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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why Public Domain?

   “There are One Hundred New Poets in the villages of the land,” according to Vachel Lindsay's “A Handy Guide for Beggars.” And, last I checked, there are two hundred and ninety-six serialized books on PODIOBOOKS DOT COM. The majority were recorded and posted by their authors. Maybe ten are serialized versions of Public Domain works.

Two of the latter were recorded and submitted by me, Grizzly Smith. My third Podiobook will be “going live,” as Evo puts it, at the end of March 2009. There are other sites online offering good recorded readings of Public Domain works. The nice folks at PodioRacket asked me to explain, briefly, why I go through all that work to produce recordings of Public Domain works as Podiobooks.

About the time I first started listening to podcasts, I discovered the audio books on PODIOBOOKS DOT COM. After having listened to regular audiobooks for years, I recognized something special there. Listening to books on tape, and books on CD, I kept thinking to myself, “I can do better than that!” And on PODIOBOOKS DOT COM, I found people who were Doing Better Than That, much much better, and on a regular and continuing basis. I reviewed several of my favorite Podiobooks on my “Grizzly's Growls” podcast. Frankly, I can't bear to listen to most Books on Tape anymore.

To be honest, the reason I started my own “Stories from the Hiber-Nation” podcast is that I ran out of stuff to talk about for my regular show. Reading books gave me a way to continue podcasting without having to write a lot of new content myself. I'm not a writer. I haven't written anything substantial in decades, so I didn't think I'd fit in with the authors at PODIOBOOKS. So I started a new podcast just for me reading stories – because I like to read stories. And I read Public Domain books, because that was what I had available.

I found out I liked doing it. So I recorded more. People told me I read well. So I recorded more. Then I got involved in NaPodPoMo, and needed to produce 30 podcasts in 30 days. So I recorded more.

Somewhere in the midst of recording the four books I've read so far on “Hiber-Nation,” I stumbled across a book on Podiobooks from an author I knew hadn't put it there himself. I'm pretty sure he's dead. Turned out, the book was in the Public Domain.

Wait, Public Domain books recorded for Podiobooks? You can do that? Imagine my chagrin. And I listened, and thought to myself, “I can do better than that!”

I admit I cheated a little bit. I took two of the books I'd already recorded for the show, renamed the files, pulled them into Audacity again, cleaned up the editing a bit, modified or replaced the intros and outros, changed the ID3 tags to suit Evo's exacting standards, created and added cover art, and re-encoded them at 128 K Joint Stereo as required by the standards. There's a utility available to handle most of the complexities of the tagging for me, and I switched to the latest Beta of Audacity to be able to export in Joint Stereo directly. I had to learn how to create my own cover art, and frankly that turned out merely okay.

But I was cheating, because I didn't have the raw recordings to work from, so I had to work from the archived MP3s from my show. Lost some audio quality there, sad to say. At least the readings were as good as I could make them in the first place.

Now the third book, “Wild Animals I Have Known,” by Ernest Thompson Seton coming out on March 31st, was mostly recorded to Podiobooks standards in the first place. And for the last several episodes, I recorded knowing in advance they were going to Podiobooks. So from the same raw recordings, I edited and produced my regular shows, but saved the Audacity projects with the intros and outros in separate tracks, exported my shows with the show tracks, then exported Podiobooks files with Podiobooks tracks as needed. Much cleaner and better quality.

Now you're asking yourself, why did I go to all that time and trouble for Public Domain works? They're not my books, I didn't write them. Couldn't I just put them up in one of the other places that specialize in Audio versions of PD books?

I considered offering my readings to Librivox, or to Project Gutenberg, or one of the other places that offer audio versions of Public Domain books. But I heard a few of the books from there. Their recordings are okay, sometimes just as good as regular Books on Tape or Books on CD. But as I said earlier – “I can do better than that!” I'd been doing Better Than That for a couple of years.

And the recordings there are also required to be put in the Public Domain, too, just as the textfiles are. My podcasts are not in the Public Domain, though they are Creative Commons licensed. You can help yourself to a copy, but they remain My Work. If you don't think a well-done presentation of any book is a creative work in itself, you haven't been listening to Podiobooks.

If I'm going to work hard enough to Do Better Than That, I don't feel obligated to give all my work to the Public Domain. If you want to do that with your work, feel free. Lots of people do, and for very good and noble reasons. And they do just fine.

I like the mechanisms that Podiobooks offers for receiving audio books. Anyone who wants to can dig back in the archives of my podcasts and find the readings I did for my shows, download them manually – but it's kind of a nuisance. Podiobooks presents the book chapter by chapter from the beginning through to the end, just the way you'd get any podcast, and just the way you'd read a paper book.

I like the audience I get with Podiobooks. I have no idea how many listeners there are to Podiobooks overall, but I know in the couple of weeks since they were first posted, my readings have had more than twice the audience they had on my own podcasts. Like most podcasters, I want to reach the whole world. Podiobooks is at least a much larger chunk of the world than those who stumble across my own podcasts.

I like the people, the Podiobooks authors. I like the feeling of working virtually surrounded with folks who are putting their own creative output on the line, and depending largely on their own voice talents to convey the content, the intent, and the quality of their writing. To paraphrase Vachel Lindsay, they are “the Children of Don Quixote who see Giants where most folks see windmills. … They are mine own people, my nobler kin to whom I have been recreant, and so I finally dedicate these books to them.”

And I like to think that when I add a recording of a book by Lindsay, or Seton, or some other skilled but long-dead author to the Podiobooks library, I bring back to life a book that folks have stopped reading, because it's too old, and the language seems too hard, but listening to this humble storyteller is easier and more understandable. I like to think I add to the breadth of the selection and the footprint of the collection on the Internet. Maybe someone stumbling across my readings will fall face-first into an original work by one of the authors here. Gee, did I push that metaphor too far? Like I said, I'm not a writer. But I can Do Better Than That.



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