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Thursday Midday Links Roundup

Amazon filed for and was recently granted a patent to change words in a book in order to track down the source of pirating. John Scalzi called this a stupid idea because it violates his creative control over the work.

I think Amazon has the right idea. A change to the html css stylesheet, for example, could randomly create some kind of near invisible change that would allow the source of the pirated material to be tracked down. Courtney Milan suggested something like an italized period as that would be virtually unnoticeable. You could place the substitutive words in the Author’s Note or in the ordering of the metadata tags.

This type of social DRM could create an impediment to that “casual piracy” that content creators fear. I.e., how many people are you going to share a book with if that file contains something that can be tracked back to the original user. While the Amazon concept might seem like an anathema to some authors, I do think it’s a step in the right direction. I hope publishers and vendors can work together to create something like this that would remove the impediment to legitimate uses of an ebook while placing a staying hand on oversharing.

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Kristen Nelson puts out some disturbing news for authors. Fewer books are being bought today.

If editors don’t see something as a big book, they are passing. Or my other recent favorite, if it doesn’t fit into a very narrowly prescribed genre of what has worked for them (oh let’s say something like dark YA angsty romance), then they are also passing.

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Macmillan is signalling something here but we are not sure what. Macmillan, the parent company of Tor and St. Martin’s Press, among other imprints, is moving to a standard contract. The ebook royalties will be 20% off the net, instead of 25%. Additionally, direct to consumer sales will result in a higher royalty. 10% off the first 10,000 sales and 15% for sales in excess of 10,000. In the past, that royalty rate was 5%. Tor already has a direct to consumer sale mechanism in place with its Tor Store. This leads me to wonder if there will be more publisher imprint stores? One thing I do know, free shipping is often a deal breaker for me. The direct to consumer sale has to offer a good price and free shipping or there won’t be a reason for me to break away from buying in store or at Amazon or Book Depository.

Of course, if Macmillan tries to undercut the pricing at Amazon, it might result in Amazon trying to punish them. Will Macmillan be willing (or able) to suffer economic loss for long term gain? Amazon was willing to suffer through 7 years of loss in order to gain its market dominance today.

I’ve often thought that one way to increase profits in a market that is moving away from brick and mortar purchases to online retailing is to cut out the intermediaries.   SB Sarah has some words for Macmillan regarding their ebook strategy.

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Karen Scott has another lovely letter from New Concepts owner and president, Madris De Pasteur. I wonder, like the commenters, why any author would publish with New Concepts.

We’re currently working on designing a new webpage for NCP to be launched early next year. Due to the fact that the unhappy have made a nuisance of themselves reminding us repeatedly to remove their books upon expiration, we’ve inadvertently removed some books by authors who wanted to roll over.

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The nook won’t be available at every Barnes and Noble store, merely the ones with high traffic/volume. You might want to check with your local store to see if they are going to get the display and/or the devices to sell.

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Film Studios are looking to block DVD Rentals for the first month of the release, hoping this will force more purchases. Rental companies are filing suit.

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The next Stephen King book won’t be released as an ebook for almost one month after the release of the paper format and it will be priced at $35.00. SW Vaughn notes that King has stated the $35 ebook price is incorrect.

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Random House has caved to threats of a lawsuit by the NBA over the tell all book by Tim Donaghy regarding star treatment (yes, it happens); fixing of a game to get to the holy grail of ratings (game 7); petty bets controlling referee behavior and basically how the NBA is no better than the WWE only the WWE admits that it is selling entertainment and not unadulterated athletic endeavors.

Random House was prepared to sell this book up until 2 weeks ago when the NBA came knocking.   Either it didn’t fact check or its caving under pressure.   Either one is a black eye on Random House.

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

61 Comments

  1. Moriah Jovan
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 11:20:14

    I think Amazon has the right idea. A change to the html css stylesheet, for example, could randomly create some kind of near invisible change that would allow the source of the pirated material to be tracked down… You could place the substitutive words in [...] the ordering of the metadata tags.

    I format e-books by hand with XHTML and CSS, and I will say I think this is a brilliant idea. You could even use a java script in the metadata to track and “phone home.”

