Sunday, June 10, 2012

Crowd-funding to buy a Creative Commons license for a book:

You might be thinking what a chockfull of concepts behind this statement: "Crowd-funding to buy a Creative Commons license for an ebook".

Let me break it down for you:

  1. Crowd-funding: "Funding a project by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people" (source:
  2. Purchase, i.e. owner is paid in return for granting a perpetual license for others to use the work
  3. Creative Commons as the licensing model
  4. The work is subsequently released in a digital form (the source just needs to be 'already published' and may not be an ebook, if I understood it correctly)

Sounds really innovative.

From the FAQ section:
What is is a a place for individuals and institutions to join together to give their favorite ebooks to the world. We work with rights holders to decide on fair compensation for releasing a free, legal edition of their already-published books, under Creative Commons licensing. Then everyone pledges toward that sum. When the threshold is reached (and not before), we collect the pledged funds and we pay the rights holders. They issue an unglued digital edition; you're free to read and share it, with everyone, on the device of your choice, worldwide.

As explained at Library Journal (17 May 2012):
" works by allowing the rights holders of an already-published book to set a funding threshold—generally between $5,000 to $25,000—and a deadline for a funding campaign. If supporters pledge sufficient funding prior to the campaign deadline, the book will be released as an “unglued” ebook edition, free of digital rights management (DRM) software, and free to copy and share under a Creative Commons license.

Gluejar Inc., the company that developed, explained the motivation behind the concept in a release today, noting that “proprietary formats and [DRM] technology lock ebooks to specific devices and make it hard for people to keep reading their books as technology changes. Many ebooks cannot even be lent by libraries. Unglued ebooks solve these problems.”

I found this YouTube video, where the president of Gluejar (the company behind was interviewed about its platform and business model for eBook distribution:

Why Creative Commons rather than Public Domain?
With CC, the owner retains copyright while still giving a "free-to-use" license. This means the owner still has the ability to set other conditions, which could involve payment to the owner.

Here's an example:

Suppose I license my eBook under a "CC Attribution Non-Commercial" license. A movie producer wants to turn my work into a for-profit movie. He has to seek permission from me (or pay me) because I've only given permission for non-commercial use. Separately, I'm able to enter a contract with this movie producer (because he's commercialising it, I also ask for a fee) At the same time, this contract does not affect my earlier CC licensed work, even if it's the same work.

Or, at the very least, I allow the movie producer to use my work without a fee but with very specific conditions on how I should be credited (hmm... I want my name to be at the start of the movie, and as a stand-alone mention at the end. Plus, it has to be on all publicity materials etc.)

See how I would have retained control of my choice of licensing model in that sense? (Nothing in the world can prevent copyrights abuse, but that's another issue).

Whereas if my work is in the Public Domain, the movie producer can legally use it without even mentioning my name. Btw, it's not quite as straight-forward in releasing one's work as Public Domain while one is still alive, i.e. before the Copyright term expires. Which is where CC also has a solution with CC0).

Personally, I think adopting CC makes a lot of sense. For one, CC has been around for 10 years and the framework (currently at version 3) has withstood the test of time and in a few cases, in courts as well. CC allows the owner to retain copyright, unlike a Public Domain work where rights are given up absolutely.

CC is seen as a fairly robust and flexible framework. It provides clarity (to lawyers and non-lawyers alike).

An example of flexibility is where a CC-licensed work allows for subsequent format conversions, unless the author opts for a "No-Derivatives" license. Which is also another instance of flexibility of licensing-choice being provided for the owner. The owner can opt for the various combinations of CC options.

Does it mean the content owner's ability to make money is diminished?

The FAQ anticipates this very important question:
"If I'm a rights holder and I unglue my book, does that mean I can never make money from it again?"
No! You are free to enter into additional licensing agreements for other, non-unglued, editions of the work, including translation and film rights. You may continue to sell both print and ebook editions. You may use your unglued books as free samples to market your other works -- for instance, later works in the same series. You can use them to attract fans who may be interested in your speaking engagements, merchandise, or other materials. You absolutely may continue to profit from ungluing books -- and we hope you do!

The 'control' is also put in the hands of the rights-holders. Only rights-holders (authors or publishers) can start campaigns:
Who is eligible to start a campaign on
To start a campaign, you need to be a verified rights holder who has signed a Platform Services Agreement with us. If you hold the commercial rights for one or more works, please contact to start the process.

One of the things I picked up from the video: the business model targets eBooks that aren't bestsellers.

The FAQ also lists a few reasons on "Why do rights holders want to unglue their books?":

  • To publicize their other books, gain new fans, or otherwise increase the value of an author's brand.
  • To get income from books that are no longer in print.
  • To have a digital strategy that pays for itself, even if they don't have expertise in producing ebooks.
  • To advance a cause, add to the public conversation, or increase human knowledge.
  • To leave a legacy that enriches everyone, now and in the future.

