The downward spiral of ownership and value

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The downward spiral of ownership and value

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Editado: Jan 24, 2011, 9:16 am

Opinion blog post:

If anyone want to chit-chat about the topic, here's a place.

Jan 24, 2011, 10:19 am

Your article touches too many issues and mixes too many categories at the same time.

Re ownership, it is helpful to distinguish legal ownership (rights, further divided into de jure and de facto) and control (possession). As Larry Lessig has shown, intellectual property laws and the technical possibilites have diverged so far that for the sake of a few corporations the creativity and welfare of the people is curbed. Fortunately, the legal system is unable to enforce the general trespassing, so that only a few are trampled by the gorrillas in the jungle at any time. Intellectual property rights are completely borked, reform will only happen at a glacial speed (against the full might of the dead hand).

As far as control is concerned (the preventable AmazOrwellian remote wipe excepted), the somewhat experienced consumer has much more control over the content than she used to have over the physical book. Now you can easily and cheaply reformat, machine-translate, copy and distribute (!) any text content - which is bad for the intermediary (i.e. the publishing houses).

The crocodile tears of the publishing houses hide the fact that an author receives less than 3 USD out of a 20 USD book. The rest disappears into a huge and inefficient machine. The publishers only protect their technologically outdated rents. Those authors writing for a living must and can sustain themselves on a fans-driven platform.

Experiment after experiment show that offered a fair price (say 4-6 USD) in a convenient way, most people will gladly pay (Because of a few inveterate digital shoplifters, the publishing houses push their digital TSA systems onto an unwilling public, which further fuels evasion.).

Regarding your Bittorrent example, I see this as a plea for more convenience. While I don't use Bittorrent (hate the idea of relinquishing control over my machines), I am more and more frustrated by the stupid publisher tactics that a) set ebook prices near or even above market level book prices and b) impose arbitrary country and use restrictions ("sorry, this book/video is not licensed for your country."). It is crazy that I cannot access an ebook, while I can order the physical book, most of the times even at a better price. People are willing to pay for value provided, not for arbitrary tolls.

Jan 24, 2011, 10:46 am

I think the "Look elsewhere" section is a bit of a misnomer; it should be "Look at music." Or did I miss any other examples? Can you dig up some data on how the exact same trends have affected DVD/Blue Ray sales or TV revenue? I don't just mean predictions for the future, but actual hard data like you did for music.

I don't disagree with some of the thesis, I just feel like comparing it to music is sometimes apples and oranges. You can say the internet killed the newspaper business, but that really ignores what was going on with the newspaper business before the internet ever really arrived.

Another thought that occurs to me is to ponder Netflix. I've read people saying it's both a good and a bad thing for the movie/tv business. If you're wondering, one of the good things is that content producers can get a lot more money out of serialized shows like Lost and Project Runway that aren't as appealing for syndication (can you imagine watching random episodes of Lost like you do The Simpsons?) Here's an interesting article that goes into that:

One of the things I thought was pretty applicable to this discussion was that in the beginning, the content producers were selling stuff to Netflix for peanuts. But as Netflix has become a bigger deal, they're starting to really squeeze them for all the cash they can get. The key point being that the content is king to the consumer, not the particular service. Netflix has to compete against iTunes and Amazon, and there's no telling what will come of Google TV. I think what we're moving towards is commodification of content DELIVERY. I wonder if anything similar could eventually happen with ebooks.

But even this comparison is, in some sense, apples and oranges. Music, movies, tv shows, newspapers, books - they're all different in their own ways. It's hard to believe they'll all follow the exact same path, even if they wind up taking some common roads.

Editado: Jan 24, 2011, 11:11 am

It's definitely happening with DVDs. Streaming and piracy are driving prices down rapidly. ( See ). Doubt about the value of the backlist is what's been ailing studios' stock prices for the past few years. No wonder. I now pay the Netflix minimum and watch a movie a night—sometimes two. The studios are getting pennies for my attention; they used to get real money.

I agree with you about path vs. roads. We could make a long list. For starters, books are harder to rip than CDs. There are a lot more books too. And books are, on average, an old-persons medium. With music, the real dip has come at the younger end of the market. Old people still buy music. So it's likely they'll buy books too. (If I were a YA author, however, I'd be terrified.)

It's also possible authors will engage people's conscience the way enormous companies and spoiled musicians can't. I doubt it, however. I think the arguments about greedy record companies are largely a smoke screen and a rationalization. There are ample other rationalizations for ebook pirates to take up. Rationalizations are, as the Big Chill put it, more important than sex. And they're easier to find.

Much more to say on the topic of how the two paths will diverge. But I don't think the core logic is different, nor is it escapable. Free beats paid, and the widespread availability of free hammers the price of paid options down and down.

Jan 24, 2011, 11:35 am

A brief note on DVDs: Here, we used to have two Blockbusters and two Hollywood Videos, and they have all closed. I don't know of another video store. Where is everyone getting their movies?

Jan 24, 2011, 11:37 am

I (or anyone else) ought to be able to buy a book in whatever format they want. Instead, the industry is slapping DRM limitations to devices, regional blackouts and even content restrictions on books.

I used to be able to buy ebooks from Waterstones and Book Depository. No longer. I'm 'out of region'. My overseas friends are in the same boat, only one that's even leakier. They are being limited right out of the market.

OF COURSE people will pirate given that. They resent the idiocy.

Editado: Jan 24, 2011, 12:19 pm

>5 barney67:

I've stopped renting most movies. I use Hulu, Netflix or I buy them on iTunes. Or I delve into the large stash of DVDs I bought for a few bucks when the local video store went bankrupt.

They resent the idiocy.

I resent the disregard for other's property, and the assumption of intellectual superiority in the process of moral slumming. And when did "ought" become what you ought to get, not what you ought to do or avoid doing.

Jan 24, 2011, 12:22 pm

>7 timspalding:

I'm not sure the phrase 'callous disregard' is entirely fair. For some people getting pirated items, sure. But other people are getting pirated versions simply because there isn't any legal version available to them. The choice is to pirate or not consume the book/video/etc. in question. I bet that a good number of that group would happily give money to the content creator, given the chance.

Jan 24, 2011, 12:30 pm

4> Streaming and piracy are driving prices down rapidly.

I think this is part of the problem I always have with these studies. They just jumble up so many things. First off, this didn't compare actual revenues of the content creators before and after. It mainly talked about the number of physical discs bought versus the amount of streaming revenue (is that the content creators revenue or revenue of Netflix et al?). It also doesn't take into account a similar thing that hit the music industry - no more new customers. We've just been through a period when nobody had any dvd players or discs to a period when people built up large libraries. During that period, there were a lot of sales as people upgraded their old VHS libraries to DVD or purchased libraries for the first time to go with their new home theater systems, etc. And then they throw piracy into the mix with all these factors. It's just always so frustrating when conclusions are drawn that never takes all the factors into account. Not even sure you CAN do that. At some point it just becomes people claiming they "know" something based on studies, yet those studies aren't holistic.

