Posts Tagged ‘Books & Publishing’
I’ve entered the e-book world cautiously. I like the Kindle as a reading device, and generally have had very satisfactory experiences as an Amazon.com customer. I actually like the Nook more than the Kindle as an e-book reading device, but I remain irritated at Barnes & Noble for its wholesale destruction of New York City’s independent bookstore scene beginning in the early 1990s. I’ve never forgiven them for that, so since then, I have pretty much avoided doing business with Barnes & Noble on any level beyond a bathroom break.
Mostly, I’ve not gone “all in” with e-books for three basic reasons. First, too many publishers set prices too high for the value proposition they’re offering. Unless there is something special about the e-book offering — multimedia elements, for example — don’t come at me with a price higher than $10. Let me be clear: I can pay more than $10; I won’t pay more than $10 because there’s no value proposition to me beyond $10.
The second reason I’ve not gone all in with e-books is availability. Quite simply, the works I want (or need) to be available in an e-book format for the Kindle too often aren’t available. (And by the way, a price above $10 means I consider that title to be unavailable, because as I mentioned above, the value proposition usually does not warrant a price greater than $10.)
The third reason I’ve been a little wary about fully committing to the e-book situation is because of this nagging little concept called the first sale doctrine. If I buy the print book, I can pretty much do whatever I want with the copy of that book. But if I purchase the e-book, I’m not buying the material; instead, I am licensing that content subject to terms and conditions of a license into which I had no customer input. Many already know about Amazon.com’s Kindle kerfuffle two years ago involving Orwell’s 1984. That certainly gave me pause. Now, a recently discovered situation is giving me pause again.
Since I read only non-fiction, mostly for research purposes, the Kindle value proposition for me lies in being able to search the book, highlight passages, and take notes. For quite a while, Kindle downloads excluded page numbers that matched the print edition. The omission made using the Kindle for research purposes virtually worthless. But Amazon fixed that issue in February. And earlier this week, I discovered how to access and export those Kindle highlights and clippings. So now I’m figuring I’m golden.
I login and am reviewing notes and highlights from various e-book titles. For Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, I see this message
Let me repeat the relevant provisions
You have 120 highlighted passages but we can only show 86 of them. What’s this?
And then the link associated with “What’s this?” provides further information
Clipping Limit Exceeded
For some books the publisher allows only a limited percentage of a book to be “clipped” and stored separately from the main body of the book, as normally happens when you add a highlight. If you exceed this limit then you will see fewer highlights on this website than you actually marked on your Kindle. Popular Highlights are not counted towards this clipping limit.
I purchased The Big Short for leisurely reading, so the clipping limitation doesn’t hurt my research. But I didn’t know about this “limitation” when I purchased the book. Further, why is there a clipping limitation at all? Does Lewis’s publisher, W.W. Norton, really think that excessive clipping is a potential “piracy” issue? (Ironically, all of my settings restrict sharing of clippings and highlights.)
Amazon.com is not off the hook on this issue, either. As a vendor, Amazon must know that part of the Kindle’s appeal is the ability to clip and take notes. If that capability is restricted in any way, to me that e-book title is defective — at least for my purposes. I will not knowingly purchase an e-book that restricts note taking and clipping. So Amazon needs to clearly identify this as a publisher-induced e-book “defect” in the same way it tries to frame excessive e-book prices (not coincidentally, usually above $10) as a publisher-induced “defect.”
Now, I’m back to being real skeptical, and keeping my money in my pocket.
The Hachette memo is weak. If that was supposed to really the troops … Well, maybe not so much.
And J.A. Konrath and Barry Eisler crush Hachette’s attempt to reframe the issue as one of value and expertise.
And onto my comments.
