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WH Smith automatically adding DRM to DRM-free ebooks, but there's an interim solution while they fix it

The UK Bookseller WH Smith has been experiencing some kind of bug in its ebook store, whereby it adds DRM to all of the Kobo ebooks it sells, even the ones that are supposed to be DRM-free (like mine). Apparently, this is a metadata-parsing issue. I spoke to my agent and publisher, and WH Smith/Kobo came up with a good workaround while they fix the bug:

Kobo/WH Smith have come up with a solution that enables your e-books to still be on sale. The DRM wording has been manually removed from the WH Smith site and when readers click to purchase the book it forwards them to the Kobo site where it clearly states the e-books are DRM-free until WH Smiths is able to update their website which will be at the end of April.

Little Brother [eBook]

My talk on copyright, ebooks and libraries for the Library of Congress

Last fall, while on the Pirate Cinema tour, I stopped in at the Library of Congress to give a talk called "A Digital Shift: Libraries, Ebooks and Beyond," which was an amazing treat. The LoC people were delightful and the building and its collections were outstanding. Now, they've put the video online!

A Digital Shift: Libraries, Ebooks and Beyond

Free downloadable magic/automata books from Robert Houdin's private club

Dug North sez, "The book titled 'Two Odd Volumes on Magic & Automata; has been available in a printed version for a while, but is now available as a PDF. The book is offered for free from LEAFpdx, but I am sure donations would be welcome."

The Sette of Odd Volumes published two fantastic books in the early 1890s. The Sette was a club of book collectors and eccentric personalities in London. It was founded by the famed book dealer Bernard Quaritch in 1878. He collected members for his club much like he did rare editons: each had an expertise in some unusual specialty.

William Manning was a club member who gave an after dinner talk on his recollections of the great magician Robert-Houdin. When Manning was a young boy he met the great magician and befriended Robert-Houdin's sons. His 'recollections' about Robert-Houdin were later published as a small book. Reading it today, over a hundred years after the speech was originally given, one is still struck by how forward thinking Robert-Houdin was and how down to earth. He developed many famous magic acts that are still performed today. Originally trained as a clockmaker, Robert-Houdin built all his own automata and magic props. He experimented with electricity and even wired his house with clocks and alarms in the 1860s which must have seemed very magical indeed. Manning captures the spirit of his admired friend. His words make the magician seem very contemporary and even more remarkable.

Two Odd Volumes on Magic & Automata (Thanks, Dug!)

Random House reconsiders and improves the standard contracts in its new ebook imprints

Last week, I wrote about Random House's new all-digital imprints, which offered terrible contractual terms. After a week of bad publicity, Random House has significantly improved its contract, as you can see from this announcement. On Writer Beware, Victoria Strauss has a good summary:

- Authors will now be offered their choice of two options: a re-worked profit-sharing arrangement and a traditional advance-and-royalties deal.

For the profit-sharing arrangement, there's still no advance. But Random House has eliminated all chargebacks for digital editions, so the split between author and publisher is 50/50 of net revenue (actual sales income) from the first copy sold. In other words: no setup costs, no 10% deduction for sales and marketing. For print editions, if they are produced (and this won't be frequent; these are primarily ebook imprints), there will still be a chargeback for actual production and shipping costs (these costs will be fully broken out for the author ahead of time if a print edition is planned). Random House will cover general publicity costs for the imprint, and up to $10,000 of book-specific publicity. Any book-specific PR above that amount will be borne by the author and deducted from net revenue before the profit split--but such expenditures will be optional.

For the advance-and-royalty deal, authors will receive a traditional publishing contract, with the publisher covering 100% of costs. There will be an advance, and royalties will be paid at Random House's standard ebook royalty rate of 25% of net.

- The contract will still be life-of-copyright, but the reversion clause has been improved. As I've explained on this blog and elsewhere, I don't have a problem with life-of-copyright, as long as it's balanced by precise reversion language. That is now the case. Three years after publication, the author can demand reversion if sales fall below 300 copies over the 12 months preceding the demand. p> - Random House will still take both primary publishing rights and subsidiary rights, but performance rights and transformative digital edition rights are no longer included. If Random House wants to acquire these, it will negotiate separately. Random House is also open to negotiation on other subrights.

(via Scalzi)

Random House responds to SFWA on its Hydra ebook imprint

Allison R. Dobson, Digital Publishing Director of Random House, has written an open letter to the Science Fiction Writers of America responding to the warning it published about Hydra, a new imprint with a no-advance, author-pays-expenses contract that SFWA (and I) characterize as being totally unacceptable. Dobson's letter doesn't do much to change my view on that:

When we acquire a title in the Hydra program, it is an all-encompassing collaboration. Our authors provide the storytelling, and we at Hydra support their creativity with best-in-class services throughout the publishing process: from dedicated editorial, cover design, copy editing and production, to publicity, digital marketing and social media tools, trade sales, academic and library sales, piracy protection, negotiating and selling of subsidiary rights, as well as access to Random House coop and merchandising programs. Together, we deliver the best science fiction, fantasy and horror books to the widest possible readership, thus giving authors maximum earning potential.

