Tag Archives: DRM

Most of us are amateurs and thieves if you listen to some folks

Last week, I wondered if we were in a perpetual full moon phase because of all the craziness that seemed to be going on. Little did I know that the craziness was just beginning. In the time since that post went live, we’ve seen an author on Amazon taking the fight to reviewers because they didn’t like his book, another author going on a rant because of another writer’s politics and espousing the fact that you aren’t a “professional writer” if you self-publish on Amazon and then the latest from HarperCollins, once again proving that legacy publishers look at their customers as thieves. Foolishness, just foolishness with a sense of entitlement thrown in.

Starting from the top. . . .

For years, Sarah and I have inflicted on our friends and people we’ve done workshops with a certain book we found at an RWA conference. This book has been an example of not one what you shouldn’t do as a writer but also the fact that publishers will buy bad books and put money behind them, making them successful enough to become a series. While the book isn’t Eye of Argon bad, it comes close. So close, in fact, that I never thought to find one worse. Until we were introduced to a book in the Diner on Facebook. From a cover the author worked on for years but which screams amateur to poorly written prose, it is a prime example of why you always check the preview samples before buying a book.

That, in and of itself, wouldn’t be enough to cause comment here. What does is the behavior of the author himself. Ten reviews have been posted since the book was first published. The average rating for the book is two stars. Now, that’s not all that unusual. You can find bad books on Amazon and other retailers without much difficulty. Where this one differs is what happens with the reviews. This is the first time I have seen so many comments regarding the posted reviews. The author continues to try to refute the bad reviews — heck, he even tries to refute anything negative that might be in the good reviews — to the point that it goes beyond just being invested in what is obviously a story he believes in. His straw arguments are that you can’t review a book unless you buy it and read all of it. This comes after he has invited folks to read the first five chapters — or the preview on Amazon — and post what they think.

When that argument doesn’t work, he either completely ignores the specific critiques or he chooses one obscure point a reviewer has made and latches onto that with a death grip in an attempt to prove the critic has an agenda he is working and that is why he didn’t like the book. The accusations from the author have ranged from envy because he is such a good writer and the critic will never be able to write a book to the critic not being smart enough to understand what he was striving for in the book (mind you, this is a book the author says is for children) to religious bias and, quite possibly some sort of global conspiracy. He comes across as condescending and more than a bit “off”. That is never good when it comes to engaging with your readers.

As tempting as it is to respond to negative reviews and to try to explain why you wrote something the way you did, don’t. Just don’t. It isn’t going to help you any and it will drive you crazy trying to keep up with reviews and, worse, trying to make everyone happy. Write your own book, pull up your big boy — or girl — pants and take your lumps. There is going to be someone who leaves a review that has you scratching your head and wondering if they read the same book you wrote. Move on to your next project after you finish the first one instead of trying to guard the gate and defend it against the naysayers. If you just have to defend it, don’t, absolutely do not, claim that some unnamed person who holds some super important job that is so important you can’t name the job or the employer or the person himself read you book and loved it. The moment you do, you will be called on it.

As I said, pull up your big boy pants, kiss your darling book goodbye and send it off into the world to sink or swim.

In the next example of what not to do, don’t go onto Facebook or other social media to rant and rave — and, in the process, show your own fear of the changing face of publishing. In this particular example, an author ranted that they would have loved to join a professional writers group but for the organizer’s politics. The tone left no doubt that the organizer — who at least wasn’t named in the rant — was a wrong thinker and didn’t follow the current cause du jour of traditional publishing. My first thought as I read the rant was to wonder if the author put the same sort of requirement on authors they read as they obviously did on authors they might network with. For myself, as a reader, I don’t give a flying rat’s hairy butt what an author’s politics are as long as they don’t hit me over the head with them in their books.

But that wasn’t what really bothered me about this author’s comments. What did was the comment that you can’t be a professional author if you self-publish on Amazon.

