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CMAP: "Why can't I find audio editions of your books in the UK?"

I get asked this question a lot, so I'm going to answer it once, definitively, here on the blog: where are the UK audiobooks?

(More specifically: "The Atrocity Archives" and "The Jennifer Morgue" were released as audiobooks in 2013. Why aren't any of my other novels available as audiobooks outside North America?)

I'm going to tackle this in two stages: first with a bit of background, then with an FAQ.

Audiobooks are expensive to produce. You need a voice actor, at least a minimal recording studio (a soundproofed room with a desk and a chair that doesn't squeak; this is easier said than done), and an audio technician to do the mixing and editing. The process is straightforward compared to recording music, but—here's the hard part—very protracted: I reckon to read at 8,000 to 10,000 words per hour, so a typical novel should run to between 10 and 16 hours. (The American CD release of "Rule 34" runs to 13.75 hours on 12 CDs.) Assuming some overhead for flubs, you're therefore talking about paying an actor for 20 hours work, minimum, plus the studio space and engineer time. This is not cheap. US Union rates for a voice actor start at $401 for the first hour, then $117.50 for each additional half hour, so that US recording of "Rule 34" (with zero wasted time) would cost at least $2986 for the narrator, plus the engineer's fee and studio time. I'm not sure what the corresponding UK figures will be, but they won't be much cheaper (if at all).

The USA and Canada (they're treated as a single market for contractual purposes) is a large market—with a population of over 330 million people, many of whom drive long distances and are therefore happy to consume fiction in audiobook form while on their daily commute.

In contrast, the other big anglophone market (the UK, Australia, and New Zealand—also usually treated as a single market for contractual purposes) is a lot smaller, with around 80 million people. Also, fewer people engage in relatively stress-free driving commutes that make podcasts or audiobooks attractive as distractions. More commuters use public transport, and therefore can read paper or ebook editions, which are generally cheaper because the production costs are somewhat lower.

Q: "I'm in the UK: why can't I buy a US audiobook on Amazon?"

A: Unfortunately for you, I have separate publishers in the North American and rest-of-world English language markets. They buy ebook and audio rights along with the right to print and distribute the books on paper. Because of the way the contracts are drafted to prevent them from fighting like rabid weasels, they're not allowed to sell books in each other's territories. Also bear in mind that audiobooks are liable for VAT in the UK and EU, but not in the USA, and US publishers really don't want to get tangled up in the EU tax system for minimal extra sales and maximum extra pain, and you can see why they make Amazon impose region restrictions.

Q: "Can't you sell world rights?"

A: Yes, but it won't help. What usually happens is that because book publication rights are traditionally split territorially, if I sold world rights to a US publisher they'd just re-sell their overseas territorial rights to a British publisher, and we'd be right back at region restrictions again. Meanwhile, my US publisher wouldn't offer me more money up-front for world rights, because they can't reasonably factor those rights into the book advance until they've sold them (and you can't sell the rights to something you don't own yet).

Q: "Wouldn't self-publishing via Amazon solve your problem?"

A: Yes, but it'd create a whole raft of new problems for me (notably, I'd have to perform all the functions of a traditional publisher that you don't get to see, thereby eating up half my writing time and reducing my output of fiction by about 30-50%). So I'm not going there in the foreseeable future.

Q: "Okay, but I can cope with American accents: why won't your UK publisher license the US audio files?"

A: I asked about this. As of 2012, the official answer was, "we'd love to! But the owner of the US audio files wants a licensing fee for them so large that it would exceed our anticipated sales."

(This is one of the two rays of hope in the gloomy picture, because it could change overnight—if someone at Audible was to take a realistic view of the likely revenue from a midlist UK audiobook.)

Q: "So how come 'The Atrocity Archives' and 'The Jennifer Morgue' ever came out in audio in the UK?"

A: For decades now, the Royal National Institute for the Blind has run a Talking Books for the Blind program. Volunteers record audio editions of books frequently requested by the members via the RNIB audio books service, and these are made available for free to members of the RNIB Library. (Traditionally, most trade fiction book contracts in the UK waive royalty payments for this service, and the publishers provide the rights for free.)

Over the past few years, RNIB members have begun requesting more and more genre fiction. And a couple of years ago some folks at Hachette had a bright idea: why not join forces with the RNIB and fund the recording costs jointly? The RNIB gets extra books at half price, and Hachette gets to sell them commercially (to non-blind customers) where before the production costs would have made them uneconomical.

Q: "Where is 'The Fuller Memorandum', though?"

A: Initial sales of the first two novels in the Laundry Files as audio in the UK haven't been great. Nor has there been so much demand from RNIB members that the organization has scheduled the other books in the series for recording. So it hasn't happend yet, and it may never happen, but ...

Q: "Where do we go from here?"

A: All it will take is a runaway bestseller with "Charles Stross" on the cover to change everything. If there's ever a Laundry Files film or TV series (don't hold your breath) the influx of new readers could easily drive up sales to the point where buying in those US recordings from Audible makes commercial sense. Moreover, the series is steadily growing more popular. "The Atrocity Archive" first debuted in an obscure Scottish SF magazine in 2001, then was republished by a US small press in 2003 (with "The Concrete Jungle"). Fast-forward a decade and the latest books in the series are getting front-list promotion by imprints of major publishers (Penguin Random House in the US, Hachette in the UK). It's not impossible that the series will break through into public consciousness without a film or TV adaptation.

So in summary: it's not going to happen in the next few months: but in the long term, don't give up hope.

