Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Outrageous Cost (a note about copyright infringement and where publishers go from here)

Last week a website became the target of a number of pagan bloggers, because it was supplying links to downloadable PDF copies of many big name pagan books. For free. The great and mighty Llewellyn Publications itself actually descended from on high to raise Cain, as it were, to protect their copyrights and the rights of their authors. Apparently, the website had been a repeat offender for publishing copyrighted material for anyone to download.

Copyright infringement is bad. It is. If you download a movie, song, book, program, etc. without paying for it, then you've committed copyright infringement. You've, basically, stolen from all the people who put time, money, and effort into producing that good.

This being said, I understand that the internet provides exceedingly murky territory for what is and what is not ok to republish. Copyright infringement on music isn't the same as books which isn't the same as programs, etc. And, all you have to do is head over to Google and type in "[name of thing you want]+free" and you'll usually find it on the first page. Does it make it right? No. Easy, yes, but not right.

The articles I've written and posted to this website and to WitchVox.com are copied and reposted all around the web. Before I published the article on Zimmelblobs, I typed the word into Google...you know...for fun. There were zero results. It was a new word, as far as Google was concerned. Then, I published my article, and all of a sudden there are 11,200 results. (I just checked.) Now, I know I didn't publish it 11,200 times around the web. I posted it approximately twice. And yet, there it is. Posted in its entirety on message boards, other blogs, personal websites, etc. Blogger after blogger expresses the same exasperation at this, putting their work out there only for a quick copy/paste to turn it into someone's attempt to pass it off as their original idea.

Though, 11,200. I didn't realize you guys liked me that much. :-)


But, this whole dirty business has gotten me to thinking. I've had a number of conversations with friends over the past few years about books, and about their future. It's not just me, a lot of people have been having these conversations. Newsmakers. Technology pioneers. Authors. Publishers. Lots of people have been having the conversation about books, and about their future. Newspapers are rapidly disappearing all around the country, replaced with CNN twitter feeds and NYTimes apps. The news culture is in a never before seen 24-hour cycle, with everyone wanting to obtain as much of the information as possible for absolutely no cost to them. Nobody wants a paper, because they just pile up, and you have to search through all the other articles to find the good stuff. Right...?

We're facing a fact, in 2012, that some print media is going by the wayside. But, we've known for quite a number of years that physical media in general is suffering. We saw this first with the case of Napster making music free to download by anyone with a 56k modem and a lot of time to wait on the download to go through. Other file sharing services popped up and went away, some attempting legitimacy after being sued while others dissipated altogether. With more and more people having high speed internet in their homes, however, the ability to download that move or that song is becoming easier and easier. Just hope you don't get caught.

But, a few years ago, the music industry wised up. iTunes happened. It became even easier to download your music, because you could do it from your iPhone for a very small fee. It's working out very well for the music industry. For the last couple of years, music sales are finally back on the rise, when they had been ebbing for quite some time.

Something else has happened, though, over the last several years. Kindles, iPads, tablets, e-readers, they've all begun to dominate the market. Millions upon millions of these things are sold every month! It's becoming just as easy to get a book. Pull out your phone, your Kindle, your whatever, and click BUY. You'll have it in a matter of seconds, again, for a nominal fee. Great, right?

Except that this mobile media revolution has gotten people wanting all their movies, their music, their books available to them all the time. Movie manufacturers realized that the big new draw would be the Digital Copy. Both DVD and BluRay movies are now coming with an extra disc that will allow you to download a digital version of the movie that you purchased directly to your computer, which you can then put on all those smart phones and tablets, carrying your media with you at all times.

Book publishers, though, are in a unique problem. How do you improve on the book? Well, I think Llewellyn and other publishers could - and should - take lessons from the other media sources.

