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Posts tagged ‘Apple’

More from the publishing funhouse

Ah, publishing. The one industry where there’s never a dull moment. Between federal lawsuits against legacy publishers for price fixing to the feud between literary authors and genre writers to the battle to save bookstores even as e-books continue to gain popularity, publishing can be like the best — or worst — roller coaster you’ve ever ridden. This week is no different.

In the Department of Justice’s price fixing law suit against Penguin and Apple, the only remaining defendants to the suit, Penguin has filed a motion to compel arbitration “in the consumer class and state claims.” This is basically the same motion Penguin filed earlier in the life of the case and that was denied by the judge last July. Penguin has, I’m assuming, refiled the motion because the judge, at the time she denied the motion, didn’t actually rule on the state claims. That leaves the door open a crack for Penguin here. Basically, this is probably simply a means for Penguin to preserve the issue on appeal and not a real effort to have the judge grant arbitration.

Now, for once, I agree with Publishers Weekly on this issue. First, arbitration in this case would be prohibitively costly. Think about the man hours needed to enter into arbitration with every person who qualifies. How many people bought an e-book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, for example, during the time in question? How many have opted in to the class action law suits? How many different states are involved? How many of these purchasers have become incapacitated or have died and the arbitration would have to be with guardians or trustees? How many of us believe this is just another attempt to drag out the suit?

As we draw ever closer to the June 3rd trial date, it is clear that the whole case comes down to whether or not the judge will buy Apple’s and Penguin’s argument that there is no “direct evidence” of a conspiracy or if she will see a pattern in the evidence presented to her. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the applicable federal statutes involved in the case, but I doubt there has to be only direct evidence. If there is an overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence, or a so-called smoking gun, that isn’t rebutted by other evidence, then that can be just as convincing as finding someone standing over the body with the murder weapon in hand.

Remember, that person you find with the murder weapon may just be some poor schmuck who came upon the body and, hearing some sound in another room, picked up the gun to defend himself. Conversely, if you have an abundance of e-mails and sworn testimony describing meetings where the players discussed how they wanted to do in Amazon and the best way to do that was to prevent it from discounting e-books by refusing to sign contracts with it unless it agreed to agency pricing, then you pretty much have evidence of a conspiracy.

Yes, that is over-simplifying it, but you get my meaning.

And then there’s the news that broke over the last couple of days concerning Stephen King. King, who back in 2000 was seen as the champion of e-books — or the betrayer of the industry, depending on your point of view — has seemingly reversed his stance. Back in 2000, he published Riding the Bullet only as an e-book. Oh, the howls of outrage at the time. But even louder were the cries of derision by his fellow authors and others in the industry. After all, back then, there was no Kindle, no Nook, no iPad. E-books were still in their infancy. He was either an innovator or a betrayer.

Flash forward to next month and the release of Joyland. Some sites are hailing King as a hero of print. Others note that, while he has said the book will only be released in print next month, he isn’t completely closing the door on releasing it as an e-book later on. Frankly, it doesn’t matter one way or another. Not really and not in the long run because King has kept the digital rights for himself and that means the e-book can come out whenever he wants it to.

King’s rationale for not releasing the book as an e-book is simple: “I have no plans for a digital version. Maybe at some point, but in the meantime, let people stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one.”

Now, am I the only one who sees a problem with that statement?

I doubt it. After all, his publisher for Joyland, Hard Case Crime, isn’t keeping the book off of online sales sites like Amazon or BN.com. As far as I have been able to discover, Hard Case isn’t cutting any special deals with indie bookstores to make it more cost-effective for those smaller, locally owned stores to stock the book. Remember, indies don’t have the buying power that the big box stores do simply because they can’t order in the same volume the bigger stores can.

There’s something else that will happen — and that some folks will use to condemn e-books. I can pretty much guarantee that Joyland will be pirated, possibly even before it hits the shelves. You don’t need a digital file to pirate a book. All you need is a copy of the book, or the ARC, and a scanner with the proper software. A prime example of this is the last Harry Potter book. It was available for download on a number of pirate sites days before the book was on sale. Don’t forget, those books were only offered as e-books within the last year or so.

But if King’s reason for withholding the digital version is to get folks into bookstores, this is probably too little and too late. Sure, he’s a best seller and his hardcore fans will go buy the book in print even if they’d prefer digital. Even though it is coming from a smaller publisher, there will be push for the book. After all, King is a “best seller” and he has more than enough money and pull to get push by simply picking up the phone and issuing a statement like the one announcing there would be no e-book version.  But this isn’t one of his trademark horror books. It isn’t coming out in hard cover.