That brought the whole potential for understanding that they were having a bad day and maybe had a history with the group leader that hadn’t been detailed in the rant. Nope, the comment about indies was a slap in the face not only to me but to every author who has taken advantage of the new opportunities provided by Amazon and other e-tailers. It also indicates that this particular author is still buying in to the arguments of traditional publishers that the reading public still needs gatekeepers. It also forgets that these same publishers have abdicated much of the gatekeeping responsibilities to agents who are now, in all too many cases, acting as competitors to publishers because they have their own publishing imprints.

Since the first of the year, I have made more from indie publishing than I would have received as an advance from a traditional publisher — assuming they didn’t see me as the next Stephen King or Nora Roberts. I know others who have made much more than I have. Indie authors have been able to quit their day jobs and work as writers full time. But, according to the ranting author, we aren’t professionals because we haven’t made our bones in the traditional way.

Sorry, but I’ll take indie publishing over almost every traditional publisher. I’ve seen how much work authors who are still traditionally published have to do to make sure their books are of the quality they want. Some hire outside editors and proofreaders because they know they can’t trust the editing and proofing that comes out of the publishing house. Almost all authors do their own promotion and spend their own money to do so, despite assurances from their publishers that they will take care of promotion. It is a lie, in almost every time.

I’ll settle for doing all that and keeping most of the money made from my sales. I’ll proudly wear the label of indie and call myself a professional writer. I don’t care that SFWA has yet to figure out what to do about indies who are making more money and accruing more sales than many of their so-called professional author members. As a reader, I’ll remember the words of those same so-called professionals who trash other writers simply because they chose a different path to get their work out to their readers.

If all that isn’t enough to convince you that the inmates are still trying to run the asylum, this last bit might. HarperCollins has decided that it isn’t enough to add DRM to its ebooks because, you know, all readers are potential thieves. Now the publisher is going to add a digital watermark to its ebooks so there will be an “additional layer of security”. The explanation offered is that HC wants to make sure the etailers it uses to sell its ebooks overseas are using the highest security possible. However, this new technology will allow HC to know if someone has illegally downloaded a book. Any bets on how long it will be before HC sends its first cease and desist letter to a reader? If you don’t want to place a bet on that, how about on how long it will take for the geeks to figure out a way to break that level of encryption as well as the standard DRM?

I don’t know about you, but I hate DRM. I hate being treated like a crook by people I’m paying money to. Of course, the whole thing boils down to the simple fact that publishers, on the whole, don’t believe ebooks are “real” books. That why they sell “licenses” for their ebooks and why they fight against the mere suggestion of the customer being able to sell an ebook after reading it.

And they wonder why people look for plug-ins and programs to break DRM and why we read as many indie books as we do.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m ready for the grown ups — or at least someone with some common sense and an understanding of basic economics and the theory of supply and demand — to take over the industry. I’m tired of the tantrums and the digging in of heels and the denial that things need to change. This is a situation where the industry is broken and it does need to change and adapt if it is to survive.

70 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

I’m a hack and proud of it

Yesterday a link popped out at me on Facebook that had me shaking my head. It’s a Q&A with Harlan Ellison. I’ll admit feeling a wide range of emotions as I read it: incredulity, frustration, anger and once or twice agreement. But, more often than not, my head exploded, at least metaphorically speaking, on a couple of occasions. I know the man relishes his role as trouble-maker. But he also shows, in my opinion, just how out of touch he is not only with the current state of the industry but also with the reading public as a whole.

As you go through the interview, you’ll come to a question where Ellison is asked what he thinks about writers giving away their work for free. He had this to say:

I think any writer who gives away his work demeans himself, demeans the craft, demeans the art, and demeans the buyer. It is not only caveat emptor, it is caveat lector. I don’t mean to be crude when I say this, but I won’t take a piss unless I’m paid properly.

Yep, that boom you heard was my head exploding.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to be paid for my work. Writing is work, hard work, as anyone who is trying to make it in the business will tell you. But there are reasons to give away your work on occasion. It’s called promotion. It is a way to get push and push is a necessary evil in our business. From my own experience, I’ve seen sales increase after putting a title up for free for a few days on Amazon. Sure, I’d love to get paid for every free download. But I see the end result: all my titles selling better for at least a while after the give away of one title. More than that, look at the example of the Baen Free Library. That is an example of just how free can work to propel whole series.