    The ebook royalties will be 20% off the net, instead of 25%.

    NET here, in terms of a traditional NY publisher versus various small e-presses, is significant wording. What is net to MacMillan? Is it defined in the contract?

    One thing I do know, free shipping is often a deal breaker for me.

    Amen. My books are shipped free. IMO, if one wants to compete with Amazon, one must accept this as a cost of doing business.

    But then, I’m on my own little mission to encourage “buying [internet] local” directly from small presses and e-presses to put more money in the creators’ hands.

  2. Mora
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 11:26:11

    Um, wait. Amazon wants to replace an author’s words with random synonyms? Adding something in the CSS, okay. That’s not changing the actual text of a book. But messing with the actual text? As a reader, that is in no way okay. For writers, I can’t even imagine how disturbing that would be.

    This is one (more) case where Amazon is way overstepping the line.

  3. Meljean
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 11:43:43

    I guess I don’t love the idea of changing the actual content of the books, but the coding? Definitely. I used to do something similar when I sent out gobs of e-ARCs to review sites I didn’t know very well — a little tweak of the file info, and if it showed up online, I’d know where not to send e-ARCs next time. (It never happened, btw, but at the time I was hearing awful stories of e-ARCs showing up before the book release, and my paranoia was working overtime.)

    The Stephen King e-book pricing is the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a while. At that price, they should be releasing it before the print book and adding in half his backlist.

  4. K. Z. Snow
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 11:49:07

    Huh? The e-book version of King’s novel will be priced at $35?

    WTF? How many more millions does that guy want to make? One would think that an author with that much weight would be able to swing it around enough to keep his book prices reasonable. The fans who’ve made him so obscenely wealthy surely deserve a better break than a $35 e-book!

  5. Moriah Jovan
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 11:54:41

    @K. Z. Snow

    It looks to me like pricing designed to discourage ebook sales altogether and shove the market to print.

  6. The Octopus Gallery
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 12:18:50

    I thought it was well-known that authors have very little control about things like pricing and format. You’ll want to take that up with the publishing company.

  7. Jane
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 12:19:35

    @The Octopus Gallery Actually in this case, Stephen King himself supported this (or advocated for it) because he argued it would help independent booksellers.

  8. Cathy
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 12:19:35

    The NY Time had a brief piece last week about the e vs print release stupidity, specifically about King’s and Ted Kennedy’s books. I think publishers just have their head in the sand, and hopefully this will come back to bite them in the butt soon.

    NY Times Link

  9. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 12:23:49

    I thought it was well-known that authors have very little control about things like pricing and format. You'll want to take that up with the publishing company.

    Midlisters, yeah. But the biggies do have the ability to influence stuff like this from what I've seen and heard. They're big enough that the threat to take their ball and go elsewhere if they really don't like something (like “upbacks”) can actually get results. Please note: This does NOT mean that King agrees with this pricing or has anything to do with it, just that IMO if he really disagreed with it, he could cause a big enough stink to get it changed.

  10. KMont
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 12:25:42

    Put me up there as another WTFing the price of King’s next ebook. Hello, greed. Well, that settles what format I’ll be getting I suppose. First King book I’ve ever been immediately interested in reading too. Joy.

    Hahaha Film Studios. Good luck with that one. Should you win – you suck ass.

  11. rebyj
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 12:30:31

    Film Studios are looking to block DVD Rentals for the first month of the release, hoping this will force more purchases. Rental companies are filing suit.

    Yawn. A movie is released on the big screen in July, they usually release it to DVD 3-6 months later. If you wait that long to see it, another month is nothing. All I see this doing is encouraging pirating of movies.

    From the linked article and comments it seems to be more of an issue directed at Red Box and Netflix moreso than individual consumers .

    We don’t even buy new dvd’s anymore unless it’s one the kids want and watch over and over. I will occasionally pick up a 5 dollar classic but that’s even more and more rare. 99% of our movie watching is on premium cable channels. On demand even has a “same day as dvd release” rental area.

