Monday, July 02, 2012 is struggling to find backers for public-domain eBook crowdfunding

On TeleRead, Chris Matthews writes about, a new website that uses crowdfunding in order to fund making new and out-of-print titles available for free, without DRM. Matthews read a very enthusiastic article about at the site BoingBoing, but when he dug into the story, he found that it was far less positive. BoingBoing wrote that one of the site's participants, Joseph Nassise, dropped the funding goal for his book Riverwatch from $25,000 to $15,000 in order to make the campaign successful. Matthews learned that the reason he did so was because the campaign was far below his target, and even after dropping the funding goal on June 12th, he failed to achieve it by the deadline.

The three "active projects" on the site, as of this writing, are at 8%, 1% and 2% of their goals. Only one title, a "classic" out-of-print title called Oral Literature in Africa, has made its goal so far, and that's likely because there's still a strong market in used copies of the book.

The only way that can succeed is if it can attract major authors who are willing to put titles that have reverted to them into the public domain for a flat fee. There's very little interest in paying to put relatively unknown works into the public domain, especially when some of those works (such as Riverwatch) are already available as inexpensive eBooks. Most authors would rather see their out-of-print titles go back into print in order to earn more royalties.
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Eric said...

two points:

1. Calling a creative commons license "public domain" betrays a poor understanding of copyright law and what is trying to do.

2. has "struggled" for 6 weeks to get 1,500 people to support unglued books. We will struggle to get 15,000 people to join us. Once we've done that, we'll struggle mightily to get 150,000. And then the really difficult struggle begins, to get 1.5 million. After that, we'll drag our nearly dead-to-the-bone bodies across the 15 million mark. Then maybe we'll call it a partial success.

Unknown said...


I'm presuming that you're Eric Hellman, founder of If public domain vs. creative commons is the most incorrect thing you could find with my post, I'm very satisfied.

I heard you speak at the IDPF Digital Book event at BEA, so yes, I do understand what you're doing. Frankly, based on your presentation, I thought that you were delusional, but that's just one man's opinion. If we had been given a chance to ask questions, I would have asked you a few, including the following:

1) What are you doing to drive traffic to so that people even know about your campaigns? (Right now, it's little more than an echo chamber.)

2) If there's so much demand for titles that people are willing to pay for just to make them available again, what exactly is the economic motivation for authors who have the rights to sell them for a flat fee when they can republish the works themselves and have a potentially unbounded stream of revenue?

3) Why, as in the "Riverwatch" case, should readers contribute to make titles in your corpus available with "creative commons" licensing when they can already purchase them, in many cases, at a very low price? (In other words, Eric, you don't need to make them available if they already are available!)

4) How many of those 15,000 members have actually pledged to a campaign? What's your ratio of members to pledges?

5) Can I hold you to your brag that you'll have 15 million members? That's an awfully tall order, when you have only one successful campaign, three active campaigns that are all in the single digits, one that we know has failed (and who knows how many others--would you care to say?)

I think that has, at best, a tenuous grasp on reality, but when you get to your 15 million members, you'll have proved me wrong.

Anonymous said...

I ended up responding to this at my blog:

Unknown said...

Andromeda, your post says that I "misunderstand" what is about, but I'd argue that it was the author of "Riverwatch" who misunderstood it, or tried to take advantage of it. Further, is completely unnecessary to accomplish what you say it's trying to accomplish.

The author of "Riverwatch" wanted $25,000 to make it available under Creative Commons; he cut the amount to $15,000, but when his campaign ended, he had collected pledges of only $1,500. To me, this was simply an attempt to milk as much revenue as possible from a self-published title, and it never should have been posted by (Note that other crowdfunding sites, such as Kickstarter, review every submission and reserve the right to reject any project.)

As for the reasons that you state in your post for, I'd argue that Mr. Nassise could have done all of them himself, without your help. He chose to sell through Amazon, which imposed DRM and, as you pointed out, has changed or even deleted eBooks from customers' accounts without their foreknowledge or permission. He could have instead sold through another reseller without such a history. He could have demanded that the eBook be sold without DRM, as O'Reilly has successfully done. He could have sold the eBook on his own website as an unprotected EPUB that could be read by a myriad of readers. To my knowledge, he chose to do none of those things.

If is going to be successful, it needs to focus, and I'd suggest focusing on respected, out-of-print titles. That truly represents a public service.

Andromeda said...

Riverwatch isn't a self-published title; Creative Commons is more than the absence of DRM.

Unknown said...

The listing on Amazon says that "Riverwatch", which sells for $4.99, is sold by Amazon Digital Services, which makes it a self-published book. There's a mention of "Barclay Books", but that appears to be nothing more than the name of Mr. Nassise's own "publishing company."

And...we're back to the Creative Commons issue again. Of course I know that it covers more than the absence of DRM. I detect a circular argument here. I'd suggest that you focus on whatever you do at rather than this debate. You're convincing neither me nor anyone else.