Going back to the music industry, you have the factor that the old style of doing business was to force one or two really popular tracks onto a disc containing a whole bunch of mediocre ones and force sales as a bundle. That turned a lucrative $15/disc feast into a $1/song starvation diet. Another bit that I remember is that in college (before ipods and widescale availability of cd copying, so I'm dating myself), used CD sells had become a big thing. And the music industry was irate about them, as they were also eating into the profits. They tried their best to make it illegal to even resell the discs.

No wonder. I now pay the Netflix minimum and watch a movie a night—sometimes two. The studios are getting pennies for my attention; they used to get real money.

This is the problem with anecdotes. I, on the other hand, never rent movies. I just never got the whole thing. If I run out of stuff to watch, I just read a book. Since jettisoning cable/satellite and going to only OTA, I've cut my tv time down to about an hour a night average. I also hardly ever go to the movies. Yet now I find myself on the cusp of signing up for a Netflix subscription. Why? They've finally provided a way for me to pay for content in a convenient fashion. Sometimes I do want to watch these shows, but don't want to fool with a DVR or hideous crap like Hulu (should be renamed to ""). So now they'll be getting pennies for my attention when they used to get nothing. Do I think my case is typical and enough to suddenly bring in fat sacks of cash? Not really. I'm just saying that anecdotes aren't really all that useful.

5> A brief note on DVDs: Here, we used to have two Blockbusters and two Hollywood Videos, and they have all closed. I don't know of another video store. Where is everyone getting their movies?

Interestingly enough, Redbox. The B&M rental stores really dropped the ball was not seeing Redbox coming. That thing is a cash cow. Every place I go that has one, there's more likely than not a few people LINED UP to rent a movie from the vending machine. So Netflix both created a new segment and cannibalized a portion of the rental store movie, but Redbox really ate their lunch.

Editado: Jan 24, 2011, 12:50 pm

>8 beatlemoon:

Yeah, I removed "callous."

I think these arguments about access and DRM are as close to disproven as an argument about complex social and commercial interactions can be. They were made about music too. Once music was legally available, easy and DRM-free people would stop pirating and start paying.

Well, it is. It's been that way for years now. The decline in music sales has accelerated, and the rise in digital sales has flattened. It was a good theory. I believed it! But I've stopped believing it because the facts are so unambiguous. It is, in other words, wrong.

>9 brightcopy: - just always so frustrating when conclusions are drawn that never takes all the factors into account

These are complex things, for sure. We can argue the complexities. We've been arguing them for years now. At some point, however, data and ideology need to match up. The data isn't cooperating. The US market is half what it was a decade ago—when it should be twice as much. Second world markets are vanishing. As the Economist article puts it, Chinese consumers "won't pay a penny" for music anymore. They've been given every delivery method possible, and super low prices. The "bright spot" now is Chinese labels have been reduced to agreeing to free streaming of everything in exchange for a cut of advertising revenue. The company doing it is reporting that they are running even, not counting licensing. I guess advertising pays for the bandwidth. Maybe musicians should pound their guitar strings into computer cables.

We'll never solve this. But here's my proposal. Name some metric and some level by which the ideological justifications of piracy should be judged. What sort of declines will actually prove a negative case? I'd be glad to sit back and wait. I just want someone to set a bar that can't be argued out of.

Jan 24, 2011, 1:08 pm

10> These things that are "disproven" - do they assume that we should all be buying downloads of full albums? I'm not saying piracy is non-existant. I'm saying that even when they do sell music, I'm not sure they can ever get anywhere near the profit margin they used to when the $15 CD was king and nobody had the Beatles on CD yet.

The problem is I don't have a bar to set you. Lets take your argument and move it towards newspapers. Assume a hypothesis that online news was killing the newspaper business. Can't you see how that would be such a wobbly thing to prove, given all the other things going on in the newspaper business over the last several decades?

Another orange to throw in with the apples is video game sales. I've read that over the last couple of years, new game sales have declined 5-6% each year. Yet piracy of console games is really only a blip on the radar at this point. What's really killing them is Gamestop and the used-game ecosystem. However, you could say "Look, piracy is killing video games! Give me some bar to prove it and I will!" I'm not trying to ideologically justify piracy, I simply have a very scientific mind. I know there are some things I can neither prove nor disprove without sweeping a lot of perhaps unanswerable questions under the rug.

Hell, I still haven't been able to figure out why gas prices keep doing what they're doing. There's a million theories on that one...

Jan 24, 2011, 1:16 pm

Unfortunate that this blog post and this Talk post can't be unified. That Eric Hellman has a very interesting response. And I find the link he provided says a lot of the same things I am about albums vs songs.

I also wonder what kind of effect we'd see if you could buy cable tv/satellite per channel rather than as a whole bundle (the much wanted a la carte). They'd probably just do the same monkey business the music industry did and charge so much for three a la carte channels that the whole bundle would start to look appealing. But if they were forced into the situation, as they were with Apple's iPod juggernaut, I can imagine that cable/sat tv revenues would go down quite a bit.

Jan 24, 2011, 4:52 pm

I think all the focus on general lost profits in the music industry is sort of beside the point. The important question is, who is losing these profits? Is it the musicians who are suddenly making only half as much as they used to, or the record labels? If the latter, do we care? Why do we need record labels? Are people complaining about a shortage of new music?

Despite all the lamenting, I don't get the impression that the music world is ruined. I don't personally pay much attention to music, but my sister seems to be discovering new artists regularly. My brother actually works in the music industry, and he's doing fine. We all thought he was crazy when he quit his safe government job about 12 years ago and moved to LA to manage his friend's band, but it worked. He's managed to make a career out of it at a time when the worst-case music scenario was apparently coming to pass.

So... what's all the fuss about? Is this about the creators and the consumers, or about corporate profits?

Editado: Jan 24, 2011, 6:24 pm

the assumption of intellectual superiority in the process of moral slumming

That is a polite way of putting it. Surely you can be plainer than that. Rationalized piracy is the mainstreaming of crime. It is the acceptance of crime, theft in this case, as a normal, even inevitable part of life. It is a disregard for ownership. It is the practice of those who lack a moral compass, of the spoiled and the ignorant who possess an entitlement mentality instead of the knowledge of economy as an exchange of good and services. I'm always surprised, in these discussions, why we cannot instantly dismiss piracy as a solution to anything.

I don't see anything wrong with corporate profits since it is those corporations who sign talent, pay contracts, deliver and distribute the music. Let's not give profit a bad name.

I worry that the book industry will go the way of the music industry and the movie industry.

Jan 24, 2011, 6:23 pm

If the relevant companies suffer, we all suffer.

So you've noticed that you're no longer able to find enough good music to listen to?

