What has happened to all the powerful women in book publishing?

I recently read a post on book industry site Book Machine by Felice Howden, on the recent changes in the global book publishing industry, with specific regard to gender imbalance.

With the Random House/Penguin merger there has obviously been some consolidation in management, and the venerable Gail Rebuck, who has been chairman and chief executive at Random House UK since 1991, stood down from her role running the business. In the same week the chief executive of Harper Collins, Victoria Barnsley, left after 13 years. Both women were succeeded by (eminently suitable, I might add) male replacements.

As The Guardian points out,

The suddenness of the change is startling – from 2000 to 2012 three of the big four British publishers were overseen by women. In the Guardian’s Book Power 100 list two years ago, Rebuck was ranked ninth and Barnsley fifteenth, and Rebuck took 10th place in Radio 4′s Woman’s Hour power list for 2013. Now, arguably, there are none.

While in Australia the gender power balance is quite different, what happens in the worldwide publishing scene now affects us more than ever. Most of the big 5 (going to take a little while to get used to saying that) have recently restructured in a vertical manner, so that the new arms of the business are directed from either US or UK strongholds.

Felice’s post struck a chord with me, as a female working in book publishing. I am one of the many women who have noticed that while we outnumber our male counterparts in the lower ranks of publishing, most of the top jobs are occupied by men. Obviously there are a number of reasons for this, chief among them the fact that women are required to delay their careers rather more than men if they choose to have children.

Reading Felice’s piece I thought about the number of brilliant women who have inspired me in my career (Katie Crawford, Cate Paterson, Nikki Christer, Sam Missingham to name but a few). Read an excerpt of Felice’s ‘Finding Feminism: A Woman in Publishing” and let me know what you think.

“Four years ago, I would have probably said we don’t need feminism anymore. I would have said we’re doing ok as a culture and don’t sweat the small stuff like discrepancies in wage, promotion opportunities, and people yelling ‘nice tits’ when you’re walking down the street in the middle of the day. I would have said this stuff will disappear with time, or possibly denied they even happened. Of course, this was before I knew page three existed (because, no, it’s not normal and where I grew up it wasn’t a thing), before Robin Thicke, and before last week’s news that two of the biggest jobs in publishing, previously held by women, are going to men.

I am not suggesting that men don’t deserve these jobs. Both men seem incredibly well qualified to hold their respective positions.  But every time something like this comes up, I am (and in fact most people are) reminded of how our industry is overwhelmingly female, and the top jobs are held overwhelmingly by men. I don’t know why that is. I also don’t know why there is a difference between men and women’s pay.

I found feminism partly through the fact that I noticed these problems, and partly through the incredible women I know who work in publishing. Because there are so damn many of them. The ones who stare you down; the ones that ask difficult questions; the ones with brilliant ideas; the ones working late and hard on a bottomless pit of a project;  the ones that make me laugh with how much they cut through the shit when a conversation is in danger of spiraling towards circularity. These women inspire me to be ambitious.”

Continue reading Finding Feminism: A Woman in Publishing over at Book Machine.

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This post was originally posted on Momentum’s blog. You can follow Anne on Twitter @annetreasure.

The Future of Book Editing: Resistance is Futile


This post is based on a speech made at the Society of Editors and was originally published in the Blue Pencil

I’d like to start with a recent example of the necessity of editors in the world of digital publishing. The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling was released around the world by various publishers simultaneously, which is no small achievement. Unfortunately it was discovered after the release that the Kindle file had issues: the ebook was restricted to two font sizes—very large and very small. I spent three months in the UK in 2011 for the Unwin Trust Fellowship investigating different experiments in digital publishing in London. One of the things I discovered is that many publishing houses in the UK have massive departments that deal with ebook checking. However, there are a few that don’t and they tend to rely too much on the typesetter to perform quality assurance instead of in-house talent—unsurprisingly, these are generally the ones that make mistakes like in the case of The Casual Vacancy.

I don’t believe there is ever going to be a point when editorial skills and editors, whether in-house or freelance, are going to be unnecessary for the production of good quality ebooks. And the best bit? The skills required to publish a print book and an ebook are almost exactly the same.

Almost, of course, is the important bit. Freelancers will need to be much more flexible than they are now. Some freelance editors are very strict about whether they will work on screen or not, or fussy about different software packages. Editors no longer have the luxury of pretending that digital books don’t exist because they don’t like them or they don’t read them.

One of the most basic things for editors to keep in mind when planning to move into digital publishing is to actually—at least occasionally—read ebooks. While most ebooks are pretty similar to the print equivalent there are some fundamental differences, and if you’ve never even read an ebook then there are certain basic things you will miss when checking to see if it has been edited correctly.