Ellison goes on to say this:

. . . that’s what writers are supposed to do, afflict the contented. But most of them don’t. Most of them just want to tell a story, and I guess that’s a noble endeavour in and of itself, to tell a story. Storytellers can be teachers, like Aristotle, or they can just be storytellers like – I don’t know, who’s writing the trash these days? I don’t know who’s writing trash over there where you are, but whoever it is, you pick the name, put it in for me.

Aren’t we just full of ourselves? Under Ellison’s criteria, I write trash and am, therefore, a hack. Why? Because I’m not out there to cause trouble with my work or to “afflict the contented”. Not every book or story has to do that, at least not in my opinion. I’d much rather write an entertaining book with characters my readers care for — and, along the way give my characters traits that are admirable or, in the case of the villain, not so much — than to beat the reader over the head with some message. There are times when subtlety can be much more effective than a sledgehammer.

But then, I am one of those who write the trash Ellison condemns.

But, as with all things, there are levels of trash — or trashy. If you haven’t seen the latest in the dangers of having your work plagiarized, check out this post. And check out how the culprit reacted. Let me put it this way, she’s lucky she didn’t steal something of mine and put her name on it. If I’d have found out, being called out on Twitter and other social media sites would be the least of her worry. I have a lawyer and I’m not afraid of using him.

Finally, in the lowest of low trash — DRM — there is this story. As a reader, I hate DRM. I like being able to buy a book and loan it to my mother or my son. They have their own e-readers and their own accounts for the e-readers. I can buy a hard copy of a book and do that. So why can’t I do that with an e-book, especially when that e-book costs almost as much as the printed version?

As an author, this potential new DRM appalls me. The program will change words in the manuscript — yep, you got that right. It will change the words I wrote as the the author — to be able to track an e-book back to its original owner. One example given in the article is that the word “invisible” could be changed to “not visible”. That change could be huge, depending on the context and flow of the sentence and paragraph. It can make a sentence that flows into something clunky enough to startle the reader out of the story.

It can also change the order of words in a sentence.

WTF?!?

Any publisher who applies this sort of DRM to a book deserves to be flogged not only by the readers buying the book but also by the author. So, authors, keep your eyes open and make sure your publishers are not going to this new tech. For the love of Pete, if you value your work, don’t let this happen to it.

And if anyone believes legacy publishers are finally beginning to see the light about DRM and understand that it is nothing more than an expensive but hated and ineffective means to prevent piracy, read the last paragraph of the article. Publishers have expressed an interest in this new technology because they’ve learned that standard DRM can be broken. So they want to find a way to lock down e-books even more.

Bastiches.

61 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Remember your audience

Yesterday I found myself in different situations where writing and editing were impossible. Too many distractions and too many things on my mind. Between problems with the HVAC at home, news that my aunt (a very special woman) had passed away and the mundane matters of life, work just wasn’t happening. So I found myself watching the live streams from E3. For those of you who aren’t gamers, E3 is the annual trek to the holiest of holies for gamers. It’s where game developers and console makers reveal new products, show real time game play and basically hawk their wares in an attempt to increase sales for the upcoming year. It is, in short, the video game industry’s version of Book Expo.

But one thing struck me over and over again as I watched the different presentations: certain aspects of the gaming industry are suffering from the same problems as publishing. There were questions about DRM and pricing and on and on. Piracy, while not every specifically mentioned, was clearly an issue, as was the issue of whether a digital game, even if in the form of a DVD, was something that could be owned and then sold or given away.

Representing the Old Guard (or in publishing terms, the legacy publishers) was Microsoft. It took the stage first and should have made a huge bang. Instead, at least in my opinion, it made a mere splash. Sure, their new console, the XBOX One, looked great. The video of in-game play was good, but with very few exceptions nothing awe-inspiring. But, where they let the ball drop big time was in the area of DRM. Just like publishers who load DRM into their e-books, Microsoft is doing the same. But not just with their games, but with the console as well. If you own an XBOX One, you will have to go online at least once a day and “check-in” to authenticate your system. Don’t do it and it doesn’t matter if you have a physical disc for your game. Your system won’t work.

