Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Authorial angst

Writing science fiction for a living does not preclude occasional discomfort with change.

Take Google's grab for the right to digitize and display everything ever written.  That, essentially, is the agreement Google struck with the Authors Guild -- a group that, despite its name, does not represent all authors. By making every book searchable, Google would have more online content with which to sell ads. How much negotiating power do you suppose the typical author has vs. Google about sharing that ad revenue?

Yes, the agreement "allows" authors the right to opt out. That's not good enough! Such terms would stand on its head the totality of copyright law and precedent. As in, the author has the rights to what he has created, unless and until he agrees to grant those rights to another party.

Happily this agreement keeps getting rejected by the court. The latest rejection was a few weeks ago. Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), of which I am a member, offered this guest editorial recently on the subject. (Michael Capobianco is an ex-president of SFWA.)

In other the business-of-writing news, the Association of American Publishers reports that ebooks now outsell paperbacks. That only confirms what I'd been seeing with my own titles, at both bn.com (Barnes and Noble's online presence) and Amazon.

With ebooks selling so well, the pricing of ebooks has recently become very important to authors. So: how much should ebooks cost? The marginal cost of duplication -- i.e., effectively free? Some people think so (as they did of songs and movies, too), and that can't work. Someone must pay for the work of writers, editors, and artists -- or not a lot will be written to be read. That's why the current skirmishing between publishers and book-selling outlets is so important to authors. Here's an interesting essay from SFWA about the competing wholesaler vs. agency models for pricing of ebooks once they leave the publisher.

If that's not enough future shock for one day, I'm back to the far future to work on Fate of Worlds.


Erik said...

Industries have handled the digital transition with varying success. Movies and music are probably pirated as much as they are sold. Videogames have always been digital, but speed of the internet has allowed them to be pirated as well. The amount of data in a book is almost trivial compared to these media, so pirating ebooks is even quicker.

I think the success of ebooks going forward will depend not just on pricing, but on the way they are sold. Take for example a hugely successful online retail system for video-games, Steam.

With Steam, you log in to an account and buy a game, and the game is permanently registered to your account. You can download the game on any number of computers, as often as you like if you are signed in. So you can play your games on your laptop, your desktop, and that new computer you buy 5 years from now. The centralization also helps you get updates and bonus content more easily.

Compare to itunes which lets you download a purchased song only once. If you accidentally delete it, suffer an HD crash, or forget to transfer it over when you get a new computer, your song is gone forever (although acquiring it illegally online would take only a minute or two).

I'm not familiar with ebook retail because I haven't broken into that market yet. For anyone looking into it, the convenience and value of the e-product might play a large role in deciding whether they go with purchase, or piracy.

Edward M. Lerner said...

Hi Erik. These are interesting times, to be sure.

- Ed