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February 26, 2011 4:09 AM   Subscribe

Harper Collins is putting a cap on the number of times their books can be loaned out from libraries. From a letter to customers from Overdrive CEO, Steve Potash:
[W]e have been required to accept and accommodate new terms for eBook lending as established by certain publishers. Next week, OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher's requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached.
posted by snwod (143 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well that sucks.
posted by dougrayrankin at 4:16 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


from Overdrive CEO, Steve Potash

How interesting. Both his name and his message are fertilizer.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:16 AM on February 26, 2011 [32 favorites]


Sounds like it would be better to just, ahem, find those books somewhere for free and avoid all of this EULA bullshit.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:18 AM on February 26, 2011 [24 favorites]


If a cap on total "checkouts" from a library was never necessary for hard copy books, why is it necessary for ebooks?

(yes, I know, a stupid question that can only be answered by the word "profit".)
posted by tomswift at 4:22 AM on February 26, 2011 [21 favorites]


"Please pirate our books," said Harper Collins, albeit unwittingly, in a press release.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:25 AM on February 26, 2011 [178 favorites]


If a cap on total "checkouts" from a library was never necessary for hard copy books, why is it necessary for ebooks?
(yes, I know, a stupid question that can only be answered by the word "profit".)

Yup. Profit.
From What I understand, they base this move on some amalgam of the average number of times a real book is checked-out, and the replacement rate of a real book. Real books wear out, so they need to be replaced = Profit Stream™.
Digital books don't wear out and never need replaced = one-time purchase.

I'm not sayin' I agree with the move. Just answering the question.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:27 AM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


If a cap on total "checkouts" from a library was never necessary for hard copy books, why is it necessary for ebooks?

I can't answer why it is necessary, but it certainly changes the business model slightly. For example, if the turnaround time on ebooks is much shorter, then libraries require fewer books. If ebooks never wear out, libraries require fewer books.

Now, capping checkouts seems like a fairly crass way to either increase maintain profits. But publishers do have a right to try and find a sustainable business model. I wouldn't underestimate how many of them are crapping their pants because they simply don't know how to monetise their content on new technology.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:33 AM on February 26, 2011


Successful DRM will mark the end of recorded history.

I've found that Americans are generally not away of sites like library.nu or the prevalence of books on usenet, although more seem aware of enormous book collections on the Pirate Bay. If you are aware, maybe you should conserve your libraries resources for other patrons by checking these sites first.

Also, there re apparently many cases of ebooks available from Harper Collins also being available from other publishers, usually for classics. I'd hope that librarians will shop around.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:35 AM on February 26, 2011 [18 favorites]


I think the outrage would be less if the books expired after a more reasonable time. The article points out the the ebooks expire after 26 cycles, which equals one year on a two-week lend time. The opinions of the librarians in the comments indicate that a hardcover book will last much longer than one year of library use.
posted by vansly at 4:36 AM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Thorzdad, I understand that, to a point, but let's compare this way of thinking to music. When music first became digital and we all immediately took home a new CD and ripped it to our hard drive, it's then in a form, like an ebook, that would basically last forever. However, the music industry did not deem it necessary to raise the price on music (or time limit our use) just because it could be converted to a medium that would not wear out. This is really a pretty bold step. I wonder if, without a buy-in to this concept by ALL publishers, they can sustain it.
posted by tomswift at 4:42 AM on February 26, 2011


I'd hope that librarians will shop around.

I would expect so. Every library that I've ever worked in, I've spent a fair bit of time evaluating alternative sources/providers, and I've never even worked in acquisitions. There are librarians who do that sort of thing full time.

Not mentioned yet is that Overdrive also want libraries to be more vigilent about who they allow to have borrowing privileges. In terms of not allowing people who don't live or work in the library's area to have access to their digital collections.
posted by Infinite Jest at 4:42 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


tomswift...I'm not defending their flawed logic. I'm just answering a question based on what I've come to understand are the reasons given.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:46 AM on February 26, 2011


physical books have been physically "pirated" since the advent of printing (see: pretty much the history of international printing for countless examples). Up until a few years ago, it took real infrastructure--a printing press with attendant staff, a typesetter (or, since the advent of sufficiently sophisticated photocopiers, a print to pdf engine and decent OCR software)--and an expectation of profit to drive that act. The thing is, even pirated copies existed in (for want of a better term) the profit stream and as such were commodities that limited their own distribution model (too many copies available defeats the supply side of the supply-demand equation). For publishers, the losses to piracy were acceptably constricted and considered an unfortunate but inevitable cost of doing business. Now, every reader has become a potential pirate. The linkage between intellectual property and its physical manifestation has (like music and movies before it) come undone, and this scares the hell out of them, because their profit basis existed in the interstitial space between those two things. It is also serious because publishing is such a comparatively low-margin, high risk venture. So, while I'm not a huge fan of DRM or limiting library circulation, I can't really see any other alternative for them at this time. Perhaps, once new profit models from books books appear, they'll change their policies.
posted by Chrischris at 4:49 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Murdoch betta have a big fucking grave, lot of people will want to have a dance.
posted by the noob at 5:00 AM on February 26, 2011 [14 favorites]


How are e-books distributed by libraries? Some kind of file download, or do you actually take a library-owned kindle home? If it's a file download, how to they control copies?

It seems odd to say that pirating books is a good way to fight this. How about, don't consume media with publishing policies you don't agree with?
posted by gjc at 5:00 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll trust the libraries opinions about how quickly real books wear out, not the publishers, thankyouverymuch.

If we even need rights management by libraries, they should implement a minimum checkout duration, i.e. the library hands out DRM free ebooks but they may only be checked out once every few days.

Ideally, we should simply revert copyright to 14 years of course, that'd solve almost all the problems aside from software. For software, we obviously need a provision that compiled code cannot be covered by copyright unless the source code is been made available to purchasers, but that's irrelevant for books since they're already human readable.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:01 AM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


If ebooks never wear out, libraries require fewer books.

What's this 'wearing out' business? It doesn't seem *that* long ago (ie, within my memory) that when the binding on a book got a bit shabby, the library would have it rebound.

After all, you can't just go out and rebuy a book that the publisher has allowed to go out of print. So when a library bought a book in the past, they bought it for good.

Now that it's easier for publishers to keep titles in print (they don't need the investment in paper, labour, storage space, etc.) they want to unilaterally change the terms of their business model, to the disadvantage of consumers?

I say fuck 'em. See you on Pirate Bay.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:01 AM on February 26, 2011 [30 favorites]


Harper Collins: enabling piracy by corporate mandate.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:07 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Overdrive is sort of stupid terrible software anyway. Half the stuff uses Windows-only DRM so you can't use it on other OSes or transfer them to iPods or what have you.
posted by NoraReed at 5:12 AM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


The article points out the the ebooks expire after 26 cycles, which equals one year on a two-week lend time.

Okay, so if an ebook only get checked out 13 times in a year, I hope the publisher refunds half my money.

I understand that the publishers are desperate to cling on to their filthy lucre and that said lucre in some small way helps get new authors to market. But how much money is made on the long tail? How much money does the average book make five years after its publication date?

So how about this: A subscription service for ebooks published within the past 5 years. Library systems pay a set amount (maybe based on the size of their patron population? Circ stats?) for a certain amount of checkouts (1000 a year costs X, 2000 cost Y, etc) a year. Like cellphone minutes, you can go over and pay extra, or maybe even go under and rollover some loans. After the 5 years, the library gets a certain number of loanable ebooks (2? 3?) per title that are loaned out in the "if someone else is accessing this, you can't" method that's common to normal loans.

There could be other plans, too. Buy a book from the publisher, get an ebook thrown in. Just purchase access to the over 5 year old ebooks.

I like ebooks. I loan Kindles and my library. But the idea that there is another limiter on the life of my ebook besides the death of the technology used to access it just rubs me the wrong way.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:23 AM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


So...the human race is reduced to desperately scrambling to cripple our own technological developments. Pathetic...
posted by jet_manifesto at 5:28 AM on February 26, 2011 [20 favorites]


I'm deliberately corrupting a few bits when I upload titles back to the e-library to support au... publishers and help keep a healthy ecosystem of simulated physical objects in our libraries.

I hope you corrupt a few bits when you upload your library books back to the library too!

oh hang on wait
posted by davemee at 5:34 AM on February 26, 2011


In other library/Overdrive news, the New York Public Library has formed a partnership Overdrive to offer patrons the ability to buy books from the online catalog with proceeds going to the library.

And this blog entry at the Scholarly Kitchen asks the provocative question, are e-book sales really sales? If not, if they're just licenses, they may not be subject to royalty payments.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:36 AM on February 26, 2011


Honestly, I assumed that Overdrive worked differently. I thought libraries paid a fee for subscribers, and that fee goes to publishers based on how frequently those books were checked out. I guess not. Fuck Harper Collins.

I like having access to legitimate ebooks via my library. I'm willing to put up with the cumbersome and unwieldy DRM *only* because it is free.
posted by graventy at 5:43 AM on February 26, 2011


I've argued that the ultimate endpoint for DRM is the pay-per-swing hammer.

This isn't as unlikely as it seems. Ball bearings in the hammer could be arranged, via electromagnetism, to configurations which either take away much of the force of the blow or leave it somehow off-center, or a dead-on impact. Ubiquitous wireless access will finally mean that microtransactions are more feasible. Press your fob against the hammer and, once your account has been verified, we will rearrange the bearings in the hammerhead to give you a better swing. A penny per swing.

At this point, the only hard part would be getting the existing hammers out of circulation.

That's what is coming. A penny per virtual spin. Nobody (at least you meat-based organisms, versus those whose chemistry is based on corporate charters) will own much anymore. Once the model is successfully applied to books, music, and film, there's little reason to stop there. Cars, why not? We've already been leasing them but that business model doesn't "capture full value." Why not an electric drill?

