Context is King

On January 3, 1996, Bill Gates wrote a prophetic article called “Content is King.” In it, he perceives the internet (then, only seven years old) as a content aggregator, displacing the traditional communication sector into the digital realm: a virtual, digital marketplace of content. But more than that, Gates predicts the behaviours of potential audiences drawn to this online medium: what they would expect from digital content, and how they would react to digital mediums versus print. However, in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, publishers enacted the opposite of Gates’ recommendations, and, almost two decades later, the question remains as Gates had originally posed it: “how often [does] the same company that serves an interest group in print succeed in serving it online”? In accordance with Liza Daly and Baldur Bjarnason, it seems that publishers are failing in their role as digital content producers. And yet, perhaps not in the sense that the developed technology is insufficient, as they would suppose, but that, as Michael Baskar suggests, publishers have ignored a meaningful discussion around the importance of digital context affecting creative content. The reliance of content on context is such that publishers (and authors) must start thinking of e-reading technology, apps, multi-platform publishing, and digital-first workflows in terms of creatively enhancing content, rather than acting simply as a means of circulation.

In his article, Gates writes, “to be successful online, a magazine [or other publication] can’t just take what it has in print and move it to the electronic realm. There isn’t enough depth or interactivity in print content to overcome the drawbacks of the online medium… If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through [for example] the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines” (Gates). This suggests what publishers, namely trade publishers, refuse to acknowledge, that a facsimile of print content onto digital platforms does not enhance the content in any kind of meaningful way; it may, in fact, decontextualize the content, and perhaps, as Gates warns, it doesn’t even serve the reader except as a point of accessibility. Baskar in his book, The Content Machine, in conjunction with Gates, affirms that “the network does not only reshape the distribution of content; it reshapes content—and us—as well” (43).

Reshaping content for a digital context has proven easier for establishments of academic and educational publishing, as well as non-fiction publishing, where readers can benefit from embedded links in works cited pages, interactive media such as video and audio to supplement content, bookmarking and referencing, and even peer collaboration through commenting and forum pages. However, it seems apparent from the Daly and Bjarnason articles that trade publishing in fiction is suffering a lack of creative, digital reimagining. In Bjarnason’s article, “Which Kind of Innovation?” he suggests that ebooks (and iBooks) have failed a viable readership only because publishers, as incumbents, have failed to develop the innovation in a meaningful way. Ebooks were meant to be digital print books, perhaps with the purpose of replacing print books altogether, in keeping with 1990s skepticism. Ebooks are format extensions, containing “no disruptive or innovative features,” and acting merely as “an accumulation of complex print-like cruft to aid the transition of [existing] illustrated or designed print books into digital” (Bjarnason). Against the recommendations from Gates, publishers’ use of this digital platform was to duplicate content instead of inject it with new, digitally contextualized content. Bjarnason goes on to say that ebooks, and perhaps EPUB in general, failed as a digital medium because “the skills and expertise [of publishers] at format transitions… weren’t applicable in the digital context” in part because they “stopped investing in sustaining innovations” (Bjarnason). I would argue that publishers have traditionally removed themselves from the digital conversation because they are unhappy with the current technology. However, it does not serve them, their authors, or their readers to not be a part of the exploration of and experimentation with new digital mediums. It is only after this process of research and discovery that they may be able to contribute to the development of a digital platform into a more robust model.

Others, like Daly, in her article, “The UnXMLing of Digital Books,” argue that books of fiction cannot be recontextualized for digital platforms: “novelists don’t create data. They create books… work[s] of human creativity with unpredictable contours” (Daly). In fiction, xml schema to aid predictability, consistency, and hierarchy are extraneous to a genre that is wholly unpredictable, inconsistent, and sometimes unhierarchical. Likewise, Bjarnason might argue that digitally contextualizing fiction through multimedia supplements, and the like, might seem undesirable to a reader of this genre. Similar to watching a film before you read the book, enhanced digital features in fiction may serve to replace content rather than supplement it. Neither Daly nor Bjarnason give much hope to the digital recontextualizing of fiction, offering publishers a reason not to explore these methods. Being somewhat traditionalist and largely digitally incompetent, I was going to argue in favour of Daly and Bjarnason; however, in my research and constant begging the question, “how could fiction benefit from digital recontextualization?” it becomes apparent that the fiction genre will not be contained in a vacuum separated from the advancements of digital technology.

Baskar would agree: “content is an embodied form of knowledge,” and with “the growth of new disciplines like the digital humanities [and transmedia storytelling],” it “further indicate[s] how book content has started to break the confines of print” (52-53). In fact, Baskar notes, “since the earliest days of the web, a new genre of literature has grown in the margins of creative writing. Variously called electronic literature, interactive literature, new media writing, network fiction or locative narratives, with connections to both video games and digital art, they contain graphics and images, are digitally produced, interactive and multimedia. They can be cross-platform, multiply authored, geo-locative and dynamically and algorithmically produced” (51). These forms of literature are using and repurposing mark-up languages, like xml, in an innovative way: blending content and context. Baskar gives examples like Kate Pullinger’s Inanimate Aliceand Christine Wilks’ Underbelly. Both works generated unprecedented success, but neither of them produced through a traditional publisher, hinting at the paradigm shift that Gates imagined.

If publishers were to invest deeply into these types of digital projects, if they were to be part of the discussion around multi-platform publishing and digital-first workflows (as means of content creation rather than content circulation), and as readers become “more comfortable with digital goods… large potential markets grow before our eyes” (Baskar 51). Markets that, perhaps, are founded on legitimate disruptive innovation that Bjarnason speaks to. It is easy to imagine digital fiction, now only a niche market, encompassing a “significant component of the twenty-first century canon,” as Baskar makes reference to from Katherine Hayle’s book, Electronic Literature: New Horizons on the Literary (2008). Whether or not traditional publishers contribute to this canon remains to be seen.

Works Cited

Bhaskar, Michael. The Content Machine. London, UK: Anthem Press, 2013. Print.

Bjarnason, Baldur. “Which Kind of Innovation?” Blog, Baldur Bjarnason, 3 May. 2013. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. .

Daly, Liza. “The unXMLing of Digital Books.” Safari Blog, 1 Feb. 2013. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. .

Gates, Bill. “Content Is King.” Blog, Craig Bailey, 31 May. 2010. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. .

Hayle, N. Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons on the Literary. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008. Print.

Maxwell, John W., and Kathleen Fraser. “Traversing The Book of Mpub: An Agile, Web-First Publishing Model.” The Journal of Electronic Publishing 13.3, 12 Jan. 2010. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.;view=text;rgn=main;idno=3336451.0013.303.

McIlroy, Thad. “Has XML Failed Publishing?” Blog, Thad McIlroy The Future of Publishing, 28 Oct. 2012. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. .

O’Leary, Brian. “A Unified Field Theory Of Publishing.” Magellan Media Partners, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.

The “Pirate Bay Case” and Outmoded Copyright Laws

The Pirate Bay, founded in 2003, is a peer-to-peer (P2P) transmission service that allows users to directly share information over the internet, bypassing traditional client-server models. This means that files are shared on TPB but are not stored on their servers. One advantage of this model is that it eliminates the risk of servers going down and users not being able to access files. One file sharer’s computer could crash, but because so many others are sharing the same files, the information remains available. This information is distributed via BitTorrent, which is a protocol that breaks up files into smaller pieces to be uploaded or downloaded. Another advantage of P2P sharing is the sharing of “broadband connection, drive space, and files.”1 Perhaps the biggest advantage, however, is that users have control over their experience and are able to share anything they want with any modifications they choose. TPB is thus not a provider nor a host of files, but a service, a platform, and a search engine that allows users to share files among each other. All materials, copyrighted or not, are uploaded by users of the site, and “TPB [does] not directly infringe copyrighted works. Nor [does] it itself make such works available for others to infringe.”2

In May 2006, Swedish police raided TPB. An investigation ensued, followed by charges being pressed on January 2008 for two crimes against the four defendants who were associated with TPB: aiding and abetting a copyright offence and preparation of a copyright offence. No users of TPB (those sharing the copyrighted information) were prosecuted. On April 17, 2009, the verdict of the “Pirate Bay case” was announced. The defendants, under the Swedish Penal Code and Copyright Act, were found guilty of “contributory copyright infringement, and each was sentenced to one year in prison. In addition to imprisonment, the defendants were ordered to pay damages in the amount of 30 million Swedish kronor ($3.6 million) to a handful of entertainment companies, including Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Bros, EMI and Columbia Pictures, for the infringement of 33 specific movie, music and gaming titles.”3

The question is whether those associated with TPB should have been held liable for aiding copyright infringement through providing a service, or whether copyright reform needs to address changes in use of materials as affected by the transitional landscape of information sharing. During the trial, the prosecutor revised the charge to eliminate mentions of copyrighted materials being available through TPB website and tracking because “the defendants successfully argued that DHT sharing and multiple trackers could be used instead of ‘regular’ downloading.”4 This was not the only amendment to the charge that happened throughout the trial: a reliable study of every or even most torrent files was not completed, and no proof was offered that most of the information available through TPB is copyrighted.

The defendants also presented a study that showed that most files on TPB are shared legally and argued that YouTube hosts a higher percentage of copyrighted materials than the amount that passes through TPB. However, because this study occurred after charges were pressed, its results were not upheld by the court. Although the defendants argued that “Swedish criminal law prohibited alteration of the original indictment,”5 the court went ahead with the case anyway. Because of the extremely high number of files passing through TPB, the defendants also argued that it is impossible for them to control or even be aware of every case of copyright infringement.6 Furthermore, the prosecutor’s charge of “making it possible for someone downloading works to ‘gain access to the work from a place and at a time of his or her own choosing’ would seemingly apply to many distributions over the Internet.” For example, Google, which handles 90 per cent of the Internet searches around the world, can also be used to locate illegally uploaded materials, including torrents: “A user can limit the result of her Google search to only .torrent files by simply affixing ‘filetype:torrent’ to the end of her search query.”7

The “Pirate Bay case” and its various amendments during trial demonstrate a need to review copyright laws in relation to web information. Because copyright laws have not been revised to reflect the nature of the web, where everything is a copy, charges in cases against the sharing for copyrighted information become vague and arbitrary, definitions of complicity become broader and more inconsistent, and “parts of copyright have become metaphorical in the sense that the reality it attempts to regulate has changed essentially.”8 Instead of pursuing the users who shared copyrighted information, the prosecutor opted to ignore those who were allegedly committing theft to pursue TPB because of its status and its overt disinterest in protecting copyrighted works. The “weak support for upholding copyright law online”9 makes TPB a threat to the entertainment industry’s outmoded models, so the industry opted to attack its founders in an attempt to stop a “behaviour and normative precondition supported by a majority of the younger generation”10 and an inevitable copyright revolution. The founders of TPB are essentially activists fighting for reform, free speech, and a copyleft mentality, as well as “voicing dissent towards the established entertainment industry.”11

The entertainment industry could continue to try and block alleged copyright infringement over the Internet, asking and pushing online service providers to create new technologies, tracking, and surveillance techniques to put a stop to something that is already widespread and commonplace.12 However, aside from being futile, this “assumes that the digitally mediated behaviour online surrounding the ‘consumption’ of music, movies and games follows the same pattern as more traditional consumption of physical artefacts,” and that every download equals one less purchase.13 Because downloads are copies and not stolen physical objects, this argument is weak and unsubstantiated. Since it is difficult to prove that illegal downloads result in a loss of sales, and since illegal downloading shows no sign of stopping, the entertainment industry itself needs to reconsider the way it distributes its materials to keep up with the changes happening in the twenty-first century.

Works Cited

1. Carrier, Michael A. “The Pirate Bay, Grokster, and Google.” Journal of Intellectual Property Rights 15 (2009): 7-18.

2. Ibid.

3. Manner, Mikko, Topi Siniketo, and Ulrika Polland. “The Pirate Bay Ruling—When The Fun and Games End.” Accessed January 30, 2015.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. “The Pirate Bay, Grokster, and Google.”

8. Larsson, Stefan. “Metaphors, Law and Digital Phenomena: The Swedish Pirate Bay Court Case.” International Journal of Law and Information Technology. July 19, 2013. Accessed January 30, 2015.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Andersson, Jonas. “For the Good of the Net: The Pirate Bay as Strategic Sovereign.” Culture Machine 10 (2009): 64-108.

12. “The Pirate Bay, Grokster, and Google.”

13. “Metaphors, law and digital phenomena: the Swedish pirate bay court case.”


“Distributed hash table.” Wikipedia. Accessed January 30, 2015.

“Peer-to-peer.” Wikipedia. Accessed January 30, 2015.

“The Pirate Bay.” Wikipedia. Accessed January 30, 2015.

A Billion Writers for A Billion Readers


We had chickens when I was a kid.  It was my job to feed them breakfast. Every morning I  scooped a big cup of pellets from the bag and flung the food across the pen; the birds went into a frenzy, gobbling up every little pellet they could find. When the food was nearly all eaten, most of the chickens continued to fight over the last little scraps of dirty, trod-on pellets. Some of the smarter birds looked around for the next wave of incoming pellets, because I always threw a second cup, and when I did, mayhem once again ensued—but the chickens that were ready for it always had first crack at the new food. That’s where the publishing industry is right now—in between scoops.

So who are the “smart chickens?”

