Sunday, February 10, 2013

News roundup, a PSA, and a quandary.

First, some news.

News item #1:  Seized got a terrific 5-star review this week at Big Al's Books and Pals.  The reviewer even said I might be her new favorite fantasy author -- which is gratifying, humbling, and squee-inducing, all at once.

News item #2: Also in the gratifying, humbling, etc., department, my buddies over at kevinswatch.com picked Seized as the inaugural book for our new book club.  Maybe I should write a book club study guide....

News item #3:  I sat down yesterday and drafted a rough outline for the final Pipe Woman Chronicles book.  The majority of the research is also done.  So I should be starting to write the first draft, oh, maybe next weekend.  Although I also need to finish that sweater; all that's left to do is the neckline edging (picking up stitches, oh goody) and sewing the side seams.  And I still haven't made myself a scrapbook of the Danube cruise.  So many projects, so little time....

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We pause now for the following public service announcement. 

My daughter Amy, who works for a Barnes & Noble store, would like to remind everyone that Barnes & Noble is, in fact, NOT GOING OUT OF BUSINESS.  Yes, B&N is closing some stores, BUT NOT ALL OF THEM.  And she would really like to stop having to explain this to people who call her store to find out the latest discount on DVD boxed sets and whether they've started selling their bookcases yet.  Got it?  Good.  Let's move on.

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Now, the quandary.

Publishers Weekly put a curious item on its website this week.  Amazon Technologies -- a division of Amazon.com -- has been granted a patent by the U.S. government for a system to re-sell used e-books and used audio books.

Indie authors have been scratching their heads since the article was released on Thursday, and the brevity of the piece makes me think PW couldn't make heads or tails of the announcement, either.  After all, you don't really own the books on your Kindle -- or the songs on your iPod, for that matter.  What you have purchased is a long-term lease of copies of these digital files.  Amazon made that abundantly clear in 2009, when it yanked copies of George Orwell's 1984 from users' Kindle libraries because the third party who uploaded the book to Kindle Direct Publishing didn't own the rights.  (Amazon settled a lawsuit over the incident later that year.)  And last year, Bruce Willis reportedly was thinking of suing Apple to find out whether he could leave his iTunes music collection to his kids in his will -- a report that later turned out to be false

When the latest news came out, I did a quick Google check of tech industry websites, and learned from Wired.com that the Amazon patent covers resale of the lease on the content, not a resale of the content itself -- so the Zon isn't changing its business model to let us buy e-books outright.  Basically, the patented system would cut off the seller's access to the content as soon as the buyer paid for it.  Also, there would be a limit on the number of times a file could be resold.  

Speculation is that Amazon might allow re-selling in order to get the content out from under publishers' control.  It occurred to me today that this could be particularly lucrative in the digital textbook market.  Students who buy dead-tree texts pay through the nose for them, but at least they can sell them back at the end of the semester -- an avenue denied to those who buy digital editions of the same texts.  An Amazon-controlled used textbook marketplace could give e-textbook buyers this option -- and as a plus, it could erode Barnes & Noble's lock on textbook sales through its campus bookstore operations.

The Zon could also use used e-book sales as a carrot to attract authors to its own publishing division; authors who sign with an Amazon imprint could conceivably be granted a cut of any resale proceeds of their Kindle books -- a perk trad publishers can't offer.

Other industry wags think Amazon locked up the patent to lock out resales of digital content altogether.  Just because someone holds a patent, these experts say, doesn't mean it will ever be implemented.

It's still unclear what effect, if any, this system will have on indie authors.  As many of us have observed, it's pretty much impossible to tell the difference between a new or used digital file.  It's not like you can dogear an e-book, or break its spine.  And many indie books are already so cheap that the cost savings on a used file would probably be minimal.  Maybe Amazon would grant a cut of any resales to indies who publish on KDP?  Who knows?  Maybe it won't affect us at all.  Time, I guess, will tell.

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