As a Mr. X put it rather rudely this morning:

[UPDATED: On August 9, several months after writing this email, Mr. X wrote to me and asked me to remove his name from this blog post. I am fully within my legal and moral rights not to, but I decided to comply because I was really happy with the way this blog post turned out].

From <>
date Thu, Apr 29, 2010 at 12:46 AM
subject Sophistry and Hypocrisy

I find it rather ironic that you (to the best of my knowledge) have failed to use the word sophistry in the free eight pages of text that I was able to read of your DIY U. Now I have to ask whether you believe knowledge should be free. If you say yes, then you must also make a case for why you are not a hypocrite. If you say no, you must also make a case for why you are not a hypocrite. If you choose not to respond I’ll be even more disappointed. If I chose to copy your book and put it online in PDF format and you sued me for copyright infringement when I freely distribute your text for anyone to read then I would see you as the god mother of sophist hypocrites.

I suppose you might read all of this as threatening and insulting, but that is not my intent. I’m only trying to determine which side you are on. Send me a copy of your book and I’ll read it front to back. Save a tree send it PDF. If it has merit, I’ll recommend it to anyone I know who will read it. If they want to pay for it then good for them and you. But I have a feeling I already learned about what you are saying from Socrates.
I wish you well if you are spreading good knowledge and people want to pay you for that. I wish you hell if you are just another sophist.
Maybe I am completely wrong. Please help me understand.

Mr. Shennen L. Dean


Others have asked the same question somewhat more politely. I will try to answer as simply as I can.

I am a human being, and I believe that human beings ought to be paid for their work.

I am a content creator, and I believe that content creators ought to be paid for their work.

I am a professional writer and journalist, not an academic or a performer, and it’s important to me therefore that I be paid specifically for my writing and reporting, not just for lecturing or other services, and by my readers, not just by other organizations.

1) That’s the most honest way for me to get paid. When I write for publications that rely on advertising revenue, the advertisers have a whisper of influence over the focus of what I write, no matter how much we like to pretend that they don’t. Even if it’s just in the sense that Fast Company is “a business magazine” and therefore my articles have to have something to do with business.

When I subsidize my writing with speaking engagements, I am taking time away from writing and I am collecting revenue directly from organizations that have particular agendas, such as corporations and universities.

2) Looking at it from the categorical imperative: If people like me can’t get paid directly by readers for writing, reporting and research that they conduct independently, then the world will have less of that kind of work, which I believe has value.

Does this stand conflict with the ideas I put forth in DIY U? I don’t think so. I support all content creators getting paid for their work. I think that the cost of educational content should drop to reflect the true cost of digital distribution (so I favor models like Flat World Knowledge). I also think educational content is somewhat different from what I do: it’s created explicitly as a public good using public funding, so it should be released as a public good once the creator has been amply rewarded for her time. Gifting one’s intellectual fruits to the masses is an act of noblesse oblige for those who enjoy the support, protection, and status of the academy (such as it is in these days). That said, I don’t want to be greedy! If and when I sell enough copies that Chelsea Green makes back the princely sum they advanced me, I would consider releasing it for free download once I regain the rights.

In conclusion, please buy my book! Or if Dean or someone else pirates it and puts it up on the web, or if you like the multiple excerpts you’ve read online on Scribd and elsewhere, you can always Paypal me a couple bucks directly.

23 Responses to “Why Don’t I Release DIY U As A Free Download? UPDATED”

  1. Jim Groom says:

    Just to be clear, this wasn;t me writing under an assumed identity :)

  2. admin says:

    Aw Jim, I would’ve thought youd’ve been a lot ruder under your own name! :)

  3. Ben Chun says:

    Good answer. More simply: if you buy a book about DIY anything, you’re a chump. Or at least missing the point.

  4. admin says:

    Hey, that’s not really true. I might buy a book on how to fix my porch myself so that I don’t hammer through my thumbs.

