What is it about the past month or six? We’ve had front row seats to the foolishness that is SFWA — more than once. We’re standing in line waiting to buy popcorn before Vox finally schools SFWA on the foolishness of their ways. This week we’ve seen a publisher cancel a contract that had already been signed, sealed and delivered because the author spoke about his “partner” instead of his spouse in the author bio. Yep, you read that right. Contract canceled instead of just editing out the “offending” comment. So maybe I should have been prepared for the idiocy of entitlement that showed up on one of the fora I follow regularly.
As a reader who has gone almost exclusively to e-books for not only the convenience of having most of my library with me at all times but also because I have no more room to store “real” books, I buy my e-books from a variety of different venues and in a variety of different formats. Over the years, I’ve had to deal with DRM, changes in e-book formats, stores coming and going as well as computer crashes and e-book readers dying. Because of all this, I’ve learned to do multiple backups of my e-books on multiple different media. I’ve discovered the joys of Calibre and (casts a quick glance around) have read about what is needed for those few e-books I’ve purchased that are only available with DRM attached.
I’ve also learned that every publisher is different when it comes to how they view e-books. Some apply DRM while others don’t. There are some publishers who limit the number of devices you can have your e-book on at the same time. There are some who also limit the number of times you can download an e-book after you purchase it. I’ve seen single downloads all the way to 10 downloads (which is what NRP allows). Others leave it to the third party retailer (ie Amazon or Barnes & Noble) to determine if there will be unlimited downloads or not.
But the one thing that is just now starting to hit the e-book market is the reversion of rights. In the past, before e-books were a major part of the publishing market, when rights reverted back to an author, it was pretty simple to deal with. The publisher could no longer print and sell the book. Depending on the contract, the publisher could either sell the books already printed — reporting out any remaining royalties — or they could sell the books to the author at a discount price, if the author wanted. But the key was, once the books already in the system were sold, there would be no more until the author found another publisher to put them out. All the average reader knew was that a book by one of the authors they liked to read was no longer easily found for purchase and they’d have to either go to the library or to the second hand bookstore for a copy. Inconvenient, sure, but that’s the way it was and had been.
Then along came e-books and reader expectations changed. After all, an e-book isn’t a “real” book. It isn’t printed on paper and put up on your shelf where folks could see what you’ve been reading. No, it’s merely a bunch of data that can be stored on a server somewhere. Those who were not early adopters of the e-book revolution don’t remember the days of losing books because those books were tied to a specific computer or hard drive and when that computer died, the book was gone and there was no way to re-download it without buying it again.
They’ve even forgotten the concern that was voiced when it was learned Barnes & Noble had purchased Fictionwise, one of the granddaddies of e-bookstores. When the sale was first announced, there were those of us who worried that B&N would eventually do away with Fictionwise. Over the ensuing months, we saw the number of new books, especially by mid-listers, growing smaller and smaller on Fictionwise until, finally, we received word that we needed to do a final download of our books or move them over to a B&N account. I know there were a lot of folks who didn’t get that email or didn’t act soon enough and lost their books. That wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last time an e-book retailer leaves the scene and people will find themselves without their books because they weren’t proactive enough to make backups.
But now there’s a new wrinkle hitting the e-book shelves: reversion of author rights. And that’s where my head went spinning and I did my imitation of the pea soup scene out of The Exorcist the other day. It wasn’t because the rights had reverted back to the author in question. I understand that and applaud the author for not only asking for his rights back but for wanting to update the books in question and then put them out on his own. As a fan of this writer, I’m thrilled to be able to help him further by buying the books a second time, where he will get more money per sale than he did before (and, no, I’m not knocking the publisher for that. It’s the way of the publishing world.)
What brought on the possession imitation was the way someone attacked the author for doing so. You see, the whole problem was this person had gone into the publisher’s site to download a copy of the book and discovered that he couldn’t because the rights had reverted back to the author. Yes, he’d bought the book earlier. In a subsequent message (iirc) he even admitted he had the book backed up elsewhere. But he was upset because he couldn’t download it again from the publisher’s website. It was his book, damn it, and he wanted it now! How dare the author demand that the publisher take it down. Evil author. Bad author. Even though I like your work, because you were mean I may never again buy anything else from you.