Jan 24, 2011, 6:25 pm

Yes, I think there has been a shortage of good music, a general dumbing down.

Jan 24, 2011, 6:28 pm

>13 _Zoe_: That's a point that I wish were more clear as well. I've purchased more music directly from artists then was ever possible before the rise of digital media. It's a lot easier to eliminate the middle man, and if what we're looking at is the profits of the middle men, then that's worth considering.

And in terms of ebooks, Tim's article focuses on piracy, but the linked article he references at the beginning does not. That articles points out that there are only so many hours in a day, and that there are many sources of content to fill your time. $9.99 for a book might just seem too high compared to cheaper or free options (and pirated materials could be among the free options), and ebook sales might suffer as a result. It makes it that much harder to point to piracy as the one, overriding market force in digital media.

Jan 24, 2011, 6:29 pm

>16 barney67: Thanks. Like I said, I'm not enough of a music-listener to notice. Of course, I do wonder whether the "dumbing-down" is actually a product of the decline in the music industry, or just part of a general trend/impression. When it comes to books, I'm certainly not convinced that the publishers do much to prevent dumbing-down. They publish what they think will be popular.

Jan 24, 2011, 6:37 pm

#12: Thanks for throwing in cable channel market into the pot. I'm also very unsure about the cause/effect here. I've mostly stopped buying music and I'm also not downloading pirated stuff. When I drive alone in the car, a couple of the old cd's come along and _maybe_ popped into the cd player. This could easily be an age thing.
I've also just dropped the cable tv (it came as a packet with 10 tv channels, internet and phone). I can easily see us drop the phone too.
And then maybe up the internet connection to 30/30 mbit or something like that. The newspaper is ok, but printed commercials are not, so we have a sticker on the door telling the mailman to keep those.

So media consumption has gone from:
buying fair amounts of cd's -> almost zero
using the tv a lot -> dropping
buying new books -> sort of constant, I think
the kids buying Sims2+3+extra packages -> playing free or cheap games on their smartphones.

I think the trend is: a little less money spent on buying computers/laptops/netbooks/ipads/itouch/...
and a lot less money spent on buying content. Quite a lot more spent on phone/internet providers.

Jan 24, 2011, 7:08 pm

19> My music listening in the car has dropped to right around zero. This is due to a plethora of (legit!) free podcasts out there. Oh, and right now I'm listening to a purchased cd of Dan Carlin's first 17 podcasts. These aren't available free, though I'm pretty sure I could have pirated them if I'd tried.

Jan 24, 2011, 9:56 pm

#16 You're not looking in the right places.

Jan 24, 2011, 10:44 pm

Tim always uses the declines in revenue of the music industry as if the old ways were fair and pro-consumer. That's like pining for the feudal system. It was an ugly anti-consumer system. Records and CDs were filled with crap to come up with a whole album. Very few artists could fill an extended play format with quality material. Labels intimidated and bribed radio stations for airplay to drive sales. The business wasn't about music it was about revenue. It created the bubble-gum Top 40 music world which was vapid and mediocre. Labels raked in the cash on a forced-to-buy-the-whole-thing format. There were singles but that's not where the profits came from.

Most of the money didn't flow to the musicians, it flowed to the labels which became a sort of good ole boys club. There were moments of brilliance, music-wise, but the big players became a stagnant pool of pedestrian artists managed and exploited by opportunistic executives. The only reason it could exist as a money making machine was the iron control of the physical formats of music as a product. It was an industry that was overripe for a takedown that gave control to the consumer and removed it from the label. The only reason it ever had any power was because the consumer had little. I cannot see that the decline of the music industry as it was is a bad thing.

Editado: Jan 25, 2011, 9:22 am

Copyright was intended to be a system that rewarded creatives. Somewhere along the way it became a system that rewarded distributors. Listening to the distributors views on copyright is like listening to Tesco or Wamart about the needs of dairy farmers.
Distribution networks are innately cheaper now. which is frightening for distributors. the only way to maintain their profit level is to change the percentage mark up. The measures they take to enforce this new mark up also limit their potential market.

Long term I see DRM becoming much less intrusive. seen not as something that restricts the consumer but something guaranteeing a book for life. It would be great to say Oh I bought that book twenty years ago I will pop along to the website and download it. and while I am there I will pay a dollar and get it in a the format de Jour.
Will the publishers and distributors of then be the publishers and distributors of now? Who knows but to survive they will have to start selling what people want. and focus on marketing. I welcome the way authors are experimenting with self distrbution. and think is inevitable that if they see publishers as only distributors. they will increasingly market themselves. leaving the publisher without a role.

Jan 25, 2011, 3:02 am

#22 and #23: Good points. I tend to see the cable tv situation as similar. One or two channels that I wouldn't mind paying for. But I'm forced to pay a mandatory fee for them. Plus pay once more when they are delivered by cable plus pay for 15+ channels filled with drivel.

So I've quit my cable-tv and I'm not coming back as long as they have package-1, package-2, package-3 to choose from rather than channel-00, channel-01, ... Maybe not even then.

Same thing with music.

Editado: Jan 25, 2011, 10:17 am

"Yes, I think there has been a shortage of good music, a general dumbing down."

Because Milli Vanilli, Debbie Gibson, and Vanilla Ice were the pinnacle of great music and that was when record companies were charging $16 / $17 a CD and at the height of their power.

It's no different now than it was then. there's loads of crap and quite a bit of good stuff. You just have to take the time to find the good stuff... Radio stations most certainly will not introduce to most of the good.

Jan 25, 2011, 1:22 pm

When I was in high school, the groups with Top Ten albums were people like The Police, REM, U2, Tom Petty, Rush, Fleetwood Mac, Prince. All talented musicians, some of them still around.

Look at the Top Ten today. I checked Billboard's Top 100. Britney Spears, Bruno Mars (twice), Katy Perry, Rhianna, Wiz Khalifa (?), Enrique Iglesias, Ke$ha, Pink, and The Black Eyed Peas.

That's all crap. And while I don't want to hijack the thread to explain exactly why they are crap, I will say only that I doubt very much that they will be around in 20 years. Many of them don't have the staying power to make it to a second or third album.

It is different now than it was then.

Jan 25, 2011, 1:34 pm

When I was in high school

So, pick the week of your birthday of your junior year, and let's find the charts My bet is that there were some crap people there too—Dexie's Midnight Runners, Big Country, Toto. You're just remembering the good ones.

Anyway, I'd stand up and say Katy Perry, Pink and the Black Eyed Peas at least are talented.

Jan 25, 2011, 2:49 pm

I'd have to agree that there are always good and bad, and what makes the top forty isn't always (often?) decided by talent. And I think everyone perceives a downward trend in the quality of music as time goes on. It's never as good as it used to be. And I'm sure there were plenty of people hearing REM, U2, etc. and saying, "We sure have fallen since the Beatles and the Stones." The only thing I take issue is Tim's dismissal of Dexy's Midnight Runners. I mean, sure, they only had one song that I remember, but I remember it fondly.

