There's a whole bunch of things you're allowed to do with books that you own: sell them, give them away, lend them out -- stuff you can't do with your ebooks, by and large. Why not? Because ebook sellers characterize the transaction that you undertake when you plunk down your money as a "license" and not as a sale. You don't buy an ebook, you license it -- hence all the fine-print "license agreement" you click through at regular intervals in the course of paying for and reading books.
But everyone knows that's a shuck. Buying books is what we do. Owning books is what we do. To get a sense of how ingrained the idea of buying and owning ebooks is, have a look at this screenshot from Amazon, shown after a "license" to a book: "Now that you own your Kindle book..." it begins. If you own it, rather than a limited license to it, then you should get the full suite of ownership rights. Let's label this one "Exhibit A."
A leaked Amazon ebook contract [PDF] shows that Amazon's default terms for ebook publishers is that they must use DRM, unless they can convince Amazon to leave it off.
Like most DRM vendors -- Apple and Google, for example -- Amazon spends a lot of time implying and flat-out stating that it only uses DRM because the big dumb media companies require it of them. The reality is that DRM's primary beneficiary is the DRM vendor. Once your book is sold with Amazon's DRM on it, only Amazon can give your readers permission to move them out of the Kindle jail and onto another device of your choosing. Of course Amazon wants to force copyright holders and creators to use its DRM -- it's a one-stop way of converting the writer's customer into Amazon's customer. Forever.
Remember: Any time someone puts a lock on something of yours and won't give you the key, that lock is not there for your benefit.
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Jason sez, "The first issue of my new literary journal, LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, was just recently released by Singapore-based publisher Math Paper Press. The issue's contributors are Paolo Bacigalupi, Kate Osias, Zen Cho, Paolo Chikiamco, Chris Mooney-Singh, Ang Si Min, Elka Ray Nguyen and Bryan Thao Worra, all of whom present speculative writing from and about the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Laos and Vietnam. The print issue can be ordered online through the BooksActually Web Store, and an ebook version will be available in the coming months. A 25% sample can be read for free at Issuu."
Here's an HTML-ified version of the Feynman Lectures on Physics, volume one, courtesy of the good folks at CalTech. We discussed these lectures when I reviewed Feynman, a biography in graphic novel form; they're justly considered to be one of the great works of physics instruction.
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Peter Purgathofer, an associate professor at Vienna University of Technology, built a Lego Mindstorms robot that presses "next page" on his Kindle repeatedly while it faces his laptop's webcam. The cam snaps a picture of each screen and saves it to a folder that is automatically processed through an online optical character recognition program. The result is an automated means of redigitizing DRM-crippled ebooks in a clear digital format. It's clunky compared to simply removing the DRM using common software, but unlike those DRM-circumvention tools, this setup does not violate the law.
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Jim O'Donnell was at a library conference in Singapore when his Ipad's Google Play app asked him to update it. This was the app through which he had bought 30 to 40 ebooks, and after the app had updated, it started to re-download them. However, Singapore is not one of the countries where the Google Play bookstore is active, so it stopped downloading and told him he was no longer entitled to his books.
It's an odd confluence of travel, updates, and location-checking, but it points out just how totally, irretrievably broken the idea of DRM and region-controls for ebooks is.
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Avi Solomon snapped this pic of the window display at NYC bookstore The Strand lauding the virtues of their "Real books priced lower than ebooks," including the fact that you can read them during take-off and landing.
(via Boing Boing Flickr Pool)
Earlier this summer, the German Booksellers Association announced a daft "watermarking" process for ebooks that would introduce random variations in the text as a means of uniquely identifying them. At the time, I pointed out that this was just silly: firstly, it's not hard to detect and vary the watermarks (just compare two different copies of the text using a 40-year-old program called "diff") and secondly, because the fact that a pirate site has a copy of a book with "your" watermark in it doesn't mean that you've done anything wrong. It's not illegal to lose your computer, be hacked, or give your hard-drive away.
What I totally failed to anticipate was that booksellers and publishers would use watermarking as a rubric for tracking and sharing information about everything that everyone is reading. In the Netherlands, ebook sellers have announced that they will retain full reading records on their customers for at least two years, and will share that information with an "anti-piracy" group called BREIN (a group that already has the power to order Dutch ISPs to censor the Internet, without due process or judicial oversight; and who, ironically, were caught ripping off musicians for their anti-piracy ads).
I am not often shocked by the insanity of anti-piracy efforts, but this one has me agog. As a former bookseller, I can't believe that people in the business of putting books into readers' hands would casually spy on their customers' reading habits, and, worse still, turn them over to a sleazy third party with a track-record of bullying, corruption, and censorship.
It's hard to imagine a less ethical business practice. Piracy (that is, "reading books the wrong way") pales by comparison alongside of it. If the Dutch booksellers had set out to build the case for piracy as the safest, most virtuous reading practice, they could have done no better.
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Earlier this summer, I worked with the American Library Association on their Authors for Library Ebooks project -- which is asking authors to call on their publishers to offer ebooks to libraries at a fair price. Right now, libraries pay several times more for ebooks than people off the street -- up to six times more! I recorded this video explaining why libraries and authors are natural allies.
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[Ed: An anonymous reader from the publishing industry wrote in with the following. I have every reason to believe it's true -Cory]
An agent writes in to say: "Penguin ALSO doesn't want to give agents the hi-res final jacket image without charging. We can often beg/loophole/cajole -- but the official party line is they are supposed to charge $300. (???!) Mind you, this could pretty much ONLY be used to promote the book. We like to put the book jacket on our agency website, in our agency catalogues for foreign book fairs, make postcards, etc... but obviously we can't authorize any other territory to use this image.
So essentially they are saying they don't want us to create promo material on the book's behalf, even on our own dime."
There's something going on at Penguin (interesting to see if it
changes now that it's Penguin Random House, though all signs point no)
that's so stupid and old school and against all authors that I thought
In every contract in publishing, there's language (as you know) that
gives an author a certain number of copies of the book, on publication.
When ebooks came to play, agents began trying to negotiate for an
electronic version of the book too, oftentimes successful. What
they /can't/ get from Penguin (and a few other publishers, though
notably Penguin) is a final PDF or even a final word doc of the book.
Agents are told that Penguin puts work into the layout, edit and design
and so agents can't just give that work away to foreign countries for
them to use in their editions. That work must be paid for. I semi-buy
that argument, though it makes me think two things: 1) Shame on them for
getting in the way (as they do sometimes) of a foreign deal and 2)
Penguin is contractually obligated to create the book anyway, with all
of those pieces.
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Tor.com's posted a long excerpt from Dead Pig Collector, Warren Ellis's forthcoming novella about an assassin who is being hunted. It will be published in full on July 30.
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is a DRM-free eBook seller who bundled some amazing eBooks together. Readers set the price. Part of the proceeds go to charity. Bundle offer ends in 11 days."
I must have read Space Viking over a hundred times. Since my youth, H. Beam Piper's Terro-Human histories, as well as his Paratime novels, have thrilled me.
Space Viking lays out Piper's Terro-Human universe several generations after the collapse of the Federation, a galaxy spanning human government. Civilization, across space, is slowly reverting to barbarism, except a few worlds that've held on.
The Sword Worlds struggle on but they are unwittingly watching their chances at a civilized future slip away. Pirating former colonized worlds for goods and treasure has left the Sword Worlds uncreative and culturally parasitical. Few realize the doom looming on the horizon but when a madman kills Lucas Trask's fiancé, Trask's quest for vengeance becomes instead a movement for hope.
I love H. Beam Piper and can't recommend Space Viking highly enough.
H. Beam Piper's Space Viking -- FREE in the Kindle Store
H. Beam Piper's Space Viking -- FREE on Project Gutenberg
David Malki ! writes, "After poring over 2,000 story submissions, commissioning dozens of illustrations, and waiting ever-so-eagerly, we're so pleased that the sequel to Machine of Death is out now! It's called THIS IS HOW YOU DIE and it's published by Grand Central.
We've put a 90-page free PDF preview on our site, and we also made a really cool short film to introduce people to the MOD concept."
Machine of Death is part of the current Humble Ebook Bundle, which closes in about a day -- that is, you've got a day to name your price for Machine of Death, along with books like Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn, Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, Wil Wheaton's Just a Geek, Louis McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor, XKCD Vol 0, Robert Charles Wilson's Spin, my novel Little Brother, Holly Black's Poison Eaters, and Neil Gaiman's Signal to Noise -- a seriously kick-ass deal.
This Is How You Die
Tor.com, the electronic arm of Tor Books, has published a free-to-members ebook called The Stores: Five Years of Original Fiction From Tor.com
, collecting stories originally published on the site by John Scalzi, Rachel Swirsky, and many other writers (including me!). It costs nothing to sign up for Tor.com, and new signups can get the anthology for free.
The Humble Ebook Bundle -- a two-week, pay-what-you-like, DRM-free ebook sale -- has just revealed the four bonus books in week two: XKCD Volume 0 by Randall Munrow; Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean; Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black and the bestselling Machine of Death anthology. To get these bonus titles, you have to pay more than the present average for the books (if you bought already and paid more than the average at the time, these books are already yours to download, otherwise, you can top up your payment to get them). Remember, you can also buy the bundle as a gift-code to give to a friend!
(Reminder: the Bundle also includes Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn; Wil Wheaton's Just a Geek; Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor; Robert Charles Wilson's Spin, Cherie Priest's Boneshaker and my Little Brother)