The structural, developmental side of editing is probably going to be the biggest change to the editorial process, at least for more complex digital texts. To be an effective structural or developmental editor of an enhanced ebook or book app a much deeper level of understanding of the technology that underpins these products is required.

Another thing that is likely to change over the coming years is the conceptual focus on the appearance of books as opposed to their structure. What I mean by this is that with ebooks it is less important to see what the book looks like than it is to see how it is structured. Modern editing has been focused on desktop publishing—the font size of a particular heading level, or the leading, or the kerning—but that is going to begin shifting back towards the idea of text as a structure. In other words, in digital, structure trumps style.

Ebook examples

Some fairly recent examples of ebooks include an app version of Frankenstein. Basically, it is a choose-your-own-adventure style of book, but it is a lot more complicated than that. A digital publisher, an author and a games developer got together for this production, combining their relevant expertise. They have adapted the original Frankenstein and added more than twice as much text. The ebook is not entirely interactive; it’s more like an exploration of the interior of the character, making choices about what to feel and experience rather than influencing the plot. The kind of editing, structural editing in particular, that you would do in a text like this is obviously going to be completely different to how you would approach a linear text.

In The Wasteland, the poem has been transformed into an iPad app. It is much more than just the poem; it has audio recordings by various people reading the poem live, including T.S. Eliot at two different times of his life. There is also video and an annotated version. Most importantly, perhaps, the app makes it easy to move the additional material out of the way and read the poem straight.

The children’s book app Cinderella, published by Nosy Crow, takes the interactive, playful side of children’s print books to a digital extreme. I have seen kids interact with this particular book and it’s amazing to see how well they respond. Although it’s primarily text in the same sense that a picture book is, there are many more opportunities for interactivity in Cinderella. Nosy Crow are set up to publish both digital and print books, but the digital development is where they are concentrating most on innovation, and it shows.

Another example of a successful enhanced ebook is The Game of Thrones Enhanced Edition by George RR Martin. These books are quite long and detailed, and they contain a lot of characters. HarperCollins is selling an enhanced version of this book, which has a mix of enhanced ebook features. If you click on an icon or use a gesture, an interactive map is pulled up that shows where each of the characters is in the world at any point of the story. The other useful feature is also the  simplest: every time a character is mentioned you can tap on their name and go to the family tree to be reminded of who they are.


There are all sorts of clever ways people are coming up with to market ebooks online, but almost everyone I spoke to said accurate metadata is by far the best way to sell books. For those who don’t know what metadata is, it’s the information associated with a book that isn’t the book itself. This includes the book blurb, pricing, ISBN, author information, page extent and so on. Unfortunately many books have inaccurate or incomplete metadata. When metadata is incorrect it can make it difficult or impossible for people to find a book when they are looking for it, and that means that all marketing attempts are going to be pointless. Improving metadata should be the first and most important step in making books available for sale online – whether in print or in digital as both mediums require metadata to sell over the web.

Metadata is relevant to editors as they are generally the most likely to know whether metadata is correct or not for their own titles. It is also important when it comes to freelance ebook quality assurance as a lot of this information is embedded in the ebook file. It only takes a little bit of extra effort to double check that this information is accurate and complete and that will help ensure that the book finds an audience.

On-screen editing

I talk to too many editors who say ‘Microsoft Word doesn’t work properly’, or ‘we should be waiting for something better’. Microsoft Word is never going to be perfect. It may not be the best program, but almost everybody has access to it, so when dealing with authors and publishers, Microsoft Word is going to be the standard for some time to come. Editors of the future are going to be MS Word Ninjas. In my experience, those editors that know Word really well end up with fewer errors in the books they work on. This is not about having a good eye. It is about knowing how to use the tools that are available to you.

I’m managing books at Momentum from commissioning all the way through to the proofreading stage. The books that have been edited by an editor who understands Microsoft Word properly and knows how to use styles and templates are almost always of a higher quality at the end of this process. Knowing how to use Word means you can focus more easily on the text instead of spending time correcting needless errors that would never have cropped up in the first place. There are some absolutely fantastic on-screen editing courses via the APA and other organisations so there’s no excuse for hand wringing when it comes to Word.

It is also important to educate authors. There are a lot of writers who are afraid of using track changes in Microsoft Word. My experience at Momentum so far is that all of the authors who have been published can be shown how to use it, including those well into their 70s and even their 80s who have never had any exposure to it before. It isn’t necessary to sit beside someone to show them how to use a software package either. I’ve done Skype sessions with several of our authors to demonstrate how to use track changes effectively. If you are familiar with it, then you can show anyone how to use it.

