Authors asking for a boycott of Dorchester Press

Popular mid-list author Brian Keene has asked on his blog for a boycott of Dorchester Press (Leisure) for non-payment of royalties and publishing ebooks whose rights have reverted back to the authors. He is asking fans to:

*If you follow them on Twitter, please unfollow them.
*If you like them on Facebook, please unlike them.
*If you receive their marketing emails, please remove yourself from their list.
*If you belong to one of their book clubs, please consider canceling your membership.
*If you are considering publishing with them, please reconsider.
*Most importantly, please don’t buy their books, regardless of whether it’s on their website, in the $1.99 dump bin at Wal-Mart, or available on the Kindle.

When asked why he doesn’t hire a lawyer, he answers succinctly:

… someone asked me why we (the authors) didn’t just seek legal means. Well, I can’t speak for any of the other authors involved, but I’ll tell you why I haven’t — because I’m broke. I’m broke because Dorchester didn’t pay me what was owed, and then I gambled to get my rights back, and then they continued to fuck me. And yes, I’ve got a nice new deal with Deadite and Ghoul starts filming next month, but I won’t see checks from either of those until a few months from now, and until then, I can barely pay the rent and eat anything more than Ramen noodles, let alone hire an attorney.

Keene gives a list of authors supporting the boycott and links to a post by Robert Swartwood also asking for a boycott.

This situation is disturbing for several reasons. First, generally speaking, fans want to see authors to get paid.  That’s part of the reason that indie authors do well in the ebook market. As of today, Keene has 224 comments on his blog post and I read message after message of support.

Secondly, this highlights a concern about ebooks and digital property. There have been issues before about people publishing content they don’t have rights for. Amazon will certainly assume that a publisher (especially a well-known one) has the right to distribute an ebook for an author. 

Keene’s books happen to be on my TBR list; I don’t own them yet. And as a potential fan who wants to buy the books in an ebook format, it is extremely frustrating. I want to support the author but want to make sure that I don’t put money into the hands of a greedy publisher who would treat authors in this way.

Today Keene updated his blog with information from some other authors owed money by Dorchester.

This post composed while listening to the Ramones’ Greatest Hits.

What’s in your ebook bill of rights?

One of the big issues over this last week has been Harper Collins’ announcement that they were placing limits on how many times a library book may be circulated. The last-minute announcement broadsided librarians and readers alike. (There are roundups of the blog entries and media coverage available and  you can follow the discussion on Twitter under the hashtag #HCOD.) EDIT: Sorry, but that hashtag no longer has the same meaning and that information is no longer available.

Ironically, the new limits went into effect on March 7, 2011, right at the beginning of Read an Ebook Week.

Those discussions have yielded a lot of interesting ideas about accessibility, DRM (Digital Rights Management) and the future of ebooks. One of these ideas is the aggressive promotion of an eBook User’s Bill of Rights, most frequently the one offered by Sarah Houghton-Jan on her blog, Librarian in Black.

Sarah’s bill of rights focuses on:

  • the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
  • the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
  • the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
  • the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks

Well known tech blogger Mike Cane tackled this subject as well on his own blog last August in his article the Ebook Buyer’s Bill of Rights.   His bill of rights focuses mainly on issues involving appearance and functionality: covers, table of content, bookmarks. Formatting issues are also important in his version:

3) You have the right to proper formatting by default.
a) Formatting should mirror a proper printed book.
b) Paragraphs should have indents without spaces between paragraphs.
c) Only after such proper default formatting should a reader be able to mix things up via a device’s software settings (typesize, spacing, margins — in other words, reflow overrides).

A site called the Reader’s Bill of Rights promotes rights for readers of digital books. Created by librarian Alycia Sellie and technologist Matthew Goins, the site advocates critical looks at the downsides of ereader technology and has an anti-DRM stance. The powerful graphic for Libraians against DRM shown above comes from their site. (Note that this site was registered in April 2010, well before the Harper Collins OverDrive announcement.) Its bill of rights focuses more on DRM and accessibility.

The Readers’ Bill of Rights for Digital Books:
1. Ability to retain, archive and transfer purchased materials
2. Ability to create a paper copy of the item in its entirety
3. Digital Books should be in an open format (e.g. you could read on a computer, not just a device)
4. Choice of hardware to access books (e.g. in 3 years when your device has broken, you can still read your book on other hardware)
5. Reader information will remain private (what, when and how we read will not be stored, sold or marketed)

The site also has an interesting blog entry about the ALA president speaking out about this issue on Facebook. The entry links to one of the best arguments I have ever seen for NOT joining the social networking giant.

Each of these rights statements makes it extremely clear that they are meant to be starting points for the conversation about rights. It is also quite obvious that each author has different priorities that are important to them, whether it is the first sale doctrine or DRM.

What I personally find extremely surprising, given all the discussion about eBook prices, is that none of these rights statements even mentions the concept of the price of digital books as an important factor.

How about you?  Is there something that you think should be included in an ebook bill of rights?  Is a fair price something you would like to see as part of the discussion?

Random House Adopts Agency Pricing

Random House has announced that they will be adopting the agency pricing model as of March 1, 2010. The agency model allows publishers to set the price of a book and pay retailers a commission.  In its press release, Random House says that

The agency model guarantees a higher margin for retailers than did our previous sales terms. We are making this change both as an investment in the successful digital transition of our existing partners and in order to give us the opportunity to forge new retail relationships.

The list of Random House imprints is quite large, as shown by this list from Wikipedia.

The other five of the Traditional publishers adopted the agency model last spring. The prices for eBook from Traditional publishers rose significantly.

Coupled with the news that Harper Collins is limiting library checkouts on ebooks, this is devastating news for eBook lovers who were hoping that the agency model would disappear and market forces could act on prices.

NY Times Best Sellers List Finally Includes eBooks

Another the times they are a-changin’ moment: As of today, the New York Times Best Seller list finally includes ebooks. Given the fact that ebook sales have now outpaced both hardcover  and paperback  sales, it’s about time.

Unfortunately, though, if you read the list, all of the qualifications and exceptions at the bottom of the list are somewhat disheartening. And if you sell your title exclusively at Amazon or Smashwords, you won’t make the list (at least for the time being) because:

E-books available exclusively from a single vendor will be tracked at a future date.

Also excluded are:

Among the categories not actively tracked at this time are: perennial sellers, required classroom reading, textbooks, reference and test preparation guides, journals, workbooks, calorie counters, shopping guides, comics, crossword puzzles and self-published books.

That means no J. A. Konrath,  no Amanda Hocking,  no–well, no anybody who isn’t with a traditional publisher. No matter how many books they sell. Even if they sell more books than the ones listed on the New York Times list.

But, hey, it’s a start, right? What do you think?