Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ambivalently Scribd

Back in March I announced on my other blog that The Late Age of Print was available on the document sharing site, Scribd. I was excited to see it there for many reasons, chief among them the Creative Commons license I'd negotiated with my publisher, Columbia University Press, which provides for the free circulation and transformation of the electronic edition of Late Age. The book's presence on Scribd was, for me, evidence of the CC license really working. I was also excited by Scribd's mobile features, which meant, at least in theory, that the e-book version of Late Age might enjoy some uptake on one or more of the popular e-reading systems I often write about here.

Lately, though, I'm beginning to feel less comfortable with the book's presence there. Scribd has grown and transformed considerably since March, adding all sorts of features to make the site more sticky -- things like commenting, social networking, an improved interface, and more. These I like, but there's one new feature I'm not feeling: ads by Google. Here's a screenshot from today, showing what The Late Age of Print looks like on Scribd.

Late Age on Scribd

Note the ad in the bottom-right portion of the screen for a book called, Aim High! 101 Tips for Teens, available on (Clearly, somebody at Google/Scribd needs to work on their cross-promotions.) You can subscribe to an ad-free version of Scribd for $2.99/month or $29.99/year.

Now, I'm not one of those people who believes that all advertising is evil. Some advertising I find quite helpful. Moreover, on feature-rich sites like Scribd (and in newspapers and magazines, on TV, etc.), it's what subsidizes the cost of my own and others' "free" experience.

Here's the problem, though. The Creative Commons license under which the e-edition of Late Age was issued says this:
This PDF is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License, available at or by mail from Creative Commons, 171 Second St., Suite 300, San Francisco, CA 94105 U.S.A.

“Noncommercial” as defined in this license specifically excludes any sale of this work or any portion thereof for money, even if the sale does not result in a profit by the seller or if the sale is by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or NGO.

I'm pretty sure the presence of advertising on Scribd violates the terms of the license, albeit in an indirect way. It's not like Late Age is being sold there for money. However, it does provide a context or occasion for the selling of audience attention to advertisers, as well as the selling of an ad-free experience to potential readers. Either way, it would seem as though the book has become a prompt for commercial transactions.

As of today, the site has recorded close to 2,000 "reads" of Late Age (whatever that means), which would indicate that Scribd has managed to reach a small yet significant group of people by piggybacking on my book.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to do about this.

In software terms I've always considered the e-edition of Late Age to be more like shareware than freeware. That is, my publisher and I are comfortable with some folks free-riding provided that others -- hopefully many others -- go on to purchase the printed edition of the book. The e-edition is not, in other words, a total freebie. Columbia has invested significant time, money, and energy in producing the book, and if nothing else the Press deserves to recoup its investment. Me? I'm more interested in seeing the arguments and ideas spread, but not at the cost of Columbia losing money on the project.

In any case, the situation with advertising on Scribd raises all sorts of vexing questions about what counts as a "commercial" or "non-commercial" use of a book in the late age of print. This became clear to me after finishing Chris Kelty's Two Bits: The Cultural Politics of Free Software (Duke U.P., 2008). Kelty discusses how changes in technology, law, and structures of power and authority have created a host of issues for people in and beyond the world of software to work through: can free software still be free if it's built on top of commercial applications, even in part? can collectively-produced software be copyrighted, and if so, by whom? should a single person profit from the sale of software that others have helped to create? and so on.

Analogously, can the use of an e-book to lure eyeballs, and thus ad dollars, be considered "non-commercial?" What about using the volume to market an ad-free experience? More broadly, how do you define the scope of "non-commercial" once book content begins to migrate across diverse digital platforms? I don't have good answers to any of these questions, although to the first two I intuitively want to say, "no." Then again, I'm pretty sure we're dealing with an issue that's never presented itself in quite this way before, at least in the book world. Consequently, I'll refrain from making any snap-judgments.

As I've said here before, though, I recently ported The Differences and Repetitions Wiki from Wikidot to its own independent site after Wikidot became inundated with advertising. In general I'm not a fan of my work being used to sell lots of other, unrelated stuff, especially when there are more traditionally non-commercial options available for getting the work out.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Digital & Social Media Job Posting

My department at Indiana University, Communication and Culture, is looking for a top-notch person to fill an opening in digital/social media, at the level of assistant professor.  Check out the job announcement, below, and please circulate it widely.

I'm not a member of the search committee, by the way, so if you have questions it's best to contact the committee chair--my colleague, Professor Barbara Klinger.

Indiana University

Department of Communication and Culture

Digital and Social Media

The Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in Digital and Social Media to begin Fall 2011.

