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Our platform focus continues this fine Sunday with the e-Book Echo, our take on the week in the digital publishing world. This week the NYT woke up to the realities of the DRM restrictions that affect the ability of libraries to lend e-books to members. We […]

ReaderOur platform focus continues this fine Sunday with the e-Book Echo, our take on the week in the digital publishing world. This week the NYT woke up to the realities of the DRM restrictions that affect the ability of libraries to lend e-books to members. We warned about this reality a while back, and folks are beginning to realize we were right. On the surface it sounds like a library can lend as many copies of a book as they wish, given it’s only a simple file that gets exchanged. The reality is much different, as even libraries must pay for each “copy” of a book they can lend. The financial obligations that libraries operate under are just as onerous for e-books as they are for physical books. This means that libraries typically only get a few licenses of a given e-book for lending, even though it would be better serving the community (and easy to do) to lend to anyone desiring to read a given book. Many online libraries have a “recently returned” section so members will be aware when that best-seller becomes available for borrowing, due to the few copies available. It is silly on the surface, but it’s the way it works.

Those of us not in the book publishing business are not privy to how authors get compensated for their work. The author of one book shares that information with us due to unhappiness with his publisher. The author of Beginning Ruby wants his publisher to give away the e-book copy of his book, to drive sales of the paper version. The publisher says no way, so the author is asking readers to pirate the digital copy of his book:

My reaction to seeing other Apress books getting the free, electronic version treatment is: I’m good with you pirating my book! Now, of course, I can’t actively participate in pirating my book but, heck, it’s around on plenty of “free e-book” sites and on RapidShare. There are even links on Twitter to torrents like this. I am happy for you to pirate my book, but I’m NOT A LAWYER, and I can’t guarantee what Apress would do about it – so you’d be doing it off your own back! So, uhm, don’t pirate it? ;-)

I have a feeling the publisher wasn’t too happy with this author, as his original blog post about it is no longer available. It’s kind of sad when the publisher ends up with more rights to a work than the artist, but that’s the way business works.

  1. It’s helpful that you liked to the Techdirt article. There’s a discussion about this over at slashdot which linked to the original blog post. The original blog post now goes to the American Cancer Society’s donation page because the author stated that the Slashdot summary misrepresented his true intentions. The Slashdot summary states as you did. It sounds like the author has started to back-pedal.

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  2. I’m not sure I get your point about lending e-books.

    If libraries were allowed to loan unlimited copies of a book at no cost to them what reason is there for anyone to buy a book? Surely libraries are only able to lend books for free because of the limited number of copies they can hold which, in turn, limits their ability to undermine the entire publishing market.

    Am I missing something? I feel like an American for asking this but are you a secret communist? :)

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  3. The Price Of Public Library eBooks
    http://ebooktest.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/the-price-of-public-library-ebooks/

    >>>Am I missing something? I feel like an American for asking this but are you a secret communist?

    Oh god.
    “Public Libraries … [Are] Houses Of Death”
    http://ebooktest.wordpress.com/2009/09/24/public-libraries-are-houses-of-death/

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  4. I’m also not agreeing on the whole issue here, either.

    Authors are paid royalties based on a per-copy sold basis. If a library buys two paper copies of a book, they can only lend out those two copies – for which the author has received royalties.

    If a library pays the license fee for two copies of the electronic version of the book, why should they be able to lend out fifty downloads at a time?

    How is that any more legal that using a piece of software for which the EULA specifically states can only be installed on one computer at a time?

    As a future royalty-earning author, James, be very careful in this arena. It’s a huge issue for authors right now who only wish to be paid fairly for their work. The author reference above appeared to know what he wanted by asking the publisher for a free e-version, but the publisher is in the business of making money, and “free” doesn’t make money in all cases.

    And as for pirating ebooks, there is a huge cottage industry involved in turning print books that do not have e-versions into downloads. Again, this is wrong – it’s stealing. It’s like duping DVDs and selling them from the trunk of your car.

    Sorry, you hit one of my buttons here. I don’t have a problem with sharing a book you thought was fantastic by giving your copy to a friend, but this growing problem with people thinking everything on the internet should be free or extremely cheap really bugs me.

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  5. As per some of the comments above, it immediately struck me that this would be very different to how libraries operate now. At present there will be a limited number of books available, paid for, in the UK for example, by the local Council via their budget raised through taxation. If a book is on loan then you can request it and wait.

