Ada Lovelace Day

About The Authors

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.

Email Suw

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 BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

E-mail Kevin.

Member of the Media 2.0 Workgroup
Dark Blogs Case Study

Case Study 01 - A European Pharmaceutical Group

Find out how a large pharma company uses dark blogs (behind the firewall) to gather and disseminate competitive intelligence material.


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All content © Kevin Anderson and/or Suw Charman

Interview series:
at the FASTforward blog. Amongst them: John Hagel, David Weinberger, JP Rangaswami, Don Tapscott, and many more!

Corante Blog

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Proofreading the Public Domain

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

This is cross-posted from Chocolate and Vodka, but I’ve included different invite codes in this post.

For the last few months I’ve been working with Book Oven, a Canadian start-up whose aim is to make it easier to prepare long texts for publishing by making it a simple, collaborative process.

The first thing we’ve focused on is how to proofread a manuscript for typos. The problem with reading a whole book all at once and looking for typos is that you can get so caught up in reading that your brain starts to skip the mistakes, seeing what it thinks should be there instead of what actually is. But what if you were presented with just one sentence at a time? You’d lack some context, it’s true, but you don’t really need a lot of context to know if “teh” is a misspelling of “the” or that “their” should be “there”.

That’s what we’ve built at Book Oven, and we’ve called it “Bite-Size Edits”. It presents you with a random snippet of text, with a sentence above and below for limited context, and if you spot a typo you can suggest a correction by editing the sentence and clicking “Suggest changes” (click on the images for a closer look or visit our complete How To).

You can also tell us that the snippet is OK as it is by clicking “No changes”, or that there’s something confusing about it by clicking “Skip”.

If our calculations are correct, it will take 100 people just 10 minutes to proofread a 100,000 word book, and we want to bring that collaborative power to bear on on the public domain. Thousands of texts have been uploaded to Project Gutenberg, but although they have been very carefully proofread some still have a small number of errors. Michael Hart, Project Gutenberg’s founder, called for help in removing these errors, so we’ve set up a version of Bite-Size Edits, which we’ve called the Gutenberg Rally, to focus just on texts from Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders (Gutenberg’s proofreading site).

If you’d like to pitch in, all you need to do is pick an invitation code from the list below and visit the Book Oven Gutenberg Rally site to create a new account. When you’ve successfully signed up, please leave a comment with the code you used and I’ll cross it off the list.
Now, just a little word of warning. The site is in alpha, which means that you will almost certainly find things that are broken! We have a feedback form that you can use to let us know and a forum to discuss things (which, is itself something that’s not entirely finished, as it’s not yet fully integrated - just sign in with the same username and password that you create when you join the main site). We’d love your feedback, so don’t spare the horses!

If you explore the site, you’ll find that you can start your own projects, upload your own text (.txt files only at the moment) and can send it to Bite-Size for the community to proof. Please feel free to experiment, but be aware we’re still ironing out bugs and that we have a lot more social functionality still to unveil!

So, for the love proof-reading, get cracking! Oh, but be warned. Bite-Size Edits has been described by one usability tester as “evilly addictive”. Don’t say we didn’t tell you…

(Obviously I can’t update the list whilst I’m asleep, so if you pick a code that doesn’t work, list it in the comments and try another!)

Invite Codes
64sBhU00
9cmRd303
2SZWT4VN
CMIMAPxN
DnZ8idpk
2wAcreZV
INuDo0QJ
Ea4Cx9G3
XHLEILQl
O6yuVrkM
pRZXtN20
t9FQdS3F
o9B2I7T4
eOGMdeK7
gBj9Aqad
bApjyzOw
dZ2OzmLD
dIAgKFHH
MBr9KcfD
amc60MoK
8Mq2UzGd
WiK1TR3U
rCvYJ23b
ysSRF0ig
ZUiOzf5l

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

First Fruitful Seminar a success; three more in the pipeline

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

I’m delighted to say that the first Fruitful Seminar on the adoption of social media in enterprise, Making Social Tools Ubiquitous, last Friday was a bit of a hit! I had a fabulous time, and I got some great feedback on the day, so I’m looking forward to running it again. Quite a few people said that they were interested in coming but couldn’t make it that particular day, so I am going to repeat the same seminar, probably on 10th September. Put the date in your diary and keep an eye out for the registration page to go live!

