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.

What Libraries Need

Ah serendipity, how I love it.

We have a major building project going on at school right now.  The bulldozers are busily demolishing walls from our old library, and and we will soon have a beautiful new library Information and Research Center.  From the plans I’ve seen, it should be a great space.

I was asked today to come to a meeting next month and give a short talk to a group of parents and supporters of the new school library building project.  Many of these folks are still getting their head around the massive shifts in the way information is managed.  Many of them perhaps don’t realise that the term “library” no longer means what it once meant.  Information is different in a digital age, and so libraries need to manage information differently.  My talk to them needs to cover (briefly) an overview of how information and libraries and “books” are different to what they used to be.

So I thought it extremely serendipitous when I opened my email this afternoon to find this little video.  I’m sure I’ll be able to find one minute and twenty seconds to share this video with the group.  Should be a good place to start the conversation.

I have no idea how they managed to get this little girl to say all those complicated phrases! Thanks to VALA for making the clip, and to Tony Brandenberg for passing this along via OzTeachers.