    Free ebooks with no limit to availability would surely kill the current marketplace for purchasing books. After all, if my local library did this I could request any book I want and not have to wait weeks for it, or bother buying a new release. Great for the end user, not so good for compensating authors for their work.

    Respectfully I don’t agree with the statement about serving the community. Fiction books are what a library most commonly lends, which are of course for entertainment like music or a movie. I don’t see how the community would be served with limitless copies of the latest Dan Brown novel for free!

    Great discussion though, I’m loving my Sony e-reader and it goes everywhere with me. Accessibility, inter device interoperability, and value for money is what I’m hoping the ebook market will become, and I hope a good network for lending ebooks becomes available which provides authors compensation for their work without killing their market.

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  6. I don’t think libraries should get unlimited copies of each e-book, but I’d like to see publishers give them special group packages. Maybe 5-10 at a pop would work. I am not convinced that each library book costs the publishers a sale, I rather believe it creates hype for the paper copies and drives sales.

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    1. I’m all for group discounts. It’s a reasonable solution.

      Libraries serve a wonderful role in serving those that can’t (or won’t) pay for a book by providing free or very low-cost access to books. May they live and breathe forever.

      (Even if I’m not in a library system that offers e-books.)

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  7. the real issue with ebooks that has to be addressed by any customer is not this library thing, but the DRM mechanism itself that inhibis transposing the one bought copy to other devices of the same customer and wants to force him to either stick to his one device he did download it to or to pay several times for the same item.
    furthermore a book cannot be purchased anymore say in the us and read on an european machine because of the same mechanisms of a regionalized DRM protection. a fact not existing with the REAL PRINTED BOOK”. that i consider awfully stupid and actually hindering the spreading of the written word by the producers themselfes.

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  8. Personally, my library doesn’t have any fees associated with having a card. They don’t have an ebook section, but for me, I would be VERY willing to pay for a subscription-based ebook setup, whether from a library or a store.

    Honestly I’d pay probably $10-20 per month, even if they only let me ‘check out’ one at a time – but only if I didn’t have to wait for a free copy to become available.

    I think something similar to that is the model that will end up working best. Otherwise, while some people will buy ebooks as they do currently, there’s still going to be a ton of people who would rather go to the library and get it for free AND not have to buy a $200-450 device to read as well.

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  9. Perhaps it’s time for authors to change how the industry works, if they feel they have lost their rights. There’s not a great need for publishers anymore since anyone can do self-publishing now. The authors should band together, create a system where they each get nearly 100% of their profits. There’s no need for them to be the pawns of an industry any more. (same for the music industry.)

    No better time for change than now.

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    1. With a publisher, you have a distribution system and, in most cases, some publicity mechanism. With self-publishing, the entire distribution and publicity burden is on the author. Which, in most cases, will result in lower sales.

      And while not universally true, publishers weed out the truly awful work. If you could read some of the manuscripts I’ve read that people think are publishable, you’d run for the hills screaming.

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      1. Yes, publishers are the current distribution and PR mechanism. Which is why i suggest the authors band together to create their own system. A simple website for the “Author’s Association” or “Author’s Guild” or what-have-you could be the single authoritative portal for all book news and PR. It can list new works for all authors, and new works by author, etc–a comprehensive catalog. Furthermore, retailers would use this portal to learn about new books to sell. Authors also can use this new structure to gather power to fight against being screwed by retailers. I personally think such an organization could work with the recording industry too.

        It’s mostly a matter of organization and authority. If authors organize, they collect their authority and gain collective power.

        And yes, i agree that publishers act like a screen between us and raw manuscripts. I didn’t write it here, but at other times and on other blogs, i’ve suggested that publishers transform into a “consulting” service for authors. Such a service can offer proofreading, layout, feedback, market trials, and other services to authors.

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  10. If libraries can’t change their business model for ebooks – like charging 10 cents per book. And then paying 4 cents off that to the publisher/author, then we don’t need libraries anymore.

    This is just looking at the issue from a 2 dimensional perspective. Either libraries/publishers/authors adapt or its a thing of the past (soon anyway). I am good with the nature of progression any way it will take us.

    Tal

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    1. BTW you can replace the 10/4 cents with 1 dollar/40 cents. I really have no idea what will work for all parties. Just stating that its either a new business model or non at all.

      Actually if I did want to recommend a business model – I would say that if a reader paid 1 dollar to read once and return within 14 days – then if she decides to buy the copy she will only pay x-1. Make the library a true sales accelerator.

      Tal

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