I am also going to run two other seminars in September. One will be on The Email Problem: Email used to be a fantastically useful communications tool, but in recent years it has become more of a burden, with people struggling to read and respond to all of the email they receive. Some companies have tried “No Email Days”, but these put off the problem, they don’t solve it. If, however, you start to examine email as a psychological problem instead of a technological one, different solutions become apparent. This seminar, The Email Problem And How To Solve It will take an innovative look at email and the different ways that social media can reduce its use.

This leaves me with a slot free, and I’d like to put my seminar ideas to a popular vote. These are the options:

1. Social Media in Internal Communications: How can internal comms and HR departments use social media to help them effectively communicate with their constituency? How can you ensure that people have the information they need, when they need it? And how do you engage with your constituency and collect meaningful feedback?

2. Giving It Away - Open IP in Business: You’ve got some intellectual property, but how do you maximise its value to your business? Can giving it away actually earn you money? What is ‘Creative Commons’ and how do you choose a licence?

3. Using Social Tools in Journalism: Forget old-school arguments about bloggers vs. journalism - reality is much more interesting than that! How can you use social tools to organise your own information and help yourself work more efficiently? How can you engage with your audience using social tools? And how do you run a networked journalism project? (Maybe, just maybe, I might be able to persuade a famous journo-blogger to help me present this one!)

So…

And don’t forget, Lloyd Davis’ seminar, Mastering Social Media, is on 16 July and still has some places left, so sign up soon!

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

CBDE special guests announced

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

A little unashamed pimping… ;-)
Over the last few months I’ve working hard on the Creative Business in the Digital Era research project (hence my quietude here), which is examining the way in which businesses are using open intellectual property (IP) as a central pillar of their business model.

The project culminates in three free seminars in central London during March - a full day on 17th March, and two evening seminars on 18th/19th (with roughly the same content in each) - during which we’ll talk about what we’ve discovered about open IP businesses, and talk to people who are actually giving stuff away whilst also making money from it. We’ve managed to recruit three fabulous guest speakers:

Monday 17 March
- Tom Reynolds, blogger, ambulance technician and author of Blood, Sweat and Tea, published under Creative Commons licence and in paper by The Friday Project.
- John Buckman, entrepreneur, musician and founder of CC music label Magnatune.

Tuesday 18 March (evening)
- Tom Reynolds graces our presence again.

Wednesday 19 March (evening)
- David Bausola, the creative mind behind interactive online comedy Where are the Jonses?

The seminar is aimed at people within the creative industry - e.g. music, publishing, film, TV, radio, visual arts, photography - and from any size of company, whether they are freelances or a C-level exec. The course materials are all being prepped out in the open, under CC licence.

As mentioned, the seminar is free to attend - if you are interested, all you need to do is to fill in our application form.

If you’re interested yourself, please do apply! If you have a blog, podcast or Twitter account and would like to mention our seminar, please do. And if you know of anyone who might be interested in coming, feel free to tell them about it.

Our deadline for applications is 15th February, so apply now!

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

Creative Business: Substitutes and complements

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

As part of the Creative Business in the Digital Era project, I’m doing some thinking and learning about business models and microeconomics. This post is originally from the CBDE blog.

After my post the other day about business model archetypes, I had a very interesting conversation with friend and ORG Advisory Council member, Kevin Marks, who pointed me in the direction of an article by Joel Spolsky - Strategy Letter V. In this post, Joel talks about the microeconomics he studied at university, stuff like “if you have a competitor who lowers their prices, the demand for your product will go down unless you match them.” The main body of his post discusses substitutes and complements, and for someone like me who has learnt about business the hard way (by doing it), it’s like a little light bulb illuminating.

Like most creative people, I’ve never studied business, and for years I fell in to the same trap that I later saw many of the musicians I used to work with fall into: I didn’t want to learn about business because I didn’t think I needed to. All I wanted to do was write, maybe make a bit of music, but in any case, just do my own thing. Then my career took an unexpected turn, I started my own business, and I was on the lower slopes of the steepest learning curve of my life. Perhaps if I’d known about blogs like Joel’s in 2000, I would have had a better time of it! Anyway, I digress.