76 Comments

1:

"the owner of the US audio files wants a licensing fee for them so large that it would exceed our anticipated sales."

I've never yet seen a monopolist who doesn't overprice. Sometimes they even price so high their product simply doesn't sell at all.

Time was, you could at least buy a physical recording and just import it. Expensive and inconvenient, but it made the material available.

2:

It's not even monopolist pricing; it's simply that they don't understand how small the UK market is. We're talking single-digit thousands of sales for the paperback (cheap) edition of the book and ebook combined; the prospect for audio sales is on the order of high hundreds to maybe one or two thousand copies at most. Just asking for $2500 as a one-time fee would wipe out the profits on a UK audiobook, and that's the sort of fee a big US outfit might expect to charge just to cover their accounting overheads ...

3:

It is landlord-like pricing, rather than marketing. The American business culture based on manufacturing and retailing used to get out there and sell, sell, sell, even into small markets. America has lost that, and I think it's one reason China is cleaning their clock in retail. The emergent business culture based on renting intellectual property just doesn't care: if they don't make the sale, they've still got their property, and they don't seem to care about actually making money.

It's hell on makers, creators, and authors. It may end up that self-publishing is the best game in town.

Ah, well. Not yet, not yet.

4:

In Poland I had to use audible.com (cannot use audible UK..) and currently see:

21 audiobooks total:
3 short forms
2 antologies
16 books (The Laundry Files 1-5, Halting State 1-2, Merchant Princes 1-2, Eschaton 1-2, Glasshouse, Accelerando, Saturn's Children, Neptune's Brood, Wireless)

12 audiobooks are Whispersync Ready

just my 2 cents

5:

What is the legal status of someone from the UK physically travelling to the united states, buying the US audiobook downloads there, burning them to a stack of CDs, flying back to the UK with CDs in tow, and then ripping the CDs on the other side? In the US, at least, if you purchase a copy of a think, you are allowed to circumvent DRM to create a copy for personal use.

(I'm not expecting UK residents to necessarily do this, but it seems like there might be some segment of your UK readership who would like to have audiobooks and also occasionally goes to the US for other purposes.)

6:

No idea. It depends on the licensing T&C's of the online service you use to buy the downloads.

7:

An additional possible reason for the small size of the UK/etc Audiobook market could be the savviness of the listeners: if you are after a particular US-only title, it does not take much digging on forums to discover that Audible and their ilk will accept a US billing address without much attempt to verify its veracity, because they would very much like to sell you things rather than spending money on working out that they may not sell you things.

Therefore, all the genre audiobook listeners who have done background reading give fake USA addresses to Audible.com to to get access to a vastly larger range of audiobooks. Because of the odious DRM that the audiobook providers require, once they have done this, even if the UK audiobook market were to suddenly and unexpectedly flourish, they will likely not switch to it, since they cannot easily change billing addresses in the future to their true country of residence without losing the ability to listen to their previously purchased audiobooks.
I would be very curious to know how many of the supposedly American customers of Audible live in other lands but must pretend otherwise in perpetuity, throttling the non-US market still further.

Doctorow claims Downpour has less nasty DRM on their audiobooks, although I haven't checked how this plays out in practice. It could however be an extra argument to support them, in that it if you got to keep your American audiobooks even when you came clean.

8:

"..."we'd love to! But the owner of the US audio files wants a licensing fee for them so large that it would exceed our anticipated sales.""

Maybe the owner should be pointed towards what's happening on PirateBay and friends

9:

Maybe the owner should be pointed towards what's happening on PirateBay and friends

The owner is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon.com. Not gonna work.

10:

If you'll permit another Q, why can't the American publishers buy the rights to sell e-books in the UK from the British publishers?

11:

That's actually how it works if you sell world English language rights to a British publisher -- exactly the mirror-image of the sell-world-rights-to-a-US-house problem.

Doesn't fix things from the reader's POV.

12:

And lo, I am roused to create an account...

Just to clarify, the $401 + $117.50 rate on the linked page is actually for "non-broadcast corporate or educational narration" – things like online learning modules, internal corporate videos, etc. Audiobook narration rates are generally calculated "per finished hour", and the SAG-AFTRA minimum at the bottom of the page is $210.00 PFH.* With that rate, 12 hours of finished narration (the amount Our Gracious Host apparently used to calculate the first rate) gives a minimum fee for the narrator of $2520 - not too different, but $450 is $450!

Also, according to SAG-AFTRA the average ratio of studio time to finished hour for most narrators is around 2:1.

* Of course, the actual rate varies...a well-known or experienced voice actor will command a much higher rate, while non-union jobs (such as you might find on the various "pay to play" voiceover websites) tend to offer wildly variable (generally lower) rates and may throw the sound engineering and editing responsibilities onto the narrator to boot.

13:

For what it is worth, the $10,000 or so involved in making an audiobook version of a book that appears in print (adding dollars for audiobook specific marketing, the studio, and administrative overhead to the amount paid to the voice actor) is cheap for a format that sells at a $27 premium relative to paperback (and most audiobooks come out with a delay after paperback editions are available). Assuming production costs of an audiobook are $2 greater than a paperback since it involves more materials, it takes sales of only about 400 audiobooks to make the version cost effective, and anything beyond that is a pretty fat profit per unit.

Moreover, if an audiobook has already been produced by the publisher for the U.S. market, that version could be licensed by the U.S. distributor to the U.K. distributor (or simply sold as finished product at wholesale price and shipped) for even less in licensing agreement negotiation costs than the cost of doing it over from scratch.

