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

Thursday Midday Links: RWA Is Taking Questions

DA Industry NewsRWA President Michelle Monkou is fielding questions today on blog talk radio. The start time is at noon CST. I wish someone would call in and ask what RWA’s stance is on the change in pricing and Google Book Settlement. Link here.. I would call but I don’t think they would allow me through.

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John Scalzi sides with the ethicist as to whether it is okay to download a digital copy of a book you already own.

But the point to make here is that these days, people are deciding that when they buy a book or a movie or a piece of music, they're buying the content, not the format. As a writer I don't have a philosophical problem with this, since I write content, not format, even if publishers want that content to fit a particular format. And as a consumer, I think there's a certain point at which you get to say "you know what, I've  paid for this already, and I'm done paying any more for it." Both of these are why I say that if you've paid me once for a book I've written and what you've enjoyed, we're good. Pay me again if you like; I won't complain. But once is enough.

Nathan Bransford does not.

It may seem like it’s a trivial distinction to make when the resulting file from scanning yourself vs. pirating a book is potentially almost the same, but that’s where the line between ethical/legal and unethical/illegal is drawn for a reason. In the first version, you’re adding the value yourself through your own effort (just as taking notes in your own margins adds a form of value). By downloading a file illegally you’re misappropriating that added value from the only people (the publisher and author and e-booksellers) who are legally and ethically entitled to profit from it. That’s why we have copyright law. That’s where we’ve chosen to draw the line.

I see a couple of flaws in both arguments. First, if content is what readers are buying, why are audiobooks separate?    Does the aural component add something new? Further, what about used book purchases and subsequent downloads? There is no remission to the author there, yet you still legally own a copy of the book. Bransford argues that the opportunity cost of converting print into digital (v CD into MP3) makes it unethical because creating your own digital file somehow adds value.

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Association of American Publishers’ stats are released for 2009 and sales fell by 1.8%.   Adult hardcovers had a growth of 6.9% ($2.6 billion) but children and YA fell 5% ($1.7 billion).   I see dozens of sales for YA books right now, many for big amounts.   I wonder if these will prove to be a mistake.   Adult trade paperbacks fell 5.2% ($2.2 billion)

Mass market decreased 4% ($1 billion) and book clubs/mail order fell 2% ($588 million).   Ebooks reached $313 million which represents nearly 4% of adult trade sales.   Audiobooks struggled with a drop of 12.9% ($192).

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An intrepid reader at Mobile Read noted that HarperCollins is selling its books for 20% off. Further, the retail price of the books is a dollar less.    But this morning, a notice went up that the site is under maintenance and you can’t buy.   I love the idea of the publishers selling direct at a discount but I can’t help but wonder if this violates some kind of pricing deal with the retailers.   Note to HarperCollins: those prices were right for me. I would buy at those prices.

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A reader sent me i09′s assessment of the how the Google Books Settlement will affect readers.   io9 believes that there will be both a retraction of content (authors refusing to allow Google to display their work) and an expansion (as orphaned works get displayed because the rights’ owner can’t be found).

More importantly, I think we could see a renaissance in contemporary pulp fiction. We can once again have access to weird, unusual stories that are both awesome and not sustainable under publishing’s current blockbuster model. Writers of small and midlist SF books could start making money on their writing again. This is a good thing for authors and readers who love imaginative fiction.

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Publishers’ Marketplace brings up two key issues for this Apple pricing model five of the top six major publishers are trying to cram down our throats.   First is the tax issue (tax link).   Wherever the publisher or retailer has a significant business presence, they have to collect tax.   The publishers and retailers are confused about who has the responsibility to collect and report taxes.   Sounds like it will be a huge headache and one that no one has figured out how to handle. I confess to not understanding the entirety of the issue. Maybe reader DS will help us out?

Second (paid link), iBookstore is allowing all kinds of content into the store via aggregators like Ingram, Smashwords, LibreDigital.   Each one charges a different commission.   Smashwords takes about half of the 30% commission and LibreDigital about 20%.   Ingram won’t say.   The publishers who aren’t doing Agency pricing are having a difficult time enforcing the hybrid scheme.   For example, Sourcebooks has priced some books at the iBooks store at $6.99 and because it doesn’t have an agency agreement with other retailers like BN or Amazon, those two are discounting.   For authors who want to skip the aggregators, you can go directly with Tunecore who will submit your epub to iBooks for a flat fee, no subsequent royalty share.

