books on the radio


Cory Doctorow Interview Redux: For the Win

Cory Doctorow's new book is For the Win, published by Tor Teen. Photo by Joi Ito.

I recently had a chance to hook up with Cory Doctorow again via skype for a quick 37 minute interview about all kinds of interesting things.

Click here for the audio edit of our skype interview.

For the Win

He’s on tour for his new book, For the Win, and was in Toronto and environs doing publicity ahead of an event at the Merrill Collection.

In this wide-ranging talk we cover quite a lot of ground.

I start off by asking Cory about his new Print on Demand (POD) project that he’s been documenting for Publisher’s Weekly that’s called With a Little Help.

What I love about this project is that Cory is leading from the front.

He’s seen the opportunity to put some real numbers behind a POD project, has laid his process bare and is experimenting with a number of price points for fans and consumers.

Anyone interested in self-publishing or Print on Demand needs to know more about this project.

From there we discuss his new book, specifically the idea of ‘gold farming’, which, very generally, is the act of gamers in 3rd world countries working their way thru complex gaming levels and amassing treasure, loot or gold which they then sell to 3rd parties who then sell it on to others.

Sounds ridiculous, right? Sounds like something out of a science fiction story, right?

Except that it’s real. A weird new kind of colonialism, or a virtual sweatshop.

This leads us to discuss ‘Benevolent Dictators’, hackable devices, technical vs information challenges before moving on to discuss DRM, digital locks and possible consequences of the proposed new Canadian copyright legislation contained in Bill C32.

The conversation ends with Cory offering some advice to young creators – digital natives – who may be confused by the current discussions of ‘piracy’, DRM, windowing, POD.

Some very interesting insights on creative strategy, partnerships.

What do you think about the ideas that Cory expresses in this interview?



Copyfight Fatigue: My Proposal to End a Polarizing Debate
May 31, 2010, 3:43 PM
Filed under: Copyright, Creative Commons, DRM, Enthusiasms, Imagination, Industry Change | Tags:

It's because of home taping that we no longer have music. Let's not make the same mistake with books. (Photo by Martin Conway)

This Week in Copyright

This week is the all copyright, file-sharing, DRM week from hell with a sick kitty thrown in (not literally thrown in, ‘course) for good measure.

On Thursday the Canadian Government is set to introduce a new bill that will seek to address and update our copyright law.

Then on Friday I’ll be interviewing Cory Doctorow via skype from Toronto where he’ll be touring his new book, For the Win.

Then on Saturday I’ll be skyping in to Bookcamp Halifax to present a session called Simplicity and Control: Digital Potential Beyond DRM.

So, it’s a watershed week where we determine whether law, behavior and the digital landscape can coexist without litigation and acrimony.

Smart money says not a fricking chance.

*

Photo by William Soo.

First Things First.

We’re going to get a new copyright bill in Canada one way or another and really, why not? Let’s just get it done and move on.

There’s been a lot of windmill jousting on all sides of the debate – thank god that analogy is in the public domain! – and I agree that it’s time for our elected representatives to put up or shut up on this.

It’s not a stretch to suggest that a lot of the pressure for this new bill to be introduced in Canada is coming from foreign politicians and from companies who desire to have their content and oil-based distribution chains protected from digital incursion.

That does not make these companies or the politicians “evil”: it makes them companies and politicians.

It is what it is.

The new bill is certainly not being put forward after a deafening hew and cry from creators in this country, though admittedly most will welcome it if only to know where they stand.

And, of course, everybody needs money: countries need money, political parties need money, creators need money, executives need money, we all need money.

I think that it’s obvious that companies with huge amounts of money invested in licensed creativity, content, product, etc… will naturally try to exert as much pressure as possible in order to protect and monetize their assets to their maximum ability.  Many of the creators in their ‘stable’ expect no less.

All of this is understood just as it’s understood that ability and willingness to change and adapt to new business models is very very low on the priority list.

Politicians want to stay in office and donations help to fund election campaigns.  Investments, locally or federally, from big companies or other countries help to make our politicians look good, to grease the economic gears, maybe create some jobs.

These kinds of influences and relationships have occurred since before the invention of fire.

