Law in the Internet Society
Don't stack revisions on top of one another. It makes comparison harder rather than easier. Just create a new version by editing what's there, including deleting it and inserting a new version. Then the wiki has both versions and an intermediate version with my comments. Comparing those using the wiki "history" shows perfectly what's happened.,

E-book Self-Publishing: Instant Gratification, at What Cost?

-- By MiaLee - 20 Oct 2011

E-books are surging ahead as the preferred avenue for reading. In the first five months of 2011, U.S. consumers spent more on eBooks than they did on hardcover works. Borders shuttered after missing the e-book bandwagon, leaving Barnes and Noble scrambling to slow its losses as it throws more weight behind the Nook. Meanwhile, Amazon has captured the lion's share of proceeds, capitalizing on its first-to-market e-reader success, its [[> law

y-Amazons-Kindle-is-the-top-eReader-its-the-ecosystem.html][massive distribution network]], and its recently launched self-publishing program.

This paper examines some of the promises and peril posed by the for-profit digitization of books.

Empowered Authors, Embittered Publishers

The e-book market removes entry barriers for authors who have been hampered by or excluded entirely from the traditional publishing process. Since print publishers count on a small crop of bestsellers to recoup the losses from underperforming manuscripts, they extend advances to a select few. Authors who manage to land deals must then launch a marketing blitz to drum up in-person sales. For example, J.A. Konrath recounts the uphill battle he faced when his first hardcover novel hit stores. Konrath's publisher did not want to pay coop fees for an incognito to host official bookstore signings. Konrath instead cobbled together his own signings, and, when he graduated to an official book tour, squeezed in hundreds of extra road shows to make the long slogs cross-country more efficient.

A once-weary Konrath now sits comfortably at home while his Kindle sales drive tens of thousands of monthly profits in the background, a few dollars at a time. The same can be said for Amanda Hocking, who went straight from unsigned blogger to Kindle millionaire, pricing her works in the "impulse buy" range of $.99 to $3. Their success, however, is uncommon: to date, only 56 writers have sold 100,000 or more e-books on Amazon.

As some self-made authors take the reigns of their digital careers, spurned Big Six publishers strive to cannibalize their cut of e-book revenues. Displeased that more than eighty percent of Kindle titles have been priced at $9.99 or less, the Big Six joined Apple to pressure Amazon into replacing its wholesale strategy with their agency model. With wholesaling, Amazon bought titles at a bulk discount and set its own resale prices; under the agency model, publishers set list prices ($12.99+) and pay the online retailer a ~30% commission on sales. Amazon caved to the demands, but the Big Six/Apple bullies are now subject to a class action antitrust lawsuit for conspiring to fix prices.

Penguin also launched its own self-publishing platform last month, BookCountry? , which quickly garnered scathing reviews from Konrath and other authors. BookCountry imposes steep fees and meager revenue shares on literary hopefuls: joining requires a $99 to $549 outlay for formatting/design services, and rev shares drop 30% in comparison to Amazon's program because Penguin has re-inserted itself as an intermediary. Furthermore, Penguin restricts authors' DRM choices; whereas all Amazon self-publishers can choose to post their works DRM-free, BookCountry? prohibits DRM-free publishing for all works over $2.99 (which, incidentally, are the works that qualify for higher rev share).

These "frenemy" maneuvers by Amazon and the Big Six prompt consideration of how authors would fare if they chose instead to manage their own e-publishing cycles. In theory, authors could learn Photoshop or tag an artistic friend for design help, host their own websites through Weebly, and encode their own e-books with open source software such as Calibre. But in practice, I think few overstretched authors, especially those with limited tech backgrounds, would devote resources to creating their own book distribution networks when the alternative is paying a 20-30% convenience fee to access existing channels. Such channels have achieved a network effect that an emerging artist would struggle to replicate alone. No matter how well SEO-ed an author's Website might be, it won't bubble up to the first page of search results when would-be customers run a generic search for "books." The indie seller would miss out on Amazon shoppers "primed" to make 1-click purchases of cheap reads alongside their other goods. And if the seller tried to juggle both Amazon- and self-run distribution, she would be disciplined into not offering promos on her site that differ from her Kindle prices; one author learned the hard way that Amazon's algorithm searches other sites for free versions of one's works -- even excerpts -- and drops the Kindle price to match.

