Hugh McGuire

publishing, technology, media, philosophy, a bit of politics.

Book Oven in the Gazette

Roberto Rocha of the Montreal Gazette has a good article about Book Oven and the new publishing landscape, with a nice pic out the window of the office (with me blocking the view, unfortunately):

Before the Internet, when a writer could not find a publisher to print and sell a manuscript, he could take matters into his own hands, head to the print shop, and hawk the book himself.
Rejected auteurs today have it easier, with a handful of websites that let them write, edit and print books bound like the pros.

Call it Self-publishing 2.0. And it’s one of the fastest-growing sectors of the book world, which is itself enjoying a nice growth period despite the recession and the glut of competing media choices.
“Like in any other media, when you the make tools of publishing easy, people will take advantage of it,” said Hugh McGuire, founder of Montreal self-publishing start-up Book Oven. “It’s just now coming into public consciousness.”

McGuire is one of the leaders of the movement toward digital empowerment in books. When it officially launches (it’s in beta testing now), Book Oven will let people collaborate in the writing, editing and proofreading of a book, all through online tools. When it’s ready, book lovers will be able to buy a copy on the website, either in electronic or paper format. [more…]

Hugh at 2020

Tomorrow I’ll be posting a long-winded manifesto about the term “self-publishing.”

LibriVox Turns Four

librivoxToday is LibriVox’s 4th birthday. LibriVox is a kooky kind of project with the following objective:

To make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the internet.

Some statistics, as of today:

  • Total number of projects: 3113
  • Number of completed projects: 2556
  • Number of completed non-English projects: 364
  • Total number of languages: 29
  • Number of languages with a completed work: 26
  • Number of completed solo projects: 1214
  • Number of readers: 3094
  • …who have completed something: 2867

Total recorded time in all rss-ified works: 49596721 seconds, or 574 days, 0 hours, 52 minutes, and 1 seconds. Total of 50774 sections.

If you have a soft spot in your heart for LibriVox, perhaps you might consider leaving a little message on the blog, or the forum.

Or even better, perhaps you might help us record a few chapters of public domain texts? …

Opening the Doors of the Book Oven

Book Oven Open for Cooking

We’ve been toiling away behind the scenes on the Book Oven for a few months. Now we’re ready to show you what we’ve been cooking. But there’s still work to do, and we want your help in building a new model for publishing.

Are you a writer? An editor? A proofreader? A small press? A designer? An agent?

If so, what would be the ideal web tool to help you get your manuscripts through to finished product? We want to build it, and we want to build a global community of book lovers and makers of books who will come together to make better books.

Bite-Size Edits

Bite-Size EditsOur first offering is Bite-Size Edits, a new way to proofread text. You can help proofread other peoples’ texts, you can proofread your own text (in private) using Bite-Size Edits, you can invite a small group, or open up your project for proofreading by the world.

And, if you can believe it, Bite-Size Edits actually makes proofreading fun. And addictive.

But don’t just trust me, try it.

There is more to Book Oven (though for the next couple of weeks there will be an extra step to see the rest of it…).

Cloud-based Book Publishing

We call it “cloud-based publishing,” but the name doesn’t matter. The web has given us the ability to connect and collaborate in new ways. It’s given us the ability to make and distribute our art and writing to a global audience of billions, at almost no cost. We think this means that millions of people can engage with books in ways they never did before. And we want Book Oven to be a place where book lovers of all stripes come together to help make (and buy! and read!) better books.

Background: LibriVox

Back in 2005 I started a project called — to get volunteers to make audio recordings of public domain texts. LibriVox started as a crazy idea, but it has evolved into a big, vibrant platform to help groups of people get together to make and publish audiobooks (it’s actually pretty complex, with recording, proof-listening, project management, metadata allocation, uploading, cataloging etc). We’re now the most prolific audiobook publisher in the world, all run in a totally distributed way by “strangers” from all over the globe. It’s worked because people naturally find things they are good at and enjoy – editing audio, recording texts, organizing projects, organizing files, prooflistening, and much more.

And what’s amazing is the creative ways people find to organize themselves to do interesting things when they have the right kind of platform.

Background: Books and Digital

In the mean time, there has been a revolution bubbling in the book world, and digital has arrived: ebooks, print-on-demand, and online sales mean you don’t need thousands of dollars to make & distribute a book anymore. You just need the time and passion and skill.

