Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Freevangelism: What Should Content Cost?

Nearly everyone in the media world in some form or another is grappling with one huge, massive, essential question: what should content cost in the digital era?

On one side you have the freevangelists (TRADEMARKED MUST CREIDT NATHAN BRANSFORD OMG) like Cory Doctorow who see the benefits of free and shared content in terms of building audiences, and believe that the only way forward is to follow what consumers want: online content (sometimes, if not always) for free, and definitely without DRM. Best be brushing up on your ancillary revenue streams. (more on DRM here)

On the other side you have the publishing establishment, who is looking at their P&Ls and concluding that e-books aren't really that much cheaper to produce than a book when you consider overhead like editing, copyediting, production (cover, typesetting, etc.), marketing, sales, rent, etc. HarperStudio asserts that an e-book is only about $2.00 cheaper to produce than a paper book, and thus, any drastic price cutting for e-books will be eating away at already-slim margins.

I don't doubt that free is great for the freevangelists like Cory Doctorow and Chris Anderson. They've done quite well by building their ancillaries (such as huge blogs) and benefit from the fact that they've been able to build a gratified audience base by giving away content. I also am sympathetic to concerns that DRM is completely annoying for the majority of consumers who want to use their content legitimately. And if publishers can make a mass market paperback original profitable when it's priced at $6.99, surely they can make e-books work under $10.00.

But are we really comfortable with a publishing world where authors and publishers are expected to, essentially, give content away and build revenue instead through ancillary streams?

And in defense of DRM, are you (as writers, not consumers) really comfortable with a theoretical world where a book can be downloaded (cheaply no doubt) and instantly e-mailed to 1,000 of the purchaser's closest friends? Sure, someone who has too much time on their hands can pirate a book and do precisely the same thing. But particularly when e-books become the main game in town (which is coming), should we really make sharing e-books as easy as 1 2 3? It's not the same thing as passing around a tattered paperback to one friend at a time.

Count me as someone with my feet firmly stuck in the muck of skepticism about a brave new world of overly cheap and unencrypted books. Maybe it's coming anyway and at 28-years-old I'm already a dinosaur. Maybe all the free blogs and content out there will make people reluctant to part with $24.95 or even $14.95 for a new book and the model is broken. Maybe DRM needs to be eased, even if it's not done away with entirely. Better yet, maybe e-book providers can use Peter Olson's suggestion of demand-based e-book pricing and create a pricing algorithm where a book that's downloaded 1,000 times a week costs $14.95 and a book that's downloaded 2 times a week costs $2.95.

I don't think free (or close to free) works for everyone. But is free inevitable?


Marilyn Peake said...

I sincerely hope that eBooks will never be free and never made available without protection from copyright infringement, except for freebie versions that authors choose to give away. I'm thinking that eBooks should be fairly inexpensive, especially without the current bookstore return policies. On Fictionwise, eBooks from the large publishing houses tend to be priced under $10, and eBooks from the small publishing houses tend to be priced around $6.

Bane of Anubis said...

Were I entreprenurially-spirited, I'd start a venture, a la Hulu, where e-books could be downloaded freely, but would have advertisements spread throughout... The Google model; if a person wished to download a book free of ads, that would be charged (and DRMed)... or something along those lines.

Fre-ebooks will happen eventually, but there will always be a revenue stream attached.

RW said...

The future is impossible to predict, but there is one lesson from what has gone on with the music industry that I'm heartened by. "Alternative" revenue streams has in many cases meant a very old-fashioned revenue stream--performing concerts. In the top-down, big distribution company era, performing was a loss-leading promotional tool to sell records. It was bad for fans of live music and bad for smaller bands and thus bad for the overall artistic environment. The long-tail era is starting to mean the reverse--MP3s and CDs are promoting the work of live musicians who make their money by performing. Which has been good for fans, for the small bands. The overall musical experience has been much improved I think. It's bad for Warner Brothers and it's bad for their top acts maybe, but the tops don't more money as much as the world needs more music and smaller acts need a chance to do their thing.

The analogy to writing and publishing isn't perfectly clear, but I think what this tells us is that thinking creatively for alternative revenue streams is the only way to go.

A crumb of food for thought--Mark Twain and Charles Dickens didn't get rich in publishing. They got rich touring and speaking. That doesn't suit every writer's situation, but it is was once a viable alternative revenue stream. Maybe it will be again.

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

Basic economics says where something has a cost to produce and a value to the customer, we will not reach a point where it will all be available for free. However, I think today's pricing model for books, starting with a high price end hardback for example, will change dramatically as e-books become available quickly - and there will not be the time delay between hardback, trade, paperback and e-book. If people don't have to wait long to pay less, they won't pay more up front. E-books should reflect the cost of production fairly and be stable, not based on demand - as their is negligible warehousing or dispatch costs.

A leading Publisher recently stated that in their British supermarket research books did not sale more copies priced at less than 3.99. That became their discount cut off point.At that point the had reached the highest volume of sales met the highest price people would pay, and achieved the best ROI.

The Olson suggestion of high demand could end up with book pricing being as reliable as airline pricing - and we all know how frustrating that can be.

I think free has its place in samples and building a market - Paulo Coelho says he sold more copies having made his content available to read for free, but not to download.

As for free e-sharing - it doesn't seem fair, but how do we prevent the market going the same way as music? The only think I could think of is to pay by deduction through an account on incoming machine for pay-only content. Ie: your Kindle recognises that X book is not a freeware, and asks you to confirm payment before downloading.

Vancouver Dame said...

"I don't think free (or close to free) works for everyone. But is free inevitable?"
I agree, free won't work for the writers/authors who want to make a living in the publishing business. It might work for those writers wanting to establish a presence and perhaps grow an audience for their writing.

I don't think it's inevitable, either, regardless of lobbying. Reasonable pricing will be the norm, to provide some incentive to the creators, whether it's a book, song, etc. IMO, after the initial flutter to hook the readers, pricing will stabilize. What about associations that would give preferential pricing to members, but still allow the writers to make a living? Some of the things offered for free are not of the same quality as what you pay for - and I prefer to pay a bit more to get a better product. This expectation of getting something for free is one of those generational issues again.

Nathan Bransford said...


I actually take the opposite reaction from the music industry, which is that music lends itself well to ancillaries because people like going to concerts and will pay for them. Who is paying to see a non-superstar author?

Anonymous said...

I don't know how much I'd pay for an ebook. God knows I pay cover price for enough books that are $25-50. Would I pay that much for an ebook? I don't know, and I dread the day I find out. I really (really) hate ebooks. I hate reading a lot of text on a computer, and the book-as-object is important to me, too. But I know that I don't like the idea of writers having to give away their work for free and being expected to make a living on other things like blogs. What if I don't want to spend my time operating a blog? What if--and I know this sounds crazy--I want to spend my time writing books that people will buy and read?

I do think that telling writers they'll be expected to just give away their works for free is going to have a chilling effect on people who put a significant amount of time and effort into their craft. At the very least, it rather abuses writers. I hate the idea people have that just because something is in digital form, it's free because you can make an infinite number of copies. It is very dispiriting.

Dara said...

I certainly hope free isn't inevitable.

I also agree with Vancouver Dame--many things "free" are often of inferior quality. If eBooks all became free, the level of craftsmanship will certainly go down the drain as anyone will be able to publish their "book." (Self-publishing gone wrong in my opinion). Cheap doesn't necessarily mean quality and I like quality. Then again, perhaps I just don't like change at all.

I suppose I'm a dinosaur--and at 24 too...

djeaux said...

"Who is paying to see a non-superstar author?"

Good point, Nathan. Non-superstar bands make their money playing bar gigs (and some down here on the Chitlin' Circuit make pretty good careers out of it). Somehow I don't see a lot of authors reading to rooms full of drunken college students ... other than the ones who are professors, of course.

BTW, my first comment on your blog. It is a good one, and I check it about once a week. Thanks for what you do, sir!

Vinny said...

Art has never been free. Its been paid for by sponsors, (kings, nobles etc.) Advertising has been the key to much of what we've come to expect as free, mostly TV shows and local newspapers. Community budgets and grants take care of the rest, concerts in the parks and such. So we're stuck in this spiral of enjoying for free things which are not free. It's no wonder some get bent out of shape when they have to pay something, however small, for content that they think should be free. Watching the web develop has been interesting all those years of experts saying that people will not pay for content have been proven wrong. The challenge now is to come up with what is fair and equitable.

Miss M said...

Do you remember the demise of the music industry because of Napster? Remember how groups like Metallica sued Napster and several universities over free downloads? They didn't go bankrupt because of Napster now did they? And the music industry had to re-think it's revenue streams and work with iTunes.

What does this mean for publishing? If I had a crystal ball I'd stop writing this and get to work, but I don't. So going with what I know: I still like taking a book with me to bed, to the beach or on a trip. It's easy to hold, to pack, it's comforting.

I know I can go to a bit torrent service on the web and download (for free) movies currently in theaters--with Cyrillic credits--but it is free.

Would I pay to have the movie streamed into my home? In a heartbeat. But the movie industry isn't ready for that. Neither is the publishing industry completely ready for something along those lines as well. When they are, the model will reveal itself. The Hulu idea above is good.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

I don’t think free is inevitable. However, free content can certainly generate enough interest so that readers will pay to hear more. For example, I know that women who read my blog are willing to pay to read my book; I can tell by the comments they leave.

Jeez, Nathan, if you’re a dinosaur at 28, then damn--I must be Eve! And maybe because I’m so freakin’ old (51), when I envision my readers enjoying my creation snuggled on the couch, lying on the beach, or even sitting on the john--what they have in their hands is a real live book. With pages!

Raethe said...

Hey Nathan,

A question for you if I may. You mentioned that the cost of producing an e-book is not that much lower than the cost of producing a paper book, factoring in editing, typsetting, covers, and all the rest of that fun stuff. What I don't understand is - unless maybe they're e-book exclusives, wouldn't that work have been done already for the print copies? Obviously there'd be some work involved in the conversion process (which, admittedly, I know absolutely nothing about) but wouldn't the amount of work needed still be significantly reduced?

As for free... Well, first of all, I hate DRM with a passion, both as a consumer as an artist (shh, I mean a mindset in this case, not a profession. I promise I'm not trying to be pretentious!) As a consumer it's, well, yes, annoying, and can severely limit the things you can do with something that you've paid money for. As an artist it means that fewer people are getting access to your stuff: People like Cory Doctorow and Jonathan Coulton (okay, he's a musician, but he's doing the exact same thing Doctorow is)have both discovered that getting their stuff out there, even when it's free, is hugely beneficial to them. It gets more people reading or listening to their work and ultimately more people paying for it.

There's also current attitudes towards DRM to be considered. A lot of people simply won't buy something if it has DRM on it. End of story.

I'm a little bit on the fence with this one - just a little bit, mind. I'm not entirely comfortable with the concept of a world where people can just copy and share one's work with impunity either... But I do think it's inevitable. DRM doesn't prevent someone who really wants it from getting at your work and, however annoying and invasive they make it, it probably never will. And yes, I do think it has or can have negative impacts on one's audience. So it's not an entirely comfortable answer, but for me at least it's pretty clear.

Also, I don't remember where exactly I read this so maybe it's not accurate, but I heard somewhere that DRM encryption is one of the major costs in creating e-books. Something to be considered, maybe?

Dearth of Reason said...

I wonder if a similar debate occurred prior to the establishment of community libraries. I have been a bit scornful of the music industry's woes since every book people might request ends up free on a shelf shortly after it is mass-produced.

