Tag Archives: ebooks

On My CC Experience

A friend of mine Stephanie Booth has been approached by a publisher to write a book and, being the nice person that she is, has floated the idea of a Creative Commons license.

She has a few concerns that she has as a writer and I’ll address my experience of them here, because then I can point other people here as well.

  • What happens if they publish one run of the book and stop there? Can I self-publish it on Lulu or Blurb afterwards, or take it to another publisher?

In my experience the contract that you’ll sign in order to give the publisher the right to print your book and sell it will have a clause where the publishing rights will return to you if the book goes out of print and the publisher has no reasonable expectation of printing any more.  Once the rights revert back to you then you have the ability to either sell the rights to another publisher, or more likely, publish it yourself.

I’ll mention the contract a fair bit, and all contracts are different, so it is really important that you sit and read it thoroughly. I’m not the smartest person when it comes to matters of economics and the law, but in my experience a contract is not that hard to understand, in that if you read it carefully it builds on itself and isn’t purposefully written in order to obscure anything.

 

  • Can I blog the work-in-progress as I write?

As someone who turned a blog into a book, I would encourage it. I think that one of the things that helps my sales was that I already had a little community of people who knew me (through my blog) and that they then had a small but appreciable emotional investment in me. I know that I don’t need to tell Stephanie about the power of blogging, but if you can build a relationship with your readers they are much more likely to place cold, hard cash down for your product.  If the text is going to be released as a free ebook, then you really do lose nothing. I know that some people have blogged a whole book, and then removed it after the book became a physical entity, which is another route you might want to consider.

Ultimately I wouldn’t worry about piracy, as there is nothing you can do to stop it if someone is determined enough.

  • What about making an electronic edition available? (The publishing house only does paper so far)

This is where it helps to know about the contract. The contract will probably ‘buy up’ as many rights as they can, this can include braille versions, large print versions, audiobooks and, yes, ebooks.  It is worth discussing this with the publisher if they intend to make use of ebook versions, if not then you are well within your rights to decline to sell the ebook publishing right to them – how they react to this is another question entirely. This then means that they have the right to sell the physical book, but that you retain the right to sell the ebook yourself.

Where it get’s a bit sticky is that who ‘owns’ the work once it’s been through an editor and copyeditor? Could you sell the copyedited work, or would you have to do your own copyediting – and how can you prove that you haven’t just copied the publisher’s copyedited text.

Personally I think that a publishing house is crazy not to get at minimum into publishing for the Kindle as the financial outlay is minimal if the book is already being published – and heck, it’s simple enough to do yourself if you have a bit of basic html knowledge. You might even be cheeky and hire yourself to the publisher in order to format the book into an ebook format yourself

  • Can I publish it under a CC licence?

That is up to the publisher. What you are doing is trying to dictate the contents of the contract and so it depends on a number of elements, such as the desire of the publisher to experiment with such a model, if there is the ability for a publisher to make such a change to it’s other working partners, and even if the publisher has a culture of doing things a little outside of the ordinary.  Not least it depends on how much the publisher wants your book, and more specifically having you writing it.

Persuading them that a CC license is a good thing is a topic for another day.

  • What the heck, how about making it available for free on the web?

Both my books are available free on the web (at archive.org), in the name of experimentation you can download one for free direct from the kindle store, while the other is available for less than the cost of a pint. The advantage of the kindle versions is that they easily sync across all your kindle devices and are formatted a bit nicer than the plain text version.  Once more, the advantages of a CC licensed book are far to lengthy to go into here, but I’ll just say that my publisher is very happy with my books being published under one.

Being under a CC license has not stopped the other rights from being bought by people in other fields – there is the radio play that the BBC produced and the upcoming TV series, both of which put some money in my bank. Along with the US version of the book that I assume didn’t sell too well as I didn’t see any money outside of the advance.

(As an aside, there is a technicality about having a kindle store ebook under a CC license, as the kindle store inserts it’s own DRM which is forbidden under the CC license – I like to think that I operate under the spirit of the license, if not the letter, by having the non-DRM plain text version available elsewhere).

  • What happens if somebody approaches me saying they want to translate my book? Can they self-publish a translation?

