Me 'n MIT: Building Better Contracts for On-Line Publishing (October 23, 2010)
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
This blog post reports out the final discussions and agreements I made with the MIT Press in order to publish LFYT.
This online publication (LFYT) has been supported by a Mellon grant, Scholarly Publishing Initiatives, that evidences a growing concern, and related inventive efforts, about academic publishing given new technologies. See, for example: "Hacking the Academy: A Book Crowdsourced in One Week"; and "MediaCommons," which does "not simply shift the locus of publishing from print to screen, but will actually transform what it means to "publish," allowing the author, the publisher, and the reader all to make the process of such discourse just as visible as its product. In so doing, new communities will be able to get involved in academic discourse, and new processes and products will emerge, leading to new forms of digital scholarship and pedagogy."[cit]

Nicholas Carr blogs: "pundits have, for about two centuries now, been eagerly proclaiming the imminent death of the book. And, over and over again, they've been proven wrong. Today's book lovers may take comfort from that fact, but they probably shouldn't."[cit]
For anyone interested in digital academic publishing, I am quite pleased to report that the slow and complex negotiations to create a useful and meaningful contract with the MIT Press for my video-book are at last complete. And I have the paper to prove it! I hope that sharing these fruitful, if difficult conversations with the innovative editors at the MIT Press—who have been open to rethinking what counts as a book, and how we might all gain from new forms of writing and its publishing, especially about digital content—would be useful for others who are also wrangling their way through this awkward and usually unsupported trek, and I thank the editors at the MIT Press for agreeing to let me make this public.

Before I get to brass tacks, I think it is critical to acknowledge that my effort has been supported, in a variety of ways that are exceedingly relevant. I workshopped the video-book over a summer as part of Vector's and the Institute for Media Literacy's NEH Summer Institute, and they continued to support the design and programming of the project as part of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant ("The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture") that has aimed to get academic presses (like MIT) and those who run media databases together with scholars to talk about the future of new media publishing. I say this is relevant because "books" that are born digital need more—and different—supports than paper ones, in that the technical and technological infrastructure that builds, holds, and enables such work (designers like Vector's Craig Dietrich, programmers, databases, building tools) themselves need financial support to do their part of the by-definition collaborative effort that allows for digital writing that is at once intellectually, architecturally, and design rich. Because this project was supported by grants, it can be offered free on MIT's website, and while this allows us to envision innovative projects, it is probably not the most viable economic model for either the production or sales of such efforts in the long term. Obviously, this has been one of the things the MIT Press has been thinking about in relation to my project and the others that will follow there and elsewhere.

Below are some of the shiny brass tacks for which MIT Press had to produce an entirely new letter of agreement to express, explain, and verify our mutual obligations and rights:

Warranty: Given that a lot of my video-book had already been "published" on the internet ( YouTube, my blog), and was therefore being repurposed and designed for this publication, we had to create language that reflects the mobility of intellectual property.

Material Created by Other Persons: Given that a lot of my video book is written by other people in the form of videos that they put on YouTube, and to which I point from my work, we had to create language that indicated who was in what contractual relation with what entity, and what would be my responsibilities and options if work was pulled from YouTube by YouTube itself or its authors.

Also, given that designers and programmers also worked on my video-book, we had to create language that would acknowledge their participation and labor while confirming that the copyright was mine.

Delivery and Size of the Work
: Given that the video-book was written in a database (with html and php) and through videos, we finally agreed that the Press would only copyedit its words, which would stay hard to count given that the structure of the writing is not linear (i.e., it is networked or repeating). This was all they were equipped to do at this time, and the book has been very well copy-dited by a smart and innovative editor, but it seems clear that presses will have to rethink the capabilities of some of their editors (as well as their work assignments) as more and more of us write with different tools and in digital forms. Also, given that the video-book is searchable, it was agreed that I need not provide an index.

Editing: Given that the video-book will be updated, added to (by the author and users), and versioned, we agreed that the press would authorize and save the final copyedited version as the "official" publication, that would remain available, but that they were supportive of this object changing without further copyediting or authorizing.

Sales, Promotion, Audience: The video-book will be offered free on the Press's website. Links back to their site and its other books will provide some form of compensation (countable with clicks but not dollars) for publishing the video-book, as will press and blogosphere coverage (although academic presses have rarely had to make sense of this as part of their operations). We will also work together to get notice of the video-book to a new audience that includes their traditional readers as well as many others who fall outside this net. Again, the expanded audience's use of the video-book will only be calculatable with clicks and links and redaction.

Upkeep, Hosting, Archiving: Given that the video-book sits online in a database at USC, we had to create language to account for the costs, labor, and technical know-how to maintain and archive the work, including dealing with dead links and ongoing user interaction.