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Posts Tagged ‘DRM’

I want to start by thanking Glenn Reynolds for the link to yesterday’s blog and welcome all his readers from Instapundit.  Pull up a chair, relax and enjoy your favorite virtual cup of coffee or other morning beverage.

It still amazes me how publishers and agents can cry foul when Amazon — or any other entity for that matter — encroaches on what they see as their territory.  It amazes me because it truly shows just how disconnected the legacy publishers and others are from the realities brought on by new technology and the change in reader demands.  Right now, these publishers are crying “foul!” because Amazon is trying to make them unnecessary in the road to publication.  They say they offer so many things of value to the writer, and the reading public, that Amazon and others can’t.  But, as I said yesterday, these very same benefits they tout are the ones they gave up on long ago:  quality editing and proofreading, formatting, promotion, etc.  This is especially true when it comes to e-books, the same e-books these publishers say cost as much to produce as the hard copy that is being released at the same time.  I could go one, but my friend Dave Freer has said it much more eloquently than I can over at Mad Genius Club.

What I do know is that legacy publishers are cutting their own throats, especially when it comes to the e-book market.  I’m not just talking price here, even though the majority of people don’t want to pay the same price for an e-book that they do for a hard cover and most of them don’t even want to pay the price of a paperback for an e-book.  Nor can I blame them, especially not when the legacy publishers view the e-book not as a book at all, but as a license.  They fill the e-book with DRM, which is expensive to the publisher and insulting to the reader/customer.  With DRM, you are limited to the type and number of devices you can read the book on.  Try to read it on an unsupported device and you can’t.  Want to break DRM, you’re called a pirate by the publishers.  Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy toward those publishers, doesn’t it?

These same publishers say they are paying extra, a lot extra if you believe them, to convert that next best seller into an e-book.  If that’s the case, I’d expect there to be no problems with the formatting or layout of the e-book and I’d sure as heck expect it to have been proofread so there are no misspellings, etc.  Guess what, it’s more than likely that you’ll find errors in the e-book.  For some reason, they seem to pop off the screen at you much more than they do off the printed page.  At least they do for me.  I’ve even checked printed versions of books when I’ve found errors in the kindle version and, yep, those errors are on the printed page as well.  I’m not talking indie books here.  I’m talking books printed by the big six publishers.  so where’s that wonderful quality control they’re talking about?

But it isn’t all gloom and doom in publishing.  I was pleased this morning to see the news that there will be two publishers focusing on books for middle grade kids.  The first is from Algonquin and will focus on the YA and middle grade markets and is expected to debut the end of next year.  While I wish it was happening soon, I’m thrilled to see anyone who knows there is a hole in the middle grade market and wants to fill it.  I just hope they fill it with books that are fun to read — and that therefore encourage kids to read them — instead of books that are all “socially relevant” and written in styles that send the kids running from them just as fast as they can.

The second is the one that really excites me because it is aimed at boys.  I’ve gotten so tired of hearing that boys don’t read.  They do.  These people who are supposedly in the know might be surprised if they climbed down from their ivory towers and actually looked at what middle grade boys.  The problem hasn’t been that they don’t read.  It’s that they haven’t had nearly enough well-written and FUN books to read.  It’s my hope that this new venture will provide just that.  At least Move Books’ slogan is encouraging: “Moving Boys to Read”.  Eileen Robinson, publisher of Move Books, gets it, in my opinion.  Here’s what she had to say about how her nine year old son was inspiration for this new venture: “He struggled as a reader, and it was difficult to find books that would grab his attention, make him laugh, and make him want to read on his own. . . He and his friends seem to be drawn more to nonfiction, and like a lot of boys, they tend to read for information more than for pleasure. I am hoping that the novels Move Books publishes will provide that pleasure, and will encourage boys to pick them up rather than turn to a video game.” Well said, Ms. Robinson.  Well said.

So, here’s a hat tip to those who recognize the need to encourage our middle schoolers, especially the boys, to read.  And here’s a swift kick in the pants to those publishers and agents who seem to think we can put the genie back in the bottle and go back to publishing like it was fifty years ago.

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As most of you know, everyone involved with NRP is very anti-DRM.  We feel that it is an insult to our readers because all DRM says is that a publisher or an author doesn’t trust the reader.  We also feel that you, the reader, should be able to read the e-book you just purchased on any e-reader you own.  Finally, we feel that adding DRM to an e-book is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.  It simply eggs on folks to try to break it and then, once they have, to offer it for free to others who haven’t paid for the book.

