The DRM Endgame – What Authors Can Learn From Video Games

Ah, video games. They’re a wonderful procrastination tool for authors who like to switch off their brain a while. They are also a source of some very interesting technical developments, particularly in DRM – and hoo boy, did we ever get a doozy of a case study to pore over recently.

In Short

Sim City is a long-running franchise built by Maxis and distributed by EA Games. They released their latest iteration of it, Sim City 5, not so long ago, with an always-on internet connection requirement where the players’ games were saved on the EA servers. This was to encourage social gaming, trade between players, all that other silly networking stuff… or at least that was the official line. Everyone who was paying attention knew it was to stop online piracy of their game.

It’s DRM of the nastiest kind.

Buy This Book WordPress Plugin

It’s been quite a while since I got started on the concept of this, but the WordPress plugin I’ve posted about before is now ready and available for download.

I created this to combat three problems:

  • Many authors use things like the Amazon Affiliate widget to display their books, which is stripped out of webpages by adblockers. This results in their books never being seen by a significant chunk of users, as adblockers are the most popular plugins for Chrome and Firefox.
  • If authors want to just add their books and a link to Amazon, etc, they’re obliged to know some HTML and it’s something of a pain in the ass.
  • Neither option is ideal when books can be available on multiple websites.

Clearly, there’s a technical solution to this, and I put it together in a WordPress plugin called Buy This Book.

Authors and Trademarks

Well, well, well, here’s an interesting situation.

An author of a graphic novel series called Carnival of Souls has sued HarperCollins and sent out Cease and Desists over reviews of a book called Carnival of Souls. The author, Jazan Wild, has trademarked the term ‘Carnival of Souls’ in reference to graphic novels, novels, and comics, and he believes that HC’s new book infringes on this trademark – hence the lawsuit and the C&Ds sent to review blogs.

Yes, very interesting… Let’s talk a little about trademarks. Here are my thoughts.

So You Just Want to Write

I’ve heard and read this a few times. It’s what every author wants, isn’t it? They just want to write. There’s so much work involved in getting a book to market, work that cuts into writing time. Handing it off to a publisher – or overpaying an outfit like AuthorHouse to do it – probably seems like a pretty good deal if it means more writing time.

To that I have to say: if all you want to do is write, why not just start a blog and write away? No covers needed, no special formatting – just you, the blank screen, and your audience.

“But Claire, you don’t understand! We want to make money by writing!”

Well now, that’s a different story.

Piracy is Not the Bogeyman

If the LendInk fiasco has taught us anything, it is this: when authors are faced with the prospect of someone getting their work for free, their initial reaction is one of panic. It’s possible that this is a learned reaction, from big media companies that make a huge deal about piracy. I think many of the authors involved were independent, and didn’t have the benefit of a publisher’s legal guidance. The end result was predictable, if nothing else; authors saw their books listed on the site, got no response from the owner, and assumed the worst immediately.

It is also the wrong reaction, and here is why.

An Update to the LendInk Author List

THIS POST WILL BE UPDATED AS AND WHEN I RECEIVE MORE INFORMATION. LEAVE NOTES IN THE COMMENTS HERE.

I’ve decided to go through the list and record who among the guilty have apologised for the LendInk fiasco, mostly because I want the world at large to see who’s doing the right thing. I’m checking this by doing a google search for the author’s name and ‘lendink’ and by trying to find their site and most recent updates. Much obliged to A.B. Dada for his work in getting screenshots – full credit at his site here.

If I mark an author down as ‘nothing’, it means they were involved but I cannot find any apology or further information for them.

UPDATE 8/20/2012 – I’ve received an email from an author who is being harassed and threatened. Although I will not remove any names from this list, I want to say this again: nothing, NOTHING, justifies that kind of behavior. For many of the authors below, to the best of my knowledge, the extent of their involvement was a single tweet or Facebook post and nothing more, unless I have noted otherwise. If you can’t express your displeasure without resorting to harassment, then you are far lower than them and you have my complete and utter contempt. 

Some things to note

All of the authors listed posted at least an attack on LendInk on Facebook or Twitter, to the best of my knowledge. Many have deleted those posts and tweets. Many also sent either Cease and Desists or DMCA takedowns to LendInk’s host, though we will never know the full extent of that.

I have seen more godawful websites in the last few hours than I’ve seen in the entire year previous to this. I can count the ones that I would consider at an acceptable minimum standard for a professional site on the fingers of one hand. Authors, please, please get a professional to do your site! There were also more than a few for which I couldn’t find a site at all!

Although all these authors are culpable in some way, please reserve your ire for the ones listed in bold. They are the ones who don’t regret their actions, to the best of my knowledge.

If you believe that the authors listed below who have apologised have done so in good faith, then I ask that you forgive them. They may not deserve a pat on the back for doing the right thing, but they certainly don’t deserve your hate.

One argument was made by John Davis that LendInk did not have permission to display the book covers, hence the takedown was justified. I believe this is false; Amazon’s T&Cs cover this kind of usage. See my comment here.

(As an aside, it looks like the personal attacks are mostly happening on Facebook right now. For shame, people. You can express your feelings about this without resulting to name-calling.)

Hachette, what are you thinking?!

