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Old 02-29-2008, 11:51 PM   #1
Patricia
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London Guardian article on impact of ebooks on authors

From the London Guardian, 28 Feb 2008: Kate Pullinger argues that in the shift from print to digital, writers are in danger of losing out big time. She is actually rather positive about the possibilities...


http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisf...t.digitalmedia

The opening section:
"Writers of the world arise! It's time to throw off the shackles of traditional publishing contracts and face a brand new digital future with a brand new set of priorities. Let's copy or, should I say, learn from our brothers and sisters in Hollywood: don't let the industry take our digital rights away! Give us our digital dues! In the shift from print to digital, writers are in danger of losing out big time.

Here in the UK, the book industry is suddenly waking up to the idea that there are many potential new platforms for content, aside from that much loved and reliable old technology, the book.

Ebook readers, such as the Kindle, which store hundreds of books at a time; ever more sophisticated phones that can handle and display content beautifully; computers we can't bear to be parted from that can morph from television portal to e-reader to web browser and back again; there will come a day when we will ask ourselves: why did I think filling up my tiny house with dusty old books was a good idea?"
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Old 03-01-2008, 12:24 AM   #2
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This part of the article really is funny

"The head of digital publishing at a large publishing house told me that because their accounting system is entirely warehouse-based, for a time they had to find a way to represent the units shifted through digital downloads. Their solution was to have empty pallets in the warehouse, with invisible digital content, thus enabling the system to count the units that had sold"
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Old 03-01-2008, 05:19 AM   #3
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A little caveat, here. Well, two actually.

1) First, the WGA are a union, because the Hollywood writers are not self-employed, like book writers, but rather are little wheels in a huge machinery. In a recent discussion discussion in the SFWA LiveJournal community, a very respected pro writer, Charles Stross compared book writers to "auto mechanics" with their own workshop" and the WGA members to the people who service the engines of an Airbus!
The WGA negotiates deals for all its members, just like a workers' union, and it enforces membership for aspirant professionnals in the field (you can sell a script in Hollywood without being part of the WGA, but if you sell a second, you have to take a membership). WGA strikes can stop the industry, or severely impair it, especially since the Actors' and Directors' Guilds often support the actions of WGA.

2) As a published novel writer, myself, I take an interest in copyright or "intellectual property" laws. And there is a fact a lot of writers haven't yet realized: when you sign a contract with a publisher for a paper edition, you very often sell the electronic publishing rights to that publisher also. It depends on what the copyright law is in your country, of course, and on wether you have an Internet savvy agent or not, but more often than not, the first stop for book authors who would like to go into e-publishing is their own "dead tree" publisher!

Last edited by IreneDelse; 03-01-2008 at 05:25 AM.
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Old 03-01-2008, 05:58 AM   #4
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What happens today, though, is that the shelf-life of a hardback novel is very short. It soons drops out of the publisher's catalogue, and if there's no paperback edition then the book's career is over. At that stage the publisher should "revert the rights" to the author -- send a letter confirming that the original contract is now void. A conscientious literary agent will ensure this happens for her (most agents are women) client; an un-agented author should press for such a release himself/herself.

Once the rights have reverted, the book can be sold to another imprint, made into an ebook, or whatever.

There should be hundreds or even thousands of published authors out there with good, valuable, already-published work which is just sitting around doing nothing. By now even most library copies will have fallen to bits.

Such work could and should be made available again. Electronic distribution is the answer. The model the writer chooses for payment, if indeed payment is required, is a personal matter. Writers tend not to write primarily for money: their principal aim is to be read.

I think we're seeing the start of something remarkable here. The ebook-display is a seminal device, as important to literacy and the spread of knowledge as the printing press.
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Old 03-01-2008, 10:03 PM   #5
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As someone who is slowly removing nearly all the books in his house, I agree with a large number of Ms.Pullinger's sentiments.

There is definitely a coming 'sea change' in the world of publishing.

That bit about empty pallets in a warehouse needed to catalogue what some goof could not envision or was not covered by some form of accounting software would be hilarious if it did not point out how low-tech many aspects of publishing are.

One of the big inducements to change in the music industry was Napter's meteoric rise in popularity/usage, and the ensuing lawsuits. Maybe authors tied to not mutually-beneficial contracts will need to start causing a ruckus (or is it rucki?) in order to precipitate a change in the coming of digitalisation.
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Old 03-03-2008, 09:31 PM   #6
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I have a friend who in the past wrote for a prominent (genre) publisher. Her contracts with this publisher covered electronic - giving her a lower royalty rate for electronic than for print.

Ten years ago this didn't seem so bad (low sales through electronic). Now... My friend continues to publish genre fiction (with a different publisher) and has a growing fan base that buys from her backlist. If the fans look to electronic with the original publisher, my friend gets virtually nothing due to the putrageous terms of her contract. Meanwhile, the original publisher (and persumably the e-retailers) are getting money for jam for no work at all, since my friend's current publisher does all her marketing!

I agree with Kate Pullinger. When it comes to contracts, writers (in particular popular fiction writers) need to be savvy to the long term implications of the growing popularity of e-books - both in terms of where the money is going, and in terms of what the publisher does for them.
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Old 03-06-2008, 01:51 PM   #7
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A lot of good reasons for print authors to negotiate new contracts, or renegotiate existing ones, to give them a fairer shake in the new breakdown of book profits.

I also laughed at the "empty pallets" paragraph, but it ably illustrates how unprepared the pub industry is to deal with these sea-changes. The few publishers I've spoken to or heard from give me the same vibe: "We know we need to change, but we just don't know what to do, so we're not doing anything yet." It's clearly up to the authors and their agents to take the initiative where the pub industry clearly cannot.
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Old 03-06-2008, 04:14 PM   #8
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The empty pallets makes perfect sense for the first few thousand ebook sales. Why spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars modifying software for what is probably a passing fad? It'd be a bit embarrassing if they spent a fortune catering for audio books on minidiscs (remember those?), ROM cartridges for the Newton, all the random DRM formats... the list is endless.
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