Perhaps this is King’s attempt to help the publishing house and to help support its other authors. Perhaps he really has had a change of heart. But, if that were the case, wouldn’t it be more effective to have Doctor Sleep, his sequel to The Shining, in only print and not digital formats? Wouldn’t that make more of a statement? It would certainly make more of an impact. Oh, wait, that would also impact his bottom line. Guess King likes getting those big paychecks as much I would.

Yes, I’m a cynic.

Let’s face it, if he wanted to help bookstores, he could do so without holding back the e-book version. Kobo has a program where indies can “sell” e-books. I’m sure there are other ways as well, including selling download codes for the book. I remember when audio books were making the transition from tape and CD to digital. You could find displays at the local big box bookstores where you could buy MP3 players with preloaded audio books on them. Publishers and authors could do the same with SD and micro-SD cards. As I said, download codes could be sold as well. There are a number of other methods that could be used as well. But each of them would require publishers, and some authors, to adapt and change their mindsets, something too many have shown a reluctance to do.

Too little, too late on King’s part? I don’t know, but I do know there were other things he could have done to make his effort more effective.

Before signing off, I’d like to ask everyone to keep the people of Moore, OK and the surrounding areas in their thoughts and prayers today and in the coming days. The devastation in the area is horrible and the loss of life is even worse, especially when you consider how many children died.

The inmates are trying to run the asylum again

Yep, that’s right. The inmates have managed to get out of their cells and are running around loose. Now, most days, it is pretty entertaining to watch. After all, they usually are either pointing at the sky and screaming about how the aliens are coming and taking over the world, or they are burying their heads in the sand and doing their best to ignore the changes needed to be made in order to survive. But today, well, all I can do is shake my head and wonder how long this current farce will run before the final curtain falls on it.

Let’s start with what has to be one of the most mind-boggling pieces I’ve seen in a long while. I have to give a hat-tip to one of our readers for pointing me to this link. Think about this. Your local bookstore — and not a chain store — manages to get an in-store signing set up with an author who has a book coming out from a major publisher. The store does a magnificent job promoting the event and manages to pre-sell 450 copies of the book by mega-best selling author. (These copies are to be autographed by the author) So the store calls the publisher and places the order.

Does the publisher jump up and down and offer to send the books out post-haste? Hell no. They’ll only ship the store 200 copies. Doesn’t matter that the books are pre-sold. Doesn’t matter that the store will pay up-front for the books. The publisher isn’t going to to budge. It doesn’t matter that this will be a PR debacle for the store, the author or, duh, for the publisher.

Well, here is where I tip my hat to the store and to the local Target. The store owner went down the street, talked to the powers that be at Target, and got the books needed to finish filling the pre-orders (300). Target even sold them to the owner at a discount. Epic win for both the indie store and Target and massive epic fail for the publisher.

Now, what reasonable business would turn down a pre-paid order of 450 units of a $30 item? I can’t think of any, especially not one that is suffering slumping sales. But the publisher did. It was worried about returns. The books were pre-paid so there wouldn’t have been any returns. But that little bit of information mattered not. Nor did the fact that the author, who is described as a “major best seller”, would not be pleased to find she had been cut out of hundreds of sales by her own publisher.

So, you have to ask yourself how often this sort of idiocy occurs and how many sales publishers cost themselves and their authors because they can’t see the forest for the trees?

And then there is the spin as publishers try to convince themselves that they are making up  lost ground. An example is this article about Penguin’s so-called profits last year. According to figures released by Penguin, total sales rose 1%. Sales, not profits. As a counterpoint, operating profit fell 12%. Add to that the fact Penguin expects e-book sales to slow this year and you have to wonder how they see these figures as being anything but troublesome. Yet, we are told that the powers that be feel Penguin came out of this “pretty good”.

Maybe I am having trouble seeing the forest for the trees, but a 12% decrease in operating profits coupled with a forecasted slow down in e-book sales (the one segment of the business that has continued to grow by leaps and bounds) would be something I’d be worried about. But then, I’ve never been a corporate cheerleader.

And then there are the indie booksellers who have filed a class action lawsuit against Amazon and the Big Six over DRM. My first issue with this is that there are only three plaintiffs to the suit, so I’m not sure they will qualify as a “class”. But that will be up to the court to decide.

