Kindles and Owning Your eBooks

At this very moment (10:41 am, 3/23/08), Old Man’s War is #2 on Amazon’s Kindle Store Science Fiction bestseller list; only Slaughterhouse Five stands between it and glory. That’s all right, though; Kurt’s a Chicago alum. I can spot him the top seed. As noted before, I haven’t the slightest idea what a high Kindle Store ranking means in terms of actual sales; I suppose I’ll have to wait until my late 2008 royalty report to find out. But it’s nice to see the eBooks are presumably doing okay by me.

Apropos to this, here’s an article which notes that there’s some debate about whether by buying Old Man’s War or any other book electronically, you actually own the book, or if you just own a license to display the book on your eBook reader. Well, I’m just the author and copyright owner, so it’s not like my opinion matters too much around these here parts. But personally I’m of the opinion that if you’ve paid for the eBook, you own it, and can do whatever you like with it, up to and including giving it to someone else when you’re done with it (hopefully, if you do that, you’ll only do it once, as opposed to making hundreds of copies for everyone you know. That I consider, well, you know, wrong).

Now, whether what I think will make a difference to the people selling the eBooks is up for debate. But just in case anyone asks, that’s where I stand on the matter.

17 thoughts on “Kindles and Owning Your eBooks

  1. On the other hand, I’ve seen some of your fellow authors moaning about used books, and how they (used books, not the authors) deprive them (the authors, not the used books) of income they are surely owed.

    Copyright is a mess right now. I think it’s in better shape than patents, though.

  2. You own the underlying copyright. But I’m curious as to what rights in the work you currently (or maybe actively is what I mean) control. Presumably you licensed some bundle of rights to Tor and they have made the ebook available through Amzon on the Kindle.

    Did Tor release it as a non-DRM title? Is that even an option for the Kindle? Do you have a realistic option to get a publisher to produce non-DRM releases of your ebooks? It’s great that you think people who pay for your ebooks own them. But that doesn’t mean a whole lot legally if you don’t actually control the right to give ownership. (OTOH, it is worth a lot rhetorically which is probably more effective in the license / ownership struggle.)

    Anyway, good luck with the ebooks. My anecdata: I first read Charlie Stross through the Accelerando release and now I buy his books in hardback rather than wait.

  3. There are authors complaining about used books? Seriously? Who? So I know never to read anything they’ve written ever again.

    I be they rail against libraries too.

  4. I’ve passed on books, but because I love my own, I often tend to buy new copies for other people. (Including your books, Scalzi. In fact, I bought one friend two of your books, and then he misplaced them on the airplane, and apologetically told me so, so I bought him another set. I think you’ve gotten about four or five OMW sales out of me.)

  5. (Also, my boyfriend and I have something similar going on with Pratchett. I had my set of Pratchett, and then got my bf hooked, but he wanted his own set, but then we forgot to grab some books when we went to a Pratchett signing. I think we have, or had, four copies of Guards! Guards! but we gave most away, except for the signed copies.)

  6. There have been a number of economic analyses of used books: They keep the price of new books high because there is a perceived value for them. They also provide an inexpensive gateway to the author’s work, not dissimilar to the free e-books out there.

    I have several authors on my shelves, where the first book was bought as a used paperback, the second a new paperback, the third and fourth an SFBC omnibus, the next a new hardcover, and after that a limited edition hardcover. (oops, that was a serial comma). Or some variation on that theme (Mr. Scalzi’s work goes SFBC (OMW), New HC (TGB), New HC (TAD), Limited (Sagan Diary), New Signed HC (TLC))

    Now fair use is a funny thing, when you have a household. I’d like to be able, if I buy an e-book, to loan it to my sons and wife, assuming they all had their own reader. That’s probably not going to work.

  7. Copyright on electronic media is considered a little different due to the ease of replication and distribution compared to traditional forms of print media. Law of first sale (you buy it, it’s yours to do with as you please) is for the physical artifact. You do not get the *work*, you get the physical artifact – otherwise I wouldn’t have purchased Abbey Road on vinyl, cassette, and CD. The question is what physical entity are you buying with an ebook? The pattern of bits I suppose? It makes sense for companies to offer rental, lease, or licensed use so that they never actually “sell” the work in question thereby giving the buyer right of first sale.