Think about it. You have this expensive gaming console (the announced price is $499) and you move. You won’t have your internet service set up for a week. You have all these games you’ve bought but you can’t play any of them because your console is basically a brick due to the fact you don’t have internet and can’t check in with Big Brother Microsoft.

But that’s not the only time Microsoft punted. Gamers, like readers, are used to being able to buy a game, play it, take it up to the game store and sell it or trade it in for credit. We trade games amongst friends. But Microsoft doesn’t like that. So, with the new console, that’s all going to come to a stop. You will be able to loan your game to someone — once — and only with restrictions. Sell that game? Nope. Trade it? Nope. At least not unless something changes.

Does this sound familiar? Think e-books. Think about how publishers aren’t remembering who their target audience is.

Then, coming later in the day, was Sony with its announcement concerning the new PS4. Sony played it smart. First, it was clear from the beginning they had listened, and listened closely, to the Microsoft announcement. It took time to discuss how it wasn’t completely pulling the plug on consoles already in the hands of consumers. New games for the PS3 and their handheld console were discussed. While Sony reps talked some about entertainment options like movies and music, that wasn’t the push. They remembered who their audience was and where most of their sales would come from and focused on the games and gaming.

And they came through, at least so far. No daily authentication. If you own game discs you won’t ever have to go online if you don’t want to. Sure, there are benefits to going online and joining their network, but it isn’t required. Okay, for those who play MMOs or mutliplayer games, you will have to have the online connection but that’s a given.

You can also sell your games or trade them or loan them to your friends. Microsoft was never called out by name but the reference was clear.

And the audience ate it up.

Sony won, hands down, in the presentation because it remembered who the target audience was and it listened to concerns prior to the reveal.

That’s something publishers still refuse to do, at least the larger houses. It is one of the many reasons why publishing is in the state it’s in now. Why else are self-published e-book sales 12% of the e-book market? It’s probably larger because of the way the reports were compiled. The answer to that is simple: authors who self-published and small presses like NRP are writing and publishing e-books people want to read.

Want to read. That’s the key and it means listening to what readers say, not trying to tell them what they ought to read.

It’s why science fiction, especially military scifi, is selling as well as it in digital formats. Not only is it a good story but it usually doesn’t cast humans as inherently evil, especially the male of the species. The story is key, not the politically correct message.

Look, I don’t care what your philosophy is if you write a good story. There are ways to put your beliefs into a book without beating the reader over the head with them. Read Sarah or Dave for excellent examples about how to do that. But no one is going to read, really read, your work if the story doesn’t keep them interested. Don’t believe me, remember all those books you had to read in school that were boring or so depressing you wanted to toss them against the wall. You read them — or the Cliff Notes for them — because you had to, not because you wanted to.

So, remember you audience. They are the ones who buy your books. Write for them and for yourselves, not for the out of touch editors in their gilded offices.

20 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

28 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Baen E-Books Now Available Through Amazon

Last week, Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books announced that she’d inked a deal to bring Baen e-books to Amazon. This has been a deal long in the works and one that will broaden Baen’s digital exposure. In my opinion, this is a necessary move for Baen, the pioneer in e-books, if it wants to continue leading the digital revolution. Most of all, I applaud Toni for not only inking this deal but for increasing author royalties for e-book sales, something she couldn’t have done had she kept their digital sales limited to just the Baen e-books site.

As a bit of background, Jim Baen, founder of Baen Books, began selling e-books more than a decade ago. When he did, there was no Kindle or Nook or iPad. E-books were in their infancy and most everyone in the publishing industry not only thought Jim was more than a bit crazy to be embracing the technology so early on but condemned him for doing so at low cost per title and for refusing to infuse the books with DRM. After Jim’s death, Toni continued expanding Baen’s digital library. Not only are new titles being offered each month but so are backlist titles, including books by such “masters” of science fiction as Heinlein.

