Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Cory Doctorow

Did You Know You Probably Don’t Own Your E-books?


DRM and Ebooks

Image Courtesy of Olivier Bourgeois ~ http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/ornicar69-54520

I’ve written about a corporate “device” or “digital method” called Digital Rights Management (DRM) before—here are 5 past posts that talk about it

When I say you “probably” don’t own your e-books, I mean, if you’ve bought them all from Amazon and certain other retailers, you don’t own them, because they have DRM woven into their soft warm bodies

A couple of those past posts about DRM also talk about Cory Doctorow—two of them have videos of Cory

On his blog BoingBoing, Cory recently had the article, What’s Wrong with the Copyright Office’s DRM Study?

And, for those of you in countries other than the USA, do stay tuned in; because, in our world of corporate takeover and general shenanigans, what’s in one country can easily invade others

Before I share a few excerpts from Cory’s article, here’s a very brief definition of DRM:

“Digital rights management (DRM) schemes are various access control technologies that are used to restrict usage of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works.”

Also, be aware that Copyright does have its Problems

O.K., now, excerpts from Cory’s article:

“The Copyright Office…fails to even show that DRM does anything useful in the world, but still advises against allowing people to buy or share tools to let them bypass DRM in order to do the kinds of things the Copyright Office endorses, from repairs to security research.”

Here’s the “main point” of the article:

This month’s US Copyright Office study on Section 1201 of the DMCA identified many problems with America’s DRM laws, which ban bypassing DRM even when no copyright infringement takes place.

If you read that last linked article, you’re in for some very shocking truths

So, here’s Cory’s major conclusion:

“…the report’s recommendations fall far short of the minimum standard that the Copyright Office should aspire to, namely: allowing Americans to use their property in lawful ways, even if some corporation wishes they wouldn’t, because it hopes to sell them expensive parts, service, apps, or other add-ons.”

So, all that is potentially hard to interpret; and, corporations want to keep it that way………

However, an excerpt from one of those 5 past posts of mine might clear things up, just a bit…

“When Amazon sells you an an eBook for the Kindle they have the right to remove it at any time. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is referenced and Amazon can take your books away if it finds you’ve been ‘naughty’.”

While most folks still trust the major retailers to not suddenly snatch all their e-books (since, technically, they are not owned but just “licensed” for use), if you’d like to explore the DRM-Free life, check this out…
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Sunday, September 27th, Begins #BannedBooksWeek 2015 !


It’s true we live in confusing times—torn by radically opposing ideas—drenched with rank materialism; Banned Books Weekall making Banned Books Week a fascinating U.S. “celebration”.

You can explore how a high school overrode their own rules to ban a book for a handful of parents

Or, how a book about medical ethics and history is called “pornographic”

Do we still need a Banned Books Week?

A few excerpts from the official site:

“There was obviously a good reason for starting it in 1982. Efforts to remove controversial books from schools and libraries skyrocketed following the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980…”

“In the mid-1990s, there were almost 800 book challenges per year.”

And, when considering that a certain observer says “…book challenges [are] isolated and rare’. They are a mere ’rounding error in our free speech accounting’…”, the site says:

“…statistics do not give a full picture of what is going on. The reality is that censorship is still a problem in this country, and most of the victims are kids. Sometimes books are literally taken out of their hands. In Tucson a couple of years ago, school officials entered a classroom and collected books that they then tossed in boxes marked ‘banned’.

“In 2014–2015, there were efforts to censor Young Adult books by Sherman Alexie, Stephen Chbosky, Chris Crutcher, Emily M. Danforth, Barthe DeClements, Cory Doctorow, John Green, Ellen Hopkins, David Levithan, Stephanie Meyer, Jodi Picoult, Marjane Satrapi, and Raina Telgemeier.”

Read more reasons to celebrate Banned Books Week

Also, check out the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Books

And, here’s a video of the Executive Director of the American Library Association reading a banned book:


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What About All The Authors Whose Books Don’t Sell Very Many Copies?


An extremely small percentage of writers sell more than 500 copies of a book

One source I checked said this:

in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies.

“The average book in America sells about 500 copies” (Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006). And average sales have since fallen much more. According to BookScan, which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books, only 299 million books were sold in 2008 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined. The average U.S. book is now [2011] selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.”

