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Cutting their own throats

Traditional publishing is dominated by the Big Six publishing groups — folks like Hachette, Holtzbrinck, Penguin-Putnam, and so on. In general these publishers and their imprints refuse to publish ebooks without DRM. It's a major sticking point with them, in no small part dictated by the fact that they're subsidiaries of huge media conglomerates, which have had bad experiences with movies, TV and music leaking on the internet. In the past I've muttered and grumbled about the evils of DRM for a variety of reasons. But now, I've got a feeling that there's a more important reason for griping: the strategy of demanding DRM everywhere is going to boomerang, inflicting horrible damage on the very companies who want it. (Who just happen to be my publishers.)

The corporate drive for DRM is motivated by the fear of ebook piracy. But aside from piracy, the biggest ebook-related threat to the Big Six is called Amazon.com. Until 2008, ebooks were a tiny market segment, under 1% and easily overlooked; but in 2009 ebook sales began to rise exponentially, and ebooks now account for over 20% of all fiction sales. In some areas ebooks are up to 40% of the market and rising rapidly. (I am not making that last figure up: I'm speaking from my own sales figures.) And Amazon have got 80% of the ebook retail market.

For various reasons the major publishers don't sell direct to the public themselves — they go via external retail channels. Of these channels, Amazon is the 500kg gorilla of internet sales. Amazon has ruthlessly used its near monopoly of online sales to exert monopsony buying pressure against suppliers, forcing the likes of Holtzbrinck or Penguin or Hachette to give them a deep discount on ebooks. In the past they have de-listed publishers' paper editions during negotiations, chopping their sales off at the knees in an attempt to force them to grant favourable sales terms. When Amazon extract deeper discounts from their suppliers, they pass some of the discount on to the public — this expands their monopoly position on the retail side by undercutting their rivals. It's good for customers in the short term, but it's not good for anyone in the long run: they're sweating their suppliers, all the way back down the supply chain (read: to authors like me) and sooner or later they'll put their suppliers out of business.

Anyway, my point is that the Big Six's pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder.

DRM on ebooks gives Amazon a great tool for locking ebook customers into the Kindle platform. If you buy a book that you can only read on the Kindle, you're naturally going to be reluctant to move to other ebook platforms that can't read those locked Kindle ebooks — and even more reluctant to buy ebooks from rival stores that use incompatible DRM. Amazon acquired an early lead in the ebook field (by selling below cost in the early days, and subsidizing the Kindle hardware price to consumers), and customers are locked into the platform by their existing purchases. Which is pretty much how they gained their 80% market share.

An 80% share of a tiny market slice worth maybe 1% of the publishing sector was of no concern to the big six, back in 2008. But today, with it rising towards 40%, it's another matter entirely.

As ebook sales mushroom, the Big Six's insistence on DRM has proven to be a hideous mistake. Rather than reducing piracy[*], it has locked customers in Amazon's walled garden, which in turn increases Amazon's leverage over publishers. And unlike pirated copies (which don't automatically represent lost sales) Amazon is a direct revenue threat because Amazon are have no qualms about squeezing their suppliers — or trying to poach authors for their "direct" publishing channel by offering initially favourable terms. (Which will doubtless get a lot less favourable once the monopoly is secured ...)

If the big six began selling ebooks without DRM, readers would at least be able to buy from other retailers and read their ebooks on whatever platform they wanted, thus eroding Amazon's monopoly position. But it's not clear that the folks in the boardrooms are agile enough to recognize the tar pit they've fallen into ...

[*] It doesn't reduce piracy; if you poke around bittorrent you'll find plenty of DRM-cracked ebooks — including all of my titles. DRM is snake oil; ultimately the reader has to be able to read whatever they bought, which means shipping a decryption key along with the encrypted file. And once they've got the key, someone will figure out how to use it to unlock the book.

477 Comments

1:

Yes, I agree in every way it is possible to agree. But does this perhaps open yet another opportunity for independent presses to steal some market share by selling ebooks without DRM, as with the last 18 months of 99p pricing?

2:

I like Amazon ebooks. I also like dead tree editions. When I'm buying your books, do you have a preference between, say, http://www.amazon.com/Jennifer-Morgue-Charles-Stross/dp/0441018149/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1322518559&sr=8-1 and http://www.amazon.com/The-Jennifer-Morgue-ebook/dp/B001O2NEI8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1322518559&sr=8-2 (the kindle and paperbook editions at the same price)? If I'm ambivalent as to my own utility here, does one offer you more revenue/have benefits for you? Do you dislike Amazon's ebook tactics enough to tell me to buy hard copy?

I also think you're probably selling Amazon short; do you think it's in their interest to put authors out of business? I honestly trust Amazon more to be thinking longterm than the publishing houses (which I still suspect of being in the business of maintaining the problem they know how to solve.)

3:

So ultimately it'd take a publisher brave enough to say "We don't need to be available through Amazon" (and I'm not sure who can afford to lose that big a channel, or advertise sufficiently for readers to find the alternate channel) or to decide to offer DRM-free ebooks.

And then you'd need authors brave enough to sign on with a channel like that.

Would it help to have readers willing to take a pledge not to buy DRM'ed ebooks? I'm still a deadtree consumer today, but open ebooks are the only option I'd switch to.

4:

I unwillingly succumbed to the Kindle - and only because being in Germany and after English books, it's almost impossible to buy them outside of Amazon (maybe the iPad allows it, but I don't have Apple stuff). I tried all other formats first but aside from Baen's, there wasn't anywhere I could buy books. Tor, it seemed, wasn't in the slightest bit interested in either producing ebooks or selling them.

I'm still not sure why publishers have allowed themselves to be pulled away from selling ebooks themselves. Sure, when everything was paper-based, distribution and sales wasn't part of their focus. But when it's as "simple" as setting up functioning websites and apps... why haven't the big six set up a mega online store hosting all of their imprints and tried direct sales? Why not pull customers away from Amazon by offering non-DRM, non-country restricted, non-proprietary format stories? Play a "we'll match your previous purchases" a la O'Reilly?

Until they do, I guess I'll keep buying my 20+ books a month from Amazon. And hope that in the future, when Amazon collapses, I'll be able to pull my books into another format.

5:

I write tech books for multiple publishers. One of these is rather famous for shipping ebooks without DRM. The other two publishers use DRM. The publisher that ships ebooks without DRM also is unwilling to chase down people who post the books - not only to torrent sites - but straight to their websites (they argued in a recent author newsletter that piracy was good publicity). The other publishers are more willing to get the lawyers involved. Long story short? Books written for the non-DRM non-litigious publisher have rarely made back their advance. Books written for the other two publishers have. I've checked with several colleagues who also write several books a year and they are seeing the same thing.

It isn't just DRM/non DRM - downloadable versions of books written for the first publisher come up in the first page of Google results on Title. The other two publishers have people that look for that sort of thing and follow it up. The first publisher subscribes to the "it's all publicity" meme. It would be easier to come to a conclusion if they were a bit more litigious about the people who seem to assume "has no DRM = I can post this for free on my site and no one will care"

My guess from looking at the royalty statements is that with tech books at least (may not apply elsewhere), if someone can't find it for free in the first page or two of a google search, they'll stump the cash for it irrespective of it having DRM. If they can find it for free, they're a lot less likely to buy it.

6:

Can they not learn from the music labels, who insisted on DRM from Apple iTunes, then realised later that they had literally given Apple the (encryption) keys to their market?
Now music is mostly DRM free and has competition between distributors.

7:

The preference thing is very hard because the contract for TJM was signed in, I think, 2005, and although it included ebook boilerplate it predates current royalty levels. I think I do better from the ebook, in this particular case.

I really dislike Amazon -- not least because they've delisted my books three different times now. I don't think they care about the quality of the fiction they sell; what they care about is making money as a retailer, same as WalMart. Fact is, the books are a commodity sourced from a variety of competitive sole traders; if they can force down supplier wages and get the product cheaper, they'll do exactly that (and not lose any sleep over it). And because being a writer is something many people dream about, there are a lot of souls out there who will do it for free if they have to.

I reckon once Amazon break the Big Six, they'll be in a position to make the authors an offer they can't refuse -- Amazon's terms, or the road. And the terms will be a lot less favourable than the current 70% of net that everybody is mesmerized by.

8:

No, Amazon will sell ebooks DRM free if the publishers insist. (There are DRM free items in the Kindle store.) But Amazon aren't going to kick hard against publishers who insist on doing something that plays into Amazon's hands ...

9:

The end of literacy caused by DRM and not by nuclear or biological warfare: rings true given the current global pre-occupation.

10:

why haven't the big six set up a mega online store hosting all of their imprints and tried direct sales?

The technical term for such a mega online store is a "cartel". We have laws about that kind of thing.

(There are other obstacles. For example, book contract legal boilerplate that assesses royalties on the basis of units shipped through various distribution channels and that explicitly forbid direct sales from the warehouse gate. All good and necessary in the 1940s when it was added, somewhat obsolescent today ...)

11:

The Big Sucks (excuse me, Six), can't simply drop DRM.

Their long insistence on inconveniencing their customers and charging hardcover prices for eBooks has done mortal (or at least near-mortal) damage to any respect book lovers and readers might have for them.

DRM is exactly the same experience as having the manager slap each entering customer across the face and screaming "You're a goddamn thief and I'm going to stop you if I have to throw you in jail right now," and then expecting such customer to WANT to buy from such a store.

Adding insult by charging the same cost (even discounted) as the hardcover (or paperback), simply adds pepper-spraying to the mix.

12:

The publishers are aware of the problems of DRM. The trouble is, it's dinosaurs all the way up the corporate ladder; effecting change in rigid, multi-level organizations takes a long time and a lot of work ...

13:

Amazon has suggested that they will make it possible in the nearish future for the Kindle to read epub ebooks rather than only mobi. But even then, it's the absolute ease of one-click buying - and the vast breadth of titles available - which makes Amazon attractive to me as a reader.

DRM is simply nonsensical - it punishes the legitimate reader and does nothing to stop piracy. "Social DRM" (ie. branding the ebook with the purchaser's name) would be more effective.

14:

Well, yes. Big media have the power available to shoot themselves convincingly in the head, and a demonstrated willingness to do so. The sort of people who look at the history computer program piracy, video piracy, music piracy and think "yeah, that's what we want to do" have more problems than just DRM.

FWIW, this issue stops me from buying ebooks quite regularly. Sure, the ebook is $10 or so. But to read it I'm supposed to spend a couple of hundred on a nw ebook reader. Eventually I'll have a collection of ebook readers. Hooray, so much more compact and portable than a similar-sized collection of books. Plus Kindle is out because of the "Amazon will reach out and delete books off your device" defect.

Sorry. Unusually for them, Sony support a decent DRM-free format (epub) so I bought a Sony reader and if I can't get a book in DRM-free epub I don't buy it. And dead tree books I get from the library or second hand bookshops.

My basic principle is that it's up to the vendor to come up with a business model that works, not up to me as a consumer to twist my life around the demands of your business.

15:
Amazon has ruthlessly used its near monopoly of online sales to exert monopsony buying pressure against suppliers, forcing the likes of Holtzbrinck or Penguin or Hachette to give them a deep discount on ebooks

Wait a second -- I thought the whole result of the kerfuffle last year was, in fact, the publishers now dictate to Amazon how much profit Amazon is allowed to make, whether or not that actually covers Amazon's costs.

That's the whole "agency model," where the publisher dictates the retail selling price, and Amazon is graciously allowed to take 15% of that. There's a note on books covered by this, "This price was set by the publisher." (Just checked Rule 34 for that.)

So given that Amazon capitulated completely in favour of the publisher, how are they exterting monopsony prices for ebooks?

Or are you saying that Amazon and your publisher both lied in their public statements about it?

16:

Sorry, I wrote that a little unclear - I was thinking of each of the big six having their own, not them joining forces :). Not the one-stop-shop that is Amazon, but I have to go around multiple bricks and mortar stores here anyway to get a decent selection of books (and any other product for that matter).

I can see that the contract issue you mentioned is also problematic - but are these contracts evolving? Has there been any real deference to the changing market in the last few years, or are publishers still sticking primarily to old terms and unwilling to change that?

17:

Adding insult by charging the same cost (even discounted) as the hardcover (or paperback), simply adds pepper-spraying to the mix.

Read this then get back to me. M'kay?

18:


One might hope that the example of the recording industry might have influenced publishing so that they wouldn't make the same mistakes. Apparently not.

There are a vast number of people out there who want more books. In fact, I know many people who have an almost unlimited appetite to own books. The publishers have huge back catalogues over literally hundreds of years. They should be thinking in terms of selling vast numbers of virtual books for tiny amounts. They can still make profits on the recent bestsellers. Instead, they just want to make the business work exactly the same way that it has done since, say, the paperback revolution, in spite of it being quite obviously impossible that it will.

I would like to be able to buy e-books of everything that I now pick up in charity shops for pennies. It should be made really easy to do so.

19:

It's worth noting that Amazon are also getting their Kindle sold commercially here in Australia by our "big box" retailers - particularly at the "discount department store" end of the market. This means places like K-mart, Target, Big W (the Woolworths equivalent of same) and so on are now advertising Kindles (complete with Amazon logo etc) in their catalogues[1]. Another way of boosting their ebook monopoly, I suspect - get most of a country locked into a single platform (particularly a country like Australia, where Amazon doesn't have a specialised store-front[2]) and you've got them pretty much hooked for life. It also means we're going to be facing a lot more of the same old same old when it comes to getting not only ebooks, but legal ebooks (i.e. DRM'd, geo-unlocked, etc) over here... back to the six to eight month wait between a paperback release in the UK or US, and the subsequent arrival of any stock Down Under.

Call me spoiled, but I've been enjoying these past few years, where I've not had to be reminding all and sundry about spoiler warnings for just about every single piece of popular culture known to mankind, because we poor backwards Aussies haven't got it yet.

I've been thinking about buying an ebook reader myself, but I have a very strong resistance to buying a Kindle (I'm sorry, I have this weird notion that when I purchase things, I should own them, rather than just renting the space for them on a particular company's device; I'm very wedded to that notion when it comes to text products) which means if I want anything else, I'm going to have to do a lot of research to find out what's available, where it's available, and so on. And then there's the whole "okay, now what's available legally to us Aussies?" question, and all the rest of it, which is leading to me tending to file ebooks into the "too hard" basket at the moment.

[1] I can't help but wonder whether any of the execs of these companies have had a look at any of the Amazon sites recently... Amazon are pretty much setting themselves up in direct competition with the discount department store sector these days (I think about the only thing the Australian DDS sector sells that Amazon doesn't is clothing).
[2] By which I mean there isn't an Amazon.au or Amazon.co.nz - if we Aussies want stuff from Amazon, we have to order either from the US or the UK. Complete with weird geographic restrictions on what we can and can't either purchase, or have delivered to us at a reasonable cost.

20:

That's the whole "agency model," where the publisher dictates the retail selling price, and Amazon is graciously allowed to take 15% of that.

Ahahahaha!

Ahem, no.

The "agency model" is, shockingly, how books have traditionally been sold; simply put, Amazon buys ebooks wholesale and sells them retail. (Their cut is somewhere between 30% and 70%, not 15%.) Amazon's con job prior to that was to say "Kindle is a publishing platform; we are a publisher: we are licensing this book for republication on the Kindle platform and will grab the barrel of rights a publisher would take -- including the right to set prices and profit margins ourselves."

21:

I was asking more in the general case, but I hadn't thought about how early contracts probably handled ebooks oddly...

What would the answer be for Rule 34 or new books in the pipe?

22:

In my case, DRM is an inducement to pirate, or at least it was prior to Kindle cloud reading software that allowed access from any device: In order to read purchased books on something other than a kindle or my iPad, I had no choice but to pirate the book for which I had already paid.

Finding such a copy was rarely an issue.

23:

One of the problems with those back catalogs is that the contracts by which the publishers acquired their publication rights made no mention of ebooks. So if they start publishing backlist books as ebooks, leaving aside all the headaches of scanning, retypesetting, and proofreading those books, there's a chance that the author or their heirs might get irate and sue. And a chance that a court might side with them and award damages, too.

In response, some publishers have been sending out one-page addenda to existing contracts, asking authors to sign up for the additional right to publish in ebook form. Unfortunately some of these offers aren't very good, and authors have been taking exception to them; or the authors descendants have weird ideas about what grandpa's book must be worth: or nobody knows where to send the letter (author died, moved away, went mad, or emigrated without leaving a forwarding address).

It's a knotty problem -- a variation on the "orphan works" issue, and liable to be solved eventually by new legislation.

24:

"Rule 34" was sold in 2008, so benefited from publishers not thinking ebook rights were worth much, so in principle I get nearly as much money from an ebook sale as from a hardcover. Subsequent books ... not so much: they drove a harder deal.

25:

I feel your pain. (Nudge nudge.)

26:

Sadly I doubt it would change a thing if the publishers woke up tomorrow and decided to remove all DRM’s, and there are 2 reasons for that:

1) People love their Kindle devices.
2) Amazon would still use DRM as a way to keep customers locked in.

Sure I could buy a book somewhere else but if I have a Kindle device it would have to be in the less favorable PDF format or I would not be able to use it.

Something needs to be done that is for sure but
removing DRM will not solve the real problem – the 500kg gorilla is still in the room.

27:

No, the agency model is not: historically, booksellers (including Amazon) have negotiated a wholesale price, and that ended the publishers' involvement. The booksellers than sold at whatever price they wanted -- smaller bookstores selling (by necessity for their livelihood) at the cover price, larger chains sticking to the cover price for some and selling others at a "discount," and then Amazon always selling at a price that (seems to, by my accounting; you disagree, as we've discussed before) makes a very small profit for them.

The agency model, on the other hand, has the publishers dictate the retail sale price and retailer profit margin.

The difference between those two models is huge: in one, the entity selling to the customer sets the price; in the other, the entity selling to a middleman sets the price to the customer. That means no sales, no bundles. It also means no competition between the various bookstores based on price or content; this means that it is in Amazon's, and B&N's, interest to provide lock-in. Either via proprietary formats, or via DRM.

(Oh, and yes, I was wrong -- it's 30%, not 15%. It strangely exactly matches what Apple offered via the App Store, and what rumours claimed Apple was offering publishers who signed with the iBookstore. I have no idea why I thought 15%.)

The lack of competition based on book price is quite interesting to me; it means that if Amazon or B&N can't make money on their hardware (and you'll note that both are highly pushing new hardware that can run applications that you have to buy from them [just like Apple]), they will go out of that business. Which increases the monopsony aspects of it, at least until such time as publishers drop DRM.

28:

Sure I could buy a book somewhere else but if I have a Kindle device it would have to be in the less favorable PDF format or I would not be able to use it.

Not true. Kindle is happy to read DRM-free Mobipocket format files. You can even mail them to your Kindle reader via your kindle.com email address. And there's free software for converting DRM-free files from one format to another, notably calibre.

29:

Can I just point out that I don't want either of them?

Not the big six with their throwback attitudes, obsolete business models, too high prices and DRM.

Not Amazon with their expansionist, take over the world attitude and their 'we still own it, even after you've paid' feelers.

Neither are good for Joe Shmoe, or in fact the authors. Rather than bemoaning missteps by the lumbering thugs, can't we focus on how we get rid of BOTH of them and move into a future where readership levels increase, rather than tailing off?

30:

I won't buy DRMed books (apart from the principle of it) because they are absolutely useless to me. The DRM software requires MSWindows or MacOS, and I use neither. So I wouldn't be able to read such a book.

31:

As an aside: while I am preferring ebooks these days to physical books, I'm very torn about it.

I like supporting my local bookstore. ("Local" in my case being a store I've never been to, about 50 miles away from where I live -- but they respond via email, they order books for me as needed, and ship them to me.) But I don't see a market in which I would be able to buy ebooks from them.

Can you, Charlie?

32:

Wrong; you can read Kindle books in any web browser that supports DHTML (Javascript and HTML5).

33:

Interesting my local library lends e-books which open on anything except a kindle. Generally I haven't had a problem sourcing books for my early-adopter Sony device - there are plenty other sites out there, sometimes you need to check a couple or wait a month after release for a book, but it gets there. I don't tend to find Amazon especially cheap, as a consumer.

Of course I have no idea how royalties work on library e-books. Possibley "not very well."

34:

Electronic publishing was a big topic at WisCON in Madison, WI this year. I don't know if you've ever been, but I get the impression that it's a convention that you'd enjoy. There were a number of "not big name" authors who'd claimed that they were making a lot more money out of Amazon than they every could from big publishers.

Several of those authors did niche stuff that publishers won't touch, but which have powerful loyalty from their fans.

Something you didn't touch on is Kickstarter, though I know that this strays from your main point. Tim Pratt's Marla Mason books were cancelled by his publisher, so he recently did a Kickstarter to see if anyone wanted to see another book. He ended up raising twice as much money as he expected, and his newest book is going up for free/donations in HTML in January.

He did a book and novella just for donations last year, and claimed to have made twice as much money as he ever got from a publisher for his previous books.

35:

Would this be the same concept of "orphan works" that allows media companies to rob amateur photographers blind if they pretend they can't find out who owns the copyright & are able to outbid the one in a thousand who notice in court?

36:

Isn't worrying about this a bit like squabbling between recording studios and a particular music store in the summer of 1999?

Yeah, ok, that's a weak analogy obviously, but my point is that once Napster hit the stands, it stopped mattering what the official deals between suppliers and retailers said, because the price just dropped to free.

We can talk all we want about the legality and ethics of piracy, but the ease of digital copying means it just isn't going to stop, and that anyone selling digital content is a bit like (to use another strained analogy) a Wal-Mart store trying to entice customers in with deals while, outside, the identical products have all just been left lying around on the sidewalk for anyone who feels like it to come along and pick them up.

Will some people still go inside the store? Certainly. But I don't think anyone would expect the store to stay in business for long - especially if the hypothetical pile off free goods was inexhaustible and constantly restocked with new goods, often faster than the actual store.

DRM is a mug's game, because it just punished the paying customers while doing little or nothing to stop piracy. However, that doesn't actually mean that piracy isn't still going to drive the prices down to zero or near-zero over time.

(I want to be very clear that I'm not trying to claim this is a good thing. I still can't see any way around it, though. "Information wants to be free" is a crap ethos, but a fairly accurate description of the way information tends to behave online.)

37:

I believe that works using Adobe's DRM, which, of course, Amazon doesn't support on the Kindle. (Amazon recently started lending books, but one publisher -- blanking on which one, sorry -- withdrew their contract over "security concerns," claiming that the DRM wasn't strong enough.)

As I understand it, the Adobe DRM works by the library telling Adobe's servers "this account is allowed this book"; then when you start to read the book, it contacts Adobe's servers, tells them who you are and what the book is, and Adobe's servers then tell your software "the key for that file is whatever, and the expiration date is whenever."

(The Amazon Kindle lending library worked differently: instead of you downloading a file, it instead just shows up in your Kindle Library for the duration of the lend, the book coming from Amazon instead of your library.)

I don't know if US libraries pay a per-rental fee for ebooks; I got the impression that they instead just paid an up-front fee for a period of time (e.g., a year), but am quite likely to be wrong.

38:

Thanks Sean, yes it does run via Adobe.

39:

Quite a few small publishers are already selling DRM-free ebooks. The frustration is that a) half the time they don't announce the fact (the nice people at Ridan Publishing said in response to a direct enquiry that they considered it such a "no-brainer" that it went without saying), and b) I doubt that sales made because of this stance appear in any kind of aggregated number that the big guys look at.

I went DRM-free-ebook-only a couple of years back. I know I'm missing out on convenience and on a whole bunch of things that I'd really like to buy (including Mr Stross, unfortunately). But between Webscriptions, various indies and Gutenberg I'm not in any danger of running out of things to read.

40:

Charlie

You mentioned a joint venture by the big six would be a cartel. I'm puzzled, I work in the Gas sector, where the companies owning the entire distribution network jointly own the network operator which deals with us lowly energy retailers on their behalf (http://www.xoserve.com/AboutUs.asp).

While I appreciate the Utility sector is not popular, xoserve is a legally separate entity governed by strict regulations and operates a framework determined jointly by the distribution networks and their customers (energy retailers) which seems to operate in much the way the person you replied to (stitchalicious) suggested.

It would be interesting to see a design for an interface layer between the book sector and the outside world which aimed for decent returns to publishers and authors, while offering level pricing to the outside world - allowing companies to go bare bones (Amazon, supermarkets) or offer a better product for slightly more money (bookshops). Given the expertise they'd require they could even provide some fulfilment or inventory support on a transparent cost+ basis.

(And yes, while I work in IT in the utility sector I spent two years trying to get into publishing. The book industry still fascinates me and I'd apply to work at this place in a heartbeat if it existed.)

41:

Interesting form of an anti-pattern I call 'DryWaterhole' (build a world of your own, then wonder where everyone else goes)

Like a lot of people, I am in two minds about eBooks: I can see their convenience, ease of access, and eco-friendliness (eco-cost of eBook and downloading vs publishing/distributing lumps of inked wood pulp). Still, I'm used to inked wood pulp, I like physically browsing in L-space. I like lending books.

DRM totalitarianism aside, would this business model work? A local kiosk/ internet cafe set-up where you can browse online, and get the books you want printed on site while you munch a lamington?

42:

No one with a brain buys e-books from Amazon. No publisher with a brain sells books through Amazon as if they do, the book immediately becomes a part of Amazon's "lending (stealing)" library where one person can share the Kindle version with many friends for FREE in order for that friend to decide whether they want to read it for up to FOURTEEN days, without the publishers permission. Most folks I know can read an e-book in that time and so why would they purchase it?

The "lending (stealing) library is to help Amazon sell Kindles. As far as DRM protection goes. HA! Yes. Let's assume ALL book buyers are thieves. That theory worked so well in the music industry!

The Big Six are used to being the ONLY fish in the sea. Now that it's clear that they aren't, they're swimming scared. Borders was first to fall, Barnes & Noble will be next and then where will the Big Six go to sale their books once their main outlets have disappeared due to their own arrogance? Mmmm . . . sushi sounds good to me!! ;)

43:

Part of the confusion here may be what "the traditional arrangement" is. In some countries, the publisher gets to set the retail price. (The UK either is one or used to be, depending on what remains of the Net Book Agreement.) But in America, the traditional arrangement has been, in effect, "buy at our wholesale price, sell at whatever price you want". And this was also, by most accounts, the arrangement that the publishers had with Amazon before they pushed Amazon onto the agency model.

In particular, this lets retailers sell books for less than they paid, as loss leaders. As Amazon was doing with ebooks. (For instance, from Ken Auletta's New Yorker piece on publishing and the iPad intro: "Amazon had been buying many e-books from publishers for about thirteen dollars and selling them for $9.99, taking a loss on each book in order to gain market share and encourage sales of its electronic reading device, the Kindle." Wal-Mart does the same with bestsellers in hardback, to put desirable trinkets on tables by the door.) For some reason, this is something that many publishers objected to deeply in the ebook arena --- but in the physical arena, their American retail resellers have been doing it with best-sellers all along.

BTW, as the Auletta quote documents, Amazon was paying per book in either case. Saying they were trying to act as a publisher makes it sound like they were offering a lump sum in return for the right to sell as many copies as they could. I'm sure Amazon would have loved that arrangement, but I don't think it's one they ever got.

44:

Being able to read an ebook anywhere I have a browser, internet access and sufficient power is not really useful to me. I regularly go places where internet access is hit or miss (the underground sections of our local trains, for example). To me, the advantage of an ebook reader is that it works anywhere (and has a passive screen). Which includes the feature "has nigh-on inexhaustible battery", so in a two week trip to NZ I only had to recharge it once.

Yes, in theory I could probably work around those problems if I had a tablet computer of some sort. But really, why would I bother getting one? I have better was to spend my time.

The effort I'm willing to make is periodically checking to see whether I can buy books by authors I like. If not, I get them from pirate sites. And "if you jump through enough hoops and spend enough money, time, and privacy, you can rent the book" does not count.

45:

Actually, you can already see this in the secondary (book) market on amazon; The Megaseller (Who source their merchandise for free?) and the Penny Book.

Being a used book dealer or book scout is more and more a pointless endeavor these days, but Amazon Still makes money (Ka Ching!).

46:

I've solved the incompatible reader issue by running all of them (including Kindle) on my android tablet. DRM stripping and format conversion is now big industry on the Internet. My big issue until recently had been geographical restrictions, but now as soon as I see something I like in the US or UK ebook shopfronts that I'm FORBIDDEN to buy, I source it by other means (which regretably means that the author and publisher miss out). Talk about a distribution system that sucks. At heart I'm a believer in the Google dream of all books ever published being available for the whole world as ebooks at a price that fairly compensates for authoring, formatting and electronic disribution.
As an aside on products forbidden in the antipodes, I'm really enjoying your Rule 34 audio book (the reader does have a Scottish accent) and if there was a way to forward you your take, I surely would.

47:

However, that doesn't actually mean that piracy isn't still going to drive the prices down to zero or near-zero over time.

As a prediction, this doesn't seem to be holding for music. You can get music for nothing, but people are also still paying for it from iStore and others.

48:

Actually I believe the mobipocket is being discontinued in exchange of the K8 format. However my point was not that you couldn’t do it but that you had to stick to PDF (or a converted version thereof) rather than EPUB.

49:

They can't say they weren't warned - warned repeatedly that incompatible file formats and lock-in DRM schemes would hang them high once ebooks took off. And that would happen very quickly, almost without warning, just as it did for the music industry. There's never any time to prepare once the storm hits, now it has and they've wasted most of it worrying about the wrong problems.

The death of the big print publishers was really set in train long before ebooks really appeared - the rounds of takeovers and merging of the big six with and by the big media companies that happened in the 80s and 90s really laid the groundwork for their current travails. Big corporate bureaucracy, top-down control and business methods largely unsuited to the very different world of publishing, combined with a typically big corporate lack of imagination and flexibility meant they were totally unprepared for the wave of digital technology that was about to engulf them.

The publishers themselves seem to have mostly cottoned onto the threat they face from Amazon, etc. but they can't get out from under the big corporate gorillas laying on top of them and escape the snakes that are now biting their feet.

50:

Mr. Stross...

Respectfully, the battle you're talking about here has already been fought, and your publishers lost. There is no going back. Get ahead of the curve and consider self-publishing through Amazon. I would be much happier giving you most of the money I spend on your books rather than you getting the pittance I suspect trickles through.

The only way back from this is if publishers have enough sense to do what indie record companies have done - buy a vinyl, get a code for free download. If I could buy your new releases in hardcover and get a kindle download, I would be thrilled - but that would seemingly make too much sense. Paying $13 for a license to an ebook copy of your book is absurd. I still do it, because I want to read your work and would rather not pirate it, but I am gravely uneasy about the whole thing.

Cut out the middleman or find a smarter middleman. Amazon and the current model are here to stay. You're one of the smarter folks writing on publishing today - spending your time trying to convince dinosaur publishers to do something you know damn well they're not going to to is not a good use of your time. More novels!

51:

Andrea K Host @ 13: I have heard of social DRM before - but not in such a clear, simple use case. Great idea!

52:

Rule 34 is for sale as a NEW hardback at a lot of different prices see http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0441020348/ref=tmm_hrd_new_olp_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1322526306&sr=1-3&condition=new
$10.97-$19.59 plus shipping on amazon
but the list price is the same. Why can Vendor A sell the new Hardback for 10.97 but amazon can't sell the e-book for $9.99?

Iv'e bought most of your books at 7.99 just can't bring myself to pay 12.99. I'll wait. (not steal)

In the past I've seen Ebooks at more than the Hardback price. What is going on there?

About half of the books I buy are from a smaller publisher (Baen - No DRM lots of formats) or from the authors website.

99 cents makes sense as a loss leader like a first book in well established series. but as an everyday price is a bad idea.

53:

On the old dead tree frontline... i found out today that the book depository were bought by amazon back in july, so that's another alternate avenue neatly blocked off. Are they eventually going to be investigated by the DOJ as per microsoft y'think? You try your best to avoid them when they treat creators and occasionally customers* with such contempt but with amazon fingers in ever so many pies it ends up a losing game.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Kindle#Remote_content_removal

54:

I am a little bit surprised that you are so suspicious of the 70% offer Amazon has for dealing directly with authors. This offer is similar to what Apple does for developers and musicians (although most musicians, even independents, use some sort of aggregator who take an additional cut to get on all of the major music services). So to me that seems to be an established rate and not just a loss-leading price they will change later. But maybe I am just too trusting.

Doesn't eliminating the middle-man in the internet age make a lot of sense? Especially when you are increasingly seeing sales growth online? Your genre may be especially suited for this type of arrangement. I understand that physical distribution is necessary so how do authors who deal directly with Amazon manage to get books on real shelves? How do they get their titles on other online services?

Maybe authors need the equivalent of bandcamp, which has given power back to independent musicians who can just sell through their websites and receive most of what is paid.

It may be that as an established author there are more advantages to a big-six publisher. But what if I can't get picked up by one of them?

(looking forward to seeing you in Colorado Springs!)

55:

No one with a brain buys e-books from Amazon.

I have a brain, it works reasonably well, and I buy books from Amazon. It's easy, good range and I trust Amazon -- foolish of me, I know, to trust someone you've been regularly transacting with for 8 years.

My 2 year old daughter dropped my Kindle and it cracked the screen -- happily sent me a new one, didn't even want the old one back. They trusted me (either that or a Kindle3 is not worth shipping from Aus to US).

@lots of people: Charlie, self-publish

Self-publishing is going to kill sci-fi/fantasy, folks. I wish Amazon had a way to filter out self-published toilet paper. Physical books are great because you know they've been quality filtered at some level before being published (existing authors have it easy :-)

Anyway, bookshops are dead. They're going the way of internet cafes, cd shops, tailors, milkbars, non-franchised shops, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, telegrams, banks etc. Dead, dead, dead.

Enjoy your paper books, won't be long before they'll be a limited special edition at launch, much like vinyl records are today.

56:

There's a phenomenon in online games I refer to as the "Gateway Hack". There's some feature that is easy for those who have programming skills to add to the game, and they do so. And one or more of them makes it turnkey and distributes it widely.

At that point most of your players are using a hacked version of the game to play, and there's no turning back from there. Pretty soon they're speedhacking, wallhacking, aimbotting, and your game is deader than chivalry.

DRM is really a strategy for *reducing* the usability of an ebook: You can only use it on the right hardware, with the right kind of data connection, and while the server hardware is operating properly. The first time any of those things is not true, the reader is going to look for a way to access the content he paid for.

And he's going to find it, in the form of the hacked ebook or scanned and OCR'd PDF of the hardcopy. From then on, he's a pirate. And having already crossed the line, he's going to find that it's not only cheaper to read the pirate versions, it's easier and more convenient. Access to the content without the hassles of DRM becomes the "Gateway Hack" to not buying any books at all.

In fact, they may already have done it: For most authors, it is easier to pick up the latest version of the huge, combined all-in-one ebook pack (currently nearly 4700 books) than to find those of a particular author, and easier to find everything from a particular author than just one of his books. Ebooks are so *small* compared to video, or even audio (virtually every popular audio-book is also available) that they are all just combined into one giant mega-bundle. With one download, their quest for one usable ebook yields a library they couldn't finish reading in their lifetime.

I just looked up your name, and the combined version of *your* work includes not only all your novels, but all of your short fiction, non-fiction, interviews, and a snapshot of this very blog. A reader couldn't get that comprehensive a package from a legitimate source, at any price.

Once your customer has realized he can get something for free, it's *hard* to get them to pay for it again. And DRM doesn't do a thing to stop that (note that most legitimate music downloads are DRM free now).

--Dave

57:

I am a little bit surprised that you are so suspicious of the 70% offer Amazon has for dealing directly with authors.

