Disrupting the Bloodsuckers

A couple of years ago, I coauthored a book about teaching and learning with interactive whiteboards. I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of IWBs here, but believe me when I say I can see both sides of the arguments for and against them. Regardless of your opinions about the worth of IWBs, I was pleased that the book was able to focus on the importance of quality teaching, and I think we made a pretty solid point in the book that any classroom technology is only as good as the pedagogical expertise being applied to its use.

It was an interesting exercise, as I’d never written an actual book before. As this type of niche book goes, it’s been reasonably successful. It sold out of its first, and then second editions, and has now been reprinted several times. It got some excellent reviews. The company that published it, ACER Press, tells us that it’s actually their number one selling book, so it’s rather nice to know that it’s been well received by so many people. It’s been translated into Swedish and reprinted there, and there was also some interest in translating it into Turkish too. Sales of the book outside Australia are apparently doing quite well. By all accounts it’s been a reasonable success for ACER Press.

My fiancée Linda has also just finished writing her first book. It’s a novel, with a hilarious storyline that follows the adventures of a woman about to turn 40 who decides to give Internet dating a go. Linda’s been working on it on and off for about 6 years now, so there is a certain sense of jubilation in our house that she’s finally finished, and she’s currently going through the process of designing covers, organising a final proofread, and getting it published.

The difference with Linda’s book is that she has decided to self publish. Not only has she written it, she’s also managing the cover design, layout, typesetting and publication. She’ll buy her own ISBN, write a marketing plan for it and oversee its execution (she is, after all, a marketing gal through and through). She originally wanted to try and sell it to a publisher, but after seeing how little value traditional publishers add to the process she has most definitely decided not to do it the traditional way.

Her decision was further vindicated today when I checked the mail to find a royalty cheque from the publishers of my book. I get them twice a year. Don’t get too excited about it.

My most recent book royalty – for a book that is relatively successful – was $101.  It retails for $34.95.  I did the math based on the number of books sold and it turns out that I’m making 64 cents per copy. Yes, 64 lousy cents.

Of course, I didn’t write it all myself so my coauthor, Mal Lee, gets the other 64 cents. Had either of us written it on our own, we would be raking a princely $1.28 per copy. Awesome, huh?  I wonder where the other $33.67 goes.  Oh, of course, the publishers.

It seems that we got royally screwed in the book contract deal, because the fine print stated that we would not get any royalties from overseas sales, only Australian ones. Nice one ACER. Way to look after your authors.

Watching Linda pursue the self-publishing path got me thinking about the way so many industries are being disrupted. How the record industry was reshaped by not only “illegal” filesharing, but also by the fact that emerging digital technologies put a great deal of power into the hands of musicians to not only record their music independently but also to distribute it. We saw the same thing happen to the travel industry, as people go online to make their own travel arrangements. Look at the photographic business, and how disruptive digital technologies have been there. Look at what social technologies are doing to the way people freely share reviews of products, services, restaurants, hotels. Even the crowdsourced service that Linda used to design her book cover, 99designs, has a business model that is causing great disruption in the graphic design industry. It’s happening absolutely everywhere.

The thing that struck me tonight as I looked at my piddly little royalty cheque, was that the reason so many traditional industries fight this disruption so much is their claim of needing to protect the artists, writers and musicians. “You have to pay for the music, or musicians won’t have any financial incentive to keep producing music!” say the record companies. “We have to fight to protect the rights of authors so they can keep writing books!” say the publishing houses. They argue that their role is to provide content creators with sufficient protection so that they can keep earning an income and so continue producing their work.

I call BS on this.

Book publishers are greedy, self interested leeches that do very little to support the authors that do the actual hard work of writing. I think the same could be said of the music business, and probably many other businesses too. They are far more interested in protecting their bloated out-of-touch business models than they are in protecting the rights of their authors and musicians.

Linda is absolutely doing the right thing by self publishing. If I ever write another book, I would never, ever, on principle, work through a publisher again. I’d rather sell a few hundred books on my own terms than sell a few thousand on theirs. I will never again sign away my rights as an author to a publisher. Ever.

It’s not about the money. I write this blog for no reward. I continually turn down offers to monetise this blog, and I license everything here (and most other places I make stuff) under a Creative Commons license. I’d rather give my stuff away than have some bloodsucking publisher insult me by paying me 64 cents for the privilege of “protecting” my rights as an author by taking the other 90% of the profits.

Never again.

CC BY 4.0 Disrupting the Bloodsuckers by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

3 Replies to “Disrupting the Bloodsuckers”

  1. Chris,
    As an ardent supporter and promoter of your book, I am very sorry to hear that you aren’t getting the financial recognition your work deserves. Your points in this blog are well taken, and frankly stated. I hope it will be some consolation that your book is singular in its approach to using IWBs, in the context of their adding value to good teaching. As a veteran of hundreds of training sessions, I have seen all too often that the majority of my clients simply want to know how the tool can be shaped to let them keep doing whatever form of mediocrity they are already doing, rather than use it as a catalyst to re-thinking what they do and how they do it. There are occasional folks who do see the light, and I guarantee that it is because of approaches I take that have grown from the seeds you have planted in my mind with your book. When asked, “Is there a manual?” I pull out my now-dog-eared copy and recommend it to folks – some have followed through, and their students have profited by it. Keep up the good fight, and do let your followers know when both your fiancees book and (hopefully) your next book are available.

    1. Aw, thanks Bill, much appreciated. That’s nice of you to say so.

      Glad to hear that the book has been helpful to you and that you have been able to use it to spread the sensible and effective use of these things.

      Re the money thing, honestly, it doesn’t worry me and was totally not the reason I wrote it in the first place. I never had any thoughts of the book being a big moneymaker… that wasn’t the point at all. However, my big lesson has been to see the publishing business close up and to realise what a bunch of dinosaurs they are. I think they think they understand what the web is doing to their business but they Just. Don’t. Get. It.

      Next book (if I write one… I’d like to) will definitely be self published, will be done under a Creative Commons license, will come in digital as well as physical formats, and will not be hogtied by an outdated business model or an unfair contract.

  2. Hi Chris… Interesting to read your story. I wrote a workbook for the Maths course I teach and had discussions with a few publishers who were interested in… ripping me off also! To my astonishment they were happy to charge $55 and give me $1.25. Wow, fantastic! I just spent hundreds of hours (literally) writing this 540 page thing over the course of a year, every night. I get hold of a printer, and published it myself. As in your situation, it wasn’t about the money but it was nice to get some reward and even more importantly help fellow teachers with their classes, the feedback I got from them has been great. We are moving from NZ back to Australia so I am trying to organise someone to publish the book and it is a pain in the butt! The people I have sent the book to, who are apparently interested, have taken 4 months to do anything. Very frustrating.
    Anyway, I wanted to add what a great book it is you wrote and how the principles have guided my journey with IWBs. My move to a new job as an ICT integrator next year was inspired initially by your great presentations. Big thanks.

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