Content creators/licensees want to protect their abilities to maximize their return on investment.  Politicians want to stay in power and also want to be able to fund their next election campaign.

Those are some of the fundamentals.

*

Photo by Kate Black.

P2P Filesharing & Bit Torrent: A Digital Apocalypse or a Huge Opportunity?

The problem is this: creative content is worth something to the creator, the licensee, the fan and everyone else in the ecosystem that facilitates taking the product from creator’s mind to audience.

Digital innovations have created an opportunity for files – potentially carrying creative work whose copyright provisions do not allow for any kind of non-monetized electronic dissemination – to be transmitted quickly and efficiently all over the world.

P2P File Sharing Networks and Bit Torrent technologies are the most efficient distribution system we have invented for getting information – digital files containing anything from scans of a shopping list, to Shakespeare’s sonnets, to a photo of your mom in front of the Louvre, to leaks of patent pending inventions, published unpublished and unpublishable novels, songs, your wedding photographs, etc… – from one computer to other computers quickly and practically instantaneously.

Fortunately or unfortunately these tools for sharing files and data don’t care what those shared files contain.  To them it’s all just information to be transferred.

Hurt Locker or Ishtar are the equivalent of Lady Gaga, a photo of a llama, episode 3 of Rock of Love Season 2, an excel file, a scan of a Mark Danielewski novel, Twilight, whatever. It all has the same basic value.

That value is zero.

* (The zero value is based on the file itself – infinitely replicable and basically indistinct for others – and not the work that went into what the file contains. The value of creation, editorial, design, etc… is invaluable. Unfortunately, these super efficient distribution tools are not designed to monetize in a way that we traditionally link to these kinds of exchanges.)

If you wrap your digital content in a protective layer – DRM – it is easily hacked open and shared regardless.

Even though there no evidence to support the notion that downloading digital content from P2P sites equals a lost sale or in any way negatively impacts revenues for content creators or licensees that does not prevent the appearance of a general assumption that something has been lost, taken, stolen or pirated that should have been rightfully monetized.

As though the 100,000 people (random figure, possibly too low) who have downloaded and watched Iron Man 2 from a practically infinite number of torrent sites around the world would have otherwise paid money to see that movie.

Surely there’s at least a ghost of logic to that statement, right? But can we monetize based on the ghosts of logic?

Probably not.

So… to distill it down to an essence: people are experiencing kinds of content all over the world for free.  This content is being acquired via P2P file sharing sites and is being seeded and further leeched by others around the world via an impossible to track bit of perfectly legal software called Bit Torrent.

Though this content is being experienced and shared by many more people than would otherwise have experienced and shared it previously this is a problem because there’s a perceived loss of revenue attached to this file sharing behavior.

The monopolized traditional distribution chain has been subverted and the digital efficiencies are built on the same logic that brought us the “genius” of the Amazon personalized algorhythm and effectively destroyed north American independent bookstore culture but is now wreaking havoc a little further up the food chain.

Rather than see this technological development as an opportunity to develop new ways of communicating, collaborating, community building and discovering new markets through innovation and imagination our government has decided that we need to legislate protections around ineffectual digital locks.

Digital locks that even the very politicians in our ruling minority federal government admit they broken many times in the average use of their iPods and PVRs.

Digital locks that have never worked, that don’t work even for well-meaning citizens but that will potentially criminalize them regardless.

*

Photo by Ben Heine.

My Proposal to End the Copyright Debate:

Like most of my favorite ideas this one is overly simplistic, possibly idealistic and probably impossible.

But here goes:

Copyright holders should lock up their content to the maximum limit if they want to.This is not mandatory, it is a conscious choice.

If copyright holders want to deprive their readers of the ability to widely share the content that they purchased or to transfer the same content between devices or whatever, that is their right.

And if the readership doesn’t like it, well then they can choose from some of the super-abundant alternative content available that doesn’t possess those same law bound restrictions.

Lock it up and throw away the key, maximize that revenue. It’s what copyright is all about, right?

The locks on this content should also not be broken and the content should not be shared on the P2P sites.

Just let it sell from the standard online channels.  Peddle it from websites and Amazon and iBooks, wherever.

