by J.D. Rhoades
Dear Readers, I know what all of you really wanted to see today was yet another post about e-books and piracy. You really wanted to see more fretting about whether we as writers are all doomed by this new technology to a life of penury, or even worse, having to go out and get what our loved ones often refer to as “real jobs.”
Well, I’ll meet you halfway. I’ll give you the post, but I can’t do the fretting.
See, the thing is, I don’t see the sky falling here.
The people prophesying “the end of the world as we know it”, as Tess somewhat ironically put it yesterday, make a couple of assumptions. First, that that e-books will become, not just a method of delivering stories, but the only one. The second is that piracy will drive out actual buying. Neither is necessarily the case.
Let’s address the first assumption. Go to any blog or website about books or literature where comments from readers are allowed (which is to say, most of them). Look for posts where someone brings up the topic of e-books. I guarantee you, within the first five comments, someone will assert that they prefer paper books. They like the feel, the look, even the smell of a paper book. Watch as more and more people chime in. These people are not going away. Here on Murderati, even the most enthusiastic e-book adopters aren’t giving up paper books. Think about the last new technology for delivering stories, namely the audiobook. Have people stopped buying paper books because they can listen to the same story on a CD or MP3? No. There may be less paper books sold, but I don’t see this venerable technology dying out any time soon.
Really, though, when we talk about ‘loving books,” is it really the physical object we’re in love with? If we held in our hands a beautifully bound volume on rich fancy paper, a volume whose very aroma took your mind back to the many happy hours you spent in the library when you were a kid…but the actual words in the volume were complete gibberish, would you really say “I love this book?” Doubtful, unless you have some sort of fetish, and if you do, well….bless your heart.
No, “I love books” is a misnomer. What we love are stories. And the e-book, like the audiobook, is just another delivery mechanism.
The question then becomes: in a world filled with pirates, how do we make a living telling stories? Well, we aren’t going to do it by sitting around crying about how hard everything’s going to be. Back when the Ice Age came aroiund, there were undoubtedly some cavemen who huddled around the fire that was getting increasingly hard to keep lit, complaining about the awful weather and how the damned sabretooths were making it impossible to make a living. There were others who wrapped themselves and their families up in the nearest handy mammoth pelts, sharpened their spears, and lit out for someplace where the hunting and gathering was better. You know, our ancestors.
Like those hardy and resourceful cavemen, there are writers who are managing quite well in this brave new world, and they’re doing it in ways you might not expect.
One of these is writer, blogger, and tech correspondent Cory Doctorow. If you haven’t read his book LITTLE BROTHER, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Doctorow has an interesting way of combating piracy of e-books: he gives them away for free. Not only that, he does it on the day the paper book is released. And, get this…he encourages readers to copy them into new formats and pass them along.
What is this guy, crazy? Isn’t this like resolving a standoff by having the cops shoot the hostages? Well, maybe. But maybe Doctorow’s crazy like a fox. He asserts that the free e-books help him sell paper books:
For me — for pretty much every writer — the big problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity…Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy.
Further, on the subject of e-books vs. paper books, he makes this point:
…the more computer-literate you are, the less likely you are to be reading long-form works on those screens — that’s because computer-literate people do more things with their computers. We run IM and email and we use the browser in a million diverse ways. We have games running in the background, and endless opportunities to tinker with our music libraries. The more you do with your computer, the more likely it is that you’ll be interrupted after five to seven minutes to do something else. That makes the computer extremely poorly suited to reading long-form works off of, unless you have the iron self-discipline of a monk.
In other words, you may like reading on your iPhone, but a paper book doesn’t ring, and it doesn’t distract you with other stuff. The bottom line, for Doctorow:
…ebooks sell print books. Every writer I’ve heard of who’s tried giving away ebooks to promote paper books has come back to do it again. That’s the commercial case for doing free ebooks.
Doctorow’s not alone in finding that a free e-book bumped sales of the paper book. Sci-fi writer Tobias Buckell noticed a significant sales bump for his book CRYSTAL RAIN after his publisher, Tor, released it as a free e-book. Sales of the sequel, RAGAMUFFIN, also increased. Buckell admits that, due to the myriad of factors affecting sales, he can’t say definitively that the free e-book ws the reason for the sales jump, but it’s worth noting that another Tor author, John Scalzi, saw a 20 pecent jump in sales of his book OLD MAN’S WAR after it was released as a free Tor download–and sales of the sequel jumped 30 percent.
