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Breaking: The Sky Is Falling. Will Publishing Innovate or...

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I’m worried, readers. I am worried about publishing as a business. My worries do not stem from used sales. My worries do not stem from piracy of digital books. My worry is that publishing will not take this opportunity to innovate. Anita Elberse’s article in the Wall Street Journal only increases my concerns. Elberse’s argument is essentially that the current publishing business model worked before and so publishers need to keep at it. I found her to be arguing that the existing publishing model is the only publishing model.

The current publishing business model:

The current publishing business model is built on the success just a few titles: The Secret, the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. According to Elberse,

Most large media firms make outsized investments to acquire and market a small number of titles with strong hit potential, and bank on their sales to make up for middling performance in the rest of their catalogs.

Publishing operates under the Pareto concept.   20% of the titles generate 80% of the publishing houses’ profits.   But one successful book or series does not a successful publishing model make.   Take The Secret by Rhonda Byrnes.   As of June 2007, there were 5.2 million copies of The Secret in print.   In December of 2008, S&S laid off 2% of its staff.   Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code has over 60 million copies in print worldwide.   At the end of 2008, Random House had eliminated the position of its discoverer, jettisoned a number of employees, and consolidated imprints into three more streamlined entities.   Scholastic enjoyed 7 years of unprecedented profitability under the Rowling franchise, but in 2003, Scholastic laid off 400 employees, in 2006 Scholastic laid off over 87 employees and in 2008, Scholastic instituted a hiring freeze and 110 employees took early retirement.  

Publishing thought it was recession proof.   It thought that it would weather any economic storm, any technological changes, and any consumer changes.   After all, you can’t improve on the book.   Harleqin came to prominence during the Great Depression as more and more people turned to entertainment as a relief from the depressive events of the day.   At the height of the Great Depression, there was a 25% unemployment rate yet Harlequin, and books, still thrived.

So what’s changed?   So   much.   

For one thing, as astutely noted by Tom Englehardt in the Nation, the entertainment landscape has changed dramatically.   

It was well known in the business that, during the Great Depression, books, like movies, had done splendidly. They were an inexpensive bit of entertainment and distraction, consumable at home, at a time when not much else pleasurable was going on in a rugged world. Ergo, books would be no less recession-proof in the next big downturn.

There was no reason to believe otherwise… unless you happened to focus on just how many dazzling entertainment options had, in the interim, entered the American home at prices more than competitive with the book. After all, most Americans can now read endlessly on the Internet, play video games, download music, watch movies and even write their own novels without stepping outside; and keep in mind that the $27.95 hardcover and the $15.95 paperback on the shelves of that mall store, once you drive there, aren’t exactly the inexpensive objects of yore.

In a July 2008 article, the NY Times noted that the teens addicted to the internet were part of the reading decline.   More and more people spend time on the internet and its not just teens.   For the million or so subscribers that receive the print version of the Times, there are twice as many that read the Times online.   Video games and video consoles are outpacing expectations and not seeming to suffer any hardship from the downturn in the economy.   Movie saw record box offices in 2009.   Englehardt’s point about the increasing cost of books is also important.   Mass markets are edging close to the $10.00 mark; and hardcovers are 3x that amount.   For the not so avid reader, would she rather buy a game for her WII that she can replay a hundred times than a book she might enjoy (or might not) for only a few hours.

In 2007, there was a fabulous article by the NY Times about the mysterious making of a bestseller.   It is not a science.   

Eric Simonoff, a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates, said that whenever he discusses the book industry with people in other industries, "they’re stunned because it’s so unpredictable, because the profit margins are so small, the cycles are so incredibly long, and because of the almost total lack of market research."

The first book by Curtis Sittenfeld, Prep, was wildly successful.   She was paid   $40,000 for her first advance.   Her success was awarded with a two book deal for a multiple of her first advance.   The book, The Man of My Dreams, at the time of the article was a disappointing seller.   One might even argue it was a flop despite all the money that the publisher threw into promoting it hot on the heels of the publication of Sittenfeld’s successful book.

Readers enjoy variety.   

The worst thing for an avid reader is hegemony.   Indeed, every YA book sale looks like a Stephenie Meyer knock off.   How many Grail books did we suffer through post Dan Brown (some would say they had to suffer through Dan Brown as well. I found it immensely readable)?   Publishers often seem to be looking for the next similar book to the previous blockbuster because they are so tied into the blockbuster business model.   

Simply because   it worked in the past doesn’t mean that it is going to work now.   And let’s face it, it didn’t really work that well in the past.   See above NY Times article and the guessing that goes on in the industry.     

The Music industry was built on album sales. When Apple got a hold on the digital music market, it introduced the concept of buying individual songs to consumers. Consumers took to that business model and rejected the old one. They liked the instantaneous aspect of downloading songs and they liked spending just the right amount of money on the music they wanted instead of buying an entire album to get just three songs.   In 2008, overall unit sales were up 10% due to digital downloads but physical album sales dropped 20 percent.   The music industry is watching its profitability decline as downloads increase because changing consumer behavior is reducing the profit margin.

So if the old business model for music based on album sales is no longer profitable, is the best thing to do to protect it with changing legislation? In other words, how long do we artificially support a failing entertainment business model? When do executives recognize that this is the time for innovation? To adapt to and predict consumer behavior in a way that is beneficial to the company and the artist?

Other Media Lessons.

There are only a few books that will ever have broad appeal and when that happens, it is a great thing.   But reliance on the 20% of books to provide a successful and growing book market will inevitably miss whole segments of the reading public.   In 2006, Netflix offered 60,000 DVDs.   

Out of the 60,000 titles in Netflix’s inventory, I ask, how many do you think are rented at least once on a typical day?
The most common answers have been around 1,000, which sounds reasonable enough. Americans tend to flock to the same small group of movies, just as they flock to the same candy bars and cars, right?

Well, the actual answer is 35,000 to 40,000. That’s right: every day, almost two of every three movies ever put onto DVD are rented by a Netflix customer. “Americans’ tastes are really broad,” says Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive. So, while the studios spend their energy promoting bland blockbusters aimed at everyone, Netflix has been catering to what people really want — and helping to keep Hollywood profitable in the process

Wow, Americans’ tastes are really broad. Imagine that. Add in the rest of the world and you find perhaps even more diversity.

The entirety of the publishing model   built on the blockbuster requires it to spend lavishly in advances to get the right 20%. The problem is that publishing has no idea when it pays out its million dollar advances whether a book will be a blockbuster, no matter the amount of money that it spends on marketing. Hachette hit it big with Stephenie Meyer. It was packaged beautifully and the story hit alot of right notes with female readers. Hachette can’t print these books fast enough. The series is like printing money, one publishing person told me.     Times are good now for Hachette but the Twilight series is concluded. How many more years of immense profitability will it be able to sustain on one series alone?

Publishing Needs to Innovate

Publishing needs to innovate. I have some ideas but none that can be implemented in the short term.   Publishing needs to invest more heavily in print on demand technologies.   By now, they should have developed a POD machine that could print and bind a mass market in under 5 minutes.   POD can eliminate or, drastically reduce,  warehousing costs.   Publishing needs to learn more about its consumers.   It needs business intelligence.   This is where microtargeting can come into play.   If publishing spent less in advances and had better POD technology, it could provide more targeted sales.   Wouldn’t it be less of a risk to try to make money off of 80% of the publishing list rather than just 20%.

Have you ever bought a book at a non traditional book outlet (such as a bookstore or big box store)?   I have. I’ve bought books at Pottery Barn Kids.   In fact, one of my daughter’s favorite series, Keeker and the Sneaky Pony, we discovered at PBK.   I think that there’s some idea that the kids books at PBK are the high end of what is out there for kid’s books because the selection is so minute.   I couldn’t help but wonder, the other day as I sat leafing through some of the books while my daughter played with the kitchen set, why more books weren’t in these non traditional retail spaces? I.e., why isn’t Beth Kery’s Wicked Burn  at Victoria’s Secret?   Harlequin once sold books at Nascar races.   Books featuring knitters at knitting stores.   Books that are hot and sexy at lingerie stores.   Why not set up a vending machine at the mall frequented by young shoppers full of Berkley/Jove paranormal books?

Why not set up their own stores and sell books at a discounted rate, undercutting Amazon.   After all, if you have to pay 40%-60% of the retail price to the retailer, then there is a clear margin for price reduction sold direct.   There’s dozens of more ideas that other people will probably come up with as well.

The Fallen Sky

I don’t see alot evidence that publishers are going to innovate.   Look at the publishers partnering with new iPhone application ScrollMotion.   Instead of offering the book at a reduced rate, it charges more for the iPhone special.    Even HarperStudios, the experiemental publishing arm of HarperCollins, is relying heavily on celebrity focused books.   I see publishers slowly getting into the ebook market, but I am often shocked at how many books are not digitized.   As I sat with my friends liveblogging the other night, talking about ebooks, they asked me if every book that they wanted was in eform and I had to tell them no.   They couldn’t comprehend it.   I tried to explain rights and piracy and so forth, but I don’t think it was getting through.   And why should they care?

The problem is that the longer that it takes publishing to innovate and the more that they try to push their own reading selections on us, the consumer, the more that readers will turn to other forms of entertainment.   If I couldn’t read, I’d sew more.    I love to read, don’t get me wrong, but I can go extended periods without reading a book.   I was obssessed by this Apple iPhone game called Fieldrunners and I played that for five days, nearly non stop.   Before my daughter, my husband and I would play video games, we played Soduko, did crossword puzzles.   There are simply so many things out there that I can do and do for low cost that if publishing doesn’t provide me with the product that I want, I can see myself drifting away or I would if I didn’t have the blog.   I’ve seen it among my own friends who’ve left the avid reading market to become casual readers.   For those casual readers, who buy maybe 1   book a month, it becomes even easier to let reading go by the wayside.   

Publishing needs to be ready and able to meet the customer where she is at instead of requiring the customer to adapt to the publishing model.   My sister in law wanted to read Twilight over the holidays but the Twilight was sold out.   POD could have met that demand and made a sale.   Instead, she’s busy knitting with a special knitting machine she got as a gift.   

Reading consumption will decline   and it’s not because readers are buying used or because they are pirating, but because they will inevitably turn to other forms of entertainment as publishing increasingly offers a sameness to its selections.  

Publishing must change its business model to provide greater variety, with better targeted marketing. Today’s technology tools make it easier than ever for companies to do this.   Right now is an exicting time for publishing. It has an opportunity, in these difficult economic times, to throw off the mantle of the old.   After all, what do they really have to lose by changing?    We know what they are going to lose if they don’t.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

553 Comments

  1. Nora Roberts
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 14:42:16

    Robin, that was certainly my take. When I’ve asked questions about how e-works for authors–and I was coming to it from a paper publishing perspective–I was told I couldn’t compare them. Different models, different set up.

    And I got it because it was very well explained to me (Tip of hat to AJ again.)

    But now, it seem, some are trying very hard to meld the two models so it will somehow benefit the e-side. And it’s a bit irritating.

    Kaigou, I think, in some cases, the e-rights are sold direct to an e-pub. We elected not to do so with mine–and hopefully Penguin will eventually work out the kinks that annoy the e-reader.

    ~Ebooks can operate the same way: “I love the book, but I can only pack so much when I travel, so I got the ebook version, too!” or “I don't want to read a computer for three hours; I only want paper.”~

    Yes, God! Exactly so. I’m not the least offended you won’t read me in paper. I’m delighted you had the choice, and tried one of my books in digital.

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  2. Robin
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 14:45:54

    when I go to fictionwise and see a DRM-hampered, 80k novel priced at $13.95 when it costs five bucks LESS in print, I can't help but feel the publisher is asking me to bend over and take it where the sun don't shine. And I won't do it, even for an author I love. I can't be the only one out there who feels this way, either.

    What I don’t understand is how this is the burden of the print pubbed author to address? I hate some of the pricing schemes out there, but I don’t even think about the author when I’m gnashing my teeth and cursing the publisher for thinking I’d be stupid enough to pay *more* for an ebook than for a-brand spanking-new print copy.

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  3. kirsten saell
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 14:55:53

    But now, it seem, some are trying very hard to meld the two models so it will somehow benefit the e-side. And it's a bit irritating.

    As I said, I would never have suggested any NY author sell their electronic rights to an epublisher if NY handled them in a way that satisfied me AS A READER. But for whatever reason, they don’t, or can’t, or won’t. And when readers feel like they’re getting cornholed, they won’t buy.

    If NY showed a little flexibility and made their ebooks an attractive alternative to print, I would stand up and cheer. I would even buy them.

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  4. kirsten saell
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 15:01:41

    What I don't understand is how this is the burden of the print pubbed author to address?

    The burden is not on the author, the burden is on the publisher. But I do know that publishers will not change without feeling pressure from both readers and authors.

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  5. Katrina Strauss
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 15:06:20

    I'm not so much speaking as an author, but as a reader who loves ebooks and would read many many more NY published books in digital if they did away with DRM and made them affordable. I live miles and miles from the nearest bookstore. E is an absolute necessity for me-and without it I would only have used books and no author or publisher would make a penny from me.

    My own decision to switch to e-books was based on my experience as a reader, not an author. Up until just a few months ago, I too considered e-book second option if a book wasn’t available in print first, and here I’m strictly e-published! My geek-tech hubby has read more e-books than I have, as he’s been reading them since the late 90′s. My way of thinking gradually changed until that lightbulb moment of epiphany, it was based on an issue of consumer convenience. (But again, not here to convert the masses, just sharing my own experience as I nod and agree with Kirsten.)

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  6. Zoe Winters
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 15:18:19

    Kirsten,

    For what it’s worth, I read what you said in the spirit of how it was meant. I don’t think you’re trying to tell authors how to run their careers, or trying to meld NY and E. I know exactly what you’re saying.

    NY has gone on about how ebooks haven’t taken off. Well what could possibly be some of the reasons for that?

    DRM, high prices that in many cases are higher than MMPB. (IMO an e-copy of anything should never be higher than the print version. Because part of the reason the print version is so high is because of physical raw materials being bought and used for each individual copy, and shipping, and warehousing), And, oh yeah…no standardized format.

    In music we have MP3′s. We don’t have 30 competing music formats, with different listening devices that only play some and not others.

    If NY was actually interested in THEIR OWN e-sales (not in promoting e-publishing itself), they would scrap DRM, lower prices, and agree on a single format that everyone can use, so different e-readers are the difference in getting an ipod or a Zune (or Zoon? I don’t remember the spelling.)

    Not a Kindle vs. a Sony E-reader which use different formats, and are not “just” different devices.

    So I don’t think it’s insane to think ANY bestselling author should be tested out in this way. for the benefit not of ‘e-publishing’ but publishing in general.

    If they truly are two different models, then what is NY doing with e-rights? Melding is already being done if NY has, uses, and mismanages e-rights. If it’s too much for them, they don’t know what they’re doing, or they don’t care enough about it, then they shouldn’t hold rights hostage that they won’t properly exploit.

    It’s my opinion, that just like the music industry absolutely RAILED against digital music because of piracy, that NY is dragging their feet as much as possible with E, and trying to make the print version more attractive.

    When you use DRM, and on top of that make your Ebook more expensive than some of your print books, what you are saying to the public is: “We want you to buy the print book, not E, and we’re trying to manipulate your buying choices by making the one we don’t want you to buy as unattractive to you as possible.”

    Well consumers aren’t stupid and they can see through that crap and it pisses them all off.

    If a big brand name author (or several preferably) “were” to be able to sell their digital rights separately to one of the more successful e-houses, then we would get a truer read on the current ebook market potential. Not as an incentive to get more people to read ebooks.

    And I say all this as someone who doesn’t personally LIKE ebooks. It’s just a common sense way to test things.

    So I get what Kirsten is saying and I don’t think she’s trying to say any of the things she’s been accused of saying here. Whether or not she’s “in” publishing directly is neither here nor there. It’s an appeal to authority and not actually addressing her point.

    If there is something genuinely wrong with the idea, address the idea on it’s own merit, not by telling her she’s not an authority and therefore any idea she comes up with is just dismissed out of hand.

    This kind of lack of thinking outside the box is exactly why publishing is where it is right now.

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  7. GrowlyCub
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 15:46:46

    I’m a reader, and as a reader I have a strong, vested interest that the authors whose work I enjoy are able to feed themselves and their dependents so they don’t go and do something other than writing.

    If I see their books coming out in formats that I won’t buy, I tell them and I tell the publisher. Naturally, the author is not responsible for the format (except in cases like Nora described above), but I want the authors to know why I do or do not buy their books, so they can weigh in (how successfully is a different question) when relevant decisions are being made about their books. Sometimes my not-buying decision has to do with format, with content or, in the case of anthologies, with who else is in the book.

    For example, I love Susan Lyons, I want that new story really badly, but it’s packaged with one by an author I will absolutely, under no circumstances, EVER give money to again, so that’s why I didn’t buy that new book which includes Susan’s story. I feel bad about that, because I want to support her writing career, but if I want to stick to my principles regarding the other author, that’s what I have to do.

    Now, if Susan’s story were available (maybe after a certain time) as a stand-alone e-story, I’d buy it in a heartbeat and cry only a little that I’d prefer to have a paper copy, and voila, POD would again make me very happy indeed!

    I have an interest in what royalties an author receives for their books, both paper and e- and I’ve refused to buy e- from NY houses because I know how little the particular authors would see of that inflated NY e-book price. Why? Because if I buy, I’m actually confirming the publishers’ idea that I’m okay with them fleecing their authors and DRM and paying more for an e-copy than for a paper book.

    I’m not talking generalities here, I’m thinking of the numbers told to me by NY authors in private conversations.

    I’m sorry if some think that I as a reader wanting NY authors to get their money’s worth of a new technology is sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong, but (shockingly) I disagree. It very much concerns me if the author ends up finding a day job and having to stop writing because their publisher only paid them the same royalties on their e-books as on their mmpb, as opposed to a higher rate.

    Why do I, who have no clue about publishing beyond what I’ve heard from publishers, authors and agents, think I can have an opinion? Well, facetiously, but with a grain of truth in it, because I was a business major once upon a time and I understand economies of scale and similar concepts.

    Most books seem to be prepared electronically nowadays (except for the galleys portion and even that I’ve heard of being done electronically on occasion, unless I misunderstood) and while there are some conversions to be done, there is not that much additional work going into making a print manuscript e-publishable (most of the cost is associated with DRM, which needs to go away because it’s useless in preventing piracy).

    There are however, no printing, no warehousing, no physical distribution and no returns costs for e-copies, so why should the author still only receive the royalty rate given for mmpb where all these costs do accrue?

    I’m not giving anybody advice, but I have an opinion and that opinion is that NY authors and/or their agents should try to get a higher royalties for e-rights than mmpbs due to the cost differential and if concerted effort by more than one author is required to pressure the publishers then I think it wouldn’t hurt authors and agents to look into that.

    I don’t know what Nora’s rate is, I’m not talking about her. I’m going by what I know through industry insiders, which is admittedly not as much as I’d like. It irks me tremendously to know that a writer whose work I enjoy is not able in part to pay her rent because she’s locked into a contract that’s standard for NY and that does not pay her more for e- than for paper. And when I read other authors saying that ‘there’s nothing to be done and you readers have no clue and shouldn’t have an opinion’, then I find that irksome as well. It’s possible some of the posts weren’t meant that way, but that’s sure what they sounded like.

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  8. Zoe Winters
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 15:58:47

    Growlycub,

    Because if I buy, I'm actually confirming the publishers' idea that I'm okay with them fleecing their authors and DRM and paying more for an e-copy than for a paper book.

    Yes. :D

    And I totally agree with your view that DRM doesn’t prevent piracy. What DRM does is, give a fun challenge for hackers, and piss off honest consumers. Treating every consumer like a thief, IMO isn’t the way to handle things. What should happen instead, IMO, is education. So readers really know how much piracy can hurt authors. (though the verdict is still out on that since Cory Doctorow, published with Tor, has all his books out in print and free ebook simultaneously and his print sales are higher since doing that. Though if E ever becomes the primary delivery method, this could bite him in the bum later.)

    I think most readers who got a pirated copy of a book, but found they really enjoyed it, if they understood money had been taken out of the author’s pocket, and they had a way to pay for it after the fact, many people are honest and many people would do that.

    So rather than DRM, we need to facilitate and set up a way that people who get pirated copies can pay/donate/whatever after the fact. It would be far more beneficial IMO than the DRM.

    I know if I am treated as someone who has good will toward others, I am more likely to behave in that way. If I’m treated automatically with suspicion like a dishonest little thief, well, it doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies.

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  9. kirsten saell
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 16:18:15

    I know if I am treated as someone who has good will toward others, I am more likely to behave in that way. If I'm treated automatically with suspicion like a dishonest little thief, well, it doesn't give me the warm fuzzies.

    I wonder how many people figure, “If I have the name, I might as well have the game.” Especially when the free illegal product is 10 times easier to use than the over priced legal one.

    I’m with Growly. I think validating shitty business practices by buying DRMed ebooks at those prices, especially when authors aren’t fairly compensated, is a travesty.

    And thanks for the benefit of the doubt, Zoe. :) I was beginning to wonder if I had some special gift for pissing people off…

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  10. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 16:46:10

    And I totally agree with your view that DRM doesn't prevent piracy

    No, it doesn’t. But non-DRM’ed books get pirated to an extent that is sickening. I’ve tracked about 10K worth of illegal downloads of my books over the past two years. And the majority, as in 95% were non-DRM’ed books.

    So DRM doesn’t prevent it. But not having DRM doesn’t prevent it either. Unfortunately, there are just far too many people out to get something for nothing and never mind the fact that it hurts authors.

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  11. Zoe Winters
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 17:09:25

    Shiloh,

    Not having DRM doesn’t prevent piracy, obviously, but it also doesn’t piss off the honest consumer either. Like I said, there needs to be some simple system set up where someone who reads a pirated copy and likes it and wants to support the author, can. Bank on people’s good will, rather than their bad will, and most try to live up to those expectations. Most people believe they are good people and need to continue to believe that. When you offer them opportunities to back up that perception, more often than not, most will take that opportunity.

    And at “this” point, I’m not sure how much it hurts authors. E-only authors, yes. But print authors, probably not so much. As I mentioned earlier, Cory Doctorow, has all his print books released simultaneously with a free ebook version and the distribution of the free ebook has increased sales. But it obviously is a problem for those published only in E.