Commoditized Consumers

At best, dominant player Amazon offers aspiring authors an unprecedented chance to make a living from their creative talents; at worst, it and the Big Six seed writer dependence for their cartel's benefit. But how does the growing e-book market affect readers?

Kindle partnerships with libraries and schools can improve students' web-based reading comprehension and overall enthusiasm for literature in our tech gadget-obsessed society. As high school librarian Buffy Hamilton points out in the above article, the Kindle enables self-conscious teens to privately read different books without incurring their friends' ridicule. (It's too bad this literary squeamishness exists in our society, but at least the Kindle tries to help). Such partnerships would go even farther if Amazon would heed librarians' requests to relax the six-device sharing limit imposed on Kindle files.

More broadly speaking, critics bemoan the commoditization of literature. At the $.99 price point, books stop existing as cherished tomes, handpicked after an afternoon spent browsing curated titles at the local store, and assume new life as impulse purchases made because the cover art was flashy. The Kindle market place has been littered with spam, and with each additional purchase, the Web giant gains incremental knowledge of how to price discriminate among us. France and Germany have laws against selling books below cost to prevent this erosion of local culture, meanwhile, Amazon hawks its discount-bundled, price scanning app in an unabashed effort to divert in-person purchases back to its site.


The present e-books landscape encourages new authors and increases reader access, provided we are willing to cede digital autonomy to Amazon and the Big Six.

Our problem here hasn't really changed. You're analysis deliberately stops short, because of the sentimental attachment not to writing but to publishing, shown in your comments on my comments.

E-books, which are data files containing text and illustrations and (if you're not using the current crappy versions made by the proprietary distributors) also a beautiful graphic version of the page laid out as most of a thousand years of printing have taught us how to make reading elegant, are not large files, even compared to songs. The largest volumes are shorter than pop songs, in bits.

So every book, the ones now in existence and the ones that are going to exist later, will be available to everybody at no cost, as freely shared files, the same way music is now. Price equals marginal cost in a competitive market, and zero will be the price for books. That's wonderful news for humanity. Including writers.

But it has nothing to do with the continued existence of publishers, who are going to cease to exist. Distributors like Amazon will continue for a while to have business from (a) stupid people, (b) people who bought their "Capable of Using Our Store Only" sterile so called e-book reading devices, and (c) people who prefer to be forced to pay rather than offered a chance to pay for what they love.

Everyone else will get books off the net from the moment they are "published" or scanned by one copy's owner, or in a library. I have already explained the technology so I'll say it shortly here: there's no way to DRM any book, whether printed or existing only on an "e-reader" belonging to some proprietary distribution system, because cameras are everywhere, and any picture of text, no matter how imperfect, can easily be turned into fine readable typeset print and OCR'd text you can search and reuse. Therefore all text will be shared. Authors will be paid by the voluntary contributions of their readers, which will be larger than the royalties paid by publishers. You don't need any "techie infrastructure" to make that happen: you put an email address in the text and you ask people to send you money, through PayPal or the equivalent, to support your work. Selling bits is not how authors make money, no matter which form of literary distribution prevails, which is why your industry analysis is so poor at grasping the future or authoring.

The issue isn't whether this pathway is good or bad. This is the pathway, despite the publishers' panicked behavior and the greed of the online sellers with their locked-down crippled technology, that we are on. The essay is an attempt to imagine that mere sentimental attachment to publishing as an industry can cause both economic principles and technical progress to vary, which they won't.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" on the next line:

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r16 - 04 Sep 2012 - 22:02:16 - IanSullivan
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