>Sunday morning round-up

>It’s been a busy week, both in the publishing world and in the little bit of the world that is mine. For me, I’ve been trying to finish up reviewing edits on several titles coming out for NRP and I’ve been attacked by a new novel — one that demands it be written NOW. For the industry, well, let’s just say there have been a lot of developments and I’ll try to touch on a few of them.

Let’s start with the news from the courts. A federal judge in New York has thrown out the Google books settlement. From Publisher’s Weekly: But citing copyright, antitrust and other concerns, Judge Denny Chin said that the settlement went too far. He said it would have granted Google a “de facto monopoly” and the right to profit from books without the permission of copyright owners. There is still the possibility Google and the other parties to the settlement can reach and agreement that will pass legal muster, but PW is right. This is a blow not only to Google but to the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers. The parties had taken two years to negotiate the current settlement and now must go back to the drawing board.

Then there’s this head-scratcher from Hawaii. Simply put, this bill would open publishers and authors up to civil liability if a reader of a travel book or article is hurt or killed trying to get to a location described in the piece. In other words, even if that person trespasses on private property and decides to hang off the edge of a skyscraper to see that nest of birds he just read about in the travel section of the newspaper and falls, the paper and the author could be held liable. It doesn’t matter that the reader didn’t exercise the common sense of a gnat. At the risk of stepping over the no politics line, I have to say that this smacks of legislators going a bit too far. There has to come a point where you have to trust folks to use a little common sense. If they don’t, then they need to suffer the consequences. From a realistic stand point, conditions change and what may have been true at the time an article or book is written may have changed by the time it is published. So the warning might be so totally wrong as to be misleading as well. So, trust folks to use their brains or let them suffer the consequences. This is like requiring publishers to have disclaimers that books written 200 years ago use words that are no longer considered proper, etc.

Then there was the news that Barry Eisler gave up a $500,000 publishing deal to self-publish his books. Among the reasons given were that he was unhappy with the current royalty scheme with traditional publishers — especially where e-books are concerned — and the desire to get his books out quicker than they would be going the traditional route.

Coming on the heels of the news about Eisler is this piece that indie publishing phenom Amanda Hocking has just signed a deal with St. Martin’s. As an indie, Hocking has sold more than a million books and made more than $2 million. She has done what every indie — heck, what every writer — wants. She’s made enough money to be able to write full-time. So why did she, as some will say, turn traitor and join the ranks of traditional publishing? According to Hocking, it’s so she can finally see her books on bookstore shelves. Something else every writer wants. There are other reasons, some very good ones, including making her books available when and where her readers want them, ensuring better editing (I hate to tell her, that may be a pipe dream. I’ve seen some horrible editing coming out of the major publishers.) But this doesn’t mean she’s giving up self-publishing either. As she notes in her post, she still has a number of books she can put out on her own.

So, who’s right — Eisler or Hocking? To me, they both are. Authors have to decide what is best for them and for their readers. The industry is changing. We have to change with it, whether we’re authors or editors or publishers. If we don’t, we’ll be left behind.

Finally, if you want to take part in a poll, Genreville has a poll about SF/Fantasy purchasing habits. You can find it here.

What do you think? Should there be a new Google books settlement? Should there be warnings and disclaimers in travel books and articles? Self-publish or traditional?

(Cross-posted to The Naked Truth)

13 thoughts on “>Sunday morning round-up

  1. >It's interesting to see authors familiar with one form of publishing able to transfer to the other. It will be interesting to see how much their success is affected by the routes they take. I imagine we'll be seeing more authors who self-publish for some books, and go the traditional route for others.– Nicholas

  2. >I have never been in favour of the Googl Books law suit. I wrote in an OCtober '09 blog entry – All the recent hoo-haa about Google and the add revenue from Google Books could have been a lot more productive. To me it looked like publishers and authors scrabbling to get a piece of a pie that they had been collectively been ignoring and their haste to assert their "rights" once Google had done all the hard work to my mind was to my mind unseemly and disingenuous considering that there seems to be no push to digitise back catalogues and make them available for purchase (The whole rant is here: Ownership and copyright in the digital age)

  3. >I can understand where Amanda Hocking is coming from. Even though I'm published by a traditional publisher, I still spend far too much time on things related to writing, but no actually writing.And I can understand where Brad Eisler is coming from. He already has following.

  4. >Nicholas, I think you're right about how we're going to see more "mix-n-match" in publishing. For the time being, at least, most of it will be from established authors. I think we'll see more and more of them bringing their backlists out on their own.However, as "indies" are successful, it may be easier for them to get a contract with traditional publishing houses. Of course, if they are looking for more indies who manage what Hocking did, well, those publishers will be looking for a very long time, imo.