Once computing (wireless communications and processors) becomes sufficiently subsumed into the pattern of civilization the way electricity has, there's no way someone up there won't think it is a fabulous idea to charge you every time you open your refrigerator door, and make a little on the side reporting your eating habits to your insurance company. Refrigerators are so expensive now, which is why we have helped you, the consumer, defray costs by putting ad space on the doors with cheap OLED panels. Oh, no fingerpaints from preschool stuck to the door with magnets, see your contract.

And this sort of thing is what will get us there.
posted by adipocere at 5:46 AM on February 26, 2011 [83 favorites]


the music industry did not deem it necessary to raise the price on music (or time limit our use)...

The music industry totally deemed it necessary to limit my use of digital music. First with the file-sharing lawsuits, and then with ridiculous DRM. I first learned about DRM in the context of digital music. It's why I've never used any of the big commercial music sites like iTunes or Rhapsody, and it's why I did sign up for eMusic - once I bought a song from them, I could copy the file to as many devices in as many formats as I wanted. Lack of DRM is a must before I'll buy digital music.

This is a last-ditch effort from a dying industry. Like big record labels, big publishing houses are becoming increasingly irrelevant. They know it, and the fat, old men are scared shitless. They're desperate, and their solution is to fuck over the institutions that are one of their last lifelines. So yeah, Harper Collins can go to hell.
posted by lost_cause at 5:46 AM on February 26, 2011 [9 favorites]


So if you live in a district with cash-strapped libraries, should you ration your borrowing?
posted by mail at 6:10 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


False scarcity.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 6:28 AM on February 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


So, what IS the effective loaning life of a new hardcover? 26 transactions seems, honestly, pretty generous to me. The Scott Brown book, or the Jenna Jameson book, or OJ's "What if did it" book (all proud Harpe Collins titles). Those get borrowed and, I can only assume, thrown in a bag, and read on the subway, etc. Wear and tear. Times twenty-six? I've got to think it becomes pretty shredded, as often as not.

I think about in high school when we would get issued a book, and so you'd have a copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird" that was military grade, had been assigned to two other kids in the pat 6 months, and was totally trashed. Circulated books wear more than books on your shelf at home.

Now, believe me, I think Harper Collins is making a hugely self-defeating decision here but there is some shred of validity to the notion that, as a publisher, books that never ever wear out is as much a threat as are books that don't even need to be printed. To go back to that copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. The publisher has had a constant revenue stream basically since 1960 that said those books will wear out and school districts will buy new ones every few years. If the first time the district bought 100 licenses they got 100 perfect copies in perpetuity and never had to pay another dime it is certainly good for the district, but what does the world of book publishing look like without that source of income? I'm serious, I don't have some answer and I have no particular love for big publishing, but the economic ecosystem of books is changing quickly and it seems as likely as not, to me, that it will die rather than be able to adapt. And I think we will all lose in that case.

Disclosure: I used to work at Harper Collins, nothing to do with books. But if they stopped selling books I wouldn't have had that job. Sure, profits line the pockets of the fatcats, but they line the pockets of slackers, too.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:35 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


> And this sort of thing is what will get us there.

It's only 9:40 in the morning, but this is the clubhouse leader in the Most Depressing Thing I Read On The Internet Today Tournament.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:40 AM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


There are libraries that don't replace books hardly ever, even xeroxing replacement pages when one gets marked up. All depends upon the library's funding level, not the publisher's fantasies.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:40 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


That's what is coming. A penny per virtual spin. Nobody (at least you meat-based organisms, versus those whose chemistry is based on corporate charters) will own much anymore. Once the model is successfully applied to books, music, and film, there's little reason to stop there. Cars, why not? We've already been leasing them but that business model doesn't "capture full value." Why not an electric drill?

And we've got a good start going with the internet of things. If only we could get out of our own damn way. We're stagnating and not truly realizing it. I saw Nova Science Now the other day and laughed at the proposition of self-driving cars possibly in 2025. Americans aren't going to give up their meat wagons. They'll be told it is unAmerican. We see every few years a cure for some major illness. Then of course nothing comes of it. Chris Rock did a whole skit on this. The money is in the medicine.

Would we ever see something that made food easily available for everyone and wiped out hunger? No, because that would cut into profits. It is so bothersome when we take technologies where we have effectively removed certain limits, then reimpose artificial limits on them. Like those articles separated into 20 pages, with no single page view option, as if a printed piece of paper was limiting things. Or of course like this

Monsanto's self-destroying seeds. Man we're dumb. The hope, of course, is that all these old regressing fucks die off and a new generation with a future-based spirit and conception of what human interaction and life is supposed to be like, will take their place. I hope it happens.
posted by cashman at 6:44 AM on February 26, 2011 [16 favorites]


How are e-books distributed by libraries? Some kind of file download, or do you actually take a library-owned kindle home? If it's a file download, how to they control copies?

I believe some libraries experiment with lending Kindles or other devices. The more common model seems to be to purchase an Overdrive subscription, which gives you downloaded DRM'ed ebooks, with a time limit on how long you can borrow it, after which it's automatically deleted. I believe lending is limited to one borrower at a time.

robocop is bleeding: I like that model, but imagine how quickly the fees would go up. My firm faces routine increases of 8-12% year on year for databases - even in the middle of the recession when it was well-known that our income was down 35% and we'd laid off hundreds of staff. I can see the price of your subscription service going through the roof, very fast.
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:48 AM on February 26, 2011


How about, don't consume media with publishing policies you don't agree with?

Don't... read a book... because... hmm...

No, sorry. Can't get my brain to process that one.
posted by steambadger at 7:29 AM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


As soon as I borrow an e-book from my public library, I use the Python scripts people have written to remove the Adobe DRM, make myself a copy, and then return the original so that the next person can have it. Most of the time, I don't even read the copy. But in case I ever want to, it will be available. Same as when I was a kid and recorded my library's Glenn Gould LPs onto cassettes. I didn't feel guilty about it then and I don't feel guilty about it now.

Even if I were in the habit of posting copyright-infringing works on the public sharing sites, I would have hesitated to do so with these copies of library books. But the next time I borrow a Harper Collins title, I may upload it to Avax as a matter of principle.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:37 AM on February 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


Even if pay-per-use models for content weren't inherently wrong in any way, I would still think that publishers trying to push in the licensing direction are being utterly stupid, because almost universally, the more limited license ends up being as expensive as the old actual book. Pay-per-use would be generally acceptable to the public if, on average, it didn't cost anybody any more than purchase. I'm fine with using Netflix instead of buying DVDs because for most of my DVDs, I never did watch them more than once or twice anyway. At a price that's about one new movie a month, I actually get to watch *several* things a month, and that's a great deal for me.

But in the meantime, I don't know what kind of pricing libraries get usually, but a $10 Kindle copy of a book that I could get for even $20 in hardcover does not make any sense to me, because it's less usable than my regular book in a lot of ways, only partially remedied by buying an expensive piece of hardware to read them with, and I can't share them or give them away or sell them when I'm done. (And mostly I wouldn't be buying the hardcover anyway.) If I only read a real book once, I can get other uses out of it. If I only read a Kindle book once, I have paid $10 for the privilege of reading a book a single time. The pay-per-use math doesn't work out. I'm not going to accept a new model of paying for my reading material that costs me more than the old model unless it has significant advantages, and I don't see how that should be any different for libraries.
posted by gracedissolved at 7:39 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Doing it by the book: HarperCollins is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:39 AM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Coverage of protests here.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:41 AM on February 26, 2011


The other thing about libraries and ebooks is that the ebooks cannot be loaned via ILL. The university I teach at belongs to a multi-school consortium, and while I can easily get physical books from the other libraries, I do not have access to the ebooks held by the other libraries. This despite the fact that the ebooks are, by their nature, much easier to share.
posted by OmieWise at 7:42 AM on February 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


For the moment, using copyright violation as one's primary source of proprietary information still requires a wee bit of technical know-how--setting up your network for torrents, protecting your identity, distinguishing good copies from bad copies, and so on.

There are already sites, if you know where to look, that are trying to make it all as quick and painless as possible. There are limits to what they can do, since they can't operate openly.

Perhaps, to some degree, operating openly will always be required if you want to run the sort of business that competes with other businesses that do operate openly. Or perhaps bullshit like this will make Aunt Tillie learn the Googles just enough to read the Goldfish Fanciers Monthly she likes.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:53 AM on February 26, 2011


The only Harper Collins book I have on my shelves is a copy of Armageddon by Max Hastings.

*eyes it warily*

I have put my Stephen Ambrose around it as a sort of "suck buffer" for when the Hastings implodes and slurps up all surrounding knowledge in a biblio-black hole after I look at it 26 times.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:05 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Although Armageddon is a pretty thick book. I'll shove some Bryan Magee in there too. Name-drop Oxford on your way to infinity, asshole!
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:09 AM on February 26, 2011


They know it, and the fat, old men are scared shitless.

The hope, of course, is that all these old regressing fucks die off


I wish I could be as sanguine as y'all seem to be that the existing bad policies are solely the province of old fat dirty white fucks and that the shining lights of the New Generation® will make it all better in the long run.
posted by blucevalo at 8:11 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Public librarian here. Based solely on my own experience, and the research I've seen on the issues raised here:

[...]if the turnaround time on ebooks is much shorter, then libraries require fewer books.

In our case, it's not. In fact, via our library's Overdrive agreement, ebooks cannot be returned before their due dates (Overdrive automatically returns them on their due date, not before). At any rate, you can't assume that "libraries require fewer books" if there are plenty of ebooks; not everyone is able or willing to read an ebook over a hard copy.

I'd hope that librarians will shop around.
We do, and (for us at least) Overdrive is one of the most cost-effective models for ebook loaning that also provides support and allows for consortium subscription (our subscription is shared among the other participating libraries in our state). We do recommend free sites like Project Gutenberg when appropriate, but as there's no formal relationships between most of the free resources and public libraries--and we aren't allowed to advocate less-than-legal options--it's just easier and more cost-effective to use a service like Overdrive. On top of all that, since referrals to resources outside our "official" offerings don't count toward our circulation numbers, in this era of budget-slashing we would want to offer our own resources wherever possible.