  12. RStewie
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 12:31:18

    I’ll be interested to see the sales numbers on King’s e-release. Yet another instance of publishers misinterpreting the ebook market. I’m also interested in King’s position on the matter, although he’s probably not at liberty to say.

    So far as the nook: meh. All the cool tech in the world can’t overcome the fact that their ereader is full of suck. I tried it, TWICE, and both times it had problems–with the ereader itself, not the books. I didn’t even get to any actual reading, between trying to delete the “shortcut” that installed itself on my bar, and shutting down the automatic web browsing that went on as soon as I opened the program. SUCK SUCK SUCK.

    Anyway…

    @rebyj: I don’t see this as even impacting pirating…you can pirate a movie as soon as it’s released, for the most part, although sometimes the quality isn’t that great.

  13. rebyj
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 12:43:47

    RStewie good point.

  14. The Octopus Gallery
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 12:51:24

    Huh. Thanks for the info on the King thing.

  15. S. W. Vaughn
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 12:56:21

    FYI – according to Stephen King’s website, the $35 price tag for the Under the Dome e-book is a mistake in the press release (though the release delay is not):

    http://www.stephenking.com/stephens_messages.html

  16. Jane
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 13:02:32

    @S. W. Vaughn: Why is he advocating for indie booksellers while at the same time telling people to pre-order it at $9.00. I wonder what the e book price will be.

  17. Cathy
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 13:33:52

    @ Jane — Amazon is listing the Kindle version of Under the Dome as $9.00. The paper and Kindle versions aren’t linked to each other, but both listings are there.

  18. Jane
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 13:37:33

    @Cathy But that is the Amazon discounted price, not the retail price.

  19. Keishon
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 13:45:53

    This has nothing really to do with the article Jane posted but more on the ebook pricing. Just noticed that Sony ebookstore has all of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s ebooks in her Clare Fergusson series (In the Bleak Midwinter is first one) but they are priced really high. It’s an excellent series and I own all of her books in hardcovers. But crazy me, if the ebook price was right, I’d buy them in ebook. I think her publisher is doing more harm than good with the ebook pricing because I personally think her books would take off if they weren’t priced so damned high.

    That retail price for Stephen King’s new ebook is a joke. No one will sell it to _us_ for that price if they want our business that is…

  20. Cathy
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 13:54:09

    @ Jane Oh I see, sorry – I misunderstood what you were asking.

  21. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 14:03:54

    Inserting some kind of a watermark would be fine. You could put one of the periods in a different font, or insert an invisible character into a space, or any of a million other ways of watermarking the text.

    What Scalzi (and I, over there, and many others) object to is making changes in the actual words of the text itself.

    Changing words changes the text. Watermarking the text does not change the text.

    Changing words and redistributing an unauthorized version of the text does not fly, and will not fly in court given the precedent of Huntsman and Clean Flicks LLC of Colorado v. Soderbergh et al.

  22. Moriah Jovan
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 14:17:56

    What Scalzi (and I, over there, and many others) object to is making changes in the actual words of the text itself.

    Yes, agreed.

  23. Jane
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 14:22:07

    @Moriah Jovan Let me ask you this then. If Amazon could show that this was an effective way to decrease piracy by some percentage amount is your creative control more important?

  24. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 14:22:27

    an excellent series and I own all of her books in hardcovers. But crazy me, if the ebook price was right, I'd buy them in ebook.

    This is how I feel about Heyer. I spent a small fortune buying all the reissues from Arrow (the shipping from England was insane), but now I'm thinking I may buy them all in eBook form too, since Source Books reprints are being issued that way.

  25. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 14:32:45

    If Amazon could show that this was an effective way to decrease piracy by some percentage amount is your creative control more important?

    More important than letting a company randomly replace words in my books with “synonyms”? Hell yes my creative control is more important. I work my ass off trying to avoid anachronistic terms (not that I'm 100% effective in my screening *sigh*). The last thing I need is Amazon's synonym generator replacing “puce” with “mauve” (invented in 1856), or “cock” with “dick”, or any of a thousand other carefully considered choices I've made. What if the word they replaced was specifically important to the story later on? There has to be a better way that doesn't randomly affect the book itself.

