Sunday, March 1, 2009

Authors Shoot Themselves in Both Feet

Two reader-forum discussions highlight how author protectionism can go too far.

The first being the Kindle 2 and its text-to-speech feature that allows users to have the book read to them in that robotic way only a machine can do. The Writers Guild and other author groups complained loudly about this feature, claiming Amazon was essentially producing audio books, which it had no right to do. So Amazon has backed down and only those books with publishers’ permission will be available in this format.

Writers gain nothing from this. The idea that they’re losing a royalty from a hypothetical audio book sale is ludicrous. No one in his/her right mind would buy and listen to a text-to-speech version of a book if a professionally read audio book was available for purchase. Calling these things equal products is like saying a hard-boiled egg is the same as a slice of quiche.

Who loses are the blind people, and perhaps other handicapped individuals, who might have listened to a book on Kindle because an audio version was not available. And if they enjoyed that author’s work, they might have purchased one of his/her audio books in the future when they became available. Or bought another of the author's Kindle books. Or recommended the author to their book club or their large book-loving family. Limiting access to a novel from a paying customer makes no sense. As I said, a shot to one’s own foot.

The second writer-protectionism discussion is equally short-sighted. Some authors complain about readers purchasing used books and thus not supporting authors with royalties. How can you hope to stop this? By producing books that self-destruct when the final page is read? And why make readers feel guilty about buying your book?

Having a book in circulation, moving from reader to reader, is better than not having a book in circulation. Every time someone reads an author’s work and likes it, they become future buyers and great word-of-mouth marketers for the author. Many readers try out new authors by getting their books from the library or buying an inexpensive used version. Once they become a fan, they often support the author by purchasing his/her new books.

I know many authors will disagree with this position, but my feeling is that a little flexibility and generosity can go a long way.

20 comments:

joandelahaye said...

I agree. It is rather short sighted. I actually thought the audio version on the kindle was a pretty good idea.

Joan De La Haye
http://joandelahaye.wordpress.com/

Kathie said...

Amen! I couldn't agree with you more on both points. I've always laughed when authors start bemoaning the whole used book sales aspect. Are they putting up as big of a fuss about having the book put into circulation at the library as well? With today's economy, my brain would starve to death if it weren't for used books and libraries, I simply cannot afford a brand spanking new book. The self-destruct comment was extremely funny regardless of how tongue-n-cheek it was! Great post, as always!

J Hugh Thomas said...

You are so right. First of all, how many people buy both an audio and physical/ebook format of the same material? Lost sale? I think not. Second writer's need to wake up and smell the new century. Embracing the new technical options is the only way to go.
Thanks for the great post.
Hugh

~Sia McKye~ said...

LJ, I've seen this brouhaha over Kindle2. And I agrees with your assessment.

The issue isn't really the quality of reading but the whole fear from the audio book industry that Kindle 2 is eating into or has the potential to eat into, their profits. What we're seeing is an aggressive counter move by the audio books to protect their turf and one way is to enlist the authors and touch on THEIR loss of profit. Computers can do the same thing, if you have the right program. I know many handicap that have computers that can pretty much convert anything from text to speech. If there were screams over that, I don't remember it.

Used books and libraries. No used books don't play into a an author's sales figures, but you do make a good point. Before I spend $7-10 on a new author, I want to know how they write and if it's worth spending that money. I've discovered many new authors from borrowing a friends book or going to used book shop and buying a stack of books. Sometimes I'm missing a book in a series and I can't find it in a bookstore and actually I've looked for books and they're out of print. But I found them in a used bookstore.

I also know several used book stores with savvy owners that talk up the new releases of a particular author a customer is buying. They also will order the new releases. Some carry a selection of new books as well.

The bottom line is, as author you are building a reader base. Used books and libraries facilitate building that readership. Word of mouth is the best way to sell your books. So take a deep breath and put it into perspective.

Great article, LJ!

M. R. Sellars said...

Well said...

The used book issue has never made sense to me. I'm all about my works be spread about in that fashion, generating new fans who are likely to buy new books. It's the pirates who disassemble a paperback, turn it into a PDF, then put it out on the Torrent servers as a free download, that get under my skin.

As to Kindle 2, one need only listen to it to know it isn't an audio book. Besides, the file was still purchased and royalties paid. It's a silly gripe.

Yvonne Perry said...

Great insight! I totally agree.

