Beginning Ruby Author: Publisher Wouldn't Let Me Give eBook For Free... So Pirate My Book (Sorta)

from the obscurity,-piracy dept

pistol alerts us to an interesting post from Peter Cooper, the author of Beginning Ruby, where he breaks down how he gets paid for the book, including the advance and royalties, giving a nice clean explanation of how authors get paid for their books. It's pretty typical, but nice to see a clean breakdown.

But what's a lot more interesting, is towards the end, he describes the negotiations over the second edition of the book, where he begged his publisher, Apress, to offer the ebook version for free, believing (strongly) that it would promote sales of the paper book. He even notes that the original version's ebook barely had noteworthy sales, so it seemed reasonable to offer up the ebook for free to drive more attention. No dice. Even though Apress has done that with other similar titles, it wouldn't agree. So, his response is to tell people that he doesn't mind if you download unauthorized copies of the book... even if he's not sure what Apress would do:
My reaction to seeing other Apress books getting the free, electronic version treatment is: I'm good with you pirating my book! Now, of course, I can't actively participate in pirating my book but, heck, it's around on plenty of "free e-book" sites and on RapidShare. There are even links on Twitter to torrents like this. I am happy for you to pirate my book, but I'm NOT A LAWYER, and I can't guarantee what Apress would do about it - so you'd be doing it off your own back! So, uhm, don't pirate it? ;-)
He also goes on to point out that, technically, he owns the copyright on most of the content in the book, so there may even be a loophole there:
Now, according to my contract, I own the copyright to the entire book except for the cover, table of contents, and the indexes. My contract also states that I have exclusively allowed Apress to publish and reproduce my content. So.. I suspect that if you took my book, removed the cover, contents and indexes, and turned it into a PDF with a cover of your own creation, Apress couldn't do anything about it because everything would be my copyright. Now, I cannot allow you to do this, but I would not pursue you or enforce my copyrights if you did ;-) So, er, don't do it!
Of course, something is seriously wrong with the way things are set up when an author has to go behind his own publisher's back to tell people to "pirate" his own book. Eventually publishers will begin to recognize how to embrace new business models, but until then, it seems like it may be quite a struggle for many publishers (there are, of course, a few exceptions -- and, for you supporters of Baen books, yes, we know about them, no need to keep pointing them out).


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    The Buzz Saw (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:12am

    Ha

    Apress and Sitepoint both disappoint me with how they attempt to charge for the PDF after I have already paid for the book.

     

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  2.  
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    GeneralEmergency (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:18am

    Copyright...

    By and for children that never learned to share.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:22am

    I would say sadly that this type of book free online would pretty much negate any need for anyone to buy a copy. Books like this are bought to learn a programming language. If that information is online in the same format, there is little reason to get the book. After all, you can search the online copy faster, you can keep it open on your second screen or window, and pretty much go from there.

    Apress is pretty smart to realize that the market is for $40 "learning" books, and not for freebie ebooks.

     

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  4.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:25am

    Re: Ha

    "Apress and Sitepoint both disappoint me with how they attempt to charge for the PDF after I have already paid for the book."

    Agreed. Most of the 'pirated' books I own are copies of ones I have the dead-tree edition of. It's a great help to be able to search for that one phrase you're trying to place.

     

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  5.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:41am

    copyright on index?

    I can understand copyrighting the cover, but can they copyright the table of contents and index? Aren't they just lists of facts? Or did I miss something and this isn't a US author?

     

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    TriZz (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:42am

    Bravo.

     

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  7.  
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    duane (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:47am

    Re:

    Little something wrong with your logic.
    The author notes "that the original version's ebook barely had noteworthy sales, so it seemed reasonable to offer up the ebook for free to drive more attention."

    If the ebook version is so great, why weren't the sales better? If your theory is that because the book itself sucked, then why is he getting to put out a second one?

    However, you're right the market is for $40 books. If there's no market for the ebooks, you might as well give them away as a means to induce the purchase of the book.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:53am

    Free Book Publishing could be a powerful marketing tool

    Tim O'Riley weighed in the comments of the story:

    “Free” should be seen as a strategic tool for publishing. Sometimes it helps; sometimes it hurts. You need to understand how and when to use it. If there’s lots of competition, you’re an unknown, and the competition is print only, free can help everyone understand how great you are. But if you’re already well known, free can reduce your overall sales. (That’s the whole point of the “progressive taxation” analogy I referrred to above.)

