Yes, the post title is an overstatement–but the situation described below struck me as peculiar enough to deserve a little hyperbole. It relates to Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change and three posts (and related comments) on two liblogs. The posts and comments all happened in late May, while I was incommunicado (on vacation and only checking work-related email once every couple of days at fairly high shipboard internet prices).
Before getting to the posts and comments, I want to be very clear about one thing: This is not about rejecting negative criticism.
To drive that point home, I was doing some ego-Googling (which I rarely do, although not for lack of ego) and encountered a terse review of Balanced Libraries that I hadn’t seen earlier. The review appeared on Goodreads and was written by Jack (I think you have to join Goodreads to find out who Jack is). Here’s the review, in full:
â€œGenerally just classic Crawford: long-winded, rambling, reactionary rhetoric. â€œ
My comment? That’s an honest opinion stated clearly and presumably after reading the book. I have no problem with it.
But this other combination is something else–not a negative review of the book (which I’d link to or quote) but, well, something else.
It begins with “Where Are Blogs Bred? In the Heart Or In the Head?,” posted by Keith Kisser on May 27, 2008 at The Invisible Library (http://sanchezkisser.com/blog/). Kisser recently published a science fiction novel, The Machine of the World, on Lulu, and was searching Amazon to see whether it showed up yet. It hadn’t (and still hasn’t, which is odd); instead, he found Balanced Libraries,where I’d quoted from one of his blog posts. (The post favored Netflix-style library service and included a charming statement ending in “time to wait for the dinosaurs to die off.” You’ll find it in Kisser’s archive on December 8, 2006.)
Kisser doesn’t comment on the book itself or the context for the quotation, since he hadn’t read it. But he does have opinions about having a blog post show up in a book. Some of what he says:
But one thing I am, is uncertain about how I feel about being cited in this or any other book. At first go, itâ€™s a little flattering to have my opinions taken into consideration, even if, as I gather from the few pages Iâ€™ve read online, …Walt Crawford is criticizing me. Thatâ€™s fine. Healthy debate is great and Iâ€™m a big boy and can handle it. But what remains uncertain at this point (because again, I havenâ€™t read the whole book yet) is the context…
The thing is, my blog is a rough draft of ideas that are constantly changing and evolving. Some library blogs are more academic (i.e. judiciously worded) and take topics at a more in-depth, analytical perspective. I do that sometimes but Iâ€™m not above tossing off a half baked idea, contradicting myself later, or criticizing reactionary librarians or critics of libraries with impertinent language. Itâ€™s my blog and Iâ€™ll rant if I want to. And anyone is free to read, link or cite my words as they see fit. Itâ€™s a wide and woolly Internet and I neither hide my identity nor suffer the delusion that a blog is somehow a private forum. If you can read it on the Internet, it isnâ€™t private or secret.
But just how public and in what capacity a blog, any blog is, has yet to be defined…. [Notes that his blog ranges widely…] You see the problem here? In which context was my post cited? Is it Academic Librarian Keith being cited or Geek Keith? Maybe itâ€™s Slightly Sleepy and a Little Cranky with a Side of Silly Keith?…
Blogs are still too new to have a defined space in the academic world…. How do you treat blogs? As Journals or diaries? Thy can be both and at the same time. Itâ€™s nutty. And confusing, And wonderful. But mostly confusing.
I’d challenge some of the last two paragraphs
- I think we’re long past the point where “how public…a blog is” has yet to be defined. An open blog–one anybody can reach (as opposed to some LiveJournal blogs and other protected blog) is a series of publications. It’s public. Each post is a publication. People have been quoting from blog posts in articles and books almost since there have been blogs. For that matter, it’s fair to assume that a lot more people will read Kisser’s post as quoted here or in Cites & Insights than will read it as quoted in Balanced Libraries, since it’s wildly unlikely that I’ll ever sell 1,500 to 2,500 copies of the book (roughly the average daily readership here and typical first-two-months readership for C&I).
- I provided date and address for the post, as I did for all quoted posts. That allows any reader to find the context–typically a lot more easily than they could find the context for a quotation from print, where the reader might or might not have access to the original. I quoted Keith Kisser talking about library services; it’s not up to me to guess “which Keith Kisser” was writing the post. I’m prone to changing opinions and issuing rough drafts here as well–but I know that, once posted, they’re published statements suitable for citation.
- “Academic world” is a red herring, since Balanced Libraries isn’t an academic work and I’m not an academic.
Actually, I was a little astonished that, in 2008, someone would be questioning the appropriateness of quoting from a blog post in more formal literature. That train left the station a long time ago, and I really don’t think there ever was a question. (People have been quoting elist posts in formal literature for many, many years, and that’s never been much of an issue either, as long as the elists are public.)