Right now, though, the iBook store sucks so hard that unless a reader knows exactly what to look for, its fairly useless.   One person (Liza Daly of Threepress and Ibis Reader) called it an airport bookstore and it is such an apt description.

Yesterday I looked and there were no April releases in the romance section which only displays two subcategories: Contemporary and Historical and only about 27 titles in each category.

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Penguin has signed a co branding deal with a major Indian publisher, Shobhaa De. Unfortunately, the books will “comprise of celebrity memoirs, guides and biographies -’ with a focus on lifestyle, business, cinema and commercial fiction.”

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Karen Scott highlighted an interview with two Mills & Boon Authors. Penny Jordan has sold 85 million copies her books worldwide and has never spotted a reader with one of them.

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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

32 Comments

  1. Teddypig
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 10:50:22

    First, if content is what readers are buying, why are audiobooks separate?

    Because that is a live performance of the content so should be a separate purchase.

  2. Ridley
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 11:15:50

    I’d say an audiobook is to a book what Interstella 5555 was to Discovery.

    It’s the same content experienced totally differently, and so ends up being two different products. It’s engaging different senses in a way simple format changes don’t. Voice acting requires talent and production, as does animation, and so is a huge added value, as well as an added dimension of enjoyment.

    CDs are to MP3s what ebooks are to paperbacks. They’re the same experience, appealing to the same senses, but delivered a little differently.

  3. sao
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 11:40:32

    Nathan Bransford, like many in the music industry, seems to want to sell both content and format. While the seller does have the right to set the terms of a sale, it’s unrealistic to expect people to follow stupid rules.

    This is an issue to think about, given the proliferation of ebook formats and the tendency of e-readers to store books on a server somewhere else. Bransford, no doubt, would say that if you bought an e-book in an obsolete format and can’t read it, you need to buy a new one. Tell that to someone who just lost their whole library when their obsolete e-reader went bust.

    Pirates offer an easy solution to rules that are too cumbersome to follow. Yelling at people who take it is not effective.

  4. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 11:42:41

    Can someone who can read the Publihsers Weekly bit about taxes talk a little more about this? I’ve never paid taxes for an ebook, nor have I ever paid them for a download on iTunes, so why would this be an issue now for eBooks from Apple’s store?

  5. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 11:53:17

    Nathan Bransford, like many in the music industry, seems to want to sell both content and format.

    In a way, I see his point though. The content being sold belongs to the author, the publisher only has the right to produce and market the content in specific formats in specific regions and for a specific amount of time (until the book goes out of print and the rights revert to the author). There are different rights inherent in the “book”.

    We currently “live in interesting times” if you know what I mean, and it's not always fun or pretty. The realties of publishing have yet to evolve to embrace the realties of the internet. Eventually a balance will be reached, but there's gonna be a lot of blood spilled on the sand before that happens.

  6. Courtney Milan
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 12:01:07

    Does the aural component add something new?

    Yes, yes, yes it does. Audio is not just a different format; it adds a performance element. At some point when I have $2000 to blow I will demonstrate what the value-add of audio is. The person who reads the e-version of my book absolutely adds something to the equation.

    Kalen, the tax thing: under the agency model, Apple is not selling you the e-book. Instead, they are a conduit for the publisher. That means that if the publisher would be obligated to collect sales tax, now Apple (and anyone else on the agency model) must do so.

    At least that’s the theory. But it’s not even 100% clear whether that’s true, or what principles to apply, or who is responsible for collecting and paying taxes…. As far as I can tell, if you are confused, you join the club. :) Nobody seems to know the answer.

  7. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 12:36:48

    @Courtney Milan:

    Thanks for explaining!

    Since publishers don’t have retail shops anywhere, the point would seem to be moot to me.

  8. gwen hayes
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 12:51:55

    I think some of Bransford’s other analogies made sense. If I watch the movie in the theater, I don’t get the dvd for free. And when I got my DVD player, I had to rebuy movies I already had on VHS–and same for CDs and cassette tapes.

    The thing that is perturbing is that I didn’t have to buy a different CD for every player I wanted to listen to it on. I could listen to it in my car, in my living room, and in my Lloyd Dobler boombox. Whereas now, I can read some of my books on my Droid, some on ebookwise, and some on my computer–but only if I go through all the stupid Adobe hoops for some of those computer ones.