    And don’t forget, readers have “always” been able to read for free. They can just go to the library. And authors don’t get paid for remaindered copies or copies sold through used bookstores or the resell program on Amazon. So there are many many ways that aren’t illegal for readers to read and get their hands on copies of books, where the author doesn’t make a penny.

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  12. Nora Roberts
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 06:38:13

    Writers are paid for remaindered books.

    Libraries buy the book, and if it goes out a number of times will have to be replaced. We’re paid for the buys.

    It may seem to some that piracy doesn’t really hurt print authors, but I feel it does. My titles are downloaded illegally thousands upon thousands upon thousands of times. Literally hundreds of thousands of illegal downloads of my titles. Believe me, that hurts.

    Piracy isn’t reading for free like checking out a book at the library. It isn’t buying the book used. It’s stealing it.

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  13. Jackie Barbosa
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 11:09:05

    Zoe wrote:

    But for print, you have to have it absolutely complete before you get a cover. You have to know your exact page number, and your paperweight and ppi (pages per inch), so that you can get the exact specs for cover design.

    If that’s true, I wonder how Kensington designed my cover and produced my cover flats well before my page proofs (which are sitting over on the table just begging for my undivided attention) had been done. I’m pretty sure it was in design (if not printed) well before I even received my copy edits.

    Hmmmmmm…

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  14. Jackie Barbosa
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 11:28:25

    Zoe wrote:

    But for print, you have to have it absolutely complete before you get a cover. You have to know your exact page number, and your paperweight and ppi (pages per inch), so that you can get the exact specs for cover design.

    If that’s true, I wonder how Kensington designed my cover and produced my cover flats well before my page proofs (which are sitting over on the table just begging for my undivided attention) had been done. I’m pretty sure it was in design (if not printed) well before I even received my copy edits.

    Hmmmmmm…

    With regard to eliminating advances and print writers learning how to do without getting paid until after their books are released the way epubbed authors do, I think this ignores several significant differences in the way print and ebooks are distributed and sold.

    First of all, with an ebook, there is no physical object to change hands. The majority of ebooks are sold directly from the publisher to the consumer without a middleman (although, of course, there are entities like Fictionwise and the like that offer ebooks from multiple publishers). Notwithstanding, however, there is no such thing as a “return” in the ebook world. Ebook resellers don’t order a specified number of copies from the publisher and then try to pass them on to consumers with uncertain results. And the ebook publisher doesn’t incur any additional costs to sell 10,000 copies versus 1,000 copies…there’s no RISK on the part of the publisher that it is spending money to produce copies that will never sell.

    What that means, practically, is that an ebook-only publisher can pay royalties on a very frequent basis (monthly and quarterly are the most common), and it can know exactly how many copies of the book have sold and compensate the author accordingly. Not so the traditional print publisher. “Sales” of a print book are not sales direct to the consumer, but sales to booksellers. The first print run for the book is based upon the number of orders received from booksellers. Those books are shipped and (one hopes) placed for sale on the shelves in the retail outlets that ordered them (of, if the reseller is Amazon, in Amazon’s warehouse). It is months and months before the publisher knows how many of those copies actually make it off the resellers’ shelves and into the hands of consumers. The way it ultimately knows is that the books don’t come back as returns.

    And this means that, when paying royalties, the publisher makes an educated guess on a bi-annual basis as to how many of the copies is has shipped are going to come back, and holds that amount out of the author’s check as a credit against returns. It can be, as I understand it, several years before an author actually receives full payment for every copy of the book that was printed and sold because that’s how long it takes before the publisher can be assured those copies aren’t coming back.

    So, by saying, “An author should be willing to wait until her book is published and sold to get paid,” what you are actually saying (under the current structure, at any rate) is that the author should be willing to wait literally years after delivering the manuscript to the publisher to be paid. That’s neither practical nor fair, IMO. The publisher, in contracting the manuscript and thereby retaining exclusive rights to the work, owes the author at least a token sum of money because those rights are worth something to the publisher. If those rights AREN’T worth something, in and of themselves, then the publisher shouldn’t be contracting the work.

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  15. Jane
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 11:31:48

    @Jackie Barbosa I think the problem is that advances aren’t a token sum. The publishing industry is gambling that one book will earn out sufficient to pay off for its many failures. Isn’t the statistic that greater than 2/3s of books never earn out the advance?

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  16. Nora Roberts
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 11:49:50

    ~Isn't the statistic that greater than 2/3s of books never earn out the advance?~

    Jane, I don’t know the statistic, but I can’t stress enough that a book doesn’t have to earn out its advance for the publisher to make money. I promise you, you can ask any editor, any publisher, any agent this question.

    I’m not talking about the ginormous celebrity book deals, but the general fiction deals.

    I once heard the CEO of a major NY house say that if a book earned back its advance and more, the agent wasn’t doing her job. That may be a bit extreme, but it’s not entirely untrue.

    If you’re basing your theory that the publisher loses money every time a book doesn’t earn out, your base is simply incorrect.

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  17. Jane
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 11:53:22

    @Nora Roberts Under the Pereto principle, though, 80% of the books are not making money for a publisher, regardless of an advance. I did read this morning that 70% of books lose money for a publisher, but I don’t know what all that entails (i.e. what percentage of loss that the advance figures).

    Again, I’m not advocating for a wholesale dismissal of the advance as part of how publishing does business but it does seem to me to be one area of waste.

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  18. Jackie Barbosa
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 11:54:23

    Jane wrote:

    I think the problem is that advances aren't a token sum. The publishing industry is gambling that one book will earn out sufficient to pay off for its many failures. Isn't the statistic that greater than 2/3s of books never earn out the advance?

    I have no idea what the statistical average for earn-out is, but my advance on my debut was less than half my percentage of the cover price if the sell-through on the first print run after returns was a mere 50%–which seems pretty reasonable to me. Of course, I believe Kensington (and Dorchester, IIRC) are known for paying smaller advances with the result that most of their authors do earn-out.

    Even if a book doesn’t “earn out,” though, that doesn’t mean the publisher actually lost money on it. The percentage paid out to the author per copy is quite low (6-10%, I believe, depending on format and the like). I have no idea what the publisher assumes its profit margin will be, but I’m betting it’s enough to soak up a lot of the purported “losses” when an author doesn’t earn out the advance.

    Frankly, it seems to me you’re under the impression that authors are getting oodles of money upfront as a matter of course, when my experience says that’s not the case at all. A handful of authors get big advances for their books (and most of those who do are justified in receiving it because they have track records that support it). The vast majority get relatively little (and most don’t even try to live on their writing income–my understanding is upwards of 80% of all published authors have a day job and NEED it!), and they deserve (IMO) to be paid SOMETHING for delivering a quality manuscript worthy of publication to the publisher, complete with exclusive rights to publish it.

    Another thing you may not realize is that publishers can “sit on” an author’s advance for some period of time, simply by not “accepting” the manuscript. That is, the author can deliver the manuscript in March, but the publisher can avoid paying the author the “acceptance” portion of the advance for a period of months simply by not reading it and accepting it for publication. I’ve heard of the second book in a two-book contract sitting on an editor’s desk for upwards of nine months!

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  19. Jane
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 12:14:40

    @Jackie Barbosa I don’t think that authors make oodles of money in advances. I’m not even sure if the HarperStudios experiment is going to work with new entry fiction authors and not celebrity authors. But what I do know is that the current way that publishing is run isn’t going to last bc of its economic inefficiencies. New publishing business models will arise and with it new payment models to the content creators. Right now the way that authors get paid is advances against royalties and royalties themselves. In a different business model, how will that change and will the change benefit the content creator?

    I’m for publishing. I’m for content creators. I’m just worried about the existing state of this industry and how it will evolve.

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  20. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 12:17:38

    And at “this” point, I'm not sure how much it hurts authors. E-only authors, yes. But print authors, probably not so much. As I mentioned earlier, Cory Doctorow, has all his print books released simultaneously with a free ebook version and the distribution of the free ebook has increased sales. But it obviously is a problem for those published only in E.

    Unfortunately I’ve seen too many people crowing over getting a book for free that they would have paid for before they found a way to get a digital format for free. Free ebooks for promotion aren’t the same thing as theft. Me giving a person $10 bucks is a far cry from somebody taking $10 bucks from me without my permission.

    Will some go out and buy? Yes, I imagine some do. But too many of them then turn around and pirate the work out, in one nasty circle. There are a couple of sites where I’ve got books listed and they were actually more illegal downloads than copies sold and if that doesn’t suck, I don’t know what does.

    And too many of those who pirate have no intention of buying the authors’ work even after they’ve illegally downloaded and ‘tried’ the author out. Some might, but the majority aren’t going to-too many of them are into the mindset that either it doesn’t hurt the author or they just don’t realize that it is illegal or they just don’t care.

    I’ve seen authors have hundreds of thousands of books illegally downloaded. Nora mentioned

    My titles are downloaded illegally thousands upon thousands upon thousands of times. Literally hundreds of thousands of illegal downloads of my titles. Believe me, that hurts.

    I’d say that’s a conservative figure. I’ve seen her titles on sites where there are easily 1000 different members posting the files and most of them have been downloaded in the high hundreds and thousands, higher. That’s money she is entitled to-she earned it. Taking something that she rightfully earned does indeed hurt.

    And don't forget, readers have “always” been able to read for free. They can just go to the library. And authors don't get paid for remaindered copies or copies sold through used bookstores or the resell program on Amazon. So there are many many ways that aren't illegal for readers to read and get their hands on copies of books, where the author doesn't make a penny.

    Yes…legal ways.

    I do get paid for remaindered books-a lower percentage, but I still get paid.
    I get paid when libraries purchase my books.
    I get paid for the original copy that was sold before it ended up in the used bookstore.
    I get paid for the original copy that ends up on Amazon selling for a penny.

    Those books, each individual one, are just one particular copy and I received my rightful compensation.

    When the ebook formats turn up on filesharing sites, one copy is easy made into ten thousand. One copy can be easily emailed to 1200 people, who can then email it to another 1200. One copy becomes a million in the blink of an eye. I get nothing for that and it doesn’t matter whether I need the money (and yeah, I do) or not.

    It’s still my hard work, something I spent weeks and months on, something I spent my own hard earned money promoting and I get nothing for them.

    Yes, since the majority of my work is epubbed, I probably do feel the impact harder, financially, than somebody like Nora Roberts but it doesn’t matter whether the author can afford to have somebody steal from her or not.

    Theft is theft.
    Wrong is wrong.

    Doing wrong to somebody else does hurt.

    It also costs the publishers millions of dollars-I heard a figure that it was actually into the billion dollar range now.

    That loss gets passed on to authors who have series cut, to new authors because the publisher isn’t as willing to take as many risks, and to readers who end up having to pay higher prices.

    So not only does it hurt the author who has her work stolen from her, it also hurts the publisher, it hurts other authors, and it hurts the readers.

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  21. Karen Templeton
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 12:26:29

    Re: advances

    Look — I shake my head, too, when I hear of an unknown, unproven author getting a high 6-figure or even 7-figure advance, even if it’s for multiple books. A huge risk for the publisher, IMO, and an unnecessary one.

    But most romance authors don’t get advances anywhere near that size — and those that do, as has been said, have track records to justify it. But to reiterate both Nora’s and Jackie’s points, authors don’t get the whole thing on signing. In my case, as a Har author, I get part on signing, part on proposal acceptance, and the remainder on approval, usually 6-8 months before release. It’s not a huge amount, but if that model were to suddenly change to only getting paid after the sales come in?

    Insert little ROFL dude here.

    Before publication, of course you write on spec, whenever and however you can. But once you’re contracted — once the publisher is basically telling you they expect you to deliver X number of projects by certain dates — it becomes a job, even if only part time. So why on earth shouldn’t an author expect compensation while she fulfills her obligation? As Nora said, advances are your guarantee — I know I will make at least X number of dollars for X months of work, which at this stage of my career, I do not see as unreasonable. It’s good faith on both sides: I promise to deliver a salable story by a certain date, they promise to market that story to the best of their ability. It’s a shared risk this way; the no advance scenario is not. At least for print publishing, for all the reasons already stated.

    I have had a few books with Har that haven’t earned out, almost always because of distribution issues beyond my control. But the vast majority of my, and my fellow Har authors — esp. for category/series — not only earn out, but earn beyond the advance. In some cases, well beyond. In Har’s case, that non-earn-out figure is nowhere near 80 percent. In my case, it’s around ten percent, and except for one book we’re only talking a few hundred shy of missing that magic threshold. That doesn’t mean Har lost money on those books, only that the books didn’t perform as well as we’d hoped.

    If a publisher IS routinely losing great gobs of cash b/c it’s doling out too many huge advances, then THAT publisher’s business model, IMO, needs serious retooling. That doesn’t mean the advance system is wrong, but rather that — in some cases, maybe even in too many cases — it’s being handled unwisely.

    But let’s leave your average, small potatoes author — who’s not exactly living the high life off her writing earnings — out of the discussion, ‘kay?

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  22. Karen Templeton
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 12:35:40

    And what Shiloh said.

    Big, BIG diff between one physical copy being read even a half dozen times, and a single, pirated e-copy being downloaded dozens, hundreds, thousands of time.

    And frankly, I do not believe most of those downloaders have any intention of ever buying. Why would they, when it’s so easy to get it for free?

    Not that I don’t understand the frustration of legit e-readers who just want to be able to copy their own purchased e-books to other devices. That would drive me insane, too. But the pirating makes my heart bleed, it really does.

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  23. Nora Roberts
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 12:42:11

    ~I get part on signing, part on proposal acceptance, and the remainder on approval, usually 6-8 months before release. ~

    And in my case, and I’d say a lot of others in out-of-category, it’s part on signing, part on acceptance, part on pub–and often the last on pub plus six months. It’s spread out this way to give the publisher a chance to recoup part or all of their outlay before the advance is completely paid.

    I’ve had books that haven’t earned out the advance, and I can promise you, the publisher didn’t lose any money. In fact, they made money.

    I’m not waiting a couple years after the work is complete to make mine.

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  24. XandraG
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 12:57:25

    If that's true, I wonder how Kensington designed my cover and produced my cover flats well before my page proofs (which are sitting over on the table just begging for my undivided attention) had been done. I'm pretty sure it was in design (if not printed) well before I even received my copy edits.

    Oooh, ooh, I know this one from ancient days in an old job. Your publisher has standards for paper weight, content length, margins, and font size that accommodate a range of word counts between (min)X and (max)Y. Based on that, they know that Z number of pages equals W thickness, where Z pages contains the text with word count Y. W becomes the cover flat standard for the spine, and Z becomes the page count standard. If word count < Y then font is adjusted, margins may shrink or grow, and filler pages are inserted until thickness of pages becomes W.

    (Also, there was some stuff about multiples of 4 put in there because of how folio sheets get chopped up into smaller bits to make books, and which fronts and backs go together. Kinda interesting stuff, but there ya go.)

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  25. Zoe Winters
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 12:58:13

    Jackie, either they had already decided exactly on the number of pages the book was going to be and it was going to meet that requirement or else, or they padded in extra blank pages to give room for copy edits, or they later adjusted the design specs either up or down to fit the book.

    My personal guess would be the middle one. It’s less headache than the other two.

    Because that’s how the cover size specs are determined. Though your comment did help me to brainstorm quickly and realize ways to expedite the process. When I’m in final polishing edits, I have a close enough idea of page count that I can pad in a few blank pages to get my cover designed while I’m doing that, and expedite the whole thing.

    Then again, that choice does lock things down pretty much from that point onward, unless I want to have to worry about the specs being changed later.

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  26. Zoe Winters
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 13:08:34

    Shiloh,

    I never said theft or piracy was okay. And if most readers don’t understand how badly it hurts authors, then they need to be educated, not DRM’d to death. IMO.

    I also was fairly certain that some publishers weren’t paying for remaindered books. If I was in error about that, I apologize. Though I don’t really know how most authors can really know what has sold and what hasnt’ sold and what their genuine royalty should be with the returns system. It’s funny math all the way around, IMO. (And that isn’t to instigate more debate, I said “In my opinion”)

    With libraries, yes you get paid for that one copy, and when it gets worn out, for another copy. But being paid a dollar or two for something to be read hundreds or thousands of times isn’t exactly major compensation here.

    My point was “not” that piracy and libraries and borrowing books from friends were the exact same thing, or that piracy was okay. My point was . . . if someone wants to A. Read your book and B. Not pay money for it, there are plenty of LEGAL ways that can be accomplished. Or if they want to buy it used, as many people do, the author never sees a penny of that. (sure, they were paid for the first copy, but what difference does that make if it’s resold on the internet 32 times alongside the brand new copies at Amazon?)

    The entire boat is being missed here. If someone is downloading your work for free, something in their head says: “I shouldn’t have to pay money for this.” And if that’s the general attitude, then piracy is only a symptom of the problem.

    And if piracy gets completely out of control where no one can stay in business, then we’d better find a new way to monetize our art. Cause DRM can be hacked.

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  27. Zoe Winters
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 13:17:15

    XandraG, thanks, That would make sense that they would have ranges like that. If that’s the case, then that’s one less reason for the publishing process to be so damn slow. Color me stumped now.

    I definitely do not have that sort of thing down to a science yet. maybe in 10 years, I’ll know 50 different ways to get my book into an exact cover spec size with a big word range taking all the variables into account.

    It’s a good thing to start keeping notes on.

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  28. Nora Roberts
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 13:28:06

    ~ But being paid a dollar or two for something to be read hundreds or thousands of times isn't exactly major compensation here.~

    It would only be a handful of times for a paperback before it needs to be replaced, and probably a couple dozen times for hc. We’d need a librarian to give us a better idea on that. But it sure wouldn’t be hundreds or thousands per copy.

    It’s a small amount, sure, but libraries perform a valuable service, and most writers are happy to support them, and to know their books are being offered.

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  29. MoJo
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 13:37:41

    The entire boat is being missed here. If someone is downloading your work for free, something in their head says: “I shouldn't have to pay money for this.” And if that's the general attitude, then piracy is only a symptom of the problem.

    The public has been trained to believe that information is and should be free. It’s become an entitlement. At some point now or in the extremely near future, they won’t even be thinking “I shouldn’t have to pay money for this.” It simply won’t occur to them that there should be an even exchange of ideas/entertainment for money.

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  30. Zoe Winters
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 13:38:55

    Point was:

    People do not have to pay money out of their own pockets to read. Period.

    It’s a luxury to buy and own a book. Especially in this economy.

    If your average person feels that they don’t have to or shouldn’t have to pay to read, then we have a larger problem than whether they are pirating or going to the library, or swapping books with their friends.

    I used to work in my high school library, back when you still had the little slips in the back of the book that was stamped. there was the slip glued to the back filled up, and then there would be a card front and back that was in a pocket filled up with date stamps. Counting all those little spaces added up to over 100 checkouts. And I don’t know how many cards a book went through before it was replaced. But it was more than one. But I know that we weren’t replacing books willy nilly and some of those books were checked out fairly frequently and had been there for quite awhile.

    Maybe books used to be put together better, I don’t know. But I do know that your average book doesn’t experience that much wear and tear from simple reading unless people are playing dodge ball with it.

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  31. Zoe Winters
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 13:54:06

    And as a caveat, yes some books do have to be replaced after very few checkouts because they are mishandled and not treated well. But your average reader isn’t throwing books against the wall. And many books do go through circulation a few hundred times before needing to be replaced.

    But yes, “thousands” was a bit of hyperbole, and I should have refrained from it because it obscured my point. Which wasn’t really about the “exact number” of times a book is checked out, but that people can and do read for free, and even if a book is checked out 100 times and then replaced, what was that? A penny per time it went through circulation that the author made?

    We were talking about what takes money out of the author’s pocket. And I’m NOT saying libraries are bad. I’m only saying if someone does not want to pay money to read, they never ever have to. Whether that is by piracy or borrowing at the library or from a friend.

    And also that there are many ways in which authors do not make money on every new body reading their book. (again, not that piracy is okay or doesn’t hurt authors.)

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  32. shirley
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 16:35:58

    And frankly, I do not believe most of those downloaders have any intention of ever buying.

    This little tiny bit here really, IMO, speaks to the what piracy is and how it doesn’t necessarily have an impact on e-authors.

    WAIT! Before you start screaming, listen.

    Shiloh is right, right, right that at any given point there may be hundreds of pirated copies of her work on sharing sites. She’s also right that those books are gaining her no money. The place where I think a lot of digital authors get lost is when they talk about money lost due to piracy. While I’m sure there are occasional persons who get for free what they might buy otherwise, I also know without doubt that the overwhelming majority of people taking up her, and other’s, books WOULD NOT BUY IN THE FIRST PLACE. They are ONLY taking pirated copies BECAUSE they are free, not because they have to have the next Shiloh Walker book and they ‘ain’t gonna pay for it’.

    I know this because I look at what’s up at a lot of file sharing sites. E book content is barely a drip in the pan. Most of it is software. That’s beside the point though, my point is nine times out of ten those reading pirate copies ARE NOT the kind of people who are going to buy what they got for free. Digital authors aren’t losing money because they wouldn’t get the purchase in the first place.

    Hang on, hang on, just a little more, *g*

    This is not, in any way, to say that piracy is good, fine, or we should just let it happen and say oh-well. NO. NO. These sites should be found and shut down. Not necessarily for the sole benefit of those who *are* losing money, but because they aren’t safe by and large. Downloading from these sites can have a detrimental effect not just on one user, but on many. AND because when you get things for free, often you get what you (don’t) pay for.

    And maybe eventually, when all things become affordable for all, or when people stop feeling entitled to every thing they want, this won’t continue to be a problem.

    Um, yeah, I know. Wishful thinking.

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  33. Zoe Winters
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 16:43:29

    Shirley,

    I think this is an excellent point! It’s really not a case of someone having $15 bucks in their hand and saying: “hmmmm I could buy this book, or I could just pirate it.” I’m sure “some” people think like that, but most people who pirate weren’t paying for it anyway. If they didn’t pirate it, or couldn’t pirate it, they wouldn’t have gone out and bought it.

    They “might” have gone to the library or borrowed it from a friend, maybe. But if they went to the library, that still wouldn’t positively affect the author’s pocket book. Unless that person was so rough on the book he forced the library to replace it, either with his funds, or the library’s.