But to bring it back around to something resembling the topic: if you see a decline in the quality of music, do you attribute that in any way to digital music? Piracy? Is Britney Spears on top because no real talent will want to work for the chump change she pulls in? I don't think that's the case. Quality of music is debatable, but the issue at hand is how successful these people are. Has the quality of life for the current Top Ten deteriorated when compared to the Top Ten "back in the day?" I would guess not, or at least I would guess that they pull in enough to justify their forays into the music industry. Tim points out that musicians have other, non-digitizeable revenue streams in the form of concerts and merchandise, which is a very fair point, but those revenue streams were in place before digital music took off, so it still might be an interesting gauge of the health of the music industry to look at quality of life of professional musicians now compared to pre-Napster.

But it seems like the real issue of the article was how the loss of ownership plays into the devaluing of digital products and what that means for the associated industries. Is a "loss of ownership" defined as the current ebook situation in which you are essentially leasing the books? Or is the loss of ownership the loss of anything physical? Because the loss of ownership in the sense that your files are only leased to you is entirely a decision of the industry(ies) and could theoretically be remedied. But if our fleshy brains just don't adapt to the idea that we can own something that can't be touched, that's another issue and a harder one to address.

Jan 25, 2011, 3:10 pm

27> So, pick the week of your birthday of your junior year, and let's find the charts My bet is that there were some crap people there too—Dexie's Midnight Runners, Big Country, Toto. You're just remembering the good ones.

I think you're missing the "Top Ten albums" part. But it does bring up an interesting point - do we have more crappy music (if you agree with the premise) now because of the de-emphasis on the album brought about by both downloading and per-track online sales?

There's probably some applicability to books, especially if you're already prejudiced towards a particular view and would like some rationalizations to back it up.

Jan 25, 2011, 3:26 pm

I don't think the de-emphisis on the album is a result of digital, per-track downloads. Or, rather, I don't think that's the primary cause. I think the industry made a shift from producing quality albums. All it takes is one really popular track to sell an album, so that's where the focus went. Again, anecdotally, I feel that there were many albums I bought that were very inconsistent, with the single tracks standing out and not meshing with the rest. Music labels could put their energy into a few songs knowing that the whole album would sell. The per-track downloading destroyed that model. If anything, per-track downloading should improve the overall quality of music. No longer can you offload some lackluster pieces onto an album with a few gems and expect it to sell. Every track has to have something to offer. Although it's still done with album-batched downloads at a discount and album-only tracks that you can't buy as singles.

Jan 25, 2011, 4:01 pm

I've actually bought more whole albums in any one of the last 5 years than I had in the previous 8 combined. There's fantastic stuff being made. You just have to know where to look.

Jan 25, 2011, 4:28 pm

31> I agree, but the question is, is it fantastic stuff that appeals to a mass audience? I think this could be part of the problem in trying to read the tea leaves here. If you have a dozen great albums, but each only appealing to 15-20% of the market, then you have a pretty factory produced album that appeals to 60% of the market, that one album is going to drown out all those others on charts and such. What music I have bought in the last decade has been of that sort: Kimya Dawson, Andrew Bird, Trampled by Turtles, Spaghetti Western, Cloud Cult, DeVotchKa, etc. These are all artists that won't appeal to a wide enough audience to work well in the old megahits system. Yet they're all artists that I've bought CDs direct their website. Luckily, we have a really good public radio station (The Current - they have a stream) that exposed me to all this music.

Once again, it just points out that the old business models were great for a pre-internet, pre-niche era. Well, great for the people making the cash, which as mentioned before tended to be the middle men. Piracy is yet another factor, but definitely not the only one, in the downfall of these middle men.

Jan 25, 2011, 4:29 pm

Why consumers cannot resent unfair practices with DRM controlled material escapes me. You would be ignoring a boat load of problems that DRM has introduced to the consumer including loss of purchased material for no other reason than having to replace a defective device.
I understand why people ignore the moral issues that are imposed by defunct DRM practices when they are used to obtaining the same material though a physical medium and having at least the basic control of their purchase. I'm not endorsing pricy or abuse of IP, just pointing out that the medium and methods of control are making most resent electronic medium.


Editado: Jan 25, 2011, 7:56 pm

26> Look at the Top Ten today. I checked Billboard's Top 100. Britney Spears, Bruno Mars (twice), Katy Perry, Rhianna, Wiz Khalifa (?), Enrique Iglesias, Ke$ha, Pink, and The Black Eyed Peas.

That's all crap. And while I don't want to hijack the thread to explain exactly why they are crap, I will say only that I doubt very much that they will be around in 20 years. Many of them don't have the staying power to make it to a second or third album.

Whatever you think of Britney, she's selling albums for over 10 years so I think she has staying power.

Jan 25, 2011, 8:51 pm

20 years ago today the Hot 100 featured Surface, Janet Jackson, C+C Music Factory, Ralph Tresvant, Damn Yankees, Madonna, Vanilla Ice, Nelson, Will To Power, and Cathy Dennis. Flipping back through the year end Billboard 200 stuff, though, it looks like over a whole year there are usually a couple of country albums in the top five, plus one soundtrack/TV tie-in or seasonal album (sometimes several soundtracks back in the earliest years), and then the other two vary more--sometimes more rock, sometime more dance-oriented, sometimes more croony music.

Basically we remember the mid-list stuff, the stuff that's ground-breaking and well-edited and we come back to it again and again. Who cares what the "ownership" is if they all blur together like the Babysitters Club books? But if you are going to spend more and come back to it again and again, it is a real problem. And I don't know the audience data to be able to say where the problems might be, but almost certainly the current systems (paper and electronic) underserve certain audiences.

Jan 25, 2011, 10:47 pm

>22 VisibleGhost:, 23, 24

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Another variable, to my thinking, is the available time to filter through stuff. The distribution system is crumbling, and at the same time authors creating original material have expanded insofar as they're not (as) beholden to that distribution system. All of this suggests quality material (in whatever format, in whatever media, of whatever style or discipline) could actually expand dramatically. How can audiences take all this in just as it's made public? Don't think they can, so they'll need a lot more time to filter it through their local & idiosyncratic networks.

I wonder whether I'll be given the time to do so. Will these authors be around long enough (individually, collectively) for me to get around to finding them? Will their creations be there, ten years down the road, when a friend or chance reference points me in that direction? That's a major concern of mine. I'm not worried about finding today's quality music right now so much as I want it to have a chance to see the light of day, and to stick around long enough for me to find it.

Jan 26, 2011, 3:41 am


Mid-list is important, many writers bemoan the reduction in size (some might say virtual elimination) of a mid-list in large publishers. Today much good music can be found on small indie labels, just as many good novels are now being published by small presses. These very rarely trouble the charts be it bestseller or Top-10/100. Things aren't quite so polarised in the book world as the music world where urban and dance and TV related music seems to be so far in the ascendancy you have to search out other forms of music.