Another experimenter is my good friend Joe Konrath. Joe uses free downloads to sell his paper books. But more and more recently, he’s been putting stuff up exclusively in e-format. And, he claims, he’s making money at it, even though he’s pricing his work at what a publisher would consider a scandalously low price, usually less than two bucks. So the pieces serve not only to promote the paper books, but become a profit center in themselves.
As for piracy, Konrath figures that same low price takes care of the problem all by itself:
The rules of supply and demand don’t work in a digital world, because the supply is unlimited. You don’t fight piracy with weapons. You fight piracy with cost and convenience…If there were a central hub, where you could easily search for ebooks and get them at a reasonable price, there would be no need to pirate books.
Apple, Konrath points out, finally figured out that 99 cent songs and no DRM is the way to go. But it took them way too long to get to that point, and as a result, we have a healthy, active piracy community.
Hopefully, the publishing industry won’t create the same public relations disaster as the music industry. As one tech website observed:
The challenge for publishing is to avoid being seen as greedy. In music, the debate quickly became characterised as The Man versus The Kids, where The Man was Bono, his celebrity mates and their filthy rich record companies…when [Bono] drew parallels between file sharing and illegal porn and accused ISPs of stealing all his money, the entire internet torrented U2 albums out of sheer spite. Probably.
It is, as I’ve observed, possible to be completely morally and legally in the right and still shoot yourself in the foot.
So, back to the question: how are we going to earn a living in this new world? We’re going to do it by seeing innovations in technology as opportunities for expansion rather than as threats. We’re going to do it by experimenting, by questioning assumptions, by keeping our eyes and ears open, watching what works and what doesn’t, and using those successes and failures as springboards for our own new ideas.
Some of these experiments will pan out and make someone a pile of money. Others will crater in a big way. And it’s impossible at this point to say which will be which. As another information guru I’ve quoted before once put it:
The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing.
It’s not the end of the world. It’s just the end of the world as we know it…and I feel fine.
Bravo, a great post!
But, can I be excused? My brain is full ….
Although music and e-books can be similar in electronic delivery format the way they are used really is different for each user. For myself I find I listen to music in the background of activity. Reading fiction is the activity for me.
It’s also an activity that gives me a break from the computer or a screen environment as Doctrow indicates in his paper v e-book argument.
There are exceptions.
I do find I buy more books when I can read an extract of online first. So if I could perhaps get hooked with a free book of the first book in a series…maybe published 3-5 years before….I am much more likely to seek out each subsequent paper book for purchase.
While people are dealing with e-book issues someone somewhere is probably inventing the next big thing anyway.
Yeah my brain is mush too, studying business law for exam in 16 hours…tired.
I have an ereader — the Kindle. I am willing to try new authors on it and I have. I’ve bought at least five new to me authors and I’m planning on a sixth soon. That’s cash no one otherwise would have had. It hasn’t stopped me from buying paper books — in fact, I’m hoping to pick up a new one today that I ordered because B&N wouldn’t normally stock this author (brand new release in hardback no less).
I understand the concern of piracy and perhaps I’m not being realistic because I’m one the rule-followers, but most people ARE rule followers. Yes, I wouldn’t turn down free but I don’t go out of my way to find them nor do I steal. There are ways to protect the electronic medium — years ago software had to find something because of the copying of discs going on. When there is a strong enough need … THAT is the mother of invention and that will be when we’ll finally come up with a better solution. Apparently, we haven’t reached that mark yet in other areas.
All well and good for authors whose books are available in both print and ebook. But what about those who rely on sales of ebooks because it’s the sole format? Different story then. It hurts where it counts.
Thanks for talking about the other side of this discussion. One thing that is often overlooked is that there is a sizable majority of people who won’t download pirated books, period. Like most other crime, I suspect pirated downloads are largely the province of people in their teens and twenties, and not even a majority of them will do it. Personally, I wouldn’t know where to go to download a bootleg copy of Dan Brown’s latest book (Or yours, or Robert B. Parker’s, or Elmore Leonard’s.) and I have no interest in looking, and wouldn’t have an interest in looking even if I wasn’t a writer. That doesn’t make me special. There are more of us than there are those who will rip us off, or retail sales as we know it couldn’t exist.
