Do We Trust the System Enough

I crave routine.  For the past week and a half, I have started my morning with a bowl of Cream of Wheat (It’s better than grits) followed by a mile walk to the local Starbucks, a bag (above) over my shoulder.  Unpacked, I have my mobile office — Acer Netbook with Ubuntu waiting for login, a wireless mouse, and a mug of Cafè Americano.  I’m writing a new book about network professional development — how learning is like gardening 😉

Tim Holt recently wrote an interesting entry (Do I Trust the System Enough) in his blog, Intended Consequences.  In it, Tim describes his plans to write a book for administrators about a particular type of professional development.  He is planning to follow my example of self-publishing the book, hopeful that “..enough people purchase it so that (he) can put (his) kids through college.”  My experience with self-publishing has been almost entirely positive and fruitful.  I’ll never make a living at it, and I’m still working on my son’s tuition, but writing for yourself is a true pleasure.

His central question, however, is an interesting one — a “test of faith.”

I talk a lot about collaborative work. I talk a lot about sharing. I talk a lot about using professional networks to enhance learning and your professional work. So here is a perfect example of something that I can put “out there” for my PLN to critique, add to, subtract from, tell me I am full of it, or give me a pat on the back. I want folks to work with me through the process, to share, to be part of the product. Everyone would get credit.

There are a number of notable examples of books written publicly on wikis or in similar environments.  I’m not absolutely sure, but it seems that one or more of Lawrence Lessig’s books were written publicly, as was Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, through his blog.

But Tim is concerned.

..I just hesitate putting it out there because I keep thinking that it is going to be ripped-off before it is done and someone will take my idea and run with it.

I’ll say here that I have been working on a short (hopefully) book about networked professional development for a little over a week now, trying to take advantage of an almost three week stint with no traveling.  I explained a little more about the project in my comment on Tim’s blog.

But that asside, I also tell a story where several years ago someone (I do not recall who) sent me a package with a note asking if I was aware of this.  The note indicated the page number, in a paperback book enclosed in the packaging, for a chapter which was, word for word, an article I had written a few years earlier and published through a now defunct online journal.  I was furious and immediately shot off an e-mail to the publishers, who were in India.  There was never a reply to that e-mail. I quickly settled down, realizing that there was nothing I could do that would be worth the expense, and I forgot about the whole episode until now.

Things are different now, aren’t they? India is not nearly so far away.  I would probably have no more success with the publishers.  But today, I have a blog.  And many of the readers of my blog have their own blogs.  And we could fill the edu-blogosphere with our indignation about an instructional technology book that so blatantly plagiarizes the work of another.

I think that Tim has a valid concern.  He is talking about investing a lot of work into a project — A LOT OF WORK, and he has a right to be concerned about the property that will result.  But our community is so much more transparent today that if I were considering writing my book publicly, fear of theft probably wouldn’t stop me.

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13 thoughts on “Do We Trust the System Enough”

  1. I agree that Tim has a valid concern — but I don’t think he should let that stop him.

    I believe he needs to take the time to learn about creative commons and also copyright — but still not let that stop him.
    I believe he needs to take the time to search out where to publish — (I use lulu – which I believe you shared with me.)
    I believe he needs to be ready to be emulated, copied, quoted, shared, borrowed from, stolen from perhaps — but still not let that stop him.
    I believe he needs to be ready to perhaps be able to buy his child a starbucks card (rather than college education) — and then be surprised and gratified for what he does make. (I make enough for a tank of gas each month!!)
    Finally, I believe he needs a place to go to — where self-publishers can share ideas with each other, the hurdles, the successes, the look-out-fors, the pdf font issues with Lulu, how to publicize, etc. I know I would have gained a great deal of help with that as well.
    Hmmm — could we create such a place?

  2. “the property”? “fear of theft”?

    Perhaps if we stopped buying into the propaganda that expressions under copyright are “property” or could be “stolen”, we might put an end to our fear. I really don’t see the concern here. You publish something. If you want to jive with others, put it under a CC license or something similar. I’m sorry, what is there to be afraid of?

  3. A very real effect of currently available technology is that anyone can create a flawless copy of anything at effectively zero cost and zero risk. It’s just the way it is, and neither law (copyright) nor protective technology (DRM) can do more than put a bump in the road.