The most obvious answer, of course, is Amazon. They’re also the biggest chicken in the coop. But is there any other company out there that has a shot? There will be two things needed to rise above the rest going forward: dollars, and by that, I mean tens and hundreds of millions; and networks, and by that, I mean tens and hundreds of millions. So let’s rule out traditional publishers, even the big multinationals. Sure, they have the money, but their true adoption of technology will come much too late. And their networks are nearly non-existent as loyalty in traditional publishing is based on author rather than brand. Although it’s been established that there is no “print is dead” armageddon on the near horizon, the power of digital publishing, although slow to gain serious momentum, will be the determining factor in who will rule the roost in the future of publishing.

Aside from Amazon, there are few that could take a run at this title. One such company that could is Wattpad. The company just raised 46 million dollars and now has a huge, amazing, concerning issue on its hands. They need to keep their 40 million members happy, and they now have to keep their investors happy, because pension fund investors don’t invest 46 million dollars (actually closer to 70 million to date) because they think you have a really neat idea; they want return on investment, and plenty of it. So how does Wattpad’s founder and CEO, Allen Lau, proceed? The current focus is to build their network to one billion members. “If we can build a strong community optimized for a billion users, then it will be insanely valuable,” Lau told Alec Scott of the Globe & Mail. “Lau has also noted that he plans to explore new avenues for monetization of Wattpad, including branded content and native advertising.”

It’s going to take a very long time to recoup $46 million through native advertising. The true value to investors is the potential network Wattpad plans on creating—but tapping into that network may be another story. A big issue is that Wattpad is currently a proud community of readers and writers where things like revenue streams and regulations would cause quite a stir. A change of ethos by Wattpad would certainly alienate the very community they are trying to enlarge twenty-five fold. Lau has been very careful to speak cautiously when asked about generating revenues from the Wattpad business model. But generating revenue is what Wattpad must do, all while rapidly expanding it’s network; after all, the money-hawks are now watching.

Lau comes from a tech background and not a publishing background, so it is unclear what he is setting his sights on—aside from his desire to build a network of a billion people, that is. But what sort of strategy would be needed to take on the role of a publishing company?

Actually, Wattpad is already a publisher. In fact, they supply everything from the author’s pen and paper to the audience, and they do it all for free. So why not generate revenue from it by taking the next logical steps? The first would be to satisfy its members that the change would not affect the way the core of the community operated, although some change would be needed. Case in Point:

Wattpad’s terms of service agreement

Section 6 – User Submissions and Conduct

Article C)  “you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions. However, by submitting User Submissions to, you hereby grant a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the Website.”


This term would need to change. The “royalty-free” wording would have to be removed and replaced with an amendment that gave set royalties to Wattpad for any monies made from User Submissions. A “right-of-first-refusal” clause would need to be implemented as well. This would affect less than .01% of all Wattpad users and only those generating significant income from their works.

The second step would be to make the changes beneficial to many members of the community while enticing new members and writers into the community. In taking this step, Wattpad would be committing to the process of becoming a major player in the publishing industry. It would need to invest in infrastructure such as printing companies, and though it would not focus on print materials, it would take on the role of print publisher/self-publishing printer for its one-billion-in-the-making network. Operational growth would have to be quite substantial as well, hiring specialized staff to oversee what would need to become a multi-faceted operation. Much of the rest is already in place for Wattpad. Using their metadata, Wattpad can build algorithms based on a story’s popularity to see when, and how many books to print, or at what point a writer should be signed to a book or movie deal. As it is now, publishers and movie companies are trolling Wattpad looking for the next big thing, why would Wattpad not want to take advantage of those opportunities themselves?

“Wattpad also has a serious side as a thriving culture of original writing, with a small but steady flow of authors finding mainstream success with Big Six publishers such as Random House and Harper Collins.” says Victoria James of thegaurdian.

With their increased financial backing, Wattpad now has an opportunity to hybridize the publishing industry; to make it a versatile peer-review system that can give both the author and the reader what they want and how they want it. Now they just have to make a move—because that big chicken in the pen is giving them the eye.

Works Cited:

Dawes, Terry. (Apr. 11, 2014), “Did Wattpad really need to raise so much money?”, Cantech Letter, Web.

Herman, Barbara. (Oct. 23, 2014), “What Is Wattpad? The ‘YouTube For Stories’ Is Transforming Book Publishing”, International Business Times, Web.

James, Victoria (Dec. 8, 2014), “Amazon goes head to head with Wattpad in battle for fanfic writers”, thegaurdian, Web.

Scott, Alec. (Sept. 25, 2014), “Wattpad is Not Exactly an Open Book”, the Globe and Mail, Web.

Williams, Thomas J. ( Apr. 9, 2012) “Surviving “the Printing Industry’s Perfect Storm”—and Its Aftermath”, WhatTheyThink, Web


What the heck is hacking? A Guide for publishers in understanding hacking and system design

“Hackers have become scapegoats: We discover the gaping holes in the system and then get blamed for the flaws” –Emmanuel Goldstein

“A hacker is someone who experiments with systems… Hacking is playing with systems and making them do what they were never intended to do.” ­–Dorothy Denning

Hypothetical event: 

“Breaking News: Penguin Publishers Hacked!” read the headlines across news sources on the web and in print.

Publishers, I’d imagine are all shocked, and some competitors may be secretly smirking at the unfortunate event that has befallen the giant book producer. What this event also signifies is the vulnerability of publishers who have their books, financial information and other technological trade secrets online. Hackers sending out false information on behalf of the publishers, selling manuscripts to other publishers under false pretense, and perhaps just the removal of valuable information from their systems.

Many rush to their offices, call their IT personnel—in-house and outsourced—to either strengthen their buffer zone (put up firewalls), or completely remove their businesses from the World Wide Web.

Perhaps not so extreme, but a catastrophic event such as the hacking of a publisher, would send most of the others into frenzy. Much like the several supposed terrorist attacks across the world, and governments’ response to protect themselves and their citizens, so would publishers need to find their own protective, preemptive, and restorative measures to protect themselves from cyber terrorism, or intellectual property theft in the form of hacking.

Even if publishers themselves would not think themselves targets, their publishing partners, such as Amazon could face a similar threat. In this instance, valuable banking transactions, and the personal accounts of customers could be seized.

This scenario is not all that hypothetical. In fact, a recent series of hacker attacks on publishers is raising questions about potential third-party security holes that leave websites exposed to cracks, it was reported What’s New In Publishing Online in September 2014. “Third parties already snagging profits from many publishers by using the publishers’ own data for monetary gain, the news that hackers are using these same third-party JavaScript tags as a way to break into publisher sites feels especially insidious”[1]. The news source site, Reuters and was one of the victims who were infiltrated through third-party partners’ systems to access their data by using JavaScript tags.

“A potential problem with JavaScript tags is that if a platform vendor would not have control or validation over the creative, it could return inappropriate content such as adult material or extremist views[2].”

French newspaper, Le Monde has been the most recent victim. Their Twitter account was hacked allegedly by a Syrian Electronic Army in service to the Syrian president. “Among media sites hit were London newspapers the Daily Telegraph, Independent and Evening Standard. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp and New York Daily News also said they had fallen victim to the hack.[3]

What is also more shocking, or perhaps not, is that nearly 80 percent of publishers said they were ignorant as to which and how third-party companies, like Google and Taboola were accessing their audience data.

Although this scenario is hypothetical, publishers need to understand hacking and its implications.

Hacking and piracy are forms of intellectual property theft, which is described as, “theft of material that is copyrighted, the theft of trade secrets, and trademark violations. A copyright is the legal right of an author, publisher, composer, or other person who creates a work to exclusively print, publish, distribute, or perform the work in public.[4]

As publishers move their business models online to maintain readership numbers and remain relevant among their audience and competitors, they face risk of intellectual property theft.

Intellectual property theft through cybercrime, has become less sophisticated as individuals with minimal programming knowledge are able to purchase software to carry out hacking activities which are immune to firewalls, according to the CIO[5].

Furthermore, intellectual property rights could be considered to be trade secrets that give business a competitive edge. In the publishing industry, the same concept applies. Whatever trade secrets a publisher possess, from editorial, circulation and distribution (operations), advertising and sales, financial information and technological innovations, these needs to be protected under copyright law and intellectual property law.

Publishers that have shifted their business models online possess several types of rights when they acquire an author and eventually sell the book in various formats online. Furthermore, if the book has the potential on becoming a blockbuster film, publishers will most likely have bought secondary media rights to earn revenue from such a platform. It is therefore important for publishers to understand their intellectual property rights when it comes to hacking and piracy.

Hacking, says David Gunkel (2000), “designates an activity that is simultaneously applauded for its creativity and reviled for its criminal transgressions (798)[6]. The concept of hacking is diabolical in understanding for most hosting systems. Hackers, the ones who are hacking, need a host. How they gain access to this host is through a so-called back door that has been left wide open. “Hacking only fixates on and manipulates an aporia, a bug, or back door that is always and already present within and constitutive of the system as such[7].”

By this statement, hacking works like a parasite that feeds off a system that has not taken precautionary measures to secure it completely. “The activities of hacking must be seen as highly attentive and even compulsive responses to specific systems that both call for and make the hack possible in an by their very systems’ design[8].”

What is a system’s design? When one speaks about a system’s design, one is actually referring to system design. This is a term more often coined by computer scientists and engineers. In this case, publishers might consider themselves to not be affiliated with this profession. Rightly so, but it is important to understand what system design involves when publishers so often acquaint themselves with technology and operating their businesses online. This is a fair argument that deserves attention from publishers who have web-based content in various formats, such as EPub, PDF, Podcasts, analytics, websites, and so forth.

To understand system design, one must separate the two terms:

A system, defined by Jim Waldo, Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems, “is a set of interacting parts, generally too large to be built by a single person, created for some particular purpose…Hardware and software that allow the programs on [computers] to interact with each other over a network are systems.”[9] Waldo further explains that deciphering a system requires a look at the layers of that system. The larger the piece of software, the more layers there are in the design, and the more complex the system. He further iterates that design has an ambiguous definition but that more often than not, in computer science, one will discover the design of software by its code. This code could have been created prior to the production of the system or may have evolved with the implementation of the system itself (2006: 2)[10].

Waldo urges training in system design. “If system design is in fact learned as part of an apprenticeship, there are two places that we should expect such learning to take place. The first is in graduate school, where a student can work with a single faulty member, his or her advisor, who acts as a master. The other is on-the-job, learning the arts of system design by doing such design.[11] This is already taking place through agile methods and open source software. Agile methods is an approach to writing code, and systems based on small groups of programmers working collectively as one unit[12].” This method is often peer reviewed. Similarly, open source projects also provide forum and discussions on system design.

Publishers should invest in hiring system designers, or sending their in-house web specialists to attend such training, if they have not. This, in the long run, will cost publishers less money than to outsource IT specialists to work on a system that they had no hand in creating, and access confidential information. Also, in-house system designers will be able to come up with exclusive system design for the publisher that will make it less likely to be hacked or copied.

Publishing and media school courses should invest in in-depth system design curriculum, so that graduating publishers who move into the industry are geared to create software, and design systems for the publishing businesses. At least it would be useful to have an adequate understanding of such a system when the subject is broached in hiring IT specialists to install several software programs should the company face cyber threat or intellectual property theft.

If publishers choose not to invest in system design, then there is the outsourced alternative:

How can publishers protect their system’s data from getting hacked? According to WikiHow[13], there are at least a few ways to prevent getting hacked. These are:

  1. Use a port scanner to identify open ports on your network and the software that’s running them. It is important to update these programs.
  2. Regularly backup your data and test the backups.
  3. Store the backup files off line for extra security.
  4. Encrypt data with encryption software that has important company information in transit mode, such as emails.
  5. Use the latest antivirus software.
  6. Use real time protection software to manage your operating system.
  7. Use anti-adware and spyware software that protects your system from monitoring passwords and confidential data.
  8. Install intrusion detection software to point out when your system is accessed illegally.
  9. Install a firewall to maintain a secure interface between your publisher’s network and other public networks.
  10. Regularly update software programs for added security and that all default passwords are reset.

These precautionary measures seem obvious and self-explanatory, but it is important for publishers, as well as emerging publishers like ourselves to be informed of the means of protection, and the costs involved to ensure intellectual property and other confidential company information is protected online, all the time.

Conclusively, publishers need to educate themselves on system design, hacking and third-party agreements to secure their data. Publishers need to take control of their own data. There are not a lot of tools available to attain this, but with greater investment in system design, publishers should be able to create these tools themselves. This way publishers protect their customers, their intellectual property, but also their profits.

 Work Cited:  

[1] Pritchard, M. 2014. What’s New In Publishing article: “Open to hackers? Partners can be a publisher’s weakest link”:

[2] Pritchard, M. 2014. What’s New In Publishing article: “Open to hackers? Partners can be a publisher’s weakest link”:

[4] Cyber Crime- Intellectual Property Theft- Internet, Pirates, Trade, and Secrets:

[6] Gunkel, David J. “Hacking Cyberspace” in JAC, Vol. 20, No. 4. Fall 2000.

[7] Gunkel, David J. “Hacking Cyberspace” in JAC, Vol. 20, No. 4. Fall 2000.

[8] Gunkel, David J. “Hacking Cyberspace” in JAC, Vol. 20, No. 4. Fall 2000.