My biggest issue is that this suit is only aimed at Amazon and none of the other online e-book retailers — like Barnes & Noble, iBooks/iTunes, Kobo, etc. If these three booksellers are really worried that applying DRM to e-books restricts the sale of e-books, shouldn’t these other retailers be included as defendants? Oh, wait, it’s only Amazon because the DRM applied means only the kindle line of products can read the titles.

But wait, aren’t the vast majority of these titles also available in DRM’d epub versions through BN.com, etc? I guess that doesn’t count. We’re just supposed to turn away from that little bit of information because it doesn’t fit the scenario that these booksellers want us to believe.

However, even if their allegations are true, so what? Aren’t companies allowed to produce products and sell them wherever they want? Sure, there are limitations like not violating exclusivity agreements — oh, wait, we aren’t supposed to think about those either because that would fly in the face of what the plaintiffs allege.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel for indie booksellers. But this isn’t the way for them to win back patrons. Worse, if this case does go to court and they lose, they will more than likely liable for court costs, not just for themselves but for the six publishers and Amazon. Do you really think the retailers will be able to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and costs and stay in business? Of course, that will be Amazon’s fault too — at least in the eyes of the haters.

Instead of stomping their feet and holding their breath like a couple of pouty kids, these booksellers need to be looking forward. How can they work directly with publishers or authors to sell e-books? What are they doing to promote local authors? More importantly, sit back and wait and see what happens in the DoJ’s price fixing case against Apple (in case you’ve missed it, the five publishers have all settled). There will be changes coming from that, not only for Apple and the publishers but, in all likelihood, Amazon as well. Take a lesson from the bookseller mentioned at the top of this post. Instead of whining and whinging, that bookseller went out and did something to turn what could have been a public relations nightmare and a big hit against the store into a positive.

Tuesday morning publishing news

Yesterday, I had that oh-so-wonderful experience of having to take my car in for repairs. That meant I spent several hours in the waiting room while they checked it out before coming to tell me just how much lighter my wallet was going to be. That gave me time to do two things: people watch and think about a couple of projects I’m working on right now. The former is always fun and often provides fodder for my writing. Yesterday was no exception. There are at least two “characters” who will be making appearances in my writing. As for the latter, well, that’s something else. I finally figured out what has been bothering me about two of my current projects. That’s the good thing. The bad thing is that it means my brain is focusing on what I figured out and doesn’t want to work at anything but finishing the projects. That means blogging today is suffering as a result.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things going on in the publishing world we need to be aware of.

First off, if you haven’t already heard, Fictionwise is finally doing what many of us have anticipated for a long time. It is closing its cyber-doors. The last day it will allow sales of any titles still listed there will be December 4th. The last time you will be able to download any titles you’ve bought will be December 21st. If you have a Fictionwise account (or ebookwise.com or ereader.com accounts), you should have already received an email about what is going to happen. You can opt in through a link in the e-mail which will transfer your titles to your Barnes & Noble account. I’ll admit that I haven’t done this yet and I’m not sure I will. I only have a few books I’ve purchased through Fictionwise and I’ve already got them downloaded to several different locations and, yes, I will be downloading them all again just to be sure.

The reason I said this is something many of us have anticipated is because of what’s happened with Fictionwise since it was purchased by Barnes & Noble back in 2009. There was a time when Fictionwise had many of the same books you could find at Amazon for the kindle. Then B&N purchased it and suddenly titles disappeared from Fictionwise and authors who had been easy to find there were no longer to be found. In other words, B&N was routing those authors and publishers that were selling well over to their main site and leaving Fictionwise to be the poor second cousin, nose pressed to the window looking in.

It has been a slow death for Fictionwise but not an unexpected one. Gone is an outlet for authors and an easy interface for readers.

Penguin Books has announced it will be expanding its e-book lending program to libraries. Now, before you get excited and start thinking this means you’ll soon be able to download your favorite e-books, what this means is that if you are a part of the Los Angeles Public Library system or the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) library system, you won’t be included. But, looking at this from the glass half full side, it is an expansion. I’m not holding my breath, especially since we have yet to see exactly how the merger between Penguin and Random House will cause things to fall out.

For more on libraries, publishers and e-book lending, check out this post I wrote on how Kansas State Library is taking their fight with the publishers to social media.

