advantage over weavers is that they have a set of transferable skills and, if they are willing to learn and change, there’s still plenty of work. It just might not be what they used to do.

    But this is a general rule across all sections of the labour market - the old ‘job for life’ career is dead, and we’re moving into an era of portfolio careers.

    Yes, there is a lot of fear around. There always is when there is change.

    I doubt very much that either the book or the CD will die. Humans are acquisitive, and we like to show off our taste - we like to fill our CD racks and bookshelves and to have physical objects that represent our likes and dislikes. We also like media formats that don’t die on us, and digital is very, very fragile. (This from someone who lost all her music from her iPod after her boyfriend accidentally deleted it all.)

    But yes, I agree, there is always an overreaction to the new - humans start being neophobic at about age 3, and we never really quite get over it.

    I’m sorry for not managing to get a video done for you. I spent most of Sunday trying to get something good together, but I came to the conclusion that it would be a waste if your time to sit and watch me talking about things that you can more easily read about here!

    Mary, you’re not alone in wanting to publish online in order to be heard. I think that’s the biggest incentive for writers to go the open publishing route. However, I wouldn’t be so quick to write off the net as a possible way to help you professionally at the very least. Start a blog, write regularly on it, publish your book and engage with the community and you might be surprised! You might just find people who are like you, are interested in the same things you are interested in, and who like your writing.

    Giving away books isn’t done necessarily to be a ‘newsworthy’ event. It’s not new - rather it’s really quite common, thus unlikely to bring any PR to the author (unless it’s someone like JK Rowling, who doesn’t really need any more PR, frankly). PR is not the objective here. Your aim should be to communicate with your audience and build a relationship with them - these are the people who might read your book. PR is merely a conduit to your readers, via the press.

    I don’t think that everyone makes the value judgement that you assume they make, that if it’s free it’s crap. There are plenty of things that are free that we don’t think of as crap, particularly on the web. In fact, free is the default on the web. If you want to, you can get pretty much anything you want of a digital nature online, free, including a lot of very high quality materials, much of it legitimately given away.

    However, it is pretty common for people to download stuff and never read/watch/listen to it. But that’s not because they’ve made a value judgment on it (they wouldn’t download it if they didn’t like the look of it), but because we are all under increasing time pressures and don’t always have the time to read stuff. I have a lot of paper books that I’ve not read yet because I bought them but haven’t had time to read them.

    Regarding people doing things with your work that you don’t like, well… there’s really only one way to protect your work completely from reuses that you don’t like - don’t publish it. Ever.

    We reuse, quote, mash-up and do all sorts of stuff with, say, Byron or Shakespeare. Anyone can. Even people that maybe Byron or Shakespeare wouldn’t have liked if they’d met them, or seen what was being done. But if you’re going to live in the online ecosystem, you have no choice but to accept that yes, people can do stuff with your stuff that you might not like.

    I doubt very much that someone else taking your work and doing something with it that you don’t like will have any impact on your reputation at all, unless they actually fake your support, in which case you can nail them for defamation or misrepresentation or something. We have the harshest libel and defamation laws in the western world here, possibly globally, so there is recourse for truly damaging behaviour.

    Generally, though, the majority of derivative works I’ve seen created under CC have been really positive, useful, fun, interesting or otherwise nice.

    Regarding Creative Commons, the point of those licences is that you give up certain rights in order to enable other people’s reuse of your work. But you don’t have to give up all rights - you choose which ones you like and which you don’t. In your example, if you released your book under a NonCommercial licence, then someone translated it and published it commercially and you found out, you’d have grounds to take legal action. If you publish it under a Commercial licence, i.e. one that allows for-profit behaviour, then you explicitly have pre-approved any commercial acts carried out on your works, and must expect such acts to come to pass.

    If you want no one to be able to do anything with your work, use normal Copyright, which is an ‘all rights reserved’ licence. No one then can do a thing with it without asking your express permissions. But then you’re moving away from the open publishing model and get none of the benefits.

    Of course, you’re right that even if someone does break the terms of your licence, you might not have the resources to do anything about it. But that is the exact same situation you are in now, with traditional copyright. Remember, though, that Creative Commons licences do not compel you to give up your rights to be the exclusive commercial exploiter of your own works.

    The thing is, these worries are fairly normal, but I personally think they are for the most part unfounded.

  14. Mary King Says:

    Thanks Renee, for some really new and useful information.

  15. Mary KIng Says:

    Suw, Sometime back I listened to a lecture sponsored by the Economist that was held at the RSA. You were one of the speakers and at that time you seemed to believe that the golden age of the Internet was over. I wondered if you had any fresh thoughts on the matter.

  16. Suw Says:

    For anyone who hasn’t listened to this, the MP3 Mary is talking about is here

    Now, the thing about the RSA lecture was arranged as a debate around a core concept, “The Internet’s Golden Age is Over”, and they specifically ask you to argue a particular point. In my case, they asked me to argue that the internet had ‘gone to the dogs’.

    In truth, I think the debate wasn’t really framed with much nuance. I’m not really sure what criteria one could use to identify a ‘golden age’, but I’m really not sure that there has ever been one anyway. If you know a bit about the history of the net, you might agree that there have been problems and flaws since the beginning. Some people believe that the golden age was prior to AOL ad that the whole thing went to hell in a handbasket as soon it stopped being inhabited mainly by academic and defence researchers. Other people think that the bubble killed it, with the commercialisation of the net by companies such as Amazon.

    But we have to examine the actual concept of a golden age itself before we start trying to apply that concept to something like the net. Wikipedia says (

    “Both in Europe as well as in the Middle East, the idea of a Golden Age is part of a mythical interpretation of history, which divides history into several consequent ages [...] The Golden Age [...] is perceived to have been the first and best age, followed by the Silver Age and so on. The lowest and worst age was the [...] Dark Ages when the decay of civilisation reached its nadir, prior to the renaissance period.”

    By this concept, if the Golden Age is the first and best age, then perforce the Golden Age of the Internet is over. If you think of the Golden Age as being ‘the best age, regardless of when it happens’, then we have to think about what our criteria are for ‘best’.

    Personally, I think that the internet has changed a lot in the last few years - much more content created by us, but also much more interest in controlling the net, both from industry and government. There are a lot of people out there who want to control the net because they see it as another media channel, and traditionally control of a media channel has been a highly profitable venture. However, there are so many of us who believe that the internet should remain open, free, and uncontrolled, people who are smart enough to work around the attempts by business and government to lock the net down, that I think in the long term the net will be safe. The net changes far faster than business and government can, and the internet is very good at routing round damage. But I think we have battles ahead of us.

    My concern right now is not so much about golden ages - I think that whole question is a red herring - but much more about trying to fight bad legislation that would damage our ability to utilise the net however we should wish, and trying to ensure that businesses, in their greed and zeal for control, do not wreck our experience of the web.

  17. Renee Turner Says:

    Hi Suw,

    As we are nearing the end of the week, I just want to say thank you for sharing your thoughts on open publishing with us.

    I’ll continue to follow your blog to see how the discussion evolves in the future. Like you, I hope media ecologies and business practices will shift to accommodate a more supportive environment for open content.

    all the best… Renee

  18. Suw Says:

    Thanks Renee! I hope you found it useful and interesting. And do check back periodically over coming weeks as I am sure that the conversation will continue. I know I still have a few things left to add.



  19. Mary King Says:

    Thanks Suw for a very interesting week.