I will buy books that are meaningful to me. I will pay to see movies. I will buy albums that reach me in ways only music can. I don't see that ever changing. Perhaps what we end up with is a thinner marketplace of content in high demand, augmented by a mosh pit of free content, as artists jostle for a place on the top. The first Harry Potter book is free, but you pay a premium for the heavily guarded, narrow channel sequels.

Marilyn Peake said...

Recently, I saw a TV show about the lives of musicians in famous rock bands today. One of the musicians commented that music has changed so much, they now have to spend about 200 days on the road every year in order to survive. It was tough for those with children. One of the musicians commented that he had never been home for any of his seven-year-old child's birthdays.

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, I think up until now publishers have considered e-books kind of like icing because a lot of the costs involved in producing an e-book (production, overhead, etc.) have already been paid for. But now that a primarily e-book world seems to be on the horizon, they really need to be considering how they're acclimating consumers. Suddenly the e-book is the edition that's supposed to support the overhead, and then you're in a bind.

Conversion costs to DRM-friendly formats are relatively miniscule in the big picture.

Re: free and the music business and all the rest. I think people were a little caught up in the wonders of the Internet and there was a lot of justification going on. I hope the Internet culture has grown up a little and people realize that there are costs involved in producing art, and artists deserve to be rewarded. The music industry is a shell of its former self. And people think they were wrong to try and fight Napster?

Nathan Bransford said...

Dearth of Reason-

Re: libraries, surely there's a difference between sharing a copy of a book one at a time vs. conceivably sharing one book instantaneously with a 1,000 people?

Anonymous said...

Raethe said, "As a consumer it's, well, yes, annoying, and can severely limit the things you can do with something that you've paid money for."

There are lots of limits to what you can do with your property. If you buy a DVD, you aren't allowed to sell tickets and screen the DVD in your home theater. If you buy a car, you can't drive in the wrong lane. If you buy a song on iTunes for 99 cents and are only allowed to have it on your iPod or in iTunes, I don't see that you're being ripped off so much as having a misplaced sense of entitlement.

Books are not outrageously expensive. No, they are not. eBooks should not be outrageously cheap. You should pay people for their work, for the infrastructure that makes the object you purchase possible, and that's more than the cost of materials.

mary beth said...

"Who is paying to see a superstar author?"

Right. And also a concert is a communal experience, part of the fun is singing and dancing with hundreds or thousands of other people who love the same music you do. Reading is a solitary pleasure; it's you and the book.

And writing a book is hard and time consuming (not that writing music or creating an album is fast or easy) it's hard to imagine doing all that work for free. Money conveys value; if something seems too cheap people don't want to buy it. If book content is completely free the perception of its value might go down. There are certainly valuable things that are free but money isn't meaningless.

Thanks for (as always) sparking an interesting (and free) discussion. Hmmm.

Carradee said...

I've recently encountered some authors with free short stories and/or novelettes on their sites. (Like Kelley Armstrong.) Mercedes Lackey is even offering a story by her for free on podcast. I'm sure it has its place as advertisement--I'm considering doing something similar, myself--but that should be the author's decision.

I doubt e-books will ever be universally free. Software can still cost quite a bit despite all the freeware bouncing around the Internet. I don't like DRM, but I wouldn't mind limits being set in e-book files for the number of copies that can be made from it.

But what about shareware? I bet e-books could be created to allow x days free, then you have to buy it to keep being able to use it. That could hinder the send-to-all-my-friends syndrome, and a good design could probably even keep someone from downloading the sample multiple times in a row.

I could even see authors and publishers creating services like Imeem or Hulu, which let people stream music and TV shows/movies that the owner allows. (Otherwise, Imeem limits it to a 30 second playback, unless you've loaded the song to your account yourself, proving that you own it.) But if you want to download it to your computer and not just have access to it online, you have to pay.

Seems to me like there are options out there.

Dearth of Reason said...

Nathan, yes, a big difference, especially when timing and buzz are so critical. I only meant to say that the idea of free, in-demand art is not new. I like bitching about libraries. I (mildly) disapprove of libraries lending out living copyrighted content, as I (heartily) disapprove of Napster. I just don't know how to fight them. So I (unhappily) foresee a different marketplace for books in the future.

Raethe said...

Thanks Nathan! That makes more sense.

Anonymous 11:44 -

I think that your examples are a little different though. If you buy a DVD and then screen it in your home, then you're making commercial use off a product that you have no lisence to.

If I were to buy a song off iTunes, though, I'd be buying it for personal use, and I don't see why personal use shouldn't include being able to play it in an application that doesn't annoy me (I'll be the first to admit that I haven't given iTunes anything close to a fair shake, but I don't like it), or pop it on a CD and put it in my car, or upload it to my old mp3 player because I can't afford an iPod, particularly when said mp3 player works just fine. I mean, why would I buy something if I couldn't listen to it the way I wanted to? That doesn't make sense.

So far as I'm concerned, the problem is not that I can take a song and burn it to a CD, upload it to an mp3 player, play it in Winamp, or whatever. The problem is that the same technology that allows me to do so for personal use allows me to do the same for ten of my friends. THAT's a little more like the DVD screening example that you mentioned earlier, I think.

The problem is that we have no way to allow one without allowing the other.

Lady Glamis said...

I certainly hope free is not the future! You have made a good point in your comments above that the music industry is different from the writing industry. I'm afraid others see them as the same, and that words should be as free as music can be. But you are right, nobody gathers in flocks and pays huge ticket prices to see an author. And nobody is sponsoring authors and radio stations to read their books on the air.

write_HB said...

As a children's writer, I cringe at the thought of a google-type revenue stream.

Jake rumaged in the kitchen for something to eat.

*** Enjoy Pizza Pockets for a fast filling lunch!***

Then he hopped on his bike,

***Buy Swin, you'll get there faster!***

and rode downtown to the toy store.

***Toys R Us, for everything a kid needs.***

reader said...

So according to RW I've got to try to make a living "speaking" as s writer instead of writing books?

Oy. No thanks.

I say "no" to free books, free chapters, and free everything. Most people don't respect things they don't pay for anyway. Do people go see movies for free, to try out a new actor so they can mabye see another movie of his a year later? No. Do they get free shoes from Nike, to see if they like them so they can maybe buy a pair next year? No.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Three hours ago, I'd have said that yes, free is inevitable. Three hours ago, I hadn't had a long talk with my financial planner, either, and heard his view of the future.

Still, I think free-to-some degree is inevitable, but people will be willing to part with their money for something worthwhile. The question in front of us, then, is how to define worthwhile -- and that is one of those sticky subjective things.

Conni said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Conni said...

(sorry for the delete; the html didn't work.)

I dislike DRM for the reasons depicted in this XKCD strip: For the link-phobic, a file with DRM will be completely non-interoperable with a new player, should the old one die out or the technology be superseded. The DRM is proprietary -- which means Sony's isn't the same as Amazon's isn't the same as FictionWise's.

So, for example, say iTunes changes from its current state to something different, hiTunes, and won't read your old mp3s -- the ones you bought from the iTunes store. If you want to listen to them, you'll have to BUY ANOTHER copy.

I don't know about y'all, but I would rather be able to read my (e)books as many times as I want, regardless of platform interoperability or proprietary software encoding.

Mary said...

Free is not inevitable.

I think flexibility is important and see an increasing need for writers and artists to add strings to their bow. But. The idea of giving content away and building revenue purely through ancillary streams goes too far. And, though it can work for a few, I don’t think this model can succeed across the board.

In publishing, the book (be it paper, e-book, or streamed to the brain) is the product. In fashion, clothing is the product. Publishing companies and fashion companies both incur overhead costs to develop the product, and manufacturing, distribution, and marketing costs to produce the product and position it in the market. Would a fashion company consider giving away clothes and building revenue solely through their websites, the sale of trend information, styling services, customer events, etc.? Hmmm… I don’t think so.

To give away a company’s reason for being is too topsy-turvy. It undermines the product. And if the maker does not value it, who will?

Also, I believe the idea that advertising will raise enough money is wrong. Television companies are losing advertisers and economies are shrinking. A slot in a book that had not sold big numbers could be a very hard sell.

Ink said...

I have a six-day-a-week job and a young family, and I try to fit my writing into that schedule because it is what I love. And now I'm supposed to have three new jobs on top of that, developing ancillary revenue streams? I just don't see it. How does that help writers create great writing? And how does that help readers find great reading?

And I see the Doctorows of the world doing well because they stand out. When everything costs money and one or two things pop up free, then people say hey, what's that? And maybe they try it out, and they become a fan and purchase future books or pay into those "ancillary revenue streams". But that advantage completely disappears when everything everywhere is free. Every writer will have that same advantage... and it will quickly become a disadvantage once everything is lost in a sea of free.

It will be an endless brew of self-aggrandizement as everyone tries to separate themselves from the muck. What will you have to do to stand out then? And simply working on your craft and writing something great won't be enough. And how many people will simply stop trying when they realize their art doesn't matter? When art becomes a subsidiary to self-promotion?

Sounds a little ugly to me, but maybe I'm wrong. And if it comes about this way I hope I am.

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

Tom Burchfield said...

The Freevangelism movement smacks a little of Darwinism to me. Is it true that if I'm not willing to be on the road two hundred days a year promoting my book and multiples of hours building a gigantic Web site visited by billions, then I deserve to fail?(In the meantime, where do I find the time to write my next book, eh? Does the book itself become secondary? Twain and Dickens may have made all their money from "ancillary streams" but it's not their latest appearances at Herbst Theater that makes me read their books.)

These Theories of Absolute Freedom so often wind up boiling down to the Freedom of the Biggest, Strongest Beast in the Room.

Anonymous said...

"I don't know about y'all, but I would rather be able to read my (e)books as many times as I want, regardless of platform interoperability or proprietary software encoding."

Yes, and I would like to play my cassettes in my CD player. But I can't. And that's just life.

Miss M said...

Is the music industry a shell of its former self or leaner with artists more in control of their product? Aimee Mann has been selling her music herself via the web for a while now.

If it is a shell of its former self it's only because they refused to see what was in front of them and embrace the technology sooner. They weren't caught off-guard, it was looming for a while. If I saw it coming...

Where they right to fight Napster? Yes.

I would like to add though that listening to songs for free (my five minutes on Napster before it was shut down) only made me go out and buy CDs I had sampled on the site. I imagine a lot of other people did the same--it whetted the appetite so to speak. Seriously, I had not purchased anything in a long time until I went on to Napster, all those long 8 years ago.

Ulysses said...

Forgive me. This is overlong.
It's free though, so that has to mean something...

Is free inevitable? No, although apparently Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation disagree with me.

I got very little out of my time as an employee of Radio Shack, but I will always remember this bit of wisdom from the training manual: "Consumers will buy where they perceive value." It's a piece of common sense observation that had somehow escaped me before. Readers will buy books so long as they perceive value. They will pay a price commensurate with the amount of entertainment and pleasure they derive from their purchase.

So the question becomes one of perception: do readers believe they get the same quality reading experience for free that they do for a price? I've read a fair bit from the web, and a fair bit from the bookstore and come to my own conclusions.

The stuff offered for free on the web falls into three categories: free stuff made available for the gratification of the author (like personal blogs), free stuff produced as a marketing tool (like professional blogs and "samples") and free stuff accompanied by advertising (and yes, I know there's a lot of cross-pollination). The stuff produced for personal gratification is usually* not of sufficient value to me that I would pay for it. The stuff produced as a marketing tool is not usually* something I would pay for, ALTHOUGH I would consider paying for the product that is being marketed (I wouldn't pay to read Nathan's blog, but I'd pay for his services as an agent, for example). And I'm already paying (via my attention to advertising) for content on ad-supported sites. If they wanted me to pay more directly, well, I'd usually* pass.

