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As electronic books and e-readers gain popularity, we are seeing some of the same short sighted business models that plagued the music industry not too long ago.

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

The music business was probably the first big segment of the entertainment industry to need to figure out the Internet.  Napster forced the industry to think about it because Napster's original version used peer-to-peer technology, which allowed users share their own music files and copy others'.

Napster was shut down in 2001, but if nothing else it showed the pent up demand for music that could be easily accessed on the Internet.  This was initially taken by the industry to mean consumers wanted everything for free.  But in 2003 Apple managed to get the major players to buy in to a digital music store that used digital rights management (DRM).

Listeners hated DRM because it restricted their ability to enjoy the music they paid for.  Towards the end of the last decade businesses began to realize that DRM could be a headache for them as well, so eventually they wised up.  By the end of 2011 all the major music stores were DRM free.

Short version: It was a hassle and there were some growing pains, but in the end the industry figured out how to deliver its product in a way consumers were happy to pay for.  Lessons learned, all's well, hooray!

The lessons haven't been learned as widely as some of us hoped; the book industry seems to have spent the last fifteen years in a state of suspended animation.  It is in the process of making exactly the same kinds of mistakes the music industry was making a decade ago.

I learned that last week when author Barry Eisler had a big blowout sale.  I enjoy his writing, so I clicked over to his site when I found out about it.  Eisler is very tech savvy.  He has embraced digital distribution, has a full store on his site, offers his books in multiple file types (including MP3), and seems to get this brave new world we've entered.  As I've aquired new technology I've been able to find his work in compatible formats.  It's a very reader-friendly stance.

(He also maintains a thoughtful political blog and has enthusiastically embraced the netroots - even naming characters in his stories after bloggers.  [He has not named one of them after me though, a personal slight I am not at all bitter or resentful about.])

The sale in question was a Kindle exclusive: the e-book required either a Kindle device or app.  The Kindle app is pretty ubiquitous, but I happen to have one of the few e-readers (Nook) where it is not available.  Amazon's desire for an exclusive ended up excluding some potential customers.  That will probably always be the case with DRM - no device will be able to do everything.

The tech industry right now is churning out lots of different devices, operating systems and form factors in an attempt to get the One True Gadget - the thing you'll take with you everywhere and use for everything.  That's a lovely aspiration, but I don't see it happening.

What I see instead is people wanting to only carry around one thing at a time, and rotating through several:  Smart phone for everyday use, tablet for the beach, laptop for the road, etc.  If you can't get the book you paid for on each of those devices, it's a pain.  As a reader I want to be able to put a book on everything as soon as I buy it so I always have a local (non-Internet dependent) copy - no matter which thing I run out of the house with.

That's what I do with music.  When I buy an album I immediately put it on my PC, MP3 player, laptop and so on.  I want to put it on my existing stuff, and new stuff as I acquire it.  I want to be able to use it, in other words.

The book industry isn't there yet; it's at odds with its customers.  Readers want to be able to read the books they buy, publishers want locked down exclusives, and creators (even forward thinking ones like Eisler) are left to navigate those waters as best they can.

You don't have to be Nostradamus to see where this all goes.  Users will hate DRM because it will be a hassle, it will depress sales, in a few years publishers will begin to have technological and public relations headaches associated with maintaining it, and some time around 2018 or so they will realize (as some of their more enlightened peers already do) that the best solution is to keep it off everything.  It would be nice if we could just save everyone the trouble and fast forward to the happy ending right now.


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Comment Preferences

  •  What I'd like is a book I could choose to throw (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    danps, quill, kurt

    away. I have the Kindle app, and generally I buy books that I'm likely to reread. But a few weeks ago I downloaded a book someone mentioned in a comment and decided about 30 pages into it that there was no way I was going to finish it. I deleted it, and found that the Kindle app keeps the link in the library no matter what you do.

    I could go into the computer and pull the reference, but that would only work until the next time I opened the app and it re-synchronized with Amazon's list of things I've bought. If it were a 'real' book, I could toss it in the trash.

    Another thing that I'd like to see is effectively a Library option. I would be willing to try a lot more new authors if I had the opportunity to pay a small sum for a 'loan' copy for two weeks. Something like - if you don't come back and pay for the book within that time, it self-deletes from your files.

    A third thing - yes, I'm running on, but your post kicked off a lot of stuff - is the lending aspect. If I own the book, and I'm paying as much as I would for a printed copy, I want to be able to transfer the book to another Kindle user, probably keyed by email address. If it's mine, dammit, I should be able to give it away. And if that ends up with a book transferred multiply between 10 people, as long as it's only on one user's system at a time, well, people have been doing that with hardbound books for a long time. I see no reason why anyone should make more profit from ebooks than from actual printed books because they're not lendable.

    Thanks for the space to vent. And yes, I did enjoy your diary (almost forgot that).