If, however, you understand and are excited by the potential of these P2P sites for all of the digital benefits that they possess and you’re inclined to use other technologies like POD, paypal, skype, social media platforms, mixing tools, Adobe/Apple content creation software to augment your own stories, products or non-fiction writing then you should make that known and freely embrace the potential.

The traditional methods – paper books, vinyl records, prints, dvds, etc… – will continue to support, augment and quantify the work.

That’s it.  It’s that simple.

By taking control of the means of dissemination to build your audience, to collaborate and cross-pollinate media, to explore potentials for new markets and to reach those markets with real product you control your ability to do some really original work and to find ways to get paid that your audience agrees with.

So, pass a law if you want to. But it won’t take long before it becomes insignificant and/or irrelevant as the true creators of the present and the future go to the places that give them the maximum freedom to create and collaborate with the maximum audience and influences.

Taking ‘copyrighted’ content away from the networks won’t stop that it will only serve to create a whole other self-sustaining market based on concepts of creation, sharing, remixing that are outside our common notion of copyright.

And that’s ok.

There is nothing wrong with the traditional model and how it has helped create our current notion of what copyright is and how we should protect it.

But that notion of copyright no longer has exclusive rights to reality.



XL Recordings Leverages Copyright Takedown Notice as Marketing Initiative for New MIA Record
April 27, 2010, 1:57 PM
Filed under: Copyright | Tags: , , , ,

[NOTE:This is a front loaded addendum to my original post.

This video continues to be posted and then taken down.  I have reposted it several times.

It has been more than 10 years since Napster and we have seen the RIAA and others attempt to control the spread of digital content online with little success.

Because we are intelligent people we believe that people in the record industry know better than this.  We also believe that they’re basically cynical pricks who’d force their own mother to be a body double in a remake of Throw Momma From the Train if they thought that they could make a few bucks doing it.

So, we’re retitling this post as follows:

XL Recordings Leverages Copyright Takedown Notice as Marketing Initiative for New MIA Record

Luckily, MIA is a visionary artist who knows what needs to be done in circumstances like this.  She has posted the complete video on her site, MIAUK.com.

This whole audience-direct-to-artist relationship is looking better and better by the day.

Original post is below.]

XL Recordings is putting a heavy hand down on the release of this video.  Sending out the usual takedown requests for youtube uploads and MIA herself has BOOOO’d those actions taken by her record label.

Not ironically the song is called ‘Born Free’ and this video is an intense and graphic piece of work.

On many musical, visual and lyrical levels this song embodies what David Shields calls ‘Reality Hunger‘.  Borrowing without asking, mixing and remixing across multiple media and different decades.

All synthesized into this cool 9 minute video.  There’s so many references to argue, discuss and explore in this video.

We need more of this.

For some excellent analysis and background check out Ann Powers’ piece, MIA Makes Her Stance Utterly Clear… in the LA Times and August Brown’s piece on MIA’s use of Suicide’s song Ghost Rider as the basis for this track.

Here’s a lyric from the song:

I don’t wanna talk about money, ’cause I got it
And I don’t wanna talk about hoochies, ’cause I been it
And I don’t wanna be that fake?, but you can do it
And imitators, yeah, speak it

An intense piece of work!  Can’t wait for the record to drop!



This Just in: Home Taping is Killing Music
March 31, 2010, 11:54 AM
Filed under: Copyright, DRM, Imagination | Tags: , ,

Via Mark Bertils & Benjamin Laird.



David Shields’ Reality Hunger: Mostly Not Available in Canada

No Appetite for Physical Book Sales

* NOTE: Big respect to the people at Chapters/Indigo – and one person in particular who will remain nameless until such a time as I get the OK to mention said person by name – for hustling to get this book into stores in Canada and for staying in touch with me during the process.

The book is available at the Robson Street store in Vancouver and I encourage everyone who has even a foggy inclination about this book to go and buy it and to join the conversation about it.

Agree or disagree or suffer from indifference, I think it’s important and I’m glad that people can now walk into a bookstore in Vancouver and other places and buy it from another human being!

Thanks!*

Very simply: I do not understand why David Shields’ hugely anticipated new book, Reality Hunger, is not available for sale at the brick and mortar version of Canada’s national big box book chain, Chapters/Indigo.

I come at this scenario from 2 points of view:

1) I’m a fan of David Shields and have been following the media coverage and build-up for this book for months.

