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Saturday, May 28, 2011


Stan Gibilisco

As an author, I have mixed feelings about the Kindle and similar media (Barnes and Noble offers a reader, and I've seen one at Borders). I don't yet own one, but I've thought about it. The cruel irony is the fact that, if I did buy one of these things, I'd end up spending a lot more money on books (I'd probably buy 10 times as many e-books as I do paper books now.) That would mean less money for medical insurance, food, and fuel, which, as we all know, are getting to the point that they consume every available penny we have.

While e-books eliminate the physical medium, I suspect they'll vastly increase the number of copies sold, and my own mentality backs up this notion. I labor under the illusion that most book lovers are a lot like me! So, while publisher (and author) profits per copy are lower with e-books than with traditional paper books, the sheer sales volume may well result in greater profits overall.

Two problems arise here.

First: I write technical books, some of which contain a lot of mathematics and the special symbols that go along with that language. I've received some e-mails from readers who have discovered that some of these symbols don't show up, or else show up wrong, in e-books. I'm not sure why, but I suppose it has something to do with installed fonts and platform compatibility. Sometimes these errors can result in a catastrophic misinterpretation of the content. For example, an uppercase Greek letter omega might come out as an uppercase English W. This glitch could cause "ohms" to be misinterpreted as "watts." I might mean to specify a 40-ohm resistor, while the reader would see it as a 40-watt resistor ... both have legitimate technical meaning, but they say two hugely different things.

Second: Piracy is rampant. You can download free copies of most books that are available in e-format (including some of mine). I'm not sure how much actual financial damage this practice has caused me, personally and professionally, in recent years; one might make an argument that it could actually increase legitimate sales by making a lot more people aware of books' existence than would otherwise be the case. However, the disturbing fact remains: I've heard that about 70 percent of Americans condone book piracy. That means we, as a society, have low regard for the law, and will think nothing of stealing as long as we can get away with it. I don't want to live in a society in which cheating literally constitutes a fundamental institution.

By the way, there's a bill (courtesy of Patrick Leahy) making its way through the labyrinth of Congress right now, that would give the government the power to shut down Web sites that facilitate copyright infringement. This is one case where I absolutely side with "Big Brother."

Billl Fleming

I have the Kindle app on my iPad along with the iBook app that comes with. I used the latter profusely to let the machine teach me how to use it (which was a curious, but ultimately gratifying experience.) But it's taken me a long time to warm up to reading for entertainment on the thing. I decided to tough it out and start James Gleick's new book 'The Information' on the Kindle, thinking there was perhaps a certain poetic resonance between form and content there. But about a third of the way through the book, I was really missing the physical pages and the idea of not having to keep checking how much battery power I still had left. Long story short, I now have purchased both a Hardcover and a Kindle version of the book. Just guessing that Stan G.might be happy to hear that. he might actually sell twice as many books to techno-ambivalent guys like me. At least for a while, as we move through this transition period.


As graphic designer BF will note, Stan's problem with consistent fonts and graphics for those formulas is a big deal. Stan needs that design consistency for accuracy. Bill at least wants if not needs that design consistency for artistic sensibility and professional raison d'être.

I love my books. I love the busy visual presence of books on my shelves. I love being physically surrounded by those physical repositories of knowledge and running my fingers across their pages. But if a fire hits, my colletion is toast. make them all e-books, and I can race out of the burning house with my e-reader (after getting my child and my wife) with my precious library intact. Getting rid of that big bookshelf would also make room for a big TV. Oh, the endless tradeoffs! (I'm not sure that last one would be good for my brain.)

Bill, get your filmmaking friends together. Let's remake the Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith, "Time Enough at Last." We'll cast Bill as the bank teller. Bomb goes off, Bill's left alone with a warehosue of canned good's and all the time in the world to read his e-books... which have all been wiped out by the electromagnetic pulse. "That's not fair at all...."

Ken Blanchard

There are problems to be solved with any new technology, and piracy is certainly a problem now that content has been largely decoupled from the various media. Almost as vexing is how to make money selling content legally.

For whatever reason, I find it very easy to read for pleasure on my Kindle. Unlike the iPad, battery power is almost a non-issue. The Kindle works on a charge for over a week.