  26. Jane
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 14:34:49

    @Kalen Hughes I guess my point is that if piracy is killing the industry and Amazon has a way that could reduce piracy and thereby not kill the publishing industry, it surprises me authors aren’t more supportive.

  27. Moriah Jovan
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 14:35:38

    @Jane:

    I have no issue with, say, if they wanted to change the header/meta code to insert something akin to a tracking cookie.

    It would NOT be worth it to allow them to change my text, no. I’d just pull my book off Amazon before I let them change my text.

    Aside: I’m having a bit of trouble parsing what the patent language really means.

    They have the phrase distributed text content, so my little laygirl’s mind thinks, “in the story itself” and I go, oh hell no.

    They have the phrase textual data. Does that mean the header/metadata code? Now I become confused.

    Then the modification to an excerpt, does that mean the excerpt you upload to their database when you list the book in the Kindle store? Because that would be considered metadata.

    However, no matter how the parsing manifests, if it means my story is changed, what I wrote and edited and how I coded it to look, then no. I’m not going to put up with that no matter how seductive the percentage of decrease in piracy.

  28. Moriah Jovan
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 14:41:28

    @Jane:

    Honestly, I see this as a step toward more intrusion somewhere down the road.

    I can only speak for me, but I’d rather not be the frog getting slipped into that pot of nice cold water sitting on the stove.

    I guess my point is that the same end can be accomplished without changing the text of the story by going into the header/metadata. I don’t know why they feel it needs to be a v.1-v.2-v.3/compare docs process.

  29. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 15:00:47

    I have no issue with, say, if they wanted to change the header/meta code to insert something akin to a tracking cookie.

    It would NOT be worth it to allow them to change my text, no. I'd just pull my book off Amazon before I let them change my text.

    Exactly.

  30. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 15:06:17

    it surprises me authors aren't more supportive.

    I support the idea of inserting something that will allow the original source to be traced (as they do with early release DVDs sent to reviewers), but I don’t support this particular remedy. Giving someone carte blanche to change my word choices is crazy. Can you imagine the problems that Science Fiction and Fantasy books would end up with (since they often use words in unusual ways or have new meanings and interpretations for them!)?

  31. Laura Kinsale
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 15:53:58

    It seems like a good idea (the Amazon thing) and could easily be done w/o messing with the author’s text. You could put it in all sorts of random places from the blurbs to the graphics used for chapter headings. In fact a whole lot of non-author elements, 20+, say, could be randomized, creating essentially a uniquely watermarked “copy” for each sale.

    Though on second thought, I suppose somehow you would have to make sure that just the text itself could not be stripped out of the surrounding elements–that may be why Amazon is going for author text. (If that’s what they intend.) Doesn’t seem impossible–you could even ask the authors to submit a couple of variations on a limited number of words…lord knows we all have plenty of drafts we could decide between!

    I’m very intense about my words, but I would be open to providing up to 20 alternatives of various words in specific sentences for a given manuscript. In every book there are some places I would NOT want anything changed, others where it doesn’t matter that much.

    As to McMillan lowering author royalties on e-books, that does seem like they just prefer to take it out of the author’s hide. I hope authors/agents negotiate briskly against it. It’s boilerplate, so the first timers will take it if they don’t have an agent.

    I suppose you could say there’s a precedent in differing hardcover and mm royalties, but that’s generally because it’s presumed more copies will sell of the cheaper unit. In this case, since production costs are cheaper, and it appears that prices will also be equal or less for ebooks, it’s really just a way to add to the publisher’s profit at the author’s expense.

    Obviously I’m on the author side of that equation, but it’s gonna be a negotiated point. A case for the dreaded Authors Guild, mwhahaha.

  32. Courtney Milan
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 16:11:12

    As to McMillan lowering author royalties on e-books, that does seem like they just prefer to take it out of the author's hide….

    Obviously I'm on the author side of that equation, but it's gonna be a negotiated point. A case for the dreaded Authors Guild, mwhahaha.