There are other options for doing the same: Lulu, BookBaby and CreateSpace will all let you pay freelancers to do any and all of that stuff (and given that so much of publishing is now outsourced, they're likely to be some of the same people doing the job at a Big Five publisher), but none of them demand all your rights and subsidiary rights for the length of copyright, and none of them reserve the right to charge arbitrary sums to your account before they pay you any royalties.

As Munger points out, costs-plus-percentage-of-costs contracts are a moral hazard (that's why it's a felony for the US military to issue them), and they have no place in publishing.

Random House Responds to SFWA Slamming Its Hydra Imprint

Closer look at the scammy, awful contracts from Random House's new ebook imprints

Yesterday, I blogged about the awful contracts on offer from Random House's new Hydra imprint, which runs like a scam vanity-press, paying no advances, seizing all rights and charging normal publisher's operating costs to the author. John Scalzi's gotten ahold of the (presumably identical) contract for Alibi, the mystery/crime-book version of Hydra, and it really is awful.

The fact that Alibi is shifting those costs to the author is hugely significant, for reasons noted in the previous entry (i.e., Alibi is shifting an extraordinary portion of the risk of publishing onto the author’s back). But it’s also worrying to the author for two other reasons:

One, it puts the author in the hole to the Alibi for an amount which the author has almost no control over — it’s Alibi choosing how much to spend on the services and expenses which constitute the Net Billings. All the author is empowered to do (at least as I read the contract) is pay for them. It should be noted that Random House probably owns warehouses and printing presses (or has long-terms arrangements which represent sunk costs), so in effect the publisher will be charging the author for services it provides, i.e., it’s taking money from the author and putting it into its own pocket — payment for services publishers are supposed to provide as their part of the publishing equation. The contractual language does note that some expenses are to be “mutually-agreed” upon, but this just brings up another problem:

Two, it transfers the cost of these services onto the most ignorant partner in the contract — which is to say, the author. Yes, authors, I know. You are smart. But — can you tell me what “plant costs” mean? What about “conversion fees?” Can you give me a sum that you know with certainty to be in the ballpark, in terms of what those costs and fees should be? Do you know how much it costs to print and bind a book? Are you sure? Is Alibi printing them individually or in one large print run? How will that affect unit cost? What’s a reasonable sum for warehousing? You better know because the contract won’t tell you — or at least the one I have in front of me sure as hell doesn’t.

And here’s another thing to consider: When it’s the publisher fronting the costs for printing, warehousing, plant fees or whatever, it will, out of its own self-interest, they will try to lower the cost as much as possible, because not doing so will cut into its profits. But authors, when you are fronting the fees, the printing, warehousing, plant fees and everything else becomes a potential profit center for the publisher.

A Contract From Alibi

Random House launches ebook imprint that's run like a predatory vanity press

Writer beware. According to an email from the Science Fiction Writers of America, Random House has launched an imprint called "Hydra" with all the hallmarks of a sleazy, scammy vanity-press: no advance on royalties, perpetual, all-rights assignments of copyrights, and all production expenses charged to the writer before any royalties are paid.

SFWA has determined that works published by Random House’s electronic imprint Hydra can not be use as credentials for SFWA membership, and that Hydra is not an approved market. Hydra fails to pay authors an advance against royalties, as SFWA requires, and has contract terms that are onerous and unconscionable. Hydra contracts also require authors to pay – through deductions from royalties due the authors – for the normal costs of doing business that should be borne by the publisher. Hydra contracts are also for the life-of-copyright and include both primary and subsidiary rights. Such provisions are unacceptable. At this time, Random House's other imprints continue to be qualified markets.

This kind of rip-off is semi-standard with record deals, but it's unheard of in legit publishing, where the author typically receives an advance on royalties that is not refundable if it doesn't earn out; where authors traditionally assign a few, time-limited rights (English print/audio/ebook for a given territory, say); and where the production costs are wholly borne by the press in exchange for keeping the lion's share of any book revenue.

Hydra's deal is much, much worse than the one you'll get from a real DIY option like BookBaby or CreateSpace or Lulu, where you only pay for services you want, keep 100% of your profits, and assign no rights at all to the "publisher." It's got all the downsides of a DIY press, and all the downsides of a traditional press, and the upsides of neither.

Idea: I'll Pay You to Read My Book

Authors (and/or publishers) can make money by paying people to read books.

That's Kevin Kelly's idea, and it's an intriguing one.

Readers would purchase an e-book for a fixed amount, say $5. They would use an e-book reader to read the digital book. The e-book reader would contain software that would track their reading usage … If a reader is given credit for reading the book, then he/she would earn more than they paid for the book. For example, if they paid $5 for the ebook, they would get back $6, thus earning $1 for reading the book. Not only did the book not cost them anything, but they made money reading the book. If they read it.

The Publisher would pay the difference from the potentially greater sales revenue this arrangement would induce. Greater numbers of readers would purchase the book initially in the hope and expectation that they would finish the book and be reimbursed greater than the amount they paid. In their mind, entering into a purchase is an “easy buy” because they calculate “it will cost them nothing.” Or maybe even make them money.

I'll Pay You to Read My Book

Indie booksellers sue Amazon and big publishers over DRM (but have no idea what "DRM" and "open source" mean)

A group of independent booksellers have filed a suit against Amazon and the major publishers for their use of DRM, which, the booksellers say, freezes them out of the ebook market:

Alyson Decker of Blecher & Collins PC, lead counsel acting for the bookstores, described DRM as "a problem that affects many independent bookstores." She said the complaint is still in the process of being served to Amazon and the publishers and declined to state how it came about or whether other bookstores had been approached to be party to the suit.

"We are seeking relief for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores so that they would be able to sell open-source and DRM-free books that could be used on the Kindle or other electronic ereaders," Decker explained to The Huffington Post by telephone.

Such a move would lead to a reduction in Amazon's dominant market position, and completely reshape the ebook marketplace.

A spokesman for Fiction Addiction declined to comment as legal proceedings are ongoing. The other plaintiffs and Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

That sounds great, but when you read the complaint, you find that what they mean by "open source" has nothing to do with open source. For some reason, they're using "open source" as a synonym for "standardized" or "interoperable." Which is to say, these booksellers don't really care if the books are DRM-free, they just want them locked up using a DRM that the booksellers can also use.

There is no such thing as "open source" DRM -- in the sense of a DRM designed to run on platforms that can be freely modified by their users. If a DRM was implemented in modifiable form, then the owners of DRM devices will change the DRM in order to disable it. DRM systems, including so-called "open" DRM systems, are always designed with some licensable element -- a patent, a trademark, something (this is called "Hook IP") -- and in order to get the license you have to sign an agreement promising that your implementation will be "robust" (implemented so that its owners can't change it). This is pretty much the exact opposite of "open source."

It's a pity. I empathize with these booksellers. I hate DRM. But I wish they'd actually bothered to spend 15 minutes trying to understand how DRM works and what it is, and how open source works, and what it is, before they filed their lawsuit. Grossly misusing technical terms (and demanding a remedy that no customer wants -- there's no market for DRM among book-buyers) makes you look like fools and bodes poorly for the suit.

DRM Lawsuit Filed By Independent Bookstores Against Amazon, 'Big Six' Publishers [Andrew Losowsky/Huffington Post]

Four Seasons On Brick Kiln Road: hidden joys of a quiet place in Maryland


Patrick Costello sez,

Brick Kiln Road in Crisfield in Maryland is one of those quiet places that you can drive by a thousand times without noticing. The short stretch of road is home to a small fishing boat harbor, a public beach and not much else of consequence - but, like most small quiet places in the world, if you take the time to get to know the place there are wonders to be found.

Four Seasons on Brick Kiln Road is my humble attempt to capture the beauty of this small corner of the Chesapeake Bay. The final draft is being made freely available in the hopes of introducing people to the natural beauty of one small corner of the Chesapeake Bay.

Four Seasons On Brick Kiln Road (Thanks, Patrick!)

Games Workshop trademark bullying goes thermonuclear: now they say you can't use "space marine" in science fiction

For years, there have been stories about Games Workshop being trademark bullies and sending threats to people who use the term "space marine" in connection with games. But now that they've started publishing ebooks, Games Workshop has begun to assert a trademark on the generic, widely used, very old term "space marine" in connection with science fiction literature.

MCA Hogarth, an author who has published several novels in ebook form, has had her book "Spots the Space Marine" taken down on Amazon in response to a legal threat from Games Workshop. She could conceivably fight the trademark claim, but that would cost (a lot) of money, which she doesn't have.

I used to own a registered trademark. I understand the legal obligations of trademark holders to protect their IP. A Games Workshop trademark of the term “Adeptus Astartes” is completely understandable. But they’ve chosen instead to co-opt the legacy of science fiction writers who laid the groundwork for their success. Even more than I want to save Spots the Space Marine, I want someone to save all space marines for the genre I grew up reading. I want there to be a world where Heinlein and E.E. Smith’s space marines can live alongside mine and everyone else’s, and no one has the hubris to think that they can own a fundamental genre trope and deny it to everyone else.

At this point I’m not sure what course to take. I interviewed five lawyers and all of them were willing to take the case, but barring the arrival of a lawyer willing to work pro bono, the costs of beginning legal action start at $2000 and climb into the five-figure realm when it becomes a formal lawsuit. Many of you don’t know me, so you don’t know that I write a business column/web comic for artists; wearing my business hat, it’s hard to countenance putting so much time and energy into saving a novel that hasn’t earned enough to justify it. But this isn’t just about Spots. It’s about science fiction’s loss of one of its foundational tropes.

I have very little free time and very little money. But if enough people show up to this fight, I’ll give what I can to serve that trust. And if the response doesn’t equal the level of support I would need, then I still thank you for your help and your well wishes. For now, step one is to talk about this. Pass it on to your favorite news source. Tell your favorite authors or writers’ organizations. To move forward, we need interest. Let’s generate some interest.

A few important notes:

* Amazon didn't have to honor the takedown notice. Takedown notices are a copyright thing, a creature of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. They don't apply to trademark claims. This is Amazon taking voluntary steps that are in no way required in law.

* Games Workshop's strategy is to make "space marine" less generic by launching high profile, bullying attacks on everyone who uses it, so that there will come a day when people hearing the phrase immediately conclude that it must be related to Games Workshop, because everyone know what colossal dicks they are whenever anyone else uses the phrase

* Trademarks only apply to commercial works. You can and should use "space marine" in your everyday speech, fanfic, tweets and so on. For one thing, it will undermine Games Workshop's attempts to homestead our common language.

In the Future, All Space Marines Will Be Warhammer 40K Space Marines (Thanks to everyone who sent this in)

U of Chicago Press launches DRM-free ebook line

Levi sez, "Chicago Shorts -- distinguished selections, including never-before-published material, off-the-radar reads culled from the University of Chicago Press's commanding archive, and the best of our newest books, all priced for impulse buying and presented exclusively in DRM-free e-book format. The first batch includes an unfinished Norman Maclean manuscript, Shakespearean legal criticism, works by Carl Zimmer and Roger Ebert, sibling rivalry in Thomas Mann's family tree, a narrative history of photojournalism, the 500 films Richard Nixon watched while in office, and the biography of one unpredictable, peg-legged baseball icon." Cory

African sf anthology

Liam sez, "On the tail of the CC-licensed Muslim SF Anthology: there's a recently-released collection of African SF stories, called Afro SF. It's a collection of stuff written by folks in and around the African continent, so there's a fairly wide spread of content and focus. It's pretty new, and pretty neat, although it isn't CC and it is, at present, only available as a slightly-pricey e-book. Still, SF, some of it quite good (writers like Sarah Lotz, Biram Mboob) marginal voices, and all." (Thanks, Liam!) Cory

2600: Year two, in DRM-free ebook format

Emmanuel Goldstein from 2600: The Hacker Quarterly magazine writes, "2600 has gone and remastered the second year of its publication from way back in 1985. The original issues have been rearranged into ebook format, and can be read on Kindles, Nooks, computers, phones, etc. Each word of the original publications was proofed so that nothing in the text was changed, even when there were typos. The technological innovations of the day were memorable - 1200 baud had become the norm and hackers were still thrilled whenever they found an 800 number that accepted touch tones. Even though none of the phone numbers or computer network addresses still work, the enthusiasm with which they were revealed and published is still quite contagious and inspirational. It was all so thrilling back then and it was that emotion that would lead to great innovations from this very community. And in the middle of all of this, 2600 had their computer BBS raided by the authorities, propelling the hacker world into the headlines yet again."

30 Arduino Projects for the Evil Genius

I had a lot of time on my hands this holiday season and decided to get an arduino kit (I have solar panels I want to aim for max efficiency during the day, on a VW van.) A lot of intro titles seemed interesting but Simon Monk's 30 Arduino Projects for the Evil Genius grabbed my attention. Good title!

Sadly, this is no guide to building shark-mountable lasers. There are however a lot of simple, short projects that help you understand building with an arduino controller. Monk uses very clear pictures and schematics to show what needs doing. His text is precise and understandable. The steps are easy to follow and the thing you should learn from an exercise is blatantly obvious. Most importantly these projects are fun! I'm not just making an LED blink or a speaker chirp when I work with this book. Projects like the temperature monitor and computer controlled fan are giving me the foundation I need to aim my solar panels. The results and functions are easy to apply to the types of things I want to do with an arduino.

Lasers would have been nice.

30 Arduino Projects for the Evil Genius by Simon Monk