Books written by Ray Sullivan

Thursday, 17 November 2011

eBook Vigilante

It started with an idea, then some research, then I guess my blood boiled.

But first the idea.

One of the pleasures of being a reader is receiving a book as a present, or choosing one for a friend.  Unless I'm missing something, this is one of the glaring problems with ebooks that probably needs to be addressed as part of their journey to social acceptance (one other is the ability to loan books you've read - come on, we all do it with paperbacks - more on that later).

We can buy our friends Amazon vouchers online and Apple iTunes cards in supermarkets, but that is a little impersonal.  Authors can also, I understand, 'gift' ebooks to individuals through Amazon however I am led to believe that the recipients can use the credit paid for by the author towards anything else from Amazon if they so desire - hardly the result a proud author would like to pay for.

But what if we want to buy a specific book for someone because we think they'd enjoy it - perhaps we've read and enjoyed it ourself?  Or perhaps we want to take someone out of their comfort zone with something that they wouldn't normally read?  With printed books this is a pleasure we've all enjoyed as giver and recipient for years, but one difficult to achieve with ebooks.

Now Smashwords gives authors something close to this in that it allows us to generate codes that can be used to offer books at a discount or even for free.  The limitations, from the point of view of a gift, are that they have to be time limited and they don't discriminate - anyone who offers up a valid code gets the book.

My idea is that someone buys a book direct from the author through his/her website or some other portal such as eBay as a 'Buy it Now', and in return the author generates a unique once only code.  The author embeds that in a personalised document like the one below and emails it to the purchaser:
The purchaser then prints off the form and presents it to the ultimate recipient, who then 'cashes in' the code which in my ideal world would be a one-off code.

Unfortunately I don't think Smashwords has that facility available at present.  If you think that this would be a good initiative - by any author, not just by me, then can I suggest you email Mark Coker at Smashwords using the Smashwords link and click the comments link at the top of the page - send them a link to this blog entry if it helps.  I understand they're receptive to  new marketing ideas but I think it would carry more weight coming from consumers.

While looking into the viability of this idea I strayed onto eBay with a view to see if anything similar already existed (I'm a huge fan of copying ideas) and to see what I'd need to do to set up an eBay front end.  Typing in 'ebooks' resulted in my being presented with sales of DVDs containing thousands of 'free' ebooks.  Now I'm a bit of a cynic at the best of times but when these items are offering, amongst 7,999 other 'free' books the latest Steve Jobs biography I'm guessing that copyright is being seriously infringed.

Now as I pointed out at the top of this blog, we have all loaned and borrowed books.  I don't have a problem with that.  Some people actually think ebook piracy isn't a bad thing - Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, actually thinks that it can have benefits by exposing an author's work to a broader audience that might otherwise have not heard of him/her.  However I suspect Mark is thinking in terms of individual copying of files, not the wholesale bundling of copyright work for resale, for profit to whoever compiles the collection and a smaller rake off to, you've guessed it, eBay.

Lets be clear, if I copied my CD collection onto a DVD in MP3 format and offered it for sale on eBay it would be roundly identified as absolute and clear-cut theft.  eBay probably will state that they are unaware of the nature of the sales and probably need to be alerted to the practice.  So do I become an ebook vigilante - after all, it's possible some of my books are being 'sold' for 'free' there too.  I suspect it would take up an inordinate amount of my time and probably would be like pushing water uphill.  Then again, I probably would get some satisfaction from irritating some low life opportunistic thieves.  And my blood pressure would possibly ease off a tad.  Perhaps I should give it a try?

I can be followed onTwitter - @RayASullivan

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Amazon (for Kindle owners) and Smashwords (for access to all other formats and access to Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Sony and many other good ebookstores.  Possibly also on eBay grrrrr

Now on WH Smith!

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