The audiobook market is indeed much smaller than the the print book market, but libraries, in order to serve older patrons and others who have trouble reading in print, often make it is habit to purchase audiobooks of many popular titles, and there are a whole lot of libraries in the Anglophone market. I would think that sales in the low single digit thousands of an audiobook edition, at a minimum, ought to be a pretty bankable expectation for an author like you in the U.K. market (and more generally, for the whole pool of genre fiction authors about whom the publisher is probably making a decision as a matter of policy).

On the other hand, one of the big motivators for U.S. sales of audiobooks is purchases by U.S. libraries fearful of facing lawsuits under the Americans With Disabilities Act if they don't make them. The fact that this law does not apply to the rest of the Anglophone book market may mean that audiobook demand is much lower outside the U.S. than it is in the U.S. relative to population.

14:

tl;dr Audio editions of Charlie books not available in UK because nobody buys them. This is the fault of the evil USA. As are most things evidentially (-;

15:

>tl;dr Audio editions of Charlie books not available in UK because nobody buys them. This is the fault of the evil USA. As are most things evidentially

I do. But, unfortunately even with MPD, I'm not enough to make the market...

I always thought that this might make a good KickStarter project, if sufficiently generalised, but as with most things, never got around to it...

A certain novel by Anne Cécile Desclos narrated by Joanna Lumley, might sell well in the, ah, "niche" market...

Charlie, what kind of money are we talking about for the UK audio rights to say a Laundry series novel?

FWIW I thought the "a colder war" audiobook was almost depressing enough!

16:

So Audible is Amazon, and is in some ways a bad thing for UK sales.

Do the people who extol self-publishing as the answer to an author's problems happen to know which company handles most self-published books?

(I think that was a rhetorical question.)

[And saying that is going to confuse some people even more.]

Anyway, it's not just easy to get the downloads from audible.com, it's pretty easy to convert the files to MP3. In that, it's no different to those ebooks from Amazon. Julius Caesar used more effective encryption.

Arguably, Audible is set up to encourage routine DRM circumvention, and choke off any chance of a competitor profiting from the non-US markets.

17:

> American accents

Just to rub it in a little deeper, the American audiobook versions of Charlies novels are done in English or Scottish accents.

18:

This is the fault of the evil USA.

Unholy Guy, Yellow card time. Do not put words I did not utter into my mouth.

19:

Audiobooks are the easiest to rip off, no matter what the DRM. As a worst case you simply connect the In and Out on your sound card and set it going.

20:

Finally I had a win. Even as an Australian, all the audiobooks for the Laundry series were available on Audible (I think they might have messed up my address and I use a gmail email with no country code). So I have all five for about 5 pounds 50 each. Listened to first 3 books so far and enjoyed them all.

21:

I am, believe it or not, supposed not to advise people to circumvent DRM (according to a couple of publisher's contracts I've signed). I'm pretty sure that boilerplate wouldn't hold up in court (nor would anyone be silly enough to jeopardize a long-standing business arrangement by testing it), but nevertheless ...

PSA: Folks, please respect my publisher's realistic aspirations not to be ripped off left, right, and centre, and especially please don't upload DRM-stripped copies of my work to warez sites.

Having said that, if you live in a region where you can't buy the product, I see no sane grounds to object to you taking measures to obtain it -- preferably by (cough) registering a spare amazon or google account with a fake address in a jurisdiction where downloads are permitted, fed with gift vouchers or a pre-paid credit card. Be aware, if you do this, that you're making the Baby Jesus Cry, and committing tax evasion (specifically, VAT) if you're an EU citizen doing this to buy stuff from the USA. Also be aware that you are (minutely) decreasing the probability of future UK audio editions showing up by cannibalizing the sales of earlier books. (In other words, this is not in your long-term best interests. I think.)

Note: shouting at my publishers won't change the numbers in their spreadsheets and magically make a red line vanish. Shouting at the US audio licensees will just annoy them (and blacken my rep, because mine is the only name they're likely to remember). The best way out of this is to buy more books, pushing up my sales, and so make an audio edition look more promising.

22:

Audible DRM is easy to break *if you have a Windows or Mac computer*.
If you use GNU/Linux, you can't access Audible audiobooks at all, which is particularly galling as they have a de facto monopoly on audiobooks these days, and most audiobooks no longer come out on CD at all, which makes it extremely difficult for my legally-blind wife, who uses Debian.

23:

Dirk>Audiobooks are the easiest to rip off.

True. Absolutely trivial. But Audible used to have a kindle app that allowed multiple identities. I dropped one of mine in the bath, and afet repair no kindle app. No option but to break the drm, or buy a new Kindle. Why isn't audible available on Kindle TV?

Search "niche genre audio books," if interested or oh, just for a laugh I started a KickStarter as mentioned earlier!

Mods, feel free to delete this if so wrong! (A note would be useful if so). In preview, last line after (above)is a link, can't see why! Help! There's definitely a proper terminator tag...

Charlie: how much money are we talking about as regards UK Laundry, audio book rights? give or take a couple of grand in Sterling?

24:

Generally, I only pirate stuff I would not pay for in the first place. Having said that, I have done it at times when I have had no money. Now I have some I'll drop $100 into the hand of Jim Butcher if/when I meet him.

25:

Sure. But if they allow multiple accounts, but don't let you easily use them, then all's fair in love or war, though I doubt that's legal in any sense, except at the county court where judges have wide discretion! Ask Judge Judy!

