In the age of ebooks, you don't own your library

Reporting on a Science and Technology Law Review article about copyright and ebooks, Gizmodo's Matt Buchanan has written a great piece on the way that hardware ebook readers (Kindle, Sony Reader) run on stores that only license -- instead of selling -- books to you, even though they encourage you to think of the books as a purchase, saying things like "buy it now for the Kindle!" Books that you own can be loaned, re-sold and given away, and the ongoing health of the book trade and reading itself relies on this -- how many of your favorite writers did you discover at a used bookstore, or when a friend passed you a copy of a book?

It's funny that in the name of protecting "intellectual property," big media companies are willing to do such violence to the idea of real property -- arguing that since everything we own, from our t-shirts to our cars to our ebooks, embody someone's copyright, patent and trademark, that we're basically just tenant farmers, living on the land of our gracious masters who've seen fit to give us a lease on our homes.

In the fine print that you "agree" to, Amazon and Sony say you just get a license to the e-books–you're not paying to own 'em, in spite of the use of the term "buy." Digital retailers say that the first sale doctrine–which would let you hawk your old Harry Potter hardcovers on eBay–no longer applies. Your license to read the book is unlimited, though–so even if Amazon or Sony changed technologies, dropped the biz or just got mad at you, they legally couldn't take away your purchases. Still, it's a license you can't sell.

But is this claim legal? Our Columbia friends suggest that just because Sony or Amazon call it a license, that doesn't make it so. "That's a factual question determined by courts," say our legal brainiacs. "Even if a publisher calls it a license, if the transaction actually looks more like a sale, users will retain their right to resell the copy." Score one for the home team.

Link (via /.)

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  1. Well gee Cory – I bought “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” written, well, by you, for my Kindle just a few days ago. How do you reconcile your latest rant with the fact that you’re supporting that to which you are objecting?

  2. Boomzilla — that’s news to me. I explicitly did NOT give permission for D&OITMK (and my other books) to be sold for the Kindle store. I’ll have a word with my publisher.

  3. I just realised that my non-DRM MP3s from eMusic are in fact the same. I thought that since I had “bought” them and they were unprotected, if I got bored of an album I could sell it or give it away (heck I’m not even allowed to give it away, once “bought” or licensed as it seems, it sticks to me and me only.

    What if I liked an song and wanted to buy another copy for a friend – I can’t do that either. These annoying restrictions show that with digital content, even with good vendors such as eMusic there is still some way to go before consumers have the same complete freedom and rights as with old physical items.

  4. I can see however, that this is somewhat consistent with how we “own” print books. When I buy a print book, I own the medium, but not the content. Granted, the content is permanently (sort of) printed in the medium, but I can never “own” someone else’s writing. I do think however, that you should at least be free to sell, gift, or trade your content at will, just as you would printed books.

  5. Neuromancer has it: While I own the books on my shelf, I don’t own the content they contain.

    When I loan out a volume or sell it back to a used bookstore, I’m passing on the license along with the physical item – the two are inextricably linked. It’s a perfect DRM system; I can’t “sell, gift or trade” my content, only the hardware that it happens to be printed on.

    But digital copies of books, music and movies aren’t linked in this way. I can make a perfect copy of a file, pass it on to you, and keep my original. That’s where things get complicated.

    If you think about it, paper and ink books amount to owned hardware. While that hardware belongs to me – just as a Kindle or an iPod might – the content it contains doesn’t. I could, for example, lend you a Kindle or sell it to you loaded with books (although I suspect there’s something in the fine print that discourages this). What I can’t do is sell or trade a copy of a digital book while keeping the original.

    The upshot: We all tend to see our digital assets in the same way as our physical libraries, but we’re looking at it in the wrong way. When we buy a book, we’re actually buying a license to read that book. Kindle works in exactly the same way. It looks like a sale because it is a sale – the sale of a license. And, as the legal brainiacs at Gizmodo argue, I ought to have the right to resell that license.

    But how can I do that and ensure that I haven’t kept a copy? How can I (legally) lend a license to a friend while retaining a perfect replica of the licensed material?

    Which isn’t to say that I’m a fan of draconian DRM measures or anything less than a vocal supporter of Creative Commons. But the issue is far more nuanced than what’s been presented here and at Gizmodo.

  6. I distribute a software program popular with college students. We require activation of the software so it can only be put on 2 computers at anyone time. Occassionally, people complain and say “it’s my software, I should be able to put it on as many computers as I want.” So we did an experiment and released 100 copies of the software with unlimited activations. We used the same licensing agreement and the software was exactly the same. Then we tracked how many computers this single copy was installed upon. The average was computers. Obviously if you don’t take measures to limit consumers use of digital products, you get ripped off. Let’s be honest here. People don’t want to pay for anything anymore and if you ask them to pay, they run behind “freedom” arguments. Since you know the Kindle books are restricted there’s a very easy solution here. Don’t buy them.

  7. Stanfrombrooklyn: You left out the punchline of your post. “the average was computers”. Huh?

  8. I really, really hope that this wasn’t the hidden agenda of these companies all along. They can’t be THAT smart…

  9. I think you may be missing part of the issue. There is a difference between ‘copy’ and ‘move’. When I loan a paperback or a CD to a friend, I’m not making a copy of it.