I understand the concern of piracy and perhaps I’m not being realistic because I’m one the rule-followers, but most people ARE rule followers.
I’d suggest that there are three types of attitudes: people who’ll break the rules, people who’ll never break the rules, and a large mushy middle who might do it, given the right incentive or excuse. And, as I’ve noted before, when you’re demanding millions of dollars in damages for 24 illegally downloaded songs, you’re not going to get the sympathy of that mushy middle. Someone in the last couple of days analogized it to eating a grape off the supermarket shelf. It’s true that that’s stealing and that’s wrong. But if Kroger started taking people’s houses for eating a grape, they’d have a hard time getting people to believe they’re the good guy.
The secret, in my opinion, is to win the hearts and minds of that middle group. One of the articles I’ve quoted takes Bono to task. To be fair, the Bono op-ed linked to has more than a little drama-queenery about it, but he does hit the nail on the head with this: Note to self: Don’t get over-rewarded rock stars on this bully pulpit, or famous actors; find the next Cole Porter, if he/she hasn’t already left to write jingles. The other way, as Konrath pointed out, is to make e-books cheap enough and convenient enough that stealing them looks silly. Make the price a little more in line with the actual cost, rather than charging the same price (or more) for an e-version as for the print one. I’m getting a LOT of static from Kindle readers over this, and I have to explain to them that I don’t set the price. I just take the flak.
Cate: which publishers are only doing e-books?
Dana: I suspect pirated downloads are largely the province of people in their teens and twenties, and not even a majority of them will do it.
Bingo. The Tech-Radar site I linked to provides this statistic: According to the Books & The Consumer survey of UK book buyers, the average book buyer is female and aged 35 or older, whereas the typical music pirate is male and aged 16-24.
Yeah somewhere in my tiredness I forgot to mention i’m not cutting a swathe through illegal downloads and pirated e-books. Beyond any moral argument is my agreement that free books, not stolen, but free e books can make sense to me as a platform to make more paper book sales from too. I find it hard to imagine that people stealing books would then go and buy books…but who knows they could be some largely undiscovered book buying demographic?
LOVE this post – perfectly titled. I tried to comment yesterday but couldn’t spend the time needed to say clearly what I wanted to say. You’ve done it much better.
My friend and copy editor “Karen from Ohio” pointed me toward this blog this morning and I just wanted to jump in with a few thoughts.
My co-author of “The Fourth Awakening” and I are both old hands in the “traditional” publishing industry. I’ve sold six novels and 2 screenplays and Jeffery has contributed to over 20 non-fiction books. When we decided to combine our skills and write a novel based on some cutting edge science we decided to use the online marketing skills we had acquired instead of settling for mid-list or run the risk of being orphaned. We found a small press publisher who would let us run with our ideas. Next, we identified a select group of influential people and sought their feedback on the nearly completed manuscript. We quickly discovered many of these people were resistant to reading a book on their computer or didn’t want the hassle of printing out the PDF and dealing with loose-leaf pages. To accommodate them, we used the Lightning Source (LSI) division of Ingram Books to publish 100 Advance Reading Copies.
To our great surprise, instead of getting suggestions for changes, the readers started recommending the book to their friends, family and posting comments online. To accommodate the sudden interest in the book, we added the title to the Ingram Books distribution channels and a few weeks later it became available on Amazon. With no marketing other than word of mouth, in the past few months Ingram Books has printed and sold over 3,000 copies of the book. This came from 100 “free” books. Not a bad return on investment.
JD, I agree with everything you say (in fact it’s pretty much the same post I put up on Do Some Damage today – sheesh, we’ve all got to get back to work 😉
The one line that jumps out at me, though, is the guy who says publishers can’t be seen as greedy.
I only wish he’d ddded, "because they’re vulnerable."
Banks are greedy. Oil companies are greedy. Apple, wow, another shiny new device the kids just have to have out today is pretty greedy. But no one can download an iPod, so they aren’t vulnerable. Twenty bucks is too much for a CD, ten bucks is too much to read a book, but that iTablet will fly off the shelves.
I don’t why that difference matters to me, really, except that maybe I don’t like the idea that some companies can be as much "The man against us all," as they want and others can’t. Anyway, that’s just the reality, I should just ignore it.
Good post (and not just because I agree with it 😉
Dusty, glad to see a more optimistic view of publishing’s future!
