HarperCollins Trials Print and E-Book Bundling with Boomerang Books

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Boomerang Books, in partnership with Harper Collins Australia and Kobo, are trialling the bundling together of print books and ebooks.

From today until the end of January Boomerang Books customers will have the opportunity to buy a selection of bestselling Harper Collins titles that will include a copy of the ebook.

The bundled books contain an unique code that can be used to download the ebook from Kobo.

Bundling is a great idea when it comes to books. Unlike music and DVD, it is next to impossible to digitize a print book. Given some of the limitations that surround eBooks giving readers the opportunity to buy both formats together adds to readers’ convenience and gives them a handy backup for their digital library.The bundling of print books and ebooks opens a lot of doors currently closed by ebooks. People can easily gift a bundled book without fear of what device (if any) someone reads on. The rise of ebooks has eroded to some extent the art of sharing a book with friends and loved ones, bundling print books and ebooks overcomes this and reaffirms the physical book as the premier book format. An ebook reader can also have a physical copy to get signed by the author or to put on their shelf and a print book reader has a digital copy easily accessible from a computer, tablet, smartphone or ereader.

The books part of the bundling trial are:

Cleanskin Cowgirls by Rachael Treasure
Ghost House by Alexandra Adornetti
Kerry Stokes: The Boy from Nowhere by Andrew Rule
Last Woman Hanged by Caroline Overington
The Menzies Era by John Howard

The books are available now here…

 

eBook Recommendations

iPad MiniI’ll keep this blog brief because my others have a habit of getting, well, long. And instead of writing what I think, I’m hoping to pick your brains (in the nicest possible way, of course—that’s not an entirely pleasant visual).

I’m on the hunt for innovative ebooks. As in, ones that represent new and engagingly effective ways to tell stories. Can you recommend any? Of any genre?

I mean, sure, it’s great that the industry’s invented electronic text and formats that (with the exception of PDFs) sort and reassemble and re-flow themselves according to the device and your preferred settings. But ereaders represent a bunch of storytelling- and industry-expanding opportunities to enhance the tale and the reading experience. I’m looking for books (and publishers) that are exploring and realising the ebook format’s potential.

In-built dictionary functionality is tops—I no longer have to dog ear pages or make mental notes to scurry off and look words up—but can you think of any ebooks that are seamlessly incorporating other special features-style storytelling elements such as stills and video? Or that perhaps encourage you to access and navigate through the tale from a variety of non-traditional, non-chronological, but non-confusing angles?

I guess the key to the texts I’m looking for is that they’re good, that the elements are integrated and not hey-we-can-insert-a-video-here tacked on. The kinds of texts that give the sense that they’ve come from publishers who see electronic publishing as an opportunity rather than something they’ve been forced, like a luddite with a gun held to their head, to make a token effort at. I’m after the ones that, though the books may be serious, are clearly having fun.

Any recommendations for books or publishers? Or even blogs talking about them? I’m stumped for where to start.

Gathering Book-Reading Data For Technophobes

I have a sneaking suspicion that technophobic people bemoaning the death of the physical book and reminiscing about the smell of books might yet find a reason to fall in love with them. Particularly if they’re parents or teachers trying to encourage reluctant readers across the reading line. The reason? Fast Company reports that ebook publisher CourseSmart has released a platform that enables teachers to collect data and analyse their students’ interaction with and, ultimately, understanding of texts.

This means that teachers will be able to tell how many pages students read, what (if any) electronic notes they made, and how long they spent reading. The program delivers this information in an infographic form, likely making it easy and fun to use (see opening paragraph re: winning over technophobes).

Of course, the usual grumps have been vocal, including a teacher Fast Company quote who said: ‘I will not be using this tool because I have a better way of measuring their engagement. I call it “their grade”’. Yeah, that’s true, and this tool could and never should replace teachers’ first-hand experience and analysis. But this could be a complementary tool that could lead to some interesting insights—ones that physical books can’t currently show.

When I was at school (and yes, I realise that opener makes me sound old), you could often get away without reading the book if you watched the film or read the Cliff Notes or copied off your friend. Being a booklover, I always read the book and always found it better than the eventually watched film. I wondered and felt slightly sad about what my classmates were missing out on (and yes, I realise that also makes me sound old and vaguely cruddy).

Sure, ebook reading data can be fudged. But if knowing the program is installed encourages a student or two to actually read the book, or even part of the book, it might not be a bad thing (I mean, it would take almost as much effort to flick through the pages to believably falsify reading the book as it would to just get on and read it). That’s in addition to the fact that the ebook format, with its likely interactivity and note-taking functions, might be a better fit for students disinclined to read physical copies.

I don’t for a moment think CourseSmart’s program is going to revolutionise teachers’ teaching methods or students’ reading habits, but I do think it’s indicative of a shift. Twelve months ago I could have sworn the publishing sky was falling down with all the flapping about ebooks and the death of the physical book and, with it, traditional publishers. Now, not only has the sky not fallen down but we’re seeing programs such as CourseSmarts’ emerge that see the potential of the new book formats and how we interact with them. That’s more investment into how and why we read and, hopefully, an increase in reading overall. That can only be a good thing, right?

Hello ereading

Given that most of my work is digitally based, most people are surprised to find out I don’t yet own an ereader. It’s not because I’m dinosauring it up, dragging my heels and wailing that nothing will ever replace the smell of books (then sniffing physical books in a slightly creepy way). It’s just that I’ve been waiting for the format wars to end and for someone to release the ereader I’m after.

And by ‘someone’, I mean Apple. I’m actually ashamed to admit this, but I’m such a staunch Apple supporter and such an it’s-not-pretty-enough snob that I’ve turned my nose up at the previously released devices from other suppliers that have come close but not close enough.

I’ve resolutely steered clear of Amazon’s Kindle for reasons that I realise could just as easily be levelled at Apple itself: with their device and their one-of-a-kind file type, Amazon try to lock you in to their store.

Besides, Kindles utilise the nostalgic Etch-a-Sketch magnetic filings and they-used-to-be-handy rocker button technology, but deep down I’ve always known that LCD touch screens were the way of the future.

Combine those issues with region restrictions and the fact that Kindles aren’t the ugliest device ever but that certainly aren’t the prettiest and, well, despite desperately wanting to get in on the ereading world, I’ve been sitting, arms crossed, on the fence line.

Until now.

After weeks of others predicting it (it truly was one of the worst kept secrets in the company’s recent history), Apple released the iPad Mini. Despite Steve Jobs’ now-wrong prediction that no one needed a device sized in between the iPhone and the iPad (yep, even the best don’t always predict it right), the company’s relented and I’m, frankly, fist-pumping euphoric.

The iPad’s always been too large to be an ereader and it’s roughly the same size as my 13” laptop, making it a little redundant (and back-straining) to carry around both. But the just-over-seven-inch iPad Mini is, as Goldilocks would say, just right.

I will concede that this inaugural iPad Mini edition isn’t as speccy as it should be—with technology matching the now outdated iPad 2, it’s lacking such improvements as retina display.

But I also know I’ve held out on investing in an ereading device for too long to hold out even longer for Version 2. Besides, close inspection of the iPad Mini evokes in me words (superficial as they admittedly are) I’ve not been able to coo about any ereaders preceding it: ‘It’s so pretty’.

One of the things I find most interesting about the whole ereading and ereader world is that the content and devices through which to devour them are controlled not by publishers but by companies whose primary businesses include retail (Kindle), hardware (Apple), and advertising (Google).

That speaks volumes about publishers’ tech-unsavvy heel dragging and missed opportunities, although it arguably also says much about ones emerging from out-of-the-box thinking by publishing non-experts.

Likewise I’m intrigued that although everyone originally complained about backlit screens hurting the eye, that’s all but disappeared with the release of retina display. We may have unknowingly been complaining about the wrong thing (and yes, I realise that retina display absence is yet another reason why I should wait until the next iPad Mini version comes out … but won’t).

I’m also unsurprised but happy nonetheless that people with ereaders both purchase and read more books rather than the feared fewer (cheap prices combined with ease of purchase combined with not seeing the money disappear from their credit cards should never be underestimated).

And, as this infographic shows, ebook revenue is only on the up too, with ebooks now making up more than 10% of 36% of publishers’ revenue. Ebook sales are also starting to outstrip physical book sales, with that much-touted figure that Amazon sells 114 ebooks for every 100 physical books it sells. Imagine if publishers embraced the opportunities and got themselves across the technology, eh?

The infographic is a few months old, though, and I wonder how the iPad Mini will change its data. The graphic shows that Amazon owns the content corner, but people prefer reading on the iPad.

With the more portable, more manageable iPad Mini on the market, this market share will likely go up. Sure, it’s one behemoth stealing market share from another, but it’s a behemoth with a better looking device. I’ll let you know how I go with the iPad Mini (I’m thinking of getting the white one—what do you think?) once I’ve had a chance to properly road test it.

A chaste book with the naughty bits avoided or omitted …

Fifty Shades of GreyI’m pretty much standing alone among writers in saying that the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon is a good thing. The general stance is that it’s poorly written commercial drivel leading the reading (and non-reading) masses astray. Me? I think the issues and opportunities are—please excuse the pun—a little more grey.

First and foremost, there’s an element of ‘why her and not me?’ in some writers’ chagrin. Nobody likes a whinger. It’s admittedly got to bite a bit when E.L. James’ writing’s so guffaw-inducing bad (my friend and fellow editor Judi makes me giggle regularly by quoting the bit about Ana’s very own ‘Christian-flavoured popsicle’). It’s got to bite a bit more when you’ve been slaving away for years at your own writing with limited success.

But it ignores the fact that there’s a lot going for Fifty Shades, not least that its success has opened others’ doors. I’ve personally been offered a number of chances to review ‘the next’ Fifty Shades book and to interview its author. Ergo, opportunities for me and opportunities for erotic fiction authors who, it should be noted, were until recently low on the (little-discussed) writing hierarchy—they’re like romance writers but considered more snicker-worthy.

Surely those writers should be grateful that James’ trilogy has ratcheted up the chance of erotic fiction writers for obtaining publishing contracts and has driven eyes and sales to the genre? And beyond the genre, for that matter—James’ own husband has scored a book deal for his crime thriller (I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered trying to find and marry an up-and-coming writer who might be able to piggyback me across the bestselling line).

Mr James’ book is apparently in no way connected to Fifty Shades, but who are we kidding? Everyone’s going to be scouring the pages for hints of his and Mrs James’ sex life (and if I were him I wouldn’t care—a book sale’s a book sale and he might even gain some readers who otherwise didn’t know they enjoyed thrillers).

The Da Vinci CodeBecause for all the ‘it’s so badly written’ grumbling, Fifty Shades has done for erotica what Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter have done for their respective genres before—they’ve got people reading and they’ve got people talking about reading.

Whether readers and critics realise it or not (and it’s the ‘or not’ that’s arguably key in the same way that parents try to ensure that kids don’t realise they’re eating green vegies), Fifty Shades has got everyone analysing the work. And then it’s set them off in search of more (hopefully better) reading material to fill the obsessive, book-devouring void.

It’s also provided a much-needed cash injection into a flailing publishing industry, inspired people to buy ebooks so as not to give their dirty reading secret away courtesy of a visible physical book cover, and lobbed previously published and soon-to-be published erotica to the fore. As far as I’m concerned, it’s win–win.

The ‘what about me?’ criticisms also dismiss the fact that Fifty Shades taps into an epic love story. Badly written as it is (as was Twilight before it), there’s something utterly irresistible about it. Self-respecting feminist I may be, even I got caught up in the fairytale-like element of a wealthy, gorgeous, troubled-but-not-without-redemption knight in shining armour sweeping her off her feet (please spare me the hate mail about how the book sets us back centuries—I know it’s imperfect).

Something else has intrigued more than all the ‘it’s rubbish’ furore, both because it’s something I was vaguely thinking about and because it was articulated much better by an author I’m not sure I am a fan of. Jodi Picoult (AKA a reasonably divisive and commercially driven, commercially successful author herself) said that James is unfairly profiting from another author’s tale and characters.

TwilightPicoult kind of has a point, although truthfully, I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. Fifty Shades was explicitly created as Twilight fan fiction, ergo it seems to be fine to use the characters. But fan fiction as a whole is collaborative and something from which people don’t often profit—James’ breakout success is blurring and redefining this, potentially towards a less-open, more-greedy dynamic.

It’s tricky to know where Meyer stands on this issue too. Yes, they’re her characters, but one could convincingly argue that they’re not uniquely hers at all—they’re poorly wrought versions derived from archetypes. What is known is that she’s stayed fairly quiet on the whole issue.

On a pragmatic level, given her devout Mormon faith it’s unlikely (read: about as likely as you or me finding a real-life Christian Grey to call our own) that she’d have written a Fifty Shades or equivalent herself. In fact, you could say Fifty Shades emerged precisely because Meyer didn’t and wouldn’t give us the highly anticipated sex.

