Writers: You Can’t Have ALL The Money

No one can.


I thought the Authors Guild were a pack of eejits. It turns out some of my fellow unaffiliated writers are too.

There is a shitstorm still flying over writers learning that — gasp! — more than one person can read an eBook. OMFGZ!!!!111one1

From the New York Times yesterday:

Shayna Englin, a political consultant in Washington who purchased a Kindle this year, also says she reads more than ever: a book a week, about three times her old pace.

But she has actually never paid for an e-book. Exploiting a loophole in Amazon’s system, Ms. Englin has linked her Kindle to the Amazon account of some nearby friends, allowing all of them to read books like “The Lost Symbol” at the same time — while paying for them only once.

This is news only to those who have no idea … well, about anything, it seems.

I knew such sharing was permitted well before I mentioned it last year:

And for those publishers — of any thing, be it game or eBook or music — check your contract with the eStore selling your goods. You are likely to find that you are not making money on every copy to begin with. The iTunes Store and Sony’s eBook Store allow one copy to be installed on more than one device. This means, for instance, that one copy can be shared by up to five people in the real world. So get those dreams of every copy equaling full retail price out of your head. That’s not happening in your contract! Your retail price is already being divided by up to a fifth — legally, and you agreed to that!

Italic emphasis in original

A book is not a movie or a play or a concert, where every single person has to pay what’s basically an entry fee in order to experience it.

Stop being stupid.

I’ve gone to the Strand Bookstore in New York City and wound up buying copies that book reviewers sold unread. I know they were unread because the damned press release was still stuffed inside them!

You can argue those are promotional copies covered in the marketing budget — but hey, I’m reading the book and you’re not making money. And if I sell or give away that book — you’re not making money again. Over and over and over again.

This is how the real world works.

I buy a DVD. I invite friends over and they watch it for — gasp! — free!

Am I supposed to feel like a crook for doing that?

At the launch of the Sony Reader PRS-700, Steve Haber made a point of mentioning how a mother and daughter share one account while living in different states. One book is bought and both of them can read it. Imagine that!

Here he is repeating the sharing aspect in an official Sony podcast (download link at that page; UPDATE: Sony has not archived it, link now 404s). Let me transcribe some of it for you:

You could pick four friends [to share books with] as long as they’re on the same account and you’re comfortable that one of those folks in that [group has] the credit card on that account.

Go listen with your own ears. This is said within the first five minutes.

Has Steve Haber been encouraging piracy? He has not.

Allowing people to share one copy on up to five or even six devices is an acknowledgment of the major shortcomings of eBooks:

1) They cannot be resold
2) You can’t give them away
3) They use copy protection (Digital Rights Management)

And really, writers, stop it. I’m one of you. We’ve all done the same damned things:

1) Made Xerox copies of articles — even entire books
2) Shared music with friends on cassettes
3) Bought used books
4) Picked up a newspaper just thrown in the trash
5) Massaged the tax system for a bigger write-off

Some of you might have even snuck into movies and maybe even shoplifted.

And I’m not even going to mention what the hell we all download from the Internet, OK?

We’re no angels.

But those who are abiding by the Terms of Service for the iTunes Store, Kindle Store, Sony eBookstore, and other such places are blameless. They are the angels — because they have paid for your work.

Alienating your customers — your readers — is not going to prolong your career.

So stop this crap.

You’re sounding like amateurs.

You’re sounding like this moron.

Are we all on the same page now? I hope so.

Other wise words:

Readers Have Copyright Rights Too
Readers are not the enemy

Previously here and elsewhere:

Pay The Artist!
The Amanda Fucking Palmer Effect
Dying Dinosaurs Of Print: CHOOSE!
eBooks And Pricing: No Argument Now!
Writers Don’t Fear The Future: Publishers Do!

8 Responses to Writers: You Can’t Have ALL The Money

  1. Shayera says:

    Excellent point. Yesterday’s firestorm was completely unnecessary. People should have bothered to actually make sure they knew what they were talking about before flying so publicly off the handle.

  2. Cliff Burns says:

    On the mark as usual, Michael.

    Another thing that annoys me is when people proclaim that e-readers will never take off, they’re too expensive and only a few people can afford them. Exactly the same inane bullshit folks were spouting when VCRs and DVD players first came out–and the marketplace caused the prices to plummet in a remarkably short time. Now everyone has them.

