TechDirt has a little look at the growing fight between textbook publishers and the students who are tired of paying thousands of dollars a semester and are instead finding more and more pirated scans online:
“…rather than responding to the root cause of the downloads, textbook publishers are trying to come up with systems that students can’t get around paying for, such as online subscriptions to “extra” information to go along with a textbook.”
Doesn’t anyone want to learn anything from the failings of the music industry? The only way the textbook companies will beat the pirates is to offer their books for a fair price in a format that is open and friendly to the students.
Yeah, I don’t see that happening anytime soon, either. So, expect to see plenty of new textbooks coming to a pirate site near you. Supply and demand, people. Supply and demand.
Matt Mason‘s wonderful book, The Pirate’s Dilemma, is one of the reasons I started this blog. He was my first interview, too. During that interview I asked him about a free online version and he said he hoped to get something out there sooner than later.
Well, it might have turned out to be later but now you can download a copy of the book here and you pay whatever you think is fair. Why would Matt do this?
“By treating the electronic version of a book as information rather than property, and circulating it as widely as possible, many authors such as Paulo Coelho and Cory Doctorow actually end up selling more copies of the physical version. Pirate copies of The Pirate’s Dilemma are out there online anyway, and they don’t seem to have harmed sales. My guess is they are helping. To be honest, I was flattered that the book got pirated in the first place.”
I’ve been having one discussion after another about the future of books and publishing.
One friend works for a company that will be rolling out print-on-demand paperbacks from a massive digital archive – kind of like an on-site Amazon with no delivery wait or a Barns and Noble that has everything. Cool idea, though I wonder if it removes us another step from one of the things that makes books cool – their all kinda different. Look at your bookshelf. It isn’t a uniform line, is it. However, this machine will make every book identical really, until you open in.
I argue that books will go the way of LP’s – not gone but specialized and collected. Less mass market, more unique. Instead, let’s face it, we’re all going to be doing all of our reading on something digital. Probably not a Kindle, since that’s first-gen hardware if I’ve ever seen it.
SAI has some thoughts on how to help move us into this brave digital age:
“Hardcover books should cost $25. And publishers should keep printing them–for people who want to buy them. Meanwhile, for everyone else, publishers should publish cheap electronic copies for 20% (or less) of the hardcover price.
$4.99 for a first run bestseller, downloadable to your Kindle, PC, or iPod–or simply readable on the Internet. The retailer keeps $1 or so, the author gets $1 or so, and the publisher takes home about $3. Some of that goes to marketing and some to overhead. And then you’re left with the typical publisher profit of less than $1 (no returns, manufacturing, or distribution costs).”
Now we’re cooking with gas.
The other day NYT tech-columnist and usually cool-seeming guy wrote a pretty ignorant and short-sighted column on why he doesn’t allow there to be digital copies of his books in circulation. He believes the whole notion that just because something can be freely distributed it should free to consume is absurd.
“So yes, this is how I, as an author who’s been twice-burned, truly feel. And yet I realize that it puts me, rather awkwardly, on the same side of the piracy issue as the record companies and movie companies, who are suing teenagers for downloading songs, and of whom I’ve made endless fun.”
That is certainly a sad place to be, Mr. Pogue. And, as TechDirt points out, your position is probably only going to worsen:
“It’s not that things ought to be free because they can be free — but that things will be free because that’s just basic economics. Price gets driven to marginal cost in a competitive market, and the reason it happens is because others do learn to put in place business models that work, and then if you’re the lone holdout, people start to ignore you.”
This is part of a huge discussion going on all over the web (and the “real” world too) regarding how to deal with the fact that so many goods and services are being made obsolete by digital transmission and consumption.
I’ve been having lots of interesting conversations about the future of publishing and books and reading. Often, I find, these topics get mixed up in ways that aren’t always helpful, but they are clearly locked together in many intrinsic ways.
One friend of mine is working with a company developing a print-on-demand system for books that would exist at point of purchase – basically a book vending machine that will give you any title you can think of (as long as they’ve secured the license to sell it to you). Pretty cool. Though, as we discussed, it isn’t exactly changing the basic paradigm of the book itself.
What might do that is some evolution of the eBook, of which Amazon’s Kindle is the most visible at the moment. Writer Ezra Klein spent one month with a Kindle and has written a great account of his experiences for the Columbia Journalism Review:
“Compared to this [paper books], electronic text is a GPS system. You tell it where you want to go, it finds the route. The whole book is searchable. So, for that matter, are your notes, which can all be stored. Favored passages can be clipped and saved in a separate file to facilitate more rapid review. When text ceases to be fixed, when margins swell to an infinite expanse, when every word can be sorted and searched, the failings of our brains are hardly noticeable. Your bookshelf becomes your mind’s external hard drive. It’s a shiny new e-brain, a Google that searches your personal intellectual universe.”
This is a great read that raises a ton of potent questions for anyone in the world of writing or publishing books.
Last night I was at a great birthday dinner downstairs at the “chefs table” at Blue Ribbon. Lots of cool people there and I got into a chat with a guy who works for an eBooks publisher.
Our conversation started with the Kindle – an eReader that is promoted by Amazon and the first one to make a bit of a splash. He was a fan of the device but agreed it looked a bit lame. He loves that it has wifi and allows users to download new content basically anywhere.
We both ended up feeling that it was tough to convince people to carry around another device. Eventually, something like the iPhone will be all we carry. Screen-size is an issue and maybe the coming of the flexible screen will do something about that. I really think recent advances in circuits on contact lenses will lead to a fulltime “heads-up display” but I am kind of a futuristic optimist.
Where things got a bit contentious was on the subject of DRM (Digital Rights Management) – the piece of code that, in theory, stops those who “purchase” an eBook from copying and disseminating it throughout the universe. He literally couldn’t imagine how the digital publishing industry could survive without DRM. He admitted that he no longer pays for any music because he can find it for free (illegally) on torrent sites largely thanks to the lack of (or cracked) DRM on music files. He couldn’t imagine why the same wouldn’t happen to the eBook world if DRM was removed from the equation.
I asked if there were circumstances under which he would pay for the music he found online. Turned out there was. He wanted to be able to be able to sample it first, in its entirety, not 30 second clips, and then decide if he wanted to pay for it. Not unreasonable. He also felt the price-point was high and wanted to know his money was going to the artists. I agreed. I asked him if the same might not be true for eBooks. He thought they might.
So, the real issue turned out not to be that nobody would pay for books if they were free on pirated sites but that the publishers of eBooks were not providing their potential customers with a system that was better. Imagine a site where DRM-free eBooks were available to be read for free. After you owned the book for a certain amount of time you would be asked if you’d like to pay the author for their book. If you decide not to pay maybe the file gets locked, maybe not. Maybe you decide how much to pay.
By the end of the chat I think I might have at least convinced him that fighting for better DRM was never going to be the way to beat the pirates.
I’ve been waiting for publishers to get a bit edgier with their online promotion for books.
Although this promotion (kinda NSFW) for the NYT bestseller Beautiful Children might border on simply being the porn it is modeled on I certainly see why it might get passed around the interwebs.
Of course, the big question is whether or not this sort of promotion will lead to book sales. Considering the low cost of this type of video and the chance of going “viral” it certainly can’t hurt.