I should emphasize that in no way am I against e-books. I own two different e-readers, and use them on vacations. And I’m glad that most of my books are available in e-format — LEGAL e-format.
My concern is a point in the future when e-book sales surpass print sales. When books are all digital, how do we protect our copyrights?
But I think we have a good two decades before that happens.
Thank you very much for posting this well-researched side of things. I’d been getting a little discouraged lately with all the alarmist responses to ebooks. As a librarian and writer, and also a reader who enjoys her Sony Reader as well as paper copies of a lot of books, I don’t understand the "end of days" mentality.
Are we candlemakers cursing electricity?
But Rod, do you think part of your readers’ reluctance to read an electronic version is the age range of your select audience? Because I think my kids, especially the two youngest–who never move more than a few miles without a laptop in hand–are much more likely to read on a computer screen than I am, for instance.
And since I’m in your target audience range, that makes sense, yes?
On the other hand, I attended a panel discussion at Bouchercon where one of the four panelists had ONLY published his books online. They were aimed at a much younger market than us geezers, and more towards males than females. He has been wildly successful. Wish I could think of his name; he’s a professor of English at a California university, maybe in San Francisco? Younger guy, maybe about 30, and tall and good-looking. He was quite persuasive, too.
It was Seth Harwood. I just looked at the Bouchercon program online.
Very well said. I equate the e-book phenomenon to computer use. Weren’t the use of computers supposed to lead to the paperless office? Well, that didn’t happen. The last time I checked we still use paper-A lot. Similarly, I don’t think e-books will entirely replace printed copies. The two formats will likely coexist. While e-readers make sense, especially in regards to textbooks ,which IMO should only be available in downloadable form, because print copies are too bulky and expensive, other printed books will probably remain the preferred format for a lot of people. I mean how do you get a book on your e-reader signed by your favourite author?
"The big problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity." Truth out.
And Karen? After the e-book publishing, Seth landed a traditional publisher. See? It’s all back to traditional publishing as the gold standard.
"After the e-book publishing, Seth landed a traditional publisher. See? It’s all back to traditional publishing as the gold standard."
My point, exactly.
While we did have a fair share of "Blue Hairs" in our ARC group, we have and continue to have a free downloadable PDF on our webpage. We put in tracking software that indicated while over 1,200 people had downloaded the book a majority of those never opened the file.
The larger point; a "free" or pirated download does not necessarily mean a lost sale. Ironically, many of the "free" people have come back and purchased a copy of the book.
Great job. Can’t add much to what you’ve said, except:
I think it’s safe to say that whatever the future of publishing is going to look like, the market for hardcopy books is going to be much smaller than it is today. The market itself isn’t going away, ever, for the reasons you’ve already indicated — there will always be people like me, even young ones, who prefer to read long-form works on the printed page. Period.
The working model for e-book publishing — especially as it relates to fiction — will include a very modest price point per title (say, no more than $3.00 by today’s standards) and some kind of Value-Added form of retailing. By Value-Added, I mean offering extra features or additional material that only the publisher can provide, E-book publishers will have to make buying a legit copy of a book so economical AND easy AND experience rich that settling for a pirated copy to save yourself the relative pittance of its purchase price just won’t make any sense.
Of course, with the price of an e-book set so low, the question becomes, "Will writers still be able to make a decent living writing fiction?"
I don’t know. But I know more than a few did back in the day when a Fawcett paperback only cost thirty-five cents.
I mentioned Seth Harwood yesterday in my long-winded response to your post.
He actually started by podcasting his novel online. It was available for free downloads.
This allowed him to develop a strong online fanbase who began bugging him to have a print version available. He worked with a POD publisher, then devised a strategy for his fans to buy his book from Amazon on a single day. His character is Jack Palms, so he chose "Palm Sunday."
I forget the stats of his sales ranking for the day, but it was impressive. Very impressive for a POD title. It sold well enough to get an agent that he had been pursuing to sign him as a client, then that led to his book being republished by a division of Random House.
Seth teaches creative writing at San Francisco City College and at Stanford.
But, he couldn’t get agents or editors interested in his book until he proved he could move books. Which is the Catch-22 of writers trying to break into the market these days.
Seth spoke to my writers club this past summer and I had the honor of introducing him, that’s why I know his story so well.
Seth is still e-publishing, and even more importantly, he’s podcasting many of his books to sell as audio versions. He might be selling more that way than any other way, if I remember correctly.