    A case for the individual authors and agents that deal with McMillan, surely? Author’s Guild surely cannot act on this without its members being guilty of price fixing. ;)

  33. AQ
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 16:14:40

    I don’t think that Amazon deserves a patent for something that anyone could do and that some people probably have already done but obviously the patent office disagrees.

    I think this is a step closer to sellers being able change the text within the story either to create their own “clean” versions or perhaps even a form of censorship by taking out references to inconvenient facts or premises. I know rather far fetched at the moment but I’d rather not open that door in any shape or form. Of course as far as that goes I believe that publishers should control/provide all of the formats to the resellers, rather than letting companies like Amazon decide whether or not a story gets converted into say the Kindle format. On the other hand, I’m sure if we waited for some of the publishers to do that certain stories still wouldn’t be available.

    I, for one, am not convinced that piracy is killing the industry when there are so many other factors that are in play such as sheer number of releases, options for other entertainment, cost of entertainment, etc. Yes, it is a factor and authors need to figure out a way to get paid but the best way to do that is to write and continue to cultivate an audience. They need to become even more creative because their livelihoods are at stake and that fact won’t go away even if you could prevent 100% of the piracy.

    Besides which do you honestly think that something like this would work for the pirates? If it were me, I’d find multiple digital versions of the story, strip the coding and then run an automated compare against it. I could probably automate the whole process to take less than 2 minutes because there is no such thing as hidden codes when you get down to coding level. More importantly OCR is pretty darn good these days I wouldn’t even need a digital copy to put pirated digital copy up on the web. Heck, if I really wanted to be an ass I could go through and run a spell checker and maybe even fix copyediting errors.

    So, no, I’m against anything that legally opens the door for anyone other than the creator to control the final text of the work. It will do nothing to stop actual pirating although it will give Amazon another revenue stream if any publishers or reseller wants to use the idea.

  34. Laura Kinsale
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 16:42:03

    Courtney, of course the Authors Guild can’t fix prices. It’s not a union.

    They do however alert their members to important contractual issues that the members may wish to consider. And if enough authors are aware of McMillan’s boilerplate as a lowering of the previous rate, then it can help create back-pressure against it. There’s a considerable danger here for downgrading royalties on digital versions if other publishers decide to follow McMillan’s lead. The AG sometimes will take a stand on an issue such as this, advising authors in general not to accept the boilerplate terms in this particular contract. (I have no idea if they will in this case, but it’s happened in the past.)

    Every author makes their own decisions, that’s obvious, but it helps to be aware of what’s happening. Authors, as a rule, are always in a very weak contractual position, and the AG helps strengthen it with info and advice. Any given author can agree or disagree, and always acts on their own.

  35. S. W. Vaughn
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 18:14:19

    @Jane:

    (so how do you make that @ link thing work, anyway? :-)

    You know, that’s a good question. He seems pretty happy about the $9 price tag on the physical book. It seems odd that he’d advocate for people buying the discount version when he’s supposed to be for indies and ebooks and general forward progression in publishing.

    And he was REALLY quick to point out that the ebook would not be $35 – I think that announcement on his site showed up the same day all the uproar about it went out.

    I’ve been watching this whole price war and inflatedly priced ebook thing, so if I hear anything else from King’s end I’ll post it here.

  36. Miki
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 18:41:24

    I’m having more trouble imagining the logistics in what Amazon wants to do. If they want to be able to track it back to the individual who is pirating the book, wouldn’t they have to make unique changes to every ebook they sold? And keep track of what that change was for that particular buyer? (Okay, the tracking is probably simple, given what they do now…)

    So my book changes the use of “puce” on page 138 to “mauve”, but in yours it’s “puce” to “mauve” on page 169? Are they selling so few ebooks to make that a reasonable thing? If you sell 1,000 ebooks, do you have 1,000 “unimportant” words changes you can make to a single novel?

    I suspect if Amazon put something like that in the meta-data, it wouldn’t take long for all but the most casual “pirates” to figure out where and delete it. If they created or made use of a coding “tag” that’s invisible to the reader, but buried in the text, again, I imagine the pirates would eventually learn to search for the kinds of HTML tags that can hidden and delete ones that seem out of place or suspect.

