For those of you who aren’t familiar with certain American traditions, there’s a fairly new one that’s become part of the Thanksgiving holiday. Black Friday. The day when usually calm, kind and normal people turn into insane, often violent, shoppers with a sense of entitlement that’s big enough to try the patience of a saint.
You may ask what Black Friday has to do with e-books. Normally, it would have little, if anything, to do with them. However, a trip to the kindle boards yesterday sent my blood boiling. (Okay, I’ll admit, it probably was boiling a little with fever yesterday anyway. Still, the insanity was enough to get to me.). Basically, what happened is that one of Amazon’s “lightning deals” — specials that are for a very limited number of an item at great prices — was an $89 K2. Unlike a number of other lightning deals, this one had gotten national coverage ahead of time. And, like all those folks who camped out at Best Buy and Target, waiting for the doors to open so they could run for the discounted [insert item here] and who were more than willing to get into fist fights and shouting matches, all those cyber-shoppers were lined up, watching the clock count down to the moment the K2s would be available.
Yep, you guessed it. They sold out within minutes, maybe even seconds. And that’s when the howling started. There were claims of bait and switch, threats to never darken Amazon’s cyber-doors again unless they found a Kindle for this person or that. Never mind the disclaimer that it was a limited offer was in anything BUT fine print. These people wanted one. They DEMANDED one and screw anyone who didn’t agree.
I don’t know what it is about certain topics that turns normally sane folks into whiny, demanding toddlers wanting that new toy NOW. But there is a lot of this same mentality when it comes to e-books. You see it when people complain about the prices of an e-book because, gee, it doesn’t cost as much because there are no printing or storage prices, nor shipping prices. You see it regarding piracy — and, as far as I’m concerned, that whining goes on on both sides of the issue. You see it from the publishers who won’t or can’t see that the market is changing and that they need to change with it in order to survive. The one group you don’t see it from, on a whole, is the one group who should be whining — the writers.
Tomorrow, I’ll go into the actual steps required to produce an e-book. But today, let’s continue discussing this sense of entitlement that has permeated into the e-book market.
Years ago, the music industry went through a period where they put DRM on everything, worried that the new digital age would mean the death knoll of the business. Yes, it did change the way music was purchased. Most is now purchased online. Gone are most of the music stores we used to go to and browse through the rows of CDs. There were a number of different formats as well, preventing the buyer from listening to their downloads on multiple gadgets. Piracy abounded.
Did it kill the industry? Nope. The industry adapted. A standard format evolved and DRM did as well. Oh, sure, there are still certain companies that load the evil stuff into their music. But, on the whole, if you buy and download a song or album. you can play it on any MP3 player, no matter what the brand.
It is up to the publishing industry to do the same. If I buy an e-book from Amazon, chances are it will be locked with DRM. There will be a limit on the number of authorized devices I can read it on. And, guys, it isn’t Amazon putting these limitations on. It’s the publishers. Why? Because they are worried about piracy. At least that’s what they say.
In yesterday’s comments, Rowena noted that she can find her novels on certain pirate sites. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is. There are those folks out there who take exception to DRM and will work to find the code to break it and then offer it to others out in cyberspace as a way to thumb their noses at the publishers. They don’t think about how this might affect an author’s sales. They aren’t even doing it to thumb their noses at the author — well, if the author is a best seller and has publicly come out against e-books….that’s a different story. There will always be someone out there who will post any e-book they can for free download. Same with music and video. They feel like they can do anything they want with it once they’ve bought it. Gee, there’s that sense of entitlement again.
There’s another form of piracy – although, to be honest, it really isn’t piracy. At least not in my mind – that comes from DRM as well. But a bit of background, a number of publishers AND authors don’t look at e-books as “books”. They believe that you aren’t buying the “book” but a license to read the words. That’s why there is DRM. On the other hand, you have the buyers who have paid good money for the e-book and who believe they own it just as they would own a hard copy of the book. They don’t see this as merely a license or a “rental”. So they look for ways to break the DRM on the book so they can read it on different e-readers and make backup copies.
Why, you may ask, is this important? Say you spend $9.99 for an e-book (which is going rate for a big publisher’s e-book from a best seller) this year. Next year, the e-reader you purchased it for dies and you buy a new one. If you purchased that e-book from certain sellers, you may not be able to download it again. Yes, there are download limits at a number of places. Of, you decided to go with a different brand of e-reader. That could mean the digital edition you purchased earlier won’t work with your new e-reader because of DRM. Your only solutions are to either buy a new digital copy or find a way around DRM. So, you have those who are good with programming coming up with scripts that let you extract the digital copy, free from DRM. Sense of entitlement? Sure. Justified? In my opinion, yes.
The only group who is being hurt by both sides of this argument are the authors. They do lose some sales because their publishers either won’t release their backlist in digital format — leading folks to scan in their books and then post them online — or by overpricing their books in digital format. Again, this leads to piracy. Those who pirate the books also hurt the authors because they are taking money from the authors’ pockets. However, I would propose one more level here that most folks don’t take into consideration. Actually, I have to give Kate credit here. She reminded me that while a number of us might look for a pirated e-book for whatever reason, we do tend to make up for that lost sale later — either by purchasing that e-book when it finally becomes available through legitimate channels or buy purchasing other e-books (or dead tree books) from that author based on what we’ve read.
So what’s the solution? The only one that will work long term is for the industry to accept the fact that e-books are here to stay. The more DRM that is attached to a book, the more programming folks will work to find and make available the scripts to break it. Either set up e-books as “rentals”, where you get to download and read them for a discounted price for a set period of time, or accept the fact that someone who “purchases” an e-book owns it just as much as the purchaser of a hard copy owns that version of the book. Most of all, make e-books available at the same time as the hard copy comes out.
Okay, I just heard the howls going up on that last one, but hear me out. Probably the most famous – or infamous – series of books not released digitally is the Harry Potter series. Think about the number of sales that have been missed because Rowling won’t sell the digital rights to her books. Now think about this: digital versions of the last few books were available BEFORE the books came out. That means, imo, someone from the publishing house leaked the files. Why? Because people felt they were entitled to get the book in digital form. Gee, entitlement again.
Okay, this is a long way of saying something very simple — the only ones entitled to being upset over piracy are the authors. But they need to educate themselves to the realities of the situation and put themselves in the place of their readers. There’s a growing number of people who read only digitally. Some because they like the convenience of having hundreds of books with them at all times. Some for ecological reasons — they aren’t killing trees by buying an e-book. Others for medical reasons — they simply can’t hold a book any longer but they can an e-reader. Now, both sides need to talk with one another, learn how their actions impact the other. Somehow, the publishers need to be brought into it as well. I’m just not sure how — until the publishers are willing to adapt to changing times, things are unlikely to change.
See, this is what happens when something ticks me off when I’m sick. I get all wound up about things. Any way, what are your thoughts? Is e-book piracy really an issue that should be gone after the way the music industry has gone after music pirates? Or is it an anomaly that will go away if DRM is done away with?
Also posted at Mad Genius Club.