  9. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 13:31:22

    @gwen hayes:

    The thing that is perturbing is that I didn't have to buy a different CD for every player I wanted to listen to it on.

    Um, that's because their was no format war for that tech (at least not one I remember), but there was plenty for Beta vs. VHS, then VHS vs. DVD, and now DVD vs. Blue Ray (after BR won the war of high def formats). It's still a tape or a disc, but the player is different. If you want to switch players, you have to buy new tapes/discs. Yes, people grumbled (I still hear grumbling from those with large VHS collections about the cost to replace their library with DVDs), but I don't remember anyone saying they had a right to have DVD copies given to them free to replace their VHS (though some people DID burn their tape to DVD themselves, which I won't quibble about as long as they didn't burn multiple copies and share them around).

    It's all about perspective, and I can see where a reader's might not match an author's and neither might match up with a publisher's.

    For example: I'm a HUGE P.C. Hodgell fan. I bought her books in massmarket. Read them to death. Jumped on them when I saw them in hard back through a book club. Oh the joy. Last month I bought them AGAIN as ebooks. I certainly don't feel like having bought a massmarket paperback in 1982 entitles me to a free electronic copy today.

  10. Moriah Jovan
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 13:32:09

    @gwen hayes:

    but only if I go through all the stupid Adobe hoops for some of those computer ones.

    Those and the ones for MS Readers are seriously starting to piss me off.

    Here’s the thing. We went from LP to (heh, 8-track) to cassette to CD to mp3. I don’t see this evolution as any different, EXCEPT for the universality of each music format and the NON universality of ebooks’ digital format.

    As Gwen says, she could play her CD on any CD player; likewise, I can play my mp3s on my Rio. (No, I don’t have an iPod.)

  11. Moriah Jovan
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 13:35:34

    @Kalen Hughes:

    I don't remember anyone saying they had a right to have DVD copies given to them free to replace their VHS

    That.

    However, I do not differentiate between ebook sub-formats. If you bought it in PDF, I think you’re entitled to the EPUB or whatever.

  12. Keishon
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 13:46:31

    However, I do not differentiate between ebook sub-formats. If you bought it in PDF, I think you're entitled to the EPUB or whatever.

    What she said.

  13. gwen hayes
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 13:51:19

    @Moriah Jovan:

    YES! That is what I was trying to say. I don’t mind buying ebook versions of paper books I already have…It’s worth it to me and I’m too lazy to scan my whole book into my computer myself. Just like sometimes I buy an mp3 of music I am too lazy to copy onto my computer. But I don’t feel like I am entitled to a free copy because I bought one in another format. My beef is wishing that my ecopies were not dependent on which reader I use as that is in flux.

  14. Susan Reader
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 14:32:42

    To give him credit, John Scalzi does say that it is the performance aspect of audiobooks that makes the difference.

  15. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 14:54:57

    My beef is wishing that my ecopies were not dependent on which reader I use as that is in flux.

    I hate DRM, but mostly I see it as a format war (like DVD vs. Blue Ray) and I just accept that as an early adopter I'm subject to the horrors of said war. We're already seeing duel use disc players and tons of software exists to strip DRM (inconvenient as it is).

    I fought a losing battle to find Gail Carriger's new book, Changeless, in mobi all week (found it in ePub though, stripped it, converted to HTML and loaded it; all is well).

  16. Tabby
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 15:27:14

    @Kalen Hughes: If you consider it a format war and as you said earlier and that buying one format of a book doesn’t entitle you to another don’t you feel like you owe the publisher/author for the format you created illegaly? It is against the law afterall to strip the DRM and if the publisher is selling the epub format shouldn’t you have to wait until the book is released in the format you want/can use? Or buy a ereader that supports the format you bought from the publisher?

    If the publisher is selling the format along with the content there isn’t anything different about what you did and the guy who bought King’s book in hardback. You bought what you could find, he bought what he could find. You illegally obtained the format you really wanted, he illegally obtained the format he really wanted. Same difference isn’t it? Or did I misunderstand your position on this?

  17. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 15:52:57

    @Tabby:
    Actually no, I don't. I bought one electronic book and I'm using one electronic book. I just converted it to work on my reader.

    The guy who bought a HB and downloaded from a torrent site bought one copy, but is using two. But honestly, I don't have a huge problem with what he did (except that I kind of do have a twinge about participating in torrent sites). The author and publisher still got paid, so the same logic sort of applies (the only open question is what he did with the HB).