The opinions of the librarians in the comments indicate that a hardcover book will last much longer than one year of library use.

Much, much longer, and when it starts to wear, we repair it.

Overdrive is sort of stupid terrible software anyway. Half the stuff uses Windows-only DRM so you can't use it on other OSes or transfer them to iPods or what have you.

That's changing fast. Our subscription now supports Windows, Mac (including iPad and iPod), Sony epub, most of the ereaders (except Kindle--brilliant move, Amazon), and even mobile devices.

So, while I'm not a huge fan of DRM or limiting library circulation, I can't really see any other alternative for them at this time.

Again, I'm no expert, but tiering our subscription costs based on actual or projected usage (i.e., we pay $X for y number of checkouts, $Z for more checkouts than that, etc.) might be a better step than just capping circulation. Robocop Is Bleeding's comment offers some other models that sound workable. From OUR perspective, anyhow.

So if you live in a district with cash-strapped libraries, should you ration your borrowing?

Along with every other American, you DO live in a district with cash-strapped libraries. This is a heartbreaking question for us... we want citizens of a democracy to borrow as much as they want to, but the fiscal reality is such that many systems have to charge per item for ebooks, holds, videos, and interlibrary loans. So if patrons can afford to suffer through a long hold list, rather than order an item via ILL for faster arrival, it does save us money.

[...]borrowed and, I can only assume, thrown in a bag, and read on the subway, etc. Wear and tear. Times twenty-six? I've got to think it becomes pretty shredded, as often as not.

Nah. We're pretty good at protection, preservation, and repair. And patrons (with notable exceptions, to be sure) are pretty good about not ruining it for the next person.

[...]this is the clubhouse leader in the Most Depressing Thing I Read On The Internet Today Tournament.

Yeah, I alternate between rage and despair at the fact that public libraries--perhaps the most useful and accessible instruments of democracy available to citizens--have to beg for morsels of the budget pie, while financial industries and weapons manufacturers get pretty much blank checks.
posted by Rykey at 8:13 AM on February 26, 2011 [35 favorites]


Libraries are already doing so well financially that book publishers are choosing to hit them up to improve profits. Why do all revenue plans lately seem to ignore where the money is and look instead for the weakest target?
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:14 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


the next time I borrow a Harper Collins title, I may upload it to Avax as a matter of principle

Better yet, I found a Harper Collins title I borrowed before - the Maynard Solomon biography of Mozart - and just uploaded it to FileSonic.

So let it be noted for the record. For all the copyright-infringement I have participated in before - and that's a whole lot - I have never before been interested in being involved on the distributing end. But this news was motivation.

Congratulations, HC. You have literally just created a new e-book pirater.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:30 AM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ok, publishers are fucked up. But once again, the people who are really going to get screwed are the writers. Some of my books are published by Harper Collins and I had no say in this decision, obviously. You guys think you are sticking it to the rich corporations by doing this stuff but it's not the rich corporations that lose here. They will always find another way to make money.

Writers? Not so much.
posted by Maias at 8:38 AM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


You guys think you are sticking it to the rich corporations by doing this stuff but it's not the rich corporations that lose here.

When I borrowed that book, I had no way of knowing that I would be keeping someone else from doing so later on after the retroactive lending limit was imposed.

This is my way of trying to make it up to them.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:47 AM on February 26, 2011


So pay-per-use, but where the financial risk lies with the library if it is not used? Like some of you, I'm out. I have finally had it, and will not contribute more money for HarperCollins (or any other part of the corporate octapus) to pay News Corp to:

* screw over the library system;
* produce news that even they have acknowledged in court may be lies;
* assist in union-busting;
* have Glenn Beck continue being Glenn Beck;
* allegedly explicitly ask their employees to lie for political reasons outside of the news;
* move the Overton window further towards the far right, and;
* aggressively push into markets with reasonably high quality papers and turn them into trash.
posted by jaduncan at 8:49 AM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ok, publishers are fucked up. But once again, the people who are really going to get screwed are the writers. Some of my books are published by Harper Collins and I had no say in this decision, obviously. You guys think you are sticking it to the rich corporations by doing this stuff but it's not the rich corporations that lose here. They will always find another way to make money.

It's true, I don't want to screw you over. If you send me the titles and I am interested in reading one (or indeed more), I will send you ten times your royalty via paypal. Sound fair?
posted by jaduncan at 8:51 AM on February 26, 2011 [10 favorites]


lost_cause, Amazon is DRM-free as well. It might serve to take some other lessons from the music industry: self-publishing. Examples include established artists like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails and small independents like Idol and the Whip (full disclosure: friends of mine). This way, all profit goes to the artists themselves, assuming they didn't use a record label to fund their recording. There's no reason libraries couldn't purchase direct from the author in this type of model, freeing them from Harper Collins' bullshit constraints.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:54 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm probably a broken record on this point, and possibly wrong, but it seems to me that publishers are missing the fact that the culture of book-lovers is built on loans, libraries, and thrift sales. The more publishers try to clamp down on things by limiting the number of reads for a sale, the more I wonder how they expect to build their audiences.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:57 AM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


DRM will always be defeated by the analog hole, if not something better.

Yesterday was the first time I paid money for an ebook with DRM. I only did so because I knew I could remove the DRM.
posted by exogenous at 9:01 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I recently checked out an ebook through my library. A book I was really looking forward to reading.

Turns out they wanted me to download and install a whole separate thing, and register an Adobe account, to do it. Fuck that. I tried to return the ebook, but I guess it just automatically expires after 3 weeks. Sorry, other people waiting for this book because only a few can have it at a time.
posted by kafziel at 9:05 AM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why limit it to electronic books? We keep being told the "theft" of physical media and digital information is morally equivalent. Let's limit each physical book to a max number of library loans. Once a month the books that hit their limit can be burned in a big fire outside the library, just to make sure everyone in America gets the message
posted by crayz at 9:05 AM on February 26, 2011 [17 favorites]


We do recommend free sites like Project Gutenberg when appropriate, but as there's no formal relationships between most of the free resources and public libraries--and we aren't allowed to advocate less-than-legal options--it's just easier and more cost-effective to use a service like Overdrive.

PG stuff isn't really rights reserved (you must only preserve the header stating the document is free to copy when it is in copyright); why can't you just mirror the ebooks on your own server and give away copies? I would *love* it if my library was neat enough to give away DVDRs of 4.6gb of epub classic books. I can even see a future of 'classic of the week - get your free copy here' on the website. I really can't see why every library system doesn't just hold a server which will disburse out of copyright books in any format required.

With my business hat on, what would you need to have to integrate this server into your system?
posted by jaduncan at 9:05 AM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Maynard Soloman is an 80 year old author, musicologist, music producer, and faculty member at Julliard. He had the courage to promote and release Paul Robeson records at a time when Robeson was a political 3rd rail in this country. His biography of Mozart was nominated for a Pulitzer. He's also, rather famously, a Marxist (or was—working with HarperCollins, one has to wonder). Regardless, he's a living author who presumably values what little income his books still bring him, not just a publishing house to protest against.
posted by mumkin at 9:06 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


If anyone from the LA Public Library can explain to me why all new material is in e-AudioBooks instead of e-Books, I'd appreciate it. Right now, I can't read anything new at all as it looks like a majority of new releases are in audio, and that is limiting my use of the library as a resource more than anything else.
posted by linux at 9:06 AM on February 26, 2011


Maynard Soloman is an 80 year old author, musicologist, music producer, and faculty member at Julliard. He had the courage to promote and release Paul Robeson records at a time when Robeson was a political 3rd rail in this country. His biography of Mozart was nominated for a Pulitzer. He's also, rather famously, a Marxist (or was—working with HarperCollins, one has to wonder). Regardless, he's a living author who presumably values what little income his books still bring him, not just a publishing house to protest against.

If authors want to be a little bit smart about this, you'd think they'd have a donate button on their websites for people who do wish to give them some money (because they pirated the book, purchased it on remainder with no author royalty, or like them in general) to do so without making it explicit why people were donating.
posted by jaduncan at 9:10 AM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


he's a living author who presumably values what little income his books still bring him

And yet there was a public library letting anyone read them for free! Taking food out of an old man's mouth! I don't see why society should tolerate institutions like that.

And if you want to bring individuals into this, his Mozart biography was published 17 years ago. Copyright was originally 14 years.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:18 AM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


I really can't see why every library system doesn't just hold a server which will disburse out of copyright books in any format required. With my business hat on, what would you need to have to integrate this server into your system?

Time, money, personnel, library directors' buy-in.
posted by Rykey at 9:24 AM on February 26, 2011


jaduncan: This author doesn't put out a "donate" button because I'm not the only one who makes the final product of my book -- there's the editor, copy-editor, page and cover designers, cover artist, etc, all of whom make it into a work people find attractive and maybe would like to purchase. They all deserve to get paid, too.

People do occasionally come to my site saying they got my book through non-approved means and want to pay me something. I tell them to do one of the following three: a) go buy the book for themselves, b) go buy it for someone else, c) take an amount of money they think fair and donate to a literacy charity like RIF or First Book. That way everyone in the process gets paid or they promote the cause of literacy.