Fast forward to the age of the Kindle, Nook and tablets. Amazon opened the Kindle store and others followed suit. Most publishers, as they began realizing e-books were selling and were not going to disappear in a sudden flash, signed deals with Amazon and Barnes & Noble (and later Apple) to sell their e-books. Without going through the entire agency pricing ongoing debate and debacle, these e-books were initially offered at prices that rarely exceeded $9.99. That price was for the so-called “best sellers” and new releases. As a book went from hard cover to soft cover, the prices dropped and all were basically happy. $9.99 became the price point most e-book purchases were willing to pay for new releases, especially of their favorite authors.

Add to that the ease and convenience of simply turning on your e-reading device or smart phone with its app, going to the Kindle store (or Nook, etc) and finding a book, buying it and having it delivered almost instantaneously to your device and you had some very happy readers. Then the ability to preview a book was added so you could download a sample before having to commit any funds to buying a book. It was just about perfect.

For various reasons, and I am not privy to them, Baen Books was not able to get into the Kindle Store until now. That meant it was missing out on a resource that cut deeply into potential sales. People would go to Amazon or BN and look up their favorite Baen author and find physical copies of the books available but no e-books. Nothing on the product page pointed them to the Baen e-book store. Threads would occasionally pop up asking why Baen wasn’t selling digital copies of their books and, occasionally, someone would point the person asking the question to the Baen site where e-books could be bought.

Folks started asking Toni on Baen’s Bar when Baen would start selling e-books through other sites. For more than a year she’s been telling folks to be patient. She was working on it.

Then, several weeks ago, she warned everyone to download and back up anything they might want that was currently offered through Baen’s Free Library. Speculation started flying then about what might be about to happen. More warnings were issued, including cryptic ones alluding to a big announcement about to come. Even with all this, there were cries of “foul” when the Free Library was gutted and most of the books disappeared.

Those cries turned into roars when Toni made the announcement last week that Baen had entered into an agreement to start selling its e-books through the Kindle store. I’ll be the first to admit that the initial announcement wasn’t worded as well as it could have been. There were some points of confusion, especially about the monthly bundles. But Toni responded quickly, doing her best to answer the questions. And still the uproar continues. Why? Because Baen is dealing with “the Evil Amazon” and because prices are going up.

I thought long and hard about whether to address what folks have been saying about this latest development. After all, as I said earlier, I haven’t been privy to the negotiations. Nor do I particularly want to pick a fight with fellow barflies. However, some of the attacks on this move have been so asinine that I decided something had to be said. So, let’s start with the “sin” of working with Amazon.

Toni has an obligation to the people with a financial stake in Baen to make the most money possible for the company. That means making sure Baen books are available in as many outlets as possible. No one argues with the fact that Baen’s hard copy books are in the Amazon store. In fact, if you log onto Baen’s Bar and read through the various threads, you’ll see that some of those complaining about selling e-books through Amazon are more than happy to buy the hard copy versions of the books there because they can buy them at lower than cover cost. But Amazon is evil.

The truth of the matter is, Baen needs to be in the Kindle store — just as it needs to be in the Nook store and iTunes, etc — to expand its digital footprint. Most potential customers looking for a book in one of these venues will simply look for another book and not leave the app they are using to go to the Baen e-bookstore. It’s foolish in this day and age not to have your e-books available in the same outlets where your hard copy books are being sold.

Oh, and before anyone starts screaming about DRM, there will be no DRM attached to e-books sold through Amazon. So there is no change there.

Folks are upset because this means there will be an increase in the cost of Baen e-books. Okay, I’d like to see the e-books stay at the same price, but the fact remains there hasn’t been a jump in cost in something like 10 years. It’s past time for Baen to increase the price of their e-books. The argument that the new price of $9.99 is the same, or less, than would be paid for a paperback doesn’t fly. For one thing, that $9.99 price is for new releases — exactly what the pricing used to be on Amazon before agency pricing. Toni has also assured the ‘flies that the pricing will decrease as mmpb versions of books are released. So, if you don’t want to pay that much for your e-book, don’t. Wait six months and pay the lower price. No one is saying you have to pay that price. It is up to you if you want to buy a single title when it first comes out.