  5. >Brendan, I'm never in favor of anything that might take money from the author's pocket and that was one of my biggest concerns with the Google books agreement. There were simply too many copyright concerns and, as the judge said, it really did look like a way to create a monopoly in Google's corner.

  6. >Rowena, you're exactly right with regard to Eisler. He does have a following and he wanted more control over his work, including when it would be released. I can certainly understand that.As for Hocking, I get her wanting to see her books on the shelves. And, at least for the first book, she will. The publisher will give her the push she wants and needs to get stocked, imo. However, if that continues after the first…well, that remains to be seen.I also know what you mean by all the writing related, but not writing activities we have to do these days. One of my most frequent complaints is that there just isn't enough time in the day to do everything that's needed.

  7. >Amanda,While you may have a point about the monopoly, the only way to show that Google has a permanent monopoly is to show the agreements they have with the schools and librarys they partnered with exclude anyone else from repeating the work already done. Up until then, Google is simply the only company in the world willing to put forward the resources to put such a project together.

  8. >Amanda, when you say "take money from author's pockets" you are implying that this was a revenue stream you had access to already. A lot of the anxiety, it seems to me, is about out of print and orphaned works, where no one was earning any money.It is true that Google may have assumed and either by negligence or foresight "taken" some of authors rights as copyright law stands, but they weren't taking money from them, since prior to GoogleBooks there was no money being made.

  9. >Brendan,I've seen some of the inside discussion about the Google Books agreement and the original plan. Google's original plan wasn't bad. They had provisions in there to cut in copyright holders for out of print works using a share of the advertising income stream, or take it offline if the copyright holder wanted – once they were satisfied the person making the claim was actually the copyright holder. Then the publishers and the author's guild stepped in… What emerged from that mess granted Google exclusive right to digitize and republish anything that was out of print, irrespective of the wishes of the copyright holder unless they opted out individually and per specific work. I'm not surprised it got thrown out. It was a travesty cobbled together in search of a quick buck, and it would have prevented authors self-publishing their out of print works if Google had got there first. Not only no, but hell no.

  10. >On the question of Orphaned works mentioned in the GoogleBooks article, this is one of the most contentious aspects of copyright law as it stands today.Under the current law, there is no provision for rights holders going missing and in the film and audio conservation industries this causing a lot of consternation as conservators need the permission of rights holders to do things like digitally remaster or simply copy work outside of the medium in which it is currently legally presented. And when you consider that Copyright life keeps being extended and extended and that film, wax and vinal have fairly specific shelf lives, it simply isn't possible to wait till it is sure Copyright has expired before starting conservation work.This is leading to a lot of material from the first half of the 20thC simply mouldering away since no one can be found to permit its restoration.I hope that this is not another issue that the publishing industry follows the music-video industies lead on since otherwise I am afraid much is going to be lost.

  11. >Brendan,That's why I like Google's original approach – their intention was first to preserve the works in some form, and second to earn back the cost of scanning them. I have no doubt their original plan was legal under US copyright (simply because a company as big and visible as Google screwing with that is asking to be hit with lawsuits from every direction). Regardless of whether the old works went online, they would be digitized and preserved. As I recall, part of the intention was that researchers and scholars would always be able to access them – an online library, if you will. Like it or not, copyright law is law, and we're stuck with it and its perverse incentives. (The perverse incentives part applies to every law ever written, actually, but lets not go there). Google's original proposal met it. The deal brokered by publishers and the author's guild didn't – and did a whole lot more to lock orphaned works out than anything Google originally planned.

  12. >Kate, I wasn't aware of the changes you mention, the aricle just mentions how much of a certain text would be available, and for authors that Google doesn't have an agreement with, this is mentioned as being "only snippets".Part of the problem with the way this is always reported it makes Google out to be the Bad Guy, and while they may not be pure as the driven snow in relation to this whole mess, it seems to me you also blame the usaul suspects for stuffing everything up;-)

  13. >Hi Brendan,I've followed the whole mess with interest since it first hit the news, and I freely admit I support what Google is doing. I also freely admit that Google Books has been massively helpful to me – while I was writing Impaler, I found crucial information for what Constantinople looked like in 1477 in a late 1800s book written as a travel guide. I would never have found that information (or some of the other tidbits I used) without Google Books. That is a rare book that is unquestionably out of copyright, which Google has made available to anyone who cares to look. I have no doubt there are many, many others.I'm not going to go into the reporting: suffice to say it's not unexpected, and anything more on that subject strays too far towards politics.

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