The Future of the Publishing Industry (or why terms of service are so important): HarperCollins Part Two

LOLibrarian from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

LOLibrarian from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

So now that you’ve read in the first post about the possibilities of using new technologies to transform the publishing industry in a potentially positive way, now read the tale of how Harper Collins is using another technology — e-books and their terms of service — to potentially shut down e-books in libraries.

Overdrive, the platform that most U.S. public libraries use to circulate e-books, recently released a press release stating that

OverDrive [has] a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached. This eBook lending condition will be required of all eBook vendors or distributors offering this publisher’s titles for library lending (not just OverDrive).

So to cut to the chase, the publisher is Harper Collins, as discovered by Josh Hadro at Library Journal, with a lifetime lending limit of 26 checkouts. What this would mean is that libraries would need to keep track of the number of checkouts — and once reaching this magical number — kaboom, the “book” isn’t usable. Not only does this prove that ebooks aren’t books in the way that print books are, placed within the first sale doctrine, but that because they are licensed (and the license terms can be changed at any time prospectively), this type of ownership is meaningless.

Librarians and their supporters are understandably upset, with a variety of posts on BoingBoing, Librarian By Day, Dear Author, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Literary Sluts, TechDirt, and many others.

Not only will there be many, many logistical issues for libraries, but Dear Author breaks down some of the overall problems with this approach:

Here’s just a few reasons why this move by HarperCollins is so unbelievably bad.

1) Restricting library usage of digital books will not slow down ebook adoption because ebook adoption is a by product of digital media adoption. As TV and movies and music goes, so will books. Or books will just be left behind.

2) Reducing visibility in the libraries will reduce discoverability by readers. Reduced discoverability is the last thing that publishers can afford to have happen to its books.

3) Reducing legitimate access to books will make it easier for readers to justify piracy. Don’t give them that opportunity.

So where to go from here? There is the Readers’ Bill of Rights for Digital Books , but it has yet to hit traction in the library/publishing world. Librarian in Black has a similar call to action, called the eBook User’s Bill of Rights:

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.

Hopefully, the protests will change the decision by HarperCollins.

If you want to follow the discussion on Twitter, the hashtag is #hcod.

The Future of the Publishing Industry (or why terms of service are so important): HarperCollins Part One

Two recent stories about the publishing industry demonstrate both the promise of new, interactive models — and the difficulties of moving towards new technologies for the publishing industry.

But what makes these stories so interesting is that they both deal with the same publisher — HarperCollins — and revolve around terms of service/licensing/contract terms.

The first example comes from Sara Grimes’ Gamine Expedition, where she writes about a year-old emerging author platform,

inkpop, an online community/social network aimed at connecting “up-and-coming authors with talent spotters and publishing professionals in the teen market”, as well as providing a forum for said up-and-coming authors to test out ideas and give/get feedback on each others’ submissions. It’s also been described as “interactive writing platform for teens”

This platform has its first to-be published success story, but there are significant issues about ownership of content, especially considering that the platform is designed to help writers “pitch” their writings. And Sara

wonder[ed] about content ownership and whether or not the publisher has included a right of first refusal in its terms of service for the site. [But ]contributors retain ownership rights over their submissions, while the publisher claims they only want to find new talent and provide a space for this talent to develop (where they can see it). Which is, well, pretty awesome! On the other hand, HarperCollins also claims limited, non-exclusive rights to publish and display users’ content, both on the inkpop site and third-party websites, which would make it decidedly more difficult for an inkpop author to get a publishing deal elsewhere.

I agree with Sara that this model has many potential upsides for writers that want to share their writing with others in a welcoming, supportive environment. But I wish that instead of being created by a for-profit company, that there would be a non-profit site with similar goals reaching the same level of success (here publishing). But perhaps that is moving too far into a monetary-based system, after all, many fanfic communities serve a similar supportive to new writers purpose, though with limited exceptions — such as Naomi Novik and Cassandra Clare — those writers do not more into published works.

Sara also has a research question, so head over to Gamine Expedition if you have any insight on any studies or research into this community, including the business model, authorship issues, and the implications of these terms.


Part II is here!

When Twitter becomes TV:the final hours of @mayoremanuel

Last night a bunch of folks of Twitter said tearful good byes to Chicago’s next mayor. Kinda.