And in the WTF department, Apple now has a new patent. That in and of itself isn’t that earth shattering. But this particular patent is one of those you just have to shake your head at and wonder what the patent office was thinking when they granted it. Apple has been granted a patent for  a  “design patent, titled, ‘Display screen or portion thereof with animated graphical user interface,’ gives Apple the exclusive rights to the page turn in an e-reader application.” As the author of the article notes, this means Apple now has the patent for the page turn. Supposedly there is an algorithm included in the patent application that makes the Apple page turn different from all other page turns on all other e-book readers. However, color me skeptical. I see this — and the other 38 patents it was granted at the same time — as yet another step in Apple’s war to rule the tablet and smartphone world. I may be wrong, but Apple’s scorecard in this area isn’t the greatest.

If you haven’t already read it, check out Kris Rusch’s post on Agents and Money. It is, as are almost all of her posts, a must read.

Well, that’s it for now. The novels are calling for me — as is the smell of coffee. Happy Thanksgiving a couple of days early to everyone. Have a safe and fun-filled holiday.

http://nocturnal-lives.com/?p=476

Amazon strikes again — or did it?

I’ve been laid low this past week by a bug that was both nasty and persistent. It’s been a very long time since something has knocked me out the way this did. What I didn’t realize was how long it had been working up to the final knock-out blow. Now, as I start feeling human again, I can look back and realize that I’d been ignoring it for several weeks — almost a month in fact. The lesson is that I have to start listening to my own advice and pay attention to what my body tells me. (Quit laughing, Sarah. I know I tell you this all the time.)

The problem is that I was entering the home stretch on one novel and had a good feel for how to finish another when this bug laid me out. These are two very different novels, not only in genre but in voice and feel. Worse, the next book in the Nocturnal Lives series was coming together in my head. Now, it’s all gone. I’m going to have to go back and reread the novel I was working on finishing and hope I can get back into that zone. Then I have to get into the second novel, something that is very different from what I usually write. My biggest concern is that I won’t get the ideas back for the Nocturnal Lives novel because, duh, I didn’t write them all down. (Bad Amanda!)

It also means I haven’t been paying as much attention to what’s been happening in publishing as I usually do. I know there was a flurry of twitter-talk about Random Penguin’s buy buttons disappearing for a brief period of time last week over on Amazon. The usual conspiracy theories rapidly emerged. Amazon was doing it in preparation of taking the Random House/Penguin ebooks off-sale if the publishers didn’t play nice. Amazon was doing it as an implied threat to all publishers. The last I saw, Amazon said it was a glitch in the system. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. It doesn’t matter. The case of the disappearing buttons lasted for a very short time and occurred at a time when sales would not have been high. As I said, unless and until more information is known, it really doesn’t matter what happened or why. The buttons were restored and it was pretty much a case of no harm/no foul.

Then there was the story on the news last night about how Amazon is losing the e-reader market. I’m sure it doesn’t surprise any of you to know I heard the story and wondered if I’d somehow been transported to another reality. So, after doing my blog for Nocturnal Lives (my personal blog) this morning, I went looking for confirmation of the report. Color me not surprised to find out the reporter doing the story went for shock factor and not facts.

According to Publishers Weekly, Amazon’s Kindle family is used by 55% of e-book buyers. This is up from 48% for this time last year. Apple, with the iPhone and iPad, holds a 15% share of the market. This is up 2% over last year. It is interesting to note that the increase came from iPad use. According to PW, iPhone use as an e-reader fell 2% over the past year. Barnes & Noble’s Nook held steady at 14%. Note, however, that this is down from their high of 22% in the third quarter of 2010.

So where, you might ask, did the reporter come up with the headline that Amazon was losing the e-book reader battle? I wondered the same thing. So I checked the breakdown from PW and the light bulb went on. The Kindle, as opposed to the Kindle Fire, has seen decreasing use. It has fallen from 48% last year to 37% this year. Ooooh, that means the Kindle is dying.

No, it doesn’t. What it means is that there is still a large portion of the e-book buying public that wants a dedicated e-b0ok device. However, with the introduction of the Kindle Fire, those who want a multi-use tablet/e-book reader that doesn’t cost as much as a laptop have a viable option. All you have to do is look at those numbers to see what I mean. The second quarter of 2011 showed no Fire market. As for the second quarter of this year, Kindle Fire sales account for 18% of the e-book reader device sales. Not only does that cancel out the losses for the Kindle, but it increases the market share for the Kindle family by eight percentage points (if my math is right).

But saying that Amazon is increasing its hold on the e-book device market wasn’t nearly as exciting as saying the Kindle was dying. Sigh. Rolls eyes.

Now to go find breakfast and to start wading through all the emails and work that is waiting for me. Maybe I’ll even be able to get some writing done today.

