Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Can I Get a Ruling: Will The Coming E-Book Era Be a Good Thing?

As we wrap up this unofficial e-book week on the blog, I continue to remember that I have a blog feature called Can I Get A Ruling, in which we all vote on a basically yes or no question. (Publishing Myths 101 on the other hand: forgotten and neglected)

So here's what I'd like a ruling on. Will the coming e-book revolution be a Good Thing for authors?

In other words, I don't know that the music industry would necessarily, on the whole, think that mp3s have been, overall, a Good Thing, given the losses to piracy. Sure, there were some forced errors along the way, some artists may have taken advantage of the Internet and others think things are jolly, but there's been quite a lot of angst along the way.

So as we enter an era where e-books become more and more popular (and e-book sales are up 35.7% on the year), is the coming era going to be good for authors?

Pros: lots of choice, cheaper prices=more books bought?, portability, opening up of marketplace, ease of access

Cons: piracy, downward pressure on prices, possible consolidation of marketplace, choice confusion.

So Can I Get a Ruling? E-books are coming, whether we like them are not. On the whole... Good thing? Bad Thing?







56 comments:

Mark D. said...

It seems to me that the piracy issue will make an impact as it did for the music industry. I could be wrong, but I have misgivings about the overall honesty of the world's general population when it comes to saving a buck.

pjd said...

I think the results will say more about who you have reading your blog than about whether the changes will actually be good or bad for authors. Everything hinges on how each voter defines "author."

Ben Sloan said...

I think there will be even less dedicated "writers" as a direct result, though there may be more writers getting exposure.

I'll be extremely happy if I can eventually make 10,000 a year off of writing.

Josephine Damian said...

Nathan,

Here's a copy and paste from a post on the DorothyL listserver today. Thought it would be of interest to you:

I went to Lee Child's signing at Murder by the Book, Houston, Sunday, promoting his new book, Nothing to Lose. He's a wonderful speaker, and so darn cute! He told us about three new things he'd experienced on this tour - one of them was that a guy came up to him with a Kindle, showed Lee he was reading the book, and asked him to sign the Kindle. I wonder if that is a new trend?

Still doesn't make me own one of those gizmos, but just had to share.

Other Lisa said...

Howsabout, "I dunno"?

Silicon Valley Diva said...

Sorry to be a Pita, but Yikes Nathan. I'm kinda in the middle of this LOL. I see both pros and cons. Wish there was an option to vote "neither".

Adaora A. said...

I think - I like to be positive in cases such as these - that our industry will accomodate the changes. When computers first came onto the scene they were huge room sized things which higher up folks believed 'common' folks would have no use for. Well the rest is history. They were wrong. I would like to believe (and hope), that things will balance out to keep with 'the times. You've even said yourself that the way a writer promotes a book (the process) has changed. Authors have to create some kind of an interest in their books because of the huge competition. You said authors have to do more then just write well. They have to be personable, outgoing, they have to have something. That's all going to go hand in hand with this whole e-book thing. Internet is one of the best ways to advertise in general. People are on their computers so often that some are actually diagnosed as having a tech addiction. Everything is going towards the internet. As much as I would love to draw the line - being absolutely against e-books as I am - I can't lie to myself. Truth hurts. You've gotta roll with the punches.

gwen said...

I honestly have no clue because I haven't been paying attention to this trend. But there is always the risk that placing any material - in our case, "intellectual property" - online for anyone to access becomes a security issue. Who's to say we won't get bootlegged e-books just like we have bootlegged movies and illegally dowloaded MP3's?

pjd said...

I keep seeing comments of people afraid of piracy. Does anyone have actual figures to show that piracy has hurt the music or film industries? My impression was that at worst, piracy is a tiny drop in a vast ocean of rapidly growing revenues.

The software industry back in the 80s went nuts over piracy for a while. Then they sort of forgot about it and went about the business of minting billion dollar bills. The music and film industries fought digital content tooth and nail in the 90s because of the threat of piracy. I don't remember any music or film companies going out of business due to piracy, or musicians seriously hurt financially because of it.

Now authors and publishers are worried about it wrt ebooks.

Through a different lens, "piracy" is simply another form of "publicity." It's likely that the one who reads your pirated book wouldn't have paid you for it in the first place. But if he reads it for free and likes it, maybe he'll share it with others, and a significant portion of those others are likely to buy the work. Whether out of a sense of honesty or fear of getting caught, doesn't matter. In fact, I'd bet most pirates will recommend that their friends buy it, thus assuaging their own guilt.