On to the meat of the question - ownership. Does it matter?
To me and probably most of us here - yes. To my sister, or people who read a few books on their holiday - no. They mainly discard their books after reading. To people who mainly use the library - no.

Jan 26, 2011, 10:01 am

Although we've talked a lot about leasing an ebook, as the big publishing companies try and tell us is the case, this hasn't yet been confirmed. No publisher or reader has taken this decision to the courts in any country in the world. When it was tried with software, the distributors lost. EULAs basically aren't valid, especially if you have to open the packets to read them.

So I'm not sure its even fair to say there is (yet) a change in ownership model.

There might be, in the future, IF (and to my mind that is a big IF) publishers get there way, and persude the consumers that is the only way to get legal and cheap ebooks. But it hasn't happened with music (you don't rent an mp3), and it seems an unlikely path for books to follow. It certainyl won't always be the case. Authors offering their own books for sale from their own websites so far treat ebooks exactly like a pbook sale.

A lot depends on how the next generations view 'ownership' of digital media. And I expect people to want to own something for a long time to come.

Jan 26, 2011, 10:13 am

You don't take DRM into account here, reading_fox. In the case where the publisher can simply throttle your access to the downloaded book, it is very much the case that you only lease it.

Jan 26, 2011, 10:21 am

#39 - not exactly.

you own a DRM'd book on that device in perpetuity. Only if that device breaks is your ownership restricted in any way. Which can be considered analgous to a pbook; if you break a pbook (dropping it in a bath say), the publisher doesn't give you a new one. This is especially true of non-wireless devices.

Editado: Jan 26, 2011, 10:30 am

"Only if that device breaks is your ownership restricted in any way."

If you switch devices, you cannot necessarily take your library with you. (Incompatibility between file format and device). You also cannot give your DRM'd book away when you are finished, nor can you resell it, and your ability to lend to others is severely restricted, if available at all. (Only certain publishers allow sharing on particular titles). I would call those restrictions.

Jan 26, 2011, 10:35 am

One interesting lesson from music might be that even now, 10 years after Napster's heyday and 8 years after the launch of a iTunes music store, what percentage of music cannot still be purchased in a CD form? Sure, there are the very rare online-only tracks, but they're never the ones most people want and likely would have never been distributed if there was no online. And iTunes exclusive tracks are out there, but as far as I know those things are typically just exclusive to that music store and are usually on the CD. They did try for a while with the various CD copy protection schemes, but as far as I know that ship has sailed, right? So you can still own the music if you want to.

On the other hand, you never really owned video games. Today we worry about ebooks becoming obsolete, but this has always been the case with video games. Even when they don't have copy protection, it's a challenge for any regular person to play a computer game they bought a decade ago, or a console game unless they still have that old piece of hardware. This all comes together to me to say you don't ever really own video games.

DVDs started out with copy protection, so unlike CDs you could never buy the non-copyrighted version. But they've been a much more "forward-compatible" product, in that any new disc based device has to have DVD playback to be marketable. So you sort-of own those. HD-DVD on the other hand... well, they lost that war and good luck playing them back ten years from now.

So I'm hoping books will actually wind up a bit more like music in the long run, in terms of ownership. I have even more hope given that there's a huge intangible to owning a copy of a book that it hardly ever there with a CD or DVD (some come with good tchotchkes but not most). And the fact that you can get digital music on iTunes and Amazon both DRM free gives me even more hope that even ebooks will eventually go this route. Especially given the iTunes doesn't really need to, considering that most of their customers have iPods and never really demanded such a thing. I hope we're just in the transition phase right now and things will be better on the other side.

Now, that's just about ownership. As far as how all these things will affect publishers and creators and such - that's a whole different topic.

Jan 26, 2011, 12:47 pm

Tangential thought: I wonder if anyone's ever done a convincing calculation of the cost of owning paper books? There's a fair chance that many of our books will be cluttering the place up for far longer than we keep notoriously expensive items like partners, cars, children and pets, and it must mount up.

I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation based on the premise that I keep 1400 books in a 5 sq.m. room (read: walk-in cupboard) that doesn't have floorspace left for anything else except what you need for stepping on when accessing the shelves. Rents around here start at about €10 per sq.m. per month (very roughly), so the floor space I need for 1400 books is costing me at least €600 a year, or €0.43 (59 US cents) per book per year. If I've got that right, then the cost of storage space is a non-negligible fraction of the initial cost of the book. Ouch! Suddenly leasing ebooks from Amazon doesn't look that bad.

Jan 26, 2011, 12:54 pm

Depending on how you define ownership, music can be "owned" regardless of whether or not you purchase a physical disc. Currently the vast majority of music available digitally is sold without any built-in restrictions for use (DRM). I can be used wherever you see fit and can be converted to whatever suits you. But that's only after the music industry caved, and that's the fight that e-book publishers seem to want to carry on.

Of course there are legal issues whether you have a CD or a folder of mp3 files. I don't know that it's been determined in court that you are allowed to copy your CD to your computer or that you are allowed to burn your mp3s to a CD. The music industry would certainly rather you didn't and has, in the past, said that it's not a legal use to copy your CDs to your computer. So in that sense, as far as the music industry is concerned, you neither own your CD or your mp3 files. It's just that the music industry has lost their grip on the technology which previously had allowed them to sell you the same product over and over again. In fact that's something that should be looked at when looking at declining revenue in the music industry: For the first time they can't resell you your content. I have many albums on CD that are also on cassette tape, and some cassette tapes that are duplicated on LPs, and some albums that exist somewhere in my closet in all three formats. But going digital means that I don't have to buy those albums ever again. There is certainly lost revenue from file sharing, but how much is lost from the fact that it is cheaper and easier for me pop in an existing CD and convert it to the new, preferred format than it is for me to rebuy those tracks? This was a cyclical revenue stream for the music industry that was just taken from them.

I don't know how/if that can be compared to print. The primary technology behind print is not paper or bits but rather written language. The shift to digital represents the first major format change since we went from handwritten copies to movable type. No one has ever had to rebuy their library because of a technology shift and, unless they succeed in their DRM lockdown of content, it's likely no one will again. The music industry has long been thriving on the gravy train that is changing technology, and it seems like their ability to do that is coming to an end. Meanwhile book publishers are getting their first opportunity and, seemingly, trying to set themselves up for future opportunities by arbitrarily locking your content into one format. That didn't work for music, and I suspect that it won't work for books, and I suspect that trying to force it just encourages piracy. People don't think of money spent on media as a rental, regardless of how the law sees it. Tell them they can rent from you or get it free somewhere else and it's no surprise to me if their choices are to the detriment of the industry. The industry's choices are also to the detriment of the consumer.

