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Not everybody is an expert on everything
February 10, 2007 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Don't Buy this Book! Seth Godin, author and marketing guru, has his book, Everyone is an Expert, for purchase on Amazon. The problem? He wrote it as an ebook in 2005, and it is downloadable for free. And it isn't even illegal, as it was licensed under a Creative Commons license that allows for for profit reproduction.
posted by zabuni (39 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm confused - where's the problem?
posted by kcds at 1:56 PM on February 10, 2007


Errr, legally, no problem.

The good Mr. Godin seems to be aghast that someone is taking his license at its word, and actually -gulp- making money.

It's the freewheeling collectivism of Creative Commons meeting the cold hard reality of capitalism.
posted by zabuni at 2:02 PM on February 10, 2007


The problem is, I guess, that he really didn't want it published and sold.
posted by hafetysazard at 2:02 PM on February 10, 2007


What's the issue?

"If you want to buy a copy, feel free... the issue isn't the royalties, it's that people are being willfully misled."

Seemed a fair enough self-criticism to me, and giving you fair warning to boot.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:09 PM on February 10, 2007


Screw that. Someone took some initiative and got it published. If people want to buy, then so be it.
posted by jeffamaphone at 2:12 PM on February 10, 2007


Given that quite a few people prefer dead tree books to e-books, it would seem that the publisher is in fact providing a useful service. The author may not have intended this result, but clearly he did authorize it with the license he chose.
posted by blue mustard at 2:14 PM on February 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


He also seems to be insinuating that they are violating trademark law though:

However, trademark law is really clear and there's no doubt in my mind that selling this as a new book with my name on it is not kosher.

Odd given that the license requires putting his name on the book, and that no where does the selling page mention that it's a "new" book in any other manner than it is not used.
posted by zabuni at 2:14 PM on February 10, 2007


This is exactly what should happen. If an idea gets wider distribution in the retail market than it got when freely available, it is simply an example of a Giffen good. It turns out, a lot of media work this way (music, movies, television series, etc.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:16 PM on February 10, 2007


OMG! They're not just doing it to no-name authors!
posted by TonyRobots at 2:25 PM on February 10, 2007


No results match your search for "Seth Godin Everyone’s An Expert on something" in Amazon.com.

I don't get it.
posted by dash_slot- at 2:37 PM on February 10, 2007


Hey, thanks for the Amazon link! Sounds interesting. I'll order it.

;)
posted by katillathehun at 2:51 PM on February 10, 2007


OMG! They're not just doing it to no-name authors!
posted by TonyRobots at 2:25 PM PST on February 10


That is a qualified assload of Peguin Classics.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:51 PM on February 10, 2007


He can probably just revoke the create commons licence, or inform Amazon that it doesn't apply to them. People take these open licences much too seriously.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:55 PM on February 10, 2007


He can probably just revoke the create commons licence...

Lessig has explicitly mentioned that the Creative Commons licenses are irrevocable, and although I can't find his comments right now, that view is supported by the grant of a perpetual license by the Licenses themselves.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 3:00 PM on February 10, 2007


Yeah, I just read the relevant CC licence and it does sort of contain an undertaking not to revoke, although it could be worded a lot more clearly. I was thinking of the GPL (which is probably revocable).

If he told them he was revoking it and issued a takedown notice, though, I'm not sure what they could do about it. The answer is going to differ a lot between jurisdictions.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:09 PM on February 10, 2007


It's his stupidity for accepting the brainded CC license without thinking about the consequences. IMO CC are doing much more harm than good by their stubborn insistence on writing every term to encourage the release of information. I've written several times that they need a "no print distribution" license, and I wrote such a clause for my own book. But that wouldn't fit their philosophical framework apparently. And this sort of thing is the inevitable result.

Nobody in their right mind should ever license their work for for-profit distribution without a compensation mechanism. That's not giving your work to the public, it's giving your work to the first SOB smart enough to rip you off.

It's easy enough to write a license that allows personal use and limited distribution restricted to certain formats. If you give your work away, at least keep some tabs on who you're giving it to, mmmkay?
posted by localroger at 3:10 PM on February 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


it is simply an example of a Giffen good

IANAE, but is it? I believe the good offered at Amazon is an actual, physical book, whereas the free version is just a file.
posted by Opposite George at 3:13 PM on February 10, 2007


A Thousand Baited Hooks, the GPL is widely considered to be irrevocable: I can't release software with a GPL notice attached today, and then forbid someone from redistributing it in accordance with the GPL tomorrow. This is an important characteristic for a Free Software license, as stated by the Debian free Software Guidelines "Tentacles of Evil" test:
Imagine that the author is hired by a large evil corporation and, now in their thrall, attempts to do the worst to the users of the program: to make their lives miserable, to make them stop using the program, to expose them to legal liability, to make the program non-free, to discover their secrets, etc. The same can happen to a corporation bought out by a larger corporation bent on destroying free software in order to maintain its monopoly and extend its evil empire. The license cannot allow even the author to take away the required freedoms!
posted by jepler at 3:32 PM on February 10, 2007


My favorite part of this is the logo of BN Publishing, which contains the catchy slogan "Improving People's Life". Something tells me the company does not employ an in-house editor.
posted by medialyte at 3:42 PM on February 10, 2007


The GPL certainly is widely considered to be irrevocable, but I've never read a legal argument which explains why it is (just arguments like the Debian one which explain why it should be). It's not a contract, there is no payment so equity won't become involved, and it doesn't contain an undertaking by the licensor not to revoke it. I don't know why it doesn't have such an undertaking, but it doesn't. The CC licence does have one, but it's pretty weakly worded and I for one wouldn't be advising anybody to rely on it.