The fact is that most people are honest, and the other ones weren't going to pay you for your work anyway.

In short, I don't believe that piracy is any kind of threat. It's the equivalent of breakage and petty theft in retail. Nothing more.

Anonymous said...

I had an e-book published in 1998, on newconceptspublishing.com...

I made seven bucks and change. I never cashed the check they sent me, it's the first $ I was ever paid for fiction.

But nowadays it seems like e-books are beingg used as free promo giveaways to generate early buzz before the big Release Date.

The main thing is to sell the movie rights, and multiple foreign rights if you can; the rest of it, unless you end up with a runaway bestseller, is pretty pedestrian.

Bethanne said...

Good writing is MUCH harder to find online. One author, I noticed, offered a free read [on the publishers website!] that was admittedly NOT edited. It was horrible. typos, bad grammar, head-hopping, lack of continuity, NO Goal[yes, even a short story should have a point]... I wondered how this free read was supposed to entice a customer to buy her "real" book. *shrug*

I have authors I know and will buy their stuff, otherwise, when I stop seeing crap like that, then maybe I'll start buying regularly from epublishers.

A Paperback Writer said...

A kindle looks like a spiffy toy, and I have no objections to how well they're selling, but I have a hard time seeing how kindle and spin-offs will totally replace books in my lifetime.
As for the piracy arguments, well, books can be pirated, too. If someone REALLY wants to pirate something, they're going to do it, no matter what form it's in.

Marilynn Byerly said...

If you'd like a good overview of the book piracy issue, go to

http://www.sfwa.org/epiracy

While you're there, get one of their anti-piracy icons for your website to show your support.

Kathleen said...

How about "Neither?"

It'll be rough, as every transition is... good for those willing and able to adapt, and bad for those who refuse to, just like every other change that technology has brought.

That's all there is to it.

JES said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JES said...

[Dang, let's try that again... Nathan, if you're listening, my immediately preceding comment can be deleted -- bad link in it.]

Marilynn, just to clarify -- the link for the SFWA's e-piracy resource page is:

http://www.sfwa.org/epiracy/xindex.html

(Leaving off the exact page name causes an error.)

Thanks for the heads-up!

nancorbett said...

Isn't the whole idea of piracy of electronic copy sort of the new iteration of reselling a used book? Used books are piracy too, in a way.

I'm with the silicon valley diva, who said that she wished there were a neither button. I think that some writers will adapt and others won't. The ones who adapt will be the ones who are opportunists and those unafraid of change. These people will stand to make a killing. Once this gets established, people will start to dream up ways of making money that are going to make being a writer look attractive to people who would never try it now. E-pubbing will eventually start to attract a different kind of writer personality.

But, I think the loss will be great with the writers who can't adapt, who fear change and technology. My biggest fear, when I think about this, is that we'll lose the really great writers, the literary fiction with depth and enduring significance. Like so many things in America, written entertainment is in danger of becoming of the made-for-tv variety, mass produced, sensational, predictable and repeatable.

So, yes, I think it's going to be fun and exciting to be a part of because it will all be shiny and new, but we stand to lose a lot too as we pick up the pace.

Tarot By Arwen said...

I am an author who is published in e-format. Five years ago I thought all e-print was dreadful rubbish because of one or two I'd seen. Utterly horrific in fact.

I still read print but I read more books on my ereader for the portability. I can put 100 books on it and tote it around with me. I like that. I buy books in e-format that are available in print because of this.

This is rambling. Sorry. What I mean to say is that e-publishing is here and the major houses all seem to be expanding on some level to include e-format.

So it doesn't matter whether it will be a good thing or not. It simply is here now. We have to learn to deal with the changes. You have a good list of pros and cons.

Piracy is my biggest issue next to quality.

Could I have been any more disjointed?

austexgrl said...

Jonathan dear, get this...I LOVE Books..I love their covers, the back pages, the smell of them, holding them in my hands, placing them in my specially made oak book cases...I LOVE bookmarks, specially made bookmarks..bookmarks made by girl scouts..you are young, I get that, But, there are a lot of people out there LIKE ME!!!

Simon Haynes said...