As Charles mentioned in the main post, Amazon has a tendency to use it's prominence and near-monopoly to lock out anyone who tries to negotiate better terms with das korporation - in this case the 70% offer is at the cost of any sort of competent editing for your work (which is a good way to get known as the highly acclaimed writer of satnurs' hilcdren), and the idea is that in the long run the larger chunk of the pie can make the trad-publishers heamorrage writers until they can't function any more and ceases to be a competitor... at which that 70% drops to a lot lot less, and the writers can't do anything else because even if the writers flee to a new publisher, those publishers will have to sell through amazon.

And Amazon delists anyone it damn well pleases, as has happened repeatedly to LGBT book titles on amazon just because some of the people handling Amazon's search algorithms are homophobic prudes and the company doesn't pay much attention to what they're actually doing too closely, and this is the primary leverage they can wield in any sort of industrial dispute between amazon and writers should that 70% turn out to be a short term thing.

Obvious Gilded Cage is Obvious. As the English say: sod that for a game of soldiers.

58:

It's a little much to say that self-publishing through Amazon makes you forgo editing. But it does force you to find your own copy-editor, and whatever packaging assistance you require (almost invariably artwork for cover images and marketing collateral, and quite likely format conversions for the text itself). And to pay for this all up front --- which means that at a point where authors in a traditional publishing arrangement are able to spend their advance, self-published authors have to go in the hole, in the hope that revenue sales will get them out later --- a risk that a traditional publisher would assume. (Plus the cost of sending out review copies and such, another minor detail that publishers usually take care of.)

There are trade-offs here. (For one thing, a self-published author is able to reject covers they don't like, which is rarely an option when working with traditional publishers.) But it's hard to deny that self-publishing is more work. Which is one of many reasons why I understand that an author with established business relationships with an established publisher might be reluctant to chuck 'em on a whim...

59:

The Kindle is being sold the same way in the UK. It's how I bought mine (with a pile of accumulated discount vouchers).

It's a good e-reader, and I have a lot or DRM-free stuff on it in .mobi format.

60:

If I may link to some related discussion on the future and Amazon: Alan Beatts (of Borderlands Books) in conversation with Alisa Krasnostein and Jonathan Strahan.

http://liveandsassy.podbean.com/2011/11/12/episode-2-live-and-sassy-with-alan-beatts/

61:

Re: comment 33

The reason libraries' ebook files will open on everything but a Kindle is because Amazon uses their own proprietary .mobi format. All other ereaders use the open .epub format (moderated by the IDPF, here: http://old.idpf.org/).

Also Re: Comments in general about agency model

Amazon's agency model is based on Apple's agency model, which is why the percentages are so similar. And it's not exactly fair to compare ebooks to physical books-- after all, Amazon is not investing in x amount of physical books at 50% list price and then crossing its fingers that it will sell them all. The agency model is much more reasonable for ebooks-- the retailers take a commission of the sales price. (And the retailers essentially aren't risking anything upfront.) Also, publishers don't directly set the ebook price; publishers directly set cover price, which then corresponds to a cap on ebook price. (i.e., if the cover price is $35, the ebook price caps at $16.99.) Unfortunately, Amazon does is best to be as non-transparent as possible, so I have no link to refer to to back this up. But I will say that Amazon loses money on a lot of books it sells-- and that's why publishers are so upset about it. Amazon is pulling a Wal-Mart... on books.

62:

The kindle person-to-person lending program requires the participation of the publisher. None of the "agency" publishers participate; a few did before Kindle lending, when it was just B&N lending (their program is basically the same for nook).

I have done a lot of e-book borrowing, mostly kindle/nook person-to-person and ebook library. It is my observation that Amazon's participation in either program has had a dampening effect on publisher participation.

It is not my impression that lent books are any more susceptible to piracy whether they are lent epub/kindle/library/person-to-person or not. It's not the insecurity of Amazon's servers that Penguin, for example, should be worried about, since stripping DRM doesn't take place on those servers, but on desktops. I think they're far more afraid of Amazon's dominance and lock-in.

I believe Jane at Dear Author has a theory that Agency pricing does not advantage Amazon so much as B&N.

63:

The same could be said of any of the ereader-makers. Amazon got a head start not just because they subsidized the reader but also because they did years of consumer research and learned two hard facts: ebook fans hate DRM and won't pay hardcover prices for ebooks. Mainstream publishers also never considered end users, i. e., readers, in their business model; it was all about selling to retailers. So, Amazon had a head start for that reason, too.

64:

With its selection, prices, discovery, ratings, fulfillment, cloud library management, and quality eReaders for every platform within reason, Amazon makes piracy seem an unnecessary and frustrating chore.

DRM or DRMless, publishing should thank its lucky stars for Amazon, because their value add to eBooks probably has more to do with thwarting piracy than DRM.


65:
publishers don't directly set the ebook price

Untrue -- they are setting the price directly, and the percentage Amazon can keep. Amazon is not allowed to sell it at a different price. (Nor are B&N or Apple or anyone else.)

Amazon puts "This price was set by the publisher" on such books, probably because they're still displeased by it.

66:

If the big six began selling ebooks without DRM, readers would at least be able to buy from other retailers and read their ebooks on whatever platform they wanted, thus eroding Amazon's monopoly position.

I don't think it actually matters. The ability to buy elsewhere doesn't necessarily translate to actually doing so. Those alternate stores would need to have some major advantage to even be in the running. It's hard to see what that advantage would be.

Using those other shops won't be cheaper (since price competition was made impossible). It can't be more convenient to get "alien" content into a Kindle than native. Any specific book is going to be essentially undifferentiated in the different stores - it's not like Barnes & Noble would have an exclusive special chapter or two in a book, or would have an edition of it that's been proofread better. Even competing with a better selection - either by serving more geographic regions or having a larger catalog - seems impossible. Especially after the Google book scanning settlement was killed.

Most likely I didn't think of everything, and there is in fact some advantage that non-Amazon ebook sellers could plausibly have. But it doesn't seem likely that it could be important enough to overcome the inertia of buying Kindle content from Amazon. Even the need for customers to enter their credit card info once again is actually a pretty big hurdle.

67:

THEIR MOVIES ARE SO BAD NOBODY IN AMERICA WANTS TO PAY THAT MUCH TO SEE THEM. SO THEY CLAM EVERYBODY IS STEALING THEM. RIGHTTTT.

68:

Non-Amazon bookstores may offer coupons or other discounts for non-Agency books that are different than Amazon's (Amazon will usually match listed price). They also may offer ebooks that aren't available at Amazon (like Baen). That's pretty much it.

It is absolutely completely effortless to get purchased Amazon content onto the kindle if you have wifi on. It just shows up. It does require more effort to buy from other stores--the effort isn't prohibitive, but would probably *all other things being equal* favor buying from Amazon. I think that kindle owners who resist buying from Amazon, all other things being equal, do so for ideological reasons, or fears of having their purchases yanked from their account as in the 1984 fiasco.

69:

Mr. Stross --

I did a bit of exploring of your blog and find you're quite well informed about publishing -- as I guess you should be, since you're a prolific and well published author.

However, with respect to the agency discount model and its relationship to the trade discount model you seem to be at sea.

Under the agency model, a retailer like Amazon is nothing more than the sales agent for the publisher. As such the publisher sets the price of the ebooks it publishes and the sales agent -- whether it's Amazon, the U.S.-based Barnes & Noble.com, Google Books, or any other e-tailer -- gets a flat 30% of the sales price, essentially as a commission. To reinforce this point, the agency model requires the publisher and not the retailer to collect and pay sales tax on every agency-discount unit it sells.

The trade discount model was the prevailing sales model in the pre-ebooks era and remains so for all publishers outside the so-called Big Six in the U.S. (Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Penguin) who sell to Amazon. The Big Six have essentially used their clout, in the form of their sizable front- and backlists, to force Amazon to accept the agency model. If you doubt this is the case, I recommend you visit the blog run by the U.S.-based ebooks consultant Mike Shatzkin. His Shatzkin Files have been chronicling the changing ebooks retailing landscape wrought by the agency model ever since Apple added ebooks to the iTunes store and demanded all publishers it works with change to agency pricing -- thereby allowing Apple to sell books on a level pricing field with all other e-tailers.

In particular, you might want to read Shatzkin's account of Macmillan's agency model ultimatum to Amazon at the beginning of 2010 (http://www.idealog.com/blog/the-wild-weekend-of-amazon-and-macmillan), during which time Amazon briefly took down *all* Macmillan product, virtual or physical, in retaliation but was ultimately forced to concede to Macmillan's terms.

BTW: I bring this up not to defend Amazon's retail practices or to deny that Amazon wields extraordinary power as a book retailer. It does. Indeed, as Amazon was building its Kindle business and routinely selling all Big Six trade ebooks for $9.99 -- and thus losing money on any title whose suggested retail price was more than twice that, since publishers were at that time selling ebook and physical book titles alike to Amazon at the trade discount of roughly 50% off list -- it conditioned its customers to accept that $9.99 price as the maximum they should be required to pay for any ebook. There are now thousands of such customers who post one-star reviews and negative comments about any ebook priced higher, and it goes without saying they generate these negative assessments without ever having paid for or read the titles in question.

But with respect to the agency discount, Amazon demands that all non-Big-Six trade publishers sell it their ebook and physical book wares under the old trade discount model, which requires only that Amazon buy inventory at roughly 50% off the publisher's suggested list price (the discounts vary by publisher and can run as high as 55%) and is silent on pricing -- allowing Amazon to discount as steeply as it wishes to win over customers.

So, to sum up, if a publisher using the agency model sets the price of an ebook at $10.00, Amazon must sell it at $10.00 and pocket a $3.00 commission for its efforts. On the other hand, if a publisher using the trade discount model prices an ebook at $17.00, Amazon will buy it at roughly $8.50 and, if it wishes, sell it to customers at $4.99 or $3.99 or $2.99 and lose money (but likely gain market share) on every sale.

70:

Another (and real) reason to worry somewhat about Amazon/Kindle is that I can just see some government or other starting anti-monopoly proceedings against Amazon. The problem there, of course, is what happens to the content providers if there's a fight over how to break up Amazon.

Anyway, scary as Amazon is right now, we went through something with Windows about a decade ago....I barely remember the details...what was it again? Something about running the world?

As Terry Pratchett has noted, the nice thing about being the underdog in a fight is the plethora of dangling targets to latch onto, especially if one is quick. It will be interesting to see who figures out where Amazon's cojones are first.

71:

Greetings All,

There seem to be some misconceptions about readers and eBooks.

- You don't have to buy from Amazon to read on the Kindle. Any book in Mobi format can be read on the Kindle. You can get those from many places (Baen, Smashwords, and Guttenberg immediately come to mind). And, Calibre will convert between almost all eBook formats; so, all you have to do is load the file into Calibre and Bob's your auntie. (Last year it took me a couple of hours to convert my rather large library of eReader format books (from my Palm days) to the Mobi format.)

- Worried that Amazon may delete files on your Kindle? (Actually, I understand that this was a mistake [Bezos was was not pleased] and they no longer do it.) Anyway, don't give Amazon the chance. Prevention is trivial -- just download a copy and save it elsewhere (or elsewheres). That also allows you to ... ahem ... deal with the DRM at your leisure.

- As for geographical restrictions on eBook sales, use your imagination folks! It is a mobile, international world, and you live where you say you live. (In fact I DO live with my brother in Kentucky when I am in the USA.)

-The social DRM concept is excellent. (Thank you Andrea K Host @ 13.) I wonder why it isn't used more.

Just for the record, I refuse to be tied to any platform or format -- I'll read my eBooks however I damned well please, thank you. That sometimes requires me to strip DRM. If that makes me a scofflaw, so be it. Some laws deserve to be scoffed.

72:

One thing I would note is that Amazon's DRM is a joke for anyone willing to spend five minutes with Google and install Calibre (and an easily located plug-in). If you buy an eBook from Amazon, you can wipe the DRM in seconds, convert it to epub or whatever format you want, and move on with your life. Or a Nook, if you so choose.

It's a fine backup solution if you're worried about your Amazon account being shut down, which takes out all of the eBooks you might have on your Kindle once you attach it to a new account (as happened to me - fortunately Amazon gave me the balance of the books in gift cards).

But the law of unintended consequences has just reared its head. The combination of lousy DRM and Amazon's new lending library program means that Amazon Prime members get to pirate one eBook a month at no additional charge (or effort). Sure it's cost prohibitive for a mass pirating scheme, but Prime members can earn their membership fee back in a year, if they're so inclined. And it's not Amazon who is going to take the hit on that.

As for the publishers... the Big Six might have their noggins up their sphincters, but there are some small publishers who have gone the DRM-free eBook route, Black Library and Angry Robot being two worth noting (though Angry Robot sells Kindle editions of their books through Amazon as well). Only time will tell if larger publishers go the same route.

73:

@70 "Worried that Amazon may delete files on your Kindle? (Actually, I understand that this was a mistake [Bezos was was not pleased] and they no longer do it.)"

They still do it, but it's rare: you need to have your Amazon account shut down (say it got hacked) and sync your Kindle to a replacement account. And as I said, Amazon will (well, may, they did for me) provide a full refund for the cost of any deleted eBooks, to allow you to repurchase them.

74:

And because being a writer is something many people dream about, there are a lot of souls out there who will do it for free if they have to.

While obviously aggravating from the perspective of the professional novelist, if someone's willing to do a thing free, why would you pay someone else to do it?

75:
While obviously aggravating from the perspective of the professional novelist, if someone's willing to do a thing free, why would you pay someone else to do it?

Um...because I want to read books written by Charlie, and not those written by Joe Blow?

76:

I've been reading eBooks for awhile, starting with Baen's free books and mobipocket on a palm. It's what got me started reading your books and a few other authors. Thanks to you, the authors and Baen.

With eBooks, I started reading again. From 2-3 books a year to 20-30. I always have several books on the phone and an ereader next to the bed.

I used mobipocket on BlackBerry. I installed Kindle on BB and also use FBreader on a smartQ. Everything is read in mobi *without* DRM for me.

Like others, I dislike Amazon's practices. I buy ePub and strip off any DRM. I convert to mobi for my devices or use ePub to read in Firefox on Linux. If I can't strip the DRM off, I won't buy it because I can't read it.

I was horrified when Amazon was able to remove 1984 from Kindles. 1984 is public domain. My 1st eBook on the BB was a gutenburg version of 1984! Nobody should be able to remove a book from my nightstand without my handing it to them. Ever.

77:

With music, it depends what you mean. Do people still buy music? Sure. But the numbers are falling like a stone, and there is no longer any *requirement* that anyone pay for music if they don't feel like it. These days you can pretty much type the name of any popular song (and quite a few obscure ones) into Google and come up with any number of methods to listen to or download that song, ranging along a whole spectrum of legal-to-illegal and virus-ridden to safe.

A quick Google turned up this article on the state of the music industry.

And as Dave noted, books are significantly smaller and easier to pirate than music. Once the public comes to think of them as files instead of physical objects, they're free for anyone who feels like taking them. Payment no longer becomes a requirement to get your hands on a product, it becomes an abstract sort of patronage - a gesture of goodwill toward the content creator for creating something you enjoy, even though you can have a copy any time you want for free and there's not a goddamn thing anyone can do about it.

So publishers worrying about Amazon's terms as the customers switch to ebooks strike me as a bit like dinosaurs worrying about predators the day before the asteroid hits.

78:

steveg: I know several people who make a living in each of those trades. Used book shops aren't going anywhere; before 2030; neither are codices which won't fit on a low-res ereader screen (you would need to double the dots per inch of a typical monitor to get the same resolution as the cheapest modern printing, and there are serious engineering issues with changing that).

C: Because as an ethical person, you prefer to send your expenses to small businesses (authors, freelance editors and artists) than the Martians? Or because you want to read fiction written by people who work full time on it and are smart enough to make a living in other fields?

79:

A talented professional writer deserves to be paid for his or her work. Professionalism shows in the quality of the work, and the ability to work full-time as a writer means that readers get to enjoy more and better stuff.

Unfortunately, a non-trivial subsection of readership simply reads for a few hours of escapism and are willing to ignore some lack of quality. They take what's cheap, convenient, and available. I would seek out the authors that I like, but many aren't that choosy. Losing the bookselling equivalent of drop-in traffic to a low-cost retailer means that good authors with established fan bases wouldn't be able to make a living.

80:

The Big Six may not be brave enough, but Angry Robot certainly are - all their books are available, DRM-free, through their own online bookstore (as well as from Amazon and the Apple book store). That was one of the many reasons I was keen to sign with them.

Was that brave of me? I consider it to be a sound business decision, to throw my lot in with a company that actually understand digital media.

81:

I don't see this being a problem for much longer. By the time Amazon has finished punishing the Big Six publishers, literacy rates will have dropped so low the only books purchased will be the Harry Potter graphic novel editions. As literacy rates continue to drop in the U.S. to levels not seen since the founding of our nation, it won't matter if the ebooks have DRM or not because so few will be literate enough to read them. I see my daughters' literature books and hear tales from teachers describing how school administrators don't see spelling or grammar as being important due to the invention of spell check (no, I'm not joking here) and considering the quality of spelling and grammar one sees in texts and on social networking sites, the ability to read will soon enough be relegated to the elite or considered to be an urban legend.

82:

I think dead tree books are going down a lot sooner than most people think and I'm feeling very torn about it.

I've recently bought a hard cover of Vernor Vinge's "Children of the Sky" the day it came out, because I am a huge fan of the series and I always make a point of supporting series I really like(e.g. I downloaded Atrocity Archive early this year, loved it and went and bought Jennifer Morgue and Fuller Memorandum the same day).

It was a beautiful hardcover, but to my shock I discovered that I liked it less than reading on my Nook. It was just so much less convenient. There was no automatic page tracking, it didn't fit into the side pocket of my pants, to be carried around everywhere with no inconvenience and worst of all, I couldn't read in my favorite new reading position, lying in bed on my side with the Nook propped up edgewise and using one finger to click the button to turn pages. So halfway through the book, I said screw it, downloaded it and finished reading on my Nook.

Now I couldn't really buy the eBook, because I live in Canada and the Nook isn't supported there( I bought it online, because at the time of my purchase the Nook touch was by far the best eBook reader and still is IMHO) My one experiment with buying an eBook was buying SuperFreakonomics and then discovering that I couldn't get it on my device because I'm Canadian. But even if I could, it galls me to pay real money for electrons. I have a huge bookshelf(1/2 bought new, 1/2 second hand) and at least it looks pretty standing up by my wall.

Before the argument that having books floating around online could boost paper sales. Baen's policy of making the first in a series book available online for free got me hooked on the infamous space admiral series that's not too popular on this blog, as wells as the 1632 series. Right now I have over a dozen books on my shelf bearing the Baen logo, all bought new.

This worked really well when pBooks were a superior experience to reading on any kind of screen, but from now on, eBook readers provide a superior experience that will only improve.

83:

Having known a few small businesspeople and artists, I'm not prepared to say that they're ethically superior to large corporations.

More to the point, a relatively small number of authors make their living as authors- the pay just isn't sufficient to do so for most. Taking Tobias Buckell's survey as gospel, the median SF book advance is around $12,500. Whip out two novels a year and you'll technically be above the poverty line for a family of four...but really, no. It's a sideline to another actual career.

84:

Let me just ask all of you something. Has DRM, no matter how strong or developed it is ever prevented a book from being pirated? I don't think so. And let's not fool ourself how every user of pirated content knows how to break protection either - all it takes is one and then countless others can just download it while he takes "street credibility" of breaking that protection. In the end, the only people who are suffering from the DRM are the paying customers.
In my opinion, Baen Publishing has the right idea when it comes to digital publishing. No DRM and once you have bought the book you can download it to any device you own or will own in the future in variety of formats.

The thing is - you can't undercut the pirates by pricing - what you can do is offer an easy and affordable way to purchase the e-books which will mean it is much easier to get legal then pirated books.

85:

Geographic restrictions strike me as the bigger problem than DRM, though they're all tied into the same problem.

The world has changed. A licence to publish a book in the Americas but not the British Empire is close to telling the rest of the world that they don't want to sell, and from there its a very small step to say that pirating a copy is legit.

86:

Agree 100%. I'm one of your 40% buyers.

I don't own a Kindle. Won't install the Kindle app. (I'm a stickler for having few apps as possible, that cover the same area.)

For buying Ebooks, I use the Ibook store or one of the sites offering Epub format. This is easier and much more preferable to looking to rip authors off by seaking a torrent of a cracked version. The publishing industry seem to be about 5 years behind the music industry. Which, is hardly known for it's far sightedness.

87:

The industry obsessed on EPUB format when it should have been paying just as much attention to a DRM standard that all could adopt. Not only is Amazon's proprietary DRM damaging, but so is their kindle format. If DRM is dropped Amazon are perfectly poised to retain ebook buyers and their cloud-based libraries because the Kindle format can't be read on non-Amazon technology.

Adobe is emerging as the DRM standard, but it won't be long before this is perceived as an inefficient tax on booksellers - $0.22 per license is not representative of the long term value add.

What's the answer? A DRM standard and quickly. It will be hacked but all other DRM and formats have been hacked already, and you can get a book scanned a converted for pence so it's pretty academic. DRM just needs to be simple / seamless and to discourage reasonable people from becoming pirates - the real pirates will do it anyway.

88:

I read a lot. I've read a lot since childhood. Like most of us here I buy more books in a year than most people buy in a lifetime. I made the switch to ebooks early and since then I've seen a massive growth in the amount of content available to me. With some rather puzzling exceptions almost every sci-fi book I choose to buy I can get in a single click and delivered within a minute.

Now I buy far, far more books than I did previously and do it all in a very convenient way. This is the future of reading as far as I'm concerned. I used to try and support the high street bookshop but too many times I'd walk in wanting a new book only to find they didn't stock it "Would you like us to order it for you? We can have it by next week". Err. No thanks.

I use a Kindle (Keyboard currently but as soon as the Touch is available in the UK I'll be upgrading) and it is such a wonderful experience. Even Amazon at times had trouble getting the paper books to me in good time. These days I just click and start reading. I can read my Kindle on the train to work and continue the same book on my phone while standing in a queue.

I don't just buy from Amazon. I'll happily (And prefer to) buy from other places like Baen when they have something I want. Baen will email the books straight to my Kindle.

Now I can either do all this and have all these benefits or I can take some sort of stand and only buy pbooks that I have no room for anymore because a bunch of dinosaurs can't get their act together. Not much of a choice really. Have any of you tried reading a recent Neal Stephenson book on a crowded train? ;)

There an awful lot of problems to sort out on the publisher and retailer side but realistically there's not a thing I can do about those short of not reading in protest. Which would be pretty stupid of me.

I should point out that there's no lockin for me with Amazon. I'm in the segment of the population that can and does strip my own drm. If someone came out with a better ecosystem I could easily move and take my entire collection with me.

There are some problems however. Agency pricing doesn't have Amazon's ability to turn on a dime with pricing so it can be quite annoying to see books that cost more than the paperback copy and even worse more than the hardcover after the paperback has come out. There's no easy way to get that fixed quickly. Also the sci-fi/fantasy section at Amazon UK is drowning in utterly terrible self published rubbish and rather more surprisingly German Perry Rhodan books. :)

But then I'm not an author and I can appreciate the problems people like Charlie are experiencing as we move into the ebook future. It can't be pleasant. Hope everything goes well for you Charlie.

89:

A qualification.

"Nineteen">http://www.techtalk.net/2009/george-orwell-project-gutenberg-memory-hole/">"Nineteen Eighty-Four is still under copyright in the US. It will be so until 2044 (95 years after publication) and in the EU until 2020 (Life plus 70 [Orwell died in 1950). In Canada, Australia and elsewhere, it is out of copyright (both have life + 50 terms)"

There's an affiliated Project Gutenberg in Australia, which makes the book available to life+50 residents.

This isn't a recent development in ebook years; its been true since the 1998 Sony Bono Copyright Act in the US, and since 1995 in the UK. However, both laws were retrospective.

90:

Good show, Charlie. I'll just make a quick note about fingerprinting or "social DRM" as some people mentioned it in the comments. Sure, it's less imposing than actual DRM, and doesn't really detract from the usefulness of the product to its buyer.

However.

We live in an age of draconian punishments for copyright infringement, with doubtful evidenciary standards. Even a single fingerprinted work available in the wild could conceivably incur notable penalties for the person identified.

Now, let's say you've bought some low three figures of books. Your reader gets lost or stolen, or somebody hacks your computer or cloud storage, or you make a misconfiguration in some sharing app, and the files go wild.

Now it's wholly up to the copyright owners whether to buy your story, ruin you financially, or what the hey - both.

And that's why buying fingerprinted works is like buying your very own sword of Damocles to hang over your head. It's suspended perhaps a little better than with a single horse's hair - it's not overly likely that any single person get screwed this way - but it's still there.

And that's why I'll rather not buy fingerprinted products, thanks very much.

Oh, another less relevant anecdote while I'm at it, on customer relations: I bought a book at Fictionwise, since their multiformat selection is non-DRM. I immediately sent it to my wife as well, who noticed, being more conscientious than me in reading legalese, that I actually violated the copyrights by doing this. The book bought was apparently for my eyes only, not even those of family members. Also, the copyright preamble was kind enough to threaten violators with anything up to jail time, and of course, that they'd pursue us to the ends of the Earth, or something to that effect.

Needless to say, these threats (that actually applied to me as a casual copyright criminal) didn't make me all warm and fuzzy about doing business with the outfit. I did mention this all to them as well in feedback, while also noting that they might remove my account if they _really_ meant what they said, since I was likely to let my wife read any books I bought.

I later succumbed to buying another of their books since it was recommended to me, and as a test if I still had my account. I did.

Anyway, instead of threats, why not go for positive reinforcement for a change? Put some "Thanks for buying this book and supporting the writer in creating even more nifty stories for you" blurb at the start. It puts the business transaction on a much more positive footing, plus it manipulates us pirates towards paying for it by giving us undeserved thanks.

91:

Before reading all the above comments
Amazon / Sony / Kobo / iPad (if you are stupid & gullible to believe all that i-hype) - ok which is the best reader AS A READER?
Next DRM - which version(s) are we talking about:
Country-or-region specific -so that someone buying a "european" e-book cant use it in USSA & vice versa?
And / or LOCKED into specific physical tablet, but use anywhere on planet?
Or euuugh, BOTH?

And, I assume that you can't port material from one e-reader to another.
Oh an ignorant (not stupid) question: HOW does one acquire an e-book - do they sell you a chip with the book in/on it, or is it a download? And does this acually matter - since it should be possible to suck a copy out of the reader, IF you know enough code ....


OK - now I'll read the comments...


MozArrgh @ 14
"Delete off your reader"?
You what?
I thought they just stopped listing, for spurious non-reasons, bad enough in itself - they actually TAKE AWAY GOODS YOU HAVE PAID FOR?
There's a word for that - theft.

DavidB @ 35
Probably.
Same as Agence France Presse have sent a picture of me, around the planet, several times, and I've never had a peny.
Or Saatchis (SPIT) who have used my moving image in advertising, having previously told me I wasn't hired for that shoot - they then used test footage for their own money-grubbing and arse-polishing, and I haven't seen a penny of that, either.

Lying theives, the lot of them.

Robert Horley @ 46
I assume that if one were ever to go e-reader, access to theses DRM-stripping and format-conversions is easy-to-find, and essy-to-use. And cheap (free?)

David S @ 49 & others.
Textbooks?
how are technical textbooks handled?
I used to use them a LOT - now, very little.

@ 13 & 51
Could I have that in English, please?

trm @ 53
That part-answers my earlier question.
Amazon are (?) certainly have been - theives.

@ 61
If that is so, the answers' obvious.
PAY someone to hack the .mobi format, and distribute in anonymously: Amazon's game is then up and over.

stationstops @ 64
And The Party and its glorious leader can do no wrong, huh?

Joy @ 68
So it's a downlod - via some medium or other, then?

Clyde @ 70
Thanks - so one can, already, even now, get around all this grasping lunacy - but, to someone like me, still remembering actual core store, and 80-chars per line (card) HOW does one do this - are there ready-guides on the Net?
....
David Earle @ 71
So "Calibre" is the magic word, that opens all doors is it?
Thanks.

Sam @ 75
Yes, people really do still buy music, especially in CD form, and especially if it is "Cultural" - which includes things like ..."The Musicians of Grope Alley".
Ahem.

Hugo Guest @ 80
Is it really that bad in the USSA?
It's been bad here, but there is some fightback underway, I'm glad to say.

Everyone:
Do tell, please!
I'm fascinated.
Thoinking of getting an e-reader sometime in the next year, but refuse to be locked in by any publisher or distributor.

After all, one can but a paper-book from any shop, and any publisher, and read it anywhere.
Why should e-books be different?

Thought - a "restraint of trade" action would seem to be indicated ??

92:

Yes and no: it's the same legal concept, but it works very differently with respect to books.

Books, once published, are anything but anonymous and you can't file off the metadata and pass a novel off as your own without someone calling you on it. The real issue is that books stay in demand, albeit low demand, for decades -- long after the author has died, their literary estate has gone to their great-nephew who emigrated to Tuvalu, their literary agent retired and their practice was acquired by somebody else who in turn merged with a large agency in another country ... you get the picture.

It's a side-effect of the copyright term being increased to life plus 70 years, and it's only going to get worse.

Current legislative proposals to fix this involve (a) defining a standard for "due diligence" in tracking down a missing literary estate, (b) defining a mandatory minimum royalty rate for republication, and (c) allowing a publisher who has executed a due dilligence search and failed to find the author's estate to republish, paying the author's royalties into an escrow account for collection when the author's heirs show up with a claim, without fear of being sued. (As long as they hand the money over, of course.)

93:

Calibre is an eBook management system. It's not, per-se, about removing DRM. It does do format conversion so I can read the same books on my tablet as on my Sony eReader (well, excepting those on the eReader with DRM - I've not stripped those).

My current reading is an HTML file that has been very cleanly converted to the Sony's preferred format.

94:

Shame none of those proposals hit the obvious solution- set copyright to the lifetime of the author. Since copyright exists to ensure the author is remunerated for his work and motivated to produce more, extending it past his lifetime isn't going to increase his literary output much.

95:

The $10.97 copy of Rule 34 you're looking at is a second-hand copy, misfiled under "new". Probably deliberately, because there's an unscrupulous seller and an unwary buyer born every second.

96:

Amazon's 70% deal for direct-publishing creators was a response to Apple, not something they came up with willingly (previously they'd been coughing 25%, at best, and pocketing the rest). There are, shall we say, strings attached.

97:

Amazon is pulling a Wal-Mart... on books.

Amazon is Wal-Mart. Only worse. (And online only.)

I believe that the way companies treat their staff reflects their management's outlook on how to do business, on how to treat suppliers, and ultimately on how to treat the public (when they finally start to take their position for granted and forget who's paying them).

Here's how Amazon treats its employees. Also: illegal union busting.

There's a marked lack of social responsibility visible in the way Amazon is run -- a lack bordering on sociopathic disdain. I'd much rather sell my books via people who don't treat their staff like shit and hold their suppliers in thinly-veiled contempt.

98:

You know I come from the land of the Net Book Agreement (RIP -- why do you seem to think I ought to dislike a system which pretty much re-implements the NBA within the US trade book system?

Incidentally, the Macmillan take-down wasn't the first -- Amazon did it to Hachette in the UK the year before (2009). And more recently there's been a fracas between Amazon and Penguin over Canadian sales (over who gets to pay GST, basically).

99:

Which begs the question as to whether significant fractions of your reading audience care enough about how Amazon behaves to make extra effort to get your work through a different venue. Some, surely, yes. Enough to keep you in the typing business instead of having to go back to computer programming or pharmacy?

Real bitch of a moral dilemma.

100:

1984 is not public domain. Eric Blair died in 1949 so one would expect that under (Life plus 70) it would come out of copyright in 2019. And under the previous (Life plus 50) copyright term it would have come out in 1999.

However, due to some complex jiggery-pokery in the 1950s the copyright in the US was assigned to a corporation, resetting the clock to a flat 99 years, which extended it until 2048. It's already out-of-copyright in a couple of places (South Africa, IIRC) due to (Life plus 50) being implemented in 1999 with no reversion to copyright being mandated when legislation to comply with the international (Life plus 70) standard was brought in, but stays under until 2019-2048 everywhere else.

(I happen to know this because one of my projects -- permanently shelved due to the copyright implications -- was a novel-length sort-of sequel set a few decades later, to be called "Big Brother Iron" (after an early novelette of mine). I don't believe it is currently practical to publish such a work without risking an expensive lawsuit, so I'm not going there.)

101:

I’m considering buying a Kindle. I currently have the Kindle app on my iphone. I’ve been put off by the DRM issue and the delete-your-library issue

But I’ve decided to treat books more like I treat television or radio. A temporary entertainment which I don’t need or want to physically hold onto. Being able to take a punt on a $0.99 or $2.99 title is an attraction. Free books from Guttenburgh et al even more of an attraction.

A Kindle costs about £90. I buy about one book a week. If I save £2 in cash or convenience or shipping on each book I buy I’ll have saved the cost of the Kindle in a year. Given that many of the books I would like to read are available free (I like out of copyright philosophy and have a hankering to read the classics) a £2 on average saving doesn’t seem too hard to achieve.

I rarely re-read books. I rarely want to refer to them again. For those where I do I think the additional cost or inconvenience of protecting my longer term interest is worth the overall saving.

I have limited space in my home for new bookshelves. The current ones are just about all full. There is space in one room for perhaps one large bookshelf. Enough for perhaps 400 books. That’s about two year’s worth of purchases for my family. The bookshelf is going to cost as much as the Kindle. Significantly increasing the amount of book storage space I have means buying a new home. In the same area as I live going up one size of flat is going to set me back about £50k.

So I think I’m for the Kindle for the time being. It pays for itself in a year. If something better comes along the costs of switching don’t seem so bad. If Amazon screw up or screw me over then the loss doesn’t seem so bad and the cost of protecting myself seems less than having to find another £50k to buy a bigger house in central Edinburgh.

102:

What you're missing is that the median advance for novels is low. However, there's a huge Gini coefficient in the writing field -- around 0.69-0.74, going from memory. If you're in the top 10% you can earn a decent income. If you're in the top 1% your income is positively in-decent. (Says the guy bumping along just below the threshold.)

Another issue is that it takes a long time to learn how to write novels that people want to read, so it's effectively a skill we pick up over many years spent as hobbyists. If you've got a day job you're happy with and the hobby drops an extra $5-15,000 a year on the table, do you need the headache of trying to go from there to $50,000 a year with all the hassle of being self-employed? (Especially in the USA, where health insurance is a huge deterrent to becoming a full-time novelist -- most novelists only start selling in their mid-thirties, so the median age is around 45-55.)

103:

No copyright after death is the way things were, once. But it's generally regarded as a bit harsh on the widow(er)s and children of an author who dies young. Hence the original extension to life plus 20 - any children are now old enough to stand up for themselves.

Subsequent extensions seem to have occurred largely thanks to the company founded by a certain man called Walt, although there are a few other very valuable literary estates around these days.

But no solution is perfect, and if you revert to life only, you have to solve the widows and orphans problem.

104:

Actually, copyright in general has become an onerous regime, and if we were serious about our content industries we'd be working on a way to get it the hell out of the public's face.

Copyright law is something that was never intended to be customer-facing; and we need to get it out of the public sphere and back into the accountancy framework where only the publishers and creators need to worry about it. As it's enshrined by international treaty law, it's very hard to repeal or replace -- so the obvious solution is to build an abstraction layer to insulate the public.