What I want to know is whether Meyer has read Fifty Shades. Because that’s the amusing part, isn’t it? A chaste book with the naughty bits avoided, omitted, or only committed in line with strict religious beliefs (AKA sex only after marriage) inspires a best-selling book that’s decidedly unchaste and that breaks all the religious rules …

So why do we have to deal with DRM?

It’s not hard to understand why some book publishers are keen on DRM (Digital Rights Management encryption software which limits the potential uses of the file).

They’ve seen the music and film businesses struggle in the face of mass piracy.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry estimates that some 95 per cent of global music downloads are illegal.

Ebook files can be downloaded illegally just as easily, even when they are “protected” by DRM.

There are few statistics on the phenomenon, but according to Google, there were between 1.5 million to 3 million searches for pirated books per day on its search engine in 2010.

The German Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association said in 2011 that illegal down some 60 percent of electronic books were being downloaded illegally there.

I can honestly say I’ve never tried it, but people tell me you can find online instructions for stripping DRM from an ebook, and complete the process, in seconds.

These same people use this knowledge in what I’d see as an ethical manner. They buy books from different retailers then strip the DRM so that they can read them all on any device or app (so for example, stripping the Kindle’s walled garden DRM would allow you to read a Kindle ebook on a non-Kindle e-ink ereader).

Amazon won’t like it, and it contravenes their licence agreements with consumers, but given these individuals have paid for the book, why shouldn’t they be able to choose how they read it and on which device?

Stubborn policies like those of Amazon and Apple restricting the use of their ebooks to specific platforms are among the key reasons for ebook piracy.

Other such “ethical” reasons include consumer views that as they have paid for a book, they should be able to lend it to a friend just as they could a printed book; and that they deserve a right to permanent access to their ebook library, whichever retailer they’ve purchased it from.

DRM is the enemy of these well-meaning ebook buyers. Some see it as such an evil they actively lobby against its implementation. Check out Defective by Design and you’ll see what I mean.

There are less noble pirates who are just lazy, ignorant of the law, or utterly unconcerned about breaking it, and it is possible that DRM makes some difference in their levels of piracy.

Often, illegal downloading is driven by a frustration over availability of content, or high prices. Consumers learn via social networks of a book, film or television series that is taking off overseas, try to download it legally, and discover that it is not available in their market for territorial copyright reasons, or in their preferred format due to complex licencing agreements (or the publisher’s lack of technical expertise). Keen to consume the content as soon as possible, they turn pirate.

A shopper compares the high Australian price of a book with that of its much cheaper US equivalent and in frustration, turns to an illegal download service.

A busy would-be customer ponders the complex registration process required to download one file, and decides piracy is easier.

Solution? Publishers and booksellers need to make their content available in a timely manner, for quick and easy download using as many platforms as the consumer desires, and at a reasonable price.

If they do this, and have faith in the market, DRM will become redundant.

In fact, I reckon it’s on the way out already. Read my next post to find out what’s led me to this conclusion.

SMH joins longform journalism ebook push

Fairfax Media has published Australia’s first newspaper-driven longform journalism ebook.

Framed, by Sydney Morning Herald Asia-Pacific editor Hamish McDonald, is available to Kindle and Kindle app users via the Amazon website, and is priced at $1.99.

It’s a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism, examining a shocking incident in Australia’s history deemed the equivalent to Britain’s Guildford Four and Birmingham Six cases (in which ten individuals were wrongly convicted over IRA terrorism bombings – remember Daniel Day-Lewis in In the Name of the Father)?

According to McDonald, Australia’s criminal justice system bears similar guilt, for locking up the so-called Croatian Six more than 30 years ago. The young Croatian-Australians were convicted of plotting to plant bombs around Sydney, and each served time in prison. McDonald has found evidence to suggest the men were set up by the intelligence service of the then Communist Yugoslav state.

He tells of the involvement of unwitting police officers (Roger Rogerson was among those who carried out the arrests) who may have acted inappropriately, of a judicial system turning a blind eye to flaws in evidence, and to Canberra officials covering up knowledge of the Yugoslav role.

He speaks to some of the men, and to members of their families. It’s a riveting read – I finished it in 45 minutes.

The 10,000-word title will be promoted via a 2000-word extract published in the print edition of today’s Sydney Morning Herald, on smh.com.au and in the SMH iPad app.

Sydney Morning Herald tablet editor Stephen Hutcheon has managed the project. He told uBookish in an exclusive interview yesterday that the publication came about because the newspaper was unable to publish such a lengthy work in its own pages, either in print, online or via the app.

“It wouldn’t have looked as good as a big block of text online or in an app,” he said, adding that longer pieces like these need extra formatting and breaking up into smaller chunks to work in those formats.

Hutcheon, who has been following developments in ebooks and longform journalism for some time, proposed the long work be published as a Kindle ebook, and having received clearance from the newspaper’s editor and editor-in-chief, went ahead and did just that this week.

“This is a very low key thing,” he said.

“Everyone is just happy to give it a go.

“We’re just seeing whether we can do it, and what the reaction is – whether there is room for longform journalism.”

Initially, Hutcheon submitted the work to Amazon’s Kindle Singles program, but it was rejected – probably because Amazon’s publishing program is, like most of its activities, heavily US-centric. The email he received suggested Fairfax publish the work directly for Kindle themselves.

Hutcheon, who as a former SMH website editor is experienced with html coding, did the file conversion himself once the book was edited in house. He then spent a fitful night hoping the advertised 12-hour turnaround before the ebook would be live in the Kindle store would be accurate. It was, and you can download the book here.

Hutcheon chose the Kindle format because it allowed him to reach a wide audience via the Kindle apps for smartphones and tablets as well as the Kindle device itself. However, he did not rule out making the work available through other channels.

“We haven’t signed away exclusive rights to Kindle,” he said.

McDonald is the author of four previously published books, including Mahabharata in Polyester (2010, University of NSW Press) and Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra (co-authored, 2000, Allen & Unwin).

A former Fairfax journalist, Charlotte Harper worked as a web producer on smh.com.au from 1997 to 2001.

The D Publishing furore, exciting Earls news and if:book’s ebook

So, surely the digital publishing world is winding down for Christmas? The list of announcements and industry stoushes must be coming to an end? Nope, not if the buzz around D Publishing’s contracts, Exciting Press’s Nick Earls deal and if:book Australia’s first ebook are any indication.

According to Crikey’s new Lit-icism blogger, Bethanie Blanchard, the furore over Dymocks’ D Publishing venture’s author contracts continues. She provides an excellent analysis here. D Publishing is a new venture for the book retailer, launched only a few weeks ago. Bookish social media users have been in a flap ever since with warnings for authors over what has been described as “Australia’s worst publishing contract”.

I haven’t seen one of the contracts, but would argue that any author can negotiate with any prospective publisher, and if that publisher won’t budge on clauses of concern, then they’re probably not going to care much about the author and their book/s in the future either, so the author should look elsewhere. Smashwords might be a good start, though it is possible to go it alone too. Services like BookBaby and Lulu are other options to consider.

If they’ll have you, the mainstream publishers still seem to be the best bet in terms of creating a professionally edited, well-designed and marketed product, though Australia’s own Nick Earls has just spurned the legacy publishers to sign a 12-book digital distribution deal with a small US start-up, Exciting Press. Bet they’re excited!

Meanwhile, the good people at if:book Australia have just published a free ebook, Hand Made High Tech, containing ten essays from Australian writers on the future of books and reading in a digital world. It’s edited by if:book Australia manager Simon Groth, and published using the WordPress-powered PressBooks platform. You can download it free for Kindle, as an ePub file for your e-ink reader, as a PDF, or read it online. There’s a hashtag, #ifbookessay, so you can join the conversation while reading too.

The opening chapter is by Associate Professor Sherman Young, author of The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book (UNSW Press 2007) and Media Convergence (Palgrave, 2011). I haven’t yet read the latter, but recommend the former to anyone who is interested in the future of the book. Sadly, it is not available as an ebook, but you can order the print version. It’s a very beautiful object as far as printed book go.

I’m looking forward to reading the second chapter, by Australian publishing veteran Peter Donoughue, the former managing director of John Wiley & Sons Australia blogs about industry developments at Pub Date Critical. It was one of his posts that finally helped me get my head around the wholesale versus agency models for book distribution.

The other essayists are author John Birmingham, founder and CEO of Norg Media Bronwen Clune, digital poet Jason Nelson, journalist, novelist and podcaster Myke Bartlett, comics guru Jackie Ryan, writer and game developer Paul Callaghan and author of the Writer’s Guide to Making a Digital Living Christy Dena.

What do you call an ereader virus?

Aaargghhhhhhh!
Hopefully you’ve been having too much fun at Christmas parties to notice that uBookish has been a bit quiet of late – but not so much fun that you won’t notice our flurry of activity in coming days.

The lack of posts is not through choice – I have a long list of ideas at the ready (Part III of my November newsfest on Titlepage and the Book Industry Strategy Group report, my review of the Sony Reader, an update on the Australian Publishers Association’s Business of Digital Rights Seminar and a look at ebook distribution to name a few).

As well as the usual lack of time, I’ve been held back by a series of trojan attacks on my PC (read on for some advice to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to you, and for a very silly joke about malware and ebooks – which we hope are two words set to rarely appear in the same sentence in future).

About three weeks ago, our Norton software started warning that its expiry date was near. I tried to click through to pay another year’s annual fee, but had no luck. After hitting submit, the dialogue box would just hang, looking as though it might at any time congratulate me on renewing my subscription, but in fact never doing anything much at all. I tried several times, but eventually in frustration put the task to one side for a quieter day.

There were more urgent matters to consider (I thought), like marking student papers, writing a news story for Bookseller + Publisher and compiling some research for the Copyright Agency Limited’s upcoming guide to digital publishing.

It was in the process of the latter task that I first noticed a problem. Google searches result lists would look safe enough, but clicking on the links would lead me to all sorts of utterly irrelevant pages.

I tried rebooting and that seemed to fix it. Then, a few hours later, the problem would return. A couple of times, the PC crashed, but it came back to life. One morning, I spent three hours trying to fix the problem by again trying to restore our Norton subscription (still no luck) and then installing and running Microsoft’s Security Essentials.

Lifehacker recommends the Microsoft product ahead of all others, and it did find and remove about a dozen trojans, malware files and viruses.

I’d hoped this would solve everything, but there was one file that Security Essentials singled out but did not remove as it didn’t recognize it. Perhaps it was this one that was the killer, because that evening while I slept, my husband was working on our Samsung laptop when it crashed completely.

We can’t even get Windows to start up (believe me, I have tried, wasting another three hours the other day).

So now I’m wondering about the family photo collection.

My poor students are still waiting for their marked feature stories.

I’m trying to get into work early enough to do my blog posting before colleagues arrive and expect me to be at work on our magazine, but failing because it’s Christmas and my family needs me more than ever outside of childcare hours.

Our fingers are crossed that a friend who has some Linux expertise will be able to access our files and revive the PC for us when he has some time later this week.

It’s all helped in my decision about whether to buy a Mac or PC next (though Lifehacker warns that while less so, Macs are vulnerable to attack too).

Please beware of malware this Christmas, and make sure your anti-virus software is up to date. At the very least, take Lifehacker’s advice and make sure you browse safely.

With spammers and hackers constantly hassling me via email, automated blog posts and PC threats, I have had a grim thought. For how long will my iPad, iPhone and Sony Reader be safe from their devious and costly (in terms of time and money) plots?

Which brings me to the joke (discovered here).

Q: What do you call an ereader virus?

A: A bookworm.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

The great digital newsprint struggle

The book industry has handled the transition to digital with greater intelligence, foresight and strategy than the newspaper business.

In the space of two years (given the Kindle arrived in this market in late 2009 and the iPad and Kobo in May 2010), all major book publishers and many smaller operators have begun to publish ebooks simultaneously with printed titles. Larger book retailers were either already selling ebooks, or moved as quickly as they could to partner with businesses that would allow them to do so. Customers who adopted ereader technology understood from day one that they would need to part with cash to buy ebooks, just as they had physical books.

Newspaper publishers have posted their content online since the mid-90s (making it available to their readers for no charge in most cases), but many are still trying to find a digital model that will make their business sustainable.

Perhaps it’s because newspaper editors are so flat out getting the next day’s edition together, they don’t have time to research, plan, and ponder their likely future, whereas book publishers are used to thinking long term.

Perhaps, like many who are opposed to taking action on climate change, the newspaper bosses see the so-called digital threat as a problem for their successors, and thus one they can ignore or pay lip service to without taking genuine steps towards a sustainable model.

Andrew Rossi’s documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times examines some of these issues, and is a must-see for anyone who is interested in the changing face of the mainstream media. It’s showing in arthouse cinemas in Australia now.

A poster for Page One.
Rossi spent a year in The New York Times newsroom, focusing particularly on the media desk as it covered the dramatic changes affecting the reporters’ own industry.