    We all draw our lines where we draw them. You don't have to agree with where I draw mine. *shrug*

  18. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 16:01:58

    The edit feature is not playing nicely. To sum up:

    I don't think we're looking at “format” in quite the same way either. I bought and am using an electronic copy of the book in question. I personally don't think that stripping the DRM to allow me to read the book on my chosen reader is the same as saying that owning one copy of anything ever entitles you to endless replacement copies forever in whatever new format takes over next. So owning paper doesn't entitle me to a free electronic copy and owning an electronic copy doesn't entitle me to whatever comes next.

  19. Courtney Milan
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 17:16:46

    @Kalen Hughes: It’s not a matter of having retail shops. It’s a matter of having a nexus where they do business. So if a publisher has, for instance, a warehouse in a state–or if they have a salesperson who works in a state–that could count. (This is why Amazon got burned in New York, when New York said that having its affiliate program for New York residents meant that it had a sufficient presence for New York to charge it sales tax–even sans retail presence, it got clobbered.)

    I don’t know enough about exactly when you do & don’t have to collect sales tax to be more specific than that. (If someone out there knows more: Can someone tell me whether this collapses to the constitutional minimum contacts test? I don’t know what long-arm tax statutes look like, if they look at all. It may even depend from state to state as to when they insist on collecting tax.)

    But what I gather is that publishers are spread wider and have more employees and thus will be more at risk than internet based businesses–someone like Books on Board presumably only does business in one state.

  20. DS
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 17:58:40

    Oh, dear, Courtney and I must have typing at the same time.

    @Kalen Hughes: It’s not just a retail presence. It’s a physical presence aka nexus. A store, an office, a sales agent or a warehouse in a particular state can result in the company being required to collect sales tax in that state.

    The sales agent is what New York used to start making Amazon collect taxes on all sales to addresses in the state. The state of New York chose to look at Amazon affiliates who reside in the state of New York as being the same as Amazon having a physical sales agent in that state.

    I can’t give any real information about what the Agency5 might have done to themselves with regard to state sales taxes– but if they are required to collect and remit sales taxes on purchases made under their agency agreement I doubt if any of the states who have been distressed by lost sales tax dollars on internet purchases will weep.

  21. Ridley
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 18:17:46

    @Kalen Hughes:

    Torrenting a copy of a paper book you already own is like making a DVD copy of a VHS you already own.

    It’s not like getting a new format in a new package, like getting a DVD shipped to them to replace their VHS. Don’t compare apples to pears.

  22. jmc
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 18:49:04

    @Courtney Milan: Yes, the determination of nexus boils down to minimum contacts. In fact, my local taxing authority advises on its website that it interprets the statute as broadly as permitted under the Constitution and warns that a substantial presence is not necessary, but “more than the ‘slightest presence’” creates the collection obligation.

    The thing I’m curious about, though, is that the statute refers to tangible personal property, which is defined as corporeal personal property of any nature. I haven’t really thought much about it, but my first thought was that an ebook wasn’t TPP, not being corporeal absent a reader or storage medium of some sort.

  23. Jenny Schwartz
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 18:53:49

    I can’t believe Penny Jordan has never seen someone reading her books. I’m not calling her a liar, just stunned. I have a small stack of dog eared paperbacks, and the best of the best Jordans are beautifully paced categories. “Beyond Compare” is sweet and lovely.

    Do people seriously choose a public reading book for how it presents them to the world?

    Hmm. I think I’ve been guilty of this. Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals is my noncommittal and reassuring choice for air travel.

  24. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 19:11:46

    @Ridley:

    Torrenting a copy of a paper book you already own is like making a DVD copy of a VHS you already own.

    It's not like getting a new format in a new package, like getting a DVD shipped to them to replace their VHS. Don't compare apples to pears.

    I totally disagree.

    Torrenting involves finding someone illegally offering free copies of a copyrighted work, so it’s NOT the same IMO as copying your own VHS on to disc (or copying your own CD into iTunes, which I’ve also heard it compared to).

    I *get* where you’re coming from, but I simply don’t happen to agree with your conclusion (as you don’t agree with mine).

  25. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 19:13:49

    It's not just a retail presence. It's a physical presence aka nexus. A store, an office, a sales agent or a warehouse in a particular state can result in the company being required to collect sales tax in that state.