The first commenter, Jenny, thought it was great that Kisser was cited in a book. In part:
Does it really matter in what context you were cited? Someone took an idea you blogged about because it sparked an idea they had and ran with it. Isnâ€™t that part of the point of a blog? To create wider discourse? And, even if Crawford did use your blog entry out of context at least youâ€™ll always have something to rant about at dinner parties.
To which Kisser responded:
True. Though Iâ€™m less concerned about how he quoted me in particular and more interested in the idea of blogs being quoted in a scholarly paper as a general concept. Iâ€™ve also found out more about the circumstances of this citation in particular. Iâ€™ll have an update soon.
Somehow Balanced Libraries now shifted from being a book to being academic to being “a scholarly paper.” In any case, blog posts have showed up in formal refereed articles for years as well, so that general concept is also settled. Blog posts in non-pseudonymous blogs are signed publications.
I would have posted some of this as a comment–but, although comments do appear, Kisser later closed the post to comments, so that wasn’t possible. I might have left it at that, particularly since I really don’t think there’s any serious controversy about the public, citable, quotable status of public blog posts. (What part of “public” don’t you understand?)
But wait…there’s more!
On May 28, 2008 (the next day), Kisser posted “Not-So-Balanced Libraries.” He begins by noting that he’d wondered aloud “about the context of such citations and the weird gray area inhabited by blogs in the academic world.” (Again: My book isn’t academic and the area isn’t all that gray…but never mind.) He “did a little more research” leading to my website and a link to the book at Lulu.com. (The Amazon record he originally found isn’t for the Lulu edition, it’s for the CreateSpace edition–but, again, never mind.) And here’s where it gets interesting. Since this is all about me and I’m commenting on it, I do believe that fair use applies, so I’m quoting the rest of the post in full:
This in no way invalidates his book, or thesis, but neither does it really inspire much confidence. Letâ€™s be honestâ€“and this is coming from a fellow Lulu authorâ€“self published academic work tends to have a certainâ€¦ charm, shall we say. Itâ€™s good to know others are getting their work out there independently and for all I know, Walt Crawford is the unsung, Tom Paine of the library world. But seriously, Walt, $29.50 for a paperback is bad enough but $20 for the download? Downloads are free. I could understand maybe asking for donations. Charging a buck or two is acceptable, if you want to be a dick. But $20 for a PDF is madness. Like, RIAA suing tween music downloaders for their parentâ€™s retirement fund level of madness. Cory Doctorow explains why. Bad form, Walt.
The only thing worse than not making an ebook available (especially when self publishing the book on Lulu, where that option is free and as easy as clicking a single button) is charging such a ridiculous price for it. This is one of those really easy web 2.0 ideas that often get ignored by library administrators because they either canâ€™t or wonâ€™t change their minds about access and distribution models. If charging people for ebooks is part of your idea of creating a balanced library, Iâ€™m not impressed. And neither am I willing to spend $30 bucks for some out-to-lunch academicâ€™s pet project.
Well now. First he says that publishing through Lulu doesn’t inspire much confidence–and, frankly, I agree. If I didn’t already have a reputation (for good or for bad) through 12 traditionally-published books and a few hundred traditionally-published articles and columns, and through Cites & Insights, I would never have attempted the Lulu trick for a nonfiction book. “Walt Crawford” is the only real brand here, for better or worse.
I’m hardly the “unsung Tom Paine of the library world.” Kisser’s never heard of me. No reason he should have. But a few thousand others have–well, tens of thousands in the case of the Library 2.0 special.
“$29.50 for a paperback is bad enough but $20 for the download? Downloads are free.” Sez who? Cory Doctorow? I haven’t adopted Doctorow as a guru. The $29.50 price is, to put it bluntly, cheap for a 247-page trade paperback on current technological issues in the library field. Every similar work that I’m aware of costs at least $35, with one going for more than $100. But that’s not really the issue. The issue is whether an author is obliged to give away his or her work for free, as long as it’s in downloadable form.
Kisser seems to think that they are–“Downloads are free.” He even says that charging a buck or two is only acceptable “if you want to be a dick” and seems to equate my $20 price with RIAA’s infringement suits.
In the final paragraph, Kisser once again calls me an academic–this time an “out-to-lunch academic.” And somehow my belief that authors can request some compensation for their work (done on their own time) is “part of [my] idea of creating a balanced library.” I’ll cop to that: I don’t believe that balanced libraries set out to make authorship worthless, even though they can, do, and should provide free (prepaid via taxes or tuition) access to written materials. (I assume that the few dozen libraries that purchased Balanced Libraries circulate it, and would certainly hope so!)
This is, to put it mildly, bullshit. Writing a book is hard work. To assert that an author is at best clueless and at worst “a dick” or worse because the author doesn’t give that work away is insulting and offensive…and devalues creative effort. If an author wants to follow Doctorow’s approach, more power to them. That doesn’t make it the only correct or honorable approach. In fact, the whole “give it away so your true fans will buy other stuff” meme works badly for writers and even worse for niche writers.