During that year, the paper’s editors debated how they would cover WikiLeaks’ Afghan war logs, the release of the iPad, the bankruptcy of the Tribune Company (some serious scandals in that one, I’m definitely keen to read more about the workplace culture that filtered through to the LA Times and Chicago Tribune among other papers), NBC Universal’s merger with Comcast, media staff cuts impacting on coverage of the White House and the end of US combat in Iraq.

The film also looks at the Jayson Blair and Judith Miller incidents, the rise of Gawker, Pro Publica and new models for investigative reporting and charging for news online (the Times introduced a metered model of charging regular users of its website during filming).

The lively characters who fill the newsroom and those who commentate on the future of the Times for the cameras provide intriguing side-stories within the larger narrative. Media and culture columnist David Carr, a former crack addict whose 2008 memoir, The Night of the Gun, was a New York Times bestseller, is a star of the show.

But it is the newspaper itself that plays the leading role, surviving by adapting to make best use of new tools like Twitter and blogs and (as has been the case in newspapers here) cutting staff.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the future of newspapers. Do you still read them? How often? In print or online? Or via apps for smartphones or tablets?

Do you prefer to read native apps (purpose-built for tablets) or replica versions of the print editions, like those found in the PressReader app?

Or do you find you now read only the occasional newspaper story you’ve found via Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms?

Would you be prepared to pay by the article, ebook-style, to access quality, well-researched long-form journalism?

Finally, do you think newspapers will even exist in five or ten years?

I’ll write a follow-up post with some of my own thoughts on these questions (as a former online editor of three newspapers, including one that introduced a paywall a decade ago) soon.

Charlotte’s posts on books, digital publishing and social media also appear on Twitter (@ebookish), Facebook (www.facebook.com/ebookish) and at ebookish.com.au.

New Direction, New Momentum

Plenty of things have been happening in the world of ebooks over the past few weeks, but for the first time I’ve been too busy working on an exciting project of my own to post about them. That project is Momentum, a new digital-only imprint of Pan Macmillan Australia, which was announced today. As a publisher for Momentum, I’ll be looking for books to publish globally, from writers who are digitally savvy, switched on to the possibilities of electronic publishing and, perhaps most importantly, know how to tell a good story.

Momentum will be launching in February 2012 with a truly amazing stable of frontlist authors. I am honoured to get the chance to work with each of these writers, and I look forward to the opportunity to work with new and established authors alike in the future.

We also want to hear from authors who have older titles that are out of print or yet to be digitised who want to inject new life into their old books. There are potentially thousands of books out there that can no longer be accessed online or off and no longer provide an income for the authors who wrote them. Momentum will give these writers the opportunity to breathe new life into previously published work and make them accessible for a new audience of digital readers.

Accessibility is going to be the name of the game for Momentum. Momentum ebooks will be available globally and at an affordable price. The Smell of Books has provided me with a wonderful excuse to listen to digital readers, and I think there is a lot I can do to make the relationship between readers and publishers as open as possible. This is going to be a tremendously exciting time, so I hope you’ll spread the word and contribute your thoughts, ideas and hopefully your books!

As part of this new direction, I’ll be shifting the Smell of Books to a new independent location. I’ll still be blogging on all things bookish, digital and tech, but as the demands of Momentum will be a bigger drain on my time, I’d like to make room for new voices here at Booku. If you’d like to keep up with the Smell of Books, please head over to www.thesmellofbooks.com where I’ll continue to post rants, analysis and news about the digital publishing world. You can also follow me on Twitter @joelnaoum. It’s been a blast, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the people here at Booku and Boomerang Books, especially Clayton Wehner and my fellow bloggers over at Boomerang.

To find out more about Momentum, visit the website at www.momentumbooks.com.au and follow Momentum on Twitter @momentumbooks.

 

The Problem With Ebooks

Eat Pray LoveForget the debates about format and whether or not their rise heralds the death of the physical book. I’ve realised the fundamental flaw with ebooks is that they drive sticky beaks like me mental.

It goes like this: As an avid reader and poacher of books, I’m perpetually on the lookout for my next acquisition. Public transport has traditionally been a place of inspiration, as I get to see what everyone’s reading and work out whether I want to read it myself.

Admittedly there’s also a bit of judgment thrown in with said checking out of books, and I’ve often been surprised as the titles people have unashamedly been reading in public.

I mean, Eat Pray Love/Vom, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single?, and various other titles that cover relationship woes or suspicious health symptoms are best left on the bedside table.

But the advent of the eBook means that I can no longer easily tell what anyone’s reading and that I realised—as I found myself not-so-subtly leaning in to try to read the ink on the reader’s virtual page—I’m reduced to committing crazy-train-lady social faux pas.

Men Are From MarsFortunately, the person whose ereader I was leaning over didn’t look up. The book she was reading was apparently so incredibly absorbing she didn’t notice someone invading her personal space.

Frustratingly, I still don’t know which book it is—the snippets of text I caught didn’t give me any hints, and even those snippets were difficult to catch as her ereader of choice wasn’t backlit.

Possibly, though, others on the train noticed what I was up to and cast me into the crazy lady who reads over others’ shoulders. That or they think I’m a complete tight ass who doesn’t buy her own books and instead freeloads off others. Not altogether unfair judgments, really.

Of course, the upside to ereaders is that people can read otherwise embarrassing books about relationship heartache and suspicious, potentially communicable health issues.

I personally will be able to read the latest edition of Vampire Academy without having to almost do myself a contortion-related injury trying to conceal the soppy, Mills-and-Boon-meets-young-adult-fiction cover that draws both the eye and the you’re-reading-that incredulity…

If I'm So WonderfulI guess I should rephrase that opening statement to say that I’ve realised the fundamental flaw with others’ ebooks is that they drive sticky beaks like me mental.

It’s ok for me to conceal what I’m reading, but the fact that I can’t see your book cover means I absolutely have to know what’s being read. Do us a favour and tilt your screen a little so I can see the text without having to lean too far in, will you?

Will Digital Publishing Bring Back the Short Story?

Digital publishing gives authors, publishers and agents lots of exciting opportunities that they do not have in print. The ability to play around with form is perhaps one of the most interesting. Not only have we seen interactive books, book apps and ‘vooks’ since digital publishing began to take off a few years ago – we’re also seeing a massive increase in the amount of short stories and shorter works available.

The blog TheNextWeb reported last week that Ars Technica (a popular and very detailed tech blog) made more than $15,000 in 24 hours on the Kindle store by releasing the 27,300-word review of Apple’s latest operating system on the Kindle store as an ebook. The review was available for free on Ars Technica (all 19 pages of it), but it still made thousands of dollars for the blog.

Although Amazon (as always) isn’t willing to talk numbers for their curated Kindle Singles program, the fact that it’s still going (and bringing in around three new works per week) means that it must be making headway. And that’s only through the curated program. A brief flick through any ebook store’s pages and you’ll come across thousands of shorter works (or collections of short works) from self-published authors (see Blake Crouch’s collection above). Most are priced very low – between $0.99 and about $4.99 – but considering their length this is a far more profitable and reasonable amount of money than the low-priced full-length self-published novels.

It’s not just ebook vendors that are making these shorter works available. Boutique publishers like the Atavist and Longreads are putting longer works of non-fiction into the hands of readers. They’re doing it in different ways – the Atavist provides editorial feedback as well as curatorial work, while Longreads is a kind of archive for longer form journalism on the web. But both are ultimately aiming squarely at the attention spans of a newer generation of time-poor readers. Longreads even gives readers the option to filter the archive by the amount of time available for reading (less than 15 mins, 30-45, 45-60 and 60+).

The availability of shorter works of fiction and non-fiction to readers is a boon for publishers and vendors alike. It creates viable price points for work that is either simultaneously available for free or would otherwise not be able to be sold for any amount. The overheads associated with traditional publishing have long ruled short stories (and even anthologies) out of mainstream publishing houses in all but the most popular or worthy cases.

Of course there are problems associated with this brave new world. If shorter works and longer ones are all mixed in together on an ebook vendor’s store, how is a reader supposed to know that they’re not paying $2.99 for a novel rather than a 10,000-word short story? Although vendors are trying to get around this by getting publishers to include page-length information in their metadata, a cursory look of the reviews on some of the better selling shorter works on the Kindle store shows that some readers are not getting the hint.

Publishers and ebook vendors will have to work closely to ensure that readers are informed about their purchases before they lay money down – and before the confusion becomes a problem that puts readers off entirely. Readers, concurrently, will hopefully soon learn that ebook stores have all kinds of work available and make a point of checking the available metadata before purchasing.

Not every experiment in form will work. Not every experiment will produce something that works as content or makes money. But early evidence seems to be suggesting that people are willing to part with (small amounts of) money to buy shorter works of fiction, non-fiction and longer form journalism, and this can only be a good thing in this era of newspapers and magazines failing and the race to the bottom for pricing ebooks.

Sound off in the comments if you’ve read any interesting bits of short writing in the past few weeks that you’d like to share, or any other thoughts on the future of reading.

Deal with the Devil – Ebooks and Exclusivity

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about exclusivity when it comes to ebooks. Self-publishing mavens Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler, in one of their increasingly long but still interesting chat logs, recently discussed the decision by Eisler to sign his ebook rights exclusively to Amazon; a decision he decided to make almost entirely on the perceived economic benefits. JK Rowling is making her books available exclusively through her own portal, Pottermore, and cutting out all the ebook vendors. And then there’s the post by Ginger Clark, an agent with Curtis Brown US, who wrote in Publishing Perspectives a week or so ago warning authors against global deals, espousing the potential gains authors can make by diversifying their rights around the world, ensuring that their books have publishing people on the ground in each territory they sell to who understand each market.

So who’s right? Is it better to sign a deal with an ebook publisher (or vendor) who can deliver your book to a worldwide market as one unified whole, or are you better off splitting your rights into portions and selling them separately everywhere? Is there any other option? Or is this even a choice open to most writers in a world where selling rights is more difficult than selling books?

Personally, I can see the benefits of Ginger Clark’s argument. If you can get multiple deals around the world, then you get multiple advances and marketing teams based on home turf. The problem with territorial fragmentation of ebooks is that it disadvantages the author until a book sells in a particular territory, particularly those in Australia, which has a relatively small local market. For example, an Australian author with an Australian publishing deal will generally have their ebook rights restricted to sell in Australia only – unless they have publishing deals in other territories. But there’s no reason why an Australian publisher shouldn’t make an Australian author’s ebooks available globally (and non-exclusively) until an exclusive deal has been struck with an overseas publisher.

The received wisdom from agents about this setup is that having an ebook for sale in a territory makes it almost impossible to convince an overseas publisher to buy the rights, but I’m yet to hear any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, of this actually taking place. (Though please do chime in if you have some – I’m intensely curious!).


The UK, Australian and US covers of Unearthly by Cynthia Hand.

Gosh, English-speaking markets really are completely foreign to each other.

It’s in an agent’s interest to chase advances rather than individual ebook sales, and in a publisher’s or ebook retailer’s interest to maximise sales – so it’s difficult to see where the sales pitch ends and the actual sales begin. Nonetheless, I do wonder whether authors are even going to have a choice in a shrinking Australian market. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to get a local publishing deal, and perhaps even more difficult to find an international deal on top of that. Are authors limiting themselves to Australia in the vain hope of securing a big advance overseas just deluding themselves and losing potential sales in the meantime? Or is this just sensible business practice, and I’m being a digital ideologue? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

The Reader Symposium

About a month back I attended the Queensland Writers Centre’s The Reader symposium.

I’ll admit that I had to look up what a ‘symposium’ was, precisely, having assumed it was a fancy word for a conference or conversation but, not actually having attended one before, not being entirely sure. Thanks to the Macquarie Dictionary, I can now confirm that it is, as I suspected, a fancy word for a conference or conversation.

I was also intrigued as to how this symposium was going to approach the topic of the reader—the third but oft-forgotten figure in the trifecta that includes the writer and the publisher. It is, after all, a fairly elusive concept, especially in the current Chicken Little climate, which is seeing the publishing industry run around like headless chooks claiming that their sky is falling down.

The ridiculous panic is another blog altogether, and one I don’t have the energy or enthusiasm for right now. Let’s just say that as a Gen Y on the cusp of Gen X and nowhere near the Baby Boomer age bracket, I see ebooks not as the death knell for life as we know it, but as another reading opportunity that will see us read more and might even get some non-readers in the door.

But, given that I didn’t know what to expect from said symposium, I came away with some food for thought—not least talk about how we could play a ‘reader’ drinking game, knocking back shots for every mention of such words as ‘physical book’, ‘game changer’, ‘ebook’, ‘the smell of books’. It earned a few chuckles, as we all hunkered down for a day of debating the apparent reading revolution.