    Using a different font or format on punctuation (there are probably several thousand “periods” in a single novel) would still be searchable, depending on how the book was formatted. I know I can search for instances of italics or bold in my Word docs. Tedious, sure. But as has been mentioned above, there are people out there scanning print books, running them through OCR programs, and then manually reviewing them for errors. Lots easier to just click “find” (assuming the pirates figured out what the trick was).

    I’m just not sure it would be effective in the long-term.

  37. Courtney Milan
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 18:46:44

    And if enough authors are aware of McMillan's boilerplate as a lowering of the previous rate, then it can help create back-pressure against it. There's a considerable danger here for downgrading royalties on digital versions if other publishers decide to follow McMillan's lead. The AG sometimes will take a stand on an issue such as this, advising authors in general not to accept the boilerplate terms in this particular contract.

    Laura, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that it is bad to stand up to McMillan on this question–not at all.

    I am just saying that the Author’s Guild, as a collective of authors, should be extremely wary of issuing a statement that authors should stand up as a group, because there are massive civil and criminal penalties attached to competitors’ fixing prices–or attempts to do so.

    If the manufacturers of lysine had a Lysine Guild, and it issued statements that they didn’t think that anyone should sell lysine for less than $25/gallon, the US DOJ would be all over that in about ten seconds flat. Even if the members didn’t technically “have” to comply with it. There are plenty of instances where information exchange on pricing plus a suggestion of how to deal with the price among competitors has been held to be per se illegal. The fact that you don’t “have” to comply doesn’t necessarily help.

    Personally, I think the DOJ has better antitrust fish to fry than authors–but the DOJ seems not to take my recommendations seriously, and the lawyer in me tends towards an excess of caution on these issues.

  38. DS
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 18:49:18

    Am I the only one to think that this looks like a bit of patent abuse? This is one of those simple ideas that has in fact already been done by others. Why should anyone who wants to do this be forced to license it from Amazon? There is a serious need in the US for patent overhaul.

    ETA @AQ: I see you mentioned it. Looks like the patent was originally filed 3 years ago and was just granted this year.

  39. Laura Kinsale
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 19:32:43

    Courtney I can see what you are saying, but that’s not what I mean. I have no idea if the AG will even address this. If they did I agree it would not include any statements making specific suggestions about royalty percentages, but they do issue alerts about boilerplate in publishing contracts. IE, noting for authors that this is a change McMillan has made in their boilerplate. Maybe you are right and they won’t touch it because it has to do with royalties percentages but I know they have addressed similar issues in the past.

    Since McMillan sent around copies of the boilerplate to agents, they aren’t keeping it a secret. I think you have to ask why they did that, speaking of price fixing. Perhaps to alert other publishers to their move?

    Excess of caution always seems to hold the weaker guys down, eh?

  40. Jane
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 19:37:12

    I think Author’s Guild has stated that it/they (not sure how to address it) do not advise selling ebook rights at all?

  41. Suze
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 19:40:25

    If the manufacturers of lysine had a Lysine Guild, and it issued statements that they didn't think that anyone should sell lysine for less than $25/gallon, the US DOJ would be all over that in about ten seconds flat.

    Is the Authors’ Guild more like a union, or more like an alliance of merchants? Is a publishing contract more like selling a product, or more like contracting the service of writing the book?

    Because unions are pretty much all about getting a group of people to be firm about what kind of payment they’ll accept in exchange for their services, and not undercut each other. So I don’t think that the Authors’ Guild would necessarily be in the wrong if they warned their members that there is a trend to lower pay with a particular company or companies, and to examine their contracts carefully. (Keeping in mind I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not American, so I’m open to being wrong about that in this case.)

  42. Laura Kinsale
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 19:55:34

    Jane, I don’t think the AG has ever said don’t sell ebook rights at all. That wouldn’t make much sense, as those rights have value. I’m sure they said years ago be sure to separate out digital/ebook rights from others. A publisher always wants to include as broad a range of rights as they can get, and boilerplate will always reflect that. So it’s important to make a specific deal about the ebook rights in each contract, the same way that a deal is made to buy or not buy the foreign, audio, movie rights, etc.