One of our myths is that writers work alone. In fact, they collaborate all the time: writers share their work, get feedback, editors help them sculpt their language and content, proofreaders clean up their copy, designers make it pretty, other designers make beautiful book covers.

A Space to Collaborate on Books

Book Oven was born of this inspiration: to make an online space where writers could gather a group of collaborators (editors, proofreaders, designer) around their work to help take a raw manuscript through to finished product, and then, if they wish, to sell it through online channels (though of course, if they wish to ship the final manuscript to a publisher, they can do that too; or they can just keep it for themselves).

That’s what a bunch of us have been working on for a few months: Stephanie, Yanik, Antoine, Marie-Eve, Suw, Andy, Dan, Chris, Frederic, and me … and a few others.

So, What is Book Oven?

Book Oven is: an online space to create, collaborate on, and sell books.

In the end, though, it’s about building communities: the smaller communities that form around writers and their works, and a larger community of writers, readers, editors, proofreaders, designers, and book lovers of all kinds.

How far along are we?

We are excited to show you what we’ve built so far. It’s pretty exciting, we think, but there’s more to do. We hope that you can help craft the long-term vision. Right now, you can upload your text in certain formats, build your team, comment on and edit your text, read/annotate in our (we think) beautiful interface. You can also play around with Bite-Size Edits.

But there is much more we want to do.

In the coming months we’ll be tweaking the interface, making things easier & more obvious, adding new features.

We’d like your help

We hope you’ll have fun with Bite-Size Edits. We hope that you’ll poke around in Book Oven. We hope that you’ll start a writing project, and invite some colleagues, friends, editors, reviewers to help you out. We hope that you’ll be tolerant of bugs when you find them, and let us know about them. We hope you’ll be mindful that we have many more features we plan to build, and that we’ll need your help in figuring out what the essential features are.

Above all we hope that you will think of Book Oven as your space, a place where you can contribute to building a new community and platform where you will, we hope, make and help make many great books in the future.


If you have questions, problems, confusions etc … please do send me an email:

Or ping us on twitter: @bookoven or @bookoven.

If you have some specific feedback about Book Oven, bugs or feature requests, you can tell us about it here:

Looking forward to seeing you in Book Oven!

Ray Bradbury on Montreal Summer, 2009

August 22 is Ray Bradbury’s 89th birthday. Here’s the opening of his short story, The Long Rain, about summer in Montreal:

The rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains. It came by the pound and the ton, it hacked at the jungle and cut the trees like scissors and shaved the grass and tunneled the soil and molted the bushes. It shrank men’s hands into the hands of wrinkled apes; it rained a solid glassy rain, and it never stopped.

Piracy vs. Availability: a Parable

A Parable of the Past

An, er, friend of mine heard an interview on Fresh Air with Scottish director Armando Iannucci about his new film In the Loop (IMDB). He’d never heard of Iannucci, or the movie, or the TV show upon which the movie is based. The audio clips from the movie were so great he then went to Youtube to see if he could find more clips. He could. The clips video looked even funnier than the audio.

The movie — it appears — “comes out” on August 14. In the old days, that meant my friend had two choices:
1. Wait two weeks to watch the movie in a theatre
2. Wait six months (?) to rent the movie and watch it at home

It always annoyed my friend that he had to wait to watch movies he wanted to see, because movie studios liked to release movies at different times in different cities; and then wait months after that to release the DVD for rental.

The studios did (and do) this not because they surveyed their customers, and found they preferred having to wait to watch movies they wanted to see in the way they wanted to see them. The studios did (and do) this for various business reasons, that have proved, over time, an effective way to increase revenues on a movie.

Times Are Changing

But these are not the old days, they are new days. And a few things have happened. My friend watches 95% of the movies he watches on his computer; he rents DVDs using (Canada’s Netflix); and occasionally when he wants to watch a certain movie right now, he looks for it online.

The movie studios so far have decided that he should not watch movies online when he wants to watch them.

Which in the old days, meant he just had to wait, despite being more excited about this movie than any other movie he’d heard about in past year or so.