Some of the other gems I learned included (in no particular order):

  • The future is already here—it’s just unevenly distributed (this is a quote, but from whom I’m not sure).
  • A few years ago, electronic publishing was daggy—Stephen King abandoned his experiment in it and Amazon was originally mocked for the Kindle.
  • Authors no longer need publishers, but neither authors nor readers have abandoned the traditional publishing model—they’ve just expanded on the spectrum, if you like.
  • There’s still a publishing gate and gatekeepers—it’s just that the gate is no longer attached to a wall.
  • There’s been a shift towards community, which is why we’re talking about readers.
  • We have an ingrained need to tell stories that pre-dates the invention of the book and that will post-date it too.
  • The conversational style of Twitter leads people to say things in public that they shouldn’t.
  • Social media is about conversation—it’s not a one-way broadcast system—and readers expect it to go both ways.
  • The invention of the book allowed for private reading, as opposed to public, communal reading.
  • Health professionals used to consider reading novels the main cause for uterine disease (another example that truth is indeed stranger than fiction).
  • Our reading habits have changed. We used to be scuba divers, but these days we’re jetskiiers who skim and have a broader knowledge. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
  • We read websites like the letter F. If it’s important, don’t put it in the bottom right corner.
  • With the advent of technology and wifi in our homes, we have very little actual need to go out.
  • We’re attached not so much to the book, but to the sentimental values and memories and experiences we have while reading it.
  • As we’ve seen with Borders, books are not potatoes (teehee).
  • Libraries and bookshops have never really cannibalised each other before, and this is likely to continue.
  • You leave a little bit of yourself behind in a book (ewww).
  • Book buying can be determined by location. For example, if you’re in a physical book store, you’ll likely buy the physical book in front of you. If you’re at home and can’t be bothered going out, you’ll buy and download the ebook.
  • The book is a new technology—it’s just been around long enough that we don’t tend to think of it that way.
  • How do writers change the way they write for the digital environment? Write less (it got a laugh, but it’s true).

The symposium didn’t necessarily provide me with the answers I’m after about how the ebook war will turn out, but then nobody yet has them and we’re all kind of watching from the sidelines and waiting for the war to end and the dust to settle so we can move on. It’s frustrating for someone like me who doesn’t see this so much as a war but as an opportunity.

But, as I said above, that’s a blog I can’t be bothered writing right now. Until then, I’ll continue to ponder the gems the symposium threw out and remind myself that I now know what a symposium is.

Why Nobody Blames Authors (And Why You Should)

Whether it’s geo-restrictions, digital rights management (DRM), ebook pricing or ebook quality, it’s rare to hear a reader blame an author for the state of an ebook (unless it’s self-published, of course). And I can see why. Authors are the public face of what readers love about books. They are the creative geniuses behind all the amazing books you’ve ever read. And it’s not just that. Writing books is really hard, and most authors only do it for the love of it.

It’s for these reasons and many more that the last thing we want to do is hang all the things we hate about ebooks on our favourite authors. Especially not when there are publishers, agents and ebook vendors who perform that role very well indeed thank you very much. None of this, however, changes the fact that a big chunk of the blame for why the publishing industry is as slow-moving, old-fashioned and afraid of change as it is lies at the feet of authors. I’ve written before about the Luddite nature of most book editors. But that’s nothing in comparison to authors. Nobody talks about the smell of books more than traditionally published authors. Nobody is more wedded to the comfortable, cyclical traditional publishing model than authors. Most authors love book launches, writers’ festivals, tours, publicity and going into physical bookstores to sign copies of their books for their fans, despite what JA Konrath might say. A huge chunk of authors either support DRM or don’t know what it is, despite the fact that most authors have more direct contact with their readers than their publishers. Many authors don’t care about ebooks, or are afraid of them, and certainly don’t read ebooks themselves.

And then there are the digital holdouts. Publishers don’t like to talk about them, because at the end of the day, most publishers would prefer to protect their authors and keep selling their books than drag their names through the mud in order to deflect the blame. But there are more than a few authors out there who don’t want to sell their books as ebooks at all, and refuse to make them available out of fear, snobbery or greed. Some of them are very big. JK Rowling is perhaps the most high-profile of these, but there are others. Some of them are even Big and Fancy Australian authors.

The fact of the matter is, the reason many of the annoying things about the publishing industry exist are to protect or promote an author’s copyrighted material. Many of these things are not bad at all for authors. Geo-restrictions, as frustrating and exhausting as they are for global ebook readers, are the result of authors protecting their copyright. Authors have the right to sell their copyright in different countries to different companies. Those companies are sometimes in direct competition with one another. This means authors get better deals, are treated better and are publicised and distributed more widely than they would otherwise be if they were sold globally by one single company.

So next time you start working yourself up into a rage about the greed of publishers, agents, retailers and all the other ‘middle men’, ask yourself what the author you love has to gain from the situation they are in. If self-publishing ebooks were as easy and inevitable as it is often made out to be, why aren’t there more authors who are self-publishing ebooks without DRM at super-low prices? The answer is simple: because they’re getting as much out of it as their publishers.

And if you’re a traditionally published author reading this and thinking, ‘That’s not me! I love my readers! I want my ebooks sold at $0.99 without DRM internationally!’ Then please, comment below. And more importantly, speak to your publisher. Educate yourself about ebooks and digital publishing, and you can take advantage of the changes sweeping the reading world. Because ultimately it’s your book, and you get to decide how it reaches your readers.

Ebook Prices and Greed

So I’ve been thinking about ebook prices and greed lately. There are a few good arguments for lowering ebook prices, mostly to do with the win-win situation when cheaper books mean more sales and more profits (i.e. it doesn’t always work). What annoys me, though, is that a big proportion of blog chatter about ebook pricing seems to be based solely on a sense of entitlement. Do people deserve to be able to buy books at low prices? And how low is low? As always, The Smell of Books does not provide an answer, but I’ll do my darndest to run in ever tighter circles around the question.

But either way, yes, I think publishers are losing the hearts and minds of readers. After all, readers don’t have to know about the ins and outs of the publishing business—they just have to know how it affects their own pocketbooks …

So said Chris Meadows in a recent post he made responding to my post on publishers losing the hearts and minds of readers. And I find it hard to disagree with him. Despite eloquent arguments to the contrary, I find it difficult to even argue with my friends who want to buy cheap books overseas or cheat territorial restrictions to get cheaper ebook prices.

There are many ebooks that seem to me to be very expensive. And yet working as I do for a large publishing company, I know that margins are tight, that people are tense and that the future of publishing is by no means assured. This is the rub. People want cheaper books, but cheaper books will cripple the industry. The reason for this incongruity, I suspect, is that the people who love books (and are demanding lower prices) don’t fund their production. Books are an 80/20 endeavour. In other words, twenty per cent of the books (or less) make eighty per cent (or more) of the profits. The massive amount of irregular book buyers buying one or two overpriced books a year fund all the other books that more dedicated, passionate (and proportionately fewer) readers buy regularly and enjoy.

So what’s the solution to this conundrum? Publishers have used book windowing to try to address this issue – retaining profits while still (eventually) making books affordable. Book windowing, for those who don’t know the term, describes the practice of selling hardbacks or trade paperbacks (the bigger paperbacks) at a higher price on a book’s release, then selling smaller paperbacks at a lower price later. However, windowing is under serious threat from ebooks, and, it can be argued, doesn’t seem to make much sense in a digital world.

Some would argue that publishers simply don’t have a place in the book world any longer. I disagree vehemently (as you’d expect). There is still a valid role for gatekeepers in the chaotic world of indie and self-publishing (follow the link if you want a good argument for it – Rich Adin does it admirably well). The fact that traditional publishers successfully act as curators of book content is part of why they can charge more for their ebooks and still sell more copies than most self-published titles – yet still people complain.

So what is the solution to this problem? Or is it even a problem? Is the customer always right? Should book prices be lower than they are? Is windowing a fair way of distributing the cost of producing books? What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

Amazon Intros Ad-Supported Kindles

Well, it was always going to happen – and I’m not surprised Amazon did it first. Since ebooks first launched people have been predicting that ads would be unceremoniously inserted into their reading material. They were right. The question is – are we bothered? As the focus on books, particularly ebooks, has become more and more about price, readers may well welcome the opportunity to decrease the price of both the books they buy and the devices they read them on.

First the facts. The Amazon offering, with the Orwellian name of Kindle With Special Offers, will be sold from May 3 for $114. This new Kindle is essentially a six-inch WiFi only Kindle with special software, without which it usually sells for $139. The ads it will load up, as shown in the image above, will be restricted to the screensaver (which only pops up when the device is turned off or goes to sleep), and in a discreet (it is to be hoped) banner along the bottom of the home screen. Ads will not be served up within books, so the reading experience is preserved. According to Russ Grandinetti, the vice president of Kindle content, the company has no plans to launch ads within books, and told Business Insider that the company is sceptical that ad-supported ebooks are something customers would be interested in buying. Amazon will be promoting some of its own deals using the advertising, as well as ads from early sponsors such as General Motors, Procter & Gamble and Visa.

So now to the questions. Is a $25 saving really enough to opt in for these ads? Personally, I don’t think it’s enough for me to risk having my reading experience compromised. Make the Kindle under $100, though, and you might have yourself a deal. But perhaps that is Amazon’s ultimate goal, and it is merely waiting to see how successful these ads are before dropping the price further (or waiting until the release of a new model of Kindle to drop their prices further). There is also a chance that Amazon is looking to sell advertising on the Kindle apps for other devices such as iPhones, Android smartphones and iPads.

Another question: why is Amazon ruling out the possibility of ad-supported ebooks? Although I’m not personally interested in subsidised pricing, it seems like an option some people would be willing to take advantage of. Price is fast becoming the hot button issue for all books, but especially for ebooks. If you could get free or very cheap books with the occasional discreet advertisement – so long as the option was there for to buy the full priced book – I really don’t see the issue. For some books, especially reference titles that contain info I’m used to seeing on the internet (supported with ads), I wouldn’t mind getting cheaper prices and seeing a few ads. What do you think of advertising in ebooks? Would you ever opt for ads to get cheaper books or a cheaper reading device? Do you think advertising and books can ever go together – or does it somehow spoil the whole enterprise? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

Could ebook piracy boost sales?

Piracy is the bane of the digital content business, whichever way you look at it. If it didn’t happen, content producers wouldn’t spend so much time and effort pursuing it in a fashion that is almost as ethically dubious as the act itself. And if producers didn’t go to such lengths to protect their content, it’s likely piracy would be less of a problem.

Content publishers, be they music producers, movie studios, newspaper companies or book publishers, all seem to be virtually unanimous in their view that piracy is bad for business. These industries, via industry organisations like the RIAA, have spent millions of dollars trying to pursue illegal downloaders and ‘educate‘ people that piracy is bad through advertising.

Despite all this, people continue to pirate content. This in itself proves nothing except that people are greedy and willing to go to great lengths to get free stuff. Ethical problems aside, however, there is mounting evidence that piracy might actually encourage sales of certain digital products.

In a recent interview with Forbes Magazine (titled ‘Steal This E-Book’) Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, explained this argument:

… let’s say that if by putting DRM in it I sell 10,000 copies and I make my money, and if by having no DRM 100,000 copies go into circulation and I still sell 10,000 copies. Which of those is the better outcome? I think having 100,000 in circulation and selling 10,000 is way better than having just the 10,000 that are paid for and nobody else benefits.

The argument is basically this: the people who pirate content are not necessarily customers who were it otherwise would have paid money for what they downloaded. Given this, content producers can’t count each pirated download as a lost sale. If this is the case, in what way should content producers consider piracy?

Are content consumers who are not paying for content adding value? O’Reilly would argue they are. Utilising social networks and good old fashioned word of mouth, people who read pirated content help sell ebooks, in much the same way lending books and secondhand book stores help sales of paper books.

O’Reilly is not saying that piracy never hurts content producers, however. He argues that the damage is mostly focused on people (in this case authors) who have a ‘very desirable product’. We’re talking big name authors here who sell hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of copies. O’Reilly has actually written a paper about this called ‘Piracy is Progressive Taxation’, in which he posits that the trade-off from making content more available and visible is that the most desirable products are pirated more often (in the same way that tax brackets should – in theory at least – take more from the wealthy than the poor).

In a similar way, the exposure that you get from free content actually helps drive visibility and awareness for people who are unknown. So we’ve always sort of taken the approach that on balance it’s OK, and we’ve also taken the approach that it’s more important to establish social norms around payment. The way that you do that is by honoring people and respecting how they act, people pay us because they know that if we don’t get paid we don’t do what we do.

This business model seems quite flawed to the kind of publisher who stresses out every time one of their author’s books is discovered on a filesharing website. But there’s more than a grain of truth to it. Books in particular have always been a product that has subsisted on passion: passion from its producers (be they authors or publishers), passion from its sellers and passion from its consumers.

At the very least this issue deserves re-evaluation. Particularly at the low-end of publishing, as book publishers face increasing cuts to their midlist and more authors are dropped. In the case of these authors, at the very least, publishers and agents need to be forward thinking about piracy. As O’Reilly says: “If people wanted 10,000 pirated copies of a book, the publisher and the author would be very, very well off. If 10,000 people are willing to pirate it, there’s a very large number willing to pay for it.”

