from the you-can-compete-with-free dept
A little over ten years ago, we noted that the famed 9/11 Commission Report, despite also being in the public domain, had become a best seller in its printed version -- even though it, too, was in the public domain. It appears something similar is happening with the CIA torture report. There is a Kindle version that costs $2.99, and despite the report being available as a PDF (which can be viewed on Kindle), the fee-based version of the torture report is the number one seller in the "intelligence & espionage" section (beating out James Risen's recent book Pay Any Price). And this is happening despite the fact that people on Amazon are warning people not to buy the fee-based Kindle version, posting comments to tell them it's just a PDF that's available for free.
Yet, it appears that the convenience factor has made it worthwhile to an awful lot of people, who are willing to pay the money rather than figure out how to get the PDF onto their kindle. As we've pointed out for years, things like convenience and ease-of-use are real selling points -- and it's why things like Netflix and Spotify have been shown to decrease infringement -- because it's worth paying a little extra for a better-to-use system.
Meanwhile, physical copies of the CIA torture report are being rushed out with at least one publisher, Melville House, saying it will be out by the end of the year -- though, I'd imagine others will follow suit. In Michele Boldrin and David Levine's book, Against Intellectual Monopoly, they have a fascinating discussion on how publisher W.W. Norton made out wonderfully in being the first to publish a hard copy of the 9/11 Commission Report, despite not having to pay any copyright royalties:
The 81-year-old publisher struck an unusual publishing deal with the 9/11 commission back in May: Norton agreed to issue the paperback version of the report on the day of its public release.…Norton did not pay for the publishing rights, but had to foot the bill for a rush printing and shipping job; the commission did not hand over the manuscript until the last possible moment, in order to prevent leaks. The company will not reveal how much this cost, or when precisely it obtained the report. But expedited printings always cost extra, making it that much more difficult for Norton to realize a profit.As Boldrin and Levine point out, according to copyright system supporters, this situation couldn't possibly work out. After all, Norton is agreeing to publish a work that anyone can get for free, and which any other publisher (including the federal government) can offer for sale at a lower price. In fact, the book notes, a rival publisher, St. Martin's, teamed up with the NY Times and got a second physical copy on the market just a couple of weeks after Norton's physical copy, and priced it at $8.50. Clearly, Norton got a bad deal, right? And yet, Norton sold 1.1 million copies of the book, and donated $600,000 in "profits" from the book to charity. But, you know, you can't compete with free (and public domain).
In addition, the commission and Norton agreed in May on the 568-page tome's rather low cover price of $10, making it that much harder for the publisher to recoup its costs. (Amazon.com is currently selling copies for $8 plus shipping, while visitors to the Government Printing Office bookstore in Washington, D.C. can purchase its version of the report for $8.50.) There is also competition from the commission's Web site, which is offering a downloadable copy of the report for free. And Norton also agreed to provide one free copy to the family of every 9/11 victim.