Questions from Authors..

I’ve had a number of questions from people who are fascinated by the idea of combining free downloads with commercial sales of the actual book.  Some of them have come from authors, both academic and non.  Most are interested by the idea., but are also a little unsure about its implications…

My own take is this — University presses vary widely in their receptiveness to the idea of using Creative Commons licenses.  Academic authors who would like their books to be available and searchable in their entirety on the open web might want to consider Yale U.P., Duke U.P. or some other progressive university press that has already experimented with the use of Creative Commons Licenses.  I have been delighted with both Yale and Duke — which has just published the new edition of Bound By Law (on left) under a Creative Commons License.   So far the sales results of both experiments are positive and making one’s work freely available online is obviously congenial to our responsibility to make the result of our research available as widely as possible.  Of course such licenses are not right for every book — nothing in this posting should be thought to imply otherwise — and not every press will agree, but you will not know unless you ask.  (And they will not know whether the practice works unless they experiment with a few titles.)

The one piece of advice I would offer is to make sure that you really talk it through with everyone at the press and get them to understand the way the web works.  While university presses might want to experiment only with a few titles, when it comes to those titles they need fully to embrace the idea — creating an excellent website for the book (or allowing the author to do so), allowing multiple formats of the book to be made available (pdf, html etc), being excited rather than horrified if the book gets mentioned on a blog and downloads spike.  The last thing you want is a publisher who has grudgingly agreed to a Creative Commons license but who then sabotages every attempt to harness the openness it allows.  By contrast, look at the beautiful site Yale built for my book.  (Personally, I am skeptical of the whole commenting and annotation idea — but happy to experiment with it.)

“Ah — but all this is only possible because academics don’t really earn royalties on books anyway and prefer widespread dissemination of their ideas to a few extra pennies of permission fees”

Well, the latter point is certainly true, but I am unconvinced by the basic assumption that this will hurt commercial success of academic/crossover books.  Most of the academics I know who have used CC licenses clearly did much better financially than those who didn’t — though this is hardly “proof” since it could be that only those with an established reputation can persuade publishers to go along, and also sell more books, get better terms and so on.  We can’t prove the counterfactual.

I’d suggest a contrary hypothesis though — for an academic who wants to write a book that isn’t directly aimed at the mass market, (The Particle Physics Diet, How to Use the Secrets of Behavioral Economics to Improve your Golf GameSecret Dating Strategies of Accountants etc.)  but which has substantial potential reach in lots of different types of audience — academic and lay — the CC license might well be the best strategy in terms of sales.  There the key thing is reaching your potential readers when you don’t know exactly  who or where they are. And free  (potentially viral) distribution does that extremely well.  Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks is a nice example of this phenomenon.  It turns out that many more people than one would imagine are fascinated by the economic characteristics of networks, peer production and so on.

What about professional authors?  There we have fewer examples.  Both Cory Doctorow, the award winning science fiction author who uses this method very successfully, and I have argued that there  actually  may be a big role for  combined CC licensing and commercial sale in the world of commercial presses and professional authors.  (Each of us discusses some current examples of the practice.) The question, of course, is whether free distribution gains you, on the margin, more paying customers than it loses you . That’s an empirical question and one subject to technological change (think of the Kindle.)  But consistent with my position in Chapter 10 that we actually have a significant mental bias against the potential of open methods of production and consumption, I think the odds are that we are currently underestimating its possibilities.

Having said all that, and not scorning the delights of selling more books, my own main motivations for open licensing are rather different.  Jesse Dylan’s video sums them up beautifully.

Tags: ,

Friday, November 28th, 2008 Uncategorized

10 Comments to Questions from Authors..

  1. Or:

    Write, create…

    Self-publish and sell via Amazon, etc. Create Kindle Books.

    At the same time giving away one way or another.

    No license needed.

    I have actually managed to wrest some books I wrote from their publishers.

    Should someone use anything I have written, no problem.

    Attribution is nice.

    A little anarchic, but it works for me.

    On Kindle I also create books from pd sources with no cr.