Pull Quote #1 (Hachette)
1. Curator: We find and nurture talent
Any business that has “superstar economics” as its central operating principle doesn’t “find and nurture talent.” It’s in the lottery and cultural commodities businesses. As Yochai Benkler has noted
When the economics of industrial production require high up-front costs and low marginal costs, the producers must focus on creating a few superstars and making sure that everyone tunes in to listen or watch them. This requires that they focus on averaging out what consumers are most likely to buy. This works reasonably well as long as there is no better substitute. As long as it is expensive to produce music or the evening news, there are indeed few competitors for top billing, and the star system can function. Once every person on the planet … can easily talk to their friends and compatriots, the competition becomes tougher. It does not mean that there is no continued role for the mass-produced and mass-marketed cultural products—be they Britney Spears or the broadcast news. It does, however, mean that many more “niche markets” — if markets, rather than conversations, are what they should be called — begin to play an ever-increasing role in the total mix of our cultural production system. The economics of production in a digital environment should lead us to expect an increase in the relative salience of nonmarket production models in the overall mix of our information production system, and it is efﬁcient for this to happen — more information will be produced, and much of it will be available for its users at its marginal cost. (Benkler, 2006: 55-56)
Said another way, if you need to push units — and Hachette is under enormous pressure to push units — you are not in the business of trying to find talent that can sell consistently. Talent that sells consistently doesn’t even cover the annual cost of photocopying. Business that need to push units need blockbusters. If they can get that from singing and selling Snooki as opposed to, say, KMD, then it sucks to be somebody like KMD if KMD wants a major publishing contract. If KMD can’t move big units, KMD is done as a major publishing prospect.
But, see, KMD had no options before. Even as an author who can’t move blockbuster units, an author like KMD has options now.
One more thing: there’s a credible argument that indicates large publishers aren’t even good at pushing units. As Konrath noted, “[W]ith so many books losing money, so many authors being dropped, so many titles going out of print, perhaps expertise isn’t quite the right word.”
Pull Quote #2 (Hachette)
We protect authors’ intellectual property through strict anti-piracy measures and territorial controls.
First thing I thought of when I saw “territorial controls” was DVD region encoding. The thought is not favorable. Separately, Eisler cogently remarked this sounds like “Your book will not be available in many markets where people would like to buy it.”
As to publishers “protect[ing] authors’ intellectual property,” standard publishing industry contracts seem less onerous than comparable contracts in the recording and movie industries. But comparing favorably to contracts offered by mainstream movie and recording companies is sort of like asking whether you prefer to be gored by a bull in Pamplona, or struck by a black mamba in Mozambique.
Further, I question whether publishers are interested in “protect[ing] authors’ intellectual property.” Instead, what publishers seek to protect is their perceived economic entitlement, which is attached to the intellectual property right. The right, nominally, belongs to an author. The perceived economic entitlement, on the other hand, belongs to the publisher. As a business proposition, a publisher cares little about the author — or even the rights — beyond its belief that the exclusive rights are the work’s earnings mechanism, and that the publisher is entitled to earn upon production of the work.
It is piracy paradigm thinking at its most basic.
Pull Quote #1
As the digital era unfolds, the role of libraries in the distribution of e-books has emerged as a significant issue of contention.
This misses the broader issue. In a piracy paradigm environment, ANY use by ANY consumer or organization that cannot be metered, measured and monetized is, de facto, “a significant issue of contention.” Former AAP executive director Patricia Schroeder made this apparent a decade ago when she made now infamous remarks about libraries expecting publishers to give their content away. The “digital era” was in full swing when Schroeder made her remarks in 2001, and libraries’ role in the [free] distribution of books was “a significant issue of contention” for publishers even then.
What has changed, though, is the corporate publishing industry realizes it finally is facing the same issues the recording industry faced in the late 1990s. Corporate publishing executives know they can’t stop it, and they don’t even know how to contain it. Unlike the recording industry, though, publishing cannot fall back on a lucrative format shift market to bail them out, and Amazon is viable enough an option for writers and self-publishers that both groups can opt out of standard contracts that, if signed, would make them indentured servants.
Now the smart libraries will figure out a way to pull an Amazon and connect writers (both for trade and scholarly publishing) with readers — and do so in a way that doesn’t compete with Amazon, and which doesn’t rely on advertising. Hard work, yes, but it’s not like libraries can afford to wait on municipal or institutional funding.
There’s another way to go for librarians and library executives: forget about being super smart and competing with Amazon.com. Instead, just be professional: know what is in your electronic content contracts, and learn how to negotiate better terms and conditions for your institution and patrons. Or connect with someone or some institution that does.
Connecting writers and readers as I imagine above requires extraordinary resources and access to extraordinary talent. Those things may not be within reach for every library. On the other hand, every time a librarian signs a license agreement without understanding its terms and conditions, he or she is committing professional malpractice. It is inexcusable, especially when tens of millions of dollars are at stake each year. Turn in your MLS and find another line of work.