I only know about Australia, though, and this is going to differ a lot between jurisdictions.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:49 PM on February 10, 2007


I've been very loud in my support for copyright reform and my opposition to copyright abuse in the past, but even I don't see any problem with this. The publisher isn't stealing Godin's work, it's just turning his electronic text into a physical book and profiting from that value-added service. Why shouldn't they? If Godin doesn't like it, he has every right to find a printer and sell his own physical copies at an undercutting price.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:04 PM on February 10, 2007


wow, I thought the cc license had specifically stated that no for-profit distribution was allowed, but any free distribution was. That had made a lot more sense to my mind. now I have to wonder about the cc license.
posted by shmegegge at 4:04 PM on February 10, 2007


There are multiple CC licenses, shmegegge, some of which allow for-profit transformation and distribution and some of which do not. Godin chose one that happened to allow that kind of distribution, which makes his complaints seem kind of whiny.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:12 PM on February 10, 2007


No one, apparently, reads the licenses. This is so obvious if you have...
posted by phrontist at 4:24 PM on February 10, 2007


thanks, monju. that clears things up for me. Is the for-profit transformation and distribution the kind of thing that requires the consent of the author, or some share of profits, or is it the kind of thing where (and this seems to be what I'm reading, here) anyone can take it and sell it for money without including him so long as they put his name on it?
posted by shmegegge at 5:06 PM on February 10, 2007


Wow, Godin got owned by himself. Brilliant.
posted by dhammond at 5:06 PM on February 10, 2007


I believe the good offered at Amazon is an actual, physical book, whereas the free version is just a file.

Well, you'd want to determine whether what buyers were purchasing was a physical item or the ideas within it. Since bound pages can be purchased by the yard at estate sales for cheaper prices than Amazon's, I think it's safe to say that buyers are not simply paying for paper. They -may- be paying to have the words printed, though. (I'm not sure how much that would cost at Kinkos, but it's probably comparable.) I'm mostly just pointing to the fact that some things are more valuable to us when we have to pay for them. This book... okay, probably not very valuable. :-)
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:13 PM on February 10, 2007


They -may- be paying to have the words printed, though.

Bingo. That and the fact that many (most?) of the Amazon buyers probably aren't aware that the ideas are available for free make it tough to say that the ideas themselves constitute a Giffen Good. I think you may have a better case for calling the book a Veblen good.

But that's just niggling over (possibly empirically-questionable) theory. As for the book's perceived value being an increasing value of price, we're totally in agreement.
posted by Opposite George at 6:43 PM on February 10, 2007


I was at a conference where Seth Godin spoke a few weeks ago, and his take on the purchase of books is that they are a 'souvenir' of the ideas presented for free in ebook form. I think that makes sense, as there are many texts I find worth paying for even though I could get them through Gutenberg for free.

I guess he assumes you already know his whole deal is free distribution...?
posted by laurareg at 6:46 PM on February 10, 2007


It's not a Veblen good.

Veblen goods are goods that people are more inclined to buy because of their premium price, when there's no rational reason to purchase them otherwise.

Noka chocolate is a Veblen good. (Via MeFi)
posted by Alt F4 at 7:25 PM on February 10, 2007


I call "Godin" on this post.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:00 PM on February 10, 2007


In other news, businessman in telephone booth takes quarter left in slot.
posted by Jairus at 8:30 PM on February 10, 2007


There are multiple CC licenses, shmegegge, some of which allow for-profit transformation and distribution and some of which do not. Godin chose one that happened to allow that kind of distribution, which makes his complaints seem kind of whiny.

Thank you! People came close earlier, but monju nailed it. He picked the wrong license. if he didn't want it distributed for profit. It's that simple. It's the first choice. I didn't read the PDF, so I don't know when it was written, but it still seems like simple human error. Unfortunate? Yes. Unfair? No.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:25 AM on February 11, 2007


According to the Amazon product page, it's currently ranked #545 for books, even thought it only shows up on the third page of search results for "seth godin." Seems like someone who is supposed to be so marketing savvy would be more attuned to protecting his brand.
posted by camcgee at 11:14 AM on February 11, 2007


New York Times: Don’t Buy My Book, Just Read It

The article mentions this MetaFilter thread: "Nevertheless, some bloggers and commentators jumped all over Mr. Godin, who ran the online marketing agency Yoyodyne, which Yahoo purchased in 1998. The group blog Metafilter was the source of much of the criticism."
posted by ericb at 1:03 PM on February 17, 2007


MeTa.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:39 PM on February 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Apparently there's a lot less thinking going on in Godin's cue-ball head than he would like us to think.

This is great. What a moron.
posted by jayder at 2:31 PM on February 17, 2007


Since the thread is still open, I'll just note this MeTa thread that pointed out the New York Times column based on, and quoting directly from, this thread.
posted by WCityMike at 7:59 AM on February 21, 2007


ThePinkSuperhero pointed that MetA thread which he/she pointed out two posts upthread.
posted by ericb at 9:01 AM on February 21, 2007


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