How to Organise and Convert Your Ebooks with Calibre

If you’re reading this blog then you’ve probably got an interest in ebooks. If you do, then you may have already heard about Calibre. Calibre is a free, open source, cross-platform (Windows, Mac and Linux) ebook reader, organiser and converter. If you’ve ever listened to music you downloaded from the internet, then you’ll probably be familiar with iTunes. Calibre is just like iTunes, but for ebooks, and not owned, locked in and operated by Apple. Did I mention it’s free? Download it here.

It’s a pretty big download, so it might take a while. Also, if you’re trying to install it on your work computer, you’ll probably want to get in touch with your IT department, because you need admin privileges to install it. If you’re at home, then fire away.

 

Installed? Great. The first step you’ll be confronted with once Calibre is installed and you open it for the first time is the wizard.

This is not the wizard you’re looking for.

This is the wizard

You’ll be asked to find a place on your computer to store your ebook files, and to determine what kind of e-reader device you use. Calibre supports a broad variety of e-readers, including the Kindle, Sony and iPad. If you use more than one kind of device, then don’t worry – Calibre supports more than one.

Look! It’s John Birmingham’s latest book: After America

The next window should be relatively familiar to anyone who has used iTunes. It has a library where you can filter your ebooks by author, title, series, publisher or rating. You can also search for keywords. All of those search functions will be pretty useless to you right now, though, because you haven’t added any books.

To add a book, hit the ‘add’ button, and find your ebook file. Calibre supports virtually every format you can imagine for an ebook, though you should keep in mind that if you bought that ebook from a store (like Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or even Booku) it’s likely it will be protected by DRM (digital rights management), which will stop you messing around with it. Never fear, though! Calibre still allows you to import books with DRM, organise them and load them quickly and easily onto your ebook reader (you just can’t convert it to another format or read it from within Calibre).

Also, strangely, Calibre does not support Microsoft Word format – so if you want to read something you only have as a Word file, open that sucker up in Word first and save it as RTF. Then add it.

There are plenty of places you can buy ebooks from that don’t have DRM, and there are plenty of places you can download ebooks from for free as well. You can find a few of them in the resources at Booku. For those ebooks, Calibre really comes into its own.

Calibre can automatically download the cover, publisher, publication date and blurb for your ebooks from the internet. You can save ratings and tag your books for easier searching.

Calibre will also convert your non-DRM ebooks from one format to another. Say you have a free ePub book, but you want to read it on your Kindle. By hitting ‘convert e-books’ in Calibre, you can easily and automatically convert your ebooks from ePub to Kindle’s Mobi format. Then to send it to your Kindle, all you need to do is hit ‘Send to Device’, and Calibre will automatically email the file to your Kindle (though you will need to tell Calibre your Kindle’s email address in ‘Settings’ first). If you want to send a book to your Sony reader, just plug it in and Calibre will automatically copy the book you select onto your reader. Calibre will even send your book via iTunes (or email) to your iPad or iPhone. It’s very versatile, and once you get the hang of it, it’s very easy to use.

Calibre can do a lot more than convert and organise your ebooks. It can automatically download news from your favourite blogs and news outlets, package them up and send them to your e-reader. If you’re a self-published author trying to convert your own ebook, it can pull apart ebook files so you can iron out the bugs. And it can do much much more. But those are topics for another blog post, and you don’t need to be interested in any of that to get some use out of Calibre. If you have any questions about Calibre, or any of the topics raised in this post, feel free to post them below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Are Publishers Losing the Hearts and Minds of Readers?

Here’s a fact that might not surprise you very much: the internet is full of idiots. The idiots come in many flavours, but the kinds of idiots who are annoying me this week are some of the people who write blogs about ebooks.

Let’s kick off this discussion with a few choice quotes from some blog posts I’ve read in the last week or so:

From Delimiter: Publishers in Australia refuse to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 19th century, let alone the 21st century … The Publishers in Australia are heavily addicted to the large margins that Australian books traditionally generate … Publishers are trying to protect their rivers of gold (book sales) by pricing eBooks in such way that makes them less attractive.

I kid you not – RIVERS OF GOLD, people. That’s what publishers are making from paper books: RIVERS. OF. GOLD.

From BookBee: In either case, Billbo posits that publishers are publishing poor-quality ebooks as a Cee Lo Green-style “f$&ck you” to the medium in general, because they’re frustrated … This is so out there that I hadn’t even considered it to be possible … But, really thinking about it, it may well be true. This is the kind of bloody-minded thing that a control freak manager who has had things go his own way for decades might actually do … Yes – sheer madness. Sadly, some publishers have form in the madness stakes.

That’s right, readers: publishers – particularly control freak publishers – are deliberately introducing errors into ebooks because they don’t like them.

I wonder if either of any of these bloggers has ever met or spoken to a real human being who works for a publishing company? Because I guarantee you that if they had they would learn two things a) the old stereotype of the boozy publisher with deep pockets full of cash died twenty years ago; and b) publishers are anal retentive freaks who hate the idea of errors slipping into the books they publish even more than their readers.

To think otherwise speaks of a genuine ignorance and a completely unfounded hate for traditional publishers. For the most part, people who work for publishing companies are in love with books. They love everything about them, and that’s why they work in an industry that pays them all so badly. Traditional publishers are not saints, but they are not the enemy of the reader.

To be fair, these bloggers aren’t the only voices out there. There are plenty of people on all sides of the new publishing paradigm that are speaking sense. Take the phenomenally successful self-published author Amanda Hocking (who I wrote about late last year), who wrote on her blog last week:

Traditional publishing and indie publishing aren’t all that different, and I don’t think people realize that … I just don’t understand writers animosity against publishers. So much of what I’ve been reading lately has made me out to be Dorothy taking down the Wicked Witch … Publishers have done really great things for a really long time. They aren’t some big bad evil entity trying to kill literature or writers. They are companies, trying to make money in a bad economy with a lot of top-heavy business practices … Traditional publishers are not evil any more than Amazon or Barnes & Noble are evil.

Which brings me back, finally, to the title of this blog post and the central question I want to ask of all of you out there. Do blog posts like the ones at the top of this post convince you that publishers are doing bad things for the future of reading? Because I worry that they do. Every time I read one of these posts it makes my blood boil. Not just because I work for a major publisher and know what goes on there doesn’t compare to the bad press they’re getting, but because Amazon and Apple – major companies with a lot more sway over the future of reading than publishers – seem to be getting a free pass. So, let me know what you think in the comments.

How-to: Buy and Read an Ebook from Booku Pt 2

This is a two-part post. To read part one, please click here.

 

Reading Using Overdrive

Booku ebooks are compatible with any reader that’s can read Adobe Digital Editions DRM. That means you can use it with a Sony eReader, a Kobo eReader or any other (and cheaper) brand that is compatible with Adobe’s DRM (most e-readers are compatible with this, with the exception of the walled-garden Kindle). For a refresher on DRM (Digital Rights Management software) click here. The Overdrive app on Apple’s iOS devices means you can also read them on the go (read: on the toilet) from a device that can fit in your pocket.

The Overdrive app is a pretty barebones affair at the moment. As far as I could see there was no dictionary, search or annotation functions, but we can expect the reader to improve over time. There is a bookmarking function, and you can use the table of contents to flip through chapters. Overdrive is also the supplier for most library ebook selections, so once you’re all set up it’s worth getting in touch with your local library to see if they offer any ebooks for loan (which will be absolutely free). Overdrive also supplies digital audiobooks, so I’m hoping for a homegrown competitor to Audible as soon as possible.

 

Giveaway

To celebrate the move of Smell of Books to this shiny new location, I’m giving away $100 worth of Booku Bucks credit in the new store. To enter the draw, just leave a comment below or send me a direct message on Twitter. Tell me something you’d like to read about at the new Smell of Books location – questions, criticisms and commentary are all welcome. Alternatively, if you run a blog or other website, link to the Smell of Books and I’ll also put you in the running. I’ll draw the winner from one of these sources (randomly, not based on some kind of qualitative analysis, so don’t be shy!), and will announce it in the next week or so.

How-to: Buy and Read an Ebook from Booku

 

Welcome to the new location for the Smell of Books. From now on you’ll find the blog over here at Booku. To celebrate the launch of the site at the new location, I’ll be giving away $100 credit in Booku Bucks. Read on to find out how.

 

What You’ll Need

To buy a book from Booku (pronounced, if you’re curious, as BOOK-OO, not BOOK-YOU) you’ll first need a couple of things.

  • Download the Overdrive Media Console app from the App Store on your iThing (skip if you use a Sony or other e-reader)
  • Sign up for Adobe ID by clicking here
  • Sign up for a Booku account here
  • Enter your Adobe ID in the Overdrive Media Console app by hitting ‘Get Books+’ then ‘Settings’ then ‘Authorize with Adobe ID’

 

Buying an Ebook

Once you’re all set up, buying a book from Booku is easy. For the purposes of this guide I’m going to buy a copy of The Finkler Question the winner of last year’s Man Booker Prize.

Many bestsellers are available on the front page of the site, but if you’re looking for a specific title, use the search function to put in the title, author or keyword.

Once you’ve found the book, hit the green ‘Buy Now’ button and follow the prompts to buy the book using a credit card or PayPal. You can do this via your computer or your iThing. To download the book to your iThing, however, you have to log in to your Booku Shelf, by going to: http://www.booku.com/member/myProfile.cfm

Once there you can hit ‘Download’ and your book will open up in the Overdrive Media Console app ready for reading.

To load your book onto your Sony or other e-reader, check your manual to see how to load Adobe DRM ebooks. It’s usually pretty straightforward, but each reader is different. If you want some help with this, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to walk you through it.

 

This is a two-part post. To read part two, please click here.

Media Release: New eBook download website Booku goes live

Australian consumers can now purchase the latest bestselling electronic books from a new local eBook download website – Booku – at www.booku.com.

The company behind popular Australian online bookstore Boomerang Books have launched the new website today in Adelaide. The new site has more than 134,000 eBook titles available for instant download, including a growing selection of Australian content.

EBooks downloaded from Booku can be read on multiple devices, explains co-owner and General Manager Clayton Wehner.

“Booku offers industry-standard Adobe ePub and PDF files which can be read on a PC or Macintosh; a purpose-built eBook reader, such as the Sony Reader or Kobo; or on mobile devices, such as the iPhone, iPad and Android phones and tablets”.

“We’ve provided simple step-by-step guides on the website to get customers up and running quickly with their preferred device – it is really simple to get started and consumers will be pleasantly surprised with the convenient reading experience that eBooks offer”.

The Australian market has been slow to embrace the eBook phenomenon, but the eBook industry in the US and UK is maturing quickly. “Several weeks back, Amazon revealed that 115 Kindle eBooks were sold for every 100 paperbacks sold in the month of January. The New York Times now has a dedicated eBook Bestseller List. Forrester Research says that the eBook market in the US will triple to $3bn by 2015. There is a clear shift occurring and this will inevitably flow through to Australia”.

Despite clear growth of eBooks in overseas markets, many readers in Australia remain unconvinced about the new technology, although Clayton says that attitudes are changing.

“Many people argue that the tactile feel of a paper book cannot be replicated, but the latest reading devices have a great feel about them, their displays are soft on the eye, and page turns are smooth. On top of that, a reading device slips inside your pocket and can store thousands of titles at one time”.

“I think many people are quick to dismiss eBooks without giving them a go – I am certain that this attitude will change in the coming years, particularly as we have generations of book consumers coming through that are conditioned to using mobile devices. I’d encourage anybody who is sceptical about eBooks to try them out – you won’t be disappointed”.

The range of books on Booku is expected to grow significantly as the popularity of eBooks increases both locally and globally. Whilst most existing eBook content providers are focused on the US and European markets, Booku intends to maintain an Australian flavour.

“In keeping  with our Australian focus with Boomerang Books, we’re hoping to increase the amount of Australian content on Booku. Certainly, we’re keen to enter into dialogue with Australian publishers to assist them to come on board. We’re already selling content from the likes of Allen & Unwin, Pan Macmillan and HarperCollins”.

Media Release: Over 134,000 eBooks available from new Australian eBook store

Australian consumers can now purchase the latest bestselling electronic books from a new local eBook download website – Booku – at www.booku.com.

The company behind popular Australian online bookstore Boomerang Books have launched the new website today in Adelaide. The new site has more than 134,000 eBook titles available for instant download, including a growing selection of Australian content.

EBooks downloaded from Booku can be read on multiple devices, explains co-owner and General Manager Clayton Wehner.

“Booku offers industry-standard Adobe ePub and PDF files which can be read on a PC or Macintosh; a purpose-built eBook reader, such as the Sony Reader or Kobo; or on mobile devices, such as the iPhone, iPad and Android phones and tablets”.