Which, by the way, I think is brilliant. So many people have iPods or other MP3 players these days. It’s a great way to "read".
Sorry, Linda–you and I must have posted simultaneously! Great minds, and all that, right? 😉
To respond to Gar: I have both self-published and had a book published by a "real" publisher. Guess which one I made more money on? Not the one published traditionally, not by a long shot. However, I also had to hand-sell many, many books. Now they are all, including the one originally published by a regular house (the copyright has reverted back to me) in .pdf format, and hopefully will soon be in some other e-book format. Since I put them into Acrobat Reader they have sold very well. I wish I’d had tracking software; it would be interesting to know how many people actually read them after they purchased them.
I agree, I think computers increased paper flow in the office – the "youngsters" have never heard of a routing slip.
However, the internet sucked the life out of magazines and newspapers – especially for the "youngsters" who seem to want only to skim the surface of the lake of knowledge.
The podcast idea is indeed brilliant. We recently had CJ Critt do the audio version for The Fourth Awakening. Expect to see it on a free podcast in the near future.
FYI: There is nothing more unnerving that trying to listen to someone else reading aloud a book you wrote! Completely freaked me out!
Excellent post, Dusty, and I agree with every point of it. Like Louise, I think the main point most writers really fight is what Doctorow said–obscurity. And like PK said, I think most people want to follow the rules–they want to pay for the book.
As a new Kindle owner, I have to say I’m disappointed in the machine itself for several reasons which have almost nothing to do with the reading ability of the device itself. The web interface is pretty primitive and feels sluggish and shoddy–if I want to go surf Amazon to buy a book, Kindle–Amazon’s own device–does not make that easy or attractive. Or fast. Which slows down surfing and which therefore slows down my ability to click onto any suggestions their software might have made, a la "People who bought this also bought that" — a program which I use a tremendous amount when shopping online on my computer.
Secondly, there was no real value added, as Gar suggested there needs to be, above. How easily the publishers could embed links in a legitimate copy of the book which would only work if coming in from a verified copy… which gave the reader a lot of value added information that only legit copies could access. Exclusive interviews or short stories or background or gaming or forums. This really would not be that difficult, or expensive.
I was also frustrated over the price of the Kindle books. Quite a few times, there were ebooks I was about to purchase when I realized that the Kindle price was higher than a mass market version which had become available. Did I go buy the mass market version, then? Nope. I felt annoyed and ripped off, and while I knew it wasn’t the author’s fault, I still found it ridiculous that the publisher wanted to charge me $3 extra for something they didn’t have to print, ship, warehouse, or handle for returns.
What *has* happened with my Kindle is that I’ve bought quite a few books just since owning it that I wouldn’t have bought before, because I could download a free sample right then when I was shopping… and, more important, when I was reading at one in the morning, if I liked it, I could click a button and buy the novel and keep reading. That simple strategy paid off, big.
There are quite a few series I’d like to catch up on, favorites of this group that people mention. If those past books were available in ebook form at $2 or so each, I’d buy them. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. Backlists are a publisher’s bread and butter, but instead of holding onto them with a viselike grip, the publishers need to start thinking about the iTunes strategy–make it cheaper and get the volume of sales.
The actual reading experience on the ebook reader was fine–once I was into the story, I forgot about the format and forgot about the fact that I wasn’t holding a hard copy. It probably helps that I found a cover for my Kindle which feels more like a book cover and I can bend one side back like I would a paperback. I did very much like the little extra features, like being able to put a cursor on a word and see a definition or being able to highlight a passage or make notes (though that feature, too, was too primitive).
Books won’t go away, any more than the muscle cars did–there are always going to be people who want that format and who are willing to pay a little more. But sleeker, cheaper, faster modes of transportation of the information are going to become the norm, particularly for the generations being born now or the last ten years–they will grow up with ereaders and etexts and cell phones and laptops. They’re not going to go back to books (with any large numbers) any more than most of us would travel by horse and buggy.
Dusty, you make several good points and I agree with some of them. I don’t see print books disappearing. My two teenagers won’t read books on a computer. I offered my big reader an e-book reader or her choice, and she declined. Print books are here to stay for the foreseeable future, and e-book sales will continue to rise–e-books are simply another format for reading.