Usually*, the entertainment value I get from a purchased book is considerably greater than the value I get from the free sources. I suspect that speaks to "quality" (insert your own definition of that here), but it might just speak to habit. In any event: I perceive more value in my purchased books than in the material offered for free. As long as that distinction remains, I don't see free becoming inevitable.

* Yes, there are exceptions.

What about e-books and DRM?
The advantages of e-books are obvious, and made moreso by the availability of wonderful devices that take away the pain of reading from a computer monitor. I'd personally have no problem paying for an e-book if I had a reader for it. The drawback is that (as Stallman puts it), information wants to be free and e-books lower the amount of effort required to achieve that. It's impractical to make copies of a paper book, but copying an e-book requires knowledge of only a few computer tricks. I perceive no value worth paying for when I don't have to pay at all.

Thus we have DRM.
As of this writing, I hate DRM. No one has come up with a DRM scheme which is both painless for the legitimate purchaser of the content and unbreakable by those who wish to obtain it illegitimately. When that changes, I shall embrace DRM with a passion unrivalled.

Nathan Bransford said...


I guess I'm not quite as sympathetic to the "what if the multinationals go bankrupt and we can't play our DRM e-books" argument when people have readily changed out their records for their cassettes for their CDs for their mp3s and didn't complain about having to buy new copies each time.

If you want permanence, sure, buy a paper book. But why are e-books suddenly the End of the Line for format changes?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I'm not addressing the specific question at hand, but I don't quite understand this desire to access books for free. When I buy a book (or a CD, for that matter), my payment is an acknowledgment to the artist et al. that they worked for a very long time--maybe even years--on the creation of this product. Why shouldn't I pay them for that? Moreover, why shouldn't I expect payment for myself, once I've committed myself to years of sweat, tears, joy, pain and rage in order to polish my own book?

Christopher M. Park said...

Wow, this is a huge topic. I think there are already a lot of industries that have been going through this for a while -- music and video games most notably. I think that the video games market has shown that heavy-handed DRM is not welcomed. In other words, most consumers don't mind DRM as long as it is easy to use, and doesn't change their experience overly much. There are some digital distribution platforms such as Steam or Greenhouse that require you to authenticate before download (and in the case of Steam, before each run of a game / or alternatively something every 30 days if you can't connect on each run). This has been very effective at curtailing piracy of games released on this platform, and it has been almost universally embraced.

By contrast you have other crazy DRM schemes that do things like replace your CD device drivers with locked-down ones (without your permission), which prevent large numbers of actual customers from getting at the product they bought (thus causing legitimate customers to have to resort to "cracks" -- which are available almost immediately, I might add).

As a programmer, it's my belief that with the present state of consumer hardware, no DRM will ever work unless it is based on authentication to a closed system (a central service somewhere). Any other model will be hacked, faster than you think, because there are some very talented (and amoral?) people out there who love the challenge.

People dance all around this issue, but there has only been one model that has really worked well so far. I don't use iTunes, but I do believe that its method of distribution is similar to Steam -- correct me if I'm wrong. DRM is here to stay, but it should become practically invisible to regular consumers if implemented properly (especially in this day and age of near-ubiquitous Internet access).

As for the idea of having the price of books be set based on demand, that makes me pretty wary. People tend to have all sorts of associations with the price of products -- if something is too cheap, they assume it has no value. This is a subconscious heuristic, from what I remember of lectures on this subject. Having pricing like this would only serve to make people buy LESS of the unknown authors unless there was some sort of review system or an incredible amount of word of mouth surrounding the book.

Plus, how would that affect backlist sales -- older books that should sell for what they are worth, but to a diminished audience, might find themselves vastly underpriced under this model. Another side of this: just because something has a niche audience doesn't mean it is less valuable. This might discourage writers from even approaching topics that are deemed "too niche," because there'd be no way to even recoup the time costs of writing (not to mention the fact that this would probably downgrade the quality of the editing and the cover design, since the return would be even smaller than now).

At present, I don't see why there would be any incentive to sell some books at a massive loss and others at a massive profit. Seems like this would just skew the marketplace in a lot of bad ways.

But, eBooks are definitely coming. I really like the way, in general, that fictionwise handles eBooks for mobile devices. Seems like pretty smart, effective DRM and reasonable prices on reasonably recent books.

Michael Pickett said...

The problem that we will face if we start giving away everything for free is that quality of what we get will go down. If a writer has no incentive to make his story better than everyone else's, an incentive like money, he won't put in the effort to make his story better than anyone else's. I'm a writer, and I know what you have to be motivated by more than money to write well. But I'm also a human being with rent to pay, food to buy, and bills to take care of. If I didn't have the belief that my writing would one day provide me with some form of monetary compensation, I would have to drastically reduce the time I spend on it, and I wouldn't try as hard to get it just right. People only work if they have an incentive to do so, and writing is work. In fact, it's the work that goes into the writing that people are paying for when they buy a book, not the paper it's printed on.

Raethe said...

Nathan: as for the format changes thing, I'd say it's because you're physically not going to get a cassette tape to play on a CD player. A digital file isn't hindered by the same physical requirements.

Okay, really. This discussion is FAR too interesting.

Carradee said...

"people have readily changed out their records for their cassettes for their CDs for their mp3s and didn't complain about having to buy new copies each time."

Um... they have? There are tape-to-CD converters, and CDs convert to mp3 fine.

And that's a good point about people paying where value is perceived. I've always wondered why people pay so much for name brands where generics work the same or better.

I use an Apple computer, and other than the software that came with it, the only thing I've paid for is MS Office for Mac, and I bought it because I didn't know about freeware at the time and needed doc format for my freelance writing job. Otherwise, I use freeware. So I'm well-entrenched in the use-stuff-that's-free mentality.

BUT I recently found this Mac-only software for writers that I absolutely LOVE. I'm using the 30-day free trial, and I'm already wincing towards the day when I'll be paying $40 to use it indefinitely. And I will. Because I like the software THAT much.

But, for it to win out over my preference for freeware, it had to be THAT good (for me).

So might not the movement towards free e-books actually do some good by decreasing what people pay for that's dross?

Mira said...

This is a really interesting discussion to read.

Like math and physics, I'm not good at the details of business. So I can't really offer an opinion about the near future. Although, I do think that Nathan's argument sounds right to me.

One thing I will say is that people will eventually find a way to make money. Everything is in flux. So, if the music industry is suffering from free content, I predict that will eventually change.

Some people have a real gift at making money. They'll come up with something. I have faith in them.

Anonymous said...

"Nathan: as for the format changes thing, I'd say it's because you're physically not going to get a cassette tape to play on a CD player. A digital file isn't hindered by the same physical requirements."

It's still a change or difference in technology. A digital file is a *thing* with real attributes, and digital files are not interchangeable. My PDF files aren't editable with MS Word, and I can't play mp3s in PhotoShop, though they are all digital files. Nobody's ripping me off by this, either, and I don't have any innate right to infinitely usable digital files. We get what we pay for, and what we pay for is information in a specific form created by a specific technology.

Stuff wears out and/or becomes obselete. What's the big deal?

Anonymous said...

I think that the advertisement-heavy "free" copies and advertisement-free paid copies of the documents could be the most likely future prospect.
'cause the human nature is good to the point of sharing things that are not available to everybody - this is the Robin Hood in each of us - but if we pay for a slightly better version of something we won't share it with others who can have the same stuff, but with advertisements.

Laura D said...

Giving away free material to form a fanbase will inevitably (as long as it's good) turn into people wanting to buy your new stuff.
A friend of mine kept a Bare Naked Ladies tape sealed when they gave it to him at a free concert because he knew they'd be successful and still went out and bought their first album which had the same songs on it!

ryan field said...

"people have readily changed out their records for their cassettes for their CDs for their mp3s and didn't complain about having to buy new copies each time."

I did this, and didn't complain. I didn't see see a choice.

Sarah Jensen said...

The saying "You get what you pay for", keeps coming to mind.
Unless we're going back to the bartering system, which I'm fine with, :) I think that buying books, whether in paper of digital, is the way to go.
just my 2 cents.

Scott said...

Here's my deal on DRM, book sharing, etc. - once I buy a book, cd, magazine, newspaper, don't I have the right to share said items with whoever (whomever??) I want? A friend and I are constantly trading books back and forth. In fact, I have a stack of unread books from him on my bookshelf right now. Am I robbing the publisher/author of money by trading books with my friend? What about the fact that I gave away the majority of my CDs because I no longer listen to them? What about the magazines I bring in to work to share with co-workers? Should the magazine publisher charge a "sharing" fee?

Now, I'm not saying pirate music, books, etc. is accepatble. I think it is very wrong on every possible level. I just think that once a person purchases a book/cd/whatever, that the basic right of what to do with that book/cd/whatever is up to the person.

Lastly - do libraries pay publishers an exorbinant fee for their books? Is there some fee schedule libraries must pay based on how many times somebody checks out a book?

RW said...

"Who will pay to see a non-superstar author?"

Probably nobody. I didn't mean to suggest that would anything other than a million-to-one shot for the literary world. I only mean that there's a lesson in the music industry to learn from. While the industry that sells CDs is screaming that we're at the end of the world, more musicians than ever are finding a way to create their work and make a living at it. The "music industry" is not the same thing as "music." It's not even the music industry--it usually just means the major label distributors of CDs. The changes we've going through have been painful for the people involved in that industry, but it's been great for music itself, great for fans and--I really think--great for all the bands at the end of the long tail.

Apple saw that crisis and saw an opportunity. They're getting rich, and the last three things I downloaded and paid for on I-tunes were by friends who recorded material on their own without the benefit of major-label relationships. Just this afternoon I chose not to download Dr. Horrible's sing-along blog after hearing it on Fresh Air--which was created without the benefit of a major studio--because I could watch it ad-supported online.

The lesson to take from the music industry is to remember that just because the book industry is going to hell it doesn't mean that books are. Creative thinking about alternative revenue streams is starting to churn up new models, including some strategies already noted on here by other readers.

Nathan Bransford said...


I understand that most DRM is a rollback from the days when you could give away a book freely to a friend. But that was one copy at a time. In the digital era, how many people should someone be able to share a file with? One? Five? A thousand? A million? Where do you draw the line?

Nathan Bransford said...


Sure, if the publishing industry has to go for the future, who am I to question the future? There's a line from Ken Kalfus' COMMISSARIAT OF ENLIGHTENMENT, something along the lines of "Get out of the way, b***, or history will mow you down."

But is a free era really best for authors? Sure, the barriers of distribution may come down, but if only a handful of people are able to make any kind of money through ancillary means, how are the rest going to devote the kind of time it takes to create a good novel?

I think there are two things happening simultaneously in the music business, and in this hypothetical publishing world we're imagining. Distribution barriers are coming down (good). Downward pressure on prices and rampant piracy (bad). Just because both are a product of the digital era doesn't make it all good.

CindaChima said...

As if it's not hard enough to make a living as an author! I don't think we should assume that the best writers are also the best pitch-people, public speakers, and stage entertainers. And if I am great at making my living that way, then why sit in front of my computer screen all day? Let's lose those long hours of writing and editing.

There's plenty of great content available for free on the Web now--if you want to spend the time finding it. I would like to see us make it socially and politically incorrect to steal people's work. I feel the same way about stealing music as I do about stealing books.
If it's ALL free, then the notion of giving away your work so you can sell your new stuff doesn't make sense. People can read first chapters on my website for free...

Conni said...

