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Proposal:Almost Free Book Publishing Online and in Print

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Every proposal should be tied to one of the strategic priorities below.

Edit this page to help identify the priorities related to this proposal!

  1. Achieve continued growth in readership
  2. Focus on quality content
  3. Increase Participation
  4. Stabilize and improve the infrastructure
  5. Encourage Innovation


Create a new wiki, where non-fiction living books can be published, originally controlled and developed by a single contributor, with the allowance of a short-term (say 5 year) window where a printed (or digital) edition can be sold for profit, jointly shared among specific parties.

(Apologies in advance for my poor use of this template and personal first-person tone - I am not an experienced contributor, but would like to be)


Based on the summary and motivation, there are several dependent proposals.

1) Create a new wiki similar to wikibooks and wikiversity. It would have slight technical differences that can be flushed out another time. However, its use and purpose differs sufficiently as to warrant compartmentalization of some kind. In particular,

  a) it does not follow the neutral point of view, and is specifically geared for a book-level,
     opinionated synthesis of existing knowledge by an author for the general community.
     It is not intended for journal sized technical content (peer reviewed or otherwise)
  b) it is normally authored by a single contributor who controls all content (for a limited time). It is certainly open to reading and commenting by all.
  c) it allows for some profit (for a limited time) for the author, wikipedia foundation, possible single editor and possible single publisher.

2) Allow a time-limited, modest profit model from a 'printed' edition (yes, I know the 'profit' is a dirty word, but I'll explain shortly)

  a) It has a short time-limit, say 5 years where the author could receive monetary compensation from any corresponding print publications.
  b) Profit will be shared between the author, a single editor if any, a single publisher, and the wikifoundation. Details finalized elsewhere.
  c) During that time, nobody but the above would be allowed to earn "profit".
  d) At the same time, the online version will be available.
  e) "Print" may include all complete off-line copies of the book versions, so that digital editions would also provide a time-limited remuneration.
     After all, we are moving to a world where paper may become obsolete.
     Copying at most a chapter of the online book should be freely allowed, but assembling more would require payments
     (or whatever current copyright laws specify - I am not an expert). Thus, not totally open/free. I'm not sure if this is absolutely required
     to enable a revenue stream. Experimentation...

3) A single author and/or editor would be responsible for the opinionated book, at least for the first 5 (or whatever) years,

  i.e., it has a limited open access policy.
  a) Like any wiki, others are welcome to contribute, but external contributions need to be aware that
    i)   they themselves will not be financially rewarded
    ii)  they are contributing to improving the author's financial reward
    iii) they will likely not be indicated as contributors within the printed book, but on-line, their contributions live forever in discussion/editorial pages.
  b) External edit changes will not appear online, until the author approves.
  c) All editorial changes (even after the time limit) must be in line with the original author's opinionated view of the world.
     This is a forum to extend, and keep alive, an idea, not trash it.
     If you don't like the author's opinion, write your own book.
     It might be useful to technically extend wikimedia so that commenting, trashing,
     relating to other's opinion can be indicated online, but not in a 'print' edition that needs to maintain an author's original idea.
  d) The author can create as many versions as desired, and arrange for their publications during that 5 year period.

4) After the 5 year period (or whatever the number will be)

  a) Any revenue from already printed material is shared as before
  b) The content becomes completely free (creative-commons? although copyright/accreditation may still be required).
     Possibly the entire book gets moved to Wikibook, or whatever.
     Anyone in the world can decide to print it, without remuneration to other parties.
     One of the reasons for this is that eventually, being a live book, most of the content becomes shaped by numerous contributors.
  c) The author still retains editorial oversight, but that can become distributed, passed up, or the entire book opened to immediate change by all.
  d) As 3c), editorial changes must be in line with the original opinionated spirit of the book.
  e) As any traditionally published book, the rest of wikipedia can link into it, as it is a primary source from that perspective.
     However, ideally it should no be so used until the test of time (say 5 years) proves it to be influential.
     After all, there are numerous of bad opinions in the dust bin of history...

5) An example of a technical enhancement (that might involve HTML changes) is of multi-links that when clicked upon,

  open up a popup-menu of a set of links. The reason for this that for ease of explanation/flow, a single term might be displayed,
  but it may involve several conceptions. Alternatively, there could be extra (toggably viewed) text that contains extra info not
  normally printed. This relates to the white/black/grey wikis.