And I have no problem with giving away books for free. I’ve given away well over 1,000 books that I bought myself at discounts. I believe the best way to find readers is for them to read your book and recommend it. I love giving away books. I’m giving away a short story in March for free. If I wanted to give away one of my backlist titles for free, that’s my right. MY right in coordination and agreement with my publisher. It is not the right of someone to steal it because they think the $7.99 price or the $6.39 kindle price or the $5.97 is too high. They don’t have a right to read my book for free.
It’s not just teenagers–though they are guiltier in higher numbers. It’s their parents–people in my generation who don’t see anything wrong with pirated DVDs. The excuses and the way the justify it is pathetic. "So-and-so is rich, I’m not hurting him. That corporation is greedy, they deserve it." Oh PLEASE!!! Greedy corporations employ people and the more the little guy wants to stick it to the big guy, the more the little guy is the one who’s hurt. There are investors who are not filthy rich investing in these companies through pensions and 401Ks and mutual funs. People like most of us who are trying to save up just a little because we know social security isn’t going to be here for us in 25 years. I am so tired of the attitude that stealing is okay just because someone or a company is "rich" or an asshole.
*wild applause* Loved this post.
It’s as I said, two posts ago, about my own piracy: I can’t afford to buy it. I’m a college student, with a loan already, and I expect to be close to 20 grand in debt by the time I graduate (and that’s WITH scholarships and a part-time job and parents helping me out!). All my favorite bands, I first heard either free or illegally; all of the CD’s I’ve bought (all five of them- I really can’t afford much!) or requested as birthday and Christmas gifts were from artists I heard the same way.
And the only person I know who enjoys reading and loves an e-reader is because she’s doing tons of traveling and can now take half her library with her instead of one or two books.
By the way, I know you mentioned Little Brother, but did you read it? I have the online copy and read a print copy at my library. It’s excellent.
I’m going to get my novels in ebook format, the format I want, as soon as I get the files from my publisher this week. (Again, I retained my electronic rights for all of my works because I simply was unwilling to give away something I didn’t understand.)
I’m looking forward to experimenting with this, with my own works, legally. I expect to write about it in several months or a year when I have some solid data.
And, no, it’s NOT the end of the world.
And I still don’t like stealing.
Best. Blog. Post. About. E-Piracy. Ever.
I’m a college drop-out who had a scholarship and worked 30 hours a week to pay for room and board during my two years and I couldn’t afford to buy books, either. It took me five years to pay off student loans and I didn’t even have a degree to show for it. But I didn’t steal books. I borrowed them from the library.
I think I’m the only parent on the planet who told her teenagers that if I ever caught them illegally downloading music that I would take away their iPods. Most parents don’t care and many do it themselves.
I can’t afford a new BMW, and dammit, I really want one. Maybe I should just go steal one from the rich retired baseball player who lives only a few miles from me. After all, he has plenty of money, it’s not like I’m hurting anyone, and anyway why does he need six cars?
It’s frightening that people are trying to blur the lines between giving away and STEALING. As for the mushy middle – I guess I’m naive in thinking that people actually have morals and values and aren’t out to game the system, take what they can get for free, and blatantly flaunt it.
Really. There is a BIG difference between giving a book away for free and someone taking it from you. If they were in your house taking your TV, would you feel so warm and fuzzy toward them?
I really can’t agree with taking books because you can’t afford them. If the author / publisher offered them for free, that’s great, but that was their choice to forgo an income for that work. There are many legitimate resources for access to books, including free online reads of books which are in the public domain. Not being able to afford the item that you want isn’t a good reason for then just taking the item–no matter how small.
Most authors struggle. It’s the dark secret of publishing that most writers don’t want to talk about, because so much of the business is built on perception. People don’t want to talk about what they earn, because really, it’s no one’s business, but that lack of discussion has led our culture into a belief that being in the public eye (publication) is the same as major monetary success. Look at the people vying to be on TV and reality shows, look at the stacks of tabloids and internet sites making bank off someone else’s public persona (and sometimes, not so public). People think that publicity means you’re a star at what you do, and being a star means you’re rich. Nothing could be further from the truth. Maybe the writer is a star, but without payment, they will cease to be able to give the world the work. Everybody’s got to eat, and if authors can’t get paid, they can’t continue to contribute.
As for free downloads, I know it’s done, and my support for ebooks and that format is for the paying version, unless someone chooses to release a free book. I personally think that if an author has a deep backlist, offering a free or cheap older book is a great bit of publicity and will create new customers, in exactly the same way the advertising industry gets attention by sending out free samples.
