Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Publishers, e-books, and why the Baen Free Library Exists (UPDATED).

with 6 comments

The e-book is here to stay.  So the question now is, how should publishers deal with e-books?  More importantly, how much in royalties should be paid to authors?

My friend Jason Cordova wrote a very interesting blog tonight about publishers and e-books and these questions exactly, available here:

What set Cordova off was an article by Michael Bhaskar at BookBrunch (written on 7/29/2010).  There is a long-standing fight going on with regards to e-books, and its Kindle device, and MacMillan, which may be why Michael Bhaskar wrote his article; at any rate, that article is available here:

The Bhaskar article attempts to frame the narrative in such a way as to make authors look greedy for wishing to have more than 25% of net royalties.  Yet this is only one part of the entire narrative, as Cordova ably points out in his blog.

Random House, according to Bhaskar, believes 25% of net receipts is fair.  Whereas to many authors, including Cordova, that simply isn’t enough considering the lesser overhead of an e-book compared to a “dead tree” version.

The second question has to do with the fight between Digital Rights Media (DRM) and open source coding being used in order to sell e-books.  Cordova’s points need to be read in their entirety, but the upshot is that many publishers put out e-books in a way that is intended to keep people who haven’t paid for an e-book to read an e-book.   I know that sounds clunky, but the idea behind it is clunkier still — DRM, or to use a less fancy term, encoding or encryption, is to blame for any real long-term costs to the publisher, because it’s the cost of keeping a book encrypted and making sure no one has cracked the encryption that tends to cause long-term problems for publishers.

Yet several publishers, including Baen, Tor, Pyr, Twilight Times Books, Paladin Press and the new MuseItUp Publishing, have not chosen the way of DRM.   These companies believe it is far more important to be friendly to the customer and make it as easy and as rewarding as possible for the customer than to encrypt their books using DRM.

Baen in particular has made it as easy as possible to buy e-books through something they call WebScriptions — they come in as many formats as need be, using non-encrypted materials.  This has been a big marketing draw for Baen.

Better still, there’s something called the Baen Free Library, where many of Baen’s authors have chosen to allow one or more of his/her books to be put up so anyone, anywhere, can read it free of charge.  This has not hurt Baen’s business model; it’s actually helped instead.  Because most people want a dead-tree version of their favorite book; it’s still the easiest way to read a book, and will almost certainly continue to be so until and unless the Kindle, Nook and other electronic book devices become more user friendly.  (I know there’s been progress in this regard.  But I can still read a regular book far faster than an e-book, partly because it takes me less time to flip an actual page than it does to hit a mouse key or toggle downward.)

Not every publisher can put out their e-books in multiple formats; it’s almost certainly time-consuming to set up such a system, and I know Baen requires at least one full-time Webmaster to keep things running along smoothly.  But there must be some “wiggle room” between a publisher that puts out everything using DRM and those who don’t; customers like it when a company like Baen or MuseItUp Publishing offers several different, easy ways to buy an e-book, which tends to drive customer loyalty and satisfaction over time.

I wish I were more of a computer “geek,” because the esoteric points being made by those who swear by DRM (many of the publishers, including MacMillan and Random House to the best of my knowledge) tend to get lost in the aether.  That’s one reason I can’t explain them in more than general terms, though many of my friends are computer specialists and do completely understand all sides of this taxing and frustrating issue.

I do know that I very much appreciate what Baen Books is doing with its Webscriptions and the Baen Free Library, and that I’m very pleased to update this post by adding Tor, Pyr, Twilight Times Books, Paladin Press and MuseItUp Publishing to the list of smart publishers that want to please their customers and their writers.  Because it’s a simple equation for readers: if a publisher puts out books that are high quality and well-edited — Heck, puts some of them out for free! — that aren’t encrypted, this leads to higher sales, better royalty payments overall, and far higher customer and writer satisfaction.

That, my friends, is a win-win.  Which is why it puzzles me so much that the other heavy hitters in the industry haven’t followed the Baen model — which works — rather than continue to swim stubbornly upstream.


** Note: Jason Cordova’s comment about other publishers that do not use DRM have been incorporated into this blog post.   In addition, I heard from Lea Schizas, the publisher of MuseItUp Publishing, and she assured me that MuseItUp plans to offer several user-friendly options with regards to e-books, and that absolutely, positively, MuseItUp will not be using DRM.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 4, 2010 at 8:07 am

6 Responses

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  1. Mind, it was very hard for me to write Jason’s last name up there again and again when referring to him. I’d rather use his first name, but if I’m using journalistic rules — which, in general, I am — it’s last name or you’re basically being disrespectful.

    So please, forgive me, Jason, for sounding distant in using your last name in trying to explicate your ideas, which you did _so_ much better than I on your own blog this evening! 😉 (I hope you get many more people to read your blog.)

    Barb Caffrey

    August 4, 2010 at 8:32 am

    • Actually, Barb, Twilight Times Books, Paladin Press, Tor, Pyr and a few others also do not use DRM to encrypt their e-books. These are, however, newer publishing houses and are capable of thinking ahead.

      Baen is the best example, but not the only one by far.

      And no worries about how you say my name. I’m prior military, so being called by my last name is pretty standard. Plus, in a room full of people, I can almost guarantee I’m the only Cordova around…


      August 4, 2010 at 11:24 pm

      • Good! I shall amend my blog — I didn’t think Tor did either, but I don’t know as much about what they do with regards to e-books. The others I had suspected did not use DRM either but as I said, I didn’t know for sure. I do know Baen was among the first if not the very first publishing house to say “NO!” to DRM.

        Barb Caffrey

        August 5, 2010 at 4:03 am

  2. As for the name thing — I know it shouldn’t bother you and probably not me, either. But it feels wrong. Don’t ask me why, but I guess I like to call my friends by their first names unless they go by something else. 😉

    Barb Caffrey

    August 5, 2010 at 4:05 am

    • Well, my friends in Colorado have always called me “Cordova”. They like to look at the white guy and make fun of his Spanish/Asian/German heritage. 😉


      August 6, 2010 at 4:25 am

      • All I can do is laugh, thinking about that, Jason. My own heritage is mixed also — Finnish, German and Irish predominantly, though there are other things in there as well. (Plus, one of my best friends is often mistaken for various ethnicities — she’s Japanese-American but people have mistaken her for Hispanic and Native American in the past and probably will again. It amuses her.)

        Barb Caffrey

        August 7, 2010 at 2:07 am

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