It depends what particular CC license you publish under, in the case of my books a person can copy, remix and alter the work as long as they attribute the text to me and do not make a profit from it, while also sharing their remix under the same conditions.

As an example – let’s assume that a reader wants to translate my book into French – they can, and without needing permission so long as they adhere to the licensing mentioned in the paragraph above. However if they try to sell this translation for a profit, then my publishers can take them to court (for exploiting rights that they do not have – the right to make a profit in this case). As long as it is free, is attributed to me and is likewise sharable then the amateur has the right to do that.

If then a French publisher wants to buy the right to make a ‘for profit’ version, then they can (by sending my publisher cash that I get a share of) – and it won’t invalidate the right of the amateur. In fact, if the French publisher were smart they might employ the amateur to provide an initial translation.

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In summary – In my experience, publishing under a CC license has not hurt my sales, and has helped build up a group of people who have come across my books where they might not have otherwise. Blogging the book also built up a community who were invested in seeing me succeed. Also Harper Collins, who are what I considered a monolithic corporation were happy to release my books under a CC license, which surprised the heck out of me.  Although that may have had something to do with my excellent publisher Scott Pack.

My advice is to read the contract carefully, work out how much you want to negotiate for and make your feelings know.

And to realise that you won’t make a living wage out of a book. But it does make some nice money for treating yourself.

*Note – I am not a lawyer, nor do I have any special insight into the publishing world, so take this advice with all the due weight this disclaimer gives it.

 

Living Digitally

At the beginning of 2010 I decided to see if I could live the entire year without buying any form of physical media, meaning CDs, DVDs, computer games, books or comics.

I did leave myself some ‘get out clauses’, because while this was an experiment for me alone, I didn’t see the reason why other people should suffer – so I allowed myself to buy presents for other people.

During the year I also saw a number of new services and products that made my life a lot easier, along with two old, but sadly familiar, difficulties that made living my life digitally that much harder.

 

Music

Music was incredibly easy – I have an iTunes account and I’m not afraid to use it, likewise for the small amount of music that isn’t available on iTunes it can normally be found on Amazon’s MP3 download service. It is incredibly easy to buy downloadable music – and thankfully most places now sell music DRM free. This is a real breath of fresh air. What made my life slightly more complicated was my boycott of any music by record companies involved in the BPI. This was as a result of the shameful lobbying that they did during the last government and the generally awful way that they behave.

As the music that I bought is DRM free there was no problem on getting it to play on any of the devices that I own.

 

Books

Books were, on the whole, quite easy as well. I’m exceptionally happy with the Kindle, particularly with it’s ability to read books anywhere. All the Kindle software syncs across the hardware that you own. My hardware Kindle e-reader saw most of its use at home – when I was still working on the ambulances I didn’t want to carry around a £200 piece of kit that I couldn’t keep with me at all times. However my iPhone goes with me everywhere and using ‘Kindle for iPhone’ I can continue to read my books which then effortlessly sync with all my other Kindle capable devices.  Needless to say, the Amazon kindle store had a fair chunk of my money last year.

I did however have to ‘cheat’ once. When I changed my job I needed to get some books for my new nursing post, and sadly those were not available on any ebook store. So I ‘failed’ in the experiment and had to buy some physical books.

If a book wasn’t available on Amazon then I would turn to Inkmesh, a search engine for ebooks. Sadly I still find myself bound by the horrid frustration that is regionalisation. That is, a book will be available in the US, but not in the UK an unlike a physical book I then can’t get it on ‘import’. Heaven knows publishers aren’t interested in taking my money, are they?

As you may know I am a role-player, and there is a whole industry of role-play books. For these I was excellently served by Drivethrurpg.  There are many things that I like about Drivethrurpg, not just limited by their large library, but also because they don’t use any form of DRM, instead embedding your name into the PDFs that they sell. This means that it is incredibly easy for me to upload these files onto my iPad (using Goodreader) which is perfect for reading these art and colour heavy books. I’ve also never encountered and regionalisation issues.

Considering how much I use my iPad, it was perhaps telling that I didn’t really buy any books from the iBook store. Instead I mostly used the iBook to store public domain, creative commons or otherwise copyright free books and documents – the reasoning behind this was that I could then, much like the Kindle, sync the books between my iPad (which tends to stay at home) and my iPhone (which I carry pretty much everywhere).