Again, I would have protested directly on the blog–but again, although there are comments, comments are closed. So I would have commented in an essay on copyright balance about the dystopian notion that you’re obliged to give it away if it can be distributed digitally.
Except for the linked post and the comments on that post…
There’s really only one comment and a trackback, and the comment is from the person who wrote the blog post that’s tracked back: Aaron at SemiConscious Dot Org. (www.semiconscious.org). His May 29, 2008 post is entitled “Library 1.87” and is brief enough to quote in full:
Whatâ€™s daffier than daffy?
Who out there has the pun, the barb, the eloquent poison-pen quip, to sum up the silliness of this situation in devastating fashion? Letâ€™s hear â€˜em. Seriously, Iâ€™m tapped out. I got nothinâ€™…
I’ll admit that, until then, I was unaware that all other books about libraries were free in ebook form–that, somehow, writing about a place that lends books requires you not to charge for your book. There’s a logical chain there, but I’m too dim to see it.
“Keith” (presumably Kisser, but I don’t know that) noted that you could get an estimate of what the book actually costs to manufacture. Actually, you can get a precise figure. Keith mistakenly assumes that I’m dealing with retail markup because there’s an ISBN (there’s no ISBN on the Lulu edition) and says I’m “charging twice as much as the printed edition for a download” which he calls “a clear cut case of shenanigans.” Actually (and I got this wrong in my comment–Aaron’s blog does have comments open), my net proceeds come to $15.94 for the paperback version via Lulu (less via Amazon) and $16 for the download–a six cent difference, hardly “twice as much.” Am I overcharging for the paperback? Well, I’m charging less than the going rate for such books… As for “shenanigans,” since the prices are clearly stated, the costs are readily available, and nobody’s forcing anyone to buy the book, I can’t imagine what Keith has in mind.
Ah, but then there’s the capper, from “StaciB”:
Clearly, heâ€™s writing for an incredibly gullible audience. Which tells me how little he knows about libraries and librarians in the first place. And just as clearly, heâ€™s more interested in making money than in making sense. How about â€œTechno-twerp exploits self-defeating prophesy.â€
See how we’ve progressed? Now it’s appropriate to attack me as “writing for an incredibly gullible audience” and I can’t know much about libraries or librarians–all because I’m asking to be paid for my work by those who wish to read it.
This is character assassination and I think it’s wildly inappropriate. StaciB doesn’t know who I am. None of them seem to be aware that I give away the equivalent of four typical books a year (in Cites & Insights), not to mention this blog, or that I have–I believe–reasonably well established that I know a little bit about libraries and librarians. Anyone who understands library publishing at all knows that, if I was “more interested in making money than in making sense,” the last thing I’d be doing is writing self-published books on librarianship–or even traditionally-published books! Speaking, column writing, consulting, greeting folks at Wal-Mart: All better paid gigs than the Lulu books are likely to be.
I did write a response to this post and the comments–and, again, I’ll quote it in full (it’s my work!), even noting that my “$13″ estimate was wrong…
I have a simple response for this post and the two comments: Nobody is requiring you or anyone else to buy either the download or the print book.
If youâ€™re offended by a writer who actually hopes to have some small compensation for the effort involved in writing a book, so be it. I disagree. Nobody paid me to do this, done entirely on my own time. Thereâ€™s no way Iâ€™m going to earn Big Bucks on a PoD book in librarianship. With a LOT of luck I might earn minimum wage for the time spent on the bookâ€¦
Keith: No shenanigans. The Lulu edition doesnâ€™t have an ISBN, only the Amazon/CreateSpace version. In fact, you can determine EXACTLY how much Iâ€™m receiving for the downloaded or print versions from Lulu itself (itâ€™s about $13 for the print version, $16 for the downloadâ€”Iâ€™d prefer that people buy the print version, but offered the download because people asked for it).
StaciB: I could refer you to those â€œincredibly gullibleâ€ librarians (such as John Dupuis and Pete Smith). For that matter, I could refer you to my dozen traditionally-published books in the library field (beginning with MARC for Library Use) to demonstrate how little I know about libraries and librarians. But, since itâ€™s clear that Iâ€™m more interested in making money than in making sense (presumably why Iâ€™ve been giving away Cites & Insights for seven years now), Iâ€™ll just bow to your superior wisdom. It must be nice to be able to make such crack judgments about my knowledge and abilities with such utter clarity.
And that’s where it stands. Apparently, some folks believe that it is wrong for an author to ask for compensation for his writing. I disagree. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to give it away if that suits your needs. I think that, for a few people, giving away the downloadable version will sell the print version–and that’s great. (I gave away three chapters of Balanced Libraries, to be sure, but via Cites & Insights.) I’m fairly sure that, if the attitudes expressed here become universal, a whole lot of specialized writing just won’t get done, unless it’s by people who are otherwise sponsored.