Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Kindle Swindle?
By ROY BLOUNT Jr. writing in The New York Times. February 24, 2009

BEING president of too many well-meaning organizations put my father into an early grave. The lesson in this was not lost on me. But now I am president of the Authors Guild, whose mission is to sustain book-writing as a viable occupation. This borders on quixotic, given all the new ways of not getting paid that new technology affords authors. A case in point: Amazon’s Kindle 2, which was released yesterday.

The Kindle 2 is a portable, wireless, paperback-size device onto which people can download a virtual library of digitalized titles. Amazon sells these downloads, and where the books are under copyright, it pays royalties to the authors and publishers.
Serves readers, pays writers: so far, so good. But there’s another thing about Kindle 2 — its heavily marketed text-to-speech function. Kindle 2 can read books aloud. And Kindle 2 is not paying anyone for audio rights.

True, you can already get software that will read aloud whatever is on your computer. But Kindle 2 is being sold specifically as a new, improved, multimedia version of books — every title is an e-book and an audio book rolled into one. And whereas e-books have yet to win mainstream enthusiasm, audio books are a billion-dollar market, and growing. Audio rights are not generally packaged with e-book rights. They are more valuable than e-book rights. Income from audio books helps not inconsiderably to keep authors, and publishers, afloat.

Read Roy Blount's full piece here.

6 comments:

Keith Mockett said...

This piece confirms my impression that the publishing industry, authors and publishers, view technology with deep suspicion and see it as a threat. Many can't seem to get their heads around the opportunities it presents. Take eReaders, surely a talking eReader gives the illiterate the opportunity to enjoy the books that we enjoy. MP3's make more literature available for people on the move. It's an opportunity folks, not a threat.

Keri Hulme said...

You've missed the point, Keith.The threat is to writers/publishers/et al livlihoods. Amazon, through the Kindle 2, has effectively taken away audio rights *without paying anyone anything.*

Keith Mockett said...

I think that you might be missing the point Keri. The Kindle is reading the "paper" book in real-time, so the publisher and author, will have received royalties from the sale of the "paper" book. It's just like someone reading the paper book to a hospital patient or their child at bedtime etc. To get another royalty for an "audio" version would be double dipping. If Amazon were to be providing audio versions of books then they should be paying for the audio version, but only for that, not both. Read the original article in Slate here http://www.slate.com/id/2212320/pagenum/all/#p2. Now I agree with this article in that there are some serious issues/threats with the possibility of Amazon getting market dominance with the Kindle and then dictating prices back to the publishing industry. Much like iTunes and the use of DRM technology to control music sales. The answer in the music industry has been to remove Digital Rights Management and make the music available through a number of sellers. This is the future for book publishing and eBooks in my opinion but obviously the industry has a way to go.

A couple of follow-on's from the Slate article are here http://techdirt.com/articles/20090227/0128303920.shtml and here http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/02/27/1835246.
Not a huge amount of respect for the book publishing industry.

Keri Hulme said...

No I havent missed the point Keith.

When I sell a book (actually a licence to print) to a publisher, the initial contract will specify what rights
are being sought. These normally include things like dramatisation rights, electronic rights, and *audio* rights. Note: audio rights are quite separate from electronic rights. Amazon has bought *electronic* rights only, and is trying to sneak off with audio rights
without paying anything for them. I routinely hold on to electronic & all dramatisation rights, and audio rights, because I am well aware of their potential value. It is completely within the bounds of current technology for a recording to be made of the Kindle 2's spoken ebook.
because I am well aware

Keith Mockett said...

It looks as though the Kindle may have created another technology for which separate rights will need to be negotiated. eReaders with audio are perhaps an additional category. I suggest the publishing industry think about it and come up with a solution before a behemoth like Amazon imposes one. I certainly support the authors and publishers in getting what they should for their work.
The original article has reached far and wide with it being responded to by Seth Godin in his blog. See it at http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/03/beware-of-trade-guilds-maintaining-the-status-quo.html. I think he makes a valid point.
BTW: I (obviously) don't know a lot about the relative values different rights have but it would be useful for a project I am working on. So do audio rights cost more or less than printing rights and what about ebook rights, are they more or less? If someone wishes to inform me I'd be grateful. Thanks.

Keri Hulme said...

Keith, as you probably know, Amazon has now backed down...Lessig's blog has details and much rancour.
In my experience, the hierarchy of payments for rights is
print/audio/ebooks *but* I have little experience with income from the latter 2 for the obvious reason...however, what publishers have offered follows that pattern.I think ebooks will be a large market, but at the moment they're less than 1%. And you're right about the Kindle2-type technology potentially extending copyright.
Are you familiar with the NZ Digital Rights Forum? Their site is worth a look-