    (the rest of this is about general copyright)

    Here is what the Constitution says about copyright (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8),

    “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”

    The reason is societal good, and the law specifies limited ownership. Note that “to make people money” isn’t why we have copyright. Our actual laws that delineate the period of copyright are based on Mickey Mouse. Namely, Disney doesn’t want Mickey Mouse to go into the public domain and fights like hell to extend copyright whenever “M Day” looms again. Right now, author’s works can be copyrighted for “Life plus 70″ – so Lovecraft is now public domain and 70 years after Scalzi sheds this mortal coil his works will not bear a copyright (barring changes to the law).

    I think about how much media my son will inherit from me by the time he goes to college – probably about 200 BB of music, 100 TB of video, and maybe hundreds or thousands of journal articles and ebooks. This is assuming I will illegally copy my files for hi and will continue to acquire music. Then he meets someone and gets the combined electronic collection of his partner’s family and passes this down to his progeny. How media companies can make money 30 years from now is a tough question, because DRM is a “broken once, broken everywhere” system and by recombining and swapping with friends informally over the years media will spread out pretty widely. This is speculation, but hey we’re SF fans.

  8. For me, the free download from Tor of “Old Man’s War” worked just as the publishers hoped. I transferred it to my Kindle, and read it during a business trip to California. As soon as I finished it (at SFO, waiting to fly back to Seattle), I bought “The Ghost Brigades” from the online Kindle store, and started reading it on the flight home.

    As for the “who owns what” debate, it’s pretty clear that most of the restrictive licensing terms originate from the content providers (publishers, film distributors, record industry, etcetera). And frankly, I can’t really blame them: nobody knew what a fair pricing model might be, or how digital downloads might disrupt their businesses. If you look at the history of (legal) music downloads, it took the publishers more than six years to agree to give up on DRM. I expect that the book business will take just as long.

  9. I trust that the authors who rail against used book stores do all their research for writing using only books they have purchased new. No libraries, no looking at friends’ copies, used copies, etc.

    This probably makes historical research practically impossible.

  10. For me, my (possibly erroneous) understanding that buying a song from iTunes or buying an ebook means that I do NOT have right of first sale or any of the other rights in the physical counterpart has kept me from spending money on iTunes and ebooks. I’m extremely happy to give $100 to the library every year at their used book sale – I get a bunch of books I really like, they get $100. As a matter of principle, I have not yet been able to bring myself to spent one red cent on an electronic work I can’t legally transfer (deleting my own copy, as would happen with a physical copy) to someone else.

  11. I imagine as Ian M (#7) implied that it will operate in a manner analagous to music – you’re purchasing a single copy in a particular format for personal use, a format that is not necessarily transferable to other media. You an transfer your videocasettes to dvd with the right hardware, but you’re not supposed to and in fact the distributors consider that to be illegal.

    E-books formatted for kindle may very well be transferable to multiple digital formats, but that won’t necessarily remain true. When it comes time to obtain the direct-to-brain version of OMW, you’ll have to buy a new copy, even if you’ve already done so for the Kindle version.

  12. If I buy a Kindle version of your book instead of the hardcover, what kind of a hit do you take on royalties?

    Vicki

  13. Vicki:

    Pretty sure I don’t take a hit and that I earn my standard royalty. But I would have to check.

  14. Sort of OT, but OMW is one book I’ve never bothered to lend anyone or buy for anyone, because literally every SF reader I’ve described it to has gone and bought it immediately with no further prompting. Easiest sell ever.

    Anyway, Kindle format books seem to be DRM’d up the yin-yang, so I assume I can’t give them to people when I’m done, but I think I should have the right to. I buy them anyway, though, because DRM isn’t one of my particular issues. Drives my husband crazy, though. Likewise every time I buy something from the ITunes store, he dies a little inside…

  15. Just finished Old Man’s War not 15 minutes ago. Great read.

    Copyright meets BrainPal — big collision. We’ll need as much progress in law as we will in technology to get to that state.

    What will happen with my (paperback) copy of OMW? Sit on my shelf? Yea, I’d like to reread it, but by the time I make one loop around my reading list (which just grew by at least 2: Android’s Dream and Ghost Brigades) the sun will be burning helium. I usually give my books to a friend or a book drive. Look at it this way: it’s free advertising. Someone else picks your book up for peanuts, but if they like it, they are more likely to purchase another book.

  16. OK, I have both of your OMW verse books for the kindle, and love both of them. Will TLC be coming out for Kindle any time soon? I can’t wait, and I really want the Kindle version as opposed to the book. My bookshelves are full, and I’m trying to go as ebook as I can.

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