As for Stan's concerns, I am guessing that technical works will simply require a larger screen. Perhaps the iPad or some enlarged version of it will do. Face it guys, the traditional book is going the way of vinyl records.


I love the Kindle, not only because it makes reading news and classics so easy and accessible, but also because it has helped my son learn to read.

On piracy: The e-book trend probably does make literary piracy easier. But I agree with the argument that it's also easier for readers to obtain your books legally if they're available in the Kindle store.

Because legally obtaining books from a Kindle takes about three seconds and Kindle books are generally very reasonably priced, there's little incentive for readers to waste time hunting about for a pirated copy, and then having to spend more time connecting the Kindle to a PC to transfer the file. And if the books are protected by Amazon's DRM, readers would have to take the time to figure out how to strip or bypass such protection, so the whole thing becomes quite a hassle. Maybe it's worth the hassle to some people, but I think that time is probably worth the $9.00 Amazon generally charges for Kindle books.

E-books and e-book piracy have been around for quite awhile. I think it's possible that the development of the Kindle may actually decrease piracy, because it makes legal book buying so fun and appealing.


Hey, I almost let that closing free-market blip slide! What's up with that, Ken? e-books wouldn't go anywhere if it weren't for the Internet, courtesy of eggheads and Uncle Sam. Your e-reading pleasure owes as much to the public sector as the private sector.


Cory: That's not necessarily true! Well before the internet became popular, BBS nerds like me were sharing files ranging from ASCII art to games. BBSes were not created by the public sector, but by individuals. Much in the way of entertainment and leisure that is now available on the internet was borrowed from the BBSes. So, while it is true that the internet has made it easier for users to share and shop for e-books, I'm not entirely convinced that e-books wouldn't have gone anywhere without it. Nor am I convinced that something like the internet wouldn't have been developed by the private sector.


While arpnet and bbses were around for a LONG time, the popularity of the internet HAS been driven by innovation in the private sector. I've been "online" for nearly 30 years, but it was a pretty "nerdy" place to be for a long time - lol

I've still got a rather large home library, and like BF I often have both hard copy AND e-book, but I'm slowing adapting to the "Nook as my Book". =|;0)

Ken Blanchard

Cory: Sorry, Al Gore doesn't get credit for the Kindle. Government did have a hand in creating the internet and it's fair to say so. However, local nets were being built everywhere at the same time. The library I worked at had a functioning email program in the early eighties, created by the nerds I worked for.

Pretty much everything of value on the web, along with personal computer, the iPod, and all the eReaders and tablets, is a product created by private enterprise. The market is the horn of plenty. I doubt you would be prepared to disagree, even if you don't want to hear it.

I am no anarchist. I believe in government and I am not shy about saying that it is both good and necessary. One of its imperatives must be to protect the free market. That was my point.

Stan Gibilisco

Miranda says, "I think it's possible that the development of the Kindle may actually decrease piracy, because it makes legal book buying so fun and appealing."

Well, Miranda ... Amazon, publishers, and I hope that the Kindle will increase our overall net profits! From that point of view, we can live with an increase in digital piracy.

I suspect that piracy will increase as e-book readers become more available. But from the standpoint of the pure, agnostic capitalist, if legitimate book sales revenues increase too, I can shrug and say, "So what?"

The fact that people seem to be dishonest in the main grates on my sense of self-righteousness, but I can hear the little birds chirping right now, a la Jimmy Carter: "Sometimes life just isn't fair"; and then adding "And if you win, what do you care?" H'm.

One idea that I've been floating with my publisher goes like this: Provide some free supplemental content on the Web (such as explanations to the answers to chapter-ending textbook quizzes, or video mini-lectures), which people would find helpful +if and only if+ they also have a copy of the book. If such measures increased piracy by 300 percent and legitimate book sales by only 100 percent, I'd still come out ahead!

And some people who could never otherwise afford to buy my books would get them and benefit from them. I have some evidence of a growing Third World audience, which would probably not exist without the Internet.

All this stuff makes me wish that my old carcass would travel better. The Text and Academic Authors Association annual conference comes up June 24-25 in Aluquerque, New Mexico. Doubtless this issue will arise among the attendees -- with strategies to ride the wave however it breaks.