So, do we like piracy?  No.  If we find out that a site is offering our titles without permission, we will go after them.  After all, we’re here to make money for our authors.  However, we also know that a little bit of piracy is inevitable and, frankly, it is promotion.  The vast majority of people who read e-books are honest.  If they read an unauthorized version of one of our titles, they’ll go out and find the legitimate title and buy it or they’ll buy more titles by that author.  So it’s a win situation for us and for our authors.

What is worse, in my opinion, is what happened over on fanfiction.net recently (and this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, nor will it be the last).  Basically, Cynthia Eden was notified by a number of fans that her book, Deadly Heat, had shown up on the site in the guise of fanfic.  Oh the names had been changed — to Edward and Bella — but that was basically all.  The so-called author of this piece of Twilight fanfic also changed the POV from third to first AND — and this is where I can understand Ms. Eden getting a bit hot under the collar — acknowledged that the names of Edward and Bella belong to Meyer and the Twilight franchise but that she meant not copyright infringement.  Note that she said nothing about the book she plagiarized.

You can read more about this on Ms. Eden’s blog and this post on PW.com.

Plagiarism is the bane — and greatest fear — of most authors.  We work long and hard to write a novel.  It’s so much more than just sitting down at the computer and writing.  In a lot of ways, it’s like giving birth.  To then find that someone has taken it, filed off a few of the identifiers and claimed it as their own is enough to send us screaming into the night.  It doesn’t matter that this was posted on a fanfic site.  You’d be surprised how many people — people who buy books — read these sites.  Can you imagine how they’d react if they paid for the novel that had been plagiarized — after they’d read the so-called piece of fanfic?

All it takes is one reader saying in the right forum that author A stole a plot from a fanfic site and claimed it as her own.  The damage is done because someone else is bound to pick up the thread and spread it.  Even thought the author is the one who had her plot ripped off by the fanfic poster, it is the author who will have to defend her work against the cries of plagiarism.  After all, how many times do we compare the date of fanfic post to the publication date of a book or short story?

According to Ms. Eden, the fanfic poster has taken down the plagiarized piece, noting that it was an “experiment”.  Sorry, I buy that explanation no more than Ms. Eden appears to.  I’d like to give the fanfic poster the benefit of the doubt, but the fact that she made the disclaimer about Twilight and yet remained silent about the true basis of the work speaks volumes.  At least to me.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against fanfic.  I’ve been known to write it, as have a number of authors.  It is a wonderful way to hone our craft and have fun doing it.  But the key here is that you have to “write” it.  That means coming up with the idea, the plot, following canon — or having a darned good reason for breaking it — and putting your own spin onto it.  It’s not just changing the names and POV of someone else’s work.

Whether the plagiarized work is offered for sale or simply put up for free on fanfic sites, it is still plagiarism.  Worse, it’s stealing.  The poster has stolen another person’s hard work and is stealing their credit.  Instead of taking the time to go through and file off the literary serial numbers, spend that time and effort to write your own story.  It’s a lot more fun.

Cross-posted to The Naked Truth.

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Back in January, I posed this question over on The Naked Truth. I thought it might be time to look at the question again, especially in light of Random House’s decision to go with the agency model, the inquiries into whether or not the agency model is legal — not only here but in Great Britain — and Australia’s decision that it is NOT legal (Way to, OZ!). So, with your indulgence, here’s the post from January, with a few additional comments or edits.

What is a Book?

According to Jeffrey Matthews (vp for corporate strategy for Scholastic), “That’s the $64 million question.”

It is also a question the publishing industry — publishers and authors alike — can’t seem to agree upon. Ten years ago, it was easy to answer that question. A book was, well, a book. It was something you could walk into a bookstore or your public library and hold, take home and read. You bought a book you liked and read it, sometimes many times. You loaned it to your friends and family — often with threats of violence if they didn’t return it. You could sell it to used bookstores for a bit of pocket cash (of course, if you did and then someone else bought the book, the author didn’t get any more money from it).

Now it’s not quite so simple to answer that question. A number of publishers feel a book is still a book — that physical incarnation of an author’s words into print. Print being the operative word. E-books have thrown a wrench into the works and the industry simply hasn’t figured out how to respond. This includes publishers, agents and writers.