Nathan, re the cassettes/CDs -- I have yet to replace the stacks of cassettes from my collection. (Since I didn't get a CD player until 1995, I've got quite a few.) Not exactly true, since I did buy CDs of 3 of them, two of which were special anniversary editions.

That said, I haven't downloaded them, either. Mostly I'm lazy. But now that iTunes store is going DRM free, I might get around to that.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:17

Doesn't that mean technology went backwards, not forwards, because we can read paper books hundreds of times. I have several books over a hundred years old that I can still read. What happens when the technology changes and we need new equipment? Doesn't it mean we lose everything we used on the old, just like the VHS tapes? Books aren't like the TV when suddenly you can't watch them no more because you need different equipment. So all of these left behind theories don't work. The only thing I may need to read a hundred year old book is new glasses, but then I'll need them to see everything. We need a new subject "When technology goes backwards", because IMO e-books do.

Vancouver Dame said...

Just a minor comment about convertability of one product to another. We recently bought a LP2CD which converts our collectible LPs to CD. I would think that someone would invent an option to convert digitalized print books, such as the classics, etc. to e-book format in the future. That might ensure that the author/creator doesn't suffer a loss of revenue. Great topic, and interesting comments.

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't think anyone is saying we should do away with printed books altogether. But nothing is really permanent. By your criteria, paper was a step down technologically from stone tablets.

Scotty said...

What about a subscription based e-book download system like Acquisition, or even Sirius Radio? I pay $16 a year or something for a legal music downloading application, and even though I might be able to get the same stuff from a friend, I much prefer downloading whenever I want. Sirius costs a bit more than that, but you can record their material if you have the right player.

A subscription service that sells some advertising and continues to develop content and better interfacing can create a brand/community where free isn't really free, but relatively inexpensive. Once the interface becomes habit, some material may be shared, but it's likely that a great more material will be absorbed by the subscriber than if they were ripping torrents or whatever.

Book clubs, once a thing of the past, can return, pay their authors, and develop user friendly sites that provide author interviews, extras, free stories, video, discussion, community interaction, live Q & A feeds, etc. In other words, "build it and they will come".

And why not start here, Nathan? ;)

Marilyn Peake said...


What happens with eBooks today is that people pirate them and actually try to sell them on eBay and other online sites. Publishers and authors are forever going after those people and shutting them down. It really stinks for publishers and authors when someone pays $6 to $10 for one copy of their eBook and then sells (or gives away) limitless numbers of copies online. Also, at the present time, eBooks published in countries that have copyright laws, including the U.S. and Canada, are sold in huge quantities in countries without copyright protection, and the publishers and authors never see a penny of the profit.

150 said...

reader @ 12:08: I go to the cheap theater to see if I want to buy a movie in DVD. I borrow my sister's sandals to see if I'd want a pair like them. And in the past year I've bought more than half a dozen books that I'd already read, in whole or in part, for free.

Anonymous said...

Should ebooks be free?


Does DRM stop pirating?

NO. It never has and never will. I don't pirate music, but I strip the DRM off my files so that I can play them anywhere. It takes me about two minutes per song to strip the DRM. I do it using a legal software product, and I do it for my convenience. And now that Amazon offers DRM free files, I don't buy from iTunes anymore... because of DRM. I also don't buy those special CDs that don't work in CD-ROM drives, because I mostly listen to music on my laptop while I'm writing.

DRM encoding costs publishers more than its worth. And the statistics say that DRM doesn't stop people from sending their music to their 1000 closest friends. Why would books be different?

Annalee said...

Personally, I'd rather a have a thousand bootleggers of my work than even one paying customer who's cheated out of the rights associated with owning a copy. I have a moral objection to telling people I'm selling them something when I am in fact renting or leasing it to them.

I'm just plain not that bothered about bootlegging--and I'm not one of those people who says that because I'm trying to justify the way I acquire my entertainment. I've got a public library within walking distance and enough money for paperbacks. I've never read an illegal copy of a book in my life. As a reader, I believe in supporting authors whenever I can.

As a writer, though, I'm a mercenary. All I'm worried about is the extent to which bootlegging would affect my sales. Until I see real data indicating that file sharing is starving writers (and the data I've seen actually indicates the opposite), I can't see how treating paying customers like thieves is at all justified.

Kylie said...

I don't like the idea of free e-books at all. That's destroying so many jobs, and (see current state of the economy) America should no that no jobs equals something very bad, indeed.

Of course, I am also on the side of the "pry paper from my cold dead hands" side of the paper versus e-book opinion.

Musicians had this battle years ago, and they lost. Musicians can still, however, make money from selling actual CD's (but who buys CD's?) and from merchandise and concerts and little things like that. Everything an author does, except the actual book, is almost always for free.

Anonymous said...

Thinking about this has given me a headache. First, I imagined a world of free ebooks, which as your readers pointed out, would be the general equivalent of making Publish America king of the hill.

So there has to be a way to sort the wheat from the chaff. Who's gonna do it? Traditional publishers? Amazon? Agents? Hard to say.

I see a world where junk is free and quality isn't...sorta like it is now. I see rain-soaked mattresses along the freeway every once in a while. Apparently somebody didn't tie things down quite tight enough. They're free for the taking, but I still prefer the furniture store.

One other thought. What happens to agents if bokks are free. I ain't gonna be sittin' on the edge of my seat waiting for a phone call from Nathan so he can tell me he got a great deal that pays zero bucks. By the way, 15% of zero is still zero, isn't it?

K.S. Clay said...

I only like the idea of free in terms of supplements and advertising (like offering a chapter of the latest book, then making people buy it if they decide it's worth it to read the rest, or offering a short story that expands on a world already developed in novels that fans have bought and read).

The truth is that I don't see any reason why artists should be expected to give their work away for free when other people aren't. It treats artists like second class professionals. I mean I don't see anyone claiming that doctors, lawyers, architects, or even athletes, for instance, should all work for free and should just come up with extra business ventures on the side to make money to feed their families. People don't say "It would be really cool to have a house built for me for free, or to have a lawyer spend hours working on my case without having to pay him, so because it would be convenient for me I think they should be required to do that, and then I can spend my money on a tropical vacation while they find second jobs to feed their kids." Seriously. I find the idea that artists should work for free (by requirement and not by choice) to be demeaning to all artists everywhere.

Nathan Bransford said...


I still think music is different, particularly because iTunes dominates the sphere and (for now) it has DRM. Most people don't go through the trouble of stripping the DRM, ergo, you don't see much piracy.

Let's say, hypothetically, in the future everyone has an eReader and the next HARRY POTTER-of-the-future publishers in non-DRM format. You really think everyone would buy it? Or would one person buy it and share it with every HARRY POTTER-of-the-future fan they know?

I know the studies say that DRM does not prevent piracy, but they're also being conducted in a vacuum. The fact is that when non-DRM files were readily available for free (via Napster) people didn't really care about right or wrong. They just went for it.

Scott said...

This is a topic near and dear to my heart on several fronts, one being newspapers. Newspapers are starting to go extinct because: 1. ad revenue has gone largely to the internet and 2. the pressure to provide content for free. Newspapers have not been able to find a way to make money from the internet. Time Magazine recently did an article on the subject. I hope the Publishing industry doesn't suffer the same fate as newspapers.

Raethe said...

Actually, Apple has recently dropped DRM from iTunes:

Unless they've changed it again and I haven't heard. Which I suppose is possible.

I still don't see providing free content as the absolute death of all income. Going back to Doctorow and Coulton, they've found that releasing some of their stuff free (and DRM free) has actually helped drive print (or, uh, mp3) sales. A lot of people ARE willing to pay for things they appreciate, or, if they don't pay for a free/pirated copy of one thing, they might go out and buy something else from that artist. They'll also tell ten of their friends, some of whom may also check out that artist and be willing to support their work.

The "I don't wanna pay for it" is something that I personally have grown out of since, I dunno, high school (even though I'm now a starving university student) and a lot of people seem to feel the same way. Not all, but some.

Also, I have to second what Annalee said one hundred per cent. More than that, I think there's something wrong with a world wherein I can turn around and sue that person over there who has an illegal copy for enjoying my work. Something about "buy my next book, I'll see you in court" doesn't quite sit with me.

Nathan Bransford said...


Someone might enjoy my TV even more than I do. That doesn't mean I'd be happy if they stole it illegally.

T. Anne said...

If people choose to personally progress from tapes to CD's to MP3 players is a mute point. The fact is, technology swayed the masses. The same might be said for books although the overall conversion might be slower. I never did cuddle up with my boom box or walkman nor do I with my ipod so there was no love loss there. Also, all modes of listening to music require some form of generated electricity so I never did think it much of a hassle to keep my ipod charged.

The ebook is a whole different animal than the paper book. I look forward to this new era of reading.

The ebook world hasn't organized itself enough for us to understand the terrain as writers, BUT we have a unique opportunity to help shape the landscape. This new chapter of publishing history may see the end to the narrow gates of publishing and usher in a broader opportunity for new authors. Where's the money for author's? IMHO, I believe it will come In small bite sized chunks, paid in full with each sale of the ebook. Doesn't sound too alluring? I didn't think so either, but then I would never give up writing just because it wasn't profitable.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

The Internet is full of free content because anyone can upload anything. With no quality control, there's lots of garbage out there. I refuse to pay to access websites. How do I know that the content is worth the money? I visit websites that are free, knowing that if the content is poor, I can click Back and all I've wasted is a few seconds of my time.

Professionally published books, though, have a higher rate of quality because of all the screening involved. Why else would people be annoyed when a novel is poorly written or edited? Books are supposed to be good to be published! They're not just the Internet between covers. There's an implication of quality in books that makes people more willing to pay money.

I'd really hate to see novels become free, even if the authors still (somehow) made money. Making books free would cheapen them in every sense of the word.

Raethe said...

Heh, it's funny you should say that Nathan. Instantly after I posted last I thought it was funny that I could think so differently about intellectual property versus physical property. I found out a week ago someone stole my guitar and you can bet I'm not happy about the thought of someone else enjoying that. (Though I guess it's better than my poor guitar being thrown into a dumpster somewhere.)

I'll have to think about that one.

Anonymous said...


I can see several advantages of paper over stone. Can't see an advantage of having to buy a machine to read a book that will likely change in a year or two causing the loss of your entire library. There is also the possiblilty of the equipment dying. A paper book your losses tend to be fire, water, or a mean sibling, all of which can kill a kindle also. IMO the worry over e-books is irrelevant, because it will only affect a few people for a very very long time.

My answer was in reply to ANON 12:17's "Yes, and I would like to play my cassettes in my CD player. But I can't. And that's just life."

And Scott,

I agree we share paper books, but no, at a public library there is no fee per a book. It is a pain, however, to wait for the one you want to read when it is just published.

Allegory19 said...

Noooo!!!! I was just thinking about this today. e-books might be the future (although I REALLY hope not completely), but I'm not willing to pay $14.95 to read them. A downloadable document isn't the same as a tangible book.
We associate the Internet with free content, but is that what we want to degrade the publishing industry to?

Nathan Bransford said...


The advantage paper has over stone tablets is portability, which is the same advantage eBooks have over paper books.

If you're buying books for permanence, however, sure, can't you beat paper, which can't beat stone tablets.

I think most people value convenience over permanence except for their most prized possessions, which is why there will always be paper books, but the eBook era is coming.

Catalina said...

Call me a brontosaurus, but at this present time, I don't see ebooks becoming mainstream in the next, say 5 years unless a trendy company like Apple comes out with something that matches the Kindle, an iBook, so to speak. Most people associate headaches and strained eyes to electronic text. It's hard enough to watch a movie on the iPhones and Nano's much less a whole book.