Gayle Carline said...

It'll be interesting, after all the brouhaha, if every publisher with books on Kindle gives their permission for them to have the text-to-speech option. As a first-time author, I definitely don't mind. As a reader, I'd much rather hear an audio book than a robotic voice reading syllables.

Also, as a reader, I appreciate being able to go to my local library and buy paperbacks for a quarter a piece at their sales. For one thing, I keep books in circulation that may have gone out of print. For another, I can get a taste of new authors without spending an arm and a leg. Plus, I can donate my old books to the library and keep the process going.

Gayle Carline (aka GeeCarl)
http://www.gaylecarline.com
http://gaylecarline.blogspot.com

Libby Hellmann said...

Actually, I'm coming down on the other side, LJ. The few people who might listen to a Kindle aren't sufficient to overlook the issue that Amazon truly WAS infringing on a publisher's/author's rights. It would have set a dangerous precedent. Robotic recordings today, but what about tomorrow? Amazon backed off when they realized the legal ramifications. All authors should breathe a sigh of relief.

Edward G. Talbot said...

I guess I'd put it this way. There is no problem with publishers ensuring that rights they own are not being used for commercial purposes without their permission. That's what they should be doing.

That said, they are morons if they withhold permission. The times they are a'changin' and while it is possible that withholding such permission will not cause people to boycott purchases, in the medium and long run, there will be fewer fans. And it's laughable that the publisher would lose audiobook sales because of the feature.

The whole used book thing I just don't get. As with so many things, it's authors paying attention to the things they have no control over, that don't matter. Which makes you wonder if they're keeping their eye on the ball about the things that do.

F. M. Meredith, author said...

You've brought up some good points, and so did Libby Hellman.

I do think Amazon is trying to take over--but saying that I have several books already on the Kindle.

Marilyn
aka F. M. Meredith

Trixie said...

Agree with you on both points. I have felt bad about buying a used book, but I certainly can't afford to buy as many books otherwise. And I've discovered lots of new authors buying their stuff used first and then moving on to newer releases if I like their writing.
Thanks for your post.

Rebbie Macintyre said...

You're so right, LJ. Thanks for the post.

Joyce Lavene said...

Good post, LJ! Authors and other artists are going to have to think about all the new ways to view (and hear) their books. We'll have to make some tough decisions.

Joyce Lavene
www.joyceandjimlavene.com

Helen Ginger said...

I agree L.J. that the Kindle2 "audio" books were bought and therefore the author gets a "cut." And used books have been sold for years. It's a bit late to start screaming about that.

And perhaps that's why The Writers Guild stepped in. When the robotic audio started, writers were yelling about it, asking why The Writers Guild wasn't looking into it. So the Guild did its job and put in some protection for writers. Things may change over time - that robotic voice may improve greatly, for example, but at least writers have a voice and input.

Everything is changing rapidly in this Internet, digital, blogging, Twittering, era. I'd prefer to stay a step ahead than play "knock-knock, please, sir, can I have a pence?"

Helen

Robin Minnick said...

I agree with you LJ. And, as both a writer and a reader and an independent person -- what, are they going to arrest me for selling my old books? What about when I pass copies on to my children? Perhaps writers have been talked too deeply into donning the marketing hat. It used to be about communicating and story-telling.
Yes, we want readers and followers, but as you so ably point out, you don't necessarily get more of those by being stingy with your access.

Meg said...

I'm with you on all that. :)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I'm with Libby. Amazon is making moves on a daily basis to control the publishing industry. Do you REALLY think that they will let the text-to-speech be as bad as I've heard it is?? Hell, no.

As for used books, I am such a big proponent of helping get an author's name into readers' heads that I started a second blog devoted to that. When I heard that someone was ready to pass along a copy of my own book, I cheered.

To like a book enough to pass it along is, to me, the ultimate compliment.

Regan Black said...

Thanks for articulating two important points, I agree completely!

I think it's awesome when readers share and discuss a title and then eagerly await an author's next book. can you say fan club?

Regan
http://www.regansrealm.blogspot.com

Lisa Logan said...

Yes, and these same people who complain about readers purchasing "used" books are the ones calling up the local library asking them to stock their book and host their next signing.

Ian said...

Great article. I suspect it is only a handful of wealthy authors who baulk at this. Most of us welcome any way of communicating with potential readers or listeners.