There are other sources of statistics and adding e-books would give yet different numbers but, to generalize the available data, most books don’t sell very many copies.

Yet, writers can find tons of posts and articles and web sites that are based on the mistaken conception that Any book can sell like hotcakes if the author will do X, Y, Z, and, if possible, D, U, and P

Cory Doctorow’s blog Boing Boing has an article called Survivorship bias and electronic publishing: practically no one is making any money.

Cory’s post is very short and is really a long, fancy link to a post by Tobias S. Buckell; but, I wanted to give Cory’s blog a shout-out :-)

So, Tobias Buckell:

“Born in the Caribbean, Tobias S. Buckell is a New York Times Bestselling author. His novels and over 50 short stories have been translated into 17 languages and he has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author. He currently lives in Ohio.”

And, the title of Mr. Buckell’s post?

Survivorship bias: why 90% of the advice about writing is bullshit right now

The first healthy dose of reality in Mr. Buckell’s post is a quote from Smashwords Book Marketing Guide I’ll give you the link for a free copy right here :-)

So, here’s that quote from Smashwords in Tobias’ article:

“We cannot promise you your book will sell well, even if you follow all the tips in this guide. In fact, most books, both traditionally published and self-published, don’t sell well. Whether your book is intended to inspire, inform or entertain, millions of other books and media forms are competing against you for your prospective reader’s ever-shrinking pie of attention.”

And, Tobias, speaking about Mark Coker, who said “We cannot promise you…”, said, “I’m grateful to him for sharing some raw data, unlike the other venues which highlight, boost, and act as if the superstars’ stories are average.”

A bit later in the article, Tobias, talking about an interview he’d read, says:

in business school there’s this point made that if you interview rich people who have won the lottery, you might come to believe that playing the lottery is the only way to become rich. I thought that was interesting. One of the things I’m constantly trying to point out is that we’re not doing nearly enough to highlight both median and failure modes, because that’s where the real lessons lie. As for myself, I find message boards where new writers struggle to sell more than a few copies interesting, and where I harvest data about the low end.”

Then, Tobias quotes from an article (a very good article) called, Survivorship Bias:

“If failures becomes invisible, then naturally you will pay more attention to successes. Not only do you fail to recognize that what is missing might have held important information, you fail to recognize that there is missing information at all.

“You must remind yourself that when you start to pick apart winners and losers, successes and failures, the living and dead, that by paying attention to one side of that equation you are always neglecting the other.”

Are you catching the drift yet?

Perhaps, no matter what an author does (or, a publishing company), most books will still sell not so many copies?

Tobias also includes a number of interesting charts in the article to drive his points home

If you’re going to be publishing a book (or, have it published for you), I do hope you’ll go read Mr. Buckell’s article.

But, if you “don’t have the time“, here’s how he ends it:

“Making a living off art is hard.

“But that isn’t a sexy sell.

“That isn’t to say you should give up. Fuck that. But I am going to say: get ready to work, don’t expect riches. Focus hard on the art….

“There’s a lot of snake oil sales going on. And a lot of well meaning people who won the lottery telling everyone to go buy lottery tickets while financial advisors shake their head.

“Pretty much the same as its always been

“PS: this survivorship bias also works for writing advice about ‘how to write’ if you think about it

Still, want to publish that book?

Go read Tobias’ article :-)
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Select as many as you like:

Do You Know Why DRM-free E-books Are The Best?


So, do you know what e-books with DRM are?

DRM stands for “digital rights management” and has been touted as a method of protecting the rights of authors

Wikipedia says DRM is “a class of controversial access control technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyrightholders, and individuals with the intent to limit the use of digital content and devices after sale.”

They also say, “DRM is any technology that inhibits uses of digital content that are not desired or intended by the content provider.”

So, is the “content provider” the author or the retailer?

Should Amazon, for instance, insert DRM into the books they sell even if the author-as-content-provider doesn’t want it?

By the way, if you “buy” a book with DRM from Amazon, you’re really “renting” it, since they can revoke your ability to read the book; and, there’s no way you could send it to a friend to read………

Amongst all the good things Amazon is doing for the Book World, this stand out as their Blackest Mark.

Two previous posts here that deal with this issue are:

Distributors of Books Are Oppressing Authors?

Digital Content & Creators’ Rights [with a Very Good video]

Today I want to feature a piece of software and its WebSite that support DRM-free e-books—Calibre.