But lets say I am wrong and everyone is given a Kindle or Sony Reader as part of the Stimulus Package. I do not think people will try to pirate ebooks. Why spend hours trying to crack a code when you can buy it for a couple dollars?

Plus, I think we forget that even though it does seem like the world is going to Haydes with a vengence, people still know stealing is stealing. Most will refrain from doing so.

Of course, I may be an optimistic brontosaurus, and we all know what happened to the even most positive thinking brontosauri in the end.

Anonymous said...

I guess it's hard for me to understand since I only read one book at a time, and I have my own personal library in my home (where I go every night). If I am near the end of one book I grab two, but it doesn't happen often, and I am still fairly strong so I am able to carry more than one book at a time.

Loren Eaton said...

Free works well for the prolific. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go write!

Anonymous said...

I hate to tell the truth about myself but... here goes.

We grew up v. poor and buying a cassette took an enormous amount of resources. I would find a way to do it for the great albums.

Growing older hasn't led to riches, but over years I was able to buy my favorite movies on VHS. Now, both those forms are obsolete. I bought cds and dvds of new favorites - but buying again what I have already bought is v. disheartening. I cannot keep re-buying what I have already bought.

Now, when new formats come out - they seem so temporal, and well, transient, and well, I do not want to pay for something that will not last. I don't want to buy the same thing every 5 years. I feel exploited when I pay again and again for the same content I already paid the artist and supplier for.

Books are different, to me, in my lifetime (I came after stone tablets!). They have ALWAYS lasted. Every book I bought in high school and college I still own and can still enjoy. My kids can enjoy them, as I enjoyed my parents books. I want books to stay.

If I had a certain amount of discretionary income I might want to pay full price for a book I could only enjoy for a few years in the format it came in. I could always buy it again in the next format if I wanted to!

But I don't. And some others don't, too. And changing formats all the time frustrates people who are struggling and keep finding their stuff obsolete. And it makes free content more appealing. This is not something you want. You want someone to pay a fair price ONCE for a great product and then everyone in the chain gets paid ONCE for producing it. And the user can keep it forever.

Vic said...

Just taking this question in a roundabout way... I don't buy e-books and I don't read them. I wouldn't read one that was emailed to me either. I think the thing is, I associate e-books with poor quality writing.

I know it is elitist behaviour but I can't help but think there's no credibility for a writer unless they've been printed and published on paper by a mainstream publisher. So I don't pay for second tier quality - or crap - basically.

As a writer, I wouldn't sign a contract to sell my work via e-book. I'd be humiliated to admit to friends and family that my work was only available as an e-book.

Now all that said, I'd probably at some point in the future buy an ibook or kindle. But I would buy books that were also available in print and if I loved them I'd probably then buy the hardcover version for my library later. What the ibook/kindle system would allow me to do would be sift more through published titles and add my favourites to my collection, rather than blindly buying books and then selling or giving away the ones I don't like some later.

Bringing all this musing back on point, I think there's intrinsic value represented by paying for a product.

Free e-books? Worthless to everyone. Content should be paid for and paying for it should provide the food chain with a living.

Sandie Dent said...

Who are all these people with 1,000 friends?

Simon Haynes said...

"an e-book is only about $2.00 cheaper to produce than a paper book"

Oh yah, sure. Cost of duplication and warehousing ebooks is ...?

My publisher is about to release the ebook versions of the Hal Spacejock books, DRM-free, for 1/4 the paperback price. (A$5 vs A$20, with $20-$22 being the usual price for a paperback in Australia.)

Since ebooks apparently make up a paltry 1% of publisher revenue, either they're pricing them wrong or there's very little market for them. Either way, they should just regard them as cheap marketing for the printed versions, rather than an opportunity to gouge maximum dollar.

Anonymous said...

The gaming industry has been dealing with DRM for years. Last year, Electronic Arts release Spore with the most restrictive DRM a game has had to date. Guess what one of the most pirated game of 2008 was? Some estimates are 500,000 copies off BitTorrent (and 1 million in sales based on the press release I saw).

(EA also got slapped with a lawsuit for their use of SecuROM).

Fallout 3 was another 2008 release. The only copy protection is a disc check (you have to have the disc in the drive). Sales at launch: 4.7 million (PC, Xbox360, and PS3). Was it pirated? Of course. (The Xbox version was available on torrent sites before the game was even out). But pirating didn't affect sales to a significant degree.

DRM HURTS CONSUMERS MORE THAN IT HURTS PIRATES. And there's evidence that the more restrictive you make DRM, the more likely you are to turn people into pirates.

Also, DRM is not done to stop piracy. It's done to eliminate the legitimate resale market.

The publishing industry is relatively new to this issue compared to games and music. But why do you think games and music are moving *away* from DRM? Hopefully publishing will learn from the other entertainment industries mistakes rather than blindly follow along making them, too.

Chris Bates said...

Okay, Bransford, here’s my take: the whole fre-ebook thing is a crock of shit.

I like Cory Doctorow’s work but he is not representative of the stereotypical author. Doctorow reaps income from, thus his revenue stream from blogging allows him to distribute free novels without fear of starving. I wonder how supportive of the coming publishing revolution Doctorow would be without another income source. Please, Cory, enlighten me how one is supposed to put kids through school, cover mortgage/rent payments and generally make ends-meet if anyone with access to the net can consume your novel for free? Convention speeches and novels embedded with keyword links, perhaps? Hell, let’s plaster some corporate logos on the ebook’s page headers right next to the author’s name – talk about pre-empting a Max Barry satire.

And anyway, how many online idols like Cory Doctorow and Jeff Jarvis can the internet sustain?

Personally, I don’t sit down in front of a computer and ‘write’ a book – I research, I outline, I interview, I research some more, I agonize over structure, plot and character arc … I spend years on the craft. I’ve had an agent, written and plotted demoralizing TV, trashed multi-national mining companies in print, published magazines - this is not some fucking hobby in the vain hope of improving my literacy and numeracy standards. I’m at the coal-face. This is my job.

And guess what? I do the novel writing for free … on the speculative hope that once published the reader will financially support my endeavour ensuring that I can lace-up the steel-cap boots and go back out and move mountains with a spoon.

Like most authors, I write because I have to. There is no alternative for us – we need to do this. We don’t choose this profession. Hell, why would you? It’s hard work … yet, infinitely rewarding.

When the new-dawn of publishing truly arrives - and it will - you will see two things:
1) Piracy (because that’s the most popular past-time that people engage in on the net – Amazon knows this, which is why they are selling an ebook reader. Control the hardware because you’ll never be able to fully control the content once market saturation occurs), and
2) A reduction of good content (seen many good films lately?).

Yes, as an author there are numerous ways to hustle the average reader for their hard-earned but most writers will be unable to master these avenues like the oft-quoted Doctorow, Jarvis or Godin.


Well, musicians can play live on tour. Movies – laced with product endorsement - hold valiantly onto cinema as a premium-paid entertainment experience. Newspapers, well, they have ad revenue problem, thus reporters have been axed … notice how many opinion pieces are in newspapers? That’s because investigative journalism costs money.

As for books? Well, readers enjoy them in a type of shared solitude – just you and (hopefully) a few well-written words. It’s a thrill that I gladly pay money for … but in a few years time I don’t think many others will.

Orange Slushie said...

just comparing to music publishing. if you love vinyl, for example, no mp3 will ever replace it. however, you still want to listen to the music you buy in digital formats. record labels now issue free, one-off, encoded mp3 downloads with vinyl purchases. this does mean you can share the music once you've downloaded it, by burning it onto a cd for a friend. but it can only be downloaded onto itunes once by one person, it can't be emailed to those 1000 friends.

using music as an example again, in my experience as a music lover, free content is mostly used as a try-before-you-buy. you might download something for free to have a listen or a friend might burn it for you for the same reason, but if you love it, you'll want to own a genuine hard copy. and if you don't love it you won't listen to the free download any more, which you would never have bought in the first place without hearing it anyway, so no one's lost anything there.

Nathan Bransford said...


What is the "legitimate resale" market when it comes to digital copies?

You sell a used book, it's maybe a slightly tarnished version of the original, and it's priced less accordingly. Once you sell it you don't own it anymore.

You sell a used digital file, you're selling the exact same file, and you can use the game. Doesn't it seem like you're just screwing the content provider and making money for doing nothing? Maybe I'm missing something?

Yvette Davis said...

Gee, I wonder if Netscape and Mozilla thought about that. Hmm...

What's what though is that if you have a website you cannot give everything away for free. So say you have advertising revenue, that's great, but you also need to sell a product. If you don't sell a product then that can be a service. From the discussions I've had with Internet folks, the subscription model is what works, and it is possilbe that a book seller could take a subscription model and run all the way to the bank with it, I think.

Please, somebody do that right now.

denese said...

You are 28 years old?

Matt S said...

There were too many comments to read, but I noticed a lot of derogatory words being linked to the concept of "free." I think the world of writing should take a look at the world of webcomics and see if there might be a lesson or two to learn. Webcartoonists put their stuff up online for free, and then sell print collections of the free comics (along with t-shirts and other assorted merchandise). The artists who resonate can make a living, the others continue to work day jobs and lament about their undiscovered genius.

There are writers who podcast novels, some that post short stories regularly, some who write poetry... all kinds. Since it's the internet, some of them are truly awful, but for the hard-working, it seems like a great way to build some cred to impress agents.

Anonymous said...

What is the "legitimate resale" market when it comes to digital copies?

You sell a used book, it's maybe a slightly tarnished version of the original, and it's priced less accordingly. Once you sell it you don't own it anymore.

The words aren't any different with a used book than a new one. I derive no less enjoyment from a used copy than a new one. The physical media is less perfect, but the entertainment value is derived from the words inside, not the paper it's printed on. A legitimate resale of a digital product you buy means you do not keep a copy for yourself. Once I buy something, I should have to right to sell it or give it away as I see fit. Once, of course, not to an infinite number of people. I'm *not* defending piracy.

But take your Kindle, for example. What if you bought a book you loved and thought for sure one of your friends would love? If the book were physical, you could hand it to them. Royalties to author: $0. And yet, no one says used books should disappear. But if it's a Kindle version, you have to tell them, "Go buy your own." That's fantastic for the writer, the publisher, and the agent of course.

But is it right for you, the consumer? You should be able to give over a digital book to someone else (which deletes it from your Kindle account, of course).

Simon Haynes said...

"But why are e-books suddenly the End of the Line for format changes?"

Because you listen to an album many, many times, but you may only read the same book once or twice.

Buying an album in a new format once is a low cost per use, and people went from cassette tape to CD because music in the new format was far better.

Paying to format shift ebooks is like buying the thing every time you want to read it. And how will The Hobbit be improved by selling it with a new, incompatible, DRM scheme?

Marilyn Peake said...

Speaking of free eBooks, Fictionwise now offers selected titles for free, some only for a limited period of time. Right now, 15 Harlequin romance novels are there's a button at the top of their home page for a larger number of free eBooks including some classics and dictionaries.

Word verification: "deread". Freaky.

Joel Hoekstra said...

I still collect all of my favorite TV shows on DVD, even thought I’ve seen them before, perhaps even though I’ve already taped them on VHS. I didn’t see the shows for “free” since I paid a subscription service (cable bill) in order to view these shows in the first place. But I’m limited in my viewing choices by what time the show is on and how many commercial interruptions are interspersed throughout. So if I really like the show, I’m going to buy the DVD just to skip the commercials or pick and choose the episode in whatever order I want.