    DRM that restricts ‘copy’ isn’t really what you’re arguing against with this line of reasoning. This line of reasoning only covers DRM which restricts ‘move’. Imagine a DRM scheme which allowed you to ‘move’ your files as many times as you wished, but restricted your ability to ‘copy’.

    With a ‘move’ enabled DRM scheme, I could ‘move’ my ebook to your ebook reader. I could ‘move’ my .ogg files from one player to another. I could ‘move’ my movies from my hard drive to yours. I just wouldn’t be able to ‘copy’ them. Just like with regular DVD’s and printed books I would have to go out and buy them again when you didn’t return them ;)

  10. “Th vrg ws cmptrs.”

    Yr pst rds lk cck nd bll stry, bcs y frgt t pt n nmbr t th crtcl pnt. t’s lk yr mnd blnkd n th prt tht hd t b md p.

    “Nw, wht wld b cnvncng nmbr? ‘ll dcd nc ‘v fnshd th pst.”

    Jst syng.

  11. I’ll happily stick to real books, personally. In addition to avoiding all the copyright issues involved with switching mediums, there is simply nothing more satisfying than curling up in bed with an actual leafy tome. Staring at a little digitzed screen is just so coldly impersonal.

    *hugs her books*

  12. It seems like the correct way to test this (at least, in the US), would be to sue amazon for false advertising (since they advertise purchase, but claim only license).

  13. DCE writes, “When we buy a book, we’re actually buying a license to read that book.” But you don’t need a license to read a book: copyright doesn’t regulate reading. Treat books as licenses, and you change the nature of books. Though I’m sure it was not your intent, by your reasoning we now need permission to read.

    You treat licensing as though it is the “correct” model for books. But there is no “correct” model. Copyright is a human invention: we define what it is and what it does. This debate is not about finding the truth of what books are. It is a contest to determine what they will be. It is part of a continuing radical shift in the nature of copyright. It doesn’t seem like a shift, for once we accept new definitions and new models (e.g. “intellectual property”) we imagine we have simply discovered what copyright always was. It’s a political struggle, but it’s hidden, because n retrospect the conclusion appears to be logically inevitable.

    The models and metaphors we use – ownership, buying, licenses, property, theft, and so on – are not simply questions of semantics. These models don’t reflect reality, they create it.

  14. And just as a side note, this is the entire reason why I haven’t bought a kindle. I love the idea (for the device), but can’t square the software end of it.

  15. I was going to suggest that stanfrombrooklyn had a problem with an unclosed tag, as in the past I’ve noticed BB tends to deal harshly with markup error, but because I don’t feel like being a lazy idiot this morning I spent a few seconds testing to see if I could get the system to simply lose text by some combination of bad <i> or <b&gt tags, and couldn’t do it.

    That said, I still find his point plausible.

  16. I have the same misgivings about downloadable games (i.e. the Wii’s Virtual Console.) I’ve still downloaded a few, but I feel sort of dirty when I do. On the other hand, they cost way less than physical used copies of the game in a lot of cases (Super Metroid, Harvest Moon, Sin & Punishment.) I sleep at night by considering it an unlimited term rental, even though they deem it a purchase.

  17. Isn’t it great that people can write their own books, make their own comics…and share them freely on a social network like videos in YouTube?

  18. we’re basically just tenant farmers, living on the land of our gracious masters who’ve seen fit to give us a lease on our homes.

    Funny how that mirrors what’s going on in the real estate market. Oh, and the worldwide economy. All property is being concentrated in the hands of a few people. Serf’s up!

  19. I hate used books. Knowing that someone else has handled and dogeared and broken the book I’m trying to read just creeps me out, especially if it’s a stranger. It’s worse with paperbacks, but only because they’re more fragile. Even in college I hated it when the only copy of a textbook that was available was used, with someone else’s ideas on the most important parts highlighted or underlined.

    Authors have their own agendas, but every reader I’ve ever argued with about this eventually admitted it came down to money. Used, borrowing, and stealing avoided spending, which is exactly what publishers (quite rightly) are trying to fight.

    Parsimony or sanctimony, neither are a good argument for whining about not being able to read a book or watch a movie without agreeing to the owner’s terms. All that leaves is utopian socialism, and we all know how well that works.

  20. It’s worse with paperbacks, but only because they’re more fragile.

    I buy used hardbacks all the time and like them better than new. But used paperbacks kind of creep me out. They seem somehow more permeable to contagion.

  21. “Don’t buy them” is good advice until there are no more paper books. It isn’t a foregone conclusion that we’ll ever reach that point, but we may.

    Human beings–all human beings, not just ones with political or religious beliefs you don’t agree with, or who are part of the corporate/green/leftist cabal you think is running the world—are convenience-seeking animals. This is true across society and history. Hunter-gatherers like the Mehinaku or the pre-contact Salish organized themselves around their own convenience just as much as the equally human people living today in Singapore or New York.

    What we see as “convenient” changes with context. That we seek convenience does not.

    The killer for e-book-display-devices (an awkward technology should have an awkward name) is that they are a pain to use. Should that ever change, books could be in trouble.

    When the Kindle and its kin exceed some significant profitability threshold, Amazon and others will try to go into the electronic publishing business directly, without any of the costs associated with the production, storage and distribution of physical books. Actual production costs are typically 20 – 25% of a book’s cover price, to say nothing of warehousing and distribution, so elimination of all those costs gives a publisher a margin of perhaps 50% on the book’s price, which is huge in a business where margins are comfortably in the single digits. People are trying this now, but so far haven’t had the marketing budget to make it big. Amazon does.