I think Harper Collins is being foolish with their "26 lends" policy. The money that would go to rebuying electronic copies of texts could instead go to buying a wider variety of electronic titles for the library patrons. I think in the long run Harper Collins, et al would end up with the same amount of money.
posted by jscalzi at 9:25 AM on February 26, 2011 [15 favorites]


I've been saying this for a while, but there needs to be a Netflix for ebooks. Readers pay $10 a month to "stream" x numbers of books (with more expensive plans for larger numbers of books) just the way customers do for movies with regular Netflix. Ideally, the ebooks would be delivered in a reasonable format, suitable for whatever device they will be read on, without having to install something crazy or bust out cords and wires. Painless, quick, and easy, in much the way Amazon has made the process for readers downloading books via the kindle or kindle apps. This Netflix-for-books company would enter into agreements with publishers the way Netflix has done with movie studios/media providers, and voila: a way to deliver books to an audience of willing readers that keeps writers (and publishers) in business.
posted by mothershock at 9:25 AM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


I bet this came straight from HarperCollins's owner, Rupert Murdoch, lover of paywalls, a man who believes he can make the mew economy jump over all kinds of archaic hurdles in a desperate rush to receive his precious content.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:32 AM on February 26, 2011


This author doesn't put out a "donate" button because I'm not the only one who makes the final product of my book -- there's the editor, copy-editor, page and cover designers, cover artist, etc, all of whom make it into a work people find attractive and maybe would like to purchase. They all deserve to get paid, too.

I respect your answer, but what stops you from just passing some on?
posted by jaduncan at 9:32 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, librarians: do publishers now produce lower quality bindings to attempt to ensure future sales?
posted by jaduncan at 9:34 AM on February 26, 2011


You know who the real heroes can be?

Libraries who refuse to buy harper collins bullshit that has a borrowing limit. They are making the world a better place...unlike that douchebag.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:35 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


mew economy: a standardized rating of a cat's quietness during normal use
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:36 AM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just fyi, I always verify that any text books I select for courses are available on gigapedia.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:36 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


jaduncan:

Because there's already finely-honed system in place for distributing the income equitably to all the people engaged in the process, which will perform this task better and more efficiently than I ever could given my knowledge and time constraints. It's called buying the book.
posted by jscalzi at 9:38 AM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's called buying the book.

I should clarify that I am sitting in front of a bookcase full of them, just wondering how to get money to the creative people in HC without feeding the corporate body.
posted by jaduncan at 9:39 AM on February 26, 2011


Jake Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can't already afford?
Noah Cross: The future, Mr. Gittes! The future.
posted by tspae at 9:41 AM on February 26, 2011


Buying the book distributes the income equitably?

I've heard otherwise.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:41 AM on February 26, 2011


Harper Collins hates us for our freedom
posted by dougrayrankin at 9:51 AM on February 26, 2011


Joe Beese:

Well, at the very least they'll be paid more and better than they will through your graces, considering that you just went out of your way to upload a book to the ether, where no one will be paid for that work.

JADuncan:

It's unlikely that you'll find a better way to get the money to the right people than by buying the book, because you as the consumer don't know the names of every creative person involved in a book creation. This is not surprising, since I as the author don't always know the name of (for example) my copy editor, my designers or any other number of people adding time/effort/value to the finished book product.

If your goal is to boycott HC without punishing those who publish and work for it, I would suggest to you that's probably not possible either. HC doesn't care how much authors, et al make outside of its own system of accounting, which is predicated on sales. If you send an HC author a fiver for his work but a sale isn't recorded, HC (or any other possible future publisher looking at BookScan numbers to see if the author is worth taking on) isn't going to count the fiver.

This is not to discourage you from sending an author a fiver if you like (or otherwise sending money to any other creative principals in a book's creation). Go ahead and do that if you want. Just be aware that what hurts HC hurts everyone in HC's book production chain. If you feel strongly enough about the issue to boycott, then you also have shoulder the knowledge that this is a direct effect of your actions.
posted by jscalzi at 10:01 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder what it would take to stage a successful, massive boycott of News Corp...
posted by codacorolla at 10:02 AM on February 26, 2011


How much do libraries pay for ebooks? Do they pay for each individual 'copy' of a book, or is it some sort of a service that they pay a for based on the number of users? If they have to pay for each individual copy, then wouldn't it make more sense to just (assuming that this isn't already the case) charge the libraries a bit more for a book than the average Kindle user, similar to how hardcover books are more expensive than paperbacks?
posted by daniel_charms at 10:04 AM on February 26, 2011


This sort of activity makes me wonder how long it will be until the publishing industry resembles the music industry, in that the large, top-heavy corporate publishers will continue to scramble to keep a tighter grip on "their" properties while smaller independent publishers, who are more savvy w/r/t the new technology, offer a more open and flexible model that rewards the creative team more directly, and treats digital downloading as a means of promotion, rather than theft.

It will probably be a while, since publishing hasn't been hit as hard as music, but the technology to make reading a book on an electronic device comparable to reading the physical book is fairly new.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:14 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everybody who does anything ever, within probably less than fifty years (maybe a hundred at the outside) someone will have come up with a way to do what you do for essentially free. This is sort of one of the defining challenges of our times. Basically we can choose to cripple lots and lots of our technology and avoid developing new technology, or we can try to make sure that everybody has enough food to eat and a bed to sleep in. We can't do both though.

I wish I could be as sanguine as y'all seem to be that the existing bad policies are solely the province of old fat dirty white fucks and that the shining lights of the New Generation® will make it all better in the long run.
Nobody said anything about "white" blucevalo. Oligarchy knows no color. I don't think age matters so much either. Plenty of old pirates.

Basically it's class warfare, only now in some circumstances you don't have to go out in the streets and fight the authorities. You can route around the corrupt institutions and corporations and they'll destroy themselves fighting fog. None of the people affected by this situation were the enemy of Harper Collins. They are now, or they will be when the next outrage is perpetuated. I don't think anyone is sanguine about it either. Given the low bar to entry to fighting the power in this case, I fully expect that most of the people posting in this thread about piracy are in fact involved in the struggle on one side or the other.
posted by Peztopiary at 10:14 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


So have e-readers dramatically increased the number of people checking out books (electronically or otherwise) from libraries? To the extent that libraries are now cutting into book sales? I'm not sure where the drive to limit the amount of ebooks checked out is coming from, was this a concern for publishers of paperbacks prior to this technology? Publishers should not have increased access to the public funds and charitable donations that fund libraries simply because they've found a new grey area to exploit.
posted by Hoopo at 10:29 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


And if you want to bring individuals into this, his Mozart biography was published 17 years ago. Copyright was originally 14 years.

And yet, for better or worse, when Soloman dedicated himself to researching and writing that biography of Mozart, the Copyright Act of 1976 pertained, and it was life of the author + 50 years. Presumably to some degree he weighed the effort involved against the benefits he (and his heirs) might hope to receive under those terms.

I'm no fan of the protection of Mickey Mouse in perpetuity, but it strikes me that we, as a society, have a contract with Soloman: you spend the time and energy and whatever brilliance you have to produce a thing, and we guarantee you the right to profit from it — to whatever extent the market is willing to remunerate you — for a set amount of time. After which, it becomes public property.

I shouldn't keep harping on Soloman in particular — he was just a convenient example — but I bring individuals into this because the author is an individual. I'm biased: I work with authors, and it's a goddamned joy when I'm able to tell them that some old books that they retained/regained electronic publishing rights to are selling nicely at Apple/Amazon/B&N, and to then cut them a check for more than my salary's worth. I like authors. I want them to be able to put food on the table, pay their mortgage, afford healthcare, send their kids to college, buy new computers and take vacations to nice places. Maybe they'll write more books, and I'll enjoy them. Maybe they'll write shitty books and I won't enjoy them but someone else will. Maybe they won't write anything ever again, but they'll have earned a just reward for taking a chance on their own creativity.

This is all a tremendous derail from the topic at hand, mind you. I really just wanted to point up that "liberating" a book from the shackles of a publisher is also an act against its author, to whom a back catalog is very much like an investment portfolio.

Please, let's carry on excoriating HarperCollins and by extension, Rupert Murdoch.
posted by mumkin at 10:33 AM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


I like authors. I want them to be able to... afford healthcare, send their kids to college...

Tell the to move to Canada.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:38 AM on February 26, 2011


"For example, if the turnaround time on ebooks is much shorter, then libraries require fewer books. If ebooks never wear out, libraries require fewer books."

HarperCollins has bought into the Broken Window Fallacy, where breaking windows means more work for glaziers. By breaking their books, they increase the ultimate cost of the books and actually decrease the number of books that a library can buy.

The other general problem is that as publishers inflict this short-sighted thinking on libraries (one of the consequences of the late 20th century shift of publishing houses from being prestige businesses to media conglomerates beholden to shareholders), there's no countervailing force available outside of government regulation.
posted by klangklangston at 10:41 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


jscalzi writes "Because there's already finely-honed system in place for distributing the income equitably to all the people engaged in the process, which will perform this task better and more efficiently than I ever could given my knowledge and time constraints. It's called buying the book."

If publishers were smart they'd leverage that machine to put a pay the author button on every one of their author's sites. Course they'd probably pay themselves and the author (does anyone else in the publishing chain get residuals?) but at least people who want to pay directly for ebooks acquired out of normal channels could.
posted by Mitheral at 10:41 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not mentioned yet is that Overdrive also want libraries to be more vigilent about who they allow to have borrowing privileges. In terms of not allowing people who don't live or work in the library's area to have access to their digital collections.
...
The other thing about libraries and ebooks is that the ebooks cannot be loaned via ILL
Of course not. That way, once you use up your allowed lends, you can't start trading for someone else's unused ones. I bet you can't transfer your titles and remaining lends to someone else, either. They probably have to buy a fresh one, right?
Overdrive is one of the most cost-effective models is that the ebooks cannot be loaned via ILL.
Heh heh heh. Excellent, Smithers. Once all the libraries become dependent on us and we essentially control the content of public reading, we can sell out to News Corp for a FORTUNE!
posted by ctmf at 10:49 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


This sort of activity makes me wonder how long it will be until the publishing industry resembles the music industry, in that the large, top-heavy corporate publishers will continue to scramble to keep a tighter grip on "their" properties while smaller independent publishers, who are more savvy w/r/t the new technology, offer a more open and flexible model that rewards the creative team more directly, and treats digital downloading as a means of promotion, rather than theft.