But a free sample is their choice.
Great post, Dusty. I’m searching for something intelligent to add, but you’ve pretty much said it all.
Coincidentally saw this today–excellent blog on exactly why taking downloads hurts everyone, and not just from an artistic angle, but from a revenue angle. All of the downstream revenue lost that hurts so many people who have nothing to do with publishing:
or I Shall Not Steal
The illegal download of any material is a victimless crime. Furthermore, I don’t worry about authors receiving payment for their work. Yes, part of the first statement is absolutely true–IT’S A CRIME.PERIOD. Secondly, I never worry about an author receiving payment for their work ,because when I want a book, I PAY FOR IT. Downloading a book for free when it was never intended to be by the author is STEALING.PERIOD. People can rationalize their actions any way they want to, but as stated above, there is no justification for not paying for something, just because you want it.
Just saw a demo video of the new iPad from Apple. It is going to be released in April. It is an incredible device. Check it out. http://www.apple.com/ipad/
There’s also a new iBook Store, which will basically compete directly with certain other eBook stores out there. Apple has partnered up with Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Hachette Book Group, and eBooks will be available in the ePub format.
Now understand, I love paper books. I have 450 linear feet of library shelves that are jam packed and that does not include the book shelves in my bedrooms and great room and office (about another 30 linear ft. in my office) or living rooms. But I would definitely use this iPad for travel on planes and for convenience of packing space and weight. I take close to ten books with me when I travel. I need an extra duffel just for the books (and one for the shoes, of course! It’s a woman thing.) I would stick an iPad in my purse to ride BART or for waiting in the dentist’s office, etc. Would never stop me from buying "real" books, though. How could I lend my iPad to a friend to introduce her to a new author I discovered?
Anyway. About the iPad. Have a good laugh and check out this article in the Huffington Post. Apple needs to rethink it’s new product name before release, I think. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/27/ipad-video-madtv-predicte_n_438880.html
Didja watch the video? Didja didja didja? It’s hilarious.
I pray for the print medium to never die. I would have NO desire to live in an Orwellian world, where books were no more. For the truly impoverished, print is our window to the world of literature. Free libraries operate mainly in the print world. I belong to netflix for movie entertainment. I have resisted the print equivalent thus far. I only use netflix because of the low cost. Our free public library has more purchasing power in the print material than that of dvd’s. I empathize with those who still use vhs for their video entertainment. Not that long ago, it was my world too. I am a believer in reading. I am a voracious reader and raised my daughter the same. It was evident the benefit of reading to children when she was only 2 and a 4 1/2 year old cousin couldn’t entertain her self as long as my child. My daughter developed a much larger attention span than other children her age. I firmly believe that reading to her made all the difference. She is an unceasing writer that will become professional in the near future, I am certain. At age 8, ten years ago, she declared her life goal of being a New York Times best-selling author. Ebooks and the like will never replace print, at least not when it comes to children’s books. There is no feeling in the world like your child snuggling on your lap for a good book. This alone, creates a love of books.
I apologize if anything I said in comments on a previous post made anyone think I was blurring the lines between stealing and sharing. That was not my intention and I’m sorry.
When my kids were in middle school (this was YEARS ago, pre-iPod days) I discovered they were using Napster. Their justification was that they weren’t stealing, just sharing music collections online. Not only did I remove the program from the computer, I deleted ALL of their music files (even the songs they paid for and copied from CD’s) and created a password for the computer so they couldn’t use it at all without my permission. I seem to remember them saying they’d hate me forever. They didn’t.
JD, as much as I love the cynical satirical voice of political commentary on your blog, it is so refreshing to hear this voice of carefree optimism. It’s very appealing. Thank you for this post.
On a lighter note, today after work I purchased Allison’s book ORIGINAL SIN, as well as the first in a new series by my friend Sabrina Jeffries, THE TRUTH ABOUT LORD STONEVILLE (I LOVE her voice) and Courtney Milan’s PROOF BY SEDUCTION (because I have been very impressed by her intelligent articulate blog posts — attribute yet another purchase to the influence of Twitter). When the checkout girl scanned Allison’s book, she said, "Oh my God, this book is SO GOOD. I love this book, it’s amazing." Really, she was gushing. Allison, I told her I’d let you know how much she loved it.