If you download a pirated ebook, how do you know some wag hasn't deleted whole scenes, edited chapters, deleted the ending, inserted their own first name throughout the book as the protagonist?

You don't, which is why going to the source is the only way to get them.

To paraphrase someone else, as an author my problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity.

Anonymous said...

"Psst, there's a newfangled thing on the block that's treatening to make the typewriter a thing of the past. It's called a computer."

Or...

"Psst, there's a new mode of transportation that will make the horse and buggy a thing of the past. It's called an automobile."

Like it or not, and most people don't like "new" things that threaten their comfortable way of life i.e. of doing things as they have typically done, but life evolves.

The computer is here to stay, the automobile, obviously, and so won't the Kindle or some step child of it.

We can moan all we want, but in the grand scheme of things, the majority will rule on this one, not the few--us--who are kicking and screaming.

I don't own a Kindle and probably never will (I like a book in my hands, not an LCD display). But I can recognize when something is about to change.

Just think where we'd be if all we had to work with was Wordstar?

Everything can evolve. Even the word.

(For younger readers/writers, Wordstar was a word processor for the computer.)

pjd said...

Thanks for posting the link to the epiracy page on SFWA's site. Their links are broken, but the FAQ appears to be here, and it is chock full of great stuff. It appears to be written by people who are reasonable and thoughtful and who paid attention to all the asinine things the music industry did. Recommended read.

paisley said...

where as i do not like reading ebooks myself,, i believe their availability is geared more toward the ease in distribution to the reader.. it seems as though, they will make it ever so much more difficult for those of us that are interested in publishing the old fashioned way... in much the same way i feel self publishing has made a black mark on becoming a published author all together...

i feel that there is a great change a foot,, and i continue to write,, but i am not especially interested in submitting until i figure out what the changes will be and how they will effect the writer..
i am beginning to think that perhaps screen plays are the way to go,, but that is just my very unprofessional opinion....

JDuncan said...

With ebooks, as a reader mind you (and to this point, I don't read ebooks), my concern with the proliferation of them is that it will become increasingly difficult to find good stories to read. There will be a lot of dreck out there, so quality control is going to be a big issue I think, as you will begin to get Joe Shmoe's ebook site that sells whatever comes through the inbox in the hopes of making a few bucks. It will take a while for it to all settle out, especially as the big houses get their hands in the mix. I think it's going to hurt the midlist sort of author the most. They will much more likely be lost in the rabble, and we will likely lose a lot of good storytellers because they can no longer sell enough to make a living at it. A balance will be achieved at some point a few years down the road I'm sure as the markets sift around and figure themselves out. The money to be made is going to be in catering to all of these epub authors who want trailers and websites and artwork, and so on. Marketing on the internet is a fierce business and most authors won't have the savvy or energy to do it. There is going to be a lot of heartache along the way I fear, however, and as an aspiring writer, I'm looking less forward to the e-revolution the more I think about it. I hope I'm wrong.

JDuncan

Lisa said...

Hypothetically, a migration to e-books should/could be a good thing for the entire publishing industry from a business standpoint.

Hypothetically, the the cost of goods and services associated with producing and transporting books will drop to zero, so the profit margin on the sale of the work and the available budget for book promotion SHOULD actually increase.

Migration to an e-book model would also be a boon to the environment for obvious reasons.

As a consumer, I have a Kindle and confess that I have not used it too much except for when I travel. For a frequent flier, it beats the heck out of lugging multiple books around on an extended trip. I like both mediums, but for different reasons.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to pretend for a minute that I am not a struggling author who has yet to be published, while I focus my attention on the people who make make their living off of book sales at the lowest possible level. I'm talking about book store employees. Currently, I am looking for a job to supplement the money I make at a day spa where I work as a licensed massage therapist. One of the receptionists I work with happened to mention that she has a second job working part-time at Barnes & Noble. Thrilled by the prospect of getting 40% off all the books I desire to read/own, I asked her if they were looking to hire anyone. Her face did a little droop as she told me that, not only weren't they hiring, they were cutting back everyone's hours because the store wasn't making any money. Barnes & Noble, in an area where you can't vomit without splattering on someone's dorm (Smith, Amherst, UMASS, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, etc., etc.), is losing money. Now, obviously, I can't say for sure if this has anything to do with e-publishing. For all I know it's based soully on the success of ebay, half.com, amazon, craigslist, privately-owned local bookstores (we've got some of the best in the Northeast) and yard sales. It is something to think about though.

superwench83 said...