    So for now, don’t buy them. But keep in mind a future where “Don’t buy them” rhymes with, “You can always ride a horse.”

  22. @dougnelson (#22)

    I’m exactly the opposite way: used books are wonderful; the smell of old books in a bookstore is one of the best in the world. Used books, library books, and sharing of these things is wonderful.

    I’d like to make note of the idea of releasing free copies of digital books, as a retaliation against all this DRM. One author’s books stand out in my mind — David Webber’s Honor Herrington series. In 2004, in the back of the latest release, he included a CD-ROM with digital archives of all the previous books in the series, encouraging readers to copy and share the disc (but not to sell, natch) — which is how I first came across the series.

    More recently, Webber’s publisher, Baen, has put copies of works by many of its authors online for free as well. There is also a nice, witty introduction.

    http://www.baen.com/library/

  23. Amazon and others will try to go into the electronic publishing business directly, without any of the costs associated with the production, storage and distribution of physical books.

    Netflix is desperately trying to move to download only. Why have costs when pure profit is so much more fun?

  24. I’m in agreeance with #26. I like my books to have a history. Furthermore, I like passing them on, and have given away several boxes of books via freecycle. If I enjoy a story, of course I want to share. :)

    I also think you’re missing the point, dougnelson. The issue is if you purchase something, if you spend your hard earned cash on it, shouldn’t it be in your right to do with it as you want? It really doesn’t matter your motivation for doing it. We’re talking principles not specifics.

    It’s also somewhat sad you sound so vehemently opposed to say, used book shops, which are wonderful places. Do you also find libraries morally reprehensible as the patrons pay no money to read the books at all?

  25. I hate used books. Knowing that someone else has handled and dogeared and broken the book I’m trying to read just creeps me out, especially if it’s a stranger. It’s worse with paperbacks, but only because they’re more fragile. Even in college I hated it when the only copy of a textbook that was available was used, with someone else’s ideas on the most important parts highlighted or underlined.

    Hmm, never bothered me. But I would read a secondhand photocopy of a book, especially a good book.

  26. I’m troubled by the spread of software-licensing ideas into the physical-object world. Right here, we can see BB commenters who’ve internalized the arguments of software vendors to the point of applying those ideas to physical books.

    There is no license to read. If a burglar breaks into your home and reads some of your books, they’ve committed breaking-and-entry, but the authors of those books don’t get to bring extra charges against the burglar for unlicensed reading.

    Copyright is the right to make copies. When you buy a book, you own it, but the government limits your right to make copies of it. You can pass it around to your friends without consulting the author. In fact, even if the copyright notice in the front of the book claimed the purchaser wasn’t allowed to lend the book out to friends or resell it, that claim wouldn’t be supported by law.

    What’s changed by the e-book world is that there’s no physical object being sold, and the book is a trivially-copied computer file. The content is no longer bound up in a physical object. This creates all sorts of complications that are still being worked out, but that doesn’t mean we should take the legal obstructions that software vendors have created and retroactively apply them to the old, pre-computer world. There is no implied license to read when you buy a book.

  27. Is this even real?

    There is no mention of the article at the Science and Technology Law Review website linked from Gizmodo – not in current issue, not in archive.

    Also, there’s a strange mention here:
    http://techfeeds.info/2008/03/21/amazon-kindle-and-sony-reader-locked-up-why-your-books-are-no-longer-yours-legalese/

    that includes this very strange (supposed)excerpt

    “The (Potential) Legal Validity of E-book Reader Restrictions By Rajiv Batra, Evangelist Padro, Seung-Ju Paik and wife Calvert

    Many users are sorry that e-book readers, much as the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle, bounds the sharing, adoption and transferring of e-books. While whatever debate that the “first…”

  28. While I think we should fight for the right to use what we purchase how we want (down with DRM!), I don’t think we can expect the right to resell digital files. A txt file and a printed book are just different things.

    This needs to be reflected in the items price though. I don’t have any problem licensing a book if it is clearly labeled as such and the significant disadvantages are reflected in its price.

    As long as you still have the option to purchase media in a physical format and retail these rights, I don’t think reselling is a major issue.

  29. I know of no cost-effective cure for book mold– Throw away or at least isolate any moldy book! Book Mold Spreads!
    Is it nearly cost effective to print out the average paperback yet? (purchasing your own paper and ink) In the foreseeable future?

  30. I know of no cost-effective cure for book mold

    Moving away from San Francisco, Seattle or Vancouver is a good start.

  31. I like the idea of being able to have 100’s of titles on hand, but the silliness of these products and the codes of usage make them undesirable. These aren’t designed by people who understand the psychology of “book people”. They are designed for techies and gamers. E-formats are great for public domain texts, but there isn’t a profit base for those. The only “readers” I use are totally open source, the only e-books I read have no limits.

    If I like an author that is still living, I’m willing to pay patronage, buy their book, go hear them speak. I don’t care about the publishers and distributors at all. They have to make their products convenient enough to deal with the changing world. The Kindle and it’s ilk are bizarre, expensive, and not even readily available. They will be forgotten in a few years; replaced by something else.

  32. I very much love the books on my shelves at home. They are my friends. They’ve won a spot in my home because they are oft-used or hold a special significance for me.