So. I’m going to go read for a while.
Fascinating topic and comments! I just wanted to share from the perspective of an American living abroad, in a small city in China where there are NO English language books available. I am here on a contract that did not include shipment of my belongings, so everything I have I have brought in suitcases. This means there is very little room for books. E-books are a godsend for me. Without them, I would quite simply go insane. I do not mind reading on the computer, either, because I will do anything to have access to my books. I just found out that with my iphone, I can download wirelessly to the Kindle for iphone app. From China. Instant access to thousands of books. I am a customer that could barely be reached before. Now I purchase a book a week! That said, I also crave physical books, so I end up bringing back a carry-on full of them each trip I take to the US.
If I find that an author is available in e-book format, I am MUCH more likely to purchase their books in both formats. I might start reading their books in e-book format and find that I like them so much I want to have them in physical form. Actually, I listen to a lot of books in audiobook format, as well. Those of us who love reading and love books will continue to support traditional publishing while also embracing new technologies. For those of us who are expats, e-books are a welcome and necessary format!
On the piracy note, China is renowned for the availability of pirated books, DVDs, etc., but I have seen a slight crackdown on this over the last few years. Go to any beach town in Southeast Asia and you’ll find carts full of photocopied books. I don’t approve, but it happens. I don’t buy them. If I come across a legitimate free download of a book, however (and I became a fan of Cory Doctorow this way – a paying fan), it only encourages me to explore the author’s work further and I am likely to buy their books.
Just another perspective!
BCB– Thank you for the story! It’s heartwarming 🙂 And I commend you for dealing with the Napster problem. Too few parents do it. And it’s not that all the parents are thieves–most parents just don’t understand the situation at all.
I just overhead a conversation today at the school between two parents who’d overhead their kids had broken the security code for the iPhone so they can get free music, different provider, etc. I told them the warranty is now void, and if they do the same on their iMac at home, it voids the warranty as well. They were flabbergasted. Well, if parents are responsible for the property damage of their minor children (i.e. graffiit, etc) then they also have to pay the price when their kids strip security protections from the hardware. Just saying . . .
Heather, re: dvds — most of the shipments the FBI seizes is coming from China. They recently arrested a group of people taking in over $2million a year in illegal dvd sales. One small group in Fresno. It’s widespread.
BTW, my comments earlier were no intended to be disparaging of e-books–I think books should be available in multiple formats. That’s a GOOD thing. It’s the unlawful downloads I have a problem with. I think ebooks are great, and if an author or musician wants to give away content that’s their right. It’s a great promotional tool. I love the idea of cheaper backlist downloads. Another promotional tool. But last night I got a google alert–three people looking for an illegal download of my book. I almost laughed when I read the link Toni posted. Elizabeth had the same thing happen to her. All of us do.
Nicely said, Dusty.
Media Book World irked me so much I went on a rant again.
Allison – I should say that the crackdown on pirated DVDs comes in waves… one day you’ll walk past the well-known DVD shops and see them full, the next, the shelves are empty. The crackdowns are always related to things like the Olympics or a big government conference or something like that. It’s interesting that the government cracks down within the country, yet most illegal DVDs in the US come from here…
And as a writer aspiring to publication someday, I am also disheartened by the illegal downloading. I have a few friends here in China, however, who see absolutely nothing wrong with it. They actually do not know it is against laws – including Chinese law. So I think there is a lot of ignorance out there, no excuse, of course.
Great post here! As you might expect, my thoughts are much more in line with J.D.’s than with Tess’s. To Tess I would ask THIS question: what are you trying to accomplish with this blog? Are you trying to build your platform of readers/fans or are you trying to reach out to other writers on the web and network with them. While I love talking with writers and networking, I firmly believe that it’s the first of these two options that’s going to ultimately sell your book.
Writers will chip in and help out with some book buying, but if you truly want to make a living by writing, you need to connect with readers. And they’re out there, on the web. And they will buy your book.
BUT, they don’t much care what you think of e-publishing, e-books, writing, or publishing in general. They want to try out your actual fiction/non-fiction, the book that you plan on selling. In a rational world, that’s the writing you spend most of your time on, right?
So, if you want to market yourself on the web (sorry, but it is now a necessity to publishing) then piracy goes out the window and you’re best off finding a way to get your good fiction to people who will give it a shot.
Next question becomes: what are the best ways to do that?
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