Format workflows

Format independence is a phrase and concept I became obsessed with after my time in London, introduced to me at Faber & Faber. Like many other publishers, Faber used to employ a traditional editorial workflow centred around desktop publishing—in their case Adobe inDesign. Once the book was edited it was typeset and corrections beyond this point often needed to be taken in by a typesetter or directly by the editor. At the end of this process the final print edition of the book was converted by an external company into an ebook. Any further corrections that were discovered had to be manually added to each format.

This is an imperfect system, but it’s the one that most of us are using. It’s been optimised in traditional publishing, mostly because traditional publishers—like most businesses—prefer to use a system where they can swap people out and swap them back in without threatening the whole process of book production. But in the future of editing and publishing it’s likely that many traditional roles are going to start to blend—especially the role of the editor.

The format independent workflow that Faber & Faber introduced is very similar to using a content management system (CMS) for a website. If you have ever run a website or a blog, the content management system is the place where you add text, pictures and other content. Just like a blog CMS, a book CMS is often hosted online. Anyone who needs to access the book’s content—be it a designer, editor, proofreader or even an author—does so in a central, secure location. This minimises the manual copying of corrections between different sets of pages and the need to make corrections to multiple formats. The CMS can also automatically spit out multiple formats from print files to enhanced ebook files.

Basically, this is how we need to start thinking about books. The print edition is no longer going to be the canonical text, but just another format. The idea of format independence is difficult for many people in publishing to grasp—particularly as it pertains to their own preferred workflow. However, I think it’s safe to say that this change is coming, particularly for books that are straight narrative. Straight narrative fiction in some genres is already approaching 50 per cent or more of the trade market in the US and the UK. This means that it no longer makes sense to produce those books in the way that we have traditionally produced them. The print edition really is just another format. This is already the case. In the future these kinds of changes will flow on to other areas of publishing, and it’s imperative that editors are ready for it when it comes.

Who Wants to Read This Stuff? The Business of Storytelling in a Digital World

It’s often said that writers write for themselves. This might be true, but as a publisher it’s my task to be the reader’s advocate. The first question I try to ask when considering a new project is to consider the audience: “who wants to read this stuff?”

In the digital realm, particularly at the experimental, pointy end of digital, this question of audience is, I think, rarely considered as a first step. The excitement of shiny gadgets and new software overwhelms our puny publishing minds. So instead, the first question is often – “what can it do?” and the second question is “what else can it do?”

The answer to that question is – “pretty much anything”. There are bog standard ebooks, of course, but it goes much further than that. There are transmedia stories, geo-located stories, multimedia enhanced stories and fully interactive pseudo-gaming experiences. We can serialise books, we can release short stories and we can make apps and games.

In other words “What can it do?” is an exciting question and it’s full of potential rather than limitations. But it’s my contention that when it comes to the business of storytelling – whether you’re trying to entertain, educate or inform people – it’s not a very good question. To put it indelicately, there’s a very short distance between asking the question “what can it do?” and disappearing up your own arse.

My argument is basically this: the colourful and exciting part of digital publishing innovation is – for the most part – not something that readers actually want. Pushing the boundaries of what a book is – whether it’s by blurring the lines between different kinds of media or questioning the linear nature of traditional narrative – is not something that people are looking to book publishers to provide. Too much of what we call innovation is basically turning our content into a showroom for device manufacturers – and we do it to the detriment of more important and more useful innovation at the back end of the publishing business.

This is not to say that every example of a book app or interactive book-like experience is bad. Consider The Waste Land or The Sonnets that have been released by Faber & Faber. Both of these apps successfully meld critical annotations, video, audio and multiple text versions into a unified whole without distracting from the fundamental purpose of the text. It’s interesting that poetry, perhaps because it’s so dense, seems to lend itself quite naturally to this kind of enhancement. There’s a lot to unpack in poetry. Poetry itself isn’t necessarily linear and it’s often intended to be performed rather than read so it seems the marriage of technology and literature is happy one in this instance.

However you might not want the pace of your Lee Child novel interrupted by a quick video of the author reading a couple of paragraphs or Tom Cruise running about in the trailer for the new movie. That would probably somewhat lift you out of the story.  And yet publishers return – again and again – to cheap gimmicks and unnecessary tricks to try to enhance what doesn’t need to be enhanced.

The real experiments that will actually help publishers make books that people actually want to read – for a price they want to read them for – are distinctly lacking in sex appeal. They aren’t books – they’re improvements to things like workflow, content management systems, metadata optimization, distribution efficiency and rights management.

For example, a digital-only, format independent workflow drastically improves the speed and quality of ebooks and other digital content production.

Metadata – the information about a book like price, category, the book blurb and author information – is essential to making a book discoverable in an online retail environment. There is now solid evidence that improving the accuracy of metadata increases sales for books.