    Indeed. "Free" needs to be balanced out, as it's not possible to make money on "Free" forever. However, if you are smart about it, it can be a very powerful and persuasive marketing tool just as Radio provides a promotion vehicle for physical sales. It seems that Tim O'Rilley understands this concept.

    "Free" doesn't work everywhere, but the idea of a sharply reduced or free electronic/PDF version could be a very good marketing tool to help drive sales of physical, tangible copies. Then everybody wins.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:53am

    Chronno, A collection of facts can be copyrighted.
    AC I don't know about you but it's far easier to have a physical copy than an ebook when you are searching for something. Ebook and PDF readers aren't t the point where I feel comfortable with them.

     

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  10.  
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    John Duncan Yoyo (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:54am

    Re: copyright on index?

    I guess that the indexing was done by the publisher so it was their work and they could copyright that. Seems trivial to redo on a digital copy of the text.

     

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  11.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 10:03am

    Re: copyright on index?

    "I can understand copyrighting the cover, but can they copyright the table of contents and index?"

    Table of contents? Almost certainly not. That's just a list.

    Indices are potentially a different story, since they're actually a creative work--that is if they're any good.

     

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    Diesel Mcfadden, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 10:05am

    Thoughtful reply from Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly in the article comments. "I sympathize with your desire to make the book freely available online. We’ve done it for many O’Reilly titles when the authors request it, and we make books available for free online after they go out of print. We don’t do it for all books because while there are some cases where free online exposure can help sell print books, there are also many cases where it seems to sell fewer books. A lot depends on whether a book is already visible or not. (See my old essay from 2002, Piracy is Progressive Taxation: http://openp2p.com/pub/a/p2p/2002/12/11/piracy.html) “Free” should be seen as a strategic tool for publishing. Sometimes it helps; sometimes it hurts. You need to understand how and when to use it. If there’s lots of competition, you’re an unknown, and the competition is print only, free can help everyone understand how great you are. But if you’re already well known, free can reduce your overall sales. (That’s the whole point of the “progressive taxation” analogy I referrred to above.)"

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 10:30am

    Re: Re:

    I think you are missing the point: There is little indication that giving away an ebook in this category would in any way induce sales. If anything (as mention by Tim O'Reilly) it is often a negative, not a positive.

    Unlike what Mike want to make you think, free isn't an all or nothing deal. Perhaps if he made the first chapter, or perhaps the first few pages available online, that might induce sales. Giving it all away and praying that someone decides to also buy a copy is a pretty weak marketing method.

     

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  14.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 10:38am

    Re: Free Book Publishing could be a powerful marketing tool

    "f there’s lots of competition, you’re an unknown, and the competition is print only, free can help everyone understand how great you are. But if you’re already well known, free can reduce your overall sales."

    Masnick's Law violation.

     

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  15.  
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    PaulT (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 10:44am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Actually, what you describe is a pretty weak marketing method...

    There are many books on the market to teach you how to program. There are many that specifically teach Ruby. Physical copies are also usually ridiculously expensive and a much larger investment than a novel or magazine (Amazon price for the title mentioned is $27+shipping, several times that of a paperback novel). That makes customers much more careful about which book they might buy. So, you they to be able to see what the contents are actually like, and not everybody lives near a bookshop likely to sell and let them leaf through a comprehensive selection.

    The first chapter of such books is usually "here's who the book's for and how to use it", so it's useless to determine how useful the rest of the book is. Ditto with the first few pages. How useful a sample of any chapter is would depend on the reader's current programming skills - are they a complete noob, or someone familiar with other methods of programming who wants to pick up a new language? Which chapters would be most representative depends on the reader - a noob would be put off by a sample of chapter 10, while a programmer would find chapter 2 samples boring.

    The best way is to give away a sample of the whole thing. If a reader can compare all the titles on the market and choose the best one, they will do so. If others are available but yours is not, they will choose one they've been able to sample.

    Why would people still buy the book? Most people still find a dead tree edition easiest to work from, so they would happily buy a copy of the book they want to use. The availability of a searchable PDF for those times when the physical copy is too cumbersome is a great addition, not a substitute, for most people.

     

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  16.  
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    duane (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 10:47am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Ah, it is you who is missing the point. The author thinks giving away the e-book will induce sales. I think Cory Doctorow would agree with him and could probably point you to a couple other folks who agree too.