    Ultimately I believe there will be a form of payment to online persons based on a combination of popularity and significance, more or less like page rank, with fees being collected perhaps by ISPs and doled out somewhat as ASCAP or BMI doles out royalties.

    That will not happen until no one uses paper anymore.

  2. Stephen C. Rose on November 29th, 2008
  3. You write, in reference to the site Yale UP has built for your book: “Personally, I am skeptical of the whole commenting and annotation idea…” Why are you skeptical about this?

  4. Mary on November 29th, 2008
  5. Hi Mary — no real reason for the skepticism except that it seems the best examples of distributed comment and annotation happen in the context of some particular project (building an encyclopedia, annotating a book for a class or a conference.)
    But as I said, I am happy to experiment and perhaps be surprised. And my skepticism is, in any case, specific and not general. As I point out in Chapter 10 we underestimate the potential of such schemes dramatically. Perhaps my reaction is another example of that!

  6. James Boyle on November 29th, 2008
  7. [...] read and subscribe to Boyle’s blog on The Public Domain, which includes an excellent post on authors, academic presses, online publishing and CC licensing. Brief excerpt, emphasis added to the truth that will be so obvious to readers of this blog that [...]

  8. Must-read: The Public Domain - Creative Commons on November 29th, 2008
  9. The initial experiment with this kind of thing wasn’t under the Creative Commons brand. Baen Books (a sci-fi publisher) started making some of its backlist available for download from its site for free without a specific license deed and without DRM.

    I’ve not heard of any author who has made a good-faith effort to make some of their backlist available for free who hasn’t increased their revenue. The Science Fiction Writer’s Association has essentially been taken to task by its members for organizationally fighting any kind of open-access capability, since they never actually looked at any data about, say, Mercedes Lackey’s book sales through DAW increasing as an apparently-direct result of her putting part of her catalog up for free via Baen.

    Oddly, Baen was also the only publisher experimenting with e-books at the time to actually make any money with the program. For more information, please see http://www.baen.com/library/ .

  10. Kyle H on November 30th, 2008
  11. For those interested in the public domain, there’s a Wikipedia article called “List of notable people who dedicated works to the public domain“.

  12. jorel314 on December 4th, 2008
  13. [...] surprising that Boyle would do this; you may be interested though in his explanation/argument for doing so. Read the comments though to see what he thinks about distributed comment and [...]

  14. LEARN NC :: LEARN Learns » Blog Archive » James Boyle's new book under CC license on December 5th, 2008
  15. [...] would be remiss not to mention James Boyle’s thoughts on the matter, particularly regarding his experience in licensing The Public Domain: Enclosing The [...]

  16. blog.twidox.com » Blog Archive » Advice for Authors on Negotiating With a Publisher About CC Licenses on April 1st, 2009
  17. [...] would be remiss not to mention James Boyle’s thoughts on the matter, particularly regarding his experience in licensing The Public Domain: Enclosing The [...]

  18. Advice for Authors on Negotiating With a Publisher About CC Licenses - Creative Commons on July 29th, 2009
  19. [...] also writes on the Public Domain website about the benefits of simultaneously selling your book and giving it away. There’s a cracking video from Creative Commons at the bottom of that page, which makes a [...]

  20. The Public Domain – James Boyle’s Latest « Ponoko – Blog on October 20th, 2010

From the Blog

  • Open Coursebook in Intellectual Property

    Cover of Intellectual Property: Law & the Information Society and link to purchase at Amazon.comDuke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain is announcing the publication of Intellectual Property: Law & the Information Society—Cases and Materials by James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins. This book, the first in a series of Duke Open Coursebooks, is available for free download under a Creative Commons license. It can also be purchased in a glossy paperback print edition for $29.99, $130 cheaper than other intellectual property casebooks.

    read more

  • So you’ve invented fantasy football, now what?

    We are posting excerpts from our new coursebook Intellectual Property: Law and the Information Society which will be published in two weeks is out now! It will be is of course  freely downloadable, and sold in paper for about $135 less than other casebooks.  (And yes, it will include  discussions  of whether one should ever use the term “intellectual property.” )  The book is full of practice examples..  This is one from Chapter One, on the theories behind intellectual property: “What if you came up with the idea of Fantasy Football?”  No legal knowledge necessary.  Why don’t you test your argumentative abilities…?