    In older publishing contracts, many still in force, there is no mention of digital or ebook rights, because they didn’t exist, and so there’s a possible question now of whether those rights were conveyed or not.

  43. Jane
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 20:04:31

    @Laura Kinsale: I actually found the reference :

    In the meantime, we recommend that if you haven’t yet granted your e-book rights to backlist or other titles, this isn’t the time to start. If you have a new book contract and are negotiating your e-book rights, make sure Amazon’s use of those rights is part of the dialog.

    and they have issued announcements but probably can’t do much more than issue warnings (at least in this regard):

    July 17, 2008. Simon & Schuster has recently sent a one-page letter to many, perhaps thousands, of authors with unspecified e-book royalty rates in an attempt to set those rates at 15% of the “catalog retail price” of the e-book. (This is the typical e-book royalty rate for S&S.)

  44. Laura Kinsale
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 20:19:55

    Jane, I read your earlier comment as meaning the AG had said authors shouldn’t sell erights at all.

    In the context of your link, yes, they seem to be saying that the txt-to-speech Amazon thing is a developing contractual issue and don’t rush into granting erights at this time, and if you do, specifically address Amazon as part of any contract for erights.

  45. Jane
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 20:22:57

    See, I read it both. I read it as saying first, don’t sell your ebook rights yet. We are looking at the market (There was a Roy Blount statement to that effect) and second, be aware of the TTS thing.

  46. Laura Kinsale
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 20:42:06

    @Jane and @Courtney Interpreting and signing book contracts in these past few years is not for sissys! ;)

  47. Jane
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 20:56:45

    @Laura Kinsale: No, I agree. !! We are agreeing!!

  48. Laura Kinsale
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 21:11:20

    @Jane: No we’re not.

    (Monty Python week last week.)

  49. Ros
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 03:33:55

    @S. W. Vaughn: Click on the reply link that appears when you hover over the bottom right hand corner of a comment box.

  50. S. W. Vaughn
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 05:21:29

    @Ros:

    Thanks, Ros!

  51. A Reader
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 07:55:50

    I guess my point is that if piracy is killing the industry and Amazon has a way that could reduce piracy and thereby not kill the publishing industry, it surprises me authors aren't more supportive.

    I’m surprised too, it’s actually a great idea. Books are still going to be pirated (of course) but it will cut down on the casual sharer. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve been sent by someone who’s doesn’t know how to create a torrent or doesn’t want to put books up in their own name but wants to share books they’ve bought. And I certainly wouldn’t continue to upload books if they can be traced back to me–I’m a branch manager for a bank, being caught stealing wouldn’t really work for me.

    The second thing this method has going for it is it will probably force the formatting of ebooks to be stripped in order to be sure any marked text is removed. The days of typed or badly proofed scans of books are pretty much over. The books being shared today are the exact same version being offered by the publisher only better, there’s no DRM to contend with. Just having the legitimate version of an ebook be a better product–no DRM and professional formating–goes a long way to discourage the casual pirate as well.

    If I was an author I would be all over this.

  52. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 13:03:44

    I'm surprised too, it's actually a great idea

    NO!!! Watermarking is a great idea. Changing words in a text is NOT a great idea.

    Nobody’s against watermarking. They’re against CHANGING WORDS as a way of watermarking.

    “Lolita! Light of my existence, burning in my groin” is not the same. “Refer to me as Ishmael” is not the same.

    Authors on the whole are not supportive of booksellers changing random words in their texts. Why does this surprise anyone?

  53. Jane
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 13:05:52

    @Julia Sullivan Probably because I don’t know how much thought authors give to each and every word in their manuscript. Why not engage in what Laura Kinsale proffered and that is a set number of interchangeable phrases Amazon could use. In other words, why reject, out of hand, an opportunity to stem piracy and why not, instead, work with a retailer for a satisfactory resolution.

  54. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 15:18:22

    In other words, why reject, out of hand, an opportunity to stem piracy and why not, instead, work with a retailer for a satisfactory resolution.