A substitute is an item that can replace another item, so I can buy a PC from IBM or Dell, it doesn’t really matter - PCs are substitutable. A complement is an item that, you guessed it, complements another item, so if I buy an iPod, then there are a range of accessories that act as complements, such as iPod socks or remote controls or armband iPod holders for the keen jogger. Joel talks a lot about complements and focuses mainly on the computer industry.

A complement is a product that you usually buy together with another product. Gas and cars are complements. Computer hardware is a classic complement of computer operating systems. And babysitters are a complement of dinner at fine restaurants. In a small town, when the local five star restaurant has a two-for-one Valentine’s day special, the local babysitters double their rates. (Actually, the nine-year-olds get roped into early service.)

How does this apply to, say, the music industry? Well, let’s say that you are in a band. Your main product is music, which you sell in the form of a CD. The complements to your CD are things like gig tickets, tour programs, T-shirts, DVDs. People buy these other products together with your CD, and are very unlikely to buy them if they aren’t also interested in buying your CD.

Joel then goes on to say:

All else being equal, demand for a product increases when the prices of its complements decrease.

Let me repeat that because you might have dozed off, and it’s important. Demand for a product increases when the prices of its complements decrease. For example, if flights to Miami become cheaper, demand for hotel rooms in Miami goes up — because more people are flying to Miami and need a room. When computers become cheaper, more people buy them, and they all need operating systems, so demand for operating systems goes up, which means the price of operating systems can go up.

OK, let’s just swap things about a bit. Your products are CDs, gig tickets, tour programs, T-shirt and DVDs. The complement to that is the music itself. (Note that we’re used to thinking the other way round, labelling the music as the product and the merchandise as the complement, because the music comes first and the merch has to come second. But when you view the saleable items as the products and the music as the complement, this all makes much more sense.) Demand for your products increases when the price of its complement - the music - decreases. If the price of your music is zero, i.e. you are giving it away for free online, economic theory has it that the demand for your products increases.

Joel generally talks about companies that are producing complements to someone else’s products, and discusses how important lowering the price of those complements is:

Once again: demand for a product increases when the price of its complements decreases. In general, a company’s strategic interest is going to be to get the price of their complements as low as possible. The lowest theoretically sustainable price would be the “commodity price” — the price that arises when you have a bunch of competitors offering indistinguishable goods. So:

Smart companies try to commoditize their products’ complements.

If you can do this, demand for your product will increase and you will be able to charge more and make more.

In the music industry the separation between product and complement is more perceived than real - whilst the record company controls the complement - music - the rights required to create products is often licensed out to third parties, such as merchandising specialists, who have to conform to the record company’s terms. From what Joel’s saying, it would be in the interests of the third parties, e.g. the merchandising companies, to lower the price of the music to increase demand for their product - the more people can access the music of MyWonderfulBand, the more fans there are, the more demand for T-shirts. In practice, though, that’s impossible as the merchandising companies have no leverage to achieve such a goal.

But if the same people - the band - are in control of both products and complements, they can create an end-to-end business model that sees them giving away the product and earning off its complements. I’d argue that people like Ani DiFranco have been doing this for years, encouraging people to make copies of her music and then selling merchandise and touring frequently. For a musician, this is a self-reinforcing feedback loop. The more you tour, the more merchandise you sell, the more you bring your music to the attention of people who may want to buy tickets for your next gig or buy a T-shirt or CD. By taking the risk of commoditising your music, you can potentially drive up the demand for the complements substantially, if you can get over the icky feeling of commoditising the very thing you feel most passionate about.

This ties in nicely with Tim O’Reilly’s view that:

Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.

So how about the other creative industries? Well, in the publishing industry, the product is the book contents, the complement the book itself, so giving away ebooks should drive demand for paper books. Authors don’t seem to do much in the way of merchandising - perhaps that should change, especially with services like Spreadshirt or Cafepress. Films are rather the same - the moving image is the product, the DVD the complement. Photography - the image is the product, the print or the book the complement…

Now, I did warn you that I am thinking out loud here, and I see a problem with all this, and it has to do with substitutes. Remember, a complement is “a product that you usually buy together with another product”. But for many of the products that come out of the creative industries, the physical incarnation is not a complement to the digital version of the creative work, but a substitute. Joel defines a substitute like this:

A substitute is another product you might buy if the first product is too expensive. Chicken is a substitute for beef. If you’re a chicken farmer and the price of beef goes up, the people will want more chicken, and you will sell more.