    I also love the books in my local library. I’m not about to pay money for something I may or may not like, and that I may only need to use once, so the library allows me to “rent” books for a fairly low cost (I do grumble from time to time about my high property taxes, and I’m bad about turning my books in a couple of days late).

    I especially love the books on my Kindle. The Kindle is not at all difficult to use. I find it to be very well-designed. I’ve had mine for quite a while now, and use it to view books, magazines, newspapers, blogs and websites, and so far I’ve not found it lacking in any significant functionality nor has it made me miss the traditional hard copy.

    But I mainly choose electronic books for this: No tree was cut down to make them, no gas pumped into a truck to move them, and no huge warehouse built to house them. I like to think Mother Nature thanks me for not getting my panties in a wad over DRM/licensing issues in this case.

  33. Re: stanfrombrooklyn
    I use Modo and it has a similar licensing scheme. Unlike most other softwares in it’s class it isn’t node locked, you can place it on any machine you like and as many as you like, but you can use only one license at a time.

    Say you are a studio, you can install as many copies of Modo as you wish on your network but if it sees it’s license is in use it will refuse to work. This makes things a LOT more convenient than node locked licenses or hardware dongles. So if you want you can have a copy on your workstation and one on your notebook and if you like pick it up and take it to a coffeshop and do some work there. You can’t legally do that with a lot of other software because it is locked down to one machine only.

    None of this has stopped pirating, that isn’t how you stop it. The way to address pirating is through user communities that police themselves. Legitimate users do not tolerate pirates well. Of course, much of this could have been avoided if people hadn’t over reacted in the first place. How you react to a thing determines how others react to you.

    The focus on being artist centered and on convenience has been one part of Luxology’s success. If Amazon really wants the Kindle to succeed they should be asking themselves “How can we make the user’s experience as convenient for them as possible?” But they aren’t asking themselves that question. The question they and others like them are asking is “How can we fellate the big media producers as much as possible?” I don’t think this is a winning strategy but you never know.

  34. Unlike mp3’s, ebooks are not really catching on that quickly. Borders, B&N, etc. don’t have to worry about much, mostly everyone still reads hard copy books. Licensing IP is common with business but I don’t think the public will understand it and/or accept it. Most people are use to buying something and owning it.

  35. Thanks Antinous, but I live in Boston! Famous for making books bestsellers by banning them! Does the licensing mean one can’t sell a Kindle with downloaded content included? Are there other hurdles to overcome selling or giving away a Kindle or Sony ebook? Can’t I give it to a sibling, for instance? I don’t know why I’m asking though, I still borrow books from my local library (and many of the books I do buy are used, withdrawn books sold by public libraries)

  36. I distribute a software program popular with college students. We require activation of the software so it can only be put on 2 computers at anyone time. Occassionally, people complain and say “it’s my software, I should be able to put it on as many computers as I want.” So we did an experiment and released 100 copies of the software with unlimited activations. We used the same licensing agreement and the software was exactly the same. Then we tracked how many computers this single copy was installed upon. The average was 9 computers. Obviously if you don’t take measures to limit consumers use of digital products, you get ripped off. Let’s be honest here. People don’t want to pay for anything anymore and if you ask them to pay, they run behind “freedom” arguments. Since you know the Kindle books are restricted there’s a very easy solution here. Don’t buy them.

    UPDATE: I had left out that the average was 9 computers that our software gets licensed. And no I didn’t copy/paste my post.

    By the way, though we limit our software to 2 installs, we will always give our customers an extra install or two if they call us with a legitimate reason.

    But the thought that someone is going to buy a digital copy of something and then “resell” it without keeping a copy for themselves is foolish to think most consumers won’t just keep a copy for themselves.

    It is ironic that Amazon is promoting the Kindle today on its home page and they show BoingBoing on the Kindle.

  37. and now starts the boingboing conspiracy tangent. freakin’ great…i’m going back to sleep.

  38. >Book torrents are going to be the next big deluge.

    That’s just silly. Why would you torrent an ebook when you could just download a 500kb jpegrar?

    There are already thriving communities centered around ebook piracy. If you know where to look, you can find pretty much any book ever printed, and if companies keep pushing this rental/faux ownership model I wouldn’t be surprised if they start getting a lot more traffic.

  39. Stanfrombrooklyn: you’re seriously investing in all of the pain and suffering of license management for a lousy factor of four, at least half of which can be written up against advertising?

    I’ve worked on and even sold license-managed products, and 99% of support calls were license manager related (especially when we were using flexlm crapware). It literally took an entire developer at one place to deal with license management issues.

    If I’d been able to show that our install base merely quadrupled due to people sharing the application, I’m pretty sure I could have convinced management to drop license management all together.

    Its a pretty bold experiment you made given that once the genie is out of the bottle you can never put it back in, and people will still be installing that versions on machines to this day. I think it’s a little weird, even, to say you released “100 copies” of a program that can be installed any number of times. What does “100 copies” mean, exactly? Once it’s out, it’s on download sites, available in as many copies as you want.

    In any case, I’d like to see your sales figures pre and post release for that version. Because that’s what matters. The number of machines a copy is installed on is irrelevant. You can clearly read and write, so you can’t possibly be stupid enough to think that every copy on a new machine is a lost sale, or that there is zero marketing and advertising value in an unlimited release.