Personal Motivation

I am interested in writing a non-fictional, slightly technical book for the general audience (actually, young adults). I want to do so within wikimedia in about 2 years, thus I want to see if the road can be paved now. (I'm currently in a Cognitive Science PhD program with interests in AI and Philosophy).

My book has a (non-neutral) unique (technical) perspective of the world that encompasses an extremely wide subject matter. However, I want this book to be a source of discovery and exploration, especially to other multi-media content. As such, I want to link many of the conceptions within the book, directly into Wikipedia. The print version (and hopefully people would buy it) is simply remuneration for my time spent - I do have to live. The printed book should be readable on its own. However, its online-counterpart, would be the source of reader investigation and more detailed information. PS. I suspect if more books did so, it would open up the readership of slightly technical works to a larger audience who would be less intimidated when explanations of confusing terms are readily available.

Of course, I could simply supplied a PDF or HTML directory with the same hyperlinked material, instead of this entire proposal. It's important to me that a) the (technical but not peer reviewed) idea be kept alive and extended b) links from the book into wikimedias be maintained c) links into portions of the live book can be made.

Thus I am trying to find some balance between free, open-access, and decent remuneration for contributions. Here is one such proposal.

General Motivation

1) Wikipedia is the only proven system that has improved the signal-to-noise ratio of organized information, despite continual change.

  It can overcome the thermodynamic law of increasing entropy (confusion) due to a constant source of energy -
  all the small and large contributors are a constant source of sunshine. I consider it as the only truly "living" entity on the WWW.
  a) Certainly, wikipedia is not currently geared for everyone or every purpose. Thus many other similar systems are being tried.
     I suspect that they will all fail. Part of the problem, is the Yet Another System syndrome. When information is not in one coherently hyperlinked
     system, it becomes unorganized and hard to find/associate, despite the power of search engines. Every additional system simply increases noise/entropy.
     Perhaps the greatest strength of wikipedia is its singular pre-eminence. Can, and should this be leveraged?
  b) There are many kinds of information. Those of deep local scope are often produced by scientists (but not always).
     If of common import, they may eventually find their way into wikipedia, typically by another contributor.
     I would suggest that the original scientist ought to organize all information, both "common" and highly technical after
     a paper has been published by a peer-reviewed system. This is where the white/grey/black wikipedias may come in useful.
     Currently, there is a reluctance by academia to refer to wikipedia (I personally disagree), but science does not have a good way
     to organise all there interconnected information. After all, how many textbooks exist on exactly the same subject matter!
     If wikipedia can provide such a place, not only would the amount of high quality
     information be increased, it will open up a new set of contributors. My view on referencing is that in any article, what is considered as
     common knowledge by any expert in that domain should not be referenced and could be replaced by a simple hyperlink into wikipedia.
     Referencing should be restricted to the few specifics being discussed.
     I should point out that there may be multiple learning styles, so perhaps books covering the same subject matter, but written in a different styles do
     make sense, as would any organization in classical wikipedia.
  c) Much information is of broad scope in book form. Certainly academics produce these in abundance, but I would suggest that,
     despite being "smart", some are less "wise" than similar books produced by non-academics. I am interested only in those books that produce 
     new (and often many) ideas (synthesized or not). After any such book is published, the original author should organize their ideas on wikipedia.
     However, on face value, this would appear as self serving and non-neutral, despite any re-wordings such as "author x has said...". Nevertheless,
     all ideas have some merit and should be captured. Hence an opinionated segregation of wikipedia. In any case, any use of the segregated side,
     would illuminate holes in the standard wikipedia, and this too would open up a whole new set of contributors.
  d) There is another view of such broad ideas. Each can be considered as a "research program", scientific or cultural. As such, these do evolve over the
     course of time, from the germ of a poorly thought out idea, to a possibly significant and accepted (neutral) idea. Living ideas are knowledge
     and require a living knowledge management system (aka wikipedia). Ideally we want ideas to win based on merit rather than popularity. Again, I
     believe a neutral place (wikipedia) is better than the hyped-up world of print publishing and popular authors. In wikipedia, authorship is hidden behind
     discussion pages. People read wikipedia for content, not normally for inspirations by a specific author.
  e) Thus I hope that Wikipedia evolves to encompass all forms of knowledge static and living.