    At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

    by serendipityisabitch on Fri May 31, 2013 at 04:13:17 AM PDT

    •  As for the lending option (0+ / 0-)

      I understand an electronic one is infinitely copyable and a physical one isn't, but lending is one of the main ways readers get turned on to new authors.  Instead of worrying that their un-DRM'd stuff would be given away, they should trust readers to buy the stuff they get turned on to.

    •  serendipityisabitch - Log onto Amazon. (4+ / 0-)

      com. Click on My Account. Click on Manage Your Kindle. You'll find a "library" of books, music, videos that you've purchased. Find the book you want to get rid of. Click on Actions. "Remove from library" deletes the book for good.

      Other points: Both Nook and Kindle allow you to sample a book. IOW, you can download a free sample. I just looked at the free sample of my book and the sample is 14% of the whole book on Kindle. (I don't know the percentage with Nook.)

      As for lending: The publisher makes the decision as to whether the book is lendable or not. A Kindle book can only be lent once. I didn't see that restriction on Nook, so I don't know.

      BTW, since you have a Kindle app, check out

      •  Thank you. I will proceed to Amazon more or less (0+ / 0-)

        forthwith. I hadn't realized the free sample was that large - I've been assuming that the Look Under the Cover feature was all that was available. I will definitely look again, and most definitely take advantage of it.

        Checked.  I see that there is a "try a sample", and I will remember.

        I'm sorry - the closest I've ever wanted to come to occult horror is Diana Tregarde, and only  because a) it's Misty Lackey, and b) it's not very close to horror. Got anything else in the production pipeline? I've sampled The Cabin and will take a look at it later.

        At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

        by serendipityisabitch on Fri May 31, 2013 at 08:56:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  You can lend Kindle books. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It's a bit complicated and requires that you log onto Kindle's website (as far as I know, anyway), but you can, and I've been surprised by which Kindle books can be loaned.  They do have a system that lets you lend a book--to one person at a time as you suggested--to your friends, by email address (again, as you suggested).

      You can also lend Nook books, which is a bit easier to do with an actual Nook.

      •  Thanks much. Generally, when I'm downloading (0+ / 0-)

        something new, I do an incredibly thorough check into its bells and whistles.  This one I didn't, because, gee, it's books, not computers. Self-facepalm. And me a long term nerd about computers.

        I now sympathize a whole lot  more with publishing companies who've, as the diarist said, ignored the technology for so many years. It takes a slap upside the head to realize that you've got a blind spot this large.

        At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

        by serendipityisabitch on Fri May 31, 2013 at 05:42:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  It's going to be interesting to watch this… (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    danps, quill, kurt

    progress. My biggest complaint is that the DRM makes it next to impossible to pass a book around one's extended family and friends. At the same time, it seems that it's even easier to remove the barrier on an ebook than it was on a piece of music (not to mention convert it to different formats for other readers). And then, as small as the file actually is, it can be emailed to your device.
       A sign of the times when I know few people who weren't pirating music (I never bothered) and so few to whom it even occurs to break the rules with ebooks.

    •  not so easy to convert (0+ / 0-)

      Yes, it's possible to "free"  book from DRM, but I've tried and it's a pain. On a PC anyway you need several bits of funky software, and the output (a pdf file) can have annoying formatting issues.

      However, I think that many popular ebooks are available for download on Pirate Bay, which bypasses the hassle, and underscores the subversive nature of TPB, which I approve of.

      I think there are so few ebook "pirates" partly because of the hassle of making copies, the ease of use on multiple devices (especially kindle, which works on nearly everything), and the more "law abiding" nature of ereading demographics.

      History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce - Karl Marx

      by quill on Fri May 31, 2013 at 07:03:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  What happens to all your Nookbooks when (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    danps, quill, jrooth, dallasdunlap, kurt

    Barnes & Noble goes bankrupt?

    •  this is a big problem with DRM (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      danps, kurt, Williston Barrett

      Your library is chained to the whims and fortunes of the digital publisher. Also, what happens to your books when Amazon/B&N/Apple decides to change to a new improved and incompatible format, or abandon DRM altogether?

      History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce - Karl Marx

      by quill on Fri May 31, 2013 at 06:49:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  To me, the big problem with DRM (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kurt, Williston Barrett

        is how restrictive it is as to device. I was astonished to find that
        I couldn't open a Nook book (which uses the epub format) on a generic epub reader on my PC, because of DRM.
          Of course the Kindle formats are proprietary, but epub is open source.
          I've stopped using DRMs on my books for that reason.
          However, I think that authors should be paid for their work, and that widespread pirating would destroy the ebook industry.

        •  When I wrote about depressing sales (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          quill, elfling, kurt, Williston Barrett

          that's exactly what I was referring to.  Folks are going to say, I don't know where I'll be able to read this if I buy it - screw it.