Distributing our content in a global market is a new challenge that needs some creative thinking and a lot of resources to get right. We need to get better at working with our overseas colleagues to make sure our content is available simultaneously or as quickly as possible.

I won’t go on about rights management too much as it’s a bit of a bug bear for me, to the point that Momentum has now removed these controls from our books. Suffice it to say that digital rights management is bad for readers in the same way that awkward user interface design in book apps are bad for readers. It interferes with the purchasing and reading experience in a non-intuitive way.

These are the kinds of invisible improvements to a modern publishing business that have helped Amazon to become the biggest single bookstore in the world – and allowed them to single-handedly take on publishers at their own game.

More than a few publishers are steadfastly refusing to make some of these changes. Among those that are making deep systematic changes – and there are plenty – many are moving so slowly that they are risking losing the race.

Meanwhile, many modern publishers are distracting themselves with experiments that do nothing but provide a nice press release and show-off the latest capability that Amazon, Apple or Google have built in to their newest device. And it’s not just publishers. I’ve been on a number of panels with industry pundits who love to talk about the death of the book and how technology is going to radically alter our sense of what narrative is and how we are going to consume stories in a completely different, non-linear and interactive way.

What an utterly exhausting proposition.

Nothing I’ve seen in the past year of running an experimental digital imprint has led me to believe there is a voracious horde of early adopters out there who want this type of content and that publishers are failing to deliver it. I’m not saying it won’t ever happen, but it hasn’t happened yet and I see no indications of it coming other than the fact that it’s technological feasible.

The next decade is inevitably going to provide some creative re-imagining of the boundaries of what a book is. And that is a good thing. Technology can and already does help us deliver content around the world for a fraction of the cost that it did only a few years ago. The self-publishing revolution means that there are now very few roadblocks for authors to get their content read by audiences. There is now an audience for serialised content and short stories that seems to have sprung out of nowhere. This is the actual revolution at the foundation of the publishing business. The boundaries of what publishers can and should do have already shifted while we weren’t paying attention – there’s no need for us reinvent the wheel when it comes to storytelling and narrative. We must remember what it is we’re good at – looking at that manuscript, whether it’s delivered by horse and cart or email – and asking the question “who wants to read this stuff?”

This post was adapted from a speech delivered at The Future of Writing symposium at Macquarie University on 14 November.

Do You Own Your Ebooks?

An email from an acquaintance today in light of the Amazon library deletion scandal caused me to write a long rant about digital rights management (DRM) and ebooks and copyright so I thought I’d share some of it below.

It amazes me sometimes that we’re still all talking about DRM and ebooks. I feel like it’s a conversation we’ve been having for a very long time, and made very little progress with. But ultimately that’s the nature of an industry undergoing such huge changes. Protecting the legal rights of authors and readers while also trying to run a business and not violate any licensing agreements can be a nightmare for even the most informed publishing functionary – to an outsider I think it must look like complete and utter nonsense.

There are different issues at work here. One is the legal rights of the reader/consumer and the other is the technology used to restrict those rights.

When it comes to legal rights, most publishers aren’t selling the ebook file itself – they sell a license to use it under certain circumstances. They give the reader the file – but the reader doesn’t ‘own’ this file. This is pretty standard for selling digital content – if you sold the file with with no restrictions then the person who bought it could copy and send it to all of their friends or re-sell it themselves with no legal recourse for the copyright owner (the author, not the publisher). I don’t know of any publisher of any digital content that sells digital files without restrictions – whether they’re using DRM or not.

The second issue is a technological one. Most publishers sell their content with DRM, which on top of the legal restrictions also physically restricts readers from transferring content to other readers or between devices by using encryption software. This software is usually implemented by the retailer (Amazon, Apple or whoever) at the behest of the publisher. Some publishers, like Momentum, have asked retailers not to include DRM on our files. This isn’t because we think users should be able to own the file and use it without restrictions, but because we believe that a reader who buys an ebook should be able to transfer that book between devices without the technological difficulty inherent in using encryption technology. Basically it’s extremely frustrating for a reader who has legitimately purchased a book to transfer that book between multiple devices if it has DRM on it – and that’s why we removed it. We wanted our readers to be able to buy a book from Amazon and read it on their Kobo reader if they wanted to – and now they can.

To be clear – Momentum is still technically selling a license for our books, not the files themselves – we just don’t physically restrict readers from transferring their ebooks between devices. The reason for this is basically down to the nature of digital content – it isn’t some kind of Orwellian urge to control what readers do with their reading material. If we ‘owned’ a digital file in the sense that most of us ‘own’ paper books, by current laws we would be able to do whatever they wanted with it (including selling copies for a profit), which would in most cases violate the contract under which retailers sell ebooks and the rights publishers license from authors. Authors ultimately own the copyright for their content and license it to publishers who can then sub-license it to readers.

