Thursday, October 02, 2008

Flat meets Round World Head On

Yesterday we spent some quality time becoming acquainted with Flat World Knowledge and through Eric Frank, its co founder, we learned much about the mysterious world of creative commons attribution licence (CCAL). We may be late in grappling with this new model but now recognise its potential for change. Our first question was one we often ask when confronted with something that challenges the existing business model – Where’s the money?

Flat World Knowledge is a new venture coming on-stream in January 2009 and was founder by two very reputable publishers Jeff Shelstad and Eric Frank. Their site is well worth a visit if just to see their smart videos.

CCAL aims to encourage creativity and innovation by establishing a middle ground between "All rights reserved" and open anarchy. It is best described as "Some rights reserved".

In summary, under this type of licence, readers are free to share, copy, distribute and transmit and also adapt the work under the conditions (attribution) specified by the author or licenser. The attribution is often non-commercial meaning that users cannot re-purpose the material for commercial transaction and gain and that they may often ‘share alike’ meaning if they alter, transform or build upon the work, they may distribute this work only under the same or similar licence, so long as the original authors and source are cited. Other may choose ‘NoDervis’ which does not permit remixing the book and then releasing it with ‘share a like ‘ attribute. No permission is required from the authors or the publishers.
When we started this digital journey the immediate reaction was to lock up rights so tight that DRM became somewhat counter productive. The digital copy had less rights than anything that had gone before. The backlash was seen in other media where consumers did not want to be restricted by technology which was effectively being used against them. When we couple this to the general concerns expressed by many in the research and higher education markets to the cost of works in all formats and the restrictions applied to them and the CCAL approach was inevitable.

So where’s the money? How do authors get rewarded? When does customised publishing become publishing?

CCAL demands a different publishing model. Many such as Flat World Knowledge and the new Bloomsbury Academic offer online for free and charge for the ‘convenience’ of a personal print on demand. The logic being that if the POD copy is cheaper that today’s printed copy and you get the online for free the value is clear. In some respects it again works on yesterday’s scarcity principle in that users can’t print a bound book and so if you gave them one a small relative cost they will take the option over printing loose leafs. Personally we think the cat is half out the bag and certainly not going back in.

The other take is that by specialising in ‘high ticket’ and focused subject areas such as engineering, science, mathematics, business, architecture, then the model will work, but Humanities may be a bit harder to deliver. The question is whether colleges, universities, lecturers, researchers and students will appreciate that difference?

We see inevitable change and challenging times ahead as the tectonic plates from two worlds collide.

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