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  34. Jules Jones
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 16:55:59

    432/433: one slight problem with that is the number of authors who have seen comments on file-sharing sites that are variations on the theme “OMG, I can’t believe how much money I wasted on paying for ebooks before I found this site, I’m never going to pay for an ebook again”. In other words, people who *have* been paying for books, but have no intention of doing so now they’ve found a way to shoplift without any risk of getting caught.

    That may well account for only a minority of the people downloading pirate copies (and I personally think it is a minority). But it doesn’t make authors particularly receptive to the idea that none of those people would have ever have bought a copy in the first place.

    And yes, shoplifting is what it is. It is the equivalent of going into a shop, picking up a copy, and walking out without paying for it; it is not equivalent to waiting until the library copy is available or your friend’s done with her copy before borrowing it and then returning it. Making a copy available to anyone is *not* the same thing as borrowing a library copy or lending your copy to a friend. It’s the same as going to a copy shop and making photocopies of the paid-for copy for anyone who wants one. One paid for copy can only be read by one person at a time. If you want it badly enough you’ll buy your own. If it’s popular enough, the library will buy multiple copies.

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  35. Zoe Winters
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 17:05:14

    And yes, shoplifting is what it is. It is the equivalent of going into a shop, picking up a copy, and walking out without paying for it; it is not equivalent to waiting until the library copy is available or your friend's done with her copy before borrowing it and then returning it. Making a copy available to anyone is *not* the same thing as borrowing a library copy or lending your copy to a friend.

    I don’t know that this is directed at my comments, but in case it is . .. I never said that.

    I wasn’t speaking about the moral implications of piracy. We all know piracy is theft and stealing is morally wrong.

    I was talking about economic bottom lines. And the fact that if someone doesn’t want to pay money to read a book, they won’t, and there are ways both legal and illegal to accomplish those ends.

    ALL I was saying is:

    Author makes standard royalty off a sale.

    Author doesn’t make money off of used books or borrowed books, or books taken out from the library (regardless of the fact that the original copy sold to the library or sold before it went to the used bookstore or was lent out to a friend made them money)

    Author doesn’t make money off of piracy, though SOME people who prefer print books or who want to support the author, may find a pirated copy and then buy the print copy.

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  36. Jules Jones
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 17:26:45

    Zoe, you’re still insisting that piracy and legal borrowing are financially identical from the author’s perspective. They’re not.

    I go to the library, and ask to borrow a particular book. After that book has been borrowed a certain number of times, it gets tatty and if it’s still in demand, they’ll buy another copy (subject to funds). If a lot of people are asking for it at the same time, they’ll buy extra copies. That’s more sales. That *is* more money in the author’s pocket. 1000 loans through the library system aren’t as much money as 1000 new copies, but they still give the author more money than one paid-for copy cloned and downloaded from a pirate site 1000 times.

    I go to the UBS to buy a book. if I’m a packrat, that’s the last time that book goes anywhere near a used bookstore. If I’m not, it goes back to the UBS, but in the meantime, it’s not on their shelf. Someone else who wants to buy it is going to have to wait, or to go and buy a new copy. If they want it badly enough, they buy a new copy. If not, they wait, and then it goes onto their bookshelf forever more, or the book goes back to the UBS a little more tattered, a little closer to the day it falls apart and another new copy will be bought.

    Piracy is instant gratification. No risk of having to wait if you want to get it cheap or free. Which is all fine and dandy, as long as the authors you want to read are still selling enough copies to other people to make it worth their while to keep on writing.

    I know there are people out there who genuinely use it as a try-before-you-buy, or who genuinely can’t afford to buy books, or who are disabled and need ebooks but can’t get them legally because there isn’t a legal e-edition. And there are also people out there who will tell you that they’ll buy the book if they like it, but somehow never get around to doing so before downloading the next one from the file-sharing site, or who can afford to spend money on other discretionary purchases.

    Now, my view on book piracy falls under the heading of What Scalzi Said. But I do get tired of people saying that piracy is no different to people reading a library book, because each individual copy of a library book has been paid for, and if a book is popular the author *will* see that reflected in their royalty payments.

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  37. Zoe Winters
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 18:04:48

    I didn’t say they were financially identical. In fact I took great care to specify EXACTLY what I thought each situation represented financially point by point in my last post.

    Again, I’ve never said it was “no different than.” I said there are MANY ways people can get books without paying for them. Piracy is one. libraries are one. Borrowing from a friend is one.

    Just like there are many foods you can eat. It doesn’t mean I think pizza and carrots are the same thing.

    There are many ways people can get books where it doesn’t benefit the author further financially. Piracy is one. Used books are one. Borrowing from a friend is one. Libraries to some degree are one. Yes, if the book wears out the library buys another, if it’s wildly successful the library buys several copies, but per reader you aren’t making that much. It doesn’t mean it’s financially “the exact same thing” as piracy. (Though there ARE some people who buy print copies of books they’ve pirated. It’s still not the “exact same thing” nor have I stated that it was)

    I’m not sure how any of these points have been misconstrued, but they have been.

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  38. kirsten saell
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 19:43:06

    And yes, shoplifting is what it is. It is the equivalent of going into a shop, picking up a copy, and walking out without paying for it;

    Actually, the problem is that it isn’t. That’s what lets these people justify what they’re doing. Because they aren’t taking something physical, but instead something that can be copied endlessly, they aren’t depriving anyone of purchasing that particular item. Therefore, it’s not really stealing.

    I try to explain it as riding the bus or subway without paying. I mean, the bus is already going that way, and as long as you’re not depriving someone else of a seat, it’s not really wrong, right? Except that it is. You’re using a product or service for which you would normally have to pay, without paying, and without permission. Not exactly stealing, but very definitely wrong. And illegal.

    It's not a huge amount, but if that model were to suddenly change to only getting paid after the sales come in?

    I never said we should eliminate advances, just that we should maybe reexamine them. And no, the publisher may not have lost money on a book that didn’t earn out its advance. But the author did receive money s/he didn’t technically earn. It’s an advance against royalties.

    And no, I’m not saying authors should have to pay back what doesn’t earn out, or that they don’t deserve money up front. How about a signing bonus (not an advance) of half what a normal advance might be, plus royalties of 4% instead of 6, to be payable immediately on sales. In other words, you get money up front, and nothing has to “earn out”. Then up the royalty in increments of 20 000 copies sold or whatever.

    If the wonky arithmetic of the returns system is what makes it so hard to figure out royalties in a timely manner, why not try a small signing bonus, plus a 6% royalty, plus a slightly deeper discount for stores in exchange for no returns, which would allow the publisher to be more exact with their print runs and pay royalties on a more regular basis (like, within a few months, rather than years). Then when traditional printing is no longer profitable for that title, POD it as needed at a different royalty rate, making purchasing new as attractive to readers as buying used on ebay.

    Everyone is acting as if there is only one possible way for publishing to work, and if you got rid of one thing it would all fall apart. But you know? I don’t think that’s going to happen. There are a hundred different ways publishers and booksellers and authors could interact, and I’m willing to bet at least one or two of them are better than what we’ve got now.

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  39. Robin
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 19:55:48

    re. the piracy assertions: has anyone done any actual research to determine what, precisely, the financial losses are to publishing (and by extension to authors)? I see these numbers thrown around, but if they are based merely on how many copies of books are downloaded without payment, that is, IMO, an artificially high number to use, because not all of those downloads (perhaps not even the vast majority) would be true sales lost. The direct financial impact would register only on books that would otherwise have been purchased legally. Has any (preferably disinterested) entity tried to determine what the direct fiscal impact of piracy is, or are these numbers compiled from raw download numbers?

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  40. Zoe Winters
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 20:03:52

    Robin,

    If it hasn’t already been done, I think it would be really interesting for a research group to do some formal surveys and give us some harder numbers.

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  41. Ann Somerville
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 20:11:17

    @Robin:

    because not all of those downloads (perhaps not even the vast majority) would be true sales lost.

    No, but the impact is more than actual sales. It (a) adds to the mentality that if it’s on the internet, it should be free and that egoods aren’t really real so it’s not really stealing and (b) it changes former purchasers into non-purchasers. It’s also demoralising for the authors.

    I don’t think you will ever stop book piracy. But what you *can* do is reward legitimate customers. Offer freebies and ‘DVD extra’s to people who can prove purchase. Not sure how you would do that, but it’s like the fact that people will still buy DVDs even though you can download movies for free, because of the interactive games or what have you.

    E copies have a disadvantage in that your author can’t sign the copy, so you haven’t an incentive to buy a book to sign. But say putting a valid receipt code in or something, meant you got a freepodcast? Or a chance to win a free signed book? Or a ticket to a movie based on it, or something of that order? Something to make the reader feel cherished, and to build that personal connection with the author so the reader feels good and more inclined to be guilty about stealing.

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  42. kirsten saell
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 20:25:17

    No, but the impact is more than actual sales. It (a) adds to the mentality that if it's on the internet, it should be free and that egoods aren't really real so it's not really stealing and (b) it changes former purchasers into non-purchasers. It's also demoralising for the authors.

    Everything Ann said. I don’t need to know down to the penny exactly how many dollars publishers and authors lose to pirates. Why the F should anyone justify taking something without payment or permission just because it’s not physically tangible?

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  43. GrowlyCub
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 20:31:43

    Somebody already mentioned this; I’d love to get a big discount coupon for the e-version when I buy a paper book, because I buy paper books if I like an e-book (unless they are those insanely priced trades), and I’d love to have my favorite paper books in e- going wherever I go, so the converse would get me to buy more as well. Or make a package deal available from the start.

    But above all, make it DRM free.

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  44. Zoe Winters
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 20:32:33

    I think it would be valuable to know percentage-wise how many people pirating WOULD HAVE bought a copy otherwise, and how many are just taking advantage of something free.

    I agree with what people are saying about the mentality of free stuff on the internet and the morality issues, etc. But no one eats morality. No one pays their rent with morality.

    So since publishing is a business, I think it would be beneficial for publishers to know in some kind of statistical way at least, what the fiscal loss to them is from piracy, as in “what are the lost sales” that they would have actually gotten, were it not for piracy.

    And maybe publishers already have this information, maybe the study has already been done, and I’m just not aware of it.

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  45. Kat
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 20:49:20

    Robin, I’m thinking of doing a small survey about this precisely because what I know of people who share ebooks don’t always match what’s said about them. The problem is finding people who are willing to answer the survey. Also, it’s not going to be rigorous by any means–more like a feeler for what motivates people and if/how it affects the amount they spend on books.

    if they are based merely on how many copies of books are downloaded without payment, that is, IMO, an artificially high number to use

    I agree with this. Some people have told me that they haven’t even read half the books they’ve downloaded and probably never will. I suppose they downloaded out of habit? novelty? I’m not sure. Tim O’Reilly’s post last year on “free” being complicated goes through some of the different ways in which free content may or may not benefit authors. He also posted a case study, Free Downloads vs. Sales: A Case Study. This isn’t a romance book, though, so we can only speculate on how the numbers would change for romance books.

    It (a) adds to the mentality that if it's on the internet, it should be free and that egoods aren't really real so it's not really stealing and (b) it changes former purchasers into non-purchasers.

    I’m not sure I believe that these are necessarily true, Ann. I mean, yes, I think they probably do happen for some people, but I’m not sure these are the prevailing behaviours at this point in time. I think we’ll probably move towards (a) in the future. I’m undecided on (b)–I think this will be a function of how well publishers and retailers can test different business models and find ones that work. Now, though, I think (new and midlist) authors have as much chance of converting purchasers to non-purchasers as they do of finding new readers for their books.

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  46. Ann Somerville
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 20:56:57

    I'm not sure these are the prevailing behaviours at this point in time.

    Already happened with music. Ebooks, for the size of the market, has a much bigger problem.

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  47. Robin
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 21:01:30

    No, but the impact is more than actual sales. It (a) adds to the mentality that if it's on the internet, it should be free and that egoods aren't really real so it's not really stealing and (b) it changes former purchasers into non-purchasers. It's also demoralising for the authors.

    I’m not saying there aren’t non-quantifiable costs associated with piracy, or that they aren’t worth talking about; I just want to know whether the quantifiable costs that people cite are coming from any credible research or whether they’re an aggregate number based on raw downloads. The reason it’s important to me is that so many of the comments I see from authors on piracy focus on the economic loss to publishers and authors. So I wonder if anyone has actually analyzed the scope of those alleged losses, especially if that is forwarded in service of discouraging people from piracy or file sharing.

    I also agree that rewarding people who do purchase electronic books is a good idea, not only because it can secure loyalty, but also because there are significant costs to buying electronic that readers accept — from not being able to pass on or sell or trade a book after reading it to not being able, possibly, to pass it between authorized devices the reader owns, to requiring additional equipment to read said books — and these costs are not, IMO, always factored in when people talk about the differences between e and print books. And when, for example, some publishers are trying to charge us *more* for ebooks, that can create a great deal of resentment, a sense of being ripped off, of being exploited and stolen from, which also, IMO, factor into the reasons some pirate and/or file share ebooks.

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  48. Kat
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 21:02:33

    With music, though, I think the industry failed to innovate and test new business models. What they did was try to restrict access to content in a way that ended up being counterproductive. Book publishing has the advantage of learning from the music industry’s mistakes.

    Now, if we’re comparing music with books, as far as music CREATORS are concerned, they have viable alternative means of making money through concerts, tie-ins, etc. I don’t think these avenues are available to most authors, so in that sense, there’s a much greater reliance on the publishing process in terms of making money.

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  49. kirsten saell
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 21:34:50

    And when, for example, some publishers are trying to charge us *more* for ebooks, that can create a great deal of resentment, a sense of being ripped off, of being exploited and stolen from, which also, IMO, factor into the reasons some pirate and/or file share ebooks.

    I know if my choice is between stealing something or being anally violated, well, I never was much for buttsecks with strangers.

    No, I wouldn’t download a pirated book. I just won’t buy, or I’ll purchase a used print copy. Either way, the author and publisher lose out.

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  50. Ann Somerville
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 00:10:34

    @Robin:

    I wonder if anyone has actually analyzed the scope of those alleged losses, especially if that is forwarded in service of discouraging people from piracy or file sharing.

    Not sure you could get any data worth having since the file-sharing is illegal, and many participants are not in the USA. Could you really trust the answers of people engaged in this? I don’t think you could.

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  51. Jules Jones
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 01:51:14

    Zoe @437: you went to great lengths to specify that authors don’t make money off piracy and don’t make money off used book sales. Do you really think that there’s no way to look at that and see it as you saying that they have the same financial impact on authors?

    Yes, I am getting grumpy about this. I think that the idea of paying a licencing fee each time you read a book is insane. But “it’s just like reading a library book!” is one of the excuses used by pirates to justify downloading, and then to justify *not* going out and buying a legal copy of something that author’s written. I’m an author, so obviously that’s going to annoy me. But it also annoys me as a reader — because I’d rather read books that have been been through a gatekeeper process. I have seen raw slush, and I’d rather pay someone else to go through it first, thank you. It’s possible to run a gatekeeper process as an open source model, but piracy is leeching off the willingness of other readers to support a paid gatekeeping model.

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  52. Zoe Winters
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 01:59:16

    Yes, Jules, I think you’re over the top on this.

    You are ascribing to me things I haven’t said and I’ve pointed out very specifically where I haven’t said them.

    So just because you think it’s “just like the argument pirates give” doesn’t mean that was what I was saying. And I specifically said I wasn’t saying that. You being grumpy about pirates downloading things and saying “it’s just like going to the library” isn’t about me and shouldn’t become about me.

    Because I didn’t say that.

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  53. Kat
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 02:31:41

    Not sure you could get any data worth having since the file-sharing is illegal, and many participants are not in the USA. Could you really trust the answers of people engaged in this? I don't think you could.

    I think it’s possible to get reasonably accurate answers, depending on how you design the study. For example, there have been studies done on people who cheat on their partners. Now, I’m not equating the two actions (cheating and piracy) except to point out that you can successfully design a study that will encourage people to answer honestly even if they’re doing something they’re not supposed to.

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  54. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 05:38:27

    I’m sure figures exist, but there’s one thing you’ve overlooked. Knowledge is power and gathering numbers like that is expensive. I would do it with a statistical sample, but a complex one, so that the month’s figures could be discounted by a certain amount. So I’m sure the bigger companies have that built in to their financial model.

    However, it’s highly unlikely that they would share those figures with anyone else, because of the expense and because of the insight the figures would give to a competitor. Businesses aren’t big on sharing.

    The only chance is if a neutral third party like Nielsen takes an interest, but they are in general only interested in gathering data from legitimate sources. I really can’t see Nielsen volunteering to gather data from illegal sources. One step too far, I’d think.

    I love Ann’s suggestion. Cherish your customers, build loyalty and persuade them that they can get more from buying legally. Instead of treating them like potential criminals by slapping DRM on them.

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  55. Nora Roberts
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 06:04:13

    Advances: Many contracts include a bonus clause. So much more if X number of sales are reached, X much if the book hits the NYT. X much if it hits for Y number of weeks, or the position.

    After an author is fairly standard at that sales level, or a regular NYT lister, the bonus goes away and a larger advance implemented. Usually, I say, because all this depends on author, agent, publisher.

    Sliding royalty rates are also often built into a contract, rising if and when the sales reach certain levels.

    And I disagree about not earning off meaning the author hasn’t techinically earned it. This is the publisher’s agreement–what they believe they can sell.

    I don’t want to get into the whole piracy thing again, as my stand there’s well established. I only want to say libraries, used book store are legal. Piracy’s not.

    It should matter.

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  56. Ann Somerville
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 06:22:52

    I only want to say libraries, used book store are legal. Piracy's not.

    The legality – and the openness – is another benefit to the author. If people are reading books on the bus, at the doctor’s, talking to their friends, leaving them in their houses where visitors can see them and curious family can poke through them – my god, you can’t buy that kind of publicity.

    The e-equivalent is the blog. Review sites, chat sites, people nattering to each other. Word of mouth. It’s bread and butter stuff.

    How many thieves are that open? I know people who steal content all the time and never review, never talk about the book they rip off at all, because they’re not interested in promoting anything they steal, and they know perfectly well they shouldn’t have it.

    No, libraries != book pirates. Ever.

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  57. Kat
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 07:09:34

    I don’t believe that libraries are the same as piracy either, but maybe the people I know who share ebooks are not representative of pirates, because they talk about books a lot and buy a lot of books.

    I'm sure figures exist, but there's one thing you've overlooked. Knowledge is power and gathering numbers like that is expensive.

    Lynne, I reckon this would be a good topic for an academic research paper, so I don’t think it’s impossible nor would it have to be funded by publishers. And I wouldn’t study the actual filesharing sites because, as you say, it would be difficult to have them participate. I’d study people who actually fileshare, their behaviour, motivation and buying patterns.

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  58. Hortense Powdermaker
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 07:52:58

    the piracy assertions: has anyone done any actual research to determine what, precisely, the financial losses are to publishing (and by extension to authors)?

    Unfortunately I think this is one of the problems with Big Publishing: very little market research is done, which was one of the points Jane made in her essay.

    For what it’s worth – a Canadian study of music piracy found

    “a strong positive relationship between P2P file sharing and CD purchasing. That is, among Canadians actually engaged in it, P2P file sharing increases CD purchases.”

    Of course, that’s Canada, home to the nicest people on earth.

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  59. Robin
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 12:15:44

    I am also of the belief that it’s possible to research some of these trends, and yes, research can be expensive, but IMO that doesn’t mean manufacturing data is acceptable (I’m not saying anyone here is doing that, just that it can often happen in the absence of research). Not only can that manufacturing IMO backfire in convincing people of the scope of a problem, but it can also make people feel that they are being lied to, which can have the secondary problem of undermining other arguments, either against piracy and file sharing or in favor of incentivizing legal downloading/purchasing

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  60. Zoe Winters
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 15:05:20

    I agree, Robin. It seems to me that everyone is focusing too much attention on the morality of piracy. We’re not talking baby eating or kitten kicking here.

    And the bottom-line reality is, authors are pissed about it because they perceive that it negatively affects them. If it didn’t, it would be no more evil than driving ten miles over the speed limit. It’s because people’s money is involved, that we’ve all started overly-moralizing the issue.

    If there were some hard numbers that showed “yes, this is actually harmful to sales, instead of representative of people who were NEVER going to buy it anyway, no matter what” then I could respect the “oh noes, the sky is falling cause of piracy” theories.

    I would like to see some hard numbers. I would like for someone to study this. If they did, no matter what they learned from the study, it would be beneficial to all publishers and all authors in figuring out how to deal with it, or even if it’s an issue that needs “dealing with.”

    And if it’s not a big problem “yet” as far as “actual lost sales,” but could become so, then start an educational program that isn’t preachy or like those commercials at the beginning of DVDs that say: “You wouldn’t steal a car or a purse would you?” Those kind of commercials are so irritating and overly moralistic that it gives most people who view it the momentary urge to take up car jacking.

    I mean really. There have to be ways to educate without insulting intelligence, talking down to, or generally just pissing people off.

    Here is an interesting article on piracy:

    http://tim.oreilly.com/pub/a/p2p/2002/12/11/piracy.html

    And lest someone totally misconstrue what I’m saying here… I DO feel artists deserve to be paid for their work. I do NOT feel that people should have a sense of entitlement like they can just have it for free.

    A book represents hundreds, if not thousands of hours of work.

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  61. Nora Roberts
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 18:31:21

    ~authors are pissed about it because they perceive that it negatively affects them.~

    I don’t perceive, I know. I’ve seen the numbers. No, it’s not baby-eating, but neither is pick-pocketing for instance. Still wrong. Still takes something from someone without the right to do so. Still stealing.

    Piracy literally costs me millions of dollars in potential sales. Millions. Do your surveys, run the numbers, that’s fine. There’s no way after doing so you’ll be able to say it doesn’t cost me considerable in sales. Not when I see hundreds upon hundreds of downloads, and read mb where those who access them gleefully celebrate that now they won’t have to buy the book because they can read it for free.

    Why, I wonder, shouldn’t the morality matter? What have we come to that morality is something to be shrugged aside?

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  62. Zoe Winters
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 18:43:13

    I give up.

    I’m tired.

    You win.