My preferred solution is a compulsory tax on bandwidth, like the BBC License Fee in the UK. You pay it as part of your broadband bill or mobile phone tariff: it goes into a tax pool, and by virtue of having paid it you are indemnified against any legal consequences arising from consumption or non-commercial sharing of copyrighted material. The existence of this indemnification means there's no incentive to hide the content of bittorrent traffic, so an accurate census can then be carried out in order to work out what's being downloaded; and the content creators can then receive a cut.

There are problems with this model -- just look at the performing blackmail rights societies like BMI and ASCAP for horrible examples of how it can go wrong -- but setting it up on a statutory basis would be a good start; the other major nut to crack is how to handle international content flows.

105:

Puts 'em in the same boat as a plumber's widow and young, then- if he dies and can't fit pipes, they get squat.

106:

"The technical term for such a mega online store [set up by the big 6] is cartel.."

They don't have to *own* it, they just have to agree to sell books to it.

Couldn't they approach somebody who already has an existing infrastructure for selling downloads?

Steam?

Love Film?

Spotify?

Or even Sky/Channel 4 etc?

107:

Shame none of those proposals hit the obvious solution- set copyright to the lifetime of the author.

This fails the Stieg Larsson test.

108:

The bookshelf is going to cost as much as the Kindle. Significantly increasing the amount of book storage space I have means buying a new home. In the same area as I live going up one size of flat is going to set me back about £50k.

Yup, that's my bind too.

109:

Well, thanks for making the effort- I'll say you've managed to hit the sweet spot blend of interesting ideas and annoying outlooks to keep reading you interesting. (Based on the theory that books you want to argue with are more valuable than books that seem comfortably right in every way)

110:

There's also the benefit of being able to _peruse_ at leisure. Case in point- I doubt I'd have picked up "Rule 34" without having a good healthy sample to try in order to find out if the second person narration was going to give me a headache or not.

"Click...read...nope, brain interprets it just as easily as third person, and maybe a little easier than first. Click to buy..."

111:

I have a huge advantage: I live in Scotland, where we have not only got a national health system, but it's not in danger of being semi-privatized by conservative ideologues. (If you're 47 and not in perfect health, that's a good place to be.)

I have another huge advantage -- a stroke of sheer good luck that happened to me in 2001 (after the preceding 15 years of no good publishing luck at all) -- namely I acquired a highly competent American literary agent. The USA being a bigger country than the UK, it's possible to sell more books there, which means more money: having an agent in New York means better access to that market.

But seriously, if I was American I'd be hunting for a civil service job to see me through until Medicare kicked in. (That's a reason some authors -- Jack McDevitt, for example -- only turn pro after they turn 60.)

112:

So, if I buy an ebook reader, what should I get?

113:

Re bit-sniffing solution:

Single point of failure/influence as soon as politicians decided they wanted to social engineer, redistribute, or impose morality on the literary world.

114:

Who needs DRM when e-book publishers require library patrons to complete over 20 steps to download an ebook? This is why people will pirate books, not cost... it's just too hard to download legally. HIB 101 folks.

115:

And that's why the iTunes Store is a success: it makes buying music online easier than hunting around for a torrent.

... And that's why the Kindle Store is a success: having a Kindle makes buying books online easier than hunting around for a warez site.

(... Except the self-publishing stampede has filled their store with sub-standard crap which makes it hard to find what you want. Somehow I don't think that's what they intended!)

116:

@danieldwilliam: If you use an iPhone and aren't worried about Apple deleting your Apps (which all have DRM too) and books/magazines/music bought through iTunes (which they can of course, same as Google, same as MS), why does it worry you that Amazon could on your Kindle?

I always have a hard time understanding the double standard of people decrying DRM (which I don't like my self at all) with books or music, but happily accepting it with their iPhone or iPad or Galaxy Nexus or Xoom or whatever phones MS sells these days.

117:

Hm. So I read this, which was interesting (my company is heavily involved in ebook/DRM/copyright issues, on the "we like both copyright and open culture" side). And then I started clicking links on the sidebar, and I read the why-there's-no-tip-jar article, which said "how about you buy my books from Amazon?" Cognitive dissonance ensued.

If you are anti- the Amazon monopsony, perhaps it would make sense to replace those links with links to buy from, say, your favorite indie bookstore? My favorite (because local and awesome) indie bookstore has online ordering and an affiliate program: http://www.portersquarebooks.com/affiliate Maybe yours does too.

118:

Can an Apple do that? Given that I can copy Epub books to HD for backup, same with the apps and other media I've bought through the istore.

Far as I know, products bought through the Istore, don't contain code enabling Apple to remove / revoke them. The Epub format is an open standard. Even the DRM free format MP3s (M4A format) from Itunes, can be easily converted to regular MP3s. The apps written by third parties would have to include the code allowing Apple to remove them unilaterally too.

119:

"An" Apple? Don't know what happened there...

120:

Deleting $file from $device is a function of $OS. Whether Apple can do it remotely with $iPretty or not is an AppleOS question. Similarly whether or not Very_Long_River can do it with Pile_of_Dry_Sticks is an OS question.

121:

I had a fascinating chat with a rep. from Palgrave, and much as they would like to end DRM, they can't find a business model that would make up for the inevitable destruction of their textbook market. We have some institutional models that are workable, but publishers are dragging their feet (but, apparently the very conservative Italian publishers have been won over to ebooks by the rise of Kindle).

I've met reps who complain that their textbooks appear on scribd almost as soon as they are out (and in some countries onto a local print shop for distribution).

122:

Indeed. But they can't delete an open standard format media file that's been copied to a machine not running their OS. Well, not with out using court orders or hacking. I suppose they could in theory have their OS delete the file with a unique hash or signature instantly be deleted, should it show up again, on that device running there oS. But I've not heard of Apple doing this. Not that I'm an Apple fanboy or anything like. I'm a fan of open standard non DRM media files that are easy to buy and widely adopted on various platforms.

123:

Good points, Charlie, and they mirror some I've been having too with respect to DRM being used to prevent piracy while happily (for Amazon and Apple) providing an anti-competitive platform lock-in. The two companies do it quite differently, with Amazon attempting to spread Kindle DRM onto every platform possible (Web apps, desktop apps, mobile apps, and hardware Kindles) and Apple using FairPlay DRM as a way of tying content tightly to Apple's own devices. But the effect is the same, and the smaller resellers (Kobo, B&N) are playing the game happily too.

If either would license the DRM, they'd have a leg to stand on with the argument that the DRM is to prevent piracy, but as long as DRM is also being used to shore up a monopolistic business model, the emperor's clothes will remain transparent.

And speaking as a publisher that doesn't use DRM and tries to prevent all resellers of our ebooks from using it, this sort of thing makes me mad as hell, since all it does is increase our support load (when customers have DRM-related issues, they contact us, since unlike most publishers, we actually reply to our email).

cheers... -Adam

124:

I thought we were taling about vendor/maker access to proprietary closed systems like $iPretty, Pile_of_Sticks etc, rather than about whether or not Apple could legally (or indeed technically possibly) delete, say, ITunes sourced content from your Linux box?

125:

In the elder days, pre-Napster, I did some reading on the RIAA's website about the piracy levy on blank digital media. In the digital jurassic, before DAT recorders came to market, the RIAA natuarally raised a hue and cry, and the legislative result was the Audio Home Recording Act, which did two things. First, it required the Serial Copy Management System to be installed on DAT recorders, and second, it imposed a levy on digital audio media, initially only on DAT cassettes in that era, but later to include blank cds, leading to brief period where you could find spindles of blank cds "for audio," and spindles for blank cds without that tag. Presumably there was a similar dichotomy for DAT cassettes.

Now in my reading on the RIAA's website, they broke down how the levy fund was distributed. A minority of the fund was tendered to the Copyright Office for artists to directly apply for. The vast majority of the fund was disbursed by the RIAA, according to artists' sales, which is not unreasonable when the only piracy metric you have is the reports of bootleg cassettes seized in flea markets.

Which brings us to Napster, which presented the RIAA with the potential to provide an accurate accounting of at least one piracy channel. Which they sued away.

As far as DRM goes, the thing I find surprising is the dragons, who are allegedly so obsessed with matters of gold, are failing to hold DRM vendors to account when their schemes invariably fail. Unless of course, I'm wrong, and there are DRM vendors who assume some degree of financial liability. Are there? I'd wager they're outnumbered by leprechauns.

I know when I walk down the power strip aisle at Best Buy, they all trumpet their insurance coverage for your gear, should their surge protection fail.

126:

Charlie, have you tried to poke around #bookz at undernet IRC server? It has EVERYTHING, at the distance of a few mouse clicks.

I wonder by how much should an eBook price fall before people will consider buying them with 1 click instead of getting them for free with 5 clicks? How much are 4 clicks worth?

127:
Has DRM, no matter how strong or developed it is ever prevented a book from being pirated?

There's no effective DRM on paper books, and a lot of pirate ebooks are produced by scanning paper copies. So as long as non-DRMed paper is still getting printed, there's certainly a limit on the effectiveness of ebook DRM.

(It's not impossible in principle to DRM paper. A lot of image manipulation tools and software will gag on high-quality images of paper money; one presumes the vendors have arrangements of one kind or another with the various treasuries. But extending that DRM to the output of the Big Six would be challenging in all sorts of ways...)

128:

Was responding initially to 116, querying the ascertion. At least with respect to ebooks and music bought through the istore system, since it's one I use.

"If you use an iPhone and aren't worried about Apple deleting your Apps (which all have DRM too) and books/magazines/music bought through iTunes (which they can of course, same as Google, same as MS),..."


From a license agreement PoV they likely do retain that right. I don't know for definite, I've not read in full, their mamoth T&Cs. (I know, I know.) But I'd not heard of any specific technical solution implimented in their products allowing them to remotely revoke the customer's use of legitimately obtained material. (I knew about the kindle thing though.)

129:

When I was about sixteen all my friends had the same glitchy copy of a particular song because the first person to offer it up for file sharing didn't make a particularly good rip. It's not just the hunting, it's also the quality assurance.

The sort of people who rampantly download from file-sharers will also spend good money on quality, legitimate copies (or so Cory tells us).

130:

I don’t buy apps for my iPhone. I don’t buy music from iTunes – (I rent it from Napster), or books or magazines from them either.

So I don’t, personally, have any financial exposure to the vagaries of Apple.

I take your point tho’ and I hope that if I was financially exposed I would take more care.

Books and book ownership seems to be an emotional issue for many people – myself included.

131:

zornhau: We now have both. I have an old nook and my kids and I bought my husband the kindle fire. We did this because he is about to epublish! So, I sent him the link once again to Charlie's blog.

My suggestion is that the color screen makes a difference, and that's about the only difference I note. Go with the reader that makes the best sense for you, all the time remembering that the major ebook publishers have apps that work on your mobiles, your computers, etc.

We had an epub seminar at the last DragonCon given by Michael Stackpole. There were many good suggestions, including the length of novel that is most often purchased by an owner of a reader: approximately 50k words for around $3-4 (US), or what a reader reads while flying across our country (so, 3k miles). Weird way to segment creativity, to my thinking. Nevertheless, it looks like one of the models for people who go to epub is the Dickens' serialization model. Hubby's 3-book panorama is now segmented to 6-9 segments with bells and whistles to a website. New way to do things, I guess, And since we are retired with little income, an additional bit of money will be nice.

Now, it is all in the marketing, and that's where ewriters need to come up with models that look like the Big Six's.

132:

Bing! Bing! Bing!

It's really that simple -- the service provided by legal vendors of easy and well-advertised sales is the consumer (beyond moral) reason that people pay rather than bit-torrent.

If you're willing to spend time searching through questionable underbellies (or know where to look) and then know how to put the proper format on your kindle, and often are willing to read an unreflowable pdf rather than an ebook --- well then, obviously you either have a principled compunction against buying, or are in fact too damn poor to afford paying.

DRM will not alter either case. Lawyers are of value in increasing the cost of download by making copies slightly time consuming to find -- DRM is useless, given that any book can easily be dedrm'ed, and given the size of the English reading population, that means it will be available quite quickly if your book is at all popular.

133:

All I was saying was that it was much more likely that the closed proprietary systems give the providers the capability to delete stuff from your device. I wasn't even suggesting that they actually have (or having, have used) that capability.

134:

"The technical term for such a mega online store [set up by the big 6] is cartel.."

Could also be "standard setting body for a publisher-led DRM format." I'm not saying it would be much better for readers, but if publishers can't live without DRM, surely they should be setting their own standards Hollywood-style, instead of getting locked into whatever Amazon wants to feed them? Or does the Kindle now have so much market share that that ship has sailed?

135:

Other Pete: the ship, as you suggest, has indeed sailed.

That doesn't mean that the Kindle's lead is irrevocable, but it's comparable to Internet Explorer 6 circa 2001.

136:

I would like to have a free or 2 € ebook with the hardcopy i am buying. Otherwise i have to buy the book twice. One for Kindle and one for the bookshelf and the future when the Kindle is dead.

137:

You have both? Both what?

(Context indicates a Nook and a Kindle, but there are other makers out there, and other models. My personal one, used mainly for reading proofs sent as files, is a Sony PRS-600 touch reader - which appears to be two generations old. Ah well, it released a whole 27 months ago.)

138:

I was heartened to see that Rowling has decided to release the ebook versions of the Potter books DRM-free. I fear that most publishers' reactions will be "For the love of God, don't write a contract that lets that kind of money walk out the door," but maybe a few will think that hey, maybe she knows what the hell she's doing and we should listen to what she has to say.

139:

On self-published crap, the apparent answer is that Amazon don't care.

140:

The worry I have with compulsory licensing is that it'll be gamed on a massive scale. Assuming the money is split based on the frequency of download for a given work, what's to stop the usual vermin from renting a botnet or two and grabbing a few million copies?

PageRank has been battling against these kind of shenanigans from the start, and I can't imagine that your hypothetical licensing authority with have either Google's technical prowess or their commercial incentives to keep things honest. As long as they get their cut, why would they care?

141:

Charlie, if in the future, a particular format of your books (eg kindle, or hardback) results in you getting a significantly reduced royalty, could you tell us on this blog, so we can adjust our purchasing accordingly?

And if it all gets too difficult to buy your books then I'll settle for finding out where you live and stuffing fivers through the letter box, while pirating ;)

142:

I have the tendency to seek both paper and machine-readable copies of books. In the abstract, would you prefer a given person with these habits to purchase an ebook through Amazon after this person has purchased the paper copy (enriching you but also voting with their wallets for Amazon's ebooks-and-DRM strategy), or to pirate a copy (which, if you have the paper copy, and is not redistributed, falls under fair use in the united states)? Presumably, the money you make from ebook sales is comparable to the money you make from dead-tree sales, so it would constitute the difference of one sale per person for each person with the unusual habit of wanting two copies.

143:

I'm sorry but your contention that Amazon intends to drive its suppliers into bankruptcy is absurd. Amazon is a retailer. Retailers have to have suppliers.

End of...

144:

I suspect that, given a botnet which controls a few million Amazon accounts, there are better ways to extract money than mass purchasing an ebook you own. For starters, to get any of that money you'd need to be registered as the author/publisher with Amazon yourself...

145:

JR Tomlin: What you're missing is that there are an awful lot of hopeful amateurs who will chase the perceived social cachet of being that particular type of supplier, even paying for it! (That's vanity publishing, BTW.)

146:

Chuck them on a WHIIM?

Or chuck them because they're being paid a measly 25% royalty rate when then can get 70% from Amazon AND control their cover AND their editing AND their price AND their DRM or rather their lack of it.

I'm not saying everyone should go self-pub but writers need to look at it rationally and at the facts instead of at scare stories.

147:

You've misunderstood Charlie's compulsory licensing suggestion. In this model nobody needs Amazon accounts to buy books. It's essentially the pirate model of distribution, but legalized and with a flat-rate fee (levied on the user's ISP account) distributed between producers.

148:

Vanity publishing is NOT the point. You're bringing in a pejorative term to try to twist the argument because of your own preference in publishing.

Publishing through Amazon, through iPub, through Smashwords, or even paperback through CreateSpace is not "vanity publishing" in which model: 1. you do not have distribution and 2. you do pay for your printing.

Your attack on Amazon is pretty much ill-founded. I have already said that your contention that Amazon intends to drive its own suppliers out of business is absurd. While they can publish some of their own content, there is no way then can or intend to publish all of it. And your description of the brouhaha that went on between Amazon and the so-called Big 6 (there are actually more than 6) is simply wrong.

Add to that the fact that Apple, B&N and Kobo are gaining market share of the eBook market and much of your article, sorry but it's true, simply falls apart. Now I happen to agree about how ill-advised DRM is, but your other arguments just plain don't stand up to scrutiny.


149:

I think the point that Charlie is making is that Amazon only cares about quantity and not quality -- if they can sell only a fraction of the number of copies of each book in stock, but have exponentially more books in stock, it does not matter to them whether any of those books are actually any good.

(And while there are lots of discerning readers out there, I have a terrible suspicion that the vast majority are just looking for a "quick fix" of pulp.)

150:

Word up. This isn't rocket science, folks. In fact, it's capitalism interrupted.

I believe information wants to be free but a competitive market price will do for now.

151:

Here's a charming wee story from today. I realised I hadn't read about 15 or 20 of the Hugo/Nebula award nominees/winners from the last 10 years. Seeing as I am about to fly from the UK to NZ for 3 weeks holiday I thought it would be good to stock up. Obviously I wasn't going to travel with that many dead tree editions.

I could obtain *2* legally. As for raising the Jolly Roger, anyone who knows about this knows that if you are not talking about stuff from within the last 3 years the quality gets ... patchy.

This can't be an orphaned works issue and seems to me the very definition of a gap in the market. The publishers need to leverage these recent back catalogues as a way to get people to their storefronts.

To me (as Gabe Newell recently pointed out). DRM is an irrelevance. Make it so I can buy the product and use it easily enough and I could care less how you package it. Steam has become the Amazon of the PC gaming world for this very reason.

In book publishing the following things need to DIE before the market can be expanded properly.

1) DRM. As pointed out by OGH.
2) Staggered region releases. We don't live in the age of sail any more, much as some people probably haven't woken up to that fact.
3) Extending copyright every time 'the Rat' comes up for public domain. If corporations want to be persons then they can have the same restrictions.

Yes, the transition will be bumpy but until bright people start thinking about how to do it Amazon will continue to dominate all.

152:

I wholeheartedly agree with your comments re. publishers stitching themselves up with DRM, but I also see that they are falling into a similar trap to that of the computer games industry -- the fight against piracy is, alas, a losing one I believe, but I genuinely think readers are a different type of consumer...
Readers are usually people who love and cherish their books, regardless of whether they are of the paper or digital variety, and as a media, books/ebooks are obviously considerably cheaper than computer/console games -- but the key difference I believe, is that a book can be kept, cherished, read and re-read, whereas many many games are one-shot deals, a type of instant gratification that like as not is over and done with within the month, so a pirated game becomes yesterday's news double-quick. Most books are a different kettle of fish, unless of course it's crap anyway...

153:

"I'm sorry but your contention that Amazon intends to drive its suppliers into bankruptcy is absurd. Amazon is a retailer. Retailers have to have suppliers.

End of "

Not all of its' suppliers ..just enough to drive many into submission and set an example to the rest ..like Tesco in the UK and Walmart, or name your own Walmart clone, in the US of A.

See here for conveniance of not needing to google though if you are based outside of the UK you might admire ..yck! ..Tescos International pretensions.Books as Tins of Beans ...


http://www.tesco.com/tescobooks/

Of course these days Amazon resembles a vast department store in which Dealers in all sorts of Stuff via for attention in an E bay-ish sort of way... including vendors who will offer their own work from their own little kiosk as well as Major dealers who will cut their own deals ... " Because I'm worth IT " and who are a long way away from would be Pro writers who would crawl over broken glass in the hope that someone- Anyone ! -would read their stuff and recognise their worth as Published Authors.

154:

Exactly.

Amazon cares about sales volume, not quality.

My point about vanity publishing is that there are people out there who are willing to pay to publish. In which case, to Amazon, the cost of squeezing their suppliers is that more suppliers, cheaper suppliers, will step up ... until the race to the bottom ends with authors paying Amazon for shelf space.

This is obviously a reductio ad absurdam but there's not necessarily anything illogical about it in this wonderful shiny new world of algorithmic pricing.

155:

Amazon is winning not because they are an evil monopolist but because they offer a superior product at a lower price point (they are an evil monopolist, but that is not why they are winning).

The publishing industry is loosing because they were too stupid, too set in their ways, too enamored with their existing supply chain and way of doing business. It was tedious, expensive, and ultimately not as good for the end user but they loved it.

For a long time the publishing industry whined and whinged about how much money and how many trained professionals it took to make a book. Except, guess what, it doesn't as people have proved by selling them for 99 cents and making tons of money off it. Different ways of skinning the cat.

I hate DRM, but I think that the end solution to Amazon being an evil monopolist is to make sure they have plenty of competent competition. Apple and Barnes and Nobles come to mind.

I am not so worried about the lockin from the kindle device itself. Tablet > ereader and Tablet can run both kindle and barnes and nobles apps. ereader will be subsumed by tablet pretty soon.

The quality concerns are well founded though. That seems to be symptomatic of content creation in general though, as barriers to entry drop, overall quality goes down. Consumers just don't give as much of a shit about quality as producers thought they did, and are willing to sacrifice it to save money.

156:

For a long time the publishing industry whined and whinged about how much money and how many trained professionals it took to make a book. Except, guess what, it doesn't as people have proved by selling them for 99 cents and making tons of money off it. Different ways of skinning the cat.

* Rolls eyes *

Read this then get back to me.

A manuscript is not a book. Yes, you can turn a manuscript into an epub or Kindle file and charge money for it. It's still not a book. Might as well nail a bicycle wheel to each corner of a wooden box and call it a car. Except that if enough people do it, by-standers are going to conclude that anything called a "car" is shit.

157:

When you need your "self-published" masterpiece laying out and preparing for "press", my rates are £40 an hour. It will be a couple of days' work as long as you don't want anything too fancy, and will include basic copy-editing. I will consider a discount for lots of regular work, but keeping Adobe CS up to date is not cheap. A decent copy editor will charge about the same, but of course, the job will require many more hours.

Artists will do a job for a pre-arranged sum - after all, they're only licensing the right to use it to you and can sell on the original and/or prints. It will be a rather large sum if you want good quality original art. A cheaper option is to licence some existing art, which is fine as long as you don't mind your book having the same cover as someone else's.

I plan to self-publish my own work, probably via Lulu for dead tree (though I might do it as a cookzine). My reasons for doing this are a) Japanese vegan cookery is definitely a niche market and b) I already have the required skills and tools for doing a solid job, unlike nearly every aspiring author out there.

158:

Charlie at 107, on setting copyright to "life of author":
This fails the Stieg Larsson test.

My favorite proposal to fix that issue is "life or 20 years from creation, whichever is longer". That takes care of minor children, even allowing for a bit of delay in getting the works published.

159:

Charlie i was here when you originally wrote that article and i told you the problems with it then, and that soon the price point would drop to $4.99. And I was scoffed at. And now it's somewhere between $0.99 and $2.99

Look at comment 56

You essentially have a lot of guys hand building Rolls Royce trying to compete with Volkswagen. Yes, the Rolls Royce is better, yes if you want to build it that way it costs a lot of money.

That is only ONE way to make a book, and a damn expensive way.

160:

A weird and arguably dumb thing about pricing of books right now is that they all cost basically the same. That is, if I'm buying a paperback novel, it'll cost within about 10% of the same price whether I'm buying from a first-time author with no name recognition, or an acknowledged grand-master in the field.

This is... a little strange. Like, look at how kitchen knives are sold: I can get a chef's knife for under $30 or over $200. The difference is a huge range of quality.

Books are like that. There are terrible, terrible books in the world, and there are wonderful ones, and there's no reason why the wonderful ones shouldn't cost 10x as much as the terrible ones.

Instead, the way that successful authors get their wage premium is, first, they sell more books, and second, they sell different formats of books (hardcover or trade paper back) that for some reason the store is "allowed" to sell for more money. And a small difference in actual cost.

With the ebook revolution seemingly in progress, the notion of hardback vs. trade paper back vs. paperback looks increasingly silly. And with self-publishing authors putting their books out for $0.99 or so, we're already seeing a chef's knife-like pricing model coming into existence.

I can't get exercised about Amazon using its bargaining position to press for low prices which it passes on to its customers. If it becomes an ill-behaved monopoly at some point, we have tools for dealing with that, up to and including breaking the company up. If this is bad for authors, well... sorry guys, that's how it's supposed to work. The consumers are supposed to squeeze you for the lowest price acceptable that you're willing to work for.

I suspect that this will end up creating a much more pyramidal pricing structure for books, which doesn't strike me as a bad thing. I'm willing to pay a premium for established authors, and I like the idea that I can buy a very low-cost book from new authors that I'd like to try out.

Also: my Kindle has, in me, induced a gigantic increase in book buying -- I've had it less than a year and have bought about 55 books on it. I don't think that 99% of the population will be reading >50 books per year, but if it increases total book sales 20% while decreasing margins by 20%, that could end up being a wash.

161:

As far as alternate licensing models, there is some experimentation going on, example Neal Stephenson and Greg; Bear's subscription project.

http://mongoliad.com/

162:

Heartily agreed with everything Charlie said, and most of what's in the comments.

I'm loyal to paper, myself, and have largely resisted ebooks until very recently. I'm now reading a few, and I'm planning to get a tablet in the near future (because I hate reading books on my PC, and while my Android phone is usable, it's hardly ideal). But, I absolutely refuse to leave the DRM intact on any ebook in my collection.

Charlie, if I may ask: do you remember me saying to you in San Francisco that I was surprised to see you using Apple products? You said you appreciate the design. I heartily agree with you on that. But Apple is guilty of many of the same kinds of sins that you're complaining about above (the app store, etc.). I'm curious about how you decided that the design outweighs the heavy-handedness.

(While the iPad is a lovely piece of technology, and I'm having trouble resisting the call, I'm probably going to go with an Android tablet--simply because I think flexibility and independence are more important to me.)

163:

Also: my Kindle has, in me, induced a gigantic increase in book buying -- I've had it less than a year and have bought about 55 books on it. I don't think that 99% of the population will be reading >50 books per year, but if it increases total book sales 20% while decreasing margins by 20%, that could end up being a wash.

If I remember what the studies of purchasing habit show ...

Around 50% of the population (UK or US) buy no books. None. Zip. Nada.

The next 30% buy 1-4 books a year. Business books, beachside bestsellers, "Twilight" or "The Da Vinci Code".

The next 15% buy 12-24 books a year, and read regularly.

The final 5% buy over 50% of all the books sold.

164:

Yes, I know people who have self published on Amazon (and Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc.). They're the sort of people who enjoy writing, and would be writing a lot of fan fiction or just for their own amusement if not for ebook self publishing.

It costs them very little to publish their works now -- just format it correctly to be converted to the retailer's ebook format, and upload. It costs the ebook retailers very little -- just the cost of storing and transmitting the files.

Weeding out the gems from the slush would be cost prohibitive. Amazon's strategy seems to be to let readers do it via free previews or low cost books, then scoop off the cream of the crop.

165:

The thing is that Amazon in diversifying into the Department Store of DOOM mode al la Walmart is not without competition by ambitious new comers. I've just , by accident, come upon this following piece as I was scanning the internet s news reports for commentary on today's UK Autumn Statement and the financial horrors therein ...

" ' Iceland could start selling TVs and lingerie' ... According to strategy consultants OC&C, Iceland's new owner could boost growth by expanding into non-grocery sales. This could include things such as electrical goods, homewares, clothing and video games.

In the UK, three out of seven of the biggest clothing retailers are the supermarket chains Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury's. Supermarkets have also cut prices on their ranges of electrical goods, luring in shoppers with discounted offers at a time when consumers are increasingly looking for "one-stop" shopping opportunities.

Tesco already sells enormous quantities of toys and claims to be the country's biggest toy retailer in volume terms. "

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/8921732/Iceland-could-start-selling-TVs-and-lingerie.html


I expect that you will wish to admire the restraint with which I avoid any jocularity involving playing with the words ' lingerie ' and ' ICE land '

166:

The conclusion I've come to is that there is a large segment of readers who have very low standards...

167:

What that doesn't take into account is that the price point is going to drop anyway.

The choice isn't "keep the old prices and maintain the traditional publishing system" or "drop to new near-zero pricing". The latter is going to happen regardless.

The only question is whether anyone will work out a way to make quality books and get paid at the new price point. And that is absolutely an open question, no doubt, but it's the question that matters. The old system is going away even if nobody figures out a good answer for it.

168:

You know I think you discount the quality of the self published authors at your peril. It's not like the majority of the stuff the major publishing houses back is not complete garbage as well.

Like I said, Rolls Royce vs Volkswagon

It's certainly not a viable business model to yell at the consumer and tell them they should be more discerning and pay more (-:

As far as weeding out the slush, that is what recommendation algorithms and reviews and social networking is useful for. Librarything and GoodBooks are getting really really good at that I've found, much better then Amazon.

169:

My preferred solution is a compulsory tax on bandwidth, like the BBC License Fee in the UK.

A lot of Americans see the UK's license fee as bizarre (often the same people who happily pay for cable). But at least the BBC has benefited from having a steady revenue stream that's not dependent on advertising or donations. The consistently high quality of their programming (compared to most American network garbage) is proof of that. IMHO of course.

And before somebody brings up NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting: those are under constant attack from conservatives in Congress and have to troll for corporate donations and pledges to survive.

170:

The thing about the ompulsory tax on bandwidth is how does the new work get funded?

171:

One person's high quality is someone else's garbage and who is to decide?

I prefer to let people make up their own minds about what to spend their money on.

I do kind of like Charlie's idea about the Compulsory tax on bandwidth though, kind of the best of both worlds

172:

Is there public evidence that Amazon's fight with Macmillan was about getting books from Macmillan for a cheaper price? What I read at the time was that the fight was over whether Macmillan could set a lower bound on Amazon's retail price.

Last month the book club I'm in picked "Oryx and Crake" by Margaret Atwood. I went to Amazon to buy it. The paperback was $10.20, but Random House had set the Kindle price to $11.99. Meanwhile, there were used paperbacks for sale starting at a penny plus shipping. I'd even have bought the Kindle version if it had been no more expensive than a new paperback; as it is, author and publisher basically got nothing, because of the publisher's stupid e-book price.

I'm sure Amazon have done the market analysis, looked at the data, and seen that pricing e-books over $10 results in sales dropping by 90%+. So it seems to me that publishers are screwing authors much worse than Amazon is. In fact, if Amazon had won the battle and been able to set sensible e-book prices, authors and publishers would both have been better off, at least in the short term.

173:

The same way it does now: in arrears.

An advance against royalties from a publisher is just that: a loan, up-front. Because it'll take 1-2 years minimum before the author sees a bent cent in royalties due, and the publishers are just about enlightened enough to want the author working on book #2 for them to publish a year later, rather than spending their time on a day job.

But advances aren't automatic. One can envisage a variety of options for new work to be funded -- patronage, grants, lotteries for creatives, competitions ("send us your first chapter: the winner gets a stipend while they finish the book").

174:

One person's high quality is someone else's garbage and who is to decide?

I prefer to let people make up their own minds about what to spend their money on.

I do kind of like Charlie's idea about the Compulsory tax on bandwidth though, kind of the best of both worlds

175:

One person's high quality is someone else's garbage and who is to decide?

I prefer to let people make up their own minds about what to spend their money on.

I do kind of like Charlie's idea about the Compulsory tax on bandwidth though, kind of the best of both worlds

176:

The trick is who decides who gets the loan and who doesn't?

If it is a government funded pool of money you don't have the built in feedback of a market to force the stuff that people want to read to get get funded vs the junk that some academic thinks they ought to want

I hate to see it turn into the US Art scene which has basically lost all touch with what people actually want

You do have such a feedback loop around consumption though, which is nice.

177:

So you think the Canadian and French plans of adding surtaxes to blank optical media (and to MP3 players) have worked out well, then? Been a benefit to all of the artists, and appropriately so?

178:

You also might be able to do such a content pool as a private enterprise too. People buy in, no DRM, private trackers. No way to keep people from stealing it without government involvement, but still an interesting idea.

179:

Sean, re: "I like supporting my local bookstore. ("Local" in my case being a store I've never been to, about 50 miles away from where I live -- but they respond via email, they order books for me as needed, and ship them to me.) But I don't see a market in which I would be able to buy ebooks from them."

Many of the IndieBound bookstores have partnered with Google eBooks to sell ebooks. There's even a new IndieBound e-reader application for Android and iOS.

180:

One of my favourite parts of the Thanksgiving weekend was explaining DRM to my mother as I imported legally-purchased, DRM-free e-books to her Kindle Fire.

"You mean I could loan these to a friend?" she asked.

"Yes, Mom. You could loan them to anyone you liked."

181:

"Amazon is Walmart."
is rather the conclusion I had arrived at..

It started with the state sales tax fracas; add to that the warehouse, then the ebook bullying; it seems a relentless focus on cost-cutting brings forth monsters.

Now I pay about $1 per book more to buy from Powell's, and count it money well spent.

The only ereader I've done more than glance at is a Nook, and found it not useful - insufficient text per page. I'd develop callouses on the ends of my thumbs from tapping the 'next page' icon/button/thingy..

182:
A manuscript is not a book. Yes, you can turn a manuscript into an epub or Kindle file and charge money for it. It's still not a book. Might as well nail a bicycle wheel to each corner of a wooden box and call it a car.

To tie this in to another perennial topic - I'll start thinking that maybe there's something to all this talk of home fabbing when someone can persuade their machine to cough out a quality hardback book, jacket, binding/stitching and all the other associated business of making a product the public will plunk down $24.00 for, convinced they're buying real craftsmanship.

I don't think this is a particularly high bar.

183:

I think your Rolls Royce v Volkswagon analogy is a bit false -- most of us can choose to buy or not buy a hardcover book at full retail price; most of us do not have a practical choice between a Rolls or a VW.

But let's run with the analogy: You have enough money to choose between a Rolls or a VW, but the biggest car dealership in town is only selling VW's, and is slowly putting the Rolls dealership out of business. Would you be happy about this? Would you tell the people who put their heart and soul into building the Rolls to suck it up? Would you be happy puttering around in your VW knowing that once upon a time you could have had a Rolls?

(Plus I think you overestimate the quality of the average self-published novel at even greater peril!)

184:

The same way it does now: in arrears.

An advance against royalties from a publisher is just that: a loan, up-front. Because it'll take 1-2 years minimum before the author sees a bent cent in royalties due, and the publishers are just about enlightened enough to want the author working on book #2 for them to publish a year later, rather than spending their time on a day job.

But advances aren't automatic. One can envisage a variety of options for new work to be funded -- patronage, grants, lotteries for creatives, competitions ("send us your first chapter: the winner gets a stipend while they finish the book").

185:

If people whine about vanity publishing, shall we call it academic publishing instead? It's the same model for publishing papers in scientific journals, but it's much more respectable. And much more profitable to the publishers. In this case, the academics are paying to enhance their reputation, which plays out in salaries and job prospects.

Whatever you call it, that's not exactly what Amazon's doing. Technically, yes, you have to pay a fee to get better advertisement and placement. Call that a vanity if you like. However, it's a flat fee. Compare that with a publisher, where the same service is a large percent of gross revenue. I'm not sure it's worth criticizing them.

186:

As an example for those who disbelieve you, I have some fiction on my hard drive that's been there for five-plus years, and when I reread the piece for the nth+1 time, I still spot stuff I should have fixed the nth time I read it. Could I turn this story into quality product by myself? Yes, but merely editing the story would take longer than it took to write the damn thing in the first place.

The really useful model I see for self-publishing is for a writer's group to edit, copyedit, typeset and proofread each other. That could result in some decent-quality work, particularly the second time around.

