Friday, March 27, 2009

Why not help us write your great Canadian online novel?

Good Day Readers:

The article below has finally driven us to go public with an idea we've been noodling for some time - laugh as you will, write a book online with your help. Why not? The idea would be to share our experience as a Blogger being sued for alleged defamation by a multi-million dollar taxpayer financed corporation, the Manitoba Metis Federation, by one of its pit bull lawyers. Of course, we'd need an attorney to review the final transcript.

We'd begin by suggesting possible topics for the chapters then ask for your feedback. The process of cobbling together your suggestions, while keeping you regularly apprised as the project took shape, would fall upon us. In effect, each of you would become mini co-authors.

Who needs a major publishing house? Once completed anyone could pay a nominal, fee (say $5), to see the completed transcript. Part of the money raised could be donated to Metis charities throughout Manitobe of your choosing. Some to upgrading this site so we're able to keep you better informed. Regardless, there'd be a complete public accounting of all funds raised so you'd know exactly how every penny was being spent.

Of course, we'd need your help in coming up with a title for the book. Surely you could suggest a better title than Sheila Jones Morrison's 1995, Rotten to the core: the politics of the Manitoba Metis Federation.
How say you readers?

Clare L. Pieuk
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Content You Pay For – What A Concept
Globe and Mail
March 26, 2009

While the rest of the world consummates its hysteria over Twitter, the smart people at Google are working on the next big Web trend. That's right: Books!

Books, which are substantially longer than 140 characters and yet inexplicably continue to appeal to people, are starting to take off in digital form. Electronic book readers are shifting from novelty item to household item; touch-screen smartphones have already gone from trendy to ubiquitous.

And Google is placing itself squarely in the middle of the fray – not so much as a nebulous information provider, but as a reseller of literary products. Faddish free sites such as Twitter might still be hopping, but this could represent a sea change online.

Right now, Google is on the cusp of a mind-blowing fait accompli. Several years ago, it started digitizing books – millions and millions of them. Using special scanners, it started dumping the contents of entire libraries into digital databases that could be searched and sorted on the Web.

The copyright-holders were nonplussed by these developments. They sued. The case dragged on for three years, until, earlier this year, they settled for $125-million (U.S.). Critically, though, the settlement didn't force Google to stop doing what it was doing. Quite the opposite: Not only does the settlement let Google keep on scanning books, it allows the company (with conditions) to sell access to all manner of books – in-copyright, out-of-copyright, in-print, out-of-print, dead author, drunk author, you name it.

Different types of books will be handled differently. Non-copyrighted books will be freely available – as, indeed, they already are. For books that are still copyrighted, readers – and only American readers, at first – will be shown previews and given the option of purchasing access to the entire electronic edition, which they can read online or download to mobile devices such as iPhones. (If the books are still in print in the United States, authors need to opt into the program; otherwise, books are fair game.)

American universities and libraries, meanwhile, will be able to buy full access to the Google Books cache; as with all revenues, Google will split the income with publishers and authors.
What a change from the Web we know. Google's rise came with what we once called “Web 2.0,” a business model that was always more ideology than dollars and cents. Web 2.0 was about acquiring a great gob of startup money, giving away the service and content for free, and then making money by selling ads. To prop up this model, thinkers pushed compatible ideas like the promise of voluntarily created content and the inerrant wisdom of the masses.

But Web 2.0 and books never really got along. They're hard to crowdsource (and yes, people have tried), and they take time (and thus money) to produce. While it's true that this settlement does allow Google to run ads on top of its pages, what we're looking at here isn't, at the heart of things, yet another online effort to post free content and pay for it with ads. No, Google is using a somewhat older business model: offering a product, and asking people to pay for it. That marks one sensible retreat from the free-for-all world of tomorrow we've been promised all these years.

Even more interesting will be to see whether the second tenet of 21st-century groupthink will hold up – the Long Tail, which postulates that companies can make piles of money by selling a few copies of many back-catalogue products, rather then a whole lot of one blockbuster product.

It will be a fascinating test case: On one hand, Google is assembling a mightily long tail's worth of materials. And Google is perfectly positioned to sell them. On the other hand, the book industry is as blockbuster-driven as any other. A handful of heavily promoted books make up the bulk of book sales. It's all well and good to become attached to your favourite 19th-century American poet, but tell that to Harry Potter.

If I'm skeptical about the extent to which consumers will embrace this embarrassment of riches, it's because while Google Book Search is about to reinvent itself, it isn't actually new at all. For years, the service has been lurking, just off the Google home page. In fact, millions of out-of-copyright books are already online. (Indeed, Google's hardly the first to arrive. An organization called Project Gutenberg has put 28,000 text-only editions of old books online since 1971.). Yet what seems like a fantastic resource has so far been a somewhat marginal presence on the Web.

The relaunched Google Book Search will make a splash, one way or the other. But while the Google folks are sounding the same utopian notes about access to information, we're not in the land of Web 2.0 any more. With books, Google seems to have abandoned its quest to digitize reality and sell ads on it, in favour of a business plan that makes much more sense: Digitize reality, and sell it back to us. Now, that's progress.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"King David and Indian Agent Murray and the Things they Didn't Inspire" should be the name of your new book.

5:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am more interested in your thoughts on candied condoms.

8:34 AM  
Blogger ChrisP said...

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3:53 AM  

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