If the digital creative work is a substitute for the physical instantiation of the work, the whole complement theory falls over. Computers and operating systems are complements of each other because one without the other is sort of pointless - you want the one if you have the other. But with no CD, my MP3 is still listenable; with no DVD, my MPEG is still watchable; with no print, my JPG is still viewable. This is why the RIAA and its ilk have being getting so much in a tizz about the downloading of unauthorised files - they see the digital as directly substitutable for the physical. And if something is substitutable, it can’t be complementary. Can it?

This is, I think, where the lines get a little fuzzy. Technically, an MP3 is a perfect substitute for a CD - you can do pretty much everything with an MP3 that you can do with a CD. (Indeed, the chance are you’ll turn your CD into MP3s as soon as you get it). But I’m not sure that its substitutability is so perfect and I wonder if, as more people experience total music data loss when their MP3 player or computer hard drive craps out, its perceived substitutability will actually decline. It took the loss of 40gb of digital music carefully collected over years and years for me to learn that backing up my music is really important. As the MP3 player market matures, we will see more people loose data when their devices perish or when they try to swap between silo’d devices that do not play nicely together, e.g. trying to play proprietary format music on a non-compatible device. At that point, substitutability will decline slightly and complementariness will increase slightly, although it will be individual context that will define whether a given MP3/CD is a complement or a substitute.

It is an irony that the industry that has been so worried about substitutability also has some of the best complements to it’s main creative output. Bands aren’t reliant on just CDs for income: gigs and merchandise play a significant part in the successful band’s income, and it’s possible to imagine that percentage could increase as income from CDs decreases. Other creative industries, though, are going to need to find some complements, and quickly. The digitisation of creative works is neither slowing down nor going away; and the commoditisation of those works is both inevitable and uncontrollable, driven as it is by the consumer rather than the rights owners. The only way to deal with the commoditisation of your past cash cow is to sell complements to it.

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Creative Business in the Digital Era

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

I’m really excited to be able to announce a new project that I’m working on with the Open Rights Group, in partnership with 01Zero-One and funded by the London Development Agency. Creative Business in the Digital Era is a research project examining the different ways in which artists and businesses are innovating around open intellectual property.

Increasingly, we are seeing publishers releasing books simultaneously under Creative Commons license and in print. Authors such as Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig, who blazed this particular trail, are now being followed by many other people willing to experiment.

But it’s not just authors and publishers who are innovating around open IP. Musicians are also seeing the value of getting their music in front of their fans immediately upon release. Record labels such as Magnatune been letting fans download music for free for a long time, but now it’s spreading to the mainstream: Radiohead are giving away their album In Rainbows, and letting the fans decide how much to pay, if anything.

And software companies are also realising just how powerful it is for them to release data via an API, Google Maps being an excellent example of how giving away data enables third-party applications to be developed, with commercial operations licensing the data and non-commercial mash-ups using it for free.

I must admit I’m very excited by this project. So often we talk about how Creative Commons licensing can help businesses and artists alike to flourish, but it’s sometimes difficult to come up with good solid examples. This project is focused on finding and documenting examples of real world innovation, and will culminate in a day-long course and two evening courses to be held in March 2008. In the finest collaborative tradition, we’re doing all the work out in the open so anyone can join up on the wiki and contribute. We really need the help too: the timescale for getting this done is alarmingly short as we need to have all of the material written by February 2008. If you want to help please just jump in!

If you want to keep abreast of what we are doing then there we have a blog and a Twitter stream. And if you see any articles that you think might be relevant, please tag them with ‘org-cbde’ in Del.icio.us.

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Open publishing - A few questions left

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

This week is my turn to work with the students on De Montfort’s Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media, which I am very much looking forward to. But first, an apology: I had promised to put together a video lecture, but it turns out that video is a lot harder than it looks. I spent most of the weekend struggling with the technology, only to end up at 1am this morning with a video which was both too long and rubbish. I’ve thus concluded that I need to acquire a few new skills before I start making rash promises about video - I hope you’ll forgive me, but I honestly think those are 30 minutes of your life that you can do better things with.