Stan: Are you sure they were birds and not killer bunnies?

I like the idea of the supplements! The idea reminds me a little bit of the "feelies" Infocom used to help prevent its early games from being pirated. They were physical objects (like sets of fingerprints and crime scene photos) that users had to have to solve mysteries in the game.


About piracy. I read a fairly decent number of books in a year. I often go to the library to get them. It is rare that I purchase a brand new book for myself, although sometimes my kids will buy me one for a present. After I read the book, I usually have no problem with lending or giving the book to another person. That person, as well as the books I get from the library, is not benefiting the author. Stan, I understand how what you write might be of a type that one would need the book for later reference, so most of what you write if copied is indeed stealing from you. However, my practices are all legal and I am wondering how that is different from piracy. Isn't the net effect is the same? Just some food for thought.

Stan Gibilisco

Dugger, that's a good question. My answer would be fourfold.

(1) Library lending is legal. Piracy is not.

(2) When a library loans a book, or a book owner lends a copy to someone else, it remains a single copy.

(3) Pirated books are entirely unpaid-for.

(4) A book can be pirated by the hundreds, thousands, or millions, with zero net proceeds to the creators. A library book has, at least, been paid for once.

One might argue that libraries didn't kill off publishers and authors, so piracy probably won't either. We authors are nothing if not adept at survival, for we operate against headwinds so fierce that it seems, at times, as if we must cut against the very grain of society.

I think there are ways around the problem, some of which I have already mentioned in this thread.

For a publisher's take, see ...


The cruel irony is the fact that laws can't stop this problem. The friendly counter-irony is that grey-hat hackers, willing to relocate offshore and operate under the radar, probably can!

Ken Blanchard

Stan has diverted my birthday joy into a serious discussion of intellectual piracy. Well done! The only real cure for such piracy has always been to make it easier (cheaper in time and energy) to buy rather than steal the content. As I said, providers of content once were really sellers of the media: vinyl records, books, magazines and newspapers. Copying was always an option, but it was generally more expensive in the relevant sense than making a purchase. That is why the copy machine and cassette tapes didn't threaten books and records.

The computer age has changed that and the consequences have been profound and difficult across the board. I don't know how to solve it unless we can continue to make purchasing a cheaper option. Stan has some suggestions. I think it is absurd that it costs almost as much to download TRUE GRIT to my Kindle as to buy the paperback from Amazon.

I confess that for a period I succumbed to the file sharing temptation to get more music. I decided that was wrong, and went cold turkey. I have more than a thousand jazz albums, not one of which was obtained that way. I doubt that moral considerations of the kind that moved me will solve the problem.

Stan Gibilisco

In the end, savvy marketing will provide the solution to the piracy conundrum.

I'd like nothing better than to have the publisher sell 1,000,000 digital copies of a book at one cent royalty per copy to me, as opposed to selling 10,000 digital and/or paper copies at one dollar royalty per copy to me.

Not only would I do just as well financially, but I'd do better in terms of "fame" (or "infamy"). And 100 times as many people would benefit from my work.

If I might suggest something, readers can go to my Web site (click on my name in this comment box) and then click on "Quiz Answers Explained." Now, you aren't going to get much out of this content unless you buy (or pirate) a copy of my book! Eventually, I'd like to include content of this sort for more books, in hopes of getting a sort of "snowball effect."

And, as the Internet grows more "powerful" (in terms of bandwidth and data transfer rates), online video mini-lectures will become easier and easier to provide -- free of charge, just like search engines, just like Web browsers.

You are right, Ken, moral arguments or pressure won't stop this problem. And, while the idea of getting a bunch of Bay Area cyber-punk kids to move with me to St. Vincent and start infecting cyber-locker sites with viruses and pounding them with denial-of-service attacks sounds quite sexy, I have to confess that part of the Low-T syndrome involves a reduced enthusiasm for wild, quasi-legal, spiritually unnerving and exhausting ventures, even if they'd make great movie fodder.

No, just the facts, plain and simple, on a light gray background, with all the formulas correct -- that will have to do.

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