Yesterday Rachel said she was waiting for my post on this issue. When she said that, I had no idea what she was talking about. She reminded me, and then Rex Hammock Twittered about it and now Aunt B. has written about it as well.
It’s a story where I turn out to be one of the bad guys. Who is really, when you think about it, one of the good guys.
I have a Kindle 2, and have had since early April. As a young woman disabled by arthritis it is my lifeline, facilitating my love of books while making allowances for my crippled hands. Like Erasmus (or whoever it is that’s always on those book totes you buy from B&N), I’ve often gone without food in these last few months, having spent too much money on books in the Kindle store. It’s so darned easy, when you can just turn the thing on, hit ‘buy’ and start reading. Most of the books are cheaper than in a store. Some of them are so much cheaper it made me start to wonder.
Why can you get a copy of Animal Farm on Kindle for $1.25 when in the store its $9? Being a former licensing manager and a current author I can understand a book being a few dollars cheaper–they’re saving on the paper and the shipping costs, but not on paying the author and agent for the content. But a large savings like that made me wonder.
Enter “Mobile Reference Books“, one of the most popular e-book sites on the web. They’ve been converting things for ebooks before ebooks were popular. Like the Guttenberg Project, Mobile Reference is a place where kind souls have undertaken the mission to convert Public Domain Classics into electronic text, enabling the differently-abled and techgeek alike to have things like Plato’s Republic at their fingertips. Many Mobile Reference books (or MobiBooks, as we ebook geeks call them) are free. But occasionally an enterprising fellow will ask a buck or two for his trouble. Like this gentleman, who wants a mere ninety-nine cents recompense for his trouble of converting all of L.FrankBaum’s Oz works. In a tech world accustomed to shareware, it’s no big deal for us to toss the coder a buck for his skills.
And there are a lot of college students who are getting Kindles, because the cost of the Kindle evaporates when you factor in the savings on textbooks and must-have-for-survey-courses fiction.
Enter the University Swashbuckler. This guy, in a former life, sold old term-papers. Every college and university has at least one of these ersatz Reds. They’re the guys in that institution who can get it for you. For a price, of course. And now that any fellow can code a book, upload it to Mobile Reference and ask a buck or two for his trouble, there is new fertile ground for cash. A lot of books out there, like Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 seem like they should be in the Public Domain. They’re really old. The guy who wrote them is dead. You have to read them for a class with other books that ARE in the public domain. So people didn’t quaver about getting them off Mobi and paying the buck or two that the literary pirate was asking.
I check every book I get from Mobi against the public domain. If it isn’t PD, I don’t get it. Not for free and not for a buck or two. And when the Orwell books, which I thought about buying, didn’t check out I didn’t buy them. I might have even dropped a line to Mobile Reference saying “hey, by the way….” And I’m sure others did, too. Because a lot of us love books and love the rules whereby those who write books can sometimes make a living doing so.
I was bothered last night to see the spin turn into “Amazon is Stealing Our Books”. Because Amazon wasn’t stealing anyone’s book. Those people were attempting to steal–perhaps unknowingly, but stealing nonetheless–Orwell’s books.