In the Amazon case mentioned above, the reader violated Amazon’s terms and conditions in some way that Amazon hasn’t made clear to anyone. As a result, Amazon closed their account, which means they no longer had access to the encrypted files that were stored on their device. If that reader had bought any of Momentum’s ebooks, this wouldn’t have been a problem, as they could have just moved their ebooks to a different device. As far as I know, without DRM Amazon cannot yank a book from someone’s device – but I might be wrong. At any rate, because all of the reader’s books had DRM on them, they lost their entire library (albeit temporarily – Amazon has restored the reader’s account as far as I know).

As much as I think this is a horrible situation for the reader – and this is precisely why we dropped DRM from our books at Momentum – these stories do seem to crop up intermittently and don’t seem to have any real effect on the ebook market. Ultimately the convenience of digital reading outweighs most people’s concerns about it. I’d love it if more readers cared about this stuff as it’s something I care about, and we’ve made Momentum a more reader-friendly place as a result. However, my general impression is that for the most part Amazon’s ecosystem works pretty well and these situations tend to be anomalies or bureaucratic oversights rather than some kind of concerted effort to defraud readers.

Having said that, I’m curious about what you think. Has Momentum’s decision caused you to buy more books from us? Do you seek out DRM-free ebooks consciously? Had you even heard about the story mentioned above? Sound off in the comments and let us know.

Originally posted at The Momentum Blog

Would Your Protagonist Kill a Dog?

An author friend of mine was talking to another author friend of his about the large number of women who read his books. This surprised him. His books are for the most part military thrillers in which the main character (often a man) shoots and explodes his way through his problems, usually scooping up a lady friend along the way for extracurricular fun. This shooting of problems and gratuitous sexy times, said the author’s friend, did not make any of his novels a boy’s book.

“Would your protagonist kill a dog?” asked the friend.

“No, he doesn’t kill a dog,” replied the author.

“Not does he kill a dog. Would he kill a dog. If the dog was in the way.”

The author thought for a moment and allowed that, if they had any other choice, most of his protagonists would probably not kill a dog.

“There you go then. Chick’s book.”

Let me clear here – personally I believe the concept of a boy’s book or a girl’s book is completely socially constructed. Given that fiction is read much more by women than men it seems clear to me that almost any successful fiction title will have a significant female readership. And I’ve spoken to plenty of men who read what is traditionally termed “women’s fiction”. Nonetheless, the idea of gendered fiction is still quite powerful. A lot of guys would avoid Fifty Shades of Grey like the plague – not because they don’t like a bit of light spanking in their fiction, but because it’s perceived as a girl’s book.

Rules of thumb like the above might reinforce the idea that women don’t enjoy violence in fiction and that men are savages who like nothing else, but it doesn’t mean the distinction doesn’t exist. As a publisher, I can’t help but try to think of the potential reader when I read submissions, and sometimes that reader is gendered.

I don’t use a rule as clear-cut as the above, but something figures into it (and it certainly isn’t the gender of the author). It isn’t the gender of the protagonist either – as a reader some of my favourite protagonists are women who would calmly kill a dog if necessary (with a lot less traumatised screaming than most men I know). I don’t know why this is, but I suspect Joss Whedon has a lot to do with it. Either way, the gender of the author and the protagonist don’t come into it – but there is certainly a tipping point that makes me think “probably a boy’s book” (even when I know plenty of women will read it).

So my question for the day – where do you draw your line? Do you like boys’ books or girls’ books? Do you care? And if you’re an author – would your protagonist kill a dog?

[This was originally posted on The Momentum Blog.]

Top 5 Future of the Book Clichés

I’ve been writing blog posts about the future of books and publishing for a while now. I’m by no means one of the first, and by no stretch of the imagination one of the best, so I’m painfully aware of how I often tread on the same ground as those who have gone before me (and usually done it better). However, reading yet another article on the future of books over the weekend nearly caused me to claw my own eyes out with frustration (and probably a healthy dose of shame) as yet another bookish pundit gleefully wheeled out cliché after cliché as if she were writing them for the first time. Thus this list. If I ever commit any of these sins again, please feel free to point them out and/or punch me in the face.


1. The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book

This one works extremely well as a headline for a piece about the death of the book, and it makes you seem both worldly and progressive (acknowledging both the inevitable death of the paper book and the regrettable truth that digital books are still books). Originally from the French Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi! (the king is dead; long live the king), the expression was probably popularised in pop culture by Shakespeare. Always a bad sign.