“We’ve provided simple step-by-step guides on the website to get customers up and running quickly with their preferred device – it is really simple to get started and consumers will be pleasantly surprised with the convenient reading experience that eBooks offer”.

The Australian market has been slow to embrace the eBook phenomenon, but the eBook industry in the US and UK is maturing quickly. “Several weeks back, Amazon revealed that 115 Kindle eBooks were sold for every 100 paperbacks sold in the month of January. The New York Times now has a dedicated eBook Bestseller List. Forrester Research says that the eBook market in the US will triple to $3bn by 2015. There is a clear shift occurring and this will inevitably flow through to Australia”.

Despite clear growth of eBooks in overseas markets, many readers in Australia remain unconvinced about the new technology, although Clayton says that attitudes are changing.

“Many people argue that the tactile feel of a paper book cannot be replicated, but the latest reading devices have a great feel about them, their displays are soft on the eye, and page turns are smooth. On top of that, a reading device slips inside your pocket and can store thousands of titles at one time”.

“I think many people are quick to dismiss eBooks without giving them a go – I am certain that this attitude will change in the coming years, particularly as we have generations of book consumers coming through that are conditioned to using mobile devices. I’d encourage anybody who is sceptical about eBooks to try them out – you won’t be disappointed”.

The range of books on Booku is expected to grow significantly as the popularity of eBooks increases both locally and globally. Whilst most existing eBook content providers are focused on the US and European markets, Booku intends to maintain an Australian flavour.

“In keeping  with our Australian focus with Boomerang Books, we’re hoping to increase the amount of Australian content on Booku. Certainly, we’re keen to enter into dialogue with Australian publishers to assist them to come on board. We’re already selling content from the likes of Allen & Unwin, Pan Macmillan and HarperCollins”.

What Do You Want From Your E-reader?

Has the focus on reading – and reading anything you want – been swept aside in order to make it easier to buy content? Until very recently, relatively speaking, e-reading was all about what digital text you could get your hands on. Most of it was free, out-of-copyright stuff from the web. Some of it came via longform journalism (also on the web). And some of it, yes, came from piracy. Although nowadays content can be purchased easily from multiple sources, I would argue the e-reading experience as a whole has not improved as much as Apple, Amazon, Google and their ilk would have us believe.

I first started reading ebooks and other digital content on a Palm Zire in 2003. It had a tiny screen, no wireless capabilities, and the only two stores you could buy content from were Mobipocket and eReader (both of which have since been bought out and absorbed by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, respectively). At the time there were virtually no books available on these stores that I actually wanted to read, so my reading was heavily supplemented by free material from elsewhere. To add my own reading material, I had to convert the files manually, plug the device into my computer and transfer them across. Although wireless and screen technology are light years ahead of my old Palm Zire, the process of reading non-standard material  has not really changed dramatically since then.

At the time I owned the Zire, I also had a first generation iPod, which seemed to me to be the most amazing piece of technology ever. Just plug it in and fill it up with music. Conversion and transfer was all handled through iTunes, which could also organise your music library and play your music for you when you were at your computer. People have had their share of complaints about iTunes, and I certainly have issues with it in its current incarnation, but to begin with it was an incredibly freeing experience. The iPod was portable digital music. To your iPod, the music you got from a CD (or free off the web) was no different to the stuff you could buy (much later) from iTunes itself.

So where was the iPod moment for e-reading? It has never come. Although the Kindle ecosystem has come the closest to recreating the ease of use of the iPod it’s still not there yet, and may never be. Primarily it is a device intended to be used with purchased content – and that content has to come from the Kindle store. Can you imagine if you were only able to load songs onto your iPod if you’d bought it from Apple first? The iPod would never have achieved such a dominant position with such a narrow focus.

Where is the device out there that puts the act of reading at the centre of the experience? Where is the device that doesn’t care where your text comes from, but just wants you to read? My list of demands is not unachievable. Completely wireless loading and conversion of any piece of text I’d like to read; a built-in dictionary; highlighting and annotation (and wireless export of these annotations); Bookmark syncing between devices; and, of course, the sharing of passages and annotations through social networks. Most of these features are available to readers if you buy your books through Amazon or Apple and only read on a Kindle or an iPad – but what about other content? Reading has never been just about blindly buying what’s served up to you in a store – it’s an organic, social experience. And none of the major reading platforms cater to that.

My ideal reading platform has not been created yet. All the major players are far more interested in locking you into the device they make and the content they provide than wanting you to have an ideal reading experience. But I suspect that when that platform comes along, there will be another iPod moment. And the way things are going I very much doubt it’s going to be Apple or Amazon.

What do you think? What do you want from your e-reader? Are you happy with what’s already out there? Or do you think I’m just being a giant early-adopting whiner? Sound off in the comments.

What the Failure of REDgroup Means for Ebooks in Australia

Anyone who follows book news cannot have failed to hear about the collapse of REDgroup’s Borders and Angus & Robertson bookchains last week. But what does this mean for ebooks? Depending on who you listen to ebooks are one of the causes of REDgroup’s slide into administration. But is this true? Are ebooks destroying the common dead tree bookseller? And did video kill the radio star? Read on to find out more.

For those who don’t know, Kobo is a Canadian ebook platform that partnered with Borders in the United States, and Borders/A&R in Australia. As I said back at Christmas, it may not have been the brightest move on Kobo’s part to tie themselves so closely to Borders, but they did. And that means that even though Kobo is not REDgroup, they will suffer some of the consequences of the collapse, including the withdrawal of books by some publishers from their joint library.

Although I’ve complained about the Kobo ereader and their flaky platform before, they were the only real competitor to Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem and Apple’s iBookstore. They were unique in Australia because their partnership with Borders brought them mainstream, nationwide legitimacy and a physical retail presence – something neither Apple nor Amazon can compete with. From all reports this partnership has been relatively successful – it was one of the few areas of their business that REDgroup wasn’t entirely bungling. This is part of the reason why ebooks cannot be blamed for the collapse: like it or not ebooks are still only about 1% of the industry here in Australia – and REDgroup had already carved themselves a healthy chunk of that 1%. While that number is growing very fast, ebooks are not putting booksellers out of business just yet.

No, what destroyed REDgroup was incompetence and greed. While various pundits have tried to blame parallel importation, the GST, and even the internet as a whole – the fact of the matter is that REDgroup are the only Australian bookseller currently under administration. And while plenty of booksellers are struggling, they haven’t had fraught relationships with suppliers for the last twelve months, and they haven’t been jacking the prices of their books up over RRP. And they haven’t been selling barbecues instead of books.

Regardless of the outcome of REDgroup’s period under administration, the Borders brand has been seriously tarnished by this collapse, and that’s only going to get worse with issues like the recent decision not to honour customer book vouchers. You can safely predict that Kobo’s ascendancy in Australia will be slowed for a while to come.

So where does that leave ebook buyers and readers? Or rather – where does it leave readers who don’t want to submit to the Amazon or Apple gulag platforms? Well, with the recent news that Google are looking to partner with groups of retailers rather than individual booksellers, things on the indie front appear to look a bit bleak. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The annual post-Christmas survey in Bookseller+Publisher demonstrated that while the dead tree book industry is trembling under the threat of a shrinking market – ebook readers and ebook sales are healthy and growing. Not only that, but 40% of booksellers not already selling ebooks are planning to do so in the next year. This is great news for readers – with the freeze of Borders/Kobo, there is a lot of room for new growth. And new growth in books can only be a good thing.

As a culture, we’re currently undergoing one of the largest paradigm shifts in cultural consumption ever. It is now more than any other time that we cannot afford to have dead weight like REDgroup dragging the rest of us down. So I say the king is dead – long live the king.

Apple Screws the Pooch Pt 1

News has surfaced in the last couple of days about Apple and how they’re once again ruining it for everyone. Why, Apple, why? I didn’t want to believe it myself at first, but now Apple have clarified. Yup, definitely evil. But it’s not just evil – it’s really stupid. And here’s why.

To summarise: two days ago, The New York Times reported that Apple had some made some changes to the App Store rules which meant that Sony could no longer sell ebooks through their reading app on the iPhone. Instead, Apple would force Sony to use a system called “in-app purchasing” – which means that every transaction made within an iPad or iPhone app goes through Apple and the iTunes store. That means 30% of every book sold goes to Apple. There was a massive (I argued) overreaction to this, as every man and his dog predicted that Apple was being evil and trying to take over ebooks. I thought they were evil, but I thought they were being evil in the same way they always are. Apple have always had it in for software developers trying to sell things directly through their apps. This is why Kindle’s iPhone and iPad apps force you to go to the browser to buy a book, but Apple’s own iBooks app lets you do it without going to the web browser.

I thought (wrongly as it turns out) that this meant apps like Kindle and Overdrive wouldn’t have to change, because all of their transactions take place on the open web. If you don’t know what that means, let me explain: I open the Kindle app on my iPad; I want to buy a book; I click a button in the app which takes me to the Amazon website; I buy my book; the Kindle app re-opens and I can start reading. In Apple’s iBooks app, on the other hand, I press a special button inside the app; there’s a fancy-pants animation that turns my bookshelf into a secret rotating door; I buy my book; the secret rotating door rotates again and I can start reading. In other words, there’s not that big a difference, save for the magic rotating door.

This is the first part of a two-part article. To read the second part, click here.

The Not-so Silver Lining of Cloud Ebooks

I’ve talked about ebooks in the cloud on this blog before, but with the launch of Booki.sh (partnered with Readings) and the imminent arrival of Google eBooks, we have two very viable cloud ebook systems setting up shop in Australia. Despite very different backing and support, these two platforms share a similar philosophy – ownership of and access to a book is essentially the same thing.

Technically, if you buy an ebook these days, you’re not really buying the book itself. It’s a common complaint and criticism of ebooks – the ebooks that are for sale are crippled with unreadable and ignored user agreements and with DRM (copy protection software). You can’t resell an ebook and you can’t share it with a friend (with some notable and limited exceptions). You don’t actually own anything physical, just the bits and bites of ones and zeros inside your e-reader or computer.

The Booki.sh  and Google eBooks systems don’t really give you any fewer rights to your book than if you bought it via the Kindle or iBooks stores. The difference is that there is no file to download. Instead, you access your book directly from Google or Booki.sh’s servers using your e-reading device. Your computer may temporarily store (or cache) a copy of the book so that you can read it while you’re not connected to the internet, but you never actually download a file to your desktop that can be moved around, copied or accidentally deleted.

The functional difference between accessing your ebook through the cloud or by downloading a file is negligible, and the possibilities offered by cloud ebook systems (instantaneous bookmark/notes/social network syncing etc) are exciting. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel that a book I buy through a cloud ebook store is not really mine.

I do understand the frustration of people like Joseph Pearson, one of the people over at Booki.sh, who spent some time this week defending the concept of ebook ownership in the cloud to readers on the company blog. As he says:

And this is the point: if you “own” the ebook file, locked up with DRM — that’s actually the most anemic definition of “ownership” I can think of. I don’t see how — short of hacking it — that file is any insurance of your continued access to the book if you’ve purchased it from any of the major ebook platforms.

And this may well be the rub. When I buy an ebook, I like to think that given some light Googling and a bit of an investment of time, I can probably strip the DRM off the sucker. That means I own that file no matter what happens to Amazon or Apple’s servers. I don’t, in reality, bother doing this very often – but I know I could if I had to. Relying on cloud-only access to my book makes it feel more like rental than ownership – even if the DRM on an ebook makes it functionally the same.

Having said that, I doubt most ebook buyers think about this at all. So I’m interested in what you think. Do you buy ebooks? If so, where from? Would you consider buying ebooks through a cloud service like Booki.sh or Google eBooks? If not, why not? Do you consider the ebooks you do buy and download to be yours, and is DRM a consideration when you purchase? Even if you’ve never bought an ebook in your life, let me know whether this is something you think matters or would affect your purchase (or even the price you’d be willing to pay). Sound off and let me know in the comments below.

Ebook News Christmas Wrap-up

So the silly season has come and gone, bringing with it what is most likely the biggest shift in consumer behaviour in regards to ebooks that has ever occurred. As I’ve been saying for the past six months – the future isn’t just coming sometime soon, it’s already here. Here’s a wrap-up of the ebook news over the past couple of weeks that you might find useful.

As predicted, Amazon made great strides this Christmas into the ebook space. They announced that the Kindle is now their best-selling product of all time. This means it has outsold the final Harry Potter book, so we are talking millions of Kindles out there over the Christmas period. And due to the instantaneous nature of ebook purchasing, we’re quite likely to see a spike in ebook sales over the few days of the Christmas period – though we’ll likely have to wait a while before anyone releases those figures. Guestimates so far have pegged the number of books sold as close to 3 million, which is damned impressive.

A poll has shown that almost a third of internet users say they already have a Kindle or plan on buying one in the next year, and that 40% of iPad owners already have a Kindle or are planning to buy one – which seems to support the assertions of Jeff Bezos (Amazon’s CEO) that the Kindle and the iPad are not in direct competition.

