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Lessig on Digital Barbarism

Lawrence Lessig has posted a review of David Halperin's recent book, Digital Barbarism.

Halperin, who authored the (in)famous New York Times article calling for perpetual copyright, has now compiled his ideas into a book. Lessig offers a much-needed critique, including citing misconceptions about Creative Commons (Halperin conflates it not only with "freeware" with software... more

The business behind Bookmooch
Yonnie Kim, ccKorea · Oct 26th, 2006 1:22 pm · 28 votes · no comments made
New Life for Old Books, Bookmooch, CC BY 2.0 (
New Life for Old Books, Bookmooch
I am often bothered when people confuse the social meaning of 'sharing' with the individual meaning of it. Some say that sharing is daring because it is a social virtue. They may be true, but may fail to pay attention to the personal aspect of 'sharing'. Why do people share things? Some might share because it is more fun, some might share because they believe it is for social goodness, and some might share because they want more people to see what they have done. No matter what motivation individuals might have for sharing, it seems obvious that 'sharing' is related to the issue of how people are motivated and eventually how they are rewarded. As we all know, sometimes it involves economic issues, and can get even more complicated.

However, as Larry Lessig argued in his recent "Lessig Letters", I agree that the next challenge for commoners is "to figure out how sharing economy interacts with a traditional commercial economy". Inspired by the questions put forward by Larry in the letter, such as "what happens when Time wants to use a fantastic CC-licensed Flickr photo?" and "how does a hit on ccMixter move into the commercial space?"; I would like to ask what role should commoners play in that context? How can sharing be linked to the commercial world?

Bookmooch is an inspiring case, which can offer strategic tips as answers to those questions. Bookmooch is an online community for exchanging used books. If you join as a member, you can ask someone in the community to send you a second-hand book. In exchange, when someone asks you for a used book of yours, you send it to him or her. It is a simple network of people who are interested in sharing, or to "mooch" used books with others. It seems pretty much like 'just sharing', but it isn't. If you fail to get the book then you keep it in your wish list. If you are in a hurry, you may click the 'get from Amazon' link instead of waiting for a free copy. In this case, Bookmooch makes a 5% commission from Amazon. It is an obvious business model.

Bookmooch is now planning to introduce another feature to invite authors to jump into the value-chain of the 'sharing' community. The trick is to reward authors when their book is traded. John Buckman, of Magnatune fame and founder of Bookmooch said, "traditionally authors do not make any royalties from used book sales, but make a commission only on the first sale of their contents. What I am trying to do is finding a way to pay authors back a bit for every use of their books".

The mechanism is simple - a credit is given to an author each time his or her book is traded. The more the author's books are passed along, the more credits the author gets. A 'credit' means free books in Bookmooch so that new feature might be translated as 'authors get free books for life'. John added that he would like to work on ways to be able to help independent authors. The barrier to distributing their contents for self-publishing authors seem to be obviously low, since the cost of shipping books, a major problem for self-publishers, will be paid by readers. This is what he calls 'the after market of contents'. And in that way, it is important to reward an initial content creator, so as not to lose motivation to continue with more creation.

How is the site going? He tipped me off that it was going surprisingly well. After only 7 weeks after the site launch, there have been 20 000 books exchanged, 100 000 different books are available in the site, and 10 000 people have joined from 67 different countries. The site is translated into 5 different languages, with a soon to be added Japanese version. From statistics John noticed that when people share 10 books for free, they then seem buy a new book. Who knows this might be a magic number to link 'sharing' and 'purchasing'?

tags: international culture

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