Saturday, January 30, 2010

It's a Brave New World...

...out there.

Especially for those of us in the biz of writing.

Writers and story-tellers are riding a wave right now. I've talked about this before. Things are changing, fast enough to make heads spin and hearts sink.

I've gone on record before as saying I believe people will never stop reading stories. Reading is too much a part of our humanity. Our collective conscience, maybe.

And I really believe the first generation hardware we are seeing right now to take readers into the electronic age -- the Kindles and iPads and other e-readers -- are just the very, very start of something. These are the Edsels of the electronic book.

Personally, I still like the paper variety best, and I keep buying 'em while I have the chance.

But the fear of how this will all play out is a HUGE factor in the minds of many content providers. Publishers need only glance over at the riotous change that has been [and continues to] taking place in the music industry to see that the ride for writers and writing and newspapers and books and the Internet...well, it's going to get interesting, in the Chinese curse sense of the word.

As I attempt to feel my own way through this process, one of the things that has most worried me is a little item called DRM. This stands for Digital Rights Management, and it refers to the ability of the producer of material that has been digitized, to manage the conditions under which the copyrighted material can be accessed.

DRM purports to protect the copyright holders, but it often gets in the way of the end-users enjoyment of the material. For example, DRM may account for the problems you could have had running music you downloaded -- legitimately paid for or otherwise -- on your computer or MP3 player.

And in the field of e-readers, DRM has proven to be quite an interesting subject for discussion. The situation with George Orwell's 1984 meets the Amazon Kindle brought some interesting facts to light. It's a long story, but in a nutshell, when Amazon discovered that the copyright on the particular issue of 1984 that they had sold through a third-party to Kindle readers may have been in question, overnight one night Amazon not only withdrew the rights of the readers who had already bought the software version of the book to read it; they literally pulled the files themselves off the devices they had been downloaded into. You can read more about this story HERE.

This situation left me feeling justified in my mistrust of DRM, as did further reading on the subject from sources I trust, such as Cory Doctorow [here's the transcript of an anti-DRM speech Cory made to Microsoft way back in 2004.] and Defective By Design. As a writer, I am a front-line producer of content. I want to hold my own copyright. I want to be able to make a living from my work as a writer. But I don't think the current shape of DRM is the right way to do things.

As an author, I already have to jump through many large, varied, and often flaming hoops to have my work published and distributed. I have established relationships with my publishers that rely on trust and mutual respect to ensure that my books are the best they can be, and they are distributed to the best of everyone's ability.

The power of some other external agency to give and take away MY writing from readers who want it leaves me worried.

In the past couple of days, another incident has left the book world reeling. This one is much closer to home, affecting the livlihoods of many writers I know and love. In a dispute with Macmillan publishing over the cost of ebooks, Amazon has pulled all books that are published under the Macmillan umbrella from their on-line stores.

Here is the NYTimes take on the story.
Here is American author John Scalzi's take [from his blog], since updated with a few other thoughts.
Here are Canadian author Robert Sawyer's thoughts.
And here is Macmillan CEO John Sargent's message to the authors of the various imprints that came out in Publisher's Lunch this weekend.

We do live in interesting times.

Feel free to throw in your own two cents [and change] into the comments.


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