I think e-books will be wonderful for readers when the price of the Kindle plummets enough to where regular people can afford them. But I see people using them for nonfiction titles more than for fiction, at least for a while. Here's why.

For so many people, myself included, part of the joy of reading a good novel is the tactile experience of turning those pages, feeling the weight of the book in your hands. With nonfiction, though....I can't tell you how awesome it would be to go out for a few hours to do some research for my novel and take one little reader with me that has all the info I could ever want or need. Plus, with e-books, I could afford to buy more reference books rather than repeatedly checking them out from the library.

So e-books will be good for readers, I think. I don't see regular books disappearing, but people can choose the media they like the best and buy their books in that. Now, whether or not e-books will be good for authors, I'm not sure. I just don't feel like I'm informed enough about it to make a judgment like this. But I think that whether e-books are good for writers or not, e-books are the wave of the future. Because as we've heard a hundred million times, writing isn't just an art; it's a business. And in business, you have to cater to the customer if you want to continue having customers.

Simon Haynes said...

Just spotted this on the CMIS blog... good timing, eh?

http://www.scholastic.com/aboutscholastic/news/readingreport.htm

spyscribbler said...

I hope so. I think it largely depends on what the big publishing houses do, whether they give authors a higher royalty on e-books or not.

I believe they should, but it doesn't look good. Please fight for us, oh agents of the world.

Pierre said...

In the grand scheme of things, the major issue of piracy, to be honest, is a mosquito bite concerning music and film. Seriously, music artists hitting the top of the charts hardly feel that, and the same goes for hot celebrity movie stars. They make a TON OF MONEY. Watch the VH1 specials on celebrities and their finances, and it'll probably blow your mind. They really, REALLY do make a lot of money. Mp3's and illegally downloaded movies--it's a scratch. Tis' a scratch.

I see the same thing for authors in the literary industry, although not as much. A bit more separated, I suppose. The mega hits will be more in demand--affording more of an opportunity for piracy. But it won't make a big enough scratch.

Meanwhile, I think e-books (Kindles) will add a wonderful dynamic. It's another option out there--just like audio books. It's like many of us have said, a lot of us prefer just a good paperback to read. There's a great feeling when you're at the beach, and you're reading a book. But some of the 'digital natives' (and much younger, I imagine) might like having an e-book around just for its ease of use and portability. We're at that age of understanding. I think it'll be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Last week I went to a conference for romance writers. TheWildRosePress.com was one of the sponsors and had several editors taking pitches.

I learned they work from virtual offices across the country. They have only been in business for two years and when you check their website it has an amazing variety of e-books, authors from "sweet" to "erotica." plus articles for craft, including an article on e-publishing. They sell some print, but most are e-books.

At the conference, their authors signed CDs in white jackets.

I'm convinced--the paradigm is changing before our eyes.
Last trip to the library, I noticed the biggest lines were waiting to use the computers, and to check out movies. The books--not so much interest!

Vieva said...

I think it will be a good thing - though the short term may have some suck to it.

I think comparing it to the RIAA is an interesting question - because the people really losing money there are the LABELS, not the bands. They weren't making money on the music anyway.

Authors make money per book - but not what you'd call big bucks per book. If you sold each book by e-book for what an author makes, they'd be cheap and people wouldn't have any reason to NOT buy them. You could charge a bit more for the marketing and other publisher effects and remove the cost of printing, storage, and all the other overhead (and still leave in the gateway effect) and STILL have them be cheap enough to buy and make the authors money.

I don't think it's a good comparison between ebooks and the mp3 revolution. ebooks won't hurt the author unless they're overpriced - and the market will take care of that.

(now, how it will affect the PUBLISHERS - that's a different issue!)

Elise0511 said...

I am an author who has been published electronically by royalty-paying publishers since 1999. I read both ebooks and print books regularly, and have owned a handheld reader since the Rocket eBook was first introduced. I have also been a book reviewer. There is a lot of great writing and terrific books out there both in electronic and print. There is also a lot of crap in both media.

Epublishing has been good for authors because it has given opportunities for new authors to be discovered who might never have plowed through the slush piles of print publisher and agents. Ask MaryJanice Davidson, Kate Douglas, Rosemary Laurey, Michele Bardsley and others who got their start with small epublishers and now write for mainstream publishers.