I’ve just seen the truly bizarre news that Hachette, one of the big publishing houses, is demanding that any author with titles published by Tor in some territories and Hachette in others keep the DRM on their ebooks.

Tor have recently begin to offer DRM-free books, in a move that further boosts my respect for them as one of the few publishers who know what they’re doing. Hachette, apparently, are worried that the availability of DRM-free copies of ebooks in some regions, and they feel that they can dictate terms to their authors as a result.

The arrogance of this literally takes my breath away.

On the Amazon display problem…

I’ve written before on the problem of adblockers taking out Amazon listings. In a nutshell, Firefox and Chrome’s most popular addons are adblockers, which strip annoying ads out of webpages as they load up. They unfortunately take out Amazon’s book affiliate widget too, and this is a big problem if an author is using it to display their books on their website.

Well, I’ve been just a little bit out of touch lately because I’m building a simplified WordPress plugin that can replace the Amazon widget as well as display links to other buying options for each book. It’s a little difficult because I essentially have to pick up WP plugin development as I go along, and that’s not so easy even when you already know PHP and Javascript.

Ideally this will be submitted to WordPress as well, and released for free under the GPL license. I’ll also try to offer a little support for anyone who has trouble with it.

danger symbol

The Moral Panic of Piracy

danger symbolAlright, if you haven’t heard the full story yet, LendInk.com is a small ebook lending site that has been forced offline. It was a very straightforward business model – they let users register, and users listed which ebooks they had that could be lent out to other users once. Then people traded books. It was a bit like a person-to-person lending – you know, like with paper books – that could only be done once. LendInk did not keep copies of the books themselves. It couldn’t.

LendInk was still taken offline by hundreds of lawsuit threats.

Normally I hear this kind of story and assume the worst; that some big media company has taken notice of an up and coming site, and proceeded to lay the smack down in a poor attempt to protect their copyrights. I was wrong in this case. The authors did it, and they did it because someone told someone else that LendInk was a pirate site.

All I can say about this is that I am disappointed. And angry, yes, on behalf of LendInk’s owner, who seems like a nice enough small businessman, but mostly disappointed.

On the Subject of Special Snowflakes

Recent news has lead me to believe that there is something very odd going on in the halls of the major publishers. I think there’s a psychology aspect to their business that hasn’t been explored all that well up to this point – that of industry exceptionalism, or the idea that publishing, in and of itself, is deserving of special treatment when it comes to the online world.

I got thinking about this mostly as a result of reading various articles about the price-fixing scandal still in the works. I had to ask – why did the publishing industry think this was justified? They must have known it was illegal.

Words on paper

How a Traditional Publisher Can Harm an Author’s Career?

Words on paperMark Coker, the owner of Smashwords, does make a good point with his article on traditional publishers. Okay, him running the main source for independent authors is something of a bias, but I think his argument has merit: that trad publishers move too slowly and price too high for the marketplace, and this represents an obstacle for authors during their career when they’re faced with indies who can release their books on a much faster schedule at a more attractive price point.

This is a problem of the marketplace, of course. Today I’d like to look at some examples of how a traditional publisher can just harm an author’s career outright.

The Author as Customer

So, Penguin’s parent company bought Author Solutions. And now, BookCountry’s services page has been taken down for an “upgrade”. I’m going to draw the obvious conclusion and saw that BookCountry’s services are going to be Author Solutions’ services, as served through their various imprints.

Once everyone got over the shock of a company like Penguin being mentioned with Author Solutions in the same press release, the opinions started to fly thick and fast. I, unfortunately, fall into the camp of people who are less than impressed with this whole thing; it looks like a money grab to me, if anything. There’s a lot of cash in getting authors to buy overpriced services with an option to snatch a chunk of their profits if their book is a success too. David Gaughran over at IndieReader sums up my opinion on it all, with an extra side helping from Emily Suess over at her excellent blog.

I got to thinking about one aspect of it after reading Porter Anderson’s article over on Jane Friedman’s blog – that of the author as customer.

Research and Development

How does DIY publishing pay for research and development?

This is the question posed by Porter Anderson over on Jane Friedman’s blog this week, and I find it fascinating on many levels. The general idea of the article – and I do recommend reading it all – can be summarized in Porter’s closing:

Do you see a natural investment opportunity and apparatus in place for supporting new talent and the new works of existing authors in a self-publishing setting? Aside from the individual trial-and-error that each self-publishing author funds for him- and herself, where’s the R&D in a DIY industry?

This leads on from another article that raised any number of hackles from Eugenia Williamson in the Boston Phoenix called The Dead End of DIY Publishing, whose main point was exactly this. New authors are (apparently) nurtured by the money that comes from bestsellers; indie publishing has no such process. So why is this so interesting? Well, to me at least, they’re asking the wrong questions.

keyboard

The Business and the Art

keyboardI think we all know that there’s two halves to making a living as an author: the business and the art. The art, of course, is the basic skill of writing; the forging of narrative out of raw inspiration, which takes years of practice to truly master. The business, however, seems to be far more neglected of late.

I spend a lot of time talking to independent authors. Traditional authors have the advantage of being more ‘hands off’ when it comes to the business side of things, but the indies have no such luxury. The problem I see, very frequently, is that indie authors have absorbed a lot about writing as an art, but not so much about writing as a business.