Tag Archives: DRM

Really we’re to blame

It’s pretty easy to pick sides in the Amazon vs. Hachette contract negotiation battle. Amazon is evil for removing the buy buttons off many (though not some of the bestselling) Hachette titles, and Hachette is foolhardy for taking this long to negotiate with one of the largest book distributors in the world, considering that the average consumer doesn’t think about publishers, they think about authors.

But here’s the thing, Amazon may be evil for squeezing profit margins down to razor thin amounts, or requiring the eBook to stay at a certain price, but if we wanted that to change, if we actually wanted to make sure that authors and publishers got more of our money, then we would need to be willing to change our behavior.

See the solution to Hachette’s problem with Amazon could be so simple. Instead of selling eBooks through Amazon, it could sell them through its own site, DRM free in epub, mobi and pdf formats. That way the customer actually owns the book, and can read it on the reader or tablet of their choice.

But that solution will never work for two simple reasons: Consumers don’t really care that they don’t own their eBooks (or they simply don’t think about it), and even if they do care, most do not want to have to manage their eBook libraries themselves.

Buying eBooks from many different sources requires organization, and even though there are plenty of good software options for doing so, most would rather Amazon just do it. Hachette’s audience is broad, it houses some of the most popular authors. Sure, some of its audience is tech savvy, but many just want to read and not think about it.

And yeah, maybe you don’t own an ebook, but does it really matter if you’re only ever going to read it once, and you only paid a couple of bucks for it? There’s always risk in losing something, you could be robbed, you could lose a physical book, or drop it in a puddle, or whatever. Owning a book DRM free may reduce your risk of losing the book, but not significantly enough for people to change behavior.

And worst of all, we each make perfectly rational personal economic decisions when it comes to buying books (i.e. we buy the cheapest book we can find). If I want a lot of ebooks, I will want to buy them cheap, and apart from a few book bundles, the answer to that is Amazon. As an author, publishing on Amazon is a must because it’s the best channel for people finding my niche work, despite the fact I can get a better royalty almost anywhere else. But higher percentages don’t matter if they aren’t matched by higher sales.

Now some of us are charitable. We think about who our money is going to, or we’re willing to pay a few extra dollars to get a better product (I’m doing this with the comic book Saga by buying it directly from Image instead of waiting for the cheaper trade). But if we have finite dollars, we probably can’t do that for everything we like, unless we’re willing to buy less things, and that doesn’t seem like us.

So yeah, Amazon is evil. And we’re totally going to keep buying from them anyway. And Hachette is going to keep selling through them. And so am I.

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Life without the internet

So I just gobbled up the six publicly available issues of Brian K. Vaughan’s “The Private Eye“. Vaughan can be a difficult man to savor. I read Y: The Last Man in about two weeks (and it only took that long because I was waiting for a couple of trades to arrive through the mails). All of Saga was devoured in a couple of sittings, and the only reason I haven’t read all of Ex Machina is I’m waiting for Kindle to put out more of the deluxe editions for $9.99 a piece (new one coming in May). Hell, even the first three volumes of Runaways are gems.

tpeye_01_small

Vaughan speculates a world in which the Internet no longer exists. This is due to the “cloud burst” in which every piece of private data stored on the web became publicly available to everyone. Your deepest darkest secrets and more scary, your search history. To combat this people now wear masks in public, especially when they’re doing something that might be embarrassing. You can even switch genders or skin color, assuming any “nym” you desire.

The story follows a paparazzi, this world’s equivalent of the Private Investigator (so private eye has two meanings, eh? plus the guy’s symbol on the door is the number Pi, very deep no?) as he reluctantly tries to solve the murder of a client.

One of the joys of this comic (besides its DRM free, pay what you want, money goes directly to the creators model) is the comments pages at the end. They hearken back to the letters pages I remember reading in my old Star Trek comic books. Funnily enough, since I was buying lots and lots of back issues, these letters were never even remotely current, and often referred to issues I hadn’t found yet, but I enjoyed reading people’s perspectives on the series and more long form reflection.