All in all this has been a superb holiday period for Amazon’s Kindle – all the more reason to hope they don’t do anything (else) evil in 2011.

Google has hinted at a timetable for the Australian launch of the Google eBookstore initiative, indicating they may launch early this year.

The Borders/Kobo tagteam appears to be coming apart at the seams – at least one major publisher in the US has halted shipments to the embattled chain and Hachette are considering doing the same. This is bad news for Kobo, which has tied itself quite closely to Borders in the US and here in Australia (Australia’s REDgroup – which includes Angus & Robertson and Borders – has been considering cuts and facing disappointing sales for months).

Choice magazine has named the Sony Touch the best ereading device, which is good news for the ereader (and for the potential fortunes of other independent ereading devices that aren’t chained to a single retailer).

Forecasts are showing that tablet sales will more than double this year in the US, which is great news for Apple and the iPad, which will likely snap up a big chunk of that.

2011 is shaping up to be the biggest year yet for digital reading. Thanks for reading in 2010, and I look forward to your comments and support if you decide to stick around this year. If there’s anything you’d like to see covered or analysed in more detail – let loose in the comments or get in touch on Twitter.

The Wisdom of Crowds

The inimitable Cory Doctorow‘s latest project, With a Little Help, is a self-conscious attempt at creating a book that not only bends the traditional rules of publishing and distribution, but of editing, marketing, sales and just about every other aspect of book publishing you can think of. Like a few of Doctorow’s other books, With a Little Help will be available as an ebook in various formats from his website for free (you can download it for free or buy a paper copy here). What’s different about this one, though, is that it is the author’s first foray into self-publishing. There’ll be a low-price print-on-demand paperback version, a special high-price limited edition hard cover, an electronic audio edition for free, and a low-price CD audio edition.

There are a lot of very interesting things to be learned from this project, and I could go on about it for hours, but what I’d like to concentrate on right now is one of the ways Doctorow was able to put the project together, which is laid out in the title of the collection: with a little help. But he didn’t just get help from his friends – he opened up donations in time, money and expertise to the open web in a way that is usually described as crowdsourcing.

Just a few examples: he offered one reader or group of readers the opportunity to commission one particular story for the collection (for the princely sum of $10,000), fans from other languages or who use unusual ereaders can translate or convert his books and have them posted up alongside the official versions, he crowdsourced proofreading (giving typo-spotters a shout out in the endnotes of the book), web design, cover design (there are multiple covers) and even book packaging (he’s using discarded burlap coffee sacks to cushion the high-end hardcovers en route!).

What I love about this project is the sheer audacity of it. There are so many moving parts, so many different levers and buttons that Doctorow decided to press for the hell of it along the way that will make it a very interesting prospect to track as it makes its way into the marketplace. The crowdsourcing aspect means that all of his readers and helpers are all sharing a little in the outcome of the book (though not, it is to be assumed, in the financial outcome – if there is one). It is a grand experiment – the kind of thing that a major publishing company should be able to do, but usually doesn’t. My question for everyone today is this: what do you think of all this crowdsourcing? Is it inevitable that the quality of the book will slip? Would you proofread a book for free if you got a credit at the end for any typos you found? What do you love or hate about this project? Let loose in the comments.

Old Before Our Time: The Future of Editorial Part 2

The following is the second part of a talk I gave at the APA’s Don’t Stet: Thinking About Tomorrow panel session on the future of the editor. You can find the first part here.

So, things are changing. But there are a lot of things we as editors can do to prepare ourselves.

We need to move away from the mental definition of a book being a printed object. Books are going to be different. Nobody knows exactly in what way, but the only way we can know what is going to work and what isn’t is to try new things. We need to experiment with publishing things that are probably not going to make much money, in the same way that we buy authors who aren’t going to make money because in three books’ time they might write a bestseller.

We also have to experiment with different kinds of reading. Below is a comment on a blog post I read recently about why someone would never want to start reading electronic books.

There is something about folding a paperback to snuggle down into the covers of a night. There’s something about being able to underline and use a highlighter for parts that stand out to you when reading and being able to put a date next to those. About being able to write notes with thoughts that have occurred when reading passages …

ALL this will no longer be possible if we lose the traditional book.

Books are my friends. Have been ever since I was young. They are an escape from life for a few hours to a distant land. A chance to grieve and mourn with others of a time long past when we read history …

Books in their printed hard or soft cover form also have something over the Kindle and other electronic forms of ‘books’. They will never run out of battery right in the middle of a really captivating part of the story, they can be read by anyone who can read the written language, so you don’t have to be up on the latest electronic gadgets. There is also the cost of a book compared to these newer readers.

Libraries also are WONDERFUL places to visit. The smells of the old books and the newer books as well.

I SO HOPE the paperbacks and hard covered books NEVER get taken away.

When I read this, I thought – what an idiot. And it’s not just because you can use a Kindle to write notes and highlight passages, or even that nobody is going to try and take printed books away  from anyone. It’s not even that line about books being the commenter’s friends. It’s because this kind of thinking is really common in the publishing industry, especially among editors.

And it is hubris to think that there is a right way and a wrong way to read books. Especially if you’re in the publishing industry. We are not passive consumers of books. Our choices help to define what a book is.

I know a whole lot of editors have ereaders already. But if you’re like the editors I know, you only use them so you don’t have to carry manuscripts around. When you want to relax with a book, you still curl up with the paper version.

Now there’s nothing wrong with having a preference for paper. There’s nothing wrong with this nostalgic, rosy-tinted view of books and reading. There’s also nothing wrong with thinking that books are your friends, either. But if you’re in the publishing industry, especially if you’re an editor, and you think of books in this protective ‘from my cold dead hands’ kind of way, then in less than five years time you’ll be ignoring the experience of a third of readers. And editors are supposed to be the reader’s advocate.

If we want to remain relevant, we need to innovate faster than our readers. We need to understand what readers want before they want it. Part of that is working out what kind of stories and content people want to read, and that’s something editors and publishers are already pretty good at. But another part of it is understanding how people want to read, and that’s not something we’ve had to think about for a long time. And if we start letting Amazon and Apple work that out for us, then we are going to end up working for Amazon and Apple. So we need to seek out new reading experiences, and try to understand them before they overtake us.

In our roles as author wranglers, we’re going to have to become, for some of our authors at least, the technology interpeter. If you’re not already familiar with the way Facebook and Twitter work, then it’s worth playing around with them. You can’t break the internet. Most authors in the next few years are going to have to develop a deep social networking presence, and if we want to remain relevant to them we have to know the answers before they start asking the questions.

Most of all, we need to learn to look past the limitations of technology and embrace the benefits. We no longer have the luxury of being precious about technology. It’s not worth focusing on the fact that you can’t read an ebook in the bath, or that you prefer the smell of paper books. The readers of the next ten years aren’t going to care about that. And if we want to publish books for those readers we need to know what they do care about.

And so to finish in the spirit of the structural edit, I just want to remind you that this is just my opinion – this is your industry. I eagerly anticipate your revisions.

Old Before Our Time: The Future of Editorial Pt 1

The following is the first part of a talk I gave at the APA’s Don’t Stet: Thinking About Tomorrow panel session on the future of the editor.

In a room full of editors I thought it would be appropriate to take the approach of a structural edit for this talk. You know the one: open with a few flattering remarks before saying what you really think.

So … I love books and publishing, and I think books and publishing are still relevant. And I believe editorial is one of the most important parts of the publishing industry. I also think that so long as we are willing to change, we will all find a place in the editorial department of the future.

Having said that, the publishing industry has been predicting its own demise since the printing press. So, in the spirit of pessimism, here are the reasons why I think we might all be unemployed in ten years.

The publishing industry hasn’t had to change for a very long time, and the changes we do make are usually slow. This has two effects: one is that we’re really bad at dealing with change, and the other is that people who don’t like change like to join the publishing industry.

Editors and publishers are probably the worst of the lot. I’ve spoken to editors with a fetish for particular brands of pencils from the 1970s. Some of us go weak at the knees for a nicely bound B-format hardback. Editors wear their disdain for technology like a badge of honour.

When I first started in the industry, we still relied entirely on a fax machine to send corrections to second pages to the typesetter. I mean, I’d read about fax machines on blogs and stuff, but I’d never actually used one until I became an editor. Until a few months ago, we still had to physically print out the 400-odd final pages of a book on our horrible and prone-to-breaking-down photocopier, then pay a courier to take it interstate to the printer where they would compare our print out with the version they had printed out from the same file on thousands of dollars worth of printing equipment. Just to see if there were any errors.

Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that publishers and editors like to do things in a certain way, and they usually don’t like experimenting.

So we’re not very good at changing, and we don’t like it when we have to do it. On top of that, the industry is run – let me say this delicately – by really really old people. And I don’t mean just in age. I’ve met some very old 25-year-olds since becoming an editor; it’s a cultural gulf. This isn’t just a problem because you have to talk to a lot of people who ask what a Facebook is, or constantly try to explain why anybody would ever in their right minds want to use Twitter, or even those people who still think the biggest roadblock to ereader adoption is that you can’t take a Kindle in the bath with you. No. The biggest problem with the generation gap in the publishing industry is that for all the sound and fury about the digital revolution, the people empowered to save the industry still seem to be playing the wait and see game, hedging their bets until the definitive digital model emerges.

Which leads me to my final reason for why I think we might all be unemployed in ten years. Those people are wrong. The industry is changing really fast. Or rather, people’s reading habits are changing fast and the industry is not keeping up with them. I’m sure you’ve probably heard the statistics. In the US the latest I’ve read is that 9% of the trade is now ebooks, which is up from about 3% the year before. We’re looking very realistically at a third of the industry being digital in the next five years. And after that the predictions are all over the place, because our business model is dependent on paper books. The long and short of it is is that we’re probably going to have to find other ways to make money. And if we don’t, somebody else will. And those people are going to take our jobs.

Stay tuned next time, folks, for the thrilling conclusion to this depressing topic!

The Internet is for Porn (And So are Ebooks)

We all know it’s there, and there are a lot of us out there who use it – so why does the civilised internet like to pretend it doesn’t exist? That’s the question James Ledbetter asked in a column in Slate this week, when talking about erotica appearing on the Kindle store. Snip:

As I write this, the most downloaded item for Amazon’s Kindle is a novel by Jenna Bayley-Burke called Compromising Positions. Here is part of the plot description: “David Strong knows how to do a lot of things—run an international fitness company, finesse stock portfolios and stay out of emotional entanglements. That is, until he gets tangled up with Sophie Delfino and her Sensational Sex workout. He’s supposed to help her demonstrate Kama Sutra positions for her couples-yoga class. … And his co-instructor unexpectedly tests his control to the limit.”

As Ledbetter goes on to point out, one of the many reasons Compromising Positions (go on, look it up, I’ll wait) appears on the top list for fiction is that the publisher is giving it away free to promote the author or the series. This is one of the many ways in which producers of adult entertainment (and by adult, I mean porn) push the envelope of what is possible and experiment with new technology. And by that I mean with sales, distribution, content and marketing, not teledildonics.

Rule 34: If it exists, there is porn of it.

What annoys me about the article in Slate, however, is the presumption that given enough time and attention from the wrong sorts of people, Amazon may be forced to censor their listings.

Is it valuable to the company to goose interest in the Kindle with erotica giveaways, or will the presence of e-books like Compromising Positions at the top of Amazon’s charts sully the e-reader’s reputation?

My question for you today is simple: is this something we need to worry about? Is this another example of the way American prudishness is ruining the internet? Or should we be thinking of the children? Is erotica something we ought to be scared of, or something we should be happy about because at least people are reading it, instead of having it injected into their eye sockets? You decide – sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

Three Ways to Deal with Ebooks and Airplanes

Anyone who has ever read an ebook and flown on a plane (or perhaps just sat next to me on a plane) will know that you can’t read ebooks on a plane during the crucial moments of take off and landing. To anyone with the attention span of a baby monkey (like me), these moments of dead time can leave you shivering with lack of stimulation. What makes it worse is that the reasons for these restrictions are half-baked, like a lot of airline policy, and I’ve always thought it’s geared around shoring up the authority of the flight attendants rather than the actual safety of the plane. After all, newer ebook readers that use e-ink, like the Kindle, Kobo and Sony readers, emit about as much power as a digital watch – so unless every electronic object on the plane could cause it to drop out of the sky it seems pretty arbitrary.

Nonetheless, this rule is still enforced, ignorant or not, so what can the discerning reader of ebooks do about it? In this post I run through three potential options for dealing with this most horrible of first world problems.

1) Lie and Cheat

As I’ve demonstrated in previous posts, I’m flexible when it comes to rules. And in this case, breaking the rules won’t hurt anybody. The best way to conceal a Kindle or other ereader is in a cover that looks like a book. Failing that, you can usually slip it into the inflight magazine and hold it upright whenever the attendant walks by. Be careful not to appear too interested – nobody really likes those magazines, so you don’t want to give yourself away. If you’re travelling alone, ensure the person next to you isn’t crazy or a Federal policeman so you don’t get dobbed in.