26:

Regarding your broken link, it was of the form <a href= "url"/>caption</a>

The first slash should not have been there.

27:

Or you could do the moral thing and buy whatever it was you pirated so that Jim receives income for the work he made that you enjoyed. It would be trivial to do rather than the pointless goal of maybe meeting him one day and maybe giving him some cash. Especially as book sales are likely to help his career whereas just the money isn't going to go much further than buying dinner that night.

28:

Thanks for that fix. I have never claimed not to be an idiot! Except on Amazon Religion Discussions, which are weirder than Usenet, Honest. I already have one stalker there. Most amusing.

29:

I could, but I don't want the books - I only read fiction once. So I should then given them away to someone who might otherwise have bought them, or just burn them?

30:

Charlie: how much money are we talking about as regards UK Laundry, audio book rights? give or take a couple of grand in Sterling?

Don't know, but even one grand in Sterling would be too much to permit economic publication in such a small market.

31:

Simplest answer: gift them to someone who'll enjoy them but can't afford to buy them.

32:

Or you could do the moral thing and buy whatever it was you pirated so that Jim receives income for the work he made that you enjoyed.

I don't know how that works out, and it might be unwise for authors to speak up and tell the truth about it. I will point out a simple scenario, and maybe somebody who knows more will say where I'm wrong.

Suppose you buy 5 of an author's books from Amazon. Amazon gets a check for, say, $45 plus shipping. Particularly if these are Ebooks, Amazon might possibly cheat the publisher. Not that they intend to cheat, but their computers are a little buggy and they sometimes fail to report sales.... It might be better with paperbacks.

But if all goes well the publisher gets their money, perhaps $23. They eventually give a cut of that to the author. Often the deal is he gets 7% of paperback final sale income, which would be 7% of $45 = $3.15 before taxes. Sometimes the deal instead is that he gets 7% of what the publisher gets paid, which is more like $1.61. If the advance has been paid off, or if there wasn't an advance, the author can expect to see his money within a year or so. This is assuming the publisher doesn't cheat also. Publishers are usually honest, but it's hard to check on them to tell how honest they are. A little bit of sloppiness might result in some percentage of sales not leading to author payments.

If you do give him a timely gift of $45, is that better? It depends. If he's living hand-to-mouth, likely. Particularly if it turns out to be a tax-free gift. On the other hand, every sale that gets counted by both Amazon and the publisher increases the chance he will be allowed to put the next book through the system. Particularly for a new author who's living hand-to-mouth, one book that doesn't sell enough copies can end his career.

So if you get a pirated copy (or read it in the library or whatever) and then you pay the author full price, you may be giving him 15 to 30 times as much money as he'd get otherwise, and if you do it in a timely way he's likely to get it in half the time or sooner. But you are doing nothing to support the rickety decrepit system of bookselling that lets him be a published author. And that system may discard him even before it collapses.

Also, you might not get around to getting the money to him in a timely way or at all. Not that you intend to cheat him, you have good intentions, but just like the publisher and Amazon, you might occasionally lose track. And then it does wind up being you personally cheating the author you like, and not some faceless corporation doing it.

So all in all, I don't know which is better, even apart from my numbers being off.

33:

First, I doubt Jim Butcher is short of money given his sales.
Second, I guess $100 is a lot more than he would get from me just buying the books.
Third, I will meet him at some point.

34:

Thanks for that.

"But"

This is about what I want, and not money, except in so far as it makes my ambition possible. So I'll try for other peoples money to make it possible! Like one does...

Stop being bashful, how much are we talking about? If you don't know, who does? Relatively large sums do not surprise me, given I just signed off for USD on 350,000 for some elemental Delta kit. That said, small sums do embarrass me, unless they're 20 lines of trivial code. 150 Euro for a tweak to BBC world-wide playout to do with Omneon servers that saved the day! I nearly dropped dead. and was quite embarrassed. But as I said, earlier I'm an idiot.


35:

Particularly if these are Ebooks, Amazon might possibly cheat the publisher. Not that they intend to cheat, but their computers are a little buggy and they sometimes fail to report sales....

Trust me, that's not going to happen.

But if all goes well the publisher gets their money, perhaps $23. They eventually give a cut of that to the author. Often the deal is he gets 7% of paperback final sale income

That would usually be 7% of the suggested retail price, not the net receipts (unless their agent was asleep instead of reading contracts). Also, for ebooks the industry standard is 25% of net.

Author-Publisher contracts generally allow the author to conduct a zero-notice audit of the publisher's books for any or no reason at all (with some costs if they don't find anything). Organizations like SFWA do this on behalf of their members on a regular basis. It helps keep them honest. Yes, bookkeeping mistakes happen, but a publisher who is systematically underreporting sales is going to get in trouble sooner rather than later as word gets around.

(There are reasons why those of us who stick with traditional publishers think we're getting a decent deal. For one thing, unlike Amazon those trad publishers can't unilaterally re-arrange their contract terms and conditions at a week's notice by publishing the revised contract on a web site in a locked filing cabinet behind a door labelled "Beware of the Leopard" ...)

36:

Audiobook sales of midlist SF/F titles in the UK market can be as low as high triple digits -- hundreds of copies, not thousands.

You wouldn't believe how small the margins can be in this business.