2) I do want wikipedia to live forever. Another revenue stream helps, and can attract contributors (book writers) who would not normally consider wikipedia.

Key Questions

1) Profit. I believe in free access to information, but the world does run on money.

  a) I would hope, that if I worked for a private company, or a government agency,
     then they would encourage contributions into various Wikimedias (and pay my salary).
     Perhaps, this should be considered as a civic duty?
  b) However, what about an individual contributor wanting to write a book that would take a year or more? How can they stay fed and sheltered?
     Certainly, a traditional publishing route is possible, but I don't think any publisher would find it viable
     when the content is simultaneously available online for free and that they only have a limited time (5 years) to recoup investment or make
     any profit. Moreover, I want to keep the price of the printed book down to facilitate its reading by as many young adults as possible.
     Is it possible to mix open/free with profit? This proposal is an attempt. Note that all profit comes from the printed publication side,
     not from online access.
  c) It may be desirable for Wikipedia foundation to become the print publisher. See 2). In this case I am happy that after 5 years, the wikipedia foundation
     (but not any individual) will retain the sole right to publish and reap income for its non-profit purposes,
     i.e., to relieve the dependence on grants and donations. I can imagine a world where this becomes the only significant source of income to wikifoundation,
     but who knows.
  d) An author is free to make arrangements with any editor of their choice. However, wikipedia has numerous experienced editors who can be contracted to help
     an author with their book. I recommend such a single editor be so assigned and would share in profit. This can motivate the significant contributors and encourage
     more to come on board to wikipedia. Need we add an editor/contributor rating system?

2) As currently described, any private organization could become the print publisher. I suspect this may not be viable due to the simultaneous presence

  of a completely free online counterpart, and a 5 year time limit. Thus it may be desirable for the wikipedia foundation to get into the print
  (or digital edition) publication business. Printing all of wikipedia may not be viable, but single cohesive books might. Of course, this is fraught with
  all the problems that any publisher has
  a) Does wikifoundation advance money to any author? I would suggest not for now. All authors take some risk, with the hope of being recompensed by royalties,
     limited or otherwise.
  b) Many ideas for books are bad and authors could be bad writers. So like any publisher, there ought to be a way to limit these.
     How to arrange for a neutral oversight committee? At the least, any publisher (which could be Wikifoundation) needs to be compensated for their direct costs,
     and decent livelihood. Nobody should be concerned about "profit" as the basic idea is to put information online for all.
     Perhaps, some experiments in such a proposal need to be made. I might be willing to act as a test subject and assume some risk.
     PS. for now, assume my own idea is viable. This proposal is not the place to discuss its merits.

2) Would this proposal affect existing significant contributors? It is geared for single book-length contributions

  which may still be much less than the numerous widespread edits of others. On the other hand, anyone writing a book
  would find numerous holes in wikipedia that need to be filled (in a NPOV), so this could encourage such contributions.
  And possibly editor can be assigned to books and would indeed be recompensed.

3) Impact to wikibooks and wikiuniversity?

  Certainly all proposed book can be turned into a wikibook after the time limit has expired.

4) For how many books is such a proposal useful? If I'm the only one, then there's no point. I suspect all new non-fiction books could be put into wikipedia under such

  a model, especially if a printed edition is shown to provide a reasonable income for authors. Perhaps a trial is required...

Potential Costs

As a trial run, perhaps little needs to be developed. I suspect some changes to wikimedia might be required.

Obviously, the book is stored on Wiki servers, but I suspect that cost is low.

There are positive revenue costs. Income is shared with the wikifoundation, and this could be a viable model.

All change (NPOV, free open/access) is disruptive. I have tried to limit impact by segregation. I can imagine these issues debated till kingdom come...


Community Discussion

Do you have a thought about this proposal? A suggestion? Discuss this proposal by going to Proposal talk:Almost Free Book Publishing Online and in Print.

Want to work on this proposal?

  1. Vibhijain 14:45, 8 May 2011 (UTC)
  2. .. Sign your name here!