🇺🇸 Why I chose the CC license
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🇺🇸 Why I chose the CC license
This is a translation of the French article "Pourquoi j'ai choisi la licence CC" written in August 2021.
To celebrate 200 followers on Twitter 🎉, I took up Imaginatiou's challenge and wrote a little explanation : why did I decide to publish my e-books for free under a Creative Commons license? This is all about me. It's a very personal thought (and rather self-publishing oriented), and you may not agree, that's ok. But if you know the same doubts as me and go through the same questions, I hope this article will offer you some food for thought to build the project that suits you :)
Why do we sell our books?
Have time to sell
Finally, your book is written! It is beautiful and ready to be read. The intuitive next step is to sell it. But a sale implies a buyer. Damn! everything gets complicated, nothing works as if by magic. Even if you've just published the greatest masterpiece in the known universe, if you just sit back, it won't sell. It's that there are heaps of books. Why would this reader there pay more attention to the pitch of your book compare to its neighbour? To sell, you will have to roll up your sleeves and stand out with one key word: communication. This novel dear to your heart, you must promote it, talk about it, you must be present on social networks, at salons, you must build a community... that is work. Lots of work.
Have reasons to sell
Why do we sell our books? I can't remember ever seeing this question written in black and white on a social media thread or in an article. Yet, through other questions and other subjects, the authors sometimes give their opinion on this without realizing it. The answers are endless in their arrangement, but they are grouped around three main axes:
1/ I am selling to reimburse myself for what it cost me to produce the book.
2/ I sell because I want to live from my pen.
3/ I sell because it is normal for a work of art to have a price.
So I ask myself the question: do these reasons, although legitimate in general, concern me personally?
1/ Do I need to reimburse myself for what it cost me to produce my book?
Because my book cost me nothing. I mean yes, of course, it cost me a lot of time, energy, I put all my soul into it. But my wallet is the same. I protected it by taking care of everything. I wrote the book, I corrected it, I drew the cover, I created the EPUB and the MOBI, I took care of the administrative details. All in all, I took full advantage of my three hats as a writer/illustrator/developer and I did a bit of research to finalize the publication. On the illustration side, I consider myself an amateur, but I like to draw my own covers, I really want to do it and I would not delegate this task for anything in the world. And I stopped there. My books are only available in digital format, I have not yet taken the step of having them printed. For now, no fees, so nothing to reimburse.
Regarding the creation of e-books, I would like to give you some interesting links before moving on. I type my novels in LaTeX with the small software Texmaker. Then I convert them to EPUB and MOBI using Reliure, an in-house program developed by the fantastic GreatWizard. If you want to know more about what an EPUB is and how it is built, I send you to my article "Le format EPUB pour les nuls" (French) ;)
2/ Do I want to live one day from my pen?
Certainly, if I suddenly became, by a combination of hazardous circumstances and incredible luck, the new Robin Hobb, I would probably reconsider this brief and crude answer. But here, despite my artistic soul and all the poetry that the collective unconscious attributes to it, I am rather down-to-earth. When it comes to filling my plate, I don't dream, I calculate. In life, I am "Lead software engineer"; or let's say "an old hand developer". Not only do I like this job, which I find very stimulating intellectually, but it also pays well. It pays well enough to make the very idea of bothering with an author's income laughable. Let me explain :
I don't have time to dedicate more time to my books. I already give them a lot between writing, maintaining my site and Sunday drawings on Instagram. My activity as a developer is very demanding. But I am not a machine, I need to rest and do various activities to clear my mind. So, to dedicate even more time to my books, enough time to generate income, I would have to work at least under a 4/5 contract. If I follow this path and if, after my hypothetical training in marketing, I start to achieve very good sales, my income would remain, in my humble opinion, ridiculous compared to my salary as a developer. Even if I would make this choice only by passion, my passion is writing, not marketing. So let's forget this idea of living from writing, it is not suited to my situation.
And that's good, let's be honest. Having an interesting, stable job that allows you to live comfortably is not given to everyone. It seems to me that putting such a position in the background would be a very bad calculation. Many passionate authors struggle between writing and a food job that they don't like that much. For them, sales weigh in the balance. The better they are, the more writing can come to the fore. The authors are not the only ones struggling. How many people can't always buy a book because this month coffers are empty?