Everything I would have said in the video has already been published, however, in the Open Publishing category of this blog:

But I’m left with a few questions.

  • What are the numbers? How have Penguin, Tor and Baen seen sales develop over the live of an open book? Do they have any information that would allow a comparison between downloads and sales?
  • Does open publishing prolong the shelf-life of a book?
  • Is success genre specific, and focused on internet-literate readers such as science fiction fans and tech books?
  • Do authors who open publish earn more overall? Do they get more requests to speak, or write for magazines or newspapers? Do they get other paid gigs alongside their writing?
  • Will the model work when we don’t need paper at all? Is open publishing a blip, viable only during the period within which ebooks are non-interchangable with paper books?
  • Do ebook downloaders buy more books overall?
  • What’s the relationship between audiobooks and ebooks?

There is, obviously, a lot more to say about open publishing and my curiosity is very much piqued by what I’ve read and written so far. I look forward to delving into the topic even more and look forward to everyone’s questions and comments.

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Monday, February 26th, 2007

Open publishing - The opposite of open is DRM

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

It’s difficult to have a discussion about open publishing without also considering digital rights management (DRM), the software that attempts to control what people do with digitally distributed content. For many publishers, the thought of publishing books under a Creative Commons licence is anathema, but yet they don’t want to pass up on the opportunity to distribute their material digitally online. Instead of experimenting with open publishing, they try to find a middle way and frequently they think that middle way is to use DRM to lock up their ebooks and audiobooks.

As you can tell from my tone, I’m none too keen on DRM. It’s something I’ve done a lot of work on with the Open Rights Group, where I was until recently Executive Director. Rather than rehash all the arguments here as to why I believe DRM is bad, I’m going to give you a nice list of links:

The problem with DRM is that it’s a fundamentally flawed technology which erodes our rights and favours contract law over copyright law. It prevents users exercising their fair dealing rights (called fair use in the US), restricts access to those with disabilities, and does nothing to benefit the consumer.

I have been surprised by the relish with which some publishers approach DRM, but in looking for a middle way they’ve ended up down a cul-de-sac.

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Monday, February 26th, 2007

Open publishing - Collaborative writing

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

It’s not just publishing that is becoming an open process, but also writing. The advent of wikis and blogs allows people to collaborate on creative works with complete strangers, regardless of geographic divides. The idea seems a bit strange to creative writers used to what is most frequently a solitary pursuit, but for certain types of writing it can work very well. Opening your work up for proof-reading and criticism right from the beginning can be an emotionally difficult task for some, but bringing together a number of experts to work on a book and provide feedback can result in a much better end product.

Some types of writing are clearly good for collaborative writing - technical books, such as books about computer programming, or factual books with a lot of fine detail benefit from the insight and expertise of more than one person. One such example is The Django Book, written by Adrian Holovaty and Jacob Kaplan-Moss. Here’s a very quick tour of their site:

Clive Thompson did something similar way when writing a feature on radical transparency for Wired. He published his initial ideas about what the feature should cover, and asked his readers for their input. They gave him information and links to use in his research; discussed the implications of his ideas on secrecy, transparency and the hivemind; and helped him shape his feature with views from around the world.

And a project that De Montfort students might already be aware of is the Million Penguins wiki, a join Penguin/De Montfort project attempting to bring strangers together to write a novel. Rather than using a blog and comments to solicit feedback, this wiki allows people to write and edit the novel directly. Unlike The Dango Book or Radical Transparency, which are examples of factual writing where people can pool their expertise on a given subject, A Million Penguins is an experiment to see if people can write fiction together.

The problem with writing fiction is that it’s not just a series of scenes put into a logical order, it has to have an internal structure of its own, and that usually comes from one person’s imagination, or collaboration between a small number of people (frequently two). It’s also difficult for a group of strangers to write with a consistent voice, to avoid cliché, and to develop working plots, sub-plots, themes and motifs. But A Million Penguins is an experiment to see if people can self-organise, and to see how parallel storylines develop as individuals and small groups pick up a concept and run with it in different directions.