    And yet I’ve still never been charged sales tax on iTunes, even though some of the bands live in CA and surely some of the labels must be based here?

  26. Carly
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 20:09:42

    Re HarperCollins: they’ve been selling their e-books at a 20% discount for over 3 years. I bought my very first e-books from their store, but branched out once I got a dedicated reader. I wondered what would happen when they mandated Amazon couldn’t discount kindle prices 20% when they’d been doing it for years. This strikes me as a direct way for them to observe the effect of their new pricing. If the publisher store sales drop without the discounts, they’ll hopefully get the message faster.

  27. Courtney Milan
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 20:59:56

    @Kalen Hughes: iTunes for music is not, so far as I know, on the agency model, and so the person who is making the sale is Apple, not the label.

    IIRC, you’re a resident of California. California does not require sales tax on digital downloads–so that’s why you aren’t paying tax. I, on the other hand, do pay tax on every iTunes transaction.

    I’m actually not worried about Apple working out the proper amount of sales tax to collect–they have already done so for iTunes (and they have a physical presence in most, if not all, states via Apple stores). The people who will have to do the most reworking are the smaller online bookstores who haven’t had to worry about sales tax questions until now.

  28. Mary Winter
    Apr 09, 2010 @ 03:22:33

    Although we are not the only one, Pink Petal Books, sells all versions of the ebook in one file, that way the reader can read when/where/how she wants to read. It’s something I strongly believe in, and I know there are other retailers where you can download the file you need once you purchase.

    My partner has three 6′ tall and 3′ wide bookshelves filled with VHS tapes. He is purchasing DVDs to replace them partially because of the age of the VHS tapes (some are 20 years old) and partially because he wants them on DVD. And yes, I talked to him about getting the hardware to convert those to DVD on his computer.

    I think the ideal solution is a “best of both worlds” scenario. For me, an ebook is an ebook, and I think the file extension shouldn’t restrict whether someone can access it or not on a preferred device. Kind of like on itunes where you CAN burn a CD of your music, or you can just play it on your ipod/computer

  29. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 09, 2010 @ 08:25:26

    @Courtney Milan:

    Thanks, Courtney!

    Sheesh, what a mess.

  30. Estara
    Apr 09, 2010 @ 14:38:19

    @Ridley:

    I'd say an audiobook is to a book what Interstella 5555 was to Discovery.

    +10 for the cool comparison.

    Also, I agree! When my eyes act up audio-books (and stand-up comedy) save my day. And especially if the author is reading the book you get a totally different experience. I just bought an mp3-Version of Joyce Grenfell’s memoirs, which I had read and was quite fascinated by (her mother was the sister of the wife of Waldorf Astor) – but when she reads the book and does the voices and accents it’s so much more amazing.

    Or think of Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter – or for that matter the Winnie the Pooh audio adaptations (with Fry, Jane Horrocks, Geoffrey Palmer, Judie Dench, etc.).

    Or Bill Bryson reading his own books, or.., or…

    It really is something different.

  31. Persephone Green
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 03:34:00

    I understand the philosophical market beliefs underlying Bransford’s arguments, but it’s completely disingenuous to say that taking a torrented ebook is the same as stealing a paperback copy from a store when you own the hardback, and the next time someone tries to make that analogy, I’m going to ignore everything else that they say in that discussion.

    The fact is that users are allowed to space-shift their media as much as they time-shift it via DVD-Rs and TiVo. My question is: does anyone really think, given the fact that OCR scanning an entire book takes hours whereas copying a CD or DVD takes minutes without user input and others have already put in the effort to do so for many books, the average consumer is going to hesitate to download a copy, illegally or not?

    If I have paid the author for a physical copy of the book — especially if I have paid hardcover price — and I am only using one copy of the book at a time, I have absolutely NO moral qualms about downloading an ebook version for free. None. I may pay to save myself the trouble of finding a free copy for my Kindle, but that has nothing to do with any belief that I owe the publisher twice for one reading experience.

    That opinion is not going to change when I publish my own books over the next several months, either. I have bigger problems to worry about than someone “encouraging piracy,” having “no morals,” “no ethics,” blah blah blah. Even if I believed any of those arguments, which I emphatically do not, consumer behavior will continue on its merry way, heedless of this vain desire to control packaging and copyrights in the way that traditional publishers and authors want.

    The paradigm is shifting. Adapt or die.

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