The contentious debate around literary remixing, appropriation, creativity & attribution brought on by Helene Hegemann, the 17 year-old German novelist whose been accused of accelerating worldwide copyright apocalypse only stokes the fire.

2) My experience is as a bookseller/buyer for independent stores and the Virgin Megastore.  And as a book lover, a reader, someone who wants to buy books.

It is impossible for me to understand how a book by an established writer that is receiving this much advanced media attention is not stacked high on the display tables at the front of the store by the time the doors open for business on the date of release.

And if that’s not in the cards – for a host of complicated reasons – then how about at least having a few copies available for idiots like me who still occasionally enjoy the 3-dimensional experience of buying a book from a human being?

Who still consider release dates to be a piece of meaningful communication between publisher and audience.  A kind of promise.

The date of release, by the way, was last Tuesday, February 23rd.

*

Here’s the story: I didn’t actually expect Chapters/Indigo to have copies at the doors, stacked high on the release date.  I live in Vancouver and everything in the physical book trade supply chain takes longer to get here.

No problem, we’re used to it.

Also, this is books that we’re talking about, not music or movies, so the sense of urgency and coordination to satisfy the hunger of the audience that has been piqued by well-placed coverage in the media is diminished.

Or non-existent.

Anyway, so I wait a day and then check the Chapters/Indigo website to see whether Reality Hunger is showing in-stock at any of the Vancouver locations.

Apparently not.  I could order it from them online, sure, but all physical locations are showing a stock level of zero.

So I called one of the stores and spoke to a very helpful young man who told me that there were no copies at any Chapters/Indigo stores in the entire country of Canada as it had not yet been ordered.

Not yet been ordered.  Got that?

A day after the release date, the largest retailer in the country hadn’t even placed an order!

Reality Hunger isn’t published by a small press with limited sales and distribution power, it’s a front list book published by one of the largest publishers in the world, Random House.

As a fan and former bookseller this makes absolutely zero sense.

Is this some new tactic in the battle against digital piracy?  Like, maybe if the book isn’t available at all no one will want to steal it?

*

Am I expecting too much?

*

One can surely make the argument that I am expecting too much.

That Chapters/Indigo took a pass on this title because it’s some obscure book of essays and literary criticism by an American author.  That there would be no appeal to the Canadian audience.

This despite the fact that it’s a Random House front-list title on the influence of reality culture and contains a feast of quotes printed on the front cover from the likes of Jonathan Lethem, Patricia Hempl, Geoff Dyer and Albert Goldbarth, and has been reviewed by the likes of Chuck Klosterman and Zadie Smith.

But whatever, right?  It’s not like people actually read anymore.  Lethem, Klosterman, Zadie Smith?  Nobody cares what those people think.  They have no influence.

Speaking of having no influence on consumer behavior, here’s a list of some of the media outlets that have reviewed, discussed and generated awareness for the release of Reality Hunger over the past few months: Guardian Books Podcast, The Believer, Fader Magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Millions, Seattle Times, Pop Matters, The Huffington Post, Bookslut, New York Times.

Ahem.

*

Frustrated to the point of despair, I called around to all the bookstores in Vancouver and none of them carried it, though they could certainly special order it for me.  It would only take about a week.

Thanks, no.

The only bookstore that I contacted that had copies in their store, ready to be bought by customers, was Bolen Books in Victoria.

I contacted the affable, Springsteen-loving Rob Wiersema and he informed me that they had 5 copies on display.

Kudos, as always, to the independents (and especially Rob, who as President for Life of the BC Bookseller’s Association, is always out there reprezentin’ the tribe;).

And David Shields can rest assured that at least 5 readers living on an island off Canada’s west coast will be reading his book.

As for the rest of the country? Not so much.

*

One reason that I care enough about this to write this post is because I think that Reality Hunger is going to be an important book.

That it’s going to do what nearly every single other book published this year will fail to do: generate real conversation and debate across a variety of disciplines about the nature of creative expression, copyright and attribution in the 21st century.

Crucial issues as the passionate response to the story about Helen Hegmann’s book demonstrates.

Another reason is that I hate to see writers, readers & book lovers so brutally under served by the dumb beast of corporate bookselling.

