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January 28th, 2011


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08:17 pm - They also serve
The issue of Intellectual Property Rights is very difficult. I completely agree with the comments made by various writers online in the last few weeks, that the willy-nilly illegal downloading of new texts onto e-readers undermines the livelihood of writers. And this is a big deal, because many writers are only marginally getting by financially, and far more are only able to write the content we love in time off from earning a living doing something else.

On the other hand, I find it hard to see how IPR can be properly controlled. In music the situation is out of control, and has been horribly mishandled by the record companies. And the production and distribution of text is so terribly easy, that I think text publishing is likely to be more damaged than the music industry now that e-readers are so widespread all of a sudden. I am wondering whether the bookshops in Coventry might close, for example. And writers continue to be under-rewarded.

There's an interesting discussion of the issues on Crooked Timber here.

To my mind IP exposes one of the biggest problems with capitalism and the free market. Here's a quote from that Crooked Timber thread.
Ideas, designs, technologies, once they’re released, are public goods. Non rivalrous and non excludable. And we know very well that a pure free market, entirely unadorned, will under-supply us with public goods.

Capitalism relies for its very existence on things which it does not support very well. It desperately requires imaginative content - technical, scientific artistic, conceptual - but it does not have good methods for resourcing the production of that content.

And actually I don't think it's just about adequately rewarding successful creatives. It also means protecting and allowing a thousand false starts, and moderate successes and so on. As Milton said - I think one of the most profound things said about creativity - they also serve who only stand and wait.

I think that IPR is not working, but like a lot of things, our best bet for now is to bodge-on, patching up the old systems, and trying to moderate their failures. Because really what is needed is a complete overhaul from the ground up of the whole way we reward work. But for such an overhaul, the old system would have to break down so completely that there's nothing left to salvage, and god knows what that would be like.

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Comments:


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From:tehomet
Date:January 28th, 2011 08:50 pm (UTC)
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Well, this is fascinating. I had literally no idea that there was an issue with people illegal downloads of text. Music, yes, but not text. Interesting.

And what can writers do? It's not like music, where the musicians can still make a good living from touring.

Capitalism relies for its very existence on things which it does not support very well. It desperately requires imaginative content - technical, scientific artistic, conceptual - but it does not have good methods for resourcing the production of that content.

Very true.

It will be interesting to see what does happen in future. Like the move from punk zines to online websites, and the move from scheduled TV programming to DVDs and then to on-demand streaming etc. It's almost impossible to imagine.
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From:communicator
Date:January 28th, 2011 09:05 pm (UTC)
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Yes. I think live performance might increasingly be the way musicians make a living, which makes writers more vulnerable because they don't so much have that option (or so it seems to me - I know there is some book-reading and so on).

I'll try to dig up some of the recent comments from writers about the threat they feel.

You make me feel more hopeful that - as you say with the effect of DVDs on telly - there is a solution as yet unimaginable to us, just round the corner.
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From:cdybedahl
Date:January 28th, 2011 09:16 pm (UTC)
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Without even trying, I can think of two writers (Charles Stross and Peter Watts) I'd never have read and started buying books by if they hadn't been giving some of their stuff away for free on their own websites. I think it's far from clear which dominates with ebooks on pirate sites, the lost sales or the increased market exposure. Personally, I think it's the latter, but I have no evidence whatsoever for that.
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From:trixieleitz
Date:January 28th, 2011 09:03 pm (UTC)
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I may be outing myself as a wide-eyed idealist here, but I think most people do want to compensate creators when they consume the works that they create. They just don't want to pay dead-tree prices for something that costs nothing like that amount to produce and ship, or be blocked from a product just because they live in the wrong country, or spend a large amount of money on something that they can't preview, or be forced to buy a large work when all they actually want is a small section of it.

So (at least part of) the answer is to make it easy and attractive for those people to spend money.
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From:communicator
Date:January 28th, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
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I think you are completely right. For example I would happily pay the people who make Mad Men for all their time and trouble, but it grieves me that next season will only be available courtesy of Rupert effing Murdoch.
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From:nineveh_uk
Date:January 29th, 2011 11:02 am (UTC)
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Yep. Amazon charges _more_ for an ebook than it does for a paperback of the same volume. You don't need to be an economic genius to know that's a rip-off.
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From:cdybedahl
Date:January 28th, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)
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Amazon announced yesterday that in 2010 they sold 115 ebooks for every 100 paperbacks. Apple's iTunes Store, both for music and applications, is an enormous success. As is the Steam digital game distribution platform. At this point in time, I think it's pretty clear that if you just make it easy and convenient for people to buy digital content, they do buy it. A lot, even.

Digital video and music sales still have problems, but they're because those industries persist in being mindbendingly idiotic about it. Take for example the practice of pushing new music heavily in radio, TV and advertising and then not selling it for six weeks. The idea is to build up a demand, so that when they do start selling it, it'll sell a lot at once and enter high in the sales charts. Except these day people who want that music will just go download it instead. Sony Music announced this week that they're thinking about maybe not doing it that way any more. THIS WEEK! A company that clueless richly deserves to die.

I don't think any bodge-ons or artificial supports will be needed. Yes, the entire field of content production is changing very fast. Yes, a lot of currently huge companies will go under. But those companies and structures that actually provide a service that is still useful will stay around. Text publishers are in a not bad position, because for some considerable time now their main contribution has been finding good writers and polishing what they write. That's useful, no matter if the text gets sold as dead trees or bits. If they can just get rid of all their current geographic legal limitations, they'll do fine.
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From:communicator
Date:January 28th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
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I really want you to be right. Firstly because I want to keep making money from texts, and secondly because I want to keep reading texts. I have said those things that you say about music.