BTW, who can spot the Oxford Comma above without reference to the Internet? If you can't you're not ready to publish your own work.

187:

Would you tell the people who put their heart and soul into building the Rolls to suck it up? Would you be happy puttering around in your VW knowing that once upon a time you could have had a Rolls?

To stretch the analogy a bit further, you might, if you were serious about wanting to continue buying Rolls Royces in the future. Once you recognize that their days of staying in business the old way are over, you might recognize that there are now two options:

A) Keep doing it the old way, and go out of business.

B) Figure out a way to keep selling their high-quality product in a manner which can be competitive with their low-cost rivals.

188:

BTW, who can spot the Oxford Comma above without reference to the Internet? If you can't you're not ready to publish your own work.

To go off on a slight tangent, surely if it's that difficult for anyone to spot it, it isn't that big a deal if it makes it into the published product (or doesn't, as the case may be)?

Which isn't to say editors aren't necessary - I worked briefly as a paid copy editor myself, and unedited work is usually very easy to spot. But I do find that editors tend to somewhat overinflate the importance of our work for the general reader.

189:

The importance of editing for, say, slavish obedience to serial comma conventions in fiction, is debatable. The importance of editing for consistency of spelling and grammar is not.

190:

Softcover "fabbing" is available now --- one of my local indie bookshops (the Harvard Book Store --- across the street from the University, but not affiliated) has a print-on-demand machine that will produce softcovers. They're doing a moderately brisk business, ranging from self-published new work to out-of-copyright stuff from Google Books.

191:

What serial comma? I see where you could've used one...

192:

Quality is only relevant in that people care enough to vote for it with their wallet.

I am betting on three things

1: That the average reader cares a lot less about a lot of the copy editing, typeset, proof reading etc then the publishing industry and authors thinks they do. Authors tend to be perfectionists, readers not so much. I think they will vote with their wallets for the 99 cent version that is less good at those things vs the $9.99 that is better. Editing is important, granted, but I believe that will be worked out via a profit sharing arrangement between authors and editors

2: I also think a lot of that stuff can and will be heavily automated to the point where the 99 cent version will approach the current quality.

3: That content the gateway and middlemen plays (netflix, amazon, etc) will eventually be subsumed by more direct to consumer methods (think Google vs Yahoo). They simply don't provide that much value long term and are too easy to circumvent.

193:

The problem isn't DRM. Most readers don't give a rats ass about DRM. They do care about agency pricing. Agency pricing artificially inflates the book price enticing readers to look for cheaper/free alternatives. The higher the price, the more appealing piracy becomes.

I'd love to read more of your books (as well as other authors whose publishers engage in agency pricing), but I won't pay agency pricing. And no, I won't pirate them either even though doing so is trivial. I just read other authors.

194:

Yeah, print-on-demand is starting to become cheap enough to have some interesting new effects. For instance, in the US we recently passed the point where print-on-demand is cheaper than the cost of interlibrary loan - so a growing number of libraries are starting to seriously look at the practicality and licensing costs of just setting up a print-on-demand station in the building and running off a new copy of any book they need and don't already have in the collection.

195:

all books ever published being available for the whole world as ebooks at a price that fairly compensates for authoring, formatting and electronic disribution.

Fair in the mind of the reader or the author? Many times these are very different amounts.

196:

What's odd to me about the "Rolls Royce vs. Volkswagen" analogy, at least as applied here to physical books, is that the Big Six are cast as the Rolls. There are niche publishers who specialize in high-priced, small editions, with physical craftsmanship of the books as a selling point: think of Taschen, for art books, or arguably Subterranean for SF. Those are the ones I think of as the "Rolls-Royces" of the field; I also think they're likely to be selling physical books well after the Big Six (or their future replacements) have largely abandoned it.

197:

(a) defining a standard for "due diligence" in tracking down a missing literary estate,

And in the US I'm sure it will involve publishing a notice in various newspapers' legal section. Which gets seen by about 0 people these days.

You can see the effect of such legislation when they publish the annual list of people late paying property taxes. Paper grows by a full section (20 to 30 pages) and likely makes a profit off that one item to cover the next month of losses.

198:

Subsequent extensions seem to have occurred largely thanks to the company founded by a certain man called Walt,

The common assumption in the US is there will never be a real end to copyright in the US as long as the mouse exists. When the current term draws near there will be another big lobbying effort to extend it again. And the mouse can spend serous bread when its interests are at stake.

199:

I'm sorry but your contention that Amazon intends to drive its suppliers into bankruptcy is absurd. Amazon is a retailer. Retailers have to have suppliers.
End of...

Look up the WalMart Rubbermaid story.

Or Mt. Olive Pickles.

200:

@196: This is where the analogy really starts to break, as we try to stretch it further and further, to encompass all the details of the publishing industry.

@187: I think that the analogy breaks here too. You're not really saying this to the dealers/publishers (who caused the problem), you're telling it to the craftsmen/authors (and probably asking them to radically change their life style to cope).

@192:
(1) I think a lot of people would notice a raw manuscript more than you might imagine -- that repeatedly awkward phrasing, grammatical error, and so on, pulling you out of the story every time you stumble over it? True, a lot of folks aren't going to care, but do the rest of us have to suffer because they don't?
(2) No it can't -- unless you want every novel to look and read like cookie cutter versions of each other (think "house style" to the nth power).
(3) There will always be middlemen, they'll just wear a different mask.

201:

The issue is not whether one uses a serial comma. That's a stylistic decisions. The issue is whether one recognizes it. If you can't recognize an Oxford comma you probably don't have the chops to edit anyone, including yourself.

202:

"BTW, who can spot the Oxford Comma above without reference to the Internet?"

Er, that's a trick question, right?

203:

Well, the tricky bit is that really, I don't think the publishers caused the problem either. Rather, I think you're seeing book publishing swallowed up by the same thing that is grinding the record industry and newspaper industries into oblivion: The fact that the internet makes it impossible for them to control the delivery or reproduction of their content.

Do people still buy CDs and newspapers? Sure. Are both industries in complete freefall? Yep. And they're not alone - they were just the first casualties. Video content (TV, movies) were spared for a while due to bandwidth requirements, but that's not an issue anymore, and today they're exactly where the RIAA was a decade ago.

Books survived this long because reading a book on a computer monitor did not replicate the experience of reading a book on paper well enough to make piracy a real threat. But now that eBooks are a feasible alternative...

This is a problem that is wearing away the business model of any industry which produces a product that can be turned into 1s and 0s and come out the other end in a form that is still equally usable for the consumer. If that describes your content, your industry is probably doomed unless it figures out a way to survive in an environment where any attempt to sell content has to compete with someone giving away identical content for free.

Saying "But you can't make a book/TV show/movie cheap enough to compete with free! It's impossible!" doesn't change that in any way. You're still competing with free.

My suspicion is that once it sinks in that this is really the situation, and it's not going away, people will in fact find ways to make quality content much more cheaply. Yes, this will mean content creators make less money, and a lot of people in the chain lose their jobs. This sucks, but it sucked when it happened to the newspaper industry too, and that didn't stop everyone else from enjoying the benefits of limitless free online news.

204:

I added the word "typeset" at the last minute. Previous to that addition it was an Oxford Comma. I was in a hurry to get out the door and didn't proofread the revised draft, which probably goes to prove Charlie's point, though not mine...

205:

Cut the middleman.

Creators need to have their own website to gather their own "1000 die hard fans". Social media is the middleman in this case, and people need to understand how to work it ruthlessly so that the social media sites work for them rather than letting them turn them into product.

Run kickstarter like drives to fund upcoming projects, to pay for copyeditors, proofreaders, artists and translators. Kickstarter's nice, but in the final analysis, another middle man.

Offer downloads of premium content with a paypal gateway until you can justify your own merchant account, then cut that middleman too

Offer hard copies using a print on demand service, and when volume is large enough to justify, cut that middleman too and do your own print runs.

A DMCA watchdog service is probably a good idea too - you can do it yourself but it's corrosive, better farm that one out. Think of it as removing all the unsolicited middlemen that spring up whenever there's content available (Even free to read material like Warren Ellis' freakangels gets pirated)

206:

I think a lot of people would notice a raw manuscript more than you might imagine -- that repeatedly awkward phrasing, grammatical error, and so on, pulling you out of the story every time you stumble over it?

I certainly notice them (and send letters to authors when I think I've noticed a typoo or editting porblem) I'm ABSOLUTELY SURE that authors want to know about such things. After all, they can use crowdsourcing to make sure the paperback is perfect, and don't we all want the paperback to be perfect?

207:

@200 I think there will always be editors. I think there is an important distinction between a person that suggests and participates in change to the content itself as opposed to a person that is doing various flavors of formatting text to look good.

The first is almost impossible to automate the second is monkey work that a computer could do.

As far as middlemen are concerned, just want to point out I am reading Charlies writing right now on this blog, and there is no middleman

@203 it's more then the reproduction and copywrite issue, though I agree with your points on that,it is the removal of barriers to entry to the point where anyone can participate in an activity that previously was pretty selective. Competition goes way up, price point plummets. Even if we had a perfect solution to copywrite nothing much would change.

208:

Quality is only relevant in that people care enough to vote for it with their wallet.

By that standard, Nora Roberts is a far better writer than our gracious host.

209:

My worry (although that seems a mild word) is that professional authors will simply disappear. Writers may need to write, but if they can't make a decent full time living will they simply stop trying to publish, they may write for their own enjoyment and fulfillment, but nothing more?

Charlie may be better placed to answer this: I'm certain he would always need to write, but would he have to publish to scratch that itch? Does satisfying the writing urge require an audience?

Or will the volume of content from good authors simply dwindle to the point that finding it amongst the slush becomes too much for most readers?

(Apologies, getting tired and a little incoherent now.)

210:

Writing novels is time-consuming. Back when I had a day job, it took me maybe three years to complete a novel. When I went full-time, I was able to average one every six months for a while -- now falling back to one every 9-12 months, but still a lot faster than my job-on-the-side rate.

On the other hand ... would you pay for membership of a community system based around this blog, full of my interactive presence and lots of little extras, if the books themselves were free?

That's sort of what happened to music this decade: used to be that bands toured to promote albums that made their money, now the albums are loss-leaders but the touring (and direct merchandise sales) are what make their money.

211:

You said that like you think Nora Roberts isn't a good writer.

I haven't read any of her books. But I am led to believe she didn't get where she is by being average.

212:

I'm betting some people would pay for the priviledge of being advance readers/unpaid copyeditors, have a select 100 people kibbitzing the manuscript until all the flaws have been hammered out.

Yes I can see plenty of problems with this approach. The main one being the "real" editor doesn't work for you or is a swooning fan so he can be more objective about Things That Suck And Need To Go

213:

But Charlie still has to have this site hosted somewhere, and most authors (my assumption) are not as tech savvy as OGH, not do they want to be, and the less tech savvy they are the more they are dependent on some flavour of middleman.

I still believe that a system that can be automated to cope with authors individual styles, that may vary wildly not just between authors but from one manuscript to the next, is still out of reach. The flesh-and-blood editor I reckon adds more value than any software short of AI will be able to.

214:

I'd unequivocally answer YES to that!

I must admit, when I wrote the previous comment I was trying to think of what the authorial equivalent of live performance and touring would be -- completely missing an obvious answer in the process!

215:

Are your rates the same for non-fiction?

216:

My memory might be playing up, but I think I have already seen people talking about wanting to be able to buy visibility in the Amazon webshop.

217:

In reply to unholyguy @ 155, 168, 192 etc:

If I want to read something which has been put together by an amateur writer, possibly proofread by an amateur proofreader (who may or may not have been more literate than the original writer), where formatting is an also-ran, and where the quality varies wildly between brilliant and horrifying (sometimes in the same story), I don't even have to pay 99c a go for it. I can go to www.fictionpress.net and have a browse around there. Or if I'm really not feeling picky, I'll wander over to www.fanfiction.net and click at random. And yeah, sometimes I'll do that. Sometimes I'm sufficiently masochistic and feel like playing slushpile, and I'll go to the Pit of Voles, pick one of my fandoms, and start reading whatever comes up first - usually getting further proof of Sturgeon's Law in the process.

But when I'm wanting to read a book to relax, I'm wanting to read something which has been proofread, copyedited, edited, and packaged into a consistent readable quality throughout. Now, I'm well aware that these days, even print books sometimes don't make it over the quality hurdle, but generally, a print book is more likely to provide me with that convenience.

If I want the slushpile, I know where to find it. When I'm buying a book, I don't want the slushpile.

Consumers just don't give as much of a shit about quality as producers thought they did, and are willing to sacrifice it to save money.

This particular consumer does give a shit about quality, particularly when it comes to the tricky issue of making a book readable. If I'm reading to relax, I don't want to be sitting and trying to puzzle out what the hells the author meant, which of three possible words they could have been intending rather than the one they used, wincing over their new adjectives that they've just coined by extrapolating from all the wrong rules (no, you can't make "blacket(te)" or "ravenet(te)" by extension from "brunet(te)", because the words have different origins and slapping a 16th century french suffix onto Germanic Old English root words Does Not Work), or whichever other various solecisms against the language the author may have thought were appropriate. I don't want to have to spend hours mentally reformatting their layout so I can have things like paragraph breaks in the correct places. I don't want to be putting in the punctuation, or editing the sentence structure in my head to make it more coherent. I don't want to be doing that even with the stuff I find online for free, much less with the stuff I actually pay for.

I may be in a minority. But I still have money to spend and I'd really prefer it if my needs were actually catered to.

Yes, I am passionate about this. I read for pleasure. I've been reading for pleasure since I was two years old, damn it, and I'm very attached to the notion of correctly spelled, grammatically correct English as a relaxing thing to read. If switching to e-books in general means I'm not as likely to get this, then fuck it. I'll stick with the paper books. At least I know those have gone through the QA process, and had at least three other people read them before I lay eyes on the silly things.

218:

Seconded.

219:

@217

They loved their horses too

Some people even still ride horses.

You just don't see them in the streets of cities very often anymore

220:

My personal forecast is that when this all settles down over the next twenty years or so, professional authors will survive, there will be more of them, and they will be making more money.

Authors will have multiple revenue streams, direct sales will still be a majority of the income but only marginally so.

Overall people will pay less for books then they do today, but will be more engaged with their favorite authors then they are today

There will be a lot fewer additional mouths in the book creation food chain but authors will not be going it alone either

There will also be a lot of author-like-people somewhere between professional and amateur status (think bloggers++)

The average quality of books will go down slightly, but not dramatically.

The definition of "book" will be a lot less clear cut.

221:

Nora Roberts is an incredibly prolific and talented writer. She writes in two of the most frequently purchased genres, of course, and some of her books are better than others. But I've never read any book of hers that was poorly researched, boring, or bad, and I've read more than a few.

222:

This really saddens me as I'm a lazy consumer. I want to divest myself of as much "physical" media as I possibly can (dvds, cds (mostly there! Just have some special/collector's box sets and that's all I want), and books/magazines) and at the same time, I want massive convenience, i.e., a single app where I can purchase/consume the media I enjoy. It's irritating switching from the kindle app, to the nook app, to the ereader app (tta press (black static, interzone, crimewave) uses this, apparently). While intuitively I know this would be so much less of a problem with limited DRM, the amazon stuff reminds me of WalMart's ability to destroy an industry in the search for "lowest price". Convenience (1 app) or freedom (multiple apps, multiple formats)? What a nightmare decision. These are interesting times.

Oh well, back to Rule 34 (bought via the Kindle App)...

223:

I would love to see a discussion between you and Barry Eisler about the future of publishing. Eisler, who writes really good spy fiction, sees the New York publishing houses to be in a death spiral and, recently, turned down a $500,000 contract to self-publish. He firmly believes that he can hire better editors, copy editors, book jacket designers, publicists, etc, than he would get through a traditional publishing house. And, of course, the turn around time between finished manuscript and product in a reader's hands (or, more precisely, on their e-books) would be minimized.

In the end, he didn't self-publish his latest novel. Amazon saw him as a great test case for their new publishing effort and offered him a deal, which he took.

He writes a lot about the new world of publishing at blog (www.barryeisler.com). See his "For Writers" section, and his (free) e-book "Be the Monkey".

You're both really smart about your craft and your business, but have different perspectives. It would be a fascinating discussion for those of us who care about book.

224:

As Mr. Stross points out, most English-language books are published by a few big players. With Amazon, they find themselves in much the same position as many restaurants do with OpenTable... they've got one gatekeeper between them and their ultimate customers.

And, as with the restaurants, the tool build their own gate is available: create or buy their own coop service. There would be risk, and there would be a short term loss of business. But, the publishers should ask themselves: who can survive without whom longer?

225:

Depends on the city....

scentofviolets @182: http://www.warrenellis.com/?p=6670. The "Schulze and Webb" referred to in the post mutated into BERG, who make mad things, and apparently have built something inspired by those ideas: this.

226:

Ak, forgot the link: what does the existence of this public information page imply about your thesis for this special case?

227:

Gotya. Think we were talking a little at cross purposes.

At 217. Thirded.

Allbeit I'm buying ebooks, I still want a product that has been proffessionly produced, editted, copy read and so on. I may take a gamble on an unknown author by buying a cheaper title of theirs as a tester. However, if something's just plain bad and or very shoddily produced, even if it's free, I resent the investment of my time and energy.

I think there's another analigy between producing quality litrature and music in terms of the time, technical experties and processing. Sure, we can all make music on a modern computer and get it published / released into the wild now. I do myself as a hobby But getting anything half way decent still involves a considerable investment in time, learning skills, approaching with fresh ears. And if you're needing to work full time in an unrelated field, this means compromises on quality, speed of any given production or prolificacy.

228:

I can sell the paperback after reading but not the DRM-ebook. Still the price is the same. From publisher's perspective second hand market is actually worse than piracy. Customers who are willing to pay get the product cheaper and the publisher don't receive any slice from the transaction.

If there's no DRM, it doesn't change it for the publisher, they won't get anything out of it after the initial purchase anyway.

The big idea behind DRM, I believe, is that there is a step you have to take to share the product. If you put it on the internet with the DRM intact, it's useless to the majority, but if you remove the DRM, you knowing that you removed a protection that was put there to stop you from doing it and still you proceed to do so, it is obvious that you knew you weren't supposed to.

Game publishers have started to include downloadable extra content to the first owner of a game, not available for you if you bought the game second hand.

229:

Having been given a Kindle, I tend to use it predominantly with Gutenberg books (out of copyright).

230:

Yes. Though I will do charity jobs and the landlady of one of my regular pubs has learned that I will do her ads in return for beer and food. Cut out the middle-person, etc.

231:

Ummm. Canada still has Life + 50 rules.

232:

I've not read Nora Roberts either, so I have no idea whether she's any good.

However, my goal was to point out the absurdity of using sales as the sole determiner of quality. It doesn't matter which of you is the better writer, assuming it's even possible to determine that objectively. Romance is a more popular genre than SF and probably always will be, so even a mediocre romance novelist will tend to outsell you.

233:

I suppose you are referring to O'Reilly as the DRM-free publisher. I just bought 3 ebooks from them yesterday, and have bought several dozen in the last couple years. A big reason is because of the lack of DRM (along with their frequent sales), but I guess I am an exception to their typical ebook reader who would seem to prefer pirated "free" copies.

I think your point about them not chasing down blatant "pirate postings" is valid in that it could as least damp that down to help you authors get more of what you deserve for your efforts - a publisher would seem to be obligated for that much due diligence. As many tech books as O'Reilly publishes, they should have the legal talent on hand, and an incentive to protect their income, and to encourage authors to keep using their service.

For my fiction I mostly buy from Barnes & Noble because it is so easy to decrypt the books so I can read them on my Linux platforms and/or use FBreader to read them on Android. I have bought a few ebooks from Amazon to read with their Android app, but have found the decrypting more difficult, so I mostly avoid them.

I pay for what I read (when it is not legitimately free as from gutenberg.org), and insist on doing it without DRM (even if it starts that way as with B&N), but then I guess that's just my "foible".

Good luck.

234:

Slashdot incoming ...

http://news.slashdot.org/story/11/11/29/2325227/how-publishers-are-cutting-their-own-throats-with-ebook-drm

Do they still get enough readers to be noticeable?

235:

Copyright ought to be 50 years from the creation/publication of the work.
That covers the widows and orphans thing, assuming no major life extension tech.

236:

This is what scares me. Just as steam, will i be able to play the games i bought on Steam, which runs through Steam.. if and when Steam collapses.. for now ill just be buying games when it goes on 75% discount promotions..

237:

>> the book immediately becomes a part of Amazon's "lending (stealing)" library where one person can share the Kindle version with many friends for FREE in order for that friend to decide whether they want to read it for up to FOURTEEN days, without the publishers permission. Most folks I know can read an e-book in that time and so why would they purchase it?

From Amazon documentation on the lending feature:

"The lender will not be able to read the book during the loan period."

In other words, it works exactly as it does with paper books, which I can also give to a friend for him to read, so long as I don't need the book for myself. Well, except that I can lend out paper books for arbitrary length and without publisher permission, which are both prerequisite in case of Kindle lending.

Are you seriously considering lending a paper book "stealing"? If no, then you shouldn't treat Kindle any different.

238:

"I plan to self-publish my own work, probably via Lulu for dead tree (though I might do it as a cookzine). My reasons for doing this are a) Japanese vegan cookery is definitely a niche market and b) I already have the required skills and tools for doing a solid job, unlike nearly every aspiring author out there."

I did it with TechnoMage for because (a)
As for (b), I only used Open Office, and it was a time consuming bastard of a job.

239:

Just curious, but do people here actually read fiction books more than once? because I don't. Ditto with movies, with less than half a dozen exceptions in 40 years.

240:

I'm one of the chronic re-readers. Most of the fiction books on my shelves are books I've read at least twice, many of them more times than that. Of course, I tend to skim-read the first time through a book (a habit picked up as a result of sharing literary tastes with my father and younger brother, so there was a certain amount of pressure on to get through the book ASAP if I was the first to get hold of it) and then re-read again to pick up details.

241:

Well, here in the US, we had a simple fixed term (with an optional renewal term) for nearly 200 years, and it worked just fine. Certainly there hasn't been any increase in the number of creative works (copyright is concerned with quantity; it can't measure quality, and it would be a bad idea to try) since we adopted the abysmal life+x system in the late 70's that can be attributed to that change in the law.

So I say, let authors who want a copyright in the US file some simple paperwork in a timely fashion, pay a very modest fee, get a year's worth of copyright, and get the option to renew that copyright annually (by having the copyright holder timely file an even simpler form and modest fee) up to a maximum of 15-25 years of protection.

This neatly solves several problems:

Since most works have no copyright related economic value, and since authors are the best judges of whether specific works have such value, and whether such value was a factor in causing them to be created and published, requiring registrations lets us avoid granting unnecessary copyrights. Likewise, since the duration of copyright necessary to an author or copyright holder may vary (most works earn the vast majority of their lifetime copyright related profit rather quickly upon publication in a given medium), renewals allow authors to abandon works to the public domain through disinterest much more quickly than if we had a long renewal term. (Data on renewals in the past showed that most works were not renewed, presumably because it was not worth it to the copyright holder to bother)

Since the maximum term length is fixed, authors, copyright holders, publishers, and members of the public can all make plans around it. While works might enter the public domain early, they will certainly enter it at specific times known from day one. This is much easier to work with than a term based on an author's life (which, after all, bears no relation to the economic life of the work, and thus shouldn't be a factor anyway).

As for widows and orphans, copyright should basically ignore them, other than to allow copyrights to pass to them via the normal operation of law if the author is intestate, or has left a will. After all, it is the height of irresponsibility for an author to try to provide for his family only by leaving them a copyright. Most copyrights simply aren't valuable, certainly not for long. It's as silly as leaving them a bunch of scratch-off lottery tickets. If an author wants to leave them a copyright, fine, but don't lengthen the term, especially since it probably won't help. Authors should instead save and invest their money wisely, purchase life insurance, etc., just like anyone else. And we should all support social welfare programs to help the less fortunate, in case the survivors are left destitute. Certainly there shouldn't be special protections for the families of authors; they're not so deserving as to justify special treatment that doesn't apply to the families of everyone else.

Since the copyright holder will have to renew frequently or abandon the work, there is no orphan works problem. This can be further improved by requiring a simple filing in order to have a valid assignment of a copyright. (Like the way that selling real property involves filing paperwork with the government's recorder of deeds or similar office)

While this might seem difficult, remember that the various international copyright treaties permit member states to withdraw quite easily. And the authors of such a smart country needn't fear losing the opportunity to get copyrights elsewhere, since they can always publish abroad and still enjoy those protections, until the existing Berne-based system is finally broken down and replaced with something better (e.g. unilateral national treatment without minimum standards). This is what US authors did until we joined Berne in 1989 -- simultaneous publication in Canada -- and it worked fine.

242:

I'm too far away to offer you live beavers and deer (both are eating my trees)in exchange for services. So it looks like that means I'll have to cough up 640 pounds sterling for two days of book work.

243:

I have been writing technical courseware for about 9 years. I self publish, and for awhile even did production and shipping. My sales are over $10 million with approximately a 75% profit margin. I have hired a some fulltime and contract help.

I sell directly to my customers via my website offering both physical books and DRM free yet email and name stamped PDFs (aka "social drm").

Why would I ever want to go with a publishing house?

I looked into selling on Amazon, but the cut they wanted is outrageous based on what I'm used to.

Big companies, I don't need em.

244:

On the other hand ... would you pay for membership of a community system based around this blog, full of my interactive presence and lots of little extras, if the books themselves were free?

Assuming your question is serious... No. I like being able to interact with you and everyone else here, but I wouldn't pay to do so. I will always happily pay for your books, however. (Paying to hang out with someone just seems creepy.)

There are some online models that might work really well, but you probably know more about that than I do.

246:

Another thing to factor in: Amazon have another business that not many people seem to know about: CreateSpace & Kindle Direct Publishing http://www.createspace.com/ & https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/)

Using these, one can publish books, music, video and kindle content with no involvement of the Bis Six, at all.

247:

[Publisher doesn't demand DRM] "Amazon would still use DRM as a way to keep customers locked in."

Unlikely, actually, as it would cause the Kindle to run afoul of DMCA as a circumvention device when it displays the book. DMCA defines circumvention as reversing the DRM without authorization by -- here's the important part -- the copyright owner. If the copyright owner doesn't authorize the Kindle to be compatible with the book's DRM (and the premise is that they didn't even ask for DRM, so why would they authorize it to be bypassed?) then the Kindle would become illegal to sell, and also illegal to _use_ for reading that particular book.

Never apply DRM to someone else's work, without having a contract to do so, especially if you also sell "players" that work with that DRM. DMCA doesn't recognize DRM _schemes_ as "owned" by someone; it's all about the copyright owner's rights.

248:

I'm not sure I understand the locked in to Amazon argument.

I have an ipad with both iBooks and Kindle app installed. I have purchased ebooks for both - mainly depending on availability.

In fact, I am more apprehensive about my iBooks/iTunes purchases because, to the best of my knowledge, you need an Apple device to read these books.

249:

I think the situation is still redeemable for authors and for traditional publishers.

I think the required steps are:

1) DRM should only be "social", as TechGeek (243) and Andrea (13) suggested. In my view, PDFs that said "This book belongs to [Credit card holder name] [email-address]".

2) Educate people that if the ebook doesn't have the "This book belongs to..." text, it means it's been pirated.

3) To avoid the Sword of Damocles problem if you accidentally shared an ebook, that Mike (90) pointed out: don't punish people legally, rely on the simple embarrassment factor. Unless someone is deliberately doing it, or sharing on a big enough scale to be a problem: then, go after the sharer, not the originator.

3b) Provide easy utilities that add a "lender" line (to a "borrower" page at the end?) if you want to email a copy to the recipient? ("This book was shared to [email-address] by [sender] on [date].") Just an idea.

4) Drop the price of ebooks a little; at least subtract the cost of manufacturing the paper version. Most people will do the right thing if it's not too hard or too painful, otherwise humans couldn't form societies.

5) Each publisher sells social-DRM ebooks from their web-site.

BTW, as far as I can see, crypto-style ebook-DRM is additionally stupid because all that will ever be required to crack any of it, is to video the page flips of a legally-obtained copy and then apply OCR to each separate page from the video stream.

250:

Well, for now at least I've settled on buying all my eBooks via Kobo either DRM-free or with Adobe DRM. I pretty much think of the Adobe DRM as equivalent to that crappy plastic packaging all flash media and other small electronics are sold in these days: They're a pain in the butt to open and sure, it's a ridiculous hoop to jump through, but at least once the packaging is removed I'm free to do whatever I like with what was inside.

251:

Charlie,
I see your vision of the inevitable domination of Amazon in the marketplace, but this also strikes me as an opportunity. Do you think that authors and editors could band together and create their own online property that sells DRM(free) eBooks and make an effort to put the squeeze on both Amazon AND publishers?

I've heard a lot of backlash against Amazon's trajectory and it seems nobody likes big literature or big media these days. I personally would make a point of buying from a company operated by the content creators and not the suits.

As Amazon's power becomes more and more lopsided, it opens the door for innovation. Digital communication is about putting the power in the hands of the content creators, yet in music, movies and writing creators have been really slow to take advantage of the fact that big corporations are not really necessary to generate product.

252:

braineisly @ 162
Heartily agree.
S Amazon are evil monopolists (or are trying to be) - and Aplle si "wonderful"
Sorry I REALLY DON'T subscribe to the St Jobs school.
From what I've read since his death he wasn't just driven, he drove others too, and wasn't really a nice person to be around.
And what is the difference between Amazon (or anyone else's) DRM and Aplle's "walled garden"?
Come on - answers, please?

In the meantime - does anyone have a recommendation for an e-reader, or should I wait a bit, while it all settles down/stirs up?

253:

Japanese vegan cookery is definitely a niche market

You might be surprised. For one thing it's easier to take a Vegan recipe and "graft on" a carnivore suppliment if desired than to make a carnivore recipe Ova-lactarian or Vegan (usual exceptions for veggie curries, chillies and dahls, where the main "gotcha" is too much chilli spice making the dish inedible since you can't just add some of the emergency yoghurt to the Vegan dish.

So yes I'd (carnivore) at least consider buying ethnic Vegan cookbooks.

254:

217 and 218 - {AOL}Me too{/end}

255:

Yes; in point of fact I own fiction books and movies that I've read/watched double-figure numbers of times down the years. I think the record there is probably Steve McQueen's "Le Mans" which I've seen about 30 times and counting.

256:

Books require an investment of effort and time to read, and usually a bigger amount to make, so I believe the future dynamics will be quite similar to games rather than music. The main difference is the huge number of books that are not yet electronic and will not become one, for copyright or lack of interest, in the near future, but for new books I suspect this will become the norm as e-books get more widespread.

That means that no matter the cost to make them, in a short time after publication date, books released in electronic format will lose perceived value, as they will be easily available. However in the first weeks they will still be valuable, as people want it now, and there will be a lack of trustworthy, easily found copies. Books will become smaller, and more frequent (the serial model) to capitalize on the first week sales, as they devaluate so quickly.

Paper books, or strong DRM, keeping the analogy, will be like the console versions, keeping value longer (and with some loaning/reselling potential).

257:

OK. Looks like some of those steps could be optimized by cutting out the middlemen.

What if the author works with the copyeditor one-on-one, gets the first 10,000 books or so made-to-order (or cheap ebooks) to bootstrap the printing process?

Let Amazon sell it for whatever their rate is, if you want.

Then, you use the proceeds from the first 10,000 sales for cover art and to finance delivery of three copies to high-sales book stores around the country, probably handled by some third party?

Seems like that would cut costs dramatically and let you keep 85%+ of the total profits, and you could be your own boss.

Then, those first 10,000 coverless books become, guess, what? first edition collectors items, and -- voila -- an entirely new secondary market is formed, which would also serve to increase the profits of the original author (if s/he kept a few of them and they were each numbered in order of sale).

258:

I suspect the "market" for pirated books is a lot less than for music or video. Most of the latter comes from teenagers and those without much disposable income. Books (I would guess) are rather more upmarket.

259:

Also, I think to some extent reference books are more immune to piracy. No matter how convenient an ereader is, it's not as convenient as the paper version one can thumb through as needed.

260:

I would love to see a discussion between you and Barry Eisler about the future of publishing. Eisler, who writes really good spy fiction, sees the New York publishing houses to be in a death spiral and, recently, turned down a $500,000 contract to self-publish.

Once you're a big enough name you can do that.

I don't think I'm a big enough name.

I have the capability to start self-publishing tomorrow (or whenever I'm done with my current contracted novels, or buy myself out by repaying the advances). I reckon I could make a good go of it. And I'd receive a larger sum of money per ebook sold direct to the public. However, I'd lose 40-60% of my customers and I'd lose all the store-shelf visibility I've got right now by being on the high street. I suspect this means I'd end up taking a pay cut. More to the point, it would be harder for me to grow my customer base.

The big New York publishers can give me something that, in the long term, is worth more than money: exposure. When this stops being the case, or when ebook sales exceed 50% of my income stream, expect me to revisit the question of self-publishing.

261:

On the other hand ... would you pay for membership of a community system based around this blog, full of my interactive presence and lots of little extras, if the books themselves were free?


That’s an interesting question? I wonder if there are sufficient people who would accept that as an exchange model. Personally, my instant and instinctive response is..

… I like the cleanness of a simple buy / sell or a rent agreement or a performance fee. I like to read the work of authors and I’m happy to pay for that. I like to hear them perform and I’m happy to pay for that or happy to accept that they are doing it for “free” in the expectation that it will lead directly or indirectly to sales or that they are being paid by the television, radio or newspaper who has hired them. But that’s them at work.

If I don’t like the work of a particular author or one of their books I don’t have to buy it. If I’m renting access to a community and through that community the authorial works that feels messy to me. I’m not sure that I would find such a community to be as open and honest as it could be if you paying your rent was dependent on me renewing my subscription.

Also, what happens when one of the books you write whilst I’m subscribing gets turned into a movie? Do I get a free ticket? Do I get equity in the movie in return for my “investment”?

I also wonder at the financials.

I don’t want to pry into your income but assuming that you wish to have an income that makes you most happy, which appears on average to be £50k per annum. You’re producing say 1 book a year. From what you’ve said about the book trade it sounds like there is about a person- year’s worth of work getting each book ready for publication. Assume that those people also want that happy life income of £50k. So that’s two lots of £50k equals £100k per annum. (Your mileage may vary on the actual income required, obviously).

£100k is a thousand subscribers at £100 or 100,000 at £1 or 10,000 at £10. (Let’s ignore VAT for the moment because I’m supposed to be on strike and I hate VAT).

I’m not sure that it would fully replace the more traditional buying and selling of single works as a way to keep body and soul and beer together.

262:

Only because attempts to bring Canadian copyright law into conformance with the WIPO treaty framework have failed for procedural reasons (most notably, the government losing a vote of confidence). I'm pretty sure Canada will be on (Life plus 70) within another decade.

(This is not, in my opinion, a good thing.)

263:

So I say, let authors who want a copyright in the US

Let me highlight the problem with this:

So I say, let authors who want a copyright in the US

The USA is not the whole of the English-reading world. Not even close to it, in fact.

Now go away and come back to us with a proposal that works globally, m'kay?

(Says the irritated non-American writer.)

264:

Drop the price of ebooks a little; at least subtract the cost of manufacturing the paper version.

You realize that's less than 10% of the cover price of a trade hardback and about 5% of the cover price of a mass market paperback in the USA?

265:

I buy all my ebooks from Amazon but then use some programs I found on the 'net to remove the DRM. I don't want my ability to read the *copies* I *own* dependent on Amazon's Terms & Conditions, which change with the wind, and I want to use whatever software I like (including Linux as my OS) to read those copies which I bought fair and square. But the day I can't remove the DRM from an ebook I buy is the day I stop buying ebooks.

