Canadians Play a Lead Role in “Books 2.0”

My weekly technology law column (Vancouver Sun version, Ottawa Citizen version, Toronto Star version, homepage version) focuses on the emergence of new models of book publishing that might be described as "books 2.0." For example, Wikitravel, one of the Internet's most acclaimed travel web sites, was launched in 2003 by Montreal residents Evan Prodromou and Michele Ann Jenkins. Using the same wiki collaborative technology that has proven so successful for Wikipedia, the Wikitravel site invited travelers to post their comments and experiences about places around the world in an effort to build a community-generated travel guide.  In less than five years, the site has accumulated more than 30,000 online travel guides in eighteen languages, with over 10,000 editorial contributions each week.  The content is freely available under a Creative Commons license that allows the public to use, copy, or edit the guides. Building on Wikitravel's success, Prodromou and Jenkins recently established Wikitravel Press, which introduced its first two titles earlier this month.  Wikitravel Press represents a new approach to travel book publishing based on Internet collaborative tools and print-on-demand technologies that should capture the attention of the industry for several reasons.

First, the books are based on content that is freely available online.  Rather than paying $18.99 for a copy of the 469-page Wikitravel Chicago guidebook, users can easily access all the content on the Internet.  In this instance, the publisher is convinced that the book version is easier to use and therefore worth the investment.  Second, the books are continuously updated.  Unlike other travel books that feature lengthy delays between when they are written and when they appear on store shelves, Wikitravel Press books are updated every month as the publishers pulls together the latest contributions and edits from the website. Third, Wikitravel Press uses print-on-demand technology supplied by, a U.S.-based site founded by Canadian (and CFL Hamilton Tiger Cat owner) Robert Young.  Using the print and delivery system, it delivers books to over 200 countries within a few business days.  Looking ahead, Wikitravel Press plans new titles for Paris, Toronto and Sydney, to be followed by "ad hoc" books that will allow travelers to customize their own travel books based on Wikitravel content.

Canadians are also playing a leading role in reshaping the creation of audiobooks. Hugh McGuire, a Montreal-based writer and web developer, established LibriVox in August 2005.  The site is also based on concept of Internet collaboration.  In this instance, LibriVox volunteers create voice recordings of chapters of books that are in the public domain.  The resulting audio files are posted back onto the Internet for free. The LibriVox project, which does not have an annual budget, has succeeded in placing more than 1,200 audio books on the Internet, including Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, works from Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and hundreds more. New technologies are rapidly reshaping the book industry and it is exciting to see how Canadians are quietly playing a leading role in the re-imaging of how books are created and distributed.


  1. Physical objects
    It is interesting that they feel that people will pay for the physical book. I think they will be shown to be right. People still value “things”. I certainly do, as is witnessed by my book collecion weighing several tons. Much as I get a lot of information from the net, I still value books, and regularly pay good money for them.

    It is also interesting how this relates to the discussion about paying songwriters and musicians. In the first case we are talking about paying the printer. In the other, about paying the piper. I think people will gladly pay the printer because they are gettin something real. In the case of the piper, the same thing applies, but for some reason few can see it that way. It makes sense to pay the piper when he is playing. Less so when he is not. Going to a concert and hearing the real thing and not just a recording is a real world experience. Also, an actual CD or record with artwork and physical, collectible, presence has tangible value. A downloaded representaion of 1s and 0s has little worth. I think that eventually, people will figure out that in reality, there is a difference between a “copy” and the real thing. Remember the old ads urging you to buy their product and “beware of copies”? There used to be a big difference, but new technology, and an awful lot of talk, got everyone confused.

  2. Not surprised that folks would be willing to pay for the book. After all, it is a lot easier to carry around the book than to continuously try to access the Internet (for instance, how many people have cell phones that are capable of that, are are willing to pay the data charges).

    Ole Juul, not sure I follow your second point, however. If I follow correctly, I partially agree, and partially disagree. Arguably, the downloaded representation has worth, but little cost (data storage and network for the seller). People are willing to purchase legal copies of music, what many want is the same rights as with physical media. For instance, if I buy a CD, it will play in any CD player I own (stereo, car, portable at work, computer, etc). In many cases, not so with legally purchased music downloads (because of embedded DRM). Certainly there are people who don’t want to pay for the music… I don’t think anyone would deny that. However, much of the music that I have seen through the legal services is about $0.99 per song (plus my own download costs), more expensive without DRM. At those rates, you may as well buy the CD… with no DRM issues.

    The point of the CPCC and SAC proposed levy is to compensate for the POTENTIAL of illegal copies. The reason I am not too enthralled with the levy system is that it assumes that I will make illegal copies.

    I remember on another thread you indicated that you are a writer. Can you indicate here please if, as a writer, you get a flat licensing fee for a piece of music that you write from the recording artist, or if you get a royalty for it. The reason I ask is related to the SAC proposal. If the first, then you’ve been paid. If the second, I’d argue that a better means to compensate you is through a portion of the CPCC levy.

  3. Sasha Mrkailo says:

    Short comment and invitation
    There are many pirated copies of good and fashionable books on the Internet. And I as a passionate reader simple cant read them, because it is to boring and hard for my eyes to read a book on a computer instead of a real book. I think it is a good idea to print an online book.
    Actually I am researching copyright issues and bloggers who care about that issue because we are organizing a Communia workshop in Vilnius, Lithuania on March 31, 2008 called “Ethical Public Domain: Debate of Questionable Practices”.
    Communia is an event which can have significant influence on EU policies toward copyright issues in Europe and consequently in a wider world too. We ( international internet grassroots network Mincius Sodas [ link ] ) are working in, and promoting Public Domain and since you have strong positions and knowledge within this area I would like to ask you to submit one page position paper in the Public Domain
    So please, send us one-page position papers in the Public Domain that we might present on your behalf as we are organizing debates! See: [ link ]
    Thank you!
    Kind Regards, Sasha Mrkailo

  4. digital books
    It is several years that I download books and read them on my palm pilot. Lighter than a book, remembers the pages, I can read without a light in bed while my wife is sleeping and I can store on it hundreds of books. The only reason that digital books are not so popular is that there aren’t so many eBooks out there, there isn’t really a good portable reader and finally because scanning books is so time consuming and boring (and there is lot of resistence from the publishers going there).

