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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!

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Saturday, February 17th, 2007

Open publishing - Something for nothing, three years on

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Nearly three years ago, Lawrence Lessig released his book, Free Culture, both in paper and online under a Creative Commons licence which allowed derivative works. A few days later, a disparate group of strangers gathered together to take advantage of that licence and create an audiobook version. Astonished at being a part of that process, and excited by the possibilities it seemed to open up to me, I wrote a long essay entitled Something for Nothing: The Free Culture AudioBook Project.

I just reread it and, three years later I find nothing in it has dated. Larry was kind enough to let me interview him for my blog post, and his words ring true now just as they did then. I strongly recommend that all De Montfort students reading this spend a little time reading both the essay, and exploring the links in it.

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Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Open publishing - A wider context

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

The temptation when you’re looking at a topic of open publishing is to focus on the case studies of people and publishers who are making works available online for reuse, but it’s really important to take a look at the wider context within which writers, publishers and booksellers are working and related issues such as DRM and piracy (which I will also address at length in another post). You can’t consider open publishing in a vacuum, despite the temptation to focus in on just that one area, otherwise you get just a fraction of the story.

Tim O’Reilly has a really fascinating and detailed post which does just that. He talks about the things he’s learnt being both a writer and a publisher. His lessons are:

  • Lesson 1: Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.
  • Lesson 2: Piracy is progressive taxation.
  • Lesson 3: Customers want to do the right thing, if they can.
  • Lesson 4: Shoplifting is a bigger threat than piracy.
  • Lesson 5: File sharing networks don’t threaten book, music, or film publishing. They threaten existing publishers.
  • Lesson 6: “Free” is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service.
  • Lesson 7: There’s more than one way to do it.

Tim examines each of these lessons in detail, but rather than attempt a summary, I recommend that you go and read his post and get it straight from the horse’s mouth.

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Monday, February 12th, 2007

Open publishing - Writing in an age of pirates

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

John Scalzi wrote a fantastic post in May 05 about the changing nature of a writer’s business model in an age where everything is easily copyable. A snippet to whet your appetite:

I won’t get into how much of my writing income over the last four years comes directly and indirectly as a result of writing on this site, except to say it’s six figures and the leftmost number is not a “1,” and not nearly all of it comes from book sales. This is not bragging (or not only bragging, shall I say); the point to made here is that an ambitious writer can use a non-commercial presence to generate a non-trivial amount of income. In my case, the content here, like the content on Penny Arcade, is un-pirateable; I don’t charge anything for it, and I don’t care if you send it along to whomever you like. But it brings in thousands of people every day, some of whom would probably spend money on Scalzi merchandise. Like, say, a novel, however it is published.

Or not a novel, actually — why not a novella? The market for novellas is very small right about now, because most publishers don’t like them; they don’t fit into the mass-market publishing paradigm very well at all. But if I don’t have to worry about my publisher’s production albegra, maybe I could sell one. Or not sell it at all — maybe I’ll post it up on the site with its run subsidized by an advertiser. I have eight to ten thousand visitors on a daily basis; think there’s an advertiser out there who might be willing to shell out for 100,000 ad impressions over the run of the novella?

Point is, in a pirate age, I think I still stand a good chance of continuing to make a very good income from writing. Since I don’t think we’ll get to a pirate age, this is even better news for me, because I have the advantage of generating writer income the old-fashioned way as well as in this new way. Multiple revenue streams are a writer’s friend. Now, get this: I’m not particularly clever, and I’m awfully lazy. If I can do this, pretty much any writer can. Yes, it does take time and effort to generate a readership (seven years, in the case of the Whatever). Tell me how this is different from publishing today.

Scalzi makes an excellent point: Just because business models are changing doesn’t mean either that the publishing industry will die, or that the writer will find it harder to make a living (bearing in mind that it’s already hard).

