EU Ebooks soon to cost more

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAFor readers in the EU and, particularly, the  UK: The price of e-books will be going up in 2015. The culprit? VAT taxes. Starting in January, 2015, there is a huge change in the way VAT will be calculated in European countries.

According to writer Chris Lynch:

Following a European Commission ruling dating back to 2008, e-books are to be taxed in the European member state in which the consumer is located, at the tax rate of that country, as opposed to the country from which the product is sold. The move prevents Amazon, Nook and Kobo from applying the low 3% tax on e-books sold to European countries, just because their headquarters are in Luxembourg. Instead, the e-book retailers will have to apply the standard UK VAT rate (20% at the time of writing) to e-books sold into the UK.

The big problem behind this for publishers, writers and consumers alike is the fact that print books have a 0% VAT rate. E-books, however, are taxed. While the tax will undoubtedly be helpful for the governments like that of the UK which will benefit from the added tax income, the new costs will affect consumers in the form of higher prices.

Before the prices go up,may I suggest e-books for Christmas? 🙂

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J.K. Rowling and the incredibly expensive unreadable ebook

Well, I have to ask: Is this the future of ebooks?

Today, probably the biggest book of the fall season, J.K. Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy, was released today. Folks have already been outraged by the unbelievable price of $17.99. (Remember, that is the price simply for the privilege of a license to download and read it –  you don’t actually own it or anything.)

And it that wasn’t hard enough to swallow, that ebook you paid all that money to pre-order was basically unreadable. You can see pictures of the formatting at PaidContent.

The price and formatting issues, as well as actual criticism and feedback on Rowling’s first adult novel add a surreal element. The varying points of view on this can be seen in the flurry of reviews on the book’s Amazon page which seem to break down into the following categories:

    1. Reviews based on the book’s price.
    2. Reviews based on the book’s formatting.
    3. Reviews based on the fact that people liked Harry Potter.
    4. Reviews from people who actually claim that they have read the book.

While this was said to be an unusual situation and the problem has supposedly been fixed, those of us who have been buying ebooks for a while now have a somewhat more cynical opinion. The truth is, typos, scanning artifacts and formatting issues are all too common in ebooks that publishers want to charge top dollar for. If major publishers can’t get it right on a release this big, I truly fear for the future of traditional publishing.

Judge approves price fixing settlement

I almost missed this one in my effort to follow all the new e-reader news today: Judge Cote approved the DOJ settlement with three of the so-called “big six” publishers.  Under the terms of the settlement, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Hachette will no longer be using agency pricing.

You have to admire a judge who quotee Emily Dickenson in her ruling and reflects a certain amount of cynicism as well:

In another section of the decision, Judge Cote acknowledges that the vast majority of public comments in response to the settlement were negative. She adds, however, that some comments were “extreme” and sought to blame “every evil to befall publishing on Amazon’s $9.99 price for newly released and bestselling e-books, and crediting every positive event — including entry of new competitors in the market for e-readers — on the advent of agency pricing.”

Consumers who don’t like agency pricing (like myself) will see this as a decided victory. The  lawsuit against Apple and two other publishers, however,  has yet to go to trial.

Now, let’s see it the price comes down on Stephen King’s On Writing. Then, if only we can get them the government to work on the library lending issue, I’ll be a happy camper….

Penguin says users can’t sue

Paid Content is announcing that Kindle and NOOK users must accept arbitration instead of suing them in the pending class action lawsuits over ebook pricing. Penguin is using the rationale that users agreed to this in Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s terms of service for the ereader devices.
 
I am not a lawyer, but I don’t think the argument holds water. When the publishers put the agency model into effect, Amazon became their agent, not the other way around. Amazon even collected sales tax based on the publisher. It doesn’t make sense that the publisher can’t turn around and hide behind Amazon on this one.

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.