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The Absolutely Literate blog is for people interested in writing, editing, design, history and family history.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Shifting Landscape of Publishing


Center for Digital Media
Friday and Saturday I was at Vancouver O'Reilly's Mini TOC (Tools of Change for Publishing) at the brand new Center for Digital Media. My brain is full of new ideas. It was exhilarating to be a room with smart, visionary, and passionate people. There were speakers from the Vancouver area as well as speakers who have frequented the O’Reilly TOC in New York program.
Friday offered workshops in two streams: the "Tech Workshop" and the "Secrets to Ebook Success" day-long workshops. Saturday offered presentations followed by discussions that involved everyone in attendance.
So what were the themes? I heard a lot of discussion about discoverability, curated content, and interactive books.
The main thing I came away with an author was that electronic publishing is in its infancy. Tylor Sherman of Denim & Steel talked about how HTML5 separates content from design and I think this is the key concept that applies to publishing.
Most people seemed to feel that electronic publishing is not going to replace print but instead it will evolve into something different and become a companion to print. We need to remember that we are authors and thus, creators of content. The book, the blog, the article, the app – those are just containers for the content. Right now the technology is driving the creation and it should be the other way around. Just as Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock pushed the boundaries of print; there will be authors who create content for interactive publications and drive the technology creators to create support their ideas.
Peter Cocking, a Vancouver-based graphic designer and design teacher, talked about keeping the audience in the forefront. If you start adding interactive elements to your book just because you can are you taking away from the reading experience? Should you make a movie instead? There are places where interactive content adds value and there are instances where it detracts. A cook book is great example of where an instructional video can enhance the usability for the reader. A coffee table book delivered electronically loses the design and the smell and the experience. To quote Peter Cocking even gift giving is altered when you give ebooks "I bought you some pixels." "Oh, you really shouldn't have."
There were many other great discussions at Vancouver’s Mini-TOC but I will save those for another post and leave you with a question. Is an interactive book still a book or is it something else?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Copyright Conundrums

We had a great conversation about copyright, among other things, last night at the Golden Ears Writers Lobby Night with an enthusiastic audience and some great questions.

A good resource that I did not put on my handout was the Canadian Copyrights Database. The Canadian Copyrights Database includes all copyrights that have been registered since October 1, 1991. Some copyright registrations prior to 1991 may be included in the database. The website also has a lot of good information about copyright and trademarks.

An audience member asked if I knew of cases where people had been hit with legal action for using images without asking permission. Here are two examples. One is author Roni Loren. She had used images on her blog thinking she could use the images under fair use. She was not thinking of her blog as commercial because she does not directly make money from her site. However, she uses it to promote her work as a writer so in the eyes of the law is not that different from an ad in a newspaper. You can read more about her experience on her blog. Another story making the rounds is the nice cease and desist letter from Jack Daniel’s Properties that author Patrick Wensink received in regards to the cover for his book, Broken Piano For President. His cover art too closely resembled the Jack Daniel’s label and infringed on their trademark.

Another article I ran across was this post on rethinkinglearning regarding Getty Images. Getty Images uses the software PicScout to look for sites that are using any of their images illegally. If they find any of their images they will send a cease and desist letter and demand payment retroactively.

One of the questions asked was what to do when you cannot determine copyright for an image?
I noticed how this problem was handled in 100 Days That Changed Canada published by Canada’s National History Society and HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

“Every effort has been made to contact rightsholders of copyrighted material. In the case of an inadvertent error or commission, please contact the publisher.”

How this would hold up in a court is another question but clearly they have kept track of their efforts to determine who holds the copyright for the images that they have used in the book.

As authors, artists, and so forth we need to protect ourselves and respect the rights of other artists. As a historian I appreciate it when other historians leave me a breadcrumb trail for their sources.

*This post is not intended as legal advice. This is just my experiences working as an author, editor, and designer; when in doubt talk to a copyright lawyer.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Historical Mysteries lead to More Questions



I love a good “who-done-it”. I am a big fan of Murdoch Mysteries. I enjoy how the show melds early forensic techniques, history, and humour into an entertaining hour.

I am also a history geek so I find the show often leaves me with questions. Did Timothy Eaton really hold inventor fairs? When did the Black Hand come to North America? In the case of “Who Killed the Electric Carriage?” I wanted to know how much was fact and how much was fabrication. Did Henry Ford race his combustion engine against an electric car? 

I am not concerned if they played with the historical facts to make a good story but it would enhance my viewing experience to know what was fact, what was extrapolation, and what was fabrication. As a writer, I want to know what was the inspiration for the plot. It would be interesting, for me, to know if the plot was inspired by true events found in an old newspaper or a family story.

I quite often end up doing some research after an episode. I would love it if the creators of the series added a historical references page to their website; links to historical newspapers and online exhibits, etc.

For more thoughts on historical research join me Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 @ 7pm-9pm at the
Golden Ears Writers Lobby Night at the Maple Ridge Arts and Culture Theatre (The ACT).
There is no charge for admission.

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