Creating Living Books: A Defense Against 'Piracy'?

from the there's-an-idea dept

Michael Scott points us to an interesting essay on piracy in the ebook space, written by Mike Shatzkin. He talks about setting up the program for the upcoming Digital Book World event, where he didn't even think that "piracy" was a topic worth discussing -- but various publishers told him that it's a big issue to them. Unfortunately, it seems that the reason it's a big issue is not because they're learning to use such things to their advantage, but because they have taken the exact wrong lessons from the music industry and have decided they need technological measures to "fight" piracy. Good luck with that.

Shatzkin, however, lays out a much more reasonable approach, picking up on what O'Reilly does with its books: no DRM, but give people a real reason to buy (there's that concept again). In this case, it's regular updates to any book you buy. So, rather than thinking about it as buying the content of the book, you can think about it as paying for a regular update on a particular topic. It becomes an ongoing service, which provides a scarce good, rather than a single transaction for content. As such, "piracy" becomes less and less of an issue, because the content you get may be quite out of date, and give you reason to pay up for real to make sure you are regularly up-to-date.

But, of course, O'Reilly publishes (wonderful and useful) technology books, where there's an obvious advantage to keeping current and up-to-date for readers of those books. The question is whether or not similar things can be done for other types of books, and Shatzkin has some ideas that are intriguing. First he quotes Tim O'Reilly in suggesting that piracy might really only impact large well-known authors who don't need the "marketing" aspect of free books (as opposed to less well-known authors, for whom "obscurity is a bigger threat than piracy"). But, then he notes that perhaps those big name authors can create a "service" of sorts that competes nicely with unauthorized file sharing as well:
But those authors are also the ones who have the biggest personal followings. They are the most capable of adding material: notes about what they're working on, correspondence with fans or critics, even observations about other people's books, that would add some value for many of the readers of their stories. In fact, a regular "update to my readers" from a top-flight author that is available only in their ebooks, or to purchasers of their ebooks, would be an attraction to many and could serve as a constant reminder that downloading their books from illegitimate sources is cheating them.
It's an interesting idea, and I like the proactive thinking on ways to compete by allowing something that isn't really possible in the paper book format. Though, I'm not sure if this method works precisely. After all, we already have the example of Paulo Coehlo, one of the best-selling authors of all time, who purposely "pirated" his own book and saw his sales increase tremendously. On top of that, he is already doing many of the things that Shatzkin suggests, but for free on his own website -- and it's working wonders. It's building up a much more loyal following for Coelho, and is allowing him to run interesting experiments like having his fans make a movie out of one of his books. All of this has only opened up more opportunities for Coelho to make money by both building his overall audience while also making his fans ever more loyal and ever more interested in supporting him.


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    Mark Harris (profile), Dec 10th, 2009 @ 6:28pm

    Is he suggesting that big name authors need to connect with their fans? What a novel concept...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2009 @ 6:30pm

    no DRM, but give people a real reason to buy (there's that concept again). In this case, it's regular updates to any book you buy.

    It really isn't much of a reason to buy. One person gets the update, then shares the updated files via torrent to everyone else who didn't pay, and surprise, everyone has the update for free.

    It's a meaningless gesture, I think.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Dec 10th, 2009 @ 7:30pm

      Re:

      It really isn't much of a reason to buy. One person gets the update, then shares the updated files via torrent to everyone else who didn't pay, and surprise, everyone has the update for free.

      People are paying for the convenience. The book is automatically updated. The way you describe is inconvenient and a waste of time. It's actually more costly for those of us who value our time.

      It's a meaningless gesture, I think.

      Yes, except when it works.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2009 @ 8:27pm

        Re: Re:

        Mike, if they truly valued their time, they wouldn't be pirates, they would just buy the damn thing and be done with it. If they are willing to "borrow" the original, they will likely have no objection to "borrowing" the followups.

        It would be very rare that a book would update enough that it would be a time constraint anyway. For that matter, if something updates that often, would it not be better as a paywalled website as opposed to a book?

        The logic isn't following here.

         

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          Chargone (profile), Dec 10th, 2009 @ 9:36pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I actually think you're right that the logic isn't quite following, AC. well, the bit about time, anyway. you do have some points here. I'm not Quite sure you and Mike are arguing the same issue just here though... you both seem to be completely right, which is a fair indication that you're not talking about Quite the same thing. [of course, i may just be misunderstanding]

          anyway

          Books, it seems to me, have the least to fear from internet piracy, but also the smallest number of [obvious] ways of doing anything useful about what piracy they do have to deal with.

          which isn't to say there's no way to gain from this, of course. if one can become popular enough, there's always the 'I'm writing a book about X. i require $Y to have it published, and the resulting book will need to cost Z. Anyone who contributes to Y pays Z/2 for a copy of the book, signed' or something like that.