2. A Lot of Ink Has Been Spilled About the Death of the Book

The temptation when writing a blog post is to make grand statements in the lede. When you know the story you’re writing is completely unoriginal, it helps to point out that you do, in fact, know it. One way to do this while also making a clever pun at the same time is to claim that so much ‘spilled ink’, ‘miles of newsprint’ or ‘column inches’ have been wasted talking about the issue, thereby slyly indicating that the article you are about to write is, in point of fact, not a waste of anyone’s time. If you’re being especially clever you can say ‘countless screens of pixels’.

3. Are Paper Books Going the Way of the Dodo?

See also: Going the Way of the Typewriter, Going the Way of Vinyl, Going the Way of Video Tapes or Going the Way of the Album.

4. The Singular Pleasure of Solitude

Almost every post (particularly in the last twelve months) on the future of reading makes nostalgic claims about the pleasure (and importance) of reading alone in solitude for hours at time and conflates this experience with paper book reading and literacy. Let’s get this straight – whether you make the time to read for great stretches of a time all by yourself has less to do with your reading format of choice and more to do with how you choose to spend your time, how busy you are and the available alternative choices to reading.

5. Complain About People Complaining About the Smell of Books

It’s long been a cliché to talk about how you don’t like ebook readers because they don’t smell like ‘real’ books. That’s old news. The newest trend is to ostentatiously point out that the argument about the smell of books is moot, because obviously it doesn’t matter. See also: claiming that the smell of books is actually the smell of death.


[This was originally posted on The Momentum Blog.]

So We Dropped DRM – What Does That Actually Mean?

[This post was originally posted on The Momentum Blog.]

As some of you might already know, we announced yesterday that we’re dropping DRM (digital rights management) from all of our books. The chatter on social media last night and this morning leads me to believe there’s still a bit of confusion about what DRM is, what it’s for, why we chose to drop it and what it actually means for you – assuming you are someone who might buy or want to buy our books.

What is DRM?

First of all – what is digital rights management? Basically, it’s a type of software that limits what you can and can’t do with a legitimately purchased piece of digital content. It’s used on everything from computer games to music, movies, books and television episodes. It’s the reason why when you rent a movie from iTunes you only have 48 hours to watch it, and it’s the reason why when you buy a book from Amazon you can’t copy it to your Sony or Kobo e-reader.

However, DRM is not the same thing as territorial rights. Territorial rights are to blame when you try to buy an ebook from a store and you get the dreaded ‘This book is not available from your location’ notice. It’s also what stops Australian users from using US services like Hulu, Pandora and, until recently, Spotify. Typically, content publishers buy a licence from the copyright holder that gives them the right to make that content available in particular ways within a particular geographical territory. Digital retailers of all kinds can usually work out where you’re buying or viewing content from and block you if they don’t have the right to make it available to you.

Does territorial copyright make sense on the internet? Not particularly. But ultimately it’s not just up to publishers to solve the territorial rights problem – if authors and agents want their books to be available to the world they need to make those rights available to content publishers and many still don’t.

Happily at Momentum we’ve worked extra hard to make almost all of our books available globally. In other words, our authors have licensed their books to us to sell them worldwide. This has been the case since we launched in February.

What is DRM For?

This might seem like a fairly obvious question with an obvious answer, but it’s actually kind of complicated. DRM ostensibly exists to protect a creator’s copyright – it stops readers from tampering with a file, copying it, converting it into other formats and even stops illegitimate users from opening or viewing a file. This is why publishers use it and it’s also why many authors still want it applied to their books – they are afraid that without DRM their books will be copied without limitation by anyone who gets their hands on it.

In practice, however, DRM is relatively easy to remove from a book. This is why piracy of books and other digital content is so rampant – it only takes one person with a working knowledge of how to remove DRM from a book to make it available to the entire world for free. In other words – DRM is extremely bad at doing its main job.

Given that this is so, what else is DRM for? DRM stops readers who buy their ebooks from one retailer transferring their purchase to an unapproved reading device. For example, you can’t read an ebook with DRM on it from Apple on your Kindle, and you can’t read a Kindle ebook on your Kobo Touch. So the answer to that question – what is DRM for? – becomes clear. The purpose of DRM is to encourage readers to buy their ebooks from a single source.

So Why Are We Dropping DRM?

At Momentum we have a commitment to accessibility. As I mentioned earlier, we’re working hard to make our books available globally. All of our books released so far are available for under $10, and most of them for $5 or less. Ensuring that you can buy your books from wherever you want and read them on whatever device you want is part of that commitment.

Dropping DRM is not about encouraging piracy. Piracy is a reality of the digital era, and this situation is extremely unlikely to change. Some people are always going to pirate content and spread it around without permission. Let me be clear, here – this isn’t something we support. Authors deserve to be paid for their work. But we believe that the best way to fight piracy is to remove the barriers to purchase – make books cheaper, make them available everywhere and to any reader from any platform.