Here’s some of the “About” from their site:

“Calibre is a free and open source e-book library management application developed by users of e-books for users of e-books. It has a cornucopia of features divided into the following main categories:

  • Library Management – calibre manages your e-book collection for you. It is designed around the concept of the logical book, i.e., a single entry in your library that may correspond to actual e-book files in several formats.
  • E-book conversion – calibre can convert from a huge number of formats to a huge number of formats. It supports all the major e-book formats.
  • Syncing to e-book reader devices – calibre has a modular device driver design that makes adding support for different e-reader devices easy.
  • Downloading news from the web and converting it into e-book form – calibre can automatically fetch news from websites or RSS feeds, format the news into an ebook and upload to a connected device.
  • Comprehensive e-book viewer – calibre has a built-in ebook viewer that can display all the major ebook formats.
  • Content server for online access to your book collection – calibre has a built-in web server that allows you to access your ebook collection using a simple browser from any computer anywhere in the world.”

Calibre also has a service called Open Books, of which they say:

” Calibre introduces Open Books, a site for easy browsing of DRM-free e-books (e-books without DRM) that are not in the public domain. Calibre has a cornucopia of features…but to make the most of these features with your e-books you need to ensure your e-books do not carry DRM.

“Open Books is a compilation of non-DRM e-books from various sources linked to enable readers to browse and download them.

“Open Books invites you to submit links to DRM free e-books that you would like added to the database.”

Also, you can watch Calibre in action :-)

So, what do you think about DRM?

And/or, what do you think about Calibre??
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Distributors of Books Are Oppressing Authors?


I’m confused. Can you help me understand?

I write fiction.

My publishing aid company, FastPencil, produces and distributes my books.

Places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple sell my books.

So, I create them, FastPencil invests its operation in producing my books, and other places sell them.

Also, I hold the copyright

Along comes a Reader

They “buy” my book—the e-book edition.

Do they own it?

No

Well, technically, if they buy it from FastPencil directly they do own it and could, for instance, give it away to someone else.

But, the companies where most folks will find my books are Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple.

I’m still unclear about Barnes & Noble (and, they’re the least powerful of those three) but, if someone buys an e-book edition of my books from Amazon or Apple, they don’t own it—they essentially are only “renting” it.

I began to be confused about all this when a friend on Book Island in Second Life sent me a link to Outlawed by Amazon DRM.

That link will lead you to the story of a woman who had a happy Kindle—full of books—and suddenly had Amazon remove them and never give her a good reason for their action

DRM—Digital Rights Management—is putting some code in an e-book that makes it very hard to share the book—tampering with the code (even if you are the copyright holder) is illegal.

We really have two issues here and we’re also right in the middle of my confusion

Amazon’s ability to wipe-out your book collection has to do with having your Kindle connected to them through Wi-Fi—I never do that

Not being able to share an e-book (by passing someone a file copy of it) has to do with the DRM code the retailer adds to the book’s file.

Now, get this:

I wrote a book.

Someone bought my book.

Even though I hold copyright, if I break the “digital lock” to help the person who bought my book share it with someone else, I’m breaking a law………

Does that make any sense to you?

Does it seem fair that the creator of a book has less legal rights than the retailer of that book?

I must insert an analogy that may seem off-beam but captures my emotional state as I contemplate my rights as an author.

I live in the United States of America.

This country purportedly is “of the people, by the people, and for the people”.

The U. S. A. can now spy on all my on-line activity and phone conversations.

They can, because of something they discover through their spying, arrest me and put me away where no lawyer could help me.

Even if what they discovered about me is perfectly legal………

Sure, the comparison of situations is extreme but, some days, I wonder if the folks who use DRM to control what I supposedly have to right to manage will team up with the folks who are using certain crisis situations to usurp my rights as a citizen of a “free” country.

Want an in-depth explanation of how DRM is overriding copyright?

Watch the video below…

And, if, after watching it, you can help me clear up some of my confusion with this issue, Please make a Comment

If you’re the kind of person who wants to sink your teeth into this issue, check out these links:

An e-book enigma: here one day, gone the next

Electronic copyright laws are bugging readers—and authors

Doctorow’s Law: Who Benefits from DRM?

Any & All Comments Welcomed :-)
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