Wednesday, December 31, 2008

eBook resales: good or bad idea?

There's a thriving business in the resale of used books. It's a great way to clear our shelves of books we no longer want, and these sales can generate some cash for the purchase of new books. Even though the resale of these books deprives the author of royalties for the additional sales, no one really minds. This is because resales are a small percentage of total book sales, and may open new markets (to readers who hadn't previously read a particular offer). The same is true if you lend or give a book to a friend.

The same dynamic should apply to ebooks (books sold in various electronic formats), right?

Unfortunately, no. When you give or sell a printed
book to someone, they get one copy and the most they can do is resell or give away one copy. But with ebooks, the one copy you give/sell can be copied hundreds, even thousands of times. So, instead of the author losing the royalties for a single resale, he or she potentially can lose thousands of dollars in royalties--and that's just from a single copy. Think about the impact on that author's income if hundreds of readers each give away copies that are passed on to hundreds of others. (Not to mention the losses suffered by the publishers and those they employ.)

Before you say, "But authors like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling make millions from their books. They won't miss it.", consider this: For every author who's a millionaire, there are hundreds of authors who barely make a living from writing, and hundreds more who write as a second income because writing alone won't pay the bills. If they made more money, perhaps they could quit their day jobs and write full-time (producing more of the books you love).

And before you say, "But my reading an ebook that a friend gave me won't make a difference.", consider this: There are pirate websites and blogs whose sole reason for existence is the sharing of ebooks, CDs, DVDs, and other copyrighted materials. Thre are literally thousands of people trading thousands of books, albums, and movies without paying for a single one. Collectively, that's many millions of dollars in income the artists never get. So it's not just you, it's many people depriving a lot of hard-working artists of the money they've rightfully earned.

Because it's not just you doing it, it won't matter whether you keep doing it or not, right? Sure it does! By participating in this illegal activity (breaking federal and international copyright laws and perhaps illegally trafficking in stolen merchandise across state lines**), you contribute to the problem and even encourage it.

So what can you do about it? Simple:

1) Stop selling/sharing ebooks. If you can't help yourself, and you just have to read the one a friend gave you, fine. When you're done reading it, delete it and buy a copy from a legitimate source. But whatever you do, don't share your copy with anyone outside your immediate family.
Certainly, don't post them to the internet or sell them on eBay.

2) Point your friends who buy/sell/share ebooks to this blog, so they can be educated, too.

3) If you know of websites and blogs that share ebooks, report them to the
AuthorsAgainstE-BookTheft group on Yahoo.

Remember, the selling and sharing of ebooks without compensation to the publisher and the author is ILLEGAL and harms the industry as a whole. Do you really want to contribute to a publisher
laying off employees or even going bankrupt (and perhaps depriving you of the latest work from one of your favorite authors?)

Unless we all (authors, publishers, and concerned readers) work together to stamp out the illegal sharing/selling of ebooks, the problem will only get worse.
Think about it.


WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this or any copyrighted work is illegal. File sharing is an International crime, prosecuted by the United States Department of Justice and the United States Border Patrol, Division of Cyber Crimes, in partnership with Interpol. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is punishable by seizure of computers, up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000 per reported instance.


Anonymous said...

So I'd argue that used book sales are not simply an "oh well" from the perspective of the author, but rather a good thing: Used book sales means more people reading (and enjoying) your work. The more people who do this, are more likely to buy your next (new) book. This is a good thing. Particularly when books are as expensive as the are and there are many possible books out there, providing new readers with easy access to your work (like through used book sales) is in the end good for the quality of an author's career, even though on some level specific royalties for a specific reader/reading of a book are lost, this translates into future sales, and future marketability.

Just as, libraries are good for writers, even though they provide books to (many) readers without providing authors with royalties. If you're book is in a library and it's being read, the chance of more people seeing your book, your name, and reconomending it goes up. The more people check it out, the more likely the library is to order your future books. Used books, I think function the same way.

Why then don't ebooks function the same way? Are ebooks really replacements for physical codices? While there are some tomes that I've gotten in ebook forum, and read, I don't tend to go out of my way to get digital texts for fiction, and I tend to take the opinion that they're complimentary media, even though they present the same kind of content.

While I do respect the need of the writer to support themselves and to make a living from their work, and I'm very sensitive to these sorts of concerns, I think the best places to find solutions to these kinds of problems lay not in attacking your readers and fans as copyright villans, but rather in arranging to write columns for publications (which pay and promote your work) or in speaking or teaching engagements based on what you've accomplished. All of these things raise your profile, increase sales, and reach out to readers in a way that doesn't accuse them of stealing.

Tim O'Riley, the technology book publisher said something along the lines of "obscurity is a bigger problem than piracy," and I think that's largely true. And even if it's not, obscurity is an issue that we know how to address productively; it's hard to address piracy in a way that doesn't make you seem bitter and jaded that people are reading your books.

BrennaLyons said...

I'm not accusing my READERS and FANS of stealing. Chances are, they are buying my books. Or they've read a pirate copy and purchased a copy, and that's fine with me.

At the same time, there are a lot of people out there who pirate consistently and don't purchase books. Whether they read one of my books or not, they aren't high on my list of "don't tick this person off" priorities, by anyone's estimation.

Why should they be? They're breaking the law, and they are depriving not only me but also hundreds or thousands of other authors of a living wage BY PIRATING.

Your entire line of reasoning is a pirate's argument. It's simple excusism. Nothing more. Nothing less. I have more of them. You're probably well acquainted with them all.

