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A Curious Dream - published today!

25 October 2011 in | Comments (0)

My new book, A Curious Dream:  Collected Works is published today in Canada.  Hooray!  Slightly odd, in that I haven’t seen a copy of it yet - should do in the next few days.  Also, I don’t know if the book will be published outside Canada yet - it’s only just gone to my publisher here in the UK for them to consider. 

For those outside of Canada who are interested, try ordering it online from Indigo Books.

Writers Union of Canada:  A Writers’ Bill of Rights for the Digital Age

10 October 2011 in Future of Publishing | Comments (2)

I saw with interest last week that the Writers’ Union of Canada (@twuc), of which I am not a member (I’m a member of the Society of Authors here in the UK), has published on its blog ‘A Writers’ Bill of Rights for the Digital Age’. 

Here is what they propose:

To Respect the Rights of the Creators of Literary Works in Canada:
1.  Copyright legislation shall ensure the protection of intellectual property and appropriate compensation for rightsholders.
2.  Exceptions to copyright shall be minimized.
3. The publisher shall split the net proceeds of ebook sales equally with the author.
4.  The author shall retain all electronic rights not specifically granted to the publisher or producer and shall have approval of any modifications made to the work.
5.  The publisher shall not exercise or sublicense ebook publishing rights without the express authorization of the author.
6.  When a book is out of print in print form, continuing sales in electronic form shall not prevent a rights reversion to the author.
7.  For ebooks, the publisher in its contract shall replace the traditional “out of print” clause that triggers a rights reversion with a sales volume clause (e.g., less than a specified quantity of ebooks sold in a specified number of royalty periods) and/or a finite term of license (e.g., five years).
8.  When rights revert, the publisher shall provide the author with the digital file of the book.
9.  The Public Lending Right Commission shall provide author payments for electronic books and allot additional monies to this end.
10. Libraries shall acquire digital copies of works in their collections only from rightsholders or their licensing agencies.
11. Ebook retailers shall require the rightsholder’s permission for any free preview or download of an electronic work, and the rightsholder shall specify the maximum amount to be made available.
12. Agents, publishers, aggregators, retailers, and libraries shall ensure that works in digital form will be well protected and will not be shared, traded, or sold outside the boundaries authorized by the contract.

I think this is an excellent list of rights and it covers many complex issues succinctly.  There are a few things that seem to me redolent of wishful thinking:  ‘3. The publisher shall spit the net proceeds of ebook sales equally with the author.’  This can happen, and indeed I have had this happen with one of my books, but that publisher was unusually transparent about the costs of producing the book, as well as the cut the retailer would be taking, etc.  6 and 7 are both excellent, but ‘8. When rights revert, the publisher shall provide the author with the digital file of the book’ also seems to me to be… optimistic, not the least because if a publisher has invested in design, layout, etc for an ebook, the question over who owns that digital file is a little murky - obviously the writer owns the text itself, but do they also own the file that the publisher has paid to create? 

‘10. Libraries shall acquire digital copies of works in their collections only from rightsholder or their licensing agencies.’  Paired with 9 and PLR, this should work.  But there’s a larger question about libraries and digital files:  a library system only needs one copy of a digital file, if that file can be accessed across their entire digital network.  Publisher, libraries, and writers still seem to be pretending that a digital file is the same thing as a single copy of a book.  I think this is an area that would benefit from creative thinking. 

I love the idea of a bill of rights for the digital age, and its great to see TWUC taking a well-aimed stab at it.

Response to James Bridle’s ‘The New Value of Text’ blogpost

6 October 2011 in Future of Publishing | Comments (0)

James Bridle, over at Booktwo.org, has written a thought-provoking piece on ‘the new value of text’ as he sees it, in a time when he feels there is ‘an increasingly pervasive’ (albeit erroneous) ‘notion that other forms of media are additive to literature, that they somehow improve it’.  He discusses the current industry moves toward ‘enhanced ebooks’, books-as-apps, etc as part of ‘a profound assault on book publishing and literature, on the text itself.’  The addition of other media to text ‘reduce the bandwidth of the imagination.’

He’s not talking about ebooks, which do the job of getting text onto ereaders fairly smoothly.  He is talking about literature, with a capital ‘L’ - Literature - and how it is possible that literature is under threat in an era where publishers become spell-bound by the potential for bells, whistles, and animated audio clips to add ‘value’ to works that a decade ago would have been published as plain old ‘books’. 

It’s a fascinating post, with a few wobbly bits in it, (like where he asserts that text is ‘not platform-dependent’ - it was last time I looked at my collection of medieval scrolls), but the bit that struck me most forcefully was where he writes this: 

‘“Storytelling” is what we do for children. It is the infantilisation of literature. And while there is much of interest in children’s literature and children’s publishing, to emulate it is to debase     literature, and ourselves.’

In the past few years while I’ve been attempting to talk to people about what I see as the vast potential new technologies have to offer to both writers and readers who are interested in thinking about finding new ways to tell stories, I’ve often found myself referring to myself as a ‘storyteller’.  And this never fails to make me feel uneasy.  I’m not a storyteller, if what a storyteller means is someone who is really good at telling stories in any sense of our oral tradition.  In my own life, I don’t tell stories, I’m not an adept raconteur.  What I am is a writer, someone who sits alone most of the time, working on text, crafting text, shaping text, and, hopefully, creating literature.  So I agree with James on this. 

However, I wonder if the term ‘literature’ can be stretched away from the ‘long form prose narrative’ that James is so attached to, that I am also attached to as a writer and a reader.  I consider my own attempts at experimenting with the new technologies to tell stories ‘literature’, in the same way that the books I write are attempts at creating ‘literature’.  But ‘Inanimate Alice’ and ‘Flight Paths’, among other works, are not literature-as-we-know-it.  But they are also not stories with media as additive; they are stories with rich media at their heart. They are more than the sum of their parts - or at least, that’s what I aspire for these works to be. 

One other quibble with James’ excellent blog post.  He states:  ‘no application or television programme is equal to a well-written, long form text.’  Well, I just read ‘One Day’ which many people would argue qualifies as a well-written, long form text.  I enjoyed it, and like everyone else, found it hard to put down.  However, I’d argue that ‘The Sopranos’ and, oh, let’s say, quite possibly ‘Nurse Jackie’, are equal to it in terms of cultural significance and quality.  But that’s where our arguments about what is art, and what isn’t art, sink into the swamp.  So I’ll end there.