37:

[ DELETED BY MODERATOR -- entitlement is ugly. Go away. ]

38:

There is a similar unavailability problem with many books if you
are an Epub user. While I can hack around many of the stupid
issues (perfectly legally), it's a hassle that I would rather not
have. And searching for Epubs is a Right Pain, because so many
of the hits are pirate sites (including ones that ask for payment
and would look legal to most people).

DRM is a wormcan that I have largely avoided so far.

40:

Clearly you do want the books because you've pirated them. So it's clear that you want them but don't think you should pay for them, which is a pretty poor reflection on you to say the least. You could do as Charlie suggests and give them to someone who can't afford them, or maybe just gift them or even donate them to a library. Or yeah just burn them if you like (if you get the Ebooks they can just sit in your library). The key point is that you owe Jim Butcher money and despite having a free and easy way of giving him it (buying the books) have decided it must be done personally.

41:

Excuse my ignorance, I thought that the Kindle eReader, or some versions of it, could read the text of eBooks, and speak it. I don't have one of them, so I didn't know.

Short research says the publisher has to enable it, on a per title basis. Never mind. Not to encourage yet another form of hacking.

42:

If that was a reply to me, I have a basic Kobo, therefore the book
HAS to end up in real Epub. Yes, I can convert most formats, but
it's sometimes tricky to buy even an openly available book if you
don't have a device the site supports.

43:

I would rather do it personally, but if he has a paypal account I can do it that way.
OTOH, I sort of regret my honesty here. I promise not to do it again (the confessions, that is) so I can avoid your pointless comments in future.

44:

That's just avoiding the fact that you could honestly pay for what you've pirated but are going to come up with a ridiculous excuse not to.

As for being honest: if you confess to pirating something don't be surprised when someone calls you out for it.

45:

FFS, when it comes to my "crimes" piracy is the very least of them by an astronomical margin.
And the only reason JB is getting some cash while Hollywood can kiss my arse is because I like him. In fact, I am watching one of the latter's mediocre products right now, illegally, and I do not have the slightest twinge of conscience. Feel free to play moralizing nanny.

46:

"If you use GNU/Linux, you can't access Audible audiobooks at all"

That is no longer true - I could access all my audible audiobooks from my Linuxes without any problems - some time ago they changed their Cloud/WWW player from Silverlight to some kind of JS/html5 and that works percefectly here. The only drawback is that you have to be online all the time (audiobooks plays as streams).

47:

apt-get wine and see if the Audible program will run in it. Wine is a lot better than it used to be. If it won't run in wine, apt-get virtualbox and pick up an older copy of Windows from eBay for $20 or so.

I favor "git-r-done" over Stallmanesque ideological purity. And I click the button and the Evil Empire's software turns back into a handful of files in a dusty subdirectory.

48:

You don't even need an eBay copy of Windows if you just use it for retrieving media once in a while. Microsoft gives away time limited VM images of Windows with different IE versions for compatibility testing. Here's how to quickly install them under Linux or OS X: https://github.com/xdissent/ievms

If you use Windows regularly, by all means spend the $20, but this is faster and free if you use Windows only rarely.

49:

That should be handy! I keep running into sites that won't render with anything but the latest IE. My wife's employer's HR web pages, for example... and MS doesn't support newer IE on my antique but legal copy of XP.

50:

The last piece by Stallman that I saw seemed more than a bit crazy. I could see the chain of logic, but it quickly got into territory that makes him seem imperfectly socialised. It's not quite the same, but he resembles the extremes of American, usually male, libertarianism.

It's been too long since I checked my Linux laptop. Maybe with wine it can run Scrivener...

51:

I tried running audible in WiNE, and it did work this time (didn't last time I'd tried it), but sadly with terrible audio. I didn't know about the free Windows VM thing though -- that may turn out to be very useful for getting rid of DRM on things in the future.

Antonia -- you don't need WiNE for Scrivener any more, there's a beta for GNU/Linux that seems to have full functionality (and is free-of-cost for a period of a year).

52:

We need Richard Stallman to be out there -- he's the awkward nail in the frame that stops the Overton window from sliding too far away from the public interest in the direction the rentiers would prefer.

All the same, there's a difference between acknowledging that we need to hear from a particular viewpoint in a discussion, and accepting that viewpoint without reservation.

53:

Dirk, it's nice that you personally give JB more money that he'd get from the normal purchasing process. But what his publisher sees is a decline in sales. If enough people pirate the books, the publisher will reduce the advance JB gets or even drop him altogether.

Sure, your way gives a higher percentage to JB. But maybe like OGH he'd actually rather stick with a publisher.

54:

Dirk, it's nice that you personally give JB more money that he'd get from the normal purchasing process. But what his publisher sees is a decline in sales.

It depends.

When I was poor I waited until books came out in paperback. The library tended to make books available about the time they came out in paperback, so I'd read library books and then buy the paperbacks if I wanted to keep them.

If pirated stuff had been available then I'd probably have used it, and it wouldn't affect the publisher much at all.

Now there's a lot of pirating. I tend to read Cory Doctorow's books online, and then buy them. He says he doesn't mind. there are some clear advantages to it when it's morally OK.

Meanwhile I tried to get a copy of RA Lafferty's Fourth Mansions for my children. I can get it in paperback in fair condition for around $15, and Lafferty's estate won't get a penny from that. I downloaded it, and it turned out my children refused to look at it. Selah.

I think it's better that people who get free ebooks send money to the authors, than that they don't. Maybe the authors would prefer they buy their work through the regular channels, but the readers get to choose too, and it's good that the people who get stuff send money.