That’s one of the reasons we find so many publishers applying DRM to their e-books. Not understanding that doing so is like telling a recalcitrant child “no”, publishers say they have to apply DRM to their e-books to protect them from piracy. They don’t stop to think that that merely waves a red flag saying, “I bet you can’t find a way to break our code.” Guess what, that’s a challenge and what happens when you issue a challenge? It’s usually taken up. Don’t believe me, simply google “how to break DRM” and see how many hits you get and how many verified codes using Python and other programs there are.

DRM does something else. It adds to the cost of e-books. And, honestly, there will always be people out there who will post digital versions of books online for free. Their reasons vary. Some do it because, in their countries, the books may not be available in digital — and sometimes even in print — formats. Some do it because, as noted above, it’s a challenge and they hate being told they can’t do something. But digital piracy isn’t limited to books released in digital formats. If I remember correctly, the last Harry Potter book — none of which have been legitimately released as e-books — was online as a PDF e-book before the book hit the shelves. So, how did applying DRM to a digital file help prevent piracy?

But there is another reason people break DRM on e-books. A book that is “protected” by DRM is tied to a certain type of device. For example, if you by a DRM’d e-book through Amazon, it is tied to the kindle or kindle apps. It’s the same with B&N and the nook, etc. But worse, there is a limit on how many compatible devices the e-book can be downloaded to. Say you have a family of three. Every one of them have a kindle and they have the kindle app for their laptops or smart phones, etc. That’s at least 6 potential forms of tech that e-book can be read on. But, wait. There’s a hitch. The publisher has limited the number of devices to 4. So Junior can’t read that book on his smart phone because it is already registered to the maximum number of devices. That’s like telling me I can only read a physical book in four of six rooms in my house. Sorry, but I bought it, I should be able to read it when and where I want — and on whatever device I have with me at the time.

And this brings me to the question posed in the title of this post. What is a book?

This is a question those of us involved with Naked Reader Press asked ourselves long before we opened our digital doors. We’d seen interviews with publishers who hold that a book is only the physical incarnation of an author’s work. Under this definition, those of us who buy e-books aren’t buying the book. Instead, we are only buying a license to read the author’s work in a certain digital format. DRM is their way of enforcing this by preventing us from doing with digital books what we can with physical ones — loan them, sell them, donate them. Even so, these same publishers who are so adamant about limiting our access to these e-books — and if you don’t believe me, buy an e-book using Adobe Digital Editions and try to read it on a machine that isn’t tied to that specific Adobe account — are more than willing to charge us as much or more for the digital version than we’d pay for the paperback copy of the book.

Still, not all publishers feel this way. There are some like Baen Books who believe that, once you buy an e-book, it’s yours. They don’t apply DRM and don’t limit the number of e-readers or computers you can view the e-book on. To them, and to me, a book is made up of the words an author writes. A book can take many forms — physical paper versions, electronic, audio, enhanced, etc. A book is something meant to be enjoyed by readers in whatever form they are most comfortable with.

This divide in thinking may be narrowing. The Nook, and now the Kindle, allow lending of e-books (with publisher approval). Mind you, it’s limited to only being able to lend a book one time, for a period of two weeks. During that two week period, the original purchaser of the e-book cannot access it. There is the option being offered through these sellers for authors and small publishers to bring out their books DRM-free. Guess what, most of them choose no DRM. Why? Because they are selling BOOKS, not licenses.

But publishers are still trying to throw kinks in the works when it comes to e-books. Not too long ago, Harper Collins announced it was going to limit the number of times an e-book can be checked out by a library. According to HC, the magic number is 26. After that time, the title will no longer be available unless the library buys it again. Of course, HC says that it will be at a discounted price, but I’m not holding my breath. Besides, I have a several problems with HC’s reasoning here. First, they say they came up with this magic number because this is the average number of checkouts a physical book goes through before it is pulled from the shelves. This ignores the fact that, if this is true, the library simply cleans and repairs the book and then puts it back into circulation. It’s not removed unless it is lost or destroyed or beyond repair. My next issue is that I can just imagine how ticked I’d be if I happened to be number 27 on the wait list for that e-book, only to be told I couldn’t check it out. Finally, publishers don’t put a limit on the number of times a physical book can be checked out. All they are doing by limited e-books in this manner is once more saying they don’t look at e-books as real books. (For more on this, check out this post and this one.)

So, what is a book? To me, a book is the collection of words, written by an author for readers to read in whatever format they like: hard cover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, digital or enhanced. After all, why should it make a difference if the book is printed on paper or on your computer screen or smart phone? A book is a book is a book and it’s time the industry’s definition caught up with technology.

So, what is a book to you?

 

(Cross-posted from Mad Genius Club)

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