To authors: we *want* to buy your books, some of us are even willing to jump through hoops to do so. So how about treating us with a bit of respect and giving us what we pay for - a usable ebook with no Digital Restrictions Management?

266:

The problem with this process is implicit in your description of it: consider Adam Smith on the thorny topic of division of labour.

I'm a writer. I write novels. I like writing novels, and want to specialize in it.

What you're suggesting I do is become a publisher, with all the issues of managing workflow and contractors (the freelance copy editor, the cover designer, the proofreader, the printer) and supply chains (who do you think puts those copies into bookstores? Hint: there's a wholesale supply chain, and they take their cut). Bookstore shelf space isn't free: it has to cover the retail premises ground rent and overheads, so it's expected to turn a profit rapidly -- you can't get into the retail stores unless you can offer to give them a profit, and the usual retail cut is 45%.

When you work through it all, an author's hardcover royalty with one of the Big Six is around 15% of the retail price ... which is a 50% cut of the profits because the publisher only makes around 15% too -- the rest goes to the distributors.

So if I replace the publisher I can probably double my profits. Great! Except then I'm working two jobs, one of which I don't enjoy (I wanted to be a writer, not a publisher, remember?).

267:

Books aren't immune to piracy.

What they're immune to is casual consumption.

Consider: if you download an album in mp3 you can listen to it on your ipod while you walk around town, or listen to it in your car, or as background music in the office. We consume music as a background activity while doing other things.

Video: if you download a movie you can leave it running on your screen in a window while you do other things. And if you watch it full-time it'll take you less than two and a half hours, in general. (Some folks -- me -- can't cope with TV or video in the background, but we're old fogies who prove the exception to the general rule).

Books: you need to concentrate on a book to consume it. (Unless it's an audiobook, and even there it's a bit more attention-demanding than a music track.) And at a typical fast reading speed of 350 words/minute, a typical 100,000 word novel will take 300 minutes -- five hours -- to consume.

So ...

Music album: 40-70 minutes of background attention.

Movie: 90-140 minutes of background or light foreground attention.

Novel: 500 minutes of intense foreground attention.

Human being: 168 hours per week of time in which to pay attention to everything.

This is why I believe that somewhere between 90% and 99% of pirated ebooks don't represent lost sales -- does anyone truly believe that somebody who bittorrents a collection of 3400 SF and fantasy novels is going to read them all?

(At 40 hours' reading per week that's around eight years ...)

268:

Anybody who doubts the reality of the quality-crunch that accompanies Big Retail's commoditisation of a good of subjective appeal (the product of art or craft) should take a good long look at the wines they are buying in the UK's supermarkets. It's a real effect and yes, 'the public' en masse can easliy be blinded to it by spurious offers of 'value'.

269:

So how about treating us with a bit of respect and giving us what we pay for - a usable ebook with no Digital Restrictions Management?

This is a sore point.

For the past decade I've been kicking back against my publisher's diktat that there will be DRM on everything.

Trouble is, the diktat comes from above the level of the managing editors, indeed from above CEO level within the individual companies. And I just don't have the firepower to demand an exception. "No DRM" is currently a deal-breaker for getting a contract with a major publisher; I could go indie, but I'd be taking a 50% pay cut.

(I know what hoops Tor had to jump through to get permission to waive the DRM rules and allow Cory Doctorow to release Creative Commons editions of his books. My understanding is it involved the CEO of Tor going to the VP (Legal) of a multinational and saying "if you don't give us this exception we're going to lose a NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN BESTSELLER". I am not an NYT #10 bestseller, alas ...)

270:

IT depends.
Some fiction I find good or interesting enough that I'll re-read it quickly, because there's more meat to be had in it. Other types I'll re-read because I know them well and they are somehow comforting when I am ill. Other books I'll re-read after 10 years and get a different experience and appreciation because I am older and more mature and experienced.
And others I never re-read because I didn't enjoy them much the first time.

271:

We are the 5% !

272:

"This is why I believe that somewhere between 90% and 99% of pirated ebooks don't represent lost sales -- does anyone truly believe that somebody who bittorrents a collection of 3400 SF and fantasy novels is going to read them all?
(At 40 hours' reading per week that's around eight years ...)"

At one time that was me - reading a book a day for years.
Most of which I "pirated" from the public library (although I still have around 1000 sitting on my bookshelves, never to be read again.)

273:

If you're in the UK, the author got paid for those library book loans. Not much, but a token payment is better than nothing.

274:

The causality is reversed, download the 3400 book torrent because it's literally more effort to select the single book you're interested than to download the whole thing. Six months later browsing a bookstore or blog discussion, come across book that sounds interesting, realize you already have it downloaded. Ka-ching.

Regarding paying for community access, I have paid to be a member of the something awful forums in the past. It's a mammoth community though, and running it is a full time job for multiple people.

Regarding the 70 year copyright period, I'm always surprised it's such a big issue. Is everyone really so interested in Steamboat Willie? Because that's what would become public domain. Most modern Mickey Mouse incarnations are more recent, and he is a walking logo the Disney corporation will protect no matter what individual indicia are now public domain, for trademark reasons. Both corporations and pirates like to mix trademark and copyright when it interests them.

Also, the pirate proponents try to shield themselves behind people creating derivative works or free speech issues, when I've never actually seen a pirate create anything, derivative or not OR meaningfully participate in the dissemination of impopular political material (One exception, I got the Wikileaks insurance torrent off the pirate bay, but it was a meaningless encrypted file, not even copyright infringing material at that point).

In the world I live in, copyright is very weakly defended if at all for works more than 5 or 10 years old so all this kerfuffle over stuff from the 1930s no one actually gives a damn about is very disingenuous.

(I happen to know this because one of my projects -- permanently shelved due to the copyright implications -- was a novel-length sort-of sequel set a few decades later, to be called "Big Brother Iron" (after an early novelette of mine). I don't believe it is currently practical to publish such a work without risking an expensive lawsuit, so I'm not going there.)

Alan Moore's latest League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volumes are set in a post Airstrip-one Britain FWIW.

275:

I thought the 70 year copyright period was to keep the works of one Corporal A Hitler out of the public domain?

276:

News flash: discount at Amazon isn't 30%. It's 50+%, for both ebooks and physical. Also, DRM isn't about preventing piracy - everyone knows by now that if it's digital it can be cracked - it's about making the broad, non-tech-y, majority of customers think piracy is a hassle. Once people get the idea into their heads that everything is available for free and easily, it's game over*. Ask the music industry.

*Of course, this will happen eventually anyway, but maybe publishers can squeeze another few years of viability from public ignorance.

277:

Also, DRM isn't about preventing piracy - everyone knows by now that if it's digital it can be cracked - it's about making the broad, non-tech-y, majority of customers think piracy is a hassle

And now we're at the stage of the thread where people haven't read all the comments and thus start repeating things.

278:

"I thought the 70 year copyright period was to keep the works of one Corporal A Hitler out of the public domain?"

If so, the worry is misplaced.
It's Alfred Rosenberg they should worry about.

279:

The USA is not the whole of the English-reading world. Not even close to it, in fact.
Now go away and come back to us with a proposal that works globally, m'kay?
(Says the irritated non-American writer.)

Yes, I know you're not an American writer. But I oppose a single global regime. Copyright laws should surely be designed to provide the greatest net benefit for the people bound by them, but there are many different ideas and traditions as to specifics. I think it's best to let each country figure out what laws work the best for them. If Pottsylvania wants to allow anyone to make unauthorized translations into the local language under their law, why shouldn't they get to design their law that way? If Freedonia thinks that databases merit protection due to the sweat of the brow theory, shouldn't that be up to them? If one country has a good idea, and it seems to be able to work elsewhere, it may be copied by others. Or not.

There should not be minimum standards of copyright applied globally; only national treatment (that is, no discrimination on the basis of the author's nationality -- foreign authors get the same rights, or lack thereof, as domestic authors) and the attempted cooperation of various countries to avoid mutually exclusive systems so that authors at least have the option of seeking copyrights in every jurisdiction that has decided to have them. (And whether or not to even have it should be decided by each country; most places only have copyright due to 19th century colonialism)

So since I'm an American, I limit my proposals to the US. I don't care what the rest of the world does, though I'm willing to copy good ideas. And since I expect that some countries would automatically grant copyrights, and others would require registration, and others might require some other thing (like publication in the national language within a particular timeframe), it would be up to the author to decide where he wanted to seek a copyright, and where he was willing to let the work be in the public domain because he couldn't be bothered to do whatever was required to get it despite having had the opportunity.

In the US, I think we need a system of strict formalities: if you want a copyright here, you timely register, you pay a modest fee, you deposit copies as required. If you don't care about having a copyright here, that's fine too, and we're always happy to see our public domain enlarged no matter what the author's nationality is. (I suspect that you would bother, even though we are indeed only one small part of the English speaking world, but it would entirely be up to you). If the UK requires that all authors, including American authors, must register there, then that's fine. I bet a lot of US authors will not bother (because they don't care about copyright anywhere, including in the US) which is good for you, and those who do bother cause you no harm. It's a win all around.

If you look into patents and trademarks, you'll find that they also traditionally are merely national in character, though the usual suspects are trying to harmonize systems so as to get free rides and make reform nigh impossible. And yet the national systems were never broken to begin with.

tl;dr: I'm not being smugly superior, I'm being an isolationist (with regard to copyright, not generally), and I won't bother trying to come up with a global solution because I think there shouldn't be one, and I really don't care what copyright laws they have in foreign countries, so long as they're not discriminatory, and the people in each country are happy with what they've got.

280:

I wouldn't be inclinded to think of the subscription model that Charlie sketched out as "paying to hang out with someone" (which I agree, would be a little creepy) but closer to paying to consume the content that an individual creates -- which is what you're doing anyway when you buy Charlie's books.

I would not imagine that Charlie (nor any other author who would provide a similar service) is saying that a subscriber suddenly has some extra right to his time or personal opinions beyond what he's willing to give, simply that by subscribing you get some additional web content, as well as access to his latest fiction as and when it becomes available (although, of course, the more quality content/interaction the author can provide the more subscribers or higher the subscription fee -- much like the better draw for a music act that gives a better show). I can see too that this sort of model could be tiered, with different levels of access/content for subscribers and non-subscribers, with some content still available for a one off fee. It strikes me as quite a flexible model.

281:

Corporal A. Hitler's work, and all the works of his regime, forefeited copyright protection under the terms of a certain treaty signed in 1945. They then defaulted to the postwar German government in Germany, who use their ownership to keep "Mein Kampf" out of print, at least in that language.

(As I understand the situation.)

The copyright thing wrt. the Third Reich is part of the reason there are so many WW2 documentaries on the Hitler History Channel -- lots of groovy film, all of it out of copyright.

282:

Yes, I know you're not an American writer. But I oppose a single global regime.

You're a century too late, then: we're stuck with the Berne Convention as an international treaty framework for copyright law, and it's been ratified in so many nations that reversing it would be a gargantuan task. Especially as it's backed by the WTO, so pulling out would AIUI trigger trade sanctions against the defecting nation ...

You also missed a problem: how many copyrighted items do you generate per year? I'm serious. Would it be necessary for bloggers to formally deposit a copy of every article they post, in order to assert copyright? For magazine/newspaper journalists? Or could copyright be registered by the publication, on behalf of the contributors? If so, when does it date from?

Novelists generate maybe 1-2 copyrightable novels per year. But journalists may generate 2-5 items per day.

Final note: I appreciate where your isolationist instinct is coming from. But really and truly, it's no longer a viable strategy. Witness the fact that we're discussing this online in near real time via the magical medium of the internet. The net doesn't obey national territorial boundaries very well. Sounds to me like a recipe for chaos.

283:

The US already has a defacto isolationist position in that while copyright is technically granted on creation by default IF you want to take legal action resulting in damages (i.e. exercise your rights) you need to have official library of congress registration so Joe Q Foreigner's options are already limited if he becomes aware someone in the US is profiting from his work.

This may be a universal, I admit I don't know enough about international copyright law to know how registration affects your rights all over the world, but the fact I'm a foreigner to the US and find myself concerned about their legal system is testament to the influence and interconnection of the US.

Does anyone know if foreign copyright registration is in fact transferrable? Is there an international copyright lawyer in the audience? :^)

284:

You're a century too late, then: we're stuck with the Berne Convention as an international treaty framework for copyright law, and it's been ratified in so many nations that reversing it would be a gargantuan task. Especially as it's backed by the WTO, so pulling out would AIUI trigger trade sanctions against the defecting nation ...

Agreed. The cat is out of the bag.

But I suspect most of the signers of the Berne Convention were thinking of ink on bound paper. In their mind newspapers rarely traveled across national boundaries. Or at least not very far outside of cultural areas.

And no matter what us northern European cultural offshoots and others with a similar mindset might think there are many cultures around the world that think copyright is foolish. And while their government leaders sign on to copyright laws in practice they are rarely enforced unless it becomes a public embarrassment or a serious financial issue.

And even in the US I constantly run into people who don't see any point in paying for anything digital. To them it seems stupid and they claim it should not be a crime. And these are not teens after music for their latest iDevice.

I wonder what will happen over the next 100 years. Will digital theft become like going 10% over the speed limit in the US or will folks actually come around and honor the laws?

285:

Where do you stand on changes like the life+50 to life+70 change that retrospectively brought some works from public domain back into copyright?

286:

Where do you stand on changes like the life+50 to life+70 change that retrospectively brought some works from public domain back into copyright?

My take:

1. If something comes out of copyright and then new law extends the duration of copyright, it should not be applied retroactively -- once something is OOC, it should stay out.

2. Copyright should not expire on the death of the creator. (Otherwise you're creating an incentive to bump off bestselling authors ... OK, I know ...!)

3. The term of copyright should represent a compromise between the interests of the creator and the interests of society. I, personally, would be happy with 28 years, renewable for another 28 years, for literary works. I think that'd be massive overkill for computer games, though, and Disney Corp would strongly disagree with me wrt. the Mouse.

4. Copyright registries are a really bad idea, because (a) we create a lot more copyrightable works than most people realize, and (b) stuff gets dropped between the cracks. National copyright registries are even worse. Copyright should be inherent in the act of creation; a registry should merely serve as positive confirmation of the date/owner, not as a negative proof of lack-of-copyright status.

5. Copyright shouldn't concern the public. (See comment #104).

287:

It's not only that.
The Nazis had really sharp uniforms, put on a good display and had some seriously cool weapons eg StG44 and some seriously weird ones eg sonic cannon, freeze bomb. Not to mention their occultism. It's like they were following the script for Wolfenstein

288:

Well, this book has never been released commercially in English because of copyright concerns, and the non-commercial ebook edition released last year, 55 years after publication of the 'source material' and more than 30 years since the death of the author, is thought to be infringing. So, there are examples.

289:

"And even in the US I constantly run into people who don't see any point in paying for anything digital. To them it seems stupid and they claim it should not be a crime"

"Will digital theft become like going 10% over the speed limit"

Seems like someone thinking in these terms is skating out over the abyss. The underlying assumption to these points of view is that because digital media is easier and cheaper to copy and distribute than physical media, it is also easier and cheaper to produce. As OGH has pointed out many times: This just isn't the case.

If no one is willing to pay anything for the content, most of the content creators will have little choice but to stop producing it (and the ones still producing content are likely to be hobbyists producing a lower quality product).

It doesn't have to go this way (I don't want to sound like a music/book publisher shill for DRM and high costs), but there has to be someone somewhere paying something.

290:

Stupid-dumbass-thick-fingers-mistyping-username-aaargh!

291:

This has now left me with a vision of the Nazis creating a time-machine, seeing Id's games, saying "how cool is that?", and changing their plans accordingly to incorporate zombies, robo-Hitler, etc.

Thank you, I think.

292:

Agreed with an alternative suggestion to (2) and (3):-

A) Copyright should expire on the death of the actual creator, or the date of their likely natural death based on demographic data, whichever is later. It removes any incentive to bump off $popular_40something_writer to make their works public domain because their copyright will still have 30odd years to run.

B) Corporate entities may licence the copyright in IP from the creator but may not own the copyright in perpetuity, with the sole exceptions of corporate trademarks, logos and the like. A copyright licence shall be for a fixed term, and in this specific instance the licence may extend past the limit set by (A), but shall not be further extensible.

293:

That's pretty clearly satirical parody of the lord of the rings, of which there are many. I think dismantling international copyright to make creation of derivative works 100% safe comes under the heading "baby, bathwater".

That said, I'm largely in favour of knocking that particular corner off, outright piracy shouldn't be allowed to hide in the shadow of "honest" derivative work, a fan artist or parodist is not a pirate, just a very naughty boy.

Also, it's likely the main problem the skittish publishers would face is trademark, I'm guessing the Tolkien estate has more trademarks than the usual writer's estate - yep, a casual search through the TESS trademark search engine shows a metric fuckton of registered trademarks for LOTR related words.

294:

Variation of Rule 34?
Google "Nazi time machine"

295:

"Mr Vidal? Yes, I'm sorry, but you're now 85, and we've decided we need the copyright for your latest novel. What colour flowers do you want at your funeral?"

296:

Contrarywise - that's a derivative work (it's blatently another tale in the same World) rather than an obvious parody like the widely available (UK and North America) "Bored of the Rings" is.

297:

There are existing laws preventing people from profiting from the results of their crimes; those would seem to apply here.

298:

Arguably, the situation with software copyrights is even worse. As a matter of belt-and-suspenders intellectual property protection, every software developer I know includes a copyright statement in every file of source code. I do it to all my C, C++ and Obj-C files, any XML schemas and DTDs, HTML, and, of course, human-readable documentation. And I'm of the school that believes in lots of small files rather than a few big ones. Just yesterday I created, copyrighted, and checked into version control 20 new source files. And that's a personal project; I don't do this for pay by someone else anymore.

299:

I would posit that they would also seem to apply in your original case.

300:

software copyrights - Matron, break out the bulk supplies of co-codimol!! ;-)

My personal record (using semi-automated generation software and scripts) is 200 configurable source files in a day, and each of them generated an object file!

301:
it's blatently another tale in the same World

Yes, and? A parody is by definition a derivative work, there's no requirement for it to file off the serial numbers, as OGH says. You want to play it safe, call them bobbits and crorks but that's all it is, playing safe. Like when Weird Al asks for permission before spoofing someone, it's nice, and it's polite, but it shouldn't be considered a requirement for others.

Now when the derivative work includes ACTUAL copies of the original work, say in this instance the map of middle earth drawn by Tolkien, that's clear copyright infringement.Remember copyright protects the expression of ideas (the map) not the ideas themselves "There's a world called middle earth full of fancyful characters".

But again "middle earth" is a trademark. At least 50 trademarks, actually, from a quick search.

302:

?
People do die of natural causes before their likely date based on demographics.

303:

Here's an amusing example of an unauthorised parody of a non public domain property that went to great lengths to imitate the source

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman_XXX:_A_Porn_Parody#Production

"It looks like an episode of the TV show...The costumes are amazing. I went as far as finding the same fabric and dyes...The production rented one of the Batmobile cars that had been used in the original TV series for use in shots in the film..actor Randy Spears sports a moustache covered in whiteface, creating a visual reference to Cesar Romero ... considering that [Spears is] clean-shaven in the audition footage that's included as a bonus feature...I can only assume that he grew it just for authenticity."

304:

Charlie, I agree with you. The production steps for making an ebook are identical to those for making a paper book, except for the last step of printing and distribution. At most, this should reduce the cost of making an ebook by maybe a dollar or so.

and it does not matter

The cost of making the book is not a consideration when I'm buying a book. The only question I consider is whether or not I consider the book to be worth more, or less money than the price I'm being asked to pay.

One of the things that comes into consideration is what I can do with the book once I've finished reading it. I can sell the book to a used bookstore. Around here, bookshops will buy a used book in good condition for around 25% of the cover price. I can't do that with an ebook, so to me, an ebook starts about 75% of the value of the same book in paper format. I also can't loan it out to friends, or use it to start the fireplace, all of which means the the ebooks are that much less valuable to me.

Now look at the hidden price in an ebook, buying the reader. Typical consumer electronics these days will last about 3-5 years, and costs me about $100 up front, before I can even begin to read that first ebook. If I buy one book per month, that makes the ebook something like $2-$3 more expensive per book than the list price of the books. If I buy fewer books, the cost per book goes up.

All of this means that I will not likely be paying the same price for an ebook as I would for a paper book. It's not because I don't consider that the price should be cheaper for a digital work, it's that the digital work is simply not as valuable to me.

305:

I propose the term Godwin's 34th Law.

307:

According to this piece of market research from 2005 with a sample of 2000 adults in the UK. The question used was "In the last 12 months, approximately how many books did you buy for yourself or to give to other people? I mean books bought new, not secondhand." The results were about 33% didn't buy new books, 27% bought 1-5 new books, 16% 6-10 new books, and 22% bought 11 or more. About 15% of the non-buyers did buy second hand.

308:

Any particular reason you don't use Cafepress? I mean, there are page count limitations and the insides are only printed in black and white, but on the other hand, if it's truly niche you might not recoup in sales what you spent on overhead for Lulu's pre-prints and such.

Disclaimer: While I've put books up for sale on Cafepress, I haven't actually seen any books printed by them. Perhaps their production quality is terrible. Also, my own concerns in using them are based on being completely broke and wanting to publish a book of word salad nonsense.

309:

Not quite a good analogy. Sure, DRM won't stop a determined pirate from stealing the ebook, any more than a door lock won't stop a determined burglar. However, people still seem to want to lock their doors at night even though door locks have not stopped the practice of burglary. Seems to me that DRM serves as a deterrent, much in the way locks discourage burglars from thinking your house is an easy mark. People go for what's easy.

And, "customers" who visit a store and take things from it without paying, are thieves, period. Not customers. So far, I haven't seen customers who buy merchandise with security tags on them go storming out of Macy's because they feel like they've been slapped in the face. DRM is just another security tag.

310:
DRM is just another security tag

No, it isn't, because it's still there after you have purchased it. And the DMCA (in the US) makes it very clear that it's more about control than preventing copying.

The security tags in Macy's don't prevent me from giving it to someone else after I've bought it; they don't prevent me from dying it another colour after I've bought it; they don't prevent me from cutting off the sleeves and sewing emblems on it after I've bought it. DRM, and the DMCA, do.

311:

Hah! I bet that next visit was a little awkward.

312:

It was late at night and they were not on skype at the time (unless invisible).
I *think* I managed to delete it before they saw it, but am not sure. Anyway, never had the courage to ask, and they never mentioned it...

313:

Getting back to the quality vs cost argument, I was looking at the Steam computer game platform last night, it's a really interesting case study in what happens when you lower the barriers to entry and there is not an established cartel to try to set prices.

There are games on there that sell for $59.99 and are very professional, and games that sell for 2.99 and are very amateur and whole gamit in between. All the price points seem viable, the better the game and brand, the more it sells for and none of it feels forced for the consumer. For me, Skyrim is a steal for $59.99 ut it's also nice to buy the more amateur young upstarts like Magicka for $9.99

There is also a whole set of alternate revenue streams evolving, collectors editions, downloadable content, free to play, subscription models...

314:
Regarding the 70 year copyright period, I'm always surprised it's such a big issue. Is everyone really so interested in Steamboat Willie? Because that's what would become public domain. Most modern Mickey Mouse incarnations are more recent, and he is a walking logo the Disney corporation will protect no matter what individual indicia are now public domain, for trademark reasons. Both corporations and pirates like to mix trademark and copyright when it interests them.

...

In the world I live in, copyright is very weakly defended if at all for works more than 5 or 10 years old so all this kerfuffle over stuff from the 1930s no one actually gives a damn about is very disingenuous.


The age of uncompromising self-interest around copyrighted material (in the USA anyhow) began with the 1976 revisions to copyright in favor of rights-holders, decades before people illegally copied novels, music, or movies over the Internet. Unless the wave of piracy unleashed in the late 1990s was so horrible that it actually sent shockwaves back through time to legislators in the 1970s, it's disingenuous to claim the creeping-up of copyright terms then or since is justified by piracy.


IMO the USA last had reasonable copyright terms in 1975: 28 years initially, option of one 28 year renewal. Many works from 1955 or earlier would be of general interest: Gone with the Wind, both book and movie, the Wizard of Oz movie, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, most of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons, all Disney movies between Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Lady and the Tramp, inclusive, and about half of everything Frank Sinatra ever recorded. I dare you to say that any of that material is "very weakly defended" by the current copyright holders.

That's just the popular culture material I can think of off the top of my head. In academic publishing there's a lot more good stuff; scientific observations don't go out of date just because they were old, but thanks to American copyright there's a substantial body of articles I still need to pay to view, though they were written (by authors unpaid and now long dead) when my grandfather was a child.

315:

One problem with requiring registration or renewal of copyright is that there are close to 200 separate jurisdictions worldwide, the administrative difficulties of maintaining copyright would be a major problem to individuals. Large businesses would find it a lot easier to handle the problems. That is a major reason why Berne prohibits registration or renewal requirements.

316:

For Xmas I have chosen to be assimilated by the Borg, sorry I meant the Amazon Kindle. There are too many advantages to the e-pub format and the kindle as a device. The simplest of which is that I have moved internationally 3 times in the last 8 years and taking a few thousand dollars worth of books is quite inconvenient. (one of the 5% that buys 50% of the books signing in)

Seeing this blog of course made be reconsider, but I still want the shiny electronic Jesus book, and I can always try to claw my way out of the tar pit. 'Cos that worked for the dinosaurs, right?

One of the first Kindle books I was going to buy is Rule 34, but unless my mind is playing tricks, the kindle version on amazon.com went from ~US$13 to US$19.80 since this blog came out. The hardcover price is now cheaper at US$17.13

Coincidence or conspiracy?

317:
There are too many advantages to the e-pub format and the kindle as a device

But the Kindle doesn't use ePub; it uses MOBI. (They will be transitioning to a new format soon, which is more ePub-like.)

the kindle version on amazon.com went from ~US$13 to US$19.80 since this blog came out

On the US site, the price for the Kindle version of Rule 34 is US$12.99.

318:

_ ahh, no. The publishers are the 5%.

319:

Bugger, and I thought I had clue. (Re: e-pub vs MOBI)

"On the US site, the price for the Kindle version of Rule 34 is US$12.99."

Pics or it didn't happen? I am accessing from Australia.
http://img195.imageshack.us/img195/2671/rule34l.jpg

320:

About the video games topic, an interesting platform is www.gog.com (Good Old Games).
They concentrate on old games (with the exception of "The Witcher 2" that was produced by, if I remember well, a related company) but they insists on keeping prices down, making periodical bundle discounts, bundling ton of extras and, over everything else, banning any form of DRM.

From what I understand, they're going really well... since they do exist, I've definitely spent more on them than any other video game source.

321:

it's $12.99 in the US amazon site

322:

Frank Sinatra? You're telling me the estate of a planetary celebrity who died less than 15 years ago is still actively administering his copyright? Amazing.

Try to lower your sights a little below the 0.01%. top of the iceberg to say, everything else.

The flipside to the horror of having to pay for things, is that someone actually cared enough to conserve them, how many other mementos of your grandparent's childhood do you retain?

323:

[...] may not own the copyright in perpetuity, with the sole exceptions of corporate trademarks, logos and the like.

There are thee quite distinct forms of intellectual property protection: copyright, trademarks, and patents (trade secrets are a fourth, to the extent that they are protected; basically you're on your own with those). The rules for each differ significantly, both in terms of the protection they are entitled to and in terms of the requirements to qualify for protection.

In particular, trademarks are not a priori limited in time. They lapse only if they aren't actually used anymore. I can see why a corporation might seek to protect something both under trademark law and copyright law, but not why that copyright should then be treated differently from other copyrights.

324:

Australia doesn't have a local Amazon site, the pic above is a screenie of the US site

325:

Unfortunately, I must disagree. Many Kindle books are in "Topaz" format, which is essentially "warmed over" image sets with a dusting of OCR. My understanding of the format is that it's a set of indexes to images of individual letters or letter groups which the reader reassembles so it looks much like the original book and is (somewhat) searchable.

It's also the major reason I don't go *near* amazon when I'm interested in buying ebooks.

326:

But Amazon does know where you're coming from.

Either it was (or is) a glitch, or they're doing conversion to local prices (which doesn't work either, btw -- current conversion from US$ to AU$ seems to be pretty close to 1:1). I don't think it's possible for anyone outside of Australia to reproduce it. But the price in the US for the Kindle version of Rule 34 is, most certainly, US$12.99, and it has not changed.

(Hm, since the price is set by the publisher, I wonder if that's part of it.)

http://imgur.com/vIAjC should show it, if I did it correctly.

327:

You can usually tell if it's a Topaz book: if it has a file size, and a number of pages listed, it's almost certainly not a Topaz file.

If it shows up in Amazon and B&N's Nook store, then it's almost certainly going to be MOBI, as well.

328:

I read the referenced post. I have no quarrel with paying publishers for the services they do provide to authors, including marketing, editing, copy-editing, proofreading, and conversion of typeset text to electronic format for the eBook crowd. Such things are co$tly, involving as they do time and effort.

My quarrel is with the fact that the costs of *distributing* the finished works, including printing, shipping, storage, inventory, etc. etc. do NOT exist for electronic books. After the cost of conversion to electrons, if you have one copy, you have anywhere from 1 to seven billion-odd more at 1 per human. Each additional copy is essentially 99.999% pure profit, before paying the author and the e-retailer. It makes ZERO sense, even from a marketing standpoint, to charge the same price for the ebook as the paper edition.

And, as noted elsewhere, the publishers are dictating final prices, disallowing "specials", rebates, or other marketing tools, and generally strangling retailers. Fictionwise used to offer 30-100% rebates (site credits) for newly-released eBooks priced as hardcovers. I would frequently grab those and then spend the credits on MORE books. Win-win, would you not say?

Instead, my eBook spending, after the great Amazon-Publisher War, dropped from over $2000/year to about $200. I used to buy entire series unread just to "stock up for later."

In addition, if you bitch-slap, scream at, and pepper-spray your customers, what are the odds that their willingness to shop in Tortuga or Port Royal might have increased? (Arrr!)

As a friend of mine remarked, making your customers despise you is a bad business model.

329:

Does the DRM really matter that much for locking in readers? Even ignoring the fact that I could easily shuck my books out of Amazon's DRM, if I decided to chuck my Kindle and buy a Nook, my library previous to the switch would still be on Amazon's servers.

Splitting my library between two service providers is going to be a bigger impediment to retail competition than installing DRM removal a plugin to Calibre. If it were just the file I wanted, I could easily torrent it. The value that retailers provide in an ebook ecosystem is in managing those files so they're there when I want them.

330:

DRM matters horribly, unless you jailbreak the books and KEEP them, including reliable backups. Admittedly it's unlikely that Amazon will go out of business any time soon, but even so, if your book supplier loses the rights to distribute the book, if it's DRM-infested, you're still out.

Putting it bluntly, if a digital product is under DRM, YOU do NOT own it. Period.

331:

Usually, with a digital product, you don't own it regardless of whether it has DRM or not -- you have only purchased a license for it.

That applies for ebooks, as well. I don't know of any exceptions.

332:

Amusing to read these comments excoriating copyright.

Obviously, you people are not writers.

You also seem to think that we can afford to work for free.

Small press e-books and print-on-demand publishers pay NO ADVANCE.

That's right. If we small-press writers get a contract, all we get is whatever percentage royalty is agreed on, as the book sells. That can range anywhere from about $1 to about 25 cents, depending on how far down Amazon chooses to set the price.

The good part of the no-advance system is that publishers will take a chance on books and ideas that don't have the ma$$ appeal that big publishers demand. The bad side, obviously, is that if 100 books are sold through legitimate channels, we might make as much as $100. And if another 1000 copies are downloaded by thieves, from websites that DO get paid, either by membership fees or by selling advertising, we are working and someone else is collecting our paychecks.

So, when you go "Oh, boy, FREE!" -- No. Don't kid yourself. It isn't free, it's stolen. Most writers make less than $10K per year, and when you download a book without paying for it, you're stealing the money I need to pay my bills and take care of my dogs. It's your karma.

I hate DRM, by the way, and avoid buying DRM books for my reader. The pirates hack that "protection" the day a book comes out, and honest people pay for their copies.

333:

Not so sure about Amazon,s long term interest in protecting authors. They loose money on almost all of their book sales. They're actually in the customer acquisition business not the book business. Readers beware.

334:
Frank Sinatra? You're telling me the estate of a planetary celebrity who died less than 15 years ago is still actively administering his copyright? Amazing.

Try to lower your sights a little below the 0.01%. top of the iceberg to say, everything else.

The flipside to the horror of having to pay for things, is that someone actually cared enough to conserve them, how many other mementos of your grandparent's childhood do you retain?

I'm not amazed, merely disapproving, that rights-holders of works created more than 56 years ago are still collecting rents on those works. The reason I approve of copyright for a limited time is because it allows creators and their collaborators (printers, editors, projectionists, and so on in addition to authors, actors, and musicians) to make a living at what they and the public enjoy. Retroactive copyright revisions of the sort the US has suffered since 1976 are public welfare programs mostly benefiting some of the least needy people around, at the expense of the public interest. The other 99.99% of stuff that didn't stay in-print and valuable for decades is now theoretically easy to pirate without consequences, but doing anything other than personally hoarding it by the hard-drive-full is still gummed up by overlong copyrights.

The job of preservation would be easier without overlong copyright. The Internet Archive is collecting books, sound recordings, and movies for preservation and public distribution, without even the commercial interests of Google's book project, and no doubt would cast a much wider net if copyright law didn't stand in the way. Instead, the only people who have the legal right to preserve, restore, and/or distribute old copyrighted works are the rights holders themselves. And if the works appear more expensive to preserve or restore than they're worth, they will be destroyed (see: many old Hollywood films slowly disintegrating in storage, not valuable enough to preserve and distribute, too valuable to surrender copyright and let someone else preserve and distribute).

335:

There quite a few other categories of intellectual property some such as design right and database right, in those jurisdictions that have them, operate more or less like copyright. There is also the oldest form of intellectual property one which operates under very different rules through specialised courts, heraldry governing the granting and inheritance of Coats of Arms.

336:
They loose money on almost all of their book sales.

You have a citation for this, of course.

337:

Don't know how mainstream this is, but we have a rule in this household. "Full title transfers at time of sale - or keep it."

Perhaps there are enough prospects out there who would accept DRM encumbered product, but I don't think any manufacturer could count on it.

Not a luddite household. We purchase much technology - just never product with "strings attached".

338:

Amazon using its market leverage to bankrupt its suppliers is a spurious argument. Amazon is dependent on its suppliers for content - without a lot of good content, customers don't go there in the first place, and Amazon knows this.

Say Amazon do decide to squeeze their suppliers, and set their cut to 85% instead of %30. First-off, publishers and authors will protest for one thing, making the public aware of amazon's greedy tactics, which damages their standing as people shop elsewhere on principle. Publishers and authors replace all amazon book links with links to (for example) B&N. They ask their readers not to buy from amazon.

Authors who self-publish may pull their books off Amazon and direct their sales elsewhere. Publishers with any sense will do the same - individually, removing your book from Amazon is insane. But when a large percentage of the sales are now providing far less than acceptable profit, and you can't compensate by setting that outlet at a higher price, it makes economic sense to just disallow that outlet - you're not actually losing that much money by doing so.

And if that happens en masse (which is likely, the Big Six tend to work in lockstep), Amazon suddenly loses everything it had. Only authors too stupid or desperate remain, and the pickings are not good for readers. When half the books you want suddenly can't be found in a store, you go where they can be found.