  5. Jim Groom says:

    More seriously, I think each point you make above is solid, and the fact remains people often need to get paid for their work in some fashion—we are still in this world. The whole question of labor in the virtual/information age is a truly fascinating one, and in many ways undergirds both your book, as well as some of the most complex and important issues with the institutional restructuring we are currently witnessing. I do think we need to theorize and understand labor in some new and even more complex ways given the changing lansdcape around cultural production.

  6. Sarah Thring says:

    Writers need to be paid for their work. Publishers need to be paid for producing the book. Both writers and publishers cost far exceed the cost of producing a single copy of a book in any format.

  7. Bryce says:

    It’s certainly possible to make your work available for free online without decimating your book sales. In fact, some authors use PDFs as a form of cheap, effective advertising for the dead tree version.

    I think the technique is less effective than it once was. There was a time when the mere act of releasing a book onto the Net was downright shocking, and would have immediately garnered free publicity. Now it’s downright common. Also, as e-book readers get better and more ubiquitous, the chance of upselling a print copy dwindles, because the PDF does everything they need it to.

    With the exception of a few forward-thinking outlets like Tor, it’s difficult to get publishers to consider putting out a free version. And let’s admit it: getting your book published is still far and away the easiest way to get it read by a wide audience.

    I read the entire book (not just the first eight pages) and never read anything that would lead me to conclude that charging for the book was somehow contrary to its message. I think that Mr. Dean misinterpreted the book.

    On the other hand, stepping back and looking at the big picture, your book would be of greater utility to society as a whole if it could be accessed by anyone who was interested in it. Good journalism injects important ideas into the culture, far out of proportion to the fee charged to access the ideas. In exchange for that service, the public at least owes you rent money and all-you-can-eat ramen.

  8. It’s worth noting that if you don’t want to pay, most of what’s in the book can be gleaned for free if you follow the doings of Downes, Wiley, Siemens and Co. online (via the ol’ PLE), supplemented with the various samples, op Eds and interviews the Author has done, and a bit of a think of your own.
    What you pay for when you buy the book is a pretty good overview\primer of the field if you haven’t time to do the homework yourself- Anya has done your legwork for you and at USD$15, that’s a steal.

  9. Wow, Mr Dean doesn’t tolerate sophistry. Go to hell, sophists, he says. But is he practicing a bit of it here? Is that the irony and his inside joke? Or is it simply an ad hominem fallacy? Whatever. You don’t have to explain why you’ve chosen to license your work to a publisher for distribution by way of selling.

    And at the risk of being a hypocrite myself, don’t feed the trolls.

  10. Cali Morrison says:

    In response to Mr. Dean, I would like to remind him that there is a great network of public libraries in our country, which even if they don’t have the book on their stacks may be able to get it for him through inter-library loan. Sure, it will take more time than downloading a .pdf but it is one way that you can access knowledge in a low-cost manner while the author is still rewarded for sharing their intellectual property. Some libraries even have e-book rental so you don’t have to leave the comfort of your couch to check one out.

    Now, that said, one needs to consider cost/benefit ratio of attaining the book through this low monetary cost but potentially high time cost option. And when you consider what your time is worth – i.e. what you would be paid if you were working during the time you’re hunting down this book – suddenly, USD$15 seems like a screaming deal.

    That’s just my two cents.

  11. Cali Morrison says:

    I should have done that last comment from my personal account. My statements may not reflect the sentiment of employer, WCET. Thanks.

  12. Leonard Low says:

    “I am a professional writer and journalist, not an academic or a performer, and it’s important to me therefore that I be paid specifically for my writing and reporting.”

    I am a professional educator and my university is dedicated to professional teaching. By your logic, we should be compensated for everything we create – our PROFESSIONAL WORK should not be available for free. There is no difference: to not release “DIY U” as a free download while clamouring for educators make their work available for free does seem rather hypocritical to me… :p

    “I also think educational content is somewhat different from what I do: it’s created explicitly as a public good using public funding, so it should be released as a public good once the creator has been amply rewarded for her time.”

    Let me offer a refutation to this claim that education somehow magically runs on public funding and goodwill and therefore “owes” reciprocation to the public at large. Students pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend university, which the general public does NOT pay; and even with these fees, it is largely recognised that teachers are not paid enough for the long, dedicated hours they spend in their work. If it were the case that educational institutions were fully and adequately funded by the general public, there would be a stronger case for making their work publicly available – “free” as in both beer and speech. But until the public properly supports education, it could be argued that there is not a great imperative for education to freely and fully support the “public good”.

    So, if, as Sarah Thring says, “Writers need to be paid for their work. Publishers need to be paid for producing the book,” it follows, logically, that educators need to be paid for providing educational materials… and their educational materials are only owed to those who have paid… and the very premise on which your book is based is flawed. It’s the only logical conclusion.

    I’d urge you to release your book as a free or discounted electronic copy (reflecting “the true cost of digital distribution”). It’s the only way to show you truly stand by the spirit of your book’s message.

  13. Personally I’m happy to pay you for your work. However, it’s somewhat bizarre that I can buy your book for $10 from Amazon, including shipping; or for $10 as a PDF online; or for $10 on the Kindle (and not at all on the iPad as far as I can tell…) I realize you have little or no control over this and that you only get a small percentage of the purchase price, but the economics of publishing seem to be completely irrational. Somehow we’ve got to get to a system where creators can be fairly compensated without all the unnecessary overhead. Unfortunately I’m not optimistic that “put it online for free and ask people to donate via PayPal” is going to work very well…

    Anyway, I bought it on paper (easiest way to pass it on when I’m done!) and I’ve finished the first 2 chapters and it’s exceeding my expectations – there’s a lot of good’ol journalism and thought in your book that make it well-worth reading (and paying for!)

  14. This might help –

    Perhaps there is more money in printing down what others have said in response to your plea for clemency. Amongst the chatter they still eat nuts.

    Some of us are paid to peel them whilst others are paid to write about what others are eating. Oh for a job that allows me to do all three.

    Strictly an observation.

  15. Muvaffak Gozaydin says:

    Please do not make things complecated.
    A recent research showed that if you buy a textbook for $ 200 , only 10 % goes to writer.
    Writer creates everything in digital anyway .
    He can put it up online for a fee to be paid by credit card at $ 10 .
    That is that simple. Probably writer will be compensated much more than by publishers.

    Efficiency + simplicity are the solutions in every subject. from Turkey .

  16. I own an indie bookstore and I plan to get the word out on this book in every way I can.

    I’m going to put a big pile in my store with a personal recommendation;
    I’m going to hand sell it;
    I’ll sell it as an e-book through my website if it’s being sold like that.
    I’m going to write about it on my blog and in our e-newsletter and on facebook;
    I’m going to nominate it as a “must-read” to indie booksellers around the country;
    I’m going to upload the number of sales to the NYT to catch their attention;
    I’m going to GIVE a bunch of copies to my son’s school and I’ll give or loan copies to everyone I know (does giving and loaning count as free downloads?);
    I’m going to talk about the book to everyone who will listen.

    1. This is an example of what we do in the store to survive: we communicate with tools from the past, the present, and the future ( — yes, the future is now for the digital natives, but that’s not all of us!)

    2. For DIY U, my goals are to get people to read this book because 1) I believe in Anya’s ideas; and 2) I need to sell books to to stay in business. For now. Obviously we need a new model for indie bookstores if we’re going to survive after all gen Xers die off.

    I work like this because I can’t sit around and debate about the future all day – I also need an income. And any single approach isn’t good enough because everyone really seems so confused — the thinkers and the consumers.

  17. admin says:

    Lisa, bless you! And bless Tom at Octavia, and the folks at Politics and Prose, and all the independent booksellers out there who are striving to maintain their stores as invaluable community resources for people to discover great ideas and great books–I hope we can come up with a model to keep them in business.

    My friends and I were talking about the logistics of starting a “book gym” or private library, a place with comfy chairs, a cafe, free wi-fi, author events, a curated selection of great books, supported by members who pay a monthly fee to hang out in an awesome atmosphere with like-minded people.