It reminds me somewhat of the email role playing games (RPG) that I’ve been a part of in the past, where people come together, each create a character and weave a story together email by email. Sometimes, email RPGs work really well - when you have a cohesive group who respect each other’s contribution, not only is it a lot of fun but the story that unravels is creative and interesting. But it only takes one person being difficult to turn a fun RPG into something tedious and annoying, and I fear that the same is true - possibly more true - of a wiki novel. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Wikis can also be used for non-fiction, just as blogs can be. Justin Patten is currently writing a book called Blogging and Other Social Media: Technology and Law, and is using a wiki to open up the writing process to other social media experts. Again, I think it’s slightly easier to write a non-fiction book on a wiki than a novel, but either way it’s a non-trivial task.

One issue that springs to mind is, how you deal with someone else posting content that infringes someone else’s copyright? It’s not feasible to double-check every passage added to the wiki by every user, particularly if your wiki takes off and you have a lot of contributors. It could be troublesome if such a passage was not picked up until the book was in print, potentially forcing all copies to be pulped if legal action was taken.

The answer is, I think, not just that you can generally trust your contributors, but also to encourage contributors to add in references if they spot a passage they recognise as being quoted from another source. Then, inclusion of infringing text - whether innocent or malicious - could be picked up fairly early in the process. Of course, there are no guarantees, but we’ll have to wait and see if this sort of concern is even valid.

One final method that I’ve used a lot for writing up collaborative conference notes is simultaneous note taking, using software like SubEthaEdit (on the Mac). SubEthaEdit allows multiple people to edit the same document at the same time - so you can see people typing, letter by letter. It’s an amazing tool for real-time collaboration, and I’d love to experiment with writing something substantive with it. Certainly it’d be a fun tool for co-writing a novel, so long as your collaborators are in the right time zone!

But this openness isn’t suitable for everyone or every project. Sometimes, the joy of writing is sitting, on your own, somewhere quiet, and just working through your own thoughts, figuring out what you really mean, getting your own words out of your head and into a medium where they can eventually be shared - when you are ready. Much of writing for me is about self-expression, and that’s something that’s never going to go away, no matter how much technology provides me with the tools and opportunity to collaborate. That’s not a rejection of collaboration, but recognition of the fact that I like to put my self into my writing, and no one else can do that for me. Neither way of writing is right or wrong, it’s just horses for courses.

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Monday, February 19th, 2007

Open publishing - Open access in the scientific world

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

The creative world is not the only one grappling with the implications of open publishing. In the scientific world there has been great debate about ‘open access publishing’…

And here I run afoul of terminology. I’ve been using the term ‘open publishing’ to refer to the process of publishing your materials for free online, whatever those materials may be, at the same time as you publish a physical version that can be bought. When you start digging into Wikipedia, though, it seems that for some people ‘open publishing’ means the ‘process of creating news or other content that is transparent to the readers‘. I was going to cover that under the heading ‘open writing’, although it may be more accurately described as ‘open source journalism’ or ‘collaborative writing’ or ‘distributed journalism’ or ‘networked journalism’ or, frankly, any one of a whole number of different phrases.

I think this illustrates just how little consensus there is on these issues. There are so many shades of grey that people are tempted to think up new terms for each one, but I’m going to stick with these two:

  • Open publishing - making commercially published materials freely available online under a permissive licence that allows for at least some reuse.
  • Open access publishing - making scientific and medical research papers freely available online under a permissive licence that allows for at least some reuse.

Others may not agree with this, and certainly the issues are more complex than those definitions suppose, but they’re going to have to do for now. We can discuss nuances in the comments!

Good places to get started with open access are three of the Wikipedia articles: self-archiving, open access publishing, and open access journal.

Dr Ben Goldacre recently wrote in his Bad Science column (which is published by The Guardian, and which he self-archives):

There are some things which are so self-evidently right and good that it’s hard to imagine how anyone could disagree with you. The “open access” academic journal movement is one of those things. It’s a no-brainer. Academic literature should be freely available: developing countries need access; part time tinkering thinkers like you deserve full access; journalists and the public can benefit; and most importantly of all, you’ve already paid for much of this stuff with your taxes, they are important new ideas from humanity, and morally, you are entitled to them.