In an era where there’s constant uncertainty about the influence of digital sales and distribution to the traditional supply chain how can a major publisher not provide physical books to the largest book retailer in an entire country?

With that much media – Huffington Post, New York Times, Fader Magazine (calls it the Hip Hop Album of the Year!), the Globe and Mail, Bookslut, the Guardian Books Podcast – how is it possible that Chapters/Indigo slept on placing an initial order?

Has this appetite for immediacy – this Reality Hunger – killed the ability of book publishing’s marketing and supply chain to work effectively together to serve the reader on time with physical book sales?

Is it wrong for me to expect to be able to walk into a major book retailer and buy a copy of a widely publicized book on the date of release?

Or are we happy to relegate all sales of physical books to independents and online sales channels?

Has digital effectively won the battle so soon?



Copyright in the Digital Age: BOTR Talks to Jesse Finkelstein

Books on the Radio vs Jesse Finkelstein: Copyright in the Digital Age.

Click Here to Listen to Jesse Finkelstein & Sean Cranbury Talk Copyright

At the beginning of February 2010, just before the Olympics rolled into town and before the independent literary showcase W2 Real Vancouver Writers’ Series took root in the local imagination, I was invited to speak on Copyright in the Digital Age to the Masters of Publishing class at SFU.

In preparation for that talk at SFU I spoke to an expert in the field of book publishing, copyright, international rights contracts by the name of Jesse Finkelstein.

Jesse is the Digital Assets and Foreign Rights Director at Douglas & McIntyre, Greystone Books and New Society Publishers.  She leads the company’s digital publishing initiatives and the development of international rights sales for all three imprints.

Jesse was formerly an Associate Publisher at Raincoast Books as well as the Everything-That-Needs-Doing Person at Vehicule Press in Montreal.  She is a graduate of McGill University as well as Simon Fraser’s Masters of Publishing program.

Over the past year I have had the pleasure of getting to know Jesse.  We have had a few great, passionate conversations about rights, the digital wave and the adaptability of traditional publishing business models to fit new demands.

It was a real honour to have Jesse on the show and I think that you’ll agree that it’s a fascinating conversation.

And, even at 30 minutes, it’s way too short.

Please comment below with any thoughts, ideas or questions that you have about these issues or our conversation.

Thanks, Jesse!



Makers: The Cory Doctorow Interview (Built from Scratch)
Cory Doctorow Banner

Cory Doctorow Photo by Jonathan Worth.

This interview has it all.  Well, some of it.  In pieces.  Kinda glued together.

Click here to hear the podcast of my interview with Cory.

I called Cory on Thursday November 12th, 2009 from Control Booth B at CJSF.  He was in his hotel room getting started on a day of media publicity for the launch of his new book, Makers, published by Tor Books.

I have no idea whether I was his first interview of the day but I am certain that I wasn’t his last.

He did TVOntario, CBC’s The Hour with George Strombo and countless other interviews throughout the day.

He eventually finished with a talk at the Toronto SF reference library, the Merril Collection, where his old friends at Bakka Phoenix Books (where Cory once worked as a bookseller) sold out of books for him to sign.

His talk the next day at the National Reading Summit was a huge success according to all of my sources in Toronto.

Well, all of my sources except the Globe and Mail’s John Barber, who apparently couldn’t be bothered to actually show up.  Not that a little detail like being physically present prevented him from writing about it.

But back to the interview that you may or may not have already started listening to.

It’s a bit of a reanimated corpse brought together by magic and electricity.  The sound quality is off and my recording software kinda crashed about half way through then came back to life again and then died for good.

So I apologize for the quality and I promise that I’m going to get this whole ‘sound’ thing figured out.  I finish the show off with a recording of Cory’s reading from the Makers that night at the the Merril Collection Science Fiction Reference Library in front of his home town audience.  It’s a great piece about Suzanne Church’s first encounter with a few of the Makers. A scene that I allude to earlier in our talk.

I still like the interview, though.  I’m sorry that an infernal machine ate chunks of our conversation about DRM and most of the talk on Google Books and everything about his With a Little Help Project that he’s cataloging for Publisher’s Weekly.

Here’s the video from his excellent talk on TVOntario: