Thursday, May 14, 2009

Publishers get a taste for the Espresso

Since the Espresso Machine was unveiled at Blackwells flagship store in Charing Cross Road on 17th April, books have been rolling off its presses. Until now it inventory has been confined to self published and out of copyright works, but according to The Bookseller today, the Hactette Book Group USA, Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill are among several publishers who have signed up to make their works available through this "ATM for books", making an extra 89,000 titles in copyright titles available as from next week.

Eight less well known publishers have also signed up, including general and academic publisher W W Norton, specialists Cosimo Inc, Clements Publishing, Kessinger Publishing, Information Age Publishing, California/Princeton Fulfillment Services, and Bibliolife. Oxford University Press and Palgrave books are currently being converted, and will be available in a few weeks time.

Over one million books will be available via these machines by the summer, with a long term aim of making every book available in this way.

Exact sales figures are yet to be released, but Blackwells state that 35 percent of sales from the machine have been for self published works, with the remaining 65 percent for out of copyright works. The majority of purchases have been one offs, with an average retail price of £11.50.

Web stats are interesting things

Web stats are interesting things, I get mine from a company called E-web counter. I can't remember where or how I came across them, but the service is free, so that is all that matters. I get access to details on the last 200 visitors to this site, and after that I have to start paying.

My stats reveal that out of the last 200 visitors, almost 60 percent were from outside the UK - mostly the United States and Canada, although I also had visits from Australia, Singapore, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil, the Netherlands, the Ukraine, Spain, France, Ireland (I had quite a few of these) and Taiwan.

37.5 percent of my visitors found the site via, 22.73 percent via, 12.5 percent via and the remainder (27.2 percent) from elsewhere, mostly via my website and the various forums that I post on, but also through certain blog search engines and other sites. It is good to know that my own name is still the most popular search string.

The number of repeat visits is relatively low at around 8 percent, with the same amount staying for more than 5 minutes. One of these repeat visitors, I have been somewhat amused to see is my ex employer - it is good to know that they find my site so interesting!

Overall I think the stats are about average for a site such as this - it will probably never reach the echelons of the Guardian best literary blog list, although I have had visits from several writers who are on it, and been mentioned on one or two of their sites. It is not always easy to keep up to date with the publishing world, but I do my best to write articles which I consider to be interesting and informative, particularly for self publishers, who the site is after all aimed at. In this climate we need all the help we can get.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The problem of piracy

With the explosion in e-books and electronic reading devices, more and more publishers are experiencing problems with illegal copies of their authors work being submitted to various websites.

An article in the New York Times cites the case of science fiction writer Ursula K Le Guin, who found pirated copies of several of her novels on Scribd, including her best selling work, “The Left Hand of Darkness.”

Mr Le Guin and her publisher were quite rightly outraged. She quotes: “Who do these people think they are? Why do they think they can violate my copyright and get away with it?”

Of course this is depressingly familiar to music and film makers, who fought battles with illegal download sites for years before protection was put in place. Truth be told, this is one of the reasons why the publishing world held off with embracing e-books for as long as they did, for they realised what the implications would be; Google and their shenanigans are it seems, the tip of the iceberg.

If readers are determined enough, and know where to look, they will find a way to get these works for free. Such websites have it seems, ballooned in recent months with publishers forced to employ more legal staff whose role it is to sniff these sites out and get the offending material removed. As Russell Davis, author and president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America quotes, “It’s a game of Whac-a-Mole, “you knock one down and five more spring up.”

Websites such as Scribd and Wattpad, which invite users to upload documents such as college theses and self-published books novels, have been the target of much grumbling in recent weeks, as illegal copies of many popular titles have also appeared on them. Trip Adler, Chief Executive of Scribd, said it was his “gut feeling” that unauthorized editions represented only a small fraction of the site’s content, but this is not the point, it should not happen at all.

Both sites appear to take issues very seriously indeed. Offending material is immediately removed, and filters put in place to identify such works as and when they are uploaded. I would like to think that the culprits are also banned.

E-books are still in their infancy, and so for the moment, piracy is not nearly as widespread as within the music industry, when sites such as the now legal Napster, threatened the entire industry. The benefit of this is that both authors and publishers can learn from this experience to go about things in the right way, to go after the sites themselves rather than those who use them. The idea is to start legal sites at the outset so that people get used to having to buy e-books, and the fact that these music sites are now so well established will ultimately help our cause. There are still some though who consider it their god given right to take what they want without regard for the law or those who create these works, who persist in using illegal sites and file sharing software. I used to get great satisfaction from listening to one of the men in my former job complain about the computer viruses he also downloaded from such practises.

It is vital that authors and publishers be adequately compensated for each use of their work, whether in electronic or printed form. It is not about getting rich (I fear that any author that thinks that is in the wrong job), but about being honoured for the work that you do, which personally I don't think is too much to ask.