Before my head explodes

There are some days when I wonder how my head keeps from exploding because of the sheer idiocy that seems to be pervading so much of publishing. It’s not enough that we have publishers trying to kill mass market paperbacks because they make more money per sale for a hard cover book. Nor is it enough that they think they can convince readers that it costs as much to make an e-book as it does a hard copy edition of that same book, especially when the digital and print versions come out at the same time. I won’t even go into the archaic form of hand-wavium they use to justify either of these actions or how they report out sales and royalty figures to authors. Now we have Bob Kohn of RoyaltyShare filing yet another comic strip brief with the court in opposition to the already approved settlement between the Department of Justice and three of the publishers named in the price fixing lawsuit.

Yep, you read that right. A comic strip brief. His first brief, all five pages of what he called a “graphic novel” brief, was dismissed by the court. Kohn has filed yet another comic brief. I don’t know what gets to me more: the fact that Kohn is getting publicity from all of this — and that I’m adding to it this morning — or the fact that he has so little regard for our justice system that he thinks filing a comic as a pleading document is appropriate in any sort of lawsuit, much less one that has the potential of impacting an industry as much as this particular suit does.

Frankly, I can’t help but wonder if the only reason Kohn is continuing to take this tact is because he sees it as a free source of PR. Especially since it seems to be working…sigh. Mr. Kohn, grow up and quit acting like a self-indulgent child. If you have an argument you want to be taken seriously, then you need to take it seriously yourself. Presenting it as a comic isn’t the way.

Since my head is already threatening to explode because of the antics of Kohn with regard to the price fixing law suit, we might as well keep with that general topic. “Apple and/or the publisher defendants” filed a motion to subpoena Amazon in the class action lawsuit that’s been filed against Apple and the publishers. Amazon has, of course, filed a motion to quash the subpoena. While we don’t and can’t know all that was included in the filing of the subpoena, what it does show is that in this suit, as in the price fixing suit, the defendants are trying to play a game of smoke and mirrors by casting Amazon as the big evil that has to be protected against, even if it means breaking the law to do so.

Look, this tactic isn’t anything new, but that doesn’t make it right. We can’t allow businesses, or individuals, to go around breaking the law because there is the possibility that a competitor might, at some unknown point in the future, do something that might be bad or illegal. That sort of logic sends my mind spinning. It reminds me of the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report”. In the movie, “criminals” are apprehended before the crime based on information provided by precogs. Of course, it is assumed that the precogs are infallible and that what they’ve forecast can’t be changed. I don’t know about you, but I have a real problem with this sort of thinking, especially when you assume that something is going to happen NO MATTER WHAT THE INTERVENING CIRCUMSTANCES MIGHT BE.

My concern is that Apple and the non-settling publishers will manage to so confuse the issue that the underlying allegation against them in the DoJ suit will be lost. That issue is whether or not they colluded to fix the price of e-books. Contrary to what these same defendants and so many publishers, editors and, yes, even authors would have you believe, it isn’t about whether or not agency pricing is legal or not. It boils down to a simple of question of if the named parties communicated, either in person or via other means, a plan to set prices for e-books across the board in a way that did away with competitive pricing. It is the collusion that is the heart of the DoJ’s lawsuit, nothing more and nothing less.

Just as the named defendants want us to think the real enemy to publishing and to readers is Amazon, they don’t want us looking too closely at their own practices. If they keep us focused on the evil that Amazon might do at some point down the road, we don’t look at their own practices. Practices like using Bookscan to report sales figures because, gee, they can’t use a simple computer program to know how many books they printed, how many were sent to bookstores and how many were sold/returned. Instead, they rely on a sampling of sales from certain stores to report. Are the figures accurate? Hell no. Not when you can walk into a bookstore and find a book still on the shelves two or three years after it was printed — which means that book is selling and being reordered time and again — and yet the publisher says there aren’t enough sales to continue the series.

Authors, if you want to get angry over anything, get angry at your agents and publishers for allowing this farce to continue. Quit giving in to the knee-jerk reaction instilled by years of knowing the only way to have legitimacy as an author was to bend over and take whatever the legacy publishers did. They aren’t the only path now. There are any number of respected and successful small presses out there, all more than happy to treat you with more respect than you are getting now. The self-publishing road is no longer the kiss of death it once was. There are, in short, other players and you need to know them and understand what they can offer you, especially since legacy publisher are not doing the jobs they promise.

