On Internet Freedom–My New (E)Book

Today is the one year anniversary of the SOPA Blackout–the day the public got the attention of Congress and defeated the awful proposed copyright bill. It was a victory for freedom of speech and innovation.

The groups that helped organize the public to oppose SOPA have come together to declare January 18 Internet Freedom Day. The central site is InternetFreedomDay.Net. Different organizations are also engaging in a wide range of actions today, apart from the common action. Some of them are listed on that site, if you scroll down.

The holiday celebrates our freedom to use the Internet as we wish, generally without anyone’s permission. It also reminds us that maintaining that freedom requires our involvement. We have to protect it.

You can celebrate the holiday by tweeting (or blogging, or making a video) about something you love about the Internet and sharing it. For example, point out something about the Internet  you’d never want to see censored. Or, as Craig Newmark, Craigslist’s founder, has framed it slightly differently:  answer the question, “How does the Internet give you a voice?”

I wrote a short article explaining one thing I love about the Internet–that it has empowered people to debate the most basic questions about the laws governing our media. Before the Internet, mainstream media didn’t cover such debates as they affected their own industries (and our speech). Laws like copyright, among others, hardly received news coverage on TV, let alone critical coverage. Now, the general public can be informed and involved in helping to answer these fundamental questions concerning our democracy.

There’s something else I love made possible by the Internet: e-books.

As a kid, I loved books. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, which was could be pretty boring in the 1980s, especially compared to being an adult in a city like San Francisco, New York City, or Washington, DC. In the 1980s, we had very little good media. The original Nintendo was awesome for a kid. But not much else in way of electronic media. It was the Couch Potato Era, and we didn’t even have good TV. I remember three networks, then four, and then the rise of cable TV. I remember MTV running ads encouraging us to call our cable operators to demand our MTV. Many of the best shows were years or decades away.

As for news, I wasn’t a big fan of the Detroit Free Press or the Detroit News, my only options really. Local TV news just showed local crimes and pets being saved (or attacking neighbors). As for music, you couldn’t listen to a record before you bought it. Other than Michael Jackson’s Thriller, most albums only had one or two good songs and a lot a filler. Life before the Internet was a vast wasteland.

There were only two places for good entertainment and information:bookstores and libraries.

There were books about everything. Books had all the interesting or different ideas in society. Other than some magazines (found in the same bookstores and libraries), nothing else had any in-depth analysis on any topic. Knowledge was in books. And books might be hard to find, especially as any one bookstore might carry only a few thousand titles.

You didn’t just order any book you wanted, used or new or digital, from an app or device. You went to bookstores and looked around. You wouldn’t even know if a book existed unless you saw it physically, read about it somewhere (often in another book), heard about it, or got a catalog. I remember snapping up books, often at used bookstores, for fear I’d never find them again. And I remember going to library book sales, buying books for a quarter, or by the bag. The magic of a book has remained, but it was different then. It was the really the only place to learn about history and to grapple with the ideas that kids grapple with as they grow up–like what should I do with my life, what’s the meaning of it all, and what makes a good person.

The publishing industry always struck me as efficient enough as a kid. But there was a lot of friction compared to today. For a customer, learning about and finding books was harder. For an author, there were agents, then editors and publishers, and then bookstores. These are bottlenecks of sorts at every step of the way. They added value, of course, but they necessarily delayed the time-to-market and would add costs, passed on as higher prices to readers.

Still, I was planning on writing a book, in paper, in stores, about the Internet, the First Amendment and public involvement. And will.

But January 18, 2013 seemed like a good day to have a short book freely available for folks who care about the Internet. When I decided to write a book for January 18, there was no way to get a book into bookstores in time–through the process of agents, publishers, and so on. Plus, an old friend who writes for the New York Times had just released an e-book and explained why, with pretty compelling reasons.

So I asked around. I read a book by Guy Kawasaki on publishing an e-book. I decided to go for it. All I had to do was get a copyeditor, proofreader, two researchers, and a cover artist–all of whom were pretty awesome. Plus, friends looked at drafts and provided ideas.

I decided I wanted to donate all the proceeds to organizations that work on these issues. I am on the Boards of Directors of both Fight for the Future and Demand Progress, and am providing all proceeds to them. And I also wanted the book to be available without charge on Internet Freedom Day, in honor of the holiday. With an e-book, both of those options were much easier to implement.

Some people have asked why I have made the book available only on Kindle. The Kindle offers a free app–for desktops, tablets, and smartphones. So the free app plus the free book still equals free everywhere. Kindle also requires 90 dys of exclusivity to make the book available in the Lending Library for Prime users. It also must be exclusive to do a promotion–to offer the book for free for one day. Finally, it was easy *for me* to have simply one platform to upload to and keep track of. I was hoping the added hassle of downloading the Kindle app, for those who didn’t have it, wouldn’t be a big deal. Seems like it’s not been a hassle so far.

Finally, I could update the book at the last minute. I’m still waiting for an edit to the book from last night to post, a discussion at the end of chapter 3 regarding the CFAA. It’s taken longer than 12 hours to post, but that’s still a far shorter turn around time than the publishing days of yore.

I don’t think e-books will dis-intermediate and destroy publishing, at all. But I think it will force the whole process to go faster and give us all–writers and readers–more options.

Oh, and I should include a link to the book, free today.

And here is the cover. For those unfamiliar with the Cat Signal, I explain it early in Chapter 1.


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