[9] Waldo, J. 2006. “On System Design” in Harvard University Press:

[10] Waldo, J. 2006. “On System Design” in Harvard University Press:

[11] Waldo, J. 2006. “On System Design” in Harvard University Press:

[12] Waldo, J. 2006. “On System Design” in Harvard University Press:

Disrupting the playing field: Adobe DPS drops Single Edition from Creative Cloud

Seventy-five percent of mobile digital editions in the magazine world are powered by Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) according to 2014 data released by Adobe, including magazines published by Time Inc., Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, and Reader’s Digest. This dominance came just three years after Adobe launched the software that essentially acts as a codeless app creator linked to the company’s flagship page layout software, inDesign. Despite Adobe bearing most of the market share in app production, it sees competition from companies like Mag+, Twixl,  and Aquafadas. The near unanimous adoption of Adobe’s DPS can be linked to the ubiquity of inDesign.

For users of inDesign, Adobe offers its DPS tools as a free download and offers a variety of options to publish apps to users, though the publishing tools are predominately geared to the Apple platform. To publish apps, users can subscribe to Single Edition, Pro, or Enterprise offerings, all of which come with varying price tags. Single Edition only allows users to publish to the iPad through the App Store, but Pro and Enterprise options allows publishers to reach a variety of other platforms for a much higher price tag. For the purposes of this piece, Single Edition is the point of focus. Single Edition cultivated grounds fertile for small, independent publishers to brandish their offerings in an equitable and competitive way—until Adobe retires Single Edition on May 1, 2015, that is.

When Adobe rolled out Single Edition in 2011, launching a single app came with the price tag of $395—expensive, but manageable. Then, in 2012, Adobe rolled Single Edition in with their $50 per month Creative Cloud subscriptions targeting small to mid-size publishers. This subscription provided access to Adobe apps and by extension to DPS Single Edition. Subscribers were able to build an unlimited number of apps for the Apple App Store through this subscription level with certain limitations, one being that these apps were published as standalone apps without subscription capabilities, meaning that they weren’t able to become part of the Newsstand. This was an obvious disadvantage, but again, manageable.

In pulling the rug on Single Edition, Adobe is leading publishers away from single apps to their new and improved fixed layout EPUB, in turn taking publishers out of the App Store and putting them into iBooks territory. Adobe’s rational for cutting Single Edition was two fold: one, most publishers relying on DPS tools were developing enterprise-class apps or subscription-based publications; and two, that the evolution of e-publishing technologies lead many individuals to opt for interactive e-books over over Single Edition DPS apps.

Though Adobe may be noble and logical in their spin of the cut, this cut puts small publishers in a costly and precarious situation. “The elimination of the Single Edition option is a big blow to small independent publishers who are not willing or able to sign onto Adobe’s more expensive Digital Publisher options,” says D.B. Hebbard on Talking New Media. 

With this change in service, Adobe is reopening a divide between independents and conglomerates that they previously closed with Single Editions: Single Edition allowed independents to launch an app that felt like and competed with the digital offerings of the Condé Nasts and Hearts of the world without the expenditure that those corporations were capable of. By cutting Single Editions, Adobe is stifling and steering the creativity of small publishers towards their new versions of fixed layout ePubs and away from app development. For small publishers with a print-first mandate, publishers that exists due to a recent surge in independent publishing, this change in service means they are no longer able to offer products that compete digitally. What’s more, they can no longer even stay in the same Apple marketplace that they existed in before: apps sit in the App Store, ePubs in the iBooks store.

One potential benefit of moving to the iBooks store and out of the App Store is that customers expect to pay for content in the iBooks store, Joe Zeff points out during a round table on apps with Robert Newman. The going average price for iBooks is in around the $10 mark, where as the going average price for digital magazines is zero as publishers have made them free with print subscriptions, he continues.

While the jury is still out on whether or not apps are the best route for magazines to take their offerings online, as debated best in on Newmanology, the reality is that they still make for a viable and expected offering from publishers. In the Newmanology debate, magazine expert Jeremy Leslie says, “DPS served a vital role kick stating publishers into thinking about app editions, but in the longer term has proved to be a misdirection”. Since the original unveiling of the iPad, Leslie has become increasingly skeptical about the future of the app in magazine publishing and vocally takes issue with the Apple Newsstand.

This coercion away from apps shuts the door on what could have been. DPS tools are new. At little over three years old, these tools can still be explored, yet Adobe is parsing those best positioned to bring a fresh take to the technology from the fold. Independent publishers have the most to gain and the least to lose from doing something unique with the tools like DPS Single Edition. They aren’t bound to the mass-replicated formula of magazines like the New Yorker. Even if these publishers are not pushing the boundaries, with Single Edition, then they are at worst publishing with a standard and visibility that readers who use the iPad have come to expect.

Of course there are other options, as mentioned above, but these options are what Adobe forcibly made after-thoughts by linking DPS Single Edition to inDesign and all come with price tags higher than DPS Single Edition.

With all of this in mind, I realize it unrealistic to ask Adobe to martyr themselves in the name of independent publishing. They are a corporation with profitability in mind, but not once did Adobe speak of losing money on Single Edition, and frankly this change in service seems like classic case of bait-and-switch: Publishers, pay more to have an app, or publish less interactive content in the iBooks store, says Adobe.

And after all this, we may look back on the app as the middle-child who never found his potential, but in terms of delivering engaging, innovative digital content, the promise of the app is far greater than the promise of fixed layout ePubs. This may be harder to realize in a future with scrappy independents now relegated to iBooks.

Works Cited 

Dove, J. (2012, September 18). Adobe unleashes Digital Publishing Suite Single Edition for Creative Cloud. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from

E-publishing Evolved. (2014, November 24). Retrieved January 29, 2015, from

Hebbard, D. (2014, November 24). Adobe will drop Digital Publishing Suite, Single Edition for Creative Cloud members. Retrieved January 28, 2015, from

Kitchener, C. (2014, July 14). Publishing for Everyone. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from

Levine, B. (2014, November 24). Adobe Drops DPS Single Edition Support from Creative Cloud. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from

Newman, R. (2014, April 15). Robert Newman. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from

Steyn, R. (2014, February 27). Adobe DPS now powers over 75% of mobile digital reading | memeburn. Retrieved January 27, 2015, from

Print Versus Digital Publishing: A Comparative Assessment of Their Impact on Academic Learning, Social Interaction And Human Health

The debate between print and electronic publishing has been raging on for some time now. With the proliferation in the use of digital devices such as smartphones and tablets computers, amid new research findings about the impact of screen and paper reading on people, there seems to be no end in sight to the unsettled ‘print versus digital’ debate. For the most part, however, the focus of the argument between paper and e-publishing has been on the consumer side, being the user-friendliness or comfort of each medium, with lovers of the now-popular screen-based content touting its many advantages over traditional print or paper-based formats such as books, newspapers and magazines. These include their  relative portability, and the often-cited so-called interactive, value-added experience. On the other hand, loyalists of the paper are quick to point, among other things, to the so-called tactile feel one gets from holding and using the paper, something they claim one can never get from e-reading. On the producer side, the discussion has mostly centred on the implications of changing reading habits or tastes for firm profitability, viability and user satisfaction.

This essay revisits the topic of print versus electronic publishing from the consumer angle. But rather than examining the pros and cons of print and electronic publishing in generic terms, it approaches the conversation quite differently by limiting it to the impact of these two reading formats on three specific aspects of human life, namely: academic learning, social interaction and human health, based on current research findings. The combined assessment of the implications of print and digital publishing or reading for human intellectual advancement, social interaction and health, especially the latter, is something that is missing from many studies on the subject. Therefore, by looking at these issues in tandem, this essay makes a useful contribution to the on-going discussion on this vital subject.

Academic Learning

The first area of assessing print and electronic reading in the essay, is academic learning. Academic learning here refers to engaging in acquiring new knowledge and skills, or building on existing ones, usually for higher education and research. Research does not dispute the fact that electronic reading, has tremendously improved the reading habit of people (both students and workers). This is because it is convenient and easily accessible. Contrary to that, several studies also prove its negative effects on academic learning. Some researchers from the university of California in 2014, conducted a survey on children from both groups; those who read print books versus ebooks. The first group was camped at the Pali institute in California, without access to any electronic device, whilst the second group had access to the internet and other electronic devices. Results of this research showed that students who were camped without internet scored higher than those who had access to electronic devices(Wolpert, 2014).

On this same issue, Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University conducted another survey in 2014, where fifty student were given a twenty-eight page book to read. Half of the group read the electronic version whilst the other half read a print version. From the report, students who read the print version had a good report on issues that had to do with narratives whereas those who read from ebooks, did worst when they were asked to simply outline events in the books in a correct order(Flood, 2014). This is another survey that shows the negative effect screen reading has on academic learning. Another research by Anne Mangen reports that reading text in print is better for some aspects of comprehension. In this survey, 72 students were grouped into two; one group read on screen while the other group read on paper. Both groups were given a fiction and a non fiction piece to read, after which they were asked to answer questions that would show how they understood the text(Christensen, 2013). The results clearly revealed that those who read on screens had less understanding than those who read on paper. Paper tends to speak more to our emotions and intellect than the screen does. Are we at risk for being exposed to these electronic devices?

 Social Interaction

The second aspect, is to assess the implications of print and electronic reading on social interaction. Social interaction refers to the way people act and talk with each other in society, which includes interaction with families and friends. It has been argued on several platforms how technology has affected social interaction both negatively and positively. It is undeniable that technology has influenced online social interaction through the various social media, it has also altered the traditional way we interact. The old-fashioned internet cafe was a place people gathered to interact and also have access to the internet. With these new digital technologies evolving, people do not see the need to move from their home to interact and discuss issues with friends. This is mainly because there is a more convenient way of doing that, which is obviously through the various digital media. Siegel in his book Against The Machine: Being Human in the Era of the Electronic Mob argues that “The internet has radically changed nearly every level of human experience in an incredibly short amount of time” (Siegel, 2008). Technology has brought about some fundamental changes throughout society, particularly among the younger generation. It has transformed communication, changed businesses, health and education. People no longer need to carry books and even laptops to get access to information. People no longer have to be physically present, to get access to a book in a library and other sources of information. It has also helped connect books and other electronic materials to travel beyond its confines by being easily accessible for other countries and nations.

On the other hand, people argue that the internet has also changed the way family and friends interact. In the earlier days, friends and family met to discuss a particular book and even attempted to answer some confusing questions. This made academic discussions more effective through the sharing of thoughts and ideas. Based on the arguments from both sides, can technological developments which has several positive impact, be made to sustain our cultural and societal values?


An important aspect of the essay that is missing in most discussions on this topic, is the negative implications screen reading has on human health. Despite the numerous benefits technology offer, it is important to assess its negative implications on human health. Most of the recent activities are made from screens; mobile phones, tablet computers, e-readers and others. Public Health England announced in August 2013 that, too much time in front of TV and computer screens is causing increase in psychological problems such as depression and anxiety, especially in children. Active video games promote light-to-moderate physical activity in children(Pete Etchells, 2013).

This has become an impediment on children’s well being; physical and mental health. According to the American adults show in February 2014, headaches and neck pain are the biggest complaints of those who use e-readers(Hunter, 2014). Proceeds of a research conducted by the National Academy of Science (US), shows that the use of a light-emitting electronic device in the hours just before going to bed, has a negative impact on a person’s health, alertness, and the circadian clock which synchronizes the daily rhythm of sleep. This study, which was to compare the biological effects of reading Ebooks revealed that Ipad readers had reduced secretion of melatonin, a hormone which rises in the evenings and play a role in inducing sleepiness. The results of this research showed that participants who read the Ipad were less sleepy before bedtime, but sleepier and less alert the following morning even after eight hours of sleep (Brigham and Women’s Hospital)

Anne-Marie Chang, Daniel Aeschbach, Jeanne F. Duffy, and Charles A. Czeisler. Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. PNAS, December 22, 2014 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1418490112

 Should a book,  that is supposed to add value to a child’s life become an impediment on their health? There should definitely be a way to minimize this trend.


This essay has revisited the debate between print and digital publishing, specifically by examining their impact on academic learning, social interaction and human health. As it could be seen from the discussion, both platforms have their positive and negative consequences on academic learning and social interaction. However, when it comes to the area of human health, digital publishing has (more) adverse impact on human health in comparison to print media. Whilst many people argue about the convenience of e-readers and other electronic devices, they overlook the health dimensions of the use of electronic media. To overcome some of the challenges related to the use of these digital media, there should be a boundary to which people, especially children, can access the internet or use digital media in order to help prevent any health threat, as well as improving academic learning and social interactions.


Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Light-emitting e-readers before bedtime can adversely impact sleep.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 December 2014. < retrieved on 01/26/15

 Christensen, A. (2013) Paper beats on computer screen. retrieved on 01/25/15

 Etchells P. (2013), What do we really know about the effects of screen time on mental health? retrieved on 01/23/15

 Glum J. (2014) Books vs. E-Books: Teens’ Print Preferences Make Publishing Industry’s Future Hard To Predict. retrieved on 01/23/15

 Hunter. C,(2014).  The Physical Effects of E-Reading retrieved on 01/25/15

Juana S, (2013),  Kids And Screen Time: What Does The Research Say? retrieved on 01/23/15

 Lim E.M.(2013),  The factors influencing young children’s social interaction in technology integration, European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, DOI:10.1080/1350293X.2013.810484, Seoul , Korea

 Nables, (2013), Negative effect of technology on society. Reynoldsburg, Ohio retrieved on 01/23/15

 Siegel L, (2008) Against The Machine: Being Human in the Era of the Electronic Mob. Spiegel & Grau, a division of Random House Publishing group, New York.

 Uhls Y , et al(2014) “Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues” retrieved on 01/27/15

 Wolpert, S. (2014) In our digital world, are young people losing the ability to read emotions? retrieved on 01/28/15

Could Scribd and Oyster be the next Netflix or Spotify?

