DBW Weekly Roundup, 6/30/11

DBW Weekly RoundupBy Yvette M. Chin, Editor, Digital Book World

Digital Book World presents a weekly roundup of some of the most interesting news, commentary and tweets related to publishing that you may have missed, from all over the digital book world.

Wondering about Pottermore? Trying to catch up on all the discussions, reactions, and speculation about what J.K. Rowling is up to? Check out our Special Pottermore Edition for a quick rundown of the big issues and themes.

When Does Digital Rights Management Make Sense?

One of issues coming out of the Pottermore discussion is the issue of rights, especially with Rowling’s decision to use digital watermarking rather than DRM on the Harry Potter ebooks. Let’s take a step back and cast a wider look at a hotly contested issue, Teleread reprinted a rather comprehensive breakdown of digital rights management by John Schember, a contributor to the Calibre ebook application. By systematically looking at all the players affected by DRM, Schember asks very concrete questions, such as “When Does DRM Make Sense?” and, importantly, “Who benefits?”:

It makes sense to use DRM when there is no question about ownership. Meaning the user knows full well they do not own the content they’re buying. Two examples of this are libraries and subscription services such as Mog.

In both cases there is no perception of ownership. You know full well that you are paying for limited access. The trade off is, for libraries you are getting the work for free and for subscription services it’s typically low cost unlimited access as long as you are a subscriber….

DRM does not make sense when ownership is not questioned. That is what I’m focusing on. When you buy an ebook it should be no different than buying a physical book. The same privileges that apply to that physical book should apply to the ebook and DRM only serves to restrict what you can do with an ebook. I’m not talking about restricting you from doing illegal things, I’m talking about restricting you from doing legal and common things with an ebook such as reading it.

Are Territorial Rights a Thing of the Past?

Following up on the theme of rights, at Publishers Launch London this week, Executive Director at Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury Richard Charkin threw down the gauntlet, claiming that digital publishing renders territorial rights obsolete. From Philip Jones over at TheBookseller.com,

[Charkin] said the publisher had moved to a global alignment and now tried to buy world English rights in all cases, adding that the ability provided by digital to publish globally meant territorial restrictions based on countries were “obsolete”. He said the restrictions were one of the reasons publishers struggled to be more profitable. “Our problem as an industry is not reach, it is margin, and one of the problems about our margins is that our overheads are very high, and the complexity that we have built into the system, which is partially down to territoriality, makes things much harder.”

Charkin said the usefulness of territories was being eroded by digital. “Clearly selling digital products is much more an internet based activity, so you are going to be diluting your efforts if you try to promote on a territorial basis, and there’s not a lot of point promoting on a territorial basis if you don’t get the benefits. It’s a commercial argument rather than a legal one.”

When Does an Agent Become a Publisher?

As the overall rights landscape shifts, however it shifts, so too does the role of the agent, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, who represents such luminaries as President Barack Obama and actor Richard Dreyfuss as well as self-pub celebs John Lock and J.A. Konrath, announced that it would

… facilitate e-publishing for those of our clients who decide that they want to go this route, after consultation and strategizing about whether they should try traditional publishing first or perhaps simply set aside the current book and move on to the next. We will charge a 15% commission for our services in helping them project manage everything from choosing a cover artist to working with a copyeditor to uploading their work. We will continue to negotiate all agreements that may ensue as a result of e-publishing, try to place subsidiary rights where applicable, collect monies and review statements to make sure the author is being paid. In short, we will continue to be agents and do the myriad things that agents do.

Responding to calls that such a role would be a conflict of interest, Konrath came to DGLM’s defense, and Laura Hazard Owen over at PaidContent.org has a good summary of the debate:

But many commenters on Konrath’s blog didn’t see how the new services that Dystel & Goderich is providing can justify that 15 percent commission. “If that 15% doesn’t cover the actual costs of cover, editing, formatting, etc., then they’d best be planning on doing some serious ongoing marketing for then book, right?” wrote self-published fantasy author Kevin O. McLaughlin. “And let you pull the book to self publish it instead if they stop marketing it effectively, right?”

At ALA, Publishers and Libraries Seeing Eye to Eye?

Even as the relationship between agents and publishers seem to become more strained, publishers and libraries seem to be coming closer to compromise over ebook lending limits. Among the developments at the American Library Association in New Orleans this week was an open dialogue between HarperCollins representatives and the ALA Ebooks Taskforce. HarperCollins, which restricts its library ebooks to 26 circulations before the license expires, would contribute to the Taskforce’s FAQ series.

According to official statements from Taskforce Chair Bonnie Tijerina:

HarperCollins understands that public libraries value sharing information and has expressed to us a commitment to providing models that ensure this information-sharing can continue. Libraries know publishers are seeking viable economic models so that they can continue to provide the kind of resources that the public expects at their libraries. We look forward to continuing this open dialogue so that libraries can offer the public the enhanced services available through the emerging technologies in today’s e-book environment.

More information is available via Infodocket, which published more details of the meeting, including a summary of the discussion by Peter Brantley.

Meanwhile, facilitating more ebook lending seems to be the goal of several big announcements at ALA, such as a partnership between book distributor Baker & Taylor and Barnes & Noble to provide seamless library book borrowing with the Nook. In other news, Library Ideas, LLC, announced Freading, a program designed to make over 20,000 titles available to libraries. Offering simultaneous access to titles on a pay-per-use fee, 16 publishers have already pledged to provide content for the 10 pilot libraries that will launch the program this summer.

Michael Kelley over at LibraryJournal.com has the breakdown of Freading fees, which would be invisible to the library patron, absorbed instead into the library’s budget:

The Freading service will offer library patrons unlimited, simultaneous access to the available titles. There’s no access fee for libraries (although there’s a $150 setup fee for first-time customers of Library Ideas), and libraries budget a given amount for access to the collection.

Patrons can then download books for a two-week loan, with a two-week renewal if desired. The library is charged for each download as follows up to the limit of the budget:

  • 0-6 months after print publication $2 per loan, $.50 per renewal.
  • 7-24 months after print publication $1 per loan, no renewal charge.
  • More than 25 months after print publication $.50 per loan, no renewal charge.

The fees are invisible to the patron. Libraries can also just pay as they go, receiving a regular monthly statement, to avoid patrons being denied access once a set budget limit has been reached.

That’s just a taste of what you may have missed this week. To stay on top of the most interesting news, commentary and tweets related to publishing, keep in touch via our RSS feed, follow us on Twitter, join your publishing colleagues in our LinkedIn group, and connect with the broader DBW Network.

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