    Yes, free doesn't have to be totally free, but it would be nice if it was an option the guy who wrote the book could choose.

    Also, you're wrong. http://www.masternewmedia.org/how-do-you-monetize-free-tim-oreilly/
    O'Reilly says "We have published books on Linux where the authors have said: "I want this to be put under free documentation license" and we still ended up selling in some cases millions of dollars worth of copies of those books. In many cases it was less than we would have made otherwise. But there are other books, where a topic was legitimized by the free content, and by getting millions of people to read it online, we were then able to commercialize them after the fact."

     

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  17.  
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    PaulT (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 10:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    eeep...

    "So, you they to be able to see what the contents are actually like"

    should read:

    "So, they need to be able to see what the contents are actually like"

    My kingdom for an edit button...

     

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  18.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 10:52am

    Re:

    "Chronno, A collection of facts can be copyrighted."

    Not in the US. Not yet, at least. (Where 'collection of facts' is essentially a list. Like a phone book.)

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 11:08am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Paul, beyond the first few pages, I could recommend you head off to a book store and actually look at the book. Compare it to other similar titles in store, see the options.

    For my money, a free ebook and a printer is all I need for a "FREE!" copy that will only make money for the companies selling toner and paper, and nothing to the writer. My printer does 25 pages per minute, so it won't take long to bang out the book into a format I can not only consult, but that I can even write all over too.

    The point is this: Giving it all away MAY cause some sales, but it is likely also to cause many no-sales, as people get what they need from the free book.

     

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  20.  
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    Geekish, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 11:10am

    Re:

    "After all, you can search the online copy faster, you can keep it open on your second screen or window, and pretty much go from there."

    That is, in a nutshell, why I like eBooks. Honestly, if I had a free eBook version, I would be less likely to purchase the print version. On the other hand, I would be much more likely to buy the dead tree version if I were able to get the eBook version included for free.

    I'd still rather see cheaper eBook editions and forgo the physical copy entirely. The initial set up costs may be similar to that of the print edition, but it makes no sense (in my opinion) to charge the full print price for a format that can be easily and infinitely duplicated.

     

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  21.  
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    Lisae Boucher (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 11:17am

    This is real smart!

    This is a great publisher's stunt! I really wonder if this author did this behind the publisher's back, since this publisher gives away other ebooks for free. This blog entry and the whole situation just draws attention to the whole discussion about free online content and is giving both the publisher and author quite a bit of extra publicity.

    If I may ask, how many TechDirt visitors have gone to Amazon to buy this book already?

     

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  22.  
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    PaulT (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 11:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "I could recommend you head off to a book store and actually look at the book."

    Read what I said, as I addressed that "point". Not everybody lives near a bookstore. Of those who do, not every bookstore has a wide selection of programming titles - bookstores outside of larger cities will usually not carry many specialist titles. A person may have to travel many, many miles to be able to see such a selection - there is literally no way for some people to economically compare books without a PDF.

    This can lead to people either not bothering with a book at all (online tutorials can be less friendly, but they're free) or having to guess which book is best. Forcing potential customers to literally guess whether your product is useful for them is not the way to encourage trade.

    Also, do people really spend the time and money needed to print a 600+ page book onto A4? Maybe a few chapters, but printing the whole thing strikes me as being particularly dumb. Whether or not this impacts sales is also questionable. Would the person printing out 500 A4 pages really have bought the book at retail if such an option was not available?

    "The point is this: Giving it all away MAY cause some sales, but it is likely also to cause many no-sales, as people get what they need from the free book."

    Ah, but which of those numbers is larger? Note the qualifying word you keep using - "may". It's totally subjective. I don't personally think there's a huge difference, and no study has ever proven one viewpoint conclusively.

     

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  23.  
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    Charlie Potatoes, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 12:05pm

    theft of books

    In 1971 Abbey Hoffman (of the 1968 Chicago Police Department Riots) wrote a book with the unusual title of "Steal This Book" which discussed living free. Many of his readers took his advice and stole it, certainly. But many more paid for it. He got publicity for a book that I would not have ever heard of by so doing. Point is ... the writer we are discussing today is doing the same thing. I've never heard of him, you've never heard of him, but now his name is all over my monitor screen. OK People!! come to www.NewWorldEssays.com and steal my essays!!! NOW !!! Actually its a nice ploy. Thanks to Abbey for thinking of it.

