Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/06/12/internet-archive-ending-free-e.html
Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/06/12/internet-archive-ending-free-e.html
I fail to see a reason why the Internet Archive should be able to lend multiple copies when they’ve only paid for one. If authors can’t get paid then they’ll have to stoop to inline stack social advertising too.
Many authors I know were very upset that their works were being made available for free without their permission. Getting paid for their work is, after all, how they make their living. If creators want their works to be available to all for free, great! There are many ways they can do that. The internet archive, however noble an endeavor, does not have the right to make that decision for others.
To frame copyright law as “why we can’t have nice things” is disingenuous. Much of current copyright law sucks, but no one has argued (as far as I know) that all digital content should be automatically free just because. I understand that this was done in response to the quarantine. Most public libraries have online catalogs, and made getting access to them extra easy.
This wasn’t someone using material others created to create something new, this was giving away something they don’t own.
(For all that folks like Cory, even if he isn’t here anymore, deride the idea of copyright, he’s benefited from it a whole lot as an author)
Authors could opt out, and several did. The Internet Archive’s books were mostly out of print, many years old. On the other hand, there were reams of thank-you notes from teachers and patrons of typical libraries who couldn’t access their physical bookshelves.
I love the Archive, and contribute financially. I always thought the lending unlimited copies was a dangerous (for them) idea. Thank goodness someone apparently told them the First Rule of what to do when you find yourself in a hole: Stop digging.
He was never going at copyright as a rule, but how it has been manipulated and transformed into essentially a perpetual cudgel that rarely benefits the creators, but instead their heirs, anyone who has the resources to bring and win spurious claims and corporations that had fuckall to do with the creation in the first place. As I’ve heard it argued here, copyright should exist in the regulated and tempered form it was envisioned for, but in reality it’s just become a way to perpetually rip off both artists and consumers.
This. I frequently recommend them to students for textbooks in my field from the early 20th century, as well as later books that Sonny Bono has relegated to oblivion: legally in copyright, copyright holder unreachable.
I love the Archive, and contribute financially.
I have been surprised to see books still in print at archive.org. It’s not just things very old and/or in public domain, but books recent and where tge publisher still exists.
IThis was before the emergency “opening the doors”.
I had years back thought archive.org was like Project Gutenberg, getting long out of print books back in circulation. But it seems to have changed, or maybe I had a false image.
One reason “we can’t have good things” is because people don’t think through the point of cooyrights. The mob mentality takes off. Look at what happened to the music recording industry, “why should I buy a whole album when I only want one song?” and now musicians have to tour to make money.
Agreed. Would love to hear an informed guess as to how many instances of people borrowing one of these texts from IA likely resulted in loss of royalties to the author, because the borrower, had IA not made the text available, would have sought it out from their local library or purchased it.
I’d imagine it’s more common that people borrowed texts they never would have sought out to borrow in the first place, thus exposing the texts to a wider audience.
Not arguing with your point per se, but it should be said that some library systems’ online catalogs are quite limited in terms of content. Speaking for my own library, their online catalog is grossly insufficient.
Whenever book piracy comes up for discussion I always like to bring up Maggie Stiefvater’s experiment from a few years ago.
Long story short: piracy = reduced sales = reduced publisher interest in paying for new book = author not writing new books
I’ve decided to tell you guys a story about piracy.
I didn’t think I had much to add to the piracy commentary I made yesterday, but after seeing some of the replies to it, I decided it’s time for this story.
Here are a few things we should get clear before I go on:
This is a U.S. centered discussion. Not because I value my non U.S. readers any less, but because I am published with a U.S. publisher first, who then sells my rights elsewhere. This means that the fate of my books, good or bad, is largely decided on U.S. turf, through U.S. sales to readers and libraries.
This is not a conversation about whether or not artists deserve to get money for art, or whether or not you think I in particular, as a flawed human, deserve money. It is only about how piracy affects a book’s fate at the publishing house.
It is also not a conversation about book prices, or publishing costs, or what is a fair price for art, though it is worthwhile to remember that every copy of a blockbuster sold means that the publishing house can publish new and niche voices. Publishing can’t afford to publish the new and midlist voices without the James Pattersons selling well.