What Does Dropping DRM Mean For You?

The simple answer is: not all that much. You can still buy our books from all the same places for the same prices. Come August, however, if you want to read your Kindle book on your Kobo or your iBookstore book on your Kindle – you can. We’re still working with our retail partners (and in talks with others) to make our books available in as many places as possible – but that’s a separate issue to our decision to drop DRM.

So if you are thinking of buying our books, I urge you to encourage your friends to buy books from us. Most of them are the cost of a cup of coffee (or two), and they can buy and download them while waiting for the bus. Ultimately dropping DRM is an experiment – if it proves to be successful, then we’ll keep doing it.

And we really want to keep doing it.

[This post was originally posted on The Momentum Blog.]

This Book is Certified Edited

[This post originally appeared on The Momentum Blog]

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about editing this week. Tomorrow I’m speaking at the Residential Editorial Program, an intensive editing course run by Varuna for professional career editors. My topic is about the future of editing, and although I find myself talking about this almost every day of my working life, it’s hard to sum up precisely how I feel.

And then Rich Adin from The Digital Reader blog gave me a little push.

I’ve been toying with this idea for some time now. I haven’t gotten very far with it because of resistance from editorial colleagues, but I’m wondering if professional editors should certify that a book has been professionally edited as a way to assure the author’s customers that the book was edited?

Adin is talking about self-published authors here. And it’s an extremely noble idea. Adin identifies most of the (many) problems with the idea himself on the post. These include how to penalise bad editing, who decides on certification, who ensures that authors follow the advice, who will promote the value of such certification and, the biggie, “what fee schedule is reasonable for a certification process?” However, he goes on to say that “few of the problems cannot be overcome”. Here I have to disagree with him, and I think the reasoning comes down to this umbrella term – “editing”.

Editing is more than just good proofreading – making sure the author has used the right “your” and “their” and “its” and ensuring that a character with blue eyes and blonde hair remains blue-eyed and blonde throughout the book. A ‘certified’ edited book, in the sense that Adin means, wouldn’t be worth the electrons it was typed in if the book was well proofread and the continuity worked but was still a giant pile of crap to read. In traditional publishing (still the best in show for professional editorial standards, despite objections and occasional dropped balls), the editorial process starts at commissioning. Extremely badly written books don’t get published in the first place. Books that are commissioned usually go through at least one big picture edit that sorts out many of the structural problems (like the six chapters written before the plot starts, the inauthenticity of the setting or the sheer stupidity of a character). Then there’s at least one line edit (or copyedit, depending on your country of origin) and then multiple rounds of proofreading by both freelancers and in-house editorial staff. A huge percentage of editorial work is sent to the author to get their approval, but there is also a lot of stuff that flies under the radar and is just fixed without the author’s knowledge because it’s obviously, glaringly incorrect. All part of the invisible service.

And you know what? Even with all that (and I very much doubt a ‘certified’ editor working with a self-published author could provide all that) not every book that is edited well is a good book. Editing – to a massive extent – is an invisible gloss on a book. I’m frequently enraged when book critics claim that a given book wasn’t very well edited. The kinds of things that can be changed (but are left as is) and the kinds of mistakes that creep in (and are not fixed) are often not the fault of editors, but of the author, the typesetter, the printer, the conversion house and so on and so on and so on. The editor might take ultimate responsibility, but it is almost impossible to determine how ‘well’ a book was edited by looking at the final product.

The other problem with this idea is the cost. The market for self-published, unedited ebooks has proved that there is a proportion of the reading population who are willing to pay a lot less for work that is not edited at all (or edited poorly by non-professional editors). This market is largely driven by price. I’m not convinced that a ‘certified’ editorial scheme is going to make the quality of these books much better unless a lot of money was spent. To address the problems with a certification program, you need an independent third party with a stake in the book with knowledge of editorial skill and the infrastructure to carry it out. And all of that costs money – money that readers of self-published writing don’t want to pay.

Having said that, there is clearly a market for paying slightly more for a well edited book – and that’s to buy it from a publisher. I’m not saying publishers do it perfectly, but it is extremely high on the priority list for our books to go out with as high a level of quality as possible – and it is usually the biggest cost associated with producing a book. Traditional editorial workflow has been built over generations, is constantly improving and it is run efficiently and with razor-thin margins. How, precisely, can self-publishing improve on that?

I do think we can do a better job of ‘selling’ this idea to the reading public. At Momentum, all of our books have the name of the proofreader and the line editor (if appropriate) on the copyright page of the book. It’s one way that we can prove to a sceptical reader that all of our books are edited by real, professional, vetted editors (who are also human beings).

An extract from the copyright page of The Chimera Vector

We also have an email address so that if you do spot errors in our books you can let us know. So far we’ve received two emails from concerned readers, and in both cases they received responses and the errors were corrected.