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  63. Nora Roberts
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 19:11:27

    I’m sorry, Zoe, but it’s just as frustrating for me–and a lot of other authors–to constantly hear: But if you could just find a way to make people not feel bad about pirating your work. If there could be a nicer way to say it, so they don’t get upset. Or the but does it really affect the sales? How can you prove it?

    Personally, I WANT people to feel bad for taking something illegally, something they have no right to take that’s taking money out of my pocket. I don’t want to constantly have to prove it picks my pocket, that’s it’s not right, to regularly run up again the it’s somehow okay if they’re just, you know, sampling, or if maybe, some of them might buy the book. So it’s really good for me in the long run.

    Just go on one of the file sharing sites and check it out. Check out how many of my titles–and this is just me, one author–are illegally downloaded. Check out how many times people read it without payment to me or the publisher.

    It’s wrong. It’s illegal. Why do those of us who have our work downloaded illegally have to constantly justify why it’s wrong, and why it affects our bottom line?

    I find it baffling.

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  64. Zoe Winters
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 19:25:48

    I understand that Nora, I’m just frustrated. I’m frustrated that for some reason I’m not able to communicate my meaning clearly enough not to cause misunderstanding and I’m frustrated by the misunderstanding.

    It’s hard to have meaningful dialogue on DA because it feels like everybody just wants to argue for the sake of arguing. This thread has jumped around to about ten different topics because it’s like people just want to argue and just want to “win.”

    And I’m not saying you personally are doing that, or singling out any person, it just feels like the mentality of the blog. And I get sucked into that too. And it’s irritating in the way that thong underwear is irritating. You keep digging that little strap out, but the only solution is to just go put on a different kind of underwear and stop trying to get the thong to work, lol.

    So I’m just backing off a little because I’m getting to that frustration point.

    And I’m totally with you on the “wanting people to feel bad about pirating.” That alone could reduce it. I’m just not sure that the approach thus far is the right one. I don’t know what the answer though is. I don’t know a better way to get the point across to people where they will actually accept the message.

    I just know that the louder people scream that it’s wrong, the less effective it probably is to pirates. It’s like those annoying anti-piracy commercials at the beginning of some DVDs. They’re just so condescending.

    It feels almost like a marketing issue, no one has hit on quite the right emotional note to persuade more people not to pirate. So it’s not that I don’t think it’s morally wrong. I do feel it’s morally wrong. And I DO think people should feel bad about it if they do it.

    But I can’t get past the idea that the way we’re approaching it is pissing people off in the direction of more piracy, if that makes sense. And when I say “we,” I don’t mean you, Nora Roberts, and me Zoe Winters, or even the people on this blog, just “in general” how this is dealt with.

    Again, I’m not saying I have a better way to reduce it, I don’t. I have no idea the right emotional note to hit. But i do think it will have to be an attitude shift. Because it’s just too easy to do it, even with DRM.

    And that’s why I think the numbers would be beneficial, as in statistically how many are downloading that “would have bought it” if they couldn’t get it for free? I know some people brag about that sort of thing, but is that the general attitude?

    Maybe it shouldn’t “matter” what the attitude is, but it’s an attitude of entitlement that makes piracy happen in the first place. So understanding the varying attitudes and motivations in a statistical way, could help deal with the issue.

    If people don’t know what they’re really fighting, or how big the threat actually is in statistical terms, then no method of fighting it is going to be that effective.

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  65. Kat
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 19:55:49

    @Zoe Winters: I agree with most of what you said, but this in particular struck me:

    I have no idea the right emotional note to hit.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s an emotional note that publishers and authors have to hit but an economic one.

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  66. kirsten saell
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 20:03:50

    Too bad Boston Legal is over. They could have given e-piracy the salmon farm treatment– a case where a reader sues a publisher because they dropped her favorite author when her sales fell off due to piracy. They could explore all the issues–does piracy have that deep an impact on sales? Is DRM effective? What’s the impact on fans when a series is cut off halfway through because the publisher is losing money?

    Much more entertaining, thought-provoking, and effective than thirty seconds of moralizing at the start of that DVD.

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  67. Zoe Winters
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 20:04:53

    Kat, can you expand on that?

    Are we talking about raising the convenience and lowering the cost of buying an ebook, so it’s more attractive and less trouble than pirating?

    Kirsten,

    That would have been great.

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  68. kirsten saell
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 20:25:47

    Are we talking about raising the convenience and lowering the cost of buying an ebook, so it's more attractive and less trouble than pirating?

    But, but, but, that would be too….logical…

    That would have been great.

    Oh, yeah.

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  69. Evangeline
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 20:28:35

    I personally think the entitlement can fall heavier on the “I have to have it now” side rather than “I don’t want to pay for it” at times. Another blog wrote about this topic and what caught my eye was the fact that many, many titles are pirated in translated forms.

    If you visit TV forums and mb’s, many people pirate because they live outside of the US. They see Americans talking about TV shows they won’t see for up to nine months to a year–if their local TV networks even acquire the show. Since the internet is a global entity, they feel entitled to being able to see a TV show currently airing in America because it isn’t fair to be left out of the conversation.

    If so many books are being translated into other languages, and the foreign rights aren’t being sold, or if they are, the reader won’t get the book for many more months, they feel entitled to being able to read the same books their American counterparts are enjoying. Also, censorship could also play a factor: romance titles could be banned in their country, or they could be closely scrutinized. So, the only recourse these people feel to obtain books is to download them illegally. Not to excuse their actions, or to encourage them, but I feel this is an angle that has been overlooked.

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  70. Kat
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 20:41:02

    @Zoe Winters: Yes, that’s one approach. I think my overall position is that publishers should be testing different business models and gathering proper data so that they can test the effects.

    First, let me say that I start with the assumption that ebook sharing happens because people want to read books. If I assume that ebook sharing happens because people want to steal money/goods, I will probably arrive at different solutions.

    So in terms of economic appeal, these are some of my thoughts (some borrowed from blogs all over the place)…
    - treat distribution channels for pirated works as competitors and ensure that legitimate distribution can offer competitive advantages (speed, quality, extras as Ann mentioned upthread)
    - create disincentives for sharing without affecting core value, i.e. the reading experience (e.g. this thread)
    - transform the business model and earn revenue in a different way (revolutionary, I know, but to be honest, we do this every time there’s significant innovation)
    - understand what customer needs piracy is addressing and work to fill as many of those as possible. This gives people fewer reasons to download pirated copies AND it demonstrates that your product has value — e.g. the simultaneous release issue Evangeline raised

    The thing is, the emotional appeal and the morality argument will only appeal to people who are the least likely to actually knowingly pirate books. The legal argument is only valid while it’s, well, legal. If tomorrow the UBS were made illegal, you’d have a legal argument against it–so what?

    Authors are also part of the business model. So the model has to be structured in a way that motivates them to keep creating work. Even if piracy decimates publishing as we know it, I believe there will still be a market for books and therefore a way to reward authors for their work. But, to be honest, that’s a bit too radical even for me to contemplate at the moment.

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  71. Nora Roberts
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 21:27:27

    ~First, let me say that I start with the assumption that ebook sharing happens because people want to read books. If I assume that ebook sharing happens because people want to steal money/goods, I will probably arrive at different solutions.~

    I think a good chunk of piracy (I’m not going to call it sharing) happens because people want to read books, and don’t necessarily want to or feel they’re obliged to pay for them. And that many who want to read and don’t necessarily want to or feel obliged to pay don’t really think they’re stealing.

    It’s more, what does it really hurt, or I just can’t afford right now, or I could spend that money elsewhere if–or some other rationalization.

    I think a good many don’t believe, or don’t want to believe that it actually affects the author financially. Or believe, or want to believe it’s actually a good thing for the author.

    Doesn’t matter how many of us say differently, or how many ways or times we point it out.

    So I honestly don’t know the solution either.

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  72. Robin
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 21:41:22

    You know how some folks who are dedicated paper readers feel that some of the advocates/arguments for ebooks are frustrating the cause rather than helping it? That’s the way I (and maybe some others here?) feel about some of the advocates/arguments against piracy — that they’re frustrating the anti-piracy cause rather than helping it. Although I’m too damn tired to expend any energy feeling offended at the prospect that by saying that I might be accused of defending piracy. And I personally hate thongs.

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  73. Ann Somerville
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 21:50:14

    Doesn't matter how many of us say differently, or how many ways or times we point it out.

    It’s like speeding, drink driving and not wearing seat belts. Those things lead to serious death and injury, not just prosecution and shame.

    And yet people still think it’s okay if they do it a little, or they don’t get caught, or if they’re better drivers than everything else. It doesn’t matter how much you rack up the penalties or how many cops are on the road, people will still do it.

    Based on animal training methods, it’s better to reward than punish. I think, honestly, that’s the only way we’re going to modify behaviour of this kind.

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  74. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 22:02:34

    @shirley:

    The place where I think a lot of digital authors get lost is when they talk about money lost due to piracy. While I'm sure there are occasional persons who get for free what they might buy otherwise, I also know without doubt that the overwhelming majority of people taking up her, and other's, books WOULD NOT BUY IN THE FIRST PLACE. They are ONLY taking pirated copies BECAUSE they are free, not because they have to have the next Shiloh Walker book and they ‘ain't gonna pay for it'.

    Absolutely some wouldn’t buy regardless, even if they love my books-personally I wish the pirates hated every last one of my books, and I couldn’t care less if they love my stuff to pieces.

    But the plain and simple fact is there are still a LOT of readers who don’t realize that those ‘free’ books they are finding aren’t ‘free’ but they are stolen property, that they are contributing to a growing problem. And I don’t believe I’m being Pollyanna about it, just because I’ve seen enough commentary and it just reinforces my thoughts on the matter.

    Others may ‘realize’ it’s wrong, but they don’t realize it really does hurt authors, it hurts publishers’ and it hurts readers-it’s a trickle down effect and when they download a pirated book, whether they would have paid for it or not, they are contributing to a problem.

    If we can get those people to understand, then we could at least make some difference.

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  75. Zoe Winters
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 22:13:57

    Robin,

    That’s about where I am on the issue. It’s not like I’m all “rah rah piracy! Go, yay!” here. :P

    I’m more concerned with what can be done to reduce it that’s actually effective in reducing it. What direct alternatives can be taken, if any? Value-added incentives, looking to reward good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior, sounds like something that should be further explored, IMO.

    Most of the time punishment only works to make people sneakier or more pissed off. When you spank a kid it doesn’t generally open up lines of communication. They resent it, and then they just “don’t get caught next time.”

    It would be nice if humanity didn’t think this way, but a lot of people do.

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  76. Kat
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 22:22:37

    Me, three.

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  77. Nicola O.
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 02:11:56

    But the plain and simple fact is there are still a LOT of readers who don't realize that those ‘free' books they are finding aren't ‘free' but they are stolen property, that they are contributing to a growing problem.

    Apologies if this has been brought up before, but is there a parallel here with stripped copies for print books? I can remember in the 80′s occasionally getting a raft of coverless paperbacks (and I truly can’t remember where they came from, but it was always in a batch). Once publishers started printing the notice that books like that were effectively “stolen property,” the number of them in circulation certainly seemed to drop. At least from my vantage point.

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  78. shirley
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 18:39:15

    That may well account for only a minority of the people downloading pirate copies (and I personally think it is a minority). But it doesn't make authors particularly receptive to the idea that none of those people would have ever have bought a copy in the first place.

    I didn’t say they’d be receptive. Hell, I think it’s crappy all around, this entitlement attitude, and how so many people (of all ages) will take what they can get for free and deal with the consequences (or not, a lot of the time) instead of buying something out of pocket. And like I said originally, I’m sure there are a few, heavy emphasis, who *might* have paid for the books in the first place, but I don’t think those ‘new’ non-buyers amount to any more monetary loss than the author deals with when multiple copies are sent to different review sites. In fact, probably less.

    Author doesn't make money off of piracy, though SOME people who prefer print books or who want to support the author, may find a pirated copy and then buy the print copy.

    That was the sum up of what I was saying. Not that e authors don’t lose money on piracy, but the amount they lose based on customers who would ACTUALLY buy in the first place is minimal. And probably another reason why, like plagiarism, piracy isn’t something that rises much above finger waving in society. We all agree it’s wrong, but in the court of public opinion, it isn’t wrong enough, I guess.

    Although, playing devil’s advocate, what goes around comes around but I don’t think someone suffering a serious illness or getting their hand chopped off or being thrown in prison is ‘coming around’. Those are definitely over-the-top extreme, IMO. But I digress.

    I'm sorry, Zoe, but it's just as frustrating for me-and a lot of other authors-to constantly hear: But if you could just find a way to make people not feel bad about pirating your work. If there could be a nicer way to say it, so they don't get upset. Or the but does it really affect the sales? How can you prove it?

    You’re overly moralizing. Zoe never said make people feel better about piracy. I didn’t either. What I said was actual loss in monetary value to the author due to e-piracy is negligible because MOST pirated copies would NOT have been bought outright in the first place.

    And for those of you who suggested getting a better idea of whether or not an illegal downloader *might* buy, I have a solution for you that has nothing to do with clandestine studies and everything to do with basic mathematics. It’s called probability and specifically the probability of the net expected loss on a product. Hey, I went to college and thought about going into accounting before I settled on nursing.

    And let me break here for a moment, but if anyone has actually lost millions of dollars in potential royalties due to e-piracy, then publishers would have lost tens of millions of dollars – maybe hundreds of millions – which is something NO business would sit idly by and put up with, no way no how. So I think the argument about all the money being lost is shaky at best. And I’ll prove it here by finding out the relative value, through expected loss probability, of a single pirated copy.

    As an aside, authors argue that all pirated copies would have been bought legally if an illegal copy were unavailable to piraters/P2P file sharers. My argument it that this perception is completely, totally, incorrect. However, let’s say that was correct.

    In probability every book has a 1 in what? 300 million chance (keeping the number to a strictly US population count – and rounded at that) of being bought by any person. Heck, call it 1 in 150 million and keep it at the number of people who can read (I hope that number is higher, but I’m a pessimist). And let’s say the book is even a MASSIVE bestseller, like many of Nora’s books are. We’ll say something like 1.5 million copies will sell over the life of the book. So, by probability a single person has a 1.5 million chance in 150 million to buy the book, or .01 percent.

    Now, multiply that by what an author makes per book. Say it’s a MMPB (7.99) and s/he gets 15%(Nora probably gets more, but since 12% is seen as the ‘high’ end… I’m being generous here to keep the math easy) that means you make about 1.20 on each book. That brings your net expected loss of income to each incident of piracy (a lost sale outside the purview of what does sell) to a whopping .012 cents. To find this number you multiply the amount of the loss (author royalty per book) by the probability that it will be bought (.01). Even if there were a million SEPARATE and INDIVIDUAL incidents of piracy, which is unlikely – it’s probably multiple copies of a few originally digitally uploaded copies- the total net loss, and that’s if every single pirate actually WOULD have bought the book, (which by true probability would be much less than .01 percent) to 12000 USD. Hey, it’s a lot of money, no doubt.

    It’s also a completely unfounded, inaccurate, and inconceivable number, since by probability the chance of any one pirate actually buying the original copy of the work is 1 percent. A one percent chance, which is so slim as to be laughable. In fact, I’d think that number should make it pretty clear that most pirates are most definitely NOT buyers.

    Moreover, if you look at that number (the 12000 USD), it should be pretty clear WHY e-piracy is NOT a big issue, despite what individual authors or even publishers (sometimes) publicly state. It’s theft, it’s morally wrong, but in the end the money lost is peanuts and THAT’S why the government, big publishing, et al DON’T do more to try and stop it. That and the difficulty of shutting down vs. the monetary output to do so. It’s not worth spending millions to shut down one P2P network, when the net return is a drop in the pan – or less.

    Now, look at that amount for an average e-pubbed author. Maybe they have a 1 in 10000 chance of selling a book to a person. Hell, maybe it’s even a few million. We’ll say 20M. And we’ll say a big time, super duper e bestseller might sell 50000 copies. That’s .0025 percent chance. Multiply that by the royalty, say forty percent of the cover price flat out (if all copies sold were sold from the home site. I’m not figuring in the less distribution or what ever, sorry). The average price of a novel length e-book is 5.99. So per copy, author makes 2.40. The end result is a loss of .006 cents per pirated copy.

    I know, someone is going to say but that’s not right, it can’t be. Okay, so figure it out based on your actual numbers. I asked an author friend for hers. I won’t name names, but here it is in real life numbers. This author has a book that has only sold 660 copies (i don’t know if that’s good or bad, just the number). The business has a total of 15000 (rounded up) unique customers. That means her book had .044 or just over 4% chance of selling. She makes 35% off each book and the cover price 3.99. So she makes 1.40 off each book. So, she loses for every attempt at piracy, on this book, .06 cents. Which may be why she considers e-piracy a pain in the ass, and morally wrong, but not a pain in her pocketbook.

    Because the fact of the matter is you can’t guess loss based on what you ‘hope’ a number will be. You can only go by what you know. And with a four percent chance of getting her book bought, she also understands that most of those piraters wouldn’t be buying in the first place.

    So, like I said earlier, piracy is morally wrong, just not wrong enough to get the people to stop doing it. It’s very sad.

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  79. shirley
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 19:13:58

    dang, and i forgot to thank someone.

    Pender, at E2, for refreshing my memory on the calculations of expected loss.

    And to iceowl for this, which sums up how I personally feel about piracy, and I suspect, how many of us feel:

    “Because my own view is we should support artists by paying them with money that we work for just as as the artist worked to make his art. Exchange of benefit for effort feels inherently, instinctively(sic) correct to me. My opinion comes from an individual who works to make a living, and honors others who do.”

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  80. Zoe Winters
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 19:20:56

    Thanks, Shirley.

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  81. Kat
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 19:42:27

    @shirley:

    with a four percent chance of getting her book bought, she also understands that most of those piraters wouldn’t be buying in the first place.

    Your stats made my head spin, but one of the issues I’m interested in is how to convert those people who might have bought the book (but downloaded free instead) into paying customers. And that’s why I think a study on download/sharing and buying patterns would be beneficial.

    @shirley:

    we should support artists by paying them

    The thing is, there may be other ways to compensate artists for their work, and this is why I think testing new business models is a good idea.

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  82. shirley
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 20:22:03

    Your stats made my head spin, but one of the issues I'm interested in is how to convert those people who might have bought the book (but downloaded free instead) into paying customers. And that's why I think a study on download/sharing and buying patterns would be beneficial.

    I did show, to a point. Statistically speaking, each book published has a one in how ever many people can read and do buy books shot at getting purchased. So, if one were being generous, then every print published book has a one in one hundred and fifty million chance of being purchased. On a more narrow scope, I used the number of books a particular title *might* sell through it’s lifetime. So I suggested that a bestseller could potentially sell 1.5 million copies in the US. That’s 1.5 million purchases in about 150 million possible purchasees. Or one percent (.01) of the purchasing public actually purchasing the book. (To find a percent, you divide number total by the number you need a percent for, jic you were wondering. I know, I haven’t done that much math in years, LOL!)

    Anyway, by that statistic, that probability that any one of the digital pirates might actually be a buyer is 1 in 100. Not very likely. And anecdotal claims that one ‘used to buy, but won’t now ’cause it’s free’ isn’t statistically viable. Maybe those claimants are saying such things because they want to fit in with the group. Maybe they really mean them. It doesn’t really matter. I’ve visited the P2P sites. Generally speaking, it’s a few commentators talking about going ‘free’, not tens of thousands, and whether they will buy again or not is as up for debate as anything else that a person ‘says’ they would or wouldn’t do on the internet.

    What I was saying is that using hard math, actual ‘science’ so to speak, we can figure out the statistical probability that any ONE person will buy a book. So, some one might say, “well, that’s not right, not everyone reads”. Okay, so what if we say that 30 million people are readers. That means a 5% chance that a book will be bought, based on my 1.5 million sales and 30M potential buyers. Now multiply that buy the cost per book (as I did above). The amount lost is 6 cents.

    As you can see, six cents a copy, even on the completely erroneous one million copies that would supposedly have been bought, but were stolen instead, is 60K. A much larger number, no doubt about it, but still a drop in the bucket of what the publisher MADE on the 1.5 million that DID sell. Plus, it could potentially cost two, three, ten times that 60K for a publisher to hunt down, sue, and get shut down a P2P site. Not worth the hassle – from a strictly business perspective.

    Irritating, upsetting, and loathsome to authors and publishers, readers and regular joes though it is – piracy simply doesn’t do *enough* damage to be worth the profit loss trying to fight it.

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  83. Kat
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 21:54:20

    @shirley: My interest is more along the lines of… OK, person A downloads an illegal copy of a book. Assume this is a person who buys books and may have bought the book if a free copy hadn’t been available (in other words, a potential buyer although not one that would have bought with 100% certainty). (Feel free to criticise my assumptions because I absolutely suck at probability.) So then I want to know:
    - If the reader likes the book, does that result in actual sales: for the same reader, for friends of the reader (e.g. gifts)? Or does the reader just pass on the free copy to friends, in which case, loop back to the start of the example?
    - How many times does an illegal copy have to pass through a POTENTIAL buyer before it results in a real sale?
    - What is the reader’s total annual spend on books? What’s the net effect of illegal downloading for that reader?
    - Do buyers of legitimate copies who also download illegal copies make their legal copies available for illegal download?
    - What happens when an illegal copy is downloaded? Is it actually read or do people download it just in case they want to read it some time in the future?

    And so on.

    To me, the issue isn’t so much how to stop piracy but how to get those potential buyers to make a purchase.

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  84. Sunita
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 22:39:05

    @shirley:
    I really don’t think this is the appropriate model to estimate the potential loss to authors from pirated books. And I’m using the terms “model” and “estimate” in the technical sense. Or it might be the right model, but you don’t have the necessary data to specify it properly.

    You are using assumptions that are unlikely to capture the relevant population and the behavior of that population. For example, the potential buyers for Nora Roberts (the entire world) and Shiloh Walker (sorry, Shiloh, but it’s likely to be a smaller number!) are not the same, and neither author’s potential buyers are properly captured by a model that treats each person as a potential buyer and each buyer as equally likely to purchase or download. At the very least, you want to begin with the overlapping group that purchases romance novels AND has the knowledge and internet access to download pirated ebooks. This is considerably less than the entire population. We simply don’t have the information to accurately capture the population whose behavior interests us. So your “hard math” is a bit misleading, because we don’t want to know the probability that a random person in a national population will make a choice between buying and downloading if we want to figure out the predicted loss through downloading. We want to figure out who are the romance readers, who are the people with the access and information to download pirated books, and what is the population that has both characteristics. Then we can start to assign probabilities and expected values.