  • Free/Low Cost Intellectual Property Statutory Supplement

    Today, we are proud to announce the publication of our 2014 Intellectual Property  Statutory Supplement as a freely downloadable Open Course Book. Statutes Cover  It offers the full text of the Federal Trademark, Copyright and Patent statutes (including edits detailing the changes made by the America Invents Act.)  It also has a number of important international treaties and a  chart which compares the various types of Federal intellectual property rights — their constitutional basis, subject matter, length, exceptions and so on.You can see it here in print, or download it for free, here

  • Persnickety Snit

    This is the fourth in a series of postings of material drawn from our forthcoming, Creative Commons licensed, open coursebook on Intellectual Property.  It is about lawyers and language. 

  • Macaulay on Copyright

    Macaulay’s 1841 speech to the House of Commons on copyright law is often cited and not much read.  In fact, the phrase “cite unseen” gains a new meaning.  That is a shame, because it is masterful.  (And funny.) One fascinating moment?  When Macaulay warns that copyright maximalism will lead to a future of rampant illegality, as all happily violate a law that is presumed to have lost all moral legitimacy.

    At present the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side. Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouths of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesman of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law: and that feeling is at an end. Men very different from the present race of piratical booksellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot…  Remember too that, when once it ceases to be considered as wrong and discreditable to invade literary property, no person can say where the invasion will stop. The public seldom makes nice distinctions. The wholesome copyright which now exists will share in the disgrace and danger of the new copyright which you are about to create.

    The legal change he thought would do that?  Extending copyright to the absurd length of life plus 50 years.  (It is now life plus 70).  Ah, Thomas, if only you could have been there for the Sonny Bono Term Extension debates.

  • Mark Twain on the Need for Perpetual Copyright

    This is the second in a series of postings of material drawn from our forthcoming, Creative Commons licensed, open coursebook on Intellectual Property.  The first was Victor Hugo: Guardian of the Public Domain The book will be released in late August.

    In 1906, Samuel Clemens (who we remember better by his pen name Mark Twain) addressed Congress on the reform of the Copyright Act.  Delicious.

  • Victor Hugo: Guardian of the Public Domain

    Jennifer Jenkins and I are frantically working to put together a new open casebook on Intellectual Property Law.  (It will be available, in beta version, this Fall under a CC license, and freely downloadable in multiple formats of course.  Plus it should sell in paper form for about $130 less than the competing casebooks. The accompanying statutory supplement will be 1/5  the price of most statutory supplements — also freely downloadable.)  More about that later.  While assembling the materials for a casebook, one gets to revisit the archives, reread the great writers.  Today I was revisiting Victor Hugo.  Hugo was a fabulous — inspiring, passionate — proponent of the rights of authors, and the connection of those rights to free expression and free ideas.

  • “We Need To Start Seeing Other Futures..”

    Today is the second day of “Copyright Week!” Talk about a lede. That sentence has all the inherent excitement of “Periodontal Health Awareness Week” or “‘Hug Your Proctologist! No, After He’s Washed His Hands’ Week.” And that’s a shame. Copyright Week is a week devoted to our relationship with our own culture. Hint: things aren’t going well. The relationship is on the rocks.

  • Discussion: “The Foolish War Against Song-Lyric Websites”

    Professor Alex Sayf Cummings, author of a fascinating book called Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the 20th Century (recommended as a  thought-provoking read)  has an interesting  post up about attempts to shut down music lyric sites such as Rapgenius.com.

  • The Top Ten List of a Conference Planner

    Academics (and others) arrange conferences.  Perfectly normal people are invited to those conferences to speak.  Most of them are just as charming as can be… but then there are the special ones.  This Top 10 List of the special people one has to respond to is devoted to all conference planners everywhere.  Hold your heads up high.  After this, purgatory should be a snap.