Then there’s the upset about what this does to the monthly bundles. Because of the rule Amazon — and every other major e-book outlet — has about not selling e-books at a lower price elsewhere, the monthly bundles are having to evolve. Basically what is happening is you can still buy the bundles for the very good price of $18. However, those bundles disappear around the 15th of the month before the e-books become available for sale on Amazon or elsewhere (I may be slightly off on when they disappear, but this is my understanding). The impact of this is that you can no longer go back and buy a bundle for a previous month nor can you wait for the entire e-book to be available before buying the bundle.

Oh the cries of “foul” this has caused.

Look, folks, get a grip. Toni and the rest of the folks at Baen have to worry about how to expand their sales. Publishing is in a time of transition. Every publisher is fighting to find more customers. No longer is it enough to simply work to keep the customers you have. This move to Amazon, while it does mean a modest increase in prices — especially if you wait for the initial price to go down — is well worth it if it means Baen not only continues to thrive in the future but can continue to bring us quality science fiction and fantasy titles.

I guess what really got to me in the various threads attacking this move was the accusation that Toni had basically betrayed everything Jim stood for. Here is where I call bullshit. What is she doing? Expanding Baen’s digital presence. Insuring her authors have a wider platform to sell their books — which means more money for them and for Baen.

Look, you don’t want to pay $9.99 for a single title? Then find the bundle that new title will be offered in and buy it. For $18 you will get that book and at least one other new title as well as at least three reprints. That’s a pretty damned good deal in my opinion.

Before someone starts saying that I’ve changed my stance on e-book pricing, I haven’t. $9.99 has always been the price point I’ve been willing to pay for new release books by certain authors. It’s when an e-book is more than that where I have problems.

And don’t give me the “it doesn’t cost as much to make an e-book” argument. And, yes, that has been tossed out there in response to the announcement as well. No, it doesn’t. But I trust Toni to have gotten the best deal possible for Baen, for her authors and for her readers. No one likes a price increase. However, if this is what it took to get into Amazon, to increase Baen’s e-book presence and make it easier for more readers to find them, I can live with it.

As for the Baen Free Library, that’s been explained as well. Since most of the titles in the free library will be made available for sale through Amazon, they could no longer be offered for free through the Baen site. The solution is a good one: new editions of these books will be put together, something that will make them different from the “for sale” editions. Once these editions are available, they will be uploaded to the Free Library site and made available. It will take some time but, let’s face it, there was nothing mandating Baen offer these titles for free in the first place. It was a good marketing tool for them and Jim — as well as Toni — knew it. So chill and read what you already have on your reader or computer and relax. The free library will be back.

For those of you upset because the Baen CDs “disappeared”, chill out. They aren’t gone. At least not yet. You can still find the iso versions of them through Joe Buckley’s site. The only real difference I’ve seen there is that you can’t browse the books individually nor can you read them online. You can still see what each CD includes and you can download an iso or zip file. So they aren’t gone. At least not yet.

I guess what has really bothered me about all the uproar is the sense of entitlement I’ve seen in so many of the comments. There have been the Amazon haters who have said they will not be buying anything else from Baen because of the new agreement. Others who are upset at the increase on price for new releases so they won’t be buying as many, or any, more e-books. There was even one who said this price increase would lead to more piracy of Baen e-books.

Look, no one is saying you have to buy from Amazon. The Baen e-bookstore isn’t going away. That’s still where I’ll be buying my Baen e-books. You don’t like the increased prices, then wait for the prices to come down. But get the hell off your high horse and give the new agreement a chance.

Most of all, remember that this change helps the authors we have all come to love, including our own Sarah and Dave. By getting Baen e-books into the Kindle store, the potential audience is increased not slightly but greatly. So are their potential royalties.

No one likes change and I’ve never seen anyone who likes price increases. But costs do increase. Prices do raise. At least with these you know they will come down and you can plan accordingly. Sure, it would have been nice if there had been more notice so we could have grabbed past monthly bundles before they became unavailable. Yeah, there should have been a way for PT to have sent out notice to all prior e-book purchasers of the upcoming change and there could have been a warning put up on the Baen site. But, for whatever reason, this wasn’t done. It still shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for those of us who buy Baen e-books.

