McKenzie Wark, author of the classic Hacker Manifesto, has written a long, smart review of my book Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free (now in paperback) for the Los Angeles Review of Books. It’s a genuinely excellent piece of critical writing — I think it’s my favorite review of this book so far.
A number of writers — including Douglas Rushkoff and Astra Taylor — have published useful books on similar issues recently, but Doctorow comes closest among these authors to understanding the interest of creators as a class interest. In my view, the class perspective runs like this: Creators are a bit different from other workers, in ways that make it difficult to analyze their behavior and interests in the class-based terms devised to make sense of 19th-century industrial labor. For one thing, musicians, writers, sculptors, and video makers all view themselves as doing very different things, and marketing the products of their labor within very different industries. Their work is also difficult to standardize: where traditional laborers make the same thing, over and over, creators, by definition, make different things: the whole point of being a creator, and the value of what the creator makes, is that each product comes out at least a bit different. While creators, like Marx’s workers, rarely own the means of production, they don’t usually sell their labor power itself. Instead, they sell the rights to reproduce their work and make money from it.
Things become even more confusing when you consider that a lot of what creators make these days takes the form of information, as opposed to physical objects. The product of the labor is a file you can copy, regardless of whether the file is text or sound or images or moving images. Audiences, like creators, usually don’t own the means of making and distributing creative work; they need platforms and software provided by tech companies and service providers to access the creator’s work at all. The overwhelming fact about life in this overdeveloped world of ours is that we don’t make our own culture for each other. There’s a whole host of culture and communication industries that stand between the creator and the audience.
The relationship of creator to audience is mediated by what Doctorow calls “investors” and “intermediaries,” typified by Hollywood (the culture industry) and Silicon Valley (the internet-based communication industry). The investor owns a stock of creative works — images, texts, recordings — most often by controlling the copyright. The intermediary controls the flow of information: they own the means of getting copies of those books or songs to audiences. Sometimes the investor and intermediary are parts of the same multinational company, and often they are not.
Investors, when they can, will try to jack up the price of reproducing creative work. Intermediaries, when they can, will take advantage of creative work they can get for free. They will also try to monopolize the channel, inflate the price to the audience, and low-ball what they pay to the investor. Since creators have the least bargaining power of everyone involved in these transactions, they usually get the rough end of the pineapple.
The Authors Alliance, a nonprofit writers’ organization, conducted a wide-ranging piece of research on the experience of authors with open access publishing, including my own experiences with Creative Commons and commercial publishing.
That said, most of the essay focuses on academic and scientific authors, who may be institutionally bound to publish under open access, or who may wish to open their work as part of their ethical commitment to peer review and access in scholarship.
THIS GUIDE WILL HELP YOU:
• Learn more about open access and related options
• Comply with an open access policy from an employer or funding agency
• Select the terms on which you would like to make a work openly accessible
• Publish a work with an open access publisher
• Make a work openly accessible on a personal or group website
• Deposit a work in an open access repository
• Negotiate with a conventional publisher to make a work openly accessible
• And much more.
I woke this morning to the delightful news that I won Editorial Intelligence’s 2015 prize for Technology and Digital Commentator of the Year for my work on the Guardian. I’m honoured and delighted — thank you to the jury and the organisation, and to Martha Lane Fox for her presentation of the award!
After my spam hit a point where I couldn’t actually download my email faster than it was arrivingI spent a month clicking the unsubscribe links in all the spams in my inbox. Weirdly, it worked.
Have you ever wondered why the Internet is always just a little bit too slow to support the kind of activity you’re trying to undertake? My latest Locus column, The Internet Will Always Suck, hypothesizes that whenever the Internet gets a little faster or cheaper, that unlocks a bunch of applications that couldn’t gain purchase at the old levels, and they rush in to fill in the new space that’s been opened up. The good news is that new ways of connecting with one another are always being opened up. The bad news is that this means that the net will always be more-or-less broken for whatever we depend upon it most.
Anika Ullmann, a graduate student in Cultural Studies Leuphana University in Luneberg, Germany, has published a paper on the relationship of my young adult novels to political radicalism, the hacker ethic and the “First Days of a Better Nation.” I found it a great and insightful read, and Annika kindly made a copy available for you to read, too!
We’re launching the new paperback edition of “Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, my book of practical advice and theory for artists trying to make sense of the net (it features intros by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer, too!) at Santa Monica’s Diesel Books.
I’ll be there (225 26th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90402), from 6:30 to 7:30, talking about the book’s subjects, taking questions and signing copies.
The paperback features several updates, including a new essay I wrote for this edition.
Derek Bruff teaches a first-year college writing seminar in mathematics, an unusual kind of course that covers a lot of ground, and uses a novel as some of its instructional material — specifically, my novel Little Brother.
It hits shelves today, featuring an essay I wrote specifically for this edition, tying together Korean politics — especially surveillance and censorship — with global mass-surveillance and the themes in the book.