Revolution, it seems, is all around us. Last time I talked about a publishing revolution, led by writers. But not to be left behind, readers are getting into the act too. Led by a fiery librarian, Andy Woodworth.
His blog post begins with a banner headline – “START A REVOLUTION”. Goodness, Andy, where did you get that typeface, with it’s dagger T’s, arrowhead V’s, and battleaxe L’s? This revolution promises violence.
But fear not, gentle reader. Andy’s not calling for blood – not yet, anyway. All he wants is a perfectly reasonable eBook User’s Bill of Rights. Essentially, these are the four demands:
- eBooks should not be locked or limited, preventing readers from taking back-ups, or allowing publishers or writers to remove them at a whim. In others words, readers want to buy and own books, not receive a version under license.
- When you purchase an eBook it should be available to you in the format of your choice. You should not need to buy a new copy if, for example, you decide to move your library from an IPad to a Kindle – or any new electronic reading device that may appear in coming years.
- Readers should have the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright.
- The eBook purchaser should be able to share and resell the book.
Is that a sharp intake of breath I hear from my friends up in the gods – the writers – after that last demand? What did you say? Something about a ‘dead body’?
Well, I’ll come back to demand four in a moment. But let’s look at the first three. From an independent writer’s standpoint, there’s nothing too outrageous here. I’m sure I speak for most writers when I say that I don’t want to lock my e-words away. I want them to float freely through the ether, available to potential readers at any place and at any time, unencumbered. And where my book seeds take root, I want them to grow. Sure, I want to make a fair living from my writing – a good living if possible – but unlike some operating system providers I could mention, I’m not interested in making my readers pay for an ‘updated’ version of the same book every couple of years.
I guess it’s different for the publishers and hardware suppliers. No soft and fluffy approach for them. There’s not the same emotional attachment to readers. They’re in business, they have stakeholders to satisfy, and in these straitened times, they need to make money every which way. Licensing, digital rights management, these are inventions hatched by the commercial folk, not by the artist.
The beauty of independent e-publishing is that authority remains in the author’s hands. We can choose, even when we publish with Amazon these days, not to lock our books with DRM. And we have a very important tool at our disposal. Smashwords.
Smashwords deserves all the recognition and support it can get, both from readers and writers. Smashwords may not yet be the sales powerhouse that Amazon is, but founder Mark Coker is clearly committed to the principle of author control. By following clear guidelines, our Smashwords books are available in all formats, for all readers, including PC readers. We can choose to distribute to any of the major outlets (except Amazon – I needed to make a separate version for them). We can sell at any price, including free. It’s easy to generate discounted or free vouchers.
And with this degree of control, here’s a way that we independents can meet Andy’s first and second demands. If we ask those who purchase to register their copy, then if their current copy is lost for whatever reason, or their hardware changes, we could issue a voucher via Smashwords for a replacement – in the format of their choice. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds. We need to think this through and perhaps develop a common approach or a simple tool … but it’s do-able. It’s on next week’s task-list.
But now let’s move to the final, and most contentious demand. A follow-up posting from Andy this morning How the Ebook Reader’s Bill of Rights Benefits Authors made a convincing case:
Sharing ebooks would be word of mouth on steroids for authors since it means making a recommendation and the ability to put the book almost instantly in the (virtual) hands of another. Sharing is not a lost sale, but a new marketing foray into a previously unrealized potential fan.
OK, sharing, but what about re-selling? Even Andy admits that ‘I do not have a perfect answer on this point’, and flounders a little, suggesting a ‘limited DRM’.
Writers will have different views about this – likely formed by where they stand in the market. Those who have already made their fortune from books will probably be perfectly happy to lend. Mid-market authors struggling to make a living will probably resist.
Where do I stand? I’m perhaps a rather unusual writer: I’m not intending to publish paper editions of my current novel because it’s been designed as an e-book: my approach to dialog for example, would work less well on a printed page with its spacing limitations. But no print copy means no bookshop displays, no book signings. For that reason, word of mouth recommendations, viral marketing, reader reviews are essential. Even more so because of The Lebanese Troubles‘ genre. If the novel has to be categorized, it sits on the ‘literary’ shelf. And that’s not exactly where readers are massing.
So for me, Andy’s advice is a no-brainer. It’s all about engaging with readers, gradually gaining their commitment and support. So yes, I will encourage readers to share, and even to sell on their copies – and I’ll be making changes to the copyright notices as soon as Read an Ebook Week is over.
And nothing would please me more than offering my book through libraries. Andy, are you listening?