Amazon's competitors will seize the opportunity to pull in these suddenly orphaned publishers, offering good rates. New businesses will spring up to offer (for example) books in multiple formats. Smashwords will do fantastic business. Publishers and authors will sell books off their own site. And from out of all the chaos of alternatives, something new will emerge to replace Amazon.

Amazon isn't too big to fail if it does something stupid. And pissing off its suppliers with deals that make their business unsustainable is doing something stupid.

339:

@336: I assume that means you never purchase any software, music, movies or other information-based product?

Just because you've bought the physical medium on which it's stored (DVD, CD) doesn't mean you can legally do whatever you want with it - you've still bought a license, whether it has DRM to protect it or not.

By your phrasing, I'm honestly not sure whether that's a rule against DRM, or a rule against license purchasing, but all materials based on intellectual property are sold by licenses, not like hammers. There are always strings attached.

340:

Say Amazon do decide to squeeze their suppliers, and set their cut to 85% instead of %30. First-off, publishers and authors will protest for one thing, making the public aware of amazon's greedy tactics, which damages their standing as people shop elsewhere on principle. Publishers and authors replace all amazon book links with links to (for example) B&N. They ask their readers not to buy from amazon.

The vast majority of people will buy from whoever is cheapest / most convenient. $8 beats $9 every time all other things being equal. And sometimes when not equal.

341:

Yikes on the current Australian price for the Kindle Rule 34. I just checked my statement and it was only US$9.99 when I bought it in July (Australians have to buy the British edition ebook from the American Amazon shopfront in US dollars...)

342:

282:
we're stuck with the Berne Convention as an international treaty framework for copyright law, and it's been ratified in so many nations that reversing it would be a gargantuan task. Especially as it's backed by the WTO, so pulling out would AIUI trigger trade sanctions against the defecting nation ...

Oh, I'm not worried about that.

Only a few countries -- the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, those of northern and western Europe, and perhaps Japan and India -- seem to care about copyright. China and Russia apparently couldn't care less, and I suspect that the same holds true across much of South America, Africa, and Asia. If we can get a few major countries to withdraw from Berne, TRIPS, & co., the entire thing will collapse like a house of cards.

The WTO doesn't worry me either, as an American; we ignore it whenever it gets in our way, and we're big enough that we get away with it. (See e.g. the WTO ruling against the US concerning our homestyle exception, and how we've basically ignored the hell out of it) We may as well use this power for good.

You also missed a problem: how many copyrighted items do you generate per year? I'm serious.

Well, you probably mean copyrightable works (since all of my works in the public domain), but I know perfectly well that they must number in the tens of thousands a year, easily. Could be more; I like to doodle.

The same is true of everyone, really, since the bar to copyrightability is so low, and copyrights are granted upon the creation of an eligible work.

It's real problem!

Copyrights should only be granted when, and to the extent that, it is in the best interests of society. This means that since there is a public interest in having the most number of works created and published and in the public domain, copyrights should only be granted when they are necessary for causing a work to be created and published when it otherwise would not have been, and that they should be as small in scope and short in duration as possible, while still being an adequate incentive.

It's not possible to read the minds of authors and know for a fact whether one work would have been created and published regardless of copyright -- in which case it shouldn't be protected, since there's no public benefit -- and which wouldn't. Nor is it acceptable to have an opt-out system, since with rare exceptions such as myself, people who don't care about the economic value of a work (which is all that copyright is; a monopoly on much of the economic value) are also not going to care enough to opt-out and place their works in the public domain.

Thus an opt-in system where registration and other formalities are required in order to have a copyright is the only way to go. We rely on authors, who are in the best position to know whether copyright was a necessary incentive, to identify the particular works that merit protection, and by implication, which don't.

The major formalities of registration, deposit, and notice, also help: to preserve works, by having copies deposited in a government library (assuming they're doing their job); to clearly indicate what protection is being claimed for in the event of a later dispute; to put third parties on notice (at least constructively) that protection has been claimed for some work, and by implication, that it has not been claimed for other works, saving a costly, laborious, and never-quite-certain copyright search; avoiding orphan works, etc.

In the US at least, publication without registration caused a work to enter the public domain until 1978. Yet our creative industries thrived, which goes to prove that this is hardly an insurmountable obstacle for authors or publishers. Perhaps authors in countries that have had automatic copyrights for a longer period of time have just gotten lazy, but that shouldn't dictate policy. Implement an opt-in system and they'll quickly get themselves into shape. They'll have to!

Would it be necessary for bloggers to formally deposit a copy of every article they post, in order to assert copyright? For magazine/newspaper journalists? Or could copyright be registered by the publication, on behalf of the contributors? If so, when does it date from?

The main issue is whether or not they care. I'd bet you cash money that the vast majority of bloggers, if they were required to jump over even a very modest hurdle (a very simple form and a $1 fee) would not bother to seek any copyrights at all. The chief function of an opt-in system is to reveal which works have copyright related economic value that acted as an incentive to the author to create and publish them. Most works have no such value, and their authors know it. If copyrights are free and automatic, they'll accept them (unwittingly perhaps) but that doesn't change the nature of the works or the failure of copyright to act as an incentive. The result is to burden the public with the restrictions of copyright when it's entirely unnecessary, and in rare cases for authors to receive a windfall when a work that they would have created and published regardless of copyright turns out to have some copyright related value by sheer happenstance.

If they don't care about a given work's copyright status no matter how minimal the requirement of affirmative action on a per-work basis is, the actual requirements don't really matter.

But if you're curious, the answer is that so long as there is a requirement of affirmative action, and it satisfies various policy goals as described earlier, legislators or the Copyright Office can work out a variety of options for different circumstances.

The newspaper is an easier example to casually discuss, since there already is a special system in place for them. Basically, if it's an ordinary daily newspaper, where the articles are works made for hire or have been assigned to the paper, the newspaper can register a year's worth of issues in one go. If a particular reporter wants to keep the rights to his articles, then he's responsible for his own registrations (although I suppose the paper may offer some aid to him for this).

If this isn't a good way to go about doing it, then I'm sure that a different registration system can be devised. I'm not married to the current rules, and I'm happy to be pragmatic and generous… so long as works are registered in a timely fashion, and bulk registrations aren't so excessive as to defeat the purpose of having authors pick and choose which works they really care about, so that the public may enjoy the rest straightaway.

The term of copyright should represent a compromise between the interests of the creator and the interests of society

I'd have to disagree. The term should represent what's in the best interest of society only. The goal is the most works for the least cost to society, which means that while it's perfectly acceptable to give some copyright protection (provided that it yields a net public benefit) to authors, it's also perfectly acceptable to not give too much, even if this means some works won't be created and published. Such works would just come at too great a cost.

Copyright registries are a really bad idea, because (a) we create a lot more copyrightable works than most people realize, and (b) stuff gets dropped between the cracks.

As I said, that's exactly why they're an absolutely necessary idea. Few works that are copyrightable actually merit copyright. Registration is the best system we've got for sorting the wheat from the chaff.

313:

Well, really the usual suspects wrote the 1909 Act too, they just weren't being so crazy at the time, and some of the players were different. And they started working on the 1976 Act way back in the 1950's, IIRC. It's been a really long time since there's been an American copyright law that really had the public interest at heart, if there ever was one.

314:
One problem with requiring registration or renewal of copyright is that there are close to 200 separate jurisdictions worldwide, the administrative difficulties of maintaining copyright would be a major problem to individuals. Large businesses would find it a lot easier to handle the problems.

Well, that's not really too much of a problem. Most authors won't care about getting a copyright in a lot of those jurisdictions. Perhaps Charlie could tell us how well his books sell in, say, Burkina Faso, or Tajikistan, and how well he expects them to do there in the future. If sales are poor, and they required registration, he might not have bothered. (Much like inventors and businesses usually pick and choose where they want patents and trademarks, since it's impractical to get them absolutely everywhere, even after many decades of globalization and harmonization) No big deal, since copyright laws usually limit importation without the authorization of the copyright holder, lest the copyright be circumvented; he'd only be giving those fruitless markets, whilst keeping the good ones.

And anyway, I don't see any reason to do something as crazy as have automatic copyrights upon creation merely because individual authors aren't rich enough to have amazing resources at their disposal, or worse, merely because some businesses do. Are you going to suggest next that an individual ought to be allowed to whip up some homemade antibiotics without complying with drug safety laws because individuals can't cope with those regulations, but big businesses can? The merits of registration stand, regardless of whether some authors can't be arsed or have finite resources.

343:


The big New York publishers can give me something that, in the long term, is worth more than money: exposure. When this stops being the case, or when ebook sales exceed 50% of my income stream, expect me to revisit the question of self-publishing.

Exactly. At some point, I believe inevitably, Amazon and blogs will be that exposure. All this blather about money owed to whom and DRM is beside the point. Inevitably, and soon, publishers (at least for fiction) will be completely irrelevant. At that point, exposure will be simply via people finding and loving you. Good luck on that, it is a hard road. The blog is a great start. Most writers will resist, and only the biggest of them will survive.

You need to be ready for that, with the best publishing options for that end-game as possible. If not, you are toast. Sorry, it is inevitable. You see that but are complaining about it. Sorry, it is inevitable.

If it matters to you, I love you. I buy your books. I simply think you are not carrying the best part of your books, forward-thinking, to your marketing plans.

344:

There would be no problems if the publishers sold all books as talking rings from the year 802,701.

In other words, an advanced, dedicated hardware solution instead of that silly DRM software thingie.

345:

It's amazing how many nonsensical things people say they know about Amazon (almost all of which have been corrected by others). If people don't like buying from huge corporations that wield enormous power, that's perfectly reasonable. But the continuing barrage of claims about Amazon's horrible practices based on wishful thinking or one-time incidents. (For example, kind of, there were the recent stories about Amazon warehouses not having needed air-conditioning. Now, the stories were true and somewhat disturbing. But the media leaped on the story after Amazon had already fixed the problem. People only began making a big deal about it after it was no longer happening.)

Personally, I've wanted to but an e-book reader for several years now. I'd have bought a kindle years ago if it was compatible with e-pub format. But as everyone knows, it's not, I have kept buying physical books, usually not from Amazon. And I'm still trying to figure out what to do.

I'm now, for the first time, convinced that the Kindle format will stick around, because Amazon will stick around and enough Kindles have been sold to ensure that the format won't die out. But that's only one of my concerns, so I'm still not pulling the trigger this year.

As an author and someone who has worked in the publishing industry, I've been somewhat amused to hear publishers talk about how it takes almost as much money to make an e-book as a published book. Because for the last few years, all I heard from publishers was how much money returns cost them and how they wish they could have a distribution system without returns. Now that they have such a system, they no longer talk about much higher book prices are because of the returns system; now, they rarely mention the subject of returns as they argue that printing a book isn't that expensive so e-book prices can't be much lower than hard copy prices.

That's not to say that publishers don't spend any money on books - they do, and they deserve to set a fair price. But that price is certainly not at or above what Amazon charges for the physical book. Authors sometimes object to lower prices because then the authors get lower royalties; the problem, however, isn't the lower wholesale price but that authors deserve a higher percentage of the wholesale price as royalties. And there will still be profit left over for publishers if they know what they are doing. Unfortunately, I think Amazon has a much better idea of how to sell books and make profits for the publisher than the publishers themselves.The ideal price may be a bit higher than Amazon's $9.99 for certain books from publishers, but it's nowhere near as high as where the publishers want prices to be.

346:

And dont forget the other problem - regional lock out. I weant to get the newest Joe Haldeman book in the Marsbound Series, it is out in paperback and kindle in a week, IN THE US ONLY! I cant even pre order it on the Asia Pacific kindle store.
I would pay for this book if I could, but they wont sell it to me.
I also use an iPad and iPhone as my primary reader (using a combo of the Kindle App and iBooks) as the hardware kindle reader is like a music player that wont play MP3s. It took pirated MP3s to break the back of DRM encumbered .wma and .aac formats. Noone wanted to get a player that couldnt play their collection, so iPod had to play MP3, and eventually iTunes unlocked all the .aac files. I now have one and had bought much music from iTunes. Microsoft stayed with .wma and now they are killing the Zune.
I have the same issue with .epubs and the fact the kindle won't read them.

347:

The vast majority of people will buy from whoever is cheapest / most convenient. $8 beats $9 every time all other things being equal. And sometimes when not equal
True, for certain values of "true". If it is more or less equally convenient to buy from $store1 as from $store2 I'll buy from whichever is cheaper. If I have to go to both stores and establish that they both have $item, and the price, I'll likely not bother unless I can anticipate a significant saving by buying from the cheaper store.
With e-tailing my experience is that my basket comes to much the same price whether I buy it from Amazon, Play or somewhere else, and a typical basket will contain at least 2 books and 2 DVDs or CDs. Accordingly, I don't perceive either as "cheaper", and if one is likely to fill my whole order and the other only half of it, the one that can fill the whole order is way more convenient.

348:

#various nit-picking comments about my attempt to write "how I'd like to see copyright work".

It is or should be fairly clear that I am not a lawyer. Accordingly, anything I say should be viewed as a plain English "how I'd like $thing to work in practice", rather than an attempt to draft the underlying law.

349:

Just thought that this was an appropriate moment to drop these two links back into the thread, from OGH's previous blogs on publishing:
CMAP #2: How Books Get Made
CMAP #9: eBooks

There's a lot of folks continuing to post on the theme of "it's ridiculous to charge the same price for eBooks as hard copy"; I know that Charlie posted at least of these links further up-thread, but I suspect that the number of comments is now putting people off reading the whole lot.

350:

"I weant to get the newest Joe Haldeman book in the Marsbound Series, it is out in paperback and kindle in a week, IN THE US ONLY! "

Send the publishers a note telling them what a fan you are and how your only choice is to get a cracked version via torrent

351:

I am looking at Amazon.com right now and seeing "Rule 34" (Kindle version) for $12.99. Dunno where your $19.80 is coming from!

...

Ah, reading on I see your screen cap.

What you're seeing is the Australian price for the UK "export" Kindle edition in AU$, with sales tax on top. It is indeed a mammoth rip-off (£12.80?! For a trade paperback equivalent?) But all books are horrifyingly over-priced in Australia.

The giveaway is that the publisher is Hachette (aka Orbit) not Penguin (aka Ace).

352:

You're unclear on the concept of monopsony, I see.

353:

China and Russia apparently couldn't care less, and I suspect that the same holds true across much of South America,

Tell that to my Russian and Chinese publishers? (Hint: they pay. Not a great deal, but it's money.)

I notice that you use "should" a lot in your discussion. I hope you'll forgive me for saying this, but that's usually a marker for ideological prescriptivism rather than a willingness to engage with the practicalities of a problem -- and life is too short to waste on arguing with fanatics.

354:

Paper books are DRM, insofar as it's more expensive to duplicate (photocopy) the things than it is to just cough up the money for them.

The reason they're in trouble is because the supply chain has changed rapidly over the past 20 years and the substitutable (and infinitely cheap to duplicate) rivalrous version of the product has taken off like a bottle-rocket.

355:

I see a new tablet / book-reader, the Kobo Vox, is just out - saw one in a store this morning. Apparently also uses Android from Google.
Any thoughts on that?
ANd can you "buy" e-books from Amazon to out on it - what are the portability issues?
In other words, how easy is it to crack the DRM if you have to?

356:

Greg: please contact me. (Via email, not via the blog.)

357:

Tell that to my Russian and Chinese publishers? (Hint: they pay. Not a great deal, but it's money.)
IME (limited) both nations support the idea of individual copyright for, say, authors and film makers, but are less supportive of the idea of copyright vesting in $office_software_suite.

358:

Paper books are DRM, of a sort... and like other DRM, it's of limited effectiveness. Here's an interview with a guy who cracks it routinely, with a scanner and OCR, uploading the result to torrent sites.

(FWIW, 100 scans take about an hour, and can be done without full attention, e.g. while watching TV; you can get two pages per scan for small books. The guy spends longer than that proofing the result before uploading it to torrent sites --- "anywhere from five to forty(!) hours". Which, BTW, says something about the motivation of pirates --- to say they're doing it because they're cheap assumes that guys like this value their own time at nothing. They're doing it to get books in electronic form that aren't otherwise available that way --- or to get rid of the encumbrance of DRM.)

359:

Interesting conversation and some great points on several sides of this argument.

I merely wish to add that the ultimate power here rests in the hands of the consumers. We are actually the most ruthless members of the equation, as we consistently (as a whole) try to buy our books (in any format) as cheaply as possible. That aspect, combined with our ability (again, as a whole) to crack passwords, hack DRM, virally promote popular items, and determine where we spend our money all drive this process.

I gleefully bought my college texts used from Amazon for less than 10% of what they used to cost from the campus bookstores. I cheered and toasted when the local textbook sellers closed their doors. The distrust and anger I have toward being a victim of usurious loans and unreasonable prices will be instantly directed toward any companies who "try something".

So it is that this is an interesting dialogue, but it does not change the fundamental fact that the consumers are the force that ultimately prevails. Internet use has merely made this "market factor" quick enough for even the most dull-witted person to understand.

360:

My objection to DRM:

I own books printed over a century ago. Specifically, I have a 1910 auto service manual, folio sized, printed on something that looked like waxed garbage bag paper. The flyleaf says you can clean greasy handprints off the pages with a rag and some gasoline. I can open it and read it. As long as there's enough light, it operates as originally designed.

A few years back a friend bought a service manual for his new Audi. It was only available on CD, only ran on Windows XP, and required Redmond-style key code phoned in to the publisher, who then generated an unlock code.

He is mindlessly supportive of the "ebook" format. I asked him what he was going to do when he needed to upgrade the computer and the publisher was out of business or no longer supported the product. He first got a computer in 2005; to him the world has always run Windows XP or later, and he can't imagine anything else. It has always been this way, it shall always be that way.

He owns another vehicle made in 1990. If an ebook had been available then, it would probably have shipped on 3.5 and 5-1/4 floppy disks and run under DOS. But if there had been an ebook for his 1975 car, it might have been in some proprietary format on 9-track tape, for some subset of graphics terminals connected to a mainframe, there being no PCs in 1975.

As my personal horizon of "the other day" continues to recede, 1975 isn't *that* long ago...

361:

Well put sir!

My first user exposure to "a computer" was effected through a 33baud acoustic coupler (Modem, don't be facetious: That would have taken a BT engineer and about a day to install) and a teletype unit.

The 1975 car might even have had its manual on paper tape or punch cards!

362:

That was "...a 300 baud acoustic coupler..." of course!

363:

The US book chain used to run something like this:

1) author

2) agent (used by publishers to filter incoming content) (occasionally you could bypass the agent if you were lucky)

3) publisher (who makes the purchase, then hires someone to print the text)

4) Ingram (who maintain the "in print" list and warehoused backlist items)

5) bookstores (where you could actually get the end product)


What we have now is that bookstores are being replaced by, primarily, Amazon. And since there's no actual paper product, what Amazon is offering is:

a) a centralized, easily-checked listing of books in print

b) an online storefront


Looking at it that way... it looks like something an agent, or even the SFWA, could do easily enough.

Amazon may be the big gorilla in the forest... but it's not the only forest.

364:

Here's a copy of a comment I just posted to Facebook in response to LJ/SLJ Ebook Summit's request for comments on Mr. Stoss's blog post:

Mr. Stoss is mostly right. The ebook business resembles the PC-software business of the 1980s. Microsoft won because its operating system (platform) became dominant. Writers of applications had to write for Windows if they wanted to make a lot of money. Hardware makers had to sell PCs already loaded with Windows if they wanted to sell their machines to the most people. Of course, Microsoft makes its money from applications such as Office, not really from the Windows operating system. Selling applications to run on its own operating system is comparable to Amazon's recent behavior as a publisher of authors' works. Just as the non-Microsoft application developer wants his product to run on as many platforms as possible, so should publishers want their books to be read on as many platforms as possible. Eliminating DRM on ebooks would free publishers and readers from their dependence on Amazon as the sole or preferred supplier of ebooks. However, Mr. Stoss seems to think that would be the only consequence of eliminating DRM. That's naive. Just try to copy Windows or Office onto another computer. The publishers' dilemma is to maximize the number of platforms (ereaders) for their books without effectively giving every reader on Earth the easy opportunity to make as many copies of the books as they want to. Unfortunately for libraries, they have no direct role in influencing events in this arena. They've hired OverDrive to represent them to publishers and patrons. Regardless of what happens between Amazon and the publishers, the only way I see for libraries to gain leverage is to follow Eli Neiburger's advice (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqAwj5ssU2c) and invest in their own IT infrastructure for storing and distributing econtent.

365:

You're right. DRM and being locked into using the Kindle platform should be addressed as separate issues. If books for the Kindle did not have DRM, it wouldn't necessarily lead to more people reading those books on other brands of ereaders. But it certainly would lead to more people reading those books on their own Kindles without paying for the book.

366:

The guy spends longer than that proofing the result before uploading it to torrent sites --- "anywhere from five to forty(!) hours". Which, BTW, says something about the motivation of pirates --- to say they're doing it because they're cheap assumes that guys like this value their own time at nothing.

I should just note that last time I worked in a department with in-house typesetters and proofreaders, our rule of thumb was to proofread 50 pages/day (8 hours). So 40 hours represents a 250 page book done to professional standard by one proofreader. However, most novels these days are in the 300-400 page range, and -- in principle -- get two pairs of eyeballs.

The five hour proofread for a novel is basically a read-through at regular reading speed, and will probably miss most of the typographical mistakes.

367:

There's a case on software copyright before a British court where they have requested an opinion from the relevant European Court.

SAS Institute vs. World Programming Ltd.

It looks as though this is about an attempt to stretch copyright into areas which are on the fringes of patent law: copying the function of the program without access to the source code.

If the European Court of Justice were to go against Advocate-general Bot's opinion, this could be a big problem for Linux.

368:

Discussion of intellectual property often becomes confused as it serves two quite distinct purposes. Copyright, Patent, Design Right, Database Right &c. are designed to allow the producer of an easily copied product to benefit from the effort required to create the work in the first place. Trademark, Heraldry passing off &c. are designed to protect an identity and allow for the development of a reputation by giving an exclusive right to the use of certain symbols.

369:

When I bought my Kindle, I searched Amazon for something cheap and interesting to check things worked, I found a free-ebook of Kipling's Sea Warfare, a collection of a series of newspaper articles about the Royal Navy in WW1, up to the Battle of Jutland.

A feature of Kipling's writing is the starting of each article with a piece of verse, as this book does.

Dawn off the Foreland--the young flood making
Jumbled and short and steep--
Black in the hollows and bright where it's breaking--
Awkward water to sweep.
"Mines reported in the fairway,
"Warn all traffic and detain.
"'Send up Unity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock, and Golden Gain."

Like that.

Think is, this Amazon version completely botches the layout of those verses. They become barely readable, no more that rhythmless strings of words. Dawn off the Foreland--the young flood making Jumbled and short and steep--Black in the hollows and bright where it's breaking--Awkward water to sweep. "Mines reported in the fairway, "Warn all traffic and detain. "'Sent up Unity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock, and Golden Gain."

Go to look at the Gutenberg page and get a free Kindle book which isn't ruined, But don't expect Amazon to print a review that honestly describes a badly formatted ebook

They don't care about quality

370:

It looks as though this is about an attempt to stretch copyright into areas which are on the fringes of patent law: copying the function of the program without access to the source code.

This is what software and process patents do in the US. I though Europe was the same or similar.

371:

These discussions invariable turn edge cases into generalities.

I wouldn't dream of suggesting that wonderful fellow who spends all his time scanning books is deriving a profit but it's a fact that file lockers (Who do) incentivize uploaders monetarily.

Personally, I'm going to commit sacrilege and say that for creative works, copyright laws are largely fine the way they are (gasp!), I will not touch patents or copyright as applied to research or manufacture.

The inequality is in resources available to individuals vs. corporations, as usual. Legal action is a de facto prohibitive monetary punishment whether you're trying to initiate it or are on the receiving end of it for the average individual.

As such it is isomorphic to try to sue rapidshare for profiting off everything_charlie_stross_ever_wrote.zip or to be on the receiving end of a lawsuit from the Eric Blair estate. In both these cases, imho, OGH would (ought to be) be the winner, but the action itself is damaging.

I would like to see an EFF style outfit that provided individual, low resource creators with copyright protection in both these extremes. This would provide societal common good, which I take to mean "creators making more stuff for us".

372:

I'm also rather curious what "that wonderful fellow" (love the phrase!) actually does for a living? By my calculation (given that he said 50 books per month was a low point in his output) he must be spending at minimum around 7 to 10 hours a day on this "hobby", and possibly significantly more. Three options:
1) He's a regular Joe with a 9 to 5 job, who doesn't need much sleep and has no social life.
2) He's retired (which doesn't seem to fit the profile).
3) He's somewhat incumbent on the welfare state (the article's author seems to be US-ican, but no indication, of course, where the pirate calls home).
4) He's below school leaver age, and still no social life to speak of (again, tone of his responses does not seem to indicate this).

373:

Perhaps I should have said "control" instead of "own." But the goal (eyes on the prize, remember) is to read WHAT I choose, WHEN I choose, WHERE I choose, and HOW *I* choose, and to be able to stuff *anything* into Stanza regardless of race, creed, color, or previous condition of DRM-servitude.

I've never had to ask "Mother may I?" with paper books, and I certainly have no intention of putting up with such idiotic nonsense regardless of what the Corptocracy may prefer.

374:

Re: charlie's previous post on ebook prices

Ok, I read it.

You argue successfully that the appropriate price for an ebook has to include about equal hunks of money for the author and the publisher for pre production work, plus production and distribution. My brother in law does that for a living (geniusbookservices.com) and has told me similar numbers. Production, distributuion, and storage should run lower, fulfillment may, but probably not substantially.

I do object to ebook prices being at or substantially above the cost of (non loss leader) paper books, especially when the author take is no better, and often worse. I am not expecting big differentials - a buck on the mass market, a few bucks on the hardcover equivalent, less if the book is underpriced.

To be clear, who could see $10 as a hardcover-equivalent price? That is a trade paper price.

Anecdotal evidence: when mass market books hit $10 in paper, I got much more choosy. On the other hand, I buy $6 epubs sight unseen, and do not expect to see them until a year after publication. I bought Jennifer Morgue in trade, and would not have blinked at a similar trade-like priced epub at six months after hardcover. I bought Fuller Memorandum as soon as it came out, and expected to pay a hardcover equivalent price for the privilege.

I think the publishers have gone insane, though - pricing new best sellers at $14 in hardcover puts a cap on the perceived ebook price of perhaps $12, and that is perilously close to the likely trade price.

To veer back on topic, drm-free has value to me, at least. I am willing to pay more for the convenience of not having to drm strip before reading it on my iPad in iBooks, and for the ability to read on a nook were I to switch devices.

Scott

375:

It is indeed pretty easy these days for an agent, SFWA, or anyone else to put up an online storefront that offers electronic media for download (though it's not trivial to make it look professional, or run things at scale). But Amazon has some hard-won features that new entrants are hard-pressed to duplicate:

1) Selection. Whatever you want, so long as it's published in your country, odds are you can get it there.

2) The review database. Heaven knows there are plenty of bad ones, but even if you must read with the bozo filter set on high, they're still better than nothing. I've been known to check Amazon reviews at a physical store when deciding which of two books to buy, both sitting in front of me.

3) The suggestions stuff (people who bought this also bought that; you might like...). Again, hilariously off-base often enough, but it doesn't need to work all the time to be useful.

4) A polished selection of customer lures (occasional deep discounts, like the free-app-du-jour that shows up in their Android app store), to drag people back.

And of course, for ebooks:

5) A dedicated, special-purpose pipe right into the most widely deployed e-reader out there right now.

So, even a major publisher that tried to pull out of Amazon and manage ebook sales on their own would find themselves playing on a field that was very much slanted against them. Which is no accident --- Amazon spent hundreds of millions of dollars at least, possibly billions, on the relevant earthworks.

From one perspective, it's easy to sympathize with the publishers, who now face a very tough fight. From another, though, consider how we got here: it's the result of Amazon having a plan, and being willing to gather resources, spend money, and take risks to achieve it, while the Big Six (and their corporate overlords) have been unwilling to experiment in even limited ways with anything that would cut into existing revenue streams, for as long as they could avoid it. Now that they can't avoid it, they find themselves facing unfair disadvantages against opponents who have been preparing in the meantime. But it didn't have to be like that. They could have prepared too.

376:

Re264:

10% on hardbacks as the "made of matter" overhead seems to fit. 5% on mass market, or about 40 cents? Really?

Wow - I knew mass market paperbacks were cheap to print and distribute, but I was not aware the margins were that tight.

Ok, then, in my last post, make the differential "a buck or two for hardcover equivalent, and well under a buck for mass market"

DRM-free having a nonzero value to me still stands...

Scott

377:

> But don't expect Amazon to print a review that honestly describes a badly
> formatted ebook

Amazon prints lots of reviews for badly formatted ebooks. When Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld novel, Snuff, came out a few months ago, the formatting of the Kindle book was truly awful. My "favorite" error was the consistent lack of a preceding space before the word "people." Thus, the poor Kindle reader had to contend with "anypeople" and "wherepeople." Many reviews complained bitterly about the lousy Kindle production and lowered their scores to the point that other reviewers complained that Sir Terry was getting a bum rap from something out of his control (of course, other reviewers simply hated the book because they thought Commander Vimes, Lady Sybil and Wiilikins were not themselves).

A month or so after release, Amazon provided a much, much improved version of the Kindle release. Amazon sent an email message asking if I wanted the revised version to be automatically sent to my Kindle to replace the old version. In what seemed to me an obvious reaction to the 1984 affair, they would only do this if I responded affirmatively to the email message (and the response had to come from my registered email address).

Give Amazon some credit...

378:

The pirate's once-over takes a lot less time than a full professional editing job, but he's only scanning for "typesetting" errors, which is also rather less work than a full copy edit. And he may well be doing more along those lines than the Big Six do for some of their official ebook conversions, to judge by complaints about specific titles elsewhere. Even the quickie five-hour scan would almost certainly have caught the pervasive "wherepeople" and "anypeople" typos reported by Steve.Grandi --- in a Pratchett book at that.

379:
I should just note that last time I worked in a department with in-house typesetters and proofreaders, our rule of thumb was to proofread 50 pages/day (8 hours). So 40 hours represents a 250 page book done to professional standard by one proofreader. However, most novels these days are in the 300-400 page range, and -- in principle -- get two pairs of eyeballs.
The five hour proofread for a novel is basically a read-through at regular reading speed, and will probably miss most of the typographical mistakes.

I don't mean to derail the discussion, but this is precisely the issue I was getting at wrt to the viability of home fabbing.

A big chunk of the possessions near and dear to me (and doubtless just so much worthless junk to anyone else) are my thousands of old paperbacks carefully tucked away in Xerox boxes. Now a lot of my stash was physically printed in the 60's or earlier and the quality standards back in the day for trade paperbacks being what they were, there's been some, ahem, deterioration in the original product (I won't say what my wife calls them, this blog being a part of polite society.) What I wouldn't give to have that old collection reconstituted in all it's original glory, the faded and creased cover art restored to it's original - and usually quite tacky - vibrancy! Possibly even in a handsome hardback format. A man can dream. Is such a thing possible?

Home fabbing to the rescue! Say what you will about the technical issues of fabbing guns or clothing or bits of complicated precision machinery; these aren't any great obstacles for this type of project. The tolerances are low, the input materials are common and cheap, and they are also easily workable.

Unfortunately, as Charlie points out, even if you accept that last sentence as a given and even if you assume that your home artisan has the necessary expertise to carry off any given project, you still have to spend on the order of hundreds of hours to get the fiddly bits right. I wouldn't be satisfied with blurry or off-centered reproductions of these fabulous covers for example, or a text that had half a dozen typos on every page, or a binding where pages are sticking together or halfway already falling out.

But you know, that's real work, and it takes some real effort to get that sort of thing right, as opposed to halfway right or what-are-you-complaining-about-I-did-it-for-free right. Even if you assume away all the other supposedly more troublesome and more technical issues that are the supposed obstacles to practical home fabbing. And of course, while I might take on this sort of thing as personal labor of love, there's no way I could make a living doing this sort of reconstitution for other people unless I charged hundreds of dollars per recovered volume. Unless I could somehow hire a crew of specialists, buy up some dedicated machinery. Then, possibly, if I ran off a few thousand copies of a freshly reproduced old book I might be able to charge as little as ten to twenty dollars a unit and still make a decent living. Of course, since I'm now doing this to make money as opposed for my own pleasure, I've got to buy permission from the original owners of the copyright . . . Wait a minute. I thought we were talking about home fabbing.

And that is mostly what you're paying for when you buy a standard trade edition of a book. The time and the expertise of the professionals to do the job right, along with the distribution network that amortizes the costs of publication down to the ten to twenty dollars per physical book your average buyer is willing to pay. The actual paper and ink? Not so much.

Huh. Maybe the (very real) technical objections to home fabbing aren't the biggest obstacles to it's widespread adoption after all ;-) As a very wise man once said, there's a reason big organizations exist.

380:

I believe in the oral tradition and the folk process, and the freedom to delve into that vast treasure trove of PD songs and rework them into something new without someone breathing down my neck about ownership. If any of my own songs are liked enough that others may sing it, I'd be inclined to put them into the PD, because to me the fact that they might be sung is more important than getting money from it.

HOWEVER, I also respect those who wish to retain copyright of their work, and to be paid for it. And not everyone can afford to jump through the hoops to register copyright all over the place, even if they come up with gems. I think that anything a person creates is theirs by the very act of creating, regardless of its worth, and that they should not have to pay out or fill in paperwork for it to be so. Just because it exists and is shared with the world by its creator does not mean it is the world's plaything.

I do believe it is in the public interest for things to come out of copyright after a reasonable period of time, and while I do not agree that copyrights should extend to paying the family of the creator after death, yet I do see Charlie's point about people being bumped off for their work.

At the end of the day, we put a bit of ourselves as we are now into everything we do. 10 years from now it might be that that bit of ourselves looks to be the work of a stranger rather than our own. But it is there at the start, so our work belongs to us from the start. It isn't orphaned until we claim it. And if others think it has value, then we should get a say in what is done with it and be compensated should others make money from it. It is the individual's baby first, then the public can play later.

So yes, I think opt-out is better than opting in. Probably the only thing I think that on.

381:
So, even a major publisher that tried to pull out of Amazon and manage ebook sales on their own would find themselves playing on a field that was very much slanted against them. Which is no accident --- Amazon spent hundreds of millions of dollars at least, possibly billions, on the relevant earthworks.

Exactly. What's being riffed on here and the point of my last post is Yet Another Trope for the 21st century - the rediscovery and widespread recognition amongst the general public that Organization Counts. Networks über alles.

Yes, the new technology is nice, the new technology is good. But at the end of the day, what really counts is organization. Sure you get social phenomena like the OWS movement which probably wouldn't have been so successful or so large without the requisite enabling communications technology. But what will that sort of demonstration really accomplish:

There is a lesson here. No matter how well-intentioned the revolutionaries and no matter how successful the revolution, at the end of the day organizational power will step in to win the day. It always does. That organizational power can be a force for good or for ill. But especially in democratic societies, the ability to leverage organized support toward specific ends will always trump anarchic mass sentiment.

That's in a very timely political context of course. But the same thing applies whether you're distributing physical commodities or political power. What's being discussed here is a particular case of the general; what's really the issue is how much a such a modern network should cost, who should pay for it, and what allowable impositions enjoying the force law may be made on those using it.

382:

To scan a page
To get all the words exactly, 100% correct
To reproduce exactly the original layout, cover art and typesetting in an ebook format

This is technology problem.

