Bob Lefsetz has a controversial newsletter about the music industry but it’s good reading for anyone attempting to make a creative living in the digital world. He’s an advocate for content, which in his case is another way of saying good music (just using words like ‘content’ and ‘talent’ condescends to people who actually create and that condescension shows in the kind of work the big companies support).
His email dispatch this morning—it hasn’t show up yet on his blog—reports that Harper Publishing for the first time sold more copies of an e-book than its hardcover equivalent. ‘The Dressmaker of Khair Khana’ sold 6,500 digital to 5,700 hardcover in the first twelve days of sales. There are going to be lots of stories like this in the next few months.
The point he’s making is that ebooks may avoid the trap digital music got itself into because digital books are priced far lower—as they should be—than the hardcover. You have no cost of physical construction or distribution so of course—except the moguls of the music industry thought they could just rake in that difference as profit. So they’re suffering widespread piracy.
Hopefully, he’s right that books will avoid this issue. Time will tell and I know that books are moving well on Pirate’s Bay and other torrent sites.
When I published my first book on Smashwords and Amazon a few weeks ago, one of the choices I had to make was whether or not to enable DRM, Digital Rights Management, to prevent someone just making wholesale copies and distributing them all over the planet.
I did without. I’ve never seen any of those schemes that weren’t offensive and intrusive. I’m also Pollyanna by nature; I think if you trust people, they generally respond in kind and the others are scumbags who’ll find a way to steal from you anyhow (well, maybe post-modern Pollyanna…).
But, more than that, my feeling is that I should only be so lucky as to have copies of my work floating all over. There are some people who’ll read the thing for free and decide to buy the next book fair and square. And others who won’t read anything at all unless it’s free so okay, let them. I’m saying here, you petty cheapskates have my permission to read it yourself if you pirate it—but then you owe me to tell others if you like it, others who’ll buy a copy. A little theft is a nuisance and not worth worrying about in this massive digital world—but pay me back for my openness by finding me some more readers.
There is something different about this digital world that’s heartening. The record industry still has a lot of money and political clout—not that it did them any good. They started going after their own audience for sharing files and now the audience has shut them out. iTunes and other digital music purveyors are eating their lunch and dinner now and they haven’t any idea what to do. Because they didn’t act as good citizens—they were a big dog acting in a petty way—and their online audience isn’t passive. It punished them—and it’s going to put them out of business soon.
Hopefully, book publishers and booksellers are paying attention. As for writers, the New World is here already.