Ask yourself, when is the last time your publisher actually promoted your work (assuming you aren’t a best seller or literary darling). Ask yourself when you last got a royalty statement not only on time but with numbers that made sense based on what you are seeing in the local bookstores and hearing from your fans. Ask yourself why it is publishers think they are the most important part in the book creation process and not the person or persons actually responsible for writing the book.

It is time for authors to take control of their careers and realize there is no longer any reason to kowtow to legacy publishers. Amazon is not pure as the driven snow, but it most certainly isn’t the big evil Apple and others are trying to make it out to be. Nor should it — or any other business for that matter — be punished for something it might do at some point in the future. C’mon, guys, apply a little common sense not only to what is happening regarding the DoJ price fixing suit but to your careers as well. It’s past time to take care of yourselves and to remember that, without you, publishers wouldn’t exist. They should work for you and not the other way around.

New, or at least renewed, beginnings

In a number of ways, this is a very difficult post to write. While I’ve had no problems over the last several years opening up about my feelings about the state of the publishing industry and where I think we’re going, I haven’t written much about what goes on in my life. Part of that is because I’m a very private person. Part is because being in law enforcement earlier in my life, I learned not to share personal details on a public forum. Today I’m going to break that rule, sort of, as well as do my usual schtick regarding publishing.

As most of you know, I’ve written before about hitting the wall with burn-out. Now, I can hear those nay-sayers would will tell you there is no such thing as burn-out. That when we think we have it, we should just push through. They are right and wrong. A lot of times when someone says he’s got a case of burn-out, he doesn’t. Yeah, he’s tired. Yeah, he’s having a hard time focusing on whatever his current work in progress is. But that might not be burn out. It might be that he’s writing something he shouldn’t be, whether it’s because there is a fundamental flaw with the book or the book is scaring him because his craft is taking one of those unexpected leaps forward. It might be because he’s at that part of the book where it is just hard to keep going. For a lot of writers, that’s the middle of the book. That sort of “burn-out” is what you can push through.

But real burn-out is something you can’t push through. Not really. Oh, you might fool yourself for awhile and manage another few days or weeks before you not only hit the wall but the wall falls on you. This is the mind-numbing, body-breaking burn-out that makes it hard to do anything in your chosen profession. It is often accompanied by either family stress, work stress from your outside job or illness or all of the above. When that happens, it takes time to get over it, time you may not realize you have to take.

This is all a roundabout way of explaining what happened to me. I’ve been on a leave of absence from Naked Reader Press for the last three months due to some potentially very serious medical issues that needed to be dealt with as well as some personal, but not nearly as serious, personal issues that I had to get a handle on. During that time, writing stopped. Work stopped. Life, in a lot of ways, stopped.

But, out of it came some good on several different levels. The first is that the medical issues, while not completely over, have been dealt with and did not — knock on wood — turn out to be as serious as they could have. The family issues are well in hand and weren’t serious at all. And NRP, well, we’re behind as any small business is when one of the few full-time employees is off for an extended period of time. But that also meant we, the owners and I, spent time discussing how to make NRP better and how to handle such situations should they arise in the future.

So, on the NRP front, we are bringing onboard two new editors. I’m thrilled to welcome Taylor M. Lunsford and Charles Martin to the company. Taylor will be helping set up our new romance and mystery lines and Charles will be heading up the non-fiction line. They will also be helping us get caught up on slush. So, for those of you who have been waiting for an answer, it will be coming shortly. What makes both Taylor and Charlie excellent fits for NRP is the fact they understand the fluid nature of publishing right now and they aren’t afraid to try something new, whether it is tech or figuring out what the next literary trend might be. You’ll learn more about them and hear from them about what they are looking for over at the Naked Reader site starting next week.

As for me, I’ll be continuing with NRP but my workload will be more manageable with the additions of both Taylor and Charlie as well as our own Sarah who is now our art director. It’s amazing how much that helps and I can’t thank each of these wonderful folks for believing in NRP as much as I do.

There’s another indication for me that the burnout is finally over. I’ve been writing again. Not just a few hundred words here and there but writing, real writing. In the last few weeks, I’ve managed a little over 55,000 words. They might not be my finest work, but it’s still first draft. They key here is not only that I’m writing, but that I want to write. It’s been a long time since I’ve really wanted to.

And, what I’m learning, is that I’m not the only writer/editor/etc who has been feeling this way. The turmoil in publishing has taken a toll on most of us. The push to find alternatives to traditional publishing, trying to decide if we are going to utilize these alternatives exclusively or remain with traditional publishing only or try a mix of both has been difficult for most of us. And it has taken a toll. When you add in the normal stresses and strains of life and it is little wonder there aren’t more walking dead among writers.

