Will Illegitimate Books Tip the Scale Back to Traditional Publishing?

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Source: Google Images/eff.org

Counterfeit Books on The Rise

An article on Twitter by Publishing Perspectives caught my eye today while reading posts from Writer Beware®. Written by Porter Anderson, the article outlined and discussed illegitimate online book sales and Amazon’s response (since so many of these deceitful sales take place in their bookstore). It all started when journalist David Streitfeld of the New York Times wrote in June that “Amazon takes a hands-off approach to what goes on in its bookstore” in reference to the surge in counterfeit books on Amazon.   

In his article, David recounts his purchase of “numerous fake and illegitimate Orwell books from Amazon.” I’m not surprised; the advent of the Internet brought with it a host of ne’er-do-wells intent on making money off the backs of legitimate authors. The global marketplace is vast, to say the least; tracking a counterfeit copy of one of your books (or by someone famous like George Orwell) can be time-consuming and expensive, and many authors simply don’t have the resources. It’s a Digital Wild West – every man (or woman) for himself (or herself). The digital gold rush is ON.

After reading this article, one question that concerns me is, how can we be sure that what we’re buying is the real deal?

Make the Old New Again?

In trots the old workhorse: traditional publishing. I believe that at some point, authors and their readers will tire of the con jobs, counterfeits, price gouging, and other deceptive practices running rampant online. Perhaps going back to the way things were with traditional publishing, at least to some extent, can possibly protect authors from the shady side of self-publishing in a digital world.

“While Amazon is the company that has, he’s right, made it possible for even the most marginal books to be suddenly available to everyone everywhere from the most earnest but artless authors (self-published or from the trade), it can also enable the chicanery of ruthless forgers.”

I personally have had my first fiction novel illegally downloaded and offered for free (not illegitimate but definitely illegal) and it was difficult to get the cons to stop, especially since they know there’s not much we can do about it other than request a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) takedown. To my knowledge, my book was not forged in any way. However, deceit is deceit and authors can lose royalties and fan bases as a result of these illegal acts, especially if the thieves are halfway around the world.

The integrity of the written word is under attack and we must diligently protect our works.

 

Copyright Issues

Amazon responded by stating there’s an issue with the “differing copyright timing between countries and sometimes even different titles within the same country.” They also wrote that “there is no single source of truth for the copyright status of every book in every country that retailers could use to check copyright status.”

Should there be a central body where authors can list copyrights for their intellectual property (IP)? What do you think? Amazon is at the forefront of this issue because they created it to begin with – they gave access to everyone (too much of good thing, perhaps), including liars, cheats and counterfeit thieves looking to make a quick buck.

As written in the article, perhaps there is a need for a “central international registry of published works’ copyright status that can support the burgeoning book publishing industry with a reliable test of copyright status.” Would that mean they’d catch all the illegitimate books? Maybe some, maybe not. It would be naïve to expect that every book thief/forger intent on making money from our work would be caught. Part of the problem is the absolute explosion in book inventory. Once a manageable almost one million titles in 1998, according to Bowker’s, there are now more than 40 million titles to track.

We’re needles in a global haystack.

The Bungling of Bundling Book Reviews

Another problem is that Amazon bundles its book reviews together, David writes, “regardless of which edition (legal or not) they were written for. That means an unauthorized edition … can have thousands of positive reviews, signaling to a customer it is a valid edition.”

I can’t help but think that this illegitimacy issue might work in favor of traditional publishing, that it might strengthen their stance in the global and online publishing worlds. It might even help cull the aforementioned “earnest but artless authors” inundating self-publishing book sites. Perhaps traditional publishing will once again become the vanguard and the proverbial measuring stick.

Someone needs to be.

 

To read the Publishing Perspectives article in full, click here.

Keeping Up with the Digital Joneses

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In one of her recent blogs, author Lee Foster offered some good suggestions regarding traditional vs. self/independent publishing, formats and whether to license your work.

Sadly, traditional publishing continues to deteriorate with the uptick of digital media and independent publishing, whether the medium is books, magazines, or newspapers. Independent publishers are gaining more of an edge over traditional routes but it’s important to maintain any existing relationships you might have with a traditional publishing house to ensure continued publication of your book. According to Lee, physical books still account for about 70% of the market; eBooks, about 17%, and audio books about 6%. These stats will likely change as the demand for digital media surges, especially with the 18-49 age group. It’s vital for writers to stay current with what’s in vogue so their work isn’t passed over because the format’s not popular.

If you’re an independent publisher, check Meetup.com in your area for meetups. They’re a great place to network, share your work, and get/provide feedback about the writing process. Who knows, you just might get some great ideas for that unfinished scene that’s been nagging at you for weeks or months.

The format you choose for your book can vary; publishing in all formats increases your exposure and ups the odds that more readers in your target market will find you. How many of these options are you using or are yet to use?

  • Print book – Ingram, Lulu Press, Amazon KDP, etc.
  • eBook – Lulu Press, Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc.
  • Audio book – Audible, etc.
  • Translations of your book – the language/s you choose should be based on your target market and perhaps the setting/location or cultural aspects; if you can’t afford a translator, try Bing Translator or Google Translator. They can be time-consuming to use (one paragraph or so at a time) but if budget is limited, it’s a good place to start. You also may want to come up with additional title options, as not all titles will translate well. Do some research.
  • A “website” book, where your work is available online in a website

copyright clearance ctr author options

Something else to think about is licensing your content. Do you write nonfiction, books for academia or business? Then you might consider the U.S. Copyright Clearance Center, where you can set up an account to collect fees from people who use quotes from your works with your permission. These are a few of the options from their site:

  • RightsLink for Permissions – automates permissions and reprints from your website; “facilitate permissions and reprints requests for copyrighted articles, images, mobile and new media content right from their websites.”
  • Republication Service – allows you to secure republication permissions for others’ works, as well as subsidiary rights
  • RightsCentral – where publishers, authors, and agents manage their account; from this option you can also download title usage reports; view and manage your participation in CCC services; review your permissions and fees; and set your fees within each service