According to a report from The Publishers Association, in 2005, there were approx. 60,000 book publishers in the UK and Ireland, and about 1.6 million titles were available for sale, including 206,000 new or revised titles. The total value of sales was £2,768 million, and 788 million units were sold (giving an average price of £3.50). Consumer sales were £2,396 million for 2005, up 8% on 2004 (compared to a 3% increase in 2004 over 2003). Book exports were also up 3.7% to £1.41 billion, with the US the biggest market. Decide for yourself if those numbers indicate an industry in rapid decline, or one that’s healthy.

It seems pretty difficult to find up-to-date statistics on how much authors earn in the UK, but an old post from 2000 on the Dark Echo site says:

You think you should be able to make a living as a writer? A survey by the Society of Authors (U.K.) shows that dream may be even further from reality than we thought. An article published last Thursday by The Guardian/The Observer Web site BooksUnlimited (reported the survey — first of its kind in nearly 20 years — “shows that the universal creative dream of self-sufficiency through writing is receding farther than ever. . . Almost half British authors earn less than the £5,000 yearly minimum wage and three quarters make less than the national average of £20,000.” Only one writer in seven actually lives on earnings from writing. In other words, “You live better with toilet cleaner on your fingers than with ink.”

I can’t find the original article on the Observer site, nor an update version of this survey, but it’s still true to say that it’s bloody hard to make a living out of writing, whatever type of writing you do. But it is dramatically easier now to access to your prospective audience, to nurture a community of fans, and to benefit from a variety of income streams, such as advertising on your site or merchandise. Which means that if you get as much of your stuff as possible in front of as many people as possible by giving it all away, you have an opportunity to make money both directly and indirectly from your writing. For those who understand this, it could be said that it’s now easier to make a living as a writer, not harder - although it’s important to note that ‘easier’ is a relative term.

Again, though, we’re left with a lack of real hard data here. Do authors with blogs earn more than authors with out-of-date/static websites or authors with no web presence? Does an online presence only favour authors of specific genres? Do authors who give their works away online earn more than those who don’t, for authors at the same stage in their career and working in the same genre? (Although, jeeze, you’d have a hell of a job getting a meaningful statistical comparison out of that one.)

The problem, of course, is that authors and publishers generally don’t like giving away this sort of data, so ultimately we are left with only anecdote and experience to inform us.

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Monday, February 12th, 2007

Open publishing - Why do people publish books for free, and what about audiobooks?

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

When I think of ‘open publishing’, the first thing I think about is people like Lawrence Lessig, Cory Doctorow and Tom Reynolds who have all persuaded their publisher to allow them to release electronic versions of their books at the same time as the physical dead-tree version. (More on those three later.) In all cases, this seems to have been to the benefit of the book, but to give your book away at the same time as you put it up for sale is a bit of a leap of faith. Why would you take that risk? It’s far from being a proven economic or promotional strategy.

I think Chris Saad gets to the heart of this very quickly, when he asks, Am I being heard? He says there is:

A fundamental human need that I think podcasting, blogging and all forms of social/citizen journalism speaks to… the need to be heard. People just want to feel connected and understood.

At a very basic level, Larry, Cory and Tom share in common with me, you, and pretty much everyone else a desire to be heard, to be read, to have the things that we’ve laboured over appreciated.

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired and author of The Long Tail, also confesses that he just wants to be heard (although he doesn’t seem to have published an ebook version of his book):

I know I shouldn’t say this, but I’m actually delighted to see that my book has been pirated and is available on Bittorrent. (Presumably this is the audio book version, even though it claims to be an “ebook”, which I wasn’t aware existed. UPDATE. One file is the pirated audiobook, the “ebook” is actually this ChangeThis pdf of the original Wired article, which was already freely available).

My publishers want to make money, and I like them so I usually do what it takes to keep them happy, but in truth I just want to be read/listened to by the largest number of people. Leave it to me to figure out how to convert that reputational currency into cash–just get me in front of the biggest audience and I’ll do the rest. My agent doesn’t want to hear this, but I’d rather take a smaller up-front advance or lower royalties in exchange for more liberty in distributing free versions, because I think I’ll actually be better off in the end.

Anderson, however, tangles up a few threads in his piece, the first is a discussion of equivalence: ebooks are assumed not to be equivalent to books; digital audiobooks are assumed to be equivalent to CDs.