This is my thought, too. I also think we're going to see a bigger rise of self-publishing authors whose books do well/aren't terrible. There are a lot of authors turning that way now--people like Amanda Hocking and Neesha Meminger, whose second book was deemed "too quiet" by publishers after they released her first. I know the argument against self-publishing is usually quality control, but with a lower price point and easier distribution than ever before, I think that a broader base of fiction can really be competitive with mainstream books. And there's nothing stopping a self-published author from hiring a professional editor or cover designer--indeed, it seems like there might be a lot of opportunities for editors to make money that way.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:50 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Probably not cover designers though. Cover design seems like one of those legacy mechanics kept around from when cover meant jewel embossed leather or something. Basically, if I'm buying a paperback, most of the time the cover may as well be black for all that I care. Possibly I'm in the minority though. Has anyone ever bought/not bought a book based on the cover? "Don't judge a book by its cover" is accepted wisdom at this point, yes?
posted by Peztopiary at 10:57 AM on February 26, 2011


It's only 9:40 in the morning, but this is the clubhouse leader in the Most Depressing Thing I Read On The Internet Today Tournament.

As the author of the article linked in the FPP, I am truly sorry to have depressed your day so early on, The Card Cheat.

That said, at some point we're going to have to hammer out a new lending model for libraries, as I'm told by librarians and publishers alike that the current model is untenable. As dispiriting as it's been to most of the librarians I know, at least this latest news may get folks on the same page in terms of what libraries can work with and what they can't.

There's still a pretty lively discussion going on via the #hcod twitter hashtag, where Librarian Bobbi Newman and a number of others have been stellar in keeping that discussion going; see Bobbi's roundup for pretty much the whole shebang.

I also want to point out that, to their credit, HarperCollins is engaging in this via @HarperCollins and elsewhere: "We're reading your posts & listening to our authors. If you want to share longer thoughts w us, email library.ebook@harpercollins.com #hcod"

Let me also add that while librarians are pretty pissed about this, and solidarity is wonderful, piracy is not going to help them solve their problems. Libraries are already too often lumped in with the same bunch that are feeding galleys through sheet scanners, and that doesn't help them make the case for making more titles available as ebooks. This is all a big tangle of thorny issues, and it looks like it's going to get uglier before it gets better. But let's not make it worse.
posted by Hadroed at 10:57 AM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Uh, yeah, covers are still important. Cover design has a huge and palpable impact on sales. It's not unusual at all to see reviews that coo about pretty covers but complain that the content didn't live up to the pretty design.

A really crappy cover on a self-pubbed book is often a pretty sure sign for really crappy content, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:59 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Probably not cover designers though. Cover design seems like one of those legacy mechanics kept around from when cover meant jewel embossed leather or something. Basically, if I'm buying a paperback, most of the time the cover may as well be black for all that I care. Possibly I'm in the minority though. Has anyone ever bought/not bought a book based on the cover? "Don't judge a book by its cover" is accepted wisdom at this point, yes?

Bright coloured books are picked up more often. There is a *lot* of sales research relating to this. Aside from that, I'd note that Bloomsbury felt the need to specifically produce alternate adult covers for the entire Harry Potter series, so I would presume that the sales impact of that produced a good ROI (and this would be purely down to aesthetics, obviously).
posted by jaduncan at 11:02 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mitheral:

"If publishers were smart they'd leverage that machine to put a pay the author button on every one of their author's sites."

The thought of any of my publishers attempting to tell me what to do with my own personal site fills me with a deep and abiding amusement. Publishers buy books from authors; they don't run their lives.

Peztopiary:

"'Don't judge a book by its cover' is accepted wisdom at this point, yes?"

No. People judge books by their covers all the time; very few people ultimately buy books because of their covers, but they will pick them up in a bookstore because of them, and getting someone to pick up the book greatly increases that book's chance of being sold.

Beyond that the consumer is only one audience for the book cover; the other audience is the booksellers. The covers to my "Old Man's War" series of books have the same artist (John Harris) as those of Orson Scott Card's Ender series. The reason they do is because it was part of my publisher signaling to booksellers that it felt the books had a similar audience and sales potential. It makes a difference in how booksellers treat the books.

And contrary to some expectations book cover art is still important in the electronic age -- that cover art helps book blogs and sites put a visual to their reviews and features, and still do the work covers are designed to do: Make people interested in learning more about the book. On my own site I run a book feature called "The Big Idea" in which authors talk about their new works, and there's generally not a single comment thread in which the cover art isn't mentioned in some way.
posted by jscalzi at 11:07 AM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


> As the author of the article linked in the FPP, I am truly sorry to have depressed your day so early on, The Card Cheat.

Don't sweat it...I was actually talking about this.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:10 AM on February 26, 2011


I stand corrected. I guess I can see it for the self-published stuff, because if it's an awful cover then presumably they haven't shown the book to many people because otherwise someone would have pointed out that the dragontaur and the centidragon are sort of looking confused as to why they are at a tea party while a spaceship shoots at them. The idea that covers are mentioned in book reviews as something to live up to sort of astounds me though.
posted by Peztopiary at 11:11 AM on February 26, 2011


Has anyone ever bought/not bought a book based on the cover?
posted by Peztopiary at 12:57 PM on February 26


I have, and what's more, I've done it for books I bought for my Kindle, where I can't even see the cover design after purchasing the book. I'd probably read this book and I'd probably pass over this one. Yeah, it's the same book. But one cover says, "this is an unflinching literary work you'll probably enjoy" while the other says "this is soft-focus women's lit that will bore you silly and possibly talk down to you." If I haven't already read an author, and I don't have a recommendation to go by, and I'm just browsing, of course I'm going to pick up the books with the interest covers to look inside and see if the first page and a random page in the middle look good.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:14 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


This isn't as unlikely as it seems. Ball bearings in the hammer could be arranged, via electromagnetism, to configurations which either take away much of the force of the blow or leave it somehow off-center, or a dead-on impact. Ubiquitous wireless access will finally mean that microtransactions are more feasible. Press your fob against the hammer and, once your account has been verified, we will rearrange the bearings in the hammerhead to give you a better swing. A penny per swing.

At this point, the only hard part would be getting the existing hammers out of circulation.


At this point, I will make and sell people non-stupid hammers.
posted by jaduncan at 11:15 AM on February 26, 2011


Speaking as a librarian, I'm particularly concerned/interested in seeing how this situation is read outside of the librarian community. We're a chatty, cantankerous bunch, but there is definitely something of an echo chamber in our discussions. (We even have a hashtag - #echolib - which..we use to discuss our failure to break out of the echo chamber among ourselves. But I digress.)

I'm also interested in knowing how the authors feel about this. I doubt this decision went through with their knowledge. Many authors credit libraries for playing a part in their ongoing success. Any policy that makes it harder for librarians to put books in reader's hands puts an author's ongoing popularity at risk.

Take a look at the list of HarperCollins authors, and see about contacting one of your favorites. If they respond, please post it here. We are attempting to document the response, and show that it's not just librarians who have a stake in this.
posted by theanalogdivide at 11:15 AM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Awesome to have you here, theanalogdivide; I was just reading your tweets and blog post on this. Welcome to mefi!
posted by jaduncan at 11:16 AM on February 26, 2011


How about US libraries just kicks back a residual to writer and publisher every time the ebook is lent until copyright runs out?
posted by IndigoJones at 11:27 AM on February 26, 2011


Ok, publishers are fucked up. But once again, the people who are really going to get screwed are the writers.

Yeah, yeah... more special pleading from the buggy-whip manufacturers.

If the writers don't approve of the publishers screwing people in this way, they can either choose to work with ethical publishers, or to self-publish. But as long as they're continuing to collaborate with Murdoch and his ilk, they're part of the problem rather than part of the solution, so fuck them as well.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:27 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you are aware, maybe you should conserve your libraries resources for other patrons by checking these sites [Project Gutenberg et al] first.

Don't libraries get their funding based on the number of books checked out?
posted by winna at 12:32 PM on February 26, 2011


To expand upon the music/DRM/industry-killing-downloads analogy that some have brought up here (sorry if it's too much of a derail)...

I wonder whether all this will come down to a question of home cooking versus restaurants. We all know it's cheaper and healthier to eat at home than at restaurants, but we often choose the more expensive, less healthy option, because sometimes we're interested in something other than cost-efficiency and healthiness--the experience, the convenience, the environment, or whatever. Restaurants are certainly sensitive to the economies in which they operate, and they go out of business all the time, but in general, the notion of "a place one goes to spend more money for lesser-quality food" has persisted almost universally and for a long time.

So it is, for me at least, with books, CDs, and DVDs. Sure, I could (and do) borrow, rent, or download any of them, for free or cheaply, but I still buy them new too, pretty regularly, for a different set of reasons. Maybe it's just good consumerist indoctrination, but sometimes I just want, in spite of the high markup, the "real item."

Now, I realize that the non-retail channels for getting these items (including library loaning, pirated downloads, etc.) has had a hee-yuge negative impact on retail sales. But maybe the media companies are selling the wrong thing? If the dissemination of media files is too hard to control, is it smarter to just turn that product into advertising for something that can't be copied and disseminated so easily?

The "secondary" product under such a model could be related to its "advertisement" (e.g., tours and merchandise replace song files as the product), or not related at all (free song files include ads for lawnmowers). It surprises me that in the age of such huge media consolidation, where media companies have so much shit to sell, that they haven't explored this option more aggressively.

Not mind-blowing, original ideas, I'm sure... but I wonder if we'll ever see ebooks being offered free as "advertising" for hard-copies, author visits, e-readers, and such. Path of least resistance and all that.
posted by Rykey at 12:37 PM on February 26, 2011


PeterMcDermott:

Yes, fuck the writers, because as we all know the executives at HarperCollins who thought up this little plan did so only after extensively polling their writers and asking for their vote to approve the initiative, and would not have moved forward without the full-throated support of every single writer with whom they have a contract. There is no doubt at all that none of this comes as a surprise to any of Harper Collins' writers, or that any of them might feel dismay at the decision.