The Private Eye features smaller compliments and messages though you can still get an idea for the people who are tuning in, including a not too surprising number who wish Brian K. Vaughan and company would have more social media outlets for their data to be mined and handed over.

I hadn’t really thought about it in a while, since I’ve been mostly reading trades, but the comics letter page is a great artifact of a mostly bygone era. Whenever we consume something we go immediately to Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or whatever. Sometimes we blog, but our consumption of what other people think is largely based on our own personal preferences and perspectives. The comics letter page is slower, gives you perspectives you might otherwise not read, and helps you to get to know some of the other people who love the thing you love. I’m not saying that can’t happen in today’s society, though it happens a lot less as long as we continue to be able to wear our masks on-line.

I’m not sure that the Internet would crumble away if everyone’s private data became publicly available. Its too important for international trade and convenience. We value privacy, but we also over-share anyway. Still it’s an interesting notion to think about a post-Internet world, especially through a comic you can only get on-line.

My only complaint (and this is a small one) is that it doesn’t read perfectly on my 7″ screen. The lettering seems designed for iPads and the like, though most is readable and the rest can be zoomed. Since they give you the CBR and CBZ versions of the book as well, however, I have the original images that I can try to shrink down to a more optimized size so really this is no big worry.

Now just come out with issue #7 already!

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Pow! Bam! Zort! Amazon gobbles up Comixology!

Actually my favorite one of these was in Fables Volume 6. Boy Blue slices a guy in half with a vorpal sword and the sound effect is “snicker-snack!”

ComiXology-Logo-Dark-Grey-500x92

Publisher’s Weekly raised some questions customers will have about Amazon’s recent acquisition of comics app Comixology. Though I think discussions of in app purchases (Comixology removed them to avoid paying 30% to Apple), content restrictions and listings are important, there are a couple of other issues that I think need addressing by both sides.

For those who aren’t aware, Comixology is an app that works on a variety of different devices, from PCs to tablets, that allows you to buy digital issues and collections of comic books. It is also one of the more DRM (Digital Rights Management) heavy formats going so far as to split its image data into two separate encrypted files that are merged together by their proprietary viewer. Comixology is also very aggressive in patching or taking down solutions that users have created to attempt to break this DRM. Even for backup and recovery purposes, the AZW (Amazon Whispersync) or AZW3 formats are better since they at least contain the entire comic book in a single file.

Back when the second Star Trek movie was coming out, Comixology had a sale on a number of their Star Trek IDW titles (stuff that can be a little expensive to collect physically even for a purist). I bought a number of titles that I could view on my Polaroid, computer or Kindle.

And then I remembered Amazon’s golden rule, we will never be undersold by anyone.

Now inevitably, every time I get a sale notification from Comixology, I can expect the exact same one from Amazon. And consequently I’ve stopped buying from Comixology altogether unless they have something I can’t get anywhere else.

And that’s the only thing I think Amazon’s gaining by the acquisition, content. But if we’re talking format, I’d take Amazon’s ebook format hands down as I can at least get a little closer to owning my own content (though really on all of these you’re just leasing the rights to them). What I’d really love is for Comixology to convert all of my existing titles over to Kindle versions when the two companies merge. That way everything’s part of one big happy library. That’s the way the Audible acquisition went. Anything bought from Audible shows up in my cloud list same as any regular book. Now it’s in audibles audio format, but the difference there is that Amazon doesn’t really have its own audio format for books (for the most part).

Now Amazon’s not without its flaws on comic books. Manga can be downloaded to the Kindle Touch but not a first generation Fire. Saga can only be downloaded to Kindle HDs and above, the Kindle App or the Kindle Cloud reader (though the only thing standing in the way seems to be higher resolution though that doesn’t quite track since my Android has worse resolution than the Fire). *

Comixology does have some unique comic formats that might only work on the app, such as more interactive or guided view comics, but most standard conventional material will look nice in either format. And the app and library management are actually a lot clunkier than Kindle so I’d just as well hope that they merge everything together.

The merger should be good from a content standpoint if nothing else, but I’m hoping they go a few steps further to create a truly beneficial offering.

