Why I’m Going to Publish the Mediactive Book with Lulu

Some members of the traditional publishing industry don’t care for what I write, and some who do aren’t thrilled with one of the ways I try to spread my ideas. So when Mediactive appears between dead-tree covers a bit later this year, the traditional publishing industry won’t be in the mix.

I’m going with Lulu, a company that understands the changes in media. This is a self-publishing service — an operation that takes my work and turns it into books that can be sold, by me and by anyone else who wants to sell them.

Some background: Last fall, when I started serious work on the book part of this project, I was under contract to the publisher that brought out We the Media a few years ago; we parted company in January. At which point, my literary agent — the beyond-terrific David Miller of the Garamond Agency — started looking for a new publisher.

My former publisher was fine with Creative Commons, as proved by the fact that we did the first book that way. But as David told me at the outset of the new search, I was likely to limit the potential field because I had one non-negotiable requirement: The book will be published under a Creative Commons license. In this case, as with We the Media, the kind of Creative Commons license would say, essentially, that anyone could make copies of the work for non-commercial use, and if they created derivative works, also only for non-commercial purposes, those works would have to be made available a) with credit to me and b) under the same license.

The principle was simple: While I want my writing to get the widest possible distribution, if anyone is going to make money on it I’d like that to be me, my publisher and my agent.

Almost a decade after Creative Commons was founded, and despite ample evidence that licensing copyrighted works this way doesn’t harm sales, book publishers remain mostly clueless and/or hostile. As David explained to editors, the main reason I’m still getting royalty checks for We the Media is that the book has been available as a free download since the day it went into bookstores. Had we not published it that way, given the indifference (at best) shown by American newspapers and magazines, the book would have sunk without a trace.

That logic persuaded no one in New York (not that we got that far in most cases — more about that below). And to my genuine if not major regret, the Creative Commons roadblock forced me to turn down a deal from a publisher that would have been perfect for this project had I only been writing a book and nothing more.

Two points: First, and most obviously, if a principle means anything, you stick by it when doing so is inconvenient, not just when it’s easy. Second, this isn’t just a book, at least not way traditional publishers understand books even as they dabble online.

To publishers, books are items they manufacture and send out in trucks. Or else they’re computer files to be rented to publishers’ customers, or customers of Amazon, Apple and other companies that use proprietary e-reading software to lock the work down in every possible way. In both cases, publishers crave being the gatekeepers.

Mediactive aims to be a multi-faceted project. Over the next few years, I hope to experiment in lots of media formats and styles with the ideas here. And — this is key — I also plan to experiment with it in the broader context of the emerging ecosystem of ideas.

That ecosystem is evolving at an accelerating rate, and the people who have had specific roles in the one that prevailed in the past — authors, literary agents, speaking agents, editors, publishers and others — are going to have to change with it. Some get this and some don’t, but I’m happy to say that the people I work with directly at this point are definitely in the getting-it category. (I’ll talk much more about this broader context in an upcoming post.)

Meanwhile, I’m having terrific conversations with the folks at Lulu. They aren’t the only outfit of this kind around, by any means, but I like the way they see their own part of the emerging ecosystem.

Incidentally, had I signed with a traditional publisher, the book would not have reached the marketplace for a year, most likely, if not even later. With Lulu, it’ll be available this summer.


Editors from big publishing houses have a habit of rejecting books in what they must believe is a kind way. They say something to this effect: “It’s really interesting and we like Dan a bunch, and while it isn’t for us we’re sure it’ll find a great home with someone else.”

Please, folks. Any competent author would prefer this: “We didn’t like it, and here’s why….” Honest criticism is more helpful.

One reason several editors did offer was a bit surprising. An editor wrote, echoing several others, “The main problem that people had was that they felt that they knew much of the information that Dan was trying to get across…”

Wow. You mean that people who read and publish books for a living already know the value of deep and thoughtful media use? Uh, one of the major motivations for this project is the ample evidence that way too many other people don’t know this.

In my days as a newspaper reporter, I learned that the only audience that really counts is your editor. It  was a reality in the world of highly concentrated media, but no more. Any serious writer needs a good editor, but people who become your audience — and if you do it right, your collaborators — are the ones who really count.

Another reason for saying No had the ring of actual truth: The publisher’s publicity and marketing people “felt that the major media would avoid the book because of the criticism of their techniques.” One reason I’m writing it…


It was after I turned down the New York publisher’s offer that I contacted Bob Young, Lulu’s founder and CEO. Bob also started Red Hat, one of the first companies to prove that it was possible to make money with open-source software by providing services, and he’s been an ardent supporter of ensuring that what we call “intellectual property” involves as many choices as possible.

Bob had told me about Lulu several years earlier, and in that conversation he’d suggested it would be a good fit for me someday. Now, we both thought, this might really be the time.

He put me in touch with Daniel Wideman, who runs what Lulu calls its new “VIP Services” for established authors making the move to this kind of publishing. Daniel said he very much liked what I was trying to accomplish in this new project, and we had several further discussions. In the end it was clear to me that this would indeed be a good fit.

So here we go. I’ll be letting you know how all this works, by which I mean many of the details of the process.

Back to work…my to-do list has just gotten a whole lot longer. But it’s my list this time.

3 thoughts on “Why I’m Going to Publish the Mediactive Book with Lulu”

  1. I loved reviewing your stuff, Dan, and I’ve long learned the difference between valuable content and salable content (what theater folks I think called the difference between an artistic success and a commercial success). I understand perfectly, I think, why you need that Creative Commons license. The book is just a milestone on a long journey that involves picking up readers who comment and contribute to your work. More and more nowadays, every book is a milestone.

  2. Congratulations on sticking to your principles and your vision. I can remember sitting in Peet’s in Campbell a dozen years ago and first reading your columns and reportage. You always were ahead of the dinosaurs and you still are.

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