Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A victory for common sense

I have been considering of late whether to publish this blog (omitting the personal and work related stuff) but since it is not likely to be that commercially viable, and on the recommendation of various writing friends, will probably do this via Lulu rather than Authors OnLine, who although very good, are not cheap. At this stage in my life I do not have the funds to publish another book, yet reading through some of the older posts on here, from when I first started this blog (at the beginning of 2006), they are rather good, and have the potential I think, to help a lot of others who may be considering this route. I also considered (and will get around to at some point) writing a more detailed book about print on demand in the UK, and publishing through Lulu may be a useful experience to write about. It will be useful to have tried this route, and have more than one angle to write about (doing it yourself as opposed to through a POD provider who oversee all the formatting and so on for you).

To this end, last weekend I bought one of the those new netbook computers. I have been considering one of these for a while, since my old laptop is rather heavy and bulky for travelling with, especially on the winter helicopter service, where there is a strict weight limit and not much room for hand luggage in the cabin. The one I chose, the Acer Aspire One, has a nine inch screen and 8 GB flash drive, with a Linux operating system. It will be more than adequate for my needs, and a useful and versatile travelling companion.

Not much has been happening in the book world these past few weeks, now that I have got to the bottom of what is going with Amazon and the introduction of their own print on demand service in the UK. The court case with Booklocker must be due quite soon, but there has been no more news. I expect it will appear on the Bookseller in due course, and I will no doubt hear about it from the various writing sites that I post on, as well as from Angela Hoy (the plaintiff) and the Long Riders Guild, whom I am in touch with from time to time.

Now that Oprah Winfrey has endorsed the Kindle, I expect that Amazon shall be selling a few more of these devices. It is not expected to be launched in the UK until the spring, so for the moment we will have to content ourselves with other means, such as the Sony E-Reader, which I expect Waterstones will also sell a few of over the coming festive season.

It will be a tough one this year for all retailers, not just book sellers, with Amazon predicting a sharp downturn in sales. Shares in the company are reported to have plunged by 14 percent in after-hours trading, as Amazon lowered its revenue target for the final three months of the year to between $6 billion (£3.67 billion) and $7 billion, against the $7.2 billion previously forecast. Jeff Bezos is still a lot richer than I am, so I don't think he has anything to worry about quite yet.

I see that Google have also agreed to provisionally (what this means is anyone's guess) pay $125m (£80m) to settle a long-running legal dispute between it and US publishers over its controversial book scanning programme, Google Books.

According to a statement released today, the settlement, which is subject to court approval, will expand online access to millions of in-copyright books, and other documents, in the United States from the collections of participating libraries.

Google Book Search allows users to browse millions of books online and, in the case of out-of-copyright titles (or titles that the author chooses to upload to the site, as I have done), read an extract or sometimes (depending on the permission granted) the entire text. The settlement resolves two lawsuits filed in the United States just over three years ago, one of which involved the Authors’ Guild and the other of which involved McGraw-Hill, Pearson, John Wiley and Simon and Schuster. The lawsuits objected to Google’s plans to digitise, search and display extracts of in-copyright books and share them online without the explicit permission of the copyright holder - I should think so too.

Under the terms of the provisional settlement, users will be able to search and preview millions of additional titles, including out-of-print books, online. Users will also be able to buy titles online via the Book Search site (thank goodness for small mercies). US academic institutions will be able to subscribe to the online collections of libraries from around the world, and students will be able to access millions of out-of-print titles from designated computers in public and university libraries.

In addition to resolving these claims, a portion of the $125 million potential settlement will go towards helping to establish the Books Rights Registry. This will be an independent, non profit organisation will pay the rights holders earnings from institutional subscriptions, book sales, advertising revenue and other potential revenue streams (similar to Public Lending Rights by the sound of it, but online). The registry will also be the method for authors to request inclusion or exclusion from the Google Book Search programme. I must remember to look at this myself then, once it is all set up, since it affects not only US based authors, but anyone whose work is distributed within that territory.

This is a victory not just for common sense, but also for both readers and authors, who will now get paid for the use of their work. I mustn't write too soon though, as how much we will get paid remains to be seen. If it is similar to the public lending rights system, where only a sample of libraries are used each year from which to calculate earnings, then this will not be much good at all, since the libraries that my own books is stocked in have so far not been included in this sample, meaning that even though I know they are being borrowed, I am still not paid. The real winner is then the reader, who will have access to a wealth of knowledge that these books contain.

Further information for authors affected by this decision can be obtained here and here.