While indie artists in nearly all fields of art enjoy communities for online publishing, novelists have been denied any quality platform based around Creative Commons. Programmer Michael Bethencourt hopes to change this, however, with Leebre.
Inspiration came after receiving a Nook as a gift in 2010. As a fan of Jamendo, a social library for Creative Commons music, he said he was dismayed to find there wasn’t a resource like this for books. “I couldn’t just fill it up with independent authors to explore in the same way I filled up my MP3 player to explore and engage with independent artists,” he said via email.
“After speaking with some author friends of mine, and doing research online, I realized that authors, unlike musicians, photographers, bloggers, and so on, simply have no quality community to publish their works for free,” he said.
Leebre isn’t just a platform to release books for free. It’s meant to give authors a platform to sell print books and easily publish their books using free layout and cover illustration tools included on the website. The project is currently on Kickstarter to raise funds for development.
Bethencourt found something interesting: “independent authors were not commonly aware of how useful free licenses could be for their publicity.” Although he mentioned some fiction authors have tapped into this with Tor Books and other resources.
“Independent authors who want to succeed primarily need readers more than they need buyers,” he said. “People are less likely to buy a book unless they know about the author, and the only way for independent authors to get readers interested is by distributing at least some of their books for free without DRM.”
He said authors also underestimate the potential of donations. He referenced projects like the Humble Indie Bundle, and “pay what you want” strategies used by indie game developers with free games.
“Over the last year or so it’s been going on, it’s routinely raised millions of dollars for both the game developers and for non-profits,” Bethencourt said. “Permissive licenses and direct online distribution celebrate the reader, which in turn benefits the author. In short, people are a lot more generous than what you might think.”
But beyond this, he said one of the most obvious benefits to free online distribution “is the longevity of the work.”
“Right now, there are thousands of works which risk being forgotten simply because of restrictive copyrights, and the rights-owner not bothering to redistribute them. Many out-of-print books are near impossible to find, and yet still remain copyrighted, despite the author having passed away and the publishing house no longer selling them for decades,” he said.
“Building a commons of fiction ensures that this library will benefit the community forever, just like the free/open source software that Leebre is built with,” he said. “Furthermore, education was a major motivation for my desire to cultivate a free library of fiction. New projects like Pixel Qi would benefit immensely from a body of copyright-safe fiction to curate and include.”
Bethencourt hopes to build on this as the project evolves. The next steps are expanding the crowdsource editing features to include online translations—something he hopes will help authors find international audiences. He also plans to expand it beyond novels, to include graphic novels and picture books.
A strong community can do a lot for this. He said down the road “I want to add community features to connect graphic artists with writers, and make online collaboration on graphic novels seamless. Imagine the exhilaration a children’s author may feel by writing a short story for kids, connecting with artists to add vivid illustrations, and then seeing it succeed in multiple languages!”
“I also want to open up the design and typesetting system, so designers can create their book templates (also under free licenses), and authors will have a wider range of styles to choose from,” he said.
Inspired by Kickstarter, he also plans to expand the donation system to allow readers to fund authors—building a platform where authors could release their work for free, while still supporting themselves.
But when all is said and done, “I want Leebre.org to be a community independent authors and readers could rely on. When they find a place where there’s support and genuine appreciation for their work, it’s likely they’ll continue writing and being productive. I want Leebre to break all barriers they might encounter in the publishing industry, and allow them a chance to work in their writing without worries.”
[box_light]Image courtesy of Thyago – SORG|FX[/box_light]