Publishers Hate Money, Clearly

I quite want to read Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow’s new book, The Rapture Of The Nerds.

I’m not hugely interested — I like some of Stross’ work a lot (basically the Laundry series and the near-future-Edinburgh police procedurals, all of which I adore), but other than Glasshouse his singularity-based stuff (Accelerando, Singularity Sky, that kind of stuff) does little for me, and I have no interest at all in Doctorow’s work. So I’m guessing there’s a sixty-forty chance I’ll enjoy the book — but if I enjoy it I’ll enjoy it a lot.

I had a quick look at it in Waterstone’s today, and it also looks like a short book — I’m guessing 40-60,000 words. Long novella/short novel length.

It’s currently available as a twenty pound hardback, which is much more than I’d pay for a shortish novel that there’s a decent chance I won’t like. It’s available on various US ebook sites for a more reasonable price, but not available on any UK ebook sites, because all of them insist on imposing regional restrictions — even though Tor own the rights to it throughout the English-speaking world.

However, because Stross and Doctorow are also good sorts, it’s *also* soon to be available (within a day or so), as a *free* ebook download from Doctorow’s site. Stross and Doctorow believe — rightly, in my opinion — that making books available as free creative commons works doesn’t stop people paying for them. Certainly, in my case, I actively sought out ways to purchase the ebook and give money to the authors and publisher even though I knew it was going to be available for free.

But I’m not going to pay twenty quid for it in a format I don’t want to buy it in, either (I reserve buying paper books now for books I either believe I’ll want to keep and reread many times, or books that aren’t available as non-DRM’d ebooks). So I’m going to get it for free, this time.

(Note that I would not download the book for free illegally. I have occasionally torrented books, in order to check a particular author’s work out, but always buy legitimate copies afterwards if those are available to me).

Note that this isn’t the fault of this particular publisher — Tor are publishing the book in multiple countries simultaneously, they’ve allowed the release of the free CC-licensed download, and they make all their books available DRM-free now, they’re doing The Right Thing here — but of the whole system of regional restrictions in copyright licensing, and ebook sellers being overly-restrictive as a result.

I understand exactly why this system exists, and it benefits the authors in many ways, as well as the publishers, but it’s becoming ever more clear that the system no longer works the way it should. Actively preventing customers from giving you money is never going to be a good long-term business strategy.

The question is, as with so much to do with ‘intellectual property’ these days, what do we replace it with? If I could figure that one out, I’d probably have a lot more money to spend on books afterwards…

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8 Responses to Publishers Hate Money, Clearly

  1. staceyuk says:

    I agree with this. It’s frustrating that books are available in ebook format in the US but not available over here because of rights…

  2. Dude, relax. Please?

    Firstly, the CC release is coming. We have some proofreading to do. (Both Cory and I have had a signing tour and intercontinental flights to recover from in the past week; we’re trying to ensure we deliver a quality product here.)

    Secondly, until very recently no UK publishers would touch a US title that was available as an ebook without DRM. Consequently, we haven’t completed a UK dead-tree edition sale yet, and if/when we do, the book won’t appear in print for 6-12 months. However, Amazon (and other online bookstores) enforce territorial rights more stringently than publishers — their assumption is that Tor will automatically license the book to a UK publisher who will then automatically issue a UK-only ebook edition, and that they’ll be sued if they sell ebooks outside North America. This is bogus, but please don’t blame Tor for Amazon electing themselves gatekeeper.

    A suggestion (feel free to ignore it): grab the free ebook when it’s available (hopefully this weekend/early next week). And if you like it, buy a dead tree copy (when available at a price you can afford) and donate it to someone who you think will enjoy it.

    (Finally, it’s closer to 90,000 words than 40-60,000.)

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Either you’ve misread or, far more likely, I’ve not been very clear. Either way there have definitely been some crossed wires here, because I’m not annoyed at either you or your publishers *at all*.

      I’m perfectly prepared to wait for the free ebook — and that’s what I’m planning to do. I just think it’s a shame that I couldn’t buy one. And I don’t mind waiting *at all* — if you’re giving something away for free, it would be churlish of me to complain.

      There does appear to be a dead-tree edition for sale in the local Waterstones — is this an import? That would explain the higher price.

      I definitely didn’t mean to blame Tor *at all*, and thought I’d made that clear — “Note that this isn’t the fault of this particular publisher — Tor are publishing the book in multiple countries simultaneously, they’ve allowed the release of the free CC-licensed download, and they make all their books available DRM-free now, they’re doing The Right Thing here — but of the whole system of regional restrictions in copyright licensing, and ebook sellers being overly-restrictive as a result.”

      I’m not blaming you, Doctorow or Tor *one iota* for the unavailability of the book in the format I want it in (though I can see how you’d think that, given the number of trollish responses on this subject your blog gets). My complaint is entirely the one that you point out here — that online ebooksellers are appointing themselves gatekeepers, and that this is an unfortunate side-effect of the regional restrictions which are, in other ways, beneficial.

      And I must be far worse at estimating book length than I thought, clearly. £20 is a more reasonable price for a longish novel of 90,000 words than for a novella (all else being equal).

    • Debi Linton says:

      Won’t offering it as a free ebook screw with your Amazon sales? I thought Amazon refuse to offer books at prices greater than the book is offered elsewhere.

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        They do with self-publishers and small publishers, but I suspect they make an exception when it’s a book published by Macmillan, written by two best-selling authors. Certainly Doctorow’s other books, which he makes available free from his website, are available for the Kindle for a few quid each.

  3. Holly says:

    Didn’t you tell me the other day you were expecting this to be the book you got from Amazon when it was a different book? It sounded like you’d bought it already.

    (Today the postman didn’t make me run from what I was doing to answer the door to get another sodding book you bought, so I am considering this a good day in that respect, despite all other evidence to the contrary).

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I’d got confused about what I had and hadn’t preordered.

      • Holly says:

        This itself is a worrying sign about how little of your book-buying has been digitized.

        (For Andrew’s other readers, I am not anti-book but I am anti-never-ever-getting-rid-of-a-book-for-any-reason and thus making our house so full of books that almost all are functionally useless because I can’t find any particular book, never mind my iPod, green skirt or anything else, but I bet it’s all buried under books.)

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