Epublishing virtually created the sub-genre of erotic romance, which has now been adopted by mainstream publishers once they saw how successful it was.

Piracy is a problem, but not as much as people think. What the music industry will discover is that they cannot sell albums containing two decent songs and ten crappy ones when listeners can buy just the songs they like for a reasonable price. Books are a different commodity. Nobody buys individual chapters, unless you are serializing, which is still rare.

What MP3 has over ebooks right now is the advantage of a mutually agreed upon format that can be read on numerous devices. Right now virtually every device uses a different proprietary program, putting a burden on publishers to format eight or nine different versions of every book they produce.

beth said...

If ebooks do for books what mp3s did for music, I think it's a great thing. Look at how people's worlds revolve around music with iPods and mp3 players...the simple way of it is that technology makes communication and distribution easier and more wide-spread. I'm hoping that ebooks will do that for books. Sure, things will be different--less paper, a different measurement of what good writing and bestselling means... Just as there is crap that can be downloaded into my iPod, there will be a greater amount of crap writing that can be downloaded in a Kindle or similar. But just as I can (and do) delete the crap from iPod, I will delete it from my Kindle... The long and short of it is that technology WILL happen and WILL come and it WILL change publishing...but while there WILL be more crap, there WILL also be good stuff, and good writing will still rise to the top.

Kristan said...

I think there are a lot of good responses here, and it's been both interesting and enlightening to read.

One thing, though, is that both you and most readers (save one, so far) neglected to mention the environmental impact e-books could have. Given the current trends toward environmentalism, I think this could be a huge selling point for e-publishing. I know it draws my attention, and I'm one of those people who loves to handle physical, printed books (underline passages, flag favorite parts, cuddle with them in bed, etc.).

So I guess I'm agreeing with the "don't know, but doubt we can avoid it" camp. And as an aspiring author myself, I sure hope I can ride this or whatever wave when it comes.

heather said...

I think there are a lot of exciting opportunities with e-books.
Also some odd things. For example, my husband (a businessman) was listening to some CD on, of course, business. I happened to walk in when the guy said that he hires ghostwriters about once or twice a month (or week, I can't remember) to write a 30-pg e-book on some subject that the market's interested in (snowboarding, surfing, selling on e-bay) on e-lance, slaps his name on it, and sells it online. I guess if this is the kind of writing you want to do, there's more opportunity to make money at it. I'm not sure how I feel about the whole thing, though.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, I believe people who think there's not a lot of money being lost to ebook piracy have no idea of the actual scope of it.

I've been lucky. I've only found three of my books being pirated, to the tune of a few hundred dollars' worth of lost royalties (close to $300, to be more exact).

But some of the bigger writers? Find a pirating site or Yahoo group and see how many times those books have been downloaded. We're talking almost four digits on one site alone.

You wonder why bookstores are sinking, why publishing is facing lower profits? Multiply the 943 downloads of one title on one site by hundreds of titles on hundreds of sites. Sure, some of those people might not have bought the book anyway. A good portion might have bought it used. It's still huge amounts of money being lost.

The Dan Ward said...

I think eBooks will be a good thing for authors who have the kind of creativity, imagination and boldness we've seen in bands like Radiohead, The Grateful Dead, The Talking Heads, Moby, Aerosmith, etc...

And eBooks will be a disaster for authors who can't wrap their brains around the new format, who insist on trying to treat eBooks like print books, or who othewise try to deny the changes to the market.

But I could be wrong...

pjd said...

Anon, it's only lost money if they would have spent it on you in the first place. Chances are they would not have.

The figures of $X millions "lost" to piracy are cooked up just as you calculated: by taking the number of downloads and multiplying by the retail price, then assuming all of that is money out of the publisher's pocket.

That looks good when testifying to Congress or trying to make headlines, but it's faulty calculation.

First: The number of downloads. This figure does not take into account people who download it more than once (probably not a big number) or people who download it and then never actually use it (probably a big number). Many people download "free" or pirated things just because they can or because they only want to quote one passage without buying the entire thing.

Second: The retail price. With ebooks, this may be more reliable, but I bet the average price paid for a book is less than that book's jacket price when you consider all "sales" outlets (including libraries, used bookstores, and people passing the book along to friends).