    I agree that many pirated books do not result in lost sales. While there are sites that allow you to download a single book or a small set of books, many torrents contain hundreds of books. So a downloader may download hundreds of books she doesn’t want in order to get the few she does. It still has the potential to reduce sales, because on torrent sites, each downloader is supposed to become a seeder (uploader), which increases the opportunities for others to download.

    I don’t have statistically valid evidence for this, but my hunch is that an author like Nora, who is so widely read, loses significant sales through piracy. I would also expect that epublished authors suffer, because their potential readership is savvy to the internet and more likely to subscribe to torrents. Authors whose readership is less internet-connected or less large may not lose as many sales, even though their books are being downloaded en masse. But this is just speculation based on what I’ve observed in the illegal download world and my seat of the pants assignment of behavioral characteristics.

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  85. Sunita
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 22:51:53

    @Robin:
    I rarely disagree with you, but on the piracy point I think there’s a bit of separation between our positions. I agree that labeling all people who don’t follow pre-internet rules of intellectual property as thieves and supporters of theft is at the very least unhelpful and more likely inaccurate. But people frequently bring up the music/DRM/Napster model to argue that publishers and authors need to get current. I agree the print-driven, old-style publishing model is deeply flawed, but authors don’t have the same options as musicians, unless I’m missing something. Successful musicians have recouped a chunk of their lost sales income through touring; I remember seeing Radiohead early in their career, where they were clearly holding their noses while performing. Now their shows are brilliant and carefully crafted, and Thom Yorke at least pretends to enjoy himself. But authors don’t have that kind of alternative; the books are it. If they aren’t making money from book sales, they aren’t making money. Clearly the sales model needs to be adjusted to deal with the increasing opportunity to get pirated books, but I don’t know what the solution is, and I don’t think it’s going to be easy.

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  86. Kat
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 23:17:32

    @Sunita:

    authors don't have the same options as musicians, unless I'm missing something

    Although I don’t entirely disagree with this, I also think that many authors just aren’t acknowledging that there are potentially new ways to sell their skills. Some musicians could well argue that hey, they’re here to make music, not put on make-up and pander up to a crowd. So be it, but they’ll have to figure out how else to make money (e.g. licensing, etc.). Authors such as John Scalzi have posted several times on how they expect to make money because of and despite piracy/sharing, yet I’ve also heard authors say that those alternative ways of making money aren’t what they signed up for. So as far as options go, I think there may be plenty out there, but if we keep thinking in terms of what is currently being done, we may not see those opportunities until they’re no longer available. Which brings us back to Jane’s point that publishers (and I would argue authors, agents and retailers) must innovate to survive.

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  87. Zoe Winters
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 23:34:07

    Hey Kat, do you have a link to any of the posts and such John Scalzi has made outlining these plans? I’d be interested to see what he’s come up with.

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  88. Kat
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 00:20:11

    @Zoe Winters: Here’s one: Writing in the Age of Piracy. He also posted more generally about piracy and its effect on him as an author: The Stupidity of Worrying About Piracy and Selling Science Fiction Books in 2005. And while we’re here, Charles Stross’s post on the commercial e-book market raises a lot of interesting issues.

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  89. shirley
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 01:10:23

    OK, person A downloads an illegal copy of a book. Assume this is a person who buys books and may have bought the book if a free copy hadn't been available (in other words, a potential buyer although not one that would have bought with 100% certainty). (Feel free to criticise my assumptions because I absolutely suck at probability.) So then I want to know:
    - If the reader likes the book, does that result in actual sales: for the same reader, for friends of the reader (e.g. gifts)? Or does the reader just pass on the free copy to friends, in which case, loop back to the start of the example?
    - How many times does an illegal copy have to pass through a POTENTIAL buyer before it results in a real sale?
    - What is the reader's total annual spend on books? What's the net effect of illegal downloading for that reader?
    - Do buyers of legitimate copies who also download illegal copies make their legal copies available for illegal download?
    - What happens when an illegal copy is downloaded? Is it actually read or do people download it just in case they want to read it some time in the future?

    And so on.

    To me, the issue isn't so much how to stop piracy but how to get those potential buyers to make a purchase.

    Okay, let’s start from the top. You want to know what chances are that buyer A would have bought the book, but chose to illegally download instead. Well, those chances are the same chances as anything else. Probability is a science. And the hard fact is that *if* buyer A might have bought, being a typical buyer, then the chance that they’ll buy is the same chance of any other buyer. Meaning there is no better chance that buyer A may have actually bought the book, but got it free instead, than there is a buyer B buying instead of getting a pirated copy.

    But, to be more specific for romance writers, here’s the most recent number I can find: Romance book buying takes up about 55.5 percent of the market share of MMPB (according to RWA, 2007) in book buying. Quick switch to something else that needs mentioning – as of the 2003 NAAL approx. 22% of American’s 16 yrs. and older are illiterate. So, of about 170 M Americans (which is pretty close to my guess) who could read and would pay for a book out of their own pocket (as opposed to having them bought for them or as gifts) about 135M people can read in this country.

    Now that we have those numbers, let’s find the probability. If 55% of the book buying public (only MMPB) buys romance that’s about 74M people. Now, we’re even more focused. Using the 1.5M mark from before that means the megaseller romance author has an 2 percent (.02) chance of their book being bought from the romance market on any given day. Or a 1 in 50 chance. Better odds than sci-fi writers, for sure, but not in any way *good* odds. What that probability means is that for every 50 romance novels sold in a given time frame, one of them will be copies of the mega-bestseller. A lot less than you thought, right? Anyway…

    1.2 royalty on the book multiplied by chance book might sell = .024. Two cents, in other words.

    The average mid-lister — we’re talking even less money. Maybe they sold 50K copies. Average midlister has a 0.0006 ad infinity(the 6) chance of selling his/her book to the romance buying public. Damn, this is getting depressing.

    So, after .0006 or 3 in every 5000 copies sold. Multiply that by the seven percent they would be probably be happy to see on MMPB sales, if what I understand about MMPB royalty rates is right, that means .0003 net expected loss due to piracy. Say they find 50000 pirated copies (and please, we all know this is not only improbable but nearly impossible). Then maybe, by statistical probability, 17 copies could have been bought. 17 multiplied by .56 a copy for royalties, that means average midlister lost approx. 10 dollars due to piracy.

    Onto your second point, does said illegal reader pass on. Well, in all honesty, that’s something that is more based on the individual’s moral compass. They may pass it on, but that doesn’t mean the next person will, or vice versa. So that answer, probability wise, could only be answered if you could give me verifiable numbers. By that I mean, you would have to join a P2P group, count the number of people there, the number of downloads of a single book. Then you’d have to pass it on to many and keep track of how many of them passed it on without buying to others and so forth and so on. And of course, you’d also have to give me the exact numbers of P2P downloaders who never read they book they stole and never passed it on. And for those of you who think this doesn’t happen, think again. As I said, some people just take shit because it’s free, not because they really want it or care to have it.

    The third point, how many times does it have to be pirated in order to get into the hands of a potential buyer. Well, if the average holy-smack bestseller of romance books has an 1 in 50 chance of selling a book in the first place, the book would have to pass through at least 50 different piraters in order to fall into the hands of one potential buyers.

    Point four, annual reader book purchases. Ipsos BookTrends says that the average American book-buying household buys 19 books a year to the tune of about 200 USD(this is based on hardcover and trade prices) and that if they bought MMPB they could save about a hundred bucks a year. Yes, yes, I know many of us spend a boat load more. But for all of us who spend more, there are double, triple the number of us who spend much, much less. Hence this is an average across the board and a viable number to use. Anyway, if MMPB readers spend on average 100 bucks, then that means of the billions available annually in total dollars spent on MMPB books, the average reader is a drop in the bucket. Again, this is what they spend now on books. What they don’t spend on illegal downloads, well, probability is that the vast majority of these households wouldn’t be buying any given book on any day so I’m guess what they save is moot.

    What I mean is, on the average, statistically speaking, most book buying households don’t go online to steal an additional 200 dollars worth of pirated books a year. Regardless, that one person’s chances of getting a single book, legally or not, is statistically one in fifty books for the romance buying public that’s buying a mega bestseller. So maybe they save the cost of forty-nine books they never would have bought in the first place and the cost of one book they may have. In other words, a books. The other forty-nine wouldn’t have been bought in the first place. This here is all conjecture and it’s assuming that every single pirated book is picked up by someone who would buy.

    Point five – do legal buyers make their copies available for illegal download. Well, someone has to. I mean, I know what you are asking. Do people who buy books and also download illegal copies share their legal copies? It depends on the person, and like the sharing question earlier, would be nearly impossible to determine.

    In point of fact, one person could have bought the book, copied, and uploaded it. And every illegal copy could be a copy of that single upload. In which case, one reader pirated, but the other 1,499,999 (in the case of the big time best seller)did not. Since hard data on the number of different piraters of a given work are unattainable, and most likely never will be, this is going to be hard to determine, ever. I mean, if a file sharing site has a million users and ten thousand illegal books for download, that’s a 1 in 100 chance that a book gets downloaded. And a nine in ten chance that something else, like software, gets downloaded.

    On sites that are book specific, there may be a few hundred users, we’ll say 500, and 3000 illegal books available to download. That’s a one in six chance of a particular book being selected by a particular user, and of course this doesn’t take into consideration that of those 3000 (if they are all MMPB copies of course) just over 1500 of them would be romance novels. And of the 500 users/readers about 14% of them are romance readers that equals 70 people who could download 1500 different books. However, romance readers are also broke down into even more specific groups, so, that’s a lot of math folks and I’m about mathed out, LOL. The chances are just really small, okay? All seventy readers won’t download all of the books, and even if they did, they wouldn’t read them all.

    To your last point, well, that’s the crux of the whole shebang. The chances that someone will download a book are x, but the chance that its even a book they’d read are y of x, and the chance that they’d buy it are z of y of x. So in reality, lots of pirated copies doesn’t equal lots of pirated sales. It just means lots of copies that didn’t have a massive chance of getting bought in the first place. It’s freaking upsetting, it’s miserable, and I’m totally freakin’ depressed from running all the numbers. It’s also a fact of life. In case someone wants to try running some other numbers, here’s the facts that you need:

    14% of readers read romance. Romance books make up 55% of the market share of MMPB sales. About 150M Americans read. So, 21M people are dedicated romance readers. These numbers are from RWA. Category romance makes up 40% of the bought market. Historical 17%, Contemp 16%, Paranormal 9%, Romantic Suspense 7%, Inspirational 6%, Other 5%. So of the 21M, some 8.4M buy contemporaries. 3.57M, 3.36M, 1.89M, 1.47M, 1.26M, and 1.05M consecutively for the rest. So if the big seller is a paranormal, contemporary, supsense, other then the buying block would be 38% of the whole or 7.98M buyers. But these numbers only work for MMPB and nothing else. So potential loss might be twenty two cents per book, across a mega seller about 65K and that’s if an additional 1.5 million copies might have been bought but were downloaded. Which, I hate to burst bubbles, but wouldn’t happen in the first place since this assumes that every buyer is also a thief. For that 50K midlister a .006 chance of being bought by .56 cents a book equals a 165 expected loss and that’s if an additional 50000 copies might have been bought but were stolen.

    And you know why I love reading and writers so much? Writers need to write. Readers need to read. And sometimes, for a lucky few, the pairing sets them for life. And sometimes, for another lucky bunch, the pairing gives each an opportunity to do something they love for a living or for life. Not all writers will be rich like King or Rowling or Roberts(an assumption, I apologize if I’m wrong) but many will be able to live on what they make from books and so they will keep writing. And I will keep reading.

    And piracy will keep happening, although hopefully, with some numbers, writers will stop letting a few assholes get them so down. Nobody likes to be stolen from, but don’t let that get you down. Know that the vast majority of people who read your work also buy your work :D The numbers don’t lie.

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  90. Kat
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 02:24:25

    @shirley: *grumbleIhateprobabilitygrumble* What I’d like to investigate is how authors, publishers and/or distributors might help increase the probabilities in their favour.

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  91. shirley
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 02:39:42

    We want to figure out who are the romance readers, who are the people with the access and information to download pirated books, and what is the population that has both characteristics. Then we can start to assign probabilities and expected values.

    14% of the book buying public are romance readers. As of 2007, romance brought in an impressive 1.375B(illion) in sales. 8090 romance titles were released in 2007. And despite the wanting to take out all potential readers, according to RWA itself, as of 2007 one in five readers said they’d read a romance novel in the year. SO – 20% of the potential 150M readers could be potential buyers. That’s 30M people. It looks like my numbers aren’t too far off. Let me amend them to be more realistic. That means that the mega bestseller as a .05 or five percent chance of being bought by a particular buyer. That’s one in twenty. Translated to potential loss, it’s six cents.

    So for that midlister, if they’d have sold double the copies, it’s a potential loss of 3K. Oh, but wait, no that’s not right because the potential midlister didn’t lose 50K copies to piracy. They lost a potential .002 purchases or 1 copy in 500. So 100 copies by maybe .56 cents for royalties. Hmm, that’s 56 bucks. The big seller could potentially have more to lose, if they were making 1.20 on each copy, but if you’ve sold out 1.5 million, chances of another 1.5 million being illegally downloaded are – unbelievable. And unprovable. And assuming on the part of the author/publisher that every single person who bought the book is also offering it up to others for free. That’s not the best way to engender good will.

    And I hate to say this, but expanding the number of potential buyers into the hundreds of millions, if not billions, isn’t going to somehow make the number seem better. From Nora’s own website she has more than 294M copies of her work in print. She has more than 220 titles available. On average, that’s a little over a million copies for each title. There are six billion people on the planet. Say two billion of them can read. Right now, that’s fourteen percent of the reading globe (some 172M) that could potentially own a Nora Roberts book, statistically speaking. That’s like, what, 1 in 8 readers who buy Nora Roberts? Holy shit, that’s crazy. Fantastic in every way and totally mind boggling. I digress.

    So one in eight readers might buy Nora Roberts books. If you try to extrapolate that out, it’s something like 10M in 80M readers who could potentially buy a Nora Roberts book. Somehow, I don’t think Nora herself would suggest that 10M people across the globe are stealing her books. For one, that’s a shit load of people to piss off and for two, it’d be a PR nightmare. No, I don’t think so and the statistics don’t prove it out.

    Chances(probability) are 172M people (out of the 400M who might be interested in romance) could buy Nora’s books. But on average only a million do. That means her odds of selling are like 172 to 1, globally speaking. So if she finds 50000 pirated copies of a book, and even if one in eight people might buy her books, that’s like 6200 copies that might have been bought but weren’t. So about 6500 dollars in lost royalties. That’s a lot of money, but not in the scheme of big business. And not in the millions of dollars lost either.

    You don’t need to know how many people pirate and read to figure out the numbers. All you need is to figure out is the probability that any one person might buy then multiply that by how many potential copies available digitally and that by royalty rate. As to digital copies available, yes, I agree that’s hard to find out. However, unless all authors decide to come out and say that for every one book they sell one is pirated, the numbers just don’t add up to big potatoes. And if authors did do that, wow, that would take blogland on a whole nother rollercoaster.

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  92. shirley
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 03:00:55

    *grumbleIhateprobabilitygrumble* What I'd like to investigate is how authors, publishers and/or distributors might help increase the probabilities in their favour.

    I really loved probability and statistical analysis, but I am a woman, it was a long ass time ago, and I also liked helping people.

    I think the book industry, across the board, is going to have to do what RIAA has done. Well, okay, not exactly but close. RIAA has given up seeking out individual piraters *unless they’re downloading thousands of music titles each month* and is leaving it up to ISP providers to ‘watch dog’ pirating on a big scale. I have a HUGE problem with this, but it’s somewhat moot right now.

    My point is that the RIAA realized that all the hullabaloo they were stirring over small potatoes only pissed off and pushed away they buying public. AND it cost them millions of dollars in court cost, et al, when they had zero chance of recovering said funds. The music industry finally realized what I’m sure their statisticians had been telling them for years – the number of people who are downloading illegally does not equal the number of lost sales. If those people couldn’t get the music free, they wouldn’t have gotten it at all.

    I think piracy is something that the digital world should stay on top of and the big baddies have to be shut down. But they also have to acknowledge the fact that just because a thousand copies of a particular title is available for illegal download, that doesn’t mean a thousand copies that could have been sold weren’t. And to be honest, the only way to turn these numbers into numbers better for authors/publishers is to take their market share to as small a number as possible. Meaning niche markets. If less than a percent of romance buying readers are interested in m/m bondage with bloodplay, well, then that’s a much smaller number of people who could buy the book and a much smaller number who might pirate it as well. And since no one in their right business mind wants to do that, I think piracy is going to have to be dealt with as a mosquito you just can’t seem to swat. Until it gets so fat, it’s hard to miss. You see what I’m saying? Big time piraters are as good as squashed, but those few thousand, or tens of thousands, that pirate on at one or two books a year level aren’t worth worrying about.

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  93. Zoe Winters
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 07:04:06

    Thanks, Kat!

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  94. Kat
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 07:06:55

    @shirley:

    And to be honest, the only way to turn these numbers into numbers better for authors/publishers is to take their market share to as small a number as possible. Meaning niche markets.

    I don’t quite agree with is. I mean, this might be how the numbers play out, all things being equal, but in practice, I think there are ways to compete against piracy. (Interesting, someone from Disney was quoted as saying that they consider piracy as just another competitor.) For example, why do people buy from iTunes instead of just getting music free? There might be variety of reasons: reliability, speed, fear of the law, wanting to do the right thing, convenience, ease of searching for obscure/related/new music, brand awareness, etc. (More than people being cheap, I think people tend to prefer the path of least resistance.) If one can figure out what motivates ebook piracy/sharing, one might then come up with more effective/practical business models. The statistics aren’t saying anything about motives and incentives at the moment.

    @Zoe Winters: No probs. :-)

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  95. Nora Roberts
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 07:11:55

    Writers aren’t performers. Whether or not Radiohead held their nose while performing early in their career, musicians ARE performers. They may perform in the studio to record the music, but they can take that music to the stage and entertain crowds. It’s a very viable revenue stream.

    A writer puts a story onto the page. Then what? Take that story and go out on stage and read it? Perform it? Who’s going to pay for that? And a large chunk of writers would never, never be able to pull it off because they just don’t have the skill. It’s not way they do.

    A singer, a guitar player? It’s what they do. The songwriter–unless he, too, is a performer–doesn’t go out on stage.

    I don’t think every pirated book would have equalled a sale. But certainly if a quarter of them did, I’d be losing a whole big bucket of money.

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  96. Sunita
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 08:32:50

    14% of the book buying public are romance readers. As of 2007, romance brought in an impressive 1.375B(illion) in sales. 8090 romance titles were released in 2007. And despite the wanting to take out all potential readers, according to RWA itself, as of 2007 one in five readers said they'd read a romance novel in the year. SO – 20% of the potential 150M readers could be potential buyers. That's 30M people. It looks like my numbers aren't too far off.

    That’s only one of the two numbers you need, though. You then need to figure out how many of those 30M people have broadband, unfettered access to the internet AND the expertise to navigate torrent sites. That’s going to bring that number down quite a bit.

    expanding the number of potential buyers into the hundreds of millions, if not billions, isn't going to somehow make the number seem better. From Nora's own website she has more than 294M copies of her work in print. She has more than 220 titles available. On average, that's a little over a million copies for each title. There are six billion people on the planet. Say two billion of them can read. Right now, that's fourteen percent of the reading globe (some 172M) that could potentially own a Nora Roberts book, statistically speaking.

    Again, no. The relevant numbers worldwide are the same numbers you need for the US. Number of readers that are also have internet access and expertise. For NR, you would want to expand the range beyond romance readers, but it’s still a much smaller number than you think. Again, it’s not the raw number of potential readers, its the actual readers that can download, if you’re trying to figure out lost sales. That’s why the denominator gets smaller, which means the predicted loss gets bigger.

    But I don’t see why the size of the loss is the issue. It’s not my business to tell Nora Roberts or any other author how they should feel about losing money to piracy, much less tell them that they shouldn’t feel bad because I consider the sum to be small. She’s the author, it’s her book, it’s her call.

    You don't need to know how many people pirate and read to figure out the numbers. All you need is to figure out is the probability that any one person might buy then multiply that by how many potential copies available digitally and that by royalty rate.

    No, because your model is inflating the denominator and failing to incorporate behavior into the analysis. If you just want to know what the chances are that someone, anyone, *might* buy a book, your method works. But you’re trying to calculate lost sales, which requires more information; you need to begin with people who were likely to buy the book but now have other options, not all the people everywhere who could just possibly buy the book. You started to get at this by excluding illiterate people (could buy the book but wouldn’t), but you need to make more exclusions based on behavior and characteristics, which gets into information we don’t have.

    Onto your second point, does said illegal reader pass on. Well, in all honesty, that's something that is more based on the individual's moral compass. They may pass it on, but that doesn't mean the next person will, or vice versa. So that answer, probability wise, could only be answered if you could give me verifiable numbers. By that I mean, you would have to join a P2P group, count the number of people there, the number of downloads of a single book. Then you'd have to pass it on to many and keep track of how many of them passed it on without buying to others and so forth and so on.

    You’re assuming a conscious decision to pass on a book, but that’s not how torrent sites work. For many torrent sites, once you download the torrent, the books are available every time your torrent program is open. If someone wants the book, your torrent can be accessed. I believe that many torrent sites determine download speed by the level of seeding, which means that the more you upload, the faster you download. So even if you want a DVD, you make your books available to increase your download speed.

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  97. Robin
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 12:27:07

    @ Sunita: My understanding is that touring is *very* expensive, and that even some of the most prominent bands and musicians make little or no money on a tour (assuming they break even, which many don’t).

    So I’m not sure how/if the comparison works. Maybe you could argue that it’s easier for authors, because they do not have to spend as much mounting what is essentially a promotional outing. I don’t know.

    Certainly IMO there are lessons to be learned from the music industry, but I haven’t thought or read enough about it to be able to venture a definitive opinion.

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  98. Sunita
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 12:59:20

    @Robin:
    Touring is definitely expensive, and of course the big arena shows are ridiculously costly to put on, but I am pretty sure I read somewhere (so it must be true :-)) that performers are touring more to make up for lower CD sales, or at least touring is now a bigger part of their income. One reason this makes sense to me is that when I was younger, artists toured as part of their promotion for a new album. Now a lot of musicians tour pretty much all the time. And this isn’t just for well-known or hot acts; it’s especially true for older acts (nostalgia time at the casino club lounge, anyone?) and less well known ones.

    Like you, though, I’m not sufficiently well informed to be able to say anything very definitive. It just struck me that while there are undoubtedly lessons to be learned from the CD experience, there are important differences in the ways the two groups of artists can make money, and so we have to take those differences into account.

    In some ways I think we are just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. From my experience teaching undergrads, I find that otherwise honorable students don’t think twice about downloading movies and music from torrent sites. I taught a class that included material on the social uses of technology and I asked how many people downloaded movies or music regularly. Almost every student raised a hand. They said it was cheaper and easier and immediately available. I asked them if they were bothered that it was illegal. They said they were a little bothered, but that it shouldn’t be, and everybody did it etc. etc. I really don’t know what to do with that attitude. You can get an ebook on sale for $5 or less. But that’s still more than 0.

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  99. Karen Templeton
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 13:14:41

    So I'm not sure how/if the comparison works. Maybe you could argue that it's easier for authors, because they do not have to spend as much mounting what is essentially a promotional outing. I don't know.

    Easier for authors to do what? No one pays to see an author — booksignings in and of themselves are free to the public. The only money the author “makes” is — brace yourselves — on the books sold at the signing. So there ya go.

    And for the vast majority of authors, “touring” simply isn’t viable. As a category author, I don’t even bother with local signings because the time expenditure/sales gained ratio isn’t worth it.

    So what alternative does an author have to make money AS an author, other than selling her books? Advertising on her blog, perhaps — if she a) writes a fabulous blog and is b) hugely popular enough to pull in the crowds. But maintaining that sort of must-read blog takes away from her fiction writing, no? And accepting advertising…can get dicey, if your sponsors suddenly decide they’re not wild about something you said/did/wrote.

    Sell tie-in tchatchkes? Again, a time and money sink — and pointless unless an author has both the original product (book/series) and readership to make that work.

    Taking nothing away from the Big Names — many of whom I read and adore as much as the next person — but 99 percent of the genre is comprised of the Little (or at least Lesser) Names, for whom book sales are probably always going to be the main source of writing-related revenue (such as that is) simply because…well, that’s the nature of the beast. Not that I’m opposed to innovation, or progress, or thinking outside the box (or, in this, the bookcovers), but I’d love to see some concrete ideas that don’t ask authors — who in many cases are already juggling work and family with trying to craft stories that people might actually want to read — to do more than they’re already doing, for less compensation.

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  100. Kat
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 16:08:11

    @Karen Templeton:

    I'd love to see some concrete ideas that don't ask authors -’ who in many cases are already juggling work and family with trying to craft stories that people might actually want to read -’ to do more than they're already doing, for less compensation.

    But Karen, isn’t this part of the problem? If people are downloading illegal copies and are willing to get books for free, aren’t they also indirectly saying that the value of what is produced has gone down? And even if you don’t agree with this in principle, in practice that’s what’s going to happen if no one finds a way to compete with illegal downloads.

    There are other ways I can think of that authors can try and experiment with in terms of finding revenue streams. Yes, tie-in merchandise–it’s not going to be that expensive if you use a print-on-demand company like Cafepress. I know student designers who already do this, and they haven’t even really started their careers yet. It might even help create buzz for a book or series.

    There are other ways: subscription services for exclusive material, epilogues (I wonder how much Julia Quinn earned off the Bridgerton epilogues?), writing workshops, local speaking engagements, freelance writing, etc. The economic fact is that people do want more for less.

    So the challenge is how to create value without working authors to oblivion and how to deliver this to customers as conveniently as possible so that it’s not worth the trouble of downloading illegal copies. Because torrent sites are just going to get more sophisticated as time goes by and therefore become increasingly easy to use.

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  101. Nora Roberts
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 16:17:46

    ~There are other ways I can think of that authors can try and experiment with in terms of finding revenue streams. Yes, tie-in merchandise-it's not going to be that expensive if you use a print-on-demand company like Cafepress.~

    So we should make tee-shirts, accessories?

    And when would we write?

    Do you really, really believe most authors would make ANYTHING off merchandising? Or that most have the time, the creativity in that area, the financial base to launch it.

    We. Write. Books.

    You want us to pursue an alternate revenue stream, other than writing, so we can support our writing because piracy is hurting us.

    Let me say again, we’re not like musicians or entertainers. How many people are going to buy a Author X tee-shirt, or a Heroine A action figure. Only the truly dedicated–and they probably aren’t pirating anyway.

    Subscription services for additional material. Then MANY readers will bitch, loudly, at the idea of having to pay a fee for something. We can’t win there.

    Again:

    We. Write. Books.

    I feel it’s monumentally unfair for anyone to expect us to go into another business to support what it is we do, and what we have every right to expect people who benefit from that effort to pay for.

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  102. Sunita
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 16:29:50

    But Karen, isn't this part of the problem? If people are downloading illegal copies and are willing to get books for free, aren't they also indirectly saying that the value of what is produced has gone down?

    No. No. No. The value of the books doesn’t have to change to make illegal downloading more prevalent. All that has to change is the ability to acquire the book. Before ebook downloading, you either bought the book new or used, or you borrowed it from the library. Depending on the value of the book to you and its value relative to other ways you would spend your time and money, you would choose among those options. Now there is a fourth, completely new option. If you are already downloading and familiar with torrents, the marginal cost of downloading Karen’s book is near zero. No other system, including a library (which requires that you get a card, go there during open hours, return the book on time), is as cheap and easy once you’ve got the torrent thing down, as long as you don’t consider illegal downloading to be something bad.

    One thing I didn’t add in my earlier posts: in addition to considering the potential readership and their internet access/savvy, they have to want to read the ebook. Not more than the hard copy, they just can’t refuse to read ebooks.

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  103. Karen Templeton
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 16:38:02

    Tie-in merchandise = retailing. Been there, done that. Aside from the what-on-earth-would-that-be? for an author who doesn’t have a hot series for which tie-ins would be a natural fit, you’ve got to either deal with the physical operation of such a thing — the stocking, the merchandising, the design, the shipping — or hire someone else to do it. Again, for most of us? Doubt seriously we’d gain enough from those sales to offset the time/energy expenditure and subsequent loss of writing time. Because since one can’t add hours to the day…

    As for the workshops, speaking engagements, etc. — many authors already do that. If you have family obligations that don’t allow for a lot of travel, however, that’s not really an option. And again, all that eats into the writing time.
    Besides which, those things might well encourage people to read one’s work, but not necessarily buy it. And freelance writing, or teaching, is just another job — which, again, many writers already have.

    In any case, the merchandising idea only benefits the author, not the publisher. The lecture/workshop circuit could also in theory add to the author’s coffers without adding much to the publisher’s. So in the end it still comes down to selling books, doesn’t it? I, for one, am not interested in running another business on the side to subsidize my writing. If selling books is no longer a viable business model for whatever reason, then I’ll pursue other avenues of income.

    But I can’t speak for other authors. Each of us is individual, with unique demands on our time and energy. For some, writing fiction as a sideline will be enough. For others, it won’t. And if readers in general stop feeling that our words alone aren’t enough — aren’t worth paying for without something “extra” — then it seems to me the issue goes far deeper than current publishing models being out of date and/or out of touch. :(

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  104. Kat
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 16:43:49

    @Sunita: Sunita, to me, value answers the question: How much do I think this is worth to me? This includes the total value of the content + cost + quality + convenience + risk + other factors.

    I’ve asked people who download off iTunes why they don’t just go to a torrent site. The answer? Easier to find new or obscure music. It’s actually possible that a legitimate distributor can be more convenient. And this is why I wish we’d get off the moral discussion about piracy and just fight it on economic terms.

    If you are already downloading and familiar with torrents, the marginal cost of downloading Karen's book is near zero. No other system, including a library (which requires that you get a card, go there during open hours, return the book on time), is as cheap and easy once you've got the torrent thing down, as long as you don't consider illegal downloading to be something bad.

    I don’t think this is necessarily true. I know people who download movies and music off torrents, but they don’t download ebooks. They may share ebooks in a loop or with friends, but torrent sites aren’t their main source. Why? Because sharing includes recommendations, discussions, conversations. I don’t download off torrent sites. Why? My broadband is too slow, I don’t like the security risks and I have a niggling problem with it being illegal. So there as real concerns that make torrents a little less attractive. How do we exploit those and use them to compete against piracy?

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  105. Sunita
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 17:00:21

    @Kat:
    I’m not disagreeing that the net value to someone is a product of all those things, I just think it’s important to point out that people can have the same utility from a book but behave differently given different costs. And “value” is a bit of an ambiguous term, since it suggest the inherent importance, not just the net utility in the economic sense. People can like to read as much as before, and yet behave in such a way that they contribute to the reduction of books published.

    I agree that there are lots of advantages to legal sources of books. And the quality of illegal downloads may be way to persuade people; with music and to a lesser extent movies, the quality is retained. But books are a whole different matter!

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  106. Kat
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 17:03:15

    @Karen Templeton:

    Tie-in merchandise = retailing.

    Even if you’re just selling through a website and via a third-party? There’s no physical operation for someone to go through Cafepress, and no capital required–they’re paid by commission. The cost is marginal if you don’t need anything fancy. If it becomes popular enough that you need to think about retailing, then isn’t that a problem that’s actually good to have?

    As for the workshops, speaking engagements, etc. -’ many authors already do that. If you have family obligations that don't allow for a lot of travel, however, that's not really an option. And again, all that eats into the writing time.

    The Internet is filled with possibilities.

    If you read the link I posted above on Scalzi’s post about writing, he says:

    Writers are not in the publishing industry. The publishing industry exists to handle the output of writers and distribute it in an effective and hopefully profitable way; however it does not necessarily follow that writer's only option is the publishing industry, especially not now. Congruent to this: Books aren't the only option. I write books, but you know what? I'm not a book writer, any more than a musician is an LP musician or an MP3 musician. The book is the container. It's not destiny.

    I think this is something that authors have to grapple with as individuals based on their own skills and strengths.

    if readers in general stop feeling that our words alone aren't enough -’ aren't worth paying for without something “extra” -’ then it seems to me the issue goes far deeper than current publishing models being out of date and/or out of touch. :(

    I’m unmoved by this because storytelling as an art has been around for a very long time and it didn’t start out as a commercial enterprise. There are many great storytellers who have never been published, and a great many published writers who suck at storytelling (IMO). If you’re selling me a book, I’m not only looking at the artistic work contained in the book, I’m considering its economic value to me–will I use? Will I enjoy it? What am I willing to give up to have it? Can I get she same thing for less elsewhere?

    Look, no one’s asking one person or company to solve the problem. But you know, there have been lots of ideas tossed around (here and generally around the Internet) and too few (IMO) people who are open to trying new things.

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  107. Kat
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 17:27:22

    @Sunita:

    I agree that there are lots of advantages to legal sources of books.

    I really think this is something that isn’t being exploited enough by publishers because they’re so focused on the fear of free copies being available. The problem is more dire with epublishing because the copy is going to be exactly the same as the original, so the sooner they can *train* customers to buy them legally, the more chances they’ll have of stemming losses to piracy.

    People can like to read as much as before, and yet behave in such a way that they contribute to the reduction of books published.

    I agree in principle, but in practice, I think it’s a little less black and white.

    For example, maybe what’s happening is that people are reading more (because the risk of trying unknown authors via torrents is nil) and buying the same? The net effect is to redistribute revenue to authors who are writing what readers most want to read.

    Or maybe people are reading less (books compete with other media for people’s time) but downloading free because they’re not sure they’ll ever read X and why spend $30 to buy it? The net effect is bleak for publishers BUT not necessarily for writers. You still need writers to create films, TV shows, graphic novels, video games, etc. The art of telling stories hasn’t been lost but the craft may need to change. I mean, look at poetry. How much do we pay poets nowadays? And yet there was a time when they were highly prized and well supported even by royalty.

    Or maybe people are only buying books that they must have right now. The net effect is less revenue, but then maybe you can use free books to hype up an author and encourage sequel sales.

    Or maybe people downloading free are from countries where the cost of the book is equal to the cost of feeding their kids for a week. I don’t know that I’d begrudge them the free books. (Although this probably doesn’t make sense as they’re unlikely to have access to download sites. But let’s say they did via work or whatever.)

    Or maybe it’s as you say, but how can we know for sure without actually trying to find out (as opposed to theorising)?

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  108. Karen Templeton
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 17:49:26

    So here I am, trying to do cover art sheets while keeping up with the discussion…:)

    Trying to get my thoughts in order…

    Okay. No, I’m not a bookseller. I don’t sell books, I sell my stories — to someone I’ve entrusted to reach as many readers as possible with that story…by selling books. Don’t care what form they’re in, don’t have any notions about how many copies of that story will sell. But around ten years ago, selling my fiction became my job. Being totally aware of the vagaries of any artistic endeavor — despite the uneasy fellowship of art and commerce that is publishing — I’m well aware that at any minute, I might lose that “job.” And that’s okay — I knew the risk going in.

    I also knew — and I’m simply speaking for myself, not any other author — what I would and would not do in order to keep that job. Which, BTW, is one that regularly kicks my butt, just because, day-um, writing is hard. Most of what I’ve heard here basically boils down to variations on “don’t give up your day job.” That we shouldn’t expect our books — stories, whatever — to pay our way. For many, if not most, authors, this has always been the case anyway. But what I’m sensing here — not from any individual, but just in general — is almost that authors *shouldn’t* expect compensation for the stories themselves, that subsidizing our craft should be — or might well become — the norm…because storytelling didn’t start out as a commercial enterprise.

    Well, actually…no art form did. Or much else, for that matter. People made clothes out of necessity, grew their own food, and entertained each other by singing and dancing and telling stories. Now we buy food that others have grown for us, clothes that others have sewn for us…and pay to hear other people sing and dance and act out stories. Not always — “free” will always be part of our society, certainly. And that’s a good thing. There will always be people who sing just because it feels good, or tell stories because they have to, or little old ladies who make crocheted afghans for everyone they know. But just because some people don’t get paid for their labors — or might not even want to — doesn’t mean nobody should. And anyway — why is it more feasible or acceptable to pay, say, to hear me speak than it is to pay for my stories?

    The problem, for me, is that I’ve yet to hear any really “new” suggestions. Not yet, anyway. Or ones that don’t shift so far away from current models as to become something else entirely. Artists, musicians, dancers, writers have always taught or supplemented their income in other ways. But the “other stuff” can easily become soul- and energy-sucking, taking a profound toll on the “real” work…the work that entertains our readers/listeners/viewers.

    In any case, it will all shake out in whatever way it’s supposed to. If the new model is that writers can no longer even hope to earn a living wage from their writing — because some of us do — then those that are game for effectively turning their careers into a sideline will do so; others will say fuggedaboutit and go off and do something else. But the genre as a whole will, I think, suffer for it.

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  109. Kat
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 17:59:33

    @Karen Templeton:

    The problem, for me, is that I’ve yet to hear any really “new” suggestions. Not yet, anyway. Or ones that don’t shift so far away from current models as to become something else entirely.

    I think this is where maybe I’m not being clear. I think storytelling as an art form exists independent of commercial endeavours. The business is in how to package the art so that you can sell it to people. Hence, we have books. But if we’re saying that books are going to be extinct as commercial products, we need to find a way to repackage your art so that you, as the artist, can continue to make money off it. And you know what, maybe the reason it’s shifting so far away from current models is because the current model is no longer sustainable. It happens across many other industries (and even in publishing–think of the commercial printing press). Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing (and no, it’s not always good for everyone either). For all we know, the out-of-the-box thinking may yet produce a model that earns authors more money for less work. But we need to get those ideas on the table first.

    And even though the new ideas being explored may mean more work for the author, I can almost guarantee that if an idea becomes successful, you’re suddenly going to find middlemen offering to do the grunt work for you so that you, as the artist, can keep doing what you’re best at.

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  110. Kat
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 18:55:15

    @Nora Roberts:

    Do you really, really believe most authors would make ANYTHING off merchandising? Or that most have the time, the creativity in that area, the financial base to launch it.

    Maybe, maybe not. And authors can outsource the skills they don’t have–they do this now by outsourcing the production process: they have agents, editors, publishers, cover artists, printers, booksellers, etc. As for financing, as I mentioned, CafePress requires no financial outlay unless you want to be fancy. Maybe the commission on one CafePress item will equal or exceed the author’s royalty on one book. In that case, wouldn’t it be something to consider?

    Subscription services for additional material. Then MANY readers will bitch, loudly, at the idea of having to pay a fee for something. We can't win there.

    Sure, people bitched about Julia Quinn’s epilogues, but how many people actually bought them? (And I know someone who shares ebooks who actually did buy the epilogues.)

    I feel it's monumentally unfair for anyone to expect us to go into another business to support what it is we do, and what we have every right to expect people who benefit from that effort to pay for.

    Unfair it may be, but if that’s the economic reality, then we have to adapt. I’m not saying it IS the economic reality, I’m saying let’s assume the worst and think of how we can turn it into our favour. (Our=authors, publishers, agents, distributors, readers–i.e. everyone who has an interest in keeping authors in business.) The solution isn’t one size fits all. Authors have areas they can explore, as do publishers, agents, bookstores and yes, readers.

    We. Write. Books.

    Well, yes, but what happens when people no longer want to pay for them? That’s the worst case scenario, isn’t it?

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  111. XandraG
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 00:24:59

    People buy books for the stories, so the swag and merch and speaking gigs is really tangential to what an author can do for an alternative revenue stream. Authors may or may not be merchandising prodigies, or may or may not be utterly terrified of public speaking, but they are all definitely in possession of something that compels them to tell stories.

    I see what Kat is trying to say, and I think the out-of-the-box thinking is better served if it’s focused on new and different ways of serving up those stories. The book as it exists is a thing, a finite collection of words all contained in one consistent volume, but is that the only way to deliver a story?

    Many of our beloved forerunners to the romance genre delivered their stories in serial form, and maybe a return to the serial is an approach worth looking at–a “book” can’t be pirated if it doesn’t yet exist in public in complete form. Not saying this would work for every author, or that the chapters themselves wouldn’t wind up on filesharing sites, but a subscription-based approach is certainly something to think about.

    Earlier release of some works into the public domain may also be an answer to consider (I would encourage this to be an “author’s/creator’s choice,” though). With more public domain access to current works, the simple volume of “legitimate free stuff” may encourage people away from the effort of file sharing the illegal stuff, and allow more readers to legally sample or read authors who aren’t yet very old and/or very dead.

    Creative Commons licensing is another idea that’s being tried. Tip jars, extra value-added content, and club-type early release memberships are all options that really could stand to be explored as modern forms of distributed patronage.

    Not saying any of these would necessarily pan out, but then again , they just might. Or they might lead to better ideas to bring in compensation for creation. The real question is not what idea will work, but whether or not to try any new ideas, versus focusing efforts on preserving the present system. Seems like publishing is approaching a point where preservation and innovation are reaching parity.

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  112. shirley
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 00:29:15

    or example, why do people buy from iTunes instead of just getting music free?

    Here’s where good stuff about people comes in. The reason people buy from iTunes instead is because on the whole people are honest and good. The reason why music sharing was so big wasn’t so much because it was free, though of course we can’t toss that aside all together, but because people could get those one or two songs they really wanted without spending twenty bucks for a cd filled with other songs they didn’t.

    Once the music industry started offering up individual songs, people started buying them up. Obviously, music sharing still happens, but according to the business information, music sharing is down from nearly fifty percent of listeners just a couple of years ago to just over thirty percent. That’s a nice chunk of people who would have bought those one or two songs a few years back and now *are* buying. At least if the twenty percent increase in iTunes and similar sites sales is reflective.

    That's only one of the two numbers you need, though. You then need to figure out how many of those 30M people have broadband, unfettered access to the internet AND the expertise to navigate torrent sites. That's going to bring that number down quite a bit

    Again, it's not the raw number of potential readers, its the actual readers that can download, if you're trying to figure out lost sales. That's why the denominator gets smaller, which means the predicted loss gets bigger.

    No it doesn’t, because I think it’s pretty clear that the idea that 1.5M copies of any book are pirated. I was using generalization, keeping the numbers easy to work with, but truth be told, by refining one part of the search, then one also has to refine the other. A hard rule of math: what you do to one part of an equation you must do to the other. Refine the number with access and intent and desire to 10K and then you have to logically refine the number of copies available. A few hundred. The end result is still the same. A few hundred books, a few hundred who might be interested, the chance the book would sell, etc.

    But I don't see why the size of the loss is the issue. It's not my business to tell Nora Roberts or any other author how they should feel about losing money to piracy, much less tell them that they shouldn't feel bad because I consider the sum to be small. She's the author, it's her book, it's her call.

    I can see you are getting upset, but I didn’t say anywhere anything like that at all. What I said was that big business and big publishing aren’t that worried, for the most part. I never even implied that authors shouldn’t care. You can take the numbers and imply whatever meaning you want, but in no place did I say that authors shouldn’t care about piracy. That’s a moral thing and to each his own and more power to us all. In fact, I thought I made my personal view on it pretty clear. I care about piracy, I think it’s wrong. I don’t think that can be equivocated.

    As to any new ideas for giving authors other viable avenues for making a living… I’m sort of with Nora on this, from personal experience. I took an online class from a pretty well known author. It was about writing. I’m not interested in writing, but I was interested in how the process worked. Anyway, I paid a fee and waited for the ‘class’ to begin. Everything started out all right, but about a week into it, deadlines hit the author and the class stalled for nearly two months. Most of those who paid understood, but some of the folks were royally pissed off and things got a little ugly.

