Responding to Critique: Being Pro-Authors & Libraries

Sat, 25 Apr 2020 23:02:36 GMT

A private message on Reddit:
> Lol you are a cheating leech piece of shit who has never created a piece of art in your life. All you can do is be a leech and suck the creativity from others. I hope you die. All you shits would never steal from a multinational like Google but you love to do it to authors who are struggling to survive. Luckily copyright will be strengthened in the coming years and untalented leeches like you who add no value to the world can die off :)

Disclaimer: A few spelling corrections, minor insertions, and markup was added to the following response. This response reflects my own opinion, not that of my employers (past or present).

Hi <redacted>,

I'd appreciate the chance to get to know you better. What type of creations resonate with you? Are you a writer? A musician, film-maker, and/or visual artist?

My name's Michael E. Karpeles (Mek). I enjoy playing music (guitar, clarinet, Jazz Piano, ukulele), creative writing, drawing (I'm not great), and writing software.

For the past 10 years or so, I've authored software which I release free of charge and open source to the public:
 In my free time, I sometimes write creative stories (which, you're right, may suck). These are also openly available to the public:
 I've written and recorded covers of handfuls of songs (I'm a Simon and Garfunkel fan), none of which I charge for:
 I've written hundreds of essays, which I make freely available to the public at
 I am not the greatest artist, but I enjoy drawing. Here's a version of Edgar Degas' "Absinthe" I drew:

Importantly, I don't have any such expectation that authors, artists, musicians, or other creatives should have to give away their work for free. Open access is a model which resonates with me (as a personal decision), in part because I don't rely on publishing creative content to make a living. And I appreciate and am sympathetic to the hardships that many creatives are facing right now. I listen and work directly with members of the community -- both indie bookstores and authors -- to learn how I may lend support. At the Internet Archive, where I work, ever since the COVID-19 emergency, we've hired a different musician or artist to perform before each all-hands meeting.

Do I believe in the importance of libraries (serving the disenfranchised & promoting public good)? I do.

I also believe that authors and creatives should be compensated for their works.

I think it's worth discussing there are several ways for authors to achieve compensation. Some are harder/easier to pursue than others: One way is to negotiate with Amazon (but Amazon has lots of lawyers and leverage through their distribution channel). Another way is for authors to push back against publishers for better rates (this does happen, though I don't blame authors for worrying about the real risks of being dropped by a publisher). A third way is to charge libraries more, for instance, (carrot and stick) offering to lease books instead of selling them, in exchange for helping libraries reach audiences digitally. One of the reasons some publishers get away with this is, the majority of libraries don't have software engineering teams to maintain online lending infrastructure, and so one way of looking at the arrangement is they're giving up their right to own the book in exchange for access to a 3rd party's lending platform. Some libraries (that do have engineering teams and lending infrastructure) continue buying physical books (as they've done for a hundred years) and lend them through Controlled Digital Lending

Out of these possible options authors have, my personal belief is that non-profit libraries (funded by the public) are the easy targets. And the well protected, well-funded for-profit publishers and distributors (Elsevier, amazon) are being let off the hook.

For example, the for-profit publishing company Elsevier generates around $4B in revenue a year. They produce good content. I'm not the hugest fan of how they do it. Authors are required to pay $150 - $6000 Article Publishing Charge (APC) to Elsevier to be included in the journal. The author generally gives up their copyright to Elsevier in the process. Worse, this research is often times funded by public tax dollars. I'm upset about this. I feel it exploits the American people funding our academic process. And in my eyes it doesn't fairly reward authors.

As a former PhD candidate (the "publish or perish" model is a big reason I left), I was personally offended that my research would only be available to those who could afford it. Having been in a situation where I was a researcher living on a ~$20k a year stipend, I am sensitive to the argument that many researchers do not feel the system is equitable to them.

Now, Elsevier and the academic publishing world are not alone. I'm not a world expert on traditional publishing (I did help run engineering for one;; several websites report that traditional publisher pays authors ~$1.25 per sale for $20 books (i.e. ~6%) Again, when I see these splits, I find myself wishing it felt like authors were being compensated more equitably by publishers.

My stance is: 
 I am for authors and creatives making a living and supporting their work.
 Without compromising the mission of libraries.

I believe that accredited Libraries (like the Internet Archive, which buys its books or receives donations like any library) play an important role in ensuring our public has resources to learn from and to be creative with. Why especially now?

Right now:
 Tens of millions of books (which tax payers have rightfully purchased from authors & publishers) are currently unavailable to these funders.
 Millions of students are stuck at home, out of school, and many parents who otherwise rely on their libraries are left without access to the right resources.
 Many Libraries (which already had large waitlists for their online books) have temporarily shut down and are completely overwhelmed with waitlists, leaving students, parents, educators, and researchers without fundamental learning material.

P.S. Interesting that you brought up Google as an example: Google (a for-profit) digitized ~15 million books and put previews online, was sued (+ an appeal) by the Authors Guild, and my understanding (I am not a lawyer) is the courts ruled in Google's favor that their use as "fair use" (here's a summary):

Thanks for your comments. I understand and appreciate this is a personal hot topic and also appreciate that peoples' jobs are on the line. I hope you're staying healthy, safe, and in good spirits during this really difficult time.

- Michael E. Karpeles (Mek)

Tags: publisher, Michael E. Karpeles (Mek), publish or perish, Amazon, Edgar Degas, Authors Guild, ukulele, Google, guitar, authors, Internet Archive, creative writing, libraries, drawing, public good, Elsevier, fair use, Jazz Piano, COVID-19, carrot and stick, Controlled Digital Lending,, copyright, Simon and Garfunkel, Article Publishing Charge (APC),, Open access, writing software, clarinet