On January 15, 2015, big 5 publisher Macmillan announced a partnership with two ebook subscription services, Oyster and Scribd. The addition of Macmillan to libraries that already include big 5 publishers HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster pushes Oyster’s ebook count to 1 million, and Scribd’s to half a million (Plaugic). Both Oyster and Scribd continue to add titles rapidly, with Scribd adding publishers at a rate of almost one per day (McCracken). With the recent successes of streaming technologies such as Netflix and Spotify, critics can’t help but wonder how the emergence of such services will affect the book industry as we know it. It will surely affect Amazon, with Kindle Unlimited attempting (and failing) at attracting big 5 publishers (McCracken). It also impacts self-published authors, particularly those published through Amazon who have been forced into Kindle Unlimited (Mitroff). But the most interesting impact to discuss is how the emergence of services such as Oyster and Scribd will affect those they are slowing allying with – traditional publishing houses that find, publish, and market authors. This paper will discuss the business models of such services, the impacts the services will have on the industry, and who exactly has the power to control how these services move forward.

The business model of Scribd and Oyster is relatively simple. Each pays 80% of a book’s cover price to the publisher, once the book qualifies as “read”. “Read” means the user has read at least 10% of the book (Shatzkin). Oyster CEO Eric Stromberg said in summer 2014 that since launching, Oyster has “brought in more revenue from paying subscribers than we’ve paid out on those subscribers each month”, meaning the $9.99 per month model seems to be affording more than the costs of each user’s reading habits (Deahl). Trip Adler, the CEO of Scribd, explains the model by saying, “When somebody reads a book, we pay a publisher as if they sold the book. We have a fairly complicated system to determine if a consumer actually has read the book. The amount the publisher gets is based on the digital list price,” from which we can assume means a very similar model is used by both services (Coker). What’s worth noting is that these fees typically total the same amount that publishers would receive for a single ebook download, meaning there’s no better or worse payment for ebooks between single sales and subscription models for publishers (Economist). However, these financials are not so easy to validate from Oyster’s or Scribd’s perspective. According to Mark Coker of Smashwords, there is a perfect equilibrium of users that must be maintained for the subscription models to succeed.

“If the subscription services sign up millions of people who never read, they’ll earn high profits but will disappoint publishers. Disappointed publishers will bail and subscribers will cancel. If the subscription services sign up too many power-readers, they’ll go out of business, thereby denying readers and publishers the benefit of their service. If the services can strike the right Goldilocks balance of serving readers, publishers and their own business interests, they have the opportunity to build the next generation of successful ebook purveyors.”

If the subscription models of Spotify and Netflix are any indication, that Goldilocks balance will eventually be found, and both Oyster and Scribd will profit greatly from it.

The initial response to ebook subscription services was that such services will kill the book industry. This too was the concern surrounding Spotify, the music streaming app, when it debuted (Wessel). Maxwell Wessel theorized in 2011 that “over time [music subscription services] will displace iTunes,” and wrote that despite Spotify’s lesser library, the convenience and cost-effectiveness of the service would prevail over iTunes. Three years later, Forbes reported Spotify had reached 10 million paying customers, which equals $1.2 billion in subscription revenue (Bertoni). At this scale, it’s easy to see how lucrative Scribd and Oyster could eventually become, despite not having near that number of paying customers currently (Griffith). The difference between these two cases is that iTunes doesn’t hold the power behind Spotify. They really don’t have any control over that system. In the case of publishing and ebook subscriptions, the publishers do have the power. By enabling yet another mammoth technology company access to a cut of the revenue from their own products, the big 5 are willingly allowing Scribd and Oyster the opportunity to completely revolutionize the book industry as they know it.

But what about Netflix? Is it really killing cable TV? The answer, according to Business Insider, in a resounding yes. In an ironic twist, their video “How The Netflix Model is Poised To Destroy Traditional TV” actually uses books as an example for how people want to consume content. Silverstein says,

“Imagine you wanted to read a new book. But you can’t just pick up the book any time you want. You can only read that book on Wednesdays from 8-9 pm. You would be outraged. Because it makes no sense.”

She goes on to explain that consumers want the flexibility of consuming content at their leisure, which is why PVR and other technology is has been successful thus far. She calls out Netflix as being the most disruptive application. With 11 million new subscribers in the last three years alone, Netflix is expected to hit 100 million worldwide users by 2017 (Silverstein). However, she notes that control of the content is key, just as with Oyster and Scribd. She says cable will die, and as time goes on, networks “might be able to hold on to the video-on-demand audience, but that’s only if they can keep control of the content.” Big name content providers like HBO, CBS, and Showtime aren’t joining Netflix – they’re launching their own streaming services, which is what the big 5 should be doing to take advantage of this new revenue stream.

HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan have already signed up with Oyster and Scribd, and Hachette likely doesn’t have the resources or the library to strike out on their own. But there is an opportunity for super-publisher, Penguin Random House, to compete in the digital sector and begin its own ebook subscription service. As Mike Shatzkin has theorized several times, “only [Penguin Random House] could possibly deliver a general subscription offer on their own”, as they have the breadth of titles and arguably the only truly branded publisher name, Penguin (Shatzkin). The immediate response to this suggestion has been that Penguin Random House has no desire “to turn $1000 a year book customers into $100 a year book customers” (Shatzkin). However, what if those “$1000 a year book customers” stop spending so heavily? Then will the model become more appealing? What about the success of Scribd and Oyster? Their libraries and user numbers increase daily (McCracken). Shatzkin also hypothesizes that perhaps Penguin Random House’s refusal to join Scribd or Oyster will stop the service from reaching viability – however, as time goes on, this begins to look like a losing battle. As Shatzkin says, “How long can publishers refuse to participate in revenue opportunities for their books and authors?” This may offer a unique opportunity for Penguin Random House, the biggest big 5 publisher, to jump into the technology game, and reap the benefits of this new platform and a potential new group of readers, without splitting the profits with a third party.

Regardless of apparent successes of Oyster and Scribd, the biggest concern for publishers in the subscription model is the notorious Amazon. With all of the big 5 holding out against Amazon Kindle Unlimited, it seems the publishers agree. This resistance continues to prevent Amazon from getting a hold on the subscription model. Kindle Unlimited offers over 600,000 titles, but the vast majority of them are from Kindle Direct Publishing, which means they are from self-published authors (Mitroff). As Shatzkin points out, it’s easy for Amazon to remain in the subscription business as a way to retain customer loyalty, since they already have the ebooks and the platform. In typical Amazon fashion, the service is focused on the customer – giving readers as much as possible for the lowest price, with little regard for publisher revenue (Statt). The big 5 are smart to restrict Amazon from gathering any more market share through Kindle Unlimited, as it’s been estimated that Amazon already holds 65 percent of the digital book market (Statt). It’s up to the decisions of the big 5 to prevent ebook subscription services from becoming another huge department within the monopsony that is Amazon.

There are many possible implications of book subscription models, which of course cannot be predicted with certainty. However, it is simple to see the potential of these services – depending on the agreements made between the subscription services, and the publishing houses they need to make their businesses work. According to The Verge, Macmillan’s move to join Oyster and Scribd could mark a turn of events for the success of book subscription services. Just as Netflix and Spotify have changed how consumers watch movies and listen to music, having three of the big 5 on board with the subscription model may mark a major change in how people read books (Plaugic). Considering that Oyster and Scribd are still small in terms of subscription numbers, it’s fair to say that this is still anyone’s game – and the power, whether they realize it or not, lies with the big 5 publishers who still largely cling to their traditional publishing methods.

Works Cited

Bertoni, Steven. “Spotify Sees Jump In Paying Customers With 10 Million Premium Subscribers.” Forbes., 21 May 2014. Web. January 2015.

Coker, Mark. “Examining the Business Model of Ebook Subscriptions Services (Part I).” Smashwords., 29 October 2013. Web. January 2015.

Deahl, Rachel. “Spotlight Falls on E-book Subscription Services.” Publishers Weekly., 25 July 2014. Web. January 2015.

Economist. “Spotify for books.” 24 January 2015. Web. January 2015.

Griffith, Erin. “Simon & Schuster goes digital as two startups score a ‘Big Five’ publisher.” Fortune., 21 May 2014. Web. January 2015.

Mitroff, Sarah. “Amazon Kindle Unlimited vs. Scribd vs. Oyster: Ebook subscriptions battle it out.” CNET., 2 October 2014. Web. January 2014.

McCracken, Harry. “Scribd takes on Amazon’s Audible with All-You-Can-Listen Audiobooks.” Fast Company., 6 November 2014. Web. January 2015.

Plaugic, Lizzie. “Ebook subscription services get a boost with help from Macmillan.” The Verge., 13 January 2015. Web. January 2015.

Shatzkin, Mike. “Subscriptions are in the news this week.” The Shatzkin Files., 24 July 2014. Web. January 2015.

Silverstein, Sarah, and Alex Kuzoian. “How The Netflix Model is Poised To Destroy Traditional TV.” Video. Business Insider., 4 December 2014. Web. January 2015.

Statt, Nick. “Kindle Unlimited: Good for customers, not so good for authors?” CNET., 19 July 2014. Web. January 2015.

Wessel, Maxwell. “Why Spotify Will Kill iTunes.” Harvard Business Review., 22 July 2011. Web. January 2015.

The hybrid model and copyright: could Wattpad do for publishers what YouTube did for music and movies?


Lawrence Lessig famously claimed that the US is becoming less a “free culture,” with the ability of new creators to build on and remix older works heavily regulated. He argues that copyright laws have changed to protect the media companies rather than the creators.1  This essay begins by examining how YouTube has provided an incentive for big media companies to overlook copyright infringement by monetizing unauthorized use. It uses YouTube’s business model as a framework to discuss publishing models and digital copyright infringement, with particular emphasis on Wattpad, which bills itself as “the YouTube of publishing.”


The turn of the millennium was an interesting time to be a pirate. In 1998, the Sonny Bono Act extended the American copyright term by twenty years, meaning that works slated to enter the public domain that year—most notably, the earliest Mickey Mouse movie—would stay protected until 2019.2 Meanwhile, the World Wide Web was exploding in popularity, and with it, file-sharing software such as Napster, and, later, Kazaa, Limewire, and torrents. Despite heavy DRM (digital rights management) and lawsuits from major record companies, so-called “pirates” showed no signs of slowing down. Heavier locks led to more sophisticated workarounds; new file-sharing platforms sprung up as fast as lawsuits crippled others. Media companies pushed for more restrictive copyright protection in courts, while online, people all over the world performed what Anil Dash calls “a massive act of civil disobedience”— posting videos online with the words “no infringement intended.” These words indicate that they purposely violated copyright because the law didn’t match their expectations of how they could share and reuse content.3

The deadlock between media companies and pirates came from a clash between two coexisting economies. In the first, “commercial” or “commodity” culture, items have a value and are bought for cash. In the second, “sharing” or “gift” culture, items are exchanged reciprocally and offering cash is inappropriate4 5—just imagine handing a fifty-dollar bill to great-aunt May in exchange for the hand-knit sweater she gives you for your birthday. Online, the two economies clash: “Within commodity culture, sharing content may be viewed as economically damaging; in the informal gift economy, by contrast, the failure to share material is socially damaging.”6 Audiences wanted to share with their online communities or even between devices, and heavy DRM made piracy the easiest way to do so. They wanted to create new videos or music based on their favourite clips, and to share with others, without having to pay exorbitant fees.

YouTube and the hybrid economy

Fast forward to the present day. Copyright law hasn’t changed, but now anyone can watch He-Man singing a falsetto version of a Four Non-Blondes single7 or see Buffy stake Edward.8 Creators of remixes rarely find themselves faced with enormous lawsuits. What has changed?

YouTube, owned by Google, is a video-sharing platform that has been a hotbed for copyright infringement. In 2007, Viacom launched a $1 billion lawsuit against Google for allowing copyrighted videos to be uploaded.9 They reached a settlement in 2014, and that same year, Google released a white paper outlining its approach for stopping piracy. Google began by working to make YouTube a “better, more convenient alternative” to illegal sharing. Meanwhile, they “follow the money,” taking a two-pronged approach to ensure money flows to the right places.10

First, Google cuts off pirate sites from its ad program, removing an economic incentive for them to operate. Second, and most importantly, it compensates rights holders for infringing uses of their work. More than five thousand rights holders use YouTube’s Content ID program, which fingerprints the videos and music they upload and notifies them when a new upload matches their content. Rightsholders can choose between three options: to earn a percentage of ad revenue from the video; to track its viewing statistics; or to remove the video from YouTube. The vast majority choose to make money. Some earn a six-figure income from YouTube views, and the program has made over a billion dollars for the media industry since it was launched. Google’s policy has achieved what years of lobbying against copyright never could: “When copyright owners choose to monetize or track user-submitted videos, it allows users to continue to freely remix and upload a wide variety of new creations using existing works.”11 It has set a new de facto standard for copyright where remixes are not only accepted, they are encouraged—after all, they generate profit for the rights holders without them having to do any work.

YouTube marries the commodity economy to the gift economy, creating what Lawrence Lessig describes as a “hybrid economy.”12 Hybrid economies benefit from the work of the communities they foster, walking a delicate line to monetize that effort without offending their users. Lessig claims that nearly every interesting online company follows a hybrid business model, and it’s not hard to see why: they make use of a diverse range of human talent and interests to create a democratic platform where anyone can find what they are looking for. In this model, “consumption is no longer necessarily seen as an end point in an economic chain of production but as a dynamic site of innovation and growth in itself.”13 Consuming a movie doesn’t end at buying the DVD—it continues online with reviews, remixes, and fan videos.