And if they did, the only reasonable option for those writers with Harper Collins contracts who might disagree with this corporate policy which they were obviously consulted on would be to leave Harper Collins, even though in the case of many of these -- the ones with multi-book contracts -- doing so leaves them legally vulnerable and unable to publish similar work with other publishers either because there's a contractual bar against selling similar works elsewhere if the HC contract is unfulfilled, or because HC has first right of refusal on their next works. Sure, leaving HC in violation of a contract means that the authors will likely have thousands of dollars in legal fees if they try to sell their work elsewhere, but the authors should have thought of that before they approved Harper Collins' library strategy for electronic books, shouldn't've they?

Likewise, self-publishing is a perfectly reasonable alternative to having a publisher, because as we all know, all authors are rich and will be able to pay for professional editing, copy-editing, proofing and book design, cover art, printing and distribution (the latter which of course will include assuring booksellers that they can return unsold books, because otherwise they won't carry the books) -- and if they can't afford it, who cares? Because book readers don't care about any of that, and will be happy to track down an author to see if he or she has written something new, instead of looking for it in a bookstore. Their author sense will tingle and they will know something new had been written.

Yes, yes. Fuck the writers, and their complicity in this strategy. Because this is clearly all their fault.
posted by jscalzi at 1:09 PM on February 26, 2011 [15 favorites]


Not mind-blowing, original ideas, I'm sure... but I wonder if we'll ever see ebooks being offered free as "advertising" for hard-copies, author visits, e-readers, and such. Path of least resistance and all that.

We're already seeing it with the rise of CC licensing and the like. Cory Doctorow, e.g., is doing quite well.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:18 PM on February 26, 2011


Likewise, self-publishing is a perfectly reasonable alternative to having a publisher, because as we all know, all authors are rich and will be able to pay for professional editing, copy-editing, proofing and book design, cover art, printing and distribution (the latter which of course will include assuring booksellers that they can return unsold books, because otherwise they won't carry the books) -- and if they can't afford it, who cares? Because book readers don't care about any of that, and will be happy to track down an author to see if he or she has written something new, instead of looking for it in a bookstore. Their author sense will tingle and they will know something new had been written.

You know, it's only recently since I've started to see any virtue--or, indeed, any viability at all--in self-publishing models. The shift for me has largely come from owning an eReader, and taking note of my own impulse buying habits. Which usually consist of going to B&N's nookbook website and browsing their under $5 selections. While there are occasional sale titles from the big-6 publishers there, I'm much more likely to find self-published eBooks. A quick perusal of reviews usually tells me whether or not they're worth buying.

I don't know that wealth is really a necessity for self-publishing success. The aforementioned Amanda Hocking designed her own covers using basic photoshop skills and didn't hire an editor (though now she says she might, since she's become more successful). Having bid on freelance sites for these kinds of editing jobs, the going rate is somewhere around $500 for a book. That's an investment, sure, but not a particularly onerous one (and I say that as a broke writer trying to make money off freelance editing!).

And I hate to say it, but all of the print and distribution concerns really are becoming more irrelevant. And I speak as someone who loves paper books. But ebook storefronts and easily accessible content means that I'm far more reluctant to put concerted effort or money into acquiring books, particularly paper books. If mainstream publishers aren't offering ebooks in my format of choice, on my ebook store of choice, for an affordable price, I'm just not as likely to buy from them.

And I say this all as someone who wants a mainstream publisher. My reader sense is telling me that things are changing. I'm not sure exactly what the outcome will be, but I don't know how long the old model is really going to survive.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:35 PM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


There's a new model in library acquisitions that may play a role here. It's called Patron Driven Acquisitions and it had the potential to change the very nature of what some libraries have done in the past. The way it works is publisher X (though more probably platform X) would load their entire catalog of titles into a libraries catalog, as if all those books were available through the library, but a purchase of any of that content would be dependent on how much of the content a patron used. If the patron went more than two pages in either direction, it would trigger a purchase. Or if the patron read that book for more than five minutes, it might trigger a purchase. The point in an age of the alarmingly shrinking of acquisitions budgets is that a library never buys an ebook book unless they know they have a user who wants it. This model is poised to become the largest trend every to hit libraries, and it will further distance libraries and the communities they serve from ownership of the content they can provide. It makes perfect sense on some levels, it provides greater access to a larger number of titles, but we should all be concerned that library collections are about to allow popularity to become the largest factor in the development of their collections. There is also the possibility that attempts will be made to game the system, so that political agendas are supported by campaigns to spend the entirety of library budgets on books that support only one side of any particular issue. Experiments are being done all over the country, and it has publishers very concerned. The amount of money that used to be spent on curation and intelligent collection building which filled a library with "just in case" books, will now be replaced by collections that won't be known for their completeness or any particular focus, but instead for being a reflection of what is popular in a community.

I think that combined with what I linked to above, the new concern among publishers that ebook sales may not actually fall under the sales royalties portion of an author contract, where an author typically receives 10- 20% in royalties, but instead as more under the license portion of an author contract, where the author receives typically an even split of revenues. Publishers have realized that in that environment, they may only be able to afford to publish what is known to be popular, and for a lot less of a share of the income. You can hate Harper Collins, and I join you in your distaste for Mr. Murdoch, but this is really only the first shot in a war no one is likely to win, and which will not serve books, writers, or readers well.

By the way, I linked to the discussion about ebook revenues being licensing revenues where I read about it, The Scholarly Kitchen, but the question was first raised by Mike Shatzkin on his great blog, The Shatzkin Files.

If you want to learn more about Patron Driven Acquisitions, these slides from a presentation given at last year's Association of American University Presses conference makes a great economic case for the model. This survey looks at how quickly the model is being adopted. You can also read about on Eric Hellman's very thoughtful blog.

I think it's these two factors that have publishers panicking more than greed. Publishing has long worked on the 80/20 model. 20% of the books earn enough to take a risk on the other 80%. Under these conditions, where library sales aren't supporting that risk, and revenues are split evenly with the author, publishers will stop taking risks. It's likely to lead to more self-publishing but it's also likely to close small publishers first, and what ever you think about publishing, that's probably not good for books.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:43 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


That said, at some point we're going to have to hammer out a new lending model for libraries, as I'm told by librarians and publishers alike that the current model is untenable.

What is untenable about the library system?

Don't judge a book by its cover' is accepted wisdom at this point, yes?

I regularly pick up books in bookstores to decide whether I should buy them because the title or cover are interesting, and ignore others because of their titles and covers. They have a lot of useful signaling info, covers, though of course I have liked many books despite bad covers, or disliked other books despite good covers. If I read a book by someone and liked it, but did not keep the book in mind, similar cover art will probably remind me that I liked that author last time. I can know if a book is romance, or paranormal romance, or urban fantasy without romance, or history, or thriller, or cosy mystery, etc etc, based on a cover, and this is useful information for me.

Covers are not my only or even primary way of choosing books, but when browsing in a bookstore, an interesting cover or title is about 99% of the reason I will pick up a book I have never heard of before.
posted by jeather at 1:47 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


While eBooks will remain as a concept, and will no doubt thrive in many different ways, I don't think there's much of a future for the commercial eBook that's put out by publishers and sold in stores. They're going to keep raising the prices and imposing more and more restrictions until consumers stop buying and the market crashes. Then they'll have to rebuild the eBook market with a new sales model. Maybe we'll see the real future of publishing in five years or so, but I don't think it's here yet.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:57 PM on February 26, 2011


OhoBWanKenobi:

"And I hate to say it, but all of the print and distribution concerns really are becoming more irrelevant."

Well, they're becoming more irrelevant to you; it's not the same as saying they're becoming more irrelevant. Even in an electronic age some people will want print books.

Beyond this, regardless of whether or not print/distribution issues are becoming irrelevant, here in 2011, they are still highly relevant, and therefore of no little concern to those of selling books now.

It's nice for Amanda Hocking that she has a decent esthetic sense so her covers don't look like hell, but one should be careful not to conflate her specific case to a general argument. Likewise, the "$500 is not much for editing" argument is not necessarily one to make when the average published fiction writer currently makes four figures for his/her work on an annual basis. I've self-published more than enough to know what publishing-grade editing/artwork/design costs, and I have to admit I'm flummoxed by the idea that outside specific personal projects it's somehow better for me to pay out of my pocket than to work with a publisher who handles all the production costs, will do them in a professional manner and will pay me up front besides.

This is one reason why I strongly suspect publishing will be around for a while; it's a good business arrangement for authors. Distribution/marketing will adapt to market conditions, as it has before; it's why it's still around now.
posted by jscalzi at 1:58 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


had has
alarmingly alarming
every ever

Some of my comments seem to beautifully illustrate the need for publishers.
posted by Toekneesan at 2:00 PM on February 26, 2011


Beyond this, regardless of whether or not print/distribution issues are becoming irrelevant, here in 2011, they are still highly relevant, and therefore of no little concern to those of selling books now.

"Becoming more irrelevant" does not, of course, mean "is now irrelevant"--but ebook sales are starting to outstrip print sales. That says something about the market desires of book buyers.

If you read more about Hocking's story, she's the first to admit that she's worked very hard at managing her self-publishing career, and she states pretty firmly that she believes she's had to work harder than those who have been successful through mainstream models. However, I also think her story reflects, well, something about the current difficulties a lot of authors face in getting their books out to the public. She queried a bunch of times and couldn't get an agent. This is part of the changing model of publishing, too; once you could sell a book without an agent, now, it's not-so-likely. Once, it was more feasible to sell "quiet" books like Jazz in Love; now publishers are quick to tell you that they want big sellers. And all of this in light of the fact that, as you say, writers make very little off their work. I can easily see why, for some writers, it's an attractive model, particularly when they stand to make more off individual sales, even when their books are selling for half as much.