     

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  24.  
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    captn trips, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 12:23pm

    Re: This is real smart!

    LOL, I thought the same thing! Seems like a brilliant PR stunt. Just that in this case there's plenty of data to back up the PDF to hard copy conversion ratio in favor of free PDF, charge for the book. I wish I had those links.. but I remember reading a breakdown of a test case about three years ago where in an author of a book that he was self publishing gave away 90% of the book in PDF for free and sold like 1 hard copy (containing the additional 10%) for every 10 pdfs that were downloaded...

     

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  25.  
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    LostSailor (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 1:01pm

    Possibly not a bright move

    Cooper is playing a bit cute:
    So.. I suspect that if you took my book, removed the cover, contents and indexes, and turned it into a PDF with a cover of your own creation, Apress couldn’t do anything about it because everything would be my copyright. Now, I cannot allow you to do this, but I would not pursue you or enforce my copyrights if you did ;-) So, er, don’t do it!


    Uh, yes he retains the copyright to his book, which is standard in most publishing contracts, with the exception of works-for-hire. But he has also give an exclusive right via license to Apress to publish and distribute the book. Cutely encouraging people to violate the licensed right for which he was paid could put him in hot water with the publisher. Whether it's a breach of his contract, I'll leave for a lawyer to weigh in on.

    Cooper also seems to think he got only an okay deal in this contract. Actually, the royalties aren't bad and the escalators that increase the royalties for increase sales are actually pretty good. The eBook royalties probably should have been higher; depending on the contract, these can be 50% of net revenue.

    He also says Apress, makes a varying amount per book – I don’t know why. An “average net price” is shown on my royalty statements but this fluctuates.

    That's because books sold through different sales channels are subject to different discounts, which in this case look to be between 50% to 60%. Again, pretty standard. And because different sales channels will have different volume over time, the average net price will fluctuate.

    Looking at what he made, he seems to have done well, though I gather he isn't enthused:

    In the grand scheme of things, selling about 9000 copies of a technical book is neither cause for a great celebration or despair. The book easily paid back its advance in the first two quarters and it’s provided Apress with about $170,000 in net revenue over two years (of which about $19,000 has ended up with me).

    Not bad. He earned $13,000 over his advance. And given that Apress would have to account for editorial preparation of the manuscript, pre-press (composition and cover), marketing and sales material, any publicity and promotion, paper, printing, binding, shipping and warehouse costs (if any) as well as royalties, that $170,000 net revenue can shrink quite quickly. Though they likely did fairly well on the book; otherwise they wouldn't have come back for a second edition.

     

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  26.  
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    Peter Cooper, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 1:41pm

    @LostSailor: I don't think I'm "cutely encouraging people to violate" those rights. The closest I get to doing anything like that is saying "I’m good with you pirating my book!" but that means I'm fine with it if you want to get on breaking the law, though I go on to say you probably shouldn't. There is some cuteness, yes, but I'm not asking people to actively violate the rights - merely stating that I don't care if you do.

    And, well, I don't care if people go and pirate the e-book. I'm good with that if it means they can sample it. What I am not good with, though, is if people want to pirate the book in print form or otherwise get the e-book, enjoy it, and then don't buy the print version. It's definitely because I want to increase print sales - not to piss off the publisher ;-)

    That said, I believe Apress are aware of the post for various reasons - though they have not actively mentioned it. Even if a lawyer can wrangle it into being a violation of sorts, I dare say it's not worth making a fuss about it due to a variant of the Streisand Effect :)

    Regarding the earnings being "not bad" - it's worth noting that a lump of that I don't have because it's held in "reserve" for 18 months.. and the US tax man takes a nice 30% of it (which I can deduct against my future local tax in a weird and wonderful way I've spent too many hours on now ;-)). But still, no, it's not bad, but my point is that 9000 copies of a technical book really isn't that great. It doesn't suck, but it's still only 9000 copies ;-)

    To the others who note that giving away the PDF might not be such a great idea after all, I need to note that I would not have been in support of this idea for the 1st edition, back when there was no/little competition.

    The reason I'm in support now is that despite being one of the most popular Ruby books out there, it baffles me how few people have heard of it. At least half of the "top Ruby books" lists I see don't mention it - it's not even on the de facto official list of Ruby books maintained at ruby-doc.org (as officially sanctioned by ruby-lang.org).