Can this model work for publishers?

Publishers have an unusual relationship to piracy. Unlike other major media companies, few publishers have taken action against digital copyright infringement, and the handful of cases that made it to court were largely unsuccessful. J.D. Lipton notes that it’s surprising publishers have not been more active in copyright litigation, since “the threats to digital publishing from unbridled copying and distribution are arguably greater than the threats to other digitized industries.”14 Readers do not tend to reread books, so they are unlikely purchase a book if they enjoyed the first read. And unlike music and movie companies, publishers rarely profit from events, shows or merchandise sales.

There are several reasons why publishers are less concerned about piracy than their movie and music counterparts. The first is the barrier to entry: a digital book requires a tablet or e-reader to enjoy comfortably. Another is lack of demand: Tim O’Reilly famously said, “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”15 O’Reilly saw piracy as a hidden tax on the few books that were successful enough to be shared online.

But a happier reason why publishers are not worried about piracy may be that publishers are already ahead of the curve when it comes to copyright. Offline, book publishing already exists in a hybrid economy. Content is available for free from public libraries. Fair use citation is not only not litigated against, it is encouraged. In fact, essays such as this one can be seen as the original remix, drawing disparate sources together to create something new and (hopefully) contribute to a larger conversation.

The problem? As content moves online, these models will break down. Publishers will need to find a model that, as Techdirt writer Mike Masnick puts it, connects with fans and gives them a reason to buy.16 Otherwise, publishers risk losing sales to piracy or, worse, dooming themselves to irrelevance as readers turn to media they can consume the way they want to.

Wattpad’s transition from sharing to hybrid model

One possible model might be Wattpad, which bills itself as “the YouTube for books.”17 Wattpad is a self-publishing platform that allows users to read stories, comment on them and post their own for free. Wattpad fits in nicely with Lessig’s characteristics of a sharing or gift economy.18 It capitalizes on the “Long Tail”—since it can store a vast amount of stories, it can cater to niche interests without additional cost. It plays “Little Brother,” gathering minute data on its audience so it can rebuild the site according to their needs. And it can be “Lego-ized,” meaning that it can fit together with other content, both on- and off-site, to build something new. Users can add any content they want, influencing the range of content from vampire romance to nonfiction. They can comment on each others’ works, influencing books in progress with their suggestions. Like a sharing economy, Wattpad is still struggling to make money in a way that doesn’t alienate its users. It currently experiments with banner ads and native advertising.

Wattpad could adopt a YouTube-style model towards copyrighted works, compensating authors when their works are used in fan fiction. Fan fiction is a murky copyright area. It is technically illegal, except in specific circumstances such as parody. Despite this, most authors embrace fan fiction as a way to connect with their audience and build a community around their work. Now, however, “the rise of self-publishing has coincided with a blurring of the lines between noncommercial fan fiction and commercial self-published work,” Lipton argues.19 Rather than force fans to take down their works, Wattpad could share a portion of ad revenue with the rights holders. Wattpad also allows its users to select from different licenses, ranging from All Rights Reserved to Creative Commons licenses,20  so self-published authors can choose how their own work will be used.

As Wattpad gains momentum as a platform, it will also attract pirates. New York Times bestselling author Jasinda Wilder’s book was posted on Wattpad without her permission. The person who posted it gave the work a different title and author name. Wilder’s book was read 41,000 times before a user identified it as a pirated version and notified the author. Wattpad removed the book and blocked the user, but did not notify readers that a different author had crafted the book they’d enjoyed. Wilder estimates that she lost $168,000 in royalties from the incident,21 although it’s doubtful whether the readers would have paid for her book in-store. If Wattpad had handled the situation differently, she might have gained a new audience, as well as data (through comments and profiles) about who was reading her book and how.


A Publisher’s Weekly  article on the Jasina Wilder incident theorized that “plagiarizers on sites like Wattpad often commit their crimes to develop a following, so that they can rely on an established audience to purchase their own paid work.”22 Interestingly, the language used identifies the crime as “plagiarism,” rather than “piracy,” showing the different attitude towards sharing text as opposed to other media. But as Wattpad continues to grow, its users will probably share content on it for different reason. Like the teenagers posting “no infringement intended” videos to YouTube, readers will copy their favourite books to Wattpad because they want to share them with their community of followers and take advantage of Wattpad’s in-line commenting system. Publishers will then have to make the difficult decision—take down these books and risk alienating a fan community, or leave them online? If Wattpad examines YouTube’s model for combating piracy, it may be able to truly cement its place in online reading while keeping publishers and readers happy, transitioning from a sharing economy to a true hybrid model.


1. Lessig, Lawrence. Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock down Culture and Control Creativity. New York: Penguin Press, 2004.

2. Copyright Term Extension Act, 1998.

3. Dash, Anil. “The Web We Lost.” Accessed January 9, 2015.

4. Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Culture Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin Books, 2008, 117.

5. Jenkins, Henry, Sam Ford and Joshua Green. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2013, 60.

6. Jenkins, 64.

7. “He Man Sings 4 Non Blondes (Original).” YouTube. Accessed January 30, 2015.

8. “Buffy vs Edward: Twilight Remixed — [original Version].” YouTube. Accessed January 31, 2015.

9. “Viacom International, Inc. et Al v. Youtube, Inc. et Al, 1:07-Cv-02103, No. 1 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 13, 2007).” Docket Alarm, March 13, 2007.–07-cv-02103/Viacom_International_Inc._et_al_v._Youtube_Inc._et_al/1/.

10. How Google Fights Piracy. Google, October 17, 2014.

11. How Google Fights Piracy, Google.

12. Lessig, Remix, 177.

13. Burgess, Jean, and Joshua Green. YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. John Wiley & Sons, 2013, 13.

14. Lipton, Jacqueline D. “Copyright, Plagiarism, and Emerging Norms in Digital Publishing.” Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law 16, no.5, Spring (2014): 585.

15. O’Reilly, Tim. “Piracy Is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution.” OpenP2P. Com, 2002.

16. Masnick, Mike. “My MidemNet Presentation: Trent Reznor And The Formula For Future Music Business Models.” Techdirt 6 (2009).

17. Landau, Emily. “The Wattpad Cult: Why Toronto’s Buzziest Tech Start-up Is a Self-Publishing App Beloved by Teen Girls.” Toronto Life, 2014.

18. Lessig, Remix, 128-141.

19. Lipton, “Copyright, Plagiarism, and Emerging Norms in Digital Publishing.”

20. “Copyrights – Help Center.” Wattpad. Accessed January 28, 2015.

21. Rosen, Judith. “Wattpad Pirates Get Craftier.” Publisher’s Weekly, November 13, 2014.

22. Rosen, “Wattpad Pirates Get Craftier.”

The Detrimental Inefficiencies of Publishing DRM

The production and distribution of digital content in today’s digital age is often seen as creating an inescapable tension between publishers and the public. As consumers become accustomed to gaining free access and sharing capabilities with online content, publishers become increasingly dependant on Digital Rights Management software to protect themselves and their bottom lines. DRM is meant to prevent copying and sharing of eBook content, and as such, is touted as being vital to publishing’s online survival. In this essay, however, I will argue that this is simply not the case. Rather, I will show that not only is DRM on eBooks ineffective, it is also potentially unnecessary and damaging to nearly every player in the publishing world.

DRM is at its core “the digital watermark used for copyright protection of digital media” (Howell, Nov. 21, 2013), and yet it often fails at its very premise. Since the collapse of Napster, publishers have feared piracy as a major threat to their virtual revenue streams, demanding DRM locks for their eBook files. While this hysteria has been very effective in pushing publishers to different DRM software, the programs themselves are rarely as competent. Although the average reader may be unsure how to maneuver around DRM locks, it is “not much of a problem for the sophisticated pirate” (Albanese, May 29, 2014). With society growing ever more dependent and technologically savvy, the number of those unable to find torrents or copies of digital files is quickly diminishing. No matter what the software, people will always “figure out how to fix it so that it opens eBooks no matter what the circumstances” (Doctorow, May 3, 2012), and many will share that information. Rather than being an efficient means of protection then, it can be argued that DRM on eBooks will only become less effective over time.

Paired with this misconception of effectiveness is the idea of DRM as a necessity to the book publishing industry. In many instances there seems to be a fear surrounding the releasing of DRM-free eBooks, even in the face of its relative impotence. Upon closer examination, however, there appears to be a telling lack of evidence surrounding this claim as well. Piracy and file sharing are loudly condemned in the publishing industry as being a major enemy and threat, and yet there is actually very little hard evidence to support this condemnation. Piracy is said to actively and negatively impact online content revenue streams, but these accusations “are just not provable” (, 2015). In 2010, the US Accountability Office conducted a one year research study that ultimately came to this conclusion, stating “that there is just not enough information to show that piracy is having a negative impact on the sale of digital goods” (, 2015). A prime example of this can be seen in the recent actions of Tor Books UK. An imprint of MacMillan, Tor “went DRM-free for all of its titles in April 2012”(, 2015), and reported no discernable increases in pirated files after the fact. Tor Books founder Tom Doherty even went so far as to say that the lack of DRM had “not increased the number of Tor eBooks online illegally, nor [had] it visibly hurt [their] sales” (Albanese, May 29, 2014).

Other companies have undergone similar experiences as well. Springer eBooks, which boasts tens of thousands of scientific research files, has also been quoted downplaying the harm of piracy. Though Springer still issues anti-piracy strategies for their authors’ sakes, the company admits that it “doesn’t see piracy as a direct threat to its [eBook] revenues” (, August 20, 2013). If eBook piracy and online content sharing is as large of a threat to publishing as is it appears, this lack of evidence makes no sense. It stands to reason then, that the danger is being exaggerated, and with that, the necessity of DRM itself.

Besides being unnecessary, I would argue that DRM has also, and rather ironically, had several negative consequences for the industry it is meant to protect. As a service industry, publishing depends on customer satisfaction. And yet, with feuding giants like Amazon, Apple, and Adobe each putting out eBook files with different, device specific DRM software, the customer is often the one to suffer. By providing incompatible DRM, eBook retailers are attempting to force their consumers to purchase solely from them or their affiliates. This “penaliz[ing] [of] the customer” (Hitz, January 14, 2014) is extremely risky and has a strong possibility of backfiring. If readers eBooks won’t travel between different devices with them, loyal customers will begin to be “alienated [and] frustrated, and will likely seek out unauthorized ways to get books in the future” (Doctorow, May 3, 2012). By locking out competitor devices or products, eBook publishers are making pirated versions seem increasingly convenient, and this could result in the pushing out of DRM protected content.

Perhaps even more concerning from an industry perspective, however, is the restrictions DRM places upon publishers themselves. Publishers often bemoan their position in the industry, when in reality their problems are caused by the “copyright law and the stupid DRM that [they themselves] [have] demanded” (Masnick, October 31, 2014). Amazon has mass control of the online book market, and to a large degree, DRM is the tool that gave it its teeth. All of the eBooks Amazon sells have a specific DRM for the Kindle, which means that “readers who buy books for their kindles likely won’t read on other eReading platforms and will be reluctant to purchase from Amazon’s rivals that use incompatible” (Howell, November 21, 2013) formats. This puts a large lock on the market for competing publishers, and highlights yet another negative consequence of DRM as a whole.

Given this information, it seems not only plausible, but also smart, for the publishing industry (sans Amazon), to follow Tor’s example and make DRM-free eBooks. On one hand, this will potentially allow smaller publishers to even out the playing field in regards to Amazon. Online content that could easily and legally transfer between devices would effectively end “the eBook format wars” (Doctorow, May 3, 2012) and prevent monopolization through restrictions. Giving this freer content to their audiences would also help publishers to improve upon the satisfaction of their partners. For authors, such free sharing could lead not to lost sales, but rather, to a wider audience and diminishing obscurity. At the same time, reader experiences would also improve, and subsequently, numbers of sales.

Though born out of a desire to protect an already fragile industry, it is evident that DRM is failing in its execution. Ineffective, unnecessary, and restrictive to all who come in contact with it, DRM on eBooks is ultimately detrimental to eBook publishing for anyone who is not Amazon. What is needed then, is not more locks and regulations, but rather, an embracing of the freedom offered, and a dispelling of the traditional publisher’s fear.


Works Cited

Albanese, Andrew. “Why Tor Dumped DRM.” Publishers Weekly. May 29, 2014. Web. January 28, 2015.

N.A. “Learning About Ebooks: Digital Rights Management.” ebookarchitects. n.d., Web. January 28, 2015.

Doctorow, Cory. “Why the death of DRM would be good news for readers, writers, and publishers.” The Guardian. May 3, 2012. Web. January 28, 2015.

Ernesto. “Piracy Doesn’t Harm eBook Sales, Publisher Says.” torrentfreak. August 20, 2013. Web. January 28, 2015.

Hitz, Shelley. “The Pros and Cons of DRM.” thefutureofink. January 14, 2014. Web. January 28, 2015. 

Howell, Kemari. “DRM and the Future of Publishing.” Pub Soft. November 21, 2013. Web. January 28, 2015.

Masnick, Mike. “How Publishers and Copyright Gave Amazon The Very Power Publishers Now Hate.” Tech Dirt. October 31, 2014. Web. January 28, 2015.


It’s a pirate’s life—in Canada

A broad overview of the legality of peer-to-peer file sharing and related copyright infringement from a Canadian perspective

What is peer-to-peer file sharing?

In the simplest terms possible, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing is a method of distributing and downloading files. More complexly, P2P file sharing relies on a group of internet users, known as peers, voluntarily connecting their computers to form a network that allows them to share and download files.

Peers use websites known as trackers to locate files that other members of the network are sharing, and download and assemble the files using software known as clients. Unlike in traditional file sharing models that rely on direct file transfers from one user to another, P2P file sharing allows users to connect with all peers in the network currently sharing the file they want and download different pieces of the file from multiple different peers simultaneously. Once a peer has downloaded a file, they then become what known as a seeder and are able to share that file with other peers within the network.

The most popular P2P file sharing protocol is known as BitTorrent, and is estimated to have anywhere from 150 to 300 million users [1].

Is it legal?

While the short and sweet answer to this is yes—peer-to-peer file sharing and the technology behind it is, in and of itself, legal in Canada—it’s the type of files being shared that determine the legality of P2P file sharing on a case by case basis.

For users (or peers)

Users sharing and downloading content that is no longer under copyright or to which they personally hold or have been granted (under copyright or creative commons licensing) the rights to do so have little or nothing to fear. Of course, of all content available through BitTorrent file sharing an estimated 99.97% of it is copyrighted material [2], and it is the sharing and downloading of these files that could land you in hot water.

Section 27 subsection (1) of the Canadian Copyright Act clearly states:

It is an infringement of copyright for any person to do, without the consent of the owner of the copyright, anything that by this Act only the owner of the copyright has the right to do [3].

Given that copyright (without any special creative commons licensing) gives the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution, sharing and/or downloading (which requires creating a copy of) content via P2P file sharing is a clear case of copyright infringement and therefore illegal.

For P2P site owners

It’s not only peers or members of P2P networks that could be breaking the law. There are many peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, and affiliated services, that could also find themselves in a legal bind based on the types of files being shared, and/or the copyright infringement made possible by the network.

Within Canada there are in fact specific laws governing the use of “digital networks” and their connection to possible acts of piracy. According to section 27 subsection (2.3) of the Canadian Copyright Act:

It is an infringement of copyright for a person, by means of the Internet or another digital network, to provide a service primarily for the purpose of enabling acts of copyright infringement if an actual infringement of copyright occurs by means of the Internet or another digital network as a result of the use of that service [4].

There are numerous conditions considered by the court when determining whether a person has in fact infringed copyright under subsection (2.3), but in broad terms, what this means is that popular peer-to-peer networks and their related services that facilitate the free sharing of content and material still under copyright (and the people who run them) could be breaking the law. This would, of course, include torrent trackers such as isohunt, Torrentz, and KickassTorrents.

The debate over P2P site owner responsibility

Although the Canadian government feels that site owners are infringing copyright by facilitating the copyright infringement of others, whether or not P2P site owners should be held responsible is still hotly debated among members of the tech and legal communities.

The most common argument presented in defence of P2P file sharing sites, regardless of the type of content they are hosting, rests on the idea that these sites (and the technology behind them) were not created with the intention of facilitating illegal activity; it is the choices made by individual users that leads to copyright infringement, and these choices are not under the control of site owners.

A common metaphor used to illustrate this argument compares the use of a P2P file-sharing network to the purchase of a vehicle. While the vehicle was not designed with the sole intention of breaking the law, once the driver is in possession of it, they are capable of exceeding the speed limit or driving while impaired or distracted, through their own personal choices—choices for which the vehicle manufacturer is not held responsible or liable despite the facilitation of those choices by the vehicle [5].

Countering this defence of P2P site owners, policymakers argue that it is not the mere fact that illegal file sharing happens that places the legal onus on site owners, but rather numerous factors including, but not limited to, the site owners’ knowledge of these activities and failure to take measures to prevent them.

This is clearly spelled out in the Canadian Copyright Act section 27 subsection (2.4) which lists the conditions used to determine whether copyright infringement has occurred under subsection (2.3). These include:

(a) whether the person expressly or implicitly marketed or promoted the service as one that could be used to enable acts of copyright infringement;
(b) whether the person had knowledge that the service was used to enable a significant number of acts of copyright infringement;
(c) whether the service has significant uses other than to enable acts of copyright infringement;
(d) the person’s ability, as part of providing the service, to limit acts of copyright infringement, and any action taken by the person to do so;
(e) any benefits the person received as a result of enabling the acts of copyright infringement; and
(f) the economic viability of the provision of the service if it were not used to enable acts of copyright infringement [6].

Of course, there are still those who dispute the validity of the above conditions, and it is unlikely that the government, legal, and tech communities will come to a consensus on the matter any time soon, but for now it is the Canadian government that has the final word on the matter.

Copyright law in action

While all this legalese might make Canada seem like it’s taking a hard stance on the illegal sharing of files, despite producing legislature identifying the potential use of P2P file sharing for copyright infringement, things above the 49th parallel have been pretty quiet—something that can’t be said for other countries around the world.

With many governments taking a similar stance to Canada, numerous P2P site owners and users have found themselves in trouble with the law.

The most famous instance of a copyright infringement lawsuit against a P2P file sharing site is, of course, the 2009 shutdown of the Sweden-based tracker The Pirate Bay—a case that made international headlines with the arrest of all four site founders who were later found guilty of promoting the copyright infringement of others, fined $3.5 million USD and sentenced to one year, each, in prison [7].

In 2006, a similar situation unfolded; this time on American soil, when the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) launched a lawsuit against multiple BitTorrent trackers sites including isoHunt (interestingly enough, a Canadian server hosted and owned tracker) on the basis that the site had facilitated copyright infringement. Charges were laid against isoHunt founder and Vancouver resident Gary Fung, and in 2013 Fung voluntarily shut down the tracker, agreeing to pay a whopping fine of $110 million USD [8] .

Also coming out of the U.S. is news of what’s being called “copyright trolling” with an estimated 18,000 Americans being sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) [9] and horror stories about a woman fined $1.9 million USD for downloading 24 songs [10] .

This may all sound pretty scary, but here in Canada, not a single case has been heard against P2P site owners; the closest thing being an alleged seizure of servers from a BitTorrent site by the RCMP in May 2014. The site; however, was a Swedish tracker known as Sparvar, and RCMP were working on behalf of Swedish authorities [11]. On the user side of things, finding a case against an individual Canadian P2P user is like finding a needle in a haystack, or harder.

So what is Canada doing about illegal downloading?

While other countries around the world have been making moves made to cut piracy off at the knees by taking legal action against sites that facilitate illegal downloading or launching court cases en masse (seemingly as much a scare tactic as a tenable strategy to recoup lost profits), Canada has focused its energy on developing measures to deter users from downloading copyrighted content. Oh, and it’s being done using polite “we see what you’re doing and would like you to stop” notices and court-approved letters from copyright holders.

In 2012, Bill C-11, also known as the Copyright Modernization Act, was passed, broadening the scope of what’s covered under fair dealing with specific focus on educational uses of content under copyright [12]. Also included in the new law is what’s known as the “Notice and Notice” provisions that came into effect on January 2, 2015 [13]. Under these provisions, internet service providers (ISPs) are required to pass along notices of suspected copyright infringement to users from copyright holders—they’re also required to hold on the IP addresses of any users they contact for up to a year in case a copyright holder decides to pursue further legal action [14].

That’s right, Canadian ISPs are sending courtesy emails, and it does, in fact, seem to be working. Rogers reported that after receiving just one notice, 67% of the recipients stop infringing—after two notices that number jumps to 89% of recipients abandoning their illegal file sharing ways [15].

Of course, if a copyright holder is dedicated enough, they can still take an individual to court, but in order to do so they’ll need to formally request the user’s information from the ISP, a process that requires federal court approval. If granted, all communication between the copyright holder and alleged pirate must be court-approved and cannot include any intimidation or scare tactics, with communication clearly indicating that a court has not yet decided the individual’s liability [16].

If a copyright holder makes it through all those hoops and takes an individual to court the returns are still fairly limited. For non-commercial copyright infringement, penalties are limited to $5000 [17], a move some legal experts are noting as the Canadian government’s way of safeguarding individuals from being exploited by media companies , and a fine that barely makes the process of going to court worthwhile.

Avast ye, mateys!

With all that said, it would seem that being a pirate (of the online variety) is pretty good if you live in Canada. While peer-to-peer file sharing site owners might have a bit more to worry about, it would seem that the government isn’t coming down as hard on individual copyright infringers—at least not as hard as one would expect given the lengthy legislation put in place. While multi-million dollar copyright infringement lawsuits are taking place around the world, all’s quiet in the great white north. Will it stay that way? It’s hard to tell, but for now, (yo ho, yo ho) it’s a pirate’s life—in Canada.

Works Cited

[1] “‘P2P Not Dead’: 300 Mn BitTorrent Users Swap TV Shows and Movies Every Month.” RT News. May 31, 2014. Accessed January 26, 2015.

[2] Flaherty, Anne. “99.97pc of BitTorrent Files Illegal – Study.” 3 News. September 30, 2013. Accessed January 26, 2015.–study-2013092012#axzz3QAbyrAs6.

[3] “Copyright Act (R.S.C., 1985, C. C-42).” Justice Laws Website. December 9, 2014. Accessed January 27, 2015.

[4] Ibid

[5] Palm, Erik. “Pirate Bay Attorney Outlines Arguments for Appeal – CNET.” CNET. May 9, 2009. Accessed January 27, 2015.

[6] “Copyright Act (R.S.C., 1985, C. C-42).” Justice Laws Website. December 9, 2014. Accessed January 27, 2015.

[7] Enigmax. “The Pirate Bay Trial: The Official Verdict – Guilty | TorrentFreak.” TorrentFreak RSS. April 17, 2009. Accessed January 28, 2015.

[8] The Canadian Press. “IsoHunt Shut Down, Canadian Torrent Firm Fined $110M US – Technology & Science – CBC News.” CBCnews. October 18, 2013. Accessed January 30, 2015.

[9] Holpuch, Amanda. “Minnesota Woman to Pay $220,000 Fine for 24 Illegally Downloaded Songs.” The Guardian. September 11, 2012. Accessed January 27, 2015.

[10] Friend, Elianne. “Woman Fined to Tune of $1.9 Million for Illegal Downloads.” CNN. June 18, 2009. Accessed January 27, 2015.

[11] Makuch, Ben. “In a Rare Move, Canadian Mounties Seized Data from a Torrent Site.” Motherboard. May 15, 2014. Accessed January 27, 2015.

[12] “Bill C-11: The Copyright Modernization Act.” Copyright at UBC. Accessed January 28, 2015.

[13] “Notice and Notice Regime.” Government of Canada. June 16, 2014. Accessed January 28, 2015.

[14] Ibid

[15] Geist, Michael. “Rogers Provides New Evidence on Effectiveness of Notice-and-Notice System – Michael Geist.” Michael Geist. March 23, 2011. Accessed January 28, 2015.

[16] El Akkad, Omar, and Jeff Gray. “Court Orders Canadian ISP to Reveal Customers Who Downloaded Movies.” The Globe and Mail. February 21, 2014. Accessed January 29, 2015.

[17] Armstrong, James. “New Regulations about Illegal Downloading Go into Effect.” Global News. January 2, 2015. Accessed January 30, 2015.

Copyright, Book Piracy and Casual Sharing: or, Why Publishers Should Dump DRM for Good

“If someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you and doesn’t give you the key, then they are not looking out for your interests.” – Cory Doctorow


In recent years, the use of DRM (Digital Rights Management) on digital copyrighted material has been the subject of debate in the book publishing world. The enforcement of restrictive DRM technologies on creative work in digital form has been skillfully presented by many publishers and e-book distributors as serving a noble purpose: to protect intellectual property, as well as property owners, by preventing unauthorized access, reproduction and distribution. From this perspective, such technological safety measures, or “digital locks,” are seen as an effective weapon against piracy, by actively discouraging illegal downloads and file sharing. The deterministic association of copy protection with book piracy, however, involves an essential fallacy: the notion that embracing DRM equals taking a stand in support of intellectual property and against piracy, whereas opposing DRM equals disregarding authorship and, hence, encouraging piracy. My main argument in this paper rests on the opposite premise: publishers and e-book distributors should abandon DRM altogether precisely because intellectual property matters and needs to be protected in a way that these systems fail to do. In fact, as many industry experts have long observed, the use of coercive copyright enforcement tools has proven largely ineffective, if not harmful, in many respects. First and foremost, rather than reducing piracy, DRM has hurt legitimate consumers by restricting their freedom to access and use purchased digital goods however, whenever and wherever they wish. Second, rather than protecting e-book sales and fostering a healthier bibliodiversity in the marketplace, the use of DRM has strengthened publishers’ dependence upon large online platforms and DRM vendors, placing publishers in a disadvantaged position. Third, rather than preserving intellectual creations, the use of DRM has increased the risk of obscurity for first-time and independent authors [1], who are more likely to get lost in the never-ending maze of online information.