  • Allow digital copies. This would be a really easy way for publishers to extend the life of the book. If you choose to purchase a book, then, perhaps, you get a code to download the ebook version onto your Kindle (or ereader of choice). 
  • Make some books into apps. I have said for some time now that Llewellyn and other similar publishers are losing out BIG TIME by not making their almanacs into apps that integrate with your smart phone. More than an ebook, these apps could add the calendars included in the books directly into your smart phone's calendar as well as the one on your desktop. I know that I would like to purchase some of these almanacs, but they're a bit pricy for something that is just going to be obsolete in a few months. And, while some of the articles are nice, many of them are already published online in places like Llewellyn's blog or Witch Vox for free. 
  • Someone. Somewhere. Create a viable Netflix for books. I've heard that there are services online touting themselves as a Netflix for books, basically an online library where you can 'rent' books and then return them for the next one on your queue. None of them seem to be getting anywhere near the attention they need in order to survive, to become viable. I think this could, for starters, be done on a publisher-by-publisher basis. Except, with the book companies, you could include the option to purchase the book if you utterly fall in love with it. Perhaps if you could pay $5/month or $10/month for unlimited book reading capability, people would be less inclined to search out pirated copies of books online. 
  • At least create an ebook library. Many ereaders now have the ability to check books out from various libraries. Religious texts - like what Llewellyn produces - are the most stolen books from libraries. I realize lending out media comes with high risk of things being stolen, but perhaps Llewellyn would consider opening their catalogue up for ebook lending. 
  • Make buying the ebook a good value! If you go to Amazon, for example, and look up a book, you'll notice that all of the format options are listed for that book, as well as their prices. You'll see, for example, that you can buy Dorothy Morrison's The Craft for $11 in paperback and for $10 on Kindle. One of the big arguments from producers of media (whether it be a movie, a book, a song, what have you) is that when you download illegally, you're taking away from all the people that work to make that media a reality. 
Here's where I digress... From working in retail, I know a thing or seven about mark-ups. It might cost a big box store $2 or $3 or even less to buy a DVD or a Book or something. But, then, they turn around and sell it for $10 or $15 or $20. Whatever they can reasonably charge, whatever they've convinced people is a good value. So, then, imagine my puzzlement at why e-books are now starting to cost almost as much as the physical copy of the book. When you're buying from something like Amazon, you're not paying for a physical storefront. You're not paying for a lot of things. Much of the overhead cost of running a big box store, like what Amazon could be considered to be, is eliminated by the dint of it being an online business. Take away the cost of the paper the book is printed on, the ink used to do the printing, the machines having to be purchased for the production of the book, and what is left? How much is the true cost of that e-book? 

$1? 

Less?

I've actually seen cases where the e-book is more expensive than the paperback. Seriously, what is up with that?

Many commentators have been talking about the rising costs of ebooks due to publishers' griping that a bestselling ebook was coming out at $10 maximum, undercutting the physical book's price by half in many cases, sometimes a little more or less. Now, while you still get a better deal buying the ebook, it is not by much. You might save a dollar or three, which sort of deflates the whole notion of the ebook as a cheaper alternative. 

Copyright infringement is a terrible thing. Sometimes, though, it takes a terrible thing to push us forward. Perhaps book sellers and book publishers like Llewellyn can take this as a wake up call, while they're getting duly offended. There will always be thieves, but, perhaps, we can make it easier for the general consumer to obtain literature, and make stealing that media less appealing. 

I for one would love to be able to go to Llewellyn's website, enter in my UPC's for the physical books I legally purchased, and download a copy for my Kindle. 

Here's hoping publishers find a way to innovate their products, and that folks learn the lesson about posting up someone else's hard work for all to steal. 

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

8 comments:

  1. Say good-bye to movies like Kiki's Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke as well. Three companies no longer sell anime here in the US due to their works being stolen and distributed for free. I doubt Netflix offering anime this late in the game is going to save it.

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  2. TS, while I see your point, those two specific examples probably won't be going anywhere anytime soon. Both of those are in the top 10 most critically acclaimed animated films in the US, and are also under partnership with Disney.

    But, yes, I hear more and more foreign studios pulling out of the US for these reasons. Smaller studios, independent film companies, small publishing houses...all having a hard time making a name for themselves, because they don't yet have the money or the name to fight internet piracy. Really tragic.