Why don't e-books function the same way as print books? Because you can make multiple copies of the same book (illegally) and pass them. The whole point of USBs is that a SINGLE COPY of the book is changing hands. If I lend a copy of X book to another person, and it doesn't come back, I buy another copy, because it was a favorite. If it does come back, the other person who read it might buy another copy, because he or she liked it. Even if he/she doesn't buy another copy, there is still only one copy in existence.

ILLEGAL COPYING and DISTRIBUTION of ANY books, paper or e, (and by this I mean ANY copying and distribution of the book NOT accomplished by the copyright owner, the contracted publisher and/or the contracted printers/resllers/wholesalers of the book) has been illegal by copyright law for well over a century. It's not news. By passing e-books, you are making six or more copies JUST to pass it by e-mail, at least for the time period it's being passed, even if it's later scrubbed. And, it's being distributed illegally, to boot.

Tim O'Riley doesn't depend largely on e-book sales to pay the rent or any other task we put royalties to. Tim O'Riley is taking an outsider's view on what HE PERCEIVES as the problem. This is another pirate's argument, I might note.

Strangely enough, I know plenty of NY authors who don't parrot this stuff. They may not feel it worth their while to chase pirates piecemeal, but they'd be as happy as everyone else (save the pirates) to see an end to this problem, even if their print sales outweigh their losses in scanned print to e losses and e-book piracy losses.

"We're helping you make a name." I'm here to tell you that's bull! I can trace a small number of pirates...a drop in the bucket of them...and calculate how many files I have removed in a year. Even assuming (and I CAN'T assume this) that each of those files was only used once, I know the dollar amount of losses to piracy in a year from JUST those files...and I know that I'm not making that much in royalties.

You and Tim O'Riley can wax poetic all you want to about which is more important. To me...this year...educating a few dozen more pirates is more important to me. At the point where I'm seeing more in sales than I'm seeing in lost sales, we'll discuss it again.

Anonymous said...

Do you even know who Tim O'Reilly is? They are one of the major tech publishers, and almost everyone of their books comes in electronic format. They are all over the web, I think that in the end his opinion is the more correct.

As a buyer of e-books (only tech) I don't feel that the piracy of them is that big. Most people in the tech industry buy what they use.

As for 6 copies if you e-mail an e-book, where did you come up with that number? Knowing how e-mail works would probably help your argument.

BrennaLyons said...

Amusing that you won't even use your REAL name to state your point. And I do assume you mean the Dr. Tim O'Riley of O'Riley's Radar? Being famous/well-spoken in HIS OWN FIELD doesn't mean I have to agree with his opinion, when applied to MY FIELD, and any idea that I should is rather juvenile.

But beyond that, you are busy comparing apples and oranges. Fiction has little to do with non-fiction or (more specifically) tech (either in how it's pitched to a publisher OR how sales stack up). Companies that do their business with primarily paper copy and offer e-copies are nothing like the e-publishing industry, which depends primarily on e-book sales and feels the bite of piracy much more keenly. No matter how you look at it, you can't compare the two and expect to see eye to eye.

The fact that you ONLY purchase tech e-books alone means your opinion is of no consequence to the situation I'm talking about, which is all about fiction e-books. You said it yourself. People who use TECH e-books usually buy theirs. While you may or may not be right (and let us assume for argument that you are, when talking about the tech community), trying to apply a quote about that market to the fiction e-book market isn't a good fit. It never will be.

And I DO know how e-mail works. When I e-mail a file, there is the original on my machine or wherever I am pulling it from, the copy in the temp mail files that exists as long as the original sent mail is on my machine, the copy that can be pulled back from my ISP's servers for a limited period of time and the same set on the other side. Unsurprisingly, many people don't know all of those exist and think there are only two copies to consider and wiping one will make this okay. And remember that even deleting something from the hard drive isn't permanent. Even garbage overwrites are not 100%.

That's not even counting the possibility that you'll have a copy that was caught in one or more backups of the hard drive, purposely saved onto a flash drive, CD/DVD, gmail or other media...all of which are perfectly fine for the user to do to safeguard his/her investment in the e-books. It is, after all, one of the selling points of e vs. p.

Oh...and lest we forget, the library functions at some resellers and publisher sites that keep a backup copy for you, in case of catastrophic loss or change of hardware situations. You won't just be deleting that one, since it's tied to your account there.

And it wouldn't matter if there were only two copies. One of those is STILL an illegal copy, under copyright law.

But, as I said... I'm not concerned with one person sharing one copy. No author in his/her right mind would be. I am only concerned with the pirates who are sharing tens and hundreds of copies of books. Whether it's print or e, resource material or fiction, I am well acquainted with the idea of a couple of people sharing a single copy. But not countless recopies of the text being made.


Angela James said...

And I do assume you mean the Dr. Tim O'Riley of O'Riley's Radar? Being famous/well-spoken in HIS OWN FIELD doesn't mean I have to agree with his opinion, when applied to MY FIELD, and any idea that I should is rather juvenile.

This is who Anonymous referred to:

In addition to being a large tech publisher, they organize a huge publishing conference yearly, Tools of Change, which is one extremely relevant to the epublishing industry because it's a conference all about digital content.

BrennaLyons said...

Then it IS the same O'Riley, since that's the same man who does O'Riley's Radar. Still, you can't argue that tech books and fiction novels are worlds apart, even if they are both offered in e-book format.


Ted Garvin said...

Beginning economics states that price is inversely proportional to supply. Clearly, pirated copies of ebooks circulating will decrease demand (assuming that principle plays no part in acquisition).

Ted Garvin said...

Bloody typos. I meant decrease price.