*Actually Image Comics (Saga, Sex Criminals, etc.) offers their comics as true ebook downloads (PDF, CBR, CBZ, epub) so it might be better just to buy directly from them for those comics since they are DRM free.

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Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach Available Now!

UPDATE: Unfortunately Bundle Dragon is asleep, probably forever, so this particular bundle is no longer available. However, the book is still available on Amazon. You can find the original Fractals You Can Draw posts here, or check out the gallery from the bundle here.

FractalBundleHeaderIt’s finally here!

Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach is now available for sale, bundled with a ton of bonus content.

What is the book?

Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach covers some of the basic topics of drawing fractals, from the ubiquitous Mandelbrot Set, to the Chaos Game and Turtle Graphics. The book combines detailed explanations with example programs, helpful figures, and many beautiful fractal images.

I’m not really interested in math or programming. Why should I buy this book?

For starters the book contains hundreds of beautiful images like this one:

FC_226_4_tightres_00500

The bundle includes even more high resolution pictures not featured in the book as well as nearly an hour of video. Also included is the eBooklet “Fractals You Can Draw”, a compilation of the popular posts from last year which remain some of the most trafficked posts on this blog (and inspired the writing of this book). There’s something for everyone in this bundle.

So what do I get exactly?

The fractal bundle has a base price of $4.99. For $4.99 you get the book in three formats: Amazon (MOBI), Nook (EPUB) and PDF. You also get a gallery of 125 high resolution fractal images from the fractal book.

For just a dollar more ($5.99) you get the eBooklet “Fractals You Can Draw”, plus another gallery of 125 images not featured in the fractal book, plus nearly an hour of video based on the concepts explained in each chapter.

Every image and animation was created with the programs detailed in this book.

Tell me more about these videos.

There are 37 video files in all, zipped into 6 groups. Most are in AVI or MPEG format and should play with Windows Media Player or the freely available VLC media player.

Each video relates to a specific chapter of the book:

  • The Chaos Game (Chapter 1)
  • Affine Transformations (Chapter 2)
  • L-System (Chapters 3+4)
  • Mandelbrot Set (Chapter 5)
  • Julia Set (Chapter 6)

Each animation is like its own gallery, going deeper than still images or text can in exploring the nature of a fractal. If you want to get interested in fractals, here’s where to start.

I only buy eBooks from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Should I wait till this book is available there?

I will be releasing an Amazon (and possibly a Barnes and Noble) version of this book in a couple of weeks. However, neither Amazon nor Barnes and Noble can accommodate all of the bonus content (images, extra eBooks and videos) that Bundle Dragon can. And neither Amazon nor Barnes and Noble is DRM free meaning your eBook is not really yours. If you buy the book here, you’re getting the best version of this book possible and it’s yours to keep on any device or hosted in the cloud.

How do I transfer the book to my eReader?

When you download Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach you’ll get all three formats (MOBI, EPUB and PDF) zipped together in a single file. If you extract this zip file you can transfer the MOBI file to your Kindle by connecting it to your computer and copying the book to your “documents” folder. The Nook works much the same way. Or you can read the PDF right on your computer, tablet or iPad. Calibre is a great free program for organizing your own eBook library, and Sumatra PDF allows you to read eBook formats (MOBI and EPUB) on your computer as well. If you have any questions feel free to use the “Contact [BTW]” link at the top of this blog.

Where do I buy?

bentrubewriter.bundledragon.com (no longer available here, but you can buy on Amazon) or click the ad to the right of this blog.

What payment methods are accepted? I don’t tend to buy from random sites on the internet.

You can use your PayPal, Amazon or Google accounts to buy the bundle without having to give your credit card information directly to Bundle Dragon. Each transaction is safe and secure.

Can I give this as a gift?

Yes, absolutely!

What are these support levels?

Bundle Dragon is a “pay what you want” service. The fractal bundle is priced in two tiers, $4.99 and $5.99, but if you feel like tossing a few extra bucks to support Ben Trube Writer, this is the easiest way. Suggested support levels are $10 or $25.

I’d like to learn more, where can I go?

