New site captures authors' identities and won't let go
Why is it that Stephenie Meyer, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Stephen King are joining forces with the new website FiledByAuthor, now in beta?
They aren't. At least, not intentionally.
Without permission or advance notice, FiledByAuthor has cataloged the information of about 1.8 million authors into individual pages. There are biographies, photos, links to purchase books from online retailers and links to share the author's FiledBy page through a dizzying list of social networking sites. And everyone is there, from the novice self-published author to Stephenie Meyer.
In fact, Stephenie "Twilight" Meyer is the site's most-viewed author. But while this might appear to be a tacit endorsement, Meyer has nothing to do with the site.
After FiledByAuthor creates these Web pages, it then "invites" authors to "claim" their free pages. For a fee -- $99 or $399 per year -- an author can raise their membership level to "verified." This allows an author to gain more control over his or her page, being able to do things like add more than two links, use a blog tool, manage a calendar.
"I'm naturally dubious of sites that purport to be community building sites for authors, simply because authors today tend to build their own communities via their websites, blogs and MySpace or, increasingly, Facebook pages that allow them to control their content," says author Tod Goldberg, who compared FiledByAuthor to other literary websites that he's signed up for -- RedRoom, GoodReads -- and failed to maintain. Except there is one key difference.
At those sites, authors sign up voluntarily. At FiledBy Author, 1.8 million writers are already conscripted -- and they can't be removed from the site. There is no opt out.
In an email, Jacket Copy asked co-founder Peter Clifton, "If an author were to wish to not be listed by your site -- if, for example, they already have a significant Web presence -- how can they remove their name?" His reply:
Our goal is to be comprehensive in our listings. We will link out to existing author sites or other sites so if an author has a site, our page can link to it. I'd prefer that people think about the reverse, which is how they can participate.
There is literally no way for an author to go to the site and elect not to participate. But what do authors with large online followings -- John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow, for instance -- who already control their Internet presence (and have been nurturing their online audiences for years) need with this service? What author would want FiledByAuthor's SEO efforts -- putting authors at the top of search engines is a big part of their sell -- to work to promote the FiledByAuthor page, rather than their own site?
These authors -- the community FiledByAuthor purports to serve -- are conscripted without the hope of going A.W.O.L.
Shakespeare is in the FiledBy army. So are Fitzgerald, Alexander Pope, Charlotte Brontë and lots of other dead authors who can't do a thing about their pages. The pages don't link to definitive biographical information or the public domain work made available on Project Gutenberg for free. And if there is no one charged with minding the literary heritage of an author who's shuffled off this mortal coil, who will polish the pages of our deceased literary greats?
Why Marion Ettlinger is going to be angry ... after the jump.
Photos by top author portraitist Ettlinger are all over the site (their Joyce Carol Oates page; Oates' publisher's page, with photo credit; their Cormac McCarthy page, McCarthy with photo credit). Her gorgeous black-and-white pictures are so iconic that they're recognizable, even when they're not credited -- and there are no photo credits for Ettlinger or anyone else on FiledByAuthor.
When asked where the photos came from, a representative told Jacket Copy that they were from various "data sources." We do not know if Ettlinger was one of those sources, or if she has given them permission to use her work uncredited.
Author Laila Lalami is open to the service, but cautions that permission is important. "I don't mind at all being listed, unless of course the information that is placed on the author page is incorrect, or misleading, or taken from the author's main site without prior permission. Listings are fine, but any use of a person's information should be in an opt-in, not an opt-out model."
There are plenty of online services that serve to help authors who'd like to have their work more widely read. FiledByAuthor's massive database has the potential to do that -- but to be truly author-friendly, it has to demonstrate that it values intellectual property. The Meyer bio was written by a person, and her photograph was taken by someone too; at the very least, those people deserve to be credited. Being compensated would be even better.
If FiledByAuthor can't remember that creators have a right to control their work, then is the site really on the side of authors?
-- Carolyn Kellogg