So, for everyone slinging condemnations at Toni and Baen, get over yourselves. This is something that needed to be done. If it means not putting off buying a bundle, then mark your calendars so you don’t forget. Don’t want to pay $9.99, wait for the price to come down. It will. I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to pay a bit more if it means the authors I enjoy have the chance of selling more books because more books means that author has a better chance of getting another contract with Baen.

34 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Don’t You Just Love . . .

. . . how folks are so quick to jump on the “Amazon is evil bandwagon” without knowing all the facts? In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, the internet was alive yesterday with a story about how evil Amazon had wiped a woman’s kindle without warning or explanation. How dare they!

The basic story, as it was initially described, runs something like this: Linn, a woman who lives in Norway, owns a kindle. She loved her kindle because, since she travels a lot, she had lots of books on it. One day, she tried to read on it and, gee, her kindle content was gone and her account was blocked. So she contacts Amazon to find out what happened and, in a series of e-mails, learns her account has been associated with another that was closed for fraud and, no, Amazon can’t tell her anything more. So sorry, your books are gone and your account closed and there’s nothing you can do. Bye-bye.

Now, I’ll admit if that happened to me, I’d be furious. My first reaction upon reading the article was to wonder “what in the world?” Something just didn’t ring right to me. So I went back and reread the article and the questions starting building.

The first thing I noted was that the blogger reporting the story said that Linn lived in Norway. But, if you look at the supposed e-mails from Amazon, they are from amazon.uk. So, why is she using a U.K. account? Assuming Amazon UK has the same rules as Amazon US, you have to have an address and bank account in that country to be able to have an account there. So, was Linn using someone else’s address? If so, she was in violation of their terms of service.

The second thing I wondered was why she was using e-mail to try to figure out what had happened. On an associated thought, was to wonder if she was contacting the general Amazon UK customer support email address or the one associated only with kindle support. The problem with the information given in the reporting blog is that we don’t see the email address used for Amazon, so we don’t know. Then, frankly, I wondered why she wasn’t on the phone to customer support because that’s the first thing I’d have done. (I’ll admit, here I’m assuming Amazon UK has a “call me now” option like the US kindle support does.)

There were so many questions raised as I reread the article that I knew there had to be more to the story than we were getting. The problem was that the internet had picked up the story and was running with it — and all the Amazon haters were coming out and blaming Amazon without knowing all the facts.

My very first reaction, after one of general disbelief, was to wonder if Linn had backed up her purchases and, if not, why. When I’d posed this question on one of the conferences I follow, an author (who should know better but who has shown that they are in the general Amazon is evil ilk) responded with how there were a lot of reasons why: it was a pain to do, she might not know how, she might not have time, it doesn’t matter.

After I stopped laughing, all I could do was shake my head. Backing up your digital purchases, no matter where they’re from, is only smart. I’ve lost too many e-books to count over the years (actually early on in the e-book revolution) because they were in an early Adobe format that Adobe no longer supports and I don’t have the keys because I’ve changed computers, hard drives have crashed, etc. I’m not alone in that. So even those books I have that include DRM, are now backed up on multiple media formats. If I want, I can take a few minutes to strip the DRM — not that I’m saying you should do that because that can and is a violation of law in some countries. But it is possible to do and easily so. All you have to do is a quick google search to find out how.

Now, before you start condemning me as an Amazon lover, I’m not saying that I think Amazon is fully correct in the action it took — assuming it did as has been alleged. The kindle owner should have probably been contacted and asked to confirm or disprove the so-called accusations against her. However, I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon to condemn Amazon without knowing all the facts.

And I will ask questions and point out possible inconsistencies with the story — and with the conclusions others are reaching.

The general tenor of the articles reporting this story yesterday was that it was a cautionary tale in how bad DRM is. If Amazon didn’t add DRM then Linn wouldn’t have any problem.