Third: The assumption that this is money out of your pocket. Some of it likely is, sure. Depending on the title and audience, perhaps quite a bit. But for novels, especially at this time of the market, I bet there's a lot more of an "I'll just see if I like it first" aspect to this, which leads into

Fourth: The exclusion of allowance for any benefit. Again, probably a very small part of the calculation, but if someone who would otherwise not have read your book downloads it illegally for free and then recommends it to someone who does buy the book, that's essentially like offering a two-for-one coupon. If you did that, you'd call it marketing.

I'm not saying piracy is fine. It's not. It's legally and morally wrong. What I am saying is that when examined with objectivity, piracy is not the economic disaster many people make it out to be.

wonderer said...

To continue with pjd's points... I have read only a few e-books. One I enjoyed, read all the way through, and will probably buy something else by that author in print sooner or later. In other cases, I've read the first chapter or few chapters, decided I liked it but didn't like reading it onscreen, and again, intend to buy the book in print later. That may be a case against e-books (at least until a more appealing e-reader comes along). It's definitely a case against the impact of piracy. Of course I'm only one person, but judging from the general preference here, I don't think I'm alone. As someone said upthread, for me e-books currently function as a marketing tool for the print versions, rather than something that detracts from the author's income.

Suzy Q said...

I'm kinda, sorta, you know, in the middle here– I think you need a third option, "absolutely and not particularly (sorry for the adverbs- though it does have a very Jane Austen ring to it.) But I digress.

As with everything in life- e-books have both their pros and cons. Do I fashion e--publishing completely eradicating the world of physical books- God I can only hope not. But then, the future will tell.

Anonymous said...

Right, pjd, and I did say not all of them would have bought it or would have bought it used, didn't I? But the fact remains that if even 25% of them would have bought it new, that's a large number.

And I'm not talking about one copy of one book, I'm talking about hundreds of titles--thousands of titles--being downloaded thousands of times all over the internet. Even 1,000 fewer sales of one print book can and does make an impact. What if it's a pirated copy of a print book, and even half that number would have bought their books from an independent bookstore, through the course of a year? Or from any bookstore? What if it's 250 copies? 250 is a hugely conservative number for some books (not mine, and most of mine aren't in print anyway, but for some it is.) How many books does one store sell in a day? How many books have to be shoplifted from a store before it becomes a problem for them?

And why in the world would someone who downloaded a free copy of an ebook recommend that book to a friend, then not send that free downloaded copy along?

I think some of the confusion here, with both your comment and wonderer's, is the assumption that print copies of these books are available. For my books--at least the pirated ones--there are NOT. Someone's getting a free copy isn't advertising for me; they're not going to go buy it in paperback because there is no paperback version. They own the book, point blank.

I'm not saying it's a disaster. I am saying it's an important issue, one that will only continue to get worse if something isn't done, and that I cannot believe it hasn't already made some sort of impact.

Ryan Field said...

the whole... Good thing? Bad Thing?


Good thing.

Anonymous said...

I personally wouldn't read a book on my computer (augh! my eyes!), especially when most of my reading gets done in travel...

The thing about music piracy, is that it's been around a lot longer than the file-sharing has. What do they think we were doing with all those blank cassettes and cd burners? We were making copies of our albums and sharing them with friends. It's a funny coincidence that they've lost sales and blamed it on file-sharing, at the same time that the only albums they are making to sell are complete garbage that no one would ever buy.

I read books in libraries, and if they're really good, I go out and buy them. I imagine it would work the same way with e-books as well.

pjd said...

Anon, thanks for the reply to my comment.

I'm not saying it's a disaster. I am saying it's an important issue, one that will only continue to get worse if something isn't done, and that I cannot believe it hasn't already made some sort of impact.

We are probably more in agreement than not. DRM software will probably mitigate some of the losses, and threat of prosecution will have an impact.

I guess my point was that in my opinion piracy (or the fear of it) will not be a significant driver of what happens in the marketplace. It will be a problem the industry will have to deal with, but the other forces are far too strong for piracy to shape the market in any truly significant way. In my opinion.

tkersh said...

Cory Doctorow has a fascinating post on the subject at http://www.locusmag.com/Features/2008/05/cory-doctorow-think-like-dandelion.html

He argues that, as mammals, we're used to having a small number of offspring and protecting them extremely carefully.