If I earn a good living, why wouldn't I take advantage of the absence of costs to make my story accessible to as many people as possible? Why wouldn't my books be a gateway to reading for people with very few income? just because I can.
3/ Is it normal that my work has a price?
Here the doubt shows up.
This last point is the most complex to me, because it's perhaps the most abstract: the price of art. How to give a fair price to a work of art? and more exactly, to the “art” part of the work of art? When the result is a physical object, the manufacturing cost appears obvious. One can also mention uniqueness: a unique object created by the hands of the artist has more value than an industrially reproducible object. An order is a different thing: we make what another person needs, that is service.
But what price for a creation that fits in 231KB (double if it's MOBI) infinitely reproducible? How to sell our time when nobody asked for it? What is the value of a story that we have written for ourselfselves?
I suspect the wide world of not having a clear and precise answer for me. Let's take a quick look at online bookstores. A range seems to emerge. What does this range represent? Does it represent the time the author spent on the project? No. Whether a novel is the result of a month or several years of work will not cause its price to vary from €1 to €50. The number of characters, perhaps? Not really. Short stories are cheaper than novels, that's right, but by browsing the platforms, you easily come across two e-books of equivalent lengths, one of which is €5 and the other €15.
There is another intrinsic problem with literature: reading a book takes time. When we admire a painting, a sculpture, or any other beautiful object, the emotion is instantaneous. A short moment is enough to get an idea of what his sight brings us. Thus, I bought a painting of the island of Oléron from a local artist, painted from a beachside. It is a region that I know well. The pine that grows by the sea, the silhouette of the island and the cloudy sky transport me there, I remember the wind and the iodine, the laughter of the seagulls, just looking at it. This painting appeased me as soon as I laid eyes on it, so I bought this unique work for forty euros, then I hung it at home, in order to access this feeling when I want.
Books, it's more complicated. You can read an extract, of course, but the extract is not the whole thing. An extract gives some clues to our affinity with the whole: the author's style, the beginning of the plot, the quality of the language, which we hope is homogeneous throughout the story. But we don't know what awaits us behind. Each book purchased is a bet. The more the reader knows the universe and the style of the author, the less the bet is risky. I would have less qualm asking my readers to bet on me by giving them access to a large sample of my work first.
Of the three reasons cited for selling an e-book, the price of art is the only one that might concern me, because it is universal and does not depend on my situation. But putting a price on a series of reproducible bytes, constituting an experience that my buyer cannot evaluate in advance... even if the principle is widely accepted, to the point of being a standard, it remains a principle. There is no clear rule. I don't like vagueness, I don't like making decisions based on vagueness. That everyone does it is not enough for me.
The choice of sharing
Here we are, I answered the three questions, and the conclusion is emerging, perhaps not obvious but at least relatively clear: I have no logical reason to sell my books.
Given my personal situation and how I see it, I have no logical reason to claim money for the right to read my story. So I decided to make my e-books available for free, for my own brain sake. Maybe I'll end up sticking to the standard on a future project in order to meet an audience that also stick to it. I do not know yet. But anyway, my first two novels will remain free in digital format.
However, making my e-books available for free is not enough for me. I'm missing something. I lack a way to fully assume this approach. I lack a way to prove my thinking. I will try to express what I mean by that. As Granny Weatherwax would say, it's headology. People are funny. They don't like to pay, but they are wary of free. When they have to pay, they find it a bit pricey. It's a bit pricey, huh? But when it's free, that surely means it's not worth anything.
But my books have a value, there is no doubt about it. I'm just doubtful and unenthusiastic about putting a figure on that value, the same way I can't see myself putting a figure on the value of my life. I may be the only one with this problem, it doesn't matter, it's my problem, no need to discuss it any longer. Here, we are talking about a reading experience, an experience that I suggest you live as a reader. And I need a way to present this experience as accessible to everyone, regardless of what your wallet allows. To achieve this goal, I chose the Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license. It's law, so it's serious, and that's my credo: a fantasy for everyone => Visit the site
The CC licenses
Let's talk about these famous CC licenses. What is it exactly?