I could easily see e-Books going to a subscription service type format with an iTunes-like cross-referencing system that helps pick out similar fare that might interest you, or like how Amazon generates “suggestions” for future purchases. For the price of admission (subscription fee), you could download X number of “books” (novel, non-fic, self help, whatever) for a limited time. Once those books are no longer “aired” you would have to pay a fee to download them your Kindle/Reader device – or have them printed out for permanent storage.

Speaking of which, paper and binding doesn’t last forever. Libraries spend plenty of time and dollars on upkeep for well-read tomes. I don’t consider paperbacks to be any more permanent/transient than their digital counterparts (at least in terms of keeping up with formats).

In this day and age, established authors already advertise current releases by posting opening chapters online (Orson Scott Card’s site comes to mind). Publishers bait the hook with “free” stuff hoping to lure the reader in for the final purchase. Amazon has digital samples of songs posted so you can listen to at least a portion of them before you buy.

I cry no tears for the Music Industry. For years we were forced to purchase albums, most songs unheard (I was about to say “sight unseen” but that doesn’t sound right ;-), perhaps one or two songs of which we MIGHT have heard on the radio beforehand. More often than not, those two songs were the only ones we really wanted and then we spent hours generating our own mix tapes just so we could put a cassette in the deck without having to hit Fast Forward to find the next worth-while tune. The entire “album” model was a huge rip-off in my not-so-humble opinion, forcing consumers to purchase hours and hours of material they had no interest in hearing.

Burning iTunes to CD based on the playlist of your choosing is how music was MEANT to be. THAT was inevitable. Now we simply have the digital tools to mix and master our own “albums.” I envision my future e-Book purchases to be much the same – a “playlist” of my favorite novels and/or articles, to be viewed and printed at my leisure. But I don’t expect any of it to be “free.” Either by subscription/preview, or individual purchase, if people can’t make any money at it, it won’t get done. Capitalism works! Honest! ;-)

Nathan Bransford said...


You should be able to give over a digital book to someone else (which deletes it from your Kindle account, of course).

Actually, this exists in the library digital audio market already. You can "check out" a digital file, but no one else can use it until it's "checked" back in. So I think we're in agreement on that, provided it's a "one at a time" model.

This is what I mean by loosening up DRM -- I have no problems with legitimate uses, and it would be awesome if you could digitally assign, say, a Kindle book to someone else easily and give it away.

Nathan Bransford said...


You could argue that mp3s aren't actually an improvement to vinyl or even CDs if you're talking sound quality and experience. When people upgraded to CDs and mp3s they're buying portability, not permanence. Same with eBooks.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 4:06 said, "You should be able to give over a digital book to someone else (which deletes it from your Kindle account, of course)."

Well, not if that isn't what you paid for. If you buy a product that is designed and sold for a specific purpose (such as only working on the machine it was originally downloaded to), then you don't have rights beyond that, just because the digital file is your property. Nobody is making you buy an ebook (or any other type of book) in the first place.

I don't understand this idea that limits on what we can do with property are somehow automatically Wrong and Must Be Rectified. And the thing is, people will just make copies of Kindle books and give them to their friends, if you let them. That does not make it defensible. Just because we *can* do something (like pirate digital files), that doesn't give us the right to do it. But most of us will, anyway. I bet most of us have illegal mp3s on our computers or iPods right now. I'm sure I have files friends have emailed me, and I know I've emailed files to friends. We don't even think about it, because it's just attaching something to an email and we do not live in a culture where we think of that act as theft. But it is.

Kate said...

As an aspiring writer, I love the idea of e-books. When e-books become the norm, the question of how many books to print will begin to disappear. So at least in my mind I can imagine selling millions of copies of a book - even if a publisher only wants to print a couple thousand.

As a reader my vision of e-books is slightly different, but still positive. I currently get most of the books I read from the library - for free. But it is often hard to find popular best sellers at the library. Someone else always has them checked out, and I am far too impatient to deal with waiting lists. So I almost always buy "new books".

I could see publishers making "classic literature" free or nearly free on e-books. The cost of layout and editing was covered decades ago and most bricks and mortar stores dedicate limited space to the classics. The continence of paying $2 for Dickens on your kindle might seem a nice alternative to driving to the library.

As for "new releases" in the book world, my guess is that readers will be willing to pay for the books that all their friends are raving about. Maybe not $25, but probably $10. Jane Austin is dead and isn't missing out on any royalties when "Emma" is distributed for next to nothing, but I think most readers do understand that work went into the creation of the books they love and the people who did that work deserve to be paid.

Anonymous said...

I think Nathan is right - the issue is convenience over permanence.

However, we have 2 kids and live on $20,000 a year, and I will not buy things that are not permanent.

So, I bought Tunnel of Love on cassette years ago. Loved it. Watched Bruce on the Superbowl, wanted to hear it again - and I can't. But I will not pay for it a second time, I've already paid Bruce for Tunnel of Love. So I listen to it on YouTube. Then I hear Bruce's amazing song for The Wrestler. Unbelievable. Worth money. But will I buy it? No, because everything I buy I want to still be able to listen to when I am 80. I want permanence for my dollar. The format for The Wrestler will change on me and become worthless. So, I will listen to The Wrestler song on YouTube. Bruce, though, this time loses money.

I no longer buy music - except for v. particular niche items. Really. Truly. The music industry is hollowed out because of me. I don't download it illegally, either. I go without or listen via YouTube.

I still buy books. Way too many books for our situation. I will ALWAYS have them and love them and enjoy them when I am 80. The authors still get my money. Change books to be formats of convenience, not permanence and I will only read them from the library. Authors will no longer get money from me.

In our economy, more people are entering into my situation. It used to be we were all going up bit by bit. Not anymore. In the future, I predict people will want things that will last. Or they will find ways to get it for free.

Anonymous said...

A lot of you are arguing about the Kindle, and it's the next thing coming and we had better hold on for the ride. It's just like the explosion of cd's, HDTV, etc. Technology is supposed to improve the consumer's experience, so let's weigh the pros and cons of e-books, and compare them to some of our favorite technology. How about an iPod. They were out a couple of years before my family broke down and bought one.

IPOD pros:
1. I can carry thousands of songs at one time (which is good I can listen to hundreds of songs in one day). I'd say that is a really good reason to buy an IPOD, and it is a lot less bulky than carry all of those CDS.
2. I can create my own playlists. (nice bonus)
3. I can watch videos (another nice bonus)
4. Add pictures (cool)
Okay, I'm sold on an IPOD.
Let's list the cons:
1. price $250 (still worth it to me.)
2. I break it I lose it (same goes for anything else I play music on). So not really a con. I replace it for 250 bucks but I still have my music on the computer.
3. Uh I am out of cons for the IPOD. Oh here is one; it will be replaced by something better, and I will have to start over. (Oh but that happens in music every few years anyway.)

Okay let's shoot for the KINDLE pros
1. download fast (pretty cool)
2. hold your hold library in your hand (neat),but I only read one book at a time and it last three days usually, unlike 1 song.
3. Help me out here people I'm running out of pros, and I am sure there are more.

Okay, I'm stumped, so we'll try the cons
1. price- I can read a paperback for only the cost of the book.
2. I drop it, spill coffee on it, etc. I not only lose my Kindle I lose my library. If there is a way to retrieve it I am still out the time until I can afford another one. (Paperback 8.95 I have another one.)

3. replaced by new technology, (again I lose my whole library and I can no longer buy new books for the Kindle)unlike the iPod or HDTV, books didn't need to be improved for a better picture or sound, the words stay the same.
4. Where I put it. I have to worry about my child sitting on it or dropping my purse to hard, which again comes back to price.
5. The rest of the family can't read at the same time I do, unless I buy one for every family member. (Wierd for a whole family to read at the same time? Two of my family members are reading while right now while I am typing, and I know a lot of other families just like us.

Okay, you get it price is a big deal to me, and I adore technology (pretty much have it all). I didn't need a kindle to read a book, and it didn't improve my experience in any way. It is going to take more than convenience to entice the average family and even the the not so average. Very few readers I know will buy a Kindle. I would even go as far to say LESS than 1 out of 200, and I am the most likely to be that one (considering I have a greater interest in recieving books fast than most other people).

Anonymous said...

PS sorry for all of the errors, but the print is tiny in this little, bitty, teeny, weeny, box I have to type in.

Roscoe James said...

It should not be free. It should cost... enough. Enough that talented people can answer your question in the previous post.

Marilyn Peake said...


Jane Austen's Emma is free for download at Fictionwise. And Another version at Fictionwise is under $5.

Court said...

I don't know exactly what content should cost, but since the music industry has surrendered, I'd say it's only a matter of time until the publishing industry catches on. There are books I haven't bought because of DRM protection. In my view, resistance to e-books is futile. There just isn't a good case to be made against unrestricted content.

Sorry for all the hyperlinks, but it's something I've been thinking and writing about for a while now. But let me let Woody Guthrie sum it up for me: "This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."

That's pretty much how I feel, too.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Re: libraries, surely there's a difference between sharing a copy of a book one at a time vs. conceivably sharing one book instantaneously with a 1,000 people?

There is. (I work at a library so I had to put my two cents in here.) Besides knowing from personal experience that people (patrons) often buy books they enjoyed reading at the library, I also know that we end up buying multiple copies of books that are consistently checked out. Sure, one could argue that all those patrons could have gone out and bought every book they borrowed on their own, but...come on, we all know the majority of them wouldn't. But some of them will because they got to read it free first. Libraries totally up book sales.

Re: sharing with 1000 people at once:
As my library is slowly buying more and more e-books, I can tell you that buying the license for multiple users is MUCH more expensive than the single-user model. As it should be.

We buy our e-books on a platform, though--there's no downloading (although patrons can print out at least a portion of each book, depending on the license) and nothing is stored on our servers. It's all stored on the vendor's.

It makes me wonder if an e-book database model would be viable for private consumers in the future? Perhaps, instead of downloading the e-book to our Kindle or Reader, the books could be stored in an online account that we access with our e-reader? We'd still own the books; we just wouldn't be able to download, and thus distribute, them.

Court said...

Nathan, if you're a dinosaur at 28, then I'm a fossil at 32. Free, unencrypted books might be inevitable, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to think the whole thing a frustrating and unfair-to-the-authors concept.

Ben said...

K. S. Clay makes an excellent point: "mean I don't see anyone claiming that doctors, lawyers, architects, or even athletes, for instance, should all work for free and should just come up with extra business ventures on the side to make money to feed their families."

This analogy possesses a flaw that weakens the argument: doctors, lawyers, architects, or even athletes are paid based on one-time services. When you're sick, you go to see a doctor and pay him or her a one-time fee for the treatment (presuming this isn't some sort of long-term care arrangement). When an author publishes a book, he or she earns royalties proportionate to the amount of books sold. It's this difference that makes comparing art-based professions, where the content is easy to mechanically reproduce and distribute, with service-based professions.

Note that I'm not saying artists should give their work away for free. I completely agree with K. S. on this point--I just took issue with that particular analogy. Artists deserve compensation for their work.

I agree with above commenter T. Anne, who said, "We have a unique opportunity to help shape the landscape." And this makes it a very interesting time to be a writer or anyone involved in publishing. We've inherited a centuries-old revenue model, and the adoption of new technologies is rendering it obsolete.

The future of publishing regarding e-books is tied inextricably to the future of the Internet itself. I highly recommend The Future of the Internet, by Jonathan Zittrain--incidentally, you can both buy that book in hard cover and, if you like e-books, you can download it as a PDF for free at

I want the Internet to remain generative. For that reason, I don't like DRM or proprietary, tethered appliances like the iPhone. I don't mind paying for content--I purchase all of my music (I rejoice at a DRM-free iTunes!). However, the idea that we lock content behind proprietary gates is unattractive to me.

