There’s been a lot written about the differences between printed books and ebooks. Printed books give readers certain benefits under the First Sale Doctrine that they don’t have with ebooks: lending, trading, and reselling.
The reason why ebooks don’t have those benefits is because they aren’t in physical format, but are digital files. I can hear you saying ‘Duh’.
I think the matter of lending is now being handled, as at least two distribution sites that I’m aware of have enabled lending on their proprietary devices (Kindle and Nook). So that point of argument will likely soon be extinct.
Trading or reselling an ebook means that a copy is made, then given away or sold, while the person who originally purchased it (or downloaded a pirated copy) still retains their copy – obviously not the case with printed books.
Creating copies of someone’s creative works and distributing them for free or fee is illegal without the creator’s or copyright holder’s express permission.
Unlike print books, digital files can be copied easily into perpetuity, which is why no author or publisher in their right minds will ever give permission for trading or reselling. There is no way to be absolutely certain that the original purchaser will delete the ebook’s file after a trade or reselling it.
In my personal opinion, that should make it extremely easy to understand why trading and reselling could harm the creator’s ability to earn from their work. Having unlimited, free or differently priced copies available all over the internet? Yeah, the potential for the author to earn from their works will drop like a rock.
It’ll do so due to the fact so many people either new to the internet, or having grown up with ‘free’ stuff readily available with just a minor searching effort not realizing (or not caring) that they could be putting someone’s ability to earn a living at risk.
The ease of copying an ebook is the reason behind DRM being applied, and the existence of DRM is a sore point for many. DRM makes it difficult for readers to always have a copy of their purchased ebooks in a readable format, without having to re-purchase if they change ereading devices, or if they have more than one ereader and want a copy of the ebook on both for convenience.
I’ve seen a lot of ‘trust the reader’ in regards to making ebooks DRM free. What they mean is ‘trust your readers to not do anything that’s illegal with your ebooks’ if you do your best to make it simple for them to change its format, thereby making their copy as accessible as possible to them.
The problem with that lies in the fact that life experience usually results in one learning that not everyone is worthy of such trust. I’m forty years old, and could regal you for hours with tales of dishonesty thanks to 14 years in retail/customer service and 16 years of being online.
Hell, my last job, managing a small store, showed me that roughly every other person who walked through the doors would steal you blind – and they weren’t all those typically thought to be likely to do so, either. Meaning that they weren’t all low-income minority types (at least, I think that’s who is usually considered likely to steal, isn’t it?).
All of that makes it rather difficult for any reasonable person to trust strangers not to trample all over their rights. I mean hey! the government does it all the time, right? Heh.
Even so, I do trust people who purchase my ebooks to the point that I make them DRM free where it’s possible to do so, and make it clear that I don’t mind legal purchasers sharing them with a few friends in a non-public manner.
I recently had to request the removal of Tria’s Tale from a file sharing site. The only way the person who uploaded it was able to get a copy was by purchasing it. So one of my readers, whom I’m supposed to trust, bought a copy and then made it available for free to every Tom, Dick, Harry, and Jane who came along.
Of course, that’s only one person that I know of out of a few hundred who’ve purchased my ebooks, and in over three years of being an indie author. I’d say that it proves that most readers CAN be trusted, and I love having my faith in people’s honesty restored!
By the way, the file sharing site did remove Tria’s Tale at my request, so kudos to them for respecting my rights.
It comes down to this for most authors and publishers
Ebooks are simply a different way to package and sell stories. The difference in packaging doesn’t mean that we lose the right to try to earn from selling ebooks. No one expects us to give away print books, instead of trying to sell them.
Yeah, I know that some do give away a few copies of newly released titles in promotional efforts. That’s a far cry from giving ALL the books away.
As for the benefits, maybe readers can’t trade or resell ebooks as they can print books. But ebooks don’t show wear and tear, they don’t take up much space in your home, and they are environmentally friendly.
Plus you will always have that ebook. There will likely always be a way to recover the file, or to change its format without having to repurchase it (the easiest way is to buy it from Smashwords). As long as the distributor site remains in business, you can access it from your account, and if you’re smart, you’ll back up your ebooks on CDs or DVDs.
Also, you can usually adjust your reading experience of them by changing the font, font size, and line spacing in your ereader. Certainly can’t do that with a printed book – and printed books don’t last forever.
In my personal opinion as a reader, ebooks have more benefits than they take away from readers, so it’s a pretty fair trade off.
Now, as far as pricing of ebooks is concerned, I’m sorry/not really sorry that so many traditional publishers price ebooks as though they were hard backs.
Indie authors tend to price their ebooks in the lower ranges of 99 cents to $9.99, so traditional publishers are just pushing readers into discovering the wide world of indies – and we profit from their mistakes. Heh.
Here’s my take on the whole thing
If you purchase a copy of one of my ebooks, I don’t care if you share them with a few friends, over and above any lending policy of the site that you purchased them from – just as long as you do so in a non-public manner.
Meaning, email the file or directly transfer it to your friend(s) ereader, or by physical means (flash drive, CD, etc.).
Alternatively, you could sign up as an affiliate at either of those sites, and send referral links instead (or put them on your blog/web site). Through Smashwords, you can earn 50% of the net sale on my ebooks that are priced $2.99 and up.
Just please don’t put them on a file sharing site, your own web site/blog, or resell them. Those actions could potentially harm or even destroy my ability to earn from the hard work I put into writing them, and waste the money I spent in producing them.
Almost all of them have a sample available for taste testing before you spend any money. In addition, I do have some freebies available for download and free sharing, as well as some free to read web fiction serials.
Seriously, I’m trying to make it as easy as possible for readers where my ebooks are concerned, while not giving myself a raw deal in regards to the earning from my work aspect.
I am not ‘the Man’. I’m just one person, and my writing is a tiny, personal business, not a huge corporation that can take financial hits without flinching too much.
Every single one of my ebooks (yes, even the freebies), begin their published life in the red to the tune of $20 to over $1,000 in editing expenses (edited to add: Editing expense is based on word count, which is why such a wide range there). And I’m beginning to accrue cover design expenses on them as well now.
Such expenses happen for you, the reader, in order that you receive the best possible reading experience that I can provide. They come out of my pocket, and are considered an investment, but they don’t stay an investment if enough sales don’t happen to recover those expenses.
Anything that hampers their sales potential therefore negatively affects my writing business. So, you know, please don’t be that bad apple in the barrel. Instead, continue meeting me halfway.
I’d really appreciate it.
Note: I found the blog post that inspired mine. Better late than never: The eBook User’s Bill of Rights. And here’s another thing I found while searching for it: The Readers’ Bill of Rights for Digital Books.
Note the second: I think limiting the number of loans a library can do for ebooks is BS. I love libraries, and I only want to earn one sale at a time, not be paid for a single purchased copy by someone over and over again. If that makes sense.
Note the third: I just read this article, and take issue with the ‘ (Apparently the annoying feature of copyright law that lets people do what they like with a book after they’ve purchased it is a bug that he would like to see fixed.)’ bit. Copyright law does NOT let purchasers do anything they like after buying a book. In fact, copyright law specifically inhibits consumers from doing things like making copies to sell or give away of copyrighted works.
Perhaps she meant the First Sale Doctrine, which does allow purchasers to do what they like with printed books in regards to loaning, trading, reselling, or even burning them – but also doesn’t allow purchasers to make copies and sell those. And in that case, I’ve already made mention of why the First Sale Doctrine isn’t applied to ebooks – they’re a different, non-physical medium.