In France, any handwritten or digital writing is protected by "the author rights" (let's use the term "French copyrights") as soon as it exists, without any action being required. French copyrights are divided into two groups. There is the team transferable (the property rights), and the team non-transferable (the moral rights). When a French person think of French copyrights, they often think first of the right to paternity, which is part of moral rights. Even if you assign the right to exploit your work to a third party, you remain the author and you are recognized as such.
The Creative Commons licenses relate to the transferable rights, the property rights, relating to the diffusion, the reproduction, the commercial exploitation of the work. Initially, these rights belong solely to the author. When you buy an e-book, the copy you download is for you alone. You don't have the right to reproduce it and distribute it en masse to all your neighbors (who are very nice people, I'm sure, but who haven't gone through the bookstore). When the e-book has an actual price, the meaning of this law is relatively intuitive. To access the product, you have to pay, not ask your friend. It is about respect for rights holders. If you want to copy and distribute an e-book, you must ask the author to grant you this right. Each person on Earth who wishes to reproduce, distribute, or even modify the work must ask the author to grant them this right.
Now, let's say that an author is in agreement for their work to be exploited in such and such a way by the whole world. How to declare it? Is there a more convenient way than to indicate at the end of the e-book "I agree to my work being used in this way, contact me by email if you need a contract so we see this together"? You see where I am going. Creative Commons licenses allow authors to declare how they authorize the rest of the world to use their work without there being thousands of contracts to write behind. There are several kinds of CC, from the most flexible to the strictest. Learn more about Creative Commons licenses here.
In the case of my e-books, for example, the CC BY-NC-ND license is the strictest available. It allows you to distribute the e-books as they are, without modifying them, and under the same license. Under no circumstances may they be used for commercial purposes. In short, you are not free to do much with them, I simply declare that you are not an outlaw if you send them to all your friends, without them having gone through my shop. What interests me is that a reader to whom my universe has spoken and who wants to see more will take a look to what else I could have done. I'm much more comfortable with the idea of a happy reader choosing to support me as an artist, rather than assigning a fixed price to my e-books. The Creative Commons license allows me to fully assume this approach. My books aren't just "free", they're mostly "free to share".
There remains one final question: how do I allow a reader to support me? And here we come back to the money. Typing a credit card code in a secure interface is much easier than writing a thrilling comment or communicating around you. Do not expect too much from the happy reader, they have already done a lot by visiting your site. I said that I had no reason to "sell" my books. But I don't want to prevent readers from donating to me if they feel it's a fair way to encourage me or thank me for their reading experience.
For consistency, I want the money brought by my work as an artist to remain at the service of the art. To give readers' donations a purpose, I need projects that have... a manufacturing cost. For example a printed book, or better, the new objective in my sights, an audio book! so that the work is accessible to even more people.
And with the audio book, we come to the second reason why I became interested in Creative Commons licenses. They represent a form of commitment and homogeneity. So far, my books have not generated any costs because I have quite a few strings to my bow: I can write, I can draw, I can develop. But music is not my thing (and I absolutely want a playlist for my audio book). If I want to create a quality sound experience, I'm going to need help.
I have the chance to know several musicians of good will. They are ready to share their contacts with me and help me write specifications that I could present to a composer if I decide to hire one. But since the audio book will have to be free, like the rest of the work, I will have to agree with the musician on a fixed fee. Many musicians who share royalty-free compositions specifically turn to Creative Commons licenses. By placing my works under this license, I hope to find musicians aligned with my mindset, who would agree to collaborate on an audio book under a BY-NC license.
Projects that have a manufacturing cost... that would almost give me a reason to sell my books, wouldn't it? But it's all a matter of set-up. Donation is a philosophy that suits me better than the sale at a fixed price. Starting with a piggy bank already built up by people who know my projects and who have been able to put in a sum suitable to their means, even if it means adding what is missing myself, is more in line with my mindset.
The philosophy expressed in this article, I allow myself to push it because my situation is what it is, and it is far from being applicable to all authors. I don't know if it's "good", I don't know if my reasoning is "correct", I don't know if it's "relevant" or if I completely lost myself along the way, I don't know if I'll change my mind eventually, but that's what I want to do for now. Each his life, each his project; What matters is to love what you do :)