February 12th, 2010

E-book piracy

There's been some loose talk about how e-book piracy might become a big(ger) problem in the wake of the switch to the "agency model". I, personally, cannot readily imagine going to any effort to pirate a book. It's just too much trouble. I have hundreds of unread books lying around the house that were interesting enough to me to buy; if I can't find something to buy for cheap on my e-reader (see previous post about Eppies) that satisfies my reading desires, odds are good I can shop my bookshelves. Certainly, it would be much easier than piracy. And that's assuming I didn't decide that, in the end, as obnoxious as I might find it that the big 6 have something I want bad enough to pay whatever ridiculous price they might hypothetically be asking, I'd probably just pay it anyway. Because I can.

I made this point earlier: people who can afford a 2 books/week habit in (discounted) hardcover can certainly afford an e-reader and content for it, even under the agency model. But there are other factors involved in piracy.

(1) It's inconvenient. Way, way, way more inconvenient that pressing that button on the Amazon site that says send it through the cellular phone network to my kindle. Even if I have to select which kindle I want it sent to.

(2) It's not necessarily reliable, or high quality. I can't speak to what's out there right now, but if the formatting in the legit e-books leaves something to be desired, I seriously question whether illicit reformatting, un-DRMing and whatever else happens to it in the course of making it available for "free" is going to improve matters. I could readily imagine that at least part of the time, what you get when you get a pirated version isn't precisely the same as what you would get if you bought it.

Obviously, these factors have not stopped movies and music from being pirated. I'll just point to this, highly problematic survey:

http://www.versoadvertising.com/survey/index.html

While gadget buyers may tend to be young and male and piracy oriented, book readers tend to be older, female and, let's just say it up front, not so piracy oriented. The music and movie market tended to be younger and, um, broker. The book market tends to be older and better-resourced.

I think the piracy thing makes a better argument from a rhetoric standpoint than as a real threat.

But if e-book piracy convinces a bunch of young, male gadgety types to start reading, I have to regard that as not entirely negative.

Big Money Pushes Little Money Around

It doesn't even have to be intentional.

Random House (Bertelsmann) has not cut a deal with Apple (at least nothing has been announced). It cannot be irrelevant that they are the biggest of the big 6. What does their decision tree look like?

If the "agency model" works, they can me, too at any point; they're big enough that no one can safely say no to them. "Works" would be defined as, the rest of the big 6 successfully maintain their market at the higher price. Random House might start to feel like they have to reprice -- if being cheaper doesn't gain them anything and they might not make as much money as they could. And how likely does that sound?

The "agency model" might not work, in that they don't maintain their market at the higher price. Random House, at the lower price point, might really rake it in. Not a whole lot of motivation for them to switch at that point, unless they're hurting too much from the cannibalization. Under those circumstances, Random House looks really smart to not go to the "agency model" and eventually, they buy everyone who doesn't switch back.

There is a middle ground. Random House at the lower price point might maintain their market, but not appreciably benefit from the big 5 repricing. The big 5 might _not_ maintain their market, which might buy beer or porn or Ravensburger puzzles with the money they used to spend on books. Or they might be from publishers not in the big 6, or resort to piracy. Random House is still happy about not repricing, and the rest of the big 6 don't look particularly bright. The downer here is that the industry as a whole might take a big enough hit to be felt by all book retailers, electronic and otherwise, shipping paper or pipelining e-books.

I don't see an unhappy outcome for Random House anywhere here. What did I miss?

those complaints about bad editing?

http://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/hall-of-shame-an-introduction/

Here's a sample.

The guy decided to pick on a book that costs all of $5.99 at Fictionwise. It was initially published in, as near as I can tell, 1977 and the author is long since dead. The publisher was _always_ tiny. And the examples included in why this belongs in the Hall of Shame strike me as either not valid, inadequately supported by direct evidence or too minor to care.

I find myself filled with revulsion and disgust, especially since so many people piled on to agree. Seriously? You're _this mad_ about a $5.99 ebook?

It took a while to track down the publisher's web presence. I think this is it.

http://liveoakhouse.info/Page%205%20fantasies.htm

Oh, and I should mention how I wound up at Rich Adin's site:

Someone claimed the kindle would be coming in a color LCD touch screen format. In the course of investigating this claim, google found me:

http://www.teleread.org/2010/02/08/coming-soon-to-the-kindle-color-wi-fi-more-applications/

Chris Meadows says:

"I would be inclined to suggest that Amazon should first concentrate on improving how they put e-books on the device as-is until they get it right. If you have trouble walking, you shouldn’t be trying to run a marathon."

This brought me to:

http://www.teleread.org/2010/02/08/rich-adin-starts-ebook-hall-of-shame/

Paul Biba says:

Rich Adin has started his Hall of Shame, to highlight the poor state of editing of so many ebooks.

Which brought me to americaneditor at wordpress.

To sum up: Meadows thinks that rather than bring out new and different e-readers for the masses, Amazon should focus on improving the ebook (bought from a competitor and NOT SOLD IN THE KINDLE STORE) formatting of a tiny publication from 1977 by a tiny little press that requires significant effort to find their web presence.

Oh, and the only way that Adin will be happy is if the publisher then brings the corrections to his attention.

If you're going to complain about bad editing in an ebook, you'd better come up with a better example than his, particularly since as near as I can tell, Adin doesn't know you can refer to your father as "Paw".

Irrelevance piled upon stupidity added to hypocrisy does not a convincing argument make.

just when I thought teleread was a waste of time...

http://www.teleread.org/2010/02/09/ebook-formatting-from-a-publishers-perspective-it-isnt-easy-or-simple/

This is awesome! I've bought one book (on the kindle! One of the rare indies I bought for the kindle) published by L&L Dreamspell, and when I saw that imprint go by while spreadsheeting I did a little looking around for what they were all about. I am unsurprised to see wonderfully well-written, sensible commentary from one of the women from L&L. They seem uniformly wonderful.

Highlights: "The Fictionwise site requires a pre-tagged Word RTF file, which they then turn into many different formats."

"Our books on Amazon for the Kindle are converted from our Mobipocket files. The files we publish at Mobipocket are checked and double-checked for quality. But what happens when Mobipocket turns them into Kindle?"

That's pretty tragic! The conversion from Mobipocket to kindle should have been smooth.

I hope the women at L&L Dreamspell stick it out, despite the pain; I know I'll be watching for books that they publish that I might enjoy reading.

Nevertheless, the fact that even such a bright, hardworking woman is surprised to discover how things look different from device to device and app to app when operating off the same base file (a .prc) is disturbing. It's not like we didn't just go through all this with HTML and every browser/computer/blah blah bleeping blah known to humanity.

last comment tonight on formatting ebooks

http://ebooktest.blogspot.com/2009/04/is-adobe-hindering-ebooks.html

Look, it's from _April_ of 2009!

Sad, sad tale of trying to put Jack London's _Abyss_ into ePub, not being happy, taking a look at a pro attempt at same, becoming even less happy, and then commenters participating as well.

Here's my takeaway: it took a while, but we eventually got used to some of the limitations and problems associated with HTML and different web browsers on different computers with different versions of all of the above. More or less. Sometimes, we run into something like we can't shop somewhere because the buttons don't actually function for our configuration. Bummer. Oh, and you can't play any game using flash on iAnything. Based on that, I predict we'll all get used to the vagaries of ebook formatting. Some of the really bad badness will get corrected on a case by case basis. The big sellers will get that extra massaging to look good on a really wide combination of setups. The little sellers will get complaints. And we'll all still be bitching about this after we've mostly switched over to reading stuff not-on-paper.