It is currently about 75% solved and will trend toward 99% solved in the next two-three years

Hardly anyone will be willing to pay extra for that additional 1%

Any argument that is based around humans being at all part of this loop is doomed

The same technology that enables this will also make things like copy editing and typesetting about 10% of the work they used to be.

We can build computers that win at Jeopardy people, I think we can handle this

383:

@381 there are many kinds of organization, some are hierarchical some are distributed in nature and do not require a hierarchy. Distributed organizational schemes will beat our hierarchical ones when the cost of communication between nodes falls to zero. What the new technology does is not create organization, but lower the cost of communication to close to zero. A flock of starlings is a very organized thing and reacts very fast, much faster then say a corporation.

You are witnessing the birth of a new kind of human organization. It will eventually eat the old one

384:

Yes, the new technology is nice, the new technology is good. But at the end of the day, what really counts is organization.

Which is why I've come to the conclusion that the natural trend is towards monopolies or very small numbers of entities controlling the "thing" being discussed. Especially if it is a technology based industry. Sometimes the monopoly can fall apart over times but even then it typically just moves to a new small set of players.

Telecommunications, computers, steel, railroads, shipping in general, airlines, books, merchandising in general, cars etc... Fields tend to concentrate because it is both economical and some owners tend to just decide to cash out to more driven ones.

385:

Just curious, but could you provide links or evidence beyond the anecdotal that supports all of these assertions? Otherwise it sounds a lot like wishful thinking instead of actual prediction.

386:

As far as evidence goes, we are kind of doing it right now as our community comes together to help one of our members solve a problem that an organized hierarchy (publishing industry) is completely befuddled by.

You can take my statement as opinion if you like, I certainly don't have access to a formal proof

This is probably a good starting place for the theory, I can't remember the name of the book I read, it was a couple years ago and it wasn't all that good really, more of a computer science text about bees.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_intelligence

387:

Perhaps it's just my natural cynicism, but I'm not sure that the self-organisation present in this community is typical of human behaviour on the web. Look what happens to forums that are not moderated -- Charlie's hand is pretty light here, but he does have rules and he does enforce them; without that, I don't think this would be such a civil place, sadly.

I also have to apologise that I have a knee jerk reaction to the "we're X years away from having technology Y that will solve all problems related to Z", I'm just wary of putting numbers to problems that may require more than a linear extension of an existing solution.

388:

oh sure, i am throwing numbers around wildly, however I'll be pretty surprised if that particular problem is not liked pretty darn soon

the thing about online communities is there are MANY variations, they compete, and self optimize to solve certain problems. unsuccessful ones die

also just because an organization is distributed does not mean that some nodes cannot play special functions. Charlie is an example of that around here, certainly.

389:

Yep, Australian book prices are horribly overpriced. seems that extortion we suffer has been extended to the Amazon store.

Looks like I will stick with dead tree versions from book-depository. At least there I can pay UK prices.

390:
To get all the words exactly, 100% correct To reproduce exactly the original layout, cover art and typesetting in an ebook format

And when we achieve a machine that can handle that, its name will be Skynet.

391:

(Responding to post 366)
I find I do about 60 pages a day, final copy. But I'm an amateur for the PG Australia. (I tend to specialize in 19th century/very early 20th Century Utopian novels. And I do them in HTML, versus more modern formats.) You'll be very hard pressed to find any typos in them. (As opposed to my chat typing...)
But there are theoretically easier ways to proof from existing books (note, I said theoretical).
I use an Optiscan 3600 and ABBYY Fine Reader 9 when I work at this. Finereader 9 highlights anything it isn't sure of. For speed sake I scan a block of pages, then OCR. If it would pause for corrections on each page it highlights, one could cut probably 60% of the proofing time. However, doing as 150 separate screen and then glueing them all back together, is even slower. Now if Optiscan had a scanner that scanned at 1200 dpi at a reasonable speed...

My next work will be The Indians of North America, (with 120 Illustration) published between 1836 and 1844...)

392:
This neatly solves several problems:

Since most works have no copyright related economic value, and since authors are the best judges of whether specific works have such value, and whether such value was a factor in causing them to be created and published, requiring registrations lets us avoid granting unnecessary copyrights.

"Charlie bit my finger" is putting those kids through college, in your brave new world that money would go to a couple well deserving corporations. Problem solved!

393:

Exactly so. I would prefer to not buy any more dead-tree editions but, when my under-funded public library cannot provide, Book Depository is usually by far the cheapest option. Not only that, it is far more likely than iBooks or the Kindle store to have the book I want and ships to me in just over a week, rather than the 5 weeks to 3 months of Amazon.

394:

On copyright extending past death - it's not just an issue for widows and orphans, it's also an issue for older authors. Helen Hooven Santmyer was ?88 when "And Ladies of the Club" was published - if copyright ended when you died, the publisher might not have risked buying it at all, since she might have died before it got out the door, and certainly would have paid her a lot less for it because their expected profits would be lower.

And some of you have the "assassinating authors for their backlist" part wrong - if you're Stephen King, they want to keep you alive because they expect you'll continue to produce more best-selling books in the future. It's the authors who've written a few good books but have run out of new stories to tell that have to start watching the shadows behind them...

395:

"Yep, Australian book prices are horribly overpriced. seems that extortion we suffer has been extended to the Amazon store.

Looks like I will stick with dead tree versions from book-depository. At least there I can pay UK prices. "

Not so, unfortunately. It turns out that although the prices are displayed in our dollars, the actual figure is recalculated by the web page depending on where in the world your browser says you are.

So if I look up the Atrocity Archives, I get $7.57 (must get around to grabbing it at some point :) If I do the same thing via a proxy, I not only get a different price in another currency, but it ISN'T the AUD price converted to whatever that currency is.

It's still a lot cheaper than buying locally, but nobody should be unaware of how it really works.

396:

On editing vs. copyediting - I'm surprised by the number of people who talk about self-publishing who don't seem to grok the difference. By the time I was in 10th grade, I could write grammatically perfect, impeccably spelled text in English and passable imitations of it in Latin and simple German, modulo the usual inability to see one's own typing errors, and do a tolerable job of pre-internet fact-checking and technical accuracy verification, but that doesn't mean I could tell a story or write an essay that you'd actually want to read.

Hiring a copyeditor isn't going to get you any advice on plot or pacing or character development or even remind you that if somebody's going to shoot a gun in Chapter 3 you might want to ostentatiously put it on the mantel in Chapter 1 and have some reason that the intended target's girlfriend's cellphone wasn't working during Chapter 2 because otherwise she would have just warned the idiot about it, and not to bruise the fourth wall too badly in the process.

Sometimes editors can do that for you, and other times they're doing their publishing house and its readers a service by writing you an appropriate but necessary rejection letter.

397:

Agree wholeheartedly with this, and I think the explanation is the same as many things in this day and age - apparently anyone can just bash something out (or knock it up, if we're talking about physical stuff), and it'll be perfect first time, no matter their lack of experience, knowledge, or brains. The internet merely encourages this; when there's so much crap floating around out there, then that must surely be as good as you need to be.

398:

Would that be a huge issue? You could expect a moderately healthy 88-year-old to live at least a few more years, and I'd expect that the sales of a book taper off after a few as well. If so, the publisher's difference in expected revenue would be modest at most.

399:

I thought proofreaders did way more than just fixing typos. In particular they fix grammar, style, spacing, layout, and even try to notice semantic-level inconsistencies.

Meanwhile, correcting for OCR problems when the OCR has been per-page can be 80-90% done by checking the words in the global vocabulary that appear only once or twice. And the rest probably tends to jump in your face since an automatic substitution is usually deadly on read, compared to the kind of typos humans make.

Or in other words, system errors are inhuman, and we notice them easily because of that.

OG.

400:

None of us know when we are going to die. Having a fixed post-mortem copyright period guarantees the publisher has a minimum time to profit from a contract.

Few works have a profitable life after ten years. That might be the situation where a register-for-extension makes some sense. Ten years after death, with an option for an extension.

The elephant in the room, in the USA, seems to be "work for hire".

Was there really anything underhand about Orwell's "1984" in the USA? Copyright for that seems to be the standard duration for a work published under the old system, and still in copyright when they switched to the Berne system.

401:

There is very little futurism and vision in this thread, I'd say.

Let me fix that.

Let's look at book pricing from different perspective.

Charlie wrote a book.

Reader reads it. Spends, say, 10 hours on it.

10 hours which could have been used productively, earning even at minimum wage, something like 72 dollars.

Multiply this by number of readers (it doesn't matter was the book pirated or not).

We arrive to total value of time spent by readers on reading Charlie's book close to several million dollars.

Once we see that it's consumer's time spent on product which is really worth the money, we can begin to think over ways to monetize it.

Since there will be absolutely no privacy in the future, we can safely assume that appropriate technology will be found.

402:

Quick update ...
Google "Advanced Search" is still there - but they've half-hidden it.
Click on the Gear-wheel in top-right of their home field, and you go there ....

SoV @ 379
"Home fabbing to the rescue!" re books.
Wonderful short story/novella in an ancient copy of "Asimov's" (which I can't find right now) where the newly-installed net/puter for an elderly lady re-constitutes a copy of "The Three Musketeers" - and then gets interesting ideas....

403:

What is the justification for the "after death" part? What makes a lifetime protection a reasonable trade in the first place?

OG.

404:

A solution already exists: product placement. All Charlie`s protagonists drink Coca-cola and drive Ford.

405:

Wait, why make it postmortem at all, and not just a fixed period?

406:

Ok, I agree with Dave's basic point that a badly formatted poem is worse than useless!

However, Amazon do print negative reviews; check this link, and do not buy the book!
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Go-Faster-Graphic-Design-Racing/dp/3899552792/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

407:

Actually, such a format already exists: it's called PDF, and it is absolutely shite for ebooks because (a) PDF files tend to be large, and (b) PDF isn't designed to re-scale itself to a different size of display device -- it's not intrinsically re-flowable, so if you try to read a PDF page image set in 10 point type for an A-format paperback on a mobile phone, you'll get a phone-screen-sized window on a larger page. Which sucks. On an iPad, however ...

408:

Regarding the OCR and error-correction thread: there are people with significant interest in improving this area. They've also got pull with a CS Department interested in computer vision...

409:

We've already been there.

Fixed period has some benefits. The drawbacks are numerous.

Firstly, those of us who produce copyrightable material may be producing as many as 3-5 works per day -- all of which would need registering with a date at which copyright kicks in.

Secondly, when does the copyright clock start ticking -- when I type THE END at the end of a manuscript, when the publisher puts the finished book on sale, when the Estonian translation goes on sale ...?

Thirdly, there are around 200 nations on this planet. Most fixed-term copyright schemes historically required registration of copyright (this is one of the reasons the Berne Convention on "life plus X" works -- it does away with copyright registries) -- do I have to register "Accelerando" 200 times to prevent someone in, say, New Zealand rolling the presses and thumbing their nose at me?

Fourthly, as the copyright clock counts down to zero, the residual value of the copyrighted material may diminish dramatically. Say we have a 28 year copyright term. 27 years ago I wrote a timeless best-seller. It is 12 months from coming out of copyright. Disney have their eyes on it and want to make a movie. Should they (a) pay me $1M for the rights, or (b) hunker down and wait 365 days, then start filming their blockbuster and leave me to starve in the gutter? (If I'm already dead then obviously I couldn't care less about this scenario, but if I'm still alive and in my poverty-stricken twilight years ...)

Final note: the old US copyright system, with a copyright registry and fixed/renewable term, was used by the publishing industry to grotesquely rip off non-US authors as recently as the 1970s. As a model it had huge drawbacks. That's not to say that the current Berne Convention system doesn't also have huge drawbacks, but they're different ones: I'd much rather look for a new and better system than go back to one that didn't work.

410:

Possibly some standardized version of Compulsory Licensing would be a good compromise- under which if I wanted to make, say, "Singularity Sky- The Musical", I could...knowing that there was a set schedule of royalties I'd be obligated to make...presumably set high enough I'd be motivated to negotiate for lower ones.

Turns criminal offenses into ones that can be resolved through civil law or arbitration, and still ensures the compensation of the copyright holder.

411:

Has it been explicitly pointed out that DRM is about preventing illegal publishing?

That article about the serial scanner dude makes the equivalence between what he's doing and what the average person might do when downloading a pirated copy, but it's not that at all, he's uploading, publishing hundreds of books, to a potential audience of millions

The act of scanning and uploading a book is overwhelmingly assymetric with the act of finding a digital copy and downloading it, and yet it is presented as essentially the same kind of little misdemeanour. It isn't!

I agree copyright shouldn't be the problem of the consumer, but the fact is nowadays the consumer has the power to be a de facto publisher and they need to be aware that it's entirely reasonable to restrict that capability.

Maybe folks will be more understanding once they have their cat videos stolen...

This is not a joke, by the way, cute cat videos that go viral are worth money, and they get pirated, to steal some of that money. Welcome... to the world of tomorrow!!

412:

Registries are rubbish, we agree on that. But, somehow, the copyright terms for companies seem to work, and they're based on creation and/or publication date.

Meanwhile, I disagree that society should give you an unlimited in time (from your point of view) control on all of your intellectual works and their derivatives. Your works *should* fall into public domain within your lifetime (unless you're so old that you die before expiration, of course), and other people should be able to build upon them after that. Or at least that's my point of view.

A side effect of the current nutso copyright regime is that most people are ignoring it at that point, so it's just dying on the vine. When 90%+ of the population routinely violates copyright without even noticing half the time, enforcement is eventually going to go take a hike.

OG.

413:

You should be!

414:

"Has it been explicitly pointed out that DRM is about preventing illegal publishing? "

I don't think so, but in any case I say http://xkcd.com/488/ to claims like that.

415:

Did anyone link to Dean Baker's proposal for the Artistic Freedom Voucher?

416:

somehow, the copyright terms for companies seem to work, and they're based on creation and/or publication date.

Really? Then why are so many reels of silent 1900s-1930s movies on nitrate film stock decaying in vaults because the archives that hold them can't identify the current rightsholders (after multiple corporate bankruptcies and mergers) but are terrified of being sued into a smoking hole in the ground (because the material is obviously still covered by somebody's copyright)?

417:

"Even the quickie five-hour scan would almost certainly have caught the pervasive "wherepeople" and "anypeople" typos reported by Steve.Grandi --- in a Pratchett book at that."

Forget a 'quickie' fie-hour scan - spell check would have caught most of those.

418:

Reasonable point on the distinction between copy-editing and editing in the larger sense story advice, and so forth. Particularly since, in fiction, the story seems to be more important to me than the details of the copy. I've had the opportunity to read work-in-progress drafts of books that were later published, and generally enjoyed the two pretty much the same. One rationalization would be to say that if the story isn't strong enough to carry me over the occasional typo or grammatical flub, then the story's got problems, and fixing the grammar won't help. But in any case, the upshot seems to be that I value professional polish less than the pros do themselves.

(FWIW, inconsistency in character, plot, background, and so forth does bother me --- but professional editors aren't the only source of help in these matters. It's not uncommon these days for authors to have a "crit group" of peers and the occasional fan to try things out on.)

So, that's me. How general is that?

One possible data point would be the popularity of fanfic on the net at large, which doesn't get professional editing (almost by definition; one definition of fanfic is "illegal reuse of characters"). Another would be that people are willing to buy "official" Kindle conversions that are pretty dinged up.

Yet another would be to look at what's going on in technical books. This is a field where you might expect professional flyspecking to matter more than in fiction --- if the details are wrong, stuff just breaks. Nevertheless, technical publishers are increasingly offering access to unedited and partially edited work in progress, because there's customer demand for it. The Pragmatic Programmers' "beta books" program has been successful and spawned imitators; in fact, as of last year, they'd arranged to run rough drafts through POD machines as their "Beta on Paper Program". This isn't an ideal case for what economists would call a "revealed preferences" test, because beta buyers also get the final draft when it's available. But I don't think you get updates with "beta on paper", and yet there are people who still buy them.

The upshot? There clearly is a difference, as OGH has repeatedly said, between a manuscript and a finished book. But for me at least, I'm not sure that text polishing is where a traditional publisher adds the most market value --- as opposed to packaging (cover design, etc.), arranging production, and marketing.

(Marketing in particular has been a major value-add in the US lately: Which books show up in stores was effectively decided by buyers for major retail chains talking to publishers' salesmen, and publishing through the Big Six gives you a respected advocate in that conversation. But with ebooks and Amazon, which stocks everything, "getting past the chain buyer" is no longer a point where publishers can add value. Which makes their other value-adds more important by comparison. But that's another rant...)

419:

Amazon don't proofread kindle ebooks -- they're notorious for running a 100% automatic file conversion pipeline. Anything remotely non-standard in the input file causes it to break, entertainingly -- and no human eyeball checks the output until it goes on sale.

My understanding is that these days the big six supply Amazon (and the other ebook stores) with compliant epub files. (At least, they're theoretically compliant -- they're produced by external typesetting bureaux.) Which then get fed into the buggy robot sausage machine for conversion into something Amazon can squeeze out the door. I'd bet that the Pratchett/Snuff typo was the result of using an optional hyphenation code or a non-breaking space or something equally silly; installed by a lazy typesetter to fix a run in a dead tree edition, missed when generating the output epub because it was (a) standards compliant (i.e. used the right character codeset), (b) invisible to the naked eye when previewing the DTP file on screen, and (c) the epub reader they looked at the file in didn't have the same bug as Amazon's file filter and displayed it correctly.

420:

I'd like to do more, but I suspect you missed the bit about having to take a 50% pay cut (or worse) in order to do so.

421:

That's actually a perfect example of the asymmetry I was talking about. Private copy is a recognized part of many jurisdictions, making or obtaining a private copy of something you've already paid for is not in fact what makes you a criminal.

What XKCD does is neglect the other actor in this exchange - Probably quite honestly because the author is a whiz kid capable of breaking DRM on his own, but in a more typical case the average joe goes to warez.info (And braves the popups and toolbar installs) to achieve the same result.

In affect the bait and switch is to protect warez.info from attack by presenting the end user as the victim when the target should be the pirate publisher not the pirate end user.

DRM that restricts in those ways is a customer service issue that is being spun out into an attack against fundamental rights. No one objects to DRM when it's done right, as in Steam, for example.

but are terrified of being sued into a smoking hole in the ground (because the material is obviously still covered by somebody's copyright)?

I don't know about this. Are there any copyright issues in restoration of a single object? Methinks they doth protest too much. Do they want to restore in order to release a commercial edition of the restored prints? Well if they don't have the bottle to go ahead and do that, then they should solicit donations or grant money for the simple non-commercial restoration. OR donate the prints to an outfit that's willing.

I can see that restoration in this case might involve making copies to a more durable medium but... it's another edge case.

422:

Granny's computer which reads the three Musketeers - you're thinking of Realtime by dkm. (And I can't help mentioning, since his publisher lost interest he's selling his own novels as DRM-free ebooks).

423:

Amazon ebooks give you less freedom than paper books
(see http://stallman.org/articles/ebooks.pdf).
I don't think new technology should be considered
an advance if it is a step backward in our rights,
so I reject these ebooks 100%. Please join me,
for your freedom's sake.

424:

For the Pratchett mess there is no excuse for that but rank stupidity. The document doubtlessly got created electronically and copyedited electronically, so the fact that somewhere along the line all these errors got introduced means the process broke. Things like that should not happen

For older books there is more of an excuse since the electronic copies for many of these never existed or no longer exist, so you have to OCR it. Which is still imperfect software, mostly because no one that was good at software gave shit about it up until a few years ago

now you have google, amazon, IBM, various CS departments and all the major intelligence agencies kicking the door down on OCR. I imagine it probably is ALREADY fixed just not fixed in the public domain yet.

425:
Amazon ebooks give you less freedom than paper books (see http://stallman.org/articles/ebooks.pdf). I don't think new technology should be considered an advance if it is a step backward in our rights, so I reject these ebooks 100%. Please join me, for your freedom's sake.

Interesting piece, although it would have been smarter if, rather than using Amazon specific examples and saying they are "fairly typical" of ebook sellers in general, RMS had actually listed the behaviour of a few other companies as well. If a problem is across the board, give examples across the board. Also, highlighting the praiseworthy companies rather than just pointing to the free as in beer, out-of-copyright ebooks of Project Gutenberg.

I think perhaps more awareness should be made of all the anti-DRM sites people have mentioned here. Maybe a list of decent ebook sellers somewhere to help people decide where to shop?

426:

The problem with the anti-DRM sites is that the kind of people that are pissed off about DRM are often pissed off enough to just go torrent them. Or buy them and then torrent them, if torrenting makes them feel guilty.

It will be interesting to see if Apple and Amazon eventually just force the publishers to rip the drm off, like they did with itunes and music. Once amazon figures out it's futile as a mechanism to lock people into a specific device, it turns into nothing but added cost.

427:

Leaving aside practicalities involved, putting governments in charge of the purse strings for the arts is a terrible idea.

And popularity based too, oh my.

428:

Charlie writes:

Fourthly, as the copyright clock counts down to zero, the residual value of the copyrighted material may diminish dramatically. Say we have a 28 year copyright term. 27 years ago I wrote a timeless best-seller. It is 12 months from coming out of copyright. Disney have their eyes on it and want to make a movie. Should they (a) pay me $1M for the rights, or (b) hunker down and wait 365 days, then start filming their blockbuster and leave me to starve in the gutter? (If I'm already dead then obviously I couldn't care less about this scenario, but if I'm still alive and in my poverty-stricken twilight years ...)

This was the US formula - with an optional 28 year extension, covering the "poverty-stricken twilight years" scenario to a large degree - for 150-something years.

It seemed to work ok for writers.

This is all a balancing act. There are legitimate "reward the author for their work" issues in play, I think everyone agrees on that. But let's be realistic - time value of money and the reality of the market conditions make your corner case of the 27 year old classic and Disney movie the 0.001 percentile case. Nearly all of the money that nearly all of the authors get off nearly all of the works is front-loaded enough that time value of money doesn't even play into it (other than the economics of publisher advance / lead time issues, but that's not authors' problems per se...). For the slim margin where long-term income streams matter, time value of money usually means that most of the income still is up front, from any rational economic standpoint.

If you fail to invest / save your early returns then late returns may be finanically significant in declining years, but that's a life / economic balance issue not a long term economic analysis of the copyright return for authors.

I don't have it, but I suspect that a time-value-of-money analysis of actual author returns on written works would show that the value of longer copyright probably falls off rapidly past 3, 4, 5ish years. I would strongly suspect that you'd get 80% of revenues or more by 3 years.

Yes, once every few years someone loses that Disney bet, but that's across hundreds of thousands of authors. Value per year per author of that one event is about enough for a Starbucks coffee per year per author.

I understand why the copyright term is longer than the economic return term. It's possible that total author income for the real huge sellers in out years is enough to distort the picture for those authors enough that the total economics across the industry shifts. But the long-long-long term stuff? All I see that being valuable for based on what I've seen is Hollywood making life hard on everyone else.

If I'm wrong and it really does make your economic return significantly better to have longer terms, I'd like to know what term you think you can really justify, in economic terms, for actual authors...

429:

Well, adaptations are one way for the work to be suddenly far more profitable than it ever was in it's original form. There's this unspoken assumption that the retention of the copyright means the work is stuck in a vault and not shared with anyone ever by the grinchlike author, but I'm not seeing that in the real world.

What benefit to society at large if the lord of the rings is public domain? New line cinema can knock licensing costs off it's budget, but the movies won't cost us less at the box office, or be copyright free themselves. Maybe we'll get a few low budget parasite adaptations, like the ones that come out whenever Disney adapts a classic. And a few publishers get to run royalty free editions of the books.

Aside from the schadenfreude of seeing Tolkien's descendants cut off and the business built around managing the rights shut down, how are we winning exactly?

430:

This was the US formula - with an optional 28 year extension, covering the "poverty-stricken twilight years" scenario to a large degree - for 150-something years.

It seemed to work ok for writers.

Nope. Not if they were bilked out of their copyright registration. (Which happened more often than you might think.) Let alone if they weren't American: what do you think Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance" was about? (Allegedly "Penzance" was originally "San Francisco" ...)

431:

And which Government, and at which time?

As of this morning there was a UK news report on BBC 4 Radio upon Charitable contributions and the Financial Horrors that afflict us and their effect upon Charitable Offerings. As I recall Medical Research was High on the list of voluntary charitable contributions- which I regard as being disgraceful, given that The State in the U.K. should have progressed to the point at which Medical Research was massively supported in the interest of the Defence of the Realm/People with charity being unnecessary.

We don't ask for Voluntary charitable contributions for cruise missiles in the interest of National Defence these days so why the need for voluntary donations for research into, and treatments for,say, Cancer,or mental illness?

The Arts apparently linger far behind in the Donation stakes here in the U.K. and whilst I'm biased in their favour I ... oh I dunno, shouldn't people pay for admission to the Royal Opera House without public subsidy for their seats? Not that I'm in favour of subsidising opera but I can think of Arts that deserve State Support so as to reduce the cost of my tickets.

432:

oil on the fire:

* one set of text versions of a vampire-porn author comes with a rant by the pirate explaining how much work they had to do cleaning the text into English, from whatever the publisher let out.

* there are several authors I own 1-3 charity shop paperbacks of their series. I would never finish catching up by buying the charity shop books. A fat ebook torrent means I bought the latest hardback.

* the Vance Integral Edition.

* the treepony series discussed earlier.

* that foot of Steven Erikson in hardback. It's actually a foot, dammit, and I read the first three from the local library.


So, to my point.

We need a way to make "i read this as a crappy e-text" qualify for Public Lending Right.

Can we move all the tv money across, maybe?

433:
What benefit to society at large if the lord of the rings is public domain? New line cinema can knock licensing costs off it's budget, but the movies won't cost us less at the box office, or be copyright free themselves. Maybe we'll get a few low budget parasite adaptations, like the ones that come out whenever Disney adapts a classic. And a few publishers get to run royalty free editions of the books.


Aside from the schadenfreude of seeing Tolkien's descendants cut off and the business built around managing the rights shut down, how are we winning exactly?

When the movies came out, Tolkien's books shot up to the New York Times top 10 fiction sellers again. That's a lot of readers paying rents on what would have already entered the public domain under reasonable length of copyright. The public would benefit directly in their pocket money if they could grab a free Project Gutenberg edition of LOTR for their readers/phones/tablets, just like they can do with Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, or any other classic public-domain work enjoying a surge of adaptation-driven popularity.

There's another benefit: derivative works based on the public domain don't have to please the original author or estate. You seem to assume that people who can't afford to please authors or their estates are "low budget parasites" whose adaptations, revisions, or expansions of existing works will be junk. Gregory Maguire put an interesting twist on the Oz stories, ultimately leading to best-selling books and a popular Broadway musical. He didn't have to ask Baum's descendants permission to write a revisionist, adult-oriented take on Oz because the books fell into the public domain after a reasonable amount of time. Likewise Alan Moore didn't have to wrangle permission from a dozen estates to reuse famous characters in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen -- and a good thing too.

It is unlikely that an author interested in a revisionist take on (e.g.) Middle Earth or Narnia could do what Maguire did with Oz, because those books were created late enough to fall in the eternally-advancing-copyright tar pit. It's especially unlikely if, like Maguire, said author was not a household name when first conceiving that (e.g.) Aslan was a tyrant and deserved a book written from the dwarfs' viewpoint.

434:

If the LOTR e-book is too expensive then I pirate it, which doesn't mean I approve of the people making a living off a file locker or bittorrent site, the asymmetry thing I've been mentioning for a while.

Adaptations require licensing the closer you are to the source material. A LOTR movie takes most of it's dialogue, plot, visuals straight from the book, ergo licensing is required.

The more you stray from the original the less you owe to the rights holder, and paradoxically the more you're likely to piss them off, the safer you are. Ask the people who made the cartoon porn parody of Star wars, Lucas sued them, and he lost. I've mentioned the Batman XXX parody earlier in this thread, Vivid video I'm sure would welcome a lawsuit from Warner as a great form of advertising.

But lest I misrepresent them, Time Warner/DC comics does not in fact make a habit of persecuting fan artists (See link, which is a fair mix of non commercial fan art, commissioned, that is, commercial fan art, and official art by pro users) There's 336000 Batman pieces just on that site.

Alan Moore? Alan Moore is a GREAT example of derivative work. When he wants to do his take on superman he files the serial numbers, as OGH would say, and makes Supreme. Everyone can do this, and there are in fact a bunch of "Superman" takes currently in the shops, Irredeemable (Which is "Superman snaps and starts killing everyone), Invincible, Superior and hundreds more.

As for the league of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the last two installments are set in the 20th century, and feature James Bond, Voldemort, Jack Carter and many other characters derived from non public domain works, including 1984 and Michael Moorcock's work.

If the world really worked like you think it does Brian Clevinger wouldn't have been able to run 8-bit theater for 10 years and use square-enix copyrighted artwork and setting to launch a successful career in comics, Order of the stick wouldn't be able to run a comic set transparently and overtly in the setting of Dungeons and Dragons, potter puppet pals would not exist, I wouldn't have grown up reading superlopez and I wouldn't be able to google "rappin gandalf" in the certainty I will find something.

Despise zero budget derivative works? On the contrary, I love them, and I could keep posting examples all day.

435:

Me:

This was the US formula - with an optional 28 year extension, covering the "poverty-stricken twilight years" scenario to a large degree - for 150-something years. It seemed to work ok for writers.

Charlie:
Nope. Not if they were bilked out of their copyright registration. (Which happened more often than you might think.) Let alone if they weren't American: what do you think Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance" was about? (Allegedly "Penzance" was originally "San Francisco" ...)

That's an entirely different problem, however. That situation would occur under *any* scheme that lets someone else grab the registration, time of registration or conditions are irrelevant to that angle of it.

The old US time limits - 28 + 28 years - are the point.

Yes, I agree that author protection stronger than the old days is a valid enhancement, but that's not the issue. The issue is, what copyright durations make sense for protecting authors and balancing societal use rights in the long term, so we don't end up with corporate monoliths owning content in perpetuity or with functionally (but not legally) abandoned works, that are unavailable in perpetuity.

The latter might have a legal procedural challenge modification that could fix them. The former, not so much.

Again - Charlie, if statistically all your economic benefit from statistically all of your works comes in 2, 3, 5 years ... What's the point in you getting longer terms than 3x that (15 years) or 6x that (30 years or the old 28 US year term)?

Is my assumption wrong - in which case, I'd like numbers to back that up?

I know it's arguably wrong for corporate monoliths protecting IP empires, but I'm not actually personally much enthusiastic about the legality or ethics of that practice.

I'm open to criticism if it actually affects real authors, but I don't believe that it realistically does.

436:

@344:

There would be no problems if the publishers sold all books as talking rings from the year 802,701.

I preferred the VOX computer from the remake a few years back. It seems as though the short duration that the rings spin would make book-on-talking-ring inconvenient.

@353:

Tell that to my Russian and Chinese publishers? (Hint: they pay. Not a great deal, but it's money.)

I've no doubt that there are some publishers there who are happy to remain above board. Even back in the days before authorial copyright (or copyright of any kind) there were publishers who were willing to pay authors for their manuscripts and stay on good terms, even when they were not obligated to do so. And likewise, even today when it's very easy for people to pirate works, many people nevertheless express a preference for purchasing legitimate copies only because they're legitimate, all else but cost being equal.

But OTOH, you also see things out of those countries like the aforementioned 'The Last Ringbearer' or any number of Chinese Harry Potter novels (one of which apparently had H.P. riding around on a T. rex, which sounds like more fun than brooms). Plus there's endemic piracy of basically everything, which only seems to be cracked down upon when outside pressure is applied. Left to their own devices, and assuming a lack of state censorship, I think that if either country continued to have a copyright system, it would be quite different, and probably quite weaker than that of Berne. But if that's what suits them, why not?

I notice that you use "should" a lot in your discussion. I hope you'll forgive me for saying this, but that's usually a marker for ideological prescriptivism rather than a willingness to engage with the practicalities of a problem

Well, I don't think it's that. My approach to copyright is utilitarian (though tempered, if it needs to be said, with a belief that free speech and self-determination are more important), so probably if I'm saying 'should' a lot, it's because I'm theorizing a system of copyright that is intended to maximize the number of works created and published, and minimize restrictions on the public. If I'm right, great; if not, then I need to improve my theory so as to get closer to my goal. So 'should' here is in the sense of a prediction, not in the sense that we need to start sending novelists to the hot lead mines if they miss their state-imposed deadlines.

Unfortunately, my skills in mathematics and economics are clearly not up to the task of doing the proper research, thoroughly devising a system, and nailing it. But that never seems to have stopped anyone yet from talking about what's to be done about copyright (I would be prepared to test myself against Victor Hugo or Mark Twain), so if I can only grope my way toward beneficial reforms, I'll do that.

There has been some serious work done in this field at least. Check out the work by Rufus Pollock at Cambridge on optimal copyright term lengths. The math is beyond me, but his conclusion of around 15 years sounds to me like it is in the right ballpark. I'd love to see more hard research into this.

@368:

Discussion of intellectual property often becomes confused as it serves two quite distinct purposes. Copyright, Patent, Design Right, Database Right &c. are designed to allow the producer of an easily copied product to benefit from the effort required to create the work in the first place. Trademark, Heraldry passing off &c. are designed to protect an identity and allow for the development of a reputation by giving an exclusive right to the use of certain symbols.

I'd disagree on both points, actually.

Copyrights and patents are meant to serve the public's interest in having more creative works and useful inventions created / invented and published / disclosed-and-brought-to-market, and also to serve the public's interest in being as free as possible to do whatever they like with those works and inventions (including using them for free). There's a tradeoff involved where by temporarily giving up a little of the latter interest, you can get more satisfaction of the former, so much more that it produces a net gain. But whether the author or inventor enjoys any benefit is but a means to an end. And note that under the current system which many here are leaping to defend, there's no guarantee to authors or inventors that they'll recoup their expenses or enjoy a reward. A copyrighted or patented flop is still a flop, and if it drives the author or inventor into bankruptcy, so be it. These systems act as a lens, concentrating some of the economic value of their subject matter toward the rights holder, but they don't cause that value to exist.

As for trademark, I'd say that its main function has been consumer protection -- the presence of the APPLE mark on a pair of iPhone headphones assures me that they will be the same cheap pieces of crap that break after 3 months as any other so-marked pair. It's important to be able to rely on uniform standards of quality, instead of having it vary wildly. (Think back to the big to-do about power supply capacitors, for example)

More recently we've seen a similar sort of abusive expansion of trademark as we've seen in the copyright and patent fields, with the rise of things like dilution in the absence of confusion, but surely if you had to choose one as the core policy for trademark, wouldn't it be confusion?

@380:

I think that anything a person creates is theirs by the very act of creating .... Just because it exists and is shared with the world by its creator does not mean it is the world's plaything.

That's very nice for you, but if I, and my good friend the Internet decide to pirate that work and spread it all over creation, your altruistic thoughts will not be enough to stop that. Here is how creative works function: An author has complete control over his ability to create or not create works, and having created a work, to reveal that work to someone else, or not. But having created and revealed a work, an author will lose control over it, because his power is now limited by how much the other person is willing to cooperate. (See e.g. Franz Kafka asking that all of his writings be burned unread upon his death, and his friend and executor Max Brod ignoring that wish and getting it all published, to the benefit of world culture; something similar happened with Nabokov quite recently)

If an author wants people to cooperate so as to serve the author's self interest (i.e. make money by selling books), then he should expect to have to appeal to their self interest (i.e. enjoy all the works, be completely free). Since there always seem to be a decent number of authors regardless of the existence or scope/duration of copyright, the power basically lies in the hands of the public if they can be bothered to pay attention and, assuming a legitimate democratic government, their elected officials do what's in the public interest.