It is only about two statements that I saw go by:
piracy doesn’t hurt publishing.
someone who pirates the book was never going to buy it anyway, so it’s not a lost sale.
Now, with those statements in mind, here’s the story.
It’s the story of a novel called The Raven King , the fourth installment in a planned four book series. All three of its predecessors hit the bestseller list. Book three, however, faltered in strange ways. The print copies sold just as well as before, landing it on the list, but the e-copies dropped precipitously.
Now, series are a strange and dangerous thing in publishing. They’re usually games of diminishing returns, for logical reasons: folks buy the first book, like it, maybe buy the second, lose interest. The number of folks who try the first will always be more than the number of folks who make it to the third or fourth. Sometimes this change in numbers is so extreme that publishers cancel the rest of the series, which you may have experienced as a reader — beginning a series only to have the release date of the next book get pushed off and pushed off again before it merely dies quietly in a corner somewhere by the flies.
So I expected to see a sales drop in book three, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, but as my readers are historically evenly split across the formats, I expected it to see the cut balanced across both formats. This was absolutely not true. Where were all the e-readers going? Articles online had headlines like PEOPLE NO LONGER ENJOY READING EBOOKS IT SEEMS.
There was another new phenomenon with Blue Lily, Lily Blue, too — one that started before it was published. Like many novels, it was available to early reviewers and booksellers in advanced form (ARCs: advanced reader copies). Traditionally these have been cheaply printed paperback versions of the book. Recently, e-ARCs have become common, available on locked sites from publishers.
BLLB’s e-arc escaped the site, made it to the internet, and began circulating busily among fans long before the book had even hit shelves. Piracy is a thing authors have been told to live with, it’s not hurting you, it’s like the mites in your pillow, and so I didn’t think too hard about it until I got that royalty statement with BLLB’s e-sales cut in half.
Strange, I thought. Particularly as it seemed on the internet and at my booming real-life book tours that interest in the Raven Cycle in general was growing, not shrinking. Meanwhile, floating about in the forums and on Tumblr as a creator, it was not difficult to see fans sharing the pdfs of the books back and forth. For awhile, I paid for a service that went through piracy sites and took down illegal pdfs, but it was pointless. There were too many. And as long as even one was left up, that was all that was needed for sharing.
I asked my publisher to make sure there were no e-ARCs available of book four, the Raven King , explaining that I felt piracy was a real issue with this series in a way it hadn’t been for any of my others. They replied with the old adage that piracy didn’t really do anything, but yes, they’d make sure there was no e-ARCs if that made me happy.
Then they told me that they were cutting the print run of The Raven King to less than half of the print run for Blue Lily, Lily Blue . No hard feelings, understand, they told me, it’s just that the sales for Blue Lily didn’t justify printing any more copies. The series was in decline, they were so proud of me, it had 19 starred reviews from pro journals and was the most starred YA series ever written, but that just didn’t equal sales. They still loved me.
This, my friends, is a real world consequence.
This is also where people usually step in and say, but that’s not piracy’s fault. You just said series naturally declined, and you just were a victim of bad marketing or bad covers or readers just actually don’t like you that much.
Hold that thought.
I was intent on proving that piracy had affected the Raven Cycle, and so I began to work with one of my brothers on a plan. It was impossible to take down every illegal pdf; I’d already seen that. So we were going to do the opposite. We created a pdf of the Raven King . It was the same length as the real book, but it was just the first four chapters over and over again. At the end, my brother wrote a small note about the ways piracy hurt your favorite books. I knew we wouldn’t be able to hold the fort for long — real versions would slowly get passed around by hand through forum messaging — but I told my brother: I want to hold the fort for one week. Enough to prove that a point. Enough to show everyone that this is no longer 2004. This is the smart phone generation, and a pirated book sometimes is a lost sale.
Then, on midnight of my book release, my brother put it up everywhere on every pirate site. He uploaded dozens and dozens and dozens of these pdfs of The Raven King . You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting one of his pdfs. We sailed those epub seas with our own flag shredding the sky.
The effects were instant. The forums and sites exploded with bewildered activity. Fans asked if anyone had managed to find a link to a legit pdf. Dozens of posts appeared saying that since they hadn’t been able to find a pdf, they’d been forced to hit up Amazon and buy the book.
And we sold out of the first printing in two days.