DRM tries to prevent people from "stealing" books, i.e., it stops people who haven't paid for the book from benefiting from it (reading it, I guess). But when one steals a hardcopy book, one isn't stealing the content within the book--one is stealing a physical object. Otherwise, borrowing a book from somebody should be a crime, because the act of reading a book one hasn't purchased for oneself would be theft. E-books are _only_ content. How is sending an e-book to a friend different from letting that friend read the e-book on one's computer, in one's own home (i.e., as close to "lending" a book as one can get)? E-books are different from hardcopy books, so you have to treat them differently when looking at earning revenue. Get over it.

Any successful revenue stream, thus, must be predicated upon the notion of an e-book as a single work with multiple subscribers (or "readers" if you prefer). Inevitably, some readers won't pay for this content ("free" is inevitable in that sense). Yet, some readers will.

In the short term, I don't see any problem with charging a significant amount for an e-book in order to off-set anticipated losses from free redistribution of that e-book--i.e., $20 instead of $2 or $6. However, this is a short-term solution. We need to think big picture. Do I have a solution? No. I'm not a leader in this revolution. I will glady provide input, but I don't anticipate having any big ideas of my own.

Anonymous said...

Why couldn't I have been the type to be a doctor or a lawyer? :-/

Rick Daley said...


You deserve a PhD in Thought Provocation. And since there isn't really such a thing, it should be instituted immediately just for you. Awesome topic. Again.

The first thing that comes to mind for me is a correlation to music, or lack thereof. Music is easy to pirate, burning copies of cassettes and CD's, sharing files through Limewire or newsgroups, etc.

There is a big difference, though. Musicians have an edge on writers: the live performance. No matter how good your home theater is, it will never match the experience of going to a concert. The synchronization of lights to music, the bustle of bodies swaying to the groove, that unmistakable smell that permeates the air (I'm thinking about the butane from lighters, what were YOU thinking of???)...

Writers don't have that same income generating outlet, so I think protecting their works is more important.

It's late, I just got home from a business trip, and that's all I have to say for now. Hope some of you found it insightful.

Steve Fuller said...

It's funny how this conversation sounds so similar to what has been said about newspapers for years.

"The feel of a book/newspaper in my hand." I get what you guys are saying, but it is a new day. News is online and it is free - newspapers are folding all over the country.

Convenience and speed are our gods, and eBooks, Kindle, Sony Reader, etc. are our future. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

I, for one, will be ready.

Want to watch something hilarious? Go here:

It is a story from the eighties about getting daily news over your computer. Crazy to look back and realize how far we have come.

Tim said...

As long as rule number one is respected it doesn't really matter.

Money flows to the writer and not away from her.

Anonymous said...

I'm personally getting very, very tired of seeing people online who seem to think writers have no right to be paid for their work, especially anciliary or secondary rights, and who clearly have no idea how little control the writer actually has over what editions of our books get published and where. And who keep telling us it's wrong to sell foreign rights separately or expect to hold onto our audiobook rights until we're paid for them or ask that publishers do something to keep our books from being scattered free all over the internet.

I love writing. I love it. But I also need to get paid for it, and if I'm not getting paid for it I could be doing other things. I may not stop, no, but I'm sure not going to push myself.

mary beth said...

Joel Hoekstra said:
"I cry no tears for the Music Industry. For years we were forced to purchase albums, most songs unheard (I was about to say “sight unseen” but that doesn’t sound right ;-), perhaps one or two songs of which we MIGHT have heard on the radio beforehand."

For me, this is at the heart of one of the problems with nearly limitless access, free content; and maybe it's inevitable, electronic delivery systems like the Kindle seem inevitable. I wonder what will happen to longer, often more complex content when readers and listeners have the capability and the desire to shape it. I don't want only the most accessible songs or the most accessible books. I want a combination of everything - both complex and accessible. I want cellphone books and David Foster Wallace.

The question of how both complex and accessible art continue to make it to the marketplace is tied somewhat to the Stephen King/Stephenie Meyer discussion. (For the record I love Stephenie Meyer, and thought Stephen King was a little mean, but he also spoke well about the book's appeal.) Everybody votes with their dollars, but everyone's opinion is not equal. And while most of us can carry a tune and construct a readable sentence not everyone can be a musician or write a book. The ability to create art is not commonplace, a playlist is not an album.

Convenience as the ultimate virtue seems counterintuitive. If everything is easy and already thought out how does anyone learn how to do anything for themselves?

Anonymous said...

Maybe the E-books should be available like books at a library or movies at the rental store. Rent them for a certain short time period at a small fee. You want to read them again, either buy the (old-fashioned)hardcopy or rent them again.

Anonymous said...

ANON 6:25 here again.

Maybe it would be good test waters for publishers and agents to decide whether or not the rest of the public would be interested in buying a paper copy, and base printing off of that. Kind of like seeing a movie at the theater, then it comes out on DVD.

Mira said...

Okay, again, business isn't my thing, and I apologize if I'm repeating what someone else said. However, the sad fact is that not knowing anything about a subject does not even remotely stop me from voicing an opinion about it.

That said, perhaps we'll move to a model that is based less on residuals and royalties, and move to a one-price model.

So the author and agent could negotiate a 2 million dollar payment up front, that kind of thing.

That could start bidding wars. That would be fun.

Also, with prices down, there would be an information explosion. So many more books would be available and accessible, which is very, very good news for authors. The money could get spread around abit more.

That also seems like a good thing.

So, that's my opinion about something I know nothing about.

Although I'll say one more thing. Problems are interesting. When you look back over history, I believe that solving problems has led to mankind to progress.

Going out on a limb, but I think progress is also a good thing.

So, there you are.

Kourtnie McKenzie said...

When I went to the San Diego Writer's Conference recently, one of the editors of Baen mentioned how they like to offer a few books for free--because yes, the Internet is a free market--but these would be books one and two of series. After that, the reader would have to pay for subsequent books. It was like literary drugs.

I've been trying to build a short story blog for "free" content, since I don't really have books to hand out... but I think offering something for free on the internet from the author would encourage the internet audience to support the author and buy the book.

To which then, the ebooks being purchased shouldn't be much cheaper than the paperback ones.

jimnduncan said...

Fascinating topic. Will be for some time I expect, since this issue is pretty much in a state of flux, as my limited knowledge views it anyway. Publishing online is a different animal compared to paper. Is there loss of revenue in paper format due to free distribution? Sure, books get loaned out and passed along all the time, but definitely not to the extent inherent within the internet. So, on a money per reader basis, authors and publishers will lose out. Different avenues will have to be pursued, i.e. all this discussion about ancillaries and such. Writers who are savvy in this regard will supplement some of the lost revenue in this way and make their profession viable. Others obviously, will not.

It will be harder to find good reading material, since anyone under the sun will be able to put out their work for the masses to read. There will be a lot of finagling of the system over the next few years in this regard, I believe. Consumers want decent return on their investment, whether it be in time or money. I think the frustration levels of the reading public will grow as the ebook world expands and proliferates. How the hell do you find something decent to read amongst the sheer volume of crap put out there? Ebooks are suppose to be about convenience. Nobody is going to want to pay much if they only get one decent read out of ten in their downloads. Even if it was free, this will be a huge deterrent.

Things will really begin to sort themselves out more with all of this I think, when the readers become cheap enough to garner consumers on a mass level. When the Kindles and Sony's of the reader market get under $100, and they're being bought for kid's birthdays, xmas presents, stocking stuffers, etc., the real mad scramble to develop an effective mode of publication and distribution will get sorted out.

I think the future is heading toward if not free, then cheaper forms of ebooks. Royalties for authors are going to get tanked, which means some other format is going to have to develop for the non-bestselling authors. More money up front? More royalties per book? It's difficult to see what the future will bring in that regard, but the point is, many good authors will stop writing if they can't make a reasonable income from it.

More money will be available for those who expand beyond the novel. As technology develops with these readers making them cheaper and better, it will make the diversity of content more available. Will you pay more for an ebook that comes with author interviews/discussions and artwork? I suspect the reading public will. There are likely all sorts of creative options that will be available to 'include' with the download. So perhaps basic downloads will be free, or come along with a subscription, with bonus material costing more. There might be premium downloads versus basic ones or basic subscriptions versus premium ones.

I honestly think there are a lot of possibilities heading our way in this new world of epublishing. Writers are going to have to be willing to venture into areas beyond the writing itself in order to achieve success here. Does that mean book tours and speaking and such. No, I don't think it will, but we will have to start thinking of ways (and publishers too) to develop value-added content to make the reading experience stand out. For example, what fantasy reader wouldn't love to be able to pull up maps, historical notes, character bios, and the like at the push of a couple buttons on their reader? I would. I'd pay more for something like that.

Ebooks in general do not have the value that paper ones do to the general consumer. We think differently about content gained from the internet. It's not suppose to cost as much as the same thing in the physical world. Publishers are not going to be able to overcome that mentality. Ebooks are going to have to be more, have to provide more, if they want to maintain similar pricing as the beloved paper version. No amount of convenience or ease of access will overcome that. Not in my mind anyway.

Kudos again Nathan, for posting something intriguing to discuss and read.

J Duncan

Maya Reynolds said...

Nathan: Thanks so much for the link to Bob Miller's blog. I'm wayyyy behind in my blog reading.

Frankly, I was astounded that Bob would make such an assertion. After all, his HarperStudio is based on the assumption that the returns system is strangling the industry.

He neatly avoids mentioning the distribution, warehousing, returns and pulping cost in his $2 book binding figure.

All of those costs are PRECISELY why HarperStudio was created in the first place and now he is saying they are $2?????

I have no words . . . or at least none that I am willing to say out loud. My mother taught me better than that.

Warm regards,


Anonymous said...

jimnduncan said, "we will have to start thinking of ways (and publishers too) to develop value-added content to make the reading experience stand out"

I really hate this short of talk. The *reading experience itself* is the valuable part of a book, not DVD-style extras.

I don't want author interviews, or interactive maps and animation and music and dancing f**king elves or whatever. I just want a good book. And I want my authors to be able to spend their time writing good books, not having to waste time thinking up (let's face it) stupid aftermarket accessories for the ebook.


Ink said...

I find the concern for property rights sort of amusing. "I must be able to lend it to a friend!" Our culture is overflowing with our need to enforce our Rights, to the smallest and most personally beneficial degree. And yet as a culture we seem so often to ignore the flipside of that coin. Responsibility has become a dirty word. And we, as a culture, prove it endlessly via things like piracy. Protection for content is merely a company (or society, etc.) enforcing our responsibilities for us (which we've proven incapable of doing on our own - if we had not failed at this, there would be no need for such protections).

If you want a just society, why turn a blind eye? If you want a fair jury system, why skip jury duty? Responsibilities are good things, people. Embrace them. You'll feel better.

And Things come with their own values, their own inherent systems of use. If I buy a hamburger, do I get angry that after I eat it I can't share it with a friend? Single consumption is inherent in my purchase of a hamburger (my property). Same goes for e-books. You don't think it's a good value to buy an e-book that can't have its ownership transferred? Don't buy it. Buy a paper book and support the tree plantations (think of all those fallow fields once e-books take over...)