Well, right here on the blog is always a good place to start. Or like “BenTrubeWriter” on Facebook. If you have any questions, or would be interested in doing an author interview post, contact me using the “Contact [BTW]” page at the top of the blog.

Thanks so much and hope you enjoy!

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing, Writing Goals

Is Amazon Cornering The Market Because Of DRM?

Last week a number of independent booksellers filed a class-action antitrust lawsuit against Amazon and a number of its publisher partners over the use of DRM. Specifically, they feel that Amazon’s DRM restricts eBooks to being read only on Kindle based devices, and that since many of the publishers named only provide eBooks through Amazon, it effectively cuts other eReaders and potentially even other brick and mortar stores (more because of price) out of the market. The suit floats the possibility of “open-source DRM” which would allow a book to be protected, but still able to transferred across devices.

I am no great fan of DRM, and as an author think it’s best to sell without it, even with the risk of piracy. Even though piracy can take a sale away, it can spread buzz about an independent author who’s making his start which may lead to more sales in the long run. But let’s unpack whether Amazon unfairly restricts DRM.

Amazon’s DRM is device specific. In other words, if you own two Kindle eReaders and download the same book to both, those files are not actually the same. Each is encoded against the serial number of your device. You can’t move a book downloaded to one device to the other unless you do it through your Amazon cloud archive. The difference is especially noticeable when we’re talking about Android based readers like the Fire or the Kindle app. This being said, the Kindle app makes Kindle books available on any phone, tablet or PC. The main restrictions is eInk eReaders, for that you’ll need a Kindle.

Amazon’s DRM policy is only really restrictive when we’re talking about eReaders (and magazines since these are not archived in the cloud like all other books). I think the real basis for any complaint would be that certain publishers are only selling through Amazon, which has nothing to do with DRM.

Open source DRM as I understand it would take away the serial number part of the DRM encoding. In other words, if I had two Kindles I could transfer a book I downloaded to one to the other through my computer and not through the cloud. The file would still be restricted to be re-encoded into another format (which would still make them unreadable on the Nook, Nooks read epubs and Kindles read mobi). Maybe the seller could provide software to convert while preserving DRM (only convert to DRM supporting formats) but I don’t see much of an incentive for them to make their books easy to port to another device. And open source doesn’t really apply in this case. Open source implies the source code for the DRM is available to the public, which would effectively defeat the purpose. Open source DRM is a contradiction in terms.

I don’t like DRM, as I said above, but the way to fight it is not through lawsuits. It’s through individual authors making the choice to sell without DRM (which you can even do on Amazon (all of TOR books for example)). And it’s through consumer demand, refusing to buy a product unless it doesn’t have DRM. Amazon doesn’t make its money with its eReaders, but the books themselves. If you really want to read on another device, buy that one, and complain to the publisher if a book is not available for it.

Full disclosure, I own a Kindle Touch, Fire and an Android device with the Kindle App, as well as using the Kindle Cloud reader on several devices, though some of my books are purchased in DRM free format and converted to MOBI using Calibre. I made the decision to buy Amazon devices because I thought the hardware was the best, and I already had established accounts in music and video. I think if we want to talk monopolies and DRM, we need to bring the whole media infrastructure into the argument, but that’s a blog post for another time.

What do you guys think, is Amazon cornering the market? If you’re an author have you taken the DRM free pledge?

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Haulin’ them megabytes

Remember how I said designing an eBook was like designing a web page from the late 90s? Well, there’s one more way eBooks are like old technology, they charge by the megabyte.

I’ve been taking a closer look at Amazon’s 70% Royalty sharing option and found something interesting. The royalty is 70% of digital list price, minus $0.15 for every megabyte in size of your eBook. Now for most people this wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Their books probably don’t clock in over the half a megabyte mark.

But I’m writing a book on fractals. There are, you know, pictures and stuff.

I’m estimating the final product will be about 8MB in size (which is actually pretty compressed from the original word file). At $0.15 a megabyte, that’s another $1.20 out of the royalty (per book), knocking the approximately $3.50 I was expecting (out of my $4.99 digital list) down to $2.30. It’s still better than the 35% option, which does not have the delivery fee, by 11%. Somehow I doubt Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing could get people as excited about 46% royalties.