Jan 26, 2011, 1:06 pm

44> All very good points, and more reason why books versus music, movies, just-about-anything is to some degree apples and oranges. While I have repurchased some books over and over due to fancy new editions, rare older editions, etc., this is not the mainstay of my library. I think this is true for a vast percentage of book buyers.

As you said, a lot of the revenue of the music industry for the past 50 years has been revenue predicated on format changes: buy your music on vinyl, re-buy you music on 8 track, re-buy your music on cassette, re-buy your music on cd, re-buy your music in DRMed iTunes, re-buy your music in non-DRMed iTunes. It's revenue that has been directly generated by technology. It seems a bit one-sided to claim a technology is killing your industry, when in reality it's only killing off parts of it that other technology built.

Jan 26, 2011, 5:18 pm

I don't know that it's been determined in court that you are allowed to copy your CD to your computer or that you are allowed to burn your mp3s to a CD. The music industry would certainly rather you didn't and has, in the past, said that it's not a legal use to copy your CDs to your computer. So in that sense, as far as the music industry is concerned, you neither own your CD or your mp3 files.

Can you legally photocopy a book cover to cover? If not, then would you say that you didn't own your book? Certainly the music and book industries should be concerned that people will duplicate the work and hand the duplicates out to friends. Surely that's different then giving a book or a CD to a friend, since you no longer have it. Unfortunately, for the media industry at least, it's much easier to just duplicate digital content than to just transfer content to someone else.

Jan 26, 2011, 5:23 pm

Can you legally photocopy a book cover to cover?

Not sure about the American stance on that. But here in Europe: yes you can. You're just not allowed to start selling such copies.

Jan 26, 2011, 5:27 pm

46> I think both the disc copying and book copying arguments are just that - arguments. It's never been actually shown that either are illegal, as long as the copy is solely for use by the owner of the original copy (and they don't loan out the original and use their copied version). It certainly isn't spelled out in any laws (otherwise we wouldn't have had all the arguments). So I don't think you can really compare them based on those terms.

I think the whole "do you own it" mainly comes into play when they have a system through which they can rescind your "ownership" of a book anytime they want via DRM mechanisms, and there are actually laws on the books against circumventing said DRM.

Of course, all this applies to the US only. YMMV.

Jan 26, 2011, 7:55 pm

>48 brightcopy:
This certainly applies in the UK and given the UK Law is the implementation of a European Directive, then very similar provisions should apply to all EU countries. (The Directive is the equivalent of the USA's DMCA given that both are implementations of the ld Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty.

From the UK Government's Intellectual Property Office:
Disc copying is illegal
Circumventing DRM is illegal

Whereas photocopying a portion of a printed work is permitted, it is not permitted to photocopy the whole work. (Generally up to 10% is considered Fair Use)

Jan 26, 2011, 8:13 pm

49> Useful links!

Whereas photocopying a portion of a printed work is permitted, it is not permitted to photocopy the whole work. (Generally up to 10% is considered Fair Use)

Not that I'm saying you're wrong (far from it!), but do you have an actual links for that? This sounds like rules that apply to a work you don't own, possibly even rules that apply when you're publishing something that includes the work. As far as I've ever seen, Fair Use is generally something that applies to citing or including other copyrighted work in your own, not what you can do with your own property.

Jan 26, 2011, 9:45 pm

Can you legally photocopy a book cover to cover?

Working in an office supply store's copy center, I am not allowed to copy anything with a copyright symbol anywhere on it, without written permission from the copyright holder. If the copyright holder is standing in front of me, I need them to sign something saying that I'm allowed to copy it. I can tell the customer that has the copywritten material that we have self-serve machines that they can use, I can show them how to use the machine, but I can not touch the green button that actually makes the copy.

If you buy an etextbook and bring it to me on a flash drive, and ask me to print it, unless there's something right in the front of the pdf, from the copyright holder, telling me I'm allowed to do so, I can not.

Does that mean that you, the consumer, can? Maybe. I can't make color copies of drivers licenses, but what stops you from doing that on your home printer, or on my self serve machine? I can't copy a $100 bill, despite the fact that there's no copyright symbol on it, but again, there's nothing on my home all-in-one, or my self-serve copier, saying that's not allowed.

Jan 26, 2011, 9:55 pm

51> Interesting, but I'm not sure how much I'd base what's legal on a company's CYA policy. The main thing here is there's no way for the copy center to know if you own the book. That's a pretty good reason to CYA.

Jan 26, 2011, 10:07 pm

For anyone interested in the Australian rules covering copyright infringement and exemptions (Australia does not have a general 'fair use' exemption) see here:

Note that these amendments (from 2006) were in addition to previously existing exemptions, which included an exemption for reproduction of copyrighted works for educational purposes (looking for the link....). From memory, the exemption was for reproduction of a 'reasonable' amount of the original work, which generally translated to 10% of the number of pages in a hardcopy work or 10% of the number of words in an electronic work.

Jan 26, 2011, 10:24 pm

53> Interesting stuff. This seems the most applicable:

2. A format-shifting exception to permit a person who has purchased a legitimate copy of some categories of copyright amterial to make a copy in a different format. This will cover individuals who store personal music collection in MP3 players (like iPods) or personal computers. It will also allow people to scan articles from newspapers and store them on computers (though not upload it to the internet).
Again, I don't think the fair use stuff comes up, does it? Doesn't that apply to what is "fair use" when I "use" your copyrighted work in my own publication? And the education stuff is exhibition. We keep getting away from just making a copy of one thing you own solely for yourself (aka format shifting).

Jan 26, 2011, 10:40 pm

54> I agree with everything you said - my later comments were with regard to the extraneous issues discussed regarding reproduction more generally above.

I'd have to look a bit further into the 'some categories' that the exemption applies to, but otherwise it would appear that format shifting, solely for personal use is fine here in the land of Oz - I see no reason why the exemption shouldn't apply to format shifting for ebooks.

It's also interesting to note that anyone (in Australia) who had ripped music from a CD onto their mp3 player prior to the 2006 amendment was actually committing copyright infringement.

Jan 27, 2011, 12:21 am

but I'm not sure how much I'd base what's legal on a company's CYA policy.

We have stickers on all the copiers, self-serve and full-serve, talking about the federal law that prohibits copying copywritten material. One of my old managers worked for a store (not in my company) in Nevada, where someone came in and asked them to copy a page out of something that was copywritten. The person was a copyright infringement enforcer, or something like that. The store received a huge fine, and had to close down their copy center, which eventually meant the entire store had to be closed, because it couldn't survive without a copy center.

Maybe it is company policy, but all of the major office supply stores with copy centers will turn you away too. In fact, I've heard that photo kiosk places at the mall and drug stores, will guess if a photo that you scan on their glass is a professional photograph, and refuse to make reproductions of it. And it's not like you're going to be selling 2 pictures of your kids to their grandparents.

Jan 27, 2011, 12:26 am

56> We have stickers on all the copiers, self-serve and full-serve, talking about the federal law that prohibits copying copywritten material.

Yes, but again, it's about context. It is illegal to copy something if you don't own the original work.

Think of it this way. Replace "copy center" with "Applebees." Now replace "asked them to copy a page" with "asked them to serve them alcohol."

Now, is it illegal to sell alcohol to a person? It's all about the context. If that person had been an underage alcohol enforcement officer (yeah, that's a thing) then yes, it's illegal. If that person was over the legal age, it's completely legal (even without carding). However, many establishments have a policy that EVERYONE will be carded. It's CYA. Otherwise, they can lose their ability to serve alcohol, receive a huge fine and wind up shutting down.

Jan 27, 2011, 4:23 am

Actually in the UK it doesn't make a difference if you own the work or not. The law states its illegal to produce a copy of the work without the copyright owners permission.
It then gives an exemption for an individual producing a single partial copy for non commercial research or private study.
Section 29 of the Copyright, Design & Patents Act 1988 doesn't actually state what those limits are. They are generally interpreted as:
up to one chapter or 5% of a book or similar publication
up to 10% of a short book of less than 200 pages
one article from any one issue of a journal or set of conference proceedings
one poem or short story of no more than 10 pages from an anthology

For practical purposes, if you own a copy of the book and a photocopier then it is fairly easy to copy the whole book, that would still be illegal.
To use your analogy in >57 brightcopy:, Who you decide to serve alcohol to in the environs of your own home is up to you and is unlikely to have consequences. If you are a commercial enterprise then CYA makes more sense than accidentally breaking the law and losing your business.

Jan 27, 2011, 4:54 am

#49 and #58

Thanks for your second post.

I was going to make a point it depends on what reason you give for your 'partial copy'. Also that it is confusing to use 'fair use' in the conversation as in the UK this has no legal meaning but does in the US. The UK, as you must know because of the knowledge you show about the act, has 'fair dealing' which is a fair bit more constrained.

Jan 27, 2011, 10:22 am

58> Sorry, I should keep repeating that my comments are only about how the laws are set up in the US. The post I was responding to was by a US user.

Jan 27, 2011, 12:29 pm

>49 nuatha:
Agreed "Fair Use" is the American term, however most people in the UK seem to use that term in preference to "Fair Dealing" which is the phrase used in the law.

Owning a copy of the book allows you to gift or sell it, but does not confer any rights to copying the book over and above the rights already enshrined in law.

My turn to apologise. In various fora I've read references to you can copy books/CDs/DVDs in Europe. Whereas the US DMCA is actually looser than the EU Directive which has now been implemented in all EU countries (IIRC Spain being the last) and both are part of compliance with the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty. According to Wikipedia the non-member states are; Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
Relocation to one of these is likely to be a lot more expensive than purchasing additional legitimate copies. (Presuming as non members of the WIPO, they haven't implemented similar legislation, also presuming that by now all the signatories to the treaty will have implemented the terms of the treaty.)

Editado: Jan 27, 2011, 12:46 pm

Maybe partially my fault. In #47 I said "here in Europe" where I really should have said "here in the Netherlands".

We can copy everything we legally own - copies of books, music, movies, whatever - as long as it's for our own use. You can only legally (re)sell the original. Also, copyshops (and people selling burnable CD's, DVD's, etc.) here are obliged to charge a little bit extra, and pay that into a fund - the total of which goes to publishers and authors.

p.s.: Getting very technical here, but being in compliance with the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty is fine and well but it doesn't overrule national copyright laws, or the Treaty of Rome, etc, etc. Otherwise nobody would have joined.

Editado: Jan 27, 2011, 12:46 pm

61> The US is also a signatory to WIPO and has implemented it via the DMCA. You say the EU implemented it via the EU Directive, which is then further implemented in the UK Law you posted.

Matt then states that in the Netherlands (an EU country), it is legal to copy anything you own. This directly conflicts with the way it has been implemented in the UK by the links you posted.

Which all leads me to believe WIPO and the EU Directive don't amount to a hill of beans. Ignore those and base conclusions only on specific laws in your country.

Editado: Jan 27, 2011, 12:51 pm

Well, no, I didn't mean to imply that. It is somewhat useful for international copyright disputes.

Also, yes, it's legal here to copy anything you own. But it wouldn't be legal to comercialize such copies.

Jan 27, 2011, 1:13 pm

64> Also, yes, it's legal here to copy anything you own. But it wouldn't be legal to comercialize such copies.

Once again, I don't think there's really much point in discussing anything other than copying things you own for your own personal (non-commercial, non-lending) use. That's really what this whole talk of "ownership" is about, yes?

I suppose there's also the side-topic of being able to sell/transfer ownership of your ebook, but that's not really the same as format-shifting for your own use.

Jan 27, 2011, 2:42 pm

>63 brightcopy:
My understanding of the process, (which I deal with professionally on a fairly regular basis) is, under the Treaty of Rome, EU Directives must be incorporated in the legal framework of each member state. There are a number of cases where a member state has dragged its feet on passing relevant legislation or where it has only been partially implemented.
Having spoken to a Dutch colleague I got told huge amounts about Auteursrecht, which prohibits unauthorised copying, then tagged at the end of the conversation was the "Home Copy" basically as a private individual you can make "a few" copies of any work you have in your possession - whether you own it, have borrowed it from a library or a friend.
Format shifting is also protected by Dutch law.
We've been considering relocating to the Netherlands for a couple of years, one more plus point in its favour.

Jan 27, 2011, 2:51 pm

Though I wouldn't go as far as actually advising such a move : we do have our good side.

Also we we have legalized cannabis (for private use), legal gay marriage, legalized prostitution, and lots of other things that seem to be shocking to some other people. Huzzah for us Dutchies - nah, not really - tollerance here essentianlly mostly means that the government simply doesn't care.

Jan 27, 2011, 2:55 pm

All the discussion of fair use is kind of pointless, as fair use doesn't really exist anymore. The large companies (publishers, record companies, film studios, television, and etc...) will sue anyone the find using their materials without prior consent. Since these companies have deeper pckets than most of us, it doesn't even matter if the person is within fair use. The companies will keep the legalities going until the person is bankrupt.

Plus, the fines included in copy right are so far out of whack with the crime it's insane. If a person were to copy a CD borrowed from a friend, they could be fined $2,500,000 or more how is that inline with the losses suffered by the record company?

Say an independent documentary film maker shoots an interview and the person being interviewed has music on in the background. Let's say the part with the music lasts 40 seconds. If the film maker uses that interview with the music in the background and not even loud enough to keep from having the interview, the film maker could be fined $250,000.00. How does that make any sense?

Copy right laws have been twisted by large companies to the point of insanity.

Jan 27, 2011, 2:57 pm

>62 Nicole_VanK:
BarkingMatt, I'd be interested in your comments on my post 66, as regards possession rahter than ownership.