DRM: Debunking Resilient Myths

Among the most popular misconceptions about DRM, one is particularly easy to expose: the belief that DRM prevents piracy. In his pioneering study on the future of book publishing La quarta rivoluzione (2010), Digital Humanities Professor Gino Roncaglia provides a detailed outline of some of the most popular websites hosting download links for pirated e-books: Gigapedia, Bookfiesta4u, FreeBookSpot, Ebooksbay, and others [2]. He does this with the twofold purpose of investigating the possibility of using less intrusive DRM systems and of proving that, despite the digital locks and anti-circumvention laws supporting them, book piracy is alive and well. This is, indeed, no surprise. For one thing, you don’t need to be a hacker to crack a DRMed ebook. There is a wealth of online resources and tools that allow you to strip DRM from your ebooks without much effort. For instance, just to mention a few examples, Gizmodo has published a video tutorial on how to remove DRM from your Kindle ebooks, and Apprentice Alf’s blog offers you a complete guide on ebook DRM removal. Even the well-respected magazine Wired devoted an entire article to the topic. In addition, OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology enables anyone to extract text from scanned images of printed pages, thus making it virtually impossible to prevent pirated copies from being made (and circulated). Here is the lesson the die-hard DRM defenders must learn: locking your readers in to a single platform/device and supplier will only result in frustrating them and, in the worst case scenario, spurring them to seek other, unorthodox ways to get their books. This must be avoided at all costs, for the sake of both the reader and the publisher.

But there is another reason why publishers should abandon the use of DRM once and for all. This is to be found in the 1996 United Nations WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) Copyright Treaty, which specified that only DRM vendors are legally authorized to remove DRM. The issue is powerfully and eloquently addressed by writer and “copyright activist” Cory Doctorow in the keynote speech of last year’s Writing in a Digital Age conference.

[The WIPO Copyright Treaty] was passed into laws, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the US and the European Community Copyright Directive [ECCD] in Europe, which say that removing DRM is always a crime –unless you’re the company that put it there. Effectively, it’s a law that says if you buy books from Amazon, you have to buy the bookcase, chair, lamp and lightbulb from there too. And only Amazon can release customers from this arrangement. Even though they’re your books, whose copyrights you hold, whose production you paid for [3].

According to Doctorow, these global laws gave big online and software companies, such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Adobe, “the power to usurp the relationship between publishers and their customers” [4]. Even if you disagree with Doctorow’s radical stance, the increasing dependence of publishers upon the giant online platforms is hardly debatable. This is yet another (big) reason for publishers to free themselves from the enslavement of DRM.

The fact that DRM technologies, far from being an effective anti-piracy remedy, are an off-putting inconvenience for legitimate book buyers should be a cause of concern for authors as well. Especially for first-time and independent writers who cannot rely on a large fan base and online platform, the free sharing of their work in digital form might be a valuable opportunity to “be seen” and build their readership. With DRM protection, they could miss out on this chance and their work would be more likely to languish in digital obscurity [5]. With all that said, I am not suggesting that minor authors should encourage readers to pirate their books so as to gain visibility (although bestselling writer Paolo Coelho, not long ago, famously did so, by joining a promotional program with the file-sharing website The Pirate Bay, welcoming his readers to download his work for free [6]). Rather, I am arguing in favour of the open web and the free access, use and exchange of information.

One might rightly observe that the line between online piracy and file sharing is extremely thin, if not non-existent. Here, Mike Shatzkin’s definition of “casual sharing” proves useful. In his noted blog, The Shatzkin Files, the insightful industry observer, talking about the impact of DRM on book sales, clarifies the distinction between piracy and casual sharing, defining the former as the sharing of copyrighted material “among strangers,” and the latter as the same activity but occurring “between people who know each other” [7]. When addressing the issue of whether piracy and causal sharing damage book sales, he takes an original stand:

I have no idea whether piracy helps sales or hurts them but, whatever it does, I can’t see how DRM prevents it. But I do think DRM prevents “casual sharing” (it sure stops me; and I think most people are more like me than they are like my friends who break DRM for sport) […] and I believe – based on faith, not on data – that enabling casual sharing would do real damage to ebook sales with the greatest damage to the biggest books [8].

While taking Shatzkin’s point about the difficulty of measuring the real effects of piracy on the industry, I disagree with the idea that casual sharing might be harmful to book sales. On the contrary, I believe that casual sharing, as the “new automation assisted word of mouth,” [9] might actually promote sales by amplifying the power of personal recommendations through online channels. This, in my view, would benefit both emerging and established authors.


It is my firm belief that the free generation and circulation of knowledge and ideas is one of humanity’s greatest achievements, as well as an irreplaceable means of economic advancement. In the same way that producers of creative work should be adequately compensated, individuals should be granted the right to freely and easily access, use and share information. Imposing technological restrictions such as DRM compromises this right, which is a crucial condition for everyone’s personal, social and intellectual growth. Ensuring both that makers of creative works are remunerated and that individuals are free to access and share knowledge should be among the top priorities of any laws regulating intellectual property. Acknowledging these tenets is essential if we are to live in a free, democratic society.


[1] O’Really 2002.

[2] Roncaglia 2010 [Kindle Edition].

[3] Quoted in Tagholm 2014.

[4] Ibid.

[5] To know more on the topic, read O’Really’s enlightening piece “Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution.”

[6] Flood 2012.

[7] Shatzkin 2011.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

Works Cited

Dachis, Adam. 2011. “How to remove DRM you’re your Kindle ebooks.” Gizmodo, January 15.

Doctorow, Cory. 2012. “Why the Death of DRM Would be Good News for Readers, Writers and Publishers.” The Guardian, May 3.

Flood, Alison. 2012. “Paulo Coelho Calls on Readers to Pirate books.” The Guardian, 1 February.

New DRM-Free Ebook Store for Indie Authors, Publishers”. 2013. Digital Book World [press release], June 16.

O’Really, Tim. 2002. “Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution.” O’Reilly Media, 12 November.

Roncaglia, Gino. 2010. La quarta rivoluzione: Sei lezioni sul futuro del libro. Roma: Laterza.

Shatzkin, Mike. 2011. “DRM May not Prevent Piracy, but it Might Still Protect Sales.” The Shatzkin Files, Jan 13.

Sorrel, Charlie. “How To Strip DRM from Kindle E-Books and Others.” 2011. Wired, January 17.

Tagholm, Roger. 2014. “Doctorow on the Dangers Posed by Ebook DRM Dictators.” Publishing Perspectives. June 20.

More Horsepower To Wattpad

In this paper, I will try to examine how Wattpad, an online reading platform, has built a global community of over 30 million readers. This paper tries to understand the website’s position and utility vis-à-vis traditional publishers and makes the case that Wattpad’s most vital asset is not its content but rather its role as a social network and conduit to a global community of readers.

Consider the curious case of Anna Todd. In March, 2014, twenty five year old Todd uploaded one of the last few chapters of After, her Wattpad novel which would soon turn her into the cynosure of the publishing world. Within 13 seconds of the upload, comments started pouring in. In the next 24 hours, Anna received close to 10,000 notifications. According to Wattpad’s metrics, After has been read over 299 million times [1] by just under 10 million unique readers [2]. Some weeks later, she signed a six figure contract with Simon & Schuster who published it in paperback [3]. Later, Paramount Pictures acquired screen rights [4] for the book.

There are two things, among others, to take away from this brief anecdote. The first being Wattpad’s astonishing ability to forge such a massive readership and the second—the serialization of the story as opposed to uploading it in its entirety.

By no means is serialization a new fashion; rather it is atavistic: it was how The Three Musketeers was published in the mid-19th Century and later, how Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner— the Lost Generation—came into prominence [5]. Allen Lau, who co-founded Wattpad in 2009, credits it with making stories more conducive to being read. “Two thousand words is roughly 10 minutes of reading. That makes the story more digestible, something you can do when standing in line,” he told [6] the New York Times. But in the Wattpad universe, serialization holds an added advantage. Unlike the traditional model of publishing, Wattpad is able to facilitate a direct dialogue between the writer and his/her readers. Unlike Youtube, the comments section doesn’t serve just a perfunctory function; rather it puts the writer and reader on common ground where the two are wont to discussing plot, characterization and other intricacies of the craft. Often times, these suggestions find their way into the next chapter and establish a loyal following for the writer. More importantly, Wattpad catalyzes the reader-writer relationship with push notifications every time a new chapter is added to an existing work.

Perhaps, it is this form of social reading that distinguishes Wattpad from its peers in traditional publishing. This and the fact that the content is entirely free has brought into focus not a few Wattpad sensations like Todd but also certain types and genres of writing that are generally considered to pander to more populist tastes. Although it has been championed by the likes of Margaret Atwood [7], Wattpad is generally regarded with skepticism by denizens of established media. That Wattpad literature abounds in but fails to extend beyond fan fiction is the general refrain.

These concerns are not without substance. Indeed, fan fiction predominates Wattpad and is its fastest growing category [8]. Once can make the case that even Todd’s six figure advance owes itself to millions of dedicated Wattpadders who seem to derive great edification from her erotic reimagining of a One Direction band member. However, such criticism might seem wan when viewed from a more panoptic context.

It is instructive to situate Wattpad in the realm of traditional publishing wherein a manuscript either lulls in the slush pile or acquires the attention of an acquiring editor. In either case, the writer is powerless once the submission has been made. Contrariwise, Wattpad imbues the writer with the power to publish his words immediately and, unlike self-publishing, there are no costs involved.

Since the dawn of the digital age, the arena of trade publishing has become a battleground of sorts between its humanist gatekeepers and disruptive technologists. Many, including Amazon—the elephant in the room, have tried to wrest the means of publication from the old guard. Self-publishing, notably Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), has succeeded but only to the extent that it has weeded out publishers and editors as middlemen in the rarified market that it commands. Wattpad, however, has been instrumental not only in delivering writers from the caprice of the acquiring editor but also in vesting readers with the power to decide what’s best for them. If self-publishing undercuts the traditional publishing model, Wattpad, with its 35 million users [9], would be abler in toppling it. A Mashable story called this watershed development “People-powered Publishing” [10]. By shunting out the Merchants of Culture, Wattpad gives every writer a chance to be published; without the weight of marketing and promotions behind it, every new story is on equal footing while competing for readers’ attention and in this laissez-faire system, every reader, by way of voting for the work, decides if it is good or at any rate, deserves his time and attention.

Most shafts directed against Wattpad seem to ignore the collaborative, DIY ethic that lies at its nub. Indeed, one needn’t think too hard to detect similarities between Wattpad and the primitive crowd-sourced or Commons-based peer production [11] days of the internet. On Wattpad, it’s not just plot suggestions, character development that elicit readers’ inputs; most every book comes with a cover that is often designed for free by fans of the work. Fan-made book trailers that are, for the most part, bricolages of existing movie scenes from Youtube are also evidence of Wattpadders’ spirit of collaboration that is unencumbered by any financial motivations. Additionally, by allowing writers to embed songs and clips into their stories and effectively trying to shake up the form, Wattpad may have unwittingly set the wheels in motion for the cross-pollination of storytelling itself.

However, it still remains unclear how Wattpad sees itself vis-a-vis trade publishers. Anna Todd’s story was co-opted by Simon & Schuster but this unlikely alliance between Wattpad and publishers has more examples in the Philippines than in North America. Next to the United States, Wattpad’s largest user base resides in the Philippines. In 2013, it was receiving 20 million unique [12] visits from Philippines on a monthly basis. At least three of the top Wattpad reads have been been taken up by publishers and TV adaptations [13] are in the works. With its users scattered across 200 countries and its active cultivation of users from the developing world, Wattpad is more Facebook than Kobo and having received successive infusions of venture capital worth $17.3 million in 2012 and $46 million in 2014, it is more a cash-rich company than a start-up experiment [14].

Ultimately, it is the scale of its reach that distinguishes it from trade publishers. In a 2013 interview with Macleans, Allen Lau had asserted that it was possible for Wattpad to coexist with publishers [15]. Instead of replacing the old guard, Wattpad’s chief preoccupation is achieving maximum penetration as a social network—bringing a billion users under its fold [14]. Perhaps Wattpad’s greatest asset lies not in its content but the massive community of readers that it looks set to create. It certainly explains why publishers are harnessing it to reach a readership they wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Even self-published authors have seen their sales jump [16] after uploading their books on Wattled.

As a coda, let’s attempt to understand Wattpad by considering the prescient words [17] of Shane Smith, founder of Vice Media, the other and substantially bigger Canadian success story that has now turned into a colossal force in the content industry. “I know why I’m sexy to them, which is what I said to Rupert [Murdoch]. ‘I have Gen Y, I have social [media]…you have none of that. I have the future, you have the past.’”

[1] After by Anna Todd, Wattpad
2] Q&A with Anna Todd, Recode
[3] S&S Acquires After, Publisher’s Weekly
[4] Paramount Acquires Rights to Wattpad Book, Deadline
[5] Novels on the Installment Plan, Rachel Ihara, Google Books
[6] Web Fiction Serialized and Social, David Streitfeld, New York Times
[7] Margaret Atwood joins Toronto-based writing site Wattpad, Christine Dobby, Financial Post
[8] A Look Ahead to Self Publishing in 2015, Jennifer McCarthy, Publishers Weekly
[9] Wattpad now has 35 million users, Ian Hardy, Betakit
[10] People Powered Publishing is changing all the rules, Amy-Mae Elliott, Mashable
[11] The Internet? We Built That, Steven Johnson, New York Times
[12] How a site for posting stories is changing Philippine publishing, Philippine Daily Inquirer
[13] Wattpad stories come alive on TV5, Nathalie Tomada, PhilStar
[14] Wattpad raises $46 million to build a Global Literary Community, Seth Feigerman, Mashable
[15] Could Wattpad be the killer app for aspiring writers, Jason McBride, Macleans
[16] What’s up with Wattpad?, David Gaughran, WordPress
[17] Lunch with FT: Shane Smith, Matthew Garrahan, Financial Times

Magazines and Metrics

Everywhere you look in the magazine world people are talking about data and metrics. What kind of data are we talking about? Data on people’s age, their income, their marital status, whether or not they own a dog or a cat or a ferret or a rabbit, how much they time they spend outdoors, which is then broken down even further into which outdoor activities they enjoy most. The list goes on. The data used by different companies is known as metrics. Magazines use key metrics to determine what their audience wants to read and which advertisements to run. Every magazine wants to make money, and in the past publishers strove to create the best content possible in order to sell the most magazines. Of course they had their readers in mind, but they weren’t slaves to data endlessly counting how many “likes” their Facebook page received or how many times their tweet was favourited.