          ... i lost my train of thought part way through there. oh well.

          that said, e-books always strike me as being at least half a solution to a problem that doesn't exist in the first place, and dedicated e-book readers nothing but... but maybe I'm just old fashioned there.

           

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          Mike Masnick (profile), Dec 10th, 2009 @ 10:03pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Mike, if they truly valued their time, they wouldn't be pirates

          Those two things have nothing to do with one another.

          If they are willing to "borrow" the original, they will likely have no objection to "borrowing" the followups.

          Yes, I'm sure some would, but many would find this enough of a reason to buy. They wouldn't have to check each time to see if there was new material. They would always have the latest. And on certain subjects that would be quite helpful.

           

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            Josh (profile), Dec 10th, 2009 @ 10:43pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Also, even if they did pirate the book (and maybe even a few updates), if they enjoyed it they may decide to pay for it anyway to show their support for the creator, just like with every other type of piracy. (Well, digital piracy anyway.)

             

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            Anonymous Coward, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 5:51am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Mike, if you are going to have a discussion about the "value of time" then a discussion of piracy is also valid. We all know that downloading a movie via a torrent is significantly slower than a direct digital download (say an ituned download). Thus, if you truly value your time, you wouldn't want to wait for your product or have to order your product days in advance to hope to get it on time, and you wouldn't want to waste your time cancelling movie night because the downloaded didn't happen. So if you value your time, you aren't pirating to start with.

            I'm sure some would, but many would find this enough of a reason to buy. They wouldn't have to check each time to see if there was new material. They would always have the latest. And on certain subjects that would be quite helpful.

            So humor me Mike, exactly what type of book would you need to check for an update before using? Computer languages? Most of them move at a glacial speed anyway (in internet terms) that would require maybe 1 update a year. I can't see that as a "reason to buy".

            Also, let's add this: the updating service isn't free to maintain or to do. Yet it would appear that it would be free to use (for the original buyers). In simple business terms, you have a closed end sale with an opened ended obligation and expense, which means every book sold would generate no real profit, but in fact would generate a life long liablity. So unless they are planning to charge for updates (which would naturally force more people to piracy) then this is just another poorly thought out "business model" that will bankrupt someone.

            Where is your degree from again?

             

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              Mark Murphy (profile), Dec 19th, 2009 @ 8:07am

              On the contrary

              We all know that downloading a movie via a torrent is significantly slower than a direct digital download (say an ituned download).


              And your proof of this is...what, exactly? I don't pirate movies, but I download movie-sized things (e.g., Ubuntu ISOs), and the torrents are scary fast compared to the alternatives.

              So humor me Mike, exactly what type of book would you need to check for an update before using? Computer languages? Most of them move at a glacial speed anyway (in internet terms) that would require maybe 1 update a year. I can't see that as a "reason to buy".


              The updates to an author's work could be at the chapter, book, or collection level. My subscriptions are at the collection level. I have thousands of paying subscribers, who pay an annual fee for access to updates to a growing collection of books plus other RtB (e.g., online support chats). I also have thousands of buyers of my print books, for those who like their prose on thinly-sliced trees, though they don't get nearly as good of a deal.

              I'm a card-carrying member of the CwF/RtB fan club. Well, I would be if they had cards. Does a Techdirt T-shirt count?

              Also, let's add this: the updating service isn't free to maintain or to do.


              No, but the cost of the "updating service" is well under 1% of the cost of sales, at least in my case.

              In simple business terms, you have a closed end sale with an opened ended obligation and expense, which means every book sold would generate no real profit, but in fact would generate a life long liablity.


              I agree that a one-time purchase does not jive well with the continuous update model. That is the reason I use a subscription model and license at the collection level, so updates are fairly frequent.

               

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      urza9814, Dec 10th, 2009 @ 8:17pm

      Re:

      Of course you can't stop _all_ pirates. No matter what you do, there are certain people who will still pirate - and those are the people who would most likely never buy the product in the first place. So you're not losing profits, but you are potentially gaining publicity.