    FL

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  3. One of the problems is that the publishing industry is still too greedy to take the author's profits into consideration. If you're self-published or own the digital rights to a book that is published in print, you take the vast majority of profits when selling digital copies. You can afford to sell the digital version at a lower price than the print one because you already make more of a profit in most cases. In most cases, I buy used print versions of books as opposed to digital versions if the price of digital is too high. I'm sorry, but if I have a choice between a $2.68 book and a $9.99 one which isn't guaranteed to even look the same on my reader I'm going to buy the beat up print one.

    I think it will take the publishing industry a long time to accommodate authors and readers. After all, neither is really making enough of a stink out of high prices and low royalties for them to actually care.

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  4. I can see the value in getting an e-code with a physical book that you buy. If you buy a digital copy initially, though (especially from one big online store), you can download as many copies of it as you like, to as many devices as you like. This is why I tend to buy books in digital form, and only get physical copies of certain types of books (or ones that aren't available digitally - they need to make more books available for Kindle etc). I agree with you on price, the need for libraries, etc. It would all help the industry as well as the customer.

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  5. I agree: if you buy a book, you should get a code to download the ebook version for free if you choose to...as someone with loads of books, replacing the ones I can from physical to ebook would take forever not to mention lots of money I don't have.

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  6. Another great post that hits the nail on the head ^_^. On one side, I do believe in the freedom of information, and that such freedom will make us all free. Personally - as a very amateur writer - I would actually like better the idea of being published out in the web and for free to anyone who pleases it to read my writings, than going to an Editorial, cause the murder of forests to get a couple of copies out to be bought by those who have the money to do so. (Let's face it, books might be not-so-expensive but they are not affordable for all of those who wish to read them.)

    Now, that's me saying so, who also have a "regular, muggle job" I can live of. Where I to subsist from my pen, I might think differently. (And by the way, how does it go that book you were writing with Ms. Nightshade? Hitting the stores soon? Do we get a preview on your blogs? ^_^)

    This being said (and I promise now I'll keep it short!) I get what you say about the shameless copying. One thing is that you are willing and happy to put your writing out there for free to anyoen to profit for personal growth, and yet another is to have that information copied, ripped off, and presented as someone else's "original production", taking full credit for something they may or may not have read at all. The sad thing is what you actually find someone working at some big shot company or Institution doing this for official documents - I've see it happen.

    In this sense, though copyright restrictions snap short the wings of information freedom, I guess it's necessary while humanity doesn't grow up enough to exercise respect, honesty and will to work hard to stop plagiarizing and start feeding, growing and producing more and more original ideas by themselves.

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  7. ... "such freedom will make us all free"... I was out of coffee. I mean to say "such information will make us all free". I see your point about ensuring the author means to live, yet I believe that the world shouldn't be one where only those who have the means have also the right to benefit from the products of mankind. Books put in public libraries where everybody can read them don't make author starve.

    Freedom of information doesn't have to mean "giving away for free", but making accesible to all. There are ways to share the information and feed the authors. :-D

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  8. I got to talk to the head librarian of our biggest library here in Colorado and she made some interesting points. Part of the problem with ebooks is that once someone buys that book, they will never have to buy it again. It will never wear out or go missing. If they lose their kindle or whatever all they have to do is get a new one and redownload it from their account for no charge. She said that that is what is causing a big problem with libraries, publishers and ebooks and a similar thing is probably what the problem with the general public is. I know there have been a lot of book that I have had to buy again because they got water damaged or I simply read it so much it fell apart. The libraries that do offer ebooks for check out are limited by the different restrictions that the publishers are putting on them, like only 5 people at a time could check out this book and it's only good for, say 20 check outs and then if they still want it in their collection they have to buy it again, just like a regular book that got used and abused or lost or stolen.
    To me this really makes sense. I used to dream of being an author but even without having to compete with the ridiculously low ebook prices it would be extremely hard to make a living that way. But now...seemingly almost impossible. I mean, think of it, out of that $1, how much does the author actually get? Most books don't sell the millions of copies that it would take for people to still make a living on that.
    And in the end, to me at least, there is really nothing like the feel of a good solid book in my hands. That doesn't really have anything to do with what you're talking about, but I just really hope that this ebook fad calms down a little so I don't have to worry about paperback books dying out.

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