Podcast: How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage

Here's a reading (MP3) of my latest Guardian column, How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage, which examines how Hachette's insistence on DRM for their ebooks has taken away all their negotiating leverage with Amazon, resulting in Amazon pulling Hachette's books from its catalog in the course of a dispute over discounting:

Under US law (the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and its global counterparts (such as the EUCD), only the company that put the DRM on a copyrighted work can remove it. Although you can learn how to remove Amazon's DRM with literally a single, three-word search, it is nevertheless illegal to do so, unless you're Amazon. So while it's technical child's play to release a Hachette app that converts your Kindle library to work with Apple's Ibooks or Google's Play Store, such a move is illegal.

It is an own-goal masterstroke. It is precisely because Hachette has been so successful in selling its ebooks through Amazon that it can't afford to walk away from the retailer. By allowing Amazon to put a lock on its products whose key only Amazon possessed, Hachette has allowed Amazon to utterly usurp its relationship with its customers. The law of DRM means that neither the writer who created a book, nor the publisher who invested in it, gets to control its digital destiny: the lion's share of copyright control goes to the ebook retailer whose sole contribution to the book was running it through a formatting script that locked it up with Amazon's DRM.

The more books Hachette sold with Amazon DRM, the more its customers would have to give up to follow it to a competing store.

MP3

Collaborating with your kids: the story of "A Dark and Dismal Flower"

JC Herz and her five year old daughter, Eve, created A Dark and Dismal Flower, a beautifully-animated picture book. In this essay, Herz offers her advice on how to collaborate with your own kids.

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How Hachette made the rope that Amazon is hanging it with


In my latest Guardian column, "How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage," I discuss the petard that the French publishing giant Hachette is being hoisted upon by Amazon. Hachette insisted that Amazon sell its books with "Digital Rights Management" that only Amazon is allowed to remove, and now Hachette can't afford to pull its books from Amazon, because its customers can only read their books with Amazon's technology. So now, Hachette has reduced itself to a commodity supplier to Amazon, and has frittered away all its market power. The other four major publishers are headed into the same place with Amazon, and unless they dump DRM quick, they're going to suffer the same fate.

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Interviewing Leila Johnston about Hack Circus


My latest Guardian column is an interview with Leila Johnston about her Hack Circus project, which includes a conference, a podcast and a print magazine, all with a nearly indefinable ethic of independence and art for its own sake.

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Court finds full-book scanning is fair use


The Hathi Trust has won another important victory in its court battles against the Authors Guild over the right of academic libraries to scan books under the banner of fair use. Hathi creates full-text indexes of books from academic institutional libraries that were scanned by Google, so that academic libraries can access full-text indexes of the books, as well as offering the books in assistive formats used by people with visual disabilities, and providing long-term archives of rare texts that are still under copyright.

The Authors Guild members are overwhelming trade-book authors; the books scanned by the Hathi Trust are overwhelmingly scholarly books written as part of an academic tradition that takes free access and sharing as its foundation. The court remanded a question of standing in the case, asking the Guild to demonstrate that it represented authors of the affected works.

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Academic publisher tried to stop publication of paper on price-gouging in academic publishing

The editorial board of the journal Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation has threatened to resign because the academic journal's corporate owners, Taylor and Francis, have ordered them not to publish a paper critical of the academic publishing industry. The paper, Publisher, be damned! from price gouging to the open road, was written by academics from the University of Leicester's School of Management.

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Backers get gruesomely murdered in crowdfunded Elite novel


BBC presenter Kate Russell's first science fiction novel is Elite: Mostly Harmless, a novelization of the classic video game Elite, whose production was successfully kickstarted last year. One of the backer rewards was to have yourself gruesomely murdered in the pages of the book, and six lucky fans are now enjoying their deaths:

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Humble Ebook Bundle adds Lawful Interception audio and more

The latest Humble Ebook Bundle has added four new titles: Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell, the From Hell Companion (review), Too Cool to Be Forgotten (review); and my audiobook for Lawful Interception, the sequel to Little Brother and Homeland. They join a stellar lineup of other comics, novels and ebooks with work by Neil Gaiman, George RR Martin, Ed Piskor, Nate Powell, Paolo Bacigalupi, Tobias Buckell and Terry Goodkind.

Name your price for them -- all DRM free, and you can contribute to charity when you buy!

Humble Ebook Bundle

Kickstarting a Skull-a-Day book

Noah Scalin writes "At long last I'm finally publishing all 365 of my original Skull-A-Day creations in a single book! I've partnered with Chop Suey Books, an amazing local independent bookseller here in Richmond, Virginia to finally create the ultimate volume of my yearlong skull art making project. The store is even launching a new imprint, Chop Suey Books Books, just to make and distribute this beautiful hardcover volume (if I do say so myself, since I'm the one that designed it!). I'm most excited about sharing a new model for artists and local businesses to work together to create something outside of the old systems, that can benefit us both, as well as our community. To kick things off we've decided to pre-sell the book on Kickstarter with some unique thank you gifts, including some of the actual original pieces of the project! I hope you'll check it out."

$24 gets you an early-bird book. Noah is a guy who ships what he starts, too.

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Kickstarting a kids' picture book about girls and science by Zack "SMBC" Smith

Zach Weinersmith, creator of the wonderful Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and the Kickstarter-record-busting Trial of the Clone choose-your-own-adventure is unstoppable: he's kickstarting Augie and the Green Knight: A Children's Adventure Book , a girl-positive kids' picture book about science. $25 gets you the book and the ebook (I bought in!).

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Harvard Bluebook: more threats to those who would cite the law

Carl Malamud writes, "On May 16, Boing Boing brought us the story of five years of intimidation on the Uniform System of Citaiton required in the United States, a system otherwise known as The Bluebook. Based on your story, a stern keep off the grass warning was dispatched from the ever-growing Bluebook Legal Task Force at the eminent white shoe firm of Ropes & Gray."

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Kickstarting a coffee-table book of grisly, real Russian nursery-rhymes

Russian-born comedian Ben Rosenfeld is kickstarting a book of gruesome, real Russian nursery rhymes, illustrated by Dov Smiley (example: "A little boy found a machine-gun, nothing lives in the woods anymore"). $25 gets you the book and the ebook.

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Tor.com: a new short-fiction imprint from Tor


Tor Books founder Tom Doherty's speech at Book Expo America yesterday didn't just explain the company's DRM-free strategy, it also announced a new imprint based on Tor.com, publishing DRM-free novellas and novelettes as ebooks:

Each DRM-free title will be available exclusively for purchase, unlike the current fiction that is free on the site, and will have full publisher support behind it. It will have a heavy digital focus but all titles will be available via POD and audio formats. The imprint will also consider traditional print publishing for a select number of titles a year. All titles will be available worldwide.

"In the past six years we have had the great fortune to work with literally hundreds of authors and illustrators in the publication and promotion of their short fiction. Transitioning to an author-centric digital imprint which fosters and revives novella and short novel length commercial science fiction and fantasy is the next logical step in Tor.com's evolution." says Fritz Foy, Macmillan Executive Vice President and Digital Publisher.

"We're using this opportunity to re-evaluate every step of the publishing process," says Associate Publisher Irene Gallo. "We don't want to make any assumptions based on how we currently publish stories. We're really looking forward to creating something with a start-up mentality but with the rich legacy of Tor Books and Tor.com behind us," she continued

Announcing Tor.com the Imprint (via IO9)

Kickstarting an augmented reality, artificial lifeform in a kids' picture-book

Wagner James Au sez, "Created by virtual world/avatar pioneer Jeffrey Ventrella, Wiglets are self-animated, augmented reality creatures for mobile devices powered by an open source AI system, and have genomes that are stored in the cloud along with their geo-locations. 'This means they can exist in specific locations in the real world,' Jeffrey explains. The overall goal with Wiglets is to encourage kids to find/play with their creatures in the natural world."

$65 gets you the book and a virtual Wiglet.

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Humble Ebook Bundle: name-your-price comics & books with Gaiman, GRRM, Goodkind, Moore, Piskor, and more

The fourth Humble Ebooks Bundle is up and running, and it's a name-your-own-price, DRM-free, comics-heavy doozy, including our own Ed Piskor's brilliant Wizzywig (review); graphic civil rights history March; the Lovecraft's Monsters anthology (with Neil Gaiman); George RR Martin's Sword and Sorcery anthology, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell; Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule; Paolo Bacigalupi's The Alchemist; Tobias Buckell's The Executioness; and Yahtzee Crosshaw's Jam. And there's more books coming in week two (good ones -- I've had a sneaky preview!).