For basically all of the history of copyright law, hardly anyone has cared about it except for people in the industry, because it didn't visibly impact them very much. E.g. It's a Wonderful Life was a flop when it came out, and accordingly received little attention by rightsholders since it was just another small part of a catalog of movies for a long time. Then some of the rights lapsed, and TV stations could air it cheaply. This allowed it to become popular, and now it's considered to be a classic. (Which caused renewed attention by the remaining rightsholders, and now it doesn't air so much because it costs more) The copyright status of that movie significantly influenced a corner of our culture, but it may as well have been invisible.

Only rather recently, as people have been enjoying the benefits of new technologies as applied to works -- xerox machines, VCRs, Napster, etc. -- and as at the same time, the publishing industries have been trying to further their control and take in more rent, has light begun to shine on copyright. And it turns out that it's been run in a spectacularly bad manner, with no attention paid to the public interest at all. Our representatives in government have either ignored it, allowing the industry to engage in regulatory capture, or have been willing accomplices. Now that the public is beginning to pay attention, finally, we might just be able to fix it. Maybe we'll even get smart and continue to safeguard it after it has been reformed so as to not benefit ordinary folks with the least inconvenience to them. Fingers crossed.

Long story short, yes, works that exist and are shared with the world are the world's plaything unless the world can be convinced to do otherwise. That's exactly how it is. You yourself seem to agree. For you said:

I do believe it is in the public interest for things to come out of copyright after a reasonable period of time

But if authors are inherently entitled to copyrights merely by virtue of creation, your opinion (for works other than your own) would be worthless, since you'd have no right to dictate term length to authors. And if you think about what sorts of inherent rights people have anyway, the conflict with free speech is insurmountable. Like property rights, copyright is the artificial product of willing cooperation above a very minimal threshold, and as such, need not exist, or can be redesigned however people like.

@392:

"Charlie bit my finger" is putting those kids through college, in your brave new world that money would go to a couple well deserving corporations. Problem solved!

Yes. If people are willing to create and publish a work for free, I am willing to let them. I am also happy to let people send me money for free, or do chores for me for free. I'd be foolish to pay unless I had to. The same applies for the public at large.

To avoid frivolously handing out copyrights, they should be reserved for whoever asks for them. The hurdle should be quite minimal, but it should exist. But copyrights should only initially be granted to authors. So those corporations wouldn't control that video. They might manage to make more money from it by dint of size and professionalism, but anyone else would be free to try their hand at it.

Now if you're interested in charity, I don't mind setting up a subsidized system of higher education so that those kids don't have to pay to go to college in the first place. But that's a different discussion.

@400:

None of us know when we are going to die. Having a fixed post-mortem copyright period guarantees the publisher has a minimum time to profit from a contract.

In that case, why not just have a fixed term of years, period, and ignore all this life+ crap? This offers the greatest amount of predictability, and allows term lengths to be adjusted to whatever is most optimal for all involved.

Also I would point out that using renewal terms isn't meant to prolong the term of a work beyond the generally desired maximum, so that more profit can be wrung from it, but rather to cover the likely eventuality of rightsholders abandoning works before they reach that maximum, and allowing the public to benefit from this, instead of having the work languish. That's why I like annual (or at most bi-annual) renewals -- less waiting time in the event of passive abandonment.


@380, @409:

Thirdly, there are around 200 nations on this planet. Most fixed-term copyright schemes historically required registration of copyright (this is one of the reasons the Berne Convention on "life plus X" works -- it does away with copyright registries) -- do I have to register "Accelerando" 200 times to prevent someone in, say, New Zealand rolling the presses and thumbing their nose at me?

And not everyone can afford to jump through the hoops to register copyright all over the place, even if they come up with gems.

No doubt. But how important is it to even do so? Charlie has told us that he makes some money, but not a great deal, from his books sold in Russia and China. Great! I'm happy for him. Registering a copyright on a book in the US costs $35. Suppose that it cost that much (plus maybe a little bit more for postage, transaction cost, etc.) to register a copyright in Mongolia, not including the cost of translation and marketing the book in the local book-yurts. Maybe it would be worth it, but if the Mongolians are known to be too snobbish to read genre fiction, Charlie might literally be better off not bothering to get a copyright there, allowing the book to copyrighted in the markets he feels are important, and in the public domain elsewhere. The importation right of copyright, meanwhile, would keep foreign public domain copies from flooding into the markets Charlie would opt into.

Further, this would actually be better for the Mongolians: It avoids saddling them with a restriction on their right to enjoy the book as they like to no one's benefit. (Even if they don't expect to use that right, fewer restrictions are surely better than more, where the outcome is basically the same) And since Charlie would've had a finite marketing budget, and might have reduced that budget even further in light of the fearsome reputation of Mongolian readers, he might not be able to kindle a fan base there, but given the freedom to pass books around, one might self-ignite. This is related to the orphan works problem, in that some users are ill-served by rightsholders and rights regimes, even though they ought to be cherished customers.

Opt-in is handy since it leaves the decision to the author (and anyone the author is getting help from, like an agent or publisher, who may be able to handle registrations more efficiently). Failing to register 200 times could indeed result in some New Zealander thumbing his nose. But the author has no one but himself to blame; if he wanted the rights in New Zealand, he only needed to register.

And if he wants to sell books in New Zealand, he -- or the publisher -- may have to submit them to the government censor, file papers to have copies imported or make arrangements for local printing, work with a distributor, file tax forms, etc. A copyright registration -- at least the ones I'm familiar with -- are not significantly more complicated than a change of address form. The additional burden of registration is very minimal indeed, and simply a part of doing business. And if it's still too much, he can have someone help; this isn't Turandot.

@409:

Firstly, those of us who produce copyrightable material may be producing as many as 3-5 works per day -- all of which would need registering with a date at which copyright kicks in.

Depends on if you care. Would you care if some horrible pirate were to copy that post on the blog and reprint it all over the world? Maybe, but my guess is probably not. OTOH if you've just written the world's funniest non-leathal joke, it might be wise. The choice should be up to the author.

Secondly, when does the copyright clock start ticking -- when I type THE END at the end of a manuscript, when the publisher puts the finished book on sale, when the Estonian translation goes on sale ...?

Personally I imagine automatically granting a very minor copyright -- possibly called by a different name, just to further draw a distinction between this and proper copyright -- to works as they are fixed. But this right would not survive publication, public performance, or public display of the work, and would end fairly swiftly. Authors should be protected from people pirating their manuscripts while the work is in the process of being created or is being prepared for publication. But since the public wishes works to be created and published, and doesn't really benefit from creation alone, authors who sit on their work for a long period of time ought not to enjoy rights to keep it from being published. In that case a pirate publishing it is better than no one at all.

I'd want an economist or the like to work out a good time period, but I can easily imagine anywhere from 5-25 years from substantially finishing the work (little tweaks shouldn't be allowed as a stalling tactic, though I doubt this issue would arise in the absence of a lawsuit about the copyrightability of the work) during which the author can try to get it published whilst getting a proper copyright. Or the author can just get a proper copyright before publishing the work, though that would have the effect of reducing the overall length of exclusive rights.

Still, I'm not married to this idea, and I'd be happy to hash out a better alternative.

Fourthly, as the copyright clock counts down to zero, the residual value of the copyrighted material may diminish dramatically.

So long as copyright terms are finite, this happens anyway. So what?

While I appreciate that as an professional author you're interested in making a living by exploiting your copyrights, the system as a whole should benefit the public first and foremost, with benefits for authors or publishers not considered at all, save for how that factors into maximizing the public benefit.

If you wrote a timeless classic but have wound up destitute, you 1) should've saved or invested your money more wisely; 2) created more financially successful works if possible, and; 3) managed to live somewhere that provides aid to the poor, many of whom will not have been as lucky in their careers as you, and who would not benefit from giving you a longer term. I'm completely on board with helping poor authors and their families, so long as it is by a means that helps poor people and their families generally.

Longer terms don't help most authors, who didn't create timeless classics. Special welfare programs for authors of timeless classics is a ridiculous concept.

the old US copyright system, with a copyright registry and fixed/renewable term, was used by the publishing industry to grotesquely rip off non-US authors as recently as the 1970s

So you're saying that the publishing industry is not generally known for ripping off authors of all stripes whenever they can get away with it, under any copyright system, at any time? Major publishers might try to get control of copyrights for themselves, but it's not in their interests to see works enter the public domain any earlier than necessary; they don't like to compete against each other. I'm generally happy to favor authors over publishers when there's a dispute between them, but I still have to put the public first, and AFAICT that means formalities and fixed terms of years.

@412:

A side effect of the current nutso copyright regime is that most people are ignoring it at that point, so it's just dying on the vine. When 90%+ of the population routinely violates copyright without even noticing half the time, enforcement is eventually going to go take a hike.

Yes. IMO people are generally law-abiding, but what they're actually doing is adhering to social norms about what the law is, not what the law actually is. Further, sometimes they may accept that the law is more restrictive than the norm ("Driving a little over the limit is okay, but I accept that I might be ticketed."), and other times they might not ("Ticketing me for jaywalking is bullshit!"). When the two grow out of sync, conflicts arise.

Sometimes it's important that the government fights the norm despite the conflict (e.g. dismantling Jim Crow over the opposition of southern racists). But it usually is not (e.g. establishing Prohibition) and this not only leads to disrespect for the law in question, but can spread to disrespect for the law generally, and serious problems of corruption and other criminal behavior (as happened due to Prohibition).

Copyright is probably more like Prohibition than desegregation. Insisting on fighting the public -- who appeared to like Napster as it was in the old days just fine -- is likely to fail, and to have additional negative consequences before we're done.

@416:

Then why are so many reels of silent 1900s-1930s movies on nitrate film stock decaying in vaults because the archives that hold them can't identify the current rightsholders (after multiple corporate bankruptcies and mergers) but are terrified of being sued into a smoking hole in the ground (because the material is obviously still covered by somebody's copyright)?

<deadpan> Gosh. It is almost as if that situation would have been avoided or at least improved if copyright holders had to file when they publish, when they assign rights, and at frequent intervals to renew, so that it was clear who held the rights if someone was still bothering, or that no one did if no one bothered. Goodness. I wonder what we might do for problems like this. < /deadpan >

@428:

This was the US formula - with an optional 28 year extension, covering the "poverty-stricken twilight years" scenario to a large degree - for 150-something years.

Minor nit: The 1790 Act had a 14+14 year term (following the 1710 Statute of Anne), the 1831 Act had a 28+14 year term, and it was not until the 1909 Act that we got a 28+28 year term.

The fetish for multiples of 14 years ultimately stems from something involving the guild system, IIRC; term lengths may be too long now, but I wouldn't return to the old system.

@429:
What benefit to society at large if the lord of the rings is public domain? New line cinema can knock licensing costs off it's budget, but the movies won't cost us less at the box office, or be copyright free themselves. Maybe we'll get a few low budget parasite adaptations, like the ones that come out whenever Disney adapts a classic. And a few publishers get to run royalty free editions of the books.

The benefits are: Copies of those works can be had more easily and less expensively. This is useful for the long-term preservation of works, which is also beneficial. Derivative works can be made without authorization; as per the usual rule, 90% of them will be crap. But they'll be as easily ignored as the 90% of original works that are crap. Among the remainder may be some gems. What is the Aeneid but Virgil's fanfic based on Homer's Odyssey and Iliad? Then there's Shakespeare, who usually just wrote plays based on pre-existing stories and history. Since copyright can't control quality, only quantity, the best way to get more works of quality to just get more works; granting copyrights encourages original works, and terminating them encourages derivative works. Both are equally valuable.

@434:

lan Moore is a GREAT example of derivative work. When he wants to do his take on superman he files the serial numbers, as OGH would say, and makes Supreme. Everyone can do this, and there are in fact a bunch of "Superman" takes currently in the shops, Irredeemable (Which is "Superman snaps and starts killing everyone), Invincible, Superior and hundreds more.

Oh, how swiftly we forget.

Yes, people love making their own versions of Superman. For example, the year after Superman was first created over at DC Comics, rival publisher Fawcett Comics brought out their version, Captain Marvel. And Captain Marvel was, for some time, more popular than Superman. But DC had sued them on the basis that Fawcett infringed the Superman copyright, eventually won their case, and so Captain Marvel ceased publication in the early 1950's. In the 70's, the basically worthless rights were sold to DC (except for the CAPTAIN MARVEL trademark, which had lapsed from disuse and ended up at Marvel), which got around to using the character again. But to no avail -- while lots of people know his magic word, Shazam, the character has just never become popular like he used to be.

If people are making Superman knock-offs, it is probably because they either have arrangements with DC, are staying under the aegis of fair use, or DC is choosing for reasons of their own to not bother shutting them down (perhaps they want to remain on good terms with the writers or artists). But DC would have decent odds if they cared to take action.

437:

We need a way to make "i read this as a crappy e-text" qualify for Public Lending Right.

That would be good.

Alas, I was discussing this (and variants of my preferred option: a compulsory license on bandwidth) with a law professor who's studied it. Her opinion: it's everyone's preferred option except (a) there's a drawback insofar as it implicitly caps the funds available for producing new material, which is a disincentive for big publishers to opt in, and (b) any chance of achieving it was killed in 2003 by the arrival of the iTunes Store and an online music sales channel endorsed by the big studios (because that mechanism doesn't impose an arbitrary cap on profits).

I now agree with her analysis, which is a real bummer because it means we're screwed.

438:

When the movies came out, Tolkien's books shot up to the New York Times top 10 fiction sellers again. That's a lot of readers paying rents on what would have already entered the public domain under reasonable length of copyright. The public would benefit directly in their pocket money if they could grab a free Project Gutenberg edition of LOTR for their readers/phones/tablets, just like they can do with Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, or any other classic public-domain work enjoying a surge of adaptation-driven popularity.

I suspect if LOTR was out of copyright, what would actually have happened when the movies came out would be that the film company would grab a copy off Gutenberg, hire an editor to apply corrections (see the preface to the current e-book edition of LOTR for a sixty page essay on various editions with errata fixes -- during JRRT's life -- and what a bitch it is to come up with a canonical text), slap a cover on it from one of the film publicity stills, and market the crap out of it. Because they've re-edited it and corrected errata they can assert copyright over their own edition, and it didn't take a lot of money in 2008-10 to buy enough copies of an ebook to bootstrap it to #1 on Amazon, thus swamping the "free" or "cheap" editions (because everyone and their dog would have simultaneously scanned and OCRd an old edition and pumped it out for $1.99). Add some juicy lawsuits aimed at deterring the competition (based on which errata they fixed in their own release) and you've got the recipe for a real mess, with the film studio trousering the revenue (rather than Tolkein's heirs).

While I have little sympathy for the Tolkein estate (their behaviour has tended to be on the rapacious side), and the whole Life-plus-70 thing strikes me as massive over-reach in providing for authors' heirs, letting the lion's share of the book profits go to a Hollywood film studio (which, IIRC, the director is having to sue to get his cut of the proceeds) does not strike me as being an improvement.

439:

Your argument on duration isn't obviously wrong, except for the obvious caveat that on average we live longer these days. If the average novelist starts producing effectively at age 35 (life experience is a prior requirement) then 28 years places them at 63, and another 14 years puts them at 77 (or 91 if you go for 28 year extensions). Back in the 19th century this was a generous allowance -- the chance of anyone making it to 91 was very low. Today, most of us who are under 50 can probably expect to make it into our mid-80s; even so, stretch it from 28 + 28 to 33 + 33 and you can cover creators for a centenarian lifespan.

Of course, this assumes that a 70-year-old has the cognitive bandwidth to handle registering copyright extensions when they come due; if, say, they've got distracted by ongoing chemotherapy or are succumbing slowly to dementia, that's a problem -- requiring copyright renewal not only implies a registry (hence some sort of bureaucracy) but also requires competence on the part of the creators.

Incidentally: I'm getting money from stuff I published in the 1990s on an ongoing basis. And if I'd been more careful about my IP in my teens, I'd be getting money from stuff I wrote in the late 1970s. So while in general most works deliver most of their profits within the first 3-5 years, this is not always the case.

440:

Anonymous: TL;DR

More politely, I don't have time to read and respond to comments that are three times the length of the original blog entry and cover multiple aspects of the discussion. If you expect a response, please break your comment up into bite-sized chunks!

Also note that you very nearly got spam-canned: 98% of the spam currently hitting this blog (over 4000 pieces per month) is posted by someone called "anonymous". (This is a hint: I have no idea who you are, and while you're welcome to use a 'nym or a random handle, I'd request that you use a unique one so we can tell you apart from the spammers or random drive-by trolls.)

441:

As I understand most books actually sold are from those titles
that stay in print for many years. While most titles are out of print after a couple of years they collectively account for a fairly small part of total sales, and that includes annual publications like the Guinness' World Records, which aren't exactly comparable but account for quite a lot of sales. This results in a surprisingly high proportion of the ongoing income of established writers coming from the ongoing royalties on older books.

442:

A bandwidth levy would have material produced treated as a public good (non-rival, non-excludable) rather than, as historically, as a club good (non-rival, excludable). Markets haven't tended to be good at dealing with public goods, they tend to be chronically under-supplied. While the market has been fairly good at supplying club goods. The function of copyright, patents and similar has been to make inventions and artworks excludable allowing the creator a reasonable opportunity to profit from their efforts.

443:

I'm not sure what you think you disagree with me on either basic type of intellectual property.

Copyright Design right, Database right and patent transform artworks, inventions, designs (in practice, mostly wallpaper patterns), databases and other easily copied hard to create works from public goods (non-rival, non excludable) into club goods (non-rival, excludable) for a period in order to give the creator of the work the opportunity to profit from the work by granting them a limited duration monopoly on legally reproducing their creation.

Trademark, heraldry and other identification rights such as passing off, are intended to allow for the easy identification of a person, product or organisation by giving them a monopoly of certain identifying marks, for example to allow the identification of a fully armoured knight from a distance by the distinctive arms on his shield or to specifically identify that a jar actually contains genuine Marmite. This allows for the building of a reputation, positive or negative. No one except Apple can approve placing the Apple logo on a product in such a way as to imply endorsement by Apple (you can include the logo of a sponsor on a model car). So if a product is marked as an Apple product you know it has been approved by Apple. Without some way of distinguishing the genuine product from similar looking ones it would be hard to have a functioning market as you could not rely on a product purchased from an unfamiliar vendor actually being what it appears to be.

Incidentally while there is trademark registration if another trader is operating using a name which could reasonably cause confusion and damages the goodwill in your business you can take action for passing off even if there is no registered trademark. This can also be used by celebrities to prevent a business pretending that they have endorsed the product.

Trademarks and copyrights are protected to some extent without registration. There can be some more extensive protection if there is registration

444:

I do not claim to be an intellectual, but I'm an avid consumer of reading material. Previous to owning a kindle, I had to either BUY a library card, which totally disgusts me, or buy the books I wanted to read. I also joined an online lending library of sorts, but didn't like that I was at their mercy to what I read next, and the lapse time between books.

I very much like the kindle and Amazon. Because I have a limited budget, I appreciate Amazon's free and discounted books. I know the writers are trying to make a living also, but if the books or ebooks get priced so high that people like me can not buy them, then the writers will not get their money either.

I also like the ease of buying from Amazon. All I have to do is click buy and the book is transfered to my kindle or in the occasion that I still buy the paper book, ready for me to purchase.

I also like Amazon because I don't have to worry about who I'm giving my credit information to. I feel as safe as can be by giving out my credit card number.

My daughter-in-law is a librarian, so there is a small amount of guilt for getting my books this way. However, if I could borrow from libraries in the area without having to purchase the card, I probably wouldn't have bought the kindle in the first place.

That's my rant.

445:

Previous to owning a kindle, I had to either BUY a library card, which totally disgusts me, or buy the books I wanted to read.

Libraries cost real money to operate. Are you saying your local one is a private setup and funded by the readers or just that there's an entry fee to participate? I'm guessing in an attempt to keep out the "rift-raft". (Not that I agree with this approach.)

446:

somehow, the copyright terms for companies seem to work, and they're based on creation and/or publication date.

Really? Then why are so many reels of silent 1900s-1930s movies on nitrate film stock decaying in vaults because the archives that hold them can't identify the current rightsholders (after multiple corporate bankruptcies and mergers) but are terrified of being sued into a smoking hole in the ground (because the material is obviously still covered by somebody's copyright)?

That's a proof that setting copyright terms on creation and or publication date works perfectly well. There is no doubt that the works are still under copyright. Or in other words, it's a proof that terms other than life+x do not imply requiring registries.

It also shows that to 95/120 years durations companies get are insane, but I don't remember defending those, ever.

OG.


447:

Entertainingly, EA(?) recently released a Dante's Inferno video game -- and a tie-in book that was just the public-domain text with some production art added.

448:

I did know about the Fawcett lawsuit, and DC & Marvel's joint trademark on the term Superhero, it's not relevant. I can sit here and point to hundreds of actual, existing, published, commercial & non derivative works and it can all be dismissed with an airy wave and could-have-beens. Okay, let's have some what-ifs:

How nice would it be to live in a world where Peter Watts could rewrite The Thing movie from the point of view of the alien and get it published in a science fiction magazine! Oh wait! He did! Fancy that

If only an artist could take google's copyrighted photo content from street view, select it and contextualize it and publish it as an art exhibit! Hey look at this

Am I getting through at all? We do NOT in fact live in a world where these things are impossible (I've posted even more examples in earlier posts, they're not hard to find).

So copyright laws are being systematically misrepresented as attacking something they do not in fact attack while using this as cover for behaviour that is and should be completely unrelated.

Piracy is making copies. Even those bootleg Harry-potter-riding a dinosaur chinese books are not copies, they are trademark violations because they are trying to trick people into buying them mistaking them for official works. But writing your own Harry potter meets the ghostbusters is perfectly fine, as the five billion Harry Potter fanfics you can find online are proof. And so is writing your own story about a boy magician, as Books of Magic proves (In fact BoM is older than HP, but there's a whole shelf of "Blinkety blank and the blunkety blunk" books at the bookstore the last time I checked. It's a genre now)

tl;dr

-copyright doesn't let you play with others ideas: demonstrably false

449:

And yet I cite The Winds of Tara: copyright doesn't let you play with others' ideas: demonstrably true.

(Sorta. The issue is far more complex than that; although tWoT was blocked in the US due to copyright, The Wind Done Gone was not. One was a retelling, one was an unauthorized sequel. And while I'm not really taking a side on this one, I will say that the biggest obstacle to "others [sic] ideas" is the cost of litigation.)

450:

Yes, I agree, see my post @371, given sufficient imbalance in resources (typical corporation vs. individual) litigation can be used destructively like a big stick. This is only tangential to copyright.

Derivative works also benefit from copyright. I don't see the advantage for an artist in dismantling the structure that protects his work just to provide immunity from potential litigation when I've shown dozens of examples where this was not an obstacle.

451:

Also, I must point out that the examples given of supressed works are somewhat weak. The winds of Tara is a commercially published book in New Zealand and Australia and "The last ring bearer" is a freely available noncommercial release - Which would seem to be an optimal solution for the reader's pockets.

452:

I stumbled across the following interesting message in an Atari Age forum thread about scanning old computer magazines:

My main use for the SnapScan is feeding through paperbacks that had the spine removed to make e-book versions. I've done a bunch for Jerry Pournelle. Three volumes of Imperial Stars anthologies, High Justice, and Exiles to Glory are the ones that will appear on Amazon and B&N next. I've just started on the Endless Frontier anthology series with four volumes and then there will be the There Will Be War anthologies with nine volumes.


For that job the bundled software with the S1300 had some annoying deficiencies that greatly added to the workload. I got ahold of the coprorate desktop edition of ABBYY Finereader and that was a huge improvement for e-book work. Generally, though, I'd rather have a plain text file and format that than try to retain any formatting from a book scan because so much crud sneaks in and makes for more work.

It sounds like the authorized publisher workflow for the back catalog of ebooks is pretty much identical to the pirate workflow, at least here. This could explain how some authorized ebooks end up with such horrible mistakes and formatting, if digitizing, proofing, and formatting (or at least the bulk of it) is farmed out to individuals of differing ability and diligence.

453:

Contrarywise - It's proof that the present "copywrong" system doesn't work, because the holders of the physical item don't know who the rights vest in, and have no way of finding out short of renovating, issuing and being sued!

454:

Contrarywise - It's proof that the present "copywrong" system doesn't work, because the holders of the physical item don't know who the rights vest in, and have no way of finding out short of renovating, issuing and being sued!

My problem was with Charlie's assumption that limited time copyright was not doable without either author's death as a starting point or registries. Companies copyright show that you don't need death at the starting point.

While whether copyright in general is working, the answer is an obvious no. Moneyed interests have swung the pendulum too far, and the bounce back is currently happening and promises to go way too far the other way around.

I only hope people like Charlie can still make a living in the aftermath. I like his books.

OG.

455:

My problem was with Charlie's assumption that limited time copyright was not doable without either author's death as a starting point or registries. Companies copyright show that you don't need death at the starting point.

In what World? ATM corporate copyright extends beyond bankrupcy or merger to the entity who bought the rights to the asset, and in the case of a merger at least, a corporate copyright is deemed to be held by a "live entity" post merger, so can extend indefinitely.

456:

Meh? In the US, corporate copyright is 120 years after creation or 95 after publication, whichever is shorter. Which is batshit insane, but in no way unlimited. Until the law changes again, of course.

In other countries, it's probably something similar.

OG.

457:

The preservation tangent is an edge case. If you own Action comics #1 you can pay an expert to have it restored & preserved. Or you can burn it to light your cigars.

The work is preserved digitally here for anyone to read. That website may constitute copyright infringement but it can be argued to constitute fair use as it's noncommercial and part of a scholarly article. The site has been up for around a decade and is the 1st google result for "action comics #1" so it's a) Not hidden and b) Has not been asked to stop by the copyright holders.

If you're sitting on the last copy of a cultural artifact and the only way to preserve it for posterity is to make a copy, complaining that some jack in the box copyright ghost is going to jump you if you do smacks of an excuse.

458:

#456 - So why do these conversations always mention the House of Mouse as a reason for changes in creator copyright law?

#457 - So one rights holder doesn't care (and/or has been advised that there is no case since you're presuming that US law applies). That does not mean that this is true of all rights holders.

459:

Speaking of Amazon and the agency model (as we were, a few hundred comments back), the European Commission has announced an antitrust investigation probing whether the Big Six were acting in restraint of trade, in conjunction with Apple, by forcing the Agency model on Amazon...

460:

Of course, there is also the contra question of what percentage of the relevant book markets Amazon actually has.

461:

The law in European states, such as the UK, that allow a corporate person to be legally the original author treat work for hire the same way as it treats anonymous and pseudonymous works where the author's identity is unknown. Copyright lasts for 70 years from the work's creation. Where a natural person is the legal author then life + 70 applies.

462:

[...] If they can find it for free, they're a lot less likely to buy it.

I really think this is a prototype of the extremely simplified and reductionist perspective that Stross seem to be speaking out against in relation to the Big Six.
My take on it is that people actually CAN be trusted to have a conscience: that is after-all how libraries and ultimately most of modern society manage to work. Give me DRM-free books at a price that reflects the value of a virtual object and I (and I suspect many others) WILL buy them, simply because it would be the route of least friction, it is not like people at large enjoy the rigmarole of going through shit torrents and trying to load the bungled mess onto their readers. How do you think Apple manage to sell so many MP3s? Not because people can't pirate them but because it is EASIER not to. Lastly, it feels right to support the people that make the stuff you enjoy: fact! :)

463:

Incidentally all danish mainstream ebooks are drm-free, or just "watermarked" with the customers ordernr. We have been so slow in adopting to the growing ebook-market that when the big publishers finally moved, they did soak up some wisdom from somewhere or similar.(Weird though).

464:

I'm not getting the (rhetorical?) question. You say it yourself, _changes_ in copyright law. Works cannot be held indefinitively under copyright by corporations if the law stays constant in that area. Of course the law has not, probably still will not, which is part of why copyright is dying, imho.

OG.

465:

Charlie wrote:

Incidentally: I'm getting money from stuff I published in the 1990s on an ongoing basis. And if I'd been more careful about my IP in my teens, I'd be getting money from stuff I wrote in the late 1970s. So while in general most works deliver most of their profits within the first 3-5 years, this is not always the case.

Are there any of them where a time-value-of-money analysis shows a significant fraction of the total lifetime income from a work past the 5 year mark?

I know there are exceptions; Dune, LoTR, Star Wars, a few others ... But categorizing how many, and what fraction of works, and how much of the total expected income ends up past 3,4,5,7,10,14 years in a statistical sense would be extremely useful. Probably useful enough that most people won't willingly part with the source data *cough* but perhaps you will 8-)

466:

When you look at Article 101 of the TFEU, it looks like an open and shut case. It's fairly obvious that the big five formed a cartel, with support from apple, to force the agency model through and push up Amazon prices.

Here's hoping that the EU jumps up and down on the 'agency' model and implements a set of rules that require real competition. Not only should that stop the agency model entirely, but also make clear that removing/circumventing DRM to enable interoperability is protected. Two birds, one stone.

Could be just the shake up the publishing dinosaurs need. Remove some dead wood from the top of these organisations on the back of a negative judgement and get things moving in the right direction.

467:

I'm fairly certain that more or less every copyright debate of any substance I've been involved in has claimed that Disney Corp are driving changes in the life of US copyright in order to retain control over early works such as Steamboat Willy. I thought that you were claiming that this is not the case.

468:

395

When they do prices by IP address per country and you use a country - and they use session based cookies for shopping - well, it is entirely possible you can get the US/UK price or whichever you want from The Book Depository with the right proxy and add-on.

Rule 34 current Australian price 20.83. $3.70 MORE than the hardback.

Formats
Amazon Price New from Used from
Kindle Edition -- $20.83 --
Hardcover $17.13 $13.90 $9.20
Paperback -- $20.48 $15.57
Unknown Binding -- $31.45 $12.00

Also I notice a bunch of Hachette books are now 13.54.

Also, the Gollancz SF Gateway books of the more expensive variety were all 8.66 before. (And still are if you look at a proxy).

Now $12.50 here. Nice 44% price hike.

So they are still trying to prop up their Northern Hemisphere operations by having the local rump offshoots rip us off.

Comics are doing the reverse - making work more available to everyone and making prices cheaper. Therefore, they'll get the money.

469:

This from the bbc this morning:

"Apple in EU e-book market probe"

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-16050630

Apple's i-book store and 6 major publishers including Hachette are under investigation for price fixing the e-book market.

The Commission seems to think there is a cartel in operation. Under current rules that's illegal, but apparently Amazon can do what it likes.

470:

I don't want to rehash the whole litany of anti-IP points I usually make, so I'll just focus on the business side here. You bring up a great point about publishers damaging their own interests because of their short-sightedness. They do this often in the ebook field: particularly galling is the pricing structure of ebooks that have hampered adoption. Everybody I talk to feels that the prices are a bit out of whack and that sales would be promoted by reducing them further. I think that book publishers need to focus on expanding their markets to further their own interests.

* Reduce pricing on ebooks to spur adoption and reduce the incentive for piracy, etc. A lot of people have Kindles and iPads and want more content on them, but think that the pricing structure that makes digital copies of works nearly as expensive as a hardcover version are ridiculous.

* Get rid of the most onerous forms of DRM that make people think that investing in ebooks is a bad idea. People hate the idea that they might lose their investment in their library if they want to switch electronic devices in the future. This is costly.

* Work to expand the audience, particularly younger people that have iphones/ipads to mainly play games and don't read as much by using social media: there are a ton of companies listed at http://www.buyfacebookfansreviews.com that do nothing other than this type of Facebook and Twitter promotion for example. The above mentioned points would also work to expand this audience.

* Focus on expanding the markets that they sell books in (both companies and countries): focusing on just Amazon is worthwhile, but there are other places to sell stuff as well and anybody focusing just on Amazon is missing out. There are also growing markets in other countries that are often ignored and this is to the detriment of everybody because works don't always need to even be translated to be desirable in other markets.

471:

Sign in a Borders bookstore. PUBLIC REST ROOMS CLOSED. Go to Amazon .Com. It was real,. How long it was up?? the MBA's only think about units, not of what they are. The more MBA's are the more companies go down.

472:

Looks like Hachette has gone to war with its Australian ebook customers lately, with some spectacular price hikes.

And Rule 34 has gone up *again*... Glad I got it when it was less than half the current price.

473:

Could be just the shake up the publishing dinosaurs need. Remove some dead wood from the top of these organisations on the back of a negative judgement and get things moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately they're not structured that way.

Each of the "big six" is actually a group of companies. Within them you've got newspapers, magazine publishers, fiction publishers, non-fiction publishers (the latter two often grouped within a "book publishing" subsidiary, even though their markets and workflow are very different), and sometimes film, TV, software, and music studios.

Policy is set at board level and broadcast throughout the group. Each sub-company then gets to implement whatever they're told to do. The lion's share of attention and resources go to the bits with the highest profit margins, i.e. not books. In fact, the book publishing arms tend to be personnel and resource starved, and when the guys in the boardroom decide to swing the axe, the book publishing folks are the ones who mostly get it in the neck.

If what you propose comes to pass, most likely there'll be fewer publishers by and by. Which will mean an unpleasant monopsony situation emerging for the likes of me -- pick one of the Big (Three, Two, One), or go with Amazon (who are even worse in some ways).

474:

You fundamentally misunderstand how books are sold.

Traditionally, books are sold via reverse auction.

That is: when they first come out, the price is high. The longer they're on sale, the cheaper they get. Finally, the price bottoms out at just over the marginal price of manufacturing. You, as the customer, set the maximum price you're willing to pay and buy the book when it drops below that threshold.

Because hardcovers cost a little money to produce, publishers began producing cheap paper-bound editions that cost less to manufacture so that they could cut the price after a while. And because of the primitive state of the supply chain, for many years books went out with a fixed cover price printed on them. But that merely obscures the underlying model, which is that of a reverse auction.

Unfortunately this led to the consumers associating set price points with binding technology, not time-since-initial-publication. Even more unfortunately, publishing lawyers drafted boilerplate, tempered in the fires of author/publisher lawsuits, that chained actual royalty rates (owed to authors) to the binding format of a given book, and the wholesale discount it was sold to the retailer at. Which really messed things up.

I'd love to be able to release an ebook, on day #1 of publication, at a price point of, say, $20, but with an up-front declaration that each month the price will drop 5%, until it bottoms out at $3 (after the best part of two years), and with an option for customers to pre-purchase at whatever price they're willing to pay, with the book being sent to them as soon as it depreciates to that price point. (DRM: start out with DRM, but announce that the DRM will be unlocked when the price drops below $10. And send existing customers an unlocked copy at that time, not just new customers.)

Unfortunately the royalty accounting mechanisms you'd need to sell books that way simply don't exist in the industry ... and not only do they not exist in the Big Six's contract boilerplate, I'm pretty sure they'd be a TOS violation for Amazon, too.

475:

Re:474

From the perspective of a busy e-book reader, I would absolutely love this time-based pricing structure and scheme. I would be perfectly willing to wait until we hit the DRM removal price, knowing that I was consciously making that choice.

I know that having gotten updated versions of books (from OReilly and others) and game supplements (from Steve Jackson), it is a pretty cool world.

'Tis a pity that the publisher royalty contracts are not structured to work that way.

Scott

476:

It's not just publisher royalty contracts that don't work that way; if you look at Amazon or the other ebook vendor contracts, they don't work that way either.

I could do it, but I'd not only have to go indy, I'd have to write and debug my own storefront software!

477:

Discussion seems to be over, but I thought I'd post a couple final interesting links:

A lawyer's clarification regarding fair use

And yet another creation that should not exist according to the common perception of copyright law, yet somehow does.

Specials

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on November 28, 2011 10:07 PM.

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