  • (EM)I Has A Dream

    EM(I) Has A DreamAugust 28th, 2013 is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The copyright in the speech is administered by EMI, with the consent of the King family. Thus the speech may not be freely played on video or reproduced and costlessly distributed across the nation — even today. Its transient appearance depends on the copyright owner’s momentary sufferance, not public right. It may disappear from your video library tomorrow. It has even been licensed to advertise commercial products, including cars and mobile phone plans.

  • The Prosecution of Aaron: A Response to Orin Kerr

    Aaron Swartz committed suicide last week.  He was 26, a genius and my friend.  Not a really good friend, but someone I had worked with off and on for 11 years, liked a lot, had laughed with frequently, occasionally shaken my head over and deeply admired.

  • The Hargreaves Review

    An Intellectual Property System for the Internet Age

    James Boyle

    In November 2010, the Prime Minister commissioned a review of the Britain’s intellectual property laws and their effect on economic growth, quoting the founders of Google that “they could never have started their company in Britain” because of a lack of flexibility in British copyright..  Mr. Cameron wanted to see if we could have UK intellectual property laws “fit for the Internet age.”   Today the Review will be published. Its conclusion?  “Could it be true that laws designed more than three centuries ago with the express purpose of creating economic incentives for innovation by protecting creators’ rights are today obstructing innovation and economic growth?  The short answer is: yes.” Those words are from Professor Ian Hargreaves, head of the Review.   (Full disclosure: I was on the Review’s panel of expert advisors.)

  • Keith Aoki — A Remembrance Book

    A slideshow and downloadable book remembering Keith in words and pictures.  You can order a glossy, high quality copy of the book itself here from Createspace or here from Amazon.  We tried to make it as beautiful as something Keith would create.  We failed. But we came close; have a look at how striking it is… all because of Keith’s art.

  • Now THAT is how you teach a class

  • RIP, Keith Aoki

    Our friend, colleague, co-author and brilliant artist and scholar Keith Aoki died yesterday in his house in Sacramento.  He was 55 years old.

  • The Future of the Constitution?

    The Brookings Institution has organized a volume on “The Future of the Constitution” edited by Jeff Rosen and Benjamin Wittes and featuring articles by me, Larry Lessig, Jonathan Zittrain, Tim Wu and many others.  How will our constitutional tradition deal with the challenges posed by new technologies?  The topics range from possible personhood claims by artificial intelligences, to the future of free speech and the Net, to neuroscience and criminal punishment.  The essays are freely available online. Details after the jump.

  • Presumed Guilty

    My new FT column is up. Shakespeare, copyright, Scott Turow and a shadowy group of law professors..  What could be more fun? Ungated version after the jump. 

  • Waiting for ‘Waiting for Godot’

    What Could Have Been Entering the Public Domain on January 1, 2011?
    read more

  • Fantasy & Reality in Intellectual Property Policy

    My new column for the FT is up.  It deals with the incredible weakness of the data on which our intellectual property policy proceeds.   Ungated version after the jump

  • CBC Radio Interview on the History of Copyright

    Nora Young and the folk at CBC’s Spark have done it again, with a really nicely presented episode that includes a feature on copyright.  Nora interviews me about the history of copyright…  in 5 minutes.

  • EFF Pioneer Award Video

    Is here. I appear at 3:25 or so.

  • EFF Party in San Francisco!

    On November 8th, Cory Doctorow, John Perry Barlow, and numerous other digital luminaries will be gathering at the Minna Gallery in San Francisco for the EFF’s Pioneer Awards Party.  Cory is going to be the MC and — when not featured on XKCD blogging from a ballon in a red cape and goggles…

  • Net Neutrality Debate

    Great hour long radio show on net neutrality from NPR’s The State of Things.  Me, the inimitable Paul Jones of iBiblio, and Ryan Radia of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  Frank Stasio is just a great interviewer.  Listen to it here

  • Op Art Comic in todays SF Chronicle

    We have a centerfold Op Art comic on “Copyright’s Futures”  in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.  The comic is

  • Follow thepublicdomain on Twitter.

    Comic

    read

    Get my new book

    the book


    › Buy the book on Amazon
    › Download the book