  18. Bryce says:

    Admin: Please delete that duplicate comment. I didn’t intend to post it.


    You’re ignoring the big distinction between what Anya does and what you do. Anya’s livelihood comes primarily from the “educational materials” she creates. For most teachers, the creation of educational materials is:

    a) a time sink, not a revenue source.
    b) a lamentable waste of effort, made necessary by the lack of freely available materials to borrow and remix instead.

    So unlike Anya, you can’t gripe about having to work long hours in one breath, and then complain about not getting fairly compensated for the educational materials you produce in the next. Creating educational material is not central to your primary job (teaching students). To the extent that you put a lot of time into it, you are probably just duplicating the efforts of a hundred other teachers throughout the country.

    You’re getting paid by your students — and by the public in general* — for teaching students. The educational materials you create are a part of that job. If you don’t think that job compensates you well enough for your efforts, the solution is to ask for more money, or to put forth less effort (see below), not to tack hidden fees onto the back end.

    If Anya takes a more liberal attitude towards her creative work, she runs a risk of losing her primary income. I think her book would still sell very well if she gave away the e-books, but it should be her choice. If educators as a group take the same liberal attitude, they still have their primary revenue stream, and will save literally millions of man hours by being able to take advantage of the work done by others. That’s a pretty good deal.

    * I’m really not grasping your argument that, because you’re paid by students as well as the general public, you shouldn’t give away your educational materials. If you’re charging your students more than the cost of reproduction, you’re double-charging both them and the public.** And if you’re already giving the material away for “free” to the students, then you’re unlikely to lose much income by making it available to the public as well.

    ** This argument doesn’t apply to projects like textbooks, which can be herculean undertakings. But the fact is, most textbooks earn their authors little, and have little to set themselves apart from the dozens of other textbooks available on the same subjects. Again, there is massive duplication of effort. As someone who tires of long hours for low pay, you should be excited at the prospect of being able to take advantage of the work freely shared by your colleagues.

  19. I still haven’t bought the book, and I still haven’t read the book. I won’t buy the book unless I know its worth owning, storing, carting, sharing and giving. Seeing as it seems I won’t be getting an online version (preferably HTML btw), looks like I’ll be waiting a long while for the library to get it. By then, if I like it, the copy I’ll buy will probably be second hand! If you’re confident that the contents of your book will motivate people like me to want to buy a copy, you really should put a version online. If you’re not confident, stay as you are – that says enough.

  20. admin says:

    It’s available for sale as a PDF on Scribd.
    I’m glad you’re interested enough to at least consider reading it, even if you have to borrow a copy from a friend.

  21. Shennen Dean says:

    Ms. Kamenetz,

    Firstly, I am honored that you would respond to my email. Secondly, I’m a bit puzzled as to whether you believe it is ethical for a self-described journalist / writer / content producer to publish a private email publicly without asking for permission.

    Unfortunately, pure text does not convey that ever important part of communication which is non-verbal. So my tone may seem harsher than I intended and I apologize for that, but your reaction and that of the commentators here indicates that not only was my tone misread, but my message was misunderstood as well, at least to a degree.

    Another unfortunate factor is that because I have not completely read your book, I have only that which is freely available to respond to. In my email I offered to support your book if worthwhile by promoting it. As I too have a blog, have been a public school teacher for a number of years, and I am a doctoral student in the area of educational leadership, a positive review of your book leading to increased positive word-of-mouth advertising may be an investment which could pay you dividends. However, trying to remain succinct, let me get straight to your points from your text and your response to my email.

    You say that you know four factors (paraphrased): 1 & 2) Eventually, universities will bend to the fact that a lot of knowledge is freely available or suffer 3) Public policy makers and the public need to be open to change (and a bit more about free textbooks for all) 4) Universities are elitist and are subject to destruction by public perception change (in a way still hammering the concept of free education).