But it got better. The reader was upset because he couldn’t figure out how to contact the author. There was just no easy way to do it. (Let’s forget the author had a forum on the board where this rant was posted. Let’s forget this author has multiple blogs as well as a website, most of which all have emails.) So he’d piss and moan in this particular forum about how bad the author was by doing the despicable thing of getting his rights back and not letting the poor peon readers continue to download their copies of his e-books.
Now, this wasn’t the first time authors had had their rights revert back on this particular site and had asked that no more downloads be allowed (again, iirc). There’s even an entry in the site’s FAQs that states that the publisher doesn’t guarantee that ebooks purchased through the site will be available for download, even if previously purchased, if the rights have reverted back to the author. Nor did it matter that no one would expect a publisher to replace your printed copy of a book after rights reverted because you could no longer find it, after it fell apart, whatever.
I was pleased to see the number of people who not only tried to explain the problem with this sort of entitled thinking the original poster displayed but who suggested ways to contact the author. They also suggested the poster contact the publisher to make sure he had his facts right. After all, it could have been a decision by the publisher or one of the publisher’s agents. But it was so much easier to just get onto the forum and rant.
Then came the comment by someone else suggesting that the publisher — not one of the Big Five — should do like Amazon and load all our purchases onto the cloud and thereby let them be available forever. After I quit hitting my head against the wall on that one, all I could think of was the potential problems with that so-called solution. First there would be the simple logistics of setting up that sort of system and the price increase as a result. I’m not an expert by any means on setting up a corporate cloud that isn’t resting on someone else’s server, but I’d guess it would be a bit more detailed and challenging than what the publisher currently has. For the tech geeks out there who work on the hardware side, you’d know this better than me.
But this little hissy fit over being unable to download — again — an e-book only underscored the fact that there are almost as many readers out there, percentage-wise, who don’t think of e-books as a “real” book as there are publishers who do. I’d bet my next royalty check that this particular reader wouldn’t even consider contacting the publisher or condemning the author for not replacing a hard copy of a book years after the book came out and months, much less years, after it had been purchased. But this person had no problem expecting the publisher and author to do so on the e-book because, to paraphrase, there was no cost involved.
Yes, there is cost involved. It’s called storage space and transmission fees.
But even that isn’t what upset me the most about the original post. It was the assumption that the author had been the one to demand that the book no longer be available for download. He posted the rant in a forum where other readers who are fans or potential fans of the author would read and, possibly, be adversely affected by what he said. This rant could cost the writer sales. He didn’t wait a reasonable period to receive a response from the author. No, he wanted to rant and by God, he’d rant.
He was entitled.
Funny thing, when the publisher responded — and kudos to the publisher — it quickly became clear there had been a misunderstanding. The author hadn’t asked that purchased e-books no longer be available for download. Nor had the publisher put that proviso on. It was a mistake, a mistake that could have been cleared up rather quickly by simply taking a few minutes to email the publisher and/or the author. Remember, Google is your friend, as is Bing and Yahoo and any of the other multitude of search engines. Ooooh, so is Facebook (gag).
I understand being upset if you’d purchased a book a day or a week ago and you hadn’t gotten around to downloading it and then logging into your account and finding you can’t get your e-book. But if you’ve had the e-books in your account for years and you haven’t made back-ups, that’s on you. That’s especially true with the FAQs tell you to do just that.
Grow up. Think before you hit enter and be very glad several days have passed since this first came to my attention. This post is mild compared to what I would have written at the time. You can’t rely upon a publisher or a third party retailer to keep your e-books available for you forever. Make your backups. Put them on different forms of media because media changes as hardware changes (remember 5.25″ floppies). Get yourself a copy of Calibre and do your own conversions where needed. But for Pete’s sake, quit expecting folks to make it easy for you. Rights revert. Books get pulled. Contracts change. I guarantee this isn’t the first time an author’s books will be pulled (rightly or wrongly) because rights reverted back and it sure as hell won’t be the last.