The parallels between this concept and the one underpinning the Creative Commons/Free Culture movement are fairly obvious. It’s not just culture that wants to be free, but also information.

The point of friction between author and publisher, though, is slightly different. In the cultural world, publishers get hung up on controlling their intellectual property rights, and in particular about both file sharing and commercial piracy. But the arguments hinge around one economic question: will open publishing bring the publisher (and thence the author) more sales and, therefore, make them more money?

Both author and publisher want to make money, and their needs are relatively well aligned. They both want the author’s work to be popular because popularity tends to result in higher sales, and it’s fairly obvious that releasing your work for free online increases the number of people who have access to it and thus the number of potential buyers. As mentioned in a previous post, the main debate is about the details of whether open publishing cannibalises or increases sales.

Note: The same works for music and movies, even if those industries haven’t quite figured it out yet.

With open access, the needs of the author and of the publisher are not aligned. The author of a scientific research paper wants their paper to be widely read and cited by other scientists. They don’t get paid for writing, there’s no fee from the publisher for their work - any increase in income comes indirectly from being a successfully published and widely cited authority in your field, and thus being able to command better salaries or larger grants. So the author is not interested in being paid for his or her writing.

The science publisher, on the other hand, is very interested in people paying for access to their journal. It’s how they make their money. Thus they see open publishing as a threat - who would pay to access their content if it’s available for free online?

This leads to two opposing publishing models: Reader Pays and Author Pays. The former is the traditional ‘we publish it, you pay for it if you want to read it’ model. The latter has been adopted by some open access journals, such as the Public Library of Science, the Journal of Medical Internet Research, and BioMed Central, which charge authors some sort of fee in order to cover their costs.

There is at least one other way, though, which could be called Third Party Pays, where the costs of publishing are subsidised by an institution, or covered by income from another source such as advertising, grants, etc. Some are even run by volunteers, thus incurring minimal costs.

According to Peter Suber, only 47% of open access journals charge authors a fee. He says:

Only a minority of existing OA journals actually used the most-studied and most-discussed business model for OA journals –charging author-side fees. (Let’s call these “fee-based” OA journals.) The majority of OA journals turned out to use business models that had rarely been acknowledged, let alone studied. (Let’s call these “no-fee” OA journals.) We thought we understood OA journals but we only understood a subset, and the greater part of the whole was still largely unknown.

I wish I could tell you how many different ways the no-fee journals have found to pay their bills, and which methods work best in which disciplines and countries. But I can’t. No one has done the studies yet. A few ships have approached the coastline of this land mass but we haven’t come close to penetrating the interior or producing a map.

As Peter says, it would be interesting to find out a lot more about the business models for the 53% of journals that aren’t charging their authors - the creative industries could potentially learn a lot from the publishing models used by their science publishing colleagues.

But the science publishing industry - where I started my postgraduate career, I have to mention - is not happy with open access. John Wiley & Sons, Reed Elsevier and the American Chemical Society are three of the biggest members of the Association of American Publishers, which has hired ‘PR pitbull’ Eric Dezenhall to try and swing the debate their way. This has been seen as an act of desperation and an attempt to derail real debate in favour of soundbite marketing tactics.

The threat is, of course, economic. If scientists prefer free open access journals to reader-pays journals, then the publishers’ business model is threatened. Some of the non-economic objections to open access, such as accusations that it does not support peer review, are clearly nonsense. Peer review - the process by which a paper is distributed amongst other experts in the author’s discipline so that they can critique it - requires only someone to arrange it and there is no good reason why an open access journal cannot peer review as well as a traditional journal.

Just like the cultural world, though, the genie is out of the bottle and sunning himself on a beach in Rio. Open access is not going to go away, and traditional publishers need to adapt or die. It’s scary, and the shape of future scientific business models is not clear, but there’s no escaping change.

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Monday, February 19th, 2007

Open publishing - Cory Doctorow

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

It’s virtually impossible to talk about open publishing without mentioning Cory Doctorow. As one of the most vocal supporters and active users of the open publishing model, Cory is frequently cited as proof positive that open publishing works. I’m not sure that Cory’s success means that every person who publishes their work online under a Creative Commons licence is thus certain to also be successful - success relies on a lot more than availability. But what we can say is that releasing his material free online has helped him to build up a loyal fanbase of readers and a significant profile which helps him earn money both directly and indirectly from his writing.