Dandelions play the numbers game by spreading the universe with seeds.

It makes sense. When they first came out, videos were $80 a pop and only rich people could afford cell phones. Look at the huge profits companies made by changing their thinking.

I wonder what will be the analogue of the "used" market? How many copies will be consigned to the bit bucket, how many burned to CD and forgotten? Will an author's works have a longer shelf life on the web or in old bookstores?

Having endured the hell of moving more times than I care to admit, it would have been heaven to replace boxes of books, CDs, manuscripts, photo albums, and VHS tapes with a hard drive or two...

I will miss bookstores. I love bookstores.

Simon Haynes said...

I've only found three of my books being pirated, to the tune of a few hundred dollars' worth of lost royalties.

The (free) ebook version of my first novel has been downloaded almost 10,000 times in the last week or so. I'm on 10% for the trade paperback, so using your calculation shows I've just 'lost' $20,000 in royalties.

If it had been downloaded 100,000 times, would I have lost $200,000?

On the other hand, when my publisher agreed to give the ebook version away they generated buzz for the whole series in the print media and all over the internet. How much would it cost to buy that sort of exposure?

Simon Haynes said...

"they're not going to go buy it in paperback because there is no paperback version."

Sorry, had to reply again. If the books are out of print, have the rights reverted to you? If so, what about putting them on Lulu or Booksurge and then releasing the ebook for a small fee through your own web page? (Say $3 or $4)

If there's no prospect of the publisher reprinting the books, at least you'll derive some income from them. And most people really are honest - the biggest complaint you hear is the way publishers try to gouge readers by charging the regular paperback price for the ebook version.

Tom Burchfield said...

There's a very interesting column over in Slate y'all should read about the pros and cons of reading online and (especially) writing online and why paper will never really go away.

"Lazy Bastards: How We Read Online" by Michael Aggers.

One comment I'll agree with there. Reading on paper is still easier in many ways than reading off a screen--especially on the eyes.

PS: I didn't vote because there was no selection for "somewhat."

Anonymous said...

Simon, my pirated books were ebooks. They were published as ebooks. There was no print version ever. There were no print rights to revert to me; my publisher does eventually do print versions of many titles but as of now none of mine have been released in print ever and I do not own the print rights.

The only way I make royalites on those books are when people buy and download them from my publisher's website. There is no free version, there is no print version. There is no "building buzz" for people to go to the bookstore and buy the book. There is only the ebook royalties I lose when people share my book for free.

It's tantamount to someone photocopying your book, binding it (with original cover and formatting), and shipping it to anyone who asks.

pjd said...

I'm curious how you are able to track the number of times people downloaded the book for free or shared it with someone else. You mentioned you had actually discovered pirated copies; do you mind sharing how you discovered them? Was there penalty or prosecution for the people who had the pirated copies?

Do you (or your publisher) report this as a loss on your tax forms? If you are able to track the number of downloads, are you also able therefore to track where they're downloaded from?

I ask these questions because the three big ways to prevent piracy are (1) educating the public that it's wrong, (2) including technology (DRM) to make it difficult, and (3) enforcing laws.

So far we've only touched on one or two of those but have mostly talked about whether piracy is or is not a legitimate threat. (I maintain that it is not.) But let's assume it is. Anon who has had ebooks pirated, can you shed some light on any of those three aspects? Thanks!

Julie Weathers said...

I can understand people wanting to carry manuscripts in e-format and research books etc. If you're traveling a lot and need these things for work, it would be much more convenient.

What I don't understand is the trumpets of, "I can carry 1,000 books around with me!"

While I often have more than one book going at a time, I am not so scattered that I need to carry five books around with me to read while I'm doing laundry. Am I missing something about the normal person's desire to carry 80-100-200 novels around?

Lou said...

I'm going for a 'not particularly' vote, because I don't think anyone's thought seriously about how writers will make a - protected - living when the e-book era arrives. Will mainstream publishers and agents disappear along with the bookshops? Or, because the proposition is cheaper, will publishing companies employ more editors, and agencies more agents? (My view is, we writers still need someone out there for quality control purposes; while there's good stuff in e-books, and the medium is fantastic for the niche writers who wouldn't be published otherwise, there's still an awful lot of crap - some of it praised to the skies by friends and
family under the cover of 'reviews' - to trap unwary buyers).