A possible downside for authors?
There's the difficulty in deciding a fair value for the book to be crowd-funded. I can imagine the tussle between what authors think they can reasonably get in terms of longer-term sales Vs what's essentially an upfront fee to release the work under CC.

In short: if they set a sum now and their book proves to be super-popular later, they can't recall the CC license and charge more.

It forces independent authors, who may be inexperienced in price negotiations, to assume even more entrepreneurial risk. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. And the reality may be that many of such authors have no recourse to obtaining an upfront fee from traditional publishing models anyway. Is it a viable business model?

Paul Biba asked, in this post, why would anyone pledge money to an Unglue campaign. Even Eric Hellman acknowledges in the video interview that "everyone wants to see others go first".

My own view is that a crowd-funding model, if pitched successfully (either in planned or unplanned ways), is likely to work for books whose:
  • author or content have some appeal in some way
  • readers understand, and are willing to participate in, a crowd-funding model
  • supporters have a sense of altruism at some level

Let's say I'm the sort of reader who buys books:
  • There's a title that interests me and I don't mind paying $4 for it (let's presume it costs $4).
  • After reading it, I think it's great and that it's something the rest of the world should benefit.
  • I decide to support the book's campaign by contributing an amount that I'm comfortable donating. Say, $8. It's like I'm paying it forward for two other people.
  • According to the FAQ, I'm only charged if the campaign (which has a time duration) succeeds.

Here's another possible scenario:
  • I'm the sort of person who doesn't buy eBooks. Or a book for that matter.
  • A friend tells me about this book. I may or may not have gotten hold of the book thus far.
  • I support the campaign and maybe put in $2. It's what I'm willing to pay if I buy the eBook. Only, in this case I'm buying for a perpetual CC licensed copy. Or I hope I do.
  • If the campaign succeeds, I'm charged for what I've pledged.

The left-brained eBook bargain-seekers (nothing wrong with that, BTW) may also see the model as a way to crowdsource for discounts. If they are willing to wait.

The business model makes participation almost barrier free by not imposing any upfront costs (again, from their FAQ):
... If you choose to support a campaign, you may pledge whatever amount you're comfortable with. Your credit card will only be charged if the campaign reaches its goal price.
If you're a rights holder, starting campaigns is free, too. You only pay if your campaign succeeds. For the basics on campaigns, see the FAQ on Campaigns; for more details, see the FAQ for Rights Holders.

I think the service might be very useful for small print presses. Or tie-ups with independent self-publishing/ distribution platforms like Smashworlds.

Maybe even libraries as business partners, where libraries help persuade authors to Unglue their work in some ways. The model could also be a model for libraries to be 'publishing' intermediaries in a sense.

Altruism may be the key
I thought Gluejar's president, Eric Hellman, explained it well (see the video's 2:16min segment) about the "heart's" perspective. I think it's this aspect of "giving from the heart" that might be how model will ultimately succeed.

Their FAQ has clearly anticipated the question:
"Why should I fund a book at when I can just buy it somewhere else?"When you buy a book, you get a copy for yourself. When you unglue it, you give a copy to yourself and everyone on earth.
How or when will be successful is anyone's guess. But the potential is definitely there, in my view.

My sense is there's a definite trend towards self-publishing and self-distribution. Which means additional distribution and publicity platforms like, backed with a reliable and known rights-model like Creative Commons, will be given a second look by authors. Particularly authors whose works have inherent potential and appeal.

A model like seems to provide an indirect incentive for readers to make some books cheaper and available in a digital forms.

Plus, I believe the world can only become more altruistic rather than less.

I don't think will take the book world by storm. But it's definitely welcome news.


  1. I am not sure this is the right particular business to go about liberating rights with fair compensation, but this type of idea is definitely part of the future.

    1. I think crowd-funding is one way but can't be the only way. A user-driven model of funding might favour those who are popular rather than good, but I think there's no perfect model.

  2. I like this idea of crowd-funding, and is definitely very innovative in what they're doing. I think we'll see this idea develop a lot more over the next few years though. It's going to take authors a little more time to really jump on board and see the potential with crowd funding.

  3. Anonymous4:40 pm


    Would like to ask you a question regarding the Masters in Information Studies in NTU. After applying directly at NLB for the scholarship, do we still need to apply at NTU website directly? Or just one application would suffice for the program? Thanks for your help!

    1. @anonymous - do ask NLB directly. Good luck.

  4. Anonymous1:02 pm

    Thanks. But at that time when you've applied, did you also apply to NTU directly too? Thanks for your reply!


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