Of course, writing is not all that Cory does - he’s also a renowned digital rights advocate with a formidable reputation as an expert and activist who worked for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He also blogs at BoingBoing, one of the world’s most successful blogs, and now he holds the Fulbright Chair at the University of Southern California. But this activity also helps raise his profile, bringing him to the attention of more people who might download or buy his book.

(I must admit that I’d known Cory quite a while before I first read any of his novels. I downloaded Eastern Standard Tribe, liked the first chapter, but before I could get round to buying it, I was given a paper copy by a friend. I don’t think I would have heard of Cory at all if it weren’t for his work at the EFF, and I wouldn’t have come to know him personally if we hadn’t then shared an office for a while because of my work with the Open Rights Group. But then, the world is full of these strange conditionals.)

In January 2003, Cory published his first book, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, through the world’s biggest science fiction publisher, Tor. At the same time, he posted the text online under a Creative Commons licence and let anyone who wanted to download and redistribute it. Within a day there had been 30,000 downloads, and by December 2006 there had been over 700,000 downloads.

Just as happened later to Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture, Cory found that people immediately started to play with his book. At first, it was different file formats - people took the ASCII text and reformatted it into HTML, PDF, PalmOS PDB, Apple Newton PKG, and many others. Then there’s a PDF file that when printed folds neatly into a booklet, the entire text as a printable poster depicting the cover art, audio versions and translations.

But it didn’t stop at reformatting - people got far more inventive than that. There was the Sausage and Mash Remix, where every word beginning with S is replaced by the word Sausage, and every word beginning with M becomes Mash; the Capipa Remix which reorders all the words in alphabetical order; and the More and Bloodier Wars Remix, where the original is run back and forth through machine translator Babelfish. (All are mentioned on Cory’s blog, but don’t seem to be available anymore).

Today, there are 29 different versions available for download from Cory’s site and the book itself - his first novel remember - has been reprinted six times.

Cory’s second book, Eastern Standard Tribe, was released the same way in January 2004. Again came the HTML version, the PDF, files for all sorts of different ebook readers, GameBoy Advance files - anything you could possibly want. Other remixes included a speed reader version that flashes the book up on your screen one word at a time, and a (frankly freaky) partial audio version using computer software to record and remix.

None of this creativity would be possible under traditional ‘all rights reserved’ copyright, but it’s not just about enriching the commons. It’s also about making a living. In a December 2006 Forbes article, Cory wrote “I’ve been giving away my books ever since my first novel came out, and boy has it ever made me a bunch of money.”

That seems to tick the box nicely.

The Forbes piece is well worth reading the whole way through, as Cory talk about open publishing in depth. He puts together more pieces of the puzzle as to how and why this works for him, one of which is to do with the genre in which he writes:

[S]cience fiction’s early adopters defined the social character of the Internet itself. Given the high correlation between technical employment and science fiction reading, it was inevitable that the first nontechnical discussion on the Internet would be about science fiction. The online norms of idle chatter, fannish organizing, publishing and leisure are descended from SF fandom, and if any literature has a natural home in cyberspace, it’s science fiction, the literature that coined the very word “cyberspace.”

Indeed, science fiction was the first form of widely pirated literature online, through “bookwarez” channels that contained books that had been hand-scanned, a page at a time, converted to digital text and proof-read. Even today, the mostly widely pirated literature online is SF.

Which does make me wonder, would books outside of the science fiction genre do so well? I’ll come to that in another post.

If there is a posterboy for open publishing, it’s Cory. He has the amazing enthusiasm and drive of the pioneer, and I can’t imagine he’d be happy anywhere else but out front, where the experimentation happens, where the risks are unknown, and where he can carve his own path.

But not everyone coming on behind is going to meet with the same success as Cory. Giving your stuff away is but one part of the story. You also have to work your arse off - I actually don’t know anyone who is as prolific and hard-working as Cory. I remember once sitting in the office with him, listening to him type with the speed and ferocity of a man possessed (deadline notwithstanding). It made me feel deeply inadequate. And, of course, you have to be a good writer, and that itself takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and years and years of practice.

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