Friday, February 24, 2012

Digital Lack of Control

by L.J. Sellers, author or provocative mysteries & thrillers
The greatest thing about ebooks is the ease of selling and sharing them. It can also be the worst thing too, because it leaves authors with little control of their content. With print books, no one can sell your novel unless you supply them with products. With ebooks, once a distributor or retailer has your file, they can keep selling it forever—with or without your permission.

Why reputable businesses would do this makes no sense, and yet, they do. Take Sony for example. First, the retailer kept discounting my books again and again, causing Amazon to discount my books and me to lose money. My distributor would contact them, and they’d stop for while. Then out of nowhere, Sony would put my books on sale.

Then Amazon Select came along, and I decided I was done dealing with Sony permanently. So INgrooves, my distributor, had my books removed from their ebook store. A few days later, three of my Jackson titles popped up in the Sony store. They were old versions from my previous publisher, supplied by a different distributor. I contacted both my ex-publisher and the other distributor, and they quickly took care of the issue.

For a while, I had no books on Sony’s site, and everything seemed fine. Then suddenly, they were back, selling on Sony again. I know this because Amazon called to let me know I was not in compliance with my Select program agreement. They were very nice about it in person. But two days later, I started getting emails about each of the titles that was still selling elsewhere, with a 30-day notice to get in compliance or have the book removed from Amazon’s program.

Of course, I had already contacted my distributor and asked them to communicate with Sony, using a lawyer, if necessary. INgrooves sent an email to Sony and within two days, the books were down again.

But why did they start selling them again in the first place? What happened to the royalties during that time, since I no longer have an agreement with them? And will it happen again? Is Sony purposefully violating my rights to make a few extra bucks off my inexpensive e-books? Or is it an error? Does it have a computer program that keeps picking up files that should have been deleted?

Sony is not the only guilty one. I’ve heard authors complain about Kobo doing this as well. And several authors who were published with Dorchester have complained that the publisher made and sold e-books of their work—after the company gave the rights back to the author. The Amazon person who called me said many authors are experiencing similar scenarios.

This is such inexplicable behavior all around. Just because it's an electronic file doesn't mean anyone can sell it for profit. Authors are calling for a boycott of Dorchester, and it’s tempting to ask readers to boycott Sony as well. And Kobo too, if they’re guilty of this form of theft—also known as pirating.

Authors: Have you experienced this?
Readers: Have you joined any boycotts?


  1. Makes you wonder what's going on. Is it incompetence, or intentional?

    Morgan Mandel

  2. Boycott ? Yes, but not against Sony or Kobo ... against Amazon, who doesn't play fair with readers regarding DRMs/interoperability and with authors with the Select exclusivity clause (which BTW IS the source of some of your problems LJ.)

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  4. Oh, and let me amend the previous post : while I boycott Amazon, it doesn't mean I condone anyone selling something they don't have right to, Sony in your case...

  5. I'm not a Pollyanna, but I do chose to believe the best until that's no longer possible. I want to believe that the Sony issue is a result of neither incompetence or intention. That instead it's as much of a learning curve for them as it is focus. Should they have had a smooth, error-free system before their launch? Sure. But in today's world, we see everything from phones to books to medications released as quicky as possible.

    DRMs? Isn't that the authors choice?

  6. Peg, the Sony reader and its digital content were selling long before the Kindle. They've had plenty of time to get their system working properly. I still believe it's probably a glitch rather than outright piracy.

    On the other hand, Dorchester's actions, combined with their failure to pay authors, seems like purposeful theft.

    And yes, for Kindle Direct authors, DRM is a choice, and my books don't have it.

    SFREader: Being exclusive to Amazon is not what's causing my problems at Sony. I had already taken my books down from their site because of the discounting issue. They put them back up twice. There's no way to blame that on Amazon.

  7. LJ. I hadn't fully understood the "temporal" facts. In that case, You're right, it's fully Sony's fault or the or the publishers, who should make sure all channels are aware that the book should not be sold anymore.

    As for your ebooks having no DRM, I knew it of course. Thank you (and all the other "non-DRM" authors) BTW :)

  8. Peg, I suppose you'r asking ME the question about DRMs.

    Yes, it's definitely the authors choice.

    However, in some "Kindle Stores" -- namely France (where I live) , Spain and Italy -- there is NO visible indication for presence/absence of DRMs on ebooks. (No "Unlimited" like text)

    This prevents DRM-aware readers (such as me) to use indicate our preference for un-DRMed books through "preferencial buying."

    It also prevents us from discussing with specifics with "unaware" readers.

    It also prevents us to show there are ways to convert files to other formats (since we don't know if the conversion is possible) ...

    It also almost devalues the non-drm author's "courageous" choice to do without.

    I know it has at worst marginal impact for english authors, but for us non-english readers it's a real pity.

    Hence my personal choice of doing without Amazon...

  9. Interesting discussion! And a bit worrisome! But for those of us who haven't had to deal with all this (yet), what's DRM? If I knew, I've forgotten. Refresh my mind, please. Thanks!

  10. Hi Jodie,
    please excuse my putting a link to my own blog giving a short summary regarding DRMs :

    L.J. If you prefer, I could put a copy of the entire post here, but as it is, I fear I have already taken the conversation far from your own topic.

  11. SFReader, not to worry. I'm enjoying the whole discussion. I'm also trying to give some of these companies the benefit of the doubt, but a lot of authors are experiencing these unauthorized sales, and not only are they losing money, it's time consuming to deal with the issue every time it comes up. I hope I've seen the last of it for myself.

  12. I also admit that, while I'm quite partial to Smashwords, they have problems regarding "control" of their channel's distribution : I often hear from authors having troubles to have data (modified at Smashwords) updated at the finale resellers, Sony, Kobo, Apple etc.

    For example, authors going "Select" and "removing" their books from Smashwords, have to contact the resellers on their own to have the book removed. Same goes for price changes, metadata updates ...

  13. You've actually made me feel a little better, in that IF my books show up again on Sony/Kobo/etc after I've pulled them for the Select Program, Amazon will tell me. I was afraid they'd just pull my books and ban me for life!

  14. I guess everything has its downside, but the positives still outweigh the negatives. I'm guessing these sorts of kinks will be short-lived as companies get better at this. Or, at least, I hope.


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