The problem with this is multi-fold. First, we don’t know if any of the books she had on her kindle came from major publishers or indies. Most major publishers — basically all of them except TOR and that’s a new development — add DRM as part of their business model. Remember, their point of view is that customers are inherently crooked and will do all sorts of evil things with their e-books without DRM being added to prevent it. That’s not Amazon’s call. With regard to smaller publishers and authors who use the KDP platform to put their work on Amazon, we’re asked if we want to include DRM. It’s not added automatically.

The second problem I saw was that folks were forgetting that publishers limit where books, and this includes e-books, are sold. If Linn had set up an account in the UK in violation of Amazon’s terms of service and the books she bought weren’t available from those publishers in Norway where she does live, then Amazon is faced with a problem. This territorial limit is a remnant from a time when publishing was only print, but it’s there and it will rear its ugly head from time to time.

The third problem I have is with the assumption that Amazon won’t recompense Linn for her purchases. First of all, we don’t know if the books she had on her kindle were books she’d purchased from Amazon or if she had it loaded with books that had been offered for free. It is possible that she had few, if any, books on it that she’d actually paid for.  For Amazon to basically brick a kindle and deny access to an account — and not give a refund for purchases made on that account — I’d assume it would have a pretty strong case that the account holder had been doing something fraudulent such as using someone else’s credit card. Otherwise, Amazon would be opening itself up to not only a storm of negative publicity like we saw yesterday but also to a law suit.

Note, too, that Amazon is within its rights to delete her account and her kindle content as laid out in its terms of service. Now, it would be nice if it had been more forthcoming with Linn to explain why the action was taken.

Note also the fact that there has been little coverage of two additional “facts” in the story. According to Boing Boing, Linn bought her kindle used, not from Amazon. Also, it is noted in an update that Linn’s account has now been reactivated.

Regarding buying the kindle used, that is inherently problematical for any device that has to log into an account to get online content. If you buy a kindle second hand, you run the risk of buying a unit that has been linked with an account that violates
Amazon’s TOS. It’s the same sort of risk you run in buying a used XBOX 360 or other latest gen gaming system. If the unit has been red flagged, then you are SOL.

As for Linn’s account being reactivated, I hope it’s true and I hope we will eventually get an explanation of what happened and why. My guess is that it is a combination of issues and that she got caught in the middle of actually being in violation of Amazon’s TOS and possibly buying a kindle that had been used by someone who had been blocked by Amazon. But none of that really deals with the issue at the heart of this matter.

The bloggers who have been so quick to pillory Amazon are right. This story points out the problem with e-books: that we are buying a license only when we buy an e-book. But they are wrong when they say this is something that Amazon does. Sorry, but for the major publishers — you know, those publishers who are being sued by the Department of Justice for price fixing  and  others who have followed in their footsteps and have implemented agency model pricing — they don’t want to sell the e-book. They will proudly and loudly tell you that they are selling only a license to read the book. Why? For the same reason they add DRM. They are afraid you might go out and give the e-book away or sell it and they might lose a sale.

Is this something that needs to be fixed? Hell yeah. If we allow our readers, our customers, to buy a hard copy of a book and then give it away or sell it, we should allow them to do the same with e-b0oks. Frankly, if we did that, we’d be helping ourselves. Publishers should look at such gifts and second sales as loss leaders because that’s what they are. They can help encourage readers to find new authors and buy new books. The problem is that publishers don’t think that something you can’t hold in your hands is real. But then, those same publishers tend to believe authors are only a small part of the process that makes a book. Otherwise, authors would get a fairer percentage of the sales.

So, instead of pillorying Amazon over something about which we don’t know all the details, focus instead on the real issue — the fact that publishers are only selling us a license to read their books. Licenses can be revoked — and not just by Amazon or any other e-tailer. And, if you don’t believe me, go read their terms of service.  You’ll find there is very little difference between the TOS for Apple, Amazon, BN, Kobo and the Sony Store when it comes to the “appropriate” use of e-books and your duties as the purchaser.

(Cross–posted to Nocturnal Lives)

11 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized