Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Ebooks Does Not Equal Free Books

A friend of mine emailed me this past week asking me for information about how to buy her sister a gift of ebooks. Her sister had a Sony Reader and my friend wanted to buy books from Fictionwise because unless you had a Sony Reader, you couldn’t actually buy a Sony Reader compatible book. I tried to explain the tortuous way in which she could install MS Reader, then Converlit GUI, then buy the books, then convert them to some format that could be converted again to Sony Reader compatible. I think she and I gave up somewhere in the fifth email.

Digital rights management (DRM) had stymied this friend in buying a couple of books for her sister’s e Reader. DRM is just something that publishers can’t give up. (It’s hard to say whether the push for DRM is stronger from the authors or the publishers so for now I’ll just lay the blame at the door of the publishers.)

There is also the concern around the giving away of free ebooks and whether that will lead to a consumer class devaluing literature to the point that they expect ebooks to be free. Giving away free ebooks doesn’t makes sense unless you are using the ebook to seed future purchases. For example, the Julia Spencer-Fleming free ebook giveaway made a lot of sense because Book 6 was a continuation of a long running series and thus it encouraged the purchase of Books 3-5 that might not have been made. I also don’t think that simply because you have free ebooks as a promotional device, that leads consumers to expect all books, even in digital form, to be free.

I think we can conclude from the empirical evidence in our own romance community that there is money to be made even selling DRM free ebooks. It is possible that it is because epublishers went DRM free that they have been successful and had ebooks been locked in some fashion that EC, Samhain, Loose ID and so forth would not be the success stories that they are today. The 2007 Forbes article on Ellora’s Cave represented that EC had annual revenue of $6.7 million. Royalty rates for EC authors is 40% which means that the EC authors took home a little over $2.6 million. In fact, I think the money that has been made in the past from ebooks is one reason we see so many new epublishers entering the marketplace.

It’s probably safe to say that epublished books, free of DRM, are pirated at a higher rate than other published books yet both sides parts of the publishing side of the equation are making money.

If there is one company that could undertake to experiment with DRM free ebooks, it would be Harlequin. It’s contracts, I believe, are all encompassing in terms of the rights it acquires when it buys a book. It could release some percentage of ebooks with DRM and without and track the comparable sales. Harlequin is so innovative in other ways (releasing books early, digitizing its entire frontlist, enabling the one click bundles) that it could really be a leader in this regard.

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

39 Comments

  1. Kimber An
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 07:24:25

    Oh, I agree about Harlequin. I’ve read and reviewed tons of their books. And they are the most innovative publisher I’ve seen, in more ways than just marketing and distribution.

  2. carolyn Jean
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 07:59:20

    This is really an interesting analysis. Even though I don’t frequently comment, having little intelligent to add other than, oh, wow, I have been appreciating your publishing industry insights and information pieces lately. And hey, well done on the coming out!

  3. Keishon
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 08:15:05

    I wish all publishers would be leaders in the ebook market. Alas, there is too much fear of piracy, dwindling royalties, profit, etc, add your own____.

    As an aside, there are ebooks that I have not bought and would like to buy but they are not in a format I tend to use. It’s VERY fustrating.

  4. DS
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 08:57:50

    There are few things more frustrating than discovering a great new author by reading a current ebook then finding out the backlist is only available in a dead trees version.

  5. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 09:02:17

    I read on an ebookwise, so almost every e-book I possess has to be converted before I can read it on my device of choice.
    I use the Ebook Librarian program, so with most formats (excepting pdf, and there’s even a workaround for that) it’s a breeze. Drag and drop, and the program does the hard work for me.
    But not Harlequin books, because they have DRM on them. I loves me some Harlequin and I find it tooth-grittingly frustrating.

    And on the subject of free e-books – I have one on my newsletter group, a historical that is only available there. I have no problem with people redistributing it, but if I ever see it for sale anywhere, be sure I’ll go after them probably by pointing out that it’s a free book and if people write to me, they can have a copy for nothing).
    And I write series. I’ve sometimes thought that it’s a good idea to give one of the series away. I’m in the process of selling the Richard and Rose series to a new publisher, and I was wondering if they’d take that idea kindly – of course, they’re the distributor and it’s up to them what they do.

  6. Keishon
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 10:03:43

    There are few things more frustrating than discovering a great new author by reading a current ebook then finding out the backlist is only available in a dead trees version

    Don’t get this at all either. Offer *one* book in a long running series in ebook and the rest is still in paperback. Pfftttt. Stupid.

  7. Lynne
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 10:25:30

    Publishers also need to make eBooks more affordable. When I bought my Palm Centro the other month, I went to FictionWise to load it up with books, and I was shocked to see that some of them were the same price as hardcover! For a book I can’t install on another computer, can’t sell, and can’t trade? Uhh, no.

  8. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 10:29:22

    Agreed. I don’t like hardcover prices attached to ebooks, either. My books sell at paperback prices, or just below, which for erotic romance isn’t bad at all, I think. But hardcover prices – yes, I went to buy one of my favourite author’s new releases in e-format, and found it was hardcover price, so I’ll wait for the paperback to come out.
    I don’t buy hardcover at all, because they’re not very portable and I like to carry a book around with me. Some of them are bigger than my portable laptop!

  9. Terry Odell
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 10:56:51

    I think the formatting issue is a big one. I use my eBookwise, but for some reason, I couldn’t get book 1 of an upcoming 3 book series on the eBookwise site. I could get book 2 there. But Fictionwise, which is a parent/sister/cousin? of ebookwise had both books. Being lazy, I prefer not to have to mess with conversions, but if that’s what it takes, I guess I’ll learn.

    Pricing — well, when a ‘auto buy’ author has a new release that’s in hard cover, the e-book prices can be a good savings. But that, too, seems to vary. I know I bought Jonathan Kellerman’s newest hard cover release from eBookwise for less than I would have paid buying it from The Mystery Guild. And no shipping, no waiting.

    And not to twist the subject, but there’s always the gift certificate route if you want to buy someone an ebook. True, they might not choose the book you were going to give, but they’re assured of getting something they want in a format their reader can handle.

  10. areader
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 12:38:24

    But not Harlequin books, because they have DRM on them. I loves me some Harlequin and I find it tooth-grittingly frustrating.

    .lit files and that convertalit programme will change this into a html file. Then you can convert that into what you like. I usually open the html file in dreamweaver so I can put in margins and add the cover image. There is also that dailylit site which emails.

  11. kirsten saell
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 12:42:45

    There are few things more frustrating than discovering a great new author by reading a current ebook then finding out the backlist is only available in a dead trees version.

    Escept maybe reading the first two ebooks by that author and then finding the third has been placed with a large print pub who offers it in ebook–for 12 freaking dollars. I love ebooks and I love that author, and I still can’t make myself pay that.

    And not to twist the subject, but there's always the gift certificate route if you want to buy someone an ebook.

    That’s true. But DRM is a pain in the ass, as are digital format issues. I bought an ebook recently from an online retailer (I usually buy them right from the publisher), and ended up having to install software I didn’t want to even be able to download the pdf of it. pdf is my format of choice, so I thought it would be simple, but no. I was not amused.

  12. kirsten saell
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 12:44:14

    .lit files and that convertalit programme will change this into a html file. Then you can convert that into what you like. I usually open the html file in dreamweaver so I can put in margins and add the cover image.

    Yeah, but why should you have to do that? You buy a book from a bookstore, you open it and start to read. The more ebooks stray from that ease of use, the less likely they are to claim a decent share of the market.

  13. areader
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 12:49:10

    ended up having to install software I didn't want to even be able to download the pdf of it. pdf is my format of choice, so I thought it would be simple, but no. I was not amused.

    Yes adobe recently forced an upgrade of that software. You had no choice, you had to upgrade or you couldn’t use digital editions. And you can no longer buy .pdf ebooks if you don’t have digital editions. This is why I started buying .lit files.

  14. MoJo
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 12:49:21

    .lit files and that convertalit programme will change this into a html file. Then you can convert that into what you like. I usually open the html file in dreamweaver so I can put in margins and add the cover image. There is also that dailylit site which emails.

    I do that, too, but the point is: Why should you have to? I don’t know how software savvy the romance readership is, but good gravy, all of the steps you have to go through is a circumlocution that makes getting in the car and going to the bookstore look halfway reasonable.

    I recently had an email conversation with a reader/fan of ebook who couldn’t get her reader to load anything anymore after a year’s use. Now I’m wondering if my device is next. I’m a complete ebook whore and from my wanderings, it appears to me that genre romance (combined with SF/F) are the ones on the cutting edge of the movement.

    But until there’s a standard format and publishing GETS A CLUE from the music industry… Well. You know. We discuss this ad nauseum.

    Oh, Kirsten and I posted at the same time. GMTA.

  15. areader
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 12:55:41

    Yeah, but why should you have to do that? You buy a book from a bookstore, you open it and start to read. The more ebooks stray from that ease of use, the less likely they are to claim a decent share of the market.

    I couldn’t agree more.

  16. Robin
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 13:20:54

    I do that, too, but the point is: Why should you have to? I don't know how software savvy the romance readership is, but good gravy, all of the steps you have to go through is a circumlocution that makes getting in the car and going to the bookstore look halfway reasonable.

    It is a reflection of my love for ebooks that I am not more vocal about my concerns that DRM really equals ‘depriving rights to readers as meted out by law.’ I realize that I am, once again, out of step with many (most?) authors and readers, but my biggest beef with DRM is that it IMO undermines the protections and limitations to copyright law that were put in place initially to maintain the fragile and critical balance between the rights of creators and the rights of the public. So I completely agree with all the complaints about the *hassle* of DRM, but I worry even more about the impact of DRM on reasonable copyright limitations like the First Sale doctrine. Check out, for example, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation’s) whitepaper on the DMCA, especially the sections on chilling free speech and attacks on Fair Use. The Cato Institute published a similar report, too, which parses through the quirky relationship between DRM and the DMCA.

  17. kirsten saell
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 13:33:31

    Yes adobe recently forced an upgrade of that software. You had no choice, you had to upgrade or you couldn't use digital editions.

    Actually, I have Adobe’s most recent upgrade. They forced me to downgrade by adding digital editions, which I didn’t want.

    And you can no longer buy .pdf ebooks if you don't have digital editions. This is why I started buying .lit files.

    Actually, I have no problem at all getting straight pdf when I buy from publishers. It’s just when I go to retailers that I have an issue.

  18. Emmy
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 13:54:31

    There are few things more frustrating than discovering a great new author by reading a current ebook then finding out the backlist is only available in a dead trees version.

    Actually, I’ve come across the opposite more than once. Lora Leigh is an example of that. She started out doing ebooks for Ellora’s Cave, then went to print only. Half of the Breed and Bound Hearts series are in ebook format, and the rest are in print. Actually, her Breed series is scattered across at least 3 different publishers, making it difficult to keep up.

  19. Bev Stephans
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 14:05:19

    DS: Don’t buy a dead-trees version of the book. Buy a used paperback. They are much cheaper and no more trees are felled. There are used bookstores all over the place. Online and storefront. Most of the backlist I buy comes from used bookstores. If I can wait, I try to purchase newer books from used sources.

  20. MS Jones
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 15:54:44

    Jane, your suggestion for a comparative analysis of DRM v. non-DRM formats is a good one. It seems publishers make decisions without knowing whether or not DRM is impacting levels of piracy.

    I wish the same publishers would also investigate the degree to which paper book re-sales and rental/swapping impact their profits (compared to ebook piracy). Right now paperbackswap has over 2 million books available free to its members, booksfree allows you to rent paper and audio books, and my local UBS has thousands of used mysteries and romances for a dollar each (the hundreds of Harlequin titles are 75 cents). Neither the author or the publisher gets any money from these re-uses. I wonder if the levels of piracy for non-DRM books would come anywhere near the money a publisher loses when a used book is borrowed, rented, swapped, and/or sold and re-sold dozens of times.

  21. Jane
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 16:01:52

    It’s hard to know, MS Jones, the full extent of the impact of piracy v. resale on books. I read in one place that the average physical copy of a book experiences 9 owners with only one of them having purchased the book and provided a royalty to the author.

    The music industry ascribes approximately 10% of its lowered retail sales to piracy. I suppose the question is how much the UBS market makes up of retail sales altogether.

    My sense is that DRM free books do not increase the likelihood of piracy. It’s very easy to strip a book of DRM if you know how to do it. Furthermore, not being in eformat also doesn’t prevent digital piracy – witness the JK Rowling books.

    What DRM does do is inhibit sales.

    As for the actual dollar loss of authors due to piracy, it’s almost unquantifiable. Not every download of a book is a lost sale as many people download simply to have and never to read. All of the empirical (albeit not very scientific) evidence we have shows increases in paper sales when free ebooks are made available.

    It’s hard to know if that would change if there was a greater impact of digital reading on the publishing market.

  22. kirsten saell
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 16:54:14

    I read in one place that the average physical copy of a book experiences 9 owners with only one of them having purchased the book and provided a royalty to the author.

    At least you know the book will eventually fall apart or be dropped in the bathtub, instead of being copied efforlessly until basically every reader who wants it could get it for nothing, all pretty much at the same time…

  23. kirsten saell
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 16:55:14

    What DRM does do is inhibit sales.

    Have to agree. It’s utterly ineffective at stopping piracy. It just keeps law-abiding readers from buying the book the legal way.

  24. Dotty
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 22:04:14

    I believe DRM does absolutely nothing to combat piracy. If anything I believe it adds to it. If I buy an ebook and I cannot easily read it, or if I forget how to activate it when I upgrade my laptop (my reader of choice), I will simply get it elsewhere. I have purchased it once. I got caught when adobe shut down their bookstore and rendered all my purchases useless. I won’t do it again. I buy far more books as ebooks than I would ever as paper versions. I read a review, like the sound of it and I will buy it, if its reasonably price, same with music. I don’t want to get into an argument about the pro’s and con’s of piracy, I believe the easier publishers make it for readers to purchase and use ebooks, the less piracy there will be. Frankly its very easy to get pirate copies, DRM does nothing to prevent it.
    To the authors out there, who are worried, I can understand but I have read and purchased far more new authors, that I ever would have in paper versions. If I like an author, I will buy the backlist, so one free book can mean multiple sales.

  25. SonomaLass
    Jun 23, 2008 @ 01:09:10

    It took me five days of back and forth e-mail with the Harper support people to successfully open and read an e-book I bought from their site. It was the whole Adobe Digital Editions thing that caused the problem; something didn’t install right the first time, I guess, and we had real trouble finding and fixing the problem. If the book I bought had been available in print, I most certainly would have canceled the purchase and gone out to Borders to get the darn thing. (I almost canceled anyway, out of sheer frustration.) I read a mix of new, used and library borrowed books, and e-books are a relatively new addition to that mix. I read on my laptop, in .pdf format, but this experience has me leery of buying e-books, especially from a new source.

    I will be glad when the format wars are over and the e-book equivalents of 8-track tapes and Betamax (whichever those are) have been phased out of the market.

    I think Jane’s idea of a big publisher studying the difference between DRM and DRM-free e-books is excellent. I would also welcome a study comparing the impact of e-book piracy and resale to that of print book resale. I’d leave out borrowing, though, because I think that ultimately e-books will be in libraries, too.

  26. Mike Briggs
    Jun 23, 2008 @ 08:31:25

    So I completely agree with all the complaints about the *hassle* of DRM, but I worry even more about the impact of DRM on reasonable copyright limitations like the First Sale doctrine.

    Robin:
    I agree completely. Not to mention that, under the current draconian laws, any attempt to get around DRM (or any digital protection, regardless of how trivial the protection is) is a violation of the dreaded DMCA, which is itself a federal felony. So while we all can go through the multiple annoying steps to get the e-books we’ve purchased into a format our various readers can understand, technically we’re risking serious fines and jail time by doing so here in the ‘Land of the Free’.

    I love ebooks — but I’m not a big fan our our current “protect everything from everyone at all costs” legal environment, it’s dangerous.

  27. Kristie(J)
    Jun 23, 2008 @ 10:33:32

    Well, since I think I’m the person in question, my birthday gift isn’t going to be a surprise *sigh*. And the books I had in mind were two I have myself so there wasn’t any question of piracy from me.
    I’m still totally lost as far as the whole ebook conversion thing works – but I did check out the Sony site and the ones I was thing of are available there – for less than Fictionwise.
    Jane tried explaining the steps to me – but it might as well have been in Greek for all I knew in what she was saying *g*.

  28. Keishon
    Jun 23, 2008 @ 11:56:34

    I think that ultimately e-books will be in libraries, too.

    My library already has them. Been had them. Mostly in adobe and mobipocket neither of which I use for reading.

  29. CourtneyLee
    Jun 23, 2008 @ 12:36:00

    As a huge fan of ebooks, this article and these comments have been a fantastic to read. I’ve also done what Dotty has done: after paying and then being unable to open it due to the myriad “protections”, I will seek out the book elsewhere. I’ve done the same when I’ve damaged a CD or had a corrupted mp3 on my computer.

    I see the DRM like I see some of TSA’s procedures at airport security: the thought counts for something, but does having to take off my sweater, my shoes, my laptop out of it’s bag, and putting all my liquid items in a separate plastic baggie really increase security? Or does it just irritate people instead of solving the problem?

    And I HATE the prices of ebooks when compared to print prices. It’s the same intellectual property, right? Is there just as much cost distributing a digital file as there is a book that must be typeset, printed, packed, shipped, unpacked, and shelved? Whenever I pay the same price for an ebook as I would for a print book, I feel like I’m getting willingly fleeced.

    And for pity’s sake, we need some sort of uniformity in formatting. For movies, we have DVDs, which are now shifting to BluRay and that other one–three main formats. For music, we have CDs and mp3–two biggies. How many formats are there for ebooks? If the people who make the readers are worried about profits, why not have one format your reader can support, sell a converter for it, and have the pubs and distributors sell a single master format? Anything that will get it closer to the ease of buying a print book and opening it right away will increase the likelihood of people buying ebooks instead of pirating–which at this point is aften easier than jumping though the various digital hoops between paying for an ebook to reading said ebook.

  30. Ann Bruce
    Jun 23, 2008 @ 13:08:10

    My library has them, too…but the formats available aren’t compatible with my Sony e-Reader. Grr.

  31. Jane
    Jun 23, 2008 @ 14:05:30

    LOL. Kristie – I could tell by the radio silence at the other end of the email chain that I wasnt making any sense.

  32. kirsten saell
    Jun 23, 2008 @ 14:12:24

    I read on my laptop, in .pdf format, but this experience has me leery of buying e-books, especially from a new source.

    I have never had a problem buying and reading an ebook directly from an epublisher. I think most epublishers are savvy enough to know how DRM and stupid issues like Digital Editions, etc, annoy their customers. I have yet to buy an ebook from a major print pub, mostly because of the price thing–DRM and compatibility problems only add to my reluctance.

  33. areader
    Jun 23, 2008 @ 15:22:12

    Actually, I have no problem at all getting straight pdf when I buy from publishers. It's just when I go to retailers that I have an issue.

    Sorry I should have said DRM’d .pdf files. When I bought my ebooks from Harlequin (direct from Harlequin not from a retailer) I had to use digital editions. I had to have the latest edition of digital editions or the file would not download. I had to have the latest version of digital editions or I couldn’t view the books I’d already bought. I also lost a couple of books because of this forced upgrade. Adobe’s solution was to download again, you can’t do that if the retailer no longer exists. I refuse to be beholden to adobe to view my books.

  34. Dotty
    Jun 23, 2008 @ 18:43:47

    And please, don,t get me started on Audio Books and region protection, talk about encouraging piracy. As an example, until about 4 weeks ago, I couldn’t get any Nora Roberts audio books in my region. Now, I was a good girl and didn,t download any, but it was tempting. I love my audiobooks but the amount of not available in my region compared to the U.S. well as I said asking for piracy to happen, and I spend far more on audio book than any other format, I probably buy 2 or more a week, through Audible but once again DRM raises its ugly head, and I have books I can’t play on my Ipod cause you can only have 2 accounts on each one, and we have had 3 in my family. So I have legally bought these books but can’t listen to them, what am I going to do. Let me tell you audio books are easier to get than ebooks.

  35. Robin
    Jun 23, 2008 @ 19:40:22

    I love ebooks -’ but I'm not a big fan our our current “protect everything from everyone at all costs” legal environment, it's dangerous.

    I think it’s more like “protect some things from some people,” but I get your general point and agree.

    Rights that gather around the general category of expression are being curtailed, and most people don’t even realize how efficiently and effectively endangered those rights now are. It’s dangerous and it’s scary, IMO, mostly because it’s happening with so much passive acceptance.

  36. Carol
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 14:13:16

    I am a big ebook fan as I travel for my job. For those of you who also like to read science fiction and/or fantasy go to Baen.com and check it out. Baen sells DRM free ebooks! You can buy them in html, rtf, ebookwise, mobipocket, sony and lit formats. Can you believe it! They price them very reasonably too, no hardback book prices there. As you can tell I'm a big fan, I just wish they also carried romance and paranormal. Go check them out.

  37. Melisse
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 20:48:08

    I hardly read print books anymore. I read on a Palm z22 in mobipocket.I’ve started buying more ebooks straight from the epublisher in plain pdf–I can convert it easily to mobipocket. I can’t avoid DRM though if I want to read a book from a NYC publisher.

    I’m hoping some code cracker will come up a cheap software to convert all different types of formats to the one you want until the market figures out format.

    Doesn’t it make sense to make books easily available? They seem so concerned about the future piracy of a book they are hurting the first sale by making it frustrating for the consumer.

  38. Caffey
    Jun 26, 2008 @ 07:18:32

    Lynne, its frustrating as a reader that I can’t read any of Harlequin’s ebooks on my ebook reader. They have some books for me to buy at ebookwise.com but not all. Too, Harper Collins, who has alot of ebook only ones, like Julia Quinn’s more episodes of the Bridgerton and more short stories to Jaci Burton’s paranormal, Jess Michaels historicals and many other authors there. I’ve been going back and forth with the publisher about having those books sent to ebookwise and they tell me its not secure so they won’t. (It is, the books go directly into my reader, downloading from ebookwise.com) But still can’t get through to them. I just been doing email after email explaining this to Harper Collins and getting no wear.

    As for DRM, I don’t understand what that is, so I didn’t comment on that, so not sure if the above is really what you are talking about, sorry! Something that came to me about ebooks thats bugging me.

  39. Electric Blankets
    Nov 24, 2010 @ 10:52:31

    some cheap softwares does not offer good online technical support so i would caution about using them “:.

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