      For example, the Command and Conquer series of games. The new games in that series all suck. I pirated RA3, played it for a day or two, then went back to the earlier releases. Same thing with Tiberium Wars. Even if they had perfect DRM and I hadn't been able to pirate those games, I still would not have purchased them. Sure, they were entertaining briefly, but I honestly find the originals, or even a game like 'Crack Attack!' (an open source Tetris Attack type game) to provide _much_ better gameplay. If I could have legally purchased them for $5 or less I might have, but any more than that and it's just not worth it. Especially with how rarely I play any serious games.

      On the other hand, the latest album by My Dying Bride - I have three copies of. I pirated the music first. And then I purchased the CD. And then I purchased the limited edition vinyl version. And then found a special 'guitar pack' edition with some guitar picks and tabs and such and purchased that too - because I love their music, and I love the added value of the various products. I may have to see if I can get a second copy of the vinyl though, as I got the first one autographed when I met them at a show and it's now been framed, which makes it a bit difficult to actually play it.

      So, the people who wouldn't buy the product anyway might pirate it. And that's a good thing, assuming it's a good product. Because they wouldn't buy it anyway, they might as well give you some free word of mouth advertising.
      The people who truly enjoy the product might pirate it first, but they'll probably buy it too, possibly multiple times.
      The only thing intensive DRM is going to get you is bad press and pissed off fans.

       

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        Tchutch, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 2:50am

        Re: Re:

        The new CnC games (CnC3 and Red Alert3) have free demo at the release... if you really think what you say, i don't understand why you pirated this games.

         

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          Urza9814, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 5:29am

          Re: Re: Re:

          ...because I was unaware that they had demos. I didn't think EA usually did demos.

           

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          Ryan Diederich, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 5:40am

          Re: Re: Re:

          In my experience, just like movie ads and anything else convincing you to buy anything, the only content they'll show you for free is the "good stuff" the funny part of the movie, the last boss in the game, the hot sexy scene. You buy the movie or game for that part, then are dissappointed to find that most of it is just plain garbage.
          Most pirates wouldnt buy it anyways.

          For example, myself.

          My family purchased a wii console and several games. Recently we fell low on funds, and I modded the wii and got several games for them for Christmas. We wouldnt have afforded them anyways.

          There is nothing morally wrong with that, and besides, we are just going to tell our friends how fun it is and what not.

           

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Dec 10th, 2009 @ 6:46pm

    Oh wait

    So this isn't the Farenheit 451 thing.

     

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    fail, Dec 10th, 2009 @ 11:46pm

    YES letsmake this who computer thng USE more bandwidth and be more confusing

    LIKE fail
    get book read book
    put book away reread later

    if you add complexity it loses your core audience whose much more simplistic and doesnt want to NEED interent access to see the end of a novel

    i get this as a money grubbing greedy way to soak people for loads more cash

    aka you pay for each line a text
    HELL why not charge cell phone rates for each line HAHA
    then you will have no one ever finish it in a life time as a simple 200 page book would cost a fortune.

     

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    adlib, Dec 10th, 2009 @ 11:50pm

    on fail

    idea spawned by one of the 1st posters has it
    why not pay a small fee and "help the author make the book"
    kinda like a mini co-op
    interactive and you get a finished copy almost like being an investor and you do this very very very cheaply

    He keeps rights for a set period less than usual copyright say 10 years and you get one copy, this perpetuates more works to get done....

    i was toying with a comic like that with ready made art , and user input on story lines.....with the main back drop provided by me and then the users input where it goes.

     

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    David T, Dec 11th, 2009 @ 3:03am

    Works in Academia

    This is the model for a publisher called "Current Protocols." Basically, they put together the protocols scientists are using in a particular discipline and sell them.

    All these protocols are already published and available, but people pay the heavy subscription fee (several hundred a year) for the updates and aggregation service.

    Seems like it would work other places too.

     

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    Jon Renaut (profile), Dec 11th, 2009 @ 4:53am

    Reason to buy?

    I'm trying to think of an example of how this might work for fiction, and I just can't do it. For non-fiction (O'Rielly books are a good example), I can see it, sort of, though I think a subscription model would work better for them.

    But fiction? What in the world are you going to add to a fiction book to make it worth buying? Once I've read the book, I'm not going back because you cleaned up a few paragraphs in chapter 6. Maybe I'm missing something.

     

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    hypotheekrente, Dec 13th, 2009 @ 7:39am

    Hi,
    You are discussing about value of time. There is depend upon a person. Does not it ?

    Thanks,

     

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