Will there be DRM licences attached to e-books - and could they be backed up for changes of computers or crashed computers? (Or e-book readers?) How? By the publishing companies, or by the e-book reader companies?

I'd love to own a Kindle; I love to have a selection of books with me on holiday to fit any given reading mood I might be in. Costs too much in weight or clothing
sacrifices to carry conventional books if a flight is involved. Would I use it at home? Probably never, like my laptop. I can't see reading an e-book in the bath or over a solitary meal or in bed. Plus a book is tactile and portable, it's softer than an e-reader.

But would I like the greater choices for downloading? You bet! It's instant, rather than waiting a few days or weeks for a shipment of a book I can't buy in
Australia from somewhere else.

I'm an online shopper and I have my favourite sellers. It saves hours of my time travelling and looking for carparks and trawling several shops in the hope of
finding what I want. It saves fuel. I suspect I'd soon find favourite e-book sellers too, instead of spending those ages on the phone ringing round the bookshops to find out if anyone's got a copy of that book that only had a shelf life of a few weeks, or hoping to find it in an online bookstore and then waiting for the
shipment to arrive. Yes, I know all this is about impulse gratification! But also, hopefully, it will also be about being able to buy quality e-books by quality authors.

And for me as a writer? I'd love to make _some_ money out of writing. But in the long run, I'd rather be read, and that's why (a) there's so much crap out there by
people who want to be read but not edited, and (b) why perhaps some writers won't stand up and fight for their right to be paid. It'll be interesting to see if agents and editors will do the job for love or money (or both) in the e-book era, whether they'll fight for the money or take up stockbroking instead. I suspect
there'll be a lot more competition between agents and publishing houses in an e-book era, and changes will happen: e-books have never had to run the gauntlet of the gatekeepers (often to the disadvantage of readers, so far) so there'll always be alternatives TO publishing companies and agents; thus publishing companies and agents will probably have to find ways of making what they do more attractive to both buyers and clients. I don't think e-books will have to be so tightly bound to genres and other pigeon-holing - there's fascinating cross-genre and 'impaired genre' stuff around - and that will hopefully be good for writers.

But on the whole, as with music, I think the e-book era will be a buyers' market. Okay, it always has been in the sense that readers are largely buyers, despite
libraries and secondhand bookshops. But perhaps, in the e-book era, it really will be the marketplace that determines what books are sold and read, rather than
agencies and mainstream publishers determining the market. The choices will be greater, older books by a favourite author easier to find. And possibly exposure to
a wider market will be a fairer determination of what the market really is when publishers don't stand to lose as much money over 'risky' books or niche books or
cross-genre books or genres that aren't 'in' any more, and yet have a smallish devoted market.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious how you are able to track the number of times people downloaded the book for free or shared it with someone else. You mentioned you had actually discovered pirated copies; do you mind sharing how you discovered them? Was there penalty or prosecution for the people who had the pirated copies?

Do you (or your publisher) report this as a loss on your tax forms? If you are able to track the number of downloads, are you also able therefore to track where they're downloaded from?


In one case, someone emailed me that my book was being offered on a file-sharing forum. I went to look and found 142 downloads listed for it.

With the others I did a google search for my name and the titles, and found one of those bit torrent lists where books offered free were listed. Two of my titles were on it. Following the links--and this one I'm not 100% clear on, but the 140 downloads represented a bit over $200 for me--it looked like a further 30something downloads of one title and 14 of the other (which isn't that bad but it had just gone up.)

The filesharing forum, I emailed them and said one of my books was being given away in violation of federal and international copyright laws, and gave them the link. They deleted it right away--but who knows how long it will stay deleted?

The others I reported to my publisher's legal department and when I looked for it again my books had disappeared from the list.

Check out a website like esnips, where piracy is rampant. A lot of those titles show hundreds of downloads, and in some cases the same title has been downloaded hundreds of times from different user's listings. Esnips will take them down if you report them--eventually--but then they just go to private Yahoo loops or closed message boards. They know what they're doing is wrong, they just don't care.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and no, I don't report it as a loss on my tax forms--but wow, I'm going to look into that. I don't know if my publisher does.

And no, there's no way of knowing where they're downloaded from. At least not that I'm aware.

pjd said...

Thanks for filling us in, anon. That is interesting and useful information.

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