@mayoremanuel was the profane parody Twitter persona of the real mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel. Kind of like Fake Gary Busey , @mayoremanuel was pretty much a running  Rahm Emanuel joke based around his foul-mouthed, larger than life persona. (“Your next motherfucking mayor. Get used to it assholes,” reads his bio)

In a few short months, the  anonymous Twitter account  attracted nearly 40,000 followers. The real Rahm was at the very least amused by the fake account and reportedly offered to donate $5,000 to a charity if the voice behind @mayoremanuel revealed him/herself (which he/she didn’t)  (UPDATE: on 2/28/2010 Columbia College professor and former Punk Planet publisher Dan Sinker revealed to The Atlantic that he was the voice behind @mayoremanuel)

On Tuesday, the same day the real-life Emanuel was elected mayor, @mayoremanuel revealed that he was not long for this world:

While the Fake Rahm tweets had always been great for a laugh, in the waning weeks of the mayoral election @mayoremanuel had started to take on a bit of a serial approach, with ongoing storylines and characters (loyal Carl the Intern, pet duck Quaxelrod, etc) As wonderfully documented (and annotated!) on Snarkmarket, the last few days of the @mayoremanuel story took on an almost mythic quality.

From Snarkmarket:

Yesterday… @MayorEmanuel outdid himself. He wrote an extended, meandering narrative of the day before the primary that took the whole parallel Rahm Emanuel thing to a different emotional, comic, cultural place entirely. It even features a great cameo by friend of the Snark Alexis Madrigal. The story is twisting, densely referential, far-ranging — and surprisingly, rather beautiful.

Definitely check out the storyfied version of the final @mayoremanuel tweets in the rest of the above post or if you have time and paper on your hands, download a 40 page PDF of all of @mayoremanuels tweets here.

I was one of thousands of Twitter fans who “watched” the last tweets of @mayoremanuel in real time – all the while begging him not to go, and retweeting profane eulogies from others. I realized that this was perhaps the first instance during my time on Twitter where there was a shared, mass public experience of watching a fictional story unfold on Twitter (not news, not a TV show)

It was very akin to watching a television program, only rather than collectively watching, say, the Grammys or America’s Next Top Model,  the action itself – the story itself – took place on Twitter. And it was entertaining. This kind of twitter-as-storytelling isn’t totally new. Fans have been using Twitter as a medium for fanfiction for some time now. In a way, @mayoremanuel was basically real-person fanfiction. But what intrigued me was the mass audience that this particular story attracted, and how similar the experience was to other “mass watching” experiences of TV and film.

As far as I know, the voice of @mayoremanuel has not yet been revealed, but regardless of whether we find out, he/she created something special. In the future, could Twitter be a channel for a form of original storytelling to a mass audience? Is it already happening and I just don’t know about it?

Guide for the Perplexed: Namie Amuro

Cover of Namie Amuro's Checkmate albumThe second in our series on The Learned Fangirl called “Guide for the Perplexed” is focusing on Namie Amuro. We’re hoping to describe corners of fandom that may not be known to mainstream audiences and aspects of fandom culture that demonstrate larger cultural phenomena, so if you have any suggestions for subjects you’d like covered, leave a comment!


Namie Amuro is one of the best-selling Japanese musical artists of all time. Unlike much of the Japanese music industry, where idols stars come and go quickly, Namie Amuro has been popular since the 90s.

She is the self-proclaimed “Queen of Hip-Pop” — also one of her album titles. The use of the Pink Panther in the Wowa music video *is* licensed. Her latest album (March 2011) is called Checkmate!, so extending this framework, she is the Queen calling Checkmate on her opponents (in song collaboration). I’m not saying the metaphor works, but she is definitely *the* queen of Japanese hip-hop influenced pop.

But like many J-pop and K-pop stars, the line between licensing, merchandising, and actual music is blurred. For example, her mini-album 60s 70s 80s was sponsored by Vidal Sassoon. She is well-known as a fashion icon, and if you watch many Namie Amuro videos you will notice that yes, she does wear those same style over-the-knee boots in almost every video!

Also, unfortunately it seems like her record company has been pulling many of her music videos off of youtube. Oddly enough, it is still possible without any difficulty on other video sites to find music videos, including her entire concert DVDs.

Radiohead releases new album online, music industry keeps dying

Radiohead just released its latest album, The King Of Limbs, today online. It’s a day earlier than expected, and unlike their last release, In Rainbows, where they band offered a “name your price” model for the record, The King of Limbs has a firm price: $9 for an MP3 and $14 for a WAV (CD quality) format. Not a big surprise, the “name your price” experiment was a worthy one, but a model that is impossible for a band that’s not Radiohead to replicate and remain solvant.

Physical copies of The King Of Limbs will be made available in stores later in March, but it’s quite telling that Radiohead is prioritizing online distribution for the second release in a row.

Similarly, check out the following chart, swiped from which maps out the “Death of the Music Industry”

Not sure if the chart is documenting the death of the industry per se, but the certain death of physical music formats for mass consumption, and perhaps the concept of mass -market music in general.