    My point is, this author was trying to make an extra income but the writing had to take precedent. She tried to do something she hoped would benefit all, but when it came down to it, she had to hit her deadlines to stay professional and to get paid so the extra thing was put on hold. Now, sure, she could do cafe press stuff too, but how many readers really want a cover painted coffee cup or mouse pad? Moreover, how many do we need? I mean, I might buy a couple, but I regularly read more than thirty authors. Not to be rude, but I sure don’t need another thirty coffee mugs, t-shirts, mouse pads, etc.

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  113. Kat
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 01:10:08

    I think XandraG articulated what I was trying to get across with the merchandising example. I didn’t mean for it to be the only alternative–just one alternative. My point about CafePress is that there is zero risk for authors to try it if they want to. If it’s unpalatable or impractical for whatever reason, then, obviously, don’t do it.

    But I can imagine there would be quite a decent market for Kenyon or Ward merchandise. Or Nora bobbleheads! :-D

    @shirley: That author’s failure to manage her time isn’t a problem with the business model, it’s a problem with time management. Other authors manage to juggle different writing-related engagements just fine. But again, if this is something unpalatable or impractical, then the author doesn’t have to do it. But why can’t we say this is a reasonable avenue for other authors to pursue? Because I think it is, as are many of the various ideas that have been brought up in this thread.

    @XandraG:

    The real question is not what idea will work, but whether or not to try any new ideas, versus focusing efforts on preserving the present system.

    Yes, exactly. My personal feeling is that piracy is part of a cultural shift in the way people view, consume and use intellectual property and ideas. And that’s why I prefer to talk about innovation.

    XandraG, you mentioned the serial approach. I remember that when Ember by Bettie Sharpe was released via Dionne Galace’s site in serial format was an option to get the entire novel for a fee (I can’t remember if it went to the author or to charity or if it was an auction). Does anyone remember what the result of that was?

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  114. Nora Roberts
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 05:50:29

    If an author merchandises, even if the cost of the items are minimal, someone has to *think* of the item, the look, the type, the logo. I know this, because I do it, a little. Because my husband has a bookstore, because I have a venue that works without taking my time. And because I can afford to pay a personal publicist to think up this stuff unless I have a personal brainstorm. Because we’re interested in quality merchandice, and clever or prractical–saleable–it takes considerable time and creativity to come up with the items. However, it takes no time, no effort from me, and stuff sells nicely enough through the bookstore.

    But I couldn’t live on those sales–couldn’t even call the sales a genuine supplement. And, frankly, I think more readers will buy a NR tote bag, for instance, then they would a Author X tote bag.

    Workshops, seminars, classes–all take time, preparation, and again that creativity. Not all of us are good teachers. And fracturing that creativity into other areas leaves only shards for the actual work. Some may excel at this, some may totally suck.

    As for storytelling through the ages: Harpers, the storytellers of the way back, were paid–in coin, in food, in lodging, in status. A harper was welcomed everywhere, and compensated for his art.

    I love being a storyteller.

    But it’s my job–a hard job, a wonderful job. If and when readers in general no longer feel they need pay for my work, they won’t get my work.

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  115. Karen Templeton
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 09:01:56

    And, frankly, I think more readers will buy a NR tote bag, for instance, then they would a Author X tote bag.

    Exactly. Not exactly seeing a huge market for Karen Templeton mugs/totes/whatever. ;-)

    As for storytelling through the ages: Harpers, the storytellers of the way back, were paid-in coin, in food, in lodging, in status. A harper was welcomed everywhere, and compensated for his art.

    I love being a storyteller.

    But it's my job-a hard job, a wonderful job. If and when readers in general no longer feel they need pay for my work, they won't get my work.

    Yeah. What she said.

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  116. Sunita
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 09:40:22

    I can see you are getting upset, but I didn't say anywhere anything like that at all. What I said was that big business and big publishing aren't that worried, for the most part. I never even implied that authors shouldn't care. You can take the numbers and imply whatever meaning you want, but in no place did I say that authors shouldn't care about piracy. That's a moral thing and to each his own and more power to us all. In fact, I thought I made my personal view on it pretty clear. I care about piracy, I think it's wrong. I don't think that can be equivocated.

    I’m not upset, and I wasn’t talking about your attitude toward piracy. I’ve had this internet conversation with other people over the years and my attitude is consistent. I’m simply saying that *I* don’t consider it appropriate for one set of people, who may or may not be published authors, to tell another set of people, who make their living writing and publishing print books, what they should treat as an acceptable level of losses through piracy. And to me your earlier posts basically did that, by making calculations that showed that the losses were at a level you considered small. And I disagreed with the statistical assumptions you made and the model you used to arrive at those conclusions. But I was talking about *my* attitudes about the author’s right to determine their own acceptable levels of losses, quite apart from the conversation about what the true level of losses might be.

    I’m not going to keep arguing with you about how to conduct good statistical analysis of social behavior. I do enough of that type of analysis in my day job, and the people and institutions that review my work have given me a fair amount of confidence in my methods. I have a feeling that we’re talking past each other, and by now we’re embarrassingly far into xkcd land:

    http://xkcd.com/386/

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  117. XandraG
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 09:55:30

    @Sunita: Cory Doctorow may have been referenced in the thread, but until he shows up in the red cape and goggles, it doesn’t really count.

    xkcd=<3

    I want to keep telling stories as a job for as long as I am able. If that means figuring out new ways to tell stories, then I’m game.

    Many of us who do this are caught between the scylla and charybdis (hey, look! college education pays off!) of wanting to be fed, and wanting to be read.

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  118. Sunita
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 10:49:02

    @XandraG:

    I just meant that Shirley’s and my exchanges were venturing into “get a room already!” territory, not the topic in general. And of course I’m going to take any chance I get to link to xkcd!

    Someone upthread expressed my feelings about this succinctly: the biggest problem we face is that the internet has changed people’s ideas about what is owed to intellectual property owners, but we don’t have a new model in place that will provide comparable rewards. I’m just afraid we’re heading for a tragedy of the commons scenario in which individuals are doing what is collectively rational and justifiable for them, but in the long run we’re all worse off. Of course in the long run we’re also dead (yay Keynes), so I suppose it’s a question of which comes first.

    Total aside: I always register the <3 emoticon as “I boob” rather than “I heart”. But I guess they’re related …

    ETA: Shirley, I went back and read your earlier posts. I understand that you may have meant to focus on big business and government, but you frequently followed those remarks with comments about how little the authors themselves were losing. If I misunderstood what you meant, I apologize.

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  119. Robin
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 12:35:32

    From my experience teaching undergrads, I find that otherwise honorable students don't think twice about downloading movies and music from torrent sites. I taught a class that included material on the social uses of technology and I asked how many people downloaded movies or music regularly. Almost every student raised a hand. They said it was cheaper and easier and immediately available. I asked them if they were bothered that it was illegal. They said they were a little bothered, but that it shouldn't be, and everybody did it etc. etc. I really don't know what to do with that attitude. You can get an ebook on sale for $5 or less. But that's still more than 0.

    Beyond the issue of peer modeling your comment reflects, and that IMO gives even more weight to the idea that incentivizing people not to pirate is the way to go, I wonder if some of the attitude we’re seeing in these kids has evolved in the same period as art continues to be more and more commercialized.

    Obviously this is an ongoing tension: a book is a commodity but it’s a unique commodity in that it’s artistic in a broad sense (and sometimes in a narrow sense). While I see the commercial aspects of published books becoming more and more circulated and embraced, IMO we’re seeing a concurrent degradation of art for its own sake (I won’t pursue the increased vocationalization of education here, but I could, lol). This is one of the downsides of the “books are only entertainment” argument, and one that IMO has taken a strong hold among the upcoming generation. And if you don’t revere books as art and author as artists, well, no kidding it’s not too hard to justify a few illegal downloads.

    Although this is more controversial, as a college professor, perhaps you will know what I’m talking about here. With the most recent cohorts of college students, we’re seeing more and more kids who have been *very attentively* parented, at least in the sense of financial support (which brings with it a somewhat distorted view of how much things cost, what the value of stuff is, the relationship between work and social mobility). I’m not going to advance a definitive argument here tying this to these attitudes you articulate, Sunita, but I do have to wonder whether it’s not so much the kids who can’t afford books who download like this, but rather the ones who have not yet had the experience of working for financial benefit and security.

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  120. Robin
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 12:52:09

    Not that I'm opposed to innovation, or progress, or thinking outside the box (or, in this, the bookcovers), but I'd love to see some concrete ideas that don't ask authors -’ who in many cases are already juggling work and family with trying to craft stories that people might actually want to read -’ to do more than they're already doing, for less compensation.

    For all of the expectations of RWA that people think are unreasonable, IMO this is *precisely* where an organization like that should be focused (isn’t their mission to advance the careers of Romance writers, or something like that?).

    Because despite the solitary nature of writing, the nature of selling isn’t so solitary, and if authors can no longer depend on their publishers to do the promotion (or if the market is so crowded that authors in the same house are effectively pitted against each other for the same or overlapping readership), and authors are accepting of this situation, then it seems to me that you guys have much more power in a group than as individuals.

    I’m not suggesting any kind of protest activity or even a union (although it’s worked for many teaching assistants in university ; ); I’m talking about collaborative strategies to promote authors among authors. Whether that be informal collectives of authors who tour together and leverage each other’s readership to increase the whole, whether that be forming a small group and working to promote *each other* in your different home towns, whether that be exploring the concept of interconnected books among a cooperative group of authors — I don’t know, but I would think there are many potential avenues you guys could pursue as a collective. Do local RWA chapters hold readers events, for example? Do they help with local promotional strategies? How about having local chapters hire marketing consultants for the local area? There are so many changes — for everyone — that I would think this would be the time that many people are out there figuring out how to make a living in this changing economy, people who could help authors figure out how to do what they want to do better and more efficiently.

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  121. XandraG
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 12:56:25

    @Sunita
    Total aside: I always register the <3 emoticon as “I boob” rather than “I heart”. But I guess they're related …

    It’s good. I would totally boob xkcd if presented with the opportunity, too, I think.

    @Robin
    I think you have something here. Books are a commodity, and have been priced to reflect the price of the physical materials present (hardboard, glue, binding, printing, ink, etc.) at least in the public’s sense of “a book’s cost” which is interchangeable with “a book’s value” (even when it really shouldn’t be). We look at a hardback and think, “well, it’s more durable, bigger, harder, heavier, ergo it should cost more.” We look at a paperback and think, “well, it’s lighter, less durable, smaller-sized, and the paper is thinner, and also recently, they’ve been falling apart after two or three reads, so yeah, they should be cheaper.”

    Then we look at an ebook, or the representation thereof, and see, “well, it’s electrons on a screen. There, uh, aren’t any raw materials, it doesn’t weigh anything, so a.) why should I pay for it? and b.) what, exactly, should I pay for it?”

    So much of our idea of value is placed on tangibles–raw materials, durable goods, hold-in-your-hand stuff. We are uncomfortable as a society with having to ascribe value to intangibles. Ebooks are essentially a near-completely intangible value–the main value is not the fraction of electricity it takes to generate/read one, it’s not the fraction of microns of space it takes to store one. It’s in the content of the ebook. The story, the words, the way they are strung together.

    If someone hates my print story, at least they can use it to balance the short leg of their kitchen table or prop open the door, or even use it as fuel for the fireplace or to line the litterbox or birdcage. If they don’t like my ebook, they just trash the electrons. It’s a scary thing to think that someone will find X value in my story solely based on the strength of the story alone.

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  122. Sunita
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 13:16:31

    Obviously this is an ongoing tension: a book is a commodity but it's a unique commodity in that it's artistic in a broad sense (and sometimes in a narrow sense). While I see the commercial aspects of published books becoming more and more circulated and embraced, IMO we're seeing a concurrent degradation of art for its own sake (I won't pursue the increased vocationalization of education here, but I could, lol). This is one of the downsides of the “books are only entertainment” argument, and one that IMO has taken a strong hold among the upcoming generation. And if you don't revere books as art and author as artists, well, no kidding it's not too hard to justify a few illegal downloads.

    Oh, I totally agree with this. How can you take seriously as a book something that is “written” by someone who says she’s never read one? And yet we don’t distinguish between those books and the traditional kind; you know, with plots and creativity and competent writing and stuff. But that’s a whole ‘nother rant.

    It’s also a combination of books as “merely” entertainment and the commodification of *everything* including the undergraduate experience. It’s very difficult to leave the world outside and pursue learning for its own sake in a classroom anymore. Kids are much more jaded, because they’re always being sold something, so it’s hard to focus on the non-commodity value of an object or an experience. And treating them as “consumers” of education just makes this worse and undermines our ability to help them to separate ideas and experiences from commodities. And many of them really want that type of learning experience, but it seems like a luxury to them. But crushing debt burdens for families are accompanied by crushing expectations, which makes taking a class for intellectual fun something to be justified, rather than something everyone does.

    With the most recent cohorts of college students, we're seeing more and more kids who have been *very attentively* parented, at least in the sense of financial support (which brings with it a somewhat distorted view of how much things cost, what the value of stuff is, the relationship between work and social mobility). I'm not going to advance a definitive argument here tying this to these attitudes you articulate, Sunita, but I do have to wonder whether it's not so much the kids who can't afford books who download like this, but rather the ones who have not yet had the experience of working for financial benefit and security.

    Oh, lordy, the helicopter parents. I know they mean well, and they love their kids to death, but they cannot leave them alone. And while neither of us has the evidence to make the link between financial security and the attitudes we see, I do think it’s the case that middle- and upper-class teenagers work at paid jobs much less than their counterparts a generation or two ago. Part of it is that they’re all doing unpaid internships to make their college apps look good, so it’s a vicious circle. But yeah, if you have a credit card that someone else takes care of, it can take you longer to figure out the worth of the things you want and acquire, and to value the effort that people have put into creating them.

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  123. Robin
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 13:19:44

    So much of our idea of value is placed on tangibles-raw materials, durable goods, hold-in-your-hand stuff.

    This is definitely part of it, IMO. But I think it’s even deeper in that the book itself have become *merged* with its form, and we push the form as a commodity. In fact, I’d argue that publishers, editors, authors, and even readers have fed into this conflation, such that we see movies and books and the like in the same category as games, for example, rather than as akin to those Medieval illuminated manuscripts at the Huntington Library, or wherever (they have a number of famous manuscripts, including one of the first copies of The Canterbury Tales, a Gutenberg Bible, and a number of Shakespeare manuscripts). And IMO that shift in view has positive and negative implications. OTOH it popularizes literature and literacy, but OTOH it can denigrate the inherent value for society of purely artistic or aesthetic pursuits.

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  124. Robin
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 13:23:34

    @Sunita: ITA, and I hope against hope that the next four years will start to reverse the anti-intellectualism of the last eight (or sixty, depending on your perspective). Please, Santa, please.

    re. helicopter parents, I once had a student go out of his way to fail my class, and when I finally got him to talk about it (at the end of the quarter), he admitted that upon his impending graduation he was expected to go on to medical school, even though he dreaded the thought. So instead of disappointing his parents by telling them he didn’t think he could cut it as a doctor, he botched his own graduation. Sad, so sad.

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  125. Sunita
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 13:25:47

    So much of our idea of value is placed on tangibles-raw materials, durable goods, hold-in-your-hand stuff. We are uncomfortable as a society with having to ascribe value to intangibles. Ebooks are essentially a near-completely intangible value-the main value is not the fraction of electricity it takes to generate/read one, it's not the fraction of microns of space it takes to store one. It's in the content of the ebook. The story, the words, the way they are strung together.

    If someone hates my print story, at least they can use it to balance the short leg of their kitchen table or prop open the door, or even use it as fuel for the fireplace or to line the litterbox or birdcage. If they don't like my ebook, they just trash the electrons. It's a scary thing to think that someone will find X value in my story solely based on the strength of the story alone.

    But turn that around to the optimistic side: On my Sony Reader I have Harlequin authors, Nora Roberts, Meljean Brook, a bunch of mysteries, an academic book and a handful of articles I’m using in a class this semester, and a draft report I have to critique and review. Thanks to the magic of the reader, they all look pretty much the same, so I’m concentrating on what’s in them, not what the cover art looks like or the size of the paper. On my bookshelves, the hard copies wouldn’t even be in the same rooms, but the reader reminds me that yeah, they’re serving different purposes, but they’re all creative uses of the written word.

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  126. Kat
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 16:49:00

    I love being a storyteller.

    As with the harper example, books aren’t the only way to tell stories. And even if one were to say that authors only write books, book-type stories don’t have to be packaged the way they are now.
    @XandraG:

    So much of our idea of value is placed on tangibles-raw materials, durable goods, hold-in-your-hand stuff.

    I think this is true to some extent, but I also think that there are flourishing service industries where value is measured in terms of effort or convenience.
    @Robin:

    if you don't revere books as art and author as artists, well, no kidding it's not too hard to justify a few illegal downloads.

    I’m in two minds about this. Is it the authors and artists that people don’t revere, or is it a movement against not wanting art to be coopted by primarily profit-making (and profit-squeezing) companies? Maybe it’s also partly a case of losing trust in the publishing process. (Just think how often we see people complaining about the diminishing standards of editing.) So people might be saying, Don’t bother to vet aspiring authors for me. I’m willing to go through the slush pile and find diamonds in the rough myself, rather than risk buying 5 books and enjoying maybe 3.

    One other issue we haven’t really talked about much and which I think is relevant is the changing value of intellectual property. My feeling is that there’s a growing movement to put ideas back in the public domain, and one of the first areas this is happening is in writing. If people can read hundreds of free fiction/non-fiction online, they may be less willing to pay for books. And that’s why I think we need to look at business models.

    Finally, there’s a cultural problem. Much of this discussion assumes a particular approach to individual ownership and capitalism. But this isn’t shared by everyone, and piracy isn’t illegal (or legally pursued) everywhere.

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  127. Robin
    Jan 17, 2009 @ 12:29:31

    One other issue we haven't really talked about much and which I think is relevant is the changing value of intellectual property. My feeling is that there's a growing movement to put ideas back in the public domain, and one of the first areas this is happening is in writing. If people can read hundreds of free fiction/non-fiction online, they may be less willing to pay for books. And that's why I think we need to look at business models.

    Kat, I could go on for days about how unfairly I think the current copyright protections are tipped away from the public domain, but I won’t. ;) And so I definitely agree with that, although I’m not sure that many of the folks who are making books available for mass download or those who are mass downloading are thinking of the Constitutional balance for IP protection.

    And then there are the philosophical problems with how one goes about shifting the balance back. Are these folks simply trying to evade the law or change it? Are they objecting to that balance in an open and notorious way (borrowing from adverse possession concepts here) in order to create a court or legislative challenge, or merely trying to escape legal consequences because they don’t care about any legitimate challenge to the scope of copyright laws and want to keep doing what they’re doing?

    For those of us who believe that the public domain is getting the short end of this particular stick, a lot of these mass pirating sites are also undermining our ability to invite authors to contemplate the idea that some of the copyright laws they think benefit them may actually benefit their publishers way more (and at the author’s expense).

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  128. Kat
    Jan 18, 2009 @ 09:05:59

    @Robin: I suppose it depends on what you mean by “mass downloading”. If a person is downloading free books online at the same rate that same person would normally borrow books from the library and generally not using digital books in any significantly different way to physical books, to me that behaviour wouldn’t be controversial even though it’s illegal and has potentially different consequences for authors.

    And then there are the philosophical problems with how one goes about shifting the balance back. Are these folks simply trying to evade the law or change it? Are they objecting to that balance in an open and notorious way (borrowing from adverse possession concepts here) in order to create a court or legislative challenge, or merely trying to escape legal consequences because they don't care about any legitimate challenge to the scope of copyright laws and want to keep doing what they're doing?

    What if they’re just indifferent to it? I don’t think it’s a conscious collective movement to subvert existing copyright laws. I think it just reflects a shift in values. Sunita’s informal poll of her undergrads seems to support this—that “otherwise honorable students” would only be a little bothered by what they’re doing (and I’d suggest much of that has to do with the illegality of the activity). Without a legitimate distribution mechanism that meets (most of) the needs of people who pirate books, they’ll continue to pirate books.

    For those of us who believe that the public domain is getting the short end of this particular stick, a lot of these mass pirating sites are also undermining our ability to invite authors to contemplate the idea that some of the copyright laws they think benefit them may actually benefit their publishers way more (and at the author's expense).

    I think you’re right, but I also think there are authors out there who have taken risks and shown that they can use CC or free books or, yes, torrents in ways that benefit them.

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  129. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 08:38:26

    @Kat:

    In that case, wouldn't it be something to consider?

    No…because, sorry, most readers aren’t that interested in paying for ‘merchanidise’ and it would require a bulk investment upfront in order for it not to cost the author a lot of money.

    We are writers. We have every right to expect to be paid from WRITING, not from selling tote bags and coffee cups with our name on it. Not to mention that anything like that is time consuming and those of us on tight deadlines can’t really spare the time…because the book has to come first.

    I'm not saying it IS the economic reality, I'm saying let's assume the worst and think of how we can turn it into our favour.

    I’ve already assumed the worst and have taken steps to deal with it-one of those steps involved ditching a series. Another one involved moving my most popular series to New York, which means there are going to be far few books in that series.

    Should the worst happen altogether, I’ll go back to work-either part time or full time, but guess what…other than meeting my deadlines, I won’t write. And it’s entirely possible that if I had to keep up the pace of working full time and writing to meet my deadlines, I’ll drop the writing once said deadlines are met. I’m done doing both jobs full time and unless you keep up a steady stream of releaess, it’s hard for a writer to get/stay established.

    So the worst case scenario…people think they don’t need to pay for my books, they can think that. I don’t need to publish them. I don’t need to spend thousands on promo. I don’t need to spend thousands on research, membership dues, conferences, all the other things that I put into my career to keep it going and to make myself more widely known. If the general idea becomes that people don’t need to pay to read my hard work, then I won’t give it to them…period. It can remain an idea in my head or something I jot down to amuse myself.

    I’m sorry, Kat, but the ideas that a writer should work for ‘tips’ is insulting.

    We. Write. Books.

    Well, yes, but what happens when people no longer want to pay for them? That's the worst case scenario, isn't it?

    That answer to that is…many authors will stop writing them. That happens, everybody loses, including the pirates.

    What we need to do is make the pirates understand that, not try to convince authors to find other ways to make money besides writing.

    @Nora Roberts:

    But it's my job-a hard job, a wonderful job. If and when readers in general no longer feel they need pay for my work, they won't get my work.

    Ditto, ditto, and ditto.

    If I woke up tomorrow and was told that while people love to read my books, they no longer wanted to pay for them, which meant all royalties and advances weren’t coming and I’d have to rely on the ‘kindness’ of those who wanted to tip me for sharing my hard work with them, I’d say…screw that, I’m going back to nursing.

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  130. vanessa jaye
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 09:03:16

    Yanno, Shiloh, every time you open your mouth online, I start nodding like a bobble-head in agreement. ;-) I think I need a new internet acronym: WSS (what Shiloh said.)

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  131. Zoe Winters
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 09:11:35

    LMAO, Vanessa, agreed.

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  132. Karen Templeton
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 10:12:27

    Also to add — someone mentioned “time management,” that plenty of other writers figure out how to juggle their writing with other things. First off, writing isn’t like doing the laundry or paying the bills or running to the store — for most of us, it’s not simply another task on the to-do list. Before you write down the words, those words have to be in your head…and inspiration rarely happens on command, much as many of us would like it to. Granted, some blessed souls can sit down in front of the computer and pick up the story right where they left off, although I don’t know any of these people. :) But not everyone’s creative process is the same. Many, many writers need quiet, relatively uninterrupted time to let the story — or the next scene, or the character’s motivation — bubble to the surface. Until that happens, there are no words.

    And the more that precious bubbling time is fragmented or interrupted, the less satisfactory the output — for author OR reader. Besides which, nobody knows what all else any given writer is already dealing with — jobs or kids or elderly parents, or all of the above. Our plates are already heaped to overflowing. We write because we have stories to tell, of course…but also because we depend on the income from our work. If that income source dries up, something has to give. Since we can’t jettison our other responsibilities, guess what that would be?

    As for finding other, profitable ways to deliver the story…that’s frankly not my job, that’s my publisher’s. My job is to write the books, theirs to sell them. If the time comes when that model implodes, then I’ll move on.

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  133. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 10:21:23

    Yanno, Shiloh, every time you open your mouth online, I start nodding like a bobble-head in agreement. ;-) I think I need a new internet acronym: WSS (what Shiloh said.)

    LMAO.

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  134. Kat
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 17:07:38

    I'm sorry, Kat, but the ideas that a writer should work for ‘tips' is insulting.

    Shiloh, there are plenty of writers whose books I’ve bought through the UBS or through the library that I wish I could pay royalties to. But I’m not buying a new book to do that (unless it’s to give to someone else as a gift, which I’ve done before). I don’t think I suggested tipping, but I wouldn’t actually mind having some way to compensate a writer outside of the current model.

    Please don’t misunderstand—I don’t necessarily want you all to suddenly be entrepreneurs—the stuff I’ve been talking about are just suggestions—they’ll work for some, they won’t for others. And I believe I’ve said this already—if ever these non-writing activities take off, I’m confident there will be middlemen to handle these parts of the business. I mean, if you think about it, the process of writing a book involves the author, the publisher, the editor, the printer, the marketing dept, the cover artist, the wholesaler, the retailer, etc. It’s not like authors are being asked to MAKE books themselves now. In a similar vein, however the market evolves, I think most of these tasks will be outsource-able so authors can do what they do best.

    I don’t want writers to beg for payment—I think you guys deserve to be compensated—but the system doesn’t always let readers do it either.

    If the general idea becomes that people don't need to pay to read my hard work, then I won't give it to them…period. It can remain an idea in my head or something I jot down to amuse myself.

    I’ve already stated previously that I don’t think the art of storytelling (or story writing) will disappear, but that the form in which we tell and receive stories will probably change. And it’s changing already.

    That answer to that is…many authors will stop writing them.

    Actually, I think that’s more drastic than I’d predict. I think the form may change but stories will endure. And I think there will still be a market for stories. The question is what will the market look like? There are authors who are being pro-active about pursuing these questions, and others who aren’t. As a reader, I’d prefer that authors were more pro-active, but I know it’s not going to be feasible/comfortable for most to do.

    That happens, everybody loses, including the pirates.

    Again, I doubt it. Lots of people are willing to put out stories for free. Maybe they won’t be as polished, but once they find an audience, who’s to say they’re any worse than traditionally published work?

    To be honest, I don’t know how much more I can contribute to this discussion. I think maybe the problem is that I’m assuming that illegal sharing (as opposed to commercial piracy) is a symptom of a larger cultural shift in values. And since many authors in this thread see that only in a negative light, we’ll probably just keep raising the same issues over and over again.

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  135. Karen Templeton
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 17:41:38

    Interesting sidebar to the piracy discussion:

    A few weeks ago, another Harlequin author stumbled upon what appeared to be a piracy site…one which apparently had, not only our more recent books, but books which weren’t out yet…and in some cases (yes, it gets better), books which WEREN’T YET WRITTEN. This one asked for a fee to download the books (which obviously gets into serious illegal ground, as opposed to merely morally repugnant ;-))…but one of more astute colleagues discovered one could enter ANY set of words, and wouldn’t you know…that “title,” too, was available for download, just register and give us your credit card for access.

    You can guess what’s coming, right?

    Yep, site’s a scam. Someone linked to a message board crammed with complaints from folks all over the world who’d been fleeced, being directed to porn sites and having their credit cards charged over and over…and none of them ever got the books/films/whatever they’d originally wanted.

    Now it seems there are more of these so-called “free download” sites cropping up all over the web.

    I have no issues with other, legal methods of reading for free. I adore libraries, share books, have bought my share of used. But all those books WERE bought new at one time and thus added to the author’s earnings. Illegal downloads harbor far, far more potential for abuse, even if the extent of that abuse can’t be proven. So I’ve little sympathy for the fleecees of those scams.

    The term “come back to bite you in the butt” comes to mind. ;-)

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  136. Kat
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 17:54:37

    Karen, your example is one of the reasons why illegal downloading remains unattractive to many people. The process involves risk on the user’s part. Most people know that free does NOT equal free—there are trade-offs. And that’s why I think publishers should treat piracy as part of the competitive landscape. If they can understand what business needs piracy is addressing and what it’s not, they can design a more effective business model that will be attractive to users and get them away from illegal downloads.

    I have no issues with other, legal methods of reading for free. I adore libraries, share books, have bought my share of used. But all those books WERE bought new at one time and thus added to the author's earnings.

    But what of *illegal* sharing, say between friends, or between a closed group of 10, 50, 100, 1000, 5000 people? At some point, someone also bought the (usually e-)book being shared. This is the grey area I’m most interested in.

    So I've little sympathy for the fleecees of those scams.

    Nor have I, and I think if you wanted to screw around with piracy, you’d just offer a gazillion gibberish files or incomplete books, or books with missing pages. Make it harder for people to find what they need, and they’ll appreciate the convenience and security of obtaining books legally.

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  137. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 19:59:47

    That answer to that is…many authors will stop writing them.

    Actually, I think that's more drastic than I'd predict. I think the form may change but stories will endure. And I think there will still be a market for stories. The question is what will the market look like? There are authors who are being pro-active about pursuing these questions, and others who aren't. As a reader, I'd prefer that authors were more pro-active, but I know it's not going to be feasible/comfortable for most to do.

    That happens, everybody loses, including the pirates.

    Again, I doubt it. Lots of people are willing to put out stories for free. Maybe they won't be as polished, but once they find an audience, who's to say they're any worse than traditionally published work?

    But readers have faves. And those faves may very well quit writing. I’m sorry, but nobody could ever replace the stories that I find with Lynn Viehl, JD Robb, Mercedes Lackey, etc. Think about four or five of your favorite writers-there’s a good chance that if this change were to come to pass, at least half of them would no longer continue to write for publication.

    Please note…that doesn’t mean we’d stop writing. I’d write…for myself. And I would just leave the stories on my PC. Many would go unfinished. Most would be unpolished. Because it’s the incentive of selling the story that drives a lot of us to finish and to polish.

    Anyway, if half of your favorite authors just stopped putting books out, you wouldn’t miss them? Would you really expect to find somebody telling their exact sort of story elsewhere?

    I’m sorry, but many of those who currently write for a living would find another way to make a living if the publishing industry suddenly turns upside down and writers are no longer paid in a manner similar to what we are paid now.

    Will other people write and give those stories away for free?

    Sure.

    But will they be by the authors that gave up writing because writing was no longer worth it as a job?

    No. Because many of us would stop. As far as writing stories go, there’s a million people out there who’d love to have people reading their stories. But authors like Nora, like SL Viehl/Lynn Viehl, there are not a dime a dozen. Their particular voices are unique-they are irreplaceable. And if they stopped, readers would very much miss them.

    Yes, I do see a great deal of the current mass pirating problem as a shift in values.

    Too many people have this sense of entitlement. They think they are entitled to my hard work, to Nora’s hard work.

    But people are entitled to have a roof over their heads. If homeless people went into another person’s house and just took up camp…is that right?

    If somebody went to a restaurant, ordered their favorite meal and then it came out only…bleh…but ate it anyway, could they then only leave 25% of the food bill as payment? Not unless they want to get arrested.

    Too many pirates don’t view books as the same sort of goods that they’d view a meal, a house, a coat. They know if they steal those, it’s wrong and they can get arrested.

    But books, whether people see or not, take time to create, time to publish, time promote-it’s work, just like making a coat, a meal, a house, and selling it.

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  138. Robin
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 20:30:10

    Okay, I’m confused: Are authors arguing that it’s piracy that’s imperiling their writing careers?

    I also think there are authors out there who have taken risks and shown that they can use CC or free books or, yes, torrents in ways that benefit them.

    I don’t see widespread interest in looking at how these different models might work beyond individual promotions. More’s the pity, IMO, but then the economy and other (not piracy) factors may eventually incentivize more risk-taking.

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  139. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 20:39:45

    Are authors arguing that it's piracy that's imperiling their writing careers?

    Imperiling, no. And hopefully we aren’t moving to some sort of model where we have to rely on something other than writing our books to continue writing them.

    But piracy is hurting writing careers. It adds up to fewer sales and in these tough times, those with fewer sales are the ones who don’t get contracts renewed or their series get axed before they are ready. Is piracy the sole contributing factor…no, I don’t think so. Poor economy plays in, market saturation plays in…anything that causes fewer people to buy books.

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  140. Robin
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 21:15:13

    I honestly don’t understand how piracy could be viewed as any kind of controlling factor, Shiloh. Interestingly, a US District Court judge just argued that restitutional damages cannot be calculated on a per download basis because “Those who download movies and music for free would not necessarily purchase those movies and music at the full purchase price,” echoing the IDC’s arguments that estimated losses due to piracy may be 10X exaggerated.

    But beyond that, I’m struck, frankly, by the way readers are so consistently placed in the position of carrying the burden for authors’ success or failure. When you talk about authorial “rights” to be paid for writing, I can’t help but feel that it’s the publisher who bears that particular burden. IMO you do not have that kind of contract with the reader. Which is not to be construed as a defense of piracy. But I think that it’s a scapegoat for other, more significant issues, some endemic to the economic downturn and others arising from the way publishers are doing business and authors are contracting with them.

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  141. Kat
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 21:18:02

    Anyway, if half of your favorite authors just stopped putting books out, you wouldn't miss them? Would you really expect to find somebody telling their exact sort of story elsewhere?

    Shiloh, as a reader and to be brutally honest … I’m not sure. I do have favourite authors and favourite books. My favourite books are not always written by my favourite authors. I’ve also bought many books by favourite authors that were utterly disappointing and I wish I hadn’t spent good money on them. (And you know, I don’t actually blame the author—mostly, I blame the publication process that didn’t polish the book to the level that I expected.) So in terms of what I’m spending on my favourite authors now … I’d probably spend more if they could write more quickly, but I also want my money back for some of the crap I’ve had to read (obviously, the good outnumber the bad since they’re favourite authors).

    Think about four or five of your favorite writers-there's a good chance that if this change were to come to pass, at least half of them would no longer continue to write for publication.

    In the worst case scenario, maybe. I doubt we’ll get to that point. I’d love it if we can find a better business model for publishing stories—I really, really would. And I’d love it if that model compensated authors more fairly for their work (as in, less going to the non-writing bits of work and more to the writer).

    But you know, publishing as it stands doesn’t always give me what I want. Look at Laura Kinsale. How many people have asked when her next book will be out? How hard is she finding it to get a publishing deal that she can be happy with? Look at Kenyon and Ward, who have produced great books but also some horrible ones (IMO ONLY). Where’s the reward for readers who buy 400+ page books that could have been edited to half that and not lose the story, or a book written in larger fonts with wider margins but priced according to page number? Readers take risks, too, when they buy books and support their favourite authors.

    Yes, I do see a great deal of the current mass pirating problem as a shift in values.

    Too many people have this sense of entitlement. They think they are entitled to my hard work, to Nora's hard work.

    Too many pirates don't view books as the same sort of goods that they'd view a meal, a house, a coat. They know if they steal those, it's wrong and they can get arrested.

    I think this is where we fundamentally disagree. To me, the shift in values isn’t just about a sense of entitlement—in the negative way that many/most authors see it. To me, the shift is saying something about the way we consume stories, what we’re willing to risk for convenience, how we try new authors. It’s not black and white to me, and that’s probably where we’ll never agree.

    The book Free Culture articulates pretty much what I think about piracy (illegal sharing) and I really recommend it. You may not agree with it, but I think it gives some good insights as to why people are sharing/downloading illegally. He differentiates between commercial piracy (which, I agree with him, is wrong) and the kind of piracy that I’m talking about, which is really filesharing (no profit to the filesharer). And it also has a very interesting discussion about technology and how it has given copyright owners much more control over their products, which wasn’t possible before.

    For example, I can go to Borders and read an entire book for free. But what would usually happen is that I’ll go and browse, and after reading a chapter or two (or less), I’ll either decide not to buy the book, or I’ll buy it. (Or maybe I’ll read all the good bits and then put it down. Anyway.) The bookstore might shoo me away, but the author and the publisher can’t control my behaviour. Now take ebooks. Where would I browse an entire ebook? Very few places, because publishers or authors can and do control my (legal) access to those books. And I can extend this comparison to UBS and libraries. YES, they are different in terms of their consequences for authors and publishers, BUT from a reader’s point of view, what mechanism allows us to buy cheap digital copies of books to try new authors, or to complete a series (that we may have already spent $100+ on), or to stretch the budget, and so on? When you tag all illegal sharers as “pirates” and put them in the same box as commercial pirates (those who illegally sell pirated copies), you do a disservice to readers and potentially miss some legitimate reasons why people illegally share files.

    I can’t stress enough that I don’t think we will lose written storytelling. And I want authors to be paid for their work—probably even more so than they already are. But I also think that technology has changed the business environment. The book, in its current form, and publishing in its current model, will inevitably change. Part of this change is being driven by the readers in ways that neither publishers nor authors can fully control.

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  142. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 21:34:21

    Kat, I think at this point I just need to bow out of this discussion. For me, piracy has hit home too hard. I’ve shelved one series and that decision was based on my issues with piracy. Another series I’ve decided to refocus and rethink how I do it, and again because of piracy.

    It’s hit way too close to home-I’ve had roughly, and a low estimate, about 10k worth of illegally downloaded files of my work that I’ve seen online in the past two years. Those are only the files I’m aware of and I’m aware there are quite a few that I’m not aware of.

    One of my ebook titles has actually had more illegal downloads than I’ve had sales, and that’s a mega-punch right in the gut. I know how to take hits and I take them pretty well, but considering some of the negativity I’ve had to handle over piracy, this is just an area where I’m not going to take the punches as well as I’d like.

    So I’m stepping out of this discussion.

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  143. Kat
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 21:34:55

    @Robin:

    I don't see widespread interest in looking at how these different models might work beyond individual promotions. More's the pity, IMO, but then the economy and other (not piracy) factors may eventually incentivize more risk-taking.

    I think maybe we’ll see this happening more with a younger generation of writers who are comfortable with the idea of CC and filesharing and have a more intuitive understanding of how these can work to their advantage. I see this happening now in non-fiction, on blogs, etc. It’s hard to do if you’re used to how traditional book publishing works.

    Hmm, next time I’ll wait for Robin to comment before I unleash my comment diarrhoea on this thread. I think you’re all sick of me by now. (I’m sick of myself, to be truthful.)

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  144. AnneD
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 21:42:23

    Some might find this interesting. It popped up on my google alerts today. A torrent that contains all my backlist (10 stories). It’s been downloaded 121 times thus far – small pickings I guess, to what it could be (although, that’s the equivalent to 1210 single file downloads).

    So? you might say.

    The bit that makes it interesting are the comments (not the roughly $1675.00 in lost royalties so far, which, for this ebook author is a hefty chunk of change):

    “Thanks so much for sharing. These look really good. Did some research on the author and I don’t suppose you have the second Huntingdawn book as well, do you?”

    ‘Aint that just a kick in the pants.

    All those hours and hours of hard work going for free. And then they can’t even be bothered buying one lousy book (the 2nd HD book).

    In this instance, the get-something-free-promotes-buying-concept = Epic Fail

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  145. Robin
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 21:49:11

    Hmm, next time I'll wait for Robin to comment before I unleash my comment diarrhoea on this thread.

    LOL, Kat! I kept telling myself that I wasn’t going to comment, I wasn’t going to comment, so you see how well I practice self-discipline!

    I know my perspective on this issue is shaped by a bunch of different things, from my understanding of IP law and theory to the fact that I give away my intellectual property to the public sphere regularly in the course of my employment (and I don’t know how you’d measure whether I’m being paid fairly for it — I know what I’d say, lol), which means that I have a different perception what we’re all entitled to for our creative efforts and how important a strong public realm is for continued creativity. In any case, I agree with you that we’re on the cusp of a potential paradigm shift, and IMO there are other possible models out there that will benefit authors much more than they are now, even if it may take some time to make that shift successfully.

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  146. Karen Templeton
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 23:00:23

    But beyond that, I'm struck, frankly, by the way readers are so consistently placed in the position of carrying the burden for authors' success or failure. When you talk about authorial “rights” to be paid for writing, I can't help but feel that it's the publisher who bears that particular burden. IMO you do not have that kind of contract with the reader.

    Do I feel any individual reader has some sort of obligation to “pay” me by buying my books? Of course not. But my publisher’s sole source of revenue — from which I do get paid — is from book sales, just as Maybelline has to sell makeup in order to pay its workers. Since my earnings are entirely dependent on how many people buy my books, in a way that does put the burden on The Reader. At least, with this current model. Not knowing what my publisher’s other expenses are, I’m really not in a position to know whether they could, or should, pay me more through a higher royalty rate.

    No, my contract isn’t with the reader, but with my publisher…who promises to sell as many copies of my books, to as many markets, in as many formats, as they possibly can (and thus far, I’ve had no complaints in this regard). If readers don’t buy enough of my books, I may well find myself out of contract. If they cease buying anybody’s books, nobody gets a contract.

    Just sayin’. :)

    As for piracy…right now, although I loathe and detest it on principle, I don’t think it’s having that huge an impact on most author’s overall sales. But if that should change, you’ll see a paradigm shift, all right — a market flooded primarily with free but unedited work, except for those writers with other sources of income which would allow them to hire an editor. And as someone who’s judged her fair share of unpublished work over the years, I can assure you there are far fewer gems out there than you might want to believe.

    Whatever the new-and-improved model turns out to be, I don’t think that’s what we really want. :)

    ReplyReply

  147. Robin
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 23:39:17

    Whatever the new-and-improved model turns out to be, I don't think that's what we really want. :)

    But how do you know? Some change is actually good. ;)

    just as Maybelline has to sell makeup in order to pay its workers.

    But should consumers prefer Kirkland Borghese, for example, does that mean they are responsible for Maybelline’s failure? If mascara makers flood the market with a bunch of mascaras that are about the same level of effectiveness, does that shift the supply/demand curve? In one way it’s so wonderful that a large number of authors get a chance to have their books placed into the stream of commerce. But if the mechanism is not in place to effectively market all of those books equally, or if readers prefer some authors but not others, it can disable authors who do not have a solid reputation and guaranteed market share. And what about those of us who tend to be more book loyal than author loyal? I don’t think the market is at all set up to favor our preferences.

    Plus, as a reader, I feel all the time that books are available that I have *no idea* are out there. If it weren’t for other readers and bloggers, and for Jane sending me books and recommending books, I would be even more limited in my awareness of what’s out there. And that’s frustrating to me, too, because it constructively abridges my own reading experience and cuts against the diversity I crave. And it can make me less adventurous, ironically, because my reading selection becomes more and more shaped by the books I have to review and those recommended to me. And when I do venture out and am disappointed because I don’t get the diversity I seek, I can become even more gun shy. And it’s a bitter irony, IMO, because on the one hand there are so many books to choose from, and on the other it often feels like there’s little substantive diversity among those offerings.

    Plus I have limited time and money, which also limits my risk-taking behavior when it comes to even being in a position to seek out and purchase books by new to me authors. Which is one of the reasons that an occasional free read by a new author can get me started in a whole new reading binge (I can’t tell you how many ARCs have led to *multiple* sales of books by new to me authors). So authors can insist forever and a day that we readers drive the market, but IMO that’s only true in an abstract sense, because the market is delimited by authors and publishers long before we partake of its offerings.

    ReplyReply

  148. Kat
    Jan 20, 2009 @ 00:31:34

    @Karen Templeton:

    But if that should change, you’ll see a paradigm shift, all right — a market flooded primarily with free but unedited work, except for those writers with other sources of income which would allow them to hire an editor. And as someone who’s judged her fair share of unpublished work over the years, I can assure you there are far fewer gems out there than you might want to believe.

    Karen, I don’t think it’ll be that bad, to be honest. First, readers put up with some shocking work now. In my opinion. :-) But if shocking work is what people want to read, then who am I to say those authors shouldn’t become wildly successful?

    Also, it’s possible to compete with “free”. How else can bottled water manufacturers make a profit? By understanding what needs are being met by illegal distribution–other than “don’t have to pay for it”–we can also find ways to compete with it effectively.

    I’m also hoping that a market that allows for greater distribution and a more democratic selection of which works become successful (which touches on Robin’s last point above) will mean that the level of craftsmanship required to write a successful book will become higher.

    ReplyReply

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