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All about used ebooks, and sex discrimination against women authors on Wikipedia?

April 27, 2013

More about plans to sell used ebooks

A few weeks ago, we covered Amazon’s–and others’–plans to sell used ebooks. But the issues around used e-books are deeper and more complicated than they might appear at first glance. When we published a summary of the original article, some of the feedback we receive involved readers’ difficult in wrapping their head around the concept of used ebooks. It’s a difficulty that’s echoed by the author of a recent story in The Guardian (UK). The story goes beyond the writer’s struggle with the concept of used e-books to discuss the issues of changes around e-books and what amounts to piracy, that is, making a copy, then selling the original as a “used” e-book. It’s a complex and evolving set of issues.

What this means to you: With the digital revolution, a book has stopped becoming a physical thing and has become a virtual thing. To imagine a digital ebook, imagine that you had a magical duplication machine that could make another brand new copy of a physical book without requiring any materials. What’s more, you could theoretically change the book before you made another physical copy and then sell the copy and keep the original. That’s the quandary the article points out–and it’s unique to books. Sure, you could download an MP3 or a movie and duplicate it, and that would take value away from the rights holder. But the vast majority of people don’t have the means to modify a movie or song. But it’s not that hard to modify a book before you resell it. And once you change the book, it becomes something other than what the author and publisher originally sold. At some point, it becomes something different than what the rights holders own.

It’s also not like software in the sense that this year’s version of Microsoft Word will pale next to what Word’s like in five or ten years. The Great Gatsby is always going to be The Great Gatsby. There’s no Great Gatsby 2013 that comes with a slew of new features. I could probably buy a used copy of Word 2003, but who would want to? A used copy of software becomes devalued over time because of changes to the software. Books don’t work that way.

The question about when that happens is one of a myriad of other issues that have to be resolved.

Then again…

Based on current filings, you won’t be able to sell used ebooks in Germany and maybe not in the US, either. Just after a US court rejected ReDigi’s plans to resell used ebooks, a German court said purchasers can’t resell their ebooks. The German court rules that–wait for it–ebooks are different than software, which can be resold. The same court that struck down the ability to resell ebooks had previously struck down licensing provisions that prevented the resale of computer games. An appeal of the German decision is expected.

What this means to you: One aspect of this issue that hasn’t been widely discussed is the difference among different jurisdictions’ eventual laws governing used ebooks. Germany may uphold its decision to ban them altogether. China, which has notoriously lax intellectual property laws, may allow unlimited resale of used ebooks. What that means to industrious downloaders in, say, the United States, remains to be seen. As this plays out, writers and publishers may lose a decent amount of revenue. Although not every pirated copy of electronic content would have been bought if the users had to pay, but some of it would have been.

Women authors short-changed by Wikipedia?

If you look hard enough, there’s an undercurrent out that that says women don’t get equal treatment in many aspects of the publishing industry. There’s the whole issue about how and when book reviews are done in The New York Times Book Review, which we’ll cover in an upcoming post. And now Wikipedia may be chipping in. It seems that if you check its American Novelists page, you won’t find anyone who can stereptypically own a closet full of shoes or get angry at her husband for not wanting to buy a map when they’re lost. All the women are listed in American Women Novelists page. One snarky response seems to seek vengeance on novelists who can write their name in the snow by changing the name of the American Novelists page to reference their, uhhh, pencil.

What this means to you: In real terms, there probably aren’t huge numbers of sales lost because people go to the American Novelists page and don’t see women novelists. I suspect most people, when they try to decide what to read, make their way to the American Novelists page. But, as the upcoming post on the New York Times re-enforces, the charges of a double standard can’t be dismissed out of hand.

Note: After reading the comment below, I changed the header from shafted to short-changed. Having seen that response and thought the writer’s objection to my word choice in the header was reasonable, I changed it. I stand by the rest of the article.

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4 Comments
  1. Lauren permalink
    April 27, 2013 10:05 am

    “shafted?” Really?

    “you won’t find anyone who can stereptypically own a closet full of shoes or get angry at her husband for not wanting to buy a map when they’re lost.” Really?

    Ha ha ha, discrimination is just so hilarious, isn’t it?

    Women ARE being treated unfairly in the literary world. Go to the VIDA site and educate yourself. http://www.vidaweb.org/vida-count-2012-mic-check-redux

    You’re not even reporting the Wikipedia issue correctly or in a way that can be understood by people who are not familiar with it. And this: “In real terms, there probably aren’t huge numbers of sales lost because people go to the American Novelists page and don’t see women novelists” really shows you have no understanding of why what is happening on Wikipedia with the American Novelist listing offended so many people. I’m not going to try to explain it to you, but I’m going to suggest to you that you’re way out of your depth here.

    You’d be better off referring your readers to the many people who are reporting the Wikipedia problem accurately, with insight. This is one of those instances where the admonition to “write what you know” really fits. Especially since you can’t seem to muster some sensitivity for the topic.

  2. Chris Hamilton permalink
    April 27, 2013 1:00 pm

    I replied, then thought about it, and I want to change my reply. When I wrote the header, it wasn’t my intent to use the word shafted in the way you interpreted it. It is, however, reasonable for you to read it and think I was making light of, basically, sexual assault. That wasn’t my intent, so I changed the header and explained why.

    As for the rest of the article making light of the discrimination, I don’t believe it does. The stereotypes I listed, shoes and maps, apply to each sex. I was even for a reason. And they’re things men and women joke with each other about.

    My original response said I don’t think it’s fair to judge my work on the basis of one portion of one blog post. But maybe that’s irrelevant. Anyway, I changed the word after thinking about it. I’m sorry it offended you. I believe the rest of the article is pointing out something Wikipedia has done. I stand behind both the assertion that it doesn’t affect sales, but that you still can’t dismiss it. And I stand behind the forthcoming article about sexism in the New York Times Book Review, as well.

    I reject the assertion that this point or my content on this blog is sexist or insensitive.

  3. April 28, 2013 12:22 pm

    American novelists don’t include Edith Wharton, Harper Lee, or Louisa May Alcott? Huh?

  4. Chris Hamilton permalink
    April 28, 2013 12:45 pm

    They do now. I ran across this story during my weekly search for Industry news. I didn’t do a thorough search, but a spot check. The overall question, I think, is why there needs to be a separate category.

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