    Keep pluggin’, pal, we’re listening…

  3. First, ebooks can be given away or resold–as long as the person doing so doesn’t retain a copy. At least, they can if they aren’t locked down with DRM. At this time, they can’t be loaned legally except by libraries, but few authors I know, myself included, balk at someone sharing a book with a couple of friends. Emphasis on “couple of.”

    Independent ebook publishers have never used DRM, unless required to do so by a vendor. With one, maybe two exceptions, these are small to medium-sized companies who survive on ebook sales. Not ebook sales used to supplement print sales, but the reverse. Their prices are low–small mass market paperback or less. In fact, they’re sufficiently low that being able to publish a steady stream of new titles every month is basic to their survival.

    So, let’s be clear that what applies to the major mainstream publishers doesn’t cover all the ebook industry. And that lost sales, for that other part, really does matter to those who are the pioneers of the ebook industry.

    You’re quite correct that the terms of service for the current readers left a huge loophole we should have paid more attention to. I suspect most of us simply never considered the possibility of one person letting a half-dozen other people access their account because we wouldn’t think of doing so. For us, allowing one book to be loaded onto multiple devices implied those devices would belong to one person and/or immediate family members. Our bad.

    However, having a few friends over to watch a DVD isn’t close to the same as making each one of them a copy of that DVD to take home and watch. Nor is a reference to the sale of review copies relevant. And reducing the issue to author greed is offensive, frankly, because while money is certainly a factor it’s not the most important reason why this subject matters.

    The most important factor is ensuring the differences between ebooks and print books remain clear, and the biggest difference between them is that lending an ebook means making a copy. And making copies without either the permission of the person who owns the material you’re copying or without compensating that person if compensation is in order is–sorry–copyright infringement.

    If you went into a bookstore and purchased a copy of something, would they let you toss five more copies into the bag to share with your friends? How is that any different from one person buying a copy of an ebook then letting five other people share it ALL AT THE SAME TIME?

    Because, see that’s the issue. Not that six people not related to the buyer could access the book but that up to six COPIES of that book may have been in existence, for the price of one all, at the same time. Just as if the original buyer had taken a paperback and made five photocopies.

    It’s the COPYING that’s the problem, not giving them away or whatever. And if we allow the excuse that by copying “I’m doing the author a favor by introducing them to new readers,” we’re failing to educate people why that difference between ebooks and print books matters.

    As for not being able to resell or trade or give away, that may be true for the locked-up stuff from mainstream publishers, but those indies I mentioned don’t care what you do with your ebooks as long as YOUR copy is deleted when you give it to someone else. We only object to them being uploaded to the true pirate sites.

    Yes, it would be lovely to be able to lend a favorite ebook to a friend, and Barnes & Noble has done a great service by introducing a way to to it. Hopefully, the rest will find a way to do likewise–the technology is there and has been for years. Whether the major publishers will cooperate is another matter, and outside the discussion. We indies, however, are open to anything that will allow our readers as much freedom to do with their purchases as they wish so long as it doesn’t deprive our authors of the compensation they deserve.

    Do I need to mention the old saw about letting the camel stick it’s nose in the tent?

  4. mikecane says:

    >>>And making copies without either the permission of the person who owns the material you’re copying or without compensating that person if compensation is in order is–sorry–copyright infringement.

    No. The publishers agreed. But did they ever tell the writers? And as I’ve written above, no one call have ALL the money.

  5. […] shouty about eReading, but it’s usually because he usually has a good point to make on his site. Here he points out the absurd tangles everyone is getting themselves into over how many people can […]

  6. DS says:

    I arrived here following your post on Dearauthor.com about the Asus ebook reader. I’ve an eye out for that one myself.

    But this also caught me eye. As of yesterday (10/24) the fuss had flared up again on Jane’s site about the Kindle account sharing. Authors don’t have Audible accounts? Audible which has been around for quite a bit longer than the Kindle allows for six devices and I have not yet heard an author complain about it.

    • mikecane says:

      The lack of technical *awareness* — I’m not even talking about basic tech skills — of my fellow writers sometimes appalls me and constantly embarrasses me. Balzac, Baudelaire, Hearn, Nerval, and Poe would have never been so damned clueless or self-righteous.

  7. Reblogged this on The Ratliff Letter and commented:
    The angry mob that shut down LendInk needs to read this post… word for word… and then go read their contracts with Amazon or whomever else they signed with… THAT contract is what dictates whether or not a book can be lent.

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