Strange Days

Publishing is getting awfully strange these days. I was talking about it with my friend, Elizabeth Winthrop (Castle In The Attic). Elizabeth agreed. Sometimes it feels as if we fell down the rabbit hole.

Here’s what got us started. I asked one of my editors if I could have jpegs of the pages of a recently published picture book. I wanted to convert the pictures into a Keynote presentation that I could install on my laptop. That way, when I do a school presentation, I could project the pictures onto a screen as I told my way through the story. The advantage of doing it this way is that all the children could see the pictures, no matter how large the group or how restricted the space. It works so much better than trying to read the story and show the pictures from the book. If the group is large, many children can’t see.

My storyteller friend Dianne de las Casas turned me on to this technique several years ago. She laughed at me. “What? You’re still lugging books around?” Dianne was right. The best part was that I could put all my books on my laptop. I could easily change the stories to match the group I was presenting to. Hooray for the digital age!

It was great for awhile. I’ve just discovered I may not be able to do it anymore. Publishers are getting nervous that someone might pirate the book if a digital copy exists outside of their control. That’s what my editor said when I asked for the jpegs. They were willing to allow me to use three images, but no more. I would also have to be responsible for any copyright infringements should the images show up on YouTube or one of the social media. I wanted no part of that. As Elizabeth pointed out, anyone with a scanner can make digital copies of the book. I can’t control that. How could I be held responsible for it? It was easiest to just say, “No thanks.”

Now in all the years I’ve been doing digital presentations, I have never once appeared on YouTube. There are plenty of other unauthorized presentations of my work there, but nothing that I had anything to do with. I wondered if my editor was being overly cautious. Two days later I learned that was not the case. I suspect that this is a new development that is starting to show up all over the publishing industry. I received a contract from a different publisher for another book asking the same terms regarding use of illustrations. I can still read the book aloud and show one or two illustrations. However, that’s what I was doing a decade ago. It’s as if the digital age never happened. Restricting my use of the illustrations also recreates the problem of children being unable to see the pictures if the group is large. Maybe this policy makes sense to publishers and lawyers. It doesn’t make sense to me. Authors and illustrators have been sharing books since the days when we were projecting slides from slide projectors.

Some might point out that I don’t have the right to use the illustrations since I’m not the artist. That’s true. So is the fact that the artist doesn’t have the right to use my words. In other words, I can read the story, but not show any pictures. The artist can show pictures, but not read the story. My illustrator friends and I all think this is pretty silly. We’re helping each other when we share our books in a way that the people in our audience can enjoy them and possibly want to buy a copy.

What to do? Well, if I’m asked not to share a book digitally, I won’t. But if no one asks me… As the saying goes, it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission. I’ll share the books I’m able to share best. I may go back to books that have been out-ot-print for years. Why not? They’re still some of my favorites.

Children deserve the best. When I present to a group, I want to give them my best. If I’m told I can’t—well, I’ll just find a way that I can.

Welcome to the rabbit hole.

Tags: , , , , ,

body> html>