    Nobody’s rejecting an opportunity to stem piracy. They’re rejecting an opportunity to stem piracy that includes changing words in texts.

    There are many, many other ways of watermarking texts without changing their actual content without the author’s permission. I’m seriously not seeing why people who are not themselves writers aren’t seeing the problem in that.

    Nobody’s rejecting the idea of inserting an extra space with a tag-character that doesn’t show up on the screen, but that can be indexed. Nobody’s rejecting the idea of inserting metadata that makes each copy a unique, trackable entity. Nobody’s rejecting the idea of a unique, trackable “fnord page,” with indexable nonsense words a la Captcha, as an endpage.

    What people are rejecting is having their words changed. Their text changed. Their content changed. Without any input or recourse.

    Yes, writers think about every word, including “the” and “a”. Obviously, “Refer to me as Ishmael” is an extreme example, but automatic synonym generators render lots and lots of equally nonsensical prose right now.

    You know all of those weird websites with “news stories” that are things like “Astrological body Lindsay Lohan develops nascent parallelogram of apparel with engineer Karl Lagerfeld?” Those are synonymized versions of articles someone wrote.

    I don’t want Amazon doing that to my writing under the guise of “helping me.” I don’t need them doing that to my writing under the guise of “helping me.”

    And as has already been said, I don’t need to give them carte blanche to change my words without my permission or review.

  55. Lee Rowan
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 13:19:01

    Amazon is slowly trying to control publishing. Period.

    Changing some small detail – a word in a blurb, author bio, page-number font … there are lots of invisible ways to alter a file to make it identifiable.

    Changing the words in the text?

    NO. Not if it meant cutting piracy by half.

    As Mark Twain said, there is a world of difference between a lightning bug and a lightning bolt. So also is the difference between doing something secretively or discreetly or surreptitiously. I don’t expect Amazon’s profit-obsessed minions to understand the difference, because they are not the author of my books and they are not my editor. I signed no contract permitting them to change words to which I hold copyright.

    As Carroll’s Humpty-Dumpty said in another context, the question is who is to be master. Amazon is not my master and I don’t intend that it ever will be.

  56. Lee Rowan
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 13:24:37

    @A ReaderAnd I certainly wouldn't continue to upload books if they can be traced back to me-I'm a branch manager for a bank, being caught stealing wouldn't really work for me.:

    Well, if you are uploading books, I hope they do find a system that can trace you. You’re stealing from writers just as surely as a person who comes into your bank to hold it up. I

  57. A
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 10:40:04

    Text mutilation to discourage piracy sounds a bit like cutting up an attractive spouse so that no one else will desire the spouse.

    In any event, none of these devices mean anything unless the pirates are prosecuted.

  58. A
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 10:41:55

    @Lee Rowan:

    by Lee Rowan November 1st, 2009 at 1:24 pm
    @A ReaderAnd I certainly wouldn't continue to upload books if they can be traced back to me-I'm a branch manager for a bank, being caught stealing wouldn't really work for me.:

    Well, if you are uploading books, I hope they do find a system that can trace you. You're stealing from writers just as surely as a person who comes into your bank to hold it up.

    Uh-oh. Be careful. Now people will throw in to explain to you why copyright infringement isn’t “real” theft, no evidence of economic damage, U.S.S.C. ruling, etc..

  59. Jane
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 11:10:58

    @A Because suing people has worked well for RIAA?

  60. Jane
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 11:11:16

    @A Because accuracy in the law isn’t something that is important to you?

  61. Miki S
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 23:26:25

    Okay, I had a thought today while reading my (legally purchased) ebook copy of Kindred in Death. I’ve noticed lately in many ebooks I purchase (including this one) where words occasionally have a space inserted. For example, in this case, Eve is thinking about an friend who used a “jammer”, and the word showed as “jam mer”.

    If Amazon inserted a few random extra spaces in a full ebook’s text, I could see that being something that wouldn’t change the author’s words, would only briefly impinge on the reader’s experience, and wouldn’t be something easily caught by pirates (unless they do a full “spell check” on the doc).

    I would prefer something like that over “random” word replacements!

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