2) Wait for an Official Solution

As Diana Dilworth pointed out on eBooknewser this week, it’s really only a matter of time until airlines begin integrating ebook reading into the inflight entertainment system. Kindle, Nook and iPad owners already enjoy the ability to sync whatever they’re reading between whatever device they happen to be reading on, so it would be a cinch to have whatever book you happen to be reading pop up on the screen in front of you for you to read without even using the batteries of the iPad/laptop/e-ink reader in your bag.

3) Take a Boat

If all else fails, take alternative transport. Today’s e-ink devices have a battery life of over two weeks, so you can probably go for a pretty long boat voyage before you run out of something to read. This plan is pretty failsafe, but does require some forward planning.

So there you have it, three ways you can avoid dead time on a plane. Sound off in the comments if you have any further suggestions, but please don’t waste our time by pointing out that I could just sit quietly and look out the window for twenty minutes. That is simply not an option.


Is Piracy a Legitimate Part of our Culture?

For my fiftieth post (yes, my fiftieth!), I’d like to revisit a topic close to my heart. Piracy. In the world of digital content, piracy has been around longer than most legitimate forms of digital purchase. Anyone who claims to have been reading ebooks since they had a Palm Pilot probably at some point acquired illegal digital books. Piracy is at the forefront of innovation when it comes to distribution and accessibility and yet, because it clashes with most of our current economic models, it is considered a Very Bad Thing.

So my question for today – can piracy ever be good? Is piracy a legitimate part of our culture? Are the old economic models broken? Like almost every question I post up on this blog, I don’t have an answer. But I think there are lots of reasons why people rush to defend piracy (and it’s not just because pirates are cool).

First of all, there are lots of reasons why people pirate things. I think most of those reasons are not that defensible from a traditional ethical standpoint. That is, people don’t like to pay for things they don’t have to. Piracy enables people with a certain level of technical expertise to not have to pay for things they want. This is the most basic reason for piracy, and it’s the most basic reason why anti-piracy groups want to stop them. On the one hand you’ve got a group of people technically able and willing to get things they want for free, and on the other hand a group of people making things who want to be remunerated for that.

The problem occurs not because one of these urges is unethical and the other isn’t. Or even because the former precludes the latter. The problem is that most of our cultural industries view a pirated thing as exactly the same as a stolen thing – or more importantly – as a lost sale. However, it’s evident to anybody who has ever pirated anything that this isn’t the case. Making a digital copy does not mean that you are depriving someone else of that thing. People who pirate things still buy things. And a person who pirates something wasn’t necessarily ever going to buy it. Piracy, from numerous studies, doesn’t even seem to affect legitimate sales one way or the other.

So if piracy is done for the wrong reasons, but the consequences aren’t bad – what is it? I prefer to think of it as a form of unpaid, uncontrollable viral marketing. It’s clear that the most successful books are also the most pirated. And anyone who has ever tried to sell a good book will know that the best way to boost sales is to get more people reading that book – through the always-elusive word of mouth. Piracy is dodgy, but it is also the most efficient way to distribute a digital product. And so long as there is an easy-to-use, affordable, legitimate alternative to piracy, most people will still prefer to buy it. And for those in-between cases, like people with disabilities, library sharing and proof copy distribution (problems that have yet to be solved by traditional publishers in regards to ebooks) – the availability of illegal copies means that those people who wouldn’t or couldn’t otherwise read your book will be able to do so. To quote the excellent Tim O’Reilly, e-publisher: “Obscurity is a far great threat to artists than piracy.”

So the way to fight piracy, then, isn’t to try and make people who pirate things feel guilty. If they felt that guilty about it, they probably wouldn’t have done it in the first place. It’s also ethically iffy to sue people for lost sales when they’ve pirated content, as it isn’t clear that all of that content would have been purchased if it hadn’t been acquired illegally. I also don’t see the point in locking up digital purchases with DRM, as it unfairly punishes those of us who buy things legally, and makes piracy a more attractive option. At its best, book piracy is a way of getting people talking about a book who wouldn’t otherwise be reading it. At its worse it’s a bunch of dodgy people whose technical expertise and lack of ethics means that you’ll never be able to stop them getting hold of your product without paying anyway.

What do you think? I’d especially love to hear from authors who have seen their own books end up on filesharing websites. Do you see it as a good or bad thing? How would you prefer your publisher deal with the issue of piracy? And for everyone else: have you ever pirated a digital something? How would you defend your choice to do so?

Sony Reader (Finally) Launches in Australia

Sony’s line of ereader devices have been around since 2006, but for the first time the company has made them available for sale in Australia. Sony has done a content deal with the Kobo / Borders ebook store so owners will be able to load up ePub books from those stores. They’ll be making two models available, the Sony Pocket ($229) and the Sony Touch ($299), but sadly don’t have any plans for now to release the Sony Daily Edition, a model that uses 3G wireless technology so that readers can download books on the fly.

So is this too little, too late? These latest models of Sony readers have been around for a year, and have already been superseded by the cheaper and some would say superior Kindle 3. There are some things about the Sony readers that are unique, but more importantly than that, Sony’s move into Australia is evidence that the rest of the English-speaking world is finally taking us seriously as an ebook market.

So is the Sony worth buying? Your answer depends largely on your philosophy. For the most part, the Sony readers are considered technologically inferior to the Kindle, but more open. The screen technology is a little more advanced on the Kindle, particularly noticeable in the Sony Touch, whose touchscreen layer detracts from the screen contrast, making the text seem a little less sharp and a bit greyer on the vaguely grey background. Nonetheless, it is an e-ink device, so that means you can read it full sunlight and the battery life is long (in comparison to something like a laptop or an iPad). The touchscreen itself is kind of fun, but to those who are used to using iPads or even an iPhone, they do feel a bit old hat and unnecessary. The Kindle just has buttons, but they work just fine. The touchscreen does enable you to take notes on the pages of the book you’re reading with the stylus, but there’s no way to export these notes, so the editors among my readers won’t really get much use out of this function. Additionally, the Kindle ebook library, via Amazon, is massive in comparison to what you can buy for the Sony readers via Kobo or Borders.

So in that case, why would you buy a Sony? The benefits of these devices are accessibility. Unlike the Kindle, which exists in an entirely closed environment, managed completely by Amazon, Sony readers can access almost every kind of DRM (except Amazon’s), and read multiple file types, including PDFs, Word files and rich text – without having to be converted for use. These features make the Sony readers a great choice for those of us who desire interoperability above all else. The Sony Readers will also be available in physical stores in Australia, unlike other readers, giving them an edge when it comes to selling in.

Having said that, for my money, the Kindle 3 is still the best e-ink reader out there for now. It’s far cheaper, and the process of buying books, annotating and checking words in the dictionary – not to mention the access to your books you’ll have through your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad or Android phone through Kindle software there – is worth the trade-off of being stuck in the Amazon ecosystem. For now. I’m happy to see a Kindle competitor launched in Australia, but I’m looking forward to something a bit meatier from Sony in the future – if they manage to hold on against the Kindle juggernaut for long enough.

50 Books You Can’t Put Down

It’s that time of the year again. The Get Reading campaign kicked off at the end of last month and for the first time they’re offering an iPhone app to help readers connect with books.

The app is free from the App Store, and I’m surprised to say that it is excellent – far more useful than the Get Reading brochure available from most good book stores.

For those who don’t know, the Get Reading campaign runs every year and is designed to get people who wouldn’t usually read a book to have a go. The way it works is that there’s a list of 50 books broken down into a few basic categories: non-fiction, new authors, page turners and escapist reads. If you buy one of those books from a participating store you get a free exclusive book written specifically for the campaign. This year you get a choice between 10 Short Stories You Must Read in 2010 and Tickled Onions by Morris Gleitzman.

The iPhone app is great for browsing the books available and with the click of a button you can read the first chapter of the book or find a bookstore near you to buy it integrated with Google Maps. You can even find a place to read the book, as the app contains a directory of coffee shops (cute!). The app also has a schedule of Get Reading events that are being run throughout the month, which you can pinpoint and get directions to if you decide to go.

One-off apps of this nature are often a bit gimmicky, but I, for one, am all for them, so long as they are well made and actually useful, as this one is. Over the past year I noticed a Sydney Festival app and the Good Food Guide, and I’m hanging out for an app of this nature for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, which has a notoriously annoying schedule.

My only gripe, predictably, is that ebooks are not included in this year’s Get Reading campaign, though this is hardly the fault of the iPhone app. Nonetheless, it’s disheartening to see that in a campaign run by the government to get people reading at any cost, they have not managed to include reader-friendly ebooks as part of the promotion. (To be fair, they may have tried and failed – the only real Australian ebook retailer is Borders/Kobo, and they may have declined). Ebooks are incredibly easy to buy – and it wouldn’t be difficult for retailers to rig up a system for giving away the free books in a package (it is definitely possible with online retailers of dead tree books – cheers Boomerang! – so it should be possible for ebooks). At any rate, I applaud the effort, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next year.

You can download the iPhone app here.

Where in the World is Lisbeth Salander Pt 2

In my last post I wrote about the issues facing ebook distribution in Australia as it pertains to territorial copyright and parallel importation. To recap: the current situation is that if I want to buy an ebook that is published by a US or UK publisher in Australia it is more than likely impossible. I can buy the Australian version of that ebook where it is available, but I cannot (except in the very rare case where the overseas publisher owns worldwide digital rights) buy the overseas version, even when that ebook is not published electronically by an Australian publisher. Even when the ebook’s Australian rights have not been purchased at all, it is still more than likely impossible to buy that book in Australia. This all despite the fact that I can buy any paper book from any publisher anywhere in the world and have it posted to my front door.

It’s a very complicated issue that faces all publishers worldwide. In fact, it is an ongoing issue with all producers of digital content. Digital TV streamed overseas through services like Hulu and the BBC’s iPlayer are not available in Australia at any cost. Music services like Spotify and Pandora are also not available here due to territorial copyright restrictions. There is no obvious solution to this problem, but in this post I’ll cover some of the reasons why this occurs.

The main reason ebook availability is so patchy at the moment is time. When Amazon (the biggest seller of ebooks in the world, and the first mainstream ebook retailer to enter the market in this country) first made the Kindle available to Australians in November 2009, they had not approached any Australian publishers to organise the distribution of ebook files and organise sales contracts. They did not, in fact, begin speaking to Australian publishers about terms until well into 2010. Concurrently, Amazon’s agreements with US publishers specified what copyright territories they were allowed to sell to – and most of these did not include Australia. Amazon decided not to mess with territorial copyright law (which, as I pointed out in the last post, are a legal grey area when it comes to ebooks) and honoured territorial copyright.

For the most part, that problem has now been fixed, but there was a massive delay in distribution that is still being felt by consumers looking to buy the newest releases for their Kindle or other ereaders even now. Given time, many ebooks that were not available at the launch of your favourite ebook reader or are not available straight after the print release date will eventually be sorted. The same goes for older backlist titles that have not yet had their rights cleared to be published in electronic form in Australia. This is a massive administrative and legal issue that most publishers around the world are slowly and surely dealing with, and it’s not something unique to Australia. Given time and resources, publishers the world over will sort it out and a greater range of titles will be available to everyone.

Having said that, this problem is representative of a larger issue. Why should Australian publishers be scrambling to get territory-specific rights to ebooks and inefficiently doubling (or tripling, or quadrupling) the workload when virtually identical ebook files are being created by their counterparts in the UK and US and they are all being sold from the same international retailer? You can kind of understand how it can be more efficient for publishers to print books in the country they sell them to, and you can understand why Australian publishers would look after the ebook files of Australian authors, but for identical electronic files to be produced and supplied separately to the exact same international retailers? It’s madness.

So why is it happening, and how can the industry as a whole move towards a more global system? And perhaps more importantly, should they? The answers to those questions essentially boil down to the same issue. Australia’s publishing industry is protected by the government with the enforcement of parallel importation restrictions; these restrictions enable Australian publishers to print more books locally, giving jobs to editors, printers, publicists, sales representatives, typesetters and, of course, authors. If we are moving towards a system in which a significant proportion of the books sold are electronic, and we give up on that protection of the industry, it will inevitably shrink. If Australian publishers make less money, they will likely publish fewer Australian authors, and fewer Australians will be employed in the publishing industry as a whole.

As a person employed by the publishing industry, my bias is for protection. Nonetheless, I do think consumers have a point when they complain that the US Kindle store has almost twice as much content as the Australian store – a restriction that is purely about protecting revenue streams rather than technical limitations. So if we assume that publishers are going to continue to protect these revenue streams, and that the current system will, for the most part, function as it is – what can be done to make it fairer for ebook readers?

Join me in the thrilling conclusion of this series of posts about ebooks and the fascinating world of territorial copyright, as I uncover some of the potential (and partial) solutions to this problem.