We live in a Capitalist society. It's a world of products. If we think a product is worth its listed value we buy. If not, we don't. It's fairly simple, and it governs everything. A world of entirely free content won't happen because our society doesn't work that way. Our content (our creative output across all fields) has led to our incredible technological progress, which in turn has led to an increasingly mechanized world, which in turn has led to a continual hemorrhage of blue collar jobs (physical work). Free content? There go the white collar jobs. How will society function when labour has been co-opted and our creative output devalued?

What will an architect do when blueprints are freely distributed? What will any expert do when their expertise is freely distributed? What will a writer do?

Look around. If you like the Recession, you'll really love a world of free content. If, however, you like the idea of jobs and of people supporting their families it will be a bit of a bummer. Unless, of course, you have natural skills as a panhandler.

j h woodyatt said...

Grrr. This continuing conflation of the creative commons and anticorporatism is really freaking tiresome. It's really not that hard to figure out how to make money publishing digital content.

Software companies have been doing it for decades.

Some large software publishers have even discovered that DRM systems really only need to be intrusive enough to keep honest people from being exposed to corrupting temptation. They don't even need to prevent any actual copying, c.f. iTunes Plus, which has no technical limits on copying, only legal ones.

I wouldn't worry too much about the possibility of too much free content. Look at it this way: now EVERYONE can read the world's slushpile.

Sooner or later, publishers are going to understand deep in their bones what makes people willing to pay money for a copy of a string of binary digits: it's easier and more convenient to pay for them than it is to go to all the hassle of figuring out where to find the bits in the free pile. Not to mention how to be sure the bits you got are exactly the bits you intended to get without any errors. When publishers pull their thumbs out of their methane ports and start thinking for themselves again, we'll see publishers turning into branded portals for downloading books electronically. They'll charge tiered prices and their costs for each edition will be almost entirely non-recurring, i.e. they'll be software companies.

Nathan Bransford said...

jh woodyatt-

If you're going to accuse publishers of having their fingers in their methane ports... how is what you're describing (essentially tiered pricing via DRM-encrypted eBooks) any different than what publishers are already doing via the Kindle and Sony Reader?

TonyB said...

My experience is that different people tend to place more value on an idea while others place more value on the expression of the idea. To use a historical example this would mean that some Victorian aged people would have seen the value in Edison’s idea of the light bulb and would have been willing to pay him something for the value he brought to the glass bulb with a wire inside. On the other hand there were people that looked at the cost of the bulb and the wire and decide that was what it was worth.

Now to make a very big generalization: Today society seems to be shifting from valuing the ideas into valuing the expression of the idea. This subtle shift is important. In a world saturated with music, what is more valuable the music player or any single song? What is more valuable a big screen TV or any single movie? The paper that makes up the book or the words on the page?

To bring it full circle I would ask you a question Nathan. If I brought you the next Iliad, a book with such brilliance that it would still be read in 2,000 years, could you get me more per copy than if I brought you a book that will be forgotten in 2 years? For your calculation you can assume both are 90,000 words with no illustrations.

Nathan Bransford said...


I tend to leave the "what will be read in 2,000 years" questions to the historians.

Kassia said...

We did a presentation at ToC called "Smart Women Read Ebooks", presenting the results of a survey of 750 female ebook readers. DRM -- as implemented by the publishing industry (and music, though that wasn't part of the survey) -- is almost universally loathed. These readers don't object to the protection of rights, but they strongly object to the fact that DRM prevents them from reading in the manner they choose.

In another session, Brian O'Leary of Magellan presented interesting results relating to the impact of free content. He's going to be publishing the conclusions of this major survey soon, but the impact of free on sales seems to be a positive thing. Obviously, I'm not saying that the Cory Doctorow route will work for everyone, but there is positive benefit in free. It depends upon what your goals are and how you think it best to achieve them. Cory's approach clearly works for him; would it work for me? I'm doubting it.

Most of the conference presentations are online at the Tools of Change site, if anyone is interested in either session. I think one thing that keeps getting missed in all this discussion is the fact that consumers are happy to pay for their entertainment media and other kinds of content (look at the success of Publisher's Marketplace) as long as they see the value and receive a level of respect from the publisher -- they're paying *you* the money, shouldn't you treat them like a valued customer?

I'm glad this debate is spreading far and wide!

Ben said...

A thought just occurred to me: maybe the novel isn't destined to survive the transition to e-books.

Maybe instead what we'll see is a more serial form of distribution of stories, much like Dickens' novels. Rather than seeing a year between releases like we sometimes have now, the new model will be, "Release more, release often."

The quality of the writing doesn't have to suffer. Writers can still do what they do now--write the entire manuscript, edit it, and then work on the next manuscript while this one's released in serial form. But this format seems to lend itself better to the Web than novels, since the Web is all about frequent updates--just look at blogs.

In this form, you literally can have a subscriber-based e-book model. Some of the readers hooked on a serial are going to purchase it the moment it comes out rather than wait to pirate it. Some will still pirate (and this is going to be inevitable in any model). Some will hook their friends on it.

Furthermore, this model is more compatible with the short attention spans becoming increasingly common in our immersed, connective society. How many of your friends aren't as avid a reader as you, simply because they "don't have the time" to read an entire novel? Now how many of those friends watch an episodic TV show--even one with a complicated story arc, like Lost? Releasing e-books as bite-sized chunks of stories rather than whole novels may appeal to a wider audience and actually increase readership.

jimnduncan said...

Ah, yes. Serialization. I forgot all about that little bit of publishing. This format may lend itself very well to the impatient, digital consumer. If you can generate enough hype and interest in something ahead of time (or you're a best-selling author already), I can easily see people paying for stories in an almost episodic format. I would think it would have appeal to those who read their digital content in bits and pieces, in small chunks of time throught the day or week. I can also see how this format might change how people write, i.e. no need to be cutting content to squeeze the novel into a specified word count to assuage the publisher's worry about printing costs.

J Duncan

Angie said...

I think the trick here is that the vast majority of people prefer paper books, and despite being an electronic-only published writer so far, I think that's going to remain true for a very long time. From what I've read, even Cory Doctorow makes most of his money from book sales, but he sees free electronic copies as sales tools. The idea is that someone will read an e-book for free, and if they like it enough, they'll buy a paper copy of that same book to keep. I've heard other writers say they've experienced the same thing -- Mercedes Lackey, as an example, said she saw sales of her backlist go up significantly when her older books were made available online for free.

I haven't heard anyone in the larger debate saying that every writer has to give away everything they write for free, for always, period. That's a straw man.

The idea, rather, is that 20,000 free reads of your book might generate 2000 sales of the paper version. Or maybe 10,000. Or maybe 500; it depends on the book and how well people like it, of course. But there are folks out there now who say they're extremely reluctant to buy a new-to-them writer unless they can try them out for free first. Sure, libraries would surve that purpose. But if the person isn't going to spend any money anyway, then why not a free e-copy? Especially if they have to go to Author Chris's web site to get it?

Free e-books are a marketing tool, and a way of generating mass awareness and good will among the readers. Sounds like a decent idea to me. Sure, there are details which make it a more effective tool for a writer who already has a certain amount of name recognition, but that doesn't make it a useless tool.

About DRM, I am (again, despite being an e-published writer) pretty rabidly anti-DRM. The trick, as others have said, is that it doesn't work. Period. At all. No pirate has ever been stopped by DRM -- not on e-books, not on computer games, not on music or movies, never. The only people inconvenience (thwarted, pissed off, insulted) by DRM are the honest customers who paid money for the product.

And in defense of DRM, are you (as writers, not consumers) really comfortable with a theoretical world where a book can be downloaded (cheaply no doubt) and instantly e-mailed to 1,000 of the purchaser's closest friends?

You're missing the point. DRM won't prevent that. It only takes one cracker who sees sawing the chain off of your or my or anyone's little e-book as an interesting challenge to fill up a spare fifteen minutes, and there you go -- there are your thousand copies spread all over the web. From that point, anyone can download a copy of one of those copies and spread another thousand copies around, and it'll take off geometrically. Once the first cracked copy is posted online, it won't matter who cracked it or who posted it or whether there was no DRM to crack and the unlocked version was posted straight up.

You can't stop it. You can't even annoy the pirates. All you can do is piss off the people who are handing you money.

Bowing to the truly, honestly inevitable, on the other hand, shows your readers that you care about their experience, that you're not out to take that same $6.95 out of their pocket every time they upgrade their device, that you're not going to treat them like presumed criminals on zero evidence. It creates good will, and people who have good will toward you are more likely to buy legitimate copies of your books, whether that means e-books or hardcopies.

You can rail at the storm all you want, and all you'll get is wet. Or you can dig some irrigation trenches and let the rain water your crops. Yes, most of it will run off, and some of it will leak into your house. But you can't stop that either, and getting some benefit from the storm is better than grousing about how someone should figure out a way to prevent rain.

Angie, who's feeling metaphorical this morning

Nathan Bransford said...


I think it's an exaggeration to say that no one has ever been deterred by DRM, and also an exaggeration on the other side to say that someone who is motivated can pirate anything, DRM or no, so the whole thing is pointless. It's clear that no one is really going to be able to stop pirating entirely, and yeah, it doesn't take a great deal of technical know-how to strip a file of its DRM. But I don't think that's any reason for content providers to stop being vigilant.

I think the organizing principle of DRM is that people are lazy and not terribly tech savvy. If it's easier to get something for free, legal or illegal, they'll do that. If it's easier to pay for something, they'll do that. It's why virtually all of the popularity of Napster has been assumed by iTunes. It's just as easy, and most people don't mind paying.

DRM is about encouraging the right choices in the vast majority of users, not about stopping all piracy. It's about making it incrementally more difficult to pirate. I agree that it needs to be unobtrusive, but not endlessly so. Just because some people are inevitably going to find their way around it doesn't invalidate the efforts.

cloudscudding said...

One possible option is to make digital content *eventually* free, but have people pay for immediate gratification. I think this model has a lot of potential, but then I'm a person who needs immediate gratificatin. ;) I hope that when I get my steampunk novel published, the publisher allows me to experiment with this.

Free is also a great way to revitalize the backlist.

pjd said...

Unfortunately, your blog is so popular that I don't have time to read all the comments, but I read a few. I apologize if I'm repeating other people's words.

I see a lot of "person X did thus-and-such, and person Y did this-and-that." While those who don't study history may be doomed to repeat it, the past is actually a very poor predictor of the future. For example, someone who gave away lots of free content in 2006 and who is making bank today is exploiting a quirk of today's model, during the transition period. That does not necessarily mean the model will hold ten, five, or even two years from now.

The other important point to note is that quite a few of us already give content away for free. Many of us go for pub credits through short stories in literary journals or contests, and most of those pay a few contributor copies, sometimes a small bounty (which then the author returns to the journal in the form of a paid subscription).

I don't have any idea how many successful models will emerge in the future. I think paper children's books will persist for quite some time, though distribution will change. Ebook content may follow a shareware model, or an NPR model, a sponsorship model (this book brought to you by Starbucks), a traditional publisher model, an ancillary revenue model, or a performance model. Or something else entirely. iTunes, for example, is pretty much a shareware model--try ten seconds of the song, buy it for a buck if you like what you hear. But it's hardly the only way musicians and labels make money. I think we'll see a combination of all of them, depending on the product, the market, and a number of other factors. How that shakes up the author-agent-editor-publicist chain... no clue.

Nobilis Reed said...

Your "defense" of DRM is no defense:

"...But particularly when e-books become the main game in town (which is coming), should we really make sharing e-books as easy as 1 2 3?"

Whether an ebook has DRM or not, sharing it is always as easy as 1 2 3. Any time a new DRM system comes out, a crack is available within days, and DRM-stripped versions of the books appear shortly thereafter.

DRM stands for Digital Reader Miffery.

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