          That's exactly how I was with music.  I didn't buy any MP3 songs until DRM was removed, then I started buying.  Customers don't want to deal with that kind of hassle.  They'll just stay out of the market entirely.

        •  actually "piracy" could help most authors (0+ / 0-)

          Fair studies (ie not fake "research" ginned up by industry) of the effect of piracy on movie and music profits have found that it often is net positive. This is because sharing increases word of mouth effects and drives more sales. This could be true for ebooks (remains to be proven) as well, especially given that most ebook authors usually desperately need readers to read and recommend their work. You can't make money unless you gain popularity but achieving that is really hard to do in publishing. So authors stand to gain from piracy, but it is the publishers who do not, and they are the real ones pushing for DRM and other restrictions.

          History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce - Karl Marx

          by quill on Fri May 31, 2013 at 09:11:17 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Would you say, then... (0+ / 0-)

            ...that those engaged in piracy of entertainment media today are, in fact, perpetuating the old business model?  Should those opposed to DRM and other enforcement schemes be rewarding the industry by distributing content for free?

          •  We've had book piracy for DECADES... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            quill, kurt

            By which I mean ways in which copies of books were passed around without the publishers getting an additional cut.

            They're called PUBLIC LIBRARIES.

            And USED BOOKSTORES.

            The weirdest thing about the way this developed with the music business was - the big record companies were fighting tooth and claw against Napster and the like - a way in which their artists were getting tons of listens and free exposure - at the same time that they were fighting tooth and claw to get their artists tons of listens and free (and in many cases, PAID FOR) exposure on RADIO.

            It made absolutely no sense.

            And now book publishers are making the same mistake (as well as pricing their product so high that it both eliminates casual or impulse purchases, as well as driving people to pirate copies)

          •  And yet, no one pirates unknown authors/artists. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Bill W

            This is a specious point.  My students often attempt to float it, too, but let's be honest.  No one is stealing Fourth of July's music.  They're stealing Maroon 5's.  No one is  stealing Saladin Ahmed's novels; they're stealing Stephen King's.  No one is stealing We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks; they're stealing Star Trek: Into Darkness.

            Moreover, should be up to the individual artist or author and his or her agents to decide if she or he wants to give her or his work out for free to get "word of mouth", not the "good people" at Pirate Bay.

  •  Kindle lending (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    You can lend books on a Kindle. As long as you 'own' the book, you can lend it to another Kindle user. It disappears from your shelf, and can be found on theirs.

    I believe it is time limited to 14 days, and once read, it will appear back on your own shelf again.

    •  "lending" is very restrictive (0+ / 0-)

      You can only lend a book once (a deal breaker for me), the lend has an expiration date, only US customers can lend, only some books can be lent (the publisher decides whether you can lend your own book!).

      Here's what would make ebooks like deadtree books, but will never happen:

      Unlimited lending: as many times as you want for as long as you want.
      Lending chains (A lends to B, B lends to C, etc).
      Giving ownership to another person.
      Selling your ebook second hand.
      The book could be printed.

      In a world not owned by corporations, these features would be required by law.

      If you think about it, ebooks with these features would make ebooks superior to physical books. For example, how often have you lent a favorite book to someone and never got it back? A lent ebook could theoretically be retrieved by the owner at any time. Could you imagine the possibilities for public library giving?

      History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce - Karl Marx

      by quill on Fri May 31, 2013 at 07:44:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Just in case anyone is interested… (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I converted my book's file to PDF myself - interactive: The Moon has been Eaten, Images from a Year on Easter Island
        Heck, I give away a version optimized for readers - not the best way to view B&W photography, but looks great on the iPad, etc. and the text is all there. FREE link is:

  •  This isn't about DRM. (0+ / 0-)

    It's about Barnes & Noble (until recently) and Amazon (still) locking out each other's apps on their own branded devices.  Nook just changed that three weeks ago for the Nook HD and the Nook HD+.

    However, if you have an iPad, an Android tablet, a Windows computer, an Apple computer, or basically anything other than an Amazon Kindle or a non-HD Nook, you can download both the Nook app and the Kindle app (and the Google Books app, and the 3M CloudLibrary reader app, and...) and read whatever you want.

    If you own a Nook HD or a Nook HD+, update your software now.  It opens up the Google Play store, and with that, you can download the Kindle app on your Nook and read anything you want, too.  I read the entire Suzanne Collins "Hunger Games" trilogy using the Kindle app on my Nook HD+.

    Regarding DRM, with books, you're simply not going to win.  It's just far, far too easy to transfer a book's file.  The publishing houses will NEVER allow it.  Period.  They're dubious about ebooks anyway, and they most certainly can put the kay-bosh on the industry if they want in ways the music industry couldn't (because, face it, no one's going to buy books and scan them in, page-by-frakkin-page, the way people were ripping CDs).  The licensing agreements involved in publishing and distributing ebooks are complicated--ask your local librarian.  He or she can explain why.

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