Ref your PS,
Actually EU Directives and the Treaty of Rome are supposed to overrule existing National Law, in that the member states have to implement them as national law.
(EU Regulations become immediately enforceable in law) I guess the theory and practise don't always match ;~)

Jan 27, 2011, 3:01 pm

>67 Nicole_VanK:
My business parter has been based in Den Haag for 12 years, I'm aware that its not perfect (but where is) but it generally seems fairer than most places.
I'd rather have a handsoff non caring government than a nanny state.

Jan 27, 2011, 3:13 pm

I'd rather have a handsoff non caring government than a nanny state.

I don't know, I think illegal cannabis, illegal gay marriage and illegal prostitution sound more like a Strict Religious Aunt state. ;)

Jan 27, 2011, 3:21 pm

> 69: I must admit I'm not a lawyer. But being an illustrator, filmmaker, and occasionaslly a writer - I still have a vested interest in this and I do try to keep up.

Anyway, yes, national copyright laws do - or at least should - try to keep up with international treaties and such. But if you would try to prosecute anybody in any country you would soon find out that it's national law they would have to answer to.

In reality international copyright treaties just serve as guidelines. But national legislation rules. Or did you seriously think I could sue anybody in the US for copyright infringment if US legislation says otherwise.

Editado: Jan 27, 2011, 4:27 pm

# 67 - I understand that werewolves are protected, too.

Editado: Jan 27, 2011, 4:33 pm

Well, I hope so. But don't take me too seriously - especially if you go checking my MySpace profile.

Editado: Jan 27, 2011, 9:09 pm

Tim posted this on Twitter. Also his response.

Editado: Jan 27, 2011, 9:21 pm

It's sad that he's so close-minded to the idea that he might actually be wrong on the music issue. Such that he refuses to play ball unless he can frame the debate on his own terms. He doesn't really want a discussion, he wants only head nods.

Fev 10, 2011, 6:19 pm

I am coming late to this because I was on vacation and away from my computer, and I admit I haven't read everything above carefully, but I can speak a little about the music business and I do see some analogies to books.

A close friend of mine is a jazz composer and musician. Now, even in the heyday of CDs and the deep catalog at Tower, jazz was always the "poetry" of the music business -- the genre labels put out and stores carried for prestige -- and never sold much. However, over the past decade, my friend has been producing and putting out his CDs himself, completely professional sounding and looking. He sells them mostly on his own gigs and somewhat, both as CDs and as digital downloads, on a web site for independent musicians. Neither of these generate very much money, certainly nothing close to enough to live on. His music is also occasionally played on jazz radio stations.

Lately, a new model of online radio has appeared in which the artist pays to have his tunes available, and the listeners hear them for free. Through this method, he has generated "fans" from around the world but these have not translated into sales -- nor is there any reason why they should.

The point of my writing this is that most musicians aren't the big stars everyone loves to hate, and most authors aren't the mega-sellers that everyone loves to hate. As digitization and online access increase, publishers (like the record companies before them) will have even less desire to publish authors who write books that may be great and beloved but only attract a small audience. These authors will have to find their own ways to get their books out and their own way to make them available to the audience that will love them. They will have to find other ways to make their livings, even more than they already do.

I'm not a person to put my head in the sand and talk about the good old days, but I do think that digital availability, even without piracy, will eventually reduce the number of good books out there and readers' ability to find them.

Fev 10, 2011, 9:20 pm

Actually, if these companies were smart they would focus more on many quality writers and not so much the often poorly written bestseller junk in the digital age. Many small targets are much more difficult to hit than one massive one.

Fev 11, 2011, 8:04 am

The problem is companies want to/have to make money. In the past, the best-sellers have subsidized the medium- and small-sellers. If there are only small sales (for whatever reason, be it specialized appeal, digitization,or outright piracy), it is difficult if not impossible for a publishing company to survive without subsidies of some other sort, if it wants to pay its employees and the authors. I worked in book publishing decades ago and people always used to say things like "but it only costs $1 to print a book; why do they cost so much?" They never thought about paying the author, the editors, the typesetter, the proofreader, the designers, etc., let alone the publicity people and the discounts to stores. Some of these costs are less in the digital age, but many of the functions still exist and are important (although we can all see where publishers have cut back on proofreaders and sometimes even editors).

And I may be a pessimist, but I don't think there could ever be enough money from foundations, patrons, etc. to support all the mid-list and lower books of quality and get them out to interested readers if companies can't profitably produce books that don't sell in large quantities.

Fev 11, 2011, 8:49 am

>79 rebeccanyc:

To illustrate your point, Washington Post had a nifty little breakdown of the cost of producing an e-book the other day:

The value of owning the item may no longer be there, but the production costs work out about the same as for a trade paperback. The crux of the matter really is balancing cost against perceived value.

Fev 11, 2011, 9:48 am

#80, The really scary part of that is that editing AND digitizing only cost $0.28 or 3% of the publisher's cost. As an editor who can see the decrease of editorial efforts in many books, I find this very sad.

Fev 11, 2011, 11:31 am

>80 beatlemoon: Enron accounting at its finest.

A little thought experiment to show just how bad this calculation is (apart from the elementary mistake of not distinguishing between fixed and variable costs): Retail price of the example ebook is USD 13. Many if not most paperbacks cost much less. If you lower the retail price to a market paperback price and add printing costs, according to this calculation most publishers would be deeply in the red.

The pre-deregulation full cost airlines argued similarly. Many publishers will join Eastern and TWA in the graveyard of enterprises. Most of their "overhead" did not add value.

Editado: Mar 8, 2011, 4:30 pm

Everyone, please look at this link:

I think this article is another instance of how our books are becoming devalued in the e-book world!! Book reading is now public and notprivate!

Another reason to think long and hard about purchasing an ereader. Yesterday, I seriously looked at a Kindle at Staples and was thinking about actually purchasing one. Then, today I read this article on the NPR website and boy am I glad I didn't go into the ebook world. Keep all the real books you can find for the future!!

Mar 8, 2011, 4:34 pm

Well, that's pretty disgusting! I wonder if other models like the Nook do this.

Mar 8, 2011, 4:35 pm

83> The complaint seem overblown and melodramatic to me. It sounds like an optional feature so what's the big deal?

Editado: Mar 8, 2011, 5:07 pm

83-85> While I find Andrei Codrescu to be a darkly hilarious commentator, I agree on the whole overblown thing. That's pretty much how he creates his somewhat absurdist humor. You could make the same claims about LT's feature that tweets/facebooks your reviews. It's a bit silly, really.

ETA: I think the more relevant complaint, from what I'm reading, is that the only way to turn off the sharing of your own highlights is to turn off being able to save your highlighted passages altogether. And that this was changed in a software update, presumably changing the features of a device someone purchased based on another feature set. This is a common annoyance with much updatable hardware and software.