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Hey Barclay, Where’s Your Online Reader?

posted: 9.20.12 by Barclay Barrios

I’m often asked about an online version of Emerging. Anyone who knows me expects it, since I do so much work with technology. I’m an unabashed Apple fanboy living in a total Mac ecosystem: iMac, iPhone, iPad, iPod. With the advent of electronic textbooks for the iPad, it’s no wonder people close to me keep waiting for the digital version of Emerging.

But of course, anyone who knows anything about intellectual property rights in the digital age knows why it isn’t happening yet. It would be easy if I had just written a textbook: all my words, all original content and thus no rights and no permissions. But a reader is a completely different species.

There’s an entire team at Bedford that focuses only on negotiating the rights to use each reading in the book, and each comes with its own special price tag. What I find most amazing is how random those price tags can be. There are some pieces I never thought we’d be able to afford that are (in relative terms) very cheap. Others I was sure we’d score easily, but they ended up just being too expensive.

There’s no predicting the cost of permissions for print rights. Now, take that, multiply it by fears around digital rights, multiply that by the pace of change in technology, divide by the inertia of print and raise it all by a factor of 10. That’s the world of digital permissions.

We’re making some progress. For this coming edition of Emerging, we have a few online readings with multimedia elements (called e-pages). But our experience putting those together illustrates the very barriers facing publishes when it comes to an online reader. There was a podcast we wanted to include but we were denied permission—not because of the podcast but because the makers of the podcast had already had so much trouble getting permission to use the music in the background.

No doubt these problems will, in time, change. But change is going to be slow—not because of publishers or the massive inertia of print, but simply because permissions were a Byzantine system to start with and the digital dimension has only made them more so.

I look forward to my online reader. I hope I live to see it. For now, I’m pretty stoked to have any online readings at all. Hey, it’s progress.

 

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