I wasn’t sure why Amazon did this until I thought about cell phones.

Amazon does make a few 3G eReaders, and because the transmission size of eBooks is usually pretty small, it doesn’t charge its users a data plan like most cell phone carriers. Well, here’s where there making up for some of that money they left on the table.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do about the Fractal book at the moment. Kindle Direct Publishing is still an option (and for novels it’d be fine), but something about this strikes me as … cheap.

Here’s what I’d like. A couple of months ago the Humble eBook Bundle put together 13 books from a variety of authors (DRM free) and sold them at a pay what you want level, with a minimum of a couple bucks or so. If you paid a little more, you got a little extra. It’s a nice model and one I’d like to do some investigation of. I could see selling the Fractal book for say, a base price of $2.99 (better than I’d be doing on Amazon), and have some bonus content if you beat the average price (not sure what that’d be, maybe a book of the blog for the last year…). I’m not sure how the hosting would work, or any of the other details, so it might take some more time to set something like this up. It might even be nice to get a couple of my fellow blog authors in on it (hint hint nudge nudge wink wink).

I’m also looking into Smashwords, which while it doesn’t seem to have the distribution power of Amazon, seems a little more generous though there are fine print things with it as well.

All this is to say that it’s worthwhile to read everything before you commit to a certain program, and that I may need to spend some time finding a better distribution channel for the Fractal Book before it can be released (sorry 😦 I’m working as quickly as possible). Truth be told, I like the pay what you want model and DRM free content, and I was never exactly thrilled about restricting the Fractal Book to a DRM release only.

I’ll let you know as I have more information. Anyone discovered a better channel for sharing books (one that doesn’t charge by the megabyte (actually kilobyte if you read the even finer print))? Anyone interested in taking a weird experimental plunge with me? I promise there’ll be cookies…

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Amazon Instant Video Users Beware!

I love the Simpsons, specifically the Treehouse of Horror episodes around Halloween.

I own many of them on DVD, but Amazon has fortunately been able to fill in the gaps for me so this year was the first I could do a full marathon of every single episode. Since streaming (even with “high speed internet”) can be a drag I downloaded the Amazon episodes to my laptop using the “Unbox Video Player”. Each episode gives me two licenses for downloads to devices like my laptop, and two more for portable devices (like my Fire).

Yesterday I was doing some house cleaning and wanted to free up the 4GB those episodes were taking up on my hard disk (about 400MB per episode BTW). I deleted the video from Amazon Unbox while I was connected to the internet assuming that this action or some other menu item would release the download from this device and give me 2 of 2 downloads so I could do this for the years to come.

Not so.

Here’s how you release a license download to a device like a laptop:

1) Download the latest installer for Amazon Unbox.

2) Run the installer and select the remove function.

3) Choose the full removal (not the temporary). This will erase any Amazon videos from your computer, but it will also release their licenses.

4) You must be connected to the internet at all times during this process.

In a nutshell, you have to UNINSTALL Amazon Unbox Video in order to release the license for an individual video.

Amazon get your act together!

1) This only works from the device you downloaded the videos to. If for some reason the machine dies, you can’t release the videos downloaded to it.

2) Amazon branded devices (the Fire) can release portable licenses just by deleting individual files. This functionality should be available across all their platforms. That’s an industry standard these days.

3) DRM’d video files maybe make a little more sense than MP3s, but that eliminates any ability to backup files and transfer them to another computer if the one you are using dies. Personally, I hope video goes the same way as music in the next few years on this front.

4) Unbox wants to run all the time instead of being auto launched whenever you download an episode (unlike the Amazon MP3 downloader).

5) BTW you can and I did download twice to the same device (Download->Delete->Download), which caused me to use up all my licenses.

Fortunately my downloaded library is small and uninstalling was not a big deal to me. I’ll just download and re-install next year, but hopefully by then someone in Amazon technical support will get the hint that this needs adjusting.

Happy Friday!

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