    So who cares how many copies were made? That’s an input, and only idiots try to use inputs as surrogates for outputs. The sales figures are the output you care about. So what happened to sales? That is the only thing that matters, and it is one that you have a direct measure of, with no guess-work or half-assed inference required.

  40. Greetings

    I hate to give up my books but at a certain point (when the house is full) the oldest go to Goodwill there to be sold for a few bucks to benefit their employment mission

    I don’t care much about copyright or license or verbiage I want exactly the same ability to dispose of my old books by giving, selling or whatever be they dead tree or live electron…

    Its not a license to read if its on Paper –I own IT

    Enjoy the journey

    WarLord

  41. “I hate used books. Knowing that someone else has handled and dogeared and broken the book I’m trying to read just creeps me out, especially if it’s a stranger.”
    Old books make me wonder who read this, what they thought, what their lives were about. Since they were reading a book that I found interesting, we must have something in common, if only a curiosity about the same books. I love old books, they carry forward the history of their existence in a way no electronic media will be unable ot do.
    There’s something disturbingly Monk about the quoted post.

  42. The comments in the original link have some author banging on about how the business model for music has changed, how that will be the future for books, and how it all means he will end up waiting tables.

    What I thought was interesting about that [apart from him making more money from writing then waiting tables, which isn’t bad money] is how writers could easily adopt the music business model. I mean the more DIY model then the corporate model. I think its interesting that for a while, mass production meant an improvement in the quality of goods at a reduction in price, and now that quality is declining while prices are rising, for instance I have to self tailor my clothes to make them fit, or food is not at all nutritious. Similarly, in terms of culture, what dominates is…well, I don’t even properly know what the bestselling books are these days, but I feel confident they’re crap.

    Anyway, another aspect of this trend is that the means to produce have also dropped. So for
    musicians, you don’t make a kings ransom, but you burn a few cds, print a few shirts, pile your equipment in a van, and set off on tour, sleeping in the van, or with whoever will have you. You do it because you enjoy it, and you make enough to get by, if your good enough people buy you a few drinks by the end of the show, and at the end of the day, thats more then most people can say about their job. People who say musicians are losing money because of bit torrent or whatever are mad; corporate musicians /never/ made money off albums, any real money they made always came from touring, unless they were massive enough to negotiate above market royalty returns. So I’m shedding crocodile tears right now for record company’s diminished ability to rip off other peoples work.

    There are a few reasons why this hasn’t particularly caught on in the literary world. First of all, music is more consumable, and is marketed to people with impaired decision making ability. If you play a catchy tune, the drunk guy swaying back and forth in the front, will /definitely/ buy your album. A thirty minute set, plus appearance, plus salesmanship afterwards, will net about the cash necessary to pass another week, if you do day labour. I wonder if a writer couldn’t make comparable sales. With ebooks there aren’t many production costs to deal with, so it isn’t even a matter of spending a fiver on shoddy xeroxes. The main difference is you don’t get a sweet advance so you can write your bit in the first place. But equally, people will be buying based on your performance at the coffee house, so quality isn’t as important as, I don’t know, coolness? After all, just like people at a bar on a Friday night /want/ to like your music [even at trendy spots], people at a coffee house listening to some scruffy dude talk about his book /want/ to be involved in some similar sort of dialog; depending on the demographic they want their ideas confronted, or they want to be told what they already know. Its different for academic nonfiction, but I doubt nonfiction authors complain much about piracy.

    The zine business has already been on for a while, but zines were never about making a living; they were just about sharing ideas, stories and information, sustained by the vanity that people you don’t know care about what you write [like blogs, I suppose]. If the Ebook market takes off, I would love to see a more professional DIY literary scene.

    And, actually, the answer to the sell on business is probably to run ebooks like magazines: the cover price is negligible, magazines make their money off advertisements. Slip a few adverts in an Ebook, the reader skips over them, the person the reader lends it to skips over them; I mean it isn’t perfect, but the more people its lent to or copied for, the more people see the advert, everybody more or less wins.

  43. I have the honor of calling Steven Brust a friend. Last we were together we were washing dishes. Anywho he once had a book coming out and I told him that I was going to rush out and buy the hardback. No, says he, get the paperback. But Steven this is how you pay the rent I says, I will buy a copy. No, he says, just get the paperback. I couldn’t wait, I bought the hardback. And if Will Shetterly reads this – Will I met you for the first time the same day I met Steven. Betsy says hello and would chide you about forgetting me ;) Oh, and Emma might remember me from being the most offensive person ever allowed in the Green Room at the Inn.

  44. Speaking of Steven: Downloaded his Firefly novel the other day and loaded it on to my Sony Reader. He can thank eBooks and eBook readers for at least one more fan. With all this talk of DRM and such, don’t forget the opportunity that ebook readers represent to bypassing the big publishers and legitimizing digital text.

  45. Take a look at this
    #7 POSTED BY DCE , MARCH 23, 2008 8:43 AM
    Neuromancer has it: While I own the books on my shelf, I don’t own the content they contain.

    When I loan out a volume or sell it back to a used bookstore, I’m passing on the license along with the physical item – the two are inextricably linked. It’s a perfect DRM system; I can’t “sell, gift or trade” my content, only the hardware that it happens to be printed on.

    Actually, you do own what your books contain, for that copy. Otherwise you would have to erase the pages before you could sell the book part. At it’s simplest, copyright is the exclusive right to **copy** the book, not to control what people do with a copy of the book.