If people are going to pirate stuff and if they're going to build a subculture around it, I'd like them to set up a way they can prove to each other that they've sent money to the authors. That would encourage them to actually do it and not just say they did.

55:

Or maybe I should do what I did in the Good Old Days when I used to read a book a day. That is, buy none at all and just borrow them from the local library, for free. All legal and moral and not a penny goes to anyone. But the author and publishers do get to sell a couple of copies to the library (paid for by the taxpayers).

56:

Ah, libraries.

All legal and moral and not a penny goes to anyone

Ah, if you had been borrowing from public libraries here in the UK, there is something called the Public Lending Right, which does dispense funds to authors whose books are being borrowed. It may not be a lot, but it's welcome enough.

57:

The point being, it didn't cost me a penny. Just like piracy, but with someone else actually paying for my privilege.

58:

just borrow them from the local library, for free. All legal and moral and not a penny goes to anyone

Not heard of Public Lending Right, have we?

I get paid for library loans in the UK and Ireland. (Alas, thanks to our beloved conservative government, my PLR payments are getting cut, in real terms, and are down 50% since the coalition came to power in 2010. Bastards.)

PLR, incidentally, does cost you money; it comes out of your council tax bill. (On the other hand, it's pennies per book-loan.)

59:

"PLR, incidentally, does cost you money; it comes out of your council tax bill. "

No, it comes out of everyone's council tax bill.

60:

Being aware of walking on a swampy territory, I would like to offer a possibly different (to start with, non-anglophone) perspective on the general theme this thread gravitated to.

TL;DR version: I believe piracy does much more good than bad.

To have some background: I'm (at the moment) pretty well off compared to the local standards where I live, but still quite poor compared to western standards; and when I was younger, I was very poor in western terms, but still rather rich compared to say people in North Africa. I am emphasizing this because I think this is a perfect position to, if not understand, but at least be aware of the whole range of financial and all-round situation of humans on this planet: I am on hand extremely lucky, rich, and so far have a very easy life compared to most of the people, on the other hand I'm still rather poor (and thus somewhat limited in opportunities) compared to the luckier part of US, UK and western EU population.

(To have some numbers to sink, where I live, lots of hard-working people: teachers, nurses, etc, through their whole working life, earn around the equivalent of 200-250 pounds in local currency, net, per month. That's about the lowest it goes normally, but it is a really fat tail. This is within the EU, by the way, and not even the poorest EU country. And yes, it is not exactly easy to live on that... I did that too, but it was much easier to me because 1) I was young with no family, and 2) also supported by my parents; still it gives some perspective).

Anyways, I'm derailing. What I wanted to say here is about piracy, and also about law and DRM and organization of society. Making the same mistake as Dirk above, I will be honest and admit that I pirated a large numbers of books, music and software in my life (these days, as I'm now better off, I usually pay for things; though not always, and not necessarily because of moral conscience, but also because it's easier: For example I buy ebooks from Amazon, even though I have some bad feelings about feeding that evil company, but frankly, it's very convenient! (I probably would have second thoughts if it was not possible to remove the DRM)).

(By the way I think both piracy and free stuff is very good advertising. Example in case: I learned about the existence of OGH via the free online version of Accelerando, which then turned out to be one of my favourite novels all time, and during the times bought basically everything he published (Accelerando too), some of them more than once. Accelerando was legally free, but there was not much difference for me at that time. My theory is that there are two kind of people who pirate things: the first kind wouldn't buy anyway, so there is no real loss of income; but the second kind will buy more later, when they can afford it.)

But the point I want to make here, is that I honestly believe that piracy does more good than bad in today's society. Given the above background, the majority of human population simply cannot afford, at all, to buy books, music, movies, software, and other "intellectual property". But clearly (to me, at least), humanity is better off with access to all these stuff!

It may be shocking to some of you, but piracy is the normal thing to do in the poorer parts of the world. In fact it's so normal that people will look you and see an alien if you admit that you paid for a CD or DVD or a software product! (happened to me personally). This probably looks rather bad from the other side of world, and indeed piracy is way too ingrained at many places to be morally acceptable, still, given the choice between: a) buying food; b) buying DVDs and/or movie tickets; and c) buying food and torrenting movies, maybe the last one is the best? Humanity advances through culture, and the present system seems to actively inhibit the spread of culture. (And I don't buy the "no fees, no culture" argument; see also patents and the pharmaceutical industry, I don't buy that either)

More to the point, a (rather pesonal, I admit) example is the time when I did a PhD (in a "hard" science). The bottom line is that that work simply wouldn't exist if I had no access to a large, very illegally procured library of science books! Now I have to ask the question: Is the fact that I illegally aquired electronic copies of thousands of science books - all of which I would have never bought, to start with because the total amount of money I lived on at that time was enough for approximately two of these books per month -, so is this harmful for the human society in any way? I believe no. I believe it is actually good for society! I maybe advanced science a tiny little bit, had a good time (more or less), and in fact nobody losed any income (because the choice is not between the publisher selling one more book or not, but instead me doing some work or not).

Furthermore (to jump randomly between lines of thought), it's not like I actually read 1000 books, more liked I scanned 999 books, jumping from one reference to an other, and finally read the last one - but in today's legal environment, I should have paid for all 1000, which I think is frankly nonsense.