Reading an ebook isn’t currently a great experience. Specialised ebook readers are expensive, and most people don’t like reading on-screen, so the ebook is seen as not equivalent for a paper book, i.e. people are more likely to go and buy the paper version if they like the ebook. Thus it is beneficial to release a free ebook so that you can reach as wide an audience as possible, as you stand a good chance of converting ebook downloads to paper book sales.

Conversely, it doesn’t really matter whether you have an unlawfully downloaded copy of an audiobook, or the real thing, whether bought as a download or as a CD, because either way you are probably going to listen to it on your iPod, computer or other MP3 playing device. The assumption is that giving away ebooks encourages sales of paper books, but giving away audiobooks, or allowing unauthorised downloads, will cannibalise the sales of the legitimate ebook. This is exactly the same logic as used by the RIAA and BPI for suing file-sharers, and the rest of the music industry for attempting to slap DRM onto everything in sight. It’s a very compelling and sensible looking argument, but it’s based on unproven assumptions behind the motivations of the downloader/buyer.

We don’t have much real evidence to go on when looking at the cannibalisation of audiobooks by P2P versions. I’m not aware of any studies that focus on audiobooks. But certainly within the music industry the picture is not as clear as it at first seems. Felix Oberholzer and Koleman Strumpf compared real download data and real sales data (pdf) and found that downloading does not have a statistically significant impact on music sales, except in the context of the most popular songs, when it was shown to improve sales slightly. Could it be that the same might be true of an audiobook?

The other issues is the assumption, again promulgated by the RIAA and BPI, that every download of an unauthorised file, whatever it be, is equivalent to a lost sale. In fact, there are many different motivations and outcomes: Some people are nearly sure they want to buy the item but want to try it first, some people are curious and don’t know if they would buy but can be convinced, some people were never going to buy it anyway (so no lost sale as there was no intention to buy), and some people really are lost sales - they would have bought it but they downloaded it instead.

The question is not if some sales are lost, but if more sales overall are gained because of the free version? Providing a free version does not necessarily cannibalise sales overall, but instead acts as a promotional tool encouraging them.

Counterintuitively, there was a study last year that showed that people who downloaded the most MP3s also bought the most music. Sadly, I can’t lay my hands on a link right now but I’ll try to find it. Perhaps, as the audiobook market develops, this could hold true for audiobooks too.

Finally, there is an intimate relationship between a book and its audiobook version, and I don’t think that we really understand how users relate to both together or each separately. What makes a book compelling, and what makes an audiobook compelling are two different things, and my reasons for buying each different. I’m absolutely certain to be buying Neil Gaiman’s next book, whatever it is and whenever it comes out, because I’m a fan and I love his stuff. I trust him, as a writer, to produce work that I enjoy. I would be unlikely, however, to buy an audio version of one of Neil’s books if it was read by Some Random Voiceover Guy, because for me there’s no incentive to do so (I don’t frequently listen to audiobooks). But an audiobook actually read by Neil, or by Lenny Henry, is a different kettle of fish because I already have an emotional involvement with the author as a fan of his, and with Lenny Henry by virtue of the fact that I saw him and Neil reading one of Neil’s books at an event I went to a while back. My motivation for buying that would not be a desire for any old audiobook version, but a desire specifically for Neil’s or Lenny’s audiobook version.

So when Anderson says that he can’t see the case for producing legitimate free audiobooks, he’s treating them as if they are wholly separate from the paper book or ebook, and as 100% equivalent, and I don’t think that we can say that with any certainty.

What really happens if you both sell and give away an ebook? What really happens if you both sell and give away music? Didn’t seem to hurt the Arctic Monkeys, after all. But until someone somewhere does a rigorous and balanced study to find out, we’re stuck with a bunch of poorly formed assumptions and music industry propaganda.

Right now, I’m left with more questions than answers. The publishing industry, though, is being pushed into experimentation in a way that the music and movie industries are not. Authors are forcing publishers to do things that might seem counterintuitive, and we’re slowly starting to figure out, through trial and error, what all this means. Still lots to find out, though, about this open publishing idea.

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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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