Any way, now that I know my health is only compromised and will, in all likelihood, return to normal and the other stress is working out, I am ready to hit the world running — or at least limping along. The ride may be bumpy at times, but that’s what makes it exciting.

Now, as for the publishing world…If you haven’t seen it already, HarperCollins has renegotiated its contract with Amazon and is no longer using the agency model to price their e-books. Yes, there are also the boo-birds out there condemning Amazon for it and forecasting doom and gloom for publishing because, gasp, best sellers may be priced below $10. Of course, these are the same naysayers who want us to believe it costs as much to produce an e-book as it does a print book and, by the way, they also tell us it costs that much even though there has been a print book produced. According to them, there is additional editing, copy editing, proofreading, etc., that has to go into the creation of the digital version of a book produced for print. When someone tells you that, call them on it because that is WRONG. You don’t have to edit, etc., again. Yes, you need to format but that is a matter of running the copy through a conversion program and then checking to see it converted properly.

These are also those who would have you believe that the DoJ’s suit is against agency pricing and who so conveniently forget that it is against price fixing. In other words, DoJ says that it isn’t agency pricing that is inherently wrong but how it came about that was. The alleged conspiracy between the five publishers and Apple is the issue. The fact that three of those publishers have agreed to terms with the DoJ, and that has been approved by the court, is not Amazon’s fault. Amazon isn’t some grand puppet master standing behind the scenes manipulating everything. What Amazon is is an innovator. Yes, it is the 800 pound gorilla but, for the moment at least, it is a gorilla that is in my corner and I will take advantage of what it offers, not only for myself but for the authors who come to NRP. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep a close eye on what the gorilla is doing. I’m not that foolish. But I won’t condemn myself to much fewer sales by not using Amazon simply because Amazon might do something I don’t like at some point in the future.

So, how do you tell if you are buying a book that is a product of the agency pricing mode or not? That’s really easy on Amazon. Go to the product page and under the price you will see one of the following: either a listing of the just the price points for the various versions of the book or the publisher’s name and “This price was set by the publisher” or “sold by: Publisher’s name”. If you see the first alternative, you know you are buying a book that was published by an author or publisher who never took part in agency pricing. The second alternative is our old friend agency pricing. These are the publishers who have yet to enter into new agreements with Amazon. The third alternative is what you will see post agency pricing.

Is the agency model gone? I doubt it. For one thing, the only publishers being forced to abandon it right now are the three who came to agreements with the Department of Justice. What happens with the other two, and with Apple, remains to be seen. For those other publishers who negotiated with Amazon and are currently using the agency model, the question remains open as to if, when their contracts come up for renewal, the agency model will be continued. My opinion is that we will see a hybrid of some sort.

In the meantime, I will continue checking not only prices but publishers. There are very few e-books I’d pay more than $10 for, especially when I know how little authors get for those traditionally published e-books. There is no way in heck I’ll by $19.99 for an e-b0ok and, yes, if you look at the best sellers this morning you will find one at that price. My question is why? Why are you paying that much? Especially when the publisher is loading the book with DRM and limiting how many devices I can have it on and when that publisher doesn’t believe that $19.99 allows me to OWN that e-book.

My money can and will do my talking for me. And now I need to go wade through some more email and start smoothing my way back into the swing of things at NRP.

Is he or isn’t he?

I got up at an ungodly hour this morning — at least for me — to see my son off on his third trip out of town for work in less than a week. So that left me waiting for the morning paper to arrive and, wanting to check traffic before he started out, I turned on the local news. Imagine my surprise to hear a quick news-bite saying that Bruce Willis was considering suing Apple over his iTunes library. Seems he read the terms of service — something I doubt many of us have done when we’ve bought music through iTunes or even e-books through other avenues — and he realized that, when he dies, his music defaults back to Apple.

Now, whether Willis goes through with suing Apple or not — and the media is showing contradictory stories about it this morning — it does bring up a couple of issues that have bothered me about not only music downloads but e-books as well.

First is an argument you will hear from a number of Amazon haters. They won’t buy from the Kindle store because they don’t like the DRM that Amazon applies to their sales and they don’t trust Amazon to keep their books forever and ever. Well, guess what. This same argument can be applied to just about any online retailer of digital goods, including Apple. It applies across the board to music, video, e-books and gaming. And, if you look at the fine print in the terms of service for just about any of these sites, you will see that they all say they can suspend or terminate their services at any time. In other words, your digital content may be available one day and gone the next because they have suddenly decided to no longer trade in that particular market.