We seek a humanities-trained Ph.D. whose primary area of research expertise and training is in digital media studies focused specifically on the social dimensions and potentials of digital media. This applicant will be expected to interact productively with colleagues in one or more of the department’s three areas: Rhetoric and Public Culture; Film and Media Studies; and Performance and Ethnographic Studies. The applicant must have a well-developed research program and teaching experience in digital and social media. She or he will be responsible for developing an introductory lecture course and advanced undergraduate courses, as well as for actively shaping and teaching graduate offerings in this field of study.

We particularly encourage applicants whose research involves specialization in areas such as:

  • Social networking

  • New technologies of political advocacy

  • Ethnographies of new media

  • Convergence and participatory cultures

  • Digital video

  • Games and gaming

Candidates are expected to have a strong research agenda and a commitment to excellence in teaching. Preference will be given to those who have their Ph.D. in hand by the date of appointment. Applicants should send a letter of application, curriculum vitae, writing sample, and three letters of recommendation to: Professor Barbara Klinger, Chair, Digital/Social Media Search, Department of Communication and Culture, 800 E. 3rd Street, Indiana University, Bloomington IN 47405. Review of applications will begin December 1, 2010 and continue until the position is filled.

Indiana University is an equal opportunity and affirmative action employer. The university actively encourages applications and nominations of women, minorities, applicants with disabilities, and members of other underrepresented groups.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Get Organized

About a month ago a friend and fellow academic contacted me to ask how I organize all of the material that we accumulate in the course of our careers.  With the school year starting for most of us here in the United States and elsewhere, I thought it might be worth sharing what I told her.  It never hurts to start the year off on the right foot, eh?

Confession: I'm a prodigious keeper of academic stuff.  I'm not of the caliber of the people featured on the TV show Hoarders (which, by the way, literally takes my breath away), but my collection still runs pretty deep. Heck, I even have a few of my old notebooks from my undergraduate days, and truth be told I do refer to them on occasion.  I'm able to keep this much stuff because I live in the Midwest where housing prices are relative affordable.  Folks living in urban setting ought to take what I'm about to say with a major grain of salt.

One of the main items I hold on to are photocopied journal articles and book chapters.  Each one has its own separate file folder, and on the tab I write the author's name and the selection title.  Where possible I note the full citation on the document itself. I file these alphabetically by the author's last name in a four-drawer file cabinet that I've just about outgrown. In the event that the article is more topically-focused or doesn't name the author, I place it in a colored file folder and file it alphabetically by topic.

I've also begun amassing a growing number of e-readings of late, which I save on my laptop in a folder called "articles."  I use the author's last name and a keyword from the title as the file name.  I'm not yet convinced this is the best system, but it seems to be working for now.  Regular backup is a must.

I keep my old notebooks from graduate school in a cardboard file box. They're filed chronologically by semester, with the oldest ones toward the back.  I've moved a few of the notebooks I refer to most frequently to the front, even though that violates the chronological system.

I organize my teaching files by class and semester. Every class gets its own hanging file every semester, and in each I place three manila file folders: one for lesson plans, one for handouts/tests/syllabi/etc., and one for any other course related documents (e.g., enrollment records, grade rosters, etc.)  I keep the most active files in my desk-drawer file cabinet at home, and the older ones (usually for classes I'm not teaching anymore) I have archived in one of the file cabinets in my campus office.

My research files vary, but for the most part I keep a hardcopy of every finished manuscript in its own separate file folder labeled with the title and publication/presentation date. These I keep in a cardboard file box organized chronologically. The accompanying research materials I contain in accordion files, which I label with the project title. I keep these in a file box separate from the finished papers, although I've gone back and forth on this. Any articles I've used on a project go back in the metal file cabinet once I'm confident the project really is done.

I've managed to collect electronic copies of all of my published research, which I keep on my laptop in a folder called, surprisingly enough, "Published Research."  Within it I maintain separate folders for journal articles, book chapters, and book reviews.  Again, backup is essential.

Books: if I haven't read or referred to one in a long time, or if I've never read it at all, then it becomes a candidate to sell to a used bookstore -- although the only problem here is that I end up just trading them in for more books.  Otherwise, I use foldable/stackable bookshelves (a carry-over from graduate school, when I used to move around a lot) to house the many volumes comprising my library, the bulk of which I keep at home since that's where I mainly do my writing.  The titles are organized loosely by topic (philosophy, media studies, communication theory, postcolonial studies, race, cultural studies, etc.) and then by author, but I don't maintain any type of formal alphabetical system here. I try my best to organize multiple works by the same author chronologically.  Most of the time textbooks and odd or duplicate volumes end up on the bookshelves in my campus office.

That's my system in a nutshell.  What are your best tips, fellow travelers?