    As for physical copies of Books (or CDs or DVDs) being the perfect DRM, that is false. You could copy any of them before selling them. All traditional used media sales rely on the honor system, not “the perfect DRM.” Thus digital media aren’t really different in that respect.

  46. Greetings

    About those business models for writers:

    Writers I know who are savvy are putting “donation jars” on the sites with their stories

    Some come right out and say: “It costs ‘X dollars’ for the next update/chapter” some just say “whatever you think its worth”

    Some are using lulu in addidtion depending…

    The fact is the ‘dead tree guys’ are mired in a failed model with DRM and silly ass licenses and going no where fast — the new guys are bypassing ‘New York’ to go straight to the customer and the cash without passing GO

    Enjoy the journey

    WarLord

  47. Just followed the link someone above posted to the Kindle version of Cory’s book at Amazon.

    Did anyone else notice that the top review for the book was by Jeff Bezos?

    The Jeff Bezos?

    Yikes.

  48. I for one welcome e-books. There are many works out there with troubling errors that I fear might lead my brethern and sistern astray. With e-books I see an opportunity to correct this. Like anything else downloadable, soon the unofficial (cheaper or free) will outnumber the official – including those books with wrongheaded notions. By flooding the web with apparent bootlegs that I have re-written correctly, I can be assured that the truth, as revealed to me, will go forth and multiply and eventually outnumber those mistaken original authors.

  49. @Tom

    So… How is someone getting a free, unlicensed, and legal copy of a piece of software advertising? They install the software. They use it (or don’t), and never think about it again.

    Here’s advertising:

    I do a conference presentation which partly shows what you can do with a great piece of statistical software by a tiny publisher. People ask me what I use. I tell them and show it to them. I do not give them the installer and my site-license password, even though the tiny publisher would never know. That’s not advertising; that’s pirating. Advertising is when the person who sees it is encouraged to go out and buy it.

    Not being concerned about being ripped off for 7 installs for every two you’ve accounted for? People who will either like it and use it or won’t and won’t —but will pay nothing either way?

    Yes, that is indeed cause for concern. Especially if yours is a niche product (which, with few exceptions, unless the first half of your company’s name is “Micro” and the last is “soft,” it most certainly is). Some products benefit from a network effect. Most do not.

  50. #47 posted by zipster , March 23, 2008 7:03 PM

    name dropper!

    anyway…who cares about ebooks?
    man they suck
    you just can’t improve on a real book.
    its not like music where technology can improve on the experience, the book is the perfect technology, you can’t improve it!

  51. Writers are often motivated by two different, conflicting urges. One is to tell stories, and have them read or heard. It’s pretty obvious from the rise in self-published books, blogs, websites, etc. that the urge to be creative is strong, and not just express yourself but find an audience other than one’s drawer.

    Another is to become famous and/or make lots of money. This urge (also common and very strong in our celebrity- and money-obsessed world) means you can’t just tell stories, you have to sell them and/or yourself. Most likely both.

    The trouble is, these urges often coexist in the same writer, setting up enormous cognitive dissonance. Why should I work so hard and then give my story away? Oh, that way I may get more people to listen to it. But oh, if they don’t pay they’re evil pirates, right? I read about that in the paper. But if I don’t have a fan base, nobody will buy my stuff and I won’t be rich and famous. So I’ll spend all my money traveling around the country, giving my book away in contests, and making book trailers to build an audience – and even though I’m spending far more than I’m earning from selling books I may just turn into Dan Brown and someday be rich and famous. But oh, everyone else is doing it too, so I have to spend more money to make a better book trailer.

    I’m not sure what the answer is, but maybe it’s important to recognize that these impulses don’t coexist naturally. But then, I’m an anarchist and don’t enjoy the monetization of creativity.

    Washing dishes is honest work.

  52. @Kyle:

    Not being concerned about being ripped off for 7 installs for every two you’ve accounted for? People who will either like it and use it or won’t and won’t –but will pay nothing either way?

    How is this being ripped off? You seem to believe–on what basis I am not sure–that the ratio:

    (additional sales from more exposure)
    -------------------------------------
       (lost sales from free copies) 
    

    is always less than unity. Indeed, you appear to know somehow that additional exposure will never lead to any additional sales, ever. That’s a fairly remarkable claim.

    Again: what matters is the sales figures. Until you or someone else presents sales figures data that shows unlocked copies are not generating net sales, you’re just speculating. So am I, but at least I’m acknowledging that under some circumstances it is possible to get a net gain from an unlocked app.

    The cost of license management in terms of developer and support hours is significant, to say nothing of lost sales and bad word-of-mouth from customers who run into any of the depressingly common problems with activation. If those costs, as well as lower advertising/marketing costs, are factored in to the equation the case for license management gets even harder to make. I’m not saying it can’t be made, at least in some cases. I’m saying no amount of moral outrage about being “ripped off” is ever going to form the basis of a rational business decision.

  53. We sell academic software to a very niche market. Our sales show a clear drop of 60% to 80% when someone illegally puts a copy up on their web site. When we get that copy taken down, our sales recover.

    We can’t prove that other forms of file-sharing also reduce our sales, because we can’t eliminate the file-sharing in the same way for periods of time to see what happens to our sales. But it’s naive to think that file-sharing is advertising that increases our sales when the only measurable form of it so drastically hurts our sales.