Is this a concern? Should it be a concern? Absolutely. It is one of the reasons those who have found ways around DRM have done so. It is why you can find free plug-ins for programs such as Calibre to help you break DRM in your e-books. After all, that is the only way to insure that you will be able to enjoy your digital products on whatever your device in the years to come. Those of you who were early e-book adopters probably know first-hand what I mean. How many of you have lost the ability to read some of your e-books because Adobe changed its format and your older e-books no longer work or your computer crashed and the registered program you used to read those books is no longer around?

In fact, if you research DRM, you will see that Apple and iTunes regularly alter the DRM applied to digital downloads just to prevent folks from being able to break it. Why? Because they are, in my opinion, more worried about keeping their suppliers happy than they are their customers.

But the real issue in this is simple. When we buy an e-book or a song or album, a movie or game in digital format, what are we buying? If you ask most consumers, we are buying the book or song or album, etc. In other words, we are buying basically the same thing as we’d be getting if we were to go out and buy the printed book or the DVD/CD, etc. But if you ask Apple, etc., we aren’t buying the actual book, etc. We are buying a license to read or listen or play the title. That’s it. All the boilerplate and legal jargon in the terms of service we have to agree to confirms this.

And this is where things get sticky.

Let’s go back to the issue Willis has raised. He’s spent thousands of dollars on titles from iTunes. He could have spent that money buying tapes and CDs and vinyl. If he had, there’d be no question about him being able to bequeath those titles to his daughters upon his death. But, because he bought them as digital downloads from iTunes, he can’t. Oh, he can leave them his devices that are tied to his account and that have had the music/videos/e-books downloaded to them. But that is a short-term solution at best. For one, upon his death, his account will be terminated. That means no more downloads, no more tying of devices to that account, etc. So, unless the items are currently downloaded onto some device at the time of account termination, they are gone and there will be no way to retrieve them. If those devices that are loaded with his titles fail or are lost, etc., those titles are gone. They can’t be downloaded again.

Okay, I can hear someone out there saying that, had he backed up his purchases, then we wouldn’t have this problem. The problem with that argument is that not all titles are “burnable”. Plus, with the DRM, you’d have to have the “keys” to be able to break it and load it onto another device.

When we buy a book in printed format or we buy a CD or DVD, whether it be a game or a movie or music, we “own” it. We can keep it, throw it away, give it away, will it to someone after our death. Sure, publishers and others don’t necessarily like it, but that’s the way it is. The fact that digital downloads are looked at as “licenses” blows my mind. Folks, licenses have strings attached. It means we don’t own something we have paid good money for. Frankly, it is an insult to consumers.

I cannot and will not tell anyone to void their contract with a seller or to violate the law by breaking DRM. However, I can and will suggest you look at where you buy your digital content and determine if you are really buying the content or only renting it. Yes, that’s how I look at the licensing of digital content. If I can’t do with it as I wish, if I can’t at least back it up without having to jump through hoops that can get me into trouble, I don’t own it.

Okay, Apple isn’t going to disappear any time in the immediate future nor is Amazon. So my digital purchases with them are probably safe. Of course, if they have major server blow-ups, it might be unavailable for awhile. Still, the unforeseen does happen. I want to control my purchases and not have that control dictated to me.

So, back to Willis. If he decides to actually go through with suing Apple, will he win? Probably not. For one thing, he’d have to bring in any publishers, musicians, etc., who put the titles up for sale through iTunes to begin with. Rich he may be, but he doesn’t have the almost bottomless pockets for a legal campaign Apple does. But he has brought up something we should all be thinking about and talking about.

To paraphrase the definition, a contract is an agreement between two or more people or entities where someone promises value for benefit. The value in this case is money. The benefit is the digital content. However, is it really a benefit if you don’t own it and can’t do with it as you wish? In other words, why are we agreeing to less of a benefit when we purchase a digital version of something we can buy for the same price, or less, in physical form?

UPDATE:

Just minutes after posting the above, I came across this article. It seems folks in the know have said that Apple and four publishers are willing to make concessions with the EU to bring an end to the price fixing investigation/litigation overseas. These concessions allegedly include allowing sites such as Amazon to sell e-books at a discount for two years. Hmm….sort of sounds like what the Justice Department is requiring here and that these same parties are refusing. It will be interesting to see what happens and how it impacts the proceedings here.