 

Comics

I’m also a big reader of comics, although I did vow to cut down on the number of comics which I buy. Digitally I used Comixology, which is a slick piece of software that can run on the various iDevices as well as over the web. While the amount of content isn’t as large as even a small sized comic store this is somewhat made up with by it’s diversity. You can, for example, get plenty of free comics.

There is one small problem with Comixology though, that is you don’t really ‘own’ your comics – you cannot access or back up your purchases (and a lot of purchases are £1.19 or more). Once bought you can repeatedly download the comics that you have ‘licensed’, but you never really ‘own’ them  Once more I suspect that this is due to the requirement of publishers to have DRM embedding in all purchases.

This is somewhat amusing when coupled with the delay between publishing comics traditionally, and with publishing them digitally. Most of the comics that I read digitally are several years behind the physical product.

But why do I find this amusing?

It comes from the fact that the pirate comic torrent scene often has same day scans of pretty much every comic released and not only are these comics free but you get to keep them, back them up and even edit them if you so desire.  Of course, this is illegal and means that the people who work hard to create your comics don’t get financially rewarded – so I stick to the legal downloads because it is the morally right thing to do.

I did try Longbox, but in my experience the reader, on the Mac at least, tends to crash a lot – and that is when I manage to log in. In addition the library of comics is tiny and finally, there is no iPad client.

To be honest, the iPad is pretty much perfect for reading digital comics.

 

DVDs

Again, iTunes came to the rescue – loads of films, loads of TV series and I suspect a wider range than most high street stores.

One caveat is that the films and TV series tend to not have very much in the way of ‘special features’, which are fairly standard on most DVD releases these days. I’ll admit that I am a sucker for a nice directors commentary, and while the format that Apple uses to encode their video is able to contain multiple audio tracks I am yet to see a film that utilises this for anything other than dubbing.

You also tend to get less of the other special features – small featurettes, looks behind the scenes and other fun little things that film producers use to fill up the DVD.  To be fair there some films that have ‘iTunes extras’ but they are few and far between and are often poorer extras than those present on the little silver disks, so I always feel that I am missing out.

I also suspect that I’m going to need a bigger hard drive – 2 TB just doesn’t seem to cut it.

I also need large disks to back up my film library because, unlike comixology, once you download a video that is it – you cannot go back and download it again.  Why can’t we have the best of both worlds? Download something to keep but, as long as the company is in business, be able to download it again if your backups all spontaneously fail.

Which is what Drivethrurpg does.

 

Computer games.

I own a Mac. To play PC games I boot into Windows as, sadly, the Mac gaming market is still tiny compared to the PC.

However during the early part of the year Steam came to the Mac.

Steam is a superb service which I use a lot for my PC gaming. It lets you buy and download games on the same day that they become available in retail shops. They are stored locally on your hard disk and can be backed up easily.  Once you have bought a game you can delete and re-download it whenever you like, and on multiple machines.

You do need to connect to the servers to initially ‘authorise’ your game, but after that you can play offline.

It is perhaps telling that the criticism of Steam is pretty small – after all, gamers are not known for being quiet when there is a problem, yet actual criticism of Steam is difficult to find.

I was hoping that with the wildly popular Steam in place the Mac gaming market might grow, which I think it is, but just very, very slowly. The problem is that a PC game needs to sell a lot of units before it becomes economically viable for the game to be translated to the Mac.

While we have boot camp there is little incentive for most companies to release dual format games – Blizzard being the exception with all of their games running natively on the Mac and PC, and all in one box.

I also game on the Xbox and Playstation 3 but have only downloaded one or two games from their respective services, my tiny experience of this has me thinking that the Xbox offering has more range, and is more user friendly.

 

Magazines

During the year I wanted to reduce the number of magazines I read anyway. It became very easy to pass the newsagents without popping in to browse for the latest issues of a magazine. This is because I still have a stack of magazines from 2009 sitting under my coffee table waiting to be read.

