Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The More Things Change, The More . . .

Next Friday will be the second anniversary of this blog.

I gotta tell you, when I first started out, this was a pretty lonely place. I was struggling to get into the habit of posting every day, and it frequently felt as though I were putting my messages into bottles and throwing them into the ocean--a vast nothingness where the odds of anyone reading my musings were between slim and none. But having a blog was part of my business plan so I persisted.

I was about two months into the experiment when I posted this column here on 11/11/05.

To summarize, a group calling itself COCOA was circulating a petition opposed to Google Print's library copying project. The group was led by Andrew Burt.

At that time, I knew of Andrew in two contexts: he was the founder of the Critters sci-fi critique group to which I belonged, and he was part of the group who pulled off one of my favorite hoaxes of all time.

In order to prove that PublishAmerica would "publish" any manuscript--no matter how bad--a group of about forty sci-fi writers jointly wrote the worst manuscript they could put together and submitted it to PA for consideration. As expected, they received notice of acceptance. Read the Wikipedia entry on the hoax here.

While I had the greatest respect for Andrew Burt and the things he had done, I found the COCOA petition and website here pompous and self-serving. I also simply did not agree with their stance. I saw the Google Print project as a way for books to remain "in print" indefinitely and believed the positives outweighed the negatives. My post said that.

That 2005 post got one comment from someone in France, or perhaps Belgium, and I thought no more about it.

Imagine my surprise, when four days later, I heard from Andrew Burt himself offline. In a very friendly and polite email to me he suggested that I hadn't done my homework and referred me to the COCOA website.

After I picked myself up off the floor where I'd fallen in astonishment, I responded to him as follows:

Andrew: Thanks for your email. I appreciate your taking the time to contact me.

Actually I did read visit your website and read the FAQ.

I chose not to address my chief problem with COCOA in my blog out of respect for you. I've been a member of Critters, and I admire the work you have done and are doing.

I might have been more inclined to sign the petition if COCOA were not presented as a fait accompli (COCOA solves . . .; COCOA expands . . .). Forgive me, but this is all a brave new world and having another organization presenting itself as the answer to all things felt a tiny bit presumptuous to me. Of course, that's just me and I'm a tad cynical. But, from the numbers signing the petition [ED: to date 488 people have signed the petition; back then, there were even fewer signatures], I suspect I'm not the only one who feels that way.

I would have been a lot more inclined to sign had COCOA presented itself as wanting to interact with Google, Amazon and OCA to obtain answers to questions and negotiate a viable solution.

There's been a very lively discussion over on RWA about the whole Google Print initiative. Our numbers include lawyers and accountants and even management types like me. Everyone is very interested and wanting to know more.

At any rate, thank you for emailing me.

Warm regards,


To do him credit, Andrew encouraged me to post my objections on my blog and sent me a lengthy response, dissecting my email--paragraph by paragraph. He assured me he WAS contacting the companies/organizations I'd mentioned. I got the impression that he felt COCOA was going to be his ticket to the discussion table.

It was tempting to do as he suggested and post my objections on my site simply because it would have generated more traffic to me. However, I couldn't see anything new in his arguments, and I wasn't particularly interested in turning my fledgling blog into a forum on which he could pontificate. Besides, I had other fish to fry. A RWA member was flacking COCOA on the RWA message loops without revealing she was a member of the COCOA board. I contacted her offline and pointed out this conflict of interest (which she did resolve), and I promptly forgot all about COCOA, which I didn't see going anywhere. The fact that the petition never even managed to garner 500 signatures worldwide suggests I was right.

One interesting note. At the bottom of Andrew's emails to me, there was a signature line that included the following: "Vader said, 'Luke, I am your feather.' Bothered by typos? Avoid pirated ebooks."

Let's let that be the teaser for my next post here in which I'll update you on Andrew Burt's latest venture.

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