At this point I guess all of you will shout "BUT LIBRARIES EXIST FOR THIS!", and you are mostly right; however, let me just sketch the workflows:

Exhibit A: You have an idea. Go to the library, check the relevant book (oh, we don't have it / it's already loaned out), loan that, go home, read 3 hours, realize that it's not relevant after all, but maybe that reference number #317 is better? Oh but the library is already closed at this hour... Ok, next day (oh but it's now weekend, library is closed) go to the libray, check out the next book... (feel free to extrapolate).

Exhibit B: You download the exact same book, start to read, realize that it's not that relevant; ok let's download reference #317, start to read, hmm this isn't the right thing either, let's try reference #666 [...] end of the day, reference of the reference of the reference of #31337, oh that's exactly what I wanted, cool, now this maybe works after all!

This is fucking public science, it's not that I robbed the publishers (who are, by the way, rather evil, because scientific publishing is very different from trade fiction), just tried to advance humanity for fun (and with no profit, usually). So, which one is better?

Conclusion time, because this is already way too long (though I could rant more for ages) I believe that what is called "intellectual property" today should be readily accessible for people, and the present legal system works exactly in the opposite direction of that. Yes, of course authors should be paid, indeed paid well, but I'm not at all convinced the current system is in any way optimal. Consider software: Most software companies get their income after sales. Some are lucky and earn a lot, some other are not so lucky (of course, quality have some role here, but given the general "quality" of software products, I don't think it's an important factor...). On the other hand, there is open source: Lots of (hopefully) smart folks write software for free! But then they have to compromise between getting a salary, and writing free software (myself included). What if creating software was financed by working hours instead of sales? Maybe that's too radical, but I think that would be better for the society. Same thing: I believe, but correct me if I'm too idealistic here, that writers write because they want to write, and it's a bonus if they can live on that; so why not change the financing to make that easier? Science is paid from public money, of course 90% of it is rubbish, but it's still worth for that 10%. Why couldn't be literature like that? Now, of course I don't actually think that science is organized very well, or that the present funding situation translated to literature would do any good, but the general idea I believe in: science is common good, and thus should be financed as such. Culture should be the same, morally. (Music is already kind-of halfway in the sense that people start to separate the notions of creating music and selling music, and there are orders of magnitude more people making cool music in their free time than it used to be)

And thus we go all around and arrive back to the starting point: All this wall of text (sorry about that...) was triggered by Therion667's audiobook kickstarter idea, which I think is a really good idea (even if I'm not personally interested in audiobooks at all, so far at least), and also very reasonable! While we are talking about a not completely insignificant amount of money, it doesn't seem to be such a large sum that a small collective of people together couldn't afford it. Some people, for example my boss, could afford to pay it just for fun, like a pub bill! And in the finance industry, that would be literally a rounding error... which may say something about the organization of the present human society.

So maybe humanity should have more of that kind of projects, financially not necessarily viable, legally maybe challenging, but a honestly nice goal and still cheap enough that a small group of happy volunteers could afford it (either with money or work donated, or both)? Discuss!

61:

Well what do you expect from this bunch? They can't write anything (with maybe one or two exceptions) that can end up being borrowed from a public library. It may be the same business of telling lies for money, but they're just not very good at it.

62:

Who are you talking about?

63:

From context, the current government -> this bit: " (Alas, thanks to our beloved conservative government, my PLR payments are getting cut, in real terms, and are down 50% since the coalition came to power in 2010. Bastards.)"

64:

Well, libraries are going out of fashion - another victim of the Net.

65:

Nope. I disagree. (Libraries are also a vital community resource for the urban poor who don't have computers or net access at home: they provide terminals, which are a life-saver for accessing government services now that the government is trying to cut face-to-face interactions and go 100% online.)

What's actually happening is that libraries are expensive bits of capital investment (buildings and books are not free) that also require ongoing maintenance (salaries for staff, roof repairs, utility bills, new book acquisitions). And with a government who are determined to axe public spending to the bone, they're seen as an easy target compared to, say, road repairs, street lights, and fire service. Like parks and recreation, they're optional -- and the users are typically less well-off so less likely to have lobbying muscle.

Longer term, of course, the Tories would love to get rid of public libraries. The public library movement in the 19th century was a key platform for the working class self-improvement/education movement and provided a springboard into public engagement for a lot of annoying bolshie leftie politicians who went on to challenge their natural lords and masters for a share of the pie. Pulling up the ladder behind you is all part and parcel of the Posh Party's platform, so we shouldn't be too surprised by this ...

66:


Dear Mr. Stross, and gentlefolk,

Greetings from Newark, New Jersey!

I was on the staff at Philcon '06 (and thanks, again, for coming and meeting us and speaking...) and recently moved to within walking distance of Audible's HQ building (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Washington_Park).

This is between Newark Public Library's main building and Broad St Station (for the commuter lines on the old Lackawanna RR), in a safe and peaceful neighborhood. Were a group of people to gather there some fine summer day, with picket signs ("Audible Unfair To Rest Of World", maybe) and informational flyers, mayhaps we could bring this to more general notice (especially with an advance press release to the local public TV and radio stations, whose local offices are ~400 meters away)

Anyone up for joining me ? Contributing to the 'picket signs and flyers fund' ?

Yours, Parm

68:

Jumping back a little bit, but Downpour's "less nasty DRM" plays out pretty simply: you buy the book, and you download either MP3 files or an M4B file (AAC with bookmarks), both DRM-free.

Not quite as convenient for me as buying a pre-burnt MP3-CD from Brilliance or Tantor (my car's radio supports MP3-CDs, so that's easier than hooking my phone up), but pretty darn close.