A Parable of the Present

But it turns out that other people (not studios) can get their hands on copies of movies as soon as they are available — often before they are released in theatre — and those people make them available online. This is especially true for movies that lots of people really really want to see, right now.

So my friend now has a third choice:
3. Watch the movie when & where he wants.

It turns out that my friend much prefers option 3. It also turns out that movie studios don’t want to give my friend option 3 – which makes my friend shrug a little when he hears them talking about piracy.

Not because he wants things for free, but because it seems to him that “digital” means studios and moviegoers no longer need be constrained by the two choices of the old days. Option 3 is easy and cheap, and that’s the option he wants.

He often says: If you, as providers of content, give me what I want, when I want it, at a reasonable price, I’ll be happy to pay for it. But if you don’t want to give me what I want, when I want it, I’ll be compelled – when I really want something – to find other ways to get it.


  1. If there is demand, there will be supply.
  2. In the digital world, media is infinitely copiable & distributable at rougly zero cost
  3. Media companies have long built their business around a restricted supply
  4. If demand exceeds restricted supply in the digital world, someone — not necessarily the owner of the good — will meet that demand by making & distributing infinite copies at zero cost
  5. Trying to stop # 4 is like trying to stop water going down hill
  6. If restricting supply is no longer a viable business, then something else must be
  7. When supply is unlimited, other factors drive the choices people make
  8. Those drivers include: ease, quality, curation, attention, service, connection
  9. Media companies – including book publishers – should stop thinking about business based on phony restricted supply
  10. Media companies – including book publishers – should start thinking about how to build business around the actual drivers that will bring their customers to them (see #9 above), instead of sending them to the pirates


It was one of the best movies my friend has seen in a long while; and he has urged me to urge you to watch it. You’ll love it (he says).

Canadian Copyright Consultations

The Government of Canada is holding copyright consultations, which you can answer by sending an email to the this address [info AT copyrightconsultation DOT gc DOT ca] which answers the following questions:

1. How do Canada’s copyright laws affect you? How should existing laws be modernized?
2. Based on Canadian values and interests, how should copyright changes be made in order to withstand the test of time
3. What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster innovation and creativity in Canada?
4. What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster competition and investment in Canada?
5. What kinds of changes would best position Canada as a leader in the global, digital economy?

Visit here for more info & to submit your responses.

Michael Geist has posted his short answer.

My short answer would begin by noting that the five questions can really be grouped into three key issues:

Why does copyright matter to you?
How can the government ensure that copyright reforms remain relevant in the long term?
What specific reforms should the government prioritize (having regard for creativity, innovation, competition, and the digital economy)? [more…]

Close Door Buttons

In most elevators, at least in any built or installed since the early nineties, the door-close button doesn’t work. It is there mainly to make you think it works.

And (unrelated, but from the same article):

The [elevator] escape hatch is always locked. By law, it’s bolted shut, from the outside. It’s there so that emergency personnel can get in, not so passengers can get out.

From a fascinating & terrifying story about elevators, and getting stuck in them, by Nick Paumgarten in the New Yorker.

Once you’re done with the story, check the video.

What We’re Building

Beers for Canada: Fundraiser

beers for canadaFor the price of a beer (or a pitcher, or a round), you can support … the non-profit that promotes online tools for government transparency, openness and accessibility around government and civic data (yay!).

They’ve got a little fundraiser going, in celebration of Canada Day: Beers for Canada

How we’ll spend your money

We work on several aspects of transparency:

Creating new tools: We work with developers and designers to build websites that encourage citizens and governments to communicate openly.
Encouraging government openness: We show elected officials the benefits of open, two-way discourse, highlighting places where information is lacking and celebrating the efforts of those who want to be more transparent.
Public awareness: We emphasize the civic importance of transparency and open government.
Working with other organizations: We share and collaborate with organizations like the Sunlight Foundation, MySociety and Changecamp.

We’re also organizing Code For Canada, an application design competition that awards prizes to people who build web, facebook, and iPhone apps that provide visualization, analysis, and access to federal government data sets.

So, go support a worthy cause.

Media Hack 12: Mobile & the Changes that Twitter Wrought

This week on Media Hacks we talk about the new iPhone, the next level of mobile, and … yep … Twitter, Iran, and the characteristics of the reach of microblogging.

> Media Hacks 12