  5. Getting Paid
    People obviously put different values on different experiences. Many people now think that a digital copy of a piece of music has a lot of value to them. That is not true for me. Although, as I mentioned above, I think that a vinyl record or CD has more value because it is physical, a recording is still just that. There is far too much value placed on what is a mere memento these days. As an instrumentalist I expect to get paid when I play and not when I don’t. Music is similar to sports to me. It is a physical performance here and now. Time shifting is not even possible. A recording of a performance, music or sports, is a hollow substitute for the original. The magic of both is timing, and time doesn’t stand still.

    So how do musicians get paid? Traditionally through performance and teaching. Those are “real” things, not virtual. Everyone looks for ways to make a buck and these days gatekeeping is very popular. Charging for something which didn’t cost me any sweat has moral problems for me. Pay the piper when he is piping makes the most sense to me.

    @KDH: I’m sorry if I mislead you at some time. Although I have gotten recording royalties in the past, I don’t make money writing. I probably was referring to music literacy, ie. reading and writing. I would agree that as it stands, royalties from the CPCC makes some kind of sense. However, being paid directly for work done is the old fashioned way of making a living, and in a perfect world (capitalistic) that is how I think it should be. Which brings me to an important point.

    When I was a kid we didn’t have a radio in the car. We had a songbook in the glovebox. My parents and I, driving down the road and singing at the top of our lungs, is a memory I cherish. *That* was music. I still prefer to play my own music, either by myself or with others. Listening to the radio or something through a pair of earbuds is a shallow musical experience and I think it is sad that so many people consider it the only option. Everyone can sing and play… and should. Making music into a purely passive experience only promotes low understanding and worse, it is making more and more people try to make a living by collecting royalties or other types of gatekeeping. If you want to pay a musician, take lessons from them and get some “real” value. The current rate is about $40 per hour and will support the artist of your choice. It will also teach you to understand music and give you a much higher level of enjoyment.

    I see copyright as a modern evil. It’s not going away soon, but we can see from all the lawsuits where it’s heading. The RIAA’s attitude should be some indication of just where gatekeeping takes us.

    When it comes to books, it looks like Wikitravel is finding a way that will work for some. As for authors of major works of both music and literature I’m not sure how to protect this valuable cultural property on the net by using royalties and/or levies. Perhaps we just need to get our cultural grants back into swing. Maby then we can just leave the 1s and 0s be free the way they want to be. I think that is the way it’s going to go anyway.

  6. Ole Juul. In case it didn’t appear as such, I agree with you on sheet music, song books and the like. For lack of a better explanation, I’d consider them as equivalent to recorded music… “consumer” goods. Certainly not the proper expression, but they both represent the goods that are ultimately published and sold to the public. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that the levy mechanism is the wrong way to go, because they tend to target the potential for downloading items under copyright, rather than targetting the copyrighted material available illegally for download (commercially or not). For instance, I have some downloads of music from my favourite artist. From looking at the files you wouldn’t know if they are legal or not (I got them from her website… I also own the CDs that they came from).

    Back on topic 😉 I personally don’t like to download books to a computer or my phone for viewing offline. First of all, I spend enough time at my computer at work every day. Secondly, I find them hard to read (maybe I’m just getting old 🙂 I’d agree that there aren’t a lot of books available, especially if it was done from a scanned copy. One that I do have has published directly to PDF from the word processor.

  7. I think this post, located in the middle of other posts about copyright brings up a good point….”The Industry” is saying that with the lax copyright laws that we have here in Canadia, there is little incentive for people to innovate, create new works, expand possibilities, etc…but we are seeing exactly that. This company has created a new/innovative way of creating a revenue stream. They found an area that was lacking (the delays in print books) and found a way to fill that gap (monthly updates to books you purchase online).

    We’ve also see artists who give away their music for a “donation” amount before it’s released in the stores, and people still “donate” AND buy the retail copy.

    There has also been at least one artist that has started giving away the source tracks for their music and asking for their fans to download it and remix it (the same artist that just released a 4 CD set under the creative commons license of instrumental music that they have recorded).

    All of these people are creating new ways to get their “product” into the hands of us the consumer, while still generating revenue, AND still wanting to be innovative and creative. Maybe this is helping to separate the people who “just make it for the money” and those that “love to create” and we will have better quality content created. Don’t get that statement wrong, I believe that people should be paid for their work. But when I go to work, I’m expected to do a good job for the paycheque that I receive…..*cough*Hollywood*cough*

    Back to the point, people are always going to create new ways of making money, and are not going to be held back from innovating. Yes we need something to come down the pipe, but we do not need a DMCA style grip to drive innovation…We Canadians will drive our innovation.

  8. YAH bittorrent is easy says:

    damn i like free
    yup new way to get yur stuff
    bittorrent works fast, no hastles , no “TPM” , no “DRM” , no watermarks, no hastle get and read.
    innovation heh. more like suppression. keep the tech down and keep the prices high. instead of reaching more people and getting a little less per unit you greed it out.