69:

Scrivener works on linux, there's a 'beta' version for linux which I've been using for a couple of years. It has an expiry date but no licence fee. It tends to be a feature set behind the latest Mac or Windows version but I've found it stable on my ubuntu laptop and netbook.

70:

While the UK Govt. is trying to move to Digital by Default not all of the people (or households) in the UK have internet access, and most of those that lack it do so either because they cannot afford it, or because they are unlikely to get the skills needed to use it.

There's a strong link between those two groups, many of the minimum wage type jobs are in places that don't use IT to deliver them (farm labourers, kitchens, shelf stacking etc). So the people in those jobs don't have much money, nor are they picking up digital skills.

How do you find a job these days? Mainly from online recruitment. How do you claim benefits? New claims are supposed to go online, especially in the Universal Credit areas.

See the problem?

71:

Yes, but it is going to be temporary.
The analogy is with people who are totally illiterate. At some point in the near future if you cannot use the Net you will be classed as "special needs". Total Net access is where we are headed, just like it used to be a total literacy requirement for all that you mention.
Libraries only get a temporary reprieve on those grounds.

72:

Well, they've forgotten why Bismark invented the modern social safety net and such, it was to squelch all that self organizing socialist stuff that was sprouting up. I am against dismantling what we have, but I am in favor of a return of what we've lost too.

If the people get their act together, the powers that be are helpless.

73:

" Longer term, of course, the Tories would love to get rid of public libraries. The public library movement in the 19th century was a key platform for the working class self-improvement/education movement and provided a springboard into public engagement for a lot of annoying bolshie leftie politicians who went on to challenge their natural lords and masters for a share of the pie. Pulling up the ladder behind you is all part and parcel of the Posh Party's platform, so we shouldn't be too surprised by this ... "

I DO wish that I could disagree with you and be a little more optimistic...Gods but this has been a Horrible Year so Far for Me! BUT...

Hereabouts in my Ever So Middle Class - former village but absorbed into Metro Land version of the North East- the few survivors of the Public Branch Library network survive as poorly/shabbily clad and Much Reduced Victorian Gentlefolk - those few Branch Libraries that cling to life do so under Much Reduced Hours of Opening, and very much reduced stocks of Books and, amid the Northern Wastelands, the Survivors are SAD to the Nth Degree. Well, CUTS must be made in Local Government mustn’t they?

Oddly enough, many traditional Working Man, Labour Working Class Councils never had much liking for all of this Book Learning Stuff. This did vary from place to place in the U.K. but foreigners DO have trouble understanding just how culturally diverse a modest British Archipelago can be. Hey Ho! Some things don't change...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-21433152

And also...note the proportion of library closures and that this is a hell of a large centre of population...

“Sunderland City Council's cabinet has agreed plans to close nine of the city's 20 libraries.

At a cabinet meeting of Sunderland City Council, held yesterday evening (4th September), senior councillors agreed plans to close nine libraries, in the hopes of saving £850,000 a year.

Many councillors expressed regret at the decision, but said it was a necessary step. Councillor Graeme Miller was quoted in the Sunderland Echo saying: "Nobody becomes a councillor to shut things. The focus should be on the Coalition Government who have cut our funding by £100,000 in the past three years. That’s 25% of our budget gone. We’re not doing this because we want to, we’re doing this because we have to.

"Because of the internet, because of Facebook, because of gadgets, we don’t need libraries in the way we used to when I was 15."

http://www.thebookseller.com/news/sunderland-agrees-library-closures


I can afford to buy whatever I want off the Internet in E Book form. Others? I've had conversations with averagely professional Middle Class Persons who claim that if their wages are cut much more then they too will have recourse to Food Banks! I just haven’t had the heart to tell them that the much advertised Food Banks are nowhere near as easy to gain access to as they might suppose.

Consider this...before ever the Food Bank concept was created Public Libraries were Book Banks for the poor.
Still ... Reasons to be Cheerful!!! One ..


At Least... YOUR CREATURE LIVES !!!! ...

On TITTER ..Oh, all Right, " Twitter "

" Charlie Stross ‏@cstross 2 hrs2 hours ago Edinburgh, Scotland

Reminder: IT EXISTS!!! "

So I SEE ...

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23154785-the-annihilation-score

Though other 'umble folk Cry in Anguish ...


" I confess I'm kind of puzzled how folks are reviewing or rating a book that is not only not yet published, but not available in ARC yet ...!
flag

8 likes • like 8 comments 8 days ago

David That's nothing. "The Nightmare Stacks" already has two 5-star reviews and that's not due out until next year."


So, The 'umble Folks may soon buy ...

" The Annihilation Score (Laundry Files) Hardcover – 2 Jul 2015 "

From all of the Best Bookshops .... all the Bookshops that survive that is since I'd hate to have to tell you how few High Street bookshops survive in the North East of England.

Oh, well. Not to Worry. Reasons to be Cheerful ...Part Three ..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIMNXogXnvE

74:

The reason that I rarely buy modern hardbacks and wait for the
paperback is the physical size. This is for many reasons. For
heaven's sake, why on earth use a font of the size most people
haven't needed since primary school? I agree that the most compact
formats of c. 1900 are hard to read, but the standard ones of that
era are perfectly readable and are a fraction of the size and
weight.

75:

I hope you are right about lack of access being temporary, but to me it looks like the S curve flattening out. The last 10% or so are going to be hard to get to.

76:

The last 10% are probably effectively illiterate anyway. It's not necessarily a mark of poverty. I bet those last 10% have smartphones.

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