    The economics are very different in small markets than in large markets. I wouldn’t take our experience to mean that Microsoft doesn’t benefit from piracy. But we are very badly hurt by it.

  54. First, I don’t like ebooks, because I don’t read without a pen in hand. Even books I find new are covered in my marginalia by the time I finish them. I suppose that also means even if I wanted to, I couldn’t effectively resell.

    But cigarette companies give out free packs in the interest that you et hooked. Theres a medical reason for that, but also a marketing one. People who like something don’t just sit back satisfied. They need more. So if you find sales are suffering [and the jury is out on whether sales suffer because of piracy] because people can find your product for free, create a new feature for the product, or change the product slightly and sell it again, or provide a subscription service or any number of ways to deal with piracy other than have an undignified little fit over it. I find this protection of property morality to be historically interesting; sort of the economic equivalent of a guy on his porch with a sawed off shotgun, times a thousand. I mean I agree with Kyle in that labour should be compensated, but I disagree in that I don’t think people should pay throuh the teeth all the time. If people don’t want to pay, equally, businesses don’t want to give me my moneys worth.

    With books, some of the most avid readers are students, who tend now to spend all their money on drugs and beer, but will in the future spend some small amount on books. Now you can let them read Dickins or Conrad or whatever other crap they were taught at school was good, or you can et them interested in your pulp oh so modern and sophisticated novel. One way to do that is give it away. It will pay in dividends if you’re good, the same way I still eat Frosties and Reeses peanut butter cups [and smoke cigarettes]. I mean, musicians have to be their own agents. Are authors too high and mighty?

    I often wonder how better off Id be if I used my powers of analysis for evil instead of internet message boards….

  55. @42, Chevan: Almost every book ever published? That’s news to me – I’m not even really sure if I believe it. Does the “book piracy” scene work similar to the pre-napster mp3 trading scene, or warez kids? That is: is it closed communities, or something people like me could find and access?

    Seems like the labor involved in ‘ripping’ a book is high enough, and with books more numerous than software or movies it would be much, much harder to get everything converted. It’d take an undertaking like Google’s…

  56. TheMagus (56): Zipster isn’t really name-dropping. Given that list of names, he’s got to be part of or connected to the Minneapolis/St. Paul music and science fiction community; the connection has to date back a ways; and I’m guessing the connection was made through music rather than science fiction. Betsy is Betsy Pucci Stempel, wife of Adam Stempel and daughter-in-law of Jane Yolen. Emma is Emma Bull. It’s been years since all that crew was in Minneapolis at the same time.

    Zipster, if you’re going to tell stories like that, you might as well fill out your user profile here. I liked the bit with the chalk piano.

    Tom (17), ask Antinous. It happens to him all the time. I think it’s a combination of italics and blockquotes.

    Cory (3), Boomzilla (19), not only do they have D&OITMK for sale via Zipster, but they list it as having been published by St. Martin’s Press.

    Cuvtixo (33):

    Is it nearly cost effective to print out the average paperback yet? (purchasing your own paper and ink) In the foreseeable future?”

    Not now, not in the foreseeable future. Trade and mass market books are printed in large quantities in printing plants, and realize significant economies of scale. You’re not going to get anywhere near that with one-offs.

    LightningSource (the outfit that prints and binds everyone’s POD titles) is cheaper than printing it yourself, if you want normal page format and type size, but it’s still more expensive than regular mass-market and trade paperbacks, and you can’t get hardcovers.

    What POD and DIY are good for is printing books you can’t otherwise get.

    StanfromBrooklyn (40), one of the biggest single reasons I’ll buy some new piece of software is that using it has convinced me that I want to own it. Meanwhile, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been given pirate copies of software I don’t want and don’t use. There’s no sale lost; I wouldn’t have bought it anyway.

    Chevan (42), that’s not true. First, there are godzillions of titles I want that aren’t available via the net.

    Second, I used to keep a casual eye on e-piracy sites when I worked in-house at Tor. No way did they have all the Tor titles. In fact, I don’t recall them having any titles that hadn’t been published as e-books, which meant they only represented a fraction of Tor’s list. Furthermore, the text had in many cases been badly handled. Maps and other art was missing. Munged frontmatter, chapter starts, part titles, and line-for-line text were common, as were missing italics, boldface, and small caps. Running heads would get accidentally incorporated into the text. They were a mess. The same went for Forge titles. If people are going to pirate e-texts, they’ll really have to do a better job.

    Tom (43), excellent comment.

    ScottFree (46), the music model doesn’t work. For starters, bars don’t stage readings from novels.

    What we find is that while people who are interested in a particular subject may buy a self-published nonfiction book on that subject, they’re very resistant to buying fiction from authors whose work they haven’t previously read and enjoyed, and which hasn’t been given a strong recommendation by someone they trust. It’s a real barrier. Getting past that barrier is one of the biggest reasons publishers do all that elaborate packaging and promotion on new books.

    Chris Schmidt (48): Bypassing? Legitimizing? Steve Brust wrote the book because he had it in his head, not to prove some kind of point. He’d have sold it if he could; he’s been having serious health problems, and he has the same health plan most working artists do.

    Steve’s plenty legitimate on his own. He has a regular publisher that would have been happy to consider his novel, if it didn’t require a licensing arrangement with a major studio. Licensing is always a godawful hairball. I’m not even sure those rights were on offer, since no one’s publishing Firefly/Serenity tie-ins.