Anyway, I wouldn't suggest that you, particularly, turn to self-publishing. But I do think that ebook storefronts at amazon and barnes and noble, with buyers who are more focused on obtaining content than a physical object (at an affordable price, too), is likely to lead to more authors turning to this model, particularly in today's publishing world, which can be difficult to break into.

(For what it's worth, I'll be frank about the reason I haven't turned to self-publishing personally: prestige and legitimacy. Self publishing still doesn't offer either of those, and it's unlikely to.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:11 PM on February 26, 2011


Thanks for the warm welcome, jaduncan. It's great to see that this is a topic people are passionate about.

I help manage my library's Overdrive collection, so I'd be happy to answer any questions people have regarding the logistics behind the service.

gjc: "How are e-books distributed by libraries? Some kind of file download, or do you actually take a library-owned kindle home? If it's a file download, how to they control copies?"

There are several different vendors that libraries partner with to facilitate borrowing and distribution of ebooks. Overdrive - the vendor specifically affected by the HarperCollins deal - uses Adobe Digital Editions DRM to process checkouts to individual patrons. Patrons download them, and they expire after a set lending period (typically between 7 and 21 days). This follows a checkout-per-purchase model, where each ebook we buy can only be checked out by one user at the same time. This has been referred to as the "pretend it's print" model, which is a fairly apt comparison.

Some libraries have Kindles, Nooks, or other e-readers with pre-loaded titles for patrons to check out. My library has a collection of 10 Sony Readers, for example, and every few months we take a look at the most popular titles and purchase additional licenses to load on the devices.

Other vendors - particularly academic or reference publishers - offer other models which allow multiple or unlimited simultaneous users to view eBooks on the computer. These can't be saved, and (currently) can't be read on a dedicated eReader. Safari Books is one such vendor, and their offerings (including the O'Reilly computer guides) tend to better suited to this practice. Most people aren't going to be reading HTML5 for Dummies cover-to-cover.

I'll take a look at the thread and see if there are other things I can clear up. Please drop me a line if you're jonesing for something specific.
posted by theanalogdivide at 2:50 PM on February 26, 2011


PhoBWanKenobi:

"but ebook sales are starting to outstrip print sales."

Meh. Amazon likes to tout that their Kindle books are outselling their print books, but Amazon is a single digit percentage of the overall book market and eBooks in a larger sense have only recently cracked into the double digits of the overall book market. They will have excellent growth, of course, so long as neither publishers nor hardware makers so anything stupid (heh, heh). But in this as everything it's useful to keep perspective.

"For what it's worth, I'll be frank about the reason I haven't turned to self-publishing personally: prestige and legitimacy. Self publishing still doesn't offer either of those, and it's unlikely to."

I've noted to folks before that in the short run at least, those best positioned to profit from self-publishing are those who have already built up a following in the traditionally-published market. It's sort of how Radiohead doesn't need a record label, but that's because Radiohead sold millions and grew millions of fans when they did have a one.

That said, in the long run there will be significant self-published success stories as well. The question for the author is which business model suits them best -- doing everything, or offloading production, et al to focus on writing.
posted by jscalzi at 2:53 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's sort of how Radiohead doesn't need a record label, but that's because Radiohead sold millions and grew millions of fans when they did have a one.

OTOH, Jonathan Coulton is doing all right without ever having had one. The long run might be closer than you think.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:25 PM on February 26, 2011


Amazon is a single digit percentage of the overall book market?

Can you point to where you're getting that? Are you talking dollars or units? Are you considering the used titles and POD? My boss recently noticed they were not our number two customer anymore. It was because he didn't include CreateSpace and Kindle numbers. When I added those they had actually gained market share in both dollars and units.

In '09 e-commerce represented 20% of retail book sales. And we're only beginning to discover how much libraries are using it. A university librarian shocked me by disclosing 14% of her budget was spent at Amazon. The impact isn't insignificant.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:28 PM on February 26, 2011


Found this great graphic on book statistics that some in this conversation might find interesting.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:21 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


ChurchHatesTucker:

"Jonathan Coulton is doing all right without ever having had one. The long run might be closer than you think."

The assertion was not that it was not possible for a motivated person to make a career without major label support, however. Likewise, and casting absolutely no aspersions on Jonathan, who is awesome (and who, to disclose, is a friend of mine, with whom I have discussed business before), there is rather a difference in scale between what JoCo is doing and what Radiohead does, business-wise. That's because (among other things) Radiohead had the advantages being with a major label gave them before they went out without a label.

Toekneesan:

"Can you point to where you're getting that?"

In my case it's a direct quote in conversation from an executive at Macmillan, who was in a position to have reliable knowledge of sales percentages.

This is not to suggest that Amazon isn't a highly significant sales channel; it is, and certainly in my case, because early on an outsized percentage of my sales came from Amazon and other online retailers. But the book retail ecosystem is pretty vast. A big moment in my sales life, for example, was the first time a book of mine was carried by Wal-Mart, which moves simply huge numbers of mass market paperbacks.
posted by jscalzi at 6:54 PM on February 26, 2011


If the patron went more than two pages in either direction, it would trigger a purchase. Or if the patron read that book for more than five minutes, it might trigger a purchase.

What a ridiculously silly way to decide if a book should be purchased.
I'll often read more than two pages in an actual, physical book, then put it back on the shelf.
Seems like a recipe for a lot of purchased, unwanted books (which, I suppose, is good for the publishers, but seems a bad bet for libraries)

The amount of money that used to be spent on curation and intelligent collection building which filled a library with "just in case" books, will now be replaced by collections that won't be known for their completeness or any particular focus, but instead for being a reflection of what is popular in a community.

I suppose from a grand "libraries are the bedrock culture of a community" sense this is a bad thing, but from a purely practical "we want people to come to the library" sense, it seems a better way to purchase things.
posted by madajb at 7:05 PM on February 26, 2011


You know how whenever there is a copyright debate on this site I usually say "It is the publisher's right to make this mistake"? This is when I say that.

But the comment about pay-per-swing hammers is dead-on. It is seeming that we don't get to own too much any more.
posted by andreaazure at 7:31 PM on February 26, 2011


... there is rather a difference in scale between what JoCo is doing and what Radiohead does, business-wise.

To be sure, but Radiohead benefited from a lot of things that are changing or have changed since their debut: physical media, MTV, payolla, etc. Those all required a major label at the time, but they either no longer do or are no longer an option.

I think what we're seeing in the music industry is that more people are able to do well enough to keep going, and probably fewer of the superstars that traditionally fueled the whole shebang. I suspect we're going to see a similar leveling influence on the publishing industry.

I still think labels and publishers have a place, for reasons you already pointed out, but they're going to have to change the way they conceive of themselves. Instead they seem to be trying to preserve the scarcity of media in a digital age, while also taking advantage of the benefits of a digital age. That's not going to work out well. The question is whom it ends up not working out well for.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:40 PM on February 26, 2011


jscalzi writes "The thought of any of my publishers attempting to tell me what to do with my own personal site fills me with a deep and abiding amusement. Publishers buy books from authors; they don't run their lives."

I wasn't thinking it would be mandatory, just an offer from people who are good at organizing money stuff to people who might not be.

At any rate if people who have decided not to buy an author's book want to give the author money and the author won't collect it themselves or farm it out then that money isn't going to change hands. Nothing wrong with that and the revenue might be less than the cost of implementation and support anyways.
posted by Mitheral at 10:33 PM on February 26, 2011


jscalzi Yes, fuck the writers, because as we all know the executives at HarperCollins who thought up this little plan did so only after extensively polling their writers and asking for their vote to approve the initiative, and would not have moved forward without the full-throated support of every single writer with whom they have a contract. There is no doubt at all that none of this comes as a surprise to any of Harper Collins' writers, or that any of them might feel dismay at the decision.
Have you got anything to back this up?
There's a question upthread directly asking what HC author reaction is, by asking people to ask them directly and post the result.
posted by adamvasco at 3:12 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do writers get to see a cent of the money from this Overdrive thing anyway? We're comparing this with the music industry a lot in this thread, and a lot of musicians have found that their contracts with the labels don't give them any revenue from streaming services, ringtone downloads, or music sold on a subscription basis. Physical product only.

It's clear that Harper Collins is making a distinction between the sale of a physical book, and the sale of a limited license to use an ebook, and if I was an author I'd be looking at my contract to see if this was cutting me out of the loop.

I'm not saying this justifies copyright infringement, but it might well be that it's neutral with regard to the author's cashflow.
posted by nowonmai at 4:45 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think the issue is if authors are getting cut out of the loop. Yes they're getting cents, but should they be getting dollars? The issue is are we all pretending we're buying ebooks when we're actually only licensing them. If it's just a license, and we're pretending it's a sale, we're paying authors a fraction of what they are owed according to legacy contracts. They probably deserve half of the income, as is typical in the licensing portion of a contract, not the 10 to 20% of the sale in typical in the royalty section.

Harper Collins isn't the only company thinking about this and ways to respond. In the academic world, EBSCO, who recently bought NetLibrary, the largest US platform of commercial available digital humanities book content used by libraries, is proposing something very similar for that NetLibrary content. That we just come flat out and admit these are licenses. Costs have not yet lowered with the coming of the digital age, in fact they've increased as publishers, booksellers, and libraries now have two production and distribution streams, print and digital. Publishers also have the cost of digitizing their pre-1999 content. Unless they're comfortable with just pirates and Google having copies. Google doesn't share that copy with publishers, btw.

Consumers are demanding lower cost content and threatening piracy if it doesn't happen. Authors are beginning to question what part of their contract ebooks apply to, is it a sales percentage royalty or does it actual deserve a 50/50 split? And libraries are running out of stimulus money and are being forced to radically change their mission. The pressure is about to really be felt in the physical book market. If a court decides that ebooks can't be sold, that they are only licensed, publishers could also be responsible for back payments to authors for the difference between the licensing revenue and the fraction of that they already paid as a sales royalty. Money they didn't budget or price for. One of those two production and distribution streams is going to have to get cut, which one do you think will get cut?