But I wonder – what else can we do? What do readers expect? Are you willing to pay more for better edited books – or is price more important? Sound off in the comments – I’m curious to hear what you think.

Unwin Trust Fellowship Report Overview

Download the full report PDF here, or you can get it as an ebook in EPUB or Kindle format.

I don’t think many publishers are sitting there saying ‘What are our digital experiments, how are we measuring them let’s see how they’re working.’ I’d like to pretend I was structuring it that way but effectively I’m going ‘What can we do with this book. What are we doing that’s interesting? Let’s have a go and see what works.’[1]

The risk of undertaking a long-term research project in an area like digital publishing is that the goalposts are constantly shifting. When I first put together my proposal for the Unwin Trust Fellowship in early 2011, the Australian publishing industry was a significantly different place to what it is now. Most publishers were lucky to have around 2–3% of sales in digital, and there were still a few Australian publishers who weren’t selling ebooks at all. Amazon’s Kindle was available to Australians, but only by ordering internationally. The sight of an e-reader on public transport was a novelty. Nobody had heard of the Kindle Fire. REDgroup retail had only just gone into voluntary administration, and it was unclear then precisely what the fallout from the loss of almost a quarter of Australia’s book retail presence would be.

Although it’s hard to come by hard data about ebook sales in Australia, as I write this, anecdotally, every publisher I’ve spoken to saw exponential growth over the Christmas period. Ebooks went from being an experiment to worth millions of dollars in just a couple of years. There are multiple variations of the Kindle available in stores in Australia, and most publishers appear to be working with most major ebook channels to sell their books.

Internationally, the story is very different too. When I left for London I was told that US publishers were still light years ahead of the rest of the world, and that anything I learned from the UK would still be at least 18 months behind the true frontier in digital. But over Christmas, UK digital sales grew by almost 500%[2] and many US publishers reported a plateau in digital sales for the first time since 2007[3], causing many analysts to speculate that the UK industry is catching up to the US, at least in terms of market penetration.

The original proposal was to undertake a series of case studies of experiments in the digital space in order to have a close understanding of their success or failure and hopefully to draw some conclusions from these. As such, the project was structured around close working relationships with a number of key players in the UK publishing industry. I spent two weeks each working with Pan Macmillan’s digital team on the launch of their digital backlist imprint Bello; at HarperCollins with The Friday Project team on Authonomy and its new digital-only list and at Faber & Faber on their drama online project (in collaboration with Bloomsbury). In between placements I recorded many interviews with key players in the industry and visited the Frankfurt trade fair to attend the Tools of Change conference. All of my experiences were enormously helpful for both this report and my general understanding of the state of digital publishing in the UK and to a lesser extent in the US. As I conducted the interviews and compiled this report it became clear that there was significant overlap in certain key areas of experimentation within (and outside of) publishing houses in London. As such, the core of this report focuses on these key areas, and goes into specific case studies where the information gathered justifies it.

I’ve identified these key areas as pricing, interactivity and multimedia, partnerships, platforms and workflow. Within these areas of experimentation I’ve explored a number of case studies, including children’s publisher and interactive multimedia specialist Nosy Crow, Faber & Faber’s transformative partnership with Touch Press, HarperCollins’s Game of Thrones Enhanced Edition, Pan Macmillan’s Bello, The Friday Project’s Confessions of a GP, the revolutionary new digital publishing platform Unbound and Faber & Faber’s in-house digital workflow. Most information was gathered directly from sources in the form of recorded interviews and emails, but I have used sources from blogs and trade press to enhance this research where appropriate.

In addition to the limits mentioned above, the report also focuses mostly on trade publishing experimentation. Although I did interview a number of smaller companies working with disruptive business models and on experimental interactive projects, I felt that these were still very much book start-ups attempting to buy into the trade rather than step away from it (or dismantle it). To an extent this focus on publishers wasn’t self-imposed – although I tried I could not get an interview or speak with representatives from the largest digital book retailer in the UK (Amazon – ranging from 70 – 90% of the ebook trade, depending on who you speak to). Without their input, I felt that it would not be useful to go into detail on experimentation in digital retailing. Although other retailers are engaged in some genuinely exciting experiments, ultimately I didn’t feel I was adequately representing the market and my time was better spent concentrating on digital product experiments rather than innovative sales channels.

Download the full report PDF here, or you can get it as an ebook in EPUB or Kindle format.


[1] Pack, Scott, publisher of The Friday Project, interview conducted 8/11/11

[2] Bowker (http://bit.ly/GNxSYH). 15/02/12

[3] Dead Tree Edition (http://bit.ly/GZjn29). 22/03/12