Death in Nostalgia City

By Mark S. Bacon

Authors, publishers get a reprieve;            What will happen next?

Third in the series.

So, readers and writers are in for a change.  But it may not happen as soon as has been predicted.  Plans for the resale of “used” ebooks were set back last week as a federal judge in New York ruled in favor of Capitol Records and against Redigi.com a company selling previously purchased digital music files.

Businessweek reported that Redigi relied on the Copyright Act’s first sale doctrine.  That principle says that someone who owns a copy of a copyrighted work is free to resell it.  Redigi reportedly asserted that the doctrine applies to digital media as well and a ruling in favor of the online seller could have opened the doors for the sale of used ebooks as well.

As reported earlier, Amazon and Apple also have drafted plans to sell used ebooks online.  Authors reacted with alarm figuring that used sales will replace new sales, and used prices will eventually tumble.

Some of the proposals and, at this point, industry rumors, have it that publishers and authors could receive compensation from the sale of used ebooks.  All remains to be seen, especially in light of the recent court ruling.

Sunday in the New York Times, author and president of the Authors Guild, Scott Turow, wrote that America’s “literary culture” was at risk.  He cited not only the proposals for the sale of used ebooks, but a court decision authorizing the importation of foreign editions of American works, often cheaper than domestic editions.

He earlier sounded an alarm after Apple and Amazon patents for used ebook sales were announced, and he said Sunday that used ebook sales will be found to be illegal.

What is going to happen to the spread of ideas, the entertainment, the inspiration that books bring us?  Change is inevitable.  Some thoughts:

— Writers will still write.   We have to.   Several authors, including best-selling sci fi writer John Scalzi, recently have said that as royalties dry up readers may be surprised to see authors finding new forms of employment.  Sadly, in most cases that will not happen.  I say sadly, because writers, if they’ve been at this any time at all, know the rules.  You write because you must.  You write books because you receive satisfaction from it (when you like what you produce) and not because you see it as a way to make a decent living.  Writers need second jobs and working spouses/partners.  Or to put it the way a writer friend of mine explained, “Writers have always gotten the short end of the stick and we’re used to it.”

In the Sunday New York Times piece Turow rightly noted that mid-list authors–not the best-sellers–will  be most hurt by plummeting book prices.   The workaday scribes who eke by cranking out books will have it tough.

–Book prices–for all formats–will come down.  A little reduction would not necessarily be a bad idea for all parties.

–Unlikely this year, a used ebook marketplace, in some form, will happen.  Publishers and/or corporate online sellers may restrict the number of times an ebook may be resold.  Legal hurdles will be higher than some expect.   It will take time, but unless some unexpected technological development or legislative change alters our present concept of books and ebooks, a used marketplace will happen.

–Copyright protection, world-wide, will continue to erode.

-The big, traditional publishers still control much of the book market and thus will influence any future used ebook marketplace.  Although Amazon, Smashwords and others are both publishers and sellers,  the big-money authors–and aspirants–will be found at Random House, HarperCollins, etc.  (According to Publisher’s Weekly, Random House income for 2011 was $2.2 billion.)

–The authors who may fare best are established writers who switch from big New York publishers to ebook self-publishing.  If authors already have a sizeable following based on paper book sales, they can bring their readers with them to the ebook marketplace.  Amazon presently gives 70% of ebook sales to publishers.  If the author is also the publisher, that beats the standard author royalty many times over.   Authors who do not yet have enough of a following to sustain ebook sales also will be successful if they become adept at social media marketing and other avenues to attract readers.   Some best-selling authors will decide to remain sheltered by their agents and one of the big-six publishing houses.

–As book sales that produce royalities decrease, many authors should focus on the contractual aspects of their advance.  It might be the only book income they ever see.

–Another author friend suggests that increased exposure via a used ebook market could be beneficial–provided the price of ebooks doesn’t tank.

Notes/Hyperlinks

Businessweek reports on Redigi decision

Scott Turow sounds off

Largest publishers in the world

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This blog will continue to cover these developing issues while also providing samples of flash fiction, books reviews and articles about flash fiction writers and publishers.

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Congratulations to flash fiction journal Vestal Review.  It just celebrated its 13th birthday.

 Vestal Review

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