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Digital Books - what will be knowable about readers in the future.
What a reader of an e-book is reading how many pages read; where she dropped off; where, geographically, she's reading; and what factors influenced her purchase in the first place. E-book retailers are going to know this information. And it's looking like publishers, long in the dark about consumer behavior, are going to stay in the dark.
What hasn't changed publishers want to remove themselves once and for all from the people they perceive to be their customers–librarians and booksellers. And the people who actually buy the products…you know, actual readers.
rhy scazenove worked at Comedy Central building branded video sites such as The Daily Show and South Park, which drove revenue from advertising.
So, I guess you could say that we accidentally created a disruptive technology
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The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period
This is a magisterial treatment describing the English (primarily) long durée and illustrating the way controls on publication, whether by government (various copyright regimes and concepts of intellectual property) or through marketplace decisions (prices, print runs, and so on) controlled and affected access to print. St Clair looks particularly at the political economy of reading as a complex system and seeks to reveal the way reading helped to shape mentalité: “…we conceive of a culture as a complex developing system with many independent but interacting agents, including authors and readers, into which the writing, publication, and subsequent reading of a printed text were interventions…” (6). Each of the twenty-two chapters offers an assimilated presentation of data available in the thirteen appendices, allowing for unusual transparency.
For folklorists and ethnomusicologists, the material throughout the book on ballad and broadside publication, their frequent circulation by chapmen, is of particular interest (see also Appendix 4: Intellectual property. Popular literature, England) and certainly interrogates orthodox definitions of the ballad. Chapmen were mostly literate and often used this job as an upwardly mobile occupation, as a means of leaving agriculture. They could, of course, carry only small, light items; and broadsides of all types — abbreviated versions of Shakespeare, the Bible, as well as the familiar broadside ballads — were not only easy to carry but were relatively inexpensive. And, of course, “the more common and less expensive a printed text was when it was produced, the greater its readership and the poorer its survival rate to the present day” (28). This statement suggests that survival rates must be amplified by other resources such as the Stationer's Register, a form of government control, to acquire a more accurate view of materials published.
Whatever the text — poetry, fiction, sermon, or ballad — the text was the capital asset (to which the physical plant was added as an additional asset when printing was introduced). To make money, printers had to keep other publishers from printing the same work: they had then to acquire/own the copyright and they needed in turn government enforcement of that ownership. To print was, in fact, to own: ballad singers might sing or give a copy to a printer: he would pay them, thus acquiring ownership, and then license the new acquisition with the Stationer's Company. From 1624, there was a cartel of ballad publishers designated the Ballad Partners. What this means is that “much of what is now called popular culture” was privatized, creating problems for other ballad singers, and tended to valorize one particular version/text. The first to print owned the copyright, and initially that meant having a monopoly in perpetuity. The same books, pamphlets, ballads and broadsides were printed and reprinted for a period of two hundred years.
The center for ballad publication was Aldermary Churchyard, near the so-called Ballad Warehouse. While texts were reprinted over and over again, they were sometimes reprinted with different llustrations. Print runs were various: 1-2000 for chapbooks, 2-4000 for ballads. Extant catalogues give titles, but not full texts, for these materials which remained mainstream into the early 19th century. Bishop Percy himself got materials from the Warehouse. St Clair suggests that “what was recovered by the 'romantic revival' was not an oral and performative popular tradition stretching back into the mists of time, but a continuous privately owned print tradition that had never been interrupted” (346); if he is correct, then many of the old verities of ballad scholarship will need revision. He goes on to suggest that this material was replaced in the 19th century by newly composed texts made available by a shift in copyright regime: the new materials often included morally improving, reformist literature, freely circulated by chapmen who were paid to spread the word.
Several shifts in intellectual property rights' regimes effected what could be published. At the end of the seventeenth century, authorial rights were first asserted, giving the author control for fourteen years (and then fourteen more): in order to be published, however, authors often sold their copyright to the printer who set prices and controlled what was published. The earlier perpetual copyright was thus eliminated and “the huge corpus of traditional stories, poems, and songs, which had been appropriated into private ownership in the early years of printing were returned to unrestricted common public use” (115). Publishers, of course, fought back: their livelihoods depending on their ownership of texts: at first they wanted fourteen years, plus fourteen years or the author's life; then the author's life plus forty-one. Eventually the new copyright regime came to be applied only to newly published materials: new works were expensive and their price limited their circulation. Older works, the old canon, were cheaper and more available and thus remained dominant in influencing mentalités.
By the Romantic period, four kinds of contracts between printer and author had come into being: the publishers favored the tried and true—that is buying and thus owning what an individual had created. Sometimes, however, an author would agree to sell the copyright to a publisher for a limited period of time, for a certain print run. Other arrangements might involve the printer and author sharing both expense/earnings. And sometimes authors had their works printed on commission. While London and Edinburgh had long been the centers of publication, provincial centers began to proliferate. Wherever printing occurred, texts were printed in multiples of 250 and sold in paper wrappers: subsequently the owner might have the pages bound in leather and then even trimmed. Verse long remained the dominant format with Scott's “Lay of the Last Minstrel” being a favourite, later replaced by the Waverley novels when prose fiction came into fashion.
St Clair suggests that the number of items/books sold does not immediately indicate the numbers actually read, for there is the multiplier effect of circulating libraries, reading societies, extended families, and other forms of informal sharing. Sharing is the operative word as reading in the Romantic period was an act of sociability, a group enterprise, rather than a solitary activity, and involved repetition and memory.
Because of the intellectual property regime, the general reading public in the Romantic period did not have access to works by contemporaries because works of a number of Romantic authors were not congruent with mainstream ideology; the works were expensive and printed in limited editions. They became widely available after 1837, in the Victorian Age. Instead, the mass of the reading public was reading the accumulated material, the old canon, texts that were reasonably priced because they were no longer held in copyright and because there were often competing editions of individual works. Cumulatively, these older works expressed a belief in the sublimity of poetry, of nature, even of war, a valuing of heritage, contributing to a generally shared ethos.
St Clair thus describes a system of who got to read what and why—the prices, the intellectual property regimes, the cost of publishing being relevant factors. He shows “how the reading nation came to be divided into overlapping layers of readers, differentiated not only by income, by socio-economic class, and by educational attainment, but by the degree of obsolescence of the print to which each layer had access” (437). He concludes by interrogating the enormous effort expended today in keeping people from having access, from copying. And his work provides interesting points for consideration around the issue of the copyright of traditional materials.