    All of which made it that rare thing: an unsaleable good book.

    Warlord (51): Uh-huh. That would explain why they always submit them to NYC publishers first.

    Takuan (54): Congratulations on spotting one of the problems the professionals worry about.

    Barbara Fister (57), I’m all for monetizing creativity. It makes there be more of it, and it’s better, too. How come Athens, Georgia spawned all those professional musical groups? Because they’ve got a good club scene. Why did the Renaissance produce such a run of good art? They commissioned a lot of it, and paid well for the really good stuff.

    You do a great description of the book self-promotion trap. You do know it doesn’t work, right? Rich and famous authors like Dan Brown are rich and famous because their books were printed and distributed in commercial quantities to brick-and-mortar bookstores. Word of mouth from satisfied readers only works if the person who hears it can then go and buy the book. The extremely dubious pundits of self-publishing who go on about how this or that famous author was self-published are lying through their teeth — generally because they’re trying to sell you their book on how you can become rich and amous via self-publishing.

    Lulu (59): Is that as in Lulu.com? If so, I like you guys. You’re a straight-up business.

    I can see how illegal downloads of that kind of material would eat your sales. You’ve got a finite pool of customers who have to have that text. For you, every pirate download really is a lost sale.

    ScottFree (60): You’re a marginal annotator? You and Coleridge and Joanna Russ. Y’all talk back to your books.

    We find that a lot of readers will read the first few chapters for free, and then if they’re enjoying it they’ll buy the hardcopy. If they keep enjoying it, they’ll be far more likely to buy the author’s next novel — and backlist, if there is one.

  57. I’m not against monetizing creativity. I just don’t much enjoy it, as a reader or a writer (which may be why I work in a library, not a bookstore). And yes, I do know the self-published, self-promoted path to fame and fortune is BS. I just find it sad when traditionally published people feel they ought to spend way more than the book will ever make trying to be famous. I like books. Authors, I’m not so sure about :o)

    By the way, I very, very rarely buy a book without first reading a chapter or two, either online or in a store. I think it’s idiotic to not provide a free chapters.

  58. >@42, Chevan: Almost every book ever published? That’s news to me – I’m not even really sure if I believe it.

    Exaggeration, to be honest. “Almost every book published in the last fifty years” would be more accurate.

    >That is: is it closed communities, or something people like me could find and access?

    All you need is an Internet browser and an IRC client.

    >Seems like the labor involved in ‘ripping’ a book is high enough, and with books more numerous than software or movies it would be much, much harder to get everything converted.

    From what I hear, the labor is less than you’d think. It pretty much amounts to getting your hands on a book and scanning the pages. OCR programs take care of the rest.

  59. Barbara Fister (64):

    By the way, I very, very rarely buy a book without first reading a chapter or two, either online or in a store. I think it’s idiotic to not provide a free chapters.

    Hey, don’t look at me. It’s been years since I was responsible for those — or had the ability to do anything about them.

  60. Teresa,

    In my experience, the problem with authors trying to work like musicians isn’t with finding venues, but literary nights being mind numbingly tedious. Fair enough, after reading for an English degree at Uni, I /never/ read fiction or poetry now, but even so, whenever Ive been to an open mic poetry reading, or even seen established authors like Ian Sinclair, who’s books are actually interesting, Ive passed the time wishing I snuck in a flask of super schnapps. As it stands, the problem would be that many or most writers are poor salespeople

    When there isn’t a venue, do a house show, take money on the door and run a bar, do music, films and literature to bring people in. But theres almost always a venue. Quite a trendy pub in the East End of London let me and a friend do a stand up act based on Lacans reading of the death drive on a whim. I mean, I say this because I think books /can/ be exciting, but they don’t come off as such, and if as you say publishers use flash marketing on new novels, well, every author Ive ever met complained constantly about how shite their publicity was. The job isn’t finished just because you put your pen down; I think writers should think about marketing and publishing themselves. Like nobody doing this will be Dan Brown, but then, who wants to be?

    Eh, I’m young, you know; I know how I would do it, if I could be arsed. As I say, ebooks are useless to me because I like to keep my notes and my source in the same place, but in terms of cheaply producing something indistinguishable from a professional job, bril.

  61. What information protectionists need to understand is that it’s in their own best interests to put their product out there in the most accessible way possible. Make a product, sell the product; but don’t then try to restrict people’s behavior who actually purchased the product legally because that only provides a strong disincentive for them to do so again the next time.

    Copyright’s very purpose is to protect our shared common culture as well as the interests of the artists who contribute to that shared culture – and the industries’ assault on the idea of private ownership only does irreparable damage to both.

    http://thenerfherder.blogspot.com/2008/03/ebook-licenses-and-assault-on-private.html

  62. Actually, you do own what your books contain, for that copy. Otherwise you would have to erase the pages before you could sell the book part. At it’s simplest, copyright is the exclusive right to **copy** the book, not to control what people do with a copy of the book.

    Also, Copyright’s purpose is to protect authors who contribute to that shared culture – and the industries’ assault on the idea of private ownership only does irreparable damage to both.
    Some publishers are now offering self publishing services:
    http://www.schieldenver.com/services/bookseller-services/copyright-a-registration/copyright-protection-service.html

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