    If I am mistaken here in my interpretation of your main premises, please as per my email, educate me for I may be wrong. It is these points that you make and the excerpts from other writers that you have collected which leaves me with the impression that you are an iconoclast who believes sophistry is wrong. Far be it from me to presume that all of our readers are familiar with the word and I don’t presume that they are incapable of looking it up but for the sake of clarity let me give a definition of the word sophistry here: subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation (thanks to Further let me add a definition of sophist thanks to the same company: any of a class of ancient Greek teachers of rhetoric, philosophy, and the art of successful living prominent about the middle of the fifth century b.c. for their adroit subtle and allegedly often specious reasoning. Finally, let me say that having read the Republic among other of Plato’s texts, my understanding of a sophist is one who charges students money on the premise that the knowledge they have is of such a quality that it can’t be found elsewhere or that the teacher believes he is fully knowledgeable of all things relating to the subject for which he claims expertise.

    It is precisely this notion that universities hold some sort of special knowledge which can not be gained outside of their institutions which has led me (and seemingly you as well) to call these universities sophist institutions. As one of my professors once said to me, she was a guardian who was charged with granting permission to those who are worthy of passage and would be subsequently called doctor. I have always responded to this by asking what was to prevent me from learning more about any subject that they could teach me on my own. I have since realized that what a good teacher provides is the wisdom of experience. Would you want someone who never went to medical school to perform surgery on you even though they had all of a surgeon’s knowledge? Without those bricks and mortar, where would the lab for learning and discovery be? I believe, like Socrates, that you should hire the right person for the right job. Your premises seem to state that knowledge should be freely available. To that point, I fully agree. But the idea that one can acquire a complete education without an instructor, I find rather fantastic. The idea that all people are intrinsically motivated to learn, especially to learn a knowledge that would lead to a career, is completely ludicrous based on my experience as both a teacher and one who has lived in the world for more than a few years. Although some people are intrinsically motivated, the mass of humanity seems to operate on Freud’s Pain/Pleasure principles.

    Yes, education is changing. Yes, there needs to be more equity and democracy in education. But I find it rather confusing that you claim to have knowledge of this change as though you are an expert when you are a self-purported journalist who denies any experience in education outside that of receiving its benefits. This in fact, is what makes you a sophist. By charging for your text and claiming to have knowledge of the truth on a subject you seem to lack a full understanding of, you have joined the hypocrisy of those who demand social justice but will not apply it to themselves. Just as the President demands that public schools improve but refuses to have his children attend DC’s public schools, you seem to have said that knowledge should be free, but you refuse to give freely the knowledge you claim to have.

    Your ideals are good, but I doubt the virtue behind them. Albeit, I too am not a saint. Now, you have made a point on which Socrates would agree and I believe it is worth bringing forward again. People deserve to get paid for the work they do. Unfortunately, educators have continually gotten verbal praise as being honorable, but when it comes to the paycheck a great dishonor is done. Now there are many that will argue this point and I have heard the arguments, such that I am sick at the resounding of them, but I ask you, who with any real sanity, good judgment, or reasonable priorities can agree that educators deserve to be paid so much less than their peers with similar degrees? How dare we short change those who have helped us become what we are?

    If my email offends you individually, then I posit that you have made two statements which should offend all educators globally:

    1)I am a professional writer and journalist, not an academic or a performer, and it’s important to me therefore that I be paid specifically for my writing and reporting, not just for lecturing or other services, and by my readers, not just by other organizations.

    Let me show you a rewrite: I am a professional educator and a researcher, not a journalist or a performer, and it’s important to me therefore that I be paid specifically for my research, writing, lecturing, counseling, and other services by my students and other organizations which choose to employ my services.

    2)Looking at it from the categorical imperative: If people like me can’t get paid directly by readers for writing, reporting and research that they conduct independently, then the world will have less of that kind of work, which I believe has value.

    Yet another rewrite: Looking at it from moral imperative: If researchers and educators can’t get paid by students and everyone else who benefits from their writing, reporting, and research that they often conduct both independently and in the community and facilities of a university, then the world will have less of that kind of work, which clearly, without the shadow of a misconceived doubt has had value since Plato’s Akademia and likely before then.