I turned to the iPad for my magazine consumption of choice. There are a number of magazines available via the Pixelmags apps. These are essentially large PDFs of current and back issue magazines with a reading interface applied – they don’t do anything new with the platform, so there are no videos, little games, music or other media designed specifically for the iPad.

But then it’s not supposed to be. Pixelmags is a platform to reach an audience that doesn’t want a stack of old magazines cluttering up the house, and for publishers that don’t have a dedicated ereader department. For this it is a perfectly good solution.  My one moan would be that each magazine is it’s own app – I’d much rather have one app from which I can download different issues of different magazines.

Wired magazine was designed to be something special – it does use the capabilities of the iPad well with video, audio and animations.  Wired UK also released an app but this has only the December 2010 issue available, the last I heard was that they were thinking hard about how to proceed.

Ultimately my magazine reading has dropped immensely, after all most of what people would consider ‘magazine content’ is available online. And so my ‘digital magazine’ is my RSS reader, with feeds from news sites, blogs, Twitter and other online sources. It means that I can read what I want without having to scroll past fluff.

(Incidentally, this is just one of many reasons why I think The Daily will crash and burn).

Sadly there is a snake in the garden of iPad with Apples recent reinforcement of in-app purchases, and the difficulty of content producers to get subscription demographics the iPad is looking less attractive to content producers who maybe can’t afford to give Apple 30% of the cover price and can’t use subscriber demographics to sell advertising.

The final magazine that I read is ‘Nursing Standard‘, and they make their magazine available for subscribers online – they also provide free access to all their back issues. Now if only they could make the system compatible with the iPad I might read it more – sitting at my computer desk to read a magazine is less fun than it sounds.

And let’s face it, it doesn’t sound like a laugh a minute.

 

Conclusion

During the year I bought more media than normal, mostly due to being able to buy on impulse. However this mostly wasn’t due to adverts or other traditional marketing – instead it was from word of mouth, normally from my RSS / Twitter feeds. Someone would post ‘This book looks really good http://bit.ly/fNPn5x‘, I’d then click on the link and if it was available on a digital download I’d be very tempted to lay down some cold hard cash for it.

It wasn’t restricted to new books either, the long tail got a look in as well, someone mentioned ‘Childhood’s End’ in a blogpost and I decided I needed to read it…

…But then it wasn’t available in the UK. And regionalisation means that the US publishers didn’t think that my money was good enough for them. It is when this happens the temptation to go to a torrent site was more than a little strong.

With new releases where there wasn’t a digital edition I forgot any and all media attention. For example, my mum read about a book concerning a dog in her newspaper. ‘No problem’ I thought I’ll buy it for her on download (she has a hand me down Sony Reader), but the book isn’t available in the UK for download. A week later and I can’t even remember the name of the book, the publishers have missed out on a sale and Waterstones and Amazon don’t have their share of the profit.

Well done to the publishers for failing to leverage that prime media exposure in a national newspaper.

It’s a shame that Amazon don’t have alerts that let you know when a book is released in a downloadable (or paperback) format – it’d be nice to have a ‘Let me know when I can download this’ button.

One thing of note – over the year I was using downloads so much it took me until November to realise that my Mac’s DVD drive was being flakey – and I’ve not bothered to get it fixed because I have so little use for it now.

As well as the iPad being my main means of consumption of non-music media, Apple released the Apple TV, which brings real simplicity to the art and science of getting pictures from your PC, Mac, iPhone or iPad onto your 40″ plasma screen TV, well worth the money if you have plenty of digital media sitting in iTunes. I’m just waiting for Apple to update it so that you can see the UK catch-up services, I would like to assume that this is in the pipeline.

Just as I was writing this post I read about his site on Twitter – a manifesto from file sharers about how to end piracy. It’s one that, after this year, I can definitely get behind.

So, with one exception, I managed to make it through the year without buying physical media, and yet I probably bought more media than I would have otherwise due to the simplicity and immediacy that download services supply, only stopping when struck by the barrier of regional releases.  It isn’t perfect, there are still companies doing daft things in the name of DRM and regionalisation which still frustrate a lot of people, but I think that gradually, very gradually, they will start to see the benefits of freeing up their content digitally.

Remember when iTunes music had DRM, or that you couldn’t download music legally at all?

So things are improving.