Although data has been collected for years, it was never on the scale that it is today, and it didn’t have the extreme impact on what was published in magazines. Today metrics are used too much and they negatively affect magazine publishing by determining the entire content of a magazine from editorial to advertisements to advertorial. Publishers no longer think in terms of the best content selling their magazines, but rather the content best tailored to their audience to sell the most magazines. The readers have inadvertently become the content creators.

The Print Measurement Bureau (PMB) started collecting data in 1973 and they still collect mass amounts of data today, but the process consists of “a two-stage interview process: a personal, in-the-home interview, followed by a leave-behind questionnaire” ( which is time-consuming and costly. The studies are “based on a national stratified sample of approximately 22,000 Canadians measuring over 100 publications, consumer exposure to other forms of media, and consumer usage of over 2,500 products, services and brands.” ( While this sounds impressive, it is nowhere near what publishers collect now.

Publishers now collect data from many sources, and it is easy to do so as “by one estimate, more than 98 percent of the world’s information is now stored digitally, and the volume of that data has quadrupled since 2007. Ordinary people at work and at home generate much of this data, by sending e-mails, browsing the Internet, using social media, working on crowd-sourced projects, and more.” ( Companies like Facebook and Google have way more access to data than publishers do through methods like people voluntarily giving their information to Facebook and Google analyzing their gmail users’ emails. Facebook and Google, along other companies of the same ilk, use this information to decide which ads to place where and to whom to direct them. Data has a much more insidious role in magazine publishing: it produces content based on metrics instead of creativity, results in crafted advertising, and produces advertorial, which is literally advertisers paying magazines to write about them.

Publishers have long been thought of and expected to be cultural gatekeepers. Literature is meant to inform people and to help them think more critically. If magazines no longer publish with this in mind, they cannot help but publish tired material simply because they know it will interest their readers in some way. But if you keep publishing the same ideas over and over again, not a lot of new or creative material will emerge. This, of course, excludes news and entertainment magazines, as news magazines publish whatever is current and entertainment magazines publish simply to entertain, and not to encourage critical thought.

People tend to trust what is in print over other forms of media. They know it has been sourced and fact-checked. This means that they unknowingly also trust what advertisements are chosen for the magazines. But choosing advertisements based on readership could have a seriously negative effect. In 2012 the New York Times stated: “Data aggregation has social implications as well. When young people in poor neighborhoods are bombarded with advertisements for trade schools, will they be more likely than others their age to forgo college? And when women are shown articles about celebrities rather than stock market trends, will they be less likely to develop financial savvy? Advertisers are drawing new redlines, limiting people to the roles society expects them to play.”

Magazines are also drawing redlines. They are limiting people as to what they read. One could argue it is up to individuals to read literature that expands their minds and ignore advertisements, but it is all but impossible for this to happen. People have been conditioned over many years to implicitly trust print, especially newspapers and magazines.

With magazine publishers now obsessed with churning out editorial, advertisements, and the dreaded advertorial to conform to their metrics, quality content has been lost. It is now expected and accepted for magazines to have 50% editorial content and 50% advertisements and advertorial. Believe it or not 50% is actually quite a high percentage of editorial content – many magazines are up to 70% advertisements and advertorial.

One magazine that has perfected the art of catering completely to metrics is Vice Magazine. Yes they are enormously successful, but what do they actually publish? Vice has established an empire and “the magazine is [now] less than 5% of [their] total revenue”. ( Completely ironically, the previous quote was sourced from an online magazine – – and the article about Vice is promoting its business model. They espouse Vice’s mantra of creating as much content as possible. But what kind of content is this? In CEO Shane Smith’s own words, the content is shit. He says magazines should ““make piles of content. Make shitloads of content. Music, fashion, food, fucking booze, news, do whatever the fuck you can because all of it is going to be worth money.” The CEO is excited when he hits this part of the sermon: the revelation that Vice’s predilection for “making shit” has become his company’s main revenue source.” (

With the new business model being bowing down and worshipping metrics and relying on them to dictate what editorial content and advertisements to publish, magazines are no longer producing informative and thought-provoking content; it is just a load of crap.


“Print-measurement-bureau-canada.” Linked In, n.d. Web.

“PMB Print Measurement Bureau – PMB 2013 Fall Study Overview.” PMB Print Measurement Bureau – PMB 2013 Fall Study Overview. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.

Peck, Don. “They’re Watching You at Work.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 20 Nov. 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.

Andrews, Lori. “Facebook Is Using You.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 Feb. 2012. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.

Gierasimczuk, Tom. “Vice Age.” Marketing Magazine Vice Age Comments. Marketing Magazine, 08 Feb. 2012. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.

Robots take over Arts and Culture… #NOT

Technology with all of its positive contributions, has been feared just as long as it has been celebrated. Software, mechanics, and machinery have innovated many industries, but have cost many individuals their jobs as well. People began to fear that they could be replaced with robots who could work more accurately, consistently, and faster without rest or pay; saving companies a fortune. Employees in the arts and culture industries seemed to be out of the woods, their work requires a high level of cognitive function which has not crossed over to the technical realm. Robots were great for repeating one task over and over again, but at the time it seemed impossible for them to actively “create”.

Recently, technology has begun to march towards creative industries and it has found itself a valuable home in journalism. Working for an increasing number of news publications, computers have become journalists and are writing the news, accurately and quickly. Though the quality of writing produced by the computer algorithms is argued amongst news publications and journalists, the public does not seem to mind or even notice that they are being given information created by a robot.  News publications can learn to use the robots in conjunction with their journalists without hurting the quality of their publications, but only if the technology is embraced and understood, otherwise the risk to jobs will rise and news will lack its human touches. The robots have landed and are here to stay.

An article by the Los Angeles Times made waves in the technology and publishing world on March 17th 2014, when by using a writing algorithm they were able to be the first media outlet to publish a story about an earthquake that happened minutes before (Oremus, Slate). The journalist and programmer Ken Schwencke was awoken by the earthquake at 6:25 am, stating he “rolled out of bed and went straight to his computer, where he found a brief story about the quake already written and waiting in the system. He glanced over the text and hit ‘publish.’” (Oremus, Slate). An algorithm called “Quakebot” was the real author of the story, pulling live data from the U.S Geological Survey, and plugging in the data to a template of pre-written text (Oremus, Slate). The article itself read;

“A shallow magnitude 4.7 earthquake was reported Monday morning five miles from Westwood, California, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The temblor occurred at 6:25 a.m. Pacific time at a depth of 5.0 miles.

According to the USGS, the epicenter was six miles from Beverly Hills, California, seven miles from Universal City, California, seven miles from Santa Monica, California and 348 miles from Sacramento, California. In the past ten days, there have been no earthquakes magnitude 3.0 and greater centered nearby.

This information comes from the USGS Earthquake Notification Service and this post was created by an algorithm written by the author.” (as qtd. in Slate)

This is an example of “automated journalism”, and it isn’t the first. Steven Levy reports in Wired that in addition to Quakebot, programs are being used to write much more including “a pennant-waving second-half update of a Big Ten basketball contest, a sober preview of a corporate earnings statement, or a blithe summary of the presidential horse race drawn from Twitter posts” (Levy, Wired). All automated journalism shares a similar feature, they pull data and input that data in an appropriate way.

Articles written by these algorithms are best used to share or summarize facts and data, and aren’t programmed to contain any bias or opinion. Kristian Hammond is a leading scientist in the field of automated journalism and in 2010 co-founded Narrative Science which sells these writing-systems to news agencies (Levy, Wired). The systems use template text written by writers, then engineers program the computer telling it what information to pull and how to present it (Levy, Wired). In the case of a sports team the algorithm must consider things like:

“Who won the game? Was it a come-from-behind victory or a blowout? Did one player have a fantastic day at the plate? The algorithm considers context and information from other databases as well: Did a losing streak end?” (Levy, Wired).

Finally, using vocabulary provided by the writers, the system drafts a narrative. Errors are rare, but the system has built in measures to protect against this, “If the algorithm realises some data is missing it will stop and ask for it. Once it has what it needs, it goes back to work” (Eudes, the Guardian).

Computer generated articles are not able to replicate a journalist who is able to interview, make connections, and reflect, suggesting that articles are of a lower quality. Christer Clerwall comments that a major factor in the assessment of quality is in fact credibility (Clerwall 521). Clerwall also cites a 2000 study in which they found that readers are aware that content passes through a filter, but expect that articles “provide for a degree of information reliability, i.e. the information should be factually correct and (at least somewhat) objective” (Clerwall 522). Programs like Quakebot do exactly this, they provide objective factual information, and thus are arguable writers of quality work. However, they lack on many other descriptors of quality including being comprehensive, considerate of reader interests, lively, and creative (Clerwall 523).

However, readers of news publications are relatively unable to differentiate between an article written by a person, and one written by a computer. In a study conducted by Clerwall, readers were split into two groups; one group was given an article written by a journalist, and the other written by a computer. The study found there were almost no significant difference in how the texts were perceived by the readers (Clerwall 526). StatSheet founder Robbie Allen found similar results, telling the New York Times that “he believes fewer than 20 percent of his readers ever suspect they’re reading something produced by a computer program” (van Dalen 651).

The competition for space in print news publications is a valid concern, but in the  online space journalists do not have to compete with a computer (Carlson 6). Schwencke believes programs like Quakebot get information out quickly, and simply while working as a great starting point for journalists to later expand as information becomes available, noting that Quakebot’s article on the earthquake was updated by humans 71 times by noon that same day (Oremus, Slate). Kristian Hammond also remarks on what the writing robots are being used to write.

“Robonews tsunami… will not wash away the remaining human reporters who still collect paychecks. Instead the universe of newswriting will expand dramatically, as computers mine vast troves of data to produce ultracheap, totally readable accounts of events, trends, and developments that no journalist is currently covering.” (Levy, Wired).

Hammood suggests that by 2025, 90% of news would be written by computers, and technology rapidly advances with time, so regardless of how journalists feel, they will soon find themselves face to face with the robo-writer (Levy, Wired). Hammood reassures that “that doesn’t mean that robots will be replacing 90% of all journalists, simply that the volume of published material will massively increase” (Eudes, The Guardian). Matt Carlson also concludes that amidst the fear of the unknown and potential harms to the journalist, automated news can also positively impact journalists by freeing up time searching for the facts and mechanics, and can also help identify patterns, and timelines (Carlson 14). Journalists have a valuable tool in their midst, but need to redefine themselves and focus on what they contribute to news publishing, otherwise the robots will be happy
to take their place.



Carlson, Matt. “The Robotic Reporter.” Digital Journalism. Routledge, 11 Nov 2014.

Clerwall, Christer. “Enter the Robot Journalist.” Journalism Practice. Routledge, 25 Feb 2014.

Eudes, Yves. “The journalists who never sleep” The Guardian: Tech. The Guardian, 12 Sept 2014.

Levy, Steven. “Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story Than a Human Reporter?” Wired: Science. Wired Magazine, 24 April 2012.

Oremus, Will. “The First News Report on the L.A. Earthquake Was Written by A Robot” Future Tense. Slate, 17 March 2014.

van Dalen, Arjen. “The Algorithms Behind the Headlines.” Journalism Practice. Routledge, 30 March 2012.

Topic Brainstorming

Digital Marketing/Virality/Information Flow and Distribution

  • How technology has affected book marketing
  • Origination/Tracking back to the original source
  • Virality/The spread of information
  • SEO strategies and book publishing
  • Analytics/Metrics

Internet Business Models

  • Use of data by corporations
  • Data & publishing
  • Facebook, Google and Amazon… Big Brother?
  • Conspiracy!
  • I don’t trust the internet
  • If the internet is free, why do I pay so much for it each month?
  • How do you monetize online storytelling?
  • Why do Wikipedia and Firefox keep asking me for money. Isn’t it run by some guy with lots of room for servers?
  • Who owns the internet?


  • Technology getting smarter than us?
  • Can we live without the internet?
  • Can we think without the internet?
  • Collaborative workspaces
  • Is technology controlling us?
  • Can people survive without instant communication?
  • Medium as the message?
  • Is the end of the internet the start of the apocalypse?
  • Rabbit hole of reddit?


  • google, amazon, etc.
  • never being able to take anything down
  • the right to take things down
  • author anonymity
  • does lack of privacy/open communication negatively impact creativity/literature?
  • private browsing

Production Processes

  • EPub/ ebook formats (what do they mean)
  • EBooks and standards
  • Digital Workflows
  • Why is the Toronto Star making an tablet app?
  • Magazine apps vs. mobile browsing
  • is digital content worth the same as print?

Online reading habits

  • Online behaviour
  • Online reader’s attention span
  • Technology and its effects on reading
  • “My mom says reading off a screen will ruin my eye sight. Is this true?” (or: Reading on screen vs reading on paper)


  • Hacking – who, what, why
  • What can/should people be arrested for?
  • If our government falls prey to a dictatorship can the internet be shut down?
  • Legal issues