I was on tour for it, and the bookstores I went to didn’t have enough copies to sell to people coming, because online orders had emptied the warehouse. My publisher scrambled to print more, and then print more again. Print sales and e-sales became once more evenly matched.
Then the pdfs hit the forums and e-sales sagged and it was business as usual, but it didn’t matter: I’d proven the point. Piracy has consequences.
That’s the end of the story, but there’s an epilogue. I’m now writing three more books set in that world, books that I’m absolutely delighted to be able to write. They’re an absolute blast. My publisher bought this trilogy because the numbers on the previous series supported them buying more books in that world. But the numbers almost didn’t. Because even as I knew I had more readers than ever, on paper, the Raven Cycle was petering out.
The Ronan trilogy nearly didn’t exist because of piracy. And already I can see in the tags how Tumblr users are talking about how they intend to pirate book one of the new trilogy for any number of reasons, because I am terrible or because they would ‘rather die than pay for a book’. As an author, I can’t stop that. But pirating book one means that publishing cancels book two. This ain’t 2004 anymore. A pirated copy isn’t ‘good advertising’ or ‘great word of mouth’ or ‘not really a lost sale.’
That’s my long piracy story.
The original source is gone but you can still find a copy of it here.
Now, it’s not a perfect parallel here because the Internet Archive wasn’t scanning books the day they were released, but it does point to a deeper effect that piracy can achieve.
The authors I heard from were all people who discovered their works were being given away after they were made available on the archive.
I’m sure lots of people loved being able to read things for free right away that otherwise they would have had to pay or wait for.
If your local library has an online catalog that is “grossly insufficient”, perhaps you need to make sure your local library has better funding for online works.
Her conclusions come from “experiment” with no control group by an already successful author, and there might be a tiny chance she is a little bit biased. One might also call this a marketing trick, as flooding the net with copies might actually habe been creating additional demand.
So maybe she’s onto something, maybe she isn’t.
This is precisely the pretext that the RIAA used to sue people for downloading music in the Napster era. They were largely unsuccessful in their legal aims, though they managed to utterly destroy people’s lives in the process. Harvard did a study that supports what you are assuming; that the public availability of music did no harm to the industry and in fact may have helped spur sales certain categories.
Thanks, that was a very worthwhile read. The results of her experiment speak for themselves, and I don’t think you can flaw the methodology. The publication of Blue Lily, Lily Blue was the control.
Thanks also as this was a good rec. I’m going to buy one of her books; this series looks great.
Not sure what else I can do beyond donate annually to the full extent of my financial ability (which I do)?
@Astroman, seconded. That’s an compelling story and makes me wonder about the nuance. The full, ready-to-publish, but as-yet unavailable book made its way online and clearly damaged sales. In the Harvard study I cite above, the music industry had not yet mobilized to offer digital sales (and Apple Computers came along with DRM, took their lunch and dropped “Computers” from their name as a result).
I wonder if her book sales would have been as impacted if the ARC had been better protected with watermarks and chapter-based unlock codes? Although her intent in releasing the pdf of the next book was to test her hypothesis, I can’t help but imagine it also whetted people’s appetite to take the plunge and make the purchase. I’ve purchased a few books after reading an excerpt on my wife’s old Nook (physical copies, though; I’d rather lose a book to loaning to someone than Barnes & Noble or Amazon deciding a different business model is more profitable and disabling it).
It really feels like it shouldn’t be that hard to hold both of these thoughts in one’s head at the same time, because they’re not even conflicting opinions. And yet…
Well, you could run for a seat on the library board or local government, to have some say in how local monies are allocated. You could volunteer to run a fundraiser for the library, targeted at improving the online collection. You can write to local lawmakers letting them know library funding is important to you. Alas, I have no idea if it’s even possible to donate digital media.
CD sales seem to have gone up while Napster was around and collapsed when it was shuttered.
It is a really sad place in history when Librarians need lawyers for doing their job.
Think about that for a second
Friendly reminder that Chuck Wendig can eat shit. What Lars Ulrich was to Napster, Chuck Wendig is to the Internet Archive.
In the original tweet he flat out called the IA piracy full stop, someone explained to him that under normal circumstances the IA does only lend out the amount of books it has physical copies of and his response was that he saw torrent links and that means its piracy.