Publishing-industry thinker Sean Cranbury linked to this article in the Globe and Mail: The rise of the e-book lending library (and the death of e-book pirating).
The voice of the article, along with some of the people quoted within it, struck me as… naïve. To say the least.
But enough about that. As an author, here's what I think about digital publishing, ebook lending and piracy. In reverse order.
My books have been pirated. To be clear – my only-released-in-print books have been pirated. I know, right? Makes me feel special that someone, or some people, took the time to scan an entire book of mine and put it on the internet. My reaction when discovering such piracy has not been the same as that of other authors whose outcry you may have encountered. Surprisingly, my response to the piracy of my books is, “Well, I hope the pirates tell their friends how great the book is.” And then I forget about the piracy and go do other things.
Coveted digital files will be pirated. This is not news. Or, perhaps it was news a very long time ago. But right now this is simply the status quo. (Contrary to what the Globe article asserts, there's rampant ebook piracy. The commenters on the article are correct.)
In my opinion, the best way to avoid allowing piracy to kill a business is to make coveted digital files readily available to absolutely everyone for a competitive price, immediately. Don't want that shiny new, much anticipated book to be pirated? Release an ebook version the same day print copies hit shelves – not just a Kindle version, but preferably an EPub version without DRM.
Piracy didn't kill the music business, the music industry simply chose not to make coveted music files readily available for sale to consumers. iTunes did it instead, and iTunes took a lot of money from the music industry. I don't think we're seeing a single, dominant iTunes-like entity taking the publishers' money; at first it seemed like Amazon was The One, but there's a lot of competition now. Which means the time for business-model innovation hasn't passed yet for publishing.
Ok, lending. I'm all for it. Before ebooks, libraries lending print books didn't kill the publishing industry. Libraries are a hallmark of our sophisticated society. Lending digital files is sort of weird, of course, on account of digital files not at all being the same as tangible objects, but whatever. If someone wants to test out one of my books for two or three weeks by borrowing the digital file and pretending there's only one of it, all the power to them. I might recommend they pirate it instead, since it takes just as little effort, there's no queue because there actually is an unlimited number of copies of the file, and then at least they can keep it forever. But that's just me.
Of course, this lending business would be great if my books were actually available legitimately as ebooks so libraries could by digital copies and readers could borrow them. To my knowledge, only my first two books with Wiley are available as ebooks, in Adobe Digital Editions format – the first edition of Teach Yourself Visually Crocheting and Crochet Visual Quick Tips. They are not competitively priced, especially since the sale is final and non-refundable, and to my knowledge only a couple dozen digital copies of either book has sold, ever. (I don't know if any libraries have digital copies available.)
I did get a letter from Random House a few months ago (via snail mail, of course), asking my permission to publish one of the Get Hooked books – I can't remember which – digitally. Why only one? I don't know. I haven't heard anything about it since.
I have no reason to believe any of my published books will be released as DRM-free EPub ebooks, and that is a disappointment.
Now, crafts books are a special kind of problem when it comes to e-publishing, and that's because of the heavy use of imagery. EPub is crap at handling images. Which means that most crafts ebooks are PDFs. And with lots of images, PDF files are gigantic. Not ideal. Also, most apps and devices can't re-flow PDFs (correct me if I'm wrong on this), which limits the reader's ability to customize the reading experience. Also not ideal.
Digital publishing isn't the future, it's the present. I love seeing what my pals in the crafts world are doing independently with digital publishing. Like bundling a digital add-on with the print book for only a couple more bucks. Or simply building an ebook-only imprint.
I've been kicking around a book idea for a while. I don't yet know too much about it, but the idea is persistent and occasionally it grows. Once it's ready, I may not take it to a traditional publisher, but maybe to an indie. Or maybe I'll self-publish it (using a professional editor, guaranteed!). I want independence and flexibility and ownership of my ideas, and with that ownership the freedom to spread them around however I want. I'm confident that the books I've published over the last few years aren't able to be spread around in the ways many readers would like them to be – and I do firmly believe that most readers would pay for the privilege.
What do you think? Are you in a spitting rage about piracy? As a reader, what do you want? And as a writer?