    So in conclusion and with regard to this last statement:

    “I think that the cost of educational content should drop to reflect the true cost of digital distribution (so I favor models like Flat World Knowledge). I also think educational content is somewhat different from what I do: it’s created explicitly as a public good using public funding, so it should be released as a public good once the creator has been amply rewarded for her time. Gifting one’s intellectual fruits to the masses is an act of noblesse oblige for those who enjoy the support, protection, and status of the academy (such as it is in these days).”

    Are you aware of the digital divide? Are you not trying to “educate” (although from my point-of-view in a rather specious way) the public? And why should the free dissemination of my “intellectual fruits” be an act of “noblesse oblige” any more than yours? Yes, knowledge is good in and of itself, but people who work hard to obtain it and charged with the responsibility of sharing it should be well paid for their work. Had Socrates wrote his own works and had a publisher, I’m sure he would not have objected to being paid for his writing and those royalties be passed down from generation to generation.

    We are caught in a sort of Catch-22. Knowledge should be free, but the people who provide it should be paid.

    You have not debunked my conclusion that you are both a hypocrite and a sophist, further you have demonstrated that you lack the morality and ethics which a journalist would have been instilled with by even the basest of teachers by publishing my private email without even asking for my permission.

    I am still open to a response to my questions and accusations here and from before because I know that I know nothing, but don’t accuse me of a lack of compassion for calling you out privately, because I too am seeking the knowledge of the Truth and the Good. Some of the most valuable lessons we learn are from those who make us feel uneasy.

  22. Leonard Low says:

    @Bryce: You have not made any kind of a case that there is a distinction between what Anya does and what I, as an educator, do. Anya relies on the “educational materials” she creates, and educators also rely on educational materials, created by educators.

    (1) It is NOT a time sink, it is a necessity. Well designed learning is fundamental to education. Learning is NOT about mere information and cannot be achieved merely by providing information to students and expecting it will be “learned”. Designing learning in context is, therefore, every bit as creative and original as writing a book.

    (2) Again, “freely available” materials to borrow and remix have to come from somewhere, and have to be designed and contextualised to have ANY learning value. Thinking that learning can just happen by handing a student a unit outline and a bunch of links is both naive and insulting to the work of educators.

    I refute your next statement, therefore that “Creating educational material is not central to your primary job (teaching students).” That is profoundly ridiculous. Learning designers and educators are vastly knowledgeable in structuring and contextualising activities and concepts for particular purposes. Unless every course in the world is structured identically, on the same curriculum and the same program, both the context of learning and the concepts to be covered will change from course to course – and indeed, from educator to educator, depending on their individual priorities and preferences. And without the context, the information is USELESS.

    As educators, we are the architects and the designers of learning, and our “clients” are our students – not the general public at large. If the general public of a particular area was paying our salaries, then perhaps our clients would be our state or our country; but certainly the world is not paying my salary and I have no obligation to make my materials available to the world at large. Our students are a special group. They pay tens of thousands of dollars to complete a degree, and these fees are not just for the cost of reproduction of materials, but for the expertise in both content matter and learning design that they gain access to. If university education was a simple money-for-information transaction, students would be better off buying some good books, perhaps from people like Anya, and memorising them cover to cover. But learning is vastly more complex than that, and so students pay special fees to have experts assist with the learning process.

    If Anya thinks that that kind of expertise is owed to the world at large, but *her* expertise deserves special consideration (and remuneration), she doesn’t understand the skills and dedication that professional educators bring to professional education. It’s no less, no more, than that of a professional writer or journalist.

    If she wants “free” education, then she should be prepared to sell her book for the cost of its duplication. There’s no distinction between the value of our work and the value of hers. She has readers, we have students, and we both need to eat.

  23. Leonard Low says:

    Ah… irony. Stephen Downes and Doug Johnson, both distinguished educators, posit that *writing* (content!!) should be free:

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