But I have read so much from writers in the last month saying it's killing them (I mean, killing their income).

And more widely I do think that content creation is poorly rewarded, and too much second rate content gets out there.
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From:julesjones
Date:January 28th, 2011 11:52 pm (UTC)
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No DRM on my books. You can buy them direct from the publisher, or through a variety of distributors, in a variety of file formats. They're priced at US mass market paperback price or below, even though they're small press and the true equivalent in the print world would be the trade paperback-only title from a small press.

I'm still pirated to hell and back, and yes, some of that is explicit requests to re-up one of my titles because somebody loves my work so much they want to read everything including the stuff where the previous pirate download from the ad-supported pirate download site has already expired.

I don't know whether the fraction of readers who freeload on those who *are* willing to support the writer is high enough to destroy publishing as we know it, but it's not zero, even in genres where the majority of publishers and authors think that DRM is a cure far worse than the disease.
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[User Picture]
From:several_bees
Date:January 29th, 2011 12:53 pm (UTC)
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As you know I tend to be quite cheerful and optimistic about this stuff, but I do think it is a bit different now, since readers have finally, finally, after fifteen years of threatening to turn into something good, become devices that normal people will enjoy reading from.

I do think a lot of the writers who were talking about this stuff recently were perhaps being unrealistic about how many lost sales "X people pirated my book" equates to. But the Doctorow-Stross-Baen Free Library-etc model (of giving stuff away for free and thereby driving purchase of paper books) is clearly something that's going to work decreasingly well (as I think they themselves have been saying for five years).
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From:cdybedahl
Date:January 29th, 2011 01:23 pm (UTC)
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On the other hand, being able to buy books without even putting down my reading tablet, much less moving my ass from my reading chair, is scarily easy now. I can definitely see it working to give away the first part of a series, and ending it with a "Click here to buy part 2" link.
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From:communicator
Date:January 29th, 2011 04:32 pm (UTC)
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I have read more electronic books than paper books this year so far, to my surprise, and that's partly what has made me start thinking about it.
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From:katlinel
Date:January 30th, 2011 11:49 am (UTC)
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I don't have an e-reader (yet) and tend not to listen to books either, but I have seriously been thinking of getting an e-reader because the thought of not having to carry a heavy load of books when I travel, but still having a choice of books is getting more and more tempting - the more so this last year or so as I have been toting piles of academic books around with me. And I have seen e-readers over people's shoulders and they look pleasant to read, more so than merely reading text on a laptop. I'm also irritated that the default size for a popular paperback is larger than it used to be so that such books don't fit as easily into my smaller bags as they used to.

I'm reluctant to buy a Kindle because I still have the mindset that once I have bought a copy of a book, I have bought that copy and I don't think anyone has the right to take it away from, just as if someone came into my house and took my paper books away, it would be stealing. I wonder if this affects people's perception of e-books. If a corporation is entitled to steal back the book you have paid for at any time, perhaps people have less conscience about stealing the books from elsewhere?

I also wonder if part of the reason that people steal the e-books is because it's perceived as a blow against the corporations that are seeking to extend the copyright laws even beyond what they are now? At the moment, for subscribers to the Berne convention, copyright is 75 years after the death of the author, so it's no longer seen as something that benefits the author, but either their families or a particular corporation. And that's complicated further when the situation concerns something like Great Ormond St Hospital benefitting from the copyright of Peter Pan - who wants to be seen to be taking something away from sick children? So if people think they're striking a blow against corporate greed, which is how the case for music downloads works, rather than damaging an author, that's another for it to be seen to be justified. And of course, there are the ways that julesjones has outlined above to show how it does damage authors, and how corporations like Baen can work e-versions of texts to their and the authors' adavantage.
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From:julesjones
Date:January 31st, 2011 07:51 am (UTC)
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I love being able to schlep a couple of hundred books around with me in something that's lighter and thinner than a paperback.:-)

If you want a good look at the different ereaders from a reader's perspective, check out the Dear Author romance blog -- they regularly do that sort of comparison. Personally I like my Cybook and intend to stick with a 6" eInk screen, because I'm now into using reading glasses, but other people prefer TFT screens and the younger set are fine with using a smartphone as their ebook tablet.

There are devices which do *not* make it easy for the distributor to unpublish a book already on your device, and if you get Project Gutenberg texts and/or books from publishers who haven't drunk the DRM KoolAid, and put them on a not-Kindle, you're pretty safe from deletion. (Amazon were in a difficult position regarding that bootleg edition of 1984, because they were legally obliged to recall copies where possible.)

My initial thoughts on my Cybook are here: http://julesjones.livejournal.com/273016.html
The world of ereaders has moved on significantly since then -- having done some preliminary research for family members thinking of buying one, if I had to replace the Cybook I'd be very tempted to get a Kobo for usage where note-taking isn't required (which ability is one of the big selling points for the Kindle and a couple of the high end models from other companies).

[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:January 31st, 2011 08:23 am (UTC)
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I wish - as so often - we lived nearer to each other so you could check out the Kindle. I really find it very physically congenial. I try not to think about (or even understand) the 'just renting' aspect of e-text acquisition. Sometime it may come and bite me on the ass.

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