    I'm thinking, then, that the sort of people who'll grab it for free are the same types of people who might recommend it to others in the future. I hate PDFs for learning languages and I don't think I'm alone.. if I were doing it properly, I'd buy the print copy and the PDF would sway me. At least, it has for other titles I now own.

    Lastly, no, this isn't a stunt. I just got my statement one day, couldn't understand it, decided to post about it.. but then thought I'd tell the "whole story" just for something to do. I definitely didn't expect it to be as popular as it has been - but thanks all the same :)

     

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  27.  
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    tracker1 (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 2:05pm

    Dead Tree over e-Ink

    Personally, I've always been more of a dead tree fan over the eBook variety. Simply because it's easy enough to lay in bed and get a few chapters in each night. I don't tend to work through examples while reading (I know some do), so I get more from portability/readability. On the other hand, I've been considering getting a Kindle DX, as the screen size is almost big enough, and the display is decent. There are down sides, and not a fan of DRM'd ereader content either.

    If a book is divided into sections/articles etc it would be a decent idea to release a separate section that can stand on its' own as a sample of the work in a larger book... I don't think giving the entire book in electronic format would entice people into buying though.

     

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  28.  
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    Chargone (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 2:20pm

    Re: Re: Free Book Publishing could be a powerful marketing tool

    to be fare, "can" =/= "will"

    all comes down to knowing your audience, i guess.

     

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  29.  
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    LostSailor (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 2:57pm

    Re:

    Peter:

    Thanks for responding. I posted this before I read Tim O'Reilly's response, which pretty much echos mine.

    My main point, and the one that Tim made, was that you licensed exclusive rights to Apress, and while you own the copyright, you have effectively given the publisher the right to exercise your copyright. Actually, I doubt that even expressly advocating "pirating" your book is actionable.

    I certainly understand your desire to get more exposure for the book and while I agree that freely-distributed ebook version can be an effective tool, as others have noted, there are drawbacks. And I'm well aware that publishers may be a bit shy about embracing the practice when they shouldn't necessarily be, you did give them the right to make that decision and were paid for it. So, in a very technical sense, downloading free ebooks is a violation of the rights you signed to the publisher.

    Hopefully it doesn't sour relations with Apress, or cause your editor there grief, as it sounds like he/she went to bat for you. But as others have pointed out both here and in comments to your post, once the genie is out of the bottle, it's nearly impossible to control. People who download the ebook may or may not purchase a print copy. If print sales are significantly higher or lower than the previous edition, it'll be impossible to tell what effect free downloading had, or if your action cooled any publisher promotion efforts.

    9000 copies could likely be improved upon with more aggressive marketing, but there are many reasons why some books sell and others don't and marketing (or free ebooks) may or may not make a difference. I share the frustration, but it's not a horrible sale (as I noted, Apress came back for a new edition) and you made more than three times your advance, something a lot of authors never do.

    Clarity in royalty statements and reserves have been sticky subjects for many, many years, and the clarity or size and duration of the reserve are often controlled by the accounting people. I agree that Apress' change in your statement was very much for the worse. Reserves should properly be calculated considering the rate of sales and rate of returns for each title, and while this can be largely automated, many publishers prefer a standard percentage and term. Eighteen months seems a bit long.

    Unfortunately, the publisher has no control over the IRS withholding.

    I never thought you were engaging in a stunt; your post is fairly clear on that. And the issues you raise are those raised by many authors.

    At any rate, I wish you luck with the second edition and hope it's successful.

     

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  30.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 3:20pm

    Re: Free Book Publishing could be a powerful marketing tool

    But if you’re already well known, free can reduce your overall sales.

    I claim Masnick’s Law. You owe me teh Internetz.

     

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  31.  
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    Rick Payton, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 4:02pm

    Why does http://beginningruby.org/what-ive-earned-and-learned/ redirect to http://www.cancer.org/docroot/don/don_0.asp ?

    I don't understand why the publisher just didn't bundle a mini-cd of the e-book / pdf with the actual book itself.

    Or for online sales, when buy the physical book, and receive the e-book / pdf version instantly to start reading while you wait on the book being shipped would be a good option.

    For fast text searching, I would love to have a book in PDF format, but for general reading of anything, I personally still prefer a good old fashioned book.

     

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  32.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Oct 17th, 2009 @ 8:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: Free Book Publishing could be a powerful marketing tool

    " to be fare, "can" =/= "will""

    True, but not as often in practice as in theory.

     

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