It's also worth noting that if the Google Books Settlement is accepted and survives any further challenges, there's one more card to be played. Suddenly the largest collection of English language digital book content comes to town. And again, they have been couching the distribution of that content, to both libraries and publishers, in terms of licenses.

I've got to say though, that's what I find so fascinating about the NYPL partnering with the very same Overdrive on that bookselling project at the library's site. Further integration of a "sales" option into library catalogs may not be far. Borrow or buy. And with an Espresso Book Machine, libraries could also provide a borrow or buy option for physical books. And it kind of makes sense. Bookselling is of course commercial, and the service side of the library's mission may have trouble with that, but books aren't TVs or cars. Booksellers have much more in common with librarians than we might realize. I hope some libraries in this coming year and next consider those kinds of options, rather than closing. There's not a lot of money in bookselling, margins are low, but if given a choice, I'd much rather buy from a library than from Apple, Google, or Amazon. And if enough of us felt that way, imagine applying even a fraction of the revenue those companies get on every book transaction they touch, to your local library's budget.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:51 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


adamvasco:

"Have you got anything to back this up?"

It's possible you're missing the sarcasm involved in that statement.
posted by jscalzi at 7:39 AM on February 27, 2011


Ahh...sorry, I was wondering about that after I pushed the button; I'm obviously not quite as close to this as other people here are. So what can HC authors do apart from suck it up?
posted by adamvasco at 9:35 AM on February 27, 2011


Even in an electronic age some people will want print books.

Yeah, trust me, way more than *some* people still want print books.
posted by Rykey at 11:02 AM on February 27, 2011


One last little thought I had on the debate over which part of the contract an ebook fell under. If publishers sold ebook files without DRM, they wouldn't be platform dependent, and thus they really wouldn't really need a license, copyright already provides protection, the license is entirely an artifact of the platform and the DRM it supports. Consequently it seems they would get closer to the definition of a sale and then the lower percentage cut royalties would kick in again. Alanis, isn't that ironic?
posted by Toekneesan at 12:10 PM on February 27, 2011


Sorry, I'd comment, but I am too busy making the next release of FairHammer.
posted by Samizdata at 3:00 PM on February 27, 2011


What I always find interesting in discussions about piracy (of books, movies, music, games, whatever) is that no matter what set something off, the onus still always remains on the consumer to do the right thing. If a software house releases a game with crippling DRM, which is effectively a big "fuck you" to everybody even tangentially related to that game, it's still up to the consumer not to say "fuck you" back, but to take it quietly and gratefully. A mammoth corporate entity like HarperCollins starts pissing on you from a great height and you just shrug and say "Well, that's the way things are now, I guess"?

We have to do the "right thing" because so many others are involved in the production of a movie, book, game, album? Sure, we've evolved into a civilization where jobs are the most important thing on Earth, but honestly, in the big cycle of "fuck you" going on these days I'd rather say "fuck you" to the corporations screwing us all over than just let them bombard me with their own "fuck you" because I get "fuck you" from more than enough directions already, thanks very much. I guess this makes me a bad person but life is too short to take bullshit from a fucking building.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:12 PM on February 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


At some point we stopped being customers and started being consumers. Quit complaining; shut up and consume. How will you be paying for that?
posted by nowonmai at 4:01 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I always find interesting in discussions about piracy (of books, movies, music, games, whatever) is that no matter what set something off, the onus still always remains on the consumer to do the right thing.

That's begging the question a bit. You're assuming that the provider is somehow invariably not doing the right thing. Whatever that right thing might be.

It's commerce, and in this case, and the consumer holds the trump card. Take it or leave it. Or, in the case of media, pay or don't. We're not talking food water or shelter here, we're talking entertainment(*), and there're mountains of it around, most of it all but free, or pretty damn close. All you need is a little patience for that (book, music, movie, game) to get to a library or the remainder bins. To complain that even that isn't good enough, that we want it all but free and we want it now is frankly childish. And selfish. Which is pretty hard to own up to for most people.

I have to think in a lot of cases the outrage against business trying to run a business is necessary emotion to justify being frankly a leech. If that bastard Murdoch gets a cut, suddenly and magically it's okay to get really angry and, why not? Go pirate. Because I've been fucked with so very very much, I will now (read, watch, listen to) the latest (book, movie, song) and pay no one, because, dammit, I am just so fucking angry. Which, happily, obscures the shabbiness of my own leechiness. So what should be transaction agreeable and beneficial to both sides is suddenly a transaction agreeable and beneficial to only one side. And you want to feel self righteous.

I like low prices or free as much as the next guy, but occasionally you have to pay the pipers. And like it or not, in publishing as in all of life, some of those pipers are going to be right bastards.

But bottom line, this is a tempest in a teapot. I mean, come on, guys, how much is this proposal from Harper Collins really going to discommode you? Hell, other publishers don't sell ebooks to libraries at all. I have here and elsewhere suggested that publisher and writers get a small kickback every time a book is taken out from a library, as is done in countries more civilized than America. Ebooks seem ideally suited for this kind of scheme. All that remains to decide is the price.

And "Free" is not a price.

(*) Spare me for now the arguments about overpriced textbooks, that gets into the education racket which is whole other rant.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:58 PM on February 27, 2011


That's begging the question a bit. You're assuming that the provider is somehow invariably not doing the right thing. Whatever that right thing might be.

You have a good point. I guess what I'm driving at is it seems that corporations can pretty much foist news terms of use on us without, as far as I can tell, much external policing, and the burden is upon the consumer/individual to rigorously adhere to whatever new rules the corporation has invented this week, and if they find a way to circumvent them, then they are certainly policed. Look at the recent(ish?) thing with Sony putting out some kind of update for the PS3 that actually removed features that were initially included with the already-paid-for hardware. I'm not comparing HC to Sony and am only peripherally aware of the PS3 thing so maybe I have it wrong, but my point is, who in power gives Corporation X a slap on the wrist when they do infuriating shit like that? Nobody. Yet here we all are, wagging fingers at one another for being pirates and criminals. It's the perfect system for a capitalist democracy (I mean that literally - the corporations get the say), who are the ones flushing the planet down the toilet.

But does this make piracy, or circumvention, a big "fuck you" to The Man? No, of course it doesn't. We want things for free. I admit to wanting things for free, but I think your use of the word "leech" is perhaps a little overwrought, and you have maybe made a few assumptions about me, for whatever reason, that you needn't have. Unless you too are talking in generalities, as I was. I certainly am not impacted in the slightest by anything to do with eBooks in any shape or form as I don't use them. My comment was more of an intellectual exhalation rather than a mantra around which I have folded my very existence, and my anger is directed at a culture that makes us feel bad about ourselves constantly, indeed makes us feel directly responsible, for all the ills in the world, when we haven't the slightest say in how any of it goes.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:36 PM on February 27, 2011


Not only is the distribution limited, the process Overdrive makes you go through is so medievallly complicated that it isn't even worth using. I'd rather pay the ten bucks to Amazon and call it good.
posted by mrfuga0 at 7:11 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not only is the distribution limited, the process Overdrive makes you go through is so medievallly complicated that it isn't even worth using. I'd rather pay the ten bucks to Amazon and call it good.

Agreed, the convolutions you have to go through to check out a DRMed ebook from OverDrive would make any UI designer weep, but to point out another interesting post by Eric Hellman, the inconvenience may be one of the "necessary" costs of library ebook checkouts. If it becomes too easy to borrow an ebook for free, publishers might push back even harder.

But that's probably OK. The fight is overdue.

If nothing else, I think this incident has become a wakeup call for librarians. It would not surprise me to find out that Harper Collins' initial proposal was even worse for libraries and their patrons and that OverDrive managed to tone it down a bit, but libraries shouldn't be solely at the mercy of the ebook distributors. We need to be out there advocating for free access to information and entertainment, and I think part of that needs to include opposing DRM. For example: the eBook User's Bill of Rights.
posted by metaquarry at 5:45 AM on March 1, 2011


I think that, if you have already bought a data object by legitimate means, any moral hazard associated with pirating another copy for yourself disappears. I do this often enough, because I run Linux, and when I try to get a Windows app working under Linux, the DRM often causes a great deal more trouble than anything else in the app.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:48 AM on March 1, 2011


Harper Collins responds.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:47 AM on March 2, 2011


Wow, that was about as much nothing as it's possible to cram into a page. I'm kind of impressed.
posted by OmieWise at 11:28 AM on March 2, 2011


Yup. I mean, seriously, what librarians could they have possibly consulted to reach the conclusion, "this is a good idea"?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:36 AM on March 2, 2011


I liked how when he enumerates whom they consulted, he tellingly listed agents first. No, not authors—agents.
posted by Toekneesan at 2:55 PM on March 2, 2011


Fixed: Metaquarry's eBook User's Bill of Rights link.
posted by cashman at 7:08 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


And to bring over this from Toekneesan's link: "To continue the discussion please email library.ebook@HarperCollins.com"
posted by cashman at 7:10 PM on March 2, 2011


Here's a video librarians (damn librarians are awesome) in Norman, Oklahoma made and posted yesterday showing how books look at various checkout levels.

Since the video is kind of drawn out, I'll tell you that the books they look at have 48, 120, 25, 39 and 65 checkouts. Every single book is readable. Every book they show is fine. It's no secret Harper Collins is imposing a false constraint, but seeing the books themselves just makes it really clear. The same librarians have an open letter to Harper Collins, from Tuesday.
posted by cashman at 10:45 AM on March 3, 2011


Yup. I mean, seriously, what librarians could they have possibly consulted to reach the conclusion, "this is a good idea"?

That's simple - the ones that they paid a lot of money to for their agreement on the policy.

I'd be interested to see some numbers on current ebook checkout numbers at libraries - obviously they're only going to increase over time, but I can't imagine the numbers are huge right now.
posted by antifuse at 9:47 AM on March 4, 2011


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