    So how can you guarantee profit from providing information? Well, you can’t. You can put excerpts from the book on a wiki and do what you want to scare people and protect it, but it will be ripped off.

    What you -can- do, is aim to profit from things besides the value of the information itself. Read the article “Better Than Free” by Kevin Kelly — it’s a brilliant explanation of ways you can make money off of your information without relying solely on sale of the information itself. Even if you decide that you can’t shift your focus entirely to the 8 generatives he talks about, you can build a backup plan in the case that your book does get ripped off; that backup plan safety net is probably all you need to go ahead with sharing the book!

    1. I think you are right, Dave, that there aren’t any rules right now. There are ways to make money by writing, and I have made money, though I’ll never make a living at it. But a vast majority of the writing I do, earns no direct income at all. I thought, at one point, about making a book out of one year’s worth of 2¢ Worth, but found that it would be more than 900 pages long — without the comments. But I’ve been told that I have gotten some of my speaking gigs because of the blog. Not sure why, but, as you suggest, there are ways to harness your sharing of information into income.

    1. Lyle,

      Thanks for sharing Chatterbocs. I’ll definitely keep track of that one. As for the netbook, I mostly love it. It is so easy to drop it over my shoulder and walk down to the coffee shop or across the conference center, pull it out and start working. My only real problem has been the wireless, and I understand that it is a problem with this particular netbook (Acer with Atheros Wireless) and Linux. It works fine in Windows (Dual-boot), but I have much more fun with Linux. A recent upgrade to Linux (Ubuntu distribution) enabled my AT&T broadband device, so the wireless problem is much less of a barrier than it was. I’ve not heard of any other netbooks with this problem.

  4. I think your concerns about having your work stolen are valid.

    In the late 1800s, Gilbert and Sullivan had to mount simultaneous productions of several of their shows in order to secure copy rights in both America and Britain, because the copyright laws were so at odds with one another between the two countries.

    Cory Doctorow appears to take a different tack. He feels that if he gives away some/much of his work for free, and it’s good, that he’ll develop more of a paying audience faster that way. I don’t know how that’s working for him.

    I’m thinking of publishing a book of poems in a similar vein, using either or I wrote them several years ago, and no one seems to be interested in bringing them into print, but I do think there’s a market for them. We’ll see.

    One of the upsides to this Internet we’ve got going on is that your work is accessible by millions, potentially. But as one of your commenters earlier pointed out, one of the downsides is that people like stuff for free, and they’ll take it if they think they can for that price.

    Tim is worried about having some of his potential profits stolen from the theft of his work, and rightly so… but at the same time, until the document is published in some form, it’s nearly impossible for him to earn any revenue from it at all. Catch-22: don’t publish at all, earn no revenue; or publish, and get some but not ‘all’ the revenue you’re ‘entitled’ to.

    Maybe we should adopt a middle-ground on copyright (though it will never get through Congress or the courts as is). In a world in which anyone and everyone can potentially exercise freedom of the press, we need some sort of rule about making derivative works using 15%-20% of a given work is ok after 3 years, and using the complete work is ok after 20 years.

    1. The only reason that my books have sold as well as they have is that my blog is read. Of course this has much more to do with the fact that although I was, by far, not one of the first edubloggers, I started this blog during the early days, and so made a name then, which has carried for some reason.

      There probably isn’t anything that will appear in my new book (if I finish it), that I haven’t already written here in this blog. It has more to do with packaging, I guess. Hmmmm Does poetry need packaging?

      Great luck to you on your book of poetry…

  5. I have a hard time taking anyone serious about a relevant topic such as sharing information when it is interlaced with paying for college tuition for one’s own children. Keep you ideas to yourself and pay for you kids advanced education just like everyone else should.

  6. I want to say same as Andrew said “I’m thinking of publishing a book of poems in a similar vein, using either or I wrote them several years ago, and no one seems to be interested in bringing them into print, but I do think there’s a market for them.”

  7. Thanks for sharing this. My staff loves your blog and all of the tips it has to offer. I just htought I would share with you another site that we use…I think it is new but very good.

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